Reviews in this issue:
- The Alan Parsons Project - Tales Of Mystery And Imagination
- D.F.A. – Kaleidoscope
- Bonebag – Noli Me Tangere
- Mizmar - Musique Des Contes De La Main Gauchet
- Burning Saviours - Nymphs & Weavers
The Alan Parsons Project -
Tales Of Mystery and Imagination : Edgar Allan Poe
CD 1: A Dream Within A Dream (3:41), The Raven (3:58), The Tell-Tale Heart (4:42), The Cask Of Amontillado (4:28), (The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether (4:14), The Fall Of The House Of Usher: Prelude (5:52), The Fall Of The House Of Usher: Arrival (2:41), The Fall Of The House Of Usher: Intermezzo (1:03), The Fall Of The House Of Usher: Pavane (4:34), The Fall Of The House Of Usher: Fall (0:52), To One In Paradise (4:30), The Raven [Original Demo] (3:26), Edgar [Demo Of An Unreleased Track] (3:03), Orson Welles Radio Spot (1:01), Interview With Alan Parsons And Eric Woolfson (1976) (8:33)
CD 2: A Dream Within A Dream (4:13), The Raven (3:57), The Tell-Tale Heart (4:39), The Cask Of Amontillado (4:33), (The System Of) Doctor Tarr And Professor Fether (4:21), The Fall Of The House Of Usher: Prelude (7:01), The Fall Of The House Of Usher: Arrival (2:39), The Fall Of The House Of Usher: Intermezzo (0:59), The Fall Of The House Of Usher: Pavane (4:36), The Fall Of The House Of Usher: Fall (0:51), To One In Paradise (4:44), Eric's Guide Vocal Medley (9:13), Orson Welles Dialogue (3:05), Sea Lions In The Departure Lounge (2:38), GBH Mix [Unreleased Experiments] (5:22)
"A review of an album from 1976 ?! That's a bit overdue, isn't it?" Well ... not quite, because this review concerns the Deluxe Edition of the classic first album by The Alan Parsons Project. "Oh, it's just another one of those cash-in-quickly re-releases with some below-par bonus material thrown in, right ?" No, wrong again, there's more to this than you might think. True, it's a bit strange that one of the gods of audiophile has never before released proper re-masters of his albums until recently. And indeed, the bonus material on some of those remasters do not always justify re-purchasing everything again ... but as mentioned, there's more to this one.
As far as the original tracks on the album are concerned, I'm not going to waste a single word on those. Simply check out the extensive article I wrote for DPRP's Counting Out Time series. Suffice it to say that I've been a long time fan of Alan Parsons and the Alan Parsons Project and I still consider Tales Of Mystery and Imagination to be one of the best - if not the best - album that Parsons and Co have ever released. There's an adventurous edge to this release that is missing on some of the later releases and even though some parts (e.g. the first section of Usher) take time to get into, the album as a whole consists of classic highlights only.
When Tales Of Mystery and Imagination was released on CD in 1987 Alan decided to add some finishing touches to the album, which they had not been able to make under the time pressure of releasing the original album. The differences between the 1976 and 1987 version are not extremely dramatic. There's the usages of the Orson Welles narratives at the start of Dream Within a Dream and The Fall Of The House Of Usher. The second climax in The Raven has an additional guitar solo by Ian Bairnson. The Tell Tale Heart features additional guitar and synths and there's a church organ added to the intro of Doctor Tarr And Professor Feather. All of these changes did indeed make the album better and the 1987 version should not be considered a completely different or inferior version. Having said that, it was not the album we'd come to love over the previous (11) years and there always has been an urge to listen to the 'original' every now and then. That's one of the reasons I for one have been clinging to the old vinyl copy of the album ever since the release of the CD. And that's what makes this Deluxe Edition so interesting. There's two discs in the package: one with the original 1976 album and one with the 1987 remix. So now we can pick one out of two, depending on which you'd like to hear; the original that made such an impact in the late seventies and early eighties or the improved version that accompanied us into the digital age. For me personally this fills a nagging 'hole' in my collection.
The Deluxe Edition also comes with a total of 36 minutes of bonus material spread over the two discs, some of it more interesting than others. The demo of The Raven was a version that Eric Woolfson recorded in the early seventies, before meeting Alan Parsons and is fun to hear, especially since it's very familiar but at the same time some arrangements are remarkable different. It's also got a lot more lyrics in the climaxes. Edgar is a very strange song about the life of Edgar Allan Poe that Eric also recorded as a demo for the first project album. Stylistically it's more in the vein of the Freudiana project. The full Orson Welles narratives that were recorded are present on the second disc. Part of these remained unused for the 1987 remix, and some was used in a radio commercial that is included on the first disc. Another interesting and informative promotional item is the 8.5 minute radio interview with Alan and Eric that took place just before the release of the original album. One of the interesting facts revealed are the working titles of the songs that were used to keep the project's concept a secret.
There's a medley of the guide vocals Eric Woolfson did for the tracks on the album. On the earlier albums of the Project, Eric wasn't confident enough about his vocal qualities. These guide vocals do however prove the potential available and it's interesting to hear some of the songs in Eric's characteristic high vocals. The medley even includes a full version of To One In Paradise with Eric on vocals. Sea Lions In The Departure Lounge is supposed to demonstrate how much fun the project members had in the studio. It's basically the Arrival part of Usher and when the doors open and the band kicks in it fades out and is replaced by sound effects of an airport hall, sea lions and sheep. Well ... I guess you had to be there. The GHB Mix: Unreleased Experiments is a collection of outtakes, among which an out-of-place Bonnie and Clydish ragtime track that, combined with the screams for help and devilish laughter sounds like the soundtrack for a silent movie. Only the organ-guitar jam at the end of this collection is really worth mentioning.
The Deluxe Edition comes in a nice 4-fold digipack with protective transparent slipcase. Included is a 24-page booklet that besides the original liner notes, lyrics and photo's also features new liner notes for this edition and updated biographies for Alan Parsons and Eric Woolfson.
Should you buy this ? Well, without a doubt a copy of this album should be present in any self-respecting prog rocker's collection. If you don't have a copy yet, you should get one. Pick this addition if you're a completists and like bonus tracks. However, unlike those who already knew the album prior to 1987, you won't be missing out on the 1976 version if you'd buy a regular edition of the CD. For those of us who have had the 1987 CD and have been harbouring that same nagging feeling ... there is salvation finally ! Go out and get yourself the Deluxe Edition !
Conclusion: The album itself 9 out of 10, whether it's the 1976 or 1987 version. The Deluxe Edition is a must-have if you have missed the 1976 version since the 1987 CD was issued.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
D.F.A. – Kaleidoscope
Disc One: Work Machine (7:15), Collage (7:11), Pantera (8:48), Pantera – La Sua Anima (4:03), Trip On Metro (6:38), Space AceMan (9:53), La Via (16:22) Bonus Track: Work Machine Live (6:52)
Disc Two: Escher (10:51) Caleidoscopio (9:38) Esperanto (8:13) Ascendente Scorpione (4:33) Ragno (11:29) Malia (5:28) Bonus Tracks: Space Ace Man Live (8:46) Collage Live (6:16)
In my recent review of the Arti & Mestieri Live CD, I touched on the history of the Italian Prog/Fusion scene. If proof were needed that the scene lives on, this double CD set neatly packages the first two albums of modern fusion combo D.F.A. (Duty Free Area) enabling those of us who missed out first time round to sample the delights of Lavori In Corsi (1996) and Duty Free Area (1999). A new album is promised in the near future.
D.F.A. is a tight quartet comprising: Silvio Minella – guitars; Alberto Bonomi – keyboards; Luca Baldassari – bass; and Alberto de Grandis – drums & vocals. All of them are accomplished and talented musicians, and their talents are put to good use in these complexly structured compositions which manage to balance melody and instrumental prowess in equal measure. With inspiration coming from Gentle Giant, ELP and Yes, tracks like Work Machine, Collage and especially the ultra-intricate Trip On Metro should keep hardened prog fans in seventh heaven, whilst Pantera and Space Ace Man highlight the band’s fusion chops and reveal a penchant for Canterbury bands like National Health and Hatfield And The North. Vocals are used with restraint, but are well up to the standard that fans of Italian Prog have come to expect.
The original album closer La Via is a mammoth track, switching between delicate flute-lead symphonic passages and furious organ/guitar jams. Wow!
The opening track on the second disc may come as a bit of a surprise as it sees the boys plunging head first into a spacey rock/fusion hybrid which strongly recalls the works of Canterbury stalwart Steve Hillage and hippy festival favourites Ozric Tentacles. Escher is a great track, but no way would you think it was Italian in origin. With Caleidoscopio we are back on more familiar territory, with a chop and change progfest including some superb Gentle Giant style rhythmic intricacy and delicious guitar/keys interplay.
The highlight of the disc (and perhaps of the whole set) is Ragno, an eleven minute instrumental romp which is space fusion of the highest calibre, rivalling Gong’s You and Steve Hillage at his best. There is some absolutely amazing organ playing on this track and Minella’s slick fusion chops on guitar are also to the fore. Add in some funky synth and you have one heck of a ride!
The bonus tracks tacked on to the end of each disc are live versions of songs from the first album. There’s no overlap with the live album and the recordings are very good, meaning that they really are a bonus and add to the desirability of this value-for-money set. This is a no-brainer for fusion fans and Canterbury cadets everywhere. I love it!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Bonebag – Noli Me Tangere
Tracklist: Disgust (2:28), Oliver Sudden (3:55), Feeling Sam (4:10), Positive (4:44), Weightless (4:32), Mmm (3:13), Lifeline (4:43), Picture Perfect (4:18), Noli Me Tangere (3:32), A Word Of Appreciation (4:37)
Bonebag is the new band of Sieges Even vocalist Arno Menses. Well as a matter of fact he is actually the drummer, but his experience as background vocalist with Sieges Even made him a suitable candidate for the job of vocalist. In 2002 Arno Menses and Ronald Utens (vocals, guitar) teamed up and started writing, not entirely satisfied with the results so Mike Palandeng (lead guitar) was asked to join them. After recording the demo Positive, a bass-player was needed to perform live and Martijn Horten, an old friend, was called in to join the band. With the contacts Arno Menses had made with Sieges Even he found it possible for Bonebag to progress beyond recording demo’s and get a record deal with QuiXote Music.
Of course the obvious comparison to Sieges Even can be made, although Bonebag is more a rock band, with compact songs - and none reaching over the five minute mark. Noli Me Tangere (don’t touch me) clearly shows that Arno Menses input in the sound of Sieges Even is more than just his singing. Bonebag's sound can also be compared to Mars Volta, it has a bit of that funky sound with a hard edge, and on some of the slow pounding songs I can almost swear I’m listening to the Smashing Pumpkins. Also fans of King’s X will find some handles on this album. However my problem with King’s X is that after a while the sound gets rather boring, whereas this Bonebag album still sounds very interesting after several spins.
Disgust is the shortest song on the album and clearly sets the tone for the album, while Oliver Sudden shows that these guys can compose interesting songs. With an up-tempo guitar melody which is alternated during the chorus by heavy guitar riffs and cleverly placed sound samples, makes this the most interesting song. Feeling Sam and Weightless certainly sound like Sieges Even, while the song in between Positive is a standard rock song that probably originated from their demo-era.
The song strangely titled Mmm starts with strange lyrics “Yeah life is a rubber doll” and then a fiery guitar solo takes over this heavy song that stands out by it’s funny lyrics. Lifeline and Picture Perfect, although totally different songs, reminded me a lot of the Smashing Pumpkins. Lifeline has one chord pounding rhythm with winning vocals and Picture Perfect starts slow and funky with some nice lyrics about plastic surgery. Noli Me Tangere is a rock song but becomes a bit irritating due to the cheesy “How’d you like it your room” lyric line that is repeated a lot. Which is very strange because the lyrics on this album surprised me. Not forcing lyrics to rhyme, this album holds some interesting and sometimes funny lyrics. A Word Of Appreciation is a decent closer but doesn’t start very excitingly.
Bonebag has released a fine debut that will appeal to many rock fans. Noli Me Tangere contains compact rock songs that even after several spins remain interesting. It also shows clearly the huge amount of influence by Arno Menses on the Sieges Even release The Art Of Navigating By The Stars. Sieges Even fans therefore can easily buy this album without getting disappointed. If you see these guys live you won’t leave the venue without this tomato in your bag.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Mizmar - Musique Des Contes De La Main Gauche
Tracklist: Prologue (1:22), La Troisième Porte (3:46), Là-Bas... (2:31), Vieil Aladin (2:39), La Pyramide (3:06), Qâtmizmar (4:33), Héritage (3:50), Le Gardien (3:51), Les Conjurés (3:04), Huit Piliers Sous Le Sable (4:20), Deux Oasis (4:36), Epilogue Premier (4:21), La Troisième Porte - Autre Version (3:52), Le Songe De Gustave Doré (5:22), Cartographies 1 (4:23), Cartographies 2 (5:10), Sanaagroove (4:46), Spleen (2:33)
Mizmar is a project by Rodrigue Lecoque, the keyboard player of Amethyst. An occasional fan of world music, I was attracted to this disc by its premise of being inspired by some photographs taken in Yemen. I always seem to struggle with the specifics of the album information provided by Musea, but I think my translation tells me that this is the soundtrack for Contes De La Main Gaunche (Tales of the Left Hand) written by Guillaume Lecoque five years ago about the Arabian Nights. The photographs were taken by Guillaume as part of that work, and add an eye-catching touch to the album's booklet.
This is the sort of record, which can provide both pleasant background music and something to sit back and listen to. There's a definite meditative vibe to a lot of the tracks, with gentle symphonics, and an atmospheric use of the keyboards. There is only the occasional hint of the jazz-rock fusion that Rodrigue performs in Amethyst. In sharp contrast, on a few tracks (Prologue or Huit Pilliers Sous Le Sable), the Yemenite beats are mixed with electro beats, creating a daring mix of electro world and trip hop - somewhere between Asian Dub Foundation and Massive Attack.
However as a musical work, I feel Rodrigue has played things a little too safe. A lot of this is pretty; but rather predictable. I'd have been more gripped with a heavier use of the Yemenite influences - the Arabic rhythms, the sounds of the markets and the traditional songs and chants. Such influences, largely based on samples captured during Guillaume's visit to Yemen, are well used when they are used. The very evocative Le Gardien is the album's highlight. However the Yemen influences only feature with any purpose on around 20% of this record.
From the album's stated purpose and the beautiful photographs, I was expecting far more of a journey across the desert, maybe even encountering some traditional Yemenite instruments along the way. That surely would have conjured up much more of an image of the country and its people, and provided a more interesting and unique listen. And with almost every track clocking-in around the four minute mark, there is no opportunity for any of the songs to develop musical ideas or themes.
This is an inoffensive, enjoyable listen and clearly a very personal album, which I may come back to from time to time. I'm just left with a feeling that it is also a project where the artist has underused the material at his disposal.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Burning Saviours - Nymphs & Weavers
Tracklist: Looking After The Phyre (5:06), Pondhillow's Finest (4:10), The Spellweaver (5:01), Woodnymph (6:35), Dreaming Of Pastries (4:08), Signs (5:25), Trinity (3:17), Hillside Mansion (4:08), Exposed To The Heat Of Solace (6:15)
Given that the band is named after a Pentagram song and their first two albums were reportedly doom metal albums, one of which was released on the I Hate label, I didn't hold out much hope that this latest release would strike a chord at any level. Although there are still traces of their old style lingering, fortunately the group have moved more into a classic rock direction. The line-up on the album, although it has recently changed, is Fredrik Andersson (vocals, acoustic guitar, flute and organ), Henry Pyyjkkö (lead guitar), Mikael Marjanen (guitar), Fredrik Evertsson (bass) and Martin Wijkström (drums).
Opener Looking After The Phyre kicks off in a hard riffing, heavy rock manner that is reasonable if not exceptional. Pondhillow's Finest has more of a melody and once can hear a faint folk influence in the style of the composition. A brief organ solo is followed by a couple of nicely succinct guitar solos that shy away from going over the top. The Spellweaver took me back a quarter of a century to the times of the so-called New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, sounding very much like one of the innumerable bands that put out singles under that banner. Things improve with the middle-eight which contains a quite mellow section with good vocals and guitar before the riffing starts again. Woodnymph opens with electric guitar and flute which are superseded by organ and acoustic guitar. The song showcases a more gentle side to the band and could even be considered mildly progressive at times, along similar lines that had early seventies bands like Deep Purple and Uriah Heep were tagged with that label. Not that Woodnymph resembles either of those bands, but it is a rather fine song.
In complete contrast is Dreaming Of Pastries which, vocals aside, starts and continues like something from the Motorhead back catalogue! Apparently, the album has been remixed since the distribution of promo copies to make it sound heavier, so the comparison may be even more appropriate on the final version! By the time we get to Signs the relatively flat vocal delivery is starting to grate a bit, although I do feel rather churlish stating such as my singing voice is about as good as my language skills (ie, nonexistent!). A classic Hammond organ break reinforces the 70s heavy rock comparisons. Trinity is rather nondescript but is also the shortest track on the album but immeasurably better is Hillside Mansion which like Pondhillow's Finest has a folkish bent with guitar and flute echoing each other. Final track Exposed To The Heat Of Solace again has a seventies heavy rock vibe but is well constructed with the two guitarists playing off each other nicely.
As with a lot of Transubstans releases there is not much that a dedicated progressive fan would really find of substantial interest. Burning Saviours are obviously a band in transition and I have to say that after a few spins a couple of the tracks did spark my imagination. Despite not being a band that I would probably seek out in the future, I wouldn't be adverse to hearing how they develop but for the moment they are more suited to followers of heavy rock rather than progressive music.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10