Reviews in this issue:
- The Pineapple Thief - Tightly Unwound
- Asia - Phoenix (Duo Review)
- Rick Van Der Linden – An Ekseptional Trace
- Random Touch – A True Conductor Wears A Man
- Oceanfield - Stolen Time
- John G Perry - Sunset Wading
- Denny Gerrard - Sinister Morning
- Vega – Freefall Faith Firestorm
The Pineapple Thief - Tightly Unwound
Tracklist: My Debt To You (5:19), Shoot First (4:12), Sinners (4:52), The Sorry State (4:11), Tightly Wound (6:35), My Bleeding Hand (4:20), Different World (10:44), And So Say All Of You (4:05), Too Much To Lose (15:12)
The Pineapple Thief return with their seventh album and first for new label KScope, part of the Snapper music group that set Porcupine Tree off on their quest for world domination. Following on from last year's What We Have Sown was going to be a difficult proposition, but with Tightly Unwound Bruce Soord and his musical compatriots have proved equal to the challenge.
Although overall the new album is a degree heavier than previous releases, the opening track My Debt To You is a rather gentle acoustic ballad. With added harmony vocals and some fine acoustic guitar picking it is an unusual choice to start proceedings and when Shoot First also opens with an acoustic guitar one has the impression that it could be a mellow ride. How wrong! The acoustic gets faster and heaver and is roughly terminated by the incision of electric guitar. A rather funky back beat drives the track along which expands on the 'traditional' Pineapple Thief sound. The acoustics are back for the transition into Sinners which maintains a similar beat and tempo to Shoot First. A mighty chorus exemplifies the confidence that the group have in their sound and the juxtaposition of the slowly sung vocals and more frantic backing musicians is a nice contrast. Ending with a rather sedate electric guitar solo we proceed into The Sorry State, another number with an acoustic beginning and almost choral vocal intonations. Somewhat atypical in the cannon of Pineapple recordings, there is what sounds suspiciously like a mandolin in the opening section (can't be more precise, the promo version of the album came with no information about the band, recording or lyrics!) and a wall of electric guitars towards the end.
Almost title track Tightly Wound is laden with effects, stuttering synths, rather menacing vocals and somewhat atonal electric guitar. Littered with periods of light and shade, the song is certainly a development in the band sound and is an interesting number that sounds fantastic on headphones in a darkened room with no distractions, particularly the lush keyboard backing in the quieter moments. An abrupt end and somewhat longer gap between songs (at least it seems longer) and we head into My Bleeding Hand which, confusingly, starts with the lyric "Tightly wound for all it's worth, we're tightly wound from our birth...". Not my favourite track on the album, it doesn't possess enough character to really stand out and overall is a bit too repetitive, although the ending scores highly on the heaviness front.
First of the long tracks, Different World starts quite orchestrally with a string synth and an acoustic guitar sounding like a plucked violin. When the rest of the instrumentation starts it is easy to imagine what a bigger budget and an actual orchestra would have sounded like added to this track. Wide in ambition if, unfortunately, not execution. I can hear tones of Radiohead, not that the song actually bears much resemblance to the Oxford heroes (work that one out if you can!). And So Say All Of You, first aired on one of the infrequent Pineapple Thief podcasts, is strikingly different from the original demo, more layered and textured with a lot more bite. And so to the final number, the fifteen minute Too Much To Lose. It's a lot to take in on first hearing with again the synth orchestrations backing a 'tinkling' piano. If that all sounds a bit twee don't worry as there is an underlying menace to the whole piece, particularly in Soord's vocals. The tempo is somewhat sedate for the first third of the track when timpani-like drums beat out a solid rhythm and a growling guitar steps forth to raise the intensity. Getting all mysterious, a spoken vocal section over an eerie backing and grungy electric guitar dominates the middle section before a pulsating synth predominates and leads into the closing section, a reprise of the opening. An exceedingly enjoyable track, an Echoes for the 21st century perhaps? To use the spoken word refrain: "So What Do You Think About That?"
Tightly Unwound is definitely not the most immediate of the seven Pineapple Thief albums that have been released in the nine years since Abducting The Unicorn but it may yet prove to be one of the most enduring. With a series of live dates around the country to back the album, the thieves may, at long last be in the ascendancy. Let's hope that, unlike the fruit from which they take their name, they manage to get off the ground.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Asia - Phoenix
Tracklist: Never Again (4:53), Nothing’s Forever (5:44), Heroine (4:51), Sleeping Giant/No Way Back/Reprise (8:09), Alibis (5:38), I Will Remember You (5:09), Shadow Of A Doubt (4:16), Parallel Worlds/Vortex/Déya (8:09), Wish I’d Known All Along (4:05), Orchard Of Mines (5:09), Over And Over (3:31), An Extraordinary Life (4:56)
Jim Corcoran's Review
For like, the three or so people reading this who don’t know who Asia is, here is a brief overview of the band. They were formed in 1981 and are comprised of vocalist and bassist John Wetton (King Crimson, UK, and others), guitarist Steve Howe (Yes), drummer Carl Palmer (Emerson, Lake, and Palmer), and keyboard man Geoff Downes (Yes, The Buggles). This line-up put out two great albums, their self-titled debut and follow-up Alpha. Their sound struck a fine balance between prog and MTV-generation “hit single” craft. Howe departed the band after Alpha, and by 1991 Downes was the only original member left. With the addition of abysmal vocalist John Payne, Asia went on to churn out music that was marginal at best.
2006 saw the original lineup reunite for a successful tour that lasted well into 2007, including what was a phenomenal gig at Club Avalon in Boston (as I recall, I also caught Roger Waters the following night). The next logical step for the guys was to record a new CD, Phoenix, the first new offering from the original line-up in twenty-five years. It sees the band continue their “prog single” sound.
Do you have the Rush CD Vapor Trails? Lead track One Little Victory tends to scream out or signify “we’re back” with a vengeance. The same thing is evident in the opening track on Phoenix, Never Again, in a guitar riff from Howe that could have been borrowed from Heat Of The Moment. Things on Phoenix tend to go uphill at times, and downhill at other times, from that point on.
The CD is a combination of rockers, ballads, even a couple of mini-epics tossed in to satisfy the prog-hungry. An Extraordinary Life, a classic sounding Asia tune with some fine soloing from Howe, seems to draw upon Wetton’s well-publicized heart surgery as a theme. Wetton’s themes and songwriting on Phoenix are fine at some points, and more mediocre at others. Heroine is a wonderful ballad with an interesting reference to Wetton cutting himself while shaving. Somewhat lamer is the ballad I Will Remember You, which could have just been left off the CD. Just check out this lyric: “Wherever you go, whatever you do, I will remember you.” It brings a tear to my eye. Oh wait- that’s just some gooey stuff in my eyelid.
Now for the mini-epics- they each clock in at 8:09 in length, making them tie for first place as the longest tracks the original line up have recorded (and are eclipsed only by the Payne-era Free and The Day Before The War). Sleeping Giant/No Way Back/Reprise starts with a lot of new-age instrumental shlock, admittedly with some fine guitar from Howe, that bridges into the vocal section via some bass programming, then leading into an instrumental reprise. As a mini-epic it is interesting as an effort, but tacking on instrumental stuff seems to be a band-aid approach. If these guys can’t come up with something like Close To The Edge, perhaps they should just stick with conventional songs.
Wetton’s pipes are in excellent form, and Howe in particular shines across the CD. Downes adds some nice touches as well. Downes and Howe interplay nicely on Alibis, another mini-epic of sorts that with its up-tempo sound sounds like a B-side from the Alpha sessions.
The songs are composed deftly, with lots of originality. However, the next to last tune on the CD, the Howe-penned ballad Over And Over, had me grown weary of the ballad stuff at this point and is another tune that should have just been left off the CD. Over And Over, indeed. Sorry, Steve.
Phoenix is a fine comeback effort but may be criticized by some of the band’s die-hard fans. As a whole, it is not as strong as the band’s debut release. The CD booklet for Phoenix is, of course, designed by Roger Dean.
To improve on their next CD, Asia should lay off the ballads and perhaps take a crack at composing a totally lyric based epic. Perhaps they could try a concept album.
Menno Von Brucken Fock's Review
Lack of success, personal differences and the fact that all four members of the first Asia line-up had many other opportunities to keep themselves busy, were reasons why Howe, Wetton and subsequently Palmer bent out of Asia. Downes and Wetton kept in contact and writing music together (Icon). Palmer had his EL&P reunion and after a while his own band and touring schedule, while Howe obviously had Yes and his own band. Downes continued with Asia although the success in the States was minimal. After 25 years though, all four members of the original line-up were ready to do some celebrating and got back together.
The atmosphere turned out to be great, Wetton had managed to gain control of his alcohol-problem and the tour was readily fully booked and sold out. In the middle of this tour however, John Wetton had serious heart-problems but triple bypass surgery saved him and he came back stronger than ever. The tour continued and some shows were recorded (Fantasia) and the four prog-icons decided to write and record once more. In Frontiers, Asia found a trustworthy and enthusiastic label and Phoenix is the result of these efforts. With magnificent artwork by Roger Dean, Phoenix presents twelve new tracks. Most of those written by Wetton and Downes, two tunes were penned by Howe and Orchard Of Mines was written by Fayman/Pursey, a track adapted by Asia from the Globus album Epicon.
The tracks are extremely powerful, with catchy hooks, choruses and all well arranged and produced. Wetton does a great job singing and in my opinion, if this would have been the successor to Alpha it would have been a smash hit. Fortunately it’s not too late and many people who were fans from the early Asia music will appreciate this album and treasure it. The over an hour journey starts off with riffs resembling Heat Of The Moment and than the Asia-train keeps on running in the old-fashioned but superb way and rendering magnificent ‘views’ to its passengers. Of course the band has its own distinguished style and sometimes one is inclined to think some themes sound like bits and pieces used before. However the ‘Yes-guitar’, the ‘EL&P-drums’ and the tastefully arranged keyboard really provide a perfect atmosphere for Wetton’s distinct voice. Ballads like Heroine and Parallel Worlds are gems and in the lyrics one can appreciate what John Wetton went through recently (Extraordinary Life).
As far as I’m concerned a jewel in melodic rock and certainly this original Asia will re-conquer Europe very soon! Apart from the ordinary jewel case version, there’s a limited version with Extraordinary Life acoustic as bonus track and some video-images and bits of interviews...
Rick Van Der Linden – An Ekseptional Trace
TRACE: King-Bird (6:12), Sculpture-Bird (2:03), Pathetique (3:27), Surrender (6:43), Medley [I. Confrontation II. Preacher Bird III. A Memory] (7:58)
EKSEPTION: Song For Life (4:28), Dreamwish (2:29), Angelsong For Jolease (2:41), Just For You (3:09), A Prayer (3:02), The Fifth Symphony (3:41), Fireworks (15:06), Happiness (4:01), Toccata 1973 (4:03), [I. Fireworks II. Gaillarde] (16:18)
This DVD is a wonderful memorial and tribute to the talents of Dutch keyboard maestro Rick Van Der Linden who sadly left us in January 2006. Rick was a classically trained keyboard player, excelling on piano and organ and also an early pioneer of synthesisers and the mighty Yamaha GX-1. For my money he was as good as, if not better than Wakeman, Vangelis and Moraz.
I was first introduced to the work of the great man by his appearance on the seminal UK television show The Old Grey Whistle Test. That must have been around late 1975/early 1976 and his band of the time was the keyboard power trio Trace. I would love to see that footage again (I remember a particularly storming performance of Progression from their eponymous debut album, with Van Der Linden a whirling blur of flying fingers and wild hair!), but sadly the OGWT footage is absent from this collection.
What you do get is a five track selection of Trace in action on Musikladen 22 May 1977 which draws heavily on their superb second album Birds. Rick is in full flight here, flexing his classical training on Beethoven’s Pathetique and also rocking out on his own Tchaikovsky / Beethoven influenced compositions. His piano and organ playing is absolutely phenomenal, and there’s lots of close up shots taking us into the heart of the action. Great stuff!
Marillion fans should note that Ian Mosley is the drummer in this particular incarnation of the band. (He replaced Focus stalwart Pierre Van Der Linden for the Birds album). For me, this set is a marvellous nostalgia fest and well worth the price of the DVD alone.
That’s not all though! The largest section of the disc is given over to a live performance of Ekseption recorded in Oldenzaal on 14 June 2003.
Ekseption was Rick’s first major band. They produced a large catalogue of albums in the late sixties and early seventies, fusing pop, jazz and classical styles in a very popular (if somewhat slightly cheesy) blend – focusing largely on pepped up versions of popular classical pieces. The Ekseption featured on this DVD is a later reformed version of the band, and it is interesting to contrast the large format Ekseption with the trio Trace, as indeed it is to contrast the older Rick with his younger self.
I have to say he had lost none of his considerable skills (though undeniably he was a lot less hairy by this stage) and I found the Ekseption material held up quite well against the earlier stuff, (though I still prefer Trace). The band has a few younger members in it and they gamely tackle the jazzed up arrangements of Beethoven (The Fifth) and Handel (Fireworks) amongst others.
I don’t wish to be unkind here, but my only quibble is with the inclusion of a few numbers where Rick invites his wife up for a spot of karaoke classics. Her quasi-operatic warble is not to my taste and unfortunately mars an otherwise enjoyable set. Still, it’s great to see Rick furiously pounding away at his organ, towards the end of his life, still giving it his all and obviously still enjoying the performance.
There are no bells and whistles on the DVD, just a clutch of additional performances billed as bonus tracks. Rick’s introductions are in Dutch so I suppose it would have been nice to have some subtitles, but otherwise I am happy just to have the live material.
For old fans of either Trace, Ekseption or, indeed Focus (with whom they share a similar classical/jazz based ethos) and any lovers of updated versions of the classical greats, this DVD makes an entertaining watch and also a nice reminder of an extremely gifted keyboard player/arranger.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Random Touch – A True Conductor Wears A Man
Tracklist: Silk Sheets, The Weight Of Bodies Sliding (1:25), The Giant Took A Liking To Jack (4:34), A Slow March Becomes A Flight (3:20), Skipping (4:54), Something Worth Waiting For (2:28), Plainclothesman Tuesday (2:02), Shelter (5:49), A True Conductor Wears A Man (2:12), Getting Ready (2:43), Mixed Up With Who? (4:25), Illumination Of The Flesh (3:45), Naked Feet In The Dark (4:59), All The While (5:15), Exponentially (6:29)
A few months back I had my first exposure to Random Touch when I reviewed their Alchemy CD and DVD package - quite an eye opener and a difficult immersion into the world and mindset of this very creative group of US improvisers. To recap, the group features founders percussionist Christopher Brown and keyboardist James Day who met at high school in the early ‘70’s and guitarist Scott Hamill who first collaborated with them in 1978. The fourth member of the group, cameraman Matthew Ebbin, started working with them in 1998 and as there is no visual section to this release his work can be seen at the band's website, A True Conductor Wears A Man is the eighth release from the group; a ninth, Duologue, has appeared this year. Where to start when describing their sound? This is not really a useful process as the whole does not lend itself to individual pointers but there are elements of early Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream, Robert Fripp’s soundscaping, Michael Brook and Hans Joachim Roedelius as well as the later classical work of Frank Zappa and the influence of his hero Edgar Varese. Ethereal guitar, which sometimes dives into shrieking, distorted stabs, washes of synth, strange sound effects and dissonant percussion are used with interesting effect. It seems that on this release they have added more rhythm to some of the pieces and the guitar is allowed to be more aggressive although this is used sparingly. This collection contains generally shorter tracks that allow individual moods to circulate without the variety within tracks found on Alchemy. So what is Random Touch? The website offers us this brief synopsis: -
with the Accident, the intension of the individual and the cosmos are united.
Random Touch is Vibration;
the eye, tuned to the wavelength of Light; the ear, tuned to the wavelength of sound.
Random Touch is Readymade Instruments;
ordinary, sound-generating objects liberated from the obscurity
of industrial scrap heaps and suburban household closets.
Random Touch is Traditional Instruments;
the Music plays, and plays with, these instruments with a past.
Random Touch is Roadnoise;
a music concept originated within the automobile.
The shorter track format – many under 3 minutes – is all for the better in my opinion as this album provides good listening without outstaying its welcome. There is a lot to assimilate here and it may also work as background music – although possibly very off putting to some – but this is definitely not muzac and should never be dismissed as such. Neither is it mood music as there is a schizophrenic nature to the material and the playing that never allows the mood to rest in one place for long. It is probably best to go through each piece and offer a feel of what occurs although it is very difficult to put the feelings of the music into words. So here goes…
The disc opens with a short but interesting piece, Silk Sheets, The Weight Of Bodies Sliding, with good rhythmic percussion and piano. Next up is The Giant Took A Liking To Jack which edges into weirdness territory, strange vocal interjections and odd sounds giving a bubbling undercurrent with the guitar coming from Bill Frisell territory. Half way through the track kicks up a gear with frenetic percussion driving the pace along. A Slow March Becomes A Flight does exactly what it says on the tin, although the opening section is a march for drunks, its skewed rhythm lurching along at a sedate pace with a wailing guitar low in the mix and dissonant piano stabs. The tempo increases and the guitar becomes more intense but ultimately it never quite reaches the flight that is expected but it is certainly moving in that direction by the end.
Skipping starts out quietly with deep keyboard bubbling and then moves on with high paced hi-hat and loping synth. Personally I find this one of the least satisfying pieces here, as is Something Worth Waiting For - a great ironic title for a track that does not really do it justice! Distorted vocal ramblings over subdued instrumentation. Plainclothesman Tuesday has an undercover vibe with tinkling piano over ominous deep drum rhythm. Shelter, a lengthier track, again offers another disturbing soundscape, which moves into a drum led increase in tempo. The improvisation is great and the recorded sound has a very live feel and these guys are probably well worth experiencing in a live setting. The title track is next, another low-key piece with effects, piano and guitar over a solid low drumbeat but this track doesn’t really go anywhere to these ears despite its sinister feel. Getting Ready opens with a steady rhythm, keyboard washes and chiming distorted guitar, again the tempo rising before the brief track dies away.
Final stretch and the last 5 tracks are generally a bit longer than what has gone before. Mixed Up With Who? offers hardly any rhythm at all, again distorted vocals make a brief appearance and random sounds converge to produce a varied piece. Illumination Of The Flesh uses brief vocals again (singing it ain’t!) before the track progresses with improvised sounds often from found instruments. Naked Feet In The Dark, All The While and final track Exponentially (the longest on the CD) all lack any distinct rhythm and direction but build up collages of sound into a sometimes woozy and often engaging wholes. This leads to a heavy improvisational feeling by the end of an album that had appeared much more structured at its start.
With Alchemy I felt that the video elements on the accompanying DVD enhanced the music. Here I find that the material is much more streamlined and does not need so much help with imagery. The tracks are generally much more accessible which adds to the listening pleasure of the uninitiated and the shorter and more punchy offerings mean that those with a limited attention span for this kind of thing are less likely to get bored and let their minds wander.
Random Touch plays difficult music that is certainly not for all but there is a lot here to enjoy. As stated, the live environment may be the best place to experience it as is the case with Robert Fripp’s solo soundscaping but enthusiasts for improvisation and the avant-garde will find plenty to get excited about. Those who have not encountered this area of music before or may have had a bad experience with it could do worse than head to the bands web site and listen to some of the samples before venturing further. Overall though a nice release that is definitely within its niche and not for everybody but excellent work nonetheless
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Oceanfield - Stolen Time
Tracklist: Isabella (9:08), Live And Learn (4:54), The Wounded Citadel (5:25), Ghosts In Time (6:47), Dancing In Bedlam (4:33), Speaking Angels (13:10)
Oceanfield were formed in the UK's beautiful Lake District in June 2006 and feature Jane Barrett (vocals, whistles, backing vocals), Chris Holmes (guitars, bass, keyboards, mandolin, backing vocals) and Steve Hartley (drums and percussion). Stolen Time is the band's first album and is certainly something of a mixed bag of styles and influences.
The vocals on opening track Isabella remind me somewhat of early Siouxsie And The Banshees although the musical accompaniment is not exactly of the same ilk. Throughout its nine minutes we are treated to a few twists and turns. The Banshees vocal section is followed by some heavy riffing by Holmes and busy percussive work by Hartley, and verges on the light psych when the keyboards enter. In a complete turnaround, the next section is acoustic with, in places, more toned down vocals that have a vague folk influence. A final instrumental section is a bit of a mishmash with more riffing guitar and spacey keyboards. Without a break we head straight into Live And Learn, the most 'commercial' sounding song on the album with a snappy chorus and a wicked guitar solo in the middle eight, unusually overlaid with some form of recorder-like instrument. The Wounded Citadel has a more sedate beginning, piano and acoustic guitar with layered lead and choral backing vocals. I felt that Barrett's vocals were rather too over-dramatic for the overall tone of the song and were somewhat overpowering at times, she certainly has a strong set of pipes on her!
Ghosts In Time begins with a mandolin solo mutating into an acoustic guitar and initially some more restrained singing. However it is not long before Barrett opens her larynx and belts forth. Again it is rather overpowering in ostensibly a modern folk song. The instrumental backing is certainly interesting and worth paying attention to and when the vocals are more laid back the effect is quite pleasant and I have to admit the ending is very classy. Siouxsie is back for Dancing In Bedlam but this time it is entirely appropriate for the track. Rather punkish with a great chorus and equally great lyrics, it also reminds me strangely of very early Toyah (Sheep Farming In Barnett era) but that may be my memory playing tricks on me! Still it takes my prize for top track on the album being original and entertaining at the same time. Final song, Speaking Angels is the big number, starting with lots of recorded people declaring their wishes, tying neatly into the opening lyric "What if the things we wish for could be spoken into being?". Progressive influences abundant, with mellow electric guitar solos, strummed acoustics, big chorus with a multitude of keyboards followed by changes in time signatures (and the spirit of Annie Haslam thrown in for good measure). Just as one thinks the song is about to take off into a whole new direction, the familiar is rerun with only slight tweaks until about the seven-minute mark when an instrumental section begins with acoustic guitar and delayed piano combining nicely and ticking over until more recorded wishes herald in an extended electric guitar solo lasting until the fade, over which Barrett does a pretty decent, but short, Clare Torry impression.
As one would expect from a debut album, Oceanfield have amalgamated a lot of different influences and styles into the 44 minutes of Stolen Time. With live dates expected soon, featuring an expanded line-up, it will be interesting to hear how the band manage to transfer their songs to the stage.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
John G Perry - Sunset Wading
Tracklist: I Wait My Friend (2:22), How Goes The Night? (0:16), Devoke Water (4:52), Birds And Small Furry Beasts (3:22), As Clouds Gather (3:47), Storm (3:01), Ah Well, You Can Only Get Wet! (1:57), Dawn (7:07), Morning Song (3:10), On The Moor (1:54), Roundelay (0:52), Etude (3:35), A Rhythmic Stroll (1:13), Sunset Wading (2:28)
With a pedigree that includes playing with Caravan, Quantum Jump and Curved Air as well session work on albums by highly regarded artists such as Anthony Phillips and Gordan Giltrap, the name of bassist John G Perry will be familiar to many. What may not be so well known is that Perry recorded a solo album way back in 1976 that was somewhat lost in the musical climate of the time. The various bands he had played in and the musicians he had met during sessions allowed him to assemble an impressive cast of friends to perform on the album, among which were Caravan bandmate Geoffrey Richardson, producer and multi-instrumentalist Rupert Hine, arranger, conductor and future founder of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra Simon Jeffes, percussionist extraordinaire Morris Pert, original King Crimson drummer Michael Giles plus two members of Italian progressive band Nova, saxophonist Elio D'Anna and guitarist Carrado (or Corrado) Rusticci.
Competing in the market place against debut albums by The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned, the rural airs and graces of the largely instrumental Sunset Wading never really stood a chance. The four vocal numbers are all very brief: I Wait My Friend features Beryle Streeter who does a remarkable impression of a theremin on this plaintive opening number. Confusingly, the words to How Goes The Night? feature in the song Devoke Water and the spoken poem On The Moor is recited in Morning Song! Thankfully the words to Sunset Wading are sung during the song of the same name and form a quite mellow end to the album with a track that is charmingly beautiful and serene.
The rest of the album is a mixture of various textures, from the piano and flute of Birds And Small Furry Beasts, the musical storm of, er Storm, the rocky Ah Well, You Can Only Get Wet! and the jazz fusion of Etude, there are certainly enough styles to keep one's interest alight. Throughout, the playing is exceptional, with hats off in particular to Simon Jeffes whose arrangements for the string quartet are entirely sympathetic to the music performed by the rest of the band. Perry himself contributes some fine bass playing in a variety of styles creating rhythms that are often funky and always great. The second side of the album, starting with Dawn, is a musical concept undoubtedly inspired by the Rupert Hine poem The Land Of The Lakes. Based around a day in the Lake District, and featuring unedited sound backdrops recorded on location and revealing "the first cock-crow at Down-in-the-Dale to the last breakfast hungry farm hound". Much of the music has a feel of being improvised or jammed, but with musicians of such calibre that is not a criticism, but a bonus, particularly as there maintains a cohesion between tracks, despite the different styles. That has a lot to do with the work of Richardson who, I feel, has always been immensely undervalued as a musician.
Sunset Wading is an album that fits in neatly with the music of Perry's most famous previous band mates, that of Caravan. Although not some great long lost classic album, it does provide 40 minutes of largely unchallenging, familiarly rural and interesting music. Had it been released a few years earlier then it would have undoubtedly made a bigger impact, but as is the case for a large number of albums that were out of their time, it has largely laid unnoticed for many years. Now's the time for rectification!
Conclusion: 6+ out of 10
Denny Gerrard - Sinister Morning
Tracklist: Nature Son (3:55), True Believer (7:06), Hole In My Shadow (3:22), Last But One (4:05), Rough Stuff (3:00), Stop It Or Drop It (2:52), Autumn Blewn (2:53), Eye For Eye (4:53), Atmosphere (7:07)
If anyone remembers Danny Gerrard it is as a member of The Warm Sounds who released a trio of late 1960s singles. The two most successful were those released on the Deram label. The catchy popular hit Birds And Bees and the more psychedelic Nite Is A Comin'. Originally from South Africa, he first came to public attention as part of The Fifth Avenue, a group put together and staring a pre-Yardbirds Jimmy Page. After a couple of singles, Page moved on to other things and Gerrard featured on a handful of releases on the Immediate label, not least of which was one produced by none other than Paul 'Gary Glitter' Raven! Despite The Warm Sounds being invited to produce a BBC session, none of their singles sold in any substantial amount and Gerrard became a session musician and a producer. His most famous production was Sea Shanties, the debut album by underground rock supremos High Tide.
It was while he was in the studio producing Sea Shanties that Gerrard started work on Sinister Morning his one and only solo album. As the members of High Tide were on hand, Gerrard utilised them as his band for the solo sessions, along with a couple of female singers. The resulting two albums, Sea Shanties and Sinister Morning, could not have been more different. Whereas the High Tide release featured some wild and psychedelic electric rock guitar by Tony Hill and is now, quite rightly, regarded as a minor classic, Gerrard's album sank without a trace with the artist himself quitting the music business shortly after.
Unfortunately, Sinister Morning is likely to remain nothing more than a curio of the numerous albums that were released in the late 60s/early 70s. Not that it is a bad album, far from it, there are some marvellous songs such as the opening cut Nature Son and the innovative and evocative closing track Atmosphere. It is just hard to classify. Elements of Dylan, West Coast US singer-songwriters and even some traces of the early playfulness of Kevin Ayers. Gerrard himself contributes vocals and acoustic guitar as well as mouth harp, sometimes to excess as on Hole In My Shadow where the warbling harmonica and lead female vocals combine in a somewhat frivolous manner. Ironically, this is followed by the most serious track on the album, the solo acoustic Last But One which features a harmonica played in a more traditional and sympathetic manner. Almost ranging into early Neil Young territory, although without the country twang. Autumn Blewn has a somewhat simplistic Kinks feel which works well and makes it one of the album standout tracks.
Altogether, Sinister Morning is definitely an album that is worthy of being rescued from obscurity and the remastering work by Esoteric is first rate as the music sounds as fresh and crisp as it must have done when it was first recorded. There are definitely a lot of people who are fans of this kind of music, and I include myself as one of them. However, in terms of progressive rock, this is a bit of a non starter and I doubt if many of you, our dear readers, would place this album high on your wants list. However, if you have any friends or relatives who are fond of obscure early 1970s singers then this re-release may just be the thing to warm their hearts.
Conclusion: Not Rated
Vega – Freefall Faith Firestorm
Tracklist: Camael (2:40), No Surrender (4:22), My Demons (3:11), The Voice Of Virtue (4:30), No One (3:48), War Party (2:41), Danza Demoniaca (4:00), The Big Lion (3:04), [Unnamed 9th Track] (2:33)
This brief album from Austrian born but now Hollywood based guitarist Patrick Vega, released under the banner of his surname alone, is a focused tour de force of six-string shredding. It doesn’t stick around long enough to get boring and there is a fair amount of variety on display here but there is always a problem with this sort of album in that it is going to be likened with the established masters of the art – the Vai’s and Satriani’s of this world to name but two of a multitude. There has to be something really gripping and new to make an album by an up and coming newby stand out. This album is certainly a showcase for Vega’s playing but also shows that he can pen a good instrumental track when he wants to.
According to the accompanying blurb this album was “driven by a real life stalker and produced in a bedroom”. All well and good but is it also the “irresistible rock album of a different kind” that it purports to be? Well it isn’t a bad start that’s for sure. The tracks here show a great deal of depth and cover a lot of ground and it isn’t all about the guitar playing alone. I might be missing the point but it is possible that a couple of the tracks would benefit from having vocals added. That said I think Patrick has taken the right approach by keeping the album succinct and to the point and not giving us an hour-long shrieking guitar spankathon. The tracks all offer a degree of heaviness but have light and shade to colour the view and add to the interest factor.
Completely produced at home with Vega playing all the instruments, the main weakness of this project, for me at least, comes from the use of drum software rather than the real thing. This is a constant bugbear of mine and it often spoils potentially good albums, but, to be fair, the synthetic drums here aren’t that bad but when you know they’re there you can’t get away from it and they do sound clunky at times. The feel that would be added by the use of a good drummer is missing and, as all the best bands know, a band is only as good as its drummer. However, with cash anyone can use the real article and a talented session guy but hats off to Vega for producing a generally very nice album obviously on a budget – and under the added pressure of being stalked by a “crazy person”. This self-produced album was mixed and mastered by Marc Doinet who should also receive credit for the good job he has done on it. It seems that Vega is having auditions to recruit a live band to play this material live and this will probably be when the thing really comes to life.
Opening track Camael was apparently the kick-start for the album, written after Vega received a threatening message on his answer phone. This led to the writing of the rest of the record, the suite of songs documenting Vega’s life as a musician in Los Angeles. He is not simply trying to wow the audience with his abundant technique here and it says something for his skill that the rhythms and melodies of the pieces are placed squarely centre stage with the guitar providing the necessary extra kick. Camael starts with the answer phone message before some heavy chords lead into the melody with two-part guitar. There is a nice sense of dynamics throughout the piece, the multi-tracked guitars doing everything right. No Surrender sees a change of pace with a funky introduction and some tasteful picking over a bouncing bass line. Some nice ideas but this track might just hang a round slightly too long and ends with an unnecessary coda. The driving My Demons is next with overlaid guitars taking the melody and heavy chords. Again, some nice picking adds colour. The Voice Of Virtue starts with a laid back introduction and then offers another change of style and some nice playing, but the synthetic drums sound a bit tinny on this one. No One starts slowly and then builds into a nice theme with suggestions of Rush-lite in places and War Party opens with a crunchy riff but doesn’t seem to quite take off and the central solo could be better. Danza Demoniaca has a nice wailing lead line over a Latino rhythm and finally we get The Big Lion which would be a rousing and energetic way to round things off on a high note if there wasn’t a brief and atmospheric extra track hidden at the end.
Overall, this album is never going to set the world alight but is a promising opening gambit for a talented player and composer. Whether instrumental albums are the way forward for him remains to be seen. There is much to enjoy here for certain but not a great deal that is truly memorable enough to raise it far enough above the herd to become really successful. Appealing to fans of melodic yet heavy guitar playing this is without a doubt a nice album, but not a great one – maybe next time.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10