Issue 2008-034

Reviews in this issue:

Jade Warrior - Now

Jade Warrior - Now
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Windweaver Music
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2008
Info:Jade Warrior
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Fool And His Bride (7:33), Journey (5:53), Lost Boys (7:12), Tall Trees (4:06), Floating Moon (2:18), 3am Meltdown (5:03), True Love (5:38), Talisman (3:01), Screaming Dreams (4:55), Everything Must Pass (5:55)

The aptly titled Now, not only brings us up to date, but is also the title of the latest offering from Jade Warrior, and unlike more recent releases Now is an album of completely new material.

Up to date? Of course there will be many who are not aware of Jade Warrior, past or present, so perhaps the briefest of introductions is necessary. Founder members Jon Field and Tony Duhig met during the early 60s whilst working with a number of different bands of the era, and it was during this period that Tony Duhig first met up with vocalist Glyn Harvard. The early 70s saw the formation of Jade Warrior who subsequently signed with the Vertigo label, releasing three albums. A more successful colloboration came in 1974 with the signing to Island Records and the fruits of this were four albums - deemed by many as the band's halcyon period. More recently these four albums remerged courtesy of Eclectic Discs. Sadly the demise of Eclectic meant that these albums once again disappeared - hopefully the revitalised Esoteric Recordings will once again re-issue these fine albums.

The 80s (as it was for many of course) were a somewhat wilderness period for the Warriors with two releases seeing the light of day. The 90s saw Jon Field move back to London and it was during this period he came across Dave Sturt and once again the Warriors, (Jon, Tony, Dave and guitarist Colin Henson), were making music. Sadly the death of Tony Duhig meant that he never did contribute to 1992's Breathing The Storm release. The following year Distant Echoes was released - notably the album featured amongst others saxophonist Theo Travis and KC's David Cross. And although works began on material for another album it was over a decade before the formation of Now was to happen. Apologies to Jade Warrior for this sketchy intro and note that a more comprehensive (and accurate) history of the band can be found on the JW website.

Well after that perhaps not so brief potted history, we come full circle and Now once again sees the pairing of founder member and flautist Jon Field with vocalist Glyn Havard. Relative newcomer to the band is Dave Sturt (basses) along with a impressive supporting cast, including the prolific and delightful talents of saxophonist Theo Travis (many prog fans will have come Theo across on The Tangent albums). Also included in the guest area are Tim Stone (guitar), Chris Ingham (piano) and Jeff Davenport (drums), and with additional assistance from Lottie Field (woodwinds), Sam Ryde (piano), Carol Bellingham (backing vocals), Gowan Turnbull (saxes, contrabass clarinet) and Brian Imig (remiclud).

Now, (and please forgive the pun), if truth be known Jade Warrior pretty much passed me by during their halcyon period, with my only purchase being their 1975 release Kites. Pre internet (pre anything really) this was an impulse buy and I have to say I was somewhat disappointed. Entirely my own fault for buying an album on the appeal of the cover and the assumption that Jade Warrior (as the name implied at the time) were somewhat heavier than what lay in store. Qualifying this I returned (albeit briefly), to the Island Records era albums courtesy of Eclectic's re-issues, and realised what a gem Kites really was. So the arrival of a pre-release copy of Now meant another opportunity to delve into the music of Jade Warrior.

And speaking of truths - Now was a tricky album to review and certainly took some considerable listening to finally digest and fully appreciate the music. Perhaps this is how it should be as the music of Jade Warrior is never predictable - no better exemplified then by the album opener Fool And His Bride.

Beginning with Dave Sturt's acoustic bass, light jazzy piano chords, brushed kit, Jon Fields' lilting flute and with the introduction of Glyn Havard's vocals we have all the attributes of a smoky jazz classic. Two minutes in however and the mood changes completely with the introduction of the deep and growling strings, followed by a cracking tenor sax solo from Theo Travis - shades of Pink Floyd's DSOTM... Down again for the second vocal section - and a more augmented backing with some tasty guitar licks from Tim Stone. Another instrumental break, this time from Dave Sturts' acoustic bass, which leads us into the final verse. Perhaps a fade you might think, but no such easy option is taken and the dramatic, almost theatrical, sampled voices gradually fade in! Punctuated percussion along with the voices give a strange, if not effective end to the track. Phew!

In contrast Journey is a more immediately accessible number, with light and airy acoustic guitar, floating flute, jazzy drumming and the great voice of Harvard neatly complimenting his thoughtful lyrics. Icing on the cake comes from the neat fills from Travis. Although a different beast Lost Boys also has the airy feel found in Journey, however the arrangement is cranked up during the choruses. Distorted chords and rich vocal harmonies make this and Journey my favourite tracks from the album. Whilst listening to these two songs I was reminded of Jakko Jakszyk's excellent The Bruised Romantic Glee Club release from 2006, (which coincidently featured Theo Travis), and thought how comfortably these tracks might have fitted there.

Tall Trees employs various percussion and opens with Sturt on fretless bass. Again Harvard's voice fits the mood and Fields' layered flutes are superb. With the pizzicato strings (and fretless bass) memories of Mick Karn and 80s Japan sprung to mind. Following this the brief instrumental Floating Moon utilizes a sitar like drone as its basis and a more sinister tone to the flute - all of which neatly segueing into 3am Meltdown. Before 3am Meltdown and first time through Now I considered that I had gotten a handle on JW's music by this point. This is quickly dispelled as the driving rhythm and aggressive vocals of Harvard rip into track. Again in true JW fashion 3am Meltdown is interspersed with tension releasing sections (and again great work from Travis).

More familiar territory returns with True Love and the trademark voice of Harvard glides over a great groove. And perhaps not - as the track morphs into a 70s styled rock piece that Robin Trower would have been proud of. In contrast Talisman serves as a welcome resting point with the return of acoustic instruments and Glyn Harvard crooning away. A resting point indeed and one to lull one into a sense of false security as we return to 3am Meltdown territory with Screaming Dreams. The instruments are cranked up once again as Harvard lets rip in fine style. The rhythmically strong Everything Must Pass concludes proceedings with its swaying African feel - again something slightly different but still a fitting conclusion the album.

Dave Sturt along with the members of the band are to be congratulated on the excellent album production and the attention detail. Note also that the album mixing is also first rate, so mention here for Noel Watson and album mastering courtesy of Grammy award winning engineer Andy Jackson (Pink Floyd and David Gilmour).

With Now Jade Warrior have bounced back in fine style and although elements of early Jade Warrior are present throughout, the band has reinvented themselves here making this really an album for today. As mentioned earlier this isn't an easy album to digest, but I can assure you it is and album well worth checking out. Music that is always listenable but never resting on its laurels surely has to be manna from heaven for the hungry progger. I've made some references to other artists in this review, albeit fleeting, and I wish I could offer other comparators - however Jade Warrior have always been their own band and this remains true NOW.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10


Kingfisher Sky - Hallway Of Dreams

Kingfisher Sky - Hallway Of Dreams
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Record Label:Lasers Edge
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2008
Info:Kingfisher Sky
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: The Craving (3:42), Hallway Of Dreams (4.17), Balance of Power (4.22), November (4:20), Big Fish (3:29), Through My Eyes (5:08), Seven Feet (4:13), Persephone (3:23), Her White Dress(4:09), Brody (4:37), Sempre Fedele (4:09)

A sublime and a superbly crafted piece of music from start to finish. Trust me and read on. This is pure quality.

The band started life in 2001, when drummer Ivar de Graaf parted ways with Within Temptation, just as they made their breakthrough with the Mother Earth album. Together with classically trained vocalist Judith Rijnveld, Ivar started writing new music ‘without being bound to a specific genre or musical style’. Former Orphanage bassist Eric Hoogendoorn, guitarists Daan Janzing and Edo van der Kolk and keyboardist George van Olffen were recruited to make Kingfisher Sky a full band. Three months in the studio last summer saw the album recorded in several studios, under the inspired guidance of producers Jochem Jacobs (Textures) and Bouke Visser. The resulting album has been well worth all the time and trouble.

With diverse influences such as Clannad, Lacuna Coil, White Willow, Tori Amos, Leaves Eyes, Jethro Tull, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel and Porcupine Tree, this album is impossible to categorise. One moment dreamy and atmospheric, then heavy and pounding the next. Hallway Of Dreams is a unique, forward thinking and superbly executed album that encompasses progressive rock, pop, metal, folk and atmospheric moods. One moment sophisticated pop/rock, the next aggressive alt-metally guitars. One refrain the haunting piano and voice of Tori Amos, the next a folky violin and tin whistle.

I know I’m throwing the glowing adjectives around a bit, but to say that Rijnveld’s performance is perfect is actually an understatement. Just sit back and listen to her voice across these eleven songs. The subtle variation of tone, style and emphasis is superbly executed, thus giving each song its own identity. Equally worthy of note is drummer and bandleader DeGraaf who cleverly underscores each piece with an array of different beats and rhythms. He really is the musical driving force behind each song.

It is an over–used phrase, but there really are no standout tracks on this record – they are all of an equally high standard. The simply-contructed opener, The Craving encompasses White Willow, Lacuna Coil and Tori Amos across a simple refain and heavy guitar. The voice and acoustic guitar of November sees the band in singer/songwriter mode. The Celtic theme to Her White Dress shines with some delicate harmonies, whilst the African drum rhythms gives Persephone a very Kate Bush feel. The heavy guitars and forceful vocals to be found in Brody brings to mind a more polished Ebony Ark. However this is no musical hotch-potch. Each element is carefully placed to enhance the central melody and mood of the song. Throughout, the crystal clear production allows every element to have enough space to be heard.

There is an increasingly muddled musical jungle out there, and I think all reviewers thrive on uncovering little unexpected gems like this. It is the sort of album that I’d never have come across without the contacts I’ve made through DPRP. It’s certainly not the sort of album I would pick up and look at in a record shop. Thankfully Hallway Of Dreams did find its way onto my CD player – and has not spent a day away from it since.

Dear reader, if the above has pricked your interest, then if you take no other risk with a new band this year, take the plunge and try something new in the shape of Kingfisher Sky. An utterly absorbing musical delight. Album of the year so far.

(Strangely this album doesn’t appear to have a label in Europe. Retail links are available from the band’s website. I got my copy from the ever–reliable Lasers' Edge, which has licensed the album for North America.)

Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10


Orphan Project – Orphan Project II

Orphan Project – Orphan Project II
Country of Origin:USA
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2008
Info:Orphan Project
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Angels Desire, My Goodness, Another Brick In The Wall Pt2, Empty Me

The digital revolution has made music publishing available to even the smallest of bands in the tiniest corners of the world, which in no small measure helped progressive rock survive the neglect of the music industry. Where would all those independent artists and bands be without the computer and the internet? Some of them even owe their status as professional musicians to sales and fanbases through the world wide web. Others remain small but you keep hearing from them from time to time. One of those small talented bands who now have the technology available to publish their music independently and you keep hearing from are Orphan Project. Their only problem now is: time.

Already four years ago, Orphan Project surprised fans and critics with their highly acclaimed debut Orphan Found (2004). With their fresh mixture of Peter Gabriel, Kansas and Dream Theater (dubbed ‘hard prog’) they finally capitalised on years of experience in progressive and hard rock bands. Yet, after signing a record deal we heard ... nothing. That is to say, Orphan Project still showed up gigging in the area, and singer Shane Lankford joined forces with Visual Cliff on the album Into The After, and formed Fall Of Echoes with Visual Cliff guitarist Rob Perez to record Red Tree (Trinity Records, 2006). This metalish detour clearly rubbed off on Orphan Project. But no successor to Orphan Found, much to the chagrin of founding member Shane Lankford himself.

This lull also resulted in changes of line-up but after deciding to continue, Orphan Project recorded their first tune in three years with the idea to release a new CD. This disc has now seen the light of day as an EP featuring four new tracks. Which is to say, three new tracks and a cover used as live encore favourite.

The first track, Angels Desire, immediately marks a change in musical direction. Where Orphan Found distinctly had its romantic moments, Angels Desire kicks in with rough-edged guitar hooks in a ‘Gabriel going metal’ vein. Lankfords singing is still one of the strongest features of Orphan Project’s sound, a dark, versatile and powerful voice, both in the harder verses and the more symfonic multi-vocal choruses. Great rhythm section here with all the changes in time signatures. Lankford’s lyric on this one is full of spiritual longing, desiring to be reunited with his heavenly father in life eternal.

Next up is My Goodness, turning to a more melodic side of Orphan Project’s sound. Though a catchy guitar riff weaves in and out, the main character of the song is in the mellower and very singable chorus decorated by a familiar violin (this time probably from a litle box?). With insightful words about wrongdoing and redemption, My Goodness is a great driving song, a riveting example of hard prog.

The third track is the cover, Orphan Projects version of Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2. At first sight perhaps not a very original choice, although understandably a live crowd pleaser, Orphan Project really turns Pink Floyd’s classic inside out. The result is a very rich, energetic and varied brew, boasting spot-on solos in different musical styles, and even though it is a studio recording you can just see the guys having fun on stage. Far from superfluous, full of surprises.

Closer Empty Me is a heavy mid-tempo rock song, a prayer basically for comfort, starting out with a piano riff and featuring more keyboard work than the other tracks. It builds up to a beautiful high level, where Rob Tahan takes the spot with a soaring guitar solo. Maybe the track should not have been the last one on the disc, as after the sparkling Floyd cover it feels like the band already used up all its gunpowder. But that doesn’t make it a less decent tune.

My only real complaint about the album is that it is so short: only 20 minutes?!

Conclusion: Unrated

BART CUSVELLER  (Guest Reviewer)

Antidepressive Delivery - Chain Of Foods

Antidepressive Delivery - Chain Of Foods
Country of Origin:Norway
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FG BG 4770
Year of Release:2008
Info:Antidepressive Delivery
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Starchaser (6:23), Desert Machine (4:02), Accordion Woman (5:25), Terminal (3:56), Blood Is Blood (7:07), We Will Crimson You (2:31), U (4:58), Undead (5:55), Nothing New (7:08)

Antidepressive Delivery (ADD) was formed in 2002 and supported several metal bands in Norway - a country with not so many people but oh so many metal bands. However ADD wanted to do something else and their 2004 album Feel, Melt, Release, Escape showed a style that leaned more towards seventies progressive rock bands. Their latest album Chain Of Foods was recorded prior to their record deal and stylistically has evolved into an even less aggressive sound turning more to jazz-rock. I found that the music bore similarities to the music of Salem Hill and certainly the vocals of Pete Beck are very reminiscent of Carles Groves. Other ingredients can be heard such as Anekdoten and Echolyn and ADD also include a poppy aspect much like the music of The Black Crowes.

A quick précis of the material and the first track Starchaser opens with a very uplifting feel - the organ sound breathes the spirit of the seventies. This songs holds the most similarity to the Black Crowes, although it does not sound too poppy, but it is surely very likable. Desert Machine immediately takes a turn and demonstrates a much rawer sound with fast bass lines giving the foundation for this song. The chorus is powerful with heavy guitars and overlaying organ. Whereas Accordion Woman turns the sound towards the blues, with the organ improvising freely during the song, Terminal changes from straightforward rock to some relaxed bluesy music.

The first part of Blood Is Blood has a very long jazzy intro with a steady beat and a swinging bass line, and again plenty of room for the organ to shine. The second part however is very mellow with slow and soft vocals. We Will Crimson You can best be described as an instrumental version of Queen's We Will Rock You played in the style of King Crimson? U is dominated by a slow pounding guitar rock riff and reminds me of the accessible side of The Flower Kings. Undead is a bit like the second part of Blood Is Blood - very mellow and a bit of a sad song. Whilst Nothing New is not really a title you want stamped on your music, but the contents of this song are far from that - a swinging song with all the elements of ADD passing by.

Antidepressive Delivery have evolved their sound more in the direction of seventies progressive rock, jazz-rock and with plenty of organ as the primary lead instrument. The compositions do not contain lengthy solos, but do leave more than enough room for jazzy organ to come to the fore. As the band's sound has changed much, one can only guess which direction they will go next. As it stands Chain Of Foods is from start to finish a very pleasant experience and recommended to people who like progressive/jazz/fusion built around the sound of the organ.

Due to absence of a record deal this album was initially released only via the band's website, however, Musea Records discovered them and they have now signed up. This has meant though, that the MP3's had to be removed from the website and Chain Of Foods is now an official release from this large progressive music distributor.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10


Machy Madco – Sueño Azul

Machy Madco – Sueño Azul
Country of Origin:Argentina
Record Label:Viajero Inmovil
Catalogue #:DM004
Year of Release:2008
Info:Machy Madco
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Martina (4:04), Te Mataré (2:41), Funkyto (2:17), Banderita (5:56), Abeto (2:30), Siete, Un Numero Sincero (5:00), Paisajesque No Están (4:29), Triangulito Parte 1 (3:59), Cicuilito De Escobios (4:05), Triangulito Parte 2 (3:30), Tanto En Tanto (4:00)

I’m very glad to be able to begin this review with good news. I reviewed Machy Madco’s previous album, Manuscritos, a couple of years ago, and I wasn’t able to muster up a lot of enthusiasm for it. So when I received the new album for review, I didn’t particularly look forward to hearing or reviewing it. But the good news is, it’s a fine album. I wondered at first if I had just mellowed sufficiently with age to appreciate Madco’s often laid-back music more than I had previously. But no, I haven’t changed that much in two years – it’s Madco who’s simply made a better album. The compositions are individually more compelling, and the album hangs together more satisfyingly. In fact, if I may anticipate my conclusion and my rating, I’m delighted this time to be able to say the opposite of what I said in concluding my review of Manuscritos. This album does add something to the genre it’s working in, and thus I’m happy to recommend it; the nifty thing is, the genre isn’t the same one to which I assigned Manuscritos!

Manuscritos seemed to me to be mining much the same vein that Carlos Santana had pretty much tapped out many years ago before he (alas) turned to guest singers such as Chad Kroeger, shudder, to “revitalize” his career (okay, the quotation marks aren’t accurate, since his ploy seems to have worked, at least insofar as sales go). It was peppy, Latin-inflected jazz-rock, and I found it a bit tiresome. But Madco’s made a very different sort of album with Sueño Azul. It’s all instrumental again, but the best general (and it’s very general) comparison I can make, to give you a sense of this changed sound, is with some of Pat Metheny’s earlier albums – say, Bright Size Life or New Chautauqua. Now, I’m a huge Metheny fan, so I won’t go so far as to say that Madco’s album is in the same ballpark as any of Metheny’s, but darned if it isn’t at least in the same league. The difference, of course, is that on Metheny’s albums, the guitar is highlighted, whereas here (inevitably, since Madco’s a bass player) the bass is the featured instrument. But I’ll have to qualify that remark, lest you think this is a vanity project.

Insofar as Madco’s own playing and that of the other musicians goes, everything I said a couple years ago remains correct for this album. Virtuoso though he is, he’s no showoff, and the songs might highlight the bass, but they’re not sacrificed to that instrument. Typically (check out as a prime example Triangulito Parte 2), Madco will set up a compelling groove on bass that will provide the foundation for the tune, and the other musicians will work over, around, and with that groove. The production does the music good service, so that the bass is always clearly audible (and Madco’s tone is worthy of note here – distinctive but not obtrusive) but not at the expense of the other instruments. Meanwhile, in some of the songs, including what’s perhaps my favourite track, Te Mataré, Madco will allow the drums and guitar to do the background work while he solos – but always tastefully and melodically. Put it this way: if you listened to this disc knowing nothing about its provenance, your first reaction wouldn’t likely be “Wow, what a great bass player!”; it’d likely be “Wow, lovely songs – and that bass player’s really good!” To my mind, that makes all the difference.

So, yes, it’s a pleasure for me to recommend this album for the reasons I’ve given, and it’ll be my pleasure as well to add it to my rotation of discs – among the relatively few I repeatedly enjoy even after I’ve reviewed them.

I’d like to end this review untraditionally, with best wishes to Madco himself. We’re informed on the first page of his website that he suffered an acute myocardial infarction this February and very nearly died; however, he seems to be recovering now and is optimistic about his future. All the best to him – and I must note that I had written this laudatory review before I discovered the news about his illness!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Zone Six – 10 Years Of Aural Psychedelic Journeys

Zone Six – 10 Years Of Aural Psychedelic Journeys
Country of Origin:Germany
Record Label:Sulatron Records
Catalogue #:ST 0704
Year of Release:2007
Info:Zone Six
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Something’s Missing (10:30), Beautiful (12:33), Come Inside (11:21), Knuf On Tog (10:19), Hiddenworld (6:19), Grateful Life (8:22), Rockhead To Eden (4:40), Infernale Grande (15:23)

A neo-psychedelic band using lap steel guitar? You better believe it. It’s just one of the hues of the sonic palette of German band Zone Six, who with their new compilation release called 10 Years Of Aural Psychedelic Journeys celebrate, you guessed it, a decade of existence. The title says it all - stretched out, improv-based tracks laced with so much effects-heavy guitar it is like an illicit drug. Harder in drone than Russian neo-kraut band Vespero (reviewed in DPRP 2007 Vol. 63 and 2008 Vol. 32) and easily comparable to countrymen Electric Orange (reviewed in DPRP 2007 Vol. 74 New Year’s Eve Special).

Warning: this music is for psychedelic drone, Kraut, or improv fans only. If you are more into conventional, songwriting craft, this band may not be for you. As this CD compiles recordings from the band’s different eras and line-ups, I will touch upon them one by one in the following paragraphs.

Something’s Missing and Beautiful - These two tracks were recorded in 1997 during a session for what was intended to be the band’s second release. Only these tracks were recorded during the one day session, with no overdubs. The line-up at the time featured Jodi Barry on some Nico-esque vocals, Hans-Peter Ringholz on guitar and effects, the simply named “Rusty” on keyboards, Claus Buhler on drums, recording, mixing and producing; and Dave Schmidt on bass and recording, including bass loops on Beautiful.

Come Inside - A live track from a 1998 festival, featuring the aforementioned line-up minus Rusty. More psychedelic guitar from Ringholz and some thunderous drumming from Buhler. A slight “parking garage” sound quality, but tolerable.

Knuf On Tog - A live track from 1999. The line-up for this one included Ringholz and Schmidt, and Kay MeiBner sitting in on drums. It also marked the debut of newcomer Martin Schorn on “cosmic sounds” (some groovy synths that intertwine well with Ringholz’s now-trademark guitar, listed as “echo guitar” in the credits).

Hiddenworld - From a 2003 recording session that marked the debut of Julius K on what is now listed as “spaceguitar” in the credits, and the return of Buhler on drums. Schmidt stuck around (and has until this day) playing bass and effects. The cosmic sounds for this track were handled by Schorn and the returning Rusty, who provided voice and recording as well. Elements of this track are so alien sounding I cannot tell if it is cosmic sounds? Spaceguitar? Don’t know.

Grateful Life and Rockhead To Eden - Recorded live in 2006 at a “Grateful Deadhead meeting”. Schorn, Schmidt, and Julius K returned to their duties on this one and were joined by guest Ben Basgard on the previously mentioned lap steel guitar and Walt Jahn on some pretty heavy drums. Crowd noise signals crowd approval.

Infernal Grande - Recorded live at a festival in 2006. Similar line-up as the Deadhead thing, but minus Basgard, and with the addition of Michaela Traxler on voice. This one is a whopping, fifteen-minute psycho-noise core monster of a track. I don’t know too much about this Julius K dude, but boy can he play guitar! Robert Fripp would bleed green blood with envy. The whole thing sounds like some warped, Nine Inch Nails remix from the Nineties. Awesome track! I’d like to see more of stuff like this on future Zone Six releases. I don’t know if they have ever played in the USA or not but I would love to see them live!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Never Wasn’t – Never Wasn’t

Never Wasn’t – Never Wasn’t
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:UKM001
Year of Release:2008
Info:Never Wasn’t
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Can’t Find The Door (4:19), Timeline (5:17), Changing Seasons (6:28), No More War (2:51), Take A Moment (6:00), Too Many People (4:25), Leprechaun (4:49), Undertow (6:02), In Tune With The Moon (5:58), The Last One (5:16), Feel The Heat (4:54), In A Blue Dream (5:34), Generator (4:29)

As I’ve said more than once over the years of my tenure at DPRP, I really do realize what a privilege and what a responsibility I and my fellow reviewers have. It is our privilege to be asked to listen to and evaluate the art created by, for the most part, extremely talented and intelligent musicians; and it is our responsibility to perform that evaluation as fairly and accurately as admittedly fallible humans can perform it. Normally the rewards are great, and I’ve encountered many fine albums over the years and have been delighted to recommend them to our readers.

But there are times when I hate this job, and this is one of those times. Inevitably, when I feel this way, it’s not because a CD is bad (although I take no pleasure in saying so when one is); it’s when a CD is obviously made with real love and dedication, every word and note sweated and toiled over – but it just doesn’t work. I’m afraid I have to say that the debut album from California band Never Wasn’t is such a CD. No, it’s not actively bad, far from it; however, it really just doesn’t work at what it wants to do.

We’re told in the promo letter that this album is the “culmination of a five-year project influenced by the events of 9-11,” but it might easily have been possible to work that provenance out without the hint. And in fact, I can explain the main problem with the album by discussing a couple of central songs that make that provenance clear. Those songs are tracks 4 and 5, No More War and Take A Moment. I’ll take them one at a time.

No More War begins with the sound of soldiers marching, counting off as their boots crunch on the gravel. That intro gives way to a semi-reggae tune (really!) and first-person lyrics that complain “They’re taking me a long, long way from home / Far away – I won’t be back today”, followed by a shouted chorus: “No more war / I said, No more war”. The song, mercifully short, continues in that vein, with a piercing synthesizer providing dramatic background. Oh, and there’s a gunshot about halfway through – introduced by vocals shouting “Shot”! Then there are more gunshots audible behind the guitar solo; when the lyrics come back, the first thing we hear is “War – what a mess!” and “War – it’s such a bitch!” I think you get the idea.

That unfortunately embarrassing song (which ends with the sound of a bomb whistling through the air and exploding, by the way) is followed by the idealistic Take A Moment. Musically, this one’s better, its guitar intro a bit like something from Pink Floyd; the song resolves into a mid-tempo ballad with an intense vocal performance by singer Ronny Lapine. Here again, though, the lyrics undercut the very ideas they’re trying to support. Example: “We gotta get back to love / ‘s’ what the world needs more of / Tenderness, sweet caress / Take a moment / We got to get back to love, people / ‘Cause this world is so dark and cold.” That’s probably enough to demonstrate what I mean. Aside from the fact that – unless I’m being obtuse – the lyrics confuse two kinds of love or at least two very different manifestations of it (that is, the love that will allow us to prevent wars isn’t precisely the same love we associate with “Tenderness, sweet caress”), the song, indeed the album, seems to exist in a bit of a vacuum – one in which no previous songwriters (like, say, Lennon and McCartney) had ever suggested that love is all we need or that, you know, violence and war are bad things.

I haven’t used the word yet, the word that unfortunately describes the quality that, taken to an extreme on this album, damages it seriously: earnestness. And that’s why I hate to make these adverse criticisms of the album: these five men are above all things earnest. There’s no doubt – whether you listen to the whole album or only one song – that they mean everything they say; and the musicianship backing up those words is more than competent, indeed impressive at points. But again, either individually or taken together, these songs mostly just don’t work at what they’re trying to do.

I’m left not knowing what rating to give this album. I’m afraid I can’t recommend it, although I’m sincere in saying I’d like to see a future project by these musicians, one in which they let their instruments do the talking and perhaps gave the well-meaning lyrics a break. If I could give two ratings, one for intentions and one for success, I would, but as it is I think I’ll average those out but remind readers that some of them might be more inclined to look kindly on the fetchingly innocent lyrics than I and would thus think more highly of the album than I do.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10