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2008 : VOLUME 03
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Alain Blesing - Songs From The Beginning
Alain Blesing - Songs From The Beginning
Country of Origin:France
Format:2CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG4655.AR
Year of Release:2007
Time:67:14
Info:Alain Blesing
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Slightly All The Time (9:37), Beautiful As The Moon (9:50), California (5:35), Mumps [extracts] (9:27), 1983 (11:47), Behind Blue Eyes (5:58), Fracture (14:53)

In the liner notes to French guitarist Alain Blesing’s latest album he relates the journey he took at the start of his professional career at the end of the ‘70’s from rock to prog to jazz and improvisation. This album of cover versions is not a revival or backwards step, but more a revisit to pieces that meant a lot to him at the start which he can now reinterpret from the vantage point of the experienced and well travelled musician that he is. Blesing was a member of Magma followers Eskaton before moving into jazz territory and more recently world music with Turkish singer Senem Diyici. Along for the ride are prog rock luminaries Hugh Hopper and John Greaves. Songs From The Beginning was recorded over 3 days in October 2006 at Le Triton club in Les Lilas, France, and the band here are all on top form. As well as the aforementioned Hopper and Greaves we have an all-French crew with Blesing, Catherine Delauney (clarinet and accordion), Philippe Botta (sax and flute), Nicolas Fargeix (clarinet), Francois Verly (keys & percussion), Yves Rousseau (double bass) and Jean-Luc Landsweerdt (drums).

The CD kicks off with a long sprawl through a version of Soft Machine’s Slightly All The Time, more jazzy and less frenetic than the original but a lovely and smouldering version it is with some William Burroughs’ The Soft Machine thrown in and Greaves coming across like a relative of Captain Beefheart. Next up is Beautiful As The Moon by Henry Cow, a gorgeous lilting and lyrical piece before a sinister section of snappy drums and sax, which also incorporates sections of Peter Blegvad’s War. A surprising detour is next with a beautiful rendition of Led Zeppelin’s California starting out with soft acoustic guitar and bass harmonics before a tabla adds an eastern feel and Greaves’ wonderful vocal which, though clearly him, adds a delightful hint of Robert Plant here and there. This sparse and sun-baked version is a gorgeous re-telling of a well-known classic.

Mumps from Hatfield & The North opens things up again with some great ensemble playing, particularly early on from the wind section. The group vibe is definitely a jazz one on the whole but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Many of the rockier moments use unusual instrumentation and there is always an air of improvisation in the great jazz tradition without the sometimes overwrought soloing. Greaves swoops in and out giving it the full gamut of crooning, mad vocals, spoken word. I don’t know much of his work but based on this I need to hear more. The variation between the electric and acoustic basses makes for some interesting moments and there are also bits of the Hatfield’s Share It included. As the tempo and timbre build the guitar comes to the fore. Canterbury and jazz lovers will be grooving all night long to this one! Some lovely piano, sax and clarinet round the piece off nicely.

Another unexpected track is up next in the shape of Jimi Hendrix’s 1983, Blesing putting in a great guitar performance here as you’d expect. Greaves too is great throughout, his phrasing bringing out every nuance in the lyrics. Tabla appears again for an interesting diversion with the drums in this lengthy version and the flute also gives an extra level of melody while there’s a really nice bass part from Hopper building to a great climax before the bass intro leads into a beautiful version of The Who’s Behind Blue Eyes with bass and accordion supporting a world weary Greaves vocal. Very sparse, sax and a basic drum rhythm come in and Greaves scats beautifully. Finally the album peaks, to my ears at least, with a riveting version of King Crimson’s Fracture. This has got to be a tall order in anyone’s book but it is pulled off magnificently here, added to greatly by several spoken word sections where Greaves reads from Dylan Thomas’ wonderful Under Milk Wood, a nice touch as the “Starless and bible black…” line obviously was very popular with King Crimson around the time this track was originally recorded. Greaves adds a lilting Welsh accent for his readings – I’d like to hear him do the whole thing a la Burton and Hopkins – initially over improvised sax and percussion before the guitar starts the familiar disjointed riff and the rhythm picks up. Production throughout the album is magnificent and here it really shines. This version makes me wonder if this is how it would have originally sounded if Ian McDonald was still in King Crimson at the time as the sax takes some of the guitar parts as does a vibraphone here and there and there’s some nice drum work here too. Blesing never lets the guitar ride too far up in the mix and again the percussion and wind instruments add lots of variety. I think this version would probably be much more accessible to a wider audience than the manic thrash fest of original Krimson live versions with the lyrical additions fitting the pace of the track perfectly and adding a whole new dimension before the piece rises to a rousing finale.

Every version here stands up very well with the originals and each adds a different dimension to a well-recognised piece. That’s what a cover album should do but is so seldom the case. I for one always shy away from them after too many bad (or at least ordinary) experiences but this album has proved what is possible, a great piece of work and hats off to Blesing for getting it together and assembling the right people for the job. Every track gives the players room to spread out and enjoy themselves without becoming self-indulgent. Only two of the tracks come in at under nine minutes and I for one am glad they made the choice to groove rather than cut back, add a couple of extra songs and detract from the whole. As the accompanying press release says, “both masterfully performed and intimately personal”, Blesing knows his craft well and is not afraid of trying new things with old material to give it a shimmering new look with his tasteful choices and knowledgeable outlook. Great stuff and if I hadn’t already got my votes in for the DPRP end of year poll this would certainly be on the list. D’oh! Canterbury, jazz and world influences abound but this album is not just for fans of these genres but is for anyone who likes music with heart and passion. Never furrow browed but uplifting and good humoured, you don’t need to know the originals to have a blast with this album.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

JEZ ROWDEN



Accordo Dei Contrari – Kinesis
Accordo Dei Contrari – Kinesis
Country of Origin:Italy
Format:CD
Record Label:AltrOck
Catalogue #:ALT003
Year of Release:2007
Time:44:38
Info:Accordo Dei Contrari
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Lester (7:16) Meghiste Kinesis (7:08) ScalaQuadro (8:52) Gondwana (8:11) Anexelenkton (6:58) OM (6:13)

Kinesis is the third release on the Italian AltrOck label, and with an unbroken record of three superb releases, they are really becoming one of the most essential Progressive/Fusion/Experimental labels around today.

Admittedly, Rational Diet may have proved too avant-garde for some people’s tastes, but Accordo Dei Contrari are even more accessible than the superb Yugen. They perhaps lack a little in the originality stakes compared to Yugen, choosing to purvey a form of progressive jazz fusion which can be traced right back to the mighty Mahavishnu Orchestra, as well as more recent practitioners like D.F.A., Area and Deus Ex Machina, but who needs originality when the material is this strong, the performances this tight?

The core quartet of Cristian French – drums; Danielle Piccinini – bass; Giovanni Parmeggiani – keyboards; and Marco Marzo – guitar are augmented on most tracks by either Fabio Berti – violin or Giorgio Trefiletti – saxophone.

The performances are stunning throughout, as the band and guests rattle through a programme (recorded largely live in the studio) of six medium length instrumental pieces, between six and nine minutes long, expertly judged to ensure you stay enthralled and hungry for more at the end of each track, and indeed at the end of the album. This is one lean, mean CD, with not an ounce of excess flab to be seen.

The undoubted stars of the show are guitarist Marzo and keysman Parmeggiani – the trade-offs and interplay between the two instrumentalists is quite breathtaking and utterly superb. Parmeggiani expertly employs electric piano, organ and synths to full effect, and Marzo is an accomplished craftsman capable of storming solo work and subtlety and refinement as the occasion demands. Of course, they need a solid foundation to build upon, and the rhythm section are one of the tightest I have heard for many a year.

Every track is a pure belter in its own right, but I personally found the tracks with additional violin courtesy of Fabio Berti (Meghiste Kinesis, Gondwana for example) to just have that little bit of extra magic, reminding me of one of my long-time favourite fusion groups, Arti & Mestieri.

Meghiste Kinesis and OM are perhaps the most fiery and ferocious, approaching the power and passion of Birds Of Fire Era Mahavishnu Orchestra, whilst Gondwana is the most memorably melodic, with a hook which lingers in the mind long after the track has ended.

This is shit hot fusion of the very highest calibre and is a must purchase for dedicated fans of the genre. It could also be the disc that converts new fans to the fold, go on, and give it a try!

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

DAVE SISSONS



simakDialog - Patahan
simakDialog - Patahan
Country of Origin:Indonesia
Format:CD
Record Label:Moonjune
Catalogue #:MJR 015
Year of Release:2007
Time:73:43
Info:Info at Moonjune
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: One Had To Be (13.34), Spur Of The Moment (13.02), Kemarau (11.07), Worthseeing (16.22), Kain Sigli (19.49)

‘If Pat Metheny came from Indonesia, instead of the USA, then he’d sound like this.’ That’s the claim supporting the first international release from Indonesia-based simakDialog, and it’s actually a pretty good indication of what you’ll get if you decide to give this a try.

Formed in 1993 by pianist/composer Riza Arshad and drummer Arie Ayunir, this sextet performs compelling electro-acoustic progressive jazz-fusion with a distinctive and exotic cultural bent. simakDialog has previously released three albums: lukisan, baur, and Trance/Mission, as well as having performed extensively in its own country plus various jazz and music festivals in Indonesia, Malaysia and Nepal.

A combination of electric and acoustic instruments, the group is driven by two percussionists rather than a conventional drummer. This set, containing five self-composed tracks, comes from a live performance recorded in Jakarta in April 2006. Riza Arshad, is joined by Tohpati Ario Hutomo on guitars, Adhitya Pratama on fretless bass and Endang Ramdan and Emy Tata on percussion for five lengthy, and finely detailed compositions. There are traditional vocals on two of the tracks performed by Emy, whilst guest Marla Stukenberg adds some German poetry to the closing piece.

Expansive solos, rich harmonies, telling interplay and propulsive rhythms make Patahan a genre-exploring album that deserves to reach a worldwide audience. The careful use of traditional Javanese percussive instruments such as the ceng-ceng, kethuk and kendang adds a truly unique groove to the band’s sound.

Similarly, the use of poetry introduces another attractive aspect, especially Emy’s poetry reading in Indonesian. The quality of the recording is crystal clear, and even at over 70-minutes, the band doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Patahan (which means 'fault') is one of the most engaging and beautiful fusion albums you are ever likely to hear. Definitely an album for fans of fusion and instrumental music. However this is also likely to provide plenty of enjoyment for lovers of world and progressive music.

N.B. If reading this has aroused your interest in any way, then click on the 'Info' link above. The webpage offers a great taste of this band's potential, with four fascinating, full-length videos of live performances. It's worth it just to see the percussionists at work.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ANDY READ



Maestoso – Caterwauling
Maestoso – Caterwauling
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Records
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2017
Year of Release:2007
Time:58:54
Info:Woolly Wolstenholme
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Caterwauling (0:49), Soldier Of Fortune (11:37), The Road To Nowhere (4:08), Matilda Yarrow (5:05), The Collector (4:05), Closure (2:44), Always (4:06), I Don't Like You (3:34), Tonight Could Be The Night (4:11), Shoes (3:44), Strange Worlds (2:17), Quicksand (5:31), Blossom Hill (3:53), Pills (3:11)

Woolly Wolstenholme will be familiar to all Barclay James Harvest aficionados as the bands original keyboardist between 1967 and 1979. His departure was sparked by the bands drift from their symphonic prog roots to a poppier mainstream sound during the late 70’s. He replied with the excellent Maestoso solo album in 1980 but sadly due to meagre sales Polydor declined to release its successor Black Box and he abandoned the music business in 1982. He resurfaced again in 1998 to join former colleague and guitarist John Lees in a revamped version of BJH. During a lull in the bands activities he adopted the name Maestoso from his solo debut and subsequently released One Drop In A Dry World in 2004 and Grim in 2005. 2004 also saw the release of Black Box Recovered, his shelved second album dusted down and issued with several bonus tracks. Following an extensive tour with John Lees' Barclay James Harvest in 2006 he returned to the studio to complete his fourth offering Caterwauling. The supporting line-up remains intact from the last album, namely Steve Broomhead (guitars), Craig Fletcher (bass) and Kim Turner (drums).

Guest on several tracks is multi instrumentalist Geoffrey Richardson of Caravan fame and one half of the duo that supported the John Lees' BJH tour. The title track that opens is pretty much a throw away affair with disembodied voices (ala Pink Floyd) chanting the title. The music begins proper with Soldier Of Fortune, which together with The Road To Nowhere forms a two-song cycle with an anti war theme, always a popular subject with BJH. The lengthy Soldier Of Fortune features several contrasting sections that for me fail to gel as a whole. A King Crimson style intro with spiky guitar and raw, overloud drums is at odds with the majestic guitar and Mellotron fanfare that follows. The songs heart is a memorable folk ballad with atmospheric keys that works well as does a brief but serene orchestral section. Then it’s back to the heavy handed KC section to play out. In comparison the upbeat The Road To Nowhere is pure prog-pop with an 80’s feel and a catchy chorus. Providing a tranquil diversion is the Broomhead penned Matilda Yarrow. This is an engaging acoustic guitar, flute and Mellotron lament that’s very reminiscent of early Genesis circa the Nursery Cryme album.

Only four tracks in and already I have the feeling that Wolstenholme is trying just a little too hard to demonstrate his eclectic tastes. The Collector for instance is a driving rock song with a basic Pete Townsend style riff. Wolstenholme’s vocal is not the strongest but he manages to carry it off with some conviction. The mood remains consistent for the following three tracks although the quality level is variable. Closure is an appealing piano ballad and the best of the trio even though the soaring guitar break sounds a tad too close to Pendragon’s Am I Really Losing You for comfort. Always is a ponderous MOR ballad that would sit comfortably on any post 70’s Moody Blues album. And despite the title I Don’t Like You would have been a very bland song had it not been for some tasty slide guitar picking from Broomhead. Written by drummer Turner, Tonight Could Be The Night returns to a rockier tempo with a suitably punchy rhythm although the chorus is not as strong as it could be. It does however benefit from a rich organ sound.

The bittersweet Shoes features exquisite viola playing from Richardson underpinned with elegant strings courtesy of Wolstenholme’s keys. If I’m not mistaken the song is about the Holocaust and could have been an album highlight. It’s letdown however by an overblown guitar and percussion crescendo that undermines the song's credibility. Things don’t improve with Strange Worlds, an unlikely but thankfully short homage to the BBC TV children’s programme the ‘Clangers’. The aptly titled Quicksand includes rippling 12 string guitar and a sweeping guitar and keys section but unfortunately it’s weighed down by the dirge like vocal which sounds curiously off key. The melancholic Blossom Hill sees Wolstenholme’s fragile vocal at its most effective against a sublime orchestral backdrop with a sweet melody. One of the albums best songs and would have made a fitting closer had it not been for the disposable Pills. Taking a sideswipe at the medical profession this is less a song and more a piece of comedy theatre. It begins like a Spike Milligan comedy sketch before descending into pure pantomime.

Although this release does include some excellent moments overall it disappoints. For me, a marathon fourteen tracks with all but two credited or part credited to Wolstenholme is several songs too many. At least five could have been jettisoned allowing room to develop the stronger material. The absence of instrumentals in favour of the song based format is also restrictive in my view given that Wolstenholme’s voice is not his strongest asset. He has some excellent musicians onboard and together with his keyboard and arranging skills could have produced something more musically rewarding. On the plus side the conspicuous presence of his trademark Mellotron combined with Broomhead’s John Lees style guitar work often recalls the symphonic Barclay James Harvest grander of old. Production wise however it doesn’t have the same discipline. Some of the instrumental subtleties are almost lost in stark contrast to the cacophony of sounds during the strident passages. This is most noticeable during Soldier Of Fortune where the drum track is overbearing, presumably in an attempt to make it sound more dynamic. Mike Oldfield adopted a similar technique in 1983 for the Crises album with more success. The album will, I feel, appeal more to existing BJH and Wolstenholme fans rather than attracting new listeners.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Protos - The Noble Pauper's Grave
Protos - The Noble Pauper's Grave
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:NHM006
Year of Release:2007
Time:51:07
Info:Protos
Samples:Click here

Track list: Born a Bit Blue (3:10), Pause for Thought (0:45), Travels (5:12), Gathering Dreams (0:20), The Rally (11:44), Long Dark Night (0:39), The Final Dawn (2:53), The Noble Pauper (0:58), Outcry (10:54), Turmoil (0:44), Aftermath (6:29), Last Report (0:41), Departures (6:38)

Although having been around and involved with the UK's progressive scene for many a year, I have to say that I was completely oblivious to the band Protos. This in spite of their first album, One Day A New Horizon, originally released in 1982, having been given the exalted title of "one of the best prog rock albums ever made" and being described as "one of the most important albums of this particular sub-genre". That these comments are retrospective and derive from the recent CD re-release of the album may have something to do with my ignorance as I am pretty sure that the album was not held in such high esteem when it was first released 25 years ago. With a history stretching back to the height of punk rock (that's 1977 for all you youngsters out there!) the group, founders Rory Ridley-Duff (keyboards) and Stephen Anscombe (guitars) along with Nigel Rippon (bass) and Iain Carnegie (drums) were active for a couple of years in the early 1980s until studies in different parts of the country forced them apart. It was only on the release of a Ridley-Duff solo album in 2006 that the music of Protos started gaining a wider interest, particularly when it was discovered that the Japanese had taken the band's first album to heart and original copies were changing hands for large sums of money.

The Noble Pauper's Grave is, essentially, an instrumental concept album with each composition separated by a brief piece of narrative. The tale, of a rich man forgoing his wealth to live and fight for the rights of the poor, has the musical interpretation of each element, or chapter, of the story précised by the short spoken sections which act as intros to each piece. However, they are not an essential component of the album and can break up the flow of the music. The band are obviously sensitive to this and are aware that this may put some people off. With a clever degree of foresight, the band are offering two download versions, one with the full album (as per the CD) and the other with just the seven musical pieces. The album is primarily a collaboration between Ridley-Duff and Anscombe although two tracks are derived from older compositions with contributions from both Carnegie and Rippon, the latter of which also adds electric cello to the album.

The music itself is very melodic and quite laid back, bearing similarities to a less bombastic version of The Enid and even sections of The European Suite by Metropolis. Principle compositions are The Rally, whose opening fanfare sounds like music fit for a parade but then evolves into a more sophisticated rock track with periods of reflective melancholy, and Outcry where the keyboard-generated flute sounds and percussion elements provide an atmospheric beginning and the pseudo-harpsichord in the middle of the track providing a launch pad into a more fuller sound. Elsewhere faux saxophone provides a welcome intrusion in the acoustic guitar and piano dominated The Final Dawn with keyboard flutes and strings providing accents. The tempo is raised in Aftermath while Departures provides a fitting close to the album with an almost ethereal portrayal of the funeral of the Noble.

The Noble Pauper's Grave is certainly an interesting album that gains full marks for sound and musicianship. Fans of this kind of atmospheric, keyboard dominated music will be delighted with what is on offer by Protos who must certainly rank towards the top of the spectrum of bands playing within this genre. Personally, it didn't quite do it for me and my rating, as are all such quantifications, is a purely personal reflection of my tastes and is in no way a denigration of the quality of the compositions.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Hamadryad – Live In France 2006
Hamadryad – Live In France 2006
Country of Origin:Canada
Format:CD
Record Label:Unicorn Records
Catalogue #:UNCR-5046
Year of Release:2007
Time:77:15
Info:Hamadryad
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Sparks And Benign Magic / Self Made Men (9:11), Anatomy Of A Dream (6:33), Amora Demonis (7:37), Watercourse Hymn (9:44), Nameless (5:16), Omnipresent Umbra (9:48), One Voice (3:32), Polaroid Vendetta (6:45), Alien Spheres (6:00), Still They Laugh pts 1 & 2 (3:40), …Action! (9:03)

Montreal’s Hamadryad follow up their two studio releases Conservation Of Mass and Safe In Conformity with a live set recorded at the Crescendo Festival in France.

This CD was my first taste of the band’s work and I had some reservations of coming to them through a Live album, which were, I feel, at least partly borne out.

The opening pair of tunes I found to be enjoyable, but in a “heard it all before” Genesis-copy Neo prog vein. Things picked up with Amora Demonis, the first of several tracks which showcase Hamadryad’s heavier side, taking the band into Dream Theater territory whilst still retaining the 70’s symphonic streak. This track proves that the band is capable of introducing new and adventurous ideas into their music, stopping the band from being merely a retro-tribute style act.

Watercourse Hymn mellows things down with acoustic guitar and trilling piano and some Gabriel style vocals from Jean–Francois Desilets. It’s another pretty impressive tune, managing to throw in some Yes influences – particularly from the nimble keyboards of new boy Sebastian Cloutier.

The band play a complex music, full of dynamic shifts between hard edged riffs and intricate passages, balancing acoustic instruments with ferocious rock-outs, symphonic grandeur with touching folkish simplicity and mellow moments with frenetic fusion blasts.

Intrigued by what I heard on this disc, I did some research, including listening to some of the band’s studio work. Interestingly, the lead vocalist has changed since the first album, making the versions of those songs here quite different to their studio counterparts. Without wanting to judge either vocalist (they are both good in their own way), they are quite different stylistically and in tone and timbre. This might give an added incentive to those who own the studio albums to pick up this live disc. Desilets is very much in the mould of Gabriel and Cyrus of Xitizen Cain.

Also, the keyboard player has changed since the last album, and it would seem that the next album might see further changes in the formula, as Hamadryad do seem to be a band which wants to progress and develop their sound.

Back to this live disc, I have to say that although pretty much all of the tracks had some interesting twists and turns, I found it to be a bit of a struggle to sit through the whole disc in one sitting, although most of the shortcomings were, I felt, more to do with the live mix rather than the musicianship or the performances. To be fair, I believe this was recorded at an open air performance so the sound is pretty good in the circumstances.

My favourite track is Omnipresent Umbra, featuring a very catchy vocal melody but also introducing some fusion elements to the sound.

In the final analysis, this CD served to introduce me to a band with a lot of promise, and I will definitely purchase their other CDs and hopefully continue to follow their progress, but I doubt this CD will be my favourite of their output.

Let down by a somewhat muddy mix in places, Live nevertheless conveys the skill, stagecraft and enthusiasm of this hardworking band. Perhaps coming a little too early in their recording career, I would first recommend you seek out either of their studio releases before coming to this CD. Established fans of the band should enjoy this live set, with any shortcomings in the sound being offset with the new twists given to the material.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

DAVE SISSONS



XCentrik - Welcome To The War
XCentrik - Welcome To The War
Country of Origin:Denmark
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2007
Time:42:00
Info:Xcentrik
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Welcome To The War (4:41), Domino (5:05), Gertrudestein (4:09), Sweet Idol (4:45), Spinning (3:37), Color & Light (2:20), Fabulous Machine (6:02), Vanity (3:50), The End Of Nowhere (7:31)

XCentrik is a three piece rock band from Copenhagen that do things in their own way. Their debut album Welcome To The War is recorded in their own studio without pressure and outside interference. All for the benefit of creating a rock album out of the ordinary. Their name is spelled differently but is pronounced eccentric, a fitting expression to their approach to rock music.

The foundation for Welcome To The War is a guitar riff that sounds like a machine-gun firing. The heavy rock vocals are not outstanding but they fit the dark lyrics. This song has some nice twists, when exploding rock is anticipated the song takes a turn with ambient sounds. A real nut-grabber.

Domino begins dark and atmospheric and slightly evolves into a slow pounding rock song. The lyrics are about a middle aged woman who is making plans to kill her husband. This song shows that XCentrik is anything but predictable. The chorus sounds very funny and the solo begins with a familiar funny tune but on the whole this is a sad song. Gertrudestein opens with heavy chords but continues with a funny galloping riff. The lyrics and vocals are again very dark, even turning the funny galloping to a fearful sound. I did not discover a direct link between the contents of the lyrics in relation to the American writer Gertrude Stein.

Sweet Idol reveals the humour side of the band. Lyrics about becoming famous and wanting more and bigger things are sung with a relaxed voice over some jazzy guitar chords. Even a tune that bears close resemblance to disco is not feared. The relaxed vocals are not something to be listened to repeatedly, but on every spin this song is a funny and welcome break. Spinning is a pounding rock song that comes close to the style of Vengeance. Slow, pounding, heavy rock with a bluesy twist.

First point of criticism can be made about Color & Light. This song sounds nothing like the first songs and is in no way interesting or eccentric. When looking in the booklet I discovered that this song was written two years before the other songs. This is a perfect example of a filler.

Fabulous Machine is a rock ballad XCentrik style. Funky parts and a very mellow chorus but still very dark and atmospheric sounding. With more than six minutes this song is a bit to long. Vanity deals with plastic surgery, the difference between vanity and sanity. It's a slow rock song that sounds heavily influenced by Black Sabbath. The End Of Nowhere is also a rock ballad XCentrik style. Just like Fabulous Machine this song is a bit to long and also seems to be going nowhere.

Instead of taking the easy road XCentrik lives up to there name and tries to find a new way of playing rock. An impossible task but to some extend they have succeeded. Their rock sound is not renovating nor did they experiment with instruments out of the ordinary. Welcome To The War is a dark album with rock songs that do not follow a predictable path. With most of the interesting stuff is in the first part of the album, the older song is a bad bridge to a part mostly dominated by two long ballads that make this album kind of fizzle out. This album can be recommended to people interested in eccentric rock bands that are not interested to sound like everyone else. Musicians trying to be original is always something to be encouraged.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

EDWIN ROOSJEN



Contrarian - Minor Complexities
Contrarian - Minor Complexities
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2007
Time:59:36
Info:Contrarian
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Operation Overlord (6:12), Twilight Of The Idols (4:45), Sting Of Fate (4:07), Fear And Trembling (10:15), Barricades (5:38), Another Day (3:09), Just Doing Time (3:19), Plato's Cave (5:37), You're My Prayer (2:38), Stand Or Fall (5:12), Sanguine Bells (5:45), The Final Hand (2:59)

Contrarian is a high-energy, progressive rock band built and centered around Timothy Boney. Not only did he do the major part of the writing but he also plays electric, acoustic and bass guitar, keyboard, percussion and does backing vocals. Currently the band has been doubled from a trio to a sextet so that he does not need 10 arms to perform live. Minor Complexities is their debut album and contains musical influences from Kansas, Dream Theater and Rush.

Operation Overlord very clearly shows the musical influences from Kansas. If I did not know any better I could swear I was listening to Kansas. This song has all a progressive rock song needs; lot´s of time changes, plenty of keyboard riffs and in this case some beautiful violin melodies. The vocals also come close to that of Kansas. The lyrics are about D-day, a homage to the allied forces who fought at the Battle of Normandy. If the rest of the album is like this then I have found myself a killer album.

Sad to say Twilight Of The Idols does not continue the quality of the first song. From start to finish this song is an up tempo rock song in an 80's rock style. Halfway through the song a piano piece starts a bridge to what could be a nice instrumental part. But after a after a short while the drum continues in the same rock beat.

Sting Of Fate is about people who pursue their dreams, goals and passions instead of just talking about them. This song sounds exactly like an acoustic Bon Jovi rock song. The topic and the music would fit them perfectly.

Fear And Trembling makes a turn back to the progressive sound of the first song. Genesis like keyboards open the song that continues gently with some trumpet sounds. Just when I thought things were turning for the better the drummer picks up a rock beat and I hear that outdated rock sound again. Exactly half way through the song changes into a slower pace. The rest of the song is more diverse but still way to much up tempo outdated rock.

Barricades approaches the level of the first song. The theme of the lyrics is a continuation of Sting Of Fate, addressing the detrimental limitations we sometimes put upon ourselves. The sound is not a continuation of the Bon Jovi like style of that song but more in the continuation of Fear And Trembling. Heavy keyboards and even some Dream Theater like time changes can be heard on this song. Also just like Fear And Trembling the amount of up tempo rock is to much. The next two songs are almost a copy of songs 2 and 3.

Another Day is rock song in an outdated 80´s style and Just Doing Time is another Bon Jovi like rock ballad. Plato's Cave returns to the Kansas style but doesn't reach the level of Operation Overlord. It all sounds a bit to easy and to much of the same. You're My Prayer is an acoustic ballad that gently brings this album to an end.

But wait a minute, there is more to come! You're My Prayer ended in a way I thought the album was over. It would have been better because the last three rock songs do not improve the level of this album.

This album starts out very interesting with a high quality song in the style of Kansas. From the start of the second song it's immediately downhill and the high level of the first song is never reached again. Fear And Trembling, Barricades and Plato's Cave come close but feature to many up tempo rock parts. The rest of the songs are standard rock songs in an outdated, sometimes even Bon Jovi like, style. I cannot recommend this album, it started nicely but in the end it's just not a good album.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

EDWIN ROOSJEN




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