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2008 : VOLUME 50
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


It Bites - The Tall Ships
It Bites - The Tall Ships
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:InsideOut
SPV
Catalogue #:IOMCD 302
SPV 79892
Year of Release:2008
Time:74:33
Info:It Bites
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Oh My God (5:47), Ghosts (4:45), Playground (5:32), Memory Of Water (4:49), The Tall Ships (6:17), The Wind That Shakes The Barley (8:11), Great Disasters (4:59), Fahrenheit (5:16), For Safekeeping (5:29), Lights (4:59), This Is England (13:49) Bonus Track: When I Fall (4:41)

Tom De Val's Review

First, a bit of a history lesson for those not familiar with this much-loved but (initially) short-lived British band. Formed in the county of Cumbria, North West England, in the early 1980’s, It Bites scored a surprise UK top ten hit with the catchy but idiosyncratic pop-rock of Calling All The Heroes in 1986. Those who bought the album from whence it came, their oddly-titled debut The Big Lad In The Windmill, expecting more of the same were in for a bit of a shock. Whilst the quartet (featuring vocalist/ guitarist Francis Dunnery, keyboard player John Beck, drummer Bob Dalton and bassist Dick Nolan) could knock out punchy, hook filled rockers such as All In Red and Screaming On The Beaches with ease, their love of seventies-era Yes and Genesis shone through in the heavy, almost avant garde prog of unlikely opener I Got You Eating Out Of My Hand and the emotional ballad You’ll Never Go To Heaven.

The band’s traits – Dunnery’s superlative, blissfully, melodic guitar work and distinctive, slightly nasally but emotionally charged vocals, Beck’s unashamedly retro keyboard work, a punchy rhythm section and wonderful vocal harmony work – were honed to perfection on the band’s sophomore effort, Once Around The World. Featuring such fan favourites as the hook-laden rocker Kiss Like Judas, Old Man And The Angel (a bit like seventies Yes given a modern edge) and the fifteen minute, multi-faceted title track, it must have disappointed all concerned that despite this (and rave reviews of their live shows) the band didn’t really gain many additional fans. Band and record label must have panicked a bit, as 1989’s Eat Me In St Louis saw the band going for a heavier, more transatlantic sound in a bid for success stateside, but it never really happened. A period of in-fighting lead to Dunnery leaving the band, and although the others trundled on for a while with a different front-man and name, things soon ground to a halt.

Since then, Dunnery has forged a relatively successful if increasingly stripped-down solo career, as well as establishing himself as a sidesman of some repute with Robert Plant and others, whilst the other band members have busied themselves with session work. 2005 was a turning point of sorts, when prog everyman John Mitchell joined up with Beck, Pete Trewavas and ex-Porcupine Tree drummer Chris Maitland to form Kino. It soon became clear that Beck and Mitchell were the driving force in terms of song-writing, and the resulting album – the highly regarded Picture – showed clear nods to the signature It Bites sound, small wonder given Beck’s involvement and the fact that Mitchell was a keen It Bites fan in his youth.

Meanwhile Dunnery, Beck, Dalton and Nolan briefly got back together on stage in a gig in their hometown, and for a while it looked like a full-blown reunion might be on the cards. However, the fact that Dunnery is now US based and has really moved a long way from the It Bites sound probably meant this was never really going to get off the ground. Nevertheless, the It Bites bug had clearly bitten the rest of them, and getting Mitchell in as a replacement must have seemed a no-brainer. Having won over a sceptical fanbase (who probably weren’t as aware of Mitchell’s credentials as is the average modern prog fan) with a tour and live album in 2006, the band knuckled down to produce the first outing under the It Bites name for nineteen years. Following the ousting of Nolan (for lack of commitment), Mitchell, Beck and Dalton worked on the album on a trio, and the result, The Tall Ships, in finally here.

The obvious questions many were asking before this album saw the light of day was whether this was really a new It Bites album, or rather a new Kino album given the It Bites moniker to tap into the not-inconsiderable fan base who remember the band fondly? Well, truthfully there are elements of both bands here. Take the first four tracks. The opening duo of Oh My God and Ghosts immediately reminded me of the one-two punch of Midnight and Kiss Like Judas from Once Around The World – hook-laden, punchy, with the right balance of gritty riffs and quirky melodies, and topped off by some dextrous guitar work and those insidiously catchy vocal harmonies; these are trademark It Bites songs, with only Mitchell’s more Gabriel-esque vocal delivery belying the fact it wasn’t recorded in their heyday. Playground is more of a Kino-esque track, a gentle, wistful track with a slight alternative edge but plenty of warmth and a sing-a-long chorus, whilst Memory Of Water contrasts some up-tempo, edgy verses with a more traditional, soaring guitar-led chorus.

By this time, most listeners will have long forgotten the argument over whether this should be an It Bites or a Kino album, and will simply be revelling in some fantastic music. It certainly doesn’t stop here. From powerful ballads (the piano-led For Safekeeping and the anthemic, lighters-in-the-air-worthy title track) to quirky pop-prog (the sublimely ridiculous and acrobatic vocal melody that opens and runs throughout Great Disasters makes The Police and their ‘de-do-do-do-de-da-da-da’ sound rather lame) and superior, mid-paced AOR-with-an-edge (Fahrenheit, When I Fall), It Bites barely put a foot wrong.

Of course, with It Bites being known (despite plenty of evidence to the contrary) as a prog band, it’s the epics fans will crave, and they shouldn’t be disappointed, with two served up here. The Wind That Shakes The Barley is simply fantastic, easily one of the best songs the band have done. From the moment the organic-sounding opening organ notes gradually increase in intensity before being usurped by a spiralling riff, this is a great roller-coaster ride through trademark It Bites country, dipping and whirling as you’d expect, and featuring some of Mitchell’s best guitar work on the album when he goes into a great sing-song, call-and-response solo two-thirds of the way through the song. This Is England, meanwhile, perhaps tries a little too hard to emulate Once Around The World (the track) – I could certainly have done without the rather twee ‘church service’ section – but it grows with repeated listens, and for a lengthy track does seem to fly by. I love the way the band manage to reference both seventies and eighties period of Genesis (that oft-referenced Apocalypse In 9/8 section of Supper's Ready and a short section that strongly reminds me of the driving keyboard sound that dominates the title track of Abacab) – most prog bands would rather forget Genesis went on past 1976!

Overall, a new It Bites without their original, unique frontman (widely regarded as their driving force) could have been a (great) disaster, but in fact it’s a complete triumph. Not only have the band matched the quality of their eighties releases, they have (in my opinion) exceeded them – and this from someone who has regularly listened to those albums since the day they were released. Lets face it, each of the first three albums features at least one, sometimes two duds or fillers amongst 45-50 minutes of music; The Tall Ships features no filler, and only a couple of minutes of This Is England which I would consider superfluous, and that’s nearly 75 minutes of music. It’s often said that quality trumps quantity but here both are on display in abundance. It’s a testament to the quality of this album that when the band toured recently (I was fortunate enough to see one of the shows – the band were full of vitality and energy) many fans were disappointed that more new songs weren’t played – not usually the reaction you get when ‘older’ bands take to the boards. Definitely one of the strongest releases this year – if you’re a lover of prog, rock or anything in between, you owe it to yourself to check this gem out.

Geoff Feakes' Review

Other than their 1986 UK hit single Calling All The Heroes the recorded output of It Bites has pretty much passed me by. After releasing three studio albums between 1986 and 1989, a live album appeared in 1991 although by this point frontman Francis Dunnery had already departed to pursue a solo career. Following several side projects and a short lived reunion with Dunnery in 2003 the remaining members John Beck (keyboards), Bob Dalton (drums) and Dick Nolan (bass) decided to reform the band in 2006. To replace Dunnery they didn’t have to look far, recruiting Beck and Dalton’s bandmate from Kino, John Mitchell. A talented guitarist and singer he is also noted for his previous work with Arena and currently Frost*. A well received tour featuring the rejuvenated It Bites was captured on live disc and released in 2007 under the title When The Lights Go Down. Earlier this year, subsequent to the recording of The Tall Ships, the increasingly disenchanted Nolan was replaced by respected session musician and bassist with Rick Wakeman’s ERE, Lee Pomeroy.

As I said earlier I’m unfamiliar with It Bites’ previous albums (The Big Lad In The Windmill, Once Around The World and Eat Me In St Louis) but by all accounts each successive release saw them venture from pop to prog to hard rock. Fittingly The Tall Ships is equally less an out and out progressive rock album and more a collection of memorable contemporary rock songs with proggy overtones. The sound is suitably varied helped by shrewd placement of each song. For instance the longest and (unsurprisingly) proggiest track is appropriately saved till the end preceded by the two of the album’s poppiest offerings. There are also one or two surprises along the way, not least the quirky a cappella vocal arrangement that opens the album and the song Oh My God. Mitchell’s qualities as a songwriter and lyricist are evident from the outset with a strong melody and refreshingly down to earth lines like “I’m self obsessed and tedious at best”. I can think of one of two artists (Mitchell excepted) that line could apply to.

Due to Nolan’s absence during the recording sessions the bass parts are taken care of by Mitchell and Beck which they handle with aplomb. Check out the thumping riff that propels Ghosts along and you’ll know what I mean. Beck also provides appropriately spooky synth effects whilst Mitchell’s raw vocal delivery is complimented by his fast and edgy guitar break. In contrast Playground opens with lilting acoustic guitar and electric piano before the weighty rhythm section and guitar kick in revealing it to be an engaging mid-tempo song with a memorable chorus and strong synth line. During Memory Of Water Mitchell’s guitar sound ranges from the spiky intro to the melodic tone that drives this up-tempo tune. Beck adds a suitably gritty organ line whilst Dalton’s drumming is impressive in both weight and technique which is flawless by the way.

The title song The Tall Ships has the kind of anthemic chorus that many bands would give their right arm for. It’s a powerful song that would not sound out of place on a John Wetton or Asia release. The dynamic keys work is very colourful including an atmospheric recorder sounding solo. The albums centrepiece The Wind That Shakes The Barley alternates heavier organ driven passages with tranquil sections where Mitchell’s voice adopts a husky Peter Gabriel quality. The counterpoint backing voices are a strong feature as is the great proggy guitar and keyboard interplay around the midway point. Despite the title, Great Disasters is a piece of lightweight pop confectionary which dare I suggest has hit single potential written all over it thanks to an infectious wordless chant underpinned by a pulsating keys line. Likewise Fahrenheit makes the most of its catchy chorus with a ringing guitar motif throughout and some very fine harmonies. For Safekeeping juxtaposes a simple but lyrical piano refrain with a confident vocal melody and a very Brian Mayish strident guitar break.

Lights is (if you excuse the pun) a bright and uplifting song with a skipping rhythm and sing-along chorus that would stand-up very well on primetime radio. It also has a hint of Calling All The Heroes about it benefiting from a sparkling keys sound and a spirited guitar break. With the majority of the proceeding songs clocking in at around the 5 minute mark the prospect of the near 14 minute This Is England is a tantalising one and it doesn’t disappoint. Although still relatively short it the prog-rock epic stakes it manages to squeeze in four or five distinct sections. An introspective vocal intro against a shimmering keys backdrop gives way to a heartbeat rhythm that develops with a swirling organ riff into its punchy stride with some suitably heavyweight drumming. It takes a more upbeat turn with the main choral section featuring rich Queen flavoured backing vocals. Following a dramatic spiralling keys part it subsides for a heavenly celestial organ coda complete with electrifying lead and backing voices providing an unexpected and compelling finale.

It Bites fans I’m sure will be well placed to judge if this release compares favourably with previous outings. Although the band is jointly credited with writing and production anyone familiar with Mitchell’s work will recognise his indelible stamp on each song. I have a feeling however that his style has been tailored to accommodate the expectations of an It Bites album and in the opening song especially I did recognise hints of Dunnery in his voice. Judged purely on its own merits it has an impressive scope that succeeds on virtually every level including tuneful melodies and hooks a plenty. Mitchell’s not inconsiderable guitar skills impress as always and I particularly like Beck’s keys technique which eschews excessive soloing in favour of exquisitely melodic lines and colourful orchestral textures. Likewise Dalton is no slouch behind the drum kit and demonstrates why he was chosen to replace Chris Maitland in Kino. This is a very classy release and one that should find favour with not only the prog fraternity but (if there is any justice in the world) any discerning audience that recognises a superior collection of songs when they hear it.

Conclusions:

TOM DE VAL : 9.5 out of 10
GEOFF FEAKES : 8.5+ out of 10



Pure Reason Revolution - Live at Nearfest 2007
Pure Reason Revolution - Live at Nearfest 2007
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:NEARfest Records
Catalogue #:NFR0010
Year of Release:2008
Time:67:47
Info:Pure Reason
Revolution
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: In Aurélia (5:33), Borgens Vor (2:30), Deus Ex Machina (5:45), The Bright Ambassadors of Morning (10:42), Victorious Cupid (3:45), Voices in Winter/In the Realms of the Divine (7:06), The Twyncyn/Trembling Willows (7:36), Golden Disco (3:05), Aeropause (5:46), Apprentice of the Universe (3:29), Nimos & Tambos (3:48), Arrival/The Intention Craft (8:36)

Pure Reason Revolution is a band that I both admire and follow critically. I was astonished by the freshness of the sound on their debut album The Dark Third, but at the same time disappointed by the overproduction, the lack of variation (especially in the second half of the album) and the inability to actually hear what they are singing in the overdosis of multi-vocal arrangements. I find listening to the full Dark Third album an exhausting experience because of the cramped arrangements in some of the songs and the obvious repeated formula the band are using in some of the material. Regardless of having seen the band perform live as support act of Porcupine Tree and Blackfield and experiencing the deafening sound levels at these gigs I did decide to see the band again when they played in my hometown. It was a good but ridiculously short gig (slightly more than an hour), but I did pick up a copy of the Live at Nearfest 2007 CD that clearly showed the band had a lot more live material than they performed that night.

When listening to the live album, recorded at the North East Art Rock Festival in June 2007, I was pleasantly surprised by many aspects. First of all the album has a very 'live' feel to it, compared to the studio recordings. There's a certain roughness that's not present on the polished originals and even though I'm convinced that the band use quite a bit of backing tapes or pre-programmed recordings (after all, who's playing keys when they are all playing guitar riffs?) the whole thing sounds quite authentic. Authentic and untouched to the extend that I have rarely heard a guitar solo that is so out of tune as the one at the start of the heavier section of Ambassadors. Every time I hear it I'm not sure if I should laugh about the hilarity of it or cringe from the embarrassment. Fortunately, with the exception of the occasional vocal that might not be 100% right, this is the only spot where the band obviously screw up. The rest of the recording is very enjoyable. As said, much more open and unpolished, a welcome alternative.

I also like the fact that the band has obviously put energy in presenting some of the songs ways different from the originals. Some of the songs, like In Aurélia and Voices in Winter have extended intros, Aeropause comes with added samples of movie dialogue and lacking Goshen's Remains in the set flows straight into Apprentice of the Universe.

For those who only own the original versions of Cautionary Tales for the Brave and The Dark Third there's quite a few extra's in this setlist. Borgens Vor, Golden Disco (seemingly a rearranged version of Golden Clothes, a song who's original is unknown to me) and Nimos & Tambos were all songs that were relatively rare until Inside Out Records re-released The Dark Third with a bonus disc. It's very interesting to hear some of these songs since some of them contain both lyrical and musical cross-references to other songs I was already familiar with. As a matter of fact, some sections even sound like early versions of songs that later appeared on The Dark Third in other forms.

There's more new material in the form of Deus Ex Machina and Victorious Cupid, both are planned to be included on the band's second full-length album and have been played live extensively during the past years. Victorious Cupid has even been released on single. Especially Deus Ex Machina is interesting since it's techno influences prove the band has more up their sleeves than the formula they have used to death on The Dark Third.

All in all an enjoyable and recommended live album by a highly interesting band, with a setlist that adds something for those who only have the debut EP and CD. I'm looking forward to hearing their next album, hoping that they don't repeat the mistakes they've made with their previous work and show some more variation in their creativity.

Conclusion: 8+ out of 10

ED SANDER



Jefferson Starship - BB King's Blues Club ~ 30-31 October 2000
Jefferson Starship - BB King's Blues Club 30-31 October 2000
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Voiceprint
Catalogue #:BEARVP101CD
Year of Release:2008
Time:180:18
Info:Jefferson Starship
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1: Crown of Creation (3:27), Caroline (5:49), J.P.P. McStep B. Blues (4:55), Good Shepherd (6:37), Lather (3:50), Borderlands (3:53), Planes (4:36), Miracles (8:14), Atlanta Lady (5:15), Martha (4:56), The Bag I'm In (2:30), Eskimo Blue Day (7:36)

CD 2: Greasy Heart (4:04), Count On Me (5:04), Diana (part 1) (0:37), Volunteers (5:05), Comin' Back To Me (6:06), Fat Angel (7:13), St. Charles (7:19), Won't You Try / Saturday Afternoon (5:18), Today (3:35), Triad (6:44), Sketches of China (5:14), Only One You (3:41)

CD 3: Summer Of Love (5:35), Your Mind Has Left Your Body (5:58), Diana (Part Two) (0:58), Shadowlands (4:49), Hey Frederick (7:56), 3/5ths Of A Mile In 10 Seconds (4:50), All Fly Away (5:02), Plastic Fantastic Lover (4:28), The Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil (10:16), Have You Seen The Saucers? (4:59), It's No Secret (3:34)

Jefferson Starship - Substage, Karlsruhe ~ 16 June 2005
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Voiceprint
Catalogue #:BEARVP103CD
Year of Release:2008
Time:174:35
Info:Jefferson Starship
Samples:Click here
Jefferson Starship - Substage, Karlsruhe 16 June 2005

Tracklist:

CD 1: Embryonic Journey/Morning Dew (5:12), In My Life (2:10), Mountains Of The Moon/Dark Star (6:14), People Are Strange (1:59), Turn On Your Lovelight/Magic Carpet Ride (1:40), Ich Weiss, Es Wird Einmal Ein Wunder Geschehen (3:05), Cold Rain And Snow (9:13), New Minglewood Blues (7:51), I Know You Rider (8:47), Deal (7:01)

CD 2: Setting Up (1:05), Won't You Try/Saturday Afternoon (5:23), Crown Of Creation (3:45), White Rabbit (3:12), Get Together (4:28), Lilith's Song (7:13), Pride Of Man (5:27), Epic #38 (7:41), Fast Buck Freddie (4:35), Maybe I'm Amazed (6:54), Jane (4:55), War Movie (4:33), Harp Tree Lament (3:33)

CD 3: Across The Board (6:03), Somebody To Love (3:18), The Ballad Of You & Me & Pooneil/Encore Break (11:17), Be Young You (Diana Solo)/Diana (3:30), Who Do You Love/Dark Star (18:25), The Other Side Of This Life (10:41), The Other Side Of This Life (Coda) (5:12)

Jefferson Starship - BB King's Blues Club ~ 9 September 2007
Jefferson Starship - BB King's Blues Club 9 September 2007
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Voiceprint
Catalogue #:BEARVP104CD
Year of Release:2008
Time:148:13
Info:Jefferson Starship
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1: She Has Funny Cars (4:53), Somebody To Love (3:59), "Bono Joke" (2:26), DCBA-25 (3:00), 3/5ths Of A Mile In 10 Seconds (4:35), Today (3:29), White Rabbit (3:03), Plastic Fantastic Lover (4:08), Lather (3:29), Won't You Try / Saturday Afternoon (5:43), Martha (5:05), Get Together (4:33), Atlanta Lady (5:41), With Your Love (4:40), Runaway (4:26), Summer Of Love (6:01)

CD 2: Hearts (11:40), Kisses Sweeter Than Wine (4:08), Commandante Carlos Finseca (3:17), Million (5:01), Sketches Of China (5:16), White Boy 'Fakeout' (1:09), Your Mind Has Left Your Body (4:18), Harp Tree Lament (3:54), While My Guitar Gently Weeps (7:36), Pride Of Man (5:10)

CD 3: Caroline (6:30), All Fly Away (4:14), Count On Me (5:03), Miracles (8:10), Fast Buck Freddy (4:08), Jane (4:18), There Will Be Love (5:03), Hyperdrive (7:20), Ride The Tiger (6:45), Volunteers (5:46)

Don't let the name put you off, these releases have nothing to do with that travesty of a band that became Starship after the departure of Paul Kanter and the subsequent lawsuit that prevented further inclusion of the name Jefferson in their name. That band went on to produce totally bland music in the 1980s reaching a low with We Built This City, a song described by Grace Slick as the most stupid song of all time. And she sang it! Ironically, the same law suit has prevented the current band from using the name Jefferson Airplane, which they are sonically more similar with and, indeed, take a lot of their live repertoire from. With a fluid line-up, although always featuring Paul Kanter, the group took off in 1992 as Jefferson Starship: The Next Generation dropping the Star Trek-inspired addition to the name after a couple of years. In homage to the classic Grateful Dead Dick's Picks archive releases, Jefferson Starship have initiated their own live concert series, Mick's Picks, named for their recordist Michael Gaimen. There are currently three releases, all triple CDs, with a fourth (a double CD and, confusingly, volume two in the series) being scheduled for release this month.

The three concerts reviewed here span the years 2000 to 2007 and all feature Kanter on vocals and 12-string guitars, Diana Mangano on vocals, Mark "Slick" Aguilar on vocals and electric lead guitar and Chris Smith on keyboards and vocals. Additional performers include original Jefferson Airplane / Jefferson Starship members Marty Balin on vocals and acoustic guitars (2000 and 2007 concerts), David Freiberg on vocals and acoustic guitars (2005 and 2007 concerts), The Tubes drummer Prairie Prince (2005 Concert), one-time Grateful Dead pianist and vocalist Tom Constanten (2005 Concert) and drummer Mike Sciotto (2007 concert). As stated, the line-up is fluid with members coming and going depending on their availability for touring. Previous participants have included Jack Cassady and original Airplane singer Signe Anderson.

Obviously, to indulge in a track-by-track review of all three releases would be pointless, redundant and ultimately boring for the reader! So instead, I will present a general overview of each release, in chronological order. The first of the concerts from BB King's Blues Club is the only one not to feature a drummer and, as a consequence, has a lot more intimate feel than the other recordings. Balin is in particularly fine voice with Kanter and Mangano providing great backing vocals, particularly on Caroline. Not that Balin hogs all the leads, Kanter takes the majority of Good Shepherd, which features some nice soloing from Aquilar and is on a par with any live version I've heard by the original Airplane, and Mangano sounds impressively like Grace Slick on tracks such as Lather and Eskimo Blue Day. Of the three singers it is Kanter's voice that shows the ravages of time the most, although having said that he was never really a lead vocalist as such. The stripped down sound benefits some of the songs that never came across well on album, like Borderlands from the Windows Of Heaven album and Planes from the disappointing 1989 Jefferson Airplane reunion album. The track selection on the 2000 concert features a majority of Jefferson Airplane tracks interspersed with older folk and country rock numbers such as Freddie Neil's The Bag I'm In. David Crosby's paean to free love, Triad is given a different slant with its female vocals, while Balin shines on Plastic Fantastic Lover and It's No Secret. Instrumentally, the band peak on Your Mind Has Left Your Body and The Ballad Of You And Me And Pooneil.

The first CD of the 2005 German concert features Tom Constanten playing a short solo set which mixes interesting piano versions of some Grateful Dead Songs along with idiosyncratic takes on The Beatles' In My Life and The Doors' People Are Strange. Constanten does not exactly have a wonderful voice but his piano skills are in no doubt. On The last four tracks the rest of the group, bar Kanter, join Constanten on stage. After a shaky start during which Constanten's vocal limitations are all too evident, Cold Wind And Snow kicks up a gear with some fine playing reaching a peak on Deal. The concert is more electric than the 2000 show and as a result the songs that appear on both releases are arranged and performed quite differently. Two of the songs most widely associated with the Airplane, White Rabbit and Somebody To Love get a decent run through as do two rarely performed Kanter songs Epic #38 and War Movie, the latter of which was performed for the first time in 34 years! Two big disappointments are Paul McCartney's Maybe I'm Amazed were Aguilar's guitar seems to wander in and out of key and Jane, the big Jefferson Starship hit on which Freiberg falls far short of replicating the original lead vocals of Micky Thomas. Freiberg's old band, Quicksilver Messenger Service, are represented by a couple of tracks, Pride Of Man and Who Do You Love segueing into Dark Star, which, although not matching the Dead, does possess some charm. The concert is rounded off by an extended version, and coda, of The Other Side Of This Life, another Freddie Neil number.

The songs on the 2007 CD are taken from a memorably concert from the end of "The Summer Of Love 40th Anniversary Tour". The band decided that they would play four complete sets on that night, one for each of the Jefferson eras (Airplane and Starship), one of Marty Balin songs and one of material favoured by Paul Kanter. The band are in great form with all four vocalists contributing to Somebody To Love, the first of four songs from the Surrealistic Pillow album. True to the reputation of the Airplane the songs teeter on the edge, often shambolic but with no doubt that these are genuine live recordings and what happened on the night. Mangano is the star holding everything together with her high vocals and harmonies. The voices of the male contingent show the ravages of time and too much smoking, although Balin still has a fine voice, as evidenced by the set of his solo songs, even if it is not a patch on what it used to be. However, the rough edges and gruff tones are honest and don't distract from the harmony singing. Musically, the group can't be faulted, Lather is just about the equal of the studio version. Balin's section starts with Atlanta Lady (wrongly labelled as Coming Back To Me on the CD) and proceeds through a selection of semi acoustic love songs performed by a stripped down ensemble. Most of the band return for Hearts on which Aquilar gets to throw in a few tasty licks during his extended solo. Kanter's spot is particularly interesting for the choice of material chosen to be performed, Million gets its first live airing ever while Commandante Carlos Finseca (sic), a song about a Nicaraguan martyr, is something one might ordinarilly find on a Billy Bragg protest album. An instrumental version of While My Guitar Gently Weeps is a highlight of the set, if not the whole of the three releases. The final CD is all Jefferson Starship songs, save for Volunteers. By this stage the length of the concert has taken its toll with straining of the vocals evident. This doesn't prevent the spirited performers giving their all, even digging out There Will Be Love from Red Octopus and following it up with a very decent version of Hyperdrive.

These releases show just what a legacy of great songs have been released by the various line-ups of Jefferson Airplane/Starship. Although it is not recommended to buy one of these releases in preference to any of the studio albums, they do provide an honest and interesting keepsake of the band for long-term fans or mementos of a night spent in the presence of at least a couple of legends. Naturally, the releases do contain several tracks that are common to all, but there is enough variety and sufficient rarities on each of the sets to make them all interesting if one is a completist. To put things in context, is it likely that any of the bands that are coming to prominence at the moment will still have enough of a following or sufficient material that has stood the test of time to be able to go out and tour in 2050? That's made you think hasn't it?!

Conclusions:
2000 Concert: 6 out of 10
2005 Concert: 5 out of 10
2007 Concert: 5 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Anathema - Hindsight
Anathema - Hindsight
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:K-Scope Music
Catalogue #:KSCOPE106
Year of Release:2008
Time:52:32
Info:Anathema
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Fragile Dreams (5:30), Leave No Trace (4:51), Inner Silence (3:39), One Last Goodbye (6:03), Are You There? (5:18), Angelica (5:00), A Natural Disaster (6:19), Temporary Peace (5:09), Flying (6:26), Unchained [Tales Of The Unexpected] (4:17)

It has been five years since the release of A Natural Disaster, so why such a huge gap? The major problem was that Anathema were without a record company. Now a deal has been signed with K-Scope Music, to celebrate this and to kill time before the new album, a compilation album is released. However to make Hindsight something special the songs are semi-acoustic with help from Dave Wesling who plays cello for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Another change for a band that started out as doom/death metal and evolved into a more Radiohead/Pink Floyd kind of music.

Their last studio album A Natural Disaster is the largest supplier with three songs. Of course the songs A Natural Disaster and Are You There? are already very acoustic in their original form and the versions on Hindsight do not differ a lot from the original. On the guitar solo on Flying the electric guitar has been changed to an acoustic one, this is certainly an improvement. The change to acoustic has improved these songs to my ears, although the compositions have not changed for this album - they have not been rewritten.

Alternative 4 supplies two songs for this album. On Inner Silence the guitar solo has been replaced by a cello solo. Fragile Dreams is the heaviest song that I am familiar with that has been given an alternative version on Hindsight. This song has been nicely adapted but it still features an electric guitar solo in the last part. If you change a song to acoustic you better change it completely. This album also features some songs of Anathema I am not familiar with. Leave No Trace and Temporary Peace from A Fine Day To Exit; One Last Goodbye from Judgement and Angelica from Eternity. Unchained [Tales Of The Unexpected] is the only new song on this album.

This acoustic compilation album turned out to be a very good album and the change to semi-acoustic was for me an improvement. The Anathema songs I am familiar with have appealed to me a bit more on this new album than in their original state. As mentioned the compositions were not altered and some songs that were already a bit acoustic as the original did not change very much. So the only question as to whether or not this album is interesting for you depends on your own taste and interest. If you like beautiful acoustic music, then this album is perfect, even if you have never heard anything from Anathema. Fans of Anathema can certainly buy this new album but be warned not to expect something completely new. I am not a big fan of bands changing old songs to acoustic performances but this album is an exception for me, I really like it.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

EDWIN ROOSJEN



Mirage - Borderline
Mirage - Borderline
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4762
Year of Release:2008
Time:62:54
Info:Mirage
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Ordinary Madness (9:57), Nothing Stops Me (12:40), Compulsion (11:27), Heads Up (10:23), When I Play [Part One] (1:12), I Saw You (6:17), The Girl With The Sun In Her Hair (2:07), Blue Pill (4:36), When I Play [Part Two] (4:10) {followed by about four minutes of birdsong}

Third release from France's own version of Camel following on from 2001's A Secret Place and 2004's Tales From A Green Sofa. With each release the group is moving further away from the Latimer blueprint and gradually forming their own musical identity. This is no bad thing because, as mentioned in previous reviews, the band are no slouches as musicians and there is only so much one can release in the style of another band before becoming labelled as a pale imitation or tribute act. The quintet comprises Stephan Forner on guitar and vocals, Cyrille Forner on bass and backing vocals, Joe Mondon on drums, percussion and acoustic guitar, Philipe Duplessy on keyboards, backing vocals and excised kazoo, and Agnés Forner on flute and backing vocals. Seems that the album has been waiting a while for release as recording was completed in December 2006.

The album is front-loaded with the longer material, all of the first four tracks are at least ten minutes long, with the next four ranging from one to six minutes. The problem with the shorter tracks is that the vocals are more concentrated which is a bit of a drawback as the singing qualities of Stephan Forner are not that bright. In the longer pieces the vocals are more naturally, and easily, pushed to the background by the extended, and more interesting instrumental passages. It is these tracks that hold the key to the deeper pleasures of Borderline. The longer tracks are where the band excel, with Nothing Stops Me in particular being a totally compelling piece of music. Forner makes his mark with some fine work on the guitar with Duplessy adding all sorts of squeaks and squawks as well as some more normal keyboard parts. Compulsion keeps the standards high while Heads Up comes the closest to recreating the Camelesque sound of yore, although, as mentioned earlier, the style is more their own.

On the shorter pieces, the first part of When I Play begins with birdsong, acoustic guitar and a lovely flute motif before the drums are introduced. No sooner has the song got going than I Saw You starts up with an electric piano and acoustic guitar forming the basis of a pleasing song with some interesting changes and a fine melody. The Girl With The Sun In Her Hair is a short song that would be improved immeasurably with a more mellifluous vocalist. Blue Pill is possibly a prog ode to Viagra with its lyric of When it comes I've no escape, that for sure you should know, I'd just have to take a deep breath in and a blue pill, you're the one who holds the cure, that you know when and how, to fix me right so I can get on with the show! Still there is no problem keeping the guitar solo going as it merges into When I Play [part 2] which ends the album on a high with some great guitar and keyboard interplay, oh and the bird singing!

With their third album, Mirage have made great strides in breaking away from the tag of Camel clones. With over an hour of fine music, Borderline is a good addition to the French band's catalogue.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Lynn Stokes & The Sol Surfers - Terra Nocturne
Lynn Stokes & The Sol Surfers - Terra Nocturne
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:CDBaby
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2008
Time:53:02
Info:Lynn Stokes &
The Sol Surfers
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Sacred Moon's Light (7:39), Terra Nocturne (2:25), Where Have You Gone (6:41), The Crossing (2:47), Let Go (8:05), Open Door (4:59), American Dream (12:30), Dream Sequence (4:51), Across The Barrier (3:04)

While you’re waiting for Pink Floyd to reform, you could do much worse than pass an hour listening to this little album. In fact you may as well set aside a whole evening. Because when you’ve listened to it once, you’re almost certain to want to play it again.

Lynn Stokes is a life-long musician from Texas who has played guitar with many bands over the years. He even once opened for Bob Dylan. Writing his own songs was a later development, but inspired by researching his family heritage, Stokes formed the Sol Surfers a year or so ago. Terra Nocturne is the band’s first album. (Take care if searching for this record, as Stokes’ first album, Off To Sea Once More released under his own name in 2001, is made up of Scottish and English sea shantys!)

Anyway it’s immediately clear where Stokes’ musical inspiration now lies and fans of Gilmour and Co will find plenty to devour here. The mellow, ethereal opener Sacred Moon's Light and its flowing saxophone could have escaped from the Wish You Were Here sessions. The piano/acoustic guitar ballad Where Have You Gone is tenderly composed, and the bluesy, flowing guitar playing on the instrumental title track is divine. After the opener, Let Go is probably my favourite track for its effortless grace. Open Door adds some upbeat jazz/rock influences to break things up a little but is a tad one-dimensional. The Crossing and Dream Sequence are just some musical/thematic padding. At 12 plus minutes American Dream is pure atmosphere. Its slidey guitar perhaps echoing Floyd a little too closely for some. Across The Border is a nice up-temp closer.

Stokes’ soothing voice fits the musical perfectly, as does the mix of acoustic and electric instruments. There’s a very spiritual lyrical theme behind the songs. In the words of Stokes it ‘conveys the story of one person’s journey through the emotions and transcendental experiences which transpire during the course of one particularly lucid night’. However this isn’t New Age by any stretch. Retro maybe. Calm definitely. There’s also a lot of detail and skill to the compositions which will reward repeat listens.

On the basis I’ve got the full product, then the packaging is poor. With just a single sheet front cover and low resolution image I’d go for MP3 downloads. Sadly that isn’t an option for this disc on CdBaby.

Basically if you don’t like mellow Pink Floyd, or bands who don’t tread their own path, then don’t bother with the sound samples. However if you do like mellow Floyd, or just fancy something to lie back to in a candle flickering room with a smooth glass of your favourite tipple, then this is just perfect.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

ANDY READ



Moth Vellum – Moth Vellum
Moth Vellum – Moth Vellum
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:My Sonic Temple
Catalogue #:MST0702
Year of Release:2008
Time:57:58
Info:Moth Vellum
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Let The Race Begin (9:13), Whalehead (7:12), Salvo (13:34), Against The Suns (11:22), Walk It Off (11:23), Against The Suns [Reprise] (5:11)

Although Moth Vellum are based in Santa Monica, USA the quartet that makeup the band did not all grow up under the glow of the Californian sun. Guitarist and recording engineer Johannes Luley’s roots lie near Frankfurt, Germany before making his way to the States after studying with Dutch jazz guitarist Eddy Marron. Drummer and second lead vocalist Matt Swindells came via Salford University, Manchester and English electronica exponents Fila Brazillia who he toured with from 1999 to 2003. Keyboardist Tom Lynham hails from Medina, Ohio and following a move to San Francisco in 2001 he and Luley met and together they formed the band. Born in Los Angeles, bassist and lead vocalist Ryan Downe is the bands only true native of California and also has the most prestigious pedigree. An Elton John protégé, he released his debut album The Hypocrite on the Rocket Records label in 1996 and the following year supported The Who and Iggy Pop on tour.

Recorded in 2007, their self-titled debut album has its origins over five thousand miles from the US West Coast, in the South East of England to be precise. Here Yes, Genesis, Camel, Pink Floyd and their contemporaries fashioned a progressive rock style that still resonates four decades on, especially in the music of Moth Vellum. I was first attracted to the band when I heard the opening song Let The Race Begin on internet radio and it remains probably my favourite. Like all the material here, it takes the styles of the above bands, especially the first two, puts them through the Moth Vellum blender and comes up with the band’s distinctively melodic sound. The song has a relaxed, stately tempo with a strong melody led by a warm synth sound that has shades of Tony Banks coupled with superb Steve Howe style guitar picking. Boasting two fine high tenor vocalists, Downe compares favourably with Dennis DeYoung (of Styx fame) whilst Swindells sounds very like a young Jon Anderson (circa the Time And A Word album). They also combine beautifully to produces some very neat harmonies.

At just over 7 minutes Whalehead is the shortest song the album has to offer and has a very Genesis Wind And Wuthering period ringing guitar and synth melody. Dominated by Downe’s crystal clear vocal it’s again a mid-tempo affair save for a pastoral section which delves even further into Genesis’ past. A strident synth break again takes Banks as its inspiration and likewise a gritty guitar solo is trademark Howe coupled with Yes style harmonies (ala the ending of Roundabout). Salvo doubles its predecessors’ playing time and also ups the tempo, driven by a menacing staccato riff and edgy guitar work. The synth also sounds sharper and it could be Phil Collins at the drum stool complete with crashing cymbals. Following a slow dirge like section the sound becomes sweeter with rich vocals and searing guitar work that brings John Petrucci’s playing at the beginning of Dream Theater’s epic piece Octavarium to mind. Not to be outdone in the style stakes Luley also adds a bit of Steve Hackett tinged weeping guitar plus Howe’s rippling line from Yes’ The Fish. The bombastic finale takes its cue from Genesis’ similar ending to Watcher Of The Skies with traces of The Waiting Room from The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.

Against The Suns may be the albums centrepiece but for me it’s let down by some weak moments. The main song part for example treads a thin line between a pleasant ballad and MOR blandness with some rather cheesy backing harmonies. There is also a drawn out ambient synth section which is just too low key due to the indifferent production. Things do improve however thanks to a compelling synth line culminating in a very ear friendly guitar melody under drawn by symphonic keys. The rhythmic Walk It Off sustains its 11 minutes plus with constant references to the syncopated riff from Genesis’ Apocalypse In 9/8 section of Supper’s Ready. Watcher Of The Skies also gets another airing as does Genesis’ trademark lyrical 12 string sound. It goes out in style with an engaging vocal melody and very Andy Latimer melodic guitar. Against The Suns [Reprise] is exactly what it says on the tin. This version of the song sounds even more laid back, complete with sunny tranquil guitar and a lilting synth break. The lengthy guitar solo that closes is again a tale of two Steve’s starting out very Hackett like before switching to Howe’s edgier style to close.

This is an album that starts out with arguably its best song and a great deal of promise but with each successive track it’s a case of more of the same. Even when they shift into their up-tempo stride the restrained production means that they’re never at risk of reaching dangerous decibel levels. Also for me the transitions between each section do not flow as smoothly or logically as they might do. On the plus side they write some very good tunes, certainly know their way round their respective instruments and also have the benefit of two very good singers. On a personal note I would like to see the band add more weight to their sound and also borrow less liberally from their predecessors. When I listen to a new album I don’t necessarily want to play the game of ‘spot the Yes bit’ or ‘which Genesis song did that come from’ no matter how skilfully performed. That being said, it should appeal to those progheads that can’t get enough of the ‘classic’ early 70’s sound.

Conclusion: 7+ out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Urho – Urho
Urho – Urho
Country of Origin:Finland
Format:CD
Record Label:Verpele Records
Catalogue #:KERPCD1
Year of Release:1999
Time:40:03
Info:Urho
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Juhlat (2:19), Ajan Vaan (3:20), Kuuma Rytmi (2:54), Alkuvaeltaja (1:22), Inkarnaatio Veitikka (4:36), Aikahyppy (5:07), Suomen Nainen (1:49), Konkeloiden Kuja (4:24), Mielisielut (3:38), Tiskataan Me Yhdessä (3:35), Ikuinen Työ (3:41), Selamat Jalan (3:12)

Urho is (or apparently, was) an indie-sounding band from Finland, and for some odd reason, DPRP received a copy of their long-ago released eponymous debut CD for review. A Google search of the band produced no info, the band’s URL as printed in the CD booklet brought up an error message saying “page cannot be displayed” (not a good sign) and when I sent an email to the contact email address in the CD booklet, it was bounced back to me as invalid. Eventually however I managed to track down the new Uhro website (linked above), although unless you are Finnish, there is little additional info to be found.

The CD booklet’s cryptic, collage style credits are also impossible to read, plus they are all in Finnish, which I was unable to translate online. So initially it seemed as though Urho had faded into relative obscurity, however as suggested by the only few words of English on their website, it now appears Urho are in fact still active and celebrating their tenth anniversary.

Anyway, the CD itself is a veering combination of indie, Goth, prog, and a few other elements. The songs clock in at an average of less than four minutes in length, so no epics here. Aikahyppy does offer some symphonic layers and a prog-like piano line evoking Mark Kelly. Tony Banks and Keith Emerson are obvious influences on the synth melodies of instrumental track Tiskataan Me Yhdessa. My favourite track on the CD is Konkeloiden Kuja, a Goth-like female wordless vocal piece that is perhaps Finland’s modern answer to Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig In The Sky.

Although definitely not progressive, the well-composed and produced music grew on me as I listened to this CD. Regrettably, however, the vocals are all in Finnish and the lyrics are not printed in the CD booklet. The CD is a delightful mixture of different styles and alternating male and female vocals. A little violin gets in on the act here and there, along with some lounge influences, some pretty good guitar solos, even a bit of spoken word.

Perhaps for their comeback CD I would suggest they throw some English vocals into the mix and I would strongly advise that they come up with a CD booklet that is a little easier to read.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

JIM CORCORAN




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