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2008 : VOLUME 54
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Rewiring Genesis - A Tribute To The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
Rewiring Genesis - A Tribute To The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:ProgRock Records
Catalogue #:PRR570
Year of Release:2008
Time:CD 1: 48:13
CD 2: 49:53
Info:Rewiring Genesis
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

Disc 1: The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (5:25), Fly On A Windshield (2:50), Broadway Melody Of 1974 (2:21), Cuckoo Cocoon (2:19), In The Cage (8:35), The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging (2:42), Back In NYC (5:51), Hairless Heart (2:11), Counting Out Time (3:50), The Carpet Crawlers (6:22), The Chamber Of 32 Doors (5:46)

Disc 2: Lilywhite Lilith (2:38), The Waiting Room (5:36), Anyway (3:08), Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist (2:32), The Lamia (7:14), Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats (2:55), The Colony Of Slippermen: Arrival, A Visit To The Doktor, Raven (8:41), Ravine (1:56), The Light Dies Down On Broadway (4:12), Riding The Scree (3:58), In The Rapids (2:34), It (4:29)

There’s very little I can say about Genesis’ sixth studio album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway that hasn’t already been said. Suffice to say I’m old enough to remember the original 1974 vinyl release when I along with every other self-respecting fan eagerly anticipated the bands first double album. I can recall being completely won over by Hairless Heart, It and The Carpet Crawlers (or Carpet Crawl as the LP sleeve would have it) but totally under whelmed (and a tad baffled) by songs like The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging and Counting Out Time. In the view of many fans it wasn’t a patch on Foxtrot or Selling England By The Pound. Time however has been kind to Genesis’ most underrated and misunderstood album and 34 years on it’s recognised as one of the true progressive rock classics of the 70’s. Whilst there has been much speculation over the years regarding a re-recording, even a film adaptation, finally a new version is realised in the shape of A Tribute To The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway by Rewiring Genesis.

Who are Rewiring Genesis you may well ask, yet another tribute band? Well not exactly. In 2007 Nashville recording engineer and producer Mark Hornsby teamed up with Spock's Beard drummer and vocalist Nick D'Virgilio to recreate Genesis’ concept in its entirety. As a tester they fielded their version of The Colony Of Slippermen to good reception. D'Virgilio is of course no stranger to the music of Genesis, a self confessed fan he also played on the Calling All Stations sessions. Hornsby for his part brought in a wealth of talented Nashville musicians to add a different and refreshing slant to Genesis’ epic. Nick handles all the lead vocals and it wasn’t until I reflected on his sterling effort that I began to appreciate just how wordy The Lamb actually is. Peter Gabriel was of course responsible for the ambiguous story and lyrics leaving the rest of the band to provide the multifaceted music. Unsurprisingly Nick also takes care of drum duties and judged on the results I can’t think of anyone (with the possible exception of Mr Collins himself) that could have done a better job.

A significant factor in your appreciation of this album will depend on how precious you consider Genesis’ original arrangements to be. Whilst the interpretation of each song here remains faithful to the original, guitar and keys are often replaced by traditional, non-rock instrumentation. For instance Tony Banks’ synth parts are covered by a variety of acoustic instruments including strings, solo brass and woodwind, even accordion which shares the lead during The Colony Of Slippermen. If like me you’ve become accustomed to Banks’ glorious ARP synth sound then it may comes as a surprise to here clarinets and trumpets trading solos in Riding The Scree. But give it time and several plays and I guarantee you’ll be hooked. My only real gripe is that just occasionally the end result is a little too smooth. A case in point is the piano in Hairless Heart which wouldn’t sound out of place in a cocktail lounge. It’s not all that way however, the bombastic guitar solo in Anyway for example makes Hackett’s interpretation sound positively lightweight.

It would pointless providing a blow by blow account of this album but there are a number of highlights worth mentioning. On disc one these range from the stirring strings that open the title song and the album, the superb vocal arrangement in The Grand Parade Of Lifeless Packaging featuring a multi tracked D'Virgilio, a suitably brassy Back In NYC and the romantic violins that accompany The Carpet Crawlers. A funky Counting Out Time incorporates a trad-jazz jam partway through which is one of the few occasions when this album takes liberties with the original. Disc two includes a stunning call and response guitar solo in The Supernatural Anaesthetist, sumptuous female vocals in The Lamia and lush strings in the melancholic The Light Dies Down On Broadway. The heavenly choir voices in Silent Sorrow In Empty Boats put Banks’ Mellotron samples in the shade and the horns during the climatic It are, if you excuse the pun, a real blast.

Although there are at least a couple of tracks here that in my opinion improve on the originals (The Grand Parade and The Supernatural Anaesthetist) I’m not about to claim that this is a superior version. If you don’t already own a copy of The Lamb I suggest you get hold of a copy of Genesis’ remastered discs but either way this is a highly recommended release. D'Virgilio’s vocals are a real tour de force and in songs like Broadway Melody Of 1974 he matches Gabriel’s nuances all the way. His drumming is as good as you would expect, checkout the powerful display during In The Cage which captures Genesis’ live version superbly. The production, for which he and Hornsby are jointly responsible, is a revelation and the top notch line-up of musicians, too numerous to name check here, give singularly excellent performances throughout. The Lamb lies down once more and this time it’s a smoother, lusher Broadway.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Frost* - Experiments In Mass Appeal
Frost* - Experiments In Mass Appeal
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:InsideOut
SPV
Catalogue #:IOMCD 303
SPV 79930
Year of Release:2008
Time:56:51
Info:Frost*
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Experiments In Mass Appeal (7:58), Welcome To Nowhere (5:32), Pocket Sun (4:29), Saline (6:09), Dear Dead Days (6:51), Falling Down (5:50), You/I (1:07), Toys (3:06), Wonderland (15:48)

Geoff Feakes' Review

Following the release of the debut Frost* album Milliontown in 2006 it looked doubtful if there would ever be a follow-up when band leader Jem Godfrey announced that he was putting the group on ice (excuse the pun). Thankfully a change of heart resulted in a return to the recording studio earlier this year to commence work on the superbly titled Experiments In Mass Appeal. Joining him once again is the stellar trio of John Mitchell (guitar), John Jowitt (bass) and Andy Edwards (drums). With original guitarist John Boyes out of the frame Godfrey recruited Declan Burke from Darwin's Radio to provide additional guitar and more significantly take on lead vocal duties. If you’ve been keeping abreast with recent news via the DPRP pages then you’ll be aware that Andy Edwards will soon be leaving the band although he may still appear on future recordings. In the meantime this release, in addition to the standard format reviewed here, is available as a special edition CD and DVD set.

I must confess that when I read Declan Burke was joining the band I was a little surprised given that they already have a more than capable singer available in the shape of John Mitchell. That being said Burke is in excellent voice throughout with a breathy tone not unlike Steve Balsamo from The Storys and Chimpan-A. Curiously the vocals are often far back in the mix, a situation common to Milliontown. In fact Godfrey’s production overall takes some getting used to with loud sections that are so dense it’s hard to distinguish individual instruments contrasting with interludes that are so quiet I had to check the track counter to confirm the disc was still playing. I have a sneaking feeling that Godfrey is purposely distancing himself from the formulaic pop sound he’s previously supplied for acts like Atomic Kitten, Gareth Gates and Blue.

The title track Experiments In Mass Appeal is a fitting opener (once it gets going that is). Following a subdued acoustic guitar, piano and vocal intro, it unleashes an abrasive guitar led onslaught that’s both dark and melodious at the same time. This is contemporary prog at its most fast and furious with shades of Porcupine Tree and Riverside. A pity then that despite the otherwise fine vocals, the lyrics are virtually indistinguishable for the most part. Welcome To Nowhere is in a similar mould with quiet piano moments punctuated by ferocious, power-metal guitar eruptions. It comes to a sudden halt and merges into the next track, a device that reoccurs throughout the album. Godfrey is quoted as saying that each song is intentionally different from the next but already I can see a pattern emerging with alternating heavy/soft passages, abrupt endings and the absence of track breaks. Fortunately the next song Pocket Sun takes a slightly different route. fuzzed guitar and (this time) prominent vocals are joined by a barrage of drums to support a memorable chorus. It’s capped by suitably strident guitar and keys playing that’s delivered in breakneck unison.

A welcome change of mood is provided by Saline, a lyrical acoustic guitar and piano ballad that combines Ant Phillips/Genesis old school prog with a memorable Extreme flavoured chorus. The string sound is sublime and in a plaintiff demand for commitment it contains poignant lines like “I won’t be the phase you go through”. Of all the songs on the album Dear Dead Days is for me the one that best sums up the bands musical intentions. An aggressive but uplifting guitar and string sound develops into the albums most stirring chorus resplendent with infectious swirling keys. The energy level remains in overdrive for Falling Down, an intense mix of syncopated vocals, a gritty guitar and bass riff and orchestral drama courtesy of Godfrey’s keys. One of Mitchell’s typically bombastic solos takes guitar histrionics to a new level with a sharp ringing tone that somehow mimics the sound of a telephone. The wistful You/I is a melancholic vocal and piano duet that comes and goes all too soon to leave any lasting impression.

If the album title was a serious statement of intent then the penultimate song Toys would be its most obvious contender for a single. With a glorious staccato guitar rhythm supporting a vigorous chorus it recalls the main riff from Milliontown’s Black Light Machine. This is a more disciplined song however stopping dead at three minutes almost in mid chorus. From the shortest track to the longest Wonderland, that clocks in at a tantalising 16 minutes. The moody opening features a repeated piano motif reminiscent of Tubular Bells but the highpoint is a stunningly good vocal hook that should have provided the songs climax. The effect is heightened by a compelling nine-note piano melody backed by thunderous drums that echo Phil Collins’ groundbreaking sound on Peter Gabriel’s third solo album. I say should have because the final three plus minutes consists of a low-key piano dirge that slowly fades to silence.

So for me a disappointing ending to what is, with one or two other minor exceptions, a mostly superb second offering from Jem Godfrey and co. The album artwork effectively captures the often dark and intense (and occasionally puzzling) music but it remains highly listenable throughout with Godfrey’s flair for a strong melody never far away. It’s evident that he has gone to some length to take the Frost* sound into a different realm albeit with sufficient reminders of the first album to keep existing fans satisfied. Whether this experiment proves to have mass appeal as the title promises remains to be seen but the band should certainly be applauded for not sitting back on their laurels. One thing’s for sure, it’s going to be a test of technical skills and stamina to perform live.

Tom De Val's Review

Originally seen as something of an unlikely but artistically successful prog supergroup, combining the talents of pop songwriter/ producer Jem Godfrey – responsible for such ‘pop classics’ as Atomic Kitten’s Whole Again and Bye Bye Boy by Jennifer Ellison – and a veritable who’s who of modern British prog (guitarist John Mitchell [Arena/ It Bites et al) and IQ’s John Jowitt (bass) and Andy Edwards (drums)], Frost* produced a fine debut in 2006 with the highly regarded Milliontown. Following a few isolated gigs, Godfrey seemingly disbanded the group, only for them to return a year or so later, with the addition of guitarist/ vocalist Declan Burke (Darwin’s Radio), with a support slot on Spock’s Beard’s UK tour and a new album in the works – the result of which is now here.

Experiments In Mass Appeal is well (and probably knowingly) named, as it does represent something of a departure from Milliontown, focusing more on the sort of insidious pop hooks which has no doubt made Godfrey a few pounds in his day job. After a couple of initial listens my thoughts on the album were not particularly favourable - the seeming commercial focus, along with the apparent dominance of Godfrey’s keyboards and dance beats over the guitar work and the fact that many of the tracks on first listen sound fairly similar, would have lead me to dismiss this as a poor successor to a great first album. However, as in so many cases, repeated listens have paid off, yielding many layers not necessarily apparent on the first spin, whilst I’ve found it difficult to get many of the choruses out of my head.

The opening title track leads the listener in gently, with a descending chord sequence on acoustic guitar, piano and gentle, almost falsetto vocals, leading to a strong chorus bolstered by jangling guitars and strong vocal harmonies. There’s some beefed up guitar work in the latter part of the song with a bit of an alt-rock feel (perhaps influenced by Mitchell’s production work with British pop-punkers ‘A’) and the melodic/ heavier counterpoint is well handled. At over seven minutes, the song does perhaps outstay its welcome however.

Welcome To Nowhere is perhaps more typical of the album, featuring heavy use of sequencers and keyboards. Once again there’s a lighter verse before the powerful, impassioned chorus kicks in – one of those that sticks around long after the song has finished. Plenty of hooks throughout, enthusiastic playing and an epic feel mean this one’s a winner. Pocket Sun is another high-tempo, stomping number, perhaps more an alliance of alternative rock and dance-pop than prog, but not necessarily the worse for it. Following this, the ballad Saline is pleasant enough if not one of the stronger numbers, being a little maudlin and melodramatic for my tastes.

Next track Dear Dead Days was one of those I really didn’t take to on first listen, but has grown to become something of a favourite. Once again having something of a dance feel in places, this is a true multi-part mini-epic, with a dizzying amount going on, held together by the high calibre playing and the exuberant feel found throughout the album – if the band weren’t having a great deal of fun when recording it, they’ve certainly done a good job of making it sound like they were! Fans of Mitchell’s guitar work will be pleased to note he gets to reel off some typically dextrous and melodic solos towards the end of the song. Falling Down can’t really follow this, and suffers in comparison, lacking the hooks and having a bit too much of a cheesy (for want of a better word!) chart-pop feel for my palette; however, Mitchell saves the day with another great solo, which starts off soaring and gets progressively more complex.

Following You/I, a short piano ballad (and chance for a breather!), Toys is a bouncy pop-rocker with a hint of pop-punk (think Green Day) to it, once again carried along by the energy of the playing and a great chorus. Anyone seeing the running time for the final track Wonderland and expecting an epic in the vein of Black Light Machine or the title track of the first album will be disappointed, as in fact it is two tracks (the second one ‘secret’) separated by some ambient noise. That said, both tracks are amongst the albums highlights. Wonderland is very much in keeping with the style found on Milliontown. Following a typically dramatic (and rather mournful) orchestral intro, it skilfully builds from a simple piano ballad to a thumping, heavy approximation of that familiar tricksy section from GenesisApocalypse in 9/8 (from Supper’s Ready) (clearly a Mitchell favourite… see my It Bites review!), fitting in another stellar, harmony drenched chorus along the way. The ‘secret’ song is another ballad, based around a simple drum pattern, and a relatively straightforward track – perhaps this straightforwardness is why I find it much more appealing than Saline, the album’s other ballad, and it also boasts a far more heartfelt vocal performance.

Overall, with Experiments In Mass Appeal Frost* have come up with a distinctly different but nonetheless effective follow-up to Milliontown. As I say, it does take a few listens to fully appreciate, and I still don’t think its quite as strong as its predecessor, but I think most fans of the debut will be satisfied, and there’s no doubt that the poppy hooks embedded in the majority of the songs could mean that given the right promotion this could well gain ‘mass appeal’ from far outside the cosy confines of the prog rock world.

Conclusions:

GEOFF FEAKES : 8 out of 10
TOM DE VAL : 7.5 out of 10



Mindflow - Destructive Device
Mindflow - Destructive Device
Country of Origin:Brazil
Format:CD
Record Label:Unlock Your Mind
Catalogue #:AA0003000
Year of Release:2008
Time:70:36
Info:Mindflow
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Destructive Device (6:44), Lethal (5:29), Breakthrough (5:09), Under An Alias (4:05), Inevitable Nightfall (5:40), Said & Done (5:19), Fragile State Of Peace (6:05), Not Free Enough (7:09), Inapt World (6:25), First Things First (3:36), Shocking Death Bed Confession (11:50), The Screwdriver Effect (3:06)

I’ve always tried hard to enjoy the previous albums from this Brazilian ProgMetal band. The instrumentation hit most of the right notes, if a little too wayward and unfocused. However the vocalist has always been a big problem with his off-key delivery and butchery of English grammar.

I found it near impossible to get through their disjointed debut Just The Two Of Us.. Me And Them. The band’s last offering, Mind Over Body, fared a little better – my DPRP recommended tab was for those who could get past the vocals and the lack of traditional structures and hooks.

On that basis I’d have been unlikely to have splashed out cash for a third time, until a few trusted sources suggested that the band’s third album was a completely different musical beast. I was told I’d be impressed, yet even having been warned of a change in musical direction, I wasn’t expecting to be this surprised and impressed with Destructive Device. This one delivers in all aspects.

Whereas previous output has brought comparisons to Dream Theater, Dali’s Dilemna, Pain of Salvation and Spheric Universe Experience, this is far more melodic and straightforward. Add to those adjectives modern and slick and you’ll have a better idea than me what to expect. Think Karnivool, Souljourners, Tomorrows Eve, Dead Air Radio and even Nickelback on a few of the poppier moments.

Solos are kept to a minimum but there is still plenty of Prog in the technical arrangements. This is a heavy, melodic and very big production. Add some death vox in a couple spots, and you’ve got the whole package. I’d go for the opening and closing tracks and the modern ProgMetal vibe of Not Free Enough as highlights.

The singer appears to have either had a voice transplant or some singing lessons – or maybe both! Gone are the exposed higher range wailings of before. He sits firmly in an aggressive mid-range throughout. Whilst he’s never going to win any "Vocalist of the Year" awards, this approach suits his voice perfectly.

Previous fans may wish to enter with caution but I’d guess there’s probably just enough of interest here to maintain that interest. Those who’ve been put off before but like the above description, should be prepared to revise their opinion of this band.

Two other observations: Firstly, a word of warning. There are two tracks: First Things First, and The Screwdriver Effect, which are very disturbing in a gory, slash movie sorta way. Definitely not ones to play in front of the kiddies, not in keeping with the rest of the album and altogether rather repugnant and sick! Call me simple, but personally I buy a CD for its musical merits not to hear someone having a drill pushed into their head! I have solved the problem by erasing both from my MP3 player. I’d have preferred never to have heard them in the first place.

Secondly a word of praise: I bought this direct from the band’s website for 15 US dollars including postage and packing worldwide. It arrived within a week from Brazil in a specially-designed envelope with poster, mouse mat and beefy booklet inside gatefold digipack inside see-through sleeve! There's even an alternative reality game in there somewhere. If packaging could sell an album, these guys would top the charts.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ANDY READ



JPL - Retrospections Volume 1
JPL - Retrospections Volume 1
Country of Origin:France
Format:CD
Record Label:Quadrifonic
Catalogue #:Quad-16-08
Year of Release:2008
Time:53:47
Info:JPL
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Silence Dans La Salle! (3:35), Du Temps De Louis (4:29), Ma Première Mort (5:25), Loins (1:45), Soleil D’Hiver (4:08), Cathedrales (5:13), Planète En Vue (4:03), L’Orée (3:47), No Comprendo (3:09), Extreme Stress/Décompression (6:23), En Un Clin D’Oeil (6:35), Au Revoir, À Jamais. . .(5:08)

Jean Pierre Louveton is the guitarist and vocalist for French prog band Nemo, and under the moniker JPL has put out three studio releases since 2002. He has played guitar since 1987 and besides Nemo has been in several other bands with musical styles ranging from electro pop rock to funk rock. Retrospections Volume 1 is a compilation of previously unreleased solo recordings in the Satriani vein and includes a few brand new songs.

Louveton, on guitar and vocals, is joined on the mostly instrumental tracks by Manu Defaÿ on bass, Olivier Soumaire on drums and Guillaume Fontaine on keyboards. Styles across the CD range from shuffling Chicago blues, notably on the dark Cathedrales and on Au Revoir, À Jamais. . ., to the ELP-style pomp of Extreme Stress/Décompression. ELP is also a reference on Du Temps De Louis, which features a great bass line from Defaÿ and some Mark Kelly-ish keyboard phrasings from Fontaine. Goth even gets in on the picture as a commonality on new vocal piece Soleil D’Hiver, with Louveton’s whispery vocals similar to those of Mike VanPortfleet of independent Goth act Lycia. Other artists that the music sounds like here and there across the CD include Fish, Pink Floyd, Kansas, Queen and King Crimson.

The songs are all on the shorter side, averaging less than five minutes in length, and are produced well. They are composed by Louveton along with various members of his band, and are composed well. An exception would be the bland, generic Planète En Vue, which should have been left in the vaults.

The vibrantly colorful CD booklet shows the JPL initials in the form of an apparent logo in the corner, and artwork similar in style to Marillion and Fish CD cover designer Mark Wilkinson. I sifted through the eight-page booklet and could not locate any credits as to who designed it.

Any suggestions for future JPL releases are neither here nor there, as this CD is a compilation of songs from different eras, and not one studio album offering.

Retrospections Volume 1 will mostly appeal to fans of accessible instrumental rock in general. If you’re looking for Karn Evil 9, you won’t find it here.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

JIM CORCORAN



Quicksilver Messenger Service - Avalon Ballroom 9 September 1966
Quicksilver Messenger Service - Avalon Ballroom 9 September 1966
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Voiceprint
Catalogue #:BEARVP105CD
Year of Release:2008
Time:32:10
Info:Quicksilver Messenger
Service
Samples:N/A
Tracklist: Radio Commercial (0:30), Stand By Me (4:00), Babe I'm Gonna Leave You (4:44), Pride Of Man (3:55), Smokestack Lightning (6:30), Codeine (5:14), Gold And Silver (2:16), Hoochie Coochie Man (5:00)

Quicksilver Messenger Service - Avalon Ballroom 28 October 1966
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Voiceprint
Catalogue #:BEARVP106CD
Year of Release:2008
Time:39:34
Info:Quicksilver Messenger
Service
Samples:N/A
Quicksilver Messenger Service - Avalon Ballroom 28 October 1966

Tracklist: Band Intro (0:04), Mona (11:38), If You Live Your Time Will Come (6:27), Smokestack Lightning (9:22), Dandelion (1:58), Codeine (4:21), Runaway (2:11), Pride Of Man (3:29)


Quicksilver Messenger Service - Filmore Auditorium 4 February 1967
Quicksilver Messenger Service - Filmore Auditorium 4 February 1967
Country of Origin:USA
Format:2CD
Record Label:Voiceprint
Catalogue #:BEARVP107CD
Year of Release:2008
Time:CD1 - 45:02
CD2 - 44:19
Info:Quicksilver Messenger
Service
Samples:N/A

Tracklist:

Disc 1: You Don't Love Me (4:00), I Hear You Knocking (4:15), Gold And Silver (3:09), All Night Worker (5:13), Codeine (6:21), Get My Mojo Working (4:29), Mona (9:23), A Fool For You (2:35), I Can't Believe It (4:29), Look Around [excerpt] (1:05)

Disc 2: Dino's Song (3:23), Walkin' Blues (3:56), Babe I'm Gonna Leave You (5:00), Hoochie Coochie Man (6:15), Stand By Me (6:19), Drivin' Wheel [It's Been Too Long] (5:09), Duncan And Brady (3:43), Pride Of Man (4:11), Who Do You Love (6:38)


Quicksilver Messenger Service - Filmore Auditorium 6 February 1967
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Voiceprint
Catalogue #:BEARVP108CD
Year of Release:2008
Time:46:05
Info:Quicksilver Messenger
Service
Samples:N/A
Quicksilver Messenger Service - Filmore Auditorium 6 February 1967

Tracklist: You Don't Love Me (4:01), All Night Worker (5:07), Gold And Silver (3:22), Hey Mama (3:49), Walkin' Blues (5:50), Year Of The Outrage (9:45), I Hear You Knocking (4:02), A Fool For You (4:27), I Can't Believe It (5:39)


Quicksilver Messenger Service - Carousel Ballroom 4 April 1968
Quicksilver Messenger Service - Carousel Ballroom 4 April 1968
Country of Origin:USA
Format:2CD
Record Label:Voiceprint
Catalogue #:BEARVP109CD
Year of Release:2008
Time:CD1 - 47:46
CD2 - 41:48
Info:Quicksilver Messenger
Service
Samples:N/A

Tracklist:

Disc 1: Back Door Man, Light Your Windows, Who Do You Love, Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, Walkin Blues, The Fool

Disc 2: The Jam


The Quicksilver Messenger Service are another of those late sixties San Francisco bands that played an important role in the history of popular music. Although not as well known as contemporaries like The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, their second album, Happy Trails, released towards the end on 1968, is considered a classic of the era and is well worth seeking out. The line-up of the group comprised guitarists John Cippolina and Gary Duncan alongside drummer Greg Elmore, bassist David Frieberg and vocalist Jim Murray, who stayed with the band until they signed with Capitol Records in late 1967. Following his departure, the band elected not to replace him. The band survived, in various formations, until 1973, briefly reunited in 1975 and reformed in 2006. However, only original members Duncan and Frieberg are currently in the group, Cippolina having died from a long-standing respiratory ailment in 1989 and the whereabouts of Elmore being unknown. This series of five concerts, recorded in the SF area between 1966 and 1968 are released for the first time and give an indication of the diverse musical scene prevalent at that time.

The first of the recordings is from the Avalon Ballroom in September 1966, barely a year after the band had formed. Taken from a concert were QMS were bottom of the bill to Big Brother and the Holding Company and Country Joe and the Fish, the set is relatively brief and features embryonic versions of future classics Pride Of Man, Codeine and Babe I'm Gonna Leave You. The set ends with a nice version of Hoochie Coochie Man which, although only five minutes long, displays some of the jamming elements and interplay between band members that the Service would become famed for.

The second release was recorded seven weeks later and also at the Avalon Ballroom. The band open with an extended version of the Bo Diddley classic Mona, a number they eventually cut for their Happy Trails album some two years later. The greater emphasis on jamming displayed on this track is also noticeable on Smokestack Lightning which is present in a version some three minutes longer than on the first release. Of interest to fans is the inclusion of If You Live Your Time Will Come which didn't see an official release until a rarities collection was compiled and issued in 2000. Dandelion is a real oddity, a brief, almost pop song which was presumably popular at the time. Codeine is much more raw than on the previous album while Del Shannon's Runaway is taken at breakneck speed.

Zip forward another three months and we reach the first double CD set, recorded at the famous Filmore Auditorium in February 1967. Immediately noticeable is the improvement in sound quality. Not that the 1966 shows are bad, for the period they are very good, but the definition between instruments and vocals is a notch or two higher on this show. By 1967, The Quicksilver's were gaining a lot of positive critical appraisal and building up a large following, not at least for Cippolina's guitar technique. A mixture of finger picking and reverb effects generated from skilful use of the Whammy bar the results were unique and it is not surprising he picked up fans and plaudits aplenty (including members of the Welsh Man band who early in their career used to include a couple of QMS numbers in their live set and eventually recorded Maximum Darkness with Cippolina). The set is interesting in what they actually play. Codeine and Babe I'm Gonna Leave You are more in line with how they would appear on the Revolution soundtrack released the following year, Dino's Song, Pride Of Man, Drivin' Wheel [It's Been Too Long] and the excellent instrumental Gold And Silver would all appear on the band's eponymous debut album while Mona and Who Do You Love would both feature on Happy Trails. Of the remaining songs, the opening duo of You Don't Love Me and, in particular, I Hear You Knocking sound like an early Grateful Dead with some great harmony vocals, All Night Worker is a sprightly blues, as is the version of Got My Mojo Working, which has hints of The Yardbirds.

Of historical interest is the introduction to the stage of Dino Valenti, composer of the seminal Youngbloods hit Get Together. Valenti had been an original founder of the Messenger Service but a jail sentence following a drug bust meant the band recruited Murray in his place. There was an open invitation to return to the group (which he eventually did in 1970) and the band, as a show of solidarity, even recorded the Valenti-penned Dino's Song for their debut album. His contributions to the show are more in line with the acoustic based material on his solo debut which was also released in 1968, although obviously played with the electric group. The blues are never far away though, as fine versions of Walkin' Blues, Babe I'm Gonna Leave You and Hoochie Coochie Man precede a rather out-of-place crooner version of Stand By Me, which does feature a rather impressive bowed guitar solo that sounds remarkably like a violin (or perhaps it is an uncredited guest violinist?). It seems that some sequencing changes have been made as it is announced at the end of Stand By Me "that song was written by Dino Valenti, who will be up here in a bit"! The almost obligatory Pride Of Man and Who Do You Love round off the set.

Two days later the band were back at the Filmore performing a far shorter set. The sound is a lot muddier on this recording and consequently unless you are a completist or desperately want to hear the band perform the two songs not included on the 4 February release (Hey Mama and Year Of The Outrage) this release offers minimal to anyone who opts for the previous concert.

Finally, we have another double CD from The Carousel (soon to be renamed as the Filmore West) in April 1968, a few weeks after the release of the debut album. Considering the recent release the band only perform two numbers from the album, a fine version of Light Your Windows with some excellent accompaniment by an unnamed guest flautist, and a rare live outing for the lengthy The Fool. A lengthy and rather laid back version of Who Do You Love, a version of Back Door Man that knocks spots off the version by The Doors and decent versions of Babe I'm Gonna Leave You and Walkin' Blues complete the first CD. Although the sound quality is good, the mix has the vocals too high and Cippolina's guitar too low where it is sometimes dominated by Duncan's rhythm guitar. The whole of the second CD is given over to a forty-minute jam, probably recorded at the end of the evening after the official concert was over with guests from the bands on that night's bill sitting in. As a result an organ, flute, violin and possibly another drummer and guitarist are included (thus casting doubt as if it should be credited to QMS!) Certainly interesting as a testament to the era, this blues-based shuffle does feature some great moments but is not as innovative or improvisational as the jams explored by bands such as The Grateful Dead. Again the vocals are far too high in the mix and can overpower a lot of what is going on instrumentally. However, as they are not many such recordings in existence featuring Quicksilver members the release is of historical interest as well as having some musical validity.

A lot of music and an expensive time for the ardent Quicksilver Messenger Service fan. Arguably the best two releases are the double CD sets with the 6th February set best being avoided and the other two approached with a degree of caution, Which is not to say they don't have any merit as they are certainly a lot better quality (no audience recordings here!) than some live recordings pushed out. Goldmine for the fan, of interest to others and representative of the time.

Conclusions:

Avalon Ballroom 9 September 1966: 5 out of 10
Avalon Ballroom 28 October 1966: 5.5 out of 10
Filmore Auditorium 4 February 1967: 7 out of 10
Filmore Auditorium 6 February 1967: 4 out of 10
Carousel Ballroom 4 April 1968: 6 out of 10

MARK HUGHES




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