REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Hawkwind - Quark, Strangeness And Charm
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Catalogue #:||ATOMCD 2009|
|Year of Release:||1977/2009|
|Time:||CD 1: 65:23|
CD 2: 70:46
CD 1: Spirit Of The Age (7:25), Damnation Alley (9:01), Fable Of A Failed Race (3:21), Quark, Strangeness And Charm (3:41), Hassan I Sabbah (5:22), The Forge Of The Vulcan (3:05), The Days Of The Underground (3:11), The Iron Dream (1:53) Bonus Tracks: Damnation Alley [live, studio version] (10:35), A Minor Jam Session (9:51), Spirit Of The Age [demo excerpt] (2:59), Hash Cake Cut (4:26)
CD 2: Damnation Alley [first studio version] (10:36), Spirit Of The Age [full version] (11:23), The Days Of The Underground [first version] (5:40), Quark, Strangeness And Charm/Uncle Sam's On Mars (9:20), Fable Of A Failed Race [extended version] (6:51), Damnation Alley [alternate harmony vocal version] (8:25), Spirit Of The Age [live] (5:56), Robot [live] (5:58), High Rise [live] (5:41)
Finally, Hawkwind's 1977 album, Quark, Strangeness And Charm gets a decent re-issue crammed full of bonus tracks spread over two CDs, 136 minutes of delight! The upheavals in the band that had occurred prior to recording of their previous album, 1976's Astounding Sounds, Amazing Music, happened again prior to recording the new album with Nik Turner being sacked and bassist Paul Ruldolph and second drummer Alan Powell handing in their notice a couple of weeks later. Undeterred, Dave Brock, Robert Calvert, Simon House and Simon King recruited Adrian Shaw, whose previous band, Magic Muscle, had supported Hawkwind on their legendary Space Ritual tour. Sessions for the band's second album for Charisma Records had actually started in the Autumn of 1976 whilst Paul Ruldolph was still in the line-up, but once Shaw was recruited these early sessions were scraped and the band started afresh in January 1977.
The album opens with two songs that were to become classic Hawkwind numbers. Spirit Of The Age, the futuristic tale of cloning, androids and space travel, features one of Calvert's strongest lyrics whilst Damnation Alley harks back to the days of Warrior On The Edge Of Time, even giving House the chance to dig out his violin again. Loosely based on the book of the same name by Roger Zelazny, the song is far superior to the film that was released a few months before Hawkwind's album. Fable Of A Failed Race was an edited extract from a much longer version, included in its entirety on the second disc of this collection. A great Hawkwind song that effortlessly combines the synths and guitar that are so symptomatic of the band. In contrast, the title track, Quark, Strangeness And Charm is almost a comic song with its nifty and poppy tune and somewhat abstract, although very amusing, lyrics (those of a more scientific bent would have immediately realised that quark, strangeness and charm are all names of subatomic particles!). No surprise it was chosen as the single from the album, even earning the band a spot on the Marc Bolan TV show, albeit without Dave Brock who was otherwise occupied. One of the survivors of the original 1976 recording sessions was Hassan I Sabbah composed by Calvert and Paul Ruldolph. The track was virtually complete, although Ruldolph's original bass parts were re-recorded by Shaw, who also added new bass lines to the two instrumentals The Forge Of The Vulcan and album closer The Iron Dream. The Arabic influenced Hassan I Sabbah, divided quite a few Hawkwind fans and, admittedly, I hated the track when the album was first released. However, over the years it has grown on me and this remastered version really brings the track to life, particularly House's violin contribution. The instrumentals are largely routine affairs with The Forge Of The Vulcan sounding like a (very good) intro tape featuring some nice organ sounds in preference to the usual synths, and The Iron Dream being a piece taken from jam sessions. On further development this could have been a great song, but as a brief abstract it really lacks structure, although it does follow on quite nicely from The Days Of The Underground, perhaps they shouldn't have given it a separate title? This latter track gives an indication of the sound later developed on the Hawklords album.
The bonus tracks start at the end of the fist disc with a live studio version of Damnation Alley. The song is virtually complete but is interesting to hear the band putting the finishing touches to the song, which in this slightly longer version includes an additional guitar solo. The Spirit Of The Age demo excerpt is of moderate interest, particularly when compared with the surviving jam sessions, the excellent A Minor Jam Session and Hash Cake Cut (which has appeared on various bootlegs over the years). It is great to hear these creative sessions where embryonic slices of musical passages that were later excised and worked into full songs. Disc Two has a further two versions of Damnation Alley, one being the first studio version (with Calvert's vocals being decidedly flat in places) and the second being a 'harmony vocal version'. Each of the four versions on this reissue have their strengths and weaknesses with each having subtle differences from the other three. Whether it is justifiable to include all four versions is up to the listener, but you can't complain at Atomhenge not giving value for money. Of more interest are the extended versions of Spirit Of The Age and Fable Of A Failed Race. Over a third longer than the album version, the additional material on Spirit Of The Age is primarily down to the extended outro which includes a repeat of the first verse of the song. The extended version doesn't sound forced and, given the fade at the end, could well have continued for a few minutes more. Fable Of A Failed Race, at twice the length of the released version, adds a whole new dimension to the song, making more use of the backing vocals and including a nice Brock solo, this version is well worth hearing. Of the other studio session tracks, the first version of The Days Of The Underground is again virtually complete in terms of writing but was still some way from having the final arrangement. Adrian Shaw's bass is wonderfully clear and it is great to hear Brock's acoustic guitar so clear. The originally intended pairing of Quark, Strangeness And Charm with Uncle Sam's On Mars is also interesting to hear. The version of Quark... is the same as finally appeared on the album, albeit unedited, segueing into Uncle Sam at about the four minute mark. With an extended intro the song is much more restrained than later versions , although the more subdued approach fits well in the context of the album. Finally, we are presented with three live tracks, recorded on the September/October 1977 tour, notable for two completely new tracks, Robot and High Rise, two tracks that have also become firm favourites in the Hawkwind canon.
If there was ever cause to call a reissue a 'definitive' edition, then this version of Quark, Strangeness And Charm is surely it. Two and a quarter hours may seem somewhat excessive, but, as mentioned, one can't fault the label for giving value for money. The exemplary sleeve notes, live photos and contemporary clippings round out an excellent reissue and one that fans will lap up, particularly since the album has long been out of print. Well done Atomhenge!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Hawkwind - P.X.R.5
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Catalogue #:||ATOMCD 1010|
|Year of Release:||1979/2009|
Tracklist: Death Trap (3:51), Jack Of Shadows (3:27), Uncle Sam's On Mars (5:42), Infinity (4:18), Life Form (1:43), Robot (8:12), High Rise (4:41), P.X.R.5. (5:16) Bonus Tracks: Jack Of Shadows [live, studio version] (3:40), We Like To Be Frightened (2:47), High Rise [live, studio version] (4:44), Robot [first version] (9:27), Jack Of Shadows [Adrian Shaw vocal version] (3:54), High Rise [alternative vocal mix] (4:38), P.X.R.5. [alternative intro mix] (5:41), Quark, Strangeness And Charm [live] (2:39)
During the tour that accompanied the release of Quark, Strangeness And Charm, Hawkwind's vocalist and lyricist Robert Calvert underwent a mental collapse, resulting in a debilitating nervous breakdown. Putting Hawkwind on a temporary hiatus, Dave Brock resurrected the idea of a side group using musicians from a local Devon band called Ark whom he had performed with at several free festivals under the name of The Sonic Assassins. This group, along with Robert Calvert, played a very successful concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in Barnstable on 23 December 1977, some of which can be heard on the Atomhenge release of the
Hawklords album. Revitalised by the success, Calvert and Brock reunited with Simon House, Simon King and Adrian Shaw to start work on the next Hawkwind album. With the album finished in late February 1978, the band were committed to a US tour were the
Quark album had just been released by Sire records. Just before the tour commenced, Simon House was asked to join the David Bowie touring band and also contribute to the next Bowie album. Given the profiles of the respective artists, it is not surprising that House opted to link up with Bowie, although he did perform at the first four concerts of the Hawkwind tour in New York City. The remainder of the lengthy tour didn't go all that well for the band, the venues were not that great and Calvert started showing signs of clinical depression. At the end of the last concert of the tour Brock famously sold his guitar to a fan and on his return to England officially disbanded the group and sacked the management. Brock and Calvert then took things into their own hands by forming a new band recording and touring as the Hawklords. However, that group disintegrated during the second album sessions with first drummer Martin Griffith and then Calvert himself opting out. With both Hawkwind and Hawklords disbanded, Charisma, who were still contractually owed another Hawkwind/Hawklords album, decided to issue the results of the early 1978 sessions releasing them under the title P.X.R.5. This is why, on the rear of the original album, the somewhat cryptic message "This is the last album but one" was printed, leading many fans to believe that there would be at least one more album.
Several concerts on the September/October 1977 UK tour had been recorded, primarily to capture the new songs, Robot and High Rise written prior to the tour. In addition, Uncle Sam's On Mars, a track originally recorded during the Quark, Strangeness And Charm sessions but not included on that album, was rearranged for the tour. Live recordings of these songs were used as a basis for the new album with Calvert adding new vocals and Robot being enhanced with extra instrumentation. Uncle Sam was radically different from the original version, being speeded up and played in a more aggressive manner, which I suppose is somewhat inevitable given the live setting. The re-mastering has brought the added NASA sound recordings more to the fore which is a nice juxtaposition with the lyrics which deal at the political domination of the 'space race' over the quest for knowledge. Both Uncle Sam and High Rise, a song written by Calvert about the depressing experience of living in a tower block, have become staples in Hawkwind live shows. The album also contains three tracks from the January 1978 studio sessions. Opening number Death Trap, captured the 'spirit of the age' having a very new wave/punk feel to it getting the album off to a frantic start. Things are softened a bit with Jack Of Shadows another song inspired by American science fiction novelist Roger Zelanzy (whose other works include 'Lord of Light' and 'Damnation Alley', the titles of which may be familiar to Hawkfans). This was actually the first song written for the album and in many ways is a linking piece to the songs on Quark. Last of the 1978 studio tracks is the title number P.X.R.5 which is possibly my favourite Hawkwind song. With a great, rousing chorus, fantastic drumming, psychedelic violin parts and a quirky energy, the song has everything that one could wish for. The two remaining songs were recorded at Brock's Devon farm, originally being intended for a solo album. Infinity is a rather gentle number based on a Calvert poem that originally appeared in the Space Ritual tour programme. This is solo Brock at his best, acoustic guitar, keyboard washes and layered vocals. The drums, added by King, complement the basic track rather than distract. The brief Life Form is primarily a sequencer with some added keyboard sound effects and strange manipulated vocal incantations of the title. Typical Hawkwind stuff that is fine within the context of an album but doesn't really stand alone.
As with all Atomhenge titles, the reissue is cram packed with bonus material. Having access to the original session tapes means that, unlike with previous CD releases of P.X.R.5, the bonus material is all previously unreleased. There are two versions of Jack Of Shadows: a live studio version recorded at the beginning of the album sessions in January 1978 and the second a re-recorded version with Adrian Shaw on vocals which was one of the last things recorded. Happily, and with no offence to Mr Shaw, the studio version with Robert Calvert was selected for the final album. For some reason the band must have been unsure about the live recordings of High Rise and Robot and so studio recordings, albeit recorded live, were committed to tape. Perhaps, they were to get Calvert warmed up for over-dubbing the vocals on the concert recordings or to try out ideas for additional instrumentation to enhance the songs, but they are suitably different, particularly Robot, to be worthy of inclusion. Again, the alternative vocal mix of High Rise is perhaps over-egging the song but I would be hard pushed to choose which of the bonus versions should be sacrificed if one had to choose. The alternative intro mix of P.X.R.5 is just that, a slightly different opening 30 seconds or so, or at least as far as I can hear! The live version of Quark, Strangeness And Charm, recorded in the USA in March 1978, is not the best live version I've heard but is of historic value. However, the standout bonus track is the previously unreleased We Like To Be Frightened, an attempt at a single which never saw the light of day. A very commercial number it is a surprise that it was never released, perhaps it was too similar to Quark, Strangeness And Charm, maybe the musical environment had changed too much in the 18 months since the album was recorded and eventually released or was its existence just forgotten about given the circumstances in which the album was released? Perhaps no one remembers, or even knows.
I have always thought, and I may be wrong, that P.X.R.5 has often been overlooked in the catalogue of Hawkwind releases. I do recall that when it was first released some thought it was just a collection of odd bits and pieces cobbled together by the record label to get as much return out of the band as possible. However, this misplaced suspicion is totally wrong and the album is a fine collection of great songs. With no band to promote it and the fact that some of the material was approaching two years old by the time it was released, perhaps it is not surprising that it was lost along the wayside. However, now with a far superior sound to previous CD releases and a large contingent of previously unheard out takes, it is about time that this album is re-evaluated.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Eric Woolfson -
Erik Woolfson Sings The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Record Label:||Limelight Records|
|Catalogue #:||LREC 0590|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Golden Key (4:12), Nothing Can Change My Mind (4:00), Rumour Goin' Round (4:40), Any Other Day (3:08), I Can See Round Corners (5:16), Steal Your Heart Away (3:20), Along The Road Together (3:22), Somewhere In The Audience (4:36), Train To Wuxi (4:19), Immortal (6:02)
Eric Woolfson was the co-founder of the Alan Parsons Project and wrote most (if not all) of the songs for the albums, with Alan focussing more on production and engineering. During the years Woolfson started to sing more and more on the Project's albums; his characteristic voice can be heard on songs like Time, Eye in The Sky, Don't Answer Me, Ammonia Avenue, Inside Looking Out and Same Old Sun. Back in 1990 Woolfson released the album Freudiana. Many people thought it was a Project's album but it actually an album conceived by Woolfson and although produced and engineered by Parsons it was definitely different from the Project's outings. This album would also signal the split between Parsons and Woolfson, who decided to follow a career in producing stage musicals, a style that was already very much present on Freudiana.
Since his departure from the Alan Parsons Project (forcing Parsons to drop the 'Project' reference from his further releases) Woolfson continued to produce musicals, some of which were based on Project albums (Gaudi, Poe and Gambler). When revisiting the Project material for the release of the expanded remastered editions a few unfinished demo's and partial recordings were rediscovered (of these Any Other Day and Rumour Goin' Round reappear in finished form on this album). As Woolfson writes in the liner notes of the album: 'All of this gave rise to the idea that I could perhaps complete some of the unfinished works, together with other material that would unquestionably have been candidate for inclusion had Alan and I continued working together on more Projects'. The resulting album was called 'Eric Woolfson sings The Alan Parsons Project That Never Was', without a doubt to get more attention from the media and fans of the former Project albums.
Marketing-wise this is a splendid idea, but it also sets very high expectations. I've been a huge Project fan since my early teens. Hearing The Turn of a Friendly Card over and over again at the age of 12 when I joined a friend from school and his parents on vacation in France was actually the whole reason I got interested in progressive rock. You can imagine my interest when first hearing about the album, although I was also very sceptical. A few years ago Woolfson tried to get the old Project fans interested in his Poe: More Tales of Mystery and Imagination album, which turned out to be little more than stage musical music. And I don't like musicals ... as you will see.
Listening to the album the first time was an extremely disenchanting experience. As I had feared, nowhere does the album live up to the expectations created by it's title. There's very little songs on the album that I can imagine having been a Project song. And the actual number of 'unfinished works' from the Project years is disappointingly small (the two aforementioned songs). All of the rest of the songs but one are related to Woolfson's work for musicals; the concerned songs are simply different versions of stuff Woolfson wrote for his Gambler, Gaudi, Poe and Dancing Shadows musicals. Now, all of this might have been acceptable if it would actually sound like an Project album, but it rarely does. Sure, The Golden Key could have been on a Project album since it echoes the Wall of Sound approach of Don't Answer Me and has wonderful orchestration by the Chezch Philharmonic Orchestra. Sure, Rumour Goin' Round, an outtake from Stereotomy, uses the original backing track and backing band and has the typical dry drum production sound of that album. Sure, the other Project left-over, Any Other Day (sounding an awful lot like a take on the Theme from Cheers), features the Project's guitarist Ian Bairnson, having added a solo to the finished track. Still, neither are exceptionally special compositions or characteristic Project songs. The harmony piece I Can See Around Corners actually uses the same vocal melody as the backing vocals from Pyramid's Shadow of a Lonely Man. And that's about as far as the Project connection goes. As a matter of fact, for Steal Your Heart Away, which Woolfson describes as the ultimate Eurovision Song
Festival entry (and true, it us an utterly brainless, but admittedly fun pop song) he also claims that Parsons would have been disgusted by it. So how could this ever have been part of a Project album ?
What's left is an album with pop and stage musical songs, all featuring Woolfson's vocals. This alone - although his voice is very characteristic - doesn't automatically make a Project album. One of the strengths of the Project was the variety in vocalists. As a matter of fact, I got a bit tired with Woolfson's voice by the time of Gaudi since the share of his vocals had become a bit overwhelming. I personally thought that the departure of Woolfson brought a fresh new sound to Parsons' albums, especially Try Anything Once and On Air. So, as you can imagine, ten songs with just Woolfson on vocals is a bit too much for me. Moreover, a song like Train to Wuxi, which I have to admit is quite catchy and entertaining, isn't even suited for Woolfson's high voice. This might well be a track that would actually work as a Project song if it rocked a bit more and had vocals by Lenny Zakatek (who sang many of the Projects' rock songs like I Wouldn't Want to Be Like You and Games People Play). Also, in the liner notes Woolfson mentions that he has a version of Somewhere in the Audience with Colin Blunstone on vocals, what a missed opportunity to not include it here!
As a fellow DPRP staff member said, 'It's the Alan Parsons Project That Never Was ... for a good reason'. This certainly isn't a Project album; besides the voice of Woolfson you'll have a hard time finding anything worthy of a Project release. Having said that, some of the songs are enjoyable and if you're unlike me are also into musicals this might really be your cup to tea and you might appreciate songs like Along the Road Together, Nothing Can Change My Mind and Immortal too. I certainly don't care much for songs like that. Whatever you do, don't be fooled by the title of this CD though. Although an exceptionally talented singer/songwriter, one Woolfson does not make an Alan Parsons Project.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Spleen Arcana - The Field Where She Died
|Country of Origin:||France|
|Catalogue #:||SA - CD01|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Trample On Me (9:07), The Missing Piece (3:42), A Picture Of Two Lovers In The Mist (10:12), Tears Are Made To Flow (9:49), A Kind Of Heaven (10:04)
Fortyish minutes of music, five tracks, five years in the making.... the work of an obsessed home musician that is best confined to the deep fog of time, or a creation that was worth all the pain and angst bringing to the world’s attention? The latter, definitely! Yes, the five years labour was well spent and the hope is that, now that Spleen Arcana’s star has shone brightly, record companies will be interested in investing in future music by the artist, and that we will not have to wait until 2015 or thereabouts for the next album! The Field Where She Died falls just short of a DPRP recommendation: a worthy performance indeed for the first album by a new artist. And I suspect that I may well be being slightly harsh because I am enjoying it more each time I listen to it - we shall see where it ends up in my 2009 end-of-year ranking...
Spleen Arcana is, effectively, solo musician Julien Gaullier. He is joined on The Field Where She Died by guests David Perron (drums) and Marie Guillaumet (occasional vocals). Julien himself wrote the music and English lyrics, sings the main vocal parts, plays guitar, bass, an array of keyboards, bodhran and mandolin, as well as recording, producing, mixing and mastering the album. Impressive. It made me think again about this whole issue of solo artists versus bands: and the fact that for recorded music these days there really is not much difference given the growing tendency for bands to not record together in the studio and in some cases recording their own parts in totally different studios countries apart, piecing the whole lot together much later. The most important thing is the overall result and on The Filed Where She Died it is very impressive.
The most pleasing aspect of The Field Where She Died is the quality of the melodic composition. Strong melodic writing can cover a host of other compositional shortcomings and Gaullier shows throughout the album that he has a gift for melodic writing. It will be impossible for you to listen to The Field Where She Died without carrying an imprint of the melodic phrasing in your mind for the future. Secondly, the array of aural colours with which Gaullier has chosen to portray his music is rich and he has skillfully arranged them within the soundscape: the music is beautifully orchestrated and in alliance with the melody that proves a powerful force. The overall finished product sounds, if you can imagine it, a little like a cross-fertilisation between the symphonic prog-rock of early King Crimson, or perhaps even Camel, and male-fronted gothic-rock. Gaullier’s top three “musical heroes” are Marillion, Pink Floyd and Anathema. I guess it might just be better if you just listen to some samples!
The playing on The Field Where She Died is pleasing and effective without being virtuosic. The guitar, piano and mellotronics (many artists now use sampled mellotron instruments rather than the irksome beast itself!) are especially enjoyable. This last part of the soundscape has a two-sided face though. For me, the balance of the mellotronics in the mix is too low. It is clearly a choice that Gaullier has made after some careful consideration: exemplifying this is the sleeve note where he says “this CD was mastered for sonic quality, not volume. Please control the loudness with your volume knob and play it as loud as YOU want.” Well, that may be so, but turning up the volume will not help the balance of the mellotronics. A number of times when the instrument comes in, the timing is sheer perfection from a compositional standpoint, but I just wanted it to go bang! - but it is dominated by the guitar. Perhaps Gaullier was hesitant about it potentially swamping the guitar/vocal. Mellotronics provide some of the most amazing sounds in progressive rock and it doesn’t have enough dynamism throughout its use on The Field Where She Died; clearly Gaullier made a different choice to this music fan, who thinks that a nudge up the balance scale for the mellotronics would have put this album into the “DPRP Recommended” category.
The Missing Piece excepted, these songs go through a number of phases of differing tempo and feel. There are no weak moments to speak of, other than the issue with the mellotronics balance. A Picture Of Two Lovers In The Mist is just one of the high points with, as everywhere else on this album, strong melodic writing, a good vocal performance including a phase of some semi-growling (and also I think I can hear Marie assisting on some backing vocal effects) and good compositional use of the mellotronics. A Kind Of Heaven features Marie’s vocal more prominently than elsewhere and her voice acts well in juxtaposition to Gaullier’s. There is some excellent guitar work in its middle phase, after which the song slows for a pretty and emotive finale, building up in tempo and tension to its effective tom-tom drum conclusion.
Finally, also pleasing is the artwork that accompanies the CD - very evocatively created by Malgorzata Maj. It’s always a bonus to enjoy the cover art, it somehow makes listening to the music a more wholesome experience. Credit to Gaullier for really living his dream. The album may be available as a download but even if you’re cash-strapped, having the artwork makes paying the extra for the CD worth it.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Survival - Crusader
|Country of Origin:||The Netherlands|
|Record Label:||Musea Records|
|Catalogue #:||FGBG 4760|
|Year of Release:||2008|
Tracklist: The Holy Land (3:38), Beauseant (2:15), Lamentation (1:11), Crusader(6:24), Abide With Me (2:06), Baldwin (3:21), I Cried for You (2:25), Exceptional Friend (7:03), The Knights Templar (2:57), Montgisard (10:26), After All (4:15)
Survival is more of a solo project rather than a band, initiated by Jack Langeveld and the first version of Survival existed between 1981 to 1997, after that Langeveld worked on the solo album The Final Chapter which was released in 1999. The following two years he was occupied creating his own recording studio and with this studio he saw no limitations anymore for creating, composing and producing his music on a level that was more to his satisfaction.
Jack Langeveld is heavily influenced by Rick Van Der Linden, keyboard player for Dutch progressive rock band Ekseption which was active from 1967 to 1989.
And just like Ekseption, Jack Langeveld is influenced by The Nice and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. So needless to say this is an album containing a lot of keyboard sounds, with Langeveld playing Hammond organ, keyboards, synthesizers, piano and mellotron. He is a true genius at playing these instruments and besides that he also plays bass and drums. The guitar parts are played by David Dexter apart from the first song on which Mario Roelofsen handles the guitar. The booklet contains a review by Rick Van Der Linden written in 2003 concerning an early demo version of Crusader and therefore this album is dedicated to Rick Van Der Linden who passed away in 2006.
The Holy Land starts with a thick keyboard sound that reminds me of Don Airey's solo album A Light In The Sky and with many dark Hammond organ sounds that will suite many fans of the keyboard genre. The organ is changed for a synthesizer during Beausant, a more gentle song that remind me of Focus, although Thijs Van Leer would have used his Hammond. Lamentation is a short interlude with a more classical feel to it. These first songs contain good tunes and deserve to be listened to, but the real fun starts at Crusader, a composition of over six minutes with again many influences from Focus. The guitar melodies by David Dexter are played beautifully and very clear and of course Jack Langeveld fills this song with his excellent craftsmanship, his abilities on the Hammond organ are stunning.
Abide With Me is classical just like Lamentation, but this song is supported by drums which makes it sound more contemporary. The drums are put aside for Baldwin which contains a lot of synthesizer playing. Up-tempo drumming for I Cried For You with lengthy synthesizer solos has less of the dark Hammond sounds, which are put aside and therefore this song sounds not as dark and moody as some earlier songs. I must say it is a strange title for such an uplifting song.
Exceptional Friend is of course written for the late Rick Van Der Linden. The song starts mellow with synthesizer solos with David Dexter playing some Gilmour like guitar solos just before the pace of the song increases and it really starts groovin'. Great dramatic keyboard parts. The song ends in the style of the mellow opening part and David turns his guitar playing back to Focus' style.
The Knights Templar provides church organ sounds that Jack made himself from scratch on his keyboard. At this point I realize I forgot to tell the music is about a Templar Knight called Baldwin. With so many other aspects surrounding this album it's better to forget about this fact and just enjoy the music. Montgisard is the epic song on this album and it sure opens like that. Dark keyboard sounds that slowly evolve into a cacophony of guitar and frantic drumming. I was surprised by this change and after that all bets are off and Jack really opens all registers on his keyboards. This song changes from one magnificent part to the other. The guitar is allowed only a small part on this song, Jack keeps most of the fun to himself on this one. Also a few bars from Eruption (Tarkus) from Emerson, Lake & Palmer can be found on this song. After All gently closes the album and after Montgisard it is a nice song to slow down your heart rate.
Crusader is a good album that will be loved by fans of Ekseption, Rick Van Der Linden, Don Airey and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Crusader is a summary of the music Jack Langeveld has created in the years since Survival first was disbanded. He is a master at the keyboard but he leaves room for guitar player David Dexter to create a nice balance. One very small point of criticism is the fact that he should also have asked someone else to play the drums. The bass, also played by Jack, is not very profound on this album but the drum parts are the "weakest" part on this album. This album is for keyboard lovers only, a must-have for the ones who like Ekseption.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Sophya Baccini - Aradia
Tracklist: La Pietra (9:41), How Good (2:38), Studiare, Studiare (4:26), Will Love Drive Out The Rain? (5:22), Adesso (2:04), Al Ritmo Di Una Storia (3:47), Beware, Beware (5:09), Ever Too Small (2:36), Don’t Dream That Dream (4:22), Non È L’Amore Il Tuo Destino (3:34), L’Ennessimo No (2:09), Elide (5:50), Aradia (3:47), Two Witches And Doreen (4:11), Nei Luoghi (3:58), When The Eagles Flied (3:38), Circle Game (2:11) Bonus Video When The Eagles Flied (3:38)
This is yet another solid Black Widow release, a brand which has always been a model of integrity and respect for the artist. Keeping the label’s love for the dark, melancholic and eerie atmospheres, but adding a deeply personal touch, Sophya Baccini’s Aradia is (what looks like) a concept album about empty hearts and empty places, nostalgia and sadness… with a nod to the supernatural.
I’d say Sophya Baccini lies somewhere between the light of Kate Bush and the shade of Diamanda Galás, adding her Mediterranean sensibility to the mix. In Aradia, the lyrics seem to balance the autobiographical notes with numerous references to magic, myth and superstition. This way, dreams and nightmares, witches and goddesses, astrology and mythology find their way through Sophya’s recount of (what seem to be) her own memories. If the otherworldly gives the album a dark edge, then the emotional provides it with the eminently sad, melancholic character of the CD.
La Pietra sets the tone for the rest of the album. Being the longest track clocking at nearly ten minutes, it perfectly serves as an overture, but also as a summary. I’d describe it as a symphonic ballad, opening with a rainy Mellotron to slowly evolve into a fuller
and more dramatic sound, complete with strings and electric guitar. Quite a good song, indeed.
How Good and Studiare, Studiare keep the atmosphere in “black and white” (for lack of a better expression…), albeit the latter adds a bit of energy thanks to a driving, slightly demented clavinet intro. The flow of the album is well kept throughout, articulated by shorter two minute “poems” (often reprising the themes from La Pietra, such is the case of the beautiful Adesso) which serve as bridges between the main themes of the album. Baccini even uses three different languages (Italian, English and French) to great effect, providing with more variety and color a CD which, otherwise, could be accused of being a bit flat or repetitive.
Things get a bit more exciting with Al Ritmo Di Una Storia, the first track to feature drums (courtesy of Aurelio Fierro Jr.), and along the likes of Non È L’Amore Il Tuo Destino and When The Eagles Flied (a video of which is included here as a bonus), represents the more conventional (dare I say commercial) side of Aradia.
Elsewhere, a few guests spice up the album; Martin Grice provides some Jethro Tull magic thanks to his flute on Don’t Dream That Dream, and again himself adds some nice jazzy tenor sax to Nei Luoghi. On the wonderfully titled Two Witches And Doreen, Nona Luna and Ana Torres (from the great Universal Totem Orchestra, another Black Widow band you should check out) contribute with their incredible vocals to build an operatic (something that appears to be intrinsically Italian) atmosphere.
To round things up nicely, Circle Game serves as a nod to Joni Mitchell, another woman with a strong personality, just like Sophya Baccini, who’s worked nearly three years on this project to get her message to be heard and understood in all its intensity. That said, if you like Galás, Bush, Lisa Gerrard, Tori Amos or even Siouxsie Sioux, I’m sure you’ll find a lot to enjoy in this melting pot of goth, prog and opera.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Gentle Giant - Live In Stockholm '75
|Country of Origin:||UK|
|Record Label:||Major League|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Cogs In Cogs (3:16), Proclamation (5:33), The Runaway/Experience (10:07), So Sincere (11:03), Plain Truth (8:21), Free Hand (8:09), Just The Same (6:07)
Everyone considering him or herself a prog-lover must know Gentle Giant so I guess it’s fair to say this band really doesn’t need an introduction. The heritage of the Shulman brothers, Minnear, Green and Weathers is of such a great importance to the whole genre, there are still loads of musicians inspired by their music and lots of people trying to keep their music alive. One of the ways to do this, is by releasing live albums such as this one, recorded for the Swedish Radio in 1975. Another way of doing that is for the band to reunite. Due the pushing of die hard fans like Dan Bornemark, one day there was GORGG, a group of fans organizing a yearly convention as a tribute to one of the most original bands in prog history. GORGG is very much alive and actively promoting GG music worldwide. In my opinion it’s reasonable to assume the getting together of Gary Green and Kerry Minnear because of these conventions might well influenced these musicians to decide to form a new band to play Gentle Giant music at its best and possibly create original music as well. This band, also featuring former GG drummer Malcolm Mortimore is called Three Friends…
For this show on November 12, 1975 in Club Karen at the Stockholm University the band was in excellent form. Especially Gary Green played his fingers blue and as usual the bass playing of Ray Shulman was simply awesome, one of the best ever! In So Sincere some strings by Ray and Kerry and a percussion ‘madness’ involving the whole band. In Plain Truth we can hear an echoing violin solo. The sound quality is very good and therefore this live album is well worth buying and a must for every GG fan. The songs performed on this show were from Acquiring The Taste, Free Hand, The Power And The Glory and In A Glass House. The only disadvantage could be, the tracks on this album have been performed on many other live albums as well. Still all those difficult rhythm patterns, close harmony singing and the many complicated song structures can’t be heard enough if you ask me.
There has been an official statement, the next live album will be one of the line up still featuring Phil Shulman and Martin Smith on drums. This album will most certainly feature songs from the first three albums. Interesting liner notes by John Weathers and the package, a nice digipack, contribute to making Live In Stockholm ’75 worth while!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK
Daniel Vincent - This Building Is Under Electronic Surveillance At All Times
Tracklist: Leaving the City (5:18), Relate (3:22), Nitetime Magicks (13:21), Norfolkstrasse (5:15), Returning to the City (2:31), Meanwhile (28:32), Untitled Hidden Track (3:33)
Resonance Association collaborator Daniel Vincent (also Karma Pilot, Onion Jack, Safety Deposit Box and Lovers Of London) returns on the heels of that band’s
We Still Have The Stars release with the solo effort This Building Is Under Electronic Surveillance At All Times. It’s the second solo release from the UK multi-instrumentalist, who writes, sings and plays everything on the CD.
The CD draws upon the same sonic palette as the Resonance Association does - elements of drone, dark ambient, industrial, electronica, and post-prog. Conceived, written, and recorded in a week, the CD comes in two formats. The standard download version features five tracks, and the deluxe physical digipack release features the first five tracks along with two bonus tracks. Both are on Mrs. Vee Records. The physical version is the one being reviewed here. The main point of comparison or influence heard on the CD is, you guessed it, the Resonance Association. As there are just seven tracks I will touch on them all.
- Opening track Leaving The City features some electronic ambience and fading in layered guitars. An analog-sounding drum program provides a funky groove and some muted keyboard soloing from Vincent undercuts this good track.
- Relate is an industrial piece with some programming elements evoking
Nine Inch Nails and some acceptable singing from Vincent along with guitar leads. It’s the only vocal tune on the CD.
- Nitetime Magicks is a drone piece featuring Vincent’s dark ambience and lightly placed drum programming. The programming becomes heavier later in the song, and we hear that signature wailing guitar so characteristic of the Resonance Association. The programming then lightens up once again and the song trails off in more dark ambience and some minimal keyboards.
- Norfolkstrasse is a groovy rock piece with some psychedelic guitar soloing and a steadily programmed beat evoking Mrs. Vee labelmates
- Returning To The City is a simple brief reprise of the opening track. Then we get the two bonus tracks.
- Meanwhile is a 28 minute ambient/drone piece, the darkness of which evokes
Steve Roach and Zeit-era Tangerine Dream.
- The last track is an untitled three-minute little bouncy piece of electronica.
Vincent is headed in the right direction with this release and I can think of
no room for improvement for his fine solo work which will most likely appeal to fans of experimental, unconventional music. If you seek something more mainstream, this CD is probably not for you.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Centric Jones - Foreign Tea
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: Global Warning (4:05), Fly Across The Trail (3:17), 87 Poet (3:56), Remember The Fall (4:09), Origins Of Light (5:13), Blue Beat (2:52), Visualize (3:15), Oblivious (4:00), Awaken The Fifth (6:32), Sunset For A Thousand Year Day (4:57), Pressure Freq. (3:13), Magnetic Damage [Out Of The Loop] (2:34), Gate Way (4:18), 4&T (4:34), Head Of Sinbad (3:09), Frozen (4:39), Slingshot (5:06)
I was pleasantly surprised when I first received for review for this site, the self-titled release by
Project Moonbeam, courtesy of Colarado-based multi-instrumentalist Chris Fournier. I regrettably do not hold the same level of enthusiasm for Foreign Tea, the debut release from Fournier’s new project Centric Jones. In this project Fournier is on bass, guitars, keyboards and drum programming. His good friend Tobe London plays drums and keyboards. Special guest Nick Kerzner contributes vocals on one track, as he did with Project Moonbeam.
The CD is a culmination of three years’ work between Fournier and London. The band plays tight, hard improv-sounding pieces of music with many of the tracks evoking early Genesis. Magnetic Damage [Out Of The Loop] is an example of the Genesis influence, and it also has some Trey Gunn pointers (though no Warr guitar or Chapman stick is used). London shows off his keyboards skills on Remember The Fall in addition to his discipline as a drummer. He’s a great drummer, but his drumming sounds muddy and under-produced on the CD. Fournier’s talent is all over the CD as well, like his liquidy bass on 87 Poet. And he lays down some perky drum programming on Blue Beat, which with London’s live drumming could have come from the recording session for King Crimson’s Thrack release. He throws in some synth touches on Visualize that recall A Momentary Lapse of Reason-era Pink Floyd.
Other commonalities across the 70-minute CD refer to Tony Levin, Rush, The ProjeKcts, Yes, and Mostly Autumn.
The CD booklet and cover are colorfully designed by Thierry Guilleminot. Check him out at his Thierry Guilleminot website.
This CD will most likely appeal to those who dig hard-edged improv-based pieces of music. Stay away if you seek tamer, “songwriter” fare. And stick with Project Moonbeam if you prefer electronica. For his next Centric Jones release I would recommend featuring Kerzner more prominently as a vocalist. I would also suggest sticking more with the electronica but that would be based only on my personal taste. Recruiting Project Moonbeam violinist Cyndee Lee Rule into the fold would also be a good idea.
Conclusion: 4.5 out of 10
Drift - Driftsongs
|Country of Origin:||USA|
|Year of Release:||2009|
Tracklist: La Vaca Baila (3:38), Ned Untrumpted (8:46), Faker (6:51), The Audition Room (11:56), Overlook (6:22), A Goodbye Greeting (5:23)
Driftsongs is American band Drift’s first CD. This eclectic mix of six songs makes for a not unpleasant debut - certainly there is promise from this band that have only been together for 18 months – but the band have some way to go in order to impose their identity on the music. Eclectic song writing can work, particularly if there is a common sonic thread uniting the music, drawing it together: I didn’t detect that common bond on Driftsongs, so that ultimately the compositional variety leaves the listener feeling a little bemused. Another weakness that affects the enjoyment of the music is the poor vocal technique displayed: again, this is a factor which the band will need to address if they are to make progress.
Drift are based in northern New Jersey and comprises Jack Blair (lead vocals, keyboards, guitars), Steve Gio (bass, backing vocals), Evan Jacobson (drums, backing vocals) and Dave Scags (electric and 12-string guitars, backing vocals). This is a self-produced and self-released disc. The band’s MySpace claims that they sound like
King Crimson, Yes, Genesis and Syd Barrett... well, no, not yet!
The opener La Vaca Baila is an instrumental, the only one on the album. It is guitar-driven with keyboards in close support and, I would have said, descended from the early Camel line. The keyboards playing on Ned Untrumpted was also reminiscent of the late Pete Bardens but the song held other un-like Camel influences from the East, both in the keyboard and guitar lines, in a style not too dissimilar to contemporary Swedish band Siena Root. So, vaguely psychedelic with a flavour of the Orient. The music itself is pleasant enough but Blair’s vocal performance is below par and grates slightly.
Faker is heavier and in its latter phases takes on influences from punk; overall I’d classify this as prog-punk, a style which can be effective (for instance from a band like Diagonal) but on this occasion I felt it descended too close to noise. Audition Room starts very wistfully musically but unfortunately this just exposes Blair’s poor vocal technique even more: the harmonies are no better. This is a long composition (credited entirely to Blair) and the music is pleasant but I did feel that it was lacking in compositional and arrangement ideas and so it did indeed feel like a long composition!
We get another shift going into Overlook, which opens with a straight rock-riff, all the way from The Kinks era. It’s a good riff and it’s a style that suits Blair’s vocal better than some previous ones. In the latter phase the song again adopts influences from punk and becomes a little lack-lustre. The finale flips to a new style yet again: A Goodbye Greeting is an excellent “art-rock” song that suffers from not being sung well. It has a pretty, romantic, strummed chord start, almost a pop feel with it’s very catchy melodic lines and develops some good complementary use of keyboards in the latter stages.
You might sense from the descriptions of the individual songs how the mix of styles and vocal technique cloud a CD that does have its sunny moments. Overall it does show promise for Drift; a promise that they will have to build on if they are to succeed. My recommendation to them would be to either adopt a style that suits the vocal technique or, preferably from my viewpoint, to keep the progressiveness in the music and invest in some vocal coaching.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10