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2009 : VOLUME 53
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Hawkwind - Levitation
Hawkwind - Levitation
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Atomhenge
Catalogue #:ATOMCD 3016
Year of Release:1980/2009
Time:CD1 77:54
CD2 37:55
CD3 40:29
Info:Hawkwind
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD1: Levitation (5:47), Motorway City (6:45), Psychosis (2:25), World Of Tiers (3:16), Prelude (1:40), Who's Gonna Win The War (4:44), Space Chase (3:10), The Fifth Second Of Forever (3:27), Dust Of Time (6:23) Bonus Tracks: Hawklords Sessions 1979 Valium 10 (7:52), Time Of (4:10), Who's Gonna Win The War (4:52), Douglas In The Jungle (6:53), British Tribal Music (3:56) Hawkwind: Nuclear Toy (3:00), Who's Gonna Win The War [single version] (3:38), Brainstorm [live 1980] (5:47)

CD2: Live At Lewisham Odeon 18 December 1980: Technicians Of Spaceship Earth/Levitation (7:27) Motorway City (7:36), Death Trap (4:43), Angels Of Death (6:06), Fifth Second Of Forever/Dust Of Time (12:01)

CD3: Running Through My Back Brain [Messages] (6:23), Dangerous Vision (5:06), Who's Gonna Win The War (7:26), PSI Power (4:49), Shot Down In The Night (7:15), World Of Tiers (5:17), Space Chase (4:10)

Esoteric have pulled out all the stops for their reissue of Hawkwind's 1980 album, Levitation, their first studio release for Bronze Records. With full re-mastering, a whole host of bonus tracks and a limited edition box set with an unreleased 1980 concert (recorded at Lewisham Odeon in December 1980), this set is a delight for fans of the space troubadours. But first, a little history. Following the release of the Hawklords 25 Years On album and loss of singer Robert Calvert to a solo career and increasingly severe medical problems, the remaining Hawks, Dave Brock, Harvey Bainbridge, Steve Swindells and Simon King started work on new material. Several tracks were recorded, some of which are included on this release, but cracks started to appear in the band when keyboard player Swindells left after disagreeing with Brock's intention of taking the music back towards the classic space rock sound of Hawkwind. Somewhat in limbo, the three remaining members of the group dispersed to their private lives with the Hawklords/Hawkwind confusion being maintained by the release of the P.X.R.5 album. Eventually, the band reappeared under the Hawkwind name towards the end of 1979 with former Gong member Tim Blake behinds the synths and keyboards and original guitarist Huw Lloyd Langton happily back in the fold, a line up documented on the Live '79 album, which charted at #15, far higher than any of the Charisma albums. With a hit album and the group undergoing a resurgence in popularity, Bronze were happy to splash some cash on the new studio album and so the latest technological was employed. This created a further casualty in that Simon King was unable to deal with the new methods of recording. In one of the most bizarre twists in a very convoluted history, his replacement was Ginger Baker, the sticks man with super-groups Cream and Blind Faith. With the line-up complete, recording could commence!

I have to say that for a long time I have considered Levitation to be the last great Hawkwind album, possibly because it was the last one that I bought at the time of release. Almost thirty years later I am happy that my use of the superlative is still justified as it really is a very good album! From the driving opening title track, where Langton's re-recruitment is fully justified, onwards, there is barely a duff moment. Motorway City has become a beloved live number; Psychosis brings back the space themes and synthesiser madness of earlier years (and needs to be heard through headphones to reap the full benefits of the remastering); and World Of Tiers is a guitar driven instrumental space chase that starts and ends with real force but still manages to fit in an acoustic middle section that is not a million miles away from sounding like Yes (no mistake!). The second side of the vinyl album starts with the Blake composition Prelude which, unsurprisingly, sounds like it could have been left over from his New Jerusalem solo album, leading into the first of four versions (three if you don't get the limited edition set) of Whose Gonna Win The War, oddly chosen as the single to be lifted from the album. Not that it is not a good song, just not a great single! It has a more laid back feel, pulsed along by a nice Bainbridge bass line and Langton's characteristic guitar sound. Space Chase takes up from where World Of Tiers left off and has to be one of the best instrumental numbers that the band has ever recorded. Blake not only shows that he can coax all sorts of weird sounds from his synths but also lays down a couple of solos that blend magnificently with the lead guitar. The Fifth Second Of Forever has nothing to do with Ten Seconds Of Forever the spoken piece performed with such force on The Space Ritual, although the structure of the main song is very similar to the classic songs of this period. It is also topped and tailed by an acoustic introduction and coda that nicely rephrase earlier moments of the album. Original final track, Dust Of Time is, initially, possibly the least adventurous number on the album but has the strength of containing a catchy chorus line that is hard to shake. Following a nice piano section the band take things off with again Langton proving to be the star of the show. Another verse and chorus and the album is brought to a satisfactory end, leaving the listener wanting more - always a good thing in my book!

Of course, being an Esoteric re-release there is plenty of more! The next five tracks are all taken from the aborted sessions from the second Hawklords album in 1979. Four of them will probably be familiar to hardened fans as they have appeared on several compilation albums and bootlegs over the years. Valium 10 (the one that starts off in the dentist's chair!) is labelled as being the full version but I can't honestly remember ever hearing an edited version of this number. Good, rather than great, it is more of a jam around a riff than a structured song but has enough going for it to be of interest. Similarly, Time Of (often titled as Time Of The Hawklords), Douglas In The Jungle and British Tribal Music are loose (and looser) jams that may have developed into something more exciting, although in the case of Douglas In The Jungle maybe it is a good thing that it wasn't being a bit annoying after a couple of listens. The Hawklords version of Whose Gonna Win The War shows that the song was pretty near fully developed at this time. Hearing Swindells' approach to the song makes it of great interest. And speaking of Swindells, one disappointment is that the Hawklord studio versions of Shot Down In The Night and Turn It On, Turn It Off (both subsequently being issued on his solo album Fresh Blood released at the same time as Levitation) were not included. Rounding off the first disc in this set are the Whose Gonna Win The War / Nuclear Toy single, which is great for completists having everything in one place, and a previously unreleased live version of Brainstorm, which has a very nice drum intro by Mr Baker (actually the intro is the end of a much longer drum solo, rather a turn-off for most Hawkwind fans and a good opportunity to visit the bar!)

The live album is a great bonus, particularly as it was professionally recorded and has, surprisingly, not been released before. At the time of the recording Tim Blake had been replaced, due to personal reasons, by Keith Hale, previously a member of Blood Donor. He fitted in well with the band who had honed the material to perfection. This is evident from the opening performance of Levitation (prefaced by the Technicians Of Spaceship Earth introduction by Michael Moorcock) which has evolved considerably from the studio version recorded a few months earlier. Likewise, Motorway City gets an extended workout with a fine solo from Langton. The emphasis that this was a new Hawkwind band that were looking to the future and not relying on the past is showcased by the lack of any 'classic' Hawkwind songs. With the exception of Brainstorm and associated drum solo, which are not included in this release), the oldest song is Death Trap (although not officially released until after PSI Power which was on the 1978 Hawklords album). Both tracks are played at a furious pace and have a lot more aggression than previous versions. Perhaps the band were influenced by the New Wave Of Heavy Metal that was prevalent at the time (indeed, the support band on the tour was Vardis). Angels Of Death, a new track at the time of the concert, has always been rather a disappointing number, somewhat like the album on which it was eventually released (although I look forward to making a re-evaluation of that assessment when it is eventually reissued!). However, the pairing of Fifth Second Of Forever/Dust of Time is marvellous, employing a mixture of light and shade.

The second part of the concerts starts with two rarities. Running Through My Back Brain [Messages] was co-written with, and sung by at this concert, Michael Moorcock. Hardly a long-lost classic, the song is rather repetitive and doesn't offer a great deal to the proceedings. Better is Keith Hale's Dangerous Vision, a song I had not heard before and was suitably impressed with. The final version of Who's Gonna Win The War is the best of the lot, extended by almost three minutes, the group really add a lot to this track and even if he may have been an awkward choice behind the drums, Baker shows what a great drummer he is. The concert is ended with three songs that are well performed by the ensemble. Swindells' Shot Down In The Night is probably not as clean a version as on Live '79 but maintains the energy built up during the preceding PSI Power. World Of Tiers and Space Chase are every bit as good as their studio counterparts and form a great end to the concert, with everyone excelling themselves on the Space Chase finale.

Overall, this is a wonderful package. Levitation has never sounded better, and is appended by a few odds and ends that the Hawkwind collector will be well pleased to have re-mastered and on CD. The concert is one that has not been previously issued and is a great reminder of a tour that was well attended and well received. The packaging is excellent with a booklet that reproduces the concert tour programme of the time (even if the text is impossible to read without a magnifying glass and the tour dates miss out Reading Top Rank where I saw them!) and there are even three postcards reproducing the album and single covers and the tour poster that adorned my wall during my early years as a student! The single CD re-issue of the album is well worth getting but for the extra money the triple CD limited box set really is a treat!

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Uncreated Light – Whom Should I Blame
Uncreated Light – Whom Should I Blame
Country of Origin:Ukraine
Format:CD
Record Label:MALS
Catalogue #:MALS 322
Year of Release:2009
Time:68:14
Info:Uncreated Light
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Whom Should I Blame...(5:03), Burning Hearts (5:04), Searching For The Destiny (4:47), What Will Remains (4:38), The Mystery Of Water (5:06), Legend (3:22), Sweet Capture (5:24), A Poet (4:50), The Mighty Of This World (4:09), Sign Of The Time (6:24), Whom Should I Blame... [English Version] (5:03), Burning Hearts [English Version] (5:02), Searching For The Destiny [English Version] (4:45), What Will Remain [English Version] (4:35)

I have always preferred female vocalists over male vocalist. I don’t know why; I just always have. And I’ve never reviewed a band from the Ukraine before, so I jumped at the chance to take a crack at Whom Should I Blame, from Ukrainian symphonic prog metal act Uncreated Light. After touring the Ukrainian festival circuit under the name New Land and releasing a debut promo-album, the band now under their new name Uncreated Light spent the span of 2008 recording Whom Should I Blame.

The CD is comprised of 10 tracks sung in the band’s native tongue, and an additional four of those tracks offered in English as bonus tracks. As the somewhat cryptic font on the CD booklet was extremely difficult to read, the above track list shows the English titles only. An online language translator provided no additional assistance.

The band is made up of composer and arranger Artem Mokry on guitars, Helen “Eldiva” Musienko on vocal, Viktor Bilan on drums, and Ilia Mamikin on bass guitar. Across the CD there are many synth-generated string and piano effects which are un-credited, along with a few anonymously programmed percussion effects such as bell and timpani.

As incongruous as a pit bull at the Westminster Dog Show, the collision of metal, symphonic and operatic influences is an acquired taste and best suited for those who can get over any cheeky pretension with a sense of humour.

Rapid fire piano is not afraid to compete with machine gun riffs on Sign Of The Time, at a pace to rival that of Emerson, Wakeman and Moraz; while Mamikin displays some brooding bass.

Snappy drumming from Bilan, Eldiva’s captivating vocals and more M-16 tempos and riffs sizzle up the opening title track, and along with the symphonic touches serve as a good indicator of the CD as a whole. The inclusion of lighter numbers like Searching For The Destiny creates some variety on the otherwise formulaic CD. While the compositions may come across as unoriginal, they could probably grow on you as well with a few more listens. I’ve already become hooked by the whole “orchestra thrash” thing myself. And there are enough tempo changes and false endings to add to the variety also.

This CD will most likely appeal to fans of symphonic, operatic or Goth metal. It’s not what I would call prog, but certainly an enjoyable listen.

The well produced CD is packaged in what the band’s label MALS calls “the limited edition in a paper sleeve”, an oversized jacket encircled by a small piece of promotional literature. Then inside the sleeve or jacket is a second sleeve with the CD inside and the English lyrics to the bonus tracks printed on the back. The CD booklet features a picture of the band with credits and lyrics in the band’s native language. A tracks listing is on back with the main tracks listed in both languages. The English in the booklet is easy to read but as I said earlier the rest is not very legible. So I would suggest with the next CD that the booklet’s font be larger and more legible. Also, shrink the outer sleeve so the whole thing will fit on a CD shelf.

Other than that, I see no room for improvement from this great band.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JIM CORCORAN



Native Window - Native Window
Native Window - Native Window
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Century Media
Catalogue #:160011261
Year of Release:2009
Time:41:20
Info:Native Window
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Money (4:18), Still [We Will Go On] (4:23), Surrender (3:24), The Way You Haunt Me (4:02), The Light Of Day (3:31), Blood In The Water (4:45), An Ocean Away (3:50), Miss Me (5:16), Got To Get Out Of This Town (4:04), The Moment (3:47)

Being a huge Kansas fan, some months ago, I incidentally heard about plans to release an album under a different name by members of Kansas. While Kerry Livgren had to be treated in a hospital recently because of a very serious stroke (but is said to be recovering nicely) and Steve Walsh stating he’s not eager to contribute any songs for a new Kansas-album, what we have left are four experienced and highly qualified musicians doing nothing but performing old Kansas tunes…

One thing led to another and from acoustically conceived songs, eventually grew a very nice rock album under guidance of Steve Rawls (somehow there has to be a Steve involved!) and Jeff Glixman, who helped to build the reputation of Kansas from the very beginning: Native Window was born. Ten songs made it to the album, transformed from acoustic jam sessions to fully arranged melodic rock songs. Because the American release of the album preceded the European, my review is on the US version. In Europe Native Window is released through Inside Out.

Money is a nice catchy opening track, a tasteful up tempo rock song with nice question/answer interplay between Ragsdale’s violin and Williams’ guitar. In fact it’s really easy to recognize the Kansas sound because of Williams’ distinctive guitar sound combined with the violin, as there are not that many bands having a violinist in their midst. Billy Greer has a good singing voice, although not as distinguished as Walsh’s, but the harmonies are quite good. Still and Surrender are mid tempo tunes and their acoustic origin is clear. Multiple layers by Ragsdale’s violin in Still provide a more orchestral sound but the vocal ‘na na na’ is a bit too poppy for me.

One of the best tracks in my judgment is The Way You Haunt Me, which has a similar atmosphere to the Kansas track On The Other Side and in fact could have easily been a ‘genuine’ Kansas song. A perfect melody, very elegant display of how to play the violin and some influences from the good old Beatles. To compare The Light Of Day with Dust In The Wind would be out of line, but it definitely has the same feel and the same sort of acoustic guitar.

Another rock song but with a certain Southern bluesy feel is Blood In The Water, straight from a smoky barroom. The vocal arrangement is reminiscent of 10CC’s Dreadlock Holiday and there are again some real nice duets between the guitar and violin. Sounding a bit like Survivor An Ocean Away, co-written by former Streets (and Seventh Key) guitarist Mike Slamer, is another melodic rock song with several stunning solo’s by Ragsdale. References to Foreigner, in the old line up, however with a classic Kansas interlude, is the song Miss Me. The next tune, Got To Get Out Of This Town is a poppy, joyful track that shows a bit of People Of The Southwind characteristics. Semi-acoustic is the final track The Moment, which is more a pop tune and not so much rock and far from being progressive.

Native Window is the second best choice if you are looking for new works by Kansas. One could think Ragsdale, Greer, Ehart and Williams used leftovers from Kansas or even more logical, from Seventh Key, but the songwriting credits (among other Rawls, Trevor Hurst) point in a different direction. Although Walsh’s voice isn’t as strong as it used to be (although a hell of a lot better than in the nineties!), I still miss his vocal, but foremost the incredible hooks and subtle classical influences by Livgren. Native Window is a very pleasant, certainly not too long pop-rock album and should be in every Kansas fan’s collection. However do not expect a genuine Kansas album or classy progressive music! The musicians are superb of course.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

MENNO VON BRUCKEN FOCK



The Future Kings Of England – The Viewing Point
The Future Kings Of England – The Viewing Point
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Backwater
Records
Catalogue #:OLKCD018
Year of Release:2009
Time:44:52
Info:The Future Kings
Of England
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Go... (7:35), Sea Saw (7:17), The Cold Hard truth (1:36), Time Flies Like An Arrow (13:15), Rain Later, Good (2:47), The Viewing Point (12:18)

The Viewing Point is the third album from East Anglian instrumentalists The Future Kings Of England – Simon Green (drums), Ian Fitch (guitar/keys), Karl Mallett (bass/guitar/keys) and Steve Mann (keys). The atmospheric pieces ebb and flow in the vein of their previous releases certainly bringing to mind early Gilmour period Pink Floyd with suggestions of Ash Ra Temple, Tangerine Dream and early Porcupine Tree but they lack the menace of another quoted influence, Van der Graaf Generator.

They have obviously worked hard to create a dynamic album that tells a story but have not quite succeeded here. The sound is raw with a “live” and distinctly Retro feel that manages to retain a contemporary flavour which sets them apart from the recent wave of bands that simply run with everything 1970s. Both previous albums, 2005’s self-titled debut and 2007 follow up The Fate Of Old Mother Orvis, only managed fair ratings on DPRP and I must admit to having been torn as to whether I actually liked this one or not. This release seems to be moving their trademark sound in a positive direction which fans will doubtless enjoy but, let’s face facts, this isn’t a great album. But neither is it poor and what we get is enjoyable and kind of fun with a sense of history and a definite view of what the band is and what it should sound like and this is to their credit.

The theme behind the songs tells of a man considering his life whilst sitting in his car at the windswept coastal spot that he used to visit with his family. His wife has died and the children have grown up and made their own lives but this point is still special to him. The imagery of the sleeve is stark and bleak, offering a glimpse of the empty beauty and appeal of the place but whether the music fully realises this concept is questionable. With the exception of two brief pieces, most of the material is quite chunky – two of the tracks exceed 12 minutes – and although the ambition is noteworthy some focused editing would have resulted in an improved album. I hope this can be accommodated into their next release as I’m sure that they have the ability to produce a classic.

Go... starts things off with engine sounds and twinkly, slightly distorted guitar over a basic rhythm which picks up for a stately Steve Hackett-like theme. This track sets out their stall with many mood swings and changes within each piece as next up is a section of ominous bass rhythm and organ, some trademark Pink Floyd spaciness and a return to the original theme with choral effects. Then there is a move towards a more Genesis influenced, epic sounding section with Mellotron, the track flowing quite nicely.

Sea Saw opens like an Ocean Colour Scene jam session before spacey keys lift the proceedings. Overall this track loses something in the delivery; the playing is not sloppy but just not quite sharp enough. The rocking element drops out for a melancholic solo guitar before the ‘tron returns with piano building towards a section of guitar mixed with the eerie sound of the musical saw (hence the title?) over a slow rhythm. The tempo rises with tambourine, organ and echoey guitar soloing to good effect.

The Cold Hard Truth is the shortest piece here, mournful solo guitar with some keys before a rhythm raises the piece on a choral wave before returning to original theme. This track doesn’t really go anywhere and the playing is not crisp enough. Next up is Time Flies Like An Arrow with another stately theme, more Mellotron sweeping away in the background. The guitar solo has a distinct early ‘70s feel with a slight Gilmour flavour and spacey effects. A busy rhythm with brushed drums and walking bass kicks in and ups the tempo with a soaring synth line before reintroducing the original theme. As a surprise there is a flailing heavy section with soaring new theme and a nice guitar line to fade. This is very nice track that I just feel should have been a little sharper.

Rain Later, Good sees a radio weather forecast drift into a piece of acoustic folk with drone backing, sparkling effects and wordless vocals. Good use is again made of the Mellotron over strummed guitar but ultimately this brief track is pleasant without being overly inventive. The strange title track is last with a very spacey intro with low-key Nick Mason/Set the Controls... drums followed by a long section of the sounds of the viewing point: radio, rain, waves. Finally the band emerges for more spacey rambling emerging briefly into excellent soaring full on space rock – at last! A pause for more moodiness before another up-tempo, keys-led rock section and a Doors influenced close with effects and abrupt knock on the car window. This could have been done better in half the time and contains about 2 rather fine minutes.

It took a good few listens for this album to reveal itself but the persistence did pay off and this is a worthy album. That said, I’ve read many good things about this band and how highly people rate them but I just don’t quite get it. They aren’t bad and their music has charm but I don’t think they’re technically good enough to really pull it off. The playing is workmanlike with no real panache or flair. The music succeeds in being moody and atmospheric but only contains a few flashes of real excitement. The best parts of this album are excellent but too much of it wastes time that could have been better employed. I have not heard their earlier works but from the comments available it appears that the pieces here hang together and flow much better than previously but a sharper outlook and some judicious editing would have paid dividends – there are spacey solos and melodic passages but probably too many effects. The story is told but not in an obvious way and the journey is pleasant without getting overly thrilling. The mood often conjures up visions of a stark piece of coast on a rainy day but, sadly, does not form into a cohesive and satisfying whole.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

JEZ ROWDEN



Earthling Society – Sci-Fi Hi-Fi
Earthling Society – Sci-Fi Hi-Fi
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:4Zero
Catalogue #:FZ006
Year of Release:2009
Time:62:20
Info:Earthling Society
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Sci-Fi Hi-Fi (8:19), Tempel Ov Flaming Youth (10:49), EA1729 (7:06), The Lantern (7:07), A Future Dream (8:49), E.V.I.L.U.S.A (20:10)

Earthling Society return with their fifth album of kraut-inspired space-rock in as many years. Don’t be fooled by the album title, the production is more lo-fi than hi-fi; it appears to be intentionally so. The focus of the sound is on heavy bass and sweeping synth work – which is often very pleasing – generally to the detriment of a clearer guitar or vocal sound. Sci-Fi Hi-Fi comes across as a sort of amalgam between early psychedelic Pink Floyd, “standard” space-rock as purveyed by the likes of Hawkwind and the ilk of Tangerine Dream. Clearly, this is not the sort of classic space-rock that peers like Litmus perform; it embraces other influences and is more complex. It is often very pleasing to the ear – particularly in the synth work – but equally often meanders off into backwaters that are reminiscent of the worst excesses of this sort of music. Trippy rambles!

Formed in 2004, the band’s previous albums are Albion (2005), Plastic Jesus And The Third Eye Blind (2006), Tears Of Andromeda (2007) and Beauty And The Beast (2008), which was their first release for 4Zero Records. Three of these have been reviewed on DPRP without the band yet reaching a rating worthy of a recommendation: the trend continues with this latest release. See Albion, Tears Of Andromeda and Beauty And The Beast.

The opening number, Sci-Fi Hi-Fi, is very pacey and rhythmic through its main section, almost club at times, with a driving bass line and possibly the most kraut-inspired synth work on the album. It’s a good piece, with only a short meandering phase, the bass and pace helping it through and it’s a good album opener. Then, Tempel Ov Flaming Youth through to and including A Future Dream are a bit of a hotch-potch really. This album section reminded me of Rossini’s famous quote about Richard Wagner – “Wagner has some lovely moments but some terrible quarters of an hour”! There are some glorious sections, both of musical composition and of synth sound selection, but possibly more wayfaring than is strictly necessary and that aspect will turn off any listeners not high on acid. A Future Dream is probably the pick through this phase, its “Pink Floyd meets Tangerine Dream” soundscape being extremely beautiful and melodic.

The album’s main opus though is clearly E.V.I.L.U.S.A and this works well as a more straightforward space-rock number. The psychedelic overtones are still there - of course, this is in any case typical of the genre – but there are fewer distractions from the main themes, there is a glorious extended guitar melody and the synth work is always sharp. Compositionally the band manages to hold this together for the whole 20 minutes – Rossini would have been proud of them! It’s melodic through the early sung phase and there is a stonking instrumental final flourish after the guitar section, with the whole band putting in an epic space-rock performance. It’s a worthy major opus and deserves to be heard by all space rock fans.

Indeed, the album is worthy of recommendation to all space-rock/psychedelic rock fans but its weaker moments and its lo-fi sound – even if it’s what the band intended – mean that a more general recommendation is out of order. Frankly, it’s a shame. Time to get real guys!

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ALEX TORRES



Asher Quinn - Open Secret
Asher Quinn - Open Secret
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Voiceprint
Catalogue #:VP465CD
Year of Release:1987/2009
Time:64:59
Info:Asher Quinn
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Sacred Heart (4:53), Journey To A Remarkable Place (5:31), Soldier Of Love (5:49), Solitary Bird (5:19), Days Of Honey (2:21), Violette (3:01), Luna Nueva (5:45), Little Wolf (9:22), Open Secret (7:14) Bonus Tracks: Open Secret [vocal version] (4:11), The Power Of Love (4:55), Song Of The Morning (2:36), Shine Brightly (3:56)

The title of Asher Quinn's debut album could almost me a metaphor for his musical profile over the years. Since its release in 1987, Quinn has had a varied career and, for better or worse, is often associated with New Age music. Often a byword for somewhat mundane, often insipid and generally bland musical meanderings, it is rather unfair to paint every artist associated with the genre with the same brush. Although Open Secret is not strictly a progressive album, we have included it in our reviews because of a couple of musicians on the album are closely associated with progressive rock and therefore may be of interest to out readership. Those two musicians are none other than Anthony Phillips (keyboards, bass, guitars and mandocello and also, along with Quinn, producer and musical arrangements) and Andrew Latimer (lead and acoustic guitars). Although a guitarist in his own right, Quinn forfits the strings to concentrate on piano and keyboards. Other musicians on the album include Tristan Maillot (drums and percussion), Jemma Sidell (cello), Cynthis Robertson (flute), Ivan McGregor (violin) and Tony Freer (oboe).

From the line-up I guess you can tell that this is not a hard-hitting rock album. Several tracks only feature a solo instrumentalist, such as the exquisite piano piece A Solitary Bird, whilst tracks such as Soldier Of Love has a fuller arrangement augmented by some characteristic Latimer electric guitar interjections. Anyone familiar with Phillips' Private Parts And Pieces series of albums will be familiar with the type of music this album contains, indeed Violette could easily have featured on one such album. The drums, which should be taken to mean just drums in the broadest sense of the word and not drum kit per se, are very laid back and have a more gentle percussive role than as a driver of rhythm. Some of the keyboard sounds, such as on Little Nueva, sound rather twee and dated to more modern ears but at the time they were probably quite original. Unlike the main album, which is totally instrumental, the bonus tracks, excepting the delightful Little Wolf (another solo piano composition), do contain vocals. It is fair to say that Quinn's technical prowess on the piano outstretch his vocal abilities which, though not unpleasant, have a somewhat unusual quality. Likewise, his lyrical ability is rather naive and a bit drippy, particularly The Power Of Love parts of which I can imagine being used in a comedy sketch, perhaps by a hippy version of Spinal Tap!

Overall, the album is quite lightweight, it does have its moments of beauty and tranquillity and, as such, is particularly inoffensive background music. Ironically, given the presence of some fine musicians, it is the two solo piano pieces that stand out, and one can only sporadically identify the contributions of Latimer and Phillips, which is fine as after all this is an Asher Quinn solo album. Somewhat beyond being bland, the album is fine for late nights, relaxation or when one does not want to listen to anything too arduous. Beyond that, unless you are a serious Genesis or Camel completist, there is probably not a lot on the album that would be of interest to the hard-core progressive rock fan.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Mind Furniture - Hoop Of Flame
Mind Furniture - Hoop Of Flame
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:FGBG 4721
Year of Release:2007
Time:53:08
Info:Mind Furniture
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: [I] The Trial: i. The Summons (5:58), ii. The Prosecution (5:15), iii. The Outcry (4:19), iv. The Defense (2:35), v. The Verdict (5:18), [II] Hoop Of Flame: i. Shiva Pt.1 (6:30), ii. Soon Be Gone (5:30), iii. Between Two Voids (3:42), iv. Glimpse Of A Chance (8:37), v. Shiva Pt.2 (5:21)

Hoop Of Flame is the second effort of this US-based band, after 2000's End Of Days. The band is made of rather mature musicians in their forties (?) playing melodic, sometimes art, sometimes hard-rock. So straight to the point: what does it sound like? I found three main references: Uriah Heep, Pink Floyd and Kansas. Many songs are keyboard-driven with a hard-rock edge to them and a major 70's-like symphonic feel. Other material is more acoustic and there is also quite some weeping Floyd-like guitar here and there. Technically speaking, the performance is of rather high standards, especially concerning the lead guitar. Vocalist John Mabry is more on the hard-rock than on the symphonic rock side; he reminds me slightly of a later Steve Walsh at times. Vocals are not the strongest element of the album, as they tend to go out of tune sometimes or to feel out of place a bit, like an old rocker singing the album ballad without much heart in it.

The album consists of two main pillars: the songs The Trial and Hoop Of Flame, which are composed in turns of 5 songs each. The glue between the songs is either some samples of a more spiritual, philosophical or theatrical nature, or some lyrical instrumental interludes. There are different musical styles explored, and the band seems more fit for low or mid-tempo songs (e.g., The Prosecution) borrowing later Floyd guitar work (background acoustic guitar serving as the backbone, and a weeping style guitar dressing). Some songs contain interesting vocal lines and twists but they are poorly produced and may sound slightly naked or empty (e.g., The Outcry which brings to mind a bit of Twelfth Night). The second part (Hoop Of Flame) is more acoustic and a bit more melancholic, and it seems to fit the band better. The singing is significantly improved and blends in better to the material as the hard-rock edge is almost abandoned in favour of a more rational and conservative performance. Songs are less "rock"; more acoustic and more in the Pink Floyd vein, with a pleasant Yes feel to them sometimes, as in Soon Be Gone, or an almost neo-prog feel such as in Glimpse Of A Chance.

Overall the material is not by any means revolutionary or overtly inspiring. It is a good, fair album that nicely blends old tried recipies without much plunging into the unknown. Having said that, it should also be recognised that there are very beautiful musical moments, and that the album flows positively without getting boring or tiring, featuring sufficient mood and style swings. Philosophical depth did not really impress me; Summons to Shiva and allusions to a spiritual journey did not really work for me. But in any case, if you would choose these guys it wouldn't be because of their spirituality, but instead, because you may like melodic/art rock with a slight hard-rock or even AOR edge to it. Right?

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

CHRISTOS AMPATZIS



Dyptyque - 7
Dyptyque - 7
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:GW 3124
Year of Release:2009
Time:50:19
Info:N/A
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Periode 1: La Chastete Vs La Luxure (3:02), L'Humilte Vs L'Orgueil (6:09), La Paresse Vs L'Ardeur (4:12), L'Avarise Vs La Generosite (7:08), La Moderation Vs La Gourmandise (1:57), La Charite Vs L'Envie (3:18), La Colere Vs La Joie (3:59) Periode 2: La Chastuxure (3:38), L'Orgmilite (4:27), L'Ardresse (2:48), L'Avarosite (1:33), La Modermandise (1:51), La Charientevie (2:49), La Cojoielere (3:02)

"No website, no MySpace, no Facebook, or at least none that I can find - talk about making life difficult to promote your music. Having endured 10 minutes of this CD it may well be a shrewd move on Diptyque's part. Saxophones and drums do battle." These are the brief remarks I made in the DPRP pipeline when listing this CD in the "To Be Assigned" section... Needless to say the CD has sat unclaimed for some time now, so as a penance for such remarks I decided perhaps I should investigate further and see if my original comments were perhaps a little too harsh or even unfounded.

The CD comprises of fourteen tracks performed by two musicians, Jean-Marc Baccarini (saxophones) and Alexandre Davin (drums & effects). The first seven pieces are "a freestyle conversation" based around French composer Olivier Messiaen's seven modes of limited transposition (M.O.L.T.) Now the alarm bells always start to ring when I receive an album whose literature discusses or explains the scales or modes employed to create the music. And Diptyque's 7 is a prime example - more to do with the arrangement of the notes and little to do with music. Periode 2 (the remaining seven pieces) seems to be much of the same thing but with the inclusion of spurious percussion and effects.

In fairness to Diptyque I have not listened to the album as many times as I would normally do before offering a critique, however along with the first ten minutes mentioned above (for the pipeline), the one full run through and the thirteen minutes or so for my second full attempt was more than I could stomach. The sporadic pitter-patter drumming and the overblown squeaks and squawks that constitute La Paresse Vs L'Ardeur really proved to be too much. This really is just drivel and I suspect even the most ardent avant-jazz fan would find little here to capture their interest.

Enough said. There is no doubting that both Baccarini and Davin are accomplished musicians, just not accomplished writers. I see little merit in this album, as it is devoid of any discernable melody or structure and to all intents and purposes, is a collection of musical ramblings from two talented if not misguided musicians. Don't buy!

Conclusion: 1 out of 10

BOB MULVEY




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