Reviews in this issue:
- For A Minor Reflection - Höldum Í Átt Að Óreiðu
- Longshanks - The Return Of Longshanks
- Banco – Banco
- Banco – As In A Last Supper
- Salem Hill – Catatonia - 10th Anniversary Live
- Rob Martino - One Cloud
- WolfSpring - WolfSpring
- Gary Wright - Connected
- My Sleeping Karma - Tri
- Brown Vs Brown - Odds And Unevens
- Technology Versus Horse – Bearula: The Bear Dracula
- The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra – Lookin’ For A Little Strange
For A Minor Reflection - Höldum Í Átt Að Óreiðu
Tracklist: Kastljós (4:34), Fjara (2:17), Flóð (4:05), Dansi Dans (3:28), Andlega Veðurtepptir (6:32), Tómarúm (2:25), Sjáumst Í Virginíu (14:28), Átta (4:30), A Moll (6:36), Séð Til Lands (2:17)
I first came across For A Minor Reflection when they supported Sigur Rós on their last UK tour and was, quite literally. blown away by their energetic instrumental prowess that offered a fresh approach to the genre that is, rather stupidly, known as 'post rock'. I snapped up their debut CD Reistu Þig Við, Sólin Er Komin Á Loft... (roughly translated as Rise And Shine, The Sun Is Up) and fell in love with their lengthy and often complex music. I next came across the group when they decided to part finance their new album via Pledge Music with the resulting album Höldum Í Átt Að Óreiðu (Heading Towards Chaos) released to supporters several months ago and a general release early last month.
For their second release, the band has largely forgone the extended outings of the debut (on which the five longest tracks had an average playing time of over 11.5 minutes) to be replaced, with one obvious exception, with shorter, more concise numbers. The quartet, Kjartan Holm (guitar), Guðfinnur Sveinsson (guitar and piano), Elvar Jón Guðmundsson (bass) and Andri Freyr Þorgeirsson (percussion), bear similarities to the post-rock giants like Mogwai, Explosions In The Sky and Godspeed You, Black Emperor but have a rather more melodious approach, particularly on numbers like Fjara and A Moll where piano provides a mellow backdrop and faux violin overlays add depth. Like country-mates Sigur Rós the band are eager explorers of the sounds that somewhat unconventional rock instruments can add to their music, Dansi Dans being a fine example. Sjáumst Í Virginíu, the fourteen and a half minute centrepiece, is a slow burner but engages throughout and concludes by segueing seamlessly to the more energetic and rockier Átta that will get the blood pumping and the feet pounding. The 'comedown' with A Moll is simply perfect and the whole thing is tightly concluded with the more atmospheric Séð til lands where a pedal steel guitar adds to the poignant and reflective atmosphere.
For A Minor Reflection have been one of my favourite discoveries in recent years with their attention grabbing live performances equally matched by their eminently enjoyable recorded material. Of course, if instrumental rock music doesn't float your boat then you may not enjoy this album, but anyone with the faintest bit of affinity for any of the groups mentioned in this review are pointed towards the band's website where there is currently a free download of Dansi Dans on offer. Superlative stuff indeed.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Longshanks - The Return Of Longshanks
Tracklist: The Web Of Life (4:27), In Dreams (6:47), The Wandering Merchant (1:56), Leave Me Alone (5:46), In The Desert (7:55), The Bath Song (2:27), All My Days (2:47), I Love The Road- (5:08), The Travelling Song Pt.3 (3:28) Bonus: I Have A Dream [2008 edition] (5:57), The Wandering Merchant [Street Organ Version] (1:53)
“Those who return from journeys have stories they can tell” so begins the long awaited Return Of Longshanks album. While the name Longshanks dates back to 1986, it took several incarnations to find the mix that shows up on the newest release. Multi-instrumentalist Andre Kramer the longstanding force behind the band along with Alex van de Graaf once and future vocalist and percussionist are joined by newcomer Bregje Kaasjager, vocalist. The trio has put this new album together in a way that only the magic of the internet makes available to us. The tracks made their own journeys back and forth from Alex and Bregje’s house to Andre’s on several occasions. Each member polished and added their part in what would appear to be a fantastic working collaboration. The dangers of this style of production are obvious, parting with unfinished work and having it returned in altered form takes a bravery of spirit that few of us could stomach in our own creative work. However, the exchange seems to have paid off.
The name of the band, Longshanks, is an homage to one of the many names given to Tolkien’s great swashbuckler, Aragorn. This is no wonder since the new album is full of reference to great master Tolkien including several songs with original lyrics by Tolkien, and others that were inspired by him. The basic theme of the album follows from Tolkien’s "the road goes ever on and on”. Although one may in the theatre of the mind conjure up a complete story, this is mostly a travel theme rather than being a rock opera. I will admit that during the exchange between The Wandering Merchant with its folksy renaissance faire temper, and the quickly rocking and rebellious cries from the following song Leave Me Alone which may well echo the overwhelmed cries of the tired consumer, that I could easily imagine the scene of the weary traveller- bombarded by wares when all he wants to do is chill out in the glorious city. I can further still visualize our intrepid hero abandoning the city, tired of the callousness of the people in favour of being In The Desert only to find that as the liner notes tell us, “nature isn’t quite as peaceful as he hoped”. However, our traveller finds respite in the Tolkien penned The Bath Song a drinking song made famous at none other than The Prancing Pony at Bree.
While this sequence of songs may present a mind’s eye view of the travelling story, other songs simply speak to the theme of travel. Whether the travel is done in the ethereal landscape of the dream In Dreams, or celebrated in the joyous I Love The Road, the mainstay is that there is joy in journey… (never mind that adventure was not what Frodo was seeking when he wandered off to dispense with the ring). Nevertheless the song is infectious and presents well when the world is flying by at 55 (not so great in traffic jam though).
While I will point out that there is unevenness about the album, the way it vacillates between near prog metal and renaissance folk, this distinction becomes less obvious with repeated listens and one learns that despite the juxtaposition of these two energies, a whole emerges. The power that the band is capable of is obvious in the first moments as The Web Of Life sets the tone for the journey ahead. Channelling some amalgam of Rush, Kayak, and Blackmore’s Night, the trio have delivered here a quiet masterpiece. It sneaks up on you when you least expect it and suddenly you are singing in the bath and in the car. The payoff comes as you make these songs your own in one way of the other. Whether you are swinging swill with your mates at the local tavern or simply off for your own personal adventure, Longshanks offers a soundtrack for your travails.
Now here is the beauty of it all. If my presentation here has not already forced your mouse hand to the purchase, you can try before you buy. The Longshanks website offers a listen to every song on the CD top to bottom. Take a moment and at least familiarize yourself with what is here before you cast your vote. If you find that it gets under your skin, then let them know by filling your shopping cart. This hardworking and brave trio deserves our attention. I have the feeling that we have only just gotten to the tip of what is possible for these guys, let’s finance their future. If Longshanks is right, the journey itself will transform us and we will be all the better for our bravery.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Banco – Banco
Banco - As In A Last Supper
Tracklist: At Supper, For Example (6:19), The Spider (4:56), John Has A Good Heart, But... (3:34), Slogan (7:25), They Say Dolphins Speak (5:52), Voilà Midae! (5:52), When Good People Counsel (1:53), The Night Is Full (4:11), Towards My Door (4:30)
Flushed with the success of PFM who they had signed in 1973, Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s record label Manticore set their sights on another prominent Italian band, namely Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso. Banco joined Manticore in 1975 and like PFM before them their name became better known outside Italy in its condensed form (these days they seem to prefer B.M.S.). Also like PFM, the patronage of Manticore brought them to the attention of a wider audience, particularly in English speaking countries. Banco were no novices however, since their formation in 1969 they had already enjoyed three top ten albums in their home country which included their landmark 1972 debut Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso.
Recorded partly in Italian and partly in English, their 1975 Manticore debut entitled simply Banco (symbolic of the bands rebirth perhaps) included three new songs and four reworked offerings culled from previous albums. Recording took place both in Rome (the bands home town) and London under the watchful eye of engineers Martin Rushent and Andy Hendricksen. Similar to their compatriots Le Orme, the sound is more classically influenced than that of PFM, driven by the dual keyboards of brothers Vittorio and Gianni Nocenzi. They create a rich collage of sound that plays host to the operatic vibrato of their enigmatic singer Francesco Di Giacomo. The keyboard technique is quite advanced for its time with ambient electronics and string synths used in preference to Mellotron, something they had in common with Keith Emerson, a huge fan of the band. Banco however (despite what you may have read elsewhere) are no ELP clones.
The Banco album is bookended by two classical flavoured keyboard instrumentals Chorale and Traccia II which share a common theme. In the former, massed keys provided a stately symphonic overture whilst the latter has a regal, baroque tone (with medieval echoes of Gryphon) but remains tuneful nonetheless. In between, L'Albero Del Pane is a colourful song with strident vocals (sounding not unlike Demis Roussos), swirling synths and lively piano work against guitarist Rodolfo Maltese’s frantic acoustic backdrop. The albums showpiece Metamorphosis features fast and fiery lead guitar to begin with, and later Gianni’s virtuoso piano solo which hints at Keith Emerson in places.
The busy Outside pairs the chugging bass lines of Renato D'Angelo with rhythmic Hammond. Maltese’s jazzy Steve Howe like lead guitar contrasts with the acoustic sublimity of my favourite track Leave Me Alone. His Spanish guitar here veers from the lyrical to the full blooded with sunny harmonies bringing to mind the 60’s west coast sound of The Mamas And The Papas. The penultimate Nothing's The Same sees Banco at their most eccentrically melodramatic with tricky time signatures showcasing drummer Pier Luigi Calderoni’s intricate accompaniment to Giacomo’s theatrical vocals.
Despite Banco failing to emulate the sales of PFM’s Manticore debut Photos Of Ghosts, the label’s faith in the band saw a return to the studios in Rome the following year to record an English language version of their Italian release Come In Un'ultima Cena. In between they had also completed the soundtrack to the film Garofano Rosso. Although only a year separated 1976’s As In A Last Supper and Banco there was an appreciable change in style with the lush symphonic tone of the former abandoned in favour of the kind of spiky instrumental interplay usually associated with Gentle Giant. Synths still feature of course but Vittorio and Gianni concentrate more on their first instruments, organ and piano respectively.
The line-up remains the same but this time they are joined by violinist Angelo Branduardi who blends in perfectly with the expansive but intricate tone of the album. Branduardi is also responsible for translating Di Giacomo’s original lyrics into English as included in the original album sleeve and reproduced here. The prose however does leave something to be desired with lines like “Tonight I have asked of the earth that she model me in the shape of her skin” clearly losing something in translation.
The tracks on As In A Last Supper are shorter in length than its predecessor although it often feels like one long piece with momentary pauses. It’s also more atypical of 70’s prog mixing tranquil acoustic ballads like John Has A Good Heart and the pastoral The Night Is Full with more strident offerings exemplified by the pivotal track Slogan. The opening At Supper, For Example combines both styles, providing a suitably memorable and slow burning intro. Throughout the album the aforementioned Gentle Giant continually come to mind with occasional excursions into ELP territory (the frenzied Voila Midae!) and also Yes. The latter are conspicuously mimicked during They Say Dolphins Speak with a mellow bass guitar and vocal section where Di Giacomo executes a respectable Jon Anderson impression.
Following the demise of the Manticore label in 1977 Banco returned to producing Italian only albums in an attempt to reconsolidate their home fan base. The excellent and all instrumental ...di terra album followed in 1978 but the early 80’s saw the band (like so many at the time) turn to a more mainstream pop/rock format. Thankfully in more recent times as a live unit they have returned to their prog roots with the core members of Vittorio Nocenzi, Francesco Di Giacomo and Rodolfo Maltese remaining active from the 70’s line-up.
It would be hard to overstate the importance of Banco in the development of prog and although quality understandably varies, all of their albums from the 70’s have much to recommend them. In the case of Banco and As In A Last Supper Esoteric have gone to their usual impressive lengths to renew the music and artwork for this digital age. Both releases however remain very 1970’s, very Italian and very unique and come highly recommended to connoisseurs of classic progressive rock.
Banco: 8.5 out of 10
As In A Last Supper: 7.5 out of 10
Salem Hill – Catatonia - 10th Anniversary Live
Tracklist: The Walking Dead (4:54), Real (5:50), Children Without Innocence (6:27), Facade & Charade (4:46), I Blinked: [a. The Winking Dead b. Peculiar People] (6:50), Habit Without Heart (4:14), Catatonia (11:17), I Turn My Back On You (4:24), The Judgement (11:10), Peculiar People (4:14), Awake (a. The Waking Dead) (8:40)
Salem Hill should be well known to visitors of this site. We’ve reviewed a great many of their albums and all but one have received a DPRP recommendation. Yet still I’m amazed when I have my proggy (and not at all nerdy) conversations with progressive rock aficionados just how few people have heard of them, let alone actually heard them. I’ve been a fan for some time, and saw them support Glass Hammer in Nashville five years ago. We asked them for a copy of this (download only) album to review, but never heard back from them.
As new album Pennies In The Karma Jar approaches I thought it would be a good time to get reacquainted with the band who released “the best album of 2005” (Ed Sander, in his DPRP review of Mimi’s Magic Moment) and so I parted with some of my own hard-earned cash and downloaded the download only Catatonia - 10th Anniversary Live from Thundersongs, something I’ve been meaning to do for quite a while but never got round to – blame house extensions and two year olds.
First up, a bit of housekeeping. Salem Hill is: Michael Dearing - guitars (right), keyboards, lead and backing vocals; Carl Groves - guitars (left), keyboards, Hammond organ, lead and backing vocals; Patrick Henry - 4 string, 5 string, and 12 string basses & fretless bass; Kevin Thomas - drums, vibraphone, lead and backing vocals We’ve reviewed five of their albums: The Robbery Of Murder (1998), Catatonia (1997), Not Everybody’s Gold (2000), Be (2003), Mimi’s Magic Moment (2005).
Now, we’ve already seen what Ed thought of Mimi. But he further described The Robbery Of Murder and Not Everybody’s Gold as “masterpieces”. All the above received DPRP recommendations with the exception of Be, which Ed gave a (nevertheless very good) 7.5 describing it as “angry, cold and empty... dark and depressed, angry and aggressive” and “all in all a difficult album”.
Catatonia, which is played in its entirety here, got an 8/10. Check out the review above for more on the individual tracks. Catatonia - 10th Anniversary Live was recorded at their second fan club “Hillionaire's Weekend” on October 19th and 20th of 2007. Think a Marillion Convention, but with fewer people.
As singer Carl Groves says:
"We had originally wanted to feature “The Robbery of Murder” at the second “Hillionaire's Weekend.” However, with David Ragsdale being unavailable to play his violin parts due to having rejoined Kansas and touring the world, our Plan B was to celebrate the 10th anniversary of having released Catatonia.
The album itself is a concept album depicting the internal journey of a man born without the ability to dream. To compensate, he is able to self-induce these catatonic states at will and transport himself back to his youth, as well as to fictional places where he can interact with characters from his favourite books and stories. The catch is that as he gets older-and bigger, it becomes more and more difficult to leave Catatonia. So he avoids it for the early part of his adulthood. After years of living a mundane and routine life, in bitterness he decides to enter Catatonia, knowing that he'll probably be stuck there permanently. As fate would have it, once there, he experiences his first dream!"
Listening to both studio and live versions, you’ll discern subtle changes in arrangement and instrumentation so we’re not dealing with just a re-recording of the studio release. It’s pretty much guitar-centric, and has more than its fair share of balladry and AOR moments but, if you don’t already have the album, it’s still worth a punt. Even if you do own the record, it’s a worthwhile download, as the album benefits from the more raucous setting of the live arena. Balls are added, in fact. Having seen the band live I can safely say that it was one of the best gig experiences I’ve ever had.
As an added bonus and incentive to visit the Thundersongs site, the band have made available for FREE the non-Catatonia songs performed at the Hillionaire’s weekend. Free music. What’s not to like?
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Rob Martino – One Cloud
Tracklist: One Cloud (3:35), The Long Circle (11:06), Conscious Dream (5:15), Cloud Dispersed (2:17), Differential (5:27), Turbulence (1:26), Mighty Distant Star (6:11), The Third Enigma (13:14)
Let me introduce Rob Martino with this, his debut solo album, One Cloud. Rob resides in Virginia, he plays Chapman Stick and has been working on this release for several years now. The album is written, performed and produced by Rob and he is the only player featured. So no mellotrons I hear shouted from certain DPRP quarters. No. What we have here are eight tunes performed on The Stick - an instrument that finally allows the backbone of any band, (the bass player) - to come forward and to show his true merit. Now many may not be too familiar with the Chapman Stick, but will certainly be aware of one its more noted early exponents, one Tony Levin. So we are in good company.
On the surface this CD is likely only to appeal to a very small band of eclectic listeners, but scratch that surface and what you will find is an album of hidden depths and beauty. I might be so bold as to say that it is easily as diverse in texture and sonics as anything you might find on an album chock full of musical instruments. The fact that Rob Martino can exact this from a single instrument, with, to my ears, the minimum of additional track layers, is a testament to his creativity and skill. The use of subtle reverbs and tapped delays broadens out the sound, but I get the impression the tracks here on this recording are fairly close to "live" versions.
I do not propose to offer a track by track appraisal of the album, but I would like to describe, as best as possible, what you might hear on One Cloud. Firstly you don't need to be a bass player to appreciate the music, in fact the music on One Cloud seems far removed the aforementioned instrument as we know it. I'd go onto suggest that if you enjoy complex, but still melodic guitar music, then there is much here for you. Initially and because of the hammering on techniques employed with The Stick, I was reminded stylistically of American guitarist Stanley Jordan. If you've not seen him play then check out his version of Stairway To Heaven (played on two guitars simultaneously). Although Rob Martino tends not to move in those more jazzier circles frequented by Mr Jordan, however both do venture occasionally into the classic rock field.
The fact is Rob Martino draws more heavily from the progressive field in my opinion. The music can be, (and is often), complex and dynamic and with tracks spanning the ten minute mark and more will suggest that the music is also given time to expand and develop. Many of the tracks make several turns in direction, feature improvised sections as well as returning to themes established earlier in the piece or even in other tracks (One Cloud and Cloud Dispersed). Very proggy. Now the Chapman Stick is the choice of the bass player, so you can be assured that the music also has a strong sense of rhythm and depth. The album is littered with examples... and the bass notes add not only movement but also a greater dynamic range to the music.
The album also encompasses varied musical styles - certainly there is a Celtic notion and here The Sticks "harp like" qualities come into their own. Folk influences can be found in the more delicate tunes. Other pointers might be Michael Hedges or Gordon Giltrap - (yep, both guitar players). Last and by no means least I should mention that the album has melody. Essential for me on any album, but especially so on an instrumental offering. There are many catchy moments to be heard...
I could go on but surely I've said enough to make you curious. No? OK, try this brief snippet, (on the left hand side of his MySpace), of the title track - HERE. Is it prog? OK - while you are there why not have a listen to Rob's versions of some Tull & Gentle Giant pieces...
The CD has a airy and atmospheric quality and with a crystal clear production every detail within the music can be heard. As I said earlier in this review this CD has all the dynamics you would expect to find on any prog release, it's just here it is achieved by one gifted musician and a versatile, single instrument.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
WolfSpring – WolfSpring
Tracklist: The Haunting (7:23), 24/7 (5:47), Carpathian Wolves (4:59), Train’s Gone (7:21), Now Or Never (6:42), Mutation (5:55), Howling With The Banshee (7:00), Our New MediaEvil World (12:25)
"WolfSpring is a new band created by JP LOUVETON, guitarist and singer of the progressive French band NEMO. Motivated by the creation of new musical surroundings, this project gathers around the guitarist musicians of various influences : Julian Clemens (German English-speaking singer), Ludovic MORO-SIBILOT (Metal drummer) and Guillaume FONTAINE on keyboards, also playing in NEMO."
The above is a straight reproduction of the accompanying text received in the promotional package. For some time now JP Louveton has wanted to make a progressive rock album with English lyrics, but by his own admission his knowledge of English was by far, not sufficient enough. Still he has succeeded in making an English album and one that musically differs slightly from what we know of Nemo. The music is heavier but still in the progressive corner. For the lyrics on the album, JP has had help from William Mackey of Hoggwash/Sunchild. I cannot say that I find the lyrics superb, but they have certainly done a good job and the lyrics are very suited to the music.
Now for the music. Although I cannot speak one word of French I always have loved JP in Nemo. So as soon as I got the chance to do a review of Wolfspring, JP’s new effort, I jumped in, ready and willing as they say. From interviews I had read I knew that the music was supposed to be more, heavy progressive. Well there's no doubt about that - where moody, melodramatic and melancholic is the overall feel on the Nemo albums, here it retains moody but with darker tone and with an almost Eastern European sound. I can also hear influences of German bands like RPWL for instance. This is most evident in the longer stretches of guitar soloing.
The Haunting begins with a nicely played guitar bringing in a ballad like song, built up in a manner often heard by the great heavy rock bands around the world. A good melody building up into a guitar solo, then a better long instrumental section with different solo’s.
24/7 features keyboards next to heavy guitar riffs and dominate this heavy rock song. The symphonic edge is more present, thanks to the presence of the keyboards further up in the mix. Again the vocals are very good and mostly done in the "easier" part of the song. From that point onwards the song develops in a more or less standard rock song format with of course the inevitable guitar solo part. I got the feeling though I was listening to a Scorpions ballad.
The Carpathian Wolves comes in like real Carpathians - strong - here with firm heavy riffs. We have guitar solos from the start followed by five minutes of instrumental rocking. A real steamroller.
Train’s Gone starts out with acoustic guitar and again in a true ballad style. Lyrically it seems we are told a story and it is here the vocals by Julian are a joy to listen to, he is at his best when singing a song like this. A heavy middle section surrounded by beautifully played acoustic guitar.
Now Or Never reminds me of American rock band famous for its session musicians - Toto. The intonation, the vocals and the complete build of the song. This could be a Toto or even a Steely Dan song.
Mutation brings in a more alternative rock approach. Listening, I found myself thinking I have heard this not too long ago. Only to come up with another French release from June. Mute by Demians.
Howling With The Banshees has a sound more like Nemo, an almost ambient style - although the sound of the guitar makes it slightly different - but if you were to listen to keyboards by themselves it would definitely be leaning towards ambient. As the song progresses, more and more a melody becomes present - played interactively by guitars and keyboards. This is the second of the two instrumentals on the album.
Our New MediaEvil World is the last track on the album. The longest track, full of twists and emotion and a song as Nemo make them. Again I bring in Nemo, this is mainly caused by the presence of both JP and Guillaume who are responsible for the musical compositions in Nemo, so it is inevitable that their other band springs to mind. Our New Mediaevil World is an eclectic song, reminding me vocally at times of Guy Manning or The Tangent. That he also has a rocking voice, Julian demonstrates beautifully here. I have intuitively made Julian the lead singer of the band even before I had read the liner notes.
Wolfspring have made a great debut album with this CD of the same name. Looking at the review I guess my conclusion is that Wolfspring are right in the middle of all progressive music. I have, for the album, two tracks I like more than the others Howling With The Banshees and Our New MediaEvil World.
Concluding - I was excited to do this review - so have I been let down? Well maybe, but perhaps I was expecting too much. WolfSpring is an entertaining album by great musicians...
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Gary Wright - Connected
Tracklist: Satisfied (4:24), Get Your Hands Up (3:38), Under Your Spell (4:33), No One Does It Better (4:17), Can't Find No Mercy (4:57), Life's Not A Battlefield (4:05), Gimme Some Time (4:08), Connected (4:28), Kirra Layne (3:16), You Make Me Feel Better (4:46)
Gary Wright made fame in the late Sixties as the keyboardist and vocalist of Spooky Tooth, by many regarded as one of the first 'progressive' bands. With this band Gary produced seven albums before embarking on a solo career in the mid seventies and scoring a huge hit with Dream Weaver. After a number of rather successful solo albums he concentrated on raising his children, producing only a handful of albums from the nineties to the new millennium until the Spooky Tooth reunion in 2004 came. In recent years he released an EP (The Light Of A Million Suns) and a new age album Waiting To Catch The Light. Having toured in Europe with the reformed Spooky Tooth, now in 2010, Gary is back with his first solo pop-album in twenty years. From the ten compositions, he wrote six and co-wrote the other four. Based on the same principles as in the mid Seventies (lots of synthesizers, vocals and only drums and an occasional guitar), Gary uses his tremendous experience as a musician, composer and producer to come up with a really stunning album.
In the first track it's already clear what Wright's music is all about: catchy melodies, groovy rhythms, a delightful bass synth, tasteful arrangements and superb use of the many different sounds from all his synths. The background vocalists Valerie Pinkston and Lisa Vaughn and the brass sounding arrangement create an atmosphere comparable to Paul Simon's Graceland album. Gary gets a little help from his friend Ringo Starr on drums and Joe Walsh (Eagles) on the guitar. Next is a blues orientated, soulful, sing-along tune called Get Your Hands Up, with a nice synth-lead. This should make a great live track. Under Your Spell is a lovely ballad, reminiscent of the Dream Weaver episode. Gary does everything himself on this song, both instrumentally and vocally.
The other guest on this album is Yellow Jackets and Lee Ritenour drummer Will Kennedy and together with Gary he creates the perfect groove in No One Does It Better, subtle but very nice! I just love that synthesizer bass Gary uses so often and that has become sort of a trademark for him, next to his characteristic hoarse vocals. In Can't Find No Mercy the almost as an electric piano sounding synth and the funky rhythm give the music a lot of Seventies soul influences, reminiscent of Stevie Wonder.
Tears in your eyes in hearing the ballad Life's Not A Battlefield; a sax resembling lead and subtle humming noises as background vocals. Most of lyrics are about love and no doubt most of them are inspired by his wife Rose. In Gimme Some Time it's swinging again and Kennedy as well guitarist Jeff Baxter try their best to add their flavours to this up tempo groovy tune in which Gary does all the vocals and the brass arrangements. The Dream Weaver feel is back in the rather slow title track Connected, in which the symphonic side of Gary gets really obvious. Some moments remind me of the atmosphere in Broken Wings by Mr Mister too. Probably dedicated to a granddaughter is Kirra Layne, a well balanced ballad with a minimum of keyboards, a string arrangement and a sole vocal. In the last track You Make Me Feel Better the verses for two voices (of course both by Gary) remind of the Everly Brothers, with a distinct Sixties feel. The choruses however are modern pop, in the vein of synthi-pop of the eighties and Walsh delivers another great contribution.
Though this album is more about pop than symphonic or progressive rock (hence 'just' 8 out of 10), Gary inspired a lot of musicians in that genre of music particularly by the way he creates all the different sounds on his synths and his symphonic orchestral arrangements. The warm but crystal clear production and all the varied as well as top-notch arrangements make this record rank among Gary's best albums. As far as I'm concerned Connected can compete with Dream Weaver and I'm thrilled Gary Wright is back...
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
My Sleeping Karma - Tri
Tracklist: Brahama (7:37), Parvati (2:07), Tamas (5:34), Sattva (3:04), Shiva (5:21), Vishnu (2:18), Lakshmi (6:09), Rajas (1:58), Sarasvati (6:04)
My Sleeping Karma have not been reviewed on DPRP site yet, so it is time to get to know this four piece band, originating from Germany. But is it really a quartet? We have Matte playing bass, Seppi playing guitars, Steffen plays drums and Norman takes care of the "soundboard". Looking at the line up we see no mention of keyboards, although perhaps the "soundboard" represents the keys. Another thing that can be distilled from My Sleeping Karma's line up is that there are no vocals and therefore they make instrumental music, and this is true. They have been busy for a while and this album currently in my player is already their third effort, albeit my first acquaintance with them.
Tri is a journey through your mind and this is esoteric, mind soothing and relaxing music. One might call this psychedelic, but I don’t know, as in my opinion it is too introvert for that.
Looking at the cover makes you assume the CD will be about Buddhism - along with the naming of a band (with the word Karma) also suggesting that it has to do with religion or beliefs. However when we go deeper into the album, we first have a title Tri, not written in a normal English spelling, or German for that matter. No it says Tri, the Greek word for three, but also the name for a chemical substance trichlooretheen which is a highly toxic fluid used mostly for cleaning metals of pollution. So much for explaining a title, we are not reviewing the written material but the music.
The first track on the album is called Brahma and the Hindu-istic feel of the title is ever present in this song. It has an eclectic, esoteric nature, a natural relaxing feel to bring your yin and yang in to perspective again. Close your eyes and listen to intrinsic guitar melody and get yourself earthed again - at peace with self. Soothing music.
The next song Parvati takes this maybe a step further, bringing you into a higher sphere. You’re in heaven, next to the Hindu goddess Parvati. Nice melody line for that peaceful feeling you need to get in contact with oneself.
Tamas, track 3 on the album, is a little more up tempo, an almost running tempo. Walking the giant mountains, with their green fields, grazing cattle surround you when you walk across the fields. Massive sound layers, with a beautiful melody on guitar, peaceful, tranquil, but yet awesome.
Now we really have found ourselves as we we go on to the world of Sattva - peaceful, tranquil as we go into a sleeping nature where our yin and yang are now in place. In this state of mind you are at your best. Ambient spheres surround you and with this music the soundboard obviously plays an important role, adding the more tranquil noises that cannot be gained from a guitar, bass or drums. Brilliantly played piece of almost new age, ambient music - a resting point.
Next up is Shiva, being happy with ourselves we continue our journey across the open fields in search of more happiness, more well being and in the true meaning of the word, or most important, in Hinduism. The drums drive us forward to the places of happiness, with ambient sounds from within the soundboard, softly, almost speaking guitar and with the bass line making sure we keep on track. I can’t tell how much I enjoy the musical experience. Truly inspiring, easing your consciousness - unbelievably soothing.
Vishnu, is the God amongst Gods or translated to Greek mythology as Zeus. The music in this song is peaceful - drums and soundboard with a little guitar only telling you, I am the one listen to me. Ambient in nature.
The Goddess of fertility, beauty, courage and love - Lakhsmi, is the next up. The ambient feel is still present in this song as well, Lakhsmi afterall is the wife of, you guessed it Vishnu. To point out the completeness of the Goddess, we have more sound, the production has a thicker layering from the soundboard and a more driving bass and drums. The guitar playing is more fierce from time to time, with some distortion to emphasize the songs intonation and feel.
Rajas is a short but very dynamic song in the spirit of its title, and so the journey continues to become one, to become whole. To become whole however we need another Goddess.
In steps Sarasvati to a beautiful melody with a tranquil soundscape and in the background a thriving bass and drums, all of which take care of the wonderful step to being whole under the wings of the mother of all Goddesses. And so our journey ends - or will it continue with the next album and episode of My Sleeping Karma? We can go both ways.
Concluding: My Sleeping Karma provide us with a wonderful musical journey through the world of Hinduism with their Tri album. Enjoy and become a whole person listening to this. I know I did very much enjoy the music. Tri is a consistent album with a true concept and a must have for all instrumental progressive music lovers among us. I know I need to buy their backcatalog after listening to Tri.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Brown Vs Brown - Odds And Unevens
Tracklist:: Whirlpool (8:26), Sang Froid (5:42), The Adventures of Billy Spontana (6:40), For Jason, Mark and Joe (10:14), For Michael (2:34), Sirens All Around Us (7:15), Alloy (6:40)
The four piece ensemble that is Brown Vs Brown, consisting of Jeroen Kimman (guitar and vocals), Gerri Jager (drums and vocals), Dirk Bruinsma (saxophone and vocals) and Viljam Nybacka (bass and vocals), have built an album that is both convoluted in sound and approach. They have taken their listening audience on a ride that is sonically challenging in both meter and timber, an avant garde tour de force with tight complex rock.
It is really hard to try and pigeon hole this band, an approach that the band have recognised and exploited to great effect. Are they jazz, fusion, punk, anarchic, math rock or avant progressive? That decision I leave for you to determine. All I will say though is that it’s for the brave of heart. The faint should stay well clear of this, choosing a less intrusive and more melodic approach. My good friend Brian based in the DPRP Towers would suggest this album would sonically being akin to monkeys being let loose and making noise; but then there’s no account for taste.
Exciting and challenging music, yes music, like this, may only be for the brave, but what a reward those of us prepared to stay the course will be given. This album will really divide groups into two mutual exclusives, a dichotomy between thought and action. There really is no grey area here. What has been created here is what keeps both the music world and people on their toes.
Odds And Evens maybe Brown Vs Brown’ third album, the two previous albums being 2006’s Intrusions Of The Alleged Brown Sound and 2007’s Twitch and Shout, but Messer’ Kimman, Jager, Bruinsma and Nybacka are certainly not short of intelligent and polyrhythmic ideas. From the long and sprawling For Jason, Mark and Joe to the short punctuated For Michael the band rise to the challenge, confidently, exceeding expectations, wonderfully creating sonic nuances.
Usually when reviewing albums, I would give pointers to standout tracks, but here it is more a case of standout musical segments within those created tracks too, being multifaceted. For me there is nothing weak about this album, almost the opposite, both strong and powerful. The album works on so many levels, every note has been calculated to fit perfectly, timing, tonally and sonically. There is certainly some chemistry going on between these musicians to be able to interact on this level and pull it off. I would really love to see this band live as I would believe that this ensemble would be something to behold.
Music is meant to be confident and challenging, it doesn’t always have to be sanguine. Unfortunately this is where musical approaches such as this seem to implode or fall down, appealing to a limited target audience, lacking appeal, which is a real shame. This needs to change!
So who would this appeal to? Well that’s the difficult question. Good points of reference for me would be Zappa his more challenging era, Etron Fou Leloublan, Univers Zero and Magma.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Technology Versus Horse – Bearula: The Bear Dracula
Tracklist: Hold The Bear Close To The Lightning (4:05), Cocaine Dracula (3:55), Fharlanghn (5:24), Termite Art (8:55), 4DJ (3:50), Progeria Tango (5:47), Turning N2U (8:59)
Imagine, if you will, that 1976’s punk revolution was intent not on completely destroying the legacy of the great classic and progressive rock bands of the late sixties and early seventies but, instead, of developing its ideas by simply reintroducing some hard-edged rock into the mix. “Not a revolution then!”, I hear you cry, almost in unison. Well, if that’s the case, then you’ll have no trouble accepting that Technology Versus Horse are a progressive band. Glad we’ve got that sorted then: indeed, Technology Versus Horse show more invention through their music than many established prog bands. Their third album, Bearula: The Bear Dracula is an enjoyable foray of gritty rock laced with inventive twists and melodic mellowness.
The band formed in 2004 as a trio “noise-rock project”, releasing one album before Josh Hines, also of the band Chest Rockwell, joined in 2005. The music became more progressive in direction and Four Against The Minotaur was released by the quartet in 2007. Keyboard player David Prater augmented the band in 2009, swelling the sound even further in the progressive direction. Original members Mike Farmer, Rafe Heltsley and Matt Bittner complete the line-up. The band’s connection with Chest Rockwell is particularly interesting: the bands are not dissimilar sonically and readers may remember that Chest Rockwell’s last couple of albums have received good ratings on DPRP (7½ out of 10 for Versus The World and a recommendation-level 8 out of 10 for 2009’s Total Victory).
However, much as I’d like to fix it otherwise, in order to tempt you to give this band a chance, I can’t in all honesty allocate such a high score for Bearula: The Bear Dracula. The main reason for this is that, on occasion, the choice of keyboard sounds is not optimal and, equally, the guitar occasionally jars. These elements are linked to the “alternative rock” facet of the music but, as they affect its overall enjoyment, cannot be ignored. I think it’s the prevalence for urgent, short phrasing to give the illusion of speed to the music that has led to this facet not being optimal. Thankfully, this isn’t a major feature of the music and there’s plenty of bright spots to enjoy in what is an overall very good album.
The first couple of tracks are very energetic; the prevalence is on the urgent rock riffing but they are both catchy and enjoyable. Fharlaghn then takes the album into a different, more progressive phase; the tempo slows allowing the keys more room to develop in a symphonic direction and the level of enjoyment rises for progressive fans. Termite Art’s innovation is the still relatively under-used fusion of this sort of music with distinct rap influences: these are particularly prominent in the early phase of this composition, before it opens up to some catchy, heavier rock riffing. 4DJ has what is probably the strongest melodic writing of the album; it’s a gorgeous piece with an appropriate, simple accompaniment. Progeria Tango shifts through a number of phases, the most successful of which is an energetic rhythmic phase towards the end. Turning N2U closes the album – it’s the culmination of the story and the lyrics become doubly important as the allegory plays out. The music, like that before, twists and turns, building a controlled crescendo to the finale.
Turning N2U is a well constructed composition within the context of a well constructed and finely paced album. There is much invention here, much fresh thinking; whilst at the same time never losing the urgency that belongs to the “rock” moniker. Those fans of progressive music who like to adventure beyond neo-prog and who aren’t frightened to try raw excitement and invention over technobratics may well find plenty to enjoy in Bearula: The Bear Dracula, an album that falls just a smidgeon short of a more general DPRP recommendation.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra – Lookin’ For A Little Strange
Tracklist:: The Biscuit Breakdown (3:25), Minor Scrape (5:53), Slow Pour (4:29), Raga Piloo (5:40), Iron Range Knee High (4:05), Dark Matter (5:13), Gypsy Grass Jump (3:34), Driving SouthWes (4:53), Missing Parts (4:20), Odd Men out (6:38)
Don’t ever let it be said that I take the easy route when listening to music. Challenge I like. Uniqueness I like. Originality I like. Quirkiness I like. Good song structure I like. Adeptness I like. The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra’ Lookin’ for A Little Strange I like.
What I am about to tell you is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra have what I believe, brought something slightly different to the table, jazz, a mix of world / fusion, rock, Eastern Indian Raga and bluegrass. Now I know some will scoff at that word bluegrass, Hayseed Dixie will spring to the minds of others, but let me tell you this. The Orchestra are no one trick pony! If you don’t believe me jump straight over to their MySpace page and watch the videos of the band performing Ravi Shankar’s Raga Piloo... or Rush’ YYZ... Now do you believe me? On paper this mix shouldn’t work, but it does.
Their blurb describes the music sounding like “Dixie Dregs meets Rush, goes out to breakfast with Merle Haggard, but then gets home in time to go golfing with Jeff Beck”.
Dan Neale (guitars), John Wright (bass and bass pedals), Elisa Wright (fiddle) and Mark O’Day (drums and percussions) make up this band who hails from the Twin Cities, Minneapolis – St Paul, Minnesota.
So on the balance of what I have told you so far we need to get to the nitty gritty, to determine what it’s like. Well, throughout the album, the music presented works its way through differing genres, each making space for each other, segueing harmoniously. In places it does sound a little basic, but to be honest it can’t have been easy melding this altogether. Each player contributes to the cohesion of the tracks, John Wright and Dan Neale really create the back bone of the of the bands soundscapes, allowing all to easily sway between the musical presentations, Elisa adds the ubiquitous fiddle that gives it that unique sound, whilst Mark O’Day holds tight the timing.
Whether we are presented with the Eastern Raga sounds of Raga Piloo, the blues of Iron Range Knee High, the rockier Dark Matter, the jazzy Driving SouthWes, or the stunning Missing Parts, the blue grass framework is never too far away. The album has some nice time changes that will keep you enthralled. Wright's bass work really stands out throughout the whole album as does Neale’s different guitar approaches.
Some may find the approach a bit too countrified, but all in all it is a likeable, pleasant and enjoyable album. It will be really interesting to see where The Galactic Cowboy Orchestra goes from here?
Conclusion: 6 out of 10