Reviews in this issue:
- Ulver – Wars Of The Roses
- Mist Season – Reflections
- Thence – These Stones Cry From The Earth
- Lisa LaRue 2KX – Fast And Blue
- Lisa LaRue 2KX – Fast And Blue [DVD]
- Rick Miller - Dreamtigers
- SLP - Perception
- Group 309 – Dreams Of Sea
- Aleppo Pine - Holy Picnic
- Jesse J Smith – Organic Rock
Ulver – Wars Of The Roses
Tracklist: February MMX (4:10), Norwegian Gothic (3:36), Providence (8:10), September IV (4:38), England (4:09), Island (5:46), Stone Angels (14:55)
It has been a time of change for Ulver over the last few years since their excellent Shadows Of The Sun opus. A major change is that they’ve become a live act of some repute, initially just doing some one off shows but now more of a regular on the European gig circuit. Having seen Ulver live three times to date, I can testify to the power of the band in concert – perhaps more performance art than a conventional gig, but none the worse for that. They have also signed to a conventional label for the first time – and the choosing of Kscope seems something of a coup for both sides; for Ulver, it should bring them to a wider audience outside of their (admittedly already sizeable) cult following, whilst for the label it should add to their reputation as quality purveyors of the finest ‘post-prog’ currently out there.
Ulver’s new album Wars Of The Roses is different from their last few offerings, in that whilst it shows the band experimenting with different musical styles (as is their custom) it doesn’t seem to have the same unifying feel, in musical terms at least. Lyrically, with the album title, and songs called England and Island, it’s perhaps unsurprising to hear, from an interview on the Kscope podcast, that the idea of ‘Britannia’ and the differences between the perceptions of ‘Britishness’ and the reality, are some of the ideas explored on the island. I expect this is down to the involvement of new band member Daniel O’Sullivan, a multi-instrumentalist who has been a member and played with bands such as Guapo, Mothlite and Sunn O))), and who seems to be forming a strong partnership with vocalist Kristopher Rygg, de-facto leader of the Ulver collective.
With its pulsing bass, pretty piano motif, understated guitar work and electronica and Rygg’s clean, almost pop singer-like croon, opener February MMX is Ulver at their most conventional. It even follows a relatively straightforward verse-chorus-verse structure. It’s an attractive song, possibly designed to ease in new listeners gently. Existing fans concerned that the band are ‘selling out’ need not worry however, as this track is as straightforward as it gets on this album, and the following Norwegian Gothic is more typical of recent Ulver; a dark and sombre track with slithers of cello and semi-spoken vocals given some slightly twisted effects to create a, well, gothic atmosphere. The song builds in its latter stages, with some bass-drum heavy percussion powering things along. The lyrics are suitably sombre and portentous – ‘the blood runs deep… this is our heritage’ being a representative sample.
The lengthy Providence is not a King Crimson cover, although there are elements that could have come from Crimson’s early seventies peak period. Starting with melancholy piano work over which a hushed Rygg is backed by more soulful backing vocals, with a female lead singer coming in for a few lines a little later. A mournful cello adds to atmosphere. An ambient mid-section filled with some abstract noise is broken by the introduction of an up-tempo, almost trip-hop-ish bassline, along which are layered sinewy guitar lines and a (well down in the mix) saxophone. It’s a lengthy ambient section which closes out this one, which creates a slightly unsettling feel.
September IV is a lightly orchestrated piece, again led by a melancholic piano line, with Rygg’s vocals very reverent (‘the family is gathering in silent prayer…’) and multi-tracked. When the drums come in, they again follow a slight trip-hop feel and an unconventional structure. The mid-section has some rich organ work, slightly reminiscent of Goblin’s classic Susperia soundtrack, before we close out with some up-tempo spacey drum and bass.
Ghostly chanting backed by almost neo-classical piano opens England, before the now-familiar jumpy drumming and Rygg’s signature croon enter the song. There’s a quiet menace to this track, which build as the vocals increase in intensity (Rygg holding on to notes for lengthy periods) and some atonal sax and cymbal-heavy percussion is added to the mix. The sound of barking dogs adds to the general feel of unease.
The sound of a record being scratched introduces Island, which initially has a more modern feel, with its moody electronica and downbeat vocals. There’s a slight David Sylvian/latter-day Japan feel, perhaps due to the combination of Rygg’s precise vocals and percussion which strongly echoes that of the classic Ghosts. Gradually the instruments are stripped away to leave some gentle acoustic guitar, whilst creaking boats and squawking seagulls give the song an atmospheric feel. There’s more ambient electronica to close out the song, which ends rather jarringly (no doubt intentionally so).
So we come to the finale, the fifteen-odd minutes of Stone Angels. Yet this is not an epic in the conventional prog rock sense, with a multitude of time changes and different musical styles. Instead it’s effectively a musically-backed poem, featuring English group member Daniel O’Sullivan narrating an adaptation of a work by US poet Keith Waldrop. The lyrics, effectively reflections on mortality and our place in world, are delivered over a gently shifting backdrop of gothic organ music, shimmering water effects and the type of sparse, slightly ambient atmospherics that were Talk Talk’s stock in trade on their last two, critically revered albums. It’s one to lose yourself in – the piece as a whole has an enveloping atmosphere all of its own. Latterly a martial drum beat and angelic choirs come in, although the music eventually strips away to almost nothing, leaving just the narration.
Overall, this is another impressive addition to the Ulver catalogue. Personally speaking, it doesn’t quite rank with my favourite work by the band, and took more listens than I was expecting to really sink in, but when it does it reveals itself as a work you can lose yourself in. Stone Angels might be a sticking point for some, but again, if you allow yourself to sink in to its own unique rhythms, it works. Once again, Ulver show themselves to be one of the best interesting and forward looking groups operating within the art rock sphere at the moment.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Mist Season – Reflections
Tracklist: Echoing Lights 1 (1:50), Manaos (5:03), Defending Hands (7:44), Pan (5:31), Lobsterland Groove (7:20), Echoing Lights 2 (1:07), Matelda's Song (5:17), Aqua Marine (4:55), Puppet On A Chain (4:28), Summer Season (1:34), Promenader (6:59), Chaser (6:17), Sally And Jack (5:39), Resolution (3:08)
Although they have two previous albums under their belt my knowledge of Mist Season is limited to their contributions to the Colossus projects produced by The Finnish Progressive Music Association. These albums specialise in bringing together talented prog bands from around the globe and yet to their credit Mist Season manage to outshine much of the competition. Reflections is a compilation of their (mostly instrumental) contributions to the Colossus albums combined with a sprinkling of solo pieces. Although the line-up seems fluid, the principle protagonists are Keijo Hakala (bass) Timo Kajamies (keyboards), Kimmo Porsti (drums), Risto Salmi (saxophone, recorder) and Tommi Varjola (guitars). Together they provide the most skilled and tasteful display of ensemble musicianship I’ve heard in a long time. Completing the line-up is the heavenly voice of Mirja Lassila supplying the occasional vocals.
The album is bookended by two classical grand piano pieces Echoing Lights 1 and Resolution which along with Echoing Lights 2 provide welcome moments of tranquil meditation. In contrast Manaos is the album’s most up-tempo piece and the first of four tracks lifted from the 2010 release Cani Arrabbiati ~ Opening Themes... A Tribute. It’s a wonderful slice of jazz-funk (not normally my favourite musical style) driven by Salmi’s energetic sax groove and the propulsive rhythm partnership of Hakala and Porsti resulting in an uplifting listening experience.
Defending Hands is taken from the final chapter of Colossus’ The Divine Comedy trilogy and has the rare distinction (for a Mist Season song) of English lyrics. It’s the instrumental work that stands out however with a beautifully evocative fusion of guitar, sax, recorder and a particularly fine keys solo from the nimble fingers of Kajamies. The silky smooth Pan first appeared on 2009’s Tuonen Tytär II and is a surprising but cohesive combination of mellow jazz and rhythmic Celtic folk.
Lobsterland Groove should be familiar to Ronnie Stolt fans and is Mist Season’s contribution to The Flower Kings tribute album A Flower Full Of Stars. The Fins make the track their own with a distinctive guitar display from Varjola matched by bassist Hakala’s mesmerising performance.
The hypnotic Matelda's Song is a highlight of 2009’s Dante’s Purgatorio ~ The Divine Comedy - Part II album and is beautifully conveyed by guitar, electric piano and ethereal voice. In a similar mood is a classy version of the Carlos Santana/Alan Pasqua tune Aqua Marine courtesy of the Santana tribute collection Guitars Dancing In The Light. The cool jazz trumpet and tenor sax exchanges are particularly evocative of Miles Davis. The breezy Puppet On A Chain is followed by Varjola’s aptly titled solo offering Summer Season, a short but delightful acoustic guitar piece that’s both warm and stimulating, the musical equivalent of a summer breeze.
Promenader is reprised from 2009’s Rőkstenen: A Tribute To Swedish Prog Rock Of The 70’s set and I’m reminded of my original review where I remarked that is was like a welcome breath of fresh air. The polished performances include a memorable guitar hook and liquid synth solo which, with the introduction of flute, has a vintage Camel feel. Chaser is from a different place altogether being a sultry sax led workout with a great funky bass solo that brings Jonas Reingold to mind. The penultimate Sally And Jack was written by the wonderful Italian composer Pino Donaggio and is taken from cult 80’s movie Blow Out. Here the combination of lyrical classical guitar and saxophone is just sublime.
The term prog-fusion can have limiting implications, suggesting that the music’s appeal is restricted to a niche market. In the hands of Mist Season however it’s a subgenre that can produce beautifully structured music capable reaching out to a much wider audience. Rarely have I heard a band so in tune with one other, performing with almost telepathic empathy. If you missed out on these tracks first time around this collection comes highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Thence – These Stones Cry From The Earth
Tracklist: These Stones Cry From The Earth (57:07)
A debut album from two Finnish musicians that really deserves a lot of attention. Although formed by Juha Sirkkia in 2003, a busy schedule working on other projects meant he was unable to get going on his first recordings until 2009. “I moved my recording gear and all instruments to my mother’s childhood home which is in the countryside,” explains Juha. “It’s in the middle of a forest. I was there for two weeks and composed and recorded the main parts in that time.”
It’s tempting to say that in two weeks he only composed one song. But when that song clocks in at 57 minutes and occupies the whole album, then I think that’s a pretty good output.
Basically if you’ve ever heard Green Carnation’s Light Of Day, Day Of Darkness opus, which took a very similar one-song format, then you will absolutely love this. If you enjoy the likes of Anathema, Porcupine Tree and maybe even Pink Floyd then you will find much to enjoy by joining Juha’s musical voyage.
Accompanied by drummer and guitarist Erno Rasanen, Juha takes care of vocals, bass, keyboards and guitars. Compositionally These Stones Cry From The Earth mixes heavy and light and some ambient stretches with more traditional song writing. There’s plenty of Green Carnation chugga guitars, but seek and though shalt also find a harmonica, Hammond and saxophone thrown into the mix. The vocals fit the sound perfectly and it’s beautifully produced.
One song lasting 57 minutes may sound daunting but the time really speeds by. There are distinct song sections and melodies, but a cohesive style and ongoing musical themes tie it together. My only preference would be to have split it into four or five sections so that listeners could skip to a favourite part a little more easily. One doesn’t always have a hour to listen to music and this album offers such rich landscapes that I’d like to visit for shorter stretches without always having to start at the beginning.
The sample video on the band’s website gives an accurate taste of what is on offer. This is the sort of record that in a few years time could become a sought after underground classic. Well worth seeking out.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Lisa LaRue 2KX – Fast And Blue
Lisa LaRue 2KX – Fast And Blue
Tracklist: The Making Of Fast And Blue, Prometheus, Recurring Dream, Fast And Blue [single edit]
Once each month spanning the year 2009, Oklahoma-based keyboardist Lisa Larue released an individual download tune under the moniker Lisa Larue Project 2K9 and which were then collected as a proper physical CD entitled World Class. LaRue is back now with another release under her new moniker Lisa LaRue 2KX entitled Fast And Blue, her seventh release since 1995.
For Fast And Blue, LaRue on keyboards is joined by John Payne (Roger Daltrey, GPS, The Passion, Asia, Asia Featuring John Payne, CCCP, Geoffrey Downes New Dance Orchestra, Stringer, Lunatica, Jupiter Red, Quadrascope, Bite The Bullet, Dark Horse) on vocals, Steve Adams (ARZ) on guitar, returning drummer Merrill Hale (ARZ, All Good People, many more), Michael Alvarez (Bass Clef Experiment, Erik Norlander, Lana Lane, Roswell Six, Don Schiff, Vinny Appice, Nima Rezai, Bridget Brigitte, Michele Shipp, Deal By Dusk, Scot Taber) on cello, and special guests Mitch Perry (Michael Schenker, Cher, Glenn Hughes, Billy Sheehan, Asia Featuring John Payne) on guitar, Maxi Nil (Elysion, On Thorns I Lay, Moonspell, Visions of Atlantis) on backing vocals, Schiff (Rocket Scientists, Elvis Presley, Tina Turner, Pat Benatar, Sheryl Crow, Sammy Davis, Arjen Lucassen and many more) on NS/Chapman stick, Michael Sadler (Saga, Roswell Six,) on vocals, and Ryo Okumoto (Spock’s Beard, Kitaro, Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Aretha Franklin, Creation, Roberta Flack, Barry White, Peabo Bryson, Eric Burdon, Natalie Cole) on keyboards.
The style of music on Fast And Blue is neo-prog with many symphonic touches.
The version of Fast And Blue being reviewed here is the special limited edition which came with a DVD and magazine. These versions sold pretty quickly and there were only a few of them left at the time of this writing; visit RockTunz for more details. Individual copies of the CD and DVD can be purchased from LaRue’s website (see link above).
I gave an initial listen to part of the CD while driving in my car one day and I was at first not impressed. But I wanted to give LaRue and her cohorts a chance before coming to a conclusion, and upon my full listening of the CD I was left with a positive listening experience.
Fast And Blue offers up epics like the 18-minute Prometheus, which showcases some dramatic Transatlantic-esque sections, a synth solo sounding like the cry of an intergalactic pterodactyl, and sections evoking Genesis and Relayer-era Yes. Other tracks on the CD are more conventional and song-based, like the title track with a commanding vocal from Payne, dutiful backing vocals from Nil and an anxious guitar solo from Adams.
His guitar on Recurring Dream goes from pastoral to birdsong-like, with unassuming drumming from Hale and vocals that are assured from Sadler and emotive, as always, from Payne.
Tryptych is a lighter, almost religious sounding piece offering up confident yet plaintive slices of cello from Alvarez, autumnal guitar from Adams and some piano from LaRue that seeps into the tune like an anonymous ghost from the past.
Fast And Blue is a great CD with LaRue and her capable band spotlighting their individual talents throughout. My only criticism of the CD and what could be an area of opportunity for future LaRue projects is that the drumming at times sounds under produced. Of course I realize that a bit of rough production quality can be due to budgetary constraints that come with being an independent musician. I give credit to LaRue and band for their DIY ethic.
The DVD starts with a documentary, The Making Of Fast And Blue, which sees the band posing for shots and answering interview questions including a couple of questions asked by Payne. Commentary on a couple of Fast And Blue tracks and some relaxed footage of the band enjoying some down time at a local watering hole are featured as well. The documentary is shot somewhat home movie style, with some over modulated sound during the track commentary sections and jerky camera movement. Willow, credited as “the studio dog”, also makes an appearance.
Next up on the DVD is Prometheus, a film made by Thomas Edison of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Or The Modern Day Prometheus, set to music from the CD.
The DVD is rounded out by videos for Recurring Dream and the single version of the title track. The videos offer dreamy sequences and animation and to a point are clever, but I feel that LaRue’s music is strong enough to stand on its own, independent, as it were, of video. As a whole I would say that the DVD is for hardcore collectors only.
The magazine is colourful and informative and on a couple of pages there are CD-sized squares which were apparently intended as inserts for the CD and DVD. However the CD and DVD came packaged on their own, respectively in a jewel-case with an autographed and well-designed booklet and in a somewhat modest DVD box.
Fast And Blue will most likely appeal to fans of symphonic neo-prog. Purveyors of top 40 singles are apparently reading the wrong music site.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Rick Miller - Dreamtigers
Tracklist: March Of The Demons (3:55), Dreamtigers (6:22), Ghost Of A Common Man (7:26), Still In It (4:47), Spanish Fly (2:02), Return Of The Acolyte (4:57), Gods Of A Distant Land (2:45), The Call (6:56), Sometimes (3:06)
Rick Miller is a multi-instrumentalist who has been around for many years and he started with new age music in the eighties. In 2009 I reviewed his album Falling Through Rainbows and, though not completely satisfied, I was curious about Dreamtigers. His style of music falls within the range of Pink Floyd and the Moody Blues which appealed to me, but the lack of diversity made this album not a winner for me. So I was curious about a new album but to my surprise Dreamtigers is not a new album but a re-release, the album was originally released in 2004. For this re-release there is one bonus song, Sometimes.
Strange enough Dreamtigers sounds more fresh than the 2009 album I reviewed. It differs in the fact that it has female vocals and more instrumental tracks which to me is better because the voice of Rick Miller, though not bad at all, does not have a wide variety. The voice of Kristina Vowles is very dreamy and her vocals are chanting. On this album also present are Sara Young (flute), Kane Miller (guitar and violin), Barry Haggarty (guitar) and a drummer named Will. The album starts with four songs with vocals, then three instrumental tracks and ends with two songs with vocals. He could have chosen for a more even spread but instead all instrumentals are in the middle. The album opener March Of The Demons has a magical sound to it, I don't know why but this songs immediately demands my attention. It only has four lines of lyrics so it is almost an instrumental song. Great keyboard melodies and sharp Pink Floyd like guitar. Dreamtigers is a very atmospheric song were the guitar is more dominant in the melody department. Only chanting female vocals on this song.
Ghost Of A Common Man has more changes than the previous songs, many mellow passages with beautiful melodies and at times it sounds like ambient world music. Still In It has a very scary sound, the slow drums with the heavy guitar are to blame for that. Ah well, not really heavy but it certainly does the trick. Spanish Fly is the first real instrumental track, with the keyboard having most of the playing time on this one. Return Of The Acolyte has a movie-score kind of a feel to it. Must say that a lot of melodies sound like they have been on the album before, but it does not sound like he is repeating himself. Gods Of A Distant Land does not do it for me. A lot of ambient noises without a real structure. The Call was the original closer and sounds more uplifting than the ambient instrumental tracks. The bonus track is sung completely by Rick Miller, he opens and closes the album. This is the style I heard throughout the whole album Falling Through Rainbows. His singing is not bad but on the previous album I heard it too much, one song on Dreamtigers is certainly acceptable.
This album is kind of a surprise to me. The 2009 album is OK but did not really do it for me, too much of the same thing and then when I found out Dreamtigers was a re-release, my hopes went down, but I was pleasantly surprised. The overall sound has that magical touch that draws your attention. The female chanting vocals, the ambient passages and the beautiful melodies make this a very nice album. I hope Rick Miller will return to this sound for his new albums because it is a remarkable sounding album. He should still work on his diversity because even on this short album I sometimes get the feeling he reused ideas. Still this album is recommended for people who enjoy a nice beautiful album without a lot of fuss.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
SLP - Perception
Tracklist: Cello Tornado (5:11), Good Evening (21:35), Gulf Stream And Golf Stream (13:55), Malapou (7:17), Perception (6:31), Rising Moon (10:15)
SLP aka Sebastien Lepine Project is a group of musicians from Canada gathered around cellist Sebastien Lepine. In his day to day musical life Sebastien plays with orchestras performing classical music of the great old composers - classics if you will - however he has always set his mind on playing modern rock. The album now playing in my CD player is the first example of the music and Perception of Sebastien Lepine.
The music is best described as instrumental progressive metal with an edge - the edge being the cello of Sebastien. Helping him on his first solo outing are guitarist Martin Carbonneau, bassist Ian Peterson, and drummer Denis Marchand.
As I already stated in my opening, Mr Lepine thought it time to release a solo album, but not with a classically oriented repertoire but with a high profile rock song format. This first experiment with modern rock in a progressive style is one that may easily pass you by. First of all it might pass by you because most people tend to have a leaning towards song orientated music with lyrics and therefore vocals - something this album lacks. Secondly the album is good, but not outstandingly good. This is an album holding solid compositions, the usual extravaganza of soloing artists but not over-rated as such.
The album contains of six songs and almost all of them have an epic length, and that is another bothersome fact here, some of the songs have a length that is simply too much, too spun out. If I take the longest song on the album as the prime example of this fact, it would have made more sense to make that one about half the length it is now. Do not mistake my words, it still is a good song just overdone.
Having stated as much I will not bother everyone with song details, just some additional remarks in general about the playing. The band know what it takes to make a song work, they are skilled, everyone of them. It is because of this that you can surely and positively enjoy this album, especially if you like instrumentals - as I do.
Lots of musical enjoyment is to gained from this album with over an hours worth of fun. Now I cannot recommend it to everyone but what I will do is recommend everyone to at least check out the band as I think it is well worth the effort. A good solid debut album.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Group 309 – Dreams Of Sea
Tracklist: Dreams Of Sea [Prologue] (3:25), The Overture (5:05), Ray Of Light (4:40), Clouds (7:32), A Scarlet Sail (5:48), What Are You Waiting For (5:33), There Is No Place For A Dream (5:35), Five Years Later (5:20), And Stars Are Falling Into The Sea (5:54), A Girl Praying In The Old Church (5:30), The Belief In Miracles Is Naïve [Epilogue] (4:41)
Russian symphonic prog band Group 309 who’s debut album Dreams Of Sea an album that has been created by Andrey Pishchulov (keyboards, vocals), Igor Inshakov (guitar), Nikita Simonov (bass) and Ruslan Dzhigkayty (drums), a quartet that are very song orientated in their approach, songs that are full of melodic structure. The vocal presentation is wholly in Russian which can kind of stop the listener in their tracks, but once you get past that moot point, the whole vocal effect works very well as a package. The main protagonist of the music this well structured music is the keyboard player Pishchulov; it takes a more classic rock approach as opposed to a direct prog stance, a style of prog that was prevalent in the late 70’s, something that I would probably best describe as radio friendly prog rock.
As a point of reference we are talking about hearing bands such as Whitesnake, Rainbow and possibly some early Uriah Heep tones which are more than highlighted on What Are We Waiting For. The comparisons don’t stop there as Survivor and high class rock gods Van Halen also spring to mind, which is more than noticeable on Five Years Later. I would even go as far as to say that the band are not only influenced by prog but have also been taken influenced from the melodic rock arena, which when to be honest is mixed well, is a soundstage that is really effective. Even the album closer This Belief In Miracles Is Naïve has more than an element of Procol Harum engaged in its sound. This is not a complaint about the approach of the album; I think it is something that makes the music presented here a bit more outstanding and interesting than it would have been.
In saying all of this, there is a perfect harmony, a balance of acoustic and electric musical passages, that isn’t highly complex, but it is entertaining and rewarding, almost comforting. And Stars Are Falling Into The Sea takes a good lead showing that Group 309 have an element of being able to rock out with a commercial edge, presenting a more Italian prog metal approach than a Russian presentation, where as album opener Dreams Of Sea [Prologue] offers the point of view that a less in your face approach works too.
This isn’t an album that is going to challenge and leave you awe struck, but it is an album that will leave you feeling like you’ve been entertained, memorable in places, which to be totally brutal, is the job that these guys have set out to do anyway. For me the highlights are the interactions of Pishchulov and Inshakov; Inshakov has produced some stunning guitar phrases, rhythm and lead work that he can be proud of, that offers vigour and vitality. This may not be an album for everyone, but an album it is enjoyable none the less, a good starting point to dip your toe into the genre.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Aleppo Pine - Holy Picnic
Tracklist: Intro (1:58), Black Wizard (3:52), Swan Skies (3:03), Magic Dolmen (3:44), Great Golden Mornings (4:03), Mystic Lady (4:58), 3rd Eye (3:52), It's All In Your Mind (2:43), Coloured Trees (3:47), Your Inside World (3:27), Purple Flashes (4:23), Dead Garden (4:15), Reverse Symphony For The Living Dead (0:39), Wonderman (2:43), Jeremiah Johnson (7:42)
Aleppo Pine are a Spanish quartet formed in 2008 although Holy Picnic is their debut release. The core of the group is Enric Chalaux (guitars, sitars, theremin, Hammond organ), Roger Caballé (vocals, guitar tambourine), Carles Martín (tabla, tamboura, maracas, Tibetan bells) and Toni Forns (bass, flute) although they are assisted by a wide selection of additional musicians. From the instrumentation it is fairly clear that the music delves towards the East and is more inclined towards the folkish end of the spectrum than heavier rock. Indeed, the information sheet accompanying the album, despite containing an excess of pretentious tosh, describes the band as mystical, psychedelic folk rock. To be fair that is a fairly apt description, and indeed more accurate than the suggestion that the album would particularly appeal to fans of Fairport Convention, Soft Machine, Pink Floyd and Hawkwind! Aleppo Pine have none of the characteristic 'Englishness' of the Fairports, are far removed from the jazz of the Softs, lack the whimsy of Barrett-era Floyd and progressive edge of the later Floyd incarnations and are as diametrically opposite to Hawkwind as is possible. More accurate comparators are along the lines with the likes of early Gong (Mystic Lady), possibly Kevin Ayers (Your Inside World) and even early Jethro Tull (Black Wizard).
The Indian influence is all over the album and some songs, such as Coloured Trees and the rather poor Purple Flashes, won't find favour with anyone who doesn't take readily to sitars and the tabla/tamboura style of percussion. Occasionally, the Indian revelries are left behind and a more orthodox Western approach to the song is adopted and in such cases the music is really rather good, It's All In Your Mind being a good example. However, the best is saved until the end with Jeremiah Johnson taking the laurels for standout track of the album. A slow start of acoustic guitars, vocals and tambourine gradually gives way to a fuller sound with a nice flute passage the theme of which is taken up by electric guitar with suitable Hammond backing.
A brave effort that one imagines will find limited appeal amongst general prog fans. What they do, they do well enough but I found the Westernised Indian music somewhat tiring and the whole album generally sounding rather dated, although three or four songs were certainly worth the listening effort.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Jesse J Smith – Organic Rock
Tracklist: Mako (4:33), Digital Gold Guitar (4:14), Wah Wah Wild (2:42), Kingdome Of Rhythm (4:09), The Trail (3:40), Make A Difference (5:33), Iron Chord (5:24), Master Volume (6:56), Starlights & Soul (5:55), Streets After Dark (5:15), From Beyond The Grave (3:35), Rebel (4:27), Evening Dreams (3:08), Orca (3:56)
Seattle based rocker Jesse J. Smith is a do-it-yourself musician who has made this album himself – literally. Organic Rock is his fourth release and came out in 2009 following Rhythm Cargo, Royal Nights, and Madrona. Aside from performing all musical instruments, recording and mixing, Jesse Smith even created the artwork for this album.
The strength of this album centers on variety from one song to the next and the tenacity and effort it took to make this album inside and out start to finish. Appeal for this type of music will come from those who remember and appreciate the riff styling of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s rock bands where simple song structures are the predominant style and only one instrument at a time is emphasized. However, the instrumental nature of Smith’s work makes this album a tough sell where instrumentals typically rely on virtuoso lead work, this one does not fall into that category.
Musically, my primary complaint is the needless 8 and 16 bars of a repeating measure only to shift to another overly repeated measure of which no significant adjustments were made. The artist relies on basic chord structure and voicing and the bass lines follow by sticking primarily to the chord roots. When the changes are dramatic, the transitions are laboured and lack creative fills that are normally employed to keep things fresh. In other words, not the type of material normally reserved for “prog”.
The sound quality of this recording suggests he could have used a little help in the recording area. At first listen Organic Rock sounds like a demo in search of a producer. The sound quality doesn’t do any justice to Jesse’s effects or his numerous creative segments that dot this otherwise mundane landscape but is probably appropriate to the slow motion narrow dynamic range in this album.
If the recommendations of a reviewer matter, I suggest, at a minimum, getting a drummer and a producer. This much energy and obvious love for the art needs to be channelled and polished and with some help I don’t think it will be too much of a stretch for Jesse J. Smith to become a success. In the long run, becoming great at one thing should precede trying to be good at everything. As it stands for this listener, repeating stanzas, block chords and no dynamic transitions makes for a long and uneventful listen.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10