Reviews in this issue:
- Spiral – The Capital In Ruins
- Uriah Heep - Live In Armenia
- Gungfly - Lamentations
- Levin Torn White – Levin Torn White
- John Wesley - The Lilypad Suite
- Mangrove - Live Beyond Reality
- Cibola – Cibola Road
- Bill Nelson - Northern Dream
- David Bedford - The Odyssey Live
- Path Of Samsara - Path Of Samsara
- Passover - Sacrifice
- Farpoint - Kindred Spirit
Spiral – The Capital In Ruins
Tracklist: Beyond The Edge Of Time (10:54), The Art Of Our Dwellings (5:52), The Capital In Ruins (22:58), The Memories Speak [Senda's Song] (11:54), Without Others (20:53)
By its very nature, progressive rock is a counter intuitive genre. As fans, we expect very much from the artists that satisfy our daily needs. Specifically, we expect them to create something that is deep, artistic and complex, while at the same time being listenable and enjoyable and in some sense unique. With a forty year history, current progressive artists are struggling to tick that last box, because it's all been done before. In order to produce a sound that is unique, a band must take risks – indeed the biggest risk in progressive music is to not take a risk at all! Spiral, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, are such a band. By writing a monotone album entirely in 4/4, with none of the technical flourishes that are heard so often in progressive music, Spiral have taken a great risk as their sound would surely put off those expecting to hear something closer to ‘classic prog’. Indeed, on my first listen, I too had reservations about the bands' sound, as they seemed to be doing nothing that I associated with the term ‘progressive’. However, very soon after, I found myself enjoying this album immensely, which goes to show that ‘progressive’ is a term that you cannot set boundaries on.
The Capital In Ruins is, in fact, the third album by Spiral, whose line-up consists of Chris Boat (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar), Aaron Frale (guitar) and more recently Casey Mraz (lead guitar) who is credited as a guest musician in the liner notes and has now become a full member of the band. Their first two albums The Death Of Billy Jensen and Citizen were released last year, while Machine, released earlier this year, was the band's soundtrack to a film which would have been based on their second album but was sadly never realised.
There's nothing like a good story to spice up your album, and the concept of The Capital In Ruins is an absolute storm. Dubbed 'A Sci-fi re-telling of Rip Van Winkle', the story tells of a scientist named Rip who, in the search for immortality, inadvertently wipes out the entire human race. He wakes up twenty years after the incident, to discover that everyone he's ever known and loved has gone. The remainder of the album deals with how Rip deals with his tragic new predicament.
Like many other brilliant prog albums, there are just five tracks here. Naturally these are all quite long, with two tracks lasting over 20 minutes. Musically however, this is easily one of the bleakest albums I've ever heard, perfectly capturing the post-apocalyptic essence of the story. As I mentioned earlier, the band stick to one tempo and one time signature for the duration of the album and regularly repeat riffs and chords - indeed, the basis of The Memories Speak consists of just two chords repeated for 12 minutes. However this purposeful repetition never gets tiring or boring, but gives the album great suspense and makes for quite intense listening. At times, it seems like the song is going nowhere, perfectly mirroring Rip's loneliness in the story. Essentially, we are left with a very artistic statement: prog rock stripped of the pretentious technical wankery and brought right back down to the raw basics.
The band admit that they are influenced by early Tangerine Dream and Pink Floyd, but fortunately do not try and 'copy' either of these two bands. More precisely, they share TD's obsession with repetition and subtlety, while sticking to a more Floydian, spacey sound. Indeed, the sound of dogs barking halfway through the title track betrays more than a little love for Animals. At various points on the album, the band will exhibit quite a garagey sound, with heavily distorted guitars and lo-fi drums, although there are many clean sounding instruments on the record too. In the liner notes no drummer is credited because there is none! In fact all drumming on the album has been programmed and looped from, which is quite astonishing given how real it sounds.
Probably the strangest thing about the music though is just how long it all seems to take. Having listened to many lengthy tracks in my time, I've become quite good at guessing how far through a track I am, so imagine how surprised I was when I expected to be near the end of the title track and realised there was over 10 minutes to go! Everything seems incredibly drawn out here, once again capturing the sense of neverending sadness that Rip feels.
When it comes to listening to bands I have never heard of, it can be difficult to shake the feeling of prejudice that the album might not be that good. However, Spiral have completely convinced me that they are a band worthy of anybody's prog rock collection. From the beautiful artwork (which was incidentally painted in 1921 by N. C. Wyeth) to the perfectly balanced compositions, everything about this album oozes class. The Capital In Ruins is an eerie, bleak, moving album with a brilliant plot. If you don't believe me, you can listen to the entire album on the band's website for free, with some nifty visualisations (see link above). I am also overjoyed to announce that Rip will return in the bands' upcoming album 'The Traveler'. Watch this space.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Uriah Heep - Live In Armenia
CD 1: Wake The Sleeper (4:23), Overload (5:57), Tears Of The World (5:38), Stealin' (6:28), Book Of Lies (4:36), Gypsy (5:33), Look At Yourself (8:50), What Kind Of God (7:30), Angels Walk With You (6:41), Shadow (3:48)
CD 2: July Morning (10:03), Easy Livin' (6:26), Sunrise (5:13), Sympathy (5:29), Lady In Black (8:40)
DVD: Wake The Sleeper, Overload, Tears Of The World, Stealin', Book Of Lies, Gypsy, Look At Yourself, What Kind Of God, Angels Walk With You, Shadow, July Morning, Easy Livin', Sunrise, Sympathy, Lady In Black
With a lineup that has endured almost unchanged for 25 years (with the sole exception of drummer Lee Kerslake's departure in 2007 due to health issues), and guitarist Mick Box the only remaining member of the band that released Very 'Eavy, Very 'Umble in 1970, Uriah Heep have entered the fifth decade of their activity without any signs of flagging. Once known for its revolving-door policy, they have found a much-needed measure of stability with their current lineup, which seems to have given a boost to their creative impulse. After a 10-year recording hiatus, the release of their 2008 album, the aptly-titled Wake The Sleeper, was enthusiastically received by their fans, and met with almost unanimous critical acclaim - not bad for one of the most unfairly maligned bands in the history of rock.
Live In Armenia, the sixteenth live release in Uriah Heep's discography, was recorded in 2009 (though released in the summer of 2011, a few months after the band's latest studio album, Into The Wild), on the occasion of their very first visit in the small but historically-charged Caucasian country. Though it comes in the shape of a double CD/DVD set, the DVD contains no extras besides the almost 95-minute concert performed in Erevan, the Armenian capital, during the Wake The Sleeper tour. Indeed, all but three of the tracks featured on the first of the two CDs are taken from the latter album - an excellent, very tight example of classic, prog-tinged hard rock that blends sheer energy and sophistication with almost effortless ease. The second CD, on the other hand, is reserved for the band's "golden oldies", those songs that fans expect to hear at every gig, no matter what.
While Uriah Heep may not be the most innovative of bands, and not as eclectic as their still-active contemporaries Deep Purple and Blue Öyster Cult, they are very good at what they do, and the solidity of their current lineup has undoubtedly contributed to their growth as a band. Their sound, based on the interplay of guitar and Hammond organ, complemented by clear, powerful vocals, has not changed a lot throughout the decades, except for taking advantage of the resources of modern technology. On the other hand, I am quite sure that Uriah Heep would lose much of their appeal if they suddenly decided to dramatically overhaul their sound, and start imitating the likes of Porcupine Tree or The Mars Volta. Even if they may sound stale to some, they offer their audience a musical product that, while never claiming to be cutting-edge, is rendered with passion and class without ever suggesting a band going through the motions.
The five band members, though by no means spring chickens, display a level of energy and enthusiasm that would put many younger bands to shame, and their decades of experience as a live act have honed their stage skills to perfection. Looking rather dashing with his long white mane and dark shades, Mick Box delivers ruggedly effective guitar lines that spar with Phil Lanzon's rumbling, roaring Hammond in exhilarating instrumental cavalcades, setting the scene for Bernie Shaw's high-pitched, yet strongly melodic vocals. Shaw is also a consummate frontman, his interaction with the sometimes fractious audience warm and friendly though never patronising. The rhythm section of Russell Gilbrook and Trevor Bolder is unflaggingly reliable; Gilbrook in particular follows in the footsteps of the skilled, high-energy hard rock drummers of yore - his performance in the fast and furious Wake The Sleeper (which opens the set in style) bringing to mind Cozy Powell's on Rainbow's A Light In The Black. Overload perfectly showcases the collective strength of modern-day Uriah Heep: plenty of catchy hooks with occasionally slower-paced passages, masterful vocals and a stunning coda powered by Hammond and drums. With What Kind Of God (dedicated to the plight of Native Americans), Uriah Heep show that they have not lost their knack for writing a stately yet deeply emotional song, which is easily as good as the band's earlier material: the magnificent bridge, in which Mick Box's wah-wah-laden solo is underpinned by majestic organ washes, is particularly rousing.
As can be expected in such a historic occasion, the sizable crowd gets treated to some fine renditions of the band's über-classics. The double whammy of Gypsy and Look At Yourself blend into each other seamlessly, the latter driven to a splendid climax by organ, guitar and drums working in unison.The second CD is completely dedicated to the band's golden oldies - including Sympathy, a rarely performed song from their 1970 debut - interpreted with energy and passion even if somewhat predictably. The epic July Morning is greeted by loud applause, and for closer Lady In Black the audience gets eagerly involved in the inevitable singalong session.
Though no one in their right mind would look to Uriah Heep for cutting-edge musical content, the veteran British quintet are one of those old-fashioned acts that are almost always guaranteed to deliver the goods on stage - and, most importantly, they do not try to sell themselves as something they are not. For the demanding prog fan, their music may be a bit simplistic, perhaps even predictable, but it also offers a refreshing change of pace from the often convoluted, overambitious efforts released by many a prog band or artist. Besides fantastic Hammond organ runs, great vocals, powerful rhythm section and Mick Box's trademark wah-wah-drenched guitar leads, their songs contain some remarkably catchy tunes all the while eschewing outright commercialism. Though cynics might consider it somewhat redundant in the grand scheme of things, Live In Armenia is a fine showcase for a band that are as vital as ever, and have no intention of calling it quits.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Gungfly - Lamentations
CD: Bringing Down The Walls (7:45), White Light (5:02), Lamentations (3:18), Peace At Mind (5:12), The Game (4:43), Sleight Of Hand (6:28), In This House (5:00), And She Drives Me… (4:14), We Will Never Leave (9:58), Shape Of Days To Come (5:19)
DVD: Whiskers, Are You Aware That I Am Awake, No Remorse, Before The Winter, Go On Alone, Make It Better, She Is Gone Again, Rumbling Boxes, The Prisoner, Fly Into The Sun, Roland No More, On And On: On And On Official Video
“He lands a suckerpunch on my left shoulder, all four of us laugh, it's just a friendly gesture, we've been through a lot and we all look tired, our eyes reflect misfortunes beyond our control”
Gungfly is Rikard Sjöblom (vocals, keyboards, guitar, basses and drums), Beardfish's keyboard player's solo project. Lamentations being his sophomore release, progressive indie rock with elements of classic rock thrown in for good measure; hell there is even a Mariachi-esque number The Game that is rather compelling too. His debut album Please Be Quiet is included here albeit in a live DVD format filmed at Spegelm, Galvo on the 13th November 2009 which is rather excellent in its quality and execution. The whole of his debut album is presented in its entirety, which adds value to the release. So if you missed out on its initial album, you can now quickly bring yourself up to speed and see what Gungfly are all about.
For this journey Rasmus Diamant (bass), Petter Diamant (drums) and Maja Sweden (trumpet) have joined him, a set of musicians that have worked very well together. As a band they have a real groove about them, although for the main, the instrumentation offered is down to the main man with the standout feature being his soulful vocals that just create an excellent atmosphere at times, music that is deeply rooted in the 70's.
As ever the standards are very high, which one would expect from Rikard. The song approach is much in the same sort of vein as Beardfish, but shorter vocal orientated songs, a singer song writer approach, dalliances that are laidback at times and punchy and pacey at others. The lyrical approach for me is more personal, with Rikard offering his observations something that makes it feel more personal, a statement that makes sense when you look at the subject matter he is dealing with here, each song dealing with some kind of misfortune in life, lost childhood, lost opportunities lost love and even the death of a loved one.
Emotionally Rikard really has stage-managed his statements perfectly, enforcing his message about each song to the listener. It may not at times have the preciseness of Beardfish; but this looseness does compliment the whole situation perfectly though, being something that makes the album so strong.
There are no fillers here but the strongest songs are Lamentations, The Game, Sleight Of Hand, And She Drives Me... and the adventurous We Will Never Leave.
After many listens it would appear that reference have been taken from The Beatles, Cheap Trick, The Tubes and The Foo Fighters, references that may not be immediate, but the more you listen the more you will hear them. These are approaches that are unapologetic and never losing sight of their goal.
This is a strong album from Rikard Sjöblom that hasn't failed to impress me, an album that is full of musical driven visions that doesn't really emulate his day job, which is a bonus as it could have been just so easy to churn that approach out off the cuff. You can physically delve into any tune here and be rewarded! With the inclusion of the said DVD this really is a win win situation for all, with the beauty of the whole affair being the diversity on offer. Here's to his next release.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Levin Torn White – Levin Torn White
Tracklist: No Warning Lights (2:12), Ultra Mullet (4:43), White Noise (2:59), The Hood Fell (3:37), Monkey Mind (4:29), Cheese It, The Corpse (4:50), Convergence (4:10), Pillowfull Of Dark (4:20), The Eggman Cometh (1:34), Sleeping Horse (5:36), Prom Night Of The Centipedes (4:42), Crunch Time (4:06), Brain Tattoo (3:17), Lights Out (4:59)
When I saw that these three luminaries had got together to make an album, I thought “Hey, that’s bound to be good” and I wasn’t disappointed.
Tony Levin we all know about, and he produces his trademark funky bass and Chapman-Stickery to wholesome effect. Teaming up with Tony we have avant-jazz guitarist David Torn, a name you may or may not be familiar with. You really should try delving into his back catalogue, mostly on jazz label ECM, a frequently odd but marvellous thing it is too. On this album his contributions are listed as “Guitars and Textural Events”, and if from that you are expecting a Fripp clone, you will be pleasantly surprised by David’s highly individualistic stylings, which if I must make comparisons, occasionally (and only occasionally mind), are nearer to Adrian Belew’s sonic stew than Mr Fripp’s more mathematical excursions. More a sound painter than a soloist, David Torn produces some strange and alluring noises on this CD.
Alan White has been a member of Yes for what seems like forever, and is an interesting choice to back these two more jazz inclined musicians. Where, say, Bill Bruford (sorry for the inevitable comparison Alan!) would play complex polyrhythms all round the beat, Alan, being of the rock school of skin bashers is far more direct, which lends the sound a beefy thump, and on songs like White Noise where he takes the lead, his powerful style is showcased to max effect, freed from the constraints of the more fixed rhythmic arrangements offered in his day job. It sounds like he really enjoys himself here, and it’s a shame he hasn’t managed to branch out on his own much before while steering the good ship Yes.
This threesome produces an organic noise that while sometimes unexpected does remain mostly within the preconceptions one may have had before hearing this album. No Warning Lights starts things off with some of the aforementioned texturalising, and soon tells you where we’re going on this trip with some menacing bottom end scale runs with Alan thrashing away in the background. Monkey Mind starts with some of Tony’s trademark Chapman Stick playing before David turns it into a space funk strut, a-squealing and a-squalling all over the shop, all the while Alan nailing it down in an unfussy manner, Tony getting subsonic at one stage. I was dancing in my head! Ultra Mullet deserves a mention just for the title, a fashion crime even when the style was popular in my ‘umble opinion!
Convergence gives us brief respite from the earlier noise terror and is a gorgeous piece of Stick-led ambience where David gets to overlay some comforting warm waves of sound, as if he were a painter of soundscapes building up layers on sonic canvas. The blackly ambient Sleeping Horse has the sort of bass line that were you seeing this band live you would feel rather than hear. I’d like to confirm this on the hi-fi, but the neighbours may well object, so I’ll make do with merely being pinned to the sofa! Prom Night Of The Centipedes does strange things within a straightforward beat and for some reason puts me in mind of Low/Heroes era Bowie on steroids. Things get real funky on Crunch Time, and Brain Tattoo is another slab of heavy funk strut, and no, unsurprisingly Lights Out is not a cover of the old rock’n’roll standard!
All the songs are written by the trio, except for the menacing soundscape that is Sleeping Horse, which is solely down to Levin and Torn. The humorous titles give the lie to any po-faced seriousness that might have been expected, in fact these guys sound like they’re having a whale of time, mostly flying along by pure instinct.
Scott Schorr (founder of Lazy Bones Recordings) contributes keyboards and co-produces with Tony and does most of the arranging. Together they produce a full-on but open sound which allows the listener full involvement. If you like anything by the modern Crimson, the ProjeKcts, or are a fan of Levin then you’ll love it, although I can’t imagine what the more traditionally inclined Yes fan will make of it, but he or she should certainly give it a try.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
John Wesley - The Lilypad Suite
Tracklist: An Elegant Mess (3:41), Free (3:46), The Lilypad Suite: A.M.W. (1:22), Walls Of America (5:01), A Glittery Nothing (3:42), Still Waiting (4:25), Lost (4:44), Firelight (4:35)
John Wesley has been part of Porcupine Tree’s live set up for the past nine years and has been responsible for beefing up the band’s guitar sound and providing backing vocals. As a solo songwriter and performer, he has also been building up a collection of songs over the past few years, many of which will be appearing on his forthcoming album, Disconnect. However, he noticed that several of them had a recurrent theme so these songs have been released ahead of this as The Lilypad Suite.
Recorded recently at RedRoom Recorders in Tampa, he has been joined on this by Dean Tidey on guitar, Mart Prator on drum and percussion, Travis Hearne and Andy Irvine on bass.
The actual songs which make up the Suite are based on the collective experience of people, in this case, a small girl who is coming to terms with the absence of her father.
All the songs are constructed and performed on almost identical lines with a distinct semi-acoustic melodies giving way to guitar solos while Wesley’s light and highly processed voice sits neatly over both. Wesley’s sonorous and sometimes scuzzy guitar sound works best on Firelight which builds into a terrific crescendo and provides the Suite’s best moments. And don’t switch off there as young Elliott Tidey provides the final word.
Not surprisingly, the whole Porcupine Tree vibe is there throughout. Interestingly, the album kicks off with the two bonus tracks* and Elegant Mess is perhaps the stand-out track of the whole album with its great melody and jangly acoustic guitars which are very reminiscent of Narnia from Steve Hackett’s Please Don’t Touch album. Free is equally intriguing with its great chunky acoustic chords and urgent message.
Wesley is an excellent player and with Steven Orchard, erstwhile producer for Porcupine Tree, U2 and Kate Bush among others, has done an excellent job in giving the collection a jagged, compulsive edge.
However, all these songs feel like cameos of what he does in his other “day job”. And with a running time of around half an hour, it will probably only be the die-hard Porcupine Tree fans who are the only ones investing in it.
*Bonus tracks appear on the Madfish Music release only...
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Mangrove - Live Beyond Reality
Set 1: I Fear The Dark, Facing The Sunset, Zone III, Fatal Sign, Wizard Of Tunes, City Of Darkness, There Must Be Another Way
Set 2: Daydreamer's Nightmare, Time Will Tell, Love And Beyond, Reality Fades, Beyond Reality, Voyager
In June 2009 Messer's Roland Van Der Horst (guitar, vocals), Joost Hagemeijer (drums, vocals), Pieter Drost (bass) and Chris Jonker (keyboards) a.k.a Mangrove recorded their live show at Gigant, Apeldoorn. Live Beyond Reality is their first venture into the live DVD arena, although they have already released a live album in 2006 called Coming Back To Live. Apparently the band has shelves of live material archived, as they record more or less every show they play.
Historically for the band it also marks one if not the last show that Joost Hagemeijer played with the band.
The DVD has been broken down into two sets; Set 1 offers an interesting look at their back catalogue whilst Set 2 sees the band play the whole of the stunning 2009 DPRP recommended Beyond Reality album, which was a real highlight. Having already release four previous albums, the back catalogue they draw from may not be impressive in size, but as the old cliché goes, it all about the quality not the quantity, something the band has realised and capitalised on.
As a band their approach is symphonic with a soundstage that calls to mind Genesis, Marillion, Camel, Galleon, Arena and IQ amongst other. Roland Van Der Horst guitar phrasing has definitely been influenced by Steve Hackett and David Gilmour. As for vocals he is more than adept, his tones reminiscent of Dennis de Young of Styx fame in places.
The presentation is nice as is the picture quality where the band has used the mandatory multi angled camera approach to great effect. It can be busy at times but it never gets over dynamic. There isn't much in the extras department, in actuality there aren't any extras at all, which is a bit of a shame really, being for me an opportunity lost, but will I suppose keep their fans hungry for more.
Whether the band are playing a sedate framework or handling a more dynamic approach you can definitely feel the preciseness and emotion in the music which just draws you in. Even Roland Van Der Horst's jaunt into the crowd playing his guitar was a nice touch. It isn't often that you can empathise and connect with a band on a live DVD but strangely I did feel myself being pulled in here more than once, which does say a lot about this recording and the bands music.
The band hadn't originally intended to release this DVD, but after watching it I am certainly glad that they did. There is something here for fans of old and new, a purchase I'm sure you won't be disappointed with.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Cibola – Cibola Road
Tracklist: Prelude (0:47), Let It Go (4:22), Little Mercy (3:11), Black Swan In Flight (3:33), Caught In Midlife (4:32), Cibola Road (2:18), All Along The Watchtower (4:03), Wheel Go Round (3:22), Healer With A Baretta (2:45), Daybreak On The Tower(4:04), Small Light (2:36)
If Rush-meets-The Red Hot Chili Peppers-meets-Peter Gabriel-with-a-return-visit-to-the-Chili Peppers sounds like an interesting rock cocktail, then this new collaboration project could be a dish to savour.
‘A mixture of rock, funk and alternative influences’ is how the two people behind this album describe it. John Borgman and Arman Christoff Boyles have got it about right. Borgman was born in west Africa, studied bass at Berklee College and has fronted numerous covers and original bands across the Bay Area. Boyles will be best known to DPRP readers as the main songwriter and singer for US proggers Product.
I like this album. Don’t love it. It’s a little too mainstream and conventional for my tastes. It sounds very American. Late night American to be more precise. It’s quite varied but most of the songs are short and direct, straying not too far from their basic melody to appeal to lovers of pure Prog. Boyles has a nice, warm, inviting voice. Borgman lays down some great funky grooves. Boyles adds just enough progressive ideas to keep it interesting. When they stick to that recipe, that’s when the pairing is most effective.
Let It Go has the bass groove of latter-day Rush, the ambience of Pink Floyd and the funky groove of the Chilis. Healer With A Baretta introduces some Tangent-esque proggy keyboards amid a funky groove and a great melodic hook. The cover of All Along The Watchtower is a very accomplished original take on a classic song. Little Mercy is best described as the Red Hot Chilis-goes-prog.
The more ambient and African grooves of Caught In Midlife doesn’t really suit Boyles’ voice, whilst the piano and acoustic guitar ballad that closes the album is too cute in a Walty Disney sort of way and totally out of place.
This is the sort of album that I’ll come back to from time to time. A disc that I’ll put on for some late night mood music. If ‘a mixture of rock, funk and alternative influences’ captures your interest, then the road to Cibola is a road worth taking.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Bill Nelson - Northern Dream
Tracklist: Photograph [A Beginning] (0:18), Everyone's Hero (3:45), House Of Sand (1:38), End Of The Seasons (3:00), Rejoice (4:45), Love's A Way (3:33), Northern Dreamer  (2:43), Bloo Blooz (2:35), Sad Feelings (4:34), See It Through (3:16), Smiles (9:47), Chymepeace [An Ending] (0:20)
Bill Nelson is somewhat of an enigma. For those who the name is familiar they can probably recall that he was in Be Bop Deluxe but would have a hard time remembering any of their songs, although the cover of that band's debut album, Axe Victim, is a classic piece of iconographic design. Anyone recalling the new age era may be familiar with the short lived Red Noise, whereas fans of classic singles may fondly recall Do You Dream In Colour?. Not a lot really, particularly when you take into consideration that he has released 90 albums of original material, and probably another one by the time I've finished this review! And that total doesn't include albums of sessions, retrospective live albums, compilations and sundry others. The discography includes a myriad of different styles and experimentations, as anyone who recalls his contributions to the wonderful David Sylvian album Gone To Earth might expect. However, it all started way back in 1971 with Northern Dream, originally limited to just 300 copies, the manufacture of which was funded by the local record store. Having no previous experience of writing, and only a limited exposure to recording, things were a rather open book and an opportunity to learn and experiment without a dreaded record label soiling the waters. The whole album was recorded on two-track in one of the bedrooms of the house owned by Mike Levon, a trainee teacher who recorded and released local folk artists on his Holyground record label. To say the recording techniques employed were primitive is an understatement, for example to obtain a phasing effect a speaker was placed in an aluminium bucket and a microphone lowered and raised into the bucket to obtain the required effect! As there were only two tracks available there was a considerable amount of bouncing between the tracks in order to add additional instruments.
Obviously, the results are far from hi fidelity, but are considerably better than one would at first imagine, with the album having a considerable naive charm. The music itself is fairly hard to categorise, being a mixture of influences that Nelson had been subjected to at the time. Hence, we have his tribute to Hank Marvin And The Shadows in the instrumental title track, which concludes with some reverse guitar, in homage to The Beatles' I'm Only Sleeping. The double-tracked vocals on Sad Feelings creates an instant duet which has a more folky vibe while Bloo Blooz, as the title may suggest, is blues based. Nelson proves himself to be a fine guitarist, contributing lead electric, acoustic and bottleneck throughout, the latter on the charming See It Through. However, he really shines on Smiles where he brings everything together and unleashes a lengthy solo in a piece that is somewhat of a psych/prog classic. No wonder he called his record label upon which he released the album Smile! Great though this song is, it is the 18 second Photograph that does it for me, proof that a great song doesn't have to be extended into infinity, it says exactly what it needs to and no more.
Championed by John Peel, who actually played the complete album during one of his shows, the attention he drew to the album no doubt help create demand and the subsequent large number of bootleg editions that materialised. It also paved the way for Be Bop Deluxe whose first ever single was released on Nelson's Smile label and who recorded a Peel session before they signed a deal with EMI. This release seems the start of a reissue campaign of Nelson's solo works by Esoteric in conjunction with Cocteau Records (Nelson's own label). If subsequent releases are as interesting as Northern Dream then I look forward to hearing more.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
David Bedford - The Odyssey Live
Tracklist: Penelope's Shroud (1:27), King Aeolus (4:44), Penelope's Shroud II (1:19), The Phaeacian Games (3:43), Penelope's Shroud III (0:49), The Sirens (13:57), Scylla And Charybdis (8:47), Penelope's Shroud IV (1:16), Circe's Island (4:42), Penelope's Shroud Completed (1:43), Battle In The Hall (7:32)
David Bedford was born in 1937 and passed away only a few months ago. He is known for his work with Kevin Ayers, Roy Harper and The Edgar Broughton Band but also for his orchestral works on Mike Olfield's Tubular Bells, Camel's Snowgoose and collaborations with for example Propaganda and Enya. He is also known for his works in the film industry such as The Killing Fields or The Mission. Fortunately he has been able to witness the release on CD of his pop-masterpiece, The Odyssey. Performed live in the Royal Albert Hall in 1977, the concert has been broadcasted back then, but has never been heard since. The ultimate fusion between rock music and classical music as it was known, The Odyssey originally was the musical setting for the legendary tale/play by Homer. The show included the Queen's College Choir and the Wine Glass Orchestra. With Bedford on stage there were among others Mike Oldfield (guitar), Jon Lord (synth, ex-Deep Purple), Mike Ratlidge (synth, Soft Machine) and Dave Stewart (grand piano, Egg/National Health).
Penelope's Shroud is a sort of a prelude, probably one of the first 'ambient' pieces with modest orchestrations and a Moog playing slowly what could be called 'nearly a ladder' missing one note. Both my computer and my CD-player reveal a disturbing hiatus in the music at the end of this first track. King Aeolus is one of the most impressive tracks because of the participation of several keyboard players: slow majestic music in the vein of Vangelis with a bit of a 'church' feel. After a short interlude with some roaring sounds and that same Moog as in the first track, it's The Phaeacian Games with Mike Oldfield on the guitar. The music could have been from one of the early Oldfield albums. Oldfield plays mostly scales on the neck of his guitar and some more appealing melodies. Again the same sort of interlude as in tracks one and three and then keyboards with the Queen's College Choir singing in The Sirens. Comparable loops as Oldfield just did but then far more subtle on the synthesizer with a deep somewhat muffled sound. More keyboards (piano and organ) are added and the whole atmosphere becomes a mix of electronic music, church music and classical music in a rather challenging intonation. When the guitar joins in there are definitely similarities between The Odyssey and Tubular Bells. The last part of this long track features several keyboards playing solo's and melodies. In Scylla And Charybdis there a slow majestic melody by Moogs in the opening part, followed by a more up tempo piece featuring piano and synths playing melodies already used, but beautiful nevertheless! Halfway through the track some harsh sounds as if a nasty storm is coming, then the same melodies from the Penelope's Shroud pieces again in a more harmonious form and with different instrumentation, alternated by a return to the earlier more up tempo melodies.
After another short interlude it's Circe's Island with slow, flowing music and Oldfield playing melodic leads over chords by organ and orchestra and accompaniment by the piano. A more bombastic version of Penelope's Shroud with several keyboards leads to grand finale: Battle In The Hall with hammering percussion, nicely built up by keyboards and guitar plus choir and orchestra. The pitch keeps changing and gradually the percussion fades away and the album ends with a tour de force by all the keyboards playing beautiful majestic melodies and they are accompanied by the choir and the flutes in the orchestra. Of course Oldfield gets the chance to play the very last notes. As a whole this is definitely a 'symphonic rock meets electronic music' album, more than an album with a lot of classical influences.
David Bedford played a big part in building bridges between symphonic rock and classical music and this release pays tribute to the man who has been quite unique in the world of pop & rock music. In spite of the fact this was a live recording from the mid seventies, the sound quality is rather poor and more of a bootleg quality. Nevertheless, considering this was the only recording available it seems justifiable to me to release this live performance all the same. Still it's more an album for Oldfield fans and collectors of symphonic music from the seventies.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Path Of Samsara - Path Of Samsara
Tracklist: A Song For The Ocean (7:17), Pilgrim (5:50), Sun (8:05), Ambassador (7:31), Vortex (3:14), Oceans (11:00), A Song For The Sun (7:44)
Sometimes I wonder how bands decide where to send their promo CD's to. How does that process work exactly? How did the band members of Path Of Samsara, Benjamin Hoelzl (vocals and bass), Niko Biberger (guitars, synth and vocals), Sebastian Heim (guitars and vocals) and Benjamin Koehler (drums and percussion) come to a mutual agreement to provide DPRP (Dutch Progressive Rock Site) with a copy of their debut album? The length of their songs? The fact they also use a synth (sparsely) or because Yogi Lang of RWPL was involved (he mastered the album and the drums were recorded in his studio)?
Because after listening to their album I can’t think of one reason why I should recommend this album to our readers. Not that it's a bad album. Not at all. It’s a very well made stoner/post rock album with some metal influences. So we get a lot of heavy riffs, fierce drumming and some psychedelic jamming. In their promo sheet they state that they incorporate influences from 70's progressive rock and psychedelic rock to modern post-metal in their music. I can hear all except the progressive rock element. It's exciting stuff at times where the two guitars weave and riff around each other. Three of the band members sing but not always necessary completely in tune. Another thing I like is the fact that it sounds loose and live.
However: if I was to give this album a rating for progressiveness it would get no more than a one out of ten. And that would be cruel because as I said before it’s not a bad album at all. Just not for our readers...
Passover - Sacrifice
Tracklist: Sacrifice (6:10), The Knife (4:21), The Rise (3:48), Why? (4:36), The Broken Knife (4:36), Self Salvation (4:51), Erev Shel Shoshanium (2:29), Sim Shalom (3:29), Return Again (5:14), Adama (4:19), Ale Brider (3:14)
Passover is Davide Casali (bass, clarinets and b.v), Eliana Cargnelutti (lead guitar, b.v), Alessandro Colombo (drums, b.v), Ellen Garfield (lead vocals) and Samuele Orlando (keyboards, Moog and b.v). Five people, two continents. Europe and the Americas, Trieste Italy and Boston Massachusetts to be more precise, worlds apart - one commonality, they are members of a band and their sophomore album is called Sacrifice a follow on from their eponymous debut.
Quirky approaches are challenging and Passover offers that challange openly as they have produced a crossover album of prog and Klezmer Folk music. For those not in the know, Klezmer Folk music is a musical genre that largely consists of dance tunes for weddings and other celebrations, traditional music created by the descendants from medieval Jewish communities along the Rhine known as Ashkenazic's. A genre that has been embraced by highly regarded avant garde jazz artists such as John Zorn and Don Byron during their careers.
Passover have taken this genre and well and in all honesty made it is quite interesting, quirky but interesting with the end result being a unique symphonic / folk crossover album. It does have a retro 70's feel to it and to be quite frank it is hard to try and give a reference point, but their compositional style for me is loosely in the vein of King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Genesis.
For the most part the whole ensemble interact well but Orlando's keyboards and especially Colombo's drums sit high in the mix, too high at times as does Casali's bass on Sim Shalom but on that account it works well. They have managed to create some beautiful melodies that for the most part work, but when the Klezmer Folk is embedded, it is then when the music becomes most effective, stopping it from becoming staid, fixed and settled.
Erev Shel Shoshanium, (written by Yosef Hadar and Moshe Dor in 1957 having already been covered by several famous artists), which translates to Evening Of Lilies, a poetic Hebrew love song and the rather stunning smoky jazz inflected Sim Shalom which translates to Grant Peace (a blessing that is recited at the end of morning prayer) are strong songs as are Adama, (a cover of Ofra Haza's song), and the traditional Ale Brider which confirms the statement and gives Ellen Garfield a position of centre stage, as does Self Salvation, that works on various levels and where the band sounds most at ease.
Whether the lyrical content will appeal to most is debatable as they are based on the Old Testament, which creates the concept for the album, telling the story of Abraham and Isaac, whom I guess for some, will be symbolic and not so for others, but that is a choice that you have to make. For me in the framework they are set they work well but I would have loved to have heard the band maybe exploring those avenue's further, although that could limit their appeal. The rest of the album swings between the pacey and solid to sedate and relaxed being articulate and powerful creations that showcase some nice atmospheric sounds.
All in all this is a nice album; it's never going to set the world on fire having limited appeal but it is always nice to hear different approaches and that really is the beauty of music that is passionate.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Farpoint - Kindred Spirit
Tracklist: Calling Out (4:55), Still Water (5:04), Unity (1:59), Another Day (4:36), Water Of Life (10:00), Live For Him (5:26), Indian Summer (2:38), By My Side (3:55), Vacant Halls (6:44), Freedom Road (6:05)
Geoff Feakes' review of Farpoint's 2008 album (their fourth) Cold Star Quiet Star was quite complimentary, and didn't mention God once. 10t Records have now picked up the band, and re-released the record. This, their fifth release, does mention God. Quite a lot. He's the first to be thanked in the booklet, in fact. And the words "Soli deo Gloria" appear both in the booklet, and in repeating, flashing form on the website. It’s “Glory Only to God”, in case you’re wondering.
There’s no Sam Sanders, no Joe Driggers, both guitarists who added much to Cold Star… and who provided, for Geoff, some of the album’s best moments. The core membership from that record is present, with Dave Auerbach this time playing lead and rhythm guitar.
The band appear on the recent CPR 4 compilation and are mentioned on the CPR website as a Christian Progressive Rock artist. Alongside such luminaries as Glass Hammer, Iona, Salem Hill, Neal Morse, Proto-Kaw, Unitopia, Kinetic Element, Syzygy, Vertical Alignment and lots of others.
“The purpose (of these CPR compilations) is two-fold: To introduce Progressive Rock into the Christian community, & to introduce Christian themes into the Progrock community, which is mostly an underground independent movement in America today...”
These Christian themes are resplendent on this new CD. Whilst Farpoint may sound in places like mid 1990s Rush, the lyrical variety and complexity and intelligence of Neil Peart is very much lacking. Instead we get lots of mentions of Him (“the ruler and Lord of all”), with a capital H and some ham-fisted, crude creationism with a capital C:
He built the world from stardust
And called life from the soil
He made man in His image
And gave to us free will
Listening to this in the car, passers by may well have wondered who the middle-aged man screaming “NO SHE BLOODY WELL DIDN’T” at the top of his voice was. ‘twas I. With a capital I.
The music is pleasant enough, with an acoustic, folky vibe that sometimes, however, veers towards the twee, that may appeal to fans of Renaissance, Solstice et al as well as Yes when they do dig deep for a bit of symphonic bottom end. However whilst a lot of the above-mentioned artists utilise a more inclusive, and spiritual lyrical palette this is just, to my mind, proselytism and as such is to be avoided by all but the already converted. My rating speaks to My spirituality, and My belief that God is not a big white man with a beard who wears sandals. He might, in point of fact, be an elephant. I just don’t know.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10