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2011 : VOLUME 16
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:

 


John Lees - A Major Fancy
John Lees - A Major Fancy
Country of Origin:UK
Format:2CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 22233
Year of Release:1977/2010
Time:CD 1 41:51
CD 2 43:03
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:N/A

Tracklist:

CD 1: Untitled No. 1 - Heritage (7:54), Child Of The Universe (6:17), Kes [A Major Fancy] (2:32), Untitled No. 2 (3:52), Sweet Faced Jane (5:04), Witburg Night (5:47), Long Ships (5:20), Untitled No. 3 (5:02)

CD 2: Untitled No. 8 (4:35), Child Of The Universe [first version] (6:27), Witburg Night [first mix] (5:48), Untitled No. 2 [first version] (3:51), Untitled No. 1 - Heritage [alternative mix] (8:15), Best Of My Love [1974 single a side] (3:39), You Can't Get It [1974 single b side] (3:57), Please Be With Me [1974 sessions] (2:47), Child Of The Universe [single edit] (3:40)

John Lees needs no introduction as guitarist and vocalist of Barclay James Harvest but what about as a solo artist? An often overlooked fact is that in the midst of their hectic recording and touring schedule in the early 1970s, the three song writers of the band, Lees, Les Holroyd and Woolly Wolstenholme, decided that they all needed an alternative output for their creative talents. To a large extent, particularly for Lees, this situation was created by the lack of spontaneity and the restrictiveness of performing with an orchestra. Due to these ambitious recording and performing projects, the group was building up a substantial debt with their label Harvest (part of the EMI group) who were getting impatient waiting for some financial return on their investments, which raised tensions within the group who were on the verge of splitting up. Presumably, this is one of the reasons the label did not veto the idea of solo projects: if the group split they would stand no chance of recuperating any money and the prospect of three solo albums recorded on a smaller budget than would have been allocated to the band without having to payroll individual tours would open the possibility of larger returns and keep the group intact. And who knows, they might even gain a hit single out of the process! Naturally, the label wouldn't sanction the band going on hiatus, so solo activities had to fit in around group commitments. Hence, over Christmas and New Year of 1972/1973, immediately after the release of Baby James Harvest, Lees was holed up in Abbey Road studios in London and Strawberry Studios in Stockport working on material that would have is individual stamp as a composer away from the sound the band had become associated with.

Wally Waller, who had produced 1971's BJH And Other Short Stories was hired as producer and contributed bass and assorted other instruments as well as bringing in his ex Pretty Things band mates Skip Allen (drums) and Gordon Edwards (piano and keyboards). Despite a smaller budget, there was still sufficient funds for strings and Graham Preskett (now largely noted for his work on the Harry Potter films) was bought in as an arranger. Smaller contributions were played by some famous guests with Rod Argent (organ) and Rex Morrison (tenor saxophone) contributing to a track each down in London and Kevin Godley (percussion) and Eric Stewart (acoustic guitar) of 10cc fame each adding to material recorded in their studios in Stockport. The album was scheduled for release in the spring of 1973, delayed until July and then put in limbo when the band's contract with EMI ran out! At the end of 1973, BJH signed with Polydor Records and part of that deal was that EMI would not release any BJH or BJH related product for a period of three years so it was not until mid 1977 that the album, called A Major Fancy, saw the light of day. Of course, the musical environment at that time was not suited to anything related to progressive rock so the album, which was not widely publicised, sank without a trace. It did eventually find its way onto CD in the late 1990s but that issue has long been deleted. So almost 40 years on, perhaps the time is ripe for a reassessment of this most obscure of BJH-related releases?

The album kicks off with Untitled No. 1 - Heritage introduced by Edwards' piano before Lees' unmistakeable guitar bursts through. Given the guitar sound and the familiar vocals it is difficult to disassociate the music from that of BJH, although that is largely through familiarity with the host of material produced by the band over the years. In the context of what BJH were doing and had done at the time the song was written and recorded it is quite a departure. With loud and heavy guitar breaks, wonderful Argent organ work and some impressive percussive elements things are off to a rocking start. The classic Child Of The Universe might seem misplaced given that it was the prominent song on BJH's first album for Polydor Everyone Is Everybody Else released in 1974. However, the band had already rejected the song when Lees presented it to them in 1972 so he used it on his own album. Accompanied by an excellent string arrangement by Preskett and ethereal choral effects from the Mike Sammes Singers, this version is a wonderful addition to the existing recordings with kudos to the fine piano work of Gordon Edwards. The instrumental Kes [A Major Fancy], featuring Stewart on acoustic guitar, takes its name from the famous film and its choice for a title was inspired by Lees and his wife hand-rearing two baby kestrels that had been orphaned. The soaring guitar delightfully mimics the effortless grace of these wonderful birds in flight. Untitled No. 2 features a rather jaunty electric piano by Preskett and almost whispered vocals from Lees giving the song an intimate feel well suited to the subject of the lyric. Although the bulk of the song was recorded at Abbey Road, Kevin Godley added some idiosyncratic percussion effects up at Strawberry Studios utilising such unusual 'instruments' as ashtray, beer bottle and fire extinguisher!

The original second side of the album starts with Sweet Faced Jane has a slightly different feel to it, almost countryish, largely due to Preskett's fiddle playing. A simpler song that is somewhat redeemed by the sax solo which lifts an otherwise quite ordinary song. Better is Witburg Night with its Moog, vibes and 'cracked' tubular bells, the latter of which hammering out the refrain from a well known Beatles number. A biting guitar solo completes an excellent and enjoyable number. A dip into Norse mythology mixed with Lord Of The Rings provides the lyrical inspiration for Long Ships which for most of its duration is rather a mediocre dirge only coming to life when Lees lets loose on his guitar. A brief Moog link provides a segue into the final song, Untitled No. 3, a great song to round things off and one that I'm surprised BJH didn't pick up on along with Child Of The Universe when they reconvened to start recording their debut Polydor album. Perhaps it was too typical of the sound the band had become associated with and a bigger change was the order of the day.

Of course, this Esoteric release doesn't limit itself to a straight forward reissue of the original album but comes with an additional disc of rarities and previously unreleased material. Five of the tracks are variations of album material, including the first mix of Witburg Night, which is rather mellower and has a more prominent electric piano, and an alternative mix of Untitled No. 1 - Heritage which, although not dramatically different, is worth including as it is such a good song! The first version of Untitled No. 2 is somewhat less smooth than the finished take, particularly in the recording of the vocals, although the marvellous piano part does shine through with slightly more clarity. Of interest to those who like to hear how songs develop is the first recorded version of Child Of The Universe which features slightly different lyrics and is still a work, albeit almost complete, in progress. The 1977 single edit of this song, with its slightly different intro, is also included for completeness. One of the most startling rarities is Untitled No. 8, an outtake from the album that has not been heard in the 40 years since it was recorded. Totally different from anything on the album, with a harder edge and very uncharacteristic vocal, as the sleeve notes remark it is almost difficult that it is John Lees singing and playing! Another surprise is the very rare solo version of The Eagles' Best Of My Love. Released by Polydor in 1974, shortly after the Everyone Is Everybody Else album, Lees recorded his version as he was familiar with the original which was relatively unknown in the UK and he felt it deserved a wider audience. A rather straightforward rendition of the song, it lacks the lush harmonies of the original but is still very listenable. The b-side of the single, which was withdrawn by Polydor when it looked possible that it might be a hit (!), You Can't Get It is more in the style of BJH, borrowing a line from a Rolling Stones hit along the way. Finally, another vault item finally sees the light of day and it is another cover version recorded at the same sessions as Best Of My Love. Please Be With Me is also a country rock tune that was largely unknown in the UK at the time having been recorded by the Duane Allman fronted band Cowboy. Again a decent version with some fine guitar work that is very different from the style Lees is normally associated with.

I really enjoyed this album and am delighted that I have had the opportunity to hear it along with the associated rarities. Having an appreciation of the music of BJH, at least from their earlier years, this recording slots in nicely with the band material but offers a slightly different angle on things. Lees was obviously on a roll in the early 1970s and produced several classic songs. There are a few more on this release to add to that list and hopefully it will find favour beyond the enthusiastic BJH audience.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Mountain - Crossroader | An Anthology 1970-1974
Mountain - Crossroader | An Anthology 1970-1974
Country of Origin:USA
Format:2CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 22230
Year of Release:2010
Time:CD 1 77:56
CD 2 76:36
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: 154:32

CD 1: Mississippi Queen (2:32), For Yasgur's Farm (3:24), Never In My Life (3:52), Silver Paper (3:17), Theme From An Imaginary Western (5:07), The Laird (4:37), Boys In The Band (3:37), Taunta [Sammy's Tune] (1:00), Nantucket Sleighride [To Owen Coffin] (5:52), The Animal Trainer And The Toad (3:28), Don't Look Around (3:44), You Can't Get Away (3:26), Travellin' In The Dark [To E.M.P.] (4:25), Flowers Of Evil (4:55), Crossroader (4:50), King's Chorale (1:04), One Last Cold Kiss (3:52), Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On (5:05), Sister Justice (3:59), You Better Believe It (5:50)

CD 2: Dream Sequence: Guitar Solo/Roll Over Beethoven/Dreams Of Milk And Honey (24:58), Long Red (5:43), Waiting To Take You Away (4:46), Crossroader (6:15), Blood Of The Sun (3:02), Nantucket Sleighride [To Owen Coffin] (31:52)

One of the pleasant things about writing reviews for a website such as DPRP is the opportunity to tell the world about a new band and/or some great music you've just heard, or even a great album you have just discovered. Once in a lifetime there is the chance to tell of a great band you discovered some forty years ago! So finally with this release from Esoteric Recordings, I have been given that opportunity to write about a band that has been a firm favourite of mine for many a year. Not a band that is often mentioned in progressive circles, but one more cited in the hard rock and blues-rock fields, however, for me Mountain were (and still are) a band that deserve far greater recognition.

But first a potted history (for those not old enough to remember). The band was formed by guitarist Leslie (Weinstein) West and bassist Felix Pappalardi. West previously with The Vagrants released his first solo album entitled Mountain back in 1969. Following the release Leslie West decided to take a band on the road with drummer N D Smart and keyboard player Steve Knight. The position of bass player fell to Felix Pappalardi (noted for his production work with Cream). The band's third gig was an appearance at the legendary Woodstock Festival. If you have ever endured the Woodstock film you will have missed Mountain's performance as their footage was "lost" for many years but finally put to rights on the 40th Anniversary Box Set.

Charismatic drummer Laurance "Corky" Laing had replaced N D Smart by the time Mountain released Climbing!, their first studio album in March 1970. During what was a hectic period of gigging the band recorded their follow up album, the highly acclaimed, Nantucket Sleighride, which was released in February 1971. The title track was used for many years as the theme tune for Weekend World, a current affairs programme that ran until the late 80s. Like many others and even though I had the album, I would invariably switch on the TV around lunchtime on Sunday just to listen to the music being played. Esoteric's liner notes for Crossroader note that one Ringo Starr also did the same. Mountain would go on to produce their third album Flowers Of Evil in the December of the same year. The B side of the original album containing two live tracks. Esoteric's liner notes attributing this to Felix Pappalardi's growing absences in the studio. Later on Leslie West would also attribute the band's first demise to the over indulgence of drugs and Felix's tiredness of gigging.

The Mountain flame was kept alight with the release of album number four, Mountain Live: The Road Goes Ever On, which hit the streets in May 1972 and featured an extended version of Nantucket Sleighride - a version which covered the entirety of the second side of the album. A Best Of Mountain filled the gap in February 1973, however the band had split up by this time with Pappalardi returning to studio work whilst Leslie West and Corky Laing went on to form West, Bruce & Laing with former Cream bassist Jack Bruce. The band released two studio albums Why Dontcha (1972) & Whatever Turns You On (1973). This was followed by a final live release - Live 'n' Kickin' (1974).

Leslie West and Felix Pappalardi reformed the band 1974 enlisting Allan Schwartzberg (drums) and Robert Mann (guitar & keyboards). This line-up would produce the live double album Twin Peaks in February 1974. The last release from this period of the band appeared in July 1974. Corky Laing returned to play the drums however Steve Knight did not and David Perry guested on guitar. As mentioned these were still troubled times for Mountain and Avalanche didn't quite have the magic of the earlier albums.

This Esoteric release follows Mountain traditions by making one album studio tracks and the other live pieces. From the studio side, Climbing! is represented by seven tracks whilst Nantucket Sleighride is covered with six. Flowers Of Evil, Crossroader, King's Chorale and One Last Cold Kiss make up the four tracks from Flowers Of Evil and three tracks from Avalanche conclude disc one.

As mentioned in the opening paragraph of this review, Mountain are not synonymous with progressive rock per se, but are often cited within the progressive community. The chemistry that existed between the classically trained Pappalardi and more rock and roll West gave the music its magic. Across these two CDs you will hear the gentler side of Pappalardi opposed by the grit of West. Fine examples would be For Yasgur's Farm, Silver Paper, Travellin' In The Dark and One Last Cold Kiss. Pappalardi's classical leanings appear in the two brief piano pieces Taunta [Sammy's Tune] and King's Chorale, and although not featured in this collection Leslie West added a number of fine acoustic instrumentals to the mix To My Friend from their debut album and Alisan from Avalanche. Both West and Pappalardi possessed a fine ear for a melody and these can be heard across this two CD compilation.

Before moving on to disc two, mention of the other two musicians. Firstly backing up these fine songs is the dynamic and flamboyant drumming of Corky Laing - his busy but precise style giving the music its own unique drive. Last but by no means least is Steve Knight. Perhaps not always noticed within the band, but his tasteful keyboards formed the basis or foundation of the music. Whether it be subtle piano or just the gentle Hammond that sits underneath. A testament to his input can be detected more so when he had left! Again not featured on this compilation but possibly one of Mountain's more proggy tracks Pride & Passion, (from Climbing!), has some wonderful organ flourishes...

Not prog? Now there may be some eagle eyed readers who have spotted the CD 2 contains two epic length tracks, the latter clocking in at over half an hour. But the reality is that these are short five to six minute tracks that have been stretched beyond their natural length. Dream Sequence: Guitar Solo/Roll Over Beethoven/Dreams Of Milk And Honey consists over an overlong intro guitar section by Leslie West followed by Roll Over Beethoven. It does however segue into the excellent Dreams Of Milk And Honey. Mountain live and at their best - atmospheric at times, nice Q&A trade-offs between West and Pappalardi and Leslie West playing in his own melodic style. The same can't be attributed, I'm afraid to say, to the version of Nantucket Sleighride that concludes this anthology. A much better version can be found on The Road Goes Ever On and at seventeen minutes doesn't outstay its welcome. The version here and which covered two sides of the original Twin Peaks album doesn't have the same magic. Three of the four other live tracks appeared on side A of The Road Goes Ever On album. Long Red is a foot stomping rocker, Waiting To Take You Away is more laid back with West's vocals supplying the counterpoint. Mountain's tribute to Cream wraps up this trio of live tracks from The Road Goes Ever On. Blood Of The Sun, another rocker, originally appearing on Leslie's solo album Mountain.

Hats off again to Esoteric Recordings who ensure that many a lost gem is given another airing. Or, as is the case here, putting together a neat collection of tracks to inspire a new generation to track down this wonderful band. Attention to detail in the liner notes as always and the re-mastering has brought new life into some of the tracks. There is a slight disparity in sound however and despite Esoteric's fine re-mastering the tracks from Avalanche suffer from being muddier sonically. This said, Crossroader is as good an introduction to the music of Mountain and is by far the best compilation available.

Sadly I never got to see Mountain in this classic line-up (West, Pappalardi, Laing & Knight) and regrettably I never will. Felix' life was cut short in April 1983 when he was shot dead by his wife Gail "Collins" Pappalardi. As an aside Gail was responsible and is credited under her maiden name for many of Mountain's lyrics and also designed some of the band's album covers.

I did however see West, Bruce & Laing (my ears are still ringing) and a later version of Mountain - Leslie West being very entertaining and witty performer as well as playing some great music. I also witnessed Leslie West playing at one of the "Night Of The Guitar" concerts back in the late 80s. And it is from one of those shows that I would like to leave you with Leslie West, at his finest, performing Jack Bruce's Theme From An Imaginary Western - CLICK HERE.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

BOB MULVEY



Gilgamesh - Gilgamesh
Gilgamesh - Gilgamesh
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2242
Year of Release:1975/2011
Time:36:56
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: One End More / Phil's Little Dance - For Phil Miller's Trousers / Worlds Of Zin (10:20), Lady And Friend (3:44), Notwithstanding (4:45), Arriving Twice (1:36), Island Of Rhodes / Paper Boat - For Doris / As If Your Eyes Were Open (6:39), For Absent Friends (1:11), We Are All / Someone Else's Food / Jamo And Other Boating Disasters - From The Holiday Of The Same Name (7:48), Just C (0:45)

Although I was an avid music collecter during the 70’s (with an oversized vinyl collection as a result) my appreciation of the Canterbury scene leaned towards the more tuneful bands like Caravan and Hatfield And The North. Gilgamesh who formed in 1972 had a reputation for being on the avant-garde fringe and as a consequence I (foolishly) let them pass me by. Thankfully Esoteric are around to set the story straight and give the uninitiated like me another chance to discover what was missed first time around. True, Gilgamesh are prone to the occasional improvisational excursion but it’s done with such grace and a keen sense of the thematic development that they rarely sound self indulgent or less than entertaining.

In his sleeve notes writer Sid Smith wryly observes that the ups and downs of Gilgamesh’s short but eventful career is accurately and humorously captured in the album artwork. Fronted by keyboardist extraordinaire Alan Gowen, the band would undergo several personnel changes but for this self titled debut release he gathered together the formidable talents of Phil Lee (electric and acoustic guitars) Jeff Clyne (bass) and Michael Travis (drums). Recorded at The Manor studio in May 1975 (the same month I celebrated my 21st birthday) the music has a welcome familiarity sounding like a not to distant cousin of Hatfield And The North. That’s not so surprising given that it followed hot on the heels of the two Hatfield albums and was co-produced by Hatfield keyboardist and visionary Dave Stewart.

Gilgamesh hit the ground running with One End More, full of rhythmic chops and changes and a fusion feel that’s thankfully more prog than jazz. That said Phil's Little Dance with its spiky stop-start arrangement is reminiscent of PFM at their most challenging before dissolving into the haunting Worlds Of Zin, based around Lee’s mellow but stunning guitar solo. Although Gowen is responsible for the majority of the compositions this was written by Lee himself and for me is possibly the album’s most satisfying piece.

Lady And Friend begins as a tranquil tone poem for classical guitar and bass. Clyne’s bass work here is just sublime before Lee weighs in with a customary fluid solo to play out. Despite some excellent drum and keyboard work in particular (there’s even a brief blast of mellotron) Notwithstanding is a tad too free form for my tastes whilst Paper Boat is more disciplined including a showy note bending synth solo. As If Your Eyes Were Open sees Gowen’s excellent piano work driving one of the albums most up-tempo pieces with a near aggressive guitar workout over a fast and lively rhythm. In contrast For Absent Friends is based around Lee’s mellow Spanish guitar picking but is a tad too short for its own good.

Like several of the pieces here, the penultimate track is in three parts beginning with the multi textured We Are All. This is clearly a tune that has caught Andy Tillison’s ear because the low-key electric piano motif has featured in at least one song by The Tangent. Lee’s intricate fuzzed guitar doodling nods its head towards Robert Fripp before a spontaneous drum volley from Travis which is simply mesmerising. Someone Else's Food is different altogether with a lively transatlantic vibe thanks to the funky Stevie Wonder style electric piano (from Canterbury to Detroit you might say). Rounding off the trio is Jamo which includes a delightful female vocal sequence (arranged by Dave Stewart and sung by Amanda Parsons) bringing the Hatfield connection sharply in focus.

Despite the quality of this release, Gilgamesh was unable to sustain itself and soon after Gowen joined forces with Dave Stewart to form National Health, appearing on their 1977 self titled debut. During a brief stint in Soft Heap (resulting in another self titled album) he reformed Gilgamesh and recorded 1978’s Another Fine Tune You’ve Got Me Into. This picked up from where its predecessor left off with Gowen renewing his partnership with Phil Lee and a revamped rhythm partnership of Hugh Hopper (bass) and Trevor Tompkins (drums). Tragically as a result of leukaemia, Gowen’s life was cut short in 1981 aged just 33. National Health released a tribute album D.S. Al Coda the following year which included a selection of Gowen’s compositions. This was not the end of the Gilgamesh story however because previously unreleased recordings from the band’s archives turned up in 2000 under the title Arriving Twice.

Whilst Gilgamesh may have been over shadowed by both Hatfield And The North and National Health in terms of recognition, they certainly deserved their place as major contributors to the Canterbury scene. All the traits associated with the genre are here, stellar musicianship, spontaneous flights of instrumental virtuosity, intricate but memorable melodies and silly song titles. The fact that Gilgamesh ran its course after just two albums and a handful of gigs says less about the commitment of Gowen and his colleagues and more about the nomadic lifestyle of Canterbury musicians continually drifting from one band to the next.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Brainbox - Brainbox
Brainbox - Brainbox
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2241
Year of Release:1969/2011
Time:74:38
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Dark Rose (5:22), Reason To Believe (2:25), Baby, What You Want Me To Do (2:37), Scarborough Fair (6:27), Summertime (4:23), Sinner's Prayer (2:32), Sea Of Delight (17:03) Bonus Tracks: Woman's Gone (4:12), Down Man (2:37), Amsterdam - The First Days (3:11), So Helpless (2:38), To You (3:29), Cruel Train (2:32), Between Alpha And Omega (2:28), Doomsday Train (2:54), Good Morning Day (3:12), The Smile [Old Friends Have A Right To] (3:09), The Flight (3:25)

Being an avid Focus fan during the 70’s (Focus At The Rainbow is for me one of the best live albums ever) I was familiar with Dutch band Brainbox, albeit in name only. They figure in the Focus family tree due to the presence of the great Jan Akkerman on guitar and the equally fine Pierre van der Linden on drums who both feature on this 1969 self titled debut release along with singer Kazimierz (Kaz) Lux and bassist André Reijnen. Expecting to hear traces of the sound that would define Focus, I was a little surprised by much of the musical style by this Dutch quartet. They produce a variant of British blues rock as popularised by exponents like Rory Gallagher and The Groundhogs with a touch of earthy American blues thrown in for good measure.

After the band began rehearsing in early 1969 much of the songs including Dark Rose and Woman's Gone seem to have originated from jam sessions, and it shows. For example the lengthy Sea Of Delight (which took up most of side 2 on the original vinyl release) seems to be one long bout of spontaneous improvisation sandwiched between Lux’s brief opening and closing vocals. Akkerman’s playing here is not too dissimilar to Peter Banks’ style of soloing with Yes which is not surprising given that Banks was an early admirer of Akkerman’s technique. The bass and drum solos are also impressively performed; in fact these guys could hold their own with most any other rhythm partnership from the same era.

The only other song from the original album that isn’t a cover version is the opening Dark Rose. In addition to some fast and frantic playing from Akkerman and inspirational drumming from van der Linden, guest Tom Barlage adds some spirited flute soloing of his own. Probably the most striking aspect however is Lux’s raunchy, expressive voice which sits somewhere between Robert Plant and Rod Stewart.

The album’s cover versions include three well known and two not so well known tunes. In the latter category are two authentic American blues numbers in the shape of Jimmy Reed’s Baby, What You Want Me To Do and Lowell Fulson’s Sinner's Prayer. The style here perfectly suits Lux’s convincingly raw delivery. Of the others, Tim Hardin’s poignant Reason To Believe is given a jaunty rhythm and is nicely performed (two years before Rod Stewart made it famous) whilst a reverential version of the George Gershwin standard Summertime features Akkerman on Hammond organ in addition to guitar. For Paul Simon’s wistful Scarborough Fair the guitarist switches to acoustic for some rootsy folk picking. He’s assisted here by Barlage’s flute which in addition to Ian Anderson ironically evokes Thijs van Leer’s playing in Focus.

The remainder of this re-mastered reissue is made up of no less than eleven bonus tracks almost doubling the length of the original album. These songs come courtesy of the string of Dutch single releases the band enjoyed between 1969 and 1970 bringing together the complete output of this line-up. Several of these songs enjoyed commercial success and it’s not too difficult to see why. They are mostly fairly catchy, mid-tempo affairs with lead voice to the fore and noticeably less ambitious guitar work as the tracks progress. The two songs that probably comes the closest to the sound on the album are Woman's Gone and Down Man. In the former Akkerman’s bluesy licks echo Eric Clapton (albeit with a harder edge) as well as featuring some fine piano playing from guest Rob Hoeke whilst Kazimierz’s husky delivery during the latter this time evokes Steve Marriot.

Of the rest, the memorable ode to the band’s home town Amsterdam - The First Days includes some surprisingly funky guitar work whilst the boogie riff driving So Helpless recalls Humble Pie. The mid-tempo rocker Doomsday Train is reminiscent of The Who with a touch of AC/DC in contrast with the laidback country rock feel of The Smile [Old Friends Have A Right To] with a vocal style that pre-empts The Eagles and America. In fact the majority of these latter songs sees the band evolving from there earlier bluesy style into a more laidback soft rock sound.

Jan Akkerman left Brainbox soon after the album’s original release although he didn’t so much jump as was pushed. By all accounts the band’s dictatorial manager wasn’t happy with the fact that the guitarist was occasionally moonlighting with other musicians including an organist/flautist by the name of Thijs van Leer. This of course opened the door for the formation of Focus and a year or so later Pierre van der Linden would also jump the Brainbox ship and join them.

In the meantime Brainbox continued with no less than three guitarists appearing in Akkerman’s wake as well as a replacing the bassist, drummer and even the vocalist at various points before the band disbanded around 1972. The subsequent years has seen several Brainbox reunions and gatherings for one-off concerts and currently a line-up that includes Kaz Lux and Pierre van der Linden (but no Jan Akkerman) regularly performs in the Netherlands and is also putting together a new album.

As I stated earlier given Akkerman’s and van der Linden’s involvement I was expecting something more progressive anticipating the style of Focus and as such admit to being a little disappointed with this release. That said, it does demonstrate another dimension to their playing and overall the musicianship is superb throughout. Lux’s singing is also a revelation, possessing one of the best rock voices I’ve heard for some time. If you remember the band from first time around with affection the wealth of material here makes it highly recommended.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Hawkwind - Choose Your Masques
Hawkwind - Choose Your Masques
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Atomhenge
Catalogue #:ATOMCD 2026
Year of Release:1982/2010
Time:CD 1 52:46
CD 2 51:10
Info:Hawkwind
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1 Choose Your Masques (5:28), Dream Worker (5:00), Arrival In Utopia (5:45), Utopia (2:59), Silver Machine (4:21), Void City (6:47), Solitary Mind Games (3:56), Fahrenheit 451 (4:43), The Scan (1:04), Waiting For Tomorrow (3:50) Bonus Tracks Psychedelic Warlords [b-side] (5:02), Silver Machine [previously unreleased extended single mix] (3:46)

CD 2 Bonus Tracks Void City (6:38), Candle Burning (2:48), 5/4 (3:21), Waiting For Tomorrow (3:43), Radio Telepathy (5:44), Lato (2:34), Dream Worker (5:34), Oscillations (3:04), Recent Reports (5:48), Lato Percussive Electro [Earthed To The Ground] (3:45), Solitary Mind Games (5:06), Silver Machine (2:58)

After the success of Sonic Attack and the unexpected experimental synthesiser album Church Of Hawkwind the recording of which was enforced by drummer Martin Griffith being laid low with German Measles, RCA/Active, the band's label at the time, were eager to get a new, 'proper' Hawkwind album out on the streets. The four-piece of Dave Brock, Harvey Bainbridge, Huw Lloyd Langton and a recuperated Martin Griffith recorded Choose You Masques during June and July of 1982, once again at the long-time favourite Rockfield Studios. The album featured a number of guest appearances, including Nik Turner making a return to the fold and playing on one track, tagging along for the subsequent tour and eventually staying for a further two years. Another notable alumni contributing, but not appearing, on the album was Robert Calvert whose name appeared on the writing credits of a couple of tracks, including a reworked version of hit single Silver Machine. Finally, keeping things in the family, Dave Brock's son Pascoe also made a brief appearance.

The album starts promisingly with the title track, a heavy insistent beat, set off by various synth squiggles and bleeps and Langton's characteristic guitar adding lengthy solos to distract from the steady rhythm that was undoubtedly influenced by (or an influence to) the blossoming rave scene of the time. An excerpt from a radio production of Lord Of The Rings, featuring Ian Holm as Frodo, introduces Dream Worker a largely instrumental synth piece that is atmospheric but hardly exciting. Arrival In Utopia is a great example of what the band were capable of during this period, an energetic romp that makes the subsequent residence in Utopia seem decidedly mundane. The last half of Utopia is composed of the repeated phrase "If you want to get into it, you've got to get out of it", which sounds surprisingly like Ringo 'Peace and Love' Starr. The re-recording of Silver Machine is entirely superfluous and not a patch on the original, but if you are a fan of the song you might enjoy this reinterpretation, of which there are three different versions included on this release. In an attempt to resurrect their presence in the Singles chart, the re-recording was released as a single release accompanied on the flip side by another disappointing re-recording of a Hawkwind classic, Psychedelic Warlords. Again the original is far superior and in comparison I find the revisited rendition virtually unlistenable.

Back at the main album, Void City is another number that is almost entirely reliant on synthesisers, even the vocals are heavily treated. The song also features Turner's sax although as it is only barely distinguishable on the fade out it is not a major contribution and hardly constitutes a reunion, although it seemed to serve its purpose of reintroducing him to the band. On safer ground, Solitary Mind Games features Lloyd Langton in fine form (his prominence attributable to the fact that he co-wrote the song with his wife) and leads into the highlight of the set, Fahrenheit 451, which even harks back to the earliest days of the band with the signature riffing at the end of the song. As worthy reignition of the Brock/Calvert writing partnership and a song that should be included in every Hawkwind collection. We are back to synthesisers for the brief The Scan, although it does have more going for it that the other synth-based numbers, before the original album is wound up with another composition by Mr and Mrs Lloyd Langton, Waiting For Tomorrow. As expected the guitar is exemplorary but the weak singing, presumably by the guitarist himself, rather spoils thing.

The packed bonus disc is comprised of previously unreleased session recordings and alternative mixes of Void City and Waiting For Tomorrow. As neither of these two tracks were highlights of the original album it is debatable if the re-mix adds a lot, although the former of the two does sound a lot brighter and punchier than the original. The alternative version of Solitary Mind Games is worthy of its extended running time, something that is harder to justify for the lengthier version of Dream Worker. The remaining tracks are what will be of real interest to the avid Hawkwind fan, a collection of songs recorded during the album sessions but left of, presumably due to restricted running times of the old vinyl albums. Candle Burning is another Huw and Marion Lloyd Langton composition and is similar to the other two numbers they contributed, which may be why it was left off the album. It also sounds somewhat unfinished so was possibly abandoned in favour of one of their other pieces. 5/4 features the same exasperated cry as was used on the beginning of Dream Worker and it is a shame that this track wasn't included in its stead as it is a very good fusion of the synth and guitar dominated aspects of the band. Two numbers that justify release on this new version are Radio Telepathy and Recent Reports, both very good songs and it is a puzzle why they were not included on the album proper as they are both worthy of inclusion and would certainly, particularly in the case of Radio Telepathy, have found favour amongst fans. Lato is a synthesiser piece that maintains an energy and vibrancy missing from other such numbers. Again the quality is such that it is surprising it has remained in the vaults for so long. It bears no connection to Lato Percussive Electro [Earthed To The Ground] which is rather wearing and even Turner's sax (which can actually be heard on this number) fails to raise the track out of its mundanity and, in fact, becomes rather a screeching annoyance. Oscillations has an initial narrative section that would no doubt fit in a wider concept piece but in isolation is rather lost. However, the last two minutes of the song is rather good with just voice and synthesiser making contributions.

The packaging is, as usual, top notch and even if the booklet text is not up to the highest of standards at least it was written by an associate of the band who was with them during the period the album was made and taken out on tour. Choose Your Masques is far from being a classic, or even essential, Hawkwind album but it does have several high points, not least of which is some of the bonus material that the Hawkwind completists will want to have in their collection. Even the less ardent fan will find much on this release to delight over and if they are anything like me will probably end up creating their own version of the album combining the best of the original and bonus material to create a bespoke edition that matches their preferences exactly!

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Utopia - Oblivion
Utopia - Oblivion
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD/DVD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLECS 22237
Year of Release:1984/2011
Time:CD 41:43
DVD 64:19
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:N/A

Tracklist:

CD: Itch In My Brain (4:30), Love With A Thinker (3:15), Bring Me My Longbow (3:18), If I Didn't Try (4:10), Too Much Water (4:40), Maybe I Could Change (4:09), Cry Baby (4:20), Welcome To My Revolution (5:04), Winston Smith Takes It On The Jaw (3:18), I Will Wait (4:44)

DVD: Live At The Royal Oak, Detroit 1981: One World, Road To Utopia, Back On The Street, Caravan, Time Heals, The Wheel, The Very Last Time, Lysistrada, Love In Action, Couldn’t I Just Tell You, Love Is The Answer, Just One Victory (59:50) Promotional Video 1984: Cry Baby (4:29)




Utopia – POV
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2225
Year of Release:1985/2011
Time:55:32
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:N/A
Utopia – POV

Tracklist: Play This Game (4:12), Style (4:14), Stand for Something (3:50), Secret Society (4:17), Zen Machine (4:07), Mated (3:56), Wildlife (3:36), Mimi Gets Mad (3:44), Mystified (5:21), More Light (3:54) Bonus Tracks: Man Of Action (3:42), Fix Your Gaze, (4:32), Monument (5:39)




Utopia – Redux ‘92: Live In Japan
Utopia – Redux ‘92: Live In Japan
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD/DVD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLECS 22238
Year of Release:1993/2011
Time:CD 78:51
DVD 55:02
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:N/A

Tracklist:

CD: Fix Your Gaze (4:23), Zen Machine (4:42), Trapped (3:10), Princess Of The Universe (3:28), Abandon City (4:55), Hammer In My Heart (4:30), Swing To The Right (4:57), The Ikon (4:38), Hiroshima (7:24), Back On The Street (4:28), Only Human (6:20), Love In Action (3:42), Caravan (7:56), Last Of The New Wave Riders (5:28), One World (3:27) Love Is The Answer (5:20)

DVD: Behind The Scenes, Fix Your Gaze, Princess Of The Universe, Hammer In My Heart, Back On The Street, Hiroshima, Love In Action, Caravan, Last Of The New Wave Riders, One World, Love Is The Answer, Just One Victory (55:02)




During the 70’s Todd Rundgren was one of the most prolific artists around, specializing in tuneful radio friendly rock-pop as well as producing numerous other acts including The Band, Steve Hillage, Tom Robinson and Meat Loaf’s legendary Bat Out Of Hell. If this wasn’t enough in 1973 when progressive rock was at its peak the enterprising Mr. Rundgren formed his own prog band Utopia (not to be confused with the current Italian band of the same name). Their 1974 debut album Todd Rundgren's Utopia received a particularly glowing review in one of the music journals at the time (the NME as I recall) prompting me to go out and buy it. A curious blend of live and studio recordings, the musicianship was top notch but sadly it didn’t live up to the reviewer’s euphoria, sounding a tad too close to YesClose To The Edge (from two years earlier) with a sprinkling of ELP for good measure.

It was at this point Utopia and I parted company as they continued on through the 70’s and into the 80’s remaining active as both a recording and live act. Thanks to these re-mastered reissues from Esoteric I have the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the band, albeit the latter part of their career. The albums are reviewed in chronological order based on the original release dates and include the two final studio recordings Oblivion (1984) and POV (1985). The former has been expanded with the European debut of a live DVD recorded in 1981 and first released on video in 1985. The review is rounded off with another CD/DVD package Redux ‘92: Live In Japan (1993). The title speaks for itself and documents the band’s 90’s reunion and subsequent tour.

If there was a general consensus in the early 80’s that prog had had its day, Rundgren and his colleagues were clearly not going to argue. As a result Oblivion released in January 1984 sees the band jumping on the synth-pop bandwagon that was sweeping the charts and clubs at the time. This is despite the fact that the line-up of Rundgren (vocals, guitar), Kasim Sulton (vocals, bass) Roger Powell (vocals, keyboards) and Willie Wilcox (vocals, drums) had also been responsible for the musically ambitious (if overblown) second studio album Ra seven years earlier.

Whilst the songs on Oblivion are admittedly catchy at times, the Fairlight crashes and plodding synthetic drums sound predictable and dated. The likes of the Thompson Twins, Thomas Dolby, A Flock Of Seagulls and Sparks come readily to mind with Bring Me My Longbow reminiscent of the latter’s electro-pop anthem Beat The Clock. Utopia’s American roots are still evident on tracks like Welcome To My Revolution mainly thanks to the polished vocal style and high harmonies. If I Didn't Try for example could easily be described as Darryl Hall and John Oates meets The Human League. Blue eyed soul is also evident in Maybe I Could Change, Rundgren’s production work with Hall and Oates during the 70’s clearly left its mark. Too Much Water has an infectious dance rhythm that borders on Michael Jackson territory and although Cry Baby was also released as a single (the promo video appears on the accompanying DVD), like the album it failed to set the charts alight.

I shouldn’t write Oblivion off too soon however because the bonus DVD makes it a far more credible and entertaining affair. Filmed in 1981, Utopia (with family members in tow) are shown arriving at Detroit’s Royal Oak Theater before mounting the stage for a tight and energetic performance. The picture, audio and sound balance is uniformly excellent with the material predating Oblivion and being all the better for it. The band’s stage wear of matching army fatigues looks cool and suits Rundgren’s restless stage presence which is clearly modelled on Pete Townsend. The musicianship is rock solid throughout with some fine (and progressive) guitar and keyboard interplay particularly during Caravan from the Adventures In Utopia album released the year before. The counterpoint harmonies during The Wheel are impressively executed and the crowd pleasing soft rock ballad Love Is The Answer is a predictable inclusion. Ironically however it’s when Rundgren announces a tune from his latest solo album that they receive one of the strongest audience reactions of the evening.

Despite the disappointing sales for Oblivion, Utopia decided to return to the studio the following year for one last ditch effort, 1985’s POV. This time they dispensed with much of the synth-pop trappings (although there were still traces in songs like Zen Machine) in favour of their more customary American power-pop style with displays of Bryan Adams pretentions. Again the tracks average around the radio friendly three to four minute mark and the shadow of Hall & Oates still looms large in songs like Mated (which was also released as single). Wildlife on the other hand could easily be the work of Billy Joel. Overall however despite the repetitive choral hooks, the songs are mostly dull and uninspired with the same monotonous keyboard and drum tone throughout. The album sounds like it was put together by a computer rather than the group of talented musicians witnessed on the Royal Oak DVD.

Unsurprisingly POV sold even less than its predecessor and the following year, deciding that enough was enough, Utopia called it a day. A posthumous compilation album Trivia appeared in 1986 which included two previously unreleased songs Fix Your Gaze and Monument. Appearing as bonus tracks on the CD version of POV they are two of the better songs suggesting that beneath the programmed drums there is a more than capable rock band trying to break out. Also included is a song called Man Of Action which was originally the B side of the Mated single.

Nearly seven years after disbanding, the band was approached with the offer of a Japanese tour (where Utopia remained popular). Deciding that it was too good on opportunity to pass up, Rundgren, Sulton, Powell and Wilcox arrived in Japan in May 1992 for a short but successful run of gigs including the Gotanda Kani Hoken Hall, Toyko on the 10th May. Despite the limited rehearsal time, the resulting CD Redux ’92 finds the band in excellent form performing a diverse range of songs spanning their twelve year career. They cover all the bases including hard rock (Hammer In My Heart, Love In Action) a slow ballad (Only Human), jazz-funk (Abandon City), pop (Zen Machine, Love Is The Answer) even the occasional Queen style anthem (One World) which would have gone down a storm at Live Aid. For me however the highlight is a prog sequence around the midway point which pairs a drastically abridged but brilliantly performed instrumental Ikon (the original was over 30 minutes) with a bombastic and vocal heavy Hiroshima from Ra. The former features stunning bass and drum work from the Sulton/Wilcox partnership.

The video and CD versions of Redux ’92 received separate releases in May 1993 but thanks to Esoteric are united here for the first time as a double disc package. Interestingly, whilst the DVD omits several songs, it encores with Just One Victory which (due to space constraints) is conspicuously absent from the CD. The production values are even better than the Royal Oak DVD with pin sharp images and sound whilst the sizable venue is a clear indication of Utopia’s standing with their Japanese fanbase. Also like Royal Oak the sound options include 5.1 surround. Highlights include an adrenalin fuelled Hammer In My Heart, a memorable Back On The Street (with lead vocals by Sulton) and a note perfect Caravan (with lead vocals by Powell) but disappointingly no Ikon. With the exception of Love Is The Answer and Just One Victory the normally faultless vocals are not always pitch perfect (with Rundgren sounding a tad hoarse in places) but overall it makes for one enjoyable viewing and listening experience.

Of the three releases reviewed here, Redux ’92 is by far the cream of the crop and although Oblivion trails some way behind it earns a convincing second place thanks to the addition of a quality DVD. A poor third is POV which despite the bonus tracks has, with the exception of Esoteric’s superb re-mastering and repackaging, little else to recommended it. Its very tellingly I feel that Redux ’92 features only one song from POV and nothing from Oblivion. My final ratings are therefore coloured by Esoteric’s excellent work even though the source material doesn’t always justify such attention to detail.

In the booklet liner notes Rundgren comments that when it came to recording the two final studio albums they faced an uphill struggle due to a lack of record company support and individuals putting personal interests before the band. On the evidence here it was not a loss of faith by either the record label or the audience that proved to be Utopia’s downfall but a lack of focus and vision by the band themselves. They seemed to lose sight of the fact that they were a good rock band capable of producing good rock music.

Conclusions:

Oblivion : 6 out of 10
POV : 5 out of 10
Redux ‘92: Live In Japan : 7 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Keith Christmas - Tomorrow Never Ends: The Anthology 1974-1976
Keith Christmas - Tomorrow Never Ends: The Anthology 1974-1976
Country of Origin:UK
Format:2CD
Record Label:Esoteric/Manticore
Catalogue #:MANTCD 21012
Year of Release:2010
Time:CD 1 69:37
CD 2 39:05
Info:Keith Christmas
Samples:Click here

Tracklist:

CD 1: Brighter Day (1974) Brighter Day (6:15), Foothills (3:59), Country Farm (2:53), The Bargees (6:06), Lovers' Cabaret (4:30), Robin Head (4:48), Gettin' Religion (4:23), Could Do Better (4:46), Song Of A Drifter (3:07) Bonus Tracks: Brighter Day [first version] (7:46), Foothills [first version] (4:08), Robin Head [first version] (4:52), Lovers' Cabaret [first version] (4:33), Sweet Changes [b side] (4:14), My Girl [1975 single a side] (3:09)

CD 2: Stories From The Human Zoo (1976) The Dancer (4:28), The Nature Of The Man (3:32), 3 Golden Rules (4:12), Souvenir Affair (2:55), The Last Of The Dinosaurs (4:37), The Astronaut [Who Wouldn't Come Down] (3:14), High Times (6:19), Tomorrow Never Ends (4:04), Life In Babylon (5:41)

Keith Christmas is a relatively unknown artist although he has certainly mingled with the best of them. From playing venues on the same bills as guitar legends such as John Renbourn, Davy Graham and Bert Jansch, playing on David Bowie's Space Oddity album and appearing at the very first Glastonbury Festival, his recorded musical history extends way back to 1969 when he was an up and coming folk artist. In the early 70s he was support artist of choice for bands as varied as King Crimson, Argent, Ten Years After and The Who but with three albums under his belt, all recorded whilst he was a university student, just when it seemed his musical career seemed about to take off the young graduate was left high and dry when his management and production company was closed by owner Sandy Robertson. Still being a relatively naive youngster he believed Robertson when he told him there was no one interested in giving him a deal, so he packed his bags, moved to Somerset and started a commune. And there his musical aspirations might have ended had it not been for ELP lyricist Pete Sinfield buying a house nearby and becoming friends with Christmas. Writing music to some of Sinfield's lyrics (most notably Hanging Fire which was included on the bonus disc of the Esoteric/Manticore reissue of Stillusion) Christmas impressed Greg Lake and was promptly signed to the Manticore roster.

First fruits of the collaboration were the 1974 album Brighter Day which occupies the first disc of this collection. Produced by Pete Sinfield, with assistance on four tracks by Greg Lake, the album features an assortment of players, the most notable of which include a trio of ex-Crimsons (Mel Collins, Ian McDonald and Ian Wallace), a couple of members of Joe Cocker's Grease Band (Alan Spenner and Neil Hubbard) and a musician who has played with everyone from Gravy Train and Procol Harum to Paladin and Whitesnake (Pete Solly). The music is somewhat eclectic: The Bargees is a veritable cowboy lament with Tommy Reilly providing distinctive harmonica, Country Farm has the style of Clifford T Ward, the horn dominated Brighter Day is several years ahead of its time with its funky, dance-like beat (maybe it was hearing this song that led to Motown issuing the album in the US), while the combination of electric piano and Moog synthesiser on Foothills takes things in a totally different direction. The folk story-telling tradition is evident on Gettin' Religion, a country blues tune about how the hippies went from dropping acid to worshiping Gurus, and Robin Head the tale of a drug dealing outlaw in Nottingham which might explain why he was surrounded by such Merry Men! Lover's Cabaret features some marvellous flute from Collins which is very reminiscent of some of the work he did with Camel a few years later. Solly's electric piano and the overall arrangement makes this a truly great song. Throughout Christmas plays acoustic guitar and sings with an easy flowing voice, no more so than on original album closer Song Of A Drifter. Bonus tracks include four early versions of songs from the album, all sufficiently different to warrant their inclusion; Sweet Changes a delicate solo acoustic number that was the b-side of the title track lifted as a single from the album; and a rather limp and heavily orchestrated version of Smokey Robinson's My Girl that was included on the US version of the album in place of Gettin' Religion.

More touring supporting such diverse acts as Frank Zappa, Roxy Music, Hawkwind, Captain Beefheart and The Kinks failed to elevate Christmas above support act, possibly due to the fact that he never had the opportunity to develop his own audience, constantly playing with bands that would largely have drawn very different followers. Still, the fact that he was contracted onto these tours suggests that he was a competent and entertaining performer as invariably he played solo. The second album of this collection, 1976's Stories From The Human Zoo, was recorded in Malibu and Hollywood in deepest California with the likes Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn (both from Booker T & The MGs), Snuffy Walden, David Kemper and William "Smitty" Smith providing the musical backing. The results are much more upbeat than on Brighter Day with a lot more electric guitar, the odd splashes of Hammond organ and plenty of jaunty piano. With the likes of Cropper on guitar there are some fantastic displays of six string virtuosity, no better displayed than on 3 Golden Rules which has several solos played simultaneously. Lyrically, the album is much more introspective, as might be gained from some of the song titles: Souvenir Affair, a lovely number that is the equivalent of Lover's Cabaret on the first disc whilst The Last Of The Dinosaurs tells of the ephemeral nature of stardom - perhaps Christmas was already away that the musical environment was changing. The Astronaut [Who Wouldn't Come Down] is the highlight of the album with great performances all round, some lovely backing vocals, an expressive string accompaniment, wild guitar sounds and suitable spacey synth sounds. At the opposite end of the spectrum there is the more folky High Times, although again, the arrangement brings the song out from too much introspection. As an aside, some of the string and horn arrangements on the album were scored by Cat Stevens, and there is a certain affinity in the style of the two artists. The closing number, Life In Babylon, is the most forthright and upbeat number on the album, complimented, again, by some stellar guitar playing.

Unfortunately, the album disappeared upon release as it was particularly unsuited to the times, what with Punk on the doorstep and Manticore failing as a label. Christmas wandered into involuntary retirement from the stage starting a renovation and home repair business before entering the teaching profession. It was to be 16 years before he stepped back into a recording studio again. It's a shame as Christmas is a fine singer and songwriter, who slips easily between styles and genres. This double CD is a nice collection of good songs with Stories From The Human Zoo having the most to offer the general progressive fan, even though one would be hard pushed to classify much of the material on these CDs as prog. However, for ardent collectors of ELP-related material and/or the Manticore label, this complete collection of Christmas' recorded work for the label is a real boon.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Deuter – D
Deuter – D
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric/Reactive
Catalogue #:EREACD1008
Year of Release:1971/2010
Time:40:09
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Babylon (15:00), Der Turm / Fluchtpunkt: Der Turm / Fluchtpunkt (4:31), Krishna Eating Fish And Chips (10:16), Atlantis (6:07), Gammastrahlen - Lamm (5:07)

The album D by Deuter, released originally in 1971 is re-issued now as a re-master under Esoteric Recording’s Reactive label, formed for the very purpose of bringing the old German label Kuckuck Schallplatten recordings back to life.

This was Deuter’s debut and it was a pioneering and original work that has no similar predecessor, (to my knowledge), that draws on a variety of instruments and synth sounds to create the broad sound effects and loops that fill the space so widely (considering the ambient classification.) The album opens with its magnum opus, Babylon, which is a 15-minute jarring piece of uneasiness and repeating themes marked with a heavy sound and complicated sounding arrangements.

The uneasiness continues thereafter and despite the “ambient” moniker for much of his work, this album doesn’t quite fit that term as it has come to be known. This is a conflagration of coarse emotion that moves between the angry and disenfranchised. To accomplish this mood, he uses electronic and acoustic means combined to draw into the fray multiple angles of influence – maybe positing a multicultural urban tension? I cannot be sure but as much as I don’t care for this style of music, I can’t help but to garner vivid visuals when listening to this much in the same way Future Sound Of London does.

The instrumentation makes use primarily of Indian and other mid and far Eastern influences that don’t exactly evoke the psychedelic or hippie genre popularized around this time. This is a roller coaster of intermingled staccato and hurried drama that runs around and around into a dizzying maelstrom; it’s gritty and even nerve-wracking.

Without the original recording, I don’t know the extent of the improvements made by these re-masters. I can say that the sound quality does not lack despite the reliance on effects that normally benefit greatly by modern recording techniques. Certainly that is a testament to the ingenious abilities of Deuter to make it right in the first place 40 years ago.

My preferences fall outside this type of music and Deuter’s diversity makes this release unusual to his more contemporary fare such as Koyasan and Mystery Of Light where his music is relaxing and meditative, but I do recognize the talent and ability that it took to make a career that remains active today. Its value may lie in its historical significance as a game-changer in the electronic landscape, but for me there isn’t much to enjoy.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10

BRENDAN BOWEN



Deuter – Aum
Deuter – Aum
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric/Reactive
Catalogue #:EREACD1009
Year of Release:1972/2010
Time:43:50
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Phoenix (2:42), Aum (2:08), Soham (4:58), Offener Himmel I / Gleichzeitig (5:38), Offener Himmel II (2:32), Sattwa (1:34), Morning Glory (2:23), Soma (2:01), Surat Shadba (2:40), Abraxas (1:57), Susani (8:07), The Key (7:00)

Esoteric Recordings has re-mastered and rereleased the 1972 instrumental Deuter album Aum under the Reactive sub-label. Deuter is a German native who has made a pursuit of learning and playing as many instruments as possible. He has released over 50 albums to date and has stayed mainly within the relaxation arena of ambient.

The re-release of Aum and D is a good reminder of the pioneering work Deuter did to help introduce the world to this type of music in the main 40 years ago. His Krautrock influence, along with Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schultze among others are recognized as the beginnings of electronic, ambient, psychedelia, and combinations of these subgenres.

Unlike D, the album released a year previous, this one is an almost complete departure from D wherein he invokes more natural tones, uses stillness to convey mood, and relies on sound effects found in nature such as flowing water. However, Aum still uses the mid and far eastern strumming and percussive repertoire of instruments of its predecessor. Gone is the tension and almost all sounds come from Deuter playing acoustic instruments.

The new album sleeve tells the story of Georg Deuter (renamed to just Deuter) with some interesting details, so if you are a fan who already has the music, this re-master with the new package might be worth the reinvestment.

Keep in mind that this is a long way back from the current Deuter music of well polished, orchestrated, lilting, clean, delicate ambient relaxation music so if it is music to get a massage to, go new. If you seek an active listen from Deuter’s past, Aum will keep you interested and entertained. This album doesn’t sound dated and it has plenty of variety and is well recorded.

Hopefully Reactive keeps re-mastering and keeping the history alive.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

BRENDAN BOWEN



Here & Now – All Over The Show
Here & Now – All Over The Show
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2223
Year of Release:1979/2010
Time:57:02
Info:Esoteric Info
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Think For Yourself (3:43), Open Door (3:38), 70s Youth (3:05), Surgeon’s Knife (11:24), Little Things (5:26), Only Way (6:17), Jam (5:53), End Of The Beginning (3:19) Bonus Tracks: Choke A Koala (4:49), End Of The Beginning (3:28)

”Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano Player” pleads the title of one of Elton John’s 1973 albums. Well, I’m sorry, but by the middle of the fourth track of this re-issued 1979 live album, one is ready to do precisely that! Not only does the keyboard sound as though it’s the cheapest form of Casio, but the playing is inane. Add to that the fact that the mix on this - albeit re-mastered - live recording doesn’t do this instrument any favours by making it prominent, and we have the major ingredient for an unmitigated disaster.

Thankfully, there then comes some improvement, like the proverbial cavalry over the hill. The second half of Surgeon’s Knife features an extended jam that veers from sung new-wave/punk towards instrumental space-rock and the rhythmic invention at last gives one’s auditory senses something to grasp. The start of Little Things reverts to type, with only a brief, but welcome, hint of the space-rock towards its close.

Here & Now were born of the 1976 punk revolution and also found favour with the hippy/underground following via their collaborations with Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth in Planet Gong, as well as their policy of not charging admission to gigs.

The remainder of the live concert varies between these extremes of pleasant enough jamming and poor new wave/punk. The bonus tracks are a re-issue of both sides of the band’s rare 1979 single and the music benefits from the better sound quality.

I have enjoyed new wave/punk bands, both at the time of the “revolution” and now, but Here & Now missed my radar at the time. On the strength of this album, I would say that unless you are a previous fan, you are unlikely to gleam much satisfaction from it.

For die-hard fans only!

Conclusion: 4 out of 10

ALEX TORRES


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