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2011 : VOLUME 37
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:


Aardvark - Aardvark
Aardvark - Aardvark
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2286
Year of Release:1970/2011
Time:43:04
Info:N/A
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Copper Sunset (3:18), Very Nice Of You To Call (3:38), Many Things To Do (4:23), The Greencap (6:05), I Can't Stop (5:29), The Outing-Yes (9:39), Once Upon A Hill (2:55), Put That In Your Pipe And Smoke It (7:34)

The curiously named Aardvark (one suspects they chose their name more for the fact that they would appear at the top of any alphabetical listing rather than for any artistic purposes) hailed from the UK releasing a sole album on the Deram Nova label in 1970. The quartet were quite unusual in that they lacked a guitarist, the main musical drive coming from organist Steve Milliner who was joined by bassist Stan Aldous, drummer Frank Clark and vocalist David Skillin. None of the group had a particularly distinguished musical pedigree and seemed to have been assembled to add musical backing to Skillin's poetry, although Skillin himself is credited with most of the writing which includes plenty of lengthy instrumental passages. One suspects that Skillin came up with basic song structures which were presented to the band to add colour to the sketches as there is a degree of looseness and improvisation evident throughout the album. Given these improvisational skills it is surprising that the band mostly existed in the studio and rarely ventured out into live performance. The album was not particularly well supported by Deram upon release and failed to sell confining the group to relative obscurity. However, it was not entirely forgotten, I have a Japanese CD copy that came out several years ago (actually on the Deram label) so interest in the album has survived.

That the band is not entirely forgotten is a testament to the strength of the music which is typical of the era, heavy Hammond organ (heavily fuzzed on opener Copper Sunset), melodic bass, busy drummer and vocal lines that carry the melody. With Milliner being the only soloist there is limited interplay between instruments but fortunately the keyboard player has talent enough to carry the day. Skillin has a rich and warm voice that suits both the more aggressive tracks and the songs that have a more mellow element, such as the excellent Very Nice Of You To Call on which Milliner shines through on piano and the improvisational nature of the music is evident. Many Things To Do has hints of psychedelic pop although drummer Clark steals the show with some fluid and insistent fills that dominate throughout. The mix of organ and piano may be one reason that the band rarely played live as to replicate to fullness of the song a second keyboard player would have been required. The first two vocal lines on The Greencap sound as if they have been sung through a broken megaphone, with the next two lines being sung normally, not that it really matters as they are the only words in the song, being repeated towards the end of the number. The rest of the piece is an instrumental work out that is will delight Hammond organ fans Milliner really putting the instrument through its paces. On this evidence he is on a par with the other great Hammond proponents of the late sixties and early seventies, such as Jon Lord and Keith Emerson. Milliner also plays the marimba the staccato rhythm of which provides a nice contrast to the more fluid keyboard lines.

A jazzier approach is adopted for I Can't Stop which has a rather looser feel to it. That and the unrepresentatively poor lyrics make the song one of the least enjoyable on the album for me, at least it would be if it were not for the closing minute or so which is of an entirely different nature and sounds a bit like Deep Purple in full flight, even without a guitarist. Seriousness is dropped completely for The Outing with its comedic lyrics and jokey delivery, in spite of which it is quite enjoyable but pales into insignificance as the song morphs into Yes, 7.5 minutes of musical madness that would not have been out of place on one of the early King Crimson albums. The three musicians wrangle an extraordinary array of sounds from their instruments and, with the exception of the vibes (also played by Milliner), it is hard to fathom out how they were created. After the chaos, there is a seamless segue into Once Upon A Hill which displays some medieval/folky influences with Milliner again being the multi instrumentalist star introducing recorders and celeste into the mix. This fine song is the only one not penned by Skillin, the writing credits going to bassist Aldous instead. Again there is no break at the end of the song which, courtesy of some growling Hammond heads right into Put That In Your Pipe And Smoke It. From the off it is a relentless onslaught, a three-way battle between bass, drums and organ each instrument frantically trying to gain dominance. This is classic heavy prog than could only have come out of London in the seventies and I love it! Studio logs indicate the band recorded another version of this song that stretched to past the 11-minute mark. Sadly this version, along with two tracks that were to be released as a single (Staircase To Nowhere cw The Wall) have been lost from the Deram archives which is a shame as they would have been great bonus tracks!

As always, Esoteric have excelled in making the music sound brilliant and providing an informative, photo-packed booklet, which complements the release even if it does frustrate by providing the information on the three lost tracks! As for the musicians of Aardvark, well, they seemed to fall off the musical radar after the band split not long after the album's release, which is a great shame as Aldous, Clark and particularly Milliner were a force to be reckoned with. As for Skillin, well he also seems to have disappeared following his lyrical contribution to The Alchemist by Home. However, the quartets' fine album is now readily available again and should sit nicely in the collection of all 70s prog freaks.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Isotope - Isotope
Isotope - Isotope
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2272
Year of Release:1974/2011
Time:40:43
Info:Gary Boyle
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Then There Were Four (4:09), Do The Business (4:42), Oh Little Fat Man (5:20), Sunshine Park (3:57), Bite On This (2:21), Upward Curve (5:43), Retracing My Steps (4:58), Windmills And Waterfalls (3:30), Honkey Donkey (6:07)




Isotope - Illusion
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2273
Year of Release:1975/2011
Time:41:52
Info:Gary Boyle
Samples:Click here
Isotope - Illusion

Tracklist: Illusion (3:54), Rangoon Creeper (6:01), Spanish Sun (7:50), E-Dorian (2:01), Frog (2:31), Sliding Dogs / Lion Sandwich (5:58), Golden Section (5:15), Marin County Girl (2:10), Lily Kong (2:32), Temper Tantrum (3:46)




Isotope - Deep End
Isotope - Deep End
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD/DVD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2274
Year of Release:1976/2011
Time:65:12
Info:Gary Boyle
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Mr. M’s Picture (4:54), Crunch Cake (3:55), Another Side (4:00), Black Sand (5:45), Pip Dream (6:27), Attila (4:25), Fonebone (4:25), Deep End (8:22), Mr. M’s Picture [2001 Remix] (4:54), Crunch Cake [2001 Remix] (3:55), Black Sand [2001 Remix] (5:55), Deep End [2001 Remix] (8:18)




Isotope was a British jazz-rock band founded in 1972 by guitarist Gary Boyle whilst a member of Stomu Yamash’ta’s East Wind as was drummer Nigel Morris. They were joined by Brian Miller (keys), who had worked with Tom Jones and Sandie Shaw, and former Nucleus bassist Jeff Clyne for the self-titled debut released in early 1974 which continued the fusion tradition pioneered by Tony Williams’ Lifetime and Mahavishnu Orchestra.

The debut introduces their busy sound with fantastic playing from all concerned, Miller, who also wrote most of the material, especially worthy of note on electric piano. After working the material through in live settings the band gel particularly well on this first effort. Boyle contributes numerous blinding solos and Clyne’s bass burbles underneath to great effect with Morris supplying the accents. After the frenetic opening trio of tracks the lyrical Sunshine Park slows things down before the tension is ramped up again. Upward Curve is reminiscent of Chick Corea while Retracing My Steps is more rhythmic, Boyle providing flashes of John McLaughlin. Windmills And Waterfalls is as delicate as the title suggests with some lovely acoustic from Boyle but it is the more frantic tracks that underline what the band was all about and how they were more than capable of measuring up to the likes of Return To Forever as evidenced on Boyle’s Honkey Donkey, the only non-Miller composition. Boyle mentions in the notes that the album was recorded in just a couple of days with all the tracks taken from first or second takes. This remastered version certainly improves the sound quality but it still seems a bit “dense” as albums from this time often do but it is a very enjoyable listen.

Miller and Clyne left in 1974 over disagreements on the direction the band should take and were replaced by Laurence Scott and Hugh Hopper, respectively for the second album, Illusion. The personnel change is immediately noticeable in the more expansive sound and greater depth with expanded use of synthesizers. Ex-Soft Machine Hopper, who had played with Boyle and Morris in Yamash’ta’s group, provided four of the tracks here in addition to his trademark bass, whilst Scott, who was, bizarrely, working as a dentist when he joined, offers two - including signature piece Rangoon Creeper with stomping start exploding into another McLaughlin-esque solo from Boyle. Boyle truly emerges as leader here and provides three writing credits plus a joint one with Morris who drives the music along in Billy Cobham style, particularly on the title track. Spanish Sun is as evocative as some of Corea’s Latin works. E-Dorian and Frog are brief but very inventive and the new members shine on Sliding Dogs / Lion Sandwich. Temper Tantrum produces a fitting climax with an exciting mix of McLaughlin and Return To Forever. The band signed to Motown in the U.S.; a strange fit but it helped them tour there in 1975 which was rare for a band of their stature at the time. The source material must have been of better quality than the debut as the remaster sounds crisp and fresh.

Deep End followed in 1976 with another line-up change that saw Dan K. Brown join on bass plus two keyboardists; Frank Roberts and Zoë Kronberger who was actually Scott’s girlfriend whom he put forward as his replacement. Boyle takes the majority of writing credits with contributions from the rest of the group. Fonebone is clearly left over from the earlier band, written by Hopper and with contributions from himself and Scott who also wrote Pipe Dream. Mr. M’s Picture kicks things off with the usual driving drums but the change in key texture is at once noticeable, Kronberger and Roberts swirling around each other with synth and electric piano. Roberts’ Crunch Cake is cool and funky while Kronberger’s Another Side is chilled out and acoustic. Overall there is a good spread of material with generally a funkier vibe and the performances are all first rate. Production comes from Brand X’s Robin Lumley and that bands Morris Pert also adds guest percussion. Again, the remaster is good and this reissue also includes 2001 remixes of 4 of the tracks that give a smoother feel and more scope for the electric piano to roam with Deep End and Black Sand getting additional percussion which gives the latter a more Eastern feel.

Isotope were about to step up to the next level by embarking on the recording of their fourth album in the States with Billy Cobham producing but changes in the timing of an ongoing Cobham project meant that Motown cancelled an extensive tour that had been planned to support the album and the group quietly disbanded, Boyle focusing on a solo career which continues to this day.

Most of the tracks are short and punchy, the band resisting the temptation to stretch things out too far which is a good thing and keeps it interesting. Miller states in the notes that the initial intention was to write small and allow the opportunity for improvisation in the live setting where the band excelled. There is no display of ego here and the music benefits from a true ”all for one” feel. There is a rawness and exuberance, all three albums being consistent and enjoyable with superb playing and you have to wonder what this band would have gone on to do if the fates had been kinder.

Why Boyle’s name isn’t more widely recognised is a mystery as his playing on these albums is uplifting and compelling. I briefly met him in the mid-‘80s as a friend of mine knew him and a very nice chap he was too. He no longer plays with the fire that he did as a younger man but his reputation in jazz circles is well deserved. Esoteric are to be congratulated on these timely reissues which will hopefully introduce more listeners to what a fine outfit Isotope were. The sound quality is excellent with the possible exception of the debut, and the liners entertaining and well written by the wonderful Sid Smith featuring interviews with Boyle and others involved at the time. Highly recommended.

Conclusions:

Isotope : 8 out of 10
Illusion : 8.5 out of 10
Deep End : 8 out of 10

JEZ ROWDEN



The Tony Williams Lifetime - Emergency!
The Tony Williams Lifetime - Emergency!
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2256
Year of Release:1969/2011
Time:70:49
Info:Wikipedia
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Emergency! (9:35), Beyond Games (8:20), Where (12:09), Vashkar (4:58), Via The Spectrum Road (7:50), Spectrum (9:52), Sangria For Three (13:08), Something Special (5:38)

The Tony Williams Lifetime - Turn It Over
Country of Origin:USA
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2257
Year of Release:1970/2011
Time:38:32
Info:Wikipedia
Samples:Click here
The Tony Williams Lifetime - Turn It Over

Tracklist: To Whom It May Concern - Them (4:21), To Whom It May Concern - Us (2:56), This Night This Song (3:45), Big Nick (2:46), Right On (1:51), Once I Loved (5:11), Vuelta Abajo (4:59), A Famous Blues (4:12) Allah Be Praised (4:38) Bonus Track: One World (3:47)

Always a bit of a strange proposition really The Tony Williams Lifetime band, a band whose line up changed from album to album. For their debut and sophomore albums, Emergency! and Turn It Over respectively are seen by their fans as their best releases, which is something I can only agree with.

Always a band that had stellar musicians, Tony Williams (drums), John McLaughlin (guitar) and Larry Young (organ and bass pedals) and by their second release Jack Bruce (bass). Tony Williams had a knack of surrounding himself with excellent musicians; a later line up would even see the inclusion of Allan Holdsworth for one album.

1969 saw the release of the seminal Emergency! album, by a band that had its feet firmly fixed in jazz, rock and fusion. As an album it has stood the test of time, being ground breaking, an album that seriously divided its critics on its initial release.

With the passing of 42 years, with advancements in technology, sonically Emergency! still falls down; I have heard several releases of this album and they all fall into the same trap. Esoteric may have used 24 bit Digital Remastering to clean up the recording, but to be quite frank its sonic presentation is still flat, almost one dimensional in places but it is the best version I’ve heard. Turn It Over did fair better although it too does sound stilted at times too.

As with Miles Davis, Williams always prided himself as an inventive leader staying ahead of the curve, his dynamic, intense and at time frenetic drumming complemented the styles of both McLaughlin and Young, which they both grabbed with both hands, allowing them to display both their prowess and craftsmanship.

Larry Young chose to use the Hammond organ departing from the traditional jazz organ which allowed his work to be more ethereal, textures and tones that swirled and imbued the music like a free spirit, taking the music to the next level, which is pretty much what the band set out to do and accomplished.

John McLaughlin took the stance of displaying his inventive and at times savage guitar playing, jabbing at chords, frenzied fretboard assault allowing him to stretch the boundaries, pushing his showmanship to its limits, something that really worked in his favour, being the stepping stone and template for The Mahavishnu Orchestra. In all honesty had Tony Williams Lifetime not existed, there is probably a good chance that the much loved Mahavishnu Orchestra may not have existed as the band in the form that it did.

What was recorded on the album may have been music that was uncompromising and at times confrontational, but putting that all to one side it was eight tracks of stunning musical dexterity, the only downside was Tony Williams’ vocals which weren’t the strongest, but were fitting for the pieces when utilised. You just can’t fault what is being played here, all of which is highly entertaining, almost the DNA for the genre defining the sound for others to follow.

The longer pieces on the album work best such as Emergency!, Where and Sangria For Three, where the shorter pieces break the experience down offering respite, but are no less intense. As an album it is seventy minutes plus of pure exotic and fantastic musical reward.

Turn It Over may have been a shorter affair but it was no less intense having the same restless and turbulent power. The shorter but more direct route served them just as well, this time out the band had a new member, one Jack Bruce, who supplied bass structures allowing Young to focus more on his keyboard interactions. Bruce supplies vocals to the bonus track One World, but in the main the vocals for the rest of the album were supplied by Williams, which didn’t fair any better than on the debut. For me the addition of Bruce was an astute move which allowed the band to be even more focused.

The powerful pairing of two Chick Corea numbers, To Whom It May Concern – Them and To Whom It May Concern – Us two stunning instrumentals that segue perfectly, reminding you what made this band so influential. Even John Coltrane’s Big Nick gets the full treatment leaving you under no illusion about the quality of the music. The other two standout moments are John McLaughlin’s haunting A Famous Blues and Larry Young’s Allah Be Praised which altogether makes for a truely and intense trip, being a rewarding experience for all involved.

So all in all Esoteric have presented us with a pair of important albums that need to be in any discerning jazz collector’s collection, if they aren’t already. The sonics at times may test the patience of some, especially the purists, but hey that’s the fun of the fair.

For me Turn It Over is the stronger of the two albums, but Emergency! is the more important and influential album. Don’t under estimate this pairing which are well worth, like I said, being in your collection.

Conclusions:

Emergency!: 7 out of 10
Turn it Over: 7.5 out of 10

JOHN O'BOYLE



Jon Anderson – In The City Of Angels
Jon Anderson – In The City Of Angels
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2246
Year of Release:1988/2011
Time:51:20
Info:Jon Anderson
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Hold On To Love (4:47), If It Wasn’t For Love [Oneness Family] (4:26), Sundancing [For The Hopi / Navajo Energy] (3:18), Is It Me (4:25), In A Lifetime (4:15), For You (2:58), New Civilisation (4:32), It’s On Fire (4:11), Betcha (4:01), Top Of The World [The Glass Bead Game] (5:26), Hurry Home [Song From The Pleiades] (5:04) Bonus Track: Hold On To Love [Single Version] (3:58)

It shouldn’t have escaped your notice that in addition to Jon Anderson’s latest solo offering Survival And Other Stories there is a new Yes album Fly From Here (minus Anderson) in the wings. When discussing Anderson’s solo career it’s virtually impossible not to reflect on his relationship with Yes, the band he fronted on and off for 40 years. Take In The City Of Angels for example. Released in 1988 this was his fifth solo album and provided a diversion between Yes’ Big Generator (1987) and Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, Howe (1989). At the time Anderson was feeling increasingly marginalized within Yes which prompted his departure following the 87/88 Big Generator tour.

Away from the band he had the potential to create music that was free from the AOR trappings that preoccupied Yes (under the direction of Trevor Rabin) at that time. Ironically In The City Of Angels did not take the progressive route as fans expected instead Anderson opted for a commercial West Coast sound aided by renowned LA producer Stewart Levine. The singer also enlisted the services of Toto members Steve Lukather, David Paich, Jeff Porcaro and Mike Porcaro. As a result it has often been described as a Toto album in everything but the name. Personally I don’t buy into that, for one thing Anderson sounds totally different to singer Bobby Kimball who was the one Toto member conspicuously absent from this album. Paradoxically in 2009 Kimball became part of Yoso, a band that as the name suggests included (mostly ex) Yes and Toto members.

For this working class lad from the North of England In The City Of Angels represents Anderson’s integration into the laidback Californian culture. More significantly it remains his most overtly commercial album to date with the opening song (and single) Hold On To Love being the worst offender. Co-written by Motown legend Lamont Dozier, the characteristically upbeat choral line is clearly modelled on Rabin’s Hold On (from Yes’ 90125). The bland If It Wasn’t For Love [Oneness Family] is a perfect example of Anderson’s earnest but naive belief that love is the answer to all the world’s ills. Such a simplistic view overlooks the fact that even tyrants like Hitler and Gaddafi had the capacity for love.

Sundancing [For The Hopi / Navajo Energy] is Anderson in world music mode with a bubbly keyboard arrangement that would find another home the following year in the ABWH song Fist Of Fire.

Is It Me is the album’s first decent song with a poignant and catchy melody co-written by Rhett Lawrence embellished by fine sax playing from Marc Russo. The classy In A Lifetime is the other song here that Dozier had a hand in. It’s as smooth as newly manufactured silk and would have been a perfect vehicle for Lionel Richie. For You is another sweet ballad with David Paich’s lush keyboard orchestrations bringing the Jon & Vangelis partnership to mind. Anderson reciprocated Toto’s support on this album by singing on Stop Loving You, a song that was recorded around the same time and appeared on The Seventh One album.

The sparkling horns and carnival like percussion of New Civilisation would have not been out of place on a Phil Collins album (particularly the Buster soundtrack). It’s On Fire (like the previous song) is co-credited to keyboardist Don Freemam and it’s a fine effort. This is one of two songs here (the other being Hurry Home) that would appear in rearranged (and renamed) form on 1994’s excellent Change We Must album. The cringingly titled Betcha sees Anderson in power pop territory with a lively funk element although John Robinson’s intrusively splashy drum sound dates it badly.

Top Of The World [The Glass Bead Game] suffers the same fate (this time with Jeff Porcaro behind the kit) but it does at least feature some edgy and welcome guitar work from Steve Lukather on what is an otherwise fairly guitar-light collection. The original album concludes with the uplifting Hurry Home [Song From The Pleiades] which may lack the orchestral splendour of the Change We Must version but the massed choir backing has a certain majesty that’s hard to ignore. The bonus track sees Hold On To Love condensed into a more American radio friendly length by lopping 50 seconds off the end.

Although an artist of immense integrity, Jon Anderson by his own admission has continually approached his work with one eye on commercial success. Given the ingredients here (producer, backing musicians, songs) he must have surely felt that he had a winning formula. Sadly it wasn’t to be. Even though the single and corresponding video received a good deal of exposure in the States, album sales remained disappointing. Personally I find it gratifying that JA’s biggest commercial success remains his magnificent 1976 debut Olias Of Sunhillow which fittingly is also the most progressive of all his solo offerings.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Home - Pause For A Hoarse Horse
Home - Pause For A Hoarse Horse
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2269
Year of Release:1971/2011
Time:39:23
Info:Wikipedia
Samples:N/A
Tramp (3:12), Family (3:32), Pause For A Hoarse Horse (3:02), Red E. Lewis And The Red Caps (5:39), In My Time (3:57), How Would It Feel? (3:25), Bad Days (4:04), Mother (3:03), Moses (5:03), Welwyn Garden City Blues (1:19), You're No Good (3:03)

Towards the end of last year DPRP reviewed The Alchemist by the largely forgotten 70s band Home. That album was the third and final release from the band and Esoteric Recordings have now completed the reissue campaign with the remaining two albums, the first of which being Pause For A Hoarse Horse. The quartet of Laurie Wisefield, Cliff Williams, Mick Stubbs and Mick Cook came together in London via an inevitable Melody Maker advertisement at the start of the 1970s and quickly gained a solid reputation as a band to watch out for. So much so that Decca Records signed the group and funded their first recording sessions. However, CBS Records thought Home had considerable potential and bought the album from Decca releasing it themselves, even encasing the album in a gatefold sleeve featuring a painting similar in style to the covers produced by Norman Rockwell for some of the country rock bands in the US. Maybe this and the subject matter, a cowboy walking away from his horse (which looks more dead than hoarse!), has given the album a reputation of being in a similar genre to those US bands. This is a bit unfortunate as although there are some countryish elements included in the album, and it is quite removed from the prog rock of The Alchemist released a mere 18 months later, Pause For A Hoarse Horse deserves more consideration than such a lazy comparison.

The album is quite eclectic and is undoubtedly not as powerful and assured as the band were on stage, after all this was a band who supported Led Zeppelin at a time when Zep rarely engaged support acts. Maybe there was a degree of studio inexperience or an indecision as to what direction the band should take. Opening song Tramp is a rather laid back introduction being a mid tempo number that features some remarkably assured guitar work from the 17-year-old Wisefield that is rather low in the mix. Keyboards can just about be distinguished amongst the backing being played by guest musician Clive John from Man, a connection that arose via producer Mel Baister who had recently worked with the Welsh band on their eponymous third album. Wisefield's fluid guitar continues throughout Family which, along with the title track, bears some comparison with The Band. Red E. Lewis And The Red Caps, named after the band fronted by Stubbs' older brother (which at one point featured a young Jimmy Page), sounds very like the marvellous Stray, particularly in the vocal department, with John adding some Mellotron backing and the two guitarists really blending together for the first time. The structure of the song is fairly loose which would allow plenty of space and opportunity for the group to extend the number during live performances. In My Time is a funkier number with nifty drum patterns and Wisefield's Telecaster spinning lines left, right and centre.

The second side of the vinyl album began with How Would It Feel?, another song that, like the last two songs on side one of the album, would be lengthened on stage (as displayed on the impossible to find BBC Sessions CD, which will hopefully also get the Esoteric re-release treatment. Please!!) The album version of the song is still impressive with the final guitar assault worthy listening indeed. A change of tempo into the more relaxed Bad Days is more reflective with Stubbs providing the melody on acoustic guitar and vocals, Wisefield laying down some top notch lead lines and John and Cook filling in the gaps with swaths of Mellotron and drums, respectively. Mother is the most country sounding number on the album largely due to the violin of John Weider who was at the time playing with Family. I found this song to be the least enjoyable of the set as it seems to lack the coherence of the other songs and has a very unsatisfactory, one could say lazy, ending. Much better is Moses with some mildly psychedelic phased guitar underpinning a robust and confident number that fully displays the potential of the band and once again gives Wisefield a chance to shine. You can largely forget the brief Welwyn Garden City Blues, not at a blues number but a hoedown, as although impressively played sounds more like an in-band joke than anything serious. Final number You're No Good also features Weider and is a rather good time number that also has plenty of honky tonk piano and has Wisefield playing in an almost finger picking style that brings to mind Chet Atkins for some reason!

Pause For A Hoarse Horse is a solid enough debut album from a band that had obviously yet to establish a definitive style. However, there are plenty of indications of things to come and although I consider it the weakest of their three studio albums still has plenty to offer the discerning listener. It is without doubt a fascinating insight into the early seventies music scene where it was the norm for groups to record two albums a year and spend the rest of the time on the road in order to pay off the studio costs! Undeniably intensive and stressful for the groups concerned but equally conducive to development and experimentation.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Home - Home
Home - Home
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2268
Year of Release:1972/2011
Time:41:59
Info:Wikipedia
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Dreamer (5:30), Knave (3:45), Fancy Lady, Hollywood Child (4:05), Rise Up (3:24), Dear Lord (3:00), Baby Friend Of Mine (4:42), Western Front (5:15), Lady Of The Birds (9:13) Bonus Track: Shady Lady (3:02)

Recording of Home's eponymous second LP began a mere month after their first album had been released. Despite, by modern standards, this obscenely short interval, the album saw the band make considerable advances both stylistically and compositionally. Upon release it was hailed by Melody Maker as one of the best efforts of the year, sold over 10,000 copies in the UK alone and missed making the top 40 in the album charts by one place. Part of the credit for the album's success lies with the more coherent and consistent sound and the excellent production of John Anthony, who had achieved critical and commercial success with the likes of Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator and Lindisfarne.

Although many comparisons can be made between Home and other bands, the group that comes to my mind when listening to this album is Badfinger. This is rather odd as ostensibly they are not that similar, it is more in the approach taken and the willingness to explore different musical aspects to produce compositions encompassing a variety of styles but maintaining an overall sound that is distinctively their own. For example, Rise Up is a happy acoustic number with a jaunty bass line, xylophone and plenty of vocal harmonies, while the opening and closing tracks of the album are out and out rockers. The biggest step forward in terms of arrangement is a much greater use of harmony vocals which are provide a smoothness to the delivery. Wisefield is again the star of the show, laying down tasteful guitar licks and thoughtful solos over the rhythms provided by Stubbs, even expanding his repertoire to include steel guitar. Stubbs himself takes on all the keyboard duties which although not extensive do provide clarity and variation, such as on Western Front. As on the first album, he also writes most of the material, the only exceptions being the aforementioned first and last tracks on the original album, Dreamer and Lady Of The Birds, which were written by the whole band. The first of these is a fantastic opening number and it is not surprising that it was used to start live shows. With an initial cry of "Pay Attention!" things immediately set off with Wisefield's and Stubbs' Fender Telecasters fighting it out for dominance with speedy licks battling it out before cohering into harmony. Wah Wah effects are put to great use in the solo which although lasting for about 70 seconds could go on for a lot longer without becoming in the slightest bit boring. It is no wonder that Wishbone Ash were so eager to recruit Wisefield after Home split in 1973.

However, it is Lady Of The Birds that is the real triumph. Having been extensively road tested, when it came time to recording the song the band knew exactly where to take the number and what could be obtained. The opening couple of minutes sets the scene and builds tension before acoustic guitars come to the fore and Cliff Williams coaxes some unusual sounds from his bass guitar by playing it with a violin bow (undoubtedly a technique copied from Jimmy Page!) Eventually, harmony vocals echo the bowed bass riff, guitar flourishes ramp up the tempo, the bow is land down, the drummer starts hitting more than just his cymbals and the soloing begins. Wonderful! As a bonus the b-side Shady Lady has been appended to the running order. Much more in style with the music on the first album it comes as a bit of a shock after the delights of the previous track. Although somewhat of a fun, joke song (and in that respect a typical b-side) it is not a long-lost classic but nice to have for the completists amongst us. The importance of this song lies with the fact that it was the first time that Dave Skillen provided lyrics for the band, a collaboration that continued when he wrote all the lyrics for Home's definitive prog album, The Alchemist.

Although as different from the album that preceded it to the album that followed, Home is nevertheless a wonderful album from a band who deserve to be rescued from obscurity and given a higher profile than they have enjoyed since their untimely demise.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

MARK HUGHES



Tangerine Dream – Sunrise In The Third System
Tangerine Dream – Sunrise In The Third System
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:2CD
Record Label:Esoteric/Reactive
Catalogue #:EREACD 21014
Year of Release:2011
Time:CD 1 68:20
CD 2 68:24
Info:Tangerine Dream
Samples:N/A

Tracklist:

CD 1: Genesis (5:57), Journey Through A Burning Brain (12:23), Alpha Centauri (22:04), Sunrise In The Third System (4:20), Ultima Thule [Part One] (3:24), Birth Of Liquid Plejades (20:00)

CD 2: Zeit (17:43), Atem (20:24), Wahn (4:29), Green Desert (19:23), Indian Summer (6:53)

The Tangerine Dream story began appropriately in September 1967 when psychedelia was at its height. Formed by guitarist Edgar Froese, the band underwent the usual shape shifting in the early years before settling on the line-up of Froese, Klaus Schulze (drums) and Conrad Schnitzler (cello, electronics, and violin). After establishing a reputation for their lengthy improvised stage shows influenced by avant-garde electronic composers and early psychedelic Pink Floyd they entered a Berlin studio in October 1969 and surfaced shortly after with the tapes that would become the 1970 debut album Electronic Meditation. Following the recording Schulze, and soon after Schnitzler bailed out to be replaced by Christopher Franke and Steve Schroyder respectively. Schulze of course would go on to a successful solo career that parralled Tangerine Dream’s own ascension. Schroyder hung around long enough to participate in 1971’s Alpha Centuari before bowing out to make way for another keyboardist Peter Baumann.

The defining trio of Froese, Franke and Baumann was now firmly established and would remain so until 1977 developing and shaping the recognisable Tangerine Dream sound. This began with the double album Zeit (1972) followed by Atem (1973), cementing the band’s popularity in their home country and also the UK thanks to the patronage of legendary London based DJ John Peel. These albums were imported from Germany as part of the so called ‘Krautrock’ invasion and proved to be very popular with a growing progressive rock audience even though the sound that typified the German bands was more earthy and rhythmic, hell you could even dance to some of it!

The Sunrise In The Third System anthology covers the years 1970 to 1973 and is subtitled ‘The Pink Years’, a vague reference to the colour of their record label at the time. More significantly I feel it could also be seen as a reference to one of Froese’s prime influences, namely early Pink Floyd. All four albums Electronic Meditation, Alpha Centauri, Zeit and Atem released on the German OHR label are very well represented across the two discs along with Green Desert which was recorded in 1973 but not released until 13 years later.

Not originally intended for release, Electronic Meditation was very much an experimental exercise recorded on a two-track Revox machine and it shows in the two selections here. Both Genesis and Journey Through A Burning Brain take the psychedelic creativity of Syd Barrett’s Floyd and strip’s it down to a succession of unrelated drones, bleeps and sirens. Listening to both pieces it has to be said takes tedium to new heights and I was reminded of a road crew running through their sound check although towards the end of Journey Froese’s ear piercing shredding does at least demonstrate that he would have made a more than competent metal guitarist had he chosen that path.

The 22 minute title track from Alpha Centauri paints eerie soundscapes using a vast palette of instruments including keys, guitar, Moog, pipe organ and flute. Whilst a significant improvement on Electronic Meditation the end result however is rather like wandering through a music store and trying each instrument on the way. The addition of ghostly voices does at least add a gothic, haunting atmosphere that preempts the band’s horror and fantasy soundtrack work in later life. I was also reminded a little of the pioneering electronic soundtrack for the 1956 sc-fi movie ‘Forbidden Plant’. Sunrise In The Third System is a return to early Floyd although the celestial organ hints at For A Few Dollars More era Ennio Morricone. The best track thus far and at less than 5 minutes it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Ultima Thule [Part One] was originally the A side of a now rare 1971 single and with its heavy guitar and Mellotron plus a rock rhythm section this is classic space rock from the same mould as Syd Barrett and Hawkwind. It’s another good track and also recalls Focus’ perennial Hocus Pocus which was released around the same time.

Lifted from the Zeit album, Birth Of Liquid Plejades closes disc one. It begins with eerie sustained cello notes courtesy of four guest cellists that accounts for around a third of the tracks 20 minute playing time before the VCS3 synthesiser (much used by Floyd in the early 70’s) and sustained organ chords takeover.

Disc 2 opens with the ghostly Zeit taken from the album of the same name. It’s a piece that is clearly influenced by composers like György Ligeti, sounding not unlike his dissonant droning music used in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The only element of light relief during this 18 minute musical equivalent of a desolate wasteland is the sound of twittering birds courtesy of synth.

Released the following year, Atem raises the bar a few notches particularly with the cacophonic but powerfully compelling intro to the 20 minute title track. Even Franke’s percussion solo works well within the context of the piece. It’s just a pity that it loses its steam (and my interest) around the halfway mark. Also from Atem, Wahn is little more than an exercise in silly Monty Python style voices although it does include a tantalising glimpse of the Mellotronic glory that would infuse the wonderful Phaedra album a year later.

Although it never appeared during the decade in which it was recorded, the languid (to begin with) Green Desert suggests that it’s typical of the band’s 20 minute pieces at the time. However Froese’s atmospheric guitar adds a Gilmouresque tone whilst Franke’s busy drumming provides some much needed tension during the second half. The majestic three minute synth coda is just sublime. Indian Summer on the other hand with its overpowering waves of white noise sounds a tad dated by today’s standards but the lyrical synth melody (yes I did say melody) is pure heaven. Overall the trio of Froese, Franke and Baumann were noticeably tighter and more structured as a unit at this point in their career.

In 1973, following the release of Atem and the recording of Green Desert, Tangerine Dream became one of the first bands to sign to the newly formed Virgin record label where they would stay for the next 10 years. Under Richard Branson’s stewardship they enjoyed huge international success with albums like Phaedra (1974) and Rubycon (1975) establishing them as the recognised exponents of ambient and experimental electronic music.

Whilst for me the music included in this anthology doesn’t match the standard of the band’s later releases it does provide an insightful guide into the origins of Tangerine Dream and their gradual development into one of the founding and more inventive electronic bands. In keeping with Esoteric’s usual attention to detail this double CD comes housed in a colourful slipcase with an in-depth booklet that provides a comprehensive bio and detailed information on each track.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Tangerine Dream – Ride On The Ray
Tangerine Dream – Ride On The Ray
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:2CD
Record Label:Esoteric/Reactive
Catalogue #:EREACD 21015
Year of Release:2011
Time:CD 1 73:18
CD 2 76:42
Info:Tangerine Dream
Samples:N/A

CD 1: Quichotte II (22:47), White Eagle (4:34), Bondi Parade (13:21), Warsaw In The Sun [Parts One & Two] (8:01), Polish Dance (5:58), Rare Bird (4:01), Bois De Boulogne [Paris] (5:21), Yellowstone Park [Rocky Mountains] (6:11), Le Parc [L.A. Streethawk] (3:21)

CD 2: Vanishing Blue (9:13), Song Of The Whale Part One: From Dawn… (8:18), Ride On The Ray (5:30), Song Of The Whale Part Two: To Dusk… (10:49), 21st Century Common Man [Part One] (4:48), Smile (6:08), Alchemy Of The Heart (12:01), Live Miles [Albuquerque Excerpt] (19:25)

This second (chronologically speaking) Tangerine Dream anthology from Esoteric covers the so called ‘Blue Years’ from 1980 to 1987. This 2 disc collection, together with the ‘The Pink Years’ anthology (see review above) bookends the band’s high profile 10 year tenure with Virgin Records. Although they continued to release albums on Virgin up to and including 1983’s Hyperborea this release sidesteps the 3 year overlap by devoting a good deal of the first disc to live recordings. All the post 1983 releases included here originally appeared on the British Jive Electro label.

Like the previous decade the band remained extremely busy during this period with a continuous stream of prestige concerts and studio albums which now included regular movie soundtrack commissions. Peter Baumann departed in 1977 to be replaced in 1979 by keyboardist Johannes Schmoelling who together with Edgar Froese and Christopher Franke maintained the band’s German heritage.

The Tangerine Dream electronic sound had developed (or regressed depending upon your viewpoint) considerably since 1973’s Atem album being less experimental and more reliant on sophisticated arrangements and hummable melodies. Significantly the 1980s was also the era of synth-pop a style the band was able to absorb into its own with seemingly effortless precision. Since arriving on the scene in the late 60’s a number of similar and highly respected artists such as Terry Riley, Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre had also followed in their wake.

Disc 1 opens in fine style with the magnificent Quichotte II which was recorded live in Berlin on 31 January 1980 and originally broadcast on East German radio before gaining an official release on Virgin in 1986. At nearly 23 minutes it’s perhaps around 5 minutes longer than it needs to be but nonetheless it contains some of the best musical dynamics yet recorded by the band. Swirling synths give way to a compelling rhythmic loop not unlike that used in The Who’s Baba O’Riley. This is overlaid by Froese’s superb extended guitar solo which swoops and soars reaching its peak around the 15 minute mark where it’s overtaken by a melodic and uplifting keys solo that brings Tony Banks instantly to mind.

Also recorded live, this time in Sydney on 22 February 1982, the tuneful White Eagle has a hint of Ultravox/Visage about it whilst the tide of synths at the close harks back to Jon Anderson’s wonderful Olias Of Sunhillow album. The slow burning Bondi Parade recorded on the same evening sounds suitably triumphant thanks to its rousing synth fanfares.

The live music continues with three tracks recorded in Warsaw on 10 December 1983. Originally released as an EP, the title piece Warsaw In The Sun [Parts One & Two] effectively creates the image of an accelerating train overlaid by an heroic synth theme that predates the style of Jean Michel Jarre’s 1986 Rendez-Vous suite. Probably one of the catchiest tunes the band has ever written and the same uplifting ambiance continues into the sunny Polish Dance and the quirky Rare Bird although to be fair neither tracks are quite as compelling.

By way of change, the concluding three tracks on disc one are all studio recordings based on a theme, Le Parc the 1985 album from which they are taken. Bois De Boulogne [Paris] suitably captures the city’s decadent opulence whilst the haunting Yellowstone Park with the heavenly wordless vocals of Clare Terry effectively evokes the spirit of the American Indians who inhabited the area before being evicted by the US authorities to make way for white tourists. The lively but tuneful Le Parc [L.A. Streethawk] sounds very 80’s and once again emulates Michel Jarre as well as the urban synth-funk of Harold Faltermeyer.

Disc 2 opens with the beautifully evocative Vanishing Blue which was recorded circa 1985/1986 but didn’t see the light of day until 10 years later as part of The Dream Roots Collection. Drums kick in at the midway point to drive the piece through an energetic second half where the sound of pipes is skillfully evoked. A real highlight even though the band was reduced to a duo at this point following the departure of Johannes Schmoelling. Austrian Paul Haslinger joined Froese and Franke for their 1986 world tour before being enrolled as a full time member in time for the recording of the next studio album.

That album is 1986’s Underwater Sunlight represented by three tracks here. Song Of The Whale Part One has some interesting rhythmic effects supporting a memorable theme and soaring David Gilmour flavoured guitar breaks. The big drum sound is reminiscent of Simon Phillips’ thunderous work on Mike Oldfield’s Islands album (released the following year) reaching a powerful climax. Yet more excellent guitar soloing (this time in the style of Andy Latimer) lifts Ride On The Ray whilst Song Of The Whale Part Two features beautiful grand piano from Haslinger. The symphonic keys are suitably grandiose and it plays out with some remarkably fluid and tasteful guitar work evoking Daryl Stuermer. For a band generally only ever considered in terms of synths and electronics it has to be said that the guitar work throughout this collection is a real revelation.

Another album that offers three tracks is 1987’s Tyger which takes the prose of William Blake as its concept. Despite the title 21st Century Common Man [Part One] sounds rooted in 1980’s electro-pop thanks to the mock dance rhythms and repetitive synth line. Smile features rare (for Tangerine Dream) vocals from Jocelyn Bernadette Smith although her otherwise soulful tone sounds to my ears at odds with the bubbly synth backing. On the other hand the lively piano and synth that drives Alchemy Of The Heart is a real joy although its impact is undermined a little by the obtrusive and synthetic drums. That said nothing can diminish the stately synth coda which has elements of Anthony Phillips at his most majestic.

This anthology ends as it begun with another lengthy live track Live Miles [Albuquerque Excerpt] this time recorded during the North American leg of the band’s tour in the summer of 1986 and released two years later on the album of the same name. It keeps up an energetic but tuneful pace with some inspired (and slightly jazzy) synth soloing over percussive loops. It eases back a gear or two for a pastoral Debussy tinged interlude before the final section which sounds suitably monumental, full of pomp and grandeur to conclude on a high.

Not withstanding one or two minor quibbles this anthology effectively captures Tangerine Dream still in their prime with all their collective creative juices flowing. Given the sheer weight of the band’s output during this period it could not possibly cover every avenue with the band’s film soundtrack work conspicuously absent. That said, whilst the Sunrise In The Third System anthology is more comprehensive and the material included arguably more ground breaking, Ride On The Ray is for me by far the more satisfying and includes some of the most compelling and accessible music from the bands long and illustrious career. Long may they continue.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Gary Brooker - Lead Me To The Water
Gary Brooker - Lead Me To The Water
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2271
Year of Release:1982/2011
Time:51:20
Info:Gary Brooker
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: Mineral Man (3:22), Another Way (4:04), Hang On Rose (4:09), Home Loving (4:43), The Cycle (3:20), Lead Me To The Water (4:21), The Angler (5:33), Low Flying Birds (3:48), Sympathy For The Hard Of Hearing (6:14), Bonus Track: Badlands (3:07)

If Procol Harum had split after the release of their very first single they would still be remembered for producing one of the most majestic songs of all time. Whiter Shade Of Pale is notable for the stirring semi classical organ playing and wistful crooning and of its co-composers Matthew Fisher and Gary Brooker respectively. Whilst the band was in the midst of a 14 year hiatus following 1977’s neglected Something Magic album, Brooker released three solo recordings with the second Lead Me To The Water appearing in 1982. Procol Harum may have been one of the pioneers of progressive rock (as acknowledged by Transatlantic with their cover of In Held 'Twas In I on their debut album) but with high profile guests like Eric Clapton, George Harrison, Phil Collins and Albert Lee in tow it was clear that this solo effort was going to be in a more mainstream vein.

In addition to playing on Harrison’s solo albums during the 70’s Brooker spent two years in Clapton’s band along with Albert Lee prior to recording Lead Me To The Water cementing a friendship with all three guitarists. Other refugees from Clapton’s then defunct band appearing here include Chris Stainton (keyboards), Henry Spinetti (drums) and Dave Markee (bass). Brooker himself contributes keyboards and of course vocals and unlike other singers (Jon Anderson for example) who remain vocally ageless, Brooker’s gravely tones have clearly matured since the 60’s and 70’s. And speaking of age, like so many albums from the 1980’s Lead Me To The Water sounds a little dated in places particularly in the use of what was then new technology. That said it’s a fine collection of songs all written by Brooker who has made a concerted effort to ensure each track sounds very different from the next.

Rock, pop, reggae, R & B, Brooker takes them all comfortably in his stride with the latter particularly evident in the opening Mineral Man which also features Harrison’s quintessential slide guitar. Another Way is a more laidback affair with the drumming and accompanying drum machine sounding very much like the handiwork of Mr Collins. With its compelling piano motif, the catchy Hang On Rose put me firmly in mind of Joe Walsh although the vocoder induced backing vocals I could have easily lived with out. The nostalgic Home Loving is another strong effort with a memorable chorus which would have provided an ideal vehicle for Rod Stewart. The Cycle on the other hand ranges from bittersweet interludes with Brooker at his most melancholic to more strident moments.

Driven by a pumping bass line, the title track Lead Me To The Water wears its Bob Marley influences firmly on its sleeve whilst the drum machine rears its ugly head once more for the otherwise stately and Phil Collins-ish The Angler. The particularly fine guitar picking at the midway point comes (I think) courtesy of EC. The rock solid Low Flying Birds flexes its rhythmic muscles convincingly with Mel Collins making the most of his brief but raunchy saxophone break. The standout track however is undoubtedly the powerful Sympathy For The Hard Of Hearing which recalls the glories of Procol Harum. Starting out as a moving elegy, the tension is built through dramatic keyboards and Collins’ archetypical clattering drums before an all too soon fade. The bonus track Badlands (which originally appeared as a single B side) reeks of the American Deep South and The Allman Brothers in particular with wonderful backing from the gospel female choir.

When it was released back in the early 80’s Lead Me To The Water will have no doubt found favour with the same audience that had the likes of Eric Clapton and Dire Straits in their record collection. This re-mastered reissue on the other hand is more likely to appeal to Procol Harum/Brooker/Clapton/Harrison compilists although the quality of the song writing and production in particular are worthy of wide respect. And given the big guns involved this may seem an obvious statement but I’m going to say it anyway, the musicianship is sheer class.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



Ray Thomas – From Mighty Oaks
Ray Thomas – From Mighty Oaks
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2261
Year of Release:1975/2011
Time:42:19
Info:Ray Thomas
Samples:N/A

Tracklist: From Mighty Oaks (3:43), Hey Mama Life (5:38), Play It Again (4:25), Rock-A-Bye Baby Blues (3:31), High Above My Head (3:34), Love Is The Key (5:16), You Make Me Feel Alright (5:02), Adam And I (5:42), I Wish We Could Fly (5:28)

Ray Thomas – Hopes Wishes & Dreams
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2262
Year of Release:1976/2011
Time:42:19
Info:Ray Thomas
Samples:N/A
Ray Thomas – Hopes Wishes & Dreams

Tracklist: In Your Song (4:30), Friends (2:57), We Need Love (4:17), Within Your Eyes (3:27), One Night Stand (3:37), Keep On Searching (4:52), Didn't I (3:46), Migration (3:41), Carousel (3:52), The Last Dream (4:52)

One of the seminal bands of the 1960’s The Moody Blues were hugely successful by the mid 70’s giving them the financial means to launch their own record label (Threshold) and indulge in ambitious solo projects. Although sometimes prone to MOR tendencies the Moodies were undoubtedly one of the original prog bands (they were pioneers of the concept album and keyboardist Mike Pinder’s mastery of the Mellotron was second to none). Their individual personalities were so distinct that it was often possible to tell which band member had composed a particular song. With the phenomenal success of Nights In White Satin in 1967 guitarist Justin Hayward was established as principal writer/singer closely followed by bassist John Lodge who was responsible for the band’s 1972 hit Isn’t Life Strange. Then there was founding member Ray Thomas.

For the most part Thomas was the Moodies backing vocalist and also played flute (a bonus instrument for any prog band). He contributed an average of two songs (and lead vocal) to each album and his song writing style like his voice was markedly different to that of his fellow Moodies. In 1974 after nearly 8 years of constant touring and recording the decision was made to put the band on hold providing the ideal environment for solo albums. Whilst Hayward and Lodge were launching the Blue Jays project (which included the wonderful Blue Guitar single) and drummer Graeme Edge was recording his album, Thomas put together a collection of new songs before entering the Threshold studios in 1974. He was supported by a line-up that included singer, song writer Nicky James and brothers John and Trevor Jones (guitar and bass respectively) from 70’s prog band Jonesy. The resulting From Mighty Oaks was recorded almost back to back with the follow-up Hopes Wishes & Dreams.

From Mighty Oaks opens in splendid fashion with the title track, a magnificent and sweeping overture for full orchestra arranged and conducted by Richard Hewson that harks back to the Moodies’ legendary Days Of Future Passed album. Many of the themes that will appear in later songs are introduced here (and in many cases sounding better). This is followed by the first song proper Hey Mama Life where the arrangement in comparison sounds pretty sparse although it features a strong melody and a soaring coda where John Jones’ guitar is reminiscent of Justin Hayward (not a coincidence I feel). The lyrics feature Thomas’ familiar home spun philosophising delivered in a common manner of his which is to sing in the third person whilst at the same time sounding almost autobiographical.

The plaintiff Play It Again is based around a simple arrangement of acoustic guitar, piano and strings with a lilting rhythm track that recalls The Moody Blues song New Horizons from three years earlier. Rock-A-Bye Baby Blues on the other hand is pure country and western (probably my least favourite genre) complete with authentic twangy steel guitar (courtesy of top session man B. J. Cole), a barber shop vocal quartet and the inevitable “I like lazing in the midday sun” vocal line. Released as a single, High Above My Head also sounds very retro thanks to the swing band style horn arrangement and Thomas’ harmonica playing. Love Is The Key appears more promising with a moody Eric Clapton inspired guitar intro but soon settles into bland MOR territory where well meaning lyrics like “The Earth Is good, why do we abuse it” are undermined by the slushy strings.

Similarly, the lightweight You Make Me Feel Alright is a rather limp effort as is Adam And I, a sentimental ode to Thomas’ own son who also provides the inspiration for the album’s title and artwork. Whilst the majority of the songs here were co-written with Nicky James, the concluding I Wish We Could Fly is credited to Thomas alone and with the exception of the title track it’s the album’s best offering. The chorus is delivered with plenty of passion by the man himself supported by dramatic vocal and orchestral backing to close From Mighty Oaks on a positive and uplifting note.

After just a few short months Thomas was back in the studio with pretty much the same team to record Hopes Wishes & Dreams. The album title is taken from a line in the opening song whilst Phil Travers’ splendid artwork is similarly influenced by the album’s lyrics. As well as this and the John Constable like cover for From Mighty Oaks Travers was responsible for virtually all the Moodies’ artwork during this period including their respective solo albums. Effectively Travers was to The Moody Blues what Roger Dean was to Yes (ironically it was Dean and not Travers who was responsible for the artwork on John Lodge’s 1977 solo debut Natural Avenue).

Lacking a track with the same majesty as From Mighty Oaks, Hopes Wishes & Dreams opens instead with the tame In Your Song which is basically an incongruous combination of The Eagles’ crisp guitar and harmonies against a limp disco beat. Friends is better with a lilting melody and some particularly fine piano and guitar exchanges between keyboardist Mike Moran and John Jones. In fact it’s this pairing that gives the album an all important lift and whilst bassist Trevor Jones and drummer Graham Deakin do a solid workmanlike job they’re given little opportunity to stretch their abilities.

With its soaring strings We Need Love has power ballad pretensions but it’s the melodic guitar solo that lingers in the memory whilst Within Your Eyes is a melancholic acoustic ballad where Thomas’ vocals are more expressive than usual. In fact vocally he’s on top form throughout the album. In contrast funky horns and female backing vocals marks One Night Stand out as a victim of the disco craze that was sweeping the UK in the mid 70’s although once again it’s the sizzling guitar work that elevates it (albeit briefly) to a higher place.

At the halfway stage it’s evident that progressive rock is clearly out of the picture as evidenced with the pop-gospel influenced Keep On Searching which has a watered down boogie rhythm that seems to be modeled on The Rolling StonesTumbling Dice. The soppy Didn't I is so laidback that it’s almost horizontal despite orchestral arranger Terry James’ swooning strings and trumpet solo. Migration on the other hand benefits from the absence of an obvious rhythm track with Moran’s lush piano and Thomas’ flute providing all that is needed to add beauty to the song.

With Moran’s pipe organ supplying the oomph-pa-pa rhythm and the lighthearted orchestral arrangement adopting every circus cliché in the book Carousel must have seemed like a novel idea at the time but now it simply serves as a reminder of how tacky funfairs and circuses can be. In much the same manner as I Wish We Could Fly on the previous album, The Last Dream attempts to end Hopes Wishes & Dreams on a high but sadly the lackluster melody and the overblown arrangement lack the necessary grandeur.

Unsurprisingly for a Moody Blues offshoot both of these albums are immaculately crafted giving the Esoteric remastering engineer a solid base upon which to work. In addition to regular Moodies recording engineer Derek Varnals acting as co-producer Thomas surrounded himself with a fine supporting cast of musicians with his own voice taking centre stage. He proved to be more than up for the task and whilst the songs undoubtedly brim with confidence for me they all too often take the easy mainstream pop-rock route. And whilst his MOR tendencies were kept under control within the Moodies here they get the better of him.

In 1977 Thomas reunited with the other four members of The Moody Blues where they remained a solid unit (apart from the departure of Mike Pinder in 1978 and his replacement Patrick Moraz leaving in 1991) until Thomas’ retirement from the band in 2002. Curiously however in the 35 years that has followed Hopes Wishes & Dreams he has never released another solo album.

Conclusions:

From Mighty Oaks: 7 out of 10
Hopes Wishes & Dreams: 6 out of 10

GEOFF FEAKES



The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown - Strangelands
The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown - Strangelands
Country of Origin:UK
Format:CD
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2258
Year of Release:1969/2011
Time:72:42
Info:Arthur Brown
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Part One ~ The Country: Life Jacket (1:05), Purple Airport Of Love (3:08), All Over The Country (2:24), The Lord Doesn't Want You (3:03) Part Two ~ The City: The Sound Of The City (5:39) Part Three ~ The Cosmos: All Forms And Distinctions (5:40), Beyond The Sea (4:33), Planets Of The Universe (6:18), Twisted Wreckage (1:05), Hold On Cosmos (6:49) Part Four ~ The Afterlife: Endless Sleep (2:23) Bonus Material: Rustic Hinge ~ Replicas ~ T On The Lawn For 3 {a} Excitation Wavelength (3:32), {b} Litmus Transformation (2:05), {c} Opus Pocus (3:17), {d} Crystallized Petard (6:53), {e} Kinesis (2:37), {f} But That Was Then That Was But (4:39), High Tide Play Rustic Hinge (4:06), Macedonia (2:28)

Let's set the scene. It is 1968 and The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown top the UK and Canadian singles charts and have top five successes in the USA, along with several European countries with their single Fire. A track that could scarcely have passed you by unnoticed and one that surfaces almost without fail in any documentary analysis of the early years of progressive rock. A self titled debut album appears in the same year, albeit to a mixed response from both public and critics alike. Esoteric's excellent liner notes pointing out that even at this early stage in Arthur Brown's career that artistic differences between himself and record label were apparent.

We move on one year to 1969 and mixed reactions and dwindling audiences during the band's third US tour saw both Carl Palmer (who had replaced Drachen Theaker) and Vincent Crane leave the band and return to the UK (and going on forming Atomic Rooster). By way of this rather over simplified and potted history we arrive in Puddletown (Dorset, UK) in the autumn of 1969 and the setting for what will become the Strangelands project/album. A concept album split into four sub-sections - The Country, The City, The Cosmos and The Afterlife.

So far all seems fairly promising for Strangelands. However the minute long opening track which segues into Purple Airport Of Love do not bode well. Brown's idiosyncratic half spoken, half screaming vocals are to put it mildly an acquired taste. Backing wise the scat Hammond organ, loose drumming and fairly freeform guitar are acceptable if not particularly stunning. This format continues through the The Country sub-division, however the wheels start to come off though when we approach The City, with the music dissolving into a cacophonous row. There may well be some deep and thoughtful message in Arthur Brown's words, but it more seems to be the lunatic ramblings of a man without any production control and fuelled by alcohol and the aid of perhaps a little too many non prescription drugs. By the time we move onto The Cosmos we are well and truly - out of this world. A world of mayhem, chaos and one were music has been abandoned. (Note here that I may be slightly out on the tracks - as the audio sub-divisions don't seem to fully correspond with the printed inlay.) Although in reality I doubt it matters as the music flows in a fairly continuous, if not, comprehensible fashion.

I'm going to skip over the rest of the album if I may as I'm sure from my words so far you have gleaned that Strangelands is no long lost masterpiece to these ears. So we move on to the bonus material which takes shape with the "legendary Replicas sessions", subtitled T On The Lawn For 3 by Rustic Hinge & The Provincial Swimmers. Again mention that these were turbulent times for the band (now minus Arthur Brown) and with the crazy antics of its members creating a somewhat revolving door membership. Musically and I use the term cautiously, is a little more listenable. Firstly Mr Brown doesn't appear and the material is best described as fluid instrumental jams. The recordings are not particularly good and sonically this is pretty sub standard. Even Esoteric's attention to detail and re-mastering skills could do little to enhance these tracks.

DPRP's normal reviewing modi operandi would be to firstly listen to an album and collect some thoughts, gradually becoming familiar with the music, via subsequent listenings and then construct a review based on an informed listening stance. Sadly I managed only two complete listenings and despite my best efforts could find little to recommend in this release. I could well go on here, however as there is little in this recording that appealed to me - suffice to say that this is one for completists and those with a broader minded attitude than perhaps mine.

Arthur Brown would go on to record more palatable releases with Kingdom Come, (his next venture), which Esoteric Recordings have also re-issued. For the curious I would suggest you start there. Despite Arthur Brown's unique, flamboyant and somewhat acquired approach to music he is a shrewd and observant gentleman. Still actively recording and touring...

There is no doubting the excellent work of Esoteric Recordings, without whom many a fine album may well have been lost. Not just to those old enough to remember said releases first outing, but also to a newer, inquisitive generation. Strangelands however is one release that perhaps should have taken heed from the band's record label at the time (Polydor) who declined to release the album.

Conclusion: 2 out of 10

BOB MULVEY


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