REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:
Midweek Reissues Special
Odyssice - Impression
|Country of Origin:||Netherlands|
|Year of Release:||2000/2012|
|Time:||CD 1 - 70:17|
CD 2 - 50:19
CD 1 - 'Remastered': Scream (8:49), Lokapalas (4:19), Señkan (6:24), Children Of The Cloud (4:36), Olympus: A. The Flame, B. Zeus's Thorn (7:13), Impression (4:23), Crusader (3:26), Legend: A. Mystique, B. The Spell (7:04), Anuradhapura: A. Founded By The Ayrans, B. The Sinhala Kingdom, C. Abandoned In Time (7:46), Flower Of Scotland (2:08), In Your Eyes (3:25), A Prophet's Dream: A. Eager Attempt, B. Genuine (10:43)
CD 2 - 'Expanded': Olympus (short version) (5:50), Eager Attempt (remix) (3:18), Jam (4:41), Scream (live) (8:04), Señkan (live video version) (6:19), Why (studio demo) (3:31), Anuradhapura (studio run-through) (8:23), Genuine (live during sound check) (10:12)
Originally released in 2000 on the Cyclops label, the all instrumental Impression was the debut full length album from Dutch neo-proggers Odyssice. It was a late entry for the band given that they had been around since 1986 with only the 1997 EP Moondrive Plus to their credit. And speaking of late entries, it wasn’t until 2008 that the DPRP received a review copy of Impression although fortunately time hadn't tarnished its appeal resulting in a DPRP recommendation. Since then the band has released only one further CD, 2010's very well received Silence. The story doesn't end there however because after 12 years Impression has been dusted down, re-mastered and reissued on the band's own label with a bonus disc of live and demo material.
Synthetic jungle sounds and a menacing drone (bringing 'War Of The Worlds' to mind) provide a deceptive start to album opener Scream. I say deceptive because what follows are lively but tuneful guitar flights with generous helpings of piano, organ and moog setting the scene for the rest of the album. The bass and drums are impressively articulate and nicely up-front and overall the production is crisp and clean although perhaps lacks punch in the more up-tempo moments. The sound is distinctly retro, not only does it recall the more melodic prog bands of the early '70s like Camel, Genesis and Barclay James Harvest it also brings to mind a good deal of the neo-prog music from the mid '80s to the mid '90s.
Rippling synth launches the uplifting Lokapalas with staccato, rhythmic bursts evoking vintage Genesis whilst the appropriately titled Señkan takes a wonderful oriental melody (my favourite part this) and surrounds it with a stately guitar theme. Melancholic piano haunts the otherwise edgy Children Of The Cloud with excellent string orchestrations courtesy of keys whilst rhythmic organ dominates the first half of the two-part Olympus. For me however it doesn't really take-off until the soaring guitar and synths make their appearance in the second half.
The title track, Impression, is clearly modelled on the intro to Pink Floyd's Shine On You Crazy Diamond with guitar resonating sharply over shimmering organ. In contrast the lively Crusader is easily the albums heaviest track with piano leading the band at full gallop. This is followed by the cool keyboard atmospherics of Mystique, the first part of the extended piece Legend. The second part, The Spell, takes a different course with guitar taking flight over an exotic percussive backdrop. Not to be out done, the evocatively titled, three-part Anuradhapura eases effortlessly from a walking bass line to a lively Indian-Asian setting before playing out with a majestic guitar coda.
A short and tranquil version of the traditional Flower Of Scotland evokes the Celtic mood with minimal instrumentation whilst In Your Eyes utilises melancholic piano and guitar to produce one of the loveliest melodies on the entire album. The final and longest piece, A Prophet's Dream gets off to a buoyant start with piano providing the rhythmic backing to a measured but fiercely evocative guitar theme. Odyssice had clearly been listening to Yes' Mind Drive when they created the staccato bridge section whilst a beautifully poignant guitar solo provides a sweeping if a tad drawn-out finale (shades of Bryan Josh here).
My review copy of Impression came without information on the band or the bonus disc but fortunately the band's website was able to supply the track listing for the latter. For 15 euros the complete package can be purchased in a rather neat fold out digipack and whilst the second disc contains no new material as such it does provide an interesting perspective on several key tracks that are well worth checking out.
The jaunty Olympus proves to be a more effective opener than Scream whilst a bubbly remix of Eager Attempt ventures into synth-pop territory. Jam is uncharacteristically rough and ready to begin with but heavy rock guitar soon gives way to superb bass dynamics and swirling mellotron. An excellent live version of the aforementioned Scream blends the melodic sustained guitar flights of Andy Latimer with a scorching Andy Glass (Solstice) style guitar coda.
A live version of the deliciously oriental Señkan sounds the equal of its studio counterpart with the added bonus of Mike Oldfield inflected guitar. Although Why is a new title, the piano and Steve Hackett flavoured guitar interaction is typical of the main disc whilst a studio run-through of Anuradhapura is actually longer than the finished article even though the tempo seems faster. Likewise the live version of Genuine gives the studio version a run for its money with blistering lead guitar against a pounding piano backing although the extended soloing is still a tad indulgent in my opinion.
In addition to the comparisons above, Odyssice have much in common with several of their Dutch contemporaries including Flamborough Head, Leap Day (particularly guitarist Eddie Mulder who has played with both bands), Silhouette, US and Knight Area. What sets Odyssice apart however is the absence of vocals and they are no less enjoyable as a result. So let's hear it for that much undervalued sub-genre - the prog-rock instrumental - which has sadly been neglected of late. Far too many contemporary bands in my opinion insist on wall to wall vocals and the standard verse-chorus song format (often indifferent to the shortcomings of the lead singer). Brimming with melodic themes, hooks and riffs I would have happily awarded the original disc a very respectable 7 or 7.5 but the bonus disc has played its part to justify a DPRP recommendation.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Finch - Mythology
|Country of Origin:||Netherlands|
|Record Label:||Pseudonym Records|
|Year of Release:||1975-1977/2013|
CD 1 - Register Magister (9:18), A Bridge To Alice (13:10), Pisces (9:27), Paradoxical Moods (10:41), Colossus – Part I (3:28), Colossus – Part II (3:36), Beyond The Bizarre (14:24), Scars On The Ego (8:51)
CD 2 - A Passion Condensed (20:06), With Love As The Motive (9:20), As One (4:45), Reconciling (8:29), Remembering The Future (4:22), Unspoken Is The Word (7:52), Register Magister [Live] (9:29), Paradoxical Moods [Live] (11:05)
CD 3 - Pisces [Live] (10:44), Necronomicon [Live] (17:48), Unspoken Is The Word [Demo] (7:49), Phases [Demo] (5:32), As One [Demo (4:07), With Love As The Motive [Demo] (9:02), Dreamer [Demo] (4:46), Reconciling [Demo] (8:34), Night Walker [Demo] (3:04), Remembering The Future [Demo] (5:01)
I have noticed a trend in many film trilogies. The trend is that the first film is often good, the second film even better and the third one worst. Examples? The Godfather series, the original Star Wars trilogy, the recent Batman trilogy, Austin Powers, Mad Max, Terminator, the Alien trilogy and Back to the Future just to name a few. Oddly enough, the three sole albums of the obscure Dutch instrumental prog band Finch follow this same trend, and all three are presented in this 3CD 'deluxe' set, released by Pseudonym. In fact, this is one of three 3CD Mythology sets that the label is issuing, alongside Solution, and Brainbox.
The set is rather odd in its presentation. The three studio albums and an original single Colossus are divided between the first two CDs and, rather annoyingly, the track sequence has been altered for this release. However, this can be easily rectified if you're prepared to sit at your laptop and tediously reorder the tracks, like I did. Live recordings of the band can be heard on the second and third CDs, although they sound so similar to the originals that it takes a cheering audience to remind me that this is indeed a live track. On the other hand, a 17-minute non-studio track Necronomicon is included in the set list, adding something juicy to the live section. The rest of the third disc is devoted to demos from the third album, and though there are a few more non album tracks, these are generally uninteresting. The booklet is informative, although the album cover scans, whilst present, are rather tiny.
But what of the music itself? When Finch broke out their first album in 1975, they wore their influences from bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra quite literally on their sleeve; with a name like Glory of the Inner Force, what else would you expect? However, when the album begins to play (try Register Magister in the sample above), it's a hybrid of Yes and Camel that hits my ears. In each of the four ten-minute cuts, one can hear the band's penchant for Yes-style complex, speedy playing crossed with that sense of instrumental adventurousness that I had previously thought was unique to Camel. While they don't consistently yield brilliant results, the sound is never dull or tiresome, and the album remains entertaining for its entirety.
As I mentioned in my introduction, the band manage to do better on the follow up album, Beyond Expression released in 1976. Opening with the twenty-minute A Passion Condensed - perhaps the highlight of the whole set - the band show a heightened sense maturity on this album, without compromising the exploratory nature of the original album. The band clearly had more funds to put towards better recording equipment, and the various riffs and solos are captured beautifully here. A very satisfying album.
Something had to give, and 1977 saw the band shedding a lot of their jazz influences in an effort to sound more 'sympho' as they perceived it on their third and final album Galleons of Passion. Nevertheless, this isn't a Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines style cock-up; Galleons of Passion is still a worthwhile album to listen to, with interesting and fun riffs still permeating the music. I must say though that Reconciling in particular plays out like the soundtrack to a Mario Kart game. By this point, the listener is just a little tired from hearing the same thing over again, and it's disappointing to see Finch play it safe by sticking to what they know, rather than branch out and try something different.
By November 1978, band leader and guitarist Joop van Nimwegen had disbanded Finch to start a solo career. Album sales had been poor and, as he admits himself, "the breakthrough we had in mind with the third album did not materialise". As an old saying goes, 'Quit while you're ahead.' and I definitely feel this was a smart move for Finch, as the evidence suggests that they weren't getting any better. Nevertheless, the release of this three-disc set is a pleasant one, shedding new light on one of the forgotten gems of the '70s. This reviewer might never have heard of them otherwise. While not entirely consistent, this set is sure to please fans of classic prog everywhere.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
The Greatest Show On Earth - Horizons
Tracklist: Sunflower Morning (4:59), Angelina (4:08), Skylight Man (4:31), Day Of The Lady (4:11), Real Cool World (4:50), I Fought For Love (4:24), Horizons (13:59), Again And Again (4:03)
The Greatest Show On Earth - The Going's Easy
Tracklist: Borderline (9:20), Magic Woman Touch (5:14), Story Times And Nursery Rhymes (4:52), The Leader (5:45), Love Magnet (9:28), Tell The Story (4:35), BONUS TRACKS: Mountain Song (3:34), Magic Woman Touch (Single Version) (3:54)
Esoteric resuscitate yet another early cult progressive band. While their title might have been a tad optimistic, The Greatest Show On Earth was an intriguing octet who produced some rather original music in their three year lifespan, including two albums both released on EMI's Harvest label. Now, Esoteric give us the opportunity to hear these two light-hearted albums once again.
The group formed in 1968 as a soul band and employed African-American Ozzie Lane as their vocalist. They would ditch him a year later, and enter Abbey Road studios to record their first rather progressive opus, Horizons. The line-up on this album consisted of:
Colin Horton-Jennings / vocals, flute, guitar, percussion
Garth Watt-Roy / vocals, guitar
Norman Watt-Roy / vocals, bass
Mick Deacon / keyboards
Ron Prudence / drums, congas
Dick Hanson / horns
Tex Phillpots / saxophone
Ian Aitcheson / woodwinds
The album kicks off with a dramatic church organ sound, stumbling into a melancholic, symphonic verse section. Nevertheless, the verse section of Sunflower Morning is actually quite jaunty, with a sad twist. A soulful guitar solo breaks up this indomitable track. Horizons consists mainly of short, radio-friendly pieces but this isn't to say they aren't enjoyable, or progressive; in fact, there isn't a single weak track on the album. Recorded in '69, Horizons is quite ahead of its time, blending all sorts of genres in a particularly satisfying way, from folk, to classical to hard rock and even a little bit of ska. My favourites of the short tracks have to be the sombre, funereal Sunflower Morning; the upbeat Angelina, telling the story of a lonely old woman and reminding me of the ska band Madness; and I Fought For Love, which contains quirky virtuoso snippets from all sections of the band.
The main course of this sonic feast is the 14-minute title track, an adventurous instrumental showing just how creative and exciting the eight-piece band can be. While every band member deserves applause, both Ron Prudence and Norman Watt-Roy deserve special mention. Prudence in particular delivers a fantastic drum solo near the beginning of the track, while Watt-Roy's thunderous bass underpins the entire track, and keeps the track alive. This track has all the fun of a jam session, and yet it clearly has a definite structure to it, making for a very satisfying listen.
The band would return to the studio in '70 to record their second album, The Going's Easy. Though less consistent than its predecessor, their second album still contains some corking tracks. The fun begins with Borderline, an energetic track of two halves. In the first half, the boys let their hair down, and prepare the listener for a fun album with an energetic, syncopated, big band style instrumental, with a few solos thrown in for good measure. If you aren't tapping your foot after two minutes, then you must be quite deaf. After five minutes, the band suddenly but effectively change to a more bluesy style, and really rock the house with some brilliant lyrics. This track rivals anything on Horizons.
Next up is Magic Woman Touch, a track which was recorded by The Hollies as a single two years later. This is one of the less adventurous tracks in the GSOE canon, and is simply acoustic radio fodder. Good for easy listening.
Story Times and Nursery Rhymes is uncannily similar to I Fought For Love from the last album, and it's worth questioning whether the band did this intentionally or not. If you take away the obvious similarities, it's quite a fun track by itself. The Leader shows the band once again utilising themselves as a big band with rock influences. There's a sizeable exotic instrumental in this piece which should be of interest to prog fans, and the riff used in the verse reminds me greatly of Summer For The Rose by the obscure Vertigo band Dr. Z.
The longest track on the album, Love Magnet, begins with a quiet melancholic section that speeds up as the verse begins. After the brief chorus, the band set out on a long jazzy instrumental, featuring use of Mick Deacon's organ sound, as well as brass that will turn on fans of Miles Davis. The track ends just as it begins, after another verse and a chorus.
Tell The Story is a very lacklustre ending to the record; a very simple rock track, with nothing of real value. As a bonus, Esoteric have appended the band's single, featuring the jazz/folk Mountain Song as well as a shorter version of Magic Woman Touch.
While there have recently been some poor Esoteric reissues, they have managed to restore my faith somewhat with these two albums. Both Hipgnosis-conceived covers are replicated in their entirety in these booklets, which feature an interesting essay on the band. The sound quality is also very good, and, in particular, Prudence's drums sound punchy throughout.
While fame and fortune evaded this large group of individuals, their two albums are still remembered in the prog community as promising, exciting and very unusual pieces of work. If light-hearted, fun, varied and interesting sounds like your cup of tea, then you can't go far wrong with this band.
Horizons: 8 out of 10
The Going's Easy: 7 out of 10
Ian Matthews - If You Saw Thro' My Eyes
Tracklist: Desert Inn (3:33), Hearts (3:12), Never Ending (2:57), Reno Nevada (4:47), Little Known (2:56), Hinge (Part One) (1:26), Hinge (Part Two) (0:29), Southern Wind (3:13), It Came Without Warning (4:05), You Couldn't Lose (3:38), Morgan The Pirate (6:44) Thro' My Eyes (2:36)
Ian Matthews - Tigers Will Survive
Tracklist: Never Again (3:18), Close The Door Lightly When You Go (3:09), Un-American Activity Dream (3:23), Morning Song (3:49), The Only Dancer (4:17), Tigers Will Survive (4:08), Midnight On The Water (2:50), Right Before My Eyes (2:17), Da Doo Ron Ron (2:15) Hope You Know (3:27), Please Be My Friend (5:42), Bonus track: Devil In Disguise (2:25)
Matthews Southern Comfort - Kind Of New / Kind Of Live
|Country of Origin:||U.K./Netherlands|
|Record Label:||Esoteric Recordings|
|Year of Release:||2010/2012|
|Time:||CD 1 - 62:09|
CE 2 - 35:01
CD 1 - Kind Of New: Kind Of New: Letting The Mad Dogs Lie (5:48), These Days (4:14), Road To Ronderlin (4:40), Perfect Love (5:08), The Way Things Are (3:13), Seven Hours (4:41), Woodstock (5:20), Locomotive (3:45), O'Donnel Street (7:54) Dear Richard (5:13), Kingfish (3:58), Blood Red Roses (4:59), Money (3:15)
CD 2 - Kind Of Live: Letting The Mad Dogs Lie (6:44), Perfect Love (5:28), To Love (4:33), Seven Hours (4:35), Something In The Way She Moves (5:05), Mare Take Me Home (3:50), The Road To Ronderlin (4:44)
Embarking on a career as a musician-songwriter, Ian Matthews McDonald first came to prominence in 1967 as one of the original singers with Fairport Convention. During his tenure with the band he adopted his middle name in preference to his surname allegedly to avoid being confused with the similarly named King Crimson maestro. After two years and two albums it became evident that Matthews' preference for American country rock was out of sync with Fairport's transition towards traditional British folk. Following his departure however several Fairport members contributed to his 1969 debut solo album Matthews' Southern Comfort, the title of which provided the inspiration for his own band. Under his leadership, Matthews Southern Comfort recorded two albums, Second Spring and Later That Same Year, the second of which opened with Joni Mitchell's Woodstock, a huge hit single for the band in 1970.
Following disagreements with his MSC colleagues, Matthews once again ventured out under his own name releasing two albums in fairly quick succession, If You Saw Thro' My Eyes (1971) and Tigers Will Survive (1972). Originally appearing on the Vertigo label, both have been newly re-mastered from the original master tapes and reissued by Esoteric. Whilst both recordings certainly benefit from the improved sound, they also highlight the excellence of the original production for which Matthews can take credit.
With his 1969 debut often cited as the first Matthews Southern Comfort album, If You Saw Thro' My Eyes is credited by many (including Matthews himself) as his first true solo album. Like the previous recording he is joined by a couple of former Fairport colleagues, Richard Thompson (guitar, accordion) and Sandy Denny (keyboards, vocals) as well as guitarists Tim Renwick and Andy Roberts, the latter of whom embarked on a partnership with Matthews that would last for 30 years. The album consists of twelve tracks, nine of which are Matthews' originals demonstrating his flair for writing mature country rock tunes. Two songs are credited to American writer and folk singer Richard Fariña who had a profound influence on the Englishman's career with his songs appearing regularly on Matthews' recordings (Fairport Convention also covered his songs).
Whilst listening to this album I was reminded of several artists all very prominent at the time including Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Poco, Don McLean, Lindisfarne, Al Stewart and Cat Stevens. Amongst the twelve tracks there are some real gems, a couple of so-so songs and only the odd dud. What really lingers in the memory is the (not unexpected) excellence of the ensemble musicianship. Thompson in particular stands out with his stunning acoustic guitar picking during the otherwise sparse You Couldn't Lose and Fariña's Morgan The Pirate. The latter is a thinly veiled ode to Fariña's onetime friend Bob Dylan containing the telling choral hook "One or two hard feelings left behind". It's also one of the more up-tempo songs on an otherwise mostly laidback album allowing the meticulous drumming of Gerry Conway to shine. Also making his mark on a couple of tracks, Never Ending and Southern Wind, is jazz pianist Keith Tippett (better known for his work on the early King Crimson albums). His playing on the former especially is a master class in minimal but still magnetic playing.
Also standing out on If You Saw Thro' My Eyes is bassist Pat Donaldson's superb rhythm on the mellow Little Known and the showmanship lead guitar exchanges between Thompson and Renwick during Fariña's mid-tempo country rocker Reno Nevada. Arranger Del Newman (noted for his work with Elton John and Cat Stevens) provides an unexpectedly lush string arrangement for the instrumental Hinge (Part One) whilst Matthews' harmonies are equally lush (ala CSN&Y) during the laidback It Came Without Warning. Bringing the album to a fitting close is the lovely title song Thro' My Eyes, a memorable duet with Sandy Denny who also provides the haunting piano backing.
The follow up album Tigers Will Survive was recorded following his first tour of the USA in 1971 and proved to be a far more difficult writing and recording experience for Matthews. He is once again joined by Richard Thompson (credited here as 'Woolfe J. Flywheel' for some bizarre reason), Tim Renwick and Andy Roberts along with several renowned musicians for hire. This time only half the songs are Matthews' originals with the cover versions tellingly all coming from American composers. Overall they provide a perfect showcase for his airy tenor voice and despite originating from the north east of England his singing sounds suitably Americanized (in a similar vein to that of Graham Nash who also came from the north of England before heading Stateside).
Matthews' own songs on Tigers Will Survive stand up reasonably well although are perhaps less consistent than the previous album. They range from the sunny opener Never Again featuring breezy electric guitar work to Morning Song, a slow blues number with some tasteful acoustic guitar picking. The catchy title tune Tigers Will Survive is for me his best composition here. It's a song of two halves with a chugging guitar and bass riff main section featuring engaging Crosby, Stills & Nash style harmonies interspersed with tranquil piano and weeping slide guitar interludes. The yearning Midnight On The Water is a slow burner with acoustic guitar and piano building in intensity before fading away. Hope You Know is a very pleasant acoustic ballad with more fine harmonies and piano but this time with restrained alto sax from Ray Warleigh. Original album closer Please Be My Friend is another ballad but more in a countrified sing-along vein featuring a couple of neat guitar solos although at nearly six minutes it does perhaps overextend its welcome.
The cover versions on Tigers Will Survive are a pretty mixed bag. Eric Andersen's Close The Door Lightly When You Go is very laidback with Thompson's accordion shimmering sweetly in the background. This contrasts with the almost obligatory contribution from Richard Fariña, Un-American Activity Dream, an edgy protest song enlivened by prominent bass from Bruce Thomas. Performed in waltz time with Thompson's accordion to the fore, Pete Carr's elegant The Only Dancer is different again whilst Peter Lewis' lightweight country dirge Right Before My Eyes is for me the albums low point. A surprise inclusion is an acappella version of Phil Spector's Da Doo Ron Ron which works much better than could reasonably be expected thanks to Matthews' excellent vocal arrangement.
Bringing up the rear is the bonus track Devil In Disguise, a single release for Matthews in 1973. This lively country rocker with its jangly guitar sounds very like The Byrds which is hardly surprising as it was written by Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman.
In many respects during the early '70s Ian Matthews' melodious style foreshadowed the sound of American bands like The Eagles and America. Matthews however heralded from Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire and when compared with his U.K. contemporaries his musical aspirations were a far cry from the prevailing blues-rock, prog and pop of the time. Whilst for me neither album represents the pinnacle of Matthews' career they are both fine examples of melodic, thoughtful songwriting and musicianship. In his recent assessment Matthews recalls If You Saw Thro' My Eyes with particular affection stating "Maybe I'm just being naïve, but it still sounds terrific to me". Who am I to argue.
With regard to Matthews Southern Comfort, after Matthews decided to go out on his own the remaining members shortened their name to Southern Comfort, releasing three albums before eventually disbanding in 1972. In the meantime, following the above two solo offerings Matthews formed another band, Plainsong, releasing what remains for me the highpoint of his career, the very wonderful In Search of Amelia Earhart album. If anyone from Esoteric is reading this review, this unsung 1972 classic is long overdue for reissue. Good things must come to an end however and once again Matthews resumed a solo career which saw him record a number of albums in the U.K. and U.S. throughout the '70s, '80s and '90s before decamping to Amsterdam in 2000. Striking up a working relationship with likeminded Dutch musicians he eventually resurrected the Matthews Southern Comfort name for the 2010 album, Kind Of New.
Two years on, Kind Of New has been reissued by Esoteric with a bonus incentive disc, Kind Of Live. Matthews (vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion) is the only original member of MSC involved, joined by Terri Binion (vocals, acoustic guitar), Mike Roelofs (keyboards, grand piano, melodica, percussion), Bart Jan Baartmans (bass guitar, mandolin, acoustic slide guitar), Richard Kennedy (acoustic guitar) and Joost Kroon (drums). Whilst the songs are all very laid-back with minimalist arrangements, the performances are beyond reproach with alternating male (Matthews) and female (Binion) lead vocals where acoustic guitar and piano are prominent. The tracks are thoughtful and meditative which some may find gently relaxing whilst others may find the languid pace a potential cure for insomnia. In addition to a reworking of Woodstock, those familiar with the original MSC may also recognise new versions of Road To Ronderlin and Blood Red Roses.
Kind Of New opens with one of its best songs, Letting The Mad Dogs Lie which features Matthews' clever wordplay. It also sets the template for the rest of the album with its mellow acoustic slide guitar, piano and rich harmonies. These Days features Binion's excellent lead vocal and although the smooth blues style is very well done it's not really my cup of tea. Like several of the songs here, the lilting Perfect Love has an American country feel whilst a very slow Woodstock with scat vocals and minimal instrumentation is a disappointment. O'Donnel Street benefits from a strong melody, a hint of organ and a Steely Dan vibe although it doesn't completely justify its near eight minute length. In contrast the slightly jazzy Kingfish has a smoky barroom ambiance whilst Blood Red Roses (despite a short guitar break) is virtually a cappella and reminiscent of Alison Krauss' Down To The River To Pray. The album ends on an uplifting note with the most up-tempo song, the breezy Money which again brings Steely Dan to mind along with shades of The Eagles.
Recorded in December 2010, with the exception of the title and the occasional count in, you would never guess that the songs on Kind Of Live are performed live (albeit in the studio) so professionally are they executed by Matthews and his Dutch collaborators. With the exception of Matthews and guitarist Bart Jan Baartmans the line-up differs from the main disc and for me apart from Letting The Mad Dogs Lie and the absence of drums the performances here are stronger. Baartmans' mandolin playing in particular really shines during songs like Perfect Love and Mare Take Me Home. Likewise the piano sounds particularly lush during James Taylor's Something In The Way She Moves. Electric guitar is also tastefully introduced in Seven Hours and The Road To Ronderlin whilst the instrumental break during To Love recalls The Beatles' Get Back in what is an otherwise conspicuous slice of Americana.
Iain Matthews' fans will be encouraged by this release particularly as both he and Terri Binion are in excellent voice and the musicianship is, as I said, impeccable. That said, to call this a Matthews Southern Comfort album is tenuous, particularly as Matthews is credited (or part credited) for writing only 6 out of the 13 songs. With the exception of Blood Red Roses, Binion composed all the songs she sings with her parts along with the majority of the instrumental tracks recorded in April 2005, a full four years before Matthews recorded his vocals. The drums and piano were also added in 2009. In 2011 Matthews resurrected MSC as a touring unit which includes the Kind Of Live line-up of Bart Jan Baartmans, Bart De Win (keyboard, vocals) and singer Elly Kellner (guitar, vocals). After 40 years, old favourites like Something In The Way She Moves, Road to Ronderlin and Woodstock can once again be appreciated in a live environment.
If You Saw Thro' My Eyes - 7 out of 10
Tigers Will Survive - 6 out of 10
Kind Of New / Kind Of Live - 6 out of 10
Spontaneous Combustion - Spontaneous Combustion
Track list: Speed Of Light (5:27), Listen To The Wind (7:48), Leaving (5:18), 200 Lives (2:58), Down With The Moon (7:07), Reminder (10:35) Bonus Track: Lonely Singer (3:34)
Spontaneous Combustion - Triad
Track list: Spaceship (3:30), Brainstorm (6:24), Child Life (4:18), Love And Laughter (3:35), Pan (7:39), Rainy Day (3:16), Monolith Parts 1, 2 & 3 (9:22) Bonus Tracks: Gay Time Night (2:50), Sabre Dance (3:01), And Now For Something Completely Different! - Sabre Dance (2:53)
Despite being a big fan of early seventies rock and prog, Spontaneous Combustion are a group I had never previously come across, despite being signed to EMI's Harvest imprint, a label that is associated with some great music, and having Greg lake as producer of several tracks on their debut album. The band were a trio from Poole in Dorset featuring brothers Gary (guitar, keyboards and vocals) and Tristian (bass and vocals) Margetts with Tony Brock (drums and vocals) who released their debut three-track single at the end of 1971, two cuts of which were included on the album with the third, ironically the A side of the single, included on this CD as a bonus track. Opening song Speed Of Light shares the same kind of vibe as Deep Purple's Speed King, although lacking its rather manic intensity. The production on this cut is rather strange with a lovely bass tone but very thin guitar sound. However, the multiple vocal lines come through well and the rather primitive synth sounds add interesting effects, even if they do identify the album as being of a definite vintage. Listen To The Wind has a more progressive feel, spread over eight minutes and taking in several different moods. The instrumental section is light and breezy, although it does sound rather empty; a decent and sympathetic organ section would certainly enhance the piece The single b-sides, Leaving and 200 Lives shed more light on the band's influences with the former having an excellent slow build dripping in atmosphere, although the final guitar solo is rather buried below the drums, and the latter verging tentatively into early King Crimson territory.
The last two tracks of the original album are both minor epics. Down With The Moon has frequent stops and starts and, rather inexplicably, some of the vocal lines remind me of 10cc in their Godley and Creme years. However, the majority of the song is instrumental displaying great interplay between the three musicians even if I think that they could have been more adventurous with the guitar sound. Reminder really sums up the attitude of the band in playing just what they feel like, mixing things up in an almost improvisational way. Lonely Singer, the lead track from the pre-album single, is not radically different from anything that appeared on the album, perhaps a bit more of a commercial twist to it but certainly nothing that would justify it being left off the album. Bet if it had been a hit then it would have secured a place in the track listing! So a reasonable debut suffering a bit from a degree of incoherence and a rather lacklustre production, although showing enough promise for EMI to persevere with the band and send them back into the studio eight months after the debut's release to try again.
Obviously the band had reservations about the production qualities of the debut as they elected to produce their second album themselves, a decision which immensely improves the sound of the album. Also the group had decided to adopt a heavier stance on their second album giving more prominence to the guitar and showing that Margetts, G. is a fine player. This is none more evident than on Brainstorm, a rocking number that has hints of Led Zep about it. Prior to this track, Spaceship opens the album and the style and form of the main riff brings to mind Hey Bulldog, the classic Beatles number. However, Triad is more than a one dimensional effort with two ballads being incorporated within its grooves. Child Life is a lovely piano, bass and drums composition that resembles Stray, particularly in the vocal department. Rainy Day is the better of the two to my ears, being a bit more idiosyncratic and laid back. Love And Laughter is a reasonable song in a somewhat simplistic way, lifted by the vocal interplay and the original guitar lines. The two extended pieces are both highly enjoyable. Pan has some great drum sounds, including timpani, a strong vocal and a fine instrumental section that gets a bit 'cosmic' in places where the VCS3 adds its characteristic spacey sounds that work well echoing the lead guitar. The three part Monolith is the most progressive of pieces on the album, but again taking a somewhat heavier approach, although that doesn't prevent the group getting into some jazzy noodlings that would not be out of place on some of the earlier King Crimson albums. Very enjoyable.
This wouldn't be a proper Esoteric release without the emptying of the vaults to provide the complete story and to that end three bonus tracks are included. Gay Time Night was the A-side of a single released simultaneously with the album. The song has a more poppy feel than any of the album material but is taken somewhat 'out there' by some very strange synth accompaniments. Needless to say the single wasn't a hit and although of a different nature to the material on Triad is a worthwhile addition to the CD. A last throw of the dice saw a final single being released in January 1973 - a rock version of Russian composer Khatchaturian's Sabre Dance that is not too dissimilar to the version recorded by Love Sculpture in 1969. The flip side was a quite radical and slower tempo version of the song which is rather perfunctory although perhaps the band had surmised that Harvest were no longer committed and wouldn't finance a third album unless they had a freak hit and so didn't want to 'waste' one of their own compositions on the release.
With the single not charting the band were dropped and Tony Brock left soon after. The Margetts brothers recruited a couple of new members and recorded a third Spontaneous Combusion album in the legendary Connie Plank studio in Germany which was released on the BASF UK label in 1975, although legal issues prevented the Spontaneous Combustion name being used and instead the album was released under the name of Time. With a third album failing to catch the record buying public's attention, Gary Margetts laid down his guitar as a professional musician. Tris Margetts repaid the early support of Greg Lake by contributing to his early solo career but ultimately Spontaneous Combustion were fated to remain a footnote in the annals of rock music. These two reissues maintain the impressive list of Esoteric releases and are worth checking out for those who are not put off by a lack of overtly progressive clichés.
Spontaneous Combustion: 6 out of 10
Triad: 7 out of 10