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2014 : VOLUME 16
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REVIEWS IN THIS ISSUE:



Astrakhan - Retrospective
Astrakhan - Retrospective
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Power Prog
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2013
Time:50:44
Info:Astrakhan
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Under the Sun, Part 1 (2:38), Shadow Of The Light (3:20), Propaganda (6:55), Higher Ground (6:05), Noname Lane (5:26), Extreme Media Makeover (5:49), Long Gone Generation (6:07), Modern Original Sin (5:44), State of Mind (5:24), Under the Sun, Part 2 (1:24)

From out of nowhere this delicious debut album has gone straight to the top of my current play list. When you consider that list also currently contains new albums from VandenPlas, Gazpacho, ACT, Transatlantic and Appearance of Nothing, then that is no mean achievement.

Hailing from Sweden, the band was formed by musical brothers Per Schelander (bass - House of Shakira, Pain of Salvation and Royal Hunt) and keyboardist Jörgen Schelander.

As the album title suggests, the brothers clearly share a passion for challenging yet melodic songwriting with a firm basis in the 1970s. Most songs offer a clever mix of two styles; the melodic heavy rock bands from that era, such as Deep Purple, who had their roots in earlier blues and more keyboard orientated Prog bands from that same period such as Genesis and Yes.

But this is no nostalgic homage or tribute band. The style is somewhere between ballsy Progressive Rock and bluesy melodic Hard Rock but with a freshness and groove that is both modern and rather unusual.

I must say the two trump cards in the Astrakhan pack is the selection of singer Alex Lycke (ex-Stone Free and Vicious Tongue) on vocals and Evergrey guitarist Marcus Jidell. The lead guitar spots are amazing as is his acoustic work, as on tracks such as Higher Ground. There are some very clever background details that emerge on repeat listens adding depth to the compositions. His interplay with Jörgen's more proggy keyboard playing is one of the chief hallmarks of the band's sound.

Marcus also undertook full studio duties for the album as mixing engineer and producer. He has generated a wonderfully warm, thick, juicy, vintage sound that is a joy to listen to.

Lycke provides a world-class performance. He has a clarity to his delivery and a rich, smooth tone to his voice which brings every song to life. The bluesy tinge is quite different from that normally associated with the progressive genre but for me it blends perfectly with the band's sound. Play the live video of Higher Ground for a good illustration of his capabilities.

A favourite track? Hard to select one as I like them all. Retrospective was released right at the end of 2013 and sadly missed my end of year best of list. Rest assured, it would have easily made my Top 10. A highly recommended album that has the potential to appeal to a wide cross section of the fans.

Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10

ANDY READ


Persona Grata - Reaching Places High Above
Persona Grata - Reaching Places High Above
Country of Origin:Slovakia
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2013
Time:44:10
Info:Persona Grata
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Ace (7:03), Edge of Insanity (12:18), Istanbul (2:54), Orient Express (9:31), Venice (1:04), I am you (14:10)

For me it's a very exciting time in the progressive music scene. The last two years have seen a sudden increase in newer, younger bands emerging and creating a whole new mix of sounds with a verve and dynamism that has been missing for too long.

Sadly, judging by the results of various End of Year Polls and Annual Prog Awards, the average Prog fan and reviewer is, depending on your viewpoint, either: a) stuck in the past or b) taking a while to catch up.

Sure, musical taste is a personal thing and yes, bands such as Spock's Beard, Fish, The Flower Kings, Ayreon and Dream Theater all released decent albums in 2013. However were they really the best and most exciting albums of 2013?

Well, if you are interested in catching up then this new band from Slovakia is as good a starting point as any. Their debut album, Reaching Places High Above, is a wonderfully crafted and inventive selection of three vocal and three instrumental numbers that combine influences and styles from across the musical and cultural spectrums.

All the musicians are great craftsmen, with the vocals of Martin Stavrovsky and backing singer (and flautist) Jana Vargova especially impressive.

Opener Ace is my personal favourite. It takes as its central theme a gorgeously simple yet mega-melodic hard rock guitar line from the '80s and wraps around it a mélange of styles with a frequent fusion vibe. Edge Of Insanity has a similar approach but this time a simple flute riff and a pastoral Prog vibe are central.

The instrumental trilogy of Istanbul, Orient Express and Venice will take you on a journey on the famous steam train from a marketplace in Istanbul to a city once known as the Queen of Adriatic - Venice. A less Prog-clichéd version of Transatlantic springs to my mind here.

Persona Grata has just returned from playing at the ProgNation At Sea event and has already issued a new single, Forevermore, from their follow-up album that is due out in the next few months.

If with hindsight you can admit that your best albums list of 2013 was a little too predictable, try catching up and taking a few 'risks' with albums such as this in 2014.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

ANDY READ


Panic Room - Incarnate
Panic Room - Incarnate
Country of Origin:U.K.
Format:CD
Record Label:Firefly Music
Catalogue #:FFMCD006
Year of Release:2014
Time:61:17
Info:Panic Room
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Velocity (5:17), Start the Sound (5:12), Incarnate (7:37), Nothing New (6:17), Waterfall (5:28), Into Temptation (7:55), All That We Are (5:40), Searching (5:52), Close the Door (5:10), Dust (7:15)

Anne-Marie Helder must be one of the most prolific artists in the prog scene nowadays. Still being a member of the also quite prolific Mostly Autumn, who are about to release a new album later this year, she managed to release the acoustic Luna Rossa album with Panic Room's keyboardist Jonathan Edwards, had to deal with the sudden departure of Panic Room's guitarist and co-founding member Paul Davies and recorded an experimental electronic album with Geoff Downes. Somewhere in between she wrote with the band this new Panic Room album, Incarnate. Whereas you may expect that all those busy projects and very different musical styles may hamper the quality of the output, rather the opposite seems true for Incarnate is probably Panic Room's best album to date.

As with its predecessors, Incarnate is a song-based album. In contrast with their last release, SKIN, this album is somewhat louder, harder-edged and more guitar-orientated, although not in all songs. The consistency of the album lies in the catchy melodies that stick in the mind after two or three listens while being quite varied at the same time. Most of the songs follow the verse-chorus-verse line so the prog side of this album lies primarily in the instrumentation, which is varied throughout, and not in the song structure.

The opener, Velocity, is a good example of this: the guitar opens with the up-tempo main theme of the song, keys, bass and drums fall in, Helder's vocals add a soft side to the song and then there is the sudden outburst by the whole band in the chorus. The verse is softer giving way to another outburst. A really good opener, it is followed by one of the quieter songs with an almost absent guitar. It's just keys with stumping bass and drums by Yatim Halimi and Gavin Griffiths respectively, and of course the beautiful voice of Helder. The title track combines the softer and louder approach as it slowly builds up from a quiet beginning with guitar and bass to a band-driven chorus and very nice guitar work throughout the song by new guitarist Adam O'Sullivan. Further on the band embraces a bit of blues on piano and guitar in Nothing New that ends with a solo that has many similarities with the title track of their former album. The use of cello-like sounds are beautiful in this song. Waterfall opens with the watery sounds of the title over which Edwards plays his electric piano, the song gains speed with strong bass and drums. The string arrangements that appear halfway are really nice, introducing a short break in this up-tempo song.

The longest song, Into Temptation, contains some very fierce guitar outbursts by O'Sullivan but on the whole it is a bit repetitive. With All That We Are Panic Room sounds very relaxed and laid-back. Searching sees the band come up with a nice mouth harp solo that takes the listener to western American landscapes after which you can enjoy a nice guitar solo at the end. The album closes with the impressive Dust, dominated by prominent string arrangements and guitar. It is not as strong as Satellite that closed their second album of the same title but because of its rather symphonic arrangement Dust is the most progressive song on the album.

All in all I found the melodies and the arrangements of the songs by the band very convincing and attractive. Helder's clear voice seems to grow stronger and stronger with each album while the tightness of the band is increasing too. O'Sullivan is a good replacement for Davies so it is hoped that he will stay with the band for a long time. Edwards' keyboards add, as always, very tasteful and multiple layers to the songs without being dominant. All songs on the album are medium-sized in length which works out very beneficial to the arrangements of the songs. With this album Panic Room again proves that they are a group of great musical talents building a catalogue of nice to great albums and securing their place in the forefront of melodic female-fronted progrock bands with the likes of Mostly Autumn, Iona and Touchstone. Highly recommended.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

THEO VERSTRAEL

From the DPRP Archives...
Previous Panic Room CD Reviews:-
Visionary Position
(2008)
"...a solid debut album that in my opinion, knocks spots off the much lauded debut by The Reasoning and surpasses a lot of what was released by Karnataka."
(Mark Hughes, 9/10)
Satellite
(2009)
"...an album that may not be as adventurous as the debut album but still offers an immense amount of fine music..."
(Mark Hughes, 8/10)
Skin
(2012)
"...an album that is full of eloquence and beauty that is coherent, that rewards the listener as every note trickles from the speakers..."
(John O'Boyle, 8/10)



Lindberg - The Other Side
Lindberg - The Other Side
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:ModeMusic
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2013
Time:29:23
Info:Lindberg
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Lies (5:27), The Other Side (5:26), Where to Begin (5:28), Little Girl (4:38), Line No. 18 (8:23)

In 2008, Swedish bassist Jonas Lindberg released an EP, In Secret Pace, as an exam project for music school. Lindberg has now returned with another, yet still quite short, CD called The Other Side. Lindberg not only wrote all of the music and lyrics on the CD but also plays bass, keyboards, guitars and mandolin. He even sings, although a member of his band, Jonas Sundqvist, takes the leading vocal role. Among Lindberg's reported musical influences are The Flower Kings, Spock's Beard and Pink Floyd, although the new CD is softer-edged and less progressive than the former two bands and not as abstract or esoteric as the latter.

The tunes show a real attention to composition. They are tightly fashioned, and the tenor is mostly sunny. The opener, Lies, is classic, rather than progressive, rock. It's heavy on vocals and displays a notable catchiness. Funky rhythm guitar and punchy bass add to the sprightliness. The repeat button exists for songs like this. The title track, The Other Side, is more progressive. The lead vocals are redolent of Glass Hammer (pre-Jon Davison), and the compositional structure and tone marry Spock's Beard and Moon Safari. The synthesizer is quite prominent, although the keyboard and guitar alternate the leads. Another hook-laden song is Where to Begin, which has an '80s sound to the vocals and the main beat. A short but explosive guitar solo and varied drumming are highlights. Next up is a ballad, Little Girl. Featuring acoustic instruments and a vocalist stretched to the border of his range, the tune is a competent interlude but is not inspiring or memorable. The finale, Line No. 18 - the longest tune at approximately 8½ minutes - is the stand-out piece. Mid-era Spock's Beard and The Flower Kings certainly can be heard here, particularly in the Roine Stolte-like guitar solo. A spunky, somewhat jazzy, keyboard solo and, again, compelling drumming, take the tune to a high place. Lovers of symphonic-progressive music could hardly help but smile.

So, Lindberg and his band have released an excellent - but regrettably short - CD. Let's hope that there's enough energy and ideas in reserve to provide a full-length release in the not-too-distant future.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

JOEL ATLAS


Sand - Sand
Sand - Sand
Country of Origin:U.K.
Format:CD
Record Label:kscope
Catalogue #:KSCOPE270
Year of Release:2013
Time:42:47
Info:Sand
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Life Is Too Easy (5:47), Clay (4:32), Destroyer (6:52), Meanwhile (4:16), On A Spent Sea (3:00), Astray (5:27), Elegy For The Old Forty-Foot (1:31), A Pill to Keep the 'Plane from Crashing (6:35), Don't Nod (0:44), Red Queen Freezes (4:00)

Sam Healy will be known to most of you as the frontman and songwriter with post-prog outfit North Atlantic Oscillation, a band who make singularly accessible yet difficult to define music, awash with heavily treated guitars and all kinds of strange effects often within the confines of a good old traditional song structure.

Sam wrote this album throughout 2012 and three quarters of 2013, fitting into NAO's busy schedule where he could; NAO's hectic timetable being a result of their increasing and justified popularity. Sam wanted "to try something...entirely alone...(without) deadlines" and to see if he "could conceive and execute an entire record without any outside interference". This album was made mostly undercover, as only a handful of people knew of its existence prior to release.

All I can say is, the subterfuge paid off handsomely. A caffeine powered heartbeat pulse drives along the theme-setting optimistic opener Life Is Too Easy, followed by post-rock swathes of sound on Clay, and they are only two facets of a many sided multi-hued gemstone. This diamond sparkles with swoonsome ballads featuring choruses heavily influenced by '60s harmony groups, 163-year-old poems set to music, spacerock instrumental sections, singles that should have been made by The House Of Love, all wrapped up in cinematic surround-sound sensuality.

Meanwhile gives more than a passing nod to Elbow, which may explain why Guy Garvey is a fan. Healy goes for spooky Radiohead warbles while Adrift On A Spent Sea has a title with a distinctly Eno-esque feel that is also writ large in the music; no bad thing indeed. Sam Healy has an impressive record collection by the sound of this album, and it is all distilled through his thoroughly modernistic filter.

The way the vocal melody is reflected by a distorted "hall of mirrors" backing track on part of Astray shows that Sam has brought some of NAO's mischievous instincts to the table. This song is probably the oddest on the record, as it veers between ghostly quiet and ear-shatteringly loud within the space of a few bars.

Highly impressionistic lyrics mean nothing and everything at once; take this from Clay - "Fear the socialites who whisper by, Gliding on thermals their bodyless offal secretes (this heat)". It becomes part of the picture and doesn't bear analysis. "Baby's on fire, better throw her in the water" never did Eno any harm, either! The Beach Boys harmony crooning "I'm numb, till you throw me to the floor, Howling 'stand no more'" is a neat juxtaposition of uplifting melody and bleak lyricism. It has to be said that Meanwhile, from which that last lyric is lifted is a highpoint on an album of many. Sand is a rollercoaster ride that always goes up, but somehow manages to retain the giddy swoop of rapid gravity enhanced descent. As Sam says, "All that you want is to try to make sense of landmarks you pass on the climb".

Getting towards the end of the album now, and Sam writes some lyrics that although highly couched in metaphor can be slightly more easily disseminated. Possibly the "Plane" of A Pill to Keep the 'Plane from Crashing is one of existence, and after strapping ourselves in for the inevitable crash we have a dislocated stream of consciousness bemoaning the human condition, world-weary and disaffected. When it takes off this tune becomes an arms-aloft rave anthem that flies off into the stratosphere, leaving behind vapour trails of ghostly piano.

Red Queen Freezes bows out as Sam searches for the meaning of it all, musing that "...someday soon even the tireless regal athlete will stop", tired of "endless waiting". No gongs in the offing for Sam, then! These lyrics read like Peter Hammill, the tune is ethereal Euro-pop, M83 minus the posturing, with a bit of acid-folk thrown in at the end for good measure.

With Sand Sam Healy has tripped the light fandango and rifled through his pockets to get the ingredients that result in an album that sparkles with an optimistic rush that is only too rare these days. Just be sure that this is progressive music that turns its influences into something new, rather than standing in awe of them.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

ROGER TRENWITH


Trinity and Triage - Trinity and Triage
Trinity and Triage - Trinity and Triage
Country of Origin:U.K.
Format:Download
Record Label:Overlook Hotel Records
Catalogue #:Overlook Hotel R237-008
Year of Release:2014
Time:55:00
Info:Trinity and Triage
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Surreal (6:06), Cathedral (5:16), Synaptic Edge (4:27), Three Sisters (5:57), Carrion (3:37), We Won't Say Goodbye (5:32), Those Who Leave (3:38), Face Of Love (6:06), Scorn (5:16), Rosebush, Leaf, & Thorn (4:37), All At Sea (4:31)

'Trinity' - A combination of three separate entities that combine to make one.

Released in January of 2014, the self-titled debut from the Islington based trio, Trinity and Triage - comprising Ralph Feetham, Denna Quijada and Kevin Hartnell - is a vibrant testament to the power of three.

The definition of 'Trinity' fits this group's creative output well. It's present in the soul of the music in the combination of the delicate acoustic guitar tones which blend with the atmospheric synth and Mellotron and the haunting, enchanting vocals.

Visually the theme of three is also evident in the rather beautiful triptych cover. Significantly the eyes combine together in the central panel and at the bottom of the album front, the three pronged trident motif with the line across it, completes the design.

From the opening track, Surreal, the immediate impression is one of eclectic immersion that is reassuringly tricky to pigeonhole and as the rest of the album opens up, this fact is reinforced. The dark, velvety - sometimes spoken - tone of Quijada's laid-back voice on the opener contrasts dynamically later on the album and has the listener searching for comparisons. Yes, there is something of Kate Bush here, and perhaps some Tori Amos too in the quirky, sometimes ambiguous sexual moments, but this is blended with a deeper, almost Eartha Kitt quality, or a pretty Julianne Regan delicateness.

A laid back Folk groove is predominant in many of the songs on the album and when it is combined with a mysterious, gothic darkness - such as that found on Synaptic Edge - there is something of Phideaux to be found, which is no bad thing at all.

This is an album that by and large takes its time, sometimes at a pace that would struggle to match the resting pulse of an Olympic athlete and yet the slow etherealness of the quieter pieces avoid becoming insipid by being balanced with great effect by the number of harder edged tracks such as Cathedral and the heavy-riffed, Psychedelic-infused Those Who Leave. The latter could be attributed by influence towards Grace Slick minus the acid-laced colouring.

As with these numbers and generally throughout the album, the influences aren't blatant and don't impact the overall originality.

Production-wise the album has a lot of sparkle which accentuates well some of the subtleties in the guitar playing and the layered vocals. If your musical taste is broader and you like it to be merely prog-infused without being limited to just that genre, this is a good option. The fact that it comes free via Bandcamp makes this a must listen and a complete no brainer. I can only imagine that this offer is designed to raise their profile and if there is any justice in the music world it will succeed in garnering the interest it very much deserves.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

ERIC PERRY


Flaud Logic - Flaud Logic
Flaud Logic - Flaud Logic
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2013
Time:46:14
Info:Flaud Logic
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Secret Engine (8:18), Say Goodbye (9:44), Shanna (4:27), One Year (23:47)

Flaud Logic, the solo project of New York-based artist Michael Kaplan, make their entrance to the prog scene with one of the most erratic debut albums I've heard, and I mean that in the truest sense of the word. Unpredictable and prone to sudden changes, this group wouldn't understand the term 'playing it safe' if their lives (or more likely their musical careers) depended on it. The result is quite refreshing!

It's a bit like if you mixed prog and Red Bull; the music is highly energetic but not at all refined and the band lack a clear direction. Nevertheless, this album is a whole lotta fun, and it seems on average that prog bands who like to have fun are often much more enjoyable to listen to than those who take themselves too seriously.

Though only featuring four songs, this album is about as uneven as they come, with track lengths ranging from four minutes to twenty-four, and with all manner of styles embraced in between.

However, the disc kicks off with its most powerful weapon, the exuberant instrumental Secret Engine. Beginning with a marching theme, things quickly descend into frenzied activity, all of the group showing off their chops. Satisfyingly, we hear a saxophone solo during one of the less speedy bits; I always see the introduction of some non-standard prog instrument as a sign of musical maturity and flexibility. The introduction of the saxophone immediately widens the potential scope of the album, and helps to open the listener's mind even more. Perhaps more progressive bands should employ a saxophonist just for this reason! Before the end of the track, the band break it down, before building to a dramatic climax with wordless vocals from singer Amy Ward.

The ten-minute opus that follows, Say Goodbye, is also quite strong, if all over the place. Opening with an uncharacteristically quiet lyrical section, the piece suddenly ramps up the dynamics and launches into another long adventurous instrumental. Though this track runs the risk of losing its structure to what some might deem to be a lack of direction, Kaplan and Co. bring things back with a simple but effective outro, repeating the same theme over and over. Once again, this track is nowhere near as refined as something like And You and I, but listenable and enjoyable it surely is.

With two long songs out the way, it's time for the band to take a breather before the final gambit. At four and a half minutes, Shanna is easily the most commercial track on the record; a song about a girl, and why not? It's catchy but not completely cheesy, and it's easy to appreciate how Kaplan doesn't take himself too seriously. "Shanna... ooh, You are just my kind of girl!" I'm not sure what it's doing on a prog record but it's guaranteed to make you smile.

One Year is the obligatory seven-part epic that closes the album, and with such a good track record so far, it'd be reasonable to hope that Flaud Logic could pull off a long track like this. Nevertheless, one can't help but feel that the band have bitten off more than they can chew. Though the individual sections of the suite are in themselves fun and/or interesting, the suite as a whole doesn't have flow or direction. Nevertheless, it's not a total write-off, as the diversity of the music and the skill of the musicians keeps things fairly interesting. In particular, the Stronger Than Words section of the track is devoted to Amy Ward, who has more of a soulful voice, yet doesn't sound out of place on a progressive disc such as this. The Truth of Heart instrumental is also particularly appetising, with all the complexity heard in Secret Engine. Perhaps the strangest point of the song is the weird note that Amy holds as the finale fades out behind her.

This is not your average prog record. Most bands feel they need to be more serious and more involved in themes and concepts to be able to deliver high quality music, but Flaud Logic see things differently. Occasionally, music is about just enjoying yourself, which this album demonstrates perfectly. However, it must be said that some of the music, especially the long suite, could have been better executed. With the lack of consistency evident here, the band will have a difficult time making a lasting impression. The strength here lies in the long playful instrumentals, and I believe Kaplan should focus on these parts in particular when composing new material whilst simultaneously considering structure. They aren't perfect, but Flaud Logic are likely to win you over if you just give them a try.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS


Deafening Opera - Blueprint
Deafening Opera - Blueprint
Country of Origin:Germany
Format:CD
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2013
Time:54:36
Info:Deafening Opera
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Her decay (7:26), Tatjana (0:48), Dripping hot chocolate (6:49), Blueprint (7:33), Jericho I am (4:53), 25,000 miles (6:54), Paralelno (6:57), No man's shadow (5:07), Porcupine syndrome (7:29)

Second album from this German band formed in Munich nine years ago and which arrived on the scene with their debut disc, Synesteria in 2009. An EP entitled 25,000 Miles followed in 2011.

Initially Deafening Opera was a band on the more metallic side of the genre. They now style themselves as "halfway between Porcupine Tree and Riverside". To be frank I didn't pick up on either of those reference points from the nine tracks on offer.

There is a wide variety of styles and combinations on offer. This actually makes band comparisons rather misleading. I guess that 'heavy prog' or 'art rock' would be better guide points.

For me, the breaking point for any album is the quality of the singer. Sadly on Blueprint I just can't get past the vocals of Adrian Deleore. He clearly has an ear for a good melodic line but throughout the disc he has tuning issues and lacks the control to maintain a consistent melody. His attempts at numerous singing styles doesn't find one that works for me.

There is a concept of "telling the story of a life and the construction of man". All but one of the songs are in English. The odd one out is Paralelno which is sung in French.

If you can get past the vocals, then musically there are a lot of good ideas, melodies and compositions which will offer an interesting listen for fans of Heavy Prog.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10

ANDY READ


Darren Lock - Americana
Darren Lock - Americana
Country of Origin:U.K.
Format:CD/DVD
Record Label:Little Lemon Records
Catalogue #:LLR-10
Year of Release:2013
Time:48:21
Info:Darren Lock
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Prairie Moon (3:41), Dawn Highway (4:40), Lost in the Big Country (3:13), Red Rock Canyon (4:12), On the Road (2:37), Houston '77 (4:22), Blue Diamond Skies (2:06), Last of the Electric Horsemen (4:45), The Gamble (2:56), Play With Chance (2:04), The Long Goodbye (4:51), End of the Dream (4:26), Postscript: Americana (4:02)

After hearing this album you'll never think of the lap steel guitar in the same way ever again.

Many DPRP readers will know Darren Lock from his YouTube channel where, amongst other things, he does video reviews of progressive rock albums as well as unboxings of all the major prog boxsets. The latter of these I find particularly helpful, especially because Lock is an artwork stickler like myself and will readily scorn the companies for making a shoddy product. How he affords so many expensive boxsets on the other hand is beyond me; I think he must have to take out another mortgage. I imagine he has albums like Close to the Edge in over a dozen formats and would be ready to splash out if another came along; he's one of those types. That said, his cynical outlook and deep Essex accent make him very suitable as a YouTube host, although he does tend to abuse his commenters from time to time.

I liked the videos, so I thought I'd check out his music too and see if it held any water. The short story is that it doesn't; it really doesn't. I can't really find anything at all remarkable about this album, and I'd feel a lot happier by ending the review here, although pedants would tell me that isn't really a review. Fine, let me take you through this album inch by tedious inch.

Americana is the name of the album, and from what I can make of the lyrics, tells the story of someone going to the U.S.A. and losing everything through gambling, although the 'peril' doesn't come till around halfway through the second act. Instead the disc kicks off with the sound of Lock heavily breathing into your ear. Trust me, this is not a pleasant experience. Following that are two dozy, repetitive instrumentals featuring Lock twanging away on various instruments. This is clearly his attempt to form soundscapes in the style of Bill Nelson, but all he succeeds in is creating mind-numbing tedium. Looking at the digipak, it seems like the next track will feature lyrics. Perhaps the boredom will come to an end?

As Lost in the Big Country starts, the boredom simply manifests itself differently; now we have lyrics to follow, but they are not only very cheesy - "Walking down the highway" is about as good as it gets - but terribly sung by a man who makes Andy Tillison sound like Pavarotti. That deep voice that is oh-so-suited to reviewing is unfortunately not up to the task of carrying emotion through the medium of lyrics and his vocal range is almost non-existent. Furthermore, this song, like the instrumentals before it, is once again entirely repetitive. On top of that, matters are made worse by the introduction of the lap steel guitar, which Darren twangs up and down for the song's duration, adding an extra layer of American processed cheese to the proceedings.

With the next track, Red Rock Canyon, we have a brief escape from Darren's deplorable singing, but not from the lap steel guitar, which seems to be the instrument of choice on this album. More twanging, more plucking, still no direction. Four minutes and twelve seconds down the drain.

On the Road is very slow and melancholy, with Lock practically mumbling his lacklustre lyrics, full of kitsch and cliché. The lap steel guitar is again the main instrument here, but seems to know only a handful of notes. This is music at its most uninteresting.

Now, Houston '77 is my least favourite track on this abominable album for a number of reasons. Firstly, it sounds almost exactly like the last, showing a clear lack of creativity on Lock's part. However, the main offence in this track are the lyrics, featuring pointless and uninspiring descriptions of objects in the subject's past and all once again sung with no feeling or, it has to be said, talent. Lock's attempt at inducing nostalgia fails on all levels. And all the while that ruddy lap steel guitar whines out. I'll let you guess what the sole instrument in the following instrumental is.

By now, the listener isn't sure which they prefer, the boring tedium of the instrumentals or the cringeworthy lyrical sections. One thing seems to remain consistent throughout, however: each and every track is utterly repetitive, not so much taking the listener from Point A to Point B as staying resolutely still at Point A for as long as it possibly can. Most tracks feature just one theme and some noodling on top. If you're lucky you get a slightly different bit thrown in to form the bridge. The general rule is that you can listen to the first 30 seconds of the song and you've basically heard all of it.

Last of the Electric Horsemen is the first song that actually features any contrast, with a dull bit featuring random wordless vocals followed by a more lively solo played on (you guessed it) the lap steel guitar. There's still barely anything remarkable about this track, but at least Darren is aware that songs don't have to sound the same all the way through.

Out of nowhere, Lock decides he's not happy with the relaxed-to-the-point-of-slipping-into-a-coma pace of the album and attempts to make a rock song. Those wearing headphones will have their eardrums ruined by the horrendous screeching guitar at the start of The Gamble. Perhaps this is a sign that things will get more interesting? It hardly seems so, as Lock only plays two alternating chords for the duration of this song. Anything more would probably be too complicated. The lap steel guitar is here replaced by a more monotone sounding electric guitar that whines over the course of the song, but after twenty solid minutes with that instrument, I'm happy to see it go, if only temporarily.

One mediocre lap-steel-guitar based instrumental later, we finally hit the only track on the record that comes close to being prog. Until now, it's been dreary repetitive lap-steel-guitar-based tedium. The Long Goodbye is in 7/8, although the drumming is so cacophonic that it's occasionally hard to tell. Lock also pulls out a Mellotron emulator that he's been hiding, and once again plays only two chords during the lyrical sections. You'll also find an instrumental with Lock playing what sounds like random notes on the electric guitar in a melody that no one will be able to understand. His singing is at its worst on this track: often he fails to stay in time with the music and when he forces himself to sing higher notes the results are truly atrocious. The most comedic point is the 'climax' of the song where Darren yells "Oh fuck it! I'm taking you straight down to Heeeeeeeeeeeeeellllllll!", barely managing to hold the note he's set for himself.

Eight more minutes of inconsequential lounge music finish off this thoroughly boring album. By this point I've already forgotten most of what I've heard already, although I can't say I'll ever be able to hear a lap steel guitar again without wincing. The pain has only just started though because accompanying the CD is a DVD featuring the album in soul-sucking surround sound. I can't even begin to imagine what five lap steel guitars at once are going to sound like.

Fortunately, I don't have to. The DVD refused to work on any device I tried it with, although the jerking noise it made inside my laptop's disc drive actually produced a more interesting rhythm than any to be found on the album itself. I wouldn't have expected anything less from one of the shoddiest albums I've heard in a long time. Not only is Americana not progressive, but it's not even musically or thematically interesting. While I recognise that I've been quite harsh, I only do so because I know Darren Lock is the sort of man who can take it on the chin. I will continue to support his reviews, and especially his unboxings, but his music will have to do without my approval.

Conclusion: 1 out of 10

BASIL FRANCIS

A video response to Basil's review by Darren Lock:-




Jono - Requiem
Jono - Requiem
Country of Origin:Sweden
Format:CD
Record Label:Musicano Records
Catalogue #:MUCD019
Year of Release:2013
Time:41:48
Info:Jono
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: I Was the One (3:48), Judgement Day (5:20), Letting Go (6:00), Nothing (3:59), Symphony (4:00), Best Thing (4:05), Requiem (6:10), Dead or Alive (3:47), Love Again (4:15)

This will be a quicky, because this album actually doesn't really qualify for a review on this website as it's hardly prog, but still I'd like to point your attention to it because I know some of you, like me, will like this very much.

I have been a huge fan of Queen for many years and anyone else interested in this group should read on.

Jono is not trying to copy the music or style of Queen, but it's very clear that they're very much influenced by them (the later years) and I doubt any Queen fan will dislike this album (especially Symphony which could have been a Queen song and the title track which has a melody line that is almost identical to one from Teo Toriatte).

The band consists of five experienced musicians. Guitarist Stefan Helleblad is also a member of the Dutch symphonic rock band Within Temptation and drummer Nicka Hellenberg played all the drums on Within Temptation's album The Unforgiving.

But the sound of Jono can't really be compared to that of Within Temptation, unless perhaps the use of bombastic sounds.

Singer Johan Norrby has been singing, writing and playing music in countless bands and projects, which actually goes for all of the guys in the band. Johan Carlgren on keyboards and Janne Henrikson on bass complete the band.

Jono actually started as Norrby's solo project (hence the band name, 'JoNo') and released its first album in 2006 and this is the follow-up, the delay a result of the time and energy to get the production done and financing the project without any economical help. A new album is already written and partly recorded.

Jono describe their music as symphonic/progressive rock/pop, but I have to add that the symphonic and pop elements are clearly much more significant than the others mentioned. They state their influences as Queen, Supertramp, Saga, Sparks, Kansas and also heavier stuff; I personally would like to add The Darkness (for the Queen influence), The Ark (Sweden), A.C.T. and Toto to that.

So with these references it's already clear this isn't music for the ones seeking a real challenge for the ears. This music goes down like oil and already after the first listen you know what to expect and what not. After three spins you can sing along with every song. Melodic pop based songs (almost radio friendly if it didn't have such a '70s vibe to it) with catchy choruses and plenty of bombast, vocal harmonies, choirs, orchestral arrangements, a sometimes high pitched, powerful voice and, of course, the obligatory ballad (even 3 of them).

All combined, this truly is a fine album. As said not proggy at all, but absolutely recommended to everyone interested in fine, melodic, powerful classic rock.

I won't grade this album officially here, but if this was a website dedicated to melodic pop and rock it surely would have received an 8; coming from a 5 for originality and a 10 for enjoyment.

Conclusion: Unrated

JORIS DONKEL

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Published 20th March 2014

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