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ISSUE 2014-35
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Reviews in this issue:

The Watch - Tracks of the Alps
The Watch - Tracks from the Alps
Country of Origin: Italy
Format: CD
Record Label: The Watch
Catalogue #: PKR 0020
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 37:32
Info: The Watch
Samples: Click Here
Track List:
A.T.L.A.S (7:06), Devil's Bridge (6:12), The Cheating Mountain (5:07), On Your Own (3:42), Going Out To Get You (3:36), Once in a Lifetime (4:19), The Last Mile (7:30)
Some hardened, blinkered adolescent progsters, afraid to look over their shoulders, will scoff at the mere notion of entertaining retrospective progressive rock. But the old adage, what goes around, comes around, can be seen and heard in today's progressive rock scene; and when it comes to The Watch, they make no secret of their devotion to all things sounding like seventies Gabriel-era Genesis.

However, regressive rock might be a more apt term to describe the latest offering from the Turin based band The Watch. The new album Tracks from the Alps clocks in less than 38 minutes! Since the DPRP review of Twilight, pushing at a respectable 49 minutes, each album reviewed has gotten progressively shorter. But to be fair Simone Rossetti, vocalist and principle composer, is a very hard working musician and unlike some other musicians, Big Big Train springs to mind, he is extensively touring year on year bringing classic Genesis songs to retro starved progsters across the globe. The fact that Simone can find the time to write is testament to his unwavering prog credentials. The Watch are different to other tribute bands – they also play some of their own material live. So I am very grateful they have found the time to get some new music out there.

The band now includes Simone's 20 year old son Mattia who has studied guitar since he was 7. Mattia plays bass guitars and pedals on this album and was involved in the making of the music.

The inspiration for Tracks from the Alps was driven by Simone Rossetti's love of the Alps, where he spent many a happy day as a young boy and where he still has a house that was actually used in the writing of this album (Simone lives in Milan, few kilometres from the south side of the Alps). Glacier soil tracks (see album cover) inspired the idea to use the word track as a double meaning in terms both musically and geological.

The opening track is called A.T.L.A.S. and is inspired by the A Toroidal LHC Apparatus (ATLAS) experiment at Switzerland's CERN facility, a European research organization whose purpose is to operate the world's largest particle physics laboratory. Heady stuff indeed and goes some way to explaining what the lyrics are about.

A.T.L.A.S. features the Genesis trademark of finger picking 12-string acoustic and electric guitars that underpin Rosettie's vocal delivery (think along the lines of the intro to Supper's Ready). This gives way to a full band entry in 5/4 that features Tony Banks style Hammond organ arpeggios. The song also features an Apocalypse 9/8 instrumental groove that is overlaid with various keyboard farts, sounds and Hammond organ motifs. I couldn't help feeling that it would have been great to have had a Hammond keyboard solo in the style of Banks over this beat. The last two or so minutes of the song has a repeating refrain with throbbing keyboard accompaniment that slowly comes awash with lavish string and Mellotron sounds. A great opening track.

Devil's Bridge is inspired by folklore about the disappearance of people in the Alps. The lyrics mention some of the most prominent peaks and the mysterious Devil's Bridge is the stuff of legends. Simone states: "Mary Shelley woke up from a nightmare in the Alps and wrote Frankenstein. 'We march...' refers to Hannibal crossing the Alps". This track has a similar start to A.T.L.A.S., and also features a great melodic guitar solo as part of the track outro. Strong hints of Hackett there. Another excellent track.

And atmospheric start to The Cheating Mountain with footsteps and bell tolling. This song also has a keyboard solo and features some atmospheric keyboard sounds, including the tumescent Mellotron. On Your Own has a repeating keyboard motif at the start and is slower in tempo than the other tracks. The tune has a catchy melody for the chorus with nice use of reverb. Track also features a flute solo from Simone. This is a beautifully sung song and spiritually uplifting.

The Last Mile is based on a true story about Nazi treasure that needed to disappear by dumping it in Lake Topitz, Austria. However the last mile to the lake being road-less, the Nazi soldiers were aided by a young Austrian woman and her horse drawn carriage to transport the boxes to the edge of the lake. This track also features once again the Genesis trademark of finger picking 12-string acoustic and electric guitars that underpins Rosettie's vocal delivery. Giorgio Gabriel delivers some great Hackett style solos. There's an unusual ternary passage about half way through that appears, to me anyway, to be a tongue in cheek children's playground delivery "we the master race now", as if mocking the Nazis. The tension builds up towards the end of the song with a rich tapestry of keyboard sounds including the good old Mellotron. Another excellent track. The album also features a very old Genesis song, Going out to Get You. Not sure if there is a mountain connection here and the song sits in the middle but would have been better placed at the end of the album. An old Genesis song that never appeared on any of their studio albums. Possibly would have fitted on Revelation but certainly not The Lamb! Many thanks to The Watch bringing this to my attention (never heard of it until I bought this album).

In summary, The Watch fans will not be disappointed with this album. This is probably their finest, albeit shortest, album to date. I'm not sure if Simone exerts complete artistic control over the writing with the other band members unable to contribute but I'm one of those progsters that would love to hear synth and Hammond keyboard solos that are reminiscent of Tony Banks. Valerio de Vittorio is certainly very capable of playing them (I saw the whole of The Lamb performed by The Watch - absolutely brilliant) but not sure if Valerio is given any of the musical canvas by Simone to create such solos. There is a paucity of standout solos on this album (and previous albums). Maybe such Genesis style solos today are considered anachronistic by The Watch but I for one, and no doubt other retro progsters, have no problem with having plenty of non-noodling solos (think of Cinema Show) - it's why I love the early Genesis albums. Anyway, I really appreciate and love that The Watch carry the torch for 70s retrospective prog. Please can we have some more?
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Future Fiction - Looking For a Broken Dream
Future Fiction - Looking For a Broken Dream
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 46:02
Info: Future Fiction
Samples: Click Here
Track List:
1000 Faces, 1000 Smiles (7:58); Between the Lines, Part 1 (1:02); Between the Lines, Part 2(4:41), Blood, Sweat & Tears(8:22), Blue (3:57), The Clown Prelude (1:30), The Clown (4:47), Crazy Baby (3:08), Carry Me Home (5:32), Who Wants It? (4:59)
"We are Future Fiction, a progressive rock band from Sussex, England. Our style of music is Future-Retro Progressive Rock. We don't have endless widdly solos but we do have a progressive approach when it comes to crafting songs." This is how the band describe themselves on their Facebook. I think I can agree with this description. De bandmembers are Kilmer (guitars, keyboards), Shemeck Fraczek (bass), and Josh Fraser (drums). Kilmer has also written, arranged and produced the album. They are influenced by Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Todd Rundgren, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Rainbow and even Yes. A quite remarkable collection of bands, so what to expect?

When you like your prog a bit rough I think you will find this album enjoyable to listen to. It's difficult to find the Pink Floyd influences but don't be put off by that! A mixture of classic rock, metal and a little progrock is what you will hear on this album. They kick-off with 1000 Faces, 1000 Smiles which I think is perhaps the best track on the album. There is some nice solo-work by Kilmer on guitar and keys and he is well supported by drummer Josh Fraser. I must admit I couldn't really discover a bad track on the album. The only criticism is that it isn't really proggy enough for me and probably for most of the DPRP-readers.

Conclusion? It's certainly worth listening to this album if you would like to try something different.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Beyond-O-Matic - Relations At The Borders Between
Beyond-O-Matic – Relations At The Borders Between
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: Trail Records
Catalogue #: Trail 04
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 72:57
Info: Trail Records
Samples: Click Here
Track List:
In The C (5:13), Tick Tock Rock (2:29), Wish (15:40), In Two Os (12:56), Turn, Switch, Trust (10:42), But The Love (10:02), Out The C (15:52)
San Francisco space cadets Beyond-O-Matic return with their second album, following on from 2010's trippy Time To Get Up (review here). The improvised backbone to these songs was laid down in one session, lyricist Peter Fuhry then wrote the words and transformed them into zeros and ones at various overdub sessions at a later date. He also contributes guitars, electric harp, melodica, effects, as well as his very odd vocals. His cohort in the sonic Laundromat is one Kurt "Stenzo" Stenzel, who as luck would have it is not a Scandinavian darts player, but a manipulator of synthesiser and other effects. Completing the improvisation session is Anthony Koutos on drums. Bass guitar, and bass synthesiser on In The C, was contributed at the overdub stage by Michael "Seven" Harris.

In The C kicks off proceedings as a slowly building gothic-folk sounding number, all haunting reverb and Peter Fuhry's strange but not unpleasant upper register singing. We then meander into the slow spooky atmospherics of Tick Tock Rock before heading off into the far flung deep space of five tracks, each in excess of ten minutes in length.

Wish sets the scene with a very down-tempo heavy and repetitive mantra, of much the same dynamic as doom metal, but without the crushing low end. Atop this is Furhy's strange almost feminine-sounding falsetto, and his flute blowing. The drone-like nature of this song is probably supposed to be trance inducing, but I find it simply drags on too long, by at least five minutes.

In Two Os has a bit more structure and commences as a song before the spirit of DikMik takes over in the middle, space whispers and moans a-go-go. The song eventually dissolves into the ether. The lyrics on the record deal with altered states of consciousness, probably aided by chemical substances, and if you were tripping and had a light show handy it would no doubt do the trick. However, I'm not sure how I would react to Peter's strange warbling in an altered state, it has to be said! I wouldn't particularly appreciate the very sudden ending of this track either, as if the tape ran out.

And therein lies the problem; Beyond-O-Matic's attempted hypnotic effect would no doubt work in a live setting, or if you were under the influence, but those of you who like me went straight as a matter of expediency many moons ago, or indeed if you have never imbibed of the synapse-shifters might find it all a bit dull. Things become even more soporific on Turn, Switch, Trust, a delicate gossamer-thin construct, with Peter harmonising his own voice, and strangely enough this forms by far the most involving part of the album, for it is actually rather lovely.

But The Love and Out The C are more dream-walking through treacle, and on the latter Peter sings in a for once normal register, as "strangely tuned guitars" played with the "Long Stiff Finger Of Doom" echo about the place.

The whole album is drenched in a heady lysergic 60s vibe that is pleasant enough without really going anywhere... Hey, don't Bogart that joint, man... Zzzz...
Conclusion: 6 out of 10

Flamborough Head - Lost In Time
Flamborough Head - Lost In Time
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: Oskar
Catalogue #: OSKAR 1058 CD
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 60:35
Info: Flamborough Head
Track List:
Lost in Time (12:15), The Trapper (11:48), Dancing Ledge (9:03), Damage Done (10:56), I'll Take the Blame (6:37), Andrassy Road (9:55)
At the conclusion of my review for the last Flamborough Head album Looking For John Maddock, I pondered on the band's future following the recent departure of principle songwriter/guitarist Eddie Mulder and the announcement of his replacement Gert Pölkerman. That was in 2009 and whilst the arrival of this 6th studio album and Pölkerman's debut has taken a little longer than expected it's been worth the wait. He has a good deal to live up to considering that Mulder and keyboardist Edo Spanninga was such a perfect partnership (and continue in that capacity as two thirds of Trion and their latest album Funfair Fantasy). Fortunately, Pölkerman is more than up to the task and together with Spanninga, Margriet Boomsma (vocals, flute, recorder), Marcel Derix (bass) and Koen Roozen (drums) produced an album worthy of the Flamborough Head legacy which dates back to the early nineties.

Compositionally, Spanninga is responsible for the first five pieces and Pölkerman the closing track with all lyrics provided by Margriet. The 12 minute title track Lost In Time is as good as anything the band have ever recorded with a rich, lush sound incorporating synths, piano, mellotron samples and organ complemented by classical guitar and a stately lead guitar theme. As with previous FH outings Margriet's distinctive vocals are sparingly used (she doesn't start singing until 5 minutes into the album) but prove to be all the more effective for that. Her flute contributions however are generously deployed complementing the guitar and keys perfectly. Overall a very promising start to proceedings and one that put me in mind of 2013's excellent 1000 Wishes project by fellow Dutch proggers PB II. The Trapper is a lively piece with a ridiculously catchy guitar hook against a wash of symphonic keys. Around the 7 minute mark it takes in an engagingly jazzy interlude (rare for FH) before returning to the uplifting, orchestral tone that opened. This is fast becoming my favourite track on the album. The instrumental Dancing Ledge is about as heavy as FH get with a solid riff (but don't expect prog-metal) before returning to more familiar territory with a pastoral mid-section incorporating a rare bass solo from Mr Derix. Damage Done moves with a greater sense of urgency, to begin with at least, but slows down for a reflective song from Margriet who it has to be said is sounding as good as I've ever heard on any previous album. The instrumental coda is an absolute joy although for me the fade comes far too soon.

I'll Take the Blame allows Margriet to demonstrate both her flute and vocal prowess in equal measures driven by Pölkerman's gritty guitar line and Spanninga's moody piano and synth work. Acoustic guitar, piano and recorder combine beautifully on Pölkerman's Andrassy Road to create a vaguely Celtic feel that brings Mark Knopfler's Going Home from Local Hero to mind. Add another memorable vocal from Margriet and you have one of the album's strongest efforts and a fitting conclusion to this set.

Lost In Time is unquestionably Flamborough Head's most convincing studio album to date and neo-prog fans in particular should take note, it rarely gets better than this. Moreover, if you long for the days when Camel, Genesis, Focus and Renaissance were in their vintage prime and regularly find yourself saying "They don't make music like that anymore" then this will almost certainly make you think again.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

Charlotte Church - Three

Charlotte Church - Three
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD, digital download
Record Label: Alligator Wine Records
Catalog #: B00DO0VZ5W
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 25:47
Info: Charlotte Church
Track List:
Sparrow (3:17), Remains (1:43), Like a Fool (5:33), Magician's Assistant (5:04), House Upon the Sea (3:06), I Can Dream (3:50), Water Tower (3:19)
I know, I know. Bear with me.

Until perhaps five or six weeks ago, I had neither heard of, nor heard anything by Charlotte Church. (Yes, I am a troglodyte.) By the merest chance, I happened to catch a post at Progressive Ears, within which bona fide prog rock fans were lauding Charlotte's release of a series of EPs, titled sequentially One, Two, Three, and Four, with Five due out at some point this year. I've yet to listen to Four. I've heard One and Two, both of which are vibrant. But I want to concentrate on Three, which is, simply put, a gorgeous musical presentation.

I'm going to bypass discussion of Charlotte's meteoric raise and previous, substantial success. Doubtless, any music fan who recognizes her name knows something about her talent and career. The context for this review, though, is where Charlotte is now, rather than where she's been. Although, that said, she's made an extraordinarily bold and pronounced stylistic change on Three, which I guess is all the more appreciable knowing her pedigree. If nothing else (but there is plenty else), Three invokes what is fundamentally appealing and satisfying about progressive rock and all progressive music: an abandonment of previously established form to evolve adventurously into new sonic textures and tonal representation. Three does this marvelously.

I'm going to comment track-by-track, which is something I rarely do, as I find it cumbersome and often an exercise in overwriting. But, what the hell? I'll overwrite. In this case, maybe especially since Three is a seven-song, 26-minute EP, it would be remiss not to say a little bit about each song, since they each are amazing in their singular way.

Now, sadly, I can't find out much about who plays what on Three, which is definitely displeasing. Charlotte's website does offer lyrics, which is nice, but there's no information about who appears on the EP. Unfortunately, and inexplicably, AllMusic doesn't provide a review of Three, so there are no credit listings there. A shame, really, since the playing on the EP is genuinely inspired, subtle, atmospheric, potent and haunting in places - you expect Morgan Le Fey will cast a glamor before the music's over.

It would be true enough to mention that Three definitely gives a tip-o'-the-cap to both Kate Bush and, to a lesser extent, Björk. It's difficult to complain about the influences, though, since there aren't many artists in the history of rock music with better vision and uncompromising aesthetic integrity. And while Charlotte is channeling, it's the inculcation of the aesthetic integrity that shines on Three - she's very obviously crossed over into the world of ars gratria artis and seems quite determined to record and perform whatever her heart dictates. She's playful on the EP, and intense, and brooding, and romantic, and ethereal, and earthy, all the while pushing her boundaries to make music that perhaps won't hold fans from her former glory days but will most certainly win new fondness and appreciation.

The music.

The EP opens with Sparrow, a pretty song with a vibe of punishing heartache, forlorn in the manner of Kate Bush. Listen to Charlotte at 1:17 - a lesson in tugging at a listener's heart with vocal delivery. The chorus is sweetly multi-layered and the song exits with a dervish swirl.

Remains is a short track of counterpoint vocals, with an echo of Björk, and includes an incessant drum pattern, driving and heartbeating its way into a subtle shift of pattern, a syncopated bleed into Like a Fool. This percussive segue kills me each time I hear it - it's an unavoidable mindtrap. Like a Fool opens with an achingly beautiful first line and builds into an alt rock intensity - a sinister organ, guitar and drum interplay that conveys the anger of the deceived. Then: abrupt silence, and the coda, which is blistering but fitting, reminiscent of some of Lindsay Buckingham's best bite - hard emotion, angst and regret. Magician's Assistant is the masterpiece of the EP and likely the song that would convert the prog rock masses, if any song on Three could. It starts as a sultry, whispery story (and I'm thinking Skye Edwards of Morcheeba) backed with harp, cello (I believe), perhaps other strings. Soon, it's a Beatle blend of pop and orchestration, snug and comfy. Until (at 3:39) when we're blasted with a Nels Cline-meets-Zappa horn and psych guitar freak-out. What? But it happens and the fluidity of the playing is smile inducing.

House Upon the Sea is the sheer terror of nightmares, regret and despair, set to the cadence of a troubled sea. Although there's a hopeful bridge section, the grim waltz-time greyness permeates the lyrics and haunts...and maybe the earnest hope of rejuvenating clear day is mistaken? Can a song be painful and positive? Why not? Human existence is.

I Can Dream puts us soundly within the realm of dream pop with more sublime singing - to wit, listen at :54 and again at 2:38. Spine-tingling. The band ends the tune with absolutely crazed playing but remaining smart, utilizing bombast in quick, piercing strikes. It's almost latter-day Wilco with a sprinkle of confectioner's sugar...oh, with some beserker-rage fret damage tossed in, too.

Finally, Water Tower, in which saxophone quietude, a restrained drum throb and some subdued but creeping guitar feedback convey a stolid and determined willingness to nurture loved ones as, for life on this planet, only water can. At 1:55... resolution becomes might and Three kicks the proverbial ass.

The instrumental performances on this EP are simply stellar. I'm most impresed by the continual ability of the musicians to set mood and atmosphere with a hyper-aware use of sonic palettes. The playing is impressive throughout in its facility and dexterity but, moreso, for its suggestiveness and shifts along a very, very broad continuum of emotion and energy. Truly amazing. I only wish I knew who forms the band...

Although I find that (in a gross generalization but one that seems valid) most progressive rock fans have a remote concern for lyrics, at best, preferring the sound of singing over the actual words, I'm in the minority and lyrics are make-or-break for me. Three is abundant with some legitimate poetry and I rarely give out that accolade. I'm an old, jaded soul and, still, the lyrics are evocative and impressionistic, drawing you fully into the tale.

Who is going to enjoy Three and to whom should I recommend it? I'm hesitant... this is going to be a bizarre list. Without question, anyone who has ever adored Kate Bush or been stunned by Björk needs to hear this EP. Needs to. Then...if you like any of the following, please give Three a shot: XTC's Nonsuch and Apple Venus Volume 1; post-Seeds of Love Tears for Fears; the better moments of Buckingham-Nicks era Fleetwood Mac; Nels Cline-era Wilco; The Flaming Lips; and maybe even something like Jellyfish. This probably puts Three more into the realm of art rock or pop prog but still...those artists have raised a high bar to reach and this EP climbs to it.

I couldn't admire this recording or Charlotte et al.'s effort on Three any more than I do. Is there something more substantial in this world than someone allowing themselves to evolve, experiment, test themselves, regardless of anticipated reaction or prevalent objection? I'd say that's the spirit of artistic progression. Even if I disliked the musical offerings on Three, I would still be undeniably impressed by the courage and earnestness out of which they emerged. When The Beatles opened Revolver with Taxman (and a George Harrison track nonetheless!), didn't we applaud? Well, I did, and Three showcases the same sort of willingness to abandon artistic safety. Charlotte can cash-cow all of her remaining days, if she prefers... but why would she want to? Thankfully, it looks like she doesn't. With the risk of the scorching I might receive, much contemporary progressive rock lacks the daring and dash shown on Three and is largely satisfied to rest within the dens of familiarity. Too bad. Who would have guessed Charlotte Church might out-prog proggers? Well, probably her!

And Charlotte's voice is immaculate.

In short: a juggernaut with absolutely no missteps. I could never have expected to be so blown away. But I was and am. Superior stuff that rewards repeatedly with its depth and maturity.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10

Blodwyn Pig - Pigthology
Blodwyn Pig – Pigthology
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Gonzo Multimedia
Catalogue #: HST139CD
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 45:44
Info: Squirrel Music
Track List:
See My Way (4:27), Baby Girl (3:49), Dear Jill (6:27) Monkinit (4:42) Drive Me (2:45), The Change Song (3:34), Cosmogification (5:06), Same Old Story (2:33), Hound Dog, Sly Bones (2:10), It's Only Love (3:22), Stormy Monday (6:49)
Blodwyn Pig, formed by guitarist Mick Abrahams after his tempestuous exit from Jethro Tull, are almost better known for the iconic smoking pig head wearing headphones and shades that adorned their first album, Ahead Rings Out, than they are for their music. As you can see, the pig makes a multi-exposure reappearance on the cover of this compilation of "rare unreleased recordings", as the PR blurb has it. I use the quotes, as this is Gonzo we are talking about, after all! It transpires that this is a re-release of an album originally put out by Mick's label Squirrel Music. I had a laugh when I discovered that the track Hound Dog is missing completely. Even if this was a mistake on the original release, it does beg the question – why the **** didn't Gonzo either put it back in or amend the track listing?! Is there no beginning to their attention to detail?

It seems that the origin of these recordings is a mystery even to the compilers Abrahams and Lancaster, as nothing is given away in the minimal liner notes. Other sources state that there are alternate takes of album tracks from the band's two albums, some BBC session tracks, and a couple of live tracks. All of the recordings come from the period from 1969 to 1973, as far as I can ascertain.

Blodwyn Pig were a rambunctious R&B band of the old school, led by Abraham's economic but firey rhythm and lead, and occasional barrelhouse piano. No side long epics here, the Pig were the antithesis of the drawn out prog that Tull were heading for, Abrahams is ably supported by Jack Lancaster (sax, flute, violin, piano), and a thoroughly meaty rhythm section comprising Andy Pyle (bass) and Ron Burg (drums). Later appearances behind the drum kit were made by Clive Bunker and Graham Walker, with bass by John Garden.

The songs range from barroom bust ups in a style that Frankie Miller would make his own (Baby Girl), to folk blues (The Change Song) and an exemplary cover version (Stormy Monday). Dear Jill, a lazy slow burner that makes more than a nod in the direction of Albatross also includes some fine fiddle playing from Lancaster, whose multi-instrumentalism adds many a colour to this fine band. Apart from the cover, Abrahams penned all but one of the songs here, that being Lancaster's Monkinit, a jazz rock outing of the kind common before fusion came along. It rolls and tumbles along quite nicely, thank you very much! More jazz rock, this time in a funkier groove, is evident on the live Cosmogification, a track that allows Lancaster to blow away on his sax to his heart's content. The live tracks on this record exude a good time vibe that is hard to resist.

This is a highly enjoyable compilation for fans of the blues and dirty old school R&B and jazz rock, all played with an easy panache by a band that knew a thing or two about the music that goes so well with beer. Nope it ain't prog, or progressive in the slightest, which actually makes a nice change. Sometimes prog fans, me included, forget that music is there to be enjoyed for its own sake rather than theorised over. However, DPRP is a prog site, so this has to be unrated.
Conclusion: unrated

Tim Bowness - Abandoned Dancehall Dreams

Tim Bowness - Abandoned Dancehall Dreams
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Catalogue #: 0506810
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 45:08
Info: Tim Bowness
Samples: Click Here
Track List:
The Warm-Up Man Forever (4:07), Smiler at 50 (8:20), Songs of Distant Summer (5:02), Waterfoot (4:14), Dancing for You (5:59), Smiler at 52 (4:05), I Fought against the South (8:51), Beaten by Love (3:30)
Those of us amongst the older prog fraternity who are vaguely aware what dance halls were to our parents, would certainly not describe them as places of bacchanal debauchery, drunken routs or dens of iniquity. There was an ostensible innocence about dance halls that conjures up images of women in billowing dresses and men in razor-sharp suits.

Tim Bowness, better known in prog scenes as the vocalist with No-Man, has a new solo album out in June 2014, called Abandoned Dancehall Dreams. The album will be released as a limited edition 2 CD Digipak, 180g Gate-fold LP (including the album on CD) and digital download. The inspiration for the album came from growing up in the North West UK where he saw plenty abandoned dance halls and imagined the music of the live big bands and the people who danced there. The resulting album is loosely connected with dance halls.

Progsters who are fans of No-Man will not be disappointed with this album. In fact, Tim Bowness is simply a pseudonym for No-Man (or maybe it's the other way round!). As now expected from Tim, the mass of ADD centres around an ethereal ambience that envelops the listener like a fine gossamer layer. Tim certainly has the ability to convey a sense of heart-wrenching melancholy through much of his later work; a wistfulness that can penetrate one's very own soul.

However, in reviewing ADD, I revisited my copies of No-Man's Together We're Stranger and Returning Jesus (considered two of their finest albums) to get a sense of what, if anything, is different about this album.

Well the first track, The Warm Up Man Forever, could be considered an aberration for Tim; a pounding rhythmic drum pattern from Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson) , reminiscent of the drum entry to Genesis's Duke's Travels, underlies this great track. It also has a ruminating solo guitar outro from Mike Bearpark under the instruction to "Sound like a wild dog having a street fight with a conger eel." A track worth checking out.

The second track, Smiler at 50, is another track that could be considered a musical divergence for Tim. The song starts off in the classic Bowness mould of a reflective ballad, featuring a haunting eastern vibe violin sound from Anna Phoebe (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Ian Anderson, Jon Lord) and bass work from Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree). However, this song has a sting in its tail, ending with a very dark, powerful and dramatic two or so minutes of striking music, with shades of Porcupine Tree and, for me anyway, Arena; certainly I had a tingling sensation down my spine listening to this. An absolutely cracking finale to a song.

The songs Songs of Distant Summers, Waterfoot, Dancing for You, Smiler at 52, have all the Bowness and No-Man familiar trademarks of soulful ballads: lovely melodies, lush strings, atmospheric moods and background musical nuances that provide a satisfying aural tapestry. The "old-school" synthesiser solo from Stephen Bennett (Henry Fool) towards the end of Dancing for You is a beautiful melodic, sonic delight.

Like Smiler at 50, the track I Fought Against the South has a powerful and dramatic edginess towards the end of the song, with distant violin, lush strings and power chords which all give way to a peaceful paradise of exotic flute and strings. This is another superb coda and possibly the best track on the album and certainly the most progressive.

The album concludes with the shortest track, Beaten by Love, a reflective ballad over a repeating "tribal" drum pattern (reminiscent of something Porcupine Tree's Gavin Harrison might have come up with) plus background screeching guitars.

In summary a very fine album indeed and with Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) - I had to finally mention this prolific man - at the mixing helm, as well as providing some keyboard and guitar input, Tim Bowness was always on to a winner. One criticism I would throw at the album is the limp ending with the track Beaten by Love. To me it would have been more satisfying finishing with either Smiler at 50 or I Fought Against the South, the two best tracks on the album, in my opinion. In mentioning these two tracks, we see a stronger songwriting side of Tim that bodes well for the future and possibly a sign of things to come where the music will have more shades of dramatic tension as well as the ethereal ambience that No-Man has come to represent.

As to the DPRP progometer, I will give this a 7. If there had been more songs with the heavier and dramatic side like the songs mentioned above then I would have easily gone for an 8. I've enjoyed reviewing this album and nope to hear more from Tim Bowness in the very near future.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Jim Capaldi - 1978-2014

Jim Capaldi - 1978-2014
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Esoteric
Catalogue #: ECLEC 22432
Year of Release: 1978/2014
Time: CD 1: 51:39
CD 2: 52:20
Info: Jim Capaldi
Track List:
CD 1: Dirty Business (2:42), Sealed With a Kiss (4:02), Daughter of the Night (3:18), You Burn Me (4:37), Game of Love (4:54), The Contender (5:52), Elixir of Life (5:16), Short Ends (3:48), Hunger and Greed (3:19), Bonus Tracks: A Good Love (3:00), Had a Dream Today (3:14), Stay With You (2:58), I'm Gonna Do It (4:35)
CD 2, Live In Groningen 26 March 1978: Low Rider (5:24), Short Cut Draw Blood (4:04), Rock n' Roll Stew (4:56), Whale Meat Again (5:17), Boy With a Problem (5:26), Wild Dogs (4:12), Short Ends (4:14), Goodbye Love (4:32), Elixir of Life (8:42), Electric Nights (5:29)
Jim Capaldi's long association with Island records came to an end in 1975 following the release of his third solo album, Short Cut Draw Blood. The follow-up to that album, The Contender, did not surface until three years later on Polydor Records in Europe and RSO Records in the USA. It is obvious that Capaldi was struggling to find a musical identity in the post-punk era dominated by disco and new wave releases, a struggle emphasised by the fact that the European and US albums had different track listings, different titles (the US version was called Daughter of the Night) and different covers, neither of which were very inspiring.

The Esoteric re-release, with usual completeness, includes all the tracks that appeared across the two versions as well as a bonus CD of a live concert recorded in Holland early in 1978. Given the originality and musicality demonstrated by Traffic, The Contender is totally uninspiring and a far cry from the heights that band obtained. I can understand why Capaldi would want to step out from behind the drums and be the main focus of attention in live concerts, but can see no reason why he would not want to play them on the studio album instead handing over the bulk of the drumming duties to the rather uninspiring Trevor Morais.

In addition, and this is a complete travesty, some of the tracks sound suspiciously like they use a drum machine. Okay, I know it was new technology at the time and in keeping with the zeitgeist, but it just goes to show that pandering to current trends does nothing for the longevity of the music.

It would also seem that both labels were after a hit single to justify their investment in the artist, which explains the covers of Sealed With a Kiss and Gallagher and Lyle's Stay With You. Although both are very good and popular songs, the arrangements on this album are pretty dreadful and sound very dated. If that wasn't bad enough, Daughter of the Night, written by Michael Rickfors, tries too hard to emulate the disco sound of the time. It is hard to rationalise that this is the same Jim Capaldi that was partly responsible for The Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys!

Of the Capaldi originals, Dirty Business is a fairly decent rocker despite being nothing more than a re-write of Brown Sugar by The Rolling Stones, Game Of Love is an endearing ballad and one of the album's few highlights, Elixir Of Life is quite dire, Short Ends is reasonable but the synths really date it, and Hunger and Greed is a more gutsy number where the smooth vocals are left with a rougher edge, although the song is still somewhat mediocre and only saved by a nice guitar solo by Peter Bonas. The title track is by far the best song on the album, featuring the magnificent Paul Kossoff on a couple of fine solos. However, it should be mentioned that the song was originally written, with different lyrics, for Capaldi's second solo album, Whale Meat Again, subsequently released on a Kossoff compilation album. Given the current album's sleeve notes mentions that the musicians on this track are ones that had appeared on previous Capaldi albums and also played in the final Traffic live band leads one to suspect that this "new" version is actually the instrumental backing track from the earlier sessions but with new vocals and lyrics added. Anyone listening to the album would immediately be able to differentiate the quality of this earlier track with the more recent recordings.

The bonus tracks from the US release are probably even worse than those on the European edition. Aside from the already mentioned Stay With You, there is a cover of A Good Love, the b-side of Chris Bond's only single, which is more lightweight, disco-influenced fluff, another fairly decent ballad in Had a Dream Today, but even the presence of a Steve Winwood guitar solo can't save the quite appalling I'm Gonna Do It.

The live 1978 concert features the core band from the album sessions but, fortunately only two tracks from the album the band were touring in support of. Short Ends is slightly better with the synths given less prominence and the extended Elixir of Life has more of a groove and a greater percussive element than the studio version. Rock n' Roll Stew is the only Traffic number performed and wouldn't have been my choice from that band's back catalogue, although the performance is reasonable and more in the style of the On the Road Traffic era. The remaining tracks are culled from Capaldi's previous solo albums with Short Cut Draw Blood and Electric Nights, which sounds uncannily like something The Eagles would come up with, being the best of the bunch. Although a nice addition for the fan and the collector, it is not, like the studio album, an essential recording.
Conclusion: 4 out of 10

Blueminded - Blueminded

Blueminded - Blueminded
Country of Origin: Netherlands
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 17:15
Info: Blueminded
Samples: Click Here
Track List:
All In One (4:58), Have It All (3:41), Call On Me (4:29), Move On (4:01)
Blueminded are a rock band from the southern part of the Netherlands. The band was formed by guitarist Jörgen Koenen in 2012 and he's also responsible for writing the material on this EP. With some of his musical friends he wanted to to put these songs to the test.

The result of that collaboration leads to this EP consisting of four short songs. The band members are: Rob Rompen (vocals, guitars), Jörgen Koenen (guitars, backing vocals), Franco Millevoi (bass, backing vocals), Loek Aalders (keyboards, backing vocals) and René Hoenjet (drums, backing vocals). On this EP however, the drums were played by Dennis Meentz who was replaced by René Hoenjet shortly after this recording.

Blueminded have a quite melodic style of prog. Sometimes I think it could do with a little more bite because now and then it sounds a little mediocrate. In general I would say that vocalist Rob Rompen has a warm voice and sings very passionate and Loek Aalders showes his musical abilities on the keyboards on all songs. Drums and bass form a solid rhythm section during the whole album.

All In One is a standard rock song with no surprises. With positive marks for keyboardplayer Loek Aalders and the vocals by Rob Rompen. Have It All is the shortest song of the four and also a bit on the safe side just like the first track. In Call On Me, the guys step up a gear and produce a very catchy melody. Bass and drums have a bigger part on this track. I couldn't resist tapping my feet on the ground! It is the best track on this EP! Move On, just like its predecessor, is a song that has more variation than the first two songs.

Bearing in mind the last two songs, I think that a full length album in the near future (?) could be promising. For now, Blueminded still have some work to do to reach the standard of other Dutch prog bands like Knight Area and Silhouette.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

Anathema - Universal (DVD)
Anathema - Universal
Country of Origin: UK
Format: DVD
Record Label: KScope
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2012
Time: 2 hours 20 minutes
Info: Anathema
Samples: Click Here
Track List:
Untouchable Part 1, Untouchable Part 2, Thin Air, Dreaming Light, Lightning Song, The Storm Before the Calm, Everything, A Simple Mistake, The Beginning and the End, Universal, Closer, A Natural Disaster, Deep, One Last Goodbye, Flying, Fragile Dreams, Panic – Emotional Winter, Wings of God, Internal Landscapes, Fragile Dreams
Universal is the live concert footage of the Anathema show played at the Philippopolis in Plovdiv, Bulgaria with the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra, where the Romanesque backdrop and setting seem surreal. As an atmospheric band that works the interplay between soft and tense simultaneously as well as anyone does this live work really pulls the audience into the triumphant mood that Anathema embodies.

A most noticeable aspect to this video is the expert camera work and editing directed by Lasse Hoile who has done a considerable bit of work with Porcupine Tree and any anything else related to Steven Wilson. The attention to how to portray the moving emotions while this music develops is tops. There is a large difference between how bands tend to be portrayed in a DVD or Blu Ray with the camera angles, time spent on any one particular view and how the transitions occur from one to the next. As anyone who has endured a few DVD concerts know this can be a jarring or unpleasant experience.

There is plenty of development of the tension in the music that involves all elements as they progress. Incorporating the participation of the audience is especially well done. All angles and takes have a particular appropriateness to it and certainly does not feel like it has been thrown together. All elements feel intentional and visually friendly. All adulation is warranted to a great concert with an amazing band and an equally memorable performance delivered by the orchestra, however, the choice to not include a full 5.1 audio track really hurts this release for me. With only a stereo option the rounded out presence we have come to love with live releases have been mitigated to the extent that unless you really want the visual experience and the extended track list, you can stick with the stereo tracks on the CD release.

This is an intense band that played with an fantastical light show, especially when they deliver the best version of Storm Before the Calm I have ever heard and A Simile Mistake has never sounded better either. Certainly, at least partly due to the great filming that pulls the audience in as if we were there. I loved every minute of it.

Even the option on the DVD menu to watch additional footage of the Union Chapel Concert did not work on my copy. I will grant that my disc was a promo version, but I have no idea what the intent was here but it is a bit exasperating.

When I played a ripped version of the concert and listened to it through my ear buds, the experience was now appropriate. It was as if this concert DVD was produced just for such a reason. No reason to put the disc back in the main player if only to be annoyed by how it should have been released.

I am a big fan of Anathema and as pioneers in this genre I do think this is still early in the Anathema story. With the inclusion of the orchestra the drama of the music is punctuated all the more. Just the way the arrangement for the song Universal was done is inspiring and worthy of a glance at this concert and to see the expressiveness of Vince Cavanagh’s and Lee Douglas’s vocals leaves an indelible mark on these songs we already have some familiarity with.

Coincidental to the Weather Systems release, this concert covers some of the best music Anathema has to offer. If anything, watching this made me want to see this band live all the more despite the shortcomings of the lack of surround audio and interactive media and biography material. The crowd is wholly committed to the music and it shows through in the editing and is very complimentary in the sound reproduction. The encores sent the philharmonic orchestra backstage and went back in time a bit to cover some of the heavier elements that made for a grand and fitting finale. All in all this is a great concert best enjoyed start to finish.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Dean Madonia - Frankenstein - Shadow to Shadow

Frankenstein - Shadow to Shadow
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: CD Baby
Catalogue #: EANTCD 10005
Year of Release: 2014
Time: CD 1: 50:40
CD 2: 56:54
Info: Dean Madonia
Samples: Click Here
Track List:
CD 1: Pale Student (spoken) 0:53 The Living Proof (3:16), Chimera (2:07), What I Believe (5:01), The Spark of Life (4:50), Alive Anew (4:15), Frightful Fiend (spoken) (0:29), Running From the Moon (5:07), Trusted Friend (2:09), He Calls Me (3:53), When He Plays His Guitar (3:38), Let Me In (6:01), Wrong (3:09), Alone (5:52)
CD 2: Did I Request Thee (spoken) (0:15), You Made Me (5:59), Letter From Home (1:02), Fool's Gold (7:32), Back to Meet My Maker (4:18), Shadow to Shadow (2:48), Wedding Night (4:18), The Promise (4:42), The Sweetest Part of Me (2:05), Murdering Elizabeth (4:20), Into the White (5:53), Spark Redux (2:18), Into the Cold (3:49), Falling into the Sky (4:28), The Living Proof (Part 2) (3:24)
Feed my Frankenstein sang Alice Cooper some twenty odd years ago. Well, I've struggled with this one, truly I have, Firstly the cover is just bad, it looks like an early 80's heavy metal album from some anonymous sub-metal B grade band on Metal Blade or something equally hideous, it does the music and the concept very few favours, yes I know budget for artwork is an issue but this really lets things down before you even play the disc. Dean have strived to offer a release of class and quality and this sleeve thwarts that majorly.

When you get past the cover you find an album of variety and herein lies my dilemma, it's long (just under two hours) and requires careful and repeated listens, it's also very wordy, too wordy and it lacks sufficient instrumental parts to break up all those words and to enhance the concept. Oh yes, it's a concept album based on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein but this time around it poses questions about scientific advancements and the potential inherent dangers thereof.

It is an interesting twist on a familiar tale where the "creature" warns of the perils and repercussions of tampering with nature the opening and closing piece The Living Proof deal with this dilemma. There are some good points though too, there is some fabulous music on here and Dean Madonia has a fabulous voice, sort of a cross between Steve Walsh of Kansas and Neal Morse but with a touch of Nashville. As I mentioned previously it's an album that only releases its magic very slowly so you will have to bear with it and take a fair few listens to get the potency of what is on offer here.

It's not immediate and I guess a lot of people won't want to stay the course, which is a pity as it is ultimately a fine effort, Yes its overlong and sprawling but it improves with repeated listens. That said, it's not an album that I would have on heavy rotation either, it's also fairly gentle in parts and even paced throughout and hardly ever rocks out but it has been lovingly crafted by a musician of skill and calibre.

What Dean needs to do is to capitalize on this release with his next project being more concise and balanced but with the same high degree of careful crafting, skilful playing and attention to detail.

One of the standout moments for me comes during Letters from Home in which a mournful accordion plays gently and evocatively – this album has several moments like that and so it is far from being a turkey or a load of old dross but it's not a blinder either however it certainly is one that grows in stature the more you listen to it, I am a great believer in giving music time to percolate and filter through one's mind.

I would love to hear what Dean does next as there is great potential herein and so on this basis happy to award 6/10.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10

The Twenty Committee - A Lifeblood Psalm
The Twenty Committee – A Lifeblood Psalm
Country of Origin: USA
Format: digital
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 45:42
Info: The Twenty Committee
Samples: Click Here
Track List:
Introduction (1:49), How Wonderful (7:03), Her Voice (10:08), Airtight (5:13), The Knowledge Enterprise-Overture (3:19), The Knowledge Enterprise-Conceivers and Deceivers (4:53), The Knowledge Enterprise-Tonight (6:22), The Knowledge Enterprise-With These Eyes (5:29), The Knowledge Enterprise-Finale (1:26)
DPRP’s Raffaella Berry has already given this a thumbs up in our Something for the Weekend. She knows much more about this style of American Prog than I do. Always being keen to step outside of the heavier end of the progressive music spectrum, I thought I should give this a try. And I rather enjoyed it too.

A Lifeblood Psalm is the debut album from this quintet out of Philadelphia. Straddling the boundaries of art rock and folk prog with a willing pop sensibility and the soul of 70s melodic rock, the seven songs on offer have a wide accessibility. However calling it "pop prog" would undervalue the depth and richness of these compositions.

For a perfect example of their style, try the video of How Wonderful. Elegant is the word. It’s got shelf-life, this.

The Twenty Committee began as a solo effort of Geoffrey Langley (vocals and keyboards), but soon became a full band with the addition of Justin Carlton (guitars and vocals), Joe Henderson (drums and vocals), Steve Kostas (guitars) and Richmond Carlton (bass). Playing together around their home area since 2012 there is a genuine band maturity to the songwriting which bodes well for a future discography.

The cover is memorable and sets this album as not your usual prog. The lack of a booklet and lyric sheet is a missed opportunity to establish the elegance and class of the brand.

The disc was recorded in Neal Morse's studio after Geoffrey went down to Nashville to meet Neal as part of his Chance of a Lifetime initiative seeking unknown talent to audition for his touring band. Geoff had the opportunity to perform some original material for him. A few months later, the band booked Neal’s studio and hired Jerry Guidroz (Flying Colours, Neal Morse and Transatlantic) as their producer.

Personally I need a little more variety in the vocal department and the dynamics can be a little too safe and predictable for my tastes. However, Lifeblood Psalm is the sort of album I enjoy in my quieter moments and is recommended to all those who delight in the gentler textures of Steely Dan, Echolyn, Kansas, Frost and yes, Neal Morse solo.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

Kalutaliksuak - Death of the Alpinist

Kalutaliksuak - Death of the Alpinist
Country of Origin: Russia
Format: CD
Record Label: R.A.I.G.
Catalogue #: R081
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 58:04
Info: Kalutaliksuak
Track List:
Hard Climbing (20:59), Shambhala (7:03), Buried Horizons (20:24), Not a King (9:36)
I can find absolutely no information on The Aged Tales, a collection of stories that supposedly includes the short verse entitled Death of the Alpinist, upon which this album is based. I strongly suspect that this wilfully obscure band of Russian Krautrockers are creating their own myth, to neatly compliment the air of mystery that surrounds the group itself.

The prose of Death of the Alpinist on the CD inside cover recounts the tale of a much admired and supreme Alpine climber who is always searching for the next peak, and on his last climb achieves enlightenment before becoming one with nature, his complete loss of self in parallel to his realisation of his own mortality.

Featuring the same line up as 2011's monumental Snow Melts Black, the band released the high art package Totem Making later that same year, an intriguing looking package, as you can see from the band's page on the R.A.I.G. site. As has been the case in the past with this enigmatic group, they then disappeared from view until this album, released a few months ago.

The tale, Aged or not, is told in four parts. In Hard Climbing, our hero, always needing new challenges to maintain his ego, and to retain his place a the peak of the climbing fraternity sets off to scale his highest peak yet, and the band soundtrack his efforts with a free-flowing space-jazz workout, initially based around Vladimir Konovkin's electric piano, occasionally accompanied by grunts and throat singing as the climber stretches to the limit on his ascent. Some fine guitar playing from Alexander Chavakov joins the mix, howling like the wind blasting across the mountain face. Alexander also contributes flute in a calmer passage, as the mountaineer takes a breather.

We commence the struggle against gravity and the elements with more visceral but fluid fret-mangling from Alexander, who also intermittently shouts declamations against Mother Nature for good measure. Russian is a fierce-sounding language to a linguistic ignoramus like me, and lends itself well to the setting. I can almost see the climber shaking his fist at the heavens in defiance.

Hard Climbing is basically a showcase for Alexander's talents as a purveyor of extended improvised guitar solos, and a fine job he does too, colourising the stark windswept scenery in our imaginations. After 20 minutes our plucky hero has made it to the summit, where he experiences a vision of Shambala "shining around and everywhere". This grand image is conveyed by atmospheric swathes of subtle keyboards and flanged guitar, backed by some luxurious bass playing from Alexei Ohontsev. At just over seven minutes this is the shortest track on the album, and it unfolds before us like a waking flower at dawn. Shambhala has a distinct Steve Hillage feel to it, with the glissando guitar leading the way.

A strong psychedelic vibe permeates the music of Kalutaliksuak, as you can hear from the following clip taken from a live concert in 2013. Although quite clearly free-form, Death of the Alpinist is a more structured affair than the amorphous extemporisations of that live clip, you may be thankful to know.

The story continues; the protagonist has an epiphany and realises he can descend the mountain in both physical and metaphysical form. He"“fancied himself sloping down a flight of vain yearnings which he descended step by step at each bound of his heart". This is Buried Horizons, a long strung out voyage into inner space, with an early lyric-prayer sung in the fragile manner of a Russian Damo Suzuki. The song floats off into the ether accompanied by cosmic star guitar and eerie ambience. Something of a spacerock suite of the kind Øresund Space Collective do so well, this is a marked change of style from Hard Climbing and shows that this band knows a thing or two about dynamics. You will not get bored during this hour-long trip, for sure.

Our hero has finally "...dissolved into eternity... that is how the Alpinist died; and the Man felt utterly alone laughing not a King anymore". And so we end, an inconsequential speck of nothingness. Not a King commences with a sitar-like sound backed by tablas, before becoming rather unsettling as the Orcs start arguing. This is another colour on this varied sonic palette, a meditation mass from the other side.

A step sideways from Snow Melts Black, Death of the Alpinist is a thoroughly enjoyable hour in the company of a strange band with a story to tell; intriguing, to say the least.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Camel - The Snow Goose (2013)

Camel - The Snow Goose (2013)
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Camel Productions
Catalog #: CP0014CD
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 50:07
Info: Camel
Samples: Click Here
Tracklist:
The Great Marsh (2:04), Rhayader (3:02), Rhayader Goes to Town (5:20), Sanctuary (1:06), Fritha (1:19), The Snow Goose (3:12), Friendship (1:44), Migration (2:02), Rhayader Alone (1:50), Flight of the Snow Goose (2:41), Preparation (3:53), Dunkirk (5:25), Epitaph (2:07), Fritha Alone (3:02), Princesse Perdue (4:46), The Great Marsh (1:33)
After Andy Latimer's lengthy struggle with illness, Camel took to the road again in 2013 after a long hiatus. The band decided that their come back concerts should feature their highly acclaimed instrumental album The Snow Goose.Whilst rehearsing for the tour and without any new music to promote it was decided to release a freshly recorded version of this seminally popular album, performed by the current members of the group. The players on the CD, consisting of Andrew Latimer (guitars, flute, keyboards), Colin Bass (bass guitars), Guy Le Blanc (keyboards), Denis Clement (drums, percussion, keyboards), do an exceptional job in this tasteful reincarnation.

The Snow Goose 2013 draws upon the many strengths of the original album which was first released in 1975. In my view, the 2013 version at least matches the original in all departments. In many instances though, it is ultimately able to surpass the musical achievements of its illustrious predecessor. The more recent release is in some places arguably less mellow than the original. It has a greater overall energy. Some listeners might be attracted by its greater immediacy and drive. The crisply recorded and excellent sound give many aspects of the piece a rawer spontaneous feel. As one might expect, Andy Latimer's guitar parts are expressive and expansive throughout. His playing is graced with great skill, tone and control. In the newly recorded Snow Goose, the quality inherent in his original playing is at least matched and in my view almost certainly improved upon.

For the most part, the updated Snow Goose stays loyal to the overall composition of the original album, but a number of parts have been given revised and fresh arrangements. Some of the shorter pieces on the original, such as Sanctuary, Migration, and Rhayader Alone, now have a longer running time. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole of the release including the explicitly revised parts. Nevertheless, I was a tad disappointed that the vocal parts on Migration were not recreated on the 2013 version. I have always found that aspect of the tune highly appealing. I remember that I felt that the Canterbury vocal style represented in Migration was an indicator that Richard Sinclair would be a natural replacement for the band when original bassist Doug Ferguson left. Interestingly, during live performances witnessed in Manchester and Sheffield during 2013 and 2014, the vocal parts were included. This was confirmed when watching the excellent DVD In From The Cold of Camel's 2013 London Barbican performance.

If you are not familiar with The Snow Goose I fully recommend that you should check out either the original, or the 2013 version.They both contain many standout parts and excellent compositions. If you enjoy mellow and expressive instrumental music, I am sure that you will not be dissapointed.

Many of the positive facets of Camel can be found in Dunkirk. It is one of the longest parts of The Snow Goose, and the newly recorded version is as impressive as the original. Dunkirk is an evocative piece which has many symphonic parts. It incorporates a variety of interesting guitar and synthesiser passages that are tied to its main rhythmic pattern. It is however,one of the few tracks on the 2013 Snow Goose where I feel the presence of Peter Bardens is explicitly missed. The original featured a plethora of synthesiser flurries as the piece stormed fluidly to its conclusion. These are not reproduced or replicated in the revised release. Nevertheless, the keyboard work of Le Blanc is outstanding throughout many other aspects of the re-recording. The track Epitaph has been extensively revised and has a shorter running time. The original part, which to my ears sounded somewhat like a displaced outake from Fripp and Eno, has been replaced by a much more harmonious and symphonic interpretation. This revision and the beautiful reworking of Fritha Alone significantly succeeds in improving the feel of the final parts of the album. Similarly, the version of Princesse Perdue in the revised release succeeds in its mix of subtlety and elegance.

The players are able to build upon and positively enhance an already imperious piece of music. After a brief symphonic keyboard introduction, what follows is to an extent, less orchestrated than the original. Nonetheless, the piece commands the listeners attention with its beautiful moog parts and memorablly tuneful guitar embellishments. The newer version of Princesse Perdue simply sounds gorgeous and is an example of how the compositions of the Snow Goose have become reinvigorated by such excellent and sympathetically revised arrangements. The superb production values present in the newer recording fully involve the listener and carry the music to an even higher level.

In the final analysis the question is whether listeners who enjoy the original album should contemplate purchasing the 2013 version. I am not normally tempted by the plethora of remixed albums that are currently in vogue. However, what is on offer is not a remix of the original. Instead, the newer release is a satisfyingly distinctive alternative to the original. It reassuringly though, remains respectful to the original score and fully acknowledges the players who were involved in that album. In the sleeve notes the album is dedicated to the memory of Pete Bardens. The valued contributions of Doug Ferguson and Andy Ward are also acknowledged. With this in mind, I have no hesitation in recommending the Snow Goose 2013 to all who enjoyed the original and to those yet to discover the delights of Camel own brand of tastefully melodic progressive rock.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10

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Published Saturday 14 June 2014

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