CD 1: I Believe (6:43), Only Time Will Tell (4:58), Holy War (6:00), Never Again (4:52), Through My Veins (5:31), Don't Cry (4:23), All's a Chord (2:26), The Valley of Rocks (3:43), The Smile Has Left Your Eyes (5:56), Open Your Eyes (6:57)
CD 2: Finger on the Trigger (4:27), Time Again (5:15), An Extraordinary Life (5:15), End of the World (5:43), The Heat Goes On (10:58), Sole Survivor (7:25), Go (4:26), Heat of the Moment (8:38)
Resonance is one of the last live releases from Asia with their original line-up during what was named The Omega Tour 2010. This is a concert recorded in Basel, Switzerland. It is also released on DVD, but the main thing we will talk about is the CD release. I'm afraid that Asia has never released a live album in which I haven't felt disappointed. I can't understand why a supergroup has established such low production standards when they're about a live recording.
We have a track list in which the songs from the Omega album have the main role, and these are the ones I feel are much better played than the old and classic themes. The band as a whole remains very well assembled from a musical point of view, but Wetton's voice sounds tired and can be heard singing with much effort to achieve the correct tones in classic songs like Don't Cry, Time Again or The Smile Has Left Your Eyes.
The new songs sound much better, obviously falling within a more suitable and comfortable level for Wetton's current vocal range. We do have the other attractive ingredients that we've become accustomed to in most of the band's live albums, such as Carl Palmer's wonderful drum solo and the acoustic theme played by Steve Howe. As I said before, this release disappointed and made me think that perhaps the band is running out of energy.
So what we have here is a nice concert with several new songs added to the setlist instead of simply being some kind of Greatest Hits Live, but it is not the one I want to have in my personal collection. I liked the Omega album instead of Phoenix, and they came to Venezuela and sounded much better than in Basel.
Everything Is About To Change (2:16), Bleeding Soul (5:28), Falling (3:14), Blue Monday (6:43), Where Were You? (8:00), Break of Day (4:37), Seasons (5:23), The Other Me (5:09), Where Is My Mind? (4:04), Goodbye (1:59)
Saul Blease's full length debut release Daybreak offers the listener enjoyable moments of tension, as the music hovers between predictability and surprise in a largely successful attempt to offset acoustic moments against a more conventional and robust rock soundscape.
Saul Blease is a young singer songwriter composer from Bristol. Daybreak incorporates a range of appealing styles, to showcase Blease's song-smith abilities and multi instrumental skills. He has an interesting voice with a natural delivery that is almost spoken. In the more reflective moments, the vocals are enjoyable. They convey warmth and emotion. Unfortunately, during the more up-tempo moments of the album, the vocals become less melodic. On these occasions, Saul appears to strain, overreaching his natural range. The vocals contained within Daybreak are therefore not always engaging, nor particularly pleasant to listen to.
The opening track, Everything is about to Change has a foreboding introduction featuring multi-layered keyboards. The piece later follows a more predictable pattern, that is present to some extent in a number of tracks, as guitars break through to provide a heavier tone and rock ambience.
Falling is an enjoyable track which incorporates different styles wrapped up in its traditional song structure. It begins with a bright guitar passage and an insistent rhythm. It is one of the more appealing vocal tracks of the album. It also has a particularly pleasing chorus. Interest is maintained throughout the piece by the effective use of vocal effects, and at its conclusion, by spoken words.
Much of the music contained in Daybreak is developed from some fine piano-based compositions. The piano features cleverly and heavily in Blue Monday. It is a well-crafted tune with some sumptuous melodic moments. These are unfortunately contrasted by a rather pedestrian rhythm, which underpins much of the track. Clocking in at over six minutes, the piece as a whole could probably have benefited from some judicious editing. Contrast is provided by a range of vocal stylings, where speech, whispers and full-blooded throat warbling all have their place.
Where Were You? is the longest composition of the album. It is a pleasant, if at times predictable anthem-like tune that features a number of different characteristics and musical patterns. This piece highlights Blease's AOR songwriting credentials, whilst at the same time showcasing his apparent penchant for inventive progressive rock, in its surprisingly creative and enjoyable middle section.
A number of pieces on the album such as Break of Day, Seasons and The Other Me begin sparsely with piano, keys or voice. Seasons is a slow burning, pleasant tune complete with glockenspiel keyboard effects. Personally though, I would have preferred to have heard this tune arranged in a more acoustic format, featuring just Blease's voice and acoustic guitar. The layered keyboard effects that embellish this track provide a stereotypical progressive ambience, but seem to detract from the simplistic beauty and purity of the piece's main melody.
The drums and percussion contained in the album are programmed. At times this lack of human subtlety is apparent, and can detract from the expressive, emotional nature of the main body of the music. This is particularly evident in tracks such as Break of Day. It has a rocking segment that is warmly fuelled by guitar parts, but is over saturated with artificial drums and percussion effects.
The production of the album is rather muddy, and whilst this does not greatly detract, it does not help to fully reveal the nuances of tempo and dynamics inherent in many of the compositions. Overall, this is a promising debut from a young artist who is without doubt going to develop, as he refines his own unique style. I look forward to hearing his next release.
It's interesting to note that when the English language fails in its ingenious way to describe something, it surrenders to the French to actually nail it, especially in art. For example, such is the case when describing the band The Muffins as (along with other less continental terms) "Avant Garde".
Therefore if their drummer Paul Sears just happened to guest on an album, then this would rub-off on the recording. This has been the case with the new and eleventh presentation from Richard Wileman's project Karda Estra. It's such a treat to have a new album by this wonderfully off-kilter, beat combo.
Strange Relations perfectly sums up the marriage of the (un)usual array of chamber instruments, brass, woodwind, and synthesisers, but now it comes with Animal from The Muppets let loose in a jazz drum shop. It's a heady brew of discordant experimentation that includes Knifeworld's Kavus Torabi's third appearance for this group, picking out the electric guitar from his abundant collection on the second track.
The first six tracks are all called Strange Relations, a marvelous suite of symphonic prog jazz, but it takes until the last seven minutes and forty seconds, The Wanton Subtlety of Monna Tessa to wade into home territory and resolve the cadence with some bass guitar-friendly happy notes, and that girl-with-the-sun-in-her-hair backing 'ooohs'. It is all very lovely.
This is the eccentric boyfriend of The Penguin Café Orchestra and should be welcomed into the household to meet the dubious parents with open arms.
Farewell (4:08), Frances Mary Chambers (6:20), An Ordinary Poison (Ft. Fractal Mirror) (5:26),Origami (6:30), Old News (4:09)
Mike Kershaw is a keyboard-playing singer /songwriter with I'd say, hints of prog-ness. But if it wasn't for the slightly occasional string synth sounds and keyboard solos, it would fall under the genre of 80s pop.
His voice has a touch of Dave Cousins about it, but it is a little samey, he just doesn't seem to push it. Barclay James Harvest from the 80s and Chris de Burgh spring to mind, and is it me or are all the notes a tad similar?
Departure is a six-track EP that is a follow up to his full album from last year, Ice Age. The lyrics are very poetical such as this from Origami written during the sessions for his previous album: "Tastes that linger, words that rhyme, then folded into something new."
An Ordinary Poison, from when he called himself Relocate to Heathrow (not the quietest place to record) has a certain sing-a-long feeling, whilst the first track Farewell has a nostalgic feel and reminds me of something I can't put my finger on, so I like it. However, it's his voice that stops this artist from getting a higher score, it just refuses to excite the senses or indeed make me want to return or explore more of his music. I wonder if a guest singer could hone his obviously competent songwriting into greater focus? Someone to look that microphone square in the eyes and say: "I am the boss!" Good luck with it all, anyway.
Messiah (7:56), Addict (6:18), Thieves (5:25), Circles (8:28), Save Me (6:19), Cassiopeia (8:54), The Fallen (7:17), Stardust (9:03)
No introductions are needed for Dave Kilminster, Roger Waters' guitarist of choice since 2006 when he appeared in the global staging of Dark Side of the Moon – Live and the blockbusting The Wall world tour. Other prog legends with which he has also appeared include John Wetton, Carl Palmer and Ken Hensley and he has toured with one of his musical heroes, Keith Emerson. Other musical collaborations he has undertaken have been with Geoff Downes and John Young, and there is one more illustrious name about to be added to this roll of honour, but more about that later.
Dave has also released a series of instructional DVDs for Lick Library following his satellite series Killer Guitar. His credentials are second to none.
...And the Truth Will Set You Free... is his second solo album following Scarlet – The Director's Cut, and for this he reunites the same line-up of Pete Riley on drums and percussion, and Phil Williams on bass, along with string ensemble The Larkin Quartet. Together, they have produced a most beautiful, thoughtful and reflective collection of songs, all of which centre on an endless diversity of styles to which maestro Kilminster turns his hand.
Each song demonstrates a different facet to his playing and also his mellow voice, to convey the lyrics of some deep, poignant themes which run throughout the album. A deep intake of breath begins Messiah, a gorgeous acoustic introduction, leading into an emotionally charged song which echoes the harmonics of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Kilminster has multi-tracked all the voices himself. Later, the strings put in an appearance, adding yet another tonal texture to a near perfect song.
A searing slide guitar kicks off Addict, a salutary tale about the evils of drug-taking. Lyrics include: "Feel it in my soul. Deep within my veins. Hear it calling like a song from yesterday". It is set over a pulsating, pared-down rhythm, and a killer slide riff, later supplemented by a frenzied fuzz guitar.
Thieves takes a much more bluesy musical trajectory which crosses into The Eagles territory with its subtle guitar licks and storytelling style. This song reflects the album title, dealing with the issue of how the truth is stolen from all of us, and all we are left with is illusions. More strings and a searing guitar solo, played at breath-taking speed, are added to make a great song totally soar.
Kilminster's true sensitivities are saved for the next two songs, the love song Circles, which is deliciously under-stated but has an innate power, and the acoustically-driven Save Me, a true cri de coeur with heart-breaking strings and an all-pervading air of melancholia.
Stepping up the tempo again is Cassiopeia, a good old-fashioned love song with some lush vocal harmonies and some more of those very special strings to create a truly spine-tingling atmosphere. Kilminster brings more musical magic to the piece through a stunning multi-tracked guitar, very reminiscent of Brian May.
It is back to the more soulful side of Kilminster's repertoire for The Fallen, which also has a touch of the Todd Rundgren about it in the vocal delivery and groove. But the guitar effects Dave delivers within it are nothing short of miraculous. Only his compadre Govan Guthrie can probably pull off anything quite as mind-blowing.
Bringing it all to a momentous conclusion is the longest track Stardust, a wonderful example to any budding guitarists of how, in the end, less is often more. It is sparse and magnificent, laid-back in an almost meditative state. The vocal harmonies are spot-on yet again, and instrumentally there is a touch of the Pink Floyd in there. It ends with the sound of waves and sea birds.
At this juncture, it would be opportune to point out that Kilminster was involved in a car accident last May which nearly robbed him of his ability to play guitar. Thankfully, he had completed all the guitar parts to this album beforehand, and now he has made almost a full recovery, having not been able to play for several months. However, the even better news is that he will be playing guitar on the American leg of Steven Wilson's Hand. Cannot. Erase. tour in May/June.
This is one of those albums that becomes better with every play. There are delicacies and subtleties in Dave's style which very few guitarists can ever achieve. Couple this with his instinctive use of vocals and strings to bring even greater expression to the works, and you have something very special here.
Aurora (4:47), Secrets & Lies (6:01), Disappointment (4:05), The Black Dog (3:44), Flowers In My Hair (5:36), Happy Little Song (2:51), Tiny Demons (5:09), Fly Away (4:41), I've Been Wrong Before (2:34), The Harmony (4:11), No Chords Left (4:13)
The most recent album from Luna Rossa entitled Secret & Lies has provided a stark and surprisingly welcome contrast to my usual listening preferences of instrumental/jazz-rock-/flute progressive rock alongside a flock of Canterbury-influenced or related bands. After initial reservations, borne out of my own musical inclinations, I have grown to appreciate many aspects of what this album offers.
Luna Rossa is a duo and is made up of Panic Room members Anne-Marie Helder and Jonathan Edwards. The pair has created an album that has many enviable qualities. It is an album that should greatly appeal to listeners who enjoy strikingly-delivered female vocals, that are skillfully garnished by largely acoustic instrumentation.
This is Luna Rosa's second release and it is awash with beautiful melodies and heartfelt lyrics. Secret & Lies is a charming and highly sophisticated album. Arguably the album's greatest attribute is the feeling of space that is generated and skillfully delivered by the often-sparse instrumentation. This is a release that is flowered and fragranced with emotional honesty and exquisite arrangements.
The album begins gloriously with Aurora, which features a recurring piano motif and enjoyably atmospheric wordless vocals. The album contains two cover versions. Tiny Demons is a Todd Rungren tune and I've Been Wrong Before is a Randy Newman piece. Both are impeccably performed and arranged.
The title track is outstanding in many respects, and is one of many high points. The sparsely-subtle arrangement, centred on Andy Coughlan's bass and Helder's magnificent voice, creates ample room and opportunity for all of the parts to breathe and complement each other. It is a piece that is appealing on a superficial level, but also has enough depth and subtlety to reward closer analysis.
In an album that sparkles with moon-lit tunes, the sparse and poignant nature of the album's closing track, No Chords Left, was my personal favourite. In this track Helder's vocal performance overflows with feeling and is simply outstanding. The piece is underpinned by a wonderfully plaintive piano arrangement and some gorgeous bass work.
Nevertheless , for those who enjoyed the bold, exciting originality of Gazelle Twin's disturbing 2014 release Unflesh, then the often predictable song structure of Secret & Lies, complemented by lush melodies and pleasantly derivative arrangements, would probably not appeal. In this sense, this is the main weakness of Luna Rossa's work. Although it is beautifully melodic and superbly crafted, it rarely challenges or surprises.
However at its heart is an uncompromisingly clear artistic vision, that music should connect in some way with the feelings and experiences of the listener. This is realised by clever melodic song writing that is perceptively adorned with astute observations on life and relationships.
The compositions are colourfully gilded by the admirable musical integrity of the duo and their equally skilful guest contributors. The overall result is an enjoyable gift-wrapped musical treat that is filled with thoughtful words and memorable tunes.
Fourth Kingdom (6:24), Return of the King (3:41), Strange Dreams (7:30), Overture (Clanaan pt. 1) (6:12), Realm With A Soul (Clanaan pt. 2) (3:52), Seventh Rider (Clanaan pt. 3) (4:02), Weight Of The World (6:44), Vision (18:43)
The first tones of the opening track immediately give away what to expect on this album: heavy but melodic prog in the vein of Magnum and Ten. If you love those bands, you will surely enjoy listening to this album! Maybe the compositions lack the brilliance of Tony Clarkin (Magnum) but the joint efforts of the five musicians of this band, have led to some great tracks with lots of variety.
The link with Ten is very obvious with Ten-member Darrel Treece-Birch playing keyboards and Gary Hughes (Ten vocalist) being involved in the engineering of vocals on the album and delivering additional backing vocals on some of the tracks. The other four members of the band are: Alan Taylor (vocals, backing vocals), Craig Walker (drums, percussion), Gavin Walker (bass) and Martin Walker (electric & acoustic guitars). Also worth to be mentioned is the fact that Martin Walker is the father of Craig and Gavin and that's quite remarkable I think!
The beautiful artwork of the album is done by artist Oliver Pengilley and it's certainly worth paying a visit to his website to have a look at his creations.
On the opening track, Fourth Kingdom it seems that vocalist Alan Taylor has some trouble keeping the pace of this pumping track, particularly in the higher regions where his voice has some weaknesses. During the remaining tracks he manages to hit all the notes and his vocals really sound much better. Maybe it's just a case of getting used to his style of singing because I like his voice very much in the ballad Weight Of The World. You can probably compare his singing with Roger Chapman the vocalist with Family, or for younger readers, the guest singer on Mike Oldfield's Shadow On The Wall.
The closing track Vision is quite the epic running to almost 19 minutes! It has lots of stunning guitar solos and brilliant layers of keyboards. Without a doubt keyboard player Treece-Birch is one of the driving forces on the album and is the main reason that Nth Ascension are more of a prog band compared with, for example, Magnum.
In a nutshell: This is a great album for lovers of catchy, melodic, slightly heavier prog. However, I wouldn't recommend listening to this album whilst driving as it may encourage you to break the speed limit!
CD: Interstellar Overdrive (16:46), Nick's Boogie (11:50)
DVD: Interstellar Overdrive (17:19), Nick's Boogie (11:59), Peter Whitehead’s Overview (3:49), Peter Whitehead’s 60’s Experience (4:37), Mick Jagger Interview (3:18), Michael Caine Interview (2:42), Julie Christie Interview (4:43), David Hockney Interview (6:50)
Both the audio and video content of this CD/DVD package have been available for many years, especially to Pink Floyd collectors willing to seek them out. Snapper Music officially released the CD with video content in 2005 and now they offer up this two disc set in a stylish hard book style digipak. As Floyd fans will no doubt be aware it features the first ever studio recordings by the original line-up of Syd Barrett (guitar), Roger Waters (bass), Richard Wright (organ) and Nick Mason (drums). Shortly after, they signed to EMI and ventured back into the studio to record their début album, the seminal The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) and the rest as they say is history.
The CD features just two instrumentals, an extended Interstellar Overdrive and the previously unreleased Nick's Boogie recorded at the Sound Techniques studio, London in January 1967. The former of course was re-recorded (in a more condensed form) for The Piper album whilst the latter contains bits and pieces that would later be incorporated into the title track of the second album A Saucerful of Secrets (1968). Bookended by the familiar descending guitar riff, Interstellar Overdrive is 60's Floyd at its improvisational best. The combined effect of Mason's busy cymbal work, Barrett's echoed guitar arpeggios and Wright's mystical organ flights firmly establish Floyd's psychedelic credentials. Waters is the anchor man as Barrett's distorted glissandos build the tension to fever pitch before the final release. Nick's Boogie is so called because it's set in motion by a tasteful and hypnotic drum pattern with Mason utilising timpani style mallets rather than conventional sticks to produce a softer, more rounded sound. Compared with the adventurous drive of Interstellar Overdrive this is more retrained and you can almost sense the band feeling their way.
The DVD, entitled London 66 – 67 is a 60 minute film dedicated to Syd Barrett and documents the psychedelic scene of the time. Thankfully the director Peter Whitehead had the wisdom to include Pink Floyd otherwise it would have surely been a forgotten relic of its time. As it is, it captures the band recorded live in the studio performing Interstellar Overdrive and Nick's Boogie intercut with footage from the 1967 '14 Hour Technicolour Dream' festival at Alexandra Palace and a Floyd gig at the UFO Club. The studio footage, featuring a seated Syd Barrett and Wright's iconic Farfisa organ is surprisingly good quality although it's let down by Whitehead's choppy camera work. The dark and (deliberately) shaky UFO footage is also a disappointment whilst images of painted nudes, John Lennon and the obligatory stoned dancers prove to be an unwelcome distraction.
Peter Whitehead's Overview is fairly enlightening covering his relationship with the band, and Barrett in particular, their music and the video shoot. 60's Experience on the other hand is a predictable montage of visuals from the 'swinging sixties' including mini-skirts, a Vietnam peace rally and Playboy bunny girls accompanied by the album version of Interstellar Overdrive. The interviews, which have no connection with Pink Floyd at all, are best avoided unless you have a desire to witness the self-indulgent (and surprisingly inarticulate) ramblings of a handful of 60's icons. This includes a naive Mick Jagger making no sense whatsoever, a ranting Michael Caine complaining about the pubs closing at 11pm, a dippy Julie Christie rambling about nothing in particular and a self-obsessed David Hockney proving that you don't need to be an intellectual to be a good painter.
Whilst this collection will no doubt be a must for Floyd collectors, for everyone else it's an interesting rather than essential release. Its main asset is Interstellar Overdrive, arguably the most definitive version commercially available and the sound quality is excellent given the vintage. As for the DVD content, the Floyd footage is definitely worth a look but the rest is dispensable especially the interviews. Better is the classy packaging which includes Mike Stax's insightful liner notes from the 2005 release.
Disc 1: Don't Look Now (4:13), The Séance (Too Spooky) (3:45), Barracuda (6:05), Starbright Park (5:46), Love Crossed (Like Vines In Our Eyes) (6:26), Blue Mountain (Aloha Green Sea) (3:46), Europe On A Dollar a Day (3:44), Neighbours (Limbo Cottage) (6:39). *Bonus tracks*: Summer in the City (4:02), Take Me to the Void Again (work-in-progress mix) (3:42), Don't Look Now (1979 remix) (3:29), Barracuda (1979 remix) (3:38)
Disc 2: Radio One Live In Concert 16th July 1977 (Previously Unreleased) - No American Starship (Looking for the Next World) (4:31), Over Rio (4:29), Don't Look Now (4:14), Barracuda (8:28), The Séance (Too Spooky) (4:57), The Lone Ranger (4:09), Starbright Park (6:48). *Bonus Tracks*: (Oh My Lord) Don't Look Now (Single Version, previously unreleased) (3:34), Love Crossed (Like Vines in Our Eyes) (Single B-Side) (4:04), Blue Mountain (Aloha Green Sea) (1979 remix) (3:34), Neighbours (Limbo Cottage) (1979 remix) (6:19)
In 1997, Voiceprint Records re-released a single CD of Quantum Jump's Barracuda album. This Esoteric Recordings release is identical, except for a change in the running order of the bonus material. It also adds some previously unreleased material.
The Voiceprint edition was well reviewed on this site by Jerry van Kooten (read the review here) and I whole-heartedly agree with his assessment. I would just add that I think the album is a mix of Frank Zappa and the left-field, jazz-pop of Steely Dan, with their precision and control, but minus the acerbic wit.
This review will concentrate on the previously unreleased material, which consists of a BBC Radio One Live In Concert recording and the single version of (Oh My Lord) Don't Look Now.
The live concert is an immediate and clear recording with no overdubs. It shows just how good the musicians in Quantum Jump are. The core members, Rupert Hine (keyboards, vocals), Trevor Morais (drums) and John G. Perry (bass guitar, vocal), are joined for this concert by Geoffrey Richardson (viola, spoons) and Roye Albrighton (guitar). The set consists of music from Quantum Jump's self-titled debut and Barracuda.
This live recording has a strident high-hat cymbal in the mix. This can be irritating, but if you ignore it, you get a decent set of jazz-pop tunes with a dash of disco-funk. These are only tangentially-related to prog-rock.
However, things get interesting prog-wise, as Richardson's viola comes into play. It lifts the light, reggae-lope of the title track, with this live version outstripping the studio one. The most prog-inflected track is Starbright Park. This takes flight as the synthesiser, viola and guitar all solo and riff off of each other. It puts the studio version in the shade. The band allows themselves to stretch here, producing a bit more passion. As a whole this live recording is a good addition to this release.
The previously unreleased, single mix of (Oh My Lord) Don't Look Now doesn't really add anything to the album version. This is a throwaway disco pop song and is for those wanting a complete collection on CD.
All in all then, a good re-release with the addition of the live material, but as Jerry's review points out, this is only marginally related to prog, so some caution is advised.
Between These Walls (4:22), Indigo Mountain (5:02), A Time That Was (2:26), Holy Man (7:34), Again (6:00), Alive and Well (4:57), Flying High (4:25), The Real World (4:23), Red Clay (4:43), Matter of the Heart (3:28), Carpe Diem (3:23), Shoegazer (4:26), Two Bit Hero (4:40), Kids on the Sand (9:05)
Ra Rising is a band that came about as a result of Rob Andrew's third solo album. He had been working on the music since 2003(!!) and he finally came to the conclusion that help was needed. At first Andrew was accompanied by David Groves (guitars, occasional keyboards) but due to other commitments he later became unavailable and was replaced by Brian Jones. Alongside Andrew (bass) and Jones (guitar) the other musicians in the band are Steve Hillman (keyboards), Dai Rees (drums) and Richard Benjamin (vocals).
The band members all have different musical backgrounds and certainly not all prog-related! The songs on this album all contain a touch of melancholy and sadness. The subdued singing voice of Richard Benjamin is exactly right for this type of music and lyrical introspection. The music on Seize The Day is a mixture of prog and bluesy, jazzy and folky elements, quite a diversity with the band playing the music they like regardless of style. The advantage of this is that It makes the album very varied and full of surprises. The opening track Between These Walls reminded me of Strangefish largely because of the song construction. Holy Man(one of the best tracks) reminded me of Kansas but there's also contains some great organ work - in the style of Jon Lord - and an excellent guitar solo. Great stuff! Carpe Diem has a part that sounds a bit like The Who's Baba O'Riley while on Two Bit Hero there is a guitar sound reminiscent of ZZ Top with another brilliant organ solo, that, once again, has shades of Jon Lord. The closing track, Kids On The Sand treats us to another fine guitar solo.
The album is a pleasure to listen to primarily because there is so much variation and a multitude of different styles on offer. Each song contains elements that you think you've heard something like before but can't quite recall who it was. It's a feast of recognition to try and identify what bands different sections of the songs are reminiscent of, and not only prog bands!
Maybe not very original but as it's done in such a tasteful manner, who cares! Give it a try!
Brave Young Assassin (4:58), Flame to the Oak (4:49), Out of Your Mind and Into A Void (6:40), The Precipice (5:45), The Dead City Blueprint (4:42), The Great Unknown (5:01), The Rift (6:59), The Beacon (5:57), Scars From Limbo (7:14), Adrift Through The Arcane Isles Of Recovery (4:26)
British doomers Thine had released two albums in 1998 and 2002, after which it became quiet around the band. I never minded about that, as I found both albums rather dull and unsympathetic, even though I have an affinity with doom metal. But the band wasn't finished yet, and so 12 years later they have come up with a third album.
It is good to see that the guys have developed since then, adding more variety to their mix and having matured their sound. The songs on The Dead City Blueprint are way more focused than their older work, and the vocalist takes more care to build good melodies. He also has improved his technique to a more sympathetic vocal sound.
In style, the album swings mainly in between rock and metal and has a good portion of punk added to the mix. It reminds me quite often of old Anathema, when they were a doom metal band. Here and there some Leprous reminiscence shines through as well. What I like best on the album is that they bring in some folk elements. It's quite nice how the happy, in-major played guitar melodies and licks lurk in this brooding, dark, doomy, depressive sound.
But then I must say that I find all the songs too long, with not enough ideas in them to entertain me and thus I'm having a hard time to listen the album as a whole. I also wonder what on the album makes it a progressive effort. Despite all the style variety, it is all standard material. Lengthy songs aren't the sole criteria to make things prog. On the other hand, maybe I'm not depressed enough for it.
Celestine (7:20), No Time like Today (4:52), Change Something (3:52), Doin' Alright (6:48), Center of my World (4:15), Nomad (7:13), Let it go (6:33), Starfields (7:54), All Seeing Eye (6:05), Still don't know (5:14), No more, but so (4:41), Release (5:09)
Back in 1971 there was a one-hit wonder called Springwater who scored a huge hit in Europe with an instrumental guitar piece called I Will Return. I liked it very much and cherished the single for many years. The sound of that song came back when I listened to Nathan Jon Tillett's Nomad. The echoing guitar that dominates most of his songs is very reminiscent of Springwater.
Tillett sings with UK-prog band Napier's Bones that recorded one album in 2014 called The Wistman Tales. Their music is written by fellow band mate Gordon Midgley, while Tillett deals with the vocals. Apparently he thought it was about time to record a couple of the songs that he had written over the years that were not meant, or judged unsuitable for this band. He has committed himself in doing all the hard work himself: writing, playing, recording, producing and promoting. That alone deserves anybody's appreciation. That would have been easier to give if Nomad would have been a good album. But there are too many flaws to justify that.
The 12 songs are mainly built around a guitar melody, be it electric or acoustic, with Doin' Alright as an exception, as this song features piano and sax. There is a Wishbone Ash-like double lead guitar track (Change something), an attempt to do an Iron Maiden-style rock song (All Seeing Eye) that fails completely because of the weak vocals, an instrumental that made me think of The Eagles' Journey of the Sorcerer (Nomad) and a nice Mike Oldfield-like soundscape (Starfields).
In between are rather slow songs with nice guitar, weak vocals and too many abrupt fadeouts. To be honest, most of the songs have little to do with 'progressive', whatever that may be, as they are simple in the overall built-up and contain hardly, if any, interesting time signatures or melody changes or unexpected instrumental parts.
Tillett is unmistakably talented, being able to write songs, to play all instruments and to do the production job all by himself. Unfortunately the songs are simply too long, with too much repetitiveness. Add to that the uninteresting lyrics and his rather weak voice and the conclusion is inevitable: this album would have benefited enormously from a capable producer who had taken care of the songs, had selected a good lead vocalist and shortened most songs by some minutes.
Of course it's obvious that using a professional producer was way out of Tillett's possibilities. That makes it hard to judge harshly over this album. It is a product of someone who makes full use of today's possibilities, to record and release the music he believes in. He has taken the risk, and at least he can reach listeners who can judge for themselves if they like it or not. As the songs are available on Bandcamp, I can only advise to visit his page, have a good listen and pick the pieces you like. There's also the music of Napier's Bones. There may be more for you than for me.
CD 1: Standing in the Rain (6:09), Rest in Peace (6:30), Haunting Me (4:11), Lady Jay (5:48), Fire Sign (4:53), The Pilgrim (8:20), Way of the World (8:50), No Easy Road (3:55)
CD 2: Doctor (5:43), Broken Down House (4:25), Valediction (6:16), The King Will Come (7:01), Prelude (1:11), In The Skin (7:07), Why Don't We? (10:17), Living Proof (7:22), Jailbait (8:36)
I've always thought of Wishbone Ash as being the quintessential British guitar band. Their first three albums are a primer on how to play with both power and taste. Their third album, Argus, is an all time classic - an album for the ages that proved impossible for the band to top. They carried on for many years and many albums most of which were very good, but, like many bands, they eventually splintered into factions. Guitarist Andy Powell owns the Wishbone Ash name and the powerful, bluesy side of the band's legacy. Bass player/vocalist Martin Turner now is the custodian of the band's subtle, intricate and melodic soul.
Garden Party was recorded at Liscombe Park, Buckinghamshire in August, 2012, in front of an invited audience of friends and fans. There are technical glitches here and there, but Turner and the band made sure that their guests had a time to remember.
Standing in the Rain kicks off disc 1 with a bang. Guitarists Ray Hatfield and Danny Wilson follow in the footsteps of Andy Powell, Ted Turner and Laurie Wisefield but they don't copy them. Hatfield and Wilson are their own men, building and enhancing the classic Wishbone Ash licks. Rest in Peace begins with some subtle picking, only to shift gear into a powerful jam. The guitar work is intricate and the rhythm section of Martin Turner and Dave Wagstaffe kick things on relentlessly. Lady Jay is a favourite track for me. It's gentle, folk-like melody is perfectly suited to some lovely, soaring, guitar licks and harmonies. Other highlights of disc 1 include the venerable The Pilgrim and the rocking No Easy Road.
Original Wishbone Ash guitarist Ted Turner, no relation to Martin, makes an appearance on Disc 2's Valediction and things getter better still. Turner T meshes perfectly with Hatfield and Wilson and the three guitar line up powers it's way through Ash classics such as The King Will Come, In the Skin and Why Don't We? Guitarist Turner is in fine form and the mutual respect among the musicians,shows.
Laurie Wisefield who joined Wishbone Ash when Ted Turner left in 1974, takes centre stage for Living Proof and then there is a front line version of Wishbone Ash that had not previously graced a stage. Turner, Turner and Wisefield who, along with the rest of the band deliver a thunderous version of Jailbait. With original Ash drummer Steve Upton present at the concert as well, there were good vibrations are everywhere.
I've heard many Wishbone Ash live albums over the years and all of them have merit, but Garden Party manages to travel back in time to the music's source. The spirit that gave birth to Wishbone Ash is rekindled and hopefully Turner and co will keep the flame burning brightly. I've played this CD regularly since it arrived and it's going to remain in rotation for quite a while longer. If you like electric guitar music, this album is a must have.
CD 1: Flight (21:30), Lifetime (5:11), All That Before (7:46), Bunsho (5:48), A Plague Of Lighthouse-Keepers (24:05), Gog (6:39)
CD 2: Interference Patterns (4:28), Over the Hill (12:36), Your Time Starts Now (4:14), Scorched Earth (10:14), Meurglys III (15:24), Man-Erg (11:40), Childlike Faith In Childhood's End (12:37)
Four close encounters of the Van der Graaf Generator kind (1976 – 2015)
Encounter One (1976)
The setting was a steamy university bedsit, shrouded in smoke and feel, with sad, damp walls. On the party record deck a well-worn, skipping and clicking version of Pawn Hearts mesmerisingly revolves. The notes emanating from the speakers were loved by few, begrudgingly tolerated by some, and vehemently hated by many. This encounter ended prematurely. Despite long hair protestations and the cries of a few party goers, revellers witnessed the ritual dissection and pulverisation of the disc at the hands of a gate-crashing punk rocker. From that point on, the sentinel tones of the record's stand-out track was consigned to become a distant musical memory.
Encounter Two (2008)
Appreciation of the music of Guy Manning and The Tangent led to the discovery of the Parallel or 90 Degrees version of Peter Hammill's Flight featured in their No More Travelling Chess release. This was my signpost for a fulfilling, kaleidoscopic encounter with Hammill's excellent Black Box solo album.
Encounter Three (2015)
In an attempt to get some insight into the subtleties and compositional complexities of the music featured in Van der Graaf Generator's latest live disc Merlin Atmos, I sought out the studio versions. The result was initial bewilderment, frequently replaced by an overwhelming feeling of enjoyment.
Encounter Four (2015)
Merlin Atmos, begins. I sit transfixed, experiencing the rippling, vibrating sound waves that lurch from the bulging speakers, with my imagination perfectly transforming the low-lit room into a radiant concert hall.
This release features performances from the bands 2013 tour at a number of venues across Europe. A range of compositions representing the band's substantial discography are faithfully captured. The deluxe CD edition includes a bonus disc. The band's 2011 studio release Grounding in Numbers is represented by the inclusion of two tracks. Trisector, which was released in 2008, is represented by the inclusion of four pieces. Other tracks are taken from the band's Pawn Hearts, God Bluff, Still Life and World Record albums and also from Hammill's solo material.
The highpoints of the set are undoubtedly the two epic tracks, Flight and A Plague of Lighthouse - Keepers which take up some 45 minutes of Disc 1. A Plague of Lighthouse - Keepers was featured on the band's 1971 release Pawn Hearts. The sleeve notes of Merlin Atmos, inform me that these tracks were rarely performed. A Plague of Lighthouse - Keepers was only performed once in the years prior to the band's 2013 tour.
Flight consists of seven sections. It is lyrically thought-provoking and unforgettable. I would have liked the packaging to have included the lyrics. It is replete with a memorable melody that effortlessly sways in and out of the sections, and is finally revisited in a cohesive manner. It is a fine example of extended song writing. The version of Flight contained in Merlin Atmos, is a totally successful, inventive reinterpretation of this classic piece, in which the organ playing of Banton adds a great deal.
Whilst listening to the Merlin Atmos version of this song my eyes closed and I was involuntarily transported back to the dimly lit, perspiration puddled 1976 house party. On this occasion there was no rude intervention by a punk rocker to break the spell, and I was able to feast on the complexities and structure of this masterpiece of progressive composition.
The highlight of the much rawer production that is evident on Disc 2 is Meurglys III, The Songwriter's Guild, another substantially lengthy composition. It was apparently named after Hammill's guitar. Its middle section is full of wholesome foot tapping moments and rhythmic passages. It is filled with discordant guitar parts and is crowned with majestic organ swirls.
In many ways, I have been able to approach Merlin Atmos and the music of Van der Graaf Generator with the ears of a first time listener. The most immediate lasting impression is the expressive power , reflective subtlety and all out theatrical fury that Hammill manages to convey in his unique vocal delivery in a live setting. Simply listening to the studio versions featuring some obvious multi tracked and multi layered vocals reinforced my admiration for Hammill's live solo vocal performance.
The second lasting impression gained, was an awareness and appreciation of the complexity of the sound that the current trio is able to generate. This release features some very complex and enjoyable playing. In this respect, the empathy conveyed by each of the performers to each other, appears to be as equally as important as their mastery of their respective instruments. The array of organ sounds that Hugh Banton is able to utilise is particularly impressive.
The studio versions of the band's earlier tunes made me aware of the significant input that David Jackson contributed to much of the music over the years. Personally, I did not miss the fuller sound in tracks such as A Plague of Lighthouse - Keepers, but if I had been more familiar with the band's output, then I can imagine that it may well have been an issue.
Whether or not Merlin Atmos will be seen by supporters of the band as an essential purchase is debatable, despite the inclusion of two rarely performed epics. It is possible that some might consider the live versions of the extended compositions and in particular A Plague of Lighthouse - Keepers, in much the same way as some may view Ian Anderson's live release of Thick as a Brick - Live In Iceland from his 2013 tour. As a stand-alone release some might say that it has its merits, but when compared critically to the original, it is arguably a pallid shadow.
Not–withstanding any debates about the merits or not of bands continuing to play music they composed some 45 years ago to my ears, there is no discernible difference in the quality of the player's performance throughout the Merlin Atmos, when comparing their interpretations of the older compositions against their more recent material. I for one thoroughly enjoyed the spontaneously raw live atmosphere that permeates these two discs. This is a band that is obviously well rehearsed, but is also effervescently draped in sparkling energy. Appealingly, the music conveys a sort of fragility and excitement that is only present in a white knuckle live performance. I wish that I could have witnessed it, but the discs have the rare potential and ability to transport the listener to the best seat in the theatre!
Merlin Atmos has whetted my interest in a band whose music had largely passed me by. As a consequence I look forward to checking my post daily in late April for the delivery of the band's forthcoming archival release, After the Flood - Van der Graaf Generator at the BBC 1968-1977.
With hindsight, I wish that my encounters with this inventively progressive band had been much more frequent over the years. If you are in a similar position, I recommend that you hastily begin your own encounter of the Van der Graaf Generator-kind.