ISSUE 2015-527

Reviews in this issue:

Timo Tolkki’s Avalon - The Land of New Hope
Timo Tolkki's Avalon - The Land of New Hope
Country of Origin: Finland
Format: CD
Record Label: Frontiers Records
Catalogue #: FR CD600
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 50:56
Info: Timo Tolkki's Avalon
Samples: Timo Tolkki's Avalon website
Track List:
Avalanche Anthem - Russell Allen, Rob Rock, Elize Ryd (4:52), A World Without Us - Elize Ryd, Russell Allen, Rob Rock (5:42), Enshrined in My Memory - Elize Ryd (4:05), In the Name of the Rose - Elize Ryd, Russell Allen, Rob Rock (4:26), We Will Find a Way - Rob Rock, Tony Kakko (4:24), Shine - Elize Ryd, Sharon den Adel (3:36), The Magic of the Night - Rob Rock (4:42), To the Edge of the World - Rob Rock (5:01), I'll Sing You Home - Elize Ryd (5:01), The Land of New Hope - Michael Kiske (8:53)
Musicians: Timo Tolkki on guitar, bass guitar and producer, Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody of Fire) on drums, Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater, ex-Black Country Communion) on keyboards, keyboard solo on To the Edge of the Earth, Jens Johansson (Stratovarius), keyboard solo on To the Edge of the Earth, Mikko Härkin (ex-Sonata Arctica, ex-Symfonia, Luca Turilli's Rhapsody).

Vocalists: Elize Ryd (Amaranthe), Michael Kiske (Unisonic, Place Vendome, ex-Helloween(), Russell Allen (Symphony X, Allen-Lande, Adrenaline Mob, Star One), Rob Rock (Impellitteri, ex-Axel Rudi Pell), Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation), Tony Kakko (Sonata Arctica) and opera vocals from Magdalena Lee.

Well the above is quite a who's who list and makes you think 'quality'. Frontiers Records has released Timo Tolkki's new venture, a label that is synonymous with melodic rock. Tolkki is planning to create a trilogy of albums, with The Land of New Hope being the last part allegedly. A strange approach but is this creation progressive? Well only in the sense of its concept I guess. What we are really talking is symphonic, power and heavy metal, as only the Europeans can do it, and as one would expect with the people who are involved. Tolkki also comes with a good pedigree, so expectations are high from this camp, and it would certainly appear that the music has been written with the participants in mind.

Rock Operas are nothing new and can be drawn-out affairs. One will have to wait and see whether this is going to be the case with this trilogy approach. However something nags the back of my mind, which says that you could probably make one stunning album, as opposed to three that have mixed results. The concept might be harder to convey, but could keep things more focused.

Well, there is no doubt about the ability of those involved, their contributions are all top-notch and they all bring something to the table. The problem is that it all comes across as being formulaic. It doesn't present anything new, jumping on the back on the back of others who have released such albums like Avantasia. Land of New Hope is slightly better in my eyes, yet it still presents an 'it's all been done before' scenario, as does the concept, which is a real pity.Don't get me wrong, the album is good, just nothing more than good. It is an album that just sits with a glut of others.

The production and mastering is second-to-none as one would again expect. No muted passages, just crystal clear and dynamic salvos. The structures all have a familiarity about them and will have you joining in quickly.

Who would this album appeal to? Well fans of Stratovarius, Helloween, Symfonia, Nightwish, Symphony X, Avantasia, Sonata Arctica, Rhapsody ... I guess you can see the pattern and references.
Conclusion:
John O'Boyle: 5 out of 10

Broken Paracute - Down Is the New Up
Broken Paracute - Down Is the New Up
Country of Origin: UK / Canada
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 52:32
Info: Broken Paracute
Samples: Broken Paracute website
Track List:
Nine Miles to Babylon (5:47), Bottom Line (3:59), False Prophets (3:44), Snake (5:08), Do Ya Me Oh La? (4:25), Hit the Wall (4:32), Genuine Fake (4:16), Can Man (5:02), Sask (4:45), Nowhere (5:09), Slipstream Bad Dream (3:58), Supernova (4:29)
Down Is The New Up is an album by the danger-some sounding Broken Parachute, two university chums now living on opposite sides of the world, yet using modern technology to "record in the same room". Marcus Taylor is on guitars and bass, with Ben Bell providing keyboards and vocals. New recruit Matt Snowden is drumming up the support.

The sleeve notes and online biographies mention a liking for blues, jazz, prog and Santana. Therefore the album is a good combination of genre-defying and a well-played and recorded mixture of all of the above. Ben's vocals could be more schooled. He can certainly keep a tune, but some variation in his tone might help with the obviously different distinctions in the music.

Nine Miles To Babylon opens the show with its guitar-dominated slow rock, which edges into prog territory with its keyboard solo coda. Can Man and Genuine Fake show Ben's predilections for Deep Purple, with some very fine Hammond playing, but it's Marcus' album really, with his guitar-adroitness dominating every track. To that end the stand out track is Do Ya Me Oh La which is the instrumental hit that Carlos himself never made. Nominations should also be sent to the evocatively named Candy Medusa, for providing the trippy psychedelic artwork.

This album is from 2013, so it may have half-fallen through the DPRP net, but hopefully music lovers will at least visit their web page and have a listen themselves and fix the hole in that torn, silk canopy.
Conclusion:
Andrew Halley: 7 out of 10

Laura Casale - Now Is where You Are
Laura Casale - Now Is where You Are
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 75:00
Info: Laura Casale
Samples: Laura Casale website
Track List:
New Millennium (4:59), Rescue (5:56), Now Is Where You Are (6:18), Big Sky (7:12), Full Moon (5:04), Love (2:47), Smilin (3:41), Broken Wing (6:43), Reflections (5:43), The Real You (4:13), The Voyage (6:46), Metamorphosis (10:44), Peace Be Still (4:04)
Laura Casale is a classically trained pianist, with a self-confessed love for all things prog. With the release of her debut album, Now is Where You Are, she has realised a ten-year dream to produce a collection of music that represents her love for the likes of the prog rock giants such as Yes, along with a mission to show her life's journey through song.

Bravely she has followed her own path and has turned her project into reality. The results of all this determination may however be something niche, that will likely only appeal to a fan of her message and the style she follows. The opener, New Millennium pulses, but distinctly lacks punch. It has moments of flourish, with Casale's obvious talents on the piano and keys which are presented in a style which suits the upbeat, life-affirming message that she is laying down from the off. Ambient and gentle with a glossy, clean sound, this is at the easy listening end of the prog spectrum.

Thematically, this is an album that focuses on the subjects of love and the beauty in nature, and a combination of the two. Underpinning it all is a spiritual backbone, which brings an openly proud praise of God into the writing: "Well it's a new millennium morning, the wonder of all time. The son is rising among us and we are awake to see him shine."

Unfortunately the intention behind the words isn't conveyed in music that has any real weight. Over the first two tracks there is an early impression that this is merely music that is amiable and easy on the ear. It is neatly performed, yet underwhelming in the way it is delivered.

Any emotional power to be had, is perhaps present in the title track which is a delicate, classically-flowing number, nicely touching on an ethereal Kate Bush quality at times. The same can be also be said of Big Sky (no connection) and Full Moon. This is a segment of the album which holds the most promise within it.

It's in the middle where it all comes a bit unstuck, with the sickly Love and its partner track, Smilin'. Understandably Casale wants to covey the passion she feels inside and the joy it brings her. However the teenage lyrical content she has penned, makes it difficult to endure these two songs, the latter more so. There are more inspiring ways of describing the universal theme of love in words, ways that have some metaphor or mystery about them. Unfortunately, Casale has given her feelings a show-not-tell quality through simplistic lyrics that would appeal to a child's understanding and description of what love is.

"I can't stop smilin', every time I think about you, I love the way we hang out together," and "I close my eyes what do you think I see? Your smilin' eyes looking back at me."

Musically, it's jaunty and feels sugar-coated, a factor that only adds to the impression of songs which are both bland and fluffy.

The Real You has the hint of some missing sense of urgency about it and rescues the album from being 75 minutes of soothing but completely simplistic, benign music. Casale has such a sweet voice, but a voice which doesn't have any edgier tones to it, in the way Tori Amos or Bush can project. So whilst the track is pacey, it does not have any bite to it.

Casale once more shows her strongest suit in her ability with the piano on The Voyage, however this is another moment where the painfully simplistic lyrics override the proceedings, along with a sea shanty-like melody which is a little too close to a Florida-style pirate attraction in its feel, than anything that could muster the experience of a journey across the sea.

Metamorphosis is the album's lengthier piece and represents Casale's take on spiritual transformation, a subject that has been covered with more beguiling ambiguity by the likes of Jon Anderson, an obvious influence and a point of reference. Whilst Anderson's words may seem to be mystifying and out there, Casale sits far from that position with a more literal statement: "There is a real world that you will see, surrender is the key. Find your true identity."

It's a potent sentiment and the subject should sing to you and resonate, especially if you are going through a change in your life, but sadly there is no depth to the words to hook you in deep enough. The final closing segment of this album is the calming, Peace be Still, which works on a level that it resembles a gentle prayer, to soothe the soul and breathe contentment over you.

The truth for this album is, that if this is your view on life, a life of prayer, spirituality and faith, this is the sort of album that may appeal, but as piece of work, both lyrically and musically it is lacking in any drama or potency. Rather than make the hairs stand on your neck, it actually can induce a toe curling reaction with its sweetened and insipid lyrics. It's a pity, because Casale does have a likeable voice and a flair for occasional surprise with her piano playing, and her self-produced determination is impressive.
Conclusion:
Eric Perry: 4 out of 10

Cheval Fou - Cheval Fou
Cheval Fou - Cheval Fou
Country of Origin: France
Format: CD
Record Label: Psych Up Melodies
Catalogue #: PM/002/01
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 75:45
Info: Cheval Fou
Samples: Cheval Fou website
Track List:
Mercury Messenger (2:11), Kheops (5:34), Etna (7:05), Hannibal (18:04), Meteorites (5:35), Ishtar (1:48), Actreids (2:46), Croisades (2:33), Dans L'oeil De L'oeil (4:45), Birth (1:23), Marion Dreams (2:31), Sunset Laser (8:19), La Fin De La Vie (12:44)
Cheval Fou who operated between the years of 1971 to 1975. Consisting of Michel Peteau, (guitar, saxophone, vocals), Max Peteau (guitar, vocals), and Stephene Rossini (drums, percussion), the band were noteworthy for not including a bass player in their lineup. Cheval Fou specialized in a sort of minimalist Krautrock/psychedelia, with early Pink Floyd and Amon Duul being obvious influences. Fuzzy guitars sparred with percussion and abstract vocals, to create a sort of low fi space rock.

Cheval Fou did not release an album during their brief existence, so these 13 tracks, recorded as demos, are all that remains to tell their tale. The sound on this cd is flat and trebly. and for the most part, hard to listen to.

Mercury Messenger kicks things off with the sound of stampeding horses and fuzzy guitars. The drumming is faint, yet insistent, and the music drifts into the sort of ambient space territory, occupied by Hawkwind and the early Floyd. Kheops is a guitar filled romp, that shows a debt to The Floyd's classic Astronomy Domine. At 18:04, Hannibal is the band's tour de force. Guitars and percussion thrash about fuzzily, while spoken word bits pop in and out of the mix. It's is a wild ride that's filled with spacey ideas and sounds but it overstays its welcome. It also suffers from the mediocre sound quality that permeates the album.

Many of the remaining tracks are passing interludes, brief and for the most part, easily forgettable. Ishtar features some distant, spacey sax playing by Michel Peteau, while Marion Dreams is a pretty, languid, guitar piece that shows a more nuanced side to the band. La Fin De La Vie is the lone track from 1975 and it's more of an electronic piece, with spoken word recitations riding atop insistent, electronic beats. It suggests that the band had moved on from the primitive psychedelia of their earlier days.

Cheval Fou were a band with some ideas but the randomness of the tracks and the hit or miss sound quality, makes this CD a difficult listening experience. In summation, I must rate it as 5 out of 10. It's too bad that the band didn't leave a fully realized album as their legacy.
Conclusion:
Rick Collins: 5 out of 10

The Gate - Faceless
The Gate - Faceless
Country of Origin: Poland
Format: CD
Record Label: Lynx
Catalogue #: LM 92 CD
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 41:18
Info: n/a
Samples: The Gate website
Track List:
Android's Lovesong (5:35), My Way Or The Highway (8:25), Faceless (3:39), Mirror Dream (9:30), Open Your Eyes (4:04), More Than Everything (10:02)
Poland continues to be a fertile region for new progressive rock with The Gate releasing their debut album, Faceless, towards the end of last year. The group don't appear to have a website, so the only information I have about the band is from the CD sleeve.

The band hail from the city of Racibórz and are a three-piece: Maciej Dąbrowski on vocals and bass, Maciej Hanusek on guitars and keyboards, and Jakub Dąbrowski on drums and percussion. The album kicks off with Android's Lovesong which features the haunting backing vocals of the wonderfully named Anja Orthodox. The vocals are in English and once again I am mightily impressed by the quality of the diction from the young singer.

The intro, although rather plodding, is quite enticing and draws the listener in, really getting going at about the four-minute mark with the introduction of keyboards and drums, both playing in a rather interesting manner. My Way Or The Highway has a very 70s rock band opening that really is not that great, but again the band pull it around with a stonkingly-good instrumental passage, where the three of them let loose on their instruments. The song play-out is also rather good, despite the reprise of the chorus.

Faceless has something of the Adrian Belew-era King Crimson about it, with a nice groove and a slow-burn build with some good riffing and some sonorous bass playing. It is relatively slow and reasonably short but a great song nonetheless.

On starting, Mirror Dreams sounds rather like a grunge band from the first Seattle era. Some added effects to the vocal, break up the rather monotone delivery and it takes a couple of minutes for the track to get going. But when the introductory vocal section ends, the instrumental prowess of the group is unleashed. Jakub D is impressively inventive on the drums, adding an array of rhythms. About midway through this track, the tone of the piece changes, with a more atmospheric use of the guitar and with the single bass low notes balancing the higher treble of the guitar. Finally a slow guitar solo penetrates - simple, elegant and effective.

The acoustic Open Your Eyes adds contrast and, again, keeping things simple, it works well. Some of the best singing is on this track, and the harmony vocals, presumably double tracked, are pleasing to hear. On the principle of keeping the best until last, closer More Than Everything takes the plaudits as the album's highlight. A combination of the highlights of all that has gone before, the song is a fractionated delight.

For a début album there is a lot of promise on Faceless, although my main criticism is that none of the pieces are particularly memorable. A couple of major hooks wouldn't go amiss, and a bit more variety in the vocals would be of benefit. But overall this is a good effort and worthy of attention.
Conclusion:
Mark Hughes: 6 out of 10

New Sun - Damage Done
New Sun - Damage Done
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: CDBaby
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2012
Time: 42:30
Info: New Sun
Samples: New Sun on CDBaby
Track List:
Damage Done (7:23), Shards in the Sand (9:15), Antigravity (5:12), She Moved Me (5:00), Dreams (3:53), Miscreants (4:50), Chasm City (6:48)
I must confess to an irrational personal vexation when it comes to prog, which might have coloured my judgement of New Sun's album Damage Done. On their Facebook page, the band describes themselves as 'a mesh of old school and modern prog rock.' Fair enough. They cite influences including Rush, Jethro Tull (a personal favourite), King Crimson, Porcupine Tree and Tool. So far so good. And then there's this: 'New Sun is not your stick-in-the-mud progressive rock band; all styles are open territory to be explored. Just so long as it's not in 4/4 meter.'

In a genre as maligned as prog, such an attitude of superiority is incredibly irksome. What is wrong with 4/4? Arguably some of the best songs of all time are in that meter, and cutting yourself off from using a particular meter, obviously contradicts the aim to explore all territory, doesn't it? The question then becomes this: does New Sun have the music to back the smugness? The short answer is no. But the short answer does not give the band the credit it is due, and that is what I intend to do here.

The band was formed in San Francisco in 1993, intent on playing progressive rock in an atmosphere, arguably incredibly hostile to the genre. Damage Done is their fourth album, released nearly 20 years into their career. It comprises mostly slow, to mid-tempo, meandering songs, with little of the spark that characterises the bands they cite as influences.

The album opens with the nine-minute long Shards in the Sand, a song mostly (and hypocritically I might add) in 4/4! Chris Elio delivers a convincing performance on vocals, but the song never really cuts loose or establishes a real groove. The chorus that serves as the centerpiece, is simply not strong enough to bear the weight of the song, which ultimately collapses.

The title track is in the same mould as the opener, clocking in at over seven minutes, this time a bit more obvious in its use of odd-meter. It also plays the game of trying to build up to something, and it also fails to pull it off. The problem is, if you're going for a dark, brooding, atmospheric sound, then it is very easy to lose your listener unless you do it extremely well, or of you have something either to break the tension or to reward the listener's patience. A recurring problem with this album is that it is simply monochromatic, even when different instruments or guitar sounds are employed.

The song Antigravity, while as musically banal as much of the rest of the album, has the added disadvantage of a truly aggravating lyrical refrain of: 'Antigravity, Antimatter/ What does it matter/When nothing else matters'.

The first respite from the gloom comes in the form of the acoustic breather, Dreams, probably the best song on the album. The upbeat character embraced in this song continues into the next track, Miscreants. Unfortunately, Miscreants, although up-tempo is about as bland as the first three songs, and finds itself topped off with a rather disappointing guitar solo.

Chasm City brings things to a brooding close, rewarding (to use the term generously) the listener with something of a proggy instrumental break, before fading out in much the insipid manner in which the album began.

New Sun surely deserves plaudits for sticking to their vision for over 20 years, through the various upswings and downturns the genre has faced. Unfortunately, Damage Done simply does not cut it as a stand-alone piece of work. I will be very surprised if I feel the urge to give it another spin.
Conclusion:
Tushnar Menon: 5 out of 10

Nyl - Nyl
Nyl - Nyl
Country of Origin: France
Format: CD
Record Label: Psych up melodies
Catalogue #: PUM-001-01
Year of Release: 1976/2011
Time: 65:21
Info: Nyl
Samples: Nyl website
Track List:
Nyl (8:04), Abery (3:22), Nyarlathotep (2:35), Shatt (1:24), Dromadaire bleu (3:02), Ailes d'or (3:08), Dervishes (2:39), Ibha (3:53), Jaguar I (2:19), Jaguar II (1:01), Nyl II (9:23), Surfing Ibha (2:15), Nyarlathotep II (2:22), Nyl III (9:04)
Can a band be called Krautrock if they're not actually German? Well this is a reissue of the only album from French psych rock band Nyl. It was originally released back in 1976, at the fag end of when this sort of stuff was popular. Now exhumed, it's been dusted off and remastered by the Italian label Psych Up Melodies.

The original album with a vast array of performers was the brainchild of Stephane Rossini (drums) and Michel Petaue (guitars), and the sound on this album is actually far more diverse than the Krautrock label implies. The album appears to be influenced heavily by Egyptian mythology, with the artwork and the names tying in with that theme.

It's likely that this never made much of an impression outside France on it's original release. I am not saying that this is a great long-lost psychedelic classic, because whilst some of the tracks on here are good, in particular the bonus tracks Jaguar I and Jaguar II, the album proper is very much of its time.

The opening Nyl has Floydian cymbals launching into a sax-driven rock track that sounds like it could have fallen off an early 70s horror film soundtrack, whilst Abery has a guitar riff that sounds like Dylan's Knocking on Heaven's Door, and is the sort of classic rock staple that an American FM station would have picked up.

The unfortunately-titled Shatt is another sax-driven, jazzy piece that really has a swing to it, and that is something that echoes throughout the album. There is a lot of jazz/rock crossover throughout, with some really funky drumming and brass-driven pieces. Maybe that's the Gallic sentiment showing through?

With the female vocals on Ailes D'Or with its Wish You Were Here vibe and French lyrics, the band again steps away from the psych territory into something much more mainstream, and it is this contradiction that sits at the heart of this record. It's like they can't decide whether to push the boat out and go full-on psychedelic, or go full-on commercial rock. This is what means the record doesn't hang together as it should.

It's almost like they thought this was their only opportunity to record these songs, so they recorded everything they had, and hoped it fitted together. I am not sure the band knew what direction they wanted to go in, as the conflicting styles and genre-hopping lacks coherence, which makes the listening experience jarring.

So in answer to the opening question: no this French band can not be called Krautrock.
Conclusion:
James R Turner: 6 out of 10

Saris - Until We Have Faces
Saris - Until We Have Faces
Country of Origin: Germany
Format: CD
Record Label: Duck Dive Music
Catalogue #: DDM240785-14
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 61:57
Info: Saris
Samples: Saris website
Track List:
Until We Have Faces (6:08), Come Undone (4:54), Time To Catch The Train (4:47), Run Away Now (3:28), It's Up To You (7:27), From Nowhere (4:39), Another Dead End Street (5:11), Rain (7:03), Hold On (3:38), Endless Dream (14:42)
There's something funny about this album by this German band. My appreciation of the music on it, varies from day to day. Their catchy tunes in a hardrock/AOR style, sometimes radio-friendly, with some nice soloing on guitar, and some bombastic, orchestral keyboard tunes, are well recorded and sound crystal clear out of my speakers. The music covers the space between the Swedish hardrockers Europe and progrockers Arena, with maybe a shred of Saga. But there are also days when I feel that it all sounds a bit too clean and lacks some warmth in the compositions. So I'm having a problem with what to really think about Saris.

Saris is a band that was formed in 1981 in Bochum, but after having had some successful years, founding member Derk Akkermann decided that due to musical differences, the band should be put on ice temporarily. The real revival came with the album Curse Of Time (2009). This received some good reviews and the future was looking quite bright. Sadly shortly after its release, drummer Achim Schmidt died of a pulmonary embolism. Akkermann decided to carry on with Saris as a project, and eventually it took him and his fellow musicians until 2014 to release their new album which was recorded mainly in their own studio.

It's very obvious that Derk Akkermann (guitars, keyboards and programming) is very much in charge, being also responsible for writing and composing all the songs. The other musicians on this album are Lutz Günther (bass, backing vocals), Jens Beckmann (drums and percussion), Henrik Wager (lead and backing vocals), Anja Günther (lead and backing vocals) and Thomas Hackmann (backing vocals). The contribution of Hackmann is remarkable because he was lead vocalist on Curse Of Time but he only wanted to have a role as a background singer here!

The album is full of hardrock / AOR songs, and instrumental neoprog parts with bombastic, orchestral-sounding keyboards. The album ends in prog-style with an epic track of more than 14 minutes with lots of variety. The only really bad track was Run Away Now where the band attempts to play some reggae! Please don't do that anymore.

Otherwise the other tracks all are well recorded and sound great but probably could do with a little warmth and lowering of the tempo. I think the band is trying to please hardrock / AOR fans but also wants to attract the lovers of more proggy, symphonic rock. I don't know if it's better to try to please everyone or choose between the two styles. Most important, is that they make the music they want to play and let the public decide if they like it or not.

So, maybe not an album that all proggers will like but I'm sure that a large group of our DPRP readers will enjoy listening to this album.
Conclusion:
Peter Swanson: 7 out of 10

Soup - The Beauty of Our Youth
Soup - The Beauty of Our Youth
Country of Origin: Norway
Format: CD
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2013
Time: 49:46
Info: Soup
Samples: Soup on Bandcamp
Track List:
The Spirit Lodge (6:21), Our Common Ground (4:14), This Place Is a Dream (3:43), Transient Days (5:05), Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (6:41), Loralyn (And the River Lady Within) (7:04), Clandestine Eyes (8:14), A Life Well Lived (7:32)
From the land of Gazpacho, we have a quartet from Trondheim simply called Soup. With a history dating back to a debut album in 2005, The Beauty of Our Youth has such an atmospheric prog ambience, that I'm really surprised this band has not come onto my radar before. Although references on their Bandcamp page to one album being instrumental ambient and another sung entirely in Norwegian, may suggest that this album has seen a change in approach?

To get straight to the point: this is a really lovely piece of work. If you like your music drenched, dripping in Northern melancholy, and left slowly to simmer on a pinewood fire amidst the silent, snowy tundra, then you will dream easily in the company of Soup.

Part spiritual, part Arctic soundtrack, part atmospheric electronic progressive and part classical (in a literary and much as a musical sense), all eight tracks have a high consistency in their compositional style and delivery.

Comparisons to Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, and the lighter side of Anathema have been common features in the reviews I've seen elsewhere. Having the artwork done by Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson designer Lasse Hoile adds further credence to such comparisons. However I'm equally struck by reminiscences of Iceland's Sigur Ros and (more obscurely) one of my favourite albums of 2012, Essence, from The Addiction Dream. Here and there I also encounter the gentler moments of the pre-mentioned Gazpacho. However this is no dark and gloomy melancholy. There is a bright, optimistic, almost romantic feel to all of the songs. There is (mostly) a lightness to the playing and production, helped by plenty of piano and strings (samples). The occasional burst of guitar energy, adds an effective extra contrast and dynamic.

The emotive, fragile voice of Erlend Aastad Viken is enticingly captivating, and a perfect match for the music.

By big grumble is that the drummer has an unhealthy obsession with his cymbals, something that significantly unsettles the melancholy and spoils my enjoyment. It is only a small thing but the constant crashing is totally out of place and at odds with the musical picture being created by the rest of the band. Also I do find the sound, production-wise very flat across the disc. I'd like it to sparkle, like the winter sun on snow. It's more like a mist across the ice. Perhaps these are things that an outside producer could bring to future efforts.

This is somewhat lighter than my usual fare but has more than satisfied my melancholic itch while I wait for the new albums from Wolverine and Votum. Definitely a band to keep a better eye on in future.
Conclusion:
Andy Read: 8 out of 10

Chris Thompson - Jukebox
Chris Thompson - Jukebox
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD
Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Catalogue #: ECLEC22478
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 143:07
Info: Chris Thompson on Cherry Red Records
Track List:
CD 1: Dark Side (4:25), Love and Loneliness (4:22), Father of Day [Live] (4:54), Hot Summer Night [Live] (4:35), Million Dollar Wonder Hit (4:01), Cold Wind Blowing Across My Heart (4:09), Spirits in the Night [Live] (5:50), Whole Lot to Give (3:37), For You (3:14), One Man Mission (4:16), Martha's Madman [Live] (5:58), Beat of Love (4:24), You Angel You (3:26), A Shift in the Wind (4:23), Eddie Wants to Rock (4:14), Dream Away Little Girl (3:29), Don't Stop (3:37), The Fire (4:15)
CD 2: The Mighty Quinn [Live] (5:25), The Challenge (4:02), Runner [Live] (6:02), Redemption Song (3:27), Land of the Long White Cloud (3:11), Blinded by the Light (4:05), Angel (4:29), Heart of the Fire (3:20), Don't Kill It Carol [Live] (6:23), If You Remember Me (3:02), Millie Christine (4:33), You're the Voice (4:10), Davy's on the Road Again (5:57), Questions [Live] (4:46), bonus tracks: Zu Leben (2:36), Thunderchild [Acoustic Version] (2:49), We Are the Strong (3:20)
Chris Thompson is best known as the singer in Manfred Manns' Earthband, the rockier developement of sixties pop band Manfred Mann. His distinctive gutteral larynx will be recognisable to anyone who's heard Blinded by the light and my personal favourite Joybringer. He also wrote "pension" song You're the Voice that was a massive hit for John Farnham, his version is included on this two CD compilation called Jukebox along with extracts from his solo career.

His personal output is quite middle of the road, which ranges from tracks like Whole Lot to Give being a straight ahead blues number to Land of the Long White Cloud which is a sort of white rap, but does show off his obvious guitar chops, as well as a good stab at Bob Marley's Redemtion Song and Fleetwood Mac's Don't Stop which should be just stabbed!

Bonus tracks include We Are the Strong featuring Brian May and a rather pointless acoustic version of Thunderchild, his highlight contribution to Jeff Waynes' War of the Worlds concept.

It's a pleasant enough compilation and the numerous live tracks are very well recorded but the biggist dissapointment is "his" interpretations of the songs that made him famous. Manfred Mann is actually the keyboard player and it's that side of the "covers" that are sorely missed.

You Angel You which was quite a big hit, is here totally devoid of the mad as a biscuit barrel keys solo in the middle and the great Davy's on the Road Again sounds like a 70s' Top of the Pops imitation. I guess he was just the singer for the Earth Band, but I was really hoping for more authentic adaptations of the originals. That said the live rendition of The Mighty Quinn, a song he never originally sang on, is great.

The closest comparison would probably be Chris Rea's more lively stuff, and if that floats your boat, then sail away.
Conclusion:
Andrew Halley: 6 out of 10

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Published Sunday 12 April 2015

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