Arid Garden - Arid Garden
The Day Breakdawn (8:51), Escape (8:03), Desert (6:39), Abyss (5:56), Finale (3:44)
The EP opens strongly with the building neo-prog of The Day Breakdawn where fabulously intense piano playing is balanced with occasionally fierce guitar. The jazzy atmosphere is kept in the background here. But on Escape, the sound becomes more jazzy and psychedelic, with discordant guitar, scat singing and all instruments taking a solo. It is atmospheric, but it is also one of those tracks that on one listen enchants, but on another listen can irritate, which to my mind means they are doing something right.
The remaining three tracks mix smoky jazz vocals (on Abyss), with lovely guitar and piano interplay, whilst the rhythm section displays a great deal of subtlety. All in all, this is a good calling card and statement-of-intent by Arid Garden. It will be interesting to see where they go next.
(Update: a track called Different Distance was released on Bandcamp in September 2016.)
Martin Burns: 7 out of 10
Grandjacques - Live Au Presbytère
Comme Une Rumeur... (9:17), Du Pain, Des Jeux (5:51), Manipulés (7:19), Mutique (Version2) (5:38), Telle Qu'Elle (6:19), Narcisse (5:53), Le Banc Des Laissés-Pour-Compte (4:40), La Morale (3:14), On En Est Là... (6:04), Conséquences (7:12)
The intro is spacey with some almost ethereal sound effects, before the bass line comes, bringing with it some fantastic rhythm. On the whole it is simple, but by God does it work.
The album is a masterpiece of relatively subtle guitars, with drums and bass seeming to take the front foot. The layering of these instruments, with the addition of the aforementioned ethereal sounds, compliment the vocals of Jacques Adranyi, who sings in his native French. The following tracks follow a similar pattern, layers and textures merging with spacey atmospheric sounds, alongside the subtle guitars, tight rhythmic drumming and the bass lines of Thierry Mesquita, Pierre-Luc Fauny and René Godart respectively. This group of musicians are talented at crafting brilliant songs, with good riffs, good build-ups, nice atmospheres and a fantastic sound. Mix the sound of the likes of Iron Butterfly, Magma and some hints of Pink Floyd and you will get what this sounds like.
Overall: Think "dark" psychedelic prog. It is not manic, or too spacey, but the influence of psychedelic prog is clear. The music is subtle, rhythmically-driven, filled with driving bass lines and fuzzy guitars, weird leads and licks playing through the background to round out their interesting sound. All in all, I am one happy reviewer.
Calum Gibson: 8 out of 10
Krzysztof Lepiarczyk - Art Therapy
I Still Remember (5:01), Dr Schouermann (3:33), Arthroscopy (4:10), After All... (4:10), Lime (5:19), Laryngocele (6:11), Beauty (3:59), Ganglion (3:15), Keluj (3:51), Nothing (5:40)
Lepiarczyk clearly has an ear for melody which he puts to good use within the relatively compact structure of each track. Opener I Still Remember contrasts the histrionic shredding of guitarist Michal Dolata with the more ear-friendly singing of Magda Grodecka, which sits somewhere between the earthiness of Adele and the purity of Heather Findlay. Aleksandra Kozubal gives a suitably sensual performance for the mellow After All whilst the resonant tones of Loonypark vocalist Sabina Godula-Zajac add weight to the driving Ganglion.
Of the instrumentals, Dr Schouermann and Arthroscopy feature superb guitar and synth interaction, whilst Lime and Laryngocele have a cool jazz-rock vibe. Both allow guitarist Dolata to demonstrate his improvisational skills, and the latter has a sterling trumpet solo courtesy of Michał Bylica. Beauty on the other hand with its stark piano and synthetic rhythms has an early 80s electro-pop feel, as does the compelling Keluj with its bubbly synth lines.
Lepiarczyk is clearly a romantic at heart however, as the closer Nothing testifies. It's reminiscent of the 1980s tearjerker Wind Beneath My Wings, right down to Magda Grodecka's impassioned vocal in true Bette Midler style.
Art Therapy served as my introduction to the music of Krzysztof Lepiarczyk and I have to say I was reasonably impressed. Whilst not exactly minimalist, his playing and arrangements have a certain economy that I found refreshing. The only real criticism I have is that the tracks often come to an abrupt end.
Geoff Feakes: 7 out of 10
Lucifer's Friend - Too Late To Hate
Demolition Man (4:16), Jokers & Fools (4:21), When Children Cry (4:22), Straight for the Heart (3:22), Tell Me Why (4:07), Don't Talk to Strangers (3:45), I Will Be There (4:00), This Time (5:03), Tears (4:18), Sea of Promises (4:53), Brothers Without a Name (3:21), When You're Gone (Live) (2:06)
The band split in 1981 and reformed in 2014. Detailed background on their career is given in the DPRP reviews of their most recent releases by my colleagues Philipp Rôttgers (Live at Sweden Rock 2015) and Mark Hughes (Awakenings 2015 - a best-of collection with four new songs).
The current band features core original members John Lawton, Peter Hesslein and Dieter Horns, along with long-term members Jogi Wichmann and Stephan Eggert. Too Late To Hate is their first true new studio album in 36 years!
There is no denying that it is a very solid effort. Packed with heavy, fast-paced riffage and melodies that stick in the memory. Musically this sticks to the classic melodic hard rock template (just look at those song titles). The organ/keyboards give a proggy vibe (think Deep Purple) with the rhythm section and guitar having a heavy blues groove (think Y&T) and the occasional twist and turn that, along with the vocal harmonies, reminds me of early Magnum. Of course Uriah Heep would be a good comparison too, having all of those aspects.
Lawton's voice is impressively strong, with a good range, but it's the impressive guitar work that adds consistent flourishes to every song.
There are no weak tracks on this album, but I feel it is the more powerful numbers that truly demand to be placed on a playlist: Demolition Man, Jokers & Fools, Straight for the Heart, I Will Be There and Sea of Promises. The bluesy soul of This Time is a real treat too.
For those who demand something remarkable or innovative in their music, then this album will offer you nothing in that respect. It is simply a well-crafted collection of classic rock songs that will appeal to fans of any of the bands listed above.
Andy Read: 7.5 out of 10
Eddie Mulder - Horizons
Butterflies (2:13), Day In, Day Out (3:53), Unleashed (3:38), Beautiful Morning (2:45), Nice And Easy (4:19), Journey To The West (3:48), Pipe Of Peace (3:05), Eastern Wind (2:29), Horizons (3:02), Go For It! (2:47), Bouquet Of Flowers (5:10), On A High Note (1:27), Tenderly (4:04), Humble Origin (1:42), Barren Lands (4:03), Long Ago (3:02), Hurry Up! (3:09)
I was fortunate to witness his outstanding performance with Flamborough Head in 2006 at Bilston U.K. as a part of the Summer's End Festival. He excelled in every way and I remember being surprised by his expressive melodic style which reminded me of the finely tuned sound of Camel's Andy Latimer.
Although Mulder did not feature in Flamborough Head's most recent album, Lost in Time, judging by the guest contributors on Horizons he still has a close relationship with that band. One of the guests featured on Horizons is Flamborough Head's Margriet Boomsma, and I was interested to see what input and influence she would have on Mulder's solo work.
The flute playing of Boomsma is an integral and expressive part of Flamborough Head's music. In her debut performance in One For the Crow in 2002, her playing was arguably a small part of the band's overall soundscape. In Lost in Time the flute provides a frequent harmonious overlay to the keyboard landscape, on which contrasts of style, tempo and volume are regularly made.
In Horizons, she provides some warm accompanying parts on five tracks. In an album that contains velvet-smooth playing and languid tunes, her contribution provides an additional, downy texture that significantly helps to draw attention away from the stylistic similarities which are prevalent in the majority of the compositions.
Keyboard player and founding member of Flamborough Head, Edo Spanninga also features prominently in a number of tracks. His delightful use of the Mellotron is a highlight of the album and supplies an impressive backdrop to the rich, picked sound of Mulder's Mcilroy steel stringed guitar, and occasional electric guitar-toned soundscape.
The music throughout Horizons is carefully constructed and impeccably played; Mulder's superbly skilled playing is never less than impressive. Within the release accessible, tuneful arrangements are plentiful.
Beautiful Morning is a richly jewelled tune that has a refreshing air. Mulder's creative use of harmonics adds a dazzling sparkle. His bright approach to melody glistens attractively throughout this piece, to shine like dawn's droplets of dew on a sun-chinked field.
As a contrast, Bouquet of Flowers is one of the few tunes to display some pumped, plugged-in muscle. This brawny and more powerful approach is emphasised by an engaging keyboard effect and is also in evidence during the times when electric guitar, flute and Mellotron combine. Mulder gives the tune further definition and drive by also providing some strident bass playing. These elements provide a burly dimension and give the piece a totally different feel from the unplugged style found elsewhere.
The album also includes five bonus tracks featuring live renditions of tunes that appeared on Dreamcatcher. The live tracks are very enjoyable and have a noticeably different character to the studio portion of the album. The live performances have a spontaneous and organic feel, where the other players skilfully interact with Mulder to create a vibrant sound. As a consequence, these tunes rank as probably the most satisfying on the album.
Nevertheless, the majority of the studio tunes on offer tread a path that many listeners might consider to be serene and beautiful, but alternatively could equally be considered by others to be twee and somewhat lacking in variation.
Certainly, much of Horizons is superficially engaging. In the opening track Butterflies, the playing of Mulder is particularly evocative. This sweetly-scented tune is able to effortlessly conjure up picture-crisp images of summer; accompanied by wine glasses, and picnic tables, where powdered wings swoop and soar.
The title track of the album, in keeping with the predominant mood of this release, also generates a vivid soundscape, where reflection and contemplation are of greater importance than torso-shaking rhythms and a wide dynamic range.
In this context, Horizons is a near perfect album to listen to as background music whilst slow-roasting a parsnip. It radiates warmth and is easy on the ear, as it calmly meanders through a succession of green-fronded valleys. The album's leisurely journey is punctuated by an occasional rocky outcrop, or change of pace, to break the tranquillity that is offered by its graceful compositions.
This mixture creates an inviting musical feast that is initially totally convincing, but overall failed to resonate after the last notes faded. The compositions are pleasant, but much of the album came across to me, as bland and ultimately lacking enough variety.
Owen Davies: 7 out of 10
Three Man Army - A Third of a Lifetime
Butter Queen (5:23), Daze (4:02), Another Day (6:49), A Third Of A Lifetime (4:29), Nice One (4:11), Three Man Army (5:06), Agent Man (5:36),
A bit of history is needed first though to understand why this is an important re-release.
Three Man Army was the second attempt by the Gurvitz Brothers at stardom, after the significant success of their hit single Race With The Devil with their previous band Gun. That song had been a big single in both the UK and the USA and is still a classic of that era, with a superb guitar riff. Sadly Gun imploded after their second album and the brothers parted ways temporarily. Paul formed Gurvitz and Parrish with his friend Brian Parrish whilst Adrian joined Buddy Miles in America and toured the states with him for a few years. (Incidently Gun had featured no less than Jon Anderson in its ranks briefly before he moved on, as was common in bands in the 60s London scene.)
So Adrian returned from the states and started Three Man Army with Paul on bass and vocals, Adrian on guitar and vocals, and an assortment of drummers including Buddy Miles, who also played bass on one song and organ on another. Sadly the finished album did not generate significant acclaim or sales at the time of it's release in 1971. It can be seen as a "transitional" album, between the psychedelic late 60s and the emerging progressive rock scene.
Yet it is a great album, full of melody and with some great songs, all coloured with the very versatile and fluid guitar work of Adrian Gurvitz who surely is one of rock's best kept secrets and unsung guitar heroes.
In addition it has some lengthy tracks that allow the band to stretch-out somewhat and really let Adrian's guitar fly and soar. The vocals are clear and consistently good, with some good harmonies along the way. The standout track is probably See What I Took but also strong are the instrumental Midnight and the very catchy Agent Man.
Overall this is a very strong album. Three Man Army released two further albums (Two and Mahesha) before disbanding, only to reform shortly thereafter in 1974 with Ginger Baker in tow as the excellent Baker Gurvitz Army and releasing three great albums of their own. However this is really where it all began, and some 45 years later this is still a very appealing and strong rock album, with progressive touches and aspirations.
This new, official release has been newly re-mastered from the original master tapes, features two bonus tracks originally released as a single in 1971 and includes a booklet with liner notes and fully restores the album artwork.
I recommend this highly.
John Wenlock-Smith: 7.5 out of 10