Reviews in this issue:
Breaking The Chains - We Are Breaking The Chains
Breaking The Chains, is a rock music project pulling together many musicians from the blues, rock and metal side of things in the Netherlands together to create an album to help raise awareness of child abuse. They support the work of Bikers Against Child Abuse (B.A.C.A) and is 100% non-profit. Their website has various things you can purchase to support the project and all the costs in production have been paid for by sponsors, partners and donations. All in all, a pretty worthy cause. From the website, they state that: “Breaking the Chains comes from the B.A.C.A.-slogan Breaking the Chains of Abuse©. Breaking the destructive and repetitive patterns abused children often bring with them into adulthood is an important part of B.A.C.A.’s work.”
I will be talking about the music here, as for a topic as delicate as this it would be best to speak to those more closely involved. Links to B.A.C.A will be at the bottom of this review.
The musicians featured range from most of 4eigner, to members of Epica, Ayreon, The Gentlestorm and more.
The album kicks off with a sound like Guns N' Roses or The Scorpions, but with a modern feel to it. Driving bass lines, blistering solos and hard-hitting riffs abound through this album. With the line-up changing with each track, so do the styles of songs. The first two, Superhero and Angels On Wheels, have an old-school hard-rock feel, however Believe In Me (featuring Irene Jansen on vocals) brings in a hint more of the symphonic prog style in to match her voice.
The talent of the musicians is apparent, with hard hitting, old-school metal tracks filled with solos and gruff vocals from veterans like John Cuijpers from Praying Mantis, to softer, more powerful tracks such as Breathe Again. The use of the violins, violas and cellos helps add a nice touch to some songs. A fantastically well-written album rock and metal songs that will appear to both adults and younger folk trying to get into the heavier music. While the album doesn’t do anything that others haven’t musically done before, it is catchy, the music gets you moving and the lyrics are powerful.
I like the fact the bass is very present. It doesn't over power anything, but you can hear it in every track. It really helps add to the weighty feel of the music and, joined with the drums, means your foot will not stop tapping through the whole album.
If you are a fan of bands like Slash’s Snake Pit, Alter Bridge, The Scorpions, Judas Priest and other such NWOBHM or hard rock bands, then pick this up.
Bobby Previte - Rhapsody
Shall I play it? Am I in the mood for it? No, not today! Maybe tomorrow!
When I first heard Rhapsody, I was smitten and played it whenever I could. More recently, it has not had the same consistently enjoyable effect and has overstayed its welcome on my playlist. Nevertheless, Rhapsody is a fine album that should appeal to a wide audience.
However, unlike Glenn Miller’s arrangement of Joe Garland’s In The Mood, which always brings a smile to my face and a flutter to my fingers, Rhapsody, is an album that for now only, fully satisfies when I am in the right environment, or frame of mind.
Its vibrant tones make it a sunshine album; in contrast, its dark toned underbelly makes it slightly disconcerting. I have enjoyed its pleasant tones while watching the sunrise, clasp tender dewdrops in a sparkling embrace. I have encountered the malevolent unworldly spirit that lies beneath its surface in tunes such as All The World while listening in darkened repose.
Bobby Previte is an American drummer and composer. Over the years, he has worked with many artists including John Zorn, Tom Waits and Sonny Sharrock. He has an extensive discography as a (co) bandleader and as a performer in numerous ensembles.
Rhapsody, sub-titled Terminals Part II - In Transit, is Previte’s second album in a three-part series exploring the experience of travel. The first part of the series, Terminals Part 1, was released in 2014 and dealt with the concept of departing. In Rhapsody, Previte’s structured compositions focus on the theme of journey and migration.
Much of Rhapsody appears to follow a tightly spun and carefully arranged predetermined path. Themes and moods weave in and out of tunes to reoccur in a seamless manner. However, it also includes challenging interludes where the relationship between structure and improvisation is finely balanced. The avant-garde and largely improvised piece The Lost and the unusual bending shape slurping sax sounds in the latter parts of All The World are examples of the players given ample freedom to innovate and express themselves. However, these off-the-wall moments are rare and Previte’s impressive use of melody in many of the other tunes makes Rhapsody for the most part sweetly engaging.
It is difficult to ascribe any particular style or genre to Rhapsody. There are moments that show a jazz influence, but similarly there are times where the compositions owe more to the norms associated with prog and rock. For example, the rhythmic riff that emerges in the impressive, multi-ethnic-tinged All Hands is dramatic and includes flavours that give it a superficial similarity to Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir.
The album features a sextet of highly accomplished players who excel in a series of dazzling arrangements. They provide a range of sparkling textures full of harmony, and rhythm on a range of largely acoustic instruments. The band consists of Booby Previte (drums, harmonica), Jen Shyu (vocals, er hu), Nels Cline (guitar), John Medeski (piano), Zeena Parkins (harp) and alto saxophonist Fabian Rucker.
The album begins with Casting Off and it is immediately apparent that the album has a sung narrative. This piece gives a tenuous impression that some of what is on offer is akin to a Rock Opera, in which Shyu delivers the story line in her own enigmatic style. The narrative does not suffocate and dominate the release though and there are many fine instrumental passages to enjoy over its course.
Shyu describes herself as an experimental vocalist and on occasions in tunes such as The Timekeeper and All The World, her vocals have a distinctive unique edge. In these pieces, her delivery has many surprising qualities and is able to deliver subtle variations of intonation, and unexpected twists of timbre, in a compelling manner. During the album, Shyu utilises a number of languages including wordless sounds, and English to add dramatic effect. However, her sugary smooth delivery of Previte's lyrics in pieces such as Casting Off and I Arrive are redolent of Gayle Moran’s work in Return to Forever’s Music Magic.
Shyu also contributes number of atmospheric passages and embellishments on the "er hu". This traditional two-string violin brings an exotic flavour to many of the albums arrangements and a mournful air to the middle section of Last Stand.
The album has a stunning sound quality and its bright sonic qualities captures the best that the unusual array of acoustic instruments can offer. The inclusion of a harp gives much of the music a different ambience. Some of Parkins delicate frills and flurries are truly fantastic. The beginning of Last Stand for example, is simply gorgeous and the way in which the harp complements Clines evocative guitar part is sublime in every respect.
However, the most thrilling guitar heard on the album occurs during the final two minutes of All Hands. It is a virtuoso highlight of the album and has a flamenco style that is full of interesting harmonics and deft touches. The solo interlude has all of the flair skill and technique associated with such doyens of the acoustic guitar as Ralph Towner and Steve Elliovson.
Perhaps the most important member of the sextet is pianist John Medeski, his subtle interventions leave an indelible mark upon the music that never fails to satisfy or impress. His work in the pleasant When I land is particularly evocative, possessing the sparseness and clear expressionism that is often associated with ECM recordings.
When needed, the album is given extra power by the expressive blowing of Rucker. His solo parts and wholesome contribution in tunes such as Final Approach and in All the World are full of fascinating invention expressed in animated bouts of fiery exhalation.
I guess that Glenn Miller got it right with his arrangement of In The Mood. Its infectious riff and joyous combination of swing and glittering solo parts, creates a feel good factor that never fails to satisfy. In the final analysis, Rhapsody does not possess that same consistent power to beguile and please.
However, I have found that when in the right mood, as the sunrises and dewdrops warm, or as twilight fades and darkness prevails, Rhapsody makes a persuasive and compelling musical statement that is multi-dimensional and is able to impress on many levels.
Why not check it out if you think you are "in the mood"?
Project: Patchwork - Re┃Flection
This is the second album from Project: Patchwork, a collaboration between multi-talented German musicians and studio technicians Gerd Albers and Peter Koll. Whilst their 2015 debut Tales From A Hidden Dream lived-up to the “patchwork” moniker with its diverse styles, Re┃Flection is a far more cohesive work despite once again featuring a host of prog’s finest (if not necessarily famous) names.
Every song falls into the melodic prog category and whilst there are some solid riffs along the way it never strays into metal territory. With ten singers on board, each song has its own distinct character. The precocious Marek Arnold (Toxic Smile, UPF, Samurai Of Prog) is once again on hand with his keyboards and woodwinds adding a touch of class to the whole proceedings.
Following Arnold’s short piano piece (P)reFlection which introduces the main theme, the album kicks off proper with Struggle And Agony, a rousing slab of bombastic prog with contrasting male and female voices, full blooded organ and a scorching guitar solo courtesy of John Mitchell (Frost, It Bites).
Although Yearning For Confraternity is not the snappiest song title ever, it's an infections slice of American-style prog with a memorable choral hook and polished vocals bringing to mind Kansas and in particular the excellent Cryptic Vision (who sadly fall into the “Where are they now” category).
In a more mellow vein, Worried Citizens features tasteful guitar picking from David M. Scholtz, dreamy tenor sax and an exquisite lead vocal from Magdalena Buche. Fear Of Loss sees Larry Brödel (Toxic Smile, Cyril) adopting his best Phil Collins voice for an engaging ballad that wears its Genesis (circa And Then There Were Three) influences firmly on its sleeve.
First Disorder with its punchy Celtic flavoured guitar hook, pastoral flute interlude, choir-like female vocals and memorable chorus is very much in the Ayreon mould. Inferno on the other hand contrasts strident guitar riffs and Olaf Kobbe’s energetic singing with lush keyboard textures from Jürgen Borchert (Karibow).
Last Horizon, with its ringing acoustic guitars and a gorgeous lead vocal from Jessica Schmalle (Rising Star), has a folky ballad vibe whilst the near-10-minute Of Sheeps And Wolves is a Saga / Rush hybrid (with a dash of The Who if you can imagine such a thing). It boasts punchy rhythm guitars and an anthemic chorus but the highpoint is Arnold’s sax break which is both stunning and sublime.
The penultimate A Winter's Tale combines Melanie Mau’s heartfelt vocals with Matthias Bangert’s throbbing bass line and inspired guitar work from Martin Schnella (Flaming Row) for a truly uplifting song that would not sound out of place as the closer to a Mostly Autumn album. The concluding ReFlection is 3 minutes of serenity with ambient keyboard washes and haunting female voices.
Given that there are so many fingers (24 musicians and singers in all) in this musical pie it could have so easily failed to rise to the occasion. The fact that it is so consistently good is a testimony to all those involved, especially the writing, arranging and production talents of Messrs Albers, Koll and Arnold. Oh, and the album artwork is pretty good as well.
Starsabout - Halflights
Starsabout - Longing For Home
For the last 20-odd years, Poland has proven to be a force to be reckoned with in the prog world. Not to overlook legendary names such as SBB or Laboratorium, but it's definitely the likes of Quidam, Satellite and, last but not least, Riverside, which put this country's artists in the modern prog map. Somewhat thick accents aside (when not singing in their own language), the charm of many of these "new wave" Polish bands lies in their stylish and precise take on, and often blending of, so-called genres such as neo-prog or prog metal.
Hailing from the city of Bialystok, in northwestern Poland, Starsabout showcase different stylings altogether, both on latest release Longing For Home and companion re-release Halflights. With guitars taking center stage (at the expense of flashy keyboards), theirs is quite an effective rendition of the melancholy laden pop rock, of remarkable sobriety but spiced up with a certain epicness, characteristic of Anathema, Steven Wilson and The Pineapple Thief, which are some of the most popular names in the field. The relative simplicity and catchiness of Starsabout's music will also remind you of more mainstream acts; in this respect, Coldplay and even The Cure come to mind.
I think "emotional" is the best word to describe these twin releases. Of the two, Longing For Home feels the most fully realised, with the better songs, overall performance and production, as well as showing a more defined personality. Even if the middle stretch, from Hourglass to Thief, feels a bit repetitive and samey in its mid-tempo, four-minute unpretentious demeanour (save for the slightly punchier Stay), there are excellent tracks to be found here.
Blue Caress is a gently mesmerising opener, led by Piotr Trypus' mellow vocals and dreamy guitar, whereas the title track would have been a hit single in the hands of Snow Patrol or even Radiohead in their most accessible incarnation. For prog heads, though, closing track Million Light Years is the main attraction here, its 8 minutes packing quite the dramatic punch. To my ears, it sounds like a long-lost Pineapple Thief track, and features enough twists and shifts in mood to keep it thoroughly engaging; particularly worth of mention are the last 3 minutes, a creepy coda which features a great hypnotic bass line.
In comparison, Halflights strikes as a slightly less compelling collection of songs. The overall presentation feels less assured, as if the band were still testing the waters so to find their own voice. This is not to say there isn't anything worth your interest. Black Rain Love, which appeared on a previous EP of the same title, is charming in its subdued intimacy; 20.000 Miles manages to grow into a pleasantly psychedelic vignette, and final piece Bluebird deviates from the dominant languor by injecting a very welcome dose of intensity and (some) distortion.
Wrapped in simple but smart, classy artwork, these nearly twin albums are definitely a treat for fans of sophisticated pop rock, although I feel this is a band that should take some risks and give an extra adventurous edge to their sound to achieve greatness. As it is, they're pleasant enough.
John Van der Kiste - While You See A Chance: The Steve Winwood Story [Book]
Steve Winwood is more popularly known as a performer of 1980s chart-friendly blue-eyed soul singles like Valerie and Higher Love. During the 60s and 70s however, he was very much a precursor of today’s prog-rock musicians although he probably wouldn't thank me for saying so. A gifted multi-instrumentalist in his teens, he could turn his hand to virtually any instrument he touched, including guitar, keyboards and drums with a particular talent for piano, Hammond organ and later, synths. Moreover, Traffic the band he formed in 1967 were a pioneering proto-prog collective that combined classical, jazz, psychedelic and folk influences. With a preference for instrumental improvisation during live performances, they even threw out Dave Mason (responsible for their biggest hit Hole In My Shoe) for writing songs deemed too commercial.
Being a renowned artist with a long and illustrious career, its surprising that so few publications have been dedicated to Winwood with While You See A Chance being his first biography for nearly thirty years. Unusually, the author John Van der Kiste is not only responsible for music biographies including The Beatles, Electric Light Orchestra and Lindisfarne, he has also written numerous books on royal and historical subjects. As such, one would assume accuracy is guaranteed.
Given that Winwood’s career as a professional musician has spanned 55 years (and still going strong) and this book is a modest 176 pages, it's perhaps inevitable that at times it seems like Van der Kiste is skimming the surface. I read it back to back with a Jimmy Page biography (whose career trajectory paralleled Winwood’s) which at nearly 700 pages makes this book seem positively lightweight. I would have liked for example more in depth analysis into the recording of each album, especially his 1980 landmark release Arc Of A Diver and companion single (from which the title of the book is taken).
That said, all the bases are covered including Winwood’s stint with the The Spencer Davis Group when at the tender age of 17 he sang lead on their 1965 UK #1 hit single Keep On Running, the short lived ‘supergroup’ Blind Faith (featuring Winwood, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech) and his later solo career. There’s certainly plenty of high profile name dropping throughout the book as Winwood crossed paths with the likes of Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and most unlikely, Vivian Stanshall.
Van der Kiste’s writing is fluid, factual and mostly avoids critical comments or personal observations. He does make a habitat of referring to the month only when describing particular events so I found myself backtracking a few paragraphs to check which year we were in. Similarly, he often refers to persons by their first name so it's not always obvious who they are without again referring back to a previous paragraph.
These are minor niggles however as on the whole this is a comprehensive and well-researched book, documenting Winwood's career right up to the end of 2017. 14 pages of colour photographs are a bonus, depicting a youthful, mod-ish member of The Spencer Davis Group in the 60’s and more recently, a dapper, well respected elder statesman of rock.
As a final point, I must congratulate the publishers. For my copy of the book, the delivery service was fast and the robust packaging ensured that it arrived in pristine condition. And that's not something you can take for granted in these days of mass online shopping.