Album Reviews

Issue 1999-010

Reviews in this issue:

Big Big Train - Goodbye To The Age Of Steam
Country of Origin:England
Record Label:GEP (UK) / Belle (Japan)
Catalogue #:Belle 97322
Year of Release:1997
Info:Official Homepage

Tracklist:Wind distorted pioneers (3:21), Head hit the pillow (5:50), Edge of the known world (4:47), Landfall (4:18), Dragon bone hill (3:53), Blow the house down (9:21), Expecting snow (2:37), Blue silver red (10:05), Losing your way (7:30), Tow poets meet (4:30)

Recently we received two CDs from the British based GEP label (IQ, Jadis), which both have several references to trains and other types of tracked transportation in their band and album names. I wonder if this part of a new selection policy adapted by GEP! ;-)

The first of these albums is Goodbye To The Age Of Steam by Big Big Train, recorded in 1993. The music is pretty keyboard dominated, which is not very strange considering the fact that no less than three of the five band members play keyboards on the record. Besides Ian Cooper, they are Andy Poole and Greg Spawton who also play bass and guitars, respectively. Spawton is also responsible for almost all music and lyrics. Big Big Train's line up is completed by drummer Steve Hughes and vocalist Martin Read.
In places the keyboard sound sounds a lot like that of IQ's Martin Orford, who also did aditional production and backing vocals on the album. In the backing vocal department he is assisted by a long string of well known names in prog world, like Jadis' Gary Chandler, Sally French and Galahad's Stuart Nicholson. In addition Jadis drummer Steve Christey plays windchimes.
Big Big Train's music is not very easy to characterize. From cacaphonic Yes-like violence in opener Wind Distorted Pioneers to the delicate acoustic guitar driven instrumental Dragon Bone Hill, Big Big Train's style is quite diverse.

One of the high points of the album is the nine minute Blow The House Down which opens with some great piano playing before going into a more heavy part halfway into the song with a leading role for the guitar. The middle part of the song is a great instrumental with alternating leading roles for guitar and keyboards. The vocal part that follows is very yes-like (around Tales From Topographic Oceans) and the song ends just like it started with beautiful piano.

Recommended if you're a fan of modern neo-prog.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.


Yanni - Tribute
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Virgin
Catalogue #:8449812
Year of Release:1997
Info:Official Yanni Homepage

Tracklist: Deliverance (8.33), Adagio In G Minor (3.50), Renegade (7.14), Dance With A Stranger (6.45), Tribute (6.40), Prelude (2.27), Love is All (5.25), Southern Exposure (6.48), Waltz In 7/8 (5.32), Nightingale (5.44), Niki Nana (We're One) (8.15)

And now for something completely different ....

Maybe you know the feeling .... You're bored and are switching through all of those lousy TV channels on a cloudy Sunday morning and suddenly you see and hear something which totally blows you away. It happened to me about a year ago when I came across the awesome sight of a gigantic stage set in front of the Taj Mahal (India) and later the Forbidden City (China). The stage carried a full symphonic orchestra and a man dressed in white playing piano and sort of conducting the whole thing.
The whole set-up immediately reminded me of the TV broadcast of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells II, and the song they were playing could easily have been part of that piece. Who was this man and what music was this ?

The long-haired guy with the moustache turned out to be one Yanni, seemingly the lover boy of Linda 'Dynasty' Evans, not someone you would come across often on DPRP. The piece of music was called Deliverance. Eventually I got my hands on the CD and could enjoy this piece of art again.

Deliverance is without a doubt the best track on the album, combining great rhythms, string orchestra, Oldfield-like chants by the female vocalists and marvellous melodies and native instruments into a splendid 8+ minutes composition. This track alone is more than worth the price of the CD.
Adagio In G Minor is a very soundtrack-like piece with piano and string orchestra. Renegade is sort of a soprano saxophone/violin duet.
Dance With A Stranger is a piece where various instruments (several wind-instruments, violin, bass, piano, etc) play a short solo. A very relaxed and laid-back piece.

Tribute is another highlight with ethereal vocals in the intro, followed by some beautiful violin playing accompanied by a choir. Very classical oriented.
Prelude a very Gabrielesque Passion-like short piece with native instruments. After a couple of minutes this piece goes into Love is All, which is one of the two only tracks with lyrics on the album (not counting the chants in Deliverance). Accompanied by Spanish guitar this is a rather radio-friendly tune with great soulful vocals by one Vann Johnson and the full choir.

Southern Exposure starts another laid back tune with female backing vocals, saxophone and violin. Later on in the song things get more rhythmic and swingin' with nice interplay between the violins and female vocalists. Great stuff.
Okay, you prog fans like 7/8 time signs, right ? Well, try Waltz In 7/8 then. Great piece of work with flutes, latin influences and a keyboard solo !

Nightingale is probably one of the quietest songs on the CD. As you can imagine it features some bird like flute-playing with a slight Japanese feel. Of course the big string orchestra is present as well.
Niki Nana (We're One) starts with the native sounds of a didgeridoo. After about half a minute the electric band picks up, a flute plays and the vocalists start. The main female vocalist, Alfreda Gerald, goes into an amazing vocal jam. The song also features a guy who goes into a scat jam with the percussion, like the eighties song Din Daa Daa by George Kranz. Marvellous !

Even though some of the songs on this album might be considered great background music, tracks like Deliverance, Tribute, Love is All, Southern Exposure and Niki Nana are definitely full volume material !
I have to admit though that listening to the whole album at once normally is a bit too much for me. I normally end up programming several songs or playing the first or second half. Sometimes I even have to 'balance' myself again by playing some Metallica.

Tribute will certainly not appeal to the average prog fan. However, if you like the world music influences in Peter Gabriel's Passion and Us and can't get enough of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells II, read on. If you like big string orchestras combined with electric bands (Alan Parsons Project ? Night of the Proms ?) this might be something for you. If you like instrumental stuff and don't shun the occassional piece of light classical music ? Bingo !

For more information about Tribute and some mov/avi files of the live broadcast and sounclips of the songs, check the Tribute Special at the Yanni web page.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.

Ed Sander

Supertramp - It Was The Best Of Times
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:EMI
Catalogue #:4993902
Year of Release:1999
Time:69:02 & 61:05
Info:Official Homepage

Tracklist: It'a A Hard World (9.20), You Win, I Lose (4.07), Listen To Me Please (5.03), Ain't Nobody But Me (6.15), Sooner Or Later (7.35), Free As A Bird (4.50), Cannonball (7.53), From Now On (7.37), Breakfast In America (2.47), Give Me A Chance (4.39), Rudy (8.05).
Downstream (3.53), Another Man's Woman (9.27), Take The Long Way Home (5.11), Bloody Well Right (6.58), The Logical Song (4.05), Goodbye Stranger (6.53), School (6.28), And The Light (5.03), Don't You Lie To Me (3.31), Crime of the Century (8.01).

This new Suptertramp live album was recorded during three nights at the Royal Albert Hall in London during the 102-gigs Some Things Never Change Tour. The 48 track recording was optimally balanced and mixed but hardly any overdubs were made.

The band is made up of original band members Rick Davies (vocals & keyboards), John Helliwell (sax) and Bob Siebenberg (drums). Added to this were guitarist Carl Verheyen, bass player Cliff Hugo, Bob's son Jesse Siebenberg on percussion and Lee Thornburg on trumpet and trombone. Mark Hart, ex-Crowded House, who had been working with Supertramp in the eighties as well, took up the part of Rodger Hudgson on vocals, guitars and keyboards. A tough job ....

The album features in total six songs from the latest studio album Some Things Never Change. As with that album, the live CD opens with the splendid It's A Hard World (without a doubt their best new song) and their flopped single You Win, I Lose, which is still a very nice toetapper although that bit of guitar twanging annoys the hell out of me (Dutch folks will know what I mean when I say 'Corry en de Rekels').

Listen To Me Please, which follows, is another highlight from the studio album. Lyrically the song seems to be Supertramp's answer to Pink Floyd's Have A Cigar. The live version is even better and has more power. It's obviously a song that really comes to life on stage. Compared to this, Sooner Or Later is a pretty lame song that's only interesting for the many jazzy/swing solos in the second half. The song was written by Mark Hart and Rick Davies together. Their other collaboration Give Me A Chance, a silly and cheesy pop love song, proves to me that this is certainly not the combination that will carry the Supertramp sound into the future.
And The Light is a nice quiet ballad, giving the necessary diversion after some of the rougher tracks.

The rest of the CD is classic stuff. Especially the Davies songs sound solid as a rock. Ain't Nobody But Me, Rudy, Bloody Well Right, From Now On, Goodbye Stranger and Crime of the Century are performed very well and do not yield to the versions on Paris, which was recently reviewed in our Counting Out Time column.

Free As A Bird, from the highly critisized album with the same name, has a nice gospel feel to it.
Cannonball, played in the full-length version, is nice but does not come close to the album version. Personally, I would have liked some more songs from the underrated Brother Where You Bound album.
Downstream, from the Even in the Quietest Moments album, is a beautiful piano/vocal-only ballad.

The ten minute Another Man's Woman is the definite highlight of the album. This song from the Crisis ? What Crisis ? album features a marvelous piano improvisation and a delicious bombastic jam ending.
Don't You Lie To Me is a cover of a bluesy song from the fourties and will have you swinging around the room.

Mark Hart sings all of the Hudgson classics like Breakfast in America, Take The Long Way Home, The Logical Song and School. He doesn't do bad, but I personally do miss Hudgson's sound in these songs. I won't have complained if this would have been an album without any of the Hudgson songs.

The whole band is playing very tight and especially Davies is in top shape ! Sound quality is good and the whole thing has a great live atmosphere.
The 12 page booklet features pictures of the musicians, liner notes by Rick Davies and full credits.

If you can't get excited about a Hudgson-less Supertramp and you already have the Paris album, you might not want to bother with this live album. If you think you can get used to Mark Hart doing his Hudgson impression and you like the last Supertramp studio album, this live CD is a must. Personally I think it contains some great stuff and the live versions of some songs like It's a Hard World, Cannonball, Downstrean and certainly Another Man's Woman need to be present in any Supertramp collection.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10.

Ed Sander

Kings Karma - Initial
Country of Origin:Germany
Record Label:N/A
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:1998

Tracklist: Back in time (5:40), Get Back (4:46), On my Way (05:52), Time (5:49).

This band was founded in 1995 under the name King Size. For some reason they changed their name to Kings Karma last July. The band consists of Dierk von Tesmar (ex-Vaudeville: Bass, Vocals, Acoustic guitar), Joschi Hensel (ex-Vaudeville: Lead Vocals, Percussion), Marco Schilling (ex-Kansas cover band 'Portrait': Keyboards, Vocals, Bass), Norbert Arndt (Guitars, Vocals) and Volker Schülein (Drums).
Kings Karma list bands as diverse as Yes, Queen, Kiss, Toto, Genesis, Rush, Kansas and many more among their influences. In 1998 they released their first debut mini-album with 4 tracks. The thingy seems to be titled 'Initial' although I cannot find a name on the packaging anywhere.

Back in Time is a very catchy tune which starts with a howling guitar before it picks up an uptempo rhythm. The melody and structure of the song reminds me a bit of Don Henley's Boys of Summer. There's a quieter intermezzo as well. I could easily imagine coming across this tune in the US charts. Seemingly, this song was number one in the Progressive Rock Charts on for weeks.
Get Back features a nice piano-keyboard intro and some chunky guitar. The vocal melody at times isn't very far removed from the previous track, just a bit lower in tempo.
On My Way features constant rhythm changes, acoustic guitars, close harmony vocals, keyboard solo, march drumming and windchimes to close it. Probably the most prog oriented tune on the CD.
The CD closes with the semi-ballad Time which is nice but nothing extremely special. Starts as a Queen-like ballad, but then detoriates into a track which features nice cross singing but doesn't seem to have a good sense of direction. A bigger difference between refrains and chorus (which is actually quite nice) would have done the song some good.

Voals are quite good (no German accent) but might be a bit too hard rock oriented, you know, the intentional wobbly voice, comparable to Equinox. Personally I wouldn't mind a bit less exaggeration. The sound is indeed very AOR and commercial. The songs would definitely not be out of place in certain radio shows.

Production is quite okay for a debut mini album, although the drums sound a bit too dry and far in the background. Compositions are good and just need a bit of patching-up by remixing here and there. The music could use a bit more diversion to keep it from sounding too much the same in every song.

If you don't shun AOR and like bands like For Absent Friends and Equinox, you might want to try this CD as well. Others have also compared them to Journey. The Kings Karma web site holds a couple of MP3 files of their music, so try it before you buy it. The band sells their home produced 4-track debut for $5.99 through and their homepage. A remaster with 3 additional live tracks is planned to be released soon, as well as a full-length album later this year.

Professional band, great debut ! Can't wait to hear the full album.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.

Ed Sander

Mike Oldfield - Guitars
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Warner
Catalogue #:WEA852
Year of Release:1999
Info:Dark Star

Tracklist: Muse (2.09), Chochise (5.13), Embers (3.49), Summit Day (3.46), Out of Sight (3.46), B. Blues (4.27), Four Winds (9.31), Enigmatism (3.29), Out of Mind (3.44), From the Ashes (2.28)

I had actually given up on Mike Oldfield after the horrible Tubular Bells 3, which was supposed to breathe new life into his (financial) career last year. Therefore I was rather sceptical upon reading about his new release filled with guitar music. And for the first time in 9 years I didn't buy the album within a week of its release.

However when I found it on sale last week, I couldn't resist buying it and giving Mr Oldfield just one more chance. After all, an album filled with guitar music played by one of the world's best guitar players can't be that bad, now can it?

His last contractually mandatory album with Warner consists of 10 tracks and I expected these to be quiet, serene pieces played on acoustic or Spanish guitar. The first track Muse confirms this thought. It's a nice simple tune played on acoustic guitar.

The second track, Cochise, starts out the same way: one acoustic guitar playing riffs and another playing the melody. The melody reminds me of the guitar parts of 1994's Let There Be Light from the album Songs of Distant Earth.
But then electric guitars join in and the song becomes a lot heavier. Drums pound in the background and you can hear synthesisers joining in. Suddenly it is the whole one-man-band playing again, with at least 10 overdubs!

Embers is much mellower again. Soft synthesiser tones and an acoustic guitar. It is a moody piece, which brings back some of the moods found on the second side of Tubular Bells II.

More TBII moods in Summit Day: mellow synthesiser soundscapes, a heavy bass-drum while an acoustic guitar plays. The melody gets repeated and more (electric) guitars join in. This is becoming classic Oldfield stuff, which builds up to a classic grandeur finale, before turning back to the original acoustic guitar where it all started. If you put this song on "repeat" then you can hear that it starts off just the way it finishes, as if there is no real start or a beginning.

Out of Sight is a heavy track, which sounds a lot like Outcast of his latest Tubular Bells 3 album, only better. The only thing I don't like about the track is the boring drum-track. Live drums would have done better here than a drum computer.

B.Blues: A nice crisp blues guitar played in the Oldfield way, accompanied by heavy rock-guitars. At some points this almost sounds like early Pink Floyd. Good stuff.

Usually the longest track on an Oldfield album is immediately also the best track. The 9-minute Four Winds proves no exception. Four Winds consists of four completely different musical themes, which makes it a very unpredictable song. Well, not a real song then, but different fragments woven into one consistent piece in the way only Oldfield can do this.
It starts with a fast paced aggressive piece which then turns into a soft and moody, second theme. The third theme reminds me of the 1975 classic album Ommadawn before it changes into some sort of "ode to Morricone" western style finale.

Enigmatism is again a very mellow track; synthesiser and acoustic guitar. A bit of rest before Out of Mind (the sistertrack of Out of Sight) blasts through your speakers. A heavy track with a catchy melody. Sounds a bit like early eighties' Taurus II

From the Ashes is the chance to calm down again after the heavy Out of Mind, or is it? It does have that classic "Oldfield-ending".... 'Nuff said!

So why is it called Guitars then? True, all songs feature a guitar, but that's nothing new on an Oldfield album. But then I read the liner notes (all eight lines of them) where it says: "All sounds on this recording, including drum sounds, were generated from live guitars, midi guitar or individual guitar samples"
So there you have it. Mike hooked up a midi-guitar to his synthesiser and played all synth sounds and drums on his guitar. Not that you can hear this, but it is indeed a very original way to create an album. It seems as if "The Master of Overdubs", who had become more of a "Master of Tapeloops and Samples" lately, has found at least some of his originality again.

Unfortunately the album is quite short - back to conventional LP length or so it seems. Then again, his albums used to be even shorter when they were still released on vinyl.

Not one of his best albums, but he is definitely back on the right track again!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.

Bart Jan van der Vorst

Liquid Tension Experiment 2
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Magna Carta
Catalogue #:MAX-9035-2
Year of Release:1999
Info:Dream Theater
Jordan Rudess
Tony Levin

Tracklist: Acid Rain (6.35), Biaxident (7.40), 914 (4.01), Another Dimension (9.50), When the Water Breaks (16.58), Chewbacca (13.35), Liquid Dreams (10.48), Hourglass (4.26)

For me last year's Liquid Tension Experiment was the biggest surprise of 1998. A lot of DPRP readers must have agreed with me as this occasional band was voted "Best newcomer of '98" in the DPRPoll. The (mainly) improvised combination of heavy metal and jazz-rock of the gentlemen Levin, Rudess, Portnoy and Petrucci did not only please to the audience: the four were so happy with the result that only a few months after the release of their first experiment they went back in the studio again.

The formula has stayed the same: four very talented musicians improvising and jamming, while self-indulgence is more an advantage rather than a nuisance. As opposed to the previous album, this experiment contains a few composed songs as well. And it is these songs that make the album more consistent that it's predecessor. Like the epic When the Water Breaks - undoubtedly the best track on the album - this could easily be a Dream Theater track without vocals.

The title of this track comes from John Petrucci's wife giving birth to their third child Kiara. When she was in labour Petrucci left the studios to be with her and the Liquid Tension Experiment was reduced to a trio for a few days. The three remaining members simply went on jamming and recording. Of these jams only 914 made it to the album and on three more tracks, Chewbacca, Liquid Dreams and half of the aforementioned When the Water Breaks, Petrucci simply added his guitar parts to the already recorded tracks. On Chewbacca he copied Jordan Rudess' keyboard lines, but for Liquid Dreams he just improvised along with the tape, recording it immediately.

Like on the previous album the liner notes are written by the four band members and they are quite funny to read. Opener Acid Rain was created when they felt they needed "something REALLY SICK on this album", so they went back into the studio to see how fast they could play. Well, they might call it sick, I think it's a great track.

Also funny are all the titles on the album. Some of them are explained in the liner notes, like When the Water Breaks and Biaxident (Biaxine was a medicine prescribed to Petrucci during the recording sessions, as he was suffering from extreme headaches) but others have to be figured out. Another Dimension probably got its name from the main riff, which sounds like the Beastie Boys' single Intergalactic-Another Dimension. But don't be afraid, apart from that riff it sounds nothing like the Beastie Boys.

The last track Hourglass is also easy to figure out: it was played live by Petrucci and Rudess at 2.28 AM on the last day of the recording sessions, as a closing of the sessions. It is like State of Grace on the first album, a gentle and serene duet, this time acoustic guitar and piano only. Beautiful!

Just like the previous album: Highly recommended!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10.

Bart Jan van der Vorst

Cyan - The Creeping Vine
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:F2 Records
Catalogue #:9902
Year of Release:1999
Info:F2 Records

Tracklist: Original Sin (8.47), Valhala (3.42), Gwenan (6.17), I Will Show You Life (5.30), Goodbye World (9.54), The River (7.22), Home (4.36), The Creeping Vine (9.30)

The main man behind Cyan is multi-instrumentalist Robert Reed. After his one-man show debut For King and Country he added the vocals of one Nigel Voyle for his second album Pictures from the Other Side. For this third album Cyan is further expanded with drummer Tim Robinson and Bassist Pete Hurley, and a wide range of guest musicians.

For me Cyan's second album Pictures from the Other Side is one of the highlights of the early nineties' neo-prog wave. The somewhat commercial sounding prog, with heavy Genesis influences is one of my favourite albums on the now defunct SI-label.
Therefore I really yearned for this album, which has taken four and a half years to record (!!). Unfortunately the waiting wasn't worthwhile, as the album doesn't live up to the expectations - it doesn't reach the standard of its predecessor.

Like the previous album -and many nineties neo-prog albums- you can clearly hear the influences: Genesis, Mike Oldfield, It Bites, but also things that could easily be found in the music of IQ, Arena or Spock's Beard. But in spite of all these references it sounds mainly like Cyan's previous album, but without a real highlight such as the epic Nosferatu.

The album opens with a Spock's Beard-like organ before bombastic Arena-like synthesisers join in. Original Sin is one of the best tracks on the album, with lots of time-signature changes.
The second song Valhalla is a pretty straightforward song, nothing too special. The only remarkable thing is the excellent guitar solo.

Gwenan sounds like some sort of cliché Celtic folk-rock songs, which every artist seems to record nowadays. Musically it is quite good, with very Oldfield-like guitars. But somehow Nigel Voyles voice doesn't seem to fit with the music. Despite the Oldfield sound the song reminds me more of Runrig or even Ultravox - with the difference that these are Scottish bands and their music sounds more "natural". I don't know, but somehow this just doesn't sound right, and the lyrics, frankly, are terrible: it's a collection of clichés, with "Celtic crosses", "dancing on the moors" and "pipes and drums".
Despite all this, it is one of my favourite songs on the album (can you follow that?).

I can't say that about the next song, I Will Show You Life. It starts quite original with real saxophones instead of synthesisers, but they become quite irritating during the song. And the double-voiced vocals are terrible. Skip!

The next track is Goodbye World which starts with a pure piece of plagiarism. The piano-intro sounds exactly like Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Carpet Crawl. For the rest it is quite a nice track, and it is also the longest song on the album. Again, with great guitar work by Chris Fry, one of the many guest-musicians on the album.

The River shows the full range of Nigel Voyle's excellent vocals. It's the ballad on the album and also one of the better tracks. After about four and a half minutes the whole song suddenly changes completely with a hobo-alike solo. It's a pity really, as I really like the atmosphere of the first part. Fortunately Voyle manages to safe the song. Again a great guitarsolo by a guest-musician, this time Andy Edwards.

Another mellow track is Home with excellent synthesiser work and great guitars by Pendragon frontman Nick Barrett. The song is mainly instrumental, with only four lines sung at the end of the song.

The last track, The Creeping Vine is supposed to be the grandeur finale of the album. It starts with a very tropical vibe: sounds of a seashore, crickets, flutes and Spanish guitar and a very Latin rhythm. After the first two verses it gets more "proggy". An excellent album closer.

So in the end I was a bit disappointed by the album, especially when comparing it to its predecessor, however it grew on me after a few spins.

It is definitely not a bad album at all, there are plenty great things on it for any prog-lover, yet that is also the main drawback of the album: It is all way too safe. There's nothing new or groundbreaking original to be found!

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.

Bart Jan van der Vorst

Album Reviews