Album Reviews

Issue 2004-046

Reviews in this issue:

Threshold - Subsurface
Threshold - Subsurface
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Inside Out
Catalogue #:IOMCD 178
Year of Release:2004
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Mission Profile (8:15), Ground Control (7:10), Opium (6:47), Stop Dead (4:18), The Art of Reason (10:17), Pressure (5:13), Flags and Footprints (4:57), Static (5:06), The Destruction of Words (6:10)

David's Review

Subsurface represents Threshold's seventh album, averaging an album every two years. The line-up has changed again, this time replacing Jon Jeary on bass with Steve Anderson, but otherwise the band remains stable. My personal favourite Threshold album remains 1998's Clone, with a good effort in 2001's Hypothetical dropping a little for Critical Mass in 2002. Subsurface is again offered in a standard edition and a limited edition with a bigger booklet, CD-ROM content and a bonus track.

Threshold have always been about Groom and Midson's dual guitar crunch and riffing backed with atmospheric keyboard work, and album opener Mission Profile contains all the elements - a mixed-tempo verse section followed by a half-time chorus, showcasing vocalist 'Mac' MacDonald's gruff yet melodic voice. Halfway through we enter a typically Threshold instrumental section with some familiar sounds from Richard West's keyboard, before a concise dual guitar solo leads (via a rather forced transition) back to the chorus. It's all known territory here; the chorus lacks a little majesty, but otherwise good.

Ground Control breaks the mould a bit here by backing the guitars out a little and giving the song some rhythmic space. West is particularly good here, providing a nice counterpoint to the guitars, and Johanne James' drumming lends some variety as well. It falls a little flat come the guitar solo - nice Karl Groom solo, shame about the same Karl Groom solo sound we've been hearing for years now... The second solo adds a little more rhythmic variety, and things do pick up, although the most memorable moment must be the Dream Theater-like moment just before the vocals come back in!

Opium starts off another textbook Threshold slow rocker, broken up by a middle section that reminded me of Pain of Salvation, not a bad thing in my book. Stop Dead, the next track, makes possibly the best use of the variety Threshold have played with in the prior tracks. Less crunch and a fun rhythm in the chorus, along with some fine keyboard textures, make this the high point of the album for me.

At 10 minutes, The Art of Reason is evidently the "epic" on the album. It sounds pitched a little high for Mac's voice in places here. New bassist Steve Anderson is mixed well here and really drives this song. A familiar Threshold instrumental is followed with a nice, although unexpected, excursion into airy keyboards - easily the best point. It's followed by the fairly standard Threshold rocker Pressure, which again distinguishes itself mostly by a rhythmic middle section with some nice keyboard work.

The ballad of the album is definitely Flags and Footprints. While not entirely absent of crunch, this song has the majesty that earlier Threshold ballads lack. Another high point. Static is a little excursion into something different, particularly in James' drumming, giving it an urgency that perhaps some of the other tracks here lack. The album is closed with The Destruction of Words, another "classic" Threshold track.

Perhaps the overwhelming impression left by Subsurface is that it could have used more of the diversity that it hints at. The high points are very high - Stop Dead is particularly good - but mostly the album plays like standard Threshold with some new rhythms. Mostly what gives that impression is the lack of textural diversity from the ever-present guitars; what we really needed was to roll back a little on the gain and allow the solos to breathe. For me, these textures were fantastic on Clone, good on Hypothetical and now need a refresh. The alternative is to try a little more of the rhythmic riffing which works so well on things like Opium. Still, it's a fine effort from Threshold, a step up from Critical Mass and is a worthy addition to a fan's collection.

Tom's Review

Threshold are often labelled ‘the UK’s premier progressive metal band’. To me this is damning them with faint praise – can you name any other British bands that actually play progressive metal? A far more fitting epithet would be ‘one of the world’s premier progressive metal bands’. Over the course of over ten years and what is now seven studio albums, Threshold have released material of a consistently high quality and, whilst by no means as big a name as they should be, are at last at least becoming a recognised force in metal circles.

My first introduction to the band was their debut with Andrew ‘Mac’ McDermott, the storming Clone. I was highly impressed – finally, a band who melded the power and crunch of metal with the melodic nous and technical wizardry of prog. Threshold went one better with their next release (and debut for Inside Out) Hypothetical, which rates, in my opinion, as one of the finest prog metal releases of the 21st century thus far. In truth, the follow-up Critical Mass was a little disappointing – with its rather over-processed production sound and a heavy leaning towards more balladic material, the album lacked the sparkle of its predecessors. Thus I felt that, whilst hardly needing to make a ‘comeback’ on Subsurface (Critical Mass is still a good album!) the band had something to prove.

Thankfully, from the opening strains of Mission Profile, it is clear that on Subsurface Threshold are back and firing on all cylinders. The production is still slick and professional, but the guitars have that added bite that made Hypothetical hit home so hard. Mission Profile is an instant Threshold classic, with memorable melodies, a strong chorus, crunching riffs, imaginative solos and an imaginative structure which sees the music ebbing and flowing seamlessly – all trademarks of Threshold at their best.

The band maintain this very high quality over the next six tracks. Both Ground Control and Stop Dead combine aggressive, powerful sections with more melodic, considered refrains (a Threshold speciality), allowing Mac to showcase his impressive vocal range to the max. The mid-paced Opium features a strong AOR-esque chorus, whilst Pressure is a powerful, aggressive up-tempo track in the vein of Freaks and Long Way Home. Flags And Footprints, meanwhile, is a ballad which follows in the footsteps (or should that be ‘prints’!) of Critical Mass’ Falling Away, yet in my opinion is a stronger track, boasting a very strong and well worked chorus.

The ‘piece de resistance’ however is the albums centrepiece, the 10-plus minute The Art Of Reason. Not only is this the most eloquent track on the album in lyrical terms, its also a blistering epic which contains both the most aggressive and most melodic material here, not to mention some truly stunning guitar solo’s. Its in the vein of (the Hypothetical track) The Ravages Of Time, and of similar calibre – and seeing as Ravages… is one of my all-time Threshold favourites, that’s saying something.

Alongside the ever-impressive Mac, all the instrumentalists are at the top of their game on Subsurface. Since Critical Mass, the band have lost long-time bassist Jon Jeary, yet new boy Steve Anderson does a more than capable job plugging the gap. The calibre of material on display indicates that Threshold aren’t missing his song writing skills either! Keyboardist Richard West is his usual dependable self, rarely taking a lead role but rather adding colour and texture to the sound, whilst Johanne James once again shows that he’s one of the best drummers currently operating in the progressive metal field. Special mention however has to lead guitarist Karl Groom, who unleashes some superb yet controlled solos on this album, perhaps reaching his peak (as mentioned earlier) on The Art Of Reason.

Overall, this is another excellent album by Threshold that completely erases the slight feeling of disappointment bought about by its predecessor. It’s not quite a classic – the final couple of tracks (Static and The Destruction Of Words) are merely good rather than great, and there isn’t quite the freshness that Clone and Hypothetical had, bringing a nagging feeling that the band will soon need to explore fresh horizons if they’re not to start stagnating. Be that as it may, however – for now, this is still undoubtedly one of the best releases you’ll hear in its field all year. Highly recommended!

Conclusions :

David McCabe : 7.5 out of 10
Tom De Val : 9 out of 10

Lac Placide - Away
Lac Placide - Away
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2003
Info:Lac Placide
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Away: [Intro percussivo] (1:20), A.E.O (6:42), Away: [Andante- un poco medievo] (1:05), Fairies And Tales (7:40), Away: [allegretto con fuego] (0:34), Transition (6:11), Away: [Tranquillo (ma non troppo)] (0:41), Growing Circles (6:36), Away: [Tempo di cailluto] (0:38), Too Real (5:12), Away: [Nostalgico assai e diavolo] (0:57), {i} Prayers (6:51), including Away: [poco curto], {ii} Heaven Knows (9:18), Away: [Outroppo - molto variato con flamenco (un poco malsano)] (18:08)

Little information is available on the Web regarding Parisienne band Lac Placide and what is available is in French, one of many languages that elude me. The information regarding the band's formation is therefore constructed from my "understanding" of the aforementioned language. Lac Placide were originally formed by Archiviste Demurger (basses) and Sénéchal Morin (guitars) who decided to broaden their earlier more metal leanings by inviting drummer Rebouteux (which translates as Bonesetter) and keyboard player 'Bourgmestre' Ville. The line-up is completed by two vocalists Sa Majesté Roy (female) and Rôdeur Renaud (male). I really hope I've got this the right way round? The band recorded their first demo Welcome You're Not in 2000, which received favourable reviews and encouraged by this have worked on their debut release Away.

For a number reasons Away has proved to be one of the more difficult albums I have reviewed since joining DPRP. Firstly it is lyrically deep and dense (which is not my staple diet) and added to this that the majority of the male vocal parts are sung in French and quite often are a response to the female vocal lines. A little like having half the story, however this works better than it may sound and does not overly detract from the end result. I couldn't help thinking that perhaps all of the vocals should have been sung in French as the female vocal parts do suffer a little in their phrasing and are noticeably accented in parts with the translation to English.

The musicianship that encompasses the vocals shows a diversity of styles from 80's U2 guitar textures moving towards Morin's more metal influences, although it should be noted that this never really encroaches on progmetal - more driven heavy progressive rock. The bass is solid and works strongly with the equally solid but often busy drumming of Rebouteux. The keyboards take on a slightly different role and often are used to punctuate the music rather than fill it out. Nice touches are added with little note runs dancing in and out of the mix and the addition of some interesting solos and variation of sounds nicely rounds of the musical accompaniment for the vocals.

Away runs as a continuous piece segued by the 'Away' passages. These are made-up firstly from the sound of a running stream to which are added different musical textures - mainly acoustic or nylon guitar, percussion or general ambient noises - all of which are located low in the mix. These pieces serve as little resting points between the more intense main tracks. As mentioned earlier the 'main' songs are vocally rich with Sa Majesté Roy and Rôdeur Renaud taking a dominant role in the proceedings. Both vocalists have strong, distinctive voices, Sa Majesté Roy bringing Flamborough Head's Margriet Boomsma to mind, and therefore the songs are replete with vocal lines that bounce off each other - neither taking a particularly subservient role. This works at its best in the plodding Growing Circles, here the track builds up in intensity because of their interplay.

What nicely contrasts the vocal sections are the instrumental breaks and here Lac Placide have not plumped for merely adding solo infinitum. Granted their are solos from Morin and Ville but what did make a pleasant change were those instrumental sections that just grabbed a riff or groove and just vamped along with it. My favourite would be in Prayers where the guitar drives along with some scat organ and deft flourishes.

The last eighteen minutes of the album might be seen as somewhat superfluous, the babbling brook remains throughout interlaced with a number of episodes. The first and possibly the most rewarding is a Flamenco guitar section, the following events range from percussive sections, noises of people walking and generally moving around with the odd sporadic spoken word - lastly silence ! The last surprise from Lac Placide comes from a final hidden track. I can only assume that this is a 'live' rendition as the audio quality is not as clear as the album itself. However it is a fine track and should you have the patience to find it - very rewarding.

On a more critical note I did find the album very intense and felt the tracks would have benefited from more light and shade. The vocals were also over-powering, perhaps not surprising with two vocalists to accommodate, but again some greater variation in the delivery might well serve Lac Placide in the future. So as I said earlier this proved to be a difficult album to review and one that took several weeks and many listenings to digest. I am still not sure I have fully understood Lac Placide's full intentions as my lack of knowledge of the French language (among with every other one except my native tongue) means that about half of the lyrics are still a mystery to me. This is strong debut album and one which has grown on me with each listening and in the end I can only imagine it will continue to do so - well worth checking out.

The album is gradually finding distribution with both Musea and GFT Cyclops now having Away in their catalogues.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Bob Mulvey

Minstrel - Faust
Minstrel - Faust
Country of Origin:Italy
Record Label:Independent /
Catalogue #:Min 06
Year of Release:2000
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Preludio (1:20) Bellatrix (5:28) Mefistofele (8:55) Il Castello (6:52) Faust (9:49) La Neve (7:52) Finale (4:17)

Warning! Warning! Rock Opera Alert!

Yes friends, this CD (first released in 2000, but receiving wider distribution via Kaliphonia) contains a full-blown opera based on Goethe’s classic Faust. I know this may be enough to put off some of you, but this is a particularly well-handled example of the genre, and if you can appreciate the (beautiful) Italian vocals, there is much to enjoy here. The minimalist cover belies the CD’s contents, with lushly arranged music and a booklet including the full libretto. (English speakers can access an adequate translation on the Minstrel website, which should enhance your enjoyment and conveys at least the main elements of the story – if some of the finer poetry is lost in the process).

Minstrel is a tight little band, with the emphasis laid squarely on classical melodies, operatic vocals and rocking guitar solos. They employ three guest vocals to breathe life into the various roles, but whilst all are good, none are better than Minstrel’s own Mauro Ghilardini who is superb in the title role. The opening song Bellatrix features an exquisite performance, which shows him at his best, high on drama and very operatic in nature, but not succumbing to the worst excesses of that genre. The music is gentle and romantic, with delicate acoustic guitars and subtle orchestration from the keyboards.

The whole work flows nicely from track to track, and I don’t want to pick out any favourites – you really must try to hear this from beginning to end - but I should point out that the prelude is entirely spoken, with no music at all and therefore non-Italians will want to skip this. The finale sees the return of the narrator, but this time he is accompanied by some pleasant, gentle music, making for a nice low-key conclusion to the piece.

I own several CDs by Neo-Classical / Speed / Power Metal bands, like Stratovarius, Gamma Ray or Angra, being drawn in by the classical melodies and pompous keyboard driven arrangements, but I’m always disappointed by the unrelenting pounding of the double-bass drums, the lack of light and shade, and the overpowering, ego-fuelled widdly-widdly guitar solos. I always find myself wishing they’d trim back some of the excess, add more variety and subtlety, in short – become a little more like prog rock bands.

Minstrel is, it turns out, the band I’ve been waiting for. Michele Savaldelli plays neo-classical solos with remarkable restraint, having all the technique but none of the arrogance and bluster of so-called “masters” (Mr Malmsteen please stand up). Gianpaolo Pasini provides powerhouse backing on the drums, but always knows when to step off the gas. The whole piece is thoughtfully constructed, with plenty of contrasting sections, and includes some nice clarinet from Guiseppe Peracchi for that added authentic orchestral touch. Like traditional operas, the story is conveyed by sung dialogue and I find that the passionate delivery is compelling, despite not understanding the lyrics without resorting to the translation.

I found this CD to be highly enjoyable (perhaps not so surprising given my penchant for Italian Prog) and, whilst it won’t appeal to everybody (I once read a critic who dismissed the entire Italian prog scene as “overblown, operatic twaddle”) I am happy to recommend this to Symphonic prog fans. I am looking forward to the promised interpretation of Moby Dick, which is supposed to be in the pipeline.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Dave Sissons

Chris Erikson - Sleepin' With U
Chris Erickson - Sleepin' With U
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:DR 8425.AR
Year of Release:2004

Tracklist: Caroline's Theme (4:20), Angus Dei (6:11), Believe (5:30), So Far Away (5:33), Sadness (4:27), She's In Love (5:13), Sleeping With U (1:55), Everywhere (4:28), Erzebeth (5:13), Endless (4:03), My Last Wish (2:40)

Chris Erickson is a young French composer who releases his debut album, Sleepin' With U, through the Musea Label. At the time of writing this article no other information is available, nor is there a website offering any further information, so his music will have to speak for him.

What immediately struck me about this album was its warmth, created by the lush and analogue(y) string timbres and low rumbling bass tones. The string pads are often added to by violin and cello string lines making the overall sound extremely rich and symphonic. The best example of this would be Angus Dei, which also includes choral effects and sparse percussion along with a beautiful melancholic melody courtesy of Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings.

Chris Erickson's music lies in those areas associated with Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre, however this is not the whole story as the inclusion of techno grooves and loops give a distinctly modern sound to the tracks. The accompanying literature also offers Massive Attack is a pointer, however as I am not familiar enough with their music I shall not comment on this. The techno-drums and solid bass lines seldom run for any great length of time and therefore their introduction tend to punctuate or lift the music before it starts to meander and as such adds to the overall effect. The rhythms are well thought out and placed within the music and I am pleased to say that I never detected one those endless (and extremely irritating) rising snare drum lines that pervade modern electronic music.

Sleepin' With U is a consistent album and it would be extremely difficult to select from the eleven tracks, those for more worthy note. However there are two beautiful and gentle piano tracks Sleepin' With U and My Last Wish, the first acts a resting point within the album and the latter splendidly closes proceedings.

It is possible, in the case of many good albums, to enjoy the music on more than one level, Sleepin' With U achieves this status admirably. Whilst listening for the purposes of this review, time was spent concentrating on the music's many layers, but when all the analysis was completed it was possible just to put the feet up and let the music drift over me - the warmth and relaxing nature of the tracks makes this possible. It is not often that I dip my toes into the world of electronic music, although over the last few weeks I have had more than my usual annual quota, with Chris Erickson's offering serving as the most refreshing excursion so far this year. Personally I shall return to this album often and certainly have no problem recommending Sleepin' With U to fans of carefully crafted electronic music, along with those who enjoy the music of the recognised icons in this field and who are possibly searching for a new Vangelis or Jean Michel Jarre - well worth checking out.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Bob Mulvey

4/3 De Trio - Ersatz
4/3 de trio - Ersatz
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:Musea
Catalogue #:FGBG4562.AR
Year of Release:2004
Info:4/3 De Trio
Tracklist: Solmhinarm (5:38), Ersatz (8:08), Bleu Cerise (7:34), Ayahusca (6:09), Oceane (4:09), Kossmokardak (16:23), La Blonde (7:52), D.Dar #1 (6:34), D.Dar #3 (7:22)

Their first CD, F4i3lesse, released in 1999, was rightly praised as a masterpiece by the majority of the prog press. With its modern blend of Red era King Crimson, Porcupine Tree and Godspeed You Black Emperor!, a perfect mix of acoustic and electric passages, a touch of metal and a singer who's voice was sometime reminiscent of Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam (mainly in the English songs), this guitar based quatuor was promised to a brilliant future.

Less than a year after the release of F4i3lesse, 4/3 De Trio (pronounce CAT-TEE-AIR-THE-TREE-O), Guillaume Fenoy (guitar and vocals), Sébastien Gramond (keyboards and guitar), Romain Gayral (bass) and Didier Pégeron (drum), were back in studio for a follow-up. But the band split-up during the recordings. Not long after that Pégeron died in a car accident. Shocked, the surviving members decided to finish the album as an homage to their departed friend. The result, Ers4t3, was finally released in 2004.

While the compositions were mainly collective on the first CD, with Fenoy being the common denominator, they are all the fruit of a single musician here (4 for Chenoy, 2 for Gayral, 2 for Pégeron and 1 for Gramond). Second difference, this album is almost purely instrumental, the only song being a seven minute piece with a short text. The keyboards are also more present.

Solmhinarm starts with a mellotron and an eight pieces string section (3 violins, 2 altos, 2 cellos and 1 upright bass, conducted by Nicolas Janot) soon joined by the rest of the band for this impressive dark classical number. This is followed by the title piece Ersatz, a Canterbury-like gem featuring Rhodes, Hammond and synth where the tightness of the band is particularly evident.

Bleu Cerise (cherry blue) dives deep in RIO territories and gives the boys a chance to show-off their multi-instrumentalist talents (Fenoy on piano, Gayral on piano and trumpet and Gramond on thumb piano and violin). For this more demanding number they were joined by Rapha‘l Cartellier on saxes, flute and mandolin. Ayahusca is in the same vein as Solmhinarm minus the string section and with Hammond and synth. Oceane is basically a classical guitar duet (both played by Fenoy) demonstrating the versatility (if needs be) of 4/3 De Trio's guitarist.

Then comes the epic Kossmokardak, the only composition by Gramond. It starts with a big wink at Zappa then settles for a fast paced mode full of breaks, speed riffs and stop and go motifs. The interplay between Hammond, guitar, bass and drum is quite impressive here. If I was obliged to pinpoint a high-light for this album, that probably be it. It is very hard to believe this music is played by musicians all in their early 20's.

La Blonde (the blonde - speaking of a cigarette) starts as a ballad, with Elsa Klajnberg doubling Fenoy on vocals, then moves into a mood changing instrumental, mainly rooted in smooth jazz and Canterbury textures. We are then gratified by two bonus tracks, both composed and performed by late Pégeron. D.Dar #1 and D.Dar #3 show that the drummer was hiding yet another multi-instrumentalist, mainly a great guitarist. Metal riffs predominate here, gliding over numerous tempo changes.

With these two CDs, and the sadly premature death of their drummer, 4/3 De Trio have without a doubt achieved the status of cult band. If you are into RIO with a touch of metal, I warmly recommend you get your hands on these two while they are easily obtainable.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

Claude Grégoire

Epica - Feint [Single]
Epica - Feint Single
Country of Origin:The Netherlands
Format:CD Single
Record Label:Transmission
Catalogue #:TMS-043
Year of Release:2004
Info:Click Here

Tracklist: Feint (4:18); Feint (Piano Version) (4:53); Triumph Of Defeat (3:56); Seif al Din (5:47)

Epica - Cry For The Moon [Single]

Epica - Cry For The Moon Single
Country of Origin:The Netherlands
Format:CD Single
Record Label:Transmission
Catalogue #:TMS-044
Year of Release:2004

Tracklist: Cry For The Moon (Single Version) (3:33); Cry For The Moon (6:44); Run For A Fall (Single Version) (4:29); Run For A Fall (6:31)

Transmission certainly seem to be intent on milking Epica’s debut The Phantom Agony as much as possible; they’ve already released two versions of the title track as a single, and now comes this double-pack; although not actually sold separately, Feint comes in a double-cd case, with room for the Cry For The Moon single, which is available at ‘a special price’ and housed in a plain cardboard sleeve.

We’ve already covered the album in depth on DPRP, so I don’t intend to go over the album tracks in any detail – suffice to say, if well-delivered symphonic gothic metal is your thing, its’ well worth getting hold of it. But what of the non-album tracks?

Feint is pretty much a ballad anyway, carried very much by Simone Simons’ angelic vocals, so as you might expect the piano version works well, although at nearly five minutes perhaps outstays its welcome, as you don’t get the big build up that the original version features. Triumph Of Defeat is an instrumental, written by keyboardist Coen Janssen, so as you might expect features plenty of ivory tinkling. Its not just an exercise in indulgence though, and the melodies are pretty strong, making this an item that fans would probably want to pick up.

Cry For The Moon features two ‘single versions’ of tracks from The Phantom Agony. The Cry For The Moon single version is frankly bizarre – it features no guitar, just the synth and orchestral sections, and a ‘modern’ electronic backbeat that’s quite intrusive. ‘Single version’? This is hardly a commercial track destined for frequent plays on mainstream radio stations, and although not terrible is hardly representative of the band either. The Run For The Fall single version is on similar lines, but is more true to the original – basically the heavy sections are stripped away, leaving a quality ballad in its place, although once again the ‘modern’ back-beat sounds tacked-on and detracts from the quality of the song.

Ultimately, this is quite a hard one to rate, as the desirability of these singles probably depends on whether you are already a fan or not. The former will probably want to pick up Feint, where the bonus tracks have real added value, but may want to give the second disc a miss, unless they’re collectors who must have everything the band release. For newcomers to the band, providing the price is pretty low these singles would make a sensible purchase, as all four of the album tracks are of a high quality, and give a good introduction to the band’s sound.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Tom De Val

Jam Camp - Black Hills Jam Preserves Vol 2
Jam Camp - Black Hills Jam Preserves
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Flying Spot
Catalogue #:FSI104
Year of Release:2004
Info:Jam Camp
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Black Hills Jam (15:27), Wormhole (4:23), Westside Highway (7:03), Trees (10:42), Groove Monkey (8:39), Swamp Gas & Moonshine (15:15), Dangerous in Deed (7:50)

Jam Camp is a progressive instrumental jam band from the Pacific Northwest of the USA. A five-piece band, the group features dual lead guitarists David Broyles and Michael Smith, a rhythm section of Jess White (bass) and Joel Veatch (drums) and is rounded off by Steve Munger on sax. What you get on this second album by the band is exactly what you'd expect: a collection of studio jams recorded live to DAT. However, don't consider that the pieces are just endless noodling without form or direction, each track has a definite structure, is well conceived and thought out and, to cap it all, is superbly played. The level of understanding between the musicians is phenomenal; any experimental psychologists investigating telepathy should investigate these guys because if it exists, they've got it!

With an average running time of 10 minutes, each track has the space to develop and explore themes, craftily blending jazz fusion, prog, rock and a dash of blues. The title track, Black Hills Jam is a tribute to the southern fried rock and blues of the Allman Brothers Band, although there are a couple of nods to other musical influences, as evidenced by the inclusion of short riffs that will be easily identified by fans of Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana. The Allmans, along with Lynyrd Skynyrd, are also a key reference on Swamp Gas & Moonshine that locks into a full-on and sustained groove interspersed with more melodic and reflective interludes. Melody is something that differentiates this group from a lot of other 'jam bands'; these pieces have definite tunes! Wormhole and Westside Highway ably demonstrate the jazz sensibilities of the group with Munger playing a particularly prominent role. The latter track also features some great guitar solos. One of the great things about the album's production is that the two guitarists are isolated - Broyles on the left channel and Smith on the right. The allows one to identify the soloists and adds a 'call and answer' effect with the two guitarists trading solos. Add the sax straight down the middle and you have the recipe for a wonderful sonic experience!

The tempo is taken down a bit for the gentler Trees, one of the first jams recorded with Steve Munger. With intricate guitar passages based round repetitive chord structures the overall piece is quite mesmerising. (An extended version of this track, some 40% longer, is available from the band's website). Things get a bit funkier with Groove Monkey with White laying down an insistent bass line and Veatch hammering out the beat while simultaneously making more use of a hi-hat that I've heard in a long while. Final track, Dangerous In Deed, is a bonus number that was originally included on the Beyond Rock compilation CD issued by Art Sake Records in 1992. A more rockier number with a dirtier sax lead line, it's a great way to close off the album.

People who love jam bands of the ilk of the Allmans, Dave Matthews Band and even the Grateful Dead and Phish will fall in love with this album at first hearing. Even if you are not that fond of those particular bands, Jam Camp are still worth a listen; one cannot fail to be impressed by the superb musicianship and musical inventiveness of the group. The website features a great variety of samples from both albums, and some unreleased material to boot, so check them out, pack your rucksack and join the camp!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Mark Hughes

Album Reviews