Reviews in this issue:
- CPR - Volume 2
- Ajalon – On The Threshold Of Eternity
- Revelation Project – Revelation Project
- Akacia – The Brass Serpent
- Pursuit – Quest
- FitzPatrick – The View From 10,000 Days
- Neal Morse – Inner Circle CD #1
A new branch is sprouting from the tree of progressive rock, next to old-school prog, neo-prog, progressive metal, and folk-prog. I mean a branch of budding prog bands, mainly from the United States, who present themselves explicitly as Christians. Hence, the moniker ‘CProg’. To be sure, religion and even Christianity have never been absent since the arrival of progressive rock, but there have only been a few individuals who publicly made their worldview known – Kerry Livgren, Rick Wakeman, Geoff Mann. With the accessibility of digital technology, and certainly with the success of Neal Morse, more artists than ever have found ways to release music expressing that worldview, drawing from a broad range of musical styles. One of those ways is a Yahoo discussion group for and about Christian progressive rock musicians, another is Dave Taylor’s website for CD reviews of rock music with a spiritually positive content, and a third is a series of compilation albums bringing artists together who want to raise awareness of their work. So far, then, this new branch has proved to be a fruitful one. Only time will tell if it is here to stay. In the meantime, however, it seems timely to focus on the most recent releases in this CProg summer special.
CPR - Volume 2
Tracklist: David Bainbridge - Over The Waters (7:31), Orphan Project - Orphan Found (5:09), Simon Apple - Significance (3:48), Neal Morse - Reunion (9:14), David Wallimann - Creation (5:09), Soulful Terrain - Secrets in the Valley (6:00), Glass Hammer - Heroes and Dragons (5:34), Young Earth - One True God (10:01), Eric Parker - Under The Sun (5:51), Scott Rice - Quantum Fizzix (4:18), Revelation Project - Liars (9:03), Bill Hubauer - I Can See Clearly (5:41)
This CPR disk is the second instalment of a series (?) to promote progressive rock made by artists with a Christian worldview. They aim at offering a new approach to Christian music and new alternatives to progressive rock. Given the number of bands appearing under this rubric, CPR is becoming somewhat of a movement within both Christian music and progressive rock. This second CPR album, like the first one, pulls together some of the best acts in this movement as well as some interesting new talents.
First off, the disk arrives in a very nice package. The CG artwork is done by Jonathan Cummings, reminiscent of Jeff Brockman's work on the Cairo albums. Each track is accompanied by a page with pictures, lyrics and web links for each band or artist. Lastly, the introductory page plus various 'CProg' photo's leave little to be desired. That, and the sound quality of the tracks make for an attractive whole that gives a cross-section through a good portion of music, worth many spins and checking out many of the original albums; so kudos to the producers, Randy George and Gene Crout.
What about the music on offer? The album opens with a track by Englishman Dave Bainbridge, from his recent album Veil of Gossamer. This is definitely not old-school prog but, if it is prog, it is a good example of Bainbridge's, instrumental tapestry of folky, impressionist music akin to Iona's Celtic symphonic rock. His excellent guitar playing is featured prominently here. Taken out of the context of the original album it stands out on its own really well. In short, a surprising and successful opener for the rest of the collection.
Next, we plunge right into Orphan Project's brand of hard prog, with the title track from their debut Orphan Found. Note that this version is the re-mixed (and added-to) second edition. The new version adds some depth to the mix and some extra sounds. But the song was already so dynamic that the new mix does not change the song dramatically. What can I say? I love it. Lankford's voice, Wenger's guitar, they just do it for me. No symphonic tapestries here, although the violin (Kansas?) at the end -- and the time they take to develop the song -- gives it a prog touch. I'm holding out the hope to seeing them live one day.
Now what the...? A white reggae track on a progressive rock album? At least, that's what you'd think when Simon Apple's song, Significance, starts. But, wait, then the chorus turns into a melodic rock song and, whoa, the mid-section turns into Steely Dan on speed. Well, I don't know where these guys come from and what they do, and maybe some wouldn't even want to call it progressive rock. But musically it is definitely rich and skilful, so in the end, it's not out of place on this album at all. It does make one curious for Simon Apple's other material – and for the origin of the band name ... as no one in the band is called Simon Apple! Oh you could of course check out Nigel Camilleri's complementary review of the River To The Sea - he had not heard of the band prior to this, but was pleasantly surprised.
Next, we're back on more familiar territory, as Neal Morse offers Reunion, the big finale of his last progressive rock epic, One. As you know, this means nine minutes packed with pure progressive rock elements, from the energetic to the delicate, powerfully accompanied by misters George and Portnoy. It concludes the story of the prodigal son returning to his father, an analogy for human being returning their heavenly Father. No further introduction is needed here, so I will just continue with the next track.
Here is one of the new talents, with a track that stands in sharp contrast with the last few songs. It is much more experimental and it makes you sit up and listen to what's going on. The song in question in Waiting For The Sun To Rise, by David Walliman. Walliman is a guitarist with a French background (?), apparently with one album published under his own name as yet. Here he turns out to be an all-round instrumentalist, singer and songwriter. Starting uneasy with a weird synth and drum machine loop, Walliman sings about a depressed state of mind. Halfway through glimpses of hope light up, as the song comes to rest before it launches into a few Steve Hackett-like eruptions on keys and guitar. Certainly not your mainstream prog composition, but at the same time a promising addition to the genre.
Whereas 'old-school prog' integrates European musical traditions in rock music, Soulful Terrain is an example of the newer progressive rock acts from the United States, integrating other musical traditions into prog songs. In their case, they lean towards folk music, while clearly staying in the vein of rock idiom. Interestingly, musical contributions are made here by Iona's Dave Bainbridge and Frank van Essen. This song, Secret In The Valley, starts like a ballad with a violin melody, 'native American' drum pattern without cymbals, and acoustic guitar. It then moves to a more or less Genesis-like bridge (because of the guitar solo) and lastly evolves into an all-out up-tempo rock section with a folky melody that stick in your mind. Very likable contribution.
The CPR volume as a whole seems to be divided into three parts, starting with four dynamic songs, followed by three slower ones. The last of these three quieter tracks offers a glimpse of Glass Hammer versatility, with the 'symphonic version' of Heroes and Dragons. This means a piano and vocal section, with a backdrop of strings, acoustic guitar, and background vocal. When the drums join in on the second half, this number has the dramatic quality of, say, Mandalaband's Eye of Wendor, especially when you note the Christian notion of human fallenness and heavenly destiny described in J.J.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis imagery. Certainly, the works of Steve Babb and Fred Schendel have been known to fans of progressive rock for a long time. Therefore it's interesting to see a ballad like this on the CPR collection for a change, instead of a sample of one of their Yes-inspired extravaganzas. Fans will know where to finds these.
So the next track begins the section of the disc with four more up-tempo and energetic songs. The first of those is offered by Young Earth, a band from the States I haven't heard of before, featuring the aforementioned David Walliman on guitar. Their contribution is titled One True God and possibly has the strongest 'explicit content' of this album, meaning they unashamedly bring praise to God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. If anything can be called 'progressive worship', this is it. Main composer Bill Rebsamen and his cohorts launch into a straightforward chorus-verse rock song, a little raw, on a subtle layer of synthesizer. Then with the bridge section however, the song takes a progressive turn. Walliman again offers some Hackett chainsaw guitar, joined by a flurry of keyboards. Finally, they bring the song back home via its chorus. Undeniably belongs in this collection.
Eric Parker plays with Glass Hammer but is also an accomplished composer and artist in his own right. Just like the first CPR instalment, the second one has a piece from one of his larger projects (you can hear some of the same theme from his contribution to CPR Vol. 1). This one's called Under The Sun and it puts the interesting biblical book of 'Ecclesiasts' to music. Interesting, because the writer, King Solomon, questions the meaning of life, which seems to be the mood of our time as well. Anyway, Parker offers what I would call a musical journey, meaning that the melody and structure of the song are not as easy to follow as is the case in, say, Neal Morse's Reunion. Piano and female vocalist Susie Bogdanowicz, also from the Glass Hammer stable, form the backbone of the first part, joined by Parker's acoustic guitar, plus later on the full instrumentation offered by Babb and Schendel. These two also guarantee a crystal clear mix of the whole arrangement, thus yielding a tasteful production.
Enter Scott Rice, also a new name to me. His contribution, Quantum Fizzix, is a guitar hero piece, in which 7/8 and 8/8 guitar loops alternate, forming a jumping-ramp for some fine soloing in a big way. It is clear that the instrumental song and the rest of the band serve as a stage for Rice's performance on guitar, which has more than enough redeeming qualities to justify to be showcased on this album..
Revelation Project's self-titled debut is reviewed below, so I can be short about their offering on this compilation, the 9-minute epic track Liars. This song about false Messiahs is an appealing progressive hard rock song, opening in 6/8, continuing in 8/8 with great guitar and synth solo, and shredding guitar riffs, then returning again to the 6/8 chorus-verse. I thought Revelation Project was one of the biggest surprises of CPR Vol. 1. On the present CPR Vol 2. that may not be the case anymore, but they are surely a worthy member of the Christian progressive rock crowd.
Lastly, Ten Point Ten's Bill Hubauer closes the album with what I am inclined to regard as the bonus track, a complete proggification of Johnny Nash' classic I Can See Clearly Now. I can already hear DPRP readers groan 'Can this be true?' and especially the Dutch readers who know our local Lee Tower's cheesy cover will probably want to walk away right now (or worse). But really, this is great stuff. Hubauer and his allies in Ten Point Ten already proved to be able to make convincing prog out of a melting pot of different musical styles (see reviews of 12 25 and Eleven), also when covering absolutely non-progressive originals (like Christmas carols). Here, Hubauer does it again, this time on his own. He plays all the instruments, including violin, and arranged the song in a completely different way. Starting out with a few bars with electric piano and voice, just enough to make you wonder if you still have the right disc in your player, he leaps out of you speakers with Spock Beard-ish twists, taking turns on each instrument as he goes. By the time he gets to the second chorus, you've already lost the idea that you're singing along with a Johnny Nash tune. Needless to say, the second half of the song is an extended section taking on a distinct quality of its own, for one because of the absolutely great multi-vocal harmonies. Anyway, this is one you've got to hear for yourselves.
The producers of CPR Volume 2 intended to bring together and promote a compilation of quality music with uplifting messages. In this they have succeeded. I would say, even slightly better than they have with CPR Volume 1, as there are no real disappointments on the present instalment.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Ajalon – On The Threshold Of Eternity
Tracklist: Anthem Of The Seventh Day (4:25), The Promised Land (6:48), Sword Of Goliath (5:51), Holy Spirit Fire (6:09), Psalm 61 (4:04), What Kind Of Love (6:47), The Highway (3:55), Forever I Am (10:18), On The Threshold Of Eternity (16:02), You And Me [bonustrack] (4:35)
Excellent album by Ajalon. It’s a simple as that. Well produced, mostly good pieces of music, clear musical prowess. It’s good, ‘Americanised’ progressive rock. By way of introduction, Ajalon is Randy George, Wil Henderson, and Dan Lile, who have been around in music for a long time. Of course we know George from his session work with Neal Morse, but also for others, and he’s one of the biggest promoters of the small wave of Christian prog, for instance in his radioshow.
Ajalon got together to create the music of their own liking this time with an eye to pleasing God with their skills and talents. It does not only show in the lyrics. Releasing On The Threshold Of Eternity proved to be a long and winding road, but we see that he who persists will conquer. What also helped perhaps was a good network in progressive rock scene, especially among Christian artists. A couple of them appear of the CD.
Ajalon already released their first album as early as 1996, on a label for Christian music run by none other than Rick Wakeman. To be honest, that first album wasn’t very good, if you ask me. Reason to dread the prospect of having to review this second CD. Those gentlemen may be appreciated artists in specific contexts, but why do they have to try their hand again at their own take on prog? At least, that’s what I thought. But I was wrong. On The Threshold turns out to hold some classic stuff. Let me highlight some of it.
The opener Anthem of the Seventh Day is an excellent rocking instrumental prog song, proving Randy George is an accomplished guitarist and keyboard player on top of being an acclaimed bass player. On the concert pictures singer Henderson appears to play the bass guitar in live situations. On the album he plays the Irish whistle as well. All three members, by the way, are credited as writers for the album.
The Promised Land is a tune that begins with a mellower mood, with Henderson prominently delivering the vocal melodies, tastefully decorated by electric guitars. As a song it could have been on a Jadis album, meaning that George’s guitars pushes it forward, taking the central spot in the second half. It also shows what I called ‘Americanised prog’, namely the smooth multi-vocal harmonies during verse and chorus.
Sword of Goliath has a more dynamic edge to it, as it starts like an Arena or Landmarq song. Very energetic pace and moog intro. Illustrating the biblical story of David’s struggles with enemies, it offers both restless passages and an almost sing-along chorus. Neo-prog, if you forgive the expression.
After these fine progressive rock tracks, Ajalon insert an interlude where they go easy on the progressive ingredients. Holy Spirit Fire with its mid-tempo piano backbone and with Phil Keaggy on acoustic guitar, reminds me most of all of Bruce Hornsby and the Range. That’s not good or bad, that’s just the way it is. Some may like it for a change, other die-hard proggers may not. But why not see it for what it is, a likeable tune.
Another more or less middle of the road rock song dovetails with the one before, namely Psalm 61. Not everything’s progressive rock here, but still it’s also quality rock with a positive vibe. With the gentle vocal and delicate lyrics, Ajalon clearly want to include a vulnerable aspect in their definition of Christian progressive rock.
Not necessarily so with What Kind Of Love. This track already has already been reviewed as part of CPR Vol. 1, so I can be brief. It begins with a crazy 5/8 keyboard piece (which is to return later), and continues with a rocking guitar and keyboard segment, where Henderson voices the lyrics about the Colombine shooting. After verse and ethereal chorus the crazy segment returns, this time with a frantic synth solo by Rick Wakeman. There are one more bridge like this, and although the song as a whole becomes a great piece of prog, I do not feel every part of Wakeman’s solo’s is exactly successful. He is master of frantic synth solos of course, but I’ve heard better. George’s guitar solo at the end is at least as good.
Before we get to the two longest tracks of the disc, Ajalon warm us up with another ballad. The Highway, has a Kansas and even Moody Blues-like quality. Henderson even sounds like Hayward here. Most songs on the album clock in around 5 minutes each; the last two songs however, are 10 and 16 minutes respectively. Forever I Am begins with a serene intro with vocal and acoustic guitar only, and turns into a mid-tempo prog song, good guitar solo’s and a synth solo from Wakeman. The last track is one that words will not do enough justice, so I won’t try, but from time to time brought back that same Jadis-feeling, with it’s warm synthesizers and piercing guitars. This full-on prog epic features Neal Morse (2nd vocal).
Not on the track list but on the CD nonetheless is a bonustrack, the Moody Blues cover You And Me. Apparently, it is meant to wind up on a Moody Blues tribute CD. At least it sounds just like, well, the Moody Blues.
Adding it all up, On The Threshold Of Eternity is a satisfying, well produced prog album. The booklet, in addition, holds all the pictures, information and references needed, and even though the cover artwork is not really to my liking, the symbolism is clear. With this album, Ajalon has become one of the leading bands in the CProg movement.
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10
Revelation Project – Revelation Project
Tracklist: Revelation (4:23), Decay (5:34), Children (7:48), Falling (7:30), Liars (9:48), Marked (6:28), Martyrs (2:47), Judgment (8:20), Promise (2:17), Millennium (5:13), Eternity (5:21), Glory (5:56), Delivered (3:40), Doxology (1:24)
This self-titled album by Revelation Project is the firstling of a group of musicians from the state of New York, who came together with the desire to put music to themes from the last book of the Bible, Revelation. Revelation, as you may know, contains reports of visions the Apostle John had about the end of the world, God's judgement of mankind, the return of Jesus Christ, and the arrival of a new heaven and earth. Written in often complex symbolic and allegorical language, these visions of the apocalypse have sparked the imagination of more than one artist, ranging from medieval painter Hieronymus Bosch and twentieth century novelist J.J.R. Tolkien, to many end-time movies and tv-series. And surely, DPRP readers will know that one of the most famous progressive rock songs of all time, Genesis' Supper's Ready, has also inspired been by the book of Revelation, many lines being direct quotes from or allusions to it.
Thus, Revelation Project have a trump for a progressive concept album. It allows for a number of diverse yet connected songs, both in music and words. Being Christians, they underline the question: on whose side will you be when the end comes (most clearly in their finale Delivered)? As for the music, they have a very able composer in guitarist Graeme Swallow, whose songs are fresh and well-crafted. It his clear that his musical preferences lie in the neighbourhood of heavy metal and hard rock, given the style and sound of his nifty guitar playing, But there is no shortage of clear and catchy melody lines, while at the same time keeping many songs away from the standard 4/4 rock format. As the songs on the CD mostly have several sections, lots of keyboards, and clock in between five and ten minutes, I guess Revelation Project is adequately described as progressive metal. Yet -- rather of the powerful and melodic sort of Shadow Gallery or Narnia than of the complex and raw sort.
The album comes with a nice inlay – at least, the front cover art work and the lay-out are cool (but the band photo's... no). It includes instrumental pieces, like Decay and Glory, with a lot of tempo and groovy shifts in rhythm. Swallow is credited to play keyboards on the album as well; some of the simultaneous guitar/synthesizer solo's are so flashy they seem MIDI-synchronised. Anyway, the album features a few longer tracks, both up-tempo and slow ones, including the ballad-like tune with guitar solo's only produced in hard rock circles (Falling). Here, singer Tom Bender is quite in control of things. He has a good voice and delivers well on most songs, both in loud and quiet parts, though here and there it's not exactly robust before he hits the note. The album features spoken dialogue and narrations once or twice, which is not too interesting musically, but it serves to continue the concept of the album. It's difficult to say if there are any real highlights on the album (maybe Glory) as the overall quality is pretty consistent. And that's saying something, as this debut ends only after 75 minutes.
For a self-produced, independent debut, the album sounds OK. To be honest, its sound had to grow on me as the mix is a little flat. Of course, Revelation Project were not privileged to spend months in The Hit Factory, and possibly decided to stick to the things were able to play at that time, beefed up with a few tapes and background sounds. Still, more than one song on the album got me hooked, just because of the sweeping compositions and adequate execution. I suspect this is what Revelation Project is about on stage as well. That, and a second album, are something to look forward to.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10
Akacia – The Brass Serpent
Tracklist: Postmodernity (8:46), The Brass Serpent (36:14), Olivet (7:27), The Grace of God (5:33)
Akacia is one of the earlier sources of CProg. This new album, The Brass Serpent, is already their second CD, and their front man, Mike Tenenbaum, seems to have been one of the first posters on the CProg advancement Yahoo group. Like their first one, this album features only four tracks, one of which is almost 40 minutes long. Unthinkable in the days of vinyl albums! So yes, this must be a progressive rock album. In a sense, it's one of the albums in this summer special that offers progressive rock in the more traditional way, the way of the big proggers of the seventies. I don't think this requires further explanation. The question is, do they succeed? Yes and no. Two songs succeed and two don't.
I keep having reservations about the sound of the mix (or the mix of the sound). It seems as if there is little high and low, especially in the vocals and drums. It makes the album sound, well, old – as if it has been recorded in the seventies. Now this could have been done intentionally in order to stay true to the early gems in the genre. But I don't care much for it since many new recordings nowadays are really crisp while being equally ‘traditional' at the same time. So maybe it's just me, maybe work needs to be done.
The first song, Postmodernity, was also on the first CProg volume, and didn't do much for me then. I highly appreciate the lyrics, poking fun of the postmodern idea that there is no truth. Vocalist Eric Naylor proves to be a great singer, and Tenenbaum very competently swings back and forth between Steve Howe and Steve Hackett. So no complaints about musicianship there. As a song, it still doesn't send chills down my spine and perhaps that is also why you can't help but note where the production is lacking.
No such problem bothered me very much, however, during the second piece, the epic title track. This is truly a masterpiece that cranks up the rating of the entire disc. To begin with, I find the lyrical idea sheer genius. It tells the story of Z, someone in the people of Israel crossing the desert, in particular when the people revolted against Moses. With a plague of snakes the God of Israel send a trail to save the one who remained faithful. Moses made a brass serpent and anyone looking up to the statue would be saved from the plague (Book of Numbers). Whatever the content, the track is so rich with beautiful and dynamic melodies that it holds your attention all the way through. A few themes weave in and out of the composition. A good bit of Hammond organ, several great sounds from Tenenbaum's guitar. Musically it harks back to early Camel, early Genesis, early Yes, and early Gentle Giant. Quiet passages build up the atmosphere, and before you can say ‘familiar' (halfway through) the track erupts in a Split Enz-like interlude. Plus a good pounding end-section, like a prog tune should have. But it's not like you've heard it all before. It's quite something that this track alone makes your purchase of the CD worthwhile.
The third track, Olivet (from Jesus' last discourse on the Mount of Olives) is the other track that doesn't work for me. Although many good prog elements are there along with some skilful playing, as a whole it doesn't pull me in. It may be that Akacia chose uneasy time signatures for some parts (perhaps because the lyrics are about an uneasy discourse), making the structure and melodies difficult to pin down. Again, it may be just me, it may be done intentionally. Nonetheless, my feeling with Olivet is the same as with Postmodernity – it doesn't sound right. Interestingly, though, the former song ends with the same chorus as the latter one, creating a link of themes across the album.
The fourth and last piece, The Grace Of God, is simply a great prog ballad, in the vein of Afterglow or Hollow Afternoon. It has a catchy chorus, tasteful layers of keyboard chords, and singer Eric Naylor again does a fine job. In short, the other successful tune.
Let me close by saying that the disc comes with an 8-page booklet to which they paid some attention. Artwork by Jonathan Cumming, layout by Randy George and with credits and lyrics.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Pursuit - Quest
Tracklist: Good Fight (4:31), Automaton (6:47), Tomorrow’s Better (9:50), Quest (6:55), Restless (3:14), Answer The Call (8:37), Time (4:08), Your Power (4:19), Song Of Victory (5:54), His Kingdom (6:45)
If and when Pursuit ever produce a second album, it should be reviewed in one of the prog metal specials. For this is what these guys are about – and it is not for the faint hearted. But there is more to say about the album reviewed here and now, entitled Quest. Apparently, this American three-piece have been working hard and long to get their band off the ground, but after a lot of lost battles decided to go independent and at least let their music finally see the light of day. That is to say that much of the material on this debut already has a high degree of maturity and finesse, and I think it’s wise to showcase what they have now and see where it goes.
It took me some time to find my way through it all and distinguish the songs from one another. It is hard prog or prog metal for sure what they come up with, but with a twist. When their first song, Good Fight, kicks in, a straightforward hard rock tune a la Van Halen or even Rainbow is laid down, including the opening phrase ‘Whoohooh Yeaheah!’ The second song on offer - Automaton, however, is much more complicated and harder to listen to, as it wriggles it’s way between different rhythms and time signatures, propelled by shredding guitar riffs. Complexity comparisons to Dream Theater or Under The Sun’s rougher work are easily made, so yes, it’s progressive. As singer Andrew Zulchke sounds scarily like Damian Wilson, that plus Dan Wolfe’s solos, what comes to mind as well is Threshold and Rush.
There is one more comparison that came to mind, before I will say that these comparisons do not take away that Pursuit have their own signature sound. But what I thought of when listening to their third track song for instance, the feeling Tomorrow’s Better, is that there seems to be a firm pinch of Kraut-rock in Pursuit’s music. The piano, flute and background vocals took me back to the days of Triumvirat and Novalis (but harder) or, more recently, Everon. If you like these, you will be sure to like Quest. Anyway – that being said – I promised to say Pursuit have found their own identity among those greats.
Meanwhile, I hope this has clarified the ingredients to be expected on this disk. After multiple spins, a song like the fourth on the disc, the title track, is even accessible. A ballad-like basis (piano / vocal) between frantic bookends on Hammond organ and guitar (and synth solo) with chops that reaches almost 7 minutes. Number five on the album, Restless, is not simply up-tempo but a rock song in really high gear; yet it is much more straightforward than most other tracks. As it is not so complex, it gives one time to take note of the excellent production, both in vocal and instruments as in the mix, even though as the sounds comes across as very loud and packed.
This takes us to the two centrepieces of the album, the nine-minute Answer The Call (mmm, catchy licks) and the 15 minute, three-part epic The trilogy (some old-school prog here). In their lyrics, Pursuit are quite explicit about the way they interpret their daily experiences of loneliness, doubt, deceit, but also of hope, calling, and destiny, in the light of their Christian worldview. These epics are no exception, and they lead to a vision of this world’s redemption and renewal though Jesus Christ. The lyrics of the last song on the album, the hard rocking His Kingdom, leave little doubt. They are included in a small but tasteful inlay.
All in all, for those who have a taste for really powerful progressive rock, I recommend you check out these guys. They succeed in bringing compositions that give you something to chew on with great musicianship and a good production. I can see a good record company signing them. With an equally skilful bass player and keyboardist they are probably also a likeable live act. Pursuit rocks.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
FitzPatrick - The View From 10,000 Days
Tracklist: 10,000 Days Prelude (0:36), Days of Joy and Sorrow (4:43), The Wasteland (3:22), Living In A Picture Show (5:22), Uncover Me (4:21), God In The Midnight Hour (3:52), Burned Into Stone (4:57), Never Leave (3:20), Angelita (5:48), Echoes of the King (6:06), The Mirror (7:02), The Sleep (4:26), 10,000 Days Postscript (0:45)
Ours is more pop/rock with progressive leanings than pure progressive rock music, according to the accompanying note, but people who enjoy Collins-era Genesis, Pink Floyd and Dire Straits seem to like the album. I agree. Though I don’t know about the Pink Floyd reference, and Collins-era surely refers to the later (solo) Collins-era, not the Wind and Wuthering era. One could add Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, or Mike and the Mechanics. At any rate, their music is much lighter and accessible than many other acts discussed on these pages.
The View From 10,000 Days is a long cherished wish by brothers Mike and Shaun FitzPatrick, who have been writing and recording next to their regular jobs. Now they’ve been able to release their labour of love and that’s an achievement in itself. Let me observe first off all that the inlay is only one sheet but that is has magnificent cover art work. It’s a really stunning CG image of a house on a rock inside a bubble, floating in space past a planet. Beautiful colour and composition by a G.E. Mont. Good choice.
The prelude and postscript suggest a concept approach to the lyrics, for which we are referred to the FitzPatrick website. The tracks all have excellent soulful vocal work, in both lead voice and background vocals, with a very likeable flavour of J.J. Cale and Robert Cray. The instruments and most importantly the compositions give the songs their almost ‘poppy’ feel. Because the music is never rushed but always developed with patience, this gives the songs a feel of quality. The progressive touch is partly due to this, partly to good guitar solos and keyboard support.
I’m going to be careful with recommending it to DPRP readers. Not because it’s such a terrible album. It is not. But many readers here seem to prefer the earlier Collins-era over the later Collins-era, and for that matter, Gabriel-era Genesis over Collins-era. Thus it would be wrong to suggest that most readers are likely to embrace The View From 10,000 Days. But let it be noted that there are ‘poppy’ leanings in progressive rock or, alternatively, progressive leanings in pop that yield pleasant albums for less heavy-handed moods.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Neal Morse - Inner Circle
Tracklist: Preamble (5:30), Isaiah 60 (8:00), Mr. Potato Head (4:18), Cradle to the Grave (6:30), Green (2:48), Tell Me Annabelle (4:23), What Is Life? (4:55), I Am Nothing (4:22), Snow [demo segment] (15:34), Home is Where The Hurt Is (2:59), Everybody Needs The Money (3:59), Sing It High (8:34)
The last CD I received for review was kindly provided by Neal Morse for the sole purpose of this CProg summer special. This disc is not meant to offer new original material to the progressive rock audience, it is rather put together for those fans who would be interested in hearing different versions of existing material plus a few outtakes and demos. It reflects both his Christian work and his earlier work, if that’s a fair way to make the distinction. The disc also reflects both the progressive and his more song-oriented talent. It is made available only through a subscription service for people who care for such collected materials (that plus the latest news from the artist). Therefore, I cannot fairly compare it to regular CD releases and I will refrain from rating it. Let me just present what tracks are on the disc and comment on them briefly.
Interestingly, Morse recorded a spoken introduction to the collection, highlighting the origins and qualities of each track himself. The introduction gives an intimate atmosphere to the disc, as if we are made privy to the way the chef works in his kitchen. There are really two main groups of songs in this collection, one group from early and recent work in the studio, plus one group of songs recorded live at the GMA convention in Nashville, Tennessee, on April 12 of this year. These last songs are not grouped together on the album like this but mingled with the other pieces. It’s possible the live tracks are placed in the order they were played live, but being mixed with the other songs makes the order of the songs look completely random.
About the live tracks, GMA stands for Gospel Music Association, who organise a huge annual convention with many famous artists. This year, it fell right after Morse’s acoustic church tour in Holland and Germany. Apparently, Morse was asked to do a guitar clinic for Gibson guitars. Not that anybody at the convention seemed to know Morse; the lady who introduced the clinic introduced Phil Keaggy, who has a bigger name in the gospel scene. Anyway, with Phil Keaggy, Randy George, Salem Hill’s Carl Groves – who all happened to be in Nashville at that time (hmmm...) – and Mark Leiniger on drums, Morse played out of his own work.
Starting out with a new song, the bible book of Isaiah 60 put to music, Morse’s desire to honour God is put centre stage. Although it’s a slow, simple song, I find it somewhat hard to listen to and get into. Maybe it is the lyrics, I hear no recognisable structure (although I’m sure its there). The other musicians also seem to be hesitating how to play along with Neal. So, one we’ll have to get used to. The other track from the GMA is Cradle To The Grave, played live here as a duet with Phil Keaggy of course, and George Harrison’s What Is life?, which they covered on the One bonus disc. It turns out Keaggy knows the lyrics better than Morse does, so Neal has found another Beatles fan again to work with. Closing the GMA clinic, and also the last song on this disc, is Sing It High, from Testimony. On this song Groves, Keaggy and Morse exchange flashes on guitar that really shine. Possibly the most interesting track for the fans. Lastly, there are also pictures from the GMA gig on the back cover of the CD. Connoisseurs may recognise the Morse family and the Morse band, minus Mark Leiniger who probably took the picture.
The other songs in between include Mr. Potato Head, a demo from Spock’s Beard’s V period with the lyrics mainly in the ‘la-di-da’ stage. It underlines Morse’s abilities as a singer-songwriter, which I guess is an important basis for his progressive work. Two outtakes from the first solo album, Green and Tell Me Anabelle may as well have been on it, as they are simply in the same vein. The sound of Green is clearly inspired by the Beatles, making for a happy tune. This in contrast to the recent I Am Nothing, which is a serious, mid-tempo song with a small prog bitty in the middle, and with outspoken Christian lyrics. It is a rough mix recorded just before the Dutch/German church tour. For those who do not get the title, the lyrics run ‘I am nothing but a sinner man’ and ‘I am nothing but you Jesus are everything’.
Then the next track thrown in should please prog fans, as it is an early 15 minute demo of Snow. As a whole it has not been included in Spock’s Beard’s last double album, and there are still some ideas in it which may well turn up somewhere else after a while; meanwhile it is interesting to hear themes and tunes from the demo in another context.
The two last songs from the vaults are funny, especially the mock country-n-western song, Home is where the hurt is, written and recorded in 1996 with Neal’s ‘other’ brother, Richard. Everybody Needs The Money is an in-your-face rock song from around 1999, with a wink as well.
Not an album that you keep on playing and playing, as the quality of songs and sounds is uneven. Still, interesting for those who want to take a look behind the scenes and own everything from one of the greatest talents in progressive rock today.