Reviews in this issue:
- The Gathering - Home (Duo Review)
- Porcupine Tree - Stupid Dream
- Fish - Return To Childhood
- Jethro Tull – Aqualung Live (Duo Review)
- King Eider - Somateria Specabilis
- Mind's Eye - Walking On H20
- Waterclime – The Astral Factor
- Sonic Music - The Prisoner
- De Gladas Kapell – Spelar Nilsson
- Olyam - Orange Love
- Sideways - And There Is Light
- Lars Boutrup - Music For Keyboards
The Gathering - Home
Tracklist: Shortest Day (4:12), In Between (4:44), Alone (4:56), Waking Hour (5:38), Fatigue (1:49), A Noise Severe (6:06), Forgotten (3:25), Solace (3:51), Your Troubles Are Over (3:46), Box (4:43), The Quiet One (2:16), Home (6:58), Forgotten - Reprise (7:57)
Christopher Frick's Review
The Gathering, one of the premier Dutch bands, helped lay the foundations of the female-fronted Gothic movement which branched out to influence bands from Lacuna Coil to Nightwish to Evanescence. Singer Anneke van Giersbergen, joining the band on their third album, Mandylion, set the standard for this entire genre, and continues to impress with her beautiful voice. I sadly am not acquainted with the material between Mandylion and Home, but Anneke's first and most recent album with The Gathering have one striking thing in common: There isn't much else out there quite like them.
The Gathering formed in 1989, and after two albums and some line-up changes released Mandylion in 1995. This is when Anneke joined the band, 11 years and six albums ago. The Gathering have made quite a name for themselves since then, and understandably so. They began the movement which was brought into the mainstream's consciousness over half a decade later by bands like Lacuna Coil, but the credit of origination goes to The Gathering. The Gathering today consists of Anneke van Giersbergen on vocals, Rene Rutten on guitars, Marjolein Kooijman on bass, Hans Rutten on drums, and Frank Boeijen on keys.
Home opens with Shortest Day, a good indicator of what this album will bring. It begins with an effects-laden guitar, and is soon joined by pulsating drums and light keys, giving a sensation of watching clouds rush by on the wind of a late Spring afternoon. Anneke soon joins them, her soothing voice doubled and harmonized for much of the song. I should note that Home is a blend of electronic and gothic pseudo-rock, featuring a lot of almost ambient and certainly mood-driven passages, a significant departure from the gothic-metal approach initially adopted by the band. There are industrial touches, mostly from the keyboards, and a few drum rhythms which would qualify as metal if the guitars were cranked up about three notches, but the overall combination of elements on this album keep it from ever getting too heavy or noisy.
In Between opens with airy keys and electronic drums, before assuming a "standard" rock feel (if anything about this band can ever be called "standard"). This song is reminiscent of parts of Mandylion, as well as fellow Gothic pioneers Tiamat's Wildhoney album. The layered wordless vocal ending to this song ranks among the most soothing and captivating moments on the album, almost a full minute of Anneke's voice over a background of haunting keyboards.
Alone opens with faux-piano, is joined by electronic, almost industrial keys and guitar, and brings in electronic drums with the vocals. This song is haunting, and conjures a feeling of distance, especially in the twisted hyper-effect guitar "solos." Alone also shows one of the widest ranges of genres coming together in a single song on Home, effectively demonstrating the excellent production and sound of this album across every blend of genres, all in one five-minute package.
The opening measures of Waking Hour feature a pulsing rhythm of electronic drums (sounding something like a twenty-megaton raindrop) and something between an alarm clock and a power drill. Without Anneke, this eerie and intriguing song could pass as a New Age or electronic offering, perhaps with a few industrial touches, but for a change Anneke actually adds the darker element to this song. The end of the song, the last minute or so, changes to an almost pop feel, reminding me of Sarah Brightman singing along with Mike Oldfield's The Songs Of Distant Earth.
The bridge between Alone and A Noise Severe is a two-minute interlude called Fatigue. This is mostly electronic fiddling around on the keyboard, with Anneke singing something vague in the very distant background for about a third of the piece. A Noise Severe starts off with a jazzy feel, with clean guitars and laid-back drums, again largely held in The Gathering's realm by Anneke's voice. Accents of fuzz-drenched guitar keep the song moving, which I'm afraid it needs...this is one song that could have probably been a little shorter, there just isn't enough going on at times to create a flow.
Forgotten is a beautiful, touching, and slightly haunting song, featuring Anneke and a piano. That's it. It isn't until the last minute of the song that the vocals even have any doubling, which makes Forgotten as intimate as it is captivating. Solace, however, opens with a woman speaking in a language which I can only vouch for being something other than English (my best guess, from the little I know, is Spanish), over a steady beat on what sounds something like a muted tambourine, which is suddenly joined with a slightly irritating and/or noisy drum. This song is probably the hardest on the album to "get into," as the raw techno/tribal beat is so aggressive and steady that everything else fades to the background and is difficult to sort out.
Your Troubles Are Over features a brief a cappella moment, in doubled harmony, before a much less dominating tribal-esque beat and soft keys form the rhythm of this song. Aside from the doubled harmony, this song flows well but doesn't offer anything outstanding or new. Box is not dissimilar to Forgotten, although the piano is replaced with a clean electric guitar. A minute and a half into the song the drums enter, but they stay in the background and let Anneke hold the front. The last minute of the track is a sequence of industrial noise keys and electronic drums.
The second instrumental track on Home, The Quiet One, features an acoustic guitar and Anneke's voice, later joined by jazzy guitar and drums, giving this song a very intimate and earthy feel. The title track, Home, opens with a muted wah-pedal guitar and static hum, giving way to an alternative-rock vibe and Anneke's ethereal, detached voice. Much of this song is reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan's work. Home is enjoyable, but not outstanding, a good and well-rounded track but lacking excitement and flair.
The final cut, Forgotten Reprise, is an extended reworking of Forgotten, as its name implies. This track opens with enchanting, bell-like keys, rather than the piano of the original, which quite honestly fit Anneke's voice a bit more fully for this song. The reprise puts the emphasis on "captivating" and "haunting," but suffers from the same technique Ray Wilson used on the last track of his Change disc - namely, a four-minute fade-out which, while appropriately closing the album, is a little cliché and not exactly the most interesting trick in the music business.
Overall, this is a really REALLY good disc, full of moody Goth-ish electronic-tinged rock, sure to please fans of The Gathering's former work and fans of anything unusual, as well as those who enjoy female-fronted rock bands. Anneke's voice is one of a kind, and, as this album shows, I doubt she'll be disappointing listeners any time soon. A couple of songs, most notably Solace, didn't impress me too much, but the entire album is very interesting and full of surprises, if not jaw-droppers. There is a formula here, with enough variations to keep listeners intrigued but not so much that each song presents a completely new side of the band. The Gathering have been doing this a long time, and they are very good at it. While they have continued to evolve, they haven't forgotten where, and what, they started.
Christos Ampatzis' Review
Before getting my hands on Home, I have to say that I was a little bit scared because I read some interviews where singer Anneke Van Giersbergen mentioned that the album rocks! Yeah! So I was kind of worried this marvellous band would turn to a commercial sound in order to appeal to a new audience. Obviously not targeting the same audience as Theatre Of Tragedy or Nightwish, I was scared that The Gathering would go for a type of Evanescence audience. The first relief came with the MP3 they gave on their website of Shortest Day. Well, it was kind of more mainstream but it simply did not "rock"! Now, after many many listenings, I regret not trusting the band, but I also have to disagree with the vocalist on this issue!
To me The Gathering have been basically using a kind of pair-wise strategy when writing albums. I still see Mandylion / Nighttime Birds and How To Measure A Planet / If_Then_Else as brothers (not twins though!). Home does resemble Souvenirs, but it still is different. Less trip-hop, darker, more coherent and mature, and yes, better (Souvenirs was a great album nonetheless).
The album treats every day life, its dead-ends, modern life and finding your way through it. The lyrics are exceptionally good, probably the best Anneke ever produced, but they also reflect in the music. The catchy Shortest Day manages to capture the rush, the (hard to get into) Solace the noise, A Noise Severe the lack of purpose and meaning in our lives. But the album is not about grief, to me it actually radiates hope, reflected subtly and indirectly after many many listens, through tracks like Forgotten, Your Troubles Are Over, Box, and even the doomy title track. Home is the best example of this duel between darkness and light: a very doomy song skeleton, and yet such a sweet refrain.
In this album one can find a couple of potential small hits, mainly the bombastic Alone. Actually the three opening tracks are easier to get into than the rest of the album. A glance into the earlier days is thrown with Waking Hour, in the middle of which Anneke carries you away with an almost solo performance. The backbone of the album is the beautiful piano-ballad Forgotten, which also closes the album, making this hidden and lurking optimism a bit more evident and easier to grasp. Your Troubles Are Over is obviously the brightest track of the album, followed by (at this moment) my favourite of all: Box. Experimentation once again is very visible (and may I add very welcome!), and this band proves once again that it is not afraid to explore, always within "rational" boundaries. Guitarist Rene has completely quit solos, but his presence in the song-writing is still very dominant, and if I can trace and isolate his ideas in the songs, they are brilliant. Beautiful and inspired keys and sounds effects adorn the music. The artwork is very well taken care of and fits together with the music. Anneke seems flawless, capturing and breath-taking at moments, revealing a very broad range of influences and voice potential. This time she does not go that loud, simply because this is not the goal of this esoteric and rather introverted album. I should mention here that the purchase of the CD gives the listener the access to bonus material on the web, but a little bit disappointing, some sound clips of previous releases and footages on the making of the album.
When maturity blends in with progress, we come to this kind of results. The album grows and matures with time and for sure requires the listener to devote several hours to it, sit back, relax and let go. Personally, Home shares the prize of best Gathering album together with How To Measure A Planet. Less trippy, darker and more mature than its predecessor, sensitive and balanced but ambitious, it will definitely appeal to fans of the band that accepted the removal of the metal veneer and the putting on of a new, more independent outfit. As for new fans? This is a tricky question. Such a pity they will always be promoted next to atmospheric metal and gothic bands...Once again, well done.
CHRISTOPHER DANE FRICK : 8 out of 10
CHRISTOS AMPATZIS : 9 out of 10
Porcupine Tree - Stupid Dream
Tracklist: Even Less (7:11), Piano Lessons (4:22), Stupid Dream (0:28), Pure Narcotic (5:02), Slave Called Shiver (4:41), Don't Hate Me (8:30), This Is No Rehearsal (3:27), Baby Dream In Cellophane (3:13), Stranger By The Minute (4:30), A Smart Kid (5:21), Tinto Brass (6:18), Stop Swimming (6:53)
DVD Extras: Ambulance Chasing (6:41), Even Less [full version] (14:07), Piano Lessons [promotional video] (3:25), Photo Gallery, Lyrics
In January 1999 Porcupine Tree's Stupid Dream received an 8+ out of 10 rating by Ed Sander. At the end of the year he wrote another article on the album, this time for the 1999 entry in our Counting Out Time feature. So does the re-release of the album warrant yet another review on DPRP? Well, in fact it does!
The album has been out of print for some six years now. For some inexplicable reason the first album that featured 'the new direction of Porcupine Tree' had never been reprinted after the initial batch sold out. For this re-issue Steve Wilson set out to create the definitive version of the album. And in that he has certainly succeeded. The initial version comes in a great CD/DVD double pack. The CD features the album in a completely new remixed and re-mastered stereo mix. The DVD-audio features a high resolution 48 Khz / 24 Bit version of the stereo mix as well as a six-channel uncompressed surround mix. For those who can't play DVD-Audio, the DVD also contains a second layer which is playable on regular DVD players, with a PCM stereo and a DTS surround mix. So unlike the earlier DVD-Audio releases of In Absentia and Deadwing you now have one disc for your car or office and one for your home theatre system for the price of one single album!
The whole thing comes with excellent new artwork by Lasse Hoile (based on the original artwork) and the DVD features some nice treats in the form of 5.1 mixes of the non-album tracks Ambulance Chasing and the full version of Even Less, as well as the (remarkably good) promotional video of Piano Lessons and a nice slideshow of abstract concert photography by Frans Janssen.
The 5.1 surround mix is absolutely mouth-watering. It is so incredibly rich and full, and you can hear details which were never audible on the original album. I daresay it sounds better than the surround mixes of In Absentia and Deadwing - both of which have already won an Surround Music Award.
Listening to the re-mastered album also gives the opportunity to re-value the album. Initially Ed was somewhat disappointed by the more commercial direction the band had taken. Now, seven years and four albums later one can only conclude that the album has certainly aged well. Sure, it is more commercial sounding than Signify and The Sky Moves Sideways, and the band surpassed themselves a year later with the superior Lightbulb Sun (due for a similar release later this year), but the fact of the matter is that this is one great album, and this is its definitive version. There is absolutely no reason not to trade-in your old copy of the album - the superior audio quality and bonus tracks make it more than worth it.
The album is currently only available through the Porcupine Tree online store Burning Shed. The retail release is planned for August/September, but this version will not include the DVD.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Fish - Return To Childhood
Disc 1 [53:11]: Big Wedge (6:25), Moving Targets (7:16), Brother 52 (5:00), Goldfish And Clowns (6:49), Raingods Dancing (4:46), Wake-up Call (Make it Happen) (3:18), Innocent Party (5:07), Long Cold Day (6:6), Credo (8:04)
Disc 2 [71:28]: Pseudo Silk Kimono (2:35), Kayleigh (4:04), Lavender (2:57), Bitter Suite (8:28), Heart Of Lothian (5:26), Waterhole (Expresso Bongo) (1:58), Lords Of The Backstage (1:52), Blind Curve (13:04), Childhood's End? (4:33), White Feather (4:45), Incommunicado (5:10), Market Square Heroes (6:58), Fugazi (9:38)
In 2005 Fish celebrated the 20th anniversary of Marillion's best-selling album Misplaced Childhood with a series of concerts which featured an integral performance of the album. This album was recorded during the gig at 013, Tilburg, The Netherlands on 13 November, 2005. I was there that night, and it is always nice to have an official live album from a gig you've visited. Especially when it is an official release with a better sound quality (and performance) than most of Fish' other 'tour souvenirs' to date.
The current Fish live band consists of Fish regulars Frank Usher and Steve Vantsis on lead guitar and bass respectively and the return of Tony Turrell on keyboards, with newcomers John Tonks on drums, Andy Thrill on guitar and Deborah Ffrench on backing vocals.
When comparing this band to the band that played Misplaced Childhood at the European convention in 2002, this is a huge step forward. The version that can be found on the Fool's Company DVD and CD suffered from a serious lack of rehearsals. The band on this album plays as a very tight unit, which coupled with Fish' voice sounding the best it has in a long while, makes it one of the better Fish live albums in recent years.
The first half of the gig contained of a selection of Fish' solo work. The set contained mainly the more up-tempo, rocky songs from his repertoire, with only Goldfish and Clowns and the Raingods With Zippos finale falling in the ballad category.
The second disc contains, obviously, the integral performance of Misplaced Childhood as well as some more Marillion party classics as encores. Nice is the inclusion of Fugazi which was not played in Tilburg, but recorded in Cologne a couple of days later.
The rendition of Misplaced Childhood is fairly close to the original, despite the addition of a female backing vocalist, the fact that it is played in a lower key, and the thirteen minute version of Blind Curve. The backing vocals of Deborah Ffrench make a nice addition to Fish' and work pretty well, although she does occasionally try to upstage him. Also, I'm not quite sure about her announcement of the other members in the band, where her R&B roots shine through ("Mr John Tonks on da beat"). Speaking of band announcements, there are quite a few of them on the CD... as if to compensate for the complete lack of credits and band information on the packaging of the album.
I still have issues with Frank Usher's guitar sound. The fact that he only has one sound in his rig and a style of playing, which is so different from Steve Rothery, makes you long for the original Marillion guitarist all the time. I have no problem with musicians giving their own interpretation to songs they cover, however, when the whole rendition is very faithful to the original, and only the guitarist is playing lines which are often so different from that original, he does become very distracting. In that respect I must admit that I enjoy the first disc of this set more than the second. Largely of course, because the Marillion songs are in essence covers, and the Fish songs less so (despite none of these songs have been recorded with this line-up).
An extra note has to be made on the excellent packaging. Snapper has already proved themselves fan-worthy with the Porcupine Tree digipack re-releases, and they have continued that trend with their two Fish releases so far. Return To Childhood comes in digipack with stunning artwork by Mark Wilkinson, which is based on the original Misplaced Childhood artwork (with the same boy, 20 years later).
All in all this is a nice document of Fish' return to Misplaced Childhood, not unlike Pink Floyd's return to Dark Side Of The Moon on 1994's P.U.L.S.E. or Fish' former bandmates Marillion celebrating the, uhm, eighth anniversary of Brave with a new live CD in 2002.
A DVD version of Return To Childhood is planned for release at the end of the summer.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Jethro Tull – Aqualung Live
Tracklist: Aqualung (7:56), Crosseyed Mary (4:34), Cheap Day Return (1:43), Mother Goose (5:39), Wond'ring Aloud (2:00), Up To Me (3:35), My God (8:27), Hymn 43 (4:22), Slipstream (0:59), Locomotive Breath (5:19), Wind-Up (6:40)
Bonus Material Riffs: Another Monkey (1:27), Recording The Original (2:05), Choosing My Words With Care (1:17), Hummmmmm 43 (0:35), A Different Kettle Of Very Different Fish (1:02), But Is It Any Good? (1:42)
John Shannon's Review
I want to say at the outset of this review (because I am later going to say some uncomplimentary things) that I am a very great fan of Jethro Tull and have been for a long time now. Yours might be Genesis or Gentle Giant or Camel, but my all-time prog band is Tull, hands down. I think that the band’s output from Stand Up through Stormwatch is as good as it gets in the rock world, and in terms of sheer musicality, sense of humour, lyrical satire, and adventurousness, Tull rivals anyone. That said, Aqualung Live is somewhat of a stinker.
Let me be more precise.
This CD was recorded as part of XM Radio’s “Then Again Live” series, which attempts to re-examine classic rock albums, allowing the artist leeway to experiment during a fresh recording of a particular, canonical album. Aqualung certainly qualifies, I think. It might not be Tull’s most progressive offering (that’s probably Thick As A Brick or A Passion Play) but it’s a powerhouse album that includes at least three staples of FM radio (Aqualung, Crosseyed Mary, and Locomotive Breath) and served to introduce the global rock ‘n’ roll audience to Tull’s unique brand of English whimsy, biting social commentary, electric bombast, acoustic subtlety, as well as the raucous possibilities of the flute. All-in-all, you have to mention Aqualung in the same breath as The Yes Album, Led Zeppelin IV, Who’s Next, and even Dark Side Of The Moon when you discuss early 70s rock radio masterpieces. And I love the idea of re-recording those masterpieces, in toto, and I’d like to hear more albums redone in this fashion (i.e., played before a small radio studio audience). But still, despite my enthusiasm for the original album and XM Radio’s idea, I couldn’t warm to Aqualung Live.
Musically, it’s good enough. In some cases (Aqualung, Locomotive Breath), the band doesn’t steer too far from the original arrangement but that’s OK, as the music remains relatively fresh and the recording is very nicely done: the separation of the instruments is clear and overall the sound is sparkling. And, on some tracks (Hymn 43) a retooling of the original tune is presented, to fair effect. If the musicianship on Aqualung Live is sometimes a little too benign and safe, at other times it is surprisingly vital. Martin Barre in particular is in excellent form, and Ian Anderson’s flute work is as forceful and emotive as ever. The run from Cheap Day Return through Wond’ring Aloud is the highlight of the CD.
Now, the detraction from everything else is Ian Anderson’s vocal performance, which is lamentable. I realize that he has battled throat problems since the Crest Of A Knave album and I tip my hat to his perseverance, but he sounds terrible, at least to someone who has always enjoyed his rich, strong tenor voice. He wheezes and gasps and really doesn’t have enough air for anything in the higher ranges. The struggling is obvious in his phrasing, which often leaves him slightly behind the pace of the tune. While he does seem to revive and reveal some vocal energy on Locomotive Breath and Wind-Up, his performance on Crosseyed Mary made me cringe (and I say that with absolute regret). I should be mature enough to appreciate his limitations and withhold my judgment, I guess, but the singing really wrecked my enjoyment of the CD: I would’ve liked to have heard this attempted in, say, 1979.
The last six tracks of the CD feature Ian and Martin Barre’s discussion of the original Aqualung and also Ian’s repartee with the studio audience. It’s all charming and mildly amusing, if you’ve never heard any of the anecdotes in other interviews.
I don’t know if this CD is available commercially as a U.S. release. I did buy it in the U.S. but my version is a U.K. import. The CD’s profits admirably are donated to a charity to benefit victims of homelessness, and although I know the CD has been given out for free to fans at shows, I didn’t mind plunking down my cash for a good cause.
Ultimately, this is an interesting but not too satisfying effort. Musically, it’s much more than tolerable. If latter-day Tull vocals don’t bother you, you may really have a fondness for Aqualung Live. I mean, it’s well recorded, well produced, and I did smile to hear Martin “Lancelot” Barre rip out his solos. But if you, like me, haven’t really thoroughly enjoyed an Ian Anderson vocal performance since the Underwraps album (excluding maybe some portions of Roots To Branches, a fine Tull release), this CD won’t catch you favourably. It’s a must-buy for Tull completists but otherwise, stick with the original: that’s the treasure.
Lorraine Kay's Review
One of the most original rock bands ever, Jethro Tull just continues to sell-out concerts wherever they play. Their recent tour sold out everywhere they went, including the new Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.
In addition to selling out venues the band continues to have big sales on their CDs. Last year the band re-mastered some of its best selling CDs for release. Broadsword, which represents a Tull milestone with its foray into electronic instrumentation, now includes eight bonus tracks from the extensive recording sessions for the album. Under Wraps, by far Tull's most "electronic" album, contains the full Lap Of Luxury video which made medium-rotation on MTV. Crest Of A Knave, which moved Tull away from the electronic influences of its contemporary albums back towards heavier rock and folk, was Tull's most commercially successful 1980's album and first digitally produced this new release adds Part Of The Machine, previously only released on the 20th Anniversary box set.
But this year the band did more than re-master one of their previously recorded albums. They literally re-recorded the entire thing. But this time around they did it LIVE. And so last month the band released the Live version of “Aqualung.”
“When veteran of Rock Radio programming, Lee Abrams, contacted me regarding having Tull take part in an XM Radio series of re-recordings of classic Rock albums,” said Tull lead vocalist Ian Anderson, “my natural inclination was to politely humour the fine gent but think of a good excuse to be doing something more urgent that day – like polishing my hair.’ “But the notion of re-recording the Aqualung album began to exert its charm,” he continued, “especially since some of the songs had never been performed since the days when they were recorded back in January 1971. And, of course, the current band line-up apart from Martin and me, were babes-in-arms; or even more embryonic in the case of bassist, Jon Noyce, when the original was made. And to do this in front of a small invited audience of fans picked from the replies to our web-site invitation gave an added impetus.”
Once the band decided to actually do the project they met in Washington at the high-tech XM Radio complex.
“A quick sound check in the performance studio was effected before ushering in the audience of some 40-odd folks who were to be subjected to an hour of very familiar but close-up-in-your-face music,” remembers Anderson,” performed straight through with just two retakes – one when Martin had a technical glitch with a guitar lead in ‘Slipstream’ and another when Andrew Giddings mysteriously stumbled over the piano intro to ‘Locomotive Breath’, which he must have played more than a thousand times by then. Probably had something to do with the proximity of the audience, the strength of the XM coffee and the horrible realization that he wasn’t getting paid for the job........”
According to Anderson, drummer
“Doane Perry was bashing the bongos in a specially soundproofed drum booth but with the doors left partly open so we could hear him playing acoustically and see him, more or less, through the gap. The rest of us played through a small PA system to feed some semblance of audio balance to the assembled family gathering. Like being in your living room, really, but with the record player cranked up to 11.”
Anderson says he remixed the session in his studio without any special effects to capture the live immediacy of the gig,
“including such said patter, banter and bunkum together with interview comments as “bonus tracks” in their own right after the music programme IDs on the CD, so you won’t feel robbed entirely.”
The line-up this time around is Ian Anderson on flute, vocals, acoustic guitar; Martin Barre on electric guitar; Doane Perry on drums and percussion; Andrew Giddings on piano, organ and keyboards and Jonathan Noyce on bass guitar. Initially the CD was offered free to ticket holders during their recent concert tour and was available on a special limited edition release with all Artist and Publishing royalties going to the charities for the homeless. On Anderson’s opinion
“To put this recording on general release as a full-price, money-grabbing “new” album would hardly be appropriate.”
Track line up:
- Aqualung: This song just gets better with age. Even without a full drum kit, Doane Perry pulls this one off well, with the help of the rest of Tull the song is still edgy and still rocks.
- Crosseyed Mary: Another hit from the original album, still powerfully rock and roll, it is hard to believe it was recorded live in the small intimate studio concert.
- Cheap Day Return: This is a little acoustic ditty, just over a minute long that has seldom been heard live.
- Mother Goose: Reminiscent of the Celtic minstrel folk songs of the renaissance this acoustic tune is (in the words of Ian Anderson) “whimsical, nonsensical and slightly surrealistic.”
- Wond’ring Aloud: A ballad, WA shows off Giddings fingering on piano, along side of Anderson’s acoustic guitar licks.
- Up To Me: Strong Tullish licks combined on keys, flute and guitar dominate this lively rocker.
- My God: Dark and mysterious, this one has a hint of jazz flowing from Anderson’s flute.
- Hymn 43: This track moves quickly, but it is unmistakably Tull. The strong war drums in the background drive this whimsical Celtish one home as it resolves in a rowdy conclusion on flute and boogie piano and Barre’s rock and roll electric guitar licks.
- Slipstream: This light and brief track is less than a minute long, but has a lot to say, if you take the time to listen to the easy lyrics. Locomotive Breath: This blues influenced power track has been one of Tull's bigger hits over the years and remains so on this album. Even with the restrictions of the small live concert this one still has all the punch of the original studio version.
- Locomotive Breath: Still a Tull crowd pleaser.
- Wind-Up: This wind-up song – being the last song on the CD – starts out slow, but about halfway through they pump up the volume and the tempo to heavy rock and roll level before dropping back to a softer – more intimate volume and tempo.
- Patter: There is about eight minutes of patter by the band members with the audience about each of the songs and recording the original album.
JOHN J SHANNON 6 out of 10
LORRAINE KAY Guest
King Eider - Somateria Specabilis
Tracklist: Hatchling (1:56), Somateria Specabilis (10:37), King Of Ducks (5:08), In Detain (10:46), Hatch, Walk, Fly (2:20), The News (7:02), Artic Skies (4:36), Atlantis '69 (11:34), Exxon Valdez (2:24)
King Eider is a musical project by Hans Gerritse (the guitarist from Nice Beaver) and keyboardist/producer Derk-Evert Waalkens. The two musicians perform most of the music on the album although some additional drums are played by Dik Pomp, while the lead vocals are shared by guests Rinie Huigen and Eric Holdtman. The album has been a long time in its gestation with original recording sessions starting way back in 1997 spreading over seven years before completion in 2004.
On the Nice Beaver website it states that in his formative years Gerritse "tried to cover his favourite guitarists" and that "Camel and Genesis songs were thoroughly dissected and analysed." His studies were obviously fruitful as there is a definite Camel / Andy Latimer vibe in the electric guitar playing and some of the acoustic sections bear resemblance to early Genesis. However, that is not to imply that the album is a clone of what has gone before, more that it derives from a pool of influences that are important to the two musicians.
The album is largely instrumental, with only four of the tracks having vocals, and even then the songs have long instrumental sections. Of the five instrumental numbers, three are relatively short: Hatchling is an introductory piece, Hatch, Walk, Fly is a very nice acoustic guitar solo backed, sympathetically, by some synths and Exxon Valdez is a fine conclusion to the album with a Latimeresque solo drawing the album to a close. Of the remaining instrumentals Artic Skies is rather mellow and laid back while Somateria Specabilis (the Latin name for the King Eider duck) will no doubt be lapped up by Camel fanatics as it bears all the hall marks of that great band. Again, don't think plagiarism as it is a fine piece of individual work, the combination of guitar and organ providing the main comparison, a short mellotron section adding some characteristics of the early work of the other famous band mentioned as an influence.
Of the songs, King Of Ducks is quite a poppy number with a decent chorus, although I am not too sure that the vocals really suit the style of the rest of the album; the song certainly stands out from other numbers. In Detain features a lot of keyboards and a great rolling bass line. An incisive guitar line, echoed by a synth, spices things up resulting in one of the heavier numbers on the album. The vocals are rather weak but don't distract too much from the overall track, particularly as the second half of the song is, with the exception of an announcer, instrumental and very interesting. The News carries on the acoustic style from the preceding Hatch, Walk, Fly. The harmony vocals on this song are much more appropriate to the overall style of the album and the changes in tempo make it an interesting and varied song. Finally, Atlantis '69 starts with a gently classical acoustic guitar before the vocals start. Rather fragmented, the track does tend to stop and start and includes a variety of moods and atmospheres. The longest track on the album it also has the most extensive lyric which pulls together the theme of the album. Yes, as you might have guessed, the album is a concept. Although the tale is rather tenuous: a chap verging on alcoholism who frequently cheats on his wife takes a boat out to sea and gets into difficulty and, with approaching death, evaluates his life. Not quite sure where the duck comes in, unless it is an allegory for a long distance migration or something!
In summary, the album does contain some fine music, the guitar playing of Gerritse is of particular note. It all hangs together fairly well and is worth an hour of anyone's listening time, despite not scoring highly on the originality stakes. Still it is a suitable gap filler until the next Nice Beaver album is complete.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Mind's Eye - Walking On H20
Tracklist: Earth – The Movie (1:33), A Rabbit In The Hat (6:12), Equally Immortal (5:27), Mrs. Clair Voyance (5:55), Sahara In An Hourglass (5:32), Out Of My System (6:15), Umbrellas Under The Sun (6:00), Sacred Rules (5:04), The Nazca Lines (6:30), Flight Of The An.Unna.Ki (3:20), Heal My Karma (8:06), When I Whisper (3:59), Poseidon Says (11:02)
This latest release from the Lion Music stable will no doubt be labelled as a ‘prog metal’ record; however I’d argue that a better description would be ‘prog soft rock’ or ‘prog pomp’. With its bombastic approach, layers of lush, symphonic keyboards, multi-harmony vocals and an abundance of immediately catchy vocal hooks, its almost like taking a trip back in time where this sort of music was riding high commercially. Whilst the audience for this sort of thing has diminished drastically in recent times, those that enjoy pomp and AOR with progressive flourishes are in for a treat with this album.
Walking On H2O is this Mind’s Eye’s third album, and their first for four years. The band are led by keyboardist/ drummer Daniel Flores. Flores is responsible for the majority of the song-writing, and as a veteran session man on over fifty albums, he’s clearly applying many of the tricks learnt on his lengthy apprenticeship in the industry. Bass and guitars are handled by Johan Nieman (also of Therion), whilst vocalist Andreas Novak makes a strongly positive impression, his smooth and powerful vocals bringing the songs home in fine style.
The album opens in typically bombastic fashion with the over-the-top intro, a montage piece called Earth: The Movie, which does at least manage to give a flavour of the various lyrical concepts dealt with on the album (weighty topics such human evolution, unexplained phenomena, the spread of deadly viruses and global pollution, to name but a few). This segues into opener proper A Rabbit In The Hat, which is where the fun really starts. Hitting you straight between the eyes from the off with its soaring vocal harmonies and a catchy main riff, this is pretty much the perfect opener, crammed full of strong melodies and instantly memorable vocal hooks, and boasting a great deal of energy and drive.
There are plenty more highlights on the album, and not a little variety. Equally Immortal builds from a classic rock ballad to a rousing, anthemic AOR-style chorus, sounding not unlike Foreigner in their heyday. Mrs Clair Voyant, despite the rather bad punning title, is another rousing track, and manages to successfully mix some of the album’s heavier riffs with background keyboard and vocal harmonies that have more than a whiff of Supertramp about them. Sahara In An Hourglass is the almost obligatory ‘Middle Eastern’-tinged track, but Mind’s Eye make this work by incorporating Eastern-style rhythms and textures into the piece, rather than just have them as an unnecessary add-on. Umbrellas Under The Sun is a strident 70’s-style piece of pomp which has a strong ELO influence (especially in the vocals), and also bears a resemblance to fellow Swedish pompsters ACT. The instrumental Flight Of The An.Unna.Ki, meanwhile, allows the musicians to show off their chops, with a bucketful of solos backed by a powerful rhythm section which provides the necessary ballast.
The main criticism I have with the album is in fact an all too common occurrence these days – its simply too long. For the first fifty or so minutes the band barely put a step wrong, but my attention started to wander with Heal My Karma, which is not a bad song per se (having a nicely mellow, almost Jadis-style feel to it) but does drag on too long. The standard AOR balladry of When I Whisper is at least far more concise, but Poseidon Says really does stretch things to breaking point, and melodically it’s the weakest track on the album as well – a pity that such a strong album ends with something with a whimper rather than a bang.
Despite this however, I would still recommend this release simply because there is so much strong material contained on the album. With an immaculate production job providing the icing on the cake, I would say that those who like their rock bombastic, pompous and progressive, not to mention dripping with memorable choruses, should certainly investigate Walking On H2O.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Waterclime – The Astral Factor
Tracklist: Mountains (5:41), Floating (4:09), The Astral Factor (5:37), Diamond Moon (4:09), Painting Without Colours (5:50), Midnight Flyer (5:17), Scarytale (6:17), Timewind (6:19)
When an artist’s promotional materials tell you that he’s inspired by both Yes and Uriah Heep, you can surmise that you might be in for a weird experience. I’m a huge fan of both of those bands, however, so I was up for the challenge of Waterclime’s The Astral Factor. But even on a first listening, I realized what should have been obvious from the description – nobody can really sound, in any significant way, like both Yes and Heep. Those are touchstones and inspirations; but what Mr V has created here is unlike anything I’ve heard.
Who’s Mr V? He’s Waterclime, and Waterclime is him – with the exception of a few guest performances, this is a solo album in the strictest sense. Most fans of metal will know him as Vintersong, also the name of his best-known band – though he has many other projects (Borknagar, for one, and Fission, and the delightfully named Cosmic Death and Masticator), but the Lion Music site refers to him as Mr V in connection with this project. But this album goes in a different direction. I’m still on the fence about that direction, to be honest, even after multiple listenings. On the one side are the album’s many virtues: interesting vocals, superbly clear multi-layered production, keyboard-heavy melodic (and ambitious) songs. On the other side –
I guess my main worry is what I perceive (perhaps incorrectly) as a lack of direction. And maybe for a man with such widespread talents, a new side project exists merely to express a yet another facet of his musical interests and abilities: maybe that’s its own justification. But check out the cover of Uriah Heep’s Midnight Flyer that appears two-thirds of the way through the album and see if you agree with me: it disrupts the continuity of Mr V’s own compositions, I think, which are much more complex (and, frankly, more interesting – and that judgement comes from a huge fan of Uriah Heep). But it’s meant as an homage to a band that inspired him, and V’s not the first artist to cover another’s work, goodness knows – so maybe I’m worrying too much about that perceived intrusion of another’s work into his own vision.
His own songs I like a lot. The Yes influence is distant and buried – if it’s audible anywhere, it’s in the length and ambitiousness of many of the songs – but Heep’s legacy of gorgeous layered vocals and similarly layered keyboard parts of all kinds (oh yeah, you bet – Mellotron included!) is apparent throughout. The very best thing about this CD, though, is the almost-constant presence of chimey, well-recorded acoustic guitar in the background and, often enough, the foreground of the songs. The Heepiness provided by the keyboards and nice lurking bass is offset by the brightness of those guitars – a lovely balance.
I suppose my favourite song of the lot is the title track, which features, in addition to those elements I’ve just mentioned, soaring electric guitar leads and particularly inventive, though not showy, percussion. Another highlight is the album-ending Timewind, which begins with a surprisingly effective pairing of organ and violin (!) – if you can imagine that. All the songs are strong individually, though, even if I persist in hearing the cover of Midnight Flyer, however well intentioned, as a bit of a misstep – which is not to say that the cover isn’t a creditable one, because it is. And I’ll say again, the production on this album is superb – clear, both deep and bright, and with a spaciousness that gives each instrument its place.
I think I’ve talked (and listened) myself into a DPRP Recommended rating for this album. You know, it’s probably not for all tastes, but if all my references to Uriah Heep haven’t put you off, then V’s certainly won’t, and The Astral Factor is undeniably the work of a talented and versatile musician.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Sonic Music - The Prisoner
Tracklist: I’m Falling Down (4:29), Closer Than We’ve Ever Been Before (3:57), Please Do Not Lock The Door To Your Heart (6:50), The Prisoner (6:28), Johnny The Waffle Man (4:46), Birds (4:38), (Rodney) The Pelican From Pluto (5:00), I Know You Love Me (4:16), Sonic Symphony (5:20), Ancient Hieroglyphics (6:48), Nothing That You Said (3:45), The Unknown Lover (5:14), Chasing My Tail Again (2:32), I See Paradise (3:58)
Sonic Music is not as you would be forgiven for thinking the album's title, but in fact the alter ego of the artist responsible, Larry Benigno. He refers to this release as a band project, a modest claim considering that he is responsible for all instrumentation, vocals, song writing and production. Don’t be fooled by the "Independent" status, this is a highly polished work that combines melodic keyboard driven symphonic prog with rich vocals. This is the first release under the banner Sonic Music, although he has been a studio musician and producer for over twenty years. Touring with The Coasters, The Platters, and The Angels is not the most auspicious of CV’s, although he did find time to play in a progressive rock band called Transporter. His main claim to fame until now is with Radio Piece III, a trio featuring the unusual combination of two keyboardists and a drummer. They released their only album Tesseract and Monuments in 1992, combining a sound heavily influenced by the Canterbury style with shades of Zappa. As a solo artist, Benigno has expanded his musical horizons, even adding a commercial sensibility along the way.
Apparently, Benigno has built up a sizable collection of vintage keyboards over the years. They provide the core of this recording, lovingly put together at the studio in his hometown of Stratford, Connecticut. Along with analogue and digital keys, he adds guitar, bass and sampled drums. The result is a rich seam of music that will have even the most critical of prog fans nodding their heads in recognition and approval. His tuneful vocals are strongly reminiscent of early Phil Collins, lending an air of Trick Of The Tail era Genesis to the proceedings. The busy I’m Falling Down is an attention-grabbing opener with tricky time signatures and high speed soloing that has more than a hint of Gentle Giant. He eases of the throttle for Closer Than We’ve Ever Been Before with its smooth jazzy tones and lush harmonies that evoke Steely Dan. Please Do Not Lock The Door To Your Heart is an absolute gem of a track and my personnel favourite. Lyrical Steve Hackett like guitar is punctuated by soaring synth and a gloriously infectious chorus. Acoustic guitar and accordion sounding synth add a folk tinge, and the sweeping instrumental section put me in mind of Camel and The Enid. In fact this song would not sound out of place on the former's A Nod And A Wink album.
Following a thumping bass intro, the up-tempo title track throws in everything including the kitchen sink. The dramatic instrumentation includes strident synth work, Keith Emerson style piano flourishes, and yet more synth soling this time with a Jan Hammer like jazz-rock edge. The busy drumming harks back to Simon Phillips’ playing on Mike Oldfield’s Crises. The closing choral refrain “The River” has Yes stamped all over it. Johnny The Waffle Man is another highlight, from the beautiful acoustic guitar/vocal intro, to a sunny jazzy piano section. The ridiculously catchy chorus is accented by rich synthesized ELO style cello sounds. The mid tempo Birds is the first of two instrumentals with swirling synths and piano capturing the mood of the piece perfectly. (Rodney) The Pelican From Pluto (great title!) will have fans of 70’s synth sounds in raptures. This is wall to wall keys playing with lightning fast soloing that takes on an aggressive guitar tone at times. I Know You Love Me is the token heavy rock track with a repetitive chorus that doesn’t quite gel for me. Guest guitarist Tony Melita adds a bombastic metal solo that sits comfortably alongside Benigno’s beefy Uriah Heep style organ work.
The majestic Sonic Symphony bursts into life with grandiose Moog fanfares and agile soloing that brings Rick Wakeman instantly to mind. This soaring instrumental would feel very much at home on the soundtrack of the latest Hollywood sci-fi epic. Ancient Hieroglyphics contains just a smattering of vocals allowing the keyboards to do the talking. With washes of symphonic sounds and synth noodling in abundance this is another keyboard lovers dream. In contrast Nothing That You Said has a strong radio friendly chorus recalling the sophisticated rock sound of Toto. Piano takes a front seat in the dynamic The Unknown Lover, which plays out with a scorching synth solo that fades all too soon. The words to the bright and almost poppy Chasing My Tail Again relate Benigno’s frustration with recording technology. Ironic, considering that on the evidence of this album he is a complete master of it. Surprisingly, the concluding I See Paradise is instrumentally simpler than much of what’s gone before. This is a melodic chorus driven song built around a relaxed Chicago style vocal. It still finds time however for soaring Hackett style guitar, a blaze of synths and a ripple of piano to close.
There seems to be a number of multi talented prog musicians active at the moment and Larry Benigno can certainly be counted amongst them. If I had to find fault then it would be that the final couple of tracks are in a shorter commercial vein, lacking the sheer instrumental depth of the earlier songs. With nearly 70 minutes of music spread over 14 tracks however I’m being hypercritical. Many artists attempt to capture the essence of 70’s prog but never come this close. Benigo has a total affinity for the style, which he combines with a technical ability to deliver the goods. He doesn’t take himself too seriously either. The lyrics are refreshingly direct, often revealing a wry sense of humour. I should also give a name check to one P.J. Karaffa, co-writer of (Rodney) The Pelican From Pluto and Ancient Hieroglyphics.
This is an album that would rival the output of many a major band and label. You can even sing along if you feel so inclined! An excellent release that comes unreservedly recommended. Incidentally, it is affectionately dedicated to the memory of Robert Moog who passed away in August 2005.
Conclusion: 8+ out of 10
De Gladas Kapell – Spelar Nilsson
Tracklist: Havanna Boogie (6:27), Kelt Visan (6:55), Samballad (4:31), De Gladas Kapell (7:21), Morgonlat (7:14), Rio Déjà Vu (5:31), Losnasor At Konstaplarna (6:27), Nyspolat (6:39)
Hmm! This one caught me a little off guard. The only thing I knew (or thought I knew) about this disc before playing it was that it was a Swedish recording from 1978, and Lion Music proclaimed it to be “one of the true landmarks of Swedish progressive rock”. Well, as far as I knew, Lion Music mainly specialise in contemporary guitar-based rock with releases from Lars Eric Mattsson, Tony MacAlpine, Alex Masi and Michael Harris amongst others, so a progressive rock classic would be something of a departure for them.
When I actually came to listen to the CD, I was surprised to find that it was, in fact, not progressive rock at all, but jazz fusion! At this point, I did some belated research on the internet and found out that the musicians involved are: Coste Apetra – guitars; Stefan Nilsson – keyboards; Peter Sundell – drums and Georg Wadenius – bass.
Now, you may or may not be familiar with these names, but Coste Apetra was in Samla Mammas Manna (the Swedish R.I.O. legends), Ramlösa Kvällar, and has also played alongside Jim Pembroke and Jukka Tolonen (both from Finnish proggers Wigwam). Georg Wadenius has a C.V. as long as your arm, having worked with many well known names, in a mostly mainstream vein, including Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, Blood Sweat & Tears, Donald Fagen, Backstreet Boys and many, many others.
This should give you some idea as to the level of musicianship at work here, which is, accordingly, very high indeed. Recorded in just one day in 1978, I would say this was something of a fun project for the musicians, with the bulk of the material (mostly by Stefan Nilsson) being bright, upbeat fusion - suffused with a warm, summery glow and executed with a light, breezy nonchalance which makes for an easily enjoyable and uplifting listen.
Nilsson’s work on piano and synths, reminds me very much of Patrick Moraz in fusion mode, indeed, if you subtract the Brazilian percussion and the vocals from Moraz’s first two solo albums, you may well have a handle on this disc. The bands which come to mind for me are Secret Oyster, Soft Machine and Arti & Mestieri
Havanna Boogie is a brisk opener, far better than its title suggests, and sets the scene for much of what follows. Built on a solid bass riff, with cheerful synths laying down a nice melody, it leads up to an incisive solo from Apetra, straddling the line between rock and jazz with expert precision. Kelt Visan and Samballad are a little more laid back and relaxed, with the former again recalling Patrick Moraz and the latter playfully mangling a Samba. Rio Déjà Vu is a great example of the frothy, fun, fusion, with a hint of funk, which is at the heart of this project.
Really, I enjoyed the CD from first note to last, it wasn’t what I was expecting, but it is very much to my liking.
Now, I realise that this may well not appeal to a very wide audience (indeed I’ve seen some savage reviews - mainly on Metal based sites, admittedly), but if you are up for some tuneful, entertaining, zesty but undemanding fusion, particularly if you like Moraz’s work in this area, or are fans of the afore-mentioned bands, I’d heartily recommend you give this a try. I was very pleasantly surprised, and am sure this will be a regular visitor to my player.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Olyam - Orange Love
Tracklist: Parvati 2004 [Move the Feeling Mix] (7:08), Distant Culture [Space Experience Mix] (6:14), Here & Elsewhere [Ambient Mix] (6:36), Taxi N.Y.C. [Down in My Soul Mix] (5:47), Strolling [Sayidi Groove Mix] (5:56), Cirque Volant [Palma de Majorque Mix] (5:39), Manhattan With You [Urban Smooth Mix] (6:18), Jahkool [Connection Mix] (5:49), Orange Love [Nagchampa Mix] (6:25), Quantic Spiritual Renovation [Prism Mix] (15:50)
In the United States (and probably abroad for all I know) there is a syndicated radio show called Hearts Of Space that finds airplay on public radio. In my home state of Maine, the show is broadcast on Saturday nights (actually, since the airtime is midnight, it’s the cusp of Sunday morning) and I will usually catch it once or twice a month, as I’m drifting off to sleep. I mention the show because its format, which is basically New Age/World Music with interesting nods to ambience, sound effect, electronica, and ethnic instrumentation, could certainly include Olyam’s music.
I believe that Olyam is the name of the band and the nickname of the band’s composer, arranger, guitarist, and keyboardist. (Perhaps his true name is Olivier Brigand, if I’m reading the Musea press release correctly.) The band also includes Jean Buchet on bass and Cyril Billiard on trumpet. Additionally, Olyam and Jean Buchet serve as the engineers for the recording. Orange Love was released in 2006 by Musea and seems to be the band’s third release, after Cristal Reveur and Orpheus, The Initiate.
The music is a mostly restrained but also mostly engaging mixture of Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Asiatic textures; electronic back beats (a la Portishead or Morcheeba); prog-rock audio decoration (a la Pink Floyd and Tangerine Dream); and some sterling guitar work. This is absolutely a soundtrack for a “chill-out music journey” (as the insert aptly states) but the “chill-out” takes the form of hypnotic enticement rather than stoner oblivion.
There isn’t a massive amount of variation on the CD, in terms of pace and movement: I believe the appropriate description here would be “all of a piece.” The songs tend similarly to throb with a calm, heartbeat pulse and it is instead the accents to that pulse that are ultimately ear grabbing.
Parvati 2004 (Move the Feeling Mix) is a lovely, contemplative track that features faux sitar and some nice percussion blends. Olyam’s guitar work is smooth, clean, and expressive: he reminds me of a less biting Mark Knopfler, employing melodic note selection and good use of space between those notes. The track features some pretty non-English vocal chanting (I apologize for my ignorance of the language: it sounds Arabic or East African, but I’m only guessing) to provide some exotic tang.
Strolling (Sayidi Groove Mix) is a pretty tune featuring some elegant flamenco guitar and a Spanish or South American groove. It evokes well the sensation of a late afternoon walk in some secluded village or town, just as the sun begins to dip and brush the sky with scarlet and mauve, convincing you that a cold, crisp lager in a whispery tavern will work nicely now. (This song reminded me strongly of Robbie Robertson’s self-titled release from the ‘80s.)
Manhattan With You (Urban Smooth Mix) was my favourite track. The syncopated guitar line over the smooth chords and the brisk percussion is confident but controlled, swinging without any excess. (At this point in the proceedings, you understand that Olyam’s mastery of guitar tones is significant: he dabbles in numerous contours and shades and never sounds hackneyed or gauche.) The trumpet section is fairly straightforward but classy and intelligent.
In short, this is a pleasant offering. It’s not progressive rock, by a long shot, but it’s progressive music in its synthesis of New Age, World Music, pop, electronica, and ambient motifs. I don’t think Orange Love will awe anyone. If you prefer the harder, more intense end of the prog-rock spectrum, Olyam’s music won’t work well for you. But it’s one of those CDs that is simply enjoyable to hear every now and again, especially as proof that gentleness in music isn’t always emasculation.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Sideways - And There Is Light
Tracklist: Fear (9:21), End Of The Line (6:56), Back To The Wild (14:03), Light (7:20)
It's a well-known fact (at least to me) that the Scandinavian air contains some still undetermined and unanalysed substances that enhance the quality and quantity of the progressive music production. But there's also something going on in the Netherlands; I'm pretty sure that it can't be linked to the air quality there since it's pretty polluted, so I think it must be the water! Just recently extensive tests have proven that the Dutch water is one of the purest in the world; yes the Dutch and water have an intense history that goes way back. So there you have it I think, the explanation for that vast number of Dutch bands that provide the world, or at least that small (more wiser) part of it that's interested in it, with loads of fine symphonic rock music.
And here's another fine example: Sideways, a fairly new band from Gouda (you know, from the cheese), Gorinchem, Woerden en Beesd (a flicker of Dutch topography). They exist in their current formation since June 2003 and this year they released their first album ...And There Is Light. On this album you can hear Jurriaan Visser fondling the keys, Gerwin Gabry picking the guitar strings, Alex Visser vibrating his vocal chords, Corné Gietman tremble the thicker metal cords and Berry Hoogeveen banging on tight skins and bended metal plates. Who would have expected that these guys would end up making this mellow symphonic album considering the fact that Alex, Jurriaan and Berry before have played in a trash/death-metal band for several years?!
It seems clear this band is mainly formed for the fun of making music since it took about three years to produce this album that only contains 4 tracks clocking still less then 40 minutes. So that's directly one of the points of criticism: why no more music? But don't worry, there are also plenty positive remarks to make about this album so let's focus on the music that is actually on it:
Fear starts in a slow atmospheric way, a style we'll hear more often on this album. But soon this song develops a more firm sound and it provides each of the musicians with their own prominent moment which is quite a good accomplishment since in its entirety it's a coherent song. The whole song continues in a slow pace, the band clearly choose for this more mellow kind of sympho rock; you won't find any truly speedy and bombastic segments on the album, but it's all well crafted. It's a varied song, the vocals sound a bit like as if Alex is holding himself back, which could be explained by the fact that singing symphonic rock is a whole different ball game than singing trash/death metal (assuming he was also the singer of that former band). When you listen closely you'll notice a few little flaws in the playing, but nothing disturbing. After some hearings this song will get stuck in your head, as it has a good melody and is a very pleasant straightforward song.
End Of The Line is a more powerful song, mostly due to the guitar and vocals; Alex can stretch his voice a bit more and Gerwin can throw out some nice licks. The keyboards mainly join the bass and drums laying down a thick basic carpet for the guitar and vocal to perform on. This is a song that surely will do very well live and although it has some unexpected and unnatural forced style and sound changes that don't always work right, it's still a good and driven song, to my opinion the best of the album.
Jurriaan opens the next song Back To The Wild and when Alex joins in it very much resembles the old Marillion style. That soon ends when the rest join in and the song leaves in a whole different direction. It's another varied song with both mellow, more keyboards based, and more guitar/vocal based heavier rocky parts. But it lacks a true vision to lift it into something majestic, it does try to create a great atmosphere and even a climax, but the vocals don't quite reach it nor is there any real bombast unleashed. Despite its length it never becomes really boring and it even does have its moments of excellence, but they're just incidents and are not consistent. The song ends leaving you with the feeling there could have been more inside even though it's a very enjoyable song.
Light is a very vocal based song, the instruments play mainly just a supporting role (which is something I usually don't prefer) and swings back and forth from longer mellow parts and short heavier parts. This song sticks a bit out from the rest since it's not that much varied and the vocals are a bit monotone - so it gets also a bit tedious, thus making it the weakest song on the album. On the other hand the short country-like guitar near the end comes as a real and pleasant surprise after which the electric guitar takes over and produces a nice screaming solo. The second voice that echoes some words of the first voice sounds rather poor and out of place; these should either have been omitted or improved!
All in all it's a nice album, a good debut, but not overwhelming, mind staggering or surprising. Sideways deserves a compliment for their varied compositions, sometimes these perhaps sound a bit forced as if a well thought-over balance between mellow and heavier parts is sought, but the final result doesn't suffer from that. ...And There Is Light actually delivers not much we have not already heard before in some way, as if certain elements from several other bands have been gathered and moulded into something new, but they're certainly not a copy of another band and the album does feature some original moments and sounds. The music lacks some true passion that makes legendary prog music I think, but this album holds the promise it could develop in that direction in the future.
Choosing for the more mellow kind of sympho rock I would have expected a bit more contributions from the keys department to thicken it all a bit. The vocals are a bit flat, not so melodious and therefore not so exciting and also not so original, but they do fit well with the music and obviously did Alex try hard to adapt his voice to symphonic rock, but there are still some improvements to be made.
This is an album you can safely buy and listen to if you're interested in basic melodious symphonic rock without fancy and freaky dissipations; I personally nevertheless hope to be more surprised and impressed by their next album!
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Lars Boutrup - Music For Keyboards
Tracklist: The Perfect Stranger (2:15), Agent Orange (6:04), The Day After (5:33), Alla Gypsy (3:10), Flying In The Sky (2:43), Emersong (6:53), Northern Lights (4:40), While The City Sleeps (5:42), Rockall (8:54)
There seemed to be a period early last year (2005) when almost every release I reviewed fell under the broad umbrella of Ambient or Electronica based music. Since then these particular releases have been absent form my CD player, until now that is, and with the arrival of Lars Boutrup's Music For Keyboards. The album title tells us much about the music with Lars Boutrop undertaking all manner of keyboard duties. His only allie is Fredrik Sunesen who supplies drums and assorted percussion.
Prior to this release the name of Lars Boutrup had totally eluded me, but reading through his biography it would appear that he has been writing and performing since the latter part of the 70s, and recording and releasing music from the late 80s onward - initially with Simcess, then a solitary album with Rasmus Lyberth in 1992, later followed by a string of releases during the 90s with Sing Sing. EPs and albums with Big Bang and Masquerade take us from the 90s into the 00s and finally to this release from 2005. His site also reveals a vast array of compositions written presumably as "screen music" and are listed in his Movie house tour section.
What is evident from an early stage is that Lars Boutrup is a keyboard player in his own right and that Music For Keyboards is not just the product of a imaginative mind, a PC and some clever music software. The compositions show not only a clear musical ability, but also an number of influences garnered from the classical, progressive, new age, and electronic spheres. It is also evident that Lars has listened to many keyboard players in his time. So along with those perhaps more obvious pointers of Vangelis and J M Jarre certainly Emerson and Moraz are noticeable. Add Tangerine Dream to the melting pot and perhaps a clearer picture might start to emerge.
The album had an immediate "ear prick" with the slowly rising chords of The Perfect Stranger - is this some sort of electronic version of Tarkus? These thoughts were soon dismissed. Agent Orange is a bouncy early Jarre-like track, the constant bass drum beat is accented by various percussion parts, adding movement to Boutrup's string washes and multitude of synthy bass and lead lines. Infectious! Same applies to Northern Lights and to a certain degree to the closing piece, although maybe not quite as successfully.
What was perhaps not immediately apparent with Music For Keyboards was the strength of the writing, and that may have been more attributed to a certain degree of dismissiveness on my behalf, which I apologise for. The minimalist approach of While The City Sleeps was initially a "skip bye" track, however a more in depth analysis of the piece revealed some clever and interesting arranging going on underneath the piano.
The Day After, Flying In The Sky and Emersong (might be a little clue in there) are sprawling efforts, drifting effortlessly across the speakers, whereas Alla Gypsy is a jaunty tune with a very gypsy-like Eastern European melody.
Music For Keyboards was a grower for me. I can't say that at first I was greatly enamoured by the music, but as I have returned to it over the last few weeks, for the purposes of reviewing it for DPRP, I have certainly warmed to much of the material.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10