Reviews in this issue:
- A Tribute To Pink Floyd – Return To The Dark Side Of The Moon
- Parhelia - First Light [EP]
- Neil Campbell & Nicole Collarbone - Fall
- Rare Blend - Stops Along The Way
- Round House – 3-D
- Matze Wurm - Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction [EP]
- Francis Courchinoux - The Five Seasons
A Tribute To Pink Floyd –
Return To The Dark Side Of The Moon
Tracklist: Speak To Me / Breathe (5:41), On The Run (3:15), Time (6:57), The Great Gig In The Sky (4:38), Money (6:22), Us And Them (7:32), Any Colour You Like (4:11), Brain Damage (3:50), Eclipse (2:04), Where We Belong (3:56)
In recent years there has been a rash of tribute albums so it’s no surprise that possibly the best selling prog album of all time should eventually come under the spotlight. It’s also no surprise that the person responsible for this undertaking should be Billy Sherwood. Along with fellow American Robert Berry, Sherwood has become something of a specialist in such ventures. One half of Conspiracy and a former member of Yes, the multi-talented Sherwood was behind the Back Against The Wall Floyd tribute from last year. Once again he has recruited a small army of renowned musicians to add weight to the project. This includes one of the largest gatherings of Yes men since the bands Union album. The one obvious omission is his fellow conspirator Chris Squire.
This album has a great deal to live up to of course. When Pink Floyd released Dark Side Of The Moon in 1973 their production skills were second to none. They recorded over an eight-month period at the legendary Abbey Road Studios in London with Alan Parsons and Chris Thomas at the mixing desk. The best female session singers of the day provided the backing, together with saxophonist Dick Parry a consummate professional who still works with David Gilmour to this day. Roger Waters was responsible for the lions share of the writing, including all the lyrics. The albums concept is a bleak and pessimistic one with subjects that include madness, phobia, monetary greed and war. Thirty-three years on and time has not blunted the impact of Waters’ prophetic words.
In reviewing this album it was difficult to avoid comparisons with the original performances, in particular David Gilmour’s. By his own admission the Floyd guitarists writing contributions to DSOTM were less than usual. However he more than made up for this when it came to the recording. His trademark style is the very heart and soul of the album. His performance is a yardstick upon which Sherwood’s collaborators can be measured, many of whom are Floyd’s contemporaries. I decided the best way to undertake the review was a track-by-track analysis with references to the original as appropriate. This involved revisiting Floyd’s work in its entirety, something I haven’t done for several years.
Speak To Me / Breathe
Following the familiar heartbeat introduction, noted British actor Malcolm McDowell provides all the spoken parts. Clearly relishing his role he delivers a variety of outrageous accents sounding more like comedian Rowan Atkinson than the star of ‘Clockwork Orange’. Breathe is almost two minutes longer than the original, which was titled Breathe In The Air on its initial release. It also includes several of the albums best performances. In particular Jeff “Skunk” Baxter’s guitar playing is outstanding, with his sublime pedal steel work being for my money the albums highlight. Adrian Belew’s compelling vocal is spot on, and Alan White provides the relaxed but crisp drumming. John Giblin’s normally impressive bass sounds strangely low key however.
On The Run
This piece originally came about as a result of Floyd’s experimentation with the VCS3 synthesizer. The chose of Peter Gabriel’s synth man Larry Fast is an inspired one, although I miss the cross channel panning of the original. Still, this track was always a good way of showing off your hi-fi system and still is. Alan White provides the percussive looped ‘skipping’ sound that is identical to the original.
On the original, Nick Mason’s roto tom intro was over shadowed by Gilmour’s loud chords, but here Alan White is given full reign borrowing heavily from the ‘gated’ drum sound pioneered on Peter Gabriel’s third solo album. Guitarist and vocalist Gary Green (ex Gentle Giant) is no stranger to Floyd tributes having contributed extensively to Back Against The Wall. His incisive playing here has plenty of bite, and his vocals are given that extra depth by excellent backing from Sherwood and C.C. White.
The Great Gig In The Sky
This track undoubtedly belongs to Rick Wakeman whose lyrical piano work dominates. Unsurprisingly his interpretation is more ostentatious than Rick Wright’s but losses points for using what sounds to these ears like a digital piano rather than the genuine article. C.C. White works hard to inject emotion into the wordless vocals but cannot match the mesmerizing performance of Clare Torry that was such a highlight of the original. Steve Howe adds delicate slide guitar, but his performance is noticeably muted in comparison to Wakeman’s.
Tommy Shaw (ex Styx), another veteran of Back Against The Wall, impresses here with his interpretation of Floyd’s famous song. Gary Green returns to add a weighty guitar sound which falls short of Gilmour’s tour de force performance. Green gives this version a heavier feel aided by a rock solid rhythm courtesy of Bill Bruford and Tony Levin. Uncharacteristically the Crimson duo play it straight and simple, leaving sax man Edgar Winter to steal the limelight. His playing is exemplary throughout, either solo or when trading licks with Green at the close.
Us And Them
This song, which remains my favourite, elevated both Floyd and prog in terms of writing and recording sophistication. I was therefore grateful that this version remained faithful, right down to the echo effect on John Wetton’s stylish vocals. More classy sax playing this time from Scotty Page including an excellent solo that replaces the piano in the “short, sharp, shock” section. Jimmy Haslip contributes the moody bass and Dweezil Zappa adds an unexpected burst of crunching guitar that replaces the sax part before the final verse.
Any Colour You Like
Floyd’s atmospheric instrumental allows Toto’s keys man Steve Porcaro and blues guitarist Robben Ford to show their worth with lengthy solos from both men. Porcaro’s synth work is cool, but Ford’s heavy, sprawling approach is far removed from the precision of Gilmour’s playing. The prominent bass of Tony Franklin and inventive drumming of Aynsley Dunbar fair better in my view.
Colin Moulding’s (XTC) sensitive vocal and Robby Krieger’s (ex Doors) delicate sitar take the lead with the end almost in site. There is economical but solid drum support from Vinnie Colaiuta (ex Frank Zappa), and Del Palmer shows off some flashy bass runs. Strong vocal support from Sherwood and brother Michael in a version that comes as close to the original as is humanly possible. Only Geoff Downes’ organ sound, which hovers too low in the mix for the most part, disappoints.
Blending seamlessly with the previous track, Billy Sherwood takes over lead vocals as we head towards the finale. Colaiuta picks up the pace with assured drum fills but Peter Bank’s guitar, which otherwise sounds superb, is almost lost in the mix. Tony Kaye’s Hammond almost suffers the same fate but shines through in the coda. The vocals sound suitably rich, but lack the layered intensity and emotional impact of the original. The final spoken message “There’s no dark side of the moon really, as a matter of fact it’s all dark” was easily missed in Floyd’s version, but McDowell delivers it loud and clear.
Where We Belong
Possibly because DSOTM’s running time falls short of modern expectations, Sherwood has added one of his own compositions to close. This is a good song with a memorable hook, but its optimistic tone is far removed from Floyd’s bleak vision. Excellent vocals and instrumentation from Sherwood lift this mid tempo song above the ordinary. Strong support with nimble sitar playing from Krieger and warm Hammond swells from Kaye to conclude on a positive note.
Wisely in my view Sherwood has not attempted to reinvent Floyd’s work, and it’s only the individual styles of the various soloists that breaks new ground. Using so many prominent musicians could have posed logistical problems, particularly when it came to maintaining the continuity present in Floyd’s work. Sherwood remains the anchorman throughout contributing vocals, guitar, keys and bass to ensure the overall sound doesn’t stray far from the original. It has to be said that he’s pulled it off in some style. In addition there are some very impressive individual performances including Baxter, White, Wakeman and Winter amongst them. And one track at least (Breathe) improves on the original in my view.
On reflection, if DSOTM is in your list of top ten greats this version is unlikely to replace it. Nonetheless, it should still appeal to admirers of the original and in particular to those that are approaching the work for the first time. Judged on its own merits this is an impressive effort by anyone’s standards. Before closing it’s worth mentioning the album artwork. It incorporates the ‘eye in the pyramid’ symbol from the American dollar bill that has long been the subject of US conspiracy theorists. Its relevance here I can only guess at.
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
Parhelia - First Light
Tracklist: First Light (2:32), A Second Changes Everything (5:36), Cloudbreak (4:58), Ebb/Flow (3:31), Waves Turn (5:19)
Parhelia (I quote Wikipedia) is the plural of the scientific name "parhelion" which is a relatively common atmospheric optical phenomenon associated with the reflection/refraction of sunlight by the numerous small ice crystals that make up cirrus or cirrostratus clouds. Also called a sundog.
Also, Parhelia is a quartet from Ireland that plays instrumental music, somewhere between post, atmospheric and prog rock. The music is mainly constructed with solid guitars, bass and drums, but there are some samples and keyboards here and there to enrich the atmosphere. As pointers I would mainly use Mogwai (latest period minus the "noise"), Porcupine Tree and...here comes the surprise: Eloy! Well, I might be exaggerating but tracks A Second Changes Everything and Waves Turn really bring to mind those haunted melodies of the Ocean era of the German prog band. I'm quite hesitant to say that this is done on purpose but some tunes really sound inspired by Poseidon's Creation, only performed and arranged 30 years later. Checking out a live video performance available from their website, I actually got the impression that these guys regard themselves more prog metal than post rockers. Whatever they actually are, the result is fantastic.
My personal favourite of the album is Cloudbreak. Really impressive music, ranging from soft melancholic guitars in the way of Mogwai more to that of Anathema, to catchy riffs in the middle reminiscent of Porcupine Tree's approach to "rock". Ebb/Flow is a definitely prog track in my eyes, the start is almost bringing Fates Warning to mind, but evolves marvellously in a more post rock tune to end up in a PT-like slide guitar riff. The production is really really good and all instrumentalists seem to know perfectly what they are doing and what they want to achieve. What is also worth noticing is that none of the tracks lasts a second more than it should, no babbling, no useless and meaningless stretching of the tracks. Emotion gives way to passion, switches from technique to atmosphere and it all fits together perfectly proving this quartet from Ireland more mature than one would expect from a debut.
This is a release that will be among my favourites for this year. It's a real pity it is an EP and I really hope it will evolve into a full album. Highly recommended especially for an audience that glances into the post-Indie rock market. Destined to melt in the CD-player during hot summer nights...
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Neil Campbell & Nicole Collarbone - Fall
Tracklist: Terra Incognita (9:16), Aria (3:39), The Line (4:10), Locked In The Architecture (3:43), Night Sketch 5 [Cello Version] (2:25), Night Sketch 9 [Cello Version] (1:49), Saed (2:07), Night Sketch 8: Ode To A Penguin [Cello Version] (2:45), November Song [Acoustic Version] (3:32), Delay Tactics [Cello Version] (6:56), Methods Of Escape [Cello Version] (4:32)
One of the more pleasant releases from last year was the delightful 3 O'Clock Sky from The Neil Campbell Collective, an album which still frequently finds its way into my CD player. So I was more than pleased when this latest offering from Neil Campbell turned up on my doorstep early last month.
Not necessarily one for repeating a winning formula, Fall sees Neil teaming up with cellist Nicole Collarbone, (who appeared on 3 O'Clock Sky), however here they perform as a duet for this beautiful collection of classical guitar and cello pieces. The two instruments complementing each other wonderfully throughout. Now as one might expect with this instrumentation the album is somewhat mellow and peaceful, but do not be fooled into believing that the music is not challenging - the nine minutes that make up Terra Incognita soon dispel this notion. Light, shade, power and emotion are all crammed into this mini epic. Campbell's ever shifting guitar techniques are fully exploited with Collarbone punctuating and adding not only dynamic, but also the rather melancholic melody. Splendid stuff!
The album is predominately instrumental, with only two vocal tracks. The first Locked In The Architecture would have sat nicely on 3 O'Clock Sky, whereas the second is one of several pieces from Neil's previous releases, undergoing a slightly different format. November Song, taken from 3 O'Clock Sky is given a warming acoustic feel and is as welcome here as it was on the previous album. Three pieces from Night Sketches, which I have to admit to not having any prior knowledge are given the cello treatment. Delay Tactics (from Through The Looking Glass) I gather is the same version, but with Nicole's cello adding warmth, colour and a delicate melody mid way in the piece. The tranquil Methods Of Escape (also from ...Looking Glass) is simply divine and a fitting close to the album. "a perfect take"... I'm sure it is too.
A quick mention also of the cover artwork which so befits the album... the reverse has classical guitars arranged in similarly fashion.
Once again another delightful album from Neil Campbell... and Nicole Collarbone of course. I have to say that I have really warmed to Neil Campbell and have yet to hear anything from him that falls short of the mark. I believe there is to be a new "Collective" album later this year, which I look forward to hearing.
I hope the above review has piqued your curiosity, if so then follow the Samples link above to the Fall album and have a listen to Aria. After which you can follow the Record Label link and purchase the album :0)
Conclusion: 7+ out of 10
Rare Blend - Stops Along The Way
Tracklist: Illegal Aliens (4:57), Wuhan Incident (5:23), Mystic Jam (5:41), Cole Train (6:07), Feast of The Warrior Kings (5:30), Splat! (4:29), Miles To Go (5:03), Intermission (3:09), Off To Arizona (4:53), Grand Central Station (2:55), Dinner At Koko's (4:36), Destiny's Eyes (4:11), Heading Home (3:13)
You walk into a motel bar near the airport. A really cool band is playing. The guitarist & bassist are pretty hot. The keyboard player is a girl, who also sings pretty good once in a while. They all look like they are having a great time, the vibe is friendly, light and relaxed. They have a great connection with the crowd on the dance floor who all seem to be really digging the jazzy/funky/rock fusion. You think to yourself, "I'm gonna come back & see this group again! - (as long as I don't have to pay more than I did just now). I wonder if they have released a CD?"
Who has never seen a band like that in a lounge? A band that has a local following, plays better than average original music between the obligatory covers, and doesn't pretend to be any more than that?
That is how Rare Blend sounds to this reviewer. And if you have already experienced following a local small-venue fusion band and bought their CD, there is frankly not much new for you here. However Rare Blend has a better track record than that in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, where they have released three CDs over the years. Here is another one reviewed by DPRP. They also deserve praise for their cool logo, their wonderful balance with song writing and performing (it is very even within the unit), and for appearing to be blissfully content with what they do. For those progressive rock fans in Europe who have always wondered what good lounge bands from the USA sound like, this is a much better example than some "we got lost in space trying too hard to be prog" bands like The Muffins.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10
Round House – 3-D
Tracklist: 3-D (5:21), Romantic Rally (8:42), Super Warp (6:20), INORI (7:52), Amber Rain (5:09), Tears Of Sphinx (6:28), SUISYAGOYA NO ASA (9:08), Carnival Night (3:29), JINZO_NINGEN.2005 (4:06)
3-D is the fourth CD from Japan’s Round House. Their first three CD’s were reviewed by Nigel here. I haven’t heard the first two CD’s, but I have the live one, and I pretty much agree with Nigel on that one. Unfortunately, I can’t report significant improvement this time out. Although still purveying a slick mix of instrumental prog and jazz fusion, Roundhouse is treading water with this release.
Since 2001, the group has lost its second guitarist and its drummer, and the keyboard player has changed from Yoshinori Kataoka to Soura Ishikawa. Although the twin guitar interplay is somewhat missed, the new keyboard player is a fine replacement, and the biggest difference is the drums, which are now all programmed by group leader and guitarist Masayuki Kato. This is a big minus for me, and only serves to accentuate the band’s tendencies towards Muzaky mediocrity. What could have been soaring themes are rendered dull and lifeless by mechanical beats. There are some good moments of course with Kato peppering most compositions with some great soloing, but most of the tunes are too long and too often slip into over-relaxed melodies which would make decent TV themes, but lack the dynamism of truly memorable music.
The disc is always pleasant to listen to, but I found it far too easy to let my attention slip away. Another weak point is that four of these nine tracks are re-workings from earlier CDs. In fact Jinzo-Ningen and Romantic Rally are on their third time out. Jinzo-Ningen is perhaps the best thing here, managing to generate some genuine excitement, but perhaps it’s time they came up with a few more new tunes. I can understand it where a band releases studio-crafted demos with drum machines and then reworks them with a full band sound, but this retrograde step is frankly bizarre.
There are plenty of great bands from Japan, (see our recent Japanese Special for a few examples) with quite a few ploughing the same furrow as Round House, so I’m afraid they’re going to have to do better than this to compete with the likes of Kenso and Ain Soph. I’d recommend either of those two bands over Round House any day, and if you still want to try them, then the live album would make a much better intro than this one, which is far from being essential..
Conclusion: 5 out of 10
Matze Wurm - Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction
Tracklist: Indulging My Passion (3:37), The Dream Between Pleasure & Pain (3:39), Lost (3:05), Crossbreeding Snails (3:07), On My Knees (3:02), The Mysterious Meeting Of Mr. Hoss & Mr Sing (2:41)
AVAILABLE: Electric Guitarist, 28. Specializing in all modern styles suited to progressive rock/metal. Proficient in sweep picking, power chording, syncopation, complementary lead lines, and soloing. Also well versed in acoustic guitar chording, wah-wah usage, guitar-sitar sounds, multi-tracking, song writing, and audio production.
EDUCATION/EXPERIENCE: Educated at Munich Guitar Institute and L.A. Music Academy. Member of Jezebel's Tower. Opened for Blind Guardian and Iron Maiden.
ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Endorsement contracts with 6 companies. Familiar with creative marketing methods, for example attaching monogrammed picks with CDs. Recently released solo mini-CD, Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction.
RESULTS: Joined Alias Eye. Signed to ProgRock Records.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Francis Courchinoux - The Five Seasons
Tracklist: The War (5:49), Farewell (8:12), Lilya (7:05), The Valleys Of Ipacura (9:24), The Five Seasons (6:47), Southern Tree Surgeons (6:34), And Again (7:37), Vendeurs De Mort (5:12), Life (6:19)
I have had this release, by Frenchman Francis Courchinoux, playing in my CD player for far too long, without ever putting "qwerty to screen". Courchinoux, now resident in Ireland, has written, performed, recorded and produced this, his first full length album, entitled The Five Seasons. An ambitious affair consisting of nine contrasting tracks clocking in between the five minute and nine minute mark and with an interesting mix of progressive metal arrangements, with much emphasis placed on obvious guitar skills, and almost classically inspired Flamenco guitar mini-suites.
Although predominately instrumental the album does contain some lengthy vocal sections - generally softly sung in a dreamy, almost whispered fashion. Not one of the stronger points of the disc, although they do make a pleasant change from the more guttural performances one might expect. The music has been carefully thought-out and as a whole the album ebbs and flows quite nicely. As mentioned above the combination of metal and Flamenco styles nicely contrast with each other and the inclusion of some atmospheric keyboards helps to lift certain passages, as do the keyboard/percussive sounds that are employed. This said I'm still not convinced it works and most likely is the main factor in the length of time this review has taken to fruition.
The programmed drums are an obvious drawback. The Five Seasons would have benefited greatly from a full band experience, and hopefully Francis will be able to find musicians of his calibre to undertake the project. I feel sure had Francis been able to find these people this would be the case. The drumming is befitting the tracks, but lacks any great sparkle and therefore tends to make the overall experience a little flat. I note however from Francis' website that in the "live" section a drummer is featured. The other major drawback is that the music appears to be predominately an avenue for Francis' guitar playing and the tracks lack any real cohesion. Again I got the overall impression that too much effort had gone into making this an epic album, rather than just concentrating on writing a good album.
What isn't lacking on this album is Courchinoux's guitar playing. I was enamoured by the mixture of the more obvious electric playing styles - the legato Satriani stylings and the Maiden-like twin lead flurries. But it was the abundant use of the Flamenco guitar that added greatly to the music. Not employed, as with many such albums, as just a filler instrument, but great sections of the The Five Seasons are carried by the Flamenco guitar.
Concluding, and reading back through this review, the tone of my remarks are somewhat downbeat, which is a shame, but that is how this album has left me - even after numerous listenings. Sadly, like many self produced efforts by one person, the album does lose its way, and although I'm a fairly avid fan of guitar-based albums, they tend to need that something extra to sustain my interest levels. As it stands this is commendable effort and certainly worth investigating. I can only wish Francis Courchinoux every success with this release and future ventures - as mentioned above this is an extremely ambitious album with much planning gone into the concept and writing. Sadly it just falls short of the mark.
Ultimately I feel this is going to be one that primarily appeals to the guitarists among our DPRP readership.
Conclusion: 5.5 out of 10