Reviews in this issue:
- Pure Reason Revolution - The Dark Third (Duo Review)
- Tool - 10,000 Days
- The Mars Volta - Amputechture
- The Alan Parsons Project - The Dutch Collection
- Mike Oldfield - The Platinum Collection
- Marillion - The Jingle Book
- Mangrove - Coming Back To Live
- Jakko M Jaksyzk - The Bruised Romantic Glee Club
- Hypnos 69 - The Eclectic Measure
- William Gray - Living Fossils
- Mindflow - Mind Over Body
- Scarlet Thread - Valheista Kaunein
- Soft Machine - Grides
- Red Sparowes - Every Red Heart Shines Toward The Red Sun
- Eidolon - The Parallel Otherworld
- Wetton ~ Downes - Icon II
- Alex Masi - Late Night At Desert Rimrock
- Anathema - A Moment In Time [DVD]
- Annie Haslam – ‘Live’ Studio Concert [DVD]
- Tea Leaf Green - Rock 'N' Roll Band [DVD]
Pure Reason Revolution - The Dark Third
Tracklist: Aeropause (5:44), Goshen’s Remains (5:23), Apprentice Of The universe (3:59), The Bright Ambassadors Of Morning (11:50), The Exact Colour (4:03), Voices In Winter/In The Realms Of The Divine (6:33), Bullitts Dominae (5:20), The Twyncyn/Trembling Willows (7:16), He Tried To Show Them Magic!/Ambassadors Return (5:20)
There’s no doubt about it in my mind, young British quintet Pure Reason Revolution have appeared like a breath of fresh air on the progressive scene over the last year or so. Boasting a unique sound that draws on influences as diverse as Pink Floyd, The Beach Boys, Porcupine Tree and Hawkwind, the band’s richly atmospheric and powerful music has managed the rare trick of bridging the gap between the hardcore prog underground and the more fashion-conscious indie-rock market; perhaps even more rarely, the band (and their management) appear happy to appeal to both; in the UK for instance, over the past year they performed at both the corporate, mainstream V-Festival and the rather more down-to-earth Summer’s End Prog Fest.
Having been mightily impressed by Pure Reason Revolution’s debut EP Cautionary Tales For The Brave and thoroughly won over by their live performances, I was expecting good things from their debut full length, and thankfully The Dark Third does not disappoint. I could simply end the review here and say that, if you are a fan of atmospheric, progressive rock (with the emphasis on the latter word), thoughtfully arranged and beautifully executed, you need to get hold of this album (if you haven’t already), but in case there are still some doubters out there, perhaps a rather more detailed review is called for.
For connoisseurs of Cautionary Tales…, the ghostly choral voices which open the album will be familiar. Aeropause then kicks things off properly in fine style, an atmospheric instrumental that effectively introduces the PRR sound – a soaring, twanging lead guitar strikes out over a suitably dreamy, psychedelic backdrop, with a propulsive rhythm section, jangling guitar base and a piano sound that could have come straight off Dark Side Of The Moon. Straight away the band impress with well-executed changes of pace, and they show their ability to rock out when necessary in the latter stages, when the pace becomes more urgent, the bass grooves funkily and cascades of heavy guitar riffs are dropped into the mix.
Goshen’s Remains sees vocals introduced to the mix; female singer Chloe Alper’s dreamy voice is initially showcased, before band leader Jon Courtney joins in, and we get our first taste of the band’s now semi-legendary exquisite vocal harmonies. The song itself builds slowly from a relatively loose-limbed verse section before the chorus erupts in an almost discordant wall of guitar noise which contrasts well with the smooth five-part vocal harmonies. The song breaks intriguingly for James Dobson to take centre stage with some solo violin work, before some layered a cappella vocals lead to a fantastic, multi-layered finale. The vocal harmonies are undoubtedly the highlight of this piece.
Some no-doubt-intentionally dated robo-computer keyboard sounds lead into the dreamy, spacey Apprentice Of The Universe, which features an up-beat yet whimsical chorus. There’s definitely some ‘borrowing’ of the lyrical themes from Astronime Domine on this one! Harder edged guitar work comes to the fore later on as the band create their now familiar sonic maelstrom, whilst the vocal harmonies fall almost effortlessly in place.
I waxed lyrical about the qualities of the next track, The Bright Ambassadors Of Morning, in my review of Cautionary Tales… so won’t repeat myself here – suffice to say the song fits like a glove in the context of the album, and certainly hasn’t lost any of its lustre a year or so since first hearing it. Following on from this epic, The Exact Colour gives the listener a breather, with piano to the fore and a melancholy, almost pastoral feel to the arrangement. The introduction of the full band and heavier guitar in the latter part actually feels rather forced and mechanical here, and is a rare misjudgement – the song would probably work better in a sparser context (as it was when performed by the band in an ‘unplugged’ show I saw them play). That said, there’s a pleasing, Brain Damage-esque vibe to the guitar work near the end, and the way the layered vocals build in intensity is impressively done as always.
Voices In Winter features some fine slide guitar and excellent call-and-response style vocals which meet in the nicely understated chorus; there’s almost a Mostly Autumn feel to the track (although calling it Voices In Autumn wouldn’t have quite the same ring to it!). This time when the song is beefed up it works far better. The voices mass to almost choral effect before breaking, and a mournful violin leads us into the fast paced, high energy guitar-led In The Realm Of The Divine – it shares a similar harmonic structure to its companion piece, but is speeded up and energised times three!
Bullitts Dominae cleverly calms things down again; almost waltz-like in its construction, the harpsichord-like keys help give the song something of a hypnotic feel. The drum machine employed during the verse seems rather out of place but thankfully disappears pretty quickly. The smooth, rich harmonies of the chorus rise majestically over a whirl of guitars and orchestration. The arrangement of the latter helps give the song a slight Electric Light Orchestra feel, although it’s fair to say the Jeff Lynne and co never had the intensity of this lot!
On an album positively overflowing with potential highpoints, for me it’s the next track that just about grabs the top honours. The Twyncyn initially features a darker, slightly rougher and unmistakeably eerie sound that matches well with the lyrics that speak of ‘the dark night’ and hiding from the eye of the storm. Alper’s vocals here have shades of Kate Bush and Tori Amos in their vulnerability and range, and contrast nicely with Courtney’s more menacing delivery. The mood is temporarily lifted with some warm, uplifting Gilmour-esque lead work and mellower vocals, before an absolute killer of a juddering guitar riff kicks in to drive Trembling Willows home, backed by some almost Dream Theater-like keyboard work and topped with superb rapid-fire vocals. Again this contrasts nicely with a rich, swirling chorus. The song appears to end with a ‘chill out’ section but this is only a brief respite before all sorts of chaotic energy and discordance erupt as the band drag the listener along for another bout of sonic ear pounding!
As with the E.P., the album ends with He Tried To Show Them Magic! / Ambassadors Return, which with its mellower feel, provides the perfect comedown from The Twyncyn/ Trembling Willows, yet still has enough dramatic impetus and fine harmonies to work as a song in its own right.
Just to add to the praise I’ve already heaped on the album, the production is top notch – when the band are rocking out the sound is thick and powerful yet at all times the various instrumental nuances can be clearly heard, and the atmospheric, spacey, psychedelic feel so integral to the band’s music is maintained throughout. The artwork is also suitably evocative and completely in keeping with the style of the music.
If I had to sound a note of caution it would be that the band will probably need to significantly diversify their sound on their next effort in order to keep things fresh and interesting; however that’s for the future – for now I would simply recommend this album to anyone who has an interest in progressive rock, and is as keen to discover exciting new talent as they are to wallow in nostalgia. In my opinion, this is easily one of the best releases of 2006.
(As an aside, the above review relates to the UK version of the album. The US version differs in that The Exact Colour and The Twyncyn/ Trembling Willows are replaced by Nimos And Tambos and Arrival/The Intention Craft (the latter also appears on the Cautionary Tales e.p.). In addition, Inside Out have recently signed the band for the European market and will re-release the album in February 2007 with a bonus disc)
Rarely does one come across a new band that leaves such a big impression as Pure Reason Revolution. My initial curiosity for this band was sparked by a postcard inserted into a recent issue of Carbon Nation, the Porcupine Tree magazine. Soon I started to notice how the name of the band frequently popped up in the DPRP forum and that Tom had written a highly favourable review on their debut EP. High time to check them out. After first sampling a couple of MP3s and picking myself up off the floor after being blown away, I found myself buying both the EP and the full length album The Dark Third online.
And indeed The Dark Third turned out to be a highly recommendable album of a band that blends different styles into a new and recognisable identity. I won't go into all of the individual tracks since Tom already did a splendid job describing them. I would however like to make a couple of critical remarks because I wouldn't go as far as rating the album with a 9,5 out of 10. As a matter of fact, even though I think it's one of the best debut albums in recent years I would only rate it slightly above the DPRP Recommended rating of 8 out of 10. And I've got my reasons for that ...
As Tom mentioned, one of the trademarks of PRR is the usage of vocal harmonies. This might seem like retrospective innovation and the references to The Beach Boys are omnipresent in reviews of the band's work. I would however like to point out that more and more prog rock bands have frequently used vocal harmonies in their music the last 10 years. Porcupine Tree and Spock's Beard to name just two. I do admit that PRR have taken this to another level and the combination of male and female vocals gives it a nice different flavour. There's a couple of downsides as well. First of all it's become such a trademark of the band that they are starting to overuse it, which can easily result in 'harmony fatigue' (it surely does with me by the end of the album). Also, the combination of the focus on the vocal melodies, vocal styles and harmonies sometimes make it very hard to make out what the band is actually singing.
What's more, the album feels slightly unbalanced. Most of the powerful material and lyrical heavy songs can be found in the second half of the album. The album would definitely have been even more enjoyable if there had been both more instrumental and ambient material like the wonderful Aeropause in the second half of the CD. In it's current form I find it a rather exhausting album to listen to in one go; it's a bit too 'massive'. The tendency of the band to end every song with a heavy climax, combined with the vocal harmonies is simply too much. I remember how Roger Waters once said in an interview that the most frequent advice he gave to starting bands was to 'leave some space' in the music and not to try to do too much in to short a time. That advice definitely would apply to PRR as well.
Another slight disappointment of this full length debut album is that it features only two out of four tracks of the Cautionary Tales EP. And as Tom mentioned there's also the different US and UK editions, not to mention the existence of two more tracks on the CD Single of The Intention Craft. All in all there's already a wide range of releases covering different material, being a pain in the behind for completists. Let's hope that the mentioned Inside Out release will capture all of these semi-rarities on the bonus disc.
In order not to leave a negative impression I would like to stress that there is an awful lot to enjoy on this album. The songs are packed with tempo and style changes and there are subtle references to recurring melodies and themes across the album. The musicianship is stunning and the crossovers between some of the songs are brilliant. One thing's for sure: PRR are without a doubt the best newcomer of 2006 (if we ignore the release of their 2005 EP).
Tool - 10,000 Days
Tracklist: Vicarious (7:06), Jambi (7:28), Wings for Marie, Pt. 1 (6:11), 10,000 Days (Wings, Pt. 2) (11:13), The Pot (6:21), Lipan Conjuring (1:11), Lost Keys (Blame Hofmann) (3:46), Rosetta Stoned (11:11), Intension (7:21), Right in Two (8:55), Viginti Tres (5:02)
Tool's last album seems to have divided fans and critics. Some call it excellent, others mature, others too mature, others uninspired, others long and tiring, other pseudo intellectual, others too...progressive and not Tool enough. I will basically keep the first and last comments. It's a great album, especially for a prog audience. Incorporating elements of A Perfect Circle in the songs (a band who shares the same lead singer with Tool), following the way paved in 2001's Lateralus and further diverging from the standard Tool song writing of the 90's, 10,000 Days is arguably by far the band's best offering. And I want to argue why you should close your ears to the sirens saying they produced a disappointment. As a hint, the community reading this review is more open to tracks exceeding 5 or 6 minutes. And this album, a couple of transitory tracks excluded, only offers lengthy tracks. It is true, some ideas could be shortened, but the band seems to need extra time to develop them, and I can live with that.
First of all, let me get things straight... I am not a big fan of the band, and only Lateralus and 10,000 Days appealed to me. Moreover, the band live does not really convince me. Simply, vocalist Maynard James Keenan's cowboy hats and first world war gas mask doesn't fit with the band going technical. Nevertheless, in this album things fit properly and there is more, much more than hype and image. Most important, the song writing is more concentrated, very emotional at times, very technical at other moments. Overall though, I think nobody can deny this simple observation: these guys are extremely talented musicians, with a lot of imagination.
But let's have a look at the tracks in detail. The album opens with one of the highlights and most digestible tracks, Vicarious. Technical, strong, great drumming by Danny Carey, sharp lyrics talking about media and violence and how the human soul feeds from that. Jambi seems to start where Vicarious ends, with a nice transition, and has to offer more moods and experimental appetite, still though staying rather heavy and progressive. Things start to get more complicated and obscure with Wings For Marie, which serves as an introduction to the 11 minute sentimental opus, 10,000 Days. Keenan shows a more human face, writing and singing about his deceased mother. This track is rather slow and dark-mooded in the beginning, and evolves in a very interesting mid-tempo tune towards the middle, that brings to mind some of the dark moments of Porcupine Tree and Anathema. Tool of the past would definitely explode violently at the end of this track. Here, they don't and develop this frustrating gem where speed and anger are controlled. The track ends brilliantly with low spoken vocals and haunting guitar by Adam Jones duelling with a great bass work by Justin Chancellor.
Cleverly the band here introduces a less experimental track. Still, The Pot is one of those tracks that only Keenan can sing like that. Its starting line is simply breath-taking and will stick to your head: "Who are you to wave your finger?" What I love again is that the rhythm-section stays rather slow and plain leaving a vast space for Keenan to yield a great performance. Simply superb track. Very heavy ending in the way of 2001's Schism, ominous for a change. And indeed, then starts another big trip: Lipan Conjuring, with ritual chants, introducing Lost Keys, in turns introducing another 11 minute track, Rosetta Stoned. Its tough to talk about this track, with controversial lyrics treading territories like conspiracy theories OR maybe a bad drug trip. It's up to the listener to take this stuff seriously, namely aliens abducting some guy, who eventually "Shits the bed". Either way, the latter line -love it or hate it- is something you will remember. The singing is at times aggressive, at times just super-fast distorted spoken text, at times more melodic and narrative. I'm not utterly convinced by the purpose of this track, but it certainly adds to the band's alternative, obscure and mystical image. Maybe it's tiring and provokingly meaningless for some, but still I think it's an interesting...experience. Acoustically complements the aesthetical effect of the CD package and Maya-inspired artwork. Could be left out, but it's here, so...why not?
Intension is the track that received the worst critics. People called it dull, not interesting, better if it had been omitted etc. Still, to me it is one of the most creative and emotional pieces of music out there in 2006. Think of Radiohead mixing with Porcupine Tree, in something sounding like A Perfect Circle. Simply haunting. Right in Two is a bit more catchy but still has a rather ambient and mesmerising element. The lyrics get again a bit more meaningful: "Monkey killing monkey killing monkey over pieces of the ground". This track is just a great ambient progressive metal track, featuring great guitar work and percussion, breaking out after the middle releasing the building tension. Sounds like Dead Soul Tribe, only I doubt Devon Graves can (nowadays) produce something as convincing. Viginti Tres is indeed a bit purposeless, and closes the album in a very non-user friendly manner, since the band decides to offer a track without music, just noise and ambience. Even if it is not adding anything, I don't think it spoils the overall result.
I'm happy because this review is written several months after the release of the album. After a lot of hours listening to it, under different conditions, my opinion is now clearer and less biased than it would have been had I reviewed it when it came out. I have to admit that the shock is not as great as when I heard Lateralus. At that time, I was really surprised that Tool could sound like Rush. However, after repeated spins, even if I find 10,000 Days still close to its predecessor, I think it is more mature, subtle, diverse and complete. While when listening to Lateralus I would skip a fair amount of non-interesting tracks, here I sit down and listen to the whole product - beginning to end, able to overlook the "nonsense" that might appear here and there. If you appreciated Lateralus and the band's prog direction, go get your hands on this progressive art metal gem. If for you Tool was more interesting during the 90's, this is not for you. Ah, another plus: in most places it comes at a very competitive price!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
The Mars Volta - Amputechture
Tracklist: Vicarious Atonement (7:22) Tetragrammaton (16:44) Vermicide (4:18) Meccamputechture (11:05) Asilos Magdalena (6:36) Viscera Eyes (9:25) Day Of The Baphomets (11:59) El Ciervo Vulnerado (9:00)
The Mars Volta were a breath of fresh air to the Prog Rock Scene in 2003 with their debut Deloused In The Comatorium which moved on from their At The Drive In hardcore/Emo roots, presenting a blend of Heavy Rock, Jazz, Latin and more for an undoubtedly Progresssive opus .
2005’s follow-up Frances The Mute was, astonishingly, even more full-on and frenetic, managing to polarise the views of our two reviewers, with them giving it a 9 and a 2 respectively (read it Here). I have to say that I was very much with Tom on this one; I found Frances to be a powerful and challenging work which gave Prog a much needed kick up the pants in a positive and empowering way, and if anything, Amputechture is an improvement.
Maybe not a major advance from the previous album, but a refining of the style and overall approach, making for a more accessible, though still startling and challenging thrill ride of an album. Perhaps comparable in relation to Frances in the same way King Crimson’s Poseidon was to …Crimson King, Amputechture is a re-treading of pathways explored on the preceding disc, but it is not an inferior work, merely lacking the “shock of the new” that Frances had. Where it does score is in the ditching of some of the most extreme elements, particularly the long ambient doodling which was a turn off to some listeners of the previous CD. This is not to say that TMV have retreated into safe commercialism. There is still plenty of radical invention and frenzied noisemaking, which could induce a rush in the most staid of individuals. It’s just that they have learnt to control their impulses a little this time around.
Vicarious Atonement kicks off the disc with weird, spacey noises and a bluesy guitar line which gradually leads to a passage where the vocal melody is effectively mirrored by the guitar. The vocals recall Robert Plant at his most shiver-inducing. The track is brutally shouldered aside by the ballsy, thundering riff of Tetragrammaton. This 16 minute mega-track alternates quiet passages with furious head charges, offering a master-class in that Progressive staple of build up and release of musical tension. The track ebbs away into electronic burbling, only to explode into life once more with feverishly convoluted guitar riffs and angsty, urgent vocals as the tabloid press might say, Phew! What a scorcher! Saxophone adds colour to one of the later, more relaxed sections of the piece, so it’s not all In Yer Face bluster by any means.
Vermicide is the shortest track on the album, and though reining in the group’s wilder excesses, generates considerable power through its commanding chorus. This, relatively conventional track serves as a buffer before the weirdness of Meccamputechture, which flirts with Free jazz cacophony, amongst other things.
Asilos Magdalena is mainly acoustic guitar and Spanish vocals but piles on weird noises towards the end, subverting the song in disquieting fashion.
This is a long CD, and its intensity can be overpowering in one sitting but be sure not to neglect the closing trio of songs as they are the Volta at their best. Viscera Eyes splices Funky Jazz Rock with Heavy Riffs, manically propulsive drums and percussion and shrieking vocal delivery. It’s potent stuff – like a punk-informed and energised revisiting of the chaos- riding, eager experimentation of early King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator (a comparison which is helped along by some suitably tortured Saxophone). Day Of The Baphomets is an unholy stew of all that has gone before, throwing caution to the wind, and riding the edge of the storm, it is exhilarating stuff.
The closing track is a moody, brooding beast, with sax and synth squiggles, helping to cool the fire of the preceding track before abruptly ending.
Frances The Mute was in my top ten of 2005 and Amputechture will be high in my ten for this year. Nothing I’ve heard since has come close to the jaw-dropping intensity of this work. I appreciate that TMV will remain a “love ‘em or hate ‘em “band, but you owe it to yourself to at least give it a try, you may just be blown away!
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
The Alan Parsons Project - The Dutch Collection
Disc 1 [77:43]: The Raven (4:08), The Tell-Tale Heart (4:38), The Cask Of Amontillado (4:27), To One In Paradise (4:40), I Robot (5:16), I Wouldn't Want To Be Like You (3:23), Some Other Time (4:06), Don't Let It Show (4:20), Day After Day (The Show Must Go On) (3:43), What Goes Up (3:30), The Eagle Will Rise Again (4:22), Can't Take It With You (5:06), In The Lap Of The Gods (5:29), Shadow Of A Lonely Man (5:34), Lucifer (4:19), Damned If I Do (4:52), If I Could Change Your Mind (5:50)
Disc 2 [70:24]: Games People Play (4:22), Time (5:06), The Gold Bug (4:35), The Turn Of A Friendly Card (16:26) [The Turn Of A Friendly Card part 1 (2:45), Snake Eyes (3:15), The Ace Of Swords (2:57), Nothing Left To Lose (4:07), The Turn Of A Friendly Card part 2 (3:22)], Sirius (1:52), Eye In The Sky (4:38), Silence And I (7:20), Psychobabble (4:53), Mammagamma (3:35), Old And Wise (4:55), Pipeline (3:58), Ammonia Avenue (6:33), No Answers Only Questions (2:11)
Disc 3 [72:22]: Don't Answer Me (4:12), Prime Time (5:04), Let's Talk About Me (4:28), Separate Lives [alternative mix] (4:18), Days Are Numbers (The Traveller) (4:27), Sooner Or Later (4:26), Hawkeye (3:48), Stereotomy (6:49), Limelight (4:40), Where's The Walrus? (7:25), La Sagrada Familia (7:29), Closer To Heaven (5:54), Standing On Higher Ground (5:43), Paseo De Gracia (3:39)
Would the world need another Alan Parsons compilation? In short the answer is a solid "no". After all, there are already about 48 'official' compilation albums in existence (according to the Alan Parsons Discography). So what is the deal with this lamely titled Dutch Collection then?
Well, first of all, there is nothing Dutch about this collection. It is called The Dutch Collection because it contains Dutch sleeve notes, but it is exactly the same collection as the Italian compilation Days Are Numbers which was released a few months back, and word is that a UK compilation will be released in January with a similar tracklist.
The album is released as a teaser for the upcoming re-mastered and expanded APP back catalogue, which will be released between March and June of 2007. So all tracks on this compilation have already been re-mastered, and have a pristine sound quality. Also, with the recent merge of Mercury/Phonogram with Sony BMG this is the first ever (official) Alan Parsons compilation which includes tracks of the debut album Tales From Mystery And Imagination.
In chronological order you get about 50 to 75 percent of each Alan Parsons Project album. The tracks were chosen with the input from the various Alan Parsons fan clubs, so all the fan favourites are there, like The Raven, Silence And I, Ammonia Avenue, La Sagrada Familia and the whole 16-minute Turn Of A Friendly Card suite. However, as with all compilations, as much time will be devoted by discussing what actually *isn't* on it. All fan-favourites are included. All Alan Parsons instrumentals are included, apart from one obvious omission: the 18-minute The Fall Of The House Of Usher, and one downright incomprehensible one: Genesis Ch. 1 V. 32, in my opinion the best Parsons instrumental ever made. Looking at the total playing times of Discs 2 and 3, there certainly would have been room for three more minutes of music. In fact, another 13 minutes of disc space is left unused. And when you know such a fact you start looking at whatever tracks are missing more closely.
While I am not overly fond of tracks like Pyromania, and I don't mind it not making this compilation, the omission of any up-tempo tracks from Eve and Pyramid makes the second half of the first disc awfully slow to the risk of becoming boring. Furthermore, looking at the third disc way too much disc space is dedicated to the inferior Vulture Culture album, with 5 of the 8 tracks included, but omitting one of the best tracks of the album The Same Old Sun (which would have been a far better choice than Sooner or Later).
However, the real omission is the ignoring of the final album Woolfson and Parsons made together: the musical-like Freudiana. And looking at the respectable output of Alan Parsons after his break with Woolfson, a fourth disc with tracks of the post-Woolfson era really wouldn't have been too much to ask, would it?
Although it has to be said that there already a few (not so good) compilations which incorporate these songs, and the title of this compilation reads "The Alan Parsons Project" so it is only logical that only tracks from the 10 albums that were released under that name are included.
In terms of new and previously unreleased material there isn't much to offer for the die-hard fans. A 'new' track from the Ammonia Avenue sessions, No Answers Only Questions and a new remix of Separate Lives. Neither of these are overly interesting. For the rest all rarities will be reserved as bonus tracks on the re-masters of the albums.
I have always had a soft spot for the music of the Alan Parsons Project. This is the music that got me into prog in the first place. However, I must admit that I hardly listen to the APP CD's I have these days. Revisiting his music after such a long time has made me realise that after the whole prog revival in the nineties and the influence of prog-metal on the scene, the music of the Alan Parsons Project does sound somewhat dated and awfully tame and righteous with that. It is a bit like the Disney equivalent of prog; the most adventurous and exciting music is mainly limited to the first half of the first disc. For a casual fan like me, who doesn't necessarily need to have the entire catalogue on CD, this compilation is a perfect alternative though. It contains almost everything worth owning, and makes for a good 3.5 hours listening pleasure at a reasonable price. Though hardcore fans willing to invest more money in their Alan Parsons collection would do well passing on this compilation and waiting for the remaster re-releases later this year.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Mike Oldfield - The Platinum Collection
Disc 1 [64:05]: Tubular Bells - Opening Theme (4:18), Tubular Bells - Excerpt (8:00), Sailor's Hornpipe (1:36), Hergest Ridge - Excerpt (9:32), Ommadawn - Excerpt (3:41), Ommadawn - Excerpt (6:58), In Dulci Jubilo (2:51), Don Alfonso (4:22), Portsmouth (2:03), William Tell Overture (3:55), Cuckoo Song (3:14), Incantations part 4 - Excerpt (4:40), Platinum part 4 (4:46), Woodhenge (4:09)
Disc 2 [73:16]: Moonlight Shadow [extended version] (5:18), Blue Peter (2:08), Guilty [long version] (6:45), Arrival (2:47), Wonderful Land (3:40), Sheba (3:34), Five Miles Out (4:19), Family Man (3:47), Mistake (2:56), Shadow On The Wall [extended version] (5:09), Foreign Affair (3:56), In High Places (3:31), Crime Of Passion (3:39), Tricks Of The Light (3:55), To France [extended version] (5:35), Etude (4:39), Evacuation (7:38)
Disc 3 [73:01]: Sentinel (3:58), Pictures In The Dark (5:59), Shine [extended version] (5:12), Islands [12" mix] (5:36), Flying Start [12" version] (4:52), The Time Has Come [12" version] (4:26), Innocent [12" mix] (5:33), Earth Moving [club version] (4:01), Amarok - Excerpt (6:18), Heaven's Open [12" version] (4:28), Hibernaculum (3:37), Women of Ireland (6:30), Far Above The Clouds (4:49), The Millennium Bell (3:44), To Be Free (3:58)
If there is one artist who can compete with Alan Parsons (reviewed above) for the most compilations ever released it must be Mike Oldfield. In his 33 year career there must have been at least the same number of compilations released. Some of them essential (Elements 4-disc edition , The Complete Mike Oldfield ), some reasonable (Elements 1-disc edition , Collection ) and some just plain dreadful (XXV - Essential , The Best Of Tubular Bells ). Despite the awful rehash of the bells cover this compilation falls in the first category.
Mike Oldfield didn't release any new studio material this year, so it seemed only logical that another compilation would have to be released. Fortunately there has been some reconciliation between Virgin and Warner Music regarding the Mike Oldfield back catalogue, and like the Alan Parsons compilation above, music from his entire career has been included. Well, almost entirely, because inclusion of the post-Virgin material is still rather scarce (5 tracks out of 7 albums).
Each of the three discs spans roughly a decade and the material is presented in a loosely chronological order, so the first disc starts with the usual excerpts of Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn, before getting to the early singles of In Dulci Jubilo and (for the first time on CD) Don Alfonso.
What makes this particular compilation so special is the fact that it contains many rare or even unreleased mixes of songs. In determining the tracklist for this compilation Virgin really took great effort to unearth 12 inch mixes and extended versions of singles. Somewhat odd perhaps that the third disc of the compilation, which contains the least interesting decade of Oldfield's career, also contains the most interesting material of the compilation. For the first time on CD is the Jon Anderson collaboration Shine, presented here in its extended 12 inch version. Furthermore there are 12" remixes of Islands, Flying Start, The Time Has Come, Innocent and a different take of Earth Moving featuring Max Bacon on vocals instead of Nikki B Bently who sang on the album version.
Oldfield's farewell letter to Virgin is represented with only one song, the title track Heaven's Open. This is supposed to be the 12" version of the track, but I can barely hear any difference with the album version.
With 33 years of music to condense on three discs it is obvious that there are many glaring omissions. So no Taurus, no Crisis, no non-album tracks like Mount Teide or Rite of Man, and definitely no rarities from the Warner period! So many extended versions and different can be found on this compilation, yet Sentinel, Far Above The Clouds and The Millennium Bell are in fact shortened versions. I guess trans-label licensing goes by the minute these days. No real loss here, of course, as the latter two are probably the worst pieces of music ever recorded by Oldfield, but that doesn't explain why an album like Guitars is completely ignored. Also, the single releases from Songs Of Distant Earth and Voyager featured some great remixes too. There is still a good 25 minutes of disc space unused, so limitations of capacity cannot be an excuse.
I think in the case of tracks from the Warner era there is still some unsettled animosity between Virgin and Warner. Licensing 22 minutes of music is one thing, actually accepting that one of your best-selling artists moved to a different label is something else. So while the Virgin discography is included in the booklet, the Warner releases are not pictured. Nor does the biography in the liner notes mention the albums Tubular Bells II and Tubular Bells III.
While this compilation certainly has a lot to offer to fans in terms of rarities, was it really necessary to include the same excerpts of Tubular Bells, Hergest Ridge and Ommadawn yet again? Certainly a compilation with just the rarities would have been just as satisfying for the fans, right? Uhm, well, maybe not so, as compilations are usually not targeted at the fans, so this compilation will appeal to both the casual Mike Oldfield listener in search of a compilation spanning the entire career, as well as the completist fans like myself hoping to track down all Oldfield compositions one day. And looking at the Oldfield discography there are still a lot of tracks that have yet to be released on CD, which could have easily been included on this compilation. It is as if they only release a handful of rarities at a time, so that they can continue to churn out compilations with some previously unreleased material every couple of years.
So in conclusion, this really *is* an interesting compilation for fans, even though the very principle behind the release is utterly wrong. You can pick the album up cheaply enough via sites like CD-WOW although if you are new to Mike Oldfield and want a proper compilation that spans nearly his entire career, the four-disc version of Elements (which can still be found at Amazon.com or eBay) is still the one to go for.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Marillion - The Jingle Book
Tracklist: Marillion's Christmas Message (1:33), That's What Friends Are For (2:18), Separated Out (5:39), You're Gone (6:24), Fantastic Place (6:30), Easter (5:58), Beautiful (5:31), Out of This World (7:02), An Accidental Man (6:13), The Damage (4:17), Neverland (9:46), Between You and Me (7:18), Cover My Eyes (4:44).
As every year, this Christmas has brought us another fanclub-only CD by Marillion. The Marillion Christmas Message that traditionally opens these CDs is the same random silliness as always; a track in the category play-it-once-and-skip-the-next-time. The band's yearly Xmas cover isn't really an Xmas song this time. Instead they perform an acapella sing-along version of That's What Friends Are For taken from Disney's Jungle Book soundtrack (you know, that song the vultures sing). Hence the title of this CD, The Jingle Book. The lyrics have been slightly altered here and there to make it relevant to Marillion. Quite funny but not as good as previous Xmas songs the band have released on these fan club CDs.
The rest of the CDs consists of the band's only live performance of 2006, at the Wianki Festival in Krakow, Poland. As such it might be considered an easy pick for the content of this album, but I think it was a good decision to use it since the band could have easily decided to make it a Front Row Club album and cash in on the rarity value of the gig.
As far as the actual performances and set list are concerned, I have mixed feelings. The set list is not all that daring, which might be something you would expect of a performance at a festival. Personally I could have done without the horrible The Damage, the slightly dodgy renditions of Separated Out and Cover My Eyes and the zillionth performance of Easter. Seeing Between You and Me in the set also didn't appeal to me either at first but listening to it I was actually pleasantly surprised since Marillion does something they rarely do these days: they actually expand the song for a bit of improvising and audience participation.
In the more powerful tracks Steve Hogarth's voice sometimes start to show the ravages of time. The over-hyped You're Gone and Beautiful are good examples of songs in which Hogarth really seems to struggle with some of the high notes, making me cringe from time to time. I therefore find the more peaceful tracks a lot more enjoyable; Fantastic Place and Out of This World are wonderfully atmospheric and Neverland is nice as well, although it doesn't reach the same heights as the studio version and I've always considered the ending of the song to be a bit dragging. Also, I still can't fully get used to the weird sung echo-effect.
Accidental Man is a song the band has been playing live quite a lot in the last couple of years. They haven't made it a big secret that they are disappointed with the album version on This Strange Engine but claim to have enjoyed playing the live version in the last couple of years. It is indeed a version that's slightly more punchy and it seems a tad more up-tempo but the difference isn't really all that big as I had expected.
The problem with soundboard recordings of gigs like these is that quality is good but there's a total lack of atmosphere since there's hardly any crowd noise. The whole thing sounds like it could easily have been recorded live in the studio. And since there were more than 100.000 (!) people present at this gig that's really a darn shame.
In strong contrast with last year's excellent Xmas album the whole CD feels a bit like a quickly thrown together product, from the packaging (no dressed up band members this year) to the quick-and-dirty That's What Friends Are For and the rough mix of the Krakow performance. Seems like the band didn't have that much time available for an Xmas CD this year. As a matter of fact, the whole Christmas relevance is completely absent. As BJ stated in his review of last years Xmas album "Marillion's Christmas CDs can be a bit of a hit and miss affair". This year's CD falls somewhere between hit and miss. A nice concert with average performances, a so-and-so set list and lack of concert atmosphere combines with two extra tracks that are not all that impressive considering the time the band has spent in the studio this year. Still, it's a free gift, so I shouldn't complain all that much ...
Next year will bring Marillion's new album. I do hope that after six years of writing and milking Marbles the band has found some inspiration to deliver quality up to the standard we were used to get from them.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Note: Marillion's Xmas albums are not for sale but are included in an annual membership of The Web. Click here for more information.
Mangrove - Coming Back To Live
Disc 1: Zone I (6:16), Zone III (2:55), Cold World (6:58), Wizard Of Tunes (9:07), Back Again (5:54), Fatal Sign (10:05), City Of Darkness (9:02)
Disc 2: Facing The Sunset (13:25), I Fear The Day (10:03), Hidden Dreams (20:36)
With three studio albums under their belt, Dutch proggers Mangrove release the obligatory live album, Coming Back To Live. Recorded on the 'Facing The Sunset' tour before a home crowd in Apeldorn, The Netherlands on 4 November 2005 (and not 2006 as the CD booklet states!), the double CD features material from all three of their previous releases. What is more, either by design or coincidence, the songs are arranged in chronological order!
Disc one starts with a couple of songs from the 2001 mini-album Massive Hollowness. An interesting opening pair that immediately shows the diversity of the group, from the hybrid of mid 1970s prog and funky rhythms of Zone I to the more introspective balladry of Zone III. The next five songs are taken from 2004's Touch Wood. Cold World starts as a pretty laid back number dominated by keyboards and doesn't really come to life even when the tempo is upped during the last two minutes. Personally I found this track to be positioned too early in the set and found my attention wandering until the Camelesque introduction to Wizard Of Tunes. This then opens out into a fine instrumental number that showcases the individual and combined talents of the group. Back Again takes the tempo down again and features some nice harmonic pairing of the keyboards and guitar. The standout track from Touch Wood, Fatal Sign, is next in the running order, followed by City Of Darkness. Adhering closely to the studio versions, as do most of the tracks on this first disc, the comments made in the review of Touch Wood are applicable here. And yes, the guitar solo at the end of City Of Darkness still sounds impressive.
Disc two is the bulk of the Facing The Sunset album, with only the instrumental There Must Be Another Way Being excluded. (Ironically it was this track that our reviewer stated would be "great to hear played live"!). Considering the rather laid back content of disc one it was refreshing to hear the heavier side of the band on Facing The Sunset. A very considered composition with some evocative fretless bass, interesting piano sound and some decent guitar parts, the song plays to its strengths. I Fear The Day has some lovely melodies which are beautifully played on guitar and keyboards. Final track, Hidden Dreams is an accomplished composition which has a natural flow to it. Easily the highlight of the album.
All-in-all, Coming Back To Live is a neat précis of the band's career to date. However, I have to point out that for a live album it does lack a degree of atmosphere. Crowd noise is minimal and listening to the performances themselves it is easy to forget that this is a live album. Maybe it is my personal preference but I like live material to have a certain roughness to it; this seems rather too polished and perfect, undoubtedly a tribute to the musical abilities of the band. But, don't let my preferences put you off, fans of the studio albums will no doubt be able to spot differences in the live presentation and for those curious about this award-winning Dutch band this album provides a comprehensive introduction to some solid progressive music.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Jakko M Jakszyk - The Bruised Romantic Glee Club
CD1: The Bruised Romantic Glee Club (7:34), Variations On A Theme By Holst (1:15), Catley's Ashes (6:15), When Peggy Came Home (2:00), Highgate Hill (6:23), Forgiving (5:06), No One Left To Lie To (4:56), The Things We Throw Away (4:13), Doxy, Dali And Duchamp (4:54), Srebrenica (3:38), When We Go Home (5:51)
CD2: As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still (3:03), [incorporating] That Still And Pefect Summer (0:55), Astral Projection In Pinner (0:59), Pictures Of An Indian City (8:07), Nirvana For Mice (4:31), Islands (9:28), The Citizen King (6:26), Soon After (1:47)
I suspect the name of Jakko M. Jakszyk will not have rang too many bells with our readers, and I must admit that my previous encounters with Mr Jakszyk are confined to when he toured with Level 42 in the early 90's, following the death of the excellent Alan Murphy and replacing the somewhat misplaced Allan Holdsworth. And of course those familiar with the 21st Century Schizoid Band may well be more acquainted with the name, however Jakszyk's career extends back over a considerable period of time and although his name has bubbled a little under the surface, it still is impressive. A detailed history can be found on his website.
So with the intensity of the modern Christmas festivities, something slightly different to my usual digest of complex prog was needed, and it arrived in the form of The Bruised Romantic Glee Club. The title gives a little indication as to the music - "Romantic", but please don't be put off by this word, as the music here is cleverly written, sophisticated, polished and with a blend of instrumentation that both captivates the mood whilst leading us away from a purely sentimental journey. Jakszyk's Canterbury roots are evident throughout the two CDs - and again I know to many, the mere mention of the Canterbury scene is a turn-off, but I urge you to delve a little deeper here.
Now there is way, way too much music to cover in this review, so I shall firstly split the the album into CD One and CD Two and then take a brief look at some of the tracks that most impressed me. Having said this I have warmed to all the music now and so this may be slightly trickier than I think it's going to be. Disc One contains predominately Jakszyk's self penned material and features a clever mix of his Canterbury influences, with pop sensibilities and a healthy smattering of prog ideals. No better demonstrated than in the opening title track. Catchy vocal hooklines, gentle interludes on both flute and saxophone - the latter flowing into a great solo section towards the end of the track - courtesy of Mel Collins. The brief string and wind instrumental Variations On A Theme By Holst sits nicely, and before the excellent Catley's Ashes. Collins' is on top form again and blends in well with Jakszyk's impressive and fluid guitar work. Not surprisingly the rhythm section of Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree) and Mark King works really well too.
Following these strong opening tracks is the Celtic inspired When Peggy Came Home which in turn leads into possibly the album's most plausible single (edited down to around three minutes of course) - Highgate Hill. And then Robert Fripp provides the soundscapes for the dreamy Forgiving... Well I've briefly covered the first half of the album and to be honest the material just keeps flowing. Delicate instrumentals interspersed with more stridently arranged songs. All concludes for CD One with the beautiful When We Go Home. Fripp on guitar, multi-layered voices from Suzanne Barbieri and the Jakszyk family...
Disc Two pays homage to Jakszyk's formative years and encompasses both Canterburian and Crimsonesque in this tribute to his past. Soft Machine’s As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still/That Still And Pefect Summer/Astral Projection In Pinner pleasantly opens the album. Although the Easternised make-over here of King Crimsons' Pictures Of A City did little for me. Fred Frith's quirky but enjoyable Nirvana For Mice gets a bit of guitar work-out, however the jewel in the crown for this disc has to be KC's Islands... great to hear Dave Stewart - wonderful stuff indeed.
And that's it for this review... well perhaps a quick mention of the excellent production and sympathetic art-work. And perhaps a list of the line-up: Mel Collins, Robert Fripp, Mark King, Danny Thompson, Gavin Harrison, Hugh Hopper, Dave Stewart, Ian MacDonald, Ian Wallace, John Giblin, Gary Barnacle, Clive Brooks, Pandit Dinesh, Caroline Lavelle... (and that's just from the album cover.)
I should add that my initial attraction to the CD was borne from the impressive cast of musicians Mr Jakszyk had assembled for this release and the quality of the packaging. However once CD One started playing the music just spoke for itself, proving to be a pleasant musical ending to the year and an album I feel sure will feature in my top ten for 2006. The Bruised Romantic Glee Club has appeared with little in the way of pomp or ceremony and that is a real shame, as it certainly deserves to be heard by a wider audience. Perhaps a little to "progressive" to find a mainstream audience, but certainly an album well worth investigating. I struggled to review this album purely and simply as I each time I sat down to write some words I found I just wanted to listen to the music... does it need any greater recommendation?
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Hypnos 69 - The Eclectic Measure
Tracklist: I And You And Me (I) (1:26), The Eclectic Measure (6:56), Forgotten Souls (3:46), My Ambiguity Of Reality (1:56), The Antagonist (3:57), Halfway To The Stars (3:39), I And You And Me (II) (6:25), Ominous (But Fooled Before) (5:42), The Point Of No Return (7:43), Deus Ex Machina (6:57)
After 12 years and four albums, Belgium's psychedelic progressive rock band Hypnos 69 bow out with their The Eclectic Measure album. Originally formed in 1994 by Steve Houtmeyers (guitars, vocals), Tom Vanlaer (bass, keyboards) and Dave Houtmeyers (drums, percussion, keyboards), the group released two CDs of "Bad ass 70's rock" before being joined full time by Steven Marx (saxophone, clarinet, keyboards). A third CD saw the group refining their sound to incorporate influences from the last 30 years of rock history to ultimately achieve what they describe as "timeless narrative prog rock" on The Eclectic Measure. The album is based on Carl Jung's "The Seven Sermons To The Dead", a psychological treatise with one of its central tenants being 'you have to destroy in order to create'. So perhaps that is why the band split up!
Like all great concept albums, the sum is greater than the parts. The songs are interwoven to effectively produce a single piece, albeit one that encompasses a broad palette of styles. Short acoustic numbers, such as the first part of I And You And Me, the lovely My Ambiguity Of Reality with clarinet blending superbly with acoustic guitar, and the gently spacey Halfway To The Stars, are set alongside heavier tracks such as the very progressive title track and the more straight forward rock of The Antagonist. Classic keyboards such as Hammond organs, mellotrons and Fender Rhodes electric piano are liberally sprinkled throughout the album and the addition of sax in places provides a nod in the direction of early King Crimson.
Part two of I And You And Me provides a transition from the acoustic guitars and gently intoned vocal to a more psychedelic space rock sound that leads neatly into the aptly titled Ominous (But Fooled Before). This latter track provides a brooding introduction that hints at a darker side before the sax and guitar joint together in an insistent melody and a vocal line delivered with greater intensity, even anger. The largely instrumental The Point Of No Return is an exciting seven and three-quarter minutes of very enjoyable music that twists and turns, varying in tempo and style and would easily be candidate for highlight of the album if it were not for the closing Deus Ex Machina. This gentle Floydian number, combines an understated Rhodes electric piano with Gilmouresque slide guitar before breaking out into a jazz-tinged Rhodes solo followed by a series of ever intensifying electric lead solos.
Whatever the reason for the demise of Hypnos 69, being psychological or commercial, they have departed leaving an inspiring and very accomplished album as their swansong. With artwork that is stylish and linked to the central premise of the album, Hypnos 69 have done the little known world of Belgium progressive rock proud.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
William Gray - Living Fossils
Tracklist: Intro (0:25), Darkest Side (7:09), Prossession I (1:52), Fading Points (7:20), Broken Minstrel (5:07), Introspection (2:33), Urban Battle I (5:18), Eye In The Hole (6:29), Dragonfly (4:34), Sadness (2:42), Urban Battle II (7:33), Interludio (2:05), Urban Battle III (4:27), Prossession II (2:24), Awareness (5:52), Urban Battle I – Tango Version (3:35)
The unusually named William Gray come from Argentina. Originally a solo project for Sebastian Medina supported by guest artists they have now become a full time band. It seems that Living Fossils is, according to the website, an “audio-visual opera” and is intended to be released as a CD, supporting very visual live shows and a multimedia website, the idea being that these three mediums will complement each other within the project as a whole. At the moment the website is quite limited but the available artwork is interesting so it remains to be seen whether this ambitious project will reach it’s full potential. With lyrics sung English and the use of a diverse variety of instruments hopefully the project will be heard and have a broad enough appeal for it to grow.
The main core of the band is Medina (vocals and guitar) with Juan Manuel Tavella (Hammond, piano and accordion), Federico Ferme (guitar), Juan Manuel Salidas (bass) and Mauro Graziano (drums) together with a string section, flute and choir. The 16 tracks here cover a lot of ground and, having played it a number of times now, I really like it. Fundamentally in the Symphonic genre there are classical leanings with the use of the excellent choir along with church organ and string section, plus the unusual appearance of accordion. Tango rhythms are sparingly employed to give it a distinct South American flavour at times while retaining the prog element. It’s very melodic, well produced and the playing and singing is first rate.
The website carries some information about the theme of the album but it’s only in Spanish. This is a shame as with English language lyrics I’m sure some listeners with no Spanish – like myself - will be disappointed. However, through the use of technology and hard work (not able to cut and paste into an online translator as the web site stores the text as a picture, so had to manually type it in by hand!) this is what it says - I think:
“Living Fossils is an audiovisual opera in which contemporary rock flows with elements of tango and local Argentinean rhythms. The work, whose lyrics are in English, crosses arrangements for piano, flute, accordion and choir with the classic instruments of a rock band. The album itself is accompanied by illustrations and shows with projections that convert the music into a history in sound.
The plot takes place in a Buenos Aires full of magical buildings and is marked by the death of the family of Virgil, the main character, in an absurd accident. Virgil begins a trip through the city that erases the boundaries within him between insanity and lucidity. His destiny is to become a hero accompanied by those persons that, currently marginalized, give their identity to a Buenos Aires already lost.”
Or something. Hope that makes sense and apologies to you Spanish speakers out there! The lyrics themselves are OK, a little stilted in places but certainly not bad. The CD opens, appropriately enough, with Intro; very brief and consisting only of bells. This leads into Darkest Side which is classic prog with heavy riffing. Good vocals and instrumentation as throughout the album and a nice galloping pace. There’s good use of the strings in the middle and an impressive guitar solo before the violin gives it a Middle Eastern feel. Next, another short track but a real change of pace with medieval choir and church organ. Fading Points, gives a distinct hint of Pink Floyd with a slow drum beat, sinister vocals, excellent female backing vocals and strings added to finish.
Broken Minstrel is a delicate acoustic number with strings, guitar and piano, then we have a very nice solo piano piece called Introspection. These tracks give the album another nice change of pace before Urban Battle I, which has a distinct Spock’s Beard or Saga feel to it. Heavy symphonic, again, with nice piano, guitar and drums in the mid-section. More Floyd influence appears with Eye In The Hole, which also includes accordion in the background. Dragonfly is another light pastoral number, very melodic piano, flute and viola possibly hint at Barclay James Harvest. A short and mellow piece next with good use of cello, then Urban Battle II ups the ante again with church organ and heavy guitar. This track harks at times to E.L.P., has an interesting jazzy piano bit in the middle before heading into Flower Kings territory and ending with plaintive accordion. Very nice. Interludio is a short string piece followed by the third part of Urban Battle with its epic organ, before Prossession II gives us another choral piece with organ.
Awareness ties up the album proper nicely with a melodic Floyd influenced piano number which really is a great song. The last piece on the album is the one that most sounds like it came out of South America. Urban Battle I (Tango Version) is exactly what it says on the tin and shows the huge influence of Argentinean accordion legend Astor Piazzola. The use of the accordion in prog has been very limited but this album shows what a wonderful contribution it can make in the right setting. Here, it doesn’t lead and overshadow the sound but is used texturally to highlight moods and it works really well.
Overall this is a very enjoyable and well put together album that I took a liking to straight away. It hasn’t dimmed at all during subsequent listens and I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone with a liking for a mix of symphonic prog and acoustic classically based acoustic tracks. Also give it a go and learn to love the accordion! I really hope they carry on in this vein and produce more work of this quality.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Mindflow - Mind Over Body
Tracklist: Crossing Enemy's Line (12:16), Upload Spirit (7:97), A Thousand Miles From You (3:49), Just Water,You Navigate (5:23), Chair Designer (10:43), A Gift to You (2:47), Hellbitat (12:00), Follow Your Instinct (15:50), Hide and Seek (9:51)
After my diatribe over the useless PR job done on the recent Jon Oliva's Pain disc, the backing that this album is getting from Just For Kicks should serve as a best practice guide to all labels. Not only does the CD come in its full double-gatefold-sleeve-within-a-box package, I have two lovely booklets with illustrations and lyrics, plus a superbly-presented colour biography of the band. Not only does this give me all the information I need to appreciate what this Brazilian five-piece is trying to achieve with its second release, I can immediately see what superb value anyone buying this album will get.
That becomes especially important as you delve into this offering. This really is a multi-media project that brings together artistic photography, literature, philosophy, comics and.. oh yes.. some ambitious progressive music. I’ll come to the music in a moment. But first, a few words on the two booklets. Across its 24 pages, the ‘Photographic Booklet' aims to capture the essence of each song through the lens of Jorge Lepesteur. The lyrical themes are further developed in the ‘Follow Your Instinct Booklet’ drawn by the comic book artist Rick Troula. If you ignore a few unreadable combinations of fonts and background colours, both add a valuable extra dimension to the work and gives a very modern visual to support the music.
Philosophy isn’t one of my things, so I’ll leave the ‘Mind Over Body’ concept to those who can appreciate it. But again it will add yet another dimension.
Musically, this is a good contender for the most complicated ProgMetal album of the year! Mindflow has been around since the late 90s when they built a solid reputation in their home country. However it did take a few years for their debut album to get a worldwide release. That album Just The Two Of Us.. Me And Them received good marks on this site. Personally, whilst I could admire the musical wealth contained within, I found the album rather cold, I found the singer of variable quality and I found that the band’s clear aversion to traditional song structures left me struggling to get a foothold on any of the songs.
This follow-up is clearly a step-up in class in all departments. However it does leave me with similar reservations to the debut.
Three seconds short of 80 minutes, the music is predominantly riff- and keyboard-heavy progressive metal. It has a reverential nod to Dream Theatre but with a complexity that has more in common with Dali’s Dilemma, Magellan, Liquid Tension Experiment and many other bands to be found on the Magna Carta label. I just don’t get the Pain of Salvation or Daniel Gildenlow references that many have given this band. The pace is nicely broken up by the three balladic songs which bring in a more classic ProgRock influence.
There are some superb moments to be enjoyed. The twelve-minute opener is filled with power and passion, especially the riff-mongery displayed by Rodrigo Hidlago. Elsewhere, the band does throw in the occasional repetitive strain, that gives my ears something to cling onto, but generally the listener never knows what twist and turn is coming next.
The vocals of Danilo Herbert are much improved – although there are still too many bum notes for my liking. With music of this complexity, his higher range needs more work.
So overall, this is the sort of music that requires at least ten listens to fully absorb. I’m around halfway to that number, but the aforementioned lack of structures and hooks may mean I never get that far. However one can’t fail to appreciate the ambition of this work and the musical and artistic talent on display.
It will not be an easy ride for any fan of the genre, but for those whose tastes lean to the heavier, more complex and more progressive end of ProgMetal then this is undoubtedly one of the best releases of its kind this year.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Scarlet Thread - Valheista Kaunein
Tracklist: Tahtojen Taistelu (4:09), Valheista Kaunein (4:55), Vaeltava (5:04), Jumalanpilkkakirves (4:37), Valon Laherttilas (5:02), Aatoksia Kivusta (4:09), Haarasilta (2:30), Levoton Sielu (6:12), Kunnes Kuoloma Meidat Erottaa (6:18)
Excellent, excellent, excellent.
I'm giving Scarlet Thread's Valheista Kaunein a 9.5, which should pretty much say it all (although I will continue with the review). Now, it’s a bit of a qualified rank because, compared to, say, Revolver, Thick As A Brick, The Yes Album, Are You Experienced?, or Quadrophenia, it certainly doesn’t merit a 9.5. But, in relation to a) prog rock as a genre; and b) my experience as a DPRP review, it garners a 9.5 easily.
In a nutshell, I’m going to call Valheista Kaunein "Hybris-Lite", that is, it is every iota as admirable as Änglagård's 1992 release, but it is "lite" in that it leans more heavily toward the pastoral side of prog rock than the angular, muscular side. It is definitely in the prog rock camp that includes Renaissance, late 70s Jethro Tull, the folkier side of Gentle Giant, and perhaps Fairport Convention. Which is great…
Scarlet Thread, from Finland, was founded in 1995 and currently includes: Jani Timoniemi (guitar); Sami Hiltunen (guitar); Erja Lahtinen (violin); Jukka Jokikokko (bass guitar); and Jere Nivukoski (drums). Flautists Juha Sutela and Essi Suikkanen both make guest appearances on Valheista Kaunein. This is, like the majority of Hybris, instrumental music. Musea’s press release compares the band favorably to Kansas, Renaissance, and Jethro Tull, and I will have to agree. There are numerous folk-rock passages, driving and lively, that recall Renaissance’s tendency to romp at times; obviously the flute-laden sections demand a comparison to Tull but there is also the powerful, blues-based guitar riffing of the two guitarists that functions much like Martin Barre’s work in Tull, adding weight to what might otherwise be overly fey music. (Gary Green often performs the same task in Gentle Giant, I’ve always thought, although in his case he counters, not feyness, but near mathematical compositional technicality: he keeps things chthonic.) And the violin sections echo Kansas’ more open-ended tunes, where plaintiff strings hint at sombreness, loss, and existential emptiness. And I will even go so far as to say that, for the most part, Scarlet Thread equals the intensity, musicianship, and emotion of Renaissance, Kansas, and Tull: Yes, the band is that good.
I want to especially laud the drumming of Jere Nivukoski. In my opinion, one of the aspects of the first wave of progressive rock that is most noteworthy is the sheer quality of the drumming. I am generally a big fan of the British Invasion drummers (Mssrs. Starr, Moon, Watts, Avory, and Bonham, to name a few), but there is something about the original prog drummers that is just absolutely exciting. Bill Bruford, Alan White, Phil Collins, Carl Palmer, Clive Bunker, Barriemore Barlow, John Weathers, and God knows who I’m forgetting: that is simply a formidable array of percussionists! And it is not coincidental the degree to which those drummers’ contributions to their respective bands really still stand out on the albums; it is timeless playing—catchy, smart, tasteful, adept, and moving. I want to place Jere Nivukoski at least in the doorway of that school of drummers, because his playing is impeccable, especially his cymbal work. Fans of prog drumming need to hear this album.
I have to refuse to assess this recording track-by-track. It's exquisite from start to finish, and if there are any missteps, I didn't hear them. The playing is professional and masterful, the tunes are always suggestive and enticing, and the emotional textures of the music (especially in the juxtapositions of turgid riffs to soft, billowing ambience) are keen. Valheista Kaunein is easily the best pure-prog rock CD I’ve reviewed for DPRP. Go get a copy.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Soft Machine - Grides
CD: Facelift (6:59), Virtually (15:34), Out-Bloody-Rageous (8:12), Neo-Caliban Grides (10:12), Teeth (8:03), Slightly All The Time (10:34), Eamonn Andrews (1:36), Esther’s Nose Job (11:22), Slightly All The Time/Noisette (6:43)
DVD: Neo-Caliban Grides (5:16), Out-Bloody –Rageous (6:57), Vocal Improvisation (2:22), Eamonn Andrews (1:36), All White (4:25)
Fans of Legendary Canterbury Jazz/Psych outfit Soft Machine (Count me in!) have, in recent times, been well served by a plethora of archive releases. Indeed, Cuneiform Records, the purveyors of this particular CD/DVD combo, have themselves now released no less than seven separate sets, each featuring differing aspects of the ever-changing Soft Machine ethos.
This, most welcome, addition to the list features a lengthy concert recorded at the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam on 25/10/1970 on the CD, and a much shorter (though no less enjoyable) set recorded in Radio Bremen’s TV studio on 23/3/1971 (for German TV's often superb Beat Club programme) on the DVD.
The concert features the classic quartet of Mike Ratledge (Organ, Electric Piano), Hugh Hopper (Bass), Elton Dean (Alto Sax, Saxello, Electric Piano) and Robert Wyatt (Drums). Capturing the band at the time of release of their legendary Third album, and also previewing several pieces that would end up on Fourth, though in extensively rearranged versions, this is an essential slice of Softs history. Containing the first recorded performance of Elton Dean’s Neo-Caliban Grides with a composed section apparently abandoned after this performance for the more usual Dean fare of startling Free Jazz meanderings, this also serves as a fitting tribute to Dean who sadly passed away earlier this year. Fans of Wyatt’s endearingly off-kilter vocals should be warned that this concert is entirely instrumental. In fact, none of his compositions are played either (the set heavily favours Ratledge’s tunes, with a couple from Hopper and the aforementioned one from Dean), and he was to leave the band within a year.
With professionally recorded sound quality, and crammed as it is with wild and crazy soloing from Ratledge and Dean, backed by the formidable team of Hopper and Wyatt, the CD nevertheless plays second-fiddle to the DVD which gives fans a rare opportunity to watch their heroes in action. Wyatt even gets to indulge in Scat –Vocalisation for a short while and the popular-at-the-time psychedelic visual effects add period charm, making for an exceptionally gratifying experience. I just loved seeing Mike Ratledge wringing insane squalls and squeaks out of his organ, he’s a true original and a joy to watch.
With lengthy and informative sleeve-notes, this audio/visual package is a great find for Softs fans, who should lap it up. Please be aware though, that happy as I am to recommend this set, it is assuredly not an entry level disc, and will do nothing to convert any who have previously tried and failed to appreciate Soft Machine’s unique, heavily Jazz-Based oeuvre.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Red Sparowes -
Every Red Heart Shines Toward The Red Sun
Tracklist: The Great Leap Forward Poured Down Upon Us One Day Like A Mighty Storm, Suddenly And Furiously Blinding Our Senses (6:59), We Stood Transfixed In Blank Devotion As Our Leader Spoke To Us, Looking Down On Our Mute Faces With A Great, Raging, And Unseeing Eye (8:54), Like The Howling Glory Of The Darkest Winds, This Voice Was Thunderous And The Words Holy, Tangling Their Way Around Our Hearts And Clutching Our Innocent Awe (10:07), A Message Of Avarice Rained Down And Carried us Away Into False Dreams Of Endless Riches (7:11), “Annihilate The Sparrow, That Stealer Of Seed, And Our Harvests Will Abound, We Will Watch Our Wealth Flood In”. And by Our Own Hand Did Every Last Bird Lie Silent In Their Puddles, The Air Barren Of Song As The Clouds Drifted Away (8:43), For Killing Their Greatest Enemy, The Locusts Noisily Thanked Us, And Turned Their Jaws Towards Our Crops, Swallowing Our Greed Whole (1:42), Millions Starved And We Became Skinnier And Skinnier, While Our Leaders Became Fatter And Fatter (9:54), Finally, As That Blazing Sun Shone Down Upon Us, Did We Know That True Enemy Was The Voice Of Blind Idolatry, And Only Then Did We Begin To Think For Ourselves (8:03)
Red Sparowes are an instrumental outfit who fit firmly into the rather ambiguously titled ‘post-rock’ (or perhaps ‘post metal') genre. Made up primarily of members from scene leaders Isis and Neurosis, the band were apparently never meant as much more than a side project, a vent for the musician’s more laid back musings; however, following the critical acclaim that met last year’s debut offering, At the Soundless Dawn, Red Sparowes have obviously become a more serious proposition, touring relatively heavily and building up a loyal fan base in the process. Its perhaps not the greatest of timing that this (surprisingly quick) follow-up appears at the same time as Isis’ long awaited new album In the Absence Of Truth, but hopefully there is room within the ‘scene’ for both, and the quality of Every Red Heart Shines Toward The Red Sun should certainly ensure that it doesn’t get overlooked by fans of the genre.
Musically, Red Sparowes probably fit somewhere in between the more metallic musings of Isis and the slow-burning, organic music created by Godspeed You! Black Emperor; their closest contemporaries in terms of sound and style probably being Chicago’s Pelican. The pieces here (to call them ‘songs’ somehow doesn’t seem quite right) tend to broadly follow the quiet-loud aesthetic that has become well known within the genre, with the songs often building from pastoral strumming to a sonic maelstrom of walls of chiming guitars and frenetic percussion. In general, however, Every Red Heart… lacks the peaks and troughs redolent of both At The Soundless Dawn and most of their contemporaries, instead going for a more nuanced, consistent and somewhat hypnotic effect, and gradually adding shades of colour and light to the music. The album also features its fair share of sparser, more downbeat material (particularly around the mid-way point of the album), and the clever use of slide guitar certainly helps give an appropriately poignant feel to proceedings.
Perhaps unusually for an instrumental offering, Every Red Heart… has a very specific and detailed concept attached to it (as might be gleaned from the extremely lengthy ‘song titles’!). Whereas At The Soundless Dawn simply used as its inspiration a cityscape moving from dusk through to dawn, here the music attempts to portray the ‘great leap forward’ - the ill-gotten policies started by the Chinese government in 1958 in an attempt to bring about economic prosperity that ended up an unmitigated disaster in which tens of millions of people lost their lives through starvation. Even more specifically, the band deal with an aspect of the plan which involved killing all the sparrows in an attempt to stop them eating the seeds in the fields and therefore for the harvests to bloom; of course all this achieved was to let the locusts have unfettered access to the fields and bring about even more ruin and devastation.
Whilst it is perhaps difficult to fully link the concept with the music, knowledge of the theme certainly adds a degree of poignancy to the more melancholic and austere moments; what’s more, having witnessed the band perform most of the album live recently, the material really works well in a concert environment, where a backdrop of visuals illustrating the themes is utilised and helps tie the concept and the music together.
Ultimately, whilst it would hardly be accurate to describe it as a great leap forward (ouch!) from their debut offering, Every Red Heart… is nonetheless a fine sophomore effort from Red Sparowes, and certainly cements their reputation as one of the major players in this musical genre. Fans of the aforementioned scene bands such as Isis and Pelican can certainly invest with some confidence, whilst those who enjoy the type of highly atmospheric, emotional progressive-flavoured rock music made by the likes of Muse, Oceansize, Amplifier and their ilk should also find much to enjoy here.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Eidolon - The Parallel Otherworld
Tracklist: The Parallel Otherworld (11:33), Arcturus #9 (5:15), The Eternal Call (6:07), Ghost World (7:31), Thousand Winters Old (5:52), Spirit Sanctuary (4:55), Order Of The White Light (5:51), Astral Flight (6:16), Shadowanderer (7:10), The Oath (7:46)
Eidolon is a band I can remember from the days of 2000 or so. What amazed me at that time was the ability of the guitarist and the drummer (Glen and Shawn Drover respectively) to nail down one ripping and groovy moment after another. It was like a feast for a metalhead looking for a versatile, challenging and heavy album. The only flaw was the absence of a strong vocalist, which made the music clearly less appealing. The band should have felt that way, too, since I also remember them having posted an ad on their website regarding their need for a singer “who could sound like Ripper Owens (ex-Judas Priest)”. Well, I admit that I didn’t track the band for years, so don’t know if they succeeded in finding “that” singer in the past. The only thing I've heard in the last years about the band was that the Drover bros joined Megadeth in 2004 (which might also give you an idea about their excellence on their instruments. It’s not an easy task in my humble opinion.)
Anyway, The Parallel Otherworld is here and surprise surprise!!! They have a new vocalist. And the mic goes to... Nils K Rue! Well, most of our readers from the prog metal camp should know his name since he also sings for the fantastic Norwegian band Pagan’s Mind. His style doesn’t deviate from his known high ranged vocals very much, but this time around he sounds a little more aggressive with some Halfordesque screams and some growls thrown in between or within harmonies which suit the nature of the music very well. I guess, the search for a vocalist I mentioned at the beginning is finally over. There’s a perfect chemistry within the band now which is clearly evident.
Instrumentally, there’s no surprises. Glen Drover nails down ripping riffs, soaring solos and fantastic grooves effortlessly, while his brother Shawn Drover creates the backbone of the aggressive and versatile piece of music with his pounding and excellent drumming along with the new bassist’s Adrian Robichaud fine bass textures. The style of the album drifts between thrash, power metal and progressive metal. They get quite similar to Nevermore at times and sometimes references can be made to Jag Panzer or old Fates Warning (John Arch era). One thing for sure is that the album never gets a dull moment and always holds the listener’s attention. To make things even better the album hosts some magnificent guests on lead guitar, too: Michael Romeo, Frank Aresti and Chris Caffery. As a final surprise there’s a King Diamond cover at the end of the disc: The Oath. Since Andy LaRocque (King Diamond) co-engineered the album and Glen Drover also played for the King in the past, it’s not a big surprise really, but just not my cup of coffee. Anyway, if you put a King Diamond cover on your album, the biggest question is about the performance of the vocalist and Nils Diamond, sorry, Nils K Rue effortlessly delivers it, which isn’t child’s play I guess.
The Parallel Otherworld is sure to please fans of progressive metal who want some headbanger stuff full with fabulous riffs throughout. This is definitely heavy stuff and with its progressive nature it never gets boring, although there’s a minor lack of memorable melodies. With standout tracks like Spirit Sanctuary among others, there’s no reason that this band cannot get the attention they deserved for so long. Good artwork and a clear production also help the fine musicianship and make this album a gem for fans of aggressive prog metal, but others should approach with caution and may take out two points from my conclusion.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Wetton / Downes ~ Icon II - Rubicon
Tracklist: The Die Is Cast (6:16), Finger On The Trigger (4:00), Reflections (Of My Life) (5:02), To Catch A Thief (5:36), Tears Of Joy (4:49), Shannon (4:23), The Hanging Tree (4:17), The Glory Of Winning (4:11), Whirlpool (5:28), Rubicon (6:20)
Whilst John Wetton and Geoff Downes have their hands full touring with the original Asia, the release of Icon in 2005 was a pleasant surprise, because then, nobody knew the original line up of Asia would reunite. With Icon II it’s different. This album was composed and recorded during the negotiations on Asia’s resurrection and the disbanding of the ‘other Asia’ with John Payne. Nobody knows at this point if Palmer, Howe, Wetton and Downes will ever go back into the studio to record a new album, so this Icon II album is the closest you can get at present.
Listening to the opener The Die Is Cast one can appreciate this could easily have been one of the lost tracks from the first or second Asia albums in the tradition of Sole Survivor. Wetton, in his late fifties now, has overcome his problems with alcohol and his voice sounds stronger than ever and equally beautiful are Downes’ melancholic interludes. The up-tempo tune Finger On The Trigger is one of the many tunes (by Downes) concentrated around the E-minor, D and C chords and how strange it may sound, both in this tune and the next, the slower Reflections, I think I hear influences of Abba: very catchy pop-rock songs indeed, but also superb quality as well!
In To Catch A Thief and Tears Of Joy Holland’s own Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gathering) is guesting on vocals and although she performs brilliantly, personally I would have preferred Annie Haslam’s vocals because I think her voice is an even better match for the songs than Anneke’s. In Shannon Wetton and Downes go back in time and perform a cheerful tune in the vein of Fairport Convention, except for the interludes a bit of an odd song between all the AOR related tunes. The Hanging Tree could have been the title track of some movie telling tales about ancient times when people used to be hung from gallows and trees: a somewhat sad but sensual tune.
The unavoidable ballad is called The Glory Of Winning, a superb track however with a very catchy chorus and Wetton backing himself multiple times with the choir doing ‘oohhhhh’, sounding so very familiar in the vein of the best of what Asia did some 25 years ago. In Whirlpool the melody lines remind of Wetton’s Battle Lines album with subtle piano playing by Geoff and a short but awesome synth solo too. The outro is a beautiful orchestral piece comparable to some of the things on the albums by the ‘other Asia’. More difficult rhythm-patterns have been used on the closing track Rubicon, while the chorus, just as all the choruses, again is one of great beauty and very easy to sing along with.
The cello heard throughout the album was played by Hugh McDowell and the violin on Tears Of Joy and Shannon was performed by a teenage new talent, Katie Jacoby. Although the guitars and drums were handled by what I know are/were well respected members of the John Wetton Band, John Mitchell and Steve Christey, I wonder how this album would have sounded like with Carl Palmer en Steve Howe participating. I really look forward to the next ‘real’ Asia album but for the time being I’m truly grateful that John Wetton and Geoff Downes released Icon II! Look out for the official bootlegs from the reformed Asia and the ‘best of live’ performances of a number of UK-concerts, which will be released as a double album around the summer of 2007.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Alex Masi - Late Night At Desert Rimrock
Tracklist: Vagina Denata (4:28), You Asked (4:21), Antistructure (4:45), Love Is A Resonance (3:29), Asparagus Piss (3:18), Disembodied In Mojave (4:51), Tiktaalik In Evolution (4:52), The Smess Of Weightlessness (5:43), Telling England By The Sound (4:33), His/Her Dosage (4:48), Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t? (6:17), Unsolved (2:41)
This is a strange record with some weird tracks and also some very awkward song titles like e.g. Vagina Denata or Asparagus Piss... Masi is without any doubt a great guitar player, but on this CD he freaks out a little bit too much at times, as this album resulted from some informal jams between Masi and drummer Macaluso. First the drums and bass parts were recorded and later on Masi added his guitar riffs, solos and melodies. The sound and the style of Masi’s guitar playing on this CD go back to the eighties guitar albums that were produced by Mike Varney. Masi’s sound refers to other great guitar pickers like Chastain, Vai and Satriani.
Antistructure features a lot of musical influences ranging from jazz, funk, fusion and metal. This marvellous song also has a lot of Asian influences therefore reminding me of Marty Friedman and David T.Chastain. Another masterpiece is the track called Love Is A Resonance, which is a ballad-like song with obvious Vai and Friedman characteristics. However the best song is without any doubt His/Her Dosage, featuring a lot of jazzy, Oriental and fusion parts, a howling fast solo, lots of amazing guitar slapping and some fast solos a la Friedman. The only disappointment is the last track Unsolved which only contains soundscapes, the rest of the album is sheer guitar magic. If you are a guitar freak then this album will be a real treat to your ears.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Anathema - A Moment In Time
Tracklist: Shroud Of False (4:35), Fragile Dreams (4:49), Balance (3:36), Closer (5:28), Lost Control (6:10), Empty (3:13), A Natural Disaster (5:55), Inner Silence (3:08), One Last Goodbye (5:44), Judgement (2:47), Panic (2:59), Flying (6:15), Angelica (5:04), Comfortably Numb (7:55)
Bonus: Sleepless (3:59), A Dying Wish (7:48), Albatross (3:40), Fragile Dreams (5:08), Interview
I guess Anathema need no introduction. We are talking about a band that evolved from death metal to a more alternative, psychedelic, melancholic and lyrical sound. Nowadays the band resembles more Porcupine Tree, Marillion, Jeff Buckley and Radiohead than metal bands of the 80's and 90's. The band gave us a prog-friendly diamond with the release of A Natural Disaster (see dprp review here), which together with their absolute masterpiece Alternative 4, constitute their best releases. One familiar with these two albums will recognise that the great majority of the tracks selected for the show recorded here come from there.
The show captured on the main DVD is from the Metalmania festival in Poland that took place in March 2006 and features a guest performance by Bacchus String Quartet, whose members have several impressive appearances in their CVs. Therefore, apart from the five main Anathema members and female singer Lee, we also have four musicians on stage playing violins, viola and violoncello. The string quartet is actually starting the concert, playing a classical and quite solemn piece while Anathema members assume their positions on stage. The show starts with the haunting Shroud Of False which of course cannot be separated from the band's biggest hit to date, Fragile Dreams, a powerful introduction that gives place to two tracks with an unbreakable bond from the band's new era, namely Balance and Close. While the former is not that impressive, the latter is the highlight of the show up to that moment. Singer/guitarist Vincent Cavanagh moves to the synths and sings through a vocoder and later on assumes Hendrix-like poses and experiments with guitar distortion, while his brother guitarist Danny plays percussion. The strings contribute significantly and close the track with a nice fade. The selection of the tracks to come leaves lovers of Alternative 4 breathless. An emotional Vincent plays acoustic guitar and with the help of the strings and the crowd who seems to love this stuff yields a great performance in both Lost Control and Empty. The "first chapter" with only songs from 2003 and 1998's albums concludes with the beautiful A Natural Disaster, sung of course by Lee, and the more symphonic Inner Silence.
The rest of the tracks are mainly drawn from other releases and we start with two songs from Judgment, the unpredictable title track and the ballad One Last Goodbye. Panic is the only (and probably best) choice from the band's rather mediocre 2001 release A Fine Day to Exit, but it is delivered with lots of passion and energy, so that the switch to the atmospheric and emotional Flying becomes even more striking. As Danny tries to conduct the string, Vincent's wailing guitars and vocals render a great moment in the show and another major highlight. The folky reference to their almost forgotten past is the classic Angelica, but I didn't like very much the abrupt and a bit out of tune ending. Explanations for the last track are unnecessary. Fits the band's profile and sound very well, and I bet everyone can imagine the role of the strings in this one. Very faithful and very good, a homage to one of their major influences, Pink Floyd.
The bonus material contains a selection of four songs from a concert back in 2004, still in Poland and, cleverly, it is meant to satisfy more the fans of Anathema's past. Sleepless and A Dying Wish from the early Peaceville Days are rough, more aggressive and faster than their subsequent material and to me they are of very little interest. Fragile Dreams completes the set after an unjustifiable cover of Fleetwood Mac's bluesy Albatross. An long interview concludes the bonus material.
I'd like to first point to what I did not like: mainly, the absence of Danny in a lot of moments in the concert. The camera was constantly focused either on Vincent, the quartet or the drummer, failing to catch even Danny's solos. But my impression is that let alone three-four tracks in this album where he really contributes with nice backing vocals, he is not on his best day. Throwing down the amplifiers at the end of the show is not a convincing evidence of passion. I also found the bass pedal in some tracks in the beginning a bit flat and annoying, even though the performance of drummer John was very good overall. Otherwise, this DVD is a very good recording of the show, sound and image are of very high quality and the director doesn't do the obvious mistake of mixing image with the projections on two huge screens above the band. Instead, he leaves them lingering in the background. Given the fact that most of the tracks present here are also present in the Were You There DVD, I am not sure if it is worth for people possessing the latter to buy this one. But for the rest, A Moment in Time is a very good choice, mainly because this video manages to capture the wide variety of emotions and influences the band can show in their music and live performances. The guest performance of the string quartet is also a plus. Obviously the bonus material is a bit fishing in more metallic waters, but it's good the band left it out of the main show. This DVD also comes in a limited edition containing the audio CD version of the concert. A hint to end this review: don't miss the chance to give a listen to the two new tracks available for download from their website! Great stuff making me curious about their forthcoming album, hoping they finally will find a record label to release it...
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Annie Haslam – ‘Live’ Studio Concert
Tracklist: Carpet Of The Sun (4:04), Pool Of Tears (4:56), Summon The Angels (5:21), Captive Heart (5:04), After The Oceans Are Gone (5:18), Seashell Eyes (5:51), Sleepless Mother (5:38), What He Seeks (5:34), The Young Prince And Princess (6:08)
Despite their popularity, there are many classic acts out there that have been criminally ignored by the DVD media. One such victim is the legendary Renaissance a band that probably more than any other skilfully blended rock and classical themes. Their former lead singer Annie Haslam has suffered the same fate, until now that is. Recorded back in 1997 this release has taken nine years to surface but it’s been well worth the wait. Filmed as part of the ‘Prism’ TV network ‘live’ concert series in Philadelphia USA, it captures Annie and her band in front of a small studio audience. Sitting amongst them cross-legged on the floor is the influential radio pioneer Ed Sciaky who was instrumental in Renaissance securing their first American tour in 1973. This DVD is thoughtfully dedicated to his memory.
Joining Annie is her band at that time comprising Rave Tesar on grand piano and synth, David Biglin on acoustic guitar and keyboards and drummer Joe Goldberger. This trio produces a gloriously rich sound and they would eventually evolve into a six piece over the following years. Denny Bridges is the bands sound engineer and has to be congratulated as along with the TV crew he has captured a remarkably vivid sound. The picture is also clear and sharp making this recording ideal DVD material. Zero marks for the packaging however that shows a younger pre-1997 Annie Haslam pictured on the front cover. As she looks simply gorgeous on screen the question has to be asked why nothing from the show? This DVD is not to be confused with a CD version of the same concert that is out at the moment. That release has an identical cover but has the bonus track Goodbye Trees that is not included here.
Following the TV shows opening titles, the performance begins in fine style with Carpet Of The Sun a song that was always a live Renaissance favourite. The small but knowledgeable audience clearly agrees greeting the opening bars with a warm response. Annie is in stunning form from the start with her angelic soprano voice reaching the high notes with ease. Tesar’s lyrical piano, Biglin’s bright acoustic guitar and Goldberger’s thoughtful drumming authentically recreate this memorable song. “Welcome to my living room” quips Annie between songs, a humorous reference to the size of the studio. Next up is Pool Of Tears, one of two songs in the show she co-wrote with producer Tony Visconti and included on last years Blessing In Disguise album. The bouncing gypsy like melody is well played by the dual keyboardists but the sing along chorus sounds a bit too Eurovision Song Contest for my tastes.
Summon The Angels, co-written with band member Biglin works much better in my opinion. Annie’s performance is spot on and her ability to extend the note at the end of each verse is breathtaking. Perfect support with sumptuous choral harmonies from Biglin and Goldberger and beautiful keys effects. From the album Novella, Captive Heart is another Renaissance song and one they rarely played live. This is the high point of the DVD for me with Annie performing this beautiful ballad to solo accompaniment from Tesar’s romantic and classical sounding piano. Free from any instrumental involvement, Biglin and Goldberger join Annie for some superb counterpoint harmonies. The mid tempo After The Oceans Are Gone is the second of three Haslam and Biglin compositions and possibly the weakest of the bunch. It still has a strong chorus though with Biglin back on acoustic guitar and ethereal wordless vocals from Annie to enliven the middle eight.
Annie reveals that Renaissance were once asked to write the songs for the animated film “The Last Unicorn” which was eventually released minus their input. Annie’s words from that project have been put to Biglin’s music resulting in Seashell Eyes. This is a gentle reflective song with lyrical electronic piano from Biglin, waves of orchestral synth from Tesar and muted percussion from Goldberger. Another highlight. The ecologically aware Sleepless Mother is a more strident affair than the previous songs allowing the band to flex their instrumental muscles. Biglin excels with nimble acoustic guitar and his interplay with Tesar’s virtuoso piano playing is mesmerizing. Smiles from Annie show her admiration and not to be out done Goldberger provides some inventive drum work.
What He Seeks is the second song with music by Visconti and composed following a trip to Morocco. This upbeat tune combines busy drumming with evocative dual keys work and you can almost smell the Kasbah. Intricate drumming heightens the instrumental bridge that follows the memorable chorus. Annie takes the opportunity to film the audience with her own video camera much to their amusement. The last song, The Young Prince And Princess makes a fitting finale and the Renaissance fans in the audience show their appreciation. Tesar skilfully handles the memorable piano melody that dominates the first half with sympathetic drum work from Goldberger and symphonic colourings from Biglin. When Annie’s voice enters she gives a great performance holding the final note for what seems like an eternity. “A wonderful audience” announces the singer as the band link arms and take their well deserved bows to ecstatic applause.
With the concert lasting just fifty minutes the song selection menu option isn’t essential but its there if you want it. The piano introduction to Captive Heart is used to provide the background music to the main menu. Sifting through the menus I came a across a short extra called the “Haslam Cam”. This is eight minutes of footage shot by Annie during the rehearsals. The picture quality is strictly low definition, not surprising as this was back in the days of videotape. It does however capture some funny moments including an impromptu boogie version of Walking In The Air by the band and the comic antics of Goldberger that has Annie in hysterics. She may have been living in Pennsylvania since 1990 but her ribbing of the studio crew shows that she has not lost her Lancashire sense of humour or accent. Other than the extensive “Sleeve Notes” that’s about it.
To be fair at fifty minutes this recording is a little on the short side but it should be remembered that it was made for TV. It is also more a collection of tuneful ear friendly rock songs with polished musicianship than out and out prog. It is however a rare opportunity to see and hear a superbly captured performance from the first lady of symphonic rock. A DPRP recommendation is therefore assured. If Annie Haslam wasn’t my favourite female singer before watching this DVD she certainly is now.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Tea Leaf Green - Rock 'N' Roll Band
Tracklist: These Two Chairs (4:19), "Mr C" (1:12), One Reason (5:02), Georgie P [including interviews] (5:02), If It Wasn't For The Money (5:13), The Garden (Part II) (4:23), The Garden (Part III) (4:33), "A Killer Verse, A Chorus And A Bridge" (2:33), Faced With Love (4:39), "A Hometown Band" (1:56), Criminal Intent (8:56), Flippin' The Bird [acoustic, recorded during interview] (3:25), Franz Hanzerbeak [including interviews] (2:55), Incandescent Devil (6:28), Jezebel (9:58). "A Kernel Of Personal Experience" (0:30), All Of Your Cigarettes [soundcheck] (3:23), "The Difference Between Good And Incredible" (0:59), Devil's Pay (8;32), "Rock 'N' Roll" (0:23), Morning Sun (7:49), Truck Stop Sally [end credits] (4:24), Don't Let It Down [encore] (5:10), Sex In The '70s [encore] (13:45). "Titles" are interviews with the band
What a difference two years can make. Back in 2004 the young San Francisco band Tea Leaf Green released Live At The Independent a double CD, single DVD release recorded in a small club. Although very entertaining, that DVD release was a sort of stop-gap, maybe even a money generating exercise for the hard core fans (it currently seems to be unavailable in any form). Since 2004 the band have been touring solidly building up a reputation of a class live act. The fruition of those two years of hard work is that the group are now filling theatres throughout the US. Rock 'N' Roll Band is a "part concert film, part documentary" of the band in performance at the Fox Theatre in Boulder Colorado. Directed by Justin Kreutzmann (son of famed Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann), the film contains 15 full-length songs interspersed with interviews with the group reflecting the genesis of Tea Leaf Green and life as a rock 'n' roll band in the 21st century.
One can't fault the quality of this film, director Kreutzmann has done a superb job in recording the group in action with numerous camera angles capturing the action, neatly cut and actually focusing on the right musician playing the solos! The sound is crystal clear and the higher profile of the group has meant that a decent, if somewhat unspectacular, lightshow is presented. Still, it is the music that will sell this DVD, and on that score Tea Leaf Green do not disappoint. Centred around the thoroughly likeable and very talented Trevor Garrod (vocals, keyboards and harmonica) the rest of the band is Josh Clark (guitar and vocals), Ben Chambers (bass) and Scott Rager (drums). Garrod has a pleasing voice and his keyboard skills (mainly electric piano) are exemplary. However, one man maketh not a band and the whole ensemble gel perfectly with each member providing a solid performance on their instrument. For a "jam band", things are kept pretty tight for most of the show with the band only really stretching out towards the end of the set starting with the rather jazzy Criminal Intent, moving through some psychedelic funk with Jezebel, getting the rock groove going with Morning Sun and culminating with the excellent and Tea Leaf Green defining song Sex In The '70s encore.
The shorter songs are equally enjoyable with If It Wasn't For The Money (one of only two live band tracks from the latest studio album Taught To Be Proud) cramming in the essence of great jam band music into five minutes. My biggest bugbear with the film was the interruption of the live music by the interview segments. Although informative and interesting, they do break up the flow and after viewing once you don't necessarily want to watch again and again when viewing the concert. Even skipping tracks may not help because the chapter splits are such that a part of the interview may be used as an introduction to a live performance. I think that people who buy live DVDs do so because they want to watch a live show. Still, the inclusion of an acoustic guitar version of Flippin' The Bird by Garrod during one of the interview sections ameliorates these minor grumbles.
Being a Jam Band fan I thoroughly enjoyed this DVD. What is more it is great value for money as only two of the songs appeared on the Live At The Independent DVD and there are a mass of previously unreleased songs. The CD soundtrack (available separately) omits Criminal Intent, the end credit music and the encores, but does include Franz Hanzerbeak (without interviews) and two tracks not included on the DVD (Make A Connection and Taught To Be Proud). The progress of Tea Leaf Green up to the higher echelons of the music business may be one that is slow and steady, but the foundations they are laying now, along with a collection of great songs and performances, will hopefully mean that the band will be around for years to come.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10