Album Reviews

Issue 2007-063

Reviews in this issue:

Jonesy - Masquerade ~ The Dawn Years Anthology

Jonesy - Masquerade - The Dawn Years Anthology
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2009
Year of Release:1972-73/2007
Time:CD1: 69:48
CD2: 62:17
Samples:Click here


CD1: Ricochet [single version] (4:06), Every Day's The Same (4:31), No Alternative (8:14), Heaven (8:11), Mind Of The Century (4:11), 1958 (7:52), Pollution (9:40), Ricochet (4:59), Reprise (1:05), Masquerade (6:03), Sunset And Evening Star (3:36), Preview (2:00), Questions And Answers (5:12)

CD2: Critique [With Exceptions] (9:30), Duet (0:52), Song (3:29), Children (9:01), Can You Get That Together? (8:26), Waltz For Yesterday (4:10), Know Who Your Friends Are (6:12), Growing (5:00), Hard Road (3:56), Jonesy (11:36)

It is pretty unlikely that you have ever come across the band Jonesy. Not only did they have a dreadful name but they were also unfortunate enough to be signed to the Dawn record label, Pye's attempt at an 'alternative' label to compete with the much better known major label off shoots like Vertigo, Decca and Harvest. Most of the Dawn catalogue is pretty obscure, with major prog interest being provided by Man (whom the label dropped after one album, fools!), early Atomic Rooster, the marvellous Fruupp and... Jonesy. The groups name comes from founder and guitarist John Evan-Jones a native Tasmanian who travelled to London in 1969 to pursue his dream of a recording career. After spending a couple of years as an in-demand session musician, Evan-Jones released a solo album on BASF Records which sold poorly but did result in him being introduced to keyboard player Jamie Kaleth. Both having an interest in the blooming progressive scene the two musicians decided to form a band and soon recruited bassist David Paull and drummer Jim Payne.

It was Kaleth's use of the mellotron that gave Jonesy their signature sound, present right from the start of their recording career as heard on the b-side of their debut single, the lovely ballad Every Day's The Same. The group's debut album, No Alternative, was released in October 1972 and featured six tracks that were very much in the progressive mould. The eight-minute title track bears comparison to early King Crimson, although Jonesy have a bit more earthy, gritty sound. The languid Heaven continues the mellotron theme while Crime Of The Century is a more basic rock song with a steady beat. 1958 has a jaunty rhythm with prominent bass and harmony vocals that give it an air of the first couple of albums by Yes. Pollution, the only track written by Paull, the others, with the exception of group composition Mind Of The Century, being composed by Evan-Jones, is rather more experimental, even featuring a bass solo! However, there is room within the track for a decent melodic guitar solo and a fine vocal melody. Final song Ricochet is the most commercial number on the album and a fine song to boot. However, even the gimmick of releasing the song in quadraphonic (one of the only singles to be released as such!) failed to trouble the chart compilers.

By the time the group returned to the recording studio in March 1973, the line-up and dynamics had changed somewhat. Paull and Payne had been replaced by Gypsy Jones (Evan-Jones' brother) and Richard 'Plug' Thomas. Additionally, renowned trumpet and flugelhorn player Alan Bown had also joined their ranks. What is more, songwriting duties were now shared between Kaleth and Evan-Jones. Although the sound of the band remained essentially similar, the horns added a new dimension and a larger recording budget allowed the use of a string section, particularly prominent on the great Masquerade, opening number of album number two Growing Up. The writing was more assured but once again a strong single in Sunset And Evening Star failed to chart. Preview, a horn, piano and string instrumental provides a gentle introduction to Questions And Answers a piano driven delight that also features extensive and inventive use of wah-wah guitar. Whereas four tracks on the debut album approached or exceeded the eight-minute mark, only two on the second reached such lengths. The first is Critique [With Exceptions], a piece in a free-jazz style that marks the low point of this collection. Much better is Children, a more symphonic number with a flute introduction leading the way into a fine progressive song with lashings of mellotron and another sympathetic string arrangement. The other two tracks on this album were Duet a brief flugelhorn and guitar piece, and Song, a mini epic and one of Kaleth's best compositions.

The remainder of the tracks on the second CD of this compilation comprised Jonsey's third and final album for Dawn, Growing, recorded in October 1973 exactly a year after the first album! By this time management duties had been taken over by World Wide Artists, who also looked after Gentle Giant, The Groundhogs and Black Sabbath. For the first time in their career finances allowed the employment of a producer, a young Rupert Hine. With a consistent line-up and some extensive touring under their collective belts, Can You Get That Together is an assured opening number that has all of the band playing to their max but with Evan-Jones in particular letting rip throughout and Bown blowing his horns to extremes. A great song that is worthy of inclusion in anyone's collection. Waltz For Yesterday, as one might expect from the title, is rather more reflective and string-laden number which again features a superlative solo from Evans-Jones. The band were able to blend a more 'pop' sensibility with their prog excursions as evidenced on Know Who Your Friends Are which somehow defies its age and maintains a somewhat contemporary edge, and Hard Road which would have made an ideal single and possibly have stood a better chance of success than previous 45s. Title track Growing keeps the standards high but it is with the 12 minute Jonesy that a true idea of the band ethic stands out. Loosely based on a jazz-inspired jam, unlike Critique [With Exceptions] this actually works well. Evan-Jones is all over the place, guests Bernard Hagley (electric saxes), Ken Eliot (synth and clavinet) and Maurice Pert (percussion) make valuable contributions but it is the arrangement of Simon Jeffes (founder of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra) that holds everything together.

Surprisingly, at their peak and with the honour of being awarded the Montreux Diamond Award for album of the year (beating Crimson's Starless And Bible Black, Stevie Wonder's Innervisions and Dylan's Planet Waves in the process), the band split up frustrated by their management who favoured the other bands on their roster and their record company who refused to allow them to travel to Switzerland to collect their award. A new version of the group did record another album but in a final case of indignity, WWA refused to release them from their contracts and things crumbled to a halt when the master tapes for a new album and most of the band's equipment were stolen.

This reissue is a great collection of the complete output of a group that would otherwise be lost in the mists of time. Esoteric have, as with their other reissues, done a great job on the packaging and presentation and fully deserve support for their efforts in keeping great music of the past alive in the present. That alone would be enough reason to recommend this release, the bonus being two hours of very good music!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Egg - The Civil Surface

Egg - The Civil Surface
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2003
Year of Release:1974/2007

Tracklist: Germ Patrol (8:31), Wind Quartet 1 (2:25), Enneagram (9:09), Prelude (4:17), Wring Out The Ground [Loosely Now] (8:10), Nearch (3:27), Wind Quartet 2 (4:44)

Ever since I came across the work of Andy Tillison a few years, I began hearing more and more about the music of the Canterbury Scene and how it drastically influenced The Tangent. I decided to investigate some groups further on this basis. The Civil Surface is my first foray into the Canterbury genre and it left quite an impression. Egg began in 1969 with the trio of Dave Stewart (organ, piano, bass on Nearch), Clive Brooks (drums) and Mont Cambell (bass, voice, french horn, piano). After two records the group disbanded in 1972. Fortunately, two years later Dave Stewart signed a deal with Virgin Records owner Richard Branson and commenced working on their third album The Civil Surface.

The Civil Surface begins with Germ Patrol. Starting off with a bolero like drum beat, it gradually builds in strength with distorted guitar and organ passages. This theme ends and gives way to a different, complementing passage in the same manner. A good choice for an opener.

Wind Quartet parts 1 and 2, as the names imply, are songs consisting only of four wind instruments (clarinet, flute, french horn and bassoon). The first part serves as a quirky and effective transition between the hectic Germ Patrol and Enneagram. Part 2, however, is much of the same and serves as a somewhat dull ending for an otherwise energetic album. Overall, even though they are a bit different, I enjoyed these pieces and have not yet had the urge to skip over them.

Next up is Enneagram, a complex, instrumental tune much in the same vein of Germ Patrol. It features some excellent drumming by Clive Brooks and skillfull organ and piano playing by Dave Stewart. There is a strong hint of Mahavishnu Orchestra type fusion on this. Excellent track and one of my favorites on the album.

Prelude is entirely organ driven with female vocals. This was the first song that struck me as bearing resemblance to The Tangent. More specifically, Skipping The Distance. The chanting female vocals share great resemblence to those of Sam Baine of The Tangent. Other than a little smile from Deja Vu, I think this is the only real weak moment on the album. In four minutes it doesn't hold its own.

Wring Out The Ground [Loosely Now] is, lyrically at least, one of the stranger songs to have crossed my path. For about two minutes, in one form or another, the phrase "wring out the ground" is sung just about non stop. They also reprise this idea towards the end. Sandwiched in between is a pretty interesting instrumental section that seems to borrow from Gentle Giant and even Yes in a few aspects. Again, very jazzy and more excellent organ by Dave Stewart.

Nearch is also a bit of an oddity. It begins with what seems to be a nod toward Lizard era King Crimson. About two and a half minutes into the song it just stops and for about a minute drum beats occasionally pop up through the silence. I would assume that this is here as a joke of some sort?

A few minor discrepancies aside, I really enjoyed this album. I can't really say I have heard anything quite like it. If you are into older prog like the above mentioned bands, than this is a no brainer. Also, for those like me who are curious to see were many great bands, like The Tangent, got their influence from. Pick this up. Highly recommended.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10


Vespero – Rito

Vespero – Rito
Country of Origin:Russia
Catalogue #:R024
Year of Release:2007
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Inverno (4:19), Triptych: To The Falling Sun (10:07), Rito (9:44), Inna’s Burst In Tears (7:57), Crabs Ashore (7:09), Skat (4:23), Silence Breath Echo (8:41), Ambiance In Blue/Altarage To The Thunder

4:00 a.m. You can’t sleep. If you’re like me, you’ll try to treat your insomnia by putting on some music, maybe the ambient noise of Fear Falls Burning or the soundscapes of Robert Fripp. But sometimes those don’t cut it. Here is a new release to add to your nocturnal music arsenal, in the form of Rito, the label debut from Russian kraut-psychedelic experimentalists Vespero. They think outside Can, indeed.

Vespero, first formed in 2003, consists of Ivan Fedotov on drums and percussion, Arkady Fedotov on bass, voice, synthesizers and flute; Alexander Kuzovlev on guitar, bass, electronic manipulations, and whisper; Alexei Klabukov on keyboards and whisper, Valentin Rulev on violin and synthesizer, Natalya Tjurina on female voice and whisper, and a guest appearance from Karnelia Mango on female voice.

Rito is a constant, dark, layered mix of psychedelia, Kraut rockish elongated droning sound, and jazzy rhythms. Arkady whips out some nice flute on the title track before he leads into some synths over an extended Kraut rock jam. It then trickles down into a bouncy reggae groove, electronics and synths giving it a modern Jamaican dub feel.

Changing rhythms seems to be business as usual on Rito. Triptych: To The Falling Sun gives off a jazzy and bluesy feels reminiscent of some of the jams Pink Floyd ventured into on stage in the late 1960’s. Valentin’s violin gives way to a slower mid Eastern rhythm, which then picks up tempo with a perkier, synth-flavoured section similar to French experimentalists Stereolab.

The aforementioned tracks are a good snapshot of what the CD sounds like as a whole, with minimal deviation from the early seventies spectrum of experimentation. At points the extended passages would not be out of place on the soundtrack to art house drone film Koyaanisqatsi. Other obvious comparisons are the aforementioned Can and early Floyd, as well as early Tangerine Dream.

The CD is well produced, though the drums sound somewhat dated. Whether or not this is deliberate does not weigh on the superb, snappy drumming of Ivan Fedotov, augmented well by rhythm section counterpart Arkady Fedotov’s bass (a web search could not verify if these two are related).

Alexander Kuzovlev meets his electronic manipulations with just the right amount of restraint and doesn’t get carried away with the knob twiddling. And the women add some poignant female vocals on a couple of tracks on the otherwise instrumental CD.

It can be debated as to whether or not the songs are composed well. There is a lot of repetition and reuse of musical elements across the CD. Some will say that the songs all sound alike, while others will argue that Rito as whole is a cohesive body of work. My own opinion is that the CD was not created for active analytical listening and is intended more as passive background music. I’m listening to it now as a type this review.

This CD will appeal to fans of psychedelic music, Kraut rock, early Pink Floyd, and experimental music in general. Even some in the Goth subculture would appreciate the darkness of it, which is strongly hinted at by the CD cover’s neo-classical design. If you are more into harder rock or conventional, song oriented music, this CD may not be for you.

Vespero could improve as a band by composing individual, tighter songs of one rhythm instead of longer tracks that change rhythm. It would also be nice to see the female voices featured more prominently. Adding lyrics would also be interesting.

5:00 a.m. Still can’t sleep? Hop in the car, pop Rito in the CD player, and go for a drive. Great music for watching the sun rise.

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


TAT – TAT II: Le Sperme De Tous Les Metaux

TAT – TAT II: Le Sperme De Tous Les Metaux
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:Urgence Disk
Catalogue #:KAB 061
Year of Release:2007
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Alchimie De La Doleur (1:47), Unicornis (4:56), Solution & Dissolution (3:53), Putrefaction (5:44), O TAT (3:45), Purification (3:08), Interlude (1:57), Subtiliation (5:15), Thalidomide: Absolution (5:15), Thalidomide Remix by Atopic (5:09)

Ever since I reviewed TAT’s first album a year or so ago, I’ve listened to it now and again, and I stand by what I said about it and also by my recommendation of it. However, listening to his new album, I’m faced with the danger of plagiarizing my own earlier review. I have very little to add to what I said there, and that, unfortunately, is because TAT hasn’t himself added a lot to what he said on his first album. If you liked that one, you’ll like this one – and vice-versa, of course.

As an aficionado of some of the darker sub-genres of extreme metal (death, black, goth, doom), I took a liking to TAT’s first album because it sounds, by turns, like what death, black, goth, and doom metal would sound like with every sliver of metal removed. And this album’s the same. It’s dark, gloomy, slow, sludgy, contemplative music, heavy on classical guitar (TAT, or Antoine Aureche, is a classical guitarist, and an excellent one), laced with low-frequency synthesizers, and overlaid with spoken-word and occasionally sung lyrics (almost all in French) by male and female vocalists. It’s not quite what you’d call ambient music, but it sure ain’t The Spice Girls, either. TAT seems determined, on each composition as on the album as a whole, to create and maintain a mood, and he’s undeniably successful at doing so. But that mood isn’t one that all listeners will want to share.

Because I’ve little to add to my general descriptions of the first album, this one being so similar, perhaps I could spend a few moments singling out and describing a few of the new tracks, thus giving my readers a better idea of whether they’d care for them or not. Even singling out tracks is hard, since they’re very similar, but I’ve culled a few favourites from repeated listenings. Unicornis is an excellent introduction to the album that should have been the first track – the actual first track, Alchimie de la Doleur, is entirely spoken-word (the words spoken by creepy, low, processed vocals) and strikes me as unnecessary. Unicornis features male (spoken) and female (sung) vocals over a lovely classical/Spanish-guitar accompaniment, with synthesized thunder far in the background. The delightfully named Putrefaction is, despite its name, comparatively perky in context, using sporadic electronic percussion and churchbells to animate the whispered vocals and Spanish guitar that forms the track’s basis. And Thalidomide Remix by Atopic is both the best thing on the record (in some ways) and a disaster (in others). It seems to be taken from an entire album of remixes of that song (TAT has been busy in the last while, releasing not just this new studio album and a live album but also a remix album), and it features the draggy original Thalidomide: Absolution turned into a, well, a dance track, I guess – it’s goofy but kind of fun; but I think it was a mistake for TAT to include it here, especially to end his album, because the vibe is completely out of keeping with that of the rest of the album.

So I can’t give this album a DPRP Recommended rating, though I did so with the first, mostly because there isn’t enough that’s new here – no discernible progression, just more of the same – but also because what was kind of fresh and cool the first time is just creepy this time. I’m not quite sure what TAT’s ambitions are or what audience he hopes to reach, but I believe he needs to rethink his sound. I called the first album unique (in the proper sense of that word, “one of a kind”), and it was at the time; but now neither it nor this second one is. And two of this kind are, I think, more than enough. So while I like TAT’s sound in general, I think this album represents the end of the line for this kind of music and hope he’ll turn his talents to something at least a little different next time.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Standtall2 – Standtall2

Standtall2 – Standtall2
Country of Origin:Canada
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:Standtall2
Year of Release:2007
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Rolling (2:22), From The Gardens (4:46), Land Of Your Own [Thousand Years Have Passed You By] (4:03), Fast Piano, Slow Pink (3:22), Northern Tango (3:32), Repeatrium (4:04), A Nice Trip; Down The Road (3:54), Toute Petite, So Small [A Song For Anne] (3:51), Sad In Rodger’s Way (2:57), Water (3:58), Masters Of Deception (2:46), Circus Of The North (4:29), What’s Left Of Us (3:11)

Standtall2 is Canadian Marc Gendron who started classical piano at the age of six and from the mid eighties started to play in various bands. With his band Maximum 30 he toured the Ontario and Quebec areas, however tired of touring and financial problems Gendron left the music industry. Returning in the late nineties to make music as Standtall from the comfort of his own home, later to become Standtall2 due to the existence of a reggae band (!!??) of the same name.

Marc Gendron plays keys, undertakes all the programming, and in 1999 he released Standtall through As Gendron explains on his site this album was really little more than bits and pieces of intuition he had playing with keyboards and PC’s. Five songs from this album were rearranged and are now part of the thirteen songs that make album number two - the aptly named Standtall2.

I’m afraid that the album is a bit of a sad affair although it starts promisingly enough with the first three songs. Rolling is a nice little number with some classical influences. Also From The Gardens and Land Of Your Own have some charm especially Gendron’s clavecimbel work on From The Gardens. However the drums have already started to become irritating, especially on Land Of Your Own where some poor drum programming do not help the piano which has a very synthetic timbre. In his info sheet Marc Gendron states that Standtall2 makes progressive rock for the future, but from track four onwards it’s more electronic music from the eighties.

Gendron also uses electric guitar samples that could have come straight from that era and in fact the whole album has an eighties feel. Repeatrium could have been a Front 242 song and sadly it all sounds terribly dated, and that applies to most of the songs on the album. Toute Petite, So Small [A Song For Anne] is a song about his daughter and is one of the two songs that feature Gendron’s voice. Out of tune I’m afraid and those terrible voice samples! What are they about? Sad In Rodger’s Way contains some nice ideas but that is followed by Water which is dominated by awful drum programming (including handclaps). It’s not really a song but just an idea - not a very good idea and again those voice samples. Master Of Deception again has Gendron’s vocals on it. Circus Of The North starts as a nice song with an interesting Moog melody but unfortunately those guitar samples in the second half of the song spoil it a bit. The album ends with the romantic What’s Left Of Us.

I don’t enjoy being this critical about the album as a lot of time, love and effort has gone in to it - but I just don’t like it. There are some nice ideas but Gendron has difficulty turning these ideas into good sounding songs. He has a very weak voice and the sounds he uses give the album a terribly dated feel, especially the drum programming is a problem. Investing some money in new modern sounding modules would help.

It’s not an album for me, but if you like electronic music with a lot of eighties influences then maybe Standtall2 is something for you.

Conclusion: 3 out of 10


Album Reviews