Reviews in this issue:
- Rush – Retrospective 3 (Duo Review)
- The Mars Volta - Octahedron
- Devin Townsend Project - Ki
- Pantommind - Lunasense
- Cage – Secret Passage
- Creedy – Privileged Vagabond
- Eye 2 Eye - After All...
- Mats/Morgan Band - Heat Beats Live
Morgan Agren - Tourbook 1991-2007 [DVD]
- SBB - Behind The Iron Curtain [DVD]
- Paul Brett Sage - Paul Brett Sage
- Paul Brett's Sage - Jubilation Foundry
- Paul Brett's Sage - Schizophrenia
- Knitting By Twilight - An Evening Out Of Town
- Knitting By Twilight - Riding The Way Back
- Valkyr – The Mirror Has Two Faces
Rush – Retrospective 3
CD: One Little Victory [Remix] (5:11), Dreamline (4:39), Workin' Them Angels (4:48), Presto (5:48), Bravado (4:38), Driven (4:29), The Pass (4:53), Animate (6:05), Roll The Bones (5:32), Ghost Of A Chance [Live] (5:51), Nobody's Hero (4:56), Leave That Thing Alone (4:08), Earthshine [Remix] (5:38), Far Cry (5:18)
DVD: Stick It Out, Nobody’s Hero, Half The World, Driven, Roll The Bones, Show Don’t Tell, The Pass, Superconductor, Far Cry, Malignant Narcissism, The Seeker [Live], Secret Touch [Live], Resist [Live] (61:06) Bonus: Live Performance Of Tom Sawyer & Interview From The Colbert Report (11:47)
Geoff Feakes' Review
This third (and for now final) instalment in the Rush retrospective collection covers a lengthy time span (1989 to 2008) and brings the bands career firmly up to date. Along the way it takes in the studio albums Presto (1989), Roll The Bones (1991), Counterparts (1993), Test For Echo (1996), Vapor Trails (2002) and of course Snakes & Arrows (2007). 2004’s covers album Feedback also gets a nod of recognition courtesy of the DVD, but more about that later. First off, the 14 tracks that makeup the CD. With no concessions to chronological order they’re evenly representative of the source albums although Test For Echo suffers a little with just the one song. The two songs from Vapor Trails have been remixed by Richard Chycki probably in response to the complaints from fans regarding the inferior sound of the originals. Whilst neither could be described as classic Rush he’s done a first rate overhaul on One Little Victory in particular although Earthshine still sounds a tad muddy to my ears.
The opening song is also fairly representative of what follows, namely mid-tempo radio friendly affairs played with the trios customary fire and grit but remain a far cry from their halcyon prog rock days. As such, whilst I could happily listen to this collection on a lengthy car journey it wouldn’t be my first choice when it came to dedicated home listening. Apart from the aforementioned Earthshine, the production is mostly excellent providing a spacious sound that suits the bands uncluttered arrangements and sparse instrumentation. Geddy Lee’s falsetto delivery remains as clear and sharp as ever, this is a man who obviously looks after his vocal chords. He continues to play a pretty mean bass as well which has plenty of presence in the mix. Alex Lifeson’s guitar playing is reliably workmanlike, never indulging in histrionic soling but always fleshing out the sound with skilful riffs and fills. And what can you say about the ever outstanding Neil Peart who along with Mike Portnoy surely has to one of the best drummers rock has to offer with his crisp, ever inventive style.
Whilst I would find it hard to single out any of the songs on the CD for special merit some prove to be more memorable than others. For me that would include Bravado with its catchy chorus and ringing guitar break, the tuneful The Pass and Roll The Bones, and that’s despite the latter’s resemblance to Inxs and its cheesy rap vocal. Also worth a mention is the poppy, Pat Benatar flavoured Dreamline, the busy rhythm line in the very U2ish Animate and the instrumental Leave That Thing Alone which showcases the band in full flight minus Lee’s piercing vocal tones. Fans will also warm to the live version of Ghost Of A Chance recorded during 2008’s Snakes & Arrows Tour featuring some lively soloing from Lifeson. The disc concludes on a high with the familiar and weighty strains of Far Cry, one of the best sounding tracks here.
The DVD comprises ten promotional videos plus three live songs recorded in Frankfurt, Germany during Rush’s 2004 R30: 30th Anniversary World Tour. It’s these final tracks that are undoubtedly the most entertaining but I’ll turn my attention to the promos first. Unlike the CD the choice of songs is obviously dictated by their availability on video and in some cases duplicates the audio only tracks. As videos go it’s not a bad collection although they suffer from the usual dating factor being (no longer) state of the art. Typical of promos, they feature the customary rapid editing with the band posing in front of a variety of simulated backgrounds intercut with the director’s often pretentious attempts to tell a story. Best of the bunch is the animation that accompanies the rhythmic instrumental Malignant Narcissism which doesn’t feature the band at all. The worst is the mock live setting and embarrassing audience reactions during the equally feeble sounding Superconductor from Presto.
Predictably it’s the live songs that will be of most interest to fans, especially the supercharged cover of The Who’s The Seeker and, in contrast, the beautifully acoustic Resist. The ‘bonus’ material comes in the shape of a 12 minute appearance on the US chat show ‘The Colbert Report’ recorded last year which proves to be a hit and miss affair. Easily missable is the initial interview which features the usual pathetic attempts at humour by the host, often at the interviewee’s expense. In this case Rush are subjected to lame remarks about the length of their songs and the size of Peart’s drum kit, no wonder 33 years had passed since they last appeared on US TV. The band have the final word however with a resounding version of Tom Sawyer, ignoring Colbert’s half heartened attempts to bring their performance to a premature close.
Depending upon your viewpoint this could be seen as either a creditable addition to the Rush catalogue or a dispensable cash-in attempt by Atlantic Records. Given that it’s available in both CD only format and as a CD/DVD combo I would personally go for the latter (especially considering the minimal price difference) although I would describe neither as essential. Strictly for fans and compilists only I would suggest and of marginal interest to everyone else.
Menno Von Brucken Fock's Review
Rush, the Canadian power trio from the Toronto area celebrate their 35th anniversary with the third in the “Retrospective” series. Starting out playing an original kind of hard rock, they became much more progressive and symphonic in the eighties. Holding on to the use of keyboards, they moved back towards their original style eventually, but, because Geddy Lee’s vocal had become more mellow, Rush defined their definitive style with a mix of hard rock, melodic rock and progressive influences. This compilation contains an excellent choice of their best songs of the albums Presto, Roll The Bones, Counterparts, Test For Echo, Vapor Trails and Snakes & Arrows.
Of special interest are remixes from One Little Victory and Earthshine, as well as the live version of Ghost Of A Chance. The second disc contains video’s and live performances, some of them feature the same songs as on disc one, but also for example Stick It Out, Half The World, Show Don’t Tell and Superconductor. Furthermore there are images from the R30 Tour: The Seeker, Secret Touch and an acoustic version of Resist.
As a bonus a live performance of Tom Sawyer at the end of a short interview with Stephen Colbert during their Snakes & Arrows tour. Apparently this was the first time in 33 years Rush was on the American TV, I can hardly imagine that’s true! Good sound quality, but unfortunately the guys were not allowed to play the whole song in its integrity. If you own all albums by Rush I’m afraid it doesn’t add enough to consider buying unless you’re a true fan. If you do not own a copy of every album, this retrospective could be an excellent choice, because it’s a nice collection of songs both audio and video.
Rush is a phenomenon and still one of the worlds few rock-bands still together after almost 40 years. Aren’t they legendary already?
The Mars Volta - Octahedron
Tracklist: Since We’ve Been Wrong (7:21), Teflon (5:04), Halo Of Nembutals (5:31), With Twilight As My Guide (7:53), Cotopaxi (3:39), Desperate Graves (4:58), Copernicus (7:23), Luciforms (8:22)
I never thought The Mars Volta would disappoint me, but they just have. They’ve been referring to this album as their “acoustic” one, but I’ll call it “uninspired”. Omar Rodriguez Lopez and Cedric Bixler Zavala have certainly come a long way since their amazing 2003 debut De-Loused In The Comatorium, a wildly imaginative and hugely successful album the heights of which they’re unlikely to reach again.
Being their first CD their best, objectively speaking, and Amputechture (2006) the one I enjoy the most, TMV albums have always something distinctively special: De-Loused… was the perfect balance between tight song writing and wild experimentation, Frances The Mute (2005) explored the depths of free jazz and ambient, Amputechture was the “prog” release, and The Bedlam In Goliath (2008) showed the most energetic (manic, I’d say) side of the band.
The cool, enigmatic song titles and weird, surreal artwork by the great Jeff Jordan are all present and correct, but… What’s to be found on Octahedron (presumably a mysterious, suggestive name, which unfortunately sounds a bit silly to me, and is too “dangerously” similar to Dream Theater’s Octavarium)? Well, forget about the weird instrumentals, the aggressive hardcore-ish outbursts, the extended leaps into unknown musical territories… Much as I respect and appreciate the will to be tighter and more concise on the song writing department, cutting down the tracks well under the 10 minute mark, this restraint works against the band’s aesthetics, the freedom and unpredictability so natural to their music.
What you’ll find here is some boring ballads (Since We’ve Been Wrong, With Twilight As My Guide, Copernicus) that, bizarrely, are much longer than they should be, being at best 4 minute pieces artificially extended to near twice their length via some droning, monotonous keyboards and a fair amount of repetition.
Elsewhere, there are some mildly satisfying compositions, such as Teflon and Halo Of Nembutals, brilliant titles for mid-paced average Mars Volta songs. At least, there’s a stronger presence of the rhythm section (special mention to the great drumming by Thomas Pridgen), and the contributions of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante, almost an official (and relevant) member, give them a slightly leftfield air.
There’s only two remarkable cuts on the whole album, one being the rocking Cotopaxi (named after a volcano… and very rightly so), placed in the middle of the album to wake you up; and closing number Luciforms, eight minutes of pure TMV with, finally!, interesting soundscapes and some progressive attitude (the bass line and overall atmosphere at the beginning reminded me of Pink Floyd’s Careful With That Axe, Eugene). It wouldn’t have been out of place on Amputechture or Bedlam In Goliath.
Anyway, don’t expect a new Cicatriz Esp, Tetragrammaton or Goliath. With a good selection of material, and some trimming here and there, this would have made a nice 30 minute EP.
As it is now, it’s just a not very good, insufficient album.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Devin Townsend Project - Ki
Tracklist: A Monday (1:43), Coast (4:36), Disruptr (5:49), Gato (5:23), Terminal (6:58), Heaven Send (8:54), Ain’t Never Gonna Win (3:17), Winter (4:48), Trainfire (5:59), Lady Helen (6:05), Ki (7:21), Quiet Riot (3:02), Demon League (2:55)
Love him or loathe him, one thing you can’t deny is that Canadian Devin Townsend is one of a kind; an extremely creative and independently-minded individual who has managed to create an identifiable sound despite the fact that his output has been so wide ranging in scope – from the raging extreme metal of his Strapping Young Lad collective to his bizarre death-metal-band-become-pop-punk-sell-outs concept under the name Punky Brewster and through a collection of material under his own name which ranges from the ‘speed metal pop songs’ of Physicist to the sublimely atmospheric but still heavy Terria and through all points in between.
Perhaps sensing burnout, following a ten-year period with at least a release a year and a heavy touring schedule for SYL, Townsend seemed to call time on his career in 2006, taking a sabbatical to get off the drugs and alcohol and concentrate on new fatherhood. Long-time Devy-spotters have heard all this before, however, and it was no great surprise when he returned just the next year with the one-man-project-with-added-puppetshow noisefest that was Ziltoid The Omniscient. Yet it was still a surprise when Townsend announced late last year that his next foray into music would be a four-album cycle released under the auspices of the Devin Townsend Project, with each individual release to feature a different line-up based on the needs of that particular album.
The first of these albums is now here, and Ki is a very different beast, not just to its predecessor, but to pretty much everything Townsend has released before. For a start it’s a much more musically subtle outing, with the full-on rage and plastering of layer after layer of sonics that defines much of its material, if not entirely absent, at least severely toned down. You could almost say that Townsend has stripped his sound to the bare bones on Ki, and has instead opened up his soul to reveal a more thoughtful and emotional side. Whilst the concept itself seems rather vague, Townsend describes the theme on his MySpace page as being about control, and comments that on Ki “the whisper is louder than the scream” – i.e. less is quite often more.
His “Project” on this occasion contains an eclectic bunch; Dave Young on keyboards is an alumni of the Devin Townsend Band, whilst drummer Duris Maxwell, a sixty something veteran of countless sessions with well-known names such as Jefferson Starship and Heart, as well as a number of blues bands, is a far cry from the powerhouse tub-thumpers such as Gene Hoglan than Townsend usually uses, bringing a straightforwardness and lightness of touch to proceedings. Bassist Jean Savoie is again from a non-metal background, something Townsend seems to have sought for the rhythm section, in order to get a very different feel to the music than he’s achieved before.
Once we’re past the opening instrumental A Monday, with its echoey acoustic guitar and throbbing walls of keyboards, its first song proper Coast which really shows the different direction Townsend has chosen to tread on this occasion. The song is driven by crisp drums and an elastic fretless bass line, with Townsend’s vocals sounding fragile and other-worldly, even having something of a Jeff Beckley feel about them. Layers are gradually added to the sound, but not to the extent of suffocating the song, although there’s a menacing background throbbing and some mildly chaotic stream-of-consciousness spoken words which adds the right amount of darkness we’ve come to expect.
The next two tracks, Disruptr and Gato, are easily the heaviest on the album, although even these reign themselves in a good deal, with a clean sound and almost a semi-acoustic feel to the riffing. Even when Townsend is screaming his head off, as he is on the chorus of Gato, it’s fairly subdued screaming by his standards! Devin gets the balance right throughout the tracks between more ambient sections and straightforward raging, making the latter parts that much more effective.
For all that these are strong tracks, however, it is songs such as Terminal that are the real eye-openers on this album. A mesmerising ballad, atmospheric and moody, and capped by a superbly sensitive vocal performance, Townsend has written one of his strongest songs here. The almost Floyd-ian atmosphere is capped by a tranquil and spare but very effective guitar solo in the mid-section that can’t help but recall David Gilmour.
Heaven Send is in many ways the centre piece of the album – and not only due to its length. Once again the ear is drawn to the simple brush of a cymbal and thwack of a snare as Maxwell bashes out the straightforward beat; it’s a testimony to Townsend’s sometimes unsung skill as a producer that such mundane everyday things are given new focus. Savoie’s bass playing is once again to the fore, with another slightly funky, sinewy bass line that the song builds on. Townsend’s vocals are again the focus, initially sounding chilled and relaxed before building in menace, culminating in some muffled screams which counterpart superbly with the strident female guest vocals of Che Dorval, an inspired choice as a counterpoint to Townsend’s voice. With other artists you might say that the bluesy extended guitar solo that breaks the song up is indulgent and unnecessary, resembling as it does at its apex a Vai/ Satriani-esque widdle-fest but it works here, adding to the chilled atmosphere, which is cut with a final blast of the chorus. Following this, Ain’t Never Gonna Win is a cod-funk bit of mainly instrumental, jam band filler, with some soulful vocalising from Townsend, that serves as a good way of breaking the tension and giving the listener some breathing space.
A moody, melancholic mid-paced piece, next track Winter may seem a little repetitive but a combination of Townsend’s ethereal vocal delivery and some fine harmonising carries the song through. The roar of an old fashioned steam train engine signals the blast off for Trainfire, which kicks off as a rockabilly style track over which Townsend does his best Las Vegas Elvis impersonator impression. This segues into a more standard chorus, with some Devy shrieks and emotional female vocals. The song perhaps lacks the structure to adequately fill its six minutes, but again it’s the atmosphere that counts.
Lady Helen is another gentle, acoustic-led ballad, with heartfelt vocals and some impressive piano work. Although drums and bass come in later to pick the song up a notch, it remains a nicely understated piece – something you can’t necessarily say about the rousing title track, which despite not being especially heavy is still the song that has most in common with his trademark solo work. It starts unassumingly enough, all jangling guitar and Devy harmonies, building slowly and purposefully before, over a looped guitar figure, a chorus of hundreds of Townsend vocals, layered over each other, creates a spectacular finale; achieving heaviness through the multiple use of clean, harmonic voices, with nary a fuzzed-up guitar or clattering bass drum in sight. Townsend ends his vocal onslaught with an almost operatic, soaring lead vocal, stretching his voice to the limit.
The title track ends abruptly, and we finish on two tracks that can be seen as something of a ‘calm after the storm’. Quiet Riot is an acoustic ramble through a song whose melody seems to have been appropriated to a large extent from Slade’s Cum On Feel The Noize. Of course, being from North America, Townsend probably knows the hit eighties cover by hair metal band called…. Quiet Riot. Clever eh? Despite its title, closing track Demon League is not a raging metal fest , but another sparse, mellow piece coloured by some atmospheric synth washes. It’s actually the perfect way to end the album, and doesn’t seem anti-climactic in any way.
Overall, Ki is something of a triumph for Townsend. OK, it might not find favour with that small proportion of his fan-base who always want something heavy and intense from the man, but for those fans the sop is that Devin says the second and third albums of the quartet are likely to be significantly heavier. What it does have the potential to do is to open Townsend’s music up to a whole new audience, those perhaps put off by the heaviness and, well, weirdness of his music up to now. Not that Ki is exactly a straightforward album, but it has the accessibility that other releases may have lacked. It also shows that, when stripped of much of the ‘wall of sound’ approach used previously, Townsend’s music stands up to scrutiny and at times reveals new depths. At a time when the likes of IQ and Dream Theater have produced pleasant but predictable and pretty safe albums, its great to see artists like Devin Townsend unafraid to continually push the envelope. Highly recommended, and role on part two of the Project!
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Pantommind - Lunasense
Tracklist: Transmission Part I [instrumental] (4:00), Erasable Tears (4:23), Wolf (6:16), Sandglass (5:51), Letter To No One (5:08), To The Days Of Old (5:08), Blank (6:43), Transmission Part II [instrumental] (2:43), My Home [Into Infinity] (5:53), I'll Never Be The Same (6:00)
If my review of this Bulgarian band’s debut album concluded that their music was still a work in progress, then their sophomore release is most definitely the finished article.
A big lack of consistency in the songwriting and production departments was the biggest failing on A Shade Of Fate which was released on the Sensory label in 2005. Two standout tracks and some other moments of brilliance however showed enough promise to tempt me to keep an eye on this quintet. All I can say is that the four years it’s taken to create Lunasense has been time well spent. It will take some album to replace this as my favourite traditional ProgMetal album for 2009.
Last time around the band’s sound drew comparisons from me towards Andromeda and Vanden Plas. Whilst I’d stick with a clear Andromeda influence I’m reminded much more of Crimson Glory, Savatage, early period Queensrÿche and maybe a touch of Darkwater.
The arrangements are multi-layered yet not complex for the sake of being complex. Nothing really passes the six minute mark yet there are plenty of details which will reward repeat listens. The songs have a pleasing variety in levels of light and shade achieved by an interchangeable use of both piano and keyboards and electric and acoustic guitars.
As I said at the start, there is a real consistency to both the production and song writing this time. After bravely opening with an instrumental (it’s a good one!), the real highlights come in the middle. Sandglass and Letter To No-one are fantastic examples of the melodic ProgMetal genre – a more progressive and modern version of Transcendence-era Crimson Glory. The absolute gem, which I just can’t stop playing, is To The Day’s Of Old. A balladic, yet powerful song, which really benefits from the guest female vocals of SanDiego-based Coleen Gray. What a lovely voice she has.
So to has the band’s main ‘voice’ Tony Ivan. He’s got something of the late Midnight (R.I.P.) about him. I know singers who spend a lot of time in the upper registers are not to everyone’s taste. But Tony Ivan ain’t no screamer and really can nail those notes with a lovely warmth and depth of tone. He equally occupies a rich mid-range, and there’s nothing for the accent police to worry about.
The second of the Transmission instrumentals is little more than a piano mood piece, but elsewhere the songs never dip below 'excellent'. The Dali-esque cover is great!
I’ve been doing this review lark for long enough now, to know when an album deserves special attention; when a disc stands out from the crowd. I’ve already got a huge stack of records from this year, but again and again this is the one I tend to keep pulling out. With the proviso that you don’t mind the style of vocals, I can confidently recommend this album to anyone who enjoys melodic and thoughtful ProgMetal.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Cage – Secret Passage
Tracklist: Movements (5:09), The Scream (6:45), Bitter Honey (4:53), Marta (3:14), Secret Passage (6:03), Dreams Like Broken Glass (4:57), Time To Go Back Home (6:15), M31 [Live] (6:18)
Back in 2006, I reviewed Cage’s debut CD, which – as its title suggests – contained material composed between 1987 and 1994. Now we are presented with the follow-up, this time (almost) entirely consisting of freshly composed material. This really shows, as Secret Passage is a much more cohesive piece of work, with a consistent quality running throughout. The cover is a big improvement too, being the sort of surrealistic painting we have grown to love on many a prog album.
Stylistically, Cage are still heavily indebted to Genesis, and stick closely to the symphonic sound of their mentors. With two keyboard players, the sound is full and lush; with a guitarist in the Steve Hackett mould, the recipe is complete for some excellent neo-tinged progressive rock.
There are no epics this time. Although, the 20+ minutes of The Feebleminded Man was a highlight of the previous disc, everything here is under the seven minute mark.
Movements is a strong opener – entirely instrumental and taking an obvious Genesis inspiration in a darker more modern direction, not unlike U.S.A.’s The Underground Railroad - edgy and enthralling.
The Scream is the first of only three vocal numbers, featuring new vocalist Augusto Morelli (the only change in the line-up since the previous album). His voice is similar in tone to Peter Gabriel, and this is pretty much business as usual for the band, as the vocals on the first album were in the same style, if perhaps not quite so convincing. The track itself is a mid-paced number that breaks out into some intense guitar passages and terrific keyboard runs. It is a well-constructed song, with contrasting sections in the time-honoured prog tradition.
Bitter Honey is another vocal number, this time more downbeat and haunting, with a delicate arrangement. A hint of accent in the vocals makes me wish they had used Italian lyrics, but otherwise it is a very good track with a lovely synth solo towards the end.
Marta is a delicate acoustic guitar instrumental, reminiscent of Anthony Philip’s Private Parts And Pieces series of albums. It makes for a pleasant interlude.
Secret Passage is a dreamy atmospheric instrumental with rippling piano, growing in intensity with prominent Hackett–like guitar, like something off Voyage Of The Acolyte. It is a delicious slice of old school symphonic prog.
Dreams Like Broken Glass is essentially a piano ballad, embellished with flute from guest Vituschi Fruendo. This extra texture lifts the track up a notch. The vocals are again in the Gabriel mode, in a semi-spoken style, which suits the gentle melancholic mood of the song ideally.
Time To Go Back Home is another delightful symphonic instrumental, with a Trick Of The Tail / Wind & Wuthering era vibe to it.
Closing the album is M31, a live track from an undisclosed source (the booklet says “Live, some years ago, somewhere”) and reveals a jazzier sound, essentially being a classy slice of fusion, with electric piano and noodling guitar lines. I do enjoy this kind of stuff a lot, but it is a bit of a departure from the straighter symphonic style of the rest of the album.
On this album, Cage has refined and more sharply defined their Genesis inspired symphonic prog to a very high standard. They strike a nice balance between vocal and instrumental numbers. There is nothing ground-breaking here, but they do what they do very well. I would have liked to hear another epic track on the lines of The Feebleminded Man, but the album is very well put together, with a consistent atmosphere throughout.
If you like other Italian bands like Mangala Vallis and The Watch, who also take inspiration from Genesis, then you should enjoy this album too.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Creedy – Privileged Vagabond
Tracklist: Melt Us Down (6:45), Ninety Eight Percent (3:49), Opposites Attract (6:26), Fall Into Winter (6:00), Fever (7:15), To Faith With Love (9:01), And Now Your Heart Is But An Organ (5:45), No Angel (3:37), Lilac Jay (9:12), Particle Acceleration (7:28) Bonus Tracks: [Totally acoustic version of Fall Into Winter] (5:24), [studio session] (2:18)
Creedy’s Privileged Vagabond is an extremely enjoyable album of progressive folk that reminds us in a very beautiful way of the folk tradition that has always been a strong root of British progressive rock.
The album was conceived for acoustic guitars and hand percussion only; the only electrical element in this soundscape comes from the array of classic keyboards used to adorn the sound: mellotron, ARP Synths, Moog, Wurlitzer piano to mention a few. The resulting sound has that clarity, purity and mellow richness that is the hallmark of the soundscapes that attracted many fans to progressive rock. Other reviewers have compared the music to that of the early Strawbs: it’s not a bad call, especially if one thinks of albums like From The Witchwood and Grave New World, and specifically of the work that Richard Hudson and John Ford were doing to complement Dave Cousins’s writing (for instance, Heavy Disguise, from the Grave New World album, would fit seamlessly onto Privileged Vagabond). Other reference calls might be made to Roy Harper’s work, as well as more tenuously to early Harvest-era Barclay James Harvest (ie, Ursula (The Swansea Song)), Caravan (ie, Golf Girl) and Procol Harum (ie, Nothing That I Didn’t Know) to name just a few. There are many others: the folk influence is a rich tradition in British progressive music and whereas Creedy may not yet have mixed up the “rock” element into his album soundscape like these other artists I’ve mentioned, that doesn’t mean that the music is any the less enjoyable or less progressive. This is a beautiful album to listen to, full of easy melody and rhythm.
Creedy is the bass and acoustic guitar player with progressive rock band Pilgrym (whose only album to date, Pilgrimage (2004), received a good review on DPRP some years ago), as well as the lead/rhythm guitarist with Moroccan trance/roots band Maghribibeat. Musicians from these outfits assist Creedy on Privileged Vagabond: Mohammed Ibn Sina and Richard Dalby help out on percussion and guitars respectively and Andy Wells, co-leader of Pilgrym, plays the array of keyboards, as well as producing the album. Judah Lewis, studio percussionist with Pilgrym, also helps out, as does Simon Trapp (bodhran).
Melt Us Down gets the album off to a good start, with the guitar laying down a good rhythm at a gentle tempo, the tabla drums providing effective support and the keyboards adding texture and colour. Creedy’s singing voice is good and very effective in the context of this music, with nice inflexions and able to carry melody. The soundscape has a clear, uncluttered feel and one is able to appreciate the adornments that are added to bring interest, such as the use of tubular bells towards the end of the piece. There is time and space to savour both the music and the individual sounds within its soundscape: it’s a piece that sets the mood for the equally enjoyable album; Particle Acceleration, the closing number, being the only composition that departs from the flavour and mood that is set by Melt Us Down. This closing number features greater sound experimentation and vocoderised vocalisations – no lyrics or untreated singing here; it’s the song that ends up furthest from the album’s “folk heritage”, but the acoustic guitar and keyboard swirls keep a link to the preceding music on the album, such that it doesn’t feel out of place.
Sandwiched in between the album’s book-end songs are a number of highlights, of which I’ll mention a few: the mellotron and keyboard adornments on Ninety Eight Percent, more pretty mellotron on Opposites Attract, the feel of Fall Into Winter, the long guitar intro to Fever, the rhythm and bridge to middle-section mellotron on And Now Your Heart Is But An Organ and the guitar work on Lilac Jay. I could mention more; it’s an album of many aural treasures.
The album comes complete with two bonus tracks – now don’t get me started on bonus tracks on brand new albums or we’ll be here all day! – the first of which is perhaps interesting for the fact that it gives the basic guitar version of Fall Into Winter so that, should you be interested, you can contrast and compare with the album version (guess what – the album version is better; far more interesting!). The second bonus appears to be the recording of a rehearsal for the middle-section of And Now Your Heart Is But An Organ...
A very enjoyable album of progressive folk then – I hope that we will hear more from Creedy in the future. The rating I have given falls just short of a general “DPRP Recommended” score but for any fans who have enjoyed progressive music’s folk roots then Privileged Vagabond is highly recommended.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Eye 2 Eye - After All...
Tracklist: Overture (2:30), Tears Of A Clown (8:10), Cold And Happy (8:49), Wasted (6:41), A Celebration (15:22), Pouring Rain (6:27), Hovering (13:06), After All... (14:20)
Attention to all fans of neo-progressive rock. Eye 2 Eye from France has named to be their influences bands like Pendragon, Marillion, Pallas and IQ. From experience I know you should not always trust these enumerations but in this case it is all true and on After All... parts of music from all bands mentioned above can be found. This is their second album with a new bass player and a new singer.
Overture sounds like something from Pendragon. Piano and vocals kick off and the second part of the song features guitar soloing with long high notes just like, ah well, you know which band. Tears Of A Clown starts slowly and the melody that kicks in is sort of a theme to this album, repeated at the end of the album. This song is very IQ like. Now on many neo-prog albums the vocals are the weaker part and unfortunately that is the case with this band. The voice of Jacques Daly takes some getting used to and at times he sounds a bit annoying. The long guitar solo is not well taken care of as in the first song, a bit raw and not really clear. Cold And Happy changes a lot in pace and on the slower parts the vocals do not sound that good. The time changes can be sudden but also some smooth transitions, the last part with many keyboard solos suits me better. Wasted is a slow rock song that never really grabs me.
The second part of the album is dominated by three epic songs. In between is Pouring Rain which is a bit like Wasted, it has potential but never really kicks off. A Celebration, Hovering and After All... are all very good songs but the sound of Eye 2 Eye is not diverse enough to keep things interesting for the full forty minutes plus. I can listen to these songs for hours without hearing anything wrong, but also they will not stick with me.
Eye 2 Eye produces neo-prog that sounds like all the major players in that genre. Influences from Pendragon, Marillion, Pallas and IQ are clearly present. Should you run to the store immediately if you like these bands? My answer is no. It is good music but much passes and not much is left when the CD is over. I played it many times and enjoyed the tunes and melodies but After All... I forgot about this CD very fast. This one is only for the die-hard neo-prog fans.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Mats/Morgan Band – Heat Beats Live [CD]
Morgan Agren – Tourbook 1991-2007 [DVD]
CD: Mats/Morgan Band - Heat Beats Live: The Return Of Advokaten (7:58), Rhinecliff Hotel (6:01), Mats Jingle (5:04), Pulse (1:59), Friis (0:45), Tvingle (5:52), Watch Me Pleasure (3:33), Hermetoast (0:21), The Bösendorfer Of Advokaten (11:19), Riff At Play (0:12), Truvas Rumba (5:08), Cry of Laika (3:43)
DVD: Morgen Agren - Tourbook 1991-2007: Propellerhäst / Truvas Rumba / Solo Drums, Verviers 2004 / Drumkit from Hell, Session 1 / Solo Drums, Kungsbacka 2004 / Mats Jingle / Christer Karlberg Trio / Box, Session 1 / Sol Niger Within / Solo Drums, Göteborg 1999 / Captain Beefheart Tribute / Watch me Pleasure / Tvingle / Solo Drums, Umeå 2005 / Off Punk / Drumkit from Hell, Session 2 / Magma Tribute / Rhinecliff / The Return of Advokaten / Solo Drums, Stockholm 1996 / Simon Steensland Kamikaze United / Solo Drums, Stockholm 1996 / Par Tjernberg Inside Information / Solo Drums, Le Lilas 2005 / Fredrik Thorrnendal Session / Solo Drums, Metz 2003 / Box, Session 2 / ADAT Dropouts, I love You / Solo Drums, Stockholm 1994 / Daisy / Jannis Eliasson Band / En Schizofrens Dagbok / Advokaten / Solo Drums, Stockholm 1994 / Solo Drums, various / Solodrums, Stockholm 1994 / Japan Tour Movie / Morgan Agren Biography
After more than a quarter of a century of making music together Mats Öberg (keyboards) and Morgan Ågren (drums) should know each others’ playing inside out. They got together aged 10 and 14 respectively, Morgan rating their meeting as the greatest gift in his life, and have recorded numerous albums together as Mats/Morgan Band or with various side projects. Frank Zappa was a heavy influence from the start and they were introduced to Frank on the Scandinavian leg of his Broadway the Hard Way tour in 1988. He invited them to guest with his band on stage and was impressed enough to include them in the Zappa’s Universe project in 1993. The story goes that Zappa tested the two by trying to find pieces from his immense catalogue that they couldn’t play. He failed. Morgan has also drummed on some of Dweezil Zappa’s solo work and will be known to many prog fans from his work with the reformed Kaipa. This set is a chance to see what he gets up to with his day job.
This release features a CD of live material recorded by the pair and their band over a two year period and comes with the added attraction of an accompanying DVD highlighting Morgan’s live and studio work with the Mats/Morgan Band and a myriad other mainly Scandinavian projects and performers over the preceding 15 years, many of which also feature Mats.
Ågren is a drummers’ drummer as the sleeve quote from Porcupine Tree and King Crimson man Gavin Harrison attests. The complexity of the rhythms employed and the dexterity and improvisational skill from both is legendary and put to good use here, the playing being top rate throughout. They’re musical feats are all the more impressive as Mats is blind from birth. Modern Jazz could be seen as the starting point for this hair-raising trip of instrumental and compositional brilliance (a segment of the DVD turning this to “hair-razing” as Mr. Ågren sets his curls ablaze attempting to light a cigarette while holding a beat!). However, don’t be fooled into thinking this is going to be all po-faced, chin-stroking muso stuff as the fun factor is never far from the surface.
The CD comprises live tracks recorded in France and Sweden between 2005 and 2007 with various combinations of band members. The bubbling bass of Tommy Tordson is truly integral to the sound and features on three tracks, keyboardist Robert Elovsson, guitarist Jimmy Ågren and the brass section of Simon Steensland (baritone horn) and Erik and Martin Sternberg (tenor and alto sax respectively), all excellent players, appearing on one track each. There is much to be said for the compositional skills of the leaders as this isn’t simply about the playing. This music is wilful and difficult but mesmerising and engaging too. The Avant Garde is an influence as are the likes of Miles Davis and Mahavishnu Orchestra, but these guys are up for just about anything. Leave your inhibitions at the door and immerse yourself in their strange world.
Return of Advokaten, Tvingle and Truvas Rumba feature the core drum, keys and bass trio and for me these are the most enjoyable. Jazz, progressive rock, Zappa and modern classical come together in a unique showcase of their talent and ingenuity. Varying rhythms and extreme chops combine with melodic passages that after a few listen you may even be humming to yourself. Truvas Rumble has a distinct air of Gentle Giant about it to start, frenetic drums driving along 100 miles per hour under a beautiful and delicate keyboard figure. A whole CD of the trio setup may be an easier listening proposition overall but would possibly not give such a good overview of the depth that this band has to offer.
The drum and keys duo pieces Rhinecliff Hotel, Mats Jingle and Watch Me Pleasure are also very enjoyable as the musical telepathy between the two is evident. Mats is a wonderful pianist and as stated, the structure of the pieces remain intact no matter what the two decide to get up to. The acoustic feel and piano of Rhinecliff Hotel comes across as a more high energy relative to some of the pieces from the Bill Bruford and Patrick Moraz collaborations. The track simply flows and Esbjorn Svensson Trio also comes to mind here. Far removed from this is the electronic Mats Jingle, the flip side of the coin but retaining the musical relationship between the two players. Watch Me Pleasure starts as almost a halfway house between the other duo pieces in feel, retaining an acoustic edge within its electronics and sound effects environment which dissipates towards the end of the piece as electronic takes over.
The brief Pulse features the quintet format with the addition of Jimmy and Robert and rattles along on a cool groove and some nice keyboard. The longest piece is the 11 minute The Bosendorfer Of Advokaten which starts with some lovely piano, percussive and metallic string effects and recorded Swedish voices. After 5 minutes the piano begins to stutter and the rhythm becomes very odd and variable. The audience also becomes more vocal! A solid rhythm then kicks in again before the arrival of the brass section and a cacophonous improvisation. This clears and bass locks in with the drums for a driving rhythm, keys dancing over the top. Easy listening this ain’t!
There are also a number of short vignettes on the album. Friis and Heretoast are dissonant synth pieces from Morgan solo and Riff At Play is the trio doing exactly what it says on the tin for all of 12 seconds; a distant cousin to Five Per Cent For Nothing by Yes? The closer, Cry Of Laika, is a haunting and mournful piece from Mats solo with keys and blues harmonica.
Throughout this album the focus is definitely on feel and emotion rather than perfection and on this it is a mile ahead of many of the clinical jazz rock releases out there. There is a very human and fragile face behind the artistry. The Zappa influence remains but it is more distant now, having helped them get off the ground they have now learnt to fly on their own. Mats and Morgan cross the boundaries between improvisation, structure and composition and give us something wonderful. As Morgan says in the liner notes:
“When people are most interested in the technical side of things I lose a bit of my motivation to play. I see no problem in getting credited for technical abilities if the listener can simultaneously feel a connection to the music. However it is refreshing when someone comes up to you after a concert to say ‘I am not a musician at all, I don’t understand what you do, but I got so happy listening to your concert. I feel much better now.’....When something grabs you – be it music or a painting – you just fly with your impression and there is no need for theoretical explanation.”
The DVD in this package is a stand-alone item in its own right. Tourbook features Morgan Ågren in various incarnations over nearly 20 years and is an excellent introduction to the man, his talent and his lesser known works. As well as the Mats/Morgan Band there are many other featured ensembles including Morgan’s collaboration with Meshuggah guitarist Fredrik Thordendal (experi-metal?), The Flesh Quartet (string quartet and percussion punk), Box (beyond LOUD), Captain Beefheart (a cover of Lick My Decals Off Baby) and Magma/Christian Vander tributes, Jannis Eliasson Band (heavy rhythmic jazz), Christer Karlberg Trio (trad jazz), Simon Steensland Kamikaze United (wild with lead keyboard) and Per Tjernberg’s Inside Information (big band jazz). Mats Öberg also appears in some of these.
The quality varies from amateur audience and studio clips to professionally shot live sections and some of the 70 clips featured are very brief. Morgan is, as expected, the main focus throughout and the group segments are interspersed with many solo drum workouts, interviews, studio clips, quotations and home movie items involving a trip into Morgan’s shed, drums as hats and trampolining in the snow amongst other things!
Watching Ågren at work is a wonderful experience. He is a truly great drummer whose use of rhythm and complex patterns takes the breath away. The solo drum clips clearly show how different he is to run of the mill “good” drummers. Some of it is simply jaw dropping, some dissonant, some rhythmic but never boring. Those who enjoy the work of Tatsuya Yoshida and Ruins Alone may appreciate this - it is not the tedious drum soloing that often accompanies the stadium gig toilet break and is possibly the best drumming I’ve ever seen.
Various eras of The Mats/Morgan Band are featured throughout the disc which is good for variety but not so easy when trying to get a feel of where the band were at different times in their history. No matter, there is lots of jumping and spinning to enjoy!
Most of the major tracks from the CD are featured on the DVD and you get a greater understanding of the structures within the pieces, the excellence of the writing and the scope for flexibility and improvisation incorporated into it. Watching them live is probably the best way to experience this band rather than simply listening to them on CD. And you also get to see Artis the Spoonsman helping out, a Theremin and a nice little clip of Morgan playing a very cool xylophone/guitar thingy.
The DVD can be hard to follow as pieces tend to merge together and jump from one era to the next without warning, and the sleeve notes don’t feature all the small additional clips so you have to pay attention if you want to keep up. The menu is also cumbersome due to the huge number of clips involved so the best thing to do is sit back with a beer and just let the whole thing wash over you. As a bonus you also get Japan Tour Movie which features a montage of off-stage sequences over a Zappaesque musical backing moving into a section of split screen and merging images of Mats/Morgan Band on stage.
Overall this is a must see for any drummer. However, I expect a good number will hang up their sticks when they do. If you like the quirkiness that people like Bill Bruford can offer when the mood takes them then this for you all the way. This package has taken me ages to review and not only due to the scale of it. I really had to let it in and absorb it before I felt ready to try and put my thoughts into words. I would love to see these guys live as I expect that is where the magic really happens but as for this set, the CD is a challenging yet very engaging listen which has grown on me more and more with every play while the DVD features some staggering playing to savour. Not for everyone but highly recommended.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
SBB - Behind The Iron Curtain [DVD]
Tracklist: Defilada (8:55), Camelele (5:49), Odlot (16:00), Going Away/Zywiec Mountain Melody (13:41), Freedom With Us (7:34), Skala [The Rock] (6:10), Piesn Stojacego W Bramie (3:36), Drum Battle/Walkin’ Around The Stormy Bay (14:56), Iron Curtain (5:29), Pielgrzym [Pilgrim] (8:23), Z Których Krwi Krew Moja (5:52), Rainbow Man (7:07), Blues (6:21), Walkin’ Around The Stormy Bay-Reprise (7:00) Bonus Features: Camelele Video Clip (4:50), Studio Documentary (25:00), Photo Gallery (4:30), Biography, Discography, Weblinks
Stop It! Please! Don’t film live shows at the Teatr Sláski (or is it Wyspianski Theatre?) anymore! It’s a lovely venue, and it looks wonderful on screen, but this is a DVD too many! I’m sure Metal Mind have a great deal with this location, and the filming crew are very professional and make it all look beautiful and sharp, but after virtually EVERYBODY has shot a DVD here, maybe it’s time to find a new place; come on, Poland is a beautiful country with plenty of old theatres and clubs with character… Don’t worry, my dear Teatr Sláski owners, rest assured the venue you run is already one of prog’s most beloved cathedrals… It’s just time to move on…
As for this particular show, SBB have slightly disappointed me. I thought their latest album, Iron Curtain, was a very decent and occasionally interesting effort, so the tour to promote it would be a good opportunity to offer a nice balance between newer compositions and old classics. In fact, the set list is more or less a reflection of that wish; there’s music from Iron Curtain (Camelele, Defilada and Iron Curtain, probably the three best tracks) as well as other songs from recent releases Nastroje (2002) and The Rock (2007), and of course a few classics from the 70’s thrown in for good measure…
…but this concert is just missing something. I don’t know exactly what it is… the performances are overall quite good; not that I didn’t expect any less from the legendary Józef Skzrek and Apostolis Anthimos or Hungarian drummer and “new guy” Gabor Nemeth. There’s plenty of extended musical passages, solos and intricacies to show the band’s potential. The problem is that it all sounds a bit too flat and often these instrumental excursions seem to go nowhere.
Much as Skzrek seems to be enjoying the performance, and I’m sure he puts his heart and soul on it, precisely emotion is what this concert so desperately lacks. Nemeth and, especially, Anthimos are both very static performers, surely excellent on their respective instruments, but not too fun to watch to say the least. It doesn’t help either that the audience seems really cold and distant (this is not the first time I have this feeling with a show filmed at this particular venue).
All in all, it all contributes to the slightly soulless and, dare I say it, slightly boring nature of this DVD. The long instrumental sections, once one of this band’s trademarks, now feel too long and often not particularly inspiring. This applies to the repetitive Odlot or the partially interesting but decidedly over-extended Drum Battle, where Nemeth displays his remarkable chops and Anthimos gets to show his appreciable percussive talents (which anyway I consider not enough for soloing), before the band launches into Walkin’ Around The Stormy Bay, one of their best known pieces along with Rainbow Man (both extracted from the Welcome album, one of their most popular releases).
Only with ballads such as the classic Freedom With Us or Iron Curtain SBB manage to generate some emotion from simplicity and honesty (though Skzrek’s vocals might not be perfect, they have plenty of character and passion). Anyway, my favourite moment here is Pielgrzym, a track from The Rock with a nice and hypnotic atmosphere. The (let’s say) tentative approach the band seem to apply on this show at least works nicely for this piece’s dreamy eight minutes.
Elsewhere, you have a nice and simple video clip for Camelele, and an interesting documentary on the making of Iron Curtain, where Skzrek gets to show his passion and dedication to music, and Nemeth offers some interesting reflections. Let’s say Anthimos is a man of few words…
This is a decent and occasionally inspiring release, but it lacks the brilliance a legendary band like SBB has us accustomed to.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
Paul Brett Sage - Paul Brett Sage
Tracklist: 3D Mona Lisa (3:22), The Sun Died (4:05), Little Aztec Prince (4:26), Reason For Your Asking (4:14), Trophies Of War (3:39), The Power (5:19), The Painter (4:15), Mediterranean Lazy Heat Wave (3:22), Warlock (5:42)
Paul Brett's Sage - Jubilation Foundry
Tracklist: Cottage Made For Two (2:40), Hold My Hand Mother (3:01), Pasadena Days (3:19), Keeper Of My Heart (3:46), Goodbye Forever (3:08), Good Old Fashioned Funky Kind Of Music (4:31), Bits (0:32), I Fell So Far (3:11), Written In Winter (2:56), Tuesday Evening (2:26), Help Me Jesus (4:20), Jubilation Foundry (4:54), Bits (0:56) Bonus Tracks: Everlasting Butterfly (3:44), Savannah Ladies (3:24), To Everyman (Freedom) (4:22)
Paul Brett's Sage - Schizophrenia
Tracklist: Custom Angel Man (2:43), Charlene (3:19), Song Of Life - Song Of Death (2:53), Slow Down Ma! (3:02), Saviour Of The World (5:04), Limp Willie (1:58), Tale Of A Rainy Night (3:25), Take Me Back And I Will Love You (4:25), Autumn (5:03), Make It Over (4:26), Bee (1:00) Bonus Track: Dahlia (3:28)
Paul Brett is widely regarded as one of the finest 12-string acoustic guitarists in the world and also has an amazing collection of guitars, something that he is probably better known for these days than his recorded output. Having been performing since the early 1960s he has contributed his skills to many records including those by Arthur Brown, Velvet Opera, Tintern Abbey, The Strawbs and Fire to name but a few. However, he also released a trio of albums with his band Sage between 1970 and 1972. Long out of print, Esoteric have done their usual expert job in re-mastering and reissuing the albums complete with bonus tracks and rare photographs. All three albums were initially released by Pye Records, either on the main label, or in the case of the latter two albums, on their Dawn imprint label.
The first album, credited to Paul Brett Sage, featured Brett himself on guitar and vocals, Richard Dufall on bass, Bob Voice on percussion and Nicky Higginbottom on flute and saxophone. There is also a far amount of keyboard work spread across the album, although no details are given as to whom might have played them! Largely acoustic in nature, the music is often referred to as psychedelic folk, although that is rather a misnomer as there is not a lot of connection with traditional folk music, it is more in the singer/songwriter style. Higginbottom's flute work is exceptional throughout, providing an ethereal air which blends soothingly with the acoustic guitars. Traditional drums are largely eschewed in favour of bongos and congas which provide almost tribal rhythms on songs such as The Sun Died, the intro to which features Brett showing off his flamenco licks. The single from the album, 3D Mona Lisa, is a delightful song that is embellished by some fine electric guitar work while Reason For Your Asking features a sumptuous orchestral arrangement from a pre-Jethro Tull David Palmer. Elsewhere, Mediterranean Lazy Heat Wave ups the tempo and gives Dufall prominence with his dancing bass line plus a somewhat uncharacteristic organ solo but it is with Warlock that the ultimate future direction of the band is forged, with acoustic and electric guitar solos, changes of rhythm and tempo and an impassioned vocal delivery.
By the time of the second album, Jubilation Foundry, the band's name had changed to the more grammatically correct Paul Brett's Sage and Nicky Higginbottom had been replaced by Stuart Cowell, a second guitarist. Although Higginbottom had gone, some flute playing persists, particularly on the opening track Cottage Made For Two. In other changes, there is more harmony singing and a greater use of orchestrations (by Mike Gibbs) plus an overall rockier feel, although both Brett and Cowell still provide plenty of acoustic in-put throughout the album, such as on their guitar playing on Pasadena Days and piano playing on Keeper Of My Heart, both written by Steve Voice, the younger brother of conga, bongo and anvil (!) player Bob Voice. The simplicity of this latter song, along with the gorgeous arrangement blending strings, wind and brass, make this a killer love song. There was also an expansion in the styles of music covered, with both sides of the single from the album Goodbye Forever and Good Old Fashioned Funky Kind Of Music being somewhat atypical and although interesting, not the strongest tracks on the album to my mind. (As an aside, the marketing prowess of Pye Records is exemplified by the single being wrapped in a sleeve featuring a photograph which included Higginbottom!). Tuesday Evening features some great harmony singing from the whole band, as does Help Me Jesus during which Voice gets the most out of his bongos. However, it is the title track, featuring the aforementioned anvil, that takes the credits with some fine playing by the ensemble, haunting lyrics and a great dirge-like quality. The three additional tracks are from an EP that was released between the first and second album which featured Reason For Your Asking from the debut album as lead track. Stylistically, the tracks are more akin to those on the first album, acoustic with added orchestrations on the first two tracks, with Everlasting Butterfly being the standout number, and a more upbeat chant on To Everyman [Freedom].
Schizophrenia, the third and final album, saw the group reduced to a trio with the departure of bassist Dufall. Although not replaced, the bass playing is uncredited, Brett's old friend from the Fire days, Dave Lambert, by this time a member of The Strawbs, added piano and organ to a few tracks. From the opening grooves of Custom Angel Man a new heaviness to the material could be heard with electric guitar hammering between the speakers. There was still an underlying acoustic vibe with piano and acoustic guitar forming the backdrop. Twin electrics also grace the marvellous Song Of Life - Song Of Death, possibly the only other 'rock' song besides Greg Lake's I Believe In Father Christmas to include sleigh bells! The vocals are also quite a bit rougher, giving the songs a harder edge, although the harmonies were still present on more commercial numbers like Charlene and the acoustic numbers like Tale Of A Rainy Night which really emphasises just how proficient Brett was on the guitar. Slow Down Ma! is all over the place tempo wise, with a frantic rhythm set up by the congas of Voice accompanied by a real drum kit, played by another Strawbs member, Rod Coomes. The gentler passages have some nice lap steel guitar to add texture. Two instrumental numbers, Limp Willie and Bee are great guitar showcases, the latter featuring a solo acoustic and the former a couple of electrics, along with the sleeve note "Drink eight double rums and you can no doubt make up your own words"! As one might expect from the title, Take Me Back And I Will Love You is a sweet ballad, well mostly, it all gets rather heated at the end and seems to lose its original intent. Autumn once again harks back to the style of the original album with flute and oboe (played by Rob Young), acoustic guitar, bongos, harmony vocals and some very tasty electric guitar. A wonderful song. Dahlia, a non-album single, has been added to complete the entire reissue of the songs of Paul Brett's Sage. A good tune that differs from the rest of the group's output in that it features some great violin work. This is undoubtedly by Mike Piggott, who replaced Cowell in the last line-up of the band, despite the sleeve notes stating that the violinist never recorded with the group (Piggott's web site states that he recorded with Brett in 1972, but no other details are given!)
So there you have it, three albums charting the career of a band. Each of the three albums feature some great songs, exemplary guitar playing, nice harmonies and something a bit different from run-of-the-mill albums from the seventies. Schizophrenia is the best of the bunch and the debut probably shades it over Jubilation Foundry for me, but there is not much in it. Worth checking out if these words have piqued your curiosity.
Paul Brett Sage: 6 out of 10
Jubilation Foundry: 6 out of 10
Schizophrenia: 7 out of 10
Knitting By Twilight - An Evening Out Of Town
Tracklist: Jaunt To Dreamland (3:17), Water Pumps From Cloudland (4:06), Soothing Stars (4:09), Evelyn's Glen (4:01), Oblivion's Poppied Slope (4:45), Pictures Of Delight (4:25), Audrey (4:45), Bell Weather (4:20), Venus For Everyone (4:27), Untitled [apparently, a hidden track] (3:26)
Knitting By Twilight – Riding The Way Back
Tracklist: Shiver (3:53), Mik's Glacier (3:34), She's Here (2:24), Blue Ink For Fountain Pens (4:45), Twirling Guitars And Glad Tambourines (4:47)
Knitting By Twilight may not be a familiar name to DPRP, or in fact progressive listeners in general and although we covered their EP Someone To Break The Silence (2005) very little appears in the progressive press about this band. This may well have to do with the rather eclectic nature of their music, more on this later, but certainly this long running project deserves further coverage. Dating back to 1994 Knitting By Twilight (KBT) have released three previous works with An Evening Out Of Town being the first full length offering. The "band" revolves around percussionist and multi-instrumentalist John Orsi along with Mike Marando (guitars), Karen Orsi (guitars) and Manny Silva (guitars).
You may think with such a gathering of guitarists that this may be an undiscovered California Guitar Trio or perhaps a version of Robert Fripp's The League Of Gentlemen, but you would be mistaken. Because although there may be some references to Bob Fripp's aforementioned works (those with David Sylvian) the work of KBT takes a different course. Primarily as John Osri presumably starts from a percussive basis, adding flavours and textures from the guitars along with liberal, but subtle use of keyboards and sporadic sound effects.
The album kicks of in sterling fashion with Medieval type percussion before subtle strings and a more modern beat are added. There is much going on within the mix and a credit to the production that all of these parts are evident in the mix. Following this strong opener we move into another rhythmically strong piece, Water Pumps From Cloudland. Again strings are utilised to good effect along with a rather grungy bass end. The layers of guitars also work well and the track moves along neatly. Soothing Stars is rather inappropriately named for me as the track isn't particularly soothing and in fact retains a tension throughout via the strings. Again the percussion is strong as it is in the following piece the subtly titled Evelyn's Glen - I'll leave it to you to work out.
Up to this point the album worked well and although the rather haunting Oblivion's Poppied Slope contrasted the previous tracks I found my attention waning. Manny Silva's Ebow worked well within the layered drones, but overall the track just left me feeling this would be more suited if there was a visual element to it. Pictures Of Delight features rising and falling pattern along with light but driving percussion element. The fairly ambient and minimalistic Audrey is the only surviving track from the taster EP Someone To Break The Silence. Although the track has been re-mixed it did little for me, as did the following piece, Bell Weather, with its simple melody played on dissonant chiming bells. The album concludes with Venus For Everyone, which after the rather slow start returns us to the more infectious rhythms from the earlier part of the CD. Well almost finished - still left is the "not so" hidden Untitled track - a fairly catchy riff played on a metal keyed type instrument/sound. Low drones and sporadic percussion accompany. Now we're finished...
The gatefold CD is neatly constructed and nicely sits with the Knitting By Twilight concept and as mentioned earlier the overall album production is good.
Initially I was fairly dismissive of this release as although it is not without its own charm, there was little in the way of immediate melodies or any instrumental soloing to latch on to. However the subtle intricacies of the often complex and layered rhythms, interesting string arrangements and hypnotic guitar textures gradually began to unfold.
Although the music grew on me, I cannot see it having mass appeal within the progressive community and with so much "progressive" material emerging at the moment it is difficult to say whether or not An Evening Out Of Town is an album that will having you digging into your wallet for. Interesting in parts if not essential...
I finally finished reviewing An Evening Out Of Town early one sunny morning in July and before preparing to leave for work. Just before I was due to leave the postman arrived with a bundle of albums for DPRP to review and as I had a few minutes to spare I decided to see what had just arrived. In this bundle was Riding The Way Back, the follow up album from Knitting By Twilight. Now this may suggest that KBT are prolific writers, or more likely that yours truly - is not!
Either way in front of me is the latest offering from this US based quartet Knitting By Twilight. The line-up remains the same, which is perhaps not surprising as only a few months have passed since their previous release. So the burning question was, has the music changed? First track Shiver would suggest definitely so. Almost grunge like guitars are driven along by a strong steady rock beat - certainly there was nothing on the previous album to suggest this, with only the percussive ornamentations serving as a reminder. Circa 2:30 minutes in and the music moves to more familiar ground with lighter guitars and a pleasant melody.
Whilst listening to the album I started to read through the liner notes where interestingly John Osri comments:
"This ep is comprised mostly of material that wouldn’t, couldn’t and otherwise didn’t fit onto the previous Knitting By Twilight album, “An Evening Out of Town” for mostly thematic considerations."
Initially Mik's Glacier didn't appear to be something that would have been out of place on An Evening Out Of Town as it is purely percussion. However one minute in and a strong Bonhamesque drum beat carries the challenging strings to the close. In similar fashion She's Here starts with assorted cymbals and percussion, eventually (0:30) broken by a heavily distorted guitar without any rhythmic backing. The pattern is repeated.
Blue Ink For Fountain Pens is an altogether perky up-beat track and the outstanding piece from the EP. A strong rhythmic and melodic structure is provided by the tuned (and de-tuned) percussion. Guest musician Michael Watson provides the keyboards whilst Mike Mirando adds his "blue guitar" - long sustained notes to you and I - which nicely contrast the busier rhythms. Excellent!
Concluding Riding The Way Back is another track that that relies heavily on tuned and structured percussive rhythms, this time accompanied by whammy bar madness from Karen Osri and various sound effects and chanting. The careful mixing saves the day here...
Once again the packaging is well constructed and complimentary to the release.
Considering Riding The Way Back may well have been viewed as "cast offs" from their previous release, I found it to be the better album, mainly as it was more concise and there was certainly more happening in the music. Personally the stronger tracks from both CDs might have made a more easily digestible and therefore stronger single release. But that is a decision for the author rather than the reviewer.
An Evening Out Of Town: 5 out of 10
Riding The Way Back: 5.5 out of 10
Valkyr – The Mirror Has Two Faces
Tracklist: The Static Movement (4:09), Toccata (5:34), Dead Man’s Hand (6:38), Bringer Of War (6:12), Nine Worlds (10:15), The Fear Within (4:23), The Mirror Has Two Faces Pt. 1 (7:39), Source Of Evil (4:35), The Mirror Has Two Faces Pt. 2 (5:07)
Valkyr is an instrumental metal band hailing from the UK who, according to their MySpace page, have taken some time off but are optimistic for a return in 2010. The album up for review was made in 2008 and is called The Mirror Has Two Faces.
This band brings us a sound that is self-described as “Maidenesque styled harmonies”. While I didn’t hear the complexity and multidimensional song writing of Iron Maiden, the particular tuning of the guitar was there and the Highlander melodies found on Maiden’s Brave New World can be found throughout the disc.
My overarching impression of this album is that it sounds like the runner-up in a high school Battle Of The Bands competition. The completely unproduced and poor recording quality is not even the primary reason for my assessment; Valkyr lapsed several times where the instruments weren’t even on beat or together. The drummer is behind the beat and the bassist is in front of it. Without a tight rhythm section, there isn’t much to build upon.
Oddly enough, for me the most redeeming quality musically for this disc can be found in the folksy Celtic melodies during the slow segments – not exactly a compliment for a metal band. Maybe there is something to be said for moving towards a Blackmore’s Night tempered metal twist.
In my opinion this disc is hard to wade through. The metal riffs are repetitive and uninventive and the pacing for this style of music seemed to drag. The timing mismatches, poor recording, and weak development in the song writing all add up to a poor score, however, the attitude found in the band’s web exposure shows a determined metal band that loves to perform. I hope the live shows are better than the recording.
Conclusion: 2 out of 10