Issue 2010-001

Reviews in this issue:

No-Man - Mixtaped

No-Man - Mixtaped
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:K-Scope Music
Catalogue #:kscope505
Year of Release:2009
Time:210:00 approx
Encoding & SoundStereo
5.1 Surround


Disc 1: Only Rain (4:39) / Time Travel In Texas (4:55), All Sweet Things (6:53), Pretty Genius (3:50), All The Blue Changes (6:16), Truenorth (7:39), Wherever There Is Light (5:08), Days In The Trees (5:29), Lighthouse (8:12), Carolina Skeletons (6:47), Returning Jesus (5:12), Mixtaped (10:00), Things Change (9:11), Watching Over Me (5:44) Live Photo Gallery [Housekeeping] (5:26)

Disc 2: Returning [Documentary] (85:21), Video Clips: Colours (4:30), Sweetheart Raw (6:30), You Grow More Beautiful (4:44), The Ballet Beast (1:37), Back When You Were Beautiful (5:18), Back When You Were Beautiful (5.1 mix)(5:18). No-Man chronology. Deleted Scenes: The Name (0:36), Swagger (0:59)

Bonus CD: Only Rain / Time Travel In Texas (9:39), All Sweet Things (6:42), Pretty Genius (3:48), Returning Jesus (4:49), Mixtaped (8:57), Things Change (8:19)

After several delays the No-Man DVD was finally released in November. I'd been waiting anxiously for this, especially since I had to miss the rare mini-tour of the band because of an illness I'd picked up in India. The wait of more than a year was a long one. But here it was, the first ever DVD release by No-Man, the collaborative project by Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree, Blackfield) and Tim Bowness, capturing their first live performance in 15 years.

Ignoring the experimental trip-hop origins of the band, the setlist of the show consists of material from the albums that are most interesting to fans of prog rock music. All of their major releases are present with one or more songs:

Flowermouth (Things Change, Watching Over Me)
Wild Opera (Pretty Genius, Time Travel In Texas)
Returning Jesus (Only Rain, Carolina Skeletons, Returning Jesus, Lighthouse)
Together We're Stranger (All The Blue Changes)
Schoolyard Ghosts (All Sweet Things, Truenorth, Wherever There Is Light, Mixtaped)

There's also a lovely rendition of the rare 1991 single Days In The Trees. It's a shame that my personal favourite, Together We're Stranger, is only represented by one song, but there's so much great material that you won't hear me complaining (too much).

If you are expecting a big style rock concert like Steven Wilson puts on with Porcupine Tree, you'll be very disappointed. No-Man's music is very different and therefore requires a very different approach as well. It's much more intimate, and that might be the perfect way to describe the atmosphere at the Bush Hall in London, where the performance was filmed on August 29th 2008. Seven musicians (singer, two guitarists, bass player, drummer/percussionist, keyboard player and violin player) are cramped on a tiny little stage. They seem to have so little room that moving too much would result into bumping into each other. You might think that this results in a rather static performance and it does, but it's not a major problem since No-Man's music fits a choreography of gentle swaying very well. The musicians are mostly lit from below and the sides of the stage and the show features a lot of red, purple and blue light, enhancing the intimate and slightly mysterious atmosphere. You've got the feeling you're watching the band play through layers of clouds.

So, if not for the visual aspect, why be bothered by this DVD at all? Well, this one is all about the music and unlike many other bands that play their material note-for-note on stage, No-Man take their stuff to whole new places. As fans will know, most of the band's material is very mellow, and not just because of Tim Bowness' characteristic breathy way of singing. But for this live performance they completely reworked a few of their most mellow songs. Classics like Carolina Skeletons and All The Blue Changes are given a complete makeover and climax into rock-out raves that even have Wilson headbanging. The second half of Lighthouse is more uptempo than the original and even features a real Wilson guitar solo, a rarity on the band's albums. Michael Bearpark, in his turn, lays down a gentle guitar solo in Returning Jesus. Indeed, No-Man live is another incarnation of this great band, with more emphasis on electric guitar and a touch of heaviness.

The gig opens with a very minimalistic version of Only Rain in which violin player Steve Bingham lays down three violin loops - probably using the Mac computer that can be seen on stage - on which he continues to play another melody, thus creating a one-man string ensemble. The song remains a vocal-violin only arrangement until the end when creepy guitar and bass effects move the song into the menacing Time Travel In Texas. The contrast couldn't be any bigger. The up - and descending melody of All Sweet Things is also played on violin by Bingham, who has a pretty important role in the whole gig.

Unfortunately Truenorth is missing part 3 in it's live performance, then again Mixtaped (which I never really liked on the band's latest album) sounds a lot more enjoyable in it's live rendition, which has an almost Russia On Ice-like quality. Also worth mentioning is Things Change in which former band member Ben Coleman joins the band to play violin. His marvellous solo with wah-wah effects at the end of the song is one of the highlights of the DVD.

The nice thing about the obligatory photo gallery is that it also shows pictures of the band's performances in Holland and Germany (with stages that get progressively larger). What's more, it comes with a recording of Housekeeping, which was only played in Dusseldorf, as a soundtrack. Even more interesting is the second DVD in this set, which contains the 85 minute documentary 'Returning' and a series of rare video clips. The documentary is amazingly professional and on par with many of the retrospective documentaries you'd come to expect from big bands. It goes all the way back to the very origin of No-Man in 1987 and is a real revelation for people like me that only got to know the band through Steven Wilson and worked their way backwards from Together We're Stranger to Flowermouth. The history of No-Man is so much more diverse and goes way back to Steven Wilson's earliest musical escapades, long before the conception of Porcupine Tree.

The documentary features footage of the band working in Wilson's tiny studio, rehearsing for their 2008 tour and many interviews with current (Wilson & Bowness) and past band members (Blagden, Coleman, Maitland), session musicians (Travis, Morgan) as well as a music journalist, music publisher, projection technician and even cover artists Carl Glover. The documentary also displays the wide variety of styles the band went through like industrial, dance, ambient, pop, trip hop and eventually progressive or art rock, whatever you want to call it. It also openly discusses the reasons for Coleman's departure and his personality clashes with Bowness, the band's embarrassment with some of the early material and Bowness' difficulty in accepting the popularity of Porcupine Tree while No-Man's was fading. There's also quite a bit of archive live footage from 1989 (with Wilson playing keyboards) and 1992 (with members of Japan), as well as radio sessions for Flowermouth and a short one-off live performance in 2006.

Mixtaped gives you high value-for-money and is a must-have release for all No-Man fans and an excellent starting point for lovers of art rock and Steve Wilson's other projects alike that want to learn more about this legendary band. The first orders of the Mixtaped DVD come with a free bonus CD called 'Highlights From Mixtaped'. A nice little extra, although my personal selection of highlights would be very different from the songs on the CD.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


Big Big Train - The Underfall Yard

Big Big Train - The Underfall Yard
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:English Electric
Catalogue #:EERCD005
Year of Release:2009
Info:Big Big Train
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Evening Star (4:53), Master James Of St. George (6:19), Victorian Brickwork (12:33), Last Train (6:28), Winchester Diver (7:31), The Underfall Yard (22:54)

On The Difference Machine from 2007 Big Big Train founders Gregory Spawton and Andy Poole started to take on the role of directors, leaving the spotlight to others, which resulted in an incredibly strong album. With that album the band entered the premier league of prog, and now the directors are back with The Underfall Yard.

The very positive feedback the band received after releasing The Difference Machine however did not result in a "The Difference Machine Part 2". Drummer Steve Hughes (who only played on one track on DM) and lead vocalist Sean Filkins are gone. All the drum parts are played by Nick D’Virgilio (he also did an impressive job on DM) and David Longdon is the new vocalist. Longdon was suggested as the new vocalist by Martin Orford (Longdon also sings on Orford's excellent The Old Road) and he proves to be a golden choice. He not only does he have a very good voice but he also delivers some beautiful vocal arrangements (sometimes aided by D’Virgilio) and stunning flute parts. With Longdon the band now consists of three muli instrumentalists as Longdon also plays mandolin, glockenspiel, dulcimer and organ.

Another difference from the previous album lies in the atmosphere of the songs. DM was a modern sounding record which showed the more experimental side of the band whereas The Underfall Yard has a more pastoral sound and is more accessible whilst still remaining a very powerful album. Gregory Spawton wrote, what I believe to be, the best songs in the band's entire history. He also delivers some beautiful lyrics about pioneering engineers in England laying the train tracks and workers in the mines. Spawton has a great interest in (English) history. The lyrics display a love for England's past with a nostalgic feel. The same feel that came across on Orford's The Old Road.

Spawton, Poole and Longdon arranged the entire album. That’s what I meant at the start of my review where I called them "directors" because in order to get the best result they asked guests to help them get there. Francis Dunnery plays an impressive guitar solo on the title track which also features some brilliant and very fast keyboard solos by Jem Godfrey. Jon Foyle on cello adds melancholic texture to a couple of the songs. Most of the guitar solos on the album are played by Dave Gregory (ex-XTC) who also adds sitar and mellotron and I must say that he plays some very impressive solos on most of the tracks on this album adding more than a slight Yes feel. When his guitar solo is accompanied by an upfront Rickenbacker bass (played by Poole and Spawton) Steve Howe and Chris Squire spring to mind. Especially his solo in Master James Of St George is very impressive. There are also some beautiful twelve string acoustic guitar parts, played by Spawton, that sound like early Genesis but overall BBT have found their very own sound. The biggest surprise on the album however is the addition of a brass section on a couple of the tracks. A brilliant idea! The beautiful arranged brass parts enhance the melancholy atmosphere of the lyrics and music.

There is not a weak track on this album. Album opener Evening Star has everything that is so good about this album squeezed in five minutes. A beautiful a cappella opening (the same a cappella piece returns in full glory at the end of the epic title track), great melodies that are complex but sound so easy. The Rickenbacker and the excellent drumming of Nick D’Virgilio form the solid basis and of course the brass band. For me Victorian Brickwork is one of the stand out tracks. It starts very gentle but soon picks up pace. It has a beautiful chorus which shows the vocal arrangement skills of Longdon. Dave Gregory delivers some inspired guitar solos. And then after nine minutes the brass band kicks in to start the finale of the track with beautiful cornet solos (yes really!) and guitar solos. The first time I heard this I nearly had tears in my eyes (or as Colour Sergeant David Desmond, who was responsible for the beautiful brass arrangements on The Underfall Yard, said “Permission for bottom lip to tremble, Sir”. Quote taken from the BBT Blog). It is so beautiful!

This really is a monster of an album. Music, lyrics and the beautiful artwork of Jim Trainer fit together perfectly making The Underfall Yard IMHO by far the best album released this year. The songs are very strong, the musicianship is excellent and the lyrics are beautiful. I would not be surprised at all if in, let’s say, ten years from now The Underfall Yard is considered to be one of the classic albums in prog's history. It’s an absolute masterpiece!

Conclusion: 10 out of 10


Panic Room - Satellite

Panic Room - Satellite
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Firefly
Catalogue #:FMCD002-S
Year of Release:2009
Info:Panic Room
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Satellite [58:56] Freedom To Breathe (5:33), Picking Up Knives (5:10), I Am A Cat (4:37), The Fall (6:16), Black Noise (3:59), Yasuni (5:14), Sunshine (6:02), Into The Fire (5:00), Dark Star (5:11), Muse (3:43), Satellite (8:05)

Little Satellite [24:02] 5th Amendment (4:17), The Great Divide (5:30), Go (4:07), Sandstorms (10:08)

Panic Room return with their hotly awaited second album Satellite. Largely recorded over a two-week period at a studio in South Wales, the group decided to go for a more 'live' approach recording as a band rather than laying down each instrument individually. Essential overdubs, additional instrumentation and backing vocals were then added to give the tracks the final polish. The process was successful as displayed by the cohesiveness of the album and the performances, indeed I believe that some of the basic tracks used on the final album were first takes!

Overall, Satellite is a more refined and mature album than Visionary Position and the focus is more on the song and less on overt progressive rockisms, although opener Freedom To Breathe is a fine beginning with plaudits to Paul Davies for some fine guitar work. I did find the drum sound, particularly the snare, to be rather too prominent for my tastes, something that permeates throughout the album, especially on the next track Picking Up Knives where it and the hi-hat at times overshadowed some fine jazzy noodlings on the Rhodes electric piano by Jonathan Edwards. Even after hearing it several times I am rather unsure as to what to make of I Am A Cat, a bit too simplistic and repetitive, although a fine chorus does lift it somewhat. As ever, Anne-Marie Helder is in fine voice and none better than on the lovely ballad The Fall. Her performance and delivery of the lead and backing vocals are nigh on perfect with the Edwards' keyboards providing a delicate backing at times reminiscent of a small string section. In contrast, Black Noise is much more of a dramatic number with its staccato opening riff and somewhat despondent lyrics with things particularly picking up during the middle eight and the final verse. The ecological song Yasuni tells the plight of the Yasuni forest in Ecuador that has the largest diversity of trees (over 600 species) of any forest in the world which is gradually being destroyed by the short-term profits brought about by the oil exploration/exploitation industries. Sickening really what mankind is doing to the planet and something that no song can combat alone.

Pushing the politics aside, Sunshine takes on a more languid air, with gentle acoustic guitars, a lovely rolling bass and some more magical electric piano combining to give a pleasing and relaxing number, even if some of the more whispered vocal lines are a bit too twee. Into The Fire reminds me somewhat of Heart back when they first started (i.e. before they hit it big and became very mediocre!). A fine tune and an effective, if simple arrangement, it is a strong enough song that doesn't need elaborate embellishments. With the sound of an organ, the more up-beat Dark Star begins. One of the few more rockier numbers it shows how the band can combine to dish out a performance that displays the best of their talents with Alun Vaughan's bass driving things along and Paul Davies' guitar adding solos over the constant organ riff. Mind you, I still can't listen to the opening lines Dark Star Rising without thinking they are going to break out into the Grateful Dead song of the same name (to which it bears no resemblance bar those lyrics!). The shortest track on the album, Muse, is a piano and vocal piece that forms a brief interlude before the final, title track. An evocative number with some glorious fretless bass that builds up to a classy and satisfying end to an album that may not be as adventurous as the debut album but still offers an immense amount of fine music that will please anyone who likes strong, sensitive and superior song writing.

The eleven tracks reviewed above form the album that will be released by Voiceprint records towards the end of January 2010. Until then, a special edition of the album featuring a bonus CD and enhanced booklet is available directly from the band's website. Featuring an additional four songs, the bonus CD goes under the name Little Satellite and is well worth getting hold of as the extra 24 minutes of music are as good, if not better, than the main album! 5th Amendment is a fine up-tempo number with great lyrics and delivery by Helder; The Great Divide, a ballad, ponders on the fate of a relationship conducted whilst there is a physical distance between the protagonists, ultimately turning from the question of can it survive to the affirmation that it can survive; Go is hopefully not about the same relationship, particularly the fine couplet "Go if you care about me, go if you don't, go if you still value your life, 'cos I won't"; and finally Sandstorms a groovy number that seems far shorter and simultaneously far longer than its ten minutes running time! Immensely enjoyable stuff!

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Tony Banks - A Curious Feeling

Tony Banks - A Curious Feeling
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:ECLEC22161
Year of Release:1979/2009
Time:CD 54:36
DVD 64:44
Info:Tony Banks
Samples:Click here


CD: From The Undertow (2:47), Lucky Me (4:27), The Lie (4:56), After The Lie (4:50), A Curious Feeling (3:59), Forever Morning (6:04), You (6:29), Somebody Else's Dream (7:51), The Waters Of Lethe (6:33), For A While (3:39), In The Dark (2:57)

DVD: From The Undertow (2:47), Lucky Me (4:27), The Lie (4:56), After The Lie (4:50), A Curious Feeling (3:59), Forever Morning (6:04), You (6:29), Somebody Else's Dream (7:51), The Waters Of Lethe (6:33), For A While (3:39), In The Dark (2:57) 1979 Promotional Films: For A While (3:28), The Waters Of Lethe (6:40)

There’s no doubt that Esoteric’s re-mastered reissues provide an important link to our progressive rock heritage, particularly the 1970’s and for most of us fall into two categories. On the one hand they are an ideal way of discovering releases (especially by lesser known artists) that originally passed you by. Alternatively they provide a good excuse to reacquaint oneself with a pristine version of a favourite album that may otherwise be gathering dust. For me this 30th Anniversary edition of Tony Banks’ debut solo album definitely falls into the latter category. That being said, on its initial release in October 1979 my feelings were more on the ambivalent side.

With Peter Gabriel’s departure from Genesis in 1975 and Steve Hackett’s in 1977 it was apparent that Banks was the bands foremost creative force and as such the prospect of a solo album was a mouth watering one. Unlike Gabriel and Hackett however Banks didn’t feel the need to relinquish the comfort zone of Genesis to fulfil his ambitions as a solo artist. Almost inevitably with such high expectations when the newly released A Curious Feeling hit my record deck my initial reaction was one of disappointment. Over time however I grew to appreciate its subtleties and this reissue in particular has been significant in my reappraisal of Bank’s seminal album which mirrors his work with Genesis closer than any of his subsequent seven solo releases.

The album fulfilled Bank’s desire to produce a concept piece and although it’s often credited as being based on Daniel Keyes’ book Flowers for Algernon the story of an intelligent man gradually losing his mind was adapted by the keyboardist himself. Wisely he avoided a lengthy list of guest musicians restricting it to a trio and in addition to keyboards he contributed guitars, basses and percussion. The relatively unknown Kim Beacon was responsible for lead vocals possibly prompted by the fact that like Banks he was under contract to Charisma Records at the time. Chester Thompson was a natural choice as drummer being already established as a regular member of the Genesis touring unit for the previous two years. The album was recorded during a break in Genesis busy touring schedule prompted by the need for Phil Collins to resolve his marital issues and would soon be followed by debut solo albums from Mike Rutherford and Collins respectively.

If there’s a familiar ring to the atmospheric opener From The Undertow then that’s because it was originally conceived as the instrumental intro to the song Undertow from GenesisAnd Then There Were Three album the previous year. It had also been reworked by Banks along with Rutherford to provide the soundtrack for the UK movie ‘The Shout’ although it was underused in the finished film. Here it provides the perfect overture with an air of quiet anticipation punctuated by a series of symphonic crescendos that characterised Genesis pieces like The Fountain Of Salmacis and Eleventh Earl Of Mar. In contrast Lucky Me is a more traditional melodic song with an uplifting chorus and ringing 12-string backing reminiscent of early Genesis. Although Beacon doesn’t have the most powerful of voices he conveys the central character with harmonious conviction. In his extensive liner notes for this reissue Banks reveals that having lost contact with the singer he recently discovered that he had sadly passed away.

The Lie is a more up-tempo affair with a memorable middle eight based around Bank’s now familiar jaunty piano style (ala the title song from Genesis’ A Trick Of The Tail). It segues into the aptly titled After The Lie which like so many of the songs here is driven by rhythmic electric piano leaving synths and string keys to provide the instrumental coloring. The highlight here is the strident ARP solo that plays out. Appropriately the upbeat title song A Curious Feeling is probably the strongest of the albums more pop-rock inflected tunes thanks to a catchy instrumental hook and a rousing spoken introduction from Beacon. In a different vein altogether is Forever Morning which epitomizes everything you would hope for in a Tony Banks track. The music builds layer by layer reaching moments of intense grandeur although he still takes time out for a delicate theme at the midway point that put me in mind of Time Table from Foxtrot. The dramatic closing section on the other hand sounds pure George Gershwin.

Laidback to begin with, You is dominated by sensitive vocals and more Genesis inflected ringing guitar before a fiery synth solo opens up into a bombastic instrumental sequence that would have sat comfortably on The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Somebody Else's Dream benefits significantly from Nick Davis’ excellent remixing with extra weight and presence given to Thompson’s stomping drum pattern. Beacon gives his best vocal performance here mirroring the protagonists’ mental decline which is also echoed in Banks’ deliberately off-key piano. The Waters Of Lethe remains for me probably the albums most successful offering built around a simple but lyrical piano theme before breaking out into a grandiose guitar and keys fanfare in the style of Barclay James Harvest. The penultimate For a While is another of the albums more straightforward songs and although it has an engaging melody the optimistic tone sounds a tad out of place given the context of the story at this juncture. It does however feature a rare electric guitar break from Banks and again benefits substantially from the remixing. Totally fitting on the other hand is the mood created by In The Dark, a beautifully understated piece on which to conclude although in true Banks style it includes one final and majestic orchestral flourish.

For all 5.1 surround sound junkies this anniversary edition comes with a bonus DVD lovingly mixed in that format which also includes two promotional videos. Both are worth more than a second look even though they appear a tad outdated now thanks to the overuse of multiple images. Each disc comes housed in the front and back covers of a hardback book which adds an air of luxury to the whole package. Musically this has been a tale of rediscovery for me, the remixing and re-mastering breathes new life and a fresh sonic clarity into Banks’ vision. In many ways it’s an expansion of Genesis pieces like One For The Vine. Each part flows beautifully into the next where the song sections provide a narrative link between the sumptuously (and semi classically) arranged instrumental excursions. A wonderful piece of nostalgia to round-off the year.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Bootleg Archives Volumes 1-5

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Bootleg Archives Volumes 1-5
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:MMEB Shop
Catalogue #:MMARCHIVE1
Year of Release:2009
Time:CD 1 76:39
CD 2 75:15
CD 3 76:21
CD 4 72:01
CD 5 79:01
Samples:Click here


CD1: Europe, 1981 - Hello Hello (5:04), Angels At My Gate (5:38), On The Run (4:38), Chicago Institute (7:09), Spirits In The Night (8:45), Fritz The Blank (4:09), Martha's Madman (10:52), Blinded By The Light (8:51), Stranded (2:12), Lies Through The 80’s (5:13), Hobo Bill's Last Ride / Resurrection (2:28), Step By Step (4:26) Give Me The Good Earth (7:13)

CD2: Vienna Austria, 28 May 1986Banquet (5:37), Tribal Statistics (3:56), Visionary Mountains (4:26), Redemption Song (3:22), Going Underground (8:53), Do Anything You Wanna Do (6:51), Father Of Day (9:25), The Runner (6:23), Gimme Some Loving / Mony Mony (5:46), The Third Man Theme (4:43), Mighty Quinn (7:53), Davy's On The Road Again (8:01)

CD3: Köln, Germany, 3 July 1991Banquet (2:26), Shelter From The Storm (6:33), The Times They Are A-Changin' (6:55), Castles Burning (7:08), Martha's Madman (9:00), Medicine Song (2:53), Redemption Song (3:32), Blinded By The Light (9:06), Davy's On The Road Again (7:09), Crazy 'Bout An Automobile (8:16), Jam (1:49), Joybringer (5:18), Pleasure And Pain (6:16)

CD4: Hell, Norway, 10 September 1999 - (I'll Give You) Shelter From The Storm (9:39), Castles Burning (6:52), Martha's Madman (10:37), Don't Kill It Carol (6:25), Angels At My Gate (3:45), The Times They Are A-Changin' (6:05), Demolition Man (7:57), (She Was) Blinded By The Light (11:50), Redemption Song (5:18), Mighty Quinn (3:30)

CD5: Markranstadt, Germany, 23 June 2007 - Spirits In The Night (5:59), Castles Burning (8:26), Martha's Madman (10:35), Captain Bobby Stout (6:59), Dancing In The Dark / House Of The Rising Sun (13:27), Redemption Song (5:14), Demolition Man (8:27), Don't Kill It Carol (8:17), Davy's On The Road Again (11:35)

Back in the 70’s many bands wore their prog credentials firmly on their collective sleeves to the point where you either loved them or hated them. One such band that immediately springs to mind is ELP (and just for the record I fell into the former category) but that’s another story. Then there are bands like Manfred Mann’s Earth Band whose progressive rock affiliations are less obvious. Most I’m sure will be aware that during the 60’s they were known simply as Manfred Mann (named after their bandleader and keyboardist) with a string of UK hits including Bob Dylan’s Mighty Quinn. It was during the 70’s however where the situation became a little more blurred. On the one hand they continued as a singles band with a penchant for Dylan and Bruce Springsteen covers whilst on the other they released albums like The Roaring Silence which revealed their prog and classical tendencies. Although the hits continued (Joybringer, Blinded By The Light, Davy's On The Road Again etc) this lack of identity meant that ultimately they failed to achieve the same degree of artistic recognition afforded to their contemporaries like the aforementioned ELP, Yes, Jethro Tull, Genesis and Pink Floyd.

This particular collection has been unearthed (no pun intended) in recognition of the bands longevity as a live unit which here begins in the early 80’s when their profile like so many others was less conspicuous than it had been in the previous decade. There is a surprising lack of (official) live albums to represent the Earth Band during this period so in many ways this 5 CD’s worth of material goes someway to redressing the balance. In his sleeve notes Nigel Stanworth (the man responsible for putting the set together) explains that the absence of live contributions in this collection from the 70’s is due to scarcity and the costs associated with licensing from other sources.

The lack of a single playable recording from the early 80’s means that Disc 1 is made up of three separate concerts from Cologne, Paris and Vienna respectively recorded during the February - March 1981 leg of the ‘Chance’ tour. Audio quality is variable sounding a tad compressed particularly during the Cologne performance which in true bootleg style was recorded from the audience’s view point. Although the richness of Chris Thompson’s voice is sometimes lost (particularly during the opening Hello Hello) all instruments are clearly audible especially Mann’s keyboards and synths. Highlights include a rousing Chicago Institute with full blooded organ and guitar work from Mann and Steve Waller respectively. By the time they reach the lengthy instrumental break during Spirits In The Night any shortcomings sound wise are soon forgotten with excellent interplay from all concerned.

Martha's Madman is a good song but it suffers from some odd sound effects which obviously had more significance live than on disc plus overblown soling from the leads. The misleading honky-tonk piano intro to Blinded By The Light works a treat, suspending the audience recognition, and if there was ever a perfect interpreter of Springsteen’s tricky wordplay (in addition to the man himself) then it has to be Chris Thompson. The really tight rhythm work from Pat King (bass) and John Lingwood (drums) rounds off a great version of a great song. Lies Through The 80’s (the then current single) is one of my favourite Earth Band songs and the catchy melody is conveyed with conviction here. Disc 1 concludes with Give Me The Good Earth recorded at a different venue although the location and date is a little hazy. Thankfully the sound quality isn’t although the bluesy delivery is not really my cup of prog.

Fast forward some 5 years for the ‘Criminal Tango’ tour and this time it’s a single audience recording from the bands performance in Vienna on 28th May 1986 reduced from 90 to 75 minutes to fit on a single CD. A revamped line-up sees the return of Mick Rogers the bands guitarist and vocalist from the 70’s and new man Steve Kinch on bass. Rogers excels from the start with a showy guitar display during the storming Banquet. This is a noticeably cleaner sound with all instruments acutely placed in the mix and Thompson’s voice nicely upfront although Rogers’ soulful delivery takes the honours for Visionary Mountains. The Jam’s Going Underground is given the full anthemic treatment (all 9 minutes of it) whilst Eddie And The Hotrod’s Do Anything You Wanna Do in the Earth Band’s hands reveals its Springsteen influences. A gutsy Gimme Some Loving / Mony Mony medley is followed by a comical interpretation of The Third Man Theme (probably best appreciated live) leaving a rearranged Davy's On The Road to bring up the rear. Quite what the Austrian crowd made of Land Of Hope And Glory blasting from the PA system at the end is anyone’s guess.

A 5 year hiatus from live work was broken with a 1991 tour represented here by a recording in Köln on the 3rd July 1991 which again for reasons of a practical nature has been edited. Another change in line-up sees Clive Bunker (ex Jethro Tull) taking over the drum stool but more significantly Noel McCalla (whose previous claim to fame was the singer on Mike Rutherford’s debut solo album) takes over lead vocal duties. Several songs from the first two discs make an appearance and sound wise it’s the best yet. Two Dylan tunes Shelter From The Storm and The Times They Are A-Changin' reveal the close vocal similarities between McCalla and his predecessor Thompson whilst Mann squeezes a nifty and jazzy synth solo into the memorable Castles Burning. The highlight for me however is the acoustic pairing of Medicine Song and Redemption Song. To round off the third disc two songs are featured from a warm up gig at The Amersham Arms, London including a rare performance of Joybringer and humorous audience banter from Mann although with a slightly compromised sound quality.

1998 saw the official release of the Mann Alive double album which documented the 1996-1997 ‘Soft Vengeance’ tour. The fourth disc here however takes a leap to 10th September 1999 and a gig in Hell, Norway recorded courtesy of Norwegian radio. As to be expected the sound quality is very good indeed even though the audience is almost inaudible which does tend to weaken the atmosphere a little. The opening Shelter From The Storm is extended to include Joybringer in the intro and a lengthy guitar excursion from Rogers towards the end. Yet another new drummer (Spinal Tap anyone?) John Trotter makes his presence felt throughout whilst McCalla is now comfortably entrenched as lead singer, ably demonstrated during a moody Martha's Madman. A rearranged and more upbeat The Times They Are A-Changin' preludes a soulful version of Sting’s Demolition Man and once again Mann teases the audience with the lengthy and deceptive keyboard intro to Blinded By The Light. Less effective is Rogers’ indulgent solo during Mighty Quinn which is faded out at the end.

The final disc brings things almost up to date with a recording made in Markranstadt, Germany on 23rd June 2007 and once again (surprise, surprise) there is a new drummer in tow, Geoff Dunn although he has since gone on to join Procol Harum. Unfortunately the sound is on the thin side compared with the two previous discs with over prominent drums at the expense of Kinch’s bass work which is virtually lost. Springsteen’s Spirits In The Night had established itself as the regular opening song in the set and a bluesy Captain Bobby Stout from the band’s debut album also makes an appearance. Following an un-credited Angels At My Gate a laidback version of the Springsteen classic Dancing In The Dark incorporates a snatch of House Of The Rising Sun together with extended solos from Rogers and Mann. Fittingly a rocking Davy's On The Road Again brings this disc and the collection to a close.

Naturally with a collection like this, and despite the editing, a number of songs reoccur throughout. As the Earth Band never seem to play each song in the same way then it’s not really an issue and it’s also interesting to chart their development over the years. I was surprised by the number of cover versions which dominate the shows although again these are often extended and when given the full Earth Band treatment make few concessions to the originals. True the sound and the performances are a little ragged in places but as Stanworth explains in his liner notes there has been no sonic tinkering so this is the band in their full, warts and all, live glory. To complete the effect the collection is packaged in a mock cardboard box which is carried through to the sleeve for each disc. This is certainly a must for existing Manfred Mann fans whilst others like me will find it a compelling testimony to one of prog’s unsung bands.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Isis - Wavering Radiant

Isis - Wavering Radiant
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Conspiracy
Catalogue #:CORE078
Year of Release:2009
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Hall Of The Dead (7:41), Ghost Key (8:31), Hand Of The Host (10:45), Wavering Radiant (1:50), Stone To Wake A Serpent (8:33), 20 Minutes/40 Years (7:07), Threshold Of Transformation (9:53)

Whether they want to be or not, Isis will always be hailed as the fathers of ‘post-metal’, a vague term that has come to be associated with a particular sound. Like many innovators, this US outfit, led by Hydra Head Records owner Aaron Turner, started off playing a distinctively different style, probably best described as a mix of aggressive hardcore and sludge/doom metal – certainly this is the style present on their first couple of EPs. Come the release of their debut full-length, Celestial, in 2000, the bare bones of their present sound could be glimpsed, but it was its follow-up, the groundbreaking Oceanic, that really saw the band hit a wave of critical adoration for creating a new style (now endlessly recycled by other bands) which combined the power and urgency of atmospheric hardcore-come-doom outfit Neurosis and the laid back atmospheric beauty of the build-and-release masters Godspeed You, Black Emperor!. For many fans this album is still the pinnacle of their output, but personally it’s the follow-up, 2004’s masterful Panopticon, which saw the band refine their sound and tighten up on the song-writing to create a work that in my opinion is yet to be equalled in this genre.

For any band riding a critical zeitgeist, the backlash is never far away, and it came for Isis – to a certain extent – with their next release, In The Absence Of Truth. Obviously concerned that with their instantly recognisable style they were in danger of getting stuck in a rut, the band experimented with different styles (including plenty of dabbling in electronica) and Aaron Turner toned down his previously gruff delivery with more clean vocal work. This didn’t please many of the hardcore Isis fans, who were quick to label the album their weakest work, some even accusing the band (rather ludicrously) of ‘selling out’. Personally, I think it’s a good album – OK, not as consistent and strong as Panopticon (few albums are) but at least they were thinking of the future. However it appears the criticism has had an effect on the band’s approach, as Wavering Radiant sees a return to the aggression of old, and feels a much ‘safer’ release – although this isn’t to say the album is bad, or that the band have run out of ideas.

In fact, the opening couple of tracks are very strong and could easily fit on to a compilation of the band’s best works. Hall Of The Dead features all the Isis trademarks – Turner and Michael Gallagher’s guitars alternately carve out powerful riffs and shimmer and swirl as they create walls of atmosphere, Jeff Caxide’s bass is dextrous and along with Aaron Harris’ economical drumming provides a good rhythmic base, whilst Clifford Meyer’s understated yet effective keyboard work provides the icing on the cake – here his contribution is ominous and dark, utilising lots of organ, and gives the song a slightly spooky feel, to the extent it sounds like it could be used in a supernatural horror film. Turner alternates between a gruff roar and his more calm delivery, and both are utilised in what seems like a natural way. The song flows and maintains the interest throughout, as does the following Ghost Key, which is a mellower affair, floating in on a breezy keyboard/ flute motif, and has an interesting roaming guitar line. Although the song does have its heavier sections, it’s the quieter, more introspective ones which work the best.

Sadly, the next song, the lengthy Hand Of The Host, is not of the same standard. It takes a long time to get going, and when it does the oft-kilter rhythm and Turner’s awkwardly delivered vocals sound rather strained and unnatural. Here, the aggressive parts don’t mesh so well with the more chilled out, ambient parts; it’s the latter which are more interesting and, I feel, these should have been developed further.

Following the short, ambient instrumental title track (featuring guest keyboard work by Tool guitarist Adam Jones), Stone To Wake The Serpent gets things back on track; a solid song which is similar in style to the opener; although it lacks stand-out moments, this is made up for by the excellent effects-laden guitar work that features in the track’s latter stages. 20 Minutes/40 Years sees some delicate layering of guitars and an atmospheric keyboard wash which recalls the work of Red Sparowes (of which Caxide and Meyer are members), although the shouted vocals which follow seem to have been added as an afterthought and don’t necessarily fit the music. As is the case in places elsewhere, the song itself is rather workaday but some of the more atmospheric segments are highly effective in themselves.

Closing track Threshold Of Transformation initially sees the band revisiting their punk and hardcore roots, with a dirty, grinding riff and Turner’s shouty vocals dominating. The song gradually settles down but it does have a rather cold, automated feel to it, whereas Isis are at their best when the music has some emotional resonance. The song does eventually gain some sort of momentum, and once again the quieter sections are evocative and well-placed as a ‘breather’ from the more intense parts of the song.

Overall then, this is a solid effort, with some stand-out tracks, but it does feel as if Isis are treading water at times. The band seem more at home on the more atmospheric pieces; the heavier sections may be what their fans want to hear, but I’m not sure the band’s hearts are in it. It will be interesting to see where they go from here, but there are danger signs that they could drift into simply repeating the same formula each time, which would be a shame. This is still a good release, but for newcomers to the band I’d recommend Panopticon as the place to start.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Ajalon - This Good Place

Ajalon - This Good Place
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:ProgRock Records
Catalogue #:PRR041
Year of Release:2009
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Love Is A Dream (7:17), Nickels & Dimes, Marbles & Stones (4:52), Not Man (6:43), Abstract Malady (6:44), Lullaby Of Bedlam (8:40), Redemption [(i) I Make It Home By Sunrise (ii) Out Of The Ashes (iii) Lead Me On] (19:06), This Good Place (6:10)

US three piece Ajalon return with their third release. For those unfamiliar with the band, our three musicians are multi-instrumentalist Randy George, vocalist Wil Henderson and drummer Dan Lile. Be wary, however of assumptions here as Ajalon have not produced a typical three piece line-up album, as This Good Place is repleat with layered keyboards, multi-tracked guitars and rich harmony vocals. Adding to this rich sound are several guest musicians including vocalists Robyn Dawn and Rick Altizer. Guitarists Paul Bielatowicz and Alan Genatossio feature in the albums epic with keyboard man Jonathan Sindleman, whilst Bielatowicz reappears alongside Glass Hammer's Fred Schendal in Abstract Malady.

Fans of Neal Morse may have already picked up on the name Randy George, as the two have collaborated in the past. Neal Morse's solo work may be as good a starting point as to some of the musical direction and arrangements for this album.

The basis for much of the material revolves around a strong, song based foundation with in-context themic solos from either the guitar or the various analogy synths. In varying degrees, the middle sections of the tracks see the more flamboyant instrumentation, the most notable exception being the instrumental Abstract Malady and to a certain extent the albums centre-piece Redemption. Abstract Malady (a personal favourite) gives the band the opportunity to spread their wings in a flight of melodic and dexterous furore. Dan Lile along with Randy George form the busy and effective rhythm section allowing guests Paul Bielatowicz and Fred Schendal to flex their musical muscles.

The album kicks off with the fairly straightforward Love Is A Dream - themic guitar from George, solid drumming from Lile with Henderson's pleasant vocals added to the mix, culminating in the harmony rich choruses. The format remains fairly constant with only a brief keyboard instrumental, courtesy of Randy George around the 4:30 mark. Although rhythmically different to its predecessor, Nickels & Dimes, Marbles & Stones travels a similar musical path. Not Man sees guest vocalist Rick Altizer take over, although no marked change in the band's sound results as the sound is still very rich and vocally full. The previously mentioned instrumental Abstract Malady is up next followed by the rockier and bluesier Lullaby Of Bedlam. Randy George gives us the mid instrumental break, initially with Hammondy organ solo followed by a nifty guitar break. Dan Lile also gets the opportunity to cut loose here and also in the other solo sections that crop up during the piece. These two tracks lay a strong foundation for the biggy...

Although not an uncommon occurrence in prog to have epic songs, I do tend to proceed with caution. Looking back at the pioneers of the genre they perhaps produced one or two epics over several albums. Now it seems to be the norm for bands to include one epic per album. So how would Ajalon fair? Well the track is sub-divided into three. First change is that Robyn Dawn (who until this point has supplied the backing vocals to a couple of tracks) takes over the lead role. All the Ajalon "sound" is present although a lighter-weight, at times atmospheric, approach is the order of the day. There's a slight bluesy/jazzy feel and Robyn Dawn's voice sits very comfortably. First instrumental break comes from the Spock's Beard camp, followed by an atmospheric passage with delicate acoustic guitar (Genesis perhaps) and which leads into Out Of The Ashes. Dawn's voice is lovely during this beautiful mid-section. A furious instrumental break ensues, initially leading me to believe we had moved onto part three. However not so as at the end of this two minute excursion the chorus is reprised albeit this time by Wil Henderson. Heraldic synths greet Paul Bielatowicz to the stage - a flurry of guitar pyrotechnics ensues, which in turn lead us to the gentle conclusion that is Lead Me On... and for me this is where the album should have finished. Sorry to conclude on a down beat, but the title track is just horrible and I only managed listening to it a couple of times...

As mentioned earlier those who picked up on the latter day Morse connection, may also wonder as to the spiritual content. Yes Ajalon wear their Christian beliefs proudly, however not overtly so here. The lyrics tending more to look at an inner city environment and those affected by it. The rather sweet sound the band produce often belies the stronger lyrical content. So yes there is still a message to be had, but more succinctly put...

A shift in my own personal tastes, progressively speaking, has meant that This Good Place didn't wholly resonate with me initially. There is, however little to fault with this CD, but it was perhaps just a little too polished for my liking and lacked some rawer edges. The production on This Good Place is crystal clear allowing all the musical detail to ring out, whilst the detailed album artwork and eight page booklet are fitting and subtly presented. So all in all a strong release that will appeal to those with a leaning towards the more commercial edges of the progressive spectrum. A liking for AOR and or propensity towards the works of Neal Morse and early Spock's Beard, along with the pioneers of prog should steer you towards this album.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Epica - Design Your Universe

Country of Origin:The Netherlands
Record Label:Nuclear Blast
Catalogue #:2345-2
Year of Release:2009
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Samadhi ~ Prelude (1:27), Resign To Surrender ~ A New Age Dawns - Part IV (6:19), Unleashed (5:48), Martyr Of The Free Word (5:03), Our Destiny (6:00), Kingdom Of Heaven ~ A New Age Dawns - Part V [i. Hold In Derision, ii. Children Of The Light, iii. Bardo Thödol, iv. Paragons Of Perfection, v. The Harsh Return] (13:35), The Price Of Freedom ~ Interlude (1:14), Burn To A Cinder (5:41), Tides Of Time (5:34), Deconstruct (4:14), Semblance Of Liberty (5:42), White Waters (4:44), Design Your Universe ~ A New Age Dawns - Part VI (9:29)

Epica is a band that normally needs no introduction but much has changed since their last studio album The Divine Conspiracy. During the tour following that album, Simone Simons was diagnosed with MRSA and a lot of shows had to be cancelled, but for some shows she was replaced by Amanda Somerville. Epica also saw some personal changes, drummer Ariën Van Weesenbeek is now a full member of Epica and lead guitar player Ad Sluijter has been replaced by Isaac Delahaye. Both were members from death metal band called God Dethroned. The first thing I noticed when I browsed through the booklet is that these two new guys participated a lot in the writing of Design Your Universe, drummer Ariën Van Weesenbeek is also providing in the grunting department. It will not be a surprise therefore that the sound of Epica has been switched a tad towards death metal. Although the sound has changed, however, it is still a distinctive Epica album with much bombastic gothic metal. So die-hard Epica fans will be pleased and even those people who thought Epica were repeating themselves.

Samadhi is the typical instrumental opener you would find on an Epica album, sounding a lot like a movie theme just like they have enough of on The Classical Conspiracy. Resign To Surrender still sounds a lot like the music on The Divine Conspiracy. Grunts in contrast with the voice of Simone Simons are still the main attraction and the Latin lyrics are also present. This song is the fourth part of a collection of songs called A New Age Dawns, the first three parts are present on Consign To Oblivion. To my surprise there is a guitar solo already in the first song so the score on that part is already equal with their previous album. Unleashed opens very heavy and fast but the major part of this song is slow and pounding. A lot of lyrics by Simone Simmons who also provides the major part of the vocals on this song. The writing and the singing seems to be almost in perfect balance on this album. The grunting compared to the female vocals of Simone are in balance and the lyric writing seems to be split evenly between Mark Jansen and Simone Simons. Simone wrote for more songs but Mark wrote the two larger pieces. So then Martyr Of The Free World is written by Mark but also by the two ex-God Dethroned members. Needless to say this is a very heavy song. The lyrics of which are about freedom of speech and part of the lyrics are part of a speech of Pim Fortuyn (Dutch politician who was murdered and thought highly of the free word) "I Will Say What I Think, I Will Do What I Say". Our Destiny is a perfect live song with the chorus providing sing-a-long/headbang-a-long action.

Kingdom Of Heaven is the major piece on this album, thirteen and a half minutes of excellent music. This song contains very very heavy parts and at times leans towards death metal, but contains all the aspects of Epica - nice bombastic center part with the well known eastern sound and a mellow part with the beautiful voice of Simone. All passes by but above all this song is very heavy. After all that bashing a short instrumental interlude is welcome, The Price Of Freedom is written by keyboard player Coen Janssen. Because Mark Jansen wrote the big center piece Simone has written the lyrics for the next three songs. Three very typical Epica songs. Burn To A Cinder, damn I love that song, and Deconstruct are two heavy songs and Tides Of Time is a beautiful ballad with many nice piano parts. Semblance Of Liberty is another very heavy song with much grunting. You can hear the influences of Isaac Delahaye. White Waters is a ballad and for the first time male vocals without grunting. Very dramatic song with only a small side role, and only at the end, for the heavy guitar. As usual the title track is at the end. What can I say about this song, a perfect ending. I can already feel the flames of the fireworks that will go of during the chorus of this song at when I will see them live.

Design Your Universe is again another great album by Epica, with the new members putting a mark on this album and coming from a death metal band they made the sound of Epica a tad heavier. Still it is very recognizable an Epica album. Old fans will be pleased and people wanting a change will also be satisfied. For me Epica is the leader of the gothic metal scene and with this album they kept that first place by far. Cannot wait to hear these songs live, I know they will emphasize my feeling for this album because an Epica live show, especially the pyro shows, are awesome.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


Eggs & Dogs - You Are

Eggs & Dogs - You Are
Country of Origin:Sweden
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:HH003
Year of Release:2009
Info:Tomas Bodin
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: You Are (9:07), Poor Lucille (12:10), Food (8:01), Dad Is Coming Home (11:22), Private Skies (9:27), American Standards (5:36), Silicone Bimbo Run (21:24)

In 2005 Tomas Bodin released the album I AM which was announced as the first of a real trilogy. It took 4 years to complete the second one in line called YOU ARE, due to several production and other problems this album has severely been delayed.

The first remarkable fact noticed right away is that this new album is not released under the name of Tomas Bodin himself, but a new group called Eggs & Dogs, consisting, besides Tomas, of Jocke JJ Marsh on guitars, Michael Stolt on vocals and Marcus Lilijequist on drums. In the interview I recently had with him and that is now also published on our website, (click here), he explains elaborately how it came to this and all other background details concerning the production of this album. With a reference to that interview I'll skip all the information how this album came about in this review.

Parting with his previous mostly keyboard based instrumental albums Tomas started with I AM a trilogy of more 'serious' albums around the central theme 'being human'. Now Tomas has taken the next step thus reaching probably his first really complete, even conceptual, solo prog album even though he formed a band around him for this album and maybe the next. Tomas says about this album in the booklet:

"Basically this is just a couple of stories that are all inspired from real life, however, there is always an author's privilege to change details. The persons described are all just fictive. Still Delicious Agony is a real radio station in NYC feeding the world with good old progressive rock!"

This Internet radio station can be heard shortly a few times on the album; you can listen to them here.

Reading about Tomas' former drugs addiction and knowing he also has experienced some other severe private problems one might wonder to what extent this album is partly autobiographical, but I deliberately didn't ask Tomas that in the interview because I know every artist includes some personal experiences into his work, but mostly in a unrecognizable way thus keeping his full private matters still private.

In the interview Tomas talks about the themes of this album; my own interpretation is that he wants to address frequent problems in the world that strangely enough are still not considered common by the society. This hypocrisy is something Tomas really detests and it's his goal to give a wake-up call with this album, not only to society but first of all to all people suffering from it in order to address and handle the problem. Anorexia, bulimia, doing drugs, sex addiction, and other physical abuse in various forms and loneliness are the themes on this album about which Tomas said

"I feel there is a lot shame and guilt involved in this kind of behaviors. Still I believe there is no shame having this kind of problem. It's a damn shame not dealing with it."
The album does contain some occasional strong language and I wonder if it will get such an "Explicit lyrics" sticker in the USA. The use of strong language is only functional in the context of the theme of the song though and just used to enhance the real experience of the problem featured. For instance the song Private Skies telling the story about a drug addict starts with the angry boss 'played' by Bony shouting to the topic of the song who has dozed away: "Wake up asshole, you lazy sun of a bitch! If I catch you one more time, you'll have plenty of time to sleep on the fucking unemployment line! Worthless piece of shit!". Nicole Kidman also doesn't get a nice treatment since she clearly isn't the ideal role model according to Tomas as she's mentioned twice on the album, once as a 'bag of bones' and once as the glorious Hollywood star girls shouldn't mirror themselves on. So it's clear this is not an album to take lightly, both lyrically as musically it has to grow on you. But with this album Tomas really managed to take the giant leap from pleasant enjoyable music to a serious and memorable prog rock album with a genuine message.

So let's now dig into the music itself; still the most important factor of any album in my humble opinion. Only American Standard has a fairly short length; all other songs clock more than eight minutes; perhaps the first proof of real prog music. Compared to its real predecessor I AM this album features less bombastic prog extravaganza and powerful climax segments, but more songs with a standard song structure, still lengthened considerably with lots of excellent keyboard and guitar input. Another thing that quickly becomes obvious is that the vocals on this album are remarkably good; often the weak spot on prog albums in this case the voice of Michael Stolt is very apt for the more emotional and personal confronting style of this album. He has a slightly bluesy and very emotional touch in his voice, a rough edge; just enough to make it stronger and more impressive, but still nothing close to someone like Joe Cocker who would be totally misplaced on this album. Even though not being a woman I can very well understand why Tomas' wife Pernilla becomes so excited in several ways when hearing his voice; it's warm, emotional and very passionate and just as with Göran Edman's input on the last Karmakanic album the vocals do lift up the final sound of the album and give it an additional layer. What a missed chance to only let Michael play bass on the early The Flower Kings albums and not let him do the vocals!

Tomas mentioned several classic groups as his influence in making this album: The Beatles, Queen, Electric Light Orchestra, Genesis, Procol Harum, Pink Floyd and 10CC and although it sounds like name-calling I must admit that indeed the sound of most of these groups strongly comes through more than occasionally, especially The Beatles, 10CC, E.L.O., Procol Harum and some very Queen-like choirs. Here and there also a sound that we very well know from The Flower Kings comes through, but not that often.

There's not really a weak song on this album; all have their own character of course derived from the theme of the song and although there are a few, still diminishing, segments that do not particularly please me, they still are the exceptions on this album. The album starts very quietly with a soaring singing, almost screaming, voice that introduces the title song that deals with loneliness and all those people that are struggling to find some happiness in the big anonymous cities. Quickly building up to a severe blues-rock touch including some nice Queen-ish high pitched vocals that you can hear more often on this album. The bluesy sound is slowly replaced by a full prog sound thus making this song a good start for the album, even though the middle section is mainly just vocals and acoustic guitar that later are accompanied by the electric guitar, drums, choir and keyboards in order to reach a true powerful climax. The song ends with a female person calling 'Lucille' and then the second song Poor Lucille starts with the sound of a flushing toilet; the song displays the sorrows of a girl suffering from anorexia and bulimia.

The influences of The Beatles and Queen are very obvious here including a short melody line directly borrowed from 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' and Queen - and E.L.O. like choirs. Some segments of this song are a bit to straight A.O.R. to my taste and not very melodious, probably deliberately included as such to create the tragic atmosphere of the theme of the song. But all in all with several lush keyboard parts and a good up-tempo pace this is a very good song that needs several listening sessions to appreciate. The song ends with a radio fragment from the aforementioned Internet radio station Delicious Agony, although I doubt if the interview heard was really broadcasted on this radio station.

After the word 'guilt' is repeated several times from that interview the intro of Food, that deals with eating disorder, is a real surprise because suddenly you think you've turned on some country-rock record caused by the steel guitar intro that brings back memories of the Travelling Wilburys. This pretty straightforward slow paced song has strong The Beatles and E.L.O. influences with some nice 10CC-like choirs and also includes some nice vocal harmonies. Tomas has called in the help of Simon Åkesson from Moon Safari, whose first CD Tomas produced, to assist him with all the choirs and multi-vocal arrangements on this album. I have to admit they sound spectacular and give the album an extra edge and sometimes a nostalgic seventies sound.

Dad Is Coming Home is one of my favourite songs on this album, not because it has sex addiction as its theme, but because it's a very strong song with great moody guitar playing and is that filled with musical surprises including a terrific and funny barbershop close harmony intermezzo in the middle. Ever heard a barbershop group singing "Sunday morning, acting like a nun after banging my wife"? After some lines the choir is accompanied by a harpsichord, French horn and some tooter-like sounds and quite surprising that sequence very fluently flows over in a true prog sound slowly building up to a terrific powerful emotional climax, Pink Floyd-style, turning down at the end again to finish with the sermon of some preacher condemning all sinners. It's a truly remarkable song that you should listen to more often to appreciate, but which is a true pearl to discover.

After the already mentioned strong-language start Private Skies has some difficulties to get really started and lift itself up from just a regular pop song, 10CC style with a severe The Beatles sauce, despite the excellent vocals and well dosed keyboards, but half way the pace increases and Tomas gives away some very enjoyable keyboard pieces and Jocke a groovy guitar solo as if it's a whole different song all together. This second part of the song is another highlight of this CD.

American Standards is clearly an accusation of the way today's society, dominated by America, creates a perfect image in the media of how people should look like. Therefore young and easily influenced, by all those 'make-over'-shows, people will not follow their own identity but shape themselves as society dictates them to do. This very basic song, mainly just consisting of an acoustic guitar, some keys, a shaker and vocals with a slide guitar solo in the middle, offers more content than musical excitement, but it's a very moving little tune.

Considering its length the closing song Silicon Bimbo Run, depicting the desperate search for fame and glory in Hollywood by wannabe's, one could expect that this is the magnum opus of the album showering you with loads of fine and sometimes bombastic heavily keyboard layered prog music with the intention to leave you flabbergasted after it's finished. Well, no surprises here, because that's exactly the case! The song directly bursts out and the long instrumental full-prog intro (more than 5 minutes! ignoring the short chorus interlude), including a short very Procol Harum-like organ, directly warns you to brace yourself since this is going to be exciting. Especially in this song you clearly notice the additional value of making a song and album as this with a real band instead of by one man on a solo mission (even with help). The lyrical segment after the intro is at first pretty calm, just vocals and acoustic guitar with occasional additions, and tends to become a real contradiction to the first minutes that held the promise of a true epic song, but a few minutes later the show-piece picks up again. I truly think any good epic song should have tempo changes, both tranquil as bombastic moments and this song has it all; but for me the tranquil parts and vocal arrangements in this song just don't please me very much removing the 'perfect' tag from this song. After 14 minutes the song seems to end, but continues with the sound of crickets, a whispering voice and a dramatic piano and then a more dramatic vocal sequence with a screaming guitar follows, quickly building up to a full bombastic climax. And although the album thus nears the end in a rather spectacular way Tomas cleverly avoids the all-over-the-top ending and really ends softly with the strongest element of this album; emotion and sentiment. And indeed you're left heavily impressed when the song and album is finished...

Anyone loving classic prog and the vintage seventies sound (like me) will absolutely love this album. I can't measure exactly how much this album comes short to be called a true masterpiece, but I just have to say Tomas and his bandmates have undoubtedly delivered one of the best albums of the year. This album should be judged as a truly memorable piece of music, unique in many ways, original, creative, without any boring moment and an intense listening experience.

I can advise everyone interested in good traditional prog with lots of variation and some surprises to get this album; it's available directly from Tomas' own : homepage.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


Tomas Bodin - Cinematograaf

Tomas Bodin - Cinematograaf
Country of Origin:Sweden
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:HH CD 002
Year of Release:2008
Info:Tomas Bodin
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: An Ocean In Between (13:50), A Spanish Ballerina In Love (19:32), Six Six Six (18:34)

Due to several personal circumstances this review has been delayed endlessly, for which I apologize sincerely to all concerned! But as this album very much deserves a review and some more attention I thought it's necessary to publish this review anyway; better late than never.

It's already about 4 years ago since the last solo outing by Tomas Bodin, keyboard player of The Flower Kings. That album, I AM, was intended to be the first of a real trilogy, but due to several logistic and other problems the finishing and release of the second in line, YOU ARE, was postponed indefinitely. Now finally the moment has arrived that YOU ARE has seen the day of light, that album is also reviewed in this update.

The setback caused by the production problems of that album, however, gave room for another solo project alongside all his other musical activities and so Tomas embarked on something he had in his mind for some time. Probably all keyboard players dream about making a pure keys album and that's exactly what Tomas did. But unlike many other similar projects he didn't choose to make a multi-layered keyboard extravaganza album, but exactly the opposite and started to search for a way to minimize sounds and still make a very listenable album. This album is really a whole different ball-game than his previous solo albums, or any other project he ever participated in. And without jumping to conclusions prematurely I must say that this is I think the biggest accomplishment of the Cinematograaf album.

The artwork of the booklet and CD clearly wants to leave a historical impression; the CD is printed as if it's a vinyl record, features a picture from the early 20th Century and the two page booklet features images from the same era. On the backside of the booklet you can find an example of that typical Tomas Bodin humour as it looks like an old advertisement for some article, in this case the Bodin' 3-D vuers (also in TFK style) to be used at your next 3-D feature as it sees colour best and is self-adjusting... (to mention a few specifications)! The CD is for sale directly from Tomas through his website (link above)

The album consists of three long pieces; all instrumental (of course) that someway are melded together making this album actually just one long musical experience. But all three songs have a different sort of atmosphere hanging around them, distinguishing them from each other again. The first song is really relaxed and almost meditative, the second one has a very powerful segment with some true keyboard power, also some quite passionate passages and comes the closest to standard prog. The third song is the weirdest and most diverse of them including some tranquil parts and also some freaky up-tempo moments. Still 'Tranquil', 'Atmospheric' and 'Emotional' would be the three keywords to describe this album with the addition of some powerful keyboard orchestration, especially in the last two songs. But don't be fooled by those three words; the music never comes close to 'boring' - I want to add for all readers who prefer a full and voluminous sound. The music is mostly slow paced, but funnily enough you don't really notice the true length of the song as the melody lines take you by the hand on a journey and before you know it you have reached the end. Several segments with multiple tempo changes also enhance that experience. There's a bit of Vangelis, Kitaro, Brian Eno and Jean-Michel Jarre in there; the most by the first mentioned, but still this is an album none of them would have ever made. This is ambient music with a severe prog edge; it's New Age music done the prog way with a true entertaining factor, but mostly it's the soundtrack of a never made film, (most likely a science fiction film; "2001, A Space Odyssey" style), but one that you can picture if you close your eyes.

An Ocean In Between mainly floats around a short simple main theme played on the piano that re-occurs through the whole song with several kind of sounds that are woven in between, including a very much Mike Oldfield influenced short repeating sequence. The song has a classical built-up structure, starting very tranquil and slowly building up to a certain climax, ending again in the mellow mood it started with. It's still the most relaxed tune of the album and when a guy in Goa India mailed Tomas saying that he listened to this CD when he stayed at the beach watching the Indian Ocean, (see the interview with Tomas on our website - soon), he surely mainly referred to this track. The title of the song is well chosen and already gives a good impression of the atmosphere of this song; both the quiet as the furious character of an ocean is presented here.

Aptly chosen is also the title of the second song, A Spanish Ballerina In Love as in this song the same tranquil moods, as in the previous song, are combined with some occasional lush keyboard pieces that do illustrate the elegance and passion of a Spanish ballerina. You don't really notice where the song starts since it flows over from the previous song starting with some ocean like sounds that are broken by a heavy, steamboat-horn like, sonorously tone. Then the high Vangelis-like keyboards kick in and at a certain point the piano theme of the first song seems to re-appear, but quickly the song drifts away again in a different direction. When the pace suddenly increases, with a repetitive tight drum roll, I see images of marching masses in some old heroic film before my eyes - and with the swelling of the keyboard and organ sounds this song reaches a part that would have been one of the highlights on any solid prog album as well. But suddenly it all breaks down and we're back at some mellow piano playing for a while that very much reminds me of the work of Erik Satie.

The separation between track 2 and 3 is not so clear, at a certain moment the piano seems to reach an ending moment, but continues, according to the CD mastering, still on track 2 for some minutes; until the music becomes dark, spooky and serene and the bell tolls the third song, Six Six Six starts. A faint high female voice then sings some words and 'Hallelujah' in the background, followed by a sort of demonic (a reference to the song title?) voice saying some incomprehensible words; all still accompanied by some very spooky atmospheric sounds; we're clearly now in the horror department of the album. This intriguing and frightening atmosphere continues for a while until the pace picks up giving the song a bit lighter feeling just as with the use of some less doom-like sounds on the keyboard. Also this song has its mellow moments that then slowly build up to a more full sound here and then reminding me a bit to the sound of the tone used in the notorious film "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" to get in contact with the aliens. The second part of the song has a melodramatic feeling over it, apart from the segment when it all blows up to full proportions and almost sounds like a part of a The Flower Kings song. Near the end of the song and album it all turns down again and it ends with some very dramatic atmospheric sounds.

My wife, who is a very sensitive person, said that this album is Tomas' best work ever, because he not only managed to make a very musically enjoyable album but also succeeded in laying a certain human emotion in it that has rarely been done without an emotional voice and lyrics. I have to agree with her and can really recommend this album to all keyboard lovers and anyone interested in music that touches the heart and ears simultaneously - and that has the time to sit back and just focus on the music and absorb it completely and can do without guitars for once. I judge this album as a true musical accomplishment that should not go unnoticed!

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10


Continuum – Lifeless Ocean

Continuum – Lifeless Ocean
Country of Origin:France
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:MP 3088
Year of Release:2009
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Universe Of Spheric Perspective (4:29), Representation Of The Inner Self (6:49), End Of Life (7:05), Extinction Of Mu (5:15), Faded Illusion (5:52), Lifeless Ocean (2:30), Theater Of War (6:09), Twisted Path Of Fatalism (4:05), Dark Sight (6:17), Hell On Earth (8:09)

Progressive metal rages on with the work of the French band Continuum. This, their debut album Lifeless Ocean comes as a long awaited work that has taken three years to record, mix, and release. Those years have given plenty of time to polish and refine this final product.

Continuum has a riff-based backbone that is unashamedly inspired by Dream Theater and a penchant for delivering a follow through in the song development that goes beyond what many bands in this arena tend to. The song structure isn’t merely the standard “build a progression to a shred” style of progressive metal; it follows an artistic labyrinth of changes that are suited to the poetic styling that the lyrics are written in. The songs are structured to revisit previously laid ground while introducing and building the next phase.

The song writing has created some great textures and smooth transitions between key changes and polyrhythmic components. Included are some female vocals as highlight and added dimension.

I don’t know that I have had much exposure to the French metal scene, but this band brings a good game and reminds me primarily of the work of Hourglass. The musicianship of this release is in top form. The keyboard and drum elements are presented in a very interesting and uncontrived way that makes them really stand out. The production for these instruments is favoured in clarity in a way that rounds out the sound very nicely.

If anything detracts from the overall work, it would be that the non-dynamic singing doesn’t seem to match the intensity of the music. The vocals come across as tired among an impeccable retinue of metal that moves from brooding to thrashing in a moment. Losing the vocals in the mix is the only complaint I have concerning the production of this album. The nasally enunciation sounds as if his mouth is partially closed while singing and the combination of mix and vocal technique do not fare well in this area for me.

Overall, a great album that lives up to its genre, worthy of any collection that also contains the likes of Andromeda, Threshold, Circus Maximus, and Thought Chamber. Maybe this calls for a bit more attention to the French scene. This is a great prog-metal recipe, including (or despite of) the all too common questionable vocals.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Slapp Happy - Live In Japan ~ May 2000

Slapp Happy - Live In Japan - May 2000
Country of Origin:UK/Germany
Record Label:Voiceprint
Catalogue #:VP523CD
Year of Release:2009
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: King Of Straw (3:17), Slow Moon's Rose (3:52), Michelangelo (2:49), Riding Tigers (1:58), Small Hands Of Stone (3:23), Haiku (3:58), Is It You? (5:27), Casablanca Moon (3:06), Moon Lovers (2:51), Strayed (2:13), A Little Something (3:52), I'm All Alone (3:49), The Unborn Byron (2:50), Scarred For Life (3:37), Who's Gonna Help Me Now? (3:17), Let's Travel Light (4:54)

Being a long-standing fan of the idiosyncratic songs of Peter Blegvad, it is perhaps surprising that I have never explored his work with the so-called "avant-pop" trio Slapp Happy of which Blegvad was a member alongside Anthony Moore and Dagmar Krause. Maybe it was the close association with the avant garde jazz ensemble Henry Cow (with whom they recorded a couple of albums with in the mid 1970s), or my, mistaken on this album at least, thought that Krause, the trio's main vocalist, had a style of singing that would be anathema to my ears. So it was with a mixture of intrepidation and curiosity that I selected this live album, recorded at a reunion concert in Japan way back in 2000 and previously only available as a severely limited edition in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The group came together in Germany in the early 1970s recording a debut album for Polydor back in 1972 and a rejected second album, Casablanca Moon, in 1973. On both of these albums the trio were backed by the Kraut Rock group Faust. Dropped by Polydor, the band relocated to the UK and were picked up by the fledging Virgin label for whom they re-arranged and re-recorded Casablanca Moon which was eponymously renamed and released in 1974. For their third album, Desperate Straights, label mates Henry Cow were asked to provide the backing, although the results were more collaborative with the album being released under the name Slapp Happy/Henry Cow. The success of the album resulted in the collaboration being continued on 1975's In Praise of Learning which, despite being credited to Henry Cow/Slapp Happy, only really featured Krause's vocals and contained just one composition by Blegvad/Moore. Following that album's release Slapp Happy split. Since then the trio have reformed on several occasions, releasing a single in 1982, composing a BBC commissioned television opera Camera in 1991 (subsequently broadcast two years later and released on CD in 2000) and releasing an all-new album, Ça Va, in 1998. It was following this release that the band undertook a brief tour of Japan in 2000 from which these recordings are taken.

The live concerts just feature the core trio and consequently features quite naked and somewhat sparse renditions of the songs. For the most part the instrumentation is piano/keyboards, guitar and vocals, although I'm All Alone contains a harmonica solo and final track Let's Travel Light does feature a kazoo/whistle duet! Krause's singing is delicate and somewhat fragile, although generally suits the more intimate acoustic nature of the songs. The majority of the songs on the CD are taken from the most recent Ça Va album and 1974's Slapp Happy, although three tracks from the group's debut album and two tracks from the Desperate Straights collaborative album are also included. The original concerts ran to over two hours long and featured a more comprehensive overview of the band's output, although according to some live reviews I have read, some of the other material did not come across so well in the stripped down format, particularly where the vocals were concerned. However, what is included is enjoyable enough and displays the often clever, particularly lyrically, song writing of primarily Blegvad and Moore. Blegvad, as well as a fine musician, is a primo lyricist. Take for example the first verse of Casablanca Moon:

"He used to wear fedoras, but now he sports a fez
There's cabalistic innuendoes in everything he says
Sucking on a cigarette, picking up the threads
Underneath the Casablanca Moon"

...or the intellectually amusing Haiku which rhymes the song title with "I.Q." and is introduced by Blegvad with "1, 2, no no, 5, 7, 5" much to the amusement of the crowd (5,7,5 being the number of syllables in each line of a Haiku).

Has this album turned me into a Slapp Happy fan? Well no, not really. The songs I like the best are the ones I know from Blegvad's solo re-recordings or live shows, although songs like King Of Straw and Small Hands Of Stone are certainly worth having in the collection. On the whole, the album is a nice collection of good solid songs, performed well in front of an appreciative audience. The more acoustic nature of the show means that the whole set is of similar tempo which tends to limit the situations when it is appropriate to play. But it is an enjoyable album nonetheless and one that I am happy to own. If, like me, you appreciate the song writing talents of, particularly Peter Blegvad, then this is an album you will want in your collection. Of course, if you are already a Slapp Happy fan then its release will be a delight. However, for the more curious, particularly those drawn to the group by their associations with Faust or Henry Cow, then this may not be the best place to start!

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10


Locomotive Speaker – Moon’s Reminyl

Locomotive Speaker – Moon’s Reminyl
Country of Origin:Turkey
Record Label:Mrs Vee
Catalogue #:AUDVEE19
Year of Release:2009
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Fly Divine (21:00), Moon’s Reminyl (11:28), She Is Somethingelse (9:20)

If you’re like me and you don’t do drugs, there may be certain psychedelic musical moments in your life where you could pretend you are doing them to enhance the experience. You may derive sonic pleasures such as these from Moon’s Reminyl, the third release from Locomotive Speaker.

Locomotive Speaker himself handles vocals and guitars, and the other cohorts in his like-named collective include the amusingly nicknamed Sir Freeman Seethru on drums and other percussion instruments, Muffin Man, who handles light shows; Mr. Trickster, providing tapes, effects, and keyboards; Lemures Pheine on vocals and keyboards, and Thomas the III. Jolly helping out with ambient guitars. There is a bass player but I could not verify who they are in the CD’s credits, which are printed in a somewhat cryptic font.

As there are only three tracks on the CD, I will touch upon them all. The opening extended piece Fly Divine abruptly alternates between Kraut rock sojourns and ambient sections and features some brooding bass played ostensibly by Locomotive Speaker himself, along with some restrained tape elements from Mr. Trickster and a pattern of soft yet capable drumming from Sir Freeman Seethru. Influences ranging from Can to Brian Eno are signaled along the way.

The title track is another Kraut rock voyage offering up some heavy up-tempo drumming from Sir Freeman Seethru as well as some keyboard ingredients pointing to Mark Kelly as a commonality. The creative and non-indulgent Mr. Trickster carefully tosses in some tape elements centering on landing on the moon as subject matter.

The third and final track is She Is Somethingelse, which features some mellotron style keyboards, a bit of guitar styling leaning to that of Adrian Belew, and generous eastern percussion from Sir Freeman Seethru.

This CD will most likely appeal to fans of neo-psychedelic music, ambient music, and Kraut rock. You won’t find any conventional three minute singles here.

The CD is available as a free download here and limited edition CDR (while they last) from the band’s label Mrs Vee Recordings. The packaging housing the physical copy I received for this review came in the form of a plastic envelope holding a colorfully designed card/cover featuring a trippy picture of what appears to be a clown. The cover of In The Court Of The Crimson King comes to mind. As I mentioned earlier regarding the credits, the text element of the design was difficult for me to read and I would suggest that with their next release they go with a clearer and larger font. The CD itself appears to be burned from a download homemade style, with care and attention given to the CD surface’s artistic presentation.

As far as the CD’s music quality goes, I would say this band is hitting their mark and good to go for their next release.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10


It’s The End - It’s The End

It’s The End - It’s The End
Country of Origin:Norway
Record Label:Musea Records
Catalogue #:MP 3093
Year of Release:2009
Info:It’s The End
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Three Quarks For Muster (6:28), Inverted Implicitness (4:42), The Sickness Onto Death Part I (4:38), Basic Inceptisol (5:32), Drakes Equation (10:32), Marihuana By Night (6:30), The Salesmen Are The Real Whores (7:04), Xenophobia (5:33), Internal Combustion (6:16), Deep Fringe-Campfire Caboodle (5:31), The Sickness Onto Death Part II (6:48), Tautological Torment (9:48)

This lovingly complex album is probably one of those love it or hate it affairs. As of my personal opinion, I always try not to be too polarized or radicalized about this kind of release. Certainly, I can’t say I hate anything in particular about It’s The End but, though there’s plenty to love, the whole is far from perfect.

First, when you play complex, experimental instrumental music, you always run the risk to end up being too complex and too experimental for your own good (if that’s possible). That’s exactly what I think about this release. Don’t get me wrong, there’s seriously interesting and challenging music on display here, but at twelve tracks (mostly between the 6-10 minute range) and 79 minutes of total playing time, this is too much stuff to absorb.

Most have an improvised/unfinished feel to them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and brings freshness and spontaneity to the proceedings, but here it’s also a clear sign of too much noodling and lack of focus. Drakes Equation, the longest track on the CD, reflects it clearly, as it hints at some groundbreaking futuristic jazz fusion ruminations, but gets lost in a mess of sound effects and tentative playing; had it been 6-7 minutes long, instead of nearly 11, it’d been a gem of a cut.

On the other hand, opening track Three Quarks For Muster shows the perfect balance between wild experimentation and references to guitar-driven fusion music in the vein of Allan Holdsworth and Frank Zappa; Zappa’s shadow is also strongly cast over The Salesmen Are The Real Whores (lovely title), complete with some crazy ominous piano and marimba.

Elsewhere, there’s also a heavy influence of the King Crimson of the 21st century, thanks to the complex interlocking guitars and omnipresent programmed percussion (I’d love to hear this album with real drums on it; or maybe the rhythmic patterns are so damn insane no one’s dared to sit behind the drum kit to play them), which brings to mind Pat Mastelotto’s innovative approach to percussion. Certainly, Xenophobia could’ve been improvised live by Fripp and Co. on any of their recent tours.

On the other side of the spectrum, the predictably named Internal Combustion leans towards some progressive metal clichés, mixing some Meshuggah-ish riffing with Gordian Knot’s approach to the genre. In fact, Sean Malone’s project is one of the biggest influences on the whole CD, although he’s always cared a bit more about melody and structure.

Oslo multi-instrumentalists The Drudge, Retch and Quibble have achieved some memorable sonic chaos (perfectly reflected on the messy, terrorist artwork) here, but as in many more cases (too many recently), a bit more restraint and focus would have worked wonders on such an interesting, brave but ultimately failed project.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Jamie Craig - Illumination

Jamie Craig - Illumination
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2009
Info:Jamie Craig
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Lost & Found (4:47), Midtown Saturday Night (4:04), Mirage (4:58), Illumination I (4:24), Illumination II (4:02), To Nola With Love (4:43), Reflections (4:17), San Juan (4:18), Voyager IX (4:27), H2Ozone (4:58), Guardian Angel (4:24), Sealed Fate (4:23)

In your musical imagination, if you travel to that region of progressive soundscape space where the “ambient” galaxies are situated and you keep going on, there will come a point, that may well be very difficult to define, when your mental musicship leaves the progressive universe and enters into the vast regions of “tranquillity” music beyond it. Continue on into the deep reaches of this space and you will float forever in a limbo of soft tunes and natural sounds, only able to return from its grasp if another being – kind or cruel? – turns off your CD player!

And so? What have we here with multi-instrumentalist Jamie Craig’s Illumination? Are we still in progressive space? Are we in that land of limbo? Or do we find ourselves in transition between the two, music travellers that can still wrench free of the mantric-web under the control of our own volition? For what it is worth, I place Illumination in that land of transition; although it is clear from the promo notes that Craig himself would have you believe that you are still firmly in that distant region of progressive space.

More importantly, does it matter? Progressive music lovers are open to many forms of music. So, more importantly, is it good? And there’s the rub: it falls short of the best of similar genre music. Certainly, it has recognisable melody and rhythm, and the playing is competent; but as a whole it lacks imagination and soul. Good music from the limbo of “tranquillity” is more pleasant and enjoyable to listen to than Illumination. There’s also lots of it, so Craig’s problem is that he is competing in a large market against stiff competition. It is hard work self-promoting such music in such conditions and, as different listeners have different ears, it is worth saying a little more about Illumination here. Also, it may be worth you reading Geoff Feakes’ review of his previous album, The Lost Dream, for a different perspective.

Craig grew up listening and playing to 1970s progressive-rock and new age music and cites a host of its most famous exponents as influences: indeed, even having taken a lesson from Robert Fripp himself. On Illumination his inspirations included Jean Luc Ponty for electric violin sounds, Ian Anderson for flute, Stanley Clarke for thumb-slap bass, Jon Lord and Rick Wakeman for organ, Keith Emerson for piano, and everyone from Steve Howe to Robert Fripp for guitar. He cites more, but I won’t go on. The point here is that these are heady names that raise expectation, but the delivery falls short within these compositions. Indeed, I found the sounds themselves to be disappointing: an early example is the astringent violin sound in Lost And Found. Midtown Saturday Night then repleces the “focus” instrument with a clarinet sound and so it goes on, each track bringing a different “focus”.

The playing, too, is uninspiring by progressive-rock standards; in particular the drums, which I found hard to believe were not computerised.

In essence then, Craig’s ambition of “...bringing new age music out of the darkness into the light and spotlighting it and giving it more presence” is one that doesn’t quite come off. Illumination is on its way to being a “tranquillity” album - although the tempo is often higher than tranquillity music - rather than a Tangerine Dream or Vangelis album and, in that area of music, you will find more enjoyable ones.

Conclusion: 5 out of 10