Album Reviews

Issue 2013-021

Reviews in this issue:

Taylor's Universe - Worn Out

Taylor's Universe - Worn Out
Country of Origin:Denmark
Record Label:Marvel Of Beauty Recordings
Catalogue #:MOBCD023
Year of Release:2013
Info:Robin Taylor
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Floating Rats (8:00), Munich (10:24), Imaginary Church (4:24) Cruelty in Words (5:24), Jens in Afghanistan (6:23), Sergeant Pepperoni (8:38)

Another year, another release from the fabulous Taylor's Universe and an album that, as one would expect, is full of classy musical interludes. When one looks at the cover of the album you see a pair of worn out shoes that have seen better days. Luckily for the listener what is presented here does not follow suit.

The album opener Floating Rats sets the table for the musical feast that has been prepared for the listener, the lamenting horns pull you in with their inquisitive tones which become dark and powerful. This theme bookends the passage whilst the filling offers warmth and depth, complex and simplistic jazz phrasings that are of the highest order confirming that Mr. Taylor has a very good understanding of structure. This structure has solid foundations and offers entertainment of the highest order in musical soirées that you will want to involve yourself in time and time again.

Munich is not only the longest track on the album but, to my ears, it is the best. A very emotional piece, it displays the adeptness of the contributing musicians that comforts you like a long lost friend that you haven't engaged with for a while. To give an analogy, this piece would be akin to that conversation, filled with a whole gamut of emotion. It is this excitement that makes Taylor’s Universe such an enthralling proposition and why I love Robin Taylor's work so much; it is such a fitting musical elegy, a plaintive musical poem.

Even though Imaginary Church maybe the shortest track on the album, it still packs a firm punch that really puts the band through its paces; a theme that is really noticeable throughout the whole album as you just never know what is around the corner so to speak. Just as soon as you think you have got the gist of where these guys are going, they take a sharp deviation away from that.

Cruelty In Words again offers the use of conversation via musical interaction, sharp passages that appear to air their dirty laundry in front of the participating listener. I love how the keyboard has been used to great effect adding depth, as does the sax, but the real star of the piece is the blistering guitar work.

Jens In Afghanistan is another winner here with its military stance and a passionate, emotional entrance that will make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Klaus Thrane's outstanding percussive precision waits for everyone to come into alignment, although in a somewhat chaotic fashion, something that adds to the power of the piece. Taylor's bass manipulation really scores high marks here too, making it a serious contender for the best track but it is just pipped at the post by Munich.

The rather unusually titled Sergeant Pepperoni closes the album, another instrumental that allows perfect interaction for Jon Hemmersam's guitar and Karsten Vogel's alto sax to manipulate and create musical sculptures, mesmerising the listener with its exacting precision and tonal beauty.

Throughout the whole album, whether through technical and convoluted guitar phrasings, mesmerizing sax soundstages or tight and fascinating percussive work, the thing that presents itself repeatedly is passion, every note here has been lived.

Robin Taylor (guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion & allsorts), Jakob Mygind (soprano & tenor sax), Karsten Vogel (soprano & alto sax), Jon Hemmersam (guitar solos), Klaus Thrane (drums) and Louise Nipper (voices on Munich) have managed to perform as a well-oiled and efficient machine, a perfect combination of musicians that have seriously achieved their goal to create a highly addictive and intelligent album. As on his many other releases, it is Robin's longer passages that work the best as the music is allowed to breathe and grow with the listener; here the shorter passages have no less impact and contribute to the whole effect. Worn Out is a perfect example of how great Robin Taylor's musical mind works. 2012's Kind of Red was a stunning album that came highly recommended by these ears, Worn Out, believe it or not, is even better. Immerse yourself in Taylor's Universe and, trust me, you will not be disappointed.

Conclusion: 9 out of 10


Argos - Cruel Symmetry
Argos – Cruel Symmetry
Country of Origin:Germany
Record Label:Progressive Promotions Records
Year of Release:2012
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: Cruel Symmetry (20:43), Paper Ship Dreams (4:30), Chance Encounters (4:22), Possessions (6:05), The Story Of Flying Robert (4:29), Caught Within The Light (6:47), Open Book (7:43)

Started as a solo project in 2005 by multi-instrumentalist and composer Thomas Klarmann and eventually expanding into a trio for the release of their first self-titled album in 2009, Argos released their second album, Circles, in 2010 and this third album, Cruel Symmetry, at the end of 2012.

Joining Thomas, who contributes bass, flute, synthesizers, Mellotron, Hammond organ, acoustic guitar and vocals, is Robert Gozon, who moves between acoustic & electric pianos, Hammond organ, strings, acoustic guitar and vocals. Rounding off the group are drummer Ulf Jacobs and guitarist Rico Florczak.

This is another album of retro-prog, albeit with more than enough charm of its own to make it rise above some of the more plodding fare I've had to sit through of late. This time round, the '70s influences are of a Canterbury nature, rather than the all-too-common Genesis/Yes template, which at least makes for an interesting change.

It took me quite a few listens to get into the first track, yet another song of epic length for 2013, and one that I consider would have been better off ending the album. I can't fault the band's confidence in kicking things off with a twenty-minuter, but have they the chops to pull it off? Just about, yes, and this gives the impression of what Genesis may have sounded like had they crawled fully formed out of a Canterbury cellar rather than having emerged from Charterhouse public school, blinking naively in the sunlight. Yes, it's derivative, but it has a certain appeal nonetheless.

For once writing and singing lyrics in a second language presents no problems. The lyrics are obtuse, abstract whimsical observations that have that peculiarly "English" character, despite being written by a German, and Thomas sings in such an unaffected manner, you might imagine he's Richard Sinclair's nephew. He even manages to sing the line "what a wonder life can be" with only the very slightest hint of Germanic inflexion. Top marks!

Instrumentally this epic goes through all sorts of twists and turns, from Genesis-symphonic, to Egg-convolutions, and there's a really nice guitar break from Rico slotted in, too.

Despite all that, I still get the impression that it is long for the sake of it, as thematically it seems somewhat disparate, and although I have listened to it a number of times I still cannot quite get a handle on it.

Having an epic to start the album has given the thing a "game of two halves" feel to it, and to be honest, I prefer the second half which kicks off with Paper Ship Dreams, a jaunty little ditty that sets the template and gets my toes tapping in 23/8 or whatever. This is the kind of Canterbury infused pop song I could listen to all day. Nice!

Chance Encounters manages to throw in a few XTC references for good measure, and the resulting combination is something a bit different that definitely works. The shorter songs give lyricists Robert and Thomas the chance to be concise and their writing here certainly benefits from the enforced brevity. Mild cautionary tales, songs of hope, love and redemption, along with an adult nursery rhyme or two are all well written, and credit to Robert and Thomas for penning some really fine words, a particular bugbear of mine where progressive rock is concerned.

The Story Of Flying Robert is a favourite, as it relates the tale of a young boy who likes to venture out in the wind and rain when it is probably wiser to stay indoors. His umbrella, caught by the wind bears him aloft: "There goes Robert, and his hat goes North". See what they did there? The tune itself could be Hatfield too, but by now I've forgotten all about the influences this charming little band sometimes wear brazenly on their sleeves, such is the accomplishment of the ensemble.

Argos even manage to get a bit angular on the closing song Open Book, which combines all the previously mentioned influences and comes up with something that while maybe not shockingly unique, is still worthy of your attention.

I was going to give this a 7.5, purely because of the opening epic, which I feel does not quite come off, but I consider that this album is well worth a "DPRP Recommended" tag all the same, so...

Conclusion: 8 out of 10


Unwritten Pages - Pt.1: Noah
Unwritten Pages - Pt.1: Noah
Country of Origin:Netherlands
Record Label:ProgRock Records
Year of Release:2010
Time:CD 1 - 43:54
CD 2 - 40:59
Info:Unwritten Pages
Samples:Click Here

Track list:
CD 1: Prologue - This New World (5:35), The Boy's Awake (3:41), In The Name Of Ishmael (7:35), Royalty & Conspiracies (6:31), Red Ashes (the privilege of war)(3:01), Solar Blast (6:45), Deimo's Theme (6:57), Blowing Red Ashes pt.1 (3:44)
CD 2: The Uranium Machine (5:16), Falling Stars (8:24), Unexpected Twists & Turns (3:25), These Haunted days (4:14), Blowing Red Ashes pt.II (6:13), Flora & ... (7:50), Life (5:27)

Unwritten Pages - Fringe Kitchen

Country of Origin:Netherlands
Record Label:Turrican Media
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Info:Unwritten Pages
Samples:Click Here
Unwritten Pages - Fringe Kitchen

Tracklist: Prologue - Hejo (2:37), Asylum Tragedy (3:42), Intoxicating Sweets (5:42), Perfect Incentive (6:58), Cloud Infinite (7:27), Terminal Defect (8:24), Kaleidemote(5:53), Wasted Land (6:19), Auxiliary Influx (6:58)

Unwritten Pages' Pt.1: Noah suggested that there would be a second part coming in the future or.... A second album has already been produced as well, not part 2 of Noah or is it? This second album is called Fringe Kitchen. Between the albums lays a time span of 2 years. Reviewing both albums in one session seemed logical as three years have now passed since the release of the first album and the second was released a year ago. So, here we go with two releases in one review.

Pt.1: Noah appears to be a concept album divided over two disks and 15 tracks. Noah, or more accurately Unwritten Pages, started as a brainstorm session between brothers Frederic and Michel Epe and Glenn Dumont which later on developed into a full blown concept.

Concept albums these days usually have a prologue, Pt.: Noah is no different. The first track is entitled Prologue – This New World. The listener is taken into the world of the main character, Noah. The entrance into this New World is a power house of heavy symphonic progressive metal. A vocal duel, with great guitars, very well structured compositionally. The whole album flows from one track into the next without pausing, giving away the conceptual nature of the thing.

You, the listener, is challenged to try to get into the story, which isn't all that easy and I needed a couple of sessions to get the story. Not that the album is overly complex, you can easily lose yourself listening in it.

For those who know the musical concepts that Ayreon produces, Noah is like an Ayreon concept but just a little more difficult to grasp and musically in a slightly different style relying more on the heavy progressive metal with a lot of neat little twists and turns on guitar and with the keys as well. Just because of this the accessibility of Pt.1: Noah is difficult. Do not go and listen briefly to this album and then throw it aside as this would do a great injustice to the compositions and the high standards that this album attains.

Through the years of developing the Noah concept Unwritten Pages grew into a full band which these days comprises Frederic Epe (keyboards, vocals, percussion), Michel Epe (guitars), Glenn Dumont (production & guitars), Lothar Epe and Ruth Maassen (vocals), Davy Mickers (drums & percussion) and Alejandro Millan (keyboards). Helping the band out are Sander Stappers (bass), Ali Jamail Garny (percussion), Thomas Gunter (backing vocals) with special guests Damian Wilson on vocals and Karl Groom providing guitars and mastering.

The album should really appeal to prog metal lovers that also love the story telling that can be heard on the likes of Dream Theater's famous Metropolis Part 2: Scenes From A Memory album.

The addition of the female vocal is great, really suiting the music as well. In Deimo's Theme Ruth sings the first and second voice in a kind of dialog with herself. The sound of Deimo is Spanish-like with a flamenco acoustic guitar sound splendidly performed by Michel Epe.

Listening to the album, which should be done in its entirety as it is a worthy concept, it is at times as if you are at an opera or musical. I especially like the fantastic sounding keyboards and piano parts in various songs which are of classical brilliance. All of the songs are full of variation with lots of style differences and mood variations.

More or less, the saying "all that is good comes in slowly" is true with Noah if it were only this review that says it all. That the album is 83+ minutes long says the rest. Great guitars and keys, vocally strong with a noticeable Dutch accent. I can conclude by saying that this review is too long overdue. If you still have not done so go and listen to Pt.1: Noah. You will not be disappointed, give it a chance.

The next album in this way overdue Unwritten Pages review is Fringe Kitchen, the second album from this Dutch prog metal band. This album sees some changes in both the band line-up and the style of music which is now full-blown progressive metal. The line-up now sees the three Epe brothers working with James Cook (guitar) and John Macaluso (drums) with Sander Stappers joining full-time, with these changes they have become a complete band.

At the start of the review for this album I stated that Unwritten Pages are now fully progressive metal. I have come to this conclusion based on the fact that all the songs are more or less guitar dominated and far heavier than on the debut album. Fringe Kitchen is not the sequel or Part 2 of the Noah concept.

Prog metal comes in all sorts of shapes and forms, good or bad, and musically, Unwritten Pages do not belong in mainstream prog metal. The music is well and carefully composed and arranged.

Consisting of 9 tracks, Fringe Kitchen has a total length of 54 minutes. Not overly long and absolutely not as long as most of their colleagues in prog metal make and the quality of songs is of high standard and without a weak spot on the album.

Unwritten Pages' music is not too complex, absolutely not mainstream progressive, certainly not art rock but still not the most easily accessible as I noted in my review for Noah. This still holds for Fringe Kitchen although I must admit that the music gets into your system faster which must have something to do with the more metal approach on this album. The nice twists and turns are still there as well as the Dutch accented vocals. Fringe Kitchen should appeal to real prog metal addicts as it relies heavily on the bass lines and drum patterns that drive the album forward.

Fringe Kitchen is a good second coming for Unwritten Pages.

Pt.1: Noah: 8 out of 10
Fringe Kitchen: 7 out of 10


The Pineapple Thief – What We Have Sown

The Pineapple Thief – What We Have Sown
Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:Kscope
Catalogue #:KSCOPE223
Year of Release:2007/2013
Info:The Pineapple Thief

Tracklist: All You Need To Know (4:08), Well, I Think That's What You Said? (5:21), Take Me With You (5:04), West Winds (8:58), Deep Blue World (6:05), What Have We Sown? (27:46)
Bonus tracks – You Sign Out (5:07), Before It Costs Us (3:00)

Leaving for Kscope, Bruce Soord wrote this album as a parting thank you to Cyclops, a label with whom he had an association going right back to the pre-TPT Vulgar Unicorn days. Indeed, between 1999 and 2006 his band The Pineapple Thief had released 5 albums, one re-recorded album and sundry bonus tracks for his first label. The original issue of What We Have Sown came out in 2007, and, like its predecessors disappeared after initial sales to the small but loyal fanbase, but pro-active as ever, Bruce sent a copy to a certain Steven Wilson, who liked it, and recommended the boys to his label Kscope.

One hopes that, after the deserved success of Someone Here Is Missing and All The Wars, the higher profile of the band will lead newer fans to sample their older wares. A great place to start would be What We Have Sown, which forms part of Kscope's reissue program for the band. WWHS showcases Bruce's fine knack at writing short but intense pop-prog vignettes, and these form four of the first five tracks of the record.

Utterly atypically for the "other PT", the original album closed out with a full blown epic. At a somewhat will-sapping nigh on half an hour long, What Have We Sown? was a complete surprise for us fans of the band at the time, and a mostly pleasant one at that. Starting off briefly in the mode of Echoes it soon picks up the hypnotic refrain and we're off on a long strange journey. The band stretch out, all the while a theremin-like synth signal weaves in and out of the riffingly frantic guitar thrashing. Suffice to say there is a proper song in there, in amongst noisy guitars and swathes of luscious instrumentation, although the tune does not really need to be as long as it is, and I would have welcomed one or two more of Bruce's lovelorn songs in place of about half of it.

WHWS? has rarely been played live, as the rest of the band "hate it" as Bruce explained to me in last year's DPRP interview. Methinks there may be some schadenfreude at play here!

The album opens with All You Need To Know, a staple of the band's live set, which showcases Bruce's already mature songwriting coupled with the confidence of the instrumentation, built around a simple acoustic chord progression and some nice mellotron, with the added bonus of a short and fluid guitar break from the since departed Wayne Higgins.

New fans of the group will be pleased to learn that all the trademark lyrical traits of Bruce's songwriting are present and correct throughout the album, with tales of love, loss of love, longing and regret, all sung out in his plaintive and easily recognisable style; "if you're the next one, you're the next one to go" showing he's as unlucky in matters of the heart as ever. That line is from Take Me With You, which drips melancholy, as does Deep Blue World, an abstract synth strings-led paean to a parting of ways, possibly. A quite lovely thing it is, too.

West Winds presages the title track, being nearly nine minutes long and an instrumental to boot; O.K. there are lyrics on WHWS?, but it is mostly vocal-free. West Winds is a slowly building atmospheric strummer, underpinned by bubbling bass lines from the keys, and the listener can get lost in a reverie imagining the wind coming off the Atlantic and across the Somerset fields of the band's homeland, bending the trees to their permanently stooped shapes as depicted on the effectively simple cover art photography. The rising electronica mirrors the approaching storm and the listener is buffeted by the swooping stereo image. Having had the original album and always focussing on the closing epic, I tend to forget its little sibling too easily, but I have to say it's none too shabby.

Of course, a reissue is not done properly without a good remix/mastering – check; and a couple of bonus tracks – check. You Sign Out has a jolly Latino rhythm in contrast to Bruce's romantic longing that works rather well; the only thing missing is castanets! Before It Costs Us is another one of those doomed relationship ditties that flow off Mr. Soord's pen like a waterfall, and well, if anything is "typical" early Pineapple Thief, this is it. A long sigh and a fitting end to a different kind of TPT journey.

"What have we sown?" Bruce asks, and the answer would appear to be the seeds of something that is finally growing to get the attention it so justly deserves.

Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10


Jadis - See Right Through You

Jadis - See Right Through You
Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:101 Distribution
Catalogue #:JAD007
Year of Release:2012
Samples:Click Here

Tracklist: You Wonder Why (7:36), Try My Behaviour (6:55), What If I Could Be There (7:10), More Than Ever (5:50), All Is Not Equal (5:38), Nowhere Near the Truth (6:05), Learning Curve (6:20), See Right Through You (8:14)

After a 7-year hiatus Jadis, one of the most important neo-progressive rock bands from the U.K., is on the road again. This time the band have had a major line-up change after the departure of both Martin Orford (keyboards and backing vocals) and Jon Jowitt (bass) in 2006 who have now been replaced by Giulio Rissi and Steve Marlow respectively.

The band led by guitarist/vocalist Gary Chandler keeps their guitar-driven style but on See Right Through You there is minimal emphasis for the keyboards and atmospheres, one of the most remarkable contributions by Orford during his time in the band. I found this record weaker than its predecessor and sounding a little more raw with the main focus coming from Chandler's guitar riffs and melodies. Drummer Steve Christey's technique remains as clean as ever within its time changes and the work done by Marlow is very interesting with the bass arrangements present all the time.

You Wonder Why is a classic Jadis song with a keyboard sequence in the background and a keyboard solo alternating with Chandler's characteristic guitar style. Try my Behaviour has stronger choruses alternating between the atmospheric keyboards and acoustic guitars, it goes slower at the end with a solo guitar. What If I Could Be There is another classic song and my favourite. I found it a little too similar to the first track and it probably could have been a much better opening track for this album. More Than Ever is a lighter, keyboard-driven song and I felt that the guitar rhythm doesn't fit here, the Keyboard solo sounds a little weird and there are more guitars at the ending. In All Is Not Equal the rhythm is slower but the guitars switch between acoustic and electric as the song goes by. Nowhere Near The Truth is the only instrumental song on this album (another characteristic of the band) and starts with a sequence in the background with again the guitars in the front plane resulting in a similar rhythm than the previous songs but without lyrics. Learning Curve is basically an acoustic song that builds to a crescendo with another keyboard intervention and ends with the expected guitar arrangements and solos. See Right Through You is the closing theme and maintains the same structure as the other powerful songs of this album, the difference being that this isn't a remarkable one and parts of the arrangement sounds out of rhythm.

Another important thing that I've noticed is the way this record passes by; it ends very suddenly. This isn't a good sign as it reveals a lack of heterogeneity in the similarity between the songs. Also I would have liked more longer songs. Perhaps the band is trying to do things in a different way? It is a shame, because I like Jadis very much but I miss their more powerful style as on albums like More Than Meets The Eye, Across The Water or Photoplay. I don't want to think that Mr. Chandler is running out of ideas or even be so rude as to suggest so in this review, but it is necessary when I talk about one of my favourite bands. As always I'll let our readers have the final word.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


Tim Morse - Faithscience

Tim Morse - Faithscience
Country of Origin:U.S.A.
Record Label:Amethyst Edge Productions
Catalogue #:AE 42001
Year of Release:2012
Info:Tim Morse
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Descent (2:42), Voyager (9:08), Closer (8:22), Window (1:16), Numb (3:42), Myth (6:38), Found It (8:46), Rome (5:29), The Last Wave (9:43), Afterworld (5:25), The Corners (1:55)

Line up:-
Tim Morse - Keyboards, Lead Vocals, 6 & 12 String Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar & Bass
Jerry Jenning - Lead and Rhythm Guitar
Gordon Stizzo - Drums
Jim Diaz - Bass
David Ragsdale - Violin
Timothy Stanley - Cello
Spencer Byrnes - Trumpet

Faithscience is the second album from multi-instrumentalist Tim Morse – the first being Transformation in 2005. Tim has also written a couple of Prog related books along the way and was also in a Yes tribute band called Parallels (after the track on Going For The One.

This album started out as a concept about the life of the aviator Charles Lindenburgh, however along the way it changed direction to become the album that is now Faithscience. On his website Tim talks through the inspiration behind each track which adds insight and depth to the entire album.

Tim is a very adept musician and his real strength, along with his compositional skills, is in his keyboard work which underpins much of this album using some sounds that will sound very familiar to anyone familiar with Yes. This is possibly unsurprising given Tim's Yes connections although the guitar work of Jerry Jennings is no mere clone of Steve Howe but uses a subtle blend of melody, harmony and power to add some deft touches to the proceedings.

Faithscience album opens with atmospheric keyboards before shifting tempo into a decidedly rhythmic sound with some soaring guitar on display. It's a good opener and sets the stall for much of what follows. The second track is Voyager which was originally the start of the aborted Lindenburgh concept but still stands up well in the context of the rest of the current album. It has several distinct movements and Tim's voice is heard for the first time which, whilst not a classic "prog" voice, fits the material here well enough. There is some wonderfully subtle bass playing on this track that gives it an extra sheen and this is a great example of all that is good about Faithscience in that it is imaginative, constantly shifting and a great song.

Track 3, Closer, opens with a lengthy instrumental before the vocals come in, the song having a very pleasant feel and groove to it. Again Jerry's guitar adds a Steve Howe type solo that lifts the song before Tim's synths take over. When he lets fly on his keyboards it's always interesting to see where he is going to take the song to next. This is another of the longer tracks so there is time for the ideas within to be expanded upon.

Myth has a real swagger and groove to it based on a recurring organ riff over which Tim sings. It's got a real style to it but is also fairly sparse so there is room for the instrumentation to come to the fore. There is a gentler passage in the middle before leading to an extended synth passage before the riff comes back in along with Jerry's soaring guitar coming to the fore.

Track 7, Found, is another of the longer tracks opening with a very lengthy keyboard solo and with a stunning guitar break at the 4:20 mark. In between all this are Tim's impassioned vocals. Another great track, this is one of the best on the album.

The Last Wave is the longest track here at 9:43 and what a belter it is too. It opens with keyboards before changing direction into a jazz fusion type groove with keyboards dancing over the almost abstract rhythm. This is a very twisting track with shifting time signatures, the strong fusion-type backing holding it all together. It's fully instrumental and shows off Tim's composition well; there's even a trumpet solo!

Overall Faithscience is a strong album with some great ideas and passages but it struggles to find a cohesive direction. That said it is a worthy album and one that I enjoyed tremendously. Tim is a skilled composer and fine keyboard player but I feel he needs to work out his direction and focus on that so that his next disc will be even greater.

Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10


Greg Lake - Songs Of A Lifetime

Greg Lake - Songs Of A Lifetime
Country of Origin:U.K.
Record Label:Esoteric Recordings
Catalogue #:EANTCD1010
Year of Release:2013
Info:Greg Lake

Tracklist: 21st Century Schizoid Man (1:00), Lend Me Your Love Tonight (3:40), Songs Of A Lifetime Tour Introduction (1:04), From The Beginning (5:04), Tribute To The King (7:04), Heartbreak Hotel (2:26), Epitaph / The Court Of The Crimson King (5:06), King Crimson Cover Story (4:47), I Talk To The Wind (4:30), Ringo And The Beatles (4:16), You've Got To Hide Your Love Away (2:51), Touch And Go (3:07), Trilogy (2:57), Still...You Turn Me On (3:34), Reflections Of Paris (1:21), C'Est La Vie (3:58), My Very First Guitar (4:06), Lucky Man (4:45), People Get Ready (3:26), Karn Evil 9 1st Impression Part 2 (5:41)

Since the turn of the millennium (was it really 13 years ago?) Greg Lake has been the least visibly active of the three ex members of Emerson, Lake and Palmer although he did of course take part in the 2010 reunion. Now at last Lake fans have reason to celebrate with a new 'live' album from the man whose résumé includes singer, bassist, guitarist, song writer and producer. I'll let Greg himself explain the strategy behind Songs Of A Lifetime in this extract from his introduction:

"From time to time during the writing of my autobiography, these songs would crop up that were in some way crucial or extremely important in the development of my career. These were not always songs that I had written myself, but sometimes songs that had been written and performed by other artists as well. I realized that what they actually represented was the journey that I had shared together with the audience over all these years. Behind these songs there were often stories to be told and it occurred to me that the same must be true for the audience as well. It was then that I thought of the idea of doing a series of very small intimate concerts where I could perform these songs and exchange stories with the audience, in a way reliving the time when the music we shared together really became part of our identity and in a way became the backdrop to our lives, a sort of tapestry I suppose."

The autobiography to which Lake refers is entitled (surprise, surprise) 'Lucky Man' and the first instatement is already available as a download audiobook. The complete printed version is due out later this year and promises to be a revealing insight into the world of King Crimson and ELP (take note Messer's Fripp and Emerson). But for now back to Songs Of A Lifetime.

In 2012 Greg took his one-man show out on the road playing the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Italy. The recordings here were taken from several of those dates although the actual shows are not identified. In addition to the music we get to hear Lake reminiscing about KC, ELP, The Beatles and Elvis. Sounding relaxed and composed, his banter is warm but well-rehearsed, bringing to mind a friendly vicar delivering his Sunday morning sermon. Like me, you may find these talky bits do not bear repeat listens, particularly the lengthy and sycophantic Tribute To The King (that's Presley, not Crimson). Fortunately they are individually tracked so the CD player's forward button comes in handy here.

Of the music, there are few surprises. No less than four offerings (albeit in truncated form) are taken from Crimson's 1969 debut In The Court Of The Crimson King. Lake recreates the grandiose sound with extensive use of backing tapes although in the case of KC (unlike the ELP songs here) these are not the original studio tracks. In the CD booklet Lake is given credit for the "Original recordings" suggesting that he pre-recorded all, or most of the backing tracks himself. On stage, in addition to live vocals, he alternates between acoustic guitar, electric guitar and digital piano. The Epitaph / The Court Of The Crimson King sequence goes down well with the audience but for me I Talk To The Wind is the highlight of this section. In between the songs, Lake reflects on his childhood friendship (and guitar rivalry) with Fripp and the origins of perhaps the most famous album sleeve in prog history.

Onto ELP and apart from the conspicuous absence of Take A Pebble there are again very few surprises with Lake's solo tunes prominent. Of these, C'Est La Vie works especially well thanks to the full blown arrangement and Lake's evocative vocal. In fact he sounds in particularly fine form throughout most of the set with only the occasional falter (which unfortunately ruins most of Trilogy, one of my favourite ELP tunes). The extract from Karn Evil 9 (the part that opened side 2 of the studio album) and Emerson, Lake & Powell's Touch And Go sound powerfully majestic but as I happily strummed along on the steering wheel of my car I was under no illusions that this was actually Emerson's original keyboard recordings with Lake singing over the top (karaoke anyone?). And apart from the often told account of how the Moog solo on Lucky Man came about, Lake has little to say about the band that has been a major part of his life for over 40 years.

The highlight of Greg's performance however is not an ELP song or a Crimson track and neither is it an Elvis or a Beatles tune. In 1965 Curtis Mayfield wrote People Get Ready which was to become a gospel standard covered by numerous artists including Rod Stewart who for me produced the definitive version. Before the encore of Karn Evil 9, Lake digs deep into his soul and delivers a sensitive vocal and piano version of Mayfield's classic to close the main part of the set.

As live albums go, Songs Of A Lifetime has several points in its favour. Firstly there is little to fault the choice of material, secondly the sound quality is good and thirdly given that Lake was the (original) voice of King Crimson and ELP adds a legitimate authenticity to the performance. However that authenticity comes at a cost with the extensive use of backing tapes promoting a cabaret atmosphere that could have been subtitled 'An Evening with Greg Lake'. Call me old fashioned but give me a live band, mistakes and all, any day. For those wishing to experience Greg in the flesh for themselves the show continues in 2013 through Europe and Japan.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


Far Arden - Songs of Intuition

Far Arden - Songs of Intuition
Country of Origin:Finland
Record Label:Far Arden
Catalogue #:PIACD-02
Year of Release:2012
Info:Far Arden
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Intuition's Arms (4:51), Son of November (4:46), Isle of Rosseau (2:47), Lost & Found (4:28), Mama Holds Her Baby (5:15), Walls of Jericho (3:43), Pearls in a Necklace (4:53), Coming of the Age (5:23), I Hear a Song (3:47), The Last Song (3:57)

Finnish band Far Arden's name gives you a clue as to the sort of music to expect. "Far Arden" is a poem by The Doors' Jim Morrison and, within Songs of Intuition, you will find a few songs that bring back memories of that band, mainly through the use of the organ as a musical texture.

Musical texture brings us to the next reference call, which is again from the classic rock era. Other reviewers have noted a similarity of some of these songs to Jethro Tull. My suspicion is that this is because the flute is used on a number of tracks - it often appears to me that any band playing a flute gets compared to Jethro Tull! Compositionally wise, if there really is such a connection, then it is not to that band's most progressive or most fabled albums, but comes through as a folkier influence.

Other notable, discernible influences - intentional or otherwise - are early period Be-Bop Deluxe and Golden Earring.

From these name-checks, one can quickly determine that Songs of Intuition is an album of art-rock (or "crossover-prog", if that is the more modern term) rooted in the golden period of the late Sixties/early Seventies. It is an enjoyable, melodic album with some strong songs. There is likely to be something here for most people to enjoy, though perhaps not everyone will enjoy all of the album.

Intuition's Arms provides a good, solid start with its pace and pleasant guitar work. Son of November brings a stronger late-Sixties retro feel and the Be-Bop Deluxe references mount on Isle of Rousseau and, particularly, Lost & Found. The Golden Earring memories arise on Mama Holds her Baby and the rockier Walls of Jericho. Pearls in a Necklace takes us into The Doors territory - or is it The Animals? - before the folkier elements emerge to close out the album.

As you can see, it's an eclectic mix of styles, perfectly suiting the art-rock feel of the album. It's certainly an album to explore for those of you who like to search out good music from around the globe. The band members are Jarkko Aro (drums, percussion, background vocals), Asko Karhunen (bass, background vocals), Kari Kuivamaki (keyboards), Esko Nevalainen (vocals, harmonica, acoustic and electric rhythm guitar) and Jari Pietila (electric gutars, Irish bouzouki). The main composers are Nevalainen and Pietila. A number of guest instrumentalists also appear: Juha Sutela plays flute and guitar on Son of November; Lauri Vakeva plays bass on Coming of the Age and Mikko Sadinmaki plays Highland bagpipes on Son of November.

An enjoyable album of good art-rock.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


Echoe - Echoe

Echoe - Echoe
Country of Origin:Poland
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:n/a
Year of Release:2012
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Kornishawn (4:17), Illusions (6:32), Stoned Dog (4:43), Undefined Blood (5:05), And now... (1:05), ...The Statue Burns (3:47), Captive (5:06), Indiana Jones (4:42), Feats Divine (7:19), Time (5:23), Restless (4:17)

Can prog and funk go together? Indeed should prog and funk go together? That was the question I had when I embarked on a review of the debut album from this young Polish quintet.

Billing themselves as "a progressive-rock/funk band" Echoe hail from Wroclaw where they claim to have taken inspiration from "very diverse genres of music and life itself".

The group has played dozens of concerts in major Polish cities, supporting The Flower Kings and Polish rock icons Dzem and taking part in Muzyczne ProgGnozy Festival in Crakow.

Opener Kornishawn is a gorgeous and slightly cheeky slice of funk rock. Indiana Jones is a jazzy fusiony ride with another cheeky edge and lovely guitar work. There's a lot of Californication-era Chilli Peppers on both tracks. Captive has the vibe of the same album but without the funk before going all Rocky Horror Picture Show before a guitar solo lifted from Hotel California!! Stoned Dog and Time have more limited funk vibes to them with a few prog twists.

Undefined Blood is an effective take on modern heavy prog. Part Pain of Salvation, part Sylvan, part Zappa, part Fates Warning. Feats Divine is a progressive take on The Doors with some sadly out of tune singing and a nice jazzy piano ending.

Meanwhile the two-part And now...The Statue Burns and Illusions are fairly indistinctive alt rock arrangements. The off-kilter riffing to Restless reminds me of Pain Of salvation but within a rather confused and not very good piece of songwriting.

So to answer my initial conundrum. Have Echoe succeeded in putting prog with funk? The answer is that they haven't really tried. There are three or four all-out funk songs and three or four modern prog compositions but barely do the two meet in the same track.

Overall I'd suggest Echoe are far more suited and accomplished at creating enjoyable slices of Red Hot Chillis-esque funk rock. And that's where I feel they should concentrate their efforts in future.

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


Keep It Deep - Hatching

Keep It Deep - Hatching
Country of Origin:Belgium
Record Label:Limohe
Catalogue #:LM 12-09
Year of Release:2012
Info:Keep It Deep
Samples:Click Here
Tracklist: Dodecahedron (07:45), Chicken Chips (04:42), Space Squirrels (07:49), Bright Light Sun (13:28), Facial (08:27), Alt Ctrl Del (04:45), Ciocia Teresa (12:52)

Keep It Deep from Belgium formed in 2002 and subsequently released a two track EP. The line-up of Jean-Paul Krasprzyk (lead vocals & guitars), Jean-Francois Devilers (bass & vocals), Thomas Della Vecchia (drums & vocals) and Armand Giusti (guitars, trumpet & vocals) had a long break to concentrate on other commitments to side projects (Yew, Rudy Mitcholl & the Rolanders, Firewall) but got back together to record some new music, which they had written after a near ten year break, resulting in their first full album, Hatching.

The album starts with Dodecahedron, named after the geometrical solid with 30 edges, 20 vertices and 12 faces, which could be a way to describe the album as it has so many edges, directions and facets that you really don't know what or who is coming next. It's a mixture of jazz, prog, rock, metal, blues and alternative folk and pop. Dodecahedron starts out as a jazzy rock number but later on changes into full on progressive rock and then into hard metal, sounding in parts like King Crimson, The Doors and Metallica all mixed up music wise. Next we have Chicken Chips which starts with full-on drums and guitars that rock then suddenly changes into an acoustic number, which sounds like Al Stewart, followed by another heavy rocky part then back to the acoustic beats with vocals followed with a heavy rock electric guitar ending. Next is Space Squirrels, which again sounds like Al Stewart at times with some very laid back parts and pop elements, until just after 4 minutes when it becomes heavy Rush mixed with Dream Theater. Bright Light Sun is the longest track on the album starting with gentle acoustic guitar, space-like atmosphere and vocals then changing pace it starts to rock with some spoken words followed by screaming and guitars. The pace changes again to jazz-like rock with trumpet (remember, I did say that you just don't know where the music is going to go) followed by a reggae beat with some excellent guitar before returning to jazz rock with screaming thrown in before a gentle acoustic ending.

Facial sounds so much like King Crimson for the first couple of minutes with great guitars and drums really building until the pace changes to a slow blues number and the vocals start, which also features a lady having a orgasm, followed by a bit of trad jazz, back to rock then full circle resulting in a slow part with the woman having another orgasm in the back ground. This track would have been very good without the vocals, especially the woman, as musically it is very good showing the talents of the musicians. This is followed by the instrumental Alt Ctrl Del, rock mixed with Latin jazz with some very good drumming and fine guitar playing. The last track, Ciocia Teresa, starts gently with echo effect vocals and some nice accordion. It sounds very upbeat and jolly before starting to rock and there's even a bit of boogie thrown in for good measure. Just short of 7 minutes the pace changes to nice and peaceful with interesting interplay which is quite beautiful before building back up with some very harsh vocals, just short of screaming, finishing back where we started with the accordion.

I found this album to be a strange one with so many styles, mostly guitar driven, with odd vocals that make some of the tracks hard to listen to as one minute you are enjoying and the next minute you aren't. The musicianship is good but I think the band need to ease up on the different styles they employ. You can't say they are not original in their sound but they need to be more focused. The titles of the songs are very Frank Zappa and in parts the music is Zappa like but Beardfish, Yes and The Flower Kings can also be heard on some tracks. The vocals and screaming had a tendency to get on my nerves at times, especially on Facial which would have been much better as an instrumental. The CD artwork is good and reminds me of a typical Radiohead cover. I have listened to the album a number of times as it can sometimes take time for an album to click but for me Hatching didn't. It will be interesting to see what direction the next album will take and I hope that with the talent they have Keep It Deep can produce a much more enjoyable album without having to switch between so many disparate styles within songs.

Conclusion: 4 out of 10


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