Album Reviews

Issue 2015-076: Record-Breaking Issue With 660 Reviews This Year!

Nad Sylvan - Courting the Widow - Duo Review

Nad Sylvan - Courting the Widow
Country of Origin: Sweden
Year of Release: 2015
Time: 71:32
Track List:
Carry Me Home (7:20), Courting the Widow (6:14), Echoes of Ekwabet (9:41), To Turn the Other Side (22:06), Ship's Cat (5:05), The Killing of the Calm (5:34), Where the Martyr Carved His Name (7:46), Long Slow Crash Landing (6:46)
Guille Palladino's Review
I started to hear about Nad Sylvan when I listened to Dramarama from the Agents of Mercy for the first time. I was very curious about the particular vocal style of their singer and later realised that this singer was selected by Steve Hackett to sing The Chamber of 32 Doors, The Musical Box and Eleventh Earl of Mar when he recorded Genesis Revisited II and his subsequent tour and live releases. Sylvan has a particular timbre and tone, which obviously remind me of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins but with his own personal touch. He has a rasp voice but delicate at the same time, which can transmit intensity, feeling and can reach your soul easily.

Courting the Widow is Sylvan's third solo album after The Life of a Housewive and Sylvanite but his first first in 11 years. He is joined by a guest line-up headed by Steve Hackett, Roine Stolt (The Flower Kings and Agents of Mercy), Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson and Lifesigns), Nick D'Virgilio (Big Big Train, Spock's Beard), Jonas Reingold (The Flower Kings, Karmakanik), Doane Perry (Jethro Tull) and Gary O'Toole, among others. Many of them were partners of previous projects in which Sylvan has been involved during the last two decades.

Overall I feel this great work is like a homage to Nad's musical roots; an intimate message full of intensity, sensibility and melancholy, that has been elegantly conceived and turned into music.

Recently Sylvan said: "... I have developed a character known as the 'Vampirate'. I have here set him loose, and so he has invited you all on-board his great ship, to take you on a musical journey you have never been on before. The main character, the widow herself, is a symbol of death and is to be courted through every song, one way or another. It is indeed a dark album, but full of loving light."

I consider this album as the truly and definitive debut from this great singer. From start to finish you can feel the influence of Genesis as the primary musical inspiration and also elements that remind me of The Flower Kings and even Carptree. The disc is full of classical, symphonic, progressive rock elements with the guitar and keyboard arrangements having the main instrumental role. Courting the Widow is an album which quickly establishes a connection with the artist when you listen to it.

I have no favourite songs in this album, because every song has its own personality, and transmits different sensations as you listen to it. Carry me Home is a very emotional opening, while Courting the Widow and Echoes of Ekwabet give us more drama and melancholy. To Turn the Other Side is what I consider a tribute to Genesis' Supper's Ready, with the joy on Killing of the Calm and the elegance and power of Long Slow Crash Landing providing the perfect ending to this wonderful album, enriched by Steve Hackett's guitar playing.

This is a progressive rock album made with the heart, but which transmits another kind of energy that emerges from darker sensations. It is like the quote that says: "In order to see the light you have to risk the dark". This is what Nad Sylvan has done with this beautiful album.
Joel Atlas' Review
Nad Sylvan is familiar to most progressive rock fans. He achieved mild notoriety in 2008 when, along with another Genesis lover named Bonamici, he formed Unifaun; a one-CD band that created original music (recommended by DPRP) in the vein of early-to-mid era Genesis. The next year, Sylvan, along with Roine Stolt of The Flower Kings, formed Agents of Mercy. An unanticipated invitation from Genesis legend Steve Hackett in 2012, led to Sylvan's vocal services being added to recent iterations of Hackett's touring band. Sylvan's theatrical stage presence and crafty vocals in the style of Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel, are hallmarks of his live performances and have considerably expanded his fan base.

Sylvan's new solo CD, Courting the Widow, is his first since 2003's largely unheralded Sylvanite. It is a concept album that, as Sylvan recently explained, is meant to be mostly dark but also provide elements of light. (Indeed, overall, the tone is more light than dark.)

The lead character and unifying theme is the Widow herself (a metaphor for death). Sylvan's own latent persona, a "Vampirate" as he calls it, plays a much more peripheral role. On the CD, Sylvan not only sings but plays guitar and keyboards. The music continues in the style of Unifaun and, hence, Genesis, but Sylvan has emphatically embraced the freedom of going solo and has created a unique atmosphere and tone. His voice is, as usual, emotive and replete with flair. According to Sylvan, the CD represents his hardest stint of work and his best effort, and it shows.

The songs are uniformly strong, although a few stand out. We open with the upbeat Carry Me Home. This tune, with a mid-era Genesis feel and driven by Sylvan's confident vocals, would have fitted well on Unifaun. Strong bass playing and sharp guitar leads boost the gravitas of the otherwise lightweight, partly-poppy tune.

The more-progressive and heady title track shines mostly because of its catchiness and Sylvan's full-bodied, twisting, and smoothly-cracking voice. The song quickly inspires a sing-along. Right out of the earlier-Genesis playbook is Echoes of Ekwabet, which features forceful, Gabriel-like vocals, a recurring, rousing guitar lead, and the overall grandness of the best 1970s symphonic prog (including, near the song's end, hints of Hackett's Voyage of the Acolyte). They just don't make 'em like this any more, and what a shame that is!

The epic-length piece is entitled To Turn the Other Side. This tune, which would also have fitted on Unifaun, manages to remain cohesive while still weaving and changing pace. An absence of strong hooks though, makes the tune less memorable than most others here. Ship's Cat is a mellow interlude about a mysterious singing cat. The tune is unusual in all respects, but it deserves praise for its quirkiness and its hard-won vocals. And it's an earworm.

The Killing of the Calm displays a folky quality, in both song and vocals, that is marginally redolent of Jethro Tull. Violin playing adds a freshness to the sound. Next up is the eclectic Where the Martyr Carved His Name. The tune retains a darkness, despite the contemporary soundscape and slightly funky beat. Portions of the vocal structure resemble those from Genesis' The Chamber of 32 Doors.

Darker still is the closing track, Long Slow Crash Landing. Brief but soulful guitar lines add character and edge to an overall dreary (intentionally so) denouement.

With Courting the Widow, Sylvan has established himself as a stand-alone force in the prog world. The song writing and singing are first rate, and although drawing on classic influences, the CD achieves real distinctiveness. Even leaving open the possibility that Sylvan's dramatic voice may not fully suit all listeners, the CD still deserves an enthusiastic recommendation. Let's hope that the already hard-touring Sylvan has the energy to take this outstanding music on the road.
Guille Palladino: 8.5 out of 10
Joel Atlas: 8.5 out of 10
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