Martin Barre — MLB 50 Years Of Jethro Tull
I once had time for everything related to Jethro Tull. For many years, Ian Anderson and the various incarnations of Tull were my heartfelt go-to band. Youthful memories recall cupped flute ears and tangled toe leg balancing. My attempts to emulate the artistic posing and manic prancing of the silver-tubed minstrel were always accompanied by mirror-imaged, eye-stare posturing, whipped whispered words, the wistful weaving of downy sideburns, and of course copious amounts of wide-whiskered gurning.
But that Sunday feeling was ages ago and the silver-plated love story that once meant so much has long been rusted by witnessing the band's artistic integrity decline, to be lost and replaced by nothing to say. So not having listened to anything linked to Jethro Tull for quite some time, I attempted to sit down and listen to Martin Barre's take on some of the most instantly recognisable Tull tunes and a smattering of arguably lesser known Anderson pieces such as the poignant The Waking Edge, with fresh ears.
Overall, I found the whole experience disappointing and quite frustrating. When the album ended, I found myself drawn to make a less than positive comparison with the original Jethro Tull renditions of these tunes.
That is not to say that the album does not have any merit or charm. It does!
It no doubt fulfils a need that some Tull fans might have. Namely, to hear these tunes in a slightly rearranged format and presented with different instrumentation; most notably for the most part without any flute parts. However, this release is not a bold re-imaging of Tull tunes. The arrangements rarely take any risks and when they deviate from the original they do so in an expected, linear and for the most-part conventional manner.
For anybody who is interested in hearing a more adventurous approach to rearranging Anderson's compositions, I would suggest that they check out the various artists compilation Songs For Jethro Vol. 1 (Il Popolo Del Blues – PDB 2000 010-2), which contains many imaginative renditions of Tull tunes. Cpt. Elica & Dissói Lógoi's quirky rendition of Fatman is delightful. Novalia's version of Aqualung, which shifts and rattles the park bench in an unexpected manner, is particularly adventurous.
MLB 50 Years of Jethro Tull is arranged in two parts. Disc 1 is a high-energy live performance. It illustrates that Martin Barre's band are hard-hitting exponents of a foot-shaking, blues-influenced rock style. Over the course of the live performance, the band seldom step outside the stylistic box that their rock based interpretations of Anderson's art provides. Martin Barre's guitar playing is an undoubted highlight.
A number of his solos drag the band's overall performance, punching and wailing from the dulled shadows of polished mediocrity, to give the often ponderous interpretations of Anderson's work, a momentary touch of flamboyance and a fleeting, sunlit glow which emits a sparkling sheen. Apart from Barre's excellent contribution, much of the live performance simply did not connect and did not manage to stir, or even shake the hidden rocker that lurks within me.
The vocal delivery of Dan Crisp was particularly difficult to appreciate. Whilst his rasping, tonsil-tortured voice is well suited to many of the band's rock-based interpretations of Tull tunes, his overall delivery offered little to massage the ears and make them wiggle appreciatively with delight. Similarly, the presentation of the tune's lyrical content in highly personal songs penned by Anderson such as For A Thousand Mothers, Back To The Family, Nothing To Say, and Teacher seemed a tad disingenuous.
What probably surprised me the most about this live section of the release, was that without Anderson's trademark flute interjections much of the band's interpretations of his music sounded as if it could have been written and delivered by any number of late sixties, early seventies styled bands.
Somehow, the very essence of Anderson's idiosyncratic songwriting style has been hidden or lost in Barre's musical translations of the work of Jethro Tull. Nevertheless, I am certain that many Tull fans would strongly disagree and would hold the Martin Barre's band's performance and ability to forcibly reignite and carry the Tull flame in this back-to-basics manner, with high regard.
Disc 2 is arguably much more interesting and I certainly found it slightly more palatable. The eleven pieces were recorded in the studio and the discs' largely acoustic renditions provide this part of the release with a different and altogether more subtle ambience than the bare-knuckle brashness of the live performance.
Much of disc 2 has a cosy-slippered, homespun charm. This is to a large extent due to the contribution of Becca Langsford and Alex Hart. They garnish tunes such as Wond'ring Aloud, Life Is A Long Song and One White Duck, with a sweet and gentle facade. Their subtle touch and sensitive approach helps to emphasise to good effect the intrinsic beauty and sublime sense of melody that lie at the heart of many of Ian Anderson's compositions.
However, the reinterpretation of the acoustic version of Under Wraps, to include chugging guitar and other plugged instruments does not work so well and transforms what in its original version was a sublime tune, into something that at best is forgettable and at worst is simply unconvincing.
In this respect, the version of Locomotive Breath offered is particularly unsatisfying. Whilst it tries to present the tune in a new and arguably fresh way, the arrangement is constrained and hemmed-in by accepted musical conventions and offers little that is either innovative or truly imaginative.
Other tunes in this disc feature the vocals of John Carter and the restaging of The Waking Edge provides the album with one of its standout points. His lilting, heartfelt contribution works well and delivers just the right emotional edge to make the performers' presentation of this composition a moving experience.
The studio part of the album also contains a rather splendid semi-acoustic rendition of the blues-based Still Loving You Tonight. Set within the context of its stylistic parameters, everything about this tune works extremely well. The vocal delivery is excellent and Barre's sweet guitar tone and spacious, emotive playing simply excels.
On the strength of this disc Martin Barre is obviously enjoying his role as a band leader. The positive reaction of the crowd to the music presented, suggests that the band is able to offer what the audience wanted and to deliver what they expected. That in itself is probably something to celebrate.
It just didn't appeal to me, so I guess in the future I will simply 'sit this one out'.
Eternal Wanderers — Homeless Soul
In 2017 I stumbled upon a rather interesting double CD called The Mystery Of The Cosmic Sorrow (review here which I found to be a winning mix of pulsing keys, electronics, space-rock grooves and neo-prog. I have returned to the album a number of times over the intervening years, so I was looking forward to what this new release from Eternal Wanderers would bring.
Eternal Wanderers did experience a bit of bad luck as they prepared for the launch of Homeless Souls as their record label closed their doors. But the band are making the best of a less-than-ideal situation by releasing their new album via Bandcamp.
The new album sees Eternal Wanderers changing their focus on Homeless Souls, making it more song-focused, having less of the space rock/electronic edge that I so enjoyed on The Cosmic Sorrow. The band's line up remains the same with the song-writing Kanevskaya sisters (Elena: vocals, keyboards and synthesizers, samplers, theremin and Tatyana: guitars, backing vocals, keyboards and synthesizers, samplers) with Dmitry Shtatnov (bass, keyboards and synthesizers, backing vocals, samplers, sitar) and Sergey Rogulya (drums, percussion).
The album gets off to a bit of a slow start on the prog front. The prologue is just Elena K's multi-layered vocals and keyboard washes before the pop melody of Eternal Wanderer introduces the story behind the album that following a cataclysmic destruction of the planet thousands of souls are left homeless, thrown into cold space to wander without hope of finding shelter or peace.
The music on Homeless Souls is for me a bit variable. The pop-hook of Eternal Wanderer is a short earworm that is difficult to dislodge but that comes to dominate the song, leaving the verses a bit, well, bland.
Things really get going with Transformations' instrumental first four minutes that balance synths with an organ solo and a guitar solo that lifts the album. It is on this track that you get the idea that the star of Homeless Souls is going to be the elastic, melodic bass playing of Dmitry Shtatnov as he channels Chris Squire circa Fish Out Of Water.
There are three ballads, set around two instrumental tracks on Homeless Souls. Ambient keys introduce Meteor which has an unexpected jazz/fusion section led again by the bass and delicately underplayed percussion. The guest violin of Andy Didorenko adds warm colour with acoustic piano when they duet. The spirit of Marillion informs the hooky melody of I Wanna Give My Life For You and there is a growing intensity to the piano, Mellotron and synth combination on Chaos Of Reason. All good songs.
The best tracks here though are the two instrumental tracks. This has nothing to do with the singing or lyrics on the album, it is just they work better, having more interesting passages and power. The Cradle Of A Hurricane opens with dissonant keys that swiftly move on into a fusion section before adding in hints of prog-metal and ending with a sense of foreboding in its tense harmonies. And In Search Of The Anti-World where there is a brief return of swirling space-rock synths and a relentless forward momentum in its first half.
The problem I have with Homeless Soul are with the four tracks that bookend the album. The prologue is okay but forgettable and the Eternal Wanderers is overshadowed by its hook. Then the title track features a spoken/half-sung vocal from bassist Dmitry Shtatnov in a Leonard Cohen way. It never really gels with the psyche-pop melody on the keyboards and it irritates on repeat listens. The full version of Invested With Mystery that closes the album features my least favourite instrument, the sitar. No matter how well played, its droning sympathy strings makes me grind my teeth.
I applaud the band's artistic choices but these just don't work for me. I don't want a band to repeat what they have done before (where's the progression in that?), so Eternal Wanderers will remain on my 'let's see what they do next list', as they have potential in spades.
So, as you can probably tell I find Eternal Wanderers' Homeless Soul somewhat variable. Out of ten tracks there are four I wouldn't find myself playing again. On repeat plays for the purpose of reviewing the album I found them less and less interesting. While the instrumentals and the other songs grew in stature. I'm sure fans of well-played and adventurous neo-prog will find much to enjoy here.
Fairyland — Osyrhianta
Fairlyland are a band I've been aware of ever since hearing The Fall Of An Empire on the Battle Metal VI from Metal Hammer, 12 years ago. This album continues the story from their previous three, and details the creation of the world and namesake of the album Osyrhia. In the band's timeline it takes place around 3000 years before the first album. The band as well introduce their new vocalist, Francesco Cavlieri, also known as the singer behind the “dwarven metal” band Wind Rose.
The album begins in a fairly typical way for the band. That is, atmospheric and epic with fast drumming, tremolo rhythms and keys taking centre stage to bring you in. Francesco then brings his trademark vocals, delivering images of snowy plains and monumental battles into your mind.
Eleandra comes in featuring the guest vocals of Elisa Martin, which brings a rough and gravely, yet superbly powerful element to the album as she weaves and perfectly matches the intensity of Frencesco and the power of the heavy-hitting music and scorching leads and solos.
The album's sound is relatively similar overall, in keeping with the idea of a continuous story. It keeps up the intensity and unrelenting pace, but with enough moments of excitement to keep it all sounding fresh. A nice change of pace however is brought in with the orchestral Mount Mirenor, a piece that sounds like it would be more fitting accompanying the happy ending to a film like Lord of the Rings, when all the heroes arrive home safe.
Closing the album is the twin attack of Of Hope and Despair in Osyrhia and The Age Of Light. The first is the 12-minute epic, filled with power-prog goodness and everything you would want from it. Solos, rhythms, soaring harmonised vocals and intense drumming. Then everything is brought to a close by the slower pace of the closer. An atmospheric and almost melancholy end to the album, it helps to return everything to normal after the intense pace of the previous nine tracks.
If you are a fan of bands like Turisas or Orden Ogan, Wind Rose or Rhapsody Of Fire then definitely have a listen. You will not be disappointed.
Green Carnation — Leaves Of Yesteryear
Correctly identified as one of the most influential bands in the evolution of the genre that we now classify as progressive metal, the slowly-unfolding creation of new material from Norway's Green Carnation has, for me, set the bar of expectation at a stratospheric level.
After a disjointed debut offering back at the dawn of this century, their following trio of albums should all be considered genre-classics. Light Of Day, Day Of Darkness remains their greatest achievement and stands as one of the ultimate one-track albums; all 60 minutes of it!
Beset by a financially-disastrous US tour and general disillusionment with the industry, since the somewhat off-kilter Acoustic Verses effort the band has been on a form of suspended musical animation broken by some live shows, other projects (singer Kjetil Nordhus' role in the superb Subterranean Masquerade being a highlight) and being able to re-watch their superb live album Last Day of Darkness.
It's been 14 years since their last proper album, and in many respects Leaves Of Yesteryear sounds is as if the band has never been away.
In the band's own words this release is the "first part of the band's second trilogy". But it is not a full album. It is best described as an EP featuring three new songs, plus a reworking of an old song and a cover version. However the quality of the three new songs, the "reworking" of the old song being more of a demolition-and-rebuild and the fact that this release weighs in at almost 45 minutes, makes it closer to an album than an EP in my book!
To quote band founder and guitarist Terje Vik Schei (a.k.a. Tchort): "Leaves Of Yesteryear serves as both a retrospective look at the band's storied career while setting the foundation for our future."
From those words, I guess Black Sabbath's Master Of Reality album, from almost 50 years ago, must have been one of their inspirations. Solitude is one of the few ballads Sabbath ever recorded and stands the test of time due to Ozzy's use of a different but very workable vocal style on top of some rare flute playing by Iommi and a wonderfully prominent bass line. In omitting the flute and the bass line, this cover version has nothing to make it any more than a decent ballad.
Of the three new compositions, the title track and Sentinels are among the best the band has ever written. On Leaves Of Yesterday, a wonderfully bright chorus follows one of the band's heaviest-ever riffs. The passing years have not diminished their craft in contrasting light and dark passages and in mixing slam-dunk heavy with melancholic reflection.
Sentinels has hooks to die for. Not just the chorus but the verse and even the bridge are insanely re-hummable. Their trademark rolling riffs ensure the presence of that groove which makes your head go around and around in chugging contentment.
Hounds takes a while to get going but it builds nicely to its crescendo of another beautiful head-rolling riff.
Having gushed all that enthusiasm for the three new songs, in a way it feels a little odd for my gushing to reach avalanche status for the "reworked" 20-year-old track.
As you do when you discover a new band, when I fell in love with Green Carnation's third album, A Blessing In Disguise, I went back in time to get their two previous efforts. Buying Light Of Day was a genius moment. Their debut album, Journey To The End Of The Night (2000) has I think only ever been played once - a horribly disjointed arrangement of some interesting ideas wrapped in a doom-folk setting.
Now the band has decided to go back and do a proper job with the album's central composition. This version of My Dark Reflections Of Life And Death is incomparable to the original and is currently my favourite 15 minutes of music of the year. Some lovely organ touches and passages where the acoustic guitar leads the way, again provide stunning contrast to the bouts of doomy folk-tinged metal. The highest compliment I can give is that it is just like Light Of Day in miniature.
No surprise then that is currently my favourite release of the year. For fans of Anathema and Katatonia and all those who enjoy their metal to be both progressive and melancholic, then this is an essential listen.
Three Colours Dark — The Science Of Goodbye
Three Colours Dark is a new musical project put together by former Karnataka band-mates Rachel Cohen and Jonathan Edwards. Sixteen years have passed since the pair last worked together, but their paths have crossed again and they have released their debut album.
The Science Of Goodbye has a serious lyrical theme running through it. All but one song on the album (the odd one out being a cover of Richard Thompson's Ghosts In The Wind from his 1985 album Across A Crowded Room) are written by Rachel and deal with being in, and eventually leaving a narcissistic, abusive relationship. The theme is based upon Rachel's job as an academic researcher. The lyrics are therefore neither an easy or straightforward listen, and certainly a situation which may have escalated for any unfortunate victim during the periods of imposed lock-down. All credit for the band bringing to light one of the many forms of abuse within society. Hopefully this will highlight to any listener the potential signs of this type of abuse and give people the strength to offer help to any victims.
Along with Jonathan and Rachel, the third ever-present on the album is Tim Hamill who recorded and mixed the album as well as provided the majority of bass and guitar as well as drum programming throughout the album. Other guests include Yorkshire blues guitarist Chantel McGregor and former XTC and Big Big Train member Dave Gregory, who adds his guitar skills to the aforementioned cover track, Ghosts In The Wind.
Now to the music. For me, I was underwhelmed by the songs. The repeated feeling I had throughout the course of listening to the album was being drawn back to the 1980s and hearing the Eurythmics being played, seemingly constantly. I was not a fan of theirs then, and unfortunately my musical taste has not changed enough to alter my view. Rachel Cohen's voice has many similarities with Annie Lennox, but what was lacking for me was any real energy in the music. The result being is that there are no real catchy choruses with which to interest the casual listener.
The ambiance of the album brought to mind that of the dark and brooding feel of Marillion's Brave, an album I still struggle with to this day. Aside from the folksy sounding Three Colours Dark which, due to Kate Ronconi's wonderful violin playing, is elevated above the average, the rest of the album stalls, and just feels lacking in passion and vibrancy. What is left is a dark and gloomy album. Maybe its due to the turmoil the world is in, that I seek a degree of fun and hope when currently listening to music.
The earlier Marillion reference is the only prog rock one I could find when listening to the album. Maybe this particular release is not best reviewed by a prog-focused website as there is little to reference and encourage me to direct a prog audience towards listening to this album. I know people will find a lot of positives in this release, but for me, it's a miss.