Keith and Monika Domone — On Track... Barclay James Harvest - Every Album, Every Song
One of the great assets of the On Track series is the re-acquaintance to bands that embrace nostalgic feelings of old, as well as bringing forward some memories thought forever lost in time. This is my prime reason for jumping at the chance to review the recently published Barclay James Harvest (BJH) issue by Sonicbond Publishing. When it comes down to BJH I however must admit I've never been a huge fan, for to me their output wasn't a completely cohesive affair. Whilst guitarist John Lees' compositions for most part had a beautiful attraction to them, bass player' Les Holroyd's sensitive poppy contributions from 1979 onwards proved to be (far) too sweet for my palate. One memory instantly popping up is the nickname given to me and two of musical companions by an old mutual friend: softy rockers.
Yet there are actual treasures and many gems to be found in their discography. Some of those I embraced wholeheartedly and out of those many turned out to be written by Woolly Wolstenholme (keys), who brought a delicious symphonic atmosphere to their songs, enhanced by delicate mellotron sounds and superb orchestrations, sometimes even including a real orchestra.
The combination of these differing styles, emphasized by the three different vocal styles of each musician, gave us some delightful, creative and interesting albums up to about 1979. Drummer Mel Pritchard, the great invisible, played an equally important part on the superb executions yet to the best of my knowledge didn't compose any songs. Though a check of the composing credits section in the book however shows that he did do some small collaborations, mainly in the formative years of the band, and a one off in Blow Me Down a B-side dating back to 1983.
Roundabout that year our trinity of friends got divided into three different campsites when it comes to BJH. One who adored the pop side of BJH, one who wasn't interested at all and me preferring the confident prog and rock orientated tracks. However, once a segment of the Carré, Amsterdam concert in support of Victims Of Circumstances was aired on a program called The LP Show, my interest drifted away and I found myself only returning to their brilliant musical highlight Live 1974 on a frequent basis, sidestepping to XII and the odd magnificent Woolly tracks.
Compared to my small scribblings both authors (Keith and Monika) can probably write an infinity of novels relating to BJH. Not only did they meet through their love for the band's music, but they actually consumed this and went on to run the official fan club. This evolved overtime into the ongoing curation of the website for BJH. The knowledge shared between them has already resulted in two editions of The Barclay James Harvest Story (both out of print) and upon suggestion from DPRP's Theo Verstrael (thanks!) now sees a short informative and accurate extension via the On Track series.
The principle of the series is a fixed element in time, so after the credentials of musicians involved and details as to when and where the album has been recorded and subsequently released, a rundown is given upon each individual track. Here the choice of words, in combination with the flattering praises, shows the affection of the Domones for the band gradually working their way through the discography. Meanwhile several facts are shared towards the commercial impact of the band, as well as describing many of the topics that are to be found within the music and lyrics of the band. For completists their knowledge of collectors items mentioned proves to be a delight, as well as including the many miscellaneous tracks, especially in the first half of the book.
Many of the questions one could have on why certain steps were taken in the old days (commercial, artistically and/or personal) are safely gathered in the chapters. From BJH's orchestral phase onto the misinterpreted Hymn and John Lees' frustration towards them being called the Poor Man's Moody Blues, a protesting song that ironically turned out to be one of their most iconic and much loved tracks. Between the lines even the sad departure of Wolstenholme in 1979 becomes clear and understandable. An occurrence which unintentionally gave the band wings from a commercial point of view, yet artistically they never fully recovered from it.
These lovely anecdotes and affectionate write ups, also addressing issues with the albums' artwork, then abruptly comes full stop after 1997's River Of Dreams, the last recorded album by the original members shortly before their so-called sabbatical in 1998. At this point the story gets interesting as from then on two versions of BJH would take shape, never to work together again. And here the book falls ever so short.
Up to then the Domones have told their engaging story in a neat and tidy way, showing their respect and affection towards the band and its individual members. Rightly so. They, however, refrain from any comments in regard to the circumstances that changed the sabbatical situation into an (unfriendly?) break up. Maybe the authors didn't want to include any negativity involving either one of their idols? This relatively short but very decisive, peculiar period now remains shrouded by mysteries for the general public and a small beacon of light would have been greatly appreciated.
Or maybe they want to follow through in a separate volume focussing on both incarnations that evolved afterwards and maybe I have judged too soon? For obviously BJH's story didn't end in 1998 and carries on today, accounted for in the book via the miniscule abbreviated two chapters following directly after the obligatory live albums chapter. If a second volume is intended they surely got my vote. For next to their friendly writing skills that won me over, there's ample BJH events of historical importance and musical bliss to be found from that moment on.
As it happens, I thankfully witnessed both line-ups, although recollections of the Les Holroyd version is narrowed down to the strangeness of getting a shared invite from the non-interested amigo, coinciding with a sweet-tooth set list where the only John Lees song played was the equally sweet Hymn. The second time around was the John Lees featuring Wolstenholme combination which turned out to be a most exciting and delightful event as they went blazing through a stunning set of fan favourites. Songs that impressed me all those years ago like Suicide?, In Search Of England, She Said, Mockingbird, and personal favourite Medicine Man. A magical night of chemistry never to be forgotten, now once again brought back to life through the Domones' enjoyable read. Regrettably Wolstenholme lost his inner battles shortly after and committed suicide, leaving it all in the very capable hands of John Lees to carry BJH's torch.
Likewise this appealing book by Keith and Monika Domone manages to keep BJH's flame alive. It's a passionate tale of a highly underrated band going through a musical journey ever since their formation in 1967. Maybe they didn't stir things up in Rockland, apart from a few very devoted countries which surprisingly excludes the UK, but their legacy sees some formidable moments and fine contributions to music in general and prog in particular.
The band certainly convinced the 250,000 concert attendees in Berlin in 1980, and although book-sales won't reach these kinds of figures there's plenty of content and appraisal to be found in the book to justify a healthy amount of editions. A most suitable book for BJH fans and the casually interested, with the potential to reach the inquisitive kind. An elegant read and almost the complete opposite in reference to BJH's iconic song For No One which overwhelming ending leaves a lump in my throat every time. Now where did I leave that darn live 1974 CD!
The Mighty Handful — Touchy Subjects
"Those lucky few who are entirely without sin can cast their stones. The rest of us should occasionally turn ours over and take a good hard look at what lies beneath."
So begins the press release from London quintet The Mighty Handful in relation to their new album Touchy Subjects. Whereas the first album by the band, Still Sitting In Danny's Car was originally released as a series of EPs over a period of three years (the first of which was reviewed by DPRP) and was a full on prog concept album, this latest release had deliberately toned down the production excesses so that it can be faithfully reproduced live at such a time when live concerts are finally resumed. Although not a concept album, the songs on Touchy Subjects are thematically linked as the press release goes on to explain: "Touchy Subjects shines an uncomfortable light on some dark and ugly realities about relationships...It's an album which showcases some discomfiting examples that demonstrate that we're sometimes not nearly as noble, pure-hearted, honourable and virtuous in matters of love and sex as we pretend."
The band - Ralph Blackbourn (keyboards, backing vocals), Tom Halley (bass, backing vocals), Christopher James Harrison (lead guitar, vocals, backing vocals), Matt Howes (lead vocals, guitar, backing vocals) and Gary Mackenzie (drums, backing vocals) - have quite a 70s/80s rock sound and features a fairly eclectic mix of styles. My immediate thought was that there were some similarities with Western Electric Sound System, particularly in the vocal department, although Howes' voice is not so deep and his lyrics not so dark!
Lead guitarist Harrison is far more prominent on this album, a fact attributable to the more open production leaving him more space to solo, his playing on Just You Wait being a good example, a song that also features some fine bass from Halley, subtly arranged backing vocals and a hell bent fury of a closing section that will bring out the air guitarist in anyone. At the other end of the spectrum is the funky accompaniment to the rather odious Kenneth whose spoken, upper class commentary on dating in the modern era is cleverly interspersed with comments on, and contributions to, the backing music. Despite being slightly amusing and demonstrating one of the 'ugly realities', Kenneth is one of the subjects who, as the press release states, "warrant reproach on some level". The same could be said about the inclusion of the song on the album.
Readers of Prog may have come across Godawful Small Affair on one of their cover-mounted CDs and there is a good reason why the band chose this song to promote the album. Ignoring the use of a Bowie lyric for the song's title (the lyric also includes the name of another Bowie song, although that may have been unintentional!), the track is clearly the standout of the album, with the lovely electric piano line lifting the song to another level.
In contrast, Same Old Story, is a much more delicate and poignant song whose beauty lies in its simplicity. Howes' more fragile voice on the song is perfect, tinged with regret and a degree of sadness, the acoustic guitars and a discrete accordion-type keyboard is a world away from the 'throw everything at it and see what sticks' approach on some of the songs on the band's first album. Also falling into the more acoustic vein are Distant As The Stars and the first half of For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Stars on which Harrison handles the lead vocals and does a decent enough job although, if only for the sake of consistency, I would have preferred it if Howes had taken the lead. Incidentally, the second part of this track is instrumentally interesting and bearing scant resemblance to the first portion or the reprise of the chorus that completes the piece.
Another contrast is Relentless, a somewhat minimalist song where a jarring guitar chord, two notes of bass and a single drum beat is all you get to accompany the also minimalist lyric. Stark and, well, relentless, it is a brave inclusion but I have to say works well in keeping the listener paying attention and there is something about its very simplicity that makes it somewhat compelling. I Knew Your Game and Good Luck Getting Laid are more straight ahead rockers that are very strong songs powerfully played and backed with plenty of melody. Closing track Sculptress, an instrumental, starts with some Eastern influences but blossoms into a full band workout that brings the album to a very satisfying conclusion.
I admit that the album did take me a while to get in to, mainly because of the range of contrasts throughout its 45-minute playing time. But there was something that kept drawing me back to it and ultimately it was the disparaging nature of some of the tracks that actually made the album such an enjoyable experience. A slow burner but one that is worth the effort of becoming familiar with.
John Petrucci — Terminal Velocity
Not to disappoint anyone, I will do as most reviews do and acknowledge that it has been fifteen years since the release of his debut solo album, Suspended Animation. Now that is out of the way, I personally believe John Petrucci is one of the greatest living guitarists, in one of the, possibly, best band ever. So, this review will be as impartial as an alcoholic at a whiskey tasting.
I will not deny that when it was announced that Mike Portnoy would be playing drums on this album, I was more than ecstatic. While I cannot deny the technical prowess of Mike Mangini, but he does not deliver the organic feel which Dream Theater had when Mr Portnoy was in the band. So, without doubt this album does have a nostalgic feel to the heydays of Dream Theater. It could almost be the successor to Black Clouds & Silver Linings, possibly the most under rated DT album. At this point John Petrucci had found his songwriting peak, where the metal edge had taken a back seat and their had developed a Rush type sound. I believe this was a distinct decision between Petrucci and Portnoy, and while John was responsible for the majority of the writing, Mike was still directing in a back seat way, giving his opinion and tweaking things when necessary. After Mike left, the weight rested heavy on John Petrucci's shoulders, no longer did he have his friend to help him, and looking back with a critical ear, this is obvious when listening back to A Dramatic Turn Of Events. For me, it took until The Astonishing before John got his full mojo back, helped I think, in him working closely with Jordan Rudess. I know many may say The Astonishing is one of the weakest Dream Theater albums, but it contains some of John's best songs since Portnoy's departure. Reverting back to a more traditional method of writing helped with Distance Over Time being the best group album since Mike Mangini had joined the band.
All of this I feel is important in what John Petrucci has been able to deliver with this album. John has maintained his working relationship with the incredible Dave LaRue, the only regular bass player John has worked with aside from John Myung and Tony Levin. To then add Mike Portnoy to the mix, who Mr LaRue has collaborated with over three Flying Colors albums and tours, then the classic G3 duo has returned.
While a number of the tracks which appear on Terminal Velocity (Happy Song, Glassy-Eyed Zombies), had been played live on recent G3 tours, the majority were composed during the imposed down time due to the covid pandemic. Starting in March 2020, the whole writing and recording process took only two months. This must be down to the skills which Petrucci has gained over the years, and the quality of tracks on offer here, confirm what a wonderful composer he has become. While the industry appears to be flooded with instrumental rock albums, it is very few that can deliver over 55 minutes of thoroughly engaging instrumental music, which not just displays his guitar playing talent, but also an understanding of tone and melody which leaves his peers firmly in his shade.
I do not posses enough musical knowledge to begin to describe each individual track, but each does have its own individual DNA. This is given that extra life by Mike Portnoy's almost genetic link to Petrucci, and for a fan of Dream Theater, this is wonderful to experience again. This connection is what made the band so compelling, and here it is again. If you listen to Mangini's playing in Dream Theater, him playing on Terminal Velocity may have killed what John has created.
I cannot stop listening to this album and having a massive grin on my face while listening to it. Anyone who has had a connection with Dream Theater over the years needs to get this album. That old magic is, in part, back. So, give one of rocks' nice guys a chance, as I am sure you will not regret it.
John Petrucci, a man who needs no introduction as his guitar skills are legendary among prog fans, and his beard isn't far behind (having just launched his own range of beard care products). Having been a founding member of Dream Theater, to having numerous side projects such as Liquid Tension Experiment, Petrucci is a force to be reckoned with and one of my favourite musicians.
Terminal Velocity is the second solo album from Petrucci, and features a reunion with Portnoy on drums, and bassist Dave LaRue (ex-Dixie Dregs, Flying Colours, and more). With an impressive amount of talent and experience between them, I had high expectations.
And they were sort of met.
The first thing to notice is it is more melodic in sound than Dream Theater, but still retains Petrucci's trademark tone. The drumming is undeniably Portnoy, from the sound of the drums to the fills. But this album is absolutely about the guitar. The sound is an almost happy and straight out rock album, sounding almost more like Petrucci is having fun, rather than the traditional showmanship of DT.
It weaves through almost 80s glam metal vibe on Terminal Velocity, to more bluesy or funky numbers and many more styles. Snake In My Boot for example would be right at home in a casino, while Glassy Eyed Zombie has a more prog metal sound more similar to some of DT's older stuff. But all the while it still retains that slight edging ahead in the abundance of melody.
Happy Song lives up to its name, a full-on happy track conjuring images of driving in a convertible on the open roads and having the time of your life. But then to really showcase Petrucci's ability at writing, Out Of The Blue comes in with an almost lounge/jazz feel to it. A slower paced track but a wonderful example of his abilities write blistering fast solos that still have emotion behind them.
And I must admit, upon my first listen through I enjoyed the album but thought "it's ok, but not much more", but after the second time I was warming to it. And with the third now (just to make sure it wasn't a fluke) I have thoroughly enjoyed it. It allows Petrucci to be free of the 'restraints' of being in a successful band and just play what he wants. And it works well.
PreHistoric Animals — The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 1)
PreHistoric Animals are not new on DPRP. Their debut album called Consider It A Work Of Art got a superb score of 9.5 and received great reviews around all the progressive rock forums. Not a surprise considering the great songs full of catchy melodies, superb riffs and very good compositions overall. This time they have returned with the same essence but trying to push their limits in a more ambitious project called The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 1).
Prehistoric Animals was founded by Samuel Granath and Stefan Altzar as a two-man project but nowadays the band has also Daniel Magdic and Noah Magnusson. I can only say this is a good decision because in my opinion as the band sounds better and more cohesive now. Songs here are longer and with more hooks and developments which put the band right in the progressive rock area. Of course we have more influences here such as alternative rock, pop, metal and AOR. In fact I can hear quite a lot of AOR and 80´s in their melodies and choruses, and also in Stefan Altzar, who reminds me of the singer of the Swedish AOR band called Work Of Art... Funny coincidence with the name of PreHistoric Animals debut album.
The Magical Mystery Machine is a concept album about a girl who is given the mission to collect humanity's good and bad sides and she has to store all that information inside a mysterious device. Apparently all that information will be used to recreate earth once the world dies, which is going to happen... I don't know if the band wrote this on purpose, or if it is me that all these last published albums ara about this crazy year.
Anyway, the album is conceptual and somehow you can feel the same ambience from start to finish, which is good but also quite different from their debut album, and not so easy to listen to if you're looking for catchy songs and hit singles. Floodgate is the brilliant opening of the album and after a brief mysterious introduction the songs becomes a powerful presentation, with heavy riffs that could easily be made by Threshold. Then the song evolves into a more recognisable path for the band as the great choruses and dynamic drumming appear. Maybe some Frost** influences here too? And also Arno Menses from *Subsignal is on backing vocals, although it's almost impossible to recognise him.
Next up is The Magical Mystery Machine and here the change gets more evident but again I can recognise some Frost parts here. But then the song changes, including 80´s sounds and some interesting transitions towards the end while guitars appear again and finishing with a powerful metal style. Definitely PreHistoric Animals has evolved here. Energetic drumming at the beginning of No Mortal Girls Has Ever Seen The Light Inside and great vocals from Altzar, who shows again a great ability to build perfect choruses and melodies. A Good Start is that, a good start for the next song, and has nice acoustic guitar and combined vocals. I wish the transition between those songs had been smoother but anyway it's a good interlude and What A Lucky Da is a great song, having several interesting choruses and complex rhythm section. I think this could be the best description of PreHistoric Animals style and what they do best.
First We´ll Go To Mars starts again with heavy riffs à la Dream Theater and then changes and then changes again but always inside the band's style, which you will have recognised by then. Into Battle (Like My Father) is the last and longer song in the album. It's also a personal favourite and I think it resumes all the good points in this album. Nice 80´s introduction, great vocals, transitions, progressive structures, superb riff and an unexpected impressive guitar solo at the end that leaves you wanting more.
So, PreHistoric Animals has released a very good album that confirms the band as one of the most interesting new prog rock band these days. I bet The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2) will be even better and if I had to ask for something I would be happy to hear more heavy parts and also softer ones, even in the vocals. I think this could push their limits again and give the band a more varied sound that can only improve what we have here. But this is just my wish...
Andrew Wild — On Track... Crosby, Stills & Nash - Every Album, Every Song
The majority of books in the ever expanding On Track series from Sonicbond Publishing have concentrated on UK bands that rose to prominence in the 1970s. This latest addition to the series turns its attention to one of America's quintessential acts Crosby, Stills & Nash. That said, one third of the trio - Graham Nash - hails from the north-west of England and enjoyed a string of UK hit singles in the 60s as co-founder of The Hollies. It came as a surprise to everyone when he departed for California in 1968 to form CSN with David Crosby and Stephen Stills fresh from The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield respectively.
At 126 pages - plus a 16 page colour section - this is one of the leanest in the On Track series. The author Andrew Wild has a respectable pedigree for this type of book including The Beatles: An A-Z Guide To Every Song (published 2019), Queen - Every Album, Every Song (2018) and Pink Floyd: Song By Song (2017). He also wrote the authorised Galahad biography One For The Record (2012) and the official Twelfth Night biography Play On (2009).
He covers in detail eight studio releases and three "key" - as Wild describes them - live albums although five of these were released as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. As such, Neil Young's involvement with the band is given its due coverage although the book's emphasis remains with CSN. In his discussion of each song, Wild often incorporates lengthy quotes from the band members themselves which is something of a departure for the series and clearly involved a great deal of research. As a result, compared with the Queen book for example, Wild's own comments are fairly sparse although he leaves the reader in no doubt as to his views on each song.
As is typical of the On Track series, following the main section of the book, there is a summary of compilations, live albums and solo releases etc. These are a welcome addition although an inordinate amount of page space is devoted to unreleased songs and abandoned album sessions which will surely only be of interest to dyed-in-the-wool CSN(Y) fans. The Crosby & Nash albums are condensed to a couple of paragraphs although in my view they each deserve a chapter in their own right, especially as they are infinitely superior to the post 1985 CSN(Y) albums. But then again I'm probably biased particularly as the 1972 Graham Nash David Crosby album opens with Southbound Train, one of my all time favourite songs.
I'll conclude this review on a couple of positive notes. Following the introduction, there is a chapter intriguingly titled CSN Before CSN which, using bullet points, successfully encapsulates the careers of Crosby, Nash and Stills prior to the formation of the band. The book concludes with The Core Collection, which lists no less than 300 "essential" songs from the trio's vast output including The Hollies, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Manassas, CPR, and The Rides. Now that's what I call true dedication to your subject.