Anyone — On The Ending Earth
Yes, Anyone is actually the name of the band. Curious choice for a name, and it doesn't help when looking for information about the band or its music.
Anyone was formed in the mid 90s by Riz Story along with Taylor Hawkins (drummer, Foo Fighters) and Jon Davison (Yes, Glass Hammer) but only Riz remained when the band released their debut album. They got very good reviews and also their singles Fly Away, from the second album, was a major hit, becoming the most listened to rock song in the USA on a digital format. Kudos to internet for these great precedents but I'm afraid I hadn't heard of this band before. Their previous album called Echoes And Traces was released in 2016 and last year they released this On The Ending Earth. I could guess what it was about and that guess was confirmed after listening to the lyrics.
This album is not easy to describe musically because the band mainly plays alternative rock but suddenly they get themselves into some progressive passages and interludes. So, is this a progressive rock album? Well, I don't know. The good thing here is the songs; the ones that I've enjoyed the most are the longer ones, such as All That Lives Is Born To Die, with ten minutes divided in different parts including ballad, more aggressive parts, great guitars.
Also, A Brief Sparkle In The Nothingness, has some of Steven Wilson's new style at the beginning, before an evolution towards some Filter kind of sounds. The last song is interesting in the way that it evolves towards a great finale.
What about the rest of the songs? They are not bad but I don't find myself in need of listening to them again. Don't take me wrong, because they are not bad songs but from my point of view they are not offering the special things you can find in the three aforementioned tracks. Thought I Was is a nice ballad and there are some not bad moments from an alternative rock point of view.
So my conclusion is a desire for Anyone to get deeper into progressive rock compositions because I think they can develop great songs that include the alternative rock parts with those brief passages, to form a very nice and cohesive piece of music. If they do, then they maybe won't be the most listened to artist on digital formats but they will gain many progressive rock followers.
John Holden & Friends — Together Apart
Alongside the forthcoming release of his third album, Circles In Time (review here), John Holden planned to also release a charity single containing his first-ever cover song. But with so many good friends around him and having selected a very appealing (as well as personal) cause to raise some money for, his idea has grown into a full charity album. It contains songs by himself as well as songs by artists with whom he collaborated on his studio albums.
Mystery, Lux Terminus featuring Anneke van Giersbergen, Tiger Moth Tales, That Joe Payne, Oliver Day, Band Of Rain and Marc Atkinson all donated songs for this album that will be exclusively available through John's Bandcamp page (digital only). All funds from this charity album will be donated to Edinburgh's University Cancer Research Centre towards research to combat recurrent ovarian cancer, a disease that is still far too often lethal. John Holden is very keen on raising as much money as possible for this purpose. That is also why we decided to review this compilation.
The album kicks off with one of the biggest assets, an extended cover by John Holden and friends of the only hit Renaissance has ever had, the track Northern Lights from the Songs For All Seasons album. Don't expect a 'simple' cover, for the song gets a real John Holden make-over in the vocals and the instrumentation, starting immediately with the totally different intro with romantic keys and piano. Around the 25-second mark the well-known bass line, again played by original Renaissance bass player Jon Camp, lifts the song further. The vocal melody remains almost unaltered as such, but instead of just one singer as in the original, Holden makes use of no less than five renowned vocalists. Anneke van Giersbergen sings the first lead vocals, to be followed on lead and harmony vocals by Marc Atkinson, Peter Jones, That Joe Payne and a little bit of Sally Minnear. Other musicians guesting on this song are Gavin Harrison (drums), Oliver Wakeman (keys), Vikram Shankar (keys) and Michel St Pere (guitars). Holden himself plays numerous instruments.
Another treat of this version is the extended coda. Introduced by subtle piano and soft keys and some humming by the vocalists, this part seems to evolve into something romantic but then there is a fine break around 5:20 with a short synth solo followed by a fierce electric guitar solo, giving the song a very spicy end. A very fine rendition and reworking of this song, showing that the original can be well surpassed. It is definitely a very good reason to purchase this album!
Fortunately there is more. The next song is the marvellous Circles from Holden's new album Circles In Time. The stunning vocals by Sally Minnear, the pulsating bass and drums and the overall melancholic mood make this song already a stand-out track. The real reason why this song was chosen for this charity album is of course the lyrics. These are written by John's wife Elizabeth and deal with the despair and hope connected to being diagnosed with recurrent ovarian cancer, an illness that is in desperate need for more research funds. Make sure you have a look at the minimalistic, yet beautiful and highly effective video of this beautiful song and you will become more than aware of what this disease brings about and what this charity album wants to achieve. It is right into your face and that's exactly what is has to be.
Tiger Moth Tales donated the beautiful orchestral Taking The Dawn, the opening track from their 2020 album The Whispering Of The World. It is a slow, moody and impressive song with excellent vocals by Peter Jones, plus a melancholic violin and subtle piano. It has the same musical feeling as the preceding song.
Mystery also choose a ballad, the dreamy How Do I Feel from the 2018 album Lies And Butterflies. Jean Pageau's vocals are impeccable, as are the guitar solos by Michel St. Pere, all against a very fine keys and Mellotron backing and effective acoustic guitar strumming, making this a simply fantastic gem.
Marc Atkinson attributed his new song Brave The Storm from his new album Black And White. The main lyrical lines are: “Keep your hope alive” and “We can see this through”, exactly the type of optimism that victims of recurrent ovarian cancer need. It is a very moody song, emotionally sung with only an acoustic guitar accompanying the vocals. Together with Atkinson's extraordinary voice, this moving song evoked many shivers down my spine.
While I judge Atkinson's song as very appropriate for this charity album, That Joe Payne's contribution has the opposite effect on me. It is taken from his 2020 album By Nature. By Name and also features Amy Birks on vocals. These vocals are very theatrical and actually far over-the-top. The overall bluesy character of the song itself and the really ugly scream at the end are too much for my musical taste. Of course it can only be valued that he also contributes to this album, so hopefully others will like it more.
With his short instrumental Chasing The Sun, Oliver Day adds a totally different track to the album. It is a small acoustic guitar piece, in the vein of Steve Howe and Steve Hackett. Deceivingly simple, almost classical in tone, rich in melody and mood and, alas, far too short, this is a nice resting point after the theatre of the preceding song.
Band Of Rain, the present band of Jon Camp, adds Larkspur from their 2020 album Petrichor. It is a rather dark, pulsating, spooky but quite interesting track. The bass playing is as prominent as expected, the vocals tend towards opera, the keys sound low and industrial first. Later there is a very nice loop that pops up all the time throughout the song. The guitar solo and that fine keys loop do it for me and lead to some heavy guitar riffing and high singing that form the coda. It is original, not immediately my cup of tea but it certainly makes the song very interesting.
Anneke van Giersbergen returns with Lux Terminus, the present band of Holden's musical partner Vikram Shankar. Their Epilogue/The Fly is the closer of their 2018 album The Courage To Be. Again this is a slow and very moody track with Anneke's great vocals over just piano and Mellotron. Halfway through the song, a wide orchestral wall forms the background to her vocals, providing this song with a type of grandeur that suits it well. After that orchestral part, the piano takes over again to close this beautiful song.
Last track is a radio-friendly edit of the Northern Lights cover, lacking the long intro and outro. The vocals sound slightly different as well as the instrumentation, probably caused by a different mix. From a marketing point of view, it is very understandable to add such a version, as very few radio stations will be prepared to broadcast the full seven-minute song. Yet this version is, although quite nice with good harmony vocals, inferior to the full, extended version. It works very well though to close off this fine album.
As a compilation that was collated in such a short period of time, this album is surprisingly coherent. To my ears only the That Joe Payne song is an outlier, the rest fits nicely in the musical mood but offers more than enough variety. Atkinson's song is, together with Holden's Circles, the most directly connected to the theme of this charity album but most others radiate the same melancholic feeling. The music on offer is very interesting for proggies, but also for a much wider audience that values a good melody, a good, somewhat melancholic mood, excellent musicianship and great vocals. So apart from the fact that your money is very well spent when purchasing the album, this compilation also offers you a very pleasant listen.
Tim Lane — As Sure As The Sun Rises In The East
Based in the flat lands of the east of England, folk troubadour and multi-instrumentalist Tim Lane has released As Sure As The Sun Rises In The East; a sparky folk-rock album. He has composed, performed and produced the album and it contains a set of songs that are mainly based around Norfolk folk tales and historical events.
On Tim Lane's Wordpress site he has a set of handy guides to the inspirations and origins behind these songs. Much in the way Big Big Train have for their albums. It really helps you to appreciate the craft behind these folk-rock songs.
Layers of acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums and keyboards underpin these supremely melodic and hook laden tales. The hooks approach earworm annoyance at times and you find yourself humming them unbidden in the quiet spaces of the day (assuming there are any).
The topics covered by Tim Lane on As Sure As The Sun Rises In The East are varied in time but remain rooted in place. So local history and geography are there from the start. Kett's Rebellion, is given a contemporary spin on Rebel Bones and the legendary work of the Cromer lifeboat on Pull Boys! Pull!. Tim Lane's songs have the feel of re-discovered old folk-tunes with the patina of aged-dust having been shaken off and given a folk-rock polish. But they are entirely originals.
The music stays within the folk-rock arena, think Richard Thompson or Fairport Convention rather than say Jethro Tull's prog-folk forays. Tim Lane mixes it up with edgy electric guitar on A Bough Of Mistletoe, psychedelic tinges on A Fish Out Of Water and on Deep Lane a dark-folk feel. There is an affecting piano ballad, Stay Your Hand, and he ends with the anthemic folk of The Spark That Lights The Fire.
I did originally have an issue with this album and that is Tim's vocals. He occasionally reaches for notes that are just outside of his grasp and these jarred with me. However, this became less of an issue on repeated plays given the enthusiasm I have for the songs. I would describe his voice as characterful, in a particularly English way that folk singers have. Besides that, there are loads of artists whose song-writing isn't matched by their vocal talent. I'm thinking of people I like such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Tom Waits. So, by a third listen I had stopped wishing for a different vocal style and embraced the small idiosyncrasies of Tim Lane's singing style. Just give As Sure As The Sun Rises In The East a bit of time to bed in.
The song writing craft is terrific and if you have a liking for folk-rock and well-told tales rooted in the fertile soil of East Anglia, but with an illustrative universality to them, then jump in here.
Melanie Mau & Martin Schnella — Crowdless Sessions
My first introduction to the team of Melanie and Martin was early last year, when I had the fortunate opportunity to review Flaming Row's wonderful album The Pure Shine. This was followed by reviewing this duo's most recent album of re-imagined covers, Through The Decades. I was less enamoured by this release and commented in the review that they should utilise their obvious talents in playing their own music.
I accept no credit for this release, as it was well in the planning stages, but now Melanie and Martin have delivered The Crowdless Session, which focuses on their own music in a live environment. As value for money packages go, The Crowdless Sessions delivers a vast amount for anyone interested in what this duo are delivering.
The package consists of a CD and a DVD. The DVD serves as an ideal overview of their career so far. There are two live sessions. The first features the current live band recorded in 2020, and includes additional singer Mathias Ruck. The reason for this is to enable the band to perform a rearranged medley of extracts from Flaming Row's, The Pure Shine, which features many vocal melodies which may not have easily transferred to a live environment as successfully without the additional male voice. Being a huge fan of this work, hearing and seeing the medley delivered live, confirms what a great piece of music this is. The catchy melodies and reoccurring themes, which make up such a large part of the original album, are beautifully transferred to Melanie and Martin's acoustic presentation.
The second live session, entitled The TV Session, was recorded in 2019, and features an elaborately dressed stage, which provides a pleasingly different environment to the Abbey Session. Both set-lists are varied, and only My Dear Children and Die Zwerge Vom Iberg are repeated. For me, I certainly could listen to numerous versions of My Dear Children. Aside from the Pure Shine Melody, the majority of the other tracks featured are from the 2017 album, The Oblivion Tales. The only exception is In Dieser Zeit, which was released as a Bandcamp digital single in 2020.
One thing which appeared to be an issue was why Melanie Mau and Martin Schnella's albums were labelled. Well, for anyone else wondering the same thing, the DVD includes a long interview with the current live band, where Martin and Melanie answer this question. The interview is very insightful for anyone with an interest in the band. The interview is conducted in German but does have English subtitles, and presents an enjoyable watch.
Rounding-off the DVD are several official music videos the band have produced over the years. All are entertaining, and promote what the group are about, which are family, friendship and fun. It is obvious that not only Melanie and Martin thoroughly enjoy what they do, but the other members appear to be essential to the soul of the band. This appears to be especially true with bass player Lars Lehmann, who aside from being a gifted bass player, appears to have a close musical bond with Martin.
The CD in the package contains all of the Abbey Session, and the majority of the TV sessions. As with all releases from Martin, he oversees the production, which as usual is of a very high quality. It enables the listener to fully appreciate the quality of the song writing and the top-notch musicianship on display, especially the majestic guitar playing.
This package provides excellent value for money, and highlights that in a live environment, with the right musicians, you don't have to play other people's work. With the talent Melanie, Martin and the band have to offer, maybe mixing their own material with carefully chosen covers which best highlight their strengths, may be the way forward. Whichever direction they chose, Crowdless Sessions provides a record of how good they are and it is a pleasure to listen to their acoustic, folk, prog and rock talents.
Morrum — Death Of Amazement
“From the moss collected by the seedy underbelly of Bulgaria's Underground Music Scene,” says Morrum's calling card, “comes the best band you can smoke to outside the venue, while waiting for your buddies to come on stage”. These words however should not deceive you, dear reader / listener. Morrum is a band that does not take itself seriously, but this doesn't mean that you should do the same.
These Bulgarian rockers are a standard rock quartet that is well aware of what quartets are best at; mastering a groovy, pulsating sound. What Morrum plays on their sophomore record is a sort of modern, catchy jam-rock with some atmospheric and shoe-gaze influences. This sounds odd only on paper (or on your screens), but in the final mix, the result is impressive.
No highbrow symphonic arrangements. No hiding behind walls of sound or distortion. Everything is clean, spontaneous and so-to-say right in front of your ears. Which is very refreshing in these troubled times of overproduced records. Yet it is equally fit to be played on live sets. I would draw parallels to such diverse bands as Umphrey's McGee (minus their Brit-pop optimism), Coshish from India (minus their meditativeness) and even Muse (minus Bellamy's wailing vocals).
The music is not complex for complexity's sake. I would rather use the word 'intricate' and 'fresh'. Guitarist and bands leader Simeon Zakhariev is a great player, able to weave funky lines and upstroke accents in a beautiful, groovy tapestry of sound. He offers a fine example of the modern, inventive approach to guitar, without excessive djent or shredding. Right-hand precision rules on this record entirely. It would also be unfair not to mention the rhythm section, which is doing a decent job here. I especially loved the bass and drum work on the title track.
The record is sort of split into two uneven parts. The first one is dominated by soft, dreamy funk-rock and the second is dropping into alt-punk-metal rawness. While the punkish, Zappa-goes-metal songs are not bad per se, I feel that they fail to compete with the airy, ironic first part. They do however serve the purpose of brining more diversity to Morrum's sound.
“If there's a musical Highlander, we're Bullshit McLeod”, says the band. No, dear Morrum, you are not. We all know who the real bullshits are, and that is definitely not you.
Reflection Club — Still Thick As A Brick
Tributes come in all shapes and sizes. From bands who like to pay their respects by covering a single track, to specially formed groups travelling the world to keep a certain memory/time-frame alive. Another possibility is record labels who ask musicians to participate in a homage. One example of this was the 1996 Jethro Tull tribute To Cry You A Song, featuring a wide array of well known (prog)-artists.
A fairly recent discovery is Fleesh, who alongside many covers from all kinds of genres, have also released several prog-orientated tribute albums. Their immaculate Renaissance tribute is especially noteworthy, for one could be under the impression it is actually the real deal. I hereby invite somebody to pinch me please, for Still Thick As A Brick by Reflection Club ups the anti, as it feels as if I've travelled to a magical parallel Tull-embraced universe, from which I don't want to wake up.
An album title like Still Thick As A Brick will no doubt prick the interest amongst progressive rock admirers and more specifically Jethro Tull fans, seeing as it refers to one of progressive rock's most iconic albums Thick As A Brick. A highly successful masterpiece dating back to 1972 it is one continuous composition spread across two sides. Equally original was the accompaniment of the intriguing newspaper package that claims the album to be an adaptation of a poem written by boy-genius Gerald Bostock, aged eight.
In fact it was all actually written by Jethro Tull's frontman Ian Anderson, who was surrounded at the time by Martin "Sir Lancelot" Barre, John Evan and the dynamical rhythmic tandem of Barriemore Barlow and Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond. A formation widely considered to be the 'classic' line-up of Jethro Tull. David Palmer's additional orchestrations elevated the musical experience to soaring heights.
It was Ian Anderson himself who released two very welcome sequels to this milestone (TAAB2 and Homo Erraticus). And although this is only a theoretical assumption, he can feel perfectly proud of Still Thick As A Brick, even though his actual involvement in this recording equals absolute zero!
Reflection Club is an international collaboration between Lutz Meinert (Margin) on keyboards, bass, drums and percussion, Nils Conrad (Crystal Palace) on guitars, Ulla Harmuth (flute), and Paul Forrest (Dayglo Pirates) on acoustic guitar and vocals. Together they expand upon the musical style of Jethro Tull between their illustrious period 1972 - 1973. In reality this led to the abandoned project of Chateau D'Isaster and the equally alluring 1973 follow up A Passion Play. On Reflection Club's time-line, it leads to a fantastic "Arc De Triomphe" experience.
The album comes in an elaborate 72-page media-book (Rellington Stone magazine), resembling TAAB's concept to the finest of details. Next to the fictional character of financial banker George Boston (author of the complex concept of the album), it features articles, lyrics, reviews, quirkiness, and many other references on the album's narrative. The book itself is an experience in itself, with many satirical parodies and Tom Jones-jokes squeezed in.
Accompanying the book and the actual CD is a DVD that next to a pristine Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound experience, visualises the story of the concept even further. A most splendid supplement to the concept, where suggestive slides and graphics visualise the complex story beautifully as the music progresses. The highlighting of the intricate instrumentations with it's counterpart graphics at the exact same moment, proves to be a great asset, and the gesture of sub-titles in four different languages is a nice bonus.
With the conceptual layout extremely well executed, the last hurdle to take on is TAAB's incredible and captivating musical diversity. An impossible task, and a road filled with traps on which nothing is easy, unless your name is George Boston! For STAAB makes an adventurous stab at success through its 11-part composition; composed, arranged and produced by Lutz Meinert.
Prelude sets the right atmosphere via a playful inventive close to the classical themes of the original TAAB. However it's the first few strokes of Time Out which are beyond belief and a recognisable confusion takes place. The acoustic melody caresses feelings of warmth and familiarity, while vocalist Forrest clones almost all of the vocal traits attributed to Anderson's personality, including the warmth of his voice.
The dexterity from the versatile rhythm section and flute, ensures further captivation and one is well and truly transported to 1972, with only the sight of Forrest standing on one leg amiss. Although in a live setting he would master this as well, in light of his involvement with the Jethro Tull Experience.
The dynamic Years On The Fast Track thrives on Conrad's guitar parts, slipping smoothly into his armour to undertake his knightly role and showcasing his mastery on the six string. Meanwhile the delightful rhythmic changes, overtly familiar keyboard sounds and gorgeous flute insertions from Harmuth flow with melodic deliciousness in a full Tull outburst. Rellington Town's folk feel brings further amazement, surrounded by precious xylophone accents and delicate flute arrangements.
As the album proceeds many other elements incorporating that luscious Jethro Tull vibe can be detected, always surrounded by vivid musicianship. Trying to capture them all within this review would take away far too much joy, but rest assured there's plenty of memorable brilliant movements. Tull-purists will have a field year.
Songs like Bedlam and Sentimental Depreciation both harbour lovely classical touches on violin, each song benefiting greatly because of this. And amongst the slight psychological nature of Nervesoothers even refined elements of jazz and fusion shine through amidst all this Tull blissfulness. The delightful recurring rockier passages in The Great Dance Around The Golden Calf and Bedlam effortlessly grab attention, and the Scottish Dambusters march of Look To The Sea rounds-off a deeply fulfilling tribute.
The effort and passion-play that has gone into the making of Still Thick As A Brick is amazing. Slightly more polished in comparison to TAAB, it sounds fresh and vibrant throughout and although many obvious references and influences can be detected, never once the thought of copycats has sprung to mind. It's a very rewarding and highly original take on TAAB, reflecting Jethro Tull' identity in the best way possible.
There is an obvious necessity for avid Tull-fans to take their time out and explore this release, while progressive rock fans can look forward to an enchanting concept album with impeccable performances. Meanwhile, fully submerged in STAAB's marvellous time-warp, I'm looking forward to see if Reflection Club have more tricks up their tails.