Album Reviews

Issue 2021-100

Andy Boot — On Track ... Caravan: Every Album, Every song [book]

Andy Boot - On Track ... Caravan: Every Album, Every song
Jan Buddenberg

The constantly expanding On Track series from Sonicbond Publishing is ideal for those who like to read about (progressive rock) music. Part of its charm for me lies in the fact that many of the included artists have started out in the late sixties/early seventies (Yes, Genesis, Queen, Kansas, Barclay James Harvest, and many more; just have a look at our Search page for On Track) and early eighties, with probably Dream Theater pushing the envelope starting as late as 1989. A period of time I was either very much part of (1980 and onwards) or a time-frame I deeply explored (1969-1979) when my own musical candle was lit.

In light of this the On Track series for me brings many different and interesting angles. Reading about ones favourite bands/artists never tires so naturally those are automatically welcomed, regardless of their outcome (all of them rewarding in their own way so far by the way). Almost the same goes for admired bands I missed out on their formative years (aka the seventies), where the vastly shared amount of facts, details, environmental musical change and other tale defining moments so far have been a delicious learning curve.

The third option is those whose legacy building pathway (partially) co-existed with my own walkways, where writers successfully dust of inner memory banks by addressing events, forgotten songs, facts or miscellaneous happenings I was part of or witnessed in real time. Andy Boot's effort on Caravan, one of the founding fathers of the 'Canterbury Sound' prog scene, mentioned in the same breath with Soft Machine, creates a new angle for it's a musical sub-genre I'm not familiar with and the band itself brings no recollection of my affection whatsoever.

Somehow, don't ask why, I never got around to exploring their music. Maybe I listened to 'the wrong' albums at the time, which judging by Boot's insightful opinions and passionately told story seems to be the case. Caravan's unattractive (repulsive even) album covers might have got something to do with it as well, but if there's a lesson to be learned today than it's never to judge an album by its artwork!

So far each of the contributing On Track writers have added their own story telling signatures to the fixed structures of the format, and within these confinements Boot's writing style is one of the more appealing ones. Mindful to one's favourite (science) teacher he initially takes you by the hand and gives very precise revealing lectures on the basics (origins, musical style, dos and don'ts, who's who, etc...) with complete dedication, conviction, passion, side remarks and spurring humour.

Once Boot's engaging constructive outline on Caravan's identity is for most part complete, somewhere halfway through the book, he loosens his lecturing grip and becomes an influential friend who makes you stand on your own two explorative feet as you slowly form an enthusiastic opinion of your own, based upon his clear musical descriptions and other vastly shared and extensively detailed informational images.

Boot makes no secret about it and admits being a very devoted fan since 1977, the year he discovered the band aged 14. By then, Caravan, having started out in 1968, had already released the majority of their prime legacy and changed musical direction shortly after to a more pop orientated style, temporarily breaking up in 1982. Since then the band has been on and off the circuit, sporadically releasing albums along the way, and still perform live nowadays (if it weren't for the pandemic).

Within these 53 years remarkably only two albums ever made it marginally into the charts (Cunning Stunts (say what?) and Blind Dog At St. Dunstans) which is quite an achievement in itself, and after reading Boot's plea for their 1971 release In The Land Of Grey And Pink, one would have assumed that Caravan's defining album would have fared better. His bold statement on the composition Nine Feet Underground in comparison to Genesis' Suppers Ready certainly makes for interesting reading and serves as food for thought for prog purists, much like his view on the difference between Progressive Rock and Prog Rock. It's precisely this kind of comments and positions that makes you want to carry on reading in order to find out what other (mildly) provoking opinions lie in store.

Boot's efforts at completeness, one of the aspects especially of interest for collectors such as me or to fans who like to own everything by their favourite artists, is for 95% spot on. CD re-issue bonus tracks and many other miscellaneous songs are well researched and included, and he devotes two chapters to various released BBC and live recordings. Giving sound advice and going all out on compilation albums in the final chapter, brilliantly omitting the pointless ones in the process, he does however regretfully forget to mention any of the bands video/DVD releases.

This minor flaw aside, Boot's page-turning story is a perfect demonstration of the series' strengths in which historical embodiment and elements like a reconstructed 'Family tree', depictive musical analogies and excellent analytical interpretations make the artist in question become fully alive for the duration of the book. And afterwards! For instigated by Boot's superb satisfying read and my 'knowledge is power' thirst a quick Youtube survey revealed a wondrous and apparently obscure line-up video (see the video below) to boot, which most definitely will see me explore this era for 'the right' albums as this fragment ticks many boxes. Apparently this isn't even their best period Boot tells me.

Overall another excellent entertaining addition to the series heartily recommended to fans of Caravan, while generally interested progressive rock enthusiasts can add a well written, accurate and compact overview to one of Prog's illustrious bands to their collection. Cautiously glancing at my over-exhausted time machine whilst looking down into my wallet to see if I still have some spending budget left I look forward to the series' next journey.

Catalyst*R — Catalyst*R

Catalyst*R - Catalyst*R
Welcome To The Show (8:42), Apollo One Three (5:50), Someone Else's Dream (5:05), You Against The World (7:40), In The Deep End (10:02), Immortal (7:50), Goldst*R (15:10)
Jerry van Kooten

Catalyst*R are a new band by some people with a lot of musical experience, although not all in the progressive scene so the names might be new to some of our readers. Former ESP lyricist and vocalist Damien Child asked Progressive Gears Records for help in finding a musical collaborator, which led to meeting Gary Jevon, formerly of This Winter Machine, and they were joined by drummer Greg Pringle (ESP, Simon Townshend).

It's not just the intro of the album that brings a 1990s/2000s Pallas feeling - you will get that more often when listening to this quite impressive debut. The verses and choruses of the opening track are rocking, combining a modern riffing approach adding 1970s keyboard layers, with which the band show they are a modern progressive band and while knowing their history. Instrumental sections ooze Pallas again.

You Against The World has a Kansas or Rush driving force, bringing in a 1970s feel to the composition. They are taking a notch down with Apollo One Three and Someone Else's Dream. Still delivering intensity just in a different way. IQ and Tumbletown in the former and I hear some Egdon Heath in the latter.

Keyboard and guitar solos are in lovely plentiful supply, and much appreciated by this reviewer. Damien Child's voice is an easy one to like. Warm with a personal timbre, and powerful enough for the rocking parts.

In The Deep End is the breather here, in a sound not unlike Marillion in the 1990s, with Child even sounding like Hogarth at times. Beautifully done, but it's a little too long for my taste. In repeated listens, I skipped it a couple of times, thinking the other 50 minutes on this album would have made it better. Immortal, is probably the most accessible tracks I think, even touching a pop/rock style in the chorus. This would have a better breather in the middle of the album for a listener having my taste.

The epic Goldst*R is a journey that reminded me of Spanish band Galadriel's Mindscapers and in a lesser degree Eris Pluvia. Different styles flowing, while they managed to make it sound whole. Again the warm voice that brings depth in the acoustic parts and makes the heavier bits more epic, resulting in just a wonderfully melodic story.

Lovely intense and mighty melodic, just how I like my prog! This album is a melting pot of a lot of influences and things that I like. Extra credits for making the songs in such different styles feel at home with each other on a single album. I am sure this album will gain a lot of fans in the prog scene.

Leslie Hunt — Ascend EP

Leslie Hunt - Ascend EP
Starting Over (3:18), There You Are (3:53), Your Wind (3:23), Wolf Cried Boy (3:46), Right Here (3:22), Down The Road (3:50), The Key (3:08)
Mark Hughes

Leslie Hunt, who needs no introduction as the lead singer in District 97, released her last solo album, Wait For It back in 2012, shortly after the release of District 97's debut album. Wait For It was actually her third solo release, each of which contained some top quality pop/rock songs alongside her mellifluous voice. But Hunt is much more than a singer, she is a fine pianist and acoustic guitarist and a very competent songwriter to boot. Ascend, a seven-track solo EP is a trip away from the prog rock for which she is more commonly known and a return to the poppier direction of her previous solo albums. A companion EP, Descend, will be released later this year.

Okay, so this is not prog in the slightest, but there is no disputing the sheer quality of the music contained on this EP. Unfortunately no details are given on the other musicians that perform on the release but whomsoever they are they should be applauded for their superb backing. They are never intrusive but wrap around the vocal melodic lines with consummate ease. The press release accompanying the download EP states the songs are "reflections on how we've all no doubt felt about love and life at some point in our lives", and although some of the songs maybe about the unhappier sides of love and relationships, there is a general sense of positivity to the songs. This is evident from the off with Starting Over, a ballad with a fantastic melody that saves the crunch to the very last line. There You Are is more upbeat with Hunt's voice backed by that of an (unidentified) male and although you couldn't call it a duet the song definitely benefits from the additional and contrasting vocals. There is a somewhat Tom Petty feel to the song, primarily attributable to the lead guitar sound, and once again, the strength of the melody makes it a gloriously sing-along number.

Your Wind focuses on Hunt's voice and electric piano playing and is a more reflective number. Credit to the guitarist for the perfect restraint of the playing and the succinct but crucial solo. Wolf Cried Boy is probably the least musically unadventurous and it isn't until the chorus kicks in after 90 seconds that there is any real change to the rather plodding song. Fortunately it is a very strong chorus and Hunt brings it home with aplomb with some lovely vocalisations on the back end of the number. If such things were still in vogue Right Here would undoubtedly be the single, upbeat, chirpy, positive and tiny bit schmaltzy with a cuteish video to match, it is a decent enough song but is a bit twee for my tastes. Down The Road starts with just piano and vocals that despite being simple has more emotional depth than the previous song. I think I would have preferred it if the song had remained unadorned as the pedal steel guitar and rather humdrum beat, although adding variety to the number takes away what could have been a remarkable piece of work, particularly if there were more of the vocal harmonies as those that appear at the end of the song. Finally we have The Key, a sucker punch right to the heart. Lovely throughout and more than a hint of Karen Carpenter in the vocals, yep it is that good!

So what is to be made of Ascend? Well there are some great songs amongst the seven on display and all (perhaps almost all...) are wonderfully played, recorded and produced. The main attraction is of course, Hunt's voice which is adorable throughout. Although she never pushes her vocals to the limits of their extremes I guess that was never the point. Irrespective of one's thoughts on the more popular side of the music spectrum, one cannot deny the quality of the writing and performing and I am perfectly happy to include this collection of songs in my music library and eagerly await for the release of the Descent EP in September.

Syndone — Kãma Sũtra

Syndone - Kãma Sũtra
It’s Only Make Believin’ (3:27), Nirvana (2:52), Carousel (2:32), Into The Kama (5:50), Bitches (4:35), You Still Shine (4:16), Sex Toys R Us (3:41), 2 Thousand 10 (1:59), Sacred & Profane (7:14), We Are The World We Created (5:21), Peace On Earth (2:10)
Jan Buddenberg

Little did I know what Syndone's next step would be when I wrote 'Let music be the lubricant that binds us all' in my review of their Mysoginia. I'll probably have to choose my words more carefully this time around in light of their newest thematic approach on Kãma Sũtra, generally regarded as the most important Indian textbook on life's desires, sexuality and emotional fulfilment.

The ancient text was originally written as a guide of finding a life partner and teach the man how to please the woman he has married and win her love and affection. It's also a manual about the nature of love in general, maintenance thereof and other aspects that create satisfactory pleasure in human life. A book on sexual unison, temptation, behaviour, seduction and other erotic aphrodisiacs, by no means only referring to positions of love making for which it is widely known.

This is however the first that comes to mind in my case, but not for the obvious lustful male reasons! For ever since my adolescent years, now long behind me, I've been a big fan of Benito Jacovitti, one of Italy's most important comic artists of the twentieth century. Next to creating adventures of (amongst others) 'Cocco Bill' and 'Zorry Kid' he gave birth in 1983 to a marvellous collection of weirdly humoristic Kamasutra interpretations, which has stuck by me visually ever since. It's hard not to fall in love with Jacovitti's unique and detailed parodying drawings of outspoken goofiness, absurdism and hugely funny extremities regarding the art of Kamasutra, vividly bursting with a deep sense of surrealism ignited by imaginative stimulants, caricatured worms and salamis.

And now I can't help falling in love with the subject all over again for Syndone, consisting of Nik Comoglio (composition, keyboards), Riccardo Ruggeri (lyrics, vocals, acoustic guitar), Simone Rubinato (bass), Marta Caldara (vibraphone, keyboards), Gigi Rivetti (keyboards), Eddy Franco (drums) have offered an equally thrilling prog sausage equivalent with their musically enrapturing take on the art of love making.

As on previous albums (click here for Syndone reviews on DPRP) the entrusted compositions on Kãma Sũtra are vibrating with drama, theatrics, classical themes, melancholy and complex emotional refinements where highlighting elations reminiscent to E.L.P., PFM and Queen tie together an album that's enticingly erect from tantalising variations, mesmerising memorable musical moments and moving symphonic eclectic melodies that grows on me at each turn and make me internally happy in the end (Oh well, I tried...).

Initially releasing scenic Indian (the country) images from its first few chords It's Only Make Believin' opens with electronics that dive straight into a sensuous Glenn Hughes/Deep Purple styled rock environment that changes into funky fusion as excellent harmonies, differing in intensity and intent (whispering, seductive, compelling, demanding) interact sublimely with the passionate versatile deliveries of Ruggeri that ooze with charisma. The successive dynamic passage with luscious synth frivolities and playful vibraphone embraced by a delightful seventies rock feel is equally great, while delicious symphonic orchestrations by the 'Budapest Scoring Symphonic Orchestra' simultaneously slide their way in soothingly.

Nirvana follows a lighter step and becomes very close natured to a skittish Queen, where the graciously waltz arranged structures and playful interactions ignite happiness of A.C.T. captured within an organic City Boy ecstasy which gives a heartily welcomed satisfying amount of variety to the composition. The excellent marriage of musical interplay incorporating symphonic flirtations and virtuous keyboard massages results in a wondrous West-End musical appeal that's bursting with a sense of drama. Climax to these first titillating moments is the joyously stimulative Carousel which honours its name splendidly. Here tempting jazz, caressing bass and magical partitions from orchestra, piano and synth-complexities dance seamlessly together and create a short, beautifully enchanting resting point, whereafter the song ends in a paroxysm of marvelling musicality bound together by majestic violins, percussion, orchestrations and lashes of Moog penetrations.

Following this threesome of invigorating compositions Into The Kama exposes Syndone's romanticism as it moves through passionate phases of fragility and serenity brought to live by gorgeous vocal interaction of Ruggeri and guest vocalist Annie Barbazza. The resulting serenading structure of the song, covered in sheets of subdued underlying playful subtleties, is beautiful and ends in a mesmerizing apotheosis of charming oriental melodic beauty.

Both Bitches and Sex Toys R Us confrontational subjects see me going back for afters. In the former, beautiful classic arrangements brilliantly transition into steamy rock as Ruggeri lustfully shakes of his Mysoginia gained "Good Old Fashioned Loverboy" image, while the latter's counting explicitness thrives from fuzzy funky bass interacting with touching Hammond organ and luxurious orchestrations which keep the song's tension arc effortlessly climbing as melodic eruptions and gushes of sax by David Jackson (VDGG) culminate to a mountain of sensual burning melodies.

In between it's the theatrical bluesy Queen expressions of You Still Shine that provides an attractive resting point as it opens sweetly with Ruggeri flexibly manoeuvring through different emotional stages in best Freddie Mercury tradition while grand classical orchestrations alternate with intimate piano/vibraphone movements. This sees a tantric reprisal in the Eastern atmospheres of 2 Thousand 10 as percussion and acoustic guitars persuasively converse.

One of the most alluring attractions of Syndone's music in my case is the pristine surfacing of Greenslade influences amidst their eclectic sound, best shown in Scared & Profane. Fully restrained and beautifully gliding on bass and orchestrations that bring warmth and feelings of caress, the combination of Ruggeri's uncanny vocal resemblance and dynamic upbeat melodies transport me to the exciting times of Time & Tide, emphasized by floaty synths and atmospheric potent endplay with organic embodiment of sensitive bass, propulsive drums and tantalising synth/organ play.

It prepares a wonderful setup for the elegant classical symphonies of We Are The World We Created where enchantingly beautiful piano tickles, arrangements and touching violin strike a chord. Intriguing and intimately exhilarating at the same time it takes on a caressing charge of understated adoration that slowly builds to an eclectic paramount of symphonies rejoicing with Moog in a whirlpool of unbridled energy thriving from dexterous play. A wondrous composition which resonates escapades of That Joe Payne, much like the fragility found in Peace On Earth where Ruggeri's breakable performance is ultimately transporting over powerful refined piano and sensitive orchestral accompaniment. A final chord of happy contentment marks the end of an excellent invigorating record begging to be played over and over.

In conclusion Syndone have surpassed themselves and my wildest dreams by delivering an album that is saturated with a succession of highs. The individual songs are exceptionally well constructed and burst at the seams with energy, emotion and passion. A magically unique combination sure to make you completely surrender yourself to their inner beauty. Appending the fact that the overall sensation received from start to finish through musical perfection is a real pleasure to the senses brings additional growing greatness to the album.

Within the current progressive playing field there are few that sound like Syndone, something they have in common with Jacovitti's uniqueness. So do yourself an explorative favour and pour yourself a nice cup of relaxing chamomile tea to enjoy this highly recommendable album in whatever position you fancy. Satisfaction guaranteed.

Luca Zabbini — One

Luca Zabbini - One
What's Left Of Me (4:54), Everything Changes (3:48), Hello (5:00), Taking Time (5:26), Portrait (3:51), Constantine Cry (3:21), The Mood Of The Day (3:17), No One There (6.32), Karlsruhe Rain (3:36), Help Me To Sleep (4:08), I Don't Know (3:30)
Thomas Otten

Luca Zabbini is the founder and keyboarder of the Italian prog band Barock Project. Forced into an unvoluntary creative break with his band because of the overall pandemic situation, he used the extra time to rework and finalize songs he had written before and which he considered as being inappropriate for being played and released by Barock Project. Consequently, his first (as the title might hint at) solo project also is driven by his ambition to develop and cultivate a new musical identity. differing from and unrelated to, the approach he had taken with Barock Project. He intended to forge ahead on a new musical path, and to face new challenges. As he puts it, he feels like an actor who wishes to change roles and who needs to constantly identify himself with the role he is playing in each case.

On this release, Luca Zabbini plays every instrument, sings, and is responsible for production, mixing and mastering, a fact that the album title may allude to as well. The only element which was sort of "outsourced" were the lyrics, which he entrusted Antonio de Sarno and Giorgio Franceschetti with, enjoying a fruitful cooperation with them on various other projects over several years. Those lyrics sometimes appear a bit melancholic, pessimistic and gloomy to me, amongst others dealing with jealousy, unfulfilled aspirations, and failure.

This release contains 11 songs in the 3 to 6 minutes range. None of these pieces of music is like the other. Luca Zabbini covers a wide range of musical styles, with progressive rock only playing a minor role: mainstream rock, jazz, folk, classical (chamber) music, swing also feature. He mentions some of the composers from the romanticism era such as Rachmaninov as an influence, but also Bach, ELP, Jethro Tull, Billy Joel, Weather Report, Earth, Wind & Fire, Queen, and Cat Stevens. Most, as he states in an interview, he seems to have been influenced by the music of Paul McCartney, which he admires for his ability to write simple sounding songs full of refinement and subtle details.

The album opener What's Left Of Me could have appeared on a mid-period Genesis album, Everything Changes, with its earworm-like guitar hook, reminds me of Alan Parsons Project. Hearing the song Hello, my wife asked whether I was writing a review on Elton John. Taking Time, one of my favourites, reminds me of Bruce Hornsby & The Range and Billy Joel, whilst Portrait, with its classical music piano playing style, is not unlike what one might hear on a classical chamber music release. Constantine Cry is driven by acoustic guitars and (sampled, I assume) strings, sounding slightly oriental. The Mood Of The Day starts singer/songwriter-like before turning slightly jazzy with a Toto sounding guitar, followed by No One There, a slow bluesrock number full of dynamics with a catchy refrain. A further contrast is created by Karlsruhe Rain which follows, another favourite of mine, a melancholic, piano-led, prog rock sounding song with strong melodies, recalling highlights of some Barock Project albums. Simon & Garfunkel, and Paul McCartney may have been the inspiration for Help Me To Sleep. The album closes in a contemplative way with an introverted, thought-provoking, timid I Don't Know, almost like a lullaby. An appropriate ending of a strong album.

Hearing such a wide spectrum of influences, I think it may be justified to wonder about the consistency of One. How did Luca Zabbini manage to make this release sound like more than just a collection of musical ideas? First, there are his excellent musical abilities and his warm, sensitive, and melodic singing style, inherent in every track. But the real red thread for me is what Luca Zabbini considered elementary in Paul McCartney's music: the talent to write simple sounding songs which reveal their subtle details only upon repeated listening.

I would not exclude that this album might produce mixed feelings with some of you esteemed progressive rock listeners, if you expect all the ingredients that you associate with this musical style and may find that your expectations are not fully met. Can a release which just about touches upon progressive rock nonetheless be progressive? Objectively speaking, if "progressive" means favouring, endorsing and advocating change or reforms as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, then One undoubtedly fulfils these requirements. Subjectively speaking, I consider this album as truly progressive, as Luca Zabbini has left his familiar musical paths and environment he usually is associated with. Instead, he has displayed a considerable writing and producing talent, and has offered us listeners a wide variety of musical styles without succumbing to the temptation of becoming everybody's darling, of currying favour, and of merely experimenting.

Although Luca Zabbini may not have intended to appeal to the largest possible auditors' base, he should have succeeded in doing just that through the ingenuity, versatility, accessibility, and simple beauty of his music. He is unlike Barock Project, but Barock Project clearly bears his handwriting. His music is something for the prog rock lover, for those wishing to become one and for those simply looking for catchy, versatile and exciting music. In a nutshell: highly recommended! Put your headphones on and listen!

Album Reviews