Album Reviews

Issue 2022-003

Bouquet — Dressed Up Animal

Bouquet - Dressed Up Animal
Mind Blower (4:20), Dressed Up Animal (5:55), Canción Infantil Para Cantar En La Boca De Un Pozo (5:54), Overdose Of Light (7:09), Candela (3:37), Good Thief (7:09), Leader (4:01), Las Grandes Chicas (4:48), Samadhi (4:04), Lighting (4:35), Sobriety II (3:17), Humors (6:06)
Jerry van Kooten

Bouquet are from Cuba and are a new name to me. On their own website it says "Cuban Rock & Roll", but their Facebook description calls it "rock fusión". I would add classic rock, alternative rock, grunge and metal influences, and a bit of post-punk, all together with some progressive breaks.

Main man Aivis Prieto is also the lead singer of Cuban prog band Amina Mundi. The music here is quite different though, but can still be very interesting for many of our readers. His powerful voice is perfect for this kind of music.

A touch of 6:33 craziness (the breaks, short bouts of the silliness as per track 3), that punk-y energy dressed in the progressiveness of Pure Reason Revolution. For a larger part, it's mostly alternative rock. The songwriting reminds me of Radiohead, but this is more rock and roll, including the fun.

The album is loaded with catchy refrains and melodies. There are some nice surprises like Overdose Of Light having a wonderful bluesy guitar solo during the second half.

Bouquet, promo photo.

The press info mentions that this album is to be part one of a trilogy, that it is "a sample of the different sounds and styles that have influenced the band over the years. The trilogy, once finished, will be a recount of Bouquet's career, of more than 15 years, presented with new vigor." So, apparently written over a period of 15 years, the album sounds like it was written and recorded in a limited time. That's testimony to sticking to their style but also that style keeping its value over one and a half decades.

The production is very good and clear. The mix of styles has been arranged in such a way that the whole album sounds varied but still works as a unit. When listening to it many times, sometimes in order, sometimes on shuffle, no songs were skipped. Even when the heavy Sobriety II is preceded by the relatively light, but moody Lighting, and followed by the more straightforward, rocking Humors, never is there a feeling of things not fitting.

Bouquet is an excellent name for this band, bringing in different styles into a single album. Without going full-on progressive it is still diverse enough in styles and songwriting for many prog fans. I am looking forward to the rest of the trilogy.

Empire — The Best Of Empire

Empire - The Best Of Empire
Out Of Our Hands (5:38), Destiny (6:15), Faraway (5:54), Foundation (9:26), Sky At Night (9:42), Where Yes Means No (5:02), Off With The King's Head (5:12), More Than Words (7:16), Everything Changes (12:47), For A Lifetime (2:42), Do What You Want (8:33)
Geoff Feakes

Make no mistake, despite being an original member of Yes, Peter Banks remains one of the unsung guitarists of his generation. After recording two albums with Yes, he was unceremoniously dismissed from the band in the spring of 1970, less than a year before they hit the big time. As it turned out, you could take the man out of Yes, but you couldn't take Yes out of the man, as the three studio albums released with his own band Flash in 1972 and 1973 demonstrated.

In 1974, he recorded the debut album with the newly formed Empire, a vehicle for the husband and wife partnership of Banks and singer, songwriter Sydney Foxx. Two further albums followed in 1977 and 1978 but unable to secure a record deal, all three remained unreleased until the mid-1990s. In 2017, they were combined and repackaged as The Complete Recordings three-disc set.

This latest collection, subjectively titled The Best Of Empire draws from all three albums - Mark 1, Mark 2 and Mark 3 plus two tracks from The Mars Tapes which was released as a 2CD set in 2014. The latter is a collection of demos and rehearsals recorded at Mars Studios, Los Angeles in the summer of 1979 where Empire also unveiled new material.

In addition to Banks and Foxx (whose names feature prominently on the cover of The Best Of Empire), the band featured a flexible line-up of musicians who changed with each album. The opening song Out of Our Hands similarly opened the first album and is a clear demonstration of the band's intent. It would not have sounded out of place on a Flash album with its proggy guitar, organ and synth solos also bringing Yes' Roundabout to mind. The familiar bolero riff towards the end featured in several 1970s rock songs including Deep Purple's Child In Time and Genesis' The Knife.

For the most part, the tracks are a curious blend of mainstream pop-rock vocal melodies and lengthy instrumental interludes. Although the lyrics are prone to love song clichés, the melodies are tuneful and a perfect setting for Foxx's stunning, often soulful singing. The playing is faultless throughout, even though there are occasional lapses into indulgence and repetition on Banks' part to sustain the longer tracks, as the near 10-minute Foundation testifies.

Also weighing in at just under 10-minutes, Sky At Night features Phil Collins on drums and backing vocals although it's mostly notable for Banks' flamenco guitar strumming. The energetic Where Yes Means No is propelled by a galloping rhythm and is the first of two consecutive instrumentals from The Mars Tapes. The title clearly alludes to his expulsion from Yes nine years earlier. The punchy Off With The King's Head is anchored by a rumbling bass line and the persistent riff is similar to Steve Howe's guitar rhythm on the aforementioned Roundabout. It seems that Banks could not escape the spectre of his former band.

The stately More Than Words is one of the best songs in the collection and showcases Banks' trademark weeping guitar embellishments. His elaborate soloing is clearly influenced by guitar maestro Jan Akkerman who was a close friend and performed on his 1973 debut solo album Two Sides of Peter Banks. Following the Focus inspired Everything Changes, the penultimate For A Lifetime is the shortest song on the album, and is none the worse for that, with piano and symphonic keys complementing Foxx's heartfelt ballad.

The set concludes with Do What You Want from the second album and although the recording has a demo feel, it's a solid closer. The explosive drumming drives Bank's fluid guitar while Foxx's soulful vocal melody brings an element of American funk to the table, tempered with a touch of Elkie Brooks style rawness. Following the demise of Empire and her relationship with Banks, Foxx (whose real name is Sidonie Jordan) recorded with numerous artists and worked in films and television.

The Empire recordings are probably the most commercial sounding of Peter Banks' career although unfortunately they failed to bring him the success and recognition he deserved. True, you will have to look elsewhere for his best work but the material certainly didn't deserve to sit on the shelf as long as it did. As it is, this compilation is a mostly likeable snapshot of the 1970s and another case of what might have been.

On a more positive note, drummer Mark Murdock who played on the third album recently reformed the band and in 2020 released the album Second Lifetime under the name The New Empire. Promoted as a tribute to Peter Banks, it features new material plus re-recordings of songs by Empire, Flash, Banks and Yes with Sydney Foxx as guest singer on Foundation.

Peter Banks’s Harmony In Diversity — The Best Of Peter Banks’s Harmony In Diversity

Peter Banks’s Harmony In Diversity - The Best Of Peter Banks’s Harmony In Diversity
The Number Of The Beat (6:45), Prelusion (3:37), On The Sixth Attempt They Trod On It (7:02), Gallopsiding (4:18), Bruno (15:44), Sods At Odds (9:52), Boing (11:09), Each To Their Own Devices (5:16), Everything Ends In Nothing (3:44)
Geoff Feakes

For this second Peter Banks related Best Of, we fast-forward from the 1970s to 2004 when he formed the trio Harmony In Diversity with drummer Andrew Booker and bassist Nick Cottam. Although they folded in 2007, they recorded a wealth of material in a relatively short time frame. The Complete Recordings appeared in 2018 and gathered together no less than 6 CDs worth of studio and live recordings. Sadly, Banks died of heart failure five years earlier in the London Borough of Barnet, where he was born in 1947. At the time of his death he was preparing to go to a recording session, typical for a man with a long, if not entirely successful career behind him.

The Best Of Peter Banks's Harmony In Diversity is a selection of tracks from The Complete Recordings and as I'm unfamiliar with the source material, I'll trust that the choices justify the title. The band specialised in improvised instrumentals although as the tracks here reveal, there was clearly an element of composition that provided a solid framework for their often extended meanderings. Overall, the music is not a million miles from Banks' solo albums in the 1990s while the play on words track titles typically demonstrate his wry sense of humour.

Many of the tracks are based around sparse, metronomic rhythms which provide a foundation for experimental guitar noodling. Pieces like The Number Of The Beat and Gallopsiding are taken at a leisurely pace, giving an ambient, new age feel. The latter is a live recording, although you would be hard-pressed to tell from the quality of the sound and performance. Elsewhere, Banks' improvisational flair reveals his influences with the rapid fret work in Prelusion and Sods At Odds bringing Jimi Hendrix to mind while the high-pitched, discordant soloing in On The Sixth Attempt They Trod On It channels Robert Fripp.

Bruno is the album's longest offering by some distance, providing ample space for Banks to stretch out and explore the possibilities of his instrument where timbres and tonal colourings take precedence over melody. Another long piece, Boing, features a prominent bass pattern, overlaid with a blistering guitar solo that would not put King Crimson to shame. I wouldn't be surprised if the track title was a tongue in cheek nod to obscure Crimson titles like B'Boom, Vrooom and Thrak.

The penultimate track, the aptly titled Each To Their Own Devices, begins as an exercise in echo effects before Banks unleashes a sustained wall of sound. It's also the only track that features a full drum kit although as Andrew Booker was later replaced by David Speight, I'm unsure who is responsible for the playing. The concluding Everything Ends In Nothing returns to the soothing ambiance of the earlier pieces where, consciously or not, Banks' strumming briefly references the melody for Men Of Harlech.

Those of a certain age will remember Peter Banks' time with The Syn and Yes where, armed with his wide-bodied Rickenbacker, his energetic stage performances combined elements of rock and jazz. As such, his playing here will not come as a complete surprise. It's a fine showcase for his talents as a musician where his versatility and technique is nothing short of astonishing at times.

Erewan — How Will All This End?

Erewan - How Will All This End?
Rising Sun On The Shore (4:06), Childhoods (5:05), Walk Away (5:32), Headline (7:07), The Banshee's Keening (5:45), Witches Of The Middle Ages (4:33), Twist Of Fate (5:24), Evil's In Us (8:14), Highlands (5:49)
Greg Cummins

When I saw this album had a celtic/folk origin on the info pack, I thought, yeah, I could enjoy another one of these bad boys. This is a sub-genre of music that normally gives me a lot of enjoyment. Bands such as Karnataka, Magenta, Mostly Autumn, Iona, Clannad, October Project, Kara and Horslips are fine examples of bands who have got the right formula. Sadly, this one will have to be slotted within the 'underwhelming' category as there are simply too many issues with this album to ignore.

The first problem is that the music simply doesn't flow too well. There are many sections which sound clumsy and somewhat broken when it should be the music that supports the lyrics that excites the ears. Lyrically, the album also suffers from the fact that many of the words simply don't fit properly. There are many meter issues that really reinforce the amateurish attempt by the lyricist to make things fit. The inclusion of unnecessary profanities on a few tracks also does nothing for these ears as it adds little to the message that the band is trying to deliver.

Therein, lies yet another issue. The underlying message one can derive from reading the lyrics is that the world is really doomed and that because we are all so damned evil, most of us will be burned at the stake. I'm not sure about you but I prefer to either be uplifted by music that contains a positive message or conversely, if there are negative issues the band wants to concentrate on, then you need to convince me of that message. That didn't happen. While no-one can deny the world can be a pretty screwed up place with plenty of heinous crimes taking place, convincing the listener of such matters, is often lost within the interpretation. The lyrics are often so amateurish they end up sounding rather banal.

Try this: (sic)

Longing for a friendly smile, Always standing in the aisle


He's waited for a while, Spewing black bile

Or another example:

Now in his mind so much morbid thoughts, It will all come to nought

And this:

Evil's taking root, So he wants to shoot


The message of universal evil is also so heavily overdone as to pigeonhole the entire experience as a novella about doom and gloom. The world has endured more than enough negative issues in the last few years. Attempts to add to the misery, just fall flat, especially when done so unconvincingly as this.

Musically, there are a few decent sections that do work quite well, but they are heavily in the minority. The album opens reasonably well with Rising Sun On The Shore while Childhoods possesses the most memorable riff on the whole album. It really is quite a catchy tune and yes, it definitely is enhanced when things move up an octave. The song, however, cries out for the inclusion of the Uilleann pipes as it would be that medium that really gives the song some celtic credibility. The drumming, particularly on the song, The Banshee's Keening is so pedestrian as to be only slightly more engaging than a metronome. The vocalist, has a regrettably lispy styled accent that is hard to ignore and spoils what might have been a reasonable album. He also struggles to reach the higher notes on many songs and I imagine he would have a very hard time performing well in a live environment. Scratchy sounding voices only worked well for Joe Cocker until the game plan failed. The melodies are also a bit thin on the ground which ultimately creates music that becomes too easily forgettable.

While I always try and encourage new bands to persevere with their music, one has to have realistic expectations about how well a particular piece of work might be received.

The first suggestion would be to pick a variety of upbeat themes and topics that might appeal to a large number of people. Even though bad news helps sell newspapers, deep down people are generally decent creatures who need their egos massaged from time to time with positive themes and forward-thinking outlooks on life.

While there are some nice musical sections on the album, they could really be enhanced with the addition of something truly celtic such as the Uilleann pipes. Give Troy Donockley a call and see if he can help out on a few songs. Similarly, the occasional violin that can be heard on a few songs is held back in the mix and does little to give the music the celtic warmth that is often used to add some subtle charm. The more frequent use of mandolin, flutes, tin whistles, pipes etc would also support the suggestion this really is celtic-inspired music. As it stands, it is only marginally so but it does possess the right backbone here and there.

Embellishing the music with some additional instruments, even if played by guest musicians, might be enough to bring this one over the line. As a former drummer I would also encourage theirs to really hone one's skills with lessons or listen to other better drummers for inspiration. Additionally, singing in English when that is not your native tongue can expose limitations many will cringe at. Those more familiar with the idiosyncrasies of the spoke English language will know intuitively how certain words should sound and cringe when not done so properly. Sadly, these guys are not cunning linguists.

I don't want to throw any more negative thoughts around with this band as they have done so admirably on their own but when all is said and done, who are you going to call when all your listeners have lost all hope for mankind and slashed their wrists. The themes, while somewhat relevant, tend to become somewhat insignificant compared to how the entire planet is dealing with Covid.

You have to wonder how much influence is placed on bands these days to produce music that ticks enough boxes to ensure enough copies sell. Maybe their management need to be more proactive in highlighting the problematic issues on the album but in this day and age, music of this quality will really struggle to appeal to the masses.

I really wanted to give this album a better score and despite the few good points amongst some glaring short-comings, I need to pay respect to those albums that are so much better and are performed by more professionally trained musicians. I wish the band luck in the future but feel there is a lot of work needed to raise the bar to a suitable level.

Fascination Curve — Corona Time In Amerika

Fascination Curve - Corona Time In Amerika
Land Of The Free, Home Of The Slave (7:01), Somewhere, Somehow (7:43), I Will Breathe With You (8:03), Corona Time In Amerika (20:05), Dip Them In Gold (6:23)
Greg Cummins

Another intriguing CD has found its way into my study for evaluation, and I must admit to being a little perplexed at what was to unfold. Checking some scant online information about this project, you soon discover the personnel assembled for this album come with a very high pedigree. One name that jumped out at me was Gregg Bissonette (drums), as I have enjoyed much of the music on which he has performed previously. He is often referred to as your go-to drummer due to the impeccable talent he brings to the table. He doesn't disappoint here either. Another name, Marc Bonilla (Emerson, Hughes & Bonilla, Keith Emerson Band) is a much sought after guitarist also due to his abilities to add depth and penetration to the music. Other musicians include Ken Stacey (vocals), Amy Keyes (vocals), Tim Riess (sax), Mha Bhati (bass), Loretta Kelley (violin) and other guest vocalists.

However, it is without doubt, the name, Karl Lindeberg, that some may know while many won't. Karl has a musical background that I find utterly amazing as it embraces working within so many diverse fields. As a youngster, Karl was involved with music through his family's century-old group, The Bernstons, playing traditional folk music of Norway. As a composer, pianist and conductor, he has worked within the film, television, theater, ballet, radio and education industries to name a few. Musically, he has delved into jazz, classical, world music, traditional folk and mainstream pop. To recognize the talents and contributions he has made over many decades, he has been bestowed with many awards since 1984 right through to his more recent work. Fellow musicians with whom he has worked include, Steve Gadd, Eddie Gomez, Miroslav Vitous, John Cage, Gary Burton, Gerry Goffen and his main band, Full Circle.

The main subject of this project is a veritable micky-take about everything that is wrong with the world and America in particular. It concentrates on the Black Lives Matter issue, the corona virus, inequalities with our economic way of life and other matters and does so in a very convincing manner. The lyrics are quite acerbic with very little being spared in much the same way my fellow compatriots, Midnight Oil used to employ with their overt support for our indigenous people. These were and still are very marginalised people in Australia who have suffered too many obstacles to contemplate. I am sure the same can be said about the many racial components of America's current population and the disparity each faces with today's current woes. I don't wish to dwell on this subject but be assured, the exceptional lyrics throughout this album are very engaging and form the very heart of what needs to be said about too many inequities facing humanity today.

It doesn't get any more poignant than the opening track, Land Of The Free, Home Of The Slave, which has the hallmarks of a classic Pink Floyd or RPWL sound as it exposes the underbelly of numerous social issues. The YouTube clip also has some excellent visual accompaniment.

Karl is responsible for all the music and lyrics on this album, but it is the somewhat joyous singing that really captivated me right from the get go. While many lyrical sections are sung with a breathy, wispy approach, it is when the additional singers chime in with harmonious unison, the shivers run up and down the spine in full respect for what you are hearing. If you could imagine a full contingent of black female American singers and fellow musicians, swaying in choral unison at a Joe Cocker or even a Roger Waters concert when the finale arrives, you would be close to the mark. This is particularly so on the excellent track, Somewhere, Somehow. Other tracks are just as engaging.

While this is not strictly a very progressive rock type of album, it would certainly appeal to those who enjoy elements of jazz, world music, rock, pop and folk as it embraces all of those sensibilities. As good as this album is I am somewhat amazed to see how little online information is available about Karl or his music. His band, Full Circle, has only two of their releases listed on the website and even then, they have no additional descriptive informative about them or Karl himself. For a person with so many obvious talents, just how hard does it become to break through the barriers and become a household name? Wonders never cease.

This is a great album and quite a departure to what I normally enjoy but what a great ride it has been. It is the sort of album that deserves recognition for the elements within but also to remind us all, that we need to be aware of others and their importance to the well-being of the planet. If you are comfortable with the somewhat politicised treatment of the social issues at hand and enjoy the irreverence one can derive from a serious session of urine extraction, then this CD is sure to please.

Monarch Trail — Wither Down

Monarch Trail - Wither Down
Wither Down (10:53), Echo (5:59), Canyon Song (6:32), Waves Of Sound (11:00), Megalopolitana (15:18), All Kinds Of Futures (6:47)
Greg Cummins

Canada has produced a number of excellent progressive rock bands and artists over the years including F.M., Antoine Fafard, Hamadryad, Rush, Rick Miller, Mystery, Saga, Nathan Mahl, Harmonium together with my favourite female vocalist, the incredible, progressive new age / world music genius, Loreena McKennitt. Ken Baird, who heads up this very talented group of musicians, can proudly add his name to that list.

Having owned just about everything Ken has released including his early albums with Sue Fraser, I was really keen to listen to his latest CD which thankfully arrived just in time for the Christmas holidays. Even if my kids gave me a lousy Christmas present, thankfully I've got this wonderful disc to compensate.

Ken has called upon his mates, Chris Lamont (drums), Dino Verginella (bass), Kelly Kereliuk (guitar), and Steve Cochrane (acoustic guitar), from previous recording sessions, and they certainly help to ignite the self penned tracks presented here. Whether forming part of Monarch Trail or assisting Ken with his earlier solo efforts, these musicians have been with him most of the way on most of his albums. You can certainly appreciate the unity these guys are able to create as they effortlessly interpret all the subtle nuances and concepts that Ken is trying to include. It works so beautifully well and delivers a truly seamless suite of great songs that are hard not to enjoy. In fact, I can't think of another disc from this year that I have had on repeat so often.

The first thing that makes an immediate impression is the plethora of great keyboards used whether it be the initial piano runs or the brooding Mellotron and synthesizer excursions on the opening track, Wither Down. The important concept to grasp with Monarch Trail's compositions is that it is the music itself than underpins most of the pleasure one derives while listening attentively as everything unfolds. Though vocals are featured on 5 of the 6 tracks, they are relatively brief and don't really form any regimented part of a verse-chorus-verse-chorus format. The songs simply don't follow that rule and have been imaginatively composed in a way that lets Ken and his partners explore some incredible passages that really open up in a natural and organic way.

The keyboards in the songs, Echo and the 15-minute epic, Megalopolitana are simply stunning and remind me of the best that Tony Banks could produce. These two are killer tracks and form many highlights for me. In fact, if you enjoy the keyboards as much as I do, you will be hard-pressed to find another album from this year to match this one for imaginative compositions and the stunning musicianship on display. Ken is an extremely talented pianist and keyboardist to such a degree that I feel this is the best body of work he has created thus far. It is full of lush, pompous, heavenly keyboard driven songs that really ignite the senses. Megalopolitana, is also the most progressive track on offer and is replete with some excellent guitar backdrops that underpin the mellotron and synthesizer throughout. Thankfully, he is very well-supported by his other musical team-mates as they are all excellent musicians in their own right, but make no mistake, Ken is the real hero of this outfit.

One thing that is different from previous efforts is that, Sue Fraser, who accompanied Ken vocally on all of his earlier albums, is not present here on this release. Whether that is a good thing or not is really a moot point as these excellent songs stand their own ground in a very capable way.

This is very well-composed, melodic and beautiful music that was created by a consummate artist who just gets better with each album. Although not as well known as other bands or artists from the northern climes, Ken is certainly Canada's best kept secret. Almost an hour of majestic music such as this can be hard to find these days so it makes sense to help spread the word.

Comparisons with other bands become a bit academic with this album because it is so damned good, but I'll throw a few names around for those that need something to liken this to. Just be aware it is heavily keyboard driven symphonic music and as there are no really blustery guitar outbreaks, those expecting a pyrotechnic display won't find that here. The guitars play in unison with the keyboards where appropriate and supply a suitable accompaniment where featured. If you enjoy any of the following bands or artists, you will probably want this one added to your wants list: Genesis, Druid (although less so vocally), IQ, Iris, Steve Hackett, Camel, Mexican band Cast, Knight Area, Mindgames, Martin Orford, Like Wendy, Millenium, Steve Thorne, David Minasian and even Rick Wakeman when playing his best pastoral pieces.

Had this stunning album arrived before nominating my top 10 albums for 2021, this would have shot up to easily take the number 2 spot. It really is that good.

Album Reviews