With this 2 CD 35th anniversary set, Come Taste The Band finally earns a bit of much deserved respect. Back in 1975, this album got more buzz for what it didn't have: Ritchie Blackmore - than what it did: great songs like Lady Luck, Love Child, Owed To "G", You Keep On Moving (to name but four).
Ronan Casey's booklet notes dwell a bit much on the substance abuse issues bassist Glenn Hughes and new guitarist Tommy Bolin were going through in those days. The fanboy in me would be far more interested in reading about the stories behind the songs, to be honest. A minor quibble to be sure.
The remaster is fat and punchy. That bass on Gettin' Tighter comes from down around Hughes' ankles and positively honks on Dealer. Speaking of Dealer - what a sweaty, sleazy, smarmy groove! It's perfectly complimented by David Coverdale's growling vocal.
Listening to Jon Lord and Ian Paice on this album I can feel the groundwork being laid for the Paice Ashton Lord project just a year or so later. A sort of rock / soul / funk hybrid in terms of touch.
Disc 2 features a 2010 remix of the entire album by Kevin Shirley (of Dream Theater / Iron Maiden / Slayer fame). Some takes are extended out, some bits different in the mix, and a slightly altered running order. All of which throw a new set of ears on the project. Disc 1 includes a bonus cut: the single edit of You Keep On Moving. Disc 2 throws in two unreleased tunes: Same In L.A. and a Bolin / Paice jam that's pretty hot.
No clue if there are plans to release this in the USA, but it's well worth tracking down on import. Come taste the band...again!
Deep Purple - The Book of Taliesyn (Spitfire Records)
Well, it's about time! This landmark album from 1968 never had more than a fair mastering onto CD until now. It was certainly worth the wait. The Book of Taliesyn, the second Deep Purple album, has never sounded better.
When I was a teen, songs like Shield, Anthem, and Listen, Learn, Read On were essential in guiding me toward progressive music. At the time Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Ian Paice, Nic Simper, and Rod Evans pushed the Pop/Rock genre into some very interesting places.
The remastering is sterling, with Nic Simper's bass sounding especially fat. 5 bonus tracks, copious notes, and rare photos make The Book of Taliesyn a downright bargain! Spitfire have also released equally fine remasters of Purple's 1st & 3rd albums: Shades of Deep Purple and Deep Purple. All are worthy investments.
Joe Deninzon & Stratospheerius - Live Wires (D-Zone Entertainment)
Live fusion hot as a habenero! These guys kick major colon! The feel is Jeff Beck meets Takanaka with a hint of Dregs - hot rockin' jazz fusion that never lets up. Deninzon is wicked on electric violin - his fingers are on fire! Jake Ezra matches him note for note on guitar, and the rhythm section of Ron Baron on bass & drummer Lucianna Padmore are twin firecrackers. There are a few "jam band" elements here, but never to a point of annoyance.
I was enthralled by their reinventing of The Simpson's theme and a cool cover of Frank Zappa's "Magic Fingers" from the "2000 Motels" soundtrack. Deninzon originals like "What's That Thang" and "An Evening Nap In The Afternoon Sun" are tasty, tasty fusion. While not in the prog realm, if your tastes run to "Blow By Blow" era Jeff Beck, Weather Report, or Steve Vai, you'll find "Live Wires" has much to offer.
Michael Des Barres - Hot N Sticky Live (MDB)
My first memory of Marquis Michael Des Barres is as one of the rebellious students in the classic film To Sir, With Love. Of course there was the band Detective in the 70s, Chequered Past in the 80s, Power Station playing Live Aid with Des Barres as frontman, and other solo and group projects. So, what does MDB do now? Quite simply: he rocks!
Hot N Sticky Live is a fun old school rock romp. Des Barres has a whiskey-tinged voice that reminds me of Steve Marriott with a pinch of Bon Scott. Not a bad place to be! Des Barres is backed by a solid unit: David Goodstein on drums, Paul Ill on bass, Damon Fox on keyboards, Mark Tremalgia on guitar. Tremalgia's a bad boy who's not afraid of hot guitar solos and Fox has a great Hammond sound.
Songs like Carnaby Street, the plaintive Please Stay, and Your Pain Killer are accented with a few choice covers. We get Detective Man from Des Barres' stint in Detective. Bang A Gong (Get It On) - T Rex via Power Station. Stop, In The Name Of Love, and speaking of Steve Marriott - I Don't Need No Doctor. All get hot treatment.
Hot N Sticky Love harkens back to the days when the live rock album ruled. Cheap Trick, Ted Nugent, Judas Priest, Peter Frampton, Foghat - you get the idea. Full of sweat and beer and black lace bras. Nasty in the best possible way!
D.F.A. - 4th (MoonJune Records)
One thought crossed my mind as I listened to this album: D.F.A. is the bridge between Hatfield And The North, and National Health. 4th combines the jazz sensibilities of the latter with the whimsical Canterbury elements of the former, and they're not even British!
The album opens with Baltasaurus, a long, winding piece with delicacy and dynamics, dominated by the awe-inspiring keys of Alberto Bonomi. Flying Trip and Vietato Generalizzare offer more lilting Fender Rhodes and the tasty licks of Silvio Minella on guitar. This guy his hot without a need to overwhelm a piece. Next we look at Mosoq Runa. This one is all about construction, moments and precision. Get about 9 minutes in and listen to those bits of reverse sticking by drummer Alberto DeGrandis and how Luca Baldassari's bass stays immaculately in the pocket no matter the timing or tempo shift.
The Mirror has a touch of vocals from DeGrandis, slowly washed away in the gentle tide of instruments. The album closes with La Ballata De Sisposa 'e Mannore, with guest vocals by Elena Nulchis, Christina Lanzi and Egidiana Carta - collectively known as "Andhira." A great closer with fine guitar work. 4th is a major statement well worth the years in making. Welcome to the big stage, D.F.A. So nice to hear you!
District 97 - Hybrid Child (Laser's Edge)
Oh my God! A prog band with a female vocalist who's not from Europe! Not too many of those. As many know, this is the band with the former American Idol contestant, Leslie Hunt. District 97 is an ensemble that would strike fear into the heart of Simon Cowell. Hard rocking prog with a cello, odd time signatures, inside-out harmonies, chords Randy Jackson would hate. How dare they?!
For all the attention the fetching Miss Hunt (Does she have a brother named Mike?) gets, drummer Jonathan Schang is running the show. Schang wrote or co-wrote the entire album. It shows. You can just tell "drummer" music. It's built so heavily on the beat, as to be ridiculous. In a great way, I must add. Schang and bassist Patrick Mulcahy are totally locked. Guitarist, Jim Tashjian is right there with them. Rob Clearfield's keys widen the spectrum and add punch. Katinka Kleijn's cello floats atop it all, linked closely to Hunt - at times doubling her vocal melodies, at others, a deft counterpoint.
Songs like I Can't Take You With Me, Termites and the epic Mindscan have some roots in classic prog, but they are very modern. This is ass-kicking, aggressive stuff. For a band that looks like two hot chicks hanging out with the high school science club, District 97 are truly a force to be reckoned with!
Drift - Driftsongs (Driftsongs)
Drift is an East coast progressive quartet comprised of Jack Blair (vox, keys, guitar), Steve Gio (bass), Evan Jacobson (drums), and Dave Scags (guitars). Their style is definitely symphonic prog with some world influences creeping in.
Driftsongs starts strong with the majestic instrumental La Vaca Baila. It swooshes in and builds well to a dramatic finish. Ned Untrumped has a bit of Middle Eastern flavor to it, and I'm especially fond of the guitar and drum work in the center solo section. Faker opens with ultra crunchy guitar and loping bass that kicks the song to a dark place. The Audition Room starts with lovely Steve Hackett-ish picked figures that builds more than a bit like Cinema Show in structure to be a coincidence. Overlook is a nice rocker with a catchy beat - nice tune! A Goodbye Greeting closes the album with great Brit sounding jangly guitars - Lush meets XTC - not a bad sound at all!
My single caveat is the vocals. Blair has a very toneless, amateur voice. He's great on keyboards, just have him shut up. Have him write and play and bring in a pro sounding singer. Drift is a band with great songs and tons of potential. It just needs to take it to that next level to reap deeper rewards.
East Of Eden - Snafu (Eclectic)
I remember seeing the album covers. I vaguely knew that Dave Arbus, East Of Eden's violinist, was the guy on the Who's classic "Baba O'Reilly." I just had no idea how they sounded. "Snafu," the band's sophomore release circa 1970 deftly combines avant garde jazz with a Van Der Graaf Generator sort of twisted prog rock. Even that is underselling this album. The experimentation and invention are nothing short of stunning.
Numbers such as "Leaping Beauties For Rudy Marcus Junior" and "Gum Arabic Confucius" take you on audio excursions into places few have tread. Jazzy, world, impossible to define slices of pure bizarreness ooze creativity. The remaster is respectful of the era - it sounds like 1970, dammit! Get this now. Hurry up before it goes out of print!
Egg - Egg (Eclectic)
Egg was the short-lived trio of keyboardist Dave Stewart, bassist/vocalist Mont Campbell, & drummer Clive Brooks. You can feel the development of the Canterbury style emerging from psychedelia on this 1970 release. Campbell's vocals are trippy in an early Mothers Of Invention sort of way and his bass playing is fluid & grand. Brooks is at times a basher and at times gentle as a lamb. Stewart is, well, Stewart. Even in these early days, he explores his chordal options, adding a jazzy flair to every piece.
Eclectic's expanded remaster sounds rich and alive. It has a sort of analog depth that shows off the bass end beautifully without getting muddy. A piece like "Fugue In D Minor" shines with Procol Harum-like glory. Egg's debut is a disc of historic importance to the prog world that is also listenable as all get out. Classic stuff.
Electric Light Orchestra - Out Of The Blue (Epic / Legacy)
A big album of my teens. 1977 was when this double album was released. It had great packaging and a t-shirt ad inside featuring a girl with blow dried hair that looked just like Mrs Wenzel, a beautiful art teacher I had in 1975/76, and my only teacher crush.
30 years later, the ad may be gone, but Electric Light Orchestra never sounded better. In the harsh acidic glow of the Sex Pistols and true punk on the rise, ELO had a sound like creamery butter - rich, thick, and smoooooth. Every song here is utterly commercial, hook laden pop music. I wouldn't have it any other way. It's Over, Night In The City, Mr. Blue Sky, Sweet Talkin' Woman, Turn To Stone. Stacks of harmonies, strings, choirs, layers of strumming acoustic guitars. Pop heaven for the ears. ELO would never scale these heights again.
The 30th anniversary remaster sounds gorgeous. Clarity, depth, and separation of instruments are sublime. There is quite a bit going on on each cut, yet nothing ever sounds cluttered or muddy. Out Of The Blue sounds better than ever. An important album treated with the dignity it deserves.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Love Beach (BMG/Manticore)
Yes, Love Beach - the unholy dreaded one. The one where ELP are tan and dressed like the Bee Gees. There is a brand new remaster of it with bonus tracks.
Honestly? It's better than I remember! I mean, it's not Tarkus, but that's an unreasonable bar to set. I think it's fair to say it's a frothy pop album with a bit of prog in there. The new remaster sounds very nice I must say. Clear and round. Not too loud. The best it's ever sounded to be sure. A song like The Gambler has a clarity I've not heard in the past. Canario is just lovely. Carl Palmer's drums have a fine depth to them.
This disc includes alternate mixes of 5 tracks and 3 1978 rehearsal out-takes. Most interesting! Journalist Chris Welch adds engrossing notes and recent interview bits that put the album in proper perspective. It's odd, but I'm listening to this one more than I anticipated. A bit like an old friend you forgot you had.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Works Volume 2 (Manticore/BMG)
If 17 year old me was underwhelmed by Works Volume 1 back in 1977, Works Volume 2 certainly lifted my spirits. OK, it wasn't Brain Salad Surgery or Tarkus... It was an odds & sods set. A set with more than a few rewards. Tiger In A Spotlight, When The Apple Blossoms Bloom In The Windmills Of Your Mind I'll Be Your Valentine, Brain Salad Surgery, Barrelhouse Shake-Down, Maple Leaf Rag, and Close But Not Touching all delivered the goods.
This 2 CD 2017 remaster adds Works Live to sweeten the pot further. Peter Gunn, Knife Edge, Abaddon's Bolero, and a fine Tank are just a few of the highlights here. The Works numbers sound much fresher in a live setting. Less...corny. Certainly less sterile.
The remaster truly lets both albums breathe and shine. Neither album ever sucked sonically. These Manticore/BMG versions sure are sweet. Well worth owning!
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Works Volume 1 (Manticore/BMG)
It's odd what one recalls. In the case of Works Volume 1, my most vivid memory is that it was the first album I owned that came with deluxe lined sleeves. My folks weren't much into classical music, which was the deluxe lined sleeve music of choice back in 1977. The vinyl itself also seemed thicker, heavier as I recall. That was 40 years ago. I had played the Hell out of my ELP collection to that point. In fairness, Pictures At An Exhibition much less than the others. To my young ears it always sounded too sloppy and empty. After I listened to Works Volume 1, my anticipation had turned to...disappointment. Keith Emerson's sounds on Fanfare For The Common Man and Pirates sounded like an electric whistling keyboard harmonica kinda thingie. Sadly, he tenaciously hung on to that sound right until the end of his career.
"Yawn" summed up the Emerson Concerto. I was 17 and wanted ELP to sound like ELP. Not Arthur Fiedler's ELP. Divine and universal whore complete me summed up the Greg Lake side. Carl Palmer's side was...ummm...certainly well played. Nothing I went back to very often. Works Volume 1 was the band side only, as far as my ears were concerned. I much preferred Pirates of the 2 tracks. It was all like finding out that your precious girlfriend was handing out blowjobs to the neighborhood. The bloom was off the rose.
The fidelity on this remaster is gorgeous. Redolent in tone. Clarity. Depth. Honesty. You surely couldn't ask for better. Chris Welch's notes feature revealing reflections from Greg Lake. Awesome package. I still feel exactly the same about the music as I did 40 years ago. If Works Volume 1 has always floated your bout, this is the version for you!
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Once Upon A Time In South America (Rock Beat)
What we have here is quite a collection! 3 Emerson, Lake & Palmer concerts spread across 4 discs. 2 concerts are from the 1993 Black Moon tour. Concert #3 is from the 1997 tour supporting In The Hot Seat. Chile and Argentina host the first 2. Rio De Janeiro, Brazil the third.
A good chunk of the classics are represented. Tarkus, Hoedown, From The Beginning, Knife Edge, Pirates, Honky Tonk Train Blues, Lucky Man and Pictures At An Exhibition are among the many here. Paper Blood, Black Moon, and Touch And Go are the most recent tracks in these sets.
Sound quality is great. Performances have a clam or two, but that's just the nature of live performance with no overdubs. Jim Allen contributes informative liner notes. Nice photos from the time. Once Upon A Time In South America is a worthy addition to every Emerson, Lake & Palmer fan's collection. A piece of audio history.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Live At Montreux 1997 (Eagle)
Emerson, Lake & Palmer had been off the road for a few years as both Emerson & Palmer had hand issues and needed time to recuperate. They went back on the road in 1996/97 and hit the Montreux Jazz Festival in July of 1997. Here we have a 2 CD set of the show. It starts off a bit shaky with Karn Evil 9 - First Impression Part 2. Everyone seems a bit out of sync with each other. Tiger In A Spotlight sees them getting on the same page. Hoedown and Touch And Go are downright confident! From The Beginning, Knife Edge, and Bitches Crystal are definite early highlights.
Keith Emerson takes a solo with Creole Dance. Honky Tonk Train Blues is a bit loose but tons of fun. Disc 1 closes strong with Take A Pebble. Disc 2 leads off with Lucky Man. Greg Lake's voice is a wee bit pitchy on this one, but the spirit is most definitely there. The 1st half of Tarkus follows. The band drop the ball a bit here - A bit clunky on Eruption and very noodly- doodly on Stones Of Years as well as way too mellow. A key point of Tarkus had always been that propulsive energy. Iconoclast and Mass return to proper form, then the trio cut straight into Pictures At An Exhibition for about the final 8 minutes. Perhaps not the most satisfying segment of the discs. Disc 2 closes on a massive medley: Fanfare For The Common Man / Carmina Burana / drum solo / Rondo / Toccata And Fugue In D Minor.
Packaging is nice. Sound is great. Live At Montreux 1997 most definitely has some awesome moments. It also has its share of bunts. Overall, the brilliant outweighs the boring and it's most certainly worth a listen. Fun but not essential.
Emerson Lake & Palmer - Tarkus (Razor & Tie)
Yes, I know. It's Tarkus. Just like me, you've heard it a million zillion times. Why do you need to buy it again? Well, to be honest, because this one is worth your time. It's 3 discs. Disc 1 is the mix of Tarkus we all know and love, painstakingly remastered by Steven Wilson. Not a note is changed or moved around in any way.
Disc 2, well, different story. Wilson created an new mixes that differs here and there from the original. It's a nice new way to listen, and purists can listen to disc 1 if they hate the fresh ears on this one. Disc 2 also includes 2 numbers from the sessions previously unheard. The plaintive Oh, My Father, and the folksy Unknown Ballad with a nice vocal courtesy of Keith Emerson. There is also an extended alternate instrumental take of Mass that gives a bit of insight into the recording process for the title suite.
Disc 3 is a DVD featuring a new 5.1 mix of the album plus Oh, My Father as well as the mixes on disc 2. A great booklet packed with photos and insights into the sessions and Wilson's thoughts on the album and the mixes. A stellar package.
Emerson, Lake & Palmer - Isle Of Wight 1970 (Eagle Rock)
This is one of those Dual Discs with CD on one side, DVD on the other. Isle Of Wight 1970 gives us the debut performance of the trio. The CD side is straight stereo audio of the concert. The DVD presents it in 5.1 surround and has a documentary mixing recent interviews with concert footage. The audio sounds honest and spiffy, and the video quality is surprisingly nice.
The show is Pictures At An Exhibition, Take A Pebble, Rondo, and Nutrocker. I can't help but feel that Take A Pebble and Rondo are edited a bit. Keith Emerson is strong but loose, Carl Palmer is 100% energy, and Greg Lake plays solid bass but his voice is a bit pitchy.
Listening to this over 35 years later, you can hear stars in the making. There is an excitement, an energy here that is undeniable. This is a must own not just for ELP fans, but for prog aficianados of all types. A chunk of progressive history right in your hands!
Eureka - Shackleton's Voyage (Tempus Fugit / SPV)
When done well, I love albums that tell me a story. Rick Wakeman's Journey To The Center Of The Earth or Roger Glover's charming The Butterfly Ball spring to mind. Shackleton's Voyage is a kindred spirit in that regard. Narrated by Ian Dickinson and featuring guest spots by Troy Donockley, Billy Sherwood, Yogi Lang and Kalema, the album tells the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton's heroic 1914 expedition to Antarctica.
The project is the child of multi-instrumentalist Frank Bossert and it's clearly a child born of love. While songs like The Challenge and Will You Ever Return? work well as individual pieces, the 15 tracks truly take the listener on an audio journey through trials and triumphs. I really enjoy the keyboard work - memorable, but never over the top. Everything you hear serves the narrative.
Stylistically, I heard Oldfield and later period Camel with a strong infusion of world music. For prog fans, this is an album you can play around your non-prog friends - it really reaches through the genres, while remaining accessible. Shackleton's Voyage is a journey you'll happily take over and over.
Donald Fagen - Sunken Condos (Reprise)
I'm in an out-of-the-way club sitting at a table in the corner, nursing a bev at 2 AM. Young girls in too short skirts giggle and slide through the room. The place smells of liquor, polished wood, and promises. This album is playing over the system. That's the feel. Late night music for a place that's cooler than any of us really are, but always want to be.
Sunken Condos is Donald Fagen's strongest piece of work since The Nightfly. His pop and jazz sensibilities have never been sharper. What the years have added to a song like I'm Not The Same Without You is confidence and maturity. Fagen knows the value of a note, so he wastes none. Every bar of Weather In My Head takes your ear where it needs to go. Motion meets emotion meets savvy meets charm.
Just listen to Miss Marlene. I dare you to get it out of your head. It grooves coolly with a vocal that draws you in teasingly. The chords and the arrangement have a sense of sophisticated yearning. Planet D'Rhonda completes the 9 song journey on a slightly bluesy / jazzy note. It's a great cool-off to a smokin' & smoky album. Don't worry - track 1 is beckoning you to start all over again. Fagen knows you'll be back, friend.
Fairport Convention With Sandy Denny - Ebbets Field 1974 (itsaboutmusic.com)
Sandy Denny, Trevor Lucas, Jerry Donahue, and the three Daves: Pegg, Swarbrick, Mattacks. One of my two fave Fairport line ups (The other being the three Daves plus Simon Nicol). Imagine my surprise and delight when this CD showed up in my mailbox! Over an hour of live Fairport Convention unheard by these ears. With Sandy Denny, no less!
A stellar selection of songs here: Solo, The Hexhamshire Lass, John The Gun, Fiddlestix, Dirty Linen, Who Knows Where The Time Goes, Sloth, It'll Take A Long Time, Matty Groves, The Medley, Down In The Flood. As a man of 50 as I write this, I take no shame in saying that Sloth brought a tear to my eye and a lump to my throat.
The sound is top flight - I was amazed at how nice it sounds. It was lovingly mastered by none other than Jerry Donahue, who also contributed liner notes. Ebbets Field 1974 chronicles a band at the height of its powers. A beautiful document that every Fairport fanatic must own.
Fairport Convention - Over The Next Hill (Compass Records)
I picture a plush den, all oak & leather with bookshelves and a globe. The air smells faintly of pipe tobacco. There's a comfortable coat over an old leather chair. Comfort and elegance. That's this album in a nutshell. Classy, melodic British folk rock. Fairport own the patent on this sort of music. At this point in time, the band is comprised of Simon Nicol, Dave Pegg, Ric Sanders, Chris Leslie, & Gerry Conway. For those who may not be aware, these guys can play. Listen to "Canny Capers" if any doubts exist. "Over The Next Hill" is packed with great tunes. "I'm Already There" blows my mind with emotionally moving chord changes and a fantastic chorus. "The Wassail Song" reminds me of "Bonny Bunch Of Roses" era Fairport in the hands of this masterful lineup. "Westward" and the title track will make you sing along by the 2nd chorus.
For a band that's been around over 35 years, this CD sounds pretty darned fresh. The only sign of age is the knowledge of knowing where not to play, where to leave little spaces open for a vocal to resonate, for a lyric to hang. While many older bands make a career out of looking backward, Fairport Convention are looking ahead - over the next hill and far beyond.
Rob Fetters - Saint Ain't (Baby Ranch)
Raisin / Bear / psychodot Rob Fetters is back with more! For Saint Ain't he's brought along a passel of pals including fellow 'dots Bob Nyswonger and Chris (Deathy) Arduser. If you know Fetters, you know what to expect. If not, read on.
Twisty / turny introspective nakedly honest emotional pop rock with strong vocals and inventive guitars. Hell, with inventive everything. A new Fetters album is basically a chronicle of his life since the last album.
If you feel, you're gonna suffer. Stick with me and you won't cry alone he sings on Suffer. Hopefully cynical. Famous Last Words is sung by guest vocalist Bee Haskins in a suitably sarcastic tone. The last words the title talks about?: It seemed like a good idea at the time. I laughed out loud the first time I listened. Too true!
Forever Never feels like it's dealing with issues of faith that many wrestle with. Nice drums from Fetters' son Noah. What You Do is a deceptively spare piece about life, karma, consequences. The quirkalicious God Is War has a great line: I still can't understand why I didn't resist until the road rose up to meet my face and felt just like a concrete fist. Classic!
Play Your Guitar will be deeply understood by every musician, I promise. Walking Out is a lovely conclusion to the album. 11 great tracks. Not a single dog. Pop for adults. Find it. Buy it. Listen. Repeat.
Tim Finn - Feeding The Gods (What Are Records?)
The term "journeyman" is often synonymous with "burnout." Thankfully, not in the case of Tim Finn. From his days as a creative spark in Split Enz to his wonderful work in Crowded House, ALT, and Finn, Tim Finn's journey has taken him 'round the world and back. His most recent release, "Feeding The Gods," finds this journeyman making an album for adults. Not because it's explicit & rude - it's not. It is a work of sophistication and maturity from a stellar songwriter.
Songs like "Sawdust And Splinters" and "Party Was You" are personal, simple, direct. The years have taught Finn what a song doesn't need - he strips away the excess and leaves the meat. It works. Tim Finn's voice illuminates every corner of every piece with experience and honesty. Great musician - great music.
Fish - The Moveable Feast (Chocolate Frog Records)
Here we have a 4 disc set covering Fish's 2013 - 2015 European tour. We get 2 full shows: October 25th 2013 in Karlsruhe and October 29th 2014 in Wurzburg.
My first thought listening to the Karlsruhe show was: hot band! Foss Paterson on keyboards; Robin Boult on guitars; Steve Vantsis on bass; Gavin Griffiths on drums. Of course, the Fish himself on vocals. The word I come back to is confident. Perhaps assured fits just as well.
Perfume River is a strong and moody opener. Fish climbs in and drives everyone forward. Feast Of Consequences is a nice follow. The 2 numbers flow well together. Script For A Jester's Tear threw me a memory today. I was 23 in 1983 seeing Fish with Marillion for the very first time at Toad's Place in New Haven (with Camel alumnus Andy Ward on drums). My friend Joni was in love with Fish and it took ages to pry her out of the club to ride back home! Unforgettable! This new take adds a new layer, a new perspective as it carries the weight of experience, of maturity while looking back at young love lost.
Dark Star and All Loved Up take us forward. Vantsis' low end helps drive Dark Star. Boult and Fish shine together on All Loved Up. What Colour Is God? carries extra bite as our lunatic leader has just bombed Syria and Afghanistan. A much needed reminder that we all need to wake up and shake the hands of our brothers and sisters and not spit on their children because of belief of skin. Blind To The Beautiful sits as a small gem in this set. Achingly poetic. Mr. 1470 is a personal fave. Suits stands as my fave Fish album to date and this song is an excellent testament to the quality of that release. The band just knocks it out of the park! Disc 1 closes with a compelling reading of He Knows You Know. It drives home the seamless narrative of Fish's career. There are no awkward fits here. Over 3 decades later this warning about drugs resonates as deeply and sincerely as when it was created.
Disc 2 continues the Karlsruhe 2013 gig. It begins with a trip back to WWI courtesy of Crucifix Corner, The Gathering, and Thistle Alley. The numbers are charged with power and purpose. Crucifix Corner is the set up. The Gathering puts me in mind of the locals sending their boys off to war with the best hopes in their hearts. Thistle Alley is the dose of reality. This is followed by a big medley. I recall much of this being played when I saw the shows for Sunsets On Empire. Assassing / Credo / Tongues / Assassing (reprise) / Fugazi / White Feather / View From A Hill. View From A Hill is the only one we didn't get back then as I recall. Griffiths and the crowd are the real stars here. Quite a bonding moment.
Fish starts the encores with a goofy, fun take of Freaks that had me grinning and singing. Lucky is celebratory as Hell, and The Company is the perfect coda. There's a lot of deep stuff going on but Fish and the lads still know they're there to entertain the punters who chose to see them that night!
For discs 3 and 4 it's a year later and we're now in Wurzburg. Foss Paterson is off to other endeavors and John Beck from It Bites has been tapped for the keyboard slot. Beck is a great fit and his different textures add a new dimension to the mix!
Bagpipes walk us into Perfumed River once more. It's a perfect nightmare in an imperfect world Fish intones. The band is even tighter than the year before. Feast Of Consequences is once again in the #2 slot in the set. All is rolling. Fish is in fine fettle. A strong Manchmal washes waves of bass across my ears. Arc Of A Curve is perhaps the most hopeful number in a very dark first half of this set. As if to prove that point, here comes the entire High Wood suite. High Wood, Crucifix Corner, The Gathering, Thistle Alley, and The Leaving weave a powerful spell. A patient, attentive audience is well rewarded by a incendiary band delivering the goods on a complex set piece. Breathtaking!
Disc 4 brings us old pals. Slainte Mhath is a kick in the pants with Boult rockin' those riffs. An eerie Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors is owned lock, stock, & barrel by Fish. Here comes Big Wedge sounding more like 2016/17 than 2014! Didn't I just live this? Heart Of Lothian is a romantic contrast, exuding youth and dreams. The anger of Incubus continues to resonate and The Company is once again the perfect capper.
Packaging is classy and jammed with photos and notes. Sound quality is off the hook. You are there. The Moveable Feast is sushi grade Fish and utterly essential!
Fish - Fellini Days (Remastered) (Chocolate Frog Records)
I cannot recall why I was late to the party on this album. I believe I finally bought the CD around 2004 / 2005. Perhaps it was as foolish as I didn't like the cover? I doubt that as it's never stopped me before. More likely it was because it came out at a very financially strapped time for me combined with my disappointment in the album before it at that time. When I did get off my fat ass and picked up Fellini Days, I absolutely loved it. An aside here - I since grew to love Raingods With Zippos - it was, as they say, a grower. This remaster of Fellini Days is top notch and sounds even more widescreen than the original!
Disc 1 is a remaster of the original album. As I said - more w i d e s c r e e n. In high definition and fully saturated Technicolor. Cuts like 3D, Tiki 4, So Fellini, and the grand Clock Moves Sideways are wild headphone experiences. So many revealed bits make themselves known without distracting.
Disc 2 is demos, bonus tracks, and alternate takes. A sort of works in progress sketchbook of a disc.
Disc 3 is live versions of most of the album tracks. The time frame spans 2001 - 2012 and includes a version of So Fellini from the 2008 Nearfest.
As one has come to expect from our dear Fish, the package comes with extensive notes and lots of exclusive photos. All in a fine hardcover book. You truly need this gorgeous remaster!
Fish - Sunsets On Empire (Remastered) (Chocolate Frog Records)
Here we have Sunsets On Empire all polished up with a new 3 CD remaster with demo stuff & live stuff as well as a bonus studio track & radio edits. Quite the deluxe treatment. I recall at the time how this was seen as a big turning point for Fish. He'd hooked up with Steven Wilson, who I was unaware of at the time. The album was much darker than the previous - Suits - and very modern. Lots of loops and samples and a crunchy sort of energy. I played it quite a bit and fell in love with Worm In A Bottle and Jungle Ride in particular. I caught Fish live twice on this tour and the shows were packed with a magic feel. My pal Mickey Simmonds was on keyboards and the crowds were fun.
So, disc 1 here is a remaster of the album itself. It breathes differently - deeper. I was listening to Jungle Ride and Fish's vocal has a much greater dimensionality. The drums have greater resonance. The acoustic guitars on Change Of Heart are warmer. It's a more honest experience.
Disc 2 is demos, bonus tracks, and radio edits. It fascinating to hear how tracks like The Perception Of Johnny Punter, What Colour Is God?, and Sunsets On Empire developed. The US version of The Perception Of Johnny Punter with its cleaned up 1st verse is here as well. Lots of treats!
Disc 3 is live performances. The 9 tracks run the timeline gamut from 1997 - 2006. Some of the tracks are a bit rough around the edges sonically, but the vibe is most definitely there. I wish a few of the tracks weren't quick-faded before they ended.
All 3 disc come housed in a neat hardcover book. Incredibly copious notes cover Fish's life before, during, & after the sessions. Lots of inside stuff. Plenty of photos. Lyrics are there as well. This remaster of Sunsets On Empire is a real charmer and sure to get many plays on your device of choice. Excellent, essential, and meant to be played loud!
Fish - A Feast Of Consequences (Chocolate Frog Records)
You don't buy a Fish album for flashy keyboard solos. You buy a Fish album to hear what he has to reveal about his life since the last album. Our beloved Onkel Fish uses his work as a sort of ongoing musical diary. A Feast Of Consequences is packed with emotional tales of love, life, family, war, and growing older.
The centerpiece of the album is a song cycle called The High Wood that pulls us deep into Britain's involvement during WWI. All too often, our current generation look at war as if it's a sort of videogame. Fish most eloquently reminds us that it's fought by people. Too often children. Dying. Killing. Witnessing death and dismemberment. Scarring psyches forever. The look here is unflinching. Not exactly easy listening. The rest of the album avoids the easy road as well.
Joining Fish on this journey are Foss Paterson on keys, Steve Vantsis on bass, Robin Boult on guitars, and Gavin Griffiths on drums. Liz Antwi once more adds heavenly backing vocals. All playing is confidently inspired and inspiring.
I could write a novel about this album. I don't want to waste your time. Buy it. You need it. A triumphant statement so far above the rest of the pack as to be ridiculous. Fish is every bit as potent as ever. Unforgettable.
Fish - 13th Star (Chocolate Frog Records)
A motion picture in sound. Much is remarkable about this album, not the least of which is the aural landscape. The sound on 13th Star is remarkable. The placement of instruments in the sound field is a real mindblower. There is a feeling of depth and width and dimensionality. Then there's the songs.
This is one hell of an album, perhaps Fish's finest solo release. It's a 10 song walk through a crisis of the soul, of love, anger, bitterness, despair, and ultimately, hope. Songs such as Circle Line, Zoe 25, Manchmal, and Where In The World tell the tale vividly. Fish intones much of it in a lower register that suits the lyrics very well. The familiar crew of guitarist Frank Usher, bassist Steve Vantsis, keyboardist Foss Paterson, backing vocalist Lorna Bannon, and percussionist Dave Haswell are joined by Karnataka drummer Gavin Griffiths and Mostly Autumn guitarist Chris Johnson, with production by Calum Malcolm of Runrig fame.
It's a heavy, crunchy, grungy album in spots, yet absolutely beautiful in others. This is a great example of what prog can be - classically dense and exotic, yet totally modern rhythmically. 13th Star is satisfying on every level. Uncle Fish has taken a tale, infused it with a bit of personal tragedy, and recorded it for posterity. A brave album of naked emotion that is a high water mark in an already brilliant career.
Fish - Communion (Chocolate Frog Records)
This double unplugged set was recorded at St Mary's church in Haddington, East Lothian on August 27, 2006. A fine set it is. A massive ensemble backs Uncle Fish on this one. Frank Usher and Andy Trill on guitars, Steve Vantsis on bass, and Tony Turrell on keyboards. Gavin Griffiths on drums and Dave Haswell on percussion. Heather Findlay on vox, bodhran, & low whistle, and Angela Gordon on vox, flute, & penny whistle. Anne Marie Helder and Fish's daughter Tara, both on vox, round out the band. What a joyous sound they make!
Favourite Stranger just decimates the studio original in every way. Shot The Craw is transformed into a glorious, sparkling gem. State Of Mind gains a bit of Miles Davis jazz in its undercarriage and some gospel on top. In light of more recent events, Just Good Friends takes on a sad edge. Heartbreaking. Change Of Heart never sounded better nor as full of energy. Lady Let It Lie and A Gentleman's Excuse Me seem as if they were always meant to be together - 2 pieces that fit perfectly. Rites Of Passage reminds me of a hymn here, a prayer. Fish always does Marillion better than Marillion and Slainte Mhath & Chelsea Monday show why. Raw Meat is the perfect closer - a melancholy but resolute anthem.
The band is 100% monster. Every player on the top of their game. Fish is having a great night, voice full of drama and emotion. Sound quality is just awesome - every string, every cymbal clear and well balanced. Another jewel in the fishy crown!
Fish - Return To Childhood (Snapper / Chocolate Frog)
It's the 287th double live CD from Fish. Honestly, Fish puts out quite a few live discs, doesn't he? Better too many than too few, it can be argued. Return To Childhood is definitely one of the very best he's done. Hot band, good song selection, nice sound quality, great packaging.
Disc 1 is all solo material. Big Wedge, Moving Targets, Brother 52, Goldfish And Clowns, Raingods Dancing, Wake Up Cal (Make It Happen), Innocent Party, Long Cold Day, & Credo are the songs represented.
Disc 2 revisits the Marillion days. The entire Misplaced Childhood album, plus Incommunicado, Market Square Heroes, & Fugazi are what you get.
The band are fabulous. Drummer John Tonks comes close to stealing the show with his powerhouse playing. Bassist Steve Vantsis is totally in the pocket. Tony Turrell adds tremendous color on keys. Frank Usher and Andy Trill are flawless on twin guitars - brothers joined at the neck. Deborah Ffrench is a fine backing vocalist, but at times her voice in the mix competes with Fish's lines. Fish himself is in very decent voice and full of emotion and attitude.
Lots of standout tracks. Big Wedge, Brother 52, and Long Cold Day on the solo disc all roar with emotion. The entirety of disc 2 is like visiting old friends. Return To Childhood is a solid career resume wrapped up in an outstanding Mark Wilkinson sleeve. Now into his 3rd decade in the public eye, Uncle Fish still has much to say.
Fish - Field Of Crows (Chocolate Frog Records)
We all have our preferences. As far as Fish goes, I prefer a fired-up Fish. On "Field Of Crows," that's what I got. Full of passion and fire, it leaves the releases between it and "Sunsets On Empire" in the dust. "The Field" and "Innocent Party" mix power with cynicism, pride and regret.
It's great to see Frank Usher and Mark Brzezicki back on board - both bring back that great fishy feel. Fish is in fine voice - a bit lower in tone, a bit more mature - which only add to the power of the pieces. Even a fun piece like "Zoo Class" still has an underlying bite and world weariness to it. Fish has found his groove, it seems. A pointed observer of the underbelly of society - poking bravely where other writers fear to tread. A mighty album. A mighty statement of unbowed maturity.
Flash - In Public (AdequatEsounds)
In Public is subtitled Udder Chaos / Live At Cowtown Ballroom and documents Flash live from 1/21/1973 in Kansas City. Peter Banks, Ray Bennett, Colin Carter, and Mike Hough catch fire on a snowy night.
The performances here are explosive. The material sounds many notches above the studio versions. As a live ensemble Flash turned pieces inside-out. The energy is high. Small Beginnings, Black And White, Stop That Banging, There No More, Children Of The Universe, and Dreams Of Heaven sing with electricity and are full of improvisation. Drummer Hough and bassist Bennett are a relentless rhythm section as well as being virtuoso players. Banks is a firestorm of sounds, riffs, and notes - constantly inventing and reinventing. Carter is a totally engaging vocalist flying on top of it all. Great live voice. I love the Wishbone Ash- like vocal harmonies as well.
Great package. Funny cover. Nice rare live photos. Lovely booklet with various musicians and Flash crew from Pete Townshend to Steve Howe to Steve Hackett to Davy O'List remembering the late, great Peter Banks. Notes from the man himself written shortly from his demise. Sound quality is much better than I expected - pretty darned nice. A lovely coda to the memory of Peter Banks.
Flash - In The Can (Esoteric)
In my youth, Flash were that band with the naughty covers. The kind men like they used to say. The covers are still naughty. The music inside the covers has just been given a new pair of panties and a bra, courtesy of Esoteric.
In The Can is very much a product of 1972. Also very Peter Banks in terms of sound. His guitar dominates the proceedings - preening, smoking, stalking, crying, riffing. He is very ably backed by Ray Bennett on bass and Michael Hough on drums. Vocalist Colin Carter is another matter. 30 some odd years haven't helped me warm up to his shouty vocals. The clarity of this remaster just makes him sound louder, if anything. Still, the instrumental moments here are grand.
A single version of Lifetime and Watch Your Step are bonus tracks added for good measure. Nice, generous booklet with lots of pics and historical notes - all you'd come to expect from Esoteric. If Flash was/is your bag, you'll love this lush remaster.
Frank Flight Band - Remains (Frank Flight Band)
While this act is new to me, this is their 3rd release. They are a psych/prog band out of North West England, led by guitarist Frank Flight. Flight is a mighty tasty player with a strong and confident tone. Quite an old school player which is refreshing in this age of anonymous shredders.
The Ballad Of Alice Grey opens the album. Blues-based with a gutsy vocal by Andy Wrigley and a strong outro by Flight. Dark Waters follows. Woody Woodward's keys immediately grabbed me. A sort of Animals-meet-Doors vibe to this one. You're speaking my language, guys! Remains is next. A moody vibe here. Nice chord progressions. Danny Taylor's bass is outstanding and is well matched with Dave Veres' drumming. The Island has a sort of Famous Charisma Label vibe. I'm feeling it would work well with Audience or Bell + Arc. Digging this one a lot. Razor Glass is a composition from 2nd guitarist Alex Kenny. A Floydian feel here. Imagine Breathe recorded in the Atom Heart Mother era. Sinaloa is another Kenny piece. More Animals / early Eric Burdon feel. A nice zone to be in. The album closes with Cat. PsycheDoorlic! A fine ending.
All in all, a delicious album. Put on your grubbiest jeans, light up a bit of incense, and kick back on your bed. Worth tracking down for a blast of retro goodness!
The Flower Kings - Desolation Rose (InsideOut)
I am sitting here listening to Tower One from this album. I've done this many times. Each time it blows me away. It's everything I love about this band and it utilizes each member perfectly. Roine Stolt's vocals in the right spots. Hasse Froberg's vocals placed and spaced just where they ought to be. Jonas Reingold's bass at times majestic, at others pumping away in an explosive frenzy. Tomas Bodin's keyboards: the lines, the textures, the character. Genius. Felix Lehrmann impeccable drumming is, well, impeccable! All under the eye of Roine Stolt. Not only guiding but adding jaw-dropping guitar flourishes. At 13:37, Tower One feels short. I don't want it to end. It uplifts. It satisfies the itch for that perfect chord.
Happily, there's more. Lots more. 2 discs worth. Joy! Songs like Sleeping Bones with a tidal wave of a big riff. White Tuxedos pulses eerily like a voice of doom. So dark. The Resurrection Judas is a mood-changing pressure cooker with scorching guitar. Last Carnivore with huge lumbering drums and sinister keyboards feels unsafe before a chorus temporarily heals it. Dark Fascist Skies opens in a Zappa-esque mode as it runs on another riffzilla. Very political. Blood Of Eden features a gorgeous Froberg vocal. Silent Graveyards is almost a hymn, bringing the album to a close.
The bonus disc is no less potent. Runaway Train is aptly titled. Listen to that bass! Killer vocal harmonies as well. The slow, spacey Interstellar Visitations really gives a sharp focus on Reingold and Bodin - not to mention Stolt's bold guitar vistas. Lazy Monkey is just plain goofy fun. Psalm 2013 is breathtaking. Badbeats pretty much blew my mind. Lehrmann rules on Burning Spears. The Final Era closes us out wonderfully.
Desolation Rose has an adventure in every listen. Sonic bliss is guaranteed.
The Flower Kings - Banks Of Eden (InsideOut)
Well, welcome back, gentlemen! It's been a bit of time between albums - especially in Flower Kings terms. Oh, a new drummer! Felix Lehrmann is his name. As one might expect, he's a monster player. A bit more of a rocker than the past 47 Flower Kings drummers. I like that! The rest of the dynamic ensemble remains: Stolt / Froberg / Bodin / Reingold. Let us dig in...
Banks Of Eden opens with Numbers - a 25 minute + epic. You knew it had to. It seems to be a statement about the current state of society and the planet we occupy. Interesting lyrics set to some intense music. Excellent start to the album! Even more cynical is For The Love Of Gold. Hasse Froberg turns in a beautiful vocal here. One of my fave Roine Stolt lines ever: When the brightest art is sodomized, burn it down. You tell 'em! Love the guitar here and Tomas Bodin's winky little solo. Next up is Pandemonium - another cautionary tale that really lets the rhythm section shine. An eerie tune with rainbows turning black and blue. For Those About To Drown is just huge musically. Big, grand themes with driving keys. The lyric continues the cynical themes the previous songs touched upon - in this case a sort of crazy fairy tale. The album concludes with Rising The Imperial. Here, Stolt touches upon not quite hope as the possibility of hope and of change that exists for us all if we choose that path. Beautiful bass from Jonas Reingold here. I love the intimate vocal.
The deluxe edition contains a second disc. It opens with Illuminati - a beautiful instrumental with heavenly underpinnings. You just want this one to go on forever. Fireghosts feels like a spiritual cousin to the Space Revolver album. Quite anthemic in feel, with a great rolling rhythm. Going Up, a Reingold / Stolt composition, is a very positive piece that feels like it'd make a perfect encore with its bright energy. Did I hear a bit of minimoog snuck in there as well? LoLines ends with a bit more of the cynicism of the main album. A splendid guitar riff drives it, along with a butt whomping solo! An 18 minute band interview conducted by Per Nordin rounds out disc 2. A winner all around!
The Flower Kings - The Sum Of No Evil (InsideOut)
Money in the bank. That's the Flower Kings in a nutshell. They have yet to make a suck album. That track record continues with The Sum Of No Evil, their follow up to the delicious Paradox Hotel. Back in the fold for this album is Zoltan Csorsz on drums, brilliant as ever. A single disc with 6 tracks (there is also a 2 disc deluxe edition with bonus tracks and video stuff), love abounds as ever.
The album opens with the beautiful, melancholy One More Time, a song of longing and remembrance of things past. Big melodies on this - very thematic. Fantastic bass by Jonas Reingold. I love the double time solo section about 2/3 of the way in. The longest piece on the disc, clocking in at over 24 minutes, is the lynch pin of the album - Love Is The Only Answer. Strong chorus with a nice vocal by Roine Stolt and some powerhouse vocals by Hasse Froberg. Perfectly placed sax by Ulf Wallander and killer soloing by Stolt on geetar. So much in this piece. Tomas Bodin adds tasty rhodes and minimoog, and Hasse Bruniusson's percussive magic weaves in and out of Csorsz's drumming. I've always looked for good in everyone. I've seen so many places under the sun intones Stolt, neatly encapsulating the band philosophy.
The mood comes down a bit with the darker Trading My Soul. Slow in tempo, heavy in beat with layers of bleak keyboards - a sad number. Dropped down into the frying pan - together we will fry writes Stolt in The Sum Of No Reason, a look at the ills of our world. Lots of blazing guitar licks and juicy hammond on top of solid bass and drums. Quite a nasty ass tune! Tomas Bodin is our pilot on Flight 999 Brimstone Air - a fine, fun instrumental with a Zappa tinge or two. A real painting in sound and a showcase for the band's musical prowess.
Life In Motion closes the disc on another anthemic note, leaving us with beauty as well as an enchanting vocal by Hasse Froberg. The song swells and releases, closing with the chant of It's like coming home - coming home again. It truly is. The Sum Of No Evil is full of emotion, of hugs, kisses, starlight, and promise. And love. Lots of love.
The limited edition includes an expanded booklet, 2 behind the scenes videos, a spiff digipak, and 3 bonus tracks - The River, Turn To Stone, and the demo for Regal Divers. The River is a nice low key number that starts small and expands into technicolor on the word unfold. Turn To Stone has a definite sort of Paradox Hotel era feel ala Life Will Kill You. Regal Divers is a slow, lush instrumental highlighted by gorgeous guitar work by Stolt. All in all, well worth the extra scratch!!
The Flower Kings - The Road Back Home (InsideOut)
When you hear any given piece of music, it tends to be many elements mixed and placed in the sound field for your ears to enjoy. I'll get back to that in a moment - just wanted to plant the seed. The Road Back Home is a 2 CD compilation of shorter and in some cases shortened Flower Kings songs. 1 new song - Little Deceiver - is a stray cat from the Rainmaker sessions. The rest are all nicely remastered, many are remixed, and many have new vocal and/or instrumental bits.
Back to that sound field. Roine Stolt has remixed many songs, bringing new elements to the fore. I Am The Sun (pt. 2) is a perfect example. Acoustic guitars up front. Incidental percussion, as well. The vocal reinforced with new harmonies. A new listening experience. Interesting to hear songs you know presented in new ways.
The Road Back Home is great for those wanting to test the Flower Kings waters before diving in. A great travel set for devotees. One caveat: liner notes. Please, I implore you, get an editor or translator with a good grasp of the English language. Chickenfarmer Song still rules!
The Flower Kings - Betcha Wanna Dance Stoopid!! (Foxtrot Records)
There is a vast difference between jamming and improvisation. Jamming more often than not ends up walking the path of wanking solos meandering endlessly and reminding an audience that it's OK to go and pee. Check out the merch table. Perhaps get another drink. Improvisation is a sort of birth. Creating musical life on the spot from notes thrown into the air like sparks. This disc houses 7 improvs by the Flower Kings circa 2003. It smokes!
Now here's the fascinating thing. Roine Stolt, Captain of the Kings, writes complex, solid songs that you'd think would sound basically the same night after night. Wrong. The band use these pieces as springboards. The improvs on "Betcha Wanna Dance Stoopid!!" are songs unto themselves, not just solos. You can hear them develop & mutate. It's an electric feeling. You can only find this disc at live gigs and on the internet. If you are up for audio adventure, here tis!
The Flower Kings - The Rainmaker (InsideOut Music America)
Yet another great outing from The Flower Kings. A bit darker than the brightly melodic "Space Revolver," "The Rainmaker" is no less majestic than its predecessors. "Last Minute On Earth" starts things off nicely, driven by a big Roine Stolt guitar riff and a great shift mid-song to a wicked 7/8 section with explosive soloing. As this band evolves and matures, pieces get more confident and push boundaries farther and farther.
You can still hear little bits of Yes and Pink Floyd influences scattered here and there. But the Flower Kings have a defined sound by this point with wonderful psychedelic harmonies, 8 million chord compositions, elegant keyboards courtesy of Tomas Bodin and the perfectionist touch of Roine Stolt. I'm amazed at how many progressive fans have still not explored the catalog of this band. If you are one of them, do yourself a favor and pick up this disc - it's a great starting point for new ears. This is the tip of a very deep iceberg.
The Flower Kings - Alive on Planet Earth (InsideOut Music America
This is a 2 disc set , disc one recorded in the US & Canada in 1998, and disc two recorded in Japan in 1999. The Flower Kings are in superb form on both, playing with energy & imagination. Disc one features Robert Engstrand on keys, disc two has Tomas Bodin in that slot.
Ultra-swell versions of "There is More to This World," "The Flower King," "Church of Your Heart, " and "In the Eyes of the World" feature terrific work from guitarist/vocalist Roine Stolt, 2nd guitarist Hans Froberg, bassist Michael Stolt, and drummer Jaime Salazar, as well as the aforementioned keyboardists. Disc one concludes with a tasty cover of Genesis' "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway." "Alive on Planet Earth" is 2 Discs worth of bright, bubbly prog at its finest. My highest recommendation.
FM - NEARFest 2006 (Esoteric Antenna)
I was there! What fond memories I have of this gig. Drummer Marty Deller has been a pal of mine for over 30 years at this point. We'd not met in person until that afternoon, so I'm a bit biased coming into this one. No matter. FM turned in a cracking good performance on that day. Monsters!
Sandwiched between Richard Leo Johnson and Ozric Tentacles, FM featured a new face on violin / mandolin named Claudio Vena. From the opening notes of a new composition called Planet Vega (also written by Vena) any doubts as to Vena's ability were instantly erased. A virtuoso. For Deller and Cameron Hawkins, it was an opportunity to show an attentive audience that they were still relevant. They succeeded. FM still played what I've come to term futurist prog rock. Vistas of vast space. Tales of planets, robots, spaceships.
Planet Vega, Phasors On Stun, One O'Clock Tomorrow, Journey, Slaughter In Robot Village, Aldebaran, Shapes Of Things, 7th Heaven, Sofa Back, Trial By Fire, Black Noise, Surface To Air.
Go back for a second. Read those song titles again. What a killer set list! Hawkins' playing was on point & his vocals were just wonderful. Deller was a beast. Add Vena to the mix and you get this huuuuuge sound. NEARFest 2006 is a CD/DVD combo so you can watch it on your huge screen TV, then pop it into your car's player as you make the townspeople envious of your fine taste in music. 100% guaranteed pleasure!
FM - Black Noise (Esoteric)
It's rare that a remaster stumps me. Well, this one has. Mostly the opening track - Phasors On Stun. Sure it sounds cleaner than I've ever heard - a nice plus. But the vocals seem kicked further back on it than I recall. Also, the synth line after the verses is placed was left. Am I crazy in thinking it used to move between the left & right channels? Anything is possible, but I definitely come into the disc a bit befuddled.
All seems well in terms of mix from One O'Clock Tomorrow onwards. Tinkly glocks and buzzing mandolins are flying all over the place. We love this! FM were true futurists on this album. Pioneering tunes about space and robots. Slaughter In Robot Village still kicks. Journey has that urgency. The title cut is just massive.
I'm unsure as to the source Esoteric worked from, but they've done a great job, title cut withstanding. It sounds like a 70s album recorded in a no frills studio. Because it was. Very honest sounding overall. Not too fond of Kylie Olson's notes, but that's a minor quibble. Awesome to hear Nash The Slash, Cameron Hawkins, and Marty Deller in my headphones once more. Multiple plays are in my near future!
FM - Direct To Disc (Esoteric)
What a difference a year can make! Following the release of 1977's Black Noise, Nash The Slash departed FM to be replaced by Ben Mink just in time to take on the daring experiment of recording an album live and direct to disc in 2 days. No overdubs. Performance cut directly on to the lacquer master. Thankfully, FM were more than up to the task.
Side 1 gave us Headroom, a Cameron Hawkins composition. Marty Deller's Border Crossing took up side 2. While the classic FM sound is there, the trio has more room to stretch out and improvise. The results are space jazz rock of the highest order. Mink just kills on violin and Deller reinvents what percussion can do every few bars. Holding it all together are the keyboards and bass of Hawkins, punctuated by the occasional vocal.
The results are 30 minutes of compelling invention. For an album recorded back in 1978, Direct To disc sounds like I'm listening to tomorrow. I never had the pleasure of owning this album til now, but it is so kicking my ass! Sonically splendid thanks to Ben Wiseman's remastering. Own it. Love it. Feed me more!
Les Fradkin - One Link Between Them (RRO Entertainment)
This is very much a one-man-band production, with Les Fradkin playing synth driven symphonic prog with the added touch of a Starr Labs Ztar midi guitar. As a player, Fradkin is exceptional, handling all instruments and programming with seeming ease. In terms of feel, think early Synergy or Jon and Vangelis. The sounds and beats are very early-to-mid 80s in texture.
One Link Between Them is mostly original instrumentals with covers of Duke Ellington's Caravan, Steve Vai's Liberty, and the classic Telstar added to the pot. For the deftness of the playing, I'm afraid I was left a bit cold. It sounds too...programmed. Drums like Kleenex boxes, everything mixed too hot, and each piece tends to find the same dynamic level and stick there.
This CD shows Les Fradkin to be a very capable artist who could benefit greatly from a talented producer to guide and edit his substantial talents.
Robert Fripp - Exposure (DGM)
I remember picking this up back in the vinyl days. It felt caustic, sharp edged, perhaps a bit dangerous. None of that is bad. Peter Gabriel, Daryl Hall, Brian Eno, Peter Hammill, and many more join in on the fun. And fun it is. Fripp may spend 27 online diary entries complaining about someone sneezing on a plane, but he sure can play a geetar. Exposure crackles with spiffazoid guitars and buzzes with ideas. It is the connective tissue between Daryl Hall's Sacred Songs and Peter Gabriel's 2nd album. It is a yearbook of creative snapshots.
This new 2 CD remaster is fascinating in that it presents 2 points of view in terms of vibe. CD 1 is the original vinyl mix. CD 2 is the early 80s remix with a few bonus tracks & different vocals by Hall. Is one preferable to the other? Honestly? No. Both mixes are AOK. The remasters are deep and colorful, and very very nicely done. Exposure gives insight into many aspects of Fripp the guitarist / composer / producer / arranger. Over 25 years later, I'm still franxious!
Fripp & Eno - The Equatorial Stars (DGM)
OK, so there was something close to 30 years between Fripp & Eno releases. They were busy. Seriously, in the intervening years, both Fripp and Eno have walked down various creative paths. This left me wondering if the magic would still be there as it was in the past. It is.
The 7 pieces on "The Equatorial Stars" range from the beautifully tranquil to the darkly menacing. Brian Eno lays down fascinating textures and loops and ambiences that are at times spare and simple, but at all times exactly what the pieces require. Robert Fripp uses his guitar as an explorer, working across the nooks and crannies of Eno's landscapes finding moods and melodies and bringing them to light.
This disc succeeds on several levels. It is relaxing, arousing, and disturbing - sometimes simultaneously. It is its own world. It is an affirmation. It is Fripp & Eno. It is essential.
Hasse Froberg & Musical Companion - Powerplay (Reingold Records)
Hasse Froberg, for the uninitiated, is vocalist for the Swedish progressive band the Flower Kings. On this project, Froberg sings lead and plays a bazillion guitars. Joining him are Anton Lindsjo on guitars; Thomsson on bass; Ola Strandberg on drums; Kjell Haraldsson on keyboards. They are a monster ensemble - heavy and tight.
While their sound is contemporary, I can definitely feel an early 70s Deep purple / Uriah Heep heavy rock vibe interlaced with the prog elements. It's a fantastic blend. A piece like The World Keeps Turning grabs your ear immediately and never lets go. Catchy chorus, strong vocals, great keyboard licks. While all the tunes, from Waves to Is It Ever Gonna Happen to The Chosen Ones are all strong and stand on their own, the cornerstone of the album has to be The Final Hour. Rock, prog, even a bit of fusion all combine into an absolute killer of a number. Unforgettable.
Powerplay is a deeply satisfying effort. Hasse Froberg and Musical Companion really have delivered one hell of an album. If you love the Flower Kings, you obviously need this. If you never heard a note of the Flower Kings, but love rock and prog that rocks hard without resorting to the easy out of going "metal" - you will eat this disc up! All meat, no filler. Powerplay is a stone cold winner!
Derryl Gabel - Visions And Dreams (Progressive Arts Music)
I was sent this CD out of the blue, presumably Gabel wandered across the site & sent me this CD to review. Let me tell you - this is great stuff! Gabel is a guitarist with stunning chops that he balances with a great sense of melody. Think of Frank Gambale, but not boring! This one man outing flies along at mach 2 with guitar riffs that will knock you out. Jazz/fusion with exotic touches, "Visions And Dreams" fits nicely between Brand X & Return To Forever.
Gabel is a player of great expression, and pieces like "Song For Jessie" and "Miles From Home" combine tasty licks with strong melodies, all featuring shimmering guitar solos. As jazz and prog hold hands more and more every day, Derryl Gabel has come up with the right goods at the right time. This is an independent release well worth your money and effort! A very nice start from a very promising player.
John Galgano - Real Life Is Meeting (Doone Records)
Hey, folks! It's John Galgano from IZZ! In his off time, Galgano recorded a very personal solo effort. IZZ fans, fear not - he's still in the band!
While this effort is certainly in the prog realm, it's very much a singer / songwriter deal. Less focused on hops, heavier on emotion. Bigger On The Inside is a great example. Introspective and heart-driven. The lovely Laura Meade sings lead on several pieces including the warm and wonderful Lucky For Me. It makes one crave more of her voice. This must happen! This Is How It Happens, with a strong vocal by Galgano, is one of the highlights of the album. Very vulnerable.
Meade stars again on the quirky The Only Thing. It's a real trip on headphones, by the way. 1000 is the epic of the album. Sparkling acoustic guitars. Dazzling keys. Parts of this are like listening to sunlight. Many moods across the 19+ minutes.
I gained genuine insight listening to this album. There's a sort of naked honesty to be found in the lyrics. Very revealing. The music is always engaging, and Galgano is well supported by a few choice friends. 100% worth your time!
Gallagher - I Am Who I Pretend To Be (Uproar Entertainment)
Hey! It's Gallagher! You know - that family-friendly, watermelon smashing, goofy prop comedian that was pretty much everywhere in the eighties. That guy. This CD will be a fun, lighthearted romp! Wrong. Gallagher is now a bitter, angry, right-wing racist homophobe, and his only props are the axes he has to grind.
In Gallagher's world, black women name their kids using random Scrabble letters. New trucks have "faggy" Eddie Bauer interiors. Women are merely housekeepers. The French are the enemies of America. And that's the nicer stuff. I Am Who I Pretend To Be is comedy for Sarah Palin and her pals. Not much more to say on this one.
Genesis - 1983 - 1998 (Atlantic / Rhino)
So here we have the second set of Genesis remasters, spanning four studio albums, each with a bonus DVD of surround mixes, interviews, and video footage, plus a CD / DVD combo devoted to non-album material. Our journey begins with 1983's Genesis album, also known by many as the Mama album, or Shapes. Unlike the remasters of, say, A Trick Of The Tail, or Abacab, there are few sonic surprises here. In their stead, this remaster has more warmth than previous incarnations, greater vocal definition, and more dimension to the guitars and keys. The bonus DVD is just packed with videos, rehearsals, and tour programs. A great start to the box!
3 years can be a lifetime between albums as 1986's Invisible Touch shows. Good but not always great songs. A comfortable fit for MTV and VH1 with plastic 1980s production. You can hear the big shoulderpads and pastel jackets on this remaster. It's mixed way to hot and the largely synthetic drums sound like oatmeal boxes. A few nice percussion and keyboard reveals unearthed by Nick Davis on Anything She Does and The Brazilian, but mostly tons of compression everywhere. The remaster, if anything, brings out the dated nature of the sound choices on this album. Excellent extras on the bonus DVD, however.
If 3 years was a lifetime, 5 years was oddly enough a turning back of the clock. 1991's We Can't Dance sounds in many ways like a successor to the 1983 Genesis album. Warmer sounds, more balanced production. On this spiffalicious remaster songs like No Son Of Mine, Jesus He Knows Me, Living Forever, and Fading Lights are nicely polished up with noticeably added definition to many of the keyboard parts. Rather ordinary DVD for this release.
That takes us to 1997's Calling All Stations. Phil Collins opted out of the band, so Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford brought in Ray Wilson from Stiltskin to take over the vocal slot. Drums for the album were handled by Nir Z & Nick D'Virgilio. The debate among Genesis & prog fans goes on to this day over this redheaded stepchild. The original pressing of this album sounded great to begin with. The remaster leaves it in the dust. Davis moved a few bits around in the sound field. A piece like Congo has an added smack to the drums and a more prominent blend on the backing vocals. Shipwrecked sounds all the richer. The Dividing Line is just a beast. Nice DVD extras that left me craving more live footage of this line-up.
We finish with a very puzzling and frustrating bonus disc. 8 tracks. 40 someodd minutes. The long versions of Mama and It's Gonna Get Better are missing. Only 3 of the 7 or 8 extras from Calling All Stations are included. Why? Add to that a booklet with commentary by dullard director Jim Yukich with nasty snipes at Ray Wilson and the frustration mounts. What you get are On The Shoreline, Hearts On Fire, Do The Neurotic, Feeding The Fire, I'd Rather Be You, Anything Now, Sign Your Life Away, and Run Out Of Time. Pretty decent DVD bonuses add a nice redeeming touch.
While 1983-1998 definitely shows the more AOR side of Genesis, it does so beautifully. A welcome addition to any library.
Genesis - 1976 - 1982 (Atlantic / Rhino)
The term much awaited applies here. It took me over a month of absorbing this set to be able to write about it. All discs here were remastered & remixed by latter day Genesis cohort Nick Davis. The albums in question are A Trick Of The Tail, Wind & Wuthering, ...And Then There Were Three..., Duke, & Abacab, as well as a bonus disc of B-sides. Each is a double set with disc one presenting the remastered remixed CD and disc 2 featuring the album in 5.1 plus interviews and video extras.
The remixes bring many new elements to light. Too many, in fact, to list here. Besides, discovery is half the fun. Here are a few examples: a previously buried guitar on the right channel of the instrumental ending of Entangled. A lovely isolation of Phil Collins' vocal just before the solo section in One For The Vine. Extra guitar parts revealed on the fade of Deep In The Motherlode. Mike Rutherford's lead guitar part removed from Misunderstanding. Loads of extra percussion during Lurker. A new keyboard melody revealed on Evidence Of Autumn. The list goes on. Discover the others yourself!
The DVDs include fascinating interviews (from 2007) with Collins, Rutherford, Tony Banks, & Steve Hackett as well as music videos, concert footage, TV appearances & tour programs. Not to mention the 5.1 mixes. The bonus disc is housed in a lovely illustrated book and contains the songs Paperlate, Evidence Of Autumn, Pigeons, You Might Recall, Naminanu, Inside And Out, Vancouver, Me And Virgil, It's Yourself, Match Of The Day, Open Door, The Day The Light Went Out, & Submarine. Fans will be pleased to know that It's Yourself has a previously unheard verse discovered by Davis while going through the masters.
The quality is excellent on all discs, in fact staggering in places. The box, book, discs & every aspect of the package are as good as it gets. Davis' work has breathed new life into these historic recordings, adding a new depth and color. This is a must for all Genesis fans. Can't wait for the next set!
Genesis - Archive #2 1976 - 1992 (Atlantic)
A puzzling mixed bag of a boxed set. The 3 CDs in this set span the years 1976 - 1992 and show the last creative spurts of Genesis before they headed down the road of safe music. Before we go any further, there are 2 glaring omissions. Match of the Day (from the Wind & Wuthering sessions) and Me & Virgil (from the Abacab sessions) were left off because a band member evidently doesn't like them anymore. Also, the beautiful It's Yourself (from the Trick of the Tail sessions)has its ending truncated & faded for no particular reason.
That said, there are many gems to be found. Live versions of Entangled and Duke's Travels / Duke's End are simply awesome. Clean versions of Submarine, Naminanu, and The Day the Light Went Out will satisfy many who have waited years. They quality of the transfers varies according to the source, but even the worst still sounds quite nice.
The final line-up of Genesis with Ray Wilson on vocals is totally ignored, despite many very strong outtakes. Much of this boxed set smacks of "just get it done." A slapdash final chapter to one of the most creative progressive bands ever.
Gentle Giant - The Power & The Glory (Alucard / Caroline)
Let me start by saying that I've never really heard a CD version of The Power & The Glory that has outright sucked. The Capitol pressing had a few timing issues. That's about all I can recall unless a pressing came out that I missed. Having said that, this new CD / Blu-Ray combo blows them all out of the water!
This is yet another miraculous remaster / remix by our very own Steven Wilson. In his remixing process, Wilson has shown total respect for the original 1974 mix. A few extra notes here and there, but nothing to get in the way of your memories of this album. I know I heard a few extra bits on the outro to Aspirations, but they felt like they should've been there all along.
The real treasure here is dimensionality. Wilson's mix isn't just mega-clear - every instrument sounds 3 dimensional in terms of the vibration of the note as well as the space of each instrument. No God's A Man quite simply stunned me, as did So Sincere. It's a baby bear mix: juuuuuuuuuust right. It will just floor you.
Lots of extras on the Blu-Ray. If you've had any trepidation about purchasing this, get over it. Buy it and thank me. Rich and rewarding. Hail to power and to glory's way!
Gentle Giant - Live At The Bicentennial 1776 - 1976 (Alucard / Caroline)
A live document from the tour in support of Interview. July 3, 1976 at the Calderone Theatre, Hempstead, NY. This was the same tour that the Playing The Fool live album was drawn from. Gentle Giant was quite a force at this time. Super-tight and powerful. Supermen with no Kryptonite in sight!
This recording is straight off the board without much if any finessing, so the levels are a bit raw in places, but nothing that took me out of the moment. In its own way it adds a bit to the authenticity of the experience. The 2 disc set is missing the encores of Peel The Paint, I Lost My Head, and In The Midnight Hour. They are more than made up for by what is here.
The band's walk-on music plays and we are taken into a rocking Just The Same. Clearly a hot night right out of the gate. It leads into Proclamation / Valedictory. The arrangements are familiar thanks to the Playing The Fool album, but the nuances are different - a riff here, a phrase there.
On Reflection is quite simply stunning here. The vocals are placed much differently in the mix than the version on Playing The Fool to great effect. That herky-jerky verse rhythm on Interview pounds like huge pistons. The instrumental section is absolutely off the charts. John Weathers and Ray Shulman are as scary a rhythm section as it gets, and they actually groove - just listen to The Runaway! Combined, they are a pile driver. The delicately percolating keyboards of the beloved Kerry Minnear take us into Experience, but Weathers and Shulman smack their way back in as Gary Green wails on guitar. Derek Shulman shouts Master inner voices, making any choices and we are officially over the top in the best possible way! Sandy Nelson, Gene Krupa, and Cozy Powell are humorously invoked during the intro to a blazing So Sincere. Of course, everyone drums!
Disc 2 starts with Excerpts From Octopus. Boys In The Band brings us to an acoustic Raconteur Troubadour / Acquiring The Taste that is nothing short of heavenly. Knots is incredibly crisp. Advent Of Panurge is maniacal. You can see why the band chose to release this set. They were straight up on fire.
A reggae-tinged Give It Back is a perfect lighthearted follow up to such serious fare. Gary Green and Kerry Minnear shine well here. WARNING!! SPEEDY VIBRAPHONE!! Derek Shulman delivers a gritty vocal and solid sax on Timing, which also showcases Ray Shulman's infamous quadraphonic violin solo. Such a strong live number!
Proceedings close with Free Hand. Everything I love about Gentle Giant is right here. Great song. Great playing by an ensemble in tune with each other. A positive energy - this is often overlooked. This band was having fun. It shows. This live set is essential. Please, sir, may I have another?
Gentle Giant - Octopus (Alucard / EMI)
I never thought about it 'til this very moment. This incarnation of Gentle Giant recorded exactly 1 album: Octopus. The first with John "Pugwash" Weathers and the last with Phil Shulman. So sad to lose the creative gifts of the sweet voiced Shulman brother, but he surely took his exit on a high note.
This new Fred Kervorkian remaster is beefy and robust. Greater clarity to all the secondary instruments: violin, sax, vibes, tambourine, incidental percussion. Octopus has far more going on than its predecessor, Three Friends. Layer upon layer of voices and instrumentation. Kervorkian strikes a nice balance.
Oddly enough, he chose to leave about a second of presong noodling just before A Cry For Everyone, but it adds a sort of charm to it. The bonus track is a 1976 live Octopus medley. The package includes both the stunning Roger Dean wraparound cover and the US octopus-in-a-jar art. Essential.
Gentle Giant - Three Friends (Alucard / EMI)
Fresh goods! Three Friends gets a new remaster. The fans rejoice! OK, most prog fans moan and bitch because it's their dysfunctional nature. I certainly rejoice as there is much to love here.
The drums and the bass have a level of clarity I've not heard before. Everything has more definition. Little fiddly bits reveal themselves. Why, there are even bits of tape hiss that aren't masked at the expense of the source! Can't beat that.
Prologue is huge. The driving riff is a Sherman tank tearing through your back yard. The vocals on Schooldays breathe as they never have before. Working All Day with those low saxes broods beautifully. Peel The Paint fairly roars. Mister Class And Quality? occupies a broader aural soundscape. Three Friends is full and sweet. Bonus tracks are a live take of Prologue from 1972 and out takes of Peel The Paint and Three Friends. Notes from the band and the original artwork round out a most excellent package.
Gentle Giant - Giant For a Day! (Alucard)
The horned one. The much maligned tumor. The one the fanboys hate! It's...Giant For A Day! Gentle Giant playing songs your girlfriend could actually tolerate. By their own admission, it was an attempt at reaching a wider, more mainstream audience. On that level it failed, as you knew it would. Underneath it all, they were inevitably, Gentle Giant.
Pulled out of the expectations of 1978 and into 2011, how is it? Pretty damned good! Thank You, Little Brown Bag, Friends and It's Only Goodbye are all songs anyone would be proud to have written and recorded. The title track is a fun name-dropping time capsule. Spooky Boogie and Rock Climber are wacky good timers. If the music is less avant garde, so what? A song is either good, or it isn't.
The new remaster is pretty much perfectly balanced. Punchy but never shrieky. Everything is clear, solid. Giant For A Day! to be honest, sounds much better than one might recall. Very much worth re-investigating.
Gentle Giant - Free Hand: 35th Anniversary Edition (DRT Entertainment)
There have been numerous versions of this album available on CD. Get rid of them. This is the one to own. I know it's a matter of opinion, but I stand firm in my belief that this is one of the most important progressive albums ever released. The writing, the performances, the influences, the ideas all thrown at the listener are dizzying. But most of you already know that. How does it sound? Beautiful. Bright on the high end, massive on the bottom. Listen to Ray Shulman's bass ring out on "Mobile" - awesome! What comes out with this remaster is the power of Gentle Giant - "Free Hand" is a forceful mother of an album.
A bonus live version of "Just The Same" is tacked on to the end, but utterly unnecessary. The 35th anniversary edition of "Free Hand" is all you can ask for in terms of sound. Nice package with a slipcase & original liner stuff as well. If you don't need this one as much as you need oxygen, kindly click off my site!
Gilgamesh - Gilgamesh (Esoteric)
Originally released in 1975, Gilgamesh's debut is most definitely in full Canterbury mode. Stylistically, it fits right between Hatfield And The North and National Health. Clever jazz rock prog with moments both sublimely smooth and teasingly obtuse.
Gilgamesh were Alan Gowan on keys; Phil Lee on guitar; Jeff Clyne on bass; Michael Travis on drums; and Amanda Parson on the occasional vocal. Our beloved Dave Stewart co-produced the album lovingly.
This robust remaster is a great headphone album. Very warm and spacious. Travis' drums sit well across the sound field. No one player seems to get in the way of another despite the density of some pieces. Oh-so-clean as tracks like Notwithstanding and Lady And Friend ably show. Great notes from Sid Smith. I always loved the clever cartoon cover to this. A definite "must own" release.
Glass Hammer - Lex Rex (Arion)
I remember hearing about "Citizen Kane" all through my youth. The best film ever; a piece of cinematic genius; a masterpiece. To a kid, this adds up to: boring. Then, in my late teens, I saw it. It was brilliant, but it was fun, as well. Orson Welles understood that brilliance needn't be dull or stodgy. The same can be said for "Lex Rex" from Glass Hammer.
"Lex Rex" is surely a work of some brilliance. It is also a fun treat for the ears. Fred Schendel and Steve Babb composed an epic concept piece that is chock full of "fan moments" if you keep your ears open. Bits of Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Kansas, Tull & God knows what else are scattered across "Lex Rex." Not in a plagiaristic sense, but in a spiritual sense. Having said that, it's a work with it's own feel: joyous symphonic prog packed with melody and humor. This is a CD you will never tire of listening to. Production is clean and tight, as are the performances. Tennessee boys make good!
Goldfrapp - Tales Of Us (Mute)
Every so often, I hear an album that feels like it was made just for me. It doesn't happen often. Here is one of those. Tales Of Us is an early morning kiss to my ears and to my heart. Fragile, simple, pure in execution. Alison Goldfrapp's voice gathers you in. Simple and direct. Will Gregory makes sure nothing overwhelms her pipes. His playing and arrangements don't include a note that isn't needed to convey any given emotion.
While much of the music sees the duo stripping out any extraneous elements, it is certainly lush and sophisticated both in construction and execution. Pieces like Ulla and Drew entrance your ears as if to dance across your mind ever so gently. Thea grooves, but quietly - a small whisper of a beat. Just enough to pulse like a heart pumping. In contrast, Simone moves even more quietly, allowing the vocal to glisten and tremble. Stranger combines timeless melody with just a touch of the eerie. Clay is perhaps the most energetic. I'd say rousing, but let's not get silly.
It is hard to overstate the wonders within Tales Of Us. The songs resonate. Personal, spiritual, honest. I hear 2 people laying it on the line with a level of creative sincerity and lack of compromise that is inspiring. Certainly a risky album for those involved. Beloved and essential.
Gran Torino - grantorinoProg (Galileo / Gonzo)
This is another of those CDs I get sent out of the blue every now and then. I put it on with no preconceptions, no expectations. grantorinoProg is instrumental hard driving prog with bits of fusion, hard crunchy rock, and World thrown into the mix. The band hail from Verona, Italy. I have to say this CD impressed me.
The first thing that struck me was how hard and tight the rhythm section is. Drummer Gian Maria Roveda pounds his kit with precision and his fills can dazzle. Bassist Fabrizio Visentini Visas walks that fine balance of reinforcing the rhythm and adding some melodic spice where needed. Guitarist Christiano Pallaoro is a deft combination of crunchoid rhythm player and Mach 1 soloist. I love his sound choices. Pallaoro isn't afraid to experiment with sonics. That leaves keyboardist Alessio Pieri. He's that extra bit of magic. His chordal beds are excellent, yes. Then he solos. His solos mesmerize. Again, great sound choices, great thought behind each note.
Songs such as Jack Montorio, Fox Box, and Joy just keep pulling me back to listen over and over. A most excellent discovery. I want to see this band play live right now!!
Steve Hackett - The Night Siren
What we have here is a journey. A sonic travelogue if you will. Around the world and back. Minus the USA and Canada, however. That's just fine. In their place Hackett threw in Mars! The Night Siren is most definitely a trip for sure! Do not forget to listen to it at least once through headphones. I'd say that's a necessity!
Steve Hackett has brought along plenty of friends for the excursion. Spock's Beard's Nick D'Virgilio on drums; old pal Dick Driver on double bass; vocalist Nad Sylvan from Unifaun and Agents Of Mercy - just to name a few. All the talent here is used in fascinating combinations.
So many memorable songs. Fifty Miles From The North Pole, In Another Life, Martian Sea, and In The Skeleton Gallery only scratch the surface of the quality pieces here. Lots of what we term "World" music here, but with a definite Hackett feel to it all. Confident, ambitious technicolor music.
The deluxe edition includes a DVD with a swell documentary on the making of the album. It also includes a 5.1 mix of the album as well as stereo versions to boot. Essential.
Steve Hackett - Genesis Revisited II (Wolfwork / InsideOut)
How was I to feel about this? I've felt a bit worn out by cover albums of late. I'm happy to report that Steve Hackett picked me back up and restored my faith with this 2 disc set. Over the course of 21 tracks, Hackett reimagines his days in Genesis and throws in a few key solo pieces for good measure.
Disc 1 features songs like The Chamber Of 32 Doors, Supper's Ready, The Musical Box, and Can-Utility And The Coastliners. Disc 2 visits The Return Of The Giant Hogweed, Eleventh Earl Of Mar, Ripples, Afterglow, and a host of others. Guest performers include Nad Sylvan, Neal Morse, Simon Collins, Nick Magnus, Roine Stolt, Steven Wilson, Nik Kershaw, and Steve Rothery. Quite a little cast there!
What makes Genesis Revisited II work so very well is respect for the material, a genuine enthusiasm from all involved, love, and care. There is obviously a lot of work being poured into this project and no one involved gave anything less than their best effort. All meat, no filler.
Steve Hackett - Beyond The Shrouded Horizon (InsideOut)
It's 2011 and Steve Hackett's still out there making adventurous music. This, his latest effort, is a strong one. In addition to his current band, Yes bassist Chris Squire guests on a few tracks, as does drummer Simon Phillips. Guests aside, it's Hackett all the way.
Songs like Loch Lomond, A Place Called Freedom, Two Faces Of Cairo and Turn This Island Earth burst with electric and classical guitars. Listen for nods to Hackett's Please Don't Touch and the traditional My Lagan Love tucked into a few songs to great effect. Also, I must point out Amanda Lehmann's lovely vocal on Waking To Life - a luxurious number.
The deluxe edition includes a 2nd disc with an additional 9 songs - 8 instrumentals and 1 vocal number. A 4 part suite, Four Winds, is breathtaking. The Hackett classic The Air Conditioned Nightmare gets reworked as Reconditioned Nightmare. Whichever edition you choose, Beyond The Shrouded Horizon sees Hackett in top form. Strong songs, fantastic performances, and more ideas on 1 album than most bands have in their entire catalogue. An "auto-buy."
Steve Hackett - Tribute (Camino)
I've often heard that less is more. An interesting phrase and very true here. Tribute consists of 13 tracks of Steve Hackett playing his Yairi classical guitar. 10 fingers and 6 strings. 6 of the 13 pieces are by Bach. The results are breathtaking.
From Bach's Courante and Prelude In C Min to the traditional El Noy De La Mare to Hackett's own The Fountain Suite, the ears are bathed in rich tones. Notes are played with care, ringing with a sort of depth one hears far too seldom.
Hackett keyboardist Roger King recorded the album with an eye toward timelessness. The sound is clean and clear, with an air of dignity about it. King says the album owes much to the acoustic guitar recordings of the 1920s and 1930s. I surely see what he is implying in terms of ambience. This approach reaps fine rewards for the listener. Have a nice cup of tea. Shut out the thoughts of the day. Put on Tribute and let Steve Hackett transport you to a time without time, a place of golden glory.
Steve Hackett - Wild Orchids (InsideOut)
A Steve Hackett album is always a bit of an event. After the classical joy of Metamorpheus, we're back to a "band" album with Wild Orchids. For those familiar with Hackett's catalog, Wild Orchids fits somewhere between Darktown & To Watch The Storms in terms of feel. It's a mixed bag album rather than the unified sound of, say, Defector.
A Dark Night In Toytown, Set Your Compass ( which has a sort of Scarborough Fair feel to it ), To A Close, Ego And Id, and She Moves In Memories stand out. Why is a cute optigan piece. Howl is a nice guitar screamer that closes the disc. Pieces like Waters Of The Wild, Down Street, A Girl Called Linda, and The Fundamentals Of Brainwashing feel like ideas that could have used more developing.
Performances are highest calibre. Hackett is joined by brother John, Roger King, Nick Magnus, and others. There is also a deluxe edition in a slipcase with 4 more tracks and a different running order, and a Japanese edition with yet another 2 tracks. Not as weak as Feedback 86, not as strong as Spectral Mornings.
Steve Hackett & The Underworld Orchestra - Metamorpheus (InsideOut)
One of the most difficult feelings to create through music is the feeling of beauty. Yet Steve Hackett does just that on Metamorpheus. Each piece is like a small sculpture of delicate marble, finely carved by the strings of Hackett's classical guitar and gently polished by the small orchestra that accompanies him. As a listener, I am transported to a small villa in Italy, perhaps several hundred years ago, sitting in the warm afternoon sun. There is something timeless and uplifting about this recording.
As the years pass, Hackett's mastery of the classical guitar has taken on breathtaking depth and expression. Is this a prog album? No. It's a classical work of genius by a musician who happens to know the solo to Return Of The Giant Hogweed. The journey Metamorpheus takes your head and heart on is nothing short of breathtaking. Life is better for having this one. A gentle balm for all your troubles, my friends.
Steve Hackett - Live Archive: NEARfest (Camino/NEARfest)
This performance, as the 2nd day headliner of NEARfest 2002 in Trenton, NJ, was a corker! Steve Hackett and his band were sharp as a tack that night, running through a set that spanned most of Hackett's career. I want to address 2 minor negative points. 1 - enough with the medleys. I have an idea - play less tunes, but play them complete. I don't just want to hear the solo from "Firth Of Fifth," I want the whole song. 2 - Don't rewrite other artists songs. "Mechanical Bride" is a reworking of King Crimson's "21st Century Schizoid Man" and "Serpentine Song" is an almost note-for-note clone of KC's "I Talk To The Wind." On to the good!
"Hairless Heart," "The Steppes," and "Camino Royale" are flawless. Every piece on the 2 discs is packed with energy and sincerity. "Darktown" is evil, as is "Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite." This set is a wet dream for Hackett & Genesis fans. Production is great, Hackett is still the H.R. Giger of the guitar. Absolutely murderous!
Steve Hackett - Feedback 86 (Camino)
This CD was recorded in the waning days of GTR and shares much of its vibe. Definitely more of a rock outing than a prog one, Feedback 86 nonetheless has worthwhile moments. Cassandra is notable for featuring Brian May, Pete Trewavas, Ian Mosley, and Nick Magnus in one place. The Hackett / Howe track Prizefighters from the aborted 2nd GTR album is here with a vocal by Bonnie Tyler. The opening of Slot Machine features a guitar riff Hackett later recycled as the intro to Vampyre With A Healthy Appetite from Guitar Noir. To be honest, the whole package has a "cleaning out the cupboard" feel to it right down to an old Kim Poor painting for the Genesis song Blood On The Rooftops as the cover, and a bunch of Hackett back catalog MP3s thrown on the CD as enticement.
It is very much a worthwhile CD, but certainly more as a time piece than a cornerstone in Hackett's illustrious career.
Steve Hackett - Highly Strung (Charisma / Virgin / EMI)
One of Hackett's best gets a nice oiling. Many fans see this as the end of phase 1 of Hackett's post-Genesis career. Camino Royale, Cell 151, Always Somewhere Else, Walking Through Walls, Group Therapy, and the oft-renamed and reinterpreted Hackett To Pieces (which is, in itself, based on a riff from Camino Royale) are all here. The word for this remaster is beefy. The bass and drums sound much bigger, fatter. I could use just a wee bit more on the treble end, but the bigness really suits the material.
While Highly Strung is mostly the effort of 3 musicians - Hackett, Nick Magnus, and a pre-Marillion Ian Mosley (with guests spots by Chris Lawrence on contrabass & Nigel Warren-Green on cello) it sounds huge. Hackett has always known how to squeeze a lot of sound out of a few instruments, an asset that goes back to his days in Genesis. The thing that hits my ears on this remaster is the placement of the instruments seems more defined. I always found this to be a slightly muddy album in the past, but now things like Magnus' piano on Camino Royale have a greater presence & are more...rounded. The synth bass on Walking Through Walls sounds richly sleazy. Nice slipcase on this with a closer view of Kim Poor's stellar work. Nice notes from Hackett, & 3 extra tracks all at a budget price make this a must.
Matt Haimovitz / Christopher O'Riley - Shuffle.Play.Listen (Oxingale)
Quite an interesting concept here. Cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O'Riley explore the commonalities within classical and pop idioms. They do this through clever, inventive arrangements that showcase the strength of each piece as well as their prodigious talents.
On the classical side, we find Martinu, Stravinsky, Herrmann, and others. On the pop side, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, A Perfect Circle, and Cocteau Twins are just a few of those chosen. Breaking everything down to the voices of the cello and the piano brings everything together. A melody is a melody. Chords are chords. As a niece of mine would say: "it's all good in the hood!"
Haimovitz and O'Riley are to be lauded for this fine double set. I love seeing musicians go out on a limb and push the boundaries of their art. Shuffle.Play.Listen is a wonderful set for late night brandy by the fire. Listen.Relax.Enjoy.
Happy The Man - Happy The Man (Esoteric)
Happy The Man - Crafty Hands (Esoteric)
I'm fairly certain that I own every possible CD version of these 2 discs. They are very important albums to me. Essential and frequent listening. Released in 1977 & 1978, both are lovingly produced by Ken Scott and set the standard for all American progressive rock. I will admit my bias in that regard. Happy The Man were, for those who may not know, Frank Wyatt on keys, saxes, and flute; Kit Watkins on keys and flute; Stanley Whitaker on guitars and vocals; Rick Kennell on bass. On their eponymous debut, Mike Beck was on percussion, on Crafty Hands Ron Riddle occupied that seat.
For decades fans have debated which is the stronger album of the 2. From the outset, I've considered them 2 sides of the same coin with the debut a bit jazzier in spots and the follow up a bit more rockified. With tunes like Upon The Rainbow (Befrost), Knee Bitten Nymphs In Limbo, IBBY It Is, and Wind Up Doll Day Wind, there is no losing choice. Everyone needs them both!
The remaster of Crafty Hands had an interesting reveal for me: right after the fade of Steaming Pipes, but before the start of Wind Up Doll Day Wind there is a brief chord swell. I asked Frank Wyatt yesterday if this was intended to be on the recording or is some sort of studio artifact. Wyatt said it is indeed part of Steaming Pipes and that he even added it to live performances - holding down a bunch of black keys just for fun in his words. Once again, a beautiful job on these. Greater depth to the percussion and the underside of Watkins' Moog. To my ears, these replace all previous editions and I am indeed Happy The Fan!
Happy The Man - The Muse Awakens (InsideOut)
I'll cut right to the question you have - how does it stack up to the old stuff? Wonderfully! Everything you ever loved about Happy The Man is on this CD. Crazy, quirky figures. Impossible time signatures. Timeless passages of tranquil beauty. The years have not mellowed this innovative quintet. They have moved forward without abandoning the elements that made them great.
Two points to address. 1 - David Rosenthal is not Kit Watkins and does not try to be. He is his own man and fits gloriously into the band - retaining the spirit of the past while helping to move it into the future. Listen to his awesome "Maui Sunset" if you have any doubts. 2 - Keep this drummer! Happy The Man's drum stool is as ever changing as Spinal Tap's (minus the vomit). New guy Joe Bergamini is tastefully aggressive and plays more as a percussionist than a drummer - exactly what this ensemble needs. The track "Kindred Spirits" is nothing short of perfection. Had to say that. Buy this right now. Words fail me.
Donald Harrison, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham - This Is Jazz (Half Note)
Hey! It's 2011 and 1963 at the same time! How is this possible? This Is Jazz was recorded live at the Blue Note in NYC in March of 2011. Yet it has that early 60s Blue Note / Verve feel to it. Cool kool jazz for women who iron their hair before they don their Capri pants. No rock fusion here. No modern compromises. Blue Note, straight up.
All 3 players shine on numbers like MSRP, Seven Steps To Heaven, and I Can't Get Started, but Ron Carter owns this disc. His solo exploration of the tried and true You Are My Sunshine is as mesmerizing as it is melodic. Carter's assured bass playing on this disc is further proof why he is indeed the master.
Harrison and Cobham on sax and drums aren't passively along for the ride. Harrison floats his notes like champagne bubbles over Seven Steps To Heaven. Cobham is the beast you know he can be when it's called for. He also understands the strength of silence when needed. None of these 3 giants needs to prove a damned thing. By serving the compositions on This Is Jazz they grab your heart, mind, and soul and take them on a wonderful journey you'll revisit again and again.
Annie Haslam - The Dawn of Ananda (White Dove)
As this CD shows, Annie Haslam's voice is still as gorgeous as it was in the heyday of her stint in Renaissance. Haslam is joined on The Dawn Of Ananda by such luminaries as old Renaissance bandmate Mickey Dunford, Tony Visconti, Larry Fast, & Mickey Simmonds. If there is a theme to the disc, it is angels. They are mentioned in some form or other on all of the 10 tracks. I must admit that at times this approaches overkill in one sitting.
Production is clean and clear, but sounds more like an excellent demo than a finished release. The melodies are beautiful and Haslam turns in truly flawless performances. Not quite Renaissance, but a fine overall effort from a still vital voice!
Hatfield And The North - Hatfield And The North
Hatfield And The North - The Rotters' Club (Esoteric)
What is magic? In musical terms, that is. Is it a unique moment? An unexpected bit that gives you goose bumps? That chord out of nowhere perhaps. Maybe magic is all of that together in an improbable, impossible combination. One thing is for sure: the 2 albums by Hatfield And The North were and are pure magic.
Richard Sinclair, Pip Pyle, Dave Stewart and Phil Miller are the core magicians. Joining them are Barbara Gaskin, Amanda Parsons, and Ann Rosenthal - aka The Northettes and a few guest wind instruments (not to mention a wee bit of vocal by one Robert Wyatt).
The 2 albums are packed with tunes and bonuses you cannot live without. Mumps, Let's Eat (Real Soon), Share It, Fol De Rol and many more. It's all rich, redolent with melody, slathered in buttery vocals and rhythms the girls hate to dance to. The Esoteric remasters sound nice and full. The presentation of each with nice booklets and slipcases is elegant and classy. I'm not going to bother to hard sell anything, you already know that you need both of these. Stop wasting time - enjoy the magic.
Hawkwind - Electric Tepee (Atomhenge)
Amazingly, back in 1992, I never grabbed this disc when it was first released, so it is totally new to my ears. It was the first post - Harvey Bainbridge / Bridget Wishart album, recorded by a three piece Hawkwind: Dave Brock, Alan Davey, Richard Chadwick. As so often happens after a big turnover, the resulting album kicks! I love Electric Tepee!
There are a zillion sequencers here. Just everywhere. Some mean guitar riffs. Insistent bass and drums smacking out hypnotic grooves. For a Bainbridge-free disc, I sure adore keyboard pieces like Blue Shift - a sort of new-age-textures-meet-the-church-of-Hawkwind instrumental. You can feel that for this disc, the trio just buckled down and gave it their all. It's a refined Hawkwind, as well as a redefined one. Electric Tepee feels like a step forward from 80s Hawkwind, much in the way the Black Sword stuff was a step from 70s Hawkwind.
I don't have the original pressing to A/B this remaster with, but this disc sounds pretty damned fine. The guitars are crunchy, the drums sound nice and live, the bass right in there. Nice package. Nice everything. If, like me, you missed this one on the first go around, here's your chance. Don't blow it!
Hawkwind - Live Chronicles (Atomhenge)
If Quark, Strangeness And Charm is my favorite Hawkwind studio album, Live Chronicles deftly showcases my favorite live incarnation of the band. Dave Brock and Huw Lloyd Langton on guitars, Alan Davey on bass, Harvey "Brainbox" Bainbridge on keys and Danny Thompson on drums with everyone but Thompson sharing vocal duties. Add some important sounding but really dippy narration by fantasy author Michael Moorcock, and you have a pretty hot unit!
The 2 CD set is drawn from concerts at London's Hammersmith Odeon on December 3&4 of 1985. The band is in killer form and clearly are more than up to the task of bringing The Chronicles Of The Black Sword to the London stage. Listening to the set as I write this, I'm particularly struck by how strong Bainbridge sounds live. Great sound choices for his keyboards!
Sea King, Angels Of Death, Needle Gun and Rocky Paths are standout cuts. This set has 5 cuts never released in the UK and the remaster is bloody spiffing! Notes, photos and fabulous art make the booklet a killer. Everything you ever could wish Hawkwind to be is right here!
Hawkwind - Church Of Hawkwind (Atomhenge)
Some Hawkwind albums are awesome. Some are pointless. This remaster of 1982's Church Of Hawkwind is flat out amazing! This is the Dave Brock / Harvey Bainbridge / Huw Lloyd-Langton incarnation of the band with Martin Griffin on drums, back once more for the freshly departed Ginger Baker. Brock of course was chief composer, but Bainbridge is the shining light of this one.
A grand sci-fi opus, this as we all know by now. The remaster shows what a corker it was. Dialogue, effects, buzzes, beeps, sirens, warnings, explosions blend seamlessly with the music. A very well recorded album that now sounds more resonant.
Lots of artwork and some killer bonus tracks for this one. The alternate version of Fall Of Earth City with vocal from Bainbridge shines. Church Of Hawkwind is a Perry Rhodan novel come to life. I cannot gush enough about this one!
Hawkwind - Quark, Strangeness And Charm (Atomhenge)
One of Hawkwind's finest albums, very nicely polished up, loaded with a bunch of bonuses over 2 discs and lovingly inserted in a nice slipcase. As a rule, Hawkwind were not known for the stellar audio quality of their recordings, often sounding like first takes in a budget studio, on the fly. Quark, Strangeness And Charm, however, actually had a bit of finesse to it and this remaster shows it to good effect.
As opposed to the fantasy leanings of the Black Sword albums, Quark, Strangeness And Charm is pretty much a science fiction-y piece of work. Your android replica is playing up again, it's no joke, when she cums she moans another's name Sings Robert Calvert on Spirit Of The Age. Calvert, Dave Brock, Simon House, Simon King and Adrian Shaw were the band at the time, a very solid ensemble. Damnation Alley, Hassan I Sabbah, The Forge Of Vulcan, as well as the title track all glow under their fingers.
The 2 disc set has the album, alternate takes, the Rockfield sessions and 3 live tracks to round out the package. Photos, ads, lyrics, an essay by Mark Powell and a weird thingie or two make for an entertaining booklet. Quark, Quark.
Heart - Beautiful Broken (Concord Records)
A new Heart studio effort for 2016! I'm happy. This album is an interesting mix of new and old. It starts with the title track -Beautiful Broken. This time it's re-imagined with a different feel and additional vocal from Metallica's James Hetfield. Ann Wilson's vocal is awesome. Nancy takes the mic on the tender Two. Sweet Darlin' strikes me as a more organic version than the original. More beautiful if that is possible. I Jump is a major highlight here. A great feel to the song and the kind of Ann Wilson vocal I dig: strong, athletic, and lovely where it needs to be. A touch of the exotic as well. This is why we all love Heart!
A moodier redux of Johnny Moon. This time it takes on a dreamier, Pink Floydian air. Spectacular backing vocals here. Guitars are perfection. Well, at last! A studio version of Heaven. I always loved this when it was in the live set. Granny glasses and beaded curtains, sitting cross-legged on the floor. Donovan is drinking tea with Melanie as we watch the moon go past. It pulses and throbs and drives and entices. My pal Craig Bartock adds nice electric guitar spice. Next we meet Private Audition's City's Burning once more. The beat is turned around a bit. More...tribal-meets-metal in terms of vibe. Vocals are killer. Very much a modernization.
Down On Me is resurrected next with a majorly passionate Ann Wilson vocal. A smoker back in the day and even more so now. A new light percussive rhythm adorns this new take on One Word. The Nancy Wilson vocal is a slice of sunshine. Absolutely beautiful, dreamy, spiritual. How do you say love? The album closes with Language Of Love. Harmonies smooth as morning cream on the farm. Honest and sensuous. A nighttime kiss before the final notes. Beautiful Broken shows Heart to be open for business at full strength. As corny and cliche as it sounds - better than ever! I leave with 1 question: why wasn't this a double album?
Heart - Fanatic Live From Caesar's Colosseum (Frontiers Records)
It's a CD plus a DVD. No! It's a DVD plus a CD. Wait! It's both! What we have here is a live set from the Fanatic tour minus the encores. A single CD plus a DVD. Many butts were kicked in the process.
Ann Wilson is in great voice and the band is as tight as it gets. Superb versions of classics like Heartless, Straight On, and Even It Up. That's not why I'm here. I adore the Fanatic album so I'm here for Mashallah!, 59 Crunch, Dear Old America, Walking Good, and Fanatic.
Heart kick it hard on the new material, playing with lots of enthusiasm and fire. Both Ann and Nancy Wilson are in prime form on all 15 numbers (Magic Man from the main set is mystifyingly moved from the set to serve as a bonus feature). Ben Mink and a string section on several tracks are a nice surprise. Audio is fine. Video is fine. I'm in love with Heart and I feel fine!
Heart - Magazine (Audio Fidelity)
The little album that could. A quick history for the uninitiated. Dreamboat Annie, Heart's explosive debut, was recorded for a relatively small label named Mushroom. Then Heart struck a deal with Portrait / CBS for their next album. An understandably upset Mushroom insisted that Magazine, an album Heart had begun before the Portrait / CBS deal, be released on their label. Much legal wrangling ensued. In the interim, Mushroom finished up the album on their own using session musicians to complete the tracks. For a brief time, that version of Magazine hit the racks. By 1978, Heart agreed to go into the studio, complete and mix the tracks themselves, and give the album a proper release. Mushroom's involvement with Heart concluded. Unicorns ate rainbows. There was peace in the world. While Little Queen is often cited as Heart's 2nd album, the tracks on Magazine precede it.
Recorded by what is often referred to as the definitive line up of Heart - Ann & Nancy Wilson, Howard Leese, Roger Fisher, Steve Fossen, & Mike Derosier - Magazine had a decent but unexceptional CD release years ago. Audio Fidelity has remastered Magazine and released it on a hybrid SACD. It is my understanding that the process involved a clock, voodoo, & Marvel Supervillain M.O.D.O.K. Whatever they did, I've never heard the album sound this nice. I was immediately struck with how very familiar everything sounded. No remixing. No goofing around with stuff. Audio Fidelity cleaned up the album without disturbing any aspect of it. It's just...better. Clearer.
I'd imagine it was no easy task. Clean, clear, muscular, well rounded. Songs like Devil Delight, Just The Wine, Heartless, and the title cut sound full and gorgeous. It's an intangible thing. Steve Hoffman and his group of wizards have brought Magazine back from the dead and back to a place of prominence in the Heart catalogue. Applause applause!
Heart - Fanatic (Legacy)
A follow up to 2010's Red Velvet Car, Fanatic sees Heart very much in tune with the ass kicking tone of Jupiter's Darling. God, they do it well, don't they? Ann Wilson continues to have the most commanding voice in rock. Just listen to the title track, or Dear Old America if you foolishly doubt me. Nancy Wilson does a great shared vocal with Sarah McLachlan on Walkin' Good - an old world style folk ditty with a great chorus. Ben Smith's drums add this great sleazy feel to Skin And Bones, aided greatly by Ben Mink & Nancy's guitars. Some great stank on that one!
A Million Miles threatens to steal the show. Impossibly catchy modern rhythm, great vocal, lots of movement. Pennsylvania is a moody, downbeat number with nicely eerie background vocals. Mashallah! is an exotic belter for Ann with a touch of middle Eastern flavor under the open hi-hat driven drums. It sounds massive! Rock Deep (Vancouver) feels like it could fit on the Dog & Butterfly, with a sweet, embracing vocal from Ann and wonderful violin accents from Ben Mink.
59 Crunch sees Ann & Nancy swap vocals to great effect on a tune with more than a few psychedelic echoes to it. The album closes with Corduroy Road. It's another moody piece. Nancy's voice floats under Ann's passionate lead. Lots of atmosphere to this smoky tune. A strong ending to an album that just goes from strength to strength to strength. A deep, confident statement that Heart remain a force of nature to be reckoned with!
Heart - Strange Euphoria (Epic / Legacy)
Heart is a band I've followed since day 1. Ann Wilson's voice is simply the finest female voice in rock. Heart established an identity right off the bat of a band with a yin/yang balance of delicate acoustic and ass kicking electric - often in the same song. This 3 CD / 1 DVD package takes the listener by the hand and walks them gently through the history of the Wilson sisters as they go from a genuine ensemble to 2 sisters and a backing band ever moving forward.
For the more hardcore fans there are plenty of unreleased demos, live bits, and oddities. The demos of Magic Man, Heartless, and Under The Sky are especially satisfying. Live versions of Barracuda and Never stand out as well. The real strength here though, is that for every great song on the 3 discs, there are just as many fine pieces that could have been substituted. Such is the depth of their catalogue.
The set includes comprehensive notes from Ann & Nancy as well as a fun bonus DVD. It is of a 1976 live on TV performance of a perilously young Heart. Amazon offers a version with a 4th CD comprised of Led Zeppelin covers. Either way, this is quite a nice set. I'm not sure if definitive is the right term - let's just say deep. A Heart history that neglects key songs like Mistral Wind, This Man Is Mine, or the sublime Tell It Like It Is is not quite complete. Having said that, you must own this one as there is so very much for the ear to enjoy.
Heart - Red Velvet Car (Legacy Recordings)
Red Velvet Car is the long awaited follow-up to 2004's Jupiter's Darling. God, that sounds cliche! This album is anything but cliche. In a way, it's a freaky flip side of the largely electric Jupiter's Darling. Red Velvet Car is built from the acoustic guitar on up. Having said that, don't expect the delicate pastoral acoustic odes from Heart's early days. This album has a definite dark, gritty undertone to it. Innocence seems long lost here. Experience rules the day. This is quite a wonderful thing, actually.
Listening to WTF, Wheels, or the title track, you hear a band in command. There is nothing here but drive, punch, impact, assurance. Ann Wilson is still the finest living rock vocalist. Nancy Wilson still plays absolutely stellar guitar and turns in a great vocal on Hey You (not the Pink Floyd tune!). If there's a nod to Heart of the past, oddly enough it's Queen City, which sounds like an outtake from the Magazine era in terms of feel.
Of the 10 tracks on Red Velvet Car, there is not a single stinker. Ben Mink's production is greasy and organic. Raw in the best possible way. There's also a nice nod to the Lovemongers days with an update of Sand from 1997's Whirlygig. This is a mean ass, butt whompin' album from Heart. I love it. Hitch a ride in the Red Velvet Car. Dangerous curves ahead!
Heart - Jupiter's Darling (Sovereign Artists)
It's been over a decade since the last studio album from Heart. In the interim, the Wilson sisters explored more acoustic territory with "The Road Home" live album and in their spin-off group The Lovemongers. They released several Greatest Hits packages and a very swell live album, and somewhere along the way, lost longtime guitarist Howard Leese.
"Jupiter's Darling" ushers in the 4th period of Heart. "Dreamboat Annie" - "Passionworks" being the glory period; "Heart" - "Rock The House" the big hair period; "Desire Walks On - "Alive In Seattle" the re-evaluation period. Let's call the 4th period the affirmation period, as Ann and Nancy go back to what made them such a wonderful band to begin with: great songs and great playing. Simple as that. No more Diane Warren sludge ballads. No more huge hair and huge production. Lean, mean, beautiful, adventurous, magical. "The Perfect Goodbye," "Move On," "Make Me," and "Down The Nile" are just a few of the strong, strong pieces here. Honestly, none of the 16 songs suck in any way.
Mounds of acoustics, smooth vocal harmonies, and the occasional autoharp and mandolin inhabit these pieces. Not to forget Nancy's Krushzilla riffs popping up on several songs. Get it, love it, bow to the sisters!
Heart - Alive In Seattle (Epic / Legacy)
I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Heart's Summer Of Love tour in 2002. Alive In Seattle is a fine document of the energy, the feel that show had. Energetic playing, old songs, new songs, cover songs, and a catalogue gem or two.
Yes, the hits are here. Crazy On You, Straight On, These Dreams, Alone, Dog & Butterfly, Magic Man, Barracuda, Wild Child, and Dreamboat Annie. As per every Heart concert I've attended, a spate of Heartified covers as well. This time, they served up The Witch, Mona Lisas And Mad Hatters, The Battle Of Evermore, and Black Dog. For us hardcore Heartees, Mistral Wind and Love Alive are pure gifts.
The new numbers are as solid as their best material.Sister Wild Rose, Heaven, Two Faces Of Eve, and Break The Rock would fit right in with the Dog & Butterfly / Bebe Le Strange era of Heartstory. For those who care, this double set also plays on SACD players for the 73 people that have them. Alive In Seattle is a major ass kicker!
Heart - Little Queen (Epic / Legacy)
In 1977, I was a 17 year old with a crush on the Wilson sisters. This remaster shows why. Beautiful and ridiculously talented, Ann & Nancy weave lush landscapes of sound on "Little Queen." Fantastic fantasies filled with flutes, mandolins, acoustic guitars and vocals sent directly from heaven! Not to mention kickass crunchoid riffs and Ann's ability to hit any note on Earth with incredible power and conviction.
"Love Alive," "Sylvan Song," "Dream Of The Archer" and the title track all benefit from this luxurious remaster. Acoustics resonate like never before. It's just a straight gem. 2 interesting bonus tracks are tacked on, but this CD needs no extras. "Little Queen" was, is & always will be an artistic diamond - newly re-polished, but always dazzling.
The Hello People - Fusion (Real Gone Music)
Welcome to 1968. Fusion was the 2nd album by mime rockers The Hello People. Guitarist / vocalist "Sonny" Tongue had left the ensemble but still wrote for the group. His replacement was the more than capable Pete Weston. Drummer Ronnie Blake had also departed to be replaced by George Abruzzese. The rest of the band remained: Greg Geddes on bass, Bobby Sedita on guitar, Larry Tassi on keyboards, and Michael Sagarese on flute. This particular iteration of the band turned in their strongest work.
Fusion sounds 100% like 1968 in the best possible way. Psychedelic pop rock with a smattering of jazz and a vast melting pot of ideas. Tongue's Anthem brought lots of attention to the band by being banned on several radio stations. It was the days of Vietnam and a song of its nature was not embraced by the man! Be sure not to overlook the gorgeous White Winged Doves of the tasty / jazzy Jelly Jam as you wander through the 10 cuts. There are no dogs here, just a wide variety of moods.
Real Gone Music's mastering here is awesome. Clear, balanced, deep. Interesting historical notes with 1 glaring inaccuracy that is forgivable. Great packaging. Grab this one - you'll listen to it way more than you'd think!
Conrad Herwig - The Latin Side Of Herbie Hancock (Halfnote)
I can be a bit of a jazz snob. My preferred zone spans from about 1957-1966. Amazingly, this modern recording (culled from 2 nights in 2008 at NYC's Blue Note club) fits in my zone quite nicely. Herwig is a smooth yet bold trombone player. His band is hot as hell and his choice of guests (Eddie Palmieri on piano and Randy Brecker on trumpet) is nothing short of superb.
Herwig reinvented 8 Hancock numbers in the Latin style. He manages to find new voices, a new vitality in classics like Cantaloupe Island, Sorcerer and Maiden Voyage. I must take a moment here to single out the drummer, Robby Ameen and percussionist, Pedro Martinez - their rhythmic percolations are inventive, heady, mesmerizing.
The Latin Side Of Herbie Hancock is a front row seat to hot nights in the city, gulping down brimming tankards of blazing hot jazz. You'll spin this one over and over and over and over.
Pete Hicks and Nick Magnus - Flat Pack (Beach Hit Records)
The names Pete Hicks and Nick Magnus are synonymous with perhaps the most notable incarnation of Steve Hackett's band, featured on the classic Spectral Mornings and Defector albums. After years apart, Hicks and Magnus have gotten back together for a friendly little opus.
If you're going in expecting a heavy progressive album full of mellotrons and wild keyboard solos in mathematically challenging time signatures, look elsewhere. Flat Pack is a simple collection of nice folky pop songs with Hicks on vocals and guitar and Magnus on keys and programming. Drummer Dave Storey and former Hackett bandmate, bassist Dik Cadbury lend a hand on the catchy Just Remember Where You Heard It First. Songs like Absent Friends, New York City Winter and Outside, Looking In have a comfortable singer/songwriter feel about them.
This CD is all about the songs. Nothing too flashy, nothing too produced. Flat Pack is a disc of bright little gems that go down nice and easy. A few love songs, a few story songs from 2 guys with great credits. A nice album to put on late at night, sip a bit of cocoa, sit in a stuffed chair, and unwind.
Steve Hillage - Live In England 1979 (Gonzo Multimedia)
What a neat package this is! You get a CD with a free bonus DVD of the gig. In this case, the Steve Hillage gig is a Rock Goes To College performance at the University of Kent on February 28, 1979. Joining Hillage for this show were Miquette Giraudy on synths; Dave Stewart (not that Dave Stewart nor the other Dave Stewart!) on guitar; John McKenzie on bass; Andy Anderson on drums.
It's a 6 song set: Salmon Song, Unzipping The Zype, Hurdy Gurdy Man, 1988 Activator, Unidentified (Flying Being), It's All Too Much. The band were whip tight on this, with the rhythm section of McKenzie and Anderson especially explosive. Hillage was in good voice and on fire on guitar. You'll treasure his solos!
The CD includes 2 bonus tracks:Hurdy Gurdy Glissando and Electrick Gypsies - both from 1977. The DVD adds videos from The Old Grey Whistle Test for Radio and Light In The Sky. In addition the DVD includes a fascinating interview with Hillage and Giraudy circa 2007. You already know that you need this!
The Steve Hillage Band - Live At The Gong Family Unconvention November Two Thousand And Six, The Melkweg Amsterdam (G-Wave / Gonzo)
Quite an interesting little package here. This CD has tracks from 3 separate gigs: the 2006 Gong Family Unconvention; a gig from December 14, 1979; and a Gong gig from October 6, 1974. Interestingly enough, they all tie together thematically.
The 2006 show was the first Steve Hillage Band performance since December of 1979. The 1979 gig was one of the band's very last shows. The 1974 Gong track is a performance of an early version of Solar Musick Suite, later performed in the 2006 set. Is that all clear? In the end, it's all about the songs.
The playing on all 10 tracks is uniformly excellent. Hillage is backed in 2006 by Miquette Giraudy, Mike Howlett, Chris Taylor, and Basil Brooks. In 1979 by Miquette Giraudy, Dave Stewart, Paul Francis, and Andy Anderson. In 1974 by Daevid Allen, Didier Malherbe, Mike Howlett, Tim Blake, and Lawrie Allen. Tracks are:Hello Dawn, It's All Too Much, AftaGlid, Solar Musick Suite Part 1, The Salmon Song, These Uncharted Lands, Palm Trees, Unzipping The Zype, Healing Feeling, and Solar Musick Suite (Early Version).
Sound is great, performances sharp. Every Hillage fan will rejoice!
Steve Hillage - L (Virgin / EMI)
What was that? Did you just hear my sigh of relief? For years, L had the dubious honor of being one of the crappiest masterings ever put onto CD, with screechy highs, tons of break up, and the sonic depth of a bad Edison cylinder. God bless EMI, as they finally saw fit to rectify this travesty. Welcome back to the world of the living, L, my dear friend!
This album, Hillage's 2nd solo outing, has always been a personal fave, so forgive my bias. Producer Todd Rundgren brought in Utopia to back up Hillage & Miquette Giraudy, and it's a great blend. The resurrected remaster shows the layers and smooth synth washes behind Hurdy Gurdy Glissando and Lunar Musick Suite to be deep and dreamy. Electrick Gypsies and It's All Too Much have their power restored at last. Hurdy Gurdy Man and Om Nama Shivaya are hippy dippy luxury rides once more. Listen to those drums by the other John Wilcox! Those synths by Giraudy & Roger Powell! That's what I'm talking about! 3 nifty bonus tracks & liner notes packed with info round out the package. The moon is full tonight! Rejoice!
Horslips - The Man Who Built America (Celtic Airs/Horslips)
D'fhagamar slan. Ag talamh, ag tra. Gur thit orainn. Crann an eign.
The Man Who Built America picks right up where Aliens left off. Songs about adjusting to the new land while pining for home. Loneliness and Homesick being perfect examples.
So many strong compositions - Tonight, Green Star Liner, Long Weekend, Letters From Home. With memorable keys from Jim Lockhart on Loneliness and the title track, this was the penultimate studio album from the band and they played all over the states in support of it.
The Man Who Built America is handsomely packaged, with 3 bonus live tracks. The band did a fine job supervising the remaster, totally blowing the original CD out of the water. Horslips were the premier Celtic rock band and it's nice to see their body of work represented well at last!
Howlin Rain - The Russian Wilds (Birdman / American Recordings)
How very fitting that I'm writing this in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy. Much like Sandy, Howlin Rain are a powerful force of nature. They deliver straight up kickass rock 'n' roll. I'm reminded of a modern day Humble Pie / Ten Years After / Mountain / Savoy Brown - driving rock with smokin' guitar and strong vocals. A real throwback sound to this. If someone told me that this album was recorded back in 1971 / 72, I'd totally believe it. Let's be honest - that's how you want your rock 'n' roll, isn't it? Gritty, hot & raw.
Vocalist Ethan Miller is the real deal. A true power voice that never succumbs to screechy metal posturing. Solid songs. Self Made Man is a take no prisoners balls to the walls rocker. Phantom In The Valley starts out in high gear then kicks into this early Santana vibe that's pretty damned cool. Cherokee Werewolf has a skanky swamp feel to it that evokes 1973 Humble Pie.
The Russian Wilds is one of those albums that ought to be available on 8-track. This is rock with faded jeans and long sideburns. Mom wants you to turn that damned music down! What will the neighbors think? Music like this sells guitars and gets girls pregnant. Get this NOW!
Alan Hull - Squire (Esoteric)
There is so much I could tell you about Squire that really doesn't matter. Things like the fact that several songs here, including the title track, were for a late 1974 Television play by Tom Pickard starring our beloved Mr. Hull. Why bother? Read Sid Smith's fascinating notes. How's the music? It's great. How's the remaster by Paschal Byrne? It's great as well! That's about all you need to know. Now I'll jabber on for a few paragraphs.
Seriously, Alan Hull holds a special place in my heart. His solo debut, Pipedream, remains one of my favorite albums ever recorded. As do Fog On The Tyne and Dingly Dell from his days in Lindisfarne. Squire, his sophomore solo effort, sits quite comfortably with all of the above. Picture A Little Girl, I'm Sorry Squire, Dan The Plan, Waiting, One More Bottle Of Wine, Bad Side Of Town, Mr, Inbetween, and the title track are among the finest of Hull's impressive catalogue.
A delightfully clean remaster, it captures that 1974/75 feel. Everything is well defined and the mix is faithful to the source. Esoteric threw in 2 bonus tracks and copious notes because they love me. Squire is full of heart, art, and magic. Sheer brilliance.
The Humans - Sugar Rush (The End Records)
Back in 1982, Toyah Willcox released an album called The Changeling. As the decades have passed, it is an apt title for the artist herself. From her pop/punk beginnings she's danced with prog, rock, avant, and frankly uncategorizable music. With this, the 2nd album by the Humans (the other 2 Humans being Bill Rieflin and Chris Wong), it all comes together as one.
The music is full of contradictions. Beautiful on moment, harsh the next. Comfort sits next to utter cold. The end result is exciting. Sea Of Size roars with fuzzy bass lines and buzzes and beeps; claps and guitars and layers of vocals. Pebble features an almost childlike vocal over a slinky set of guitar and bass lines. It pulls you in and holds you in an exotic limbo. Small Town Psychopath has a nervous energy that paves the way for the tale within. It's an almost uncomfortable atmosphere that perfectly weds the vocal.
Willcox, Rieflin, & Wong (along with guest Human Robert Fripp) all pull equal weight here. There is no waste here. Every note, every blip, every word seems to occupy a unique space. Each needs the other. All form something new. Something I've not heard before. Something human. An important album that will entertain the hell out of you.
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