I Know You Well Miss Clara - Chapter One (MoonJune)

The spirit of Canterbury lives...in Indonesia. I mean, where else could it be? While perhaps spiritual cousins to Indonesian avant/prog/jazzers simak Dialog, I Know You Well Miss Clara flirts much more with the dark side, closer to the fringe of what is already a fringe genre.

I Know You Well Miss Clara is driven by guitarist/composer Reza Ryan. Joining him in the adventure are keyboardist Adi Wijaya, drummer Alfiah Akbar, and bassist Enriko Gultom. I like the vibrations of this unit. Akbar's drumming is breezily inventive. Gultom never overworks the bass, opting instead for just the right note or phrase. Wijaya's keys stand well on their own, yet partner almost psychically with Ryan's brusque guitar. It's an impatient guitar, always getting into trouble and creating puzzles and riddles for the other 3 to solve.

A piece called Conversation is aptly named and a perfect example of their workings, as one feels the instruments communicate. Offering up ideas and statements. Reverie #2 is very much a statement of intent: we are this. Love Letter From Canada is perhaps more on the gentle side, if a bit dark, but most certainly in form. Dangerous Kitchen bears no relation to the Frank Zappa song of the same name. Guest sax player Nicholas Combe fits well in the mix, confidently supported by a very locked-in Akbar and Gultom.

Evidently the 7 numbers here were recorded within a lean, mean 18 hour period. Truly impressive in a Van Gelder Studios fashion. Chapter One is a challenging, shiny album of prog jazz with more than a bit of bite!

Indukti - S.U.S.A.R. (The Laser's Edge)

The comparisons to King Crimson and Porcupine Tree are inevitable. There's a sort of 1974 KC syncopated punch to the music. A definite PT drone and crunch. Undeniable. But there's much more. This Polish prog band has a Middle Eastern feel to their compositions, adding an exotic edge to the album. The lines blur between guitar and violin at times and the compositions are very dark. In my mind, I see this as the soundtrack for a mad scientist's castle - dark, dank, brooding, heavy, gothic. I have to say, I just can't stop listening to it. This CD fills a gap that no other band quite covers.

The line up is drums, bass, 2 guitars, violin, with guests on vocals & harp. The vocals by Mariusz Duda (from Riverside) are mournfully dreamlike and suit the music well. No weak songs here, no filler. Heaviness abounds. Turbulent melodies with maximum crunch and punch. From the opening notes of Freder to the closer ...and weak II, S.U.S.A.R. is solid, solid, solid. Indukti have come up with a classic here that should appeal to the majority of progsters out there. Do not hesitate to get this one, and play it LOUD when you do!

IQ - Frequency (Giant Electric Pea)

Frequency is the first post-Martin Orford IQ album, his keyboard slot being filled by former Darwin's Radio member Mark Westworth. Westworth is a worthy addition to IQ, his playing vibrant and colorful. From the opening of the title track to the closer of, well, Closer, there is much to dig here.

Bassist John Jowitt and former Robert Plant drummer Andy Edwards lay down this very tasty groove on Stronger Than Friction, with this guitar sound by Michael Holmes that grabs my ear in a very nice way. Strong vocal from Peter Nicholls as well. Ryker Skies has this great ballsy "stomp" section that is darkly underpinned by swooshing beds of keyboards - very effective. The Province Of The King contrasts acoustic sections with a bit of ass kicking - I like the build and release of it all.

It's nice to see that after close to three decades a band still brings their "A" game. Top songs played with energy to spare. A classic and classy slab of prog that can't help but to please. Keep this IQ lineup together guys, and keep moving forward. This is definitely the good shtuff!! Yow How!

IZZ - Crush Of Night (Doone Records)

Why do I listen to progressive music? For any who might wonder, put on this disc. Great songs with challenging rhythms, intelligent lyrics, and great playing. What's not to love? IZZ are fronted by Tom and John Galgano with Amanda Byrnes, Greg DiMicelli, Brian Coralian, and my pal Paul (Brems) Bremner rounding out the line up. Another bud - Gary Green (of Gentle Giant fame) guests on guitar on 2 numbers while Greg Meade bends the strings on 1 as well!

What sticks out first are the vocals. So very nice. Tender in spots, powerful in others. Immaculate vocal blends. After that, keyboards. Sometimes, as on Half The Way, a simple piano drives the number. Other times, synths galore. I'm reminded of Genesis. Not in terms of style, but in terms of serving the composition. Nothing is there that the song doesn't need. If it calls for massive guitars and Earth shaking drums, they're there. If a song calls for sparse simplicity, that's what IZZ give you. Many bands could learn quite a bit from this approach.

Crush Of Night is the work of a seasoned, thoughtful band. Great songs, great playing. There is no downside to this release. Easily one of the finest albums of 2012. You need this one for your sonic library!

Jackson Heights - Ragamuffins Fool (Esoteric)

This was an album that slipped under my radar when it was released back in 1972, so it's all new to me. Lee Jackson's post-Nice project, there are great vocal harmonies and a more laid back, goodtime folksy approach to the proceedings. Very nice. Almost Lindisfarne-ish in spots.

There's a nod to the Nice days with a gorgeous cover of Chorale from Five Bridges Suite. Though largely acoustic, Mike Giles adds fine drumming on a passel of tracks. A nice mixture of singer/songwriter tunes (featuring the delicious talents of John McBurnie & Brian Chatton on many) and goodtime fun numbers.

Excellent master on this album. Feels very faithful to 1972 to these ears. The vocal blend is smooooth and tight. Ragamuffins Fool is one of those albums you can just listen to forever.

Jadis - See Right Through You (Jadismusic)

Jadis: Gary Chandler / Stephen Christey / Andy Marlow / Arman Vardanyan are here with a new one. See Right Through You was recorded between 2010 - 2012 and I'm still trying to figure out what took so long. Did everyone break their fingers over and over?

Try My Behaviour is antsy but anonymous. What If I Could Be There sounds like a Mr. Mister B-side. You Wonder Why raises just that question. I wonder why Chandler uses the most generic guitar sounds on Earth. More Than Ever has nice keyboards, but I keep waiting for the guys from Extreme to break in and sing moooore than woooooorrrrds! All Is Not Equal is a bit of a step up. A small step, but a step nonetheless. Nowhere Near The Truth builds on that with the band playing on a more inspired level. Learning Curve dashes all hope, managing to be every earnest prog ballad cliche out there. See Right Through You closes the album. Not too bad, but quite nondescript.

I hate giving a bad review. I truly do. I must, however, be honest. Jadis - please do better next time. My ears are angry at me!

Jakszyk, Fripp And Collins - A Scarcity Of Miracles (Inner Knot / DGM)

John?
Yes, dear?
What ya doing?
I'm writing a review of the CD I just listened to.
Is it the new Lady GaGa?
No! It's by Jakszyk, Fripp And Collins and it's called A Scarcity Of Miracles.
Who's on it?
Well, Jakko Jakszyk...
Weird Al Yankovic?
Jakko Jakszyk...
Jakko? That big Australian guy that used to do those battery commercials in the 80s? I never knew he played music!
Different Jakko.
Are you sure?
I'm positive. This is the Jakko I saw play once with the 21st Century Schizoid Band.
Oh, OK. Who else is on it?
Let's see... It's got Robert Fripp from King Crimson.
The guy with the granny glasses that freaks over everything?
Ummm... yeah. Him.
Go on.
Mel Collins from King Crimson and Camel. Gavin Harrison, the drummer from Porcupine Tree. Oh, and Tony Levin who's played with everyone on Earth.
Even Lady Gaga?
Not yet... At least I don't think so.
So, is this CD any good?
Oh, it's great! It has some really cool songs like The Price We Pay, Secrets, and the title tune. Some of it's soothing and relaxing. Other bits are exotic and weird - in a good way!
You seem to like the weird stuff.
Yes, I guess I do.
That's OK.
Thank you, dear.
Are you sure it's not the Australian Jakko?
Pretty sure.

Jefferson Starship - Roswell UFO Festival 2009 (Gonzo Multimedia / Bear Records)

Subtitled Tales From The Mothership, this 4 CD package certainly gives the listener all one could hope for. Disc 1 is made up entirely of rehearsals. Discs 2 & 3 are the Roswell set. Disc 4 is soundcheck material. Pretty comprehensive.

For this show, Jefferson Starship were Paul Kantner, David Freiberg, Slick Aguilar, Donny Baldwin, Chris Smith, and Cathy Richardson. Joining them for this event were Pete Sears, Barry Sless, Tom Constanten, Darby Gould, and Jack Traylor. The feeling is loose and friendly with a nice, relaxed vibe to the proceedings.

The material spans quite a few years. Essentials like White Rabbit, Crown Of Creation, Volunteers, and Somebody To Love are there, of course. Nice to see numbers like Sunrise, Hyperdrive, and Starship mixed in as well. The biggest surprise was a spate of covers from Brain Damage / Eclipse to Genesis Hall to Space Oddity to Mountains Of The Moon.

The band is in jammy good form and numbers flow well from one to the other. Fans of Jefferson Airplane and the early days of Jefferson Starship will find much here to love. An excellent souvenir of a significant show.

Jethro Tull - The String Quartets (Calliandra / BMG)

This album is pretty much exactly what it says it is: Jethro Tull songs re-arranged for string quartet. Plus Ian Anderson. John O"Hara did the orchestral arrangements and appears on 2 tracks. The quartet are Matthew Denton and Michelle Fleming on violin; Eoin Schmidt-Martin on viola; Emma Denton on cello. All lovingly recorded in a crypt and a church!

Quite a wide range of material. Interpretations of Living In The Past, Bungle In The Jungle, Farm On The Freeway, Velvet Green, A Christmas Song, and a medley of Songs From The Wood and Heavy Horses rather significantly grabbed my ear. Anderson plays flute on most, vocals on several, guitar on 1, mandolin on another.

This album is serious yet fun. It gives fresh ears to tried and true material. A lovely listen for an evening by the fire. Perhaps late afternoon tea. A quietly satisfying work. Pass the bottle!

Jethro Tull - Minstrel In The Gallery 40th Anniversary La Grande Edition (Chrysalis / Rhino / Parlophone)

Minstrel In The Gallery has always been a diehard fanboy favorite. It's easy to see why. Great songs, strong vocals, confident playing. Plus it has the word "minstrel" in the title. Who doesn't love that? Once again, Porcupine Tree mastermind Steven Wilson has taken to remastering, remixing, & 5.1-ing the album for us all, bless his heart. We even get the majority of a concert from the Minstrel tour mixed by our very own Jakko Jakszyk! Did I mention bonus studio tracks as well? Indeed!

Wilson's remixing skills really shine on tracks like Cold Wind To Valhalla, Requiem, and Grace. The differences are often subtle, but they're definitely there. Mostly in terms of dimensionality, as he stays quite faithful to the original. You'll not be shocked by radical changes. It's like a grubby friend got a nice bath. 7 bonus tracks on Disc 1: Summerday Sands, Requiem (early version), One White Duck (take 5), Grace (take 2), and the BBC versions of Minstrel In The Gallery, Cold Wind To Valhalla, and some song called Aqualung.

Disc 2 gives us a splendido mix by Jakszyk of a July 5, 1975 show from the Palais Des Sports in Paris. Solid versions of numbers like Critique Oblique, Wond'ring Aloud, Skating Away (On The Thin Ice Of The New Day), and Back-Door Angels make this disc a winner-winner-chicken-dinner!

Disc 3 is a DVD presenting the album in 5.1, quad, the remix in 96/24 stereo, and a flat transfer of the original mix also in 96/24 stereo. Summerday Sands is the only bonus track in flat transfer, 5.1 & quad. Disc 4 is a DVD with the live Palais tracks in DTS & DD 5.1 surround as well as 96/24 Stereo LPCM formats. There is also a live video of Minstrel In The Gallery in both stereo & 5.1. All in a lovely box with a book full of essays, photos, interviews, and other things you never knew you needed. Essential!

Jethro Tull - WarChild: The 40th Anniversary Theatre Edition (Rhino / Chrysalis)

BIAS ALERT: WarChild is my favorite album of the entire Jethro Tull catalogue. Songs like SeaLion, Two Fingers, Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of The New Day and the title track resonate strongly in this old Wilcox. Imagine my joy when I heard it was getting the deluxe treatment! This package is 2 CDs & 2 DVDs much in the same fashion as the last few Tull reissues. CD 1 is a cracking good remix & dusting off by Steven Wilson. It is sharp, deep, and ballsy. Whatever fiddling Wilson did in no way disturbs the original feel of the album. Just sounds clear and brilliant as ever!

CD 2 is chock full of neat stuff. Songs we know like Paradise Steakhouse, March, The Mad Scientist, and Quartet to name but a few. 3 discoveries: Good Godmother, Tomorrow Was Today, and WarChild II - a slightly shorter take of the title cut with a markedly different lyric order that alters the intent as well, to these ears! Rounding out the disc are 10 orchestral pieces - 9 of which we've never heard. All quite wonderful.

The 2 DVDs include the Wilson mixes, the old quad mix of the album as well as quad mixes of Glory Row and March, The Mad Scientist. The original mix is also included in addition to a 5.1 mix. The old promo video for The Third Hurrah and a Montreux photoshoot / press conference from back in the day round the DVDs out nicely.

An 80 page book includes lyrics, photos, articles, a track-by-track explanation of every lyric by some guy named Ian Anderson, and some tantalizing pages of plot / concept outline of the aborted WarChild motion picture. How would Donald Sutherland have been involved? We may never know, but there's a treasure trove here fit for Queen and country to dream on!

Jethro Tull - A Passion Play: An Extended Performance (Chrysalis)

It's that one. The album so many fear. With all the notes and stuff. The Tull album that's not the beloved Thick As A Brick. Yes, that one. I love it. Evidently so does Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson, as he did such an admirable job on this remaster. Let me start by saying that the last remaster of a bit over a decade ago sounded admittedly swell. This version spans 2 CDs and 2 DVDs. In addition to A Passion Play we also get as complete a restoration of the Chateau d'Herouville Sessions. Both are spiffily dusted down and suitably tweaked. How? you ask. Let me elaborate.

CD 1: A Passion Play Wilson's remaster moves parts into different areas of the soundfield. Some instruments a bit forward or further back. Left, right, or center to great effect. A few minor sax riffs are mixed out and a missing section of The Foot Of Our Stairs was located and restored. The main elements my ears detected were a greater presence to the acoustic guitars and piano. It all feels more "bandlike" if that makes sense. A loving remix that I honestly feel trumps the original, albeit only slightly. Clarity is awesome yet not distracting.

CD 2: The Chateau d'Herouville Sessions Wilson had significantly more work to do here. Pieces like The Big Top and Sailor were reinserted to the order. All tracks were brought up to speed and matched sonically. The reverb and flute parts added on the 20 Years Of Jethro Tull and Nightcap versions of the other material were stripped away. Skating Away On The Thin Ice Of The New Day had instrumentation that was added for the Warchild album removed to bring it to it's original Chateau state. That done, Wilson revealed a more honest look at the sessions. Yes, the 80s / 90s flute melodies are gone, leaving sections a bit bare bones. Great! We get, in essence, 3 sides of a double album sounding much less raw than you'd imagine. While not as cohesive as A Passion Play, it's still pretty damned strong. Even a rejected, aborted Tull album - particularly by the Anderson / Barre / Barlow / Evan / Hammond-Hammond iteration - kicks mighty ass! A triumphant achievement.

DVD 1: A Passion Play This disc has a 5.1 mix, the stereo mix, and the original flat mix of the album. Additionally, we get the film for The Story Of The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles as well as the opening and closing films shown at the concerts of that era.

DVD 2: The Chateau d'Herouville Sessions Here we get both stereo & 5.1 mixes of this album and a photo gallery that circles round and round as visual accompaniment.

All of this comes in a lovely bound book-like thingie. The center section is a book of photos and essays covering every aspect of both albums, the tour, the reaction to both. Pretty much everything one could desire to know can be found within. For an album about the afterlife, A Passion Play has a sparkling new life sounding better than ever. The drama and the humor still sound fresh. There indeed is a rush along the Fulham road. Rediscover your lost love!

Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick 40th Anniversary Set (Chrysalis / EMI)

In my mind, 2012 has been the year of the remaster. Many high quality exhumations and restorations. I came in to this one having read dreadful things about it from the online community. Quite a bit of hate for it out there. I have no clue what is causing such bile, as this new remaster / remix sounds warm, fresh, and solid.

This is another Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree fame) remaster and remix. The package I have has a book, a CD, and a DVD. The CD has the new 2012 remix. The DVD has that stereo mix, a 5.1 mix, and a flat transfer of the original mix. The book has the original newspaper, interviews, and photos galore. I chuckled as I looked at some fine vintage photos of Tull shot by Robert Ellis, as Ellis expressed his disdain for this album in a book he put out several decades ago.

Back to the album. Wilson's new mix is not radically different in any way. It has nice little reveals: a piano bit you might not have noticed before, a bit of extra acoustic. Nothing to distract from the Thick As A Brick I grew up with. Huge gains in clarity without losing any warmth. Tweezerboy purists have the flat transfer that is included on the DVD to rock themselves to sleep. The rest of us have much to celebrate. By the way - where the hell was Biggles?

Jethro Tull - Aqualung 40th Anniversary Special Edition (Chrysalis/EMI)

What I'm reviewing here is the 2 CD edition of this 40th anniversary Aqualung remix / remaster. I know that there's a multi-disc-including-vinyl-and-part-of-Ian-Anderson's-left-pinky edition out there for major bucks. You don't need it. It exists to eat your money and laugh at you. It is also smells, is haunted and cursed, so do not buy it. Buy this version. It loves you and is fat free.

The new stereo mixes here are by Porcupine Tree's Steven (Wing-a-ding) Wilson. Wilson's remixes are gently refocused here and there. If you've listened to Aqualung for decades, this is not going to shock or offend the purist in you.Look at it as removing layers of grime off of a shiny thingie. Instruments still sit in the mix where they ought to. Everything is clearer; deeper. Wilson understands and respects the recordings as well as the listener.

Disc 2 features other recordings of the period given the same loving treatment. Just Trying To Be and Life Is A Long Song, as well as early versions of My God and Wind Up are just a few of the 14 tracks here. After 4 decades, Aqualung shines brightly. Still a work of power, even stronger as it sits on a brand new park bench.

Jethro Tull - Nothing Is Easy: Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970 (Eagle Records)

The sounds of 1970. Jethro Tull were a very dangerous band in 1970, as this CD documents. Bassist Glen Cornick would soon leave, to be replaced by that wonderful loony Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond for the Aqualung album. If you have ever been curious how that album might have sounded with Cornick, listen to the early version of "My God" on this disc - it's an awesome brute of a thing!

Ian Anderson is in top voice on "My Sunday Feeling," "With You There To Help Me," and "Nothing Is Easy." The band just rips. The sound quality is pretty darn decent - it certainly doesn't sound like a contemporary recording, but it really shouldn't. It's marvelous for a show of this vintage. This Isle Of Wight show is like a comfortable coat: warm and toasty and just what you need on a cold night.

Jethro Tull - Living With The Past (Fuel2000)

"You're never too old to rock and roll if you're too young to die." The quote comes from a Tull song and this CD proves the lyric true. This is a collection of mostly recent live performances (with a few from 1989) of a wide variety of Tull pieces. The band are just blisteringly vicious on "My Sunday Feeling" and "Sweet Dream." "Jack-In-The-Green" is outright magical. Ian Anderson is in the best voice he's been in years on this disc.

The selection of songs is tasty, with "Life Is A Long Song" and "Mother Goose" sitting beside tried & true numbers like "Living In The past." The original Tull line-up reunites on here for 1 tune - a brilliant take of "Some Day The Sun Won't Shine For You" that packs a massive punch. Young bands should hide in fear when these guys come to town! Time has not slowed the ass-kicking brilliance of this band.

Jethro Tull - Under Wraps (EMI)

Ask most any Tull fan which albums they like the least and you'll most always hear Too Old To Rock & Roll..., and Under Wraps. Listening to this spiffy remaster, it's certainly not because of the writing - Later That Same Evening, European Legacy, and the title cut (both the electric & acoustic versions) are as strong as anything in the Tull catalog. Nor is it the playing - Dave Pegg offers some harrowingly complex bass playing, Martin Barre is on fire, and Ian Anderson's vocals & flute work are beyond solid.

So what is it then? 2 things, I think. #1 - Peter John Vettese's keyboards are very 80s sounding in places & almost overwhelming. #2 - Plastic sounding electric drums. They lack the push, punch, & subtlety that Doane Perry brought to the songs on the tour for this album. Is this the low point of Tull's career? Hardly. That honor goes to Marjoe Gortner singing a song off of Aqualung on some TV crime drama in the mid 70s. Lots of great songs here! The remaster even includes the video for Lap Of Luxury for good measure!

Jethro Tull - Stormwatch (Capitol / Chrysalis)

"Stormwatch" has always been a sort of dark gem in the Tull catalogue. Following the country gentleman musings of the lush "Heavy Horses," "Stormwatch" was dense and slightly menacing. It also suffered from one of the worst transfers of all Tull CDs, rivaled only by the dismal sonic flatbread of "Broadsword And The Beast."

This new remaster not only throws in 4 bonus tracks, but it actually sounds nothing short of fantastic. "Something's On The Move" and "Orion" are brought back to life. "Dun Ringill" has a sonic depth to match its poetic beauty at last. "A Stitch In Time," "Crossword," "Kelpie," and "King Henry's Madrigal" are nice additional tracks rounding out the package. Now how about getting to "Broadsword"?

Jethro Tull - Bursting Out (Capitol / Chrysalis)

For years, if you wanted this double live CD intact, you had to buy it from Europe. This remaster corrects that situation and pumps up the audio quality to boot. "Bursting Out" captures Tull on their "Heavy Horses" tour and at the height of their success. Songs you'd kill to hear nowadays like "One Brown Mouse" and "No Lullaby" sound brisk and powerful.

The remaster makes the performances shine by and large, though a bit trebly. It also brings to the fore something I'd never noticed much over the years: alot of the vocals are doubled in the studio on this one. To the point of being a bit annoying, to be honest. I don't know if it was Ian Anderson's idea or the record company's at the time. It just should've never happened. That caveat aside, this album has never sounded so good. Pick it up and crank it LOUD! A perfect prog album for parties!

Jethro Tull - Warchild (Chrysalis/EMI)

When this album came out in 1974, it was a bit of a disappointment to some Tull fans looking for yet another continuous piece of music as "Thick As A Brick" & "Passion Play" were before it. Warchild was Tull's return to individual songs and stands to this day as one of the band's strongest albums.

The remaster reveals a dazzling recording that's a veritable sonic playground of flute, sax, glockenspeil, acoustic guitar, strings, and percussion. Every note has a newfound depth & clarity making songs like "Sealion" and "Only Solitaire" shine. The disc includes 7 bonus tracks including the previously unreleased "Warchild Waltz." As good as it gets.

Jethro Tull - A Passion Play (Chrysalis/EMI)

Yes, that album! Reviled by critics, revered by fans, ignored by the band, A Passion Play is an album that offers no middle ground - you love it or you hate it. I fall into the former category. After decades of listening to this album, my ears are pretty fine tuned to its nuances.

The acoustic guitars sound brighter & more resonant; the bottom end of the bass and drums have much greater depth without getting mushy. The vocals are clean and clear. The recording shows no signs of being 30 years old. The remaster includes the original video for "The Hare Who Lost His Spectacles" as a bonus. If you don't own this yet, shame on you!

Booker T Jones - The Road From Memphis (Anti)

What? What in the hell is this? A hot album of Hammond B3 driven rock/soul/blues/funk in 2011? They weren't supposed to be allowed to make such things anymore! Yet here it is. The Road From Memphis is kicking my ass with great playing and great tunes.

Well, no wonder! It's that Booker T. As in Booker T And The MGs. The Green Onions guy. The world is crying out for albums like this. Instrumentals like Walking Papers and The Hive cook with tasty grooves as drummer Questlove and bassist Owen Biddle sizzle along with guitarists Kirk (no, not the actor) Douglas, and the legendary Dennis Coffey. Jones' fingers fly across that B3 as well as ever. Maybe even better! The few vocal turns keep things interesting. Much praise for My Morning Jacket's Yim Yames on Progress, Lou Reed on Harlem House, and Jones himself on Down In Memphis.

This album is the hard goods. It's smoky nights in a hole-in-the-wall place eating greasy fries. It's dirty floors; nights you never forget; mornings that hurt your eyes. Your soul wants you to buy this album. You must obey!

Just Offshore - Just Offshore (Power Voltage)

"Just Offshore" is a one man project - the one man being keyboardist Russ Mate. The sound is very much "Exit" era Tangerine Dream, with bouncing sequences over synth beds with a melodic top line. Mate has a nice touch - very professional.

Pieces like "Meditation Medication" and "Galactic Construction" percolate along engagingly. Having said that, I have 2 caveats. 1: this is so much like Tangerine Dream as to be a near clone. 2: credit where credit is due. The booklet says "Written, Arranged & Produced by Russ Mate" which would be fine if it weren't for "House Of The Rising Sun" being on there. Don't get me wrong, it's a very good CD, and a fluid, pleasant listen.

Kaipa - Notes From The Past (InsideOut Music America)

Before there were the Flower Kings, there was Kaipa. Flower King mastermind Roine Stolt has returned to the fold for a new album along with FK bassist Jonas Reingold and the results are remarkable. Fronted by keyboardist Hans Ludin, pieces like "Leaving The Horizon" and "Folke's Final Decision" shimmer with elegant layers of sound.

The musicianship is tight and note perfect. The feel is symphonic prog - totally "old school" with no compromise. Melody reigns here with psychedelic flourishes of guitar and keyboards. How is it different than the Flower Kings? The songs have less chordal shifts and less of Stolt's wry humor - he is here more as a player than a composer. None of this is a knock - this is a thoroughly enjoyable disc from stem to stern. A feast for the ears!

Kayak - See See The Sun (Esoteric)
Kayak - Kayak (Esoteric)

So Esoteric has taken on the Kayak catalogue, and here are the first 2 albums: 1973's See See The Sun and 1974's Kayak. Why is the 2nd album self-titled instead of the first? who cares. Great songs; great playing; Ton Scherpenzeel. End of story.

Look at all that great material! Lyrics, Mouldy Wood, Ballet Of The Cripple, Mammoth, Mountain Too Rough, Woe And Alas, Mirielle, His Masters Noise and so many more. See See The Sun also includes the B side Try To Write A Book and Kayak throws in the A/B sides We Are Not Amused and Give It A Name.

Good God these remasters are clean. They sound crisp and tight with clarity, balance, and space. Modern without modern compression is you know what I mean. You're hearing every instrument clean and clear with no screwing with the original mix. Well done Ben Wiseman! Fine booklet notes by Progwereld's Wouter Bessels complete the packages. Excellent work by all on these. Bring on Royal Bed Bouncer!

Mike Keneally & Beer For Dolphins - Sluggo! (Exowax)

It's a new old album. It's both new and old. Got it? The old is now new. And improved. Way, waaaaaay improved. Mike Keneally gave a listen to 1997's Sluggo! and decided to fix what bothered him. The original mix left him unhappy. It cost him sleep. It cost him hair. It cost him the respect of Queen Elizabeth. So Keneally got to work and remixed the album to a higher standard. A more satisfying standard. Now he can rest better and sleep like a baby. The Queen again respects him & has a royal girlie crush on him. Keneally's so cool, he doesn't even know this.

For this remaster, we get 3 discs. Disc 1 is the album plus 2 bonus tracks. Keneally's remaster is fuller, richer, more defined. In comparison to the original, is just makes more sense. I hope that makes sense to you. This is Sluggo! as it should have been from day 1. Disc 2 is DVD audio, with the album in 16/48, 24/96, and 5.1 surround versions of each format.

DVD 3 rounds it all out. For completists, you get the original 1997 mix. Add to that 90+ minutes of live performances from 1998. Wait! There's more! Over 30 minutes of video of the piano demo sessions. More bonus audio stuff & a photo gallery & even more unreleased stuff on the menus. This deluxe new Sluggo! is packed and jacked thanks to new illegal music growth hormones and eerie voodoo magic. A perfect gift for Rowdy Roddy Piper, Monk Mayfair, OR yourself. Excellent!

Mike Keneally - You Must Be This Tall (Exowax Recordings)

I rarely use the word "snappy" to describe music, but it fits here. Snappy. Peppy. Simply complex or complexly simple. There's quite a bit happening on this album, but for all the complexity, it is easy on the ears. Some experimental music sounds like a Chinese algebra test, but Mike Keneally's innate musicality keeps things flowing.

Cavanaugh, about a former friend of mine with massive breasts (OK, it's not about her, but it is her last name!), features a rhythmically acrobatic vocal against a challenging backing, yet sounds fun and friendly. Plum is a beautiful tiny interlude that takes us to Cornbread Crumb - a very Hatfield / National Health-ish piece. Pitch Pipe is big and very crunchy. The Rider rides a nice groove and features some very Brian May-esque guitar harmonies. Wonderful solo break shortly before the 4:00 mark that just soars. Bolarius is another beautiful vignette. Timeless & spiritual. Popes works off another sly groove and just might be the highlight of the album. Glop plays around before delivering, but deliver it does!

Although a few friends join Keneally on the journey, it's mostly a 1 man deal. Lots of tasty playing. Great writing, solid improvising. If I look at Keneally's body of work as a sort of magazine subscription, You Must Be This Tall is a spectacular issue!

Mike Keneally Band - Guitar Therapy Live (Exowax)

Not many CDs come with a free guitar pick. This one did, so I like it automatically! Just kidding - I'm not that easy! Culled from a handful of shows in 2005, Guitar Therapy Live shows off the skills of former Zappa guitarist Mike Keneally & his bandmates. Lots of strange chords and herky jerky rhythms all over the place.

The good natured Keneally is complimented by Rick Musallam on guitar, Bryan Beller on bass, and Joe Travers on drums. Hum, Spoon Guy, Lightnin' Roy, and Panda are the most attention getting of the 14 cuts, with Travers shining on drums on every track.

The music is not as much a shredfest as I perhaps mistakenly anticipated. It's got a few Zappa tinges, but is mostly happy, noodly, bopping Phish-meets-Echolyn on their jammiest days. Good natured beer and pothead stuff played exceedingly well. If you're a Keneally fan, you already have and love this!

Khan - Space Shanty (Eclectic)

You will never defeat Kirk, villain! Ooops - wrong Khan! This Khan was the launchpad for the career of guitar genius Steve Hillage. It's funny, this album always slipped between my fingers over the years. What a mistake on my part! "Space Shanty" is a warm, wonderful album. You can feel the future all across this disc. It is a sort of blueprint for what Hillage would later perfect in Gong & his solo albums.

The glissando guitars shimmer. The licks are wild and furious. Guest keyboardist Dave (I'm not the Eurythmics guy) Stewart adds glorious palettes of sound to the whole affair. Eclectic's remaster of this 1972 album is warm and clean. It also includes 2 spiffy bonus tracks to seal the deal. An eye opener.

King Crimson - Islands (Inner Knot)

Earth, stream and tree encircled by sea. Waves sweep the sand from my island. Stone headed Frisco spacer ate all the meat I gave her. Said would I like to taste hers and even craved the flavour. I always loved the contrast of those two lyrics. Islands has always been an album of contrasts, of the harsh and the sublime. At times the sublimely harsh as well!

This remaster just totally kicks ass. Steven Wilson did quite a loving remix of the album - nudging bits here and there without denting the integrity of the original. All the while polishing it up beautifully. Sailor's Tale and Ladies Of The Road have never sounded as fresh.

The CD adds 6 bonus tracks. The DVD includes a 5.1 mix, a stereo mix of the Wilson mix, the 30th Anniversary stereo mix, an alternate version of the album and yet another 13 bonus tracks. Fans of Islands will rejoice and run naked in the streets. New listeners will have the ultimate source to treat their ears with. Robert Fripp will have tea and a scone.

King Crimson - Lizard (Inner Knot / DGM)

I'm one of those creepy geeks that always loved Lizard - it's far and away my favorite King Crimson album. For years I could never quite express why that is. Now I can. It is music from another world. There are rock albums. Pop. Prog. Jazz. You name it. Then there is Lizard. There is no other album like it. Nothing else sounds even remotely similar. Its genre is Lizard. After years of being treated by Robert Fripp as a child in his attic, Lizard has been given a fresh shave and a haircut by Fripp and Steven Wilson.

This CD / DVD 2 disc set manages to do everything right. The CD features a new mix of the album and 3 bonus tracks. The new mix eliminates a few synth squeaks and a hi-hat count in and brings the instruments to the ear in a new way to great effect. Indoor Games has never sounded better! The DVD features a 5,1 mix, the stereo remix, the original stereo mix (the 2004 remaster version), and the bonus tracks all nice and clean.

The packaging is swell - digipak in a slip case with a booklet. The booklet has a nice essay by Sid Smith and notes from Fripp that for once aren't yet another anger management class about who screwed him over and owes him money. This incarnation of Lizard is a perfect example of how to do a remaster properly. Own this! Support excellence.

King Crimson - In The Wake Of Poseidon (Inner Knot)

I never heard this album until I was in my twenties. I'd always meant to buy it, but never quite got around to it. I had been told it was basically the runt brother of In The Court Of The Crimson King. My first listen had shown it to be...confusing. Disjointed. An uneasy listen. So it never got too many spins.

Well, here's the 2010 remaster, lovingly tweaked by Steven Wilson and packed with extras. Wilson has a great ear and a respect for the material and it shows. He's added cleanliness, definition and dimension, without imposing upon the original feel. It has to be noted that the multitracks don't exist for The Devil's Triangle, so it's still the 1999 version.

Time has shown either the error of my ways or the growth of my perceptions. I love this little sucker! Yes, I must say, I even prefer it to the sacred Court! This 40th Anniversary set includes a DVD with a 5.1 mix and a tasty bunch of extras. Cat food...again!

King Crimson - The 21st Century Guide To King Crimson Volume One 1969-1974 (Discipline Global Mobile)

A fascinating overview of this influential band. The format here is 4 discs - 2 studio, 2 live. Disc 1 covers In The Court Of The Crimson King through Islands. Disc 2 is live material from that period. Disc 3 features selections from Larks' Tongues In Aspic through Red with disc 4 being live material from those years.

Song selection is...interesting. The entire In The Court Of The Crimson King album is here, yet only 1 brief track from Lizard. The sound is lovely throughout. The packaging is spiffy as all get out. A great introduction to the band, I must say. It is, however, a view of King Crimson, not necessarily the view. Nowhere in the copious notes for this set does it say that Greg Lake, Ian Wallace, Bill Bruford, John Wetton, David Cross, or any of the members of the band other than Robert Fripp were in any way consulted in regard to song selection. Perhaps they were & this was omitted from the liner notes.

King Crimson - The Power To Believe (Sanctuary)

This is the second studio CD featuring the Robert Fripp/Adrian Belew/Trey Gunn/Pat Mastelotto KC. The music is dark, modern, & powerful. There has been much talk about the new rhythmic approach of this incarnation of King Crimson. It is both solid and compelling. "Level Five" and "Dangerous Curves" pulse and crackle with smacks, beeps, buzzes, and snaps.

Belew turns in a charming vocal on "Eyes Wide Open" and contrasts it with the threatening "Facts Of Life." "The Power To Believe" is an album of strengths. The power of this unit is frightening, and the production touches of Machine add to the sonic assault. For long time Crimson fans, an interesting note: I played this CD while setting off numerous camera flashes and at no point did the music abruptly stop! Hee hee.

King Crimson - Heavy ConstruKction (Discipline Global Mobile)

Enough with the cutesypoo KC spellings! Yeesh! This 3 CD set is a fine, fine document of the European dates from the ConstruKction Of Light tour by the Fab Fripp Four. As you may be aware, King Crimson is back to a 4-piece, featuring Adrian Belew / Robert Fripp / Trey Gunn / Pat Mastelotto. Great versions of Cage, The Deception Of The Thrush, One Time, and ProzaKc Blues as well as many juicy improvs are amongst the highlights.

Fripp and the lads are in fine form, breezing & sneezing, but never wheezing. Each playing reveals more and more astonishing bits and funny lil moments. If you're a KC fan, you already own this. If you're new to the band, prepare to have your jaw drop.

King Crimson - The ConstruKction of Light (Virgin Records America)

This is the first King Crimson album in over 25 years that does not feature Bill Bruford on the skins. Nor does it contain a single bass note from the extraordinary Tony Levin. Pat Mastelotto and Trey Gunn occupy those stools on this outing. How does "The ConstruKction of Light" fare? Beautifully.

Rather than listening to the bass and drum parts to analyze and speculate, I decided to listen to the album and see how I felt about the songs. I like it, baybee! The album opens on a humorous note with "ProzaKc Blues" featuring Adrian Belew's voice taken down an octave and some genuinely raunchy guitar riffing by Belew & Robert Fripp.

The title cut has wonderful ping-ponging guitar lines that travel down marvelous melodic roads and resolving into a beautiful vocal section. "Into the Frying Pan" is a bit of KC psychedelia where drummer Mastelotto shines, playing absolutely huge sounding drums with 1 or 2 inspired edits. King Crimson tweezerboys will adore "FraKctured" where Fripp injures a guitar irreparably to great effect. Gunn's low-end work on this piece is nothing short of staggering! "The World's My Oyster Soup Kitchen Floor Wax Museum" follows with some goofily fun vocals from Belew and more huge riffs. "Lark's Tongues in Aspic - Part IV" is just massive with the quartet smoking gloriously, segueing into the lovely "Coda: I Have a Dream" which closes the album.

As a bonus, the ProjeKct X track "Heaven and Earth" is included. ProjeKct X is the same players as KC basically wearing beards and glasses to fool us all! All told, this is a solid, strong release. If you don't already own it, bow your head in shame for a moment, then get off your butt and buy it!

King Crimson - Collector's Club #13 Nashville Rehearsals 1997 (Discipline Global Mobile)

This CD contains the last twitchings of the double trio. Looking to sow the seeds for a follow-up to "Thrak," the sextet convened in Nashville to let the ideas flow. Evidently, someone was far from satisfied with the sessions and Bill Bruford and Tony Levin left for other endeavors. To these ears, there are several very satisfying moments here. The ideas are strong & vibrant, the playing impeccable.

Several of these pieces were further developed by the current quartet for inclusion on "The ConstruKction of Light." This brings up a simple question: if Bruford & Levin helped develop these pieces, why were they not credited on that CD? Puzzling. As ever, the King Crimson Collector's Club has served up another gem. Go to the DGM website and join the others already enjoying these fine, eclectic slices of time. Very well worth the effort!

King Crimson - Collector's Club #10 Live in Central Park, NYC 07-01-74 (Discipline Global Mobile)

For those unaware, KC basically put out their own bootlegs - fans get music they'd otherwise not hear, and the musicians get the royalties they deserve for their work. At $16 per disc, a real bargain. Check out the DGM website for details.

This recording features the Robert Fripp/Bill Bruford/John Wetton/David Cross lineup at the peak of their powers. The set includes gems like "Fracture" and "Exiles" and smokes throughout. The sound quality, while not as glossy as today's standards, is quite good! The only bummer is the occasional, but audible ramblings of a pseudo-intellectual audience weenie that creeps into some of the quieter sections. For the sake of future live recordings, if you are reading this, please don't BE that guy!

Kingfisher Sky - Hallway Of Dreams (The Laser's Edge)

The first thing you notice is how huge the drums are. Not just in terms of monster playing, but the size of their mix, the feeling of the room in the sonic field. Ivar De Graaf's toms are like giant kegs of sound, wide and deep. De Graaf, of course, is from the Dutch band Within Temptation.

His new band, Kingfisher Sky, also showcases the amazing voice of Judith Rijnveld. Rijnveld has operatic clarity minus the need to oversing. She keeps her parts spot on on songs like The Craving and the title cut. Bassist Eric Hoogenboorn seems to have signed a pact with De Graaf's bass drum, as they mesh so perfectly. Guitarists Edo Van Der Kolk and Daan Janzine immaculately pair crunch with delicacy. George Van Offen creates dark beuty with his keys.

The sound on pieces like Balance Of Power can be fierce or brightly folkish as on Big Fish. Hallway Of Dreams is an utterly awesome debut. Fans of prog, folk, or just plain good music will give this CD endless spins.

Ernie Kovacs - Percy Dovetonsils...Thpeaks (Omnivore Recordings)

The lisping poet laureate gets his own CD at last. This album was actually recorded back in 1960. Due to disputes with the label over content, it remained unreleased save for a snippet or 2 on compilations - until now.

The decades have in no way dulled the twisted lunacy here. Ernie Kovacs was a mad genius and it's clearly in evidence here. Thoughts While Falling Off The Empire State Building, Ode To Sam, The Taller Of The Two Monkeys, and The Night Before Christmas On New York's Fashionable East Side are positively inspired. There is new piano music by Ben Model behind much of the album, but it totally fits the feel of the era.

In addition to the album, this CD also includes 30 minutes of bonus material. Take your funny bone on a luxury cruise and grab Percy Dovetonsils...Thpeaks. Hilariously unique!

Greg Lake - Songs Of A Lifetime (Esoteric Antenna)

I had the pleasure of seeing Greg Lake on this tour. It was a wonderful, intimate, personal show. It was a sort of walk through Lake's career and influences. This disc does a fantastic job of capturing the feel of the show.

The performances are crisp. Lake plays over backing tapes to fine effect. His high notes may not be, say, 1972 quality, but his lower register is rich and luxuriant. No fan will find any fault in that regard - Lake still kicks ass as a vocalist & a player. I Talk To The Wind, Heartbreak Hotel, Touch And Go, People Get Ready, and the rest on the disc are mighty satisfying. What really take Songs Of A Lifetime over the top are Lake's stories in between numbers. They are insightful as well as occasionally humorous. When you listen, you feel he's telling each story for the very first time, and just to you.

The sound quality is off the charts. You are truly there. A great headphones album, by the by. The booklet has a nice assortment of pics. Here we have a no-brainer. You must own this. There is no wiggle room. Greg Lake has hit a home run with Songs Of A Lifetime. Multiple plays are in your future!

Greg Lake - From The Underground Vol. 1 & 2 (Lemon Recordings)

Nice to see these two volumes of "official bootlegs" get much wider distribution through the Cherry Red folks. The 2 CDs feature a wide variety of Greg Lake rarities spanning his career. From the pre-King Crimson days as part of the Shame, to the post ELP solo years, these discs dig deep!

A fierce take of A Man, A City that shows how kickin' that early King Crimson could be. The ultra groovy Love by Shy Limbs, a killer diller live version of The Score by E, L & Powell. Blue Light from Greg Lake's Ride The Tiger. A fine cover of You Really Got A Hold On Me from a session Lake did with Toto. Lots of quality tracks to be found!

The sound quality varies from track to track, but nothing gets worse than "very good" with most sounding immaculate. Both discs of From the Underground are well worth seeking out. ELP & Crimson fans rejoice!

Greg Lake - Greg Lake (MVD Audio)

Vivaaaaaaaa Prog Vegas!! This CD is a live disc recorded at Stevenage Concert Hall, Hertfordshire in November 2005. The material spans Greg Lake's career, from King Crimson, to ELP, to solo material. Lake is in fine voice on songs like In The Court Of The Crimson King, Take A Pebble, and Lucky Man. His acoustic & electric playing is spot on. So, why the Prog Vegas comment?

For starters, I don't really think Take A Pebble suddenly needs 7 musicians and an "Esteban" sounding faux classical guitar break by, as Lake exclaims, "The talented young hands of Florian Opahle." Farewell To Arms sounds like it is going to be followed by a PBS pledge break, offering an exclusive Greg Lake mug & umbrella with every $75.00 pledge. Great songs, for the most part. Just waaaaay overdone, bloated arrangements. But now I know what Emerson, Manilow, & Palmer might have sounded like.

John Lees - A Major Fancy (Esoteric)

I remember when this was released back in the late 70s. A new old album. An orphan of 1973 finally getting a release in 1977. A budget one, at that. I thought at the time that the label had treated John Lees with disrespect. Certainly nothing new to any and all members of Barclay James Harvest. This beautifully packaged remaster from Esoteric is the first shot this album gets in terms of respect.

The sessions with members of the Pretty Things and 10cc, and some dude named Rod Argent reveal John Lees at his moodiest. There's an air of discontent beneath even the most beautiful of tracks. Perhaps a result of the ever turbulent days in BJH. It suits Lees well, as Child Of The Universe, Untitled No.2, and Witburg Night channel his discontent and melancholy particularly well.

This is also very much a player's album. Lees' guitar screams with that fuzz tone so distinctly his. Keys from Rod Argent, Gordon Edwards, Graham Preskett, and Wally Waller are often the jarring antithesis of the majestic sounds from Lees' BJH mate Woolly Wolstenholme. This 2 disc set of A Major Fancy also includes a second disc of rarities, singles, and alternate takes. The sound is fantastic on both discs, and we get full historic notes to seal the deal. I cannot stop listening to this one!

Les Rita Mitsouko - Variety (Because Music)

Yet another album of wonderfully quirky tunes by French duo of Fred Chichin and Catherine Ringer. Adding percussive precision and punch to this release is the addition of Peter Gabriel drummer Ged Lynch.

The 12 songs run the gamut of emotions and moods - from the sexy feel of Soir De Peine to the Tom Petty-meets-Bowie She's A Chameleon to the joyous singalong of Ding Ding Dong (Ringing At Your Bell). Ringer is in fine voice as ever with an added depth to her lower range is my ears are not mistaken. Chichin plays all manner of guitars and keys with a greater emphasis on acoustic guitar on many of the numbers here.

Songs like Ma Vieille Ville have those little European odd bits that are the hallmark of the Mitsouko sound. System Of A Down vocalist Serj Tankian guests on Terminal Beauty, but it's the unforgettable voice of Catherine Ringer that rules the roost. Perhaps their finest effort since 1993's Systeme D, Variety is an album that's like vitamins for your ears. Also available with all the vocals in English, but you can't lose either way.

Les Rita Mitsouko - La Femme Trombone (Virgin/EMI)

As expected, this French duo's latest release is a fountain of styles and ideas. From electronic to world to pop to rock, La Femme Trombone reveals their mastery of all forms. Catherine Ringer cements her position as the finest living female vocalist on tracks like the ethereal Triton and 1928 and Fred Chichin is spot-on as ever with a wide palette of guitar textures.

Les Rita Mitsouko continue to break new ground and move music into unexplored territories. I suppose you could tie them conveniently to the RIO movement or as distant bastard cousins to Zappa, The Residents, and/or Bowie, but why bother? Les Rita Mitsouko are their own unique animal. Inspiring. Funny. Universal. That's it! Universal works - the songs are all in French and I don't even understand the language, yet I sing along! How cool is that? An indispensable album.

Martin Levac - A Visible Jazz Touch Of...Genesis (La Petite Pomme)

Recording an album's worth of classic Genesis songs can be a dangerous proposition. Drummer / vocalist Martin Levac made a very wise decision: he reinterpreted the songs in a jazz context. The result is bouncy and fresh - bringing light and life to every number. Fresh ears for the listener. Interestingly, many of the post Gabriel, post Hackett songs lend themselves especially well to the jazz treatment.

Many Too Many becomes a lilting samba. Land Of Confusion swings. That's All has that Satin Doll feel to it, with ultra cool brushwork from Levac. Invisible Touch has a late night jazz ballad feel to it. I smiled all the way through every number

Joining Levac are Frederick Doiron on guitar, Mathieu Gagne on bass, Julie Lamontagne on piano. A special guest from Levac's days in the Musical Box - pianist David Myers - guests on For Absent Friends, A Trick Of The Tail, More Fool Me, and Mad Man Moon and is every bit as amazing as one expects. A Visible Jazz Touch Of...Genesis is flat out wonderful. Martin Levac is quite the talent. Genesis fans, jazz fans, and those looking for a bit of musical adventure definitely need this one!

Tony Levin Band - Double Espresso (Papa Bear Records)

"Double Espresso" is a 2 CD live document of Tony Levin & his all star band. Larry "Wires" Fast on keys; Jesse Gress on guitar; and Jerry Marotta on drums accompany the bassist extraordinaire. The 19 songs feature lots of TL solo material & several tasty covers.

The band are tight & spirited - bounding through aggressive takes of "Peter Gunn" and "Sleepless." For all the energy, pieces like "Belle" show a sensitivity to textures and mood. All the players here are stars in their own right, but there's no stuffy egoism on display - just fun. Having seen this band, I was struck by what a great time they were having, and "Double Espresso" reflects this. Sound quality is stellar, as is the packaging. As always, Tony Levin is a class act with a class release. If you don't already own this, get it!

Levinhurst - Perfect Life (Full Contact)

Levinhurst is a project featuring Cure keyboardist Lol Tolhurst. So why is it being reviewed in a progressive 'zine? Because it fits. The music is clearly rhythmic and accessible/catchy. Yet I am struck by the depth and exotic nature of Tolhurst's keyboard work.

I hear auras of "Exit" era Tangerine Dream and sounds that Kraftwerk would smile upon. Genuine metallic electronics. Vocalist Cindy Levinson adds comfortable trance-y vocals, and Dayton Borders throws in interesting stuff to the mix. The results are satisfyingly quirky electropop that keyboard aficionados will deconstruct with a grin. A very very nice surprise.

Lindisfarne - The Charisma Years 1970 - 1973 (Charisma / EMI)

This 4 CD set of our beloved folkies from Newcastle-On-Tyne gives us their first 5 albums: 4 studio + 1 live set. It's what you need all in 1 place. Nicely Out Of Tune / Fog On The Tyne /Dingly Dell / Live / Roll On Ruby.

For the first 3, we have the line up of legend: Alan Hull / Ray Jackson / Rod Clements / Simon Cowe / Ray Laidlaw. After the 3rd album, Clements, Cowe and Laidlaw parted ways to form Jack The Lad. Their replacements Kenny Craddock, Tommy Duffy, Charlie Harcourt, and Paul Nichols joined Hull and Jackson to record Roll On Ruby.

This set includes plenty of outtakes, alternate versions, and live bonuses. A very generous lode. Alternate cover art found its way here as well. The remasters are as clear, full, and beautiful as one could ever wish for. Having said all that, it's really about the songs.

Lady Eleanor / Clear White Light / Down / Scarecrow Song / Meet Me On The Corner / Uncle Sam / Together Forever / January Song / Winter Song / Poor Old Ireland / Fog On The Tyne / Court In The Act / Wake Up Little Sister / Dingly Dell / When The War Is Over / Mandolin King / North Country Boy / No Time To Lose. Are you kidding? They're all on Heaven's jukebox. The Charisma Years 1970 - 1973 is lightning in a bottle. Tears of joy from God's eye.

Lo-Fi Resistance - A Deep Breath (Sound Language)

It doesn't happen all that often, to be honest. But once in a blue moon a new album just grabs me. This is one of those. A Deep Breath is a breath of fresh air. Strong, catchy songs. Great playing. Great vocals. This has it all!

The mind behind the project is vocalist/guitarist/multi-everything guy, Randy McStine. Being a smart guy, McStine brought in a few pals. Nick D'Virgilio drums on the album. Dave Meros, Rob Weinberger and Lloyd Landesman all add their talents to Too Simple. Dug Pinnick sings on and co-wrote Moral Disgrace. All of which would mean zero if the songs bit. They don't. Pieces like Hello New Star!, Embrace and the album closer Wasted are gems.

A Deep Breath feels like the child of Spock's Beard and Crowded House. Take a moment and wrap that around your psyche. I love the vocal harmonies. I love the guitars. I love the variety. I love A Deep Breath. So will you.

Jon Lord - Concerto For Group And Orchestra (Thompson/Eagle/Ear)

Since my early teens, Jon Lord has been a huge musical influence on me and quite a hero. I believe I first heard the original Deep Purple version of this concerto around 1975, if memory serves. My brain wasn't yet ready to absorb it. I found it jarring an alien. It's 2012 and over the years I came to embrace the concerto to my heart. Here we have a new version - one of the very last pieces of music Jon Lord was to work on before his untimely demise.

Joining Lord on this recording are guitarists Steve Morse, Joe Bonamassa, and Darin Vasilev; bassist Guy Pratt; drummer Brett Morgan; vocalists Bruce Dickinson, Steve Balsamo, and Kasia Laske; and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Paul Mann.

I'm happy to say that this new recording is a wonderful companion to the original. It is full of color and vigor. The rock players mesh exceptionally well with the orchestra. There is both respect for the work and palpable excitement in the playing. The sound is lush and full - very well produced. If this is to be the last musical statement by Jon Lord, it is definitely a case of ending on a high note. Concerto For Group And Orchestra is still a challenging, triumphant piece that tears down the barriers of perception and expectation.

Jon Lord - Sarabande (Spitfire)

Jon Lord's various forays into combining classical music with rock are a mixed bag in terms of quality. 1976's "Sarabande" is the finest of the lot. Backed by a 4 piece band that includes a pre-Police Andy Summers and joined by the Philharmonica Hungarica Orchestra conducted by Eberhard Schoener, Lord delivers the goods track after track.

The beauty of "Aria" and "Pavane" - the lilting "Caprice" - there isn't a weak track here. If you only think of Jon Lord as the wonderfully rocking keyboardist in Deep Purple, check out this beautifully remastered CD. This was a great one on vinyl when I bought it in my teens and it sounds fresher than ever on CD - discover or rediscover this gem before it vanishes!

Maestoso - Grim (Eclectic Discs)

For those who may not be aware, Maestoso is a quartet featuring Barclay James Harvest keyboardist Woolly Wolstenholme. Wolstenholme weaves together elegant melodies, tons of mellotrons, and very British sounding folk prog. Grim is as smooth as a Werther's original candy - buttery, sweet, and tasty.

Wolstenholme's songs glow with timeless beauty. Listen to the fragile harmonies on That's The Price You Pay. The simple, delicate Love Is.... Maestoso can punch your gut with equal force. Put on Through A Storm or The Iceman Cometh if you have any doubts. Steve Broomhead's electric guitar buzzes with fuzz & wah, Kim Turner smacks the hell out of his kit, and Craig Fletcher is the bass player everyone should be talking about.

When I listen to Grim, I'm reminded of everything I ever loved about Barclay James Harvest, The Enid, & The Moody Blues. To get this stellar CD of stately classic prog in the days of American Idol winners & rap "artists" is nothing short of a blessing.

Magellan - Innocent God (Magellansongs)

Those Gardner brothers - Trent and Wayne - are back again, and they've brought Robert Berry along for the ride. Innocent God is Magellan's 7th album (a digital only release, by the way) and it's corker. With Robert Berry on board, they've delivered their slickest album yet. I mean that in a totally good way. The results are much more ear-friendly.

The title track has this great, greasy beat that the song hangs on with chant like vocals. Then it takes this darker turn about 7 and a half minutes in that draws your ear in deeper and deeper. Incredibly effective. Invisible Bright Man is very modern sounding, yet no less progressive. What we have here is a much more confident Magellan taking strides forward, moving from strength to strength. The vocals on this number are a monster, by the way. Found moves along on this tribal rhythm that you feel to your core. It heartening to see how the Gardners continue to grow as songwriters. The compositions have a maturity to them as well as strong emotional energy. Sea Of Details is highlighted by some wicked synth lines driving through the twists and turns of the primal beat. Slow Burn is a hot rocker with a few surprises thrown in for good measure.

Innocent God is prog rock that actually rocks. Hot vocals, killer playing, clean production. Magellan hit this one out of the park!

Magenta - Metamorphosis (The Laser's Edge)

What makes an act successful? Purpose. Vision. The ability to realize that vision. Talent, of course. All those elements rarely come together. Magenta get it right. The vision is Rob Reed's. He is most ably abetted by lyricist Steve Reed, guitarist Chris Fry, and the exceptional vocals of Christina Booth. Metamorphosis is a gritty but lush opus remindful in spots of Fish meets Porcupine Tree. Darkly poetic, somber but somehow uplifting in places.

I love the center section of The Ballad Of Samuel Layne. Booth's vocal so perfectly caresses Reed's melody - powerful yet pretty when required. Prekestolen has a European morning meadow feel to it. Loneliness and dew, angelwings and warm tea. The title track addresses love, life, death, and fear. Steve Reed's lyric does so without excess or pretension, taking an emotionally honest road. Lots of great guitar riffs here as well. The album concludes with the slightly otherworldly Blind Faith. A downbeat finish to a dark jewel of an album.

Metamorphosis shows Magenta to be a mature unit with skill, passion, and a showcase for one hell of a singer. If you haven't tried this band's bill of fare yet, dive right in to Metamorphosis. All meat, no fat.

Marbin - Last Chapter Of Dreaming (MoonJune)

I had no clue whatsoever as to what this was. Leonardo Pavkovic from MoonJune sent it to me out of the blue. Well now, let me tell you! This smokes!. On The Square is a pig being microwaved in hell. Cafe De Nuit is a deliciously elegant slice of midnight. Redline is what I always secretly wished the Dregs wrote!

Danny Markovich on sax and Dani Rabin on guitar are Marbin. A rogues gallery of guests like Paul Wertico and Steve Rodby aid and abet. If you love that jumpin' Blow By Blow Jeff Beck fusion, see it as a starting point, then turn left.

For all the straight on fusion, there are equal parts of exotic worldliness. This album is deep. There is a strong compositional sense to everything. It's not fretwanking. It's mind expanding. I love every moment of Last Chapter Of Dreaming and I suspect that you will too!

Marillion - Fuck Everyone And Run (earMUSIC / Racket Records)

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Start with a tempo just a bit slower than, say, Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb. Stay there for 68 minutes. 68 minutes. Rotate fade-out style chords over & over. Be vaguely upset with life and the world. Fuck Everyone And Run. Really. Currently, Marillion feels this. It is the best they are currently capable of. Buy the $900.00 edition. Support artistic freedom. Love the innovation. Marillion remain 100% free of commercial concerns or corporate influence. They are free to record what is basically the same album for a 4th or 5th time in a row. Who can blame them? The faithful buy them. Call the next album Why Bother? I have decades of love for this band. I keep coming back with hope. For years now, they pay me back by pissing in my ears. If you loved the last few albums, buy this one as it's the same album again. I'm not fucking anyone, but I am running.

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Marillion - Sounds That Can't Be Made (Intact/Ear/Eagle)

I go into every album wanting to like it. Sometimes it's rough going. Sounds That Can't Be Made is a perfect example. I love the players. I've followed the band since 1983. I love each era of their history. In the case of this album, I'm taken with some bits and left totally cold by others.

Let's start with the song Gaza. It's a 17 min+ piece. The theme is the tragedy of conflict as seen through Palestinian eyes, but it really applies to any side of any conflict. War impacts the innocents of all races. Certainly a sentiment I agree with. The execution is, well, all over the place. It meanders from section to section like a piece of audio verite. It's just...there. Next is the title track. It sort of chugs along until it hits this modern trippy section. A few harmonies I really enjoy. There are parts that almost sound like 2 songs playing at the same time. eh. Pour My Love grabs me a bit more. Pleasant textures. It reminds me of Crowded House if they played Holding Back The Years. A nice tune, but I guess I expect more invention from this band. The laid back rhythms continue with Power. It's calm and painless pop rock with a bit of added color and a big build at one point.

Montreal is another longform number coming in at just under 14 minutes. Again, very very mellow with a build toward the end. Oddly enough, it's about Montreal. It's another piece that feels like several sections just strung together at random. The thought exists that I took a crazy pill that gets activated every time I listen to this album to deliberately not understand it. Could be. Again, I fare better with Invisible Ink. In contrast to the previous tracks, this one is mostly laid back. It builds in volume here and there for a moment or two. Then it quiets right back down. One of the stronger pieces here. Lucky Man, shockingly, is mostly laid back. However, when it builds, it stays loud and dense until the fade. Steve Rothery's leslied guitar effect is starting to make me think he sold off the rest of his equipment and only uses that and a distortion box. A revelation here: the album closes on a mid tempo, laid back number with a big build toward the end that goes right back to a laid back finish. This one is called The Sky Above The Rain.

I know other hardcore Marillion fans that adore this album and can already sing it from end to end. I am genuinely happy that the music on Sounds That Can't Be Made brings them such joy. As for myself, I wait in hope for the next one. Perhaps the band will let go of this stoner laid back noodling and remember that they once actually had energy and enthusiasm.

Marillion - Live At Cadogan Hall (Eagle Records)

Officially, this is the 283rd live double album from Marillion. All kidding aside, this set was recorded at the final gig of the Less Is More tour on December 7, 2009. As with the studio disc the tour was based on, the songs here are re-invented with new instrumentation, new vibes. Some sections have different sets of chords or a variation on melody. Often changing time signatures and tempos as well.

What stands out is how passionate the band sounds. The playing is spirited and fresh. There's a sense of five guys having fun. Mark Kelly turns in some truly inspired playing and fine sound choices. H is in great voice & adds wonderful textures. Steve Rothery shows what a solid, classy acoustic player he can be. Ian Mosley knows exactly when not to play (a lesson for all drummers!). Petey Trewavas, with his melodic bass and strong acoustic guitar, is still the glue to Marillion.

This Train Is My Life blows the original out of the water. The Answering Machine takes a strong song and makes it even stronger. Beautiful is truly gorgeous. There's not a false step among the 21 tracks. Live From Cadogan Hall shows a band confidently going from strength to strength. A better way of life through the occasional augmented chord!

Marillion - Somewhere Else (MVD Audio)

Since the middle 90s, Marillion is a band that you can never call predictable. I've never been a fan of "Radiohead Marillion" albums like Radiation, Marillion.com, or Anoraknophobia. Lots of people love those albums, but for whatever reason, they don't resonate with me. Somewhere Else does. There is a sort of fresh energy to the album, a "live" feel that is endearing. Steve Hogarth is in great voice, and this disc has the best drumming from Ian Mosley since This Strange Engine.

The Other Half, The Wound, Faith, and the title track rank among the band's best. The album has a nice flow to it, very well paced emotionally. Mark Kelly uses some fascinating textures, as does Steve Rothery. Pete Trewavas is good ol Pete - never ever a bad bass lick in the man, always melodic, always lots of movement in his lines. An album like this gives you faith in the future of the band. Chock full of ideas. I love it!

Marillion - Marbles Live (Intact Recordings)

This is basically audio taken from the Marbles On The Road DVD. It's a good representation of phase 3 Marillion. Phase 1: The Fish Years. Phase 2: Season's End - This Strange Engine. Phase 3: "modern" Marillion. The Marbles songs have a mostly mid tempo feel and simple, straight drumming with downbeat melodies.

Angelina and Fantastic Place sound much stronger in a live context. Steve Hogarth's voice is much more to the front and Pete Trewavas' bass playing is more defined. Don't Hurt Yourself gains more energy as well.

What Marbles Live drives home is the chief change over the years in Marillion. The progressive side of the band has ebbed to be replaced by a strong songwriting band. Ian Mosley's playing is more metronomic and economic. Mark Kelly and Hogarth offer more keyboard textures and less solos. Steve Rothery has limited his at one time wide range of guitar sounds to 3, perhaps 4. This is not in any way a knock, just an observation.

Marbles Live has a dozen strong performances of a band solidly in charge of its destiny. The sound is superb, the package simple but nice. Solid Stuff.

Marillion - Script For A Jester's Tear (Sanctuary)

Out domestically at last, it's the Marillion album that started it all: "Script For A Jester's Tear." This 2 CD remastering is mighty! The bottom end is deep, rich and tight. The clarity is awesome - revealing the beauty of the mix.

The title track is more majestic than ever and still elicits chills. "Garden Party" has so very many layers uncovered, it is like hearing it for the first time. Every track benefits from the thoughtful remastering, shining in a new light. A mention must be made here of drummer Mick Pointer. Much has been said in regards to his ability and his subsequent sacking. Listening to this CD, Pointer fares quite well indeed. His rolls and textures are inspired - the man can look back with nothing but pride!

Disc 2 is a feast of bonus material. "Market Square Heroes," "Three Boats Down from The Candy," "Charting The Single," and the much requested "Grendel" are all present along with a few early demos. A truly wonderful job by all. Remastering and packaging are impeccable. "Script For A Jester's Tear" is an essential cornerstone of any serious prog collection.

Mars Hollow - Live (Fingerwoven)

This disc is a live document of Mars Hollow's performance at RoSfest 2011 in the wilds of a strange land the natives call "Pennsylvania." The band for this show was John Baker on guitar and vocals; Steve Mauk on keyboards; Jerry Beller on drums; Kerry Chicoine on bass. Quite a nice sound to this band. They remind me in spots of a cross between IZZ and the Dregs with a smidgen of Rush. Not a bad place to be, if you think about it. Melodic prog with strong chops.

The set is as follows:
Wait For Me
Midnight
World In Front Of Me
Eureka
Weapon
Voices
Dawn Of Creation

The songs that grab me most are Voices, World In Front Of Me, and Weapon. Honestly, they're all solid pieces, but those 3 caught my current whim.

The disc also throws in a recent studio track as a bonus: So Far Away. It evidently sees a slightly different line up of Mars Hollow, with bassist Joe August and drummer Bob Craft joining Baker and Mauk. A tiny touch more mainstream, but most definitely a cool tune. If you're new to the band, this seems like a great place to start. Buy this to support the band, show some love for RoSfest, and give your ears a treat!

Paul McCartney - McCartney (MPL/Hear)

So, Paul McCartney sat down next to me and started singing and playing. It was pretty awesome! Well, it sounded that way, anyway. This 2011 remaster of Macca's solo debut is ridiculously clear. Everything is right there in front of you. An album this intimate truly benefits from the process.

Songs like That Would Be Something, Every Night, Hot As Sun/Glasses, and Teddy Boy sound fresh and alive - as if they were recorded last week. Guy Massey and Steve Rooke did the remastering here and clearly put their hearts in it. It has me grinning from ear to ear.

The package has a second disc of outtakes and live tracks. All of the Linda McCartney photos are beautifully reproduced. Everything about this one reeks of excellence. Get it!

Jim McCarty - Sitting On The Top Of Time (Troubador / Easy Action)

When I think of Jim McCarty, I immediately think of the Yardbirds and the original Renaissance. How can one not? Hell of a drummer, hell of a writer. When I was sent this, I was curious what it might sound like, in which direction it might skew. It's a reasonably mellow affair, with a folk rock feel not unlike those first 2 Renaissance albums.

Songs like The Outsider, Living From The Inside Out (with a great Steve Hackett guitar solo), For Eloise, and Hummingbird are friendly, easy going numbers with warm vocals from McCarty. Mature folk pop with some exotic edges.

We're not pushing any envelopes here. Just some good natured music that'll make you smile. Sitting On Top Of Time sits nice by the fire on a cold night. A warm blanket of sound to soothe you after a long day. Very nice.

Francisco Mela & Cuban Safari - Tree Of Life (Half Note)

This is a disc full of smiles. Amazingly, recorded in just 2 days!. Francisco Mela is a gifted drummer and Cuban Safari is basically 10 of his friends (including the lovely Esperanza Spalding) playing avant world jazz. It's free, fresh, and exceptionally tasty.

On the avant side, Classico Mela walks the fringes with beats turning over, exotic sax harmonies, and some cool acid guitar licks courtesy of Ben Monder. In contrast, Mela's reading of Hoagy Carmichael's The Nearness Of You is sweet simplicity itself: Mela's voice and Elio Villafranca's piano. Beautiful. Speaking of voices, Esperanza Spalding's wordless vocal on Yadan Mela is an essential spice to the world brew. Utterly irresistible.

Tree Of Life is my first exposure to Cuban born Mela. His drumming is powerful and inventive - I love how he dissects the beat to always keep the ear engaged. His compositions are strong, as are his arrangements. This is a technicolor disc in widescreen for the mind. Francisco Mela is a young drummer with a bright future. Catch this one as soon as you possibly can! Hot soup!

Lucia Micarelli - Music From A Farther Room (143 Records / Reprise)

The violin can engage or irritate. In the hands of young wunderkind Lucia Micarelli it soothes and inspires. Micarelli made her mark in the Trans-Siberian Orchestra & with popster Josh Groban as a guest soloist. Still in her early 20s, her playing on Music From A Farther Room is mature beyond her years.

Her choice of songs is eclectic to say the least. David Bowie's Lady Grinning Soul is followed by Ravel's String Quartet In F Major. Rodgers & Hart, Sibelius & Queen also populate the disc. A standout track is the lovely traditional piece She Is Like The Swallow with a delicate guest vocal by Leigh Nash that would give Sandy Denny shivers. Micarelli's playing is sensitive to each song: delicate when necessary, an angry swarm of bees when called for. Music From A Farther Room shows a player with decades of great music ahead of her. The CD you need for your next dinner party.

Phil Miller / In Cahoots - Conspiracy Theories (Moonjune Records)

I must confess - as a long time Hatfield And The North fan, I've been meaning to pick up some of the In Cahoots stuff, but never quite got off my fat butt. What a fool I've been! The core of the band is Phil Miller on guitar, Fred Baker on bass, Pete Lemer on keyboards, and Mark Fletcher on drums. Guests on Conspiracy Theories include Richard Sinclair, Didier Malherbe, Doug Boyle, Dave Stewart, and Barbara Gaskin among others. Not a shabby list of players!

The music is Canterbury jazz - breezier than Soft Machine, less dippy than Gong, a bit Blue Note in spots. Miller solos like a demon when the mood hits him, but is generous in sharing the spotlight with other soloists. I'm still cooling down from the heat generated by dual bassists Sinclair & Baker on Lydiotic. The title cut is sophisticated bop that rips in and out of rhythmic gears with Fletcher a wild man on the skins. 5s & 7s is an oddly beautiful beast with tuned percussion by Stewart and heavenly ahhhhs by Gaskin.

Fans of Hatfield, Caravan, Gong, and National Health will eat this up like manna. Phil Miller has put together a winner. This is one of those discs you just put on "repeat" and bliss out all night. Better living through sound!

Marco Minnemann - Celebration (Lazy Bones Recordings)

You know how drummers can be. Endless empty half-assed jazz instrumentals that are an excuse to show how fast they can play. I've heard a ton of those. The prog world has men with a career built entirely on such crap. I'm very pleased to say that Celebration is not one of those records.

Marco Minnemann's album, oddly enough, is about songs. With lyrics & vocals and all that sort of stuff. With the exception of 2 vocal bits, all the playing if by Minnemann himself. I found myself digging his guitar work - very textural. Of course the drums are spot on, yet they're rarely flashy & never overwhelming. If I was to give a sonic guidepost, think experimental Mothers Of Invention with a bit of modern day crunch & a touch of Godley & Creme. Not a bad place to be at all!

I love the variety here. Short pieces, long pieces, lean pieces, fat pieces. What Have You Done? is full of bounce and crunch with a nice vocal and a hot guitar solo. Print Club is a long piece that takes your ears on an audio adventure. 4000 is eerily exotic - a contemplative mood-filled number. Amina's Birthday pulls you in and holds you there. Love the xylophone! Celebration is an album full of tuneful surprises. Minnemann takes his stock up a notch by impressing on a coterie of instruments & solid compositions. I predict many spins on your CD player!

Fabio Mittino & Bert Lams - Long Ago (MittinoLams)

While I am unfamiliar with Fabio Mittino, I have been listening to Bert Lams for decades. His solo work as well as his years as a member of the California Guitar Trio have brought me untold pleasure. To my ears, Mittino fits like a dovetail joint here. Strong and seamless on the acoustic guitar. Long Ago is 17 small acoustic guitar pieces originally collected over the years by Gurdjieff then played and sung to Russian composer Thomas De Hartmann. Evidently the 2 came up with over 300 pieces between 1918 and 1927. What do they sound like? I think I'm safe in calling them folk tunes with classical underpinnings. Under the fingers of Mittino and Lams they shine brightly. Aural potato chips that you can't eat just 1 of.

Fans of the California Guitar Trio will definitely dig Long Ago as will admirers of Anthony Phillips' acoustic work. These small pieces are vibrant and full of life. Nothing gets too long to wear out its welcome - the longest number clocks in under 4 minutes. I'll even dare to call this album fun! A great morning coffee album guaranteed to start your day with a smile!

MJ12 - MJ12 (Gonzo Multimedia)

I'm going to call this improv acid jazz that feels like NYC. We've got Percy Jones on bass, David Phelps on guitar, Chris Bacas on saxophones, and Stephen Moses on drums. If you're looking for Brand X, this is the wrong room, son. This is way too caustic and raw (in the best possible way). Angular, angry, dark, smoky, ominous.

Call 911 sets the tone. Uncomfortable. Malevolent. The police sirens in the background fit all too perfectly. A sort of shout at the world. Pieces like Talk Time and Magic Mist have a familiarity that Jones brings into his muscular melodies. The remaining trio fly in so many unexpected directions, you are constantly engaged. The end result is oddly satisfying. The more you listen, the deeper you enter the world.

Production is clean. Packaging is basic. The music is what matters here, not the dressing. If you are ready to let your preconceptions fly away, MJ12 will most assuredly reward you. As safe as a tattoo on your eyeball.

Neal Morse - Momentum (Radiant)

Since going solo from Spock's Beard to follow his religious path, Neal Morse has become quite the polarizing figure. There are those who love every note and every word; there are also those wishing he'd write about more than one topic. Momentum continues along the path he's been following of inventive Christian prog.

The album starts with 5 tracks all under 8 minutes in length. SB fans will especially dig Thoughts Part 5 with its vocal gymnastics and ultra cool instrumental breaks. The bulk of the album goes to the 6 part, 33:39 suite World Without End. It's a highly autobiographical and observational statement with some of Morse's finest vocals ever.

The rhythm section of Mike Portnoy on drums and Randy George on bass are impressive as ever, and Morse's keyboards are full of color and adventure. Great production and strong compositions make Momentum another solid effort from this very committed performer.

Neal Morse - The TransAtlantic Demos (Radiant)

The word here is "insight." This CD gives a fascinating inside look into the creative process. Morse's demos range from quickie cassette pieces to full blown pieces that are 99% there. The demos include pieces from both TransAtlantic studio albums.

Morse throws out melodies like a progressive Paul McCartney all across this CD. The demos also show what a kickass bass player the man is. Even in this relatively raw format, pieces like "We All Need Some Light" just shine. Great tunes are great tunes. Revealing liner notes round out this stellar package.

Neal Morse - Testimony (Radiant / Metal Blade)

When Neal Morse announced he was leaving Spock's Beard to explore his faith, I was just a wee bit worried. Christian music more often than not becomes cloying in it's "up with people" happy happy feel. I should have known better. "Testimony" is a fantastic work. It's a statement without preaching. A sort of musical diary taking the listener through Morse's heart and soul as he traveled a path to his faith.

Lovely moments like "The Land Of Beginning Again" and "Sleeping Jesus" blend with rockers like "The Prince Of The Power Of The Air." Guests spots by Kerry Livgren & Mike Portnoy add to the excitement. Morse is, as always, a melody machine and "Testimony" bursts with themes and hummable lines. It's Christian Prog that never gets treacly. It's Prog with a Christian bent. Whatever you want to term it, be sure to buy it - 'cos bottom line: it's great!

Neal Morse - It's Not Too Late (Ear Candy)

Listeners looking for a Spock's Beard-ish neo prog CD will be mighty disappointed in this one. It's a very pop/rock outing. But it's a brilliant one. Morse has always been a songwriter first, and that gift is showcased well on "It's Not Too Late." 13 songs, all under 7 min each, with nary an "epic" length piece in sight. This reminds me of those great Todd Rundgren albums of the early 70s bursting with great little personal sonic gems.

It's hard to pick favorites when every song on here is great. "The Eyes Of The World (George's Song)," "The Change," "The Wind + The Rain," and the lovely "Broken Homes" come quickly to mind. This CD goes from strength to strength. It's most definitely a crossover CD in that it's a prog act tackling the pop market. But it's a no-compromise affair and is worth the time & the dime! You truly can't miss with this one.

Mossgrown - Demo 2013 (Mossgrown)

Truth in advertising! This is indeed a demo from 2013 by a duo from Norway calling themselves Mossgrown. The duo are 2 cousins: Robin Bang Holm and Jarl Emil Holm. Robin sings lead and plays acoustic guitar. Jarl plays electric guitar and adds backing vocals.

This is a 4 song, 25 min+ demo recorded at home. It definitely has that raw, unpolished feel to it. It's quite good. Robin is a particularly deft acoustic guitarist who is a top shelf crosspicker. Jarl is a bit of a blues player and their styles mesh well.

The first 2 pieces - Daily Grind Pt. 1 & 2 - have a sort of Stand Up-era Tull feel to them. Very enjoyable. Next up is The King's Demise. Nice leslied guitar by Jarl. A psychedelic aura to this one. I like the sense of movement and Robin's urgent vocal. At just over 10 minutes, it's the 'big' track here. The closer is Days In The Sun Blues. In many senses it's the most straightforward piece here. Again, I'm getting an early Tull vibe. Certainly not a bad place to occupy. A very solid demo packed with ideas and tons of potential. I'm definitely interested to hear what's next.

Mark Murdock - Cymbalic Encounters (Mark Murdock)

There sure are quite a few folks I know on this disc! We've got Percy Jones, John Goodsall, Kenwood Dennard, Ryo Okumoto, and David Sancious. Not surprisingly, if you though that this might happen to be a rock / jazz / fusion disc in the Brand X vein - bingo, Derek!

Pieces like Goodsall Funk Railroad / Ballad Of Percy Jones, Cymbalic Encounters, Meridian Fault Line, and Unauthorized Recording bear more than a passing semblance to Brand X tunes if for no other reason than the utterly distinctive playing of Goodsall and Jones.

There are a few vocal pieces thrown into the mix, but they aren't quite as strong as the instrumental efforts. Cymbalic Encounters is a pleasant visit to familiar territory where we get to say hi to a few old friends. Fun stuff!

David Myers - Genesis on Piano (David Myers)

For those who may not yet be aware, David Myers is the keyboard virtuoso making a name for himself in The Musical Box. His playing goes well beyond the mechanics of playing the correct notes - he manages to capture the essence of the spirit of Tony Banks.

That essence is put to good use here. This 2 CD set showcases the compositional prowess of Tony Banks as well as the interpretive and arranging skills of David Myers. For these discs, Myers has chosen Genesis pieces ranging from Trespass to Wind And Wuthering. We get Seven Stones, Happy The Man, Mad Man Moon, Dusk, and In That Quiet Earth, as well as many others.

Myers plays at a level worthy of the very best orchestral players. His arrangements respect the source material while bringing in a fresh vision, a new ear. This CD set made me rethink songs that have been part of my life for decades. When genius interprets genius, we all win!

Native Window - Native Window (Star City)

Native Window is Phil Ehart, Billy Greer, David Ragsdale and Richard Williams. Basically Kansas, minus Steve Walsh. Throw in guest Steve Rawls and you get a very ear friendly album. If you're looking for what sets Native Window apart from Kansas, I'd say the vocals are sung in a bit more tuneful way - Walsh was always a belter and a shouter. The music here has more of a folky feel as well.

Still (We Will Go On) is an impossibly happy anthemic piece that will not fail to be in your head the rest of the day. Money, Surrender and The Way You Haunt Me are packed with bright melodies, tight harmonies and the level of playing you'd expect from the guys involved. The Light Of Day is dominated by a gorgeous violin figure from Ragsdale. Blood In The Water is a sort of grungy swamp funk that is irresistably sleazy. An Ocean Away is packed with electricity. Miss Me is just that shade too exotic to be an AOR ballad. Love the movement of the bass on it - nice one Greer! Got To Get Out Of This Town has this nice Celtic rhythm underpinning - Ragsdale and Ehart shine here. Fab mandolin and acoustic guitar by Williams. Drive The Moment - a perfect closer.

Native Window stands up well to repeated spins and demands attention. Put it on in your convertible and fly down the highway with your top down!

Nektar - Time Machine (Purple Pyramid)

I sometimes find myself wondering who Nektar are on any given day. For this album they are Roye Albrighton, Ron Howden, keyboardist Klaus Henatsch, and bassist Billy Sherwood. The album was recorded in Sherwood's studio and mixed by Albrighton and Sherwood. The end result is...(drumroll)...it sounds exactly like Nektar!

Albrighton's guitar work, vocals, and vocal harmony choices are pretty much all signature stuff. Howden sounds like Ron Howden, with that distinctive tom work. Henatsch fits in most organically. Sherwood does an outstanding job of channeling the flavor of Mo Moore's playing. All in all in a great place sonically.

The songs on Time Machine certainly do not suck. Some of Albrighton's best writing in many a moon. With the deceptive title of Set Me Free, Amigo, one is transported to Recycled-meets- Man In The Moon days. A Better Way and Destiny are appropriately spacey. I wash the smoke from off my face - all trace of the human race - a futuristic manifesto from If Only I Could. The title track has a Police-like backing and feels 1 part sci fi, 1 part autobiography.

Tranquility opens to backward guitars before pulsing into the meat of a yearning old school number. Henatsch's Mocking The Moon feels like a bit of a misstep, but Howden's Talk To Me sets things right. A space ballad. Juggernaut is a hot instrumental that is a quality showcase for all 4 players. The album closes with a number called Diamond Eyes. A prog / rock / pop piece that feels a bit retro, but fun

Time Machine shows that Nektar still have much to say. A definite redemption after that cover album I am currently seeing a hypnotist to forget. Back on the right path!

Nektar - Remember The Future (Purple Pyramid / Cleopatra)

Here we go with another remaster of Nektar's Remember The Future. This one just in time for the album's 40th anniversary. What do you get for your money this time? Disc 1 is the album we all know and love. Disc 2 has 3 edits, including a nine-minutes-and-change distillation of the album. We also get the 1970 Boston tapes for good measure.

I do not know the source of this master, but it sounds creamy and delicious. If this was the only version of Remember The Future I owned, I'd be utterly content. It is rich and satisfying. On disc 2 the edits sound fine. The Boston tapes are nice and clean. Where Did You Go and Our Love Will Last Forever have a few dropouts, but they seem to be intrinsic to the source. I forgot just how much I enjoy Nektar's cover of Sealed With A Kiss. It's so unlikely, but it works!

This is a double digipak with lots of swell photos, a booklet with lyrics, an essay, and the original album artwork (including the gatefold photo of the band). Excellent package, excellent remaster. Pick up thy headphones and listen!

Nektar - A Spoonful Of Time (Purple Pyramid)

Since my teens, I've loved Nektar. Great musicians. Compelling compositions that stick in my head and my heart. Remember The Future, Down To Earth, Recycled, and so many more. Guitarist Roye Albrighton and drummer Ron Howden from the original line up have kept the flame burning to this very day - no easy achievement.

A Spoonful Of Time is a CD of covers. Everything from the Alan Parsons Project piece Sirius to Steve Miller's Fly Like An Eagle to Neil Young's Old Man. Of the 14 tracks here, a few work. Most notably For The Love Of Money with guest drummer Ian Paice, Dream Weaver with Jerry Goodman on violin, and Out Of The Blue with Simon House on violin.

Numbers like Africa and a cocktail lounge / casino version of I'm Not In Love left my scratching my head. As congress has dictated, since this CD is out on a Cleopatra-related label, Billy Sherwood is all over it. He certainly plays well, but the production is muddy and too much of this sounds like perfunctory first takes. If a ton of work was put into this album, that's just sad. I look forward to the next CD of original music from Nektar. This one felt like I was getting punched in the gut.

Nektar - Remember The Future: Deluxe Edition (itsaboutmusic.com)

Over the years, I've seen many versions of what is perhaps Nektar's defining album. This new deluxe edition is a two disc set. Disc one gives us the classic album plus a live version of the complete album. Disc two features seven tracks from a live show in Brazil recorded on November 10, 2007. The line-up for the 2007 show is Roye Albrighton / Ron Howden / Randy Dembo / Tom Hughes.

I haven't A / B-ed this version of Remember The Future with previous versions, but it certainly sounds excellent. There is no notation as to the vintage of the live version of the album, but it's really smokin'!

Disc two, as mentioned, is from a 2007 show and clocks in at just over an hour. Tracks are A Tab In The Ocean, Desolation Valley, Cast Your Fate, The Debate, Man In The Moon, Good Day, and Woman Trouble. The sound is full and fab. The performances are very strong. Remember The Future: Deluxe Edition is a treat for all Nektar fans.

Nektar - A Tab In The Ocean: Deluxe Edition (itsaboutmusic.com)

Wonder what would happen if a giant tab of acid was dropped into the sea? a member of Nektar once wondered. This landmark 1972 album was the result. This deluxe edition from itsaboutmusic.com gives the buyer two discs. Disc one is the studio album nicely and subtly remastered. Disc two presents the infamous Boston Tapes featuring Nektar circa 1970 finding their feet in an eight track Boston studio.

Disc one sounds quite grand. Of the various versions heard over the years, I may indeed enjoy this one most. Disc two is a true treat. I really dig the early, slightly gentler take of Do You Believe In Magic. Good Day - here titled Gooday - gets a slightly spacier work out. Also - I know Nektar fans have been wondering how the band would cover the pop classic Sealed With A Kiss. Well, wonder no more! It's one of the eight tracks from the eight track session.

A nice little package here. Booklet notes by Roye Albrighton. A full disc of studio rarities. Great sound on both discs. Well worth owning even if you have previous pressings.

Nektar - Recycled (Eclectic Discs)

This is a sort of a fan's dream remaster. You not only get "Recycled" beautifully remastered, you also get the entire album again, in the original, unreleased mix by Beatles stalwart Geoff Emerick. It allows you to sort of A/B the 2 versions. It's not even close, let me tell you. Emerick's mix was unreleased for a reason.

While I surely respect Emerick's great work with the Fab Four, he clearly just didn't get what Nektar was about, or the "Recycled" concept. His mix lacks impact. "Recycled" is an album with punch, with balls. Having said that, it is fascinating to hear different elements & instruments pop up in the mix.

Getting back to the mix we all know and love. It shines in a way it never has in the past. It has punch, a tight, clear bottom end, and an overall sparkle that the old Bellaphon CD lacked. Add to that great liner notes and photos, and the result is a totally superior package.

Nektar - Down To Earth (Eclectic Discs)

A progressive album about the...circus? Huh? You're kidding! That's what I thought back in the day. How was I to know it'd be my favorite Nektar album? Song after killer song are a delicious treat for the ears. "Astral Man," "That's Life," "Fidgety Queen" - come ON!! Immaculate stuff. Not to forget the fascinating spoken elephant facts on the wonderful "Nelly The Elephant." "Down To Earth" fits between "Remember The Future" and "Recycled," but is, in its way, a more mature album than either. The writing is top notch on every track. 100% filler free.

As I've come to expect from Eclectic, the remaster is gorgeous. Roye Albrighton's guitars shimmer. The bottom end is solid. Great bonus tracks to boot. I just might even prefer the alternate "Nelly The Elephant" to the original. Strike up the band, it's time for Astral Man!

Nektar - Sunday Night At The London Roundhouse (Dream Nebula Recordings / Eclectic Discs)

You are taken into a room. There is a comfortable chair & your preferred beverage. A CD is put into a player. Just before play is pushed, you are told that it is one of your favorite albums, only now it's even better. Is this possible? As the music plays, you realize that indeed it is! Nektar's classic Sunday Night At The London Roundhouse has been remastered, expanded, and slightly reinterpreted. The original single disc was a combination of live tracks and live in the studio jams. The studio jams will evidently be added onto one of the other Nektar remasters. This set is now the entire Roundhouse concert from 11/25/73 spread over 2 discs.

This time "A Day In The Life Of A Preacher" doesn't fade out mid-jam. What can I say? "King Of Twilight" is like a hammer made of sound. "Odyssey (Ron's On)" shows the jazzier side of Nektar. "Cast Your Fate" is, well, unbelievable. The clarity & depth of this live recording is magical. Eclectic has done it yet again. An absolutely essential part of your collection. Buy 4 copies: 1 for home, 1 for car, & 2 to hoard just because!

Bill Nelson - Simplex (Cocteau / Esoteric)

It's often fascinating how an album comes to be. Simplex has an interesting story behind it. Back in 1984-ish, Bill Nelson was asked to write and record the soundtrack to a film about sculptor Henry Moore. The film was Murray Grigor's Henry Moore And Landscapes. While Nelson intended to release the music at the time, it never quite happened. Some time later, his ex-business manager released it without his consent. Hence the "ex" part. Nelson fought to get the rights back and eventually released Simplex on his own back in 2000.

Cut to 2012. There is not really remastering going on here. Look at this new Cocteau / Esoteric edition as a re- presenting. New liner notes by Nelson and different art are all that is new. Now that you're up to speed, what have we got here? 31 beautiful little pieces. Some exotic and quirky. Some simple and gorgeous. Some keyboards definitely have an 80s sound to them, but as one would expect, Nelson presents them in a timeless fashion.

The Profaned Sanctuary Of The Human Heart, The Cloud Of Unknowing, To Jan From The Shining Stars, Your Morning Blessing - audio animal crackers for your ears to consume. Bill Nelson has created a tremendously personal body of work that reflects a romantic futurist vision. Simplex is a shining example of utter creative genius at play.

Bill Nelson - Practically Wired (Cocteau / Esoteric)

Somehow this album eluded my greedy ears back in 1995. Thankfully, Esoteric resurrected it from the lost jungle of Cocteau that I might give a listen. This was a real quickie of an album, recorded in just 14 days. Hardly time to think - just enough time to play.

In the hands of Bill Nelson, 14 days and a fistful of guitars is more than enough time to create a work of brilliance, and he surely did so here. Pieces like Roses And Rocketships and Thousand Fountain Island are bursting with audio magic. Man, listen to that guitar on Pink Buddha Blues - wildly tasty, raucous and slick at the same time.

Practically Wired is subtitled Or How I Became...Guitar Boy! - an understatement if I ever heard one. Sonically, this is pure and lovely. New notes from Nelson as well as his original ones from 1995 and spiffy new graphics add up to a disc you owe it to yourself to own. You won't want to stop spinning this one!

The New Percussion Group Of Amsterdam - Go Between (Summerfold)

I totally forgot about this little album. Back in 1987, Bill Bruford, transitioning from King Crimson to Earthworks, played a session with this avant garde percussion ensemble. The results were a tasty world jazz album of abstract pieces, well suited to the Joan Miro painting that graces the cover.

Bruford is actually only on the opening piece, Go Between, built on drums, vibes, and marimba. Percussionist Peter Prommel being the only constant on all 4 tracks. Redbone is an all log drum and gong song. Marimba Spiritual adds guest Keiko Abe on a moody, quiet, isolated number. Maenaden, another marimba-based composition, closes the album.

Sound on the remaster is about as close to flawless as you will find. Each instrument breathes with life in full dimension. You are right there in the studio. Go Between is quite an odd duck of a release. One of those things musicians do on occasion to keep themselves honest. Totally free and open. It's like listening to an abstract painting. Not to everyone's taste, certainly, but a work of genuine value.

Nightwish - Dark Passion Play (Collector's Edition) (Roadrunner Records)

More often than not, "Collector's Editions" of CDs tend to be packed with most anything that could be scratched up from the bottom of the bin to pad out a 2nd CD to grab that fan cash. Thankfully, Dark Passion Play is an exception. Disc 1 is the regular album, a dark semi-operatic metal prog gem showcasing their current singer, former Alyson Avenue vocalist Anette Olzon. This disc includes a demo of the song Amaranth - called Reach in this early form. The vocal on it is by bass player Marco Hietala and has a nice Ronnie James Dio feel to it.

As for disc 2, it's the entire album again, minus vocals. Far from sounding empty, it more than stands on its own as a powerful instrumental statement. A song like Master Passion Greed actually works better as an instrumental to these ears, bringing the fine guitar work by Emppu Vuorinen to the fore as well as the keyboard atmospheres of Tuomas Holopainen. The same can be said of Seven Days To The Wolves - the instrumental version just breathes, and opens your ears more to Jukka Nevalainen's fine drumming.

Not to in any way impugn the fine vocals by Olzon. Tarja Turunen left some mighty big shoes to fill, and Anette Olzon fills them just fine. Rather than try to emulate Turunen's operatic style, she...sings. Her vocals have a more direct, human quality to them, which balances out the band's sound in a different way. Dark Passion Play is an excellent album, and both prog & metal fans will be well rewarded by picking up this beautiful 2 disc version of it!

Oblivion Sun - The High Places (Prophase)

There are days that I despise the word progressive. It is overused and often refers to fan club retread music that has more to do with 1972 than it does with progressing musically. Oblivion Sun's The High Places restores quite a bit of faith. It is an excursion into fresh territories. Inventively melodic numbers that challenge the mind while engaging the ear.

Oblivion Sun are now a quartet. Joining founders Frank Wyatt and Stanley Whitaker (both of Happy The Man fame) are bassist David Hughes and drummer Bill Brasso. The new guys are a perfect fit, and the quartet really cooks. Wyatt's Deckard opens the album with the band firing on all pistons. Whitaker's symphonic March Of The Mushroom Men follows. I love the guitar on this. Next up it's Everything with a timeless vocal by Whitaker and haunting acoustic guitar. The playful instrumental Dead Sea Squirrels closes what in my mind I see as side 1 on a powerful note.

Side 2, if you will, is the 6 part Wyatt epic title track. It is an aural, lyrical, and emotional journey. It is as exciting as it is sublime. With every listen, I discover more. A bass / drum syncopation here - a tiny piano motif there. It is of the moment while simultaneously harkening back to the earliest Death's Crown days of Happy The Man. It shows the continuity of vision over decades of playing, effort, and an unceasing need to create. Wyatt is truly a genius. We are lucky to live in a time where Wyatt and Whitaker deliver fresh gifts for our ears and hearts. As the Doors were wont to say: Are you in?

Omni - Paint By Numbers (no label info)

The first word that comes to mind is "muscular." This guitar/bass/drums trio have a ferocious depth to their sound. While the vocals are soft, almost trance-like, the accompanying music lulls then pounds fiercely.

Omni are a fresh young trio that slides nicely between Porcupine Tree & Tool. The playing is all first rate with drummer Will Andrews grabbing the ear immediately with his hyperkinetic percussive flourishes. Songs like "Release," "Inward," and "Porcelain" balance dark and light to fascinating effect, taking the listener on an audio journey.

The production by the band and Ronan Chris Murphy is clean and precise - lean with very few embellishments. If this CD is any indication, Omni have a bright future ahead!

Willie Oteri's Jazz Gunn - Concepts Of MateMaToot (Oteri Tunes)

Back in the mid-Eighties, I played in 2 improv groups: a live experimental performance art band called Kiss The Bishop. I was the Bishop. I even did a gig dressed as the Pope & I gave out Pringles to an adoring crowd. The other was a studio band we called Barnyard Golf. A bit more muscular than KTB. Fun stuff. I cough this nugget up because this CD is pretty much how we sounded, only with sax taking the place of our keyboardist.

What we have here is admittedly Miles Davis inspired jazz fusion improv. Pretty damned good stuff at that. Guitarist Willie Oteri is joined by some impressive players. Michael Malone on saxes. Chris Tondre on guitar. Chris Maresh on bass. Brannen Temple on drums. These pedigree players have worked with the likes of Tony Levin, Chaka Khan, Eric Johnson, Mike Keneally, and a host of other heavy hitters. So your ears are in good hands, trust me!

In terms of pieces one might know, they give us 2 numbers from Miles Davis' Bitches Brew: Joe Zawinul's Pharaoh's Dance and Davis' Spanish Key. 3 originals round out the disc. The playing is fresh and inventive. The improvisations took my brain on a compelling journey. Ideas fly all over the place. Exciting improv jazz fusion worth your time & attention. Get it now!

The Owl Watches - Guaranteed To Be 100% Free of Hit Singles (Owl Sounds)

First off - love the title! It says it all. After listening to the disc, it is indeed truth in advertising. The Owl Watches is basically composer/musician Phil McKenna and a few guest drummers. A homegrown effort from the far off land of Atlanta, in some place called "Georgia" (Check it on your maps! It actually exists!).

This is avant jazz prog. Imagine if the Residents joined National Health. A nice caustic edge rears its rear now and then. Much humor, as well. Don't Do The Mime If You Can't Do The Time is a definite highlight as it unravels then regathers itself. It Takes A Village To Raise An Idiot reminds me of Residents circa 1978-79. Hydrogen And Stupidity starts so beautifully, then twists itself into a mutant sound sculpture.

An album like this defies simple categorization. It is a bit of this and a dash of that. Odd, uncomfortable, yet warm and friendly. Guaranteed To Be 100% Free of Hit Singles is guaranteed 100% enjoyment.

Carl Palmer - Working Live Volume 3 (Eagle)

In recent years I've had the pleasure of catching Carl Palmer's trio live on several occasions, so I approached this CD with eager ears. I was not disappointed. Guitarist Paul Bielatowicz, bassist Stuart Clayton, and Palmer on the skins just out and out smoke. I swear, as the years roll by, Palmer's drumming gets more and more fierce!

The bill of fare for this disc is Peter Gunn, Romeo And Juliet, a totally rearranged Pictures At An Exhibition, Bitches Crystal, Nutrocker, and a percussion-based In A Moroccan Market. Bielatowicz is a beast - handling Keith Emerson's keyboard lines on guitar as if he was casually working on the daily sudoku puzzle. Props must be given equally to Clayton. This guy is a demon. He can fly on the bass, but he knows exactly when not to. He brings out the power of Palmer's kick. He sits nicely under a moment, allowing the others to shine. He adds to every piece, working his magic to guide the listener on the journey.

Working Live Volume 3 sounds awesome. Every hit, every note is crystal clear and placed well in the mix. This is a solid document of a band at the top of their form. Worth every penny!

Alan Parsons - A Valid Path (Artemis)

With "A Valid Path," Alan Parsons dips his toe into the world of electronica with by and large pleasing results. If you're used to the lush sounds usually associated with Parsons, you'll find this CD a bit harder edged. Lots of sequencers, buzzes, beeps, and loops all over this CD. Not a bad place to be, actually. I like the fact that I can't just keep Parsons in 1 box now.

David Gilmour adds some fine guitar to "Return To Tunguska," lifting the piece significantly. "We Play The Game" is a collaboration between Parsons and electronicameisters The Crystal Method - an outstanding track! Alan's son Jeremy helps reinterpret a few Parsons classics, and Monty Python alumnus John Cleese lends his voice to "Chomolungma." There are a few pieces that get a bit repetitive, but that's a minor flaw on a nice lil adventure. Good stuff!

Pendragon - Passion (Madfish)

Some albums take several spins before they hit you. Passion connected with me on the very first spin. The writing and the playing are right there - solid, emotional, memorable. Nick Barrett is a hell of a songwriter. An old war hero dies of cold in his flat, while British Gas and their shareholders are getting richer, getting fat sings Barrett in This Green And Pleasant Land. A bit of well placed vitriol.

Behind the lyrics, the playing is inventive and packs quite a punch. Drummer Scott Higham and bassist Peter Gee are a perfect rhythmic fit - locked in the pocket tightly. Clive Nolan makes some fine choices balancing vintage and modern sounds with his unquestionably amazing keyboard playing. Barrett is confident on vocals and guitar as well as a bit of keyboard work himself. The end result, produced by Barrett and Karl Groom, showcases every strength of this unit.

So much going on texturally and emotionally. A lot for the brain and the ear to absorb - every spin reveals different layers, different bits. Passion also includes a bonus DVD "progumentary" about the making of the album that's quite a treat. 2011 sees Pendragon progging away better than ever. I love this one!

Phideaux - Number Seven (Bloodfish)

Let's hear it for the depth of over wankery. We live in a time where too much of the progressive landscape is about players delivering blinding flurries of notes over a minor chord. In contrast, Phideaux is all about the composition and the lyric. Number Seven, rather classily, delivers on both fronts.

I won't term it a concept album as much as a thematic one. As I see it, purpose, belief and reality form the base the lyrics build upon. "Hour by hour I wait for my flower to bloom. It's a hideous black mushroom, odious spore of doom." a character laments in Gift Of The Flame. Does the situation improve? "Dormouse, Dormouse: Have you lost your faith? See Jesus' face in the nuclear waste." From Dormouse - An End suggests perhaps not.

As I've come to expect from Phideaux, confident piano, beautiful acoustic guitar, strong but not overpowering drums, solid vocal arrangements. A very impressive, expansive production is a dream on my headphones. Every element of Number Seven suggests craftsmanship and deliberation. In a day when most anyone can make an album, it's refreshing to hear one that stands as a benchmark of quality. Easily one of the top albums of 2009.

Phideaux - Doomsday Afternoon (Bloodfish Music)

Interesting how things conspire, if you will. Pieces fall together seemingly randomly. The other day, the line "This is much too good for the people" from the Anthony Phillips song Um & Aargh was a topic of discussion. A few days before I was contemplating long form apocalyptic pieces like Genesis' Supper's Ready and the first 2 Robot Woman albums by Mother Gong. Today, this CD showed up in my post office box. Doomsday Afternoon is a long form apocalyptic piece much too good to have ever been released on a major label.

The album is a simple, yet complex story driven by solid piano and strong vocals. Everything about it makes sense. Spare in spots, lush in others. All serve the piece. I can draw comparisons in little parts to Pink Floyd, Beatles, Camel, and Oasis. Another pair of ears may hear none of those. It is derivative of nothing, most definitely its own animal. Sadly lovely, the album filled me with emotion. I cannot recommend this album enough. I felt like I was listening in on a quiet piece of genius. Own this.

Phideaux - The Great Leap (Bloodfish Music)

There is this cranberry almond cereal I love. It tastes great, plus it's good for me. That's The Great Leap - excellent prog rock that's smart as hell. It fits nicely among the Kinks' Arthur, King Crimson's Islands, Nirvana's Nevermind, and Peter Hammill's Over. Certainly good company!

Most songs, like You And Me Against A World Of Pain, The Waiting, and Long And Lonely Way are built upon a strong drum pattern and a 4 or 8 chord riff repeated on guitar or keys or both. Unhappy vocals hang on top. The emphasis is on writing rather than solos. A fine choice, as the writing is solid, mature, and memorable.

The playing is uniformly excellent, well anchored by the exceptional drumming of Rich Hutchins. Vocals by Phideaux Xavier are caustic and inspired. The Great Leap is an album you'll enjoy for years to come. A solid 10 out of 10.

Anthony Phillips - Sides (Deluxe Edition) (Esoteric)

One of my favorite albums by a human being. It is my understanding (and the booklet notes bear this out) that Sides (originally to be titled Balls) was an album of compromises and concessions as Anthony Phillips battled with his record company. The commercial bunt of Wise After The Event resulted in the execs pressuring for a more commercial product. Thankfully, Phillips can only get just so commercial. The ensuing decades reveal what I always felt: brilliance.

I beat the empty air, knowing it has seen your face. Take a moment and absorb the helpless despair in that line from the gloriously fragile Bleak House. Instrumentals like Nightmare and Sisters Of Remindum are progressive masterworks. "Small" numbers such Lucy Will and Souvenir are pieces of unmined gold. The vitriolic Um And Aargh (about Phillips' encounters with the A & R folks) rings just as true in 2016 with the warning This is much too good for the people and Phillips' reply Don't people have minds of their own?.

Esoteric took the time to get this right. 3 CDs & 1 DVD in a box with a detailed booklet and poster. Disc 1 is a fresh 2016 remix by Andy Miles and Simon Heyworth. Disc 2 is alternates takes and mixes and 2 unreleased tracks. Disc 3 is the original mix lovingly remastered. The DVD is a 5.1 mix also by Miles & Heyworth. The packaging is wonderful. The sound on all magnificent. Own this ASAP.

Anthony Phillips - Wise After The Event (Deluxe Edition) (Esoteric)

I mean this album absolutely no slight when I say it falls squarely between my 2 favorite Anthony Phillips Opuses The Geese And The Ghost and Sides. Wise After The Event is a wonderful album in its own right. Are we clear? Good!

This deluxe edition is a 4 disc affair. The discs have the original mix; a new mix; a disc of extras and alternate takes; a DVD that features a 5.1 mix. Squirrel is tacked on to the original & new mix, but for some reason Sitars And Nebulous is not. Yes, I know it appeared elsewhere, but it would've been nice & there certainly was room!

The new mix is pretty grand. Nothing too radically different. More percussion in the mix. Slight changes to the soundfield. Different and fresh. The original mix has never sounded better. Rich and deeeeeep. The disc of bonus stuff is packed with alternate takes, demo tracks, and assorted stuff. A groovy poster is included in the box at no additional cost to you, the consumer! This is a wonderfully spiffed up edition of a beautiful album. It managed to reawaken my fascination with all things Phillips! This one is as good as gold. Unreservedly highest recommendation.

Anthony Phillips - Harvest Of The Heart: An Anthology (Esoteric)

God bless Esoteric Recordings. They are the current caretakers of founding Genesis guitarist Anthony Phillips' catalogue & they are going out of their way to do things right. This splendid boxed set is a perfect example. Here we have an in depth overview of Phillips' solo career. From The Geese And The Ghost through his library music and all the way to the present day.

The 5 discs see every piece shine. We start at the earliest days with F Sharp (Much of which Genesis fans know became The Musical Box). The lovely Silver Song with Mike Rutherford and some chap named Phil Collins on vocals is next, followed by Field Of Eternity. That takes us to the entire 1st side of The Geese And The Ghost. Several selections from Private Parts And Pieces II & III including Old Wives Tale - an instrumental reworking of the infamous unreleased Genesis number Little Leaf. A chunk of the Wise After The Event album closes disc 1.

Disc 2 picks up with the song Wise After The Event before diving into 5 selections from Sides. The long awaited CD release of the Mike Rutherford b-side Compression from Smallcreep's Day. Very well worth the wait, I must say! The beautiful Poly Piece follows, showing Phillips starting to spread his wings even further. A section of Arboretum Suite from Private Parts And Pieces IV: A Catch At The Tables leads to a fine guitar piece called Frosted Windows. 2 bits from 1984 and The Women Were Watching from the Invisible Men project finish off disc 2.

On to disc 3! 3 more Invisible Men numbers segue way somewhat jarringly to Sistine off of Private Parts And Pieces IV: A Catch At The Tables.April from PP&P V & She'll Be Waiting from PP&P IX bring us to a 1990 recording of another piece of Genesis history in the form of a piano version of Let Us Now Make Love. Several Private Parts And Pieces and Missing Links songs bring us to a clutch of Anthony Phillips & Harry Williamson tunes from Tarka. Disc 3 concludes with Lucy - An Illusion.

Stranger - a guitar and vocal piece recorded in 1990 opens disc 4. A tasteful edit of Slow Dance 6 more PP&P pieces take us to Serenita and Lifeboat Suite from Missing Links Volume II: The Sky Road. 3 numbers from The Living Room Concert and 2 from the Phillips/Williamson album The Gypsy Suite lead to a pair of songs from Wildlife done in collaboration with Joji Hirota to finish out disc 4.

Disc 5 concludes the box in high style. We start with 6 more from Wildlife. Wildlife Flotilla and 2 others from Sail The World. White Spider, Kissing Gate, and Nocturne from Field Day. King Of The Mountains represents Private Parts And Pieces XI: City Of Dreams. Seventh Heaven gives us 5 songs including the gorgeous River Of Life. 10 unreleased songs round out disc 5: City Of Life, Nightjar, Slow Roller, Imperium, A Simple Truth, Vespertine, Forget-Me-Not, The Storm Of The Windhover (Which comes up as Love Gone Astray on my player), Pas De Deux, Ringer. They are a nice mix of keyboard and guitar instrumentals and round things of just fine!

It all comes packaged in a beautiful Peter Cross illustrated box and has an extensive booklet with copious notes and photos and all that good stuff you love. Do you need this? Why ask? Of course you do!

Anthony Phillips - The Geese & The Ghost (Voiceprint)

I will start by going out on a limb. The Geese & The Ghost is the most beautiful album ever recorded. There, I've said it! The proof is in the pudding. Song after gorgeous song. Sad beauty, majestic beauty, breathtaking beauty - it is all here. Founding Genisis guitarist Anthony Phillips didn't hold anything back and at last, thanks to his stunning remaster, we get to hear the album the way it was meant to be heard.

Disc 1 is the album as we know it, with one striking addition: The restoration of Henry: Portraits From Tudor Times. Between Misty Battlements and Henry Goes To War, we now find Lutes' Chorus Reprise, a restating of the theme to Lutes' Chorus. It adds a lovely sprinkling of faerie dust to the piece. The album as a whole sounds better than ever - those 12 strings have never been so crisp and clear!

Disc 2 is loaded with demos and all sorts of odds and ends. Most notably, the first official CD release of the 1973 version of Silver Song, with Phil Collins on vocals and drums. The "basic track" of The Geese & The Ghost Part One is sheer genius. It's just the guitar parts and is the audio equivalent of Heaven. Your life will be better for owning this 2 CD shrine to beauty!

Pinnacle - A Man's Reach (EverythingToExcess Productions)

I was on line to get tickets for NEARFest 2004. I had been talking on & off to the guy behind me in line - a drummer named Greg Jones. He gave me this CD EP of his band & I was worried. He's a great guy & what if the CD wasn't good? No matter what, I'm 100% straight up in all my reviews! Thankfully, this is a pretty damned good lil CD!

Pinnacle is a bass/guitar/drums trio playing fierce prog fusion. Jones & his cohorts Karl Eisenhart on guitar & Bill Fox on bass are excellent players. The have the playing chops, but more importantly, they have the writing chops to boot. "Unsung Hero" (Jones' nod to Steve Morse) and "Lifeboat" are solid stuff and there's even a fun version of Jethro Tull's "Minstrel In The Gallery" thrown in for good measure. Tighten up the vocals a bit & this is a trio to contend with! A great beginning!

Producers - Made In Basing Street (The LAST Label)

A new band that features Lol Creme and Trevor Horn? Throw in Ash Soan, Stephen Lipson, and Chris Braide? Why, yes - count me in! Obviously, Producers are a band with credentials. Made In Basing Street has a lush, slick sound as you might expect. I mean that in the very best possible way.

Your Life has honey sweet vocals gliding along as the music bubbles right under and occasionally bursts through. It is constructed beautifully to excite your ear, to keep your interest with just the right twist here; the chord you weren't expecting there. Classic pop rock with a very modern sound. In a way, that's the template for the entire album. Strong songs that combine classic sensibilities with modern sound and production. Braide handles most of the lead vocals, with Horn and Creme having their moments as well. What I really enjoy here is the "played" aspect of the recording. Nice live drums, tight bass, strong guitars and keys. I understand that the band played out quite a bit of this before going into the studio, and it shows.

So much to love here. Every Single Night In Jamaica will live in your head for quite some time, as will Garden Of Flowers. This album is one huge smile. 10 songs you'll never tire of. Killer production, as one might expect. One of the very best albums of 2012.

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