Rainbow - Monsters Of Rock Live At Donington 1980 (Eagle / Universal)

A live document of an interesting transitional time in the history of Rainbow. This was the first post-Ronnie James Dio iteration with Graham Bonnet on the mic. It also reunited Ritchie Blackmore with former Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover. Cozy Powell was the sole holdover from the Dio days on drums, and veteran keyboardist Don Airey completed the band.

What we have here is a CD of the live set and a DVD of snippets of several songs - evidently the only existing video footage of the show. The CD sounds like a very decent bootleg in terms of fidelity, but the energy more than makes up for it. 2 songs truly stand above the rest: Stargazer and Catch The Rainbow. Powell and Glover mesh wonderfully. Airey is a perfect fit as well. I'll go out on a limb and say this is the finest trio of musicians Blackmore ever worked with in Rainbow. Bonnet's vocals are muscular. Blackmore is expressive and the occasional wild boy pushing the limits. This is the stuff you're looking for!

The DVD is...frustrating. Bits of a bunch of tunes, but only 1 or 2 complete pieces. Better to have it than not. If you're buying this, it's clearly for the CD. Which is, in fact, worth your while. Rainbow were kicking major colon here. Strap yourself in & enjoy the ride!

Rainbow - Rising (Polydor / Universal)

There was a time long ago when bands made pulse pounding, exciting hard rock albums. Not hair metal. Not poodle metal. Not hardcore. That's all poseur wimp bullcrap junk. Hard rock. Fronted by guitar genius Ritchie Blackmore, Rainbow was quite the force to be reckoned with. Their first 2 albums were the best by a mile. Rising was the 2nd. It's an aural beat down. Blackmore was joined by vocalist Ronnie James Dio; drummer Cozy Powell; bassist Jimmy Bain; keyboardist Tony Carey. They just tore it up. I know that you already know all of this, but I just love saying it!

This 2 CD remaster gives us 3 versions of the album: the New York mix; the Los Angeles mix; a set of rough mixes. Also a tour rehearsal of Stargazer is thrown in for good measure. The differences between the NY & LA mixes of the album are subtle, but the music freak in me likes having every note I can get. Andy Pearce's remastering is strong and rich. Thankfully it doesn't seem to be over-compressed or brickwalled. It rocks strong & deep. Loud & clear.

It's a great package with a nice booklet, photos, and notes. Respectful and exceptionally well done. Turn this one up and infuriate the neighbors!

Rare Bird - Rare Bird (Esoteric Recordings / Cherry Red)

I admit a bias. I have a soft spot for the early Famous Charisma Label acts. Rare Bird perches high on that list. The quartet of Graham Field (organ), David Kaffinetti (electric piano), Steve Gould (bass & vocals), and Mark Ashton (drums & backing vocals) always reminded me of Van Der Graaf meets the Doors, neatly combining progressive and psychedelic idioms. Here is their John Anthony produced debut, lovingly remastered with 2 bonus cuts for the Esoteric label.

The recording sounds very much of its time in terms of the reverb on the vocals, organ & piano sounds, etc. No mistaking it for a contemporary recording. It feels like 1969, which it should. The remastering is awesome in terms of clarity, depth, and transfer. The organ positively sings on You Went Away, and the vocal has never sounded better. Sympathy is reborn (the mono single version is one of the 2 bonus tracks as well).

This eponymous remaster is a wonderful document of early prog and stands the test of time as a hell of an album. Fantastic.

Renaissance - Scheherazade And Other Stories (Audio Fidelity)

I love this album. There, I've said it. Scheherazade And Other Stories and Novella are my favorite Renaissance albums. In truth, there are none that I truly dislike, but those 2 just capture my fancy the most. Look at the album in question: Trip To The Fair, The Vultures Fly High, Ocean Gypsy, Song Of Scheherazade. Find me a dog in there. You can't! Solid from stem to stern. Having said that, most definitely in need of sonic improvement.

Coming to the rescue are Audio Fidelity and the gentle touch of Kevin Gray, who newly mastered it for CD and SACD. I was searching for how to accurately give a feel for what Gray has done here. Then it hit me - he mastered it as if it was a classical CD. Delicacy, depth, definition, and dimensionality. It's all very subtle. It's nudged, not pushed. John Tout's piano sounds fantastic. Clear and resonant. Jon Camp's bass is deep, full, and crisp. Terry Sullivan's drums fairly sing. Michael Dunford's guitars are clean but not too sparkly. Add Annie Haslam's voice, sounding balanced and colorful, and you are in heaven. Add the orchestra on Song Of Scheherazade, and you're visiting a different plane!

The mix itself is unchanged, so it is the album exactly as remembered. It's cleaner, clearer, deeper. I've got to imagine the band is all smiles over the work done here. A fine document of the legacy of Michael Dunford and to his inspiring bandmates. Another essential release from Audio Fidelity.

Renaissance - Live At Carnegie Hall (Deluxe Anniversary Edition) (Friday Music)

Look, just buy it, okay? You know you're going to! Renaissance - Live At Carnegie Hall is one of the best live albums ever, and this "Deluxe Anniversary Edition," remastered from the original Warner/Sire tapes, sounds killer good. Put it on and you're there.

The discs have a nice feeling of space, of room. There is a roundness to Annie Haslam's voice on a piece like Ocean Gypsy. Terry Sullivan's snare has more snap. Jon Camp's bass - What can I say? I hear the string vibration and the authority of his pick. Mickey Dunford's guitar sits comfortably and sounds rich, while the magical keys of John Tout have never seemed more alive. The orchestra is situated perfectly in the mix. Just listen to Scheherazade - glorious!

The key to this remaster is that there's very little fiddling and a ton of respect. This was always a nice recording. Now it's preserved for posterity with loving care. You simply must own it, as soon as you humanly can.

The Residents - The Ghost Of Hope (MVD Audio/Cherry Red)

Those top-hatted eyeballs are at it again. Those wacky kids! The Ghost Of Hope is a concept album. The concept on the surface is about railroad tragedies of the late 1800s/early 1900s. Underneath that it seems to be about the growing pains of the world as it deals with change hitting like a freight train as we head into waters unknown.

The pieces combine elements of pop song structure, lots of ambient mood beds, and narration. Very much like the template of God In Three Persons. Eric Drew Feldman is credited with quite a bit of what we hear and how we hear it. Vocals get credited to Carla Fabrizio, Laurie Hall, Peter Whitehead, and Isabelle Barbier. Guitar is credited to Nolan Cook. Gabriel Shepard gets a mixing co-credit. Unfamiliar names to me, but that is surely the intention as this is the Residents.

The album is interesting, with Death Harvest a highlight. Decades later, the Residents are still rolling, even if the mad energy of Duck Stab has been smoothed out in favor of telling mildly unsettling tales by a campfire.

Markus Reuter - Falling For Ascension (Ronin Rhythm Records)

To the world at large, Markus Reuter is best known as the man that always needs a shave. When not entertaining bearded men and women, several of us also know him as that guitar guy with Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto in the Stick Men. Reuter can sure play that gee-tar!

This album teams Reuter with Sonar and Tobias Reber. Condition I sets up the rest of the album with mathematical rhythms and tight, tight guitar motifs. Condition II adds color and improv in more overt and slightly acidic detail. Condition III brings it lower and slinkier, drawing my mind into a dark maze with mental wading boots on for the black canal of sound ahead. Condition IV gets a bit more on the playful side. I love the drums on this one. Smack-o-docious! Condition V Adds space. Dimensionality. Every player feels like they have more breathing room. A bit futuristic in a way. Condition VI almost brings us back to the beginning in a sideways fashion, yet not. Lots of atmosphere. Unconditional is...juicier. A syncopated bass/drum/guitar thingie holds it together for Reber's electronic atmospheres to build and wander. A long, gripping journey for all players.

Falling For Ascension is fascinating and oddly enough, relaxing. Compelling and well worth your hard-earned coin!

Catherine Ringer - Ring N' Roll (Because)

Ring N' Roll is Catherine Ringer's first full-fledged solo studio album since the demise of the beloved Les Rita Mitsouko. Her first new songs since the passing of her partner and bandmate Fred Chichin. The album has a "small" feel to it. Very intimate, very unadorned. Mostly Ringer's smoky after hours voice and sparse instrumentation. Although RZA, coba, and Mark Plati had hands in production, it is clearly under the hand of Ringer.

There are still definite Mitsouko-esque vibes to be found, particularly on the jaunty Vive L'Amour, the strummy Z Bar, and the elegant Pardon. However, the slinky Punk 103, the ultra minimalist Got It Sweet (with Ringer on flute), and the buzzy-beepy wild ride of Rendez-Vous sound like nothing that's come before.

Ringer's vocals are still a rollercoaster of dynamics - stratospheric one moment, earthy the very next. Coy yet world weary. She is, as ever, a study in contradictions. Ring N' Roll sees Catherine Ringer dealing with loss while building a future. A true artist in every sense.

Catherine Ringer - Catherine Ringer Chante Les Rita Mitsouko And More A La Cigale (Because)

This live album serves as a bridge between Catherine Ringer's work as half of Les Rita Mitsouko and an upcoming solo career. As such, it's a fine summation of what made Les Rita Mitsouko such a fine band. Joining her for this disc are Mark Kerr on drums, Eddie Duffy on bass, Pascal Simoni on keys, and Sylvain Laforge on guitar (filling in for the late Fred Chichin). The band flat out smoke. They are energy incorporated!

The set is packed with some of the top Les Rita Mitsouko numbers: C'est Comme Ca, Ding Dang Dong, Singing In The Shower, Les Histoires D'A, Andy, Marcia Baila. After Hours by Lou Reed and David Bowie's Red Sails get outstanding treatments as well. Catherine Ringer is in outstanding voice - a coiled snake at times, a teasing lover at others. Power, grace, and pure emotion are all at her command.

The set also includes a DVD of the entire show with 24 tracks to the CD's 16. Catherine Ringer Chante Les Rita Mitsouko And More A La Cigale is a strong document of an unforgettable performer. It is also a fitting tribute to her partner in crime, Fred Chichin. The music they created lives on through Catherine Ringer. Something we all should cherish. Why don't you already own this?

The River - Both Sides Of The Story (Marco DeAngelis)

The River is the brainchild of Marco DeAngelis. Out of Italy, DeAngelis is a very talented composer and multi- instrumentalist. Drummer Cristiano Micalizzi and vocalist Marcello Catalano round out the ensemble. Both are top notch.

If I were to give River's sound a "tag," I would call it progressive with strong melodies and interesting rhythms. Not out of place with Riverside or Porcupine Tree minus the crunch. Throw in a pinch of recent era Fish. A very nice blend. Songs like Tell Me Why, Black Stare, and Regrets are full of emotion and strong melodies.

Performances are immaculate. Very well crafted compositions with interesting lyrics. Radio friendly yet with an exotic tinge. Sonically incredible - the album sounds like it was recorded in the best studio you've ever heard! Quite a pleasant surprise and very much worth a listen!

Riverside - Memories In My Head (The Laser's Edge)

Hey! It's those Riverside dudes and they've put out a new EP. While just 3 songs, it's over 30 minutes long, so not quite an album, but pushing the limits of an EP. More dark amber songs with a downbeat vibe to them.

Goodbye Sweet Innocence starts, rather unsurprisingly, on a very Pink Floyd-ish note, as the intro sounds more than a bit like Welcome To The Machine before becoming its own thing. Living In The Past builds on a tasty drum beat that the keys work well over, reinforced by the bass. Some interesting Middle Eastern motifs flow in and out of this one during the earnest vocals. Tasty guitar as well. The EP concludes with Forgotten Land. Mariusz Duda's bass is the driver here, creating motion and mood.

Memories In My Head is certainly quality goods. Great playing by every member. I'm hoping that in the future they decide to put their Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree records away.

Riverside - Rapid Eye Movement (InsideOut)

I have no doubt that many have said it, and no doubt that many more will. There's a heavy Porcupine Tree influence here in virtually every aspect of the music from lyrical territory, to ambiences, to rhythmic shifts. You either deal with that or you don't, Spock. Music is music and everyone is influenced by someone, whether they admit it or not. Riverside may use P Tree as a jumping off point, but on Rapid Eye Movement they jump off into very interesting places, indeed.

02 Panic Room, Through The Other Side, and Ultimate Trip. The latter left the line unclose your mind running through my head long after the song finished. Bassist / vocalist Mariusz Duda turns in a nice set of dark impressionistic lyrics. A bit goth-y in their way. Drummer Piotr Kozieradzki finds a good balance of percussive and trance-like, trippy beats. Guitarist Piotr Grudzinski is heavy, grungy, power-soaked, and spacy - sometimes simultaneously! Michal Lapaj's keyboards are the glue. Washes at times, clean lines at others. Always complimenting the guitars and creating interesting spaces.

I enjoyed the hell out of Rapid Eye Movement, and you will too. Excellent in every regard. PS - patient listeners get a nice Floydian treat!

ROVO And System 7 - Phoenix Rising (Purple Pyramid)

From Japan, ROVO are a prog / jam / dance / trance act fronted by guitarist Seiichi Yamamoto. System 7 are, of course, Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy. The two acts combine here for a set sure to alter your mind and move your buttocks, Forrest.

Very rhythmic. Not unlike elements of dubstep, but with a much spacier vibe. Familiar Hillage territory but reinvented and modern. His guitar wails and finds a sympathetic bow from ROVO violinist Yuji Katsui. Tatsuki Masuko's synths pair well with Giraudy's. ROVO's double drumming is a nice touch here as well.

Pieces like Hinotori and Cisco are full of colors and textures. A nice bonus is an interpretation of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra classic Meeting Of The Spirits. Hillage has lost none of his inventive, adventurous spirit. His playing is crisp and flowing. Phoenix Rising is a collaboration that is full of sonic rewards. Trippy dippy in spots, a beast on fire in others. Always exploring. A future you can dance to.

Roxette - Travelling (Capitol/EMI)

I've had a love affair with Roxette since the early 90s, when the song Joyride caught and kept my ear. Composer Per Gessle has a gift for shiny, catchy pop rock songs like few others on the planet. Travelling is a sort of sequel to 1992's Tourism - songs composed and performed on the road with a few older tunes reworked for good measure. Gessle's partner in song, Marie Fredriksson, is still a voice perfectly suited to the material. Together they are Swedish magic.

Lots of strong new material here. Me & You & Terry & Julie, Lover Lover Lover, Angel Passing, and 2 versions of It's Possible are as strong as anything else in the burgeoning Roxette catalogue. New versions of numbers like Stars, She's Got Nothing On (But The Radio), and It Must Have Been Love are powerful. Not a weak track to be found among the 15.

Performances are as good as it gets. Gessle & Fredriksson deliver solid vocals, and the band is whip tight. Start up your lava lamp and dig out that purple velour vest. Bliss out to some fantastic pop rock and turn it up to 11!

Roxette - Charm School (Capitol / EMI)

What is it with Roxette? They keep making amazing pop albums, yet they don't get released in the USA. Is EMI that foolish? Look at this album. It opens with Way Out. Killer pop packed with hooks and riffs. No One Makes It On Her Own has a transcendent vocal from Marie Fredriksson that puts other voices out there to shame. She's Got Nothing On (But The Radio) should have owned the US charts and been screamed by topless beach girls riding in convertibles. Speak To Me is a midnight prom slow dance.

Things get acoustic with I'm Glad You Called - a song my ears thanked me for. Only When I Dream is as modern as tomorrow but speaks to hearts of any era. Dream On is another trippy Per Gessle psychedelic pop masterpiece. Big Black Cadillac will force your ass to shake and find the nearest dance floor!

Fredriksson gets all smoky on In My Own Way. Very anthemic. Gessle channels 1968 on After All. Heavenly cool, cool rain says the lyric. Exactly! Happy On The Outside has a modern electrobeat and that wiggly rhythm. The album ends too soon with the earthy Sitting On Top Of The World. God, I love pop music. This is great pop music to treasure. Impeccable.

My disc included a bonus live CD culled from a few 2010 shows. Amazing energetic takes of everything from Sleeping In My Car to Joyride to How Do You Do! to The Look. Infectious confection to make your days and nights better.

Royal Hunt - Collision Course (Magna Carta)

I must admit a bias. I'm not a huge prog metal guy. I shamefully came into this CD expecting to not care for it. Well, thankfully, I gave a good honest listen. For all the in your face sonic assault in places, this is one damned fine CD! No small part of this is due to the fantastic keyboard work and solid compositions of Andre Anderson.

Songs like The First Rock, Exit Wound, and The Clan rock very hard, but keep a nice exotic edge bubbling right below the surface. Lyrics are dark, heavy, and literate. Guitars by Anderson and Marcus Jidell fly licks around like an amplified weed whip spinning insanely. Per Schelander's bass is like hot mercury - smooth and poisonous. Drummer Alan Sorenson seems to have 8 feet at times. Vocalist Mark Boals hits the powerful highs without becoming shrill. All brought together, as previously mentioned, by Anderson's keyboards.

The package is pretty meat and potatoes - a functional digipak with bare bones art and photos. Sonically, it's pretty deep and has good spacing for such aggressive music. Collision Course is a winner across the board. Well worth seeking out.

RTFACT - Life Is Good (AFL Music)

Here's a very interesting disc. RTFACT is the brainchild of Yuri Volodarsky and Eugene Sharikov. Life Is Good is a love letter to classic symphonic progressive rock with a strong Emerson, Lake & Palmer influence. Everything is soaked with that unmistakable Emerson Hammond sound.

Joining Volodarsky and Sharikov are guests like Nad Sylvan, Oz Noy, and Jeff Scott Soto. The playing is remarkable. Every musician pulls their considerable weight and there certainly is a joy to it all. Russian symphonic influences galore as well. This is a good thing - most assuredly giving the project an identity of its own. Tight rhythm section and tasty instrumentals like Artifact and Gotika explore different time signatures and ideas galore.

Vocal pieces like (I Got) Money In My Pocket and Hollywood Walk Of Fame make good use of the singers. The King, The Master, And The Timekeeper, an ode to the aforementioned ELP, is a bit corny and pompous lyrically, but it fits as ELP were often both! Life Is Good is friendly prog that never wastes your time! Fun to the last chord!

Saga - Spin It Again! Live In Munich (Eagle / Ear)

After 4+ years away, this gig sees Michael Sadler back out in front of Saga as lead vocalist & 2nd keyboardist. Ian and Jim Crichton, Jim Gilmour, and Mike Thorne complete the unit. Spin It Again! was recorded back in November of 2012.

An interesting selection of songs runs the gamut. From The Cross to The Flyer. Wind Him Up to Mouse In A Maze. Don't Be Late to Corkentellis. Yes, yes, of course there's On The Loose and the required drum solo.

Sadler's in fine voice. Jim Crichton and Mike Thorne are a solid, propulsive bass / drums unit. Jim Gilmour still rocks the keyboards. Ian Crichton continues to make his guitar soar. Time has not lessened the impact this quintet can have - this was a very good night for them indeed.

Sound quality is immaculate and well balanced. This is quite a nice 18 song + drum solo testament to these Canadian prog rock legends. I remember seeing Saga for the first and only time in the autumn of 1982, opening for Jethro Tull on Tull's Broadsword And The Beast tour. I was impressed. Over 3 decades later they continue to impress! Well worth owning. This set is also available on blu-ray. Both are equally vital!

Samurai - Samurai (Esoteric Recordings)

Not every album hits you on first listen. The first time I listened to Samurai - a pre-Greenslade band of keyboardist Dave Lawson's - the jury was out. But something about it drew me back then pulled me in. 1971 jazz rock was my first thought. As I listened more, I found common ground with Egg, early Soft Machine, a bit of Zappa, and obviously, a pinch of Greenslade.

The sound is smooth and jazzy with out of the ordinary horn arrangements and pleasantly oddball vocals. More Rain, Holy Padlock, and the Zappafied Give A Little Love stand out. Give A Little Love has that My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama-era Zappa feel - a total joy ride!

The album lives or dies on the strength of Lawson's writing. Subtle arrangements and memorable melodies are the order of the day. The Esoteric remaster of this 1971 release is crystal clear, deep, and dimensional. Historic notes by Lawson give perspective to the album. Not for everybody, but very satisfying for those with suitably exotic tastes.

Boris Savoldelli / Elliot Sharp - Protoplasmic (MoonJune)

There is some weird ass stuff that seems to bubble, churn and boil in New York City, in a way it does nowhere else. This is one of those puppies. Freaky. No, not freaky. Far, far left of freaky! Boris Savoldelli does vocals and is also credited with electronics. Elliot Sharp plays guitar, sax and the aforementioned electronics as well. The results are often disturbing.

Evidently, pieces like Noises In My Head, Reflective Mind and A Meeting In The Park are totally spontaneous, one take instant compositions. I give the duo credit for thinking on their feet, as there is a "written" quality to parts of it. At times I tried to wrap my brain around the pieces, thinking "this sounds like an onion" or "kinda like a spleen being passed through a screen window," but more often than not, I sat baffled. This is not a bad thing, by the way.

Protoplasmic is most definitely not a breezy, easy listening experience. But if you are of like mind with Fred Frith, The Residents, or are a regular user of morphine or crack, Savoldelli and Sharp have recorded the soundtrack to your brain, or, perhaps, your spleen.

Steven Seagal & Thunderbox - Mojo Priest (Steamroller)

Yes, I know it's not a progressive album, but it piqued my interest. Yes, it's Steven Seagal, the actor. I promised myself to listen with open ears. I can honestly say... this is quite an ass kicking blues album. Seagal has a relaxed, smoky voice well suited to the blues, and he plays a wicked guitar.

Seagal chose his guests wisely. Ruth Brown, Pine Top Perkins, James Cotton, Bo Diddley - all stars in their own right. Mojo Priest is a mix of originals and blues standards. Solid versions of Hoochie Koochie Man, Dust My Broom, and Red Rooster are swampy and gutsy. Gunfire In A Juke Joint, Talk To My Ass, and BBQ fit right in with the standards with bits of wry humor to boot.

I don't quite know what I expected going in. I'll tell you what I came away with. This guy can play a fine guitar! Seagal has a bunch of smokin' licks in his fingers. He also knows his blues. Mojo Priest is a hot chili pepper that's a great CD to pump up at your next party or BBQ. Hot stuff!

Sha Na Na - The Golden Age Of Rock 'N' Roll (Wounded Bird)

In my early teens, this was the record my pal Will & I used to listen to while we built model cars, raced Aurora AFX slot cars, and read car magazines. Yes, a car trend. Hey, it happens. This double set was played over and over day after day. Cool greaser oldies played with boundless energy.

Most of The Golden Age Of Rock 'N' Roll is live, with a clutch of tracks seemingly live in the studio. All these years later, how does it hold up? Pretty damned well! Bowzer and the boys had their act together. Their renditions of Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On, Rama Lama Ding Dong, At The Hop, and pretty much all 29 tracks are played with the energy of punks on crack. Originally released on the Kama Sutra label back in 1973, this set has a sort of pre-punk energy to it. Bowzer, Capt Outrageous, Denny Greene, and the gang were a far cry from their later TV personas.

This Wounded Bird remaster is pretty straight up with no gloss. Really, the way it ought to be. This is an album made for parties, low riding, and cheap hooch. Oh, and the occasional Richard Petty blue & red Aurora AFX car that would beat your ass!

William Shatner - Ponder The Mystery (Cleopatra)

William Shatner dips his toes into progressive waters. Again. William Shatner dips his toes into progressive waters. This could be a good thing or a very bad thing. I am thankful to report it's the former.

Shatner certainly had a stacked deck with the aid of everyone from Zoot Horn Rollo to Vince Gill, with Rick Wakeman, George Duke, Steve Vai, Al DiMeola and others somewhere in between. Overlording the proceedings is Billy Sherwood giving everything a Yes-like veneer. Musically, much of what's here is indeed Yes lite. Pretty generic. Don't let that put you off. This is all about Shatner, and he honestly delivers.

A wren sends a wrong message. A parrot can be offered a carrot but a stick will do. The margay sashays into the foyer of the woods. A crow is a blow for someone who thinks wrong. - just part of the lyric on Rhythm Of The Night urgently intoned by Shatner. A bit grandiose? Perhaps. Satisfying nonetheless. His lyrics play and bite and above all entertain. Theatrical and emotional. Shatner never wears out his welcome. Quite the opposite - I want more! Ponder The Mystery grabs you and never lets go!

Billy Sherwood - The Art Of Survival (Billy Sherwood)

This is a total 1 man show. Former Yes man Billy Sherwood wrote, performed, recorded, mixed, produced, and for all I know printed the booklet here. The results are actually quite nice.

As one might expect from a bass player, it a very rhythmically driven album. It's always moving forward. A great example is Whose Side Are We On? There are several sly rhythmic shifts, but it always seems to be pushing ever on, never dragging. Love the drums on this one, by the way. In terms of "feel," the album has a 90125-meets-the-Police-via-Steve-Winwood vibe to it. This is not a bad thing. It sits on the pop/rock end of the prog spectrum with very strong vocals and nice harmonies. Just give a listen to Faith That We Belong and you'll see what I mean.

Sherwood seems to be a busy lad lately. Perhaps it's an unwritten Yes law to record a zillion albums. As long as they're as strong as The Art Of Survival, I say keep them coming! A solid, mature album.

Shrunken Head Shop - Live In Germany (WD-41)

Shrunken Head Shop consists of Willie Oteri on guitars and loops / Jan Fitschen on bass and stick / Sylvia Oelkrug on violin / Schroeder on drums - fresh off his painful divorce from Lucy. Joining them are Dave Laczko on trumpet, Alessandro Arcuri on bass, and Konrad Wiemann on percussion.

The 5 tracks here were recorded between April and October of 2012 at various locations in Germany. The band performs what they term spontaneous compositions but I term improvisations. At times it's mind expanding. At times it's noisy confusing world fusion.

The players are all first rate, with Schroeder catching my attention most often. Tracks Of The Mystery Ape grabs my ears more than the other pieces. A touch caustic in parts but lots of ideas flowing and converging. Legends Of Litfass is a bit long for what it offers.

I admire the idea. I even admire the execution. My mind says that an album like this is great to have on while you're doing something else. Each piece has interesting moments. Each piece could also benefit from a touch more melody. Am I just being picky when I say that? You decide.

simak Dialog - The 6th Story (MoonJune)

Indonesian avant-prog-jazz. Oh, not another Indonesian avant-prog-jazz act! We kid. This is some potent stuff! simak Dialog is the brainchild of keyboardist Riza Arshad. Arshad has that magical touch on the Fender Rhodes that never fails to drive me wild.

Stepping In grabs you right out of the gate. Lovers of Hatfield And The North, National Health, DFA, and certain aspects of Soft Machine will be high on this sound. Lain Paratina moves the tempo up. The 3 percussionists drive it very subtly. My ear keeps waiting for a standard kit to kick in. It never does. Frustrating but at the same time rewarding as it is always keeping me engaged. Harmologic brings guitarist Tohpati a bit more to the fore. A tad more experimental here. A smoother vibe for What Would I Say featuring outstanding bass courtesy of Adhitya Pratama. For Once And Never carries a more Latin undertone. Very interesting.

A driving Common League is next. Tohpati's guitar fairly smokes here! Cool odd soundies here and there as well. As Far As It Can Be (Jaco) is a beautiful tribute to our dear departed bass man. 5,6 gets sly and playful. Lots of shifts here. I dig it! The album closes with Ari. I love the acoustic piano here. Stellar stuff.

The 6th Story is a tremendously rewarding excursion. This music is exciting, fresh, vital. One of the best hours you'll spend all year!

Siouxsie And The Banshees - At The BBC (Polydor UMC)

This 3 CD / 1 DVD set is a bit of a dream for any Siouxsie fan. 55 live performances spanning from 1977 to 1988 are spread over the 3 CDs. Metal Postcard, Voodoo Dolly, Song From the Edge Of The World, Candyman, Nightshift - from the familiar to the obscure, it's all here.

Sound quality is superb. Budgie and Steve Severin are a beefy, colorful rhythm section. Floating over them are a battery of guitarists including exceptional playing from Robert Smith on a clutch of early 80's tracks. Siouxsie stalks, preys and at times frightens. Decades later, every note still excites.

The bonus DVD is a treasure unto itself. From the playful miming on Top Of The Pops, to the sweaty, orgiastic live performances on Rock Goes To College, there is a bit of something for everyone. The extensive 30-page booklet is icing on an already delicious cake. Totally flawless, incredibly compelling. Essential in every way.

Julie Slick - Julie Slick (Julie Slick)

I'd call this album a pleasant surprise, but it's no surprise at all that Julie Slick would make such a wonderful album. I've seen her grow over the years as a bassist from a young phenom to a mature, inventive player. Too often, prog bass players make technically deep, cerebral, frigging dull albums. Slick has totally avoided this with an instrumental album bursting with color and variety.

February is a quietly joyous piece full of morning textures. Mora is modern and bubbly with a roar or two thrown in. Mela rocks out solidly. Aphrodite has a funky groove - early 70s meets today with a wee bit of jazz in the mix. Nothing To Be Done is a bit more melancholy with a nice shuffle rhythm under it. Choke moves briskly with a real R.I.O. feel to it. Shadow Trip is an exotic groove - very sly. Spice Trade is beautifully sad. The Rivalry kicks 73 kinds of ass (I checked and verified this)! Cage Match sounds...wet.

Slick brings in a nice supporting cast from drumming brother Eric to Marco Minnemann to Andre Chomondeley to Robert Fripp. None of them take the front seat, as Julie Slick drives the bus all the way. A very satisfying debut from a brilliant musician.

Slivovitz - Hubris (MoonJune)

There are times where, perhaps without intention, a band lives or dies by its rhythm section. In the case of Slivovitz, this is especially true, but thankfully it's one hell of a rhythm section. Bassist Domenico Angarano's fingers seem to be made of some futuristic rubber as they ooze and glide across his electric & fretless basses. So confidently tuneful, so rhythmically adaptable. Drummer Stefano Costanzo is his perfect foil - always right on that beat. His snare is a thing of danger. His rhythmic shifts so sly, that I suspect his feet have no bones.

The rest of the players are certainly no slouches. Pietro Santangelo's sax can embrace as well as pulverize. Marcello Giannini's guitar is a textural chameleon and well met by Riccardo Villari's violin. Ludovica Manzo's vocals and the harmonica of Derek Di Perri are the spice in the stew.

Pieces like Caldo Bagno, Dammi Un Besh O, and Tilde defy categorization. There is definitely a jazz-ish base for the most part. But I'm hearing Middle-Eastern, Reggae, Zappa, Funk, World, Folk and Rock in there. Hell, a bit of everything. Hubris is winking at me, teasing my ear. Hubris wants to take me to bed and feed me sweet lies and guilty bon-bons, then kick me to some curb in Naples, naked and ashamed. Hey! Sounds good at that!

Gilli Smyth - Mother (Esoteric)

I have a very specific memory related to this album. In the very early 80s I went over to my brother's house at that time. He had a much better turntable than mine so I went over there to copy my vinyl of Mother onto cassette. The copy had a bit of sway to it, but I got it done and the cassette was my go to listening copy so I could decently preserve the album.

Decades later this old friend has made it on to CD. Thank God! Listening to this 1978 release in 2016, it's dippy, spacey, odd, at times abrasive, and full to the brim with weird. Pretty much everything I love! Next Time Ragtime, OK Man, This Is Your World, and the children's book-like Taliesin still lead the pack for me.

Smyth is joined by Daevid Allen, Pip Pyle, Didier Malherbe, and so many more from the Gong circle so the feeling is familiar if you've not heard it before. The remaster is...simple. That's the word. The mix isn't mucked with. It just sounds better than you've ever heard it. Deeeeeeeper. Hey Esoteric! Get on the Mother Gong Robot Woman trilogy now! Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!

Soft Machine - Tales Of Taliesin (Esoteric)

Subtitled The EMI Years Anthology 1975 - 1981, this 2 disc set walks the listener through a fascinating period of the Softs history. Here we see a transition away from the ground breaking compositions and playing of Mike Ratledge. This is the Karl Jenkins era. Much more of a hot jazz fusion unit. A far cry from the Canterbury. No less compelling, certainly. Just...different. Ratledge had an elegance, a stateliness to his work even at his most avant garde, his most random. In comparison, Jenkins is a bit more straightforward compositionally. This is not a bad thing at all. Again, just...different.

This set draws from Bundles, Softs, Alive And Well, Recorded In Paris, and Land Of Cockayne. Pieces like The Nodder, The Floating World, Song Of Aeolus, and Over N' Above give a strong, balanced look at this period. Ratledge, Jack Bruce, Ric Sanders, Allan Holdsworth, John Etheridge, and others come and go - Jenkins on keys and John Marshall on drums are the only constants.

Fascinating liner notes, cool photos, and stellar remastering make this set an A+ all the way. Quite an interesting look t this bit of Soft Machine history. Fine song selection. Exciting music to make your daily life better.

Soft Machine - Bundles (Esoteric)

Bundles is a much different sort of Soft Machine. Keyboardist / reedman Karl Jenkins was running the show far more than the beloved Mike Ratledge. Plus, there was this new upstart guitarist named Allan Holdsworth playing all over the place...

So very happy to see this 1975 release get a remastering. It sounds very natural, very analog. The way it ought to. No remixing, no loss of dynamics. Very...seventies. Having said that, it's clear, crisp and full. Quite honest to the source with a gorgeous warmth. Esoteric were really on the ball with this one.

Lots of photos, restored artwork and copious notes from the venerable Sid Smith. No extras. None needed. Just bundles of Bundles. Rock jazz fusion with great movement. Oh, and that hauntingly beautiful number The Floating World. Mesmerizing.

Esperanza Spalding - Radio Music Society (Heads Up / Montuno)

I've always been a great fan of jazz with a groove under it - a funk or soul groove. Manhattan Transfer, early Pointer Sisters, Flora Purim (on the Latin side) all come to mind. Esperanza Spalding brings that sound into the present day. Radio Music Society is full of funk and soul while most definitely working in a jazz idiom. Tasty stuff.

Radio Song has that Byrdland feel to it. Winding, twisting vocal harmonies playfully embrace the main vocal. If you don't bob your head and tap your feet to this one, you might in fact be dead. Cinnamon Tree is New York City in April. All love and delightfully lazy colors. A kiss at 2 AM in the Village. Land Of The Free pares everything down to an organ and Spalding's sweet voice - like smoky silk. Nothing else is needed. Black Gold is a song of hope with nice support from Algebra Bessett. Endangered Species adds vocals to the Wayne Shorter piece and finds Spalding getting vocal support from Lalah Hathaway as well as great synths from Leo Genovese.

I don't want to neglect Spalding's bass playing. Bubbling, bouncing, driving, gliding. She is as tasty as she is inventive. You really can't lose here. Jazz fans, funk fans, pop fans, most any human with ears will love Radio Music Society. A total win / win scenario for artist and listener.

Jeremy Spencer - Bend In The Road (Propelz)

There was a time when Fleetwood Mac was an explosive, authentic British blues combo. A great portion of that credibility came from guitarist Jeremy Spencer. Decades later, Bend In The Road testifies to the fact that, if anything, Spencer has added a deeper veneer to his blues musings.

Homesick is the template for every blues song you ever wanted to hear. Cry For Me Baby brings the tempo up a bit. Wicked slide playing here. Whispering Fields has an almost City Of New Orleans feel to it. A heartwarming instrumental. Walked A Mile is a blues swing number with a great vocal. Earthquake sees the blues meet Buddy Holly on a grimy dance floor. A single if I ever heard one! Aphrodite is an acoustic-driven instrumental on the plaintive side. Secret Sorrow is unfiltered blues brew black with no sugar.

Stranger Blues flirts with the Tex / Mex border with oily slide work. Homework is closest to that early Mac feel. Awesome. Desired Haven is moody and cinematic. Come To Me is open and plaintive. Merciful Sea is a fragile piano-based piece. Refugees feels like an aural journey through uncharted lands. The title track closes the album on a more folksy note. Could be a great tune for Steve Forbert.

Bend In The Road is a phone call from Jeremy Spencer letting us know that all is well. He's in great form and his guitar still sounds fierce. An album that's as comfortable as your favorite sneakers.

Spiraling - Transmitter (Brizmuzik)

A few years back, I saw Yes on their orchestral tour. On keyboards was a positively demonic player named Tom Brislin who handled Wakeman's & Moraz's parts as if they were child's play. In 2003, I saw Brislin fit in with equal ease with Camel. What a player! Then I heard that he had his own band called Spiraling. What would it sound like? Let me tell you.

"Transmitter," from Spiralling is ultra solid smart pop/rock with exotic flourishes here and there. The sound to me fits in with the Beatles / XTC / Split Enz / Crowded House - witty, wily pop full of hooks and riffs. Brislin has a comfortable vocal style that serves songs like "The Girl On Top (Of The Piano)" and the wonderful "(I Don't Want To) Grow Up." The title track is driven by a great, infectious synth riff that bubbles and blurps along. If you're looking to see 140 mph arpeggios, look elsewhere. If you want songs you'll keep singing, get this one!

Spitzen - Fingerprints ( The Villa)

Spitzen is Hans Spitzen from the Netherlands and Fingerprints is a true 1 man show. Quite a long gestation period as these songs were recorded between 1989 through 2011. Interesting symphonic prog.

Spitzen's voice takes a bit of getting used to, but it's certainly not unpleasant. As an instrumentalist, his playing is fresh and beautiful. His guitar playing absolutely sings. Great keyboard textures. I feel bits of a Camel in terms of mood. Songs like What I Would Give and Neptune's Exile paint compelling landscapes with more than a few breathtaking moments.

Spitzen delivers a satisfying bushel of tunes that don't wear out their welcome. The instrumentals No Strings Attached and Symphonic Sketches stand proud. I'd put them up with most any artist you've heard. Fingerprints is a finely crafted disc of prog tunes to delight your ear & heart. Check it out at hans-spitzen.com

Split Enz - See Ya 'Round (Warner / Mushroom)

This, the final Split Enz studio album, is very much the bridge from Enz to Crowded House. By this point Tim Finn had moved on and younger brother Neil assumed the helm. Future Crowded House drummer Paul Hester made his debut in Enz on this release as well. See Ya 'Round is a breezy collection of songs - less compelling than Time And Tide or Corroboree, but still full of nice tunes like Years Go By, Voices, and I Walk Away.

The remaster is bright, shiny, & well balanced with a wonderfully clean and strong bottom end. Next Exit, a great Tim Finn composition that actually fits between Time And Tide and Conflicting Emotions chronologically, is included as a bonus track. All the Split Enz Australian remasters are top notch and well worth searching out. Release these in the USA!!

Spock's Beard - Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep (InsideOut)

ALL CHANGE! Once again the chairs have shifted in Spock's Beard. This time Nick D'Virgilio has stepped out of the band and has been replaced by 2 new members. Live SB drummer Jimmy Keegan now takes the drum throne in the studio as well. On the vocal front, Enchant singer Ted Leonard is now the 3rd lead voice of the band. Both fit into the mix seamlessly and bring a new energy with them

The songs here are fresh slabs of colorful sound. This edition of Spock's Beard has a swagger to it. I Know Your Secret is pure confidence. Hiding Out, dare I say it, is downright ballsy. A Treasure Abandoned is an imaginative story song punctuated by absolutely inspiring keyboard choices by Ryo Okumoto. Afterthoughts is a fine addition to the Thoughts canon. Submerged is radio friendly with no sacrifice of integrity. Smoky and playful in a dark fashion. Long time Beard associate John Boegehold contributes Something Very Strange - a number that has a Neal Morse-era feel to it. Very nice. Speaking of Neal Morse - he co-wrote 2 songs on the album including the closing epic Waiting For Me, to which he also adds guitar. A grand piece and a memorable cap to a very strong album.

My copy includes a bonus disc with 3 additional songs as well as a remix. The Man You're Afraid You Are is an insistent headbanger with a singalong chorus. Down A Burning Road is a downbeat affair with blazing guitar from Alan Morse. Wish I Were Here is angular and a bit wiggy. Naturally, I love it! The remix is an abbreviated, refocused Something Very Strange.

I'm not sure how everyone is going to react to this album. My ears say it's the best SB since V, and that's saying a lot. The band is on the right track. I am playing the hell out of this album. Stick with this line up, guys. You're definitely on to something!

Spock's Beard - Feel Euphoria (InsideOut America)

Forget the very crappy cover - this is a great disc. "Feel Euphoria" is the first post-Neal Morse outing with Nick D'Virgilio stepping from behind the drum kit to assume lead vocals. The Beard are a touch less poppy & a touch more rocky now. Ryo Okumoto is the sole keyboardist now, and handles the transition beautifully.

"East of Eden, West of Memphis" and the simple but gorgeous "Shining Star" are as strong as any in Beard's history. The "epic" tune - "A Guy Named Sid" is perhaps not the strongest piece of the set (although that was fabulous live!) but that's a minor quibble. Whatever bits of quirkiness they lost in Neal Morse, they gained unity and purpose. Spock's Beard are still alive and well and dare I say - prospering!

Spock's Beard - Don't Try This At Home (Radiant/Metal Blade)

Spock's Beard are always put forward as new successors to the progressive throne: the next Yes or Genesis. Listening to this live disc shows why, but also shows an equal influence of the Beatles in terms of melodic composition & vocal harmonies.

Leader Neal Morse and bandmates are all players of the first order. "Day For Night," "Mouth of Madness," and "The Healing Colors of Sound" are chock full of chops, but grounded in strong composition. Where Spock's Beard is perhaps different from many prog bands is that their songs are bursting with positive energy. No doom and gloom here.

Speaking of chops - what a band! Neal Morse and Ryo Okumoto turn in excellent, tasty key work. Brother Alan Morse is a tight, melodic guitarist; and the rhythm section of bassist Dave Meros and drummer Nick D'Virgilio are totally locked in. "Don't Try This at Home" is a killer live document. Performances and sound quality are flawless. Own it now!

Squackett - A Life Within A Day (Esoteric Antenna)

So, what are you looking for in an album? Hardcore Chris Squire and Steve Hackett fans looking for Tales From Topographic Oceans-meets-Selling England By The Pound will likely be disappointed by A Life Within A Day. This album is much more about songs than it is about insanely complex riffs in quadratic time signatures that you need 7 slide rules to follow.

Keep in mind that this is an album Squire and Hackett play on, so there is indeed insane riffage here and there. But this is very much a collection of songs. Rock / pop songs with prog, classical, and world elements. Squire and Hackett split the lead vocal chores, with each providing oodles of harmonies as well. Lots of smooth and interesting vocal blends.

Tall Ships, Divided Self, The Summer Backwards, and Can't Stop The Rain are personal favorites. Having said that, all 9 tracks are quite strong. Squire and Hackett mesh very well. A Life Within A Day is a friendly and fun album that I hope is more than just a one off.

Status Quo - Aquostic (Ear / Eagle)

What we have here is a genuine party record. Quo are, as the cover says, stripped bare here. Full band but with no electric guitars. Lots of harmonica, female backing vocals, and the occasional orchestral backing. The results are on point. Aquostic sounds fresh and joyous.

They definitely brought the tunes. Pictures Of Matchstick Men, Down Down, Caroline, And It's Better Now, Rockin' All Over The World, Again And Again - 22 numbers in all. Breezy, bouncy, lively. Everyone is most definitely having maximum fun!

Joining Rick Parfitt and Francis Rossi for the sessions are Andy Bown on guitars, Rhino Edwards on bass, Leon Cave on drums, Geraint Watkins on accordion, Martin Ditcham on harmonica, and Amy Smith on backing vocals. Plus the strings, of course. Producer Mike Paxman kept everything simple and clean - letting the songs do all the talking.

Aquostic is a celebration of all things Quo. This is not just a band that has survived - they are thriving. You will never tire of listening to this glorious disc!

Status Quo - The Frantic Four's Final Fling (Ear / Eagle)

Some things quite simply elude me. Here's a great example. Status Quo never became an arena act in the USA. Massive in the rest of the world. Legends, really. A "cult" act at best in the USA. I'll never understand it.

Recorded live at the Dublin 02 arena on April 12, 2014, this is the final night of the tour of the reunited Status Quo iteration that really kinda hated each other. Guitarists Rick Parfitt & Francis Rossi are joined here by bassist Alan Lancaster and drummer John Coghlan. They'd not played together since 1981. Was it worth it? Oh, hell yes!

For guys with axes to grind, they don't hold back. It's a balls-to-the-walls set from the word go. Junior's Wailing, Blue Eyed Lady, Railroad, Oh Baby, Big Fat Mama, Roadhouse Blues, Caroline, Is There A Better Way, and so many more. They just don't let up!

This is unadulterated rock, blues, & boogie. Music to pull out your very best air guitar to. If you're new to Status Quo, find out what all the fuss is. If you're a diehard, buy 4 copies at least. You know you need them!

Steely Dan - Everything Must Go (Reprise)

This is how I know I can be a snob, I guess. I was always a huge Steely Dan fan. To this day I adore "Pretzel Logic," "Katy Lied," and "Royal Scam" as albums of wry, witty pop with a touch of jazz. By "Aja" they were dipping their toes deeper into the jazz waters and way slick production and by "Gaucho" they lost me. They certainly haven't won me back with "Everything Must Go."

Fagen & Becker have lost none of their chops, nor their songwriting skills. Songs like "The Last Mall" and "Green Book" are full of slick hooks and well crafted lyrics. I've just heard them do all this before and do it much better. There is no challenge here. Creamy smooth peanut butter rather than the acidic wit and topsy turvy melodies I grew to love by these guys. Let me be honest, though. If this was a CD by a new no name band, I'd find much to celebrate. With the caliber of Fagen & Becker, this is like Spencer Tracy acting in an episode of "Friends." They can and should do much, much better.

StereoKimono - Prismosfera (Immaginifica)

How's this for an odd combination?: King Crimson meets Passport. That's the vibe I get with this Italian trio. Angular at times, Eurojazzy at others. The band define their music as "Psychophonic Oblique Rock." I must admit, it's a very good feeling. Antonio Severi wields a mean guitar, laying down Strat sounding, almost Steve Hackett circa "Cured" figures & contrasting them with harsh bursts of chainsaw guitar. Bassist Alessandro Vittorio is very solid, with rubbery lines ala Colin Bass, and percussionist Cristina Atzori is tastefully tight.

"Rosso Di Luna" and "Onda Beta" shine, but there's really no bum tunes here at all. PFM drummer Franz Di Cioccio did a wonderful job on the production end. This is the sort of instrumental music I can listen to over & over and just never tire of. Hackett, Camel & Moerlen-era Gong fans, give this one a look!

Stick Men - Deep (Stick Men Records)

Run! Run for your lives! It's the Stick Men! Hide the women! Secure the high end coffee! I like me the Stick Men. They're prog, but they're not afraid to get get-down funkadocious as well. What does one term that? Perhaps non-anal prog. Yes. I like that.

The Stick Men are Tony Levin on Chapman stick and vocals; Pat Mastelotto on stuff you hit; Markus Reuter on touch guitars and strange little boxes that make odd yet pleasing noises. Calling them a tight unit understates things. By the way - don't we all want our units to be tight? I digress.

Hide The Trees is a sort of Discipline-era Crimsonesque workout.
Crack In The Sky is oily, sensuous, sinuous.
Horatio is a lumbering giant of a piece. Mean and mighty.
Cusp has a sort of manic urgency to it.
Nude Ascending Staircase is brisk and funky. Billy Cobham meets Nine Inch Nails.
On/Off reminds me again of elements of Discipline filtered through dark Chicago streets. Maybe I dreamt that?!
Sepia is appropriately smoky. Like listening to my head at 3 AM.
Concussion packs a sonic punch. Relentless aggression.
Whale Watch stretches out and unwinds elegantly, majestically. A fine headphone number.

Deep is a triumph of vision and execution. Deep is three guys making a huge noise. Beauty. Terror. Adventure. A romance for the ear.

Roine Stolt - Wall Street Voodoo (InsideOut)

Do you love wild, funky, sexy, ass kicking guitar? Hot, heavy classic prog with great melodies and vocals? If your answer is yes, you must own Wall Street Voodoo. It's a 2 CD set of hot stuff from the Flower Kings' frontSwede Roine Stolt. Over 2 discs and 16 tunes (including a smokin' cover of Joni Mitchell's Sex Kills) Stolt explores his influences a bit. Beatles, Hendrix, Zappa, Clapton, Vanilla Fudge - they're all in the mix and the result is quite a heady brew.

Those of us who miss Transatlantic get a nice bone as several tracks feature vocals by the ever cool Neal Morse, most notably on Head Above Water, where Morse also adds an energetic hammond solo. Other highlights include the appropriately titled Dirt, and the odd Everyone Wants To Rule The World (Morse on vocal again) with its twisted Magical Mystery Tour-era chorus. The Zappa-esque Dog With A Million Bones, the futuristic funkified grooves of It's All About Money. The list goes on.

While Stolt obviously brings elements of the Flower Kings wherever he goes, Wall Street Voodoo is definitely a separate entity. A celebration of dirty guitars, hot licks, and the occasional paisley shirt!

Stratospheerius - The Next World... (Fiddlefunk Music)

Take violinist / vocalist Joe Deninzon, add guitarist Aurelien Budynek, bassist Jamie Bishop, and drummer Lucianna Padmore and you get the genre-busting quartet Stratospheerius. One moment you get a Police vibe; another song might fit in with that gonzo Tubes feel; the next some Jeff Beck-ish; yet another would be at home in the Zappa family. Sometimes all at once. The one common factor is that every number is full of invention and feels alive.

The biggest jump since the last Stratospheerius album is the depth and maturity Deninzon's voice has gained. His vocal on The House Always Wins is playful and a bit of a tease. On Gods it's got an urgent edge. Earthy and open on Climbing. As for the playing, every member plays with passion and invention. Budynek is tight and bright in rhythm mode and soars when the song calls for it. Bishop, who prog fans might recall from stints with the Syn and with Francis Dunnery, is a flat out low end monster and perfectly matched with the fiery Padmore. She is that drummer every musician wants in their ensemble: a player that can blow your mind one moment, then tenderly hold your hand the next. As for Deninzon - the sounds he gets out of that violin are inhuman. His speed, precision, color, and character are just off the charts!

Not a bum song to be found here. Today Ballad For Ding Bang, the Morse-era Spock's Beard-ish One Foot In The Next World, The House Always Wins, and Tech Support win the highlight honors. If you dig funk/prog/rock/jazz/jam/fusion/pretty-much-everything-but-opera - it's all right here. The Next World... is a disc you'll never get tired of spinning! Much love to dear departed Stratospheerian Bob Bowen who also provided the cover art.

Stratospheerius - Headspace (Stratospheerius)

In my head, there are times I listen to a piece of music and subdivide the beat, then subdivide the subdivisions, trying to look at rhythms in different ways. I was in that sort of mood listening to this CD. The song Old Ghosts is a good example. Vocal rhythm, bass accents, guitar groove, drum groove, percussion, and violin all dividing the rhythm in their own ways yet united at the same time. A funky one, that tune. Sold Out is full of exciting changes - Jean Luc Ponty and Chick Corea gig with the Dregs is what it reminds me of.

Headspace is a cranker of an album, with Joe Deninzon showing some vocal chops in addition to his Herculean violin skills. Drummer Lucianna Padmore, bassist Bob Bowen, & guitarist Mack Price play baffling beats, power passages, and some sweet grooves. Guest artist Benny Koonyevsky adds great percussion as well - a sort of modern day Morris Pert. A high voltage cover of the Police's Driven To Tears is a welcome addition to this wonderful jazz / rock / fusion / world disc. A massive energy generator of ideas. I needed this.

Strawbs - From The Witchwood (A&M)

Why don't albums sound like this anymore? Was the magic formula lost? Heavenly layers of acoustic guitars and keyboards with vocals from another time backed by stately bass and tasteful drums. Is that too much to ask for?

The year was 1971, and the Strawbs were Dave Cousins, Tony Hooper, Richard Hudson, John Ford, and Rick Wakeman. Cousins was at his poetic best on pieces like "A Glimpse Of Heaven" and "The Hangman And The Papist." Wakeman would soon leave to join Yes, but for the moment added his magic to an already heady mix of voices and instruments.

"From The Witchwood" benefits nicely from a lovely, honest remastering. Rich is the word that comes to mind. No sonic surprises, really, and none were necessary. The mix feels like 1971. Trippy and colorful. "Keep The Devil Outside" was added as a bonus track and is a sort of after dinner mint to one of the Strawbs' most cohesive masterpieces, restored lovingly to it's deserved glory.

String Driven Thing - The Machine That Cried (Esoteric)

Years ago, I bought a 2 album Charisma label compilation titled The Charisma Disturbance. That set proved to be a life changer for me. It introduced me to acts like Capability Brown, Jo'Burg Hawk, Lindisfarne, Bell & Arc, Audience, and String Driven Thing. Their song Regent Street Incident, from their first Charisma album, dug so deep in my psyche that I even included it in my solo performances in the mid Eighties.

Led by Chris Adams, String Driven Thing sort of bridged the gap between Lindisfarne and Van Der Graaf Generator. Folk sensibilities combined with prog experimentation. You get that and more on 1973's The Machine That Cried. Housed beneath an unforgettable Hipgnosis cover lie songs like Heartfeeder, To See You, Sold Down The River, Travelling, and the memorable title track. Violinist Graham Smith adds the right spice to Chris & Pauline Adams' vocals. Lyrics run from charming to disillusioned. If you've not heard it, this is quite a substantial piece of work.

Esoteric's remaster restores the 11 minute track River Of Sleep to its proper length. Charisma's original release contained only a 2 minute & change chunk of it under the title of Going Down. 3 single sides are also included to round out the disc. The remaster is remarkably clean, full, and balanced. This is a no -brainer, a must own. Now if I can only talk Esoteric into working on the Capability Brown catalogue!

Styx - Live At The Orleans Arena Las Vegas (Eagle/Universal)

Styx in Vegas! Styx in Vegas! Mom! I wanna go! I wanna gooooooooooo! Seriously, here we have Styx in Vegas circa 2014. The band is Shaw/Young/Gown/Phillips/Sucherman with guest turns from Chuck Panozzo and former Eagles guitarist Don Felder.

Years on the road have this incarnation of Styx whip tight and crackling with energy. They're not Styxlite, they're Styxfun. 12 tunes I guarantee you know. Stuff like Crystal Ball, The Grand Illusion, Rockin' The Paradise, Renegade. The playing is pretty awesome. The vocals are as close to flawless as a band can get.This is good time prog/rock/pop. The crowd's through the roof. The band are fired up.

The guest spots by Panozzo and Felder add to the songs without changing the flow. The sound is as good as it gets. Live At The Orleans Arena Las Vegas should really appeal to pretty much any human being. Who doesn't like fun? The spirit here is irresistibly positive!

Masayoshi Takanaka - Bahama (EMI)

It's odd to say after many decades on the scene, but jazz / world guitarist Masayoshi Takanaka is pretty much an unknown quantity here in the United States. I've yet to understand why. His clean George Benson-meets-Weather Report style is sure to appeal to many guitarheads as well as listeners of all types.

1996's Bahama is a great example. Kool / smooth jazz with an exotic combo of world and Brazilian touches goes down easy without being too EZ, if you get my drift. A piece like Super Band grooves and chugs and Takanaka blows fierce solos over the top. Absolutely tasty. Pipe Creek is mellow with an island feel to it. Takanaka plays Japanese-tinged figures over the rolling rhythms. Very classy. Five Shooting Stars is a mid-tempo rocker anchored by acoustic guitar as sustain / crunch tempered guitar serves up anthemic melodies. Butterfly Bones reprises melodic bits from the album in a delicate finale.

Musicianship is pristine and pretty much flawless. A bit smooth in spots for some, I'd wager. No matter, a good song is a good song! Bahama is packed with master class playing and excellent material that holds up to repeated listens. Worth tracking down

Masayoshi Takanaka - Aquaplanet (Eastworld / Toshiba / EMI)

A story for you. I write this in late 2016. I was having a horrid November. One of my closest friends died unexpectedly and far too young. My life was overloading with stress for a variety of reasons. Life was sucking. Out of the blue, this 1993 CD arrived in my mailbox. I took a break in my day and decided to give a listen. With every note I felt more and more relaxed. My tension seemed to melt away.

Aquaplanet is a mostly instrumental concept album about undersea life. Joining Japanese guitarist as a guest horn player is Dave Koz. Koz is a great foil for Takanaka as they both wind their way around the strong melodies within. Amidst the originals there is a fine cover of Santana's Europa that would make Carlos grin. The rest is Brazilian laced jazz / world / funk with that Takanaka flair.

Blue Stripe, Napoleon Funk, Triggerfish, and the title cut all sound pretty awesome to these ears. I can't stop playing this one. Highly recommended.

Masayoshi Takanaka - The Rainbow Goblins (Kitty)

This 1981 piece of music was my 1st exposure to former Sadistic Mika Band guitarist Masayoshi Takanaka. I was in NYC in a massive used videocassette store and they had a concert playing on one of the many TVs in the store. He was playing a shiny reflective rainbow-hued Les Paul that shimmered in the light. Amazingly, his hair was tinted rainbow hues and shone just as brightly. Best of all, he was playing guitar that just knocked my socks off and was backed by astounding Japanese musicians playing jazz / world / fusion. I snapped it up that day and played it over and over for years. The VHS was called Rainbow Goblin Story and was a live rendition of this studio album.

This is a narrated concept album based on a delightful children's book by Ul De Rico. The story follows the schemes of Goblins that eat the colors of the rainbow. With that as his springboard, Takanaka delivers powerful music soaked in amazing riffs, seductive rhythms, and exotic colors.

Seven Goblins, Rising Arch, The Sunset Valley, Plumed Bird, and You Can Never Come To This Place are just a few of the delights to be found within. I visit these Goblins often and I've no plan to stop anytime soon! Breathtaking.

Tangerine Dream - Sydney - February 22nd 1982 (TDC/Bootmoon)

Tangerine Dream can run hot and cold. For every slice of brilliance, there is much that falls flat. This official 2 CD bootleg, part of the "Bootmoon" series, is one of the slices of brilliance. It features one of the most consistent line-ups of the band: Edgar Froese, Christopher Franke, & Johannes Schmoelling (not that you would find that information anywhere on the frustrating liner notes of the digipak!).

Pieces like "White Eagle," "Choronzon," "Force Maeure," and an excerpt from "Logos" sound positively otherworldly. The sound quality hovers between a great boot & a pro release - all in all very sonically satisfying. Hopefully Froese listened closely to these recordings when he tweaked their sound and will be re-inspired to record new TD music that matters! Til then, we have this gem to remember how great this band CAN be!

Ten Years After - British Live Performance Series (Rainman Records)

Turn your internal clock back to 1990. We're all at Central Studios in Nottingham, England to experience Alvin Lee and Ten Years After. Would his guitar playing still smoke? Would he still have it? Silly Rabbit! Of course he did!

Joining Lee at this time were Ric Lee on drums, Leo Lyons on bass, and Chick Churchill on keyboards. A tight, powerful unit. Lots of tasty material to be found here. Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, Love Like A Man, Johnny B Goode, I Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes, Sweet Little Sixteen, and the classic I'm Going Home are among the gems here. Why, Ric Lee even does his Hobbit drum piece!

This concert is clearly 4 guys having fun and kicking butt with ease borne of confidence and experience. Pedal to the metal rock 'n' roll that's lean and mean and meant to be played waaaaay too loud! More, please!

Toyah - Minx (Edsel)

Minx was a turning point for Toyah. A more mainstream though still quirky album that marked the death of Toyah the band and the birth of Toyah the solo artist. It's a glossy, electronic album with the high production values under the guidance of Chris Neil. If you look beneath the very 1985 production, there are some great performances here.

Toyah hits the big notes on Sympathy, All In A Rage, Soul Passing Through Soul, and Soldier Of Fortune, Terrorist Of Love - some of her finest vocals to date. The aforementioned All In A Rage and the bonus number Snow Covers The Kiss are goodbye tracks from Toyah's comrade-in-arms for years - Joel Bogen. Adrian Lee, Simon Darlow, and Ian Wherry all have their turns on keys.

This remaster is packed with bonus tracks and a nice booklet with notes by Craig Astley and Toyah herself. While not as significant as, say, Anthem or The Changeling, Minx is a fine gem in the Toyah firmament. Play it Loud!

Toyah - The Safari Records Singles Collection Part 2: 1981-83 (Cherry Red Records)

If part 1 showed an artist's growing pains like a flower reaching from punk rock to pop rock, part 2 shows a coming of age. Toyah's confidence brings maturity and range to balance out raw energy and enthusiasm. I Want To Be Free, one of her signature songs, opens the disc on a bright popish note. The near perfect Thunder In The Mountains is here as well. Around this time, Simon Phillips joined the Toyah band on drums, adding power to Warrior Rock, Brave New World, and others.

Street Addict, with it's sleepy bass line is a standout, as its manic companion Voodoo Doll. If there's a caveat, it's the puzzling omission of Stand Proud, a free flexi included with early pressings of the Four More From Toyah EP. At 21 songs, it's still a packed disc. For reasons that elude me, Toyah is still an unknown quantity here in the States. Perhaps these beautifully remastered packages from Cherry Red will help recruit a few new Toyah fanatics on these shores!

Toyah - The Safari Records Singles Collection Part 1: 1979-81 (Cherry Red Records)

Toyah Ann Willcox has certainly had a varied musical career - from punk to pop to prog to dance/trance and many points between. The 19 song disc opens with the very experimental "Victims Of The Riddle" featuring Toyah's rubber band vocals over some fairly bizarre synth work. It sets the stage for Toyah's career - music that's fascinating but far from comfortable. Odd, creepy, moving, funny, but almost never soothing. "IEYA" is a short horror movie of sound. "Fear the beast!" she sings. Indeed. "War Boys" kicks major colon with a driving bass/drum riff. So does "Tribal Look." For 2 short years, you can see the growth track to track in terms of writing & vocals. Raw enthusiasm gains polish & focus quickly.

If Safari was known for 1 thing, it was the crappiness of their pressings. This Cherry Red CD brings a new life and depth to the material. I never knew "The Helium Song" could sound this fine! The booklet has repros of all the singles sleeves, a discography, and well researched notes with vital input from Toyah herself. Can't wait for part 2!

Transatlantic - Kaleidoscope (Radiant / Metal Blade)

Imagine my surprise when I heard that a 4th Transatlantic album was in the works! I loved the 1st album. I liked the 2nd. I was indifferent to the 3rd. Would the 4th be a step back in the right direction? I'm very pleased to say yes!

There are 5 pieces on the album: 2 long ones, 3 shorter songs. Let's start with the shorter pieces. Shine is a strong mid-tempo number with vocal contributions from all. Very Obscured By Clouds era Floyd in terms of feel. Nice nice. Black As The Sky runs on the steam of Pete Trewavas' jet engine bass. Quite a cooker! With a Relayer feel, Neal Morse delivers Beyond The Sun - an earnest ballad with a heartfelt vocal and cool guitar textures.

The 25 min+ Into The Blue opens the album. An overture with a huge riff and fine drumming from Mike Portnoy sears into the brain and takes us into The Dreamer And The Healer - a very Spock's Beard- esque piece with stirring vocals from Neal Morse and uplifting keyboards. Back to the big riff that reminds me of Deep Purple's Lady Luck. Roine Stolt grabs the vocal reins for the wonderfully sleazy A New Beginning. I grinned from ear to ear on this one! Pain Of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlow turn in a guest vocal on Written In Your Heart. I love a line here: There's a life that's growing from each desperate tear. Just excellent. This brings us back to a reprise of The Dreamer And The Healer. Big beautiful finish as one might expect. A long piece that never wears out its welcome.

The title track rounds out the album. At just shy of 32 minutes it's a long piece, yet none of it feels wasted. It gives a bit of space for themes and elements to develop. Floyd's Us And Them meets Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles on a section titled Walking The Road that features a sweet vocal from Pete Trewavas. Roine Stolt's guitars are mature and inventive in every section. Note selection and tonal decisions excite the ear. Morse is no slouch in that department either. A great mix of vintage and contemporary sounds span the sonic vocabulary.

There's a deluxe edition with a 2nd disc featuring 8 cover tunes. And You And I, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, and Tin Soldier are especially nice. Indiscipline is just plain unhinged and goofy. Don't hold me to it, but I'm pretty sure there's an ultra-limited-super-special-deluxe edition where Portnoy comes and mows your lawn! Get this album - you neeeeeeed it!

Transatlantic - Bridge Across Forever (Radiant / Metal Blade)

The sophomore release from the prog superstar quartet of Neal Morse (Spock's Beard), Roine Stolt (Flower Kings), Pete Trewavas (Marillion), and Mike Portnoy (Dream Theatre). On this outing, the band are a bit more focused, yet looser as well - the feel is that they were more comfortable with each other. "Suite Charlotte Pike" starts out jammy but quickly gets very tight with Beatlesque harmonies and riffs galore.

There are 4 songs served up here, and all but the title track intertwine in some way. A bit of "Duel With The Devil" is reprised in "Suite Charlotte Pike," and a section of "Suite Charlotte Pike" turns up in "Stranger In Your Soul." While Marillion head ever towards the mainstream and eschew adventurous music in an attempt to be Radiohead, Trewavas turns in some of his most complex, aggressive bass playing ever. Portnoy shows admirable restraint and allows the melody twins - Morse & Stolt - to shine uncluttered. What started out as a project seems to be actually becoming a band. A very solid prog effort. Are Yes listening?

Transatlantic - STMP:E ( Radiant / Metal Blade)

What an assemblage! Roine Stolt on guitar from the Flower Kings. Pete Trewavas on bass from Marillion. Neal Morse from Spock's Beard on keys, and Dream Theater's Mike Portnoy on drums. Unlike many "jammy" prog super projects that have been floating around, this is very much a song-based disc.

Clocking in at just shy of 31 minutes, "All of the Above" opens the disc. Bursting with melody and ultra-fine musicianship, the piece flies by like a 3 minute pop ditty! While most lead vocals are handled by Morse, all 4 members sing - often in wonderful harmony as on "We All Need Some Light" - an acoustic-based piece penned by Morse.

The quirky/funky "Mystery Train" is next with tasty breaks by all and a lyric that relates the adventures of putting the band & album together. Stolt takes center stage on the Beatle-esque piece of psychedelia "My New World." The album closes with a 17-min-plus cover of Procol Harum's "In Held (Twas) In I." Transatlantic manage to capture elements of classic prog in terms of richness and color, while keeping the feel totally modern. This is not a time piece. Transatlantic is absolutely NOW!

Trespass - In Haze Of Time (Musea)

I'm a huge fan of the old Charisma label. Not only was it the home to Genesis, The Nice, & Van Der Graaf Generator - but to Audience, Capability Brown, Rare Bird, and many other notable acts. Trespass would fit in well amongst these acts. This Jerusalem-based trio play solid "old school" prog with a joyous orchestral feel and tinges of jazz.

"In Haze Of Time" has a wonderful "live" quality to it. The music breathes and flows beautifully. This is a very young band, but quite mature in a compositional sense. I'll stack songs like "Creatures Of The Night" and the title track up against any of the current prog crop!

If it sounds like I'm gushing, it's because I am. This CD caught my ear from the first listen and only gets stronger as time passes. Truly worth hunting down, folks!

Trip Lava - Octatroid (Shark Records)

Is this a new genre? Videogame prog? Octatroid most definitely has a videogame influence to it. Lots of NES 8 bit sounding buzzes and beeps pop up over the course of the album. Interesting.

Trip Lava is pretty much a 1 man show. The 1 man is Joel Lee. While some of the playing is a bit basic in places, he definitely compensates with plenty of imagination. I quite like his use of blocks of sound to create texture. Nice and inventive.

Octatroid tells a science fiction tale of good versus evil over the course of 13 instrumental tracks. I love being sent unique music and this certainly qualifies. A very dense album with lots going on for your brain to assimilate, but worth the journey. About as different as it gets!

The Tubes - Now (Acadia / Evangeline)

The great overlooked 3rd studio album by the Tubes on CD at last! Caught between 2 powerhouse albums (Young And Rich & Remote Control) Now never quite got its due. Listening to this 1977 disc years later, it's hard to understand why. "Smoke (La Vie En Fumer)," "God-Bird-Change," "This Town," and "You're No Fun," not to mention a staggering cover of Captain Beefheart's "My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains" are all as strong as any of the very best of their catalog. In retrospect, it may just have been timing. These things happen.

This remaster is not perfect but not bad either. If I want to nitpick, I'd like the mids and highs a bit cleaner. Part of me suspects this may have been mastered off of vinyl, but I can't swear to it. If it is, it's a nice job. Great liner notes by producer John Anthony. Worth tracking down.

Tudor Lodge - Tudor Lodge (Esoteric)

I've been writing about music since 1984. Every now and then an album reaches your ears that reminds you why you do this. Tudor Lodge is one of those. The album was recorded in the heady year of 1971 when the crust of the Earth was still cooling. It's a folk affair with sparkling acoustics, bongos, and pure voices. In the wrong hands, with the wrong songs, this sort of music could get syrupy awfully fast. Thankfully, the songs are lovely and everyone involved took the right path. This is sheer, unadulterated beauty.

Tudor Lodge were a trio: John Stannard on guitar and vocals; Lyndon Green on guitar and vocals; and Ann Steuart on guitar, piano, flute, and vocals. Among those lending a hand are Danny Thompson on bass; Terry Cox on drums; and Tony Coe on flute and clarinet. Consummate players bringing the material to an even higher level, all under the sure hand of producer Terry Brown.

Steuart's voice knocked me out - it's somewhere between Annie Haslam and Sandy Denny. Wrap your mind around that one. This remaster contains all 12 tracks of the original release as well as a bonus B side. Once you own this, and you will own this, you, like me, will pine for more. Wonder, beauty, joy, and a peaceful glow are all the result of checking into this lodge.

Tunnels - Progressivity (Buckyball Records)

With forearms like Popeye, bassist Percy Jones has thrilled my ears since I heard the first Brand X album in the mid-70s. His ferocious yet melodic playing has never failed to inspire. Tunnels is his latest venture: a trio with Jones, vibesman Marc Wagnon & drummer Frank Katz. If you ever enjoyed Brand X, you will love this CD. Prog jazz with lots of rhythmic shifts & deft solos in abundance.

Wagnon has his vibes MIDIed out, so they sound like keyboards. Brand X guitarist John Goodsall guests on several tracks adding lightning licks to the mix. Some of the more recent Brand X & Percy Jones stuff has been a bit stiff for my tastes, but "Progressivity" is a leap back to quality compositions. A true faith restorer!

12 Girls Band - Shanghai (Manhattan Records / EMI)

More pleasantry from the 13 girls of 12 Girls Band. Shanghai gives the listener 12 new studio tracks as well as 2 live ones. It's definitely smooth listening with easy on the ears melodies. What separates this music from John Tesh or Yanni is taste. Smooth, as I said, but not sappy. Easy but not E Z. There is a quality to the work that lifts it high above the majority of commercial new age and world music.

Fragile, Flowers And Juveniles, and Shining Energy have a lyrical quality to them, almost like little sound poems. The only faltering element to these ears was My Heart Will Go On, the sappy theme from the movie Titanic. Nothing can save the pomposity of the piece. But, hey - 13 out of 14 is a fine average for any album! The 13 12 girls are all fabulous musicians, playing traditional Chinese instruments with amazing precision. Such a nice listen!

12 Girls Band - Eastern Energy (Platia Entertainment)

Here in the States a guy decided to create a band & he came up with New Kids On The Block: a bunch of low talent kids dancing & singing pop fluff for preteens. A man in China had a similar thought & devised 12 Girls Band: a dozen incredibly talented women playing neo-classical & world music on traditional Chinese instruments. My ears like his idea much better!

These powerhouses can really play! On pieces like Forbidden City and Alamuhan sing with shimmering melodies. The songs are slick but not cloying. It's oddly refreshing to hear Eastern music presented this way. Eastern Energy also includes a free DVD with 25 min of live performances plus a nice lil "get to know the band" segment and a concept video. Fans of Enya and the exotic side of Steve Hackett will enjoy this one quite a bit.

Uriah Heep - Into The Wild (Frontiers)

One of the premiere hard rock / heavy bands of all time, Uriah Heep has every right to rest on their considerable laurels. Thankfully, they have not. Their latest, produced by Mike Paxman, is Into The Wild. It's an ass kicking affair with tight playing and strong vocals from Bernie Shaw.

I Can See You has a Hocus Pocus style riff driving it courtesy of Mick Box's guitar, and a hot wahwah solo from the man as well. Money Talk has this absolutely sleazy, dirty guitar riff reinforced by Phil Lanzon's organ. It's mean, bad boy stuff. I'm Ready has a Deep Purple meets Iron Maiden feel to it - very much an in your face piece.

Uriah Heep manage to stay connected to their history while moving forward. No easy task this. Much credit must go to bassist Trevor Bolder and drummer Russell Gilbrook for keeping the energy fresh for the others to build on. Great songs certainly help as well. Head banging, fist pumping, stadium shaking hard prog rock that will bring you back again and again, all housed in a nifty cover by the ever-imaginative Ioannis!

Utopia - POV (Esoteric)

How time flies! I remember the tour behind this album well. Utopia and The Tubes at the West Hartford Agora. The Tubes were on tour supporting the Todd Rundgren produced Love Bomb album, so Runt was felt through the entire evening. In fact, his wife to be, Michelle, was a Tubette on that tour. I digress.

POV is most definitely a product of 1985. The drums have that wee tinge of plastic to them. The keyboard sounds. The vocal mix. It walks, talks, smells of 1985. This is not a bad thing, it must be noted. Just a sonic road marker. Play This Game, Stand For Something, Zen Machine, Mated, Wildlife, and More Light are all strong additions to the Utopia catalogue.

The Esoteric remaster is far superior to the original Passport release. The disc adds 3 bonus tracks and historical notes by Mark Powell. Now, if only Esoteric could do the world a service and remaster the Tubes' Love Bomb this well!

Utopia - Bootleg Series Vol.2 KSAN 95FM Live '79 (Sanctuary)

Volume 2 in a series of official bootlegs by Todd Rundgren. This 1979 concert shows Utopia at the peak of their powers. The rhythm section of John "Willie" Wilcox on drums and Kasim Sulton on bass are nothing short of outstanding. Keyboardist Roger Powell & the aforementioned Rundgren on guitar turn in stunning solos.

The vocals don't exactly suck either. Neither do the songs. "Abandon City," "The Wheel," and "Can We Still Be Friends" all get superb readings. If there's a breakout amongst the gems, it just may be "The Seven Rays" with its amazing, intense instrumental passages building to a fierce climax.

The classic wry Rundgren humor shows up throughout the 13 selections. The sound quality is delicious. When I was a teen, I loved tuning into my favorite FM station and listening to a hook up from some club bringing me a band giving their all. This CD captures that feeling wonderfully. It's a lovely little journey.

Van Der Graaf Generator - Do Not Disturb (Esoteric Antenna)

It seems that the train has evidently reached the final destination. This disc is touted as the last time we get Peter Hammill, Hugh Banton, and Guy Evans in a studio under the Van Der Graaf Generator banner. If that is indeed the case, the band leaves on a strong note.

If something is noticeably different here, Do Not Disturb is a tad less angular than VDGG of the past. It feels like a last album - if that makes sense. 3 friends taking time to craft a final statement. It doesn't try to encapsulate a decades-long career. It's more of a hug to each other. Like brothers heading off on separate journeys. No ire or bitterness. More of a confident conclusion to an experiment.

This flight of fancy carries you until you know for sure. There's no going back to where you were before. Now you've lost the knack says the song Aloft. It concludes So the pay-off's due, now you've told the tale. All the words you used are exhaled. In Go, Hammill writes Time to leave, close the door. You can't believe you wanted more, more or less, all for the best. In the end it's all behind you.

Musically, it's full of invention and exploration. If there are feelings of regret, they seem to be few. Do Not Disturb is a fine concluding chapter to the Van Der Graaf Generator legacy. If this is truly the last round - I'm buying, lads!

Van Der Graaf Generator - Alt (Esoteric Antenna)

Alt is one of those albums I was rather eagerly anticipating as I've had a decades long love affair with Van Der Graaf Generator. Since their very inception, they've probed the outer edges of the musical spheres, pushing boundaries with little care for commerciality. You like what they do, or you don't.

In this particular case, I don't. Alt is an album of improvisational instrumentals. Titles like Sackbutt, Repeat After Me, and D'Accord are relatively meaningless. 14 improvs is what you get. There are interesting bits amidst them, as these are obviously talented guys.

In the end, Alt sounds like an album that VDGG had fun recording. Of that there is no doubt. Kudos to them for going way out on a limb. It's just not an album I'm eagerly anticipating listening to again.

Anneke Van Giersbergen - Drive (InsideOut)

Since she left The Gathering back in 2007, that band has never been the same. How could it be? Who else on Earth has a voice like Anneke Van Giersbergen? Sweet as a kitten, all frills and lovey dovey, yet powerful and soaring the very next moment, A truly distinct instrument. Purity and propulsion.

The material on Drive is a blend of pop with rock that sometimes has a tinge of metal to it. Instruments support but never obstruct or overshadow. Everything on the disc serves to showcase that wonderful voice.

Songs like She, We Live On, My Mother Said, The Best Is Yet To Come, and the title track all grab the ear. The more you listen, the more you want to listen. Great playing from all the musicians involved. I mean them no disservice when I say they are there for support, not focus.

Sometimes it's so very simple. Someone has a great voice that captures your ear. Bang. Done. That's the case here. Anneke Van Giersbergen will lure you in with her radiant voice and hold you tightly. You won't mind one bit!

Various Artists - Buddha Bar IV (George V Records)

A double CD with a purpose: to relax. The Buddha Bar series are CDs designed to serve as background music for dinner, drinks, & making out. Volume IV is mixed by David Visan and features a diverse selection of World music artists embracing styles from Latin to Middle Eastern.

The flow between tracks is seamless and never breaks the mood. Relaxing but nonetheless tasty, songs by Nitin Sawhney, Agricantus, Gotan Project, and others blend flawlessly under the guidance of David Visan. If you are new to World music, here's a great starting point. The same holds true if you're interested in opening up the ears of friends to something other than top 40. Beautiful, relaxing, & utterly painless, Buddha Bar IV hits the mark. More, please!

Various Artists - Fly Like An Eagle: An All-Star Tribute To Steve Miller Band (Purple Pyramid)

I bet you missed it! In California they held a contest. It was the Lamest Excuse For A Tribute Album That Wastes The Time Of The Artists And The Listeners contest. This was the hands-down winner! Of course Billy Sherwood helmed it!

Colin Moulding. Tony Kaye. John Wetton. Steve Stevens. Fee Waybill. Derek Sherinian. John Parr. Rick Wakeman. Martin Turner. Geoff Downes. Sonja Kristina. Peter Banks. John Wesley. Joe Lynn Turner. Steve Morse. Jimi Jameson. Jordan Rudess. Rod Argent. Steve Hillage. Nektar. I'll repeat that: Colin Moulding. Tony Kaye. John Wetton. Steve Stevens. Fee Waybill. Derek Sherinian. John Parr. Rick Wakeman. Martin Turner. Geoff Downes. Sonja Kristina. Peter Banks. John Wesley. Joe Lynn Turner. Steve Morse. Jimi Jameson. Jordan Rudess. Rod Argent. Steve Hillage. Nektar.

Think of the potential of that talent pool. Think of the songs of Steve Miller. Think again of the potential of that talent pool. Think again of the songs of Steve Miller. Sick yet? Depressed yet? Of course you are!

In my mind all of the performers above needed to perform community service for crimes we just never heard about. There can be no other explanation. Avoid this at all costs for your own sanity, health, and personal dignity.

VA - The New Universe Music Festival 2010 (Abstract Logix)

This is a 2 disc set of performances culled from Abstract Logix' New Universe Music Festival on September 20 and 21 of 2010. Featured performers are Alex Machacek, Ranjit Barot, Human Element, The Jimmy Herring Band, Wayne Krantz, Lenny White, and John McLaughlin.

So much to like here. Ranjit Barot's crisp yet maniacal drumming. The tight fusion of Alex Machacek's trio. Matthew Garrison's rubber cement bass carrying through Essaoura. Matt Slocum's piano and Jeff Sipe's drums chopping and dancing on Rainbow. Wayne Krantz' slyly abstract guitar work - listen as he flies! Lenny White's toms! The insane combo of Gary Husband and Mark Mondesir underneath the 10 finger tornado that is John McLaughlin.

Oh, the lucky people of Raleigh, North Carolina who got to experience it all in person. These 2 discs are packed with audio gold. Sound Quality is stellar. Every performance is riveting. If this set doesn't grab you, check your pulse, Chester! Essential listening for every human with ears.

Rick Wakeman - Aspirant Sunset (Music Fusion)

When I think of post 70s Rick Wakeman, I tend to think of 147 remakes of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. Recorded in 1990, this little gem slipped under my radar. Aspirant Sunset is a collection of 10 relaxing keyboard pieces by Wakeman.

The pieces are relatively simple as Wakeman songs go. No frenetic arpeggios. Just long, quiet lines over soft lazy beds of sound. Beautiful, stately numbers like Peace or Floating Clouds are perfect for chilling out on a late night or early morning. Wakeman's sound choices fit the theme well - soft pads and quiet pianos.

Aspirant Sunset is an excellent stress buster. Wakeman fans will enjoy, but this is a great CD for most anyone. A fabulous gift for a friend who's caught up in the rat race. An hour of peace of mind. Can you put a price on that?

The Watch - Vacuum (Lizard)

Solid neoprog from Italy in the Arena/Pallas/Galahad vein with a heavy early Genesis influence. I'm loving the drums & bass, and the keyboard textures catch my attention. Some of the transitions in the songs take a bit of adjusting to, but that's minor. Vocalist Simone Rossetti has a very pleasant, capable voice that I grew comfortable with quickly. Keyboardist Sergio Taglioni is fabulous, painting colors uniquely his own.

Vacuum has much to offer. Wonderland is an especially nice piece, featuring great drumming from Roberto Leoni. Nice to hear a band discovering its own sound. The Watch have pepped my ears up with this fine release. They pick up the slack that Twin Age left behind. Very European sounding, lush with tons of energy and a theatrical feel. Gotta love it!

Darryl Way - Ultra Violins (Explore)

It's Darryl Way - that rock / jazz / fusion violinist! I know him! Way has a new one here and it has a decidedly classical bent

Borodin, Saint - Saens, Franck, Faure, Bizet, and 2 by Way himself. Faves like Danse Macabre and Pie Jesu as well as Bizet's Farandole and Borodin's Polovtsian Dances fall under Way's bow.

The results are elegant and compelling. Way's violin work is fluid and creamy. Notes flow effortlessly. Way works over simple backing. Nothing obstructs his violin. Flat out beautiful.

The CD also includes a multimedia section for the computer. A music video for Farandole, a video on creating the artwork for the album, and an interview with Darryl Way are all there. Music for a hot beverage by the fire. Absolute elegance.

Carl Weingarten - Hand In The Sand : A Collection 1990-2004 (Multiphase Records)

"Machine Head" from Deep Purple. "Yes Album" from Yes. "Blow By Blow" from Jeff Beck. Some albums transcend genres and find their way into a broad variety of listener's collections. This CD is worthy of that sort of recognition. Carl Weingarten plays slide guitar and dobro with maturity and confidence. All 16 songs on this impressive collection are bursting with melodies, textures, and soothingly exotic flavors.

Weingarten's compositions often find him accompanied by bass and percussion - tasteful but never overwhelming. The 16 instrumentals range from world to proggish to jazz to pop to undefinable. If you enjoy the California Guitar Trio, you will do handflips for Weingarten. I truly can't imagine any music lover not adoring this one. The perfect soundtrack to your next dream.

John Wetton - Raised In Captivity (Frontiers)

The past decade or so has seen a virtual rebirth for John Wetton. His life, his career, and his health were all in freefall at one point. Then Wetton pulled it all back together and moved forward. More power to that! Recent days have seen him making the classic line up of Asia into an active unit once more, and reuniting with Eddie Jobson in 2011 to bring the mighty UK back to life. It's no wonder that Raised In Captivity showcases Wetton's strengths: smart playing, solid songs, and that magnificent voice.

Did I mention that he brought along a few friends? Steve Morse, Steve Hackett, Robert "Willyfred" Fripp, Tony Kaye, Eddie Jobson, Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood, Mick Box, Alex Machacek, and Anneke Van Giersbergen (from The Gathering). Small wonder that every track sparkles musically, and each carries a bit of a stamp of any given guest player. Goodbye Elsinore, Steffi's Ring, and New Star Rising are the standouts to these ears. Your faves may very!

So good to see Wetton deliver such a strong album, certainly his best since Battle Lines. His voice and his bass playing are as solid as ever. Age has done zero to alter either. Quite a top shelf singer / songwriter disc. Well done sir!

Stan And LeeAnne - Under The Covers (Crafty Hands Music)

So, what does our Happy The Man / Oblivion Sun guitarist do for fun? He does acoustic gigs with his lovely and talented wife. Under The Covers is a jaunty little live album of pop and prog covers, that are all in the spirit of fun. Stanley Whitaker and his wife trade lead vocals and often harmonize as well. Stan, of course, adds brilliant acoustic guitar to the mix - fleet solos when called for, tight chording otherwise.

LeeAnne's voice shines on songs like Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time, No Doubt's Don't Speak, and the Fleetwood Mac classic Songbird. Stan takes the lead on numbers such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer's From The Beginning, The Beatles' Come Together, Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, and Supertramp's Give A Little Bit. 15 songs in all and not a turd among them!

The recording is crisp and clear - engineered by former Oblivion Sun keyboardist Bill Plummer and mixed by Frank Wyatt and Stan W himself. Under The Covers gives you a great sense of sitting in a little coffee house and hanging out to hear some great tunes. A nice, intimate CD to unwind to.

Wigwam - Tombstone Valentine (Esoteric)

Albums like this are why labels like Esoteric exist. To bring you albums you never had the chance to love the first time around. Tombstone Valentine from Finnish proggers Wigwam was released in late 1970. I was familiar with guitarist Jukka Tolonen and bassist Pekka Pohjola, but I'd never heard a note of this album until now.

While I listened to the song In Gratitude it struck me that it sounded like progressive Traffic with perhaps a touch of Audience. I love the vocals. Jukka Gustavson's piano and organ rock. My syntax needs repair! Frederick And Bill is driven by an infectious guitar riff. Wishful Thinker is Bell + Arc meets Amen Corner in the best possible way. The all too brief 1936 Lost In The Snow is melodically wonderful.

Wigwam's Tombstone Valentine is a gem from start to finish. 43 years on, it sounds fresh; vibrant; relevant. Another great Ben Wiseman remaster that sounds clean, balanced, and lush. All this does is make me want to explore the rest of the Wigwam catalogue. This is by no means a bad thing! You'll love this one!

The Tony Williams Lifetime - Emergency! (Esoteric)

Back in 1969, you could do this. Get together and record a double album in just two days. Mind you, it didn't hurt that the players in question were Tony Williams, John McLaughlin, and Larry Young. Emergency! is a loose album brimming with energy and ideas. Every note, every measure cooks. Is it perfect? Nope. Is it slick? Nope. Who cares? It's a free-running beast of a jazz album. The sometimes maligned vocals Williams delivered sound get down groovy. Such a time piece!

John McLaughlin's guitar barks out angular phrases and chords like a jeweled savage in a cave screaming to the world. Larry Young's organ (no rude jokes!) bubbles and boils with discontent. Tony Williams plays with total freedom, holding no idea back. The trio rages at times, slinks and smirks at others.

The remaster is clean and honest. The drums in particular have a live resonance. Williams says Give in sometime - it's nice! on Beyond Games. He's 100% correct! Give in and grab this very satisfying set resurrected by Esoteric for your listening pleasure.

The Ann Wilson Thing! - #1 (Rounder)

Once again Ann Wilson took a bit of time out from Heart to explore other avenues. This project is called The Ann Wilson Thing! Joining her are fellow Heart mainstays Craig Bartock on guitar, Dan Rothchild on bass, and Ben Smith on drums. Keyboardist Chris Joyner completes the ensemble, and sister Nancy lends her voice on 1 track.

Here is what the EP offers:
For What It's Worth reimagines the Buffalo Springfield in a more percussive fashion. An urgent, modern vocal and a screaming siren of a guitar.
Fool No More a slow burner in the blues rock vein. Wilson's vocal is a killer.
Ain't No Way is a torch song that builds and brings in a gospel confessional feel.
Danger Zone features fuzzified piano and vocals driving a distinctly blue bus here.

This is straight ahead stuff. It has a nice early 70s feel to it. Just some folks sweatin' in a studio. No-frills goodness in a badass way!

Ann Wilson - Hope & Glory (Zoe / Rounder)

An interesting concept. Hope & Glory is 11 covers & 1 original, and predominantly duets. The result is a bit of a mixed bag, musically. Lucinda Williams' Jackson, for example, with great harmony vocals by k.d. lang and a killer arrangements is everything you'd hope it would be and then some! Ann Wilson's duet with Wynonna on We Gotta Get Out Of This Place suffers a lack of punch and, to be honest, Wynonna. Wynonna has the vocal power of a vacuum cleaner, while Wilson is a vocal tornado. Rufus Wainright's appearance on A Hard Rain's A Gonna Fall does nothing for me and detracts from an otherwise fine version of the Dylan classic.

Thankfully, the great far outweighs the average. The duet with Elton John on Where To Now St Peter? has the best vocal Sir Reggie has delivered in over a decade. Darkness, Darkness with sister Nancy feels like the Lovemongers, which is a great thing. Gretchen Wilson is a nice fit on a fun take of Bad Moon Rising. Thoughtful, inventive reworkings of Goodbye Blue Sky and Immigrant Song are risky and rewarding. Get Together delivers the goods in a way that makes you fall in love with Wilson's voice the way you did when you first heard Dreamboat Annie. The sole original, Little Problems, Little Lies is a fabulous song with Wilson caressing the vocal on a sad little war story.

Ann Wilson's vocals are utter perfection on each and every number. Her voice is a clinic for singers everywhere. Former FM violinist Ben Mink's production on Hope & Gloryis layered but clean - accompanying but never burying Wilson's voice. A few odd choices keep this from being a perfect album, but having said that, it's pretty damned fine!

The Winter Tree - Mr. Sun (www.thewintertreeband.com)

Good fortune smiled upon me. I received this disc just before driving with a friend to see a Steve Hackett concert. This ended up being our travel disc on the way in. A fine choice! Mr. Sun is the brainchild of Andrew Laitres. The music can best be described as contemporary symphonic prog. It's not derivative in any way, but let me say that fans of Yes, Genesis, Camel, Alan Parsons Project, and early solo Peter Gabriel will eat this up like hotcakes!

Laitres brought in Bankstatement vocalist Alistair Gordon to feature on a few tracks, and he sounds splendid. I found myself also digging the guitar work of Neil Taylor. His style is definitely in the Gilmour / Latimer mold. Tasty!

In the end, it's about the songs. Distant Star, Bobby, Blue World and the title track grabbed me immediately. In fact, there's not a dog here. The playing is all spot on and ear grabbing.

I hear lots of music that I rarely go back to. I found Mr. Sun to be exactly what I'm looking for current prog to be - inventive, melodic, and possessing that extra spark that makes you want more. This is the real deal!

Wishbone Ash - Clan Destiny (Eagle / Talking Elephant)

I first became aware of Wishbone Ash around 1974 with such classic Ash tunes as Phoenix, Jailbait, Vas Dis, Pligrimage, Warrior & Throw Down The Sword. Smooth vocals and twin guitars. Over 30 years later, not much has changed except the lineup. At this point, only guitarist / vocalist Andy Powell has stuck around, joined by guitarist Muddy Manninen, bassist Bob Skeat, and drummer Ray Weston.

The Ash sound is much the same on songs like Eyes Wide Open, Loose Change, and the lovely Surfing A Slow Wave. Powell and Manninen play tightly locked harmonies backed by unadorned but precise rhythms courtesy of Skeat and Weston.

Clan Destiny shows Wishbone Ash to be very much alive and kicking. Nothing here to replace the glory of the Pilgrimage or Argus albums, but that's an order few can fill! Several nice tunes including the butt kicking Slime Time should make fine additions to their live set. Nice.

Wobbler - Rites At Dawn (Termo)

I come in a bit predisposed to like this band, I must admit. I was quite impressed by their debut. It was an inspired slab of retro prog packed with gooey goodness. I approached Rites At Dawn with some trepidation. Would it pass the test? Oh, indeed it would! If anything, it far surpasses the debut by leaps and bounds.

Their are still lots of vintage prog trappings here. Yes-like vocals. Vintage synth sounds. You know the drill. In the end, the make or break is the writing. Rites At Dawn quite simply has fine tunes. La Bealtaine, In Orbit, This Past Presence, The River, and the beautiful Lucid Dreams are chock full of melodic twists and turns that keep your interest and grab your imagination. A Faerie's Play features lush vocal harmonies, punchy bass, and absolutely wonderful guitars.

Production is solid, package is simple but nice. Rites At Dawn is all a symphonic prog fan could possibly ask for. Worth twice the price, my friend!

Wobbler - Hinterland (The Laser's Edge)

Wobbler are one of those bands being touted as the next big thing. After listening to Hinterland it's easy to see why. Hardcore prog all the way served up straight from the Netherlands. A million mellotrons and keys, acoustic & electric guitars, and herky-jerky rhythms. Squire-y bass and almost overstuffed with melodies. This is a great eclair of a CD - sweet, creamy, airy. Long dreamy compositions with breathy vocals and "bits" reminiscent of Genesis, Yes, Camel, Gentle Giant, Tull, Caravan, and Renaissance.

Hinterland is a love letter to progressive music. There is no attempt to stray from formula. That's not a bad thing, by the way. Different for the sake of different can suck at times. This is not fan club stuff like "original" bands that are really just sideways Rush or King Crimson. Wobbler do not imitate - it's more about inspiration and springboards. The compositions are strikingly original yet use an aural palette that fits perfectly in the classic prog genre. This CD is a sort of Godsend to progressive music. Unfiltered, with no commercial concerns. Find out why folks are talking!

Yes - Progeny: Highlights From Seventy-Two (Atlantic / Rhino)

Here's the deal - the reels from 7 shows on the tour supporting Close To The Edge were recently discovered. They were all recorded with misaligned Dolby units and sounded pretty craptastic. Thankfully this issue was discovered & rectified track-by-track and all 7 shows were fluffed and dusted down until the sound was awesomelicious (sorry for all these technical terms). The folks at Atlantic / Rhino are releasing all 7 shows. This set I am reviewing is a 2 CD compilation of top performances culled from 5 of the 7 shows & presented in the running order of the sets from that tour. There was much drinking and releasing of doves. I believe a wolf near Roger Dean's house spontaneously cried.

Know what? Excellent choices! The Close To The Edge here is from November 11, 1972 in Durham, North Carolina and it cooks! Howe is certifiable. Anderson's voice is gorgeous. The soundfield has much more depth and better spacing than we are used to hearing from, say,Yessongs. Wakeman's organ clucks like a frenzied chicken on Yours Is No Disgrace. Squire and White are solid and inspired on Heart Of The Sunrise. This is a roaring rabid lion of a Yes. A unit of great power and impact and these recordings perfectly capture that energy.

There's a 14 disc boxed set available of all 7 shows. I've no doubt it's well worth your time if you're wealthy enough to afford it, Kevin. For the rest of us, this 2 disc set is a terrific souvenir. A snapshot of the prime early days of the Anderson / Howe / Squire / Wakeman / White iteration of Yes. A truly formidable unit bringing their message to the masses. The heartspoken Khatru revealed.

Yes - In The Present: Live From Lyon (Frontiers)

This double CD is a document of Yes' 2010 tour. This is the Chris Squire / Steve Howe / Alan White / Benoit David / Oliver Wakeman incarnation of Yes that caused such a stir in Yes fandom circles. So, how does this sacrilegious line up sound? Pretty damned good!

This set has a particularly killer assortment of songs. Tempus Fugit, Onward, South Side Of The Sky, Astral Traveller (with a nice little Alan White drum solo), Machine Messiah, and Siberian Khatru sit next to the numbers you've come to expect at any given Yes show. There are many nice vocal and instrumental moments here. David and Squire blend just beautifully vocally. Wakeman acquits himself well in his Dad's old chair. It sounds like a band having fun.

There is evidently a "deluxe" edition of this set with a bonus DVD, but this version will do you just fine. No matter who's in any given incarnation of Yes, in the end, it's all about the material. In The Present: Live From Lyon is a solid statement of a band still strong and proud. Quite an excellent set that true Yes fans will spin over and over.

Yes - Fly From Here (Frontiers)

Hey! What happened? With the departure of Jon Anderson, Yes didn't just curl up and die! They made a pretty damned good album! The nerve! Fly From Here is a product of version 973 of Yes. Working on this album are Steve Howe, Chris Squire, Alan White, and current lead vocalist Benoit David. Geoff Downes is back in the keyboard slot, and his Buggles partner Trevor Horn produced. Interim keyboardist Oliver Wakeman is heard on a few tracks as well.

Half of the album is comprised of the 6 part title track. It's quite nice. One can hear a Drama influence in it, which makes perfect sense since the seeds of the piece go back to that era of the band. As I listen, I find myself very pleased with Benoit David's voice. Very warm in tone and a bit lower than Anderson's normal register. It works very well with Squire's harmony vocals. People throw the word "epic" around far too easily. I prefer to see this as a long form piece, and not burden it with that tag.

The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be finds the vocals flipped: Squire on lead, David on harmonies. Very smooth. On this mid-tempo number, my ear is drawn to Howe's solid guitar work. To the fore when needed, restrained behind the vocals at other times. Speaking of Howe, beautiful acoustic playing on Life On A Film Set. Squire's rolling bass adds a bit of rhythmic punch as well. The middle section here is the highlight with bright ensemble playing over tasty rhythms. Hour Of Need is a serenely enticing piece and shows the strengths of this current line up. Nice set of lyrics and sweet sweet vocal blend. Solitaire is a stately Steve Howe solo acoustic piece. Timeless in that signature way one expects from Howe. Into The Storm brings the album to a close. A solid rocker driven by Squire's bass (using that Silent Wings Of Freedom effect).

Fly From Here is definitely Yes. A bit retro, a bit modern, very creative. A pleasant, strong effort. Good one, lads!

Yes - Live At Montreux 2003 (Eagle Records)

Yes have an excellent track record of live releases, with gems like Yessongs, Yesshows, and Keys To Ascension. Live At Montreux 2003 continues the tradition. This double set, featuring the prime Anderson / Squire / Howe / Wakeman / White line up kicks ass from start to finish. From the first notes of Siberian Khatru to the applause fading after Roundabout and everything in between, this is a remarkably passionate concert.

Anderson, Squire, & White are pretty much always solid, so the quality of a Yes gig tends to depend on how on Steve Howe or Rick Wakeman are. In the case of this show, they are in fine fettle. Listen to both on South Side Of The Sky as they turn in inspired performances. The set is a good mix with numbers like Heart Of The Sunrise, Don't Kill The Whale, and perhaps the finest live version of Awaken you will ever hear.

Sound quality is awesome. Package is simple but nice. Very few bells and whistles, just great tunes. DVD of this performance is one of Yes' very best. Highest possible recommendation.

Zero Times Everything - Sonic Cinema (7D Media / ZXE Music)

Zero Times Everything is Tony Geballe, Pietro Aussino, and Richard Sylvarnes. Lots of processed guitars and twiddly twinkly buzzy stuff. This album sounds very New York to me and by God it is!

Are these songs? Is that a fair cop? Better to say landscapes. Sonic Cinema as it's titled fits perfectly. These are films for my ears and mind. Fellini and Bunuel with a whiff of Cronenberg on the side. A sense of danger, of unease keeps things from getting too comfy. Get that sandwich to go because someone's coming up the alley and they just might be trouble!

Led is too cool for school. Heavy groove with heavier riffs. Lock the door - the rent's due.
Accident feels so threatening. The tension is palpable. It honestly gave me a start! It's the soundtrack of David Lynch's nightmare. Dick Laurent is dead.
Natron 40 says "Don't touch that robot!" Squealy, snaky guitar wends through the chaos. Ghost is its echo, but more,,,assuring.
Vox Populi is every protest everywhere. Power to the trio!
Schizoid has the Crimzoid lyrics read by a young girl to a backdrop of lye and bleach.

None of the 10 tracks here waste your time. Hello New York! Get these bedbugs off me! Unyieldingly awesome!!

Inna Zhelannaya - Cocoon (7d Media)

Russian vocalist Inna Zhelannaya has a young voice that's also impossibly old. A sort of timeless entity channelled through her larynx. How she hits a note, how she lets it resonate, the tone it develops - staggering. Is there perfection beyond perfection? The closest comparison is perhaps the enthralling Sheila Chandra. Heady company.

Cocoon is an amazing collection of songs. All are based on old Russian folk songs. But they are clay in Zhelannaya's deft hands. Pieces like Well or Youth are adventures in sound and space. They bring you around the globe, inside the Earth, beyond the morning and past the dawn. You will feel like you have been sent into the deep dark past, carried on sound and rhythm - your only guide Zhelannaya's voice carrying you gently.

Among the musicians joining her is our pal Trey Gunn on touch guitars. Gunn adds textures that never sublimate Zhelannaya's lead. The music here is a bit in the World idiom, but is truly unique unto itself. may not be to your taste if you live and die for Lady Gaga. For those seeking more, for those craving song and substance, pick this one up.

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