Trevor Horn – The Reflection Wave One – Original Sound Track

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Last year, the Japanese public broadcaster NHK released the animated superhero series 'The Reflection'. 67-year-old legendary English musician/producer Trevor Horn serves as a music producer for the anime. The soundtrack album he created is the first album under his own name. Although he has had great successes as a member of The Buggles, Yes and Art of Noise, he has also worked with many popular musicians such as Paul McCartney, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Tom Jones, Cher, Grace Jones, Seal, Tina Turner, Lisa Stansfield, Pet Shop Boys, Simple Minds, Mike Oldfield and tATu. An impressive list, indeed.

The series is written by Stan Lee (Spider-Man, X-men comic creator) and Hiroshi Nagahama (Mushi-shi anime director) and animated by Studio Deen (KonoSuba, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju). The story of 'The Reflection' takes place in a world in which a mysterious atmospheric phenomenon called 'The Reflection' kills millions of people worldwide. At the same time, the survivors develop supernatural powers. Some of the survivors become heroes, other villains .... So far the official information from record company Butler Records.

I've listened to it with increasing astonishment: how is it possible that a renowned producer/artist like Trevor Horn uses the soundtrack of a relatively obscure animation film to make his debut as a solo artist ?! OK, there are some interesting tracks like the opening track Sky Show, My Daily Life and Future Boyfriend. In addition, fragments of good music can be heard, such as on Peace in Blue, The Transition and Loneliness and Solitude, but a dialogue (yes, really) ruins the musical effect. Plenty of ideas, there is no shortage, but just as it turns interesting, a short and therefore sometimes shabby theme passes by. Unfortunate. I realize that this is due to the limiting format that a soundtrack represents. Plus my unfamiliarity with the genre and perhaps also the desire for good (progressive) rock music, a man like Trevor Horn should be considered capable of. Well, he is not the only one, Yes ‘colleague' Trevor (could it be the name?) Rabin, has preceded him for some time and has even built up a respectable and undoubtedly lucrative career in this genre.

James Bond-style film music at its best, such as Battle Begins, The Future of Happiness and Greater Expectations. Supported by images undoubtedly very impressive, the trailer is proof of that, but as standalone audio it is far too fragmentary. Even SunSunSunrise is a refreshing breath of air, Japanese sung and with a clear disco signature, but once again extremely short. I can go on and on. Sky Show gets a real Reflected & Expanded mix by the unmistakable hand of the master, but that's all.

No, I do not think anyone is waiting for this, except perhaps the fans of anime in general and this film in particular. Unfortunately, I still prefer to hear this man as a producer of quality (pop) music, this one goes under the heading of 'curiosity'. Next please.

Review: Alex Driessen ©2018

Subsignal - La Muerta

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A first introduction to this band, when I look at the cover and the title my initial thoughts were that we are dealing here with a Spanish or at least Latin American band but none of that. This is a German band with, surprise surprise, a Dutch singer. Subsignal was founded in 2008 and debuted with "Beautiful & Monstrous" in the same year. Three albums followed suit, "La Muerta" is already the fifth album of the band.

Upon listening, a number of things stand out immediately: the open and transparent production, the strong instrumentation and the excellent lead vocals. For the latter Arno Menses is responsible, his crystal clear voice contributes greatly to the accessible character of the songs. His voice resembles that of Haken’s Ross Jennings, as in the excellent title song, The Approaches and The Passage.

The balance between keyboards and guitar is great, while the rhythm tandem of bassist Ralf Schwager and drummer Dirk Brand clearly has a more heavy signature, no doubt something to do with their past as heavy (prog)rockers. Influences of the aforementioned Haken are clearly audible but I also hear Journey occasionally pass by as in The Bells of Lyonesse and As Birds on Pinions Free. In the latter song I also hear bits and pieces of Rush. All these references does not mean that Subsignal does not have its own sound, on the contrary. It is a bit in between heavy prog and American AOR, nothing wrong with that, especially if it is executed as well as it is here.

The production is brilliant and razor-sharp, everything is well balanced and crystal clear. Kalle Wallner and Yogi Lang, known from RWPL, have done a good job at the Farmlandstudio in Freising. Both also play as guest musicians on the album, as does Markus Jehle.

Menses is also responsible for all lyrics, with the exception of When All The Trains Are Sleeping which is co-written by Steffen and Bohm, great guitar solo by the way. The music is almost always a co-production between singer Menses and guitarist Steffen. The songs have head and tail, are accessible by nature and in most cases have a recognizable chorus, hats off.

Teardrops Will Dry in Source of Origin is a small acoustic gem from guitarist Markus Steffen. The closing ballad Some Kind of Drowning is a duet between Menses and Marjana Semkina (Iamthemorning). It is the Subsignal version of the Gabriel/Bush classic Don’t Give Up, quite daring to put something like that as last song on the album. Noteworhty: Menses’ voice sounds a bit like Cliff Richard (!!).

All in all an extremely enjoyable and pleasing album from Subsignal and a considerable step away from their heavy past. More AOR than prog but the quality of the album compensates a lot, if not everything. When I write this, a mini tour through Germany and the Netherlands has just taken place, unfortunately I had to miss out, but I am definitely looking forward to a live performance by this excellent group of musicians.

Review: Alex Driessen ©2018

Neal Morse - Life & Times: variety is the spice of life

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Sometimes I have had it all with progressive rock. Overkill, too one-sided, tunnel vision, don’t know exactly what it is, but then I have had enough of it and long for some 'normal' music. Fortunately, there is plenty about, such as the new albums from the three Paul's: McCartney, Simon and Carrack have all released new material recently. An equally welcome and necessary distraction from regular prog domination. Having said that, I recently listened to the latest solo album by Neal Morse, released in February. And I was pleasantly surprised. Not his usual religiously tinged rock or elongated prog songs of thirty plus minutes, but twelve short, crispy pop songs, not longer than five minutes. With the emphasis on pop of course. The first track of the new album titled "Life & Times" sums it all up: Livin Lightly is just that type of song, poppy, inventive, nice hook, catchy tune and ditto lyrics. Light-hearted and lightly digestible but definitely not lacking quality. There are more such songs on the new album, the successor to "Songs From November" from 2014.

But don’t be mistaken: there is also heavier stuff such as the moving He Died At Home about the problems of war veterans and suicide. Or If I Only Had a Day about the realization that every day counts and that you should not postpone anything until later. JoAnna is about the loss of a lover, in this case by Morse’s son. The fact that this is possible without heavy guitars and double bass drums is, in my opinion, only a tribute to Morse. His songwriter abilities were never in question, but on this new album he shows his best side, both with heavier and less heavy themes.

In the latter category, for example, Selfie in the Square is about a stopover during touring in Luxembourg and You + Me + Everything. Poppy obvious, light-hearted of course but never simple or flat. Humour also, as in Manchester (by the sea) in which he writes about the British city. Until a friend reminds him that Manchester is not at all situated by the sea. The music is inventive, light in nature and so easy to sing-along to that I find myself automatically singing, and on top of that, they seem to stick as well. Much more than some of the longer prog songs he seems to record these days. Beatle-esque as  well, not unfamiliar for someone who, together with his side-kicks Paul Gilbert and the inevitable Mike Portnoy, plays in Beatles tribute band Yellow Matter Custard.

All songs were written by Morse except Manchester, which was co-penned by Geoff Bailie. The fact that Morse also takes care of production and plays most of the instruments will not come as a  surprise.

Now, halfway through his fifties and his children adults, there is a feeling that Morse is looking around and taking stock. "I've come through a lot of difficult times and I'm in a fairly content place now," he says. "You can feel that on some of the songs." Much of this 'acoustic-orientated, singer/songwriter' album was written while he was travelling around the world on "The Road Called Home" tour in 2017, with some of the songs being inspired by the places he visited, while others are from spending time with his family.

It is as if you are being served a tasty light dessert after a heavy main course. Or when you are treated to a few simple jokes after a long, culturally justified, literary lecture. I've played the album more often than “The Similitude of a Dream”, Neal Morse Band’s latest studio album. Sheer coincidence?

In other words, a very enjoyable and high-quality pop album by Mr. Morse. Certainly not prog, but that is a good thing, sometimes: variety is the spice of life, or isn’t it?

Review: Alex Driessen ©2018

Big Big Train - Merchants of Light: Ten out of ten

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I was fortunate enough to be present during the opening night of the triptych of British Big Big Train in September/October 2017 at London's Cadogan Hall. Unfortunately, it was an example of wrong time and wrong place, and I witnessed a show plagued by technical failures, which meant that only the audience on the ground floor got the full benefit. But with the new live album "Merchants of Light" Big Big Train has recovered majestically for the mistake earlier that weekend. 

During a previous review of "A Stone's Throw From the Line", the live album from 2016, I already mentioned that the band had produced a live masterpiece, which could stand the comparison with the big iconic live albums of the legendary bands of the seventies. At the risk of becoming monotonous, I would almost be inclined to repeat this statement. And maybe even surpass it. 

An extremely productive collective, these gentlemen and one lady of the band founded in 1990 in Bournemouth. Because with three live CDs and two studio albums, the harvest over the past two years has been substantial. And then there are also reports that the band is already in the studio for the successor of "Grimspound". Good news indeed, although some overkill may lurk. But you really cannot blame the sympathetic band that has been at it for so long that they are now striking when the iron is hot. Because the band is definitely hot currently, after their successful performance at the Night of the Prog festival at the Loreley in Germany this summer. 

Their reputation as a producer of timeless, extremely melodic and enjoyable folk/prog has already been established solidly for some time, now there is the additional image, that of a flawless live band. Now it is time to make optimal use of this well-earned status. That is what BBT is doing now with the release of the new live CD that has been given the title "Merchants of Light". The title is a reference to both the second part of Experimental Gentleman and A Mead Hall in Winter from the latest studio album. 

"Merchants Of Light" is a collection of the best performances of every song in the set of the band during the sold-out series of three gigs, last fall at the Cadogan Hall in London, where the setlist is a kind of summary of the remarkable ten year-long journey that preceded it. You can hear songs from a whole string of albums from the band, from "The Underfall Yard" (2009) via "English Electric Part One" (2012) and "Part Two" (2013) to the more recent "Folklore" (2016) and "Grimspound" (2017). 

On "Merchants Of Light" the line-up of the band consists of Spawton (bass), Poole (keys and acoustic guitar), Longdon (vocals and flute), D'Virgilio (drums and backing vocals), Dave Gregory (guitars), Danny Manners (keyboards), Rachel Hall (violin and backing vocals) and Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards and background vocals). This true rock orchestra is further supported by a five-man horn section consisting of Dave Desmond (trombone), Ben Godfrey (trumpet), Nick Stones (horn), John Storey (euphonium) and Jon Truscott (tuba). 

By working with this massive 13-person line-up, the band can faithfully reproduce the complex, multi-layered compositions that they produce in the studio, which is no small achievement. You almost expect mistakes to be made, embarrassing moments or other glitches but they never occur, a great compliment to the band. The performances recorded on "Merchants Of Light" are remarkable, especially due to the complexity of the music that is played, in 13-fold, balancing on the tightrope of a live performance. The energy and emotion that the band invests is paid back with interest by the enthusiastic audience, which means that songs still gain momentum and power of expression. In other words: BBT adds extra value to its melodic and complicated music in a live setting. And that's clearly audible on the new album. 

It is difficult to select an outlier but especially Brave Captain, A Mead Hall in Winter and Judas Unrepentant get brilliant performances. The reaction of the frenzied audience is as expected and is of course quite audible. I still get goose bumps when I hear the intro of The Transit of Venus Across The Sun, that copper with the sensitive violin on top. The same applies to the piano intro of personal favourite East Coast Racer, an emotional roller coaster. Opener Folklore sets the tone right from the start but also Swan Hunter, and the impressive Victorian Brickwork can be heard in absolutely brilliant versions. The folky Wassail is a bit out of tune with the more proggy material but is extremely effective as a closing section. Of course, I sell the rest of the songs short. 

I honestly cannot name an individual performance that stands out, from the crystal-clear high tones of Longdon, the bluesy Hammond chords from Sjöblom, the striking and inventive hits of d'Virgilio, the delicate violin strings of Hall, the heavy bass pedals from Spawton to the dexterous antics of Gregory and the subtle keyboard work of Manners and Poole, it is all equally sparkling and professional. Not forgetting the horn section. It is the victory of the collective. The recordings sound just as fresh and intense, as if you were there (....) Compliments for those responsible for the technique. The same goes for production and mix, all instruments can be heard crystal clear and that is not an easy task given the complex music and the presence of both electrically amplified and acoustic instruments. 

If you want to get acquainted with the music of Big Big Train then this is the album that will make you fall for the electric symphony orchestra from the south of England. On top of that, there is also a good chance that we can rejoice in new material on relatively short notice. I just can’t get enough of it. Top marks for the Brits.

Review: Alex Driessen ©2018

YES Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman – Live at the Apollo

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In 2016, Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman brought together their incredible talents and years of experience in Yes for a series of concerts celebrating Yes' musical legacy from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Yes with Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman first toured North America and brought their live show to the UK in early 2017, including this performance at the Manchester Apollo. The band is in an excellent form for a sold out audience that eagerly inhales every minute of the show, with classic songs like Roundabout, Owner or A Lonely Heart, And You And I, Hold On, Heart Of The Sunrise, Rhythm Of Love, I've Seen All Good People and many more.

With more than a thousand others I witnessed their performance during the European leg of the tour at the Utrecht Tivoli/Vredenburg in March 2017. And I was not impressed. Even thought that the real magic of Yes was gone. Of course, the old faithful are still there and their music has stood the test of time, but a lot was masked with showmanship, musical strong-arm tactics and over the top audience participation. With as low point a tour of Rabin and Wakeman across the hall, playing in between the crowd a version of Owner of a Lonely Heart, while Anderson stayed behind on stage looking somewhat amused. At least, that's my take on it. I seemed to be almost alone in this opinion, for many this was the performance of the year.

Some suspicion therefore preceded listening to the inevitable live 2CD/Bluray/DVD/3LP recently released entitled "YES Featuring Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman - Live at the Apollo". And I was pleasantly surprised, without the antics on stage and in the hall, only listening to the music, there is plenty to enjoy.

The first thing you notice is the excellent vocals of Jon Anderson, something I already noticed during the aforementioned concert in Utrecht. The angelic voice of the 73-year-old vocalist has not lost anything in terms of power, depth and especially pitch(And You And I). And he still looks good, too, hats off.

The choice for the set-list is always worth a discussion, no wonder if you can choose from such a rich repertoire. It was clear that there was to be a mix of the old classics from the seventies and a selection from the Rabin era, from the mid-eighties to the beginning of the nineties. Not an unpleasant selection, with songs like the previously mentioned Roundabout, Owner or A Lonely Heart, And You And I, Hold On, Heart Of The Sunrise, Rhythm Of Love, I've Seen All Good People. And fortunately, also a great version of one of the best Yes songs ever, Awaken. In a slightly different version, although fitting perfectly with the capabilities of the musicians, even Rabin comes into his own, a stormy reaction is his part on his first solo. Jon's harp solo is drenched with a heavy sauce of guitar and keys, not bad at all. The audience reacts frenziedly but is also respectfully silent during the quiet passage in the middle.

That is also the second item that stands out, the super enthusiastic response from the audience. As if attending a jazz concert, every individual performance can count on a standing ovation from the devoted fans. I just don’t seem to remember this kind of behaviour from the crowd during the concert in Utrecht, but maybe the people in Manchester were even more impressed, and showed their feelings more emphatically. You get the impression that the reaction of the audience is somewhat extra enhanced here and there, although I won’t go as far as calling it canned applause, but there is definitely something going on. In any case, frequent standing ovations are visible proof of public worship. The songs that band seem to suit the band best are the songs from the later period. Especially Hold On, Changes and Lift Me Up, seem to suit the band perfectly. Power prog at its best, somewhat poppy perhaps, but always melodic and sufficiently prog to remain credible.

Rick Wakeman, 69 years-old, is still the virtuoso and flamboyant keyboard player he always was. In addition, he is a television celebrity, radio presenter and writer, while he regularly performs in small venues. Standing in between an arsenal of keyboards, wrapped in a purple/black cape with silver embroidery, he gives the well-known numbers that special treatment that makes them sound sparkling and new again.

Trevor Rabin is the youngest of the three, at 64. The originally South African guitarist/songwriter is now a successful producer and composer of film soundtracks. I have never been a fan, I prefer Steve Howe, but his performance is flawless, without imitating Howe or violating the songs. Watch his solo during Rhythm of Love.

British bassist Lee Pomeroy is a left-handed mercenary on four, five, six and twelve strings with, among others, Jeff Lynne's ELO, Steve Hackett, It Bites and his own Headspace but also Take That. He has the ungrateful task of filling the immeasurably big shoes of Chris Squire. He does so with verve and respect for the man and the original, especially his solo during the intro of Heart of the Sunrise is impressive. American drummer Lou Molino III is the most unknown musician on stage, he comes from the entourage of Rabin’s, has a background with Cock Robin and YOSO, the joint venture of ex-Yes and Toto members. Style-wise he is a cross between rock drummer White and jazz drummer Bruford, leaning more towards the latter.

Instrumentally and vocally this collective is solid as a rock. Extra striking are the brilliant harmony vocals, sometimes even four-part at times, only Rick refrains from vocal contributions. As a result, you hardly miss the characteristic vocal harmonies from Chris Squire with buddy Anderson, a compliment to the entire band. The production and audio mix, the latter co-produced by Trevor Rabin, can be called excellent, just like to be expected from a band from the calibre of Yes. A pleasure to listen to. In short, a very enjoyable performance by the band that celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. And does so twice, because there is also an ensemble around Steve Howe and Alan White which is still the bearer of the official band name. They have already celebrated the special anniversary with their audience. This may be confusing, but that’s the way it is, they are not the only ones, witnessed by, among others, Wishbone Ash.

The Blu-ray is a pleasure to watch: excellent camerawork, professionally edited, quiet shots from all sides. Excellent view of the psychedelically painted guitar from Rabin and the extensive keyboard arsenal from Wakeman. But singer Anderson also appears prominently, eyes closed, completely absorbed in his music. Here stands a real band, smooth and focussed playing, with tons of fun especially. Just look at the interaction between Wakeman and Rabin in particular. On the basis of what I see and hear here, I may have to revise my original opinion regarding my preference for the Yes by Steve Howe et al. And oh well, there is still something to choose for the real Yes fan. With some expectation we are looking forward to new material from Yes featuring ARW, a song with the iconic title Fragile has already been released and the first reaction is positive. For now we have to do with this excellent live document from a band that still shows sufficient signs of life. And it is far from over: the 100 show World Tour started in June this year in Warsaw, Poland, and continues with shows in Scandinavia, Germany, the United Kingdom and North America in 2018, and goes on to South America, Central and Southern Europe, to finally end in Japan and the Far East in 2019. Who said that the dinosaurs were extinct?

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

 

Robert Reed - Sanctuary III: Third time's a charm

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In 2014, Robert Reed released his first tribute to Mike Oldfield, "Sanctuary I", with the eponymous "Sanctuary II" in 2016, a live DVD/CD "Sanctuary Live" in 2017 and numerous EP’s as follow up. Now there is "Sanctuary III", wrapped in a striking piece of artwork. 

The Magenta frontman once again plays most of the instruments, he is also responsible for production, mix and recording. In an interview, Reed states: "I think “Sanctuary III” shows that my writing has really moved on from the first two albums. I composed it without any preconceived musical barriers so nothing was off limits. As a result, it’s much more ‘me’. People will spot a lot of influences, but on “Sanctuary III” they are taken from a much broader musical spectrum. " 

The new album has all the familiar aspects that characterize the work of Mike Oldfield: the wonderful guitar riffs, the choirs with the nonsensical lyrics, the beautiful female vocals, the pennywhistles, the bodhran, the repetitive percussion and the inventive themes. Yet this time it is different than any other. Less Oldfield, more Reed too, regularly bits and pieces of Magenta but especially Kompendium pass by. Reed chooses in favour of his own way more than ever, fortunately. Repetition is lurking and as a consequence, boredom, not that unusual with instrumental music. Reed knows how to circumvent all this in a clever way, his musicality and compositional talent guarantee this. Particularly in the fragile, acoustic-dominated sections, the spirit of inspiration source Oldfield is still sufficiently reflected. Throw in the odd bagpipes and flute and you immediately drift back to the seventies. Vocoder, electric guitar and drums lead you back to the present, Reed nicely alternates everything. From "Incantations" to "Kompendium", it is not really such a big step. Reed's playing on the electric guitar is unsurpassed, he comes awfully close to his great hero. 

Also on this third studio album there is support from a number of befriended musicians with master drummer Simon Philips (Toto, Mike Oldfield, The Who) at the front. There is also another appeal to Les Penning as narrator, Troy Donockly (Nightwish, Iona) on Uilleann pipes, the Irish bagpipes, and flute and the great singing voice of Angharad Brinn, while Oldfield veteran Tom Newman makes use of the special Irish percussion instrument, the bohdran. Add to this a trumpet player, an opera singer and the background singers of the Synergy Vocals and you stand a good chance of sounding just like the maestro in his best period. 

As a point of criticism, I would like to point out the frequent use of the vocoder, which may, in my opinion, be left out. Moreover, I would like to say that the real tension is a bit lacking, admittedly, it’s all very nice and recognizable and musically brilliant but the expressiveness that the first two albums had is less present here. Could be a matter of taste of course. 

The Deluxe Edition contains two CDs and a DVD: on CD 1 you will find Sanctuary III part 1 and 2, on CD 2 there are a number of shorter pieces next to one longer track: the 22 minute intriguing The Moonsinger Suite (ChimpanA remix), reminiscent of Tubular Bells III, Troy's Lament, with a leading role for Donockley's bagpipes, Perpetual Motion, a mini version of Incantations, El Paso, with Shadows-like guitar and opera vocals, and Moonsinger Rising, with heavy organ orchestration and electric guitar. As a bonus, two remixes by Tom Newman of "Sanctuary III" part 1 and 2 are added. I honestly do not see the added value of the latter. Call it a tribute to the old faithful producer/engineer of the original Oldfield masterpieces. Reed says in an interview: "I cannot thank Tom Newman enough – he has been a true musical mentor and his influence really can be felt on Sanctuary III." The third disc, finally, is a DVD with the 5.1 mixes by Reed from the album, plus a selection of videos that provide an interesting look behind the scenes. 

Two years ago, at the time of the review of "Sanctuary II", I wondered out loud to what extent Reed would look further into the extensive oeuvre of Oldfield where, in addition to the first three iconic albums, there would still be sufficient hidden gems to be found that could serve as inspiration for "Sanctuary III". The answer is clear: Reed is increasingly looking for his own direction and resorts less to the back catalogue of his great example and inspiration. An excellent development, as far as I’m concerned.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

The Sea Within - The Sea Within

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When I hear or read the word 'supergroup' I am always very wary. In my opinion, the predicate is applied a little too quickly to a group of musicians who have earned their spurs. A new 'supergroup' recently appeared on the scene, this time formed around Transatlantic/The Flower Kings frontman Roine Stolt. Admittedly, the bar is raised with names like Reingold, Gildenlow, Brislin and Minneman. And I forget to mention guest appearances by Jordan Rudess, Rob Townsend and Jon Anderson. But are those high expectations met, I hear you ask. Partly yes, but in other areas there is still ample room for improvement I would say. 

A first listening experience only adds to the confusion: at worst just an unadulterated bunch of loud noises and at best an eclectic collection of (heavy) metal, prog, pop, jazz and rock. Inconsistency also in the songs themselves, the comparison with Flying Colors is justified, where the same shortcoming reveals itself. Remarkable in that respect is the fact that FC singer Casey McPherson takes care of lead vocals on some tracks. A task he alternates with the other vocalist, Daniel Gildenlow. Although this is partly motivated by practical considerations, Gildenlow cannot be present during some of the live shows due to previous obligations, McPherson will take his place, it does not contribute to a clear and recognizable image of the band. Despite the excellent vocal performances of both gentlemen, no misunderstanding. 

But as (almost) always with Roine Stolt productions, as a listener you have to be patient and any new material needs more frequent ‘spins’ to be able to make a balanced judgment. Well, that's exactly what I did, I worked myself through several listens to the band’s debut album and have come to the conclusion that nothing much changes my initial opinion, unfortunately. So is there nothing to enjoy on the new CD? Of course there is, quality never goes out of style. But that is precisely the essence: individual quality versus (super) group. The best songs are, in my modest opinion, especially those that were worked on jointly, like Goodbye. The odd exception in this category is the 14-minute epic Broken Cord, the only track that truly deserves the 'prog' label 

It does not really stick anywhere, a shortcoming that also affected the collaboration with Jon Anderson, on "Invention of Knowledge". The ideas are there, clearly, during opening song Ashes of Dawn, leaning heavily on TFK, I hear some good themes but they almost, without exception, get bogged down in long solos and aimless ramblings. They Know My Name should have been sung by McPerson, this song fits his voice so much better than Gildenlow’s. Jon Anderson seems to have contributed to Broken Cord, you really have to do your very best to spot him in the mix, waste of time. The other songs are often poppy, but with proggy edges, partly as a result of the instrumentation. Constant feature are the characteristic guitar lines that Stolt manages to weave through, occasionally combined with keyboards, recognizable and melodic. However, in general it doesn’t feel quite right, unfortunately. 

On the one hand, it is commendable, an attempt to make optimal use of the full playing time of the data carrier, with over 77 minutes the limits are amply explored, albeit spread over two discs. But I would have liked so much to hear some really good music for about 50 minutes instead of a number of 'fillers' in order to present a bonus CD. I'm not talking about the quality of the songs on the extra disc, mind you, some of the songs withstand the test perfectly. But no matter how much of a Stolt-adept I am, he frequently goes overboard with overkill whereas 'less is more' would be more appropriate. 

Nevertheless, I am quite curious about the possibility of  a live tour, as of now no plans have been made public, unfortunately. With such a group of extremely talented and professional musicians we can no doubt count on some solid (prog) rock. But it would be even more interesting if Stolt returns to his roots and delivers some progressive rock music with consistent quality for an hour or so, preferably with his Flower Kings. Wouldn’t that be super.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

Overture – Overture: Diamond in the rough

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An overture is an instrumental piece of music that is played before the beginning of an opera, oratorio, ballet or play or, as a concert overture, as an independent orchestral work at the beginning of a concert. The original French word means opening. The overture has to warm up the audience for what is to follow: musically, since the time of Mozart, it is usually a referral to the rest of the work, the overture is a medley of the melodies heard during the performance. In addition, overtures are often performed or recorded without the accompanying opera (oratorio, ballet) and some operas owe their fame exclusively to their overture. According to Wikipedia. An introduction to what’s coming, some sort of musical foreplay. Let’s first introduce the band. 

Overture originates from the band Sons of the Rascals in January 2010. The founding members are Simone Desogus, drums and Samuele Desogus, guitar. Together with Mattia Serra, keyboards and vocals, Salvatore Sassu flute and guitar, and Stefano Sanna on bass they form the first incarnation of Overture. The band starts writing original music. This leads to a number of personnel changes, in the new formation Fiorella Piras plays flute, Salvatore Turtas keyboards and Andrea Poddighe is the new singer, the name Overture is now a fact. In the winter of 2015 Turtas decides to leave the group, he is replaced by a new keyboard player, Simone Meli, who shows great passion for the genre progrock and whose professionalism is praised. Also singer Andrea Poddighe decides to leave the project in 2015, he will be replaced by Luigi Ventroni. With this, the band has found its current line-up. The music of Overture is inspired by the masterpieces of the 70s-prog, but also contains influences from neo-prog and many other genres, because of the varied and heterogeneous background of the individual musicians. Lyrically, five stories are told based on imagination and fantasy, which musically describe five fantastic worlds in which to transport the listener. Curiously, both music and lyrics are written by former members Poddighe, Turtas and Serra.  

Debut album "Overture" starts with Intro, what’s in a name, after about one minute it continues into Lux et Ombra. This song starts with a heavy synthesizer intro followed by delightful guitar play in up tempo, old-fashioned sympho from the seventies and eighties linked to Italian lyrics, we would not want it any other way. Frequent tempo changes and the introduction of a flute and Hammond organ once again confirm the image of ‘old skool’ symphonic rock. A fragile middle section with flute and piano turns into a jazzy tune, PFM and Banco del Mutuo Soccorso are obvious inspirations. Mendicante is dominated by a solitary piano, almost classical in nature. Slight references to compatriot Luca Zabbini (Barock Project), although he has a stronger and more pronounced voice. Nice sounding song with an important role for synths and the flute of Fiorella Piras. Brilliant guitar solo by Samuele Desogus, might have been from Andy Latimer (Camel). 

A Deer In The River starts with a melancholically sounding acoustic guitar. What a pity, suddenly they switch to English lyrics. I have no objection whatsoever to maintaining the mother tongue of the band, on the contrary. Old-fashioned synthesizer sounds by Simone Meli and flute underline the comparison with the aforementioned Camel. A remarkably richly varied sound. With the exception of the ultra-short Intro all songs clock around 8/9 minutes, also reminiscent of the original explorers of the genre. Crop Circles is the exception, at just over 13.5 minutes. A heavy, ominous synthesizer intro, reminiscent of Steve Hackett's The Steppes, after which strings virtuoso Desogus takes over once again, alternating with keys and flute. Sometimes somewhat abrupt and not too obvious transitions, but it all remains very enjoyable and recognizable. As is often the case, the English pronunciation of Ventroni leaves to be desired, an extra reason for continuing to keep singing in the beautiful Italian language, in my modest opinion. Nice melodic fretless bass solo by Stefano Sanna halfway through the track. The most ambitious and therefore most symphonic song on the album. Slight references to Cuban Anima Mundi, especially in composition and instrumentation, sometimes somewhat fragmentary. 

Ephesia's Chime is the closing song of this debut album by the Sardines. The music (box) is literally wound up by means of a mechanical key. The song starts atmospherically but quickly turns into a prog version of the theme of "The Godfather", at least that's what I’m hearing. Atmospheric, dreamy music, played at a slow pace, suddenly the pace picks up and Desogus is able to show his abilities on six strings. Ventroni  demonstrates he definitely has vocal abilities and Piras blows her flute at the top of her lungs. The musical box rings to an appropriate end. Great closing track. 

Original music in the best tradition of Rock Progressivo Italiano. A bit fragmentary at times, with sudden twists and turns, the compositions could be improved on and the English lyrics could have been left out as far as I am concerned. But there is clearly potential in this band from Sardinia. Rookies still, singer Ventroni is the oldest at 33 years. Of course they lean heavily on the music from the 70s but that does not disturb me at all. On the contrary, the combination of melodic old-school symphonic rock with guitar, keys, flute and original Italian lyrics against a solid backing of drums and bass provides recognition and certainly a smile on my face. I am also very impressed by guitarist Samuele Desogus, a talent to keep an eye on. Only 23 years old and originally studying the piano. He is one of the founders and responsible for mixing the album. With him Overture has a diamond in the rough in the ranks. Bonus points for the intriguing cover. Curious about live performances by these gentlemen/lady, apparently they include covers from Jethro Tull, Genesis, King Crimson, PFM and Camel in their live shows. Rock Progressivo Italiano is alive and kicking!

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

 

starfish64 - The Future In Reverse: Laptop and garden shed

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starfish64 (no typo, deliberately without capital letter) was founded in 2006 by the German singer-songwriter Dieter Hoffmann. Originally intended as a vehicle for his solo work, starfish64 initially started recording and publishing in the singer-songwriter's genre. Over the years, however, sound and compositions shifted increasingly towards progressive and new art rock. The albums "Refugees" (2015) and "An Altered State Of Joy" (2016) both received fairly good reviews. 

In 2015, both Henrik Kropp, drums, and Dominik SuhI, guitars and bass, became full members of starfish64. With Martin Pownall, bass and guitar, the line-up was completed for "The Future In Reverse", the former solo project eventually turned into a full-fledged band. 

According to information on the cover of the album, "The Future In Reverse" was recorded with minimal equipment, a number of instruments and microphones connected to a laptop. Then again, with attention and a lot of love for detail. The sound of the guitars was recorded in a garden shed, the drum kit suffered the same fate in the living room. If you consider that the members of the band have learned how to record a good-sounding stereo mix by studying tutorial videos on YouTube, you subconsciously take your hat off. The sound is fine, the finished product is OK. Musically, the album covers many different styles, apparently they have tried not to work from the dogma of a prog-purist. Not surprising when you listen to the music. 

Opening track of the new album is Yesterday's Favourite Smile. Song and orchestration remind me somewhat of Keane's Everybody's Changing. Nice-to-listen-to pop music without too much pretention is my first impression. The intro of Tomorrow In Dark Water is of a different nature, darker and minimalistic of character. The voice of Dieter Hoffmann takes a bit of getting used to, but it is certainly not unpleasant. He is also responsible for both lyrics and music. After the intriguing intro, this song gets bogged down into a laid-back pop song, although the brief guitar solo should not be left unmentioned. Up to now it is a mystery to me why this music is classified as prog. 

Determination consists of three parts: Mankind, At Lightspeed and Infinite Space and takes a little over 13 minutes whereas, with one exception, closing track Charting An Abyss, the remaining numbers clock somewhere between four and seven minutes. The instrumental intro reminds distantly of Marillion, the 'watery' sound is partly responsible for this. Then a voice-over and music related to The Verve, linked to psychedelia and Kraftwerk. Strange combination of sounds but nonetheless not bad, fade out. 

The shortest song, Molehills, is a nice pop song, it would do alright on the radio I think. A prelude to the aforementioned, more than 18 minutes closing track Charting An Abyss. Again this suite-like structure with four parts: Recurring Dreams, Framework, Dominoes, At Peace. Children’s voices followed by acoustic guitar and the male voice. starfish64 gets a high score for me when it comes to intros, unfortunately this high level is not continued throughout the entire album, initially. However, this song is different, a lazy guitar of the type that David Gilmour seems to have patented is the continuation, mmm, now it gets interesting. Is this finally the prog direction we’ve been looking for? Intriguing lyrics, frequent space between the notes, a slow pace, dreamy atmosphere, Floydian almost. The best song on the album without doubt, and at times worthy of the predicate 'prog'. Some places are better left at peace, avoid the light, keep it dark. Excellent advice from Hoffmann, if you ask me. 

Certainly not a bad album, perhaps on the short side, poppy of nature with the exception of the closing Charting an Abyss. The things you can achieve with a laptop and a garden shed.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

Mystery - Lies And Butterflies: Endangered species?

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More than two and a half years after the release of the well-received album "Delusion Rain", and a year after the double live album "Second Home" and DVD with the same name, the Canadian neo-prog formation Mystery now comes out with the brand new album "Lies And Butterflies".

The release of the new studio album from the Canadians coincides with the band's appearance several weeks ago during the Night of the Prog Festival 2018 at Loreley, Germany, on July 14th to be exact. The album "Lies And Butterflies" contains seven songs, an hour of new 'mysterious' music once again produced and mixed by Michel St-Père, mastered by Richard Addison, the cover was designed by Julie de Waroquier.

At first hearing, the band continues on the path of the successful "Delusion Rain": producing easy-to-listen-to progressive music with atmospheric soundscapes, strong guitar play, powerful vocals and especially melodic songs. Those elements are all present during Looking For Something Else, the epic, 17-minute opening track of the new album. Leading roles for the lyrical guitar play of Michel St-Père and the vocals of Jean Pageau.

Come To Me and How Do You Feel? are nice songs but not entirely of the level we have been accustomed to in the past few years, a little poppy and occasionally even dangerously over the edge with its over-the-top orchestration. St-Père saves the day from time to time with his superb guitar play before the band slides down to Styx-like (Babe) music. Something To Believe In is a power ballad with a beautiful instrumental piece in the middle which alternates piano, guitar and flute.

In the higher regions, the voice of singer Jean Pageau is somewhat reminiscent of that of former Styx vocalist, Dennis de Young, the pathos and the slight vibration are similar to the singer of the American formation. It seems like the guitar of Michel St-Père is more dominant on the new album than ever before, his nicely timed and lyrical play has always been the signature of the band, as it appears now even more than before.

Bassist François Fournier and drummer 'Animal' Jean-Sébastien Goyette once again form a solid rhythm tandem, very much needed with all this guitar-, keyboard- and vocal noise surrounding them. The only one who is slightly out of place is second guitarist Sylvain Moineau, barely recognizable in the mix, with the exception of the odd duet with St-Père. New keyboardist Benoît Dupuis seems to be perfectly in place, occasionally he surprises with the odd solo like the piano solo halfway through Something To Believe In. Furthermore, like his predecessors, his main task is providing the soundscape for others to excel.

In Dare To Dream there is a nasty sequencer loop that continues to whine in the background throughout the entire song, too bad and totally unnecessary. Where Dreams Come Alive is another great song, with strong guitar play from the bandleader, but also the keyboards of newcomer Benoît Dupuis stand out in a positive way. Extra attention for the jazzy intro with melodic bass from Fournier in this 7.5 minute song.

And then there is Chrysalis, the excellent closing track of epic proportions, clocking in at about 15 minutes. Chrysalis represents the various stages that a butterfly undergoes, from egg via caterpillar and pop to butterfly. Metaphorically, it stands for the transition from youth to adulthood. In a sense this song is symbolic of the phase in which Mystery finds itself currently; the long road to maturity and the search for a musical format in which the band can excel. I had a strong feeling that Mystery had succeeded in doing so during the "Delusion Rain" period, but apparently the search continues. Apart from three songs, it remains somewhat mediocre what the Canadians are producing here. Admittedly, those three songs are simply brilliant but unfortunately the high level of consistency over the entire album, like its predecessor, is not achieved. At the end of the year once again a performance at their second home, De Boerderij in Zoetermeer, is scheduled. Performing live is the band’s best feature without a doubt, curious about the live rendition of the new album. The butterfly spreads its wings and flutters away from the nest. Hopefully, the recent news report showing that the extremely hot summer has also caused considerable damage to the butterfly population does not apply to the band.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

Dukes Of The Orient – Dukes Of The Orient : Asia revisited

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What do you get when you connect a Brit from London who loves American AOR with an American from California who grew up with British prog? Dukes of the Orient is the masterful pairing of singer John Payne (ex-Asia, GPS) with keyboardist Erik Norlander (Last in Line, Lana Lane, Rocket Scientists) who recently presented their eponymous debut album, after a ten-year process. Payne's powerful and experienced rock voice fits perfectly with the classic synthesizers and inventive keyboard parts from Norlander. Add to this a distinctive sound palette of beautiful melodies and lush harmonies and you have Dukes Of The Orient all over.

Payne says about the album: ‘With Dukes of the Orient we have dug deep with analogue soundscapes, superlative musicians and song-driven epics. Add to this the masterful artwork of Rodney Matthews and a journey that started with the supergroup Asia, we give you the next chapter, one we are extremely proud of.’

The duo is supported by an ensemble of top musicians, including Jeff Kollman, Guthrie Govan, Moni Scaria and Bruce Bouillet on guitar, Molly Rogers on strings and Jay Schellen on drums, largely musicians with a John Payne/Asia past. The experienced session musician Jay Schellen could recently be seen live as a replacement for Yes drummer Alan White. Payne takes, besides all vocal parts, care of bass guitar and extra solo- and rhythm guitar. The album was mixed on a traditional analogue console to preserve and enhance the natural depth, clarity and soul of the songs. And it really shows: the sound is truly excellent.

Dukes Of The Orient has its origins in 2007 as "Asia featuring John Payne", a band that continued on after Asia keyboardist Geoff Downes left the band to re-form the original 1982 line-up. Payne asked Norlander to join him, Guthrie Govan and Jay Schellen for planned tour dates in the US and the first recordings, some of which can be heard on the new album. Govan left the band to form The Aristocrats and was replaced by guitarist Bruce Bouillet, who in turn was succeeded by Jeff Kollman and Moni Scaria. The latest line-up resulted in the song Seasons Will Change, which was released in 2013 as a video and now also appears on the new album "Dukes of the Orient". After the untimely death of the original Asia singer/founder John Wetton, Payne and Norlander decided in early 2017 that these recordings would be released under a new band name, both out of respect for Wetton and for a clear distinction with Downes-led Asia.

Heavy drums and a catchy melody in a very recognizable style of music are the first things you notice when you listen to the intro of the opening track of the new album, Brother In Arms. The true rock vocals from Payne and guitar riff do the rest, melodic AOR with a progressive rock edge. Brother in Arms is a great introduction, the music is clearly in line with what we have been accustomed to from predecessor Asia and successors for more than 35 years. Brilliant guitar solo by the way. The format of the opening track continues with Strange Days, written in 2007. The voice of Payne is accompanied by Guthrie Govan's guitar and the melodic keyboard sounds of Erik Norlander. An easy to sing along chorus and beautiful bridge with radio fragments pass by. Norlander immediately demonstrates why his style of music makes it fits so well with the sound and compositions from Payne. The latter's voice is like a cross between John Wetton and David Coverdale's reverberating hard rock vocals, with a slight touch of Gary Moore here and there. Ideally suited for a band with the melodic rock signature of Dukes Of The Orient.

I find myself regularly tapping my feet and singing along, upon listening to the songs, they seem to quickly settle in my mind. Most songs also seem to be made for playing live, no doubt the concerts of The Dukes of Orient at the end of this year will be followed closely by me.

You seem to find yourself listening to a new version of The Smile Has Left Your Eyes from Asia, especially the piano intro, but the bombastic ballad Amor Vincit Omnia quickly takes another turn with powerful drums and strong vocals. In the end, love conquers all. If we didn’t hear clear references in the previous song, the comparison with Open Your Eyes is even more obvious with Time Waits For No One. Payne and Norlander must have listened carefully to the work of Wetton, especially the harmony vocals. This certainly also applies to guitarist Bruce Bouillet who has kept his ears open and listened closely to co-Asia founder Steve Howe, his guitar sound seems like a carbon copy of the old master’s. Delightful up-tempo song with great keys, catchy hook and easy sing-along chorus.

The intro of A Sorrow's Crown comes with a church organ, after which an Eye of the Tiger-like track develops. The song is about King George V who was king of England during the American Revolution. 'Feel the storm pull you under' Payne sings passionately. Guaranteed to be a success during live concerts, mark my words. The song has a hymn-like quality that stays in your head for a long time. The second longest song on the new album is Fourth Of July at just over 8.5 minutes. The proven recipe with the catchy tune and the recognizable hook, this time performed on keyboards. Norlander is no doubt an asset and an excellent addition to the straightforward style of Payne with his melodic and tasteful keyboard play. He wipes the floor with the outdated melodies that Geoff Downes generally produces. I am not quite sure what to think about the violins that pop up here and there, makes it a bit corny in my opinion. The acoustic guitar and the organ halfway make up for this omission.

Seasons Will Change dates back to 2013 and does not vary from anything previously mentioned, probably the most AOR-tinted song of the album, the brass-like arrangements make the comparison with Only Time Will Tell from the illustrious predecessor more than valid. Compliments for the surprising Queen-like ending. Closing track Give Another Reason is the longest and most epic number from the dukes from the east. An intriguing solitary acoustic guitar forms the intro and, fascinating to hear what comes next. An electric guitar solo (Jeff Kollman/Moni Scaria) and delightful keyboards against an electronic drum pattern is the answer. Very different from the previous songs, both musically and vocally, quite interesting. Might just have been Yes, the guitar sound surely contributes to the comparison but the same applies to Norlanders keys, eat your heart out Downes. With its tempo changes and surprising twists undoubtedly the most proggy song on the album. If Payne/Norlander ever get tired of the Asia idiom, this would definitely be the direction they would have to develop further onto a more individual sound and style. Great ending of an extremely enjoyable CD debut.

The influences of Asia are clearly present, not only in terms of sound but also compositionally, the songs are very similar to the work of the band that Payne was a member of during a large part of his career, so really not that surprising. Eight new songs of which two slightly longer, the rest clock at around five to six minutes, total playing time of about 53 minutes is perhaps a tad on the short side.

Of course, the album tends largely towards AOR, ultimately the contributions by Erik Norlander and a few well-placed guitar solos give the album sufficient credibility to earn the predicate of progressive rock. And let’s not forget the epic closer Give Another Reason. But who cares if the music is of such high quality and recognisability. Excellent production as well, you can trust Payne with this task. The same applies to the compositions, although on the CD both musicians are mentioned as co-composers, an interview with Norlander shows that the latter is mainly responsible for the music while Payne largely takes care of the lyrics and the vocal harmonies. An honourable mentioning for the surreal sci-fi cover design of the unsurpassed Rodney Matthews (Asia, Magnum, Nazareth, Praying Mantis). Excellent debut album by these Asia(n) princes.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

Yes - Fly From Here Return Trip

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With the release of "Fly From Here Return Trip" Yes returns to the line-up of the early eighties when the illustrious pop duo The Buggles joined the ranks of the band. The story is well known: Rick Wakeman had left the group for the umpteenth time and singer Jon Anderson was busy with solo work and his collaboration with Vangelis Papathanassiou, besides there were far-reaching differences of opinion about the musical direction. The remaining members were messing about in the studio without this leading to anything. Chris Squire asked at some point, though their joint manager Brian Lane, if the guys from Video Killed The Radio Star wanted to help record a new CD. Avid Yes-fan Trevor Horn could not believe his luck and felt scared shitless at the same time. That is how the adventure began, which in 1980 would lead to "Drama", one of the most underestimated but fortunately later on much valued Yes albums. Of course, I also had to get used to the idea that Yes-legend Jon Anderson would not participate, the only Yes album that the man with the angelic voice would not participate on until 2011, but I soon grew accustomed to it. Especially the harmony vocals with Chris Squire came out even better than ever before, as if Chris felt he had the responsibility to get the best out of the unlikely collaboration with the Buggles duo. And it really worked out well, "Drama" is an excellent album that brings out the best in Yes.

So far for history. Fast forward more than twenty years, we have now arrived in 2011. Jon Anderson has serious health problems, Wakeman, surprise surprise, has left the building once again, the survival of the band is in jeopardy. Yes returns to old trusted producer Trevor Horn, who is now a sought-after and successful producer. Keyboard player Geoff Downes also returns to the old nest, after a short experiment with Oliver Wakeman, son of. Jon Anderson’s replacement is found in the form of Canadian singer of the band Mystery, Benoit David. His voice is strongly in line with Anderson's high vocals and Horn does not want to take care of lead vocals once again, except for some background vocals. In this line-up an album is recorded which may not belong to the best work of the band, but certainly not the worst either. The title track is by far the best song on the album of which some songs do not reach the required Yes level. But hey, what is really the ‘required Yes level’? I was enthusiastic about the line-up with Jon Davison but the album that this specific line-up produced with the new singer in 2014, "Heaven and Earth", can be categorized, without too much discussion, among the weakest material the band ever recorded. And all of a sudden "Fly From Here" does not sound that bad anymore. The album receives mixed reactions from fans and press, Benoit David leaves the band after a number of tours, the live CD “In The Present Live From Lyon” is his last contribution, after which he is permanently replaced by the already mentioned Jon Davison (Glass Hammer).

However, there’s still a buzz at the Yes offices, even more than seven years after the release of the album. The relationship with producer Horn has always remained excellent as witnessed by his guest appearances and a performance by Yes during a tribute to the bespectacled producer in 2004. One thing leads to another and the idea is suggested to have the vocal parts of Benoit David substituted by Trevor Horn’s . With which the band once again has the complete line-up at the time of "Drama", an appropriate tribute to fifty years Yes. Horn calls it 'a labor of love', freely translated: lot’s of work with love and patience for little, a relevant statement.

Especially the suite in six parts, Fly From Here, impresses and can withstand criticism. The longest song, clocking at 24 minutes in total, is already old and dates back to 1981, the period of "Drama" and was originally intended for the Buggles album "Adventures In Modern Recording". Fly From Here is an elaborated version of We Can Fly From Here. Riding The Tide was converted into Life on a Filmset. Curiously, both songs were not on the aforementioned Buggles album but were added as bonus tracks at a later stage. Horn's voice is unobtrusive. However, the excellent and clear production, especially the mix, is clearly noticeable, another aspect Horn kept himself busy with. It all sounds just a bit tighter, sharper, darker as well.

Squire's solo vocals on the self-penned The Man You Always Wanted Me To Be are excellent, the harmony vocals with Horn underline the melodic quality of the song even more. During Life on a Filmset, Horn sounds more like himself and that is not bad at all, surely. His voice is somewhat reminiscent to that of PBII’s singer, Ruud Slakhorst. Hour of Need, here in the full version of about seven minutes, even sounds as if Anderson is still in charge of the vocal parts, again those harmonious vocals that I talked about previously. Steve Howe's unrivalled solo saves the track from mediocrity. The latter can unfortunately not be said about the bonus song Don’t Take No For An Answer, a previously unreleased song sung by Howe. I understand very well why this was never released by Yes, it fits better on one of Howe's many solo albums. Fortunately closing track Into The Storm makes up for it. A modern sounding and rocking Yes can be heard on this song, Horn sounds more like Anderson than ever before during the rare moments that he can be heard singing solo.

The question is now valid: does this version of "Fly From Here” truly adds something to the original album from 2011? Unfortunately, I have to conclude that this is not the case. The mix is ​​better and Horn is doing fine as a singer, but so did David on the original version. It would definitely be interesting to hear how Anderson would do as a solo singer, but of course that will never happen, just as he never performed on any of the songs from "Drama" live. The previously unreleased song is poor and the full version of Hour of Need has been heard before. We’ll have to wait for genuinely new material from the band, already often announced but to this day nothing has been heard of it. Maybe the band will take off once again from their deserted airstrip, maybe for the last time. Let’s wait and see.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

Riversea - The Tide

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It has been six year since their successful debut "Out Of An Ancient World", time for Brendan Eyre (instrumentation) and Marc Atkinson (vocals), once again joined by Alex Cromarty on drums and Dave Clements on bass, the latter also handles engineering and co-production, to release a new album under the Riversea flag: "The Tide". Among the guest musicians we come across well-known names, such as guitarists Lee Abraham, with whom Marc Atkinson collaborated on the album "The Seasons Turn" not long ago, Robin Armstrong, Paul Cusick and newcomer Peter Aves. A splendid representation of British finest progressive rock musicians, guaranteeing a high degree of quality.
Whether the term 'progressive rock' is fully applicable remains to be seen. The majority of the twelve tracks last four to five minutes; Uprising clocks in as the longest track at 6:35 minutes. Frankly, it's not really that important: "The Tide" has become a fine album that can also be played quietly as background music during an evening with friends: "The Tide", above all, sounds quite melodic, relaxed and atmospheric.


On the other hand, the topics on "The Tide" are far from relaxed. Inspired by the current unrest in the world and their personal lives they wrote songs about forced migration, terrorism, the rise of political right wing parties and personal losses. Marc Atkinson is mainly responsible for the lyrics and vocals whereas the whole is set to music by Brendan Eyre. With songtitles like Your Last Day, Drowning In Vertigo, Fall Out Warning, Goodbye My Friend and especially To Those That Are Left Behind you can't help but feel depressed from time to time. The plaintive voice of Atkinson even enhances this emotion. So despite the wonderful melodies you want to slit your wrists by the end of the album. I know, the world isn't all that beautiful but, come on, a little more light hearted can't hurt, can it.

 

Having said that, "The Tide" is very well produced and has some excellent compositions and the emotional vocals of Marc Atkinson make it a treat for the ears. Opening- and title track The Tide already encompasses aforementioned qualities. After a short spherical intro, the listener is soon joined by the fine singing voice of Marc Atkinson, later supported by brilliant background vocals by Olivia Sparnenn Josh, the tone has been set. As with every album, there are also a few extra songs: Blasphemy (about terrorism) carries a kind of relaxed atmosphere of sadness with razor-sharp lyrics accompanied by laid-back guitar play by Paul Cusick that swells to a beautiful crescendo. One of the best tracks on this album is Strange Land, on the topic of the refugee problem. Mostly because of the stunning vocal melodies, including lyrics and brilliant guitar play by Simon Godfrey, destined to touch heart and soul.
In brief: "The Tide" has turned out to be an excellent album, which, with a better balance between gloomy and lighter lyrics/topics could have easily been one of the best albums of the year.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

 

Needlepoint - The Diary of Robert Reverie

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What do you get when you combine the melodies of Robert Wyatt and Syd Barret with the best of the seventies and the playful feeling of an early Weather Report? Add some grooves from Return To Forever for the right feeling and mix that with a piece of the stylish and thoughtful songwriting of progrock legends such as Caravan and Camel. The result comes pretty close to the material on the latest Needlepoint album. Some of these references could already be heard on the previous album "Aimless Mary", but on "The Diary of Robert Reverie" they are even more prominent. The drums of Olaf Olsen are more than ever present, while keyboard player David Wallumrød plays the keys with a lot of feeling. Producer and bassist Nikolai Hængsle unobtrusively takes care of many melodic bass line. The guitar of singer/guitarist/songwriter Bjørn Klakegg keeps it all together, from soft jazz to more rock-oriented style. Many of the lyrics are inspired by the region surrounding Klakegg's place of residence. The protagonist Robert, as the title already indicates a dreamy person, is based on the nice, somewhat strange people in the small village. The cover design is by Bjørn's older brother Rune Klakegg. A small introduction is in order.

Needlepoint is a Norwegian jazz prog band, founded in 2010 in Oslo, Norway. The bant contains some prominent Norwegian jazz musicians and starts as a trio with Bjørn Klakegg, Nikolai Eilertsen and Thomas Strønen. In the same year the album "The Woods Are Not What They Seem" is released. David Wallumrød completes the team in 2012, in this line-up the album "Outside The Screen" is recorded in the same year. Finally Olaf Olsen, known from Bigbang, replaces Thomas Strønen in 2014. The third album "Aimless Mary" sees the light of day in 2015. Musically the band operates somewhere between psychedelic rock and jazz rock from the 70s. Needlepoint keep themselves busy on the road by playing at various festivals and clubs in Norway.

When you start listening, one thing stands out: the similarity with Caravan. It is not only in the use of the organ and the complex song structures, but especially the vocals reinforces the comparison with the legendary Canterbury band. The particular somewhat hoarse, soft voice of singer/guitarist Bjørn Klakegg sounds very much like that of singer/guitarist of Caravan, Pye Hastings. The harmonies also seem to come from the late sixties/early seventies. And I mean that as a sincere compliment. Especially in opening song Robert Reverie and Shadow In The Corner these elements come forward. Yet Needlepoint is not just a copycat, just listen to On The Floor with slight influences from guitarist Allan Holdsworth. Furthermore, hints of Gentle Giant and Camel can be found. All Kind of Clouds and In The Sea on the other hand are reminiscent of early Pink Floyd, say at the time of "Piper At The Gates of Dawn". Delightful old-fashioned psychedelic music with leading roles for the Hammond organ and very busy and complex drum parts during the first and more symphonic tones during the latter. The furious drums of Olaf Olsen are reminiscent of the best work of Robert Wyatt (Soft Machine), John 'Pugwash' Weathers (Gentle Giant) and Richard Coughlan (Caravan), without simply copying the style of these heroes of the drumkit, hats off.

Will It Turn Silent is a small fragile jewel in the middle of all that busy, crazy music. The same applies more or less to In My Field of View, nice guitar riff, melodic bass and again that soft, velvet singing voice, Soft Machine is never far away. Beneath My Feet is heavily influenced by early jazz rock in the trend of Weather Report and Return To Forever. The closing Shadow In The Corner is a brilliant retro song, extremely melodic and could have easily been on "In The Land Of Grey And Pink" from Caravan. Together with opening song Robert Reverie my personal favorite on this album.

The album is ultra short, nine songs with a total playing time of 34 minutes. The individual tracks are on average no longer than 3.5 minutes, the longest number does not exceed five minutes. There is also heavy use of fade-outs, no finished songs with head and tail, but slowly fading songs that disappear like a thief in the night. Here lies some of the criticism, some songs contain an unfulfilled promise that I would like to see elaborated further. And just over half an hour of pure playing time, that just doesn't cut it any more nowadays. Nevertheless, I can be brief: excellent album, mandatory stuff for fans of the Canterbury scene, early jazz rock and psychedelic music. Recommended.
 

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

Lazuli - Saison 8

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French band Lazuli have recently released their eighth studio album. The successor to the well-received "Nos âmes saoules" from 2016 is entitled "Saison 8". A statement at the release reads: ‘Every new album feels like a new season of a TV series and every song as an episode of our lives.’ "Saison 8" is announced as ‘arriving like spring, like a young shoot on an icy ground, definitely sticking to the darkness of its time, anchored on the ground but desperately attracted by the sky.’ Wow, quite some heavy stuff, and not entirely stripped of pretences. Lyrics and music are predominantly by vocalist Dominique Leonetti and more than ever seem to form a unity on this new album.

J 'Attends Un Printemps is the opening track of the new album and recognition is high: the beautiful and crystal clear voice of singer Dominique Leonetti accompanied by a solitary piano and threatening guitar/Léode at slow pace. Then drummer Vincent Barnavol speeds up the tempo and the song ends in a hectic crescendo of sounds with a leading role for the self-build instrument of brother Claude Leonetti. Waiting for spring is rewarded with this characteristic song. Un Linceul De Brume is mainly characterized by the beautiful melody and is structurally in line with its predecessor, the same chaos at the end. The fog from the title is slowly but surely lifting. Mes Amis, Mes Frères is about lost youth and brotherhood and is musically dominated by guitar and Léode. Particularly the slide-guitar-like solo by Claude Leonetti at the end that seamlessly flows into a guitar solo by Gédéric Byar, is a highlight of this song. Les Côtes starts somewhat sinister, followed by the clear tenor voice of singer Dominique Leonetti accompanied by the piano of Romain Thorel. Again this duet between Léode and guitar, supported by heavy drums.

Threatening tones of the aforementioned Léode at the start of Chronique Canine, the story about four-legged friends who are left by the side of the motorway before the holidays. The mix of both brothers, with plaintive tones produced by the Léode and a passionate voice, carries the song. The combination gives you an uneasy feeling. The longest and most intense song on the new album. Mes Semblables means 'my own kind', loosely translated. Author Dominique Leonetti sometimes feels embarrassed for the behaviour of 'his' people. In De Deux Choses Lune the French horn of Romain Thorel gets a well-deserved leading role. What a splendid and special instrument, appropriately intertwined in the music of Lazuli. Closing number Les 4 Mortes Saisons is slightly different from the previous songs. 'Je me sent mal' (I feel sick) Dominique sings in a slow tempo to an accompanying acoustic guitar and fragments of guitar/Léode. A dark and fragile song as closing track, quite daring after all the frantic pace of the previous songs. Whistling birds in the ‘end grooves’.

An excellent album which largely follows the path of predecessor "Nos âmes saoules". The  only downside is the relatively short playing time, at less than three quarters of an hour very suitable for a vinyl version, but I could have done with just a tad more. Poetic but also philosophical lyrics, as usual all in French, but don’t be put off by this; they are simply an integral part of the band’s music. That special feeling that comes over me when listening to their music or witnessing their live performances is again present to a large extent.

The title "Saison 8" sounds like one of those many Netflix series that is already up for its umpteenth season, never exceeding the quality of the first. Fortunately, this is not the case, these gentlemen from southern France have again released a strong album, perhaps a bit less innovative than before but stronger across the board. Moreover, twenty years after founding, they seem to have found their definitive format, both in lyrical and musical terms. Passion, heart and authenticity take an important place in the music of the French quintet, their live performances are best proof of all. If ever you get the chance to see them play live don’t hesitate, you won’t be disappointed.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

KING CRIMSON-Live In Vienna, The Return of the Crimson King

With surgical presision Robert Fripp re-incarnated King Crimson for the umpteenth  time. Their latest release is "Live in Vienna" as part of their European Tour 2016. The bunch of musicians leads us through the musical back catalogue of King Crimson dating back from their first album in 1969. No less than three (!) drummers are on stage Pat Mastelotto, Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacey (the latter does some keyboards aswell). The orchestra further comprises of Jakko Jakszyk (guitar, flute, vocals), Mel Collins (saxophone and flute), Tony Levin (bass and chapman stick) and the man himself Robert Fripp on guitar, keyboards etc.

By listening to the album it is like you have been blown backwards in time, and I mean this in a positive way. It is unbelievable how this 7-some can create the songs from some 50 years ago live on stage and to do it as if they were recorded yesterday. In other words this album is a time capsule. Listen to i.e. Pictures in the City from In the Wake of Poseidon (1969) and spot any difference. But that's not all "The Court" is played but also a song from their Lizard and Island album. Both of which Crimson didn't perform live for decades. Vocalist Jakko Jakszyk does a splendid job if any of the songs  require vocals (although he isn't the replacement for Greg Lake or John Wetton, but the guy has a warm and powerfull voice, well suited to cover the songs his predecessors did).

This a 3cd boxset album with a nice booklet and photo's and all sorts of informartion how it came about. This is the Crimson King saying goodbye to the Adrian Belew era going back in time more then ever done before. Sure there is work from the Belew era such as Indiscipline and VROOOOM. The majority of the songs however are from their era between 1969 and 1974 which makes it not only a feast of recognition but the songs are also played with a skill you only can  expect from the Crimsons. Of course "Heroes" is part of the playlist these days as a homage to Bowie. Fripp played the freaky guitar, at Bowie's/Visconte's request on the original. The album has also some improv sections well expected from Crimson albums all of which are based around the skills of the three drummers. That's an aquired taste in my opinion.

There is one new composition on the album called Meltdown and is written by Fripp/Jakszyk, which goes perfectly well with the other compositions King Crimson are famous for. This is a very enjoyable album with great craftmanship and it is very meticulously performed by the band under the supervision of mr. Fripp.

 

The Crimsons are doing Holland on July, 13 and 14, at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam.

 

Of course I'm attenting,  tickets already in the pocket.

 

 

 

Review: Frans Verweij © 2018

 

 

Multi Story - Live At Acapela: Missed opportunity

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Multi Story recently released a double live CD entitled "Live At Acapela", recorded during their tour in 2016. The new live album was recorded at the Acapela Studios in Cardiff, Wales, as the final show of the tour to support its latest studio album "Crimson Stone" from 2016. "Live At Acapela" contains tracks from all three Multi Story albums "East/West" (1985), "Through Your Eyes" (1987) and the already mentioned "Crimson Stone" . Multi Story has planned a number of new shows in 2018, including a performance at 't Blok in Nieuwerkerk aan de IJssel in April, and is currently working on new material for their next studio album.

It remains a strange phenomenon, a band that is virtually non-existent for thirty years and then suddenly manages to deliver a relatively well-received studio album from out of nowhere. Not surprisingly, followed by a number of live performance of which one, in their backyard in Wales, was recorded and promoted to a double live CD.

The Acapela music theatre and recording studio in Pentyrch, Cardiff, is housed in a converted chapel in Wales. The wooden floors and high ceiling give the musicians and artists a beautiful natural resonance chamber.The theatre likes to portray itself as the very best small venue in South Wales. This ambiance is also audible from the noise the audience produces in between songs. You can hear from the reactions that the room was far from sold out, the response is a bit flat.

The first CD contains songs from the latest album, "Crimson Stone", with one exception, and also largely in the correct order. The song that is not on the aforementioned album is opening track Breaking Ground, from debut album "East West" from 1985. The start is promising, with acoustic guitar against electric guitars and keyboards. But alas, the moderate sound quality quickly surfaces, it even sounds unbalanced. The drumming sounds uninspired and simple, the overall group sound is messy. 12:16 sounds much better, the low/mid-tempo fits well with the band. Crimson Stone, title track of the latest album, is extremely melodic and a nice demonstration of what the band is capable of. The latter also applies more or less to Black Gold (Part II) which in terms of sound and tempo is close to Pink Floyd’s.

CD 2 is filled with older material and that is noticeable. Obviously influences of contemporaries Marillion and to a lesser extent Arena, especially in Heroes and All Out Of Love. The compositions are mediocre and the music has not quite stood the test of time as is the case with the aforementioned contemporaries, in itself not something to be ashamed of. Star Traveler is the closing track of the live double album, the song starts quietly and then proceeds Marillion-esque towards the end, especially the keyboards make the comparison valid. Nice guitar play from Aedan Neale. The sound is moderate to weak, a pity that little attention has been paid to mixing and production. It doesn’t do justice to the band, the recording level barely rises above that of a good bootleg, most unfortunately.

The voice of vocalist Paul Ford is something of an acquired taste, it was already clear on the studio material but now becomes even more painful. Sometimes he sounds a bit unsteadily and here and there even off key, at least you can say that his voice is authentic. It also seems as if there is imbalance between the vocals and the rest of the music, soft at one time and then again too loud, quite strange. It therefore makes an amateurish impression, perhaps unjustified.

A bit of a disappointment, this live album. Maybe released just too soon, building on the success of the latest studio album. With a little more attention on the production side, this could possibly have been a much better release, a missed opportunity.

Review: Alex Driessen ©2018

Strawbs - The Ferryman's Curse: The Ten Commandments of Dave Cousins

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"The Ferryman's Curse" is the first Strawbs album with new material in eight years from the legendary folk/prog rock band. The album was produced by the famous Chris Tsangarides (Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, Yngwie Malmsteen) and was released on Esoteric Antenna. The Ferryman's Curse, the title track of the album, is the epic sequel to The Vision Of The Lady Of The Lake, from 1970's iconic Strawbs album "Dragonfly", rated by super producer Tony Visconti as one of his top-six productions alongside albums by David Bowie and T Rex.

The Stawbs history has seen many, many personnel changes, the list is virtually endless. The current Strawbs line-up consists of frontman/singer/guitarist David Cousins, solo guitarist Dave Lambert, bassist Chas Cronk (later Steve Hackett and others) and drummer Tony Fernandez, who recorded and toured together in the seventies. They are accompanied by keyboard virtuoso Dave Bainbridge, known from, among others, Iona, a band that created a mystical mix of rock, folk, Celtic and ambient music, a perfect match with Strawbs.

Strawbs (or The Strawbs) was founded in 1964 as the Strawberry Hill Boys, while the original members studied at St Mary's Teacher Training College, Strawberry Hill, London. The name was shortened to ‘The Strawbs’ for a concert in June 1967 in which they wanted to make the band name visible on stage. Their leader from the beginning and most active songwriter is guitarist and vocalist Dave Cousins ​​(guitar, dulcimer, banjo, vocals) who has reached the respectable age of 73 years. In the beginning, Strawbs played with Sandy Denny (later solo singer of Fairport Convention and Fotheringay). Although they started out in the sixties as a bluegrass band, the band's repertoire gradually changed to a preference for their own (mostly Cousins-written) material, ranging from folk rock to progressive and even (shortly) glam rock.

Strawbs has always had a keen eye for musical talent, especially singers and keyboard players. Besides the previously mentioned Sandy Denny (1968), also Sonja Kristina (Curved Air) in 1968, Rick Wakeman (Yes) in 1970, Blue Weaver (Bee Gees, Pet Shop Boys) in 1971, Don Airey (Rainbow, Deep Purple) in 1993, and Rick's sons Oliver Wakeman (2009) and Adam Wakeman (2014) were part of the group at one time. Let's listen to how Strawbs sounds in 2017.

Opening number In The Beginning has a beautiful bombastic intro, seamlessly changing into The Nails From The Hands Of Christ, a lyrically challenging view on the relationship that people have with the church. The characteristic, somewhat unsteady voice of singer/frontman Dave Cousins ​​makes its appearance, you have to get used to it. He reminds me a bit of Hackett-vocalist Nad Sylvan, an older version. Strong composition with fine guitar and keys, 'old skool symfo', reinforced by the use of the Mellotron. The Song Of Infinite Sadness is an atmospheric ballad, reminiscent of the Moody Blues, both in terms of vocals and orchestration, and among other things, here we go again, the Mellotron. The fragile voice of Cousins ​​fits in perfectly with the predominantly acoustic atmosphere of the song. The Familiarity Of Old Lovers seamlessly transposes the tone of the previous song, some short but sharp guitar solos from Dave Lambert occasionally cut through the acoustic and folky feel of the song. Powerful duet/duel of Lambert/Bainbridge on electric guitars towards the end.

When The Spirit Moves is in line with the previous songs, this time a slow pace and a heavy orchestral, almost solemn, feel, in the vein of Barclay James Harvest. The Ten Commandments starts more traditional, a four-quarter beat, reminiscent of the style of Mark Knopfler I would say, including ditto guitar solo and delightful Steve Winwood-like Hammond organ by Dave Bainbridge. 'You better choose your friends very carefully' is the sincere advice of Cousins. The Reckoning is the classical-sounding intro for title track The Ferryman's Curse. Cousins' special voice against a background of keys and a wandering guitar. Great song, threatening atmosphere, typical Strawbs music.

Bats And Swallows is a mid-tempo song with a beautiful melodic theme and poetic lyrics about a Mediterranean holiday. Surprising contribution on bouzouki from Bainbridge. We Have The Power is the closing song of an atmospheric studio album by the Brits. Symphonic sounds and a catchy melody from keyboard wizard Bainbridge. Dual guitars and tasteful keys, supported by a solid backing of drums and bass in this relatively short up-tempo number. 'It's in our hands' is the final conclusion of old hippie Cousins.

Indeed, the future seems to be in the hands of Cousins et al. despite their (well) advanced age. Clocking at a total of 50 minutes, the album is on the short side but well suited for a vinyl release. With this new studio album, these gents have shown that there is still more than sufficient life in the band that officially celebrates its 50th birthday next year, but actually has been around for much longer. Only very few bands can celebrate a similar anniversary. The band has delivered one of their best albums with "The Ferryman's Curse", it is time that this underrated band is put more into the spotlight. The extensive back catalogue of the band is still reasonably well available, perhaps a suggestion for fans of old-fashioned symphonic rock music with a folky touch.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

Atlantropa Project - Atlantropa Project

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Atantropa Project is originally a German musical collective that has existed since the seventies under the name Waniyetulan (later: Galaxy). They were inspired by the ideas of ​​the German engineer Hermann Sörgel. In 1920, shortly after the end of WW I, he had a crazy idea: building a huge dam in the Mediterranean. Due to the partial drying up of the sea, new land would emerge, Africa and Europe would be united and there would be peace. This new continent would be called Atlantropa. Turned into music, it provides a special source of inspiration for a concept album, placed against the current background. Multiple compositions, diverse in nature, complex themes, lots of melody and excellent musicians, it seems an excellent breeding ground for thought-provoking progressive rock. And that is what it has become, to some extent. The whole was partly realized through crowdfunding and is released on the German Progressive Promotion Records label (Karibow, Quantum Fantay).

Hermann Sörgel was a visionary. Since the 1920’s and decades on, he fought for his idea to build a massive dam between Gibraltar and the African coast, to separate the Mediterranean from the Atlantic and win new land. Some qualified it as “delusions of grandeur” and "absolute madness", others, including important persons from politics and the economy in particular, were convinced of the scope and potential success of this project. They supported Sörgel and his institute which devoted itself to this task until after the end of World War II and the mysterious death of Sörgel in 1952, at the age of 67.

Back to the music. The album contains nine pieces, suites actually, which are subdivided into 23 tracks in total. With a total playing time of almost 80 minutes, the capacity of the silver disc is optimally used. Protagonists/producers Heinz Kühne and Lothar Krell also take charge of guitars and keys, respectively, and both voices can also be heard in the background vocals. Another member of the collective, Michael Wolff, is responsible for the lead vocals, he acquits himself in an excellent manner. A total of eight musicians are active on this album, with all of them participating in the vocal parts.

The Atlantropa project is therefore the creative result of a group of ambitious and highly experienced musicians and producers who are committed to exploring and honouring a large, almost forgotten idea of ​​humanity. The visions of the brilliant engineer Hermann Sörgel served as a source of inspiration from which the creativity and virtuosity of the compositions arose. The result is a rich and dynamic concept album with beautiful melodies, dramatic twists and especially old-fashioned good symphonic rock music.

The album starts with A Continent Of Joy in which we are quickly confronted with a narrator (Tony Clark) who tells the storyline, admittedly, it takes some getting used to. The Great Maker has a heavy intro, a bit in the style of Frost*. Moreover, we get to know the pleasant voice of singer Michael Wolff who occasionally reminds me of Jon Davison (Yes/Glass Hammer). The first of three suites, New Sky, is divided into three parts, the intro deceptively resembles Your Own Special Way by Genesis, a melodic piece with great vocals and instrumentation. Halfway we are surprised by African drums (The Bridges) after which the original theme returns. References to The Alan Parsons Project, mainly due to the broad range of instrumentation.

Now Is Always Past is once again introduced by a voice-over, this time it is the voice of Richard Kersten in his role as reporter. Why this distinction is made is not entirely clear. Time To Bid Goodye is also divided into three pieces. Genesis' Hold on my Heart seems to have been an inspiration in this atmospheric piece including a vocal duet between Wolff and Elinor Pongracz, alongside tasteful, subdued keys, especially in Part III - Last Goodbye. They Want To Steal The Ocean is a melodic mid-tempo prog rock song with voice-over and lead vocals by Pongracz. She does the same on Gotta Stem The Greedy Water, an atmospheric song in which her voice reminds me somewhat of Heather Findlay’s. Excellent keyboard solo by Lothar Krell.

Wolff's vocals sound very pleasing to me, he is featured on Walk Across The Sea, a strong song reminiscent of Barclay James Harvest. Quite a few references, true, yet the band has its own unique sound. Fine (slide) guitar work by Heinz Kühne. Mare Nostrum Dream is a dreamy tune with female vocals and an acoustic 'feel'. When We All Speak Atlantropian is one of the best songs on the album, multi-layered vocals as we are accustomed to from Electric Light Orchestra, African drums and singer Michael Wolff at his best. And the addition of a violin, after which a wonderful guitar solo brings the song to a good ending. During Dream My Dream, the mediocre voice of keyboardist Lothar Krell take a leading role. Partly because of the monotonous rhythm and the voice-over, unfortunately not the strongest song on the album, while the theme itself is very promising.

Star Atlantropa is the last suite on the album, again divided in three parts, and by no means the worst. Clocking at about ten minutes total, the neo-prog of the band comes into its own here, both instrumentally and vocally. The story also comes to an end, as we know nothing has been realized from Sörgel’s ideas. This brings the band to a hopeful conclusion in the form of the melodic Part II We Still Have A Lot To Learn with once again excellent and tasteful keyboard parts and beautiful guitar solos. Without doubt one of the best tracks on the concept album. 'The future is a shining star called Star Atlantropa'. Part III Shining Star again has that distinctive ELO vocoder sound, after which Reprise repeats the original theme, played solo on an ‘old’ piano.

The intriguing story of Atlantropa lends itself quite easily for a concept album. It takes some getting used to the fact that the story is led by a narrator and a reporter. This makes the comparison with, for example, Rick Wakeman's "Journey Through The Centre of the Earth" or Jeff Wayne's "War of the Worlds" valid, but of course there are more bands who use a similar method. There are some beautiful melodies on this album. The music has depth, diversity, partly through the use of both male and female vocalists. No complex or overwhelming progressive music here. But if you like the soft side of the progressive rock spectrum and beautiful melodies, this issue by the German collective is absolutely worth your while. Recommended for fans of Eloy, Moody Blues, Renaissance, Barclay James Harvest, Electric Light Orchestra and, last but not least, The Alan Parsons Project.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

 

Eddie Mulder – In A Lifetime: Acoustics from the north of Holland

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The name Eddie Mulder does not immediately ring a bell with people. The instrumentalist, born in 1959 in Friesland, has been active in the (Dutch) music world for a long time. From the age of six, the guitar plays an important role in his still young life, inspired by Cliff Richards and the Beatles, later by bands like Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis. Gong, Steve Hillage and Gentle Giant are also favourites. In the early eighties he became a professional musician, he mainly played covers, and also did regular session work in studios. From the turn of the century he has put his love for symphonic and progressive rock into practice with, among others, Flamborough Head, Trion and Leap Day. In addition, together with singer Jos Harteveld (Leap Day) he forms a duo called Two Faces with which he also performs live. Solo performances in combination with guitar classes make Mulder a busy boy. But between all those activities Mulder still found time to make a solo album with purely instrumental and largely acoustic music. With a little help from his musical mates, of course.

"In A Lifetime" is already his third solo cd and he is obviously happy about it. As said, a lot of acoustic guitar music, but with the help of guest musicians from his symphonic rock career (Edo Spanninga, Gert van Engelenburg, Albert Schoonbeek, Peter Stel, Willem Friso Wielinga, Margriet Boomsma and Henk Stel), the much needed variation has also been created. The Polish label OSKAR releases the album and the Polish artist Rafal Paluszek provided artwork and layout. It has become a fairly varied album with something for everyone.

If you talk about acoustic guitar music you can hardly avoid comparisons with the man who celebrated his sixty-seventh birthday last year and has been recording and performing for over fifty years: Harry Sacksioni. While Sacksioni himself was inspired by Howe's acoustic play, I myself followed the opposite route: via Howe I ended up with Sacksioni. His "Vensters" from 1976 is an absolute masterpiece and still stands straight to the present day and, with a little imagination, can also be considered as symphonic music. At the same time, the problem with acoustic music is often that the songs quickly resemble each other and it is difficult to keep the tension intact, even for the greatest masters of the instrument. Having said that, Mulder has delivered an excellent product within the genre, with multiple moods and brilliant play. Something for everyone and perfectly suited for the fireplace and for the romantics among us. And, admittedly, I count myself amongst them. Let's have a good listen.

Opening number Daydream is a nice to listen to, indeed, dreamy. The Innocent has slightly folky tendencies, a bit in the vein of Steve Howe/Harry Sacksioni, an innocent, positively sounding track. Both songs are completely solo acoustic and instrumental. Driven is the first song with group sound, drums/bass, piano/keys and even the flute of Margriet Boomsma (Flamborough Head). A light jazzy tone here, partly due to the flute contribution, a surprising electric guitar but still very subdued and pleasant to listen to. The composition does not leave a deep impression. Choices To Make is a sort of 'Sacksioni meets Taxi sound track', a relaxed tune without any pretentions. The combination of flute and mellotron pushes the sound of Best Intentions towards Steve Hackett at the time of his collaboration with brother John and keyboardist Nick Magnus while Mystery Land is a dreamy song with high 'Sacks' content. Waiting, like Driven, can also rejoice in a broader sound with flute/guitar, this time Mulder uses bot the bass guitar as well as the electric. Expectations is a nice mid-tempo solo track while Cold and Grey reminds me a bit of Mike Oldfield, the gloom and the greyness from the title is well reflected musically.

 

Title track In A Lifetime once again enjoys a group sound with roughly the same personnel as on Waiting and Driven. It is by far the longest song, with just over seventeen minutes, and also the one that captures the imagination. After a predominantly acoustic intro Mulder quickly takes the electric instrument in hand and, against a background dominated by keyboards and flutes, he imposingly plays a piece of music that is remotely reminiscent of the masterpiece of Harry Sacksioni, "Vensters" . Also references to the second solo album by Steve Howe, "The Steve Howe Album", the latter especially in his electric play, hats off. The last track, Meeting Tommy, must have been inspired by the work of the Australian acoustic guitar phenomenon Tommy Emmanuel. I know Mulder has met him as evidenced by a photograph on his website and this is Eddie's tribute to one of his heroes. He honours his idol with this ultra-short closing track of the CD. Although, at the same time, it could have been an ode to Chet Atkins.

I understand that Mulder occasionally performs live, albeit very scarce and mostly in the north of the country. I myself would certainly welcome to see him play in person, preferably in an intimate theatre in the west. An open invitation as far as I am concerned.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

 

Kayak – Seventeen

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Some time ago we could rejoice in the news that legendary Dutch progrockers Kayak were to release a new album, a 'teaser' on the internet was already very promising. The new album is entitled "Seventeen", not altogether by chance, the seventeenth studio album of the band, founded in 1972. It has been four years since double album "Cleopatra - The Crown of Isis" was released in 2014. From interviews it appears that the period after its release was not a particularly happy one for founder/keyboardist Ton Scherpenzeel and that the name Kayak was not mentioned in the Scherpenzeel home for quite a long time. 

But those times are behind us, the band is back and with a vengeance. With a completely new line-up, with the exception of Scherpenzeel himself, there is no-one left of the group that recorded "Cleopatra". The album was created with the help of excellent guitarist Marcel Singor, bassist Kristoffer Gildenlöw (his characteristic fretless bass can only be heard on Cracks, all bass parts are played by Scherpenzeel), drummer Lean Robbemont (replaced by ex-Neal Morse drummer Collin Leijenaar for live performances), the relatively unknown singer Bart Schwertmann and last but not least a guest appearance by friend and Camel-buddy Andrew Latimer on electric and acoustic guitars during the instrumental Ripples On The Water. And it’s an excellent album, that I can tell you. 

No concept album this time, on the contrary, a collection of fine rock songs, crisp and razor-sharp, wonderfully refreshing. All compositions, both lyrics and music, are written by Ton Scherpenzeel, he also took care of production and arrangements. A discussion about the leadership within the band is totally unnecessary. Let’s find out what this means, musically I mean. 

Somebody is an excellent opener with highly recognizable sound. La Peregrina, about a famous pearl, is the best Kayak has to offer in 2018, complete with tempo- and mood changes, heavy instrumentation, pastoral moments and vocal harmonies. Not forgetting castanets. The music moves somewhere between "Starlight Dancer" from 1977 and "Close To The Fire" from 2000, not bad references at all. Falling is a melodic ballad whereas Feathers And Tar is a rocking Merlin-like song, with lyrics about castles and knights interspersed with ripping guitar play. Walk Through Fire is a strong symphonic rock song of more than 10 minutes, referring to the better material from the later period, say from 2000 on. Stunning keyboard play from our bandleader. The previously mentioned Ripples On The Water is a beautiful atmospheric instrumental, with a contribution on both acoustic and electric guitars by friend and Camel icon Andy Latimer. It sounds a bit like Ice and could have appeared on a new Camel album. All That I Want is an easy-sing-along mid-tempo rocker whereas X Marks the Spot is an ultra-short acoustic ballad with a slightly medieval touch. 

God On Our Side has this extremely recognizable intro, the likes of which Kayak has already produced so many, slightly reminiscent of both Wintertime and Mammoth. The fiddle of Rens v.d. Salmon is featured prominently on the Irish-tinted Love, Sail Away. Cracks immediately kicks off with a delightful guitar riff from Singor, for me one of the revelations of the new line-up. Excellent track, clocking at almost nine minutes, in which all the qualities of the individual band members come into their own. Leading roles for singer Schwertmann and guitarist Singor, the latter in duet with himself towards the end of the song. Baroque piano play and the sensitive voice of Schwertmann are the characteristics of the very appropriate closing song To An End. Suitable end to a fine piece of work. 

Upon listening, the well-known sound immediately catches the eye/ear, a cross between the sound of the late seventies and eighties, the most successful period of the band. A rocking sound, sharp guitar work, multi-harmony vocals, catchy melodies, a solid rhythm base and atmospheric keyboard parts. And a new singer, it takes a while to get used to vocalist Bart Schwertmann but it doesn’t last very long, his voice is perfectly suited for the job. He has his own, unique sound, it is difficult to make a comparison. 

Most characteristic are the melodic compositions with supporting keys and the wonderful guitar parts of Marcel Singor. Kayak has always had a keen eye when it comes to guitarists but this musician knows how to capture the best of both Johan Slager and Joost Vergoossen into one person, hats off. Shorter, sharp-edged rock songs too. La Peregrina is an exception to the rule, clocking at almost 12 minutes, reminiscent of mini rock operas like "Cleopatra" and especially "Nostradamus". The Special Edition contains a second CD with four demo tracks: La Peregrina, Falling, Walk Through Fire and Cracks. The special thing about these songs is that they all feature Scherpenzeel on vocals. He has a somewhat strange, nasal voice that definitely needs getting used to but on the other hand never appears to be out of place. Just listen to his latest solo album "The Lion's Dream" from 2013. 

Kayak has a rich 45-year history, if you at least disregard the period between 1982 and 1999 in which they were virtually non-existent. However, the DNA of the group has remained almost intact, as evidenced by the new album. Of course this has everything to do with the only remaining original member, 65 year-old Ton Scherpenzeel. This extremely talented multi-instrumentalist/composer has always been and remains to this day, the connecting link. He has shaken up the Kayak duvet and replaced all feathers and down but at the same time left the structure and the tick unchanged and has even managed to reinforced it to some extent. With a group of experienced musicians he revives old times and gives hope for the future as well. Another 45 years is probably too much to ask for but a few more years should be possible, I hope. 

A tour has already started, the initial reactions are very positive. The band also wants to perform abroad, and why not. There aren’t that many bands around of the calibre of Kayak with an impressive back-catalogue, who still perform live. 

"Seventeen" does not only refer to the fact that it is listed as the seventeenth studio album but also refers to the fact that the album was recorded in 2017. Very recently the band has re-released its entire oeuvre, 16 studio albums including two bonus CDs, in a nice collection box entitled "Journey Through Time", a must for those who are not (yet) familiar with the band’s material.

Review: Alex Driessen ©2018

 

Mystery – Second Home Live at ProgDreams V: Maple leaf flag flies over Zoetermeer

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A band at the then peak of their existence: they just released an excellent new studio album, "Delusion Rain", highly appreciated by both fans and press, number one in the Progressive Chart of Progwereld, a performance as main- and closing act of the fifth edition of the famous Progdreams Festival, the intended recording of a live DVD/CD during the same festival at their second home in Zoetermeer and the knowledge they would return to the same venue in October for a new show. Just a few examples from the range of special circumstances that largely determined the life of the Canadian band Mystery at the beginning of 2016. It took some time but at the end of 2017, more than a year and a half later, finally the result of those recordings from April 2016 sees the light entitled "Second Home - Live at Progdreams V". A very appropriate title because the band from the French-speaking district of Quebec sees the Boerderij in Zoetermeer truly as its second home. Their previous DVD "Tales from the Netherlands" was also recorded on stage at thé prog-theatre of the Netherlands (and the number two in Europe). De Boerderij feels like a warm bath for the band and the feeling is mutual. Just take a look at the mini documentary that is part of the DVD. Everything comes together for Mystery on Sunday evening, April 3, a crowd of about 500 enthusiasts support their idols through thick and thin. 

The beautiful and dramatic Delusion Rain, the title track of the new album, is the prelude to an excellent performance. Beautiful close-ups of guitarist/composer/founder Michel St-Père with his blue Stratocaster. We see a band in optima forma with new vocalist Jean Pageau in the ranks, he replaces ex-Yes singer Benoit David. His somewhat theatrical stage presentation fits perfectly with the music of the band as can be seen during the rocking Travel to the Night and the stunning If You See Her, also from the new album. Lots of knowledge of and love for the music is demonstrated by the filmmakers: just look at the middle section of Another Day, each individual note is timed to perfection, we don’t have to miss a single moment as spectators. And what a beast of a drummer, this Jean-Sébastien Goyette! This ultimate prog song with its variation in rhythm and mood changes lasts for 18 minutes. Wall Street King (the money keeps coming in) and Pride are great showcases for the band to display its unique quality. Aforementioned song almost silently slips into The Last Glass of Wine with great unison guitar duets from St-Père and Moineau, highlights of the performance. The latter certainly also applies to Shadow of the Lake. 

St-Père’s lyrical guitar play is pre-eminently the trademark of the band, melody with a capital M, harmonized vocals and a solid backbone do the rest. Leading roles of course for said guitarist and singer but this is undoubtedly a team achievement, there is no room for prima donna behaviour, even Pageau is subordinate to the overall performance . The atmosphere at De Boerderij is fine, the excellent light show is noticeable, the enthusiastic audience does the rest. 

Dear Someone is dedicated to the female super fan in the front row and marks a relatively peaceful moment in the set, featuring Pageau's crystal clear voice, he also plays some nice flute. A Song For You, complete with fine solo work by the versatile Jean Pageau on his portable keyboard instrument, is dedicated to all those present in the room, the band is clearly at ease in its 'home away from home'. Francois Fournier shows what a great bass player he is on his five-string instrument in this iconic song. Excellent flute and vocals from Pageau and, once again, those guitar duets, delightful! Excellently portrayed by 20+ cameras, a wildly enthusiastic audience loudly applauses after the last song of the regular set. The band returns with an integral version of its magnum opus, the brilliant and very melodic Through different Eyes of "One among the Living" from 2010, in its entirety more than 20 minutes long. A huge applause is the gratitude of the frenzied audience. So one more, the rocking The Preacher's Fall acts as final encore with again those heavenly unison guitars, brilliant. 

Excellent performance by the team led by John Vis, a fully Dutch production of the group that is responsible for so many good video recordings (IQ, Neal Morse Band). The show is recorded with multiple cameras, a team of no less than five cameramen ensures a nice mix of images. Nice quiet transitions, well suited to the lyrical side of the music, no MTV trash . The sound is fine, the mix is ​​provided by St-Père himself, as can be heard on both audio CDs (not included). 

The sympathetic proggers from Canada truly excel on the more than two hours and five minutes long DVD (the mini-doc takes another seven minutes). Mystery will also participate at Night of the Prog at Loreley, Germany. "Second Home Live at ProgDreams V" is an excellent document of a band on top of its game. And nowhere near finished, it is reported that new material will be released soon, latest studio album "Delusion Rain" already dates back to 2015. 

Extra attention for the aforementioned mini documentary The Last Glass of Wine, with material from behind the scenes during preparation for the performance. Funny and interesting at the same time, a glimpse into life backstage of band and supporters.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018