Robert Reed - Sanctuary Live

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Robert Reed, known as multi-instrumentalist/composer of the Wales-based prog band Magenta, produced with Sanctuary I from 2014 and successor Sanctuary II from 2016 a successful and respectful tribute to his hero Mike Oldfield. Like the great master himself, he played all the instruments by himself, with the exception of Part II, where super drummer Simon Phillips provided some superb drumming. So far it was and remained a one-man project, but just as with his illustrious example, blood is thicker than water. In mid-2016 it was announced that Reed would perform both albums live together with a ten-piece band. Obviously, (video) recordings of these unique performances, taking place at Real World Studios, would be made. No sooner said than done, on 8 October 2016 two concerts took place, in the afternoon and the evening, the result of which was recorded on a DVD plus music CD. This package has just been released on the Tigermoth Records label. And it is well worth a view, I can tell you.

It has really become a group effort, it is played in virtuoso style and especially focused, which is also necessary to bring the complex pieces to a good end. You can see from the tense faces of the musicians in the beginning, the concentration is almost literally dripping from them. Only at the end of Sanctuary I part One, the faces start to shine again, the band members smile and have some fun: 'we did it', things are going well!

There are three guitarists at work, but nobody plays a leading role. Delicious Oldfield-like chants including nonsense lyrics from the ladies in the choir. Real goose bumps listening to the vocals of solo singer Angharad Brinn, known from another Reed project, Kompendium. Magenta-singer Christina Booth has only been given a place in the four-member women's choir. Fully in the service of the music is keyboard player Tim Lewis, especially the flutes and (bag)pipes come from his electronic magic box. Bassist Dan Nelson looks like a younger version of Marillion-bassist Pete Trewavas, also in terms of playing. And there is yet another 'lookalike' present, this time it's pianist Nigel Hopkins who looks a bit like a cross between Rick Wakeman and Thomas Bodin (Flower Kings), playing on a black Yamaha concert grand.

Of Sanctuary I part Two 'only a bit' is played according to Reed, the choice has fallen on an atmospheric piece with beautiful vocals by Brinn and the choir. Sanctuary II part One is presented in split screen, interesting and funny at the same time, Rob Reed can be seen on the left of the screen, excelling on electric guitar. We also saw this technique on the bonus DVD with his first Sanctuary album. Only there he could be seen playing on his own in all of the frames.

Sanctuary II part Two starts with a delightful bass line and the imperturbable Martin Shellard on lead guitar. Especially the moments when the guitars play in unison are brilliant and remind me a lot of Oldfield. The acoustic guitar of Chris Fry, Reed's buddy in Magenta, is superb, the ladies’ voices are heavenly. The drums are more prominent during this piece, just like on the CD where master drummer Simon Phillips swings the sticks. But then I would be selling young master Jonathan 'Jiffy' Griffiths short, the energy splashes off his performance behind the kit. Reed constantly switches between guitars, keyboards, tubular bells, vibraphone and other percussion instruments, the plectrum clamped firmly between his lips. Percussionist Simon Brittlebank performs splendidly on various vibraphones, marimba and timpani. Singer Angharad Brinn is at her best here, so pure and crystal clear. It is almost impossible to point out the most impressive musician.

If I have to pick someone, I would chose the relatively unknown guitarist Martin Shellard, stoically producing one after another flawless part, mainly on electric but also acoustic guitar. Without a trace of emotion, very much focused on his playing. This piece of music best breathes the spirit of Mike Oldfield in my opinion. A real rock closing chord means the end of the show. A standing ovation from the select audience is the just reward for the thirteen-piece band. Remarkably, all three guitarists, both Shellard, Fry and Reed, are able to perfectly copy the specific and extremely characteristic guitar sound of Oldfield live. In spite of the use of a wide variety of guitars (Stratocaster, Telecaster, PRS), hats off.

Willow Song, from the eponymous EP from 2014, is the encore, a melancholic ballad featuring yet another leading role for the Wales-born vocalist Angharad Brinn, she puts Oldfield's original singers Maddy Prior and Maggie Riley in the shade with her beautiful voice. As a bonus there is a documentary about the preparations and practice sessions for the final shows, an interesting look behind the scenes.

With regard to the technical aspect, it can be noted that the sound is really excellent. Proof of which can be heard upon listening to the accompanying music CD. The images are quiet and almost still, I can’t see any camera men nor recording devices disturbingly present in the picture, well done to the camera crew and final editing. The only real disturbing element are the grey sound insulation strips in the background that seem to 'move', just like the newsreader’s annoyingly striped tie.

The concert takes place in an intimate setting and breathes a real living room atmosphere. The select audience of less than fifty people evokes a jealous feeling, lucky bastards. The crowd reacts enthusiastically, these are obvious connoisseurs. There is no light show at all, the space is bathed in bright light and gives the impression that the performance took place during the day. However, in truth the recordings took place during two shows, in the afternoon and evening of 8 October 2016 in the Big Room of Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios near Bath, known from, among others, Big Big Train recordings. The total playing time of the DVD is about 90 minutes. A real nice document for fans of Reed but also for the countless Oldfield adepts.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Hangover Paradise - Out of Sight

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There are plenty of prog/sympho bands active in the Netherlands nowadays, more than you might suspect. Most of them work hard without ever exceeding local or regional fame. Often there is acceptable music, but what’s lacking is strong compositions, nothing new there; bigger and more well-known brothers and sisters are regularly troubled by the same default.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when I listened to some tracks from the new, independently released album "Out of Sight" by the Drenthe band Hangover Paradise. One of many bands who make their music in relative anonymity, in this case since 2010. But the music that I heard almost immediately appealed to me, a lot of melody, with a beginning and end, excellent guitar and keyboards, an inconspicuous but solid rhythm tandem. And last but not least, a singer, Henk Bruggge, with guts and self-confidence. Maybe not too strong technically and the English material is not always as English as it should be, but that does not really matter. Here we clearly have someone who sings with joy and confidence, and with balls too. Just listen to the excellent Flowers in the Rain.

Very enjoyable, simple but concise and especially melodic catchy tunes, the band reminds me first and foremost of Saga, like in Not Worried, and I really mean that as a compliment. Neo-prog from, say, Arena and IQ, and Dutch sympho giants Kayak, especially in the ballad Wrong, are a recurring reference. It does not always have to be pretentious, preferably not. But melody with a big M is very important to me and I know I am not the only one. These guys are apparently inspired by the music of the big bands such as Genesis, Marillion, Rush and Pink Floyd. The band consists of seven experienced and versatile musicians. They work with two keyboardists, twin brothers Henk and Peter Zwerus, the latter is responsible for all songs, both musically and lyrically. The lyrics are both personal (Out of Sight) and socially critical (Don’t Wake Me Up, Flowers in the Rain). A clear and solid production by Dick Kemper (ex-Vandenberg), at his own S&K Studios in Doetinchem, he is also responsible for debut album "Mirrors" from 2013. A compliment also for the artwork of Karssien Ooms.

I doubt whether Hangover Paradise, however sympathetic, will grow beyond their current status, competition is simply too fierce. But I have the feeling that the band doesn’t really care. Making good music within the genre they love, for likeminded people, that seems to be their main goal. And there is nothing against it, on the contrary, they have succeeded in doing just that on the new album.

Review: Alex Driessen

Tiger Moth Tales - The Depths of Winter

Tiger Moth Tales (TMT) recently released its third album, "The Depths Of Winter", on the White Knight label. The album includes a guest appearance by guitarist Luke Machin (Maschine, The Tangent). ‘The Depths of Winter is an album based on wintery concepts, and stories which take place in the winter season,’ explains frontman Jones. ‘There are a number of different themes explored on this album, including winter folk tales and characters such as the Ojibwe wind spirit, Biboon, the Viking legends of Baldr, Loki and Frigga, and the death of English folklore hero, Robin Hood.’ The new album displays a more mature sound from Tiger Moth Tales, some dark but less personal themes are explored with the winter season as common denominator. 

Tiger Moth Tales is the brainchild of the blind, extremely talented multi-instrumentalist Pete Jones (37), who gathered his fame as a finalist for the English version of X-Factor. After the well-received debut CD "Cocoon" from 2014 and successor "Story Tellers pt I" from 2015, this is the third album by Jones. Both albums are clearly influenced by Jones' predilection for ‘70s Genesis. This is not really a 'band' as such but more the prog vehicle of its creator who, besides Tiger Moth Tales, is also involved with Red Bazar. In addition, since 2016 he has been part of the legendary English symphonic rock band Camel. With "The Depths of Winter" Tiger Moth Tales has once again delivered a strong album, that much is clear right from the start. 

Opening track Winter is Coming, an ultra-short prelude, starts with a beautiful fragile flute from X-Factor companion Emma Friend, and runs seamlessly into Winter Maker, one of the more epic songs clocking at almost eleven minutes. The melancholy voice of Jones is somewhat reminiscent of Paul Carrack’s, not a bad comparison at all. The flute in combination with keyboards refer to both Big Big Train as well as Camel. The first is further enhanced by the use of a restrained brass section. And with an excellent guitar contribution by Luke Machin (Maschine, The Tangent), he simply lets rips brilliantly, a kind of cross between Andy Latimer and Allan Holdsworth, ending with the central theme, a great demonstration of the songsmith capabilities of super talent Jones. 

Exposure is the longest track on the new album, at over thirteen minutes. An imminent start, a slow pace and a lyrical guitar, he has obviously listened carefully to his new boss Latimer. You can almost see the snow whirling in front of your eyes. 'Darkened skies, fully loaded, like the big guns, fully threatening', beautiful lyrics with the Great War as a theme, goose bumps. Dark and sultry in terms of atmosphere, very different from what we are used to, but certainly no less beautiful. Halfway through both tempo and instrumentation change, Jones delivers a great keyboard solo. Intriguing number and a personal favourite. The Ballad of Longshanks John, with voice-over from friend and co-author Jamie Ambler, is a musical setting for the story about the events that led to the death of folk hero Robin Hood. Celtic influences, narrative as in the best troubadour tradition, super melodic including heavy orchestration, with references to Steve Thorne in the vocal parts. 

Migration is one of those sad songs which Jones seems to have patented, reminding me of the wonderful Alone, written by Luca Zabbini and himself, from Barock Project’s latest album. Fortunately, it just manages to stay away from becoming a cheap tear-jerker, partly due to the surprising contribution of a clarinet. 'Who's there for me now, where's my winter home'. And plenty of humour, of course, the song is about a small rodent and not a person suffering from intense self-pity. In Take the Memory Jones continues along the same lines as the previous song, sadness is the prevailing emotion in this ballad. Again this clarinet, what a nice sound, this highly underestimated instrument. Brilliant melody to dream away. Not a minute has passed when you immediately think of Steve Hackett, the acoustic guitar and flute are unmistakable. Then Jones takes on his electric guitar and the comparison with the ex-Genesis guitarist becomes even stronger. In short, Sleigh Ride is a delightful and especially recognizable song, the Genesis connection is still there, thank God. Excellent drum parts here, even though they come from a box. 

The Tears of Frigga, another epic song, this time about the Norwegian goddess, once again with the narrative voice of Jamie Ambler. Strong references here to Big Big Train, from the counter-rhythm to the Hammond organ, 'may your tear drops never fall'. Also on Hygge, Danish for cosiness, Jones demonstrates his love for the legendary British band, echoes of Entangled from the iconic "A Trick of the Tail" sound, the song starts acoustically and ends with a delightful melodic Hackett-like electric solo, Jones at his best. And OMG, that heavenly clarinet ... Winter's End is the relatively short instrumental end of the winter landscape of Tiger Moth Tales' newest work, returning to the theme of the beginning. The whistling birds announce the start of a new season. 

A mature, dark, at times sultry album, melancholy in tone. Narrative also, with a keen eye for tradition and history, melodic and coherent, the recurring winter theme makes it almost a true concept album. Coupled with a solid and transparent production Jones’ best album so far. Perhaps somewhat less strong individual songs, but all the more cohesion and coherence across the entire line. If I have to mention a point of criticism, then it’s probably the fact that some songs are on the edge of cheap sentiment, usually his talent saves him, but it’s a potential pitfall. And maybe a real drummer next time, please. 

There is something for everyone on the new album: hints of Big Big Train, echoes of Camel, flashes of Hackett and, of course, Genesis influences. We are dealing here with an original super talent: excelling as solo singer, guitarist, keyboard player, clarinettist, also pay attention to the (programmed) drums. In addition, he is lyrically strong, brilliant both in terms of composition and production. Is there anything this man can’t do?! I was already very impressed by Tiger Moth Tales’ performance during Progdreams VI this spring, the absolute highlight of the festival. But with this album, Jones et al are well on their way to the top ten prog lists for 2017, for sure. 

Inevitably the question arises: how will those melancholic winter songs sound on a warm summer evening during an open air gig e.g. Loreley? I bet the magician Jones will also have an answer to this. 

Jones will re-join Camel on 17 September 2018 for their show at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He says it is 'fantastic' to work with the band again after their joint performance in Japan in 2016. During this concert at the highly prestigious venue, the classic "Moonmadness" album from the band from 1976 will be the central theme. Absolutely something to look forward to, for both the band, the audience and the multi-instrumentalist himself. Tiger Moth Tales will also tour next year, a visit to De Boerderij in Zoetermeer in January has already been confirmed, jot it down in your agenda, please.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

The review is also be available in Dutch on http://www.progwereld.org 

 

Unitopia - More Than Just A Dream (The Dream Complete)

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 In 1996, Mark Trueack, an executive at music company EMI, and Sean Timms, a seasoned session musician and producer with his own recording studio, were introduced to each other by a mutual friend. The first one played in a Genesis tribute band for a while, the second was at a young age influenced by the work of Yes keyboardist Rick Wakeman. The collaboration between both men ultimately resulted in the foundation of one of the best Australian progressive rock bands of all time, Unitopia. After five CD’s between 2005 and 2012 and a series of exciting live performances, proof of which can be seen on "One Night in Europe" (2011) recorded at the Zoetermeer venue De Boerderij, the group folded in 2012. Like so often, “insurmountable musical differences" was given as a reason, whatever this may mean. It meant, unfortunately, the end of an excellent band in which, besides singer Trueack and keyboardist Simms, the input of guitarist Matt Williams should not be forgotten. 

To soften the blow for fans and friends of the band, there is now a luxurious re-issue of their 2005 debut album titled "More Than A Dream: The Dream Complete". The whole is presented as a triple digipak with 24-page booklet. Disc 1 contains the original album re-mastered by Sean Timms and Matt Williams, disc 2 contains 70 minutes of remixes and reworking of the album tracks, while disc 3 includes remixes, rare and unpublished tracks. With almost two and a half hour of extras, including the brand new song The Dream Complete, specially written for this release, and amazing, completely new artwork by Ed Unitsky, this is a beautifully designed package, that has to be said. 

Previously mentioned early influences can also heard on the debut album, especially in the opening sequence of the first song, Common Goal, with its unmistakable Mellotron sound. At the same time there is the contemporary touch in the form of distorted vocals, a heavy orchestration and socially critical lyrics in a bright, modern production setting. This would become the trademark of the band in combination with an extremely melodic sound, sometimes dangerously leaning towards AOR, like for example, Fate, Ride, but also Lives Go Round. Also jazz (rock) is not avoided, partly due to the presence of a saxophonist/flutist, examples of which can be heard on Justify. Orchestral arrangements are not shunned, Take Good Care is a nice example. The song is the first song ever written by the founding duo. The intro is almost classical in nature, all the more surprising is the transition to native (Aboriginal) sounds in this peculiar song. Title track More Than A Dream is an outstanding song and a strong example of the original mix of influences that makes Unitopia to what it is: an original and inventive progressive rock band. Trueack's unique and highly recognizable vocals and the rock guitar of Pat Schirripa against a rich background of instruments contained in a melodic, modern rock song. In Lives Go Round you can find some influences of the later day Yes. Unitopia has been added as a bonus track to the original album. It's a swinging song but has nothing to do with prog, especially the contributions of the horn section has a strong reference to Phil Collins' solo work and puts it firmly in the "Pop" category. There's a Place is the second and last bonus track on CD 1, sung by Neusa Georgiou and Mark Trueack, with some references to the famous duet between Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush, Do not Give Up. This even applies to the lyrics: ’Don’t give in, don’t let go, it won’t be long’. 

What about the CD’s with the extras, the remixes and unreleased (demo) material? Well, what can I say? I don’t know if the public is waiting for this kind of residual material that apparently was not considered worthwhile at an earlier stage to appear on an official album. How about a dance mix of the title track…. Guitarist Williams’, he is not present on the original album, remixes are certainly not bad. His alternative versions make it a little more modern, sharper and especially heavier. However, I would have preferred a full final document with new material, quality above quantity. The only real new song, The Dream Complete, tastes for more and is an excellent example of the capabilities of Unitopia ‘new style’. Unfortunately, it was not to be, we will have to do with the offspring of the band such as United Progressive Fraternity (Trueack) and Southern Empire (Timms) and solo stuff from the former members. The story has come full circle, the dream is complete, over and out.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Premiata Forneria Marconi - Emotional Tattoos

"Space Cowboys"

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After this year has already seen new material from the likes of Mike Oldfield, Kansas, Procol Harum, Eloy, and pre-announcements of the Strawbs, we finally see the release of the new album of fellow generation Premiata Forneria Marconi, better known as PFM. After a seven-year break, there is now the nineteenth studio album, entitled "Emotional Tatoos". Writing the new material started back in 2016, recordings took place between May and July in the Metropolis Recording Studio in Milan with Alessandro Marcantoni behind the controls. The album is released by the famous Inside Out Music progressive rock label. Of the original musicians, only drummer/singer Franz di Cioccio is still present, although bassist Patrick Djivas, with the band since 1974, can truly be deemed to be part of the nucleus. The very colourful cover of the new CD depicts both men at the wheel of a fantastic spacecraft, which is about to land on a new, unknown planet where everything and everyone live in harmony with each other. That's what “Emotional Tattoos” stands for, according to the band it's “an album that will leave emotions on the skin, like when a spaceship lands in a fantastic world with vegetation and animals in harmony with each other". The old hippies haven’t changed one bit.

Apart from "PFM In Classic-Da Mozart a Celebration", which dates back to 2013, in which classical music and old pieces of the band were recorded with a symphony orchestra, it is actually "A.D. 2010 - La buona novella" from 2010, which is the last studio album. It’s therefore been more than seven years since we could welcome any new work from the Italians, quite a long period.

That does not mean that the band has been idle in recent years, on the contrary, the band is still very much alive and kicking. Witnessed by an excellent show that the band gave in September 2016 at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer, the first performance in the Netherlands in forty-three years. The band already indicated that there was to be a new album which was received with great enthusiasm by the audience. Guitarist and founding member, Franco Mussida, was no longer available last year, choosing to continue his career as a visual artist. The present line-up around veterans Di Cioccio and Djivas consists predominantly of young talented musicians who very much like to share the stage and the studio with these living legends. Violinist Lucio Fabbri is an exception, he has been playing since 1979, with some hiatus, with the award-winning Marconi bakery.

It’s been over forty-five years now as Emerson Lake & Palmer discovered the band and signed them for their own record label Manticore Records for releasing their first English-speaking albums "Photos Of Ghosts" and "The World Became The World". Although the band is known for the fact that they do not shy away from experimenting and frequently change course, it is interesting to see what direction they would take this time. They themselves were talking about ‘melodic progrock’, a fairly accurate description.

Opening track We're Not An Island immediately shows us an indication of what we may expect. The longest song (over seven minutes) starts with an exciting intro, after which the somewhat hoarse voice of vocalist Di Cioccio sings about the importance of a harmonious planet. Powerful keyboards backed by electric guitars and Djivas melodic bass guitar, including a catchy chorus, completes the whole. Reconciliatory, positive lyrics in a modern prog jacket. 'We are the planet today, nothing can stand in our way'. Excellent opener. Bells and a classically sounding intro are the starting tones of Morning Freedom. Shortly after, a poppy song develops, despite the sliding bass and Marco Sfogli's screaming guitar solo, especially the chorus is responsible for the AOR character of the song.

The Lesson is musically quite close to the previous song, although another tempo and just a tad heavier sounding. In terms of the lyrics, a high level of love & peace and be nice to each other 'love will be the lesson'. Sfogli's guitar offers the necessary sharp edge. The next song, So Long, is somewhat reminiscent of Kansas, and not just because of the presence of the violin. High sing along degree, will surely be a crowd pleaser during live performances. A Day We Share harbours a high level of Kansas as well, the deviant rhythms, harmony vocals and more complex structure explains the comparison with the Americans. And how about those keys, a good song, that seems to be closer to the roots of the band.

For There’s A Fire In Me, the pace drops a little. On this nice rock ballad, once again sung by Di Cioccio, the violin plays a leading role, halfway through in duet with the guitar. 'Break down the wall' is the all-important message Franz wants to convey to us. Central District is a sharp musical attack on the medical industry, that wants us to use botox, pills and powders, as well as bankers (sigh) get slapped in the face. The music fits the lyrics, sharp, short, rocking and somewhat Arabic tinged. The only fully instrumental number on the new CD is Freedom Square. A brilliant song, a perfect cross between prog, jazz and folk, including a traditional Italian sauce. Where have we heard this before? Perfect successor to Celebration, the violin plays a prominent role as solo instrument for the first time, Fabbri delivers a great performance. This also applies to the rest of the band. Bis!

After the intensity of the previous song, the piano intro to I'm Just A Sound is like a cool oasis in a stifling hot desert. That is, until guitarist Sfogli lets go, supported by a Hammond organ and vocals. Excellent drumming too, after which an old-fashioned duet between synthesizers and guitar brings us back to the oasis of peace and quiet from the beginning, at least for a while. Strong Yes influences here, great song. The melodious ballad Hannah is a relatively unpretentious love song, initiated by a fretless bass, keyboards and vocals. Could have been from any old AOR band, despite the excellent electric guitar solo of the imperturbable Marco Sfogli. Closing track It's My Road is once again of a very different quality, more PFM, but with a slight Toto twist. The jazzy piano solo by the classically-skilled Alessandro Scaglione against a stomping and at the same time swinging rhythm is no doubt responsible. And the piano plays ... Nice closer for the album.

All tracks clock at around five minutes, with the odd exception, total playing time is just over sixty minutes. A less prominent role for the violin this time, but this is largely offset by a larger share for the electric guitar, hats off to axe man Sfogli, who renders Mussida redundant. And last but not least Djivas melodic bass play, the Frenchman is playing like in his best days.

From the very beginning, PFM has been a band that balances between English lyrics, written by Pete Sinfield, and original Italian lyrics. Once again they have chosen for both an English and an Italian version. Incidentally, the sound mix on both albums is exactly the same. The Special Edition 2CD Digi-Pak edition contains both the English and Italian version of the album, which is also available as a double 180gm vinyl LP + 2CD package. "Emotional Tattoos" will be released on October 27, 2017.

The production is excellent and tight, crystal clear sounds, sometimes somewhat smooth and AOR oriented. No more jubilant mix of prog, jazz, folk and Italian traditional music, like "Photos of Ghosts" or "Storia Di Un Minuto". More neo prog, no matter how much I hate this kind of qualification. The sharp edge has been shaved off a little, the disadvantage of a tight production. Some songs on the album might have easily come from any good prog band in the higher segment, which holds both a compliment and criticism, I do realize. An excellent album but sometimes insufficiently recognizable as PFM, maybe that's a better formulation. Nevertheless, we can state that the oldies are still goodies. Bravo ragazzi! 

Review: Alex Driessen ©2017

Monarch Trail – Sand

The return of the keyboard wizard

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The Canadian keyboardist and composer Ken Baird is first and foremost known for his work as soloist. After no less than five solo albums, he sets up the trio Monarch Trail. This project originated mainly from Baird's desire to produce music in the form of a group. Bassist Dino Verginella and drummer Chris Lamont, who completed the line-up, both played a role on Baird's previous albums. Because guitars are also part of the compositions of Monarch Trail, they were supported by John Mamone, Kelly Kereliuk and Steve Cochrane during the recording sessions of their debut CD. The first album by the band, ''Skye'', was inspired by Annette Roche's drawings, so it didn’t came as much of a surprise that some of these drawings were actually included in the cover art. This debut album will eventually be released in April 2014, the music was based mainly on the Neo Prog/Symphonic Rock genres. Three years later, with the same line-up, a new CD entitled "Sand" was recorded, again all three guitarists who were collaborating on "Skye" were present. The works of artist Annette Roche are again featured prominently. Has the new album become a copy of the debut is the logical question. By no means, the new album is a lot stronger than its predecessor, I can tell you.

Opening track Station Theme starts with a strong Genesis reference theme, think of "Wind & Wuthering" but also "Duke", the vintage synthesizers used enhance the experience. Again, another comparison, this time the virtuoso piano solo is reminiscent of the great Rick Wakeman. And all of this on a track that barely takes four minutes, quite a nice introduction. Fairly keyboards dominated and a heavy bass in the vein of the late great Chris Squire. ‘Genesis meets Yes’ but without both Steves guitar contributions.

First Thoughts is the first song with a vocal contribution from singer/keyboardist Ken Baird. His voice at first seems a little reminiscent of that of James LaBrie (Dream Theater) in the softer regions but also of John Lees (Barclay James Harvest). The ballad is solemn with soaring keyboard play, the clear voice of the composer and an acoustic guitar. Nice but short number that seamlessly flows into Back to the Start via a kind of electronic storm. Again, another strong synthesizer theme, you immediately think of IQ who have patented this kind of recognizable melody. Any moment now I think Peter Nicholls will start singing. That's not going to happen, Baird is taking charge of the vocal parts, but the comparison with the London prog rockers only grows stronger. Lovely contrasting rhythms, this time, the electric guitar comes into play, performed by John Mamone. Excellent prog song, clocking at just over seven minutes.

Missing is once again vocally taken on by Baird, this time in duet with himself. I think I recognize our very own progrock icons from the Netherlands, Kayak, sound wise. Strong keyboard play for which Banks/Wakeman would not be ashamed of, often using the vibrato, producing this brilliant old-fashioned symphonic sound, hats off. Charlie's Kitchen plays a very different tune, to start with an old cliché. Jazzy piano sounds fill the space, complemented by melodic bass lines and a light touch on the drums with a veil of synthesizers in the background. Bit like Camel, the flute makes the comparison even stronger. Fully instrumental, light-hearted and completely different from the previous songs, an experiment or a quest for a unique style of their own? Interesting, to say the least and at almost eight minutes the second longest number.

On the other hand, Another Silent World is an ultra-short song, clocking at just over two minutes. Haunting keyboard sounds with a melodic theme, but the song is over before you really notice. Closing number and magnum opus of the band is undoubtedly Sand, at almost twenty-five minutes the longest track on the album. The song starts with vocals that reminds me of BJH's best symphonic stuff with Child of The Universe-like vocals and ditto musical instrumentation. The promising start is followed by a raging keyboard solo that Ken Baird seems to have patented. And, what a surprise, an excellent guitar solo follows suit, this time flowing from Kelly Kereliuk's fingers. I very much like this stuff. Peter Bardens (Camel) also seems to have been a source of inspiration. All very tasteful and extremely melodic, could have easily been on "Wind & Wuthering" or "Moonmadness". Halfway through, the pace slowly drops and vocals appear once again. John Mamone's electric guitar takes over the theme, alternated by or in duet with Baird's keyboards. Beautiful end also, the initial theme returns, impressive as a whole. True symphonic rock that occasionally gives me goose bumps. Particularly strong song and clear proof of the capabilities of the Canadian trio plus temps on guitar.

Many compliments for the music on Baird's and friends’ second album. But there is also some criticism, for instance the drums do not sound all that well, unfortunately. In addition, the bass should sound a little more adventurous, I think. In their defence, you may argue how difficult it is to counterbalance those extremely dominant keys. In the past, I sometimes used to complain about the lack of creativity and prominent presence of a good keyboardist. Here, however, I'm just being waited on hand and foot: Baird is both, and more.

A lot of references too, but certainly not the worst, I dare say. It's just a search for a truly unique sound of their own, but if successful (Charlie's Kitchen vs Sand?) we are in for quite a treat from the Canadians. There will soon be sufficient space on the Canadian musical horizon now that both Rush and Saga have announced their farewell, at least from the international stage. There is a lot of potential here, especially the keyboard parts and the inventive melodic themes are a strong point of Baird and his companions. Personally, I would like to see some more balance between keys and guitars, as is the case with Sand and Back to the Start. But this is definitely an excellent album, especially if you're a fan of 'old school' keyboards. We look forward to follow the tracks of the sovereign in search of new musical directions and adventures.

Review: Alex Driessen ©2017

Sky Architect - Nomad

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The Dutch progressive rock band Sky Architect has released its fourth studio album entitled "Nomad" in June, the album was released through the record label Freia music. According to a press release produced by the band, for the new album they originally intended to focus on less complex material, more song-based in their own words. In addition, it was important for them to write the album together as a band, as they did on our first CD, "Excavations Of The Mind", at the time as students at the conservatory.

This noble endeavour proved to be a bit harder in practice: all band members had flown out due to work and different places of residence, which made it nearly impossible to write and record. Eventually, they managed to get together at a give time after which creativity could flow freely. The original plan of simple, shorter songs was abandoned quickly, after which the band returned to the more extensive songs. "No problem, this seems to be what we do best ..." is the short but powerful commentary of the band. So noted.

Sky Architect is a young Rotterdam band. Although the band is labelled as 'progressive rock', the band prefers us to listen to their music without restrictions i.e. preconceived notions. Since its foundation in 2008, three albums were released, "Excavations of the Mind" (2010), "A Dying Man's Hymn" (2011) and "A Billion Years of Solitude" (2013). Their new album, "Nomad, their fourth, marks a new era. A band to keep an eye on, this review of the new album is as good a start as any.

Opening track Wasteland has a strong start with deviant rhythms and an organ, somewhat reminiscent of Gentle Giant, but a lot heavier, great drumming by Christiaan Bruin. The pace picks up a little bit and is followed by a dreamy section featuring Tom Luchies on vocals. Endless Roads is one of the longest tracks on the album with a beautiful piece of flugelhorn by Rick van Honk. Clocking at over eleven minutes, it reminds me of Bill Bruford's early material. A spacey bit of guitar for accompaniment runs seamlessly into more heavy stuff on guitar and keyboards. Title track Nomad is completely different in terms of music and structure, a relatively short and fast, almost 'punky' song with vocals and choruses, via a jazzy piece back to prog, quite unusual but certainly not bad. Dune starts mysteriously and dark, the voice of singer Luchies is well suited for this type of music. The space between the notes is excellently used, the melodic guitar solo of Wabe Wieringa closely matches the 'feel' of this atmospheric song with its heavy finale.

Sandwalker is once again a long song at about nine and a half minutes and starts with the well-known quirkyrhythm and melody that we know so well from the likes of Gentle Giant but also Spock's Beard. A beautiful prog piece with Jan Akkerman-like guitar style (!) is followed by somewhat pale vocals. The potential is present, surely, maybe could do with a bit more power. At the same time I fully realize that the vocals with progressive rock bands will always be a source of discussion. A strong jazzy feeling here, further emphasized by a Bruford-like shuffle from Bruin on drums. A bold mix of prog and fusion.

Race To The Sun is the shortest song on the new album, a sharp song with heavy guitar play and lyrics about the (rat) race we live in. Closing track Into Singularity is the longest number on the new CD with almost twelve minutes. Multiple vocals and proggy guitars, referring somewhat to King Crimson. Guus van Mierlo's bass returns to the theme of Race to the Sun at some point. Pretty fierce, complex and ambitious, multiple listening is necessary to fully comprehend the music. But if you do then there's a lot to enjoy, what about the amazing flugelhorn trumpet solo, sheer brilliance. We are taking back control!

Four years have passed between the release of their one but last and the new album. The long break has worked out well as far as I am concerned. The quintet has delivered an excellent album with exciting and inventive music at the crossroads of prog and fusion, well worth the effort. Compliments also for Christiaan Bruin's cover design, an intriguing image that fits perfectly with the mysterious and idiosyncratic music by the five musicians. They have once again regained control.

 

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Procol Harum - Novum

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In my conclusion and summary at the end of the review of Procol Harum's live performance at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer in May 2016, I wrote, inter alia, about the feeling that I might have witnessed one of the ultimate pop icons perform live for the last time. I also expressed hope that I would be proven wrong. And fortunately, the latter seems to be the case. Not only are they back but stronger than ever, with a new album, the first since 14 years, and a tour in September. While he looked so fragile and so very old, bandleader/composer/lead singer/keyboardist Gary Brooker, because, of course, it's him whom I'm talking about. Meanwhile, he has reached the respectable age of 72, and this year he and his band celebrate their 50th anniversary. Please take a seat, five decades, almost a lifetime. It's been quite some time since the ensemble around Brooker exists, because that is really what it is these days, a varying group of outstanding musicians around it's helmsman. Although, in truth, the line-up hasn't really changed that much during recent years, the latest personnel change dates back to 2006, the addition of drummer Geoff Dunn during live performances.

The album was largely recorded live in the studio and, according to Brooker, it was a genuine group effort. The lyrics didn't come from usual suspect Keith Reid this time but were written by Pete Brown, famous for his work for, among others, Cream. And this is noticeable, the lyrics are sharp and contemporary and tougher than before. The same goes for the music, this is not a band of old-age pensioners resting on their laurels (could have). The music is bursting with energy and sharpness, alternately bluesy rockers, soaring ballads and proggy tunes. The latter category is a minority, mind you. Brooker is obviously in his element with this band, which has been together for more than 11 years. Especially his duets with long-term buddy Geoff Whithorn on electric guitar are magic moments on this new album. The joy of playing is remarkable, in interviews Brooker reports there were no moments of aggravation, jealousy nor any other annoyances. Just like a band should be, he adds.

After years of legal battles and personal distress (broken ribs due to a fall in Finland, poisoning in Africa and, more recently, a fall during a performance with a symphony orchestra in England), the quintet is back where they belong: in the spotlight of the rock scene. The album is, in all respects, a worthy sequel to "The Well's on Fire" dating back from 2003. The band sounds tight and intense, not surprisingly after more than a decade of live performances, but the highlight is and remains of course that great voice. Although occasionally a bit rough around the edges, Brooker's recognizable dark-brown vocals define what Procol Harum really is all about, in my humble opinion. There will be few singers like him who, after half a century, have lost relatively little power. Time to renew our acquaintance.

As an opener to the new album, I Told On You, comes through strongly, Procol Harum as we know it: a rocky song with Brooker's distinctive voice against a piano accompaniment and pivotal electric guitar. Last Chance Motel is a ballad that provides an excellent platform for his expressive voice, the lyrics are about a murderous end to an affair out of wedlock. Image Of The Beast rocks steadily and infectiously with a beautiful piano solo halfway through. The glorious ballad Soldier, with social criticism lyrically, is followed by Don't Get Caught, a solid rock ballad with a lovely piece of organ in Matthew Fisher's best tradition, this time by Josh Phillips.

Neighbor shows the humorous side of the band: "he's my neighbor but I wish he did not have to live next door". Merry music with choruses that seem to come right out of the pub. Sunday Morning may very well be the best song on the new album. The song is slightly reminiscent of A Whiter Shade or Pale and/or A Salty Dog, the ballad is treated to a wonderful string arrangement. Businessman is a welcome return to rock. The story of the a-moral, pocket-lining businessman (sigh) is enhanced by the strong rhythm section and hefty guitarplay. Can't Say That, the longest track at more than seven minutes, is a solid rocker featuring guitarist Whithorn and Matt Peg's driving bass, the biting lyrics are about a former manager.

The Only One is one of my personal favourites on the album, a souring ballad with delicious old-fashioned vocals from Brooker, reminiscent of the older work of the band i.e. Homburg. "I am the only one and when everything is done I'm gone". Simply stunning. Somewhen is the closing track of the new album, Brooker, alone behind the piano, an appropriate ending. "We'll meet again, some way, somehow, somewhere".

The combination of sharp lyrics and live recorded music still renders Procol Harum extremely vital after five decades. I'm already looking forward to the live performance of the band on September 7th at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer. Proof of the fact that I'm not the only one who sees it this way is the fact that the gig has been completely sold out for quite some time. True fans may also go to Heerlen or Hengelo to see the quintet play, but please hurry. Half a century after their highly praised debut, Procol Harum is fully back on the scene, even though it must be said they never really left. Not as proggy as before but the quality of the compositions and its musical performance still stands out. But, let's not forget, long before the iconic prog bands of the era (Yes, ELP, Genesis, King Crimson) made their first steps on the slippery path of progressive music (at the time still qualified as 'symphonic'), Procol Harum, together with The Moody Blues, had paved the way with their mix of rock and classical music. Credit where credit is due.

 

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Sunrise Auranaut - The Ocean Of Unspoken Words

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Sunrise Auranaut is a Russian studio project, led by multi-instrumentalist and composer Vitaly Kiselev who makes music on the cutting edge of progressive, art, crossover and symphonic rock inspired by the classic 70's prog school. Kiselev names the creativity of Genesis, Yes, ELP, Camel, Uriah Heep, Eloy and Hawkwind as his main influences.
Between 2009 and 2012 he produced three demo albums, "Childhood's End?", "Way Of The King" and "The First Cosmic". It takes a while before they are discovered by the French Museums Records, they will not be officially released until 2013 and 2015 respectively. All of them are instrumental albums, written and produced by Kiselev. Central themes are, not surprisingly looking at the titles, early childhood, a king's life and outer space. The latter is a more recurring theme in the work of the musical centipede, in interviews he states he is also strongly inspired by everything that has to do with science fiction and astronomy.

The studio sessions for "The First Cosmic" began in March 2014, all instruments were played and recorded by him, from electric guitar, acoustic guitar to synthesizers, while bass and drums came about digitally. Even the album cover was designed by the multi talented Russian, in addition, he also took care of production.

"The Ocean Of Unspoken Words" is already the fourth studio album by Vitaly Kiselev alias Sunrise Auranaut. It is once again fully instrumental and recorded in his own modest private studio. As always, Kiselev used some of his old ideas, which were in an embryonic state and transformed them into complex musical forms. Also influences of classical music, such as Peter Tchaikovsky and Edward Grieg, are perceptible. Orchestrations, the sounds of classical pianos and organs, wrapped in a 70's retro style, combined with heavy guitar riffs and a variety of modern (and old-fashioned) synthesizer sounds are used. Kiselev has once again played all the electric and acoustic guitar and bass parts and, in line with his previous work, has assumed both the role of producer, recording engineer and cover designer.

 

Remarkably, all the synthesizer parts on the new album were played by Alexander Malakhov, apparently Kiselev was not too keen to take them on as well, this time. The recordings lasted about two years, the album was released in May and contains a total of nine pieces which together last just over fifty minutes. A kind of one-man band, this Russian Mike Oldfield, but then again somewhat different. But what does all of this sound like, in spite of what the biography wants us to think. Let's have a go and listen to it.

Opening track Perseids has an interesting Sky-referencing sound, orchestral with Oldfield-like guitar riff, certainly not a bad introduction. In A Room With Many Mirrors is a relatively short number with piano and mini-Moog, including quite a heavy orchestration, sometimes he goes a little overboard. Associations with Barock Project here as well. Bombastic church organ with a lot of solo work on the mini-Moog, best describes The Last Meeting. By contrast, Who Is There? is a strange set of sounds and influences from Mike Oldfield, especially in the guitar sound. A church organ here, a Prophet synth there, a bit of a strange mix of sounds, the consistency is sometimes gone, quite abrupt ending as well.

Titletrack The Ocean Of Unspoken Words starts quite atmospheric and at a low pace, the latter changes quickly. Interesting number with classical influences in a pastoral atmosphere, clocking in at just over seven minutes. There they are again, mini-Moog and canned drums, church organ and classical orchestration on Free Wind And Home Draft, it's starting to get a bit boring, to be quite honest. The Secrets Of Nightlife is a slow-pace ballad with fusion-like intonations, Kiselev shows some nice ideas here. The Great Dumb (Cinema) is probably the most proggy song in terms of rhythm and instrumentation. A duel of guitar versus Hammond and, once again, the inevitable mini-Moog, never thought that I would become allergic to this iconic instrument. The drum computer closes all the gaps, most unfortunately.

The final song, Late Night Is Early Morning (After The Holiday), also the longest number with eight and a half minutes, is definitely the most interesting song on the album. Hackett/Oldfield-like guitar work dominates, maybe this is the future, the best part of the album as far as I'm concerned. A better balance between guitar and keys too, promising to say the least.

With his fourth album Vitaly Kiselev produced a decent piece of home cooking, a nice collection of cute ideas and sounds. Unfortunately, the whole is incoherent, the compositions are not sticking, it's lacking recognizable hooks and/or riffs and stays a bit in the embryonic stages. In some moments interesting and exciting, busy and nervous at times and sometimes just downright tiresome and boring. The fact that the album is entirely instrumental does not help distinguishing the various songs.

It's too much inconsistent, he is evidently still looking for his own style. Not so strange if you want to do everything on your own, it would be nice if someone in his entourage would counteract from time to time. Sufficient interesting ideas, mind you, especially the closing Late Night Is Early Morning (After The Holiday) is promising. Perhaps this track offers him a starting point for the continuation of his musical career. 

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Kim Seviour - Recovery is Learning

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Kim 'Elkie' Seviour is probably best known as lead singer of the progressive rock band Touchstone. Now there's the unavoidable step towards a solo artist's career, she recently signed with White Star Records, run by John Mitchell (Arena, Lonely Robot, Frost*, Kino, It Bites) and Chris Hillman (not from The Byrds). Mitchell has written and produced the album together with Seviour. Logically, Seviour is very happy with the collaboration of the musical centipede. She calls it a great joy to write with Mitchell and expresses her gratitude and excitement at the same time for the opportunity she was offered. It's a meetingof their worlds and styles and she can't wait to let others hear what this unique combination has created. Beautiful words of praise from Seviour for her musical partner, wondering if she actually sounds as good as she wants us to believe. John Mitchell is as fond of Kim as she is of him, not really surprising. They have known each other for quite a long time and her voice fits well with his ideas about music.

The album is partly autobiographical, the recovery from the album title has multiple meanings. The singer says about this recovery: "It began with the desire to write about what I had already learned about my own health and the experiences of recovery. I was unexpectedly taken ill when writing which actually delayed the writing process so that the second part of the writing process has everything to do with my own fight for recovery, making the album a purefying experience, a real self-fulfilling prophecy." She finally won the battle with ME/CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), winning over rock audiences must be relatively easy for her.

The album starts very promising, opening track Chiasma has a modern and full-bodied sound, John Mitchell's production is immediately recognizable, especially by the keyboard arrangements and the guitar solos. It's somewhat reminiscent of Steve Thorne's music (also with Mitchell's co-operation). A strong number to start with. Call To Action is power rock with multiple voices from the talented Seviour, her voice is melodic and powerful. Atmospheric piano and guitar sounds cut through the musical force somewhat. Connect, however, is more of the same, certainly no bad vocals, but it does not really stick, the same goes for the composition. Fabergé, on the other hand, is a beautiful ballad with guitar solo and takes care of the necessary breath of fresh air. Mother Wisdom has an undeniable Lonely Robot intro (Why do we stay?). This mid-tempo song is another strong melodic song. On The Dive we once again have that beautiful and distinctive guitar of Mitchell's combined with the soaring voice of our leading lady. Then a ballad, for a change, Where She Sleeps slows down the pace somewhat. Recovery Is Learning is the all-important title song of the album, a beautiful piano intro with the solitary voice of Seviour accompanied by a string quartet slowly develops into a strong number, the instrumentation gets increasingly robust. A short but heavy guitar riff halfway makes it a great song with head and tail. Morning Of The Soul is a strong closing track to this debut album, showing how well Kim Seviour's voice and John Mitchell's guitar sound connect. It's more pop-rock than prog-rock but who cares.

Kim Seviour has delivered a great debut album under the production of John Mitchell. Admittedly, it's not really prog, at best it's neo-prog, strongly leaning towards Lonely Robot, melodious and sharp in composition, with excellent production from the versatile Mitchell. Who has managed to put Seviour's voice in the centre of the mix, which works perfectly. If Kim is as good a keyboardist as she is a singer, this may provide for an interesting double-act at live performances together with Mitchell's Lonely Robot. Will definitely be continued. Beautiful cover design by the way.
 

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

The Watch - Seven

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In my review of The Watch's performance earlier this year, in March in Zoetermeer, I suggested that the band, in my opinion, has become somewhat of a prisoner of its own success. I was talking about the fact that they successfully performed integral versions of Genesis’ albums like "Nursery Crime" and "Tresspass" and in this particular case "Foxtrot" from 1972, live on stage. The Italians, however, possess an arsenal of extremely original music, although obviously inspired by the British super group. At the time of the concert, the new studio album, "Seven", was announced by frontman/singer/founder Simone Rossetti, as well as the collaboration with Steve Hackett. I then remarked that it was high time for a concert with only original music, based around the new album and highlighting some of the songs on the first six albums, and that's really a lot.

Well, finally, "Seven" has seen the light at the end of May. It's already the seventh studio album and the sequel to the underrated "Tracks from the Alps" from 2014. It's no surprise to those people that have been following the band for a while that the music is the continuation of previous albums. Which are, in turn, strongly inspired by the Genesis 1970-1974 era, the Gabriel years, so to speak. This is partly due to their fascination with the British icons, but is further enhanced by the fact that the voice of singer Simone Rossetti has a strong resemblance to that of a young Peter Gabriel. If you have a guitarist in the ranks who seems to sound more like Steve Hackett than the man himself, at times, then the musical style and preference of the band is quickly explained.

And, once again, there is a lot to enjoy on the new album, which kicks off immediately with opening track Blackest Deeds, the opening notes are unmistakable, just like the pace- and mood changes within the approximately six-minute number. Half-way through there’s a Hackett-like solo against a veil of keyboards making it a strong opener. Disappearing Act is a mid-tempo song with a twist, a fairly innovative song and rather dissimilar to previous work, it may take some getting used to, but very enjoyable indeed. Aforementioned innovation does not really apply to Masks, which could have come from the most recent album, due to the rhythm and mellotron- and organ sound. And let’s not forget Giorgio Gabriel's guitar solo.

Copycat is another typical The Watch number, guaranteed recognition with a wide variety of pace and mood changes, twelve-string guitar and mellotron, just as many a progfan would like to hear. Compliments for son Mattia Rossetti who uses the bass guitar (and the twelve string) in a very melodic way. The relatively short It's Only a Dream (3:24) reminds me of songs like For Absent Friends, acoustic guitars and multi-voice vocals. The drum computer gives it a modern touch. Tightrope clocks in at seven minutes and brings the familiar idiom that the Watch seems to have patented, including flute and strong acoustic feel.

The Hermit comes from the iconic solo debut of Steve Hackett, "Voyage Of The Acolyte" from 1975, and fits surprisingly well with the band's own material. The master himself plays the twelve-string guitar part, Giorgio Gabriel is responsible for the electric solo at the end. The latter is labelled as "madman" by the first because he plays the famous Horizons on a twelve-string guitar during live concerts while six strings are difficult enough. After the Blast is the closing song of the album and it's also the longest at almost eight minutes. The song starts quietly and you promptly ask yourself when it all starts. That happens quickly enough and slowly but surely an epic song develops which could very well become a crowd favourite, especially during live performances. Excellent closing number of a varied and highly qualitative piece of work from the Milan quintet.

Some small criticism: the fire is sometimes lacking, some pieces might have been a bit more powerful, perhaps the live performances will add the necessary power. The total playing time is just over 47 minutes, not too long, but I quite prefer a short, high-quality album to an artificially stretched piece of lesser quality. Special mention also for Lana Tustich's cover design.

Last but not least, the references to Genesis, you can’t escape from it. But it’s by no means a copy(cat), the sound of the band itself is sufficiently recognizable and unique, never a need to call it an epigone. The band has once again proven to be an asset to the progressive (symphonic) rock genre, with this seventh studio album. And if they want to play some songs from the British legends during their live shows, well, who am I to judge?

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Magenta - We Are Legend

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Very recently, in April this year, "We Are Legend" the excellent new studio album of the multi-award winning progressive rock band Magenta was released, the band's seventh studio album and the sequel to "Twenty Seven Club" from 2013. The new album consists of three long tracks, two pieces of 11 minutes and a 26-minute epic, entitled Trojan. "We Are Legend" marks a first for Magenta, as it's the first album where the live and the studio line-up are the same.

Keyboardist/composer Rob Reed says: “It was time to try something different, musically and lyrically. I’ve always kept to a relatively small musical pallet with the previous albums, but I felt that we had reached a crossroads and wanted to try something new. Magenta have gone through a lot since the last album, especially lead vocalist Christina, so I think we feel we have something to prove with: ‘We Are Legend’ … So be prepared!” The "We" are Christina Booth (vocal), Rob Reed (keys/guitars), Chris Fry (guitars), Dan Nelson (bass) and Jon 'Jiffy' Griffiths (drums). Christina Booth was once again honoured with the "Best Female Vocalist" award at the Classic Rock Society Awards. During the same event, Rob Reed was elected "Best Keyboardist".

Opening track Trojan is of epic size. An atmospheric keyboard intro, referring to Vangelis, quickly transforms into a Hackett-like song with excellent guitar play by the versatile Fry. References also to Yes, and fortunately, here it is again, the distinctive, unique voice of Booth. If you haven't figured it out yet, the new Magenta has got off to a fine start. Progressive or symphonic music, if you like, of top quality. Nice and heavy too, up-tempo, Dan Nelson's bass pounds on, while newcomer Jon 'Jiffy' Griffiths shows clearly why he is chosen by the band as their new drummer. Halfway through, the foot comes off the pedal with soaring vocal pieces, both solo and harmony, and lots of space for Rob Reed's keyboards. A Floydian guitar supports a heavy rhythm section and sound bytes interrupt the relative peace. 'I look around in disbelief', Christina Booth sings, her high notes reminds me of that other female prog icon, Annie Haslam, who incidentally has collaborated with the band in the past. The lyrics are again written by Steve Reed, Rob's older brother. The story of Trojan is about giant robots coming from the oceans, filled with a banned people. The classic Trojan horse story. By the end, there's shameless use of Nick Mason's signature percussion (Time!), as a backdrop for the singing voice of little nightingale Booth. Then we return to the theme from the beginning, the song begins and ends with Chris Fry's 'Hackett' guitar, and music referring to Yes. Over 26 minutes pure prog by the quintet from Wales.

The song reminds me somewhat of "Close To The Edge", the legendary album from Yes from 1972. Not directly in terms of the music but more in terms of structure: one long song with several multi-layered movements, just like only Yes could do in its heydays. Nevertheless, it never turns into a pastiche, a copy, the band manages to maintain its own unique sound, despite all references. You can't escape from making comparisons with the great icons of prog. As usual, there are two sides to this: on the one hand, the band is apparently unable to free themselves from the familiar idiom. On the other hand, great that they have been able to know the genre backwards, from Yes via Hackett to Pink Floyd, they master it all.

 

Colours really kicks in hot and heavy, after a nice intro with tiny bells. Great prog song featuring Fry, Booth and Reed. The latter regularly produces nice short, pointed solos, whilst also being responsible for the heavy movie score-like orchestration. Then Fry switches over to his Gilmour mode and the pace slows down a little, with room for Booth to shine. Beautiful swinging middle section as well. 'Set me free' sings Booth, almost in desperation, in this song about Vincent Van Gogh's tragic but magical life. By the end I hear some influences from Steven Wilson (The Raven that refused to sing) without being too disturbing. At almost eleven minutes an excellent song.

Legend is the third and last song on the album. It seems a bit more straight up and down, even angular. Christina Booth' voice against the background of an acoustic guitar and repetitive bass loop is quite impressive. 'One love, share a single tear', Legend is about zombie vampires, originally it was about the last person on earth (I Am Legend/The Omega Man). The song is a bit more in the direction of Marillion, perhaps it's due to the guitar and the recorded sounds. However, halfway through the guitar heads into a completely different direction and wrong-foots us. Tribute to the rhythm section of Nelson and Griffiths, their contribution is spectacular. Booth's vocals are superb, almost completely solo without accompaniment. Together with Fry's guitar, she brings the song to a fitting end with a majestic sounding finish, in the best symphonic tradition.

The final track lasts eleven minutes. Once again, the comparison with "Close To The Edge" is nearby: one long track covering the entire first side of the album (LP) and two shorter tracks, together comprising of the other side. Although somewhat short, the total playing time of approximately 48 minutes is sufficient not to make you feel uncomfortable. And let's be honest, we often see bands that want to release two CDs, no matter what the costs, whereupon the conclusion is justified that half of the music on offer would have been sufficient (Neal Morse, Dream Theater).

In brief, Magenta has produced an excellent album, in the best tradition of progressive rock music. Despite the references to other artists and the desire expressed by Reed to try something new, the band has remained faithful to its own sound; you could even say that they have returned to the sound of the successful albums "Seven" (2004) and "Home" (2006). Moreover, it's great to hear Christina Booth once again, completely recovered after a horrible period, her unique voice has not suffered noticeably by the horror of her cancer treatment. Magenta is also performing live again, according to the website, a number of performances took place in the UK, in April. And also good news for the Dutch fans of the band: it was announced recently that the band will be participating in the seventh edition of the now-famous Progdreams Festival at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer in March next year. Definitely something to look forward to. 

Review: Alex Driessen ©2017

Hidden Lands - Halcyon

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Hidden Lands is a band originating from the Swedish band Violent Silence, they have been active since 2012. So far, the band produced two albums, "In Our Nature" (2012) and "Lycksaligheden" (2014) on the Swedish Prog- Label Progress Records. To date, the sound was dominated by keys and a strictly "no guitar" policy was applied. But this has changed on their new album "Halcyon" which was released in February this year. Keyboardist Hannes Ljunghall apparently rediscovered the pleasure to play the guitar, always his true first instrument. The keyboards are still prominent within Hidden Lands’ music, but you could say that the band has expanded its musical palette. The band consists of aforementioned keyboardist/guitarist/composer/bandleader Hannes Ljunghall, singer Bruno Edling, bassist Phillip Bastin and drummer Gustav Nyberg.

 

This is my first encounter with the Swedish band Hidden Lands, and I was amazed to read that this was a band that was dead set against the use of guitars on their albums, at least until now. I consider myself a great fan of the six (and sometimes eight- or twelve-) string instrument. But then just at the right time, with the new album, they decide to bring back the guitar to the sound of the group, to my great relief. However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, as the saying goes, listening is key therefore.

 

Opening track The Prince of Goofs begins with a somewhat mysterious synthesizer intro and evolves gradually into a mid-tempo progrock song with complex rhythms and bass loops. It took some time to get used to the voice of singer Bruno Edling, reminds me somewhat of Airbag vocalist Asle Tostrup. Nice keyboard solo as well as guitar riff by Hannes Ljunghall, certainly no unpleasant start of the album. Water Spirit is, at just over ten minutes, one of the longer songs on the album. Keys and guitars compete for priority during the intro, after which a complete mood and instrumentation change unfolds with a piece referring to Opeth. The keyboard solo, reminding me strongly of Kit Watkins' Happy the Man, is relieved by a knife-edge guitar solo, interesting track. Ulleråker is the name of a town near Uppsala, north of Stockholm. But also the title of the third song of the new album. A strange intro with piano improvisations is followed by synthesizer sounds that slowly but surely take shape during this fully instrumental number.

No one is in this for love is quite a different animal, with its drums, guitar dominated riffs and Opeth-like vocals and song structure. Beautiful melodies from both keys and guitars halfway through the song, I keep my ears wide open, strong song with a heavy finish. Excellent drumming too by Gustav Nyberg. The Silent Service is, with more than ten minutes, one of the longer tracks on the new album. Slow pace, piano, vocals and an almost jazzy feel, at least during the first part. I can hear distant references to Canterbury bands like Caravan and to a lesser extent Camel. Dreamy symphonic song with strong vocals from singer Endling, a personal favorite of mine. The song runs virtually seamlessly into Songbirds. Vocalist Endling really excels, especially in the higher regions, during this melodic song with repetitive elements, complex rhythms and tasteful organ play. And what about the melodic and wah-wah pedal inspired guitar solo, I very much like it. Octavius ​​is the shortest number, fully instrumental with jazz-rock-related rhythms, the by now well-known keyboard play of Ljunghall and a rather abrupt ending.

 

Rooftop Farewell is the final track on “Halcyon” and probably the most accessible, or rather commercial piece on the album. The Canterbury influences are very clear here, and I don’t mean this in a negative way. This melodic mid-tempo song offers plenty of space for vocals accompanied by acoustic guitars and keyboards, with a leading role for Philipp Bastin's delicious bass loops. And what about the unison duet between the guitar and the keys halfway through the song. Towards the end, Llunghall turns on his Watkins vibrato, we are now in the mid-1970s, followed by a guitar section which could easily pass as a tribute to the recently deceased Allan Holdsworth, there’s a lot to enjoy.

Again, I do not know the previous albums of Hidden Lands’, but I think the balance between guitar and keys on this album is well above average, especially for a band that, until recently, had considered the first instrument to be a taboo. Well done by these Scandinavians, but it also means that the music is quite varied in terms of style. 'Any downside always has its upside' once said famous footballer Johan Cruijff, but of course this can easily be reversed too. In this particular case, this leads to a sometimes inexplicable difference between one track and the next, making it really difficult to pin down the music of the band. Quite a difference between the first half of the album and the second, I think this would work really well in an LP format. Somewhere between Opeth and Caravan with surprising and inventive keyboard play and sufficient use of the guitar to make sense to guys like me, would be my qualification. Certainly not a bad album by the Swedes, this may qualify as a successful introduction as far as I am concerned.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017             

Barock Project - Detachment

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Most recently, on March 20 2017 to be exact, Barock Project released its sixth album, a new CD entitled "Detachment". The fifth studio album by the Italian band marks the second decade of the history of the band and a steady rise in the progressive symphonic rock world. Following the earlier release of "Skyline" (2015) and double live CD "Vivo" (2016), acclaimed by the international press, the band releases a brand new album after spending almost a full year in the studio after the departure of former singer Pancaldi. Thirteen songs that take the listener on a magical musical tour of rock, symphonic-, jazz, folk, metal, electronic and even patches of eastern and flamenco music. All of this led by the versatile instrumentalist Luca Zabbini, this time also acting as lead vocalist, but especially as unstoppable composer and heart and soul of Barock Project.

The musical approach remains elegant, earnest, communicative, respectful of tradition, but in line with today's musical evolution. Special guest on "Detachment" is the British singer Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales, Camel, Red Bazar, Colin Tench Project). He wrote three beautiful lyrics and his warm and magical voice can be heard on two tracks.

The undeniable talent of Zabbini (33) comes to full fruition on this new album without him denying his roots. Hats off for so much musicality and courage, a relatively young musician, with his fifth, and to some extent most crucial, studio album. He was born in 1984, near Bologna, in a very musical family, dad's a flautist/saxophonist, there's a drummer-uncle and his grandfather is a pianist. At five he received his first piano lessons, learned of the existence of ELP at nine and discovered the guitar at the age of twelve. He graduated at the age of twenty and wrote music for numerous films and documentaries before he was influenced in particular by Keith Emerson, whom he calls his musical guide, and Bach and his band Barock Project was founded in 2003, a dream come true. We are now five studio albums and one live album on, and it is clear that the prog world has gained a great talent.

"Detachment" is an album far more straight and essential than previous, less muscle and more substantial elegance, a choice made for a communicative reason that is perhaps more directed to the band itself. As announced by Zabbini: “I started so many years ago writing music to feel good, I think this is the main reason why I do it. And at times you realize that you can do very well without writing long and complex suites, basically forced by the fact that this music labeled 'prog' must necessarily have all these features to be it. But I think that this, too, can be considered kind of a ”Detachment” … and so I felt free to write more easily. I always thought that if the music I write comes from within then it is honest. And if I’m honest with myself, I’m happy.” Thus, bandleader/composer/keyboardist/vocalist Zabbini.

For me personally the brief joint appearance of Messrs Zabbini and Jones during Progdreams VI at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer in March was undoubtedly he highlight of the festival. Together they played Alone from the new Barock Project album, written by Jones. I've gone as far as to declare these two men as musical geniuses and I still stand behind my words. The musicality was just oozing, apparently it propels them to great heights as used to be the case with the giants of symphonic rock in the early seventies. So I was very curious about the new Barock Project album on which this unusual cooperation took shape in the form of three songs. Well, this album, "Detachment", is out now and I can only say that, for me, high expectations are fully met. Let's have a listen.

The album opens with Driving Rain, a brief but intriguing piano intro which flows seamlessly into Promises, 'something completely different' to once again quote Monty Python. A modern (prog)rock song with vocoder-like vocals and complex drum rhythms from Eric Ombelli complete with heavy shredder guitar and synthesizer solos. In the next song we directly encounter the first highlight of the album. Happy To See You, co-written by Peter Jones, is an excellent track, from the very melodic piano intro to the drum samples and the clear voice of Luca Zabbini. The lyrics of Jones merges wonderfully with the famous baroque sound of the ensemble. Lovely guitar at the end as well, more than seven and a half minutes of very enjoyable music. One Day is about the same length as the previous number. An acoustic intro with guitar, piano and Zabbini's voice, against a background of a chorus and strings. Vaguely reminiscent of Jethro Tull, perhaps down to the presence of a flute. The song develops into a mature rock song with sparkling piano playing by the protagonist of this story, beautiful symphonic ending, too. 

Secret Therapy starts with oriental sounds, and is somewhat poppy of character especially during the chorus, it is the least proggy song on the album. I hear something of Moon Safari in the choruses. But Zabbini had previously announced to feel less bound by the prescribed style format, so there you have it. Another highlight is Broken, written and sung by the illustrious Peter Jones, with over nine minutes the longest track on the album. A floating piano intro and Jones' lead vocals, with slight references to 10CC, announcing the start of a symphonic masterpiece. Excellent drumming, lots of strings, rhythm changes and the characteristic baroque piano style of Zabbini do the rest. The guitar work of Marco Mazzuoccolo must not go unmentioned, and Jones and Ludovica Zanasi jointly sing the song to an emotional end. Old Ghosts is an up-tempo song with rich instrumentation, sound effects and surprising twists and turns. 

Alone is the famous song which I referred to previously, another highlight thanks to the perfect and emotional vocals of Peter Jones. Doesn't this man brilliantly conveys a sense of melancholy. "So what becomes of me, a lost and lonely man." With over three minutes, this ballad is perhaps a little on the short side. Goosebumps moment and a small gem. Rescue Me is quite different stuff altogether, the tempo goes up, excellent drummer, this Ombelli. Compact rock song with good vocals and strong rhythmic guitar without forgetting some good soloing. 

Nicholas Merzi plays a leading role on his acoustic guitar alongside Luca Zabbini's vocals during the first half of Twenty Years, at times even a bit too sweet for my taste. Halfway down the song pace, volume and intensity pick up and we are treated to a raging (electric) guitar from his colleague Marco Mazzuoccolo and almost classical sounds from the vast keyboard arsenal of Zabbini. Somewhat reminiscent of Kansas. Again, vocoder vocals and inventive drum parts during Waiting combined with sparkling keys and melodic bass lines. Intriguing number, ought to be worked out somewhat more, as far as I am concerned. 

A New Tomorrow clocks at over seven and a half minutes and is peppered with bagpipe sounds and harmony vocals that, once again, reminds me a little of the Swedes of Moon Safari. Almost classical sounding interlude after which guitar and Hammond organ bring the piece to a successful conclusion. Seven and a half minutes seems to be some kind of standard for Barock Project, there are four tracks that are almost exactly identical in playing time, Spies is no exception. The final number of "Detachment" starts with melodic vocals in mid-tempo, after which a wonderful combination of jazz and rock follows. The song ends with strong vocals and a swinging rhythm. 

Jubilant symphonic rock in the best tradition, with an extra emotional charge. Excellent vocals, not only by Jones, also from Zabbini himself, ex-vocalist Luca Pancaldi is barely missed and new vocalist Alex Mari will have to earn his place yet. The combination of instrumental and vocal sparkles particularly appeals to me. Extra praise is in order for drummer Eric Ombelli who is at his best on the new album. 

Many more unique sound, even, or perhaps especially in the absence of the straitjacket 'prog' hot. All this is fortunately not at the expense of the quality and depth of the music, on the contrary. No more comparisons, or, at most, only marginally. A style thus developed successful for me and certainly tastes for more. 

Barock Project has not only evolved but has still managed to remain true to their unique style. The new album sounds more modern, more diverse, more varied, and at times even heavier than the previous editions. It is an immaculate musical performance, both in terms of composition, performance and production. The new album has a total playing time of 75 minutes without a single weak number. If this is the way for Zabbini to free himself from the shackles of prog rock, I myself would gladly help him to a hacksaw. 

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Steve Hackett - The Night Siren

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Guitar virtuoso and rock legend, Steve Hackett has released his latest album "The Night Siren" on InsideOut Music (Sony) on March 24, 2017. As suggested in the title, "The Night Siren" is a wake-up call, a warning siren sounds in this era of strife and division. "The Night Siren", the twenty-fifth studio album by the master guitarist, will be released in several formats: a special edition CD / Blu-Ray Media Book with 5.1 surround sound mix including documentary about the making, a standard CD, a double LP in gatefold sleeve plus CD and as a digital download. The beautiful cover and photos are provided by iconphoto.ch.

Talking about his latest work, Steve says, "This latest waxing represents a bird's eye view of the world of a musical migrant ignoring borders and celebrating our common ancestry with a unity of spirit, featuring musicians, singers and instruments from all over the world. From territorial frontiers to walled-up gateways, boundaries often hold back the tide. But while the night siren wails, music breaches all defenses. To quote Plato, 'When the music changes, the walls of the city shake'."

"The Night Siren" proves that Steve's incredible way of guitar playing has lost none of its power, together with his backing band but also with musicians from different countries, Steve Hackett invited to celebrate the multicultural diversity and unity with him. This includes singers from Israel and Palestine, both actively campaign to bring together Jewish and Arab people. There are also instrumental tracks from the US and Iraq, and a multitude of sounds, including the exotic melodies of Indian sitar and tar from the Middle East, the ethnic beauty of the Peruvian charango and the haunting Celtic Uilleann bagpipe. As previously mentioned Hackett’s band is present again with one notable absentee: permanent bassist/vocalist Nick Beggs. However, Steven Wilson has also been busy in the studio at present, therefore choices have to be made. Dick Driver is an adequate substitute. Let's have a listen.

Opener Behind the Smoke, which lyrically deals with the situation of refugees throughout the ages, starts with an acoustic intro and vocals by Steve laced with heavy oriental sounds in the vein of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir, upon which the typical Hackett guitar sound takes over. Strong opener, clocking at almost seven minutes. Martian Sea is an up-tempo song with an Indian theme, a little light in character, somewhat Beatlesque partly due to the instrumentation, could have been from "Cured." Fifty Miles from the North Pole is typically Hackett, from the fifties like guitar riff at the beginning to the dreamy guitar and vocal sounds and from the angelic choir to the guitar crescendo. With just over seven minutes the longest track on the new album. El Niño is an instrumental song that starts with powerful drumming by Gary O'Toole, a string orchestra and typical Hackett guitar style,  occasionally reminiscent of his work at the time of "Defector". Hackett’s interpretation of the natural disaster of the hurricane ends as abruptly as it began.

Other Side of the Wall is a welcome respite after the heaviness of the previous track. Acoustic sounds with sweet vocals by the master himself, with ditto lyrics. Sure enough his singing has improved drastically, not always his strong point in the past. Anything but Love, Hackett goes Spanish, por favor. Flamenco sounds with lots of drumming on the guitar body, whereupon a Fleetwood Mac-like song unfolds, especially due to the pace and choruses with high Stevie Nicks content. Surprising harmonica solo, fortunately we have a rousing guitar solo towards the end. Inca Terra, the title says it all, South American influences, strong harmony vocals, almost Crosby, Stills & Nash goes Latin. But there it is again, that wonderful guitar swiftly played, referring to the better work of yesteryear, excellent song.

It's only a small step from the Peruvian mountains to the Scottish Glens, at least in Hackett's musical world. In Another Life has clear influences of the proud nation and rugged landscape in the north of the UK. Beautiful vocals and harmonies as well as bagpipe-like guitar work by the master. Authentic Celtic Uillean pipes courtesy of Troy Donockley at the end of the song give me goosebumps. The slow pace of In the Skeleton Gallery once again has slightly oriental influences. The contributions of Rob Townsend on saxophone and heavy guitar play by Hackett make this a typical characteristic Hackett song with two faces. West to East, written by Steve and wife Jo, along with Behind the Smoke, one of the theme songs of the new album. Beautiful harmony vocals, lyrics which forces us to think about the consequences of war and hope for a better world. Great song with catchy hook and slow fade-out, is definitely going to do well live.

The closing instrumental The Gift is the only song not (co-) written by Hackett. It is written by Leslie Bennett and Miriam Benedict Fenner and, with less than three minutes, the shortest song on the album. But certainly not the least, on the contrary, Hackett at best against a keyboard landscape created by Roger King, a brilliant sounding hopeful ending to the album.

"The Night Siren" is not a specific conceptual album, with the exception of said two songs that lyrically connect closely to the theme. The lyrics were written in close cooperation with wife Jo, mutually responsive to each other's sentences. For example, opening song Behind The Smoke was created that way. Not only characteristic of the broad migration of homeless people and refugees but also applicable to the ancestors of Hackett himself who, more than two hundred years ago, fled the horrors of contemporary Eastern Europe in search of a better future.

Remarkable vocals by the man who is primarily known for his guitar playing. And almost always looking for guest vocalists, some more successful (Steve Walsh, Ritchie Havens, Nad Sylvan) than others (Pete Hicks, Nad Sylvan). Apparently, with the increasing of the years, confidence in his own vocal abilities has grown as well. Certainly his most ambitious project to date, as he admits himself wholeheartedly in interviews. Not only in terms of themes and lyrics but also in terms of the instrumentation and the variety of guest musicians, providing a lot of diversity. It's definitely become a special album, in many respects. The strong vocals are striking, as already noted.

Do not expect "Voyage of the Acolyte" or "Spectral Mornings", the new songs are more in the range of "Defector", think of songs like The Steppes and Slogans, and more recently "Wolf Light". But the new album goes beyond repeating the past. Hackett remains curious and intriguing, and that is reflected in his music, no matter what you think of it, it’s always original. Hackett's compositions often have two faces, as he once said himself: a cross between Snow White and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As if two separate pieces were unscrupulously welded together, sometimes disturbing but always surprising.

Steve Hackett has once again produced an impressive album, I had to get used to at first, but there is much to enjoy. Mid April, he and his band will visit the Netherlands for two sold-out concerts at De Boerderij in Zoetermeer, convincing evidence of the popularity the grandmaster of prog still enjoys. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the classic Genesis album "Wind and Wuthering", several songs from this iconic album will be played. Definitely something to look forward to.

Review: Alex Driessen ©2017

Mike Oldfield - Return to Ommadawn

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Last year I noticed that a new Mike Oldfield album was in the making. During my review of the heavily Oldfield attributed "Sanctuary II" by Rob Reed, I got hold of a quote from the man himself on his Facebook page. He suggested working on the sequel to "Ommadawn" and reported that the scheduled date of release would be August (2016). I believe I stated somewhat jokingly that I hoped that the master was talking about that very same year. It turned out that I was closer to the truth than I bargained for. But in January 2017 at last, the long awaited new album, "Return to Ommadawn", was released.

With the iconic trio albums "Tubular Bells", "Hergest Ridge" and "Ommadawn" released within a period of three years, between 1973 and 1975, Mike Oldfield has created an enduring trinity of classic albums that overlap rock and classical music including, before those terms were even invented, new age and world music. These albums will forever remain Oldfield’s musical statement, they are closest to his true self. Since then he has revisited "Tubular Bells" a number of times: twice as a sequel and once in the form of a complete re-recording. However, the last album from the trio, "Ommadawn" has always been my favourite, and I'm not alone in that adoration, as we will find out later on.

The story of Oldfield is fairly known so I will limit myself to a brief summary. From very young virtuoso folk guitarist in the bands of his sister and later Kevin Ayers, to the first and most successful release of the newly founded Virgin label of young entrepreneur Richard Branson. Eventually to sell a staggering 17 million copies as a result. In the end "Tubular Bells" had become one of the most iconic albums of our time. But there were also the depressions and the development from musical hermit to world famous rock star and back again. Many, many albums later, good ("Discovery" from 1984 and "Man on the Rocks" from 2014) but also less good ("Earthmoving" from 1989), there was the ultimate tribute to his music in the form of an invitation to perform during the opening of the Olympic games in 2012 in London. Oldfield eventually played parts of "Tubular Bells" Far Above the Clouds and In Dulci Jubilo. The successful performance would lead to heightened interest in his extensive oeuvre.

But despite the fact that one would assume that this would be his ultimate pinnacle in fact it meant just the opposite for him. Again resulting in depressions, further fuelled by heavy personal losses in the form of the death of his 33-year-old son (a natural death) and his father. Until, of all things, his penchant for modern media would haul himself out of the crisis. For some time he had been kicking the idea around of recording and releasing ​​a new, more acoustically tinged album, with music closer to himself than most of his recent work. When he floated this idea to his followers on Facebook, a wave of incredible positive reactions broke loose. In his own words, it was a remark by Jean Michel Jarre, of all people, on his own Facebook page that made him finally decide to actually implement the idea.

The original "Ommadawn" album, dating from 1975, should be the basis for the idea, for the first time in nearly forty years after "Incantations" from 1978, a conceptual instrumental album consisting of two parts was born once again. With a predominantly acoustic and folky 'feel', close to the heart of the musician. No sooner said than done. That meant quite a search for the instruments that were used on the original album, from bodhrán and African drums to various guitars, keyboards, flutes and, last but not least, an authentic glockenspiel. Oldfield had decided that everything, and I mean absolutely everything, had to be played by himself, so no guest appearances this time. However, he makes use of a tiny piece of the choir section, used at the time of the original recordings, but it does actually function more as a bridge to the new album. The keyboards, including a Mellotron and Solina, proved to be a bigger obstacle, but thank God for the ingenious invention of so called plug-ins, problem solved.

While playing and messing with sounds and tapes, gradually a musical theme took shape. Oldfield claims to have really enjoyed both composing, playing and recording. Especially the acoustic guitars, always his preference, were embraced with love and played as if it were the first time. And you can hear the passion and freshness, the music literally bursts with enthusiasm.

I've always been a Mike Oldfield fan, already from the very first moment, with the emphasis on the first three legendary albums, but certainly also have my favourites among his later work. Have also seen him perform during the first concert ever in the Netherlands. With a full choir and orchestra and a band consisting of ten musicians with a.o. percussionist Pierre Moerlen (Gong), Maddy Prior (Steeleye Span) and guitarist Nico Ramsden (Rick Wakeman, Sad Café) in the ranks and led by conductor/keyboardist David Bedford, he gave a great live performance of his music at the Hague Congresgebouw in April 1979 at the time of the release of his instrumental masterpiece "Incantations". I was seated in one of the front rows and was blessed to be present at this majestic live performance by the musical genius and his band/orchestra. Fully dressed in a khaki outfit, like the approximately forty other musicians on stage, he made a lasting impression on the young prog fan at ringside. However, chances that we'll ever see him perform his latest album alive are small: responding to a question for this purpose he said recently that he only has a successful live performance in mind if there is a chance of him being cloned fifteen times. This is unlikely to happen, there are no plug-ins for this yet, unfortunately. For now we have to make do with an extremely attractive, excellent and successful return to Ommadawn.

Part I starts typically with flute, floating synth and acoustic guitar. The same guitar quickly became the main theme after the heavy but melodic bass and fuzzy guitar are added. The lovely bright tones of the acoustic guitar, he goes by himself in a duet at different pitches, call soon associations with his best work, the simplicity is contagious. If the various instruments come together, as in a crescendo, I cannot resist putting the volume of the stereo to a distinctive higher level.

Especially the prominent role of the acoustic guitars is remarkable, the pleasure that Oldfield had experienced when composing and playing, is quite obvious. The multi-instrumentalist still prefers working with his fingers, nails and strings, that much is clear. Almost cinematic, it is not difficult to evoke images of Scottish Highlands, the pristine landscape of Wales, and the rugged coastline of Ireland. Celtic references, typically British. While actually the album was fully produced and engineered in his private studio in the Bahamas, his domicile since 2009.

Understated, the minimalist and repetitive style of teacher Terry Riley remembered, the return to Ommadawn continues. And yes, here they are, halfway Part I, the famous hypnotic African drums against Oldfieldian chants, very recognizable without ever being a caricature or copy. One of his iconic solos on electric guitar is the introduction to an atmospheric acoustic closure of part I. Time to flip the record, for vinyl enthusiasts. Because yes, I almost forgot to say, composing and playing was done with an old-fashioned LP format in mind. So side 1 and 2 of a long-playing record, with about 20 minutes of playing time, just as we were accustomed once. Maybe somewhat short by today's standards but perfect for its purpose.

Side two, sorry Part II starts again subdued with a mandolin, flute and synth, quickly melded into an acoustic guitar in the best tradition of this musical centipede. After that follows a duet between acoustic and electric guitar(s), with his distinctive pivotal style of play, just brilliant. Goosebumps moments are abound, especially in duet with himself on guitar like the middle of part I and three-quarter through Part II. The folky tinted On Horseback at the end of Part II is a logical continuation of the end of the original album, including previously mentioned children's choir snippet and Gibson SG solo. The connection between old and new is made, the musical canvas is finished.

And the impact is immediately noticeable; I have played the album several times already and simply cannot get enough of it. With "Return to Ommadawn" Oldfield has delivered an excellent piece of work, that can stand the test of time, even compared to its legendary predecessor. Hopefully Oldfield can draw strength from the positive response from both the press and public, and will not let us wait as long next time for the successor to "Incantations". If it should ever come to that. Additional kudos for the wonderful atmospheric album cover art, the LP version comes in a beautiful gatefold sleeve. This album will certainly be eligible for the title "Album of the Year", no doubt about it.

Review © 2017 Alex Driessen

The Rome Pro(G)ject - The Rome Pro(G)ject II – Of Fate And Glory

The Rome Pro(G)ject is back! Three and half years after the success of the eponymous debut album, "The Rome Pro(G)ject" Steve Hackett on guitar (Genesis/GTR/solo), David Jackson on wind instruments (VDGG), Billy Sherwood on bass (Yes/Circa/solo) and Vincenzo Ricca on keyboards, along with a bunch of fantastic local musicians, have released their second album, "II - of Fate and Glory" in 2016. Not a bad company if you want to record an ambitious progressive rock album, yet the bar is set high.

The new album includes 66-minute of instrumental progressive rock, containing 10 songs plus a bonus track. As the title indicates, this is a musical story about the fate and the glory of ancient Rome, from the beginning dating from 753 BC up to the maximum territorial expansion, achieved in 117 AD, after 870 years of continuous conquests of the world as we knew it at the time. Not coincidentally, the album was released on April 21, the day of the 2769th anniversary of the founding of Rome. The members of this temporary joint venture surely cannot be denied a sense of history and tradition. The debut album was, as previously stated, fairly well received by press and public, I’m wondering if the standard established in 2012, could be maintained and possibly even surpassed.

The album is largely the result of the collaboration between Steve Hackett and the initiator and author of most of the songs, the musical centipede Vincenzo Ricca. It is still early days but I am wondering if Part II is going to get a sequel. Funny in this context is a video on YouTube in which Ricca raises the question to Hackett who quasi-deprived turns away from the interviewer and refrains from giving a response. But we all know how much Hackett loves the beautiful Mediterranean country and its inhabitants, so never say never.

I got to know the Rome Pro(G)ject through a mere coincidence when someone made me attentive on a YouTube video in which the city of Rome was portrayed in a beautiful way, supported by great music. My initial interest at the time was directed at the city, in 2015 I was actually allowed to taste the pleasure of visiting this fabulous place, but my interest in the music was also aroused. Not least because of the cooperation of a certain Steve Hackett, for his tasteful guitar contributions simply cannot go unnoticed. Fortunately this is also the case on the latest disc of the temporary collective under the leadership of Ricca.

Opening and title track Of Fate And Glory starts with floating synth sounds and a so-called ‘guide vocal' by Jo Lehman also known as Mrs. Hackett. Her husband takes over immediately from her with one of his famous lyrical solos, reminiscent of Hairless Heart from "The Lamb", very enjoyable music referring to Genesis’ better symphonic era.

The Wolf And The Twins is the famous mythological story of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. The foundation is dated at April 21 753 BC according to the legend. Strong keyboard play by composer/keyboardist Vincenzo Ricca, somewhat Wakeman-like, while all-rounder Sherwood takes charge on both bass, drums and a potent guitar. Maybe a little on the short side with three and a half minutes, just as the first track.

This also applies to a lesser extent to The Seven Kings of Rome. This song tells the story of the first elected kings, from Romulus (753 to 716 BC) to Tarquinius Superbus (534-509 BC). The same line-up as The Wolf and the Twins, the song is musically somewhat in line with the previous track, so you involuntary think why not create one single song by combining the two.

 

Seven Hills And A River starts with harp and organ, where have I heard this before? Of course, from Yes, more specific the centrepiece of Awaken. The Seven Hills of Rome lie east of the river Tiber and form the heart of the city. And if you close your eyes you can see it lying there. Excellent lingering and melodic keyboards by Ricca while the bass and acoustic guitars of Frank Carducci, not unknown here, are also worth mentioning. Mr. Hackett effortlessly dresses this piece up with some soloing. With over 13 minutes, the longest and most epic part of the album.

Forum Magnum, also Roman Forum in the heyday of the Roman Empire, was both the political, legal, religious and commercial centre of the city. A song, dominated by the wind instruments of David Jackson, various saxophones and flutes, with a totally different atmosphere from the earlier songs, reminiscent of a cross between Jean Michel Jarre and Caravan/Camel.

S.P.Q.R. is the abbreviation of the Latin Populusque Senatus Romanus, "The Senate and People of Rome", the phrase which served as the official name of the Roman Empire. It was used as insignia/logo from the time of the Roman Republic and stood inscribed on public buildings and triumphal arches. The triumvirate Sherwood, Hackett and Ricca make a real effort. Especially the melodic and distinctive solos from prog grandmaster Hackett propels this track to great heights. Solid symphonic sounds, just the way we like them, similar to the best of his solo work. That wonderful acoustic interlude halfway through the song, inimitable.

Ovid's Ars Amatoria is the next track on the CD. The Ars Amatoria (Latin for "the art of love") was written by Publius Ovid Naso (1 BC) and is the oldest systematic guide to seduction. A hymn to love, slow pace and lingering synthesizer parts over an acoustic guitar and synth guitar. No, not Hackett’s this time, at least not according to the accompanying information, but from the hand of Mauro Montobbio, with subtle reference to Close to the Edge. Wonderful flutes from Jackson. The track runs almost seamlessly into August (Primus Inter Pares). The term "first among equals" was introduced under Emperor Augustus (63 BC -14 AD) to describe his position within the Roman government. A more prominent role for Jackson, notably on sax. In combination with the strong rhythm section, Lorenzo Feliciati on bass and Daniele Pomo on drums, a reference to Jethro Tull lies in wait. Do I hear the theme from Forever and Ever by Demis Roussos, or is it just me?

Hadrianeum is all about the Temple of Hadrian in the 2nd century in the Campus Martius in Rome, dedicated to the deified emperor Hadrian, deceased in 138 AD. A family get-together with Paolo Ricca, Jr. on electric guitar and Vincenzo on keyboards, programmed drums and bass. The Conquest Of The World (Trajan) tells the story of Trajan, the Roman emperor (98-117 AD.). He is remembered as a successful soldier-emperor who was responsible for the largest military expansion in Roman history. It starts with the title track theme and evokes associations with Barclay James Harvest’s Child of the Universe. Winning duo Sherwood and Ricca take on not only the composition but also all instruments, and here it is, once again, the reference to Awaken. Fans of Yes (including yours truly) may indulge.

Closing number The Pantheon's dome begins and ends with a beautiful piece of classical guitar by Steve Hackett. The Pantheon is the best preserved monument of ancient Rome in the city, with a diameter of 43.30 meters to date the largest dome of reinforced concrete in the world. The grandeur of the building, I've seen it with my own eyes, brought to life exquisitely by Hackett and Montobbio, both on classical guitar, the atmospheric almost orchestral keyboards do the rest on this great closing track of the album.

 

If you want to be critical, and why wouldn’t you, there are quite a lot of references and comparisons to be made. At times what’s on offer is pretty much the same, largely due to the choice in favour of instrumental music and little or no tempo changes, the real fire is lacking somewhat.

But there is a lot to be mentioned in its favour: superb symphonic instrumental Genesis/Hackett with Wakeman influences, extremely melodic, atmospheric and tasteful. Smart as well, there are plenty of references to the classical symphonic music from the 70’s. Made by a host of top musicians, this is a very enjoyable piece of symphonic pop music in the best tradition. Highly recommended for fans of the genre.

Thanks to Wikipedia.

Album review Alex Driessen © 2017

IQ - Scrape Across The Sky

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On December 6, 2014 IQ visited De Boerderij in Zoetermeer for one of their legendary X-mas Bash shows. This performance was filmed and has resulted in the first IQ Blu-ray disc entitled "Scrape Across The Sky".

I must say I do not often play music DVD’s, but if I do, it is usually one of IQ. This band knows very well how to handle things. Their DVD’s usually excel through very convincing performances, strong camera work, good sound and both light show and projections are always top notch. And that makes viewing a real experience.

This Blu-ray certainly is no exception. The video team from De Boerderij, led by John Vis, has made a great achievement. You can clearly see that the experience of John Vis has surely payed off. The camera work is excellent. There is a lot of shots exchanging, but without being disruptive. At the right time, the right people are in the picture, just as you would expect as a viewer. A small camera is attached to the neck of Mike Holmes’ guitar enabling a better visualization of his great solos. The enthusiastic audience is often portrayed, enhancing the live feeling. And, as you would expect from Blu-ray, the picture is flawless!

When it comes to the sound, we have some complaints. Especially during the louder parts the sound is fairly compressed at times. It's like the more bombastic pieces could not be handled properly, sound wise. This is most apparent in the song The Road Of Bones, but also on other tracks you can hear it at times. Especially if you turn up the volume, you clearly hear the difference in quality. That should not happen at this level. However, these are brief moments, for the rest, the vast majority, the sound is actually quite beautiful.

And then the concert itself, which is delicious. The setlist offers a nice cross section of the IQ oeuvre. Classic oldies like Awake And Nervous, The Darkest Hour, and my personal favorite Leap Of Faith with brilliant guitar play by Mike Holmes. But the tracks from the latest album "The Road Of Bones" impress me equally, played live. Peter Nicholls is in excellent voice and remains a formidable front man.

The extras include two encores of the performance, including Mike Holmes dressed up as an angel, a rendition of Until The End during the Lorelei Festival in 2014, the image projections of the show (including music), a photo gallery and an interview by Peter Nicholls with art designer Tony Lythgoe. Add to that the impressive menu and awesome artwork and you have a Blu-ray which is more than worth its purchase.

By kind permission of original author Maarten Goossensen (Progwereld)
Translation: Alex Driessen
http://www.progwereld.org/cms/dvd/iq-%E2%80%93-scrape-across-the-sky/

Wishbone Ash - Live In Paris 2015

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Wishbone Ash is a hard working band that seems to be on tour forever. There is virtually no band more often on stage then these men from the UK, the live band par excellence. The anecdote of drummer Joe Crabtree is very typical in this respect. Upon joining in 2007 bandleader Andy Powell asked him if he had problems with a busy touring schedule. Crabtree innocently replied that he could see no problem but looking back he wonders whether this was a good decision. A joke, of course, but it demonstrates the attitude of the traveling ensemble which calls itself Wishbone Ash.

I’ve lost track of the number of live albums released over the years. It all started with the legendary "Live Dates" (1973), which was followed by a large number of successors. The official number of albums is about 50, of which about half are live recordings, but the unofficial number must be a multiple thereof. Just the crowded fan conventions, called Ashcon, almost every year deliver a live album. The band last year even recorded a live album directly from the mixer to the album, it's not even released on CD, only available on LP. An absolute must-have for hard-core fans of this hardworking and sympathetic band. Anyway, The Ash live is a pleasure to behold. As I was experiencing in the beginning of last year on Friday, January 8th to be precise in the magnificent new concert hall Gebroeders de Nobel in Leiden.

After another year of intense touring it was time for Wishbone Ash to capture a couple of live performances for posterity but especially for the fans. After having played the first legendary live album "Live Dates" in its entirety in 2014 , the new tour was more dominated by the equally legendary "Argus" album from 1972. In addition, the new album contains some rare tracks such as the title songs from the albums "Front Page News" and "Number the Brave" along with material from the latest studio album by the group from 2014, "Blue Horizon". Filmed over three days at Le Trion theatre in Paris on 21, 22 and 23 May, "Live In Paris 2015" has become a document which can be seen as a nice addition to the visual history of the ensemble around Andy Powell. The length of 144 minutes, almost three quarters of an hour longer than the show in Leiden earlier this year, creates room for many more songs that have rarely been played live up till now. In addition to the aforementioned songs the set list was specially tuned for some tracks (new and old) who never appeared on a DVD recording.

Talking about set list always gives rise to discussion, unfortunately this time no Lorelei, FUBB or even Blowin' Free, but overall the true fan has nothing to complain about. The focus is very clearly on the ‘70’s and work from roughly 2006 on. So hardly any song from albums from the 80’s and 90’s with the sole exception of the previously mentioned "Number The Brave" (1980). However, a lot of work from "Argus" (1972) which was played in its entirety during the most recent tour. Another special moment: On Disappearing a special guest appears on stage: Andy Powell's son Aynsley. Not a great song however. The more recent work gets more room with three songs from "The Power Of Eternity" (2007), two songs from "Elegant Stealth" (2011) and also two songs from the latest studio album "Blue Horizon" (2014). The band is in good shape, sufficiently demonstrated by this DVD/double CD. The wonderful guitar duels are plentiful and drum and bass sound solid as ever.

"Live In Paris 2015" has become an excellent album which will appeal to both existing and new fans of progressive melodic guitar rock.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Shaman Elephant - Crystals

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Shaman Elephant plays psychedelic rock, but also uses elements from other genres such as jazz and prog rock. The group aims to deliver an energetic concert experience with heavy riffs, flowing melodies and a healthy dose of improvisation. The band draws inspiration from different influences such as Jimi Hendrix, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Motorpsycho, Steely Dan and Bushman's Revenge. Quite some varied inspiration, you could say, and it makes their music just that little bit different.

In 2015 the band released their first EP "More" on Mute Records. With a newly acquired recording contract with Karisma Records, their debut album was scheduled to be released sometime late in 2016. The album entitled "Crystals" was recorded at Solslottet Studios by Iver Sandoy (producer of Enslaved, Krakow, Seven and Seven Impale). So far the concise official information about band and album.

When I was asked recently to review a totally unknown Norwegian band and read the short bio that was attached to the promo disc, I was immediately on guard. Because the band at stake here, Shaman Elephant, appears to be linked to the so-called Bergen Rock and Prog scene, a number of Norwegian bands that are from the same region. And for convenience, they are all labelled prog. This applied to the band Tiebreaker, also hailing from the area of ​​Bergen. An excellent band, certainly, but their steamy Southern rock and blues had little to do with progressive rock as far as I was concerned. It seems to be primarily a marketing ploy; label your band ‘prog’ and you suddenly broaden the potential market with multiples. With this in mind, I really wanted to give the band a sporting chance. You want to give an unbiased opinion as a reviewer, don’t you?

Opening and title track Crystals starts with rousing rock with catchy guitar riffs and a decent performance by singer/guitarist Eirik Sejersted Vognstølen with enough variety and excitement not to zap away immediately. Don’t hear any prog yet but this certainly is not bad, the keyboards sound like a Farfisa organ and/or Fender Rhodes. A nice opener, clocking in at just over eight minutes. Shaman in the Woods plays a different tune, melodic and more accessible, I think I hear some (recent) Opeth influences. Pretty theme and a nice driving bass. I wonder who sings the harmony vocals, according to the information, there is no second vocalist, so it’s probably the ubiquitous Eirik the Norman. ‘What you see is what you get but you might not get what you see’ somewhat predictable but relevant lyrics.

The band picks up speed again during I.A.B. (no idea what that means) the electric piano plays a very decent, somewhat atmospheric role in the music, bit like the keyboards in The Doors. Almost screamed vocals and Bigelf influences are noticeable. Tusko starts with a single piano intro, somewhat reminiscent of Steven Wilson. Almost jazzy sounding instrumental with lots of space around the notes, a strong melody line played in unison by piano and guitar, very enjoyable. A small gem.

The next song is coincidentally entitled The Jazz, at just under ten minutes, the second longest track on this relatively short CD (total playing time just over 45 minutes). A bit misleading, this title, because jazz has little to do with it, it drifts into the direction of Led Zeppelin, with a lead guitar and once again that wonderful organ which provides much needed variety. Vocals are a bit like Robert Plant, which makes the reference to Zep even stronger. And just when you think you are dealing with a heavy sounding track, the atmosphere changes completely. A charming interlude with mellotron and acoustic guitar halfway through the song is in turn disrupted by heavy guitars and drums, very surprisingly. Psychedelic rock at its best.

Closing number Stoned Conceptions takes twelve and a half minutes, the longest track on the album. It makes you wonder if the song came about under the influence of a certain substance, the title can at least be called provocative. The song is in the best Floyd/Zep tradition, extremely slow in terms of pace. The vocals are closer to Jim Morrison this time, not in terms of timbre but in terms of vocalisation, but are soon on the Robert Plant path again. The organ makes a worthwhile contribution. Added to the atmospheric instrumentation, strong melodies and lyrics like ‘the end is coming soon, someone told me' it is clear that the (grand) children of The Doors, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin are at work here. Surely not a bad reference.

Occasionally a little inconsistent, clearly still searching for their definitive style and format, but certainly promising, especially the instrumental Tusko greatly tempts me and so does Stoned Conceptions. Compliments for the surprising and colourful cover designed by Kåre Thomsen, associations with psychedelic music are apparent. In any case, Shaman Elephant has more in common with prog than neighbours Tiebreaker. Incidentally, keyboardist Jonas Særsten, has a history with aforementioned band. Certainly not a bad debut for the Norwegians, it will depend on their next CD whether they will once again qualify for a review on a prog related website.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017

Big Big Train - A Stone's Throw From The Line

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At the end of a, in many ways, dramatic prog year, think of the death of such icons as David Bowie, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, the British band Big Big Train surprised us with its third release within the span of one year. After their acclaimed latest studio album “Folklore” and their recent live CD "From Stone and Steel" they just released a double live album entitled "A stone's throw from The Line".

The album was recorded at the Kings Place Theatre in London in August 2015, the year the band received the prestigious Live Event award during the Progressive Music Awards. These shows marked the return to the stage for Big Big Train after an absence of 17 years.

I read somewhere that the title may very well have a literal meaning as well: Kings Place, where the concerts took place, is situated only steps away from King's Cross train station. In light of the fact that a number of BBT songs were inspired by the age of the major construction projects surrounding rail lines, trains, tunnels, etc. it’s only appropriate and possibly no coincidence whatsoever. In any case, a sense of history and decorum certainly cannot be denied. Of course it also refers to a line from Summoned by Bells. And last but not least the record attempt from the Mallard train from East Coast Racer.

The two CD’s contain the best version of each song from the three Kings Place shows, and the track list maintains the playing order of the original show. The album comes in a glossy, laminated soft pack with a 40-page booklet. So far the official information, very impressive.

But not half as impressive as what’s on offer. I dare to go as far as to say that "A stone's throw from The Line" is BBT’s equivalent of iconic live albums as Genesis’ “Seconds Out”, Yes’ “Yessongs” or ELP's “Welcome Back My Friends”. What they show here in a live performance may very well be listed among the best work of their already fairly extensive oeuvre. A cross section of the best material of the band, brought to life in a sublime way, a great achievement by these men and one lady.

The British have a special phrase for this: 'quintessentially English'. It means something like 'typically English' and indicates the degree in which the core of English culture is being expressed. And Big Big Train qualifies fully, no doubt about it. Listening to their music, I see dark skies, picturesque villages in the country side where time seems to have stood still. A large lawn in the middle where the cricket match is being played during the weekend. An old-fashioned bakery and butcher, the inevitable pub and a lovely little train station. But also such typical English characteristics as modesty and sense of humour coupled with understated pride. Proud of their island and the history and tradition behind it. A landscape where characters like Uncle Jack and the Curator of Butterflies effortlessly roam.

The eight-piece band was for this special occasion reinforced with a five-piece horn section, enabling them to successfully perform the beautiful, rich sound of their studio albums live on stage.

It is difficult to identify individual highlights. The whole album is one great highlight to be honest and listening to it makes one wish to see them perform alive even more so. It is quiet as the concert begins, too silent for vocalist David Longdon, 'quiet' he remarks, which elicits a member of the public to shout 'make some noise!’. ‘Funny you should say that’ is the extremely English response after which the band bursts into the eponymous title track of the EP from 2015. Delicious tempo and mood changes during The First Rebreather, with clear references to Genesis, just listen to the keyboard loops halfway. Wassail, of the eponymous EP, released just at the time of the gigs, sounds rather heavy live, and is a nice showcase of how the band has managed to add traditional music to their existing progressive rock base. Curator of butterflies in all of its fragile beauty, still one of the most beautiful ballads within the genre. The intro of East Coast Racer sends shivers down my spine and I can go on and on.

David Longdon has a very rich and melodious voice, a lot of progressive bands would easily exchange their vocalist for this giant. I am a great admirer of his singing, especially on Uncle Jack and Hedgerow, every time it puts a smile on my face, even during the darkest winter days, but also Judas Unrepentant. How is it possible that Banks and Rutherford chose in favour of Ray Wilson as replacement for Phil Collins during "Calling All Stations" in 1997? On said Judas Unrepentant drummer Nick D'Virgilio gets the chance to show what a great musician he is. But actually it would  be unfair to pick out any individual, all musicians play at the top of their game, whether it's Dave Gregory's melancholic guitar, the colourful keys of Danny Manners and Andy Poole, the versatile Swede Rikard Sjöblom, violinist Rachel Hall or the melodic bass of Greg Spawton.

If I had to choose a favourite than my choice would be The Underfall Yard. To stay with the comparison, it’s BBT’s Supper's Ready. A 22-minute majestic epic, from the eponymous album from 2009, but in a live performance possibly even more impressive. And what about Victorian Brickwork, those horn section parts provide pure magic, goose bumps.

I'm really looking forward to September 2017, more specifically Friday, September 29th. On that very day I'm one of the lucky ones who will be attending the performance of the band at London's Cadogan Hall. This might very well be the pinnacle of the prog year 2017.

Big Big Train has in recent years managed to build an impressive catalogue of songs and is also able to play these songs live, adding an extra dimension. This album is a must-have for fans and if you have not heard of the band so far, this is an excellent introduction to their music, and a good starting point to find your way through their impressive back catalogue. Therefore rightfully ranking high in my personal top 10 chart of 2016. Hats off chaps, God save the Queen.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2017