Experimental instrumental new prog four-piece The Fierce and the Dead, interviewed in this edition of Albion, are continuing to plough their own unique furrow in the world of rock. This fantastic six-track EP, with four new songs and two radically different remixes of the title track On VHS, is available from their website. It is well worth investigating for anyone who loves experimental instrumental music. Matt Stevens, an expert at guitar effects and loops, and Steve Cleaton, versatile on guitar and pedals, create sonic soundscapes with extra layers added by Kev Feazey on bass, additional guitars and synths, and Stuart Marshall on drums and percussion. The record is full of epic, building tracks that sweep the listener along, and display extraordinary tightness and versatility. This is carefully crafted, well-performed and -produced sonic rock of the highest order, and an EP that is welcome in every record collection. If this is what they can do on record, then live they must be spellbinding.
Galahad Beyond the Realms of Euphoria Galahad/Avalon Records GHCD11
Dedicated to the memory of bassist Neil Pepper, who sadly passed away shortly after recording this album, this is Galahad's second album of 2012, and shows the band venturing even further away from the traditional neo-prog genre into which they are usually (and lazily) lumped. However, they have still maintained their core sound and spirit. This release contains seven epic tracks (with a bonus re-recording of the classic Richelieu's Prayer, which updates and refines the original without losing any of its magic), based around the stand-out Guardian Angel and its superb reprise at the album's end. It opens with the two-part Salvation, featuring some fantastic keyboard heavy riffing from Dean Baker and the unmistakable vocals of Stuart Nicholson, who put their all into a contemporary song suite. As usual the guitar work of Rob Keyworth--so integral to the Galahad sound--is on top form, and the back-line of Spencer Luckman (drums) and the much-missed Neil Pepper holds it all reliably together.
Spontaneous Combustion Spontaneous Combustion Triad Esoteric Records ECLEC2339/ECLEC2340
Released in 1972 on the Harvest label, these are the only two albums that the Dorset power trio of Gary and Tristan Margetts and drummer Tony Brock released. Their self-titled debut (here augmented by the single A-side Lonely Singer), produced by Greg Lake, sounds as if they had taken inspiration from the original power trios like Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and then added voltage. This album leaves you reeling, with superb riff-heavy tracks like the opening Speed of Light, the unclassifiable 200 Lives, and the fantastic Reminder.
Triad is a logical extension and expansion of the space rock found on their debut. The song-writing is sharper, the musicianship tighter, and the sound even more out there, with deft musical touches on Child Life, a wonderful riff on Spaceship, and the astonishing Monolith (Pts 1, 2 and 3) to round things off. This is another great band whose time never quite came, and these albums should be treasured and revered.
Fula and Ashtar keyboard player Rob Gould here presents his latest and most mature work to date. Mixing the best of his solo and band work, including collaborations with vocalist Fiona Ford on the amazing track The Singularity and the reflective, almost Floydian title track, this album flows from the start of Away With the Fairies through to the closing Land Ahoy. The album journeys through diverse musical themes--the almost Krautrock minimalism of Blip, and the piano-heavy beauty of The Human Satellite (with the fantastic vocals of Lesley Davies)--whilst the instrumental pieces like The Curve and Daybreak in the Graveyard of Sentient Robots are haunting, atmospheric and almost ambient in their construction. However, the eleven minute-plus Port Sunlight is, for me, the highlight of the album, with some of the most melancholy sax you'll ever hear. This is the greatest record that Rob Gould has ever made: a triumphant masterpiece.
KingBathmat Truth Button Stereohead Records
Already receiving fantastic reviews, this is the sixth album from Hastings-based band KingBathmat. Led by the brilliant John Bassett, Truth Button is one of those albums that gives more every time you listen to it. The beginning track Behind contains nine minutes or more of some fantastic musical interplay and almost Porcupine Tree-esque prog metal, with powerful rocking guitar work underpinned by heavy drums. It is followed by the Eastern-flavoured, hypnotic Abintra, the thoughtful Book of Faces, the epic eight-minute End of Evolution (the closest thing to traditional prog on the album, with its blazing keyboard work), and the luminous Dives and Paupers. The record ends with the rather fantastically titled--and brilliantly performed-- Coming to Terms with Mortality in the Face of Insurmountable Odds. The vocals are superb, the musicianship astonishing, and the overarching concept of technophobia and social dislocation is woven magically into these six tracks. This is arguably one of the albums of the year, and gives the prog genre a revitalising shot in the arm.
The Gods Genesis To Samuel, a Son Esoteric Records ECLEC2368/ECLEC2369
Best known as the band that launched the careers of Mick Taylor (John Mayall's Bluesbreakers/Rolling Stones), Greg Lake (King Crimson/ELP), John Glascock (Jethro Tull), and Ken Hensley, Lee Kerslake and Paul Newton (Uriah Heep), The Gods were originally formed in 1965. These two albums, respectively released in 1968 and 1969, find the Gods coalesced around a line-up of Hensley (guitar, keys, vocals), Kerslake (drums), Glascock (bass, vocals), and Joe Konas (guitar, vocals), who had all learnt their trade on the live blues circuit, Their debut album Genesis features a Hammond-heavy, psychedelic rock sound, not quite pop and not quite prog. It contains a swathe of self-written material which showcases both Hensley's burgeoning talent, and the tightness of the four-piece band. It is not dissimilar to Deep Purple's debut, and is here presented in both the stereo and mono versions of the album. It offers an interesting snapshot of a musical scene about to explode into life in 1968 (and, of course, the almost obligatory Beatles cover—an exciting romp through the lesser-known Hey Bulldog).
By 1969 the sound had hardened, a hint of the decade to come, with Hensley and Kerslake dominating the song-writing. The album, based around an epic concept of life, death and rebirth, may have drawn ideas from late sixties Deep Purple. It even covers Maria from West Side Story and gives it a new sound, rather like what the Nice had done with America a year earlier. Despite this musical progression, without any promotion and a lack of interest at EMI, The Gods folded, but their members parlayed their experience into bigger careers. If the Nice can be seen as foreshadowing Emerson, Lake and Palmer, the Gods sound like an embryonic version of where Ken Hensley would lead Uriah Heep in the 1970s.
Barclay James Harvest Eyes of the Universe Turn of the Tide Esoteric Records ECLEC2370/ECLEC2371
At a crossroads in 1979, Barclay James Harvest were riding the waves of their success, particularly in Europe. It was at this point that keyboard player and founder member Woolly Wolstenhume quit, leaving John Lees, Les Holroyd and Mel Pritchard, who opted to carry on as a progressive power trio. Eyes of the Universe, with its suitably space-age sleeve, was their first product as a three-piece. It was accused of being more lightweight than the previous releases—an unfair assessment. The material here is more heavily synth-dominated, but it still stands up really well over thirty years later. The different approaches of Lees and Holroyd can be clearly distinguished, and the album contains some classic BJH tracks include Sperratus, Capricorn and the brilliant Skin Flicks.
1981's Turn of the Tide is an apt title, since this release moved them even further away from their prog roots. This was arguably a successful career move, streamlining and tightening the band's output into intelligent and mature pop/rock, without abandoning the BJH heritage. The classic sound is evident on material like the rocker Back to the Wall, the fantastic Doctor Doctor and the elegiac In Memory of the Martyrs, which closed the original album. The late seventies and early eighties were a turbulent time for many traditional prog bands, and it is a credit to BJH that they managed to negotiate losing a key member and still produce outstanding albums in this period. These overlooked albums are worthy of reappraisal and appreciation.
Boxer Below the Belt Bloodletting Esoteric Records ECLEC2341/ECLEC2342
After his eponymous band Patto had folded in the mid seventies, keyboard player Mike Patto got together with talented guitarist Ollie Halsall, former Van Der Graaf Generator bassist Keith Ellis and drummer Tony Newman, all big session names. Boxer was to be their big chance. The band were signed to the Virgin label, which was looking to expand into the rock scene, and recorded this debut album in 1975 with its controversial nude cover. Displaying the talents of Patto and Halsall as songwriters, the record contains some excellent blues and hard rock, like Shooting Star and California Calling. Below the Belt is an impressive debut in anybody's book, and it was a definite calling card. Unfortunately the momentum generated by the first album stalled, and their second album Bloodletting, with sound tightened up from their time on the road, was also hampered by their touring schedule. Covers of the Beatles, Cohen and Neil Young betray the fact that they had not been able to write enough material. A pall was also cast by label and management disputes, and this album snuck out, rather than appeared, in 1979. Keith Ellis passed away in 1978, while Mike Patto lost his battle with cancer in 1979. Nevertheless, these fine reissues are testaments to their talent, and great examples of gutsy British seventies rock.
Lifesigns Lifesigns Esoteric Antenna EANTCD1011
Keyboard player John Young (the Bonnie Tyler Band, The Strawbs), bassist Nick Beggs (the Steve Wilson Band), Martin 'Frosty' Beedle (Cutting Crew), and renowned engineer Steve Rispin (Asia, Uriah Heep) have pooled their gifts to present these five amazing tracks as the Lifesigns project. With guest musicians including Steve Hackett, Thijs Van Leer, Robin Boult and Jakko Jakszyk, it's no wonder that this album has been so eagerly awaited by fans of progressive rock. Whilst the term 'progressive' tends to be misused these days, this time it fits perfectly into the English progressive tradition, from the country scene on the cover to the album tracks themselves. These display inventive performances and quality musicianship, with the interplay between Beggs' fluid bass and Young's keyboard a particular delight, while Beedle continues percussion developments begun by Bill Bruford and others. Rather than imitating a pre-ordained idea of what progressive rock should be, this release shows what it actually is. It contains mature, well-crafted songs that never overstay their welcome, ineffable sound pictures, and emotive vocals from Young. Throughout, this is the sound of three talented musicians having the time of their lives, never compromising, and delivering the album that they were born to make. This is one of the best progressive rock records that I have heard in a very long time, and is probably already the album of the year.
String Driven Thing String Driven Thing The Machine That Cried Esoteric ECLEC2358/ECLEC2346
Formed originally in the sixties by husband and wife duo Chris and Pauline Adams, 1972's self-titled debut is not to be confused with their 1960's folk album. This showed how far their music had evolved since their folk days. The electric band, and Graham Smith's violin in particular, weave magic over Chris Adams' great songs. including Circus, Fairground, and Regent St Incident. These display a developing prog sensibility, whilst the lyrics were down to earth. By the time The Machine that Cried was released in 1973 on the Charisma label, they duo had become a fully-fledged prog-folk band with the addition of Graham Smith on violin (later to join Van Der Graaf Generator), Colin Wilson on bass, and Billy Fairley on drums. The change in emphasis and sound is very marked on this later album. The group sound like a darker version of Van Der Graaf, with heavy strings and some really despairing lyrics on tracks such as Heartfeeder and People on the Street, while Sold Down the River expresses Chris Adams' disillusionment with the music industry. The topics may not be cheerful, but the counterpoint of Chris and Pauline's vocals, and the gradual layering of sound, make this album a lost seventies prog classic from a band worth discovering and loving.
Cressida Trapped in Time (The Lost Tapes) The Vertigo Years Anthology (1969-1971) Esoteric ECLEC2347 & ECLEC22348
Cressida was originally formed in London in 1969, with Angus Cullen (vocals), Iain Clark (drums), John Heyworth (guitar), Kevin McCarthy (bass), and Lol Coker (Hammond organ). Trapped in Time collects their first demos and radically different versions of tracks that were later to appear on their albums Cressida and Asylum, and captures their transformation from a nascent prog rock band to a potent live and recording group. The Vertigo Years collects the debut album Cressida over two discs. By this point Peter Jennings was the keyboardist, and there were fully-fledged epic prog tracks like Cressida and Depression. By Asylum (1971) John Culley had taken over on guitars and the songwriting had matured even more, with expansive, free-flowing material and the almost obligatory orchestration on the longer tracks--Survivor, and the quirkily brilliant Goodbye Post Office Tower Goodbye.
It is said that the late sixties and early seventies was a golden time for bands. This is another of those class acts who, for whatever reason, never quite achieved the recognition that they deserved. These collections—nicely assembled, as ever, by Esoteric—should go some way towards rectifying that.
The Keith Tippett Group You Are Here…. I Am There Dedicated To You, But You Weren't Listening Esoteric ECLEC2366 & ECLEC2367
When one of the most talented jazz pianists of a generation (Keith Tippett) gets together with three gifted late sixties improvisers (Mark Charig cornet; Elton Dean, alto sax; Nick Evans, trombone), the result is two fantastic, improv-heavy new jazz classsics. 1970's You Are Here… was produced by the legendary Georgio Gomelsky. It showcases four jazz musicians at the start of a fantastic journey, aided by Alan Jackson on drums and Jeff Clyne on bass, and suggests a more restrained incarnation of Soft Machine, which Charig had recently left. Tippett's piano is the core of the other three brass player's improvisations, which adeptly weave superb sounds over the steady backbeat on tracks such as Three Minutes From an Afternoon in July and Battery Park. 1971's Dedicated to You… augments the line-up with Robert Wyatt, Bryan Spring and Phil Howard on drums, Gary Boyle on guitar, and Roy Babbington and Neville Whitehead guesting on bass. This is far more experimental, with bits of funk (the percussion-driven Black Horse), and the fantastic Thoughts to Geoff, which fairly powers along. The title track is a Soft Machine original, here given room to breathe, and displaying the extraordinary talent of Marc Charig and Elton Dean. Tippett would go on to become a renowned jazz player and Elton Dean would join Soft Machine, but these two albums superbly capture the excitement of the British jazz-rock improve scene in the early seventies.
Spriguns Revel Weird and Wild Time Will Pass Esoteric Records ECLEC2364/ECLEC2365
Formed in Cambridge in 1972 by husband and wife team Mike and Mandy Morton, Spriguns came to the attention of Steeleye Span's Tim Hart, who produced their 1976 debut for Decca, Revel Weird and Wild. Augmented by Tom Ling on electric violin, Dick Powell on electric guitars and keyboards, and Chris Woodcock on drums, Spriguns made the transition from folk to folk-rock, but, unfortunately, at the height of punk. Despite the great vocals of Mandy Morton, and some superb interpretations of trad English folk —such as the beautiful harmonies on Lord Lovell or the brilliant When Spring Comes In—this debut was, by and large, ignored. This is a shame for, had it been released five years earlier, it would rightly be spoken of in the same breath as Steeleye Span's Hark! The Village Wait, or Fairport's Liege and Lief. Yes, it is that good.
1977's Time Will Pass saw Dennis Dunstan join them on drums, while Wayne Morrison contributed his talents on guitars, mandolin and vocals. The line-up change brought a subtly different approach, with the legendary arranger Robert Kirby working his magic on songs including White Witch, All Before, and the epic and simply stunning Letter to a Lady (possibly the best thing that Spriguns ever recorded). The synthesiser work of Dick Powell animates the reinterpretation of the classic Blackwaterside. Unsurprisingly, this too sank without a trace, but thanks to the reissues, lovers of folk-rock will now be able to enjoy these albums.
Richard Thompson Electric Proper Records PRPCDX108
A man who needs no introduction, Richard Thompson on his latest record has stripped his full band down to what is essentially a power trio. He is accompanied by long-term collaborator Michael Jerome on drums and Taras Prodaniuk on bass. They kick off the album with the fantastic Stony Ground and then rip through a great collection of Thompson originals, from the wry observation of Stuck on a Treadmill and the bittersweet Another Small Thing in Her Favour to one of the finest things that Thompson has recorded for a very long time: the simply beautiful Salford Sunday. The tight band are phenomenal, as their live performances attest, and with guest vocals from Alison Krauss (on The Snow Goose) and Siobhan Mayer Kennedy—sounding eerily like Linda Thompson—this is probably Thompson's best album since Mock Tudor, and will definitely be considered a classic of his catalogue.
Hawkwind Palace Springs Atomhenge ATOMCD21034
Esoteric Atomhenge's remastering of the multi-faceted Hawkwind canon continues with this obscure gem from 1991. Given the deluxe double-disc treatment, the original Palace Springs (a curious hybrid of live and new material featuring an interim line up) is accompanied by California Brainstorm, recorded in 1990.
Since the Hawkwind line-up fluctuated, the only constant is Dave Brock, aided and abetted by Alan Davey (bass), Richard Chadwick (drums), Bridget Wishart (vocals), and Harvey Bainbridge (keyboards). This is a pretty fair example of the live Hawkwind from 1990-91, with classics including Lives of Great Men, Damnation Alley, and Time We Left mixed in with newer material like Eons, Acid Test, and Back in the Box. Whilst not a classic, this is still a vital album, capturing Hawkwind on the cusp of arguably one of their most experimental periods (as a trio), which is, however, another story.
The Greatest Show on Earth Horizons The Going's Easy Esoteric ECLEC2362/2363
Formed in the sixties from the embers of a soul band, and featuring the talented Watt-Roy brothers Garth (who later joined Fuzzy Duck) and Norman (a future Blockheads member), this band—with eight members on the debut Horizons—were one of the truly progressive groups of the early seventies. This first record with its single Real Cool World, which was big in Europe, really is a great record. It contains some fantastic improvisations and jams, such as the title track, the opener Sunflower Morning, and the closing Again and Again.
The Going's Easy was a huge improvement on their already impressive debut, with original material like Magic Woman Touch, The Leader, Borderline and the single B-side Mountain Song, and showed a growing maturity. Its unique blend of blues, rock, soul and progressive tendencies meant that there was no-one else who sounded like them at the time. Sadly, as is all too often the case, the band never got the breakthrough that they deserved. Luckily they left these two fantastic albums, lovingly remastered and repackaged by Esoteric for us to enjoy.
Ian Matthews If You Saw Thru' My Eyes Tigers Will Survive Matthews' Southern Comfort Kind of New/Kind of Live Esoteric ECLEC2360/2361/22359
After leaving Fairport Convention in 1969, Ian Matthews formed the first line-up of Matthews' Southern Comfort, had a top ten hit with a cover of Joni Mitchell's Woodstock, and then started a solo career that has been going for over thirty years. If You Saw Thru' My Eyes (1971) was Matthews' first solo album proper, helped by former Fairport colleagues Richard Thompson and Sandy Denny, as well as folk players like Gerry Conway, Pat Donaldson, and the jazz legend Keith Tippett. It marries the West Coast Americana that Fairport '68 were performing with the burgeoning singer/songwriter genre of the early seventies. With covers of Richard Farina's Reno Nevada and Morgan the Pirate, and It Came Without Warning by Burnham & Jacobs, the record also contained significant self-written material by Matthews. It sounds like one third of a loose trilogy of albums (the others being Northstar Grassman and the Ravens by Sandy Denny and Henry the Human Fly by Richard Thompson), suggesting the direction that Fairport talents would take when freed from the mother ship.
1972's Tigers Will Survive was not—as Matthews admits in his frank sleevenotes—what he was aiming for, but he was under pressure from the record company. This shows in the number of covers, of which the best is a great version of Richard Farina's Un-American Activity Dream, whilst Matthews' own material includes the great Morning Song and the wonderful title track. Listened to nearly forty years on from its original release, it is a great companion piece to Thru' My Eyes.
Matthews relocated to Holland a few years ago and has since reverted to the original spelling of his first name (Iain). Together with Dutch musicians, he has revived Matthews' Southern Comfort for this album, packaged with a bonus 'live in the studio' disc. His voice has never changed, and although the track list does include Woodstock, Matthews can be forgiven for revisiting past glories—this version is a reworking of the original which adds much to the interpretation. Co-vocalist Terri Binion adds great vocals to some of the standout tracks on this album. Including the bluesy Letting the Mad Dogs Lie, Binion's excellent Seven Hours, the evocative O'Donnell Street, an amazing interpretation of the traditional Blood Red Roses, and the fantastic closer Money, this album breathes life into Matthews' and Binion's well-written songs, and shows that Matthews' muse still burns brightly forty-five years after his Fairport debut.
Better known as the keyboard player from Touchstone, Rob Cottingham has released his second solo record. In old school terms, this is a concept album, and one that is brought together not just by Cottingham's superb songwriting, his phenomenal keyboard playing, or his great vocals, but also by the beautiful artwork of Andy Wildman, which ties in with the lyrics. Supported by a sympathetic band including Adam J Hodgson on guitars, Dr Goat's Foot on bass, Gary O'Toole on drums and percussion, and the beautiful vocals of Heather Findlay, this not a collection of songs but rather a piece of music to be listened to in one sitting. From the opener Condemnation (narrated brilliantly by Shane Rimmer), through so many different musical moods and motifs that it would be madness to try and describe them, to the closing Soaring to the Sun, this record leaves the listener emotionally drained. It is a beautiful piece of work, and one that reminds me of the greatest seventies concept albums, since the songs cannot be separated from one another nor from the artwork. It is an immersive experience—sheer musical brilliance.
Haze The Last Battle Cyclops/Gabadon records CYCL177 GABCD17
Legendary Sheffield-based progressive rock band Haze, led by brothers Chris and Paul McMahon, have performed in various guises over the past few years but have returned to the Haze name for this, their first album of new material in over twenty years. The core line-up of Chris, Paul, and drummer Paul Chisnell (who sadly had to retire, due to bad tinnitus) are accompanied by Ceri Ashton on flute, clarinet, and viola and Catrin Ashton on fiddle and flute.
Although known as a progressive band, the McMahon brothers have straddled plenty of genres, working as World Turtle and as part of the folkier Treebeard. Their multi-faceted sound is displayed in full on The Last Battle. This is a magnificent record, with epics like the title track, Is That It? and The Red Room, and folkier pieces such as Over the River and Balder and the Mistletoe. The fourteen tracks are all superb: the mixture of flute, fiddle, and more prog-styled keys and guitar works well. The album enhances Haze's reputation as a unique prog band.
Karda Estra Weird Tales Cyclops CYL171
Richard Wileman's musical project Karda Estra are known for their atmospheric and imaginative works, woven around themes. Weird Tales is loosely based around portmanteau horror compendiums. Opening track The Whitstable Host is a tribute to the legendary Peter Cushing, and the music works brilliantly to evoke the great man, whilst tracks like Green Dog Trumpet and The Atom Age Sense of Impermanence are stunning ambient soundscapes, providing real room for the subjects to come through.
London-based progressive rock band Ebony Tower have been hard at work at Real World Studios, and this is the first of a two-part set from those sessions. The four tracks here are as diverse as the band's influences, with the wonderful vocals of Zanda King and the brilliant guitar work of Wilson McQueen (interviewed elsewhere in this edition of Albion). The songs are a wonderful mix of English prog, pure rock and roll, and something unique that you only ever get when the musicians, material and vocals are all working in harmony. Ebony Tower are one of the most musically exciting bands that I've heard for a while, and I look forward to The Magic Box Pt 2.
Dodson & Fogg Wisdom Twins Records
Led and driven by the great songwriting, guitar and vocals of Chris Wade, with the sublime singing of Judy Dyble (ex-Fairport Convention) and Celia Humphries (ex-Trees) and wonderful violin-playing of Nik Turner (ex-Hawkwind), the cast list is a who's who of alt and psych folk, and the album sounds like a great lost gem from the golden days of folk-rock. Containing a mix of traditional folk and elements of psychedelia, the album includes Meet Our May and eleven more fantastic tracks, like All Day Long, Say Goodbye and Crinkle Drive. This has to be one of the albums of 2012 for me, and will no doubt grow in popularity throughout 2013.
Manning Akoustic Festival Music 201210
One of the hardest-working prog bands on the circuit, Manning had a busy 2012 touring up and down the country. This CD features a stripped-down acoustic incarnation of the band recording songs that would not normally hit the electric set list. These include Silent Man, In My Life, the brilliant arrangement of In Swingtime, and my personal favourite, Antares. With possibly the strongest Manning line-up to date, this showcases Guy Manning's reliably excellent vocals, the sublime supporting bass performance of Kris Hudson-Lee, and the extraordinary guitar work of Chris Catling, David Million and Kev Currie. Stephen Dudson's flute adds a great deal to the sound, whilst Julie King's vocals enhance some of the more obscure tracks from Manning's back catalogue. Martin Thisleton shines on violin and keyboards and Rick Henry fills out the sound on drums and percussion. This acoustic line-up rearranges and reinterprets sensitively, breathing new life into some of these older songs. If you've never heard Manning's work before, this is the ideal place to jump in, whilst if you're an existing fan it is an alternative 'Best Of' that will bring a smile to your face. It is almost as good as being at a Manning Akoustic concert.
The Treat Lepers and Deities Rockular Records RRT04
A worthy follow-up to their double album success Audio Verite/Deceptive Blends, this ably resumes where the UK-based progressive power trio of Mike Hyder, Dom Lash and Dave Hart previously left off, with a superb mix of classic rock, proto prog and neo folk across the ten superb songs. These include the brilliant opener Trust, the magnificence of Bougainvilleaeas in the Sand, the great My Old School, and the final track, the glorious song that is Valerie. It is magnificent album: every song hits you where it is meant to, with some sublime interplay between all three musicians, superb lyrics and great arrangements, and a mighty sound. As the band's name suggests, the record is a 'Treat' from start to finish, designed as a pure listening experience. I'm so glad that they are still making them like this.
Interviewed elsewhere in Albion about this new album, the trio of Amy Darby, Phil Mercy and Thomas Johnson have transformed from a live band to a studio project. In the process they have moved organically away from Thieves Kitchen's original prog roots towards something more like prog folk. There are some fantastic vocals from Amy, whilst Phil's versatility as a guitarist shows all over this album, on the brilliant The Weaver, Germander Speedwell, and the closing Of Sparks and Spires. Thomas is as inventive a keyboard player as any on the current scene.
Following a path started on 2008's The Water Road, this is a well-performed and -produced album which is meant to be listened as a whole. There's no dipping in or out of songs here--all of them demand your attention. There are some almighty epics on this album, with Hypatia and A Fool's Journey breaking the eight-minute barrier and Of Sparks and Spires and Germander Speedwell lasting over twelve minutes. Yet nothing feels forced: you don't feel as if you are listening to a long song, just one that tells a story, takes you on a musical and emotional journey, and leaves you somewhere else at the end. That is what all good albums should do, and this isn't just a good album-- it's an excellent one. This is a superb blend of songs, lyrics and performance, and a high point in the Thieves Kitchen story so far.
London-based six-piece the Sound of the Suburb release this, their debut album this year. It presents ten diverse and exciting songs, with foot tappers like 70's Girls, I Gotta Know, and Take a Chance capturing their love of rockabilly. The guitars of Martin Ross, Steve Phillips and Chris Berlingieri blend seamlessly, whilst Rafael Landicho's exuberant vocals fit the up-tempo lively nature of the band's sound, and the beat is kept impeccabily by Mike Solomon. Their traditional stomping ground is the London pub where they go down a storm, and this is a perfect example of that much maligned genre, pub rock: absolutely belting songs, great performances, and a good-time album that will keep you entertained well after last orders have been and gone.
Gordon Giltrap and Oliver Wakeman Ravens and Lullabies Esoteric Antenna EANTCD1013
Two musical powerhouses in their respective fields, guitar maestro Giltrap and keyboard supremo Wakeman combine their considerable talents on this magnificent concept album from Esoteric. Given Giltrap's effortlessly beautiful playing and Wakeman's fluid keyboards, any album featuring both together is bound to be a masterclass in collaborative performances. With Wakeman's vocalist of choice (the incomparable Paul Manzi) on board, as well as drummer Johanne James and Steve Amadeo on bass, the record boasts one of the tightest recording units around. The way the album flows, with Wakeman and Giltrap trading riffs and building things of beauty around each other's talents, has to be heard to be believed. The icing on this magnificent cake is provided by the guest vocals of the superb Benoit David (himself a fellow Yes alumnus like Oliver) on the great From the Turn of a Card. The stand-out, however, for me has to be the fantastic Maybe Tomorrow, whilst the instrumental interludes like Wakeman's A Mayfair Kiss and Gordon's Fiona's Smile blend seamlessly into the whole mix. Each time you return to this album, you discover something new. It is one of the best records that either Wakeman or Giltrap has put his name to, and this is one of those collaborations that you hope continues.--James R. Turner