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TANGERINE DREAM -
Electronic Meditation

Ohr 1970 /
Reactive 2012

A stepping stone of a modern music and the haphazard beginning of a beautiful journey. The Kosmische rock starts here.

It wasn’t planned to be an album: when Edgar Froese, Klaus Schulze and Conrad Schnitzler stabilized into an experimental band, they gigged and jammed until the recording of one of their rehearsal found its way to the fledgling Ohr label who would preserve that fleeting moment in time for posterity. Of course, the original tape, laid down on a two-track machine, had to be augmented with overdubs, and thus a legend was born. Much rockier than its follow-up albums, the DREAM’s debut is a foundation for the ensemble’s pioneering course in electronic music and, yet, a product of its era, of time and place, a reflection of Germany in the post-war throes with just a blink of light in the end of a tunnel.

For all its thickness and noir sonics, the drum thunder of “Cold Smoke” rolls in quite regular jazzy manner, while Froese’s guitar clearly inherits its channel-fluttering wings from Hendrix, and “Ashes To Ashes” is a deliciously raw proto-Kraut piece. But the opening “Genesis” sounds exactly like that tunnel. Here, Schulze’s metallic percussion dissipate into organ drone from which the sci-fi effects shoot out, flute and piano the only living creatures in this netherworld wherein the unseen terror throbs and halt just when the conventional rhythm looms.

Then, the mind-boggling 12-minute “Journey Through A Burning Brain” lets its musique concrete wildlings of the leash, as the spaces between the found and church-bound sounds take on the equal role with melodic shards that hint on blues which manifest themselves in a distant duel of the six-string axe with Schnitzler’s violin until the Bach-styled chords drown the madness in solemnity. “Resurrection” closes the alien meditation with more restrained madness, yet holds no grandness in its heart.

Perhaps, that was the reason for Klaus to look for it elsewhere, and for Edgar to project his long-playing vision to another dimension where TANGERINE DREAM reign to this day.
***1/2


MADELINE BELL & DAVID MARTIN -
Together Again

Angel Air 2012

One part of a winning songwriting team pitches his most vibrant songs high – up with the best female voices in his reach.

When your songs find their way onto Elvis’ records you can be choosy when it comes to singer, but when David Martin – who lodged a line of hits in the AMMO framework – decided to record an LP with Madeline Bell in the early ’80s, he couldn’t go wrong.

The greatest black singer to find glory in the UK around the time of Jimi Hendrix’s quest, she’s possessed of fantastic pair of soulful pipes and could more than do justice to pop material. Sadly, the album never saw the light of day yet a string of singles did to be collected now as a whole. Some of these ten cuts, like the tinseltown glitz of “Walking On Air” sound a tad dated, though the disco jive of “Who’s Kiddin’ Who”, where Madeline’s crystal-sharp vocals fly over the finger-popping twang, proves irresistible. The silkier approach to the orchestra-wrapped title track, a duet with Martin, works fine; still, surprisingly, the urban grit in Bell’s voice comes forth on the lush ballad “East Side, West Side”.

And there are other ladies here, as Kate Robbins splices her voice to that of the composer in the ABBA-esque “I Fell For You”, and Janie Marden delivers, produced by Martin, a take on Cole Porter’s evergreen “Every Time We Say Goodbye”. But the emotional peak is reached in AMMO’s own perennial, “Can’t Smile Without You”, sung here in fragile fashion by Josie Martin and her dad David. A pleasant public addition to the master’s impressive catalogue.
***


JIM CAPALDI -
Oh How We Danced

Island 1972 /
Esoteric 2012

The start of Mr. Fantasy’s amazing, if sadly downplayed, solo career. The spark flies high, though.

With precocious talents of Stevie Winwood in the focus of attention drawn to TRAFFIC, the British band’s genius gravitas lay with Jim Capaldi, their drummer and primary lyricist. More than capable singer, as proved by the group’s 1971′s “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys”, next year’s layoff gave Jim an opportunity to go it alone. Starting with that album’s outtake, the translucent, tribal “Open Your Heart”, which features the full line-up of the ensemble, Capaldi on piano, most of the songs were recorded with the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, and Island Record’s elite team, in Alabama: such a move let Jim soak the Southern freedom and relinquish the stool to step forward. Not that this roughly cut man with a big heart strived so much for the center position – in the eye of his solo debut rests a delicate yet convincing plea “Don’t Be A Hero”, given additional weight by the author’s former bandmate Dave Mason’s bluesy guitar – it’s just his muse needed a space to fly, and here it’s cut loose.

Save for the boogie of “Love Is All You Can Try” and the carnival stage of the title track, aka “Anniversary Song” which, in fact, is a famous waltz “Waves Of The Danube” that Jim with the help from Paul Kossoff’s incendiary six-string solo takes from Romania to Argentina – thus introducing South American groove, a would-be integral part of his music, to the mix here and in the buzz of “Last Day Of Dawn” – Capaldi tackles matters of the soul in an upbeat, if hushed, way. Still, ever-bold, the master doesn’t shies away from exposing his feelings, so there’s no trace of either bravado or banality in “How Much Can a Man Really Take?” where Chris Wood’s folksy flute winds around the sensitive rhythm section of THE MOVE’s Trevor Burton and SPOOKY TOOTH’s Mike Kellie. And while “Eve” opens the ivory-encrusted gates into the author’s world in a delicate manner, Jim’s croon sliding on Winwood’s Hammond before the horns kick the gear several notches up, the gentle but gospel-infused “Big Thirst” is hot enough to melt the snows of Kilimanjaro, especially when Mason’s harmonica and Koss’ strum over the orchestral sweep unfurl the arrangement into the Morricone-like panorama.

“Going Down Slow All The Way”, a B-side that rounds off this definitive reissue, sees Capaldi on his own, yet it’s a rare case of a man’s solitude making others’ lives warmer – which can be said of “Oh How We Danced” as a whole. A classic of highest caliber.
*****


MATCHING MOLE -
Matching Mole -
Expanded Edition

CBS 1972 /
Esoteric 2012

The lasting Canterbury classic spreads its wings again to dig out of the underground tuneful toil.

It was all down to Robert Wyatt’s wayward spirit: freeflowing as SOFT MACHINE were, the drummer felt constricted by being in only one band and got fired for his extraneous work. But, with a solo LP under his belt, the artist still couldn’t dare be on his own – cue MATCHING MOLE, a pun on “machine molle”, French for Wyatt’s old group’s name. Wordplay, an integral part of this album tracklist, reveal the process of its gestation which was long jams with kindred souls Phil Miller, Bill MacCormick and David Sinclair from, respectively, DELIVERY, QUIET SUN and CARAVAN. Those sessions, looked into in a smattering of previously unreleased bonus cuts here, including a blistering, brimful of ideas 21-minute version of the jazzy “Part Of The Dance”, yielded a brilliant set of melodies that are broken, for convenience in consumption, to make a blinding whole.

As a result, closer “Immediate Curtain” links its foggy harmony back to the heartbreaking piano roll of “Signed Curtain” – where, instead of lyrics, Wyatt ingeniously sings the piece’s structure – and is a close relative of “Instant Kitten” which in full, ever more palpable flesh tiptoes, not too closely but steadily, in the wake of “Instant Pussy” with its dewy wordless vocals and MacCormick’s elastic bass. Throw into the mix the Miller’s guitar-charged fusion of “Dedicated to Hugh, But You Weren’t Listening”, Robert’s percussive response to Hopper’s creation for SOFTS, and romantic opener “O Caroline”, an update of the song from Wyatt’s debut outing, now led by Sinclair’s keyboards, and the real sense of the “instant-immediate” tag becomes obvious: experimental inclinations of all involved – most obvious in the aforementioned “Part Of The Dance”, that is boiled down to riff as an axis for fantastic instrumental shooting at all angles – are sacrificed to arresting tunes.

In order to redress the balance and ruin the order, “Beer As In Braindeer” featuring Dave MacRae, soon to join the band, on electric piano, introduces a certain madness to their method. Yet there’s a poised discipline in two John Peel sessions on the second CD. As the MOLE’s work didn’t stop, the latter of these, notched at the time of the album’s release, points already to the next record – sadly, the band’s last. But their first, arguably a quintessence of the Canterbury scene, still bores a hole deep in one’s soul.
*****


STACKRIDGE -
Preserved:
Best Of – Volume Two

Angel Air 2012

With their reissue programme gaining some vintage, the glorified English melodic eccentrics shed the light on their dark recesses.

When there’s so many colors on your palette, some pictures are bound to slip from the admirers’ attention: here’s the case more than pertinent for STACKRIDGE who prefaced the refreshing of their back catalogue with "Purple Spaceships Over Yatton" to bring out the band’s most prominent touchstones, and now follow it up with another collection putting signs to the less-traveled roads. Their way to greatness was marked from that moment in 1970 when the ensemble opened the first Glastonbury Festival with “Teatime”, yet-to-be recorded for their sophomore LP and a starting point of this CD which spans all the group’s albums but the last one, from 2009, so it’s warming to know that the rustic, flute-adorned ballad’s launching word, “goodbye”, turned out to be one beautiful lie.

Sure, there was a break in their activities, and the bittersweet post-reunion gem “Something About The Beatles” sounds polished, more like Andy Davis and James Warren’s other collective, THE KORGIS, rather than STACKRIDGE’s original oeuvre, yet for all the variety on offer, the impression is of genuine continuity. It draws a bridge to another latter-time track, the elegiac “Charles Louis Dance”, from the fantastic dance of “Slark” from their debut, here in its single variant, less than third in length from the full one but still arresting, as is the acoustic lace of “Can Inspiration Save The Nation” which has been criminally discarded from "Mr. Mick" and restored after some decades in the vaults. Light, if deep, entertainment reaching its zenith in Zappa-indebted quirky instrumental “Who’s That Up There With Bill Stokes?” and the reggae of “Hey Good Looking”, all this contrasts with nods to Vivaldi and Tchaikovsky in the orchestral sweep of “God Speed The Plough” from the George Martin-produced "The Man In The Bowler Hat", all the while creating a fascinating whole.

“Preserved”, then, is a wrong choice of the title, and jam on the cover doesn’t reflect this band’s real nature. The STACKRIDGE music is still a vibrantly living creature – strange but adorable.
****


MATTHEW FISHER -
A Salty Dog Returns

Kingdom 1994 /
Angel Air 2012

The PROCOL HARUM organ-grinder gets back into the action in a less stormy mood.

Mostly famous for delivering a Bach-inspired Hammond bedrock for “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” – the case he won a co-authorship for – Matthew Fisher left the band he rose to fame with in 1969, soon after the release of "A Salty Dog" which he produced and which he references on this, the veteran’s fifth solo record, issued 13 years on from his previous one. With the resurrected HARUM for a second, longer span, Fisher fathoms the depth here in significantly differend manner, opting for vocal-less new-agey approach and playing all the instruments, and even though his organ is replaced with piano on the opener “Dance Band On The Titanic”, the piece gains weight as grand as it progresses lightly, while Fisher’s main weapon makes a certain point on the bonus closer, Bach’s “Erbarm Dich Mein, O Herre Gott”. Why the twangy guitar drift of “A Whiter Shadow Of Pale” has been renamed into “A Tribute To Hank”, is a question, then, as well as why the catchy “Nut Rocker” follows Keith Emerson’s run down the Tchaikovsky route too closely, if jollier.

The master jokes manifest themselves in Fisher’s humorous play on the Henry Mancini and John Williams’s themes in, respectively, cinematically sleazy “Peter Grump” and the six-string-driven “The Rat Hunter” that connoisseurs may latch onto, whereas PROCOL fans will find a welcome glance back in the transparent flow of “Pilgrimage” with its Celtic motif, and the title track. But the artist also pays tribute to his previous ensemble in “The Downliners Sect Manifesto”, full of pop innocence which contrasts a tasteful suspense of “Sex And Violence”. Such a variety keeps this album from becoming a bore even though there’s a shade of pale in there… which is clearly a part of its concept and intent.
***1/2


BEDLAM -
In Command 1973

Majestic Rock 2003 /
Angel Air 2012

A short-lived supergroup kick their blistering blues away and down the years. Don’t blame it on the drums.

Remembered primarily as a haven for Cozy Powell before the skin-hitter became a star in his own right, there’s always been more to BEDLAM, which gives this, their only concert recording, more than a historic value. A tight but loose unit, it wasn’t a pit-stop collaboration between Cozy, once he parted ways with Jeff Beck, and Dave Ball who left PROCOL HARUM at the initial sessions for "Grand Hotel", but a friends reunion as they, plus the guitarist’s brother Denny Ball on bass, played together in BIG BERTHA back in 1969. Four years later, these three plotters, with ex-TRUTH singer Frank Aiello at the front, took on the world, opening in the USA for BLACK SABBATH, only to fizzle out in 1974 when Powell’s tune “Dance With The Devil” notched a third position in the UK charts and set him on the golden hard rock path. BEDLAM’s version of it is a storming bonus track here, yet it pales in comparison with a nine-song performance that makes the bulk of “In Command”.

The Command in question was a London studio where the quartet played host to a receptive audience, but it’s easy to picture them in much bigger venues, as the band roll their heavy steamroller from the sharp-riffed “I Believe In You” to the molten blues “Set Me Free” and Dave Ball’s axe chops the stratosphere following the course laid by the thunderous rhythm section in rather progressive fashion. And though the foursome’s freefall flight is most impressive in the 11-minutes perennial “The Fool”, a ground for bass improvisations, and the throbbing “Seven Long Years”, where they let their collective hair down, Aiello’s soulful warble sounds unbound in the light attack of “Sarah” and the funky “Hot Lips” that occasionally slips into metal. This strut’s darker than yet close to the BAKER-GURVITZ ARMY jive, with just the right dose of hysterics in “Putting On The Flesh” and the drum solo kept quite short for the better impact, yet it’s the ensemble’s telepathy that’s on display here, and their command of the crowd.

Sadly, their span was limited – the fact which renders the BEDLAM energy condensed and explosive to this day.
****1/3


LINDISFARNE -
Magic In The Air – Live

Mercury 1978 /
Esoteric 2012

Out of the fog and back on track: the triumphal homecoming of the Tyneside heroes.

After 1973, when the original Newcastle bunch splintered, things have never been the same save for gravitation that the former bandmates felt towards each other. Three years later they reconvened on home turf for two Christmas dates, but it took some more time for the reunion to stabilize, and expectations were so high from the fans side that the five shows slotted for Yuletide of 1977 couldn’t be more brilliant. Yet, as this recording from the second concert played on December 24th illustrates, the changing times demanded a different setting where a certain gloss replaced erstwhile rustic textures. It doesn’t spoil the fun, though.

Doing pieces from their first three albums, LINDISFARNE manage to set the emotional in motion, and if “Road To Kingdome Come” chugs along in perfunctory country way, the harmonies of “Turn A Deaf Ear” wrap its warm tune around the listener shoulders, for the old wonders to go down in the punters’ handclaps that propel the “January Song” flow and to ignite the guitars interplay on “No Time To Lose”. The communal feel, an integral part of the band’s DNA, is in full homespun sway as the choruses of perennials “We Can Swing Together” and “Fog On The Tyne” are passed around between the musicians and audience, and there’s a nice rocking in the traditional blues “Bye Bye Birdie”, whereas Gothic creepiness of “Lady Eleanor”, more chilling than ever before, and the quiet-loud contrast of “Dingly Den” come rather theatrical, if majestic. On the other hand, “All Fall Down” shines here with a brass section which swells up once Alan Hull’s infectious voice and Ray Jackson’s mandolin fade away, and “Meet Me On The Corner” signals a joyful peak in the ensemble’s performance on that night.

The magic, preserved for posterity, is still the same 35 years on. For LINDISFARNE, it became a new start – on their next record they were properly back in the action.
****1/2


TANGERINE DREAM -
Live Miles

Caroline 1988 /
Reactive 2012

Another concert chapter in the endless Kosmiche saga with an enigmatic twist.

“Raw” and “polished”, being two antonyms, aren’t the words to describe TANGERINE DREAM live sound due to its impeccable unpredictability even when a previously recorded piece is delivered. The more adventurous is this album, originally titled “Livemiles”, which comprises only two side-long compositions that bear a name of places where they were supposedly committed to tape: “The Albuquerque Concert” and “The West-Berlin Concert”. Still, if the second part’s 1987 provenance leaves no doubt and marks the band’s last performances with Christopher Franke on drums, the first one, experts say, indeed comes from 1986 yet not from the American stage but from a studio. Not that it mattered, as with the Krautmeisters such a line has always been blurred – a fitting outline for their nebulous music.

The New Mexico half starts full-on, though, with thick synthesizers levels splitting into pseudo-church organ and faux tubular bells, to which artificial acoustic strum adds lifestream and Morricone-like whistling stitch it to the geography ever so perfectly. Then, the pace quickens up to match the plastic demands of the day, while the epic flow contradicts its own dull pop leanings, and new age elusiveness feels too shallow for the veterans until the sparseness forms a melody anew and drums give weight to Edgar Froese and Paul Haslinger’s keyboard wizardry. Surprisingly, when the beat becomes motorik and less dynamic, the ethereal tune floats over it in a more pronounced way towards progressive anthemity.

The German section is launched in transparent, lightweight mode but there’s a palpable guitar to riff up the serenity, yet its the synthesizers that pour real serious anxiety into the drift which flattens to the dance groove once more. The harpsichord comes in to wrap it all in subtle grandiosity and on new age’s textures return, the trio ride a simpler tune a la Jean Michel Jarre, rather mundane than spacey, but highly pleasant nevertheless, especially when acoustic thrum makes another cameo.

In the end, live or not live, the “Live Miles” album presents a naturally progressing DREAM in a state of motion – in other words, in their element and is a nice thread in their endless tapestry.
***1/3


COLOSSEUM II -
Strange New Flesh

Bronze 1976 /
Esoteric 2012

One more alchemical brew from the least celebrated British blues institution. A new chapter for the wrong times and new facets for the usual suspects.

In pursuit of his impossible dream to find a perfect meld of jazz and rock, in 1975 Jon Hiseman decided to expand on a power unit of TEMPEST and get back to full force with new foils in tow. The drummer might not plan to call it after his old band and didn’t see it as a continuation of that yet, in places the pedigree is undeniable on this album, so Bronze Records’ Gerry Bron could have been right after all to insist on naming the new ensemble COLOSSEUM II. But if funky “Gemini And Leo” sounds like a bridge between the two eras, singer Mike Starrs showing an impressive vocal dexterity, it’s the opener, a multi-dimensional instrumental “Dark Side Of The Moog”, that serves as a statement of bending the tradition for different times, in which the leader offers an alternative to the airy-fairy fusion of the day in the Airey-Moorish combo.

Having worked with two other jazz-inclined H’s, Allan Holdsworth and Ollie Halsall, Hiseman redresses the balance here with hard rocker Gary Moore given improvisatory reigns he hadn’t pull before and wouldn’t pull after and Don Airey enjoying the flight as is Neil Murray who, cut loose from the Canterbury roots, sharpened his edge. Sometimes, these fire dances hold little room for Starrs, sacked soon after the record had been released: in heavier “Winds” the guitar does much more contagious singing while Hiseman demonstrates all the melodic angles of his drumming. Still, “Down To You” is breezy and soulful as both vocals and instruments gel perfectly in a ballad with a classically shaped acoustic core – sprightly Spanish guitar weaving a web over piano. Even gentler, “On Second Thoughts” highlights the way to “Empty Rooms” for the guitarist and to LUCIFER’S FRIEND for the singer, and in “Secret Places” Moore joins in on the microphone while rolling his slide along the neck to make the results bright, full of riffs and hooks over jazzy undercurrent.

In the leader’s eyes, this complex combination came up too late to be popular, but the band soldiered on for two more, mostly wordless and less arresting albums. The road to them is marked with a smattering of demos, some recorded before “Strange New Flesh”, some – in fact, all of the second CD – after, all bearing rather weak vocal lines alongside always inspired playing, particularly on “Interplanetary Slut” which would become “Interplanetary Strut” in a year. The best sung cuts are “Castles”, present here in two drafts, and “Siren Song”, even though the energetic laurels belong to “Walking In The Park” that Jon had been honing since his stint with Graham Bond. So, whatever Hiseman thinks of COLOSSEUM II now, this ensemble opened new horizons for all involved and, perhaps, for the listeners.
****3/4


OMNIA OPERA -
Omnia Opera / Red Shirt

Delerium 1993 / 1997 /
Delerium Esoteric 2012

As Black Country goes multicolor, one forgotten English ensemble reclaim their place in history. Vertiginous!

Long before THE AMORPHOUS ANDROGYNOUS and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez made the ’60s-patented lysergic sort of psychedelic music groovy again, there were OMNIA OPERA from, of all places, Kidderminster. Formed in mid-’80s, when the shades of brutish and flowery Brummy acts such as THE MOVE had paled, this collective managed to preserve their work for posterity only a decade later, in the times of Manchester supremacy on the scene, but surrendered their potential glories after two albums that are more relevant today than back then – and performed a second coming in 2006. And here’s a legacy the band’s third outing has to live up to.

OO’s 1993′s self-titled fully fledged debut doesn’t try to hide their primary influences as “Space Bastard” and “Each Day” out-hawk the group’s erstwhile stage partners HAWKWIND on all flanks, Rob “Q” Lloyd’s acid-spiked riff providing a tightrope for bassist Andy Jones’ voice to ride on before spilling into hypnotic solo spurts to twine round Ade Scholefield’s cosmic keyboards while the lyrics condemn the earthly elite. In “The Awakening”, though, Natalie Jones and Lisa Moriaty lay their best pagan choruses onto a gelatin instrumental pool that sprawls wide in the mostly wordless “The Awakened”, but if “Disbelief” looms much harder, in SABBATH vein, it welcomes a dance rhythm in its buzzy heart.

The epic-sized “Freeze Out” might balance rock with rave in madful way to close the first album, yet “Shopping General” and “Fly And Burn” from 1997′s “Red Shirt” embrace the ecstasy culture in earnest, so the drums and guitar get behind scintillating synthetic throb; U2 went the same, albeit less adventurous, route. It contrasts the folky shuffle of “Slide” whence the “Timelines” raga drone springs to electrify the feet heat and cut the tune with a six-string sonic attack, while “Braindance” implements a subtler, if equally effective, approach to one’s gray matter that gets fried here only to be healed with acoustic spank that underlies the voices in “Regeneration”. Here, the tradition comes to the fore but communal imagination fades away, so the temporal end seems logical now – as does the scorched pop carrying “Waiting”. The wait is over.
****1/2 / ***


BILL NELSON -
Luminous

Imaginary 1991 /
Esoteric 2012

The BE-BOP DELUXE guitarist serves up undercooked fodder that should have been left on the shelf or, better, on the vine.

Some artists can resist the temptation of showing to the public everything they have in store no matter how worthy the goodies are. That’s quite a dangerous proposition especially with such prolific writers as Bill Nelson who has dozens of albums under his belt. At such rate, he simply doesn’t have enough time sometimes to finish what was started, and Nelson readily admits that he planned to work the 15 tracks on “Luminous” into proper songs but liked their immediacy rather interesting to consider the results of such first-take approach a finished product. He’s wrong.

There’s nothing compelling or fresh about most of the tracks here which sound more like melodic ideas with vocals adding too little meat to make it lift off. Some are better than the rest, though, so “It’s OK” and “Is This Alchemy?” drag in fine synthetic style in the wake of Bowie’s “China Girl” – ’80s to their core – and “A Luminous Kind Of Guy” bears some grit in it that even a spoken, insipid vocal and drum machine beat can bury. Given more imaginative labor, “Language Of The Birds” which is adorned with audio effects could have unfurled into a strong prog rock composition, not the raw cut it remains, while a deadpan spank in “Blood Off The Wall”, with its lashing of faux cello and pseudo-trumpet, feels attractive exactly in this form. Those looking for guitar wizardry there will find nothing save for funky chops of “Burning Down”. File under “For completists only”.
**


LINDISFARNE -
Back And Fourth

Mercury 1978 /
Esoteric 2012

Implementing a new numeration, the Newcastle’s original quintet tune in with the times.

On the wing of the previous Christmas’ celebrated concerts, LINDISFARNE started 1978 conjuring up their old magic to start anew, and when a new album was in the can, the band called it their fourth – effectively writing off two preceding LPs as if those didn’t belong to the group’s core lore. But while the sight of the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne on the cover signaled return to the fray, the landscape the musicians found themselves in looked totally different to the one they’d left off: punk swept the old guard and disco ruled the waves. Yet the fire burned brightly so, with Elton John’s producer Gus Dudgeon at the helm, the ensemble served up a polished folk rock record quite suited for the new era.

“Run For Home” where the glam is counterbalanced by the heartfelt delivery became the Top 10 single, even though this approach doesn’t work that well for “Woman” that, wrapped in cheesy strings, tries to roll a glitterball to the dancefloor, and “Angels At Eleven” is too ABBA-esque to be arresting. The real charm lies in the acoustic ring, bluesy harmonica and infectious handclaps of “Juke Box Gypsy” which pitches its chorus harmony right in the listener’s heart, while Ray Jackson’s mandolin and Simon Cowe’s rocking guitar solo pepper the swing with highly nuanced vim, before Alan Hull’s soulful voice and Ray Laidlaw’s straight drumming make a perfect late ’70s song out of “Warm Feeling” to take it all to the fire-lit night. In the same vein, sweet “Marshall Riley’s Army” and red-hot “King’s Cross Blues” hark back to the band’s folky past but, surprisingly, the funk of “Get Wise” feels equally energizing as does the funny ska B-side “Stick Together”, one of bonus tracks here (the other, “When It Gets The Hardest”, riding the crunch of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”) that give a nice finale to one fascinating record.
***1/2


GARY BOYLE -
Electric Glide

Gull 1978 /
Esoteric 2012

When a plug is in, the sparks go flying – soft and comforting. Gary Moore guests.

Once “The Dancer” proved a solo course could give as much freedom as a band situation, if not more, but saw Gary Boyle basking in the shadow of his friends too often, that album’s follow-up saw the guitarist’s choice of weapon at the front. But Boyle threw himself a gauntlet by inviting fellow axemen to join the party and trying different ensemble formats the Miles way, all the way rising to the challenge. So while “Electric Glide” seems glossier than its predecessor, it’s more textured and, a paradox, acoustically-minded.

A special treat for British fusion buffs lies in two unaccompanied delicate duets with Ken Shaw on his “Brat No. 2″ and “Morning Father Joy” which, on vinyl, provided a Segovia-inspired comedown for each of the record’s sides after a storm of previous compositions triplets. The blizzard of notes starts elegantly with “Snap Crackle” that picks up where “The Dancer” left off, with Barbara Thompson’s sidekick Pete Jacobsen keyboards and Jeff Beck’s compadre Phil Chen’s walking bass underpinning the fiery duel between Boyle and Robert Awhai whose competition swirls around the filigree of short strokes rather than blinding solos: these are kept short and boiled on the almost disco pan. The same combination of players probe a lazy, Latino-tinged lounge robe on the sweet title track but not before “Hayabusa” pairs the main man with his namesake Moore, not a hard hitter then but a part of Jon Hiseman‘s COLOSSEUM II, so the riffs are in place there, and also in more reflective bursts of “Gaz”, alongside blistering finger runs over sensual groove provided by Simon Phillips and John Giblin.

This emotional rhythm section stays with Boyle for the sparse “Grumble” and, arguably, the best piece on offer, “It’s Almost Light Again”, where Gary’s 6- and 12-string acoustic guitar weave a crepuscular, twilight web of silky threads that makes the air around it breathe with life and buzz with anticipation. Yet, though the listener’s excitement’s stoked, the action’s over, and the only way to feel the vibe again is to glide back to the album’s beginning. Too humble to become a guitar hero, Gary Boyle keeps a comforting presence to those who enter his circle.
****1/3


DAVE BROCK -
Memos And Demos

Hawk 2001 /
Atomhenge 2012

The Captain, lost and lonesome in space, takes a solo flight of imagination for the obsessives and strangers to marvel at.

The only constant in the long and adventurous HAWKWIND history, Dave Brock wrote many of the band’s compositions yet let the others embellish garnish his creations. Still, the leader’s role came into focus in the title of 2000′s “Spacebrock” which was, essentially, his solo album sketched out during the previous decade, and it’s those drafts that form the bulk of “Memos And Demos”. Although Dave does everything here, save for female voice on seductive “Find The Right Way” and the infectious “Sex Dreams” – both versions of it – it’s not rough by any means. Actually, this collection, while allowing Brock’s band’s completists look behind the scenes at his creative process, is a nice rave album, so those who never boarded the ship the Cap pilots can fully enjoy it, too.

If the opener, “Clouded Vision”, comes on rather sharp, with guitar rage to spur Brock’s stony vocals and political agenda to give electronic veneer more tension, and doesn’t fit such context, a new take on HAWKWIND’s late classic “Love In Space” hangs in there naturally, even weightlessly, as motorik groove and raps spice up the jive. In this atmosphere, the harmonic raga of “Didn’t Have A Problem” and cod-reggae part of “Tune-Ing In” embrace rock technique in blissful Balearic way, and there could be a lot of dancing had some of the pieces not ended before running their course. But bluesy “Sweet Obsession”, lysergic “Why Is a Raven Like a Writing Desk” (a prototype for “Do You Want This Body” from “Spacebrock”) and instrumental variant of “State Of Mind” perfectly marry six-string riffs to sequencers’ belch and synthetic drums. More than sketches, it’s a pleasant diversion from the well-charted trek.
***


ECHO US -
Tomorrow Will Tell The Story

Absolute Probability 2010 / 2012

The next days brings more substance… or is only a reverie?

Previously a download-only proposition, now a follow-up to "The Tide Decides" emerges physically but its palpability’s not the only change: now, the album comes forth remastered, re-sequenced and expanded which makes for a somewhat new experience. Not that Ethan Matthews’ music became more tangible – its ethereal qualities are inherent and it’s what renders the ECHO US’ records so special. The band don’t care much for styling, they’re set for well-thought intuitive fluctuation, and the listener’s welcomed to relate to the sound and interpret it on his or her own. Here’s the freedom offered in the folk throb, a center of “Out Of The Blue”, to be shattered by a brief riff which turns into a groove under the guitar bliss of “Beyond The Horizon”, where vocals come to the ambient surface and a choir dance in synth-induced oblivion, and into a sweet thunder in “The Ears Of Eras”.

The dynamic range growth breaks the overall hypnotic flow yet keeps the focus firmly on melodies, sometimes as exotic as one the voices weave in “The Light It Moves, En Vie Et Lumiere”, as far removed from its Eurocentric title as possible, with an Eastern buzz and cosmic scuzz that old guard like Mike Oldfield or PET SHOP BOYS may marvel at. In “Echoes Of Eras” this new age drift takes on rock colors when keyboards slither in unison with guitar, while piano unfurls a gentle jazzy dream to send one’s mind gliding on crystal shards of “A View From A Pier”. There, and in title track taking in both world music and robotic electronica, air’s rarefied but the atmosphere’s beatific, and the acoustics are majestic in their elusiveness and the tide’s ebb. “Tomorrow is yesterday” might be a banal maxim, yet it gives the story a cyclical, or spiral, spin and lift.
****


TERRY RILEY -
In C

Columbia 1968 /
Esoteric 2012

An artifact of the highest caliber and a strict method to the polyphonic madness.

If "A Rainbow In Curved Air" left an indelible trace on the face of popular music, the influence of this, Terry Riley’s earlier work which was released on vinyl later than that psychedelic vertigo, is not so prominent but its mind-boggling effect is the same, so it fits the Esoteric catalogue. The effect in question takes a simple formula: there are short phrases set in a certain order yet played by each musician voluntarily with regards to repetition and starting or ending on a whim. It gives the piece looseness framed with a metronomic tempo. So far so mathematical – but only on paper – and rather revolutionary, whereas such minimalism is firmly rooted in the Stravinsky’s tradition as Riley (and Steve Reich who played at the piece’s debut performance) springs here from “The Rite of Spring” and “Petrushka”, what with vertical harmonies and dissonances, adding more and more instruments to an ensemble, or folkloric foundation where symphonic orchestra imitates the traditional one. And as the patterns overlap, the aural picture comes alive.

An initial clang of the titular note sets the piece – a single piece of work – in motion, until the percussion gets wrapped in woodwind and strings that dance around one’s head giving it a spin in a vain attempt to focus on a melody that’s always there yet is passed around in splashes and ripples so the game lies in a chase not a catch. The listener may use the bells and wooden drums as an anchor and let the whistles and drones paint the space in between the carcass figures, while this space thickens as the swirl’s progressing. Quite a spiral! Still, it makes the tune more palpable – and exotic: if earlier passages have a Russian ring to them, after the first third Indonesian gamelan rolls its tubular waves, and then the avant-garde states its controlled cacophony that brings forth a set of parallel planes moving in and out of view before converging into one thread only to beam out in different directions once again.

Later, the air becomes drier and more rarefied but what may seem like a void is filled with echoes of previous phrases which resonate in the listener’s brain following the same rhythm – the folk reigns here as well as symphonic bombast. After all, the composer’s later use of tape delay would be no more than a technical implementation of a hypnotic treatment he brought to the world in 1964. To do that with a classic orchestra was a revolution indeed and a clear look into the future of music. “In C” can be translated as “In see”, right?
*****


JAN AKKERMAN -
Talent For Sale

Imperial 1968 /
Esoteric 2012

Focusing on his craft way before FOCUS, the Dutch maestro goes way down South.

There are many sides to Jan Akkernan, most famous being his classical facet put on display in Thijs Van Leer’s company, but many would find it hard to associate the guitarist with soul. Yet that’s the gist of the Dutchman’s solo debut laid down when the youngster, who’d played since he was 5, still worked with THE HUNTERS where the rhythm section of this LP also come from. Mostly a covers’ set, it unexpectedly finds Akkerman putting on Steve Cropper’s shoes in staples such as “Green Onions” and “Slim Jenkins’ Place” to demonstrate his rich tone, yet Jan pours a dose of Django in the gumbo which boils hot from Millie Jackson’s “Bags Groove” on. Yet his own compositions, “Moonbeam” and “Revival Of The Cat”, are far more jazzy, mixing Wes Montgomery’s hairy fire with Hank Marvin’s combed discipline: the technique’s amazing here, so it’s quite easy to see why Akkerman had been offered a personal contract, while his British artsy counterparts went the same route much later.

For any 22-year-old, to appropriate Cannonball Adderley’s hit “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” for guitar is a mean in itself, but that’s the highlight of this record, as well as flamenco coda of Jan’s take on THE SPENCER DAVIS GROUP’s “On The Green Light”, but Akkernan’s equally at home in big band’s arrangement of “What’d I Say”. The lyrical, if a bit maudlin, zenith comes with the Jewish traditional tune “Hine Ma Tov”, yet “Ode To Billy Joe” pitches its twang in improvisational swamp blues and is even more open-ended than Bobby Gentry’s vocal original. But that, for the time being, was a one-off project: later in 1968, the guitar-slinger joined BRAINBOX for their sole album, and then FOCUS. Jan’s real solo career started in full in the ’70s, yet it bloomed from here.
***2/3


GARY BOYLE -
The Dancer

Gull 1977 /
Esoteric 2012

The doyen of Albion fusion makes moves of his own, in a good company.

A term “British jazz rock” might be synonymous with John McLaughlin’s name but since the future Mahavishnu went witches-brewing he became a Transatlantic phenomenon, while Gary Boyle, as adept a guitarist, stayed back in Blighty to plough his own furrow. The three albums he recorded with ISOTOPE in the mid-’70s became cult classics, yet in the second half of the decade, some efforts were made to supplant the elitist element of fusion with pop gloss, with improvisational strings attached. Others, like Al Di Meola, approached the change in a band framework; Boyle explored the possibility solo, if with the best players around to bolster his parts.

In the spotlight Gary shines the brightest, as outlined by “Lullaby For A Sleepy Dormouse” where his acoustic plucking is in equal parts muscular and lyrical, or by “Almond Burfi” where his fingers fly the fastest fluctuations, although there’s a pattern of taking turns with keyboardists, in different styles. Boyle launches the title track, led by former ISOTOPE’s ivories maestro Zoe Kronberger, in a bluegrass way to spill a flurry of sunny notes and funky jabs later on, whereas the adventurous “Cowshed Shuffle” rolls its fluid twangs over Rod Argent’s Moog and producer Robin Lumley’s Fender Rhodes. Their FX-laden electricity, and Simon Phillips’ light drumming, create a cinematic suspense in “Apple Crumble” and, having dedicated “Maiden Voyage” to fellow traveler Brian Auger, Gary Boyle makes Herbie Hancock’s signature tune his own six-string domain. That’s where the dance is, humble but solid.
****


VARIOUS ARTISTS -
Hooked On Number Ones

Record Shack 1984 /
Angel Air 2012

Four massive potpourris as a melting pot for a hundred hits to become faceless but stay in the groove.

It was a concept problem, not the producer’s fault. Geoff Morrow, a part of the AMMO songwriting collective who lodged many a buster in the charts, knew all to well that a successful pop song should be short. Yet the dancefloor format and demand for 12″ feet action dictated the logic behind “Hooked On” series, so Morrow and arranger Paul Brooks rose to the challenge to pool the talent at their disposal into a quartet of 25-part non-stop marathons – quite often to the detriment of hits on offer.

When the focus is on the ’60s or memories are cast even further back, like “Lovesick Blues” with Mike Berry’s yodel, the artists involved apply their best interpretative skills, but there’s not much zest in the latter stuff, so thankfully, the ’80s output is boiled down to the opener “Uptown Girl”, “Relax” and closer “Karma Chameleon” that slip out and into the “Hooked On Number 1′s” theme delievered by the creme de la creme of session singers including Sue and Sunny, Tony Burrows and Vicki Brown. Her other half, Joe, shines on “Bad Moon Rising” yet fails to blow life into “Imagine” as marred by a homogenous rhythm track as is “Michelle” in which Lonnie Donegan’s brilliantly repaying The Fabs all their admiration; the skiffle master’s keening voice feels perfectly suited for this tune but, surprisingly, can’t hold “Sailing” above the water he treads in his own “Puttin’ On The Style”. By the same token, MUNGO JERRY are inimitable when it comes to “In The Summertime”, although they deliver “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” and “Sweets For My Sweets” just as infectiously.

This can’t be said of the beaten-to-death “Y. M. C. A” and “Super Trouper”, and “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” suffers from the same disco flattening here, a waste of Madeline Bell’s voice that’s so bright on “Fame”, while Helen Shapiro spills sparkling emotions in both “Walkin’ Back to Happiness” and the ubiquitous “I Will Survive”, stripped of its gospel bark now. Still, the real star of the show is an unknown vocalist, Bogdan Kominowski whose attack lends a new quality to “Maggie May”, whereas GERRY & THE PACEMAKERS prefer to stay in the comfort zone of “How Do You Do It” – unlike THE FORTUNES updating “If You Leave Me Now” or MUD who throw away their saccharine for zippy harmonies of “Oh Boy” before exorcising all the sarcasm from “Out Of Time”. But that’s the emotion which gets in the way of dancing, a goal this album hits in style.
***

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