Reviews11

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BOB CATLEY -
Middle Earth
Frontiers Records 2001
Another album based on the Tolkien’s saga but this time it’s a work of experience rather than innocence. Third solo album from MAGNUM warbler again marks the collaboration between Bob and TEN’s Gary Hughes, who wrote all the material and plays all the keyboards, that have much more prominent appearance now, pushing the music into prog of Wakeman’s ENGLISH ROCK ENSEMBLE kind – Arthurian “City Walls” a primary example. It takes some time before hooking on music, and, in Catley’s case, the story could be told from the Hobbit’s point of view and not be so serious – especially with Bob’s innate pathos.

That’s immediately seen in “The Wrath Of The Rings”, densely filled with Vinny Burns’ guitar wizardry, yet so beautiful in “The Fields That I Recall” due to Celtic harmonies used. Avoiding rock opera idiom, Hughes ties the pieces with reprise snippets, and piano-laden “Fields” calms down the “Emissary” storm, which counterpoints Seventies’ synth wave to lush Eighties’ axe bravery. What’s strangely absent from this sonic feast is Bob hitting high notes, although he duets so elegantly with Tracy Hitchings on the folky “Against The Wind” chorus – “Battle Of Evermore” re-visited with a great gusto.

Catley’s voice has always been working best on ballads, and Gary served him the best he could in tear-jerking “Where You Lead I’ll Follow”, the poignant piano line breaks only to let in powerful riffing of “Stormcrow And Pilgrim” and return later on before “Return Of The Mountain King” – fortunately, no Grieg here. Bass pumps the way into “The End Of Summer”, a Galadriel theme with magnificient Autumn feel of the Elves’ decline from past glories. Burst of new dawn comes in soaring choir of “This Gallant Band Of Manic Strangers” that resolves into solemn hymn “The Fellowship”, demanding of bagpipes – but that’s too obvious to get. Join the gang and fear not the Gollums!

*****
 

THE NOMADS -
Up-Tight
White Jazz Records 2001
It’s only rock’n’roll – and you can’t help but like it from the “Jumping Jack Flash” set in “Can’t Keep A Bad Man Down”. An eloquent title, ain’t it? If you think of Alice’s “No More Mr Nice Guy”, you get the drift, the attitude Jagger was spitting out back in the Sixties. Primarily, though, THE NOMADS are influenced by THE KINKS – check “Till The End Of The Day” shadow in “Crystal Ball” or “In A House Of Cards” – which means, the balance between melody and energy is kept well, even in more punky numbers, like “It’s Lonely Down There Too” and “Open Up Your Door”. The foursome are all up for streamline sparkle, with seeming simplicity hiding tightly-knit instruments-handling clearly shown in heavier tunes, as “Competitors In Crime”. The hard rock of “You Ain’t Gonna Bring Me Down” feels natural for this rumbling pack of innocence spoilt, that easily turns to dub groove for “To Make A Short Story Long”. What an amazing drag!

Don’t hold your breath: they’re back with a Jerry Lee-like piano and rattling percussion of “My Finest Hour” and “Top Alcohol”. Man, do these boys smoke! And “I Can’t Wait Forever” comes as a pure rock “now or never” statement underlined by deep bass line. “Wish I Was Dumb”, THE NOMADS confess – fortunately, they’re not, going back to “My Generation” posture in “The Cold Hard Facts”, to which they add jiving sax. Fresh air is what this bands gives, right out of the fields – like a tumbleweed. Get nomadic, join the tribe.

*****
 

LAST TRIBE -
The Ritual
Frontiers Records 2001
An impressive debut from the Sweden band, which seem to get trapped into the genre’s cliches – but that’s the first outing, in the end of the day. And there are tracks that deserve all but acclaim, the first being the opener “Spellbound”, which lies on a mighty guitar work from Magnus Karlsson and David Coverdale-like singing of Rickard Bengsston, although the band’s approach leans towards headlong American rock’n’roll, with all too familiar movements up to Bach’s bit in “Black Widow”. The band concentrate on appearance rather than depth, falling into late SABBATH copying for “Made Of Stone”. Moreover, sometimes note-per-second meter gets pushed to the limit in the Malmsteen way, like in bass-loaded “Blood On Your Hands” and erratic “One Of A Kind” adorned with Arabic melody and fusion time signatures – an incomprehensible combination. So, the pieces can be fine while second hand attitude is never good.

The cure comes in light unforced strumming of “Falling”, the refreshing ballad followed logically by driving “Flying High” betraying MAIDEN ifluence yet compelling with short drum solo tagged on the end. More surprising proves harpsihcord underlying “Ready For The Storm” rich textures, where all the elements melt into a real gem: the sophomore album running in this direction – or in the way of artistic instrumental “The Ritual” – will be warmly welcomed.

***3/4
 

POUNDHOUND -
Pineappleskunk
Metal Blade 2001
KING’S X bassist’s project seems very intellectual, though quite boring. Doug Pinnick, playing all the parts but drums, came up with a very dark industrial-tinctured issue. Upfront bass of “Somedays” conveys exactly the mood of crippled ragdolls and bath vents pictured in the booklet. It’s a kitchen sink music instilled with sampled voices and grunge-like guitars delivering punky chops in “Jumping”, that deals with body wishes, then going for alternative “Mind” and, finally, “Oh My Soul”, not the Little Richard’s one, but great indeed. “Someone” is even better, because this has good melody and energy that the lion’s share of the album lacks – what’s the point of “Rain”? No hook at all, even vocal lines prove underdeveloped, in places drawing on slow rap.

On the other hand, tribal chants of “Higher” sort get under the skin. As the main drag comes all too pointless playing, which sometimes doubles the piece’s timing, and complete absence of humour, snippets like “Wrong Address” notwithstanding. When guitars aren’t buried in the mix, like in “Pineapple”, but let soloing for a couple bars – as Beatlish “Smearing” shows – that feels tasty, while overall impression is that it’s better to leave this kind of stuff for Geezer and Iommi self-indulgence than follow in their footsteps up to riff stealing of “She”. POUNDHOND run down a dead-end street to get stuck between commercial call and rootsy metal.

***1/2
 

MITCH MALLOY -
Shine
Frontiers Records 2001
It’s a name that springs on one’s mind rather than music of Mitch Malloy, but if there’s a figure you can put an AOR stamp on, it’s him. “You Lift Me” ahead rings out with a beautiful white soul icing on the guitar-shaped cake to clear up why Malloy once was a contender for a VAN HALEN mike holder. The singer himself draws a line to this approach in delicate “Nothing New”, it’s only about good music, and slightly countrified “Draw The Line” says it all – simple as it is. It’s all charts-friendly indeed, and short “Another Road” can make for a hit single. The problem is Mitch going all too optimistic – and if Harrison-esque slide solo of “It’s About Love” balances this exaltation, “Love Made A Liar Out Of Me” spills that mood over the top. A bit of raw edge here would taste better, imagine BON JOVI treating “Never Give Up On You” or “Save Me” to get the drift. Can’t call it smoothness yet it comes close to it.

“A” in AOR is for “adult”, and, as a full-grown man, Malloy knows that love has the other side, which he tries to put out in “Places Only Love Can Go” supplying it unexpectedly with solo from DURAN DURAN’s “Ordinary World”. Tries with no result – is this man deep in love at the moment? If you’re up, that can help, and hardly so if you’re down. Then, more soulness to “Love’s Own Hand” could do well, and more grit to “Shadow In The Dark” and “When I Try” would add true feeling to the mill. It’s not here – and that shines through.

****
 

PRETTY MAIDS -
Carpe Diem
Massacre Records 2000
Old soldiers still on the roll. And rock, too. Even angry than ever before, MAIDS begin a glory ride with “Volent Tribe”, sticking to their slick heavy metal guns. This band never looked for abrasive trill – and a title track shows a little of edge. But, when guitars fire out and voice soars through fluctuating signatures from rhythm section who would ask for more from the Eighties band with such optimistic verve as in “Once In Your Life”?

They can go further in time, to GILLAN-esque “Poisoned Pleasures”, but it’s the Eighties’ disctinctive structures in “Tortured Spirit” and, especially, “Wouldn’t Miss You” that have been inspiring many latecomers for years – here we have it off the first hand. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, MAIDS remain faithful to themselves and should be in demand now, when AOR popularity increases. Sometimes, there’s a tech touch applied to the most angular pieces, like “They Are All Alive”, and it’s only good that MAIDS don’t dwell in the past, so at this point “Time Waits For No One” comes very poignant in its Harrison-esque simplicity and disco-coda. Then, hard not to get caught on acoustic-sprinkled “Clay” that carve a niche in your soul to be filled with “Until It Dies” angst and polished by “Unwritten Pages” shuffle. And if many Scandinavian bands forgot their source, PRETTY MAIDS still all about ABBA, get it on with “Invisible Chains” – and fly away.

****
 

TERRY BROCK -
Back To Eden
Frontiers Records 2001
“Back To Eden” signals return of a singer many know for his STRANGEWAYS stint. Recently appearing as part of THE SIGN album, now Brock eventually comes with a proper solo release, his first. With twenty years-long experience – “Audio Life Dream” snippets collection reminds you of Terry’s past – and writing credits citing Jim Peterik and Joe Lynn Turner, this effort couldn’t fail – and it doesn’t. The title track cuts it fine in an early ASIA way, that turns soulful for “I Wanna Love Someone” filled with acoustic sound and sporting a bass solo from Teddy Cook. More driving comes “Up All Night” co-written with Mark Mangold, whose keyboards make the piece very appealing even before chorus shows all its stadium glory and Brock’s impressive vocal range. Another THE SIGN member, Billy Greer, brings in his bass for slick “Native Sons” and soft “Waiting”, both are very good but have no hint on Billy’s and Terry’s association with KANSAS – a shame. And if “I Should’ve Known” is nothing special as well, take your partner on a dancefloor and get tighter with this sexy ballad. Doesn’t matter if music’s rather poppy, like in “Another Chance” or “We Invented Love”, it bites.

Except for “Forever Now” that toothless mix mars, getting guitars down, but then “Your Man Again” picks soul banner up, effectively pulling a bit of R’n’B extravaganza in to wave it proudly in murky “Light Of The Moon” augmented by brilliant organ solo from Frank Fogerty. Terry tops it all with his mandolin lace on closing “Coming Home”, folky mood suits him well. Bagpipes welcome Brock back to the Garden, that is home of his – and Terry lets us with him.

*****
 

DICK HECKSTALL-SMITH
and friends -
Blues And Beyond
Blue Storm Music 2001
Sax was never deemed a rock weapon yet two men, Mel Collins and Dick Heckstall-Smith, took it from jazz into blues – and beyond to prove it is. In the early Sixties Dick played a prominent role in Alexis Korner’s BLUES INC., the band that spawned a whole generation of British blues, all these ‘friends’ belong to. And this album is a celebration of swinging London scene, an event which in the last years always happens under Pete Brown’s guidance. Now, Pete not only produced but also co-wrote half of the tracks and lent his distinctive growl to sneaky call-and-response of “Grind, Glitch And Snit”, a top-notch boogie jive. Curious from historical point of view though, comes a ghost from the past, namely “Spooky But Nice” that Heckstall-Smith composed with Alexis’ cohort Cyril Davies. Driven by Mick Taylor’s slide running across waltzing rhythm and Heckstall-Smith’s tenor and soprano couple, the tune is as modern as it gets.

There’s another proof in “(Dix WWW) Swamp”, where – a rare occasion! – Master’s voice is heard, moanin’ and groanin’ on the organ swirl under brass shining light. Altogether, it’s an effortless work from the opener, Muddy’s “Rollin’ And Tumblin’”, elegantly built on interplay between Eddie Martin’s steel, underpinned by COLOSSEUM leader Interview with JON HISEMAN‘s light strokes, and Dick’s sax interwoven with harmonica that Paul Jones plays, Paul’s singing seems to be the best in years. Then Rob McCalough takes over the lead for “Millenium Blues”, a tribute to uncles Ray and Waters – and saxophone soars from the heavy Clem Clempson‘s guitar rain straight to the sky to fall down, bouncing, in joyous funk of “Watching Your Every Move”, LEVEL 42′s Gary Husband adding his swaggering rolls to it, as he did for “Lessons In Love”.

They say, a calm comes after the storm, and who can be more pacifying than sad Peter Green, musing over so aptly titled “Cruel Contradictions”. Dick’s guests cherry-picking appears impeccable, and shadows of “Man Of The World” and “Drifting” in this tune are very poignant, even when Green’s guitar and harp step back to let the ringmaster to the fore. That’s the blues. Beyond, then? Aerially relaxed comes “Angie Baby” free bop filled with Clem’s loops. Amidst all these colours it’s only a pity that Jack Bruce, mildly intoning in “Hidden Agenda”, leaves bass duties to Dave Hadley, a player confident yet not of the Jack’s class.

For striding jaunt you’re invited with Paul Williams-delivered “Twilight Shuffle”, engaging and sweet, and it’s the golden road, that John Mayall’s piano paves, and we follow Dick as he goes out and beyond in the instrumental “If You Know You Don’t Love Me Why In The World Don’t You Leave Be”. This mood is called blues. The real one. Indispensable!

*****
 

VICK LECAR -
Blue Moon
Record Heaven 2000
It’s a game for classic hard rock afficionados, a jigsaw puzzle, which makes a curious picture of masked quotes from old masters. You’re in to play with an opening chord derived from Mick Box‘s book of hooks, but a patchy matter’s good. Not until the very end though. There are two covers rounding off the album, and if one can be reconciled to rather deem “Shinin’ On”, recorded for GRAND FUNK tribute CD, the all too heavy arrangement of “El Condor Pasa” feels a desecration, and Paul Simon now can complain of bringing the Peruvian tune into rock world.

Drop these, and there’s a true talent of LeCar’s shining through his songs, mainly co-written with the singer Ed Terry, capable of veritable impersonations of Plant, Coverdale and Joe Lynn Turner. Well, here’s a real connection with PURPLE school, as one of keyboardists is Paul Morris, who worked with both Joe Lynn and Blackmore. Licks appear familiar, yet it’s not so easy, telling who’s Vick’s guitar hero, while no doubt a blueprint for “Blue Moon” was the Coverdale/Page effort, clear in “In New York City”. What makes LeCar’s music attractive is his affinity for blues, not superficial, as it may seem from ZEP-esque “I Don’t Want You”, but deep – guitar pretending to be a harp isn’t a hollow trick, and gutsy bass coming to the fore in “Son Of A Witch” to remain there, bring forth a “Born Under A Bad Sign” authenticity.

In places Vick isn’t as confident and can’t sustain the rootsy route he’s put a feet on in “Run Like A River”, still it’s a matter of time to pull a bit more imagination in for ballads like “Take My Hand”, that’s wisely arranged, with raw edge and piano chasing the sentiments off. Emotions are there, though, which means, if LeCar’s next will keep the mark, a star is born. Or a moon, if you will.

****1/2
 

THE YES MEN – Prosody
White Jazz 2000
Phew! At last there’s someone playing sharp rock’n’roll. Those Aussies follow in the wake of their school-uniformed compatriots, not giving a damn about style and sound, until rock means fun. Which is hard to tell by the first anxious lines of “Ma Raf Vo” before they unfurl into nervous riffing with a punky attitude that strikes a chord with lyrics – just catch this rough drumming. They’re heavy, these angry guitar slingers, and proud too – “I Won’t Run” comes as a statement. Now, one can understand what it was like in 1976, when dirty folks burst onto muddy scene with their “No!”. THE YES MEN, however, are very confident and gelled musically, so “What’s Wrong” live atmosphere grips you by the throat, because shaping those simple blues licks into a catchy melody and adding a high-octane solo is no simple task. The band can easily draw the line to the edge of desperation, as “Family Rocks” slow burn shows, thus coming close to FREE depth.

Throwing a sax into this rowdy lot may seem an odd idea, yet it works magnificiently in “Would In A Room”, where brass instrument mingles with naughty bass and an infinite wah-wah. There’s even a touch of CRIMSO lurks in “A Dog Is For Christmas” expression. But they call it “Stripping Music”, stretching out the pure 12-bar pace, the only drawback can be a little bleak vocals against thick interplay – still, it’s where it’s at in strong hard rock numbers, like “Casting Stones” or “Acid Reign”. If you miss the early NWOBHM rawness, look for it here, in modern package though. And if the package is marked “Yes”, no use to refuse. Get it while you can.

*****
 

BAL SAGOTH -
Atlantis Ascendant
Nuclear Blast 2001
Must be another music from Hell, you think? An error in your file! You drink Bloody Mary? That’s the thing: there are many progressive metal bands around but here two elements don’t mix while co-exist to an interesting effect, when vocals rather hiss than lead the melody, leaving it to keyboards to thrive from the power “Epsilon Exordium” intro, which gives way to an almost danceable “Atlantis Ascendant”, where only drums appear too mechanic to delight. Folk is what makes a witches brew digestible – what about Russian melody of “Draconis Albionensis”, with guitar domination? – and a sound balance, very smooth. An impressive method – though, maybe histrionic a bit – it is a concept album, but pleasant to the point of floating downstrean, over the waterfalls and soft spots, that, as in “The Chronicle Of Shadows” with its symphonic tincture, sound a pure prog altogether.

Somehow refreshing it is, this easygoing of heavy metal material, and a couple of classic scales popping up from “The Dreamer In The Catacombs Of Ur”, only add a fuel to the fire. On the other hand, sometimes this fire looks artificial and music too well-calculated, so it can be a bore, and “In Search Of The Lost Cities Of Antarctica” leaves you cold, according to the title – penguins and hobbits don’t belong to the world of gleaming swords and honed musicianship, for sure. A pity and a pit to fall to.

****1/4
 

TONY GARONE -
The Epic Of Gilgamesh
Heliopolis Productions 2001
The major surprise of this project – yes, there’s more to it than just album, check the site – isn’t the subject: it was just a matter of time that one discovers other mythologies except Celtic and Scandinavian. Let it be the primary Mesopotamian epic – but a minimalist production is what strikes the most. With a couple of rock opera dramatic moments, no Eastern pomposity here, call it a chamber world music, and the music was indeed recorded by several units in several places; eloquent Turkish saz, one of many uncoventional weapons, in “Enkidu” appears from Israel via mp3 converting! And we see a talent in the family: while Ann Marie Garone muses with Tony in “Siduri”, Anthony Jr. submits most intricate guitar parts, both rock and classical – what a romantic acoustic piece “The Journey” is!

Hardly a catchy melody anywhere but hypnotic they are, reappearing from time to time, and it takes more than one spin to adjust Western ear to the music, which quietly swallows you with varied tricks, be it light duetting on “Ivanna/Ishtar” or electric guitar solo in “Huwawa The Terrible”. Well, it’s difficult to pinpoint now what the music of long ago sounded like, so Tony tries different styles, for “We Are All One” crossing over Indian raga and choosing Moroccan harmonies of opener “Gilgamesh” to set the scene in a prog way. A glimpse of lush arrangement vanishes in “Uruk” dark Cale-esque violin-lead strain yet that’s not about murky colors, think of Peter Gabriel exploring Middle East, or – in “The Bull Of Heaven” – Hassidic Crimso, plus there’s a shadow of “Space Oddity” in “Unapishtim”. Towards the end – in “The Far Away” and “The Flower Of Life” – begins a pure prog, a very GENESIS kind of, Garone avoided from the off and here finally introduces with taste. An amazing thing, this ancient king.

****1/3
 

BLACKMORE’S NIGHT
The Times
They Are A-Changin’
Steamhammer 2001
The pilot single from the third BLACKMORE’S NIGHT album, “Fires At Midnight”, clearly signals of a decline towards vocal dominance, which started to show on 1999′s “Under A Violet Moon”. While a bad thing it isn’t, that’s the reason why Ritchie’s fans, who are primarily drawn to the band’s output, become less interested in their idol’s new music – at least concerning studio work. On the other hand, it’s now, for the first time since mid-Seventies, that The Minstrel appears at his most experimental, and no one would say he’d ever take to Dylan’s song. He did.

No miracle in Blackmore’s playing on “The Times”, Ritchie just doesn’t seem too fascinated with His Bobness’ material, as Steve Howe is, and there’s just one tune covered – with a great dose of humour, though. Once the music starts to play, one would bet, it’s Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You (Babe)”, if not for familiar guitar strum across organ waltzing. Lady Night’s singing comes very relaxed, she’s maturing as a vocalist, being impressive on such a simple melody, where her partner only weaves a light lace around it. The song’s folk nature, thus, gets on the surface – yet it’s philosophical impact is diminished a bit.

More delighful proves the duo’s original creation, “Sake Of Song”, a rousing medieval piece, starting with a flute part remindful of TULL’s “Kelpie”. Candice and Ritchie have equal roles here, with Blackmore supplying an exquisite solo one expects from him. That’s a typical BLACKMORE’S NIGHT song, one of those that make a listener adore this ensemble.

And there’s not only delight for ears, for eyes too – a video bonus comes as a great addition.

****1/2
 

TONY FRANKLIN -
Brave New Tomorrow
Tony Franklin 2000

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One of the world’s renown masters of four strings eventually came up with solo debut, and what a fine piece of work it is! Surprising too – and not because this collection of songs isn’t heavy, while many think of Tony as of BLUE MURDER or THE FIRM member, the reason is that “Brave New Tomorrow” is light in many ways. It’s just amazing how Franklin manages to retain this sincerity after two decade service in rock ranks yet he’s still enchanted with life, or “Mystified”, as Tony puts it in a song. The album appears very idealistic, with no cynical point, soft “Peace Boulevard” and a title track being the statements of high order. Talking stylistics, there’s a clear influence of Roy Harper, the guru, and it’s an explanation of why bassman has here only Gregg Bissonette drumming and fulfils all the other duties himself, instead of arranging a star team. Humility comes good on this one.

The depth of music is something easy to overlook, more so in gentle pieces like “Listen With Your Heart”, and there are no bass frantics, the emphasis is on the guitar sound, which turns out an energetic raga drone in “Red Letter Day” and “Free Together”, the latter a sort of alternative world music with a neat solo and the “Whole Lotta Love” effects applied to the refrain. Bass lines form an important part of acoustically driven “Inside Of Me”, sporting a big-scale soulful chorus. And there are funky “What Are We Waiting For” and “Sunshine Lady”, lying on the fretless run-ups, too (duet with Glenn Hughes could be a real treat). Driving music creeps into your very soul, revealing Beatlish harmonies and strings that are a good counterpoint to Tony’s unpretensious though pleasant vocal approach. The Fabs pop feel comes frontal in “Hello, Hello”, the downside of it all could be only tracks duration, exceeding more relevant three minutes, but the mood compensates, so no complaints – especially after the second spin. On the other hand, take it as a hi-fi Britpop effort, which in “Maybe” sounds so airy, Sting should beware of stealing the ground from below his feet.

“Brave New Tomorrow” is a one-off album, a rare bird, worthy of chasing because it’s this thrill that we call hope.

****1/2
 

LONDON UNDERGROUND -
London Underground
Record Heaven 2000
It’s a magical timewarp. While there are neoprogressive bands in abundance, this Italian trio plays a vintage art rock as if it were 1970 now. Which doesn’t mean their music sounds dated – no, yet it’s a ghost from the past visiting 21st century for 37 minutes. The drums-bass-keyboards format may suggest UNDERGROUND follows familiar route, but no again, ELP never were about psychodelic textures, the bedrock of “Magda K.” with its roaring Hammond of ATOMIC ROOSTER kind. No sign of heaviness though, airy stuff, enigmatic – even artwork says nothing of the band’s idiom, and what they paint on Uranus in the spread illustration.

Their method builds on combining analog keyboards inventory with bass and moody vocals from the drummer, the sound we’ve been thirsty for for long, this Hammond-Moog coupling, bouncing wildly in “Squadron Leader” between arresting vocal lines. Psychopop is so rare nowadays, when everyone’s afraid to look silly – but it’s this silliness that’s impossible to resist, innocent and poignant, as in jazzy drift of “Everywhere I Go” with bursting choruses augmented by sitar drone. A jaunty ride continues in vaudeville of an untitled bit before stately “Mass Baptizer”. Brightness penetrating optimistic “Worst Is Yet To Come” makes the entire picture outlandish – especially when it’s orchestrated in the Tony Visconti way, strings filling majestic “Was She Worth My Time”.

Songs seaguing one into other with instrumental snippets, first of which is aptly titled “Kultual Opus #1″, no doubt such a stunning debut must bring UNDERGROUND a faithful following. The secret comes from their own faithfulness to the genre tradition – up to the covering forgotten gems like THE RASCALS’ “Love Is A Beautiful Thing” (they were Italian, too) and “Whatcha Gonna Do” by Brian Auger. Where the band draw this attitude from? Is there a wishing well in the underground? Dig more, we’re still thirsty.

*****
 

MIKE FORSE – Running
Stone Premonitions 2001
A solid unpretensious work one easily gets hooked on, a very Beatlesque effort from the opening guitar line remindful of “Band On The Run” to the final mantra. The album’s crammed with sparkling pop tunes, as “Leaky Boat”, but it’s a hidden passion of smooth “Blind The Judge” blue-eyed soul that breaks the ice. Yet, while comparisons to Michael Bolton seem inevitable, the first impression leads astray – folky textures in “Wonderful Life” show there’s something of Donovan in Forse handling a guitar and musing along. Call it Englishness and it peeps through jaunty “You Woke Me Up”, just lightly sprinkled with electric sound; give this more edge and drone – and Mike could front the dying Britpop movement. He’s not confined to the genre’s restrictions and allows himself a soulful mellowness in “Mirror Image” – a song FOREIGNER or Sade wouldn’t be ashamed of. Paul Campbell’s guitar playing complements music so well and without his Arabic figures “All We Create” could sound flat – if not for the repetitive raga loop, which gives the song a psychodelic Summer of Love tincture.

A simplicity is deceptive, inasmuch close listening to “Pick Up The Pieces” betrays well-studied masters, who draw the magic out of acoustic-electric mesmerizing lace. What’s important here is sincerity that’s throughout, and, fortunately, it finds a niche for a dramatic melody in “Running” – though appears too melancholy in “Miss Ya vs Krishna”. This summer innocence is rare these days, but Forse weaves it extremely clever with no idiotic delight, and the tracks like “Global Millaliens” beg for big production, the only thing they need to make the charts, because there are all the hit symptoms in them.

****3/4
 

VARIOUS ARTISTS -
Union 4
Frontiers Records 2001
Frontiers Records and Now & Then Productions came up with an annual compilation commemorating their union, and if we have quite a whole picture of contemporary AOR in this, it may seem not as inspiring. The main problem is that this isn’t a mixed bag. Who needs it to be so, indeed? But, while every single track is good, together they look pretty the same. Well, that’s the matter of production and the sign of a good collection, which must be coherent. The work’s done great, Frontiers and Now & Then do their business properly, having now the cream of the genre on their roster, so the fault (if any) is the artists’.

Except for some little things. One is the song selection, with TEN’s “Give In This Time” being not the best track on "Babylon" – OK, tastes differ – and, sure, not the best opener for “Union”, the position could be reserved for "Ring Of Fire" from Mark Boals‘ or MILLENIUM’s “Power To Love”. The last one brings forth a question of booklet notes: an indication of what album a certain track belongs to would be appreciated, especially when by the comment on MILLENIUM stands a cover of an album still to be out, while “Power To Love” was taken off 2000′s "Hourglass". Yes, not only the last twelve months’ releases are here to taste but those to come soon. To see the album covers are great too, the booklet serves as a label’s catalogue, although putting Pat Regan into DEEP PURPLE keyboardist’s shoes feels a strange mistake.

Let’s drop in some statistics – for fun yet not only. Four “brothers” bands – PRAYING MANTIS, BAILEY’S COMET, GIANT and HARDLINE. Three the David Coverdale soundalikes – minus Jorn Lande, who eventually found a voice of his own, plus Kelly Hansen, so convincing on INTO THE LIGHT song and almost a dead ringer for Glenn Hughes on new opus by HURRICANE. Here lies a point of identity, that seems rare in this circuit, when best are mostly the experienced masters who manage to play loose, among them Glenn Hughes (with VOODOO HILL), Bob Catley and Stuart Smith with his second HEAVEN & EARTH effort. Youngsters come too slick to be distinctive with the keyboards players deserving all but acclaim, there’s few of them though. Not more, though, than those who play rock’n’roll like PRIME TIME’s “Forever You And I”, “Eyes” from Brad Gillis or, above all, Billy Greer’s “The Kid Could Play” (SEVENTH KEY project. These kids could play and do so.

But that takes time, to mature. In its entirely, “Union 4″ makes for a pleasant listening, so while the wine keeps maturing, thanks for letting us into the cellar.

****
 

DARKANE – Insanity
Nuclear Blast 2001
An ill attempt on speed-thrash base. The album kicks off with orchestrated operatic “Calamitas” that prompts you to check if there’s a right CD in the player. Once the riff comes in and “Emanation Of Fear” bursts out, the doubts are gone, the title says it all and cover comes as best illustration of the stuff on display. The band rush at full throttle and the feeling is, they have no time to care neither about good song nor of a listener. Rumble of, say, “Distress” sounds ruthless and dumb, so the result seems very tiresome. Mainly, it’s the vocal lines that manage to dump everything down due to a screeching, which makes the lyrics and melody undistinguishable. But that may be rather pleasant and, whilst “Third” – a witty title! – is no more than the previous track’s continuation, it’s tuneful enough, a blissful exception.

The classical beginning and finale, “Inverted Spheres”, nevertheless, are no occasional and schemes like these appear well-hidden every here and there and, guitar-wise, are uttered very well, as in “Inauspicious Coming”. That it is, strictly for teenage headbangers.

**1/4
 

HERONIMUS FIN -
Bloodguilt
Garden Records 2001
Sometimes a live album of a band with only a few albums released is really required. FIN are the thing, they already gained a cult following, so the folks will be delighted to have this one out – especially those poor us, who hadn’t chanced to caught the band on-stage. Live, surprisingly, they’re a bit different but rawness makes the band more charming, more human. Progressive textures set aside here, putting the rocky side forth, so don’t be fooled by the intro foxily titled “Information”. “The Great Fantastic” rides in very bluesy on harmonica and a tight guitar-and-bass unit, and that feels bare compared to the studio version. Well-hidden affinity for blues appears overt in Skip James’ “I Feel Free”; the band took the CREAM rendition for a blueprint while put their own stamp on. The sound is somehow muddy in places which only adds to psychodelic atmosphere – it clears, though, for acoustic ballads of the “Shadows” sort that are delivered with an elegant simplicity.

This witty drift and changes betray the KINKS-like approach, on display in “Elvira’s Garden”, which reeks of Englishness and demands a master musicianship FIN are in posession of – what a solo adorns “Moment Of Triumphal Chaos”! Curious is a material presentation, as there’s not so much songs from the latest release, but “Alice In Sunderland” and “Purple Pictures”, sure, present chugging like an old, lovingly oiled engine. Along, rush postpunk-driven yet highly melodic numbers, as “The Line Of Least Resistance”, that anyone hardly doubted would work fine live, being a natural-born killers.

While this recording is to enrich any collector’s lot – and FIN already became an item – the value of “Live” proves high with the inclusion of “The Protest” CD tracks.

*****
 

PAUL ROSE – Slideaway
Paul Rose/
Stone Premonitions 2001
The artwork leaves no doubt: this is a guitar album but not a slide one.
Sound of slide indeed penetrates silver-tinted “School”, simple and soothing, while “Space”, strangely divided in two consecutive parts, hardly needed electric approach – though outlandishly enticing they are, much warmth could be found in nylon strings. Rose appears a versatile player akin to Steve Howe, and deserves to have his profile not as low. It’s impossible to tell beforehand what Rose has in store. Lovely and lively lines make countrified “Old Strings” bouncy and accessible ditty, at the same time, instead of scrupulous picking, Paul handles his Fender gently, drawing airy melodies out of it. Jazzy scales with a good dose of sustain effect in “Addiction” may be not very original yet easy and pleasant, there’s an ambient new age feel to them, so it comes as no surprise that no less than three tracks here are titled “Ambient”. “Demons”, on the contrary, is very agressive composition, the one with edge, that gets expressed less tasty than in other pieces.

Vocals weave a thread into “Take A Mile” like another instrument, not elaborate though very soulful, combined with guitar talk in a George Benson way, and sometimes, like in “Throw Me A Line”, take too much blues melancholy in. Altogether, nevertheless, tunes create the whole entity of a high order, sliding – that’s what the title hinted of! – one into another logically.

“Ambient” trilogy is the only piece on the album that comes unfocused a little, but bears a slice of world music in it with a great gusto. And there’s a wonderful blues “Slide Away” that rounds off the cycle – a fitting culmination, steel slide being a part of blues idiom. So let it slide on and on… the road to fame.

****
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