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NICK LOWE -
The Convincer

Proper Records 2001

That would be difficult convincing any young rebel that some twenty years ago this grey-haired gentleman was of the same flock as him. Another time, another music. That of music hall kind this time. Yet there’s something threatening in “Homewrecker” slide guitar paved crawl that makes you believe Lowe’s still a ripper on a prowl. And you can’t share not his nostalgic crooning of old standard which is “Only A Fool Break His Own Heart”, so beautiful in its three-minute simplicity. Nick easily takes a listener on a journey back to ’50s “Lately I’ve Let Things Slide” could belong to making wonder who it was, Elvis or Frank, you heard singing this tune. It’s original, of course, that soulful R&B one falls in love with immediately. Who will stand “She’s Got Soul”? THE PLATTERS to sing “Cupid Must Be Angry”, anyone? Oh yes, and here comes the recognizing of Old Nick in disguise. “Pleased to meet you, I guess you know my name”, indeed.

“Indian Queens” is a little pearl, a little hapiness in tears, an imaginary out-take of “Three-Penny Opera”. Geraint Watkins’ organ and Steve Donelly’s guitars impeccably help creating this lantern-lit atmosphere. “Poor Side Of Town”, one more classic so natural here, followed by self-pitying lament of “I’m A Mess” which casts a vague Ziggy shadow. Sure, it’s not that pessimistic as it may seem, and if “Between Dark And Dawn” feels sad that’s because of sleepless night fatigue, while “Bygons (Won’t Go)” brings a new lease of life asking, “How do you pack up a memory?” You can’t, sure! Twist of memory becomes a hip-wiggling twist, where “Has She Got A Friend” sees the elvish geezer rocking the boat a la Ricky Nelson. So getting older is a wonderful thing when instead of partying you can say to your darling, “Let’s Stay In And Make Love”. Convincingly enough to be called a masterpiece.

*****

 
CRAWLER – Snakebite

NMC Music 2001

Oh, what discipline makes to a band. Led by great late Paul Kossoff as BACK STREET CRAWLER, live they were quite a shaky bunch of players as "Live At The Croydon" proves. Past Koss demise, with late guitarist’s colleague Rabbit Bundrick at the helm and ex-IF Geoff Whitehorn taken the lead, the combo shortened their name and changed the style. What’s more important, by 1978, when this recording was made, they stood extremely tight to shoot for funky “How Will You Do It?” or Otis Blackwell’s classic “The Shape I’m In”. But there wasn’t that much of blues anymore, even though Whitehorn has since been proving his skill in this department recording with Paul Rodgers.

You may miss both Pauls when “Muddy Waters” flows in exemplifying CRAWLER’s jazzy approach best of all yet, played very close to FREE original, the song lacks a bit of the depth it once had. Not Terry Wilson-Slesser’s guilt, his voice excels bouncing easily off Rabbit’s bar piano in “Keep On Running”. Always behind big names, John Bundrick proves himself an artful composer and keyboards virtuoso in one short organ solo, like one of “One Way Street”, pushing feelings to the edge. Complementing him, Whitehorn runs for edgy riffs too to make “You Got Money” angular enough, Terry Wilson’s bass smoothing off the spikes.

With all this, SEX PISTOLS’ “Liar” doesn’t come as the major surprise demonstrating mainstream group’s broad view on music, not only punk heroes’ gift for a tunesmithery, vocal harmonies and Tony Braunagel’s imaginative drumming underscoring the song’s pop catchiness. Never mind, there’s always something special, like “Sail On”, which equals its FREE namesake, and blistering boogie “First Class Operator”. Then, creeping “Stone Cold Sober” bites no less than “Stone Cold Fever” – even now, shaking, rattling and rolling down the years.

*****

 
SKIN TAG -
Beauty Mark

Frontiers Records 2001

A great starter for a new band one can help but revere. There’s a real mastership in the SKIN TAG’s easiness with material going for a melody rather than style, which is classic hard rock – what a riffarama Dave Tsien builds up in shin-kicking rockers “On The Run” and “You Gotta Love It”! You gotta, indeed. With ex-SHOTGUN SYMPHONY Charlie Calv at both keyboards rack and producer’s seat, the five astound with deep powerful “Brother” stacking guitar layers to let Jimmy Lawrence’s voice fly vibrantly over Arabic riff. Not pretentious in any way, music sticks once “All The Way Home” bass of John Bongiovanni pushes on and loosens its grip for “Forever In My Life” soulful drive.

It’s only later that AEROSMITH template shows – waltzing blues twins “Remember The Times” and “Standing In The Rain” come as overt though wonderful examples – while you can hardly breath when infectious “Rainy Monday” falls down, one more gem to the AOR deposit. A little bit bombastic could feel “Under My Skin” if not for rhythm section so spacious Bonzo Bonham should smile down on Ron Sivulich from his cloud to witness no wearing and tearing to such a mighty sound. It’s a logical thing to decipher the quintet’s name as bearing the old giants stamp all over them, beauty mark. Unlike many others, SKIN TAG are persuasive when stating gently “Nothing Left But Time”. Time is what they only need to climb the charts. Melodic rock discovery of the year.

*****

 
DFA -
Work In Progress Live

Moonjune Records 2001

Italia’s a mystery land that gave birth to some great bands many talk about but few heard. Even fewer still keep an eye on Apennines being aware there’s a thriving scene out there. In order to widen their audience DFA took meandering “La Via” across the pond, this recording coming from a gig at Lehigh University. A good choice, the college circuit always had a soft spot for “intellectual” music like this. Pieces long yet never boring, down to beautiful instrumental interplay, equally intricate and melodic. CRIMSO and CAMEL as the mentors, it’s easy to catch references to “Frame By Frame” that Silvio Minella’s guitar gurgle puts into “Escher”. Not a real improvisation, “spacey, not spaced-out” would be a good definition – rhythm section may go for cosmic jam to be drawn down to earth by Alberto Bonomi’s keyboards, romantically suitable for ensemble from Verona.

DFA prove their origin with “Caleidoscopio” light lace, which breaks into dramatic blizzard warmed with two main writers, Bonomi’s and drummer Alberto De Grandis’, voices. “Trip On Metro” is different in its urban metallic and swaying Luca Baldassari’s bass against spiky guitar. Precisely pictured cold jungle turns out predatory for enigmatically dangerous “Pantera” (ah, these rarely used pure organ and jazzy piano!). “Ragno” embracing all the DFA’s elements looms to epical proportions and emotional depth, taking in bolero moves and African polyrhythmic structures. A fabulous Dante journey to infinite.

****3/4

 
BRAINSTORM -
Metus Mortis

Metal Blade 2001

It’s really dumb and dumber now, metal getting faceless, this band’s music as original as their title. Obligatory keyboards intro sets the heroic tone fully released towards the end, in “Behind”, and springs out metronome drums chained to roaring bass of “Blind Suffering”, both seem to exist separately from another Bruce Dickinson‘s follower’s voice – a crash on a take-off. Rhythm section hardly have any imagination even in more interesting structures of “Checkmate In Red”. Gradually, a melodic is gained up to make “Cycles” arresting, and there’s something of the ’80s poodle bashing in “Weakness Sows Its Seed”, a good song by any measure thanks to vocal line and piano – yes, piano! But that moment of pleasure is gone for relentless race to resume, “Into The Never” is a fitting title telling as to where this music’s aimed. Still, hope’s not lost completely even after three previous albums, and turn to roots metal for SABBATH-sinister “Under Lights” feels promising (should Oz keep an eye on the combo?). “Strength Of Will” put their bravado forth. Let’s hope, it’ll help out.

**

 
UNDER SUSPICION -
Under Suspicion

Frontiers Records 2001

Not the new kids on the block, three accomplished players gather their forces and step out of the curtains into public view. Theirs is solid gold AOR with catchy melody given a top priority here, if only verses lines matched the choruses. To add to overall trembling feeling, for “End Of The Game” in goes Kip Winger, and “Fly” is a duet with STARSHIP’s Mickey Thomas, yet SUSPICION singer Jeff Atkins’ voice is of the same class to soar in “Love Without A Net”, which is hard, edgy and insecure, as title suggests, and hugely impressive. Unfortunately, “Come Tomorrow” feels too Eighties to drive along to, even if you’re ready subscribe to “Welcome To My Life” and “Just Your God”, the one that cuts good, although wears some LEPPARD spots.

Well, “I Will Live” and “Hold On” are worthy pleas, Klay Shroedel rests his hands from heavy drumming to caress the piano while Peter Roberts does the same to his guitar getting off the typical metal ballad rails into soul field. So when they sing, “Destination Unknown”, you can’t help agreeing as it’s again switch back to plastic age. Much better is slinging further, to the Seventies, for “Traveler Of Time” – thinking of HEEP proves justified with bits and pieces borrowed from no less than three URIAH songs and an original hook. That means, they remain under suspicion.

***3/4

 
PETER GREEN’s SPLINTER GROUP -
Time Traders

Blue Storm Music 2001

It’s hard to stop being glad about Greeny’s return. He’s always relevant, this fresh outing proves it well embarking on a journey from authentic blues to the genre’s current form. It comes much more impressive with two tunes from Peter’s past – MAC’s “Underway”, the only Green’s original on offer and the only instrumental with old friend Snowy White guesting, and Nigel Watson’s “Uganda Woman”, which debuted on Green’s first solo single in 1972 and now feels ambiently jungly and tribal as never before.

Fortunately, all his troubles left behind, Master’s still around and will be, “Until The Well Runs Dry” as the opening song goes with its “I Shot The Sheriff” harmonica riff. A scorching tune, hoarse voice underpinned by short Hammond lines and a brave harp solos on swelling bed of bass and brass. Oh, “Time Keeps Sleeping Away” is a modern catch while Peter’s the same. The same vulnerability looks out of “Real World”, a follow-up to “When The Sun Goes Down”. And so familar is Green’s slide in rumba-shaped “Running After You” alongside striding organ solo and harmonica run-ups. “Shadow On My Door” is Nigel’s guitar turn to shake in Chicago style in unison with voice – Muddy and Willie smile from their cloud, pony rambles one more time, ringing, hellhounds turned “Wild Dogs” now, Watson delicately duetting with old man.

Saxes and Roger Cotton’s piano shape Watson-sung “Downsize Blues (Reposess My Body)” into a faithful honky tonk atmosphere setting the scene for poignant “Feeling Good” waltz. Then off to Delta for “Lies” that may sound a tad dissonant on the verge of heavily brass-splashed chorus but it’s so suitable to Peter, Green sounding black once Peter Stroud’s gutsy bass leads him “(Down The Road Of) Temptation” in female company. It’s the way back “Home” Albatross flies to proudly. Time trader, a merchant of the blues.

****4/5

 
MANTRA SUNRISE -
Mantra Sunrise

Tributary Music 2001

It’s dark before the dawn, and this trio deliver the twilight mood perfectly, but they aren’t experimental having their roots in CREAM. That’s very clear in magical “Northern Light”, where low voice of bassist Joel Bissing fills the air while John Miner’s high-pitched guitar brings the first rays of rising sun into “Why”. Guitars are compelling here, especially 12-string used quite rarely nowadays, but how it shines, countrified, in “Time Of Year” – hint on the Fabs’ “Sun King” riff hardly a coincidence – before turning to theatrical blues, really something unique.

Purely acoustic “Brudenell” draws from country as well as classical but it’s a soothing piece linking the music with early art rock tradition, which gets explored in “Dying Day” – pastoral flute, sparse drift, psychodelic feel take a listener to the late Sixties. At this point “Sleeping Whales” starts falling into category of Howe playing Vivaldi, until guitar tide comes up ambiently. Still, it’s kept down to earth even when revealing “Your Heart” at first in gentle strumming and then in some BLIND FAITH haze stretching to “Casino”. Maybe it’s all too melancholic but mantra must help concentrating, not dancing.

OK, mantra’s being read, it’s time for fun: “Paint It Black” riff kicks in almost 20-minute six-part epic “Land Of Spinagar” to switch to melody borrowed from Hackett‘s “Hierophant” and then to “Kashmir” scale and a bit more – great ingredientes properly mixed and embellished with the band’s own efforts (thumbs up to Wayne Garabedian’s drums and keyboards!) give a good result, progressive rock at its best. Day’s passed, haven’t you noticed? “Mantra Sunset” dims lightly like kissing goodbye.

****

 
JOHN CARSON’S
HYPERMANIA -
Down To Birth

Cyclone Records 1999

Many tend to overlook the fact that there exists a cross between prog and soul – they have the point, when only a few get there as convincingly as MIKE & THE MECHANICS. John Carson, the former singer with ARENA, got it right having delivered this songs collection with a help of his friends who don’t include a drummer. Solemn “Entre Millenia”, a wonderful chorale-like intro, shows all the beauty of John’s voice to lead directly into “Millenia” – attacking here and soothing there. Off the prog and into soul for “Wounded” acoustic softness – that’s another world, George Michael would score a hit with this classy one.

Very simple arrangements embrace typical AOR coupling of guitar and keyboards outlining the vocals that chant percussively in “Shine” and “Fortune & The Brave” but going for a hazy mood, which clears up with a breezy, sax-adorned, “Only Money”. One more crossover comes in “Crystal Ball” and “Exodus” to lose again in a melody department for the benefit of more sophisticated guitar playing, yet the music wraps around comfortably anyway – especially for GENESIS lovers – to stretch “Save Your Soul” into easy jazziness. Then, “Sleeping” is a gem, the most balanced song of a big appeal. If this is what Carson calls hypermania – with an album perfectly timed in its conciseness – a small talk of large things is a buying honesty.

****1/3

 
ANTITHESIS -
Dying For Life

Massacre Records 2001

Are these guys really in for metal? They seem to be bigger than just that, profoundly using acoustic guitar, which makes the band stand out and come close to old ACCEPT with the compelling drift of “Times Of Trial”. Even in solid if not bright “Consequence” is a disctinct feel of players being confined by their chosen genre, drummer Paul Kostyack and bassist James Lewis approach the material very imaginatively to step out into jazziness in “Deceiver Within”, Ty Cook’s vocals betraying METALLICA influence. Maybe not as telling yet somehow magic, in creeps “Mad Poet” reflecting the crippled soul perfectly in all those tempo changes and elusive melodies executed by guitar operators Sean Perry and Paul Konjicija. Unleashed, they rocket up title track of epic proportions from acoustically glistening ice to snow-peaked mountains that caress the sky. And if here you’re able to recognize rock’n'roll chords, “Netherworld” will show its classical roots. Then “Politicied” is where four-string groove comes frontal to be soloing on par with guitars – hands up to this enchanted field you can’t escape! What for, by the way, when “Secret Fires” burn so beautiful, orchestrated, beckoning to come and feel the warmth.

****

 
BLACKMORE’S NIGHT –
Fires At Midnight

SPV 2001

The third album from the Rock Minstrel’s Renaissance outfit was all worth the wait. Not that his mission’s finally completed – the search for the Holy Grail is infinite, and here’s a perfectionist Blackmore after all! – but Ritchie came quite close to this most coveted balance between exquisite medieval music and his metal leanings. The result is excellent and alluring, heavy arrangements of old instruments and intricate if catchy textures create a magical atmosphere. There’s no immediacy and experimentation of debut “Shadow Of The Moon”, nor seeming superficiality of vocal-biased sophomore “Under A Violet Moon”. Well, there’s no moon at all this time around, even the cover suggests we’re in a castle rather than on a lawn outside the walls. So it’s the night, the music’s tight and the fires are burning.

And, lads, do they burn slowly! Candice sings, “When you play with fire sometimes you get burned, it happens when you take a chance or two” – chances were taken with two previous efforts, and this one, approached with a certain caution, is scorching indeed, every new spin revealing another facet of a bittersweet pain. Lady Night sends her voice soaring on gentle strumming for “Written In The Stars” before marching band step in majestically with Ritchie weaving electric lace so familiar – yes, now this combo gets electricity like never before, underpinned with imaginative percussion. It’s hard yet not rock, and in this context Dylan’s "The Times They Are A-Changin" feels very natural while steam organ part borrowed from Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You (Babe)” makes a piece humorous – if Bob discarded past in favour of modern day, Blackmore obviously is having a ball playing simple licks that turn time back. Welcomed is hurdy gurdy which gives “I Still Remember You” a poignant depth, dramatic to the core thanks to effective drumming – no reason now to miss “Catch The Rainbow” you may be reminded of by this ballad. Whistles, flutes and crowd cheers sweep the sadness to burst out in “Home Again” uplifting chorus. Come up and join in, all jesters! Come around, people! Trumpets signal “Crowning Of The King”, an authentic rendition of Tielmann Sussato’s song Ritchie and Candice embellished and polished. At the same time pure acoustic “Fayre Thee Well” is Blackmore’s, not the traditional tune of the same name, but what a rich sound Maestro draws from his guitar!

Then, “Fires At Midnight” getting weight on its long way from initial delicacy through magnificient rise on bagpipes playing King Alfonso’s melody, expressive bass and hypnotising Blackmore’s solo remindful of the past not so far – and finally to fiery court dance. Lady’s vocals appear now unbelieveably mature be it sarabande or pastoral frailty of viola-adorned “Hanging Tree”, a calm before “The Storm”. Following the title track scenario intensity expressively builds in small portions but differently with instruments more involved in sending shivers down the spine when Eastern melody peeps in and the tempo speeds up. Still, those aren’t “highway” stars out during “Midwinter’s Night” borrowed from old Provencial song, which is why Night starts singing in French. The same dance arrangement that was applied to “Swan Lake” on the first album returns for “All Because Of You”, much sophisticated in acoustic garb and no less funny with a shade of “Over The Rainbow” in the solo. Back to multicoloured arch in the sky leads “Waiting Just For You”, credited to Man In Black and medieval composer Clarke, but in fact being the same old “Ode To Joy” by Beethoven that exactly twenty years earlier Ritchie had redressed as “Difficult To Cure”.

His passion for classical music is really uncurable so, together with flute and tambourine, guitar kicks in Praetorius’ “Courante”, another dance of yore. Next, Sixteenth century and Europe are abandoned for Japanese shores, where goddess “Benzai-Ten” abides – an interesting turn even after Russian song from “Violet Moon”, breezy and touchy. All gets carried away with “Village On The Sand”, nervously arresting song redolent of JETHRO TULL not only because of the flute part but it’s a melody itself that sounds as if taken from “Minstrel In The Gallery” to be given a “Lazy” emotive edge and a singalong mode. All over for a while, “Again Someday” romance melodically links the end with the album’s beginning and bids farewell so sincere that you feel obliged to keep these fires burning until the ensemble drop by the castle one more time.

*****

 
NIGEL GLOCKLER/
DOUG SCARRATT -
Mad Men And English Dogs

FoxBat Records 2001
Read the interview

There are two sides to Nigel Glockler, one leads to warrior bashing at the SAXON’s stool, the other is exquisite to intertwine with Steve Howe’s lace. The first project to his own name, Nigel explores his experimental self in a top-notch fusion with Doug Scarratt; the fact that guitarist’s unknown doesn’t match his skill to play in the vein of Satriani. So there’s enough edge to please anyone; only “ICF” boasting a riff of SABBATH kind may pretend to metal laurels. Ironic – if you expect “Dreadnought” to be as stomping, get underwater swept by pulsating silver melody, heartbreaking when switched to acoustic strings. Then, “1, 2, 3, 4…”, goes muted voice before tossing music over “One Hump Or Two”, drums part gets deliberately simplified to bounce on synth wave in a hazy Eastern morning that Scarratt paints on, slowly mesmerizing. The drift cranks up to “Funky Shotgun” – title says it all, save for Chinese melody plus a bit of reggae and jazzy scat. Around the world in one driving tune! One more shot comes with “Cheers Murray”, Chuck Berry licks mutating in heavy rotation – feels good.

Even more tasty is “Swing That Tail” having exactly what it says, the swing of Roland K.’s bass, and cutting in, boogie-way, like a knife in butter. That’s only a preparation for the real kick – “Pomporwot” takes in “Kashmir”-like riff, a strain of Spanish guitar, flying electric and a swell of Nigel-operated keyboards – heavy new age if you like, Glockler impressively unifying all of his leanings. At the same time division seems clear in another funky tune, “Hot Sausage” – how drums complement keys here! “Mirrors” sets back to this grinding reflective mood, melancholically poignant up to breaking into pieces that magically get together to create fragile solemnity of keyboards-led “Snow-capped” – African beats burst like an avalanche to dissolve in birds tweet of “In Memory Of…” on the way to blissful silence. Meet it in the sky, where mad dogs bark, and observe.

*****

 
VARIOUS ARTISTS -
Un Voyage En Progressif

Musea 2001

Another year, another compilation. Presumably, it’s not easy picking the best tracks off so many releases but it’s a wise decision to start hypnotizing a listener with creeping “Scheherazade” off HALLOWEEN’s "Le Festin" though keeping awake to Arabian strain may come hard. More so with PRIAM’s “Sensitivis” space buzz or light and jazzy “Yellow” from PRORITY flowing in on fluid guitar. The lull seems to be a common denominator this time, and chosen are the most quiet pieces, like “Ballet” that KVAZAR submit, and CLIFFHANGER’s “Autumn”, both pure prog yet hold a little storm (in latter’s case thanks to GENESIS). That method is justified nevetheless by inclusion of VITAL DUO’s “La Tour Haute” – otherwise medieval court dance out of "Ex Tempore" would be out of context here together with TAAL’s “Coornibus”, which draws on large scale symphonic production with cutting neoclassic guitar – chilling to the bone. But the natural highlight is intense “Succubus” showcasing brilliant "Android Domina" from ARS NOVA, who permanently keep on making it big. And that may be the best that Musea people do giving Japanese sensation off to the world, like they did for Italian EZRA WINSTON, whose “Night-Storm” serves as another lullaby. Exquisite icing of “Croisade Pour Olympia” delivered by XII ALFONSO makes it a round trip to beginning. So Voyage maybe, just don’t call it progressive.

***3/4

 
CONSORTIUM PROJECT II -
Continuum In Extremis

Locomotive Music 2001

Liverpudlian prog metal warbler Ian Parry gathered a bunch of friends to create a solid if underdeveloped concept work. Nothing new stylistically but while DIO take a break that’s the best substitute, not to say Parry’s pinnacle. Ian attacks with the opening “Continuum” that shows everything these guys – among them guitarists Patrick Rondat, KAMELOT’s Thomas Youngblood and Stephan Lill of VANDEN PLAS – have to offer. Guitar dominance is balanced by keyboards strata built to reign in “Lapse Of Reason” and let voice crawl and run in anxious “Asylum Seekers”. At the same time vocal approach could be less biased toward Ronnie The Elf one can easily mistake Parry for in “The Catalyst” but what a bass line here! Fine, until there are melodies, like “Intrusions Of Madness”, though the moment of real beauty seems to be a bit further than this team are able of reaching (which is typical in Parry’s case).

Unfortunately, near the middle of the album, at the point of “Mirror Image” the songs begin to feel quite monotonous, being mostly of the same tempo. As if to fix the impression, in comes the piano-filled ballad “Sentiment In Sanctuary” only to get heavy before you catch a tune. Not moving at all, it’s a downward spiral, and “What You Sow, You Reap” is hardly more than a filler so it’d better to stop here. However guitar work of “Collide-O-Scope” impresses and closing “Poetic Justice” comes worth the wait. Think twice before buying a share in this consortium – you may not win yet won’t lose anyway.

***1/2

 
LACRIMOSA – Fassade

Nuclear Blast 2001

Ten years down the line from their gothic metal inception, LACRIMOSA come up with a work of large scale, a mini symphony where metal feels secondary only marring the sublime picture orchestras and choirs paint in three parts of the title track, full of grandeur. The problem is that result’s boring altogether, too stretching to get in the groove. And, save for jolly “Libiesspiel” menuet (“March Of Gladiators” included), there’s no groove at all, not very much of a life – you don’t even need to listen to the words to say just by melody that “Der Morgen Danach” has something to do with German scene. Pop music as it is – replace a flute with synth and beats, and you’ll have BLUE SYSTEM of sorts. Ah yes, English lyrics and double-guitar solo in operatic “Senses” try to break the ice yet fail. Crystal clear, the music’s so cold, even brilliant trumpet of “Warum So Tief?” doesn’t make things more heartfelt. Which is right, as LACRIMOSA are all about tears. Shed a tear with “Stumme Worte” violin and go to bed, undisturbed. Music for insomniacs.

***

 
NIKOLO KOTZEV -
Nostradamus

Steamhammer 2001
Read the interview

An ambitious project that doesn’t live up to expectations. A good collection of strong songs, rock opera “Nostradamus” isn’t, falling apart with no reoccuring melodies to keep the whole thing together. There’s an attempt, and “Overture” is a fantastic piece, which contains the main themes as it should, but the problem is singers. Kotzev let them go loose where he must have been holding the reins firmly. To have Glenn Hughes and Joe Lynn Turner guesting on BRAZEN ABBOT records is one thing yet putting them in character role is something different. While Hughes often gets invited to do someone’s songs and you always wish he be singing not hard rock but soul, here it’s other way round: though great in “Pieces Of A Dream”, black music and medieval France have not much in common, and then, Glenn too heavily influences others – listen to Goran Edman’s phrasing in “The Eagle”.

The Funk Man might be more convincing as Nostradamus, sung by Turner, than as king Henry II – if only he was given “Henriette”, marred a bit by too sharp guitar and saved by Kotzev’s violin . Still, delivery’s impeccable if too stylish, “Caught In A Rush” is pure Hughes, and the only other one shining in the same measure is Jorn Lande, spilling the Inquisitor’s rage. Jorn’s claim to fame is justified, though “I Don’t Believe” that sees him duetting with Hughes is another nod to PURPLE. In “Inquisition” he magnificiently counterpoints Joe Lynn, who’s in his element, more dramatic than ever yet so recognizable in “Desecration”. Doogie White, the Storyteller, and Goran, Soldier and Ghost, are there to simply comment on events; therefore, their roles lack individuality, which is a pity – “Plague” a proof. Fortunately, orchestra and choirs give an effort an impressive scale and gel well with a band consisting of EUROPE’s John Leven, Ian Haugland and Mic Michaeli, the showcase comes with “World War II” and “World War III”.

Altogether, it’s all extremely clever – from the storyline to some quotes usage, as “La Marseillaise”, or “Burn” riff reworked for catchy “The King Will Die”, arguably the strongest tune on offer, with all the elements balanced perfectly. And there are “Try To Live Again” and “I’ll Remember You”, soulful duets of Turner and Alannah Myles, who could propel the song to the very top of charts if only cared. “Chosen Man”, a precursor to Hughes-Turner project is equally tasty – pure honeydripping soul. Another duet is “All Because Of You” with Joe Lynn and Sass Jordan (and cameo lines from Jorn), but there’s another hero, Nikolo himself, weaving the most exquisite acoustic guitar. The result, then? Discard the opera tag and enjoy, because unlike Nostradamus’ prophesies it’s all clear.

****1/3

 
ELTON DEAN /
MARK HEWINS -
Bar Torque

Moonjune Records 2001

Improvisation is a word too common, and musical idea may fly pointlessly without drawing much attention and passion from a listener. It’s not the case when a tune comes from Elton Dean, one of the greatest sax players who pushes traditional jazz boundaries all the time. Hailing from Canterbury scene, his works always tend to be experimental and melodic in equal measures; the same goes for Mark Hewins, known to a lesser extent yet skilful, with his synthesized guitars, to match Dean’s art. The two have been playing together occasionally since late ’70s, and either has recorded duets with, say, Hugh Hopper (Hewins) or Keith Tippet (Dean), but it’s only now that they come up with a duo effort credited to their names.

Recorded live in 1992 at London’s Jazz Cafe, the set comprises three extended pieces segueing one into another seamlessly. The title track, about 25 minute long, builds slowly with sax brushing soundscapes to be greeted by acoustic guitar weaving sparse canvas. Threatening, not claustrophobic but spacious, the drift gets relaxed, soothing, then electric strumming comes forth and pours silver rain between golden rays of brass. Jazzy touches fall in a Chinese melody, porcelain ringful. One by one, drops start duetting, and then go their separate ways again, frozen a bit when bells cut in and melting once sax spins around in warm circles.

New synth wave sweeps it all away before “Sylvan” sends abstract sax above tapping guitar drone, like waving goodbye to a train passing by. Nostalgic, it serves as a recollection, turning back in time to have a glance with a tear in the eye. Still, synthesizer makes an impenetrable bass wall, so sax bounces and swirls echoing yet resolving the mood only when it breaks, unnoticed, into “Merilyn’s Cave”. Free, it soars amidst birds tweeting, until guitar walls return to reflect the sound without restricting it this time. Sonic Galaxy expanding, cumulating energy in one wide strain flows in space-time continuum and calls, calls, calls…

*****

 
JORN – Worldchanger

Frontiers Records 2001

Something went wrong here, Jorn Lande seemingly lost in his quest. For one, his sophomore effort signals not only return to the David Coverdale-paved path the artist seemed to abandon – stomping “Glow In The Dark” and heart-wrecking “House Of Cards”, as good as they are, just re-write David’s lovelorn rage anew. Then, very eclectic approach confuses matters rather than clears them up. OK, it’s Jorn’s way of singing, yet composing-wise one never knows where he’s at on “Worldchanger”. Viscous vocals and instrumental bedrock set the dark atmosphere perfectly matching the lyrics in opening “Tungur Knivur” – Nordic glory par excellence. If it was the stormy night, then “Sunset Station” picking up the mood, turns the time back when chorus bounces and guitar wears a bagpipe mask. And it’s only rock’n'roll in the end of the day!

Unfortunately, a dead end street too: needless experimentation have led Lande to dumb heavy metal chase of “Bless The Child”, poor of melody and energy too – all the speed notwithstanding. Why leave the blues if you’re that good in it, like “Captured” acoustic flow convincingly proves? This mode feels great, warm and poignant to the bone. If this world needs changes, Jorn is hardly the one for revolution, the title track’s plain AOR holds no knife that “Tungur Knivur” dealt with. Soul rearranger? Only if you mean the genre, not the psyche. “Christine” captures, still doesn’t move. Jorn came quite a long way from PURPLE’s “Burn” on his debut to “Bridges Will Burn”, which rounds off this album, but ain’t it a way backwards?

***3/4

 
ILUVATAR -
Iluvatar

Kinesis 1993

Today’s progressive seems to be a rather poor scene, when gone are the days of bands as diverse as GENESIS and YES, and everybody just wallows in their wake instead of creating anything unique. ILUVATAR are no exception in trying to replace Peter Gabriel with Jon Anderson and charting the ocean of familiar topography. Which means, nothing’s bad with music, and it’s quite comfortable to let oneself be wrapped with the tide of opening “Iluvatar” because wind and wuthering is the weather that progheads stand proudly. Then, three-part epic “In The Eye”, spacious but the scale of it doesn’t let a fantasy fly due to its sterile atmosphere, hollower than that of MARILLION. Well, what is “Marionette” if not “Jester’s Tear” echo? Maybe a bit of hallucinogen would be welcomed?

Seems not, as “Eagle”, a tune so simple, feels wonderful in its acoustic garb and quiet flow (spot the RENAISSANCE influence in piano/orchestra counterpoint). A transition towards pop – nod to Collins, eh? – with “New Found Key” makes this key feel false, while one can hardly deny chorus catchiness, which is what extended “Exodus” lacks. And though “Wait For The Call” has some edge, it’s difficult at this point to not find the music boring. How many Tony Banks’ synth lines can we take? Further on, “Dream Visage” leaves you cold despite Arabian melody dropping by. So elaborated parts of another epic, “Emperor’s New Clothes”, make the title as ironic as it is. The emperor has no guise on.

***

 
SONATA ARCTICA -
Silence

Spinefarm Records 2001

Some call it a sensation. If so, TV news brings less sensation than melodic metal. “False News Travel Fast”, like ARCTICA put it themselves. You know the style, you see a title, you know they’re from Finland – what else would you ask for? You know the result without listening. Oh yes, a minute of silence in the end of final track “The Power Of One” isn’t as common for metal bands who haven’t heard of John Cale as machine gun drumming and shallow keyboards of “San Sebastian” or “Weballergy” are. Furious, but neo-classic guitar solos make you wanna cringe. Even the genre lovers might get tired of this endless conveyer that, indeed, may cause allergy. Good but not original, so even quite memorable “Black Sheep” tune hardly stands out of all the bombastic family.

Still, the interplay is something to boast, and they do so in instrumental “Revontulet” or “Wolf & Raven” solo. However, with the band’s penchant for catchy melody, the slower the better, thus piano-led acoustic “Tallulah” touches the heartstrings, but really great is “Last Drop Falls”, a ballad remindful of PAVLOV’S DOG fragility – less Meine to it, that would be a masterpiece. They say, silence “truly makes the most beautiful music,” and at the same time fill the air with thick loud textures. A lesson to be learnt, really.

***1/2

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