Crafty Hands Music 2019

Perhaps not happy, if still content, American art-rock maven embraces his mortality and unveils his magnum opus.


From HAPPY THE MAN’s self-titled debut onward, Frank Wyatt has always been busy and always kept the company of his former colleagues, the veteran’s PEDAL GIANT ANIMALS and OBLIVION SUN projects a contuniation of what started back in the ’70s when prog was full of life. Sadly, the question of life became too important for Frank in the recent years, but he didn’t let cancer get in the way of fantasy – nor Wyatt allowed his next endeavor go the way of the “Death’s Crown” suite whose issue preceded HTM’s return in 2000. Even though it’s dominated by a four-part faux-symphonic epic, “Zeitgeist” – where this band’s classic line-ups are featured, albeit not on a single number – feels light and full of hope and glory, and while the album wouldn’t attempt to break any genre barrier, it’s free of such pretense. That’s why the record is so impressive without offering a comfortable experience.

Never prone to pessimism, Frank’s not obsessed with the “borrowed time” aspect of existential angst, yet the keyboards ripple Wyatt and Kit Watkins roll across the title track creates a suitable sense of urgency – the carpe-diem sort of sweet anxiety – with David Hughes’ supple bass anchoring the soft worry which Stan Whitaker’s vocals and guitar sculpt for a contrast. This stormy edge is even more prominent in “Fred’s Song” – once revealed, its orchestral wave will sharpen the piece’s tranquil flow – but the cosmic drama should also kick in in the middle of “Leaving” to align heavy riffs with serene synthesizer passages, whereas the fusion swirl of “Twelve Jumps” results in Ron Riddle’s drum solo.

Still, there’s nothing as forward-looking as the polyphonic aquarelle of “Eleventh Hour” – painted with Cliff Fortney’s voice, nothing as down-to-earth as the folk-infused saga of “The Approach” that David Rosenthal’s theatrical ivories help deliver, and nothing as graciously grand as “Perelandra”: the aforementioned Symphony in D-flat Major. From the Tchaikovsky-inspired romanticism behind the opus’s arresting opener “To Venus” – its elegiac cello and hypnotic woodwind shaped from samples – to the presto-paced finale “Blessed Be He” which brings home the main theme’s solemn and triumphant development, catharsis is setting in. For Frank, it’s truly the spirit of the age; for the listener, it’s a blissful trip into the future.


January 16, 2020

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