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RICKY GARDINER
and
VIRGINIA SCOTT
– Auschwitz
Ricky Gardiner Songs 1998

Read the interview

Ricky Gardiner explored the very fragile theme, the tragedy of the Jews of Europe. The story of this mini-album is unique as is the music. OK, for many fans Ricky is the guitar player with Iggy Pop and David Bowie, just a few remember him as a leader of the old prog band BEGGARS OPERA. So here we hear not the riffage akin to “Lust For Life” but something different.

“Auschwitz” is one whole piece of music that can be defined as new age. Virginia’s keyboards provide the solid base for Ricky’s Strat. Guitar comes in as a thick stratus, sounding very low. The mood is similar to that of the CAMEL’s “Snowgoose”, I’d say, or – that’s the best comparison – “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. Gardiner obviously plays just for himself, for his thoughts, not to show off his skills but to let his feelings out. The tune is quiet in pace but unmeasurable in its depth.

Little by little guitar gets higher and higher and starts to weep, not as Clapton’s axe, much more in an introvert way. It cries and it soars. Suddenly the sound becomes sparse and breaks down. From beyond in flies Virginia’s soprano chanting Dante’s verses and then – guitar returns, this time going low. It sings and stumbles and stumbles again as a wounded bird. Mourning? A kind of. But there are notes of hope clearly heard, hidden on the very bottom of tragedy. There’s no authentic Jewish melody used but some hint of it, is. High again – and beyond, to make room for another vocal spot. The piece comes to a halt rather unexpectedly, with no real coda – anyway, it makes for a good effect.

I really doubt this album’s commercial value but as a music it’s excellent.

*****
 

RICOCHER –
Quest For The Heartland
Ricocher 2000
Blimey! If it’s a debut then what will be next?! I’m not going to say that it’s more amazing first album since KULA SHAKER appearance but I’m reaaly close to it. Just 22 minutes of music but what a great music it is! Well, there could be many superlatives…

We are welcomed into the RICOCHER world with a short spoken into followed by the opener, “The Code”, a two-part, half slow, half uptempo arresting composition. It’s quite difficult to liken the band’s sound to anything I’m familiar with. Oh yes, it’s definitely progressive rock in its best with all its trademarks but it’s original. Maybe there is a little of GENESIS theatrical approach to the vocal delivery yet the singer by no means tries to imitate Peter or Phil. Playing’s thick and confident, guitars still humbly and delicately buried in the keyboards’ layers. Until “Life in your Mind” gets in being a solid ballad with an anthem-like chorus, based this time on guitar. This talking instrument shines in solo, a kind of hard rock one. Then a pace quickens a bit, guitar steps back to let keys do the front work. The mood becomes more optimistic as it is being set by some McCartney-esque harmony.

“Your Pride” is a rocking (and rolling, yes) piece, guitar riffs and keyboards frolicing. And now it turns out to be not progressive rock as in previous two tracks, it’s, I would say, AOR in the vein of ASIA or GTR. After bouncing guitar solo one can easily imagine how it is played live. And then it’s turn for the main theme, the title track, “Quest For The Heartland”. Soft piano chords paves a path for the passionate vocal. Singer lives a song. The lyrics are very inspired being a quitessence of the RICOCHER philosophy. Before the second verse in comes a bluesy guitar, soloing, wailing very heart-wrecking. Later on the song gets more tragic yet more driving.

Aftertaste is just great. And there’s a need for a new shot of RICOCHER not to feel hangover the next morning.

*****
 

ALEX MASI –
In The Name Of Bach
Lion Music 2000
Brilliant and great – what else could be said on the stunning rock reading of Bach. It’s the rare occasion when one needs no words to talk about the music. Bach is Bach. On the other hand, Bach is an obvoius choice for every metal-related guitarist to play. Bach and Beethoven. Blackmore was clever to have had only one foray in the Beethoven field with “Difficult To Cure” while, say, Steve Hackett released recently the whole album of Eric Satie music.

Alex Masi, naturally, is neither Ritchie nor Steve so he was keen to go beyond the ‘obligatory’ pieces such as Toccata and Fugue in D Minor. Yes, he begins with it but using the well-known melody as an intro, a teaser for the things to come. Alex made a big deal re-working piano, organ and violin opuses for guitar and he really succeeded with it. Guitar is the only instrument used on this album, the only – but there are various guitars Masi played, both electric and acoustic ones.

It’s not even a rock album yet it gives a hope that young headbangers will be drawn by “In The Name Of Bach” towards classic music they used to disregard. Pleasant and interesting and not boring. Well, just imagine how painful it would be for Alex to return after that to the beaten hard rock path!

*****
 

DAVID GLEN EISLEY – Stranger From The Past
Frontiers Records 2000
I cannot say I was a big fan of GIUFFRIA, the band David Glen Eisley sang for quite a long ago. But, teased with a track from "Union 3" compilation, I was eager to listen to the final product. Album, which is. Now I have. Impressions? Good and solid. Vocals immediately remind of one Graham Bonnet and music – of the band Bonnet was in in 1979.

What really is a strong point of the album it’s most of lead guitar parts provided by Craig Goldie. He’s great and what a pity that we didn’t follow his career since he left DIO to the moment he and Ronnie joined forces again. The CD starts off with “The Return”, a kind of new age keyboards-driven piece decorated with the bagpipes from Eric Riggler, a man responsible for these instruments in the “Titanic” soundtrack. The title track is a real killer, similar to the RAINBOW songs, which is, I’m starting to find, not too good. We have one Blackmore and don’t need another. But riffs grow stronger and heavier leaning to those by BLACK SABBATH, painting “Can’ t Call It Love” with a gloomy guitar drone, the tune uptempo and nervous but with great Hammond solo from studio wizzard Pat Regan. Skip “Run, Run, Run” with its “I Surrender” reminiscencies to go straight to “Sing Brother”. Honky tonk piano leads this delicate ballad, a gem that, given to Joe Cocker (or, maybe, David Coverdale), would make Top 5. Craig soloing is beyond compare, again.

“Don’t Turn Away”, the second ballad in a spirit of aforementioned Coverdale or Hughes yet more uptempo than the previous one. Quicker ‘n’ quicker and next we deal with heavy rock’n’roll “Who You Tryin to Fool”, rocky, stadium-powerful and very American as MOTLEY CRUE smashes although not too catchy. “Stranger In Love” – you can say by the title that it is a ballad, and a very predictable in its development while “Can’t Wait Forever”, light, acoustic and folky is good, very good, epecially that moment before the solo when there are two guitars, one high and one low, playing.

“When It’s Over” is heavy and mighty though the riff seems to be derived from the Iommi’s “Headless Cross”. “Waiting on Heaven” is driving, too. And there is an outro, “Departure”. We’ve gone full circle. Another round?

***1/2
 

MILLENIUM –
Hourglass
Frontiers Records 2000
Oh yeah, a pretty good album. I guess, in a little time I’ll really fall in love with Jorn Lande’s voice. I haven’t still heard his solo outing but listened to his David Coverdale impersonation in THE SNAKES. Well, he’s a great singer and now seemes to have found the right band to complement his vocal and writing abilities.

“Hourglass” is Jorn’s debut as a singer for MILLENIUM and what a stunning one it is! “Power To Love” slaps you right in the face with a capella intro followed by the furiest guitars attack I’ve heard for the last year. Remember how you were pressed down by, say, SABBATH’s “Neon Knights”? The feeling’s quite the same. Once you’ve managed to keep your breath there’s a real surprise – a bit of classic piano, interplaying with guitar. And another one, march drumming close to the end of the piece. “Wheels Are Turning” is an uptempo track with a little poppy chorus and guitar solo which smells of John Sykes and prompts Lande to wear his Coverdale mask.

Title track is a masterpiece. Had it played RAINBOW instead of “Stargazer” we’d consider “Hourglass” a classic. Well, there is a real RAINBOW connection as the keyboards duties for this one took Don Airey. While the mighty riff is similar to Dio’s “Sacred Heart”, Jorn’s voice this time turns out Tony Martin-like though some fragments remind WHITESNAKE’s “Looking For Love”. Anyway, if there was something borrowed, it was from the huge songs and the result appears to be huge, too. Piano chords open up and spread around “No More Miracles”, a delicate atmospheric ballad sung in gentle voice. Straight-forwarded, keys-laden AOR shines through rather regular “Superstar”. A short “Rocket Ride” is much better, in the beginning vocal’s drowned in guitars layers but later it comes out to the fore to deliver a QUEEN-ey stadium chorus. Solo would suit Brian May as well.

Treat yourself to the bluesy ballad “I Will Follow”, played very laid back just like Gary Moore used to. Quite standard? Maybe. But how wonderful! Voice and solo could easily make girls cry. Nothing special though is “I Still Believe” but you guess it by the title. Short piano intro and here it goes, riffs abd whatever. Oh yes, and a funny vocal exercise in the end. More serious tastes “Masquerade”, which you don’t pay a good attention at the first listening but get in on the second spin. If RAINBOW is your cup of tea this one will grow on you. Airey’s airy keyboards adorn the last track, excellent “Chasing Time”, familiar from "Union 3" compilation. Vocals are beautiful as ever but the harmonies is of KANSAS kind. The fitting end to the great album, indeed.

*****
 

THE SIGN –
Signs Of Life
Frontiers Records 2000
You never heard of this band, I bet. But I’m sure that you heard about at least some of THE SIGN players. Some of the bands Bobby Rondinelli provided his drumming for were RAINBOW, BLACK SABBATH and BLUE OYSTER CULT. Guitarist and singer Randy Jackson is a leader of powerful trio ZEBRA. Billy Greer served in KANSAS. Relatively less-known Mark Mangold and Terry Brock worked respectively in DRIVE, SHE SAID and STRANGEWAYS. So what – I’ve won my bet?

From the first sounds of “I’m Alive” it’s clear there are seasoned musicians playing. There is strong self-confidence in their attack. Sharp riffage and lofty organ set the right mood and welcome folky guitar in. You just enjoy Planty vocals from Randy and great guitar/organ interplay following the driving keyboards solo. What a winning combination!

“Crossed The Line” turns out to be just an uptempo regular AOR piece soaked with keyboards yet quite catchy. It serves as a good passage to the next one, “Aryon”, titled in the name of girl this album is about. Demo version was included on the "Union 3" compilation from Frontiers Records and here we have it in its full glory. The piece begins as a ballad with piano and tragic voice but quickens up and develops into something destined to make Top 5 if released in 80s. It rocks and smokes and breaks down to effective slow bit leading to solo.

Well, “Forever Again” is a real ballad with great chorus generously filled with vocal harmonies. Slide guitar solo is mighty, too. In Oriental ornament of “Stranded” one can easily hear LED ZEPPELIN’s influence, the tune is sung by two singers and guitar line is even a little funky but it’s a keen singalongable chorus that really holds the track up. “All Your Life” – folk-tinged and again with Plant intonations, though sometimes voice leans towards Axl Rose’s trademarks, while melody is good. “The Wait’ is a solid yet rather banal bluesy song with Hammond splashes in the background.

The further the worse. “I Will Be There For You” – couldn’t they come up with more imaginative title? It’s not necessary to listen to it to know that it’s one of those tunes that end up on the “Metal Ballads” collections. The same goes for “Nothing But A Heartache”, a slick and mawkish song with too much keyboards.

Music gains flesh again with “Desperate Heart” whuch begins with a capella attack that makes way for bouncing guitar. How it was as ASIA sang? Yes, cutting it fine. Indeed, they are, THE SIGN. The album is closing with a title track, anthem-like ballad that leaves you satisfied yet puzzled with a ‘musical box’ middle part. But what makes you wonder the most is bonus track which in some seconds runs through every song of the CD with a breath of “No!” in the end.

Some of THE SIGN guys are soon to release solo albums. Maybe that’s the reason of this effort’s flaws.

***1/2
 

SARAH BRIGHTMAN –
La Luna
Angel Records 2000
When opera singer steps aside to pop or rock a result usually appears to be rather awkward – or aimed to the alternative music audience. Well, every rule must have some exlusions. So here it is, an exclusion.

Don’t be afraid of the title – Ms Brightman doesn’t tread on the beaten latino path. “La Luna” is in Italian, a song with the music by Antonin Dvorak. Moon is a subject of the album and that’s all. And around this axis very different but strictly top-notch songs spin. There is traditional “Scarborough Fair” side by side with “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” by PROCOL HARUM, and romance by Rachmaninov, sung in Russian with beautiful English accent.

Light rhythm, airy arrangements hanging on keyboards strands, a bit of orchestra and a piece of choir – and that terrific gentle voice showing all its operatic scale just ocasionally, when Sarah sings classics – Dvorak, Handel, Bach.

Fifteen (or sixteen, with bonus track hidden in the end) make a one, whole masterpiece. For each and everybody – for those in love with symphonies and those about to rock.

*****
 

PATRICK BROGUIERE –
Mont Saint-Michel
Mellow Records 1999

Read the interview

If Rick Wakeman’s first albums send shiver down your spine, “Mont Saint-Michel” is a feast for your thirsty years. While Rick now seems to have lost his love for gothic and medieval music, Patrick Broguiere proudly waves his banner. He went even further than Wacky did as he brought real strings and woodwinds to the fore. And another common point between the two is that both of them used to find inspiration in landscapes and buildings they like to tell about in music. This album is a praise to beauty and legends of French sanctuary of Mont Saint-Michel.

For youngsters, though, the first comparison to come to mind is, of course, ENIGMA because Patrick combine monks chants with synth drumming, too. Chants, preceded with cellos’ notes open the album with “The Archangel’s Finger”, a wonderful piece with new age feel. It develops into light folky melody played by violins and, here it is, unexpectedly in comes a sax wailing brilliant jazz-tinged solo.

Once the landscape is outlined we are welcomed in with “Thirty Candles Quartet”, gentle piano piece – the main theme is introduced back. “The Crypt Of The Large Pillars”, on the contrast, is an uptempo number with jazzy feel to folky tune that’s exquitely delivered on guitar interplaying with violin. Was barocco menuet relevant in the early Renaissance period? Maybe not – but does it really matter? Classical guitar solo is something you cannot help but surrender to.

What can “A Night In The Abbey” be like? Yes, trembling monks chanting psalms requesting Satan to withdraw, pull in mighty church organ and drums. Solemn atmosphere is speared with clear soprano that soars high and dives a little low. Last time I heard such a stunning combination was from the (er, yes) RENAISSANCE and charming Annie Haslam. Again there is quiet acoustic strumming but this time it comes against the wall of organ sound. Distant bells ring a way to “Theme Of The Pilgrim”, the bouncing one that makes you get up and dance. Oh, that’s electric guitar provides a sparse, Orient-ornamented, solo.

Well, Wakeman worked with classic tenor and Broguiere invited baritone to sing in “Gothic Gargoyles And Lace”. Its roulades applied to piano and electric guitar makes an amazing effect of cackling stony creatures sitting on the walls decorated with lace that’s symbolized by the silvery shining sax. “Quicksands” soundscapes remind of the CAMEL’s “Snowgoose” with its classical orchestration. The piece could make for a great symphony overture – if you heard ELP’s rendition of “The Pictures” by Musorgsky you get my drift.

They knew how to hang out in the Middle Ages, didn’t they? So do get the picture of “A Feast In The Guest Hall”, a dance played by strings and flutes that later on make room for acoustic guitar. Then it gets harder – bagpipes and… Yes, indeed, unbelievable! – pure, distilled rock guitar. Maybe Patrick should call for French Rock Ensemble if Rick had the English one?

“In The Crypt Of Notre-Dame-Sous-Terre” is something quite different, a delicate classical guitar piece leading to the final cut, “Immensi Tremor Oceani”. Just imagine organ plus soft guitar plus male choir that gather forces in one amazing blow and give up a turn for sax and fanfares. Reoccuring theme makes its way back together with chants – but now they sound more optimistic.

Magical, killer piece of work. Will Wakeman take the challenge?

*****
 

PHREEWORLD – Crossing The Sound
FIG 1998
Interesting band, one of those that reassure the listener that prog rock is not dead yet. It is very good when influences are quite obvious while musicians try to to create something that belongs to them only. It’s undoubtedly GENESIS of 1975-76 who were examples for PHREEWORLD, and especially great Steve Hackett, an orchestra in one man.

The opener, “Freeworld”: layers of keyboards, time changes, sharp guitar running-ups. Sound is very dense but the tune a little monotonous. In the end keys start playing something different that could make for a great song but it fades out too early to enjoy it in full. “China”, on the contrary, is guitar-driven. Not Oriental tune one expects to hear but anxious yet very melodic. Vocals are raw though while keyboards are excellent.

“Perfect Prison” starts acoustic with soft voice resembling that of Brian May. A light mix of folk, britpop and Beatle-ish beautiful melody that grows on you. “The Hermit” is a masterpiece showing the band’s skills in writing and delivering. Etherial vocals smell of YES – I don’t mean timbre – but it’s a bass that reigns here. Bass not only provides the solid foundation for the interesting instruments interplay but brilliantly soloes making guitars and keyboards swirl around.

If we trace the bands roots down to THE BEATLES so “Revolver” would be the album heard in the PHREEWORLD’s music, “Solar Spectra” in places even reminds “Dr. Robert”, though the synth sounds and mood of this kind we had in the TULL’s “No Lullaby”. Influences differ: isn’t it WISHBONE ASH glistening in “Gates Walk”? The piece – the second best on the album – starts with acoustic guitar strumming and vocal polyphony but quickly develops into BLACK SABBATH-like heavy, viscous riffs and howling guitar. Wonderful!

“The Empress” – playful melody contrasting rather gloomy synthesizers, the result is too raw as though it’s a demo. And what you think is coda is an intro to “Wardrums”, throbbing rhythm pointing to the title. The last piece consists of two parts, the first being great instrumental, the one that Steve Howe likes to come up with, with technique that seems to overshadow the melody, while the second with its YES atmosphere fittingly closes the CD.

The more you ‘cross the sound’ the more you’re into it. Very promising.

***
 

UNLEASHED POWER – Absorbed
Verdict Entertainment 1999
Oh, it’s metal thing. Good metal thing. True metal thing. Looks good, sounds cool. In the beginning, nothing quite original in the terms of style but undoubtedly interesting. And melodic – it’s clear the guys started off being not on METALLICA, MEGADETH and this like but traced their way somewhere near to good ol’ MAIDEN and other NWOBHM stalwarts.

It’s a mini-album, just five songs – three from the “Mindfailure” album session and two recorded recently. All of them not new, though. The title track kicks in with fiery riffs and thundering drumming but voice drownes in the guitar canvas. All along the way the piece appears to be a little boring and fades out rather awkwardly. Which cannot be said about “Calendar” that starts as a Spanish serenade, gently sung and accompanied with acousric guitar playing and then developed into a great metal piece that leads to another acoustic intermission and again – to the battle of sound. Sometimes guitar starts weave the spell in a manner Blackmore is master of. So does it always need to be pure metal? The band’s potential is looming much more large.

“Perpetrator of Dreams”. Speed is what you hear but vocals once again sound too forced, unlike in the previous track. On the contrary, “…..at the Lowest point” shows the band’s versatility – there’s more acoustic guitar strumming and time changes. And in “Stasis” one can hear the band’s love for blues. Do they listen to Jimmy Page? I guess, yes. The solos are great. Well, guitars are the big thing in the UNLEASHED POWER protocol but the band reaches its highest points when the axes make way for voice. Love your neighbour…

***
 

GNIDROLOG – Gnosis
Snails Records 2000
GNIDROLOG strikes back! The band that wasn’t for the last 30 years got back with a vengence. They not only reformed to play live and cash on nostalgia for the days of old but came up with the album of original music that rocks on.

“Gnosis” is a real proof that progressive rock of early 70s can be relevant and modern today. The Goldring brothers fully retained the impetus that was lost by many of their peers, not to say about newcomers. There are pieces written in 1970 next to ones composed in 80s and 1999. And it’s a pity that we were short of such a masterpiece from GNIDROLOG for so long. The album sounds extremely fresh.

All the folk stuff from all over the world seemed to be used in rock music to the date – but no, there is one that wasn’t – the Jewish music. (Let’s not talk about Israeli bands, they’re not worthy, they are just awkward.) And here it is, Colin and Stewart Goldring not only artificially put those motifs to rock but they feel it. The listener feels it from the outset, “Reach for tomorrow”, too. It’s not a song, it’s a prayer for peace turned to God – Colin calls out “Shaddai”, one of His names. The tune is great making one understand he deals with something special.

“Reverend Katz” is an instrumental piece in the beginning resembling, maybe, TULL – but no, it’s second to none. One guitar part overlaps another building a golden pyramid of sound. Although the tune is composed by Colin, it’s Stewart who really shines here. One hell of a guitar player! Time comes to slow down a little bit and we’re welcome to “Fall To Ground”, soft acoustic ballad, very light and gentle that easily could make a Top 10 hit if anyone bothers to promote it.

Next is “Woolunga”, quite a standard prog rock guitar instrumental, the one that Steve Hackett is a great master of. But don’t take it too seriously, just listen to the funny sounds of recorders and didjeridoos, played respectively by Colin and David Hudson. “Wonder, wonder” is beautifully crafted rhythmic tune with classic guitar at the fore. A little poppy and even danceable but acoustic solo is a real wonder.

GNIDROLOG’s second album released in 1972 was called “Lady Lake” and there is a Dutch named after it. The Goldring twins met their followers and were inspired to write “Deventer”, recorders-driven piece. Acoustic guitar, than recorder comes in – sell a tune to Ian Anderson, guys! – creating a medieval mood. And then again guitar plays in flamenco style.

“Bells of Prozac” – good title, isn’t it? Atmospheric, even a little bit jazzy soundscape, interchanging guitar waves – and a cute bass solo from Rick Kemp. Excellent! “Kings Of Rock” was written back in 1973 and dedicated to the memory of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. It’s a gentle lament for dear friends, not blues Pearl and Jimi were masters of, great yet solemn ballad with singalongable, mighty chorus that could fit QUEEN. And instead of Nessa Glen here is old master Chris Copping caressing his Hammond B3, which is very prominent during steel guitar solo filled with tears.

The title track represents Hassidic dance melodies (I wish you heard the originals!) as seen through the prism of classic hard rock. Colin Goldring is absent but his son, Sam, is in. Along the way the energy-charged piece turns more progressive, full of acoustic guitar reminding of Steve Howe solo tracks and heavy-weight bass. “Crazy, Crazy” is a light folky tune with slide guitar and harmonica, there’s a catchy chorus to hum afterwards.

SUPERTRAMP could make a fortune of “Going To France”, very rocking song, again with Copping coping with keys. It’s followed by the solid modern-feel track called “The City Sleeps”, the last with vocals. The last two pieces are instrumental. “Two Helens”, a sonic portrait of the brothers’ wives, being a gentle and smooth classic guitar soloing from Stewart, while “Repent Harlequin”, inspired by Harlan Ellison SF story, is a little viscous tune with cello-like keyboards, a piece to be orchestrated for some theatre playing – just like those by Steve Hackett on "Please Dont Touch".

With “Gnosis” we have a powerful album on par with ones we own and treasure for many years. A must have.

*****
 

YOKE SHIRE – Masque Of Shadows
Zygo Records 1999
It’s hard to talk about “Masque Of Shadows” without permanently saying “wow!” because it’s close to the album we’ve all been waiting for for so long. A gem and a real masterpiece. Could anyone tell me how American band was able to come up with such an English theme?

“Masque Of Shadows” is arresting even with its artwork. You take it anticipating to dive into something medieval and extremely interesting – and you’re not disappointed once you gave the CD a spin. Now you start to understand all the ravings about the band!

“The Three Welcomes” is just a short intro with Celtic spirit, a teaser for the grandeur to come. And it ticks in in a form of “Black Tower”, an exquisitely brewed tune soaked with steaming organ and jazzy-edged bluesy guitar. Well, there are TULL influences but hidden quite deep, and no, there’s no flute on the surface, here we have blues harp played madly in a Plant manner. Rhythm changes, painted with marimba, are just great, turning almost Carribean towards the end of the piece. With “Shape of a Dancer” we step a little further into blues, this time more gloomy. Great keyboard solo intertwined with bass leading into light, dancing, guitar passages. “Magic Circle” smells with JETHRO TULL gone folk of ’77-’78 but isn’t it just pure Englishness oozing from acoustic instruments playing – guitar, dulcimer and – only now! – flute? Yes, there is flute, fortunately treated not in the Ian Anderson‘s way.

With “Maiden Voyage” one begins to get a picture of some conception, the tune starts with a bass guitar and has its roots in Hendrix psychodelia, transforming along the way into something Oriental. The vocals sound a little thin now without slight echo that complements the chorus. And now we’re reaching the heart, the core of the album, an epic “The Brook, The Mirror And The Maiden”. Terrific a capella start and then keyboards flow in dripping like water. Voice, then silence – and the flute calls singing as oboe. Some Anderson-like notes and another keyboards wave comes near bringing crystal clear voice. (And what is this that dances around the melody? Female vocals not mentioned in a booklet? I really can’t tell.) Great glockenspiel use and thunder and rain effects draw an amazing picture – especially when a driving rock part is pulled in introducing us to “Return Voyage”, an end of journey we took part in.

“Ghost Notes” is a short piece – acoustic guitar strumming while keys create a little waterfall, we hear horses stomping and the hard rock guitar tries to get in through some GENESIS canvas. And it cuts its way in the title track: hard’n’folk riffage, twin guitars – ain’t they heavily influenced by WISHBONE ASH? A real killer quite complicate but sounding simple. Then it softens and here is the end, a piano outro “Magic Dust”.

I really don’t imagine how all this can be reproduced live with only three musicians playing! But it is – so give us another album or two and then serve us with the live one, please.

*****
 

DAMIAN WILSON – Cosmas
Verglas 1997
There’s always something special about solo albums of the ‘band guys’ which lets us see another facet of the talent we claim to know oh so well. They always have some surprise awaiting on us.

“Cosmas” is definitely NOT rock album, not the one we can expect from the singer with THRESHOLD who also takes part in AYREON projects. But it suits well for the man who sung in “Les Miserables” staging as well as on the Rick Wakeman recent tour.

The album starts off with “When I Leave This Land”, the gentle tune played on the piano and sung in the vein of the David Coverdale’s solo debut with etherial voice flying around. Strings add another dimension to quite a simple but beautiful song. Next we hear “She’s Like A Fable” resembling “Norwegian Wood” with its folky motifs that penetrate all the album through. This gem could fit perfectly even for Ian Anderson whilst “Agony” has another mood kicking in, a jazzy, almost Broadway-like tune filled with dixieland brass section and piano. And yes, here it is – a cute guitar solo which leads to fade out.

Well, it’s a singer’s album and all the instrumentation and arrangements serve just to underline Damian’s voice, soft, soothing and shining in a melancholy lullaby “You Hurt Me Inside”, adorned with mandolin and accordion playing. And what’s very pleasing is several small, half-minute, acoustic guitar/vocal dittos spreaded around “Cosmas”; “How Can You Turn So Coldly” is one of them showing the beauty of simplicity, the rule that many artists tend to oversee. Another one is “I Can’t Change Your Mind” sung a capella.

“Please Don’t Leave Me Till I Leave You” once more discloses Mr Wilson love for the Beatle-ish harmonies in their overt Englishness. “Naturally” is, er, natural and warm – Damian just sings and rarely lets his voice soar, he doesn’t show it off. Mostly acoustic instruments got the listener relaxed a little so he’s awake with the electric guitar riff, so odd sounding in this idyll. It’s “Naked”, bluesy and dirty a la Hendrix, and Wilson for the first time lets himself go with a scream, thus combining clear operatic singing with rock approach, akin to the way Ronnie Dio does, while creating a curious contrast with string sextet.

“Cosmas” appears to be very intimate and introvert piece of work that would be close to every dreamer of this world.

****
 

PATRICK MORAZ – Resonance
Awaka Records 2000

Read the interview

I really don’t know how many fans of Patrick Moraz are out there. For many people Patrick remains the “guy who replaced Rick Wakeman in YES”. Well, he did. And he dedicated a huge piece of his life to THE MOODY BLUES as well. Indeed. But the fact that Moraz is a top-notch artist in his own right can hardly be overseen.

“Resonance” is a pure piano album and is just great music to spend one hour listening to. It’s not for everyone, it’s not even for those of us who love Wakeman’s piano exercises. It’s more complicated and more jazzy. But aren’t many of Patrick’s works complicated and definitely jazzy? They are.

The opener is “Vortex Of Life”, a four-movements piece which in the beginning sounds maybe a little sparse but very solemn and extremely melodic towards the fourth part – melodic in a Moraz way, of course, and by no means poppy. Next, we have two dances – “Sundance” and “Moondance”, but while the former is pacey and jazz-soaked to the core, the latter is swinging ragtime turning into honky piano boogie improvisations.

Title track, “Resonance”, on the contrary, a ruminative piece, slow but tight and beautiful as a spring. “Colloids Bounce Around” is rather eloquent title, isn’t it? Just let your imagination go and here you are, having this uptempo cut, another one with theme that’s hard to follow at the first listening, improvisional but really driving – all in only 3 minutes!

At this point one cannot help thinking there IS a flaw in this album, and the flaw is that some tracks fade out before they end: master such as Moraz could find a fitting resolution for each track.

“Standing In The Light” takes up the “Resonance” mood, being a bluesy number that develops into a kind of classical tune, loaded with bass notes. And now, the music gets straight into a classic pattern. “The Light” sets, er, the light mood, it’s a long yet wonderful and arresting piece, slowly wrapping around you as it goes. When you think it’s over, there are some more notes to enjoy, the melody returns and gets higher and higher along the scale. Just imagine how great it would be if fully orchestrated, just like some Steve Howe solo tunes (recorded often with Moraz, by the way).

And the final is “Birds On A Wire”, a light serenade, a little scherzo to give an end to the vibe called “Resonance”.

*****
 

STEVE HARLEY & COCKNEY REBEL – …In Pursuit Of Illusion
NMC Music 2000
For those who needs to be reminded I have to say that Steve Harley and “Harley-Davidson” have only one thing in common and the thing is rebellion. Well, you for sure saw Steve and his band on MTV. Right, he’s that guy in furred coat singing merry ditto “Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)”. Naturally, this megahit is present herein and there couldn’t be any other way. For this album is a document of STEVE HARLEY & COCKNEY REBEL concert at German TV in January 1976 when the band was at the peak of its fame and creative strenghts.

A style that band confessed is traditionally defined as glam rock. Frankly saying, Steve and Co had very little in common with SLADE, Gary Glitter, SWEET and other glam stalworths. Glam was once touched by Bowie and it’s at this point that we can find some likeness.

Steve himself can hardly be considered as a top-notch singer, but his modesty served him very well having spread over all the COCKNEY musicians. And they were just brilliant. Jim Cregan‘s soft guitar and absorbing keyboards played by Duncan Maccay let Harley pave the road abandoned by THE ROLLING STONES in 1967 and make a curious cross between rock’n’roll and barocco. Listen to “Make Me Smile” and you’ll realize what was the gist of COCKNEY REBEL.

“Red Is A Mean, Mean Colour” is soft ballad smelling of Jagger at his best romantic mood; guitar sings like a fiddle – you rarely hear something like this. And how great the band deals with THE BEATLES’ “Here Comes The Sun” turning Harrison’s airy song into excellent ska underlined by Stewart and Lindsay Elliots’ rattling.

“Psychomodo” is an eloquent title, isn’t it? During Steve’s laid back introduction of his colleagues Maccay concentrates on piano and starts slow yet canny improvisation taking the audience into the swirl of “Sling It”. Two synthesizer solos and one, tasty, jazzy, rumba-tinged, on guitar are something exceptional!

The album ends with the band’s debut song, 10-minute ballad “Sebastian”, embellished not only by soaring guitar pirouettes but by Harley’s yodelling. (Yes, he was quite near to Tyrol while he was taken away by his own music.)

CD two is a feast not only for ears but for eyes too as it features all the tracks in video.

****1/2
 

THE RAMONES –
You Don’t Come Close
NMC Music 2000
This is the unique recording for those who love punk. As well as for those who don’t. How could it be? Just simple. Officially punk became an event in 1976. In a couple of years it went rotten as the Johnny’s teeth. And on the surface remained those who were punks before punk was born. Well, I won’t be digging back to the days of THE BEATLES and THE ROLLING STONES…

The first punk heroes appeared not in the conservative Britain but in the States – MC5 and THE STOOGES popped up in the end of the Sixties. Later, came the second generation and its diamond was THE RAMONES.

What was so special about “punks before punk”? They were sticking to traditions. While the “real” punks such as SEX PISTOLS just played dirty rock’n’roll saying loudly that there’s no future and disregarding the past, their predecessors were more of a creative force.

This CD is a document of THE RAMONES’ concert in Bremen on September 13, 1978 on “The Road To Ruin” tour. The gig is excellent yet shorter than “It’s Alive” LP released in 1977. The traditions are clear. Listen attentively and you’ll notice the Little Richard’s influence on the band’s music. Fifties are fifties but not many American bands remained intact, not bruised by the British Invasion. “Don’t Come Close”, for instance, shows THE KINKS’ harmonies.And what about “I Don’t Care”? Wouldn’t you find here something in common with THE WHO’s “I Can’t Explain”? RAMONES respected even THE BEACH BOYS and “She’s The One” (No, don’t talk of Robbie Williams!) is a witness of this. Yet, Brian Wilson’s band wasn’t English.

With their combination of punk energy and good melodies, THE RAMONES were forerunners to THE CLASH and THE JAM. And that’s the secret of success. Moreover, this dish should be served with special art in which the band really succeed: the recording shows their high spirit, you can feel it even before proceeding to see the video (yes, the whole show!). The guys just crack jokes and you cannot take seriously such songs as “Teenage Lobotomy”, “Cretin Hop” or the two-minute long yet monumental “Sheena Is A Punk Rocker”.

We can call it as THE RAMONES themselves did having titled one of their songs “Blitzkrieg Pop”.

Unfortunately, “Rockaway Beach” is in the tracklisting but absent as audio track – and that’s the only week point of “You Don’t Come Close”.

****
 

GLASS HAMMER – Chronometree
Arion Music 2000
With every new GLASS HAMMER album we witness the band’s progress in terms both of music and subject. The first CD, “Journey Of The Dunadan”, based on Tolkien was followed by fantasy-tinged dilogy of “Perelandra” and “On To Evermore”, all three albums showing the musicians’ fascination with the dinosaurs – YES, GENESIS and, to a lesser extent, JETHRO TULL. The new product explores something different: the story itself is rooted in progressive rock of yore yet it’s a hardly a concept album as such. But, from the musical point of view, this approach gave GLASS HAMMER an opportunity to be a contemporary band, not audionecrophiles.

What I definitely like about GLASS HAMMER is their clever use of keyboards but what I assume to be a weak point is lack of bright melodies. There were some on the “Dunadan” and, fortunately, some are here. I mean, the ones with acoustic guitar – “An Eldritch Wind” and “A Perfect Carousel”. The latter is in vein of “Wish You Were Here”, a kind of folk/barocco combination. While barocco touches may be derived off the Wakeman-ish organ playing, folk motifs are real good addition to the band’s palette. (I guess, it’s a new member Brad Marler who’s responsible for that.) Wakeman seems to be very influential on GLASS HAMMER style – both as YES member (“Empty Space”) and a solo artist (“Shapes Of The Morning”), although sometimes keyboards smell of Tony Banks and, when they attack, even of Jon Lord. Also there is something reminiscent of CAMEL which is just good – CAMEL never got over the top with their verve.

As on classic YES albums “Chronometree” consists of two parts with interlude and this middle section is something worthy to listen to time and again. If the band choose to follow this path in the future they’ll get out of their own boundaries. Very contemporary atmospheric “A Perfect Carousel” gives space to a little choir in “Chronos Deliverer” chanting prayers. And yes, on this album electric guitars are quite prominent, especially towards the end of album – pay attention, AYREON fans: some parts are played by Arjen Lucassen.

Give this CD a heavy rotation and it’ll grow on you. The next one tends to be a smash.

****
 

ECHOLYN –
Cowboy Poems Free
Echolyn Inc., BMI 2000
That’s what I’d call modern progressive rock! You rarely see a progressive rock band that doesn’t look back in time very much. ECHOLYN is such a bunch of musicians playing something extremely contemporary that’s simultaneously firmly based on old masters’ tradition.

“Cowboy Poems Free” is mutated progressive music which really rocks. Poems themselves – there are four of them – being, except for the last one, pure instrumental passages are just links between solid rock material framed by good guitars and underlined by Hammond splashes. With their hints of the late Sixties music, ECHOLYN’s approach reminds sometimes of that of KULA SHAKER (“Gray Flannel Suits”) while vocal polyphony in more heavy stuff leans towards good ol’ URIAH HEEP (“Human Lottery”) as it’s catchy yet not poppy. “High As Pride”, a solemn ballad with arresting slide guitar solo a la “Layla”, shows the band’s lyrical facet. You begin flying high but…

The second part of the album starts with a cocky “Swinging The Ax” goes past through “1729 Broadway”, with its sax a Broadway tune indeed, but then becomes a little boring turning into soul-tinged stuff. An Indian intro for “Brittany” loaded with Indian banjo and tablas is much better than the rest of the track and it’s a real flaw.

ECHOLYN’s journey around the world and back fittingly ends with nostalgic “Too Late For Everything” which makes impression that it’s not yet late to return to the first track, “Texas Dust”, and give the CD another spin.

****
 

THE YARDBIRDS – Cumular Limit
NMC Music 2000
In my eyes, THE YARDBIRDS were the best British blues band of the Sixties – up to the appearance of FLEETWOOD MAC. And it’s not so important that there were three guitar greats in the line ups – Clapton, Beck and Page. The band with Keith Relf at the mike was way ahead of THE ANIMALS and THE ROLLING STONES.

What is so precious about this CD? It reflects THE YARDBIRDS’ break-up. No, this event wasn’t sad – every musician went his own way. The name inherited Jimmy Page and the band’s manager Peter Grant. The recordings on the “Cumular Limit” were made from March, 1967 up to April, 1968. A little later, in the fall, the new players were found and THE NEW YARDBIRDS flew to Scandinavia to get back as LED ZEPPELIN.

Last sessions display the band trying to find a balance between old sound and new trends. In these studio and live pieces one can clearly hear the thoughts that were developed by Relf and drummer Jim McCarty on the two first RENAISSANCE albums and, later, by Relf, in ARMAGEDDON. And Page… Yes, there are early versions of the compositions every ZEP fan know well – “White Summer” and “Dazed And Confused”, the latter with Keith’s lyrics – Robert Plant, as a good lyricist, would never let himself use the phonetically awkward words “to a certain degree”.

There are four live tracks recorded on German TV in March, 1967 – the videos of these are on the bonus CD – and the most interesting of them is “I’m A Man”, very different from the version created with Clapton just three years earlier: Page already started his bow playing exercises. McCarty was experimenting, too, as he sang on some demos instead of Relf.

Before its end THE YARBIRDS were racing headlong towards psyhodelia. Wasn’t “Still I’m Sad” with its drone such a piece? It was. As are “De Lane Lea Lee” and “Glimpses” that are on the CD. Don’t try to find the former, highly praised in the very informative liner notes, in the tracklisting – it’s tagged to the end of “Dazed And Confused”, after a 10-minutes silence.

A little more luck and the band would survive, in new quality. And we’d love “My Baby” in THE YARDBIRDS’, not Janis Joplin’s rendition. But in place of one band came several for us to enjoy. And to treasure the music of the band that gave birth to them.

*****
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