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Dogfingers /
Uncle Buzz 2003
Five years on since the Looper’s Delight mailing list brought together two sides of the Atlantic result in unique sound collage.

The title may point to how the album came to existence but the artwork bears no sign of what a pleasure the package hides. Loops and soundscapes strung a thread between David Cooper Orton of Wales and American James Sidlo, who drown their liquid guitars in etherial synths atmosphere redolent of that that Sidlo pursued on a parallel course with DREAMLAND’s "Underwater". Here, the music’s more abstract: three pieces are entitled simply “Thing”, and one called “Delayed In Traffic” a perfect capture of one endlessly suspended moment. Meditative though it isn’t, connecting a listener to the outside rather than inside and keeping him awake with magnificient stereo panning and delicate folk-tinctured melodies like “Time To Spare” or “East Of Ealing”. Drums which make their appearance on the second half of the album introduce a certain dancefulness and bring the whole picture into focus, and that makes for a sheer brilliance. Whether the guys met in the flesh is uknown, yet the distance between the two undoubtedly added up to the resulting fragility. The world is too small, that’s the point.


Delicate Flame Of Desire
Immrama Records 2003

Buy the album from the band

Are the accolades the band have been gathering worth the hype? The third album convinces they are.

With the third album a time comes for any artist to fully establish themselves as a solid act able to last. The Welsh sextet appear at such a vital moment in glorious confidence they’ve made it. “Just listen to your heart, it’s all in you”, goes “The Right Time”, yet there wasn’t so much risk with most of the new songs alread incorporated in the group’s stage set, as witnessed by the "Live In Concert" DVD. In studio environment, a part of the vitality is lost though, magical “Time Standing Still” and uplifting “Strange Behaviour” feeling too clean, while retaining the classic rock momentum. What’s unique about the band and sets them apart from a new prog generation is their rootsiness, clear in the title piece and the signature tune “Karnataka”, instrumental with a bit of vocalising from Rachel Jones. Being progressive doesn’t mean indulgence in weirdness, and thick interplay of Jonathan Edward’s organ, Ian Jones’ bass and Paul Davies’ guitar can sound very easy, like “One Breath Away” shows, or delicate, indeed. “Hear the sound we’ve all come to know”, as they say.


SOFT WORKS – Abracadabra
Universal Japan 2003
The name means no texture but signals the comeback of a legendary band’s new incarnation.

One look at the names tells it all. Hugh Hopper, Elton Dean, Allan Holdsworth and John Marshall: yes, that’s a latter day’s line-up of SOFT MACHINE – but only at the first glance. Listening to the record reveals not much of what’s known as Canterbury sound, as the rule this quartet live by is fusion, and one of the pieces’ title “First Trane” highlights Coltrane’s influence, quite clear in Dean’s sax soaring over his Fender Rhodes canvas. It’s Elton who takes the lead this time around with Holdsworth’s guitars providing an ever-changing backdrop which sometimes appears to be the forefront of a sonic landscape. A play, then? There’s no vocals now, but the wordplay is another idiom in the ensemble’s rule-book, “Baker’s Treat” tastefully encapsulating grey English melancholia in melodic lines falling between Hopper’s bass railings and Marshall’s gentle percussion. Their music might be a tad moodier and a bit less adventurous than quarter of a century ago, but the appeal is still here, the title track sounding the most upbeat of the collection of tunes on offer and is catchy nevertheless. Return means bridging the time lapse, and bridging means there’s always the other side, the past, so “Madam Vintage” could be helpful if one’s willing to go back: and that’s another play, obviously.


OXYGENE8 – Poetica
Oxygene8 2003
Seek no rhyme or reason but rhythm and bliss.

Since KING CRIMSON brought Chapman Stick to the public eye, the instrument became a sign of high-voltage experimentation, and OXYGENE8 are intense indeed – when they want to. Here, atmospheric jazz of “Funkernickel” appears beautifully soothing like a new age watercolor turned inside out, there “Stand” comes as a lightning of ex-PRIMUS’ Tim Alexander’s cymbals and Frank D’Angelo meandering guitar rocketing skyward from the Stick operator Linda Cushma’s brooding voice and thick synth clouds. Strange, but the icy serenity of the title track’s soundscape seems a logical resolution, and when a bumblebee-like buzz intrudes in the very heart of it there’s a symmetry and a poetry of a highest order. That’s where all the elements of the puzzle fall into their places, from soaring “Larry’s Lullaby” to “Spoonaloosh” with its musique concrete lining and ebbing, slow flamenco which is “Mocha Butterfly”, to erect a wonderful, heartfelt “Cathedral”, in which the voice is so warm and soulful. Breath in, then.


SUM 41 –
Does This Look Infected?
Island / Helicon 2002
A Ballroom Blitz rather than a Blitzkrieg Bop. Does this look like punk?

You cannot help but dig “The Hell Song”, just don’t align this catchy guitar swoop to the spiky genre which slapped some sludge at the end of the ’70s, explicit lyrics notwithstanding. SUM 41 shape good glam, “Over My Head” infectiously gurgling exactly where SWEET, not THE RAMONES, left their smooth, if cool, footprints. Whatever attack there is it feels a producer’s laboratory product, like sharp “Still Waiting” suggests, that’s why a few songs into this, the band’s second, album music blurs. Fortunately, the end comes in half an hour with another guitar smash, “Hooch”, leaving you vaguely recalling there was something tasty at the very beginning. The question in the title, then? It’s as infected and dirty as Charlie Chaplin’s boot.


Live At The Philadelphia
Folk Festival
Tempest 2000
Folk rules not only at Cropredy, it thrives Stateside as well.

Whatever brilliant this band are inside a record’s grooves, a stage is where they shine ever brighter. Picking up the energy where FAIRPORTS leave off, TEMPEST weave a rich tapestry deeply rooted in both European folklore and old-school rock, so it’s a massive delight yet a little wonder that they introduce the “Iron Man” riff into traditional boiling pot. This powerful mix of Michael Mullen’s electric fiddle, Todd Evans’ guitar and the leader Lief Sorbye’s double-neck mandolin topped with vocal harmonies gets the audience by their genetic throat in “You Jacobites By Name” and majestic “Green Grow The Rashes”. Mood is building up from the serene to frenetic, music coming down as a storm even if the crowd don’t understand a single word in Norwegian battle hymn “Bonden Og Kraka”. But that’s America in the end of the day, so “Buffalo Jump” rocks it all at full tilt making the earth shake under the mighty stomp driven by John Land’s bass. Blinding brilliance.


Umlaut 2002
Not a testament: a beautiful last gift from the Quiet One.

“Didn’t want to be a star – wanted just to play guitar”, sang George Harrison in 1989 before slipping into domestic joys – and misfortunes – of his last decade on Earth. So, in the words of his son Dhani who, together with Jeff Lynne, finished the work following George’s instructions, this record is “a cradle for the voice and a guitar”. Ex-Beatle jokingly wanted the album to be entitled “Portrait Of A Leg End”, and him finding stardom unhip – legend’s grotty, as George would call it running down a memory lane to his “A Hard Day’s Night” persona. It’s back then, in the very beginning, that Harrison was considered a thinker, and that’s exactly what he had been like all of his life. And though the artist put no exuberant joyfulness into “Brainwashed”, there’s no life-weariness either – just quiet observations which sum up what kind of human being was George.

Just a human being – and he didn’t shy away from odd poking at the way the world goes, “P2 Vatican Blues” sounding a direct, if pretty much ironic, blow at organized religion from the one raised a Catholic. But Harrison climbed up to another level of spirituality that have him freedom to enjoy the path taken, the downhome feeling filling a simple message of the opener “Any Road”, and a privilege to talk to God intimately, like in “My Sweet Lord” and in the title song of this album. Assuming “Brainwashed”, the track, is spilling an anger at Creator would be a grave mistake still: it’s rather a cry in the wilderness that falls all around as we are misled every day and every way, a plea for the light to be rekindled, an intense chant dissolving into pacifying mantra – and there’s no better example of the struggle which went on deep within George’s soul.

“I’m a living proof of all life’s contradictions”, admits Dylanesque “Pisces Fish” which sees Harrison try to reconnect with the nature he loved so much so that even discovered himself “on a wrong planet” when going outside the garden, as George confesses on accompanying DVD. A place the artist considered his own was a garden and a cloud – not a Cloud Nine of his previous record but something too thick to make him cry out loudly, although “Stuck Inside A Cloud”, a love song, isn’t dark at all, with etherial instrumental “Marwa Blues” a marvellous lift to it and a reminder of how great a guitarist’s gone away. Harrison’s playing is excellent throughout, and it’s here that he finally let himself be at play and take an ukulele to the fore in an old ditty “Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea”. Which is a contradiction of another sort, you know.

George may have known the art of dying quite early, yet his search for the answers never stopped, and here “Oh Lord, I got to get back somehow to you” line of “Looking For My Life” isn’t a surrender but quest. Harrison did’t see death as the end, “(Can Only) Run So Far” being a mild acceptance of his own limitations with the fleeting shadow of regret lurking in “Never Get Over You”. A Pisces Fish, then? Like an old bluesman, the artist bid farewell before “going down to the river”, a blissful vision described in “Rocking Chair In Hawaii”, but… “But in the rising sun you can feel your life begin”, that’s the last will of the artist who eventually resolved the greatest conundrum of his: how can a spiritual person live in a material world.


j-tull dot com
Roadrunner 1999
You’ll never forget their Internet address now – but what about music?

From a deadbeat to an old greaser is how Ian Anderson envisioned an old rocker’s evolution a quarter of a century before being trapped in similar cobwebs and looking for a fire exit in the Web – only to find the familiar alienation. Yet if “AWOL” dips into the digital era’s disconnection, the title track harks back to the typical TULL paradox for it’s a love song. The cutting edge didn’t soften a bit, and the flute is still the flute, but Ian’s voice sounds weak today, laboured phrasing resulting in bleak melodies. It wouldn’t be Anderson though, had he not turned it to the band’s benefit shaping “Wicked Windows” burlesque-way and pouring self-irony in spades into the “Dog-Eared Years” madrigal. Still you miss the erstwhile minstrel when, in “Hunt By Numbers”, the cats’ side is taken as opposed to “Mouse Police Never Sleeps” years ago. A wish to be strong again? Martin Barre, who weaves acoustic lace around the “Hot Mango Flush” bland rappings and fills “El Nino” with razor-like riffs, is as strong as ever, indeed. So is it “vintage and classic or just plain Jurassic”? Unfortunately, the latter.


Pulling Strings
Resurgence 1998
An evening of solo guitar that goes far beyond YES extravaganza.

New age is not the kind of music that usually turns out well in a concert environment, yet there’s no other definition to what Steve Howe does when pulling strings on his own. And it’s not a mastery of the instrument that matters here, it’s an ability to create and convey a mood, and a passion put in the delivery whether it be jazzy “Sweet Thunder”, country-and-western “Windy And Warm” or mellow “Sketches In The Sun” – all a wonderful harmony, “All’s A Chord” as the guitarist has it. This makes for limited vocal abilities of Steve’s when he takes to his main band’s classics, all those small portions of “Close To The Edge” and “The Gates Of Delirium” with its great steel guitar, and “Turn Of The Century” which becomes less celestial and more down-to-earth here. Still, the most of the wonders Howe pulls are his solo creatures, like deeply-textured “Beginnings” off his debut record or “Blinded By Science”, still fresh when this 1994’s show was taking place in America. As precise as it goes, sterile it wasn’t, the maestro sharing a joke with the audience and holding a real surprise until the very end, “My White Bicycle” from his TOMORROW days. With something for everybody, it’s a little surprise that pleasure stole that night.


Past Times With Good Company
SPV 2002
Stars are out and the magic is here, Purple Minstrel leads his troupe to the Renaissance faire.

Three albums into his medieval affair, Ritchie Blackmore comes up with a live album, and though unfair it may be to single the leader out of the pack, that’s how everybody feels about the ensemble. Even Ritchie himself, it seems, because there’s no other explanation as to why he steps back often in favour of vocals, not the stringed instruments which make the veteran’s palette these days. Love to his lady? Quite rightly so, yet the fans are up to have the pleasure as well – and we talk not only those who’ve been following the artist for years. Those would rather prefer him to be sticking to his crossbows not guns, and reaching out for the past times far not close: the BLACKMORE’S NIGHT live show always has some DEEP PURPLE and RAINBOW – “a couple of bands Ritchie was in before this one,” as singer Candice Night confesses from the stage – classics interpreted to suit the new routine yet what’s placed in the very center of this set many could find sacrilegious: the rhythmic shift that “Soldier Of Fortune” underwent robbed it of rhyme for no reason, while “16th Century Greensleeves” – the one with a proper drumming and edgy electric sound – got funked up inspite of Ritchie’s famous aversion to the pattern. Fortunately, the lace he’s a master of is still here.

If elsewhere the beast appears sluggish, epic “Fires At Midnight” comes as a wonderful example of the ensemble’s oeuvre being the most adventurous and intense piece in both collective playing and soloing from Chris Devine’s progressive-styled violin that drives the show in many places and Blackmore’s hurdy gurdy and acoustic guitar. Guitar as familiar as relaxed for the veteran eschews flourishes sliding into exquisite instrumental vignettes “Durch Den Wald Zum Bachhaus” and “Minstrel Hall” redolent of his mid-’70s live interludes, the memory sprawling with Carmine Giglio’s organ in “Under A Violet Moon” and “Renaissance Faire” which have the audience joining in for the jovial court dances. Still, “Morning Star” and “Play Minstrel Play,” augmented with Devine’s recorder, are as dervishly fervid as it gets to reach culmination in rousing “Home Again” sprinkled with quote from Dvorak. Surely, there could be more from the latest album, "Fires At Midnight", yet the Dutch punters enjoy the show nonetheless. With “Swan Lake” electrifying remake “Writing On The Wall” as a grand finale it comes hard to not share their feelings – it takes good company to bring past times into present with such elegance.


Tear It Up
Heroic Records 2002
Whole lotta shakin’, slippin’ and a-slidin’ going on: British veterans let their collective hair down.

“Let’s have a party!” could be a motto of this band whose music both defies their age and assserts that it takes an immense maturity to play so easy – and absorbing rock ‘n’ roll with your skin. Still, the mood HEROES create is surprising even with such a pedigree. Since Lennon, there hardly been any viable Buddy Holly cover but here are two, “Take Your Time” and “Rock Around With Ollie Vee”, full of life and breathing fire. Albert Lee sings unpretentiously but moving, and when he spills the licks as simple, there’s pure fun oozing of every bar. That’s finest pub rock you’re likely to hear today, the choice of standards adding to the joyfulness, from ringing “Back In The USA” to Floyd Cramer’s romantic “Last Date” and “On The Rebound” shuffle, a showcase for Pete Wingfield‘s boogie piano and Gerry Hogan’s pedal steel, to the fervent rockabilly of Gram Parson’s “Luxury Liner”. The feeling gets emotionally deeper with Jim Webb’s poignant ballad “If You See Me Getting Smaller” and Elton John’s soothing “Country Comfort” for which drummer Peter Barron takes the lead. The understanding between the five – bassist Brian Hodgson a co-writer of the only original song on the offer – is amazing, and them being “all freelance musicians who come together to work with Albert Lee,” as Wingfield says. HEROES just tear it up (er, not their hair) and bring the house down.


– Earphoria
Virgin 2002
“Vieuphoria” turned from VHS into DVD, its soundtrack makes it to the digital era as well.

More often than not a live album is likely to bring some converts to an artist or a band as well as please the existing fans – not this time though. “Earphoria”, a companion to a DVD which is an expanded version of 1994’s video tape, comprises only those original tracks spanning the first five years of the band that ceased to be, and if 2001’s greatest hits package “Rotten Apples” was a career retrospective aimed to everyone this archive release seems too narrow-margined to jump upon. Never far from grunge, on-stage PUMPKINS appeared rather raw yet not too extreme like many a Seattle-based freak; Billy Corgan’s close-to-the-edge voice counterbalanced with James Iha’s guitar equally adventurously solid in “Today” brick-heavy chops and “Cherub Rock” acoustic interpretation that reveals an obvious Bowie influence, an explanation to wry instrumental vignettes interspersing the concert cuts and theatrical space-rock of “Soma”. But reckon “I Am One” a new generation’s “The End” with its “Give me nothing!” battle cry to dig a source for some euphoria and an answer as to why ear-caressing these songs aren’t.


Mercury 2002
Choose the album for your mood – there are two, and the third up for taking.

What a prolific lady Ms Twain is! Trying to serve everyone’s mood the team of Shania and Mutt Lange came up with nineteen songs, a good double LP in earstwhile terms. But if there’s always a problem of some material being less bright and more a filler, they found an inventive way to bypass it by churning out two versions of the same album, one rockier and the other Eastern-flavoured. Help yourselves, then, or even head to the singer’s website for country-styled remixes. A brave desicion and an all-round talent on display, and an explanation lies in the downhome feel of feminist “She’s Not Just A Pretty Face.” She’s not, indeed.

While you have a choice though, a certain song wins in a certain circumstances, like “Nah!” that kicks with guitars, or “I’m Gonna Getcha Good” which packs a punch much better with thick synthesizers than a flute and a bouzouki, while philosophical “Ka-Ching!” poking at consumerism, breathes fully when dressed acoustically. Still, whatever they’re wrapped in, “Juanita” stands out in its flamenco flame and “What A Way To Wanna Be!” bubbles out its ABBA-esque energy. Energy and joy are what this record is about, nine songs with an exclamation mark in the titles a witness. Less homogenic with each spin, it really shoots up!


EastWest 2001
Sting may be soft, yet the bite remains the same – get stung and stunned.

Whatever successful their flirtation with an orchestra was, once the German finest took to the other extreme all the familiar tunes shone afresh, the reason being not the line-up augmented with keyboards, cello and backing singers but the strength of the material and no fear of stripping the songs bare or re-shaping them totally. Recorded live in Portugal in February 2001, most of the arrangements veer away off the obvious, “The Zoo” meeting its innate blues line and “Holiday” flourishing, Latino-way, on three guitars extravaganza. Still, while the SCORPS don’t retreat to the ballad domain and give long-forgotten harmonica-oiled boogie “Catch Your Train” a mighty push, covers of QUEEN’s “Love Of My Life” and KANSAS’ “Dust In The Wind” add nothing to the originals, unlike THE CARS’ “Drive” winsome in Klaus Meine’s warm tones. That’s gripping, and more so with “Still Loving You” as desperate as it should be, bereft of the usual metal ringing, and gospel-tinged “Rock You Like A Hurricane” winning over its orchestral grandeur. No sacred cow left now, which is all but great.


Killing The Dragon
Spitfire 2002
Back to basics, here comes time to be killing the dragon again.

If 2000’s "Magica" saw Ronnie Dio on his way back to melodic stuff he explored long ago with RAINBOW and BLACK SABBATH, its sucessor is all about riffs. Hardly an influence of new guitarist, Doug Aldrich, rather a sign of Dio lost in search of a new route, quite understandable for a man in his sixties. Not that the age shows in the singer’s delivery, Ronnie’s still the vocal king and his lyrics still bite most of the time. It may come difficult getting to the meaning of “Rock & Roll” written in the wake of September 11th, yet social concern of “Throw Away The Children” featuring King’s Harbor Church Children’s Choir is obvious: Dio’s associated with The Children Of The Night charity for many years, and here’s a key to the powerful title track, as now dragon’s not a part of medieval mythology but a symbol of kids being taken away.

All this can’t justify the “Holy Diver” riff being re-shaped for “Scream” and melodies sacrificed to the sharpness so beautifully deepened by Jimmy Bain’s punchy bass, let to the front in “Better In The Dark,” and Simon Wright’s simple but tasty drumming. Still, a metal album of such purity, both moral and musical, is a rare bird nowadays, so “Guilty” hides a bitter irony in its almost-disco heart and “Cold Feet” provides an answer to the method: “Same old steps to the same old dance, just one more reason, one more chance.”


Drivers Eyes
Camino 1999
The purple piper plays his tune, the choir softly sing – an effective solo debut from one who served to the Crimson King.

It took 30 years for the main composer of amazing “In The Court Of The Crimson King” album to deliver a solo record but, though there’s a shadow of all his past endeavours throughout, the music is more pleasant than adventurous, “sweet music to hang our sorrows on,” as CRIMSO’s poet Peter Sinfield points out here in Gary Brooker-sung anthem “Let There Be Light.” And full of light it is: pitched between AOR and fusion, “Drivers Eyes” makes for an easy listening, be it transparent instrumental vignettes such as “Sax Fifth Avenue” or proper songs that build an impression of a watercolor painting with guests free to add an odd detail here and there.

Odd yet fitting, as they’re a club of friends who just feel the host’s intent to pour heartbreaking poignancy into “You Are A Part Of Me” as does John Waite, or muse softly like Peter Frampton’s guitar on “If I Were”. There’s an immense depth to the picture, not seen at first, the “Hawaii” ornament deceptively simple and “Demimonde” rolling on Mike Giles’ beat ready-made for some soundtrack. And if John Wetton led to the sun by McDonald’s serene flute in “Forever And Ever” gives the widest emotional scope to Ian’s observations, an overt nod to FOREIGNER, a band he was a co-founder of, doesn’t feel bad either when Lou Gramm steps up for “Straight Back To You” with a cameo appearance of Steve Hackett.

Humble he may be but Ian McDonald isn’t content to be resting on the laurels, and the beauty of this record was all worth the wait.


GTR – Live
King Biscuit 1997
Two prog proponents go pop, the Guitar Band for the ’80s caught in their prime.

That wasn’t destined to last long: the experiment which started with the cream of progressive rock players gathered in ASIA turned out not bad, but in 1985 when Steve Howe had fallen through the cracks another partnership was born – with Steve Hackett. Both guitarists seem to have swallowed their solo pride and churned out the platinum album that was all ’80s and graceful at the same time. And then there a world tour followed in 1986, and that’s where the Los Angeles show taped by King Biscuit come from taking in nine out of ten album tracks and making them shine so brightly the studio versions can easily be dismiss.

The combination of two guitars sound impeccably whole although the double-personality feel is present, the opener “Jekyll And Hyde” reflecting it with solos tighty interwoven, grooving on Phil Spalding’s bass and Jonathan Mover’s drums. The third element of the equation was Max Bacon’s clear voice soaring high in Geoff Downes-penned “The Hunter” and fantastic “Imagining” and giving new lease of life to the Steves’ former bands’ hits, GENESIS’ “I Know What I Like” and YES’ “Roundabout” (these recordings debuted on the singer’s "The Higher You Climb" album). Still, it wasn’t about past, despite Hackett revisiting his “Spectral Mornings” and Howe “Pennants,” as this set features “Prizefighters,” a song written for the second GTR outing – which wasn’t to be – but re-recorded by Hackett that same year and released later on "Feedback".

Prizefighters is a good definition of the band situation resulting in the split. The consummate performers, Steve and Steve couldn’t let it show and just slightly indulged in two instrumentals they put on the album and pulled live, “Sketches In The Sun” Howe played at the ASIA concerts and “Please Don’t Touch” remake “Hackett To Bits,” a tad out of the GTR song-based context. With a song the band were as brilliant and got to the audience’s soul reaching culmination with charts-biting “When The Heart Rules The Mind.” The tour’s over, Hackett left, Howe and Bacon vainly trying to carry on and the immaculate guitar band for the ’80s effectively over as well. Thankfully, preserved on this indispensable CD, those magic moments are still here.


Phil Lynott’s
The Studio Sessions
Zoom Club 2002
No more a killer on the loose: the lost last chapter of the Irish warrior’s life.

By 1983 Phil Lynott sensed a strong urge for a change, as his band seemed to have become somehow separated from what it was supposed to be. THIN LIZZY were over even before their last concert, and Philo had already planned a direction for his next endeavour to develop in. Basically, it was a way back, to when there was a feeling and a social side to his hard rock, and it’s no coincidence that Lynott wanted Brian Downey, the only other Lizzy member to stay through thick and thin, to be this new group’s drummer. But the nucleus of what had grown into GRAND SLAM comprised also MAGNUM keyboardist Mark Stanway, and it’s him who preserved all these demos for posterity.

There could be twice as more material to the collection, the glaring omission being “Dedication” that appeared, embellished, on LIZZY compilation of the same title, yet even 1984’s sketches gathered on these CDs show Phil full of energy and bubbling with bravado. Far from the pop sound of his two solo albums, the songs are riff-driven and agressive, like “Nineteen” which, re-recorded with Robin George instead Lawrence Archer on guitar, emerged as a Lynott’s single a year later, and “Military Man,” here embryonic to shine later on Gary Moore’s “Out In The Fields” EP. While the passion might be slightly marred by count-ins and guide parts left intact and unadorned, there’s familiar bitterness in piano-laden slow blues “Crime Rate” – what an awareness from a man who wrote “Jailbreak”! – and playfulness in odd coupling of "Whiter Shade Of Pale / Like A Rolling Stone" and an Irish motif in “Sisters Of Mercy” progressing from laid-back New Wave croon to a fully-fledged rocker.

At the same time pieces such as “Harlem,” its light flamenco-style solo notwithstanding, come too raw to be real songs; a bit more elaborate shuffle of “Gay Boys” works well though, not unlike “Waiting For An Alibi.” What may suprise is a weakness of “Look In These Eyes” that – as documented on "Live In Sweden" – the band had been playing for some time before going into a studio yet there’s a reason: when it came to recording, GRAND SLAM weren’t Phil’s backing group anymore, they were an ensemble. As he says in an interview stored on the second CD, “You can’t teach people agression if it’s not natural.” Can this be an explanation of why they didn’t take the prize and let their leader slip away?


Spectrum Of Life
Garden Records 2002
A woman who cares gets out of the door.

To her neighbours she may be a campaigner for slowing down traffic on her street in Birgmingham and a first aider who saved her husband’s life, but a time came for Sarah Birks to get renown as a singer and a songwriter. Calling herself The Cinder Princess, Sarah’s doesn’t go in different places and surely doesn’t look for golden palaces, though there’s much more to her endeavour than simply wrapping a listener in a domestic warmness of “An Open Door.” Once acoustic textures and autumnal bitter-sweet yearning make one think if Nick Drake could sound like this had he matured without becoming life-weary, in rolls “Rise Up From The Ashes,” an uplifting rockin’ boogie nobody would expect from a housewife, and with widescreen emotion of “More Than Just Words” a full picture comes into view, in all the colors reality brings. That’s what the spectrum of life looks like.


Wetton / Downes
Starhorse 2001
Coming out of the legal limbo, leftovers from the dream kitchen are up to taste.

Theirs was one of those perfect creative marriages bound to give birth to a great music and, thrown together by a management’s will, John Wetton and Geoff Downes managed to cross over with pop appeal hardly expectable from artists of progressive rock pedigree. Hits or songs that didn’t chart just because you couldn’t tear a whole LP into singles, three albums ASIA released in the ’80s were so exuberantly deep there surely must have been something left out in pursuit of excellence. Or in a hurry: listening to this collection, one may only wonder why some of the songs got discarded as with Geoff’s tentative synth backing John’s voice, they shine even as demos begging for a spicy guitar and imaginative Carl Palmer drumming.

With cuts like “Running Out Of Time” abandoned at rather early stages and “Oh! Carolann” re-worked into “Kari-Anne” almost finished, evident here is the pair’s working method. If “Christina” which Wetton dedicated to his god-daughter, a Downes’ child, is a prime example of John’s writing and instrumental “Soul” of Geoff’s, the one for preparation appears “Lost In America,” pitched between U.K.’s “In The Dead Of Night” and THE BUGGLES’ “Video Killed The Radio Star” and showing a slight rift between two composing manners. That’s genuine though and touching more than a “Summer” artificially spliced with “Rock ‘n’ Roll Dream” intro; the former, embellished later, doesn’t fit lyrically with a hook of a 1985’s song.

1990’s “Then And Now” could embraced more of those, as “I Would Die For You” chorus or “Walking On Air” verse melody are just a breath away of brilliance, but even fully realized – posh vocal harmonies, thoughful arrangements – “Don’t Say It Again” and “Just As Long (As I Need You)” didn’t get over the quality mark Wetton and Downes placed too high. ABBA’s Agnetha Faltskog was glad to do their “We Move As One” anyway, and the writers felt delighted to fly over and record with her – fortunately, because the original demo got lost. More luckily, the rest survived to resurface, significantly, right when John and Geoff finally made amends and are friends again.

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