Plane Groovy 2022
New England’s primary progressive ensemble explore conceptual elements of a classic tale that’s been given new twists, turns and voices.
Having grabbed global focus with their sophomore album, 2019’s “Which Way The Wind Blows” that paid an elegant tribute to Anthony Phillips, “a true labor of love” according to one of this band’s masterminds, Brian Coombes, RHMC moved on to an arguably bolder statement, a rock opera of sorts, where stellar guests play different characters. They tell the story of a marionette-maker who glances back at his life as refracted through the puppet show, yet while such a relationship between the creator and living toys may hail from the times of Nutcracker and Pinocchio and easily lend itself to art-rock tropes, the American collective challenge it by defying their chosen style’s frontiers and crossing over to other genres to amass appeal along the way. Here’s the reason why the invited artists applying particular colors to the narrative matter less than what the septet per se offer.
The results of it all come across as an arresting experience, especially when short series of expository pieces leave space for passionate duets, so, despite the album’s classical suite structure, with mood-setting “Prologue: Riverside” and aftertaste-sculpting “Coda: Slide Down The Cellar Door” that flaunt spectral vocals in the face of aural spectators, and the atmospherically melancholic flight of the title track towards folk motifs, there are plenty surprises on display. For all the riches of tunes similar projects seem to present, ballroom dances are rare species in prog, but this double-platter has two of those, “Trapeze Waltz” and “Circus Waltz” – the latter, a penultimate track, featuring the familiar tones of David Cross‘ violin, and the former Amy Birkis’ melodic dialogue with the group’s own Justin Cohn – which are irresistibly enchanting, and the woodwind-wooed ballad “Packed Up” which takes Noel McCalla’s silky tone and Myron Kibbee’s guitar filigree to the fore reveals the ensemble’s delicate sensibilities. And though the acoustically driven, mesmeric likes of “To Reach The Other Side” and the Tim Bowness-voiced “So Little Left” construct dramatic contrast, the sax-spiced jive of “It’s Not About You” and the lightweight exchange of lines between axeman Patrik Gochez and Caroline Carter in “Will You Be My Downfall?” should redress the emotional balance.
The drift may feel gloomy on “Cut From A Different Cloth” – as painted by Chris Difford’s pipes – until the pedal-steel shimmer leads the listener out of the darkness and into countrified vistas to meet the sweet, softly scintillating “Face Of Rain” and the soulful “0300” that emphasize the collective’s love for quality pop. Yet even they can’t prepare one for “House Party At Jack’s” with its hard-veneered techno groove, whereas the tenderly triumphant “Every Show Must End” returns the record to progressive route and “All Shall Be Well” sees Evelyn Cormier direct the choir to spiritual solemnity. Whether the result is a rock opera will remain open for debate, yet the album’s allure is beyond any doubt.