Reviews in this issue:
Marillion - Christmas 2000: A Piss-Up In A Brewery
Since 1998 Marillion have adopted the good habit of sending a special free (!) Christmas CD to all subscribers to the official Web Fan Clubs. The first CD in 1998 was not much more than 30 minutes of little snippets of forthcoming songs and karaoke versions of old singles. The 1999 Christmas CD was already better and featured a mish-mash of remixes, studio outtakes, acoustic versions and such. And only a few weeks ago the members of The Web received the new CD (okay, a bit late but better late than never) and it turns out to be a real little gem.
Let me first compliment Marillion on this wonderful continued initiative of Christmas CDs for members of The Web. It's a wonderful gesture to do something back for the fans and something which few bands do nowadays (even a band like IQ dropped this habit years ago). Many people (including yours sincerely) will often doubt certain decisions Marillion takes, but I can't see anybody objecting to this CD.
A Piss-Up in a Brewery contains one hour of music taken from Marillion's special gigs
at the Museum of Brewing in Burton Upon Trent on November 16th and 17th 2000. The (semi-)acoustic
set that the band played also served as a warm-up for Marillion's Christmas tour in December and
people that went to see one of the gigs will find a lot of the versions played in the first
half of setlist on that tour on this CD.
People who liked the wonderful Unplugged at the Walls album will definitely like this CD as well. I myself love those acoustic versions of some of Marillion's material a lot. As a matter of fact, some of their songs like Answering Machine or Cannibal Surf Babe sound ten times better in the acoustic rendition (in my humble opinion of course).
Another special thing about this CD is that it features quite some tunes that have rarely been played live by the band, especially in the last couple of years.
The set opens with one of my favourites from marillion.com,
Go!. The version played during the Christmas tour was magical, and this one is nice as
well although it suffers a bit from a light trembling snare drum caused by the opening bass
notes and the end section is suddenly cut off after the first couple of 'wide awake at
the edge of the world's. An acoustic guitar solo in the middle of the song makes up a
Next up are a nice acoustic version of After Me (from 'Season's End') and a blues-jazzy version of (Alone again in the) Lap of Luxury (from 'Brave'), different from the reggae version on Unplugged at the Walls. By the way, the middle bit of the song features a nice snippet of Out of This World ('only love can turn you round').
One of the biggest surprises probably is Cinderella Search, which had never been played
live with Steve Hogarth before. Nevertheless, H is doing very well on this early Marillion
tune, although it's a shame that it ends at the 'polaroid eyes' bit (because the last part was
too agressive for Hogarth's voice). At that point the song moves into a nice jazzy version of
The Space (from 'Season's End'), comparable to the version on
Unplugged at the Walls.
The next track is announced as a song about 'the uncle that does things in the shed' and a wonderful version of A Collection follows. This song, which I consider one of the best little Hogart-era Marillion ballads, originally appeared as a B-side of a single from 'Holidays in Eden'. A nice version, and we'll forgive Hogarth for not reaching one of the high notes.
On four songs of the album we are treated to an additional musician on stage; Cello player
Stephanie Sobey-Jones, who will probably also appear on Marillion's fortcoming album
'Anoraknophobia'. The first song on which she joins the band is the cover version of
Sympathy, which appeared on single during the 'Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other'
greatest hits period.
The version of Dry Land (from 'Holidays in Eden') is magical as well, but I can't get very excited about the Crowded House cover Where Will You Go. The fourth song on which Stephanie appears is new track Number One, a very melancholic ballad with piano, vocals and cello, reminding me of the first halfs of songs like The Party and The Great Escape and fitting in perfectly on this album.
Finally there's two songs from 'Afraid of Sunlight' that appear here in the same version as on Unplugged at the Walls: Cannibal Surf Babe and Gazpacho.
Performances are great and the band is in a very good mood, making little jokes in between the songs. All in all, a wonderful CD that everybody should try get their hands on while they can. More bands should take an example of this initiative !
As mentioned, the CD is only available for members of the official fan club, The Web, who will probably have received their copy by now. However, the band is giving away copies with each new subscription, as long as they've got copies left. For more information on subscribing to The Web check out Marillion's Homepage.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10.
Mirage - A Secret Place
"Not a clone, but faithful to Camel's spirit", according to Musea's
datasheet. Well, faithful is an understatement here, as it is more of a contest of how many Camel
melodies you can recognise. Of course there are some original melodies of the
band itself, but the real sport is "spot the Camel-bar and give track and
album". Some are trivial, as for instance Untold Stories, of which the entire
first half is copied and mildly mutated (mutulated ?) from Camel's Lunar Sea
(Moonmadness). Also the guitar intro of Coming Out Of Nowhere is easily placed
(it's the intro melody of Harbour Of Tears). Some others are a bit more difficult.
You can hear parts of Nude (in Time Machine), The Snowgoose, a hint of Stationary Traveller or The
Single Factor (a bit of an unjustifiedly underestimated Camel album).
As most tracks mix and blend these Camel periods, a sort of "timeless" Camel
It is funny to play the originals next to this album. It is then that you immediately see what is lacking here: the instrumentation is sparse. The full and rich sound that Camel produces on their albums, from almost the very beginning onwards, is not present here. The guitar player, by the way, does a very fine job in imitating Latimer, although, naturally, he doesn't reach the level of emotion that the maestro himself knows how to put into the instrument.
Now, I could start to give a track-by-track description of the songs, but that would spoil the fun: it is, as I mentioned, a puzzle. Enjoy it as a fun curiosity, and one which doesn't sound too bad (apart from the absolutely ridiculous pronounciation of the even more ridiculous lyrics by the female vocalist. The vocals themselfs are not too fantastic either, but fortunately they are not overwhelmingly present). The melodies are quite nice, as one would expect from a, well, Camel-clone (sorry Musea!).
Conclusion: 6 out of 10.
Emmanuelle Parrenin - La Maison Rose
Progressive folk, was the term used to describe the music. Well, the folk part is no problem but nowhere, absolutely nowhere on the album do I detect a trace of progressive music. I think a lot of people who can also appreciate music by Edith Piaf or Jacques Brel will appreciate this release. I myself rank amongst these, a good French chanson is always calming, and it rests my poor Power Metal attacked nerves, but I really don't understand what this album has to do on a prog rock label. Anyway, I would definitely recommend this album for moody afternoons, and when you need some calm and peace. The short "Plume Blanche, Plume Noir" brings up images of those weird black-and-white French movies in which the actors in Paris of the Fifties setting, just smoke, look intelligent and conversate in philosophical sentences like: "If you eat, you will not die. That's the essence of Art." when they order a sandwich in Quartier Latin. Great fun, to conjure up these things while listening to this album, also when things get more experimental in Topaze (or was that what they meant with prog? Weird spacey sounds?).
So in conlusion: for prog it gets a 2. For folk an 8. Really nicely made, a musically highly skilled person, this Emanuelle. Beautiful voice too. But no prog. Glad I have it though!
Conclusion: 2 out of 10 (because no prog).
Awaken - Awaken
Over to Massachusets, where Awaken are presenting their debut self-titled album, Awaken. It's been along time since I've come across a group that have their independent lyricist (Scott Bartholdson), something that is not too common with probably the most famous being Pete Brown (Cream, Piblokto) and Pete Sinfield (King Crimson, Premiata Forneria Marconi). What is also surprising is that this album has long been in the making, with tracks recorded in 1997/1998, and has taken so long to be released!
What can one expect to hear when listening to Awaken? These guys are stepped in the classical progressive seventies era and should make a pleasurable listen to all who like that style of music. The group is composed of main songwriter Rod Johnson (bass, guitars, keys, voice), Jimi Beauregard (drums, percussion, keys, voice), Tom Johnson (keys), Steve Mass (keys, voice) and Scott May (guitars, bass, keys, voice). As can be seen, all members of the group have their hand at the keyboard and it becomes instantly noticeable that the main instrument is in actual fact the keyboard.
The Musician immediately dispels any doubts of the group's musical prowess and influences with a delightful Genesis-like introduction which gives way to a more keyboard driven rock typical of Emerson, Lake And Palmer. Mistaken Entity is more of a placid tune, at least initially! Once again the keyboards take over to lead the charge. One of the main drawbacks that this group have is the lack of a wide-ranged vocalist. The ideas are great but sometimes the vocals sound slightly off-key and strained especially in No One's Listening or in the duetting of Rulers of The World where the vocals remind of the German metal bands of the eighties!
Cry In The Wilderness demonstrates that the group do not have to resort to overly complex music to drive their message home with this track in particular sounding like something that a latter day John Wetton would have written. 2B1 shows the group in a more relaxed mood while Common Ground once again reaffirms the musical roots that Awaken possess.
Ocean Talk has the group move into a musically more complex direction with some intricate time changes coupled with some suggestive sound effects. Once again I feel that it is the vocals that let down this group. If Eyes Could See has an neo-progressive feel to it, with the guitars assuming more of a rock feel while the keyboards have more of a filler effect. Left Alone (Ballad Of Syd Barret) is possible the strongest track on the album and it is here that the group seem to be performing at their most comfortable. The vocals are worked in harmony, in a Cosby, Stills & Nash (& Young!) fashion, while the instruments are almost all acoustic. The group show a distinctive country rock affinity which for some reason was not exploited further within the album, and which quite frankly is a shame as this track is a pleasure to listen to.
Sea Of Tranquility features more of the same as we have had already, keyboard driven prog-rock, while Avant Garde is not as bold as the track might suggest. On the whole this album makes a nice listen, but there is little or no new material that is proposed here. Coupled with a rather lame production and poor vocals, I feel that this group has some more room for improvement! Yet try giving a listen to their samples at Novabeat Records, the're worth trying out.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Stirling Brig - This Way Out
A lot of bands will never feature on this website, including a lot of good acts. But from time to time an opportunity arises to place the spotlight on a band that isn't exactly progressive, but commands attention nevertheless. Sterling Brig is one of those acts. A gathering force in the music scene, in November 2000 Stirling Brig won the L.A. Music Award for Best Independent Rock Album. So what's the DPRP connection? Well beside the fact that the band was kind enough to mail us a copy of their award winning debut (which in itself won't qualify a review), the accompanying promotional material states: "Our music covers a wide variety of styles from progressive rock to Celtic Rock to groovin' good vibe rock and roll." And thus they've got a foot in between the doorway.
But if Stirling Brig would present itself as a progressive act, I think this would get them only a lukewarm audience response. Focus on their strenghts and you'll find a mighty good melodic and harmonious ensemble. There's a lot to say for comparing Stirling Brig to the Eagles or, considering some tracks, the Rolling Stones, but I also thought that at times there's a bit of eighties R.E.M. to their music, Murmur to Document-era. Stirling Brig must be granted having richer harmony and the production value of This Way Out far exceeds that of R.E.M. back then. Add to this a dose of Indie influences, a generous smathering of grooves, some Jazz and Funk and at times Folk, and you'll discover Stirling Brig.
Throughout this recording the band kept surprising me with a high variety of styles and imaginative handling of instruments. Although it's not always fair to label groups of songs, some tracks can be seen in compound. The ballads and emotional tracks overall have a harsh edge, as on Sacrifice, Stop My Mind and She's An Angel with it's Chris De Garmo like guitar play. Folk combines with pop for Celtic Song and with rock on Holding On. The first of these bears apparent traces of Midnight Oil, while the rocker Ah Sid reminds me of Chiaroscuro. Fast paced and catchy tracks are Moon Phases, Send Me On My Way and Man In the Moon, which sports some solid bass grooves. Finally the lightest material is presented in (Lifting) Up On Emotion, which is indeed uplifting with its Hammond-like key parts.
A lot of attention is paid to harmony and arrangment, which strenghtens the compositions. There's fine instrumental performances, especially on guitars by Richard and Weavin. Solid bass (Jeffry) and drums (Dean), at times become very prominent, without being overbearing. It's easy to overlook keyboards (Andrew, with additional keyboards by Rudy Richardson), but at times they play a prominent part, for instance on She's An Angel, (Lifting) Up On Emotion and Moon Phases. Richard also captures a variety of moods with his flexible vocals. As stated, production value is high, and consequently sound quality is too.
Concluding, I do refrain from giving This Way Out a general recommendation (8 out of 10), as this is a progressive music website. But on its own merits it's one of the most enjoyable albums, on the very fringes of progressive rock, I've heard in a while, and a admirable debut release. I'm sure it will appeal to a lot of people if given the chance.
From a progressive point of view, I'd recommend This Way Out to fans of Eye of the Storm and it might be a mellow break for those who enjoy Chiaroscuro. Also, fans of Neal Morse might very well like this.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.