Reviews in this issue:
Grobschnitt - The History Of Solar Music 1
Track list disc one: Bananaboat Song (2:13), I Walk The Line (0:46), Solar Music Warburg '78 (55:44), Zugabe (4:23) (Stadthalle, Warburg, Germany, 1978)
Track list disc two: Solar Music Münster '79 (27:01), Merry Go Round (7:27) (Halle Münsterland, Münster, Germany, 1979), Solar Music Studio '74 (33:23)
I love a track listing like that - very easy to write down! Reviewing this album is not so easy, however. It contains three versions of Grobschnitt's best-known song, Solar Music. And with timings of 55, 27 and 33 minutes, there is a lot I could tell you. Fortunately, two versions are from around the same time two officially released versions of this track were recorded.
First of all, I think it is safe to say that if you do not know Grobschnitt, then this is not the CD to start with. This is also not the place to talk about that in length, as this review is about this particular album and not the others, and since Grobschnitt's music changed style quite a bit, it would really be a lengthy piece. In short: start with Rockpommel's Land for the album that appeals to most progressive rock fans, then Jumbo for the more experimental stuff, then the eponymous debut album for the bluesy original, Solar Music Live for the highlights of what the band could do on stage, and then Merry-Go-Round and Illegal for the later Grobschnitt.
Back to this album. The piece that is known as Solar Music has evolved many times. In the earliest line-ups of the band, there was a song called Sun Trip. A 17-minute version of this appeared on the debut album. Starting off there, bits were left out, other bits were included, the name was changed to Solar Music, under which title the band started improvising a lot on stage. It is especially from around this time that I am interested to hear a version of.
February 1974. It was time to record a studio version. A 33-minute version was released, filling side three and four on the double album Ballermann. The band had a terrible job to do, recording four LP sides worth of music in just three days, and mix them in another three days. Due to several circumstances and reasons that remain unclear to me due to the fact that the booklet is in German and my knowledge of the German language is insufficient, the mix that was released on Ballermann was not approved of by the members of the band. I agree, though, that the sound on Ballermann indeed leaves a lot to be desired. Now, twenty-five years later, Eroc got the chance to do a proper re-mix, and took it.
And here it is, the version as it was supposed to be. Of course, without the cut that was needed for a release on vinyl. Also included is the keyboard sound eight minutes before the end, which was left off on the LP version. According to the booklet (I do understand some German), it was left off and for twenty-five years people have been wondering why it was not played. Well, it was played, and now we can hear it. I must admit that I never knew there should be a keyboard sound there - you'd probably have to have heard many live versions from around that time before you would have been able to tell.
Easy to say, the sound is so much better, clearer. A remix like this was long overdue. Now it's only the first disc of that double album that needs a remix...
1978. Around this time, the song was at its peak, and that is regarding length and to many also regarding the contents. It is definitely the version that sold best, as it was released on one of the band's best-selling albums Solar Music Live. 55 minutes of powerful rock, Krautrock, progressive rock, blues rock, theatre rock, and improvisation. (Well, to be precise, there is a 1975 version of 65 minutes.) The version on this album is not the same as was released on Solar Music Live, fortunately. I can't disagree with some of you that another version from 1978 might be a bit of an overkill. 55 minutes of music is very also hard to compare, so I can't give you a very good reason to rectify the release of this version, or why you should buy this CD if you have Solar Music Live, other than that this is a 2CD, obviously. Comparing the quality of the CD versions is not necessary - they're equally brilliant, which makes it even harder to compare. It's another version of this wonderful piece of music, that's it.
And then 1979. By this time, the band was writing somewhat shorter songs, more powerful and less progressive. The album released this year was Illegal, and probably to fit the style of Solar Music to the rest of the material, it was again re-written. This resulted in a 27-minute version, dubbed "Powerplay", and that says a lot about it. It's the heaviest and fastest version. With some screaming vocals, it's almost heavy metal. Well, 27 minutes - there's a lot of Grobschnitt weirdness in there too, of course, making it another very interesting version.
As happened all the time in the history of this song, new parts are introduced. The overall feel of the song changed with the style of the band, although slightly slower than their regular studio albums. For example, the part around 13 minutes sounds like other late 1970s Grobschnitt, but at 16 minutes it's back to an original Solar Music part. At 23 minutes, a well-known part has been changed - modernized, I'd say.
There are some more songs on these CDs than just three versions of Solar Music. Disc one contains two short songs played just before Solar Music, and I must say that in this format, focusing on that lengthy piece, they are a bit out of place. But fun to have, anyway. What is stated as Zugabe (which means Encore) is a nice thing Grobschnitt did throughout their career. They played a piece of music during which all the musicians were introduced. On many live tapes referred to as Introduction, and here as Zugabe, was often a piece from the very first album, in this case Symphony, a track that was hardly ever played in its original form for many years. In 1981, they used the music of Sun Trip as the Zugabe. A nice way of hearing those old tunes again.
From the 1979 recording, the track played after Solar Music was included: Merry-Go-Round. This track marked the musical path the band was heading on after Rockpommel's Land, and the album of the same name is a very nice bridge between its predecessor and Illegal. But anyway, this is not about the musical styles, this is about Solar Music.
This 2CD is number one in a series of three (a sub-series of the Grobschnitt Story CDs). I don't know yet which versions will be on there, but I am sure they will be very interesting. To keep them interesting for everybody, I think Eroc will put versions from different eras together. I assume some very old version will be released, maybe from the same gig that provided the 29 minute bonus track on the CD issue of the first album. And there's the 1986 version called Sonnentanz as well, of course. And I assume there will be versions from the period between 1970 (Sun Trip) and 1974 (as on Ballermann), and from between 1974 and 1978 (Solar Music Live).
This is the first in a series that shows Grobschnitt were a very important band in the history of German progressive rock, but also internationally, they competed with the majors. Krautrock was never very popular, as it was a less technical form of progressive rock, where most people apparently wanted to have things more complex. However, it's not typical Krautrock that the band is playing at all. You can't play such long songs and keep them interesting without changing the theme and the atmosphere many times. And that is what Solar Music is all about. In whatever version, it is a musical story with dreamy parts, heavy parts, long solos, and improvisations, that many other bands could only dream of being able to play and maintain the audience's interest. Important thing is that the band never lose their blues roots - something I think a lot of progressive rock is lacking. With so many cold and lifeless technical babble, I'd rather play the few songs on these CDs another time.
The essential Grobschnitt is the official discography. Though not essential, this 2CD is still a very valuable and important release. Fans of the band will simply have to buy it, no discussion possible. For a document of Krautrock and related music, and simply powerful, wonderful, and magical progressive rock, this is a very good suggestion.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10.
At Vance - Only Human
Melodic metal band At Vance from Germany have already produced a handful of albums and are going to tour/have toured with Rhapsody according to their web site, so chances are you may have heard from them already. The band is a metal band in the fullest sense of the word, so don't expect too many progressive influences here. They are however strong in the melodic sense and flirt with classical music as well. In general however the music can be described as commercially sounding hard rock/metal with some nice tracks like Take My Pain (which reminded me a bit of heavy Rocket Scientists or Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son by Iron Maiden) which contains a lot of tempo changes but it also contains very mediocre tracks like Only Human.
The best thing about the album are the vocals of Oliver Hartmann, who has a great raw metal voice, not unlike the lead singer of Ark. One of the tracks on which this becomes clear is the ballad Hold Your Fire, which I think will work great in a live setting. On CD this track is worth listening to as well, with its plentiful tempo changes and enough contrast between chorus and verse, both in terms of instrumentation and in terms of melody line. Next we are served a rape of Vivaldi's Spring. Despite the fact that I really dislike these often very tasteless renditions of great classical tunes, I must admit that the lead electric guitar does a very fine job in taking over the violin parts, without damaging them too much... but it's just those silly drums! Classical music can well do without and I believe that after Dutch group Ekseption have murdered about every classical tune ever written, nobody should mess with them anymore. Therefore, the Bach tune Solveggieto (which is spelled with 3 g's at the back of the booklet ?) which is reduced to an electric guitar solo cannot make me very enthusiastic. So let's see what more the album has in store. I was hoping for a bit more dark material. The opening of Sing This Song was promising, with an almost classical tune in the guitar melody (they have practiced that ;-), and it even approaches progressive metal until the chorus sets in, which turns the track almost into a Gospel song. Bummer.
This album is very variable in the quality of the compositions. There are some quite ingenious tracks, like the ones mentioned above, and some very simple compositions. The general style is most of the time rather Iron Maiden like, and fans of them will probably enjoy this album as well. Ulli Müller, who is credited for the keys, should have made his presence more known. More than a handful of chords, apart from the more elaborate keyboards in the classical tunes, is not heard from him, whereas I think some of the compositions may have benefited from more intricate keyboard work. Ah well, according to the web site they have kicked him out of the band already, so I hope they come up with a better replacement. The production and mixing are up to standards and the booklet inside is more stylish than the cover painting so no complaints in that area.
The album is distributed by AFM Records/Rock Inc. and Bertus.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10.
Taproban - Ogni Pensiero Vola
Italy is one of the few European countries that till this very day still holds progressive rock music at heart and continues to churn out quality bands. Taproban is just one such trio composed of Gianluca De Rossi (keyboards, vocals), Davide Guidoni (drums) and Guglielmo Mariotti (guitars), all of whom have had vast experience in the musical scene with bands such as Magog.
Ogni Pensiero Vola is a concept album much in the same vein as Mussorgsky's Picture At An Exhibition. In fact this album is also a walk through, but rather than a walk through an exhibition this album depicts a walk through a park in Viterbo, Italy known as the Park Of Monsters. This complex was the work of Pierfrancesco Vicino Orsini, lord of Bomarzo and involved the realisation of a series of stone statues, the subject of which forms the mainstay of this album.
Starting off with The Sphinx Enigma, the music seems to take on an E.L.P. approach, something which should not be too surprising when one considers that Taproban are also a trio of musicians with the brunt of solos borne by the keyboards. Thankfully the band are capable of infusing a degree of variety into their music creating the various moods that go with the different statues. Thus the statue of Orlando Quartering A Shepherd has a much more dramatic touch than the flighty and rhythmic Pegasus The Winged Horse or else the atmospheric Sleeping Nymph.
Most of the music is in the more traditional seventies styled progressive rock, though there are notable exceptions. The most prominent exception is The Little Inclined House which has more of the musique conrete than rock with various clocks ticking away accompanied by strange vocal effects giving the band that slight Floydian touch. In true progressive rock style the band also come up with their epic number, The Ogre (a picture of which graces the album cover) which allows the band to draw on all of their musical influences. The pomposity of Emerson, Lake & Palmer together with the strong driving rhythms of Rush are combined with that typical Italian flair that pervades throughout the music on the album.
Ogni Pensiero Vola is no ground-breaking album and much of what it has to offer in musical terms has already been accomplished before. However, the booklet included with the CD provides a description of the statue in question for each track allowing the listener to fully understand what the band have been trying to portray in their musical experience.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10.
Paul McNulty - Into The Red
Out Of The Blue by the Electric Light Orchestra has always been one of my all time favourite prog rock albums. I must have played it hundreds of times, after it came out in 1977. Recently, I found out that one Patrick McNulty has recorded a complete re-make of the album, which he called Into The Red.
ELO's original Out Of The Blue album was a "big" production in many ways.
The double album (with a poster and build-it-yourself UFO) was recorded with choir and orchestra, and the compositions all had complex arrangements. In those days, ELO-leader Jeff Lynne used to think "bigger was better", and if he felt the music needed piano, he would use eight pianos...
Paul McNulty's Into The Red is a nice opportunity to hear this music in a completely different format. On the album cover, he explains why he wanted to do this re-make: "Because it's there -like Mount Everest, or I suppose I should Say, Abbey Road". McNulty was struck at how great the ELO songs sounded, just on guitar or piano. He took away most of the original arrangements, and re-recorded the album in a stripped down, almost unplugged format.
The album has no real "band feel": there's no drums or bass, and most of the songs are just played on piano or guitar. McNulty is no real virtuoso on these instruments (almost no solos), but they provide an effective background for the vocal arrangements. Still, Into The Red sounds unlike most unplugged albums, because McNulty adds a lot of harmony vocals, in a style that reminds me a bit of the Beach Boys.
I won't go into a track by track analysis, but will give some short descriptions. The album starts with Into The Red, an original composition by McNulty, and fact just a medley of sounds. The rest of the album has the original Out Of The Blue songs, in the original track order. McNulty only "cheated" with Birmingham Blues (a song he never could stand), which has no similarity with the ELO-song, and mainly consists of experimental noises, making this one of the most radical cover versions ever.
An acoustic guitar arrangement was given to Turn To Stone, Sweet Talkin' Woman, Night In The City, Summer And Lightning and Sweet Is The Night. Because of the instrumentation, they lack a bit of the power of the power of the original songs (less rockier and more friendly), but all in all quite nice.
Three pieces on the album were entirely done in acapella style: Across The Border, Jungle (inventively reworked), and the instrumental The Whale, with vocals effects that sound a bit like 10 CC's I'm Not In Love.
Most of the other songs were given a piano treatment. It's nice to notice that the piano version of Mr. Blue Sky still has the same "sunny" feel as the original ELO-version. The classical sections were a bit shortened, but most of the original harmony vocals are still there. It's just piano on the instrumental Believe Me Now, with vocals added on Standin' In The Rain, and the ballads Big Wheels and Starlight. The accompaniment in the remaining tracks is a bit different, but as a whole they suit the rest of the album. It's Over has some tinkling synth sounds, Wild West Hero some electric guitar (but mainly piano), and there are accordion sounds on Steppin' Out.
Into The Red is not a prog rock masterpiece. I even doubt if McNulty is interested in prog music, as his current musical activities include a new tribute project, "Simply Simon & Garfunkel", and his band The Lazy Saviours, which he described as "a heterosexual Pet Shop Boys".
Having said this, I can recommend this album to all ELO fans. I found it very nice to hear different versions of the classic songs on Out Of The Blue. McNulty recorded some fresh sounding and surprisingly different new versions, and at the same time managed to keep the songs' soul alive. Because of this, I found McNulty's album far more interesting than for instance the Pink Floyd tribute album The Moon Revisited.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10. (ELO fans only)
Bad Ambition - Daydream
Daydream appears to be the debut self-produced release from this 5-piece Italian AOR/Hard rock outfit. There is little information available on the band either in the booklet or on the web, so its a little difficult to know the origins of the band, however the fact that the disk is distributed by Frontiers gives a good clue as to the style of the contents and indeed this is yet another quality disk distributed by this label.
The disk opens promisingly with a nice Pink Floyd-like solo during the short instrumental title track, Daydream, before getting down to business on Never Again, which is a fine representative of much which follows on the disk. Here Bad Ambition deliver a nice 80's style AOR/Hard Rock tune, fast paced with the synthesiser of Alessi Mosconi and the guitar of Mirko Guerra taking turns to lead the way. While the tune lacks a really memorable chorus, the tune is nevertheless fairly catchy.
Winter Night is probably the highlight of the disk, despite the rather 'tinny' drum sound. Introduced once again by some fine guitar work, the main theme contains a chunky riff from the guitar and some fine singing from vocalist Matteo Babini. The tune is quite progressive, interchanging the guitar and keyboards and making good use of some orchestral samples.
The band return to standard 80s style with the fast-paced, catchy Love is an illusion. Once again there is a good chunky sound to the main guitar riff and a furious if not particularly fluid guitar solo, as is also the case with the following tune Power of Time. Here the playing of Mirko Guerra is reminiscent at times of Trevor Rabin mixing some particularly strong opening riffs with some much mellower playing. It is the fine guitar playing on this tune, which basically saves it from being a very bland number indeed.
Tears in the night is another Foreigner-styled tune, with fine guitar and keys playing being the highlights once again. The chorus is good too, but the drum sound of Andrea Palli is once again rather 'tinny' and thin, detracting a little from what is otherwise a fine tune. Shimmering keys and bells introduce Secret rendez-vous which is well arranged with some nice orchestration and fine piano playing. The guitar solo, once again is not top notch, but it doesn't detract too much from a fine number.
The final two numbers are fairly formulaic too. Wild white wolf is fairly fast-paced but otherwise unremarkable while To feel lonely starts off very slowly and quietly before turning into yet another uptempo rockers
Though the disk is well-produced, the rather thin drum sound detracts somewhat from the power of the best of the tunes. The members of the band put in some fine performances and the arrangements are excellent with the band nailing the 80's sound very well, for what is a self-produced effort. At its best points there are echoes of Foreigner, but nothing to suggest that the band will become a ground-breaker themselves. This is a good, solid, Hard Rock album that fans of 80's Hard Rock/AOR would enjoy.
Conclusion: 5 out of 10.