Reviews in this issue:
- Landsend - The Lower Depths
- Emerald - Crown Of Creation
- Troy Donockley & Dave Bainbridge - From Silence
- Somnia - Somnia
- Dimension X - So ... This Is Earth
- Doctor Dunbar’s Medicine Band - Doctor Dunbar’s Medicine Band
- Howard Riley - At Lincoln Cathedral
- Rick Wakeman - At Lincoln Cathedral
- The Vow – Devil In Disguise
- November - Demo
Landsend - The Lower Depths
Tracklist: At The Scene Of An Accident Waiting To Happen (1:21), Digital Signatures (14:22), Behind The Iron Gates (7:46), Why Should I (5:11), Hope Springs Eternal (8:28), A New World Order (26:29), Believe In What (3:27)
Bonus Disc: Eyes Of Venus – 2004 remix (6:28), Indoctrinated (5:33), The Philosophy Of Containers (0:26), This Addiction (5:04), Acquiesce To The Martinets Precept (53:12)
It seems to be a case of “Landsend is dead, Long Live Landsend!” as, over the seven long years since their last album, the band seem to have pretty much fallen apart, reducing the core of the band to the duo of Fred Hunter and Mark Lavallee. The “Long Live..” sentiments are inspired by the revelation that, with some exceptional and inspired guest spots, the band has delivered some of their strongest material to date, and simultaneously flagged up several new avenues of exploration available to the band. I sincerely hope that this marks the beginning of a new phase in the band’s career, and not just a temporary diversion.
I am a longstanding fan of the band, whose obviously Anglophile take on Progressive rock (with Pink Floyd, Genesis and Camel influences abounding) has filled five previous discs with generous portions (perhaps occasionally in need of a little trimming) of relaxing, wistful and melancholic music, symphonic in style and often utilising aquatic imagery, to pleasing effect. Indeed, they have always been strong on atmosphere, if a little lacking in instrumental virtuosity.
Existing fans will be pleased to know that there is plenty of the patent Landsend style here, particularly on the songs fronted by the now departed Jeff McFarland. Behind The Iron Gates and Hope Springs Eternal are two fine examples of the old group sound and Believe In What is a delicate acoustic ballad, delivered in McFarland’s understated semi-spoken style, achieving a contemplative air not dissimilar to Steven Wilson’s No Man project.
Though co-written by McFarland, Why Should I substitutes Bruce Soord (Pineapple Thief) on guitar and vocals, giving a neat twist to the proceedings. Soord’s yearning voice is a nice fit for the song, which drops the symphonic atmosphere a little, for a slightly poppier take on things.
I have left the best till last, though as Digital Signatures and A New World Order, with a combined running time of over 30 minutes, are far and away the best I’ve ever heard from Landsend. The main reason for this is the utterly gorgeous, rich chocolaty tones of Cathy Alexander (of British Folk-prog group The Morrigan). I have been trying to track down her work with that group, since hearing her contributions to band-mate Colin Masson’s excellent Isle Of Eight. Now I shall really have to redouble my efforts, as her dreamy vocals sound even better in this setting, leaving me hungry for more. I would guess this would have a strong appeal to fans of Renaissance, and all those who appreciate stunning, mesmerising female vocals. Without knocking the rest of the material, or the other performers, I would heartily recommend this CD on the strength of the vocals on these two exquisite tracks alone. The combination of the vocals with the symphonic backing is entrancing and intoxicating. Taken quite by surprise at its effect on me, I can only say I love it!!
I can’t really say too much about the bonus disc, aside from that it is more of the same, old Landsend really, and therefore slightly disappointing after the revelations of the main album. My review copy contained an earlier version of the disc, but I understand Cyclops label boss Malcolm Parker has persuaded Fred Hunter to ditch six of the numbers for the sprawling 53 Minute Acquiesce To The Martinet’s Precept. This mammoth jam is apparently the source of Dross, which can be found on An Older Land. In my opinion, this was already quite long enough at 25 Minutes, making it seem likely that the unedited version will be of interest only to the really hard core fans.
Still, you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth – it is a bonus after all. And anyway, you should be buying this disc for the riches contained on the main album – lovers of refined, elegant, gentle symphonic rock will surely be delighted with this - so what are you waiting for?
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Emerald - Crown Of Creation
Tracklist: The Reverse Side of Mosquito’s Battle (6:32), Losing You (5:40), Libra Birthday Girl (4:23), Insubstantial Liberation (12:17), Sara (3:21), No Straight Story (5:15), Politician (7:59), After Trial (6:17), Emerald (6:13)
How can I begin to describe Emerald’s sound? It’s seventies-style fairly mellow progressive rock: lots of keyboards; lovely lead guitars often playing in harmony; three singers often also singing in harmony; altogether pleasant and by turns soothing, beguiling, and occasionally challenging.
We’ll begin with the soothing. Epitomizing that side of the band’ sound is the lovely track Sara, which features only piano, acoustic guitar, and vocals. It’s not easy-listening music by a long shot, but neither is it, say, Ripples, the Genesis song it first put me in mind of, by its vibe more than by its music. Then there’s No Straight Story, which begins with a plodding downtuned-bass-and-drum groove underlining guitar and vocals – the bass and drums recalling (while we’re revisiting Trick of the Tail) the enduring Squonk. But then the song breaks out into a fairly standard rock tune, chunka-chunka rhythm guitar in a descending progression churning away until a mid-song slow break featuring a gorgeous, David Gilmour-like guitar solo changes things up.
So far as their challenging side goes, the band members show their progressive-rock chops most clearly in the four-part song Insubstantial Liberation. A song I’d describe in its sound as “uplifting,” if I didn’t hate that word because of its contemporary overuse, this song shows the musicians indulging in good old-fashioned time changes and changes as well in dynamics and mood. There are such moments, too, in other songs on the album – for example, the rollicking second part of Politician, which (though dominated by Uriah-Heep-style organ) switches between hard-rock pomp and delicate piano and harmony vocals.
That brings me to the band’s promo letter, which tells us that they have “roots in Symfo [sic] and Prog with more than enough elements for everybody who likes Rock in general” – but I’m happy to be able to say that that last part is perhaps overstated. You won’t hear Emerald, or anything like Emerald, on the radio – because those promised “Rock in general” elements, though they exist (as in the rhythm guitar on No Straight Story and a brief but excellent shred-guitar interlude in Politician), are minor elements of the band’s sound. And most, though not all, of the songs are mid-tempo or slower, so any “rock” elements tend toward the ballad (not, heaven forbid, the power-ballad) side of rock.
In fact, one of the album’s very minor faults is a certain sameness of tempo throughout its one-hour duration. That’s not a big deal, but it strikes one the third or fourth time through the album. However, each track is itself a finely crafted song, and the instrumental work accomplishes that difficult feat of contributing to the song without drawing undue attention to itself. Though the guitars and keyboards are the most obvious elements in the band’s sound, particular credit goes to bassist Robin Ziehorst and drummer Marc Bruijn for not showing off. When a song is slow, the temptation for bassists and drummers to overplay – to “fill in” the silences so necessary to the music – is almost overwhelming; but neither musician succumbs in this band. They anchor the tracks and play tastefully but underwhelmingly – the first task of a good rhythm section – stretching out only occasionally and appropriately.
Emerald is a very good band, and Crown of Creation is a very good mid-tempo light-progressive album. I can’t actually imagine anyone who’s at all fond of progressive rock disliking this CD (and it’s not often that I can say such a thing about an album!), but I can imagine lots of people becoming fans after a listening or two. I’m happy to recommend this album to DPRP’s readers and to look forward to more music from Emerald.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Troy Donockley & Dave Bainbridge - From Silence
Tracklist: From Silence One (9:45), From Silence Two (6:15), From Silence Three (15:51), From Silence Four (9:04), From Silence Five (9:44), From Silence Six (5:35)
Not sure where to start with this album, as musically there is little that I can say. Perhaps I should quickly clarify that remark, just in case it gives the wrong impression. This is a beautiful, delicate and extremely touching album and one I have enjoyed immensely, especially towards the close of the day - headphones on and in a darkened room. But more of this later.
The names Troy Donockley & Dave Bainbridge should hopefully need little introduction to these pages, however just in case. Both Dave and Troy are members of Iona, who recently have become more active within their solo careers with Iona's Joanne Hogg currently taking maternity leave. Troy's Whistles and Uilleann pipes have graced many recordings, notably within the progressive field with Mostly Autumn and The Enid, although his instrumentation spans many genres. Similarly Dave's talents have been employed on a number of albums as well as his own material, most notably the excellent Veil Of Gossamer album from last year.
This joint venture sees the empathy between these two musicians that has been borne from their collaborations over some fifteen years, coalesced into an absorbing album of atmospheric music.
From Silence is one of a number of Voiceprint's current releases recorded in Lincoln Cathedral. The idea is that the recordings are live and organic. Live in terms that the music is recorded as it happens, but with no audience present, just the musicians and recording crew. The music is then choreographed by Dallas Simpson, bringing his recording techniques to the fore and creating the unique binaural sound. "The technique involves sampling of normal human hearing and rendering that information into two channels of stereo." So what you end up with is an ever evolving three dimensional sound - fascinating and enjoyable. Oh yes and best experienced through headphones.
According to the press release little was pre-prepared in terms of music for this recording, just an idea of which instruments would be played, with the whole performance recorded on 27th October 2004 in the empty Cathedral. The instruments used were: Troy - assorted whistles, Uilleann pipes, vocal and acoustic guitar; Dave - keyboards, electric guitar and bouzouki.
Now to the hard part and to offer some insight into the music. Words like ambient, textural, atmospheric, organic, Celtic and free flowing all come to mind. However I am a little wary that this may suggest a lack of melody or any degree of structure. The music does remain listenable with the gentle themes and melodies drifting in and out of the background soundscapes. There are no solos, the tempos are loose. I suppose it is best to say that the music evolves. And because of this it would be impossible to single tracks or sections from the album for individual comment - the album works best as a whole. Although I did enjoy the first three tracks slightly more than the second three.
Personally I cannot imagine that this album will appeal across the board, in fact I see its appeal being somewhat limited. I also can't imagine that this music is one to be shared with friends, but more to be confined to those quieter moments of contemplation and reflection. But for this reviewer, From Silence is a truly captivating album and one I shall play often when the days trials and tribulations need to be soothed away.
So if the thought of dreamy, distinctly Celtic influenced atmospheres and music capture your imagination, then look no further than this offering from Troy Donockley & Dave Bainbridge. This, as mentioned above, is an album to be experienced, and to digest it fully, on headphones. The room will need to be as silent as possible and preferably dimmed. Then the ever moving and drifting textures will gradually take you to whatever place you may desire to go to.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Somnia - Somnia
Tracklist: Primaveras En Mi Ser (3:58), Ya Fue Suficiente (3:46), Yo Soy Lo Mejor (4:15), Demasiadas Excusas (4:00), Casi Vos (2:56), Esto Es (3:30), Tres (2:58), Convencerte (3:59), Nuestro Mar (4:56), Juegos De Niños (4:04)
Not speaking Spanish I have not been able to find out much about this Argentinean band from their website apart from the fact that they are a five piece comprising Fredeico Fernández (keyboards), Hernán Naccarato (bass), Nicholás Nuñez (vocals), Gerónimo Pastore (drums) and Sebastián Perossa (guitars), although even then my allocation of instruments to each band member may be incorrect! So, skipping any historical context, let's dive straight into the review.
Wanting to avoid the age-old question of "Is It Prog?" I shall simply state that if you are looking for long, convoluted songs with extended periods of instrumental virtuosity then Somnia are not the band to fulfil your quest. With 10 tracks, all under five minutes duration, the sound is more of a straight forward rock band than of anything that could be defined as classically progressive. The album opens with Primaveras En Mi Ser which has a surprisingly catchy hook and an aggressive guitar riff. Nuñez has a fine voice, with an impressive range that is smooth on the ear but can easily handle harder tones when required. Ya Fue Suficiente has an interesting arrangement with lots of sound effects and a prominent drum pattern while Yo Soy Lo Mejor utilises the old Rhodes electric piano to underpin a song that has a larger than life chorus that would be great to sing along to if I understood the lyrics!
There are quite a few 1980s influences, particularly in some of the keyboard sounds, and the chunky guitar riffs hark back to the new wave of heavy metal bands from that era (as on Demasiadas Excusas). But just when you think you have got the measure of the band they spring Casi Vos on the listener, a bass dominant ballad which manages to sound contemporary and aged at the same time (and for some reason it did remind me somewhat of Portishead but without the overt dance rhythms of that band). Esto Es is more percussive with the drums to the fore and other instruments being almost secondary. Again the fine vocals lift this song which is altogether quite different from anything I've heard in a while. Tres ups the tempo and is more of a pop synth song with treated vocals, sequenced chord structures and programmed drums, disappointing considering what has come before but demonstrative of a band with the confidence to experiment with their sound and incorporate a variety of different influences. Guitars are back to the fore on Convencerte and the thoroughly engaging Nuestro Mar with final track Juegos De Niños wrapping things up nicely with an interesting fusion of sounds and styles.
Somnia have come up with an interesting album that certainly makes a change from the usual music that is played on my stereo. There is an inventiveness, and even playfulness, in the music that imparts to the listener a sense of fun and enjoyment in what the band are doing. And in Nicholás Nuñez they have a vocalist the equal of any I have heard in a long while. Not sure about the various doll parts used for the album's artwork though, most disconcerting!
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Dimension X - So ... This is Earth
Tracklist: Why (6:02), Open Letter (3:37), Corporate Ladder (5:16), Introspection (1:37), Train Wreck (5:48), Xeno's Paradox (16:51), Intrigue (6:06), Nothing's Changed (6:43)
It has taken me couple of weeks to solidify my overall view about this full-fledge debut album by Dimension X. And I think it’s worth sharing with you my evolving experience enjoying this album. At first spin, the music sounded too rough and half-polished from the production and mixing department. But, I was not sure about it as it might be the band intention to produce this way through heavy and rough guitar riffs and drum works. The other problem that I faced was the vocal quality did not really sound well to my ears. On this God-given thing, I usually have a strong willingness to compromise because how can one changes what God has given? So, let me tell you how I handle the situation where the vocal quality is not up to my expectation. I treat the vocal like the sound of any musical instrument: be it a guitar, a flute, an oboe, a sax, a keyboard, anything that “brings the melody” of the music. The only difference is that on instrumental thing there is no lyrical verse – which is fine with me because most of the time I focus more on overall music instead of the story or the messages that the song brings.
Having that in my mind, I still had trouble with the overall quality of this CD. But, I find that this CD is very interesting to me and I can not stop listening to it and it has always been with me wherever I go, even when I drive. Playing this CD in my car has stimulated good energy and enthusiasm as the music is, most of them, in an upbeat progressive metal mode. So, in this case I can not lie to myself that this CD has elevated my emotion. I have a philosophy that music is emotion. At the end of the day, it is emotion that counts. If it has nothing to do with the emotion, forget the music. Only if the music is able to create an emotion impact to listener then we can withdraw a conclusion about the quality of its composition (structure, arrangement), song-writing and overall performance. I don’t know why, whenever I listen to this CD I always remember Dali’s Dilema’s Manifesto For Futurism which I had similar experience with this CD. It’s probably that their music is similar as is also the case with the vocal department.
Let’s have a look in greater detail …
The album starts off with a hard driving rhythm and melodic track, Why which blew me away at first spin. The combination of guitar riffs by Kent Herman, inventive keyboard work by Jeff Konkol and solid bass lines by DR Burkowitz makes this song an interesting one to enjoy. I enjoy the parts during quiet passage at approx minute 1:50 as it has a nice melody. The music continues with riffs that reminds me to bands like Royal Hunt, Dream Theater, Symphony X, or Evergrey. The guitar solo that follows is also stunning. The music continues with Open Letter without any pause. The intro part is very upbeat but the music slows down when vocal line enters the music. The guitar riffs and solo are good to enjoy. Corporate Ladder is a rocker with melodic singing and beautiful riffs. Bass guitar work by DR Burkowitz characterizes the song rhythm section combined with neo-classical keyboard interlude. It’s really an excellent track.
Introspection is a short instrumental track with keyboard and piano work in classical music style. It’s a relaxing bridge that connects to fifth track Train Wreck which has powerful riffs and melody. The music sounds rough but it’s nice and uplifting. There is a short segment with bass guitar solo and riffs which remind me to the Indonesian Balinese traditional gamelan sound. It’s a cool segment. I’m not really sure whether or not this is a coincidence or the band has ever visited Bali island and the gamelan sound has inspired them.
The band has also crafted a prog metal epic Xeno's Paradox with an approx 17 minutes duration. It starts in slow tempo with excellent piano work influenced by classical music and inventive bass lines. The music moves to crescendo and into a more complex arrangement and faster speed. Again, I observe the bass guitar work is really solid and it accompanies stunning guitar solo. Piano serves its role at the background but it enriches the textures of the epic. The epic comprises tempo changes from slow to medium to fast and returns back to slow in a balanced way. After the dialogue singing style in the middle of the epic there is a beautiful keyboard / piano work that reminds me to the style of Keith Emerson augmented with really inventive bass lines. What a cool segment! The guitar solo after piano solo brings the music into complex arrangement in fast tempo. Overall, the epic is an excellent composition that provides balanced fills of piano / keyboards, guitar and bass guitar. Unfortunately, some mixing of drums and vocal seem being overwhelmed by other instruments even though the drum fills are excellent. Enjoying this epic is a rewarding experience for me.
The music continues seamlessly to next track Intrigue with an Eastern nuance melody, combining guitar, bass, piano and vocal with medium/fast tempo music. Bass guitar gives its role really well especially during the transition piece. There is some nice double pedal bass drum insertions that remind me to power metal music even though performed only in a short time. At approx minute 3:21 there is a melody that, again, reminds me to the pentatonic sounds of Balinese gamelan. It’s really wonderful! Similar melodies occur again at minute 5:04 augmented with great bass guitar and drumming. Nothing's Changed concludes the album in medium / fast progressive metal music with some symphonic touches. Even though some bass work (those that are played like Stanley Clarke in the eighties) do not favour me personally but overall it’s a good composition track.
Overall, this album is an excellent debut album that lays solid foundations for the composition in terms of structure, arrangements, and songwriting, that relies on the balanced delivery of the soloists: guitar, keyboard and vocal - combined with inventive and adventurous bass guitar work, and drums as beat keeper as well as transition fillers. To me personally, this beauty has killed the production and mixing issues as I explained above. For those of you where progressive metal is already in your blood, this is definitely an album that you should not miss. For those that are exploring into prog metal vein, this album may fit your expectations.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Doctor Dunbar’s Medicine Band -
Doctor Dunbar’s Medicine Band
Tracklist: Good Bye Song (3:33), Crazy Baby (2:17), My One True Love (5:07), The Lucky Strike (1:42), Tennis Shoes (3:35), Brand New Day (5:02), I Wanna Party (4:30), The Peak Performance Song (5:01), Need To Get (4:16), Happy Go Lucky (4:12), Rock Your World (2:49)
It certainly isn’t prog, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll…but I like it. OK, actually, I love it, and I seem to be in minor trouble as a DPRP reviewer. Now, don’t mistake me: I’m a progressive rock fan-boy. Old-school Tull, early-psychedelic Crimson, Siberian Khatru, Annie Haslam, 2112, even Floyd in wank mode and Golf Girl with Pat and her tea: it’s all good. But there seems to be this part of me that fancies, not always but often addictively, melodic power-pop (à la The Kinks, nascent Who, and Cheap Trick) and early ‘70s, sometimes B3-laden, guitar rock (in the mould of Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, early Scorpions, U.F.O., Thin Lizzy, Blue Oyster Cult, etc.) And I guess I have to admit that so far in my career as a DPRP reviewer, and with maybe a small handful of exceptions, I have preferred the non-prog recordings. Coincidence? I guess. I only know that, excluding The Unseen Guest’s Out There, Doctor Dunbar’s Medicine Band’s self-titled debut is the best thing I’ve reviewed to date for this Web site. It’s got melodic power-pop, it’s got sometimes-B3-laden guitar rock, and it’s fun. And that, for me, is review nirvana. Om mani padme hum.
The Ant Nest press release tells me that Doctor Dunbar’s Medicine Band (DDMB) formed in 1999. Gustav (vocals, guitars), David J-L (keyboards, vocals), and David L (bass) were schoolmates in Lund, rehearsing material and pining for a drummer. Eventually and fortuitously, new kid in town Lars (“from the Småland region”) was rescued from a punk “constellation” (!) and set behind the drum kit as the fourth and final member of DDMB. With the advent of Lars, the band has gone on to record demos and gig successfully, all efforts culminating in this, DDMB’s eponymous debut.
One of the most appealing hallmarks of DDMB’s music is the sheer variety and eclecticity of the tracks: you really never know what’s coming next and this uncertainty elevates the listener’s interest.
On the power pop side of DDMB’s world, you’ve got Brand New Day and The Peak Performance Song. Brand New Day sounds like Sunny Afternoon or Apeman-era Kinks, which is just fine by me. It’s got a great rhythm-section bounce and great dual vocals. I love the bar-room piano. The chorus is a superbly catchy lament on the tedious repetition of life: "Tomorrow is a brand new day/and we will still be just the same." If someone in DDMB doesn’t worship at the altar of Mr. Ray Davies, I’ll eat my PC. The drastic change of pace in the middle of the track, leading to the final chorus, is the sign of mature, thoughtful songwriting. Basically, I gobbled up every second of Brand New Day; it might be one of the most perfect pop songs I’ve ever heard. The Peak Performance Song runs neck-and-neck with Brand New Day for best track on the CD, but it stands alone as the weirdest, funniest song on the recording. It’s another Kinks tribute with a jagged, skipping beat; the drumming is neat on this one. Lyrically, it’s hilarious, the story of a proud sweater purchase gone wrong and battles with a corporate juggernaut to obtain satisfactory remuneration. "Stupid corporation trying to tread on me/but I’ll get back on you someday, I’ll show you all, you’ll see." The conversation between the jaded consumer and the corporate talking head is priceless: I can’t do it justice, just hear it. Peak is another fine example of DDMB’s musical brilliance, dry social commentary, and exuberance.
I don’t know who pens the lyrics for this band, but the writing is about as suave and effective as I’ve heard from any unknown band. There’s a tendency to balance the absurd with a hint of gravity, and each song is injected with just the right amount of wry commentary and critical analysis, without becoming a philosophical diatribe. As did The Kinks and Ray Davies, DDMB points out the ridiculous but often charming nature of our mundane, fleeting, day-by-day-by-day existences.
And the yang for DDMB’s yin features several powerful tracks. Need To Get is a prime example. The central riff recalls Grand Funk Railroad, or better, Blue Öyster Cult, and there’s a lot more of this sound throughout the disc. The vocal performance is stellar. I’m assuming that it’s Gustav and that he is the primary singer for DDMB. If so, the man has a bona fide rock ‘n’ roll voice, although he may have been born too late! He growls with a gravel in his throat but then also can deliver a focused, melodic bit of singing that charms. A little Burton Cummings, a little Mark Farmer, I’ll say. There is female accompaniment here and on two other tracks, but sadly, it’s uncredited; it works so well maybe because there just isn’t that much of it. I suspect that this song is a treat in a live venue: I bet it shakes the terra firma. It’s the heaviest track on the CD.
The Lucky Strike is another BÖC-style frenzied track. "I sold my integrity/but after all, wouldn’t you all?" is a rude shot: of course we all would, though. Not to beat the DDMB horse, but it’s more of the same: excellent singing, well-blended instruments, straightforward rocking in which everyone does exactly what’s needed to drive the song.
My One True Love showcases a nice opening B3 lead then segues into great Kiss-meets-Grand Funk guitar riff. There’s a sharp little bridge, which again features the female vocalist; this bridge has a surprising alt-rock feel to it and keeps the track from being too retro. The ensemble playing is precise: there are rests, pauses, breaks, and syncopated beats galore and the band hits everything.
There’s one throwaway tune (Happy Go Lucky) but otherwise, this is a convincing set of tracks. In the end, I can’t recommend this highly enough. Yeah, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, but it’s classic. It’s a Saturday night party album in some ways (and there’s nothing wrong with that, as I sip my Heineken and plan for the evening) but it’s also just damn good music. Gustav is a fantastic singer; David J-Ls keyboard work is alternately humble, driving, biting, or dancing; Lars is a Moon-esque monster on the skins and cymbals; and David L keeps a solid rock bass-line going at all times. The musicianship is ballsy. The mixture of Hammond fills and guitar lines is expertly managed. Will prog fans like it? Well, those in the epics-only camp will probably want to skip this. But if, like me, you’ve got some Thin Lizzy, BÖC, Uriah Heep, and Guess Who tucked away in your collection, and you dig any of that stuff out once in a while for a joyful listen, give Doctor Dunbar’s Medicine Band a try. It might cure what ails you. It’s so rare to hear a new band with talent, controlled egos, humour, insight, and frenetic energy offer something that shines from start to finish. Well done. AUM.
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Howard Riley - At Lincoln Cathedral
CD 1: Upon Arrival (11:37), Timeless (7:27), Round Midnight (8:32), High Lights (11:17), Only (3:23), Soundings (6:44), Ocean Walk (8:11)
Rick Wakeman - At Lincoln Cathedral
CD 1: Soul Mortality (7:30), Dance of the Imps (5:26), Gifts From Heaven (5:50), The All Mighty Almighty (13:22), Dawn and Dusk (5:48), The Da Vinci Variations (15:00)
CD 2: Soul Mortality (7:30), Dance of the Imps (5:26), Gifts From Heaven (5:50), The All Mighty Almighty (13:22), Dawn and Dusk (5:48), DTS warning (0:40), The All Mighty Almighty [DTS Surround Sound] (13:21), Soul Mortality [MPG video]
The two CDs featured here form part of the Heliopause/Voiceprint series of "live" performances (without an audience), and recorded in Lincoln Cathedral. The first in the Heliopause/Voiceprint series began with violinist Ric Saunders (Soft Machine and The Albion Band) - on that first recording he was joined by Fairport Convention drummer, Michael Gregory and Vo Fletcher on guitar and Rick Wakeman appears as a special guest. Following this are the two albums featured, Howard Riley and Rick Wakeman. Other artists planned for these projects are Roger Eno and Gordon Giltrap.
The format set out for the recordings is to allow the musicians to absorb the atmosphere and ambience of the cathedral and then perform certain pieces written for the occasion or even just let the music evolve. In both cases CD2 comprises of enhanced versions of CD1. Repeated tracks are either Binaural recordings or DTS Surround encoded. A brief synopsis of the binaural headphone sound can be found in the Donockley & Bainbridge review (above).
Of these two masters of the keyboards, Rick Wakeman should need little if any introduction to readers of these pages. However Howard Riley may not be so familiar. Howard is considered to be one of the main exponents of the free jazz movement in the UK. Evidence of this can certainly be heard in his performance on this album. He has had a long career working with among others Keith Tippett, Elton Dean, Barry Guy and Jon Hiseman. For his recording Howard chose to use only a Steinway & Sons grand piano and after ten minutes or so of "soundchecks" (piano and acoustics), played the pieces in a single take. Howard's performance is exemplary, the recording is crystal clear and the natural reverberation of the cathedral is evident.
Mr Wakeman on the other hand chose to use the impressive cathedral organ as well as a Steinway grand for his performance. Of the day's recording, Rick published the following commentary:
"There are so many emotions that race through the body when seated behind the manuals of a great cathedral organ and the feeling of power that appears to surge through the fingers into the instrument itself and in turn through the pipes themselves is almost unsurpassable. As opportunities to perform on great cathedral organs are really few and far between, the chance of having a day to play the organ at Lincoln Cathedral was too good to miss. The music I chose was written specifically for the instrument itself and is based around a combination of fixed notation and improvisation fuelled by pure emotion."
Both CDs are extremely enjoyable in their own way, although I see their overall appeal being somewhat limited. Both musicians play impeccably in their own contrasting styles and this along with the concept, recording quality and additional binaural and DTS options give these albums a uniqueness worth investigating further. These projects are as mentioned above ongoing and Rob Ayling, the man not only behind Voiceprint, but indeed these particular recordings, has gone on to suggest and implement further such projects at Lincoln. In this update you can also find a review of Troy Donockley and Dave Bainbridge undertaking a similar binaural recording with the cathedral's walls.
I have offered little in the way of commentary on the music, as I believe the concept and instrumentation speak for themselves. The two musicians here are both great improvisers and their abilities are amply displayed by these spontaneous performances. Certainly a track by track analysis would be somewhat superfluous and not at all in keeping with the two separate events. Absolutely pointless also, to offer any sort of numerical ratings to these two albums. Enjoyable if not essential purchases.
Conclusions: None offered
The Vow – Devil In Disguise
Tracklist: Devil In Disguise (5:32), Talking Pictures (6:10), Hold On To Your Dreams (5:00), The Whole Mankind (5:50), At The Seaside (8:24), The Girl With No Name (5:19), Paradise (4:52), Trojan Add-on (29:32)
German outfit The Vow have previously released a couple of albums on the Musea label, but for their third album have gone down the independent route. They have also expanded from a duo to a trio with the addition of a drummer; this is also given by the band as one of the main reasons for the three year delay since the last release, Trojan. It’s a decent reason as far as I’m concerned, as with very few exceptions its always better to have real drums than programmed ones.
In time-honoured prog fashion, the album is split between seven (relatively) short tracks and one lengthy, multi-part epic. From the opening bars of the title track, its clear that The Vow’s sound is very much moulded in the neo-progressive scene. The first name that immediately springs to mind as a comparator is Arena – with its tinkling keyboard refrain (reminiscent of that on The Butterfly Man) and dark, slightly gothic atmosphere, not to mention Ralph Link’s soaring guitar work, you could almost see this track fitting snugly on to one of the latter Arena albums. I say almost, as the song has a simpler structure than much of Arena’s work, and frankly doesn’t reach the same heights as that band’s best material. There’s some good ideas, but it’s a relentlessly mid-paced affair that soon begins repeating itself, and could probably be a tad shorter.
This criticism could be repeated for many of the other ‘shorter’ songs which follow. The best of the bunch are probably Talking Pictures, which has a strong chorus that soon lodges in the head, and guitar work in the Gary Chandler (Jadis) mode (a comparison that could be continued with the vocals of Holger Goetz, who sings in a fairly similar style and within the same (deep) range as Chandler), and Hold On To Your Dreams, a strong ballad that is slightly reminiscent of Dream Theater’s Lifting Shadows Off A Dream. The Whole Mankind sees the band injecting something of a hard rock edge to proceedings, and is reminiscent of seventies bands such as Uriah Heep. It’s a little clunky, but again has a strong chorus. Less good, however, is the lengthy At The Seaside, which does have a nice, wistful feel to it, and good semi-acoustic guitar work from Link, but is rather dull and drags on far too long, and Paradise, a rather insipid ballad that sounds like it comes straight out of the mid-80’s (complete with a rather dated drum sound).
Its’ therefore something of a relief when we get to the 29-plus minutes of Trojan Add-On. Much of this ‘track’ (which can perhaps be forgiven its clunky title due to its links with a computer game of the same name) is quintessential neo-prog – even down to the sub-titles of some of the pieces (The Flight Of The Winged Horse, The Talking Tree). There’s some dynamic guitar work (complete with an excellent early guitar solo) from Link in the Mitchell/ Chandler mode, lots of keyboard work reminiscent of the likes of Martin Orford and Clive Nolan in full flight, and a pleasing heavier (and slightly darker) edge with gives a little more weight to the material. Last but not least of course are an abundance of strong melodies and the well handled changes in pace that are essential for this style to work. Some of the material is again quite close to The Vow’s influences (they’ve clearly heard Arena’s Contagion album for example), but in general the band do impose their own stamp on proceedings. It’s a pity that the track rather peters out in the last third of its length, but overall it forms the highlight of the album.
In conclusion, then, this is perhaps a little patchy, but there’s enough here for fans of the neo-prog genre to get their teeth into, and I’d say it was certainly worth a punt if the likes of Arena, Jadis and IQ figure highly in your CD collection.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10
November - Demo
Tracklist: Afterglow (4:44), Slipping Through Our Hands (6:13), Star Of The Fields (6:23), At Midnight (4:27), Caravan [excerpt] (5:04)
Although we here at DPRP don't often review demo material, just occasionally we make an exception, as in the case with November (the fact they are a Dutch band having had no bearing on the decision!). A five piece consisting of Remco Bouwens (drums), Jos Duyst (vocals), Martijn Hoekstra (piano and organ), Roel van Gils (bass, double bass and Chapman stick, although he doesn't play on the demo) and Stef Kohler (guitars), the group has a most convoluted genealogy with several line-up changes and members playing in different bands, often simultaneously.
November describe their music as "the melancholic atmosphere of a month in autumn" mixing the more plaintive emotions of 'slow-core' with progressive rock. The results are certainly interesting. The drums, guitar and keyboards on this demo were recorded live with vocals, bass and other overdubs added later. Afterglow bears no resemblance to the Genesis song of the same name being a tad more aggressive. The heavier aspects of the song blend well with the more melancholic piano and vocals. Unlike the first track, Slipping Through Our Hands sounds more like a demo being rather stark and simplistic, although the extended piano / acoustic guitar section in the middle of the song is quite delightful. Star Of The Fields, the title track of the band's second album due sometime next year (how's that for planning, considering the debut album has yet to be completed!), initially reminds me somewhat of an American Music Club outtake, although that changes when the gritty electric guitar intrudes about half-way through. At Midnight is quite despairing with lyrics such as "At midnight I look up to the sky, the heaven above not a star smiles upon me...Oh this turmoil weakens me". However, it is not all doom and gloom as a fine guitar solo from Kohler lifts the song out of the mire. Final track Caravan is an excerpt from a longer piece that will be included on the forthcoming album and promises to be quite an extravaganza with Hoekstra's piano battling it out with Kohler's guitar for dominance.
The demo certainly whets the appetite for the debut release, although it remains to be seen if the melancholic air displayed throughout these tracks will sustain the interest of the listener through a full album. However, there is sufficient evidence on the basis of these tracks to suggest that November's first CD will be one to listen out for.