Reviews in this issue:
- Shadow Gallery – Digital Ghosts
- Fernwood - Sangita
- Believe – This Bread Is Mine
- Mindflower - Little Enchanted Void
- Pictoral Wand - Face Of Our Fathers
- Majestic - Arrival
- Mob Rules - Radical Peace
- Jolly – Forty Six Minutes, Twelve Seconds Of Music
- Eric Burdon – Mirage
- John Orr Franklin - Transformation
Shadow Gallery – Digital Ghosts
Tracklist: With Honor (9:59), Venom (6:22), Pain (6:22), Gold Dust (6:45), Strong (6:50), Digital Ghost (9:37), Haunted (9:37)
With six studio albums and one compilation (2007’s Prime Cuts) in 17 years Shadow Gallery could not be described as the most prolific prog metal band to hail from the US but they are certainly one of the most enduring and entertaining. The absence of live recordings is easily explained by the fact that they have never performed live, describing themselves as first and foremost a studio band. Digital Ghosts follows 2005’s highly regarded Room V, their debut release for InsideOut. Since then tragedy has struck with the untimely passing of lead singer Mike Baker who died from a heart attack in October 2008. The remaining trio of Gary Wehrkamp (guitars, keyboards, vocals, drums), Brendt Allman (guitars, keyboards, vocals) and Carl Cadden-James (bass, vocals) resolved to forge ahead with the new album sharing vocal duties with various guest singers. During the process they happened upon Brian Ashland whose affinity with the music made him a suitable replacement for their former friend and colleague.
With Digital Ghosts the band has eschewed their usual concept approach for a collection of individual songs although style wise it’s still their unique blend of bombastic but tuneful symphonic prog-metal. The 10 minute With Honor is probably their most ambitious offering to date with a staccato opening salvo that recalls one of my favourite US prog acts Cryptic Vision (where have they been of late?). It eases into a muscular riff driven groove along the lines of Yes’ Rhythm Of Love and from here on every trick in the book is employed to keep the listener hooked. This includes fast and furious guitar flights, proggy synth flourishes, lush piano, melodramatic vocals and a massed choir for the anthemic chorus. The tricky a cappella section in particular is a real delight harking back to The Beach Boys by way of Yes and Queen.
After the monumental opener the following quartet of tunes sound closer to mainstream metal to my ears although they all display ample measures of instrumental and vocal dynamics. The aptly titled Venom motors along under a head of steam with a punchy riff and biting vocal exchanges between Cadden-James and Clay Barton (from prog metallers Suspyre) who occasionally ventures into Ian Gillan territory. The gritty organ backing is a real bonus. Pain opts for a tranquil acoustic guitar and piano intro underpinning the plaintiff vocal and is very reminiscent of Everon. It soon accelerates into its weighty, mid-tempo stride with some showy guitar and synth interplay that emulates the Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci partnership.
The presence of Dream Theater hangs in the air throughout especially when the bands unofficial fifth member Joe Nevolo gets behind the drum kit as in Gold Dust where his busy and technically flawless style brings Mike Portnoy to mind. This song is more chorus driven than the rest but still makes room for an impressively fast instrumental break with echoes of the Liquid Tension Experiment including a superb solo courtesy of French keyboardist Vivien Lalu (aka Shadrane). The momentum behind the driving Strong is provided by a compelling guitar hook and features the combined talents of vocalist Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear) and guitarist Srdjan Brankovic (Expedition Delta). At the halfway mark it morphs into a supercharged clone of Deep Purple’s Fireball complete with strident organ and guitar volleys.
The title track Digital Ghost is less riff dependant than the previous songs and is by far the albums proggiest. It includes some superb moments including a neat slide guitar break followed by a bubbly piano arpeggio lifted from Queen’s Seven Seas Of Rhye. Elsewhere rich harmonies, a memorable chorus and fluid guitar and keys exchanges ensure that its 10 minute duration fly’s by. It even (momentarily) breaks into a fast jazzy section. The concluding Haunted returns to the dramatic premise of the opening song although it’s noticeably darker in tone. The only thing that sounds a tad out of place in my opinion is the cod Brian May guitar solo that undermines the atmosphere created. Otherwise it’s the vocals that again standout with counterpoint harmonies and lush choral work to provide a suitably stirring finale.
If like me you prefer your prog-metal to lean more towards prog than metal then this latest outing from Shadow Gallery comes highly recommended. Fans of crunching power chords however will be pleased to know that there’s plenty to sample here. It’s certainly well up to the bands usual high production standards with scarcely a lame moment in site although some may find the bombastic tone a tad overdone at times. It works for me however with the band striking just the right balance throughout. Digital Ghosts is also available as a limited digipak edition with four bonus tracks, two of which include vocals by the late Mike Baker.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Fernwood - Sangita
Tracklist: Kalyn (3:59), White Oak (4:08), Hobbs Bay (4:50), Helen Island (4:06), North Wind (3:23), Rings Waltz (3:50), Mistral (4:24), Cimarron (3:02), Sargoza (4:56), Kestrel (3:37), Dor County (5:10) August (4:57)
Following up their DPRP recommended Almeria album, the talented duo of Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellet continue their instrumental explorations on hand-played instruments made out of wood. Might be a bit limiting you think? Well think again! I've honestly not heard of some of the instruments these two, ostensibly guitarists, play. Banjo, mandolin, upright bass, bouzouki (Irish and Greek!), fiddle, harmonium, organ and piano are amongst the more commonplace whilst sitar and oud add a touch of the exotic. But then how about dilruba, ruan and tarang (two different ones)? Or cumbus, dotara, tambura, swarmandal or grobijen? There is a whole orchestra of stringed instruments represented on this album!
The orchestral metaphor is apt, as the music instantly reminded me of The Penguin Cafe Orchestra, albeit one from a bit further east. Aptly described by the nationally syndicated US radio show Echoes as Global Americana Chamber Music, the album is all about blending the different sounds of the instruments. Sure, it is easy to identify the familiar sitar, guitar, banjo etc. but the music would pale somewhat without the more exotic accompaniments that fill the spaces. It is ultimately near impossible to describe the music as there are elements of American bluegrass, Indian ragas, country jigs, rock grooves and more. The skill is in how it is all blended together to give a completely harmonious feel.
Ellet, better known amongst our readership for his electrical guitar wizardry in Djam Karet, explains the rationale behind the band as: "We’re trying to make music that’s overtly beautiful and not be afraid of that and make music that doesn’t show off our technical skills or how fast we can play". Methinks he is being rather too humble as although you won't find any blistering runs up and down the octaves, the technical expertise required to play all of these instruments as well as the musical vision to combine everything in such a wonderful manner is quite breathtaking. An enthralling and charming 50 minutes of gentle acoustic music that is both stimulating and relaxing. If Simon Jeffes were alive today I'm sure he would be a fan and would have probably immediately co-opted the duo into his orchestra.
And yes, the results are rather beautiful.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Believe – This Bread Is Mine
Tracklist: The Years (2:14), Tales From Under The Tree (7:34), Mother (4:22), And All The Roads (8:15), Darkness (5:53), Problems Rise (6:04), Aa (4:31), This Bread Is Mine (7:39), This Is Life (4:08), Mine (4:42), Silence (3:57) Bonus Track: [only available on limited edition CD digipack] T.B.I.M.
This third album from talented Polish modern proggers Believe was always going to struggle to be as good as its predecessor. Yesterday Is A Friend was a magnificent collection of songs. It remains an album to which I regularly return. An abundance of fantastic melodies, all wrapped in a music box bursting with heavy shots of guitar, more delicate acoustic passages, a soothing progressive mood and an inventive use of the violin.
To get straight to the point, This Bread Is Mine will always have to live in its shadows. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly the overall mood tends to be far mellower. Only three or four of the tracks have any real edge to them. Most display an almost balladic, melancholy feel, which I find just too one-paced and one-dimensional. The second reason is the arrival of new vocalist Karol Wróblewski in place of Tomek Rozycki. His occasional contributions on flute and keyboards add an extra dimension but I just can’t connect to his voice, which I find rather sharp-toned and lacking emotion or drama. His lower range also heightens the album’s mellowness. Whilst the lead guitar of Mirek Gil is less obvious overall than before, his solos are as captivating as ever. I find the violin of Satomi less effective.
Tales From Under The Tree and Darkness do conjure up the excitement I still have when listening to Yesterday Is A Friend. The title track is equally compelling although the disturbing spoken word section at the end is rather at odds with the rest of the material. The opening single, This Is Life, is a nice little pop song and the simple acoustic balladic of Silence ensures the album closes in a lovely way. This Bread Is Mine could be seen as Gil’s attempt to push fully away from the lush Prog of his previous bands, Collage and Mr Gil.
Some will enjoy this for the clear effort to create an album of moods and atmospheres. For me, this album has largely ditched the elements of the sound that I really enjoyed last time around. As a result I’ll probably lift the three songs I like onto my MP3, with the remainder unlikely to get many more listens. A rather disappointing change in direction. I guess this bread really isn’t to my taste...
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Mindflower - Little Enchanted Void
Tracklist: Little Enchanted Void: Drowned Into Creation Stream (7:46), Sinking In An Earthless Sky (4:47), Frail As A Star Light (4:46), From Your Deep Sleep (2:03); Linear Coil: The Linear Coil (6:28), Whirling Haze (4:47), A Council Of Ancient Fairies (4:55), Grand Dark Space (5:15); Little Paths In A Great Universe: Sentiero I (2:00), Sentiero II (1:28), Sentiero III (1:45), Night Of The Blue Bottle (5:56), Walking Near The Line (4:32); Es Sense: You In Verse Is Me (3:13), Shaped As Points And Lines (2:06), Universe Is Me (0:36), Unreal Fall Into The Point (4:56); Little Paths In A Great Universe: Sentiero IV (1:52), Quartetto Del Piccolo Vuolo (2:44), Mindfloating (2:28); Pureline: Weir On Flow (2:27), Enddne (2:09), In Dreams Of Crystal Depths (3:48)
Here’s an album which should be perfect for anyone who might be interested in writing a complete dissertation about symphonic rock, as it features some of the genre’s best qualities… and a few of the less desirable ones.
On the positive side, it must be said that the instrumental work on Little Enchanted Void is simply stunning; an almost perfect mix of Genesis (Peter Gabriel-like vocals, Ant Phillips/Steve Hackett inspired pastoral guitars, Fabio “Banks” Antonelli’s piano style…) aesthetics and delicate chamber music, with occasional percussive pop/rock outbursts. Performance-wise, the conventional “rock” instruments blend effortlessly with the lovely Matry Quartet (courtesy of Elena Castagnola on cello, Paolo Costanzo and Gianandrea Guerra on violin and Lorenzo Quero on viola), the ethereal guest female vocals (credited as “fairies” and “background fairy”; add a few “gnomes” as well, and you have one of those “bad symptoms” I was referring to above. More on that later) plus some other less predictable guest nuances courtesy of Carlo Barezzi’s expressive oboe.
Drowned Into Creation Stream features some very elegant and expressive piano. The Linear Coil is pure Hackett, but very tastefully done, and A Council Of Ancient Fairies could be part of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Elsewhere, Grand Dark Space strongly echoes Gabriel’s first four albums (there’s even some Passion on Shaped As Points And Lines), and on Night Of The Blue Bottle it’s the spirit of Kate Bush which takes the lead. To my ears, even Mike Oldfield (in particular, his 80’s incarnation) surfaces on a couple of tracks, prominently on From Your Deep Sleep.
Apart from the richness in composition, arrangements and performance, the production is (not surprisingly) of a very high standard; in the end, this album was (partly) recorded at Real World Studios, and mastered at the legendary Abbey Road. I guess there were no serious budget constraints…
Other signs of opulence are visible on the sophisticated but evocative artwork by Marco Botti, plus Alberto Callegari’s credit as “sound painter”.
So, what’s wrong then? For starters, Gian Fabrizio Defacqz’s vocals, though obviously inspired on Gabriel’s, lack personality and often take away some of the emotional potential of the songs. Then there’s the intricate, bloated structure of the album; remember, this is nearly 80 minutes of music spread across 26 tracks, assembled together in threes and fours to form bigger, greater concepts, and often themselves subdivided into smaller sections. Now, this might be one of prog’s familiar features, but in this case (and on albums like Pain Of Salvation’s Be, with which Mindflower’s release has a few points in common), over-sophistication (including odd, supposedly clever song titles such as Unreal Fall Into The Point, and almost-Jon Anderson nonsensical style lyrics) works against the natural flow of the CD.
Hadn’t it been so overdone, and instead more focused on the magic, ethereal instrumental passages, this would have been a 9 rating, “DPRP Recommended” release. As it is, it’s an excellent, strong 7.5 album containing some astonishing music… and a few unnecessary clichés.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Pictoral Wand - Face Of Our Fathers
Tracklist: The Wasteland (11:12), Struggle Of Autumn Leaves (8:41), Prince Of War (8:19), The Ghosts Start Dancing (11:44), Verse Of Despair (6:10), Face Of Our Fathers (9:33), Circle's End (12:05)
I realize, as a volunteer critic, that I don't want to claim too much influence in an artist's development. That would be presumptuous at least. But as it happens I was privileged to review Pictoral Wand's debut release in 2007 - and with this latest CD, Mattis Sorum (the Wand Wielder) appears to have heeded and adjusted every item I suggested at that time. Gone are the two CD's full of boring I-VII-VI progressions. No pointless sound effects. More of Mattis' good guitar. (Although I can't help but notice the guitar sound is not quite as 'organic' this time around) And most noticeably, a VAST improvement in the quality of the singers. These two women and two men are given the full Ayreon-type treatment, with assigned roles, lots of interplay and harmony, and amazing production. At times they sound quite like Daniel Gildenlow and Floor Jansen which no doubt is a pleasure to anyone listening.
Given all of that, you might suppose this CD sounds like Ayreon. But to me it bears a much more striking similarity to early Pain Of Salvation. The guy who sounds like Daniel Gildenlow contributes to this, of course, but the melodies, progressions, instrumentation, and overall sound are very much in the "Concrete Lake" style as well. You can even hear it in Mattis' guitar parts. And, there are no 'Hippies and Highlanders' songs such as are frequently inserted in Arjen Lucasson's albums. The themes that weave in and out and tie the concept together, as with Pain Of Salvation, are not immediately accessible but are persistent and sophisticated. One track, Verse Of Despair, opens with alternating minor and major modes that makes it sound schizophrenic for a few bars, but then it evolves into a more unified piece.
So far, so good! But when I opened the booklet, - Oh. My God... I think, perhaps Mattis is next planning to form a new, international band fronted by the better of these female singers, get a hot blonde shredder like Orianthi or Jennifer Batten, and name the project something like "Flow Of Anguish"? Please forgive my flash of sarcasm, I just couldn't resist! The page of portraits, complete with Goth lettering, and roles with names like 'Pride' and 'Reason' just pushed me over the edge. And we know Mr.Sorum wouldn't even think about doing such a blatantly derivative idea for his next project, anyway.
Although many other listeners may guffaw like I did, this work nevertheless is a great improvement over The Sleeper's Awakening, with top-notch clean performances and production. Mattis Sorum has established himself as a player in the prog metal world. Now he only needs to work on his identity.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Majestic - Arrival
Tracklist: Gray (22:39), Wish (9:13), Glide (9:37), Arrival [Part 1 Echo Of Spheres, Part 2 Manifest, Part 3 Dawn] (36:04)
Minneapolis, Minnesota can be a cold place, especially in the winter. But Minneapolis and the progressive rock genre at large are feeling the creative heat emanating from the recording studio of Jeff Hamel in the form of Arrival, his third album release under the Majestic moniker.
And Majestic it is. Four tracks sprawl over a landscape of seventy-seven minutes, courtesy of Hamel on all the instrumentation and Jessica Rasche on lead vocals. Hamel provides some additional vocals as well.
Hamel has played guitar since the age of 14 and spent the mid eighties to mid nineties as guitarist for Detroit based progressive metal band Osmium. Hamel also spent some time studying recording technologies at the Record Institute of Detroit. He relocated to Minneapolis in 2004, with the Majestic project formed shortly thereafter. Regarding Ms Rasche, she has a broad background in choir and theatre and has been singing since the age of 9.
The four lengthy tracks are quite a lot to describe in a review, but let’s just say that if you give this CD a listen don’t be surprised to hear influences including Tangerine Dream, Yes, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Pink Floyd, and even Ministry. Hamel’s versatility as a bassist, keyboard player, and guitarist is evident along with the vocal prowess of Jessica. The sonic sojourn of Arrival is not without a few bumps along the way, including some clumsy drum programming sounding like a demo that Trent Reznor left in the hopper, and ostensibly indigenous field recordings of nature sounds which are better suited for relaxation tapes.
The whole affair is produced well and could grow on you after a few listens. If you are the three minute single type of person, you probably won’t go for this CD.
The packaging of the CD is minimal, with the cover design showing a picture of an ascending flight of stairs leaving you to imagine where it leads. As is customary with releases on Russian label MALS, the outer sleeve jacket of the package is slightly oversized and may make it difficult for you to file the CD on your CD shelf.
There may be listeners out there with short attention spans or a lack of patience who cannot digest such lengthy pieces of music. Personally, I cannot think of any suggestions as room for improvement for this fine project.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Mob Rules - Radical Peace
Tracklist: Children Of The Flames (7:31), Trial By Fire (5:23), Warchild (5:56), Astral Hand (5:50), The Oswald File (18:10), Waiting For The Sun (4:37), The Glance Of Fame (5:20)
Mob Rules is a German melodic metal band. They already have five previous albums, several EP’s and a live DVD to their credit and Radical Peace is their sixth studio-album in just over ten years. They are a representative of the typical German way of playing metal: with a classical touch, beautiful melodies and bombastic orchestral arrangements.
In the first track Children Of Flames we can find a mix between Uriah Heep and Deep Purple. Strong riffs and a slow catchy chorus with a July Morning feel. In the second track, a subtle opening with guitars and keyboards, then the same melody a bit higher with the full band and then the true nature of the beast comes out. Faster riffs like Black Sabbath and with Klaus Dirks singing with a somewhat distorted voice. The chorus, sung with multiple layers of vocals again reminds me of Uriah Heep, especially the organ, the orchestrations and the high pitched backing vocals sound similar. Also a nice duet on the guitars by Matthias Mineur and Sven Lüdke.
The third song Warchild is in the same vein. The fantastic and bombastic orchestral sounds as well as the piano and organ by keyboardist Sascha Ohnen in the more quiet pieces, contribute to the powerful massive sound of this band. Vocalist Dirks sings the verses with his ‘normal’ clear voice and also a backing vocal one octave lower. Sometimes he reminds me a little of the vocalist of another German band: Andy Kuntz of Vanden Plas. The majestic slow finale is an exquisite spot for both the guitarists and drummer Nikolas Fritz to excel. From the same calibre is the next track Astral Hand but a bit more up tempo and again the choruses sound very much like Uriah Heep in their heyday with Ken Hensley and David Byron. The song has a tasteful acoustic ending.
Then we have the magnum opus by the band: The Oswald File, divided in six chapters. By the way, the whole band is credited together for all the composing. The first chapter is an instrumental melodic metal piece in the vein of Edguy’s Mandrake. The last part of this chapter, leading straight through to chapter two, features the piano. The dark toned, firm bass-playing by Markus Brinkman supports the piano and drums, accompanying vocalist Dirks, until the heavy riffs take the verse onto the chorus with again beautiful close harmony singing. As well as the other choruses throughout the album, all are very suitable for singing or humming along. In between richly orchestrated ‘ballad’ like interludes. In chapter three, we hear newsflashes from the live broadcast at the time president J.F. Kennedy was visiting Dallas, the accompanying music is well chosen and could have been a soundtrack. Memories of Pink Floyd arise hearing the acoustic guitars combined with orchestral sounds and (probably) bass pedals. The riffs and twin guitars in chapter four are in the vein of more slow and melodic Edguy again, also there are newsflashes reporting the actual assassination of JFK. Delightful massive walls of sounds fade away and two acoustic guitars take over in chapter five, melodies and riffs of chapter two returning, with an heavenly bombastic finale.
A mix between Black Sabbath (with Tony Martin) and Edguy can be found in the most up tempo track Waiting For The Sun with again a nice duet between the two guitarists. The last track is a nice mixture between contemporaries Edguy with Uriah Heep.
Mob Rules proves yet once more they are the undisputed champions of slow melodic metal! The production side is well taken care of and in my opinion Radical Peace is the best album by MR so far. You might go and see them live on tour or as support of DIO in the near future. Because this is a site dedicated to progressive rock I feel I had to adjust my rating, but for me personally this a very solid album; however it’s definitely more metal than progressive, but … yes it IS symphonic!
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Jolly – Forty Six Minutes, Twelve Seconds Of Music
Tracklist: Escape From DS-3 (6:05), Renfaire (5:32), Peril (4:48), Red Sky Locomotive (4:47), We Had An Agreement (0:58), Downstream (5:47), Carousel Of Whale (4:50), Solstice (4:08), Inside The Womb (9:12)
On the face of it, Jolly might seem a strange moniker for a band who play the sort of heavy, melodramatic prog rock/ alternative rock hybrid that’s becoming increasingly popular at the moment. But then, this album’s ‘unique selling point’ is the embedding throughout the album of various forms of brain wave stimulation known as ‘binaural tones’. These tones are apparently scientifically proven to enrich feelings of happiness, focus, creativity and relaxation through inaudible changes in audio frequencies. Does it work? Difficult to tell, as how can you separate the effect the music itself is having on you from the (subliminal) effect of these binaural tones? Regardless, I don’t think the album needs such technical gimmicks, as it’s a fine release in its own right.
Escape From DS-3 is a powerful way for the New York quintet to kick off their debut offering. The sound of a stylus on a record that starts things off (and re-appears throughout) is an overused one, but this is soon forgotten when a heavy riff (equal parts Tool and Mastodon) kicks in, before the song strips back to allow for a more ambient, atmospheric backdrop, driven by electronic beats, over which are layered guitarist Anadale’s emotive (if a little one dimensional) vocals. The heavy riff is worked in again later, and the way the metallic elements are mixed in with the mellower ones is impressive. There’s a lot packed in to this six minute track; many bands would have stretched it out to twice its length.
This quality control is kept up for most of the remaining running time. Renfaire has an orchestrated, symphonic feel reminiscent of Muse; some haunting minor-key keyboard work and an anthemic chorus being the most impressive elements. Downstream has a chilled out, mellow air that reminded me a little of recent Marillion, with the song really kicking in to gear on the strong, hook-filled chorus, with its good use of multi-tracked vocals. Anadale’s guitar solo certainly has some stylistic similarity to that of Steve Rothery. The lengthy closer Inside The Womb, meanwhile, is a melancholic ballad with lots of piano and emotive vocals, which captures a similar feel as the sort of ballads Porcupine Tree were writing around the time of their Signify and Stupid Dream albums. It should be said that the last few minutes is filled by the stylus sound again, meaning that the title of the album perhaps stretches the truth a little…
There are no weak songs per se, although the heavy guitar work on Peril isn’t as well integrated into the song as the band manage on other occasions, and Solstice is a little run of the mill. Generally though, the songs are of a high standard, as is the production – perhaps not surprising given the sonic trickery talked about earlier. Despite the heavier elements, this is an accessible release that given the right promotion should find an audience, particularly amongst those who listen to modern alt rock/ prog crossover acts such as Amplifier, Oceansize and The Pineapple Thief.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
Eric Burdon – Mirage
Tracklist: Dragon Lady (6:37), Jim Crow (4:49), Ghetto Child (3:57), Mind Arc (5:13), River Of Blood (8:21), Driftin’ / Geronimo’s Last Stand (14:09), Highway Mover (5:14), Cum (2:42), First Sight (8:14), Mirage (8:04), Stole My Heart Away [First Sight] (5:45)
Eric Burdon, the classic rock icon of The Animals, was slated to provide the soundtrack for a United Artists film project called Mirage covering the subject matter of the war in Vietnam. The soundtrack was completed and the film was shelved and thus the soundtrack was shelved as well. This project was previously released separately as a series of four bootlegs but this edition marks the official full album outing of this work.
The scheduled release date of 1974 would have been more appropriate since the music of this album is definitive of that time. It may have even been highly successful since the passion for the music within these songs is captured very well and comes through quite forcefully despite the general tendency toward a slow paced bluesy approach.
The title track, Mirage, is a song whose lyrics were written by Jimi Hendrix under the name "The Story Of Jesus" on the very night he died. As reported on the Mirage Wiki page, this song was re-recorded for the Hendrix tribute album released in 2000 under a different name, Third Stone From The Sun/The Story Of Life.
This album carries along with the flavour of perhaps Blind Faith except with a much more primitive sound mixed with the forcefulness of Jimi Hendrix. The vocals can be a bit overbearing if you aren’t keen to this style of blues where Burdon belts it out with a certain reptilian vigour (and charm) that would engender an encore at any Voodoo club.
There are psychedelic elements to this album and the transitions between songs keeps up a very listenable pace. This group of songs does not sound like it belongs in a soundtrack at all. It sounds like an album that would have been part of the defining repertoire of that generation had it been properly promoted and released at its proper time.
Eric Burdon has had many personnel changes throughout his career. This particular iteration had Snuffy Walden and Aalon Butler on guitar, Randy Rice on bass, and Alvin Taylor on drums. This was a very effective group; I am very surprised this project was shelved for so long. The music is definitely reminiscent of the times and even has some Jim Morrison vocalizations and some elements of The Doors come through in the jams as well.
If you are not adverse to the antique production of the time and you like late ‘60s to early 70’s music, you will not be disappointed with this. I have always liked this genre so despite its limitations I will revisit this one from time to time.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
John Orr Franklin - Transformation
Tracklist: For The World To See (4:13), Dance Till Three (3:48), Kiss The Sky (4:47), Disappear [Only One World] (3:40), Flow (4:19), Transformation (4:43), The Dove (4:09), Summer (4:13), Chrysalis (4:35), True 2 U (6:39), This Day (4:12)
John Orr Franklin himself believes that his music should be categorised as “progressive rock”, whereas others have tended towards definitions such as “straight ahead pop rock enamoured with progressive rock arrangements”. On the basis of Transformation alone, and I have not heard his previous album Pathways, I would say that there is very little, if anything, that sounds “progressive”. It is a possibility that the composition has been attempted with a progressive mind, but the execution has fallen short, and Transformation ends up as an album of adult-oriented rock-pop. That said, the music is always melodic and pleasant, and John’s guitar playing is distinctive and beautiful – definitely the highlight of the album! It would pay lovers of the guitar to sneak a listen to the samples available, because the album is replete with fine guitar sound and composition. For those who demand a little more than some fine guitar playing, then the album may fall a bit short of expectation. Given that I sense that the man is a progressive waiting to produce something magical, let’s explore a little more of the reasons why this album falls short.
John fell in love with music at the age of five, listening to Kiss, deciding then that the guitar would be his instrument. He bought his first guitar at fourteen and showed a natural ability when he began taking lessons. He then studied in the Record Industry Management Program at Middle Tennessee State University and the Commercial Music Program at the University of Memphis. He realized early on the potential of recording on a computer and worked in technical support to develop his knowledge and experience in those techniques. Once he’d recorded enough material in his home studio that he felt confident in, he started his own publishing company and record label, Blue Room Digital, on which his two albums are released.
The point here is, essentially, that John Orr Franklin is a self-made man and this album - Transformation - is very much a one-man project from cradle to grave. Now, the energy needed to do that is considerable – the production and distribution as well as the composition and recording. John isn’t the first to attempt it of course, nor will he be the last, but those successful musicians who start off in such a way invariably end up with a band behind them: Steven Wilson and Bruce Soord to name but two. John Orr Franklin is not yet at that stage. True, there are other musicians credited on Transformation - Brandon Aly (drums, percussion), Josh Batschelet (basses), Kris Matheson (bass, percussion), Rob Palladino (drums, percussion, backing vocals) – but the only creative input (John writing and arranging everything else) was from Palladino, who gets a co-arrangement credit on For The World To See. Perhaps more crucially, John Orr Franklin doesn’t yet seem to have the resources or creative ability – and I cannot tell which it is – to compose and arrange inventively for keyboards and synths in the same way that, maintaining the comparison, Steven Wilson or Bruce Soord have done from their earliest days. John Orr Franklin has composed, arranged and played the keyboards himself. The effect on Transformation, then, is that the guitar sings with melody, you can hear the love that has gone into its creation; but the keys are flat and uninspired. That, to progressive fans, whether it be symphonic-prog fans or even just “art-rock” fans, will be the disappointment with this album. It’s as if the keys’ composition and playing has not been subjected to the same love as the guitar; the keys lack the soul that the music needs.
Simple answer then for next time – and we hope there is a next time because clearly there is both talent and a progressive desire in the man – and that is to employ a keyboards specialist to his band; a man in love with his keys, the same way that John Orr Franklin is in love with his guitars.
With this deficiency, Transformation is a pleasant album of “romantic” rock with plenty of melody that has been written by someone with a progressive leaning, where the guitar and the vocals constitute the highlights. Flow and Chrysalis are instrumentals, the former being particularly attractive. Transformation and The Dove are two of the high points from amongst the sung compositions. The guitar style is clean and crisp, sweetly phrased, reminiscent at times of players such as Mark Knopfler, John Lees (for example, True 2 U), Andy Latimer (This Day) and, on occasion when it is bluesy, of someone like Peter Green. Like I said, if guitar is your thing, then have a listen to the samples.
In short: a pleasant album with promise. To be investigated for those with a penchant for the guitar: for others, wait and see whether the keyboards come with soul next time.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10