Issue 2019-077: Lee Abraham Inter-Review
Beginning some 18 years ago, British solo artist Lee Abraham began recording his own unique blend of classic prog-rock, metal, AOR, pop, and modern alternative rock music.
Lee has just released his highly-anticipated seventh studio album, Comatose. Here, DPRP's Stefan Hennig catches up with the guitarist, bassist and producer, to find out more about the creation of this one-song concept album, as well as future touring plans and an insight into the recording of the next Galahad album.
DPRP: Starting with your new release, Comatose, what came first, the concept or the music?
Lee Abraham: Oh, definitely the concept. The story came first. I actually had two ideas in mind. There was this story about a car crash, and the other story was only half-formed in my mind, so that wasn't really a goer. The other idea I could have spent more time fleshing it out, but the one I used, Comatose, was a finished idea.
So the concept came first. Then I wrote the music, then the lyrics and vocal melodies last.
On your previous albums you have had lots of guests, and on this album you have chosen to play the bass yourself. As a failed bass player myself, your bass playing on this album to me sounds like what a bass should be in the context of a song and it is one of the elements I really like.
Oh, cool! I am a bass player myself. Bass is my instrument, and I am known by many people as a bass player. I played bass for Galahad first, before becoming their guitarist. Up until recently bass is what I spent most of my time on. That has now been over taken by the guitar. I don't really play bass as much now. On occasion I am asked to play the odd gig on bass. I'm trying to remember the last time. It was maybe two years ago now.
Bass playing is like riding a bike really, you don't ever forget. I have a clear idea of what the bass should do, which is hold down the lower register, keep tight with the drums, and play along with the fills the drummer does.
I have refereed to Ascend The Sky in my review as a Devin Townsend type of track, due to the choirs and the country rock guitar solo.
It's the first note of the guitar solo you are thinking of, which is a note regularly used in country rock. The whole album is one song, we split it up for CD purposes, and for download sites like Spotify and iTunes, that don't like you uploading a 47 minute track. The always encourage you to split a long track into bits. I didn't particularly want to spit the track, but when I was mastering the album with Karl Groom, he said you will get a far more favourable reaction from the download sites if you split it into bits.
When we first put the CD together we mastered it as one track so the first CD master was one complete track. We then followed the lyrics and split it into eight sections. I hope people will enjoy it as a whole, they will have their favourite bits they will jump to. I would like to think the listener will sit down with their favourite drink with their hi-fi on really loud and listen to it as a whole.
The No Going Back section has some brilliant production.
Thanks. The guitar riff for that was very Muse in feel. That section took the longest to write. I was stuck for ages on the vocal melody for that section, but I feel it came good in the end.
In an ideal world, if you could have anyone guest on an album, who would it be?
For a guitar playing point, I'm a massive fan of Dave Gilmour and John Petrucci, so either of those two. I like really good singers. One of my favourites is Steve Overland of FM, and I had the pleasure of working with him on my last album Colours. He sang a track on that album, so that's him ticked off I guess. That's about it.
Marc Atkinson contributes a great vocal performance on Comatose.
Marc is a great singer. He has a very distinct range. He's not a high singer, so I have to write stuff which is within his range. I have worked with him enough that I can almost write-to-order now. If I'm writing a certain melody line, I'll think to myself, is that too high for Marc? If so I'll think of something else.
I loved that on Comatose, there was nothing I wrote that Marc could not sing. On previous albums we have had to alter a melody line or change something else to suit Marc's range. But on Comatose, I think we pretty much did the whole album. I did strain him on The Sun, where there's a line, “I didn't mean for this to happen”, and he was having a bit of trouble with the ending of that, but he gave it a few goes. I gave him some encouragement saying “I'm sure you can do it Marc, give it a go”. He emailed me about three hours later saying: “I've done it!”
I'm surprised you didn't mention your wife, even though she makes an appearance on Comatose.
Well, she always singing in the car, so I have plenty of opportunity to listen to her singing. So I thought that if the chance ever arose I would ask her to do some stuff. So putting together the Gospel Choir section of the album was the chance.
You are currently hard at work recording the next Galahad CD. Is there any chance you can leak us some exclusive news on that?
There is a lot of input from Mark Spencer and myself. Mark plays bass for Galahad and pretty much has done so since I rejoined the band in 2017. Previous to when Mark and myself were in the band, most of the writing was done between Stu the singer and Dean Baker the keyboard player. This time around its more of a band effort. We have been getting together in rehearsal rooms and writing together. Dean has a lot of ideas, so much so that if Dean were not in a band he could be quite a successful solo artist. He always has tons of ideas. If he did not have Galahad as a musical outlet, he would have a catalogue of solo stuff.
Dean plays us his stuff, to which we would say “we like that bit”, “lets make that bit longer”, “we can use that bit as the chorus”, or “we can come back to that bit”.
This is how we constructed this new album. Some one would say: “That could do with a chunky guitar riff”, and all eyes in the room would turn to me, and I'd have to think up something on the spot. So, that is how the new Galahad album has come together. We just kept writing and writing and writing, until at the end, we ended up with over 100 minutes of music.
So I don't know whether we are going to do a single album with an EP, or a single album with some download songs. We don't know yet, but we will be recording all 100 minutes of music.
Are you thinking of going on tour with The Lee Abraham Band?
It's not really a viable option. It's strange that years ago it was prohibitively expensive for bands to record an album, but it was easy to go out and play live. Now it's completely flipped on its head. With the advance with computers and the internet you can record an album for next-to-nothing. Going out and playing live is now really, really difficult. Once you have gone through all the things you need to do to get a band together, to play live is nearly impossible. But, if Steven Wilson were to ask me to support him at the Royal Albert Hall, I would be there like a shot.
Back to Comatose, a recent post on your Facebook would suggest it is already selling well even before release.
Yes, we have done over 700 pre-orders now. It's already shaping up to being my most successful album.
The first of my albums to really take off, View From The Bridge in 2003, was taken up by DPRP, reviewed and given either 8 or 9 out of 10. That was a really big thing for me as I had read DPRP reviews on bands like Dream Theater, Transatlantic, and Spock's Beard. So for me to be featured on the same site, was a real buzz.
Lee Abraham - Comatose
I'm sure you can all remember those compilation CDs of rock “classics” aimed at the poor elder male of the family, whose ever-thoughtful relatives, with no understanding of what music you actually enjoyed listening too, would buy as Fathers Day or Christmas presents. While they did contain some good music to keep you entertained for a while while driving, the novelty would quickly wear off and the case and discs would be confined to a lifetime of purgatory kicking around the car for the rest of eternity.
Well, let's imagine someone came up with the idea of combining all the good bits from one of these compilations, adding a large degree of musical talent, and releasing the ultimate CD for those that spend a large amount of time on the road? The release would be a fresh musical extravaganza that will forever remain in your car's CD player. (Yes, my car still has a CD player, none of this newfangled digital stuff for me, yet).
Thanks to the wonderful Mr Lee Abraham, these prayers have been answered. Since Lee's latest release, Comatose has arrived, I have spent many a happy mile travelling the North East of England, being absorbed in his creation.
To begin with, it is a concept album, one of quite a few released this year, and this could be, by far, the best of a large list of excellent contenders for concept album of the year. While the story is not expansive in nature, no dragons or otherworldly adventures, it is relevant to anyone who spends a large amount of time on the road. It addresses the mundane way the human psyche deals with the routine, the amount of wasted time we spend in vehicles, and ultimately the potential outcome, over which you may have no control. Hence the title, Comatose. The drive ends up in an accident with the driver fighting for his life.
While not the most positive story-line to listen to in your car, the music is just so engaging, I have not been able to press "eject" since its first play. While described as one song, it is split into eight individual parts. Each one is full of vibrancy and quality. And while not the longest concept album released this year, weighing in at 47 minutes, this is a prime example of quality over quantity. There is not a minute which seems unnecessary, nor out of place. Every note, every sound has a purpose in telling the story. It is as near perfection as I have heard for a long time.
For the listener, it has more in common musically with Scenes From A Memory and Operation Mindcrime than The Wall or Dark Side Of The Moon, but this is not to say that fans of Pink Floyd will find nothing to interest them.
Before going any further, I need to provide a 'Driver Beware' warning. During the album, there are two sounds incorporated that have me checking every time I am playing this in the car. One is the sound of a car horn and the other is the sound of an emergency vehicle. I always end up checking my mirrors searching for who has been offended, or where the flashing blue light is. EVERY. TIME.
Lee has gotten help from Gerald Mulligan on drums, Riversea vocalist Marc Atkinson, Rob Arnold who adds piano, and on backing vocals, Galahad cohort Mark Spencer and Lee's wife Diane. This is the first time I have heard the voice of Marc Atkinson, but after this I will be looking out for other work he has been involved with. Marc has a wonderfully rich voice, full of emotion and at times quite spine chilling in its quality. Not to be overlooked is Gerald's drumming, rhythmic throughout, but it comes into its own during the heavier moments, where you can almost hear the destructive force that the drums are being hit with.
The album opener Numb Pt 1, begins in an atmospheric way with the sound of a hospital monitor, accompanied with swirling keyboards. Acoustic and electric guitars alternate melodies, before the senses are awoken with crashing guitars and drums. The song goes through a number of phases, which all blend effortlessly into one another. Then finally Lee lets his heavy metal monster loose. The ride finally begins.
Music is frequently described as cinematic, and I sometimes struggle to appreciate the comparisons, but with Numb, the music does really paint pictures, to the extent that you can almost visualise the story.
Lee plays bass guitar on a solo album of his for the first time in a while. On Realisation you can probably understand why. The art of bass playing is not always about being flash like Billy Sheehan, here Lee delivers a bass line reminiscent of Roger Waters, pinning the track down, enabling the song to build around it. Simply wonderful to absorb.
Twisted Metal could be the 2000's equivalent of Highway Star when coming to the best rock driving song. I will not try to describe this song. You need to get a copy, get out on the road and be invigorated.
Ascend The Sky is a track so left-of-centre, it reminds me of Devin Townsend, but without his trademark over-production. It features choirs, and at times a country rock feel, but with so much emotion it makes the hairs stand up on my neck every time I listen too it.
The Sun is as shiny and glorious as its title. It is the album's ballad. With any degree of publicity this song would be a massive hit. A slow-building song whose structure is near to perfect. The Sun transitions seamlessly into Numb Pt 2, whose highlight is Lee's searing guitar solo, beginning like Dave Gilmore, before the metal monster makes a reappearance. It then develops into a crazed metal section that will have you desperately reaching for your air guitar.
If you still yearn for the type of production Trevor Horn managed with Yes' 90215 album, then the song No Going Back is what you have been looking for. This will hopefully have bands knocking on the door of Lee's new studio, wanting him to produce their music and give it the same stunning quality as can be heard here. Just when you think things could not get any better, Lee lets out his demon dressed as Steve Via, to add a blistering guitar solo.
Then, all too quickly, we reach the finale. A haunting keyboard melody backed with the sound of an oxygen pump reminds the listener that we need to know what will happen to the story's character. The song provides a suitably epic musical conclusion, and as all good concept albums do, leave the listener satisfied and with the feeling of hope and optimism. Lee Abraham has managed to do this in an absolutely stunning way.
In my relatively short space of time having the pleasure of reviewing musical works by many artists, most of which have produced extremely credible works, Lee has produced the most stunning musical masterpiece I have had the pleasure of listening too in that time (and in recent times as a music fan). It will take something special coming to my attention in the next three months for Comatose not to be my album of the year. Simply incredible.