Reviews in this issue:
Stray - Live: In Yer Face
Stray were originally formed an amazing 37 years ago at a school in West London when four 14-year-old pupils decided to form a group. Calling themselves "Stray", the band managed to get regular bookings playing mostly soul and R&B covers until guitarist Del Bromham started writing original material which was in a heavier and more psychedelic style. In 1968 they became the youngest band ever to play at the famous 'Roundhouse' and two years later, still only 17 and 18 years old, signed with 'Transatlantic Records'. The first album, Stray is widely regarded as one of the most accomplished debut albums ever, particularly from such a young band.
Primarily a live band, the group still managed to release a new album a year for the next five years, increasing their output to two albums in 1976. The first five albums catalogued a band maturing and experimenting with brass, strings and more complex arrangements with the third album, Saturday Morning Pictures, being the undoubted pinnacle of Stray releases, displaying a maturity that was far in excess of most teenagers. A line-up change in 1975 saw Pete Dyer replace original vocalist Steve Gadd and the band signing to 'Pye Records' with whom they eventually released a three further albums which, with the exception of the excellent Stand Up And Be Counted, never really captured earlier glories. However, in the late 1970s, Stray found themselves out of place amongst the up-and-coming punk and new wave scene playing their last concert in December 1977.
Although not a progressive rock band per se (although Neal Peart from Rush was a massive fan!), the earlier albums did display a desire to experiment and branch out into different musical areas. In retrospect the breadth and diversity of the bands' music probably prevented them from building up a larger audience which was not helped by the variety of bands they successfully supported in the early 1970s: blues groups like The Groundhogs, heavy rock acts like Black Sabbath, progressive bands such as Gentle Giant and even comedy rockers like Kiss.
After 1977, the band made irregular live appearances before finally releasing Live At The Marquee, in 1983. More widespread recognition came when Iron Maiden released a version of All In Your Mind on the b-side of their Holy Smoke single in 1991, and the group reassembled for a short tour in 1993. Three years later, Del Bromham was back fronting a new trio of musicians under the name "Stray". This line-up released a live album of old material and a disappointing new studio album before Del joined forces with John Bootle (bass) and Paul Watson (drums). The trio toured with the likes of Leslie West's Mountain, Nazareth and Uriah Heep before releasing their latest studio album 10 which was more of a return to form. Live: In Yer Face was recorded at the beginning of 2002 on the tour supporting the 10 album. Starting with a magnificent medley of oldies, this is the closest you'll ever get to hearing the original band live. The album continues with a mixture of pre-1975 classics and tracks from the newest album. Considering the 26-year difference between the eras covered on the album, the songs flow seamlessly with only The Rock being a low point (it was my least favourite track from the 10 album as well). Del Bromham is an amazingly versatile, and criminally under-rated guitarist; when people like Paul Kossof and Noel Redding profess admiration you must have something going for you! His playing is highlighted on tracks such as After The Storm and the epic album closer Suicide while the quality of song writing is consistently high, approaching the standard of earlier years on the excellent new song Years?.
The only problem with the live album is that it doesn't demonstrate the variety of music that classic Stray are associated with. The album is hard rocking, literally In Yer Face, music and would probably not find an audience amongst hard-core prog fans. Personally, I would like to have heard some more acoustic numbers, maybe even some songs recorded at one of Del's solo shows. However, I think it is the finest live album released under the name of "Stray" and testament to one of the hardest working bands to ever play the club and theatre circuit. With a return to song writing form on the 10 album, a tight and impressive live set, recent guest appearances by original vocalist Steve Gadd and a comprehensive double CD anthology Time Machine, covering the years 1970-1977, set for imminent release the future, once again, looks bright for Stray.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Peter Gabriel - Long Walk Home
Long Walk Home was released in 2002 and, as most Peter Gabriel fans at the time, I was waiting for his next studio album Up (which at that time could also have been called I/O). Luckily during this long wait Peter released Ovo and Long Walk Home.
Long Walk Home is the soundtrack to 'Rabbit-Proof Fence'. Rabbit-Proof Fence is the true story of Molly Craig, one of Australia's 'stolen generation.' Molly, a fourteen year old Aboriginal girl, and her younger sister and cousin (aged eight and ten), had been taken fifteen hundred miles from their home and family to one of the government institutions that had been established to train Aboriginal children as domestic workers for white society. Molly led the girls in an escape. Pursued by trackers, they succeeded in finding the rabbit-proof fence that Molly knew could lead them all the way across Australia's outback to their home.
I have read somewhere that Peter Gabriel gets a lot of movie offers. Looking at all Peter has done in the past, the fact that he chose this movie, to me does not come as a surprise and it is one of the reasons I have been a fan for many years: it seems that Gabriel's heart is in all he does.
As Passion (the soundtrack to 'Last Temptation Of Christ'), this album is a collection of fragments and not really a consistent album of songs, but although the music is meant for the movie, large parts can stand alone.
Jigalong is more a collection of emotional sounds, not really a song. It sets a certain mood and as you can imagine from the subject matter, not a cheery mood. Towards the end of the song it becomes rhythmical (as only Gabriel can) and a melody can be discovered. In Stealing The Children the rhythm is most important. Unlocking The Door and The Tracker lay down a carpet of sound, it first appears that Running To The Train continues the same sounds but a beautiful melody and rhythm emerge. It is a sad song with a hint of hope, I do like it. On The Map is just a short chain of sounds. A Sense Of Home is just too short, the track sounds promising and the rhythm reminds of In Your Eyes (So). Go Away Mr Evans is a long song that changes from soundscapes to rhythm, but it never really becomes consistent. The end of Moodoo's Secret has an almost popsong-like drum. Gracie's Recapture is actually a full song, in which owners of Up will recognise the background voices of Blue Skies, a theme that will return in the rest of the songs on this album. Crossing The Salt Pan sounds a bit like a track on Ovo. The Return Parts 1,2 and 3 uses the same theme as Running To The Train. If you are in a recordstore and not sure whether or not to buy this album, this track (track 12) is a nice sampler for the complete album, you could spend 10:25 minutes to form an opinion on this album.
Ngankarrparni (Sky Blue) has been the basis for Sky Blue on Up it also features Blind Boys Of Alabama. It is not a copy of Sky Blue, but shares themes and melodies. The Rabbit-Proof Fence is a short song that reminds me of Passion. Cloudless is a follow-up to Ngankarrparni and it closes the album using the Sky Blue theme.
Passion really fits to Last Temptation of Christ, so I am curious to Rabbit-Proof Fence, mainly because of the story but also to find out how the music works in the movie. The album certainly has a Peter Gabriel sound, by using traditional instruments and (as I assume) Aboriginal vocalist, the album breathes an Aboriginal sphere. It is an album to listen to in the dark, with headsets on, so you can drift away on the flow of the music.
Long Walk Home has helped me through the year still waiting for Up. This album does not really belong to the progrock genre but I think DPRP readers may like it. I can also image it is not suited for everyone. If you like Passion and Ovo, or are just interested in PG's diverse catalogue, this is a good album.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Mohodisco - Kaloomith
MohoDisco is the moniker under which multi-instrumentalist Bruce White is releasing his fully instrumental and highly eclectic music. The name might bring dance scenes from the 70's to mind, but trust me, that is not what White's music is about! Fans of exciting instrumental prog in the vein of Ozric Tentacles are advised to read on...
The fact that producing CD's is so easy and relatively cheap nowadays causes reviewers to virtually drown in heaps of not particularly good rip-offs of groups like Genesis, Marillion and Dream Theater, preferably recorded in the bedroom of the band's drummer. On the other hand, however, does this very same fact give musical gems the chance to be unearthed; albums that would otherwise probably never find their way to a larger audience, like MohoDisco's first release Kaloomith.
Bruce White, the man behind MohoDisco, started writing music in 1996 under the name Mohorific Discontinuity. Very original, I must say, but a bit of a mouthful. I could therefore imagine that that is exactly why he shortened the name to what it is now. ;) White plays guitar, bass and synthesiser, but still wants to involve any musician that comes within his reach in his projects. And that is not a bad choice at all, I think. Even though there are some multi-instrumentalists who manage to create interesting albums, the musical dish that these people cook up often gets an extra dimension by adding some foreign spices, in the form of input from other musicians. This can be the proverbial icing on the cake, to stay within the kitchen atmosphere, and it certainly proves to be just that, in this case. Apart from White, there are 14 other musicians that contributed to Kaloomith, each one of them adding a little bit of "spice" to White's concoctions and together turning the album into an interesting and varied eight-course dinner.
Kaloomith is entirely instrumental and contains a wide range of styles and influences. The sound fragments, strange noises and often soundscape-like feeling the songs have, make comparisons to Ozric Tentacles and Porcupine Tree very obvious. And yes, there are elements of these two great bands to be found in pretty much every track on the album. However, those are certainly not the only bands that spring to mind when listening to it. Some of the keyboard melodies and synthesised basses, for instance, have a definite late-Genesis feel to them. The third track, Gravity makes me think of It's Gonna Get Better from the album Genesis, whereas the soft keyboards from Driving The Last Spike from We Can't Dance make an appearance in Praxis.
Apart from that, there are some parts in Remote Viewer and The Source that bring keyboard wiz Jan Hammer (best known for the music in Miami Vice) to mind. I detected some jazzy elements as well in Mystery Falls, interestingly enough accompanied by some Colin Edwin-like (Porcupine Tree) basswork. Soft And Sharp even features some didgeridoo, but is otherwise mainly a collection of crazy electronic stuff. And talking about electronic stuff, Tangerine Dream is another reference worth mentioning, I think.
Other genres that I caught myself thinking of are space- and psychedelic rock, genres which are sadly often regarded as "druggie music". I mean, it is not as if you have to have a joint dangling from your lips to be able to appreciate this kind of music! I myself am a firm believer of the principle that a good (space)rock track can give the listener a high without the use of any mind-altering substances! Anyway though, elements of spacerock bands like Hawkwind and Omnia Opera turn up in, among others, The Source, Gravity (especially the start of the song) and Soft And Sharp. With this in mind, I do not think that it is all that surprising that the modern versions of these genres - trance, dance and techno - pop up as well here and there.
Are there no lows on this album at all then? Well, there are actually also some negative remarks that I want to make. The first track features some usage of the vocoder, which is an effect that I have never learned to appreciate. However, it is only used for a short time, and since this part is followed by the above mentioned Driving the last Spike-keyboards and an absolutely great guitar solo, I tend to forget it really fast. This temporary amnesia does, however, not apply to the third track, Gravity. The intro is based on repeating the same little keyboard bit over and over again and this repetitiveness does, quite frankly, get on my nerves. Even though I really like the rest of the song, the intro lasts long enough to have ruined the song for me.
To wrap it all up, MohoDisco's first album Kaloomith is a very pleasant surprise! Even though the album is entirely instrumental, it includes enough different flavours to keep the more demanding listener interested until the end. Especially people who are into eclectic, soundscape-like music like Ozric Tentacles and Porcupine Tree, but also psych- and spacerockers, should certainly give this album a try.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
!Kboemm - Levenslang
Coming across a prog band that sings in Dutch is quite rare in itself. Coming across one singing about God, Jesus and other religious themes is - as far as I know - a first, introducing the not insignificant evangelical market to the wonderful world of prog. This young band consisting of Arien Vink (vocals and acoustic guitar), Bart Vink (vocals), Erwin Verdurmen (guitars), Geert Romijn (drums), Theo Althuis (keyboards) and Sander de Gier (bass), have created a well-produced, happy sounding and accessible album.
!Kboemm (Kaboom) play music that lies at the more poppy side of prog, at times reminding of Dutch bands like Het Goede Doel or Marco Borsato. As can be expected, the music is designed to make you feel happy, which I find quite welcoming since about 75% of prog albums tend to focus on a more depressing mood. Opener Jezus Heeft Je Lief (Jesus Loves You) immediately sets the tone with a catchy, almost Spock's Beard type melody.
The band covers a wide variety of styles, from a funky rhythm in Bagger (Mud) or Te Kort (Too Short), almost heavy metal in Hij Is Daar (He is there) and St Barko, straightworward rock with Bij U Zijn (To Be With You) to a nearly latin sounding rhythm in De Tijd Vliegt (Time Flies) - All well within good sounding prog borders though. In all it is a well-produced, balanced album, with catchy though clever melodies.
One of the highlights is the small epic Dit Is Het Moment (This is the moment), which starts out as a ballad in the vein of Marco Borsato, until Verdurmen kicks in with a beautiful guitar solo that rivals some of Andy Latimer's's best work. Another song worth mentioning is closer Wie Is Als God (Who Is Like God) which sounds like a combination between Mike & The Mechanics and Coldplay, once again with some pretty amazing guitarwork and a catchy chorus.
It remains to be seen whether non-Dutch will appreciate this album (Dutch isn't a particularly nice sounding language) while its evangelical content perhaps isn't everyone's cup of tea either, but I must say that I for one quite liked this album, even though I haven't got particularly much affinity with its lyrics.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10
Mystery Bloom - Lifetime in the Heart
Mystery Bloom is an American five piece act consisting of Nick Clemente (bass, vocals), David Garcia (drums, percussion, vocals), Bobby Gilmartin (guitars, vocals), Ray Morales (lead vocals, guitars) and Danny Roselle (guitars, keyboards, vocals). They originally formed in 1994 and released their first CD, Frame of Mind in 1995, but while working on the follow up album conflicts within the band and between the band and its management caused Mystery Bloom to disband. In 2001, the members got together once again and started to rework the material they had left lying. The result is Lifetime in the Heart.
It is not hard to trace the band's musical roots to the melodic hard rock scene of the 80s, and it could well be argued that they do not produce anything strikingly innovative or fresh. This said, I would like to state that Mystery Bloom have many strengths. The musicians are quite obviously very skilled and while the music, at times, seems a bit too much like things we have heard before, I can in no way complain about the way these guys execute it. Beautiful harmonies where all members join in, acoustic guitars blending with electric ones, and on top of it all, Ray Morales's fantastic vocals - at some point they remind me of Jon Bon Jovi's and at another (a scream to be specific) Bruce Dickinson's.
My favourite track on the CD is the power ballad Soulmate Serenade, especially in the second, acoustic version which is included as a bonus track. The opening track Frame of Mind is another really good track with some interesting, oriental sounding riffs reminding me of Dream Theater. It is in this area, between power ballads, prog metal and melodic 80s hard rock/AOR, that Mystery Bloom resides. As stated, it is not always that new (something it shares with a lot of prog music), but it is definitely skilfully performed.
A small slap on the fingers is due, however, as the band have recorded an interesting cover version of The Beatles track Paperback Writer without giving due credit to the composers in the sleeve. Sloppy, that is all I can say about that. But the cover is interesting - slightly more speeded than the original - and the band have enough good singers to make the harmonies work.
So, if you are into melodic hard rock of the 80's kind, with lots of nice and well executed harmonies and competent musicianship, this might definitely be your cup of tea.
Conclusion: 8- out of 10