Album Reviews

Issue 2008-048

Reviews in this issue:

Karmakanic - Who's The Boss In The Factory

Karmakanic - Who's The Boss In The Factory
Country of Origin:Sweden
Record Label:InsideOut
Catalogue #:IOMCD 304
SPV 79922 CD
Year of Release:2008
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Send A Message From The Heart (19:31), Let In Hollywood (4:55), Who's The Boss In The Factory (13:06), Two Blocks From The Edge (9:53), Eternally Pt: 1 (1:53), Eternally Pt: 2 (6:22)

Dave Baird's Review

When he's not playing bass for The Flower Kings Jonas Reingold invests a lot of time and energy into his band Karmakanic, so much in fact that to call it a side-project might be somewhat of a disservice. This dedication appears to have borne fruit with Who's The Boss In The Factory having a more polished and cohesive feel about than the first two albums. That's not to say that Entering The Spectra and The Wheel Of Life were bad, indeed the former was rated very highly but both had a more experimental approach, as much jazz-rock and technical shred as prog. As usual there's a core band seeing the return of Krister Jonsson on guitars and Goran Edman on vocals, Zoltan Csorsz once again on drums and Karmakanic's touring keyboard player Lalle Larsen. There are a handful of guest musicians too: Tomas Bodin (keyboards), Andy Tillison (more keyboards), Theo Travis (sax) and Lelo Nika (accordion).

"I would describe the album as traditional classic progressive rock with some fusion and jazz thrown in. In a live environment, we extract the pieces and give the solo sections more space. I believe that we have some of the best players around, so it would be a shame not to let them shine."

...says Jonas himself in the press-release blurb from InsideOut and who are we to gainsay him? His summary of his own work is spot-on with this album having much more of a progressive feel on display than the two previous CD's. It's almost inevitable that with the default rhythm section of The Flower Kings present you're going to look for and hear some references to Roine's band and nowhere is this less apparent than on the opening twenty-minute track Send A Message From The Heart. As well as the bass and drums, Lalle's keyboard style could easily pass for Bodin's, Krister does a top-notch Stolt impression with his melodic guitar work and killer tone. Of course, Goran sings like Roine too right? Well no, not really. OK, he's Swedish so his phrasing and accent can a times sound a little Stolt-ish but really it's not the same at all. What is very interesting with the vocals is the range and different expression Goran is able to create. I only know him previously from his work in the early 90's with Yngwe Malmsteen (in fact I saw him live back in 1990 touring for Eclipse having just competently replaced the incredible Joe-Lynn Turner, no easy feat) so it's gratifying to hear he has such an adaptable voice. There's also a hint of TFK in the final minutes of Two Blocks From The Edge but that's about it folks. This being said, Send A Message From The Heart is a gem of an epic with nice themes and a gentle flowing pace relying more on melody than a multitude of notes. This isn't to say it doesn't occasionally break out into the usual madness you'd expect from a band that had recorded such pieces as The Whole Half or Do U Want To Tango (from Entering The Spectra and The Wheel Of Life respectively) but these moments are few and far between with the preference for feel and texture, symphony and bombasity. Reingold isn't bringing anything particularly new to the prog table with this piece, it's a regular on the menu but a dish that can be eaten over and over again with pleasure, especially when served-up with such aplomb.

Although the overriding feel is firmly in the realm of traditional prog there are several facets on offer. The up-tempo Let In Hollywood has the tongue placed firmly in-cheek with the lyrics proclaiming "I can't hear a single, this song's in 7/8, instead has passed it's sell-by date". Funky syncopated guitar and clanking Squire-esque bassline, a driving vocal performance, heavy riffed chords and a Moog solo (I'd swear by Andy Tillison but the album notes say otherwise) initially hint at Yes before evolving into something heavier. Alternatively, the sombre feel of the title track evokes Pain Of Salvation especially in the vocals - moody and somewhat theatrical, a cacophonic synth solo followed by a piano solo section which wouldn't be out of place on a Tangent hint at the diversity on offer. Two Blocks From The Edge gives us a jazz/blues feel somewhat attributable to the presence of Theo Travis' excellent saxophony. Deft guitar on both electric and acoustic and another towering vocal performance - Goran really shows some character throughout the whole album. Eternal Parts 1 & 2 are dedicated to the memory of Jonas' parent who were tragically killed in a car crash at the end of last year. Beautiful piano by Lalle which demonstrates his classical/jazz roots with a real European flavour bringing Patrick Moraz at his melancholy best to mind. Part 2 has a sombre introspective tone with piano, fretless bass and strings, the feelings of loss are tangible and emphasised by the low singing, strings and wonderful accordion from Lelo. As you would expect this comes across as a deeply personal song and the sorrow really touches the listener.

A you'd expect the bass work is monumental, my high regard of Jonas' Squire/Pastorius influence has been documented in previous reviews and he's on fine form throughout. Although you'd hardly say with The Flower Kings that he was a background player he's even more to the fore here alternately using the instrument in lead and support roles. His sparring partner Zoltan is also in fine fettle, he's a great drummer with a unique sound managing to be relaxed and busy at the same time - that trademark laconic groove that makes him so distinctive. Back in May, Andy Tillison told me that Krister wasn't a prog fan, well he does a pretty damn good impression of one with his playing, mostly restrained here focusing on tone rather than shred, the soloing in the middle two minutes of Send A Message From The Heart being a particularly good example. The two pleasant surprises for me though are Goran and Lalle - the vocals I have mentioned plenty above but the keyboards not so much. From what I can gather, Lalle has been the live keyboard player with Karmakanic since 2004 and Jonas decided to use him for the studio now as well - damn good choice as he's clearly very talented especially on piano.

All this adds up to a very good album, well crafted and beautifully produced. For sure somewhat reminiscent of The Flower Kings but much less than you would imagine - enough to satisfy the TFK fans but not so much as to put off those that don't want to hear a clone. Indeed I'm almost of the conclusion that TFK sounds like Karmakanic rather than the converse, but don't tell Roine I said that...

Geoff Feakes' Review

Of all the prominent musicians on the progressive rock scene there can be few that keep themselves busier than Swedish bassist par excellence Jonas Reingold. Featuring on recent recordings by Kaipa, The Flower Kings and The Tangent, he’s back with his own band Karmakanic and their third release following on from 2002’s Entering The Spectra and 2004’s The Wheel Of Life. The core line-up remains consistent with the last album comprising Reingold, Göran Edman (vocals), Krister Jonsson (guitars), Zoltan Csorsz (drums) joined by Lalle Larsson (keyboards).

As before, the music here is a clear signal that the Karmakanic project is so much more than Reingold killing time in between TFK’s work. In fact the opening epic Send A Message From The Heart is as good as anything that Roine Stolt and co have come up with in recent years. A long form song in my view can be little more than an album filler without a decent melody and memorable hooks and this has it in spades. It also feels nowhere near its 20 minute length which is always a good sign in my book. Wisely Reingold doesn’t dominate whilst Csorsz’s busy drumming leaves scarcely an empty space on the soundtrack. Edman is in fine voice throughout, sounding not unlike Mr Stolt, and there are some excellent vintage style synth, mellotron and piano textures. A jazzy synth solo around the halfway mark maybe a tad drawn out but that’s my only quibble. Jonsson adds some superb ringing guitar to provide a strong finale complete with glorious gospel style harmonies.

For me, the rest of the album doesn’t quite scale the same heights as the opener but there is some excellent music to be found nonetheless. Following a hesitant acoustic guitar intro Let In Hollywood develops into an up-tempo rocker that veers from heavy bombast to downright poppy. Edman seems to be having a ball singing this one and a brief but fiery synth solo could have easily come from the fingers of a certain Andy Tillison. In contrast the title song Who's The Boss In The Factory is a brooding piece which again features a memorable guitar and keys melody, excellent piano work and beautiful backing vocals. In fact I could have sworn I’d heard the main theme before somewhere although I can’t quite place it. Two Blocks From The Edge continues in the same mood and blossoms into a strident and strong chorus with excellent sax contributions from Theo Travis.  Jonas allows himself some of the spotlight with some moody fretless style bass work followed by Chris Squire flavoured rumblings.

The album concludes with the two part Eternally. Part I is a delicate and evocative classical tinged piano solo that sets the mood perfectly for Part II. Here the piano is joined by Reingold’s melancholic bass and sombre strings. A martial rhythm breaks the mood and it develops into what could be best described as a strident funeral march complete with dramatic strings, a soaring guitar solo and a commanding vocal from Edman. An unusual but powerful conclusion to an excellent offering from Karmakanic. If you are waiting for The Flower Kings to release their next masterwork then a strongly recommend that in the interim you give this album your attention. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.


DAVE BAIRD : 9 out of 10
GEOFF FEAKES : 8.5 out of 10

Neal Morse - Lifeline

Neal Morse - Lifeline
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Radiant Records
Catalogue #:-
Year of Release:2008
Info:Neal Morse
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Lifeline (13:28), The Way Home (4:20), Leviathan (6:04), God’s Love (5:28), Children Of The Chosen (4:55), So Many Roads (28:43): (i) So Many Roads, (ii) Star For A Day, (iii) The Humdrum Life, (iv) All The Way To The Grave, (v) The Eyes Of The Savior, (vi) So Many Roads Reprise, Fly High (6:31)

Geoff Feakes' Review

Although Neal’s last outing 2007’s Sola Scriptura received an almost unanimous thumbs-up from the DPRP it was regarded by most, including me, as treading the well-worn path of previous releases. Lifeline is his seventh studio album (his fifth since leaving Spock’s Beard six years ago) eclipsing his output with the Beard. Although Morse has been touring consistently with his Dutch backing band as featured on the recent Sola Scriptura And Beyond DVD, he is supported here by regular album contributors Mike Portnoy (drums) and Randy George (bass). Carl Groves of Glass Hammer and Salem Hill fame adds backing vocals to several tracks whilst Paul Bielatowicz (from Neal’s touring band) adds his undeniable guitar talents to one track. My promotional copy is the single disc version but the special edition bonus disc also features guitarist Paul Gilbert (who played so brilliantly on Sola Scriptura) and drummer Collin Leijenaar (also from Neal’s touring band). Morse of course provides keyboards, guitars and vocals throughout.

The mood of this album is not as dark or intense as Sola Scriptura, being closer in spirit to Morse’s earlier work. This time there is no apparent concept to link each track although the two key pieces Lifeline and So Many Roads are both autobiographical accounts of Morse’s redemption and conversion to Christianity, a subject originally covered in Testimony. Lyrically there are no surprises in that he is still promoting the Christian message with, if anything, more zeal than before. After the first few plays it seemed to measure up well against previous albums but after revisiting Morse’s work by way of his recent DVD I’m not now so sure. The title track Lifeline that opens finds Morse very much in familiar territory. Not only does it encapsulate many ideas from his previous outings (band and solo), the rapid piano and crashing chords intro bears more than a passing resemblance to Yes’ Silent Spring from Talk. From here on it continues at a busy pace incorporating tricky time signatures, dazzlingly fast guitar and counterpoint keys, a pounding rhythm and trademark call and response vocals. The song’s optimistic tone and life affirming chorus are certainly compelling as is a jazzy Patrick Moraz sounding synth solo. It ends with a majestic, symphonic nod in the direction of Spock’s Beard’s The Great Nothing by way of Transatlantic’s Stranger In Your Soul. It’s so far so good with a strong and assertive opener.

At just under half an hour, the six part So Many Roads is one of Morse’s longest pieces to date, topped only by Sola Scriptura’s The Door. I don’t normally have a problem with Morse’s sermonising lyrics but I do have to take issue with some of the content here. The hypocritical Star For A Day is a typical example of a rock artist singing about how tough/shallow/demeaning (delete as applicable) the rock business is. More irritating is the patronising message behind The Humdrum Life and All The Way To The Grave. The suggestion here is that we are leading a pitiful existence and our only salvation is in God and Jesus Christ. Sorry Neal, I may be a non-believer but I lead a very happy and fulfilling life thank you very much. Despite these misgivings however there is a lot about So Many Roads I like. First there is the strong main theme and chorus that opens and reoccurs throughout in different guises. This provides a cohesive flow, preventing it from sounding like a collection of unrelated tunes masquerading as an epic. Then there is an uncharacteristic (for Morse) mellow instrumental section that occurs twice with a moody synth line and Hackett style weeping guitar (with a hint of Stolt). The aforementioned Star For A Day is an average sounding hard rock song with clichéd metallic guitar shredding and an overlong and a shrill synth solo. Quite possibly the albums weakest offering. Despite the title, The Humdrum Life is better with a compelling acoustic swing sound showcasing a jazzy tenor sax solo from guest Jim Hoke. All The Way To The Grave is another strident rocker cut from the same cloth as Star For A Day but with a greater sense of urgency and a spiralling guitar riff that owes a debt to Led Zep’s Kashmir. The gritty Hammond sound works a treat here as does a booming bass solo that owes far more to John Entwistle than it does the likes of Chris Squire. The majestic The Eyes Of The Savior with its strong female backing voices and string sound courtesy of Jonathan Willis heralds the return of the main synth theme in So Many Roads Reprise. The Neal Morse formula is working overtime here, ending with a soaring guitar break and a typically impassioned vocal. It’s all very reminiscent of his other triumphant climaxes to The Creation, Temple Of The Living God and The Conclusion.

The albums heaviest track by a distance is Leviathan, but this is more 21st Century Schizoid Man than it is prog metal. The crunching guitar riffs are replaced by vibrant brass with superb saxophone contributions from Hoke. Lyrically it’s more playful than usual although the song’s title is a biblical reference to a mythical sea creature. The rest of the album is made up of acoustic, sing-along anthems around the 5 minute mark in the vein of Yes’ Wondrous Stories. The Way Home is very catchy indeed with jangly guitars similar to God’s Love although the latter is closer to a ballad with suitable restrained vocals and drums from Morse and Portnoy respectively. The unashamedly hippy Children Of The Chosen features the chorus line “We are sunlight, we are golden, see us dancing in the sun” and just about gets away with it. Lyrically it mixes Matthew Southern Comfort’s Woodstock and The Flower King’s Stardust We Are enhanced by rich bouzouki flavoured guitar and some great tom-tom work to close. Along with The Way Home it would make a very respectable single. The concluding Fly High feels like a postscript to the epic So Many Roads with a suitably uplifting chorus capped by a stunning solo from Paul Bielatowicz with both hands flying up and down the guitar neck.

Morse has certainly but together a well balanced collection of songs that combines the epic length, the near epic length and a handful standard length tracks. There are some very strong tunes, especially in the shorter songs, but for me the longer pieces never quite reach the emotional impact of previous glories. It could be that I’ve been spoilt a little by the recent Sola Scriptura And Beyond DVD which really does show the earlier material in its best light. Likewise I strongly suspect that much of Lifeline will stand up to scrutiny more favourably in the live arena. Coming up with something fresh and new has to be difficult for any artist especially with a prolific track record like Morse. And of course he has a very distinctive style which means he is always going to sound like Neal Morse. That’s especially true of this album which benefits from some of his most transparent production work to date.

At the end of my review for Sola Scriptura I felt compelled to give a cautious DPRP recommendation, not to appease Morse’s devoted fans, because the music deserved it. For the same reason, despite its flaws, Lifeline receives a similar rating and recommendation.

Bart Jan Van Der Vorst's Review

After Neal Morse's departure from Spock's Beard I completely lost interest in his music. Actually, even before he went solo I had already given up on him. While most people debated over whether or not they liked Morse's Christian lyrics, I gave up on him because his music become so repetitive and formulaic. Testimony and One were a direct continuation of the type of music he made with on the last four Spock's Beard albums as well as the two Transatlantic albums. But then came ? where Morse turned into a slightly heavier direction and to my surprise I really enjoyed that album. Sola Scriptura, while not as good as ?, was a continuation towards an even heavier spectrum, and while I am not the type of metal head who will say 'heavier is better', I welcomed the addition of a bit more bite.

Seeing Morse live for the first time since the Transatlantic tour rekindled my interest in his music even more, and after hearing the title track of his new album Lifeline performed live at the Night Of The Prog festival in Loreley last summer I put my hand up to review his new album. Well, to get the bad news out of the way first, I wish I hadn't. Lifeline embodies everything I disliked about Morse's music since Day For Night: it's formulaic, predictable, tried and generally boring. Well, maybe not boring, but I have heard all this before, performed by the same guy, only better. Twiddly keyboard solo? check! Harmony vocals? check! Bit with Spanish guitar? check! Singing reaching a climax with Morse singing a long-drawn aaaaahaaaaa? Check, check, double check. The songs on Lifeline follow the Morse blueprint so closely you can actually pinpoint the exact moment when a guitar solo kicks in, even if you have never heard the song before.

Lyrics-wise Morse moved back to his inspiration of Testimony and One, i.e. telling the world how happy he is now he's found Jesus. I don't share his beliefs, but I can only respect Morse's sincerity and I generally don't have an issue with somebody singing something he stands for. In general he is singing about how his faith has changed his life, he isn't telling people to do the same or judging people who have different beliefs. That said, I'd much rather see Morse using the bible itself as a source of inspiration, like he did on the ? album, or better still, the critical lyrics of Sola Scriptura, about how religion is often abused for power.
I must say that on Lifeline his lyrics do come across as somewhat lazy and basically all evolve around the "I'm happy to have found you Jesus/I love you God" concept. If you've seen the South Park episode Christian Rocks it is impossible to listen to this type of lyrics keeping a straight face.

The album opens with the title track which is by far the best track on the album. Yes it follow the standard Morse blueprint and yes its lyrics can make you cringe, but it is also has a very uplifting and a chorus that can stick in your mind for days. The Way Home is an acoustic ballad which would not be out of place on one of Morse's worship albums.
Leviathan is another highlight. It starts with some freaky trumpet (played on synthesizer no doubt) and continues as an uptempo, Beatles-esque track quite similar to In The Fire or Solid As The Sun off ?. God's Love is another acoustic ballad which follows almost the exact structure of Transatlantic's We All Need Some Light. Children Of The Chosen is more in the vein of some of the ballads on Snow, like Solitary Soul or Open Wide The Flood Gates

And then we come to So Many Roads. Could somebody please tell Morse we don't necessarily need a 30-minute epic on each and every album? Really, this song adds absolutely nothing of interest to the Neal Morse back-catalogue - Testimony 1-2-4/The Door/The Conflict/All Of The Above/Stranger In Your Soul/The Great Nothing... you'll be hard pressed to spot any major differences. And that is not saying it is not enjoyable. Far from it, there is plenty to enjoy, but... it is just the same thing all over again. You can say McDonald's is enjoyable too, but no-one will ever dare to call it sophisticated or original, and this is the same thing. Before you play the album you already know exactly what to expect.

The album ends with another carbon copy Neal Morse ballad, Fly High.

So in conclusion? Well, this is definitely a big step back from his previous two albums and by far his worst solo outing to date. Sure there are plenty of moments to enjoy, and I am sure there are plenty of people who will love the album. But I for one hope Morse takes a break for a year or two to get his act together again. I do understand he needs to live off his music, but releasing the same album year after year won't do him much good in the long run either.


GEOFF FEAKES : 8+ out of 10
BART JAN VAN DER VORST : 5 out of 10

Various Artists - Big Blue Ball

Various Artists - Big Blue Ball
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Real World
Catalogue #:CDRW150
Year of Release:2008
Info:Big Blue ball
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Whole Thing (Original Mix) [featuring Francis Bebey, Alex Faku, Tim Finn, Peter Gabriel, Karl Wallinger, Andy White] (5:27), Habibe [featuring Natacha Atlas, Hossam Ramzy, Neil Sparkes] (7:12), Shadow [featuring Juan Cañizares, Papa Wemba] (4:28), Altus Silva [featuring Joseph Arthur, Ronan Browne, Deep Forest, James McNally, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Vernon Reid] (6:07), Exit Through You [featuring Joseph Arthur, Peter Gabriel, Karl Wallinger] (5:52), Everything Comes From You [featuring Richard Evans, Joji Hirota, Sevara Nazarkhan, Sinead O’Connor, Guo Yue] (4:42), Burn You Up, Burn You Down [featuring Billy Cobham, Peter Gabriel, The Holmes Brothers, Wendy Melvoin, Arona N’diaye, Jah Wobble] (4:31), Forest [featuring Levon Minassian, Arona N’Diaye, Vernon Reid, Hukwe Zawose] (6:17), Rivers [featuring Vernon Reid, Márta Sebestyén, Karl Wallinger] (5:45), Jijy [featuring Arona N’Diaye, Rossy, Jah Wobble] (4:00), Big Blue Ball [featuring Peter Gabriel, Manu Katché, Karl Wallinger] (4:52)

We all know how long it can take Peter Gabriel to finish a project. It took him nearly 10 years to come with a follow-up album to Us in the form of the excellent Up. Still, this is nothing compared to the time it took to finish the Big Blue Ball project, which was finally released this year, almost 18 years after the main sessions. During three weeks of recording sessions in 1991, 1992 and 1995 Peter Gabriel and Karl Wallinger (World Party, The Waterboys) invited a colourful bunch of musicians from all over the world to come to the Real World studio to create music together. The result was a huge pile of tapes that remained unsorted and unfinished until top producer Steven Hague joined the project and after some additional recording and mixing the album was finally released.

The combination of Gabriel and Real World should give you a bit of an idea of what to expect. There's a clear Gabrielesque atmosphere to many of the songs, think the world music influences of Us. About half of the songs could be described as pop songs while the other half is clearly world music. The remarkable thing about the latter category though is the combination of musicians from very different cultures. One of the best examples of this is the marvellous cooperation of Papa Wemba (the support act during Gabriel's Secret World tour and guest vocalist on the live version of In Your Eyes from that tour) and his percussionists and Juan Cañizares' flamenco guitar play on Shadow. African singing and Spanish music, you'll have to hear this to believe it. In the category of 'pop songs' we find the songs Whole Thing, Altus Silva, Exit Through You, Burn You Up, Burn You Down and Big Blue Ball. The songs that have a more world-music oriented style are the mentioned Shadow, as well as Habibi, Forest, River, Everything Comes From You and Jijy.

The album opens with Whole Thing, a typical Gabriel track which previously appeared in the Long Way Down soundtrack. It has Gabriel on lead vocals and Tim Finn (Split Enz, Crowded House) and Irish singer/songwriter Andy White on backing vocals. The track has a great bass groove and the type of percussion that we've come to expect from Gabriel. The track would not have been out of place on Us or Up and is one of my favourites on the album.

Habibi is a mesmerizing Middle-Eastern track which merges the Arabic vocals of Belgian singer Natacha Atlas with a marvellous Egyptian string section and additional percussion programming driving the track forward. For some this song has proven to be a bit too much removed from home but I happen to really, really like the vibe of it.

Altus Silva is a remarkable atmospheric track on which Deep Forest's keyboards are joined by American singer Joseph Arthur (who's deep voice sometimes reminds me of Ray Wilson). The chorus is sung in Gaelic by Irish singer Iarla Ó Lionáird (who also sang on the track Low Light on Ovo) while James McNally joins in with this melody on flutes. Add congas by Papa Wemba's band, synth guitar by Living Colour's Vernon Reid and uilleann pipes by Ronan Brown and you'll understand that this is clearly a track where the boundaries between pop and world music start to dissolve.

Exit Through You is another groovy track that has Gabriel written all over it, although he only sings the chorus; the versus are once again sung by Joseph Arthur. This songs was written in an hour by Gabriel and Arthur but it's a lovely little gem with the wonderful innovative lyrics "Exitin' the shower, I forgot to wash my heart. Now the dust has turned to mud, since we've been apart. This angel whispered in my ear, as I brushed my teeth. She said "Muddy hearts work twice as hard, and still can barely beat". Love it to bits!

Everything Comes From You finds Sinead O'Connor co-writing with Japanese Joji Hirota and playing with flutist Guo Yue and Chinese percussionists. Vocals by Uzbek singer Sevara Nazarkhan were added in 2007. The whole feels like a merge between Ireland and Asia. It's a nice track, but since Sinead has never been one of my favourites and the track is a bit repetitive it's not one of the best tracks album.

Like Whole Thing, another song we've heard before is Burn You Up, Burn You Down which not only appeared in the Uru computer game, but was also released on Gabriel's Hit compilation album and on single in 2004. Besides Gabriel it also features jazz drummer Billy Cobham and has The Holmes Brothers bringing their soul to the chorus. Musically, the version on this album differs substantially from the previously released versions.

Forest starts out with Levon Minassian's doudouk, sounding immediately like something that could have come from Gabriel's Passion album. It quickly changes when Arona N’Diaye comes in with fine percussion and Tanzanian musician Hukwe Zawose the vocals. A nice and groovy track with Vernon Reid on guitar, only to be slightly spoiled by the sudden guttural vocals that are just not my kind of thing.

Vernon Reid returns on synth guitar in Rivers, the album's most ambient track also featuring Hungarian folk vocalist Márta Sebestyén and lots of drone noises. For some reason (probably because of it's relative tranquillity) this is a track that sticks least in my mind. That doesn't mean that it's bad because it is a lovely point of rest between the power of Forest and Jijy.

Jijy is a bouncing affair with Madagascan singer Rossy doing a rap, accompanied by a percussion and bass rhythm section. A lot of additional effects were later added during mixing and producing, including a brass section. You'll either love or hate the rap and even Gabriel himself admits that he had his doubts when working on the song. I think I'd be in the latter category, the rap isn't that bad but I don't care much for the wails and the added jazzy brass.

The fragility of Karl Wallinger's high voice makes album closer and title track Big Blue Ball an immediate winner for me. The acoustic atmosphere, Manu Katché's rhythms, Gabriel's organ and Hague's accordion give this song a warm feel full of contemplation and hope. A worthy end to a wonderful album.

Big Blue Ball is an album that comes highly recommended to both Peter Gabriel fans and lovers of world music. You'll be hard pressed to like all songs on the album but I'm sure that you will, like me, adore the majority of these tracks. If you are not sure if this CD might be your cup of tea, simply visit the special website that was set up by Real World Records. You can view a trailer and listen to an extensive podcast with fragments of the songs and interviews with Gabriel and Wallinger there.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10


Headsets – Chapter I: Alone Out Here

Headsets – Chapter I: Alone Out Here
Country of Origin:USA
Record Label:Independent
Catalogue #:N/A
Year of Release:2008
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Remnants Of Creation [Part I] (0:30), The Launch (0:23), We Are Sailors (6:39), Reaching For The Stars (1:49), Sons Of Our Suns (4:05), The Mission (0:50), The Lonesome Trail (5:21), Finding Our Way (2:45), Universal Garden (3:53), The Family Business (0:12), Alone Out Here (4:09), Systems Failure (1:57), Reflections (3:23), Message From Home (2:53), 2,000 Light Years From Home (3:19), Perspective (1:58), Melancholy Deity (4:34), Remnants Of Creation [Part II] (1:22), One World Going Round (4:19)

I have to confess that when I read the following publicity blurb to promote this album it didn’t exactly fill me with eager anticipation.

“Multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Billy Sherwood provides the musical foundation for Jim Ladd's unique narration. Together they will guide you on a thematic journey enhanced by specially created sound effects and design”.

As it turned out my initial fears were mostly dispelled from the very first play. Billy Sherwood will be known to most as one time member of World Trade, Yes, Conspiracy and currently CIRCA, as well as his solo work and a string of production credits. Billed as a “Legendary Rock-n-Roll DJ” Jim Ladd will probably be unknown to almost everyone outside the USA. The concept of Headsets is based on the similarly named section of his radio show which by all accounts has been aired in the US for the past 25 years. Interspersed with Sherwood’s melodic songs, it consists of Ladd’s philosophical ramblings on the nature of man and the universe laced with a story telling narrative. Virtually every song here is a significant improvement over Sherwood’s most recent solo offering At The Speed Of Life..., an album I could find few kind words for in my review. As with his solo album Sherwood is responsible for vocals, bass, guitars, keyboards, drums and production with one or two notable exceptions highlighted below.

Ladd’s introductory dialogue, complete with sound and voice effects, sets the theme of the album, juxtaposing ancient sea and modern space travel in a biographical context. Sherwood’s opening song We Are Sailors suits this perspective perfectly blending a folky mandolin sound with a contemporary guitar driven edge. The phasing effect on the vocals I found unnecessary but The Beach Boys style harmonies at the end are sublime. The acoustic Sons Of Our Suns has a distinct psychedelic Beatles feel ala Tomorrow Never Knows with shades of Peter Gabriel. Despite the basic arrangement the song’s strengths shines through. It’s not all original material however with Sherwood resurrecting songs from previous musical incarnations. The first of these is an excellent version of The Lonesome Trail taken from the debut Conspiracy album with ringing acoustic guitar, superb harmonies (Sherwood’s massed vocals) and a soaring guitar break. Universal Garden is not necessarily superior to the Yes version but it sits so much better here than it did on the Open Your Eyes album with rich vocals and a good if understated fretless bass line. The mid-tempo One World Going Round, which opened World Trade’s 1995 Euphoria, closes this album in satisfying style with a compelling riff, yet more majestic harmony vocals and a commanding guitar solo.

Finding Our Way is something of an oddity based around a mesmerising tribal drum pattern courtesy of John Densmore (one time drummer with The Doors). It works however due in no small part to the addition of Helena Hodge’s gorgeous narration. Likewise Victoria Cyr adds her beautiful voice to Message From Home aided by hypnotic violin effects from Sara Watkins. With Victoria playing the wife of Ladd’s doomed central character it’s a very effective and melancholic track with a certain Ethan Robert Sherwood getting in on the act as the son. The Rolling Stones' psychedelic 2,000 Light Years From Home from 1967’s Their Satanic Majesties Request album is a strange choice (Ladd’s I would guess) performed by a line-up that doesn’t include Sherwood. It’s a suitably trippy version with vocals by actor and singer Billy Bob Thornton enhanced by Teddy Andreadis’ eerie, waling Mellotron.

Of all Sherwood’s songs on the album, the atmospheric Reflections is probably the least typical with its half spoken vocal and sumptuous classical guitar meanderings. His remaining contributions Alone Out Here and Melancholy Deity are both driving, up-tempo affairs featuring drummer Jay Schellen who’s previous work with Sherwood has included World Trade, Conspiracy and more recently CIRCA. Despite being the title track the first of these two songs is let down by an average chorus and a clichéd heavy rock guitar break. The latter fairs better benefiting from a pulsating riff and a memorable vocal refrain.

Despite the concept, there is nothing particularly proggy about this album but that’s not a criticism. The songs have a mostly mainstream rock feel and with one or two exceptions will sound familiar to those acquainted with Sherwood’s previous work. Ladd has a clear and authoritative voice and when joined by the occasional spacey background effects I was reminded of Jeff Wayne’s The War Of The Worlds. Combining words and music has been tried many times before, and Wayne’s album aside, has not always been a successful marriage. On this occasion Ladd and Sherwood have just about got it right with Joe Gastwirt’s crystalline mastering ensuring a bright upfront sound to keep the listener engaged throughout.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Colour Haze - All

Colour Haze - All
Country of Origin:Germany
Record Label:Elektrohasch
Catalogue #:Elektrohasch CD06
Year of Release:2008
Info:Colour Haze
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Silent (7:21), Moon (4:55), Turns (4:03), Lights (8:25), If (3:30), Stars (3:23), All (14:46), Fall (9:57), One (4:29), Remains (4:08)

The bold Bavarians known as Colour Haze are back with a new album, their ninth since debut Chopping Machine back in 1995. Approaching their tenth year as a trio, Stefan Koglek (guitar and vocals), Manfred Merwald (drums) and Philipp Rasthofer (bass) are joined once again by Christian Hawellek (Hammond, Mellotron and grand piano) on four tracks, Mario Oberpucher (sitar) on two tracks and Daniela Heiser (backing vocals) on three tracks. The group have been somewhat criticised, despite their high musical consistency, for being a bit one-dimensional with a lot of their material sounding the same. That is mainly due to Koglek's guitar sound which, although characteristic, rarely varies in tone. At least that was the case on some of the albums before All, which turns out to be one of the most diverse of the bands career.

However, one might not think that from opening track Silent which starts with a rumbling bass and a florid and repetitive guitar riff which gradually builds in intensity although doesn't deviate and as a result becomes almost hypnotic. Moon has Koglek singing falsetto over a song structure that is quite similar to Silent, the riffing guitar again taking prominence. But then, a dramatic change with acoustic guitar taking the lead on Turns. The upper ranges of Koglek's voice are put to better effect on this number than on the previous one and the backwards electric guitar and drums adds the psychedelic ambience. Lights, a lengthy instrumental, marks the first introduction of the organ which, initially, takes a supporting role against the guitar and subsequently taking its own lead break. The track ends with the guitar once again coming to the fore in a blistering solo. We are back to the more characteristic stoner rock with If, which establishes itself as another riff fest interrupted only by a piano playing a staccato one-note refrain.

The sound of a sitar introduces Stars and, unusually, features bass player Rasthofer on acoustic guitar. Subliminal female vocalisations add to the oriental vibe. Title track All is the big surprise. An almost gentle introduction eases the listener into the song with four minutes elapsing before the drums kick in and a further minute before any vocals are heard. A transition to a heavy sound occurs midway through the song resulting in an extended electric guitar solo. The initial riff returns with the Hammond organ adding colour and a degree of warmth to counterbalance the rather harsh guitar. Winding down the song fades out concluding a very interesting piece. Fall has some varied guitar sections and nice drum fills but may be a tad too long, although having said that, the ending is very enjoyable. One is a slower song with a repeated, mantra-like lyric which gradually becomes dominated by Oberpucher's sitar, rather experimental in nature it drifts by without really penetrating the consciousness. Final track, Remains, is one of two tracks credited to Koglek alone (the other is Turns). A rather odd way to end the album as it is quite minimalist in nature with just a slow guitar dirge taking up the majority of the track with some bass added to the end.

All-in-all (pun intended!) Colour Haze have produced an album that maintains their signature sound but at the same time takes things a bit further than previous releases. It would be good to hear them take this further on their next release and maybe give more prominence to other instruments outside the core guitar, bass and drums. A decent effort that won't disappoint their fans.

Conclusion: 7 out of 10


Walrus - Walrus

Walrus - Walrus
Country of Origin:UK
Record Label:Esoteric Records
Catalogue #:ECLEC 2071
Year of Release:1970/2008
Info: Walrus
Samples:Click here

Tracklist: Who Can I Trust? (2:37), Rags And Old Iron / Blind Man / Roadside (13:42), Why? (4:31), Turning / Woman / Turning (7:21), Sunshine Needs Me (3:25), Coloured Rain / Mother's Dead Face In Memoriam / Coloured Rain [reprise] (6:07), Tomorrow Never Comes (3:38), Never Let My Body Touch The Ground (2:57)

Esoteric Recordings certainly live up to their name and seek out rare and unusual recordings to re-issue. What is more, their quality control is top notch, with each release being remastered from original tapes, informative sleeve notes and extra tracks that keep collectors smiling. Being a big fan of seventies music, particularly stuff issued on the Decca offshoot Deram, even I was unaware of the band Walrus, whose sole album was released by Deram in December 1970, failed to sell in any significant quantity and thus is now a much sought-after rarity! Albums fail to sell for many reasons and often it is not until many years later that the true worth of the artist is recognised (take Nick Drake, or more pertinent to Esoteric, Bill Fay, whose albums are now highly regarded and since reissuing have spawned other archive releases). Some artists were undeserving of recognition then or now, and for yet others there is no explanation as to the lack of achievement. Walrus fit into this latter category. The music is certainly not ahead of its time and is easily recognisable as being from the early seventies. It is not out of kilter for that era either, taking cues from acts like Blood, Sweat and Tears and Chicago (the first four albums by whom are absolutely killer, but sadly largely ignored because of the mush they released in later years). For what these bands have in common is a horn section; maybe coming from London, England rather than the US was the big stumbling block for Walrus.

The group were an octet and the brainchild of bassist Steve Hawthorn. The rest of the 'rock' instrumentalists were John Scates (guitar), Barry Parfitt (organ and piano) and Nick Gabb (drums) (replaced midway through the album recording by Roger Harrison) with Noel Greenaway providing the vocals. The horn section was Roy Voce on tenor sax, Don Richards on trumpet and Bill Hoad on soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes, clarinet, flute and alto flute (presumably not all at the same time!). Greenaway's vocals are a sort of blend between Mike Patto, Roger Chapman and Joe Cocker, are fairly idiosyncratic but do suit the music well, particularly on tracks like Rags And Old Iron where the organ and horn section weave intimately together. Blind Man, linked to Rags by some African-style drumming, begins sounding like something from an early Traffic album and ends with a Chicago-style horn and guitar workout which is particularly good. The third part of this 'medley', Roadside, features bongos and congas, a particularly funky bass line and a couple of fine solos, first by Scates and then Hoad. A catchy number, it is surprising that this was not chosen as a single release, as opposed to the busier Who Can I Trust? which even by seventies standards was lacking in the qualities required of a hit single (which, needless to say, it wasn't)

Having said that an earlier song sounded like Traffic, ironically an actual song written by that quintessentially English band sounds nothing like them! Coloured Rain is the most jazz-inspired number on the album, even featuring a drum solo prior to the reprise of the main song, which is more easily identifiable, even if it did remind me a bit of The Cardiacs! One wonders if the title of the middle section, Mother's Dead Face In Memoriam, was an inspiration to Hatfield and the North, the masters of whacky titles! Elsewhere, Woman would have fitted nicely on Songs For A Tailor the first Jack Bruce solo album, Tomorrow Never Comes has an eerie sixties influence and bonus cut Never Let My Body Touch The Ground, the groups final single, has a grittier sound, intriguing lyrics and is a welcome addition to the album as it is a great number!

This release, although hardly essential for the majority of progressive fans, is certainly worthy of consideration if the mixture of horns and rock bands floats your boat. Although I have seen the album as being described as leaning towards jazz rock, in my opinion, it, with the exception of the one instance noted, doesn't deviate far into such territory, the wary can be reassured that this album is certainly more rock than jazz. A good album to have made available again for fans of the era, fans of the label and even fans of the band!

Conclusion: 6 out of 10


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