Album Reviews

Issue 2015-008

Leon Alvarado - Music From an Expanded Universe

Leon Alvarado - Music From an Expanded Universe
Country of Origin: USA
Format: CD
Record Label: Melodic Revolution Records Music
Catalogue #: MRR CD 22106
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 23:00
Info: Leon Alvarado
Samples: Leon Alvarado on MRR website
Track List:
Irreverence Part 1 (2:37), The 2014 Microcosm (4:55), Blood like Red (6:32), Irreverence Part 2 (5:26), Cinemania "Alive" (bonustrack) (3:40)
Leon Alvarado is someone whom I've never heard of before, even though he released an album back in 2009 called Plays Genesis and Other Stuff, which unfortunately never caught my attention. That's not really surprising, given the amount of prog musical talent out there these days, especially those reinterpreting Genesis music. His last album was 2010's Strangers in a Strange Place, which features the great Bill Bruford and ex Brand X and Atomic Rooster guitarist John Goodsall on one of the tracks. On this instrumental CD, he has secured the services of the excellent drummer Jerry Marotta (well-known for his work with Peter Gabriel) and the ex King Crimson bass man Trey Gunn.

So, Leon Alvarado has the support and respect from some serious prog musicians. He must be good then, I hear you ask. That for me is a difficult question to answer. This record is more of an EP, given its 23 minutes in length, plus the fifth song is a live bonus track. Leon has stated that: "The whole idea of the CD started by the need to put out some new product in between full albums. It had been a long time since I had put out new music and I decided to make sure I released something in 2014. What drove me to take the path I took, was my wanting to work with some of the King Crimson guys on new music."

The music is predominantly built on atmospheric keyboard textures, lush soundscapes and synth arpeggios, supported in places by thoughtful and some wonderful percussive rhythms. This type of music could be the score to some futuristic film. On my first hearing, before reading any information on the web about Leon, I initially heard a mix of Peter Gabriel and Tangerine Dream, except for the use of real acoustic drums. In fact The 2014 Microcosm at about the 1' 03" mark had me singing the start of Gabriel's Digging in the Dirt. By the way, the drum kit sound (and groove) achieved on this track is excellent.

The track Blood Like Red, the longest track, breaks the mould so to speak and features some nice-sounding guitar work from Trey Gunn. According to Leon: "In a way a homage to King Crimson's music. The way I pitched the music to Trey Gunn was by describing it as a sort of 'Crimson-light' type of project". I can't help feeling that this has been a rushed affair, just to get something out at the expense of not developing the material further. For example, after a few listens, I did get bored with Irreverence Part 2. To me, it was screaming out for some guitar work. I also didn't like the choice of snare sound on this track.

Overall I did enjoy the record, albeit a brief one. For those progsters who like atmospheric synth soundscapes, with sensitive percussion and a paucity of guitar or synth solos, this might be well worthy of a listen. Certainly my interest in Leon's music has been piqued and I will look out for his 2015 efforts. Apparently this involves an album of original music featuring ex-Yes men, Billy Sherwood and Rick Wakeman, as well as a solo project of previously unreleased pieces.
Conclusion: 6.5 out of 10

Il Castello Di Atlante - Capitolo 8: Live Deluxe Edition

Il Castello Di Atlante - Capitolo 8: Live Deluxe Edition
Country of Origin: Italy
Format: CD/DVD
Record Label: Azafran Media
Catalogue #: Azafran Media AP 1419
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 71:00
Info: Il Castello Di Atlante
Track List:
CD: Non Puoi Fingere (13:29), La Foresta Dietro Il Mulino Di Johan (9:26), Il Saggio (8:44), Tra Le Antiche Mura (11:20), Malebolge (11:02), Staba Scrito (11:52), Il Vessillo Del Drago (5:49)
DVD: Non Puoi Fingere (13:29), La Foresta Dietro Il Mulino Di Johan (9:26), Il Saggio (8:44), Tra Le Antiche Mura (11:20), Leggi e Ascolta (14:30), Malebolge (11:02), Staba Scrito (11:52), Il Vessillo Del Drago (5:49)
Il Castello Di Atlante began their prog life way back in the seventies, but it would take them about 17 years before they made their first album release in 1992. Essentially, the same five band members have more-or-less all appeared on their five studio albums, the last being back in 2009 called Capitilo 7 – Tra Le Antiche Mura (although, for this live album they employ the services of a second drummer).

They do come under the Rock Progessivo Italiano (RPI) sub-genre, which is spot on. Yes, they are Italian, but the symphonic rock they play fits very well under that banner. The music is saturated with romanticised, lyrical passages, evoking a sense of heavenly delicacy in places that is sometimes reminiscent of the great RPI bands like Premiata Forneria Marconi, Le Orme and Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso. As with many RPI bands, their music (sung in Italian) can often be compared against classical influences.

So, for this review we have their 2014 live release entitled Capitolo 8: Live, a concert recording of a gig on March 29th, 2012 in Caalborgone, near Torino. It's a deluxe edition that features the performance both on CD and DVD (the DVD includes an extra track called Leggi e Ascolta). All songs are from previous studio albums and in some cases truncated for the live performance. The music has wonderful 6-string bass playing from Dino Fiore, especially the song Leggi e Ascolta (DVD only) where he uses some electronic gizmos to create a strange but superb atmospheric sound, before some Supertramp(ish) piano chord stabs enter.

The bass work in Tra Le Antiche Mura and Malebolgeare stand-outs for me, plus the fret-less work in Il Saggio (The Wise Man), and shows a musician who knows his instrument. The other great musician of this band is the keyboard player Roberto Giordano, with his classical delivery of the thematic ideas and motifs throughout the album. This is very evident in the complex piece La Foresta Dietro Il Mulino Di Johan (The Forest Behind Johan's Mill), where some of the piano playing is simply exquisite, giving the piece a classical feel in places. He also delivers a worthy synth solo within this song, which all adds to not a bad piece of RPI music.

The band also features electric violinist Massimo Di Lauro. Not a virtuoso player (no shredding violin solos) but his beautiful and thoughtful playing adds to the sonic tapestry of the music. The track Il Saggio is a good example. The guitarist Aldo Bergamini is a fine guitarist and if pushed to try and compare him to someone better known, probably Steve Hackett would possibly be closest. Certainly the opening of Non Puoi Fingere (after the initial fanfare) puts you in mind of Ace of Wands. One criticism of the guitar sound is that it is too thin and often pushed back in the mix; the guitar solos just don't punch through and give you that old tingling sensation in the Scottish Trossachs! Pity, because there are some very good solos sprinkled throughout.

The highlight for me on this album was the latter stages of the track Staba Scrito. The keyboard work is in the style of Tony Banks. In fact, the last four minutes of this song, with the two drummers pounding away, reminds you of Genesis and something that should have been on Seconds Out. This for me, got my pulse racing and something I would listen it to again and again.

It's great to be able to see the live performance captured on the DVD. It's not high-definition, and often the video shots are momentarily out of focus, as cameramen try to zoom in, but it's not bad. One thing that did annoy me, was the prancing and strutting about the stage by the drummer Paolo Ferrarotti at times when he clearly hadn't anything better to do. I thought it was very naff when he was aping the violin, using his drum sticks. In fact, I'm not sure why they needed a second drummer for their live performances, since Paolo could have sung all his parts from behind the drum kit ( to be fair he also does some keyboard work as well).

Overall, Il Castello Di Atlante didn't quite set the heather alight for me. The music is enjoyable but it lacked a certain spark that might set them above other average RPI bands. The vocals are competent but not outstanding. Still, the music did grow on me and I think this album on the old DPRP RPI-ometer scores a 7.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Delta - The End of Philosophy

Delta - The End of Philosophy
Country of Origin: Chile
Format: download
Record Label: Australis Records
Catalogue #:
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 69:57
Info: Delta
Samples: Delta website
Track List:
The End of Philosophy (8:55), New Philosophy (3:55), No More (4:12), Dark Skies (7:14), Frozen Heart (4:20), Farewell (7:37), Fear Syndrome (3:46), Nostalgia (8:17), Like a Man (4:30), Bringers of Rain (9:36), Why Are You so Far? (Bonus Track) (7:12)
This band from Chile, Delta, make neo-classical progressive metal, and they're pretty good at it. In fact, they're supposedly hitting it big time in their home country, and they were even selected by Mike Portnoy to open up for Dream Theater. In a genre that's overcrowded with bland, unoriginal rip-offs, how can a band bring something new to the table? This album makes that question totally irrelevant. Let me explain.

What Delta does so well here, is bringing back the fun factor into this type of music. Evidently, they're all virtuosos on their instruments, and while so many progressive/power metal bands want to play this stuff, these guys have the song writing abilities to make something of substantial musical value. Once in a while, the vocals get borderline cheesy, but mostly, when it comes to creating melodies and textures that make sense, they're ticking all the right boxes. The structuring is there, the unexpected harmonic changes are there to keep things interesting, and most importantly, the melodies mostly really hit home.

One thing that struck me right away is how much guitarist Benjamin Lechuga sounds like John Petrucci when he solos, and singer Felipe del Valle can sound a lot like Angra's Edu Falaschi sometimes. But here's where I want to address my question about 'bringing something new to the table'. Delta don't necessarily innovate. They make familiar-sounding music in a pretty clear formula, but they're doing it with so much flair, energy and ease. Apart from the usual progressive power metal approach, you'll also get to hear mid-tempo, heavy grooves and even some funk/jazz influenced parts pop up once in a while.

This album has instrumental fireworks and high-pitched, virtuoso vocal acrobatics in spades. Sometimes things seem to derail a bit, not every track is without faults. The otherwise stellar New Philosophy is brought down by a typical Eurovision Song Contest chorus. But even on tracks like this, the sense of doubt is always conquered by a dramatic shift in approach around the middle of the track. Delta never forget to break free of the pathos, in order to shake things up with a tongue-in-cheek organ solo, for example.

The best track on here is easily the album opening title track. The track starts out with an industrial beat, and soon a nasty sounding organ teases the listener. When the drums and vocals kick in, the keys are in the background, carefully enhancing the mid-tempo groove. When the chorus hits, it's like the best reminder of Queen's signature, operatic 'stacked vocals' you could ever have. The tracks goes on to visit many atmospheres and textures, culminating in an utterly dramatic and epic guitar solo and a final chorus where everything comes together in a glorious way. In the outro, the mechanic drone that the song started out with has a reprise, while continuously slowing down until the track finally collapses. It is an exhilarating, smartly arranged track from start to finish.

The rest of the album falls a bit short compared to the excellent opening track, but it never gets boring. Second-to-last track Bringers of Rain is a slow-burning, epic track with guest vocals from ex-Royal Hunt's John West. Lovers of Ayreon should check out this track, as the trade-offs between the two vocalists almost feels as if you're listening to The Human Equation.

Mixed by Fredrik Nordstrom and mastered by Jens Bogren, this is simply a fantastic sounding album. The drums sound fittingly mechanic, the low end is tight, and the guitars are crisp and clear. There's tons of cool, intricate rhythms, riffs and solos and solid song writing and musicianship throughout. With some 'okay' songs but a lot of good ones, I can wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone. For fans of Symphony X, Kamelot and even Dream Theater, this should be right up your alley.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10

The Gasoline Band - The Gasoline Band

The Gasoline Band - The Gasoline Band
Country of Origin: US
Format: CD
Record Label: Esoteric
Catalogue #: ECLEC 2467
Year of Release: 1972/2014
Time: 40:58
Info: The Gasoline Band
Samples: The Gasoline Band website
Track List:
The Bitch (5:07), Can't You See Me (3:50), Find It in You (2:23), Ein Grosses (5:12), Folk Song (4:35), Schrapnel (4:21), Loafers End (3:51), Road (2:06), World What You Gonna Do (4:30), Now's the Time (4:58)
Esoteric's unearthing of oft forgotten albums from the past, continues with the reissue of the one and only album by The Gasoline Band, an extended collective of American army personnel who, although based in the UK, first came together in Germany. The band was formed in West Berlin in 1969 by Fred Schwartz (piano) and Larry Brown Jnr (trumpet) recording a demo under the name Children Of Fools. After that they expanded into an active band that regularly gigged throughout West Germany.

The line-up was fluid, with members joining and leaving with regularity. It wasn't until 1971 and a relocation to London, that a more consistent line-up was formed. In addition to Schwartz (Brown having not made the relocation to London), the new group comprised Brian Bevan (guitar, vocals), George Thompson Jnr (bass) (credited on the album, yet not in on the actual recording, the bass parts played by session player Neville Whitehead), Jerome Johnson (trombone), Major Wilburn Jnr (sax), Charles Bowen Jnr (sax), Jim Dvorak (trumpet), Ronald Philips (trumpet), Joe Ogé (congas) and, on the recommendation of Weather Report's bassist Alfonso Johnson, William Goffigan on drums. William Goffigan flew over from the States in order to audition. The fledgling Cube records offered the band a deal and also suggested they change their name to The Gasoline Band, as previous names they had performed under (including Fun, Travel And Adventure and Adventure Train) were not deemed to be that marketable.

Unusually for the time, the band were not pressured into releasing anything quickly and they took about seven months to record the album, wanting to make sure that the quality was the best they could achieve. The fact that their manager, Monty Babson, co-owned Morgan Studios in North London was obviously a contributory factor to the lack of haste, which meant that the album was not released until May 1972. But as with a lot of albums of the time, it failed to harness a large audience, partly due to the lack of Cube's marketing expertise, partly from a seemingly lack on interest on behalf of Polydor Records who were acting as distributors, and partly due to playing a somewhat different style of music than what was prevalent in the UK at the time.

Although similar horn-based rock bands such as Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears were successful, this was largely restricted to the US. Despite a lack of record sales, the band did gather a substantial live following and regularly toured throughout Europe, gradually increasing audience numbers and enhancing their reputation.

Ironically, their live draw may have partly been due to the fact that their more successful American counterparts never toured Europe. Equally, The Gasoline Band never visited their home country, where they may have had more commercial success. However neither the band nor their label, were in a robust enough financial position to fund such a venture.

The band's end was also quite ironic, as it resulted from a rather silly misunderstanding. During a break from touring, Goffigan returned to the US to visit his family. When he returned, he discovered he had been replaced. The other members had assumed he had quit the group! The change in personnel started a cascade effect, with other members also deciding to call it a day, prompting the group's demise. An odd end, particularly as it appears that Cube was willing to release a second album, which may have proved more successful for the band now that they had a larger following.

The album itself has garnered a cult following, with original albums inevitably exchanging hands for large sums. There is a very obvious similarity to the early Chicago sound, with main composer, guitarist and singer Bevan providing plenty of jazz-tinged fluid guitar runs. His solo on Can't You See Me is right out of the top drawer.

The album is very much of its period but does contain some stunning performances that are more than the equal of anything on the first two Chicago albums. The horn arrangements are excellent and are properly integrated in the music and not just added on top for dramatic effect. Bevan is an emotive singer which is best served on the quieter sections, where his smooth delivery adds an emotional depth to proceedings.

The rockier numbers, such as the magnificent Ein Grosses, add spice and a degree of complexity that prog fans will appreciate. The sax and guitar solos meld well to create a somewhat unique sound. Folk Song, in the acoustic, vocal sections (ie those parts without horns), has a touch of Crosby, Stills and Nash, whereas Schrapnel, as the title suggests, has greater menace and vibrancy. Road is simpler and more acoustic and that adds diversity to proceedings, whereas World What You Gonna Do takes a more funky turn. The album closer, Now's the Time, has a more orchestral and piano opening but expands out into quite an epic number, ending the album on a high.

I really had no idea what to expect from this album and am delighted to say that I was very impressed with what I heard. It is very unlikely that I would have approached this album other than via the guise of a reviewer, despite being a fan of the early Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears albums. The Gasoline Band are easily on a par with those more famous bands and I would go as far as to say that the quality of the writing, performance and production surpasses the best efforts of their contemporaries.

On that score, if horn-based bands excite you or you just fancy something different from the wealth of music that was produced in the seventies, then The Gasoline Band may be just what you have been looking for.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Hope to Find - Our Story About You

Hope to Find - Our Story About You
Country of Origin: Turkey
Format: CD/Download
Record Label: Mireille Music
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2014
Info: Hope to Find
Samples: Hope to Find website
Track List:
Exile (3:00), Suddenly (5:20), Yesterday,Today,Tomorrow (3:56), Gently Broken (6:14), Through The Window (1:00), Instructional Inspirations (5:15), Kaleidoscope (4:32), Worth To Remember (5:46), Memories (1:39), 10. Alienation (9:50)
Hope To Find is a five-piece band from Eskişehir in Turkey, playing an interesting mix of prog-rock with heavy, metallic flourishes. They have previously released an EP. Our Story About You is their first full-length release. Hope to Find's members are Mert Erdem (vocals), Alper Dagalp (keyboards, accordion, backing vocals), Zafer Yuksel (guitars, backing vocals), Koray Ergunay (bass) and Yavuz Sozkan (drums, backing vocals).

This is an interesting release. Hope To Find display a number of different styles and approaches, whilst retaining some of the inflections and power of the heavier end of the prog-rock spectrum.

Take for instance, the opening two tracks. Exile is a trance-infused slab of electronics that is interrupted, to great effect, by staccato, heavy riffing. It is followed by the accordion-led melody of Suddenly. The accordion entwines with heavy drums, bass and guitar as the song progresses. It switches though quiet-loud-quiet passages brilliantly. The vocals are a winner here as well. Mert Erden has a wide range that is very controlled, but he is able to cut loose where necessary, without resorting to screaming or cookie-monster growling.

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow is a roaring prog-metal number, melodic but with no concession to pop affectations. Then everything changes for the excellent Gently Broken. Opening with jazzy piano and gentle bass, it winds its way towards the expected Floyd-ian guitar solo, but Hope To Find wrong-foot you with machine-gun guitar riffing instead. The lovely solo comes later, accompanied by atmospheric organ chords.

The mainly instrumental Instructional Inspirations is like Rush jamming with Riverside, before the calming acoustic section that accompanies the vocal line. After this, Kaleidoscope, is a pleasingly off-kilter attempt at a more commercial song, complete with a 'na-na-na' refrain and IQ-style keyboards.

The next two tracks are the least successful on the album to my ears. Worth To Remember has technical, stop-start, turn-on-a-dime guitar, before breaking off into a keyboard interlude. It seems to be a chuck-it-in-and-see-what-sticks approach that does not quite come off. Meanwhile, the acoustic Memories is, ironically, rather forgettable.

Last up is the three-part track Alienation. This looks on paper like the epic, album closer but Hope To Find do something a little different here. The track avoids the clichés that one might expect, by holding off on the guitar solo; doing interestingly atmospheric things with synthesisers and, for the most part, being resolutely acoustic in its outlook, so allowing the listener to appreciate the overlapping vocals. In the last third, it does deliver some prog-metal, but it never becomes monolithic or bombastic, and the fade-out leaves you wanting more.

So, all in all, an interesting collage of a number of styles, mixing electronics, jazz, acoustic and metal guitars, fleet-fingered bass and pounding drums. Only a couple of efforts are not entirely successful but I applaud those attempts. I feel that Hope To Find show great potential and will, in the near future, produce something very special.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10

Humana Prog - Fiori, Frutti, Farfalle

Humana Prog - Fiori, Frutti, Farfalle
Country of Origin: Italy
Format: CD
Record Label: AMS
Catalogue #: AMS237
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 43:05
Info: Humana Prog
Samples: Humana Prog on AMS website
Track List:
Fiori, Frutti, Farfalle (20:00), Bianco, Rosso, Verde (3:50), Cerca in Te (3:25), Mamma Pubblicità (3:50), Nel Prato Più Verde (4:46), Ti Chiedo Scusa (2:25), La Ballata Degli Amici Perduti (4:59)
Humana Prog is Paolo Farina with a load of guest performers on various instruments. Rock Progressivo Italiano (RPI) in the truest form, the album began with Paolo's rediscovery of an old Maxophone song he had written some 38 years ago. Maxophone, of course, still exist today and are one of the most well known Italian prog bands. Lovers of traditional RPI will remember Maxophone's song Al Mancato Compleanno Di Una Farfalla, a song about a butterfly. In an update to the original, the first musical suite on this album also deals with this butterfly.

The album is more or less divided into two sections. On one hand we have the long 20-minute suite which, although based on an old audio recording is a completely new composition. On the other hand we have the six individual tracks which all date back to the Maxophone era of the early 1970s, and were all written by Farina but not recorded until 2013.

The music sounds fresh, with the compositions not sounding at all dated. The sheer variety of instrumentation makes it a nice and varied listening experience. The long suite Fiori, Frutti, Farfalle is a great progressive RPI rock song with a lot of changes in tempo and intensity. A great listen, as is the whole album.

Although not an outstanding release, it is a nice album to have in the collection to dig out once in a while, particularly for those who have a love of RPI and happen to like bands such as Locanda Dela Fate, Celeste and, of course, Maxophone.
Conclusion: 7 out of 10

Inner Drive - Oasis

Inner Drive - Oasis
Country of Origin: Russia
Format: CD/Download
Record Label: Lizard Records
Catalogue #: LIZARD CD 0104
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 47:32
Info: Inner Drive
Samples: Inner Drive on Bandcamp
Track List:
Way to the Unknown (5:28), Oasis (3:55), Inspired by Pink Floyd (5:22), Full Moon (4:27), Life in Our Minds (4:29), Elephants (6:06), Lost Dreams (3:50), Chaos (6:29), Aibga (5:46), Transience (1:40)
Inner Drive has been around since 2006, so it's been almost ten years since they formed as a trio, consisting of keyboards, bass and drums. They've come a long way since then, as they've added violin, flute and some guitars to the mix through the years. Oasis was recorded in two different stages of the band's life, with different members.

The record consists of ten instrumental tracks, composed by Sergey Bolotov, the band's keyboardist. So, as one might expect, the album is really based around this instrument. That is not to say the rest of the instruments are merely filler material, since all of them do stand out in their own right. Most melodies are carried out by the violin and flute duo, while the bass and drums keep a very tight rhythm section throughout.

But probably the most important aspect of this album is the variation it brings: no two songs sound similar, yet they retain a very defined idea, from the first to the last note. The mood can change from a harsh, almost claustrophobic feel, to something that almost sounds happy, and then back down again. But the most interesting bit is that it does not always coincide with track changes, since often one track can easily be considered a continuation of the previous one.

In conclusion, this is not soft or washed down prog. The compositions are chaotic in a good way, always changing and going in different directions. As a guitar enthusiast, my first concern was that the instrument is barely featured at all. But not even that can thwart great compositions and interpretations that are just as good. This is a must listen for people who enjoy instrumental prog.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10

Anthony Phillips - Harvest of the Heart

Anthony Phillips - Harvest of the Heart
Country of Origin: UK
Format: CD Box set
Record Label: Cherry Red / Esoteric
Catalogue #: ECLECBOX2
Year of Release: 2014
Time: CD One 75:54
CD Two 78:23
CD Three 73:22
CD Four 74:45
CD Five 77:18
Info: Anthony Phillips on Esoteric Recordings
Track List:
Disc One: F Sharp, Silver Song, Field of Eternity, Wind-Tales, Which Way the Wind Blows, Henry: Portraits from Tudor Times, God If I Saw Her Now, Old Wives Tale, Scottish Suite (I. Salmon Leap, II. Parting Thistle, Electric Reaper, IV. Amorphous, Cadaverous and Nebulous, V. Salmon's Last Sleepwalk), We're All as We Lie, Now What (Are They Doing To My Little Friends)?, Paperchase
Disc Two: Wise after the Event, Um & Aargh, Sisters of Remindum, Bleak House, Nightmare, Lucy Will (original mix), Compression (Mike Rutherford), Poly Piece, Arboretum Suite: IV. Lights on The Hill, Frosted Windows (Variation I), Prelude '84, Anthem 1984, The Women Were Watching
Disc Three: Falling For Love, The Ballad of Penlee, Exocet, Sistine, April, She'll Be Waiting, Let Us Now Make Love, Promenade, Suite: Sea Dogs Motoring: III – Sea-Dogs Air, Tears on a Rainy Day, Exile, Carnival, Elevenses, Tarka – Movement I: The First Year, Tarka – Postlude: The Anthem, Lucy: An Illusion
Disc Four: Stranger, Slow Dance (edited version), Unheard Cry, Aubade, Sarah Blakeley's Evening, Creation, La Dolorosa, Cathedral Woods, Serenita, Lifeboat Suite, Last Goodbyes (live), Collections (live), Sleepfall (live), Gypsy Suite – Movement I: First Light, Gypsy Suite – Movement III: Evening Circle, Creatures of the Magic Water – Opening Theme, Island of Stone
Disc Five: Midway: Island of Life Opening Theme, Onza – Eater of Souls, Jurassic Shark – Opening Theme, Flight To The Death, From the Jaws of Death – Touching the Face of God, Ray's Song, I Wish This Would Never End, Majestic Whales, Wildlife Flotilla, White Spider, Kissing Gate, Nocturne, King of the Mountains, Circle of Light, Golden Leaves of Fall, Courtesan, Speak of Remarkable Things, River of Life, City of Light, Nightjar, Slow Roller, Imperium, A Simple Truth, Vespertine, Forget-Me-Not, The Storm of Windhover, Pas De Deux, Ringer
Anthony Phillips, he of very early pre-Steve Hackett Genesis fame, is a name most are aware of but I guess not widely familiar with. Yet on the strength of this remarkable collection, that must surely be due to change. This is an absolute joy to hear and view. Visually this box set is both sumptuous in its layout with excellent sleeve notes and commentary, whilst musically it is a veritable box of wonders, offering some 90 tracks including several rarities and 10 unreleased pieces. There is a lot to absorb here but it's a harvest I would urge many to reap if they can. The music harks back to a bygone era, mixing acoustic, folk and progressive influences into a unique melting pot to create truly distinctive music. Other tracks take a more atmospheric approach and Anthony's keyboard pieces are a delight too.

The collection opens with F Sharp, a piece by Anthony and Mike Rutherford dating from 1969 which is the embryonic version of what would evolve into The Musical Box in later years. It offers a fascinating insight into the musical development of Genesis. The box set only features one song that appeared on a Genesis album, Let Us Now Make Love, from the debut From Genesis To Revelation, but nevertheless the other material illuminates the significant role that Anthony Phillips played in the development of the Genesis sound. Another item of historic interest is Silver Song from 1971, the first song to feature a lead vocal by a certain Phil Collins, and one that had remained long unreleased until the 2007 reissue of Phillips' first solo album The Geese and the Ghost, where it was included as a bonus track.

This debut album is well represented in the box set although sadly the title track is omitted. However, the selection that are included eloquently displays just what an outstanding album it truly is, mixing medieval-inspired music with progressive rock stylings in Henry Portraits from Tudor Times and the majestic Which Way The Wind Blows. The follow-up album, Wise After The Event is represented by the environmental showcase Now What (Are They Doing To My Little Friends)?, Paperchase and the wonderful title track itself, which are all great songs and fine representatives of a fine album.

Phillips has always had a strong relationship with Mike Rutherford, the pair writing numerous pieces together in the early years, many of which have sadly been lost. It was no surprise that Rutherford appeared on Phillips' first album, nor that Rutherford asked Phillips to play keyboards on his first solo album, Smallcreep's Day back in 1980. Included from these sessions is Compression, somewhat of a rarity as it was only released as the b-side of a single release. Its presence here marks a first official release on compact disc. Phillips' keyboard skills were put to more extensive use on 1984, released the year after Rutherford's solo album. Poly Piece is included from these sessions, somewhat ironically as it did not appear on the original album but just on the double CD reissue from a few years ago. The 16-plus minute instrumental showcases Phillips' emerging keyboard skills and is an elegant and captivating piece of such quality that it draws you into its graceful tones and never becomes dull or boring.

Alongside his mainstream releases, Phillips has released 11 volumes (so far) of a series called Private Parts and Pieces, which reveal his dexterity and compositional flair across a multitude of styles and instruments. Naturally, selections from these releases feature heavily in this set, including the rather marvelous Scottish Suite based on loosely on Shakespeare's Macbeth (always referred to in the theatrical world as The Scottish Play). The suite draws on themes within the play and is an inviting piece to hear. In fact much of the music here on this set, irrespective of its original purpose, calls for repeated listening and provides constant reward. I would liken this set to a very rich spirit, which you can take in small doses to savour its rich palette and distinctive taste.

From the more contemporary song album Sides (1979) comes the single Um and Argh and the graceful Bleak House, possibly the finest song written about a Dickens' novel. On this album Phillips employed guest vocalists rather than sing himself and the results were a tad mixed, but when the songs gel, as with these two, the results made for great listening. All of Phillips' major albums are featured to some extent throughout this collection, despite the fact that in recent years he has tended to work on library pieces and soundtracks for nature programmes. A selection of these are included, the best of which is the wonderful mood music from the magnificent Wildlife album. Also of note are the tracks taken from the Tarka album written with Henry Williamson, whose father wrote the book upon which the album is based. The music leaps and soars and evokes images of the titular otter at play in the Devon countryside.

I have to say, this man's output over the years is quite staggering. He has consistently worked and quietly released his music to those who care for his blend of subtlety, combined with his delicate touch both on acoustic guitars, piano and keyboards. He has crafted some truly fabulous music that bears repeated listening, revealing new nuances with each and every play.

For the casual browser this set may be too much, with over a six-hour running time and a wide breadth of music styles, but for those who want a complete overview of the artist's career, Harvest Of The Heart is the mother-lode, an el dorado, ever-providing a rich vein into which to tap. There are so many great tracks, with a good mixture of long, flowing pieces, set against short, almost etude-like pieces, it's a journey of discovery best taken slowly and steadily.

All of which means that I have absolutely no hesitation in giving this a recommended tag, and an almost perfect score of 9.5. The docking of half a mark is purely a personal decision for the omission of the Geese And The Ghost title track. Quite simply this is how box sets should be: imaginative, expansive, cohesive, lovingly and thoughtfully compiled, with an impressively comprehensive booklet and sonically outstanding. The collection is utterly sublime, so do yourself a favour and discover this marvelous artist and collection for yourself, especially if you like the lighter side of Genesis such as Wind And Wuthering, for here you will find much to enjoy.

However, if you think that the entire box set may be too much to take in all at once, then I recommend that you at least invest in The Geese and the Ghost (shortly to be reissued by Esoteric as a 3CD set including a 5.1 mix by Simon Heyworth) or Wise After The Event, after which you will be hooked and wish you had got the box set!
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10

Svet Kant - Loneliness

Svet Kant - Loneliness
Country of Origin: Republic of Ireland
Format: cd/digital
Record Label: independent
Catalogue #: n/a
Year of Release: 2013
Time: Too Long
Info: Svet Kant
Samples: Svet Kant on ReverbNation
Track List:
The Peace Within Loneliness, The Radical Cleansing, An Infinite Curse, Delivering Beasts, This Redundant Humanity, To Demonize the Unknown, Smothered by this Race, Nature's Hatred
Personally, I would never take my two-year-old son to a three-hour Buddhist meditation? Neither would I take my pet goldfish on a cross country run? And my ideal first date with the girl of my dreams, would not be the annual open day at our local recycling centre.

Some things are not meant to go together.

Before taking an album from a new band to review, I always listen to a few samples to see if it's something I may like. Svet Kant (it could be 'Suet Kant' from the hideous font chosen for their logo) is lead by Santiago Kodela on guitars and vocals, with Santiago Sauza on drums, and bassist Federico Gervan.

From listening to the first track and then the opening of the fourth, I thought that this sounded like a really beautifully performed acoustic classical guitar album. A bit different, but with a road trip across France with my wife, I thought it would be something we could both enjoy.

Driving across the Massif Central, I popped in the CD and indeed the opening song is really beautifully composed and performed. Then track 2. Oh a nice bit of extreme technical death metal. Where the did that come from?

I persevered for a while. Maybe it's a proggy interlude? The growls were not the best I've heard but (and I'd never thought I'd ever say this) they were better than the clean vocals which followed. These were so out of tune, as to be verging on comedic. When the singer tries to self-harmonise ... well ... draw up your own mental image.

None of that was helped by a production that doesn't even begin to cope with the demands of the Death Metal mid-range-surplus. The drumming is on a par with the clean vocals.

For the sake of our marriage, I made a hasty retreat to the radio.

For the sake of the review, I did try to give this a full spin later, but only made it to the end of the other nice guitar bit at the start of track six. In between, there is an attempt at blending various, other musical styles with the classical guitar and the death metal, but apart from three other purely classical guitar sections, there was nothing listenable.

I'm rarely this blunt about an album but I feel there is a need to persuade this band that a full classical guitar album would be much better next time. Sadly, I read that the next Suet Kant album is already being recorded now, including a 40-minute epic. Ah well, I'm off to take my goldfish for a cross-country run via the recycling centre!
Conclusion: 1 out of 10

The Tea Party - The Ocean at the End

The Tea Party - The Ocean at the End
Country of Origin: Canada
Format: CD
Record Label: Anthem
Catalogue #: IMT1019255.2
Year of Release: 2014
Time: 56:33
Info: The Tea Party
Samples: The Tea Party website
Track List:
The L.O.C (4:14), The Black Sea (3:59), Cypher (3:58), The Maker (4:11), Black Roses (5:29), Brazil (4:44), The 11th Hour (4:59), Submission (3:54), The Cass Corridor (2:41), Water's On Fire (4:45), The Ocean at the End (8:37), Into the Unknown (5:02)
This album marks the return of Canadian band The Tea Party after a ten-year break. The band has had some success in the US and Canada specifically and have gained somewhat of a cult following. Fans of the band were eagerly awaiting this album, and they should be happy with the results. The Ocean At The End is a very solid record that continues in the sound the band is known for. The Tea Party, to my ears, are more of a hard rock band with some progressive tendencies thrown in here and there. The band's sound is more in line with bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden than progressive luminaries like Yes and Genesis. But, the band is able to infuse their music with several different influences, to add a mixture of sounds that is more interesting than your standard modern rock fare.

One of the most notable influences is a middle-eastern sound, heard clearly on the first two tracks, The L.O.C and The Black Sea. Perhaps some similarity can be drawn to what Led Zeppelin were trying to achieve on their classic track Kashmir. With their hard rock edge and driving rhythms, Led Zeppelin seems to be a big influence for The Tea Party. I also detect some country influence on tracks such as Black Roses and The Cass Corridor. The first of those is one of my favorite tracks of the album, with some prominent steel guitar amongst some great vocal melodies. This is one of the album's ballads and provides a nice contrast to the harder-edged songs. The Cass Corridor is a southern rock jam with some humorous lyrics. It is an amusing song with a great country rock feel.

I find the strongest tracks on this album to be towards the end. First we have Water's On Fire, which has a more laidback feel than the rest of the album. It is what I consider a radio-friendly pop song, with a really pleasant melody and passionate singing from Jeff Martin. The title track, The Ocean at the End, is maybe the most interesting track for prog lovers. There is some mellotron and soundscapes at the beginning, sounding very much like Pink Floyd. There is even a David Gilmour-esque guitar solo in the middle of the track from Jeff Martin. It almost sounds like an homage to Pink Floyd, done really well. This leads into the instrumental finale of Into The Unknown with a five-minute keyboard pastiche that continues the psychedelic nature of the track that precedes it.

The Ocean At The End is a strong rock record with very limited progressive rock flourishes. The most interesting part of the record is the band's ability to weave various styles into their music, to create some varied influences within the band's established sound. This lifts this album from a standard rock album, to something altogether more interesting. Would I call it progressive rock? I would be hard pressed to categorise this amongst most of the other prog music in my collection. But, I have enjoyed listening to this record and would recommend it to established fans of this band and to those who like traditional hard rock music.
Conclusion: 6 out of 10
Album Reviews