Album Reviews

Issue 2024-026

David Cross Band — Ice Blue - Silver Sky

UK
2023
65:24
David Cross Band - Ice Blue - Silver Sky
Nurse Insane (7:45), Calamity (9:50), Nowhere (7:57), Exiles (14:42), Karma Gain (5:36), Over Your Shoulder (5:27), Starless (14:07)
8
Greg Cummins

If there has ever been an album that took me totally by surprise, then the latest album by David Cross and his fellow minstrels would have to take first place. Although not a perfect album by any means, I have been totally impressed with the depth of playing, the humongous variety of material being presented and the sheer dramatic style in which it has all been showcased.

For those not aware of who David Cross is, he was the principle violinist with King Crimson between 1972 and 1974, during which time he appeared on Lark's Tongue In Aspic and Starless And Bible Black along with his contributions to Providence, a live song from Red and two other live albums, USA and The Night Watch. He is also credited with playing violin / viola, mellotron / keyboards on many other recordings including the less than spectacular, Low Flying Aircraft featuring Keith Tippett. The other members on this album are Jinian Wilde (vocals, guitar, flute), Mick Paul (bass), Steve Roberts (drums) along with David Jackson (sax). Richard Palmer-James, who was the lyricist with King Crimson but also played with Supertramp and Jacknife, is credited with providing the lyrics for four tracks. All band members contribute spoken voice and keyboard parts.

David has had a somewhat unremarkable level of acceptance from the record buying public as much of his material finds its DNA within the jazz fusion arena compared to King Crimson whose music was more readily tagged as falling within the progressive rock / symphonic rock spectrum. Ironically, the material on this album finds its influences from both sides of the fence which is why I have been enjoying playing it to death recently. Each song is so structurally different from its predecessor and beckons the listener to simply sit back and enjoy the diversity of flavours to be savoured from a very sumptuous menu. The fact that the band have included two hallmark songs, (Starless and Exiles), does not take away for a moment from the other five, better than expected songs that grace the remaining half of the album. The song, Calamity for example is so damned accessible and has the catchiest series of riffs and choruses, I could have sworn I had heard the song before as it reminds me of something very similar, but I am damned I can connect the dots. I am still not convinced it's a fully original song, made especially for this album, but I am happy for anyone to put me straight if this is incorrect.

After 2 minutes of some spoken voices in the background, Nurse Insane digs in deeply with a heavy driving riff replete with double barrel drumming and is a slightly grungier sounding song compared to some of the other tracks. It also features some cosmic style guitar which is slightly reminiscent of what Steve Hillage of Gong fame would create on albums such as Green and Radio Dome Music. This is all nicely accompanied by David's soulful violin and helps to embellish the sound more than one would expect. It's a barnstorming opener and the perfect song to set the mood. Jinian's voice is strong and detailed on this song as it is on all the other tracks featuring his singing. Dan Maurer (Low Flying Aircraft) is credited with penning this track along with the follow-up song, Calamity. As mentioned earlier, this is one nicely structured track and begins gently with flute and vocals but slowly builds to become a highlight of the album. After some chaotic and grungy type of guitar distortions and squealing the remainder of the song is taken out with some Steve Hillage style of glissando riffing and helps make the song stand out from the pack. Again, Jinian's voice is absolutely sublime. The song is so totally extreme as the melodic chorus is juxtaposed by the style of Frippian mayhem that some may have been put off by when listening to King Crimson's Thrak album. That is when King Crimson and I parted company as I could simply not enjoy the cacophony.

Nowhere is a song penned by David Jackson and features some white man soul inflections that could easily have been contributed by none other than the wonderful voice of Australia's Mahalia Barnes, who is the daughter of Jimmy Barnes (Cold Chisel). The song is a smooth, reflective style of affair and is totally disparate to the others on the album, which gives the whole project a meaningful degree of purpose. Similarly, Karma Gain, (also written by David Jackson), features falsetto vocals and is a diversionary attempt at "coming again" although the underlying message I can glean from the lyrics is about depression, mental breakdown and suicide. It's quite ironic as the music is quite upbeat even if the cryptic lyrics suggest more depressing themes.

Over Your Shoulder begins with plucked violin, a steady drum beat, fiery guitar and a riff that would not have been out of place on some of those slower, grungier type of metal / rock bands like Black Sabbath, despite not sounding much like Ozzy and the boys. It's an interesting song to say the least, especially for the fiery guitar / violin interplay that permeates throughout the song.

It's quite remarkable to notice that the two best known songs made famous by King Crimson were both credited to the penmanship of their brilliant drummer, Bill Bruford. They were both exceptionally well-made songs on those albums and have been given a right royal level of treatment here. You know the songs well already so there's little point in me duplicating what has already been written about them, but suffice it say, David's current interpretation here pays full tribute to the entire musical history that graced those seminal albums. His violin injects all the subtlety that you would normally hear from the mellotron but infused with the biting guitar from Jinian Wilde, it shows just how adeptly this instrument can lift a song from the lower depths and make it a masterpiece. Awesome stuff!

Checking out some gleaned information from the band's website, it is interesting to note that guitarist, John Mitchell (Arena, Frost, It Bites), Sheila Maloney (keyboards) and Jack Sommerfield (drums) are the current members of the band along with David Cross, and Mick Paul on bass, It does not mention if this is a permanent (or semi-permanent) arrangement as most musicians have other obligations elsewhere. This could just be the line-up for their touring obligations as there is nothing I could see mentioned on their website to suggest otherwise. Additionally, John Mitchell takes on the role of lead vocalist so for any of the band's current work, you may miss the exceptional vocals as supplied by Jinian Wilde on the band's newest album. This is somewhat of a pity as I have really grown to enjoy his vocal contributions to this album and a few earlier ones of the band that I have since acquired.

Summing up, I have to endorse what the band have done with this excellent offering and suggest you give it a chance as the diversity of material and excellent vocals will keep you enthused for many months and years to come. A really solid effort.

Matt Goodluck — Inner Cosmos

Australia
2022 / 2023
49:57
Matt Goodluck - Inner Cosmos
Arrival (1:14), Devolution (5:10), Dreaming (2:28), Outer Limits (2:01), Interstellar (5:50), Rated R (3:04), Conspiracy (6:15), Night of Anubis (3:38), Into the Blue (4:13), Atlantis (3:15), Emergent (4:38), Neon (4:01), Deckard's Requiem (4:10)
6
Jerry van Kooten

Matt Goodluck — why did that name sound so familiar? From 1995 on, which is the year DPRP started, Matt was label assistant for Verglas Music and later worked for InsideOut Music. We've seen his name on many promo letters. But since the early 00s, he's back in Australia and busy singing (Echoes Of Pink Floyd, one of Australia's Pink Floyd cover bands). But he also became active in the electronic music scene.

Last year, his first album Inner Cosmos was released on his own Bandcamp page. In February this year, the album was picked up by a new label called OtherSide from the US. They released the album in remastered form (although I don't have the original so cannot compare the sound), from the OtherSide Bandcamp page, but more importantly the version we received in the (physical!) mailbox: a limited edition on CD in a beautifully designed package, a 3-panel DVD-size digipak, with gimmick cut-out and four (different) postcards.

The music lies somewhere between ambient and electronic. Where ambient usually leaves my attention quickly unless I want to go to sleep, the many different sounds kept me wondering what was coming next, and therefore awake and concentrated. It's too intense for relaxing. It's also, thankfully, not one of those experiments using as many electronic devices as possible. There is structure, atmosphere, multi-layered tracks that are closer to the soundtrack to a slow form of space travel.

Still, this type of music is taking a little too long to my taste, like waiting for Godot. But it's a pleasant wait. The variety in composition, tone, and atmosphere will make it stand out among a lot of albums that are too close to ambient.

For fans (who will probably prove me very wrong) of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, and a long list of others.

Merv Spence — Phenomena Recovered

Ireland
2023
59:19
Merv Spence - Phenomena Recovered
Still The Night (3:39), What About Love? (5:03), Phoenix Rising (4:43), A Whole Lot Of Love (5:29), Believe (5:37), Did It All For Love (4:30), Stop! (3:57), It Must Be Love (3:25), No Retreat, No Surrender (4:15), Shape It Up (3:58), Slave (1993 version) (4:22), Dance With The Devil (2023 version) (5:05), Rock My Soul (2023 version) (5:16)
6
Jan Buddenberg

I hereby confess that the first related name that comes to my mind in regard to Phenomena, a melodic hard-rock/AOR all-star project led by Tom Galley (ex-Whitesnake) that in 1985 stunned humanity with their phenomenal debut Phenomena, by no means is that of Merv Spence. Nor is it the second to twenty-third one for that matter in light of the dazzling array of talented musicians I actually identify with these legendary albums like Glenn Hughes, Cozy Powell, Neil Murray, Don Airey, Ted McKenna (SAHB), John Wetton, Scott Gorham, Max Bacon (GTR), Ray Gillan (Black Sabbath), Brian May, and songwriters as Pat Thrall, Richard Bailey (ex-Magnum, Alaska) and Tom Galley himself.

So how does Merv Spence fit into all this? Well, after some research it turns out that in 1993, Spence, former member of Wishbone Ash and Trapeze in the 80s, provided his services as executive producer and bass/vocals for Phenomena's third effort Innervision under the Irish alias of O'Ryan. A name he also used for his solo activities which, after acquisition to the rights of the Phenomena albums, saw him release Initiate in 1995. An album largely comprising out of Phenomena covers all taken from Phenomena's first three albums.

Spence's name pops up a few more times. But to make a long Discogs exploring story short: Phenomena Recovered basically represents a stripped down and song-rearranged version of Initiate, supplemented with the original 1993 Spence composition Slave from the Phenomena compilation Projext X 1985-1996, plus two fresh new re-recordings from 2023. Knowing all this, does this covers album still tickle the senses? A yes and no dilemma...

Clearly leaning towards the affirmative side is the surplus that Spence, aided in performance by a "sextet" of fine musicians (more about that later), brings many new and refreshing arrangements to the songs. Opener Still The Night for instance adds Spanish acoustics and female backing vocals which gives this fine rendition a much sunnier expression then its darkly shaded original. Highlighted in sunny appeal by splashing waves and squealing seagulls in Believe, and radiant warmth in Phoenix Rising, this atmospheric changeover applies to many of the song representations from Phenomena's debut. It's not my preference for these songs, but it's a fine achievement.

Also speaking in Spence's favour are What About Love, A Whole Lot Of Love and the AOR rocker Shape It Up. Originally all from Inner Vision these tracks splendidly showcase Spence can perfectly hold his own in the vocal department and make one completely forget about the original accomplishments of Keith Murell. This also goes for Stop and No Retreat No Surrender. Both receive a delightful upbeat upgrade in rawness from guitar and demonstrate Spence's vocal deliveries to be every bit as convincing and strong as those of Ray Gillan who sang these songs a few years before on Dreamrunner.

From here on, things gets a bit trickier. First off with former number one hit single Did It All For Love which still has all the Asia hallmarks firmly in place but lacks the emotion John Wetton brought up to the plate. Second, Spence's, admittedly commendable, interpretation of It Must Be Love which comes nowhere near the breathtakingly enchanting 24-karat gold beauty of its counterpart elevated by Max Bacon. And third, Spence's efforts to sing in the distinctiveness of Glenn Hughes. Good on him for trying, and at times he does show close resemblance. But in general he falls short on melodic finesse, depth, range, and expression and is clearly no match for "The Voice Of Rock".

Which finally brings me to the thumbs down. Next to general lacklustre flat out dynamics, clinically sixth member programmed drums, and a thinly polished production, this includes the two anticlimax 2023 recordings. Freed from its gospel and rock soul the soulfully sung acoustic version of Rock My Soul is still somewhat enjoyable. But the way Dance With The Devil, an oeuvre highlight from Phenomena's debut that thrives on ravishing delightful violin play and fast-paced energetic melodies that give the impression of being constantly chased by the devil, has been deteriorated into a sluggishly slow muted skeleton of monotonous rhythms driven by synthetically dictating violin-synths which is a hell to get through is best to forgotten about ASAP.

After all this, I have to somewhat reluctantly admit that I don't see myself play this album very often, as I have the superior original albums at my disposal. However, I hope for Spence, who plans to support the release with a full band/solo acoustic tour, his efforts will pay off and audiences will actually notice his album this time. The selection of songs on the album is strong in its own right and provides a great overview of Phenomena prime. Which all together makes Phenomena Recovered a fine stepping stone for newcomers to start exploring Phenomena's legacy, which is where the real treasures lie.

Various — Reimagining The Court Of The Crimson King

various
2024
36:39
Various - Reimagining The Court Of The Crimson King
21st Century Schizoid Man (6:59), I Talk To The Wind (6:16), Epitaph (4:56), Moonchild (12:30), The Court Of The Crimson King (5:58)
6
Calum Gibson

If ever an album needed little (or no) introduction to fans of prog, In the Court of the Crimson King is surely that one. Released in 1969 by the young musical upstarts in King Crimson, the album has gone on to have an incredible legacy. From being arguably “metal” before Black Sabbath, to being listed frequently in lists of the greatest prog and rock albums of all time, to even being sampled by Kanye West (although the question of the licensing remains). Now, it gets the reimagining treatment from the same label (Cleopatra Records) that brought Animals Reimagined — A Tribute to Pink Floyd.

21st Century Schizoid Man features a wealth of talent — most surprising for me being Chris Poland (ex-Megadeth). The drumming from Ian Paice (Deep Purple) is perfect, as the saxophone work from Mel Collins (various, including several stints with King Crimson). But sadly that is where my enjoyment ends. the guitar work is hardly audible, Todd Rundgren's vocals are grating and while stylistically similar to the original, they lack the energy. A disappointing start to the tribute.

I Talk To The Wind follows next, featuring Collins again, along with Django and Jakko Jakszyk. An improvement on the previous, faithfully recreating the atmosphere of the original but with a more polished sound. While vocally, Greg Lake still remains as the best choice for this song, this is a fitting tribute.

Next, my favorite from the album, Epitaph. The sound here feels a bit darker in tone from the original, but no less poignant and heavy. The vocals bring a more despairing tone than Lake's did, driving home the emotion in the lyrics, while the rest of the guests (including a few ex- Hawkwind musicians) add a new depth. In an odd way, this rendition would fit into older dystopian anime with its tone and prominent bass line.

Second to last is Moonchild. Another Megadeth alumni here in the form of Marty Friedman (regarded as one of thrash/speed metals greatest guitarists and a personal favourite). Very clear is Friedman's work from the start as his tone shines through. Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow, Deep Purple and more) does a grand job vocally, showing a respect for the original while retaining his own style.

And finally, the title track. Here we have James LaBrie (Dream Theater) on vocals, as well as Carmine Appice (Rod Stewart, Vanilla Fudge and many more) and Steve Hillage (Gong, Khan and System 7). LaBrie does a good job here, focusing more on is skill as a singer and delivering fantastic vocals that never go beyond what they need to. The music hits a bit harder than the original, giving it a more punchy modern sound while keeping all the flavour.

All in all, a good tribute to the original. It is sadly let down by the rendition of 21st Century Schizoid Man, and the AI artwork, which sadly looks more cartoony and more suitable for a generic metal band, lacks any of the feeling generated by the original. I'd recommend for those curious about how it sounds but to be honest, in my opinion it is good as a curiosity, rather than an album to be listened to.

Album Reviews