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Re-issues Reviews

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PEKKA POHJOLA -
B The Magpie
Love 1974
Esoteric 2010

An impressive international debut from Finnish art rock polymath: from child-like fantasy into the great wide open.

Having left WIGWAM, the band he'd shot to fame with, Pekka Pohjola must have felt freed and ready to extend his classical expertise outside the bass duties and occasional writing credit. There loomed a project with an American fan named Frank Zappa that never materialized but at the time Pohjola had this album under his belt, an instrumental re-imagination of a little fairy-tale his girlfriend wrote about a little bird which might be an allegory for Pekka's own story. It's all in the CD booklet to help to understand what's going on behind the sounds. And in a magic forest that the maestro's dynamic piano opens the door into a lot is afoot.

"The First Morning" reveals a rich tapestry of the progressive kind yet with an adventurous fusion embroidery - "Bialoipokku's War" echoes a certian Hendrix riff - where the brass blazes over the solid rock bottom rippling with bass. There's even a muscular four-string solo in the rarefied guitar air of "The Madness Subsides", but ultimately, the album's not about boasting the young musician's skills: the focus is on Pohjola's talents as a composer. He knows how to create a shadowy presence of an orchestra that's not there no matter how the dramatic "Bad Weather" begs for it, contrasting with the deep folky playfulness of "Bialoipokku Dances". The Zappa wildness fills the jam-based "Life Goes On" which sounds like a celebration of musical freedom and provides this short but delicious work with a grand finale. Back to the egg? You're welcome!

****1/3
MARSHALL LAW -
Power Game
System X 1992
Angel Air 2010

The finest hour of the late comers on the NWOBHM scene from the England's most heavy metal area.

By 1988, when this band emerged from Birmigham, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal wasn't new at all, with the genre splitting into much more extreme, and fashionable, styles. Not that it mattered for singer Andy Pyke and classically trained guitarist Dave Martin who blueprinted their collective on the MAIDEN and PRIEST template, and in 1992 delivered this, their second and strongest album which sounds fresh even now.

It doesn't reek of originality, though, but there's enough swing to "Chain Of Youth" and "Naked Aggression" with their sharp rifferama and bombastic chorus, while "No Justice" is a big good, if rather banal, power ballad - so '80s, it may bring a nostalgic tear to many an eye. It's not the only melodic spot on there, the album bristles with hooks, an acoustic ring upping the emotional impact of "Edge Of The World" and the title track's twing guitar solo nicely wrapping itself around the ears. For the most part, still, the chug is likeable while it lasts, yet it leaves little lasting memories once the spin is over.

***
FLASH - Flash
Sovereign 1972
Esoteric 2009

The first-ever YES spin-off flesh out their progressive vision for all to see.

With a cover artwork like this th debut album of Peter Banks' new band could hardly be ignored in the record shops, and those who assumed all the pleasure lay in between the legs didn't make a mistake. From the flurry of notes that commence the humbly-titled yet rather bold "Small Beginnings", the four-piece demonstrate the striking balance between their instrumental skills and memorable melodies - something that the guitarist's former ensemble, YES, rarely achieved in their prime time. The shadow of that band can be traced in the harmonies and licks of another light epic, the synth-oiled "Children Of The Universe", but for the most part FLASH rock harder thanks to Colin Carter's vocal attack and Ray Bennett's heavy bass.

At the same time, Banks never shies away from adding acoustic textures to the riff-rich brew, which greatly expand the overall dynamics. And when another YES alumnus, Tony Kaye, brings his Hammond to the mix it tickles all the pleasure nodes, as does the folky "Morning Haze" voiced by Bennett but putting forward Pete's mastery of Spanish guitar. On the other side of the spectrum lies the 12-minute "Dreams Of Heaven" anthemic pomp that, when banality calls, sprawls stubbornly into the fusion territory and swings heavy when it all becomes too stained-glass-transparent for your regular prog. There are many layers that reveal all their beauty with every new listen, so the repeated spins are rewarding, which makes "Flash" a minor, yet highly enjoyable, classic.

****4/5
WHITE LIGHTNING -
...As Midnight Approaches /
Paradise... At A Price
Workshop 1988
Angel Air 2010

From glory to morass: the forgotten purveyors of progressive hard rock strike and back out of sight.

It wasn't easy to impress Tommy Vance who'd seen many good heavy bands rise and fall, so it might mean something when the DJ played this British band's first album in its entirety in 1988, right after "Midnight" hit the shelves - and four years on since the quartet released their debut single. Re-cut with an acoustic lining for the LP but included here in its original form, it sets the high standards for what later one would be christened "prog metal". Heavy and clever, despite its riffs' nod to the smoothness of the day, "Lesson One" pitches Noel Jones high-hitting vocals over Richard Max Goddard's elastic bass with ever-shifting time signatures. Simon Pengilly's guitar flight, fantastic yet measured, is what makes it all special, and it's a joyride from start to finish, even the anxious ballad "London Nighlife" managing to stay the right side of theatrical drama, a short violin solo adding a pinch of transcendental.

In "Right Between The Eyes" the band show they know too well where to go lyrical amidst the streamline rock 'n' rolling, and the live bonus of "Frightened Children" shows how the group transplanted their music to the stage, while a bunch of demos open the ears to their studio MO, yet here the magic stops. After Pengilly, the principal writer, left, the foursome laid down "Paradise... At A Price" but, due to their label's troubles, this album didn't see the light of day until now. It's a strong work which is too regular in the hard rock stalls to really impress; had WHITE LIGHTNING thrown their lot in with American glam metallers like SKID ROW, the Brits could have notch some dent on the charts. But they didn't.

****3/4 / ***
ROBERT CALVERT -
Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters
EMI 1974
Atomhenge 2009

The HAWKWIND spin-off project snaps into steep spin to spin an aerial satirical yarn.

It was quite a sad story of the US selling their light aircrafts to Luftwaffe who turned them into heavy bombers that made the fighters more deadly for the pilots rather than enemies: the story of American political push and German vanity pull which the HAWKWIND singer Robert Calvert, the aviation fanatic and high-flying poet, turned into satirical drama. Its stage production was limited but the album featuring the author's crazy friends such as Vivian Stanshall and Lemmy still stands tall, although the music gets behind the concept sometimes.

Starting with an impersonation of Defence Minister Franz Josef Strauss who intiated the military deal, it's a captivating listen anyway - in the way of Calvert's main band, that's why "The Aerospace Inferno" and the single "Ejection" pick up where "Silver Machine" left off. Paul Rudolph of THE DEVIANTS submits a searing guitar throughout, burning hot together with Nik Turner's sax in "The Right Stuff" boogie, to make the record an acid classic, while Dave Brock's chimes in for the heavy rumble of "The Widow Maker", and the funny dialogue interludes shoot the acidic quotient up to the skies. The standout piece, though, is the two-part "The Song Of The Gremlin" where Arthur Brown takes the booming lead to lead it out from the Ladbroke Grove's groove into the disco theater with Brian Eno's synth rave for the decor and then into the God of Fire delicious hell.

"Captain Lockheed" is a grower: the more you spin it, the steeper the pleasure. As for its political relevance, nowadays it's still actual and modern.

****1/2
HEAVY METAL KIDS -
Hit The Right Button... Plus
Import 2003
Angel Air 2010

True to their name, the veteran hard rockers return to the fray with youthful fervor.

More a stuff of legend than true heroes, when this British band fizzled out in 1978, nobody really missed them. Since then, they've somehow grown in status, and with this, their fourth album, the quintet - featuring three members of the classic line-up but not the great late Gary Holton whose vocal duties were taken up by keyboard player Danny Peyronel, most famous for his stint with U.F.O. - target the right spot indeed. If a couple of opening cuts rock 'n' roll too smooth and AOR-like for their own good, "Blow It All Away" bubbles with spiky, THE CLASH-inspired energy, followed by title track's swagger that goes down the throat like a tasty swig of old wine, thanks to the killer effort from the rhythm section of Ronnie Thomas and Keith Boyce.

The twin-guitar riffing courtesy of two Marcos, Barusso and Guarnerio, and the stadium-sized hooks don't disappoint either, the acoustic intro to "Viva New York!" adding some mariachi ring to the infectious urban shuffle, while the city downside is explored with equal, though sad, gusto on mid-tempo "I Walk Alone" that the fans of aforementioned U.F.O. will cherish. The KIDS old supporters must have a field day with a smattering of live bonus tracks on this re-issue, which include classics "The Cops Are Coming" and "Chelsea Kids", yet "A Hundred Skeletons" swings finely on par with those faves, and the slow part of "Gotham City" is hard to resists amidst the catchy licks all around it. Quite a way to reconnect with the past and get back!

****
PETER BANKS -
Two Sides Of Peter Banks
Sovereign 1973
Esoteric 2009

The original YES guitarist plays seek-and-hide with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and many other heavy guests.

Today, to have fellow guitarists on a guitarist's album is commonplace, and such a un-competitive phenomenon can be tracked down to this record. Perhaps, there were two many creative forces in YES for Peter Banks to thrive; maybe, his vision wasn't suited to a band atmophere at all, although the FLASH works still sound strong. But, given a chance to pursue a path of his own, in the company of FOCUS' Jan Akkerman, who co-wrote most of the tracks here, and other prog rock luminaries, Banks' talent bloomed in full - in the field of sonic experimentation rather than more or less traditional form.

More or less traditional sound the bubbling funk of "Battles", the contemplative jazz pace of "Stop That!" that builds towards the climactic resilution, and the intense and heavy fusion of "Knights", laden with Ray Bennett's pile-driving bass, especially once the unison guitars bristle with sharp riffing. Yet in "Vision Of The King" soundscapes and volume knob twiddling set the overall space-expansive tone that's also in the center of Jan's own serene "Beyond The Loneliest Sea", although everything gets down to earth in "The White Horse Vale" with an acoustic lace of classical guitar which Peter emerges the master of.

When Banks duets with Akkerman the effect, is not unlike that of De Lucia / McLaughlin duo in lysergic tonal mode and close to the MO of Steve Hackett who joins the party for the aural swirl of "Knights (Reprise)" together with John Wetton and Phil Collins. From this point on, a start of the LP's second side, a jam feel reigns above the proceedings - hence the titular duality and a contrast to the wholeness of the album, which is compromised to a jocular extent by the folky finale that is "Get Out Of My Fridge", a fitting end to Peter Banks' only masterpiece.

*****
PETE SINFIELD -
Still
Manticore 1973 / 2009

CRIMSON lyricist calls heavy arms to his court and creates a masterpiece in his own write.

Whatever objections from Pete Sinfield's side might be there - and there's none - he's first and foremost a poet, not a singer. But his co-conspiration in creating of KING CRIMSON taught Pete to not be limited by his own limitations, so in 1973, full of both musical and lyrical ideas, Sinfield came up with this strange fruit which sees the light now as its author intended, and that's quite a reason to discard its CD debut under the "Stillusion" tag and dive headlong in the fantastic imagery swirl. As far as intentions go, the second disc of a new re-issue presents original mixes of the album, the punchier ones, yet it's in the final smoothness that the eternal enigmatic pull of "Still" lurks.

It's alluring, the depth of the opening "Song Of The Sea Goat", punctured by John Wetton mighty bass and Keith Tippet's piano ripples, but Sinfield's voice nicely compliments his songs as does his 12-string acoustic, and shifting the attention focus to the other players would be a great mistake. Still, due credit should be given to Mel Collins, a musical director of it all, whose flutes and saxes warmly wrap the hidden angularity of the compositions. In places, it's very CRIMSON-like, like in the brightest gem of all, "Envelopes Of Yesterday", with a gentle interlude in its heart and Snuffy Walden's wild guitar solo, or the title track where Greg Lake joins Sinfield on the lead lines to roll his guitar later on on the jazzy "A House Of Hopes And Dreams". Even more avant-garde feels the hysterical finale, "The Night People", featuring imaginative drum patterns courtesy of Ian Wallace who adds to the CRIMSO camp on board. Elsewhere, though, the styles go dancing, like in the rocking, brass-brandishing "Wholefood Boogie", or the countrified "Will It Be You" adorned with BJ Cole's pedal steel - on these two, vocals ride the shotgun while calling the shots.

CD 2 contains two cuts which could have graced Pete Sinfield's second LP if there was one, yet there ain't, so "Still" remains the only edifice to the musical endeavors of the poet whose lyrics continue to inspire and have been picked over the years by such mainstream artists as Cher and Celine Dion. His debut is essential for KING CRIMSON fans and interesting to the prog aficionados, others should approach "Still" cautiously but, ultimately, satisfaction is guaranteed to all.

*****
UNICORN -
Too Many Crooks
Harvest 1976
Renaissance 2009

Another, ever more smooth, ride Westward, from the old Blighty to the Pacific, or where David Gilmour found some inspiration.

If "Blue Pine Trees" was a creative, if not commercial, success, UNICORN's next album followed the suit in style - or, if the style was basically the same Californian-tinged folk, with gusto. So much so that the LP's producer David Gilmour borrowed the dramatic "No Way Out Of Here" for his solo debut, and this song isn't even the best piece on offer; the title goes to the lushly arranged and greatly harmonized title ballad where the FLOYD man shows his pedal steel skills.

The record's more upbeat than its predecessor, though, yet there's always pining beneath the sheen, like in the pure country rock of "Weekend" which opens the proceedings. But then, "Disco Dancer" impressively marries rocksteady beat to the sweeping strings, whereas the choogling boogie that is "Keep On Going", hung on Ken Baker and Kevin Smith's guitars and spiced with a charged funk interlude, and "He's Got Pride" with its cowboy harmonies, bar-room piano and mandolin courtesy of bassist Pat Martin, are redneck reckless. When "In The Mood" and the previosuly unreleased "Nothing I Wouldn't Do" slow the pace down, what remains is bitter-sweet aftertaste that calls for more spins.

****1/2
STRAY DOG -
While You Down There
Manticore 1974 / 2009

Having expanded the ranks, the canine blues wailers got chained, with their bite less strong but their bark still loud.

The British-based Texans' second album's title suggests some hard work at the bottom, and down was, indeed, the only place to go creatively after their powerful debut. In order to swing the chain as heavily, the trio turned into a quintet, with Snuffy Walden, Les Sampson and Alan Roberts joined by keyboardist Luis Cabaza and guitarist Tim Dulaine, the latter taking over main songwriting from the drugs-bitten Walden. Snuffy had just helped FREE to shape "Heartbreaker", and "Calamity Jane" which opens this DOG record is similar to that LP's title cut in its guitar and piano drive that shows a new tunefulness of the band's output.

But while there's good rocking throughout, nothing on "While You Down There", especially the light AOR-ish rocksteady of "Bits And Pieces", compares to what was before - as stressed by a couple of live bonuses amidst the previously unreleased tracks. Here, breezy ballads, save for the acoustically-based desperation of "Dreams And Junk", hardly impress at all, what with "Words To Say Goodbye" borrowing from "Here Comes The Sun", but the funky jive of "Very Well" and the rhythm section-penned "I Would" demonstrate what might have been if the band followed their bluesy noses in the first place. More so, it's Walden who has the final say with the progressive "Worldwinds" that, rich on vocal harmonies and varied in its time signatures, is worth the price of admission alone and adds a star to the overall rating. After this album, though, Snuffy was gone and old DOG lost its bite.

****
DARRYL WAY -
Concerto For Electric Violin
Island 1978
Esoteric 2009

CURVED AIR fiddle twiddler stands proudly on his own with a friendly one-man symphonic ensemble.

With AIR stifled by punk and WOLF tamed even before that, Darryl Way didn't feel his ambition framed by the harsh times and rose to the period challenge within the classical realm. Combining his love for extemporising, as shown by the Vivaldi piece Way'd delivered on-stage for most of the decade, with the notion of symphonic music allowance for improvisation in not so distant past, Darryl came up with this four-part work. Fittingly, the lack of funds made him use no real orchestra but the former colleague Francis Monkman's synthesizers stack: it sounds almost authentic, yet a slight plastic pitch comes as a perfect foil for the composer's amplified violin.

Starting with neo-classicist "Allegro Moderato", which betrays Prokofiev and Schnittke's influence, the rocker creates a chilling dance where, within the sonata structure, his instrument runs the gamut towards jazz and employs electronic music effects to enhance the performance and give it a modern edge, while the theme development includes also excursions into folk. The obligatory "Slow" part sees the violin in its most romantic solo mode with a space ambience flowing into the progress and diffuses academic tradition by electric possibilities. Allusions to the standard concerto form abound, Way feels free enough to stray wherever his intuition leads him, so "Scherzo" introduces neo-baroque motifs, and "Finale (Gigue)" rocks the joint to the full with Ian Mosley's drums adding to the cadenza-filled English drama.

Sympho-snobs might jeer at all of this and rock aficionados can dismiss the "Concerto", yet it's a solid and interesting work which speaks volumes for Darryl Way's grand-scale thinking and proudly stands the test of time.

****1/2
SWEET OKAY SUPERSISTER -
Spiral Staircase
Polydor 1974
Esoteric 2009

The Dutch continuation of the GONG's little folk territory.

1974 saw the split in the ranks of SUPERSISTER along the lines of progressive freedom but, after trying out their ideas in two different camps, the band's vocalist Sacha von Geest and keyboard wiz Robert Jan Stips got together once more to get back to the ensemble's original name and the debut single's B-side "Spiral Staircase" and build a whole album around it. The result, featuring bassist Ron van Eck, was quite different to what had been done on the group's previous records and much closer to Daevid Allen's explorations of the gnome world.

It's an idiosyncratic but charming concept and, with bass always to the fore, there's a lot of sensitive funk involved like in the fairy tale overdrive of "Dangling Dingdongs". So those who won't stop at the piano-led poem recital of the introductory "Retroschizive" and the funny Greek dance of "Jingle Bean Hop" should derive major pleasure from the childlike wonders of little jazzy runs to and from the melodic lines. Others, though, would feel confused in this sound-effects-filled theatrical atmosphere, peaking with the "Nosy Parkers" music hall, which feels tailored mostly for the players' own, rather than listeners', satisfaction.

Ultimately, the band don't cross over from the pastiche humor and, while the Irish, bagpipes-oiled choir march of "Cookies, Teacups, Buttercups" chimes just fine alongside the calypso of "Gi, Ga, Go", this album remains only a convoluted curio hanging from the straight line of one of the best Dutch prog group's story. Still, the Latin take on Harry Belafonte's "Coconut Woman", with LOS ALEGRES in tow, rings nice.

**1/2
MADE IN SWEDEN -
Made In England
Sonet 1970
Esoteric 2009

The title says it all but fails to represent the lazy wonders that lie inside.

Jimi Hendrix's cover of "Tax Free" would guarantee Bo Haggstrom a footnote placing in the history of rock, but the bassist had more in him than this tune, and all the possibilities he wanted to explore manifested themselves in the last album of the Swede's power trio. Produced by Tony Reeves after MADE IN SWEEDEN's tour with COLOSSEUM, "Made In England" is an early attempt to find a jazz freedom in the rock idiom, and the listener is thrown into the deep end of the organ and fuzz guitar swirl from the beginning. The groove of "Winter's A Bummer" might straighten for the vocal to slide over, across and in unison, yet the psychedelic jive runs underneath at all times, constantly threatening to spread into a jam.

But there's enough wide-eyed innoncence in cuts like the flower-power-scented "Chicago, Mon Amour" or "Roundabout" where acoustic guitar and bass do an autumnal dance. Much more piquant sound the baroque strings and bluesy gloom of "Mad River", but it's on "Love Samba" that the trio shine the most indulging in the KING CRIMSON-like interplay with Georg Wadenuis' six-string excursions into fusion to the fore and Tommy Borgudd's drum solo: live, this one must have been fantastic. The funk of "Little Cloud" rings fine, too, and there's a pop sensibility to it. Unfortunately, MADE IN SWEDEN broke up before progressive rock made such an eclecticism forgivable leaving "Made In England" in the footnote of the genre.

***1/3
DUKE JUPITER -
White Knuckle Ride
Morocco 1984
Renaissance 2009

Generic, if enjoyable, hard rock from upstate New Yorkers. Beware of the hooks and be wary of memorable repetitions.

To be signed to the subsidiary of Motown might have been a privilege but following the RARE EARTH route in the '80s was an impossibe task even for such experienced players as these. Their sixth album is a fine example of commercial heaviness: "White Knuckle Ride" teems with big, echo-laden choruses that, unfortunately, don't stop until they grate, especially when hung on synthetic sounding drums as in the acoustically-tinged "Rescue Me", but give an extra kick to the groovy rockers such as the organ-oiled "Work It Out".

Light enough to dent pop charts, it's a perfect AOR-FM fodder, yet now this document of the plastic era feels mosty dated. Still, Greg Walker's guitar shines on "Backfire" and "Little Lady", a catchy rock 'n' roll which employs every lyrical cliche there is, and the infectious "Don't Turn Your Back" with its sharp riffage is impossible to ignore. A feel-good music from the sunshine times, the album has much to be enjoy... and why not do so?

***1/2
ALQUIN -
The Mountain Queen
Polydor 1973
Esoteric 2009

Dizzying heights, hard to scale, can't tame the Dutch ambition to go rock-climbing in order to reach progressive Shambala.

Having debuted with such a strong work as "Marks", the Dutch ensemble might feel dazzled with its audacity, so their second album was a safer game: more even, less diverse. This time the band used the services of Derek Lawrence, who'd recently helped WISHBONE ASH shape "Argus", but ALQUIN's soulful concept required a different palette, closer to the producer former charges, DEEP PURPLE. But if the heavy organ and attacking guitar of "The Dance" sound familiar, the Renaissance acoustic strum and flute take the piece onto the much grander minefield and back again with soulful twists and jazzy turns, and a little pop ballad, along the way, making the 13-minute epic a breathtaking adventure without a single boring passage.

The same can't be said about the Philly sequins of title track's funky brass-and-synth smoothness of even longer caliber; equally less original, though still tasty, seem the Latin grooves of "Convicts Of The Air" and "Soft-Eyed Woman" showing the band leader Ferdinand Bakker's newly-aquired Santana chops. But in "Don And Dewey" his violin delivers a tremendous folk dance which breaks into more sophisticated "Mr. Barnum's Junior's Magnificent And Fabulous City" too soon. This cut, a polished prequel to the live recording on the first album, takes in everything ALQUIN had in their possession - piano boogie, organ fugue, flute pavane, fuzz wigout - with much gusto and passion. Unfortunately, the only way from the mountains is down, even in music.

***3/4
CITY BOY - It's Personal
Vertigo 1981
Renaissance 2009

From the day when the fire was dying: the Englishmen's final statement makes its CD debut. But intimate it isn't.

Mostly remembered by "The Day The Earth Caught Fire", held in high esteem by many a modern hard rocker, the Birmingham's quartet kept an even profile in all seven years of their existence marked by seven albums of decent quality. Still, when it came to this, their last one, Mutt Lange wasn't on board anymore, and the times had changed. Strangely, it was an era when their kind of commercial hard rock dwelled in the charts, so why "It's Personal" flopped remains an enigma.

Perhaps, the answer lies in the last track, the sprightly "Exit The Heavyweights", which outlines the band's new, lighter modus operandi, whereas the songs like "It's No Ordinary Life" ride the bouncing keyboard lines but have no real hooks. There is some good rocking on the album, like in the bass-and-organ-laden AOR of "Lovers", but the foursome clearly lost their way here. And though the reggae of "The Blind Leading The Blind" is indeed memorable, it lacks humor that fills the title cut's swaggering swing. The best thing on offer is "Names And Addresses" with its catchy chorus and great guitar work: it could have been a hit single and saved the ensemble from the break up. Sadly, it wasn't and didn't, yet "It's Personal" stood the taste of time surprisingly well to feel refreshing even now.

***1/2
CAMEL -
Stationary Traveller
Decca 1984
Esoteric 2009

Frozen moments of the Cold War era make for beautiful musical patterns. A tale of defectors from the ones who wouldn't betray their style.

Early '80s were the lean years for progressive rock yet, while the likes of YES took to the matters of lonely hearts, CAMEL decided to stand their own ground by leaving the sunny side for the shadow of Berlin wall. The subject of "Stationary Traveller", then, might be close to Steve Hackett's "Defector", but Andy Latimer's band's approach is much more lyrical. The sense of drama always lurks nearby, still, like in the opening "Pressure Point", one of the four instrumentals here, a guitar flight in the vein of "Snow Goose": the music so bitter-sweet it's painful when it stops... only to return in a longer, 12" version as a bonus track alongside "In The Arms Of Waltzing Fraulines", the only track on the offer with a clear Deutsch motif, although the accordion graces also "Refugee" to take it into the Europop zone.

It's twilight there, what with the leader's sombre vocal lines and spare bass runs, but when the corresponding duties are taken by Chris Rainbow and David Paton, as in the urgently sparking "Cloak And Dagger Man", the pitch shifts into the quality AOR domain to get smoothed with Mel Collins' sax in the ruminative "Fingertips" and rely heavily on keyboards in "West Berlin". Ton Scherpenzeel's grand piano in "After Words" and Latimer's pan pipe in the deceptively serene title piece are shaped after Morricone classics, which only adds to the album's cinematic feel. If one wants to remember those paranoia-filled times, with a pinch of hope beaming from the chorus of "The Long Goodbyes", it's the place to go.

****1/4
UNICORN -
Blue Pine Trees
Charisma 1974
Renaissance 2009

West coast going East, country rock meets English folk and a certain PINK FLOYD member.

Perhaps, it was the sunny mood of Californian bands that seduced British rockers such as BRONCO, but only UNICORN played this game to the full, having caught the attention of David Gilmour. The guitarist enjoyed their laid-back groove enough to come from under the "Dark Side" shadow and produce this, the band's second album, but the FLOYD connection is just an excuse to explore the trees behind the wood.

It's easy to get lost in the jangly guitars and tight harmonies of "Just Wanna Hold You", with its Dylan intonations and Youngian ache, and the opening "Electric Night" which even EAGLES wouldn't be ashamed of, yet it's an English misty-eyed patina that makes it all so alluring, especially in ballads like the piano-splashed "The Farmer" and "Autumn Leaves" that are subtly adorned with Gilmour's pedal steel. The same withering, yet uplifting feeling fills the funky "Rat Race" that is driven by electric keyboards yet features Kevin Smith's exquisite acoustic guitar solo, but the urgent "In The Gym" shows the rockier, and radio-friendly, side of UNICORN - and Pat Martin's bass wonders. There's much to like here, and there's no better Indian summer album if you need one.

****
STEVE SWINDELLS -
Messages
RCA 1974
Esoteric 2009

One of the future HAWKLORDS dons his glam spacesuit and rockets heavenward - from the personal hell.

Steve Swindells has many faces, most of them smiling, but the man whose talents hued the music of such different outfits as PILOT and HAWKLORDS has been hurting on the inside for many years. Abused by his manager, as recounted in the man's revealing liner notes, the happy vibe of this album, his first, comes as a major surprise. Featuring such great players as Caleb Quaye, John Gustafson and Mike Giles, the record's heart is in Swindell's piano, soft voice and, of course, the pleasant and unpretentious, though slightly camp, songs.

Sometimes ethereal, starting with the gentle, orchestrally-swept "Miles Away Again" and spinning the mood in the waltz of "The Earl's Court Case", sometimes raving, like in the brass-branded bubbling boogie of "Living In Sin", a close relative to "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting", or the "Messages From Heaven" classical-tinged 10-minute psychedelia, the music's always full of charm. And full of twists, too, with the Philly sound glistening on the surface of "Shake Up Your Soul", where Doris Troy's voice is heard and Chris Mercer delivers a scorching sax solo, while in "I Can't See Where The Light Switch Is" Steve's keyboards elegantly pack some introspective gloom in the company of Danny Thompson's acoustic bass, and Scottish march shoots through "I Don't Like Eating Meat" that combines sunshine pop with a jazzy romp.

Rather deep, "Messages", a document of its era, comes as a gulp of fresh air these days. With the album's previously unreleased follow-up, "Swindell's Swallow", on the second disc, the package might be easy to ignore still, but pay no attention at you own's risk.

****2/3
DAVID COURTNEY -
First Day -
The Complete Story
United Artists 1975
Angel Air 2009

The starmaker goes it alone to shine for himself - with heavy guests for an extra brightness.

Now the man behind the British Walk of Fame, in the '70s David Courtney was the mastermind behind Leo Sayer's career and Roger Daltrey's solo course, producing and writing songs of sheer brilliance. So it seemed like just the matter of time before he'd release a record of his own, and the time came in 1975 with "First Day", an ambitious project which now sees the light of day in its entirety, with seven bonus tracks rounding off the story of what a stardom is.

Here "Silverbird" that launches and finishes the album but previously served as an axis for Sayer's debut LP is re-imagined as a lush instrumental piece awashed with full orchestra and choir to soar to the vertiginous heights of success, while its downside is measured in "When Your Life Is Your Own", the last track on the original vinyl, with David Gilmour's economic space guitar. Yet it's as grand as the drift gets, while most of the songs fare in the comfortable soft rock territory, "Stranded" flowing like a gentle river with piano ripples and the lively "My Mind" bathing in the surf harmonies, but the slide-oiled "You Ain't Got Me" jibes at Dylan's "I Ain't Got You", even vocally, and "It's Oil For You" has a Latin flavor to it. It's hard to go wrong with such strong pop melodies as in the light "If You Wanna Dance" with its sirtaki middle section and players like Russ Ballard and BJ Cole, yet Courtney's voice, though good, lacks individuality required to dent the charts.

Still, previously unreleased '30s pastiche "Lazy Old Moon" with its virtuoso acoustic guitar, "Broken Leaves" which sees David's piano coated in lyrical strings and bravura brass, and the rocking "Think It Over" could have been hits, and the warmness of it all is extremely charming to grow on anyone.

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