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GREG LAKE -
From The Underground
Greg Lake 1998
Lemon 2010

A treasure chest of one prog giant's paraphernalia shining a new light on the veteran's heritage.

"The Official Bootleg" might not be the most appropriate subtitle for the collection of odds and sods but it was down to Greg Lake himself to delve into his archives and find the musical bits that represent his multi-faceted talent the best. Perceived - and dismissed - by many as one third of the ELP art monster, there's much more to Lake whose decades-spanning output embraces a dazzling array of styles. Of course, he was an integral part of the early KING CRIMSON line-ups featured here by 1969's vigorous jazz of "A Man, A City", laid down at the Fillmore West and never taken to a studio, but that's not the beginning of the artist's story.

His more ancient past is given a peek into with a track apiece from THE SHAME and SHY LIMBS, two of Lake's '60s bands who served psych-beat typical for their era; a pity, Greg didn't notch a vinyl note with THE GODS that gathered future figures of British rock elite. Still, he had a chance not only to create but also to join a supergroup for a while, yet 1983's "Heat Of The Moment" from ASIA shows Lake wasn't the best replacement for John Wetton. It was a chance, though, to reconnect with Carl Palmer, an ELP colleague.

There are several curios from the infamous trio, the first being the opener, "Touch And Go", originally recorded with Cozy Powell on drums - and this incarnation of the band rages on "The Score" from their only album - but most impressively sound the band's classics which Greg delivers in solo mode: a 1986's melding of "Still You Turn Me On" and "Watching Over You". More so, while 1994's rare solo take on "Daddy" is too plastic, a brilliant ensemble Lake had with Gary Moore on guitar are captured on fire in 1981 with "21st Century Schizoid Man" that closes the compilation in the real star-rising moment. A real treat for the fans, then, and a great entry point for the uninitiated.

****
SOFT MACHINE -
Bundles
Harvest 1975
Esoteric 2010

The avant-garde laps up the fusion paradigm but doesn't change it spots.

Save for their first single, this Canterbury bunch who could throw down their gauntlet anyone's way had long been mightily challenged in the guitar department, but the mid-'70s dictated a change in the band's modus operandi, and keyboardist Mike Ratledge, the only original member in the line-up, was dealing with the "make it or break it" dilemma. A little bit of commercialism would do the band nice, it seemed, yet the invitation of Allan Holdsworth opened many possibilities for the machinists as symbolized by their eighth album's cover.

The guitar soars and flutters like a bird from the off, the five-part Karl Jenkins' suite "Hazard Profile" which, with its alternatively raging and elegiac electric piano and Latin inflections, shows that the ensemble fully embraced jazz rock and now could boldly compete with MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA and WEATHER REPORT - even percussively, as drummer John Marshall's "Four Gongs Two Drums" elegantly proves. The new style is fantastically unexpected, yet the only classic "Bundles" produced came from Ratledge - "The Man Who Waved At Trains" where the woodwind finally crawls into the quite reflection - but it's in the title track that the old and fresh approaches cross their path in powerful dance before going exotic with Holdsworth's dense "Land Of The Bag Snake".

Very different from what's usually associated with SOFT MACHINE, this brilliant album suffers only from its approximity to the fusion trends of its day, yet firmly stands its ground on its own; a pity, it was to become the beginning of the ensemble's end. Purists may whimper, the rest will enjoy the "Bundles" flow immensely.

****1/3
VARIOUS ARTISTS -
The Best Of Homegrown Music
1968-1970
Angel Air 2010

One of the most imaginative production team is given their due in and out the psychedelic realm.

Homegrown Music was the two-headed hydra created by two British record engineers: Brian Carroll, who worked with the likes of Hendrix and THE WHO, and Damon Lyon Shaw whose charges included THE ROLLING STONES and STATUS QUO. Together, the two cut nothing as famous but the span of their fantasy and the catchiness of their music sampled here are very impressive and in places shockingly surprising.

Even the earliest track in the collection, FACTORY's "Path Through A Forest", shows the guitar boldness of everyone involved, yet where and when the producers excelled the most was in the pop field of '70s - from a rock perspective, still. There's an infectious glam stomp of "Don't Ask Why" by ONE WAY TICKET, written by Lyon Shaw and Carroll who also composed the fabulous "You Know" under the latter moniker: a silky ballad with a swirling, memorable chorus that sounds as fresh today as back in 1976. The transitional moment between the heavy proto-prog and bubbly chanson is best captured in FIVE DAYS RAIN's "Good Year" and the "Mary's A Woman" soulful groove from 5 years before. These three bands, featured here by a several pieces each, have gained a cult status as times progressed, and come counterbalanced with the pure cheesy joy of Candy's "Baby I Still Love You" from 1980. What's really unexpected is the smooth ska that Lloyd Miller delivers in 1977's "Caribbean Way"; it borders with pastiche but is enjoyable and it got embraced by Trojan Records. Quite a gamut!

Listen to the self-deprecating "So Many Ways" again from ONE WAY TICKET to feel all the atomic charge of the autumnal mood and then to the punky rage of JAC PACK's 1979's "Soul In A Box" to have your psyche boxed in and sent upwards. From there, go investigating further for this comp is but a lick of the Homegrown candy.

****1/3
APHRODITE'S CHILD -
End Of The World
Mercury 1968
Esoteric 2010

Greece goes psych and launches two unlikely star-ridden careers.

The '60s beat boom saw many countries run in the wake of the swinging London scene but most of the local bands didn't leave a trace on an international consciousness. It could have been like that for the three Greeks collectively known as APRODITE'S CHILD if not for the fact that two thirds of the ensemble grew into artists well-known far beyond their native land. Here, therefore lie the roots of Evangelos Papathanassiou, or simply Vangelis, and Demis Roussos, and if their first album lacks the cinematic feel the former would explore in the likes of "Blade Runner", the latter's warble is instantly recognizable. Still, "End Of The World" should be judged not by an individual blooming talent of the players but on its own terms - of its own time.

The title track, though, is a typical Roussos ballad, lachrymose yet enchanting, given a typical space flight by Vangelis' synthesizers that circle around the magical piano line, but a disturbing middle section paves the way for more otherworldly things that follow. The most impressive are "The Grass Is No Green", with prominent bass line from the singer and the shifting tempo, and the heavy throb of "You Always Stand In My Way", but as the bonus "45 "Plastics Nevermore" suggests, there's much naivety in the band's psychedelia akin to that of THE HOLLIES jumping the acid-driven wagon. The background swirl betrays close listening to THE BEATLES and THE STONES' 1967's oeuvre, yet the use of bouzouki gives it all a national coloring, while the storytelling numbers like "Mister Thomas" hint on the desire to get conceptual. So there's a strange contrast between such leanings and the knack for writing the housewives-charming songs in the vein of the group's debut single "Rain And Tears".

Yet it's exactly this contrast that makes the record transcend its era - and even get ahead of it with a world music of "The Shepherd And The Moon" with its middle-eastern flow - and packs a guilty pleasure punch even now.

****
EMERSON, LAKE & POWELL -
The Sprocket Sessions
Manticore 2003
Lemon 2010

Getting in gear, ELP with the new bearer of the last letter, let rip for the maximum impact.

The '80s weren't the best times for progressive rock which might be the reason why Carl Palmer didn't join his old colleagues Keith Emerson and Greg Lake in 1986 and decided to stay with ASIA who were on their last legs anyway. The other two found a fitting replacement, whose surname very conveniently also started with P: Cozy Powell, a human powerhouse with a heavy blues past forged most prominently with THE JEFF BECK GROUP and RAINBOW. Some of the fans didn't like the change, although the reconfigured trio's problems lay not in the skin-hitting but in Emerson's appropriation of new synthesizers which is obvious already from the catchy "Learning To Fly", the second piece on this collection, a document of band's 1986's rehearsals in London's Sprocket studio's prior to their only tour following their only album.

Half of the tracks here comes from that LP - delivered live and without audience, these sound fresh, if a little sterile, with the energy levels spared for the ELP classics. The energy is mostly Lake's vocals and bass' doing, while Powell pulls his punches carefully trying not to drown the others' parts and Emerson fills most of the aural space with sometimes jarring keyboards splashes even when he harks back to the days of yore in the opener "The Score". Unlike new numbers, the old ones such as the highly compressed "Pictures At An Exhibition" and "Tarkus", but especially the organ-wielding "Knife Edge", reverberate with joyful, carefree dynamics, small modern additions notwithstanding. It's understandable, what with Cozy's usual concert rendition of Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture", and within the prog framework the drummer shines in Holst's "Mars", yet everything comes together triumphantly in "Touch & Go" that doesn't pale alongside previous decade's output even in this water-testing version.

A curious item, then, aimed mostly at the completists but possessing a peculiar allure and showing that the real greatness never ends.

***
ALCATRAZZ -
Disturbing The Peace / Dangerous Games
Capitol 1985 / 1986
Store For Music 2010

Trying to break from the hard rock prison? The mission can't be accomplished!

There's a catch coming with fame: you're not able to leave the yellow brick road and not get lost. That's how it was - and still is - for Graham Bonnet, whose pop and rhythm-and-blues past got cancelled by the RAINBOW stint. With "No Parole From Rock 'n' Roll" he picked up where "Down To Earth" left off, with Yngwie Malmsteen emerging from Ritchie Blackmore's school of guitar, but when the Swede took flight, he was replaced with Steve Vai, a player with totally different background, who opened for the singer a whole new field of experimentation on "Disturbing The Peace". Or a minefield as Bonnet couldn't lose his fanbase by taking the Zappa path.

Yet he tried - the outstanding "Will You Be Home Tonight" starts very loose, with a righteous swing, before the voice sharpens to the typical wail, and the viscous "Desert Diamond" surges with mighty vocal harmonies. That's as far as the sophistication goes. Vai's filigree attack, though, only adds the commercial edge to "Painted Lover" and the opener "God Blessed Video" that hit the charts but falls here in the shade of the infectious rock 'n' roll of "Wire And Wood" and the more traditional stomp of "Mercy" that surround it, while solos rather distract rather than attract to the focus. The second part of the album rages in the second rate, if enjoyable, way - think BAD COMPANY-cum-ASIA - and thus, bridges the gap to the band's last outing.

Danny Johnson, the next guitarist, provided what the leader needed: the riffs to match the pipes. "Dangerous Games" sets out the plan from the off, the heavy version of THE ANIMALS' hit "It's My Life" which works fine and in its synthesizer lining shapes the mood for a weighty AOR platter that serves many fine moments, with "Only One Woman" harking back to Bonnet's soulful time in THE MARBLES and the title track on par with the best of FOREIGNER. The band excel in the rowdily sleek "Ohayo Tokyo" and "No Imagination", but don't shy away from such light confections as "Under Cover", all possessing big choruses. It's impossible to resist the hooks of the seductive "Double Man" that's as infectious in its mid-paced flow and the final bow of highly theatrical a cappella of "Night Of The Shooting Star" bearing THE PLATTERS' stamp. One brilliant album to close the sadly short arc of ALCATRAZZ.

***1/2 / ****
DAVID BYRON BAND -
On The Rocks
Creole 1981
Angel Air 2010

The last hurray from the former URIAH HEEP frontman disproves the "spent force" myth in fine style.

Rock music and drink go hand in hand but in the case of David Byron they went too far. Thrown out of the band he threw his lot with in 1969, the singer didn't succeed solo and with a group he created with Clem Clempson, ROUGH DIAMOND. Maybe it was because Byron's pipes needed a special composer, someone like Ken Hensley, to shape up the songs where David could deliver in his flamboyant style. And he found such foil in another guitarist, the young Robin George, also a skilful producer.

This capacity of George helped him solidify the warbler's performance for the NWBHM era and filled their output with big infectious riffs and choruses which zip the skin from the boogie of "Rebecca", scratch it deliciously with the groovily romantic "Piece Of My Love", the most HEEP-ey track on offer, and release the catch only with the silky closer, "Little By Little". Little by little is the way this album works: it swishes superficially past you on the first spin and makes your feet tap relentlessly on the third one, Mel Collins' sax easing the slide in and out with soul inflections. But David's voice has it all too in the Philly funk of "Start Believing" and the "Bad Girl" blues where Robin lays down the Chicago groove. Then, there's the raging "How Do You Sleep?" that switches between the grit and caress and shows the full power of the band, as does "Safety In Numbers", one of the bonus cuts recorded for the second album. It never materialized, though: on the rocks in all senses of the expression, in a few years, David Byron was dead and gone.

****
THE LLOYD LANGTON GROUP -
Night Air
Flicknife 1985
Esoteric 2010

The HAWKWIND axe-flyer gets down to Earth in quite an unspectacular way.

Huw Lloyd Langton was a perfect foil for Dave Brock's band who helped deliver HAWKWIND's debut and then steer the ship through the '80s. It was in the middle of that murky decade that the guitarist decided to strike with a group of his own, but the emergence of "Night Air" was necessitated by the desire to cross off the fans' mind its unauthorized live predecessor whose hurried release reflected the success of Lloyd Langton's 1983's single "Outside The Law". The bonus track here, alongside other '45 cuts, it made the Top 10 of independent charts and is a nice slice of elegant prog-punk, yet the album doesn't have such poise.

The record suffers from repetitive figures which shows the artist's weakness as a singer: melody-wise, his vocal lines get nowhere near his prowess as an instrumentalist, and if the title track pulls in the best of its era's gloss, the rest sometimes becomes tedious. When it comes to the six strings, Lloyd Langton shines, be it in the unexpected second part of "Lonely Man", where Huw channels his inner Jimi, the hi-tech folk buzz of "Alien Jiggers" or the exquisite acoustic vignette "Fur Kirsty" - just compare the rock 'n' roll solo of "Got Your Number" to its pale choruses to see where the action is. It's strange, as the angular guitar harmonics of "Lunar-Tic" stress, but is worth investigating, if only to solve the puzzle that is HAWKWIND.

**2/3
ALCATRAZZ -
No Parole From Rock 'n' Roll / Live In 83
Polydor 1983
Store For Music 2010

The brilliant revenge by the multi-colored singer with a great guitar-slinger in tow.

The RAINBOW stint changed Graham Bonnet's life for ever by casting him into the hard rock world, and the MSG gig solidified this status of his, but by 1983 the singer got tired of serving the hard taskmasters and decided to strike on his own with the help of a young guitarist able to give both Ritchie Blackmore and Michael Schenker a run for their money. Yes, the 20-year-old Yngwie Malmsteen could deliver - and he did, although not without a nod to Bonnet's past as suggests the riff of the breathtaking "Jet To Jet", too close to that of "Spotlight Kid" from the record RAINBOW released right after Graham left. But "No Parole" is the ultimate '80s heavy album with Jimmy Waldo's pop keyboards oiling the roll of "Island In The Sun" and "Suffer Me" as big a sentimental ballad as it gets, and it's mostly the on-the-brink vocals, rather than neo-classic guitar, that make this LP a classic.

On-stage, as the second disc of this set shows, Bonnet's voice didn't hit the heights he reached for, while his new foil's riffs and solos were always on the money, what with the instrumental "Evil Eye" which Malmsteen took with him into RISING FORCE. The previously unreleased "Live In 83" is basically a concert version of the band's debut outing, plus such singer's staples as "All Night Long" and "Since You've Been Gone", and it's before the L.A. audience that the desperate lava of "Kree Nakoorie" and dramatic "Hiroshima Mon Amour" fully breathe, whereas "Too Young to Die, Too Drunk to Live" unfurls its entire anthemic grandiosity. Sadly, with so much talents on-board, the original ALCATRAZZ didn't last long, and no other guitarist, even Steve Vai who stepped in for the next record, couldn't feel their leader's voice as perfectly. Thus, all the magic is here.

***** / ***4/5
NINE BELOW ZERO -
Chilled / Refrigerator
Zed 2002 / 2000
Angel Air 2010

You have to cool it properly for your red hot stuff to be most palatable.

It's not as strange as it may seem to call two albums a band record two decades into their career their best, but then one has to remember that older you get the more authentic your blues sound, and that's exactly the case. There's no concept to the records, though their titles may suggest otherwse, but to listen them back to back has a refreshing effect, what with the electric charge 2000's "Refrigerator" and acoustic textures of 2002's "Chilled". If the first possesses a bit of sheen the purists might balk at, the sway of "Electric" and "Money Or The Man" shows the riff-driven groove is right on the money, whereas "Cimmanon Man" sees Dennis Greaves at his most dangerous, vocals and guitar-wise, and if some other tunes resemble something everybody's heard before, that's rhythm-and-blues after all, where tradition rules the game, so even Mick-and-Keef would be proud to have written "Wild Kicking Horse" with its country fiddle dancing with Gerry McAvoy's bass and Billy Boy Miskimmin's harmonica.

The "24 Miles Of America" rockabilly crosses the bridge to the second disc of this set which welcomes the original harp player Marc Feltham back to the fold who goes Danube-way in the fantastic, accordeon-sung "Ballad Of Dombovar" and leads the ensemble into the heartfelt instrumental reading of "Spanish Harlem", Greaves weaving an exquisite lace over the marimba beat. Yet the band get to the heart of the blues from the off, from the string-wrapped heartbreaker "I Should Have Left It Up To You" that the veterans should have presented Gary Moore with, to the Sam Cooke classic "Bring It On Home To Me", while Ry Cooder's staple "Why Don't You Try Me" reveals even more of these hard-weathered players' soft spot. And more of their tears in the Nik Kershaw co-write "Loaded Gun", awashed with Hammond. And more of their collective smile in the Farfisa-splashed "Egg On My Face". And any album so filled with emotions deserves the best place on any shelf.

***3/4 / *****
SAM GOPAL -
Ecalator
Stable 1969
Esoteric 2010

The first tabla-driven rock band in the world deliver their bad-ass goodies with Lemmy on board.

The Malaysian-born Sam Gopal's bands were an integral part of England's psychedelic landscape of the late '60s: they took part in the legendary "The 14 Hour Technicolor Dream" alongside PINK FLOYD and had Jimi Hendrix jam with them, as the original keyboard player Pete Sears recalls, but by the time this album was released they'd shed the DREAM part of the group's name, expanded to a quartet and got into more serious business, music-wise. With Ian Willis, later to become known as Lemmy, at the guitar helm, it's quite a heavy brew, the threat of the opener "Cold Embrace" ramming the ship close to proto-metal. where the absence of drums is almost untraceable in the percussive buzz down below, and "Midsummer Nights Dream" raving the blistering stake up.

Still, the raga-colored bulk of the record takes some acid-spiked guts to digest: "You're Alone Now" may scare the faint-hearted who find some solace in the exhilarating cover of "Season Of The Witch" and a somewhat enchanting ballad which is "Angry Faces". So if the MOTORHEAD fans would be disgusted to hear their hero's wail in trance-inducing nightmare of "The Dark Lord", the HAWKWIND followers will be delighted to discover in the title track's dizzy rock 'n' roll how the crazy-stringed "Silver Machine" got started. The tabla-fronted "Yesterlove" is a sensual and delicate send-off to this artefact of an album that today sounds as otherworldly as when it was baked: it's rather primitive, as the bonus "Back Door Man" stresses, yet it's there that its naive charm blooms.

***4/5
VARIOUS ARTISTS -
Do You Dream?
Angel Air 2010

Subtitled "UK Pop & Psychedelia 1965-1970", the collection presents the naive side of the otherworldly genre.

Unlike its American counterpart, the roots of British psychedelia lay not so much in the lysergic domain as in the English absurdism tradition: those were the songs of innocence rather than experience, and that's the point made crystal clear by this compilation. Plundering the Angel Air archives for what, thanks to the label, aren't rarities anymore, it welcomes in a few previously unreleased tracks to tie up the loose fringe of the almost underground scene with quite a few family connections. Cue the folky title track by CIRCUS with its gentle watercolor glow and the Stax-styled groove of "Number One" by the band's earlier incarnation THE STORMSVILLE SHAKERS led by still-to-be-famous Phillip Goodhand-Tait donning an Otis suit here. Likewise, for all the clean-shaved, albeit sitar-tinged, pop like that of Phil Cordell's "Red Lady" there's a grit of Chuck Berry licks in FAVOURITE SONS' otherwise childlike "Walkin' Walkin'".

The prime examples of genuine psychedelia come in the shape of THE RATS' "The Rise And Fall Of Bernie Gripplestone", featuring Mick Ronson's nascent guitar wizardry in raga mode, and OUTER LIMITS' "Epitaph For A Non Entity" with Jeff Christie at his most Lennonesque. And the Fabs' genre-defining "I Am The Walrus" has found its way here, too, in AFFINITY's soulful version, alongside the brass-splashed "All Along The Watchtower" from THE ALAN BOWN produced by Mike Hurst before Hendrix took on that Dylan classic that the mighty Jess Roden voices here. That's where the innocence starts to wear off splitting into the proto-prog of FAMILY's "Weavers Answer" and hard rock of ATOMIC ROOSTER's "Devil's Answer" demo. The psychedelia had no chance after that, yet it gave birth to those genres and while its borrowed time lasted it was great.

*****
CHRIS SPEDDING -
Just Plug Him In
New Rose 1991
Angel Air 2010

The six-string rumbler goes it alone - front-stage and down to the business - over two decades. No showboating but pure class.

A famous guitarist-for-hire for the stellar cast including such diverse figures as Paul McCartney, Brian Eno, John Cale and Katie Melua, on his own - that is after driving SHARKS after Andy Fraser left - Chris Spedding could be perceived as a British Link Wray. There's the same punky menace in his sole solo hit "Motorbikin'" that's in the heart of this 14-track live collection which spans 1977-1989, in the twang of its opening tune, "Gunfight", and in the cover of "Shakin' All Over": no question as to why SEX PISTOLS asked Spedding to produce their demos.

While others save their energy for sophisticated solos Chris is also capable of - savor the liquid lines of "Silver Bullet" or "Guitar Jamboree" quoting "Layla", "Start Me Up", "Purple Haze" and the like - he channels it all in simple, yet powerful, Berry and Diddley-inspired chords of "Catch That Train" and the highly charged spikes of "Music Breakout" that blows you off your feet within the first minute. The tension may sag on "Hurt", but here the title cut of Spedding's 1977 album represents all the shambolic beauty of his concert. Now, what about a box set with all these shows in their entirety, Chris?

****1/3
ROBIN GEORGE -
Crying Diamonds /
Dangerous Music Live 85
Majestic Rock
2006 / 2004
Angel Air 2010

The secret weapon of British guitar army shoots with both his barrels.

Mostly known as a sidekick to the stars, it's on his own that Robin George gets a real kick out of the music he plays; it's not vanity, though, it's the fact that the guitarist's own voice - not pretentious but pleasant vocals - doesn't distract from his instrument. Here's the whole package, then, on these two discs, with 10 years between them, the studio and concert one.

The earlier, "Dangerous Music Live", has a period charm but transcends it thanks to the angular riffing and fiery solos, so the commerical gems "Heartline" and "Showdown" come counterbalanced with spiky groovers such as "Spy", which Robin would re-cut two decades later with his new band, DAMAGE CONTROL, that picked up where DANGEROUS MUSIC left off with this set. It rocks hard, bonus tracks underlining the power of "No News Is Good News", where the rhythm section, RENAISSANCE's Jon Camp and MAGNUM's Ken Gorin, propel the main man's axe to rage wildly together in "History", with the title track and "Go Down Fighting" packing the best punch.

"Crying Diamonds" is much more mature work, infused with a sense of tragedy from losing two friends: URIAH HEEP's David Byron, the guitarist's partner in shaping up the muscular bluesy funk of "Learn The Dance", and Phil Lynott who George co-wrote the titular Beatlesque song with and whose "King's Call" he re-imagined acoustically to make it a valediction to the THIN LIZZY man. But the memorable chorus of "Face To Face" bubbles with vitality, while "Cocoon", the soulful would-be axis of Robin's next band's album, sees the master foray into the Brian May harmonic solo territory. Unlike many other guitarists who made their names in the '80s, Robin George, also known as a skilful producer, never overplays, and his work is tasty on each of the 14 tracks, plus four additional cuts including a couple recorded in his own time by Robert Plant; yet there's no classic rock slant to the record, what with the alternative edge of "Whatever Goes Around Comes Around" that presages the due recognition its author is getting now. A little classic.

****4/5 / ****1/3
STRAY -
New Dawn /
Alive And Giggin'
Mystic Records
1997 / 1997
Angel Air 2010

The impressive rebirth of forgotten hard rock heroes - on- and off-stage.

After two decades in the wilderness, a couple of failed reunions notwithstanding, 1996 saw the second coming of STRAY who were formed exactly 30 years earlier but fizzled out after eight albums without enjoying the fame of other second-division British heavy bands such as U.F.O. or URIAH HEEP. The force to be reckoned with anyway and kept in high regard by the NWOBHM breed, the group that the original guitarist Del Bromham resurrected, while positioning himself at the microphone, became trio, rather than quartet - hence the wild energy of "Alive And Giggin'" recorded that summer in England. Featuring classic '70s material, the performance is rarely less than fiery soloing-wise: the tremendously vivacious "Fire And Glass" cuts the slack as its title dictates, whereas the muscular funk of "After The Storm" belies its tag tempestuously, and "Buying Time" holds the effective use of talk-box. At the same time, "Mister Wind" and "Jericho" rage pleasantly between sharp attack and romantic flights, bassist Dusty Miller and drummer Phil McKee adding panoramic space to the Celtic heart of the latter and the power to the infectious stomp of the former.

A few months later the same line-up delivered "New Dawn", the other disc of this 2CD set and the band's first studio album in 20 years that opens with another Celtic march, the instrumental "Dawn Rising", to unfurl the lite version of STRAY's erstwhile hard zip in "Further To Fall" and the title track, yet after that, the familiar groove gets back in place to peak with the heavy "Rock Steady". "White Knuckle Fever" possesses a good kick, too, even though it recycles the "Immigrant Song" riff, and the bass-laden "Trouble" harks back to the early power trios era which links it to "Jimijam" that hangs on Hendrix's quotes, while "Dangerous Games" pays tribute to THIN LIZZY - all in fine style. Factor in the Fabesque jangle of the funky "The Man In My Head" and a couple of acoustic cuts as a finale, and you have a mixed bag that's more promise than resolve. Which is enough for any comeback.

***3/4 / ****
WIGWAM -
The Lucky Golden Stripes And Starpose
Love 1976
Esoteric 2010

Streamlining their act, the Finnish proggers flex their collective muscle and pull their punches but don't quite hit it.

Following on from the previous year's "Nuclear Nightclub", WIGWAM astutely embraced the spirit of the era when the instrumental brilliance of progressive rock started to shift behind the ensemble playing with this, the band's sixth album. Not that singing pianist Jim Pembroke decided to simplify the group's approach, but now it was a melody that arrangements served, not vice versa. Cue the pure pop of the humorous "International Disaster" that eases in on Pekka Rechardt's Claptonesque guitar, although there's significatly less immediacy on the record as signalled by the opener "Save Again" which flicks the switch with vocals floating on keyboards wave.

And if in "Eddie And The Boys" WIGWAM pitch their tent under the Caribbean sun, the left-field 10CC way, the balance is maintained with two little epics crossing the bridge between the classic art rock and the commercial demand for memorable tunes: the title track and "Colossus" with their steady rhythms yet ever-changing tempos, with the latter's adventurousness firmly kept in check and the former's funky fusion strongly bound to Earth. The real gem is, still, the poignantly soulful - and almost orchestral in its scope - "Never Turn You In". Indeed, the band would never turn in anything as strong after that so, along with two bonus cuts from the preceding single, including the infectious "Wardance" which alone is worth is the price of admission, the album is the last great work the supreme Scandinavians.

***4/5
PEKKA POHJOLA -
The Mathematician's Air Display
Love 1977
Esoteric 2010

From mundane to the ethereal, the Finland's best goes along with the "Tub Bells" master.

So impressive were the talents of Pekka Pohjola that, once he'd parted company with WIGWAM, not only Frank Zappa but also Mike Oldfield, who liked the bassist's brilliant "B The Magpie", expressed the desire to work with him. With former it wasn't to be, while with the latter the thought came to a fruition, and the Englishman not only co-produced the Finn's next effort but played guitar on all, bar one, tracks roping in GONG's percussionist Pierre Moerlen and his own sister along the way. Sally Oldfield's angelic voice adorns the harpsichord and grand piano-led baroque of "Hands Straighten The Waters" and the frivolous gallop through "False Start Of The Shadows", the rest is purely instrumental - and somehow less reverie-inducing than Pohjola's previous efforts.

It's not all Oldfield's fault, though, as the cinematic drive of "The Perceived Journey Lantern", recorded before Mike joined the project, suggests, yet his mark is all over the mesmerizing title track, that unfurles grandiosely and gains momentum as it progresses despite featuring only the trio of the two main men and Moerlen, which wouldn't have felt out of place on "Hergest Ridge", if not for the often soloing bass line. The same line-up delivers the first part of the almost 16-minute "The Consequences Of Head Bending" in the jazzy, sligthly barrel-house and at the same time airy, style before the four-string rage builds up the funereal tension for the second part laid down early on in Sweden with a full band and harking back to Pekka Pohjola's original psychedelic approach with odd, if elegant, fusion excursions.

The result is somehow experienced and innocent at the same time which requires numerous listenings to get into the plot, but in the end it's immeasurably rewarding. Just like the mathematics...

****
DARREN BATH -
Love And Hurt
ChangesOne 2001
Angel Air 2010

The former U.K. SUBS and Ian Hunter guitarist delivers a minor pub rock classic.

Not a household name when it comes to six-stringers, Darren Bath is a British secret weapon when it comes to that rare breed of guitarist who can be rough and elegant at the same time. Which are, of course, the inherent properties of pub rock, that half-missing link between the art and punk currencies. Too young to throw down the gauntlet to Wilko Johnson, Bath made his name in the '80s but, always a team player, seemed reluctant to come up with a solo album which was in him for a long time. Still, 2001 saw Darren go down that road.

The path is a beaten one, as the slide-adorned blues romp of opener "So Young So Wise" suggests, yet enjoyable nevertheless. It's heavy on deliberate vocal Dylanisms peaking with the jolly ride of "Gimme A Choice", the "Still Learning" jelly roll and the romantic "Sweet Warm Lover" where Hugh McKenna assumes Al Kooper's organ duties, while the voice and guitar work make "Bit Of Your Pride" feel like Lennon-Harrison track that no one knows of, and "To Die For" has a genuine public house swagger about it. The same panache spreads all over "All The Good Times", added here as a bonus and featuring the guitar duet of Darren Bath and his great late buddy Nikki Sudden. Downplayed this record might be but it's a little gem to fondle.

***4/5
WIGWAM -
Nuclear Nightclub
Love 1975
Esoteric 2010

The Finnish proggers' finest hour in the times of balance-setting and no atomic blast on the horizon.

Parting company with talented bassist and organist who contributed massively to the band's moulden sound might signal a catastrophe for any ensemble but in WIGWAM's case the amicable split only shifted the focus towards Jim Pembroke's singular vision. This was the album that brought the group to the international listeners' attention, although with progressive rock on the decline the Finns chose not the best of time to deliver their masterpiece. Or, perhaps, Pembroke sniffed the change in the weather, as the title track's memorable chorus and soulful vocals and the playful flow of "Save My Money And Name" reveal a new, pop sensibilty to WIGWAM's still exquisite music.

Here, the mostly instrumental "Bless Your Lucky Stars" distills the collective's artful approach to composition and, in "Kite", new guitarist Pekka Rechardt could give David Gilmour a run for his money, while a part of "Do Or Die" and "Freddie Are You Ready" could have made it into the charts - what with Pembroke's Stevie Wonder-influenced piano jive - if not for the unpredictable time signatures and the little qurkiness which spreads all over the record and renders it so special. The heavy riffage of closer "Pigstorm" hints on possible alternative direction for the band yet it defines the album's gist and title in the best possible way.

****4/5
LIFE -Cocoon
Now & Then 1997
Angel Air 2010

Rocking hard in the barren field, the forgotten heavy heroes break the shell.

The name LIFE Robin George, then a young guitar slinger, first used for his debut single in 1980 and revived this four-letter word in the early '90s when, having gained a great experience as a sidekick for THIN LIZZY's Phil Lynott and URIAH HEEP's David Byron and a producer, he came up with a band of his own in the company of Nick Tart on vocals. The group toured intensively recording this album along the way, but in the times of grunge reign this kind of melodic hard rock, fashionable half a decade earlier, didn't find a listener, yet now, in expanded form, it proudly stands its ground.

It's a strong work, the George-Tart co-write "The Language Of Love" boasting a catchy blues jive and a lot of funk, whereas the titular song is gospel-tinged and "Oxygen" flows as a soulful ballad. Some songs on the record had obviously been in place before the band came to be: the opener, "Dangerous Music", riff-rich and adorned with John Young's keyboards, originally was the title track for Robin's 1985's album, yet here it has much more grit - which must have made a live favorite - and provides the base for the more loose "Don't Come Crying". Still, while the leader's guitar playing is excellent throughout, tracks like "Losing You" are strictly of their era and today sound dated; at the same time, "Let It Burn" and "Rush" rage very contemporarily.

Sadly, LIFE's life wasn't long - "The End Of The Line" bids farewell on an exquisite acoustic passage - but with George still active and Tart fronting DIAMOND HEAD, "Cocoon" has both historic value and emotional zip to be viable in this day and age.

***
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