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BOX OF FROGS -
Box Of Frogs
Epic 1984
Esoteric 2011

The blueswailing heroes change gears and, with heavy guests and former guitarist on board, make an impact on the '80s.

When THE YARDBIRDS quit the roost in 1968 to split into LED ZEPPELIN and RENAISSANCE, the chances for a reunion were none, especially after their singer's death in the next decade. The mores surprising, then, was the decision of rhythm guitarist Chris Dreja, bassist Paul Samwell-Smith and his co-writer, drummer Jim McCarty, the only of the three who'd stayed in the band until the end, to join forces again. It might go awry, yet with the same formula, if updated from the '60s, and with Jeff Beck, one of the original group's axe-grinder, on board, the combination was winning.

Beck paints blue four of the cuts here starting with "Back Where I Started" which insistently burrows its way into the listener brain helped by John Fiddler's harmonica. Fiddler, after MEDICINE HEAD and BRITISH LIONS, dons new stripes impressively and brings his former cohort Ray Majors to supply guitar to the rhythm section's heavy swing in "Harder". In places, JETHRO TULL's Peter-John Vettese's keyboards have a needless modern edge, but when Max Middleton gets to the ivories the drift becomes irresistible, what with Rory Gallagher and Dzal Martin's slide on, respectively, the boogie of "The Edge" and the skanking ballad "Love Inside You". Geraint Watkins's piano brings the swagger to "Poor Boy", to finish this master class on as dirty a note as it gets. Bonuses, including the 12" run-through of half the album, just give it more weight.

****1/3
STEVE ELLIS - Loot
CBS 1970
Angel Air 2011

A soundtrack to the cult movie classic dips the "Everlasting Love" singer into a jazzy brew to come out as a winner.

Today, there might be a limited appeal in the British comedy starring Richard Attenborough, which can't be said of the film's OST with Steve Ellis as a star. The LOVE AFFAIR vocalist, already solo, was drafted into the focus by the arranger Keith Mansfield who stood behind the coating of Steve Ellis' former band's hits and now had to score the movie. The result, that clocks off in a little more than half an hour, passed the test of time.

Slightly repetitious with two versions each of the infectious "More, More, More" and the swinging "Loot's The Root", plus the overriding money and melodic theme, it casts Ellis' soulful voice, contrasted by elite female force - Doris Troy, Madeline Bell and Sue & Sunny - into the sleazy brass. Clem Cattini's drum rolls and Big Jim Sullivan's guitar interjections keep it all sharp, while the dialogue snippets anchor the drift to its era, where some of the music, such as the vaudeville ballad "We Nearly Were Lovers", also belongs. But "Mother's Waltz" is more tongue-in-cheek singalong than straight operetta stylization, and there's many a nice moment to this short curio ripe for rediscovery.

***
ILLUSION -
Out Of The Mist
Island 1977
Esoteric 2011

A band of just another name: the renaissance of the original RENAISSANCE brings back the beauty.

When the former YARDBIRDS Keith Relf and Jim McCarty dissolved their second endeavor, RENAISSANCE, it was more due to the unfortunate circumstances rather than to creative crisis. And while the ensemble carried on under the guidance of their affiliate guitarist who led the group to the greater success, the founder fathers went their own ways only to reconvene in the mid-'70s in the initial line-up and stall because of Keith's personal problems. Then, he tragically died - and the demise of this doomed singer freed the rest. Adopting the title of the original formation's second album, now it was Jim's turn to leave the drums, step forward as a strummer and co-singer with Jane Relf and turn his finest hour.

A co-writer of such classics as "Still I'm Sad", here McCarty shakes off the ties of progressive style that bound the band in the beginning and, with vestiges of that bigness all over dramatic "Candles Are Burning", goes for the melody. The ensemble might give a new spark to "Face Of Yesterday" from six years before, and "Roads To Freedom", paved with John Hawken's keyboards, updates the erstwhile sound, yet it's the opening ballad "Isadora" that spreads its beautiful wings over the whole record. Its fantastic melody shines in the lulling, if disturbing, mix of acoustic guitar and piano, and two soft voices, as well as John Knightsbridge's harmony guitar solo, and while the riff of "Everywhere You Go" slightly rocks the boat with "Everywhere You Go" having a contemporary orchestral polish, there's a warm shimmer in the melancholy-stricken "Beautiful Country". An adorable and mature work.

*****
SKIN ALLEY -
Two Quid Deal
Transatlantic 1972
Esoteric 2011

Underground heroes shed their slough and reach for the thunder.

Their first two albums not bringing any sizeable success but a part in 1971's Glastonbury Fayre gaining them some repute, the British quartet signed to the more caring Transatlantic and bolted towards more rocking sound. It's there from the off: once "Nick's Seven" brings the kind of attack the foursome didn't tried before - but singing bassist Nick Graham had rolled in with ATOMIC ROOSTER - the change is obvious, as it is in the kick of a single "You Got Me Danglin'".

The bluesy grease smearing the exquisite guitar cloth weaved by Bob James and a funky shake of "So Glad" or "Too Many People", an accordion and a flute solo in their snaky midst, brought the band a deal with Stax in the States, yet there's enough erstwhile delicate quirks on the album - what with the folk tune of "Skin Valley Serenade" and the breezy acoustics of "Sun Music" cut anew when the "Stop Veruschka" soundtrack didn't shape up as a record - for it to remain rooted in the English soil. It's an Albion jazzy sensibility that fills "A Final Coat" which grows from a gentle piano ballad into a well-orchestrated drama in the high-street prog fashion - but there's a commercial appeal in most of the tracks on offer.

That was a wrong direction to go, and the next album would kill the band; still, on "Two Quid Deal" the spiked drink has just a right dose of sweetness in it.

*****
UTOPIA - POV
Passport 1985
Esoteric 2011

The progressive pool shallows and a pop turn sees the dream disappear.

Todd Rundgren is many musicians rolled into one, and there's no style he can pursue that would be surprising to his fans. So when, in the mid-'70s, Rundgren decided to lead a prog band alongside his solo career, the diversification was enriching. Ten years on, the musical landscape changed, and art rock survived by treading commercial waters. But for Todd, to follow YES down the "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" road meant getting to the trek which he already walked on under his own name. Yet great experimenter as he was, he couldn't resist the call of clever pop music, and this "POV" emerged.

The hollow ring of "Play This Game" lays out the cards for the big chorus to bloom into the great example of what good the '80s offered, and "Zen Machine" bubbles with urgent energy, but for the most part the arrangements flatten the memorable melodies, and even Rundgren's guitar solos can't save the songs. Still, within the sparkling emotion of "Secret Society" and the honeyed flow of "Mated" the formula works, Roger Powell's keyboards switching into the rock mode yet opting for electronic˝ wigout in "More Light, while "Mystified" swings its blues hook the fiercest. The period bonus tracks fleshing out the reissue show the quartet didn't have much more to offer, so the end of UTOPIA seemed only logical. The next chapter of the band's story would be written in the next decade, with the next climate change, yet "POV" remains a pleasant curio in their timeline.

***
GILGAMESH -
Gilgamesh
Caroline 1975
Esoteric 2011

The hard way for the easy music: the Canterbury's most delicate band come on record.

Keyboard player Alan Gowen had the softest touch on the scene that produced such giants as CARAVAN and HATFIELD AND THE NORTH and the right connections, plus the right sidekicks, so why it took a couple of years for his own band to be signed remains a mystery. The problem clearly didn't lay with the music, as the quartet's debut is full of minuscule grandness. It's there in the breezy "Island Of Rhodes" - shaped by Fender Rhodes, of course - and in the silky textures of "Arriving Twice" and in Satie-inspired. But "Notwithstanding" constantly shifts its sonics and rhythms to swirl on Michael Travis' drums' axis with no place for a clear focus, while "Lady And Friend" has the point and hangs in the quiet-loud dynamics of Jeff Clyne's elegiac bass line punctured with the six-string bursts, and "Paper Boat For Doris" shows its debt to Satie.

Gowen constructs his puzzle as if from behind the curtains. The scale of the riveting picture transpires in the classical piano figure in "One End More" from where Phil Lee's guitar does comical pas of "Phil's Little Dance", dedicated to his namesake Miller's pants, and Amanda Parsons vocalizes in the romantic lull of "World Of Zin" - all in the span of a single track. Yet there's no small footing for "We Are All", another three-part composition that fuses all disparate threads into a reflective, if in turns serenely slow and playfully fast, ripple - alluring and elusive as a mirage. The same can be said about the quartet's fortunes. Soon after the album's release, the band broke up. Yet after stints with NATIONAL HEALTH and SOFT HEAP Alan Gowen resurrected his mindchild whose second album would be their last.

***1/3
SOFT MACHINE -
Alive & Well - Recorded In Paris
Harvest 1978
Esoteric 2010

The definitive edition of the mighty engine's valedictory, yet melodious, gasp.

When SOFT MACHINE arrived at Montmartre's "Theatre Le Palace" in July 1977, they were on their last legs as a working unit due to financial reasons, but those legs were beautiful. With no founding member in sight, the band delivered a blistering performance that didn't allow for a glance over their collective shoulder: the original album, preserved here on the first disc, contains no previously recorded composition - hence the freshness of it all.

And the lightness, too, John Etheridge standing alone with an acoustic guitar for the exquisite "Number Three" after reaching for electric skies in "Eos" and, to John Marshall's heavy beat, in "Puffin'". Elsewhere, Karl Jenkins' synthesizer spices the sonic soup with the mischievous dance in "Odds Bullets And Blades" over the bass' bobs courtesy of Steve Cook, the latest addition to the line-up, alongside Ric Saunders whose violin gives a folk edge to the furious flow of "Huffin'" and leads his own cosmic gypsy jig "Surrounding Silence". The final coup comes in disco form of the punchy "Soft Disco" that, in its studio version formed such rarity as a SOFT MACHINE single, a link to the second disc of this package.

That unusual track rounding it off, the bulk of the CD is given to a nice selection of cuts recorded there and then in Paris which never saw the light of day. With "The Nodder", the only common point of these tapes - and a wonderful one, played to this day - to measure the band's immense improvisational skills within a memorable melody's framework, the newly uncovered material reveals the ensemble ensured the public knew where they were at by way of doing a few pieces from their latest, "Softs". The punters recognize "Song Of Aeolus", more translucent and vibrating on-stage, from its first notes, while the Eastern rise of "The Tale Of Taliesin" grows in stature. At the same time, "The Spraunce" ties the groove to Jenkins' meowing keyboards and "Two Down" sees Etheridge's fingers go off the leash, and "One Over The Eight" brings the show to a close in an uplifting funk manner.

Yet on its release, "Alive & Well" didn't see the group as vivacious, as SOFT MACHINE were no more, and the revival of the name three years later was only to prove that the flame had gone.

*****
MOUNTAIN -
Crossroader
Esoteric 2010

Spanning 1969-1974, a primer of the Woodstock wrestlers' initial circle of life on and off stage.

Wrongly viewed as an American answer to CREAM, this band's mojo was - and still is - less pure in bluesy terms and more varied in style. The connection was there, of course, due to the British trio's producer Felix Pappalardi inserting his bass pad under Leslie West's guitar and both groups' love for endless improvisations. Yet MOUNTAIN's legacy, while less revered, is infinitely rockier, as Esoteric's definitive, 155-minute compilation, divided into the studio and concert discs, proves.

The collection starts with the quartet's brightest moment, the immortal slice of hot lava that is "Mississippi Queen", and ends with a killer half-an-hour version of "Nantucket Sleighride", originally spread over sides 2 and 3 of vinyl and here available, as is the title track with its slide lining on a Robert Johnson chugging foundation, for the winning comparison with its concise, if punchier in the unison and interplay, version on the first CD. Live, the ensemble thrived, the concert approach wrapping "Long Red" in magic to be much sampled later on by a rap crowd. They never went for a stretched-out noodling - what about "Dream Sequence" which interpolates "Roll Over Beethoven" and extended solo spots? - and didn't go unnoticed among the Woodstock talent, the event they immortalized in of "For Yasgur's Farm" that shares a country vibe with "One Last Cold Kiss".

Many of the songs here boast memorable riffs from West's armory, yet there's a lot of reckless boogie, too, in MOUNTAIN's take on "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and the band's own jolly "Flowers Of Evil", as well as in the fantastic folk-tinged flow of "Travellin' In The Dark". The soft side of the foursome shines through even more brightly in the solemn "Boys In The Band" and arguably the best cover of Jack Bruce's "Theme For An Imaginary Western", whereas gritty, big "You Better Believe It" and molten "Don't Look Back" put on a grandly threatening front. Every note enjoyable, this compilation holds all the MOUNTAIN's greatness in it. Scale it at your own peril.

*****
RANDY CALIFORNIA -
Kapt. Kopter And The (Fabulous) Twirly Birds
Epid 1972
Esoteric 2010

Free spirit pays tribute to his friend Jimi but cuts his lone flight short.

Disillusioned in his own group and grieving for his former band Hendrix, in 1971 Randy California left SPIRIT and, after a date standing in for Ritchie Blackmore with DEEP PURPLE, Randy California set on a solo course. A rather far cry from his ensemble's magnum opus "Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus", the guitarist fashioned a stoner rock mini-classic, wah-wah and mind-bending abound with finger-work never less than impressive which can't be said about the melodic side of things. But "Mother And Child Reunion" delivers the emotion not only thanks to its author, Paul Simon, but also to California's warm singing and delicate slider roll, and James Brown's "I Don't Want Nobody" with its female backing sounds rightfully possessed to spill its rhythmic anger to tick the nerves in its crunch.

Still, the opener "Downer" lays out the groovy agenda, as if sculpted on the studio spot, across Noel Redding's funky grit, even more infectious in the mightily percussive "Things Yet To Come", and a lysergic cover of "Day Tripper" plays up the song's double entendre. Another Fabs' tune, "Rain", gets a bluegrass shot before fogging up the flow around Randy's phased vocals until the backwards coda, but the single "Walking The Dog" - attached here alongside its muddy B-side "Live For The Day" and an unreleased studio jam from the album sessions - infuses a Rufus Thomas perennial with a pop airiness. Sadly, it wasn't solid enough for Randy California to build a guitar hero career on, and two years later SPIRIT rose again.

***2/3
GRAHAME BOND -
Mighty Grahame Bond
Pulsar 1969
Esoteric 2011

The second American album sees the British giant weaken his grip on the jive.

In the eighteen months spent in the USA with a tourist visa, Graham Bond didn't score for drugs as much as he could but tried as he might to regain his touch with music. His first Pulsar LP, "Love Is The Law", didn't do much splash, yet Bond was so committed that he went for recording its follow-up in a day and a half. If only music's strength equalled the artist's dedication!

"Mighty" has a powerful stuff indeed, "Water Water" turning fugue in funk for Harvey Mandel to add some scratch to the organ grit, while "Freaky Beak" pitches its contagious rage against the suits, and "Baroque" sends Graham in the lap of Bach, but for the most part the punch is pulled from the ring. There's a diluted energy in the Hammond workouts of "Brothers And Sisters" and "Sisters And Brothers", their hippy message too thin on the ground. And if the churchy "Pictures In The Fire" hides a demonic flame, in "Oh Shining One" Bond languidly wears Billy Preston's mantle, whereas "Walk Onto Me" is his "A Whiter Shade Of Pale". Strong instrumentally, it's the bleak material that mars the outcome which has its nice moments but doesn't deliver as a whole.

***
LOCOMOTIVE -
We Are Everything You See
Parlophone 1970
Esoteric 2010

One grand concept goes too far to be grasped - but admiration often demands some distance.

There's something wrong in following the MOODY BLUES route: if they had the power to blossom in prog ways after the "Go Now" success, LOCOMOTIVE, another bunch of Brummies who once had John Bonham behind their kit, didn't have many a big concept to blow up from "Rudi's In Love" save for what the band shaped as their sole LP. Not included here, the ska hit gave the group a lot of self-esteem that Gus Dudgeon was only too happy to direct. The result is as huge in itself as a snow globe world, and as isolated and adorable.

Basically a trio led by singing keyboardist Norman Haines, with a lot of strings and brass section including such luminaries as Henry Lowther and Dick Heckstall-Smith, "We Are Everything You See" falls under the weight of its pathos. In "Mr. Armageddon" stentorian vocals fly over the organ bed before the tentatively furious soloing gets contrasted with orchestral coating, while the melodies on tracks like "Lay Me Down Gently" are diffused, and the lines about stealing cakes off Queen of Hearts and fathering a thousand children sounded naive even in 1970 when THE KINKS cooked their social criticism much sharper. Yet a coupling of UNITED STATES OF AMERICA's "Coming Down" and "Love Song For The Dead Che" received a quintessentially English slant, and recurring themes hold the songs together, especially in the second half of the record which has a three-part "The Loves Of Augustus Abbey" interlude, the soulful "You Must Be Joking" a stand-out and "Time Of Light And Darkness" finally giving room for a Hammond attack.

A brace of singles, catchy pop songs "Roll Over Mary" and "I'm Never Gonna Let You Go" among them, shows LOCOMOTIVE could have been a precursor to DEXY MIDNIGHT RUNNERS had they stayed in their commercial trench, yet the musicians went separate ways before the album was out. The rhythm section formed THE DOG THAT BIT PEOPLE, yet that's another story.

**1/2
SKIN ALLEY -
Big Brother Is Watching You
CBS 1970
Esoteric 2011

The people's band's first two albums and an unissued soundtrack form a rough-hewn delight.

Signed to Clearwater management who also had HAWKWIND and HIGH TIDE on their books, this quartet played a free concert circuit long enough to be well-known among the hairy crowd who loved their music complex yet accessible. SKIN ALLEY could confidently cater for such demands without relying on the chemicals and spaced-outness but relying heavily on jazzy vibe to wrap their progressive rind around as suggested by the band's two first albums from 1970, produced by Dick Taylor of PRETTY THINGS and collected here.

Their eponymous debut possesses a wide scope to take in the jovial baroque of "Marsha", propelled by Krzysztof Henryk Juszkiewicz's organ and smoothed with guitarist Bob James' saxes, alongside the string-coated nerve of "Tell Me", a rare sugar-free ballad. It even has a soulful folk in its cortex, so the graceful "Living In Sin" has TRAFFIC written all over its mix of Farfisa, phased guitars and sunny reeds, while the shimmering "Night Time" dances in the piano moonlight, and "Country Alley" goes much deeper down the rural route. The rolling blues "(Going Down The) Highway" is the only concession to the rock idiom.

If "Easy To Lie", the closer of the second album, "To Pagham And Beyond", keeps a mournful sway in the cotton fields before going off the leash and into a church, "The Queen Of Bad Intentions", the record's centerpiece, is where SKIN ALLEY's transcendental identity crystallizes in a sharp, if mellow, rocking. But there's a nice swing in "Sweaty Betty" and "Big Brother Is Watching You", that hold a pinch of live improvisation in their burning core. More so, the band heroically follow a COLOSSEUM blueprint on a Graham Bond classic "Walking In The Park" featuring a former ATOMIC ROOSTER singer Nick Graham. whereas the gentle "Take Me To Your Leader's Daughter" sees the ensemble blowing country air - and a Chopin shadow - to a great effect.

The band applied their cinematic qualities when they were commissioned a soundtrack to a now-forgotten film "Stop Veruschka" about an infamous model. The results augmenting these two discs, the plaintive harmonies of the ever-growing "Sofa, Taxi and Sand Themes" and the accordion of "Bird Music" get in the heart of Eastern Europe, but the Celtic motif in "Skin Valley Serenade" should make JETHRO TULL fans salivate. Elsewhere, "Russian Boogaloo" mixes all the progressive elements - Renaissance harpsichord solemnity, bluesy guitar flow with a flamenco curlicue and jazzy jive - and "Sun Music", destined to end up on SKIN ALLEY's third album, boasts an infectious pop chorus: for the most part, incidental fodder it isn't, yet a nice addition to the fantastic group's legacy it certainly is.

*****
MURPHY BLEND -
First Loss
Kuckuck 1971
Reactive 2011

German intellectuals seek a gain in an aural cornucopia - heavy and fruitful.

The "Murphy" part coming from Samuel Beckett and "First Loss" from Robert Schumann, the debut album from this German quartet could be a typical art-rock pretence, yet it's a concise tour de force of progressive grind. Led by Wolf-Rodiger Uhlig's organ, the band use the aforementioned Romantic composer's soft figure in the heavy title track, while the shadow of Bach is all over "Praludium" and "Funny Guys" rides the omnipresent "Toccata In D Minor", but classical music takes a back sit to the fervent rocking. The keyboards interplay with Wolfgang Rumler's sharp guitar in "At First" will appeal to DEEP PURPLE's fans, but psyched-up vocals lend an era naivety to the outcome. It's in the instrumental department that the group excel, so "Past Has Gone" raves majestically on both blues and baroque scales. Tasty, if criminally short, work.

****
NEKTAR -
Remember The Future -
Deluxe Edition
Bellaphon 1973
ItsAboutMusic.com 2011

Ziggy visiting Tommy? Rather the progressive masterpiece with a massive twist!

An idea of an alien communicating with earthlings via a blind boy might look hilarious, as might an idea to follow the template of "Thick As A Brick" and "Tubular Bells" and have an album-long suite broken in two parts to fit a vinyl record side. But when it came to their fourth LP, NEKTAR had another grand concept on their mind: to conquer America. So while the others explored the art rock possibilities, this quartet stitched a tapestry from the more commercial elements, thus fashioning a winning formula.

The thread their gobelin hangs on from the off is funk and country lines of Roye Albrighton's multicolored guitar that the vocal harmonies take the rainbow paint from. Sunny folk tones make this an irresistible mix, and when the soft rocking gets sharp there's a delicate piquancy of the best pop songs a collection of which "Remember The Future" essentially is. When the flow gets harder, Allan Freeman's keyboards add some pomposity to the end of the first part, yet on the second one the soft cosmic expanse prevails, and the lightness becomes even more commercial, almost mirror ball-like. No wonder, the record found many a listener on both sides of Atlantic. Too mellifluous in places, it hits all the right buttons save for the memorable immediacy, but Ýţˇ music's good while it lasts.

On this reissue it lasts twice as long, as the original recording is augmented with a full-blown live version which shows how great the album translates on stage, and there's a second disc, a 2007 Brazilian concert, including a great take on another concept piece, "Tab In The Ocean", that proves what a force NEKTAR still are - having remembered their future three decades before.

****1/3
MACHIAVEL -
Mechanical Moonbeams
Harvest 1978
Esoteric 2010

Album number three aligns Belgian heroes with the demands of time for the glittery fairy-telling.

Third album comes difficult, they say, and this could have rung true for MACHIAVEL who'd bloomed with "Jester" right when progressive rock was considered unfashionable. Never mind the punk that didn't rock continental Europe, but now the standards of bombastic changed, so "Summon Up Your Strength", a nice slab of glam pinned with rock 'n' roll riffing, shoots in the very heart of it. And that's a burning heart which embraces two magically honeyed ballads that are pure late '70s: the shining "Rope Dancer" and the tremulous "After The Crop" that unexpectedly spreads its power to end in a sharp rockalama, and. And if the harmonic, though superficial, expanse of "Rebirth" or "Beyond The Silence" can be measured by an ELO ruler as well as that of YES - there goes the seriousness of it all, sequestered only to an acoustic drama of "Mary" - yet "The Fifth Season" paves the way to neo-prog in broad, if well-textured and dance-minded, strokes, with something of "Bat Out Of Hell" in its pop sway. Bold and tasty!

****
TITUS GROAN -
Titus Groan
Dawn 1971
Esoteric 2010

A buried treasure of progressive folk gets a proper, reverential reissue for draping one's head in velvet sounds.

If this British band's name comes from the Mervyn Peake classic books, the cover of their sole album - a mutated Pan - suggests ancient Greek: the record holds both fantasy and antiques in it - and some good antics, too. It's hardly a coincidence, then, that for the lead track of the maxi-single, which was released just before the LP and is included here, the quartet chose Dylan's "Open The Door, Homer", quite rollicking when set against the rest of their fare, grand and soaring.

Initially reflective, "I Can't Change" may follow the angular road only for the sake of playing to the progressive rule of not staying in one place for long and takes too many different threads to come up with a whole Medieval gobelin, but "Wall Of Bright Carvings" weaves around the court dancehall which is shot through with a folk riff to wander along the flute-paved corridors. It rocks the stones with a hymnal song without bowing to the more famous masters of the day, whereas a jazzy wind blows from the blues of "It Wasn't For You", where Tony Priestland's saxes blare in the glare of Stuart Cowell's adventurous guitar and Hammond, while the piano-led "It's All Up With Us" shows the charts potential in its vocal harmonies and gentle melody.

The bass-heavy "Fuschia" and the single track "Woman Of The World" point the way to greatness, maybe in heavy field yet, unfortunately, the foursome failed to fly from the underground ditch where many of their more famous contemporaries should have left instead. A genuine gem rediscovered and cleaned up to shine.

*****
PIERRE MOERLEN'S GONG -
Time Is The Key
Arista 1979
Esoteric 2010

...where "Time" means "new age", and the space requires a different echo.

While Pierre Moerlen's original intention, after inheriting GONG from the band's pixie-minded creators, was to take the combo into the jazzier direction, once the deep "Downwind" was coiled, the percussionist decided to pursue transparency and tightened the reins. He even bridled Allan Holdsworth for his vision who supplies guitar to three tracks including angular "Arabesque", yet it's only on "An American In England" and the funky "The Bender" that bassist Hansford Rowe unleashes his fury, elsewhere the music delicately ripples.

Jazz playfulness rears its head in the light "Supermarket" and "Esnuria Two", to which Peter Lemer adds electric piano, and "The Organ Grinder" takes the groove to a dancefloor. But when there's more air, like in the opening "Ard Na Greine" that betrays Moerlen's friend Mike Oldfield's influence in the light mix of glockenspiel and vibraphone and features CURVED AIR's Darryl Way's violin - hushed into submission - there's a strong, if delicate, pull into some other world. It's good while it lasts, but leaves no traces in memory once it's over.

***
GRAHAME BOND -
Love Is The Law
Pulsar 1968
Esoteric 2011

The keyboards' heavyweight works idealistic magick humble yet arresting.

Leaving his glory in the drugs' haze and THE GRAHAM BOND ORGANISATION having splintered for CREAM and COLOSSEUM to be born of it, in 1968 the band's main man was almost a wreck. But it was at that point of Graham Bond's career that THE FOOL, Dutch artists mostly known for painting the Apple Corps' headquarters, asked him to cross the Atlantic and help them lay down an album. The result in the can of oblivion, it led to the organist's own two American records - now finally restored in all their dubious glory. "Love Is The Law", the first one (the second being "Mighty Grahame Bond"), with Bond marking a new start by adding "e" to his name, is the best: sun-dappled in LA way, its tone is all the more convincing for the master's darkness still lurking somewhere deep inside.

The gloom's there in the hushed buzz and bells of plaintive "Our Love Will Come Shining Through" and Eastern motif of the sax-shaking "The Naz", their anxiety contrasted by an unusual cosmic lucidity that brings the mix of Hammond and Mellotron under the most soulful vocals in the title track which Bond originally gave to EYES OF BLUE to reclaim here for eternity. This kind of spirit-lifting happens right in the middle of "I Couldn't Stand It Anymore": its insipid flow breaks into a gracious blues organ solo, Hal Blaine, the only other musician on the album, going for the reckless drums wonders. The two players engage in the instant lock of instrumental "Sun Dance", and "Bad News Blues" is pure classic Bond, in a "Walking In The Park" mode, whereas "Crossroads Of Time" to unfurl a Bach figure into a "Make Love Not War" chant over the rocking groove and "The World Will Soon Be Free" sees Graham explore the funk idiom.

The last great work a genuine British maverick, ripe for rediscovery and admiring.

****2/3
TOMMY JAMES -
A Night In Big City... Plus
Aura Records 1996
Angel Air 2011

An "audio-movie", the veteran rock 'n' roller giving a tuneful holler for the place he loves.

Six years on from "Hi Fi", dipped in the '80s for what it was worth, THE SHONDELLS' leader delivered a paean to NYC, the place for Tommy James to be and sing about. A concept album of sorts, "A Night In Big City" sees James play a not-so-imaginary scenario of a night on the town in a role of himself, a muso who comes out to entertain and be entertained. Cue the quotes, in the form of complete re-cuts, of his own classics "Tighter, Tighter" and "I Think We're Alone Now", given a modern shine and fitting the new context that gets complete with sound effects and dialogue snippets. "Baby Tonight" has a lounge gloss to its nocturnal air, and the seductive "Blue Bird" is coated in a vaudeville allure. But the catchy rocker "Red Headed Woman (In A Black Limousine)", hung on guitar crunch and brass licks, and the velvety "Who Do You Love", arguably the best ballad, the artist has ever come up with, can firmly stand on their own and kick on par with Tommy's seasoned songs.

This disc is fleshed out with several of those, singles sides and unreleased tracks from 1974-1991, where "You're So Easy To Love" is a beautiful middle-of-the-road creation and "Glory Glory" echoes the "Mony Mony" zap. The whole record wears the weight of the old days well, and is a testament to the master's magic touch.

****
MACHIAVEL -
Jester
Harvest 1977
Esoteric 2010

The Belgian proggers crystallize their philosophy and give it a tune.

Heavily influenced by the British stalwarts of the genre, European art-rockers might have more Renaissance scope but to realize it, they had to borrow the template from across the Channel. MACHIAVEL, hailing from Belgium, were - and still are - better than the others in bending the rules to their own shape, it's just the quintet emerged on the scene once the prog heyday was gone, but "Jester", their second album, is where the band found their grand focus.

It's wrapped in beautiful reflection, so bright in the shimmering jazziness of the title track that incorporates a glossy hard rock attack and in the acoustic net of "Moments", but here's a polished end to the sound that cuts through the chug of "Wisdom" and makes its cogs too sleek to catch the attention. In places, the theatricality of Mario Guccio's vocal delivery doesn't help matters either, but Jean Paul Devaux's guitar and Albert Letecheur's guitar elevate the structure to enjoyable height for "Sparkling Jaw" to spread its choral light in a spiritual, if pretty danceable in disco vein of the day, way. Another, anthemic kind of baroque flows through "Mr. Street Fair", while "Rock, Sea And Tree" falls under its own ambition to be epic.

Much better fare two bonus tracks, the exquisite "The Birds Are Gone" and the rocking "I'm Nowhere", recorded in 1974 when the band only started. That's where the originality thrived.

***3/4
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