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HAWKWIND -
It Is The Business Of The Future To Be Dangerous
Essential 1993 /
Atomhenge 2012

Setting controls in the heart of the rave, the veterans reinvent themselves as leaner and meaner cosmic crew.

When the Dave Brock-driven unit used an Alfred Whitehead's quote from the cover of "Space Ritual", their classic of two decades' vintage, for the band's 1993's album, it signaled a full circle being rounded off. As far removed from their Ladbroke Grove grime as possible and having shrunk to the half of the ensemble's erstwhile line-up, this new HAWKWIND landed at the very center of the UK house scene, and what could have been a power trio turned out a killer team able to dry and clean the most spaced-out sections of their old oeuvre for the dancefloor masses.

Mostly instrumental, the record rides the crest of sequencers' wave, so when the vocals enter the mix after the seamless suite that devours its first part they feel like aliens, yet there are nods to the days of yore. Thus, the streamline "Letting In The Past" retrofits 1982'a "Looking In The Future" for the here-and-now and the cover of "Gimme Shelter", the only track on offer devoid of urgency, calls back blues smut, although the album version lacks voice - and tits - of Samantha Fox who's on the bonus cut of the song to remind us that the band were well-endowed in the breasts department when Stacia strutted her stuff at the front. The rest of the material is lysergic to the gills, and even "The Camera That Could Lie" propels its riddim into trance, not roots reggae, the kudos going to Richard Chadwick's precise drum-work and Alan Davey's bass which comes forth as a leading force in the end of "Tibet Is Not China" that envelopes children's chant within techno-minded prog rock. The guitar finally makes its entrance in "Let Barking Dogs Lie", trance-inducing in the same measure, yet acid kicks in in full in "Space Is Their (Palestine)" where metronomic rhythm serves as an axis for silver-lined synthetic clouds, and the Arabic motif renders such haze more an assassin Aladdin wet reverie than a political statement.

Just how relevant HAWKWIND can be is obvious from the "Spirit Of The Age" versions on the additional CD which comprises "The Solstice Remixed" and "Decide Your Future", two contemporary EPs: the 1977 chestnut gracefully lends itself to fresh grooves, even though nothing equals its original impact, while "Right To Decide" exposes the band as both couriers of folk tradition and punk progenitors prone to rave on. It's dangerous, yes, but business-like.

****
TOUCH - Touch
Sunset Sound 1968 /
Esoteric 2012

On the way from "Louie Louie" to "Fun House", a man behind many masks delivers one enchanting surprise.

To some, Don Gallucci is a classic Elektra Records producer who set Iggy up for greatness; to others, the keyboardist's finest moment lay in THE KINGSMEN' realm. Yet for all his proto-punk slant, Gallucci's heart was always tuned to more celestial sonics. In the mid-'60s he formed DON AND THE GOODTIMES who, once psychedelia kicked in, became TOUCH and, in 1968, cut this, their only album which impressed rock royalty such as Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix but ended up in obscurity and on collectors' wish lists. The promotion failed due to the band's refusal to tour as Don, like the Fabs before him, found it impossible to recreate the complex sound in concert.

Perhaps, Gallucci was right when it concerned the ensemble's progressive figures embracing epic proportions in the wildly adventurous, if disturbingly patchy, underground dance of "Seventy Five" or the mesmeric dirge which is "The Spiritual Death Of Howard Greer" - theatrically, from cathedral to a fair and back again, big even in live demo version, a bonus that effectively proves Don's doubts wrong. Yet the organ-led primordial rave of opener "We Feel Fine" would have lent itself to a stage just nice. Heavy and acid-burnt, it gives rhythm-and-blues kaleidoscopic qualities and contrasts the crystal flow of "Friendly Birds" where piano betrays the leader's classical upbringing while Joey Newman's guitar reveals his jazz leanings. Eclecticism peaks in "Down At Circe's Place" with its tabla-spiced, lysergic instrumental collage, and in the Rachmaninoff-meets-boogie jive of "Miss Teach" for Jeff Hawkes to demonstrate all the colors of his vocals, his voice most blissful in the boppy "Alesha And Others".

The group could be radio-friendly as suggested by the contemporary, non-LP single "We Finally Met Today" but in trying to tie many stylistic ends they fizzled out just as the art rock era was dawning. A 1973's reunion yielded another dramatic epic, "The Second Coming Of Suzanne", which rounds off this definitive edition of "Touch" and shows Don Gallucci as a Renaissance man as adept at a harpsichord as at other keyboards, but he didn't like to stand alongside Rick Wakeman or Keith Emerson, so TOUCH couldn't get a grip of the day and slipped away.

****1/2
TERRY RILEY -
A Rainbow In Curved Air
Columbia 1967 /
Esoteric 2012

A towering classic of dewdrop beauty: a tuneful multicolored arch as seen through a lens of one-man's boundless imagination.

Futurism getting into constant motion to ever stay ahead of time takes a special moment - and a special person - to be harnessed, and Terry Riley planted his experimental root at the right instant. If his previous effort, "In C", already played live but yet to be committed to vinyl, built it minimalistic premises on more academic terms, "A Rainbow In Curved Air" allowed wider audiences an access to its equally vertiginous realm just when the public was ready for such head games. To be accessed doesn't mean to be grasped, though, as the two side-long compositions here, especially the album's title track, is so elusive that, to this day, any number of psychedelic artists can drag behind it with no hope of achieving an approximate effect on purely cerebral, and emotional level. And that's without mentioning the effect it had on popular music from CURVED AIR's name and THE WHO's "Baba O'Riley" to horizons this Riley's work opened for progressive rock to the overdub and tape delay's techniques he elevated to art in itself.

Of course, there was schools, symphonic and jazz ones, so the maestro followed both J.S. Bach's organ foundations and Bill Evans' piano-layering, but on this one-man crusade Terry Riley implemented a broader palette to get rich colors and ever-shifting mood - hence the title. The cosmic sounds of highly pitched electric harpsichord oscillating over a reverberating tubular bedrock shot through with what could be - but isn't - a Moog paint a strange, if mesmeric, picture which hides classical tradition under modern urgency that itself is buried in the unhurried shards of melody. Yet a European stance gets spiked when a processed darbuka sends the drift eastwards and sometimes its tuneful rhythm comes to the surface to take over from the keyboards at which point the flow becomes light and lucid as opposed to its initial density. The means are minimal here whereas the result rise for the maximal use of intellectual and sensual resources even though the listener notices none of such demands.

The second piece on offer, "Poppy Nogood And The Phantom Band", sees Riley manipulating two tapes machines and pouring his soprano sax grit to the electro mill. Scary splashes of volume aside, an outcome of the loops' play isn't unlike the drones of Indian raga and Irish folk that, in places, give way to long, modulating Coltranian flights of shiny brass, its echo dancing around the ears to turn stereo into a surround panorama. Then, all of this wraps its notes in synthetic cloth only to strip it back again for a live feel and go parading in front of aural mirror that project rainbow reflections here, there and everywhere and leave no escape except for a total surrender to the vibration which shatters every corner of the psyche and fills one's mind with ghostly voices that don't speak but sing hosanna to the very magic of human existence - as abstract as it is focused on here and now.

Like a river, you can't enter this album twice and have the same sensation: it doesn't dwell on one spot, so each time the experience is different and all the greater for it. That's where the album's timelessness comes from. According to the composer's notes, the concept of work can be forgotten but this work of concept wouldn't.

*****
TODD RUNDGREN -
One Long Year
Artemis 2000 /
Esoteric 2011

Twelve months of failed attempt to connect and survive don't make a revolution but form a musical prophesy.

An eternal experimenter, in 1997 Todd, having regained his breath with an exotica of "With A Twist...", decided to take interaction he engaged his fans in with "No World Order" to a new level. Rundgren designed an online community called Patronet to spread his tuneful message and deliver a tune a month for the aficionados to pay and get new pieces as they're being built. Due to the artist constant work, the task proved nigh on impossible, yet in the end there was enough material for a conventional CD which is "One Long Year", although the unity of time didn't translate into the conceptual wholeness. The weakest spot here to illustrate it comes with "Bang On The Ukulele Daily", a live take on the awkwardly Hawaiian'ed "Bang The Drum All Day", but the exuberantly harmonic opener "I Hate My Frickin' I.S.P.", that returns the American to his Anglophile roots, rings relevant even today, unlike "The Surf Talks" that pitches its Internet groove quite lifelessly.

On the other hand, the catchy boom of "Buffalo Grass" suppresses seething emotion under the glossy lid to a nice effect, while "Where Does The Time Go?" brings on a pop-minded sunlight. But the jazzy "Love Of The Common Man" could be a leftover from the previous album and seems out of place here, where instrumental "Mary And The Holy Ghost" searches cinematic wonders in muddy electronica and "Jerk" sprawls its rave without touching a nerve, no matter how hard Kasim Sulton plucks his bass. Still, "Yer Fast (And I Like It)" kicks up the aggressiveness levels in an organic way for headbangers to latch onto, whereas the Hammond-helped "Hit Me Like A Train" lacks a stomp to be as expressive as it tries to be. This can be said about the album as a whole: capturing a period in the artist's life, "One Long Year" doesn't reflect its real vein.

***
TOMMY JAMES
& THE SHONDELLS -
Live! At The Bitter End,
New York
Aura 1997 /
Angel Air 2011

Reclaiming his former glories, the All-American Boy rocks Big Apple to the core.

If there's a certain air of nostalgia about the '60s, some of the artists from that era can blow it to pieces and rip it up on stage. And that's exactly what the former SHONDELLS did with his new band in 1995 when he crossed the States to a city he loves dearly and played a one-night-only gig at one of the NYY's premiere clubs. The aural portion of that concert contains more energy than its visuals could suggest, and Tommy James masterfully intersperses his rockin' smashes with more polished confections as nicely illustrated by "Mirage" and "Sweet Cherry Wine" getting wrapped in the sharp, right on the money, "Mony Mony" or hip-shaker "Hanky Panky" following up the glossy "Crimson & Clover". The veteran builds an excitement and engagement with the soulful mid-tempo groove of "Draggin' The Line" only to shed the glitz some minutes later with a calypso-tickled "Say I Am (What I Am)" that, for all its easy roll, pounds quite heavily. There's a coherent flow from "Sugar On Sunday" into "Gettin' Together", both too sweet, yet prompting the punters to clap, which is all a fan and an artist alike need, and a non-stop emotional exchange is preserved so well on this swirl of a record. The more it spins, the higher one's spirit kicks.

****
TANGERINE DREAM -
Green Desert
Jive 1986 /
Reactive 2011

From the vaults into a new age: a long lost record takes its rightful place in the German veterans' canon.

1973 was a shifting time for Edgar Froese's band. For one, the group shrunk to a duo, with Christopher Franke laying real drums for the last time. Then, they signed to Virgin in hope to break on international level. Yet the little ensemble saw their new album rejected on the "not commercial enough" basis. Perhaps, the underlying reason was Richard Branson's desire to not position his new label as a one-dimensional enterprise and not create a concurrence for Mike Oldfield's endeavors by showing that the Deutsch guys mined this vein way before "Tubular Bells" tolled; four years later, asking them to score "Sorcerer", William Friedkin admitted the DREAM would have been his choice for "The Exorcist" had he heard of them then, so they did pose a threat. Not that it reflected in the music which lay untouched until 1984 when Froese decided to peel away the patina "Green Desert" acquired over the years and add new strokes - masterstrokes - to the picture: a move that hardcore fans bemoaned, as they'd like to hear the original version, it made the old tapes breathe with life that's the very gist of it all.

Keeping to their usual grand scale, with only four pieces on display, this time the band take to the space only once, in "Astral Voyager", a cosmic analog of Morricone's vast expanse that's more earth-bound in its deep groove than star-ridden. The actual action unfurls down below, in an echoing march of "White Clouds" which lets percussion drive the keyboards layers to overlap and create puzzling patterns that suck the listener in. That's joie de vivre where the beauty of the Earth finds its sonic avatar in the 20-minute title composition. Here, in the DREAM's most traditionally progressive epic, their closest relative to PINK FLOYD's oeuvre, synthetic buzz conjures up a perfect morning ambience and gets cut with metallic, urbanistic chime that floats in and out of focus until Froese's guitar starts its slow, richly toned ascension over ever-intensifying Franke's beat. With electronics for birds' tweets, a sunrise is painted monumentally. "Indian Summer" holds lesser romanticism in its splashy sparseness but there's a fitting comedown in its folky undercurrent which floats to the surface to warm the drift. Sometimes it takes a rocket ship to see and cherish all of our planet's natural wonders, and one would be hard pressed to find better vehicle than the DREAM's. It was worth the wait.

****3/4
AMMO -
Can't Smile Without You
1966-1977
Angel Air 2011

The unjustly obscure songwriting team finally gets their due with original cuts of hits and other rarities.

To have six songs recorded by The King: of the British songwriters only the Fabs beat AMMO to it - but then, the Liverpudlians did all for themselves, while Chris Arnold, David Martin and Geoff Morrow, who used that military moniker among others, would come up with goodies for more famous artists to take to the charts. Angel Air already delved in their treasure chest to dig out the singles the trio put out as RESCUE CO. NO. 1, and dust off their only album as BUTTERSCOTCH, and now the time's come to unearth 40 long lost tracks sourced mostly from scratchy vinyl and unreleased tapes. What results to be spread over two discs is a mixed bag full of charming surprises.

Some of these songs saw the light of day, voiced by Martin, yet his angelic vocals so beautiful on AMMO's debut recording, 1966's "We'll See It Through", a faithful appropriation of THE BEACH BOYS' harmonic sway, somehow lacks character to fully inhabit a composition. It's too obvious on rather pale "Sweet Angeline" from 1971, the only demo here of those that Elvis later breathed a soul, in and on 1975's title track, the threesome's most successful tune which has been covered many times and turned into a hit through Barry Manilow's pipes. More so, "Early Days" and the authors' take on "Who In The World" as good as it is - and good enough to tempt Mama Cass to cut it - are almost hijacked by Rick Wakeman's elegiac piano lines: that's a downside of using the best session players and a testament to the writers' taste.

It might overspill sometimes to jar with the exuberance of "Nothing But The Best", but the mellifluous flow of cabaret-smelling "I Believe In You" and the choir surge in "Theme From Arethuza Dustin" is irresistible. Their '60s works feel like perfect pop creations with deliberate naivete, adorably crooned in "I've Said It All Before" and the childish "World I Love You", whereas the '70s brought an orchestral sleaze, very much of its era with a guilty pleasure tinge in the unplugged swagger of "Nice To Be Home". Still, 1968's "Another Day Goes By" arrestingly anticipates the next decade's easy listening, if moving, approach which reach a soulful silkiness in "Is It Yes Or No" and harks back to THE PLATTERS with "Three Wishes". One may wish AMMO continued as a unit longer than they did, but they did enough to be praised as genuine masters of their craft: here's the proof.

****
TODD RUNDGREN -
With A Twist...
Guardian 1997 /
Esoteric 2011

A tropical injection for the Wizard's perennials to mutate and take the star and his listener to a lounge.

Does such restless creative mind as Todd's ever relax? And what does it do in such usual state? Looking for a new meaning in the works of past, that's what! So when Rundgren grew weary of exploring the PC possibilities after 1995's "The Individualist", he picked upon one of its stylistic patterns, a samba, and went headlong into Jobim mode. "With A Twist..." sees new versions of the artist's songs from the previous two decades: some choices, like the murky "Hello, It's Me", predictable, some, like the moving "Mated" from UTOPIA's "POV", unexpected, but with a sweet core taken from their originals. As a result, the album is of extreme interest to Todd's old fans, while the uninitiated should find it pleasant, if slightly insipid and Stingy.

Still, while "Influenza" hangs in no man's land, silky pieces - Todd's own "I Saw The Light", Marvin Gaye's "I Want You" - feel as they were composed with a view of hushed delivery where John Ferenzik's jazzy piano and Prairie Prince's brushed cymbals carry the honeyed groove. The classic "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" and previously rather obscure "Fidelity" play with new colors here thanks to arranger Jesse Gress' acoustic guitar and Kasim Sulton's bass and fares much livelier than the too-straightforward "Love Is The Answer" or now-expanded musical staple "Never Never Land" which stay within their genre's outline. And vice versa, "A Dream Goes On Forever", done this way, transforms the ether around it. A twist for another facet of the veteran's multicolored mantle is easy but there's a hot and humid magic to it.

***1/3
JOHN DU CANN -
The Many Sides Of:
1967-1980
Angel Air 2011

An tentative outline of one of the greatest, if least famous, British rocker's legacy, his last missive to the world.

With his good looks and talent John Du Cann could have been anyone he wanted to be... if only he wanted it. In 1979 John crowned the first dozen years of his career with cover of "Don't Be A Dummy" that took Du Cann to "Top of the Pops" but it wasn't veteran trying the already-shed punk sneer, just because he was an original punk with THE ATTACK whose 1967's "Magic In The Air" opens this collection to cut up the flute-stricken rhythm-and-blues with searing guitar. John, who sketched what he didn't want to call an anthology but passed away before it saw the light of day, played the axe like all the hellhounds were on his trail and let the voice complement his six-string assault, the approach Du Cann realized to the max in ATOMIC ROOSTER, a band he's most known for. The young gun primed himself up for the organ-led art rock with ANDROMEDA where John excelled in creating epics such as brilliant three-part suite "Return To Sanity" to combine the heavy charge with lyrical interludes in which his vocals shine the brightest.

But it's ROOSTER gloom that makes Du Cann a real star, all these predatory slabs of black humor like his own "Devil's Answer" or Vincent Crane's "Tomorrow Night": heavy riffs, memorable hooks and pop unisons - great songs through and through. Although John's stint with the group was short, it was there that he returned a decade later, in 1980, for another brief spell to deliver, in the same vein, sarcastic shots such as "They Took Control Of You" and "She's My Woman", the latter included here in the author's polyrhythmic version from his only solo album, "The World's Not Big Enough" from 1977. In between Du Cann teamed up with the band's drummer Paul Hammond and bassist John Gustafson in a power trio BULLET who laid down bluesy tracks like "The Soul That I Had" only to shelve their album when the name appeared to be taken by some American group. Yet, perhaps, that twist served the Englishmen well as they impressively hardened their rock on two records under the HARD STUFF sticker, the first effectively updating the jolly funky rollers of the "Jay Time" caliber and the second boasting such groovers as "Roll A Rocket" but having lost the momentum after Hammond and Du Cann were badly injured in a car incident.

In the '80s the veteran lost the fire himself, ostensibly for personal reasons, and there's nothing from the last 30 years that he deemed the world worthy to hear, while he submitted a lot of archive and remastered material to Angel Air. Du Cann wanted this label to release a compilation representing his multi-faceted work, and now it's John testament and a starting point to investigate all his sides.

****1/2
TANGERINE DREAM -
Sorcerer
MCA 1977 /
Reactive 2011

More arresting than the movie itself, the German electronics wizards' first, and long overdue, foray into the art of soundtracking.

With all the cinematic qualities of their oeuvre, it was only a matter of time before the DREAM would be snapped for scoring a moving picture - as their own creations always paint an aural one - but it took too much time. Had he heard the band earlier, William Friedkin, by his own admission, it would have been them, rather than Mike Oldfield, on "The Exorcist", so the director knew who to turn to when working on its follow-up. Thus, the Deitsch bunch embarked on a long journey, with an impressive string of more than 30 OSTs including such classic as "Firestarter". But there was nothing mystical about "Sorcerer", and the film flopped, while its musical component shot up the charts to become one of the band's bestsellers thanks to its short, by this ensemble's standards, pieces and their memorable accessibility.

Composed without seeing any of the footage, abstract pieces like "Rain Forest" convey titular images perfectly as they can accompany any other scene, and the album starts ominously nebulous with "Main Title" where oscillators' waves grow and collide to set a suspense which find its resolve in the creepy electric jolt of "Betrayal", the picture's main theme and the record's closer. A newly found conciseness results in abundance of hooks, but the DREAM don't betray their modus operandi, so "Abyss" reveals its swarming depth slowly, keyboards piling layer over layer, and the flute-like serenity of "The Journey" gets undermined with a nervous sequencer grit. yet that's what makes so pleasurable the anxiety of "Creation" where a repetitive synthetic riff is sprinkled with dewy six-string notes. And when the sound gets thick it's really tense, "Grind" coming on as an anthemic single, "Impressions Of Sorcerer" building its impact from funky jive and the unison of Edgar Froese's guitar and Christopher Franke's Moog in "Search" easily lodging itself in the listener's mind. To think that it's all about a criminal adventure seems quite strange, because there's a genuine magic in there.

****1/2
THE NORMAN HAINES BAND -
Den Of Iniquity
Parlophone 1971
Esoteric 2011

The organ-driven relic stands up to his value and reputation to fall short of being a classic.

When Norman Haines left his Brummie pals to ride LOCOMOTIVE on their own before the group's only album came out, the singing keyboardist didn't plan to form another band but his talent couldn't lie dormant for long. He was eager to move forward and declined the offer to get back, and while his former colleagues went on with a sole LP as THE DOG THAT BIT PEOPLE, the songwriter found more skilful sidekicks to flesh out his ideas under the SACRIFICE moniker. Not that their label liked such connotations to be cooked at Abbey Road, so the name had to be changed - but the style change from the percussion-heavy single "Daffodil", included here as bonus track, to a heavy prog, was all ensemble's own.

The same Latin fest, abetted with a trumpet and Ray Cooper's battery, lies in the heart of "I Really Need A Friend", yet elsewhere Haines' voice, echo-laden and often detached from the instrumental angst, suggests the leader struggled to get rid of the '60s pop innocence which shines through the harmonies of "Finding My Way Home" and standalone '45 "Autumn Mobile". Still, if the Spanish lace of "Bourgeois" comes too Dylan-indebted to let its acoustic potential bloom in full, the four-part 13-minute suite "Rabbits" takes the quartet to a wholly different level. There, cosmic synthesizers collide with a wild wah-wah and sneak some fusion into the mix to show the sheer force of the ensemble and expose a cohesive interplay between Neil Clark's stinging, acid-splashing guitar and Andy Hughes' bass. Pressed on with Hammond, they work charms on the expansive remake of LOCOMOTIVE's "Everything You See" and on the title cut, whereas the keyboard maestro's classical leanings float to the surface in "Life Is So Unkind" where the piano evokes the spirit of Beethoven, and another single, ballad "Elaine", sees him on mellifluous guitar. The result is a bit eclectic, although in this case, the record's musical content lives up to its collector's value, and one wishes this den buzzed much longer than just for one longplay.

***1/3
JETHRO TULL -
Aqualung -
40th Anniversary Edition
EMI 1971/ 2011

A cough-up of the downcast brings forth a legend - given a new shine and a new shrine now.

A rare riff Pantheon allows such notes arrays as the lead-ins to "Satisfaction", "You Really Got Me" or "Smoke On The Water" share their high ground with that of "Aqualung" which has every right to be up there - and would have been there if the album it spearheads went for self-glorification rather than pieces of one's broken luck. For Ian Anderson's band it worked like a charm, though, elevating the ensemble from underground where they belonged up to then. The group were quite distinctive thanks mainly to their leader's choice of weapon - a flute - as well as his dirty looks, grimaces and one-foot standing; that's what made THE ROLLING STONES favor them over Jimmy Page's NEW YARDBIRDS for a spot at "Rock 'n' Roll Circus" and won them a spot at 1970's Isle of Wight Festival. Yet in 1971, with their fourth album, the group made a giant leap forward music-wise.

Generally regarded as a progressive rock masterpiece, in reality "Aqualung" has very little in common with artsy opuses by TULL's co-runners. And it's not only its down-to-earth stance but also the band's refusal to keep in the genre's framework and desire to explore the extremes of heavy figures and acoustic strum - that's where Anderson stood firmly on his two feet: notice his reed's bold absence from half of the compositions here. The mastermind might deny this album's "concept" cohesiveness, yet it's there both in literal way - the titular hobo peeping from the metallic fence of "Cross-Eyed Mary" - and aurally as "Wond'ring Aloud" echoes the title track, while the playful "Up To Me" prefaces the rage of "Hymn 43" which, in its turn, anticipates the chug of "Locomotive Breath". Thanks to Martin Barre, its hard rock, also the bones of "Aqualung" the track and "My God", enriches the band's palette immensely. So while the narrative themes were outlined earlier - the delicate, if harsh, social criticism in "Sossity; You're A Woman" and the romantic urban ugliness in "To Cry You A Song" - it took the right combination of players to paint the leader's ideas so vividly. It's obvious from early, longer version of "God" on the second disc of the 40th anniversary reissue: the piece lacks its emotional anti-religion kick due to the insipid parts that would include a flute-shot faux chorale and rock 'n' roll guitar lick in the final version, more texturized now than ever before thanks to Steven Wilson's remixing.

Lately, PORCUPINE TREE's keeper of the prog flame has become a go-to man when it comes to removing a patina from classic works; Wilson did a sterling job on CARAVAN's "In The Land Of Grey And Pink", and now highlights some previously hidden nuances on TULL's LP from the same year with a focus on Ian Anderson's vocal sneer and compassion, and guitar picking. So, while purists - and collectors who can opt for a deluxe packaging, with vinyl and other goodies - may moan, it's a not a totally different version of the classic platter. Those previously buried layers are revealed in "Mother Goose", an ironic folk-rock gem that rides on Clive Bunker's wooden drums and throws an arch to "Songs From The Wood" to serve as a brilliant showcase for TULL's dynamics. A similar attention to detail oozes out of the harmonium-oiled "Cheap Day Return" and another short essay, the aforementioned "Wond'ring Aloud", boiled down from "Wond'ring Along", an epic version of which takes a central place on the bonus CD here, but one instruments that really gets a lift now is John Evans' piano fluttering throughout to engage in a dance with Jeffrey Hammond's bass in "Mary" and "Hymn" and deliver an intro to "Locomotive", the only bluesy bit on the album: an illustration of the band having broken with their humble beginnings to progress towards a genuine greatness.

To think that such philosophical narrative and complexity came from a 23-year-old is a surprise in itself. And there's a different kind of glorification in "Wind Up" that takes all the album's themes and strains to prime the listener up for pondering (ain't it thence that "I can't make you feel, but I can make you think" originates to lead to "Thick As A Brick"?) and connecting the dots to find the wisdom in this reversed slipstream of a poor man's life. Now, it looks fuller with the second CD's contemporary cuts "Life Is A Long Song" and "Dr. Bogenbroom", plus "Lick Your Fingers Clean" in the more appropriate context here than its "War Child" remake, but it's the deceptive, strings-augmented austerity that renders "Aqualung" the edifice it is. As relevant as four decades earlier, it still stands and spits proudly and riveting the glances.

*****
TODD RUNDGREN / TR-I
The Individualist
Digital Entertainment 1995
Esoteric 2011

The NAZZ man's second, and last, foray outside his, and his fans, comfort zone to the leftfield where the buzz is.

If initially the "I" in Todd Rundgren's experimental project meant "interactive" and allowed a listener play with the tracks, as opposed to play them, when the veteran set to follow "No World Order", that same letter focused on the fact he went it alone, doing everything in solo mode. But then, the album's title notwithstanding, TR-I still pointed to its phonetics as try Todd did, albeit this time experimentation rather augmented traditional songwriting than devoured it.

The tradition seeps out from the Coleridgian refrain of opener "Tables Will Turn" which sprinkles the music's romantic flow with a metallic guitars' menace that turns to a full-flown rage in "Cast The First Stone", yet here, romantic also takes in such production values as now-grating echo, even though constant turns and raps keep these ten, mostly long tracks afloat until their message rams the nocturnal tunes home. Surprises lurk there, and the most exciting is "Espresso (All Jacked Up)", a slice of samba that would manifest itself in full on Todd's next record, "With a Twist...". So much for Tropicalia, "The Individualist", both album and the slow-recital of its title track, swing their contrasts in the urban jungle, where the velvet, majestic ballads "Beloved Infidel" and "The Ultimate Crime" caress one's nerves after "If Not Now, When?" wraps its social heaviness in acoustic strum, while the 10-minute "Woman's World" pitches feminism with the hit-snatching chops before going AWOL into the jam-deep electric abyss. One individual feat, indeed.

****
ARTHUR BROWN -
Chisholm In My Bosom
Gull 1977
Esoteric 2011

A God of Hell Fire goes deep inside himself to have fun and see the light.

You can always suspect Arthur Brown's grin in his grooves but you rarely feel his smile: here, it's all over the platter meaning this is one of the man's most unorthodox - or, for the listener, most traditional - albums, and the singer thrives on such contradiction. There still is a prog rock concept, still, in the title track which took the whole of the original LP's second side to channel the views of mystic Bulent Rauf who, with Arthur's love for all things esoteric, had him mesmerized - but when Brown took to his guitar the result turned out as caustic as it gets to cast its sarcastic shadow across the record.

It's thence that its soul slant comes from to rear up the clearest in the fervent gospel of "The Lord Is My Savior" that sees the main man's CRAZY WORLD colleague Vince Crane on the ivories, and in a new take on "I Put A Spell On You" which banishes its inherent demented demons for a bluesy piano. But the opener "Need To Know" holds a pop surprise in its double-track guitars doing easy skank behind Brown's elegant croon, while in "Monkey Walk" Arthur goes for a sleazy revue with a female backing over the shiny brass to carry his catchy yelp. That's so pure '70s that sarcasm seeps out of it in spades to color even the gentle, if big and glitzy, ballad "Let A Little Sunshine (Into Your Life)" which Stevie Wonder wouldn't be ashamed of, before "She's On My Mind" marries grave seriousness to a funky shake. All these patterns tangle for "Chisholm" the multi-part piece where flamenco guitar weave in themes both romantic and political that, genre-wise, run from Celtic to mariachi to opera yet remains ever-so-Arthur Brownish.

Perplexing, perhaps, but pleasant and accessible, this album is a grower and a perfect start to investigate one of the most influential, if humble, artists in rock domain.

****2/3
THE JACK BRUCE BAND -
Live 1975
Polydor 2003
Esoteric 2011

A unique recording from Jack-Of-All-Trade's another supergroup, his most elastic band of all.

Jack Bruce needs equal talents to bloom in full, that's obvious from either CREAM or the "Friends" ensemble the bassist had in the '80s with Billy Cobham, Clem Clempson and David Sancious, but it's never been blues rock where his heart really is. Classically trained cellist with an operatic vocal approach, it was his love to jazz that made Dick Heckstall-Smith pluck Bruce from Scotland to London and stardom that Jack wasn't too comfortable with. His first solo album "Things We Like", out as the second, explored improvisations rather than song structure, and he was only happy to defect Britain to join Tony Williams' LIFETIME a bit later, and when his second power trio, with MOUNTAIN's Leslie West and Corky Laing, folded, Jack embraced the opportunity to form a band of his own, on home turf, with Carla Bley and fellow Scotsman Ronnie Leahy from STONE THE CROWS on keyboards, to ensure the jazziness was there, plus THE ROLLING STONES' renegade Mick Taylor on guitar and Bruce Gary on drums to balance it with the blues. And it was even closer to home, at Manchester's "Free Trade Hall" in June 1975, that the short-lived line-up recorded this performance, their only full-blown concert document and a testament to their versatility in stretching out.

On stage, there was no looking back and no riding the hits from Jack's old days, with only "Sunshine Of Your Love" to lay down its riff as an axis for, paradoxically, lighthearted finale, whereas the genuine feast for extemporization is served with Williams' heavy, energetic fusion instrumental "Spirit", from LIFETIME's 1974 sessions that the bassist was a part of, and Bruce's own angular "Smile And Grins", all 24 rippling minutes of it including the leader's dynamic solo, with his six-string foil in the lyrical, reflective mode. The eye of this hurricane, though, is the lengthy medley combining Bruce's obscure masterpiece "Tickets To Waterfalls" which betrays his academic roots and the expertise in minimal music - although it's the keyboard players who lift the piece's pearly lid here until the whole ensemble rocks its cradle - with romantic, organ-oiled molasses of "Weird Of Hermiston" and rhythm section's ska joke hogging the slider-caressed heart of "Post War".

Still, the show starts in the most elegant way as Bruce warbles shortly "Can You Follow", over Leahy's sparse piano, before "Morning Story" unravels in all its funky, ivories-sprinkled glory where the leader's four-string weapon comes forward to jive in the ever-intensifying light as it does in the graceful surge of "Keep It Down" from the then-fresh "Out Of The Storm" album on between Taylor's laconic runs. Another new song, "Pieces Of Mind", takes the band to a more freefall territory that often leaves Jack's voice in the warm company of Bley's Hammond, while Gary keeps a baroque groove under the bass. Similar solemnity bears the best vocal performance on offer, the translucent "One", married here to the jolly New Orleans roll of "You Burned The Tables On Me", its sprawl housing more infectious solo bursts.

With the veteran's '70s live tapes thin on the ground, these 2 CDs would have been fantastic even if their content was less inspired. But it is, which makes the recording a treasure.

*****
TODD RUNDGREN / TR-I
No World Order
Forward / Rhino 1993
Esoteric 2011

From NAZZ to buzz, Todd goes it alone to allow himself and the listener play their own mind games.

One of the reason for this artist's perennial allure is his unpredictability: Todd likes to keep himself entertained with his fans joining the ride at their own risk, and while some jump the ship, new ones hop onboard. That's how it was with Rundgren's TR-I project where the last letter stood for "interactive", as the listener could fiddle with the playback, to create a unique experience, and even choose the artwork, so the artist somehow preempted all the Apple i-gizmos, yet there was a static, if ever-shifting, mix of his own which is considered a standard album version that occupies the first disc of this expanded edition.

It's a heady twirl of bits and pieces that, wrapped in electronica, flow in and out of focus to give way to new sounds and sometimes be back in slightly different shape. The result isn't unlike tuning up a radio, staying for a while once an interesting cut is found and then searching the waves again. All the instruments played by Todd, the music scope is amazing taking in rap, based on synth pop rather than hip hop, for the pounding "Fascist Christ", the title cut's smooth anxiety and the sharp "Proactivity" or new wave for "World Epiphany" which could have made a hit for U2. Now, part of the arrangements, like acid house of "Day Job", with its rock 'n' roll guitar loop, and the bass-spanked slowcore of "Love Thing" bring on nostalgic dancefloor sweetness - there's even a sound of vinyl skip to embellish the rhythm of "Time Stood Still" - but the melodies retain their pull, that's why the soulful, if upbeat, "Properly" stands out. Still, in order to cherish those in full one has to opt for the "Lite" version of the album on the second disc that distills the songs to their undiluted compactness and R&B beauty where electric roar takes over electronic rave.

To make the picture even more puzzling, this definitive issue includes more mixes of the same tracks; eight of these, with "Fascist Christ" as an axis instead of "No World Order", form "NWO", a Japanese version of the album, which is even more concise but packs less impact despite its clearest political angle. Complementing the package, though, it completes another facet of Todd Rundgren's talent that defies any fantasy.

****
QUICKSAND -
Home Is Where I Belong
Dawn 1974
Esoteric 2011

A highly collectable item fails to prove its real worth but bodes well nevertheless.

A Welsh band occasionally able to blow their compatriots MAN off stage (not a mean feat) and boasting two guys called Davies (not a KINKS deed) in their ranks, this quartet left a meagre legacy of their 6-years existence, a single album which failed to sell but now, in mint vinyl shape, changes hands for hefty sums. The price isn't dictated by the strength of music under the cover, too proto-prog for 1974 yet not without a pop allure that calls one to join in the fun of "Hideaway My Song", where jangly guitars and piano support vocal harmonies and make inroads into rock 'n' roll, and the communal warmth of "Time To Live" with its organ bedrock. As a contrast, "Sunlight Brings Shadow" packs a menace all the while losing the game to a repetitive tune that can't be saved by unisonal instruments' rage even though a little opera in its center hints at latent greatness.

Some groups with a similar MO, like early URIAH HEEP, found their way out of this, some, QUICKSAND including, didn't. Still, the flamenco-influenced "Overcoming The Pattern" with a sharp synthesizer hook cutting through the strum flies high, and two axes engage in a blistering duel there, whereas the title track hides a tangle of live improvisations in its midst, and "Seasons" enlivens a folk motif in a similarly heavy way. On-stage, these should have been murderous - Phil Lynott liked the band not for nothing - so it's a pity it took them 5 years to build their "Home" only to leave the building to history.

***1/2
DAVE BROCK -
Strange Trips & Pipe Dreams
Emergency Broadcast System 1995
Atomehenge 2011

A solo flight by the HAWKWIND pilot: a bold and adventurous journey into the unknown.

It may seem a strange notion for a bandleader to realize his ideas outside of his group framework, yet the ensemble implies certain restrictions and others' input that can clip the wings of any fearless explorer - even such as Dave Brock. Able to operate all the instruments he needed to reach his cosmic goal and having a drum machine, a lifeless but quite futuristic gizmo, at his disposal, the HAWKWIND guitarist went for a different kind of space paradigm from both the band's and their electronic alter ego PSYCHEDELIC WARRIORS Brock was creating at the same time. And, unlike these, "Strange Trips" still sounds exciting, its only temporal link being the folk-tinctured collage "Bosnia" where war effects take a place of the outlandish sonics which fill the album without ever getting of its rock roots.

That's obvious from the axe attack of "Hearing Aid Test" with its vertigo-inducing stereo panning and the dialogues from radio ether to keep the music flow uninterrupted by pauses, and "Parasites Are Here On Earth" which rams the booming groove closer to the HAWKS motherlode. Sometimes the buzz closes in on itself, like in a rather formless "White Zone" which plays with the listener's psyche until nebulous vocals-hued shapes zoom in, but in "Gateway" the keyboards-led ambience feels majestic. In such context the mostly acoustic "Space", a song rather than an aural picture, feels too earthy but provides a warm human touch as does a retro melody that runs through "Something's Going On" before the engines rev up again, and Brock lays down a labyrinthine solo amidst the dancefloor verses of "It's Never Too Late". Augmented with a rare cut "You Burn Me Up", it's a welcome addition to the Ladbroke Grove's legends canon.

***3/4
HOT TUNA -
Hoppkorv
Grunt 1976
Esoteric 2011

The final chapter of a hard rock experiment and a final studio album from the classic period of a solidified side project that became a stone in itself.

As the '70s reached their second half, something wasn't right in the HOT TUNA camp which is obvious from one glance at this record's tracklisting: the "originals - covers" quotient got balanced. More so, the erstwhile vivacity weakened, as suggested by the pummelling Jorma Kaukonen inflicted on Buddy Holly's "It's So Easy" to turn its sensual bravado into an effervescent but somehow lifeless boast, its female backing notwithstanding, and Chuck Berry's "Talkin' 'Bout You" spills its rock 'n' roll beans in all the wrong, swampy places. Cue the album's commercial slant.

It effectively fills TUNA's reading of "Bowlegged Woman, Knock-Kneed Man" with a well-harnessed funky energy but gets undercut when the solo fades just when it peaks and sucks electronic blood from Muddy Waters' "I Can't Be Satisfied". The strengths of the band's own songs paled alongside those on "Hoppkorv"'s predecessor, "Yellow Fever". The opener "Santa Claus Retreat" roars wild yet chugs too superficially on the riff pinched off ZEPPELIN, whereas "Extrication Love Song" fails to spread its fuzzy pounding wings. The easy-rolling country charm of "Watch The North Wind Rise" hints at the group getting tired of their heavy game. Still, Billy Boy Arnold's "I Wish You Would" almost explodes on Jack Casady's bass throb and his JEFFERSON AIRPLANE's partner's incendiary fretwork, and the moving, driven "Song From The Stainless Cymbal" finishes "Hoppkorv" on a creative high to save the day. Too late, it was the last breath of the band who'd run their course: there'd be no other studio record until 1990.

***
THE SALLYANGIE -
Children Of The Sun
Transatlantic 1969
Esoteric 2011

The simple, humble beginnings of one true legend. Cherchez la femme, as they say.

Those who know Mike Oldfield only by his magnum opus "Tubular Bells" will hardly trace any vestige of folk there, save for a certain serenity; those who's familiar also with "Moonlight Shadow" will find a shade of traditional music there; but those who made their way to "Hergest Ridge" will undoubtedly state where the master comes from. Mike's first recordings, though, came thanks to his sister Sally, now a renowned singer but in 1968 a 21-years-old literature and philosophy student who wrote this album after a spiritual revelation and had her 15-years-old sibling as an accompanist. What the two came up with has its naive charms in girlish vibrato spliced with boyish harmonies and nested in the gentle acoustic web, a short yet arresting "Strangers" luring the listener in and out of a field close to that trodden by PENTANGLE, whose drummer Terry Cox provides a percussive backing here, and STEELEYE SPAN.

The drift gets childlike quirky in places such as the bluesy snippets "Chameleon" and "Changing Colours", in fact one split cut, or "Balloons" with its Bach-derived fantastic solo and growing tension, but for the most part the songs are delicately enjoyable in their homespun lull, especially "The Murder Of The Children Of San Francisco" which softly pitches to a Zeitgeist. Still, there's a precocious maturity in the medieval courtesy of "Midsummer Night's Happening", two voices intertwining in a picturesque ivy, and "Lady Mary" augmented with a string quartet and harpsichord, the former co-composed with Mike - and it's his guitar that lifts the title ballad and a wonderful drama of "A Lover For All Seasons" over the ground. More of his skills is demonstrated on the bonus CD where instrumental improvisations share space with two pop-minded singles, the latest, "Child Of Allah", released in 1972 when the duo hadn't exist for three years and its younger half was on the brink of a worldwide fame.

***
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