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Re-issues Reviews

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SOLUTION -
Solution
Catfish 1971 /
Esoteric 2012

Blinding jazz feed for the Dutch prog protagonists' dexterous debut defies the flow of time.

Perhaps, not as popular as their fellow travelers - and their fans - FOCUS and KAYAK, the Groningen's finest didn't descend to the rock bottom from symphonic heights but ascended to the art shelf from playing soul covers. Yet, once the additional "u" had been discarded from its third position in the band's name, leaving its shadowy presence style-wise, the quartet's ambitions rose progressively to translate the musicians' instrumental experience into much more complex compositions. Honed on-stage, their act was recorded over three days only which means the pieces' immediacy remained largely intact as did the ensembles' humor: a brief, shorter than a minute, piano-propelled "Preview" stretched its motif over the second and third albums. Clearly, the foursome hatched a long-term plan right from the start, and why not with a start like this?

The album, where a Coltrane quote in obvious, if quite light and melodious, tribute "Trane Steps" sounds like an in-joke, unleashes a jazzy assault without a warning, as Tom Barlage's blaring saxes and Willem Ennes' wild organ engage in a dialogue that fully corresponds with a subject of "Koan" but allow for a calm respite amidst a storm. Underpinned by Hans Waterman's drums, they stitch a canvas which welcomes folky embroidery as well, signaled with a flute, but comparisons with Ian Anderson would be more appropriate in the whole scope of infectious interplay. It switches into a fugue mode for "Phases" featuring bassist Peter van de Sande's voice, the only vocals on offer, that throws a simple melody over heavy psych wigouts, which change into clownery with "Circus Circumstances" all the time keeping an elegiac eye on soulful solemnity of the overall performance. And the performance is cool, in jazzy terms and beyond: that was the way to go.

****
NEIL DIAMOND -
Hot August Night:
40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
MCA 1972 /
Universal 2012

No dilution for the pure power. The legendary performance is brought back from the four-decade distance in all its blaze and glory.

On August 24th, 1972 Neil Diamond took to the stage of LA's "Greek Theater" to prove that, faithful to his surname, he was brilliant and sharp. More so, the artist wanted to prove he hadn't mellowed as his latest records - including the most recent, "Moods", of which he chose to perform more than a half - suggested. Not a spent force at all, after his '60s successes, the wildness of those ten sold-out shows in the City of Angels, was reflected in cover image of "Hot August Night", a document of the first one. A lavish proposition in its 2LP form, the album appeared to be a severely truncated recording which is restored now to its full proportions, and is a killer.

High on Neil's denial of "Done Too Soon", this time the concert really comes alive, what with the artist's humorous addresses to the public including his 7-minute introduction of the band who, with Richard Bennett on guitar, rock the acoustically lined "Crunchy Granola Suite" right from the off. A starkly elegant comeback of "Modern Day Version Of Love" is as unexpected as the delivery of freshly cooked, bare-bone "Gitchy Goomy" but, in remastered form, there's an extra kick to the master's old hits such as "Cracklin' Rosie" and "Solitary Man". The latter, in its transparent drama, links classic Diamond to his latter-day Rick Rubin productions and, along with "Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon", nicely contrasts the orchestra-swept "Sweet Caroline" as well as sparse, solemn, soaring reading of Randy Newman's "I Think Itís Going To Rain Today" - a respectful nod from one great singer-songwriter to the other. Another rediscovery, "Walk On Water", adds a booming jive to the flow, as does slightly banal, if short, "Kentucky Woman".

Diamond's vocals, gritty on the likes of "Holly Holy", border on operatic and vaudevillian in, respectively, "Canta Libre" and his latest playful chart-topper "Song Sung Blue". And there's a good of theatricality throughout - for all the intimacy of the material - that's needed to engage a large audience. So the pairing of "Soolaimon" with "Brother Loveís Travelling Salvation Show" holds a logical grand finale, now, after this expansion of "Hot August Night", even more impressive than ever, and not because of its massive "hallelujah". A milestone.

*****
CHICKEN SHACK -
Imagination Lady
Deram 1972 /
Esoteric 2012

Four decades on, the British blues institution's only album in the power trio format doesn't fail to impress, a drum solo notwithstanding.

1972 marked a new beginning for Stan Webb's band. The guitarist parted ways with Mike Vernon's Blue Horizon stable and took a year-long break in the recording to refocus his targets. The result was this album, the SHACK's fifth, their sole outing as a three-piece, a rhythm section of drummer Paul Hancox and former TOE FAT bassist John Glascock filling all the space under the leader's newly sharpened axe and sometimes floating to the surface in a whale way. That's how the 12-bar "Telling Your Fortune", at 11.11 the group's lengthiest cut, came to be to preserve their live kick in a studio, although a percussion, cymbal-caressing solo in such environment isn't to everyone's liking. Still, it's a sign of the trio's immense dynamic range, its axis being Glascock who might go to greater prominence in JETHRO TULL but never reached the heights explored here, in speedy, dry opener "Crying Won't Help You Now" where Webb employs a punky spikiness and saucy wah-wah vibe.

It gets atomic in a heavier, cowboy-cheeky "Daughter Of The Hillside" yet a cover of "If I Were a Carpenter" goes against the song's romantic grain to pitch an ascending metallic anger in its gentle heart. Conversely, the band opt for more restrained approach with another classic, "Going Down", and give it a drone to hit the hardest - and it does, leveling Stan's vocal heroics as a side effect. The attack sags on "Poor Boy", more to the point in the bonus single version, until guitar solo takes up the funky slack and tighten the reins, which adds gloss to "The Loser" that fades out and signs the album off in a rather underwhelming fashion - with a feeling there should have been more to it. It wasn't, and Stan Webb, sensing that a GROUNDHOGS triangle didn't serve him well, expanded the SHACK ranks once again.

***3/4
KAYAK - Kayak
EMI 1974 /
Esoteric 2012

One step forward to the brink of going wrong but with all the right turns in the end.

There's a breaking point between pop and prog and those walking this line should be careful. The Dutchmen from KAYAK know it only too well as in the short span that separates their debut from its eponymous follow-up, the quintet careened to the light entertainment without delving deeper into symphonic background of the ensembles' masterminds. Classicism may seep out from the quasi orchestra of piano ballad "Mountain Too Rough", organ dirge of "Mireille", written by drummer Pim Koopman, or "Woe And Alas", high on harpsichord, but the songs are shorter and simpler here, the prime example being the contagious single "We Are Not Amused", a bonus here, and "Wintertime", European to its accordion-abetted core. Yet such chart-eyeing move unexpectedly revealed a much rockier side on the band, clear right from the opening licks of "Alibi" that hangs its jolly vocals in the John Leckie-smoothed space between Ton Scherpenzeel's keyboards and Johan Slager's slinky axe. Even the 9-minute "They Get To Know Me" holds a lot of riffy rage to contrast the mellower passages as boogie chords confront synthesizers waves, while the cosmic march of another lengthy cut, "Trust In The Machine", is spread rather thin to engage until the stardust turns into electric grit.

The band's original plot seems to go awry in the sweet moments on "Kayak" but, given enough time, the ensemble restored their course on 1975's "Royal Bed Bouncer" and it's there that their transformation into Netherlands' national treasure began in earnest.

***
BILL NELSON -
Simplex
Cocteau Discs
2000 / 2012

Monochrome - and sometimes chromatic - aural sculpturing at its most elusively wonderful. The BE-BOP DELUXE guitarist does a perfect soundtrack.

Bill Nelson's old fans may balk at his solo, DIY work that more often than not omits rock in favor of undercooked avant-garde but the Henry Moore Foundation knew better when they commissioned the "Axe Victim" meister to fashion music for a documentary on the late English sculptor's art. Nelson's short pieces - with additional recordings there are the whopping 31 clocking in an hour - illustrate abstract figures in the best possible way: no extraneous fuss, no long glances, no needless elaboration. While one organic vignette is straightforwardly called "Abstracted", others reflect materials (musique concrete of "Bronze") and forms (low-toned pointillistic "Heptarchia" and "Solid Spaces") or indicate time and a season when those shapes look most magnificent (minimal but almost orchestral "Summer Shower", hymnal closer "Your Morning Blessings"), thus providing the flow with different textures.

The sparse piano of angular "The Profaned Sanctuary Of The Human Heart", lyrical "To Jan From Shining Stars", and rotund, emotionally fleshed-out "Female Form" sets in a jazzy wooziness, yet there's monumentalism to the ebbing synthetic guitar wave of "Almost Unchanging", and nature intervention to the percussive "Raindrum" and new-agey "Waiting For Rain". This intermittent serenity, peaking with a pseudo chorale in "Arrangement Of Roses", is absent from the glorification that lurks in the faux trumpet of "Some Distant Time" or "A Parting Of The Ways" and disturbing, if translucent, flute of "Bittersweet". Still, it's hard to not get in spirit of carols in "The Christmas Gift" or sci-fi silk of "The Enclosed Garden". Such shifting moods highlight different aspects of Moore's works without restraining one's imagination, and it's there that Nelson excels - simply and impressively.

****
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH
None Too Soon
Restless Records 1996
MoonJune 2012

A unique piece of work, the dream weaver altering other people's threads to fit his own sense of style.

It was all down to the late Gordon Beck, Allan Holdsworth's friend since their NUCLEUS days. The keyboardist's regular Christmas visits resulted in recording "Michelle" for The Fabs' tribute, in the company of bassist Gary Willis and drummer Kirk Covington, and thus, with Gordon's arrangements, the cover album idea emerged with a plan to move Allan's music closer to the regular folks' hearts. This gap might be bridged with another Liverpudlians' tune, "Norwegian Wood" - splashy, thrown into the improv deep and pulled back - and the upbeat, angular view on Irving Berlin's perennial "How Deep Is The Ocean", beautifully mangled and spiked with sharp percussion yet still recognizable, but there's no other popular, easy-going concessions. That's not counting Beck-penned scherzo "San Marcos" and the title epic, pellucid and bright on its adventurous extemporizations that gain the pace as the piece flows on.

Still, the record starts with a chordal spinner of "Countdown", a perfect exercise for a digital piano and the main man's SynthAxe that take Coltrane's classic to a new age where Django's "Nuages" get even more cloudy, nebulous treatment as Holdsworth slowly shreds the ballad in his own inimitable way, while Beck inserts some wild runs into his classical-minded solo. The rootsier feel permeates two Joe Henderson's cuts, closer "Inner Urge" and "Isotope" in which sax wails come transformed into the quartet's smooth finger work, organic and impressively understated to hit the hardest, especially when Willis' supple bass rises to the surface and the drift speeds up. Relaxation is offered in the form of Bill Evans' "Very Early", kept close here to its initial ivories' bedrock but given new bottom-end decorations. Shaped by one of the best ensembles Allan Holdsworth's ever had, "None Too Soon" is unique to the veteran's catalogue but its beauty exists on its terms. A master class.

****1/2
WEST BRUCE & LAING
Why Dontcha
Columbia 1972 /
Esoteric 2012

Twin peaks and then some: power trios never come mightier. A heavyweight blues classic.

When Felix Pappalardi left Leslie West and Corky Laing with no bottom-end, their sights got set on his former CREAM charge, Jack Bruce whose "Theme For An Imaginary Western" they'd been playing for two years, even though, with the Scotsman's status, it would mean the end of MOUNTAIN. As the three-piece's first jam showed, it was worth trying, despite all the managerial tangles. Equally solid and adventurous in terns of rhythm, essentially new band ride the horse of incessant soloing here as vocals get passed from Bruce to West, most notably in the slinky boogie "Shake Ma Thing (Rollin' Jack)", and even Laing delivers the country blues "Turn Me Over" that threads harmonica through punchy bass loops. The only problem on the trio's debut is, Jack's songs fall out of the context sometimes due to their lush arrangements and his trademark operatic approach.

Thus, with a background Hammond for a common denominator, ballad "Out Into The Fields", filled with Hammond and harmonies, contrasts the contagious hard rock which Leslie lays claim to in the riff fest of the title track as well as in the irresistible metallic fuzz of "Love Is Worth The Blues". Yet it's what makes the result so interesting. Unpredictable turns all the way, the players meld their styles in Eddie Boyd's "Third Degree" that Bruce underpins with a piano jive before all the instrumental hell breaks loose, and in a storming, thunderous "The Doctor", slipping on a slide, while "Pollution Woman" closes this gem of a record in the breezily choral, acoustically laced way. A perfect and sadly short-lived combination of talents.

*****
RED JASPER -
Anagramary
Cymbeline Songs 1997
Angel Air 2012

A closing chapter in the stinging tale of heavy art and rootsy attack - reissued on the verge of the old horses' spectacular comeback.

In hindsight, it looks like RED JASPER had always existed on the brink of collapse which, quite possibly, contributed to their intensity and made their first records so exciting. But there was a clear energetic break in the span of "A Midsummer's Night Dream" and "The Winter's Tale", and two years later the Wiltshire band dissipated. Singer Davey Dodds, a strong creative force from the off, rejoined his colleagues when most of the "Anagramary" songs were already in place, and his vocals that rather often sounded detached from the instrumental bedrock before sometimes inhabit a different dimension here which once in a while lends the album an otherworldly feel. This time, though, neo prog takes over folk threads.

Thus, epic "In The Name Of The Empire" demonstrates the perfect balance of these two aspects, adding violin to the mix, before it grows bombastically pathetic, yet "People Of The Hills" could be a winner in different arrangement, with riffs and funky wail in front of glossy veneer. In the same way, the heavy, bellicose "Babylon Rising" fails to engage the ear despite Dodds' flute passages, until the morris dance enters the picture and dissolves in Eastern motifs which even more distract from the piece's message. Now, it's Robin Harrison's soaring guitar that lifts opener "Perfect Symmetry" from the '80s-indebted sonic boom and pours magic in Celtic-tinctured instrumental "Waterfalls (Rhaeadreau)", and it's drummer David Clifford, who later on entered the musicals scene, that delivers the album's tremulous ballads, "Through The Dawn" and "In Her Eyes" with their classical piano line and acoustic lace that SCORPIONS would kill for. There are many interesting moments here; the problem is, they don't gel into an album whole.

There could be more to the band's story as a contemporary new version of "Pull That Thumb", originally from RED JASPER's debut EP, suggests but "Anagramary" was to become their swan song... until 2012.

***
ALLAN HOLDSWORTH
Hard Hat Area
Fred Bloggs 1993 /
MoonJune 2012

Tightening his unit, the fusion master compacts melodies to hit the listener in the weightiest way.

Allan Holdsworth music has always been marked by wonderful volatility, especially so after he helped SOFT MACHINE shape their "Bundles", which was the last time his guitar didn't serve as both a pencil and a canvas for other musicians to paint around. In 1993, his modus operandi changed. Gary Husband decided to concentrate on drums and left ivories solely to Steve Hunt who played on two previous Allan's albums; that, once Icelander Skuli Sverrisson completed the line-up, gave Holdsworth a solid ensemble to lay the foundation with - together. The building site comes to life in the title track, rigid yet somehow ethereal in its synthetic shudder but the wholeness of it all is stressed in the record's composition - the core five pieces braced in "Prelude" and "Postlude", the former a wistful soar, the latter a palpable elegy that speeds up to flutter away - and reflected in the transparent, if taut, run of pieces such as skittering "Ruhkukah".

There, the leader's axe, in places fed through synthesizer, vies for melodic space with keyboards, while rhythm section provides a light undercurrent and sometimes joins in the progressively intense race as well. As a contrast to that, "Low Levels, High Stakes" and "House Of Mirrors" float on percussion splashes and piano ripples demonstrating an almost telepathic connection between Hunt and Husband. The third H inhabits the farthest recesses of the shifting world they're creating but gradually gravitates towards its center, so "Tullio" houses a classic Holdsworth's solo: sharp, tuneful, elusive and arresting. It's easy to see why the infamously self-critical Allan loves this album and it's also easy to share his love.

****1/3
KAYAK -
See See The Sun
EMI 1973 /
Esoteric 2012

The first stone in the Dutch legends' elaborate facade - blinding with no eclipse.

As far as classic prog bands go, arguably none could challenge KAYAK for having two players with academic background in the ranks. Not that keyboardist Ton Scherpenzeel and drummer Pim Koopman, both masters of upright bass, wanted their ensemble to be too highbrow, their main concern being pop songs in symphonic scope. Big yet catchy, with instrumental prowess and frontal vocal harmonies in the vein of YES whose imprint is all over this album, especially on "Mouldy Wood" with its accentuated bass and repetitive drift, the Dutchmen's debut - featuring Alan Parsons' mixes - has proudly stood the test of time. More so, the record appeared ahead of its time because other art rock groups embraced such sleek sound only later in the '70s.

Ushered in with dry piano and wet organ of "Reason For It All", an impressive claim to fame, the memorable melodies flow in, meld kaleidoscopically and never get overshadowed with shallow showboating. Show tunes come with the single "Mammoth", its B-side "Still To Write A Book" a bonus on this reissue, and sharp boogie of "Hope For A Life" which border on music hall extravaganza as patented by STACKRIDGE, the latter piece boasting the most infectious guitar solo from Johan Slager. His reserved bluesy riffs open the space to an almost orchestral scale in "Ballad Of The Cripple" and "Lovely Luna" where Max Werner waxes lyrical: here's Nederpop in action peaking in its slowest while its highest never induces vertigo. Thus, cleverly imperfect, KAYAK burst on the scene fully-formed to stay.

****
ERIK NORLANDER -
The Galactic Collective - Definitive Edition
Think Tank 2010 /
Gonzo 2012

See the DVD

A neo prog keyboard wizard embarks on a personal crusade in search for unity and not so much finds but creates a Holy Grail of his own.

Unlike many of other ivory-operators with an art rock bent, Erik Norlander is a team player be it with his wife Lana Lane, ROCKET SCIENTISTS, John Payne's version of ASIA or the guest-welcoming albums under his own name, but the very nature of the American's trade dictates carving a solo niche in any environment, especially on-stage. Over the years, the instrumental pieces scattered across a string of releases have evolved to the point where they could be boxed together which required a certain homogenizing, and Norlander's latest group, THE GALACTIC COLLECTIVE, proved to be a perfect vehicle for that. This collection comprises new takes on Erik's choice moments and is, for a wider picture, augmented with a bonus CD and a DVD that documents the actual studio work - serious in its process and triumphal in its results. The best sonic illustration of the master's successful approach comes with "The Dark Water", a six-part epic the original continuity of which spanned twelve years and three records yet was varied in stylistic terms: from the synthesizers wave to the metal pummeling and from faux orchestra sweep to the psychedelic percussive wigout, now there's a natural progression to its flow.

The same can be said of this album as a whole that starts delicately with "Arrival", an entrance to the master's 1997 solo debut and an introduction of the ongoing cosmic theme that's picked up here with "Sky Full Of Stars", devoid of the erstwhile acoustic line, and passed to "Neurosaur" whose Moog-riding hypnotic melody is made grander by Payne's choral vocals and sharper by guitar riffs, and the dramatic "Space: 1999". Such heaviness may dilute the cathedral scope of "Fanfare For Absent Friends" and render the "Immigrant Song" quote superficial, but it serves as a nice counterbalance to the expansive, electrically exquisite bliss of "After The Revolution", a "modern classical composition" in the composer's words, and solidifies the crystal carcass of Lane's "Garden Of The Moon". Still, the deceptively light, vibrating buzz of "Trantor Station" gets much deeper under the fellow traveler's skin, while the most graceful piece on offer is "Dreamcurrents" from "Into The Sunset", a masterpiece able to challenge Erik's '70s heroes opuses.

With "Definitive Edition" up his sleeve, Norlander gets up there with the best of them - and if some will find this newly fashioned album a tad sterile, there's a concert companion piece to blow such reservations away.

***
CLUSTER - Cluster II
Brain 1972 /
Reactive 2012

...And then there were two: the second album of the experimental duo sets their controls for the heart of manipulated chaos.

This German band have always held a paradox: a part of Krautrock's hall of fame, the rock element in Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius' craft was thin while their abstract quotient felt much higher than that of TANGERINE DREAM - whose Conrad Schnitzler played with them in the preceding KLUSTER - never much so than here. Reduced to a twosome after Conrad Plank made the studio his playground, the auteurs rushed headlong, yet without losing their head, into electronic oscillations to which they fed, discreetly and secretly, common instruments such as piano, although one would be hard pressed to recognize those. Not that one needs to because it's best to surrender to the Moog ebb of "Plus" and be keep in the loop until the hammers and voices of "Nabitte" resolve it to silence.

The record's centerpiece being "Live in der Fabrik", there's enough clang but this time around it's moderate, so the industrial motifs of CLUSTER's debut connect to the outside world here to give the "Kraut" word its original color. In the same sense "Fur die Katz", full of throb and twitter, make for a brilliant reflection of a furry fellows' hunt, soft yet grisly and gory, while "Georgel" simply exists in sonic limbo for the lost souls. Still, throughout the platter, tension rises and falls in the dance of echoes where Moebius' guitar's is only palpable shape: it forms the vibrating carcass of "Im Suden" that gets inhabited by all sorts of chirping and chittering critters before the repetitive riff, retaining its initial volume but gradually changing its timbre, comes out of focus into the attention background. Impossible to grasp, "Cluster II" is a microcosm that lives according to its own rules but still exerts an influence on modern music.

***
GNIDROLOG -
Lady Lake
RCA 1972 /
Esoteric 2012

A long forgotten masterpiece that could have point a way for a distinct direction of British art rock yet remains enshrined in a gilded niche of its own.

"We share the same dreams, same hopes, same cigarettes": the opening line of the piano-propelled penultimate track of GNIDROLOG's second, and seemingly last, album perfectly summarizes the change in the band's approach to combining things heavenly and . As far as progressive goes, it was a quantum leap on their part. Still recognizable in sonic terms, they didn't change their colors as much as adjusted their palette to the public vision having crystallized into a powerful engine. What on the group's debut felt like a well-rehearsed experimentation is harder and sharper here, the players going for a song as much as for sophisticated, multi-thread time signatures.

It's most obvious in Colin Goldring's vocals, high and strong, almost celestial in the minstrel ballad of "Ship", one the brightest pieces of folk rock one's ever likely to hear yet bordering with jazz thanks to the brass-and-woodwind attack which gives music another, full-blown dimension. It also houses the title piece where each musician rides an agenda of his own but with iron method prevailing over supple madness that begs for orchestral wrapper. Out there, though, towers a glacial edifice of "I Could Never Be A Soldier" that gets fleshed out with Stewart Goldrings's incendiary riffs and warmed up to the flute-spiked boiling point to be cooled down by Peter Cowling's bass solos, both of them - elastic and hushed, not rumbling, and for that matter more eerie, especially when new member John Earle's saxes start to blare hot. It's him, the singer on the angular, heavy "Social Embarrassment", entropy-invoking and contrasting in its electric charge the pellucid subtlety of "A Dog With No Collar". Unleashed, indeed.

And running amok GNIDROLOG were. Soon after this album came out, inner machinations broke the band. But, their legacy strictly limited - there's only one previously unreleased cut, "Baby Move On", to augment "Lady Lake" now - their imprint could be heard on younger artists' works, such as RED JASPER's "Sting In The Tale". More so, out of the blue, the Goldring twins were back with a vengeance in 2000, with "Gnosis", so a chance for another missive from them keep many hanging on.

*****
RED JASPER -
Action Replay
HTD 1992 /
Angel Air 2012

A play to their strength: a living proof of the band's concert reputation and a means to flag up new songs.

A black sheep among the new generation of prog rockers, RED JASPER ploughed a field of their own from the off shedding a sterile classical skin for a gutsier foray on a folksy fortress. But if the band managed - for the most part - to tame this attack in a studio, they pulled no punches on-stage, especially so in January 1992 in a Bristol pub when the quintet had to record their performance for the second time, after the first attempt went awry due to equipment gremlins. In such circumstances, the nervousness of opener "Hostage To Fortune" is explicable; more so, the punky spikes give the song an edge its political subject matter requires, yet the undercurrent mandolin adds a poise to the proceedings to burst into full bloom with the instrumental blast of "The King Of The Fairies" towards the end of the show. It doesn't only span the group's then-meager released output, including the multi-layered "England's Green And Pleasant Land , but also features a future gem "The Shaman'sa Song" that would find its place two years later on "A Winter's Tale" and a string of cuts which seem to have never appeared on plastic.

Of these, the juxtaposition of painful imagery and supple delivery in "Soldier's Vision" hits the hardest, and "Contended Man" is the most elegant, its acoustic flow, though taut, makes a nice contrast to the tension of "Go For It" with its guitar bellicosity smoothed by a flute swirl. But "Crawling Into Work" comes on hectic, a working class rock 'n' roll with a reggae bit reeking of Strummerville, while "Second Coming" and "Magpie" from "Sting In The Tale" gets flattened and rather less impressive than on the album, the latter's vocal pack notwithstanding. Still, when another unreleased song, "Cool To Be Crazy", is unfurled to round off the show the madness receives its method, and the titular action begs for a repetition indeed.

***2/3
BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST -
Victims Of Circumstance
Polydor 1984 /
Esoteric 2012

A winning leap into pop waters without betraying their roots: BJH expand their vistas to find new glory of arena proportions.

If the '80s were harsh for old guard of prog, John Lees, Les Holroyd and Mel Pritchard took it easy and took their music into the easy direction their band had been courting throughout the previous decade. Retaining their recognizable sonic touch, while the others changed completely to chart with the likes of "Invisible Touch" or "Owner Of A Lonely Heart", BJH consolidated after relative failure of "Ring Of Changes" and, a coterie of female singers in tow, fashioned this album. Much stronger than its predecessor, the record even sports a concept of sorts, addressing the current state of both worlds, outside and inner ones, and inserting its banner phrase into the graceful title track, with its anti-war rhetoric on acoustic string, and the contagiously rocking "Rebel Woman". More so, there are grand moves of olde days plumbing the orchestral depths of "I've Got A Feeling", wonderful in its single version, and "Sideshow", while the radio-friendly "Say You'll Stay" and "Watching You" bring a clever, harmonic breeziness to the table.

The ensemble's self-confidence upon the album's release is obvious on the second disc of this expanded reissue, a glossy document of their Wembley Arena concert from the same year, known as "Glasnost". Forming the bulk of the setlist with songs from "Ring Of Changes" and "Victims Of Circumstance", the bigged-up "For Your Love" among them, and adding a cut apiece from two preceding LPs makes for a smooth and interesting experience where the final hat-trick of classics including "Hymn" comes not as coup de grace but as a welcome reconnection of old BJH to their brave new selves. Some magic!

****1/4
RUPERT'S PEOPLE -
45 RPM And Beyond
Angel Air 2012

A real story behind the mythical band - put in the context and finally given their due.

The term "in crowd" seemed to have been coined for these London lads. More so, they existed in the crowd - mingling with The Fabs and making the most of life. Yet it wasn't Rod Lynton-led group that cut "Reflections Of Charles Brown" in 1966; he penned it for FLEUR DE LYS who delayed this single until a similarly styled "A Whiter Shade Of Pale" scooped the chart cream. An attempt to back their song with real players, including pre-GUN Adrian and Paul Gurvitz, went awry, and it was down to Lynton's SWEET FEELING to embody the RUPERT'S PEOPLE name to whom the song, a re-write of an adventurous B-side of their debut '45 "All So Long Ago", was credited. Thus, a legend has been born which puzzled many an aficionado who love the pseudo orchestral drift of instrumental "Flying High" - puzzled until now, that is.

This collection comprises all those beautiful songs and liner notes written by the musicians themselves to set things straight and widen a scope. Perhaps, one could live without the take on THE BEATLES' "Rain" that RUPERTS' notched live during their early '90s reunion, yet their 1969 concert reading of THE STONES' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" shows the ensemble's depth. It was already far removed from psychedelic swirl of "Dream In My Mind" recorded only two years earlier to swing on future RENAISSANCE man John Tout's organ as does the soulful mod groove of "Hold On" where, apparently with Pete Solley on the ivories, Rod's guitar go wild. Not for nothing John Lennon and Phil Spector used his instrumental skills to the fore in the short solo of the light "Don't Shut Me Out" by MATCHBOX, a group's new incarnation formed when their drummer Steve Brendell hang out at Apple Records, on their bluesy successor SWAMPFOX's heavy "River Lady" and, most impressively on Lynton's own 1971 "Summer Rain". And not for nothing Andy Powell, who played on that previously unreleased cut, co-wrote with him "Wings Of Desire" for WISHBONE ASH.

There's a lot to admire on this compilation - that seems to be missing a track mentioned in an extensive essay - yet it's its historic significance that's impossible to overestimate. At last, RUPERT'S PEOPLE have their faces on.

****1/3
TANGERINE DREAM -
Tyger
Jive 1987 /
Reactive 2012

German Kosmische wizards concentrate their cosmology on the vision of English poetic prophet.

One of the reasons for this band's worldwide success has always been the cosmopolitism of their music. Nicely illustrated with 1985's "Le Parc" that took the listener around the globe, such approach was beautifully compromised two years later with "Tyger", an anathema for many fans not because of its focus on the poetry of William Blake but due to the use of vocals - as if there weren't voices on the aforementioned recreation-themed album. Perhaps, much more surprising is the delicate treatment of the Englishman's fiery works, the hottest flame here coming from Jocelyn Bernadette Smith's pipes that spread immortal words over synthesizers' fairy dust on the title track and "Smile".

New age of the most exquisite kind is on the move there, "Alchemy Of The Heart" taking in the rural romanticism and a quote from "A Whiter Shade Of Pale", and spreading anxiety over the pastures green. Yet, despite the elegant presence of Paul Haslinger's piano, such languid motion fails as a reflection of grime inherent to "London" until Edgar Froese sends his rocking guitar solo up to clear the smog and lead the trio to their most traditional habitat with the two-part "21st Century Common Man" where spank and poise unite on cosmopolitan grounds once again. Bonus "Vigour" adds Christopher Franke's percussion to the mix for some fearful symmetry but ultimately, it's a work of heart rather than mind - songs of innocence prevailing over songs of experience.

***
GNIDROLOG -
In Spite Of Harry's Toe-nail
RCA 1972 /
Esoteric 2012

A leg-endary debut from a band who remain a foot-note in the prog history and whose pace was the genre's secret heart-beat.

In the times when every other art rock combo sounded different from their neighbor, the ensemble headed by the Goldring twins seemed that bit uniquier as Alice would say. The Mad Hatter tea party looked like the kind of feast for this quartet who used to swap their instuments even on-stage let alone in a studio where they, having impressed the RCA suits, had been allowed to toil away for months on end to emerge with the music that's still hard to pinpoint and that still rings fantastic. Nailing the gloom as hard as VDGG did and rubbing Gothic shoulders with GENTLE GIANT, another group with two G in the name, the Goldrings - vocalist Colin and guitarist Stewart clutch to harmonica-hued blues in the final part of their first outing's title track to link it to the very beginning, the epic "Long Live Man Dead" where heavy doomsday recital gets diluted with snaky flutes in order to weave some elegant weirdness. Yet getting into that order requires much stamina.

"Time And Space" perfectly combines rustic bliss with choppy cosmic attack that make for wondeful alienation of orchestral vastness and rocking grit. Yet while acoustic passages come easy, if pale, especially when Mars Cowling leaves bass for chello, as in hypnotizing "Peter", when the canvas are emblazoned with Nigel Pelgrum's pre-STEELEYE percussion the effect is psyche-boggling, that's why the riffy, idiosyncratic "Snails" is not for faint-hearted even in its rough run, a bonus here. But before opting for intoxicating gallop, the aforementioned title piece spins a harmonious solemnity of rare beauty to show all the players' abilities. In a league of their own, GNIDROLOG still reign supreme, that's why their albums set many back a fortune when the public finally became interested. By then, though, after one more album, the band vanished.

****
BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST -
Ring Of Changes
Polydor 1983 /
Esoteric 2012

Going digital, the light brigade of British prog rock embrace the '80s and get the best of it.

Unlike many of their art-smart contemporaries, BJH have never been too serious about their music as suggested their own "poor man's Moody Blues" motto; that's why the band entered the barren land of plastic era almost unchanged and with minimal qualms. They had their share of troubles adjusting to a German studio chosen after the glorious success of 1982's "Berlin" album, as it was a new, digital facility which nobody knew how to man, yet in the end out came the first ever record to be simultaneously released on CD, vinyl and cassette - which is, arguably, the only reason it is remembered for. The songs are good, though, they only don't live up to the promise of the orchestral overture.

This surge of strings leads into acoustic "Fifties Child", full of harmonies and the dewy-eyed nostalgia, that draws an arc to the blinding Mariachi dance of "Just A Day Away (Forever Tomorrow)" and esoteric, expanding, if quite earthy flow of the title track. The space between those is for the most part filled with scintillating pop pieces such as "Looking From The Outside", all bearing pleasant tunes - good while they last and gone once they're over - and hosting instrumental bits of erstwhile grandness. It haunts the sunlit atmosphere of bassist Les Holroyd's blissful "Waiting For The Right Time" and bouncing bonus "Blow Me Down", but sometimes such fat-free approach grates: "Midnight Drug" fails to realize its riff potential and even a die-hard fan could do without the plastic plonk of "High Wire". A record not without its benefits yet purely of its time.

***
JIM CAPALDI -
Let The Thunder Cry
Carrere 1981/
Esoteric 2012

Something old, something new, something borrowed: the TRAFFIC warden goes stentorian with mixed, if smooth, results.

Having relinquished his grip on a Thatcherite England with "The Sweet Smell Of... Success" which didn't trouble the charts as much as it could, Jim Capaldi decided to give the people what they wanted without betraying his soul. It wasn't that necessarily to try and upgrade "Louie Louie" that doesn't lent itself to synthesizers' wrap so easily, yet differentiating the beat after the previous album's disco gloss works well here. Rock kicks up the riff of "Anxiety" and exotica elevates "Favela Music", spiced up with Jim's and his TRAFFIC sidekick Reebop Kwaku Bah's percussion but, unlike the uplifting "Old Photographs" that features Rio's musicians and Capaldi's old partner Steve Winwood on a keyboard, this Brazilian import sounds a tad tepid, not hot. The same goes for the title track where another Island friend, Simon Kirke, applies his "All Right Now"-like drumming to a Native American groove: there's loneliness in there, reflectted also on the record's cover.

The picture is an illustration for the delicate, high-spirited "Child In The Storm" which, with powerful help from Vicky Brown's voice, finally takes things off the ground and throws an acoustic arc to the big, operatic "Warm", Jim's best vocal performance on offer. These ballads may lack the commercial glitz of "Dreams Do Come True" or "Only Love" but are the only cuts on the album to reveal the true Capaldi - the one whose soul is all over the sugar-coated social commentary of "We Don't Need" as well as the bonuses: a new, Appallachia-shaped go at "The Low Spark Of High Heeled Boys", and "Bright Fighter", a simple, yet touchingly worded, paean to the great Mike Patto, a cancer casualty, the song that now serves as an epitaph for the late Jim Capaldi as well.

***
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