Home

News

Interviews

Reviews

   Index
   Re-issues
   DVD
   Magazines
   Books

Specials

Photo

Links

DME/Personal

Guestbook

Mail me

Reviews

To the reviews index
KLOGR -
Till You Decay
Valery 2011

As alternative as their get, a threatening name and a burning agenda fail to kill primordial Italian melodicism.

Having debuted on stage on 11.11.11 with 11 songs that make up "Till You Decay", this quartet from Milan demonstrated an enviable sense of time and beauty of numbers which is a very Italian thing - as is their music. With a name some may read as "Kill Ogre", while it actually refers to the psychophysical relationship of S = K log R, the band's metal clangs in quite a traditional, rather than dirty, way to expose the wrongs of our exploitative world, and that's what lends a right heavy weight to the foursome's arguments. They throw you at the deep end with the bass throb of "Live Dying" and pull out with the meditative, doomy flow of "Young Graves", where sharp rifferama alternates with lapses of intimate screamadelica courtesy of singing axeman Gabriele "Rusty" Rustichelli, all the while the collective eye set firmly on tunesmithery, keyboards layer serving both as a cushion and a grand theatrical prop. Thus, whereas "Self Loathing" sticks too close to the thrash outline to set its hooks in you, "Silk And Thorns" contains a whole spectacle in its raging heart, with distortion and echo for an alternative edge, yet "Naked Mind" hides a power ballad in its boiling bowels fathomed by a highly memorable melody. There's tension and release to keep you on your toes to the end... till you delight in terror.

***1/2
CASE IN THEORY -
Cinematic
Case In Theory 2011

A short-term muscle-flexing as a direct way to a heavy league - even in the Bay Area where the grit is thrown in spades.

Nowadays riding a funk wave means getting either to a punk or art shore but this quartet surf a paradox by marrying their progressive touch to a spiky brevity. On their first full-length album the band cross a 4-minute mark only once, and such eloquently concise approach has won them many fans: in took them no more than 45 days after posting a fundraising appeal on KickStarter to gather 114% of what was needed to record "Cinematic". It's easy to buy attention with a catchy folky groove of "Righteous Path" or raga-inflected "The Fall Of Golden Gate", but the three-part "Mavericks" that runs through the CD bears no sign of levity and immediacy. While its first heavy, then danceable riff packs a hook to measure all the depth of the foursome's bittersweet melody wrapped in Ben Everett's bass throb, and there's palpable indie dynamics in muscular "The Night" and reflexive, full of pop pull, "The Day".

With a lot of space to make singer Jonathan Posadas' guitar solos breathe, the silence theme flowing into "National Ave." from "Run Like Hell" is so prominent that one gets the group's desire to explore and conquer it. They do it in fine style - the greatness is beckoning.

****2/3
THE PROPHETS OF ADDICTION -
Babylon Boulevard
Deadlight Entertainment 2011

Teenage laments and adult innuendos from masters of glamorous trade with superficial glitz.

Don't you look at their cover picture and don't look up their pedigree: don't let their glitter image fool you, for this bunch join the dots between ALICE COOPER and THE RAMONES rather than pitching in THE NEW YORK DOLLS slapstick panto. There's the Devil in the details - a catchy piano lick in "Rejection", nice drums dynamics driving "Still Alive": cue the sensitive mixing by Phil Soussan - and there's depth which is not revealed from the off, when former PRETTY BOYD FLOYD singer Lesli Sanders and his buddies spit out their faux-immature angst and anger on the short 'n' spiky "Hang Me Up" and "Kick It In".

But once the quartet pull "Trigger", the bluesy wave comes on sweeping up all the emotional palette of the band and begging for an unplugged version to bare a vibrant core THE PROPHETS try to hide. In rock 'n' roll mode, though, the group chime with high velocity on Amit LeeRon and Rev(x)'s guitars that bolt from creating a hard-bouncy wall to going wild at a Mariachi-influenced angle, while their dense vocal pack is able to swing a whole arena and hook the most picky listeners with lyrical humor. It's hard not to switch on your stomp in "Alter Of Altercation", yet "Self-Portrait" marries its infectious riffola to a heart-(g)ripping melody. So one needs no prophesy to know that the addictive foursome have a glorious future.

Phil Soussan's exclusive comments: I have known Lesli for many years - in fact I produced an EP for them many years ago under the name CITY GIRLS BOYS. I think that Lesli has a great pop sensibility when it comes to writing and these songs are inspired by his personal journey through sobriety, something that may have killed him if he had not conquered it. I will always make time to work on any of Lesli's recordings. Some of the tracks like "Alter" and "Kick It In" really show his unique pop writing skills and the plan was to bring some cool mix sounds and textures without losing the hard edge.
The recorded basic tracks that they came to me with, although somewhat organized were full of options - many different guitar parts that had to be chosen. I find that in a lot of self produced projects, decisions tend to be deferred until the mix stage. I had fun mixing it, though, finding sounds that worked and building the atmosphere for each song. I was aware that this should not be too polished and I wanted to keep the attitude of the songs present at all times. Les came down a few times to check how things were going on and he really liked what I was doing with it! I think that his voice is so unique and lends itself to some very different vocal effects; it is always a surprise to him to hear these different treatments, but once he gets used to it he usually trusts me. I worked up the drum sounds and spent a lot of time on them, that was a challenging part of the mix as there were a lot of issues that were causing the bottom to drop out of the kit, some of the tracks came out really great thought, in particular "Where Are You Now" and "Self Portrait".
Overall, it is a really cool album that I enjoyed mixing - I was only sorry that due to their location in Seattle, that I could not be there to record and produce the album - maybe next time! Oh, and my personal favorite is "Mistress Addiction" - I love the idea of the kind of Stonesy pedal steel with the G n' R melodies!

****4/5
INFORMATION SUPERHIGHWAY -
This Is Not The Ending
Information Superhighway 2010

The Chicago four sculpt a multidimensional overload - nebulous but expressive, enveloping but cold.

Their name tell many things about this band whose music is extremely clever yet emotionally dry if lacking the density that name suggests. Rooted equally in prog rock and jazz, the quartet don't restrict such drift in terms of complexity and time span of a single track but reserve a space for sense of humor by placing "This Is Beginning" - the icy, minimalist, almost abstract groove over white noise and wild guitar to shatter a witch's brew - at the second part of their second album, stressing a philosophical, rather than sequential, element of it all. But "Almost Morning" is a perfect opener, Leslie Beukelman's crystal voice lulling in Rob Clearfield's acoustic chords like an early bird in a puddle's glacial water before playing hide-and-seek with drums until the momentum is gained and initial intimacy's lost to the fusion sophistication and heavy riffs. Another epic, "The Real Things", looms ethereal as vocals creep in on a thin slice of dewy electronics which turn into silvery piano reverie stricken with piquant bass and brushed cymbals, but then, the metal wall gets restored for the fragility to bounce off. Delicate folksiness reign in "Soft And Not Knowing", all the more beautiful for its organ background, and "Your Voice - Part II" tries to build as a conventional, or even traditional, ballad and it's there that the real nerve and soul of the band comes to the surface. Perhaps, there's more to their intellectualism than the ear meets.

***
EMILY HURD -
Long Lost Ghosts
Emily Hurd 2011

There's a hope where the tears are, and looking for forgotten spectres is the best way to connect to here and now.

Having a fans' convention is not your regular artist's lot, so the existence of "Emilyfest" in North Carolina speaks volumes about this Chicagoan's ability to delve into one's psyche. Having created a heartbreaker image on her previous seven albums, this time Ms Hurd displays a broken heart of her own - but not before going for a reckless ride which makes the songs' sequence unbalanced yet quite logical. Or, perhaps, it's plain chronology kicks in as, due to an injury, Emily was forced to back away from piano in favor of ukulele. The stately keys may lead an acoustic strum of the title track but, as the voice crystallizes for a flight, the barnyard jive crops up on the fiddle strain, yet with country straws all over the place, the singer digs deeper, so the likes of "Skipping Stones" feel irresistible.

From "A Lot Like" that evokes the rural blues and communal spirit, and further on, here's no escaping from the dance she engages us in, both on lyrical and melodic levels: where else you can hear a word "finale" in a song like "My Favorite Part" that pitches a pop hope into a vaudevillian uplift? But the record's finale, the grandiosely bare-bone "Easy Call", sees such optimism back only after a string of sad pieces welcomed in by the silky glide of "Silent Conversations", even though the pain is shaped as a joke in "I Won't Tell A Soul", and it's in "Irreparably Yours" that Emily, running her vocals from theatrical to husky and intimate, spreads her songwriter wings for a full span to "declare a disaster" and open emotional pores in the most thick-skinned of listeners. It's a warmly shimmering record which neatly defines a term "bittersweet" and rewards any new spin by revealing new nuances - the one anybody who's ever loved can relate to.

****
AUTUMN BREEZE -
20:12 -
Glimpses From A Lifetime
My Records 2011

The first part of a new year trilogy - the premiere reedsman of Swedish prog blows a storm.

It's a beautiful idea to let off solo steam within a collective framework by releasing three suites that share the same theme, an anticipation of 2012, and the same length, 20:12. Which means there's no space and time for an ELP-like excess, and main writers of this group who came back after 30-year absence with 2010's "The Autumn Band" form their epics with ensemble ethic in mind. The first to deliver is multi-instrumentalist Gert Magnusson: adding acoustic guitar and mandolin to his regular armory, the veteran hangs his seven-part piece on a folky thread where his flute eases in delicate melange of male-female vibrato-tinged vocals that set the scene and step back and forth for electric tidal wave to wash away the anxiety with an ever-shifting rhythm. While Jan Warnqvist's piano zigzags between classical undercurrent and pop grace, Kenneth Halvarsson's bass anchors the tune which sometimes gets lonely in the rarefied air with a clear demo feel. It mars the otherwise impressive flight of thought and fingers, and the jazzy bit sound rather incongruous in such unpretentious context, yet there's much to like here and not be afraid of what 2012 may bring.

***
SI HAYDEN -
Supercharger
Silvery 2011

A six-string virtuoso gives a master class of one-take approach leaving no space for casual spontaneity and the whole world for emotions.

With all his versatility, Si Hayden could have been a national treasure in the U.K. if only he had the rage of Rory Gallagher or the flash of Richard Thompson, but he prefers to keep it down and serious be it on his own or as foil for violinist Joe O'Donnell, or as multi-instrumentalist in jazzers MORLEY HAYDEN HAINES. And here's an example: Si's many musical faces are reflected, and refracted, in a dozen of acoustic guitar pieces that are being played as straight as a lace goes, with no overdubs to paint an additional, needless vignette. Still, the cover car is an amalgamation of the title track which marries Delta blues to flamenco to demonstrate Hayden's filigree finger-work, while the devilish slide that rides through "A Slight Tale" makes its ominous entrance in the sparse opener "Dusk" to set the agenda. Yet it doesn't prepare the listener for such deliciously lazy groove as the one under "I Roll" or the shadow of Indian chant of "Walnut Bridge". Whatever wide the maestro stylistic palette is, there's a wholeness to the album, a sign of Si's immaculate taste matching his delivery and making the result sharply focused and sensually riveting. Calm but cool.

****
LEBOWSKI -
Cinematic
Lebowski 2010

A coolness by another name where carpet crawlers know no Dude.

Jeff Bridges' most cultish character was of Polish origin, but none of these Polish musicians has that same name, so the quartet play up the Hollywood connection too well, their debut's title telling all about their music - save for the fact that it lacks the suggested humor, yet that's the name of the game as far as instrumental prog is concerned. The foursome's take on it is gloriously panoramic: the opener, "Trip To Doha", explores stereophonic vista in the scope of Marcin Grzegorczyk's ethereal six-string soar and swoops, new age way, when Marcin Luczaj swirls his classically-informed piano solo into an Arabic-tinctured synth tune which finds a wordless vocal continuation in the meandering "137 Sec." to wrap all seven minutes of it in transparent riffs. The keyboards impressively flash across "Old British Spy Movie" with its urgent ticking and a nostalgic violin, yet - unlike in the accordion-shot "Encore" - there's no retro color to emotional wave the melody invokes, while the monologue snippets designed to stress the music's screen quality ruin its fragile mood once in a while. But overall tone is rich, guitar harmonies filling the spaces to make it breathe with enigma, and when the curtains fall in the organ-oiled and sax-smoothed "Human Error", you feel the journey's been good enough to embark on the adventure one more time.

****
VONDA SHEPARD -
Solo
Hotele 2011

A sultry chanteuse cools down her act to let her multicolor voice stay one-to-one with black and white keys.

It's one of the worlds greatest injustices that this singer isn't a household name even after having paid a weekly visit into millions of homes as a bar performer in the "Ally McBeal" TV series and having sold 12 millions albums under her own name, all that without mentioning the lady's work with Rickie Lee Jones and All Jarreau, her two Golden Globes and two Emmy awards. Her new album won't change anything just because it's so deep it requires all your attention, and the late night romanticism is a rarity nowadays. Recorded live in the studio and produced by Shepard's husband Mitchell Froom whose credits include Paul McCartney, "Solo" is as sensual and intimate as it gets, and to be private to such a wonder feels like a privilege.

She lets the listener in on a swelling wave of "A Lucky Life Interlude" before rolling her mellifluous voice into "Maryland" where contentment reigns to give Elton a run for his ivory-balladry money, while "Another January", with its low vocal tones, and "Soothe Me" stop short of gospel fervor - it's that spiritual. The timelessness of Shepard's emotions is outlined perfectly with her appropriation of evergreens "Walk Away Renee" and "You Belong To Me" where deliberate nasality ties the celestial to the earthy, and if the "baby baby baby" rise of "I Know Better" leads into a true heartache, it's a hint of cabaret irony that lifts the bluesy "Lose My Way" and blows optimism into the airy "Don't Cry Ilene" which splices pop sensibility to Rachmaninoff piano ripple. The feelings exposed here hit the nerve, yet "Baby Don't You Break My Heart Slow" would be a better rock anthem than wallow in these austere conditions and, thus, closes the record on a high - a healthy substitute for caffeine.

****3/4
MORAINE -
Metamorphic Rock
MoonJune 2011

Live at NEARfest, the Seattle's finest pull all the progressive breaks to unfold in their tapestry-rich entirety.

There's always a shadow of sterility about art rock collectives' studio output, but then only few of these don't bend under the dirt they get on stage, and MORAINE belong to such a rare breed. Having burst on the scene with 2009's "Manifest Density", next year the band went all frontal before the choosy public of premium prog festival, and now the glorious results are neatly packed and topped with new compositions.

The opener "Irreducible Complexity" offers a crash course to the ensemble's inner mechanism driven by Dennis Rea's supple guitar - sharp 'n' hard one moment and soft as silk the other, its harmonic possibilities rolled to the fore in "Disoriental Suite" which imports his personal experience into the set. When the axe gets down to the riffing carcass, the melodic decorations come from Alicia DeJoie's electric violin and James DeJoie's sax, two instruments that run wild in live circumstances, to a great effect in the tense buzz of "Save The Yuppie Breeding Grounds" where omnipresent Eastern motifs shift all over rock surface. While the traditional foundation is bared in "Blues For A Bruised Planet", its 12-bar engine festooned in cosmic way, MORAINE's panoramic scope unfurls in "The Okanogan Lobe", its flight shot with rhythmic ripple underneath. But the subtleties hidden behind the assault are revealed in the coupling of "Ephebus Amoebus" and "Disillusioned Avatar" linked by a dub interlude which all the solo strains go asunder on the base of Kevin Millard's bass which keeps up the blistering float of "Waylaid".

An adrenalin-charged performance allows the listener to breathe exactly when it's needed, that's why it's so exciting. A sensation in the making.

*****
AGENTS OF MERCY -
The Black Forest
Foxtrot 2011

Progressive rock in its purest: it can't get more refined in the dark woods.

The FLOWER KINGS or TRANSATLANTIC fans will confirm that, when it comes to himself, Roine Stolt knows no quarter. But he'd be the first to say that keeping an experimental edge always sharpened is tiresome, so the master founded another band, AGENTS OF MERCY, to be as classic as it gets for neo prog. One may bemoan the genre's refusal to dig for roots of the original music form, and outsiders can be averted by "The Black Forest", yet for the aficionados it's a balm. Echoes of progenitors abound, epics like "Citadel" marry straightforward attack to adventurousness for the the group's third album to balance the "art" and "rock" particles.

The agenda is laid out in the sprawling title track once Lalle Larsson's crystal keys give way to Stolt's heavy riffs, and Nad Sylvan's voice weaves a predatory narrative and lets the instruments ebb up and down to drown the mastery in the sea of emotions. It's a rare feat in modern prog as is such a heartfelt ballad as "Elegy". The long solos are there, of course, but they - especially when executed on organ - embellish the picture rather than distract, and once "A Quiet Little Town" pours funky jive and gospel choir onto the artsy mill, this deviance makes the whole rather spicy and captivating. "Kingdom Of Heaven" returns the progressive flow to its basic values, and here the Black Forest really feels like home sweet home.

****
ANDERSON / WAKEMAN -
The Living Tree
In Concert. Part One
Gonzo 2011

The ex-YES romantics reach for the state where emotions take over virtuosity.

Back in 1974, Rick Wakeman went solo when Jon Anderson's cosmic concepts became too heavy, but five years later the two shared their vision enough to leave their affirmative motherlode, although it took them almost three decades more to be definitely out of YES and join forces in a duo, not a band. A logical step, given both the singer and the keyboardist are great storytellers, yet that side of their concerts remains outside the expected scope and is to be preserved yet. This live document holds a big surprise, too, as it doesn't capture the veterans' acoustic performance and sees them in electric setup with Rick sticking to his synthesizers and letting Jon run the show. Which means there's more heartbeat than fingers figures on display, and that's what it takes to grow their common effort, 2010's "The Living Tree", onstage.

Delivering the major part of that album, Wakeman and Anderson build their performance around another, most intimate concept: "And You & I" for a start and "The Meeting" as a grand finale, where the fragile piano spreads a thin ice for mellifluous vocals to walk on. Quite an elegant effect might be slightly marred by an electronic phaser on the keys and, in the hoarse "Southside Of The Sky", it even jars but on "Time And A Word", when the players dive into the reggae shuffle, their inventiveness shines brightly, a "She Loves You" quote adding to the sunny mood. While Jon effuses majestic light in the stately "Just One Man" and lyrical "23/24/11" that breathe fully before the audience, an overall melancholy is outlined with Rick's role as accompanist rather than a fantastic soloist. That's what lends "Morning Star" its magical shimmer, even though it breaks a bit too awkwardly into "Long Distance Runaround" which is launched on ivories only to pick a guitar strum from another date - here's a downside of choosing the best moments. Still, the lucid "House Of Freedom" gently stresses the point of being unshackled and fly in the company of fellow romantic. On to the "Part Two" now?

****
ATKINS / MAY PROJECT -
Serpent's Kiss
Gonzo 2011

When the British steel meets Christian flesh and blood: the NWOBHM vibe is back for good. Or for worse.

"Rescue me from my accusers", goes "Can You Hear Me?", the fourth track here, and there's a problem Al Atkins has to address. Those who say that the original JUDAS PRIEST vocalist rides the coattails of the legend he was a part of may have a point but they miss on the fact that he's a fine singer which is proved by this album, a joint venture with Paul May, a Christian rock guitarist with an impressive CV that includes work with such Brummie luminaries as Roy Wood. And this proof sounds so classic heavy metal one's teeth can grind on edge, but you can't blame the veteran for refusing to live his own "victim of changes" maxim, although "Serpent's Kiss" feels like a step back from Atkins' latest, "Demon Deceiver", as May, skillful as he is, doesn't push their chosen genre's borders. That's why the first three cuts, while pushing the energy levels in the red, especially in the rage of "Traitor's Hand", can test the listener's endurance before the drift gets more catchy.

The melodies slowly flow in on sharp riffs, yet in places, the vocals come somewhat detached from the instrumentation, but the dry rock 'n' roll "Fight" allocates all the elements to their logical slots, and Atkins' growl complements May's shred to a stirring demented effect as does its well-oiled counterpart "Betta Than Twisted" that lets in a lethal dose of air to breathe and swing. Still, the band's take on KISS' "Cold Gin" lacks life, whereas "Judge" makes a mistake of masking the blues in its foundation under viscous progressive smear. But in the epic "Theatre Of Fools" this approach is justified with the players' restraint and truly emotional delivery. There's a feeling the project's next opus will exceed their debut's limitations for the pair should try and shoot again.

***
SLIVOVITZ -
Bani Ahead
MoonJune 2011

The mettle rages on: the Neapolitan seven take their fun one gear down and forward.

Its arrogant title notwithstanding, this band's debut, "Hubris", brought on a slice of untethered joie de vivre with a clear Balkan air, and here the Italians pick up where they left off - invigorated even more and packing more, not necessarily hooky, twists into their crooked ways. "02-09" as breathtaking and wide in its aural scope - all instruments run amok while keeping their harmonious pack - as it is, delivers quite a different sensation to the title track's traditional dance; yet the knees-up gains momentum and turns into the high energy fusion jive only to get back on the muddy soil again.

Elsewhere, "Egiziaca" start things up in posh jazz way, guitar riffs lurking behind the brass that throws a subtle klezmer hint in before Circo Riccardi's trumpet flies into the rarefied, echo-mirrored space swung by Domenico Angarano's bass; then, the blues join the action for the ensemble's smile to beam out through their deceptive seriousness. But "Fat" is sad and brittle in its bittersweet flow, and in the energgetic "Cleopatra Through", with Riccardo Villari's to the front, all the faces are long. There's a feeling that the art, sometimes rather smooth where it could've been rough, took the place of reckless merriment, as the group chose prog rock direction, which was present in their oeuvre from the off, instead of folk one. The verve is still strong, it's just that some arrogance crept in now.

****
SMOKEY FINGERS -
Columbus Way
Tanzan Music 2011

Southern rock from the Northern Italy: fire and fun, sludge and sweetness.

There's Lodi in California and Lodi in Lombardy, and you could safely bet on the former to embrace the purely American kind of heavy rock which the Allmans and the Van Zants outlined, but this quartet from the latter turn such notion on its head. Metallers at their heart, SMOKEY FINGERS pour swing from their soul - and Fabrizio Costa's bass - and the lava oozes from Diego Dragoni's rock 'n' roll riffs throughout, and if "Old Jack" or the female-backed "The Good Countryside" throws it all in back the '70s' mist, its smell of beer 'n' sweat is timeless. So are the tears of "Born To Run" where Luke Paterniti loosens his vocal grip to pin down the sentimentality in the lull of acoustic strum and lap steel that give way to a tasty Fender Rhodes boogie, whereas "Devil's Song" pitches the fever even higher. The band groove wildly, the slow "Over The Line" and angry "Chains Of Mind" oiling the tuneful racket with a slider, while the sharp modern edge of "Country Road" can defy an Alabama trucker for a scuffle. Yet it's the dobro-sprinkled jive in "Crazy Woman" that delivers this album's most transcendental moments and makes one wish the FINGERS to burn long as there's no smoke without fire.

****1/2
MACHINE MASS TRIO -
As Real As Thinking
MoonJune 2011

Crepuscular jazz with a Transatlantic shimmer to its ebb and no place for doubt.

When American Tony Bianco and Belgian Michelle Delville met in DOUbT to deliver "Never Pet A Burning Dog", it was an excuse to exercise their humor on the Canterbury soil in the company of Alex Maguire and Richard Sinclair; this time, though, both format and mood are different, and the drums-and-guitar axis is given additional textural spin by Jordi Grognard's reeds which paint the picture in melancholic colors, so vivid in the opaque "Knowledge" where the toms and cymbals weave a sophisticated pattern under the melodic flow. To outline such approach, "Cuckoo" crystallizes into focus on electric piano plain with glacial shards of percussion to ease in richly toned sax that keeps the elusive tune close to the ground - a promise to soar is fulfilled by a wildly meandering guitar which, after a burst of angular aerobatics, calls the brass back for a lyrical duet.

Still, "Let Go" is all the riffy rage, heavy and blistering, six-string thunder and blower lightning, the bass-spanking, while "Hero" unfurls rather traditional boogie roll yet the piece arrives sweet and adventurous in equal measures as solos are being passed around, with different electronic effects applied on its cosmic way. Yet the most muscular wrestling comes in the rarefied, yet tension-filled 18-minute opus "Falling Up №9" with the familiar, if unspoken, "number nine, number nine" madness of loops, abstract snippets of motifs and improvisations but with a solid view on the overall impression. Not far from that, "UFO-RA", tasty to its nebulous core, judders this otherworldly space in a jolly manner with a spotlight on a synthesizer spreading over the bristly rhythm section. There goes the titular material thought topped with the feeling that's as palpable. A little twilight masterpiece.

****4/5
WISHBONE ASH -
Elegant Stealth
ZYX Records 2011

The twin-guitar warriors go back to their roots to return triumphantly and rejuvenated.

It's been a steady rise to the erstwhile glories for these veterans who deliver their best album in years with "Elegant Stealth" which was to be called "Searching For Satellites", yet the choice was made for a more arresting option. The former title cut is there, though, a transparent ballad with a bow to the faithful fans and a universal appeal, while most of the other songs have a different kind of the band's trademark openness to them - accelerated, perhaps, by the fresh air of France where the record was created, as documented on the "This Is Wishbone Ash" DVD.

The familiar sound catches ear from the off, once "Reason To Believe" states the quartet's agenda in fine, streamlined style with a catchy chorus that haunts the listener as a "club mix" hidden track, while Bob Skeat's bass propels forward another dancefloor-friendly composition, "Big Issues", that sprawls to the rockier terrain as it progresses. The texture gets even richer on instrumental mini-epic "Mud-slick", which weaves DEEP PURPLE's Don Airey's heavy organ into the hard grind, and on the dramatic, dynamic "Can't Go It Alone", written by Pat McManus who runs his folky fiddle parallel to the double six-string sharp riffing, casting memories back to the "Argus" days. Here, and in the similar Celtic flow of "Warm Tears", the group impressively reclaim their twin-guitar blueprint from THIN LIZZY, as Andy Powell trades catchy licks with Muddy Manninen whose acoustic strum adds lace to many a moment like on the twangy love song "Give It Up".

Giving up isn't what WISHBONE ASH do, as proved by "Invisible Line" which picks up where "Persephone" left off to join the quartet's best moments' pantheon - and the album as a whole. Elegant, indeed.

****1/3
AGITATION FREE -
Shibuya Nights -
Live In Tokyo
Esoteric 2011

The veteran Krautrockers catch up with their erstwhile futurism and have a blast in Japan.

For the most part, reunions are dewy-eyed affairs with a palpable patina on an aural picture that a resurrected band deliver. AGITATION FREE break this notion to bits. Flying over to Japan to induct a second member of their classic line-up into a wax museum in 2007, the old Krauters and their fans celebrated the occasion with three shows which were preserved for posterity and form a glorious new chapter in the ensemble's history. Here, the quintet conjure up most of their first two albums with an addition of a cut from their previous get-together of 1999 and a fresh concoction that shows there can possibly still be a future for these veterans.

"Future" might be a keyword for this live document that springs from the familiar recorded dialogue snippets into sonics rather modern to make old material sound as if it was composed on a travel far ahead of its, or ours, time. If "In The Silence of the Morning Sunrise" bears a hint of retro-serenity in its ticking heart where Lutz Ulbrich's guitar pitches in a transparent fusion, as he does in the flamenco light of "Das Kleine Uhrwerk", the riff-shaking "You Play For Us Today" create a perfect build-up for an intense experience, as "Ala Tul" riding on Michael Hoenig's organ brings "Great Gig In The Sky" down to the Hacienda floor. Then, "Laila" threads a hot, speeding up blues spiral on its acoustic string, and "Malesch" swells up on Michael Gunther's bass tectonics, while the oriental flow of "Shibuya Nights" complements an Arabian dance of "Sahara City" in the "Far East meets Middle East" cosmic collision of a deep rhythm section dig. With a new, lava-lamp-like composition "Drifting" to soothe the sores, it's a retina-searing experience, so when "Rucksturz" shakes off the last dandruff from one's sideburns, the listener's left flattened and grateful.

*****
JON ANDERSON -
Open
Jon Anderson 2011

The most romantic progger reaches for the Big One and does it at large.

Save, perhaps, for "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" and "In The City Of Angels", Jon Anderson's oeuvre, with YES or solo, has never been an insular issue. It's always turned outwards, especially when the artist explores a long form... a shorter than "Topographic Ocean" anyway. Sticking to simpler songs as of late, recently he picked up his 19th century guitar to come up with what, essentially, is a mini-album shaped as a single composition available for download. Yet it's not a homespun strum only for Anderson engaged his friend Stefan Podell to orchestrate it and rhythm section to kick it in the groove, and the result is stunning.

The 20-minute piece swells up symphonic way, with a hint of Ravel's "Bolero" to evoke the beat of the heart of the sunrise until this angelic voice flows in to blow away any worry. It dances around the instrumental axis in a panoramic swirl, harmonies fluttering as butterflies while a guitar adds spice to the sonic picture. The tension starts growing once piano and drums enter the frame to shake it and then give back to the vocals and the strings before the reeds snatch the Hispanic buzz away. It ebbs to and fro the piece's acoustic origin but never gets down, if only for momentary silence from which the music springs to the skies again, now in a twilight mode that builds a scene for a fire-warmed festival which pushes the volume, and the mood, for the dramatic effect. And when the thunder dies, the bliss feels all the more pleasurable. An unexpected masterpiece and a triumph.

****1/3
PHILLIP
GOODHAND-TAIT -
Radio Songs
Angel Air 2011

A songwrtiter par exellence goes it alone and wins hands down.

Always a singer in his own right, Phillip Goodhand-Tait is more famous for writing songs that other artists, such as Gene Pitney and Roger Daltrey, brought to mass attention. Both recorded "Oceans Away", a beautiful song that its author chose to open this unique performance, recorded for Radio Bremen in 1977 completely solo with only a Steinway to roll the voice on. The result is intimate and uplifting, the atmosphere working miracles with covers: it spurns "Doris Day's into an elegant rock-a-drama and transforms two Buddy Holly covers, "Everyday" and "Oh Boy", from effervescing rockers to candlelit blues. "One More Rodeo", though, doesn't lose an iota of its galloping grace, while the cinematic "Parade" and "Leon" can give Elton a melancholy run for his millions. There's no mistaking where the mood comes from as "The Lady Lives in England" kicks the ache of its melody into the bitter-sweet gears, and "Angeltown", then a brand-new paean to London, soars in its imaginary fog.

Times might change since then but in 2010 the veteran is still able to turn back the clock: this collection is augmented with Phillip Goodhand-Tait's praying before Ricky Nelson altar - now with a full band - and reminiscing about the past in "Radio, Play That Song Again" that is a fitting bottom-line to this moving concert.

*****
To the next reviews page
Top