Review – Galahad – Seas of Change – by Kevin Thompson

A columnist from an upmarket daily mentioned recently, that this time of year isn’t good for new music. How do these people get employed?

Two weeks into the new year and the quality of releases out and arriving are breathtaking, in scope and variation. Anticipation is at fever pitch at the expectation of numerous releases from new artists and old hands and I for one am looking forward to what the year brings.

Galahad’s ‘Seas Of Change’ is one of my most eagerly awaited. Having been a fan of Stu and the band from the earliest days I have always admired that, whilst they have their trademark sound, they have never been afraid to experiment and push the boundaries. Having followed a heavier path of late (last year’s release, ‘Quiet Storms’, being an exception) ‘Seas Of Change sees the band mixing their various musical guises to give us a veritable melting pot of all that was, is and now will be Galahad.

Though I was sad to hear of long term guitarist Roy Keyworth departing the fold, the return of the wonderfully talented Lee Abraham riding on the crest of his excellent solo album ‘Colours’ and formidably wielding the guitars here, adds a refreshing impetus to the band demographic.

Talking of sound, keyboardist Dean Baker should give himself a huge slap on the back for writing all the music and compositional arrangements on ‘Seas Of Change’. He has done a impressive job in creating an ‘epic feel’ of an album, a feast for the aural senses. A sweeping panorama of sound that crashes like a tidal wave through your sound system, drenching you in it’s thrall. That’s before we get to mention just how good he actually is as a keyboardist and conjurer of effects.

As for Mr Stu Nicholson’s vocals, they have to my ears never sounded or fitted the material better. Let us also not forget the valued contributions from the formidable engine room, Spencer Luckman on drums & percussion, combined with the return of Tim Ashton on bass guitar. The album also features long term Galahad honorarian, the lovely Sarah Bolter, sprinkling the album with fragrant flute, clarinet and soprano sax.

It takes someone of a certain quality to harness all this energy and polish it into a glistening diamond. No problem there as ‘Seas Of Change’ was mixed and mastered, most ably, at Thin Ice Studios in Surrey by the magician that is Karl Groom, producing a sound as clear and fresh as a crystal lake, all nicely wrapped in a wonderful album cover by the ever talented Paul Tippett.

“So what of the album itself?” I hear you cry,  “the subject, content and the tracks?”

There is dear reader, only one ‘Cecil B. DeMille’ size track that comprises the whole album.

According to Stu it was intended to be all of seven minutes but grew into the force formidable to which it now stands. Galahad have never shied from difficult, thorny subjects and if you are looking for English, pastoral poetry, with hearts and flowers, look elsewhere.

Stabbing at the heart of the government, this merry band of men (and lady) take politics and politicians skilfully and tactfully to task over Brexit, the public debates surrounding and following it, as the politicians have circled like sharks with the British public as bait, causing much confusion.

With a wry nod and a wink Galahad deliberate through the music as it rises and falls, majestic one moment, reflective the next. The quality of the material, musicianship and sound is faultless. This album cannot be dipped in and out of, but must be consumed as a whole which if you do, you should find most satisfying, whether your palate be to a fine glass of merlot or a huge feast.

If you have sampled the band before and found them not to your taste I will not force feed you, but merely ask you try this album or you could miss out on one of the tastiest releases of 2018. Me? I’m off back for seconds…

Released 22nd January 2018

Order ‘Seas of Change’ direct from the band here…

 

 

 

Review – Arcaeon – Balance – by Emma Roebuck

A band so new they have not reached their first birthday release their first EP and stamp a clear identity on the music they create. Based in Reading, self defined Prog Metalcore band Arcaeon give us 4 songs and try to show the variation and style they are writing and performing.

The album opens with Endeavour and a deceptive ethereal guitar riff and what I assume is guitar synthesised melodic line that begins to intensify and then drops into a power chord and heavy bass line as William Alex Young begins his vocals. Like a shock trooper in a musical war he hits hard and strong with deep and rasping tones for the first verses and to reinforce the Prog credentials the Metalcore shifts, the manic becoming calm and the storm fades. A voice not entirely dissimilar from James Hetfield comes from the speakers but, like the eye of a hurricane, that passes and the storm returns.

Fade has a similar mix of vocal styles and rhythm variances with harmonies and screaming and pounding bass lines. It is intricate and technical along with a high level of skill involved, the discipline and control involved is impressive. The contrasting use of clean vocal harmonies and the intense growling gives an interesting and additional element to the music. The guitar lines shift from frenetic then calm soloing eases the mind lulling it into a false sense of security.

Mind’s Eye opens up and immediately I am reminded of Maschine’s last album and Kyros, tight and melodic before they shift into the powered vocals for the verse and an out of nowhere a guitar solo that comes straight out of the classic rock playbook. There are moments when the intensity relaxes and shows that these guys are capable and talented musicians and can deliver more than just one style.

Dysaxis opens with a dial up modem connecting and drops into a similar pattern of mixed rhythmic and bass driven sound with the guitar and effects dancing round it! Eifion and Joe are in tune with each other totally.

Arcaeon are one of the increasingly large number of band that are coming from influences such as Muse, Animals As Leaders, Opeth and TesseracT rather than the route of bands from 40 years or more ago. They are young, keen and ambitious and appear at first glance to have no real connection to Progressive Rock in the traditional way. It was inevitable that the “golden age bands” would lose their grip as an influence as time distanced them from young musicians. BUT they draw from bands that had those bands as influences, so the experiences are second hand and so less precious to them. The metalcore aspect will not be for everyone but it does have merit and skill and is progressive. They are learning their art and will grow and that will be an interesting journey to follow. I can see this being a great and powerful live experience as well.

This is not music for the faint-hearted neither do I think that the fans of the pastoral and symphonic silo of the Prog genre will enjoy this EP. Fans of Opeth, Dream Theater, Ne Obliviscaris and Animals As Leaders will find something to love here. This is one area of the Progressive Rock movement that is getting young and talented bands coming through more and more. They have a young audience too, I think if any band will break through the wall into mass acceptance it will be Arcaeon or of their ilk.

Released 26th January 2018

Order ‘Balance’ from bandcamp

 

Single Review – Sleeperman – Bleach Blonde Pharmacist – by Progradar

“Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be…”

Forgive the terrible pun but I’ve been listening to a song that has just brought back wonderfully wistful memories of the sepia tinged days of my youth. Hey, lets’s be honest, they weren’t always great times but I can now look at them with a kind of indulgent fondness.

So, what has me yearning for the days when vinyl was the only format and I used to wear my brother’s hand-me-downs and my Mum was West Hill’s most eminent knitter? The new single (single? remember them?) from East Yorkshire’s Sleeperman, that is the catalyst. Bleach Blonde Pharmacist comes in a superb cardboard 45rpm single style cover and the CD even looks like a 7″ single, replete with ‘B’ side!

The band will release a new single on the fourth of each month throughout 2018 culminating in theirChristmas single in December.

Bass player Steve Skinner, guitarist Neil Scott and singer/poet John Hilton, joined by new drummer Phil Sharp are from a generation brought up to pick the bones from a confusing diet of Clint Eastwood and Germaine Greer. They have a collective soft spot for a well-made sandwich and Nordic Noir and though sandals are not a compulsory item of their dress code they are fond of and cling to the notion of everyone getting along.

Their unique blend of pithy, witty and often irreverent lyrics and excellent roots/folk/alternative music comes to the fore on the new track. Bleach Blonde Pharmacist opens with a driving bass and guitar riff, giving a sardonic, even laconic feel to the song. John delivers each line as if he he is biting off the words and it works brilliantly. It’s a song of real people in real situations, delivered with a tongue-in-cheek, off the wall wit. Imagine Northern humour mixed with an Americana vibe and you are on the right track,

“In the end you’ll have to pump up the tyres, pack tuna for a fortnight, take your Swiss Army knife and a whistle and head for the hills… You’ve got your family and your friends, your Transit and your bluetooth…”

And that’s just a smidgeon of the lyrical genius that Sleeperman impart, the wry observations come thick and fast, at all times backed by the stylish music.

The ‘B’ side (if we call it that) is a totally different beast, the flippancy is nowhere to be seen on as the opening notes to Sleep play out. Hilton’s vocal takes on a wistful tone and the music takes on a laid back sentiment. Laid back, relaxed and carefree, the nostalgia and humour have a much gentler air.

“And the ice cream van plays Greensleeves, when the sun goes down they’ll all leave…”

A bittersweet feeling piece of music that seems to yearn for times gone by, I nod my head in quiet appreciation as it comes to a close.

Following on from last year’s E.P. ‘Late Onset Optimism’Sleeperman have once again delivered a wonderful eight minutes of music that delivers on a personal and honest level. You feel yourself sympathising with the characters in the songs because you know, if not for the grace of God, it could have been you. Surely that is what great songs are all about!

Released 4th January 2018

Download ‘Bleach Blonde Pharmacist on iTunes here

 

Review – Marco De Angelis – Next Station – by Progradar

“If, like myself, you are a child of the 80’s and loved the great classic and prog rock bands of that era or, if you just want to hear some fantastic songwriting and music, then you could, and should, listen to ‘The River – Both Sides of the Story’.”

I wrote these words about Italian virtuoso multi-instrumentalist and producer Marco De Angelis’ first album ‘The River – Both Sides of the Story’. Released in 2013, it was one of my favourite releases of that year. When I heard that he was writing new songs for the follow up I eagerly followed any updates.

Well, fast-forward to December 2017 and that sophomore album was upon us. ‘Next Station’ consists of six songs all written, arranged and performed by Marco and is enriched by the collaboration of vocal heavyweights such as Nad Sylvan ( steve Hackett Band, solo), Robbie Wyckoff (Roger Waters Band) and Göran Edman (Yngwie Malmsteen, Karmakanic), percussion is courtesy of Cristiano Micalizzi, one of the most sought after drummers in Italy.

“Crazy dreamer, that’s the way they’re used to call you, ’cause your free will fills their life with fear..

Marco cites himself as being ‘Art Rock and Progressive Rock’ but I’d have to say there’s a huge dose of Classic Rock thrown in there as well, much like his debut release. Freewill has an involving introduction, all intricately ‘proggy’ before the velvet tones of Nad Sylvan give it a definitive authority. I love the elaborate instrumental fills, guitars, drums, bass and keys all making their presence felt but it is the cultured vocal that brings this song together. It’s catchy, edgy and quite jazzy in feel, as if Marco has been widening his musical horizons in a very good way. “Believing in them would make life easier, Though far more boring, Wouldn’t it Mr Captain.” 

“Change alone is eternal, Perpetual, Immortal, Taking nothing for granted, It’s the only way to live…”

It’s a pretty impressive start to the album and things just get better with the blinding and bluesy Keep Going where Marco really lets rip with his elegant guitar technique on the slow burning opening to the song, the fiery solo is dynamic and soulful. This track has the most in common with that Floyd classic/hard rock vibe but has added layers of intensity and class thanks to Nad’s superb vocal delivery. Simona Rizzi and Cristiana Polegri give added shine with their ritzy backing vocals, especially on the great chorus. This track is six minutes of classy rock music, best listened to late at night with the lights down low and a glass of vintage red wine in your hand (other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are available), it oozes sophistication, the cultured close a fine accompaniment to the blues-filled intro.

“Sitting on a bus, here I am, Old memories in my ears, They saw me growing up, It looks like I’m home to me, here I am, Redolent streets my mind has already walked through, I almost recognize them…”

It may have a bit of an unwieldy, cliche filled title but A Proggy Night In London certainly delivers. By a country mile, the most progressive song on the album, split into five sections, it is a totally engrossing listen with Nad’s voice almost narrating events as the music meanders across your mind, an involving and ever changing soundscape. I have to say that Nad Sylvan gives one of the best (if not THE best) vocal performances I have ever heard by this great frontman, he really seems to be performing right at the top of his game and leads this track along its lengthy, nostalgic feeling journey. Marco performs all the other instrumental duties (Bar the drums) and seems to be everywhere at once, delivering guitar, chapman stick, bass and keyboards wherever they are needed.  It is a musical tour-de-force as each section ends and segues perfectly into the next and it is one that you must listen to while still enjoying that glass of wine, this is music that tells engrossing stories and ones that you absolutely have to hear.

“Dream on, /dream on/, worn out heart of mine, Don’t let the darkness hide away our sun again, Wait for that glimmer of light on the horizon, Sometimes the light can be so hard to find…”

Laid back, bluesy and soulful, Back Again introduces Robbie Wyckoff to the vocal duties and his touching delivery matches the music perfectly. There’s an intimate atmosphere to this song, as if you’re sat in a small downtown bar, one of a handful of lucky people to hear such a personal performance. Marco fires off yet another incredibly impassioned guitar solo, all too brief to my ears and the soothing backing vocals from Simona and Cristiana just emphasise the intimate feel that this track engenders. The emphatic and electrifying guitar playing that helps to close out the song just makes the hairs on the back of your neck rise in utter appreciation.

“We all search for happiness, It’s what we always do, From the first breath that we take, ’till the last tear we’ll cry…”

Funky and edgy with cool, hard rock inspired riff, title track Next Station explodes onto the scene ready to take on all comers before realising it has no competition and taking a metaphorical step back to chill out with the rest of us in a funky progressive style. Robbie delivers a subtly powerful vocal performance, stylish on the verse and then forceful on the chorus, aided and abetted, once more, by Simona and Cristiana, “New day, New Life, New Pain, Next station on my road…”

Marco delves deep into his musical box of tricks to deliver a sublime instrumental section in the middle of the track and Cristiana lends her beautifully impassioned saxophone to the melting pot to add some real spirit and fervor. A wonderfully evocative smorgasbord of influences and themes is laid before you on this inventive nostalgic musical pilgrimage through Marco’s musical life to date.

“Some red wispy clouds, slipping over a light blue sky, a blazing sunset is about to be staged, A new night, a new day, A face on the wall to fly me away from here…”

Moments of near perfection like the utterly addictive and captivating guitar motif that opens  Last Train are what makes music so incredibly appealing to me and why I still listen to hundreds of new albums a year to seek them out. I’m a huge fan of Göran Edman, his expansive vocal performances with Karmakanic are amazing but we hear a much more chilled and relaxed version here and it is magical, his link up with the backing vocals is sublime. The music transfixes you from one note to the next, a song that is calm, classy elegance personified, the vocals hypnotise and mesmerise and Marco’s guitar seems to have a wistful, almost intangible life of its own. What a way to close out the album!

I’l cut straight to the chase here, you’d best open that bottle of red you were saving for a special occasion as ‘Next Station’ is it. A collection of songs that are more than that, it’s a captivating and involving musical journey led by a musician at the absolute zenith of his career. I think Marco De Angelis, joined by a stellar cast of musical guests, has just delivered the performance of his life!

Released 15th December 2017

Order ‘Next Station’ direct from Marco’s website here

 

 

Review – The Strawbs – The Ferryman’s Curse – by James R. Turner

If, like me in the early 90’s, all you knew about the Strawbs was the Hudson-Ford penned hit Part of the Union, upon discovering the album ‘Hero & Heroine’ in my parents record collector, it was hard to believe it was the same band, my love for the Strawbs grew as their albums were finally remastered and reissued (with some gems like ‘Deadlines’ being picked up at a Record Fair around 1994 on the original vinyl) and their transition from folk to rock (being placed in the prog bracket) a far more dramatic metamorphosis than that of Fairport Convention (who ironically went the other way, from psychedelic proto prog to the folk rock pioneers we know and love) with David Cousins unique vocals and lyrics, and Dave Lambert on electric guitar, and band members like Rick Wakeman, John Hawken, Blue Weaver, Chas Cronk and Tony Fernandez passing through the ranks in the 1970’s, they were a who’s who of top quality players. Through their reunions throughout the 80’s, their acoustic Strawbs and return of the full Electric band, and resurgence with albums like ‘Deja Fou’‘The Broken Hearted Bride’, as well as classic live albums and archive releases, the bands legacy is assured. If you ever catch them live both the full electric, and acoustic trio are musicians at the top of their game, putting together some fantastic shows.

Now 8 years after their last studio album ‘Dancing to the Devils Beat’, the Strawbs return with what is probably their finest record since their golden period of the 1970’s. Produced by the legendary Chris Tsangarides (who sadly died in January) and with the core line up of David Cousins, Dave Lambert, Chas Cronk (three of the five members who recorded the classic albums ‘Hero and Heroine’ and ‘Ghosts’) and long term drummer Tony Fernandez are joined by  ‘new boy’ multi-instrumentalist Dave Bainbridge (currently touring in Lifesigns with former Strawbs keyboard player John Young – it’s such a small world isn’t it?), and whose work with Iona nicely dovetails with the original folk rock orientated sound of the Strawbs, and he fits perfectly in here, contributing considerably to the sound (on both guitar and keyboards) and songwriting with a writing credit on 5 of the 10 tracks on here.

Opening with the hauntingly wonderful symphonic In the Beginning, which segues nicely into The Nails from the Hands of Christ, where David Cousins is a lyrically sharp as ever and a subtle nod to older songs like the Man Who Called Himself Jesus.

In fact the band references themselves even more on the epic title track, a sequel to the equally magnificent The Vision of the Lady of the Lake from 1970’s ‘Dragonfly’ album.

It is of course one of the finest songs the Strawbs have done for many a year, echoing the original and rounding off the story superbly.

However that doesn’t mean that the band are merely relying on old glories and lazily retreading the past, that is absolutely not the case, as the classic Strawbs sound is there, along with the unmistakable vocals of David Cousins, but this is a contemporary Strawbs album. Musically the band are as tight as they have ever been, and Dave Bainbridge sounds like he’s been in the band forever, his keyboard work opening up the beautiful When the Spirit Moves has to be heard to be believed, whilst Dave Lambert’s caustically brilliantly bluesy The Ten Commandments shows he’s lost none of his edge either.

In fact the guitar work throughout this album is stunning, from the beautiful solos on The Familiarity of Old Lovers (with it’s lyrical twist being a contemporary classic piece of Cousins wordsmithery) to the closing We Have The Power, this is a band on top form.

With superb instrumentals like The Reckoning that leads into The Ferryman’s Curse, there is so much to love about this record. From the vocal contrasts between Cousins, whose voice is nicely maturing, Cronk and Lambert, a Strawbs trademark if ever there was one, to the sharpness of Cousins lyrics, showing the wit, the bite and the observation of human nature is still there, right through to the fact that this is a band who, despite being around in one form or another for over 50 years, are not going down the easy route of playing the nostalgia circuit.

The material on this album will more than fit into a set that showcases the best of the Strawbs, and proves that they still have plenty to say, plenty to play and on this album show bands that are much younger than them, how it is done.

Released 3rd November 2017

Order from Cherry Red:

The Ferryman’s CurseThe Strawbs

Review – Lunatic Soul – Fractured – by Kevin Thompson

Life, like glass, is a fragile thing. Blows to both cause them to crack and fracture, delicately hanging the shards together as fissures creep across the surface, threatening to shatter at any moment.

Sharp edges and words cut deep red like blood and run with the dark crimson of passion. The reflections distort and twist our outlook on life.

Glittering and glistening in the light like fond memories slipping between the cracks into darkness, as we try to grasp what we had but see it slipping away and out of reach, things will never be the same.

We pick up the pieces to try and fit them back how they were, but there will always be a difference. How we deal with the changes makes us who we are, the person we evolve to be in the aftermath.

Travis Smith’s album design for ‘Fractured’ captures the essence of this album perfectly, a good start.

Pain can weigh heavy as we seek ways to lighten the load, allowing us to move forward. Not to dwell on Mariusz Duda’s own dramas that have befallen him of late, but the theme of this album under the Lunatic Soul guise, by his own admission is about coming back to life after personal tragedy. It’s inspired by what happened in his life in 2016 and by everything that’s happening around us and what’s making us turn away from one another and divide into groups, for better or for worse.

This catharsis involves him spreading his talents further from the paths run by his previous albums and taking a leaf out of the musical parchments of such luminaries as 80’s electronic masters Depeche Mode and others.

Mixing synth and programmed beats with loops of Duda’s voice, and adding his distinctive complex bass grooves, he creates what is probably his most commercially accessible and varied solo output to date.

From the throbbing beats and looped voice samples, almost aboriginal in tone, with synths and piano building in layers on the first track, Blood on the Tightrope marks a route through the jagged edges of doubt and indecisiveness, a fine balance without falling and edging forward to end on a determined note.

Baring his soul so honestly on this album, the music sometimes reflects a little uncomfortably. As in second track Anymore where sounds and notes flit in and out over the rhythms, jerking as if to remove some of the painful crystals buried in the exposed heart. There are also traces of Peter Gabriel buried in there somewhere.

Crumbling Teeth And The Owl Eyes may be the closest in sound to his Riverside roots on this album and is the first of two tracks on which the Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra weave their magic nurturing the mood of the song. Mariusz’s struggles with his pain and the way he yearns for the age of childlike innocence to relieve him of this heartache, are hauntingly beautiful.

A darker feel as Red Light Escape scratches at anguish on track four. He explores the way people try to come to terms with tragedy. How some search for an emotional crutch to cling to rather than face their fears and slip back into dependency on things they find comforting, even if it is not necessarily a good thing and prevents them from dealing with the problem, so they can move on.

Title track Fractured has a sparser feel, with Mariusz’s signature bass pulsing as synth and other sounds inject like dark drugs into the grooves of unnerving beat pattern, that leaves you on edge and unsettled.

A hopeful ballad, A Thousand Shards Of Heaven is delicately ushered in with acoustic guitar and the emotional vocals from Mariusz then joined by the wonderful  Sinfonietta Consonus Orchestra once more. It offers glimmers of hope amongst the sadness, as the silky saxophone of Marcin Odyniec floats into the mix and gentle ripples, torn into submission by Wawrzyniec Dramowicz’s syncopatic percussion, a feeling of calm bringing it to a close.

Synth bubbles on Battlefield awash with digital waves and electronica, in this slow burner that builds with rolling, rhythmic percussion. A cautionary warning of the dangers of holding things inside and letting them destroy you and a reflection of the inner fight he has faced and stood strong echoed in the assertive ending.

Moving On with it’s Depeche Mode influences worn on it’s musical sleeve, could easily have been a single. Melodic and catchy, Mariusz bares himself one last time for the listener, to let us know he is not going to let what has hurt him stop him moving forward, climaxing with a few positive notes from the saxophone.

It’s an awkward review, as this is so personal to Mariusz. As you look deeper into it you can feel a little voyeuristic and that you may be prying. But the attitude and bravery he shows in releasing this material is a testament to the man and those around him. He has put a positive spin on everything that has happened and fully embraces the adage ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

Clearly his best solo output to date, ‘Fractured’ is in some ways a huge departure from previous works, a progression and isn’t that what this album is all about. A tremendous album that I believe everyone should have a copy of, certainly one of the best releases of 2017. Fans may have been concerned for his welfare after what befell him, but Mariusz has reassured us all that he is stepping into the light and the future looks bright.

Released 6th October 2017

Order ‘Fractured’ in all formats from the Kscope store:

Lunatic Soul

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Bjørn Riis – Coming Home – by Progradar

Haunting and Melancholic are two words that can definitely be used to describe the songs that Norwegian musician Bjørn Riis has delivered on his last two solo releases, ‘Lullabies In A Car Crash’ and ‘Forever Comes To An End’. There is a fragile beauty and poignancy to Bjørn’s songwriting that gives it a captivating, hypnotic attraction.

Airbag co-founder, songwriter and lead guitarist, Bjørn will release his new mini album titled ‘Coming Home’ next month on Karisma Records. His unique guitar playing has a centre role, with soaring leads and beautiful textures.

“I’ve always felt that the guitar is an extension of me and a more comfortable and natural way of expressing myself musically” – Bjørn explains.

“I’m really happy and proud of the vocals this time and the duet with me and (Norwegian singer) Sichelle on Drowning is very emotional” – Bjørn continues.

Lyrically, ‘Coming Home’ deals with the fear and insecurity of being forgotten by the people around you. You imagine all these dramatic scenes and wonder if you’ll ever be missed if something really was to happen.

‘Coming Home’ also features a newly recorded semi-acoustic version of the title track of Bjørn’s 2014 solo debut, ‘Lullabies in a Car Crash’ (Karisma Records). “Lullabies just fit right into the mood and theme of this album. It’s almost become a new song. It’s very honest and moving” – Bjørn explains. The track features Airbag and Bjørn Riis Band touring guitarist Ole Michael Bjørndal on lead guitar.

‘Coming Home’ is almost like a story where the scene is set by the brooding and darkly hued opening instrumental track Daybreak. A real slow burner, it takes a while to get moving with just a building sound that reminds you of a bleak and windswept vista before the deliberate, musing guitar fills the soundscape with a contemplative feel.

A sparse acoustic guitar washes over at the start of title track Coming Home, Bjørn’s slightly faltering vocal is full of emotion as this elegant track continues to gently lull you with its charms. A more laid back feel than the previous album emanates from every note and word as the music seems to meander towards an unseen destination. There’s a slight pause before Bjørn delivers a superb, note perfect guitar solo filled with passion and longing, one that soars high and free as a bird. As the song comes to a close I feel some kind of nostalgic yearning that I just can’t explain.

The wistful, contemplative tone continues with the fantastic Drowning, a song filled with feelings of loss and recrimination but one that still has a sense of wonder about it. The calm and serenity of the guitar and Bjørn’s vocal that open the track can’t shake an underlying aura of foreboding. Sichelle’s vocals add a fragile grace to the harmonies and the music gains added intensity, the guitar giving urgency and desperation to proceedings until it breaks like waves on immovable rocks. Sichelle takes us towards the end with a voice full of regret, the guitar adding a somber accompaniment as we come to a close.

Tonight’s The Night is a haunting (there you go, I told you!) instrumental that has you on the edge of your seat from the first note with its insistent piano and tense , ill at ease mood. There is no let up from beginning to end and I found myself visibly relaxing as the song came to an end.

The acoustic version of ‘Lullabies in a Car Crash’ unsurprisingly has a lighter tone to the other songs, a sepia-tinged piece of music underpinned by a wonderful acoustic guitar. The vocals are gossamer light giving the whole song a 70’s carefree spirit before a subtly powerful guitar solo gets under your skin and takes you to a place of utmost calm and reflection, without a care in the world. A remarkably honest reworking of the original track, it really is like a completely new song.

‘Coming Home’ feels like a very personal collection of songs, full of emotion, haunting and charismatic yet sparser and darker than Bjørn’s previous solo releases. Like all the best music, it needs to be listened to with little or no distractions to enjoy it in all its highly impressive glory. Bjørn Riis is one of those musicians who just gets better and better with each release, highly recommended.

Released 23rd February 2018

Pre-orders open soon at  Bjørn’s website below:

Recordings

 

 

Review – Cosmograf – When Age Has Done Its Duty (2018 remix) – by Progradar

In the sleeve notes for the comprehensive new package that comes with this remix of Cosmograf’s 2011 critically acclaimed release ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’, Robin Armstrong writes,

“I sometimes think about all the people I once knew that are now gone and I very much struggle to come to terms with their collective struggles, joys and achievements in life coming to an end. It’s an enduring theme in a lot of what I write. I decided some time back that it would be a tragedy to leave a life with no legacy left behind and it’s a driving force for me to leave as much music as I can with the hope that someone will remember…”

Robin is the man behind Cosmograf and is an extraordinary musical storyteller. His involving concepts and often personal historical narratives take you, the listener, directly to the centre of the story and envelop you in a whole gamut of emotions, all invoked by his remarkable songwriting.

Following the brilliant ‘The Hay Man Dreams’, released last year, Robin has taken it upon himself to revisit ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’ to completely remix and master it and, in his own words,

“…address some of the issues that were less than perfect on the original recording. Many of the original guitar, bass and vocal parts have been re-recorded, new string arrangements added and a more dynamic low volume level master produced…”

I’ll confess, I have never heard ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’ before so I can’t give a ‘before and after’ review but, as a big fan of Cosmograf, I’ll tell you what I think of this release as a whole.

The concept of the album is based around Robin’s personal experiences as a boy, visiting his Auntie Mollie and Uncle Harry at their home, Pear Tree Cottage, in a tiny village called Cleobury North in rural Shropshire and he has expanded the concept to cover the emotions and experiences we feel through the ageing process from birth to death. The stunning, original artwork is done by Graeme Bell.

Into This World is a an eleven minute piece that sets the scene with ‘Birth’ as the theme and is instantly recognisable to any fan as a Cosmograf track. Slow building and slow burning with a fragile piano note and Robin’s distincive vocal, the clever lyrics are used to convey the hopes, fears and aspirations that follow the bringing of a child into the world. A powerful and edgy song where the stylish drums of Bob Dalton are used to very good effect. As always, this excellent musician has you gripped from the first note with a moody and atmospheric song that asks questions and, while there is always a feeling of venturing into the unknown, deep down it is hope and optimism that is at the core. The elegant bass of Steve Dunn joins us for Blacksmith’s Hammer, a tribute to his Uncle Harry who worked the forge, shoeing horses right up to his death, age 73 in 1987. It’s an uplifting piece of music, an ode to a modest life where simple pleasures (like smoking a pipe) were enjoyed to their full. An almost spiritual song, there’s a superb (if short) guitar solo that burns with a humble honesty and the lyrics literally describe his demise; he sat back from shoeing a horse and drew his last breath.

Written about Pear Tree Cottage, a special place in Robin’s childhood, On Which We Stand was originally a poem which he wrote to read at his Aunt’s funeral and has become the lyrics to this beautiful song. A wistful and nostalgic opening courtesy of Simon Rogers’ guitar opens into a sublime vocal where Robin reminisces of all the happy times he had in the cottage, the games and the fond memories of he pastimes that made it such a wonderful place. Sit and listen to the words, let the music wash over you and you can almost imagine being there, a sentimental musical journey down memory lane. An old light switch that Robin remembers triggers flashbacks to previous memories and dramas, this is the essence of Bakelite Switch, sounds or smells we experience that snap you back to a previous event in time. On my first listen to the album, this was one of the songs that immediately stood out, the compelling , almost mysterious opening that erupts into a forceful and dynamic guitar riff catches your ear straight away. Bob’s drums drive the track along and you’re hooked as soon as Robin’s vocal begins, “We had electric light in the 70’s, flick the heavy switch, lights up all our lives.” A very involving song that speaks about the novelty of going back to a house that is very much ‘back in time’ and the emotive guitar solo from Luke Machin combines with some swirling keyboards to add even more drama to the visceral memories that Robin is invoking.

Huw Lloyd-Jones adds a poignant vocal to the emotive background of Memory Lost. The song is about an old lady battling on as best as she could after the death of a partner, and living alone with her memories. The title referring to hanging on to the only thing you have left when someone dies…your memory of them. A pared back and sincere track that really hits you hard and makes a mark on your heart and soul, a single tear rolls down my cheek as I listen to the intensity of Huw’s voice, Robin adding a wonderful harmony. I challenge you not to be moved by this seven minutes of Robin trapping history so he would never lose the detail as the years passed, the guitar solo that closes the song is just superb. Documenting Mollie’s last days at the cottage, title track When Age Has Done Its Duty opens with a wonderful recital of ‘Growing Old’ by Tom O’Bedlam spoken over an eloquent piano and keyboards and then Steve Thorne lends his stirring vocals to this bitter-sweet tale. In the 20 years after harry’s death, Mollie always seemed to just be waiting to be with him and in the days leading to her death she just huddled against the Rayburn in the kitchen refusing to eat or move. A sad but elegant song that documents the passing of this proud woman. Robin’s songwriting skills really come to the fore on this track and his choice of Steve Thorne as the vocalist is perfect, the pathos and sentiment he brings to every word is perfect. Just when your emotions are as strung out as you think they can be, Robin fires another stupendous guitar solo at you, leaving you utterly drained.

White Light Awaits takes on the question that has been asked through the ages, what happens after you die? Written as if Robin was having an ethereal conversation with Mollie, asking her what it was like to die and did she experience anything after death. Being a devout Methodist, she would have been appalled by this idea. There’s a bitter, angry tone to the song and the edgy guitar of Lee Abraham adds to the almost cynical, questing tone of Robin’s vocals. Drums are, this time, provided by Dave Ware and their dynamic feel just adds to the challenging aura. The album closes with the heartwarming Dog on the Clee, an inspring song which tells the story of Robin forging a privileged bond with Mollie’s Border Collie ‘Laddie’, a dog that didn’t really like many people at all. The graceful acoustic guitar and Robin’s ethereal vocal bringing a sense of wonder and inspiration to the final chapter in this utterly captivating story.

It may have been originally released in 2011 but this completely remixed and mastered version of ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’ feels as fresh as if it was recorded yesterday. Possibly the most emotional journey that Cosmograf has ever taken me on, I feel it is Robin at his most open, a wonderfully involving musical journey with a narrative very close to his heart. There’s nothing quite like a Cosmograf album and this could possibly be the best of them all.

Released 26th January 2018

When Age Has Done Its Duty CD (2018 Remix Edition) -PREORDER

Oh, and for vinyl fans like me, there will be a vinyl release later in 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews – Rob Gould – More Huru For Your Guru and The Sad Robot Declared Peace With Himself – by James R Turner

Many moons ago one of the bands I used to se on semi-regular basis playing at a rundown old Leisure Centre in Rotherham that had long seen better days (like pretty much of all of Rotherham at the time tbh) were Fula, a Buxton based prog rock band, and one of the founder members and driving forces behind the band was multi-instrumentalist and song writer Rob Gould, who would conduct proceedings from his behind his rack of keyboards on stage, as well as joining Brazilian band Ashtar on keyboards.

Since Fula have been on an indefinite hiatus, Rob has continued to plough his own furrow, a one man Peak District Psych composer, putting out ambient electronic albums, inspired by the caves in which he works, as well as more rock and song based audio albums like his last full length album the critically acclaimed ‘The Broken Road’.

Now he’s got two albums out for our delight, and they both are as different from each other as is possible to get, reflecting the many sides to Robs musical personalities.

I will start with the first one of the collection, the wonderfully titled ‘More Huru for Your Guru’, with it’s startling psychedelic cover (great hat Rob). It collects together 10 tracks of cover versions that Rob recorded between 2014 and 2017 for the Fruits de Mer label, and shows where Rob’s influences lie.

From two fantastic interpretations of David Bowie songs, a brilliantly haunting version of We Are the Dead, which takes the tension and power of the original and makes it more sinister in Robs skilful reworking, and the fantastic Sense of Doubt from Bowies “Heroes” album, where Rob shows his musical chops off in fine style. Kudos also has to go to Rob for having the balls to cover A Saucerful of Secrets, in it’s entirety, I have no idea whether Rob is crazy or inspired to take this Floyd song (that to many is one of those Marmite tracks) and reconfigure it and make a bloody good job of it, but either way, the only time I have seen anyone attempt this was again at that Rotherham leisure centre where a Floyd ’67-’69 only covers band called Ummagumma gave it a go.

I was also pleasantly surprised to hear on this album the cover version of The Purple Gang’s Granny Takes a Trip, I thought I was one of the only people in the world who have love for The Purple Gang, and Robs version is a perfect homage to the original whilst making it work in his own style.

With guests of the likes of Hawkwind’s Mr Dibs (who provides vocals on Robs trippy version of the Beatles’ Tomorrow never Knows) Fula’s Nigel Moss on bass on Saucerful amongst others, Rob has assembled an excellent ensemble that help him filter others songs and turn them into his own.

A covers album is always a difficult thing to try and perfect and here Rob manages the balancing act of staying true to the songs, whilst putting plenty of himself in there to stamp his personality on them and not just make a straight forward ‘boy-band’ retread. Extra points go, as always to anyone who covers Pink Floyd and doesn’t pick Comfortably Numb. This is a fantastic album, full of fun, great songs and shows Rob really enjoying himself doing something slightly different to what we’ve known him do before.

‘The Sad Robot Declared Peace with Himself’, is one of Rob’s companion piece albums, and this time it forms a companion to ‘The Broken Road’, containing, as it does, variations on themes of songs recorded for the album, and indeed music recorded at the time and not included, this follows previous companion albums like ‘Black Holes and Empty Spaces’ and ‘An Ocean in a Drop’.

It is a fantastic companion to ‘The Broken Road’, opening with an extended version of Daybreak in the Graveyard of the Sentient Robots, one of the standout tracks from that album, here, in all its’ glory, Rob gives it room to breathe and grow, its soundscapes immersive and complex, pulling you in and washing over you in waves of ambient electronica.

This is Rob back in his electronica territory, a whole world removed from being a Guru, this is him pulling soundscapes together, allowing his ambient and electronic ethos to run through the record. From Starmaker? The Broken Road revisited, which refines and returns to themes on the original album, to the longest track on here The Last Hurrah, which ebbs and flows between almost krautrock minimalism and stunning piano composition, this is where Tangerine Dream, Jean Michel Jarre and Michael Oldfield meet, on some windswept moor in the North of England.

The vast open spaces are evoked gloriously here, Rob is at his compositional finest, and like all the best soundscapes the music here has room to build and grow, the waves filling the room, and the underlying shimmering synths and recurring piano motifs layering and building to a shimmering climax, where the understated beauty of the unaccompanied piano work has a neo-classical edge to it, with tinges of melancholy and beauty fades into a pulsating, pounding electronica musical climax, all Radiophonic synths and minimalist beats, there is a certain thrill to be had as the repetition builds and changes to a driving insistent climax.

The sleeve notes state that these were all pieces completed around the time of ‘The Broken Road’ (which for my money is Rob’s finest solo album) between 2008 and 2013. All apart from The Fireclown, which was originally recorded back in 1990 and re-arranged here and has that almost dance edge to it, darker edgier musical stabs combined with half spoken lyrics, brings to my mind anyway Pulp circa ‘Separations’, and is a brilliant way to end this collection.

Instead of seeing this as a companion album, see this more as the ‘bonus disc’, the bits that fit in-between the spaces, and the songs that didn’t quite get away.

As such it works perfectly, and these two vastly different but both suitably interesting albums, that really show Rob Gould’s multi-faceted talents, and remind us (if we needed reminding) of how consistent and interesting a musician he is. Highly recommended.

Both albums released in 2017.

Order ”The Sad Robot Declared Peace With Himself’ from Rob’s website and receive ‘More Huru For Your Guru’ free here

 

Review – Verity White – Breaking Out – by James R Turner

That Clive Nolan chappie, not only being an integral part of Pendragon, founder member of Arena as well as driving force behind lots of different musical projects over the years, he also knows his onions when it comes to find new talents. When he branched out into his musical theatre company he brought his knack for a tune and talent for bringing on new voices to the stage with him.

Verity is one such talent, you might have seen her performances in several of Clive’s Caamora project productions including ‘Alchemy’ (which is where I first saw and met Verity at a CRS awards night several years ago) and she is one hell of a vocalist. If you missed her on those performances then you will have seen her with Pendragon on their ‘Masquerade Overture’ 20th anniversary tour (as an aside that makes me feel old, I remember when ‘Masquerade Overture’ was brand spanking new) where she fitted in like she’d always been there.

Now, as the title of her debut solo album indicates, Verity is ‘Breaking Out’, and blimey she does it in style.

Following on from a few teaser singles last year, ‘Breaking Out‘ see’s Verity stepping from under the wings of her mentors and putting herself firmly in the spotlight.

As a performer and vocalist Verity is not backwards in coming forwards, and this album is chock full of full on rock songs that demonstrate her voice and range in style, and nothing here feels forced or fake, with her husband Alex on guitar and production duties this is a real family affair, and, as I’ve said before and will say again, couples that play together have a connection far deeper than ordinary bandmates, as they connect on both an emotional and musical level. This for me adds far more to the music as it brings something more out into, and this gives the album a lot of soul and power, and Alex is also one hell of a guitarist.

The 10 tracks on here are all fantastically written and produced, and are designed to showcase the power and versatility of Veritys vocals, from her full on rock power on tracks like the raucous I Don’t Care, about a lairy mad night out (I somehow get the feeling from this track that verity would a: Drink you under the table and b: end up dancing on said table at the end of the night) whilst the opening title track is a tour de force in putting her vocals centre stage, and sets the tempo for the rest of the album with it’s blues riffs, funky piano break and soulful vocals.

Zeros and Ones has some great synth work and a softer vocal approach from Verity, Demons In Your Head is an emotionally honestly charged song about struggles with mental health and again there’s softer vocals on the reflective and introspective See Through with more emotionally honest lyrics. These songs show that Verity has a lot of heart and soul and wears both on her sleeve.

More of those sublime synths drive Face It and it shimmers and has another of those amazing guitar hooks that are scattered over this album like rice at a wedding and with its sheen and funk could strut it’s way onto any radio play list. This is a fantastic driving album, stereo on loud, open road and an excellent soundtrack. Exhale mixes the ethereal with the rocky side as Verity puts her voice through it’s paces, it’s dynamic range and power makes this performance a tour de force and reaffirms that she is at the top of her game, & arguably one of the female vocalists of her generation.

Slow Fall is a great piano driven rocker with some great musical interplay and more of Verity’s wonderful vocals. The whole album covers the human experience perfectly and is full of radio friendly rock songs. The music on here is all sublimely produced and performed and there are some wonderful musical moments on here that get the toes tapping from start to finish.

Verity White is someone who has added so much as a vocalist and performer within any ensemble that she has performed with, and on this confident debut full of charm and power she juxtaposes real rock swagger with emotional vulnerability and proves that she is a star in her own right.

‘Breaking Out’ is an apt title, as this see’s Verity stamping her mark all over the music scene and showing that she is a name to watch.

This is an essential album and one hell of a debut. I can’t wait to catch Verity on tour in January.

BREAKING OUT TOUR

  • January 11th – The Castle Hotel, Manchester – tickets 
  • January 12th – Fiddler’s Elbow, Camden, London – tickets
  • January 14th – Gwdihw Cafe Bar, Cardiff – tickets
  • January 18th – Mr Wolfs, Bristol​ – tickets

Released 3rd November 2017

Order ‘Breaking Out’ from bandcamp here