Review – Fish on Friday – Quiet Life – by James R Turner

This is the fourth release from Belgian born prog band Fish on Friday, and see’s them stretching their musical wings even further, having coalesced around the founding members William Beckers & Frank Van Boagaert, the line up now includes one of prog’s hardest working bassists Nick Beggs, Californian guitarist Marty Townsend and Marcus Weymaere.

Following on from 2014s Godspeed (also released on Esoteric Antenna) it takes the musical sound of accessible prog (very much in the vein of the Alan Parsons Project, Big Big Train etc) further down their journey.

With the band being introduced to Alan Parsons, one track, the wonderfully haunting In the Key of Silence, was recorded by Alan at Abbey Road, and he even adds his vocals to the track, whilst another of prog’s hard working men, Lonely Robot’s John Mitchell, adds some of his wonderfully fluid guitar work to the track.

The key to the band’s success is their songwriting, as, whilst it’s obvious plenty of hard work goes into crafting such a well realised album of this, from the outside it is like the swan gliding across the lake, we can see the beauty and the majesty and can’t see all the kicking under water as it glides effortlessly into our ears.

This album is also a grower, it’s one of those records where after two or three listens the hooks work their way into your mind, and you find yourself humming tunes, or singing the lyrics, and each listen you get more and more out of it, like a well written novel or intricately crafted piece of art, it reveals more of it’s secrets the more you listen to it.

It also makes a massive contrast from Nick Beggs’ other album release this year, the far darker and angrier Mute Gods ‘Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth’, and his work on here is the ying to that’s yang. Restrained, fluid, and intuitive, this is Beggs at calm, and just because it’s a calmer album it doesn’t mean there’s no power behind it.

With tracks as emotive as the powerful MH17 all about the downed Malaysian Airlines flight that was shot down over the Ukraine, the lyrics mix the anger and grief, and with some truly beautiful work by both Theo Travis adding his unique sound to the song, and female vocals by Chantal Kashala and Nina Babet, this is remarkable track by anyone’s standards.

Unreal, has shades of Floyd in there with some truly wonderful lyrics and a blinding guitar finale, whilst Nick Beggs daughter Lula adds her superb voice to tracks Sweet Love and Quiet Life.

The female harmonies throughout this album are sublime and add so much to the tracks that they appear on, working so well with Frank Van Boagaert’s understated, yet powerful vocal range, and I’ve known a track that is so calm and chilled, bristling with so much anger in the vocals as You’ve Hurt Me, with it’s mighty chorus and emotive lyrics.

This album runs the whole gamut of human emotion and this is in part due to the finely observed vocals and the superbly sympathetic vocals, in fact it is an immersive album, one you need to listen to and lose yourself in for the whole hour.

Fish on Friday are steadily building themselves a strong following, and you can see why on records as uniformly strong as this, and the calibre of their guests shows the quality of the band.

This is a fine successor to a great album, and should push Fish on Friday up there to where they belong.

Released 26th May 2017

Buy ‘Quiet Life’ from Cheery Red here:

Quiet Life

 

Review – Cast – Power And Outcome – by James R Turner

Apparently there are two bands called Cast, I wasn’t aware of this, and like so many bands that have the same namesake (think English Nirvana and American Nirvana – about as far removed as is possible to be) the Mexican progressive band Cast are both sonically and geographically removed from their jaunty Britpop counterparts.

Formed in Mexico in the late 70’s this is their first album since 2015’s ‘Cast Vida’, and whilst it is very much traditional prog rock, and well produced and performed, there is a slight feeling of having heard it all before, and in some instances done slightly better.

The opening 11 minutes plus of Rules of the Desert features some great guitar and keyboard interplay from Alfonso Vidales and Claudio Cordero, however too many of the keyboard solo’s are very Wakeman-lite, and with too much power and not enough outcome, there are large musical portions that veer too closely to pastiche rather than plausibility.

The title track has some wonderful symphonic work, and a beautifully understated piano and guitar interlude, with fine violin work by Roberto Izzo, that builds into a great piece of music, whilst the lyrical performances are superb, and it’s when they do something a little different on this piece that is where the album works, it is almost soundtrack like in it’s scope and the vocal interplay between Bobby Vidales and Lupita Acuna is great.

However for every moments that soar like on Power and Outcome, unfortunately there’s also too many prog by numbers moments for my liking, there are plenty of bands out there who are doing exciting new things, and on this album Cast can play and perform with the best of them.

Details is split into two parts with a) Circle Spins being a big power ballad that would fit nicely into a musical, with it’s emphasis on the lyrics, while the musical accompaniment could have fallen from the West End, whilst it’s counterpart b) Start Again is all dramatic strings, mellotron, guitar and power and fury, however it’s all be done before with Jon Lord’s classic/rock crossovers in the 70’s and the real stand out is the violin solo.

I do feel that at points on this album they show flashes of brilliance, however they are dragged down by the weight of their own history and the genres history.

This viewpoint isn’t helped by tracks like Through a Stained Glass, that mix Yes, with Genesis, and some very traditional prog sounds, that makes it very cliché ridden unfortunately.

That’s the problem I have with this album, it is well made, well produced and the band are undoubtedly talented but for every thing fresh they throw in the pot, they also regurgitate prog clichés as well.

With tracks like Illusions and Tribulations clocking in at over 9 minutes, I do think that they could have trimmed some of these tracks down, as again there is guitar and keyboard interplay that brings Wakeman/Howe to mind, as well as some of Ricks solo albums, and whilst it might have been original back in the 1970’s, it’s lots a lot of it’s lustre, because if I want to hear Wakeman/Howe soloing I will put Yes on.

That is where I sit with this album sadly, I want to love it, as it has all the ingredients that make a great prog album, unfortunately all the ingredients make it a great prog album of the 1970’s, and time has moved on.

If I want 70’s prog I will listen to Yes, Genesis, VdGG et al, and unfortunately as the prog bar has been raised so high by so many in such recent years, doing what you always did will not get you the same results as it may have done five or ten years ago.

This will probably be fantastic live, however on record it’s not something I will be returning to.

If you’re a prog fan who moans that they don’t make them like they used to do, then this is your bag, for me it’s nice enough to listen to once or twice but it won’t be hitting the best of the year charts.

(Featured image by Rey Acuña)

Released 7th March 2017

Buy ‘Power and Outcome’ from Progressive Promotion Records

 

 

 

Review – Robert Ramsay – Confound and Disturb – by James R. Turner

There follows a transcript smuggled out from under the noses of our Chicken overlords, we have been unable to verify the authenticity of the document, or indeed what happened to the brave rebel who made this recording but we can only hope he is safe, Mubla praise him.

‘Is this on…..can you hear me? Can you hear me? As you all know they rose up suddenly, whilst we were all distracted by Brexit, Trump and Armageddon, we were too busy worrying about ourselves to notice the chickens….then, they there were, they hadn’t just crossed the road, they’d built a nice big tunnel, snuck into the army bases around the world, and as we were reeling from the aftermath of the big red spark, there they were, our new overlords.

Luckily there were few with foresight, those who knew about the upcoming uprising, and the wisest of them all, some called him a seer, some a mad man, some called the twiceborn moth, all we know is he is called the Wizard Ramsay, and with his coterie around him, and a set of tantalising clues and lessons, spread throughout the world, our journey has led us here.

Who are we? You ask, well we are the resistance, following the orders of the one known only as the Great Elephant, and now…well now I am the only one left, I can’t get the image of Brother Godfrey, sitting in his tree getting pecked slowly to death by a thousand chickens as he pledged allegiance to the ducks, or Brother Stevens,  the hero of the battle of Rushden, he riffed and looped, fierce to the death.

Now I remain, and I have found what I was looking for, the mystical artefact, the legendary disc of words, we cannot fight them by force alone, we need something new, something to confound and disturb them.

…shh…’Bwak Bwack Bwack.’ Cluck, cluck,cluck,’ Bwak, Cluck, Bwak’…..

(silence. The voice goes dead…all we can hear is hissing and the sound of claws scraping on rock…)

‘….they’ve gone, that was close, that was a bantam attack, as everyone knows they are the SAS of the chicken army, where was I?

Oh yes, following the instructions on the sheet hidden by one of the Elephant sympathisers, (a gentleman only known as Wizard Wilfred) I have found the Black Box…. (what’s in the Black Box? It’s definitely not chocolates) I have it, the CD in my hand,  despite the Chicken overlords banning CD players due to them not being able to operate them with claws, luckily the mysterious man of the resistance known only as Wallet Emptier, managed to provide me with one, wrapped up in the tattered remnants of a wizards sleeve.

(sounds of cellophane being ripped, the unmistakable sound of a CD being inserted into the device, and the words of the beloved Wizard Ramsay, a Gandalf for these modern dark times echo round the chamber? Cavern? Sewer?)

Almost as if he predicted it, the first utterance from the disc of Ramsay is a Living Will, full of intensity and power, as if he knew this day would come.

Scattered throughout the sacred artefact are four lessons that will help ensure the survival of our species, all starting with the phrase ‘Ecoute et Repete’ the motto of the resistance, each one being a salutary lesson before the public service broadcasting begins.

Urging the survivors to Open a Hole, someone to survive in? somewhere to take shelter? I am reminded of the sage Moorcock as he told his tales with and without his Hawkwind compatriots, the joy of hearing music after so many months of solitary wandering makes me all giddy and euphoric, the beat hypnotic, the lyrics hitting me, and the sonic effect making up for hearing nothing but the sound of clucking and the cracking of whips as the Chickens made us build statues in their honour.

Almost like he forgot the tape was running we get some behind the scenes action from the Ramsay world, as he is interrupted by Wizard Wilfred, clearly the junior partner, and also, judging by the mishap heard here, still has a long way to go before he is as adept as Wizard Ramsay.

Almost as a warning to our hubris and our downfall, Ego Power gives us strong words for uncertain times, whilst channelling the spirit of whimsy, Stanshall and the cult of Python, Tramps In Their Purest Form is a joy to behold, Ramsay’s use of our language is bewitching and beguiling, and takes me back to the night he and the Brother Godfrey got me heroically drunk on Big Big Train beer at a concert in Rotherham, oh how I wish those days were here again.

I raise an imaginary tankard to fallen comrades, as I listen and take heed to the message, we are members of the Black Box Society, and the final victory will be ours. Hidden in plain sight, Hawaii Fried Chicken, ostensibly an alternative version of the Chicken national anthem, are words designed to inspire and enlighten us. When we hear one particular cluck, that is when the revolution will begin, and we shall be victorious, with the Wizard Ramsay leading us to salvation.

If I Rule the World is his vision of our post Hen utopia, a land where we can be free, where we can live like we should, where we can sit in trees naked outside peoples houses if we want to and no-one can stop us (not even that pesky restraining order).

Urban Crusoe, with it’s baffling co-ordinates and Egyptian references, maybe this is Ramsay telling me where I should go next, where I can find the final answer and help the resistance rise, and batter these chicken.

I will follow them…these words of wisdom, and see where they will take me…….’

Transcribers note: this tape was found wrapped in an old t-shirt, under a rock behind a dumpster near a KFC with the CD intact. It is unknown as to what happened to the brave member of the resistance who followed the clues laid down the Elephant to discover this. He did the work so we didn’t have to. Having played it I can safely say that now our chicken overlords have been defeated, this is the work of either a genius or madman or both. Channelling the spirit of Stanshall, Monty Python and old school English surrealism and word play, Wizard Ramsay has created a unique form of Magick, and one that keeps hitting the spot.

(Featured Image of Robert by Bo Hansen)

Released 23rd June 2017

Order ‘Confound and Disturb’ from Bad Elephant Music at bandcamp

Review – Syncage – Unlike Here – by James R Turner

Many years ago, there was TV show that featured a catchphrase, ‘and now for something completely different’,  and it got so overused that it became a cliché. However, after having been playing this debut album by Italian quartet Syncage for a week or so and wondering the best way to introduce it in review, that aforementioned phrase seems the only appropriate way to open with.

Considering there’s only 4 of them (aided on more of the symphonic sounds by a string quartet), they run the whole gamut of sounds and styles (including the art rock of School, with its catchy riffs and angular lyrics). The only thing I can say they even vaguely remind me of is from the first time I saw Ritual in concert, and it’s not because of the sound of the band (as Syncage sound nothing like Ritual), but more the impact they made, as I had never heard anything like it before in my life, and believe me, I mean that as a compliment.

Having been together for the past ten years since they were teenagers, you can tell that the band have grown up together, as only musicians who have clicked and know each other as well as these 4 do can make this sort of intricate and exciting music.

From the wonderful sounds on Still Unaware, with some haunting violin pieces courtesy of Matteo Graziani (who also provides the retro Hammond sounds), they mix and match genres so adeptly, switching from free form jazz and into a bit of acoustic guitar and back again with aplomb, none of this is showing off, it’s just what the music demands.

I have to also mention the amazing vocals of Matteo Nicolin as well, as he has such a diverse range from a soaring falsetto to more subtle vocals. He treats his voice as another instrument to put into the mix and it’s this attitude that makes the vocal sound on this album unique and distinctive.

There is an excellent juxtaposition of light and dark on this album, evident on tracks like Skyline Shift, which has some amazing guitar work from Nicolin, whilst Matteo’s brother Riccardo is a superb drummer/percussionist. He helps to build the sound in tandem with Daniele Tarabini, who provides some superbly fluid bass lines, and helps flesh the sound out with his flute work.

Stones Can’t Handle Gravity is a fantastic piece that showcases the acoustic side of the band with flute and violin adding so much to the sound.

Every track on this album is superbly produced and put together, you can tell that they’ve really put their hearts and souls into this album. There are two epics on here. Edelweiss, clocking in at over 14 minutes, starts with some wonderful spoken word lyrics, creating the idea of a story rather than just a song, whilst the violin builds and builds with some amazing guitar work that heads into heavier territory. As long songs go, it’s more than just a song, it’s a musical journey that is well worth going on and I can imagine that live it’s pretty bloody epic.

The other epic that closes the album, Unlike There (at just over 9 minutes long), is a microcosm of everything that makes Syncage great, from some truly astonishing string sounds that flow through the track, to the combination of the drum and bass sounds as it flows and grows. Add in some brilliant guitar and keyboard work throughout and then those vocals, wow! had I mentioned how great a vocalist Matteo Nicolin is?

This is an incredibly intelligent, superbly performed and brilliantly realised debut album, from an assured, confident and fantastic new sound.

All credit to Syncage for pulling this amazing album together, and all credit to those Bad Elephants for having the vision to release something as groundbreaking as this.

(All band photography by Filippo Tommaso Catelan.)

Released May 5th 2017

Buy ‘Unlike Here’ from bandcamp

 

Review – Heresy – Prufrock – by James R Turner

American prog band Heresy have been inactive since the late 1980’s, and now they return with their 3rd album ‘Prufrock’, an adaptation of the T S Eliot poem, now, I’ll be honest here I am unfamiliar with both Heresy and Eliot’s’ work, whilst I know he also wrote The Wasteland, and he’s influenced a variety of different artists when it came to poetry I was always a Seamus Heaney or Simon Armitage reader, and yet, like the work of the Alan Parsons Project you don’t have to be familiar with the source material to enjoy this album.

Yes, there’s bound to be a comparison with both APP and indeed the very English prog sound of Looking Glass Lantern, who have made two highly accessible and intelligent adaptations of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books. This is no bad thing, because when musical adaptations on literary themes work well, they work incredibly well, and Heresy hit the spot here, the music and lyrics combine to create an eminently listenable piece of music that flows beautifully.

The album is split into two main suites, The love song of J Alfred Prufrock pts 1 & 2, which are neatly choreographed song suites that segue beautifully, with the hook line, ‘In the room, the women come and go, talking ‘bout Michelangelo’, refrained throughout the whole album, and is a line that will stick with you all day, and with the core band expanded by such musical sounds as flute, trumpet, sax and violin the musical palette they create is expansive and never loses it focus or impact.

The vocals from Tony Garone are superb throughout, with one of those wonderfully warm voices that is at turns sympathetic and empathetic to the material that the band are creating, a heady mix of rock, symphonica, baroque and whatever else fits the bill, having been 30 years in the conception you can tell the band have crafted the album round the source work, rather than shoehorn the poem into some music, and it’s this attention to detail and care taken to present the poem as a whole that really makes this album stand out from the crowd, and the linking piece of Night Vigil that splits the main suites in two is a far heavier piece, with some ominous guitar and keyboard sounds (and a very Floydian feel) apparently it is a part of the poem that was lost, and only included in later editions published after Eliot’s death (kind of like the deluxe edition of the poem if you will) and has a touch of the Van Der Graaf Generators about it, with the sax sound and vocals.

There is beautiful piano and guitar work throughout this album, and anyone who says the idea of a concept album is dead should be locked in a room and made to listen to this, this sounds amazing, is superbly consistent throughout and whilst Heresy are American they have made one of the most English sounding albums for a while.

As a bonus on the album there’s a track from a Tony Garone solo album, and 6 tracks from their debut previously unavailable on CD before, wisely these have been added on to the end, as the style, unsurprisingly is different from ‘Prufrock’, and they are worth listening to, so you can see how Heresy have developed as writers and performers.

This is well made, intelligent and complete album that will happily sit on the shelf of anyone who enjoys literary progressive rock, and is happy to immerse themselves in the album for an hour or so, as this is one of those beautiful records where you need to switch off social media, ignore the cats, pop on the headphones and lose yourself in the music, and after all at the end of the day, what more could anyone want from a record?

Released 5th December 2016

Buy ‘Prufrock’ on CD or Download via Amazon or iTunes

 

 

Review – Golden Caves – Collision – by James R Turner

A few years ago I saw a band on tour with the Darkness called Do Me Bad Things, my brother, who is almost as good at finding music that I like as David Elliott recommended them to me. Their USP was 5 different vocalists, mixing a trio of female vocalists with soul and a metal vocalist from the ‘tramp shouting in a dustbin’ persuasion, they were so good and their musical range was so diverse it inspired me to buy the album.

After one album they disappeared without a trace, leaving one great album and bags of potential.

(Romy)

I mention them now because listening to ‘Collision’, the debut album by the insanely talented Dutch band Golden Caves (out on Freia and distributed over in the UK by those nice chaps at Bad Elephant) remind me of Do Me Bad Things, if not musically then vocally, and the kicker here is that instead of needing three killer female vocalists, they have just the one, the soulful and versatile Romy Ouwerkerk whose stunning work throughout this album brings these 9 songs to life.

Formed in 2013 at the Dutch University Codarts in Rotterdam, they have been building a huge following at home, and with songs as great as this on an album that’s been honed to perfection over the past 4 years, you can see why.

(Alex)

Proving that the future of contemporary prog is very much in the hands of the youth (like the UK’s Maschine, or Saul Blease) they take the template and have crafted 9 well written and performed prog songs, with no room for lengthy epics or deviations, none of these songs get much over the 5 minutes mark, proving that sometimes less is more.

This 5 piece band have instead of filling a CD because they can, have put their heart and soul into this record, with the songs leaving you wanting more instead of thinking ‘is it over yet?’ and includes reworkings of their singles, the superb My Demons Hunt, and the simply sublime Bring me to the Water.

(Elise)

When they slot together with tracks like Doctor’s Prescription, Mother and the excellent closing When the Rain Falls, you know that this is a band who have a lot to say musically and have the confidence and skills to bring it off.

There is a great mixture of heavier guitar from Alex Ouwehand, whilst the keyboard work from Elise Polman shines throughout, and the anchors of the band Erik Stein on drums and Tim Wensick on bass allows the fluidity of the guitar and keyboards to take off.

(Erik)

As I mentioned earlier it’s Romy on the vocals that is the real revelation, soulful, rocky and on all tracks highly emotive, she is another of the new generation of progressive female vocals like Verity White or Kim Seviour who has an instantly recognisable voice, and who is firmly putting the case that contemporary prog is as much a females game as any other genre.

(Tim)

This is a mature and striking debut album from a supremely talented young band, who, based on the skills shown here and the maturity on this record, have a lot more to give, and are more than capable of making a massive impact.

If you’d not guessed so far I love this record and would put it down as the debut album of the year so far.

Released 24th March 2017

Buy ‘Collision’ in the EU from FREIA Music

Golden Caves – COLLISION

Buy ‘Collision’ in the UK from FREIA Music UK (Bad Elephant)

 

Review – The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth – by James R. Turner

The Mute Gods: ‘Tardigrades will inherit the Earth’

I had to do some googling to find out what a Tardigrade was, upon first reveal of the albums title I thought Tardigrades were what I achieved in my A levels all those dim and distant years ago, and it was ‘great my time has come’.

Upon reverting to the nearly always accurate Wikipedia it turns out a Tardigrade is not a D in media Studies but an odd looking water dwelling eight legged micro animal, sometimes known as water bears or moss piglets, it appears that these animals can survive in extreme conditions that would kill everything else, hence the title, which suggests that long after we’ve gone and done our damage to the worlds ecosystem, these little guys (no more than 0.5mm in length) will still be here.

Dark stuff indeed from the Mute Gods on their second album.

Following on from 2014’s ‘Do Nothing til you hear From Me’, Nick Beggs, Roger King and Marco Minneman have gone into even darker territory than on their debut.

Here Beggs and co are full of anger and despair at the current global situation, and this is reflected in some heavy musical passages, angry and impassioned vocals from Beggs and a musical sound that veers from outright darkness to shades of lighter music, where the mix of almost progressive metal turns on it’s head to a more melodic sound.

Having worked together as part of the Steve Hackett band, Beggs and King found a musical rapport that comes to fruition in the Mute Gods, and adding Minneman, who Beggs worked with in the Steven Wilson band, you find a musical collective who are so in tune with each other that it drives the music on.

Instead of utilising guest musicians, this record is firmly focused on the diverse and multi faceted approach that the three members bring to the table, a contemporary progressive power trio if you will. However there is none of the pomp and circumstance that you’d get from an ELP, or the look at me battle for supremacy that destroyed Cream.

Instead this is all about the music, and more importantly all about the songs on here. Tackling both his trademark Chapman stick and guitars on this album, as well as the vocals, Beggs is firmly at the forefront on this record, stepping away from the sideman role he does so well into the role of frontman, which he carries off with style and real musical presence throughout this record, the sublime sound of his guitar and bass on tracks like The Dumbing of the Stupid is one of the defining sounds of this record.

Roger Kings keyboard, guitar work and production make this a sonically adventurous release, with some real beautiful musical peaks, this is not a record for the faint hearted by any stretch, if however you want your horizons broadening and your music and lyrics full of inconvenient truths, then this is for you.

Drumming powerhouse Marco Minneman is the driving force on this record, his mighty drum sound thundering through like the hammer of Thor, as tracks like the first single We Can’t Carry On demonstrate.

The heaviness is reined in on tracks like the Early Warning, which has a melodic feel to it, not dissimilar to Lifesigns debut (which Beggs was an integral part of).

The title track has an 80’s vibe to it, with a fantastic guitar line some classic synth sounds and great vocals by Beggs, this is probably the closest to a single on the album, and one which mixes Beggs pop and prog sensibilities to create a superb song. Highlight for me on the album has to be the wonderful The Singing Fish Batticaloa with its superb vocals, and the way it grows into a moving anthemic modern prog song, is sheer ecstasy for the ears.

This album pulls no punch when it comes to painting a picture of the state of the world currently, and there are some people out there (mainly on Facebook & twitter) who think that artists shouldn’t comment on what’s happening in the world, I say why not? Some of the greatest art and music has come from a time of trouble and darkness in the world, and there’s no point our musical heroes going all ostrich on us and ignoring the current global climate of hatred and fear.

This makes this album an uneasy listen, but when it’s wrapped up in such intense and well crafted music and a superb production that allows the songs to shine, this is something you have to hear, whether you like the message or not.

Released February 24th 2017

Buy ‘Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth’ from Burning Shed’s Inside Out Store

Review – Rog Patterson – Flightless – by James R. Turner

Whilst most people who have read my reviews over the past 20 odd years for various places like the Classic Rock Society and here know I love me my prog, what you probably don’t realise, or hadn’t noticed was how much I love my folk music as well. I think it’s probably the yin to the yang, with the less is more emphasis that folk music has being as fulfilling as the intricate complexity of progressive releases.

David Elliott of Bad Elephant Music is also a massive folk, folk/rock music fan as well, and after the success of their reissue of Twice Bitten’s ‘Late Cut’ album late 2015, there has been demand for the reissue of ‘Flightless’, Rog Patterson’s solo album originally released back in 1989 on vinyl.

So here it is, finally on CD and download, the original 6 tracks remastered and enhanced by three demo versions of tracks that would have appeared on the next album, had Rog actually recorded it!

When ‘Flightless’ was released Rog toured extensively, supporting such luminaries as Fairport Convention, Roy Harper and John Martyn amongst others, and it is into this arena that ‘Flightless’ nicely sits.

A solo album in the complete sense, where Rog plays guitar, basses, vocals and pretty much everything else, the 6 tracks on this album, are some mighty fine English folk prog, and the emphasis here is as much on the vocals as the music, as whilst Rog is an absolutely sublime guitarist (a touch of the Ant Phillips here, the Bert Jansch’s there) he is also an incredibly intelligent lyricist and observer. In fact both vocally and lyrically there is a shade of Bob Pegg about him, but I think that’s as much to do with the accent and attitude, as both men have a unique rather specific political world view, and this is reflected in the songs on here.

To a lot of people folk music is stereotyped as some twiddly nonsense with violins and Morris dancers, to those people who think that way I say ‘Poppycock’, folk music in its truest and strongest sense is the voice of the people, the voice of protest and the most potent form of politicised music possible, and like many others in that ilk, Rog uses this music to put across his concerns in a strong musical style.

From the opening An Englishman’s Home, with it’s well observed vocals and intricate guitar work from Rog, a pattern that will repeat throughout the album, it sets the tone for the rest of the album, and is the shortest track on the album.

Rogs acoustic prog roots show throughout the album, with Ergo Sum clocking in at 9 minutes plus has some of Rogs beautifully intricate guitar playing and strong lyrics railing against the Lords of the manor taking what they think is there right, the pounding bass and acoustic guitar drives the song along as Rogs passionate vocals weave in elements of Robin Hood, and rail against Mans stupidity in following the wrong leader (as apt now as it was then, maybe even more so) and as it builds, it draws you in and it astonishes me how a complex and intricate piece of music like this achieves its power by minimal instrumentation.

Party Piece has a wonderful cyclical riff, with some great lyrics about the human condition, Rogs observant lyrics reflecting the obsessions of youth, and, as is evident throughout the album, Rog is one of those vocalists who doesn’t just sing a song, he lives it, and the closing part has an element of Jethro Tull to it, which is no bad comparison, as both Rog and Ian Anderson have a keen eye for human observations.

Speak for Yourself has a funky riff and another politically astute lyric, suggesting that people think for themselves rather than following the pack.

Conclusions is another epic on the album, clocking in at over 7 minutes long, with it’s brilliant guitar work, and the way Rog manages to make the guitars and bass sound like a much larger band, is a great skill, and brings the most out of this fantastic track that has some fantastic acoustic and slide guitar work, with an almost classical feel, again reminiscent of the work of Ant Phillips, and another impassioned vocal, as Rog lives the song, and builds it to it’s epic conclusion.

Another great example of where less is more when it comes to instrumentation and production.

The original closing track Flightless, the 12 minutes title track, is, as Rog describes the musical interpretation of Becketts Knapps Last Tape, which is a song about itself basically, referencing how it came to be, and how Rog ended up where he ended up, again wrapped up in some of that wonderful guitar work and vocals, rounding the original album on a high.

The three bonus tracks (Alien, Couldn’t Happen Here & The Name Of The Rose) all showcase the way that Rog was intending to go if he’d managed to get his next solo album finished (a work rate that makes Tom Slatter look like Prince by comparison..) and are fantastic additions to the album, rounding out the work of this period.

This is a great-lost folk/prog/protest album that ticks all the right boxes musically and lyrically, well observed, well produced and an intelligent and emotive listen that will finally get the recognition it deserves.

It’s just a shame that nearly 30 years on from it’s release, the political and human concerns observed on here are still current, and still causes for concern today.

Released 3rd February 2017.

Buy ‘Flightless’ from Bad Elephant Music’s bandcamp page.

Review – The Brackish – Liquid Of Choice – By James R. Turner

(Featured image credit Simon Holliday)

I have no idea at all how Bristol instrumental band, The Brackish have slipped through my radar considering I live in Bristol and have been to a fair few alternative and prog gigs here, considering they’ve been plying their trade since 2013, and I’ve been back since 2014 you’d have thought I’d have found them by now.

Still, I have, and as usual it’s chief Elephant David Elliot who, when not pestering Tom Slatter for an album, is out their finding new bands for us to enjoy.

He puts the miles in so we don’t have too, reward yourself with a curry for this one David, you’ve earned it!

This, ‘Liquid of Choice’ is their 2nd album, their debut for BEM and their follow up to 2014’s ‘Big Guys’.

With a wide spectrum of releases this year, it seems only appropriate that from the home of The Fierce and the Dead comes an all instrumental guitar driven album, powered by the duelling guitar work of Luke Cawthra and Neil Smith and driven by Matt Jones on drums and Jacob Myles Tyghe on bass.

Running the gamut from psychedelic rock to the blues to elements of King Crimson, their sound is fresh, funky and powerful.

From the opening title track with it’s mix of funky riffs and languid guitar work, the intricate wall of sound that is The Brackish calling card is deployed to great effect, the way the duel guitars work in tandem particularly during the quieter passages brings bands like Wishbone Ash to mind, whilst the drum and bass anchor the music, allowing the guitars to fly.

Picture courtesy of Ed Sprake Phtography.

There is a lot of skill and ability here, and whilst it’s very easy to make an instrumental album, it’s also very easy for people to dismiss instrumental music as nothing more than wallpaper (as I’ve said before and will no doubt say again!) but when it’s done well, as it is here then it’s a joy to behold.

Making music is like a sonic jigsaw, if the pieces don’t fit it doesn’t work, here however is sheer musical bliss, the diverse sounds and mood changes in Loggins Breakdown for instance is worth 11 minutes of anyone’s time, and if you disagree you I’ll set Tom Slatter on you!

Their mix of light and dark is sublime, as is their use of funk, particularly on the toe tapping Something Negative on the Dancefloor (maybe they’ve seen me dancing) and here the bass is adding to the sound, making it a third guitar.

Cactus Gulch and the Hellish Walk Home is 12 minutes of sheer brilliance, from the title to the driving riffs and time changes, it feels like a musical journey and one you want to join them on, the interplay between all four of them is amazing and you can tell they know exactly where their sound needs to be at any one time, and it’s wonderful to hear such musical empathy.

Their sound is unique, and this finely crafted and sublimely performed album is another musical string to the Bad Elephant bow, my new Years Resolution is to see The Brackish live in Bristol, and I urge you all to do the same.

Released 14th September 2016

Buy ‘Liquid Of Choice’ from Bad Elephant Music on bandcamp

 

Review – John Wesley – a way you’ll never be – By James R Turner

John Wesley AWYWNB Booklet.indd

Those familiar with the work of Steven Wilson or Fish will know the name John Wesley, a prolific and talented American guitarist and songwriter whose been on the road supporting artists like Marillion and Steven Wilson, whilst also touring as part of Porcupine Tree, and has built up a solid reputation as a go to guitarist.

This latest album, his 8th and first since 2014’s ‘Disconnect’ see’s him successfully bringing together both sides of his musical personality into a song cycle that echoes the short stories of Ernest Hemingway, the title track, a way you’ll never be is named after one of Hemingway’s more famous short stories and focuses, with it’s driving guitar and pounding choruses, on the current fascination for being an online expert on everything, without ever having actually done anything.

The album is far heavier than it’s predecessor and features some strident and aggressive guitar work from John, with the metronomic and Floydian guitar work on to outrun the light being one of the stand out tracks on the album.

guitar

Never one to stand still, or indeed make the second record twice, John is as interesting a lyricist as a guitarist, and his lyrics particularly on the silence in coffee and the revolutionist stand out, the latter having some astonishing staccato call and effect guitar work with the drums pounding out a King Crimson esque beat, before some smoothly fluid guitar work shines out.

This album is all about John Wesley the guitarist, and fits more in line with some of the more intelligent stadium rock, and that is by no means lazy labelling or a criticism, this is an album full of mighty mighty sounds, and big ideas and concepts, some heartfelt, some scathing. The brilliant sole instrumental unsafe space is Johns take on the ‘pampered millenials’ or ‘snowflakes’ as they call them stateside, banning things from campus because they disagree with them and shutting down free speech. It is also a jarring thing of beauty, where John lets his guitar do all the talking for him.

This is an album that is as progressive as it gets in the truest sense of the word, an artist moving forwards, making records the way he wants to make them and taking the audience a long for the journey, it is also a success in the way it marries Johns well observed songwriting with his sublime guitar work.

Released 7th October 2016

Buy ‘a way you’ll never be’ direct from John Wesley