Review – Stone Angel Syndrome – Discovery – by Progradar

“Discovery is a conceptual piece, a journey through time and space, but also a journey through our own lives. The music is progressive with moments of heaviness,ambient elements and gentle, emotional soundscapes fused with electronic drums.”

And so says the PR information for Stone Angel Syndrome’s debut release, one I’ve had the pleasure of seeing come to fruition for Kevin Burlison who, along with Dave Blackburn, is the driving force behind this interesting project. The album was written while Kevin was going through some difficult experiences in his life (I’ll say no more as that is not my story to tell) and you can tell he has put his heart and soul into it.

Kevin provides keyboards, synths, piano, harpsichord and hammered dulcimer, Dave all the electric and acoustic guitars. Martyn Leckenby is now the full time bassist and also helping on this release were Andy Plemper (sitar) and Chris Davison with vocals on the title track and who also provided mixing duties.

‘Discovery’ is a challenging release, intelligent music that takes some digesting and understanding. The ambient arrangements are reminiscent of Tangerine Dream and Jean Michel Jarre (just check out (and the planets dance) in the Dark Eternal World and you’ll see where I’m coming from), floating in a vacuum with the whole Universe in front of you, your mind an open book.

The band have thrown in a bit of a curveball on the first two tracks, A shadow over sunrise & Trans-lunar express, where the lush textures and atmosphere segue into something a lot harsher and darker, like a jam session involving Edgar Froese and an early iteration of King Crimson. The music jars and crashes creating a stark and demanding soundscape that really asks questions of the listener. To my ears it works incredibly well but, to be fair, it is not for the faint of heart and your heart rate does come back to normal when the wistful scenic music returns.

The only vocal track on the album is the title track, Discovery, which closes this intriguing and soul-searching musical journey out with something more akin to classical neo-progressive rock. It’s a calming and contemplative piece of music that lends an almost spiritual feel to the album and left me in an incredibly thoughtful and reflective frame of mind.

A collection of songs written from an intensively personal point of view that leaves a raw and honest feel to an album that requires more from the listener than you would normally expect. Ultimately it is an incredibly rewarding experience if you’re prepared to go beyond your usual boundaries and I highly recommend it.

Released 11th May 2018

Order the album from bandcamp here

Review – Mike O’Donovan – No Time Like The Present – by Progradar

FOUND – Somewhere in Limerick – The Spiritual Successor to Van Morrison!

Yep, after listening to the debut release from highly regarded Irish singer songwriter Mike O’Donovan, I really could see that as a headline in a mythical Irish entertainment rag.

‘No Time Like The Present’ was recorded in Limerick, where he was born and raised, and spans many of the styles that have influenced Mike down the years, including the aforementioned Mr Morrison. Just listen to the opening track Underground and you cannot help but hear the legendary Irish musician and that sound and influence is at the heart of this involving, warm and nostalgic collection of songs.

Mike’s voice also has that halting character that infused Johnny Cash’s vocals in his later years, no more so than on Ghosts and If There’s A Time. The stellar supporting cast of musicians add some real class and polish to the songs too with some wonderful guitar work, brass and harmonica giving a real roots music feel.

There really is something for everyone on this album, the Mariachi hued It Was On A Night Like This, the 50’s smooth jazz rhythms of The Dancer and the elegant Santana guitar that highlights Distant Conversation but, for me, it’s Mike’s soulful vocal that makes this record such a good listen.

A debut that has been a long, long time coming, ‘No Time Like The Present’ is a wonderful collection of songs that shows a songwriter hitting his peak and you can hear the joy and love in every note.

Released 1st December 2017

Download album from cdbaby here

Order CD from the Irish Baha’i bookshop here:

CD – No Time like the Present, by Mike O’ Donovan

 

 

Review – Raging Twilight – s/t – by Progradar

The 1970’s in the US was a real melting pot of influences that produced some incredible music and defined the sound for the decade.Take your Neil Young, Eagles, Stephen Stills, Willie Nelson and the like and the blend of country, blues, gospel, folk and rock that melded into the sound of Americana that is still loved to this day.

Transplant that sound into the thriving live music scene in Glasgow and you have the possibility of some seriously impressive music. The competitiveness that this creates gives a spin-off where only the very best rise up through the ranks in true ‘spirit of survival’ fashion. Raging Twilight have demanded attention due to finely honing their sound and the playing pedigree of the musicians involved. This has given them the due respect and respect that has been properly won.

Their self-titled album is full of impressive tracks that take their cues from that pivotal 70’s sound mainly due to the extensive travels through Canada and the southwest USA of founder member Jack Law, who formed the band with Dougie Harrison.

The influences come flooding in from the first notes, Don’t Want A Lover channeling Neil Young, the bluegrass simplicity of Old Glass Jar  and Hope Sails The River with it’s Celtic hues and hints of The Pogues. The whole album is a wonderful musical journey through music that has influenced a generation of listeners and is an enthralling ride.

I’ve recently got into the solo work of Stephen Stills and can hear subtle hints of that amazing musician throughout, intentional or not. Dust Bowl Rust Belt Blues, Chemical Jayne, The Still with their elegant guitar and haunting vocals, it’s a nostalgic look into the past that leaves you in a wistful frame of mind.

Then there’s Nothing’s There, a superb tune full of English eccentricity that reminds me of The Travelling Wilburys, a real grin inducing song!

If you’re a fan of superbly constructed songs that take their influence from those greats of the past but are given an up-to-date flavour then you have opened the right door. Come on in and enjoy the ride!

Released 16th April 2016.

RAGING TWILIGHT – Raging Twilight (aRTee Records)

 

Review – GEPH – Apophenia – by Progradar

“Apophenia is he experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data, the term was coined by the German neurologist, Klaus Conrad.”

Now we’ve got the lesson out of the way, ‘Apophenia’ is also the second album from cutting edge Boston based instrumental progressive jazz metal trio GEPH. The group consisting of Josh Goldberg and John Tyler Kent on Chapman stick and Josh Merhar on drums released their debut self-titled album in March of 2016.

Let’s get one thing clear, I’m a big fan of the first release going so far as to say,

“…you end up with a really intense and powerful listening experience that makes you think and it is all the better for it. GEPH is a band worth watching as they really should be going places!”

So this new collection of tunes has a lot to live up to. I won’t ramp up the tension too much but, suffice to say, I was in no way disappointed…

The intense jazz/metal/prog fusion of opening track Macroaggressions gives a pointer to what is to come, the intricate stick work between Goldberg and Tyler Kent instantly mesmerises you and Merhar’s obvious skill on the drums adds an off-kilter counter balance. It’s a deliciously dark piece of music that leads on the path to temptation. Whole Body Headbangadds mystery and intrigue in a chilling fashion, there is definitely a sombre, even sinister, feel to the music on these first two tracks and I like the intrigue it conveys.

The haunting, simple grace of Little Guy is a wistful contrast tot he previous tracks, just lose yourself in the near three minutes of ambient music and let it wash over you, leaving a carefree atmosphere. It segues perfectly into the laid back grooves of Get Your Insignificance, to my ears a track that defines why I like this trio so much. The Chapman Sticks deliver a real cool and collected sound and the staccato style of the drums a perfect accompaniment as the tempo increases.

“We kept what we thought worked on the first album all the while trying out new sounds, directions and ideas. The results feel much more organic to me, and the whole album feels as though it really stays with you. This is the best collection of music I’ve been a part of yet.” – Josh Goldberg.

The stylish sounds keep on coming with the urgency of Mourningstar the next funktastic track for your ears to enjoy. There’s an edgy, almost free-form jazz beat to the music and the baroque style to the stick play enthralls from beginning to end. That earlier dark and labyrinthine vibe returns on the gloriously moody W.W.F.D, near nine minutes of mystic, arcane and almost dystopian sounds that really get under your skin and leave you with a very uneasy feeling indeed.

The album closes with the space jazz/metal grooves of Back From Space Earth and the guys really jam out on this elegantly psychedelic tune that has your toes tapping and your head nodding to the rhythm. It’s tripping music for the jazz/prog generation and has a nostalgic smile in every note.

To my ears GEPH have taken everything that was good about the first album and given a coat of polish and added sophistication to deliver a collection of songs that intrigue and impress on every level. They’ve lost that raw, brash edge and matured into a very fine group of musicians who certainly know which direction they are headed in.

Released 6th July 2018.

Check out the band’s website for news on pre-orders coming soon – here

 

 

Three Into One Does Go! – Reviews – Willie Campbell & The Open Day Rotation, Thunder And Rain and The Strange Blue Dreams – by Progradar

Willie Campbell & The Open Day Rotation – New Clouds In Motion

“There’s always a way around The Gospel…”, the chorus from the second track on Isle of Lewis based Scottish singer-songwriter Willie Campbell’s third album with his current creative guise, The Open Day Rotation‘New Clouds In Motion’ gives you a sense of what to expect from one of “…the country’s truly great pop songwriters…” (The Herald).

A superb collection of pop and gospel infused roots music, this new record sees Campbell’s experiences while immersing himself in the Nashville music row song-writing community seeping into his own creative writing style.

There are some beautifully constructed and delivered songs on this feel-good, spirit lifting release, opener Mary Rest Your Head, the aforementioned A Way Around The Gospel and I’ve Got A Kite all take influences from the gospel style and the moving Winter Lake In Spring will literally melt any frozen heart.

There are elements of Americana, country and traditional folk all given their special coating of Campbell’s intelligent pop music roots. Born To Be BlindGoing Through The MotionsWhat Are We Now – the uplifting, emotive tracks just keep on coming.

A mature, intelligent and, ultimately, satisfying album that delivers on all levels.

Released 8th December 2017

Buy the album direct from the artists here:

The Open Day Rotation Store

Thunder And Rain – Start Believing

It’s a good job that mandolinist Peter Weber convinced his former busking sidekick, singer/guitarist Erinn Peet-Lukes, to join him in Golden, Colorado otherwise the excellent Thunder And Rain would never have been formed.

The driving country rock sound benefits from the duo’s roots in traditional bluegrass and folk and the opening triple salvo of Cut The WireOnce I Was and title track Start Believing sets down a marker of the excellence to come.

It’s difficult to combine the more down to earth elements of acoustic instrumentation more familiar to roots music fans with modern rock and pop but Thunder And Rain have created a sound that seems to have attracted the approval that most new-to-the genre acts can only dream of.

The laid back vibes of Babe You’re Gonna Leave Me and Wyoming Is For Miles, the country blues lament of What Am I Gonna Do and the bluegrass brilliance of Tennessee Is Burning all add to this impressive band’s burgeoning reputation.

A perfectly created and delivered album of polished and yet emotive songs that deserves to see Thunder And Rain rise to be the cream of the crop.

Released 1st November 2017.

Buy the album direct from the band here

The Strange Blue Dreams – s/t

“Like Elvis Presley discovered skiffle and formed a band with Duane Eddy and The Beach Boys…”

Yep, it really is that strange but in a good way. The debut, self-titled, album from Glasgow’s The Strange Blue Dreams is full of nods to Nashville, Spaghetti Western theme tunes (think Ennio Morricone), Roy Orbison, Balkan guitars and even Duke Ellington’s big band sound.

To be fair, there is nothing quite like this and there never has been, forging the famous sounds of the 50’s and 60’s, double bass, mandolin, film noir and, yes, Elvis Presley into a unique sound full of immediacy and energy. Atmospheric arrangements that create an otherworldly rock n’ roll sound.

Highlights? There are many and there isn’t a duff track on the album. For me Reverberatin’ LoveElectricityJungle Drums and (That’s The Place) I’m Falling are just four of the songs that really typify the weird and wonderful world of The Strange Blue Dreams.

It’s not very often that you hear something completely different that really blows you away and these impressive musicians won’t appeal to everyone but if you like your R&B and twanging jazz music with a bit of David Lynch thrown in for good measure, trust me, you’ll love this!

Released 20th October 2017.

Buy the album from bandcamp here

 

Review – James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band – High Fences – by Progradar

I blame my mate Iain Sloan and, by association, Loudon Temple of Bloody Great PR for my new found love of Americana and Roots music. For those not in the know, Iain is the rather special guitar player from the Scottish Americana band The Wynntown Marshals, a band whose last two releases I have reviewed and enjoyed immensely.

Loudon’s Bloody Great PR company cover an incredibly diverse and deeply impressive selection of roots, folk and Americana artists, based over here in the UK and Ireland and over the pond in the States and I have had the pleasure of reviewing their work.

When I heard the first strains of the opening track, Passing San Ysidro, from Glasgow sextet James Edwyn & The Borrowed Band’s  second album ‘High Fences’ I was immediately hooked by their superb sound. The riff and hook filled tunes are full of resplendent melodies and finely honed arrangement. There’s a driving American rock feel to songs like the opening track and Get Back Up yet there’s an honest humility to tracks like Pushing Statues and Starlet with the ever elegant steel guitar that tugs on the emotions.

James Edwyn himself has a honey-toned vocal delivery that holds you in rapture and the skill and dexterity of the musicians imbues class and panache to every note and the counter punch of Emma Joyce’s dulcet feminine voice produces superb harmonies and adds powerful drama to Quoting Sagan and Burning Man.

The compelling Taking Liberties is a particular highlight but there is never a dull moment on this deeply influential record. An album for when the sun goes down on a great day and you need to finish it off in rare style.

Released 15th December 2017.

Order the album from Big Cartel here

Single Review – Sleeperman – Why Can’t You Say I Look Nice When I Look Nice? – by Progradar

Those erudite wordsmiths from East Yorkshire, Sleeperman, are back again with the fifth single from 2018 and the song titles just keep getting longer!

May’s single (I know, the review is a bit late this time!) is called, deep breath, ‘Why Can’t You Say I Look Nice, When I Look Nice?’, both a test of your diction and punctuationThe intelligent songwriting takes both a mournful and melodramatic direction with a darker subject matter but the incisive wit is there again in spades.

John Hilton’s vocal has a melancholy appeal that gives a more emotive edge to the song and Neil Scott’s 50’s guitar twang adds the required sepia twinged touch of pathos and regret (just check out that elegant riff!). The subdued drums of Phil Sharp and Steve Skinner’s laid back bass playing give real humanity to the music, to be fair, you either get this band or you don’t and I love their nods to the angst of Billy Bragg and the realities of real life, it’s simply rather wonderful.

The ‘B-side’ is a wistfully charming track with yet another lengthy title (I wonder if the band run competitions for this?!). ‘She Was The First Girl In Our Street To Die Her Hair’ will set many a 50 year old heart a fluttering about first crushes and  unrequited love, once again the songwriting abilities of Sleeperman leave a smile on my face and an amused tear in my eye…

Released 4th May 2018

Download the track from 7digital here

 

 

Review – The Dame – Losing Sight Of What You Want – by Progradar

With a flair for the dramatic and a talent for musical storytelling, Netherlands’ The Dame deliver neo-progressive music with more than a touch of melodrama:

“A new Dame has moved into town!

She is sensual, feminine, and smooth… that is, until the guitars start roaring.

The Dame will take you back to the romantic era of the roaring twenties. Hidden back room bars, smokey night clubs, liquor in coffee mugs… when gentlemen were stylish, and ladies were sexy chic.

Time to drink champagne and dance on the table!”

A collection of seven impressive tracks, ‘Losing Sight Of What You Want’ is the band’s debut release and is a polished and stand out album.

The theatrics are there for a reason, drawing you into the well constructed songs and setting the scene for what is almost time-travelling concept album. The soulful vocals of Marian Van Charante are beguiling and bewitching on tracks like the immersive Losing Sight Of What You Want, the epic and involving Conveniently Distant and the deliciously dark wanderings of Thy Father’s Bidding.

Stephen De Ruijter’s imposing and intense guitar playing is like the conductor’s baton, leading the rest of these superb musicians as they deliver a deeply engaging musical experience, the rhythm section of Michel Krempel (bass) and Ruben Meibergen (drums) being the powerful glue that holds everything together. Keyboard player Thijs De Ruijter’s wonderful playing is the icing on the cake.

This is neo-prog Jim but not as you know it! and in the crowded world of progressive music it takes something to stand out from the crowd and, to my ears, these mesmeric musicians are well on the way to finding it. With the eye catching packaging and clever back story, this is a CD that should be finding it into everyone’s collection.

Released 16th February 2018

Buy the album on CD or download here

 

Review – The Fretless – Live From The Art Farm – by Progradar

Transforming string music into intricate, beautiful, high-energy arrangements, Canada’s The Fretless have become flawless musical acrobats and multiple Juno award winners.

A major force on the world’s roots music circuit, this new album was recorded live, using only three mics and paying homage to to the traditional repertoire, straight to tape in front of an audience and this gives you a taste of actually being there amid the electric atmosphere in the room.

The tracks are explorations of traditional Irish tunes but given the classic Fretless treatment, so stamping their hallmark on the material.

The wonderfully laid back Bixie’s and the traditional folk overtones of The Killavil Fancy add a smooth contrast to the high energy delivery of tracks like Maggie’s Set and the grin inducing Jenny Bear. For any fan of pared back traditional music, this collection of wonderful tunes is a must. There’s a basic intimacy to the music that works brilliantly as these four exemplary musicians work their magic.

Other highlights are the urgent tones of Holton Alan Moore’s and the emotive strains of the very traditional sounding Dawning Of The Day.

For those new to the band or long term admirers this release is a joy and a delight,  just don’t keep calling it ‘Live From The Ant Farm’…

Released 28th May 2018

Order the album from CDBaby here

Review – The Slyde – Awakening – by Progradar

There’s some powerhouse artists that have come out of Canada, Rush and Bryan Adams immediately come to mind, but it’s not known as a hotbed of emerging talent on the whole.

Last year I reviewed an EP full of intelligent and complex ‘heavy-prog’ songs that showed a huge amount of promise from four piece Canadian band Slyde. They have taken the four tracks of ‘Back Again’ and added six new songs to create their first full-length offering ‘Awakening’ and also added ‘The’ to the front of their name.

The new tracks are the first six on this impressive release, Nathan Da Silva’s soaring riffs and Sarah Westbrook’s dynamic keyboards dominate the band’s edgy and high energy sound with the energetic and potent rhythm section of Brendan Soares (drums) and Alberto Campuzano (bass) providing the up-tempo drive. This potent brew is topped off with Nathan’s distinctive vocals (comparisons with Geddy Lee are indeed merited) to deliver some quality melodic prog-rock that brings to mind bands like the aforementioned Rush along with Haken, Coheed and Cambria and Circa Survive.

The short intro of Awaken leads you into a powerful collection of tracks that have this forceful and charismatic feel and a seemingly boundless supply of high octane energy that carries you along on a wave of compelling and vitalising music.

You want a catchy, addictive chorus? The Slyde tick that box, thunderous riffing? yep, that too, coruscating guitar solos? of course! There’s nothing that this highly impressive collection of musicians seem to have left out of their locker.

Highlights of the new tracks, for me, are title track Awakening and So Blind but every song is a compact ball of progressive magnetism and captivate with equal force and hearing the final four tracks that made up ‘Back Again’ brings a huge grin to my face, remembering what I enjoyed about them in the first place, Fading and Divide especially.

The Slyde have returned with one of the year’s more idiosyncratic and left-field releases and, once again, they deliver a thunderously powerful and yet thought provoking collection of songs with an aggressive and weighty edge but never forgetting that melody is king, highly impressive.

Released 18th May 2018

Order ‘Awkening’ from bandcamp here