Review – Riversea – The Tide – by Progradar

“Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends.”
― Alphonse de Lamartine

What a wonderful quote and it fits perfectly how I feel after listening to the long awaited second album from Riversea, the on/off musical project of my good friends Marc Atkinson and Brendan Eyre.

The music and lyrics that they have written come from their very heart and soul and when it is conceived like like, it has the ability to almost come alive and infuse the listener with all the joy and love that went into creating it. It’s not just music it is alive, vibrant and soulful.

The core band of Marc, Brendan, Dave Clements (bass) and Alex Cromarty (drums) are joined by a veritable who’s who of the progressive rock world adding guitar, flute and backing vocals. Where ‘Out of an Ancient World’ was a spiritual offering, ‘The Tide’ focuses on the realities of living in the world of today with meaningful lyrics adding a touch of social commentary to the music:

“If God can’t save us from his followers, how do we save us from ourselves. If all they see is blasphemy, what will they make of  you and me.”

The opening of The Tide sees Peter Aves powerful guitar give a dramatic edge before the subtle layers of Brendan’s keyboard work adds a real sophistication. This is an album full of exquisite nuances and he distinctive soulful vocals of Marc leave a cultured trail wherever they lead, is there a more emotive singer around at the moment? I think not! These songs are created with layers of beauty and polish and seem to flow organically. There’s a funky edge to Shine that is punctuated by the uplifting chorus and the superb guitar work of Lee Abraham who delivers a vibrant solo.

Marc and Brendan have spent a long time creating this musical work of art, fitting it in around their daily lives and other projects and it is the level of care and attention to detail that stands out across the meticulously crafted songs on this album. I can imagine the painstaking process that went into each note, there is nothing here that doesn’t belong and it makes for a quite wonderful release.

The passionate Blasphemy is another highlight among many with Paul Cusick’s sensuous guitar work adding layers of intensity to what is a really powerful song, the music intense and impassioned and Marc’s voice a commanding presence. Brendan Eyre weaves an absorbing web with his refined keyboard playing throughout this amazing sonic tapestry and the rhythm section of Dave Clements’ bass and the drums of Alex Cromarty provide a suitably assured back drop.

Every track is exceptional, it’s rare to get an album without at least one throwaway song but the songs intertwine perfectly with each other, the wistful and nostalgic Your Last Day sees a wonderful low key and slow burning guitar solo from Robin Armstrong and the silken six string of Simon Godfrey joins the guys on the touching strains of Strange Land, a song that has strong roots music foundations.

The gentle feel of Fall Out Warning is added to by the flute of Tony Patterson to give a contemplative, melancholy atmosphere but there is beauty, charm and artistry to every single song. The sombre overtone of the excellent Uprising is added to by the reflective keyboards and Tony’s ethereal-like flute. Marc’s vocals are almost pleading,

“Their voices will be heard, their chanting becomes one. But a nation stands divided with a bullet from a gun.”

It is a haunting piece of music and one which makes you look inside at your own heart and is followed by the contrast of the gloriously uplifting The Tide Reprise to close the album on a more thoughtful and hopeful note.

There’s been some good music released this year already and also some utterly outstanding albums and ‘The Tide’ definitely falls into the latter category. Marc and Brendan have lovingly crafted twelve pieces of music that come together to create a release of beauty and refinement and one that will stay in your heart for a very long time. It’s not just music, this is something that is actually life-affirming and I can’t give it higher praise than that.

Released 20th April 2018

Order The Tide from the band’s website

 

 

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 – Valdez – This – by Leo Trimming

When first hearing about Valdez, a new band based in Philadephia, featuring Simon Godfrey (ex-Tinyfish and Shineback) and Echolyn bassist, Tom Hyatt, I made some initially lazy assumptions about it’s probable sound. I was wrong. Please check in your assumptions at the door because this is an album a long way away from Echolyn or Tinyfish. Simon Godfrey moved to America in 2014 when he married an American, and his personal journey has further stretched his musical horizons in an already wide ranging career encompassing Prog rock, acoustic songs and the electronically drenched unique rock of Shineback. When he met Tom Hyatt in Philadelphia they immediately hit it off and started jamming, then deciding to form Valdez (the name taken from a former band of keyboardist Joe Cardillo from the 1970’s.) Teaming up with the excellent electric keyboardist from Cool Blue, Cardillo, and drummer Scott Miller, Godfrey and Hyatt have produced with Valdez an eclectic and warm album, lovingly steeped in the sounds and textures of classic instruments.

The range of different styles is interesting but one thread that goes through them all is the sense of a solid, well written song. These are not sonic soundscapes of epic proportions, rather vignettes in engaging songs of sometimes wry observations of life around them. This is perhaps most acutely demonstrated in Thirteen, a song which opens with a subtle reference to the opening lines of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ in which in early April the clocks ‘struck thirteen’. The song gives us pithy observations about how our societies have come to be in their current political messes, and this is all served up in waves of ‘bubblegum pop’ as Godfrey has described it. There’s a real 70’s vibe to this catchy song with excellent electric piano, reminiscent of Billy Joel.

Godfrey has explained the thinking behind the band as having a real focus on the song, whether  ‘it’s a short song, a long song or a mad, complex one. As long as it’s good we’ll grab it with both hands and spin it until we’re dizzy’, which very much comes over, especially in Thirteen. Similarly, opening song Black Eyed Susans chimes in with all the swagger and attitude of a Joe Jackson song, which is a GOOD thing!

The diversity and skill of Valdez is exemplified by the melancholic and evocative take on dementia in Sally Won’t Remember. This emotional but not mawkish song successfully conveys the debilitating slowness and sheer psychological effort associated with caring for someone with dementia. Like Godfrey this listener has experienced the sad decline of a parent with dementia, and this song echoes those feelings, but even in their dementia strangely our parents indirectly teach us about life and caring.

The stand out track on the album is the title track This, which apparently refers to ‘the world of wonder right in front of us which we forget, simply because we see it every day’. Opening intriguingly with the sound of a wurlitzer and a chiming piano, it then rises like a sun as acoustic guitar and percussion join in to then be filled out with bass and keyboards… and then it settles back in to the song with Godfrey’s distinctive and emotive voice leading us to a swelling killer chorus. This lovely song rolls along memorably and then takes a breath before a pulsing bass introduces us to a resonant final section with great multi-layered harmony vocals as it rises to a crescendo. In some ways this listener would have liked to hear a few more songs of this nature, but only because it was so bloody good!

No Stone Unturned is a more bluesy number, Godfrey sounds like George Michael vocally at times (which is no bad thing), but the real star of this number is the excellent keyboard work of Cardillo. Godfrey has shared that the whole band really thinks that the majority of the best music came out of the instruments made famous in the 60’s and 70’s. Consequently they have used a range of classic keyboards, such as the Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes, upright pianos, classic acoustic and electric guitars, recorded through old amps, and this is particularly evident on the warm, lush, atmospheric sounds of No Stone Unturned and Little Keys. Not every song works for this reviewer (take a bow Spite House) but this is an engaging album that will draw you in.

On ‘This’, there is a real sense of looking back affectionately but not slavishly to the past, as evoked by Mark Buckingham’s striking artwork of a 1950’s style woman swinging on a balloon. This is an album of fairly stripped back but well played and constructed songs. Godfrey has also shared that this album, produced by Hyatt’s legendary band mate in Echolyn, Brett Kull, was recorded without sequencing and as miked up to make it as live as possible. Such loving attention to vintage recording techniques combined with classic equipment clearly  influenced the whole atmosphere of the album, and it particularly pays off in the strong final duo of segued songs, Colorado and Smile for the CameraColorado, written by Cardillo, has an enchanting rolling and melodic intro and evokes the free open space of that state, with some beautiful bass by Hyatt. An ambient, feedbacking interlude connects us to the beguiling Smile for the Camera, which floats in with a delicately picked acoustic guitar, with echoes of classic Supertramp’s heyday. This extended song takes a jazzier turn with peculiar sounds and a twisting synth solo… it seems that Godfrey and Hyatt couldn’t quite contain all their ‘Proggier’ impulses for a whole album! However, this is a brief diversion before this piece takes another turn into the beautiful blissed out harmony vocals reminiscent of Crosby, Stills and Nash, possibly with the help of Kull who added vocals and guitar alongside his production duties. Nevertheless, ultimately this is a Valdez song because the song then concludes eerily and possibly a little darkly with the last line ‘Smile for the Camera’ .

Valdez have created an interesting album, which crosses various genres and combines the myriad talents of the band in an engaging mix of sounds and songs. It’s not particularly ground-breaking or innovative, and was never intended to be so – but if you’re looking for some well written and well performed songs in classic style  with warmth, with and spirit ‘This’ could be it!

Released 19th May 2017

Order ‘This’ in the UK, Europe & ROW (excluding USA) from Bandcamp here

Order ‘This’ in the USA from bandcamp here

 

The Fierce And The Dead’s Matt Stevens Talks RoSFest

The legend that is Matt Stevens took time this Sunday morning to talk to me about The Fierce And The Dead’s appearance at the recent RoSFest, North America’s premier progressive rock festival.

Among other things, we talk about the tedious process of getting an artist visa, what it’s like playing in a different country, American prog fans and beer, strong beer!

(Featured image of Matt by Jose Ramon Caamano)

Progradar’s ‘Best of 2015’ review – by Progradar

David

A scary picture to get things started, it’s that time of year again when everyone puts out their ‘Best of 2015’ album list and I’m no different to every other music journalist, budding or otherwise.

Lists like these are very subjective, after all, one man’s poison is another man’s wine but they’re fun to do and give a real retrospective of some of the great music that has been released over the past 12 months or so.

BEM logo

First off, the usual disclaimer, I won’t include any Bad Elephant Music releases as some people might say I’d be slightly biased. However, once again, this tiny independent label has given us some mighty impressive music from the likes of The Room, Tom Slatter, Simon Godfrey, The Fierce and the Dead and Twice Bitten, among others, all of which can be sampled at the link below:

Bad Elephant Music

I tried to get it down to a top 15, never mind a top ten, but that proved too difficult so, here it is, Progradar’s top 20 albums of 2015. Don’t see the position as being too indicative as, really, albums 20-6 could be in any given order on any given day, the quality is that close. The top 5, however, are my definitive top 5 albums for 2015.

Enough pre-amble, here we go……

20 – Transport Aerian – Dark Blue

A deeply dark, disturbing and highly original work of art from this talented, serious musician. Well worth a listen but, be afraid, very afraid!

19 – Steve Rothery – The Ghosts of Pripyat

Marillion’s guitarist is venturing further afield with his solo work and it’s simple, faraway beauty is quite inspiring. Put your feet up, get your headphones on, lay back and relax.

18 – Barock Project – Skyline

An unexpected highlight of the year, hopefully the fourth album by this extremely talented and still relatively young band will see them break into the mainstream of the progressive rock market. I for one think that, with music as deeply enjoyable and illuminating as this, that they definitely deserve it!

17 – The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness

A new release full of sophistication and depth and powerful, thoughtful songs that resonate deeply with you. An album about duality, darkness and light and imbued with intricate compositions, complex arrangements and virtuosic performances, you will want this delight in your collection, trust me…..

16 – Mystery – Delusion Rain

2015 saw Canadian prog-rockers Mystery return with  a new album and a new lead singer and it was as if they’d never been away. Jean Pageau has a voice that fits perfectly with the melodic progressive rock that the band deliver with aplomb. The epic track The Willow Tree is a superb, intricate and emotional hit of passion and takes the album from merely good to very good indeed.

15 – Hibernal – After the Winter

Mark Healy’s cinematic and evocative soundscapes waft over a post-apocalyptic spoken word storyline to deliver an immensely visceral listening experience.

14 – Built for the Future – Chasing Light

‘Chasing Light’ is one of those rare albums that grabs you immediately AND keeps on getting better with every listen. Built for the Future’s debut release is a thing of rare wonder that resonates with me on a personal level, their commitment to delivering music that connects deeply with the listener has produced a record that shines brightly.

13 – Sylvium – Waiting for the Noise

Superb progressive rock with tones of Porcupine Tree and Riverside. A musical experience that emphasizes emotions rather than the eternal quest for a perfect pop song.

12 – The Wynntown Marshalls – The End of the Golden Age

Scottish tinged Americana with powerful and haunting songwriting and outstanding musicianship.

11 – Echolyn – I Heard You Listening

Storytelling by music, getting to the heart of the matter and opening up small town America. A band I have heard little of in the past, this new album will definitely change that, a melting pot of sweet melodies and delicious harmonies.

10 – Tiger Moth Tales – Storytellers Part One

An album that is even better than the delights of ‘Cocoon’. My inner child is brought to the fore by the magic, charm and allure of ‘Story Tellers Part 1′, it takes me away to an inner nirvana where nothing can touch me or spoil my mood.

9 – Comedy of Errors – Spirit

Do you believe music has soul? I do and, when it is as deeply involving and emotionally uplifting (and draining to be honest!) as this, it becomes life affirming in many ways. All the songs were written by Jim Johnston but I’m sure even he would agree that they are given life by the whole of Comedy of Errors.

8 – Glass Hammer – The Breaking of the World

It could have been this studio album or the equally impressive ‘Glass Hammer – Live’, recorded at this year’s RosFest but, first, let’s get the Yes comparison out of the way, these guys do traditional progressive rock so well they have transcended that to stand in their own circle of praise. A highly impressive effort once again.

7 – Karnataka – Secrets of Angels

The first album written specifically for vocalist Hayley Griffith’s voice, a symphonic prog- rock masterpiece with towering anthems and delicate ballads concluding with the epic twenty-minute plus title track.

6 – The Tangent – A Spark in the Aether

A return to traditional progressive rock, incredibly addictive, flippant and irreverent and, well, just darn good fun!

5 – Big Big Train – Wassail (yes, I know it’s only an E.P. but I like it!!)

You can put your heroes on a pedestal to be knocked off when they don’t reach your lofty expectations but, with ‘Wassail’, Big Big Train have just enhanced their reputation as purveyors of unique and sublime progressive rock which is founded on the elemental history of this blessed isle. A history that is fundamental to the everlasting allure of this captivating group of musicians.

4 – Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah II

‘Arcade Messiah II’ takes all that was good with the first album and enhances by taking the raw, coruscating energy of the first release and developing it into a superb sound that, while holding nothing back, is full of nuances and intelligence. A ‘Wall of Sound’ that makes Phil Spector’s look like a diminutive picket fence and it is quite possibly the best thing this highly talented musician has ever produced.

3 – Maddison’s Thread – Maddison’s Thread

Folk is rooted at the core of Maddison’s Way but this album is all about the music and the way Lee can diversify with aplomb is very impressive. A contender for album of the year for me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

2- Subsignal – The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime

See, this is why these bloody lists are only subjective. I had mine all worked out and then I listened to the fourth album from German band Subsignal and it was blown out of the water. Arisen from the ashes of the great Sieges Even, the first three albums by the band failed to really hit the heights for me. Well, all is most definitely forgiven as ‘The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime’ has just hit me right on the correct spot and elevated them to a higher level. It has a real emotional depth to it and is one that is highly, highly recommended, nearly making it to the top spot…..

1 – Riverside – Love, fear and the Time Machine

So, after a tough fight it is Polish band Riverside that take the crown this year. I have always been a fan of this band without actually loving their work. All that changed with this years beautiful release. There is a depth and maturity to this release that resonates deep to the core. The fragile, breaking vocals and signature sound have taken the band to the forefront of the progressive rock genre and, in this album, they have left behind a musical legacy of which anyone can be proud.