The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness
Following on from 2012’s ‘Lonely Hills’ was always going to be a big thing for this Texan band but, no need to worry, The Aaron Clift Experiment have returned with a rather excellent 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…..
Releases September 18th 2015
Full review to follow.
Stand out track – Kissed by the Sun
Hell, it is that new that there are no clips or videos and you can’t even pre-order it yet but keep your eyes peeled for the news as it arrives!
Here is a video from ‘Lonely Hills’ to keep you sated in the mean time…..
3RDegree – Ones & Zeros Volume 1
A progressive rock concept album about the singularity, futurist issues, ability enhancements, life prolonging and the Ultra A.I., sounds a bit deep doesn’t it? Don’t worry, this fine progressive rock band from New Jersey infuse it with excellent songwriting, delightful musical interludes and some power playing to deliver rather a sophisticated brew.
Like all good music, you will only get what you put in but, invest some serious quality time with this release and you will be well rewarded.
Check out ‘You’re Fooling Yourselves’ from the album ‘The Long Division’ :
Kinetic Element – Travelog
This Richmond, Virginia band’s follow up to 2009’s ‘Powered By Light’ has been described as ‘opulent ear candy’ and features 5 tracks of classic progressive rock that harks back to the 70’s. Superb musicianship featuring everything from jazz basslines, intricate guitar work and soaring keyboards combine with delightful vocals to deliver something that every prog fan will like.
The debut album from this San Antonio, Texas band is quite a cornucopia of styles that works well across a diverse selection of songs. Classic progressive sounds combine with melodic songwriting to deliver music that really wants you to dig deeper and explore further.
Influenced by bands such as Spocks Beard, The Flower Kings and Porcupine Tree, the album ‘Chasing Light’ is the beginning a series of albums about a protaganist who is seeking to change life and worlds and find ‘light’.
This intriguing band from St. Albans release ‘Twilight Canvas’ in 2012. a collection of unique songs that emotionally engage, but extend beyond generic rock song-writing; they combine driving metal guitar riffs and leads with delicate classical and acoustic instrumentation, peruse wide-ranging rhythmic experiments and boast layered harmony vocals with memorable hooks – all set against otherworldly, evocative atmospheres. A rich mix, showcasing great musicianship, but without wandering into abstraction.
It has been a long time since the Austin, Texas based progressive rock outfit The Aaron Clift Experiment released ‘Lonely Hills’, their acclaimed debut album, it was 2012 in fact.
Well, thanks be to god, this year will see the release of the long awaited follow up ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ and, believe me, it is well worth waiting for. I was really impressed with the guys debut effort but this release improves in all areas with its intricate compositions, complex arrangements and virtuosic performances.
Frontman Aaron tells us more,
“‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ is a concept album about duality: light vs. darkness, individual vs. group, hope vs. despair, etc. Songs in the first half of the album detail the conflict between these opposing forces, while the songs in second half of the album are a journey toward reconciling the extremes. The album culminates with ‘Bathed in Moonlight,’ a song about how humanity can learn to embrace its outer light and inner darkness and become one with both sides of its nature.”
With the release of the band’s second album, “Outer Light, Inner Darkness” in September 2015, The Aaron Clift Experiment continues to lead the way in fusing the sophistication and depth of classical music with the passion and raw power of rock and roll. What began as an idea of how to create music has now blossomed into a full-fledged experiment. The band invites you to join them in this experiment as they embark on their new path.
“Although The Aaron Clift Experiment started as my solo project, ‘Outer Light, Inner Darkness’ marks the birth of ACE as a full-fledged band. Unlike the first album, in which I wrote all the songs and arrangements, the songwriting and arranging process for the second album was a largely collaborative process, with all of the band members contributing elements to the sound that makes the album our most diverse to date. One of the fun challenges of co-writing between me and my band mates is that we all have very distinct songwriting styles and music preferences. As a result, we all pushed each other to write outside of our comfort zones. Sometimes this could be disorienting process, but in the end, it helped us write our strongest songs to date. The song, ‘Aoide, Goddess of Song,’ was in a way my commentary on what it can be like to come up with brand new music.”
“Outer Light, Inner Darkness” will be released on September 18 with an album release show to be held on August 27 at Threadgill’s in Austin, Texas.
The Aaron Clift Experiment are:
Aaron Clift – Vocals/Keyboards Eric Gutierrez – Guitar Joe Resnick – Drums Devin North – Bass
I have come to the conclusion that pigeon-holing bands into certain categories or genres can often be more detrimental than advantageous to their continued popularity and success.
Where, in some circumstances, it will mean that the music will appeal to smaller cross section of the music loving public, in others it can lead to a mass exodus (Prog seems to be attaining this level of notoriety at the moment, for whatever reason).
Unfortunately, music lovers and journalists as a whole (and I include myself in this too) seem unable to talk or write about bands without shoehorning them into a particular classification. This is okay if that actual artist portrays themselves as being unashamedly of that ilk, however, in most cases, we need to broaden our brush strokes.
Gabriel is a collaboration between singer/songwriter Sally Elsey from London and guitarist and recording engineer Albert Vinasco from Buenos Aires. Together, Sally and Albert combine their highly melodic approaches to create music that is both sweet and powerful.
I have often heard them called a ‘Female-fronted Metal’ band but this is to shower them with faint praise, their music contains a lot more influences and nuances. ‘Unforgiven’ is the fifth album from the duo and has rock, progressive and metal hints all over it, time to immerse myself further….
First, and title, track Unforgiven has a Celtic, Latin feel tot he introduction with a bit of Gregorian chant thrown in. Symphonic in feel with the string sound and our first meeting with Sally’s mercurial vocal talents. Her voice has an operatic undertone to it, add this to the ominous sounding rhythm section and scurrilous guitar solo and you feel that you are in a melodramatic soundscape, quite intriguing. Within the Circle takes on a Gothic-metals style that has hints of Within Temptation allied to the powerful and expressive voice that Sally Elsey owns. Delving deeper into the track, you feel a depth of quality to the music and Albert gets to rock out on the guitar with this one with a spirited riff and high-tempo percussion. Haunting and melodic but with a heavier feel to it, it is really addictive and catchy.
A crack of thunder followed by a proper heavy metal riff and married with a thunderous drumbeat sees Two Worlds Collide hove into view. This song puts a smile on my face as you get a proper beast of a rhythm section combined with Sally’s decorous, if slightly menacing, vocal. The guitar runs and solo are quite grin inducing too, just a real good rock-out track with a late 70’s metal vibe to it. Here in You begins with a delicate string and piano combo before the breathless and precise vocal adds a sheen of panache to proceedings. This patina of calm doesn’t last for long before Sally takes on a sort of mischievous Kate Bush persona and Albert moves into full-on rock hero mode. The coruscating guitars and hectic rhythm delivers a high energy ride that leaves your head spinning at times before the track returns to its chilled out roots and comes to a gentle close.
With an intro that smacks of mid 70’s classic rock and Americana, Do You Believe has a further sense of depth to it. Sally Elsey delivers her cultured, almost operatic vocal and the crunching guitar interjects at certain points to give a theatrical feel to the song. With toes fleetingly dipped into 80’s metal and modern symphonic power-metal, it is an interesting melting pot of styles that keeps you guessing. The coruscating guitar solo has me damning my lack of luscious locks and reminiscing about denim. Taking the soothing qualities of all that’s best of Karnataka and adding their own spin on it, Shelter From the Rain is a classically tinged pop-rock song with strong folk and Celtic ties. Superb vocals and more dynamic and expressive guitar work leave you with a particularly polished taste in your mouth, this track appeals to all musical palates.
Now to the ‘prog-epic’ on the album, well not necessarily progressive but it surely takes it cues from that genre. Time Train is twelve minutes of intriguing music that beguiles and fascinates. The 80’s synth-pop style introduction with Sally’s incessant repeat of the title gives way to a piano and vocal that drips sincerity and bonhomie. Like musical building blocks, the track heightens the tension as it continues, the complexity swelling and the music taking hold of your senses. The guitar, drums and programming are compelling and deliver an intricate musical mosaic as a backdrop to the vocals and keyboards that are narrating the story. The guitar work smolders and simmers, low key yet dominant and potent, it delivers a sombre and pensive feel to this eloquent and passionate song, one that lingers long in your memory. House of Shadows takes Gabriel down a more mainstream route with its slight nod to pop/rock sensibilities. The gentle and ethereal keyboards match the charming vocals perfectly and the whole song has a feeling of goodwill to it even venturing into Mike Oldfield territory with the distinctive guitar sound. A track that leaves you in a calm and contented state of mind.
Soul Taker begins all mercurial and mysterious with haunting vocals and a lilting piano before breaking into another rock/metal power track. Heavily symphonic with a hard hitting riff and pugnacious drumming, it has to be doing my poor relation’s version of a headbanger again. Sally’s vocal has an edge to it, imbibing the song with a carefree attitude that is pure rock n’ roll. That feel runs through into Stone Cold Redeemer which immediately puts me in mind of Heart and ‘Barracuda’, a really deep and dangerous 1980’s guitar riff married to Sally’s singular vocals. Simple with a clean delivery, it makes no bones about what it is, another pure hard rock delight. The slightly off-kilter guitar solo is a breezy delight that grabs your attention and really hits home on this enjoyable romp.
The final track on the album, Meant to Be, finishes things off in a symphonic metal style. Like a lament, it has an almost mournful feel to it, the vocals subtle yet effective. The guitar solo is full of feeling and pathos and has a heavy hue of 80’s British heavy metal deep at its core. Another fine slab of hard rock with a strong whiff of symphonic metal served up for your delectation.
A classy blend of hard rock, metal and symphonic rock with its own core identity, Gabriel a massive sound for just two people. Pigeon-hole them if you dare, there is more going on with this musical collaboration than you could fit into any one box. Sally Elsey’s vocals are worth the entry fee alone but, with the excellent musical talent of Alex Vinasco at her side, you have something a little bit different and special.
“Better the rudest work that tells a story or records a fact, than the richest without meaning…..” – John Ruskin.
At the heart of the music I love the most are storytellers and modern-day bards, musicians who can take all that life throws at them, good and bad, and put it in to song. Songs that can affect you deeply and stir up huge wellsprings of emotion. Joy, laughter, sadness and woe all hit deeply into our souls and take us on a journey into the world envisaged by these musical magicians.
Lightweight music has its place (maybe the gym or some other) but I prefer music that can teach me something or enhance a mood, even music that makes me feel sad or forlorn is still great music if that is what it intended. Maybe those of us who appreciate the finer music in life have a bigger capacity in our hearts, who knows?
One thing I do know is that there is no single style or genre of music that achieves this, it is a capacity of all music to move you deeply and leave a lasting impression on you. Certain types can have a higher propensity to musically enhance us just by their generic definition.
Folk music is all about telling stories and tales, generally local legends and characters are brought to life by these earthy musicians and the use of flues, violins and other instruments tends to lends it more originality. Folk and progressive rock tend to cross paths quite often and influences of both can be heard in the other (check out the Canterbury scene for an idea of what I mean).
In my role as a’musical treasure hunter’ I often unearth unexpected gems by the strangest means but, sometimes, just a recommendation from someone who I trust is enough to get me to listen to something new. This time it was Brendan Eyre (of Northlands and Riversea fame) who pointed me in the right direction.
Lee Maddison is an acoustic folk rock musician from Hartlepool in the North East of England and is releasing a self titled album under the pseudonym of Maddison’s Thread. I was intrigued by the excellent artwork (I do like a nice album cover) designed by local artist Amanda White (check out her artist’s page www.mandascat.com) and Brendan’s nod in the right direction sealed the deal.
When playing live Lee’s line up has him playing acoustic guitar and performing vocals, Stewart Hardy on fiddle, Nigel Spaven on bass and Michael Kitching on drums & percussion.
Joining Lee and his regular players on the album were a stellar cast of many whose contribution, in Lee’s words “far outweighed my contribution to their bank accounts..”
These additional musicians were Bob Garrington (acoustic and electric guitars), Shayne Fontayne (drums), Sue Ferris (flute and sax), Shona Kipling (accordion), Rachel Robinson (cello), Tony Davis (keyboards) and John Day (trombone on ‘A Crooked Mile Home’). Backing vocals were provided by Suzy Crawford and Rachel Gaffney.
(Image copyright Howy White, featured image also copyright Howy White)
A gentle if determined acoustic guitar introduces us to The Viking’s Daughter before Lee’s magical vocals invite us to listen to the story at hand. There is a timbre to his vocals that give them a serious honesty and a gravelly note that has hints of Dylan to it (well if Bob had bothered to take singing lessons that is). I find myself entranced by the lilting air to the song, the intriguing lyrics and the definitive folk mood it induces, especially when the fiddle and gentle backing vocals join. The short, enchanting fiddle solos leave me imagining I’m in a crowded bar in a tiny fishing village on the North East coast, party to something secretive and wonderful. As an opening track to entice you in further it is just about perfect. There is a more pensive feel to the guitar at the beginning of Where Eagles Fly, a more sombre atmosphere added to by Lee’s vocal that engenders a sparse beauty to all that is around it. When the chorus opens up with the stylish percussion and captivating backing vocals it adds a real feel of longing and hope, the flute is like a free spirit that eludes you, always out of reach. I feel a lump rising in my throat, a wistfulness pervading my thoughts as this enchanting song continues to entrance me. I really have the feeling we are listening to something special here.
Come the Springtime opens up with that hypnotic guitar note that has become signature now and then Lee starts singing and you really feel like spring is upon you. The vocals are more measured and precise, the chorus lively and addictive. This song is less weighty than what has preceded it but it feels in keeping with the whole premise of the track, flute and fiddle adding any necessary gravitas. It bumbles along as if it has not a care in the world, flitting and organic and really lightens the air and the mood, a short breath of fresh air that leaves your musical palate ready for what is to follow. Jaunty and immediately memorable, Making the Morning Last takes a small step away from the folk leanings and towards the mainstream. There is a breezy and carefree feel to the song, emphasised by Lee’s vocals and the percussion, which add a playful note to proceedings. The chorus is definitely a paid up member of the ‘sing-along’ society and the interjections of the stylish fiddle playing are quite sublime. A song that makes you want to jump up and dance, self-confident and dapper.
After the flippancy of the previous track things become slightly more serious again with Wonderful Day, the guitar has a fragility to it and Lee’s vocal begins with a purposefulness before opening up with an injection of levity. This track reminds me a bit of Seth Lakeman with a Northern contrast, it is pared back but the fiddle once again adds lustre and finesse and the counter-play with the accordion is just brilliant. I get the impression that Lee and his fellow musicians must put on quite a live experience, I will have to go find out for myself. The Country Song does exactly what it says on the tin, Lee’s vocal having an age-old timbre to it. This track has a touch of simple country rock to it but with a definite Britishness at its core, humorous and playful, it is like a serious version of The Wurzels with its metaphorical cap set at an impish angle.
Heading right back up mainstream road Don’t Care About Tomorrow is a catchy, high-tempo sing along that really gets under your skin and into your mind. The feel good factor is turned up to ten and smiles are obligatory. The backing vocals are stylish and harmonised and the piano and keyboards really add a grown up note. Folk takes an unapologetic back seat and the good times roll. Throw in a guitar solo and you can’t really ask for much more as Lee shows he is definitely not a one trick pony, Ed Sheeran eat your heart out! Hang on, what’s this? Have I just been transported to a smoke filled jazz joint? Night Circus is all Martin Taylor-esque guitars and funky rhythms as Lee swiftly shifts focus once again. The chorus and backing vocals have a real feel of original R&B to them, you know what? this guy has some real musical chops and, just to top it off, we have a smooth as caramel sax solo thrown in, outstanding! Intricate guitar work and super cool percussion just add to the effortless skill on show, the suave close to the track is just sublime.
On your first listen to Misty Morning Blues you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported across the Atlantic and into mid-town America. With a vocal style akin to John Denver and music that wouldn’t seem out of place on an Eagles album this is Americana inspired country rock that reminds me of Abel Ganz and that is no mean comparison. Enchanting yet heartfelt, there is a real depth of emotion at the heart of this genuinely sincere song, when the flute floats in it just adds the final part of this beguiling musical jigsaw. Honest to its core, One Day is a wistful, whimsical delight. The pared back to basics guitar is ethereal and bewitching and Lee’s vocal has a charming candor to it so you take everything at face value. Suave and sophisticated, when the percussion joins in, it has a real smooth jazz feel to it, a lightness of being that you feel is catching as your soul leaves your body to join the party. Without a worry in the world, you are just left to enjoy this unruffled delight.
Too soon we come to the final track on the album and a return to folk-focused beginnings, albeit with a country rock edge. The guitar and accordion focused introduction to A Crooked Mile Home has a solemn, melancholy note to it as if the subject is a weighty one. Lee gives his most grave vocal performance yet, all serious and mournful and you can’t help but become involved in the dignified and subdued atmosphere. The trombone and accordion add the required saturnine and sober edge to the yearning quality of the vocals. A starkly graceful song to close out this exquisite album.
Music often astounds me in the way that, when you think you’ve heard it all, something comes along to amaze and inspire you with its brilliance. I had never heard of Lee Maddison before that fateful day but this discovery is one of the best of recent years. 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.
To whet your appetite for the forthcoming new E.P. ‘Magnet’, here’s a live version of the first track from the E.P. – ‘Magnet in Your Face’ recorded during rehearsals at The New Empowering Church. Filmed by Ashley Jones for The Chaos Engineers.
‘Magnet’ is the cult North London instrumentalists The Fierce And The Dead’s first new material in two years and is released this August via Bad Elephant Music. The critically acclaimed band’s new EP features 6 songs including 3 new tracks, a re-recording of the song Flint from the band’s first album and 2 songs recorded live in rehearsal (one of these is a bonus on the CD). The EP is released on the 14th of August, the week before TFATD play the Arctangent festival alongside acts including Dillinger Escape Plan, 65daysofstatic and Deerhoof.
“I think this EP represents a different sound for us, it’s important to keep moving forward. It more joyous and intense with bigger riffs and more of an electronic feel.” says Dead guitarist Matt Stevens. Bassist & Producer Kevin Feazey continues “We’re doing what we want to do. Full circle. Back to sounding like the bands we grew up with, from Nuclear Assault to Boards of Canada. Every record we’ve put out has had it’s own character and story, with different sounds and a different reality for each”.
The band are currently in the process of recording their third studio album for release next year and are playing a few select live dates and festivals. Drummer Stuart Marshall describes the new material as “f****** terrifying”.
You can listen to the first song from the EP and pre-order it from the BEM sales page:
“A soundtrack for the current generation”, The Fierce and the Dead have a new EP on the way. For those unfamiliar with these ‘funny music’ pioneers they play instrumental music with a huge amount of substance, powerful and majestic with sheer brutality in places yet they can turn their hands to pensive and thoughtful or expressive just as easy.
“I think this EP represents a different sound for us, it’s important to keep moving forward. It more joyous and intense with bigger riffs and more of an electronic feel.” says Dead guitarist Matt Stevens. Bassist & Producer Kevin Feazey continues “We’re doing what we want to do. Full circle. Back to sounding like the bands we grew up with, from Nuclear Assault to Boards of Canada. Every record we’ve put out has had it’s own character and story, with different sounds and a different reality for each”.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating and the limited run of 250 CDs is looking as if it will sell out before the 14th August release date so get one whilst you can!
Stand out track – Palm Trees
Due to be released on 14th August 2015 via Bad Elephant Music.
I was a late comer to the Echolyn party and it wasn’t until 2012’s self-titled release that I discovered their captivating style of progressive rock. Storytelling by music, getting to the heart of the matter and opening up small town America, I have heard them called the US’s answer to Big Big Train. To me that is a compliment to both bands, they play music that will engross you and lift your soul. Sometimes a band can come very close to perfection with a new release and this album is as close to a must buy album as I’ve heard this year.
Stepping out of my usual comfort zone, this next release is forged from the fires of alt-country. Wilco have been around for a while and I have dallied with their music before to no avail for my record collection and their bank balance. This time, due to a free download on the band’s website, I may have finally found an album from the band that I can appreciate in every facet. Fast paced and energetic, there is also a darker core explored on some of the tracks. There is a slight progressive note to a couple of the tracks but, overall, it is quite a gem of an alternative country focused album.
CD release date 21st August 2015 , Vinyl 27th November 2015
I featured the new Parzivals Eye release ‘Defragments’ earlier this month and, as is my want, I have gone back in time to the original 2009 release ‘Fragments’ to find that, to my ears, it is even better. Ex RPWL bassist Chris Postl’s solo project is a multi-faceted delight. Soaring soundscapes, brilliant vocals (Christina Booth and Alan Reed) and some superb guitar work (Ian Bairnson) all combine to produce an album of high quality neo-progressive music that really should be in your collection.
For the majority of us our childhood was a place full of fond memories. They invoke sepia tinged images of innocence and happiness before the realities of the big bad world that is out there begin to sink in.
You know the saying, ‘regressed to their childhood’, when you no longer have a care in the world and the simplest things give you joy and bring a smile to your face.
I get that familiar warm glow begin to envelop me when I listen to certain albums or music, a feeling like a big hug, a freshly made bed or the smells of coffee and toast wafting across your nostrils. They may be simplistic ideals but they are the catalyst for complex emotions in your mind and soul.
There was one album recently that invoked these feelings intensely, Tiger Moth Tales’ debut release ‘Cocoon’. ‘Cocoon’ is a concept album on the subject of Childhood, and coming to terms with the loss of childhood. The journey goes through stages of Innocence, joy, imagination, stories, friendship, love, nature, nostalgia, grief, acceptance and rebirth.
There is a very interesting story behind Tiger Moth Tales and it goes something like this…..
Tiger Moth Tales is essentially the brain child of Nottinghamshire based musician and writer Peter Jones, who has been involved in the music industry performing around the UK and recording his own material since the late 90s.
(photo copyright Martin Reijman)
Pete, (35) was born on October 6th 1980. At fifteen months he lost his sight due to Retinoblastoma. From an early age he was into all things musical and at the age of four had his first piano. Peter composed from an early age, usually in the form of improvisations which he would capture on his cassette recorder.
He studied music and music technology and performed in bands singing and playing jazz, swing, rock and classical pieces. On leaving school in 1999 he formed the successful duo 2 to Go with friend and vocalist Emma Paine.
Over the next ten years they became one of the most successful duos on the circuit performing at clubs and corporate events around the UK and abroad. During that time they were finalists in the BBC’s Star For A Night in 2001 and ITV’s ‘The X Factor’ in 2004. They went on to appear in the National Arena X Factor Tour which followed in 2005.
in 2010 Pete had his first official album release with ‘Look At Me Now’. This self penned and produced album was a collection of songs from the previous 10 years, including different Genres but with an overall adult contemporary feel. ‘Look At Me Now’ enjoyed good sales online and also on the road, and the plan was to start work on a follow up album in a similar vein.
At the beginning of 2013, Pete started work on a new project. This took the form of a concept album, and it was the first progressive music he had written since he was a teenager. Throughout 2013 he continued to write and record new progressive music and by October 2013 ‘Cocoon’, the new album, was complete.
July 2015 sees the release of the much anticipated follow up to ‘Cocoon’, ‘Story Tellers Part One’……..
After seeing an internet challenge to conceive and record an album in the month of February 2015, Peter Jones was inspired to get back into the studio.
To record an album in 28 days was quite the challenge but armed with a vivid imagination and his childhood memories, Pete has written seven songs based on some of the classic children stories he listened to as a young boy.
He has put his unique twist to such classic tales as Sleeping Beauty, The PiedPiper of Hamelin and The Three Billy Goats Gruff, and for those of you who like fantastic instrumentation and stunning vocal performances, look no further.
The introduction to Beauty Falls (Part one of Sleeping Beauty)is like a Disney trumpet overture played on keys and gives you an immediate impression of a playfulness and childish joy to the music before it opens up in a very similar vein to the opening credits of Red Dwarf (if you don’t believe me, go have another listen..), all low key pomp and circumstance. Then Peter’s intricate guitar playing leads you into the song along with some humorous keyboards. There is pantomime feel to this instrumental as it gallops along at a fair lick with all manner of amusing sound effects going off around you. Moments of clarity and fairy tale magic are interspersed among the jocularity and the intelligent songwriting of Peter Jones is already coming to the fore as everything comes to a more grown up, serious conclusion.
Maturity enters the fray with Story Tellers and the high jinks and fantasy are put on the back burner just for a short while. A subdued and sober piano note introduces the song before Peter’s earnest vocals begin, a voice that convey a real wide range of emotions, here it is thoughtful and intent. This song is all about the highs and lows of writing the stories and the lyrics convey those emotions perfectly. The music winds around your mind and your soul and envelops you in its embrace. There is a longevity to the story that will always outlive the writer and that adds a slight tone of sadness that can be felt in both the vocals and the music. The track then opens up with an extended keyboard run of increasing dexterity that lifts an melancholia and Peter adds a winsome tone to his vocals in a children’s TV style. This song is all about leaving an enduring legacy for those that follow and it closes having performed that task to a tee.
Beauty Sleeps (no surprise that this is part two of Sleeping Beauty) opens with a delicately strummed classical guitar full of grace and refinement. It has a finesse to it that befits a princess and her story and also shows off Peter Jones’ instrumental prowess, it may just be me but I get ‘Cavatina’ (the theme from Deer Hunter for the Luddites out there) running through my mind everytime I hear certain instrumental sections of this song, not a bad comparison I’d have thought. It holds you in a trance-like state as the simple beauty of the music washes over you, seeming to cleanse your musical soul with the elegance of the guitar and the charming flute note. This is no merely simple piece though, there is a complexity at the heart, it is just delivered in such a genial manner that you can take it in so easily. Overall it is uplifting and inspiring and leaves your soul soaring.
Right, that’s enough of the inspirational, the whimsical and the charming, where is the ‘batshit crazy’ I remember from ‘Cocoon’? Ah, here it is and aren’t we in for a treat. A Kids Tale is based on the story of Billy Goat Gruffyet with the wacky humour turned up to 11, I challenge you to listen to this track and not be smiling like an inane lunatic by the end. Box of frogs? It’s as mad as whole container load from the bleating in the background of the introduction and the irreverent instrumental run in right through the Benny Hill Theme inspired section to Peter’s regional accent infused vocal. Just imagine if Disney had employed SpikeMilligan and Michael Bentine to bring the story to film and you’ll have some idea of the off kilter humour that runs throughout it. The lyrics are inspired, “Hold on, you were about to bite my head off and now you’re lecturing me on morality….”, “Fair enough, on you go….”. Mad andtouched with a kind of insane genius that could only be English, this guy has definitely been out in the midday sun. There is a touch of music hall to the playing that runs throughout, especially the dancing piano, it is one of the most mirth filled, tongue in cheek songs I have heard in quite a while, the joyful singing of the three goats that closes out the song being a perfect ending.
The Quest for Beauty (Sleeping Beauty part three) brings us back to the more contemplative feel of the earlier tracks with a triumphant note to the introduction and Peter’s deadpan vocals that open up into a delightful chorus, did I say that this guy can really sing? This is a down-to-earth, astute musical fairytale where the hero must overcome arduous tasks to save the heroine and the music is sympathetic to that more grown up feel whilst never losing the magic that is the core to the best of these stories. The vibrant feel builds up as we come to the close of the latest chapter in the tale, more to follow…….
There is a dark humour at the core of The Piper, the introduction has all the markings of a dangerously funny musical like Sweeney Todd and is delivered in a fashion akin to Gilbert and Sullivan with overblown, pompous characters you can tell are heading for an ignominious downfall. Peter does all the different voices with aplomb, investing the Mayor and townsfolk with a farcical side and giving the piper of the title a sinister, darker edge that makes your skin crawl just a tiny bit. The lyrics are full of slapstick, absurd humour that works perfectly with the feel of the track, “You need to take stock, there’s a rat in my sock….!”, “Oh God no, it’s running up me trousers….”. There is a conveyor belt of whipcrackingly comical phrases that keep you laughing out loud. You feel a mysterious thrall take over the song when the piper arrives and whenever he speaks, a dangerous man who you shouldn’t cross. The track grips you for all of its near thirteen minute length and, despite the fact we know how the tale unfolds, you feel yourself holding your breath wondering what is going to happen next. That is the measure of the skill of a songwriting storyteller like Peter Jones, he puts you right in the middle of the story as if you were really there. A deliciously menacing track with a touch of the macabre to it, just remember how the Child Catcher from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ used to make you hold your breath and hide (and you loved it!) and you’ll know exactly what i mean.
The final part to the Sleeping Beauty saga closes out this superb album, Beauty Awakes starts with a jubilant and exulted instrumental section topped with touches of magical fairy dust that skips lightly across your mind leaving hints of playful abandon where ever it has been. Peter Jones finishes the song and album with the expected happy ending, his lyrics touching on the fact that we know the outcomes of these fairytales but we just cannot get enough of them, “The story will never end….”, indeed it won’t Peter my friend, not with musical maestros like you around….
Well, Peter Jones has delivered what is, to my ears, 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. Peter is one of the pre-eminent songwriters out there today and has given us a little piece of wonder to enjoy, roll on Part Two.
Prolific musician Arny Wheatley returns with his latest album under the Geof Whitely Project’ pseudonym. The laid back, electronic 80’s style feel of previous works is given a spruce up and relaunched with a classy and smooth delivery. The rather memorable guitar work and laconic vocals are still in place and, as such, it is very much ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ but no less impressive for that. And what about that album artwork, deliciously spooky eh?
Stand out track – The Hunter
To be released 31st October 2015, full review to follow.
That is a saying often attributed to sporting prowess but it really does apply in the musical world as well. Bristolian Saul Blease released his debut album ‘Daybreak’ at the end of 2014 and I really liked it. I went so far as to say:
“Excellent songwriting showing a depth of knowledge well beyond his nineteen years and an ear for an addictive tune combine to deliver an album that pleases on many levels.”
Saul returns with new electronic project Northwoods and a debut E.P. ‘Black Skies’ and, darn me, if he hasn’t gone and done it again! 4 killer tracks that really grab your attention. Yes it might not be for your ‘died in the wool’ traditional progressive fan but, in my opinion, there is enough in there to keep any music fan involved and happy.
This year has seen some rather excellent releases already and, thanks to a friend’s recommendation, another contender arrived at Progradar towers recently. I don’t like the word ‘folkish’ but this album has definite tendencies in that direction. It also has a whole host of other influences including soul, country blues and even some R&B hidden in there and they all combine to produce as near as perfect a summer album, for those with progressive and folk leanings, as could possibly be envisaged. Just buy it……
Sadly now on an indefinite hiatus, British progressive band Flicker came to everyone’s attention with this 2013 release. Interwoven melody lines and rhythms dynamically combine with intricate arrangements, thoughtful lyrics and the use of the appropriate sound or genre necessary to convey the meaning and feeling of a song. A distinctive vocal and powerful music delivery complete what is a rather good album and one that should be in your collection.
To be still at the forefront of progressive rock over forty years since their inception in 1974 The Enid are the definition of ‘enduring’ as is their popularity with their fanbase of enthusiastic supporters.
Their unique and individualistic style of progressive rock does not appeal to all but, when you are hooked by the beauty, efficacy and intricacy of it all, you will become a lifelong follower.
The band use music as a saga teller, creating huge soundscapes and classical influences to lead you on an all encompassing musical journey that will captivate and enrapture your sensibilities.
An excerpt from the band history on the website goes on to say….
“Formed among friends in 1974 The Enid invented a school of intelligent powerful romantic popular music which is unique to them. It is now clear that over more than thirty years they have developed an exceptional approach to music creation in the sense that there are no generic limitations whatever placed on bands ability to create their music.
The Enid “school of art” for want of a better description, is free from constraints of template rock/pop where rhythm, harmony and melody are invariably dictated by the traditions, prejudices and limitations associated with style.
Under the tutelage of Robert John Godfrey, The Enid set out to avoid the obvious traps; the learned/received riff based music which distinguishes so much rock – the well trodden harmonic progressions – familiar melodic lines and stock-in-trade rhythms.
They were also the first band to be funded entirely by their fans which became the obvious way ahead after losing their recording contract with the now defunct PYE records. This was a revolutionary concept when first deployed in the early 1980’s and led to the current situation with bands as diverse as Marillion, Radiohead and Hawkwind following this lead.”
There have been many changes to the band line-up over the years, the current being founder members Robert John Godfrey (pianist, composer and mastermind) and Dave Storey (drums), vocalist and charismatic frontman Joe Payne, Jason Ducker (guitar and lots of other stuff), Max Read (bass, keyboards and loads of other stuff) and Dominic Tofield (drums and dab hand at design).
There have been many albums down the years yet 2012’s ‘Invicta’ saw a relative resurgence for this niche, cult band. The Enid have followed this up with ‘The Bridge’, the first in a trilogy of albums which will focus on the development of members Joe Payne, Jason Ducker and Max Read.
On this release Robert and Joe wanted to further explore the classical elements of the band’s music in finer detail. The orchestral arrangements and vocals are accompanied by Jason’s symphonic guitar textures and Max’s choral arrangements. The stunning artwork is the exceptional work of drummer Dominic Tofield and gives this release an indicative gravitas as soon as you see it.
‘The Bridge’ is a collection of mainly re-imagined versions of songs from the vast back catalogue of the band and a bit of a risky one at that as it feature next to no percussive elements at all, only relying on the amazing piano skills of Robert and Joe’s impressive vocal skills to deliver the expected symphonic power.
Earthborn takes a delicate route to introduce the album with the vocals gradually increasing in force backed by the empathetic piano and wind instruments to deliver a romantically inspired opening that could have come straight out of London’s West End theatres. Gentle, humble and yet with a steely core, it captivates you with an uplifting grace. Atmospheric and almost operatic in its delivery ‘Til We’re Old is a brief but powerful piece where the voice and piano provide impressive counterpoints to each other with a slightly suspenseful and quizzical note. What it lacks in length it certainly makes up with substance.
Dark Corner of the Sky opens with a hushed piano and then Joe’s dulcet vocals join in what is a slightly sombre sounding beginning. Joe Payne’s heartfelt delivery is as seductive as it is powerful, almost beseeching you as it impacts on your psyche. Max Read’s sympathetic choral arrangement delivers an ethereal feeling, a seductive spell that you never want to break. Now to a track that seems to split opinion, Bad Men has a nervous jocularity to it with its simple (yet effective) lyrics and ever present hint of mild insanity. One reviewer who was less than impressed said: “it is a track that tries its hardest to be politically relevant to British politics, yet falls flat with lyrics.” I have to disagree, to me it has a hint of the a melodramatic Gilbert and Sullivan comedy opera to it, slightly tongue in cheek. It flows majestically in places and, in others, hammers at you like a persistent and petulant child. Not my favourite track on the album but one that rises above the merely good with its sense of humour.
The introduction to My Gravity lifts you up and takes you away to a place of pomp and circumstance and classical beauty. For all you know, you could be at the Royal Albert Hall listening to some classical masterpiece before it segues into an engrossing cinematic style that would befit a 1950’s Hollywood blockbuster. There is a vivid melodrama at the heart of this affecting song. Joe’s voice has a tender catch to it and the choral arrangements once again impress. As impressive as it is on record, this would be an almighty piece of music in a live setting as Joe reaches the heights with his fervent and earnest voice and the whole track has you committed from the first note, a superb and enduring song. Adding lyrics to previous instrumentals is the USP of this latest album and that can be seen to the best and most striking effect on Wings (a reworking of the track ‘La Rage’ from 1988 release ‘The Seed and the Sower) where Joe’s deeply moving lyrics are undeniably the icing on the cake of a wondrous track. Deeply moving and emotional, it is the highlight of this arresting record. Starting from humble beginnings, the vocals dance around you and insinuate your every pore, like a sinuous vocal dance around your aural receptors. Ardent and profound, there is a sincerity deeply ingrained in this incredibly passionate and poignant song. The musical arrangements are precise and yet flow with a allure and artistry and help deliver a profoundly stirring and moving work of musical art.
First Light takes the sophisticated choral arrangements to another level. The voices intertwining and harmonising to brilliant effect. A slow and deliberate tempo holds you in sway as the music washes over you to leave you in a musical state of grace. The whole album is composed of music that demands your attention and makes you stop what you’re doing and concentrate on what is put before you and no more so than on this singular slice of wonderment. The segue into Autumn is seamless, your trance like state retained. This time the music is just as conducive to your utterly relaxed and calm state of mind, providing a perfect foil for the beguiling voice of Joe Payne. When the song opens up and releases its full potential you are knocked back by the power and the glory in its ultimate wisdom, the ending an uplifting culmination of all that has come before.
When you listen to ‘The Bridge’ the merely good is transformed into the sublime and exalted.The Enid have delivered a set of songs that enable you to take time away from your hectic life and give you a melodic treat of great magnitude, the closest thing to a legal high, an oasis of calm in a world of chaos. Yes, it will not appeal to all with its delicate sensibilities but, for me, it is something that, once I have heard, I cannot ever do without.
I must ad mit to a vested interest in this release as my alter-ego is PR Chief for Bad Elephant Music, the label that the album was released on but this is a fair review and not biased in any way (your Honour) so please sit back and enjoy.
To me Music is more than a mere soundtrack, it has become a part of my life. Music is a treasure that I seek out at any given opportunity.
“A painter paints pictures on canvas. But musicians paint their pictures on silence.” – Leopold Stokowski
That is one of my favourite quotes because I don’t like to live my life in silence, I fill every pause and every gap in my whole being with the joy of music and one of my favourite things is finding an artist whose work I have never had the pleasure of hearing before. It is like hidden treasure that is unearthed and unveiled in all its glory, to wash over you and become part of your life.
I have to ask the question of where this artist or musician has been all my life, why have I not heard their music before? But I cannot berate myself in any way, I just need to enjoy the fact that I now can appreciate that music in my life every day. The musician in question this time is the mercurial jh, a solo artist from London. jh is the nom de guerre of Jon Hunt, he writes, arranges, performs and mixes all his material himself, with the exception of some of the drums.
It is impossible to describe jh’s music in a nutshell, as the only ethos he has is to make exactly the music he wants with no regard to commercial thought. This makes him extremely difficult to market, but more importantly his integrity remains intact. His albums hearken back to the spirit of the ‘album’ as being an artform in itself, jh’s music is eclectic, honest, and quintessentially English. His recordings are startlingly honest pieces of work that reveal more and more on each listen.
There have been three previous albums, all of which have been self-released, 2008’s ‘Truth and Bullshit’, 2011’s ‘Wanderlust’ and 2013’s ‘So Much Promise’.
2015 has seen jh link up with the eclectic record label Bad Elephant Music to release a fourteen track compilation of his most iconic tracks to date. ‘Morning Sun’ will be released to an expectant public on March 16th and Jon took a minute to talk about the record and his link up with BEM.
“Morning Sun is a 14-track, 77-minute retrospective of my three albums to date (Truth & Bullshit (2008), Wanderlust (2011) and So Much Promise (2013)). I have tried to showcase all aspects and styles of my music, and sequence it all in a coherent way.
I have had some complaints and sarcastic comments regarding songs I have left off at the expense of some of those included, but this will always happen with compilations unless you burn yourself a personal CD!
I’m very happy with it, and I thank David Elliott of Bad Elephant Music for letting me have free rein to choose the tracks myself. It’s great to be working with BEM, as they have such an array of talent, and everyone involved with the label from the CEO to the acts absolutely lives and breathes music.
The fact that David and Co. enjoy and understand mine is a great feeling, as you don’t usually associate this kind of affinity with the term ‘Record Label’! I’m looking forward to a long and rewarding partnership.”
Enough talking, time to immerse myself in this labour of love……
The first song Next Time begins with a welcoming introduction that takes you straight into Jon’s distinctive vocals, like Billy Bragg with a personality transplant. This slightly lilting and melancholic track is definitive of that singer/ songwriter style song with expressive and clever lyrics and a velvety touch to the music. The earnest vocal delivery and classy guitar add a touch of elegance to the hometown feel. I Wanna Spend my Summer With a Rich Girl flies into view like The Beatles chased by Blur in a fiery coach and horses. It doesn’t just make your ears prick up as hit them with a taser! The jangly guitar note and wide boy vocals are instantly catchy and it runs along at a rollicking pace with a huge grin on its face. Jon takes some of the better elements of Britpop and melds them to his own recipe to produce a song that couldn’t come from anywhere but England, the chorus is a work of genius. Originally part of the 40 minute London Road Suite on ‘Wanderlust’ the next track London Road gives a hint of the more progressive and expressive side to jh. The song begins with a measured and meaningful introduction, a gentle piano and Jon’s wistful vocal invoking in you a nostalgic and pensive state of mind. When the strings join in it brings a lump up in my throat, I get the feeling it is a nod to sepia tinted past where life, whilst being hard, was much more simplistic. As the track builds up and gets into its stride your mind opens to the poetic vista that the music hints at. A painfully beautiful song that leaves you with a sense of loss as it comes to a close.
The off-beat ending to the previous song is a perfect introduction to Lucy’s Party and you are transported to the pop sensibilities of the 1980’s. More highbrow than some of the nonsensical fare from that decade, there is inventiveness to this track and it has more than a hint of mischief to it. The vocals are delivered in a style more akin to spoken word and the clever use of the drum machine adds that feel of big hair and bigger collars that the decade that taste forgot will always imbue. Wartime Spirit is a song that has an intimacy to its core, one man and his guitar playing to a rapt audience. The pared back acoustic guitar and heartfelt vocals draw you in and, when it opens out and blossoms with the clever drum sound, you nod in silent appreciation, a serious yet approachable track with honesty deep at its heart. Quirky from the start Fort Dunlop has an off-kilter and slightly chaotic feel to it as it messes with your head. The initial instrumental seems to be deliberately obtuse and out there with a drum beat that seems set to random, it is a cacophony of noise that imparts a delicious agony to your eardrums. There is a feel of a David Lynch film soundtrack going on here as it moves into an electronic jazz vibe unlike any other track on the album, you are kept guessing at every turn with this song ,it is not for the faint hearted but you get out of it what you put in.
A nod to Pop-Punk with its grungy, reverb heavy guitar and antsy vocals In Ascension is raw and earthy and a short, sharp punch to the kidneys. Almost like a musical palate cleanser after the intensity of the previous two tracks, it holds nothing back and is a riotous alternative to the sophistication elsewhere. An ethereal track with a hint of discord hidden behind the beauteous exterior Angels begins with a subdue gentility and an apprehension that leaves you holding your breath, almost unable to move. The subtle use of a distorted guitar leaves a trail of dissonance to be followed on this intelligent and idiosyncratic piece of music. As the tension builds and the vocals take a digitised note the hairs on the back of your neck begin to rise. There is such expressionism deep at the coal face of this music, it is captivating and holds you rapt in attention as it plays with your sensibilities. After the haunting, fierce aura of the previous track I’ll See You Tomorrow in a Different Light has a delicate fragility and refinement to it. Subtle instrumentation and an earnest vocal with an emotional catch combine as the song glides in like a breath of fresh air. Another composition solidly in the singer/songwriter style, I love its underlying simplicity and modesty. Taking the social commentary of a Paul Weller and imbuing it with a guitar note reminiscent of 60’s pop, it takes you on a sun-kissed musical journey that leaves a touch of joy in your soul.
What comes next is simply jaw-dropping, taking the progressive-rock mantle and running with it full tilt, Making Tea is Freedom requires you to take eighteen minutes out of your day, sit down, put the headphones on and forget about everything else. When I first heard this multi-faceted track, I just played it straight back again, it’s that good, jh takes all of his influences and puts them into one big melting pot. There is the social commentary of Billy Bragg and Paul Weller, the alternative style of Talk Talk, the Britpop feel of Blur and the progressive tendencies of Porcupine Tree and Genesis but, that is all they are, influences, Jon takes them into himself and gives them some a part of his own soul to deliver a monumental musical epic that shakes you down to your roots. An acoustic guitar that seems more than three-dimensional takes the helm and drives the early part of the song on its fateful route. A hesitant and understated vocal provides the narration, leading you to a crossroads where you wonder what direction you will be taken in next. A flamenco hued guitar grabs your attention and roots you to the spot before your world is turned upside down. A guitar note that has a sinister undertone creeps into your psyche and makes your skin crawl a little, in an enjoyable manner. The middle part of the track is an instrumental smorgasbord of ideas all held together by that distinctive, raw-edged guitar note and transfixes you in its full on glare. The piquant musical onslaught continues unabated, running through your very soul before it breaks onto your aural receptors and you are left empty as the musical landscape turns bleaker. In your mind, an open, blasted vista appears before you, waiting to be populated by the music as you focus on that sound hailing from the distance. The drama comes full circle as Jon’s powerful vocal leads the final moments of euphoria and his superb guitar playing brings this monumental track to a close. A full on rock track as heavy as they come, like a wall of sound pressing you against your chair, The Sky is Breaking is BIG in every sense. A demonstrative vocal allied with a crunching guitar note and a huge drum sound fill every silence and shout from the rooftops on this enjoyable romp. Reminiscent of The Who at their pomp but with Jon’s distinctive touches, it is one of my favourite tracks on the album, especially that notable guitar sound that has an unending depth to it. Your ears are left with a not unpleasant ringing sound in them as it comes to a triumphal close. Collapse has an anecdotal feel to it, a tender, heartfelt vocal accompanying the ever present acoustic guitar that has rapidly become synonymous with this intriguing artist. With an integrity that comes deep from his heart, it is powerful and soul stirring.
Something’s Happening Here sees Jon take his guitar and enjoy himself again, another fast paced escapade that carries you in its wake, kicking and screaming as you try and rein it in. However, there is a seriousness deep down that surfaces now and again, an antidote to the frivolous feel, one that would be sure to be a live favourite with its sing-along chorus and high energy delivery. This superb collection of songs has to, unfortunately, come to a close at some point and the final track is aptly called The End. It does have feeling of finality to it, amongst the gentle fragility and sorrowful note of the vocals. The whole song is contemplative and forlorn and plucks at the heartstrings with the feelings of loss and yearning that it engenders in your heart and soul. A sublime and rarefied track that brings to mind 10CC and I’m Not in Love and leaves you glad to have listened to it but sad that it is over.
This is a compilation of songs that are thoughtful and thought provoking from a musician who is comfortable in his own skin and has found his own niche. Eclectic, quirky and off-beat jh may be but, overall, there is something rather clever and intelligent at the core of it all. Distinctly English and proud of it and one of the best singer/songwriters at play today, you could do hell of a lot worse than invest in this release.