Review – Looking Glass Lantern – Candlelight and Empire – by James R. Turner

A few years ago when I plied my trade for an alternative online prog magazine (not that they were alternative, just it was a different one that isn’t this one…. anyway…) I reviewed in fairly quick succession the debut and second album by Looking Glass Lantern‘A Tapestry of Tales’ & ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, both based upon Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.

Both albums were the creation of multi-instrumentalist and composer Professor Graham Dunnington, and when you get the press release through for this new album, one that’s been 3 years in the making, and see that one of the quotes come from your review, ‘A superb fusion of Victoriana and prog. Almost a new genre in fact, can I get away with calling it Steamprog?’  You do feel quite chuffed to have accidentally created another genre (prior to me christening Rushdenbeat, and coining the term Britprog back in the mid 90’s) and get quoted in the press release.

Anyway it’s not all about me, it’s all about the music, and Looking Glass Lantern present their third album, and for the first time it is an original story.

Written and performed again by Graham Dunnington, it is also the first time he has released his records on CD, and so you get the full story in the lyrics and the sleeve notes, and the subtly understated artwork, all of which brings the narrative to life.

The previous albums (being based on literary works) had an obvious narrative drive of which the focus was just as much, if not more so on the words than the music, allowing the lyrics to shape and drive the album, and as this is a style that suits Dunningtons compositional skills, this album follows suit.

I mentioned in my previous reviews that this particular style could be compared with the Alan Parsons Project, and on this particular record Dunnington is stepping away from those comparisons. Of course it’s concept driven, there’s huge elements of traditional prog and narrative driven songs in it, and as a consequence, yes it’s going to be linked to that sub genre of prog. It’s not a bad thing; I have always loved an album that tells a story as long as the stories good, and this is a belter.

Professor Dunnington is fascinated with all things Victorian, and this drills down to the minutiae of an average Victorian household in the 1890’s.

Split into two parts, Part One is a series of interconnected songs that introduce us to the world of the servants who look after the family, thus we are treated to the quartet of songs, which do exactly as they say on the tin, The Maid, The Girl Nobody Knows (which gives us more insight into the life of the maid), The Cook, and The Governess and the Children. Those familiar with period dramas like Upstairs, Downstairs, House of Eliot, Downton Abbey and their ilk, are probably already familiar with the life ‘below stairs’ and in a nice introductory paragraph at the start of the booklet, there is a clever link to the occupants of the house today, with their own live in help the ‘au pair’ who, in these modern days of cost cutting does the job of three people, being cook/Maid and Governess.

Like the Looking Glass Lantern’s previous albums, based on Sherlock Holmes novels, there is as much emphasis placed on the lyrics as the music, and the album is as much a vehicle for the narrative as the music, and whilst it may seem a tad wordy at times, the strength of the music carries it through, and the skill of Dunnington’s composition skills helps pull both the story and music together.

There are some sublime instrumental moments on this album, the guitar work on The Governess and the Children for instance, whilst the vibe throughout is of a mellower vein. If you’re looking for something on the heavy end you’re in the wrong place.

This mixes Victoriana, narrative driven prog and instrumental dexterity that weaves in elements of rock and folk.

Being a versatile multi-instrumentalist Dunnington pulls some superb keyboard work out on The Angel of the Home, the track introducing the Mother to the story, whilst the final track of part 1, The Husband, neatly collects all the characters into one place.

Part 2, is what’s known as ‘the long track’ and if part 1 was the prologue, part 2 is the story proper.

A traditional tale of a middle class Victorian dinner party, with the hosts, the Husbands business partner and his wife, and the local Vicar.

A cast that normally sounds like a typical Ray Cooney/Brian Rix farce, however this is far from farcical, as all the modern (for the day) topics are digested, along with the meal, with discourse about politics, the Empire, the monarchy and all other topics of the day.

This is rounded off by a closing reprise of the opener the Maid, who is closing the house down, just like she opened it up, and closes the album with a nice flourish.

This is very much traditional story telling prog at it’s finest, and whilst it might not be everyone’s cup of earl Gray served up in a nice china mug, it fits nicely into that niche created by artists like The Alan Parsons Project, Rick Wakeman (during his big concept phase) and other artists like Gandalf’s Fist, who can take the narrative concept and turn it into a coherent musical whole.

If you enjoyed the first two albums this is a worthy return from the Looking Glass Lantern, if you’ve never heard them before, then it’s a great place to start.

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