James LaBrie announces new album ‘Beautiful Shade of Grey’

Launches first single “Devil In Drag”

James LaBrie, known internationally as the vocalist for progressive metal icons Dream Theater, embarks on uncharted waters with his fourth solo album, titled ‘Beautiful Shade of Grey’, out 20th May 2022. Today sees the launch of the album’s first single and opening track, “Devil In Drag”, and you can watch the Wayne Joyner-produced video here: 

The new endeavor sees him traverse personal maturation, loss, a myriad of complex relationships, and most importantly – LaBrie’s burning passion for music. On paper, the latest studio offering from the Canadian singer first took shape shortly after the global pandemic began to emerge. But in reality, LaBrie formed a bond with his fellow collaborator, bassist Paul Logue (Eden’s Curse), nearly a decade earlier. 

The two first met in 2011, when James would lend his voice to a feature for Logue’s band, UK melodic metal outfit Eden’s Curse, on the song “No Holy Man”. As years went by the two remained in touch, occasionally kicking the tires on the idea of working together on another project. But when Dream Theater performed in Glasgow during the late winter of 2020, LaBrie and Logue would run into each other at the airport – once again asking the question. But this time, armed with the knowledge that a drastic change in the world was all but imminent, LaBrie made the decision to set things in motion.

On the album, Logue plays acoustic rhythm guitar (both six & twelve string) and acoustic bass, while guitarist Marco Sfogli, who’s contributed on all of LaBrie’s solo albums since 2005’s ‘Elements of Persuasion’, handled the leads and solos. Logue recruited Eden’s Curse keyboardist Christian Pulkkinen to lend his playing on the record, while the suggestion to recruit James’s son Chance to play drums would also come from Paul. ‘Beautiful Shade of Grey’, as LaBrie describes it, was a title that only came to him once he identified the record’s two core themes throughout its track list. “A lot of these lyrics are dealing with the beauty of human beings, and a lot are dealing with the grey areas of the in between. You’re not exactly happy, but you’re not exactly sad, either.”

The record starts off (and ends) with the track “Devil In Drag”, which emerges as a wall of synthesizers and acoustic strumming before exploding into a full-blown ensemble. LaBrie expresses that the song was written about “someone who started out as a decent human being, but along the way lost touch with their roots – overtime becoming self-serving, narcissistic and devoid of principles or values.” Going on to say, “’Devil In Drag’ is written from the perspective of someone who’s known them all their life and, seeing them now, asking ‘what happened?’”

‘Beautiful Shade of Grey’ will be released as a Limited CD Digipak, 180g LP + CD & as Digital Album, with artwork by Thomas Ewerhard. Pre-order now here: https://jameslabrie.lnk.to/BeautifulShadeOfGrey

The full track-listing is as follows:

1.     Devil In Drag

2.    SuperNova Girl

3.     Give And Take

4.     Sunset Ruin

5.     Hit Me Like A Brick

6.     Wildflower

7.     Conscience Calling

8.     What I Missed

9.    Am I Right

10.  Ramble On

11.  Devil In Drag (Electric Version)

Look out for more information in the coming months!

Review – Kenny Bissett – The Balancing Act

Kenny Bissett is an artist, producer, and songwriter in San Antonio, Texas. He is currently the vocalist for the San Antonio Progressive Rock band, Built for the Future. For his solo work, Kenny writes, arranges, and produces each song, and plays guitars, bass, and synthesizers. Kenny also creates and programs drum tracks for his songs. ‘The Balancing Act’ is an album inspired by the idea that we each need to determine what we should keep in our lives, and what we should drop from our lives. Balance.

Sometimes you just want to listen to music that is unpretentious and does exactly what it says on the tin (so to speak). Kenny’s music fits that purview perfectly, the energetic and dynamic guitar and well balanced drum tracks drive the songs on, the bass and synths given a structured framework for everything to work in and his vocals are powerful and compelling.

While on tracks like opener Radiate and Holding Pieces there is a definite Rush comparison (which, by the way, is no bad thing!), the general vibe of the album is less heavy than the Canadian power trio’s signature sound. It’s more akin to Geddy Lee’s oft forgotten wonderful solo album, 2000’s ‘My Favourite Headache’ and this can be heard on the elegant Wake Up with its laid back, urbane feel and the gossamer thin delight of Life and Time, a properly refined and cultured piece of music that shows the intelligence of the musician at its core.

We venture into retro pop-punk with the funky, upbeat edginess of Human Nature, a really vibrant song that gets stuck in your head and even 80’s dark-synth pop with the wonderful pastiche of Imposter Syndrome. This album keeps throwing up surprises at every turn and keeps putting a smile on your face, take the wistful dreamy nostalgia of Lost and Found, a really cool song that never outstays its welcome.

The harder edge returns with the jangling guitars of Balancing Act, there’s almost a stadium rock feel to its expansive soundscape and it brings to mind Gary Numan at the height of his powers to me. Now to my favourite track on this impressive release, Alive is one of those excellent, slow burning songs that builds with layers of potent and forceful energy. The heavy riffing and pulsing rhythm mesmerising and hypnotic, it’s a really anthemic piece of music that just gets under your skin. The album closes with the chiming guitars and reflective musings of Brief Mortal, a song that is almost spiritual in atmosphere and delivery, a suitable introspective end to a very clever record.

Kenny Bissett has delivered a very impressive solo release indeed. Thoughtful and reflective songwriting, combined with some rather impressive musicianship has given us one of the surprise releases of the year and one that deserves a much wider audience!

Released February 2nd, 2022.

Order from bandcamp here:

The Balancing Act | Kenny Bissett (bandcamp.com)

Review – Tiger Moth Tales – A Song of Spring

Much loved multi-instrumental progressive musician Peter Jones returns with his best known project, Tiger Moth Tales, to deliver his much anticipated brand new album ‘A Song of Spring’.

Peter, who is also keyboard player with Camel and Francis Dunnery’s It Bites tells us: “I’m cautiously excited about this album. Ha-ha. I think I’ve taken some interesting decisions (musically speaking), and the stories which inspired the writing process meant there was a lot to work with. I think this is a return to TMT form, which I hope the ‘mothingtons’ will enjoy.

Even as far back as the writing stages of ‘Cocoon’, I already had the idea in mind to do the Four Seasons thing, which started off with ‘The Depths of Winter’ in 2017. A fair few things have happened since then, to say the least.”

He adds: “I have a few albums in my head that I want to complete someday, but the time felt right to continue the Seasons saga. As with ‘The Depths of Winter’, I wanted to touch on both the lighter and darker sides, so it’s not all about the joys of spring. There’s some fairly grim stuff there to get your teeth in to.

It was a real pleasure to work with John and Elizabeth Holden on this album. I can normally come up with a few good tunes, but lyrics can sometimes be illusive. So it was wonderful to have some collaboration on some of these new songs. Tracks such as Rapa Nui and Light have some fantastic lyrics in there. It was also amazing to get a contribution from the one and only Andy Latimer on the latter track. I’m very pleased with it all and I can’t wait to see what people think of it.”

A new Tiger Moth Tales release is always a joyous occasion and this new album is no change. Peter Jones is a consummate musician and performer and has that knack of knowing how to write a catchy tune that just clicks. Take opening track Spring Fever another jaunty track that just oozes joy and the feel of the seasons changing, lighter mornings, hazy sunshine and a massive feeling of goodwill. Pete’s sax playing is just phenomenal and adds an added layer of class and a feel of 80’s jazz to proceedings. Forester, with its penny whistle, sees Peter take us back to his earlier works and that impish, at one with nature, fairytale brilliance that only Tiger Moth Tales can imbue. Don’t be fooled though, there is a bit of the dark forest shadows about this song too, very clever songwriting.

Dance Till Death definitely shows Peter’s darker side being, as it is, his take on Stravinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring‘, which is based on about arcane rituals that revere the advent of spring in which a young girl is chosen as a sacrificial victim and dances herself to death. There’s not much light and joy in that as a subject is there? This song, however, is beautifully constructed, hypnotic and mesmeric, almost like a musical opiate. Deliciously dark and yet strangely euphoric in places, it really does stand out on an album full of superb tracks. John Holden wrote the lyrics to the Hindu Festival Of Light based Holi and it is a short but dynamic piece totally infused with that far eastern feel. The stunning, ethereal brilliance of The Goddess And The Green Man is another short piece, this time with the lyrics contributed by Holden’s wife, Elizabeth. Wistfully elegant piano and acoustic guitar contribute to one of the most endearing tunes you will hear.

Peter Jones’ can always inject a whimsical, humorous tune into his works and, on ‘A Song of Spring’, it’s the brilliant, tongue in cheek, capriciousness of Mad March Hare. These kinds of songs from Peter never fail to make me smile and the jolly sax and playful vocals help to deliver another moment of delight. It might just be me but, when the intro to Rapa Nui starts, I immediately think Led Zeppelin! Just me then? The staccato riff and energetic drums and bass combine to give a real hard rock rhythm to another John Holden penned track lyrically. Jones is on top form vocally and delivers a fantastically dextrous performance on what could be considered the most progressive track on the album and one that weaves its tale quite superbly.

Final track Light is about coping with the death of a partner and recovering, with the notion that the new season and curative powers of Spring will bring a sense of healing and of being thankful for the end of darkness and the end of Winter. Written by John and Elizabeth in conjunction with Peter, this song is utterly gorgeous, thoughtful and, ultimately, uplifting, bringing the album to a close with a stunning guitar solo from Andy Latimer.

Actually, to be truthful, it isn’t the final song as there is a bonus, hidden, track that starts about a minute after Light. A funky, heavily jazz infused, instrumental, Maytime could stand on its own as a really, really good piece of music but, tagged on at the end of the album as it is, it just seems a bit out of place to me!

‘A Song of Spring’ sees Peter Jones’ Tiger Moth Tales return with a triumphant collection of songs that touch on love, loss and everything in between but, ultimately this sublime album heralds the return of spring and celebrates the love of life itself.

Released 4th March, 2022.

Order from White Knight Records here:

Tiger Moth Tales – A Song Of Spring (whiteknightshop2.co.uk)

Review – Bjørn Riis – Everything to Everyone

Airbag co-founder, songwriter and lead guitarist, Bjørn Riis is ready with a new studio album titled ‘Everything to Everyone’, his fourth full length solo record. Six epic new songs, clocking in at 50 minutes. 

In addition to Bjørn Riis on vocals, guitars and a wide variety of instruments, the album features Henrik Bergan Fossum (Airbag), Kristian Hultgren (Wobbler), Simen Valldal Johannessen (Oak), Ole Michael Bjørndal (Caligonaut), Mimmi Tamba, Per Øydir, Vegard Kleftås Sleipnes and Anders Møller.

‘Everything to Everyone’ deals with the toll that continuously having to meet the expectations of others takes on ones emotions, heightened by the fear of losing oneself in the effort to do so.

I’ve never hidden the fact that I am a huge fan of Bjørn’s wild and almost desolate soundscapes that tell of unspeakable beauty and the power of the vast landscapes of his homeland. While I also really like the music of Airbag, it is his solo work that I feel really shows us the true Bjørn Riis and his albums are most definitely some of the best that I own.

‘Everything to Everyone’ is, without doubt, this fantastic musician’s best piece of work yet. His immediately recognisable guitar is signature across the whole record, from the power and dynamism of the intro to opener Run, through the bewitching beauty of The Siren (one of the best songs you will hear this year) and all the way to the final track on the album, the triumphant title track Everything to Everyone. It’s not just the guitar that stands out though, it is the enchanting and enthralling songwriting throughout which, along with the standout collection of guests, makes this a release that really stands out.

Brooding, thoughtful and yet graced with a pared back elegance, this is music for the thinking man or woman. When Bjørn wants to cut loose then his prowess on the guitar is ultimately evident, he can make the instrument sing and, to my ears, is one of the foremost guitar players alive today. There is a gloriously emotive side to this man too and you hear it on the wistful, melancholic, wonder of Lay Me Down with its heartfelt, and heartbreaking vocals. The mesmerising languid guitar is superbly intense, as you would expect.

Every Second Every Hour has a calm and contemplative feel to it, nostalgic and beautifully compelling and Descending is soothingly hypnotic and dreamlike, a track that, as it begins, seems to exist in a place of serene tranquility. A harder edged middle section of the song threatens to disrupt the harmony before it closes on a sanguine note.

The stand out track on an album of superlatives is the spellbinding The Siren, As Bjørn explains:

Musically the song derives its inspiration from the more mellow side of Roger Waters, Richard Hawley and Tim Bowness, and is told from the perspective of someone observing a dancer. Lyrically it depicts how one can be easily misled by temptation and hurt by the need for approval.

It is just ethereally seductive and the guitar is utterly entrancing, almost painfully so, such a brilliant expression of the musical art.

Every good thing has to come to an end and the title track, Everything to Everyone, is another piece of inspired songwriting and delivery, it builds superbly to a heart-wrenching climax and, once again, the vocals lift this song above the mere mortal and Bjørn’s soulful guitar playing is just the icing on the cake.

Music can make a world that seems to be falling into monochrome light up and be revitalised with blazes of colour and vitality and this wondrous new album from musical maestro Bjørn Riis brings all that and more. Power, soul and grace are infused throughout its six tracks and combine to make it one of the outstanding releases of 2022 so far.

Released 8th April, 2022.

Order from Burning Shed here:

Everything To Everyone (burningshed.com)

Review – If Not If – ‘Sunshine Everywhere’ and ‘Forgiveness’

If Not If is the artist name for multi-instrumentalist and producer Graeme Ginsberg. “Rules defined by their possibilities, possibilities defined by their rules”.

With foundations in classic rock, prog rock and jazz-rock fusion, Ginsberg draws on diverse genres to produce exciting music that is as familiar as it is unusual. His approach to composition is that nothing should be out of bounds.

As a guitarist, Ginsberg’s playing style is distinctive and personal. He cites Jeff Beck, Pat Metheny, Frank Zappa, Adrian Belew, John Scofield, Robert Fripp and Carl Verheyen as having had the biggest impact on his approach. Meanwhile, he is an obsessive synth sound developer and designer. He uses a mix of MIDI guitar and keyboards when playing synths, to realise the widest range of dynamics.

Graeme released two EP’s at the end of 2021 and said this about the pieces;

“These EPs, which were produced in parallel and released at the same time, form a kind of diptych – what would have been a short album comprising two complete 15-minute progressive pieces if such a format had been available in distribution options. 

Each EP contains a complete progressive piece, made up of distinctive sections that are separated into different tracks — the pieces were written as whole pieces with tracks segueing, but the tracks help the listener move from distinctive part to distinctive part, and also the tracks can be enjoyed as self-contained in their own right (although, being full progressive pieces, best context inevitably comes as whole).”

One of the great things about music is that it can take you out of your comfort zone and down a road less travelled. Well, the music of If Not If is a road that you would only travel in a fever dream! At first dissonant and chaotic, I really found these two E.P.s a struggle to get into.

From an email conversation I had with Graeme, these were his thoughts on ‘Sunshine Everywhere’;

“Immediately compelling, the music is as familiar as it is unusual, building from a hypnotic, harmonised textural spoken word development and moving through a variety of contrasting moods and genres, primarily progressive rock, fusion, electronic, cinematic, new wave, post-rock, experimental and world rhythms.”

He encouraged me to persevere with the music and I am so glad that I did because, once you allow yourself to open to the music and immerse yourself in it, it starts to tell you a story in your mind. Now this story will probably not be the same for any of us but I found ‘Sunshine Everywhere’ became fascinating and making more sense with each further listen. Dark, dystopian and almost mischievously stygian in places and then, at times, the metaphorical sun would come out from behind an obfuscating cloud and lighten up the whole piece with an impish impudence. This E.P. reminds me of some of the work of King Crimson and VdGG, almost impenetrable for the man in the street but, for those prepared to step into the unknown, the rewards are there to be found.

Written in four parts, yet you need to listen to the whole E.P. in once listen as each part is a sum of the whole and does not stand easily alone. This unique sound is actually quite refreshing after the diet of relatively audience friendly music I have been fed recently and it almost resets the brain to what music can actually be.

“Written and produced between March 2020 and September 2021 as a response to the confinement during, and subsequent release from, the Covid lockdowns, ‘Forgiveness’ is, by turns, provocative, electrifying and cathartic, the piece moves through diverse genres, primarily progressive rock, electronic indie, art rock, cinematic, post-rock, experimental, jazz fusion and world rhythms.”

Graeme’s words on the second E.P. tell of a more relaxed piece of work than ‘Sunshine Everywhere’, less discordant and turbulent and that is the case in most ways. However there is still that note of anarchism in the music and an anti authoritarian vibe running throughout.

After repeated listens I came to feel that this E.P. could lend itself as theme music to an obscure early 1970’s sc-fi film or a seriously warped version of 1960’s TV favourite ‘The Prisoner’, it has that eery but knowing feel to it where, to most people, the notes just don’t make sense but when you get it, it’s a eureka moment.

The deep, thoughtful intelligence of this music comes through as you let it infuse your mind, almost like a raw, otherworldly, out of body experience, it really isn’t for everybody but once you’ve experienced it and it rhymes with your soul and your mind, you are hooked.

So, to sum up, if you like to challenge yourself and you are prepared to move out of your comfort zone when it comes to your listening pleasure, you really ought to let If Not If into your life. It may not be for you but, if we didn’t challenge ourselves and expand our horizons, we’d still be lighting fires with sticks and living in the stone age!

‘Sunshine Everywhere’ released 26th November, 2021.

Order here:

Sunshine Everywhere | If Not If (bandcamp.com)

‘Forgiveness’ released 3rd December, 2021.

Order here:

Forgiveness | If Not If (bandcamp.com)

Review – Omega Point – A Great Escape

Omega Point is the brain-child of bassist Matthew Cohen (Magenta, The Reasoning, Ghost Community) who not only brought the other musicians together but also produced the album. On lead vocals is John Paul Vaughan (Ghost Community) bringing a depth of emotion rarely heard on a debut, whilst the guitars and keyboards of Paul Davies (Karnataka / Panic Room) and Rob Wilsher (Multi Story) compete for the listeners’ attention with their virtuosity. Underpinning the album and its complexities is Vinden Wylde (The Reasoning) on drums. Together they have made a very accomplished and atmospheric progressive album for the discerning rock fan.

Matt Cohen tells us, “This was truly a record created with passion, drive and steely determination in the face of much adversity recently experienced by so many. It’s not a concept album, but there is a strong theme running through all of the songs and it definitely tells a story about looking at beauty from a very different perspective. It’s been a real labour of love for the band”

‘A Great Escape’ is a powerful statement in more ways than one, apart from the delicate brevity of opener Hourglass, the album is chock full of power chords, thunderous drums, dynamic keyboards and compelling vocals, all held together by the metronomic brilliance of Matt’s bass playing. A prog-rock album with more emphasis on the ‘rock’ than the ‘prog’ then? I definitely think so.

You can feel the influence of the past history of the band members throughout this great selection of songs, Fall of Empires and Darkest Son are grounded on the superb guitar playing of Paul Davies and John Paul Vaughan’s enigmatic vocals. Add in the excellent virtuosity of Vinden Wylde’s authoritative drums and the guiding light of Matt’s bass and we are on to something special, Rob Wilsher’s dextrous keys being the icing on the cake. Dynamic and dominant in delivery and intent, they stride confidently across the musical landscape.

A Great Escape is moody and magnificent, everything a ten minute plus track should be. There is a brooding disquiet to the track at the start and John’s vocals have a deliciously Delphian feel to them. It’s a true monster of a song with an intense feel to the keyboards and rhythm section and one that carries a thoughtful edge to it throughout.

Thank You brings a weighty dynamism to the album, a slow burning, extended opening of coruscating keyboards and guitar focusing your attention before the elegant vocals begin, soulful and reflective. Matt’s bass is in full flow on this great song as it opens up and becomes edgy and forceful, a piece of music that ebbs and flows as it weaves its magic and tells its story. The album closes with Shells, possible the most earnest track on the album, passionate and heartfelt but with a definite edge to it, the guitar riff is one with determination and direction. There is a 90’s stadium rock feel to the song, expansive and all-embracing.

Matt Cohen has brought together a stellar group of musicians and, in Omega Point, created a powerful musical statement, close-knit and cohesive. ‘A Great Escape’ is another fantastic addition to the ranks of accomplished new releases we have already been lucky enough to hear in 2022 and can proudly hold its head high along with the best of them. Let’s hope this is just the start of things to come!

Released 4th February, 2022.

Order from Rok Music here:

Omega Point – ROK Music Sales (therokshop.co.uk)

Review – Moon Halo – Together Again

Moon Halo’s 2nd album ‘Together Again’ is set for release on 14th March. The 70 minute/13 track album has been almost 2 years in the making and has been put together by the same creative team that released debut CHROMA in 2020: Iain Jennings (Mostly Autumn) keyboards, Marc Atkinson (Riversea) vocals, Dave Clements (Riversea) bass, Martin Ledger (Heather Findlay Band) guitars, Alex Cromarty (ex- Mostly Autumn/Riversea) drums and Anne-Marie Helder (Panic Room) additional vocals.

As most of you will know, I have always been a big fan of the vocal talents of Marc Atkinson, be it with Riversea, his own solo releases or the first Moon Halo album. He has one of those distinctive voices that I just love and, when combined with the array of musical talent that constitutes the make up of Moon Halo, you just know you are in for something rather special.

Well, on ‘Together Again’, I think they have hit the motherlode, so to speak. This is, in my opinion, the best thing that Marc has ever been involved in and just a wonderful release. Iain Jennings’ keyboard skills are consummate, Alex Cromarty and Dave Clements combine to deliver a rhythm section of the highest quality and Martin Ledger is on fire with his guitar.

All of this would be a moot point if the songwriting wasn’t up to scratch and, thankfully, on this album, it is properly top drawer. Opener Light In The World gives a really upbeat start to the album, Together Again is a really funky track where the keyboards have an excellent vibe to them, a properly grin inducing piece of music. Embrace This Life is anthemic, moody and brilliant and makes it obvious, only three tracks in, that the band have delivered something special.

While the album may have been created by musicians with a progressive rock background, it isn’t what you’d necessarily call a prog album, it is just a great album where the music does the talking, led by Marc’s velvety smooth vocals. That’s not to say that there isn’t seriousness to the music, take If This Is All There Is, a sombre, almost melancholy tale that is delivered perfectly. We’ve Still Got Time, an ultimately uplifting track that tells us that we shouldn’t give up and one that just bleeds wistful serenity. Wasteland is a powerful statement underpinned by the excellent keyboards once again.

There’s a calm reassurance from the music that Moon Halo create, they are storytellers of great skill and class and musicians of no little skill, combine this and you get tracks like Reconnected, emotive and passionate and ultimately consoling. Fancy a bit of 80’s soul? About Me And You has that brilliant piano note and wah-wah guitar that takes you back, it’s just a superb track and one of my favourites on the album, Marc once again proving he has the voice for any genre and Martin given free rein on a superb guitar solo. The genuine, thoughtful feel of Stories To Tell backs yet another elegant and impressive track and there’s a fluid grace to the funky, soul infused delight of Back To Normality.

It Was You has a childlike innocence and Sandman Is Waiting a darker, more deliciously chaotic note. The album closes with the bluesy Life Goes On, an inspiring song that wears its heart on its sleeve and has an overarching deep south Americana soulful feel to it and is a perfect way to finish the album.

Moon Halo have returned with an album full of impressive, heartfelt songs that just leave a smile on your face. It is one of the best releases I’ve heard this year so far and one that the band should all be rightfully proud off. Hesitate no more, just go and buy it!

Released 14th March 2022

Order direct from the band here:

Moon Halo (moonhalomusic.co.uk)

Foxtrot at Fifty – Interview With Steve Hackett – John Wenlock-Smith

Photo by Tina Korhonen, all rights reserved

It is always a pleasure to spend time talking with Steve Hackett, he is such a gracious interviewee and always has interesting things to say and learn from. This interview is about his recently announced uk tour that will see Steve and his band playing the Genesis album ‘Foxtrot’ in its entirety, along with various other classic Genesis material and some of his own solo material from the ‘Surrender of Silence’ album from last year.

John Wenlock-Smith – Good Morning Steve, so how are you sir?

Steve Hackett: Oh I am all right, I’m fine. How are you doing? We have just come back from a few days away on Dartmoor.

JWS – Dartmoor – bit cold for that surely?

SH: Well it was a bit nippy, yes but, what a fabulous place, very mysterious really. I have been in London mostly but we are off to see Jo’s sister (Amanda Lehmann) and her family in Norfolk at the weekend. I like Norfolk and enjoy going there really as I enjoyed Dartmoor too, all the standing stones and stuff, it’s all unusual really.

JWS: Very bleak?

SH: Yes, but you do not get the feeling of being alone or uninhabited, you can sense the spirit’s presence.

JWS: So Jo’s sister, that’s Amanda isn’t it?

SH: Yes, along with her Father. Where she is in Norfolk, there is a fabulous tearoom there does great cake too, so we will be heading there I think, it is in a place called Haven and I recommend it highly, its fabulous.

The last time I was in Norfolk I bought a Mandolin, so I have been dabbling with that in advance of the European leg of the ‘Seconds Out’ tour. I have also been finishing off a live album that captures the ‘Seconds Out’ tour that we recorded in Manchester at the O2 the old Apollo theatre. Then, later in the year we start the next tour, ‘Foxtrot at 50’.

JWS: How can it be that that album was 50 years ago? Barely seems possible really!

SH: Yes indeed, hardly bears thinking about that 51 years ago I joined Genesis on that journey and look where it taken me. It is incredible when I stop and think about it all.

JWS: I had always hoped I would be retired by forty after having had a hugely successful music career but, sadly, that was not to be.

SH: It’s never too late!

JWS: It is for me, after my stroke I can barely play the guitar these days. I have tried learning the piano, but I am nowhere near on that either.

SH: Did your stroke affect your ability to play?

JWS: Yes, I have weakness on my left-hand side. I have a friend who also had a stroke and he has the same difficulties and is very frustrated by it really. I am less so, but I would say check your salt intake and your sugars and check your blood pressure regularly. Strokes strike without warnings. Get the message out about the dangers of strokes.

SH: I think us men tend to be poor at taking care of ourselves, thinking that we are invincible when we are not at all, thanks for the warning.

JWS: The ‘Foxtrot’ tour is playing at Buxton Opera House?I think I might try and see you there. I have never been to a concert in Buxton, I was Going to see Asia there but that did not happen, although I did see a puppet show there many years ago with my children.

SH: I am trying to think of something witty to say about music and puppets but failing, it’s cultural gap between the two!         

JWS: So ‘Foxtrot’, that means we will get Suppers Ready, Watcher Of the Skies, and Can-Utility etc.?

SH: Yes, ‘Foxtrot’ is an incredibly special album, all killer no filler as it were. Certainly one I am immensely proud of still. I do not think there is a duff song on the album.

JWS: So, after that, what will you do next as you will have done most of those Genesis albums (apart from ‘Trick of the Tail’)?

SH: Well I have always tried to do the best and not any of the dross, so I reserve the right to do that still. I want to concentrate on the good stuff and not just do anything lesser really, keeping the flame alive as it were. We all know what the classics are, don’t we?

JWS: So, have you had chance to see your old colleagues this time around?

SH: No, I have not as I was on tour at the same time as they were doing the rounds sadly, I hear that they’ve have done well though.

JWS: Yes, we saw them in Liverpool in October and they were fantastic, so much so that we are going to see them again in London in March as a Christmas present to each other. A few days at a hotel in Tring then Genesis on the Friday evening, should be good.

SH: Yes, I hope you enjoy that then, last time I spoke to them Mike Rutherford thanked me for keeping the flame burning for them. I would like to think that that helped them decide to do this last lap, as it were.

I spoke to Peter (Gabriel) recently and asked him if he had heard that Ian Macdonald had gone and he said that he had not but that he was a fan of his work. Peter and I were born a day apart from each other and it is always good to catch up with each other.

JWS: It is getting easier now?

SH: Yes, touring was interesting but, as we were in a bubble, we could not meet anyone.

JWS: We have got to look after everybody as much as we can, those Lateral flow test s are a pain though.

SH: Yes, but we have got to do it really, the best for everyone.

JWS: So, have you been working on new material at all?

SH: Yes, I have been fiddling with a few things, refining, and polishing things a little. It is a balance between immediacy and a polished performance. Bill Wyman says that blues is the more emotional side of improvisation.

JWS: I saw your brother John in Bilston recently, he had Nick Fletcher with him, who was on fire, incendiary. They were incredibly good indeed, I really enjoyed them a lot.

SH: I will tell him that when I next speak to him.

JWS: Anyway Steve, my time has gone so I will let you go and hopefully see you in Buxton on the ‘Foxtrot At Fifty’ tour!

SH: Thanks John, take care of yourself and keep well.


Review – D’Virgilio, Morse & Jennings – Troika – by John Wenlock-Smith

Neal Morse is a highly creative chap with his fingers in many different pies and always has something that he is working on for future release. He loves to have a project in the works and now he has crafted a different colour and sound palette of music for all to enjoy although ‘Troika’ is a bit different in that it a very song based album, mostly acoustic guitar led with occasional hand held drums. He is joined by former Spock’s Beard, and current Big Big Train, drummer/vocalist Nick D’Virgilio and Ross Jennings from prog metallers Haken.

The music is very vocal led, Crosby Stills & Nash are a good reference point for the sound the trio make together, they really bring the songs to life, getting it right by offering strong songs with simple but sympathetic playing and this really brings dividends. In addition, the vocals are all clean with the lyrics being very clearly heard, the lead vocals being shared between the three, which also really drives home the strength of the material that the trio offer.

This is another product from lockdown and on that has used the time to favourable effect. The music is relaxed and yet melodic with delicate guitar lines and keyboards in the mix and an overarching requirement for the songs themselves to be the main emphasis and focus of the album. This is a bold decision for these men to take but this vein they mine here really is something both different and unexpected with fine and good musical moments. The combination of voices is both magical and musical and a high point for each of them. The fantastic percussive opening to Everything I Am sets their stall out well, as does the delicate piano during Julia and the acoustic guitar frenzy at the end of the song that closes out the song.

Some will say the songs are not really ‘proggy’ but that does not really matter when the material is as strong as this. The whole album bristles with energy and excitement and this is a spectacular set of material. In fact, this is such a positive and uplifting album to listen to and the more you hear it the more you can appreciate the craft that these people have invested into this project and you see how special this album really is. In days when the news is bad, and everyone is ‘down’ this album is a real Tonic for that condition. On any level this is a fine album, there is so much to enjoy in each performance, the more I hear it the more I want to hear it again, it really is that good!

This is one album that you need to listen too, preferably in an open top car cruising down the road by the coast as this distils summer and sunny days into a musical companion, it evokes that kind of mood and is an album to treasure and to return to repeatedly. I take my hat off to these three remarkable artists who between them have delivered what will certainly be on my albums of the year list, no mean feat for an album only released in February!

Let us have a closer look at what makes this album so good;

I think, for me, it is the sheer unbridled joy that emanates from these grooves that make you feel so happy and that really works so well, as does the way in which the harmonies all gel together so remarkably, like three old friends reuniting. The albums strength lies in its simplicity really. This is not some multi-faceted soundscapes of music, this is music stripped down to its barest components, voice, acoustic guitars and percussion. Although there are keyboards on some tracks, this is certainly a less is more approach that the trio have taken here and that is an approach that pays big dividends, understatement being key as it leads you to focus on the fantastic voices of the three men.

Julia is a stand out track, an absolute corker, with delicate harmonies and clever backing vocals and counterpoint lines from the delicate piano of Neal Morse, this song really shows the depth of vision the trio possess and offer, this is gorgeously performed and delivered by the three. It’s a standout performance and when you consider that this was all recorded remotely, even more impressive really! You Set My Soul On Fire is also another excellent piece of music, one in which the trio offer enough space within the track to really allow the song to breathe, most fabulously.

I cannot recommend ‘Troika’ highly enough, this is an album that is most worthy of your time and attention and you too will discover this masterpiece for yourself, it is fabulous, it really is.

Released 25th February, 2022.

Order from Burning Shed here:

Troika (burningshed.com)