Review – SiX BY SiX – s/t – by John Wenlock-Smith

This album is a new collaboration between Saga guitarist Ian Crichton, Saxon drummer Nigel Glockler and Robert Berry (ex Keith Emerson & Carl Palmer’s 3 project), it combines classic rock elements alongside more progressive ones. The good news is that it sounds glorious and there are plans to reconvene for a further excursion next year.

Album opener Yearning To Fly begins with the sound of a passing train before a very Rush sounding guitar line is played by Ian along with some stylish keyboards by Robert Berry, all underpinned by the powerful drums of Nigel Glockler who certainly pounds those skins, giving this opener some real punch. There is a very fluid guitar solo on which Ian let’s rip before the song returns to the chorus once again, as an opening statement this certainly makes a strong impression. I love the way in which these three lock in together and create something both new and yet somehow familiar, well to Saga fans anyway. Second Track China is another belter with a distorted opening guitar and a monstrous bass. Again, the mixture of muscle and melody is highly impressive , as are the vocals, which together work well. Another excellent guitar solo and that fabulous chorus make this another strong song, I am really enjoying this album so far. We then have a longer song, Reason To Feel Calm Again, which has lots of burbling synthesisers that propel the song along with ‘bagpipe’ sounding guitars. Very unusual but it works, making a great sound, really different and inventive. The song settles into a groove as Ian solos fluidly, gathering pace as the fine bass  holds it all together.

The Upside of Down is hinged on a steely Robert Berry bass line, which shows him to be a fine player who can both drive the song and pull the beat along well. It is a joy to hear this busy bass really making a strong impression, there’s also lots of ringing guitars throughout the track amid some signature tones and tricks that Ian has used with Saga to good effect over the years. Here, it sounds totally fitting for the sound that the band make together. The song Casino impresses with more great musicianship from the three men. The balance of power and melody is pretty near perfect on this album, all very impressive stuff I must say. The interplay between the rhythm section and the guitar is captivating and the production certainly helps in this too as it is clear as a bell. Live Forever is gentler at the start with a delicate guitar part amidst the great keyboards and sounds a little like an early Magnum effort. This is a prelude to another monster of a track, The Last Words On Earth, which opens with church organ before a brutal riff barges in. There are fabulous dynamics to this song and it’s very hard hitting in sound with lots of muscle and power at play, simply magnificent. A monstrous fiery solo takes this song off into the stratosphere to the songs conclusion, it’s truly awesome stuff.

Skyfall (not the Adele Bond theme!) follow, an intelligent number with lots happening throughout and a typical Crichton solo takes the song to the end of its course. It’s now into the home straight with the last two tracks. Battle Of A Lifetime is acoustically driven initially before the whole band crash in. The chorus is marvellous, as is the funky Berry bass that hold all this together and is joined by one of Ian’s classy solos with lots of string squeals and pinches. Again, it’s different and yet highly effective. Final song Save the Night is another longer song with lots of staccato playing from Ian and great bass from Robert, alongside the powerful drums that make this song have some real presence and cloud. The song has an urgent pace to it and closes out what has proved to be a highly impressive debut album.

Whether this translates into some live action remains to be seen but all parties are keen to do more and, if it’s a good as this is, then I say go for it! This debut release is a remarkably assured and polished debut that packs a punch with some great playing from all concerned,  I heavily recommend that you listen out for this one.

Released 19th August, 2022.

Order from the band here:

SiX BY SiX – China (

King’s X launch ‘All God’s Children’; third track taken from the bands forthcoming album ‘Three Sides of One’

The legendary King’s X, comprised of dUg Pinnick, Ty Tabor & Jerry Gaskill, recently announced the release of their 13th studio album ‘Three Sides of One’ on the 2nd September 2022, representing their first new music in 14 years.

Today the band are pleased to launch the video for, ‘All God’s Children’, the third track taken from the forthcoming album, “Three Sides Of One”.

When asked about his thoughts on the song and subject material, Tabor, simply answered; “I have nothing to say about it. The song is what I have to say about it”. 

Listen to the bands singles;

‘Let It Rain’:

‘Give It Up’ : 

‘Three Sides of One’ will be available as Limited CD Digipak, Gatefold 180g 2LP+CD+LP-booklet & as Digital Album. There will also be a Limited Deluxe 180g Orange/Red Marble 2LP+CD+LP-booklet that also includes a poster and a hand-numbered print, as well as an exclusive variant of the front cover artwork. Pre-order now here: 

During 2019, the members congregated at Black Sound Studio in Pasadena, CA with Emmy Award-winning producer Michael Parnin to bring ‘Three Sides of One’ to life. Despite consistent touring, they hadn’t cut a new LP since 2008. Nevertheless, the guys picked up where they left off. Creative confidant and collaborator Wally Farkas rolled through, and they channelled their incredible chemistry on tape. 

Of the new album, dUg Pinnick comments:

“When I think of it, King’s X feels like a couple of old best friends coming together, shooting the shit, and having a good time, it’s instinctual. When I would listen to demo tapes of Jerry and Ty for the record, it gave me a great perspective on how blessed I am to be in King’s X. What they did on Three Sides of One sounded so good. For as familiar as it is, it’s like I’m in a new band.” 

Ty adds:

“This time, we sat around, listened to each other’s ideas, and would collectively say, ‘Let’s work on that’. It was the most enjoyable album I’ve personally ever recorded in my entire life, period.”

Jerry continues: “I’ll cherish what we did in my heart forever. Everything lined up perfectly.”

King’s X background:

Along the way, they architected a catalog of seminal releases. KERRANG! famously scored their 1988 full-length debut, Out of the Silent Planet, with a rare “5-out-of-5-stars.” On its heels, the landmark Gretchen Goes To Nebraska continues to inspire think pieces with Ultimate Classic Rock going as far to proclaim, “no one else has crafted anything remotely like it.” They notably appeared on the soundtrack to Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, and Guitar World christened the self-titled King’s X one of “The 30 Greatest Rock Guitar Albums of 1992” (a year notably highlighted by Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power, Alice In Chains’ Dirt, Megadeth’s Countdown To Extinction, Dream Theater’s Images and Words, and many more). Following Dogman, the group graced the stage of Woodstock 1994 and toured with everyone from Pearl Jam and AC/DC to Mötley Crüe and Iron Maiden. They also attracted one of the most diehard fanbases in music with Ear Candy [1996], Tape Head [1998], Please Come Home… Mr. Bulbous [2000], Manic Moonlight [2001], Black Like Sunday [2003], Ogre Tones [2005], and XV [2008].

Their first full-length studio offering in 14 years, Three Sides of One, represents the culmination of this trip and of a bond forged way back in 1979. 

Review – Keef Hartley Band: Sinnin’ For You – The Albums 1969-1973 – by John Wenlock-Smith

This is a new 7 disc set that chronicles the illustrious career of Preston born drummer Keef Hartley and contains his entire output of seven albums recorded for Decca’s Deram label in the late 1960’s and early 70’s.

Keef Hartley was a fine drummer, in fact he was closely associated with John Mayall’s Blues Breakers and was even a member for the album ‘Crusade’ before leaving to form his own band. Keef had got bored with the whole blues thing and had set his sights on something different, a little less blues and more jazz rock oriented.

Growing up, I saw lots of these albums In my local record shop shop but never actually got around to hearing them for myself. This meant I was unaware of the fine music that he and the group were offering the public. What a tragedy that was, mind you I was very much into heavy metal like Judas Priest at the time and this sort of music was beyond my understanding. Now that I am older, I can now discover these treasures for myself. This fabulous set contains the seven albums made from 1968 to 1973 and what a set it is, all sympathetically remastered for optimum sound with bonus tracks, live tracks and, best of all a truly wonderful booklet that chronicles Keef’s thoughts and recollections of each album, this is how a retrospective should be done.

Hartley recorded his first album, ‘Halfbreed’, in March 1969 and it is now regarded as a classic of the genre. The music itself is also rather special as it fuses rock and blues leanings with horns to make a jazzy tone. Keef kept his work relatively straightforward and, in addition, he chose his group carefully with Gary Thain (bass) a mainstay. He also introduced Miller Anderson as guitarist and vocalist for most of the earlier albums. Thain and Hartley formed a fine rhythm section and the powered the band well, creating a solid bedrock off which the other members could leap off. This approach seemed to work well for the band as it allowed everyone to do their part. The music was pretty free form really, especially for the time it was recorded. There are strong jazzy interludes but the horns really added emphasis and drive to the proceedings. At times they could be fierce whilst at other points they were gently cosseting the sound, you could feel their presence even when they were being subtle.

The second disc, ‘The Battle Of North West Six’, is a prime example of this approach, especially the track Me And My Woman, with its excellent guitar lines and the horn stabs filling out the sound in-between while the ever busy bass of Gary Thain helps anchor the rhythm section, it’s a fabulous track. I actually think this is a better group effort than the debut as it feels more cohesive somehow. It now seems odd beginning to appreciate something that over fifty years old, just shows what was missing with my entrenched thinking. The track Not Foolish, Not Wise is another fine song with a small drum solo from Keef and great horn playing, And there’s more excellent music, the plaintive Waiting Around and the brooding Tadpole, with its slide guitar lines and the organ of Mick Weaver. There are also 4 live tracks from 1969 to enjoy in which you can hear how good this band really were, especially on Spanish Fly and Me And My Woman, which get a bit of a stretch out in a live setting.

The next album is 1970’s ‘The Time Is Near’, sadly not a gatefold CD and one without any bonus tracks. No matter, this is an album that may be more widely known as its cover is very distinctive, featuring an Indian on horseback with his arms open wide and with empty hands as if in supplication. Once again ,the songs are penned in the main by Miller Anderson and are generally a little softer sounding, but still with sufficient space for the horns to be present. A good example of this being the title track, hinged on a busy bass line by Gary, some mariachi style trumpet from Dave Caswell and some jazzy Sax from Lyle Jenkins along with some great guitar lines from Miller. It’s a gentle track overall as is the last track Change, although it does gain both pace and volume as it proceeds. This album is better sounding than its predecessors, which maybe because it was cut by George Peckham, an old friend of Keef, who did a fantastic job in giving the album real clarity and presence.

1971’s ‘Overdog’ is a far looser and more funky album with some blistering performances. The track Theme Song has an amazing drum duel between Keef and John Hiseman of Colosseum. They were friends as well as competitors and both avail themselves with dignity here. There is another somewhat unusual track that features backing vocals from Val Doonican’s backing singers, it’s very different from the norm but highly effective nonetheless. The record is bolstered by six lives tracks, including the epic Roundabout.

Following the release of ‘Overdog’, Hartley formed his own Big Band with a large horn section and performed a series of concerts, including a show at the Marquee Club in London which was released as the album ‘Little Big Band’. At this stage the band had a nine piece brass section, as the BBC had requested this for an in concert recording that was so well received, Keef repeated the idea again on a UK and short European tour. This live recording was done as part of that undertaking, it’s a bit rough and ready but it captured the excitement of the shows and gave airtime to some great tracks.

After this album, Miller left the band for a solo career. It was an amicable parting but meant the next album had a different line up. ‘Seventy Second Brave’ is another album that I used see and ignore regularly, what a fool. It is even funkier than ever, a new line up and a fresh start left Keef to really funk it up big style, which they do, especially on the first two songs Heartbreakin’ Woman and Marin County. The rest of the album has its moments, to be sure, there are even cameos from Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, who provide backing vocals. You’ll have to work out which track for yourself. I suspect it to be Hard Pill To Swallow but I could be totally wrong. The album also has four live studio performances, you can hear the fabulous bass playing of Gary Thain who pulls the track along, locking in with Keef’s drums. Sadly Gary left shortly afterwards to join Uriah Heep until his death from a heroin overdose in 1975.

The next adventure for Keef was a solo album, ‘Lancashire Hustler’, which included some great guest vocalists in Robert Palmer, Elkie Brooks and Jess Roden. The album is very interesting as it features orchestrations on several tracks and you can clearly hear the trio of singers covering the Vinegar Joe track Circles. The music is less busy than his Keef Hartley Band output and this really works well. The voices melding well together to make some great tracks like You And Me and Australian Lady (which even includes Keef’s mother adding piano at the end of the track), Jess Roden taking the lead vocals and he does a splendid job of it too. There is still a strong brass element on display and they really work it up on several of the tracks.

There are some lovely performances on offer in this 7 disc box set which is why I can highly recommend this particular journey back in time to rediscover the wonderful music that Keef Hartley and his band produced over their stint with Decca. You will find much to enjoy here and the informative booklet and liner notes can be the guide on your discovery, thoroughly comprehensive and highly enjoyable too.

Released 8th May, 2022.

Order from Cherry Red Records here:

Keef Hartley Band: Sinnin’ For You – The Albums 1969-1973, 7CD Box Set – Cherry Red Records

There is still a strong brass element on display and they really work in up on several of the tracks, some lovely performances on offer here which is why I can recommend this particular journey back in time to rediscover the wonderful music that Keef Hartley and his band produced over their stint with Decca You willing much to enjoy here and the informative booklet and liner notes can be your guide  on your discovery..

Highly recommended set thoroughly comprehensive and highly enjoyable too,

LA’s Enigmatic DRAAGYN Takes Flight On Incendiary New EP “Bent Rib”

Los Angeles’ enigmatic songwriter and multi-instrumentalist DRAAGYN, known for her critically lauded, genre-bending blackened metal and cryptic persona, has revealed her first new music in 2 years in the form of a new EP titled “Bent Rib.” Out now, the 3 song record runs the gamut of musical design, incorporating experimental elements of black, doom and progressive metal among others that could be described as a turbulent orchestra of beauty and decay.

Commenting on the EP, Draagyn states: 

“We all just want to belong. So we fool ourselves. We let others’ view of who we are become our purpose. We are convinced this hall of mirrors is the true path of souls. This cuts us off from life. The cosmos. The greater powers to which we are all connected. But there is a cord. We can find it and pull ourselves back or choose to watch it slowly strangle us. I wrote ‘Bent Rib’ as an incantation. To release myself from a world I do not belong. To weave the yarns of fate and call it my own. Man has no power over me. He does not determine me. Draagyn is the light, and is the dark. Draagyn is the good, and is the evil. Draagyn is world creator and its destroyer. It matters not whether you understand. What is important is that there is a purpose.”

DRAAGYN’s debut EP, “Bent Rib,” is an aural three-headed serpent of cacophony, “Appetite of Man,” “Beating Heart Cadaver” and “Bent Rib,” each with their own mystifying identity and slithering scales of sonic perplexity that lure you in with enchanting whispers then set you ablaze in an inferno of furious rage. 

Stream “Bent Rib“:
Apple Music –
Spotify –
Youtube –

Bent Rib” follows a string of mind-bending singles including “A Night Between Two Days,” “Venom” and “Majesty.”

From her previous releases, Draagyn has been coined a “genre-bending blackened tour de force” by Decibel and Brooklyn Vegan. As songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Draagyn’s sound straddles the spectrum of light and dark, bridging delicate emotions with the raw force of metal and rock in a truly singular style. Her songwriting guides other musical outliers into masochistic darkness, and yet, in stark contrast, just as quietly whispers to the wretched and heartbroken, offering refuge in her tender melodies. And while the foundations of Draagyn’s music remain rooted in rock, she does as she pleases. She may choke it with blast beats, crush it with proggy groove, or drown it in folky, pensive vocals. But the recipe works. The deep musicality of her approach is undeniable, and for those both patient and brave, her songs lure listeners to another world, free of expectations and genre constraint. Draagyn threatens us with her tumultuous vision of death and musical rebirth.

Follow DRAAGYN: 

Review – Ryo Okumoto – The Myth Of The Mostrophus – by John Wenlock-Smith

This new release from Spock’s Beard keyboardist Ryo Okumoto is a most welcome offering, especially when it is as fine as this is. Furthermore, not only is it a very fine album but it is also a wonderful collaboration with Michael Whiteman of I Am The Manic Whale, who helped out lyrically with these songs and also co-produced the album with Ryo. The results being a highly accomplished and entertaining piece of work.

Ryo was able to draft all of his Beard colleagues to help, along with the likes of Steve Hackett, Marc Bonilla, Jonathan Mover, Randy McStine, Mike Keneally, Doug Wimbush and also Michael Sadler (from Saga) to contribute to the album. Over the sixty minute running time, it’s six tracks tell some great tales in addition to which, the guest musicians add their own individual magic.

The album begins with a belter of an opener in Mirror Mirror which features the Spock’s Beard boys joining with their ex singer/drummer Nick D’Virgilio once again to craft a storming track. The song features Ryo delivering some very frenzied Hammond Organ parts, you know this is prog when you hear the Hammond play! It’s a joy to hear this workout, it really is. The song, unsurprisingly, is very reminiscent of prime Spock’s Beard, as all the current incarnation are playing on it, along with Nick on vocals. There is lengthy organ solo, some fabulous bass lines and a fiery solo from Alan Morse, the song powering along really well before a climatic guitar line begins the long closing section. The lyrics are wonderful too and really add something different and special to the track, a fabulous opening statement. Turning Point is a stylish keyboard led track with Doug Wimbush adding a seriously funky bass. The graceful vocal from Michael Sadler is another plus to the track and the song really impresses with it excellent vocals and consummate musicianship, another winner to these ears. Next we have the very I Am The Manic Whale sounding The Watchmaker (Time On His Side), which, while being very familiar sounding due to Michael Whiteman’s vocals (not a bad thing at all), is a very good song.

Maximum Velocity is another great song with lots of synthesisers and also the always graceful guitar of Steve Hackett, who guests on the track a long with Marc  Bonilla, who plays rhythm guitar. The track, about the soon coming NASA moon mission, surges with such intensity that the next song, the far more gentle Chrysalis, comes as a welcome change of pace. A delicate, but earnest, vocal by Randy McStine makes for a highly memorable track. In the middle section, a brief but fine solo is ably matched by the dynamic bass of Doug Wimbush, whose presence helps make it a most impressive track.

The album closes with a monster track, the centrepiece of the album, The Myth Of The Mostrophus, a tale of hibernation and subsequent re-emergence and the chaos that causes. It is both a cautionary tale and also one of ecology, global warming and the like. The track is in six parts but makes one continuous 22 minute piece. Especially strong is part four, which is a prog disco track (honestly!) and the song offers an unusual solution to the Mostrophus, communal singing. It’s a catchy song that he sings and it would be great for an arena crowd. Sadly, I doubt we’ll ever realise that aim or hear the song the way it warrants but we do see the demise of the beast, thanks to the good people of Basingstoke! I think the track is really just a bit of fun and, perhaps, a poke at the pompousness of most prog rock songs or albums, even so it’s a remarkable track and a great way in which to close the album.

When you consider the genesis of the collaboration arose from a lock down Fusion Festival special that both Ryo and I Am The Manic Whale appeared on and the friendship that ensued, that makes this album both a treasure and also powerful proof in the wonders of technology and, also, of the magic of working together to create something of worth and value. I guess that only time will tell if further opportunities will be forthcoming, I for one sure hope that it does. ‘The Myth Of The Mostrophus’ really is a fantastic album and one of my favourites of the year. Yes, it really it’s that good and I encourage you to hear it for yourselves, highly memorable and highly recommended!

Released July 29th, 2022.

Order from Burning Shed here:

The Myth of the Mostrophus (

Review – Cosmograf – Heroic Materials

“Music is the moonlight in the gloomy night of life.”Jean Paul Friedrich Richter

Music heals you, music lifts you, music gives you solace, music is one of the only things that gives you succour when you are both happy and sad and music has made my life a better place to be.

Music can also tell a story and when it is in the hands of a talented musician like Robin Armstrong, that tale can be absorbing and captivating.

‘Heroic Materials’ is the ninth album from Robin’s musical project Cosmograf and tells the story of William ‘Billy’ May, a heroic Spitfire pilot, who looks back on his life at the age of 99 and realises the world has completely changed since he was a young man put into an impossible scenario, defending his country from the air. He no longer recognises much of the modern world but understands that the human race must live in a different way in the future.

The album sees the character wrestling with his memories of the war, and harbouring nostalgia for a past era but he realises that change is essential if we are to avoid climate catastrophe.

“Well goodbye to the age of steam, I felt you
Goodbye to the age of cars, I loved you…”

‘Heroic Materials’ represents Robin’s most complete release yet and is the pinnacle of his musical career so far, the opening spoken word intro of I Recall draws you into the sepia tinged world of nostalgia and Robin’s plaintive vocal takes up the refrain and the feeling of loss of a past that will sadly be missed. As we segue into the next track with the unmistakeable sound of a Rolls Royce Merlin engine, the hairs begin to stand up on the nape of your neck…

“Eastleigh dawn,
Behold a new design is born. A battle in the sky,
Requires the best design to fly…”

The three-part title track Heroic Materials opens with a delightful piano refrain from former Big Big Train member Danny Manners and turns into a majestic, slow burning classic with evocative lyrics that see you almost losing yourself in the story of this fighter pilot and his fateful life in the sky. Robin’s guitar playing, always stellar, reaches incredible new heights on this utterly compelling and emotive tale. Both stirring and touching at the same time, the way the narrative ebbs and flows with the music shows there’s genius at work here.

“Close the Door,
It’s not this era anymore… A story told,
I know it never will grow old…”

Industry is a voice over telling us about how the E-Type Jaguar evolved from the D-Type racer…

“Designer, fold the light, Great art, make it right…”

Lead single from the album, the dynamic and powerful British Made stands tall as a statement of what we have lost as a manufacturing nation and is a nostalgic throwback to a golden era of motoring and you can feel the pride in Robin’s vocals, a feel of the calm before the storm that is the fervent energy in the ardent guitar playing. It is music as a statement and you can feel the yearning for times gone by and the remorse at the loss of what was once a fine and well respected industry in this country.

“There’s never a moment to talk or reflect Mary, there’s never a chance, to speak to you…”

Our hero Billy met Mary in 1941, she was in the Air Transport Auxiliary and lived her life like the Spitfires she flew, at high speed. Mary is a beautiful tribute to the woman that he loved and lost as she ran out of fuel on a routine run and crashed. A melancholy but bewitching piece of music that hits me on an emotional level, perfectly crafted and performed.

“Is this a long goodbye to everything that’s real?”

Blinkers is a wonderful, if brief, diatribe of finding the courage to change that which we have become accustomed to and its mournful vocals and delicate piano give it a truly wistful, rueful feel.

“To live beyond the dirty war,
To live beyond the worst disease, To help my loving family,
To love a life where I am free…”

Robin is truly one of the best songwriters out there when it comes to progressive rock and on If Things Don’t Change he is at his illuminating best. A modern balladeer and troubadour, the way he crafts his stories is inspirational. Talking about how climate change will destroy the earth and how change is difficult but we must try to make a difference. The empathy in the vocal and the thought provoking, electrifying music is just outstanding, just check out the heartrending guitar solo and tell me you are not touched deeply by it.

“But if this world returns to dirt,
Erased by fire and greed,
There will clearly be no need, to start another one…”

The Same Stupid Mistake fires a warning shot, if we don’t change, we will destroy the earth and there’s no need to start again. A slow, meandering rhythm has a serious and thoughtful atmosphere and the words slowly work their way into your brain, hopefully to make you sit up and listen.

“I wish I’d made the most of what I had
The chances lost just make me sad…”

Robin’s soulful guitar leads into the contemplative thoughts of Regretful Refrain, a persuasive reflection on a past unfulfilled. As we come to the end of our time on this planet we wonder if we could have done things differently and made a difference, left a legacy and this rueful track captures that feeling perfectly. The dynamic vocals and sorrowful, potent guitar yearn for a perception of better times.

“This is what is left,
It’s down to you.
The world you left is dead, What shall we do?”

The musical refrain from the opening track returns on final song A Better World, a sumptuous and charismatic track and a promise to the world that we can, and will, do better, it’s a fine way to bring things to a close as Robin intones, “I wish you were here too, We’ll make it new.”

The sumptuous, questioning ‘Heroic Materials’ is undeniably brilliant. Robin has laid his heart and soul, his whole being in fact, down as music. Emotive, melancholy at times, this record is a story and history at the same time. A plea for the future of the planet it may be but, above all, it is an immersive artistic triumph and one of the best releases of recent years.

Released 9th September, 2022.

Order from Gravity Dream here:

Cosmograf – Gravity Dream Music

Review – Marcelo Maccagnan – Night tales

Marcelo Maccagnan has established himself as a bandleader and sideman on the New York scene.

Growing up playing a whole range of styles – rock, electronic music, Brazilian, pop – he took the opportunity of studying at Berklee in Boston to immerse himself fully in the jazz genre. The result is a truly authentic fusion of sounds which, whilst modern and electric, never loses sight of the improvisation. 

Marcelo’s latest album, ‘Night Tales’, fuses contemporary jazz with the music of his Brazilian homeland and rock and electronic music of his youth. He brings together some of New York’s rising stars for a record whose influences run the full spectrum from Milton Nascimento to Third Rail and Donny McCaslin.

On an album that comes closer to “Progressive Jazz’ than many that have gone before, the guests include Lithuanian vocalist Simona Smirnova, Korean pianist Sukyung Kim, French drummer Maxime Cholley and Malaysian guitarist Andrew Cheng.

Opening track Creatures of Habit features the sole vocal on the album and Simona Smirnova delivers an eminently powerful performance on this brooding, tension infused piece of music. Full of delicious anticipation and elegant musicianship, it showcases the skill that these young musicians possess. As the vocal ebbs and flows, the sympathetic drums and bass weave their tale in perfect symmetry with Simona. Occasional flashes of Andrew Cheng’s guitar and super smooth flurries of Marcelo’s bass intersperse this darkly stylish song like short, sharp electric shocks. As the whole track erupts into something much more energetic and primal, the vocals take on an almost manic edge and the music threatens to explode into chaos, it’s a masterful and marvellous piece of music.

Glass is a wholly laid back and relaxed instrumental that brings a much more ambient feel to proceedings, the subtle bass and drums weave an undemanding line that the guitar follows with occasional iridescent flashes before the track bursts into life with a wonderful edgy and funky vibe. There’s a feel of improvisation among the soaring grooves and punchy guitar that lead the track to a satisfying close. Gungi (Japanese for ‘flock’ or ‘herd’, apparently) showcases a group connection and musical synergy that only hours of performing together can create and, to my ears, leans more on the jazz element than the progressive. Think late night, dark room in an intimate venue, packed to the rafters, the whole audience swaying and pulsing along to the elegant beat, Marcelo’s bass solo is particularly inventive and engrossing. As a nod to his early years as a rock musician, the sole non-original composition on the album is a cover of Black Hole Sun from legendary American grunge band Soundgarden. As a big fan of the band I was intrigued to hear what this take on the classic would sound like and, suffice to say, I wasn’t disappointed. The intense and impassioned guitar playing from Andrew Cheng just blew my mind and the way the rest of the instruments just play subdued in the background, allowing the guitar to shine, is genius. A superb tribute to the band and the late Chris Cornell that showcases how creative the modern musician can be when presenting songs in a whole new fashion.

Vital Spark is another prog infused jazz track that takes a theme and runs with it, creating a wistful, contemplative piece of music where the instruments delicately tread the path before them and the pin-sharp bass gets the lead once again. The polished drums and repetitive guitar add a bit of direction as this masterfully constructed song plays on your senses. Album closer Breaking Out is another stylish piece of music, full of gravitas and with a dignified air. It invokes a more serious, questing atmosphere and, again, takes me that late night jazz club somewhere in the dark recesses of New York where I’m left to while the night away in the company of like minded people.

‘Night Tales’ is a superb melting pot of musical styles, all brought together into something rather special by a consummate group of musicians and a bandleader that is at the height of his game. It’s one of the best jazz/prog fusion albums I’ve heard in rather a long time and, when I finish this review, I’m off to listen to it again!

Released 29th July, 2022.

Order from bandcamp here:

Night Tales | Marcelo Maccagnan (

Review – Dim Gray – Firmament

“When I hear music, I fear no danger. I am invulnerable. I see no foe. I am related to the earliest of times, and to the latest.”Henry David Thoreau.

Norwegian art-rock trio Dim Gray burst onto the scene with their debut release ‘Flown’ in 2020. Described as “Elegiac and beautifully dense post-prog from Norway” by Prog Magazine, it earned them many plaudits.

‘Firmament’ is that difficult sophomore album that hasn’t proved at all difficult to the three band members, Oskar Holldorff (vocals, keyboards), Håkon Høiberg (guitars, vocals) and Tom Ian Klungland (drums, vocals). All three have contrasting musical backgrounds in genres as diverse as black metal, rock, blues, folk and film music and it’s the fusion of all these influences that has created their own distinctive sound.

Having issued ‘Flown’ via their own Dim Gray label, ‘Firmament’ will be released on Big Big Train’s ‘English Electric Recordings’ label with Gregory Spawton of BBT commenting: “Until now, the label has just been a vehicle for Big Big Train and BBT band members’ outside projects. We’ve been interested in expanding the label’s activities for some time but only wanted to do so when we came across a truly exciting band that we felt had something new to offer musically. When we were introduced to Dim Gray, we saw that the band had enormous potential and were very keen to sign them.”

‘Firmament’ is twelve tracks of captivating, wide screen music featuring lush electronics, hauntingly beautiful vocals, string-infused chamber pop and indie-folk, all delivered in a grandiose fashion.

From the first notes and the enthralling charm of opening track Mare, you cannot help but be immersed in this utterly spellbinding and vivid musical world that the band have created. The elegant chiming notes that emanate from Høiberg’s guitar and the uplifting seduction of Oskar Holldorff’s voice immediately grab your attention and this just carries on through the whole album. The hypnotic Ashes with its strident beat and outpouring of emotion makes way for the equally impressive Undertow, a wonderful, slow burning, piece of music with the ethereal, wistful power of the strings at its heart, it is just exquisite.

There’s confidence and power to Avalon | The Tide, an irresistible force bursting with life that lifts you up and takes you on a musical thrill ride and it’s totally addictive. A calm and somber aura falls as you hear the opening strains of 52~, a mesmerising and hypnotic song that is also at times completely inspiring. Abalus | In Time has a breathless innocence to it that is beguiling. When the song blooms it becomes something more powerful and dynamic, almost becoming alive.

There’s a raw simplicity to Long Ago, the piano and vocals having a plaintive feel before the song waxes and wanes with a stylish guitar and elegant drums occasionally breaking the calm, a very moving piece of music. A hush descends as Oskar’s wistful vocal opens My Barren Road. Such an emotive song, it invokes feelings of longing, a yearning for the wilderness and the open road, close your eyes and you could be there. Cannons seamlessly blends art rock with indie folk, delivering a piece of music that just seems to dance across your soul with elfin-like wonder, something that exists on a higher plane and is always just out of reach.

The intro to Iron Henry is ghostly and introduces another exquisite slice of art rock, the piano and strings adding an air of authority but, despite the occasional moments of majesty, you never get away from that feeling of plucking at thin air, like its substance is almost intangible. Title track Firmament carries on that nostalgic feel, a graceful piece of music that tugs at the heartstrings with its wistful longing. Meridian takes its position as album closer extremely seriously, the elegant strings, hushed piano and thoughtful vocal adding serious gravitas to its otherworldly sophistication.

I was seriously impressed with Dim Gray’s debut release ‘Flown’ but the last forty five minutes has shown me that this band have elevated themselves to another level entirely. ‘Firmament’ is a magnificent achievement, twelve songs that ebb and flow superbly and sum up perfectly what music is truly about. These three truly inspiring musicians have created something that is prime and organic, their music can get under your skin and influence your very moods and my life would truly be a much sadder place without it!

Released 2nd September, 2022.

Order from Burning Shed here:

Firmament (

Review – Shriekback – 1000 Books

“A book read by a thousand different people is a thousand different books” – Andrei Tarkovsky

“1000 Books is Shriekback’s 16th album and boldly marks the band’s 40th birthday. Big numbers for a big record – this is Shriekback in depth and detail, nine songs by turns majestic, elegiac, confrontational and just plain funky. The lyrical reflections on mortality, sensuality and the world we live in are carried along on impeccable multi-layered grooves, lucid and lunatic. The contributions of core members – Barry Andrews, Martyn Barker and Carl Marsh – are supported by the passionately precise backing vocals of long-time collaborators Wendy and Sarah Partridge, the assertive bass of Scott Firth and sonically framed with wide-screen vision by producer Christoph Skirl. Take something from this record and plant it in your life: it will grow with you.”

Shriekback have been doing their thing since the 1980’s but I got introduced to them by Martyn Barker, founding member and guitarist extraordinaire, after reviewing his wonderful solo album ‘Water & Stone’. The music couldn’t be farther apart with Martyn’s solo work being folk and Celtic influenced and Shriekback being, well, totally different! Electronica, experimental, indie-rock, funk and ambient, just about everything makes an appearance in ‘1000 Books’ forty-one minute running time.

If I’m being brutally honest, I could not make my mind up about this album on the first few listens with it being both intriguing and challenging at the same time but that’s what is so wonderful about a lot of music, sometimes it requires you to give as much as you take from it. With repeated listens this compelling and provocative album will finally open up and reveal its inner glories to you and, while it may not be for everyone, I found it utterly fascinating, thought provoking and, in a very good way, strange.

There’s a Victorian grandeur to opener Space In The Blues, all majestic with its faded pomp and splendour and a feel of ‘Pablo Honey’ Radiohead to its mesmerising rhythm. A funky bass, drums and guitar open Unholiness, a song almost too cocksure for its own good but, as it opens up, it has real good time vibe to it, I can almost hear an influence of the The B-52’s creeping in, an invitation to join the wild ride and it’s damn infectious too! Portobello Head is a venture into the unknown with a mad professor edge to it and a feel that David Byrne could have written this slightly maniacal song. It is utterly brilliant and darkly delicious, the band seemingly enjoying themselves way too much!

With lyrics delivered as if in a lecture, Slowly At First Then All At Once opens with a relatively calm facade and carries on with whimsical and wistful overtone. I’m waiting for that tongue in cheek enthusiasm to erupt but Shriekback surprise me by delivering something that wouldn’t be amiss on an early Pink Floyd or Gentle Giant release. That David Byrne influence mentioned earlier makes a return on the silky, stylish grooves of Good Disruption, a slice of New York indie-funk at its finest, sharp suit, white shirt and pencil tie a must. Edgy, earthy and hip, there’s a dark undertone to the moody and impulsive Everything Happens So Much, cabalistic disco rhythms abound as the menacing vocals raise the hackles.

Different Story is just joyful, swirling keyboards and a superb drumbeat underpinning a rather impressive song with a really catchy chorus. There’s an 80’s pop music polish to this really engaging piece of music. A hushed wonder seems to herald title track 1000 Books as the majesty and grandiosity of the opening track makes a return. There’s a tense atmosphere as the song seems to rumble on inexorably in its own mysterious fashion, “A book read by a thousand different people is a thousand different books”. The album comes to a close with the futuristic, almost alien, wonder of Wild World, an entrancing four and a half minutes of music that makes you look inward at your own self and invites a feeling of calm inquisitiveness.

‘1000 Books’ is not a just 9 tracks of music, Shriekback have created an engrossing and magnificently offbeat musical experience, at times intensely serious and at others, beuatifully chaotic. It may be a wild ride but, my friends, it is one that I would urge you to take because you will never have heard anything quite like it. On a most basic level, it just made me smile for a very long time and you can’t really ask for much more than that, can you?

Released 1st December, 2021.

Order direct from the band here:

shriekback – STORE

Listen to the album here:

Review – The Wynntown Marshals – Big Ideas

Music can take you to many places, in reality and in your mind. My musical journey has led me to discover many new artists and fall in love with styles of music that I just never would have thought would have appealed to me.

Take The Wynntown Marshals, this highly accomplished Scottish Americana band, proclaimed ‘Europe’s best Americana band’ following the release of their debut full-length album ‘Westerner’ in 2010 and lauded by such music business luminaries as BBC Radio 2’s Bob Harris, only showed up on my radar due to legendary Scottish proggers Abel Ganz and the fact that The Marshals’ guitarist, the highly talented Iain Sloan, was a member of the Ganz’s live band at the time I was reviewing their self-titled 2014 release.

There’s no such thing as a coincidence, they say, and I became firm friends with Iain who then introduced me to The Wynntown Marshals and the rest is history. The band were due to release their third album, ‘The End Of The Golden Age’, in 2015 (which I duly reviewed) and I’ve been a big fan ever since!

Work on the band’s long awaited fourth album, ‘Big Ideas’,originally started in 2018. The intervening years saw a line-up change and the confines of the global pandemic inevitably slowed progress, but the resulting album is arguably the highlight of the band’s 15-year career. Engineered and recorded with long-time collaborator Andrew Taylor of Dropkick, mixed by Garry Boyle at Slate Room Studios and mastered by Stuart Hamilton at Castlesound, the record is sonically a step above previous releases, and the mix allows the lush, vibrant instrumentation to take centre stage, providing the ideal backdrop to the recurring lyrical themes of nostalgia, love and loss.

That’s what the PR says and I have been lucky enough to have spent the last three or four weeks delving into this latest gem from The Marshals so here is my take on what these talented lads have delivered.

The driving, strident piano opening of first track, the rockingly joyful New Millennium, sets the tone for the rest of the album, it’s an unapologetic, in your face song with an underlying joyfulness that is just highly infectious. The jangling guitars of title track Big Ideas herald a more serious song about the pitfalls of society’s relationship with, and reliance on, social media. The tone gives a feel of The Smiths but without Morrissey’s hang ups! It’s a handsome piece of music and Keith’s vocals give it the necessary gravitas and conviction.

The mood quietens with the next two tracks, the laid back and wistful Tourist In My Hometown is an utter delight, this nostalgic and thoughtful piece of music wraps you in its many charms, the beautiful keyboards are a particular delight and Keith’s vocals once again shine. The mournful strains of Iain’s pedal steel guitar open the heartbreaking The Pocket, an emotive story song inspired by the historic battle for Stalingrad. This track just bleeds emotion in every note and word. Plaintive and contemplative, its is a melancholy wonder.

The tempo rises and the mood is lifted by the faster paced Learn To Lose, a reflective country rock track that the legendary Tom Petty would have been proud to have written. The lyrics are perfect and give a feel of longing, regret and a yearning for the past and the music is just top drawer, the instrumental break in the middle is just genius! The Missing Me has a hypnotic feel to it, the music mesmerising and soothing and Keith’s vocal is spellbinding. There’s a touch of Chris Isaak to this song, Iain’s guitar adding even more of a haunting, mysterious edge to proceedings, a definite highlight so far.

Almost a perfect piece of music, time seems to slow when the opening bars of Keys Found In Snow kick in. The seemingly whimsical lyrics of this poignant and touching song unfurl into a tale of a relationship in freefall, it is heart-wrenchingly sad and yet exquisite at the same time. The interplay between the pedal steel and piano is utterly bewitching and absorbing and adds another layer of class to what is already a superb piece of music. A soaring hammond organ and plaintive harmonica are key ingredients of the somber Disappointment, a song with a harder edge underneath the great music, a well written country rock tale of life in middle America.

Treat Me Right is a country song through and through, Keith’s heartfelt vocals and the elegant music a backdrop to an oft written story of love and relationships, the laid back guitar solo is sublime and puts a smile on my face. The album closes with the more folk infused delights of ‘Full Moon, Fallow Heart’ which, while downbeat in its delivery, is still unrelentingly positive in its widescreen outlook. A graceful piano and Keith’s wishful, musing vocals finish the song, and the album, with a hopeful lilt.

There’s a joy in hearing a band at the height of their creative powers and The Wynntown Marshals have returned with an album full of superb songs that connect with you on every level. We can all relate to the stories told within this album and appreciate the emotive highs and lows that are felt throughout its ten brilliant tracks. ‘Big Ideas’ reaches beyond just being an amazing Americana record, its is an outstanding achievement in every way!

Released 2nd September, 2022.

Order from bandcamp here:

Big Ideas | The Wynntown Marshals (