July 30th, 2021 sees the release of ‘Common Ground’, the self-produced new album from Big Big Train on their own label, English Electric Recordings. The new album, recorded during the worldwide pandemic, sees the band continue their tradition of dramatic narratives but also tackles issues much closer to home, such as the Covid lockdowns, the separation of loved ones, the passage of time, deaths of people close to the band and the hope that springs from a new love.
Watch the new video for the title track, created by Christian Rios, here:
“This is unashamedly a love song. It is about finding things that we share and have in common with other people. When my partner and I first came together as a couple, we lived not far from Avebury in Wiltshire, a very Big Big Train kind of place. The chalk hills and standing stones were part of the imagery of our ‘Folklore’ album, and once again I was writing what was literally happening in the location in which we found ourselves. I remember seeing my white chalk dust footprints upon the black of the car mats after we’d been walking around Avebury. I’m pleased that we both get to have this time with each other and ‘Common Ground’ is about finding out the things that we have in common with each other and deciding what we want to do in life together.” – David Longdon
1. The Strangest Times 2. All The Love We Can Give 3. Black With Ink 4. Dandelion Clock 5. Headwaters 6. Apollo 7. Common Ground 8. Atlantic Cable 9. Endnotes
‘Common Ground’ sees the band taking in wider musical and lyrical inspiration from artists such as Elbow, Pete Townshend, Tears For Fears, Elton John and XTC, as well as acknowledging their more progressive roots. As ever, Big Big Train will take listeners on a journey, be it waiting for the UK 5pm pandemic press conferences (’The Strangest Times’) to the library of Alexandria (‘Black With Ink’) to the bottom of the ocean (‘Atlantic Cable’).
For the ‘Common Ground’ tour, which will be their most extensive to date and which will culminate in the UK with a show at the prestigious London Palladium, Greg Spawton (bass), David Longdon (lead vocals, flute), Nick D’Virgilio (drums, vocals) and Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, vocals) will be joined by Carly Bryant (keyboards, guitars, vocals), who contributes vocals to ‘Common Ground’, Dave Foster (guitars), who plays on two tracks on the new album, Clare Lindley (violin, vocals) and by a five piece brass ensemble. The band expect to announce North American tour dates shortly.
Big Big Train has taken lyrical and musical inspiration from periods of history that are recognised as great leaps forward. Now with ‘Common Ground’, they are making such a surge themselves.
BIG BIG TRAIN UK TOUR 2022
TUE, MARCH 15TH – YORK, BARBICAN WED, MARCH 16TH – CAMBRIDGE, CORN EXCHANGE FRI, MARCH 18TH – BIRMINGHAM, SYMPHONY HALL SAT, MARCH 19TH – BATH, FORUM MON, MARCH 21ST – GLASGOW, ROYAL CONCERT HALL TUE, MARCH 22ND – MANCHESTER, BRIDGEWATER HALL WED, MARCH 23RD – LONDON, PALLADIUM
Growing up , as I did in the fair city of Birmingham, I spent much of my teenage years trawling the city’s many record shops including my favourite, the now long gone, Reddington’s Rare Records, which was a virtual treasure trove of vinyl spread across different shops. The one that appealed to me was the one that sold rock music and I would happily spend hours of a Saturday morning looking through the racks in search of something new and interesting to listen to. Many of those albums are probably like gold dust now and most likely worth a fortune too. One band that I came across frequently was Kayak, who’s then album ‘Royal Bed Bouncer’ from 1975 frequently caught my eye but never enough to actually buy a copy for myself. This was probably a major mistake that I made as getting it on CD now will cost a fair amount.
That was many years ago and now Kayak are just preparing to release their 19th album, ‘Out of This World’ a 15 Track, seventy plus minute, musical voyage into their world of progressive pomp rock that will appeal to many special folks who like pomp rock along the lines of Trillion, Le Roux, Starcastle or even Kansas. This is the area in which Kayak really operate, as this album can clearly testify.
The album has a mixture of shorter songs alongside three longer pieces and also includes one track that is epic in length. The music puts me in mind of Toto at times, such is their sound. The delicate undertones, great vocalist, strong keyboards and guitar solos, put me in mind of Toto’s‘Hydra’ and ‘Turn Back’ albums especially.
Let us have a listen and see what we can say about this album.
The album opens in style with the first of the longer tracks, Out Of This World, which is a good and strong opener, in that it sets you up for all that is to follow. It starts with some lovely piano ruins and a good guitar riff, all very fluidly played and symphonic sounding with a chugging bass line driving the song along. This is fine symphonic rock with great melodies and performance from all concerned. The vocalist is clear and in good voice, in fact the whole band are on excellent form on this track, especially the guitarist who really rips it up on this song, making a good impression. His playing is melodic and his guitar lines soar in tandem with the keyboards and synthesizers.
The song is very catchy with some fabulous sections and great guitar too, this is followed by Waiting, which is a shorter song but one that is enlivened by a very fluid guitar line and an almost funky or chunky guitar riff. The track is about desire and waiting for someone to decide. It is very memorable indeed with a fine chorus, stirring stuff indeed. We then move onto the second long track, Under A Scar, which opens with delicate piano lines and some lush keyboard orchestrations. It is all very symphonic sounding before the song moves into a strong instrumental section with keyboards and guitar firing on all cylinders, all very impressive.
Kaja is another shorter song but one that has great guitar on its opening moments. This one is an instrumental and acts as a showcase for the guitar artistry of Marcel Signor who rises to the task fabulously. Next we have the shorter track Mystery which has some fabulous piano playing amongst the symphonic keyboard textures and muscular guitar playing with a strong rhythm section who support and drive the song forwards.
Critical Mass is another longer track which opens mysteriously, like the music from a film like Halloween or similar, before vocals are introduced and more keyboard orchestrations. This is all highly effective indeed, I am really enjoying my initial introduction to Kayak as it is very impressive stuff musically, it is spot on and bodes well for a successful album. This is a very well-crafted record with fabulous songs and performances and the sound is very pleasing to the ear. This is so good that I can see this being on peoples best of lists later this year, there has already been a lot of fabulous music released this year, must be all that time on folks’ hands or something?
As The Crow Flies is next and this has a looping recurring synth line that runs through it. The song is short and possibly one of the weaker songs on the album but it is all over fairly quickly and is followed by The Way She Said Goodbye which is a song about a love that is over and the feelings that remain in the wake of her leaving. This song is handled with much dignity and, whilst sad, is never maudlin and there is some fabulous fretless bass playing on the track.
The energetic Traitors Gate, once again, recalls the power of Toto with its neat interplay of synthesizers and guitar and its muscular power. This track also has a great guitar solo where Marcel gets a few bars to let rip once more making it possibly one of my favourite tracks on the album. Distance To Your Heart follows and sounds like rime ELO of all people but with Kayak’s own take on it and that fabulous vocalist shining once again. It’s not a stand out track and leads into Red Rag To A Bull which is a fine, rockier, track with some excellent synth at the start and some moody orchestrations that build the song. There’s slight Spanish flamenco type sounds and touches with some subtle Spanish guitar flourishes in the mix and a great solo from Marcel once again. This one is a subtle grower of a track that opens out into a majestic song, all impressive indeed.
One By One is a far softer and melancholic type of song, quite maudlin and emotionally moving with its fabulous chorus. There is also a quite dramatic key change that lifts the song from into something much brighter and better. This track is subtle and moving and all the better for it. The drum beat moves it into a bit of an epic singalong type number that would not be out of place an Abba album somehow, magnificent!
The epic of the album, A Writer’s Tale, starts with keyboards and an almost Kashmir type pace to it. The song gives room for some excellent guitar and keyboard playing and lots of space for the music to stretch and grow in intensity and emotional resonance. The piece is a real epic in scope, style, and sound and is utterly fantastic. Next track Cary has more than a whiff of a fisherman’s song or a sailors sea shanty about it . There’s certainly a merry and jolly touch to it making the track almost a singalong number. Unusual and no less impressive, it even manages a guitar solo in its brief tenure, a surprisingly good song.
Album closer Ship Of Theseus has more of that touch of epic Pomp Rock that we have come to enjoy. This song is about a ship that travelled to Theseus in ancient days and recounts its tale of adventure and its exploits. This mini epic ends things in fine symphonic style.
What an album this is, ‘Out Of This World’ really is brim-full of strong songs and fabulous performances and I feel that it has much to offer the listener. I intend to go back into Kayak’s history and listen to some more of their music and discover it for myself because, on the basis of this album, there appears to be much to enjoy and I would highly commend this fabulous album to all.
Greece is not massively known for its contribution to the world of progressive music. Apart from Vangelis, Aphrodite’s Child and, more recently, Verbal Delirium, most people think of either Zorba the Greek, bouzouki music, Demis Roussos or Nana Mouskouri as Greece’s contribution to modern music. Well, be that is it may, this group are from Greece and this, their third album, has been picked up for distribution with Bad Elephant Music here in the UK and I have to say, I think that BEM have picked a winner here as this is a fabulous album. If one can imagine a cross between Gryphon and Gentle Giant, all with a touch of Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span style folk thrown in, you would not be far off the mark.
This is an album steeped in the Folk tradition but one that also embraces electric instrumentation and progressive flourishes in order to create something that is different and new. All the better it is for those decisions too, the album begins with a very folky song entitled Eniania (which is predominantly used as a girl’s name in Albania) opening with a delicate acoustic guitar motif and some haunting flute flourishes that lead us gently into the vocals that repeat “Eniania” before the rest of the band join in all with a fluid saxophone line being played. This is all exceedingly pleasant and effective, certainly the use of unorthodox instruments makes for a distinctive and impressive sound to the music. This is a lovely song which picks up it’s pace at the 3:20 mark with a more urgent and more muscular pace to the proceedings. The interplay between the sax and the other instruments, including the flute, is very impressive and the guitar plays some wonderful lines in accompaniment. The track then returns to the original melody that opened the song for its closing section, the flute taking up the melody used for the vocals to bring the piece to a climax. This may be gentle, but it is certainly highly effective.
Next is Open Wings which is another gentle, guitar led, piece with more, bass and drums along with excellent folky vocals that sound fabulous, all very breathy but when combined with the guitar and keyboards, they sound most agreeable indeed. The third, and longer track, is The Old Man And The Butterfly, which is another jaunty excursion for this group. The piece opens with acoustic guitar, flute, keyboards and bass before an electric guitar line is introduced which builds in momentum and energy, coming to a peak before returning to more of the mellifluous flute and keyboard. There is a lot happening within this track, a very Pink Floyd type guitar and some excellent musical counterpoints between keyboards guitar that are spectacular sounding. I especially like how the song switches between softer and harder passages and how the guitar player uses different tones in his playing to excellent effect.
No Man’s Land opens strongly with Hammond Organ with a solo guitar line floated over it, all very Floydian sounding indeed. There follows a ‘marching beat’ type sound over which flutes are overlaid with more great bass underpinning the whole sound. The song then steps back to a softer passage with vocals and woodwind, the interaction between the voices is mesmerising and sounds great, as does the guitar that underpins proceedings so fluidly.
The shorter Who’s To Decide opens with a properly funky bass line with flutes playing over the top along with a funky wah-wah guitar part. Along with the breathy, impish vocals, this takes the song far beyond folk and into a far more progressive sound. It’s great to hear the sax and flutes playing away happily whilst the keyboards and synths add their own unique textures. The final section of this piece is brisk and captivating enough for you to realise that this group can all surely play very well and that their compositions are strong and musically interesting. There is much that will appeal to progressive rock fans here and it marks this group as one to watch out for in the coming years. I think this is a fabulous track that really shows the essence of the band off to great effect.
This leads us to the last song on the album, Queen of Wishes, which is also the longest track on the album, coming in at over twelve minutes. This gives the track room to stretch out a little and it is all the better for it too. Proceedings open with oboes and sax to create a very woody sound passage before acoustic guitar and vocals join in. This all sounds very ethereal and spacious in sound, added to by superb keyboards, before some crunchy guitar chords are played over the rest of the music. It is all very atmospheric and appealing with synths and chunky guitar being added whilst an organ plays underneath it all. Once again I have not got a clue what the song is about but it is one to enjoy the sound of and to admire the interplay that is within its structures, really capturing the listeners attention throughout. Its softer and heavier parts are well balanced and realised, there is a lot going on here and it all sounds effective and interesting. We return to the woodwind elements before some more rocky guitar parts and some quick-fire drumming briefly take centre stage. Then a somewhat manic organ solo is played and that fabulous woodwind riff is repeated, a riff that, if I am honest is very appealing indeed. This leads to the final moments of the song where ensemble voices sing beautifully and effectively.
This closes the album is exceptionally fine style and you are left with thinking what the hell have I just listened to? One is left with a sense of satisfaction that a group you have never heard of have made such a remarkable, intriguing album and one that you know you will want to listen to again and again. This album is spectacular and will really grow on you if you make the space for its fabulous songs.
The Rare Bird story is both a cautionary tale and one full of missed opportunities and naivety, for this was a group who showed great talent and promise and yet let it all slip away somehow.
Rare Bird were the first act signed to the fledgling Charisma label that had been set up by Tony Stratton-Smith, who had become fed up with Andrew Loog Oldham’sImmediate Records (who his then charges The Nice were signed to). Because of his dissatisfaction he set up his own label to whom he signed Rare Bird, amongst others like Genesis, Van Der Graaf Generator, Monty Python and Vivian Stanshall.
Rare Bird Released their eponymous debut album in 1969 and this yielded an unexpected hit single in the track Sympathy, which reached the top 30 in 1970 and was a hit in Holland, France, and Italy. This is possibly where the problems began as the group completely failed to capitalize on that success and proceeded to continue to trek around the UK circuit when, in fact, they should have been touring the continent.
The single also made inroads into the US Charts with the album being released through an ABC offshoot called Probe although, yet again, we find the band failing, or certainly being failed by their Record Company and Management who had not lined up any shows for them. They did manage to appear at the Agora Ballrooms in Chicago on a bill with Rare Earth, It’s a Beautiful Day and The Grateful Dead. This was a very well received gig, by all accounts but, sadly, further gigs did not materialize and they returned home disillusioned by their sole stateside excursion.
Their second album, ‘As Your Mind Flies By’, was a good album they were busy doing a lots of European TV performances and this reduced their time to work on the album and, as a result, it was rushed and not really as good as it could have been. It does, however, have a monster track in the form of Flight which lasts for 19 minutes (the whole of one side of the album), comprises of 4 Sections and allows lots of room for the keyboard players to really indulge and show their talents and what they could achieve as a band given the opportunity. Sadly the album did not really sell well enough and Charisma lost interest in the group and dropped them from the label. This was obviously a major blow for the band, with the upshot being that Graham Field (Keyboards) and Mark Ashton (Drums) both decided that enough was enough and quit the band.
This left Steve Gould in charge of the group and they changed their direction somewhat reeling back the progressive aspects significantly as most of that influence had come from Graham Fields really and his departure meant and allowed a new direction to emerge.
Graham Field got an offer from CBS and formed his own group Fields with Andrew McCullough and Alan Barry which met with limited success. A second album was recorded but was left unreleased in the CBS Vaults until 2015 when it got a release through Esoteric. Fields then split and Graham semi-retired and wrote TV music for many years.
Mark Ashton also had his own solo career under the name of Headstone and recorded two albums for Trident, with whom he was involved. Trident’s other act was Queen, and we all know what happened with them! Mark is now a painter who lives in the south of France and exhibits his works around the world.
This left Steve Gould and David Kaffinetti (keyboards) to soldier on, which they did successfully (after a fashion), signing to Polydor who released their next three albums, starting with ‘Epic Forest’ in 1972. This album was a lot softer in sound and style, with hints of the US west coast sound, although the title track is an epic song in itself and, in addition, the album was released with a 3 track, 33 RPM, single with the last track You’re Lost clocking in at ten minutes plus. The album is not prog per-se but is an interesting slice of early 1970’s rock with great bass playing from Paul Karas and some bite in the sound. By then Steve Gould had switched to 2nd guitar with lead guitar coming from Ced Curtis, who certainly tears it up on the album. Other songs were more subdued and reflective but with strong instrumentation, making them sound good.
Title track Epic Forest starts like Crosby, Still and Nash with harmonic vocals and acoustic guitars before getting louder and rockier with some strong rhythm guitar work and keyboard textures standing out as the pace picks up. There is a lengthy organ solo that is very pleasing and harks back to their earlier albums, although this has guitar interplay as well. There is a further instrumental section full ff guitars and this sounds terrific, really melodic and appealing. The song then moves into a piano part that is stately, subtle and atmospheric, before returning to the main part once again. This is really an effective and well-developed song by any standard and it certainly is a highlight of the album, as is You’re Lost which has a similar feel and tone to it, although this one has a fabulous ending sequence full of minor chord progressions along with some excellent guitar playing from Ced and Steve. This is fluid soloing and most agreeable to these ears. There then follows an extended keyboard section with guitars for the next six minutes, remarkably interesting and inventive, a bit of a minor prog rock classic really. It is highly possible that most folks will not have heard this excellent song and dexterous musical chops before now so I urge you to rectify that for yourself. This is simply magnificent music that deserves a far wider audience than it initially received.
The magic continued on their next album ‘Somebody’s Watching’, which gave the world a fine song in the form of the title track which opens with lush keyboards and a chunky guitar part, this time around they add a soulful sound to proceedings allowing Steve Gould to really show his voice to fine effect. The track combo of Dollars and A Few Dollars More is a real highlight of this excellent album, this time with John Wetton on bass. Opening with gentle piano, it literally gains pace with a surging guitar line from A Few Dollars More (the classic spaghetti western by Sergio Leone with music by Ennio Morricone) that the band re-interpret here again to fine effect, it really is an imaginative piece performed and realized very well.
The last album in the set is their final studio album ‘Born Again’, which is a bit of a misnomer as the band were on their last legs and about to throw in the towel due to their last set of demo’s with a full album’s worth of maerial, all with John Wetton on vocals, being dismissed. However the group soldiered on to record this one last album in 1974. This record took a far softer, American West Coast, sound even further and is a minor classic in its style and fabulous voice/keyboards interplay. The strongest tracks are Last Tango In Beulah, Redman and Live For Each Other. It really is a far more laid back album than the previous one but is still a fine closing chapter in the story.
The extra live disc is of interest as it was recorded at The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane whilst supporting Barclay James Harvest and Rare Bird’s 8 song recording sees the light of day for the first time here and shows the group delivering a fine set of performances, especially on the versions of Last Tango and Dollars, both of which are the longer tracks on offer.
Rare Bird were, sadly, a very overlooked group and, as such, it is fabulous to have all their output gathered here with pristine sound, gatefold sleeves, worthy bonus tracks and a great, informative, booklet.
This is one fabulous package and I heartily recommend it to any who appreciates class music and great songs and performances.
From the booklet it seems that both Mark Ashton and Steve Gould still feel badly about how Tony Stratton-Smith and Charisma treated them, which is sad as Rare Bird certainly had the talent to make it big but sadly never quite got the breaks they needed to do so.
First single & video for track “Departure Tape” premiered
Departure Tapes is an album consisting of 6 contemplative recordings, written while travelling between the UK and Italy. The majority of these 6 tracks were improvised in the studio by Erra, so for the most part, are totally unique and hold a sincerity which cannot be replicated. It is the follow up to 2019’s acclaimed album Ends I-VII, with the new recordings reflecting what, has been an extremely difficult year for Giancarlo, with the loss of his father to cancer. Erra comments “In 2019 my first solo album was just being released, and I already had the view that I wanted to be more experimental with the second one, but no precise idea how at that point. Then my father suddenly got ill with cancer, and everything changed.”
Erra, having had a fractured and conflicted relationship with his father since his early teenage years found a way to turn this distressing time into a cathartic experience, “he left when I was 14 and since then he wasn’t really part of my life. Then I received the news of his terminal illness and somehow, I found myself in a situation where I was taking care of this man, someone who I have been distanced from for so long. During this period, I realised it had become a time for both of us to come to terms with many things. I wanted to get closure, but a positive one, for him and for me, and I think he was the same even though he maybe didn’t know it; this was hard but at the same time ‘healing’ and in a painful twist, it was possibly the most close and positive few months I had with him since I was a small child.” He explains the influence this had on him creatively“It’s the first album I have created without realising I was actually writing it, as it is so intrinsically linked to one of the hardest and yet more healing parts of my life. The end result is the most experimental, and at the times, the darkest material I have ever written, without compromise or set plan. It contains all the elements of my music in a very unconscious free flowing way.
Watch the video for Departure Tape here:
The first single to be taken from the new album is the extremely poignant and personal “Departure Tape” with the video dedicated to Erra’s father, he explains “This track was written I think when I came back from my first visit to Italy to see my father after he had been diagnosed. It really just began as a live experiment – born and finished within one afternoon. I remember I didn’t really want to do anything; I was exhausted and down, but then, when I started playing the track took shape. I discovered there was much more going on inside my head that needed to be faced. For me, music has been always the only way I can do that, and from this introspection ‘Departure Tape’ was born. It’s almost as a free subconscious stream of thoughts and feelings while recording everything that was happening.”
Giancarlo Erra began his musical career in 2005 with one man studio project Nosound. 2008 saw him signing with Kscope and released a string of albums under the Nosound banner before recording his debut solo ‘Ends I-VII’. Departure Tapes sees Erra play and record every instrument himself along with taking on full production responsibilities at his own studio (https://widescreen.studio).
Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm and the more electronic / ambient recordings of Brian Eno may offer a reference point by which to enter Erra’s world, but the depth within his recordings is truly original.
YES has issued the 2019 boxset From a Page featuring Live in Lyon on digital platforms. The 4 tracks created as new content for the miniature five-piece box set of recordings from that era, are joined by a single edit of To The Moment complete with original Roger Dean Artwork.
Watch the video of the single edit for To The Moment here:
All tracks were recorded by the line-up of Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Alan White, Benoit David and Oliver Wakeman: 1. To The Moment (6:09)
2. Words on a Page (6:18)
3. From the Turn of a Card (3:24)
4. The Gift of Love (9:52)
5. To the Moment (single edit)
Oliver Wakeman has personally overseen the preparation of the previously unreleased recordings which were mixed by Karl Groom and mastered by Mike Pietrini.
The double CD album Live From Lyon was first released in 2010 and this edition restored “Second Initial” which was previously a Japanese only bonus track. This is the first time this has been made available on digital platforms.
Oliver Wakeman says: “Following Chris Squire’s passing, I felt that the new music we’d created, but not released, should be heard and not sit unfinished on a shelf. And with Steve, Alan and Benoit’s enthusiasm for the project, I am proud to know that this music will get to see the light of day and, hopefully, be enjoyed by YES fans as a piece of previously hidden Yes history.”
Alan White added: “I’m pleased to see a gem of YES history coming to fruition in the form of this mini box set. New songs from the past and I’m hoping we can find even more music in the archives for future releases.”
About Oliver Wakeman Eldest son of prog legend Rick, Wakeman filled the keyboard role, once held by his father, with YES from 2008 to 2011. His work with YES includes the triple live album In The Present – Live From Lyon, Fly From Here and the From A Page box set featuring recordings from his time in the band and released in 2019. During his tenure with YES, Wakeman also toured and recorded as a member of The Strawbs.
Wakeman’s debut album (1997) Heaven’s Isle was inspired by the island of Lundy, and he has since released a number of solo and Oliver Wakeman Band albums. He has also released several collaborations with renowned musicians, including Steve Howe, band mate to both Oliver and his father in YES for The Three Ages of Magick album, as well as uniting with another guitar legend Gordon Giltrap for the award-winning Ravens & Lullabies album, both of which are set to be part of an upcoming box set. Most recently Wakeman has been working on The Tales by Gaslight box set which contains classic albums Hound of the Baskervilles and Jabberwocky, plus a previously unreleased disc of recording from the never made third album from the trilogy made in collaboration with Clive Nolan. Each album is accompanied 16-page booklets including lyrics, previously unseen artwork and many stories behind the creativity from both Wakeman and Nolan. Tales by Gaslight will be released by Burning Shed on 23rd April available from www.burningshed.com/oliverwakeman
This 2CD set is a revisitation and reimagining of music originally performed by the band Twelfth Night in their early 1980’s incarnation before Geoff Mann left the group. The albums reimagined are ‘Live at the Target’, ‘Live (and Let Live)’ and ‘Fact and Fiction’ along with reworkings of tracks The Collector and Creepshow.
This album is progressive but not necessarily in a manner that you would expect, let me elucidate…
This is a bold, brave (and possibly foolish) concept that could trash your love for those early albums as they sound significantly different and altered here. Some might see this as a vanity project or even conceited, however, I see this a very bold musical statement that has much depth and character, plus a lot of imagination at play, to make something totally new and absorbing, standing as a testament to those fabulous years and times.
This is not easy listening, as in ‘popped up’ orchestral classics, instead this is rather more studiously applied music that uses minimalism and classical flourishes to bring out the themes that were somewhat hidden in the early albums.
Clive has single-handily pulled all this together during lockdown and has had musical advice from Geoff Mann’s wife Jane and from former band colleagues Brian Devoil, Andy Revell and Mark Spencer. With the arrangements textures and sounds, this sounds very minimalist so, if you like Steve Reich or any modern minimalist composers, this may find favour with you.
This really has been a labour of love for Clive, keeping him busy and occupied during some very lonely and hard times.
Although I am not a long time follower of Twelfth night, I find this album deeply satisfying as it has some very gracious and fine music to it, along with fabulous performances. The sound is very expansive and yet, somehow, very open with equal room given to each instrument. This is somewhat surprising seeing as Clive has used very expansive (and expensive) libraries of orchestral samples, originally recorded by a plethora of top London orchestral players, making this both highly impressive and also aurally confusing, as you’d swear there actually was a real live orchestra playing these parts.
The album will take several listens before you get the concept fully. This is a journey of discovery that you must be willing to undertake for yourself. As with any journey, the joy is not only in the destination but also in the completion the journey itself, and this is a most enjoyable one, in my opinion. The use of strings and oboes (and all manner of other artificial wind and string instruments) is both beguiling and confusing as you forget that this is all artificially created, lovingly crafted for sure but all bogus, artificial and man-made. The album has passages of great beauty, especially on the opening track Part One: Live at the Target which has an extremely dramatic violin section and some great percussion interludes, along with a vibrant violin and French horn passage that really grabs your attention.
Reimagining and recomposing means taking the music apart and remaking it again differently, yet keeping the same sentiments as the original. A difficult task to be sure, not only challenging but also very worthy as these pieces show clearly. This project has been in Clive’s mind for 40 years but it was only during the first lockdown that he was finally able to address the question of what if? and realise his ambitions. Personally, this album makes me want to go and explore those original albums and discover their magic for myself. Thankfully, a lot of this is available on bandcamp or from Twelfth Night directly so I can discover it for myself.
This project has not only inspired Clive to look at the early days of Twelfth Night but also to compose suites that include works by his favourite prog artists, like Yes, Supertramp, Genesis and Rush, amongst others, and he already has plans for at least two more albums of equally innovative re-compositions of classics, all of which are in the planning and creation stages. I, for one, am very much look forward to hearing those when they emerge.
For now, though, this remarkable album shows the fabulous imagination and talent that Clive Mitten has and which he lent to all this fabulous music that he was a major part of all those years ago. He has shown great skill and bravery in refashioning this music in such a unique and vibrant manner. This really is an amazing album of music, look out for the Mission Impossible theme that he weaves into Part Two:Live (and Let Live), which was apparently a favourite of Geoff Mann, Clive lovingly working this in to honour his departed colleague.
Each part of this album addresses a different period of the band in a unique manner, listen with your ears open and find the beauty that is within these pieces. The use of melody and harmony, syncopation and dramatic dynamics all stand up clearly in these musical pieces, it is all fabulous stuff, challenging, absorbing and, above all, rewarding and dignified. Part Three: The Collector is simply magnificent, taking a live favourite and making it completely new is inspiring and fine testament to a great song.
The abstract album cover is actually a sketch by Geoff Mann, originally created for the ‘Fact and Fiction’ album but never actually used. Clive Mitten you, sir, are a genius and I applaud your commitment and efforts in making this fabulous music. Respect is well due.
This is the long awaited (and long time in coming!) third album from Dream Theater spin-off fusionists Liquid Tension Experiment. A band formed out of the prog metal legends and who recorded 2 albums with the nucleus of Mike Portnoy (drums) Jordan Rudess (keyboards) and John Petrucci (guitar), aided by Tony Levin (bass and chapman stick). Although, to be honest, Jordan only actually joined Dream Theater after the second LTE album and then, as we all know, Mike left in 2010 and further LTE activity looked decidedly unlikely. Well that was the case but two things happened that led to the resumption of activities, these were the worldwide covid virus and the cessation of all touring activities and the other was Mike drumming for John’s latest solo album, ‘Terminal Velocity’. This led to a window of opportunity opening to reconvene LTE once again and cut some new music together. Same crew, same members, just 21 years later…
How wonderful to hear from these folks once again, welcome back my friends to the show that never ends, as ELP once sang.
There is one major change though, the album receives its release through Sony/InsideOut rather than Magna Carta, the label that hosted the first two Liquid Tension Experiment albums in 1998 and 1999 respectively. And, of course, Mike left Dream Theater in 2010, moving onto pastures new. The desire for all to reconvene and record together never really went away, these four musicians have exceedingly high regard for each other’s abilities and enjoy the freedom to make a different type of music together.
Well, that is the backstory to the album let us have a listen to what you can expect from this third instalment of LTE.
The album has a run time of just over 61 minutes, although there is another 50 odd minutes of music on the deluxe CD version. I have not heard that yet, so I can comment, except to propose that this will probably be in a similar vein to the main album, just with longer tracks allowing even more musical virtuosity.
The album opens in rip roaring fashion with Hypersonic coming off the grid like a supercharged Bugatti Veyron firing on all cylinders. The band certainly show that they mean business with bass, drums and guitar spearheading a three pronged sonic attack. The track fair thunders along with barely room for breath, aside from a few keyboard interjections from Jordan, who layers his synths across the maelstrom the other three are creating. It really is an highly impressive opener indeed although you could say it’s a bit of a marmite piece, if you like it, you’ll want to stick around for the rest of the disc however, if it is not to your taste then that’s fine, go and listen to something else and leave the rest of us here in musical ecstasy. That said, after three minutes 15 seconds of this ultra-fast beat, they take a breath and slow things down intensity wise and allow John some room to play a solo passage along with some subtle bass from Tony and support from Mike, Jordan’s stabbing keyboards also providing some great dynamics to the piece. Jordan plays some flowery synth lines in the closing minutes before John and Tony play a dual passage line together preceding the resumption of the frenetic opening first passage. This piece is simply awesome and a great song to start with.
The second song is called Beating The Odds and opens with some furious riffing from John before Jordan lays down some fabulous synth lines. There is a very strong groove to this track which opens out with some very fluid guitar before a punishing riff is played over which Jordan solo’s wildly using his keyboards to stage his own aural assault on the senses. Everything is flawlessly backed by the inventive and impressive rhythm section yet, even in all the mayhem, there is still an extraordinarily strong melodic element here at play. This is all impressive stuff musically.
Liquid Evolution follows, which is basically a duet between bass and keyboards. This piece lays off the bombast and urgency of the earlier tracks to create a different, and more chilled, vibe to it. After the energy of the first two pieces you welcome the change of pace and the chance to both catch your breath and also to pick your jaw up from the floor where the opening salvo of the first two tracks have probably put it! It makes it far subtler in both pace and tone but still packs an impressive groove.
Then it is back to the overkill and surging power with fourth track ThePassage of Time, with its sinewy riff snaking outwards. This one gives Mike some space to show off his impeccable timing and chops whilst Jordan adds some excellent piano parts. It really rocks out for sure, although its brutality is tempered by melodic sensibilities making it an impressive calling card, only made better by John’s atypical solo. That guitar riff is so brutal and powerful though that it almost melts your face off, were it not for Jordan’s interjections to anchor the track in melody. Again, the more I listen to this, the more I hear the interplay of the instruments and the overall melody that the track offers.
Track 5 sees the return of Chris and Kevin in Chris and Kevin’s Amazing Odyssey, a duet between Tony and Mike, giving a chance for Tony’s bass to take centre stage on par with the pounding drums of Mr. Portnoy once again. This is a shorter track but is still worthy of the space afforded to it, it is a joy to hear the fine bass playing of Tony Levin so lucidly.
Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue is next, but probably not in a format that you are familiar with. Basically, it gets the full LTE kitchen sink experience and gives ‘over the top’ a new meaning. The track is shamelessly overblown and all the better for it too! there are some fantastic sections to this performance making it probably my favourite on the whole album. The song is long too at 13:16 however, there is not an ounce of excess fat on this piece, it is all killer no filler (as it were).It really belongs to Jordan whose keyboards glide effortlessly through the song, retaining its melody amidst all the grandiloquence of the track, utterly fabulous stuff.
Shades of Hope is totally different and far more chilled, opening with piano and a floating guitar line, played very fluidly here. This piece bleeds emotion for its complete duration, an exceptionally fine track indeed.
Key To The Imagination closes out the album, it has a recurrent heavy guitar riff running throughout against which Jordan is playing some great synth fills and orchestral voicings along with John’s sweet guitar lines. Tony holds down the bottom end in his usual eloquent manner whilst Mike’s drum hold this mix together. It really is really very good indeed and gives equal room for each player to shine in their respective field and brings things to a great end with its almost middle eastern sounding tone, it really impresses.
Well, that 61 minutes went by fast and I was sure impressed by all that I heard. I urge you to give it space in your listening as here we have four maestros all playing at the very top of their game, taking chances and making some utterly fabulous music.
This is the second solo album from Dream Theater’s stalwart original member, and guitarist, John Petrucci. It arrived after a brief time delay of merely fifteen years or so after his first solo album, ‘Suspended Animation’, released way back in 2005.
Mind you, a lot has happened in John’s world since then, firstly a major change occurred when his buddy and drum legend Mike Portnoy left Dream Theater (the band he had formed with John in their Berklee College of Music days in the 1980’s).
This was a major upheaval and change, although it was one that all parties survived and consequently flourished. Mike got involved in Neal Morse’s musical career (after Neal himself left Spock’s Beard). He also joined Flying Colors, successfully created several albums and concert videos with the outfit. Latterly Mike formed a new band, Sons of Apollo, with whom he has recorded two studio albums and one live set.
Well, it has been nearly two decades since that initial split but this album sees John, and Mike reuniting, with Mike providing the thunderous drumming that accompanies this album. Mike reached out to John during lockdown and they convened at Dream Theater HQ to track and record this all-instrumental shred fest with John on guitars , Mike on drums and Dave La Rue of Flying Colors and G3 providing the bass support for the album.
So, what is it like you may reasonably ask? Firstly, it is all instrumental, playing out as a guitarist’s dream and the album is, as Jordan Rudess told me, all heavily focused on the tonal qualities of John’s guitar,
All the songs are succinct and brief apart from two tracks that are over 7 minutes in length and each piece of music balances John’s searing guitar work with some fine melody. Some of the tracks are rather heavy but melody is not forgotten, John can certainly play, and is not shy on that score either, the playing is showy when required but it the song that matters most here.
John is playing as well as I have ever heard him play, he bends, taps and plays flurries of notes at will on these pieces, all ably supported by the superior rhythm section of Mike and Dave who are revelling in this music that they are a part of. I think there is a good mix to the styles being used and a good use of dynamics, light and shade that really makes the guitar tones stand out clearly, as most of the tones used are clean with sporadic use of effects.
Happy Song, for instance, opens with a very joyous bounce to it, with John doubling guitar parts making this song very Satriani-esque at times but it echoes Joe’s use of styles well. This track is a total winner to these ears and is aptly named as it is a very happy piece of music indeed. It is possibly my favorite track on the album as it is so upbeat and excellently executed, John showing just how fluid he is as a player.
Gemini opens strongly as well with a flurry of notes dancing across the fretboard and great rhythm support in a harder edged piece that has some fine guitar with delay used to great effect. The song branches out with an acoustic Flamenco part in which Johns show some real skill before the electric guitar once again takes centre stage to deliver a blistering guitar solo. There are some strong techniques used that sound utterly fabulous.
The bluesy sounding Out of the Blue is superb, John getting the chance to lay back and play with some real feeling and tap into the blues to prove just how versatile he is in that arena too. The first of the longer tracks is The Way Things Fall, which is, again, a rollicking little number that fair pulses along on a good bass line with John laying down a very melodic guitar line. Snake In My Boot has a great riff to it, all accompanied by some utterly mesmerising guitar playing.
The final track, Temple of Ciradia, has even more fine fiery playing at hand with some very Ritchie Blackmore like tones being used to great effect. The playing is fast and flawless towards the end of the piece and ends on an excellent drum beat from Mike.
This collaboration has been a winner all round, whether it leads to any further activities has yet to be seen but, it is a first step in restoring a relationship that was fractured if not fully broken. The fact that they used Lockdown and this virus to make it happen is remarkable. Much respect must be given to all parties for making it happen and for making such a great album of fine guitar led musical mayhem.
Veteran US prog band Glass Hammer have announced their new vocalist and their debut NFT drop.
The band are working on the follow-up to 2020’s well received ‘Dreaming City’ which will follow on from the previous release’s concept. Steve Babb and Fred Schendel have divulged that singer Hannah Pyror, who first featured on last December’s digital release, ‘Matter of Time’, will feature on the new album.
“Production of Glass Hammer’s follow-up to Dreaming City is underway,” bassist and vocalist Steve Babb tells us. “This will be Part II of a trilogy. Songs are still being written and rewritten, tracks are being recorded, demos obsessed over—you get the picture. The album is tentatively titled Skallagrim – At The Gates Of Deception.”
Concurrently the band are teasing the new album by joining the world of NFTs. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are unique files that live on a digital ledger called a blockchain and are able to verify ownership of a work of digital art (although not full ownership). Buyers can display the digital artwork they represent and may be able to resell later.
Ten Glass Hammer NFT’s will be minted of a pre-release mix of the track Anthem To Andorath, Hannah Pryor featuring as lead vocalist.
“Only ten of these will ever be released,” explains Babb. “The song will show up on the album, of course, but not in this form. The purchasers will find their names listed in the credits of our new album, and there may be other goodies attached as well. We’re really just learning about NFTs, but they’re very interesting as a new way to sell music, not only to crypto-collectors who may have never heard of Glass Hammer but to prog-rock collectors and superfans who’d like to own something truly exclusive,” Babb goes on to add. “I believe that Glass Hammer are the first prog act to use NFTs.”
Glass Hammer is not new to the idea of limited collectibles. Babb adds, “Our very first album (1993’s Journey Of The Dunadan) was first sold as a collectible—a limited edition art print and a gold foil CD on QVC, giving us a massive amount of exposure early on. Though I think it’s too early to say whether or not NFTs will change the music business, it still makes sense for Glass Hammer to make our music available wherever it can be sold.”