Review – Steve Howe – Homebrew 7 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Steve Howe is certainly prolific, in the last few years he has released records with his sons Virgil and Dylan and released a new solo album, all along with a live Yes album, ‘The Royal Affair’, and also has a new Yes studio album due for release in October (marking the band’s first new material since the death of Chris Squire).

This new release by Steve of his solo recordings or sketches, ‘Homebrew 7’, is a most welcome set. What is different to his previous ‘Homebrew’ releases is that, this time, all of these pieces have not been written for any of his other projects, like Asia or Yes. The album is a mix of styles and sounds, taking several directions, along with several vocal tracks. Now, while Steve doesn’t claim to be a singer, he is more than okay on these tracks and his guitar skills continue to shine. It is good to hear that Steve continues to create new music regularly and that he is not content to retire or withdraw from musical life or activity just yet. This music shows that he still has a fire and a passion for his creativity to continue unabated for a while yet at least, in an era of ageing rock stars this is a joy to see and hear.

The highlights of this album are many and varied, most of the tracks are really musical sketches or frameworks, ready for further input or completion, let’s have a quick trawl and see what lurks within these pieces…

The album begins with a short piece called The Glider which offers a chance for Steve to show his proficiency on steel guitar, armed with a GS10 processing effect unit to give his guitar a soaring tone to it, all very simple but all very effective and pleasant. Like much of this album, these pieces do not overstay their welcome at all. Steve is from the ‘less is more’ school of guitarists and he does not overplay or over complicate matters at all. In an age where many guitarists are shredders, this makes a welcome and refreshing change.Steve could probably do all that and more but, here, his wisdom and restraint pay real dividends.

October follows and sounds like something from the George Winston/Windham Hill album which is no bad thing at all. This is a briefly orchestrated piece and sublime sounding it is too. Next up is the first Vocal Track Half Way, with Phil Spalding on bass. This is quite a surging rock song with a chugging riff and chiming guitar line in amongst everything that is going on. With nice brief solos accompanying the vocals, it’s a great little number that is really fiery and the end is sudden and final. This in itself is brave in not having any long run out or fade and is highly effective. The Only One is next and offers a bluesy swing, again, another highly effective interlude. Sadly this piece is way to short, it would have been good to hear Steve wail over this track a lot more. In One Life follows and this piece dates back to 1982 and is a simple piece in a similar vein to Muskrat.

Outstanding Deal is the second vocal track. I feel that Steve’s voice may not be really suited to this song but, even so, he gets away with it because the music is brilliant, with a great sounding steel guitar part that elevates the piece and gives it a sense of atmospherics that carry it well. Be Natural is different in that it features Steve’s guitar being powered through a Leslie Speaker which gives a very unique sound, all very clipped and slightly overdriven. This is a neat but effective trick and it sounds great. It’s a short piece but highly effective and interesting. Cold Winds is another older piece from 1983 with some great double tracked guitar lines and includes drums from a 14 year old Dylan Howe. Deanscape is a piece Roger Dean has used on his website for a while. Dating from 1982, much of what was used has been forgotten over the years but, again, this is an atmospheric piece.

Tender Hooks is up next and is an acoustically driven piece with steel guitar lines soaring over the top, it is another fairly simple piece but one that is full of melody and charms. Another vocal song, A Lady She Is, follows and this is a quiet tranquil piece with electric mandolin in a duet with Steve’s Gibson ES175D. This is simply a beautiful piece of music and again highlights Steve’s talents and skill superbly. Two Sided offers Steve chance to play over a choral backing and add his unique steel guitar sounds to a brief piece of music. This is followed by Strange Wayfarer, a jolly little jaunt that has comedic leanings written all over it. It has a simple rhythm and sounds suitable for Children’s TV series played on a Synth effect guitar. It is certainly different and yet somehow still interesting. Devon Girl is another short vocal track. An older track from 1983, it is still a good little number one that could work as a worked piece at some future stage perhaps. Safe Haven features an ascending guitar line with multiple guitars answering each other most effectively. The excellent crunchy guitar line added to proceedings makes this another effective number.

A Matter Of Fact is a fine bluesy number with a strong guitar line making it stand out significantly. Touchstone is a short but highly effective number with some great Telecaster guitar tones and lines in it too. Effective, brief and excellent. From Another Day dates from the ‘The Steve Howe Album’ sessions in 1979 and is the final vocal song. This is a brief song followed by Forgone Conclusion which is another piece with wailing steel guitar sounds. It’svery spacey sounding and a great little piece. Space Void is 70 seconds of synthesizer sounds and noise, like a lost Hawkwind track from 1972! The final track, From The Get-Go, is a song featuring Steve’s favourite Gibson ES175D as the star. With a lovely tone and delightful sound added to a shuffling beat, this closes the album in style.  

Well, there you have it. Twenty one straight forward pieces of artistry from a man whose guitar skills have graced many classic prog albums over the years. From ‘Close To The Edge’ to the forthcoming Yes album, ‘The Quest’, from Asia’s debut in 1982 to his own collection of solo and group albums, this man has done it all with style and here he shows the bare bones of his skills in a great set that is a worthy addition to his canon or works. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Steve Howe on guitar…

Released July 30th, 2021

Order the album from Cargo Records here:

Steve Howe ‘Homebrew 7’ (cargorecordsdirect.co.uk)

Review – Big Big Train – Common Ground

‘Common Ground’ is 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.

‘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.
 
Following the departure of long time members of the band, the core of Big Big Train is now Greg Spawton (bass), David Longdon (lead vocals, flute), Nick D’Virgilio (drums, vocals) and Rikard Sjöblom (guitars, keyboards, vocals). Carly Bryant (keyboards, guitars, vocals), who contributes vocals to ‘Common Ground’, Dave Foster (guitars), who plays on two tracks on the new album and Clare Lindley (violin, vocals) will join the band for the upcoming tour and there will also be the welcome return of a five piece brass ensemble. 

After finishing my first listen through of the new album, my first impressions were that, while it is familiar (especially with David Longdon’s distinctive vocals), there is something new and dynamic about it. Like all the best albums, it needs more investigation and listening to, but, to my ears, a subtle reinventing of Big Big Train is afoot!

So, a few days and many, many listens later, how do I feel about ‘Common Ground’ now? Read on and all shall be revealed…

It’s bloody marvellous, basically! I am a long time fan of the band and this is the first album that has really grabbed me and not let me go since the ‘English Electric’ series.

The wondrously upbeat Strangest Times with its brilliant Elton John inspired piano lines (take a bow Rikard Sjöblom) opens the album in fine style. David Longdon is in fine voice, especially on the ever so catchy chorus, and the guitar playing throughout is sublime, I’m left with a huge grin on my face as the track comes to a satisfying close. The track sees David writing about the Covid lockdowns, the separation of loved ones, the passage of time, deaths of people close to the band  “After the death of a collaborator Judy Dyble in July 2020, I time spent shielding with an ill relative. With everything that was happening around me and for the world with the relentless doomwatch tone of the news broadcasts, I spoke with Greg. I said I couldn’t just be writing songs about historical figures and scenarios. I felt that I needed to write about the here and now. In ‘The Strangest Times’.”

All The Love That We Can Give is a more laid back affair with a wistful feel to the keyboards and David’s vocal with a deeper tone. There are swathes of contemplative Hammond Organ and the guitar just sits in the background, like a conductor leading the band. Vocal harmonies abound and Greg and Nick prove what a fantastic rhythm session they are and then the track goes off into proper progressive rock territory, full of energy and intricate musicianship, another rather fine song indeed!

When the intro to Black With Ink starts I’m immediately drawn to a comparison with Kim Wilde’s Kids In America (wait until you hear it, then it won’t sound so daft!). The edgy keyboards and vocals sound like a call to action and the song just picks up and goes from there, it’s certainly up there with the best upbeat songs that the band have ever recorded. The vocal interplay is excellent and gives a real urgency to the track. If this is part of a new direction for the band then please count me in on the journey. To my ears, things get even better in the second half as a distinctive musical refrain starts to be heard (it’s one that continues to surface throughout the rest of the album too…) and becomes an earworm that you can’t get rid of, and don’t want to actually! Dandelion Clock is a nostalgic and thoughtful song that is dear to Greg’s heart a beautifully written piece of music with David’s vocal at its most plaintive and heartfelt. The chorus is a work of art and the whole track just works its way into your affections. A quite exquisite song that leaves you in a totally reflective and introspective state of mind.

Headwaters is the first of two instrumentals and is Big Big Train at their best when it comes to telling stories without words, a dreamlike, meditative piece that is painstakingly and perfectly created, just beautiful. Then we go to the opposite end of the musical spectrum with the vibrant notes of the energetic and dynamic Apollo. Nick D’Virgilio wanted “…to write the band’s version of Genesis’s Los Endos and to make a track that really showed off the talent of all the amazing musicians in the band.” And, boy, he certainly did that and has created one of the best progressive instrumentals of recent times.

The title track of the album sees the band in anthemic mood, Common Ground is a powerful piece of music, a statement of the state of humanity but delivered in a way that only Big Big Train can. Soaring vocal harmonies, powerful melodies and excellent musicianship create a an energetic and passionate song that grabs your attention and makes you listen and absorb the message within. The guitar and violin interplay is absolutely superb, this is a song that will have the audience at the live shows singing their hearts out, just outstanding!

It wouldn’t be a Big Big Train album if there wasn’t an epic song with a dramatic historical narrative that shows British pastoral progressive rock at its very, very best would it? Well, the band don’t let us down and deliver a transcendent fifteen minutes of heart and soul in the majestic Atlantic Cable. There’ll always be a place for tracks like this in the musical universe, soaring crescendos mix with intricate musical passages to create musical works of art that will always pass the test of time. Take songwriters of consummate skill and musicians at the top of their game and you will end up with superb songs of substance and heart and soul that have meaning and that tell the grandest of stories in the perfect manner.

Endnotes closes the album on an emotive note. Another one of Greg’s favourites (and mine), it is a perfectly composed song with heartfelt vocals from David that just bleed compassion and sentiment. The musical accompaniment is exquisitely elegant and the harmonies just make your heart sing and then, the brass! Oh my god, the hairs just stand up on the back of your neck as the notes sound out, there’s just something about that sound that makes my soul soar and Big Bg Train do it so well. What an incredible end to the album, I don’t mind admitting it has made me quite emotional.

So, there you have it, ‘Common Ground’ is recognisably Big Big Train but a Big Big Train that have moved the game on a little and given us an album of its time. Vibrant and upbeat, thoughtful, wistful and even melancholy at times, it is a collection of amazing songs that will touch you on a basic level and move you on many others. ‘Common Ground’ is the album that will make you fall in love with the band all over again and I can’t give it any higher praise than that!

Released 30th July, 2021.

Order the album here:

Big Big Train (burningshed.com)

Review – Hardin & York: Can’t Keep A Good Man Down – The Hardin & York Anthology – by John Wenlock-Smith

I grew up in the 1970’s and discovered rock music through my peers who were buying albums from Virgin mail order in the early part of the 1970’s. This was mainly albums by The Groundhogs, I particularly remember ‘Split’ and ‘Hogwash’ being popular at that time. They then  moved onto Deep Purple and the ‘Burn’ album, although Supertramp’s ‘Crime of the Century’ was also popular with this group of my peers. I eventually followed suit and became enamoured with Purple’s ‘Made in Japan’ album and also with Emerson Lake and Palmer’s ‘Brain Salad Surgery’. Also popular was Ian Hunter’s book ‘Diary of a Rock and Roll Star’ that was passed about during my schooldays, a book that I grew to love and treasure to this day .

So, why then, in all those times, did no one ever mention this duo to me? Maybe it was because there were only two of them and they looked a bit wet if I am honest but, listening to them now, I can clearly see that I missed out on something different and really special. This fabulous Box set from Grapefruit via Cherry Red is something very spectacular, comprising as it does their entire 1970’s output in one neat 6 CD set with a highly informative booklet along with lots of unreleased tracks, including an early German Bootleg recording of Eddie Hardin and Pete York Recorded in Germany in 1970.

If, like me, you like the organ playing of Keith Emerson then this set will be a revelation to you, especially the live side of ‘The Worlds Smallest Big Band’ and the whole of the ‘Live at The Marquee’ album, both of which feature extensive organ workouts from Eddie Hardin.

Hardin and York came out of the latter day incarnation of The Spencer Davis Group in which Eddie had replaced the recently departed Steve Winwood, being of a similar voice and playing keyboards. Pete York was the drummer and the two joined forces after leaving Spencer Davis. They were tremendously popular in Germany and, to a lesser extent, here in the UK where they were frequent Performers at places like The Mothers club in Birmingham and The Marquee. Their stage show was energetic and, with just the two of them, it needed to be to capture the attention of the audience. They did this by using the dynamics of a sole keyboard player along with a jazz rooted drummer who packed a mighty punch, their interplay was dazzling and effusive at times, especially shown here on the various live tracks on this compilation.  

The first disc is their 1969 Debut album with six tracks recorded for a 1969 BBC Radio session and this is quite a strong opening statement that the pair deliver. For a duo they certainly kick up a lot of noise between them, Eddie Hardin has a very soulful voice and you can see why Spencer Davis hired him to replace the departing Winwood. The sound is full and the organ playing is dynamic and aggressive, it reminds me a lot of the playing of Purple’s Jon Lord, with whom Hardin worked with in latter years. This music has lots of energy to it and it will appeal to early Deep Purple or Nice fans, or indeed anyone that is interested in keyboard driven rock of the late 60’s / Early 1970’s.

For me, ‘The Worlds Smallest Big Band’ and ‘Live at the Marquee’ discs capture this duo at their peak, especially on the utterly fabulous Rock and Roll Medley (JailhouseRock/Mean Woman Blues/Rip it Up), The Pike and the Northern Medley (Lady Madonna/ Norwegian Wood)  that form part of the live in the studio recordings side of the album. The Rock And Roll Medley, with all its energy and atmosphere is really good and, as it’s just the two of them, sounds fabulous, mind-blowing actually! It is so unusual and different, you wouldn’t believe how good just an organ and drums could possibly sound and you don’t miss a guitarist or bass player as its all covered by Eddie’s Hammond Organ filling the gaps spectacularly. This is so brilliant you cannot believe that you have never heard this before, it is like being music’s best kept secret somehow and you feel all the better for being in the know about this duo.

The Pike, a track about their long serving roadie, is a tour de force between Eddie’s Hammond and Pete’s jazz chops with some spectacular drumming and some solid and virtuosic organ playing in a style like that of Keith Emerson, it is utterly fantastic and awesome in sound, as it shows just how fine a keyboard player Eddie Hardin really was. This is followed by the equally fine Northern Medley and this one really works the Hammond to the extreme with lots of improvised runs, all subtly supported by the syncopation that Pete York’s jazzy drumming allows. This is fabulous music and shows just how strong the bond between Hardin and York was and how the two complemented each other’s abilities and talents, it really is something to behold, appreciate and enjoy. 

Even better though is the 1971 ‘Live at the Marquee’ disc that was, presumably, a double LP back in the day but the information in the booklet is not clear on the release of this album. Suffice to say that it is 68-minute romp through music that was otherwise not recorded by Hardin and York ,with an extended version of The Pike in which both musicians get room to showcase their talents to good effect. It is the standout track of this album although Freedom Suite is also particularly good too. For me, this disc shows the very best that this group had to offer, with its mix of dazzling drumming and strong keyboard playing, it really is a long-lost classic restored to its full glory and is highly recommended indeed.

The other discs in this set are good but overshadowed by that fantastic live album, it really is a masterpiece and one that makes this set well worth looking out for. Eddie Hardin recorded other albums and recorded a final reunion release ‘Still a few Pages Left’ in 2005 and then sadly he suffered a fatal heart attack in July 2015, leaving behind a rich musical heritage and is sadly missed. This set gives an opportunity to see the brilliance that he possessed and how unassuming and yet proficient he was during the Hardin and York years.

Released 28th May, 2021

Order from Cherry red here:

Hardin & York: Can’t Keep A Good Man Down – The Hardin & York Anthology, 6CD Box Set – Cherry Red Records

Review – CATALYST*R – CATALYST*R

CATALYST*R formed during the first UK lockdown of 2020 when ex-ESP lyricist and vocalist Damien Child approached PGR for help in finding a possible collaborator. Ex-This Winter Machine composer and founding member Gary Jevon was contacted and the pair hit it off immediately. A long-distance writing partnership between London and Yorkshire began and they quickly amassed enough ideas to complete a full album. Greg Pringle (ESP, Simon Townshend and Quadrophenia) soon joined on drums/percussion.

The album showcases the various musical influences of each member and includes – but not necessarily limited to – prog, glam, electronica, northern soul, metal, big band, jazz and musical theatre!

For obvious reasons, CATALYST*R’s debut album was recorded remotely and – as yet – the band still have not physically met. Work has already begun on a follow-up album, which will – hopefully – involve spending some time in the same room as each other.

So that’s the PR stuff out of the way, sounds very interesting doesn’t it? Now let’s delve in and see what an independent music lover thinks…

Turning this review on its head, let me say straightaway that this album is really rather good indeed, a well judged melting pot of musical styles and influences perfectly blended to give us one of the most enjoyable album releases of the year so far.

From the powerful, catchy driving rock of opener Welcome to the Show, with its incendiary guitar work and dynamic percussion through to the final track Goldst*R, a totally immersive and enthralling musical experience with a narrative ghost story that invokes the spirits of M.R James and Lovecraft, CATALYST*R have created an aspiring, high-reaching album full of melody and craft, one that asks the listener questions but is accessible at the same time.

There’s the sparse loneliness and isolation of Apollo One Three with its heartfelt vocals and melancholy guitar, the Marillion-like bittersweet wistfulness of Someone Else’s Dream, where Damien’s vocals really come to the fore, it really is a beautiful song, and the hard-edged rhythms of You Against The World, that takes me back to another age with its pared back feel. The lightness of touch of the production on this album is an utter delight to hear, it feels raw and real and you feel every emotion.

The sorrowful In The Deep End is a powerfully emotive track that captures images of loss and grief through its delicately delivered plaintive vocals with the perfectly judged pensive musical accompaniment, the gracefully somber guitar solo is wonderfully judged. The stand out track among a collection of elegantly created songs is the dreamy and contemplative Immortal, a thoughtful and nostalgic delight that reminds me of 80’s AOR at its very, very best, just beautiful!

So, there you have it, another album created during lockdown, a period of explosive creativity that we haven’t seen for many a year. There have been some superb albums released this year already and, in ‘CATALYST*R’, we have another one to add to that burgeoning list. When everything that is happening around you is making your life jaded, just press play on this bewitching collection of songs, light the spark and let the music start to take your cares away…

Released 28th June, 2021.

Order the album from bandcamp here:

Catalyst*R | Catalyst*R | Progressive Gears (bandcamp.com)

Review – Dave Brons – Not all Those Who Wander are Lost – by John Wenlock-Smith

JRR Tolkien’s masterpiece The Lord of The Rings has long been a source of inspiration for many, both in its allegorical context and for its worldview.

Written by Tolkien in 1954 and comprising three volumes, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, all set in this Fictional world called ‘Middle Earth;, these books have been read by millions over the last near 70 years and have inspired many artists, including Led Zeppelin, who’s song Ramble On is Tolkien influenced, as are many others including Enya, Joni Mitchell and even Black Sabbath.

Well, Bradford based guitarist Dave Brons has now composed a whole album, ‘Not all Those Who Wander are Lost’, which encompasses the journey of Frodo Baggins and his friend Sam in The Lord of The Rings. Dave has completely composed and arranged this suite of instrumental pieces himself, with assistance from the likes of Dave Bainbridge, Sally Minnear, his father Ian Brons, Catherine Ashcroft and Mark Swift and this this 67-minute album is the result of that interest and devotion to the books.

Dave is clearly a huge fan of the books and he revels in the chance to make his affection known and, in this work, he can combine his deep appreciation for the books with his love of progressive music and guitar virtuosity. The music is epic, as you would expect, but there is so much more to appreciate here in this album. The booklet that accompanies the album is beautifully conceived and realised and details the story behind each piece of music, along with insights into the performances. Dave is very quick to acknowledge the people who have helped him bring his dream to life and the part they each played in this task.

Dave is a ferocious guitar player yet, despite his flawless technique, he never shreds for mere effect, rather everything is played to support the music and move the narrative along, which is admirable.

Another neat touch to the album is the use of a recurring melody line that is actually My Lagan Love (which was an inspiration for Scarborough Fair) and this adds a delicate touch to the music throughout the album. The music is a journey that begins with eternity and circles around to end with eternity too. The album is a delight for the ears and is best heard as a complete piece of music with the lights low and something suitable to drink or someone suitable to snuggle with and enjoy as the music envelops you. Which it will, if you give it time for the magical music to drip down into your mind with repeated listens. This is an album that deserves to be listened to, and appreciated, for the fabulous musical journey that it will take the listener upon. There is so much to appreciate and enjoy here, the ethereal wordless vocals of Sally Minnear and the 100 plus strong choir, who’s vocalisations add significantly to the atmosphere of the album, the Uilleann pipes of Catherine Ashcroft, the fine cello from Ian Brons and the lyrical fluid guitar From Dave himself, all wrapped up in the beautifully clear production of Dave Bainbridge (one of Dave’s oldest musical friends).

This release is really a bit of a revelation and it is not afraid to touch upon the faith of JRR Tolkien and his wartime experiences and how they affected him. I especially enjoyed the Celtic feel of some of these pieces and the Uillean pipes that add great atmospherics to the overall sound. This is an album that is to be both treasured and revisited frequently, as you let the music take you to a special peaceful place. I highly recommend this fine album to all. 

This album has a card from Dave that says ‘Adventures in music for Tolkien Fans, may it be a light to you in dark places when all other lights go out.‘ These personal touches from Dave really add value to what is an excellent package and one that has obviously been a labour of love for him as it revels in the value and worth that these books have bought him over the years. The music is epic, cinematic and expansive in sound and depth it really is an uplifting and positive listening journey and one most progressive music fans would surely enjoy.

Dave has an earlier album out called ‘Based on A True Story’ that is, again, instrumental but, although without a theme, it has extraordinarily strong musical statements and is a valid companion to ‘Not all Those Who Wander are Lost’. Dave is an independent musician and, like all non-major label artists, would benefit from your support for his music and art and you can embrace and enjoy the journey for yourself here.   

Released January 6th, 2020

Order from bandcamp here:

▶︎ Not all Those Who Wander are Lost | Dave Brons (bandcamp.com)

Review – Vestamaran – Bungalow Rex

One of the best things about being a reviewer are the unexpected surprises, the albums you were not expecting or not expecting a lot from. Some of my all time favourite releases have been promos that I have listened to on a whim or because I liked the album cover (take a bow Moron Police).

When the promo email for ‘Norwegian happy campers’ Vestamaran dropped in the inbox I actually don’t know what made me take a listen but, boy I’m glad I did!

Rising from the ashes of the band Father Of A Thousand Kids the Askøy ( an island just outside the city of Bergen ) the group Vestamaran do release their debut album ” Bungalow Rex” 18/6. Featuring members from Ribosyme, Knekklectric, The Danny Cannon Show amongst others from the infamous Bergen scene. Check them out 🙂“, it exhorted.

Self-classified as ‘low octane rock music from the happy campers…’, it is a wonderfully (and wilfully) eclectic collection of songs that will just make you smile… a lot…

The jangly, care free tone of the guitar that opens the album on Error come save me gives you a little taste of what is to come, music that is chock full of life, love and utter joy. There’s a nostalgic, retro vibe to the music that takes it cue from the indie rock that took over the world in the 90’s.

Risky Pigeon has a funky, strutting guitar riff and superb, distinctive vocals to give it real swagger and this confidence flows throughout an album where the song titles are definitely tongue in cheek in places. Swag is a soaring, anthemic track that would have graced any stadium in the 1990’s and on Cutest offender you hear the first hint of an underlying Kings of Leon homage, it’s a ballsy, edgy piece of music with sharp guitars, stylish drumming and super cool vocals all adding layers of style.

My Finest Eye sees the band go all Americana and Alt-Country on us. An emotive and powerful ballad that pulls at the heartstrings before Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash make an appearance from beyond the grave (or appear to at least!) on the wonderfully dramatic Solitude. Now, imagine how cool it would be if Joe Jackson did a collaboration with Kings of Leon, a bit far fetched? Well not if you just allow me a bit of latitude and listen to the brilliant and incomparable Grustak.

Country rock and blues combine on the strutting majesty of Salt chair, an idiosyncratic guitar riff struts throughout the track with utter self confidence to give the song well deserved bluster. Follow me has a driving hard rock flourish to it akin to early Foo Fighters, anticipation building with every note and that edgy, insistent riff and vocal giving real presence. For me, the best is saved until last as we are gifted the best song that Kings of Leon never wrote, Only for you is just utterly sublime songwriting at its best. Perfect musicianship and honest, heartfelt vocals combine for five minutes of near musical perfection.

So, get your hands on this album and, when the sun shines, get the barbecue lit, an ice cold beer in your hand, put the stereo on, turn it up to 11 and just enjoy this incredible album for, as the press release says, “Life is not just bungalow all day long, it also includes a lot of rex in the evenings.”

Released 18th June, 2021

Order the CD here:

Bungalow Rex | CD Album | Free shipping over £20 | HMV Store

Order the vinyl here:

Bungalow Rex | Vinyl 12″ Album | Free shipping over £20 | HMV Store

Listen to Risky Pigeon (and order the album in the EU) here:

Bungalow Rex | Vestamaran (bandcamp.com)

Review – White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost of Dreaming

After their lauded 2017 album ‘Atone‘, White Moth Black Butterfly return with their new studio album ‘The Cost Of Dreaming‘.

Created by Daniel Tompkins, the collaborative project features a team of songwriters & producers based worldwide, all at the height of their own scenes. Collaborating with Tompkins are New-Delhi based Skyharbor songwriter and producer Keshav Dhar; US based producer and string arranger Randy Slaugh, drummer Mac Christensen and the line up is completed by ethereal vocals of UK singer & lyricist Jordan Turner.

Daniel Tompkins explains why he sees White Moth Black Butterfly and ‘The Cost Of Dreaming‘ representing the dichotomy between peace and conflict within a life full of chaos. “Our new album ‘The Cost of Dreaming’ is something we feel just about every human being on the planet that’s been affected by life changing disruption will relate strongly to. Our nature is to always be planning, dreaming about an ideal future in which we will have ticked various boxes that define our ideal lives, often at the cost of the present. And when control over that future is seized away from us and all we are left with is the present, we realise just how much we took for granted. Life is surely a gift to us all throughout which we experience moments of soaring bliss and happiness, and then in a heartbeat sink into states of great trouble and suffering. Often our struggles can serve as momentous opportunities for growth, but the balance of life can often hold us back from seizing the day. We believe that this album is our greatest achievement – it’s an outpouring of love and a cry for help.”

The album is a very clever integration of contemporary pop with the stylistic flourishes of progressive rock and ambient, experimental music. Catchy hooks abound along with lush orchestral notes and edgy keyboard infused electronica. All the songs are short, like perfect little gems of musical wonder, never outstaying their welcome.

The ethereal strains of opener Ether blend perfectly into the harder, staccato notes of Prayer For Rain and this is followed by the gorgeous wistfulness of The Dreamer where Turner’s vocals stand out perfectly.

The exquisitely refined tone of Heavy Heart bleeds melancholic nostalgia and the lush Portals would grace any modern club scene. Use You is deliciously dark, almost malevolent in its sinister delivery and segues seamlessly into the powerful, funky edginess of Darker Days, given added sparkle by Kenny Fong’s glorious saxophone.

The album builds superbly with each track, an audio experience that draws you in piece by piece. Sands of Despair mournfully washes over you with its plaintive vocal and contemplative piano note before the thoughtful mood of Under The Stars grabs you in its embrace, Jordan’s dreamy vocals imbuing a sense of calm serenity. Soma is a super smooth slice of jazz/pop that is as classy a piece of music that you will hear this year and Liberate takes the art of writing contemporary pop muisic to another level.

There’s a insistent demanding feel to Unholy, an anticipation building of something enigmatic and ominous before heartfelt vocals and the addition of Eric Guenther’s keyboards introduce an emotive emphasis to the sumptuous sounds of Bloom. The album closes out with Spirits, a wonderfully uplifting piece of music that continues to resonate long after the final note dies away.

In ‘The Cost of Dreaming’, White Moth Black Butterfly have created an utterly captivating and beautiful collection of songs where nothing has been held back. It contains every piece of their heart and soul and, just as Daniel Tompkins says, it is a perfectly conceived outpouring of love and cry for help, one that I hope everyone takes heed of…

Released 28th May, 2021

Order the album here:

WHITE MOTH BLACK BUTTERFLY (lnk.to)

Review – Frost* – Day And Age – by John Wenlock-Smith

What a year this is turning out to be, eh? We have had lockdowns, a new US President, I was so glad to see the back of Donald Trump and his inane ‘Twittering’s’, along with his clan of hangers on and thugs. Thankfully so were most Americans, sick of his lies and arrogance and concern for himself and so voted him out, although the incidents at the Capitol Hill probably sealed his fate, for now at least.

In other news, we have seen mass vaccinations against Covid, the emergence of random variants and possible hope for return to a more normal way of living, although some changes will probably remain in situ for now. In this time of uncertainty there are signs of new life, especially musically, as bands are emerging, once again, with the promise of live shows nearer to reality and new material in the can awaiting release.

Frost* are one such act. After a fine digital EP last year, ‘The Others’, and the ’13 Winters’ box set that brought the first ten years of the band together in one fabulous complete 8 CD set, comes this new release ‘Day and Age’ which opens the next stage of their ongoing history.

Consisting of 8 tracks lasting just over 53 minutes, this is a stroll through the modern world as seen by Frost*. Expect despair, hope, longing, confusion and fear along with strong melodies and inspired music, albeit with an edge of discomfort and unsettlement.

“Welcome to the rest of your life… sit back and remember, enjoy yourselves, you scum”, or so the disturbing child’s voice intones at the beginning of opener Day and Age. Things settle into a mid-paced track with lots happening musically, a powerful back beat and masses of keyboards and chiming guitars and with John Mitchell sounding not unlike a certain Mr Gabriel on this song. Everything passes swiftly with nary a wasted second, indeed, as an opener, it is certainly one of the most effective I’ve heard this year and stands right up there with tracks like Hypersonic from ‘Liquid Tension Experiment 3’ and Out Of This World from Kayak. Yes folks, in a dim world, there is mighty fine new music being conceived and delivered by our prog heroes who are, to a man, refusing to allow Covid restrictions to curtail their ongoing creativity and we are most thankful for that.

The album has a few shorter tracks in amongst the longer ones and, in all of these, you can hear the pop sensibilities that Frost* employ so wonderfully, along with the thunderous drums of Kaz Rodriguez, Darby Todd and Pat Mastelotto, each of whom pound away very satisfyingly indeed with power, strength and finesse..

This is especially so on the awesome The Boy Who Stood Still, which includes a fine voice over from Jason Isaacs. Sound wise, this song reminds me of the mighty Propaganda of ZTT Records fame who, through a blend of hard-edged percussion and angular vocals, married funk and progressive elements so wonderfully. Check out Duel or Dr Mabuse for an example of their sound and then see how this Frost* track compares, I can certainly see the similarities. The track is a decent length too and benefits from the extended running time to realise its ideas fully, it really is an interesting song. Lyrically this is a dark album and, were it not for the imaginative music Frost* create, could be considered very mournful and sad. Yet the music works with the lyrics to create something that is not really that sad somehow, I think it is the imagination they employ that elevates the songs to different heights. 

Another Excellent song is Kill The Orchestra, it opens with some rather dreamy piano that is completely in contrast to the darkness of the lyrics. That may, of course, be in part due to the locations involved in the writing of these songs, namely a converted coastguard tower in the south west of England amongst other locations. This possible bleakness contributes to the darkness and stark feelings contained in these songs, which, when you read the lyrics, is clearly apparent as a dark and yet interesting view of the world becomes clear.

All of this makes the album all the better for it does not sugar coat the band’s views and takes such a bold lyrical stance. Kill the Orchestra is particularly dark in tone with its tale of a would-be rock star who is lost in his own self worth to the point of self-obsession. All of this is backed by some epic musical sections to make a seriously good song.

This is an ambitious set of songs performed wonderfully and are very satisfying musically. With the modern edge to its sound, ‘Day and Age’ is an album that is impressive from its disturbing opening voice right to the end some, 53 minutes later. This is one that is best heard loud in the dark I think, you will love it!

Released 14th May, 2021

Order from Burning Shed here:

Day And Age (burningshed.com)

Review – Dinesen/Christensen/Sonne – Blessings – by Progradar

Saxophone player Jakob Dinesen and bass player “AC” Christensen have been household names on the Danish jazz scene since the nineties, where they played together in the now legendary Once Around The Park

On this recording they are joining up with drummer Laust Sonne. He is one of the most versatile musicians in Denmark and he has been the drummer in the popular Danish rock band, D-A-D, for over 20 years. He played drums in the avant jazz rock outfit, Bugpowder, and also made a career for himself with his solo project, his own rock band, Dear. He has even made straight pop music in his own name on two albums, in 2011 and 2016. In 2007 he received the prestigious Danish music award, Ken Gudman Prisen.

The three musicians have known each other for many years. In their younger days, they often ended up together, playing late night jams and gigs at parties. It went so well that they made big plans of doing more stuff together. But it never happened.

The corona outbreak in the first half of 2020 finally brought the three musicians together again, as other plans were cancelled because of the virus. As a blessing in disguise, they began to play together again, in the rehearsal room. They found, and created, a space for their thoughts and ideas. A space for listening and playing. 

In the picturesque gardens of Det Kongelige Danske Haveselskab in Frederiksberg in Copenhagen, a series of jazz concerts were held, as a compensation for the cancelled Copenhagen Jazz Festival. Among the concerts were one by this trio. It is the sounds from that concert that we can hear on this album. Peacocks were walking around in the garden when the audience was listening to the trio. 

For those of us relatively new to a ‘serious’ jazz album, ‘Blessings’ can seem a bit impenetrable at first with its complex and sinuous musical mosaics and tendency to run off at right angles at any moment but, given time and space and, crucially, the right atmosphere to take in every note and nuance, the album opens up and gives its treasures freely.

Free Eddie, written by Dinesen, in honour of his good friend and fellow music lover, Eddie Michel, is a soul searching track that invites you to join three like-minded musicians on an intensely personal journey.

The jazz standard I’ve Told Every Little Star was composed in 1932 by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. It was introduced in the musical ‘Music in the Air’ and, with their version, the trio are giving an honorary nod to saxophone legend Sonny Rollins who often played it live in the late fifties. Jakob Dinesen has a more leisurely tone in his playing, giving the track breathing space to grow and Laust Sonne has swing down straight and imbues the music with grace, assurance and clarity.

Sonne wrote Anouar as a tribute to the Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem. There’s a laid back and enigmatic desert atmosphere to the music and a whole boat load of soul to Sonne’s drum playing which, allied with Jakob Dinesen’s deliciously dark tone, gives an exceedingly mysterious aura to proceedings.

Tyk Vals is a tune written by Dinesen, and is dedicated to the late Master Fatman (aka Morten Lindberg), who was very close to Jakob. The track invokes the warm and touching kindness that inspired many musicians and is smooth and sophisticated at heart, allowing a warm glow of contentment to settle on the listener.

The Charlie Haden penned Sandino allows fellow bass player Christensen to demonstrate his perceptive and slick bass playing skills on a lengthy solo that tops off this utterly compelling piece of music.

Eddie Harris’ Freedom Jazz Dance was a Miles Davis standard, featured on the album, ‘Miles Smiles’. It allows the three musicians here to just play with an utter freedom of expression, as if they are just jamming for a group of friends and not playing a concert in a prestigious location. You are completely drawn into the minds of the musicians as they intertwine their instruments in a classy musical spectacle.

‘Blessings’ is a recording that allows everyone to join the trio on a wonderful celebration of jazz as an art form but also as one with an utterly relaxed atmosphere. Three musicians playing at the height of their powers and obviously enjoying every moment, it is a party we should feel highly blessed to have been invited to.

Released 9th April, 2021

Order the album here:

Blessings | Jakob Dinesen/Anders Christensen/Laust Sonne (bandcamp.com)

Review – Tillison Reingold Tiranti – Allium: Una Storia – by Progradar

The Lineup of Andy Tillison (The Tangent/Po90), Jonas Reingold (The Flower Kings/Steve Hackett Band/Karmakanic) and Roberto Tiranti (New Trolls/Ken Hensley/Labyrinth) is a pan European Progressive Rock Band project and the album was recorded during lockdowns in Italy, Austria and the UK.

The album ‘Allium: Una Storia’ is a concept album which takes as its subject a real band, Allium, that Tillison saw play (and jammed with) in Italy when he was a teenager in the mid 1970s.

One afternoon spent with this band was enough to decide my career for the rest of my life” says Tillison, who subsequently spent a long time searching for any information about them.

It was the first time I saw and touched a synthesiser; it was the first time I ever saw an electric band play. It was a golden moment on a holiday camp in Italy that has been an influence on every recording I have ever made in the past 46 years.”

The new band –TRT-‘s album is an imagining of the record Allium might have made. Written in the style of the music that they played, the band were joined by Italian lyricist Antonio De Sarno (Moongarden, Barock Project, Mangala Vallis) who, in keeping with Tillison’s original music, wrote the kind of lyrics that might have been penned by Allium at that time.

All members of the band have contributed to the songwriting since inception. The album, whilst paying homage to this and many other forgotten Rock Progressivo Italiano bands, is all original material written in 2021.

Right, that’s the publicity blurb and the background out of the way, the main question is, is it any good?

The album consists of three tracks and is just over forty minutes long. I’ll give you my initial feelings first, the way I felt when I first listened all the way through and what I told Andy when I discussed it with him…

The feeling I get from the music is one of pure unfettered joy, it takes me back to when the world was a much more simple place. It literally does just take me away to a another place in my head and I just smile every time I listen to it.

Andy told me, “Like you, I find the modern world exhausting, I feel more and more like I’m in a dystopian story every day. So a bit of my own memory of more joyful times has helped!”

It certainly shows on this album, it just feels as if it was created naturally, with love and just a in a really relaxed way, it’s a feeling of freedom and no constraints, the album will be ready when it is done and not before.

“I have always found, at least since the Prog Glory Days that Italian Prog was almost the “real thing”. It’s not that Crimson and Yes and Emerson didn’t develop the style, they certainly did, but it was the Italians who really coalesced the style into the most diverse and free thinking forms. Even bands I love like Camel, Genesis, even ELP themselves were often left standing by The Italians. They hadn’t had much truck with Rock Music.. but when Prog arrived, we were on their turf.”, Andy went on to say.

So it’s that Rock Progressivo Italiano vibe brought right up to date for our modern times but music to give you some relief from the complexity of modern life. The swirling, sweeping keyboards that are are signature of Mr Tillison are present and correct and Jonas’ bass is as smooth and stylish as ever, his excellent electric guitar playing skills are also much evident on the album too but what makes this hugely different from what has gone before are Roberto Tiranti’s mesmerising vocals which, like all the best foreign language singers, make the lyrics less important than the actual way in which they are delivered, his voice is like an additional instrument. They add a bit of innocent naivety to the songs and take you back to the sepia tinged hue of a nostalgic 1970’s and, boy, have I longed to be somewhere like that quite a few times over the last eighteen months!

The three songs are the side long epic Mai Tornare and the two shorter tracks Ordine Nuovo and Nel Nome Di Dio and usually at this point, I would go into further detail about each one but, this time, I’m not. This album is a listening experience that should be consumed in one sitting, in the fashion of the 70’s and not dipping in to one track and going back later to listen to another.

Is ‘Allium: Una Storia’ an antidote to the lockdown and everything associated with it? Well I wouldn’t want to make a claim that huge and I don’t think Andy, Jonas or Roberto would thank me if I did! No, it is a joyous expression of music, as, deep down at its core, it should be. Simple but perfectly formed and harking back to the days when music just put a smile on your face, this is one album that deserves success just because of how it makes you feel and I love it for that.

The album is set for a SUMMER 2021 release and is available on Reingold Records. pre-orders are available at Jonas Reingold | Webshop