Review – Vinegar Joe: The Island Recordings 1972-1973, 3CD – by John Wenlock-Smith

Vinegar Joe were a band who were considered to be distinctly second division. Wannabe headliners, always gave a good show but somehow were unable to quite get up the ladder enough to get top billing status. This may in part have been due to their record company, Island, having their own ideas and agenda for the band. They could see a bright future for one of the two singers in the group, a certain smooth voiced Batley born Robert Palmer, yes, he of the dancing girls in the Addicted to Love video of the late 1980’s!

For, in him, they could see big dollar signs if were they able to manouvre him into a solo contract. Better still, they could make the band that he was part of, his backing band. Well, that may have been the plan however, Robert did not want to ditch his fellow singer Elaine Bookbinder, or as you may know her, Elkie Brooks. He wanted to stay with the band and see it through, very noble but management and record company did their own thing and caused the band to break up after an American tour and insisted that they came back to the UK to record their final album, ‘Six Star General’.

This new box set from those clever folks at Esoteric tells the whole sorry story from inception to implosion and gathers all three Vinegar Joe albums together, along with various single edits, to give a complete overview of a band who offered much and did their utmost to make it, but, as is often the way, interference and manipulation from management and other parties screwed them over. Although, as this set testifies, Vinegar Joe had talent and the potential to make it big but, somehow never really got the breaks they were due.

Vinegar Joe evolved out of an earlier outfit, called Dada, that was more of a jazz/blues type band that boasted ten members. This band recorded an album in 1969 that is certainly due a reissue. When Dada ended, they decided to strip the sound down to a more conventional rock band format and sound, becoming Vinegar Joe. Their eponymous debut album was released in 1972 and introduces the world to the powerful vocals of Elk (Elkie Brooks) and the soulful voice of Robert Palmer .

Occasionally they sing together but they, generally, separately, Elk certainly has a big voice and she can wail with the best of them, very often in a high-pitched warble (as shown on Early Morning Monday, which sounds remarkable). In addition to the main band, the album also featured various guests like Keef Hartley and Conrad Isadore, amongst others. This does mean there is a degree of inconsistency in the music, but it doesn’t really matter when it sounds as good as this.

Their second album, ‘Rock N’ Roll Gypsies’, is equally as hard hitting and has a Hipgnosis designed sleeve, reproduced here in a gatefold cover. The music also had changed, more a blues stomper type sound, like that of Canned Heat or Creedence Clearwater Revival. The album also features more slide guitar and Hammond Organ sounds, you can tell it would make a good live sound but was never actually recorded for any live releases sadly. Certainly, the change of style worked well for the band and the album was a powerful rock and roll release.

The third Album, ‘Six Star General’ (1973), was more of the same but with a slightly different line up, still with Elk and Palmer on vocals. Sadly, this was to be their last outing as Palmer was offered a solo contract by Island and the chance to record in Nassau in the Bahamas. This album contains the fabulous Black Smoke Rising from The Calumet.

This set really captures the essence of the band and offers a chance to rediscover this lost band of the 1970’s again. Personally, I like the debut album most out of the three as it best shows what the band were all about. It also has some strong tracks and that amazing voice of Elk, which is simply stunning. Highly recommended indeed, this set has much to offer anyone who loves good music.

Released 17th August, 2021.

Vinegar Joe: The Island Recordings 1972-1973, 3CD – Cherry Red Records

Review – Barclay James Harvest – Time Honoured Ghosts – by John Wenlock-Smith

As it is nearly autumn again and the nights start to draw in, we will shortly be seeing a whole slew of new releases lined up for the Christmas rollout in order to woo and tempt the faithful and the unwary into parting with their hard earned readies. In to this scenario Esoteric have dusted off the ever popular 1975 album ‘Time Honoured Ghosts’ from Barclay James Harvest, which has been remastered from a newly located mix of the album that had been lost for many years.

The album ushered in a golden era for the Barclays and was very successful, as were it follow ups ‘Gone to Earth’ and ‘Octoberon’ that were reissued a few years ago in expanded versions, again by Esoteric and they have done a lovely job of this fine album here on this reissue.

This version of ‘Time Honoured Ghosts’ differs very little from the version issued by Universal in 2003, well to these ears at least. What is different here is that there is a second disc which offers a 5.1 surround sound mix along with promotional videos shot in 1975 covering the tracks Jonathon, Titles , Moongirl, One Night and Beyond The Grave, although, to be fair, these videos are all shot in the studio with minimal effects other than seeing the band playing them. They are very much of their time we’re talking pre Bohemian Rhapsody here, music videos were very much in their infancy!

The album also has a new essay from Keith and Monica Damone of the Barclay James Harvest website that tells the story behind this new version. Finally, there is a lush fold out poster of the album cover that one could frame if you so wanted and it’s simply gorgeous. The Album espoused the gentle and pastoral brand of progressive rock that BJH operated in and, whilst the album is known to most folks, it is in essence a good distillation of the classic BJH sound.

The album has, as a bonus track, a US version of Child of the Universe that was slated for a release but never was. I’ve always liked this album since the time that Titles was Radio One’s single of the week as its lyrics were made up of Beatles song titles but, in reality, they told the story of the breakdown in the relationship between Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Even though it got heavy promotion at the time of release, it still failed to catch the public’s imagination and so failed to chart, a great pity as it was clever and had a really classy sound. The public are like that though, pearls before swines et al.

In some respects it is a little hard to see who this set is aimed at as any BJH fans should already have this in one guise or another. I guess the 5.1 up-sound mix may appeal to some, although I don’t have a 5.1 system so I haven’t heard it and, as such, can’t comment on how it sounds and what it does for the music. I do like the poster though and it’s good to have the videos, dated as they may be. Esoteric always do these remasters very well, diligently and with care and sympathy, showing great respect for the album which, in this case, it heartily deserved and is worthy of such care and affection.

The album has some classic material on it. Songs like Titles, Jonathon, Beyond the Grave and Song For You are well known staples in the BJH canon and still form parts of their shows, even now, over 40 years on from when this album was released. It is often hard to appreciate the impact this album had when originally released, the album was recorded in San Francisco and produced by Elliot Maser (apart from Child Of The Universe which was recorded at Advision in London and produced by Rodger Bain). Therecord was followed by a UK and European Tour which led to greater success in Germany for the band.

The album stands up as a real classic of the 1970’s and was a chart hit in the UK and still sounds marvellous today, being one of the finer moments of Barclay James Harvest’s career. The version of Child of the Universe on this release is significantly different to the one that graced Everyone is Everyone Else album in 1974.

So, if you like this album and fancy a newly remastered version and DVD with surround sound mix, you could do a lot worse that getting this. A great album, now even better than before? You decide…

Released 24th September, 2021.

Barclay James Harvest: Time Honoured Ghosts, Expanded & Remastered 1CD/1DVD – Cherry Red Records

Review – Yes – The Quest – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘The Quest’ is the first new Yes music in seven years. During that time much has happened with the death of founder member and bassist extraordinaire Chris Squire. Chris wanted the band to continue without him and had readied a replacement in Billy Sherwood. Sherwood was already known to Yes fans as he had been involved with the ‘Open Your Eyes’ and ‘Live at the House of Blues’ albums from the early 2000’s.

After the somewhat disappointing ‘Heaven and Earth’ album from 2014, this album needed to be a significant improvement over that somewhat lacking release and I can say that, whilst it may not be the absolute triumph that was needed, it is at least a far better and more convincing album all round. When you consider that the album was created across various continents and times, all whilst in the midst of the Covid pandemic, I think you will agree that this is a very worthy effort by the band to move onwards once again.

The release comprises of the main album and a second disc with 3 bonus tracks, although with the main CD running at 47 minutes, quite why they needed a second disc is a bit of a mystery as the 3 bonus track could have all fit on the main disc, quite odd really.  Another big difference here is that Steve Howe has produced the whole album. I have to say that he has done a good job too, giving plenty of space for each instrument and the vocals to be clearly separated and heard, giving a good clear sound throughout.

The album opens with a very strong start in The Ice Bridge, which bears a passing resemblance to Fanfare For The Common Man, especially in the keyboards of Geoff Downes. Yet, even so, this is a good strong opening track that sets out the stall for what is to follow. The song has a definite Yes groove to it, offering a first glimpse of Billy’s take on Chris Squires‘ legendary bass playing and he gets it bang to rights. Jon Davison is on top form, still sounding like Anderson-lite but adding his own touch in the vocals. The song also has a great ascending riff from Steve Howe that really works well, adding much pace and drive to proceedings. This song also allows for some good interaction between Steve’s guitar and the Geoff’s keyboards, all very ably backed by the rhythm section of Billy Sherwood and Alan White, it’s all very fine indeed but, can it continue? is the question here.  

Dare to Know follows and opens with a sprightly guitar line from Steve Howe and some good bass that underpins the music most satisfyingly. The song is quite mellow and laid back really but, even so, still manages to impress and, once again, Jon Davison’s voice sounds fabulous and really suits the sound, which is very full and impressive. 

I will say that I think this album is a grower and familiarity will reveal its treasures as you listen to it, so be prepared to invest some time with it to really get the most out of it. It’s not a bona fide classic but it certainly has enough moments of brilliance to make it worthy of hearing. Yes have been around for fifty two years now, so they have little to prove these days and really we should just be glad that they still are around and still making music in the twilight of their years. 

Minus the Man has a certain something to it, especially in the chorus and the lovely and eloquent guitar line that weaves its way through the song so gracefully. The track is very pleasing and sets you up well for the epic Leave Well Alone that follows. This one has touches of Asia and also has some delicate acoustic and steel guitars from Steve Howe. The song is in three parts which all work well together and, as the longest track on the album, it really does impress. As it gives room for some stretching out, I imagine this would be a good live track for the band when they tour next year.

The Western Edge is the next track and this has a broad sound palette to it with more of Howe’s guitar lines adding great sound touches to proceedings. The pace of is brisk and rather urgent in places and it benefits from that energy, as well as the synths from Geoff that are littered throughout this song. It is the shortest on the main album and it does not overstay its welcome at all. Future Memories is a gentler song driven by Steve’s acoustic guitar and interlaced with his electric guitar lines as well. It is also graced by a very fine vocal from Jon, who I have to say really sings well on this album, he has grown into his role in the band and, whilst he is clearly influenced by Jon Anderson, his own unique voice has emerged, as is clearly shown on Music to My Ears, the penultimate track on the main album.

The final main album track is the Caribbean inspired A Living Island, inspired by Jon enduring lockdown in Barbados for five months, yes, some folks suffer for their art don’t they ? The song is graceful and moves from a Caribbean lilt to a more conventional ecological tour de force again, there are lots of Steve Howe’s delicate mandolin and guitar on this track.

This track closes the main album but I’ll do a short summary of disc two with the three extra songs. Sister Sleeping Soul is another Howe driven track with gentle guitar tones and a good vocal from Jon. Mystery Tour is a tribute, musically and vocally, to the Beatles and gives the chance to cram as many Beatle references into one song as they can, it’s still an interesting song though and has some merit to it i feel. It is also good to hear Steve playing such fluid guitar lines and tones and has a lovely guitar break from Steve along with great dynamics. This shorter track is very worthy of hearing as it has much happening throughout. Damaged World is another good track again with an environmental bent to the lyrics but the groove is strong and, musically, it is a good song. It is not as good or strong as the songs on the main album but, even so, it is always good to have Yes music in whatever form it may come.

This album set has caused lots of different views and opinions amongst fans both old and new but, in conclusion, I would say that, as an album, this is fine if you place it in its context and bear in mind how it was compiled. On that basis it is a worthy addition to the Yes canon and should be judged as such. There is much to enjoy here if you open your ears to this particular version of the band.

Released 1st October, 2021.

Order from the link here:

The Quest (lnk.to)

Review – Steve Hackett – Surrender of Silence – by John Wenlock-Smith

Steve Hackett may be able to draw his pension these days but, even so, he has lost none of his fire or passion for making music as this, his second album of this year, clearly shows. A man who knows his own identity and is secure with his history and pedigree.

This album is his latest electric rock album unlike his earlier classical guitar album, ‘Under a Mediterranean Sky’, that was released in February of this year. On this release, Steve continues to mine the rich creative seam that surfaced on ‘At the Edge of Night’, ‘The Night Siren’ and ‘Wolflight’ and it fits well alongside each of those previous albums.

The album features all the members of his current touring band along with various guests, including Phil Ehart of Kansas who appears on the epic Shanghai To Samarkand. Big Big Train’s Nick Di’Virgilio appears on two tracks as does Christine Townsend, whose graceful violin and viola appear throughout.

Steve says on the album’s rear sleeve, “This album is a journey when no journeys were possible.”, meaning the worldwide covid pandemic that affected just about everyone. On this release Steve invites us to travel the world with him from the Urals to the Roof of Africa and on to the Himalayas. An epic album then for an epic voyage, let’s take a trip shall we as the album plays on.

Most rock fans will know the piece Eruption that was on Van Halen’s debut album or I’m A Believer from Giant, whose incendiary guitar intro made big waves in the early 1990’s. Well This album opens with The Obliterati which sees Steve using his tapping skills and arpeggio sweeps to craft a similarly striking prelude to the song Natalia, Steve said that with the orchestrations of Natalia he felt he had to stamp the guitar onto the track as a real presence and he certainly succeeds here. In fact I think if the wider rock community heard this blistering intro, they’d be amazed that a pensioner could play with so much fire, skill and technique.

It really makes you go wow, even when Roger King’s orchestrations are introduced, this still sounds truly fabulous and it is a spectacular and fine way to open the album before the more mellow tones of Natalia begin. A very moving song about a Russian everywoman who suffered at many hands over the years. This song has great orchestrations to it and you can hear the Russian classical influences.

Relaxation Music for Sharks (Featuring Feeding Frenzy) is another instrumental from Steve. It is a highly atmospheric piece with lots of great sounds and a very rocky and hard-hitting middle section where everyone is playing fast. Roger’s synth lines match Steve’s wah-wah guitar, the piece returning to a calmer state at the end, signifying that the feeding is over, well for now at least. Next follows a very African sounding song, Wingbeats, with Amanda Lemann. The McBroom sisters chant African vocals and the song has a very good chorus that sounds authentically African. The track based on Steve’s own trip to Africa a few years ago. The Devil’s Cathedral has a very gothic sounding organ, all ominous and portentous.It’s a song about unbridled ambition sung by Nad Sylvan, who is in fine voice throughout the album. The track gallops along at a fast pace, with lots of dynamism to assist its passage, all very impressive stuff.

Held In The Shadows is a far softer and more gentle song entirely, written by Steve as a love song to his wife Jo. This is a powerful and emotional piece of music, inspired by a lovely woman who has made his life better and completed him wonderfully. The album’s epic, Shanghai To Samarkand follows. Taking the route of the old silk road from China to the middle east through Turkmenistan as it’s inspiration, this track sees Steve working once again with Phil Ehart of Kansas (with whom he recorded the ‘Please Don’t Touch’ album) and this song is another excellent sonic journey with subtle but effective use of authentic instruments like the Dutar and Oriental Zither. This piece has the exotic world music influences clearly shown and, with its almost Kashmir-type riff played throughout, really impresses. Another excellent track of great music, I think l,ive it would be a powerhouse we may find out on his ‘Seconds Out’ tour this year.     

Fox’s Tango is a more political piece as Steve compares the haves and the have nots and talks about the inequalities of life these days. It could also be his view of the Trump era, short but worthy of inclusion, as is Day Of The Dead, a very dark nod to Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival, territory Steve has visited before with the ‘Darktown’ album. Scorched Earth is an ecological song as Steve tells us, “Tomorrow’s trees, tomorrow’s seas, Can you breathe tomorrow’s dream…” This song has lots of Steve’s fluid guitar playing. The album closes with the acoustically driven instrumental Esperanza (which is Spanish for hope), a brief ,delicate track that brings everything to a peaceful close and leaves you to ponder again the sonic journey that you have just undertaken.

As always, the music is fabulous as are the booklet and sleeve. This release is every bit as strong as his earlier albums and Steve has already been contemplating what is next for him once he has completed his tour of ‘Seconds Out’. I Guess time will tell but, for now, enjoy this fantastic new album from the man with the golden touch and fleet fingers.

Released 10th September, 2021

Order the album here:

Steve Hackett | Steve Hackett (hackettsongs.com)

Review – Glass Hammer – Skallagrim – Into The Breach

Glass Hammer return with ‘Skallagrim – Into The Breach’, Part Two of last year’s ‘Dreaming City’ which found lyricist, bassist and co-producer, Steve Babb, drawing inspiration from sword & sorcery novels of the seventies. Now the album has inspired an actual four-hundred page novel, “Skallagrim – In The Vales Of Pagarna”, which Babb plans to release in early 2022.

“Skallagrim is a thief who lost his memory and the girl he loves,” explains Babb. “He’s up against all sorts of wickedness to reclaim both, but finds an ally in a sentient, eldritch sword. Now his fate is bound to the sword as much as to the quest to find his love.”

Into The Breach finds our protagonist going to war, so the music absolutely has to reflect that.” Babb promises that fans will hear “a much heavier, angrier album than we’ve ever done before.”

Let’s cut to the chase, prepare to be blown away by this monster of an album! Brooding with an ancient, primeval power, this leviathan of a release sees the introduction of new vocalist Hannah Pryor who joins stalwarts Babb, Fred Schendel and Aaron Raulston, along with GH session guitarists Reese Boyd and Brian Brewer, for the band’s twenty-first studio album.

Album opener He’s Got A Girl begins our protagonist’s tale on a gentle note as Hannah’s ethereal vocal overlays a tender piano note. The peace is shattered as the monstrous behemoth that is Anthem To Andorath hoves into view. The guitar riffs are as heavy as a two ton heavy thing (thanks Queensrÿche!) that reverberates through your whole body. Accompanied by Babb’s stellar bass and Raulston’s thunderous drumming, you will not have heard anything quite like this from the band before. Pryor’s voice adds measured ferocity, matched by Steve Babb’s backing vocals. I feel like I’ve been run over by a prog powered train!

Sellsword carries on in a similar vein but with more of a grunge fuelled vibe, the reverberating guitar riff hammering against your psyche. The fiery guitar licks give a hard rock edginess and Hannah gets her head banging going with gusto. It’s like Black Sabbath and Nirvana got together for a jam session and let it all hang out, brutal and blisteringly rapacious. Now the band are really getting into their groove with the 70’s hard rock flourishes of the intro to Steel before Schendel’s artful keyboards and Hannah’s searching vocal bring us back to more regular Glass Hammer territory. The thing is, this is something that they know inside out and are masters off and it really shows, there’s almost a funkiness to the rhythm section and you can tell that Fred is on a roll and really enjoying himself.

There then follows a dark and mysterious triumvirate of instrumental tracks starting with the low key cryptic electronic meanderings of A Spell Upon His Mind which then bleeds into the more esoteric jazz fusion psychedelia of Moon Pool. The trio comes to a close with the deliciously enigmatic brooding tones of The Dark and it’s Hammer Horror-esque guitar and Hammond organ combination. Three tracks that really add a magical and secretive feel to the album, I really liked this middle section, it’s creative and imaginative and adds a lot to the overall story.

Hard rock returns with the forceful and mighty Led Zeppelin leanings of The Ogre Of Archon. The towering guitar work, edgy bass playing and lofty drums give a vast feel to the song, those riffs can really move musical mountains and Babb’s vocals add to the arcane atmosphere that the music engenders. Boy, do you really feel that these guys are having an absolute blast, these tracks are going to be immense live! There’s a real sense of urgency to Into The Breach, the intense and impassioned guitars adding a real groove to the music. Glass Hammer are moving into early Rush territory here as the album starts to feel like a loving homage to some of the great hard rock, metal and prog acts of the last four decades while never straying from the path or the passion of the story.

The Forlorn Hope carries on in a similar vein, what we have here is a group of musicians whose playing is as tight as can be but who are obviously enjoying every minute playing music that they are totally invested in. Hannah is a perfect foil, her voice resonates passion, fervour and intensity and draws you into the continued tale of sword and sorcery. The funky, repeated riff of The Writing On The Wall is incredibly catchy and reminds me of Lenny Kravitz, the whole song having something of a psychedelic aura as Hannah’s vocals glide smoothly along. This is superb, polished rock music with progressive leanings and I am more impressed with every listen.

One of the best songs on the album (in my opinion) is the wonderful Hyperborea that wears its Rush leanings squarely on its sleeve, even Hannah gets in on the act with her Geddy Lee influenced vocals. It’s a really enjoyable, smile inducing, ride from beginning to end and just oozes cool with its metaphorical Ray Bans in place. The final track, Bright Sword, is a potent, commanding reprise of A Desperate Man from the last album and closes things neatly.

With ‘Skallagrim – Into The Breach’, Glass Hammer have raised the (already heavy) bar to even greater heights. Epic in scope, majestic in scale and blurring the lines between progressive rock and progressive metal, GH have given us their best album of recent years and possibly their best release ever and it should be another monster success for this evergreen band.

Released 15th October, 2021

Order the album here:

Glass Hammer official website

All pictures credit Julie Babb Photography.

Review – Cyan – For King And Country

Taking music written and recorded over thirty years ago and rewriting, rerecording and reimagining it can be said by some to be a cynical marketing exercise and I must admit I wasn’t entirely convinced when I heard that prog scion Robert Reed was resurrecting his old Cyan band name and doing just that with the original material.

To be fair to Rob, I had to listen to the album and make my own mind up and, after just a couple of listens all the negative connotations disappeared. Whether it helped that I had never heard the material before, I don’t know but this ‘new’ album is like a breath of fresh air, the songs are wonderfully created and performed by this stellar collection of progressive rock stalwarts.

You will never go wrong when you have the dulcet tones of Peter Jones ( and his superb flute playing) gracing your album, add in the searing guitar talent that is Luke Machin and the stylish bass of Dan Nelson then you have the beginnings of something special. Take that trio and add the unique talent that is Robert Reed and you take everything up another notch and on this album they create something quite remarkable indeed.

A beguiling musical journey from the powerful and compelling The Sorceror to the emotive highs and lows of the incredibly moving title track For King And Country, I have never stopped smiling through my multiple listens to this outstanding achievement. There are some highlights, like the amazing Snowbound and its dazzling display of instrumental brilliance, the warm and tender wistful tones of I Defy The Sun, the epic and intricate scope of Man Amongst Men and the joyous strains of the beautiful Call Me, but every track is a sweet-sounding gem and whenever the amazing voice of Angharad Brinn blends seamlessly with Peter Jones then the symmetry is just perfect.

Rob Reed: “Little did I know in 1983, sitting at the school piano writing these songs, that almost 40 years later those same songs would sound like they do on this album. I remember the original Cyan, made up of school mates, pooling our money, £35 to record them at a local 4 track studio with basic equipment. It’s been amazing to finally hear the songs at their full potential, with modern recording techniques and an amazing line up of players.”

I never mind admitting when I am wrong and my initial thoughts about this release were so wide of the mark that they were downright embarrassing. Robert Reed has looked to the past to create something that is definitively of our time now. A masterpiece of intricate melodies, mellifluous vocals and intelligent songwriting, ‘For King And Country’ delights on every level and makes you smile. You can’t really ask for much more than that, can you?

Released 24th September, 2021.

Order the album here:

Cyan (tigermothshop.co.uk)

Review – Tony Kaye – End Of Innocence – by John Wenlock-Smith

Significant events in history are often remembered by thinking about where we were at the time. For instance, I was with a friend when I heard the sad news that Princess Diana had died in a car crash in Paris on the 31st August 1999.

The events of 9/11 were very memorable for me in that I was working in Liverpool at the time and some of our people were en-route to new York at the time and we didn’t know what flights they were on or whether or not they had got caught up in the whole sequence of events. It turned out that they hadn’t and were diverted to Canada as US airspace was closed down because of the attacks.

This meant that I had the news on my computer and kept it on all afternoon and watched the tragedy unfold in real time, via live feeds. I saw the second plane hit and saw the folks jumping to their deaths and watching with horror when the towers finally gave way.

I was appalled, shocked,horrified and angry at this senseless barbaric act. Especially as I had long wanted to visit New York and see the World Trade Center for myself. Now that was no longer possible thanks to these terrorists, well I had flown over the towers in 1989 on my way to Florida so I had at least seen them standing proud as a beacon of America before this tragedy happened. or have been conceived of by Osama and his merry madmen.

Tony Kaye was similarly moved by the dreadful events of that fateful day. So much so that he took his keyboards out of storage in his garage and began composing much that reflected his feelings about that day. Now his first solo album from emerges just shy of the 20th anniversary of those events, the album being largely instrumental in nature apart from the opening track and track 10 which features his wife.

Tony Kaye was the original Yes keyboard man who has been with the band on several different occasions, initially in their early days and prior to ‘Close to the Edge’, for which he was replaced by Rick Wakeman. When Tony left Yes he spent time in Flash with Peter Banks and thereafter with Badger who supported Yes at The Rainbow in 1972. They recorded the set and subsequently released it as the excellent ‘One Live Badger’ album, produced by Jon Anderson.

After this, he played with Badfinger and then joined Chris Squire and Alan White in the Cinema project that morphed into a new version of Yes along with Trevor Rabin. This, of course, yielded the mega hit Owner of a Lonely Heart and the ‘90125’ album and subsequent World Tour. Following on came ‘Big Generator’ and then somewhat unusual ‘Union’ project which merged a Trevor Rabin version of Yes with Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman and Howe in an 8 man conglomerate of Yes members with mixed results and a confused touring scenario.

After the ‘Union’ tour Tony had decided to retire as he was approaching 70 years of age. He slipped quietly into the background until the events of September 11th stirred the desire to remember the dreadful events in the only way he knew, i.e. musically. This album is a requiem and memorial to the near three thousand people who died that day as it explores the events as they unfolded.

It is possibly best heard in one sitting as Tony intended, the music will take you on a strange journey into those events and, yes, it may fill you with strong emotions as you listen. However, I would urge you to persevere with this as it is a remarkable journey, highly emotional and yet somehow triumphant. It works as a testament to the bravery shown on that day by the people of New York and its Police and Firefighters, many of whom are included in that death toll of 2997 people. It is also a reflection of the resilience of the American nation as they weathered this storm together in sorrow..

The album is really just all by Tony alone, although his wife Dani Torchia appears on track 10 – Sweetest Dreams – while fellow Yes man Jay Schellan also appears on Track 8 – Flight 11 – on which he plays a drum solo. The album doesn’t actually show any musicians credited other than Tony and Dani.

This is a hugely atmospheric album whose quiet dignity contains both malice and beauty. It certainly is very moving and obviously a labour of love and a dignified memorial to all of those affected by the events of that day. The artwork is by long time Yes collaborator Roger Dean who, instead of spatial visions, offers a rather more sombre view, invoking a vision of ungodly destruction and storm clouds that matches the remarkable sounding and fascinating music.

Whilst the events were dreadful and shocking, this album at least offers a degree of hope and optimism that they that the aims were totally in vain and that good things have emerged from those dark days. This is a musical experience that will require your patience to unravel and appreciate but it is a most worthy piece of work and highly impressive. The use of actual recordings from the day add great insight as to how the events unfolded and add much realism to the music. It makes for a very impressive album, highly recommended on a bold and wide screen, and is dignified and complete.

Released 10th September, 2021

Order the album here:

Tony Kaye: End Of Innocence – Cherry Red Records

Review – The Holy Road – An Unshakable Demon

“Ordinary people are products of their environment and fit in. Artists transcend their environment and stand out.”Oliver Gaspirtz

When something is truly different to the norm (I use the phrase ‘the norm’ to mean what you are not normally used to) it tends to stand out and be noticed, whether for good or bad being for you to decide.

Jonathan Stolber came to my attention last year with his Nils Frahm curated Piano Day release in aid of tinychanges.com (to help raise mental health awareness) and I found his music difficult to pigeonhole (usually a good thing!) and it also got under my skin in a memorable way.

When Jonathan contacted me with regard to his soon to be released EP ‘An Unshakeable Demon’, my interest was immediately piqued. He spent the majority of our year of interminable and intermittent lockdowns locked in his studio putting the final touches to the record. Mixed by legendary engineer Steven Durose (Oceansize) & mastered at Abbey Road by the iconic Frank Arkwright (Mogwai), the EP was completed with the collaboration of some his favourite musicians including Chris Duffin (DrahlaVirginia Wing), James Saddington (EaststrikewestBridesmaid) and Ben Weedon (Maybeshewill).

From the electronica defining lo-fi shoegaze of opener Title Sequence through to the primal darkness of intriguing, mysterious instrumental closer Against / Social / Media, this beguiling collection of six tracks takes you on a brooding and dramatic musical journey to places your mind has never been before.

The industrial synth-heavy sinister beats of the iconic first single from the EP, Coming Up For Air, bring to mind echoes of a shadowy Radiohead where Jonathan’s vocals reflect Thom Yorke’s but with a hint of something more theatrical, like a symbiosis with Mark Almond. It is all deliciously enigmatic and murky and makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. This feeling bleeds into the teasing ambiguity of The Chauffer with its hushed, almost mumbled vocals and jazz infused drums. The slightly anarchic keyboards add a touch of the arcane and transcendental to another superbly cryptic piece of music.

The wistful, sepia tinged vibes of A Quiet Dedication reverberate delightfully before the calm solitude of Slow This Down (Epilogue) with its pensive and sombre tone, lays a forlorn, contemplative blanket across your soul.

Never be afraid to challenge yourself and listen to something different, I found the eclectic and evocative wonder of ‘An Unshakable Demon’ really hit home with me. There’s a knowing feel of contrast and distinction about this perceptive release and a pride of being different inherent in every note. One of this year’s most enlightening releases and one that still intrigues me after every listen.

Released 24th September, 2021

An Unshakable Demon by The Holy Road – DistroKid

Review – Three Colours Dark – Love’s Lost Property

‘Love’s Lost Property’ is the 2nd album from Three Colours Dark – the new project from ex-Karnataka/The Reasoning singer Rachel Cohen & Panic Room/Luna Rossa musician, Jonathan Edwards. Coming just 18 months after their debut (‘The Science
Of Goodbye’) it’s a natural progression with more prog informed moments but still retaining the melodic strengths that have been so much a part of the duo’s songwriting to date.

If you were (and still are) a fan of early Karnataka, The Reasoning and Panic Room (like me) then you could see this new incarnation of honey voiced singer Rachel Cohen and renowned musician Jonathan Edwards as a natural progression. I’ll say one thing, the duo’s sound is nectar to my ears and this nine track album is as beautiful a creation as you will have heard so far this year.

Rachel’s mellifluous vocals are central to everything, she has that almost Celtic timbre to her voice and the musical accompaniment on opener Love’s Lost Property just enhances that feel, Kate Ronconi’s ethereal violin adding real mystery to the track. The guitar playing is wistful and emotive and the whole song just oozes class. Dark Before Dawn gives added impetus and a slight undercurrent of urgency along with an elegantly strummed acoustic guitar while the rhythm section holds everything in place. Jonathan guides everything like the prefect conductor and you find yourself becoming immersed in a velvet smooth musical experience.

The graceful piano is an exquisite foil for Rachel’s voice on the cut glass refinement of Requiem before the gloriously whimsical oboe interjects. Just under four minutes of wonderment that will lift you onto a higher plane, a bewitching piece of music. Last Day On Earth sees a melancholy edge enter into the vocals and the music takes on a wistful tone on this refined track, the guitar that closes out the song is really superb.

A sumptuously elegant piano refrain introduces the sparse wonder of Wish I Wished You Well, a majestic, laid back song where the divine strings once again take the music to another level, a jaw-droppingly good piece of music. There’s a more jaunty feel to The Circus, the violin having an Irish jig feel to it, the songwriting on this record is just brilliant and everything just clicks, note perfect.

Right, let’s get this out there, I used to be a big New Romantic in the 80’s and I was a big fan of Duran Duran, among others so, a cover of Ordinary World would have to be seriously good to impress me. Well, this version of the classic track is absolutely fantastic, Rachel’s vocals fit the song perfectly and the accompanying music is fabulous, especially the addition of the violin (used very intelligently and sparingly) and the guitar solo is just awe-inspiring.

Eye For An Eye takes the Three Colours Dark template and adds layers of sombre reflectiveness to give it a brooding atmosphere and the closest thing we have had to a darker feeling piece on the album. Steve Simmons’ saxophone, along with the almost menacing guitar, adds some real character to what is a haunting song. The album closes in style with Love’s Lost Property (Reprise), an acoustic, pared back echo of the opener.

‘Love’s Lost Property’ is an exquisite creation, nine tracks of wondrously charming music with Rachel’s honeyed vocals lifting this release well above what you may have heard already this year. I suggest you get your hands on it as soon as you can, it is definitely worth seeking out.

Released 10th September, 2021

Order the CD from Burning Shed here:

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Review – Amanda Lehman – Innocence and Illusion – by John Wenlock-Smith

Amanda Lehmann is that rare article, A genuinely talented Musician who has, until now, never really had the opportunity to shine. Well, this solo album from one of Steve Hackett’s musical foils certainly impresses with its mixture of styles and textures and is backed by several of her fellow ‘Hacketeers’, including main man Steve on guitar on two tracks and harmonica on a third. Ex Hackett collaborator and all round Progfather Nick Magnus‘ keyboards synths and mellotron also come out to play on this short but enchanting release.

Consisting of nine tracks with a run time of just over forty-six minutes, this is a well-rounded set from Amanda who gets to show all her skills on this album, along with some fabulous contributions from the ‘Hacketeers’, who all add much colour to this fascinating album. Let’s have a listen to see what treasures await us in Amanda’s world…

Album opener Who Are The Heroes begins with keyboards and Amanda’s voice singing “Dreamers Dream, While angels fall…”, this is followed by the introduction of Amanda’s trusty red guitar that will be known to any who have seen her sharing a stage on Steve’s ‘Genesis Revisited’ shows in the past few years. Amanda lays down a strong guitar line over the burbling synths of Nick Magnus, who contributes a synth solo after Amanda has played a brief but emotive solo. Amanda has obviously learnt from the master, and it shows well in her fluid emotive playing, which is sublime and elevates the song upwards. This is a strong opener and her voice is in fine form as Tinkerbell follows, it’s another great song, full of wonder in the vocals, you can hear elements of both Stevie Nicks and Kate Bush in her vocals and in the imagery in the lyrics. This track has another brief solo from Amanda and a truly fabulous orchestral arrangement, especially the flying sequence in Tinkerbell, which conjures up a world of enchantment and magic in its melody. When tied to the chorus, it really captures something very special indeed and is one of the highlights of the album.

Only Happy When It Rains features a certain Mr. Hackett on harmonica where he gets to indulge his own unique take on the instrument and sounds equally at home here as he is on six strings. He is also accompanied by Rob Townsend who provides a sultry saxophone solo to the closing moments of the song, this song certainly swings. Next track The Watcher is the album’s longest and one in which Amanda gets to channel her inner Knopfler as she has a very Dire Straits tone to this song. Her playing on this song is highly impressive, very fluid and with a great tone to it. It is all very impressive sounding and makes it very strong track in its own right, one on which she stamps her own identity and authority on, showing that she has not merely called in favours from well-known friends and that she can deliver on her own.

Memory Lane features a beautiful orchestral arrangement by Roger King, who sympathetic melody lends magnificent support to this moving song, the graceful saxophone solo from Rob Townsend is also incredibly. This song is written about Amanda’s mother who died from Vascular Dementia and in the lyrics she recounts the memory loss that her mother faced. This is a very important track and one that will strike a chord with many as dementia is a growing health concern afffecting a lot of people as we get older. A brave song handled with dignity and compassion. Next is a rockier outing with Steve Hackett  playing in tandem and harmony with Amanda. The track is called Forever Days and certainly has a lot of power to it, along with a strident organ (again delivered by Nick Magnus) and a fabulous dual guitar riff that hurtles along very happily and nicely. There is some very impressive playing from all concerned, with a great dual solo as Amanda and Steve trade licks and runs, the muscular riff is very enjoyable and it’s all impressive stuff.

Next is a track that originally featured on the ‘Harmony for Elephants’ charity CD of a few years ago, remixed here by Nick Magnus. This song is a beautiful piece of music with fabulous words and is supporting a very worthy cause too. Childhood Delusions is another emotional journey, this time into childhood dreams and how Amanda feels that “The Man in The Moon Still Follows Me Home”, again, the imagery used in this song is evocative and memorable. The album ends with a duet between Steve Hackett on acoustic guitar and Amanda, whose voice is poignant and moving. The music marries the words and closes this highly impressive release on a high.

This album is a joy to listen to and has much to offer; great music, fabulous performances with warmth and depth and is a tribute to the talent Amanda offers, there’s no wonder Steve Hackett rates her so highly!

Released 20th August, 2021

Order the album here:

AMANDA LEHMANN – INNOCENCE AND ILLUSION CD | Steve Hackett (hackettsongs.com)