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.

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:

Search (burningshed.com)

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)

Review – Great North Star – Great North Star

Great North Star is a project put together by Dean Thom and his buddy Phil Considine who’ve been in various bands together for over 30 years. The name comes from the duo’s shared interest in astronomy and all things space.

The initial reason for the project coming together, was Dean being approached by an audience member who worked in the film industry, who after watching a live performance at a festival, where his previous instrumental ambient project, A Knife That Fell From The Sky, were playing, asked him to produce some music with a view to providing music for film and TV. The duo started with that in mind but it’s since grown into a stand alone project.

Great North Star brings to mind the patience and quiescence required for ornithology; music for bird watching! As bracing as the chill winds blasting across the desolated hills of the Derbyshire Moorlands, Great North Star draws down influences from a deep pool of post rock, krautrock, electronica, progressive, folk and ambient vibes.’

Eleven chilled out, sparse but graceful musical pieces creating an expansive and enigmatic soundscape to a quieter, laid back life where contemplative solitude in wide open spaces (real or imagined) leads to an ethereal cinematic nirvana.

Once you start listening to this refined and contemplative artistic gem, you are gradually drawn into a mystical world of calm where you become a traveller into the deepest reaches of your psyche. Dean Thom’s rangy, pared back electric guitar stretches out wistfully over Phil Considine’s soft electronic flutter, creating a panorama where less is most definitely more.

I’ve not heard anything quite like this meditative and introspective masterpiece, ambient, chill out music doesn’t get much better than this. Step out of this confusing and hectic world that we live in, if only for the thirty nine minutes running time, and allow your mind and your soul to recharge. A wonderful and insightful masterpiece that will stay with you for a very long time.

I’ve said enough, only by listening to this sombre, thoughtful musical paragon yourself will you really understand the attraction…

Released July 23rd, 2021

Order the album from bandcamp here:

Great North Star | Great North Star (bandcamp.com)

Review – Big Hogg – Pageant of Beasts – by Jon Wenlock-Smith

Big Hogg hail from Glasgow, which is over 550 miles from their spiritual, musical home of Canterbury in Kent. Or so it would appear to be, based upon hearing this album, ‘Pageant of Beasts‘, that was released this July on Bad Elephant Music.

This album bears significant reminders of the thriving musical scene that Canterbury gave to the world through bands like Caravan, Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers and many others. It also has a heady mix of jazz leanings and and avant-garde feel, which makes the music different as well as memorable, taking in psychedelia and jazz influences along the way.

The first piece, Golden Beasts, is a solo trumpet fanfare which opens and closes the album and upon hearing it I was strongly reminded of 80’s jazz luminaries Working Week as they ploughed a similar cross-genre furrow back in the late 1980’s, rather successfully too. Next track Here Come The Moles is a little left of centre and hinged on a hypnotic bass motif from Martin Beer which, alongside Justin Lumsden’s guitar and vocals from him and Sophie Sexon, makes a rather impressive impact. Man Overboard brings a distinct west coast USA vibe to the party. Imagine the Beach Boys with trumpets and you’ll get the idea! It is another very interesting track, the brass section sounds fabulous here, adding much colour and impact to a fine track along with sweet flute from Sophie.

Smoking Again starts out like a Faces outtake with a raspy vocal from Justin and some fine fuzz and wah-wah guitar lines. There is a lot going on in this track but it manages to avoid sounding shambolic, in fact, along with Here Come The Moles, it is one of my favorite tracks on the album . This is followed by Willow’s Song which is a lot more atmospheric and ethereal sounding. It comes from The Wicker Man and this version is fabulous. Red Rum has a nod to folk group Pentangle, especially in the bass department. 

All Alone Stone really wears its Canterbury credentials on its sleeve proudly and puts me in mind of Greenslade with its keyboard stylings. This track is very impressive sounding indeed and is the longest track on the album. It is a gentle, yet exciting, musical progression, making it a great listen. I am really impressed by this album and I’ve enjoyed discovering its treasures slowly as they unfold over multiple listens. Magistellus is next and this offers a great interplay between flute and guitar in the middle section and is another very fine track.

The Wyverns is Big Hogg at their most proggy, almost space rock sounding at points and follows the pattern of the latter half of the album where the band really up their progressive side and offer some highly unusual pieces and some excellent musicianship, Bouffant Tail being a case in point, wildly unhinged and all very strange indeed. This is a short track that is rapidly followed by Cat Fool, which sounds like a long-lost track from the early days of King Crimson, albeit with added brass, very interesting and different and it also has a lovely guitar break from Justin. The album ends with the return of the trumpet fanfare, entitled Too Much Belly Not Enough Paw, which brings the album full circle to end as it began.

This is a remarkable musical journey taking in jazz, psychedelia and other influences along the way and is a testament to crafting different, yet still vibrant, music for today’s age. This album will take a while to seep through and sink into your brain, however this is so very worth it. Big Hogg are certainly mining a very interesting seam on this album and they will hopefully be able to create more marvellous music in this style soon. I certainly hope that they continue in this manner as this band have a lot to offer and will appeal to lovers of modern progressive music.

Released 18th June, 2021.

Order the album from bandcamp here:

Pageant Of Beasts | Big Hogg (bandcamp.com)

Progradar- Reviews Round Up – Part 1

This article sees me delve into the plethora of new music that has come my way over the last couple of months. I have collated what I consider to be the best of the new releases, albums I would definitely recommend, please check them out and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Marius LeirånesLangtidsperspektiv

Music and geography are closely related. Places have their sounds, and sounds have their spaces. A lot has been said about the “Nordic sound”, whether it be jazz, progressive rock, electronica or extreme metal. We tend to think of isolation, melancholy, a certain kind of light, coldness, vast stretches of ice and rock.

Known from the Norwegian prog band Pixie Ninja, Marius goes back to his childhood home to deliver a sparse, awe inspiring collection of songs that speak of the beauty of darkness and light and the ever changing weather and sometimes brutal, but always beautiful, landscapes of his ancestral homeland.

Electronica, ambient and post rock and prog are all touched upon on this ghostly and sublime release. ‘Langtidsperspektiv’ takes you on a journey that ranges from the serene to the stormy, and from the tragic to the triumphant.

Released July 23rd, 2021.

Order from bandcamp here:

Langtidsperspektiv | Marius Leirånes (bandcamp.com)

The Helicopter of The Holy Ghost – Afters

The Helicopter Of The Holy Ghost are Mark Morriss (The Bluetones), Billy Reeves (theaudience), Crayola Lectern (Lost Horizons/Departure Lounge) and Mark Peters (Engineers). The original concept for the material was probably formed while Billy was signed to Sony, which at that time, pointed toward a more commercial sound, however Crayola Lectern’s involvement on piano help send the recordings into a more ‘Canterbury’ direction, taking influence from Caravan, Robert Wyatt and the like.

Featuring a guest line-up including Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins, Dale Davis from Amy Winehouse’s band, Andy Lewis from Paul Weller’s group, Smiley from Joe Strummer’s Mescalaros and Thomas Anderson of fellow Kscope signees Gazpacho, the wide-ranging influence herein is evident throughout a very sweet, gentle, calming album of originality and versatility.

The music is low key, bitter sweet beautiful and, above all, has a calming grace imbued by the elegant vocals. The sound seems to just wash over you in a soothing and serene manner and take me back to nostalgic and wistful summers days of years gone past. On of the highlights is the graceful piano playing which perfectly matches the exquisitely world weary vocals.

As the promo material says, “What are these songs about? No-one knows. They are, however, very pretty.”

Released 13th August, 2021.

Order from Burning Shed here:

Afters (burningshed.com)

Giancarlo Erra – Departure Tapes

Departure Tapes is an album consisting of 6 contemplative recordings, written while travelling between the UK and Italy. The majority of these 6 tracks were improvised in the studio by Erra, so for the most part, are totally unique and hold a sincerity which cannot be replicated. It is the follow up to 2019’s acclaimed album Ends I-VII, with the new recordings reflecting what, has been an extremely difficult year for Giancarlo, with the loss of his father to cancer. Erra comments “In 2019 my first solo album was just being released, and I already had the view that I wanted to be more experimental with the second one, but no precise idea how at that point. Then my father suddenly got ill with cancer, and everything changed.”

An expert in knowing how not to fill the empty spaces, Giancarlo has written an instrumental album that speaks of the pain of being distanced from a relative and the simple beauty of a reconciliation. It is a sombre and thought provoking release and feels like a dedication to the father who he knew little of and yet cared for at the end of his life.

If music could tell a story of a life lived, lost and, deep at its core, loved then ‘Departure Tapes’ is it. I am along term fan of this intelligent musician’s brilliant work and this new release is another entry into his very impressive discography, I’ll leave the final words to the man himself,

It’s the first album I have created without realising I was actually writing it, as it is so intrinsically linked to one of the hardest and yet more healing parts of my life. The end result is the most experimental, and at the times, the darkest material I have ever written, without compromise or set plan. It contains all the elements of my music in a very unconscious free flowing way.

Released 2nd July, 2021.

Order from Burning Shed here:

Departure Tapes (burningshed.com)

The Neal Morse Band – Innocence & Danger

With NMB’s previous two releases being concept albums, it’s perhaps remarkable that ‘Innocence & Danger’ is a series of unrelated songs, but drummer Mike Portnoy says “After two sprawling back to back double concept albums in a row, it was refreshing to get back to writing a collection of unrelated individual songs in the vein of our first album.”

There is also plenty in ‘Innocence & Danger’ to excite those prog fans who have a thirst for epics, as Neal Morse explains: “There’s one half hour epic and another that’s about 20 minutes long. I really didn’t realise that they were that long when we were recording them, which I guess is great because if a movie is really good, you don’t realise that it’s three hours long! But there are also some shorter songs: some have poppier elements, some are heavier and some have three part acoustic sections. I’m excited about all of it, really.”

This album encapsulates everything that is good about Neal Morse and The Neal Morse Band, powerful, dynamic and with more than a dose of pomp and circumstance. The opening two tracks on Disc 1 are worth the price of admission on their own, majestic driving, hard rock songs with serious progressive leanings and a group of musicians who definitely know the score, the keyboard and guitar interplay on Bird On A Wire is just brilliant.

Then you get what every prog fan loves, the Neal Morse-penned prog epic and, in Beyond The Years, it is bound to become a classic. Not Afraid Parts 1&2, a cover of Bridge Over Troubled Water that just stays the right side of cheesy, you get just about everything you’d want from Neal and the boys, that man can really (and i mean REALLY) write a fantastic tune!

Released 27th August 2021.

Order from Burning Shed here:

Innocence & Danger (burningshed.com)

smalltape – The Hungry Heart

Smalltape is the project of the Berlin multi-instrumentalist Philipp Nespital, who basically does everything on the album, just about and he is one seriously talented individual. Intelligent, thought provoking and, above all, hauntingly beautiful music that, despite bringing to mind the likes of Echolyn, Radiohead, Steven Wilson and the like, has its own distinct identity.

The stunning album artwork is amazing in itself but venture deep into this collection of ten superb tracks set across two CDs and you will be ultimately rewarded with one of this year’s stand out releases. Cerebral and erudite throughout, the perceptive songwriting marries with Philipp’s creative brilliance to deliver a mind opening musical experience like no other.

I’m a massive fan of music that makes me think, music that doesn’t give up its deepest delights easily and ‘The Hungry Heart’ has that in spades. Hunger, Burning House, Dissolution, the list goes on, cuts of pure musical brilliance that showcase this young German musician as a seriously precocious talent and one to follow closely.

Released 16th July 2021.

Order from bandcamp here:

The Hungry Heart | smalltape (bandcamp.com)

Geoff Proudley is an English composer and keyboard player. He writes mainly for media but has had a number of flirtations with progressive rock over the years. Some with long memories may even recall his involvement with progressive outfit Coltsfoot in the mid-eighties.

Recent activity has seen Geoff return to writing and recording more progressive music. His solo EP ‘Quark’ surfaced in 2019 and 2020 saw a lot of writing, especially during lockdown. Those writing and recording sessions have produced two albums, the first of which is Tales From Strange Travels. Tales is an instrumental album. ‘It’s loosely conceptual. It’s about a journey. A fantastic journey but I like to leave it to the listener to paint their own pictures of what’s happening. Different people will interpret it in different ways and that’s great. Like in a book, we imagine what characters look like and the detail in our mind. It’s subjective and personal. Sometimes being too graphic can destroy that image.’

Geoff reached out to me a while ago but lockdown got in the way and it is only recently that I have been able to get to hear Geoff’s musical opus. I have to admit that I was smitten from the first note, it reminds me of a cross between the capes and mellotron prog excesses of the 70’s, the sci-fi shows of the same era, like Space 1999 and the ilk and those great electronica bands of the era like Kraftwerk. The keyboards flow elegantly and allow the listener’s mind to take them on a fantastical journey with occasional prompts and subliminal suggestions from the well constructed tracks.

It’s got too much intelligence to be considered psychedelic or spaced out like early Pink Floyd but it definitely cannot be considered mainstream either. Imagine your physics teacher having a penchant for some heavily progressive influenced progressive rock and a liking for Stanley Kubrick and you’d be on the right track.

Released 21st September 2021.

Order direct from the artist here:

CD Album – Tales From Strange Travels | gmp-music-production (geoffproudley.co.uk)

“We often start naive and green and either blossom into something remarkable, or we fizzle out – resigning to the life that we feared all along; the one we’ve been resisting – an uncertain path, a repetitive/menial existence, and the promise of a life without limitations. How far are you willing to go to either abandon or protect the way of life that you’ve been leading?”

These words paint the scene for the first act of alternative progressive rock quartet Head with Wings’ next chapter.

Amidst sweeping changes felt on a global scale, aspirations were put on hold, radiant futures dimmed, lives ended prematurely, and dreams were left to rot on the vine. For so many, the struggle was a silent one – a daily war waged alone.

On their forthcoming EP, ‘Comfort In Illusion’, Head with Wings draws the listener into the isolated, agonizing, and momentarily euphoric struggle for self-actualization amidst the stifling frame of an increasingly unfamiliar world. 

The collective’s first output since 2018’s critically-acclaimed debut, ‘From Worry to Shame,’ presents a concise summation of the group’s collective growth as artists and individuals. ‘Comfort in Illusion’ dives deeper into the quartet’s textural and emotive sound exploration with a timely personal narrative of self-discovery and the anxiety of change.

One of the most intriguing bands in the modern age of progressive rock, Head with Wings are masterful storytellers and immaculate musicians and any new release of theirs is a noteworthy event.

The three tracks on this EP have a depth of emotion and layers of sophistication that I have come to expect from this group of talented, young musicians. The music draws you into their intricate storytelling and every note has a widescreen feel to it, making the experience somewhat cinematic and always impassioned.

The poignant, almost melancholic mood that pervades the EP gives and intelligent and thoughtful feel and shows that the band understand that, even if the volume does go up to 11, you don’t always need to turn it up full.

Comfort in Illusion’ shows us that, when you have an incredible emotive depth to your music, less is most definitely more, Head with Wings still span epochs in terms of style, sound and substance and get better with every release.

Released 16th July, 2021.

Order from bandcamp here:

▶︎ Comfort in Illusion | Head with Wings (bandcamp.com)