Review – Tiger Moth Tales – The Whispering Of The World – by John Wenlock-Smith

This is the latest album for Tiger Moth Tales (aka Peter Jones) but this time around it is a quite different beast indeed. This album is a marked departure from the glorious madness and tomfoolery that Peter has offered up with earlier albums like ‘Cocoon’ and ‘The Depths of Winter’ and is far more direct and straightforward. It is also the first time Peter has worked at a different location, this album being recorded at Fieldgate Studios in Penarth, South Wales, also utilising the production skills of Andrew Lawson.

So, the sound is different, it is basically Peter Jones playing a grand piano and singing, although, this time, he is backed highly effectively and sympathetically by a string quartet. This lends the music a different tone as any solos are either taken by Peter’s piano or by the string quartet.

This is a very brave album with Peter certainly taking a real risk here but, in doing so, he reaffirms just what an excellent singer he really is. This approach also allows the songs to speak for themselves with the strings providing both a warm backdrop and accentuating the lyrical themes.

So, what does it sound like?

Well, it is certainly different but listening to the several times will reveal this to be a very personal set of songs that deal with life, mortality, the dawn chorus, recollections of early holidays and remembrance and the importance of having memories.

The album opens with Taking the Dawn, high strings leading into a striking piano melody and creating a rhythm of sorts, before Peter begins to sing and delights in the commencement of the dawn chorus and the joy that sound brings him. He really praises the power of nature and celebrates that power and the sense of fullness that it gives him, the gift of living from the skies. This is a particularly good opener, personal and uplifting and it sets a good base for all that is to follow.

Next comes is the moody, slightly dark The Whispering of the World, on which the strings get their chance to play some evocative moody and slightly chilling tones. The song is based upon childhood memories of sounds heard on a deserted Devon beach coming through a hollow rock that scared Peter as a child. Sweeter Than Wine is Peter’s remembrance of a school friend who died suddenly and unexpectedly, here Peter assures us that they may be gone but they are not forgotten and will be remembered in the memories that he treasures and the gratitude he feels in having known them.

Quiet Night features a haunting melody and, having a lot of sensory imagery, this is a striking track that seems to deal with how we cope with loss and the hope of a life thereafter. Peter is not religious but seems to think that lives that have gone play some part in our lives now. As I say, this is a very personal and emotional song and is handled very delicately by all. A Town By The Sea follows and is the lone, completely instrumental track and one that acts as a tour de force for the string quartet to really shine along side the stately grand piano of Peter Jones. This brief interlude works as a demarcation between the two halves of the album, the song Blackbird is next and while it’s not a cover of the Paul McCartney track of the same name, it does bear similarities to that song. Peter talks of walking home late at night and hearing a lone blackbird singing before the dawn, striking imagery for these days in which we find ourselves, a glimpse of hope for better days that are coming.

Waving, Drowning is another very personal track, one in which Peter talks of the depression that he has suffered from, of how the suffocating feelings of that time made him feel and how he finally managed to break free. He recalls how friends reached out to him and helped him establish firm ground under his feet, enabling him to take tentative steps to freedom. This is a very hopeful song, emotionally bare and yet striving for a life that has been eluding him but one that he is determined to have once again. This is a wonderful track full of warmth and life, brilliant.

The closing song of the album, Lost To The Years, is simply beautiful and is a comment on the loss of Peter’s grandmother in 2019. In this song he remembers her with warmth and love and much gratitude for all that she meant to him and talks about how he is determined to keep her memories alive in his life. This is a beautifully dignified and lovely set of memories that he sings of and he uses them as a challenge to himself to ensure that he learns from what she has taught him and as to how he will live going forward from here. This is highly personal and very emotionally laden with love and gratitude. Ultimately, he realises that death, while incredibly sad, comes to us all and that we should learn to make the most of the time that we have available to us. Which is a very realistic and encouraging sentiment for us all to live by

This album is one that will really touch you emotionally, or should do if you have an open heart to hear the message that it sends out, “Life is precious, love and enjoy those around you whilst you can”. There is much depth in these words and this album is very recommended for being a heartfelt, beautiful collection of some vastly different and personal, yet universal, songs for us all to appreciate.

Released 4th December 2020

Order from White Knight Records here:

Review – Mark Kelly’s Marathon – by John Wenlock-Smith

Well, this one nearly passed me by but, thankfully, thanks to recommendations from a friend, I was able to capture this one. Apparently Mark Kelly has been planning a solo album for nearly 30 years but it was the national lockdown that was the window in which he was finally able to realise his plans. I have to say that this album is simply magnificent, one that harks back to his main role in Marillion but also one that shows just how integral to how Marillion sound he truly is. This album is possibly the best of any that have been made outside of Marillion, yes it really is that good! In fact, it does nicely in lieu of any current group activity (although the band continue to work on the follow up to 2016’s ‘F.E.A.R’ album and have planned a tour for late 2021.)

The album has 10 tracks, two of which are 10 minutes plus (with one being over 20 minutes long) and the sound is remarkably like that of Marillion themselves but here Mark has surrounded himself with some amazing new talent, especially guitarist John Cordy (whom he was recommended by non-less than Steve Rothery), the always excellent Henry Rogers on drums and Mark’s son Conal Kelly on bass guitars and background, among others. Lyrics were written by barrister Guy Vickers who certainly rose to the challenge, capturing the mood and the themes of both Amelia and Twenty Fifty One superbly.

On Amelia the album opens like 99% of Prog albums do, with swirls of keyboards as the story of the controversy and mystery of bones discovered on Nikumaroro or Gardener island in 1940 unfolds. These had been originally discovered and appraised in 1941 by a Fijian anthropologist but this had been challenged by a University of Tennessee Professor who had stated that, after his own research, the bones were actually those of Amelia Earhart, the missing famed aviator who had gone missing on a round the world trek. The background to this song is in the notes contained in the booklet, and a fascinating read it is too and this shows that the music and subject matter is certainly informed and captivating. The playing on this song alone makes the album an essential purchase, it is simply brilliant and a real treat even with a magnificent guitar solo from John at the end, a fantastic opening track.

When I Fell is a delicate and emotional song about love and loss with some great textures to the song and sympathetic, ethereal keyboards from Mark . Along with some great basslines from Conal, this is a lovely and moving song. Add in some great organ sounds from Mark, it all sounds fabulous and concludes an excellent song.

This Time follows, a brief but certainly interesting track, with some great textures to it. The song is about separation and being apart from those you love and how the separation can make these times more meaningful. This is all ably supported by fabulous performances and music where everyone is really making this a worthwhile, short but exceedingly sweet piece of music.

Puppets is next and this features Mark’s Marillion colleague Steve Rothery on guitar. The song is somewhat philosophical and touches on concepts such as determinism, free will, libertarianism, cartesian dualism and other spiritual and philosophical concepts. That the band can tackle such weighty concepts is to be applauded in itself, this certainly is an album for thinkers along with those who love good music played sublimely, this album meeting those criteria head on, confidently and with real style and skill. The song asks some interesting questions about how we make choices and how free we are, as I say, this is music to make you think, never a bad thing in my opinion.

The last selection of pieces forms the long suite Twenty Fifty One, which details the difficult relationship that existed between Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, especially in relation to the film and novel 2001: A Space Odyssey. The song is an interesting narrative to the questions of life outside of earth and are we alone in the universe? It details the story that Stanley’s film took much longer than Arthur’s novel writing and, as a result, that Arthur had to rely on Stanley funding him until the film was completed and he could finally publish his novel. The song continues to ask the question of, if we are not alone, do we really want alien interference and possibly destruction? We have previously historically been very mercenary in our expansions and in our dealings with other nations and tribes. It is an interesting question and one that we should consider seriously, this song is bold enough to ask the question.

This truly is a remarkable album, and the band are already planning a follow up, which holds great promise for us all. I also must comment on how glorious the artwork for this album is, it is very sympathetic to the subject matter and the accompanying live studio DVD is certainly a wonderful touch as it really brings the material to life. In all, this is an album that I would heartily recommend to any Marillion fan or indeed fan of intelligent and interesting music.

Released 27th November 2020

Order direct from the artist’s website:

Review – Rain – Singularity – by John Wenlock-Smith

Rain are a new project that came to light during the first initial period of lockdown in the UK. So some time after 23rd March when the powers that be realised that this virus and pandemic were a lot more serious than had previously been acknowledged. So much so that ‘Herr Boris’ got serious and told us all to stay at home, not go to the pub, segregate and do not mix.

Now this in itself was unusual and very much outside of Boris’ perceived jocular foppish and playful demeanour where he likes to portray himself as a man of the people. It was that in this time that John Jowitt and Andy Edwards (both formerly of IQ and Frost*) decided to form a new group that would allow them to do what they do best, i.e., make some fine new music. To this end they drafted in Rob Groucutt (son of former ELO bass player Kelly Groucutt) who has followed in his fathers footsteps with a career in music and also adding Mirron Webb of Birmingham based band Hey Jester on guitar, vocals and lyrics and, as such, the stage was set.

Rain first appeared on the Fusion festival lockdown special in April debuting the song Devils Will Reign, which was certainly a strong and enlightening first peek into this new band,

The album ‘Singularity’ was released in November 2020 and it is a rather interesting listen, one that will stay with you for a long time. It is one of those albums that initially intrigues you, albeit in a good way, with that feeling continuing with repeated plays. As you do so, it begins to emerge what they are on about, for this is very much an album borne of the frustrations and limitations that lockdown periods have inflicted upon us all. Here Rain have channelled those feelings and thoughts into 5 gloriously crafted and formulated songs.

The album opens with Devils Will Reign which has two sets of lyrics, one from Rob Groucutt, the other from Mirron Webb, that Andy Edwards put together, finding that it worked particularly well. It is a song about one’s own personal demons which seem to come to the fore in times of doubt or when there is nothing else going on, times like a lockdown for example. This song really hits the mark right from the off, opening with gently plucked acoustic guitar and some subtle keyboard backing before the drums pick up the beat and then some strong percussive guitar riffing emerging. The song also features a very nifty Spanish type guitar solo that is exceptionally fine indeed.

Second song Dandelion is about the lies we get sold by those in power, especially as seen during this pandemic with test numbers etc. There are some remarkably interesting sounds on this song also referring to possibly the whole sorry saga of the lies surrounding Brexit and the dodgy Bus of Lies, all £350 million a week’s worth that simply disappeared somehow.

Walkaway is the first lengthy track and is about wanting to escape even if only temporarily. Again, there is some sublime playing on this track with a muscular section after the second chorus which really sounds good around the 3 min 45 mark. This includes with a nifty solo, Mirron, Rob and Andy all adding fantastic guitars to this mix. This is an exceptionally fine track indeed with superb vocals that really add to the tone of the song.

The Magician is the album’s second longest track at 11 minutes and 16 seconds, all of which is wisely used to craft a sinuous and twisting behemoth of a track with oblique lyrics which really suit the subject matter. This track speaks of a magician who hides the meaning behind the reveals so that the truth is meant to be unfathomable. The listener never really hears the hidden knowledge, implying that it is a drug trip or an interventional dimensional breakthrough. Which, of course, in itself hides what it is trying to say. Again, another fabulously diverse and rewarding track.

The final track, Singularity, is the title track to the album and, after the convoluted The Magician, this could be a gentle comedown or a return to the real world. It certainly is a far gentler track, free from the bombast that has been evident on the album this far. It has touches of Devils Will Reign, which adds emphasis to the song. Containing lots of ambient noises, including birdsong, it is a stunning finale to what has been a sensational and awesome set of songs. The musicianship throughout has been impressive and Rain certainly prove to be a significant new band with much promise for the future, once the virus is kicked into touch.

The album is well produced and sounds very impressive and, even as a late comer in the year, it still is impressive enough for me to rate it as one of my top twelve for 2020. This release is one that any fan of progressive rock (or who likes either Frost* or IQ) would enjoy and find much in it to admire and appreciate. 

Released 23rd November 2020

Order from the band’s bandcamp page here:

Review – Jump – Breaking Point

“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”

Jonathan Gottschall

‘Breaking Point’ is JUMP’s fourteenth album. The Welsh band’s first release in over four years, it comprises a collection of material built around its title track. The familiar personal narratives with which they are so strongly identified are here again, this time set in a context defined by the tragedy of, and fallout from, a faraway conflict.

Simply put, ‘Breaking Point’ wonders out loud about how refugees became scapegoats…

There’s a little story about how I first heard JUMP, I’d heard of the band, of course, but their music hadn’t really crossed my radar until I attended HRH Prog in Pwllheli in 2018 with James R Turner in tow, covering the festival as a journalist.

James was, and still is, a big fan of JUMP and persuaded me to check out their set and I am so glad I did, they were exceptional and John Dexter Jones is an amazing frontman!

I listened to the new album, ‘Breaking Point’, on bandcamp and was so impressed I bought the CD there and then. So, dear listener, this review actually comes from my own purchased copy and not a promotional copy sent out from the band or label…

This is an album full of stories, not just songs. John draws you into his storytelling with his distinctive and emotional vocal delivery, very much a modern minstrel. In ancient times, wandering minstrels would tell tales by singing songs around campfires as wine and ale were consumed by the rapt audience. This is how ancient ‘news’ was passed around, by word of mouth, tales somewhat embellished by the skill of the performer, but with truth at their core.

I asked John what he though made this album stand out from the band’s previous releases:

“That’s for the listener to judge, I suppose. We’ve never worked to any kind of formula, and as writers and musicians, we work in different combinations and by different methods. Breaking Point will be as distinct from Over the Top as the next album will be from Breaking Point, and as Over the Top was from The Black Pilgrim. Trace your way back over fourteen albums in thirty years and I’d hope that would be the case for all of them. The day we produce something that sounds ‘just like the last one’, we’ll know, and it wont get released! We’re lucky in that we don’t have anyone breathing down our necks to deliver something that meets a contractual requirement. If it’s not exactly what we want to put out, it won’t see the light of day.

Breaking Point is a musical statement about the way we see the world as it appears to us right now, and we hope that the feel, sound and attack of the record supports that ‘sense’. I hope it stands out to people…but then I hope that The Winds of Change does too!”

I often rail against the numb blandness of the majority of modern chart music. Don’t get me wrong, it obviously has an audience or it wouldn’t sell but, it’s not music that will last or leave any legacy and, if I’m being brutally honest, it’s not even ‘music’ to me. Bands like JUMP with their high octane performances and songs that have meaning and substance in today’s world, offer an antidote to all of that colourless insipidity and ‘Breaking Point’ is a definite beacon of light in the darkness of mediocrity that surrounds us.

The band have put 30 years of experience into superb tracks like hard edged rocking opener The Heroes with its powerful chorus, The King with its full on pomposity and the slow burning grandeur of The Voices with its intense and ardent guitar solo. In fact, as well as John’s fine vocals, the other highlight of this superb album is Ronnie Rundle’s amazing and incandescent guitar playing that adds so much to each and every track.

In an album full of sublime songs other highlights include Breaking Point, the fine title track with it’s stylish 80’s rock/neo-prog feel and closing track The Cold Fire where John takes centre stage and grabs your attention like a troubadour of olden times at the height of his powers before this memorable song opens out into something quite marvellous.

With ‘Breaking Point’ JUMP have delivered a perfect modern metaphor of an album. In fact, it’s not just a collection of songs with a common theme, it is a well written and superbly told story that engages the listener in the engrossing tale being told. The art of the songwriter and the storyteller are still very alive and well thanks to this impressive Welsh band.

Released 16/11/2020

Order the album from bandcamp here:

Review – Multi Story – CBF10 – by John Wenlock-Smith

Multi Story have a long and somewhat checkered history. Hailing from South Wales, they came to prominence in the mid 1980’s when their blend of symphonic progressive rock led to them being chosen by Birmingham’s finest Magnum as a support group for their On A Storyteller’s Night tour in 1985, memorably playing a set with at the Dominion Theatre on Tottenham Court Road in London.

At that time Multi Story had released their debut album ‘East West’ that was released on Revolver / FM Records who were a Wolverhampton based label who had a run of successes with various acts including Exodus and other early thrash metal outfits. After the tour Paul Ford left the band who then decided to continue and recorded a second album for FM /Revolver called ‘Through Your Eyes’ after which the band dissolved and went their own separate ways.

Vocalist/Guitarist Paul and keyboard player Rob Wilsher had been at loggerheads with each other for many years but in 2014, some thirty years on from ‘East West’, a peace was sought (and achieved) which ultimately led to a reconvening of Multi Story activities. The band found a new home on Dave Robinson’s Festival Music label, recording and releasing the album ‘Crimson Stone’ in 2016 and commenced live work again appearing at the Winter’s End Festival in 2016 and also at HRH Prog in 2017.    

They also recorded a live in the studio set called ‘Live at Acapela’ that acted as a summation of their career thus far, taking, as it does, tracks from their first three albums in a revamped updated fashion.

That nicely brings us to this latest album ‘CBF10’ issued this October, again through Festival Music, and the first thing that strikes you is just how beautifully presented this album is. I has a very striking cover, designed by Tommy Larsen, and a loose concept that really comes to the fore towards the last half of the album, from the track Freeway Army onward.

More of that later, the album opens strongly with the epic track Signs and Traces and its fabulously twisty guitar riff and Rob’s evocative keyboards. Quite a stunning opener it is too, thundering along with several different sections to it, all of which sound glorious. Sharp Recall follows and has some great Hammond parts from Rob and some great piano lines too. This track is Paul and Rob playing everything between them and still sounding very much like a band in the process, with a great solo towards the end from Rob.

Celluloid Star is up next and it is a cautionary tale on the trappings and falsehood that “fame “offers and then often fails to deliver. This well written song is very dramatic with lots of fabulously evocative keyboard sounds, a sturdy bassline and hard hitting, subdued guitar parts running throughout. Paul’s vocals sound very clear on this song, he is in fine voice, sounding a little bit like his old touring pal Bob Catley of Magnum at times (and that is no bad thing, in my opinion).

Freeway Army introduces us to a different type of hero, the lone drifter on the outside of society. He lives differently but not in a selfish manner and wishes no harm on anyone but wants to be free to live a simple unfettered life. A free spirit who roams the roads on his motorcycle, tearing up the miles with the wind in his hair and nothing to hold him down. Last Man Standing is another fine and moody track, it talks about being the last man standing and the isolation and struggles that he faces at that time and the past he struggles to come to terms with. It is a very sad poignant piece indeed, once again with sympathetic musicianship really echoing the isolation of the lyrics. Easy Rider return us to the lone biker and his fate as he is attacked and gunned down by redneck fools who mistake his solitude for emptiness and weakness and so attack him and destroy all that he stands for, freedom…    

Firing All Six is all about bravery in standing your own ground against the odds or being outnumbered. Rebel Inside is the penultimate track and is about going in a different direction, usually taking a harder path because you are choosing to stand apart from, and not following, the crowd. This is often safer and yet less rewarding than being a free spirit and following your own dreams and desires. This track features a graceful guitar break played with passion and taste, making this a exceptionally fine song indeed. Paul Ford’s acoustic guitar and heartfelt vocals are very welcome too.

The final song CBF10 is where the redneck is executed for the slaying of the rebel. He confesses and blames the voices in his head and says how sorry he is for his actions and how he thinks they had it coming, or that’s what the voices said! The song ends with the words “It came easy” as his life ends with lethal injection.

This is a very good album and is a real tribute to the vision that Paul and Rob had and have realised. It has some very strong moments and I feel that it would work very well in a live situation where the songs could be extended to maximise their potential. But, for now, this is a mighty fine album and one that I will return to again and again.

Released 26th October 2020

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Review – Silent Skies – Satellites

The music of Silent Skies, the collaborative project between Tom S. Englund, vocalist of Swedish progressive group Evergrey, and virtuoso classical pianist Vikram Shankar, feels at once lushly cinematic, warmly intimate, darkly melancholic and incandescently beautiful. It’s making is a story of a deep musical kinship between two seemingly divergent talents.

The pair first crossed paths when the Swedish singer saw American Oberlin film score graduate Shankar’s engrossingly sensitive piano interpretation of Evergrey’s Distance on YouTube: “I heard an instant musicality coming from him” Englund says: “he can take one chord and add one melody note and immediately you understand he has this deep musical knowledge.” He sensed in Shankar a kindred musical spirit who could help him channel new forms of musical expression. A series of email exchanges between the pair gave birth to ideas of a sonic landscape rooted in cinematic score music – what they both came to see as ‘films for the inner eye’.

As they began playing together it quickly became apparent that they shared profound musical common ground. Evergrey’s music had been a founding influence on the pianist after all: “They had a huge impact on the way my playing developed.” Shankar says: “Their musical and emotional language remains a critical component to the way I write and play music. Tom’s singing in particular has been very influential – my favourite way to play melodically is to emulate and channel the emotional impact of the human voice, and his has an impact unlike any other.”

The collaboration between Vikram and Tom actually seemed to come out of nowhere for me. I was aware of Vikram’s incredible talent from his amazing instrumental project Lux Terminus and, being a long term prog metal fan, was well aware of Tom Englund’s fantastic vocal talents from Evergrey and Redemption (Vikram actually played keyboards on the band’s last album). I wouldn’t have put them together on a project as lush and magical as Silent Skies but they work perfectly, complementing each other’s talents.

The album is grandiose and full of melodramatic music that would grace many Oscar winning films as a score and yet is overflowing with emotion, graceful in places and heartfelt in others. Tom Englund has a wonderfully emotive and touching vocal delivery that shows he is no one trick pony, his charismatic singing on this album is some of the best you will hear all year and in direct contrast to the bombast of the new Evergrey album recently announced and Vikram’s tender playing is absolutely note perfect, throughly deserving of the word ‘virtuoso’ and who doesn’t love the sound of a proper grand piano, it’s both nostalgic and thought provoking at the same time.

Listening to the album takes you to a place of ethereal calm, the wistful songs are touching and moving, elaborately theatrical tracks like Horizons and Endless pairing hauntingly classical music with a melodic sensibility. The stand out tracks on this release for me are Us and Solitude, both full of an intense melancholic grace that you can feel in the tender rawness of Tom’s vocal and the stunningly sublime, exquisite and yet simple piano playing that feels like an extension of Vikram’s own soul.

The cover of Eurythmics’ 1983 hit Here Comes The Rain Again fits perfectly with the rest of the music and, being a child of the 1980’s, fills me with huge feeling of nostalgia and a wry grin on my face and the celestial instrumental 1999 closes out the album in style.

In this year where we have all been touched by the horrific effects of the pandemic, Vikram and Tom have given us something quite magical, an ultimately uplifting collection of beautiful songs that leave a lasting touch on our hearts and souls. ‘Satellites’ gives a feeling of hope and calm reflection that we can take into 2021 and will leave you with a smile on your face and love in your heart.

This release has jumped straight into my top 5 of the year, in fact, I love it that much I have just bought the vinyl…

Released 11th December 2020

Order from EMP in the UK here:

Review – The Flower Kings – Islands – By John Wenlock-Smith

I have a very strange relationship with The Flower Kings, even though I have all their albums, a few live CDs, and a compilation (along with a few of Roine Stolt’s solo releases and the Anderson Stolt epic of a few years ago). Despite that body of recorded works somehow I’ve never really connected with them in the way I have with other bands. I have never really got them as a band, despite many attempts to do so on my part, I appreciate the music they make and odd tracks do resonate but, overall, it passes me by for some strange reason.

This new album, ‘Islands’, is an interesting one in that it has been put together in this strange year of lockdowns that the world struggles to come to terms with, aiming to beat and conquer and defeat this dreadful virus that has caused so much havoc, both to individuals yet also on the world’s economies. The band have used this odd time to craft a double album of predominantly shorter songs, 21 over 2 CDs with a common theme of isolation and separation. 

They had intended to follow up last years ‘Waiting For Miracles’ album in 2021 but world events made that difficult as all touring activities were curtailed so that left them free to crack on creating new music together, even if remotely. The group line-up remains predominantly the same but with Rob Townsend from Steve Hackett’s band appearing on two tracks adding sax and woodwind to the music. So, how does this one fare?

Well it has taken many listens over several weeks to get some understanding of it all, in all honesty I still have not been able to make up my mind about it all.

The album starts in typical prog style, Racing With Blinders On opening with swirls of keyboards before the ever energetic bass of Jonas Reingold kicks in, propelling the music alongside washes of synths and some very fluid guitar lines from Roine Stolt that run throughout the whole track. With many symphonic textures and soundscapes, it paints a very impressive opening track.

Second track From The Ground has a funky rhythm with a clarinet sounding keyboard and an ethereal vocal from Roine, the song is brief and very positive and uplifting with more great guitar lines flowing through the music. The musicianship on this album is off the scale, everyone is playing at the top of their game on these concise yet impressive pieces. There are no long drawn out pieces on this album and somehow this makes the music easier, almost more accessible somehow and that is a good thing.

This is a really good strong release made under difficult situations and yet it really works well as further shown by the impressive third piece, Black Swan, that has a very Brian May like guitar tone with some very tasty guitar fills from Roine.Possibly my favourite track so far, it is a really great song and, with great support from the rest of the band, it really is a statement of intent. In fact, the more I listen, the more I hear, there is a lot going on in these tracks.

Morning News is a more subdued track with a real spring in its step, a rather jolly little song that, while brief, does not overstay its welcome. It is an interesting song lyrically and the chorus is a strong one that suits the song well. Broken is another stunner with a tremendous drive to it and fabulous music and energy to match. There’s a great guitar solo from Roine and some great keyboard textures from Zach Kamins, who really flies on this song, simply glorious.

Then we are into a series of significantly shorter tracks; Goodbye Outrage, Journeyman (instrumental)and Tangerine before a real epic in the nine minutes plus of Solaris which opens with gentle keyboards setting an almost triumphant tone and Roine’s epic guitar coming into play briefly before a gentler percussive keyboard sets a base for Roine to ascend, which he does again briefly. The sound is a little denser on this song but ultimately it is another example of the undeniable talents that this band unquestionably possess, offering to the listener a fine example of modern day progressive rock. This is the best song so far and certainly shows that this album is one that you should look out for and listen to as it is a fine distillation of all the Flower Kings represent. Great song writing, superlative playing and tones, all combined to make an outstanding musical statement that is beguiling, accessible and very impressive indeed.

Heart Of the Valley follows, another gentler piece with great vocals and music working together to create something of worth and value. Man In A Two Piece Suit sounds like one of those instrumentals that Carlos Santana used to do so well, mixing both melody and taste in equal measures. This is a real tour de force of guitar tones and subtlety, all presented together to make a sublime, beautifully crafted piece of music and is a great ending to the first cd.

Disc two opens with the beauty of All I Need Is Love, its universal sentiments must appeal to many listeners who have found themselves adrift and at odds with the madness of this virus affected world. This song acts as a sort of centre of our thoughts and feeling and the realisation that all we actually do need is love in these strange discordant days in which we find ourselves. This calming track is a tonic for us all to aspire to and this is a most worthy song that reaches out to everyone. A New Species is a lengthy instrumental with highly charged moods and textures and some fine ensemble and solo passages from all, especially keyboard player Zach Kamins. His work is simply fabulous on this track as is the walking bass line of Jonas Reingold, offset against the fine guitar of Roine Stolt. Another great track, Northern Lights (not the Renaissance track!) follows with a good opening section showcasing the wordless vocals of Hasse Froberg before becoming vocalised another long song but it was a bitinconsequential song to these ears and sadly did not do anything for me really.

Hidden Angles is a brief instrumental interlude before the second song with Rob Townsend is revealed. Serpentine features Rob’s saxall over the track along with some highly effective bass lines that really add to the dynamics of this excellent little number that ends on some fine ad-libbed sax lines. Looking For Answers is a fine ensemble piece with some sterling guitar lines from Roine leading the piece. Once again I can hear Santana type guitar tones that punctuate the song, adding real emphasis and dynamics to an extraordinarily strong musical piece.

Telescope is an interesting song, very atmospheric with haunting tones used to great effect, along with more juicy guitar lines that set the music tone well. This song has a really fine fluid guitar break too, in fact, I must comment on the excellence of the guitar playing throughout this album as it really is very strong and really adds to the whole experience the album offers.

I would say for me this is one of the most accessible Flower Kings albums that it has been my experience to enjoy and this is one of the first that I have really ‘got’, as it were. There is a lot of music on the two discs but this is countered by it conciseness and its lack of sprawling tunes. For me at least this is one of their better albums and this new approach certainly seems to work as the results are remarkable. Satisfying and ultimately very enjoyable indeed, I really have no hesitation in Recommending this album to all.

Released 30th October 2020

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Review – Voivod – Lost Machine – Live

Very few bands survive for four decades. Even fewer are those that continue to reach new creative heights, long after legendary status has been achieved. Voivod were never like other bands: even as the thrash metal scene exploded in the early ‘80s, the Jonquière, Quebec crew stood apart, both as unique visionaries and as proud subverters of the metallic norm. From early prog-thrash classics like ‘Killing Technology‘ and ‘Dimension Hatröss‘ through to the psychedelic explorations of ‘The Outer Limits‘, Voivod have been standard-bearers for individuality and creative freedom for nearly 40 years.

I am a newcomer to the band and it was cult funny music pioneers The Fierce And The Dead’s guitarist Matt Stevens who first championed the band and brought them to my attention.

After many line up changes over the years, the band returned with 2018’s ‘The Wake‘ which was hailed as the finest Voivod album since the band’s late ‘80s heyday. An extraordinary, multi-faceted prog metal colossus, it confirmed that Voivod are currently enjoying a fresh surge of power and passion, even as they approach their 40th anniversary. Confirmation that the band’s return to peak form had struck a chord with fans old and new and, not surprisingly, Voivod duly hit the road to reaffirm their status as one of metal’s most unique and powerful live acts.

It was time for Voivod to unveil a brand new live album that deftly captures the kaleidoscopic, mutant adrenalin rush of the band’s shows. Following swiftly on from this year’s ‘The End Of Dormancy‘ EP, the new live set boasts a full Voivod show, bursting with old school classics and epic new material. ‘Lost Machine – Live‘ was captured at the esteemed Quebec City Summer Fest on July 13, 2019. Recorded and mixed by Francis Perron and mastered by Yannick St-Amand, it’s a vibrant and vivid snapshot of a band at the height of their powers.

As I have already said, I have little knowledge of the band’s material so decided to take this live release on it’s own merits and, let me say, it did not disappoint in any way, shape or form.

For me, live releases are generally either very good or very bad and ‘Lost Machine – Live‘ definitely falls into the first category, a thundering behemoth of an album that pulls no punches, kicks you in the balls and then runs off into the distance while laughing maniacally.

Audibly revelling in the shared chemistry that drives them forward, Voivod cover a huge amount of musical and historical ground during ‘Lost Machine – Live‘. From vociferously raw renditions of revered classics like Psychic Vacuum and Into My Hypercube through to the incendiary prog/punk metal insurgency of recent songs like Obsolete Beings, Post Society and Iconspiracy, it’s a monstrous and intoxicating and proof that Voivod are having more fun than ever right now. a massive highlight for me is the band’s legendary cover of Pink Floyd’s Astronomy Domine which seems to be revitalised with a rousing energy and chaotic wonder.

These are obviously the greatest of times for Voivod.

“I think the fact that we get along so well helps tremendously,” Drummer Michel ‘Away’ Langevin notes. “With Chewy and Rocky’s virtuosity, and Snake and I bringing in the old school punk thrash elements, the recipe is just working perfectly. We now have played many, many shows with this formation, so we are like a machine, both live and in studio. You know, many young kids are into Voivod and other thrash metal bands nowadays, and they usually sing along to the old and new material, they seem to appreciate the whole catalogue. We still have our old friends coming to see us too, so the shows have been really packed for us around the globe the last few years.”

Holy cow, that is one manic, exhilarating thrill ride that is definitely not for the faint of heart! Imbued with a restless and chaotic energy that never lets up for a second, Voivod have released a live album that deserves to be held up there with some of the best, now does someone have a quiet, darkened room I can go and sit in for a while…

Released November 27th 2020

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Review – Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly – Alone Together – by John Wenlock-Smith

Rikard Sjöblom is certainly an interesting and excellent musician, as his career thus far clearly demonstrates, coming to prominence first with Beardfish whose albums ‘Sleeping In Traffic Pt1’ (and Pt2) made big waves in progressive rock circles. The mix of often hard hitting jazz fusion and rock brought a smile to many faces but that all came to a natural finish.

Rikard then concentrated on his other project Gungfly who have a similarly eclectic approach to prog. This the eighth Gungfly album all told and, on this release, he works within a trio format playing both keyboards and guitar (both brilliantly I might add).

The opening song Traveler is simply magnificent with brilliant instrumentation along with several fine and fiery guitar solos and some strong keyboard textures. The track is fairly long but never outstays its welcome, going through several changes during its duration. Rikard reminds me of someone, I can’t put my finger on who exactly, but what a statement of intent it is as an opening song, highly impressive and a good portent for things to come.

Clean as a Whistle, the third track, is also a fine song with a strong acoustic guitar to open before a powerful bass line begins playing in harmony with Rikard’s acoustic skills. The vocals actually remind me of modern day Wishbone Ash in places, no bad thing in my view. This is a gentler song in the main with a delicate piano before synths start at the 3 minute mark, the pace then picks up a bit with some great electric guitar playing in the background before a gentle piano returns us to the acoustic guitar and bass section again, simply sublime and gorgeous.

Title track Alone Together supplies a great guitar line that just keeps on going, such a fluid guitar line really warrants your attention! A flourish of organ then comes in, heralding a more discordant harder edged guitar that plays in sync before Rikard’s vocals join the throng. This song goes all over the place but is certainly of interest (although I haven’t got a clue what he is on about and I don’t have the words to decipher the meaning behind the song). It is great music though, constantly changing throughout its running time with all sorts of things going on and with a return to that fabulous guitar line towards the end. It is a Magnificent piece of writing and music that really shows the talent and imagination that Rikard possesses in spades.

Penultimate track, From Afar, is a folksy, jaunty little number that talks about being viewed by persons unknown from afar. It may be short but it is certainly a great song.

The final track, On the Shoulder of Giants, begins with a clanging and strident riff with some funky sounding chords underneath before opening into a more expansive soundscape where the bass tracks the guitar riff superbly and Rikard unleashes a fiery brief break at the start of the main song. This is a very fine opening section detailing Rikard’s love of Frank Zappa’s music and how hearing it made him feel as a youth and his subsequent battle to work outside of the normal expectations, which is something that he has strived for and succeeded in doing. His love of classic progressive rock is evident and he is not ashamed or afraid to pay homage to his heroes. The piano part of this song is stately and sets a good tone for the middle part of the track which is a bit more subdued and is about how he determined to be free to follow his own route in music.

The next section picks up the pace with the piano taking a more urgent tempo and tone before a synth part sounding a bit discordant is played, sounding strange and unsettling but it leaves the way clear for some fluid guitar that resembles the playing of a certain Steve Howe in a very Yes sounding segment. Again, this is a great section of the piece, Rikard and the others are not averse to mixing their styles to really make the tracks stand out. This is terrific stuff really pushing boundaries as he unleashes another epic solo towards the end of the song with a subtle but delightful wah wah tone to it, double tracked to good effect, as he draws the song to a fine climax.

I’m not that au fait with Gungfly’s recorded history but ,certainly after enjoying this one, I will definitely be looking out for other albums of theirs to listen to and also be watching to see what they do next as this power trio really cook the music nicely with good syncopation, really letting their influences come to the fore. An album to revisit often and to embrace and enjoy again and again.

Released 4th September 2020

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Review – Jakko M Jakszyk – Secrets & Lies – By John Wenlock-Smith

‘Secrets & Lies’ is the latest step on a very intriguing musical journey of one Jakko M Jaksyzk that began with a then 13-year-old Jakko attending a King Crimson show at Watford Town Hall, the show that decided the path that Jakko would follow ever after.

Jakko got involved various groups but never lost his love for Crimson, who he now sings and plays guitar for and has done since 2014. This album is his latest solo album and is one that includes several of his Crimson band mates amongst other notable names but, above all, it is the fluid guitar majesty that Jakko brings with him and his love of a good tale that instills this music with a sense of grandeur and magic.

The album is a good length with a good mixture of styles and tones and opens with a sinewy guitar line on Before I Met You. This is a fabulous opening track, very reminiscent of Jakko’s work with Crimson. The song is about unhealthy obsession and that fluid guitar lines weaves through the song like a never ending stream. This lead us into The Trouble with Angels, which nods towards his earlier solo album from 2006, ‘The Bruised Romantic Glee Club’. This features KC alumni Tony Levin and Gavin Harrison who provide the rhythm section for the track. Tony’s bass is a thing of beauty here, subtle and supple, really making a deep impression on the song. A fine, sensitive piece of music.

The third track, Fools Mandate, welcomes Van Der Graaf Generator main man Peter Hammill on voice and guitar and is his first of two appearances on this album. The song is about the situation in the Middle East and the lies that helped create the issues that we all know of today. The song has very much a middle eastern sound to it that makes it sound realistic and convincing and the great guitar from Jakko makes this song very worthwhile. The Rotter’s Club is Closing Down follows, Jakko’s son Django providing the muscular bass on this song and he does a great job of it too. The song is a Canterbury-ish tribute to Jakko’s dead friend Pip Pyle who was the drummer for Hatfield and the North. It is a gentle whimsical piece, beautifully crafted, with dignity and grace and is a fine tribute.

Jakko Jakszyk, Secrets & Lies promo image. August 2020. Photo by Tina Korhonen, 2020. All rights reserved

Uncertain Times is a powerful piece of writing around the events of the whole Brexit scenario and its subsequent shenanigans and political manoeuvring that followed the vote. The lies, devastation and destruction across the land (and indeed the world) that this caused resulted from a poorly and severely misjudged action and has devalued British integrity and importance by giving a voice to people who were possibly better left silent. Giving them that platform has caused untold ongoing political dissent, leaving Britain in the mess that we now have to live with daily.

It Would All Make Sense revisits events of many years earlier that impacted Jakko directly when he was betrayed by someone close to him. The song details that betrayal and has a ragged impassioned guitar line woven throughout. It is a powerful piece of music showing how Jakko was bruised, hurt and left reeling, recognising the signs that were there but not making the connection at the time. Twenty years later, you see them for what they were, always present but never challenged or responded to, the song is very emotional, raw even. Secrets Lies & Broken Memories follows and is an instrumental piece of guitar and fake orchestra (or mockestra) that is really convincing.

Next up is Under Lock & Key, which again features Tony Levin on Bass and also ‘Guitar and Frippertronics’ from Robert Fripp, both Crimson Men. The excellent The Borders We Traded (which is a very personal piece about Jakko’s family in Arkansas) is a really beautiful piece of music that came to be because his daughter composed it at Euston Station on an old out of tune piano. Jakko filmed it on his phone and improvised the song from the original recording, Trading Borders, which is included at the end of the piece, with the pipes adding a certain melancholic air.

The album concludes with Separation, a piece that was originally destined to be a Crimson track. Again, this feature most of his band mates along with Peter Hammill adding voices to tan intense that is about narcissism.

The album is a definite grower, it really unfolds as you immerse yourself into the music showing itself to be really great release. The production and detail of sound is glorious. Jakko certainly explores the music that intrigues him and, as a result, delivers an album of contrasts, mood and tone. As such this is one that I thoroughly enjoyed and have no hesitation in recommending to all.

Released October 23rd 2020

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