The Pineapple Thief return with new album ‘Your Wilderness’ on 12th August (to be released through Kscope)

Pineapple Thief -Your Wilderness

(Featured image credit: Rob Monk)

The new album was a joy to make. More so than any other The Pineapple Thief album before it. Everything came together so effortlessly and I think this comes across when you hear the record.” – Bruce Soord

After the worldwide acclaim generated by the 2014 anthemic rock release Magnolia, The Pineapple Thief returns with its most ambitious studio album to date, Your Wilderness on 12th August  (19th August in France). 

Your Wilderness, their 11th studio album, showcases the band performing without any inhibitions providing a springboard for the ongoing creative growth of The Pineapple Thief.

For the first time, The Pineapple Thief has brought in several special guest performers. “Since our last album Magnolia, the most eye catching change is obviously having Gavin Harrison contribute drums throughout the album” explains Bruce Soord.  “This has not only redefined our sound but also redefined how we approached the songs as a band.  Gavin’s drumming is technically brilliant but also incredibly musical, and it inspired all of us to raise our game.  I’ve also rediscovered my progressive roots in terms of song-writing and arrangement.  Added to that, we were lucky enough to have John Helliwell from Supertramp contribute some beautiful clarinet parts and Geoffrey Richardson (Caravan) provided a string quartet. We were also joined by a lovely 4 piece choir and to cap it all off, my friend Darran Charles (Godsticks) added some jaw dropping guitar playing… You’ve never heard a The Pineapple Thief album like this one!  I am convinced people will love this record as much as we do.”  

Carl’s thought provoking collection of photographs perfectly compliment the concept of the album, something which Soord is tight lipped about. “It should reveal itself to the listener and be open to interpretation. I don’t want what it means to me to influence how it affects you”.   

Your Wilderness was recorded entirely by the band with the exception of the drums, which Gavin Harrison produced & engineered at his own studio. The string quartet which was recorded at Geoffrey’s own studio in Canterbury. The album was mixed and produced by Bruce Soord and Steve Kitch with mastering duties also carried out by Steve. There will be a special lossless 5.1 surround mix available with the special edition mixed by Bruce.

Seen as one of the most vital rock bands the UK has produced over the last two decades, The Pineapple Thief was formed in 1999 by founder and chief songwriter Bruce Soord. The band has steadily evolved and refined it’s sound with the bass playing of Jon Sykes and the production and keyboards of Steve Kitch now so integral to the sound.  After so many years, The Pineapple Thief has become way bigger than the sum of it’s parts.” explains Soord.

Bruce Soord has also collaborated with the likes of Wisdom Of Crowds (with Katatonia’s Jonas Renske), Katatonia (joining the band on its 2014 acoustic European tour), and has created 5.1 remixes for artists such as Opeth, TesseracT, Tim Bowness and Katatonia. Soord also released his debut self titled debut solo album through Kscope in 2015.

The Pineapple Thief is currently booking a European tour for late 2016 and planning live shows in USA / Canada

Your Wilderness will be released by Kscope on CD, LP, digitally and as a special deluxe ‘hardbook’.

Your Wilderness Album Tracklisting 

1. In Exile (05:40)

2. No Man’s Land (04:20)

3. Tear You Up (4:53)

4. That Shore (04:36)

5. Take Your Shot (04:34)

6. Fend For Yourself (03:49)

7. The Final Thing On My Mind (09:52)

8. Where We Stood (03:46)

CHECK OUT A TRAILER FROM YOUR WILDERNESS HERE:

Review – Purson – Desire’s Magic Theatre – by Shawn Dudley

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“Is everybody in?  The ceremony is about to begin.” Jim Morrison

“… I want you to get down and come with me to the D.M.T.” Rosalie Cunningham

For those unfamiliar, Purson is the brainchild of singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Rosalie Cunningham, who I firmly believe is one of the most exciting rock musicians to come along in ages. Their prior album ‘The Circle and the Blue Door’ was an addictive treat that refused to leave my stereo in 2013. It was a refreshing blend of classic heavy rock swagger and psychedelic pop buoyed by Rosalie’s impressive vocal chops and ripping, fuzzed-out guitar work.

After seeing them play a special showcase concert at The Viper Room (presented by the Classic Rock Awards) I was convinced that their potential had barely been tapped. Rosalie has that indefinable magnetic quality that rock stars are made of and constant touring over the past few years has sharpened Purson into a lethal live act.

An EP (‘In The Meantime’) followed, as did a string of appearances in the UK and the US that helped garner them the “Vanguard” at the 2015 Prog Awards.  It has been a long wait for ‘Desire’s Magic Theatre’, and it’s an album that has far exceeded my high expectations.

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‘Desire’s Magic Theatre’ is essentially a solo album, a thematic concept composed, arranged and produced by Rosalie. She handles all the vocals, electric & acoustic guitars, bass guitar, keyboards and additional percussion, in addition to co-designing the artwork (along with touring keyboardist Sam Robinson) and mix (with Ed Turner). Drummer Raphael Mura is featured on the entire album along with guest spots from guitarist George Hudson (3 tracks), bassist Justin Smith (2 tracks) plus fine support from session players Anna Scott (cello) and Jon Seagroatt (saxophone & flute).

The album is a quantum leap forward in maturity, conception and execution to their prior releases and really showcases what a unique experience they have to offer. It’s a witchy brew of late 60s influence filtered through an immensely talented and personal songwriter, one whom at age 26 seems mature far beyond her years. Rosalie has stated the album was primarily conceived in the vein of early Psych/Prog albums such as ‘Ogdens’ Nut Gone Flake’, ‘Sgt. Pepper’ and “H To He Who Am The Only One’.  You can also hear influences from The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, Jethro Tull, King Crimson and many others.  But this is not 60s revivalism, it’s not pastiche, it uses the influences she grew up with to create an experience that is most definitely her own.

The title track introduces the album with a slithery bump & grind groove featuring a chunky guitar & sax riff before slowing down into a mellower mid-section that goes from light acoustic folk to grandiose mellotron-drenched prog and back again.  A diverse array of instrumental colors including harpsichord, flute, Farfisa and Hammond organ are expertly blended together along with a myriad of 60s production effects. The coda is a playful nod to ‘Stand Up’-era Jethro Tull with a funky walking bass groove and flute solo.
The crunchy Hendrix-influenced riff of first single Electric Landlady is up next, a rousing rocker with playful drug-drenched lyrics and attitude to spare. Guitarist George Hudson joins for a tasty guitar solo trade-off, a duty he returns for on the jam-oriented Mr. Howard. These tracks are closest in spirit to their debut album which overall was a slightly heavier, less experimental affair.

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The album also features a couple relatively straightforward psychedelic pop tunes in the sunny jangle of The Way It Is and the utterly charming The Window Cleaner.

However, the real meat of the album is the more experimental half, this is where the intricacy of the arrangements really shine. Dead Dodo Down fades in with a slinky, creepy little guitar riff and a waltz-like groove punctuated by huge fuzzed-out punctuations and a tasty little clean-toned guitar solo. As with most of the album it’s a concise statement, just 3 minutes but manages to contain a wealth of detail. Pedigree Chums is a bass-driven, trippy affair that shows off drummer Ralph Mura to great effect and has a blistering saxophone solo during the outro.  The Sky Parade is the centerpiece of the album, a gorgeous progressive rock epic that ebbs and flows impressively from stripped-down acoustic to full blown bombast without ever faltering.

The album concludes with my two favorite songs. I Know is a haunting ballad describing the end of a love affair. It has a beautiful vocal performance from Rosalie and understated cello accompaniment from Anna Scott. The instrumental mid-section brings to mind the mellotron-fueled ballads of early King CrimsonThe Bitter Suite is the magnum-opus, an immaculately arranged multi-layered epic that covers more territory in 7 minutes than many modern prog bands can manage in twice that time. It’s a fitting closer to a nearly flawless 45 minutes of music.

The deluxe edition of the album contains acoustic versions of I Know and The Sky Parade and an additional track entitled Unsure Overture that is of the same quality as the rest of the album but doesn’t fit the overall concept. Guitarist George Hudson shares lead vocal duties and Anna Scott provides some Roy Wood-era ELO sawing cello to the arrangement.

At this moment ‘Desire’s Magic Theatre’ is easily my favorite album of the year, a record I praise unreservedly and is deserving of wide recognition. I hope Purson becomes huge; they most definitely have the potential to do so.

Released 29th April 2016.

Buy ‘Desire’s Magic Theatre’ direct from the band.

 

Review – Red Bazar – Tales From The Bookcase – by Progradar

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“A good marriage winds up as a meeting of minds, which had better be pretty good to start with.

When minds meet, they don’t just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, and engage in new trains of thought.”

I know, you’re wondering what the heck am I going on about now but please lend me your ears and I shall explain….

When I heard that the instrumental progressive rock of Red Bazar was courting the vocal and lyrical talents of a certain Peter Jones of Tiger Moth Tales fame I, being a natural optimist, was certain it would be a glorious union.

I’d listened to the odd track or two from Red Bazar and had always been impressed by what I’d heard and, as for Peter, I’m sure you know I am a long term fan of this mercurial musician (and very nice bloke).

But, as well as successful accords, history is littered with stories of disastrous tie-ups, now you could bet your house on this joining together of musical marvels being a success, however, until you hear the material of the new partnership, you can never know for sure…..

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Red Bazar formed in 2007 with Andy Wilson on guitar, Paul Comerie on Drums and Mick Wilson on bass and keyboards.  The trio released their debut album in 2008, ‘Connections’ which was an instrumental album.  It was very well received by the prog world and garnered excellent reviews from around the world.  

 The following year they started work writing and recording the follow up album ‘Differential Being’ which again was an instrumental album. The album was released in 2010 and this too received excellent reviews and saw the band move forward, making a video to the first track (Paragon) from the album  and undertaking a series of gigs.

The band’s next release was a three track EP ‘After The Ice Storm’ released in 2013.  This used more keyboards, allowing them to create a wider variety of sounds.  The EP also received glowing reviews.l

The use of more keyboards made it difficult for the band to play live as Mick was juggling between keyboards and bass, so the band took the decision to find a keyboard player.  After a long search and many auditions, along came Gary Marsh.  He was perfect and was promptly added to the band’s line-up towards the end of 2013.

Peter Jones, attended a Red Bazar gig in Nottingham and suggested if we ever wanted to try some vocals he’d be ‘up for it’”, explains Andy. “We sent him a track and were really impressed with the lyrics and melodies. The rest, as they say……is history.”

Through 2014 and 2015 the band wrote and recorded the songs for ‘Tales from the Bookcase’ which is a collection of musical stories, many of which are based on Pete’s favorite books, with him providing the lyrics for all of the tracks except one, Sunset For A New World.

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By jove, they do love irony these rock bands, let’s laud the fact we now have a vocalist and start the new album with an instrumental! Actually In The Beginning is a rather fine opening to this new release with its slow burning feeling and ramping up of anticipation. Andy Wilson’s guitar is the lead here, ably assisted by the other musicians and setting the scene perfectly for Queen Of The Night Pt.1. A heavy riff opens the track with pounding drums and a tasty bass line before the distinctive voice of Peter Jones adds a edgy tone. Moving away from his usual progressive tinged vocal, Peter gets to rock out a bit more on this song and you get the impression that he’s really enjoying it. The punchy guitar and dynamic drums drive the track along giving it an added impetus before the laid back interludes where Peter’s voice takes centre stage amid a tug of war between dark and light where he takes on two distinctive characters with his clever invectives. The inventive music can, on one side, lull you into a feeling of goodwill and yet, on the other, leave you feeling like you’ve been run over by a force of nature. The next track is a particular highlight for me, Calling Her On is an almost perfect symbiosis of Peter’s Tiger Moth Tales persona and the inherent brilliance of the original musical quartet. A delightfully subdued opening where the vocals lay the foundations of the story is quite captivating, a gentle tranquility amid a hectic world. As expected, it doesn’t last forever as a sweeping riff demands your attention, the compelling rhythm section urging, the vocals taking on a pressing tone. The central part of the song opens up with Andy’s expansive guitar solo, one that carries you away on a wave of emotion. He’s always been a master storyteller Peter Jones and his new partners in crime just add to his skills as a troubadour of note on this compelling musical tapestry, a journey that twists and turns dragging you along with it as a willing victim, the mellow, unhurried closing out of the track soothing your troubled soul.

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Peter is a well known Genesis fan and City And The Stars has that revered prog rock band written large all over it. The gentle introduction with the Gabrielesque vocal and the Tony Banks inspired keyboards is inspired and the rest of the track does not let you down in any way. The guitar playing is sublime, the drums are smooth as you like and the bass is suave and sophisticated. It all leaves you cocooned in the nostalgic, whimsical 70’s bubble from which you never want to leave as it paints pictures in your mind. There is an undercurrent of despair deep at the core of this powerful song though and the longer it goes on that feeling of being safe and secluded drifts away. Intelligent songwriting delivers quite a profound tale and one of which we should surely take note. Andy Wilson delivers another coruscating guitar solo of note and you are left with a slightly hollow feeling of wistfulness. Lights Of Home is the centrepiece of the album and is a track of intricate sensibilities amid a story of endurance and bravery. The opening is busy and engrossing with a percussive riff and Paul Comerie’s abilities as a drummer are brought well to the fore, aided and abetted admirably by Mick Wilson’s driving bass. This guy has inherent brilliance behind the kit and it is allowed to shine here. There’s an impatient, restless quality to the song, never settling, an urgency that you feel through the impressive musicians and the vocals add direction to that verve. A lull in proceedings midway through allows you to gather your thoughts on the scenario before you and then a brilliant guitar solo creeps into your mind, the guitar seemingly piercing your very being, Gary Marsh adding the distinctive panache of his keyboards. A track epic in scope and delivery and one that stays in your mind long after it has come to a close. There’s something really addictive about the guitar theme that runs through Sunset For A New World, something that gets under your skin and into your very soul. I can’t describe it exactly but I really like the feeling it engenders as it meanders along, captivating and beguiling. The intricate drumming and ever so polished bass line just add to this feeling of uber-cool jazziness that runs throughout this high-class track. Peter’s vocals are heartfelt and fervent and give the song a feeling of perfection and rightness. The pent-up emotion that erupts out of Andy’s guitar on the evocative solo is amazing to behold and, added to the dapper keys, adds that final veneer of elegance to what is a really excellent piece of music.

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The darkest track on the album and one that deals with Peter’s own previous battles with depression, Almost Over begins in a solemn and restrained manner, building the scene gradually. Peter’s voice has a more hushed tone and there is a muted feeling that overshadows everything before a dark riff strikes out. There’s an intentionally oppressive tone to the song, one that provokes an aura of despair and anguish. Long gone are the jolly themes and jocular tones of Tiger Moth Tales’ ‘Storytellers’ yet the song is still as persuasive as any other on this release, even the the guitar solo has a slightly ambiguous and obscure feel to it. Despite the darkness inherent in the track’s theme it does seem to, finally, come to a more optimistic close, there is hope to be found inside your own mind.

The final track on the album is the conclusion to the first, Queen Of The Night Pt2. revisiting musical and lyrical themes originally explored in the opening track. A more refined opening with a staccato riff backing Jones’ dulcet tones as the scene is described in detail. Occasional glimpses of the heavy riff prevalent on Pt1. tie the two tracks together. You must listen to the decidedly impressive lyrics  as they add not a little weight to the music and Peter Jones must be one of the pre-eminent lyricists at large today in the world of progressive music, if not the whole music industry. Listen to the superb nuances in the bass, drums and keyboards with their jazzy feel and the charismatic guitar that seems to glow with a life of its own, there is an organic quality to the music that gives it a unique tactility. The song opens into a huge soundscape that entrances and delights in equal measure, an infinite depth that becomes almost primordial and elemental and, as it fades to a close, one that has captured your very soul.

The addition of an artist of the calibre of Peter Jones to the already impressive musicians in Red Bazar always had the potential to create a new force in the world of progressive music, the question was how good would they actually be? Well my friends I can answer that firmly in the positive. ‘Tales From The Bookcase’ is a new classic to my ears and an album that should be in any discerning fans collection, roll on the next one!

Released 22nd March 2016.

Buy ‘Tales From The Bookcase’ from White Night Records

Review – Messenger – Threnodies – by Shawn Dudley

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What a difference 20 years makes. In the far distant past of the 1990s, “Prog” was still a dirty word; reviled, ridiculed and lampooned by the critical establishment and cynical music fans alike. You could count the number of bands playing the music on two hands and you’d still have fingers to spare.

Fast forward to 2016 and it’s the mirror image; Prog is seemingly everywhere.  The critics have thawed, the stigma has mostly dissipated, new generations are discovering it and the old guard fans have climbed out of the caves and fallout shelters they’ve been hiding in to proudly proclaim; “Told you so!” Hell, it’s almost respectable!

This has inspired a dizzying number of new bands and a blizzard of new Prog releases each month. There are so many that sometimes I fear I’m going to be buried under an avalanche of mellotrons, organs and shifting time signatures. Yet thankfully, despite the overabundance of choices there are still albums that really leap out from the multitude, grab me by the shoulders and demand I pay attention. ‘Threnodies’, the second full-length release from London-based quintet Messenger is one such album.

Their prior album ‘Illusory Blues was a dream-like affair, an intoxicating blend of folk rock intimacy and Pink Floyd-ish soundscapes. Primarily acoustic and beautifully restrained, it conjured up images of the flower-power past while still sounding firmly relevant to the 21st century.  The album did occasionally hint at a more powerful beast lurking beneath the surface. There were moments in songs like Midnight and The Return that briefly notched up the intensity, a teaser for possible future sonic explorations that ‘Threnodies’ gloriously fulfills.

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Opening track Calyx demonstrates this newfound muscularity in an amusingly surreptitious way. Beginning in a stylistically similar fashion to their prior release, it’s a floating, ethereal arrangement with only the extroverted drumming of Jaime Gomez Arellano indicating what is to come. A little past the halfway point the song quietly fades out and then a pulsating synth riff fades in to introduce the explosive conclusion. And what a joyous sound it is! A swirling vortex of powerful drumming, acoustic piano, thunderous bass and a wall of warmly distorted guitar, it’s a thrilling introduction, a preface to even more visceral delights to come.

The appropriately titled Oracles of War was the “hallelujah moment” for me. A song that begins with a riff that had me instantly reaching for the volume control to add a few more decibels of heft. It’s a doom riff that would make Tony Iommi proud. Then the swirling organ comes in and we’re transported back to the wonderful sonic time where giants like Uriah Heep, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple roamed the land, laying waste to eardrums with gleeful abandon. This track puts a big goofy grin on my face that just won’t go away. Please don’t call it “Prog Metal”, that would be a disservice. Progressive rock and heavy metal were born together, siblings with more in common than not, cruelly separated by record labels into more easily marketable factions. Oracles of War reunites them in spirit and it’s a most happy reunion. At the halfway point the intensity drops and a calm enters, I hear a definite influence from the LA folk-rock scene in this section, hints of CSN&Y and Buffalo Springfield. It made me ponder an alternate universe where Ken Hensley and Tony Iommi went to Stephen Stills’ house in Laurel Canyon for a jam session.

It’s a testament to how good Messenger really is that they don’t belabor the point and remain on that one sound. We then venture into the gorgeous Balearic Blue, a dip into crystalline musical waters, a refreshing cool-down from the prior intensity. A truly lovely song with a beautiful ringing guitar sound and understated electric piano, mellotron and organ, propelled by the nimble interplay of the rhythm section.  It’s a delight.

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Album highlight Celestial Spheres is up next, an infectious arrangement that blends the progressive rock sophistication with the loose jam band qualities that came so naturally to bands in the early 70s. Too often these days bands choose one path or the other, thankfully Messenger has the talent and the songwriters to meld them together seamlessly and organically. I also have to mention the inspired guitar interplay of Khaled Lowe and Barnaby Maddick, they complement each other so well and inspire memories of jamming Wishbone Ash and Allman Brothers records when I was a youngster. Speaking of guitars, the riff that comes in around the 4:20 mark and introduces the ending section is another gem on an album full of them. This is the type of song I’d like to hear them play live and stretch out on.

Nocturne begins in a darker more mournful vibe and features a thunderously heavy riff punctuated by the huge bass sound of James Leach. Then, in the last third, the dark clouds part and a lovely acoustic guitar section prepares us for the catchy folk & jam rock groove of Pareidolia. The ending section of that piece brings us back around to Pink Floyd territory, from the ‘Wish You Were Here/Animals’ era.

The album closer Crown of Ashes brings the Wishbone Ash influence back with a lovely lyrical guitar line and closes the album out on an uplifting, laid-back note.

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All told I’m thoroughly impressed with Messenger, one of my favorite discoveries of the past couple years and a band that I predict even greater things from in the future.  ‘Threnodies’ is sure to be high on my best of 2016 list, I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

Released 22nd April 2016

Buy ‘Threnodies’ direct from the band

 

 

Review – Marco Ragni – Land Of Blue Echoes – by Progradar

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I suppose you could call it being a music nerd but I am sure many of my fellow music fans also have this innate ability, identifying musicians by their signature sound and, for the purposes of this review, it is particularly applicable to guitar players.

Be it the great blues players like B.B. KingStevie Ray VaughanBuddy Guy or, latterly, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Joe Bonamassa, the stellar guitarists of rock music, Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Pete Townsend and Yngwie Malmsteen or progressive rock’s great exponents along the lines of David Gilmour, Steve Howe, JohnPetrucci, Alex LifesonSteve Hackett and the sadly departed Piotr Grudziński, they all brought a unique guitar sound to the music, one that most aficionados could instantly recognise.

This would add something different to the music, something to make it stand out from the sea of music that lapped around our metaphorical ankles and give you a reason to listen to, and purchase, it ahead of anything else. It also made it feel more personal, less generic, and gave you, the listener, a particular attachment to, and fondness for, that music.

Well, I’d like to add one more fantastic guitar player to that list, the incomparable Italian maestro Marco Ragni who also happens to have just released his latest solo album ‘Land Of Blue Echoes’.

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Marco has been making music since the age of 17 when, in 1987, he released ‘Kaleido’ but it was his last album, ‘Mother From The Sun’ (released in 2014), that introduced me to this seminal guitar player. Influences including pysychedelic, folk, funk and pop abound throughout his singular brand of progressive rock and his playing is absolutely exemplary.

He says of his new album:

“I play and write songs to free myself from the constraints of life and to emphasize all the beauty that surrounds me. I’ve never done caged by drawings and I never wanted to replicate a sound or feel. I’ve always tried to rework all my putting influences what I have in my head, not as a musician, but as a person. I always imagined me like a volcano full of a thousand artistic references ready to erupts new reworking songs that I have heard, mostly using my sensitivity. I hope you can hear a “Marco Ragni” sound and not something that looks like a nostalgic operation.”

‘Land Of Blue Echoes’ is an ambitious work, in the name of prog-rock dropped from atmospheres and canonical issues, characterized instead by a crossroads influences ranging from psychedelia to the new international rock, through to Marco’s beloved Pink Floyd.

Collaborators

For ‘Land Of Blue Echoes’, Marco Ragni has brought together a band of illustrious collaborators including Durga McBroom (backing vocalist for Pink Floyd and David Gilmour since 1987).

Guitarists Peter Matuchniak (who plays a lot of the lead parts), Fernando Perdomo  and Colin Tench, bassists Jeff Mack and Hamlet ‘Transport Aerian’, drummer Jacopo Ghirardini and keyboard player Vance Gloster all add their considerable talents to this remarkable piece of work, backing up Marco and his multi-instrumental skills on acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, bass, lap steel guitars, greek bouzuki and, of course, vocals.

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The first thing that struck me about the album was the striking cover. Now those of you who have followed my writing over the last 3 or 4 years will know that album art is something that I really appreciate and can almost make or break a release for me. The cover to ‘Land Of Blue Echoes’ does everything right, simple yet compelling, it draws your eyes to the artwork like every great cover should. Now, onto the music….

Between Moon and Earth opens with a 60’s feel NASA voice over before a psychedelic off centre guitar note, courtesy of Colin Tench, starts the track proper. Insistent drums and bass add a slightly disconcerting note before the guitars play against each other with a slightly alien feel, it’s stylish and intriguing and that almost corrosive guitar that meanders though your mind is quite addictive. Quite a thought provoking instrumental start to the album. One of the two extended ‘epics’ on this release, Horizons begins with a delicate introduction that seems to tingle across all your synapses before opening up into a proper 70’s feeling progressive track with its complicated music and eerie flute like sound. It then picks up pace and turns into something that Public Service Broadcasting would have been proud to release. A distinctive sci-fi note runs though the music before the keyboards, drum and bass go all funky on you backing a slightly distanced voice over. It never gives you chance to settle and leaves you feeling as if your in the middle of an episode of Space:1999 with its retro feel. Marco is an expert at using music as a storytelling medium and he does it again here as his vocals open up, laid back and full of character. The music takes on a slightly medieval edge with the sound of a harpsichord and you just go along with the very impressive flow as it explores different avenues. A slightly disconcerting guitar solo adds an abrasive note but takes nothing away from the narrative. It’s a track that becomes quite obsessive as you follow its ever impressive journey through darkness and light, the elegant piano section preceding a guitar solo of incredible depth and scope and where the Hammond organ is given free rein to provide an admirable backdrop, music that just keeps on giving. A persistent piano note and flamenco guitar open title track Land Of Blue Echoes with a grave and serious tone which continues with the vocals, Marco delivering the words in a deliberate and thoughtful manner. Another spiky guitar run adds more feeling of discord that contrasts against the lighter Spanish influenced guitar to leave you feeling slightly disorientated, if only in a good way.

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Who said Pink FloydMoney Doesn’t Think begins with a stylish bass, drum and keyboard rhythm over which Fernando Perdomo’s guitar overlays a seriously impressive auditory exhibition. The vocals add a touch of gravitas with their earnest intonation but it is the rather catchy music that stands out here, the guitar playing just blows you away with its power, skill and dexterity and are backed up to the hilt by the notable rhythm section. This is one of those songs where you keep finding yourself pressing repeat. That medieval feel, with touch of eastern promise, returns on Canto D’Amore, Marco delivers a delightful vocal and bouzuki performance and the harmonised sections send shivers down your spine with their eclesiastical feel. A pared back innovative delight of a song that just cleanses your palate mid way through this intense album. Deep Night is a fantastic song whichever way you look at it but the addition of Durga McBroom’s distinctive and haunting vocals is the true highlight. A track that will leave you rapt, almost in limbo, as you let its many charms wash over you. She has a voice that expands to fill any room she may be occupying and, as well as being dynamic and potent, there is a subtlety to it as well. The music plays an admirable second fiddle here but is no less dramatic or imposing as the compelling guitar adds the finishing touches to a near perfect piece of musical theatre.

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Beltane, to me, seems to be a song of two parts. The opening part is all complex and convoluted progressive rock where the gentle acoustic guitar, drums and casual bass leave you in some sort of fantasy world where Marco is the tour guide and his languid vocals just wash over you leaving you feeling slightly becalmed. The Hammond organ in the background gives an insistent edge that seems to be trying to wake you from your musical stupor. There’s a guitar part that seems slightly out of phase and focus, leaving you feeling a little spaced-out, fazed and nonplussed. Then, after a little calming interlude, it brings itself sharply back into focus as the guitar drives the song forward in a more traditional fashion, aided and abetted by the elegant rhythm section. The first couple of times you just don’t ‘get’ it but then it all falls into place with a knowing nod from the music. Intelligent and thought provoking music that requires some work from the listener too. Now onto the second, and longest, ‘epic’ on the album. Nucleus Parts 1-8 really does deserve that title, not only for its length (coming in at just under 23 minutes) but, also, for its inventive and involving composition. It even feels like an epic as it begins, a searching guitar fading in and laying the foundations, backed by the bass, an ominous undertone. Then a fiery guitar breaks from the fold demanding your attention as it drives the song on with a reverberating and chiming tone. Then, calmness, Durga’s distinctive vocal warblings, earnest and sincere and yet with a mournful edge to them, hold you spellbound as the musical convolutions conspire in the background. It is hypnotic and almost surreal, like the musical equivalent of a Hunter S. Thompson novel, ‘Fear and Loathing in The Land of Blue Echoes’ perhaps? The guitar then breaks free to deliver a fast flowing section of intricate brilliance that precedes Marco’s grave and determined vocals, backed by the haunting tones of Durga. These vocal interludes are punctuated by flashes of six string brilliance that just blow you away. A seamless move into a period of calm reflection then follows, gentle guitar, expressive bass and smooth drums hold in a their reflective embrace, Marco and Durga’s vocals, serene and tranquil, have a hypnotic grace and you relax and let the music flow over you. An embellished, slightly tortuous guitar then takes over, searching and asking questions of you before Durga’s vocal wanderings invite you on a journey of discovery. I said before that Marco was a musical storyteller and he reaches a pinnacle on this elaborately momentous, ambitious and complex musical tapestry. You can just lose yourself in the soundscape and enjoy every nuance and minutae of its melodic charm as each individual section delivers its singular tuneful aesthetics. This remarkable musical odyssey comes to a close with the blues-tinged Queen of Blue Fires, a wistful and nostalgic track enhanced by the addition of Hamlet ‘Transport Aerian’ on bass guitar. It begins with slightly somber feel to the music and vocals, almost like an emotional lament. The guitar then fills you with a feeling of hope as it seems to lift the cloud from over everything. Perhaps the end of one thing that should be mourned but also the beginning of something new that needs to be celebrated. Heartfelt and profoundly sincere, it seems to resonate with your very core and invites you on this new and uplifting journey where we can look at things that have passed with fond affection rather than a sense of grief. The Hammond solo is a thing of genius that just makes me smile and tip my metaphorical hat in acknowledgement and it is matched in sincerity and intensity by the burning guitar solo. A fitting end to a magical musical excursion.

Marco says that this is an international album and it should appeal to all nations with its intense brilliance. A deeply moving listen which shows Marco Ragni at the height of his power, it left me feeling free and unencumbered by the worries of life. This is not mere music, it is a life changing experience and is surely one of the highlights of 2016 so far from a musician who just gets better and better with every release and one who is backed by a stellar group of contemporaries.

Released 18th March 2016 on Melodic Revolution Records.

Buy ‘Land of Blue Echoes’ from the MRR bandcamp page

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Sanguine Hum – What We Ask Is Where We Begin – The Songs For Days Sessions – by Rob Fisher

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Good music is often unexpected. It piques your interest, takes you by surprise and gently lures you, slowly but surely, into the complex twists and intriguing turns of the journey that awaits. Sanguine Hum’s fourth studio album ‘What We Ask Is Where We Begin: The Songs for Days Sessions’ is precisely that kind of unexpected and quite delightful treasure trove of surprises which never fails to fascinate, captivate and enchant, all in equal measure.

What is perhaps striking about this release is not only the rich diversity of styles, textures and sounds which gently emerge across each track but also the enhanced and noticeable clarity of the recording itself. There is, without doubt, an inherent and quite focused understanding of the relationship between playing, recording, producing and presenting music which speaks volumes of the passion and commitment of the band to engaging the listener, on all levels, to the experience they wish to share.

Indeed, getting the mix right is supremely important given the subtle, complex and ever shifting combination of instruments and arrangements. Those familiar with the band’s excellent 2015 release ‘Now We Have Light’ will be well aware of the fluid and highly creative changes throughout each song in the balance and the relationship between the instruments which creates the wonderfully atmospheric feel and sound which has come to characterise their music.

Now We Have Light

‘What We Ask Is Where We Begin is a veritable’ smorgasbord of textures and compositions where the consistency and the character of the music is built on and maintained by the changing interactions between the musicians. This is not about individual virtuosity (though it is unquestionably evident) and there are none of the archetypal prog solos to dazzle and amaze. This is a virtuosity predicated on togetherness, on weaving musical patterns that emerge from the band having that instinctual understanding of each other’s style, skills and abilities and how these can work together.

The reward is an album which bristles with variety, celebrates the unexpected and leads you down musical pathways which are satisfyingly rewarding. Matt Barber’s keyboards are a fascinating study in how to combine technical discipline with creative adventurousness and, in the process, forms the focal point off which the other instruments play. Joff Winks on acoustic and electric guitars brings a distinctive and smoothly forceful character both to the manner of the playing as well as to the various guitar voices themselves. It is the perfect balance to the sensitively weighted and emotionally endowed vocal stories he weaves.

Brad Waissman brings scale, depth and resonance to the soundscape, his bass lines tight, crisp, never aggressive but always rounding out the sound whilst building playful patterns within it. Andrew Booker’s drumming is thoughtfully expressive, bringing playful intricacy one moment and assured reliability the next, rising and falling as the space in the sound stage warrants. Yet to single each band member out like this is perhaps unfair; they rise and fall, stand forward and fall back in balance with each other and it is this fluid and flexible relationship they share which creates the consistently intelligent music for which Sanguine Hum have become known and earned them recognition in the form of a nomination in the Progressive Music Awards in 2013.

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So what is therefore surprising is that although ‘What We Ask Is Where We Begin is, technically speaking, their fourth studio album it is, in reality, actually their very first!  ‘Songs for Days’ was originally recorded in 2006 before the band had settled on the name Sanguine Hum and released instead as The Joff Winks Band. The inability to find a record label willing to release the album led to it being available only as a download with the unfortunate result that its public reception was extremely limited.

The choice to release it again now, and in such proximity to ‘Now We Have Light’, is to be applauded. It is intriguing and instructive to observe the lines of continuity between the two, the development of styles and techniques, the recurrence of lyrical themes and ideas as well as the introduction and evolution of novelty into and within the band’s sound.

The care and attention which has been given to the release deserves commendation. Disc 1 contains an extended remaster of the original ‘Songs for Days’ release. Disc 2 contains an impressively wide ranging selection of previously unreleased music, material written specifically for this release, outtakes, remixed singles, B sides, a Steely Dan cover and a host of other fascinating bits and pieces.

As with the original composition, careful thought has clearly been given to why the band feel this is such an important part of the Sanguine Hum archive, what the best way of presenting that feeling is to both established as well as new fans, how to preserve the integrity of the music amidst the production values and what they hope to achieve by finally letting it loose in the public arena once again.

It does pique your interest, it does take you by surprise on so many fronts and it will, ever so gently, lead you down a set of thoroughly enjoyable musical pathways.

Released 29th January 2016

http://www.cherryred.co.uk/product/what-we-ask-is-where-we-begin-the-songs-for-days-sessions/

 

Review – Circus Maximus – Havoc – by Sabrina Beever

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Circus Maximus is a very apt name when you hear their new album ‘Havoc’. I may be looking at this way to creatively but that’s what music does to you, the Norwegian band create melodic material with maximum strength and force; powerful riffs and intertwining melodic lines that are not always where you expect them to be.

Looking at the idea of a circus, not just somewhere to be scared by clowns but a mastery of your own art form, Circus Maximus have achieved this with a refinement of skill and the songwriting. Each instrument compliments the other superbly. So the maybe, far too in depth, analysis of their name. It isn’t just a name but part of their nature; playing music of great skill and refinement to a maximum level, which was probably never the intention of the band name but remains a cool band name whatever way you look at it.

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Circus Maximus have now released their fourth studio album, ‘Havoc’, which has more sophisticated material to offer and is like honey to the ears, especially with Michael Eriksen on vocals. Eriksen possesses an unquestionable tone, clear as crystal with no rough edges, almost a hybrid of Dio and Steve Perry but smoother, whilst still keeping true to their metal style. Circus Maximus have also been described as a progressive metal band which personally wasn’t the style I heard when I first listened to this album.

Michael

When you hear the title track Havoc you’re instantly sold on a metal style with deep ambiguous guitar chords making it hard to figure out whether they are major or minor when combined with the punchy rocky bassline. It has the potential to shake the ground with the right speakers. Now for me this doesn’t speak ‘progressive’ when thinking of bands such as Yes and Rush, but then again, they don’t have a similar style to them but rather more hard riffs propelling you forward instead of becoming lost in an ambient soundscape, that’s not the type of progression that Circus Maximus hold.

The progression the band has comes from the technicality of their material. Highest Bitter opens with a single bassline and the vocals. This gives a chance for the bassist to shine for a change and creates a deeper and more unsettling atmosphere. A bass guitar is not usually a melodic instrument but a supporting one, so in just one way they are changing the boundaries.

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The mood of the material isn’t always constant which clearly enhances the music more. like in Loved Ones. Commencing with a very ambient and tranquil opening with synth tones progressing into what you are expecting to be an 80’s ballad, one of the slower glam tracks that you might expect Foreigner to play. The band display more melodic expertise in this track with an extended melodic section that, along with the ambient synth sounds, puts you into a dream.

Circus Maximus have created a fantastic album with some surprises when the tone takes a step down from weighty riffs and an unforgiving drum beat. Definitely worth a listen and a band to look out for.

Released 18th March 2016.

Buy ‘Havoc’ from Amazon

Review – Hawkwind – The Machine Stops – by Gary Morley

HAWKWIND The Machine Stops

Hawkwind. Ah, Hawkwind.

They have formed part of my musical DNA. An alien strand possibly, but a strand nevertheless.

I’ve been a technician on Space ship Hawkwind since hearing ‘In Search of Space’ back in time.

Whilst at college, we scoured second hand shops for copies of ‘Space Ritual’, fantasised about getting hold of a copy of ‘Captain Lockheed’, dreamed of seeing them live and snapped up bootleg cassettes at Record Fairs.

Over the years they remained a firm favourite; I bought albums on vinyl, saw them live (‘Chronicle of the Black Sword’ tour and at Reading Festival), upgraded the collection to CD and followed their musical journey as they ploughed their way through space and time.

That journey has now taken a trip into the universe of top 40 albums with ‘The Machine Stops’, based on a 100 year old dystopian fable written by EM Forster.

When  you are in the business of the future, 100 year old novellas seem counter intuitive  but the concept of humans living isolated from each other, communicating indirectly and having all their needs met by the ubiquitous machine is as relevant today as ever it was.

This relevance has struck a chord with the people that buy Hawkwind. Hard core fans (Hawknerds) have elevated the art of supporting the band to a new level, with communal weekends; events and building on the bands counter culture philosophies to construct their own world. A world that intersects with the “normal” one in the shape and fabric of this album.

And it’s a cracking piece of art. From the disturbing cover (David Lynch does Red Dwarf) you know that this is a serious concept album.

Luckily, the music is able to match the lofty concepts that the story evokes.

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If you’ve heard Hawkwind, you know what you’re going to hear. Synths burble, guitars and bass crackle and paint a vivid canvas for the lyrics to tell their story.

The album starts with a great little piece, All Hail The Machine that sets the bleak scene of the machine as benevolent dictator and god, satisfying all the protagonist’s needs. It evokes memories of the classic “sonic attack” piece from ‘Space Ritual’, with its angular narration and call and response coda.

We then rip into a Hugh Lloyd Langton style guitar riff and an up-tempo Hawk rock piece, simply titled The Machine

As with all dystopic tales, the status quo is soon in question, with the bleak reality being unveiled through the next hour.

The machine’s descent into erratic dysfunction and the effects on the people is told through the various tracks, using the entire musical palette that 40 years of invention can bring to bear.

You get post industrial percussive tracks that would give Test Dept a run for their money, those synths painting broad swaths of sound , crunchy guitars to please the Metal heads  , energy and attitude to satisfy the punks drawn to the anti establishment myth of Hawkwind.

They also were the forerunners of the Ambient and post rock movements , all of this goes in the mix , the end result is a fine album that sounds stunning, lyrics that were not scribbled on a fag packet  and a story worth the effort the band have spent in putting the package together.

The Hawkwind that made this album sits alongside the band that made ‘Levitation’, ‘Astounding Sounds’ and ‘Hawklords’ all of which still sound as good today as they did when first released.

The album is best consumed as a whole, either through a “real” hifi or good headphones. There are some fabulous details in this musical canvas that deserve the benefits of a good set of speakers, notably the gorgeous synth washes and chirrups in Katie, a nice little instrumental interlude that leads into King of The World, which utilises that great Eastern type vibe the Hawkwind developed with ‘Hassan’ / ‘Assassins of Allah’ on their legendary ‘Quark, Strangeness & Charm’ album, mixed with the driving mantra of ‘Psychedelic Warlords’.

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I’m referencing old Hawkwind in celebration of this new incarnation. It’s the band’s DNA reproducing itself down through the corridors of time. The echoes of great men departed are all over this album. Calvert, Lemmy, Dik Mik, Simon House, The Late Hugh Lloyd Langton all have helped shape this sound and it is more than the sum of its parts. In my Room shares a melodic opening with ‘Zarozinia from ‘Chronicles of The Black Sword’, another great Hawkwind literary album based on the ‘Elric Chronicles’ written by their long time fan / collaborator, Michael Moorcock.

As you may have picked up on, I’ m a bit of a SF fan and Hawkwind were always the most SF leaning of bands, followed by Blue Oyster Cult in my reckoning.

That post industrial percussive Test Dept feel is heard at the start of Thursday which also features founder and sole original member, Dave “The Captain” Brock steering Spaceship Hawkwind through this mid paced number splashed with artificial beats and hammerings echoing through the golden void.

In conclusion, this album sums up Hawkwind for the uninitiated without alienating the hard core Hawknerd fan. There are, as with all their recent albums, echoes of their past reverberating through the threads, but this adds to the feeling of “belonging” that it encourages.

The band has just completed a well received and visually spectacular UK tour with a stage show based around this album. The reviews have been great, I’m amazed at the love for a 40 year old institution that was always outside the norm and thrived in the space between.

Hawkwind, with this album have stopped being a shared secret cult and become an institution for all the right reasons.

Released 15th April 2016.

Buy ‘The Machine Stops’ from Cherry Red Records/Esoteric

 

 

Syndone announce new concept album – ‘Eros & Thanatos’ – featuring Ray Thomas and Steve Hackett

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The tireless rock band from Turin have announced a new concept album dedicated to the ‘Song of Songs’, with two great special guests: Steve Hackett and Ray Thomas! 

Eros & Thanatos: the “movierock” of Syndone!

“We make a very expressive and quite symphonic music, so that one day I began to define it movierock! “Sometimes it is really comparable with the “film scoring” composition’s style and founds itself on the idea of the concept album not on a more segmented speech of unrelated songs.”

Nik Comoglio is ready for a new season with Syndone and with the highly anticipated new album ‘Eros & Thanatos’, released by Altrock/Fading only two years after the excellent ‘Odysséas’.

Thanks to the success of 2014’s ‘Odysséas’, Syndone strengthened their six-piece line up with a string of well received live performances, combining the rhythmic power, the charisma and the energy of rock with the dynamism, the charm and nobility of classical music.

This time lead singer Riccardo Ruggeri has attemped  a re-envisioning of the Song of Songs:

“The human being’s journey through its tensions, passions and emotions is something deeply fascinating to me. When these elements join with Science, Research, the Ethnomusicology, the history of raped territories devasted by religious wars, the cocktail becomes lethal… and hit me. I’ve read the “Song of the Song” for a year collecting materials and information taken from internet and libraries; I  forfeited images, absorbed the point of view of Guido Ceronetti, lived my personal life experiences in the meantime… then I let this bag explode on Nik’s music. it was exciting, and it’s still a thrill for me to hear it.”

Skilled in uniting the stylistic continuity with the refinement and the addition of new elements, Eros & Thanatos has something more, as pointed Comoglio:

“The most important difference from Odysseas is now finally you can hear a real band. Thanks to the several gigs we played the line-up has now become so established to give an added value of unity and style to the new work, being more cohesive. Then the string orchestra, which opened a new, more powerful and interesting sound, the Arabic and Hebrew sung, which emphasizes the derivation from the ‘Song of Songs’.”

Syndone:

Nik Comoglio – all keyboards/pipe organ/orchestration
Riccardo Ruggeri – vocal/backing vocals/vocoder/12 string ac.guitar/lyrics
Marta Caldara – vibraphone/piano, mellotron
Gigi Rivetti – piano, hammond, moog, electric piano, clavinet
Maurino Dellacqua – bass/fretless/taurus bass
Martino Malacrida – drums/percussions

Special Guests:

Ray Thomas: flute in L’urlo nelle ossa

Steve Hackett: electric guitar in Cielo di fuoco

 

Also featuring:

Tony De Gruttola: acoustic guitars

Pino Russo: classic guitar/oud

Puntorec String Orchestra

Conductor: Fabio Gurian

Review – Alex Carpani – So Close. So Far. – by Shawn Dudley

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Alex Carpani – So Close, So Far

“Incommunicability increases distances between people, self-alienation increases the isolation of an individual from the rest of the world and technology can enable dramatic consequences to happen. However human beings have the power to avoid all these things by listening to their heart and living their real lives first. “

The above paragraph lays out the thematic concept at the heart of ‘So Close. So Far.’, the fourth album from Italian progressive rock artist Alex Carpani.  It’s a topic that seems to inspire a lot of musicians in our social media-fueled world of the 21st century.   A world more connected then ever (So Close), but really a facade, an illusion flickering from millions of handheld devices (So Far).  But unlike many albums that broach this topic, the mood flowing throughout these catchy, melodic songs is one of hope.

‘So Close. So Far.’ is a significant departure from the previous album ‘4 Destinies’.  Whereas that album was comprised of four epic-length compositions, this time out the focus has been tightened into brief (by progressive rock standards anyway) melodic rockers that should appeal to fans of IQ and mid-period Porcupine Tree.

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The album is beautifully produced by Alex Carpani with the mix by Marco Barusso, dynamic and spacious and a real treat for the ears in a time when far too many albums are compressed and abrasively harsh.   The performances are uniformly excellent; Alex Carpani (keyboards, programming and vocals), Ettore Salati (guitar), Joe Sal (vocals & additional guitar), Giambattista Giorgi (bass) and Martin Malacrida (drums).  The arrangements are tasteful, tightly reined in and tailored to highlight the consistently accessible songs.

The album is overflowing with earworms and several tracks would make excellent singles.  Man On Wire gets stuck in my head for hours, it’s a simple driving 4/4 with a killer chorus hook that just latches on and won’t let go.  Let My Drop Of Sweat Fall Down is a gorgeous pop song with a huge, lush chorus and Crystal Falls is a Neo-Prog gem that would actually work quite well on a dance floor.  The whole album flows together beautifully; it’s a concise 51 minutes that just breezes by.

My favorite song is Stay With Me which has an extended instrumental section in the middle (despite still clocking in at only 4 minutes) that really shows off Carpani’s tasteful layering of disparate keyboard sounds, it’s a lovely combination of synth, organ and piano.

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Overall this is a fairly straight-ahead melodic rock album, the ties to “Prog” are more textural, more about the sophistication of the arrangements and quality of musicianship.  Personally, I usually tend to lean more toward the experimental, bands that stretch out and improvise.  But ‘So Close. So Far.’ is so lovingly conceived, so well written and arranged that it’s a most pleasant exception.

Released 4th March 2016

Buy So Close. So Far. from Amazon