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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Released 20th August, 2021

Order the album here:

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

Review – Steve Hackett – Selling England By the Pound & Spectral Mornings Live at Hammersmith

This 2 CD / Blu Ray package is the latest release from the former Genesis guitarist who has, for the last 8 years, been repackaging and marketing his own version of his Genesis era history. Quite rightly so, when the rest of the original band are all doing decidedly different music these days.

This nostalgic revue is both commercially and musically viable and valid, people love these songs and Steve has both compiled a top notch supporting band and also tweaked the songs enough to bring their subtle tones and deep emotions to life. Steve’s tours invariably sell out and he has kept ticket prices to an affordable level thus making his shows accessible to many fans who may never have seen the original band. This latest release sees a return to Hammersmith after last year’s successful run of  shows under the ‘Selling England By The Pound‘ and ‘Spectral Mornings‘ banner.

What’s different this time is that Steve has a new drummer who has replaced the departing long term member Gary O’Toole. He had occupied the drum stool for nearly 20 years and, whilst this hasn’t changed the sound, it has brought a fresh power to proceedings. Craig Blundell is the new man behind the kit and he certainly makes his presence felt on this album, adding new flourishes and also forming a solid, reliable rhythm section with bassist Jonas Reingold and, in doing so, creating a platform for Steve’s guitar to soar freely.

The show is divided into two separate parts, part one being a mix of ‘Spectral Mornings’ tracks and including three tracks from Steve’s latest album, ‘At The Edge Of Light’, these being Under The Eye Of The Sun, Fallen Walls and Pedestals, and Beasts in Our Time. These add to the dynamics of the first half well, ‘Spectral Mornings’ being considered by many to be a crowning glory in Steve’s musical legacy or canon of recordings.

It’s an album that is certainly warmly received here at Hammersmith, the songs will be familiar to most so I don’t really need to comment on them to much except to state that all receive sterling performances here with contributions from both John Hackett on flute and Amanda Lehmann on guitar and vocals.

This section of the show is bookended with two of the tracks from ‘Selling England By the Pound’, namely, Dancing with The Moonlit Knight and an extended take on I Know What I Like, both of which are superb renditions, the latter giving Steve a chance to stretch out on the guitar.

The second part contains the remainder of SEBTP including an unreleased track, Déjà Vu, that was co-written by Peter Gabriel. Steve consulted with Peter who then gave his consent to a reworked, finished version and split the writing credits with Steve. As the track was omitted from the original album, its appearance here is most welcome indeed, it is a feisty and strong number that fits in well with the remaining tracks on SEBTP.

Also of note is the simply magnificent version of Firth of Fifth, a song that is as much about Steve as any other Genesis song. This is probably the best of the many live versions of this song that exist, somehow surpassing all the other versions including the orchestral version from last year’s Festival Hall recording, whilst that was great, somehow this is even better. I think that Craig Blundell’s drumming throughout gives the piece hitherto uncovered power, kick and bite and that elevates it above all the other takes released previously.

You could argue that every year brings a new release of old material and do we really need this one? My answer to that is a definitive Yes! These performances are from the heart and certainly satisfy demand and, whilst the original band are reluctant to perform these, Steve’s troop can certainly do so more than adequately and with conviction, power, dignity and grace. This set does that on every count, the blu-ray is a lovely addition and supplements the recordings with a crisp sound and sharp picture. The lighting used throughput the show is stunning and lighting operator Chris Curran certainly adds emphasis and dynamics in bringing his flair in making this a great visual show. This is made all the better with the sharpness that the blu-ray version delivers and the option of the 5.1 surround version that has been sympathetically mixed by Steven Wilson.  

If you have enjoyed any of Steve’s previous live sets, then I certainly recommend this one to you there is so much to enjoy and relive here.

Released 25th September 2020

Order direct from Steve’s website here:

http://www.hackettsongs.com/news/newsAlbum30.html