Review – Glass Hammer – A Matter Of Time – Volume 1 – by Martin Hutchinson

“The present changes the past. Looking back you do not find what you left behind.” – Kiran Desai.

‘A Matter Of Time – Volume 1’ sees Glass Hammer founders Steve Babb and Fred Schendel reimagining the past as they pick their favourite songs from the band’s nineties catalog; reimagining and re-recording those songs from the ground up, totally updating them for the here and now.

These new recordings feature GH regular Aaron Raulston (drums) and guest appearances by Hannah Pryor (vocals), Reese Boyd (guitar – Lliusion & Song Of The Dunadan), Walter Moore (vocals: The Mayor Of Longview, Heaven – vocals & guitar: On To Evermore, Junkyard Angels), and Dave Bainbridge (guitar: Heaven).

If you’re a long time fan of this most ‘Prog’ of US progressive rock bands or a newcomer to their involving and dynamic music then you are in for an absolute treat.

I first got into Glass Hammer with 2010’s ‘If’ but the band is the epitome of prog rock longevity having released their first studio album, ‘Journey of the Dunadan’, in 1993. Suffice to say that Steve and Fred have an embarrassment of riches to choose from when it comes to their extensive back catalogue.

All of the tracks (barring Domain Walls) are taken from the band’s first three studio releases, the aforementioned ‘Journey of the Dunadan’, ‘Perelandra’ and ‘On to Evermore’, and deliver statuesque soundscapes across which the precise guitars, keyboards and vocals can weave their intricate stories of heroic deeds and the triumph of good over evil.

Opener Lliusion (‘Perelandra’) is a case in point, a fine piece of music, intense in flavour and rich in musicality, that immediately draws the listener into the tale that is laid before them. With the soaring vocals, stylish bass, majestic keyboards and charismatic guitars, I’m hooked after the first track!

Shadows Of The Past, Something’s Coming and Song Of The Dunadan form a three song suite that open ‘Journey of the Dunadan’, a concept album based on the story of Aragorn from Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’. The first track of the trio is literally a music score, containing all the pomp, circumstance and majesty that anyone could really need. This blends seamlessly into the sprightly second piece that has a hint of early Yes to it. Flourishing keyboards, urgent vocals and a powerful, insistent rhythm section drive the track along at breakneck speed before it ebbs and flows like a mystical river. We are truly in the realm of traditional 70’s progressive rock here but Steve and Fred have given it a gleaming new coat and it is wondrous to behold. The closing part of the triumvirate opens with an engaging piano line before becoming something altogether more regal and imposing, once again the rhythm section of Aaron’s drums and Steve’s bass give a solid canvas onto which the captivating tale can be painted in the listener’s mind. The highlight of the whole section has to be the brilliant interplay between Fred and Steve as they weave bass and keyboard lines ever more intricately into the track before Reese’s guitar gets to join the party, inspired!

Steve Babb Glass Hammer bassist

‘The Return of the King’ (‘Journey of the Dunadan’) is yet another superb track that opens full of instrumental wonder and just holds your attention as it takes you on an enthralling musical journey through the world of Middle Earth. As instrumentals go it is up there with some of the very best and special note must be given to Fred Schendel whose keyboards skills are certainly well on show throughout all of its near seven minute running time.

Domain Walls, taken from 1997’s ‘Live And Revived’ has an utterly carefree feel to it, like the band were just jamming, which, in essence, they were! Another instrumental but, this time, a hard edge, down and dirty, funky as hell one that really gets under your skin and I absolutely love it! Felix the Cat (‘Perelandra’) brings this instrumental section to a close and lives up to its name, graceful and mischievous just like any cat I know. It bounds and leaps along with Fred’s keys again at the core, artfully aided and abetted by Steve’s cool sounding bass.

The next three tracks take us ‘On to Evermore’, the band’s third studio release. The Mayor Of Longview is instantly recognisable as a Glass Hammer track and flows serenely, letting the music flow naturally, with Walter Moore’s dulcet vocal delivering a perfectly crafted storyline. Wistful and contemplative at times yet with an impishness just under the surface that always threatens to break out. On To Evermore is a song imbued with a graceful, stately grace, almost taking you back to an era of Knights, swords and sorcery. It holds itself with composure and class with Walter’s vocals again being key to the feel of the song. Junkyard Angel is a calm and collected gem of a song. The plaintive and thoughtful vocals are a perfect fit with the dreamy, ethereal music and the juxtaposition of Fred’s strident keyboard solo is a stroke of genius, a brilliant track.

The album closes with the yearning and reflective Heaven (the track that also closes out ‘Perelandra’). I love the feeling of understated strength that pervades the whole track, a slow burning intensity that is always there waiting to pour out and pour out it does when Dave Bainbridge’s guitar is allowed free rein. What a way to bring this excellent collection of songs to an end.

With A Matter Of Time – Volume 1′ Steve and Fred have given us a fantastic reimagining of some already sublime early Glass Hammer tracks. This release is full of superb songwriting and accomplished musicianship that has been artfully updated to fit perfectly into a modern world.

Released December 14th, 2020

Available exclusively from the band’s website here:

Glass Hammer official website

Review – The Strawbs – The Ferryman’s Curse – by James R. Turner

If, like me in the early 90’s, all you knew about the Strawbs was the Hudson-Ford penned hit Part of the Union, upon discovering the album ‘Hero & Heroine’ in my parents record collector, it was hard to believe it was the same band, my love for the Strawbs grew as their albums were finally remastered and reissued (with some gems like ‘Deadlines’ being picked up at a Record Fair around 1994 on the original vinyl) and their transition from folk to rock (being placed in the prog bracket) a far more dramatic metamorphosis than that of Fairport Convention (who ironically went the other way, from psychedelic proto prog to the folk rock pioneers we know and love) with David Cousins unique vocals and lyrics, and Dave Lambert on electric guitar, and band members like Rick Wakeman, John Hawken, Blue Weaver, Chas Cronk and Tony Fernandez passing through the ranks in the 1970’s, they were a who’s who of top quality players. Through their reunions throughout the 80’s, their acoustic Strawbs and return of the full Electric band, and resurgence with albums like ‘Deja Fou’‘The Broken Hearted Bride’, as well as classic live albums and archive releases, the bands legacy is assured. If you ever catch them live both the full electric, and acoustic trio are musicians at the top of their game, putting together some fantastic shows.

Now 8 years after their last studio album ‘Dancing to the Devils Beat’, the Strawbs return with what is probably their finest record since their golden period of the 1970’s. Produced by the legendary Chris Tsangarides (who sadly died in January) and with the core line up of David Cousins, Dave Lambert, Chas Cronk (three of the five members who recorded the classic albums ‘Hero and Heroine’ and ‘Ghosts’) and long term drummer Tony Fernandez are joined by  ‘new boy’ multi-instrumentalist Dave Bainbridge (currently touring in Lifesigns with former Strawbs keyboard player John Young – it’s such a small world isn’t it?), and whose work with Iona nicely dovetails with the original folk rock orientated sound of the Strawbs, and he fits perfectly in here, contributing considerably to the sound (on both guitar and keyboards) and songwriting with a writing credit on 5 of the 10 tracks on here.

Opening with the hauntingly wonderful symphonic In the Beginning, which segues nicely into The Nails from the Hands of Christ, where David Cousins is a lyrically sharp as ever and a subtle nod to older songs like the Man Who Called Himself Jesus.

In fact the band references themselves even more on the epic title track, a sequel to the equally magnificent The Vision of the Lady of the Lake from 1970’s ‘Dragonfly’ album.

It is of course one of the finest songs the Strawbs have done for many a year, echoing the original and rounding off the story superbly.

However that doesn’t mean that the band are merely relying on old glories and lazily retreading the past, that is absolutely not the case, as the classic Strawbs sound is there, along with the unmistakable vocals of David Cousins, but this is a contemporary Strawbs album. Musically the band are as tight as they have ever been, and Dave Bainbridge sounds like he’s been in the band forever, his keyboard work opening up the beautiful When the Spirit Moves has to be heard to be believed, whilst Dave Lambert’s caustically brilliantly bluesy The Ten Commandments shows he’s lost none of his edge either.

In fact the guitar work throughout this album is stunning, from the beautiful solos on The Familiarity of Old Lovers (with it’s lyrical twist being a contemporary classic piece of Cousins wordsmithery) to the closing We Have The Power, this is a band on top form.

With superb instrumentals like The Reckoning that leads into The Ferryman’s Curse, there is so much to love about this record. From the vocal contrasts between Cousins, whose voice is nicely maturing, Cronk and Lambert, a Strawbs trademark if ever there was one, to the sharpness of Cousins lyrics, showing the wit, the bite and the observation of human nature is still there, right through to the fact that this is a band who, despite being around in one form or another for over 50 years, are not going down the easy route of playing the nostalgia circuit.

The material on this album will more than fit into a set that showcases the best of the Strawbs, and proves that they still have plenty to say, plenty to play and on this album show bands that are much younger than them, how it is done.

Released 3rd November 2017

Order from Cherry Red:

The Ferryman’s CurseThe Strawbs