Review – John Holden – Kintsugi – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Kintsugi’ is the brand new album from Cheshire’s John Holden and it is another masterful collection of tracks that together tells eight stories of hope and redemption in our troubled world. Once again, John and his co-writer and wife and partner Elizabeth have created some beautiful  and sublime moments of music ranging from the epics, Achilles and Building Heaven, to the seemingly throwaway humorous Ringing The Changes, with its campanology references and use of bells.

John has continued his collaborative style with many of the prog world’s finest talents including Peter Jones, Mystery members Michel St-Père and Jean Pageau, Celestial Fire’s Dave Bainbridge and Sally Minnear and regular collaborators Joe Payne and Vikram Shankar. John himself plays keyboards, bass guitar and also adds percussion along with orchestrations and programming, while also handling both the artwork and the production of the album.

‘Kintsugi’ is a very skilled and lovingly crafted recording, it is always a pleasure to hear what John has created as both he and Elizabeth put everything into the albums and together they craft real musical magic. The album has two epics, several shorter pieces and a well crafted title track, there is also the continuation of High Line from the ‘Circles In Time’ album, a longer track about Brexit and xenophobia and there’s also a folk song that celebrates a trip to Peggy’s Cove at St Margaret’s Bay in Nova Scotia, Canada.cSo, all in all, a rather mixed bag but a bag chock full of gems and treasures.

The album opens with the tales of Achilles and his decision to pursue a brief yet spectacular life chasing eternal glory, its a sobering tale about striving for immortality and how our choices can affect those closest to us. The song passes through several stages including a battle sequence with Vikram Shankar applying his touch to proceedings, whilst predominantly a sad track, it is still a strong opening statement for the album. Ringing The Changes is completely different and the charming vocals of Sally Minnear really add much this excellent little number. This is a song about community and how odd eccentric people can come together to serve and support them. There’s a lovely piano from Vikram and some sweet and effective bell chimes throughout the song, it is, ultimately, a triumphant track. Kintsugi is a song about broken people being made whole and their brokenness becoming stronger. It is about accepting our flaws and receiving healing and wholeness, this is a Japanese concept and a very gentle and beautiful one that can really change people’s worldview and vision. The track feature some excellent violin and viola from Frank Van Essen and a masterful guitar break from Michel St-Père. It is a treasure of delicacy and beauty and is one of my favourites on this great album, utterly sublime.

Flying Train is about the elevated overhead railway that still exists in Wuppertal in Germany. This track would probably appeal to Big Big Train’s Passengers as it ploughs a similar furrow, combining history and music to great effect. This is a largely instrumental song that creates the wonder of a journey on these rails. Xenos talks of borders and how some have a fear and distrust of those that are different and do not accept them with openness. Sadly Brexit helped foster such opinions and weakened us as a nation, losing touch with and opposing tolerance and kindness. The passage of migrants is a thorny issue generally and one the we need a compassionate response to, which this song espouses. Against The Tide can be seen as being part two of the track High Line (from John’s last release, ‘Circles In Time’). The song has a similar west coast jazzy feel with a fabulous saxophone from Peter Jones, whose vocals also really elevate this track. John’s bass is very busy on this song and it has a great swing and groove to it, another fabulous track.

Peggy’s Cove takes us to Nova Scotia with a Celtic sound and a great choir of Sally , Joe Payne, Peter Jones and Iain Hornal, who provide massed voices to this gentle number. Final track, Building Heaven, is about how we treat each other and uses the tale of Coventry Cathedral’s partial destruction by the Luftwaffe in 1940, and the decision not to rebuild but to incorporate the destroyed sections into something new, as a testament faith and building together to make something good from the bad. This song has air-raid siren effects and a stirring melody that runs throughout the song, along with a suitably epic guitar solo from Dave Bainbridge. This is an excellent finale to what is an adventurous and engaging album full of great songs, concepts and ideas.

One to enjoy and also return to again and again.

Released 30th September, 2022.

Order direct from John’s website here:

Kintsugi CD – John Holden (johnholdenmusic.com)

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