Review – Duncan Parsons – On Earth, As it is – by John Wenlock-Smith

Duncan Parsons is the drummer for the John Hackett Band and bizarrely the bassist for Joanne Harris’s Storytime band, ‘On Earth, As it is’ is his latest album of original material.

The album is not a concept as such, although it has songs that share a common central theme. Much of the music is performed by Duncan, although he has managed to get assistance from some very interesting guest musicians like John Helliwell of SupertrampDave Bainbridge of Iona and Lifesigns and his fellow John Hackett Band members Nick Fletcher and John Hackett himself, who both add graceful parts to the lengthy opener Heaven, the album’s longest track at twenty three minutes. The song opens with seven minutes of instrumental music before Duncan’s vocals join in. This is intoned with a pulsating synth bass line which is very ethereal sounding, there is then a section of massed non-verbal vocalisations which add to the atmospheric nature of the track. Then follows an acoustic guitar section which which dissolves into deep keyboard bass and more vocalisations along with Lizz Lipscombe’s string playing. An urgent bass then picks up the pace and creates a strong platform for Nick Fletcher’s fusion guitar part in which he shreds wildly and, as always, immaculately with a great clear tone. This then gives way to synths that lead to another guitar outburst from Nick that takes the track towards its conclusion, the guitar playing on this section is breathtaking, very fiery and highly impressive. The song ends with synths and guitar lines playing, a really strong opener.

This Day follows and has plucked guitar harmonics from Duncan and bass from the legendary Leland Sklar, whose bottom end anchors everything together wonderfully. The track has Duncan playing a washboard and also John Helliwell elegant clarinet. This has a very satisfying jazz elements to it and the saxophone from John also impresses highly. Fissures of Men is a short, dynamic piece featuring violin, viola and cello all set against a sparse piano but it all sounds really good. This is followed by another shorter track, Finish Line, which alludes to a fractured and possibly broken relationship but, ultimately, the song is about how we choose to be.

Unnecessary Kindness opens with an acoustic guitar and is largely a solo guitar instrumental track and very accomplished it is too with plenty of shades of Anthony Phillips in evidence here, at least to these ears. Three Sixteen is more muscular in tone with some crunchy guitar and a simple, but effective, solo halfway through that is ended by the cello as the vocals begin again. This is followed with a mournful violin and some jolly flute as a contrast then a solid tap on what could be a cowbell leads to the last verse of the song. There’s not a little urgency and a comfortable yet easy guitar line leads to the song’s conclusion. This is a very good track indeed, a clear winner. Lead Us Not is another shorter track with the solid bass of Leland gracing proceedings again, along with the graceful flute of John Hackett. The song seems to be about temptation and how we battle with it and how it leads us to where we don’t wish to be.

There is reprise of the earlier Fissures of Men track but it is only very brief, this leads to the last and second longest track, Valediction (Power And Glory) which closes the album out. This song features John Steel on various guitars and is a very atmospheric piece of music with lots of good sounds and textures. It is all fairly free form in nature but very well assembled, with some fabulous acoustic guitar interjections and a great solo that moves over the sumptuous backing and it all sounds really impressive. Along with Heaven, these two epics bookmark what is a most impressive collection of tracks that certainly makes you think as you listen to this fine album. It is one that  most folk will be largely unaware of and more’s the pity, as this is a highly intelligent and articulate album of music.

Released 2nd December, 2022.

Order from badncamp here:

https://duncanparsons.bandcamp.com/album/on-earth-as-it-is

Review – John Hackett Band – We Are Not Alone – by James R. Turner

Following on from ‘Another Life’ released back in 2015 this, the sequel by John and band (Nick Fletcher, Jeremy Richardson & Duncan Parsons) came out last year in a special two disc set, one featuring the new album and another featuring a bonus disc recorded live at the Wesley Centre in Maltby back in May 2016 for our old friends the CRS.

I will come back to Maltby and the live disc later (having family from Maltby I could tell you all sorts of stories!) but first..

‘We Are Not Alone’, adorned by a striking cover painting by Lizzie Spikes, and opening with bluesy and powerful Take Control, is an album that grabs you from the get go. John needs no introduction and, as you can imagine working with a guitarist like his older brother, John is used to powerful guitar work. With co-writer and collaborator Nick Fletcher providing said fantastic guitar, particularly as Take Control stretches it’s legs, and with some fantastically soulful vocals from John and some great flute as well, the whole band give it some welly and, at well over 8 minutes long, it has time to grow and doesn’t feel like it’s outstayed it’s welcome.

It’s a perfect opener to what is an excellent sequel to ‘Another Life’.

With some more of that wonderful guitar work and some great vocals and, indeed, lyrics on Never Gonna Make a Dime, also with his brother providing some wonderful harmonica (his only appearance on this record), it’s clear that musically and thematically John is his own man.

This album continues in its melodic rocky fashion as the tracks alternate between instrumentals that showcase the full range of this tight band’s ability, from Nick’s wonderful acoustic guitar work on the beautiful Blue Skies of Marazion, to Johns wonderful flute and keyboard work, whilst Jeremy Richardson’s vocals shine on his track Jericho.

The track by Duncan Parsons, Queenie & Elmo’s Perfect Day, is a fantastic instrumental as well and it showcases that the whole band are highly talented instrumentalists and musicians, each bringing something special to the table.

With songs like Summer Lightening and Castles, this album really shines, it has a real groove and chilled out vibe in parts. This is another fantastic and strong album.

Live on the second disc, the band treat us to a selection of great material from ‘Another Life’ with the title track and Life in Reverse getting an airing.

On stage, the band are taut and dynamic, their musical interaction spot on and their execution flawless. This must have been one hell of a gig (one I would have liked to have seen but, you know, it’s not like the old days when it was round the corner, I can’t just pop up to Maltby from Bristol for a gig these days) so it’s great that this is documented here and even nicer is the dedication to Stephanie Kennedy, someone I got to know really well throughout my CRS gigging days, and who I’m sure there’s lots of us out there who miss her.

This is a perfect combination, as I end so many reviews wishing I could hear the band live, and with this disc, well, you can! Win, win I say!

Released 29th September 2017

Order from Cherry Red Records here:

We Are Not Alone: 2CD Deluxe EditionJohn Hackett Band