Review – Kurt Michaels – Stones From The Garden – by John Wenlock-Smith

This is the new latest album from Chicago born musician Kurt Michaels whose own career started in 1975. Since then, he has either worked with, or shared a stage with, a veritable cast of luminaries and classic musicians ranging from Chris Squire and Alan White of Yes, Carl Palmer, members of Supertramp and many others.

This album features contributions from Billy Sherwood, Michael SherwoodAmanda Lehmann, John Abbey (John Cale) and Dennis Johnson (Survivor and Dennis De Young). The album is generally AOR with a few touches of progressive rock (especially in the epic track The Road Beyond). The whole album consists of eight songs, mainly of around five minutes duration, although there are a few longer tracks.

On opener Trouble, Kurt sets out his stall pretty well with a bass heavy riff that runs in parallel with his own meaty guitar. There are some great keyboard fills in the mix here too, the song is slightly menacing sound wise and is all the better for it too. The vocals are clear and strong and backing vocals are good too. There is a lot happening throughout, I really like this track as it is both imaginative and clever. There is a tidy guitar break at the five minute mark that plays the song out, it’s a most impressive sounding track. Why Must Life Be Such A Fight follows and this one impresses greatly with its pop sensibilities. Again, good atmosphere is created in this track alongside some interesting musical passages and with some excellent harmony vocals from Kathie Mills. There is also another excellent solo from Kurt, whose guitar work is really fine and focused though out the entire album, this is another excellent track. I’m In Love With That Dream is the first longer track to appear on the album. On this song Kurt’s voice sounds highly reminiscent of the Flower KingsRoine Stolt, which is certainly different but this style works for this song. Good backing vocals from Annie Carlson also impress as does Kurt’s excellent guitar break. This track has a wistful feel to it, with excellent interplay between Karl and Annie’s voices that definitely deepen this feeling. It is another splendid song on what is emerging as a really good album.

Next up is the rather poppy and bouncy Relax…Nothing ‘s Under Control, which has vocals from Amanda Lehmann, who also adds some atmospheric voice tones to this track. This also has quite a funky feel to it, another good track and well performed by all. Forever (So Completely) opens with some neat slide guitar riffs, again the Flower Kings’ type vocals work really well. The song is quite an urgent number with another fluidly impressive solo leading the song along well. Happiness has a sense of yearning somehow. It’s almost like an unattainable target that is being sought and he is striving to reach. It is another wistful song really, with interesting musical backing. More great backing vocals from Kathie Mills make this another winner.

Will I Ever Pass This Way Again? is another searching track where Kurt is thinking about a loved one and how it all went wrong and how he would love to be able to fix and repair the relationship to a better one. This album seems to have a fair few wistful songs of hope and yearning. The final track, and longest and possibly the most progressive of the lot, is The Road Beyond, which runs for just over seventeen minutes The song begins with some guitar harmonics and tones which help create a sense of atmosphere alongside the keyboards of Jim Gully, which allow room for Kurt’s effect laden guitar tones to shimmer and shine. This track is basically a long guitar instrumental that is bookended by brief spoken word passages in which we are encouraged to dwell on how we live and how that affects how we act. The music is moving and yet, somehow, it is also very hypnotic almost like a dream sequence in parts and with excellent dynamics. I feel this would appeal especially to lovers of electronic music as I hear elements of Tangerine Dream here, amongst others It is a most interesting and impressive track as Kurt’s improvisations are really strong and fine. Furthermore, the song keeps the listener engaged and interested throughout its duration. I also hear the shimmering harmonies of Tom Verlaine here in this track, which is also a really interesting and revealing insight, it closes the album on a beautiful note.

This fantastic album will unfortunately pass most folks by, which is sad, as there is much great music to be found within this album. I implore you to check it out and support this fine musician.

Released 7th July, 2023.

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Stones from the Garden | Kurt Michaels (