Review – John Petrucci – Terminal Velocity – by John Wenlock-Smith

This is the second solo album from Dream Theater’s stalwart original member, and guitarist, John Petrucci. It arrived after a brief time delay of merely fifteen years or so after his first solo album, ‘Suspended Animation’, released way back in 2005.

Mind you, a lot has happened in John’s world since then, firstly a major change occurred when his buddy and drum legend Mike Portnoy left Dream Theater (the band he had formed with John in their Berklee College of Music days in the 1980’s).

This was a major upheaval and change, although it was one that all parties survived and consequently flourished. Mike got involved in Neal Morse’s musical career (after Neal himself left Spock’s Beard). He also joined Flying Colors, successfully created several albums and concert videos with the outfit. Latterly Mike formed a new band, Sons of Apollo, with whom he has recorded two studio albums and one live set.

Well, it has been nearly two decades since that initial split but this album sees John, and Mike reuniting, with Mike providing the thunderous drumming that accompanies this album. Mike reached out to John during lockdown and they convened at Dream Theater HQ to track and record this all-instrumental shred fest with John on guitars , Mike on drums and Dave La Rue of Flying Colors and G3 providing the bass support for the album.

So, what is it like you may reasonably ask? Firstly, it is all instrumental, playing out as a guitarist’s dream and the album is, as Jordan Rudess told me, all heavily focused on the tonal qualities of John’s guitar,

All the songs are succinct and brief apart from two tracks that are over 7 minutes in length and each piece of music balances John’s searing guitar work with some fine melody. Some of the tracks are rather heavy but melody is not forgotten, John can certainly play, and is not shy on that score either, the playing is showy when required but it the song that matters most here.

John is playing as well as I have ever heard him play, he bends, taps and plays flurries of notes at will on these pieces, all ably supported by the superior rhythm section of Mike and Dave who are revelling in this music that they are a part of. I think there is a good mix to the styles being used and a good use of dynamics, light and shade that really makes the guitar tones stand out clearly, as most of the tones used are clean with sporadic use of effects.

Happy Song, for instance, opens with a very joyous bounce to it, with John doubling guitar parts making this song very Satriani-esque at times but it echoes Joe’s use of styles well. This track is a total winner to these ears and is aptly named as it is a very happy piece of music indeed. It is possibly my favorite track on the album as it is so upbeat and excellently executed, John showing just how fluid he is as a player.

Gemini opens strongly as well with a flurry of notes dancing across the fretboard and great rhythm support in a harder edged piece that has some fine guitar with delay used to great effect. The song branches out with an acoustic Flamenco part in which Johns show some real skill before the electric guitar once again takes centre stage to deliver a blistering guitar solo. There are some strong techniques used that sound utterly fabulous.

The bluesy sounding Out of the Blue is superb, John getting the chance to lay back and play with some real feeling and tap into the blues to prove just how versatile he is in that arena too.  The first of the longer tracks is The Way Things Fall, which is, again, a rollicking little number that fair pulses along on a good bass line with John laying down a very melodic guitar line. Snake In My Boot has a great riff to it, all accompanied by some utterly mesmerising guitar playing.

The final track, Temple of Ciradia, has even more fine fiery playing at hand with some very Ritchie Blackmore like tones being used to great effect. The playing is fast and flawless towards the end of the piece and ends on an excellent drum beat from Mike.

This collaboration has been a winner all round, whether it leads to any further activities has yet to be seen but, it is a first step in restoring a relationship that was fractured if not fully broken. The fact that they used Lockdown and this virus to make it happen is remarkable. Much respect must be given to all parties for making it happen and for making such a great album of fine guitar led musical mayhem.

Released 28th August 2020

Order from Amazon here:

Terminal Velocity by John Petrucci: Amazon.co.uk: Music

John Wenlock-Smith Interviews Jordan Rudess

John Wenlock-Smith – Good afternoon Jordan, how are you doing now?

Jordan RudessHello John, yes, I am doing fine thank you. We are all safe and well as can be at this moment in time.

JWS – Lets talk about ‘LTE3’ (The forthcoming new album from Liquid Tension Experiment) that is due out in April, I have a download of it and I think it is a fabulous set of pieces, I really like it.

JROh I am glad that you like it. I was not quite sure what you were going to say but I like a lot too. I am enormously proud of what we managed to get done, especially with this pandemic. It allowed us a window of opportunity to allow LTE (Liquid Tension Experiment) to be once more. It has only taken us twenty years in which a lot has changed but some things have not changed much at all really. We are still the same musicians, just a bit older now but still willing to try this experiment once again. Hopefully the response will be positive from all quarters, like the Dream Theater fans and the fusion fans too.    

JWS – I Like it, the opener Hypersonic is certainly fast and furious, was that deliberately so?

JRYes, we wanted something that would either attract or dispel the listener, I think that we succeeded on that score.

JWS – I agree, I think it set you up for all that is to come. I especially like the track Rhapsody In Blue, a reworking of a piece previously played live.

JRI have always liked that Gershwin piece, although it has been so long since we last did that song that I had to rethink my approach on keyboards to do it.

JWS – Well I think it is a stunning take on what is a classic musical piece. What other songs do you especially like? I see you have your piano right there, play me something please will you?

JRWith pleasure, this is the song Shades Of Hope (Jordan then proceeds to play this jaw droppingly fantastic piano line from the song, his playing is impeccable and for an audience of one!)

JWS – Wow! thanks Jordan, that was fabulous. I have just bought an 88 key digital piano for myself ,although It will be years before I am anywhere near proficient.

JRWell, keep playing, is what I would say to you. I started when I was 9 years of age and I am now 64 but I still love music as much now as when I first started, possibly even more so truth be told.

JWS – I am looking forward to getting the new album. I am going to get the 2CD version with the extra tracks on it, those sound interesting, although I’ve yet to hear them.

JROh you will like those I think, we got to do even more wild playing for those.

JWS – So how did those sessions work out?

JR Well, we recorded it at Dream Theater’s New York base of operation. I kind of thought it might be odd for Mike (Portnoy) as he’d not been there since he left the band but he was totally cool with it all and even offered some memorabilia for the complex. But, overall, it was just great fun, four friends who value each other musically and socially. Tony (Levin) brought his famous coffee machine again to keep us going, it was all such a great vibe. I think the results honour the commitment made by each member to the proceedings.

JWS – Did you use your normal Dream Theater keyboard set up?

JRPretty much, although I did tweak a few sound settings. John (Petrucci) pointed out that my sound was a bit stale sounding and, as he is the master of tone, I listened to his suggestions and we got to the sound that we felt was what we wanted.  

JWS – So will there be any opportunity for some live LTE shows? Possibly when covid is over and activities resume normally?

JRWell I certainly hope there would be but only once we have sorted out activities for the main band. We are all busy, Mike is always busy with either Neal Morse or his own projects, as is Tony with all that he does. We are all remarkably busy hence the twenty years gap between ‘LTE2’ and this new album.

 JWS – Have you been active during lockdown Jordan?

JRYes, I have been busy with my sound company and I have also recorded a new solo album. I have also been busy with my Patreon site, using it to connect to other people. Depending on their support level, they can access tutorials and even have a one-to-one conversation. My latest solo album ‘Chapter In Time’ is on bandcamp only.

Check it out, it is just me playing mainly piano pieces and a few textural keyboard sounds to create some ambient type of music. I think you might like it, is mellow and chilled, good to relax to or listen to in the background. 

JWS – I also saw your performance of Tarkus on the recently issued Keith Emerson tribute concert. That was some performance of the whole of Tarkus!

JRThank you, Tarkus is an important piece for me, that is the track that stopped me being just a classically trained pianist and made me want to rock out. So I owe Keith Emerson a huge debt of gratitude for that song, it was a privilege to be able to honour him in that way.

JWS – I agree, I have also got that on CD and I have your own version on ‘The Road Home’ album.

JRThat’s a good album, I like that one, with some great players, Neal Morse, Rod Morgenstein and Kip Winger, Nick DiVirgilio, and Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, amongst others. I had a lot of fun with that album paying tribute to some of my influences.   

JWS – So what does the future look like for you, apart from this new ‘LTE3’ album? oh, very impressive artwork by the way!

JRYes, I think it is terrific too. For me, it’s more Dream Theater, once we can get back together safely and tour once again. I am 64 now and still love this life and I appreciate every day that I get to live it too.

JWS – Jordan, my time has gone so all that remains for me is to say a huge thank you for making the time to speak with you. I have really enjoyed my time with you, I wish you well for this album and hope to see you live at some point in the not too distant future.

JRThanks John for a great interview, all the best to you too, my friend.

You can order Jordan’s solo album here:

A Chapter In Time | Jordan Rudess | jordan rudess (bandcamp.com)

And you can pre-order LTE3 here:

LTE3 (lnk.to)

Review – The Emerald Dawn – To Touch The Sky – by John Wenlock-Smith

To Touch the Sky’ is the fourth and latest CD from The Emerald Dawn following on the heels of their earlier albums, ‘Nocturne’ (2019), ‘Visions’ (2017) and Searching for the Lost Key (2014). I have not heard these previous albums, which is something I really should rectify!

The Emerald Dawn are a four-piece group who play symphonic progressive music, their sound is full and lush, with enough space in the music to allow each member enough room to shine.

‘To Touch the Sky’ has just three tracks, all lengthy and complex. Their own words state that this album is, “A celebration of the voyage towards one’s goal, including the hardships and dangers faced en-route. Beginning with the night, the music depicts the process of walking up and coming to life, a moment of awareness or the experience of being awestruck, then provides the motivation for each traveller to pursue their quest. In the closing 22-minute epic, The Ascent, the metaphor of climbing a mountain can be interpreted as a psychological, spiritual, or physical attainment, just as the listener chooses”. All of which sounds very lofty and idealistic but, is it any good you may ask?

Well, the answer is not immediately clear and will require a degree of listener involvement, your time and possibly some headphones to get the best from this music. Oh, and possibly a glass of your favourite tipple might not go amiss either!

Our journey begins with The Awakening which opens with some strident piano notes and a prominent bass from David Greenaway matching the piano along with swathes of keyboards from Tree Stewart. There are then vocals from Tree, who also echoes the refrain herself. We then move into a very spacious section where keyboards have lots of room and space to evoke their magic before a meaty guitar riff from Ally Carter joins in and the drums of Tom Jackson complete the mix. This section has some rather vibrant and lively guitar and synth lines, sumptuous all around. This all sounds really fabulous and all the time the bass is making its own patterns in the sound while Ally solos away wildly. The song returns to the opening piano motif while Ally lays a guitar line over the top of it all, bringing the piece to an emphatic conclusion. This is a really strong, symphonic and epic piece of music.

The second Track is And I Stood Transfixed and it opens with a solid drumbeat before a gently strummed acoustic guitar segues into the mix. Ally Carter lays down some very Pink Floyd-like guitar lines before switching to sax to play a flurry of notes that are all very evocative and otherworldly sounding. The drums pick up the pace of the song before keyboards enter, laying out a dreamy soundscape with some great bass underpinning it all. Ethereal vocals are added to the mix along with delicate piano notes. This section relates to the Eureka moment in the process of making the journey as thoughts coalesce into tangible activity so that the journey can be started.

The journey from the mind to the heart may only be 18 inches but it is a process we all go through when we are on the cusp of change. This section leads into some ominous guitar chords and tones as the piece takes a heavier stance with more random sounding saxophone notes being played. Calm is then restored as we are rewarded by a synthesizer solo from Tree Stewart whilst the rhythm section continue their own journey. This is all very spacious sounding and everyone is really working together to move this song along. A lovely bass line is played throughout by David Greenaway before Ally’s guitar once again takes flight, playing another Floydian type break, while Greenaway plays on before this epic song is ended with delicate keyboards and then total silence.

The last, and longest track, is The Ascent in which we start to ascend the mountain that lies before us. Whether this is a literal or figurative mountain is up to the listener to determine for themselves. The song opens with keyboard generated soundscapes in which one can imagine the mountain with the sun shining and clouds at the top. A piano and flute are then heard and flute and it all sounds very open before we get a searing guitar solo from Ally, very Andy Latimer sounding in both style and tone, before the keyboards return once again and Tree’s vocal begins.

The lyrics in the booklet will guide us as the ascent of the mountain begins, they tell us of the dangers you may face on the way. This song really gets to grips with the concept and the music makes it own journey through peaks and troughs of expectations and disappointments on the way. Another guitar break from Ally represents an eagle soaring effortlessly on the thermals as we continue to climb, the wind and the clouds move in and we get engulfed in a blizzard as we take a steady, onwards step.

We are lost in a whiteout, snow everywhere, and we cannot find the right direction to go forward, the music continuing hesitantly as we continue searching for the right path, the one that will take us higher. We sense the need to keep going, to risk death, and we proceed, once again, to the last ascent.

Ally’s guitar takes us onwards and upwards as the winds die down. The clouds part and we can see it; the summit! We’ve made it, we have achieved our goal. There is a palpable sense of relief in this section although we still have the downward journey to take us back to where we started from. Although we are invigorated again with a sense of completion as we have overcome the mountain and succeeded in the challenge it posed to us. We then enter a quieter passage as we make our descent. This song makes sense with the lyrics at hand and is a remarkable audio journey that The Emerald Dawn offer you to take with them.

This album will require your concentration but the rewards are many and exceedingly plentiful. There is much fine music here with some great passages and really fine ensemble performances from. ‘To Touch the Sky’ is a real pleasure to listen to and you can really absorb this music for yourself, I highly recommend that you support their efforts.

Released 20th March, 2021

Order from bandcamp here:

To Touch the Sky | The Emerald Dawn (bandcamp.com)

Interview With Marc Bonilla – by John Wenlock-Smith

In this piece I talk to Marc Bonilla of The Keith Emerson Band about the recently released Tribute concert cd/DVD set celebrating the music of Keith Emerson, the composer and musical innovator.

John Wenlock-Smith (JWS): Good day to you Mark, I trust you are keeping well in these strange times?

Marc Bonilla (MB): Hello John, Yes I am doing fine thank you for asking.

JWS: The CD/DVD set is fabulous, such a great cast and epic performances all round.

MB: I am glad that you like it, I think it has all come out well. I especially like the artwork by Joey LoFaro who has done remarkable job of re-imagining ‘Tarkus’ for the modern day.

JWS: Yes indeed, I was really impressed with that too. Apparently he is selling prints of the artwork.

MB: Yes and T shirts too, here is the link  https://fineartamerica.com/profiles/jerry-lofaro

JWS: It all looks great and interesting, plus all profits go to Keith’s chosen charity, so everybody wins.

MB: Yes, Joey is an awesome artist. I had seen some of his earlier work with dinosaurs and thought what if he could reimagine ‘Tarkus’ for today? what would it look like? I think he is pulled it off very spectacularly.

JWS: The concert looks fabulous on DVD and sounds fantastic too.

MB: Thank you, we had cameras everywhere to capture it all. It was only a small venue with about 900 people in it, mostly musicians who wanted to pay tribute. there was no seating and it was a long show.  Everyone wanted to do their bit to honour the life of Keith as he had meant so much to so many of them. 

It was an exceptional event and there were no ego issues with anyone. It was all supportive and very joyous, although tinged with sadness for the loss of Keith. I was astonished at the outpouring of love and respect from the musical community in Los Angeles. Many of these people took the career paths they did because of the influence Keith had made on them when they were younger. Certainly folk like Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather (both of Toto) and Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) clearly acknowledge that influence, as they said during the artist interviews.

JWS: Yes, those interviews are fascinating, you really sense the appreciation, acclaim, and respect of Keith that was felt by those musicians. It was quite a set list too, although I was surprised that no one chose Jerusalem to do, that would have been epic.

MB: Well we had so much music to do, we could not do it all sadly. As I said, it was a small standing only venue and with folks all being of an age, standing for 3 hours is a big ask but we could have done even longer and covered more music.

JWS: How did you choose each player for each song?

MB: They did it themselves mainly, Steve Porcaro had seen ELP as a support for Edgar Winter in the early days and he was totally blown away by Barbarian so that was his choice. Jordan had similarly been affected by ‘Tarkus’ so he chose to do that one and so on and so forth.

Another remarkable thing was that we only had one day of rehearsals for the event, everyone was gathered backstage watching each other. It was very much a communal event with no ego’s whatsoever, it was like they were all auditioning for Keith really.

I lost my voice in the run up to the event and so much of the vocals were handled by Rick Livingstone and Travis Davis, although I did send a few prayers upward to Keith to help me get through it all. Thankfully he heard me and I was able to get through it all and even managed to hit the high note on Karn Evil 9 where I must hold the note at the end.

JWS: I really enjoyed the film, especially Jordan Rudess’ Tarkus and Rachel Flowers’ take on The Endless Enigma.

MB: Yes, I felt she really bought something incredibly special out of that piece, she was remarkable.

JWS: I think everyone give a great job, all playing at their peak.

MB: I Agree, we wanted to show Keith as the composer and not just as the keyboard master. I think some of those performances managed to capture that side of his personality, you have to remember that before Keith there was no one fusing classical with rock, making the classics accessible and inviting rock musicians in.

He was breaking fresh ground by doing so, literally carving his way through with his daggers! He also invited classical listeners to hear his work and see his skills and talents and his music.

JWS: I Interviewed Keith a few years ago, around the time of the ‘Three Fates’ album. That was a real treat, I can say. He was cooking his tea and called me back, he was a lovely man and very gracious to a Fanboy like me.

MB: We did shows in London at the Barbican and in Birmingham, I think, did you go?

JWS: Sadly not, I would loved to have gone, though I did see ELP on the Black Moon tour though, in Birmingham and that was special to me.

MB: I remember spending time on those tours with Keith laughing, he loved comedy like Victor Borges and Derek and Clive. He adored Dudley Moore (who was also a particularly good pianist actually). 

By that stage Keith had lost some versatility in his fingers so we wanted to show his compositions rather than his prowess. I think that project managed to do that really.

JWS: Well Marc, my time has gone but thank you for taking time to talk with me about this show and the memories that it has for you. Keep safe at this time.

MB: Thanks John and check out my latest release ‘Celluloid Debris’ at www.marcbonillamusic, my first album in 25 years, you will like it I am sure.

JWS: OK, thanks once again Marc, much appreciated.

You can read John’s review os the concert CD/DVD here:

Review – Nad Sylvan – Spiritus Mundi – by John Wenlock-Smith

When  I was growing up there was no internet, we used to have to use encyclopaedias and other forms of reference books to find out about things. Nowadays, of course, it is all there waiting to be delved into and discovered for yourself.

It is a whole different ball game now, although there was a time in the late 1980’s /early 1990’s that you could ring up the reference people at Birmingham City Library and they would find things out for you. This was especially useful, and was well before Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded what we now know as Google, this company that they founded as students at Stanford university is now one of the world’s premier search engines. Folk now often say ‘google it’ to find information.

I did that whilst listening to this album as it is largely music set to poems that were written by William Butler (W.B) Yeats (Born in 1885 Died January 1939). Yeats is widely acclaimed as one of Ireland’s most famous poets, dramatists, and prose writers, in fact, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.

Spiritus Mundi’ sets those poems to gentle and orchestral sounding pieces with vocals from Nad Sylvan and guitars from Andrew Laitres, a US based composer and musician, who Nad had worked with previously on his last album, ‘The Regal Bastard’ – The final part of his Vampyrate trilogy.

Nad is joined by some famous guests on this album, namely Tony Levin and Jonas Reingold on bass and Marko DeMaio (The Flower Kings) on drums with Steve Hackett also featuring. The bulk of the lyrics are taken verbatim from Yeats’s poems, apart from the first bonus track, You Have Got To Find A Way, that has Sylvan’s own lyrics. This approach has left the music room to breath and allows the beauty of the words to shine through clearly with the music clearly supporting and enhancing the impact of the words. That intention has paid off excellently giving the album dignity and weight.

The tracks are mainly short and as they focus predominantly on the words the album will take several listens before it really begins to make sense. Having said that, the longer tracks, The Second Coming and Sailing To Byzantium, work the best for me as there are musical interludes within in them that work well. The instrumentation is supportive and sympathetic, you will not find long ego fuelled solos here, you fill find empathy and delicacy throughout. The whole album lasts about 52 minutes including the two bonus tracks.

I think this album is a great, intensive listening experience and will appeal to any who like Yeats’ poems or who are fans of Nad Sylvan’s earlier solo albums as he is certainly in fine voice on these songs. This project is certainly different and a brave, bold move by Nad, as an album this is certainly different and somehow the lyricism of Yeats’ poetry works well in this format and will hopefully bring it to a whole new audience of people. They may find much within the words of these pieces that speaks clearly to their hearts and minds and hopefully leads them discover more of Yeats’ works for themselves.    

The sound of the album is sparse and the space between the words and the music is wide and open allowing subtle nuances to be realised and appreciated with repeated listening. There is a fabulous slide guitar part contained on the last track on the album, The Fisherman, (performed by Neil Whitford) that really drives the piece along.

It is not an album that is immediately easy to access but I sincerely recommend that you persevere as it is truly worth it when you finally do click with it and its treasures and beauties are finally revealed to you. ‘Spiritus Mundi’ is a journey of discovery into a different world, but it is a journey that you need to decide to undertake. 

Released 9th April 2021

Order the album here:

Spiritus Mundi (lnk.to)

Review – Spirit – Son Of America Reissue – by John Wenlock-Smith

Last year I spent a lot of the time rediscovering and collecting music by the legendary Californian Band Spirit who had been very successful in their early days notching up a string of classic albums such as ‘Spirit’, ‘The Family That Plays Together’, ‘Clear’ and ‘Twelve Dreams of Dr Sardonicus’. Their initial run of success on the Epic label preceded the inevitable split and loss of two of the founders who left to form Jo Jo Gunne. The remaining members soldiered on on the Mercury label releasing several more fine albums before a low period and the resumption of activities in 1979 with a live album, there then followed a period of Randy California solo releases.

Spirit sadly are no more as Randy California was drowned in a riptide in Hawaii while successfully saving his then 9-year-old son. Since that time, a series of releases of archival material has been released by various labels but now much of this has been acquired by Esoteric who, in conjunction with Mick Skidmore, are re-releasing these albums in newly remastered versions, often with extra material.

Now some may see this is as dreadful or shocking but I personally find these reissues worthy and of note, which bring us to this latest instalment – Spirit’s ‘Son of America’ in a 3CD set with a bonus live disc of a three-piece set recorded live at KPFK on 4th April 1993.

In my opinion, this reissue is worth it for this last disc alone which contains 16 hitherto unreleased pieces recorded live in the studio on an 8 track recorder and now transferred to a shiny new compact disc and it also includes a solo Randy California/John Locke live take of Animal Zoo from 1989.

The main album, ‘Son of America’, was originally issued in 2005 and has long been out of print so to have it in a remastered format is very fine indeed. The album has 25 songs on CD1 and 19 Songs on CD2, which makes this a value set of some sublime Spirit songs and instrumentals. Most of this is in the form of home recordings, mainly by Randy California on guitar and vocals, Ed Cassidy on drums and percussion and Scott Monahan on keyboards, with occasional appearances from Mark Andes, Steve “Liberty” Loria, John Locke, Matt Andes, Rachel Andes, Bruce Gary and Janet Wolfe.

Some of these songs have surfaced on earlier albums or are live Spirit staples like The Times They Are a Changing. Most of the songs come in around the three-minute mark but still shine with their creativity clearly apparent and, rather than do a deep review, I have chosen a few highlights that will hopefully show you why this is worthy of your listening.

The opening track Space Jam is exactly that, a loose sounding jam with some spacy guitar lines and a gentle melody. It is all very ambient sounding but certainly impressive as is the next track, Prophecy, which is a mid-tempo rocker with some lively guitar, prominent bass lines and a good strong vocal from Randy. Everything chugs along nicely with a slinky guitar line and a solo thereafter on which Randy gets to wail a bit towards the end of the song.

Thomas Q and Jennifer is also a good song with its piano backing and great ensemble playing which, along with a good use of dynamics, brings this song to life with these excellent performances. Much of this music is acoustic, embellished with keyboards and bass and this approach works very well as the songs are given chance to breathe and are not overproduced at, all a clear case of less is more.

The Times They Are A Changing is a shorter, spiritualised version of the Dylan classic, sung with feeling and much in the spirit of the original. It features Randy on acoustic guitar and harmonica along with some sympathetic keyboards and drums in tow. This is a fairly chilled and mellow take but with some great double tracked guitars on it that bring it to life. Also worthy of note is an excellent reading of Lennon and McCartney’s Let It Be that is beautifully rendered with a very appealing vocal from Randy and an unidentified male vocalist.

However, I guess for most that it will be the third Disc – ‘Spirit Live at KPFK in 1993’ that will be the big draw as it really is a unique record of a very obscure radio show and one that features great in-between-song chat and some dynamic performances of some old classic Spirit songs and material.   

Son of America, the title track, was penned for Vietnam veterans and is a protest song of sorts detailing how a son goes off to fight a war to defend America’s freedom. This has a fine guitar solo in support of the song as he talks of losing his friend last night. It is quite a sad and moving song, especially when you consider how America has treated those same veterans so badly over the years.    

All in all, a worthy collection for completists and fans alike.

Released 26th March 2021

Order from Cherry Red here:

Spirit: Son Of America, 3CD Remastered & Expanded Edition – Cherry Red Records

Review – John Holden – Circles In Time – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘Circles in Time’ is the third, and latest, album from John Holden who has, over a period of just 4 years, written and created three quite different albums that are all rooted in his love of progressive music by the likes of Yes, Genesis and many others. John lives about 5 miles from me, on the border between Staffordshire and Cheshire, although I actually came to know him through Facebook and his recognising our shared love of music in reviews I had written for DPRP at the time.

His first album, ‘Capture Light’, came out in 2018, followed by ‘Rise and Fall’ in early 2020. Like the rest of us, John has been in lockdown and has wisely used his time to accelerate the release of his next album which has emerged as the already mentioned ‘Circles in Time’.

This new album marks a big change in how John has approached the music, in that he has delivered a truly epic piece in the last track, KV62, which sits comfortably alongside five other songs of varying length yet all bearing the same hallmark of quality. John has called on many of the musicians who graced his earlier albums, especially using the keyboard  and arrangement skills of Vikram Shanker more prominently than he did on ‘Rise and Fall’. Once again the cover and booklet are full of information and excellent pictures that both draw the eye and also unfold the mysteries contained in the songs.

The album opens with Avalanche and a fast and muscular riff section from Eric Potapenko and strong vocals from Jean Pageau of Mystery fame. The song is about social media and how folks use it to slander and undermine others. Liner notes say this song is a response to all the negativity and blaming and shaming that exists in the social media, the sun will rise in the morning and the world will keep on turning. It is a strong opener and a good statement of intent that sets you up for all that is to follow. In this case this is the song High Line. The High Line is a real place in New York and is in actuality an elevated greenway or linear park that cuts through the city’s west side. It was constructed along the setting of an old freight line that went through very rough neighbourhoods, in fact, it was so bad it they christened it ‘Death Alley’. The song has a very jazzy vibe to it with some lovely saxophone from Peter Jones, who also provides the smooth vocals for the song. This is a wonderfully evocative piece that nods its hat to Blue Note Jazz and also to Steely Dan.

The next song, The Secret of Chapel Field, is very much a grower and is based on a story John discovered whilst looking at gravestones in his village church graveyard. The song reworks the known facts that Mary Malpas, a 15-year-old girl, was murdered by Thomas Bagguley at Chapel Field in Hunterston. He later killed himself, thus avoiding justice. This sombre song is graced by vocals from Marc Atkinson (Riversea) and Sally Minnear (Celestial Fire) and the mournful violin lines of Frank Van Essen (Iona). It is a fine track and its words will stay with you long after the song has concluded.

Next John whisks us off to Andalucía in Spain for the track Dreams of Cadiz where we encounter the spirit of flamenco, imbued by the fluid guitar from the nimble hands and fingers of Oliver Day alongside a graceful piano. This song is an instrumental piece that captures the fire and passion of the dance and is duly accompanied with dramatic flourishes, handclaps and foot stomping that all add to the atmosphere of this piece.

The penultimate track is Circles which is a very personal song for the protagonist Libby who is an ovarian cancer survivor who has known, and continues to have, serious health issues. Here in this song, she encourages us to live in the moment and not to grieve but instead to be grateful for all that we are and all we have now in the present. The song also encourages us with the power that love brings to any situation. It is beautifully realised with the gracious voice of Sally Minnear and some gentle and subtle arrangements.

This leads us into the atmospheric world of KV62 and ancient Egypt and the discoveries made by Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvon during their archaeological expeditions of the 1920’s where they uncovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. This song has narration by Jeremy Irons and vocals from Joe Payne and Peter Jones. The song reveals the agony of the protagonists as they searched fruitlessly for the tomb and pushed themselves financially to do so until they finally succeeded. The music is suitably Arabian sounding with some great guitar from Zaid Crowe.

The Wonderful Things segment has some fabulously wild synthesizer passages from Vikram accompanied by fine piano and percussion from John. This section sees the death of Lord Carnarvon from Tutankhamun’s curse. It was actually an infection from a mosquito bite that killed him, however the curse of Tutankhamen sold more newspapers so the truth of his demise was sacrificed at the altar of the media and the fable then famously spread.

Lord Carnarvon had sold exclusive rights to the tale to The Times (Pre Murdoch, when it was a worthy paper and not the rag it is nowadays). The song is lifted by extended instrumental parts interspersed between the vocals that tell of the press and media frenzy about the discovery and how Carter came up against Egyptian Bureaucracy. A largely disillusioned Carter returned to London where, amongst the parties and media storm, he died impoverished, penniless and alone. The song is epic in its scope, however it is ultimately a sad tale of loss and missed opportunities.,

John had Seen the Tutankhamun exhibition in London in the 1972 at the British Museum and has been to the valley of the Kings on several occasions, KV62 being the name designated to the site of the tomb in the Valley of The Kings.

The whole album is simply fabulous, somewhat mellow in parts but with an astounding lyricism and magnificent musicianship. John Holden has done it again and pulled another blinder of an album out of his metaphorical hat. It is one that really impresses and I highly recommend this album full of modern-day prog and brilliant songs, here’s to album 4 John!

Released March 26th 2021.

Order the album direct from the artist here:

John Holden Music | Listen and buy the new album “Circles in Time”

Review – Sanguine Hum A Trace Of Memory – by John Wenlock-Smith

Oxford’s finest sons make a very welcome return after quite a lengthy absence. After 2018’s ‘Now We Have Power’ this new album is a little different to what has gone before, allow me to explain, if I may.

Firstly, ‘A Trace Of Memory’ was recorded during the first lockdown period in the UK. As a reaction to, and a step towards preventing further outbreaks of, the Coronavirus, this meant recording remotely and in a segregated manner. In fact that the album got completed is a wonder in itself! As a result of that difficult period, the music they offer this time around is a little less frantic and a lot more ambient in nature. Don’t worry, it still has lots of familiar sounds and the fine voice and guitar of Joff Winks and the elegant keyboards of Matt Baber although, this time around, the sound is more expansive and wide screen and possibly more open and uncluttered.

The album opens with New Light, a shorter ambient track full of keyboards interspersed with  guitar lines and runs. This is a very musical piece with a great feel and mood to it that certainly impresses and the wonderful guitar tones throughout set you up for what is to come, namely The Yellow Ship, the album’s longest track at 13:07. This impressive song opens with keyboards, shimmering cymbals and lightly strummed guitars. Joff’s vocals are measured and pleasant, Matt’s keyboards are highly effective, as is Wink’s guitar as he plays a lot of circular patterns here, albeit highly effectively. Some might feel that this song has lots of atmosphere but may lack a certain sense of direction or that could just be my interpretation of it. It is, however, all wrapped in a very lush sound that gets a bit more aggressive towards the end as the guitar starts to sound a bit more metallic sounding offset against the keyboards. Towards the close there is a return to a calmer sound and more of that strummed guitar that is exceptionally fine and effective.

Pyramids features field recordings of birdsong and other noises as it opens, this is followed by some tasty plucked acoustic guitar and more ethereal keyboard sounds and textures. These textures are interspersed with more distorted guitar chords and there is a nice touch of electronica in there too if you listen out for it. Thin Air is another lively soundscape track with more superb guitar lines woven throughout its short running time of 3:16. It also contains some strong bass parts to flavour the sound and the atmospherics of the album.

Unstable Ground has some delightful keyboards and short guitar runs that together create an atmosphere of longing for something lost or unavailable. This could well be a veiled reference to the lockdown period. Lyrically this is a darker composition, but the vocals add much to the power of the piece. Still As The Sea is next which is another somewhat whimsical song with echoes of the Canterbury sound of the likes of Caravan and early Soft Machine, again subtly effective guitar is employed to give the song its pace and setting making this a shorter song a highly effective one.

We then arrive at the final track on the album, Automaton, the albums second longest at 8:06. It opens with keyboards and electronic blips and pulses before gaining a slow burning momentum when the guitars segue in, playing more ascending chord patterns before a jazzy piano sound takes over. This piece is an instrumental song throughout but there is enough variation and imagination used to make this very strong sounding, the guitar being powerful and commanding  of attention. This is a good finale to what has been a very interesting album that may not resonate with everyone on first listen but is definitely worth persevering with.

One must be grateful that Sanguine Hum are still around and continuing their own brand of whimsical Canterbury influenced progressive music. They certainly are not afraid to take chances and they should be acknowledged for doing so on this album. If you like bands like Caravan or early Soft Machine and the whole Canterbury sound or scene, then I am certain that you will find this to your liking.

Released November 20th 2020.

Order on CD or vinyl from Bad Elephant Music here:

▶︎ A Trace Of Memory | Sanguine Hum (bandcamp.com)

Review – Stewart Clark – Let’s Go There – by John Wenlock-Smith

I first came across Stewart Clark via a link on his Facebook page on which he stated that he had recorded ‘Lets’ Go There’ during lockdown following his earlier album ‘And Then There Was Me…’ I contacted Stewart and he kindly offered to send me both CD’s for a possible review on Progradar, I then also found that the song How Much Fear? was included on the latest Prog Magazine CD.

I also discovered that Stewart’s wife Heather had taken an online painting course with Roger Dean and, as such, she had designed and painted the cover art on the new release, which has distinct nod’s to Roger’s own work. She was also given consent to use Dean’s font for the sleeve ,which certainly creates an impression.

However , it is the music that matters, right?, Well, I am very glad to report that this album, although brief at just shy of 37 minutes, is an absolute gem. I know I have made lots of comments about lockdown being an outlet for creation of new music, well this one is another excellent example of that and the results are compelling, to say the least. I don’t know Stewart’s influences but there is a hint of Rush, especially with the use of bass pedals and some of the guitar tones are very reminiscent of Alex Lifeson. Stewart’s own playing is very accomplished and adds much colour to the proceedings.

The album opens with Almost 20/20, we hear radio excerpts about the virus before Stewart starts singing his thoughts about 2020 and how it has affected us all. There are great keyboards on this track and the vocals are mirrored by the oboe of Alison Brown and the delicate piano of Tom Potten before the track then takes a heavier turn and becomes more powerful as it moves forward. This is a strong opener with much happening during its shorter running time and it ends with some very Rush like guitar chords and keyboards.   

What really stands out on this release is the quality of the song writing, this is really strong, giving us such great tunes as A Tree Has Fallen, which is utterly gorgeous. Stewart’s songs have good light and shade to them and his voice is well suited to these tracks. Stewart also plays acoustic and electric guitar on most of these tracks with some appearances from the likes of Oscar Fuentes Bills and Sepano Samzadeh (Days Between Stations), Dave Bandanna (Bardic Depths) and Charlie Mear (This Circus Life).

This album is a slow burner but its songs will stay in your head, given time. I have listened to this extensively in lots of different places, even in the bath via Amazon music, and I can say that it is one of the better albums that I have heard this year. The excellent guitar work of Sepano on How Much Fear? is one of many standouts.     

When I tell You I Care is another fabulous song with great use of whistle, oboe and violin to create a somewhat Gaelic sound. The final song, Almost Got Away With It, has a very Rush sounding progression to the opening, reminding me of Cygnus X-1 in its pacing and the bass pedals that propel the piece along.

Though for me, it is the tracks Let’s Go There (with Amanda Lehmann singing harmony vocals with Stewart) along with the Wistful A Tree Has Fallen are the absolute standout songs. However, it is all particularly good and makes for an enjoyable listen. I also like The Empty Page, in which Stewart documents his struggles in translating thoughts into words, a constant issue for any writer, I am sure.

This is a laid-back album but one that has many strengths, not least in the songs themselves, but also the sympathetic production by Stewart and John Hannon.

‘Let’s Go There’ is for sale on bandcamp for only £6.00 for a CD and, if you buy it, this will both support John at this strange period and enable him to make some more fabulous music. I heartily recommend this brief but most worthwhile album which, whilst not overtly progressive in nature, certainly has influences of prog on its excellent cover and sleeve art too making it a real under the radar winner.

Released January 6th 2021.

Order from bandcamp here:

Let’s Go There | Stewart Clark (bandcamp.com)

Q&A With Jon Davison of Arc of Life – by John Wenlock-Smith

John Wenlock-Smith partakes in a Q&A with Jon Davison about the new Arc of Life project for which Jon is the vocalist.

1/ Arc of Life is a new project, how did to come into existence?

While on the road with YES a few years back, Billy and I found a mutual inspiration to start writing during the long drives on the tour bus. Jay was soon involved, supplying his creative input and positive perspective. We then unanimously felt Jimmy was a natural fit.

2/ Who suggested Dave Kerzner for the keyboard role?

Again we unanimously agreed, as with Jimmy, that Dave would bring the perfect musical ingredients into the Arc fold. We were all thinking the same thing in a sort of collective consciousness, but to answer your question accurately, I believe it was Billy who first gave voice to the idea.

3/ What are the main themes to the album?

The most prominent theme is the evolution of mankind. The concept of an arc of life signifying the rise in man’s consciousness and eventually leading to a far greater understanding, passed all political power play and the greed and indifference which plague and sustain the inequalities of our world. Through this ascension of evolution, man’s intelligence will become highly developed, revealing technological advancements beyond our wildest imaginations.

4/ Were you tempted to get a named producer in for the album or Roger Dean for the cover? 

We did seriously consider both at one early point.  We discussed the idea of working with Hugh Padgham, but eventually agreed that producing ourselves, with Billy’s skills at the helm, meant ultimately having complete creative freedom.

By choosing to not work with Roger Dean we thought we might minimize the Yes comparisons. I suppose they are inevitable anyway, but we certainly didn’t want to add to them (lol.)

5/ Aside from Yes, what other influences are apparent?

Back to Padgham and The Police sound. Another influence was Peter Gabriel, particularly in a song like, Talking With Siri.

6/ Is this a one off project or can we expect to hear more new material and, if so, is there a time frame for this?

We actually have a lot more material already in the works that will eventually surface on the next record. We have no time frame as of yet for ARC II. More importantly for now, we have so much to look forward to with this record.

7/ This band could have great potential for the live arena, could there be live shows post covid? Could you tour with Yes for example?

We want to be out on the road, sharing our music with as many people as possible, worldwide. We are totally keen to the idea of opening for a bigger arena type band. The only way it would be right touring with Yes is if each member of Yes also performed in the context of their respective solo and side projects. An event highlighting the current day Yes family tree, if you will, followed by a headline performance by Yes.

8/ I think the overall response has been overwhelmingly positive?

That is great to hear. The album has been a long time coming and it’s rewarding to finally witness its coming to light and the enthusiastic reaction of so many.

9/ What’s happening with Yes, is there any progress on new material yet?

We’ve been creating and recording since the pandemic hit and have our sights set on a new album. The rest I’ll leave as a surprise.

10/ What’s the story behind the album cover?

The album cover is symbolic of the dawning of enlightenment just off in the horizon as mankind perceives its light at the end of the long and treacherous tunnel through which we have journeyed – to reach at last the exit of the deep cave of darkness and ignorance. What can I say… I’m an optimist (lol!)

‘Arc of Life’ was released on February 12th 2021.

Order the album here:

ARC OF LIFE – Arc Of Life – CD Jewelcase | Frontiers Music Official Shop