Review – AQ&F – 2nd Life – by John Wenlock-Smith

AQ&F (or Arnaud Quevedo and Friends, to give the full name of the group) are a French collective who “fuse jazzy troposphere, improvisation, funky grooves, powerful rock-metal riffs along with progressive elements”, all of which is a way of saying this album has several strands and approaches that are merged to make something that is really quite interesting and even captivating at times. It is an album of realised ideas and concepts, all delivered in an appealing manner. The album has eight tracks, four of which are new and the other four are revisitations of earlier concepts and ideas that have been successfully reworked for this album.

There are four phases to the album which, in total, is an interpretation of life phases, from AwakeningJourney and Inner Demons through to Hindsight‘s, these are punctuated by the reworked sections that are receiving a ‘Second Life‘. This is a different approach but I actually think this works here, it makes for some great music.

Everything begins with 2nd Life Part 1 – Awakening which opens with keyboard notes and what sounds like brass sounds with a low sounding bass, possibly fretless, sliding around the music. This turns into a more standard groove with drums and vocals, sung by Eloïse Baleynaud, in a breathy type voice. It’s actually rather a good vocal with great nuances, in addition the bass of Noé Russeil also impresses. There is also a guitar interjection by Arnaud that adds great dynamics. With the saxophone of Julien Gomila and sturdy drums from Anthony Raynal, the whole band gel together really well to create a great composite sound. The element of distinct heavy add something extra to proceedings. All in all, it’s a very respectable opening track and one that bodes well for the rest of the album. This continues with the first reworked piece, Any 2.0, which begins with a delicately strummed acoustic guitar and an adventurous bass line before the stylish vocal comes in. This is quite an atmospheric track and it gains in intensity as a edgy violin introduces funky urgent jazz with free rein saxophone flurries being added, along with flute from Lucille Mille. There is also good guitar syncopation going on before Arnaud plays a fiery solo. The song has some fine bass towards the end which helps you understand that this is a very musically rewarding track. Yuki shifts dramatically through softer, more urgent tones, the lyrics are shown but the ones in the song are very different for some reason, no explanation is given but still this doesn’t detract from proceedings especially. There is a further excellent guitar solo from Arnaud that takes the track into an urgent sprint or so it seems. Either way, it is a great track and one the really grips the listener .

2nd Life  Part 2 – Journey from the off has powerful rock riffs front and centre and has a more rock focused approach, although it also has quieter moments of plucked arpeggio guitar lines and bass that underpin the sound. There are also some great  saxophone lines, I really like this track, there’s a lot happening during its twelve minute plus running time. There’s a wonderful palette of sonic colours here and great vocals, you can really hear the various styles used here very well. An urgent synth solo from Marin Michelat and great bass and guitar sections take the track to the chorus before a brief guitar solo draws the song to its end. No Soy Breton is next and this track is a bit of a mystery to me as I have no idea what it is on about at all. It begins innocently enough with a soft flute before the vocal begins, once again these don’t match those in the booklet but, still, interesting enough, it’s just confusing to me, there are good bass parts in this song though.

2nd Life Part 3 – Inner Demons has good bass at the start, it’s an interesting track, asking questions of what’s happening amid some great guitar lines and unison playing between the vocals and the guitar that really impresses. It’s all very fluid and jazzy improvisation led. The final track of the album, 2nd Life Part 4 – Hindsight’s,  opens with a deep double bass from Eva Tribolles, this gives way to electric bass as Eloise’s vocals begin, she sings of being the best version of you and to live without letting the comments of others stopping you from achieving that goal. The track has more heavy riffs, all offset by the flute which floats over the top of it all. There’s a great synth solo too, the song is good and works well giving a great ensemble sound.

This album may be a difficult one for many prog fans, especially if they are not jazz music lovers, but listen with open ears there is a lot of very enjoyable, thoughtful music offered here. Okay, lyrically it might be a bit odd but, if you accept that and listen, I think you will enjoy and appreciate it’s undeniable charms.

Released 10th July, 2023.

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2nd Life | Arnaud Quevedo & Friends (AQ&F) (

Review – Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate – The Light Of Ancient Mistakes – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘The Light Of Ancient Mistakes’ is the new album from Hats off Gentlemen It’s Adequate and, again, we are offered an intriguing collection of songs, some of which are based on books and authors that Malcolm Galloway has read and been enthralled and inspired by. These books include works by Adrian Tchaikovsky and also the likes of David Cornwell, who wrote as John le Carré, and Conservative MP Chris Bryant. Other tracks are inspired by the works of Sci-Fi authors Iain M Banks and Philip K Dick. So, whilst not a concept album, many of the tracks are thematically linked to literature. This makes the album unusual and also challenging to listen to at times. However, the music is of their usual extremely high standard and there is a lot going on musically which grabs your attention.

The album has several instrumental tracks that combine to make a musical statement. This is pretty different to their last two albums, ‘The Confidence Trick’ and ‘Nostalgia For Infinity’, although the Science Fiction angle is covered by the choice of authors whose works inspired the music. There is some excellent music on this album, including the up-tempo opener Sold The Peace and the sad and aching hurt of Sixteen Hugless Years, which is based on the experiences of childhood neglect. This in itself is a sobering and desperately sad song, it is song where the hurt is palpable and deeply heartfelt. The track really makes an impression as you hear the hurt in the lyrics, all portrayed by Malcolm in a passionately delivered vocal. Also impressive is the song Glamour Boys which is about a group of mostly homosexual or bisexual Conservative MPs who were threatened by the reveal of their sexuality by Chamberlain’s government of the day. These men stood against appeasement and were prepared to suffer for their feelings and their different lifestyles, remember that homosexuality was actually a crime in that time. Many of these MPs paid a high price as a result.

Amongst all this heartache and pain you have interspersed some shorter instrumental pieces that act as a musical sorbet in cleansing the palate before the next song, for example the brief and deeply personal i’mtiredandeverythinghurts, Malcolm’s reflection on coping and living with an invisible disability (chronic pain due to Ehlers-Danlos syndrome) and how he feels when folk ask innocently, and with well meaning, ask how he is doing. It is a surprisingly upbeat track, very brief but it makes a good point about how we ask and often fail to understand or comprehend each other at times.

The next big track is Walking To Aldebaran, which is inspired by the Adrian Tchaikovsky novella in which miscommunication between an astronaut and a malfunctioning, but well intended, machine leads to a monstrous transformation. Parts of this inspiration comes from the novella and other parts come from rhythmic patterns inherent in Peter Maxwell Davies‘Eight Song For A Mad King’. This is a very diverse track, often jarring and abrupt, with a lot of sequenced keyboards and Chapman Stick. It is highly developed and has great sounds contained within its nearly nine minute duration. It is, ultimately, another rather sad and forlorn piece though. Goodbye Cassini is a flute led tribute to the space probe that explored Saturn and its icy moons. When its fuel supply was exhausted on September 15th 2017 it plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere, still returning data to its end. A rather profound tribute to what was a ground-breaking and important scientific research mission that last nearly twenty years and covered nearly five billion miles. The Man Who Japed is inspired by Philip K Dick (who wrote ‘Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep’) and the album’s title track was inspired by Iain M Bank’s ‘Look To Windward’.

The album is an interesting concept and also a very rewarding one ,especially if you delve into what thoughts lie behind the songs and then take the time to let the music work its own magic on you. Within this release you will find many excellent musical passages, some thought provoking words and some deep and important themes and questions. For me, this is another fine, well thought, considered and expertly delivered musical statement from Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate.

Released September 9th, 2023.

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The Light Of Ancient Mistakes | Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate (

Review – Nova Cascade – The Navigator – by John Wenlock-Smith

‘The Navigator’, the upcoming latest album from Nova Cascade, is really rather interesting and impressive as it is, at its heart, a sincere, heartfelt tribute and celebration of the life and impact of violinist, guitarist and all round excellent musician, colleague, friend and inspirational muse Eric Bouillette, who sadly died of cancer last year after a long protracted battle. This album is based on the collective’s feelings and memories of Eric, he features throughout the album, as his magnificent violin work is on many tracks.

The album sales will raise funds in his honour and for Pancreatic Cancer UK, it is very much as one would expect, a collection of ambient progressive music with orchestrations and some vocals, flutes and guitars, all arranged and collated by Dave Hilborne, who adds keyboards and sequencers to create the atmosphere. Whilst the album is a personal tribute, it is not maudlin and is rather a series of generally positive pieces, the fact being that Eric did not wish for his friends to be sad but to celebrate his existence and his skills with their music and to make the music positive where possible.

Haunting, sympathetic and beautiful at times, this is largely instrumental music although there are vocalisations to some tracks. Charlie Bramald of Ghost Of The Machine provides the flute parts on several tracks and where there are vocals, they are performed by Dave Hilborne. He actually manages to sound not unlike Feargal Sharkey, which is actually oddly effective and the style suits the track.

The music is really rather superb, Submerged is a long epic guitar solo from Eric Bouillette, performed over an expansive keyboard sequence and given room to stretch out and soar. This is very expressive and impressively performed, the backing support adds to the dramatic dynamism of the guitar performance, it is only a short piece but thrilling nonetheless. Other memorable and notable tracks include opener Sleeping Dogs and Safe Haven, which is hinged on some stirring piano chords and motif, sounding not unlike the early 1990’s Windham Hill label albums in places and, yes, that is a good thing, I used to love those album.

A Walk Along The Canal is a moving expressive violin part from Nina Chikvildze. Its mood is one of dignity and expression and creates a warm tone in tandem with the sensitive backing and a great guitar line from Colin, possibly my favourite track of the album, such is its simple beauty. The Navigator is a centrepiece of the album and also the longest, opening with a sixteen piece choir from Chile and Charlie’s ethereal flute tones. This is an excellent track that builds and has another epic guitar solo section, the track moves through its various parts seamlessly and is both highly effective and very memorable with standout performances from all concerned. A delicate acoustic guitar part adds dynamics and allows space for the dreamy keyboards to shimmer and shine clearly and evocatively. This is a simply stunningly well realised track, all the more impressive when you know it was all recorded remotely as the band have never met!

The Night Crossing also impresses, especially Colin’s guitar, as does The Fever Dream that continues in a similar vein. Again, this is keyboard dominated with great supporting bass from Dave Fick, who adds solidarity when required and is more subdued at other times. Any Minute Now is another excellent track with more vibrato vocals from Dave, expressing how we are taken before our time, as was the case with Eric, it is a very moving song. The Noble Lion is a shortish track but one that has lots of movement within it. Ambient type sounds prevailing alongside prominent bass notes, before a memorable piano motif appears, as do the drums, and the track builds in intensity. This carries across into the next track Submerged which takes us back to where this review began.

Return To Haven features more fluid violin from Nina and acoustic guitar sounding synth trickery from Dave. Colin’s suitably fluid electric guitar provides great counterpoint to the violin and synth and this makes for another standout track. Somewhere Between Here & Now begins to draw the album to a close with a spoken introduction from Olivia Steele. Final track, Au Revoir, performed entirely by Eric, is a touching and tender moment, deeply personal and very profound too and serves as a fitting conclusion and celebration of a life taken too soon of a person who will be deeply missed but who leaves us a legacy of emotionally enriched musical excellence.

This is an album to listen to quietly with contemplation and affirms the importance of love and the companionship of friends and that we should treasure those whilst we can. Very impressive and highly recommended.

Released 29th September, 2023.

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The Navigator | NOVA CASCADE (

Review – Materialeyes – Inside Out – by John Wenlock-Smith

I spend a fair amount of my free time trawling the internet, now that I am retired, streaming music and checking favourite websites, mainly prog related ones, taking a note of the general chatter and recommendations folks make there. All of which helps keep me informed of what’s happening in the world of prog, I hardly ever post my own recommendations though, quite why, I’m not really sure, but, as my listening tastes vary daily from 70’s classic rock to as yet unreleased music, I would find recommending music hard and possibly biased.

Whilst trawling recently I came across Wakefield based prog act Materialeyes and decided to check them out via bandcamp. I listened to their earlier album, ‘Three of a Kind’, which piqued my interest enough to contact Martyn Hawes and ask about the upcoming album release, ‘Inside Out’. Martin kindly sent me the album with a view to me reviewing it for Progradar and its my pleasure to be able to do this. I am always impressed by the quality of the releases you can find on bandcamp, I also like that funds go mostly to the artists directly, especially on bandcamp Fridays, which is even better for all concerned.

Well I’m glad to report that this a most interesting and rewarding release, whilst it may only has five tracks, it is an album of quality material starting with the solid opening track This World, that is about how we are hurting the world with our actions. The song begins with a chunky guitar chord and is followed by some glorious swathes of keyboards and a flute solo from Dave Westmoreland. It oozes pastoral progressive rock in the vein of Barclay James Harvest, that is a very worthy band to be compared to and Materialeyes do not disappoint either. There is a lot of layers to this track, Woody Wolstenholme would be proud hearing this strong song with it’s excellent style and good dynamics. Second track, Eric Upon Tweed, is a tale of a lad called Eric who finds himself removed from his family for attacking his drunken father, after seeing how he mistreat his mother. She arranges safe exit for Eric to his aunt’s in Berwick-upon-Tweed. This has distinct traces of Genesis’ style of storytelling, especially those with a social conscience to them. The story ends with Eric’s first sexual encounter in Berwick-upon-Tweed and latterly some words of praise from his dying father with whom there is a degree of reconciliation at the end. The tale is musically very rich with a great guitar line playing throughout and a great vocal from Martyn.

Longship is a maudlin and atmospheric track about Vikings returning to their homeland, the haunting sound being made by Will using his Ebow to create the haunting melodies. This melancholic piece has another great vocal from Dave, it is short but very moving and memorable indeed, a great track. Horsemen is inspired by the 1921 silent film The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse and starts with an acoustic guitar before prominent bass and keyboards join in. This is another longer track with room for expansive soundscapes, flute and synths, there are also western films referenced throughout. The track has echoes of the softer moments of Wishbone Ash’s Argus initially but soon becomes more strident, I really like this track and the panoramic soundscape it uses, it is a very well written, conceived and delivered piece of progressive music. The added length gives space for the music to unfold in the piece, additionally, the use of good dynamics really make a good impression, as does the fine bass playing from Martyn Howe, especially in the middle section. It makes this all the more rewarding to listen to, as does the fine guitar work from Dave Westmoreland and you can definitely hear the ‘Argus’ influence here.

Clay Man is the last and longest track of the album and was inspired by a heavy Wensleydale cheese eating session! The song is interesting, it’s subject matter a bit weird and dark in tone. It is mostly instrumental but with a few words, more music than words in fact and has more prominent bass alongside acoustic guitar and keyboards. It also has handclaps and what sounds like foot stomping and other syncopation, the song is one that builds in its intensity, which makes for interesting listening. A slower section with ethereal voices follows before the vocal of Will Lawery, who also provides excellent guitar on the whole album. The words seem to be about a man who has seen much pain and horror in the world and is traumatised by it all, hence the sad nature of the track.

Well that’s it, you are left wanting more of this fine music and I’d recommend checking out their back catalogue as it has some great music available there. Hopefully they have a bright future, if they continue to make music of such an excellent calibre. ‘Inside Out’ is a most rewarding release and more than worthy of investigation if you can. I think you will like it a lot, there is much to enjoy, especially if you like more pastoral prog like BJH.

Released 18th August, 2023.

Order the album from Bandcamp here:

Inside Out | Materialeyes (

Review – Sherinian/Phillips – Live – by John Wenlock-Smith

Derek Sherinian is a fine creative and accomplished keyboard player who’s CV includes stints with Kiss, Alice Cooper and Billy Idol, to name but three. He was also a member of Dream Theater and has made eight solo albums, which are usually made in tandem with Simon Phillips, who has an even more impressive CV, with the likes of Judas Piest, Jeff Beck and, latterly, Toto. Simon also had his own group, Protocol, who have released five albums thus far in a similar fusion type style.

Derek and Simon both share a love of fusion, which mixes jazz and rock elements together in a shimmering stew of musical chops. Normally Derek uses a whole slew of well know guitarists, which is definitely interesting, especially as he tends to play a more supportive role rather than be keyboard heavy and laden. He is very much a team player, whose aim is for the music to be the star rather than his own chops. Simon is of a similar persuasion and he is content to be a solid rock from which others can soar!

Well that is certainly the case here, this album features four good musicians who have played together previously and enjoy each others company and playing. The band is Derek Sherinian (keyboards), Simon Phillips (drums), Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal (two necked guitar) and Ric Fierabracci (bass). These four can definitely play up a veritable storm, this album was recorded at The Grape in Ventura, California on August 29th, 2022 and this live album is the result of that rather unique show.

The album has eleven tracks, three taken from ‘The Vortex’, three from ‘The Phoenix’, one from ‘Inertia’ and one from ‘Mythology’ . Of the two additional tracks, Barnacus is a drum solo from Simon Phillips.

Most of these tracks replicate their studio incarnations without really adding very much or varying from what was originally created. Which kind of begs the question ‘Why?’, what is the point of all this? Ye, its all very listenable, technically accomplished and exciting but it is ultimately one that falls short by offering nothing very new or different to what is already known and already available. Also, I think they missed an opportunity to include the filming that took place that evening, as that would be a good addition and offer some added value to this album.

The music that is here is excellent extremely well recorded and delivered but, for the reasons stated, probably won’t get heavy rotation with me because, much as I like Derek’s music, on this occasion I wanted something more. What is different, I suppose, is that these four musicians are replicating parts played by others, like The Vortex, which ŵas recorded with Steve Stevens on guitar and Tony Franklin on bass. Here those parts are played to perfection by Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal and Ric Fierabracci respectively. This makes it interesting to compare the versions also, live, it is very slightly longer in length, although what the additional sixteen seconds are is not easily ascertainable, I guess it could be at the start of the track with the crowd noise?

Empyrean Sky gives opportunities for Derek to really lay down some strong Hammond Organ tones, which he does remarkably well, and his interplay with Bumblefoot is exciting, if a tad brief. In fact several of these tracks would have benefitted from a more expansive time to allow further improvisation and room to explore the material more fully. Temple of Helios is another example of where extension would have greatly improved the track. This truncation is frustrating when a band as talented as the guys are are held back and unnecessarily restrained from really letting fly.

Whether there were time constraints or something else is not clear and I guess we’ll never know but, aside from that, this album deserves more than it delivers, it’s good, whereas it could have been so much more, it is a real missed opportunity by Inside Out.

Still, what is here is very good, I just wish it was either a double CD or had a DVD of the events with rehearsals and interviews and other extras added for completeness. So, again, my question is Why?

Released 25th August, 2023.

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Derek Sherinian, Simon Phillips – Inertia (Live 2022) (

Review – I Am The Manic Whale – Bumper Book Of Mystery Stories – by John Wenlock-Smith.

These are my thoughts on, ‘Bumper Book of Mystery Stories’, the new album from Reading based outfit I Am The Manic Whale. Following on from 2020’s ‘Things Unseen’, this new collection of eight themed and linked tracks is a strong return to form as ‘Things Unseen’ was a little to unfocused really. Despite having several great tracks, a few others fell a bit short quality wise in parts. This album has redressed that particular issue clearly and the post-lockdown era has enabled the band to strengthen their musicianship to even higher levels. This is especially noticeable in the more focused bass playing of Michael Whiteman and the ever improving fluidity of guitarist David Addis. The keyboards of John Murphy, and Ben Hartley’s drums, add consistently sympathetic and worthy support to the proceedings.

The album is themed as a set of songs inspired by a book Michael found in an old and strange antique shop that was full of stories for boys. He decided to revisit these tales in song, adding mystery and suspense, to make something rather unique and different. The band even created their own tales that are available in a book as a companion piece to the album (not that I’ve read it, but the concept is a great one!). The music is everything that you have come to expect from this massively underrated band, strong melodies, dynamic pieces, class musicianship and interesting and intelligent songs. There is a lot going on here, there is also a marked improvement in confidence, possibly as a result of a higher standing after the collaboration with Ryo Okumoto’s recent solo album that Michael was heavily involved with, and which no doubt improved his own personal belief in his and his band’s abilities and worthiness.

The album has a mixture of styles and song lengths, from short tracks like Ghost Train (part 1) that opens the album, through to the two epics; Nautilus and We Interrupt This Broadcast…

So let’s delve a little deeper shall we?

Ghost Train (part 1) has echoes of John Finnemore’ s Souvenir Programme’s story elements. I know that Michael is a fan of this fine radio programme and went to some special recordings last year, which possibly were part of the inspiration for this track. The song has a suitably sombre tone as we are told that we are going to embark on an unusual and different type of journey, there’s also has some lively guitar work throughout, David Addis proving just what an inventive and tasteful player he truly is. In fact his playing on the whole album is excellent and inspired as he reaches new heights on several songs, enlivening with some truly melodic, flowing and fluidly inventive playing that significantly enhances the tracks with his combination of skill, technique and intelligence. He adds much icing to an already delicious musical cake. Second track, Patient AB, is based on a true story about a lady who was able to self diagnose a brain tumour that was subsequently found and dealt with successfully. Dream Fortune is based on the old folk tale The Pedlar of Swaffham, who travels to London where he believes he will meet a man who would make him rich. Instead, he is mocked by another dreamer who reveals a story of treasure buried under a tree in Swaffam. The dreamer discovering the treasure in his own garden and using it to fund the repair of the local church A great organ and choir are used to create great atmosphere in this track.

Secret Passage is a thrilling track with a strident bass at the forefront. This track blends images of Narnia and the Famous Five, amongst others, it is quite a robust number with another lovely guitar line in the middle section. It’s this level of skill and lightness of touch that really highlights the strength of this material written by the various band members. This song has an extended keyboard solo from John Murphy that is real delight, it’s great to hear him stretching out here, he is a great player and his contributions are invaluable. The Incredible David follows and is inspired by a story in a book John owned as a child, that told the tale of a boy who had insight into ancient history, with knowledge of things he could never have seen or known. The band have updated the tale by telling it from the father’s point of view and it’s an approach that works well, the song is multi layered with great piano and soaring Steve Vai type guitar in places. This is an album that requires time to allow its treasures to emerge slowly, in their own satisfying manner and that will capture your imagination, as they very much deserve to. Nautilus is influenced by Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Captain Nemo. This watery tale has some great guitar in its thirteen-plus minute running time, along with keyboard contributions from Ryo Okumoto, who delivers a great synth section. The song is in five sections and is a very interesting track indeed, Michael’s love of science fiction comes across strongly here.

Penultimate song, Ern​ő​’s Magic Cube, is a sort of continuation of a song from ‘Things Unseen’ that extolled the virtues of Lego, this track being about the Rubik’s Cube and is a direct relation to that earlier song, Build It Up. It is a very 80’s sounding song, again this one makes a good impression. We Interrupt This Broadcast… details the strange incident of a spoof radio transmission which detailed Alien activity and interest. This is the longest track of the album and, again, David sizzles on his guitar, playing a great solo. It concludes an album that really delivers, upping the ante considerably from previous releases.

With stronger material and inspired performances that offer a deeply rewarding listen, this is an album that will draw you back repeatedly and one that is a highly recommended release indeed.

Released 7th July, 2023.

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Bumper Book of Mystery Stories | I Am The Manic Whale (

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.

Order from bandcamp here:

Stones from the Garden | Kurt Michaels (

Review – Orion – The End Of Suffering – by John Wenlock-Smith

I seldom fail to be impressed with folks who take the huge step into the unknown and are prepared to present to the world the music they have created from thoughts or dreams they have held sometimes for many years. I know several who have done this to a great reception and widespread acclaim.

Obviously everyone would like that, which is why reviews can matter through helping to raise awareness and, hopefully, allow an artist to gain traction and, in their profile being raised, generate both interest and push sales forward. I certainly hope this is the case for this Orion album, ‘The End Of Suffering’, as it is most definitely worthy of attention.

A little background might help here, Orion is the name chosen for Ben Jones’s concept album that came about after he read Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power Of Now, which deals with how we address our own internal dialogue between the past and the present. It talks about a personal awakening and enlightenment which incorporates the Buddhist concept that enlightenment is the beginning of the end of suffering. Quite a lofty concept but one rooted in the aspect of how time controls us and makes us slaves to its demands as we struggle to get done what we need to in the time allotted to us. It’s a never ending game of cat and mouse and one that drains, frustrates and depresses on a daily basis. As we are forever chasing our own tails, all for the Mammon at the end of the day/month/year, it’s soul destroying really and this album addresses that cycle in its lyrics.

This album was 20 years in the making, with the book being a pivotal moment towards personal enlightenment and  acceptance. Furthermore, the album was entirely self financed, performed and recorded by Ben Jones, with no intent other than to get the album completed and out to a world and see what happened as a result. Ben also made the CD available on bandcamp at a most reasonable price to encourage folks to listen for themselves. All of which is very laudable but is it any good?

Well this reviewer finds it is a really good listen and, once you understand it’s concepts and ideas, it’s both satisfying and musically very rewarding indeed.

The album begins with a gentle piano motif that is recurrent at times throughout the whole record before a huge riff commences that really opens the sound vista wide. It’s a very impressive riff that really works well and fades to some frenzied fretwork before resuming and then quietening down a little, more power chords then play the track out. As an instrumental opener Now  is a very strong and gripping track, this fades to fast strummed acoustic guitar that opens the second track, In The Beginning. This is a pretty epic song with that great recurring acoustic guitar and a great bass part to it. There is a blistering middle section with lots of frantic bass and crunchy riffing guitar parts and a tidy but brief solo, it sounds double tracked and all the better for that too,

Tomorrow is about how what we do leaves its mark in time and that we should do all we can to make that impression a good one. Again, this has a lot going on throughout and also has a fine solo. It’s a very strong track taken at a pace that doesn’t let up and, with great vocals, it’s one of my favourites thus far. The Hurricane is about the the battles of middle life and keeping control during it. There is another monstrous riff running through it all, making it quite a hard number but a powerful one that leads into Yesterday and its melancholy for the middle years and the opportunities that now seem squandered, again this is a rather epic song of regrets and missed chances.

Out Of Time is about the realisation that it’s too late and time has gone for you, a rather sobering  song really as it faces that difficult reality. Myself and I is about the enlightenment and that time is an illusion of the mind and Out Of Time pt. 2 is the reality that time is a concept and how he is not constrained or beholden to it any longer. The End Of Suffering is the last track of the album and brings us back full circle as it has a similar opening as the beginning of the album and is an excellent closer to a most unusual and somewhat different album. This track has a wall of sound effect at times, similar to Devin Townsend’s dense sound. This track has everything happening at once it is manic and urgent despite being a mid tempo piece. It really is most impressive I really like it.

There is great musicianship and intelligence to this album, okay, it might help to have read the book to fully understand the concept, something I will do for myself in the coming weeks. All in all ‘The End of Suffering’ is a most wonderful release, I highly commend it to all, especially those who like their prog harder and less symphonic.

More info at:

Orion Music – Home (

Released 5th June, 2023.

Order from bandcamp here:

The End of Suffering | Orion (

Review – An Evening Of Innocence & Danger – Live In Hamburg – The Neal Morse Band – by John Wenlock-Smith

Well, this is very different! this set details the first, post-covid, expedition for The Neal Morse Band and was recorded in Hamburg in 2022. Unusually for InsideOut, the set has no accompanying live DVD, which is a pity as the band are on fire for this show. Maybe it was because of them being lockdown totally because of covid but they definitely rose to the occasion here in Hamburg. The show was in the latter stages of the tour so the band were very comfortable with playing these two sets, one of the ‘Innocence and Danger’ album and the second set of longer pieces, The Great Similitude Medley, which features highlights of the band’s previous two albums, ‘The Similitude Of A Dream’ and ‘The Great Adventure’ in an extended sequence. This allowed space for extra parts and for some great improvisation to happen, no doubt all pre-rehearsed and ordered, a band like The Neal Morse Band cannot afford to make errors of judgement and so would have sorted things for such an event.

The album kicks off with a brief overture of about 2 minutes before leading into the opening track Do It All Again, which faithfully reproduces the album version, adding nothing new except the excitement of the live arena, which is itself very good, as is the reception it receives. Obviously the end of lockdown and the return of live shows was important for the band and for the German crowd, who are solidly behind the band. The album continues with excellent recitals of Bird On A Wire, Your Place In The Sun and Another Story To Tell before we are treated to a superb version of The Way It Had To Be with a brilliant, extended guitar section from Eric Gillette, who can sure plank the plank, combining elements and touches of David Gilmour, amongst others. His playing is graceful, melodic and utterly engrossing and captivating. He is a rare talent amongst an outstanding ensemble, also noticeable are the fabulous keyboards of both Neal Morse and Bill Hubauer, whose performance throughout is equally solid and exciting.

Next up is an epic version of Bridge Over Troubled Water (yes, the Simon and Garfunkel classic) which is skilfully delivered, staying true to the original but with prog flourishes like the wah-wah guitar that plays in the opening part. This really is a fabulous version of a really great song, delivered beautifully and with conviction. We are then treated to a rare outing for Waterfall, from ‘The Grand Experiment’ album, this delicate acoustic number also closes the first set.

The second set is spread across discs 2 and 3 and covers Not Afraid Pt. 2 and Beyond The Years from ‘Innocence and Danger’ and also the The Great Similitude Medley. These three track last for over eighty-five minutes so you may need to dig deep for these epic tracks! Expect odd time signatures, excessive soloing and many impressive moments as these pieces are modern day prog at its finest from a group of seasoned professionals. There is a lot going on here including the growling bass of Randy George and the metronomic precision of Mike Portnoy (the man never misses a beat!). This is all highly accomplished and delivered with sincerity and style, the vocals are strong and also clear, the sound is exceptionally defined and focused. Unusually for Neal Morse, these songs are not overtly Christian in their lyrics, which may or not be a good thing depending on your own viewpoint. Rather these songs are possibly more spiritually attuned but open to interpretation by the listener, if so, that is a decision I approve of, no one wants to be preached at, especially at a celebration of music like this.

Not Afraid Pt. 2 is an interesting track with lots of moods in the music and some great sections that together make for a really strong song, it is really an epic performance and there is even more to come, how good is that? The song ends with notes of triumph and resolution, it’s an earnest track that is very well developed and  delivered with style. Beyond The Years is another epic, multi-part suite that together make sone song. As you would expect, this is no shrinking violet of a track it, it has seven parts, one of which is an instrumental section, and lots of words. The song is somewhat oblique in its meaning, although there is religious imagery mentioned in the track. The whole song is complex and takes some listening and attention really. Whilst that’s not a bad thing, it does require effort on the listeners part as it’s not background music, it warrants and requests your full attention to get the most out of it really. This effort is rewarded though with some really inspired playing and sentiments expressed that are within the song.

The final track, The Great Similitude Medley, is a skilful amalgam of songs from ‘The Similitude Of A Dream’ and ‘The Great Adventure’. This encore is just shy of thirty minutes in duration and is a concise distillation of what the NMB are all about. Epic music, usually with a Christian message at the heart, all played with panache and seldom boring or understated. For those who follow the NMB there is so very much to enjoy in the epic concert and 3CD set.

‘An Evening Of Innocence & Danger – Live In Hamburg’ is rather stirring stuff all told and is an unqualified success for the group who have played flawlessly and with real passion on this track making it a remarkable feat. Now, either you like Neal Morse and his band or you don’t and, if you do, you are in for a feast with this album. If NMB aren’t your thing then you will miss out on a great performance of some quality musical statements.

Released 14th July, 2023.

Order from Burning Shed here:

An Evening Of Innocence & Danger: Live in Hamburg (

Review – The Emerald Dawn – In Time – by John Wenlock-Smith

This highly impressive album will land in September and is already hotly anticipated and I’m sure will be well received as, over the past few years, this Cornish symphonic prog outfit have been wowing crowds from Penzance to North of the border. Quite rightly so too as they have a unique sound, excellent musicianship and offer music of class and quality. Everything is self-produced and they even do their own artwork, although they have a formidable and talented artist in Tree Stewart who has the ability to create artworks that really draw you into the musical adventure. 

This album is their fifth and, once again, you are taken on a magical musical journey. This journey is about the passage of time and how it goes past so quickly that we should make the most of the time allotted to each of us. The album has just three tracks of eight, fourteen and twenty three minutes in duration. Within these tracks lie much skill and invention, take the track Out Of Time, which combines a haunting graceful piano motif with wah wah guitar lines and elements of world (Arabian music) and jazz rock into a unique melting pot but a pot that cooks up a hearty meal. I could go on and on about how exciting and captivating the middle section is with its complex rhythmic sections showing the depth of talent, imagination and skill the group have and exhibit on this track but I think you are best hearing this for yourself when the album is released in September. You will enjoy the recurring melody that carries the song along so very gracefully. It is simply exceptional. Around all this are floating layers of sumptuous keyboards, a jarring Sax and the fluid guitar runs of Ally Carter. Add the breathy vocals of Tree Stewart, the subtle and solidly inventive bass work of David Greenaway and the sturdy and effective drums of Tom Jackson and you can see that this ensemble really know how to create an atmosphere for sure.  

I really love this track and the sentiments that it addresses, making memories that matter and that can sustain you. As one who is personally afflicted with dementia, this music is important and crucial and much needed, although I suspect most of the western world will fail to appreciate and catch the beauty contained in this album but, for those that do, you will find a veritable pot of gold here. Truly impressive and staggeringly wonderful a real joy to behold, I suggest you reserve your copy now and await your time to hear this masterpiece. 

Timeless is a slow burner of a song that tells of a day too quickly over and a day that never ends, our state of mind exudes the pulse on which our time depends! Which are pretty sobering and honest words really. This is a shorter track, well if you call fourteen minutes short! The final track The March Of Time is about how time waits for no man, it merely marches on, nothing lasts forever except the memories you have saved. Running for just over eight minutes, this is a fabulous conclusion to the journey you have undertaken and this album truly is a journey into enlightenment. I feel it calls us all to be responsible stewards of our own time, to seize the day and also to make the most of our time whilst we can. These are welcome sentiments in a busy modern world where we are always hurrying against the clock and yet never winning, somehow this album is a message to us all. The song works to a strident marching track and has an epic guitar solo at the where Alan channels his inner Gilmour whilst Tree sings behind his playing reciting the line, “As time goes marching on.” 

This is all delivered in style and alongside some really great music which, when you take the album as a whole experience, offers a very profound and moving musical journey. Tome, it’s totally different to their previous albums but with enough in common to let you know who they are. This is a really, really good album with great songs and performances. It is all beautifully produced with glorious artwork and I’m sure the vinyl version will look exquisite but, for us shiny disc lovers, this will do just fine.  

Released 23rd September, 2023.

Pre-orders provisionally open on 4th August, 2023 here:

Merch | The Emerald Dawn (