Review – Ana Patan – Spice, Gold and Tales Untold – by Martin Hutchinson

“Without music to decorate it, time is just a bunch of boring production deadlines or dates by which bills must be paid.” ― Frank Zappa

I know I’m not the only person who spends a large proportion of their time awake listening to music, music while I run or while I work or just for relaxation. It is true, music decorates our lives and makes the mundane acceptable and often accompanies us on the highest highs and lowest lows that life can give you.

The first time I listened to Ana Patan’s superb album ‘Spice, Gold and Tales Untold’ I felt that immediate connection that only wonderful music can give you. This is one of those releases that can take away the worries of a testing day and put you in a much calmer state of mind and we have all needed that over the last year!

Ana Patan

In her own words,

“I’m an independent German musician, of Romanian descent, living in Sweden for the moment. I’ve been travelling and making music in most corners of the planet, having had the chance to meet, and jam with, some really amazing musicians (where most of my experience comes from). At some point in 2009 my career nearly ended from a bad case of tendonitis, which woke me up to the necessity of making this album, if ever able to play music again. This motivated me to get well, and put all my finances, creativity, time and energy into making this record.

The drums have been put down by Zoltan Csörsz, most of the bass tracks by Jonas Hellborg, and Devin Townsend loved the stuff and also wanted to contribute! Strangely enough, he was in a bass-playing phase back then, so he showed up in the studio and did his part quite amazingly! I happened to play the guitar because I couldn’t find anyone who wouldn’t overplay – I had to do my best, whatever that might be for now… same with the vocals!”

Ana describes the album as organic, honest and uncompromising, recorded all analog on 2 inch tape in a simple formula (bass-drums-guitar, plus vocals). I have to say I was really intrigued.

The album is a superb mix of musical styles with basic, soulful music embellished by hints of the orient and a touch of Eastern European promise on many of the impressive songs. The bare yet intricate music is complemented superbly by Ana’s earnest vocals, sometimes fragile and at other times loud and proud. To my ears there is a touch of early Alanis Morissette to her voice but with a velvet smooth timbre.

The pared back musical arrangements on tracks like sultry opener Undeciphered and the soulful Trivialize Love have a real jazz lounge feel to them, a real feel of less is more and Ana’s beautifully flowing guitar adds even more class.

One of the stand out tracks for me is the wonderfully bluesy General Conspiracy, a song that just oozes cool sophistication. The guitar playing just makes you want to sway in time with the music and the solo is just superb.

Ana’s take on elegant world music infuses The Human with an almost southern African feel, a really enlightening piece of music that pairs really well with the smooth-jazz attributes of Pure and Plain, an ultimately uplifting track that makes your soul sing.

This incredibly eclectic mixture of musical tastes and experiences continues with Soarele Meu. Written in Ana’s native Romanian it has a really playful vibe and runs along with an impish glee and one where she seems at her most carefree. 21st Century Citizen is a proper blues-rock track and perhaps the most straightforward song on the album with seductive vocals and a staccato, edgy guitar tone and is a song that brooks no argument.

The darkly delicious tones of Ana’s voice and the refined notes emanating from her guitar give Hot Hot a truly graceful and chic quality that just leaves you utterly calm and relaxed before the folky How Could We Live Before breaks the spell with its upbeat tempo and foot-tapping drumbeat and things are brought to a close with Colors on Hormones, another uncomplicated jazz inspired piece of music that showcases this young women’s incredible array of talents.

‘Spice, Gold and Tales Untold’ is collection of culturally diverse songs that transcends the current trend to try and pigeon hole musicians. Wearing her many influences proudly on her sleeve Ana Patan has just allowed the music and her excellent vocals to tell her many intriguing and involving stories and this has allowed them to breathe and come to life quite spectacularly. An album that has surprised me in its simple brilliance and one that, if you let it, will enrich your life in a myriad of ways.

Released 10th February, 2021

Order the album from bandcamp here:

Spice, Gold and Tales Untold | Ana Patan (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)

FROST* release ‘Terrestrial’; first single from new album ‘Day And Age’

Frost* recently announced ‘Day And Age’, their first new studio album in 5 years, set for release on the 14th May 2021. The band’s fourth record features Jem Godfrey once again joined by John Mitchell & Nathan King, as well as 3 guest drummers: Kaz Rodriguez (Chaka Khan, Josh Groban), Darby Todd (The Darkness, Martin Barre) & Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson, Mister Mister). The album also features actor Jason Isaacs.

Today the band are pleased to launch ‘Terrestrial’, the first single taken from ‘Day And Age’, and you can watch the video here: 

Jem Godfrey comments: “Terrestrial is about Donald Crowhurst who disappeared while competing in the Sunday Times Golden Globe Race never to be found. The last page of his logbook contained the words: “I have no need to prolong the game. It is finished – It is finished IT IS THE MERCY.”

 ‘Day And Age’ was recorded over the course of 2019 and 2020, featuring 8 tracks and striking cover artwork by Carl Glover of Aleph Studios (Steven Wilson, Marillion, Steve Jansen). The album will be released on Limited 2CD (including a bonus disc of instrumentals), Gatefold 180g 2LP + CD (with etching on Side D), and as Digital Album. Pre-order now here: https://frost-band.lnk.to/DayAndAge

The full track-listing is below:

1.         Day And Age 11:49

2.         Terrestrial 5:13

3.         Waiting For The Lie 4:31

4.         The Boy Who Stood Still 7:33

5.         Island Life 4:14

6.         Skywards 4:13

7.         Kill The Orchestra 9:27

8.         Repeat To Fade 6:14 

In September 2019 Godfrey and Mitchell rented a cottage for a week in Helford, Cornwall and set about converting it into a recording studio. Day one saw them write and record “Skywards”, “Island Life” was written on day two. On day three, the duo wrote what was to become the title and defining track of the new album, “Day And Age”. 

The following January, the band setup a new temporary studio for a further week in a converted coastguard tower at Dungeness in East Sussex. “We were 30 feet by the sea, next to a nuclear power station and a lighthouse, in midwinter. So there was hardly any daylight and the weather was dreadful”, laughs bassist Nathan King, “We wrote “Terrestrial” and “Repeat To Fade” there and you can definitely hear the bleak isolated oppression having an effect on us. The songs we wrote were far darker – the wind howling round the building at night, the power station generating crackles on the audio, a huge lighthouse next door sweeping light into the fog every 30 seconds and John screaming “ENJOY YOURSELVES YOU SCUM” into a microphone. It was absolutely brilliant!”.

In November 2020, Frost* released the career-retrospective collection ‘13 Winters’ which featured all their studio albums to date, plus live material, b-sides & last years ‘Others’ EP, all packaged in a beautiful artbook.

Frost* was formed in 2004 by keyboard player and singer Jem Godfrey, Released in 2006 the band’s debut album “Milliontown” was an instant success and is regarded by many as a classic in the modern prog rock genre featuring John Mitchell on guitar, John Jowitt on bass and Andy Edwards on drums. The band quickly followed it up with “Experiments In Mass Appeal” in 2008, in many ways the antithesis of “Milliontown” featuring a much more stripped back sound, more concise songs and a new band member and singer in the form of Dec Burke.

The live album “The Philadelphia Experiment” followed in 2009 and the a long gap followed before 3rd album “Falling Satellites” was released in 2016 with a new line-up of Nathan King on bass and Craig Blundell on drums, plus returning guitarist and singer John Mitchell on guitar who also co-wrote much of the album with Jem Godfrey. 

Review – League Of Lights – Dreamers Don’t Come Down – by Martin Hutchinson

League Of Lights are an electronic prog-pop duo comprised of Farrah and Richard West. Their third and most accomplished album to date, ‘Dreamers Don’t Come Down’ is an outstanding collection of songs that is redolent in places of early ’80s synth pioneers like John Foxx, as well as ’00s exponents of the genre such as Ladytron.

I was a big fan of the previous release, which was my first exposure to the duo, so was expecting big things from the new album and, as it turns out, I wasn’t to be disappointed…

Describing their modus operandi for the album, Richard explains that “we wanted it to be more piano-driven than our previous release and deliberately utilised a smaller pallet of sounds. We had just recorded the song ‘Modern Living’ [issued as a single in January] and that helped to define how our new material would sound – more open than before with less synths and more space for Farrah’s voice to really lift off. It’s as much about the space as it is about the notes.”

The majority of the album was written and recorded during the 2020 spring/summer lockdown, with Farrah stating that “it is about the past, the present and the future; about taking the best from all that you have been through, the pressures of modern life and keeping your dreams alive in dark times.”

It is well known that I was a child of the 80’s and always loved the electronic sound of the new romantic bands and their like. Album opener Modern Living feels like a clever amalgam of Pet Shop Boys channelling their inner early Spandau Ballet (before they went all pop ballad!). What is evident from the start is how much Farrah’s incredible voice adds to the songs and gives League Of Lights something different and unique, a powerful start to the album.

Twenty Twenty One is just beautiful, Farrah’s sublime, ethereal like vocal blends sympathetically with Richard’s almost orchestral instrumentation arrangement. A calm and reflective piece of music that is jewel like in its composition and arrangement, I love it! This gem is followed by the up-tempo delights of Ghosts, I was never a club goer in the 80’s or 90’s (in fact never, full stop!) but the brilliant chorus on this track could have come straight from the dance floor of an iconic bar in Ibiza, it’s a nigh on perfect dance track.

I Still Remember with its wistful, nostalgic feel of hazy, lazy days is another heavenly song with Farrah’s plaintive, dreamlike vocal overlaying the exquisite musical backing. A fast paced, driving, energetic piece of music, Persephone has an urgent feel to the vocals and backing music, a proper nod to classic 80’s electronic pop music that leaves a knowing smile on my face.

Dreamers brings things back down to earth with its measured tempo and mesmerising vocals, an introspective and contemplative song that brings your heart rate right down and leaves in a thoughtful frame of mind. Another brilliant piece of pop music writing, With You has that thing which is a rarity in chart music nowadays, a truly catchy chorus that has you singing along with the upbeat tempo and shimmering melody.

Lines In The Sand is a pared back, reflective song with a cultured and measured feel to the music and mesmeric vocals that are quite hypnotic in effect. The first time I heard the track, I stopped what I was doing and just let its soothing tones wash over me. The Collector sees us getting glammed up, glad rags on and heading off to the club again (metaphorically, obviously in my case!). Another fine, up-tempo track with a killer chorus that this duo just seem to be able to create at will.

Among an album full of brilliant 80’s electro-pop inspired tracks, it’s hard to pick a favourite but, for me, it has to be the moving, melancholy and utterly spellbinding North of The Sun, which, if you are as big a fan of the 80’s as I am, is just over four minutes of near musical perfection. Taking the music widescreen and increasingly dynamic, it’s just a superb song that leads into the album’s final track Echoes of a Dream which is exactly that, a dreamy recap of the last thirty seven minutes. Light of touch and mood, it closes proceedings just about perfectly.

Not only a nod to the past but also a completely relevant piece of music in these present times, ‘Dreamers Don’t Come Down’ is a perfectly crafted collection of pop and electronica infused songs that really hit home. Key to the album is Farrah’s sublime vocal which, added to Richard’s brilliant musicianship, has created something quite wonderful and mesmeric. It is most definitely League of Lights most accomplished release yet and one that is lighting up 2021 for this reviewer at least.

Released 12th March, 2021.

Order direct from the artist here:

Dreamers Don’t Come Down (burningshed.com)

It Bites – announce reissues of ‘The Tall Ships’ & ‘Map Of The Past’

It Bites are pleased to announce reissues of their albums ‘The Tall Ships’ and ‘Map Of The Past’ for release on the 7th May 2021. Both albums have been newly remastered by John Mitchell, and will be available on CD, LP & Digital formats, with it being first time that ‘The Tall Ships’ has ever been available on vinyl. The physical formats also include extensive liner notes from John Mitchell reflecting back on the making of these albums.

Listen to the remastered version of ‘Ghosts’ from ‘The Tall Ships’ & pre-order now here: https://itbites.lnk.to/TheTallShips-ReIssue2021

Listen to the remastered version of ‘Cartoon Graveyard’ from ‘Map Of The Past’ & pre-order now here: https://itbites.lnk.to/MapOfThePast-ReIssue2021

Both albums will be released as Limited CD Digipaks that include an additional booklet containing the liner notes, Gatefold 180g 2LP + CD & LP-booklet (with liner notes) & as Digital Albums. 

The track-listing for the reissues is as follows:

The Tall Ships

1.     Oh My God

2.     Ghosts

3.     Playground

4.     Memory Of Water

5.     The Tall Ships

6.     The Wind That Shakes The Barley

7.     Great Disasters

8.     Fahrenheit

9.     For Safekeeping

10.  Lights

11.  This Is England

12.  These Words (Bonus Track)

13.  When I Fall (Bonus Track) 

Map Of The Past

1.     Man In The Photograph

2.     Wallflower

3.     Map Of The Past

4.     Clocks

5.     Flag

6.     The Big Machine

7.     Cartoon Graveyard

8.     Send No Flowers

9.     Meadow And The Stream

10.  The Last Escape

11.  Exit Song

12.  Lighthouse (Bonus Track)

13.  Come On (Bonus Track)

Please note bonus tracks are not included on the vinyl LP’s, but are included on the CD’s in the package. 

It Bites fourth studio album ‘The Tall Ships’, originally released in 2008 was the first It Bites album to feature singer & guitarist John Mitchell, and the bands first new music in nineteen years.

It Bites fifth studio album ‘Map Of The Past’, originally released in 2012, was the first concept album of the bands twenty-five year career. It explores the theme of the past, as seen through old family photographs. 

Review – Glass Hammer – A Matter Of Time – Volume 1 – by Martin Hutchinson

“The present changes the past. Looking back you do not find what you left behind.” – Kiran Desai.

‘A Matter Of Time – Volume 1’ sees Glass Hammer founders Steve Babb and Fred Schendel reimagining the past as they pick their favourite songs from the band’s nineties catalog; reimagining and re-recording those songs from the ground up, totally updating them for the here and now.

These new recordings feature GH regular Aaron Raulston (drums) and guest appearances by Hannah Pryor (vocals), Reese Boyd (guitar – Lliusion & Song Of The Dunadan), Walter Moore (vocals: The Mayor Of Longview, Heaven – vocals & guitar: On To Evermore, Junkyard Angels), and Dave Bainbridge (guitar: Heaven).

If you’re a long time fan of this most ‘Prog’ of US progressive rock bands or a newcomer to their involving and dynamic music then you are in for an absolute treat.

I first got into Glass Hammer with 2010’s ‘If’ but the band is the epitome of prog rock longevity having released their first studio album, ‘Journey of the Dunadan’, in 1993. Suffice to say that Steve and Fred have an embarrassment of riches to choose from when it comes to their extensive back catalogue.

All of the tracks (barring Domain Walls) are taken from the band’s first three studio releases, the aforementioned ‘Journey of the Dunadan’, ‘Perelandra’ and ‘On to Evermore’, and deliver statuesque soundscapes across which the precise guitars, keyboards and vocals can weave their intricate stories of heroic deeds and the triumph of good over evil.

Opener Lliusion (‘Perelandra’) is a case in point, a fine piece of music, intense in flavour and rich in musicality, that immediately draws the listener into the tale that is laid before them. With the soaring vocals, stylish bass, majestic keyboards and charismatic guitars, I’m hooked after the first track!

Shadows Of The Past, Something’s Coming and Song Of The Dunadan form a three song suite that open ‘Journey of the Dunadan’, a concept album based on the story of Aragorn from Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’. The first track of the trio is literally a music score, containing all the pomp, circumstance and majesty that anyone could really need. This blends seamlessly into the sprightly second piece that has a hint of early Yes to it. Flourishing keyboards, urgent vocals and a powerful, insistent rhythm section drive the track along at breakneck speed before it ebbs and flows like a mystical river. We are truly in the realm of traditional 70’s progressive rock here but Steve and Fred have given it a gleaming new coat and it is wondrous to behold. The closing part of the triumvirate opens with an engaging piano line before becoming something altogether more regal and imposing, once again the rhythm section of Aaron’s drums and Steve’s bass give a solid canvas onto which the captivating tale can be painted in the listener’s mind. The highlight of the whole section has to be the brilliant interplay between Fred and Steve as they weave bass and keyboard lines ever more intricately into the track before Reese’s guitar gets to join the party, inspired!

Steve Babb Glass Hammer bassist

‘The Return of the King’ (‘Journey of the Dunadan’) is yet another superb track that opens full of instrumental wonder and just holds your attention as it takes you on an enthralling musical journey through the world of Middle Earth. As instrumentals go it is up there with some of the very best and special note must be given to Fred Schendel whose keyboards skills are certainly well on show throughout all of its near seven minute running time.

Domain Walls, taken from 1997’s ‘Live And Revived’ has an utterly carefree feel to it, like the band were just jamming, which, in essence, they were! Another instrumental but, this time, a hard edge, down and dirty, funky as hell one that really gets under your skin and I absolutely love it! Felix the Cat (‘Perelandra’) brings this instrumental section to a close and lives up to its name, graceful and mischievous just like any cat I know. It bounds and leaps along with Fred’s keys again at the core, artfully aided and abetted by Steve’s cool sounding bass.

The next three tracks take us ‘On to Evermore’, the band’s third studio release. The Mayor Of Longview is instantly recognisable as a Glass Hammer track and flows serenely, letting the music flow naturally, with Walter Moore’s dulcet vocal delivering a perfectly crafted storyline. Wistful and contemplative at times yet with an impishness just under the surface that always threatens to break out. On To Evermore is a song imbued with a graceful, stately grace, almost taking you back to an era of Knights, swords and sorcery. It holds itself with composure and class with Walter’s vocals again being key to the feel of the song. Junkyard Angel is a calm and collected gem of a song. The plaintive and thoughtful vocals are a perfect fit with the dreamy, ethereal music and the juxtaposition of Fred’s strident keyboard solo is a stroke of genius, a brilliant track.

The album closes with the yearning and reflective Heaven (the track that also closes out ‘Perelandra’). I love the feeling of understated strength that pervades the whole track, a slow burning intensity that is always there waiting to pour out and pour out it does when Dave Bainbridge’s guitar is allowed free rein. What a way to bring this excellent collection of songs to an end.

With A Matter Of Time – Volume 1′ Steve and Fred have given us a fantastic reimagining of some already sublime early Glass Hammer tracks. This release is full of superb songwriting and accomplished musicianship that has been artfully updated to fit perfectly into a modern world.

Released December 14th, 2020

Available exclusively from the band’s website here:

Glass Hammer official website

Review – Echoes and Signals – Mercurial – by Martin Hutchinson

Echoes and Signals are a progressive rock band from Tula, Russia, originally started by Fedor Kivokurtsev and Alexey Zaytsev as an instrumental project drawing inspiration from progressive rock and post/math rock genres.

After two conceptual EPs, they released their first full length album, ‘V’, in 2014. Fedor and Alexey followed this up with ‘Monodrama’ in 2017 and April 2021 will see the release of their third album, and the first to feature vocals on each track, ‘Mercurial’. Leo Margarit (Pain of Salvation) features on the album as the guest drummer.

‘Mercurial’ is a journey. A journey through the dark and chaotic space where everything is unstable like mercury by itself.

There’s a metaphorical version of the album’s narrative but Fedor shared this more ‘grounded’ version with me,

“So the story behind this album is based on my personal experience of going through psychotherapy or if to be exact, Jungian analysis. In general it’s based on the dark period of my life that started at the beginning of my 30s. It could be called a mid-age crisis from some angles, but it was followed by a lot of different and often unpredictable dreams , filled with rich symbols, and this path led me to discovering connections between those mythological symbols, alchemy and my own symptoms. So I started writing this music two years ago, just following the inner compass and those dreams, later the psychotherapy started and it helped a lot in different ways. 

There’s an archetypical scenario called ‘the dark sea journey’ or ‘nigredo’ in alchemical terms, the good example is Jonah story from the Bible, meaning that this kind of journey should occur anyway and it serves some purpose.”

I’ve been a long time fan of Echoes and Signals since the early days and have watched their progress with a lot of interest, seeing them improve and mature over the years and each successive release and, I know it’s not the norm to come to the conclusion first but, with ‘Mercurial’, I really feel they have hit their creative zenith.

THIS DARKNESS CALLS
AND COLD WIND BLOWS
I HEAR A SONG OF SIRENS
IT SOUNDS SO BEAUTIFUL

A fine collection of seven dark and often brutal tracks but songs that have a stark beauty at their core. The addition of Fedor’s cultured vocals really adds class and ambience to the already mighty impressive music. Mixing the pensive, sombre, thoughtful progressive rock of bands like early Porcupine Tree and Riverside with the hard rock sensibilities of bands like Queensrÿche and Caligula’s Horse and then throwing in something that sounds a bit like a more serious version of Foo Fighters, the album ebbs and flows deliciously.

Leo Margarit’s fine drums are an excellent foil for Alexey’s sophisticated bass and lay the perfect foundation for Fedor’s dynamic guitar playing, able to switch from aggressive to calm and collected in the blink of an eye.

The sophisticated brutality of tracks like the opening trio of Darkness, Tower and Broken Machine is an amazing assault on the senses and leaves the listener open mouthed with incredulity, simply blown asunder by the sheer power and vitality of the music. These songs seem to have a life and vivacity of their own, monolithic and primeval at their core.

CHILD, YOU’RE LOST IN TRANSITION

NOW TIME TO MAKE THINGS REAL

The haunting, melancholic grace of Lost In Transition is rooted in the amazing vocals, halting and heartfelt, backed by the urgent but delicate instrumentation, before a majestic force takes over, imbuing the track with more than a hint of menace. In my opinion, this is one of the best songs that Echoes and Signals have ever written. Chaos is a shimmering, eerie piece of music that nags at your thoughts and leaves a slightly disturbing sensation in your gut. A wonderfully mysterious and enigmatic track where Alexey’s keyboards create the disturbing mood that segues straight into Mirror, a sparse and halting song that reminds me of ‘Empire’ era Queensrÿche, simple but utterly satisfying in its composition and delivery.

Running in circles
We all start to pray Lord
Over and over
Again

The album closes with the wistful feeling Dust, another thought provoking song that opens softly with Fedor’s melancholic vocal being matched by the deliberate drums, bass and sinuous guitar. The music turns more widescreen and imposing with towering guitars, thunderous drums and a much more anguished vocal before entering into a musical tug-of-war with that initial place of calm reflection.

‘Mercurial’ trades some of the bands signature post-rock sensibilities for a darker journey into the kind of prog-metal embraced by the likes of Tool and this new direction is one that I feel suits them perfectly. The addition of vocals to every track is a brave change and one that elevates them to another level and opens them to a wider audience. Echoes and Signals have returned triumphant and with an album that hits the bullseye in every way!

Released April 9th, 2021

Order the album from bandcamp here:

Mercurial | Echoes and Signals (bandcamp.com)

Review – Cosmograf – Rattrapante – by Martin Hutchinson

I was talking to Robin Armstrong, the man behind Cosmograf, about how lockdown has really affected my writing. Barring a handful of reviews, my creative juices had dried up, I still loved listening to and appreciating the new music that was out there but I really found it hard to put my feelings into words.

Maybe it was happy coincidence, who knows, but the announcement of lockdown easing and a light at the end of the tunnel has seemed to get my mojo working again and it just happens to have occurred at the same time as Robin is about to release the latest instalment in the history of Cosmograf, happy days eh!?

Cosmograf was formed in 2008 when Robin produced his first home demo album, followed by the release of ‘End of Ecclesia‘ in 2009. The sound is rooted in 70’s classic rock with many contemporary influences from rock, progressive rock and metal. There is always a particular emphasis on concepts and atmospheric production leading to comparisons with artists such as Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson.

‘Rattrapante’ is Cosmograf’s eighth album and is a collection of 5 songs about our interaction with time; we measure it, but yet waste it more, it defines our existence and forms our memories. Some seek to beat it by being the first or the fastest and some can appear to outlive time itself through their achievements…

You may not know this but Robin is a rather fine expert in mechanical watches and goes on to say, “The idea for the album was inspired from from my work with mechanical watches. Rattrapante is a French word deriving from ‘rattraper’ meaning ‘to catch up or recapture. A Rattrapante chronograph can simultaneously time 2 events such a lap split time and a final race time, it was the perfect metaphor for our own interaction with time.

The press release speaks of comparisons with the likes of Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree but, in my opinion, Robin moved past those a very long time ago and, when I hear a new Cosmograf album, I think of it as being Cosmograf immediately. Like a lot of my favourite musicians and bands, as soon as you’ve heard the first few notes, you can recognise it is them. This is most definitely the case here as the slow burning intro to In 1985 builds into a powerful crescendo guided by Robin’s compellingly dominant guitar and Kyle’s intense drums. Robin’s vocals are as good as ever and give a feeling of melancholy nostalgia to this potent and commanding song. The magic here is the feeling that you are in 1985 and yet the music is very modern in its delivery and textures, drawing you deeper and deeper into the narrative, the sign of a brilliant storyteller and songwriter at the height of his powers. As the track comes to a close, like a live recording, I can’t help but smile and give a nod to a master.

Well, if you thought that was good, then you are in for another fantastic treat as title track Rattrapante hoves into view like rock leviathan, all primal and monolithic at its core. The edgy and agitated keyboards in the background give a chaotic nervousness to proceedings and Robin’s deliciously dark and impish guitar work adds a real sense of mischievousness to proceedings. This track flies along as if caught in a maelstrom and leaves you breathless. I’m only two tracks in and yet I am really loving this album already, it has an immediacy that grabs but is full of hidden depths like the wondrously fluid and hyperactive keyboards and guitar solo that corse through the centre of the track like liquid fire.

The brilliant Chrissy Mostyn of The Blackheart Orchestra joins Robin on the airy, ethereal joys of I Stick With You, a mythical tale of a man who is growing older, but seemingly has been cursed with immortality. He is somehow trapped in time and unable to connect to his loving partner that he will outlive. A wistfully moody track with its roots in shades of darkness and light but one that really strikes a chord deep in your soul.

Memories Lie is a classic Cosmograf track, intelligent songwriting, note perfect musicianship and an insightful storyline that makes you think while you enjoy the velvety smooth music. While there is no such thing as a bad album by the band, Robin seems to get better and better with age and his music is maturing like a fine red wine, in fact you could do worse to pour yourself a glass while listening to this exquisite song in a darkened room, oblivious to the world around you. Special note must be made of the stunningly bewitching guitar solo that actually made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up!

Some cliches are actually 100% correct and, unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. ‘Rattrapante’ closes with Time Will Flow, another absorbing journey into the complex and wonderfully creative psyche of Mr Armstrong. I think Pink Floyd, Steven Wilson et al would be very happy indeed to put their names to this song, nearly thirteen minutes of progressive tinged rock of sublime perfection. A track that ebbs and flows with a fantastic voice over from Tommy McNally whose dulcet tones, full of a gorgeous, lilting Scottish brogue, fit perfectly. Guitar, keyboards and drums create a synergy of sound that creates a world in between your ears and Robin’s halting vocal performance is perfect.

There is no such thing as the perfect album as musicians are forever craving to create something more impressive than before but, every now and then, we should just stop and step off this ever evolving world and just enjoy the moment and what we have in front of us. At this moment in time there is nothing I would rather listen to than this incredible new album from Cosmograf, will Robin’s latest pièce de résistance still be up there at the end of the year? Most probably but, here and now, it just does not get any better than this!

Released 26th March 2021 (CD, vinyl will be later).

Order direct from Gravity Dream Music here:

Rattrapante CD (Pre-Order) – Gravity Dream Music

Rattrapante Vinyl (Pre-Order) – Gravity Dream Music

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