Review – The Wynntown Marshals – After All These Years – by Progradar

“The times you lived through, the people you shared those times with — nothing brings it all to life like an old mix tape. It does a better job of storing up memories than actual brain tissue can do. Every mix tape tells a story. Put them together, and they can add up to the story of a life.”
― Rob Sheffield, Love Is a Mix Tape

Not quite an ‘old mix tape’, ‘After All These Years’ marks a decade of The Wynntown Marshals, Scotland’s masters of Americana. Three studio albums into the Wynntown Marshals’ career, the band mark that decade together with the release of a this new collection of classic Marshal’s tracks. Primarily a retrospective look back at some of the recorded highlights of the past ten years, this specially-priced 16-track collection also includes 3 new, previously unreleased tracks which set the scene for the next chapter in the band’s history.

Following their self-finaced EP in 2008, the band’s debut long player ‘Westerner’ was released in 2010, following some line-up changes 2013’s ‘Long Haul’ was seen as a big step forward for The Wynntown Marshals. I found out about the band through lead and pedal steel guitar guru Iain Sloan just in time for the release of ‘The End of the Golden Age’ in 2015.

2017 sees the line up of Sloan and original frontman (and principle songwriter) Keith Benzie, Richie Noble (keyboards) and the new rhythm section of Simon Walker (drums) and bassist David Mckee.

The lyrics are never throwaway, the subject matter often obscure. World-weary yet uplifting melodies are channelled by strident guitars and gorgeous vocal harmonies, offset by beautiful keyboard parts and driven by a rock-solid rhythm section. Once referred to as ‘the masters of mid-tempo’, the band can also deftly turn their hand to heart-warming, uplifting power pop.

I got to know Iain through his playing with legendary Scots proggers Abel Ganz and it was during one of our numerous chats about music that he told me about The Wynntown Marshals. I’d never listened to much Americana before but was soon hooked on the band’s superb melodies and excellent songwriting.

‘After All These Years’ has something for just about anyone, allowing you to dip your toe into the band’s back catalogue while also showcasing three previously unreleased tracks for fans old and new. Take the laconic, bittersweet Low Country Comedown, an ode to life on the road, with its dynamic guitars and melancholy vocals combined with the swathes of Hammond organ and occasional heartrending pleas from the steel guitar. It’s a diamond of a song that really tugs at your heartstrings and opens this retrospective on a real high. The first of the unreleased tracks Your Time is another wistful tune that reflects the passing of time in a relationship. The organ that plays away in the background adds huge amounts of atmosphere in combination with the thoughtful guitars and Benzie’s contemplative vocal, a classic Marshals tune if ever you heard one. Keith says this about the song,

“Your Time’ is about wanting more time from/ with your partner when life/ kids get in the way! The verses chart (loosely) Fiona and I’s relationship with references to our honeymoon and both kids (and my preferred plane seat number).” 

One of the most complete tracks from ‘The End of the Golden Age’ Red Clay Hill is Americana at its absolute concentrated best. Benzie’s tribute to the shale bings of West Lothian is a charmingly nostalgic song replete with powerful guitars and rhythm section and that achingly sentimental sound of Sloan’s steel guitar. One of the more traditional country music feeling tracks, The Burning Blue is told from the perspective of a Spitfire pilot during the Battle of Britain. Keith’s voice has a real good ol’ boy tone to it and combine brilliantly with Leigh Hammond’s harmony vocal and the jangling guitars just scream Grand Old Opry at you. A country song about the Battle of Britain might seems at odds but it really works and the catchy chorus has you singing along every time.

The laid-back synth-led vibes of Being Lazy show a more chilled out side to The Marshals, Keith’s mellow vocals and the easygoing instrumentation transport you back to lazy, hazy summer days when you’re just busy doing nothing. Canada ramps up the tempo once more with a raucous jangling guitar sound and insistent rhythm section giving impetus to Benzie’s pure Americana vocal delivery. More Americana tinged pop, it is a fast paced slice of musical cool. Ballad of Jayne was the answer to a New Jersey-based record label’s 2008 request to submit a song for a ‘Hair Metal’ tribute album. A smoky barroom reinterpretation of L.A. Guns tribute to Jayne Mansfield with Benzie’s husky vocal and Sloan’s steel guitar the main players, as a Hair Metal-lite track, it really hits the spot. Listen out for the excellent string-bending guitar solo which is a highlight. A particular crowd favourite of the band’s live set, Tide is a sprawling West Coast tinged track with hints of psychedelia and surfer dude cool. The wandering guitars and carefree vocals add layers of calm insouciance to a song that wouldn’t have been out of place at the original Woodstock.

My personal favourite, and second unreleased song, among sixteen wonderful tracks is the hauntingly beautiful Odessa where Keith’s heartfelt emotive vocals and Iain’s touchingly affective guitar deliver near perfection. Noble’s calming keyboards and the delicately balanced rhythm section just add to the wonderful ambience. I asked Iain if he could find out the story behind the song and Keith said,

“Ah, where do I begin? Nothing too cerebral if I’m honest – I’d always felt ‘Odessa’ was a romantic sounding place, so I did a bit of research then used it as a backdrop to a slightly mysterious and sad tale of unrequited love.”

The Marshals have always written songs with a story, songs based on historical facts and one of the earliest examples is 11:15, taken from the band’s debut EP. It tells the tale of the greatest flood in modern UK history which took place in rural Aberdeenshire in 1829 and is a true epic. Keith trades vocals with the harmonies of Leigh Hammond once again on this two-part track, the first part sets up the suspense with its slow, deliberate pace before there’s a pause and guitar, drums, bass and keyboards are let loose Almost a modern folk infused piece of Americana, it really does showcase the band’s many talents consummately. We move straight into the live staple and classic Marshals song End of the Golden Age with its addictive chorus and sublime musicianship. If some one asked me to pick a song that typifies the band’s brand of Americana I wouldn’t hesitate in choosing this captivating hook laden piece of brilliance with its superb vocal harmonies and distinguished guitar work. After the splendour of the previous track, the stripped back acoustic guitars, piano and strings of Curtain Call are a polar opposite. A tragic tale of a suicidal Victorian conjuror, its plaintive, subdued and sorrowful feel is emphasised by the thoughtful vocals that leave you in a contemplative and reflective state of mind.

A wondrously dreamy and meditative piece of music that transports you to the high sierra of California and its national parks, Thunder in the Valley is a song that just transports you to a place of pastoral calm. Let the music wash over you taking the stress of everyday life away and just enjoy the peace and quiet while you can. This is music that makes the whole world slow down and lets you live life at a pace to suit you, the vocals are composed and serene and the guitars are restrained and impassive, just a wonderfully relaxing song to listen to. The languidly poignant tale of the first captive orca, Moby Doll is a tragic and touching song that really does hit you hard. You can feel the emotion, first in Keith’s vocals and then in the steel guitar and swirling organ as it works its way into your soul, the instrumental close out is pure genius and holds you transfixed. Possibly the only Americana song about a captive albino Gorilla, Snowflake takes The Marshals back down the pure country route with its soft-shoe shuffle and jangling guitars. An uptempo track with some great vocal harmonies and a Duane Eddy guitar tone, it’s another song that hits home perfectly. The last and third and final unreleased song on the album is Different Drug, the reworking of an early EP track. Subtle piano and the cultured rhythm section lend a sophistication that signature Marshals sound that the band have honed over the last 10 years. Benzie’s distinctive voice delivers the lyrics perfectly and the keyboards and guitar drive this elegant track to its fantastic extended close.

‘After All These Years’ is a glorious celebration of 10 years of one of Scotland’s best exports and the so called ‘masters of mid-tempo’. For the fans that have lived the journey with The Wynntown Marshals it is a nostalgic retrospective containing all the highlights of a stellar career to date and for those that are new to the band it is a reminder of what they have missed so far. Here’s to the next ten years with this incredible band…

Released 1st September 2017

Buy ‘After All These Years’ from bandcamp

Featured image by Carol Graham Photography.

 

 

Progradar’s ‘Best of 2015’ review – by Progradar

David

A scary picture to get things started, it’s that time of year again when everyone puts out their ‘Best of 2015’ album list and I’m no different to every other music journalist, budding or otherwise.

Lists like these are very subjective, after all, one man’s poison is another man’s wine but they’re fun to do and give a real retrospective of some of the great music that has been released over the past 12 months or so.

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First off, the usual disclaimer, I won’t include any Bad Elephant Music releases as some people might say I’d be slightly biased. However, once again, this tiny independent label has given us some mighty impressive music from the likes of The Room, Tom Slatter, Simon Godfrey, The Fierce and the Dead and Twice Bitten, among others, all of which can be sampled at the link below:

Bad Elephant Music

I tried to get it down to a top 15, never mind a top ten, but that proved too difficult so, here it is, Progradar’s top 20 albums of 2015. Don’t see the position as being too indicative as, really, albums 20-6 could be in any given order on any given day, the quality is that close. The top 5, however, are my definitive top 5 albums for 2015.

Enough pre-amble, here we go……

20 – Transport Aerian – Dark Blue

A deeply dark, disturbing and highly original work of art from this talented, serious musician. Well worth a listen but, be afraid, very afraid!

19 – Steve Rothery – The Ghosts of Pripyat

Marillion’s guitarist is venturing further afield with his solo work and it’s simple, faraway beauty is quite inspiring. Put your feet up, get your headphones on, lay back and relax.

18 – Barock Project – Skyline

An unexpected highlight of the year, hopefully the fourth album by this extremely talented and still relatively young band will see them break into the mainstream of the progressive rock market. I for one think that, with music as deeply enjoyable and illuminating as this, that they definitely deserve it!

17 – The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness

A new release full of sophistication and depth and powerful, thoughtful songs that resonate deeply with you. An album about duality, darkness and light and imbued with intricate compositions, complex arrangements and virtuosic performances, you will want this delight in your collection, trust me…..

16 – Mystery – Delusion Rain

2015 saw Canadian prog-rockers Mystery return with  a new album and a new lead singer and it was as if they’d never been away. Jean Pageau has a voice that fits perfectly with the melodic progressive rock that the band deliver with aplomb. The epic track The Willow Tree is a superb, intricate and emotional hit of passion and takes the album from merely good to very good indeed.

15 – Hibernal – After the Winter

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SdPh-mbJh0c

Mark Healy’s cinematic and evocative soundscapes waft over a post-apocalyptic spoken word storyline to deliver an immensely visceral listening experience.

14 – Built for the Future – Chasing Light

‘Chasing Light’ is one of those rare albums that grabs you immediately AND keeps on getting better with every listen. Built for the Future’s debut release is a thing of rare wonder that resonates with me on a personal level, their commitment to delivering music that connects deeply with the listener has produced a record that shines brightly.

13 – Sylvium – Waiting for the Noise

Superb progressive rock with tones of Porcupine Tree and Riverside. A musical experience that emphasizes emotions rather than the eternal quest for a perfect pop song.

12 – The Wynntown Marshalls – The End of the Golden Age

Scottish tinged Americana with powerful and haunting songwriting and outstanding musicianship.

11 – Echolyn – I Heard You Listening

Storytelling by music, getting to the heart of the matter and opening up small town America. A band I have heard little of in the past, this new album will definitely change that, a melting pot of sweet melodies and delicious harmonies.

10 – Tiger Moth Tales – Storytellers Part One

An album that is even better than the delights of ‘Cocoon’. My inner child is brought to the fore by the magic, charm and allure of ‘Story Tellers Part 1′, it takes me away to an inner nirvana where nothing can touch me or spoil my mood.

9 – Comedy of Errors – Spirit

Do you believe music has soul? I do and, when it is as deeply involving and emotionally uplifting (and draining to be honest!) as this, it becomes life affirming in many ways. All the songs were written by Jim Johnston but I’m sure even he would agree that they are given life by the whole of Comedy of Errors.

8 – Glass Hammer – The Breaking of the World

It could have been this studio album or the equally impressive ‘Glass Hammer – Live’, recorded at this year’s RosFest but, first, let’s get the Yes comparison out of the way, these guys do traditional progressive rock so well they have transcended that to stand in their own circle of praise. A highly impressive effort once again.

7 – Karnataka – Secrets of Angels

The first album written specifically for vocalist Hayley Griffith’s voice, a symphonic prog- rock masterpiece with towering anthems and delicate ballads concluding with the epic twenty-minute plus title track.

6 – The Tangent – A Spark in the Aether

A return to traditional progressive rock, incredibly addictive, flippant and irreverent and, well, just darn good fun!

5 – Big Big Train – Wassail (yes, I know it’s only an E.P. but I like it!!)

You can put your heroes on a pedestal to be knocked off when they don’t reach your lofty expectations but, with ‘Wassail’, Big Big Train have just enhanced their reputation as purveyors of unique and sublime progressive rock which is founded on the elemental history of this blessed isle. A history that is fundamental to the everlasting allure of this captivating group of musicians.

4 – Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah II

‘Arcade Messiah II’ takes all that was good with the first album and enhances by taking the raw, coruscating energy of the first release and developing it into a superb sound that, while holding nothing back, is full of nuances and intelligence. A ‘Wall of Sound’ that makes Phil Spector’s look like a diminutive picket fence and it is quite possibly the best thing this highly talented musician has ever produced.

3 – Maddison’s Thread – Maddison’s Thread

Folk is rooted at the core of Maddison’s Way but this album is all about the music and the way Lee can diversify with aplomb is very impressive. A contender for album of the year for me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

2- Subsignal – The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime

See, this is why these bloody lists are only subjective. I had mine all worked out and then I listened to the fourth album from German band Subsignal and it was blown out of the water. Arisen from the ashes of the great Sieges Even, the first three albums by the band failed to really hit the heights for me. Well, all is most definitely forgiven as ‘The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime’ has just hit me right on the correct spot and elevated them to a higher level. It has a real emotional depth to it and is one that is highly, highly recommended, nearly making it to the top spot…..

1 – Riverside – Love, fear and the Time Machine

So, after a tough fight it is Polish band Riverside that take the crown this year. I have always been a fan of this band without actually loving their work. All that changed with this years beautiful release. There is a depth and maturity to this release that resonates deep to the core. The fragile, breaking vocals and signature sound have taken the band to the forefront of the progressive rock genre and, in this album, they have left behind a musical legacy of which anyone can be proud.

 

 

 

Progradar’s – ‘Best of 2015 So Far’ – Edition

ProgradarPic

Don’t be put off by the scary picture, that is actually me getting ready to tell you what albums have made my ‘Best of 2015’ list. These lists are always subjective and incredibly hard to compile. Let’s be honest, at the end of it all, it is only my opinion which can agree with or differ from, all it is meant to be is a guide to what music has really inspired me this year so far.

Firstly a self-imposed rule that I won’t include any Bad Elephant Music releases because, as you know, I attempt to be the Head of PR for this rather special record label and it could be seen as bias.

BEM logo

To be honest, all the BEM releases this year are as excellent as ever and would probably have made my list anyway so please do go to:

The BEM bandcamp site

And check out this years releases from Audioplastik, jh, We Are Kin, Tom Slatter, Emmett Elvin and The Fierce and the Dead, superb, eclectic and downright brilliant.

Right, that’s the advertising out of the way now on with the main course…..

In no particular order, here are my top 15 releases so far for 2015.

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Sylvium – Waiting for the Noise

Superb progressive rock with tones of Porcupine Tree and Riverside. A musical experience that emphasizes emotions rather than the eternal quest for a perfect pop song.

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The Tangent –  A Spark in the Aether

A return to traditional progressive rock, incredibly addictive, flippant and irreverent and, well, just darn good fun!

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The Wynntown Marshalls – The End of the Golden Age

Scottish tinged Americana with powerful and haunting songwriting and outstanding musicianship.

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Karnataka – Secrets of Angels

The first album written specifically for vocalist Hayley Griffith’s voice, a symphonic prog- rock masterpiece with towering anthems and delicate ballads concluding with the epic twenty-minute plus title track.

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Tiger Moth Tales – Storytellers Part One

An album that is even better than the delights of ‘Cocoon’. My inner child is brought to the fore by the magic, charm and allure of ‘Story Tellers Part 1′, it takes me away to an inner nirvana where nothing can touch me or spoil my mood.

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Hibernal – After the Winter

Mark Healy’s cinematic and evocative soundscapes waft over a post-apocalyptic spoken word storyline to deliver an immensely visceral listening experience.

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Transport Aerian – Darkblue

A deeply dark, disturbing and highly original work of art from this talented, serious musician. Well worth a listen but, be afraid, very afraid!

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Echolyn – I Heard You Listening

Storytelling by music, getting to the heart of the matter and opening up small town America, sometimes a band can come very close to perfection with a new release and this album is as close to a must buy album as I’ve heard this year.

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The Aaron Clift Experiment – Outer Light, Inner Darkness

An excellent new release full of sophistication and depth and powerful, thoughtful songs that resonate deeply with you. An album about duality, darkness and light and imbued with intricate compositions, complex arrangements and virtuosic performances, you will want this delight in your collection, trust me…..

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Glass Hammer – The Breaking of the World

Let’s get the Yes comparison out of the way, these guys do traditional progressive rock so well they have transcended that to stand in their own circle of praise. A highly impressive effort once again.

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Built for the Future – Chasing Light

All sorts of influences combine in this impressive melting pot to deliver a debut album of sheer beauty. I was so surprised by the quality and heartfelt emotion of this album, it is that good!

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Maddison’s Thread – self-titled

Folk is rooted at the core of Maddison’s Way but this album is all about the music and the way Lee can diversify with aplomb is very impressive. A contender for album of the year for me and one that will stay with me for a very long time.

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Kingcrow – Eidos

Progressive metal that is more prog than metal. I will probably upset some people here but, to me, this is the thinking man’s Opeth, much more accessible and quite deeply, darkly moving.

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Barock Project – Skyline

An unexpected highlight of the year so far, hopefully the fourth album by this extremely talented and still relatively young band will see them break into the mainstream of the progressive rock market. I for one think that, with music as deeply enjoyable and illuminating as this, that they definitely deserve it!

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Kinetic Element – Travelog

An album of ‘opulent ear candy’ featuring 5 tracks of classic progressive rock that harks back to the 70’s. Superb musicianship featuring everything from jazz basslines, intricate guitar work and soaring keyboards combine with delightful vocals to deliver something that every prog fan will like.

I chose not to include E.P’s but there have been a couple that have stood out for me this year so far Big Big Train’s ‘Wassail’ and Progoctopus’ ‘Transcendence’ are both excellent and well worth catching up on.

Like I have already said, lists like this are very subjective and other albums could have made it so here is a selection of ‘honourable mentions’ that have really struck a chord with me this year so far……

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So there we have it, just over half of 2015 has passed and we have so much more new music to look forward to. Let me know your thoughts, there will be albums you expected and some you didn’t no doubt and I’ll see you at the beginning of 2016 for the year end awards!