The Progressive Aspect

This news story was originally published here:

December is a black hole for new releases. I often wonder why anyone releases anything at a time of the year when most people are looking back on what has already been released, and have little money to spend on additional releases. In that last month of last year, Rivendel keyboard player Oscar Belio chose to release four albums worth of material under the name The Silver Surfer. I think that is a great shame, as they will inevitably have sailed under the radar.

I first came across Rivendel about five years after the release of their 1996 album, The Meaning. It would be another ten years or so before they released another, and when it was released, it was something completely different than what had come before. In retrospect, The Meaning makes quite a bit more sense. It is almost representative of the progression of sound between albums, within an album. Though that is perhaps overly simplistic, the first song does echo the debut, while the third album foreshadows the next album (at this stage, still two decades away!)

With the release of The Silver Surfer albums, we are given more retrospective explanation of how the changes came about between The Meaning (1996) and DHD (2015). The four albums worth of material were recorded between 2008 and 2013, and DHD makes perfect sense after listening to these. I sincerely hope, though, that this is not the last we hear of The Silver Surfer. For while Rivendel’s most recent release (Sisyfos) was superb and made my end of year list in 2018, I want to hear more of The Silver Surfer as well as more of Rivendel!

The first Bandcamp tag of The Silver Surfer releases is “Berlin school” and this is a very good indicator of what you will be hearing. Classical music and mystique concrète motifs abound, in a great swirling sea of progressive electronic Kosmische Musik. It’s gorgeously Floydian, filled with spacey ambient soundscapes, without ever sounding derivative. My favourite Pink Floyd album is Wish You Were Here, and my favourite Floyd song, Shine On You Crazy Diamond. If you are the same, you will love The Silver Surfer.

Unfortunately, given that the Silver Surfer releases span four albums, I have found it hard to keep this review as short as I would like to. I did consider reviewing two albums in one review, and the other two in another. However, I find the way I listen to them prohibits such an easy division. This is entirely my fault, though, as I have ended up listening to them in a somewhat non-linear fashion. In fact, alphabetical! I have listened to the albums several times, in several different orders, but for me alphabetical works better than chronological.

Thus my listening journey tends to begin with Blueshift (2011-2012), which is the only album of the four that provides one continuous suite of music, which astounds me in the way it so carefully creates sounds that conjure the appropriate visual imagery. Listen to the music, and you can see the change of seasons.

Aestival Solstice sets the scene with some lovely electronic prog, before Wavelength Shift amps up the Floydian influence. Wavelength Shift is, quite frankly, beautiful. Rivendel is a band quite clearly influenced by King Crimson, and this shows up to a lesser degree in The Silver Surfer. With The Wrong Chord of Autumn, the Crimonesque notes hinted in the previous track are brought to the fore. Autumnus Hiemare provides the same electronic prog, Floydian and Crimsoneque mix, but in a manner almost like a short reprise of all that has come before, with the elements introduced in the same order. It also seems to serve as much as reprise of what came before, as an introduction to the following track, Andante Esoterico. This is a slow, dark and brooding piece. It is beautiful, and it conveys a real sense of time passing with its metronomic rhythm.

Dance of the Souls in the Wind begins in my head with the vision of a snowfall. A delightful airy swirling and descending dance, again very Floydian, and again with very Crimsoneque notes. The track takes a turn about two and a half minutes in with one such Crimsoneque stroke. Has the sky suddenly darkened? It passes, and the song ends with more or less the same beautiful falling notes as it began – though it now sounds more like rain than snow. Finally, the Arrival of Verna is bright and spritely, lush and lively – just as one would expect from the title. And actually, this is why I find it hard to listen to just one album at a time. For me, the end of Blueshift is not entirely satisfactory. It’s too, for lack of a better word, nice. I like a little darkness present to emphasise the light.

So onto I’m Friends with Oniris (2008-2011). I really can’t explain it, but Kafka at the Shore sounds as if it should have followed Arrival of Verna. My only guess is that because some of the recordings from both Blueshift and Oniris were made in 2011, and maybe these two were created around the same time. Regardless, Kafka just sounds awesome after Verna. It’s like spring, but a subversion of spring. There might be light, but there is darkness and malice attacking it from all angles. The music is angular, and quite malevolent sounding at times, however, about four minutes from the end, it is stripped back almost entirely to a lone piano that is simply gorgeous. Although this provides pretty much the only solace in the track, it doesn’t last, and the menace returns, albeit muted.

At this point, I can stop listening to Oniris, and this is why I find it hard to review The Silver Surfer as individual albums. If I listen to Blueshift, I will always listen to Kafka immediately after Verna, even if I do not listen to the remaining Oniris tracks. The same happens throughout the four albums, which is not to say they are ever lacking individually, so much as I have settled into my own listening patterns.

For an eponymous track, the second track of Oniris, The Silver Surfer sets out the stall fairly well. An electronic and Floydian soundscape that is just a little unsettling. This is followed up by Les Caves au Bord de la Mer, which starts with the quietest and most minimalist music yet. Even when additional layers and volume are added, it merely simmers with intent. The tension is palpable, without any real threat it will boil over. That said, after five and a half minutes the track really starts building, and always leaves me grinning. Definitely one of the more Crimsonesque numbers from The Silver Surfer. Finally, from this album, we have Alone in the Desert of Myself. Again, a piece which begins in a quiet and introspective way. This time, though, not so menacing, and far more melancholy. While the previous track had brooding intensity, this piece is just brooding. I have used, and will use this adjective far too much in this review, but Alone is beautiful.

And once again, I find myself running over to another album. Just as Kafka follows perfectly from Verna, so does Advocacy for a Sustainable Weirdness from Shy Sister Zen (2011-2013) after Alone. The static-filled start of Advocacy comes in perfectly after the abrupt ending of Alone. The track proper starts after about half a minute, but those introductory noises act as a perfect segue. Even the track titles go together well in my mind, with a possible implication being that one first dwells upon oneself, before accepting oneself. This long piece starts off relatively tuneful before jumping full-on into electronic bleeps and blips. At times an acoustic piano appears to confront the electronics but it is overpowered, and retreats. It returns, and retreats, but ultimately rather than playing the beautiful notes, it is playing the weird ones. Advocacy for sustainable weirdness indeed! This track is at times dissonant and discordant, but anyone who knows prog, knows that played in the right way, that can work. And yet, by the final minutes, some resolution seems to have occurred. Beauty and weirdness can do-exist after all…

And again, I can stop listening to Sweet Sister Zen at this point. If I listen to Oniris, I always listen to Advocacy after Alone, and if I listen to Sweet Sister, I will often listen to Advocacy alone. This is definitely not because I don’t like the remaining tracks, in fact, I consider them an incredibly strong suite which I love listening to. The remainder of the album just has a quite different feel for me, so I find myself often listening to this album in two parts, rather than as a whole.

Juego de Equivocos starts off sounding very sinister, so in a way similar to Advocacy, but behind that, we are back to the Floydian beauty we’ve otherwise come to expect. Advocacy appears to be an outlier rather than the norm when it comes to The Silver Surfer. Nighttime Suite follows in a similar vein. Less sinister, more mechanical, still Floydian. About halfway through the electronic bleeps and blips of Advocacy are back, but this time they are more melodic – almost like birdsong or crickets chirping. And then that comparison becomes overt. What has sounded mechanical, sounds more natural. Everything is suitably peaceful, and I guess this is the dead of night. This lasts until the last couple of minutes, when we hear what I can only assume are the stirrings of dawn, and we end with the birdsong. This is one of several truly evocative pieces where the music is powerful enough to provoke images without recourse for vocals.

The Dark Period begins in almost classical fashion, before returning to the machine-like rhythm that began the Nighttime Suite. Before hearing this track, I assumed that the dark referred to the night of the previous track. After listening, I think it is more about the nature of the piece. Dark sounds as if it follows the dawn, rather than precedes it. It is daylight, but any day can be dark, and this track is oppressively so. It’s like a culmination of the last two tracks. The sinister Juego and mechanical Nighttime coalesce into this Dark Period, and it is absolutely one of my favourite tracks across all four albums.

Shy Sister Zen by The Silver Surfer

As Dark fades out, so Nanga ’37 fades in. Again, it sounds to my ears a perfect sequence, and a natural follow on, leaping between albums once more, as Nanga is the first track of The Time’ Chime (2009-2010). Nanga is quite dark itself. I presume the title refers to the ill-fated 1937 German expedition to ascend Nanga Parbat, when all climbers died. It would be hard not to convey that in music without sounding a little dark. Certainly, the music seems to follow an ascending rhythm, and about halfway through we are assailed by the sounds of wind. The music becomes quite intense. After this, the piece becomes quite bleak and despondent.

Jurassic Party picks up the pace – and pace is the operative word. It sounds like it begins with thunderous footsteps of dinosaurs. It’s heavy and plodding, but not at all ponderous. This is another of the more Crimonseque pieces, and it provides welcome relief after the comedown of Nanga. It is followed beautifully by Panthalassa’s Blues, where we plunge from the giants of the land, into the deep blue sea. Once more, the imagery provoked by the music is amazing. It sounds watery, it sounds immense. These two ancient themes are bookended by two pieces from more modern times. Indeed there are only four years between the Nanga ’37 incident and the beginning of The Siege of Leningrad. Musically, these two have a lot in common, too, although Siege is more sustained and subdued.

Overall, The Silver Surfer has created a series of pieces that can be listened to together or in isolation. A lot of the tracks sound as if they are part of a suite, but all can be listened to individually. Clearly, given the way I have created my own personal preferred playlist(s), there is a lot of scope for a listener to find their own pattern. I’m sure Oscar Belio did not expect someone to find as much enjoyment as I do, from listening to the four releases in alphabetical order of their titles, but even without words, The Death of the Author persists…

The Silver Surfer - BOX Image of individual discs

Blueshift (Recorded between 2011-2012)
01. Aestival Solstice (16:40)
02. Wavelength Shift (6:29)
03. The Wrong Chord of Autumn (4:47)
04. Autumnus Hiemare (5:54)
05. Andante Esoterico (9:02)
06. Dance of the Souls in the Wind (12:50)
07. Arrival of Verna (6:33)

Time – 62:27

I’m Friends With Oniris (Recorded between 2008-2011)
01. Kafka at the Shore (20:00)
02. The Silver Surfer (10:59)
03. Les Caves au Bord de la Mer (15:11)
04. Alone in the Desert of Myself (6:58)

Time – 53:08

Shy Sister Zen (Recorded between 2011-2013)
01. Advocacy for a Sustainable Weirdness (22:31)
02. Juego de Equívocos (9:11)
03. Nighttime Suite (11:54)
04. The Dark Period (31:20)

Time – 52:25

The Time’ Chime (Recorded between 2009-2010)
01. Nanga ’37 (14:38)
02. Jurassic Party (12:10)
03. Panthalassa’s Blues (13:04)
04. The Siege of Leningrad (15:37)

Time – 55:29

Oscar Belio – All Instruments

Record Label: Independent
Box Set: Click HERE
Individually: All albums are available separately (click titles above for links)
Country of Origin: Spain
Date of Release: 22nd December 2019

The Silver Surfer – Facebook | Bandcamp

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The Antikythera is an ancient Greek mechanical computer dating from around 87 BC, used to predict astronomical positions and eclipses for calendar and astrological purposes. When you think what the Ancient Greeks gave mankind in knowledge and wisdom, and in the advancement of critical thinking, some might say the current climate is indicative of a steady regression in those areas, as the human race eats itself in an orgy of isolationism and self-interest. The planet may be suffering now, but it and the cosmos will be here long after we are but a fleeting nightmarish visitation, self-immolated into the infinite reaches of the beyond. This album gets to grips with the unknowable vastness of space in a thoroughly beguiling fashion.

Using this ancient mechanical wonder as the basis for an instrumental album of Kosmische cinematic sweeps, and Zen-like examinations of the soul, it is a grand concept that one might expect a highly accomplished artist such as Lorenzo Feliciati to be tackling, and with some style, it has to be said. You may know Feliciati as key contributor to albums such as KOI and Twinscapes, the latter with fellow bassist Colin Edwin. On Antikythera his partner in sound sculpture is drummer, percussionist, and electronics manipulator Michele Rabbia, and here the duo undertake an exploratory journey of great depth into an endless synchronicity, where everything is connected, stretching out before the listener. Just as the movement of stars in the sky reveals repeated patterns, so Antikythera swirls around motifs in a wonderous meteor shower of music.

Guest musicians such as trumpeter Cuong Vu add splashes of bright colour to the unfolding vistas of sound, as everything merges with the night on Prochronistic, lending that particular track an ethereal air, but one grounded in the human world. This track is quite lovely, in case you haven’t already guessed.

…I return to this writing quite a while later, thanks to the pressures of work in the real world, and while a good proportion of what is written to the end of the previous paragraph was committed to the document while slightly but pleasantly drunk after an Xmas party at a neighbour’s house, I read it now, and yes, a few alterations and additions aside, it stands true. Which is just as well as otherwise I’d have to start again! Now, where was I?

The track titles describe time and the mapping of the cosmos, and no doubt like me, you’ll learn a couple of new words there! Ironically, the passage of time becomes somewhat irrelevant listening to the album. It could pass in the blinking of an eye, or be infinitely long, who knows, or cares?

Irregular Orbit eases us into the cosmic debris in suitably accomplished style, trails of impressionistic piano from Alessandro Gwis leading the way. Alessandro also lends his soloing skills to the hypnotic Sidereal. You could describe this as space-rock if so inclined, but this is space-rock like no other. For me it is no more or less than good music played very well, and with heart and soul.

Clever use of harmonics combine with flowing sheets of synth chords are the basis of the drifting Corrosion, and the welcome inclusion of Cuong Vu’s trumpet illuminates the aforementioned Prochonistic, the soundscape drifting away at one point, leaving that now lone instrument in conversation with the universe, the whole thing being driven by a gentle but pulsing beat straight from the heart. Lorenzo’s Mumpbeak bandmate Roy Powell adds Hammond and Moog weirdness to the almost avant Apogee, where cosmic entropy holds sway. This is nicely contrasted by the calming final track Parapegma, a slowly swaying lullaby led by Lorenzo’s upright bass, and signed off with Cuong Vu’s trumpet. Antikythera is a hugely impressive piece of work.

There are many musical highlights on this journey to forever, and Antikythera is the ideal album to de-stress to, but it also lends itself to a good rattling of the ornaments, if you are so inclined. At that volume my feline helper usually scarpers but it seems Kat approves of this fine album at whatever volume. So should you!

01. Irregular Orbit (5:17)
02. 223 Teeth (3:41)
03. Corrosion (6:26)
04. Prochronistic (8:17)
05. Sidereal (8:38)
06. Perigee (5:55)
07. Apogee (3:59)
08. Parapegma (3:36)

Total Time – 43:52

Lorenzo Feliciati – Electric Fretted & Fretless Bass, Guitar, Keyboards, Samples, Sound Design
Michele Rabbia – Drums, Electronics
~ with:
Cuong Vu – Trumpet (tracks 4 & 5)
Andy Sheppard – Saxophone (tracks 2 & 8)
Rita Marcotuli – Acoustic & Prepared Piano (tracks 2,5 & 8)
Alessandro Gwis – Acoustic Piano, Reaktor Generated Electronics (tracks 1 & 6)
Roy Powell – Hammond Organ, Moog, Keyboards (track 7)

Record Label: RareNoise
Catalogue#: RNR112
Date of Release: 25th October 2019

Lorenzo Feliciati – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp
Michele Rabbia – Website
RareNoise – Facebook | Twitter

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Yes celebrated its 50th anniversary last year with an extensive tour, with shows in Europe, North America and Japan. This year, the legendary group returns with a new double live album that was recorded on 20th and 21st July 2018 at The Fillmore Philadelphia during the group’s anniversary tour.

The last Yes studio album, the moderately/poorly received Heaven and Earth, dates back to 2014. In contrast, we have been flooded with live albums in recent years, this new album is number fifteen in a long series of registrations of live performances. It is both an indication of the band’s creative poverty as well as strength when it comes to live shows. I am a true YES-fan from the very beginning, well maybe a touch later (1973), but even I sometimes wonder if anyone’s still interested in a new (live) album from the group that is sometimes jokingly called the Steve Howe Tribute band.

With that, almost immediately the most important musician is being mentioned. Although in the current line-up there’s no one present from when the band was formed in 1968, Howe is generally regarded as a veteran member, despite the fact that he only joined the band in 1971 as successor to the unfortunately deceased Peter Banks. With virtuoso guitarist Howe, the group’s sound changed considerably and the music received a huge boost in the right direction, one that ultimately achieved super status with Close To The Edge and Tales From Topographic Oceans but also Relayer and Going For The One. The status is still there but the arenas with 50,000 plus spectators are definitely a thing of the past. Apart from the odd one out (Royal Albert Hall home matches), these men, now at an advanced age, play to an average crowd of around two thousand fans.

Steve Howe still manages to steal the show, his characteristic guitar and voice are the glue that keeps the band together; without Howe there is simply no Yes, all the more so since buddy Alan White is sadly struggling with his health. It is sad to see the once so powerful drummer has become an old man who hardly seems capable of playing. Fortunately there is the experienced session drummer Jay Schellen, who flawlessly takes over White’s parts. Then we have keyboard player Geoffrey Downes, once a member of the band at the time of Drama, recorded without singer Jon Anderson. Downes has been present since 2011 and is doing reasonably well. He will never be of the calibre of Wakeman, nor that of Moraz, Koroshev or Wakeman Jnr. for that matter, but it must be said that he seems to be increasingly at ease within Yes. The right man at the right time, something like that, despite the fact that I will never become a fan. Last but not least the ‘youngsters’: bass player Billy Sherwood (54) and singer Jon Davison (48). The first is the band’s best decision ever, his bass playing is very close to that of late, great predecessor and friend Chris Squire while his harmony vocals, together with Davison, seem to get better and better. The person who caused most discussion is vocalist Davison. I feel the need to come to the defence of this musician who has the difficult task of replacing icon Jon Anderson. He does so with verve and respect for his legendary predecessor, there is simply no better substitute to be found than the former vocalist of Glass Hammer.

So that’s the permanent members, however, the secret lies in the guest players invited by Yes/Howe for this special anniversary tour. I am not talking about session player Tom Brislin (The Sea Within) but more so the other keyboard players, Patrick Moraz and Tony Kaye. Moraz was asked to replace Wakeman for the recording of Relayer (1974) and the subsequent tour. He plays on the beautiful Soon, part of The Gates of Delirium from the aforementioned album. He does a great job, the song is a highlight in the set, partly due to the wonderful Fender steel playing by Howe. But the one who stands out for me is original keyboard player Tony Kaye. He was present during the founding in 1968, played on the band’s first three albums and in 1971 was forced to step down in favour of flamboyant Rick Wakeman. He returned again in the 1980s/1990s, but every time Rick got the jitters and returned to the old nest, Kaye once again had to leave the good ship Yes. However, he is a master of the Hammond organ, which is clearly audible. Inspired parts, in particular Roundabout and Starship Trooper, show that there is still sufficient life left in the able-bodied seventy-four-year old. During the encore, no fewer than nine (former) Yes members share the stage simultaneously.

The set list will be forever subject to discussion; how often can you play (or hear) Roundabout without falling asleep? Still there is sufficient variation, I am thinking in particular of Nine Voices from the underrated The Ladder (1999). A great integral performance of Close To The Edge, and of course Yours Is No Disgrace should not be missed. Sweet Dreams, from Time And A Word (1970), makes the link with the start of the band, while We Can Fly From Here (Part 1) represents the more recent material. Two songs from my personal favourite Going For The One, including top-notch song Awaken, plus a few nice acoustic pieces with the highlight being a section of The Ancient from Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973) featuring Howe and Davison. As usual the cover design is by Roger Dean, recognizable as always.

Back to my original question: is anyone still interested in a new live album from YES? I tend to answer the question affirmatively based on YES 50 LIVE. The band simply has more authenticity than its counterparts Yes featuring ARW, which incidentally no longer exist according to the latest reports. Yes is already in the middle of a new tour, entitled The Royal Tour, together with John Lodge of The Moody Blues and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy. Wanna bet that the next live album is already in the making?

CD 1:

01. Close To The Edge (19:06)
(i) The Solid Time Of Change
(ii) Total Mass Retain
(iii) I Get Up, I Get Down
(iv) Seasons Of Man
02. Nine Voices (Longwalker) (3:52)
03. Sweet Dreams (5:26)
04. Madrigal (2:53)
05. We Can Fly from Here, Pt. 1 (5:59)
06. Soon (8:00)
07. Awaken (18:19)

Time – 63:55

CD 2:
01. Parallels (6:17)
02. Excerpt From ‘The Ancient’ (5:19)
03. Yours Is No Disgrace (12:07)
04. Excerpt From ‘Georgia’s Song’ And ‘Mood For A Day’ (4:01)
05. Roundabout (9:25)
06. Starship Trooper (11:42)
(a) Life Seeker
(b) Disillusion
(c) Würm

Time – 48:54

Total Time – 112:49

Steve Howe – Guitars, Vocals
Geoff Downes – Keyboards
Alan White – Drums
Billy Sherwood – Bass, Vocals
Jon Davison – Vocals, Guitars, Percussion
Jay Schellen – Drums, Percussion
~ with:
Tony Kaye – Keyboards (CD 2, tracks 3,5 & 6)
Patrick Moraz – Keyboards (CD 1, track 6)

Record Label: Rhino
Formats: 4 Vinyl | 2 CD | Digital
Date of Release: 2nd August 2019

– Yes 50 Live (2019)
– Fly From Here Return Trip (2018)
– Topographic Drama – Live Across America (2017)
– Like It Is: Yes at the Mesa Arts Center (2015)
– Progeny: Seven Shows from Seventy-Two (2015)
– Like It Is: Yes at the Bristol Hippodrome (2014)
– Heaven and Earth (2014
– Yes Acoustic DVD (2013)
– In The Present – Live From Lyon (2011)
– Fly From Here (2011)
– Live at Montreux 2003 (2007)
– 9012LIVE DVD (2006)
– The Word Is Live (2005)
– Songs From Tsongas DVD (2005)
– The Ultimate Yes – 35th Anniversary Collection (2004)
– In A Word: Yes (1969- ) (2002)
– Symphonic Live DVD (2002)
– Magnification (2001)
– Keystudio (2001)
– House of Yes – Live From The House of Blues (2000)
– The Ladder (1999)
– Open Your Eyes (1997)
– Keys To Ascension 2 (1997)
– Keys To Ascension (1996)
– Talk (1994)
– Highlights – The Very Best Of Yes (1993)
– Yesstory (1993)
– Yesyears (1991)
– Union (1991)
– Big Generator (1987)
– 9012Live: The Solos (1985)
– 90125 (1983)
– Classic Yes (1981)
– Yesshows (1980)
– Drama (1980)
– Tormato (1978)
– Going For The One (1977)
– Yesterdays (1974)
– Relayer (1974)
– Tales From Topographic Oceans (1973)
– Yessongs (1973)
– Close To The Edge (1972)
– Fragile (1972)
– The Yes Album (1971)
– Time And A Word (1970)
– Yes (1969)

Yes – Website | Facebook | Twitter

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The release of this album made me very happy indeed, as I used to have it on vinyl many years ago (on the Illegal Records label). This new sonically improved version not only acts as a decent reissue, it expands considerably on that album, from its then circa 45-minute running time to a most generous and whopping 159 minutes. This is down to the inclusion of the whole of the US version of Live Spirit, which is some 35 minutes on its own, but now includes the full set that was performed at that Rainbow gig back in 1978 when Spirit were supported by The Police. Yes, the Roxanne bleached blonde new wavers who went onto worldwide success within the next 18 months.

So what we have here is a thrilling re-crafting of that original album by Spirit archivist Mick Skidmore, whose deep passion for this group has made the release a real labour of love for him. This is a truly awesome album and presents the best of Spirit in their favourite setting, the live stage.

There is so much to enjoy here, from the fabulous sound of Randy California’s guitar work (once a contemporary of Jimi Hendrix), to the fleet-fingered bass playing of Larry “Fuzzy” Knight and the jazz influenced drumming of Ed Cassidy. Live, this trio could – and did – blow the roof off most venues with their concentrated power and stellar performances. Recorded at the Rainbow in March 1978 and during a brief whistle-stop tour of Europe and the UK, where they played just four shows, including Colchester, Bristol and a recording for Germany’s Rockplast TV.

The sold out Rainbow show was revered as the best of those dates and was recorded with the intention of a live album release. Sadly, the original recording was compromised with only the effects side of the guitar recorded and not the clean/straight channel. In order for the original album to be released, Randy California painstakingly re-recorded his guitar parts. Such is the stuff of legend. The twist to the story came some 30 years later when cassette tapes (from the soundboard) were found and, although of poor quality, were painstakingly enhanced and restored to the original masters. So finally we hear what was heard on the night!

The Two Sides of a Rainbow includes the full two-hour show, including all six encores, clocking in at over 35 minutes in all. The set also includes the full US version of the Spirit live album, with Randy California’s overdubs. Sadly he never heard the ‘Raw Tapes’ as he died in 1997 while swimming in the sea off Hawaii. This album offers an opportunity to hear once again his often misunderstood talent and fiery guitar work.

Across the release there are several Hendrix, or associated, songs, including Hey Joe, Like A Rolling Stone, Stone Free, Wild Thing and naturally All Along the Watchtower, all of which are highly entertaining. There is also a 17-minute drum solo from Ed Cassidy and fine bass work throughout from Larry Knight – especially his solo on Looking Down.

The concert material swings along nicely, with great performances from all the musicians. Granted, Randy’s voice is possibly an acquired taste, but his guitar sings out loud and clear. Yes, it’s a bit Sixties and hippy-ish, but for my money all the better for it – you can almost smell the patchouli oil and the joints that were almost certainly present.

As one might expect from Cherry Red Records, the sound is good, clear and retains the excitement of the concert. Along with this, the packaging is exemplary, especially the booklet that comes with this set, which is both very informative and beautifully illustrated, making it is a highly recommended package for me and one I commend to you all. Perhaps more psychedelia than prog, but certainly worthy of your time. From start to finish you can marvel at the sound of a truly great band doing what they do best, albeit some forty years ago now. Truly remarkable music, timeless and so very worthy. If you liked Spirit, in any incarnation, or had the earlier 1978 LP Live at the Rainbow, then this one is definitely for you. Fabulous stuff!


01. Rainbow Jam Electro Jam (6:00)
02. Mr. Skin (4:37)
03. Natures Way (3:26)
04. Like A Rolling Stone (8:01)
05. Hollywood Dream (4:18)
06. Animal Zoo (4:23)
07. 1984 (3:52)
08. Hey Joe (8:55)
09. Looking Down (8:53)
10. Love Charged (4:59)
11. All The Same (17:06)
12. I Got A Line On You (5:15)

01. All Along The Watchtower (8:34)
02. Downer (3:33)
03. Turn To The Right (7:01)
04. Rainbow Jam Electro Jam Return (2:59)
05. Stone Free (6:02)
06. Wild Thing (7:01)
Live Spirit (US Release) Multi-track mix with overdubs:
07. Rock And Roll Planet (3:02)
08. Natures Way (3:25)
09. Animal Zoo (4:17)
10. Looking Down (7:30)
11. 1984 (3:27)
12. All The Same (10:19)
13. I Got A Line On You (3:16)
14. These Are Words (4:05)
15. Hollywood Dream (4:22)

Total Time – 159:00

Randy California – Guitar, Vocals
Larry “Fuzzy” Knight – Bass
Ed Cassidy – Drums

Record Label: Info at Cherry Red Records
Catalogue#: ECLEC22704
Date of Release: 6th December 2019

Spirit – Info at Cherry Red Records

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Barock Project from Italy utterly blew me away with their previous album, the utterly outstanding Detachment, which was my favourite of 2017. They recently launched their latest album into the Seven Seas and have maintained their level of high-quality with a fine album of exemplary melodic progressive rock. They may not have captured my heart in quite the same way as last time, but then again ‘first kisses’ are impossible to replicate!

The opening four songs on this album are simply outstanding. Title track Seven Seas gently pulses in with some sensitive vocals and picks up tempo and power. An added string arrangement leads into a veritable musical storm with Luca Zabbini’s swirling keyboards, and then the song ebbs away. Standout track I Call Your Name is a glorious slice of high energy top class rock pop with infectious riffs from Marco Mazzuoccolo and Luca Zabbini. There’s even a subtle reference to The Beatles with a mischievous couple of bars from Sergeant Pepper‘s Within You, Without You sneaked in (but blink and you’ll miss it!). Fantastic harmony vocals ride along on a wave of guitars, bass and some great drumming from Eric Obelli. This effervescent track actually belies a sad theme as a heartbroken person yearns for someone who has left them, similar to the deceptively bitter Happy to See You from Detachment. I Call Your Name is a fabulously catchy pop song which in an alternate Universe would have been a massive hit. Rejection never sounded quite so sweet!

In contrast, Ashes is more restrained and introspective with strings and Zabbini’s fluid piano leading the way. Once again the lovely melodic music actually conveys a sad tale as the fading fires of love reduce to ashes. After the more placid first half, the piano suddenly accelerates us into a raging conflagration of drums and guitars, underpinned by Francesco Caliendo’s solid bass. Zabbini ignites the piece with a dazzling Hammond organ solo as the vocals proclaim, before the musical flames fade, one last hopeful plea:

“Take away our pain, blow away the ashes and, fire will be burning again.”

The very high quality of the opening quartet of songs continues with Cold Fog, with lyrics written by Peter Jones of Camel and Tiger Moth Tales fame. Jones worked on some songs and sang a couple on Detachment, and Cold Fog is a piece that was born during that previous collaboration. Writing the lyrics of Cold Fog is the limit of Jones’ involvement on this album, which is a bit of a pity as his vocal and lyrical ability certainly added to the overall excellence and infectious quality of Detachment. Cold Fog is simply one of the best pieces on Seven Seas and once again we are adrift in a sea of broken hearts. A soulfully sung and lilting piano-led intro is injected with a pulsating synth and deft drumming before the song erupts with passion. Strings and piano underpinned by the synth carry us on before the heartbreak bursts out vocally, followed by a wailing guitar break. It’s dramatic stuff. Acoustic guitars from the multi-instrumentalist and clearly multi-talented Luca Zabbini introduce some introspection with some lovely vocals, before an understated and tasteful guitar solo is sweetened by a fine piano conclusion. The emotional turmoil of Fog returns with a vengeance as a stirring string arrangement ascends to a full band crescendo. The passion of a lost love seems to permeate much of this album.

After such drama at the end of an outstanding opening quartet it seems apt for the gentle acoustic interlude of A Mirror Trick, which appears to be a short breather before the rather more epic Hamburg hoves into view with the sound of seagulls and waves. An orchestral arrangement with a maritime feel ensures we feel suitably at sea… but for me this piece seems rather water-logged and at sea itself. There are some skilfully played sections with some fine playing but overall it feels like we are treading water as some of the atmosphere and musical themes have been covered already. Hamburg may just be too drawn out and a little disjointed for my taste, although some will undoubtedly love the ambition and orchestration of such a relative epic.

If you have ever wondered what the ‘love child’ of early Genesis, Anthony Phillips and Porcupine Tree would be like then try Brain Damage (no, it’s not a Pink Floyd cover). Tinkling in with gently caressing acoustic guitars and diaphanous vocals, it really does feel like the ghost of Trespass has emerged. However, the tempo increases and the shadows lengthen as Brain Damage twists in a very different direction. The song spasms into Porcupine Tree territory, driven along powerfully with skill by Caliendo and Ombelli on bass and drums respectively. An extended end section rams home the point relentlessly as Zabbini’s synth sprays graffiti-like over the finale of this impressive fusion of styles.

That is probably where they should have left the album as it would have been a suitably dramatic conclusion to a fine set of songs… but in my view Seven Seas sinks at the end with a disappointing final quartet of songs, which is a pity after the strength of the opening. Chemnitz Girl is a pleasant enough piece, but after Brain Damage it feels rather lightweight and meanders on with little to excite or beguile. After the rich musicality and intensity of the rest of the album, I Should Have Learned To feels incongruous as a sub-standard Beatles pastiche – they should have learned to leave it off the album in my view. Moving On (the only song with music not written by Zabbini) crashes in with unconvincing heaviness and out of nowhere an incongruous saxophone comes in at the end. The disappointing end to the album finishes with the frankly rather cheesy almost cabaret-like The Ones which even the Pink Floyd-esque wailing of guest Durga McBroom cannot lift.

Like the cliché about many football matches, this album is ‘a game of two halves’ as it launched with a bang in a truly magnificent set of songs but from my perspective, it concludes with rather a whimper in a series of anonymous songs – Barock Project may have over-stretched themselves.

When they are good Barock Project can be absolutely bloody magnificent, as much of this album amply demonstrates. However, they may also need to understand that sometimes ‘less is more’. This is an album which outstayed its welcome for me as the quality drops off. Nevertheless, the majority of this album is excellent melodic progressive rock, and some will love it all. It certainly has not put me off Barock Project.

Music is like love in many ways – I fell in love with Detachment and still listen to it, but despite its undoubted overall quality Seven Seas simply did not capture my heart this time – Love is funny like that sometimes!

01. Seven Seas (5:27)
02. I Call Your Name (3:45)
03. Ashes (6:05)
04. Cold Fog (9:06)
05. A Mirror Trick (3:29)
06. Hamburg (11:25)
07. Brain Damage (9:05)
08. Chemnitz Girl (4:07)
09. I Should Have Learned To (3:46)
10. Moving On (4:25)
11. The Ones (4:58)

Total Time – 65:38

Luca Zabbini – Lead & Backing Vocals, Keyboards, Acoustic & Electric Guitars, String Arrangements
Alex Mari – Lead & Backing Vocals
Marco Mazzuoccolo – Electric Guitars
Francesco Caliendo – Electric Bass
Eric Ombelli – Drums & Percussion, Mandolin, Sample Programming
~ with:
Durga McBroom – Backing Vocals (track 11)
Francesco Cinti – Saxophones

Record Labels: Aerostella
Country of Origin: Italy
Date of Release: 27th September 2019

Barock Project – Website | Facebook | Twitter

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InVertigo are a German rock band invoking past echoes from well-trodden paths through the neo-Prog landscape, from the aspirational high-ground of Marillion, Genesis and Yes, but at the same time, applying a little Teutonic stamp here and there, imbuing some shades of metal, to bring a little steely edge to their music.

I listened to this driving to and from the Crematorium (where I conduct my day job), and despite the sombre occasion, it provided a therapeutic relief, particularly when the volume was turned up! It’s a collection of sometimes disparate tunes, not a bad thing in itself, but not quite making an authoritative mark in respect of direction.

This could be best defined in the track Listen to the Smell of the Pretty Picture where some over-clever juxtapositioning of the senses tries to forge an uneasy alliance between simplistic lyrics and the far more melodic harmonies and keys that the song supplies, accompanied by some ‘Tull-esque’ flute noodling. Simple but entertaining nevertheless! Harsh? Maybe, but this reviewer is looking for something a little deeper here.

By contrast, album opener Interrompu, a satisfying blend of keyboards, some nice prog drumming, and lead guitar, is a far stronger and shining example of good discernible Prog, and bears repeated listening. The lyrics perhaps summarise the feeling of the album, that it was interrupted before being finished!

The outstanding highlight (in my opinion) is a satisfying 8+ minutes in the driving rock force that is Wasting Time, segueing neatly from Sabbath-style bass and keys to the more harmonious interplay reminiscent of ’90s Arena and Pepper’s Ghost. At times the vocals of Sebastian Brennert are a little rumbustious, like a trainee Till Lindemann of Rammstein fame.

A bit of an earworm this one, returning to the drawn-out chorus of “Procrastination, stay by my side… help me to see wrong from right”, ending on a cliff-drop thrumming guitar!

Environmental concerns, a topic of the moment, is linked down the years from 1992, with the nasal castigation of world leaders at the Rio Summit by junior campaigner Severn Suzuki, alluding to the current concerns about the longevity of the planet, (in vain) to chime with the Scandinavian cheerleading of Ms Thunberg, carrying the baton for future generations in a genuine but misguided tilt at 21st century over-consumption. Having said that, it does have an innocent charm, if you can suspend belief and let the sentiment wash over you: “Let your acts reflect your words, reflect your words…”

The final two tracks, Life Part 1 (Random) and Life Part 2 (Metaphors) circle around the universal question “why are we here, for what purpose?” A grandiose topic indeed, but the lyrical and musical treatment of such a weighty subject fall between two stools, not quite bombastic, nor tongue in cheek, and despite a few flirtations with the subject matter at hand, leave this listener wanting more (or less, depending on which side of the credibility fence your preferences fall). A smidgen of Alan Parsons guitar creeps in, before the track descends into a torch waving anthemic chorus before seemingly ending abruptly… 20 seconds later, the track returns to a gentle Spanish plucked guitar outro.

Overall, an adept performance, not quite reaching the levels a third album should be achieving, but nevertheless a credible and sometimes pleasing repertoire, not quite hitting the heights, but a workmanlike offering nevertheless.

01. Interrompu (7:05)
02. Listen To The Smell Of The Pretty Picture (10:28)
03. Severn Speaking (4:41)
04. Wasting Time (8:53)
05. Life Part I: (Random) (7:40)
06. Life Part II: (Metaphors) (6:23)

Total Time – 45:10

Sebastian Brennert – Piano, Vocals
Michael Kuchenbecker – Keyboards
Matthias Hommel – Bass, Pedals
Carsten Dannert – Drums, Percussion
Kolja Maletzki – Guitars

Record Label: Progressive Promotion Records
Country of Origin: Germany
Date of Release: 22nd November 2019

InVertigo – Facebook | Bandcamp

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At the beginning of any year, you can be guaranteed to see two types of article on any site such as this one: a review of a release from the (only just) previous year, tying up loose ends; and a preview of an anticipated release. I find myself looking both forward and back at the moment, as one of my most anticipated releases of 2020 is a compilation of remixes from one of my favourite releases from 2019.

Irish/Australian artist Bonnie Stewart, recording as Bonniesongs, released her demo and first EP on Australian label Art As Catharsis. Thankfully, her 2019 debut album, Energetic Mind, received a shared release between AAC and British label Small Pond. This has meant the album can be purchased and shipped in a much more affordable fashion wherever one is in the world.

Energetic Mind is an album I had liked and listened to for quite some time but purchased only late in the year – and Wow, I wish I’d bought the album sooner. It’s often the case that I don’t realise just how much I like a release until I hear it on CD. That’s why whenever I make an end of year list, I include only albums I physically own on CD.

Bonniesongs’ debut album is one of the most eclectic and delightful albums I’ve ever heard. Starting with a minimal track of vocal loops and finger clicks, it draws me in almost subliminally. Although the track builds in depth and reverb, it’s not until the immediately following reprise that the crescendo reaches its climax in a Krupa-like crash. If I weren’t aware that Bonnie Stewart is a jazz drummer before, I am now! 123 and 123 Reprise also showcase what to expect from the rest of the album: exercises in repetition and expansion, and chops and changes at just the right times! Everything sounds spontaneous, yet is quite clearly very (well) planned.

Coo Coo is almost 123 and 123 Reprise in a concise one track edition, with additional narrative. Not that there are many lyrics throughout the album, but however minimal the narrative, it’s incredible just how much can be visualised. Coo Coo is a jubilant song of a cuckoo coming out of its clock (I think), and sounds exactly as you might imagine, from that description.

Coo Coo is also the reason I am looking forward to the remix release. Coo Coo (Grimley She Wrote Remix) takes the original song, and the jazzy nature you can hear in the background throughout the album, and brings it to the fore in a combination of broken-beat and future-jazz. (If I had to pick two artists to elaborate on that comparison, it would be Mark de Clive-Lowe and GoGo Penguin).

Remixes can be very hit and miss, and it is rare for me to so eagerly anticipate a release of essentially old material. However, a good remix done well is a wonderful thing to hear. I quite possibly prefer both of the remix releases which followed Nine Inch Nails’ Downward Spiral to the album itself.

I will definitely be interested to hear how the darker songs on the album might change in sound. Barbara is one of two such dark songs in the otherwise largely light sounding album. The scratching and stabbing cello is reminiscent of John Cale’s viola in his VU days. It provides the perfect horror soundtrack to a song devoted to Night of the Living Dead. The malice in the music perfectly fits the chorus/film quote, “they’re coming for you, Barbara”.

The other of the two dark songs is Frank, clearly drawing on Frankenstein, and suitably eerie. I particularly love these two songs, even though neither is what I was expecting, from what I’d heard from Bonniesongs prior to the release of Energetic Mind.

Ice Cream is a delicious slice of indie folk pop, though it manages to change about halfway through, and even though I know this, somehow I always forget. I’ll be listening to Ice Cream, thinking it’s quite enjoyable, but not really a favourite – and then the switch hits, and I remember just why it is a favourite.

Cat and Mouse is the last of my particular favourites on the album. It’s absolutely beautiful, and beautifully understated. I almost wish it were the final track, but actually the title track does close the album better. In fact, this is another thing which is quite incredible about the album. The sequencing is brilliant, and just as the songs sound spontaneous, yet are clearly not, so is the sequencing.

I can’t imagine many of the tracks without the tracks either side of them. Barbara and Frank are perfectly separated by Home. Despite completely different styles, Frank flows perfectly into Ice Cream. In fact, the three-song streak of Frank, Ice Cream, then Cat and Mouse is amazing.

I don’t really think I can come up with enough superlatives for Energetic Mind. From an album I knew I liked, but didn’t expect would make my end of year list, this has very quickly become an album I love, and which I’ll definitely be in my list of favourite releases from 2019.

I am fully expecting the remix release to be one of my favourite releases from 2020. Two tracks have been remixed and released so far, and I am eagerly anticipating the next.

01. 123 (3:52)
02. 123 Reprise (2:12)
03. Dreamy Dreams (4:06)
04. Coo Coo (3:38)
05. Barbara (5:54)
06. Home (3:22)
07. Frank (4:23)
08. Ice Cream (4:04)
09. Cat & Mouse (4:58)
10. Energetic Mind (4:19)

Total Time – 40:48

Bonnie Stewart – Vocals, Guitar, Banjo, Drums, Percussion
Freya Schack-Arnott – Cello
Thomas Botting – Double & Electric Bass
Alyx Dennison & David Trumpmanis – Guitar Noodles, Bass Synth, Zombie Vocals

Record labels: Art as Catharsis / Small Pond
Country of Origin: Australia
Date of Release: 6th September 2019

Bonniwsongs – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp

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Subtlety, finesse, nuance tend not to be the words you instinctively associate with progressive metal. Yet Ray Alder’s first solo album, What the Water Wants with InsideOut Music, is an admirable, at times even eloquent demonstration of a vocal prowess which is impressive both in terms of the diversity it displays as well as the confident deftness with which he approaches the material being offered.

Probably best known as the intense and energetic lead singer for Fates Warning since joining the band for No Exit in 1988, his performances for them are a captivating blend of assured power, focused depth and passionate excitement. With the release of What the Water Wants, Alder gets the chance to stretch his legs and prove, beyond the shadow of any doubt, that his voice possesses engaging, if not unexpected levels of refinement and sophistication.

The success of the album is built on a soundstage which is impressively expansive, providing the perfect context within which the clarity, as well as the expressive range, of his voice is enhanced and highlighted. Alder enlists the guitar talents of Mike Abdow (touring guitarist for Fates Warning) and Tony Hernando (Lords of Black) with Craig Anderson (Ignite, Crescent Shield) on drums. Both guitarists provide the bass lines for the tracks to which they have contributed most, which creates a fascinating diversity of styles, tones and emphases.

Opening track Lost does little to shake your expectations about the kind of music you may be about to hear, but don’t let that fool you. The early signs are already here. In the transitions linking to a chorus which is bombastic, anthemic and full throttle, keep an ear open for what else is going on. Alder’s vocals have power, yes. But his voice is also smooth, subtle in texture and carried on a moody, echo-filled soundscape. Even in full flow, the layers of the melody carry a certain wistfulness embedded in the power.

Indeed, where you expect a sense of confidence and triumph, what we are given is actually an album laden with thoughtful reflection and almost introspective emotion. It is not until we reach Shine, track 4, that we return to anything like full-blown progressive metal. Crunching opening guitars are precise, aggressive and spectacularly menacing; the music segues into passages which carry unapologetic djent signatures and influences. But here again, all is not what it seems. The underlying heaviness is, in fact, a support mechanism to deliver a wonderfully melodic vocal that soars above and stands in contrast to the riffing carnage, a tranquil melody adding the full stop to tumultuous guitar-laden seas.

Crown of Thorns brings us something entirely unexpected: playfulness. The track begins – and is structured around – an upbeat and undulating repeating bass line. The rest of the instrumentation weaves its way around the bass theme, where Alder’s vocal forms a kind of homage to the music of the ’70s in the way it spins a melody which dances among the varying layers. Bass features heavily again on The Killing Floor, but this time it is used to create a daunting, ominous mood of threatening, intimidation which conditions the atmosphere and structures the tone of the whole song.

As if to make a point, Some Days offers us something new again. The song has a stripped back arrangement to take advantage of the spacious soundstage; the lyrics are heavy with mournful regret, the tempo and the vocals focused, still forceful but very much subdued. This is picked up again in The Road, deftly gentle, you suspect touchingly personal, tinged with troubled emotion. In similar vein, Under Dark Skies is equally as raw, disturbing, with a beautiful chorus which takes aim directly at the soul.

If you give it a chance and if you forgive it its directness, What the Water Wants rewards you with a musical experience that is succinct, concise and to the point. There is no fluff. There are no intricate adornments, no excess demonstrations of prowess. It’s a forthright and fascinating collection of diverse songs which gradually build a compelling momentum and clearly appears to have a lot of fun in the process.

01. Lost (3:45)
02. Crown Of Thorns (4:53)
03. Some Days (4:34)
04. Shine (4:53)
05. Under Dark Skies (3:58)
06. A Beautiful Lie (4:10)
07. The Road (5:38)
08. Wait (4:36)
09. What The Water Wanted (3:46)
10. The Killing Floor (5:47)
* Bonus Track
11. The Road (Acoustic Version) (4:51)

Total Time – 51:00

Ray Alder – Vocals
~ With:
Mike Abdow – Guitars
Craig Anderson – Drums
Tony Hernando – Guitars

Record Label: InsideOut Music
Format: CD, Digital, Vinyl
Date of Release: 18th October 2019

Ray Alder – Facebook | Website (Fates Warning) | Twitter

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I often wonder whether there is any added value for a tribute band whose subject is still alive and well, and often even still performing on a more or less regular basis. These were my feelings upon attending the recent performance by The ELO Show, the brainchild of Brian Cummins. But it also had an unexpected positive effect: a) it made me realise once again how good the music of genius Jeff Lynne actually was and, b) apparently new material was to be released soon by this musical jack-of-all-trades. Sufficient reason to take a closer look at the new album by the man from Birmingham.

The story is well-known, but perhaps a reminder is in order. Jeff Lynne, born in 1947, co-founder and primary composer/singer of the legendary Electric Light Orchestra (ELO), had not been performing live for decades, nor does he like to particularly, as he has frequently admitted. His show at Hyde Park in 2014 for BBC Radio 2, the first full-blown ELO performance in 28 years, was therefore unique and, if anything, a test for the protagonist himself: how would this performance be received by press and public and, if successful, could it possibly be the basis for a return to theatres?

By now, the answer is pretty much known: the show, which was also broadcast live, became a huge success and it doesn’t take much imagination to guess that it would result in a truly triumphal tour of larger venues, both home and abroad. The song Time of Our Life on the new album refers to this. In addition, a new studio album, the reasonably well-received Alone in the Universe, was released in 2015. This studio album was followed by the successful live album Wembley or Bust, recorded at the eponymous stadium in June 2017, also released as a Blu-Ray/DVD.

Four years lie between the release of Alone in the Universe and his most recent work, From Out of Nowhere, but the setting is completely different; here we have an acclaimed artist who wrote and recorded new material in peace and quiet, on his own terms. In that sense, the title is not entirely correct: the new CD is not completely out of the blue ( 🙂 ). It is the fourteenth ELO album and the second in a row as Jeff Lynne’s ELO. Incidentally, the latter is most valid as multi-instrumentalist Lynne is responsible for the lion’s share of all instruments, with former ELO colleague Richard Tandy taking care of only the piano solo on the rocking One More Time.

The format is still very much the same: short, catchy tunes with a recognizable hook, bridge and chorus, never more than three-and-a-half minutes – the master of restriction. Immediately, we find our first criticism: ten songs with a total length of less than 33 minutes, much shorter than any LP. OK, it’s better to be short and sweet than long and boring, but this is somewhat exaggerated. The songs are short to the extent that sometimes you don’t even realise that another song is already playing. Which brings us directly to the second point of criticism: the songs are all very similar and the distinctive character is limited. First of all, you have the up-tempo poppy sing-along songs like the first four on the new album. Then you have the ballads, such as Losing You, which sounds a bit like Wild West Hero, and the concluding Songbird. The third category concerns rock ‘n’ roll songs such as One More Time, distant relative ​​of ‘grandfather’ Roll Over Beethoven. This ‘deja vu/entendu’ feeling is present with almost every individual song, it soon becomes some sort of pop quiz.

Aren’t there any positive points to report, one wonders? Of course there are, first and foremost the production, which is at quite a high level. The songs are all well-crafted and hammered out, the latter both literally and figuratively; the heavy drums play an important role. The harmony vocals, the orchestration, it is all equally strong. In addition, recognisability (and sometimes predictability) is both a weakness and a strength, it is just a matter of perception. The lyrics are peppered with hope and positivity, no bad themes in a contemporary context.

It goes without saying that Lynne always provides a good album, right across the board, without real highs or lows. There is no Mr Blue Sky to be found here, not even a Last Train to London, but there is plenty to enjoy and especially to sing along to (All My Life, Down Came The Rain). The sound is recognisable, the old-fashioned way and chock-full of all the elements that made ELO successful in their heyday. It is not prog (anymore), but it probably wasn’t even during their golden period, with some exceptions (Eldorado from 1974). The prevailing three-minute format in itself makes it virtually impossible to meet the genre’s requirements. If this album makes anything clear, it is that the human jukebox Jeff Lynne is still firing on all cylinders. It only takes a quarter (maybe a little more) every now and then.

Sometimes a tribute band comes in quite handy.

01. From Out of Nowhere (3:14)
02. Help Yourself (3:14)
03. All My Love (3:06)
04. Down Came the Rain (3:29)
05. Losing You (3:36)
06. One More Time (3:28)
07. Sci-Fi Woman (3:07)
08. Goin’ Out on Me (3:09)
09. Time of Our Life (3:10)
10. Songbird (3:06)

Total Time – 32:39

Jeff Lynne – Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Piano, Drums, Keyboards, Cello, Vibraphone
Richard Tandy – Piano (on One More Time)
Steve Jay – Percussion

Record Label: Columbia Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 1st November 2019

– From Out of Nowhere (2019)
– Wembley or Bust (2017)
– Alone in the Universe (2015)
– Zoom (2001)
– Balance of Power (1986)
– Secret Messages (1983)
– Time (1981)
– Discovery (1979)
– Out of the Blue (1977)
– A New World Record (1976)
– Face the Music (1975)
– The Night the Light Went On in Long Beach (1974)
– Eldorado, A Symphony (1974)
– On the Third Day (1973)
– ELO 2 (1973)
– The Electric Light Orchestra (1971)

Jeff Lynne – Website | Facebook

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In the summer of 2019 Warmrain finally released their ambitious double album Back Above the Clouds, in a prolonged process with roots way back before their original 2011 E.P., Absent Friends. In a  PROG magazine interview in 2011 main songwriter Leon J. Russell underlined that the album would not be finished until it was ready. However, although he said ‘taking enough time is important’ it is doubtful that he thought it would take another eight years for the album to emerge! Quite apart from their obvious attention to fine detail and quality production, in the intervening years Warmrain’s band members have all experienced significant loss and life-changing experiences. As well as inevitably delaying their art these experiences have also had a sorrowfully obvious impact on the content and nature of the music.

In that context one has to ask: Has the wait been worth it?

Well, the short answer is: Mainly Yes… (with some reservations!).

This is an album which is soaked in sweet melancholy, drenched with emotions and finely played melodic rock. Warmrain describe themselves as a ‘quintessentially English melodic art rock/prog rock band’, a description apparently partly coined by The Pineapple Thief, indicating they yearn for the sunlit meadows once inhabited by Pink Floyd, whose influences thread very clearly through this album. The songs are presented as extracts from journals, documenting thoughts and feelings as the main protagonist goes through heart-breaking loss and the subsequent path to find ways to cope and rebuild a life. The album commences rather bleakly with Fading Star, opening with an acoustic guitar intro joined by rather stately drums and a sonorous electric guitar, with an atmosphere reminiscent of the echoing The Sky Moved Sideways by Porcupine Tree. The tempo and power rises as the emotions become more raw:

“Another hero exits stage left, Another star has just burnt out
The sky above seems to have darkened, My certainty has turned to doubt.”

A more Eastern sounding guitar and thundering drums enter, and an insistent Kashmir-like riff underpins the closing lament: I can’t believe my heroes are dead”.

This is a very impressive opening piece and emphatically underlines the theme of the album. The sorrow continues with a re-working of Absent Friends, previously heard in 2011. Gentle acoustic guitars are to the fore again with softly sweet vocals from Leon J. Russell pouring his heart out with the telling little details that actually say so much to anyone suffering loss:

“I sat down to watch the birds fly, from your favourite chair.”

The emotion of Absent Friends is beautifully enhanced with a sweetly flowing melancholic extended guitar solo from Matt Lerwill – this is not flashy virtuosity but sensitively judged musicality to express the feelings of the song. It’s a heartbreakingly beautiful song which does conclude with some hope:

“Learning to live in the space between us, learning to live in the space we once shared.”

The strength and melodic quality of the opening couple of songs, Fading Star and Absent Friends, is utterly remarkable, and would probably match the opening of any other album released in 2019.

The subsequent dream-like Running out of Time, with its vocal seemingly suspended in the air, and the following instrumental Alone in Silent Harmony continue these themes in a very similar vein musically. I Should be Seeing Stars by Now glides in airily with a softly chiming acoustic guitar and suitably floating electric guitar notes underpinning the speech of a pilot talking to his passengers. This piece feels like a lament for lost childhood, the purity of vision and emotion felt by children that gets diluted and distorted as we get older. Russell states in the sleeve notes his belief that “we all come from a source energy and that source energy has a frequency of vibration”, which become “shaped, clipped off, inhibited” as we get older. He feels that we need “reconnection with the child within… reconnect with the core aspect of your being”, and within the storyline of Back above the Clouds it is the child within who rescues the man. I Should be Seeing Stars by Now is a piece filled with that yearning lyrically… but here is where the reservations for this reviewer start to seep in a little. The musical palette to describe these themes and emotions remains within a fairly limited range – of course, the sorrowful nature of the subject matter will influence the sounds that can be explored, but as skilfully and as well as it is written and played there is a growing feel as the album progresses that we have already trodden this ground in previous pieces.

New Dawn is notable as being the song which helped name the band as it’s working title was ‘Warm Wain’ which the original drummer in the band, Steve Beatty, suggested would be a good name for the band, and it stuck. To the band, the original song title symbolised “nature’s baptism, the feeling of the warmth of the sun while being rained upon” and listening to this fragile music suspended somewhere between delicate acoustic psych-folk and denser, darker Floydian soundscapes one can see why they felt it was an appropriate name for their band, and they re-named the song instead:

“Rain came down without a sound and erased my mistakes
Rain came down without a sound and washed them away.”

The gossamer-thin Metamorphosis which follows marks the end of the first album, echoing the confessional perspectives and soulful folk subtlety of John Martyn, and indicates that the story takes a turn from ‘The Man Remembers the Boy’ opening disc into the redemption of the second disc, ‘The Boy Rescues the Man’. However, before we move on there is an uncredited ‘secret’ bonus track as Warmrain appropriately move from the gentle precipitation of New Dawn into a wonderfully regal and atmospheric cover of Here Comes the Rain Again by The Eurythmics, which seems entirely in keeping with the feel and flow of the album.

This cover of Here Comes the Rain Again features Craig Blundell (who plays with Steve Hackett, Steven Wilson and Frost*) on drums and Prog’s ‘Renaissance man’, John Mitchell (of Lonely Robot, Kino, Arena and Frost*… amongst others!), on keyboards, backing vocals and the second electric guitar part. Blundell and Mitchell certainly apply some fairy dust to this sparkling track with its soft, lush guitars and restrained power in the chorus, and it’s certainly a highlight on the album.

The second CD commences with A Hundred Miles High and there is a sense of less tension and more optimism as the man attempts to reconnect with the feelings and dreams of his boyhood self:

“They could say what they liked, I didn’t mind,
Within the freedom of my thoughts I was a hundred miles high.”

A fluid slide guitar sound eases us smoothly into Live the Dream and we are taken on a flight of imagination borne aloft by airy guitars, breathy vocals and gentle drums. Free Now follows in a similar vein as the protagonist realises some form of redemption… but once again we hit upon the reservation felt by this reviewer on the first disc as we seem to re-tread musical and lyrical themes already covered so beautifully. Lovely as it sounds, again one cannot escape a feeling of ‘sameness’ in some of the songs. With material of this quality, Warmrain need to have more confidence that they have conveyed very effectively and sensitively what they wish to do without feeling the need to somewhat hammer home the point – albeit in very delicate and rather touching ways!

In some ways this repetition of tone and feel actually detracts from some of their more effective moments as the listener is almost overwhelmed with too much of the same thing.

The outstanding Flying Dreams is re-booted from their 2011 E.P. Warmrain have added more atmospherics, sound effects and layers, with a feel so light and magical the listener feels like they could simply step off a cloud and just fly and soar through the sky in a moment of liberation approaching redemption. It’s a  majestic piece of evocative melodic rock, deceptively simple and yet so beguiling in its execution.

The album comes full circle from the opening melancholy and dark despair of Fading Star to the penultimate optimism and light of Luminous Star as the man reaches some sense of resolution with himself and his memories of a lost loved one:

“When I stop to think of you and all the love you brought ‘I come alight inside.’”

Warmrain continue to tell their story with the same melodic palette employed more or less throughout the album, which segues into the largely instrumental and the rather insistent and hypnotic finale Equilibrium.

So where does that leave us with Warmrain’s Back above the Clouds?

Well, let’s get the reservations out the way first and rely upon some good old fashioned clichés. This album may actually prove that it is possible to have too much of a good thing – in that some of the admittedly enchanting musical elements and lyrical themes are simply overused, giving a sense of ‘sameness’ when perhaps the album may have benefited from a little more variation. In short, sometimes ‘less is indeed more’. One wonders whether a double album for a debut was rather over-ambitious? However, putting aside those observations (and some may not have shared those reservations) there are far more positive things about Back above the Clouds.

This is a truly remarkable debut album, with a mature, confident, rounded style. The production is very finely polished  and utterly pristine sonically. However, what raises this album well above the ordinary is the authenticity of its emotion and the purity of its purpose. The depths of true sorrow and the comforts of solace and redemptive realisation palpably permeate the core of these songs. Leon Russell has described their album as a ‘healing tool’ for those that have experienced loss and states that’s Back above the Clouds is ‘a true story adapted to appeal to everyone’.

Warmrain have succeeded in creating their own musical and spiritual baptism in which we simultaneously feel the rain of sorrow and the warmth of love, and that truly appeals to us all.

CD 1: The Man Remembers The Boy

01. Fading Star (8:18)
02. Absent Friends (8:14)
03. Running Out Of Time (3:44)
04. Alone in Silent Harmony (4:09)
05. I Should Be Seeing Stars By Now (6:54)
06. New Dawn (5:32)
07. Metamorphosis (4:21)
‘Secret’ Uncredited Bonus Track
08. Here Comes the Rain Again (Extended Version) (7:00)

CD 2: The Boy Rescues the Man
01. A Hundred Miles High (5:23)
02. Live the Dream (7:39)
03. Free Now (5:12)
04. Flying Dreams (8:04)
05. Absent Friends (Reprise) (3:20)
06. Luminous Star (More Than A Memory) (7:14)
07. Equilibrium (7:15)

Total Time – 92:12

Leon Russell – Vocals, Rhythm Guitar, Drums
Simon Bradshaw – Bass Guitar, String/Keyboard Arrangements
Matt Lerwill – Lead Guitar
~ with
John Mitchell – Keyboards, Guitar, Backing Vocals (CD 1: track 8)
Craig Blundell – Drums (CD 1: track 8)
*Dom Ladd – Bass (CD 1: track 8)

*(now part of the band) along with new drummer Jon McSwiney

Record Label: Rain Recordings
Catalogue#: RAIN002CD
Date of Release: 7th June 2019

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