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This news story was originally published here:

Let’s face it, 2020 has been a totally CRAP Year… it will not be remembered fondly by most and will be the cause of much sadness for too many. In times like these we really need special things in our lives. We instinctively seek what is enjoyable and engaging, but we also yearn for art that expresses some of our deepest emotions… and somehow Abel Ganz have managed to achieve both in this truly remarkable album. This is a perfect synthesis of music and theme in which the band ‘explore our relationship with memory and loss’ through finely crafted but intuitive songs in a beguiling musical journey.

It has been six years since their previous well-received self-titled album, which remains one of my most favourite albums of all time (yes, really!). Indeed, drummer and producer for this album, Denis Smith, has revealed that the band honestly believed that eponymous album would be their last so they threw everything they had at it, and were very pleasantly surprised at the positive reaction it received in some quarters. However, they had no material left to commence a new recording (a mistake he assures us they have not done this time as they have kept some material back for a much quicker follow up – which is a GOOD thing.) Nevertheless, if it takes six years to produce something with such quality and resonance then let them take as long as they need!

It is evident that this is a real labour of love, with great care and attention paid to the impeccable sonic production by Smith, perfectly mixed by Simon Vinestock (who has worked with the likes of Texas, Blur, Robert Plant and Simple Minds), and skilfully mastered by Jacob Holm-Lupo. Abel Ganz have clearly lavished significant time and love (and quite some money I would presume!) on this album in so many ways, and this has been repaid with a product which shines out with sheer class. Quite aside from the music, the artwork is truly lovely. They seem to understand the whole package needed to present their art.

The opening title song perfectly captures the essence of what works so well for Abel Ganz on this and their previous album. They have an uncanny ability to meld different styles of music together in one song with transitions as smooth as silk, giving us an eclectic mix of folk, progressive rock, Americana, Celtic tinges and even hints of jazz – and somehow it all fits together seamlessly. Abel Ganz have wisely sought out other skilled contributors and this track features Alex Paclin with a very distinctive Chromatic Harmonica, evoking a nostalgic feel right from the start. Fiona Cuthill on fiddles and recorders later adds a whirling and folky atmosphere, which interplays intoxicatingly with a volcanic organ from Jack Webb. This epic track is effectively departing guitarist Davie Mitchell’s farewell gift to the band, as he wrote most of the song, tellingly contributing Nashville acoustic guitars and a smokey solo late in the piece. That’s the way to exit a band – leave them a cracking song! The ‘Steely Dan-esque’ feel of the finale is conveyed deftly by the smooth vocals of Mick Macfarlane, underlined by an atmospheric closing sax solo from the wonderfully named Snake Davis.

One Small Soul takes us in a different direction musically, although maintains the same feelings of reminiscence tinged with regret, but ultimately infused with a sense of renewal:

“There’s a glimmer, a Shimmer, A Speck of a Truth
Trying to Grow unhindered by Youth, A Realisation that all is not Lost”

Mick Macfarlane sings warmly and duets sweetly with the renowned Scottish folk singer Emily Smith in a simply gorgeous song. New guitarist Dave King solos subtly on electric guitar and Jack Webb’s piano tastefully underpins the piece, supported by Stephen Donnelly’s fine double bass play. David King seems to have fitted straight into the band and he lays down his introductory calling card with a short but delightful guitar solo instrumental, Aaran Shores, where one can almost feel the breeze over the waters.

Summerlong feels like one of those half-remembered dreams as you wake, with Jack Webb’s gentle piano framed beautifully within a lush but not overly sweet string arrangement by Frank Van Essen. Macfarlane’s evocative and emotional voice is brittle and captivating in this wistful song full of melancholic reminiscence, leavened with yearning hope.

Just when you feel like the album may be in danger of sinking too far into sentimentality, Abel Ganz kick open the doors with Sepia and White. The opening section absolutely rocks like a fat one! Apparently bassist Stephen Donnelly is responsible for writing this outstanding intro which is filled with funk and really grooves along… all I know is that it put a massive smile on my face and made me want to get up and – dare I say it – dance! Fear not, brave readers, I restrained myself as no-one wants that, real or imagined.

This multi-part piece yet again demonstrates Abel Ganz’s intuitive ability to slide smoothly from one genre to another. A soulful vocal interlude showcases Macfarlane’s warm Scottish voice reminiscing, before King takes up the melody on electric guitar and new keyboardist Alan Hearton lays down a brief but sinuous synth solo. The band then develop the theme more powerfully with King (and maybe Mitchell, it’s not always clear) leading the band into heavier territory, backed by Webb’s Hammond B3. A synth and piano interlude with vague echoes of Supertramp subtly curves us in a new direction.

“I Remember you, Always too far off, Sepia and White,
I Remember you, Holes in my Memory, Am I wrong or right?”

The music swirls and recedes like a dream or distant memory, so perfectly conveying what the band describe as ‘the liminal space between a fading “what was” and an anticipated “what is to come”‘. This evocative musical photograph ends with a wall of sound and chiming guitars powerfully recapitulating and building on the earlier memorable motif. Denis Smith is worthy of special mention here for a couple of reasons – his drumming swings with aplomb between funk, pastoral, rock, prog and almost ambient styles, and it’s always right on the nail and perfectly suited to the mood. Additionally, sonically, Sepia and White is a particular triumph for Smith’s pristine and sensitive production skills. The love he has for this music shines out with the skill and care he has applied to this wonderful song, and indeed the whole album. There have been a few great songs already in a good year (for music at least!) but this is my song of the year so far, and I am doubtful it will be surpassed.

After such multi-faceted drama this beautifully judged album ends the journey with an appropriately atmospheric closing number in The Light Shines Out. Signy Jakobsdottir provides subtle congas and percussion whilst David King switches to keyboards and drum programming to show his versatility. This also gives Denis Smith the opportunity to move off the drums and come to the fore with a smouldering and delicate lead vocal, with more than a hint of fellow Scot Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile (another GOOD thing!). Marc Papaghin on French horn and Stevie Lawrence with some elegiac low whistle add to the idiosyncratic, other worldly but warm quality of this piece. The song and album seemingly fade away with Smith wistfully intoning the chorus, before a curious Peter Gabriel-esque subtle ’80s funk rhythm inserts itself as the unexpected but very cool coda.

Abel Ganz have had a strange and intermittent career, starting out as a neo-prog band in the early 1980s (featuring Alan Reed, later of Pallas and solo) followed by long periods of inactivity. However, with their Shooting Albatross album in 2008 and much more prominently with their two most recent releases, Abel Ganz have completely reinvented themselves. They have also managed to somehow capture musical lightning, as it has most certainly struck again, at least matching and possibly surpassing their last brilliant album. They ignore the usual cliched ‘Prog’ tropes and styles, indeed, they seem unrestrained by any boundaries or rules of instrumentation or styles they are willing to fashion and mould into their unique brand of music – it certainly ain’t ‘Prog’! But it is expansive, imaginative, intuitive, emotional and utterly captivating.

The Life of the Honey Bee and Other Moments of Clarity will definitely deserve to be regarded as one of the best albums of 2020. It seems clear that its themes are deeply rooted in personal experience for the band… and yet they have also created a piece of work which has great power to resonate emotionally with all those who hear it.

I have no qualms in saying that The Life of the Honey Bee and Other Moments of Clarity certainly touched my heart, and at the same time it compelled me to smile… and don’t we all need something like that right now?

“Oh The Light Shines Out, Oh The Light Shines out,
It’s Gonna be Alright”

01. The Life of the Honey Bee and Other Moments of Clarity (12:38)
02. One Small Soul (5:52)
03. Aaran Shores (2:40)
04. Summerlong (5:22)
05. Sepia and White (13:31)
06. The Light Shines Out (6:17)
~ Bonus Track:
07. One Small Soul (Radio Edit) (3:58)

Mick Macfarlane – Lead Vocals, Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Bouzouki (track 1)
Dennis Smith – Drums, Lead Vocal (track 6)
Alan Hearton – Grand Piano, Minimoog String Synthesizer, Moog Synthesiser, Vibraphone, Additional Keyboards
Jack Webb – Pianos, Hammond B3 Organ, Electric Piano, Yamaha C3 Grand Piano, Synth Keyboards
David King – Acoustic & Electric Guitars, Lead Guitar (track 2), Drum Programming (track 6), Keyboards (track 6), Additional Keyboards
Stephen Donnelly – Bass Guitars, Double Bass (track 2), Acoustic Double Bass (track 5)
Davie Mitchell – Electric Guitars (tracks 1 & 5), Nashville Acoustic Guitar (track 1), Lead Guitar (track 1)
~ With:
Alex Paclin – Chromatic Harmonica (track 1)
Snake Davis – Saxophone (track 1)
Fiona Cuthill – Fiddles & Recorders (track 1)
Emily Smith – Vocals (track 2)
Frank Van Essen – Strings & Arrangement (track 4)
Marc Papaghin – French Horn (track 6)
Stevie Lawrence – Low Whistle (track 6)
Signy Jakobsdottir – Congas & Percussion (track 6)

Record Label: Abel Records
Country of Origin: Scotland
Date of Release: 6th July 2020

Abel Ganz – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp

– Gratuitous Flash (1984)
– Gullibles Travels (1985)
– The Dangers of Strangers (1988)
– The Deafening Silence (1994)
– Shooting Albatross (2008)
– The Dangers of Strangers (20th Anniversary Remaster) (2008)
– Abel Ganz (2014)
– The Life of the Honey Bee and Other Moments of Clarity (2020)

This news story was originally published here:

Steve Howe, is looking forward to releasing his latest album – and his first for nine years –  through BMG Records on 31st July. Love Is is Howe’s first solo album since the all-instrumental Time in 2011.

Many years in the making, Love Is features five instrumental tracks and five songs, a consistently strong and polished package and may well be one of the best albums of his solo career. The instrumentals keep a highly progressive rock guitar style to the fore, while the songs that explore stories of lives lived and lives only just begun. Love Is A River is the central longer song with several textural shifts, featuring a theme played on 12 string and steel guitars. Steve Howe sings lead vocals and plays electric, acoustic and steel guitars, keyboards, percussion and bass guitar on the instrumentals while Yes vocalist Jon Davison provides vocal harmonies and plays bass guitar on the songs. The album also features Dylan Howe on drums.

Steve Howe logo

Steve is always busy and has had a lot going on in his life since the last solo album. When we spoke, recently, he began by explaining how the new album came about.

“All my albums have music from different eras of my writing. In one respect, when I released my last album, it was 2011, it was an instrumental, it had orchestration on it and I collaborated with Paul Joyce. He was an arranger and that was what I wanted to do, arrange. After that, I was in no hurry to cut another record straight away but I had tracks laying around. I guess, after a couple of years, I started to think ‘If I’m going to make another record I’d better act and write lots of material and build up a backlog of material.’ The title track is one of those tracks that take a long time to formulate and get to the level of feel and parts and harmony and all the things that they need.

“Gradually, since Time, I started to come back to this project. Any back burner project, that isn’t an Asia record or a Yes record or a Yes tour or solo tour or a trio project, has to fit in between those things and this is partly why an album can take a while. I was accumulating tracks and I noticed that I had a fair share of instrumentals and a fair share of songs. I guess I kind of whittled them down a bit and made decisions, threw one away and a new one came along. This is the process of making a record, it’s not easy to describe.

Love Is A River just seemed a very important track to me, sort of quintessentially me with lots moods, lots of interesting things going on with steel guitars and acoustic guitars. I was merrily thinking that it could fit in somewhere but then the other tracks grew from my time when I write in my own studio and then I went to see Curtis Schwartz in his studio. We expanded the tracks and put them on Pro Tools and everything starts to be possible.

“At some point, probably around three years ago, Dylan came down to Curtis’s studio and we recorded the drums on these and some other tracks. That further condensed the idea, I could see a balance of instrumental tracks and songs and there was a feeling that it was an album, ten tracks sitting there, looking at me.

“I just kept, kind of, detailing it, going back on tracks and then a couple of years back I invited Jon Davison to sing harmonies with me and just add bass on the songs. I felt the instrumentals had my bass and I was quite happy with it and I didn’t want to bother him with those. If he was singing on the five songs then I thought why doesn’t he play bass as well, so he did that and it turned out nice.

Steve Howe

“I’d got most of the ingredients, so it’s going back and adding the details, different overdub sessions, different mixing sessions, gradually building up to what we have, finally finished and coming out.”

The final product is a very identifiable Steve Howe album, a very impressive set with lots of Steve Howe signatures that will please his fans. Steve added that it was good to record with current Yes vocalist Jon Davison.

“Yes, sure. He’s been with Yes for seven or eight years and he’s a great guy, great performer, a great interpreter of Yes songs. I thought ‘Well, why not, he’s a great singer, it can’t hurt!’ I’ve been singing for years, mainly in harmony but I’ve sung lead on lots of my own albums before. I feel that, as I’ve got older, I’ve got a grip on that and, hopefully, it’s improved over the years, but it balances with my other work.

“And Dylan came down, did lots of drumming and he’s excited the album’s coming out. We had a trio album out last year, that took quite a few years to make after it was recorded, mixing it and finessing it. Sometimes you think you’ve finished and then you go, ‘ No, I haven’t really, this isn’t quite right.’ Then you go back and you work it a bit more and that’s the beauty of production and why I like producing. I’m at home producing myself and I have this golden rule on solo projects and there aren’t really any problems: I work with people I like, everybody gets what they deserve from it and it’s a happy affair. I like to keep that very simplistic. Groups are very complicated, you have to balance other factors, and that’s a pleasure too but on the solo projects it’s very much a pleasurable experience to be able to direct it so that it all has the right feel.”

Steve went on to explain the story behind some of the tracks.

Steve Howe - Love Is (album cover)“Believe it or not,” he laughs, “there’s a story behind all of them but it’s not really a verbal story, it’s an emotional story, it’s things we experience in life. On The Balcony’s quite like that. Dylan gets quite improvisational in a couple of areas. It’s a funny kind of song, it’s almost a bit sixties, in a way, a slightly Tomorrow feel some of the time.

Imagination is dedicated to my granddaughter Zuni, it’s about how I see some of the things she’s experienced in her short seven years. It’s kind of a story about being a grandparent as much as a person working and collaborating with other people in life, not so much in music but in life.

See Me Through is a blast of an idea that seemed to self-generate, the idea that we get through life by, not driving ourselves that hard but by attempting to achieve things. People help you on the way and I kind of reminisce about the early days when I used to smell the daffodils, a reference to the seventies, in a way, remembering what those things were like.

“The subject of my songs is, emotionally, about my life. I don’t like to make it too obvious and I’m not going out of my way to make it too vague but, on the other hand, I don’t want face value lyrics all the time, I want lyrics that have got some depth and hidden meanings to me and that’s a kind of a tease, I suppose.

“I might have a song that I think ‘I’m not going here but I’ll extract ideas from it.’ In a way, it’s still going there but it’s more secretive, more a pastiche, another version of something. It’s development really and that’s what music takes, that’s what the parts and the instrumental sections in the songs and the instrumentals are about. My music is mainly a vehicle for my guitar playing, whether a song or an instrumental but that guitar work is a variety of things. I like to have that incredible freedom to make albums that have a continuity about them. In the early days I just did everything I thought I’d like to do and found that the musical diversity in them was extreme. I think the last one I made like that was Elements which had a rock, jazz, bluesy feel, which is a little different from my main train of thought. Usually, with Quantum Guitar, Spectrum, those kind of albums are very much the prog guitarist. That’s always underlying in Love Is, as well.

“I called it Love Is, Love Is A River was a bit of a heavy title. It hints at the central idea that began with the hippies, that love is important but also love and the universe, the ecology of the world is very important. For 200 years people have been saying we are destroying the planet, ever since Alexander Humboldt went around the world and recognised we are destroying the planet but that was 200 years ago! We are still destroying the planet and I suppose, in some ways, some of my songs show a yearning I have for the love of nature, how beauty stems from nature and how art stems from nature, too, and music stems from nature. I would say there is a theme about those things, love, beauty, ecology, nature and wonderful people.”

The instrumental tracks include a variety of styles from the delicate beauty of Fulcrum, Beyond The Call and Pause For Thought to upbeat rock, The Headlands, and the jazz-tinged Sound Picture.

“The instrumentals are like it’s a mood, a place I went to one day, thought this is nice and then I develop that to a point where it’s a finished track. There might be key ingredients that I thought about using musically that I like, that I’m drawn to, and then I think that’s going to develop into something. That’s what I try and do, cream off the things that fit together. It might be a vague continuity but there is a level of continuity to what I do.

“Yes was a great opportunity for me to diversify. Having the freedom to play our own music was the most important ingredient about it. Sure, I became a top guitarist, won lots of awards and all that and my guitar work is central to it but still the writing and the importance of having an outlet for those emotions and colours and pallets of sound, from pedal steel to 12-string acoustics. The thing I like to do is to dabble with the whole family of guitars. I can’t really explain why. As the years have clocked on, I haven’t got tired or gone ‘Shut up with those guitars!’ Instead I’ve kept endorsing my interest and enjoyment for the guitarists who have gone before me. I’m just a part of that guitar legacy, I guess.”

[You can read Bob Mulvey’s review of Love Is HERE.
Photos by Geoff Ford.]

Steve Howe – Website | Facebook | Twitter

This news story was originally published here:

Steve Howe – Yes, Asia, guitar legend… no further introduction needed or offered.

According to the press release Love Is is his “first solo album since the all-instrumental Time in 2011”, although in the interim period there have been two of his Homebrew project releases, New Frontier from The Steve Howe Trio, an Asia album and a couple of studio releases from the other band 🙂

For Love Is Steve is joined by son Dylan on drums, along with current Yes vocalist Jon Davison, who also plays bass on the tracks he sings on. All other instrumentation is performed by Mr Howe. From the very opening few bars there is very little doubt that this is Steve Howe. Melodic multi-layered guitars, delivered in his inimitable way. One of the first things to strike home is the attention to detail within the guitar tones and textures and you can imagine the time and thought gone into selecting the right guitar, with the right effects to achieve the desired musical tapestry for each of the layers.

Steve Howe’s previous solo album, Time, which saw him engaging with a small orchestral ensemble in a collection of gentle, classically inspired tunes with the material, penned by Howe and Paul K Joyce, Virgil Howe, Paul Sutin, along with reworkings of pieces from Vivaldi, Villa-Lobos and JS Bach. In contrast Love Is is a more contemporary offering and on this album Steve Howe’s mastery of the guitar is brought fully to the fore, with the rhythm section and underlying instrumentation more a blank canvas for his vibrant guitar artistry.

All of which are readily to be found on the album’s title track Love Is A River. An immediately infectious melody is introduced, quickly followed by subtle guitar timbers, a keyboard layering and then sweet harmonies. There’s even a mandolin for good measure. At this point it would be oh so easy to continue with this formula, embellishing and curtailing as the track develops, however less than a minute in and the introduction of 12 string guitar changes the mood completely. The pace is slower, the mood is darker and more sombre as we move into the vocal section.

With vocalist Jon Davison onboard it may come as surprise that Steve Howe tackles the melody and Jon Davison the harmonies. Always an integral part of the Yes vocal harmonies, however Steve is not noted for his lead vocals. Again much thought must have gone into vocal melody as Steve Howe delivers the main line with warm surety and with the introduction of Davison’s “answering” vocals and harmonies bring it all nicely together. Comparisons to both Yes and Asia are inevitable, although Love Is A River is not a track you would expect to hear on either band’s output.

As a side note on Love Is A River, initially Steve Howe played all the bass across the album, however it was later agreed that Jon Davison would play the bass parts on the songs he appeared on. A shrewd move and Jon’s busy bass work is certainly worthy of attention during the uptempo instrumental breaks.

Across the ten tracks that constitute Love Is, half feature vocals. The first of these, the spritely uptempo See Me Through, which to my ears shares a distant DNA with My White Bicycle, is a catchy number, performed vocally by Steve and John and stays in the cererbral regions well after the album has finished. A similar vocal formula remains for It Ain’t Easy, a track full of country rock swagger, whereas Imagination, sees Steve’s voice more exposed during the verses. The lyrics are rather more intoned, than sang. Well Mark Knopfler has got away with it for years…

The last of vocal tracks is On The Balcony. I freely admit when listening to the album for the first time, I initially assumed my iPod had shuffled on to another album? A brief drum fill introduces the heaviest and possibly most intricate track on the album. Killer riff from Mr Howe, augmented by Dylan’s busy drumming. It’s fairly short lived however and a more chugging rhythm is employed during the singing. The one vocal track on the album that would have been interesting to see where an instrumental approach might have taken it. Love that riff!

So to the instrumentals. In his interview for TPA, Steve comments about his passion of the guitar: “The thing I like to do is to dabble with the whole family of guitars.” adding “…I’ve kept endorsing my interest and enjoyment for the guitarists who have gone before me. I’m just a part of that guitar legacy, I guess.”

Fulcrum opens in very Yes-like fashion, but I couldn’t help pondering, as the track unfolded, whether or not Peter Green and Hank Marvin might have been guitarists that had touched him along the way. Regardless Fulcrum is a musical collage of the wonderful Howe traits that listeners to Yes music will recognise and enjoy. Beyond The Call is a slow burning, more laid back affair with acoustic guitar and sweetly played electric guitar. A tune I could well have imagined hearing on a Mike Oldfield album. Sound Picture on the other hand opens in undeniable Steve Howe fashion, before a more steady rhythm is employed to carry the main theme, interspersed with some nifty, off-kilter passages.

Pause For Thought, does exactly that, an exquisite atmospheric track, which ebbs and flows, and also a prime example, emphasizing the point made earlier, regarding the selection of sound effects – the main theme employing a sitar sound – just one example in this piece. The last of the instrumental tracks, a bit of foot stomper, features Steve Howe’s signature lap steel style…

If I was to honest my initial reaction to the album was that it was enjoyably pleasant, something that I might come back to from time to time, but overall didn’t really go much deeper. Subsequent listening has added the detail, something always missing on the first few sessions, revealing an unequivocally Steve Howe album of engaging scope and quality. I suppose, like many, I might have anticipated an album reminiscent of Steve Howe in Yes, rather than the more personalised Steve Howe of Love Is.

[You can read Geoff Ford’s interview with Steve Howe HERE on TPA.]

01. Fulcrum (4:27)
02. See Me Through (4:27)
03. Beyond The Call (4:51)
04. Love Is A River (5:56)
05. Sound Picture (3:37)
06. It Ain’t Easy (4:25)
07. Pause For Thought (3:40)
08. Imagination (3:55)
09. The Headlands (3:14)
10. On The Balcony (5:00)

Total Time – 43:32

Steve Howe – Electric, Acoustic, Steel & Bass Guitars, Keyboards, Percussion, Vocals
Jon Davison – Bass, Vocal Harmonies (2,4,6,8 & 10)
Dylan Howe – Drums

Record Label: BMG Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 31st July 2020

Steve Howe – Website | Facebook | Twitter

This news story was originally published here:

A gentle piano intro, and the voice intoning a complex and odd melody, “picking melodies out of the black and fumy air” indeed. Then, something stirs, crashing chords, strident bass and drums, and a synth melody soaring aloft; yes friends, it’s Prog O’Clock. I Am The Manic Whale are back. The band play through a kind of overture sequence, ascendant and triumphal, then back to the vocals, where Michael Whiteman’s lines are answered by the backing vocals in a call and response arrangement, somewhat similar to the technique often used by Big Big Train. The Manic Whale build to a fittingly grand conclusion, then disappear in a series of synth squiggles.

So opens Things Unseen, the new album from I Am The Manic Whale, their third studio effort and easily their best yet. Without any pause for breath we are off again with a riff overlaying Mellotron sweeps, then some tricky Zappa-isms punctuating proceedings for no apparent reason! Quirky for quirky’s sake? No, I think quirky simply for fun, and it works brilliantly. The Deplorable Word is of course inspired by C.S. Lewis and his Chronicles of Narnia, a word which supposedly results in the death of all living things, except for the person who utters it. “The Deplorable Word, she’s finally Queen of the World, The Deplorable Word, last left alive under the sun”. Clearly written to become a prog anthem, The Whale do it justice for sure. The instrumental break again brings to mind BBT with its lively bass and drums rhythmic thrust from Michael Whiteman and Ben Hartley, the basis for some great guitar and jazzy piano improvisation courtesy of David Addis and John Murphy. Listening to this inspired section it becomes obvious how far I Am The Manic Whale have come in a short space of time. Rob Aubrey’s mixing skills have really brought out a new dimension to their sound, and he is known for being something of a perfectionist, but I’m sure it’s also down to experience enhancing the writing process, and the self-confidence which that brings to the performance. The band must at least suspect they have made something a bit special here.

Onward, and a gentle introspective acoustic guitar ushers in a song reflecting on the single biggest issue in the world today, and no, I’m not talking about any virus, but the seemingly wilful destruction of the planet by humankind. Into the Blue is a plea to change our ways, and has a hint of optimism, as in the line “now we’re waking up”, but is it too late? Whiteman thinks not, and continues “When wicked men make profits from the salt-ripped earth and punished sea, it’s time to wave our banners true. So let’s do everything to clear the air, and take the deepest breath into the blue”. Well his heart is undeniably in the right place, and the music sounds hopeful. On the heels of the acoustic intro, a heavy guitar and keys riff gives it gravitas, but we return to an optimistic vibe with a Summery chorus with great vocal harmonies. In fact the vocal delivery on this album is one of the hallmarks of the improved sound. Again, the instrumental break mid-song is so inventive and includes a fast section with manic guitar shapes from Addis which are a joy to hear, but order is soon restored, and the song concludes with a reprise of the acoustic intro. It’s just perfect.

Perhaps the album title Things Unseen is a reference to Whiteman’s penchant for unusual song subjects, or odd observations. One thing is for sure; if you can make out the album title from the front cover, you’re doing well. I had to be shown! Anyway, the next subject to come under Whiteman’s critical eye is the celebrity culture, and it is examined at some length, so Celebrity is the album’s centrepiece at nearly 19-minutes. It is a multi-part epic, but eschews the usual tried and trusted prog clichés on the whole. The lyrics are amusing and well observed, although the targets are difficult to miss when they are this absurd, but it’s a fun romp, and so full of finely crafted musical ideas that the minutes flit by quickly, rather like the moments of fame our hapless hero craves. The more ridiculous parts are very Zappa, or even Beardfish in flavour. It will go down a storm live without a doubt, and the byword here is definitely ‘fun’, and sometimes prog can forget this vital element in music.

The Manics do have a serious side though, and both Smile and Halcyon Day are songs of love for children and the moments of joy they bring, and both are delightfully honest whilst retaining that quirky element in their arrangements. That leaves two blockbusters to mention; the first is Build It Up Again, which extols the joys of Lego, and is currently my favourite track. I’d find it hard to listen to this song without having a cheesy grin on my face, and the chorus says it all: “Build it up, take it apart, build it up again”. Can’t wait for the grandchildren to be allowed to visit again and I know what we’ll be doing! Whiteman’s vocal gymnastics hit new heights here, and the weird and whacky jazz interludes are hilarious.

Final track Valenta Scream is a homage to British engineering prowess of the Seventies, something we may well have lost over the years, but The Manics remember, and you will too as the Paddington to Bristol diesel express screams through the English countryside. Perhaps it doesn’t quite have the obvious allure of the age of steam, but it is nevertheless a memory that Whiteman cherishes, and conveys vividly.

So there it is, I Am The Manic Whale have made, not only the best album of their career so far, but one of the most engaging and entertaining albums you’re likely to hear this year. It is as prog as you could possibly want, but avoiding the clichés so often associated with the genre. It is the sound of a band on top of their game really going for it, and that is a cause for celebration. When I first saw the band live a couple of years ago, I enjoyed them, but didn’t honestly think they would be capable of an album of this quality. I’m very glad to be proved wrong.

01. Billionaire (7:30)
02. The Deplorable Word (7:56)
03. Into the Blue (6:28)
04. Celebrity (19:01)
05. Smile (4:24)
06. Build it Up Again (7:03)
07. Halcyon Day (5:28)
08. Valenta Scream (7:19)

Total Time – 65:09

Ben Hartley – Drums, Percussion, Vocals
John Murphy – Keyboards, Murphatron, Vocals
David Addis – Acoustic, Electric & Classical Guitars, Vocals
Michael Whiteman – Bass Guitar, Strombolief Bass Pedals, Electric & Acoustic 12-String Guitars, Vocals
~ with:
Ella Lloyd – Flute (tracks 3 & 7)
Iona Garvie – Bassoon, Contra-Bassoon (track 4)
Rob Aubrey – Unsolicited Additional Bass Pedals
Halcyon Strings (tracks 1,7 & 8):
Coral Powell – Violins
Martin Carrick – Violins
Michael Bullock – Violins
Mairi Warren – Viola
Matthew Talks – Cello

Record Label: Independent
Country Of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 24th April 2020

I Am The Manic Whale – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter

This news story was originally published here:

From my Facebook feed, I noticed a strange phenomenon when it came to discussion about Green Carnation’s latest release, Leaves of Yesteryear. I make it a point not to read other reviews before writing my own, so all I had to go on was the comments I saw about the album in FB posts and groups. I found it extremely odd that so much discussion seemed to revolve not around the first new music the group had released (other than live) in many long years, but rather the length of the release. Time after time I saw people complaining that they had been waiting for a new album, and yet had been given only an EP, others moaning that much of the length of the album was taken up by the reworking of an old song. I couldn’t understand any of this, and in my review, attempted to address these concerns – because for me the length of the album is irrelevant, and whether or not is is an EP or an album is equally so. It’s new music from Green Carnation, and it’s bloody marvellous (quite possibly my favourite Green Carnation release yet!)

Even more strangely, after submitting my review I started reading the reviews of others, and Leaves of Yesteryear seems to have drawn almost unanimous praise. So it would seem, from a reviewer’s point of view, the concerns of those individuals whose criticism I saw on Facebook didn’t register. It made me wonder just how much disparity there might be between the fickle nature of fans, compared with those who review (who are more inclined to care about the quality of what is presented, rather than how much of it there is, of what it is made up of). I wondered if the band had even seen any of the criticism, and though I felt a little guilty about doing so, I decided to press ahead with what I hoped would not be a too offensive line of questioning, when presented with the opportunity to interview Kjetil Nordus, the band’s vocalist.

Green Carnation

One of the things I noticed from much of the discussion and conversation around the latest Green Carnation release, is whether it is an album or an EP. I think in this day and age, the idea of attempting to differentiate between the two is problematic and quite possibly redundant, and I myself don’t care. In a way, they are probably labels that need to be consigned to history. Bandcamp, for example, considers any release comprising of more than one track (even if it is only two) to be an album. This is possibly the way forward, and in many genres would be meaningless regardless. Most music consumed these days by the majority of listeners is song based. Very few people these days listen to albums. However, when it comes to progressive music, the album is still very much a thing. How do you feel about the discussion about whether Leaves… is an EP or an album? Does it matter to you?

I think it is totally irrelevant. We are presenting almost 45 minutes of music that we have put together in order to make the album we wanted to make. I haven’t seen so much negativity about this. And people focusing first and foremost about this have sadly misunderstood what we wanted to do this time around. If people label it an album or an EP, or even single (even if it is not), I hope people will put it on from the start, and listen to what we have put together. This time around, and since it was our first album for so many years, we discussed a lot about what we wanted to do before even deciding that we wanted to do the album. There were a few important aspects that we wanted to achieve, and maybe the most important one was that we wanted to not compromise on what was going to be on the album.

We wanted the album to “decide” what was going to be on it, meaning there wouldn’t be any personal pride (for example wanting this or that new song on the album) or anything else deciding how the album was going to turn out. There are way too many releases up through the years that we have thought would be better with fewer songs, and we really didn’t want to go into that trap. It was a difficult task, because we did have three or four new songs (all of really good quality, we think), but they just weren’t perfect for the album. I think most creative artists will feel at home in these questions and challenges, but this time we decided early not to do any compromises. Personally, I think we succeeded, because all of the songs have such an important role for the total experience, and there are no fillers or nothing that doesn’t belong there.

This is the first new studio material from Green Carnation in something like 15 years. I’m definitely not complaining! And for me, it works incredibly well as an album, or as an EP, so it really doesn’t matter. I like the idea of it being an EP, only in the sense that EPs are very often released ahead of an album, signposting the direction that a band is taking. Leaves… is a tremendous statement of intent! For me, it foreshadows what is going to be a magnificent album. It shows a band getting back together, and proving to themselves, as much as to their audience, that they are back and have something worth saying. It must have taken some time and thinking to decide whether or not the band did actually have something to say, after reforming for live performances. Many bands reform to perform live, but realise they have nothing new to say, and so continue to perform live, with no intention of releasing new music. How much of Leaves… was for you, rather than for us?

Luckily, most people understand, and take this as a piece of new sounds from a band that has been away for many, many years. As you touch on, we didn’t plan to do a new album before maybe early 2019. Having made the successful comeback in 2016, we needed to be completely sure that we still had it in us. So we continued playing live after 2016 and started making new music too, while discussing what we wanted with the next release.

During our first period, we did five albums that were very different from each other, but all of them contained lots of “typical” Green Carnation moments. We talked a lot about the band’s musical identity – what makes us stand out from other bands, and stuff like that. And we wanted to try to gather the most “typical” Green Carnation elements into one album. Therefore you can say there is a certain level of retrospect on the album, but it was also extremely important for us to give all of this new colours. After all, we are all 15 years more experienced as human beings and musicians since our last album together.

Kjetil Nordus – Green Carnation

One of the things I absolutely love about Leaves…, and strangely (to me) another thing I’ve noticed a lot of people have criticised, is the inclusion of a reworking of My Dark Reflections. I get that people are complaining that a great deal of the release is taken up by an “old” song, but for me it’s a cornerstone of the new album. I don’t think this release would feel at all complete without it. And, apart from having always been one of my favourite GC songs, it is possibly one of the most important ever for the band. How important do you feel that song is to Green Carnation as a whole, and how important was it to include it on Leaves of Yesteryear?

First, I have to say I am curious where you have actually found all the criticism, because generally the feedback and reviews have been nothing but amazing. Although we have been blessed with fantastic reviews before, I actually think it has never been so over the top as with Leaves of Yesteryear! [Laughs]

The criticism stood out to me, because I didn’t agree with any of it. It’s not something I’ve seen in any review subsequently, and I’ve seen it only in the comments of individuals on Facebook. Leaves of Yesteryear absolutely deserves over the top reviews. So often a comeback album, especially after so long, can be disappointing. The fact that people are not finding it disappointing, but rather moaning about the length or the inclusion of an “old” song, speaks volumes to me. And, as I said, My Dark Reflections is a cornerstone of the album. I can’t imagine the album working without it. It doesn’t just fit, it fits perfectly. But it was still an interesting – and perhaps surprising for many – decision to make.

We knew that doing a remade version of one of our own songs was not a very typical thing to do. But then again, we have never been a band afraid of following our ambitions, and some of our ambition for this album was to knit together all of Green Carnation’s recording career. With the entire band (except for Tchort [guitars]) having been changed from our first to our second album, it made great sense for us that the current line-up made a version of My Dark Reflections, in a way that we would have written it today.

Another aspect in that decision is that this song is probably the most important song in the band’s history. The entire Light of Day, Day of Darkness is built on My Dark Reflections, and if it hadn’t been for that song on the first album, who knows what Green Carnation would have become. And, being 20 years since the release, we also thought it would be a good idea to tribute the very first chapter of the band’s recording history.

And not least, getting back to us wanting the album to “decide” which songs which was going to be on it, I think nobody can really disagree that this is a very important song for how the album turned out. For me it is the perfect centrepiece of this, all the time the rest of it is like it is.

Absolutely! Nobody could argue the importance of My Dark Reflections! The lyrics reveal the first mention of “Light of Day, Day of Darkness”, and indeed that epic has always seemed to me to stem from My Dark Reflections, so it’s nice to get confirmation from you that that is the case. Which, I guess, brings up the burning question on every GC fan’s lips – is a sequel to Light of Day forthcoming?

Green Carnation

I know when I first read the track-listing for Leaves… (released long before any of the music was available to hear), I had quite ambivalent feelings. On one hand, I was a little sceptical, but on the other, I was terribly excited to see My Dark Reflections in there. For me, that implied that as much as you are looking forward to new things (or you’d not have bothered releasing any new studio material at all), you were still looking back. I could totally understand if Light of Day never sees its sequel(s), of course. The burden of expectation is truly great, and no matter how good it might be, there will always be those who tear it down, just because it has taken so long to come to fruition, and they personally did not find it lived up to their expectations. How much does a sequel weigh on your shoulders? Is it something you are considering?

A good question, that I could have answered in many ways. I think the truth is that the trilogy idea wasn’t really well enough thought through when it was first launched, and people have followed up with lots of questions. And we have let the speculations run without really ever having any concrete answers to what is going to happen. What I can say now, is that we have some stupidly ambitious plans for the next few years, that will answer most of those questions. But I cannot be more specific at this time…

Well, that’s really exciting! Which makes me feel bad for asking this next question, but another criticism I have read (and I’m guessing you have not), is the inclusion of a cover song. Again, I must let you know that I find the criticism completely unwarranted, and related more to how people conceive an album should be constructed. I absolutely love what you’ve done with Solitude – and you’ve made it sound like a Green Carnation original. Honestly, if I didn’t know it was a Sabbath song, I’d never have realised it is a cover, so much have you made it your own. And lyrically, it just fits. I really can’t conceive of a better closing statement. Solitude finishes Leaves… perfectly. It feels like it was deliberate and planned. In fact everything about Leaves…, and its sequencing, seems very deliberate and very planned. The flow of the release is perfect. How late in the process did you decide to close it with Solitude?

Again, it is a matter of choosing the right song for the right “role” in an album. And I think we succeeded this time in getting it exactly right. I had actually been trying to put on two or three of the other new songs we have written after Hounds, and it really made the whole experience different. In a way I am so happy we ended up again taking a bold decision, to include a cover song. Solitude contains the exact mood we needed, and the lyrics make you wonder if that song was actually made for this album.

Solitude was the last song that we decided. We knew that we needed a song to close the album, and tried out one or two more options before discovering that this one would be the one. I agree with you, I don’t think we could have had a better song to close the album.

Thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate you answering my questions and I very much look forward to the next chapter in the Green Carnation story.

Thank you for interesting and well thought out questions. All the best!

Kjetil Nordus – Green Carnation

[You can read Nick’s review of Leaves of Yesteryear HERE. Photos used in this article by Lisa Marie Bynes and used with her kind permission.]

Green Carnation – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube

This news story was originally published here:

New music from Green Carnation has long been awaited by many. It’s been twenty years since their debut, and almost fifteen since their most recent release. Leaves of Yesteryear is an absolutely outstanding return to form, and a major statement of intent – but is it an album, or an EP? By its length alone, it would be hard to argue it is an EP, but by its content it conforms far more to what one might expect from that shorter form of release. There are only three new original songs, one reworking of a song from their debut, and a Black Sabbath cover. That’s not to say they are not good, for they most definitely are – but, despite the length, this release never feels more than an EP. Unlike some, I don’t see that as a bad thing. I have seen many complaints about the release on social media, but as much as I might have been expecting something different, I am more than happy with this release.

For me, Leaves of Yesteryear works like an EP released ahead of a magnificent album, and based on the material from this release, the forthcoming album (and I’m sure there will be one) will be magnificent. The title track is one of the most enjoyable Green Carnation songs yet. It brings together both the Green Carnation sound I love (their first two albums), and the Green Carnation sound I like, but which am not so fond of (their next two albums). I think a lot of people were wondering just what new Green Carnation might sound like. I’ve made a point of not reading any reviews (as I never like to read others’ reviews before writing my own), but from what I’ve seen on social media, most people (myself included) have been very happy with the blend of the dark, gloomy and doomy with the more alternative and melodic that the band have created.

Sentinels is another great new song, but it has quite a different sound from the title track. More direct, and with driving heaviness and intensity, it reminds me a little of Queen’s Innuendo put in a blender with Amorphis. I didn’t find it as immediately engaging as Leaves of Yesteryear, as it wasn’t really what I was expecting, at all. It is so different from anything else on the release, that it (for me) only heightens the sense of this being more of an EP than an album. As much as I enjoy Sentinels now, it still feels out of place, particularly when the preceding track is such an amazing reference to their past sound, with a distinctly modern and novel twist, and the following is a reworking of one of their most beloved songs.

And that reworking? Well, I was initially highly sceptical when the track listing was announced and My Dark Reflections was there. The longest track of the newest release is a song from twenty years ago. But, wow! On hearing it, I am taken aback. Familiarity initially meant this was my favourite track here, and it still is right up there (even if I would probably now give the title track that honour), but this track works only because Leaves of Yesteryear feels like an EP. It would stick out like a sore thumb on an album. It’s a tremendous reworking (which I think I may even prefer over the original – and that is not something I expected at all!), but it’s too rooted in the band’s past to be part of their future. Then again, one line from the song strikes hard: “Light of Day, Day of Darkness”. That is one part of the band’s past, that many fans long to be part of their future. A long-awaited sequel to their one song epic album has never been forthcoming. Could the choice of song to rework for this release be a sign that maybe…? No, best not to dwell on that.

Onto Hounds instead – the final new original song. It’s quite impressive, and has more chances within its length than anything else on the release but My Dark Reflections. It’s a particularly strong song, which I suspect will be a favourite for many listeners. It is definitely the only song that could have followed My Dark Reflections, and still held it’s own. What Hounds does particularly well is to take the directness of Sentinels and better fit it to the sound and strengths of Green Carnation. It would be too simplistic to suggest that Hounds is the confluence of the other two new songs, but it would not be entirely inaccurate either.

We are left with the Black Sabbath cover to end the album, and wow (again!). This is an incredibly beautiful cover of Solitude, which Green Carnation have made entirely their own. It’s a beautifully subdued and subtle cover and it is one more string in the bow of Kjetil Nordhus, whose exceptional vocals are the greatest addition to the Green Carnation sound of all the many changes the band has seen over the years. Nordhus conveys a great range of emotions with his performances, and while musically Green Carnation are still led by the writing and guitar of Tchort (without whom, of course, there would be no Green Carnation), Nordhus is proving to be indispensable to the sound and approach of the band.

So, after many years, Green Carnation has returned, and with quite possibly the best prog metal release I’ve heard so far this year. This release is, in my opinion, despite its album length, an EP. There are only three original songs on it, taking up 24 of the 44 minutes running time. The others are a re-recording of an old song and a cover. But that’s no reason for complaint, and I’m not sure why I have seen so much negativity. It is a surprise, but not a let-down. The only way this release could become a let-down is if nothing else follows it, because Leaves of Yesteryear leaves me hungry for more, and with an expectation I never thought could eventuate – that the next Green Carnation album might be their greatest yet. As an album, this is not a great one – but as an EP, foreshadowing greatness to come, this is unbeaten. There is not a minute wasted, and not a dud track. As an EP, dare I say it, this is perfect. Thus, while I highly recommend Leaves of Yesteryear, it is with that one proviso. Come at it as an album, and you are likely to be disappointed, as so many seem to have been. Approach it as an EP, and you should be fine.

[And you can read Nick’s interview with Green Carnation vocalist Kjetil Nordus HERE.]

01. Leaves of Yesteryear (8:03)
02. Sentinels (5:42)
03. My Dark Reflections of Life and Death (15:36)
04. Hounds (10:09)
05. Solitude (5:05)

Total Time – 44:36

Kjetil Nordhus – Vocals
Terje Vik Schei ‘Tchort’ – Guitars
Bjørn Harstad – Guitars
Stein Roger Sordal – Bass
Kenneth Silden – Keyboards
Jonathan Alejandro Perez – Drums

Record Label – Season of Mist
Country of Origin – Norway
Date of Release – 8th May 2020

Green Carnation – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube

This news story was originally published here:

Marco Minnemann has been my favourite drummer for many years now, always exciting, everything he does is worthy of attention, and this debut album with guitarist and songwriter Randy McStine is no exception. The duo take on multi-instrumentalist roles to create an entertaining and punchy record of short melodic songs that retain the firepower you’d expect.

Marco seems to have a new album out with someone every couple of weeks, and until the pandemic put paid to such things (for the time being at least) has been a frequent flyer with The Aristocrats of late. Randy McStine may be familiar from his band Lo-Fi Resistance, but he has also been playing with Nick D’Virgilio and Jonas Reingold as The Fringe and was scheduled to replace Dave Gregory to play live shows with Big Big Train, but alas, not this year.

The duo first met in 2018 and immediately discovered a shared love of rock, pop and punk and soon decided to work on something together, initially an EP, but this soon became an album as the creativity flowed, bringing in their various shared influences with the intention of forging a tuneful and engaging collection of songs with enough depth to keep them interesting.

This is a duo album in every sense with the two taking on all instrumental and vocal duties, and nailing them, it has to be said. The blend of rocky progressive pop with a punky edge and effects driven keys is a fun listen, the compact and high energy songs still managing to find space for dexterous musicianship, and they can certainly pen a hooky melody too. They pitch the songs at the centre of the Venn diagram taking in XTC, Mr. Bungle, The Police, Queen and Frank Zappa – if there were such a thing – and you can see where they’re coming from.

Program, the first-fruits single, explores the impact of technology in the modern world. Randy first recorded the song in 2013, but returned to it last year: “I thought this would be really great to do [with Marco] if we kick up the energy a bit and take it to a Devo-esque sound. I’m super excited about how it came out!” From Marco’s perspective, “the whole track has a real driving energy to it and I think, as an album opener, it sets the stage for most of the musical elements that are to follow.” The drums are to the fore straight away and it’s industrial pop with a pleasing Cardiacs-like sense to it, the tower teetering near collapse, but with the reassurance that it never will. Randy puts in a good vocal and there are nice guitar figures in this compact and fun track, starting as they mean to go on with songs in the two to four minute zone. The ‘vertical video’ is fun too…

Upfront punky bass gives a snarky edge to Falling From Grace, but with honeyed harmony vocals, and MM drums to the max, natch. It’s fiddly and witty but a world away from The Aristocrats, Marco, as always, adept at fitting his technique into accessible songs that have enough instrumental clout to garner wide appeal. Sinister piano takes an unexpected path to the dark side toward the end.

Your Offenses, the second single, is another winner, flying out of the traps on keys, drums and bass. The guitar work is excellent, as is the piano augmented chorus, all breaking down with some dirty, gritty soloing. Randy: “We didn’t make a ‘punk rock’ record, but I feel like the core of it is very much in that spirit. The bass and drums have a Police-like presence and I really love the way the song turned out!” In the writing process, it was the bridge section of this song that confirmed to Randy that they were both on the same page.

It’s ridiculously accessible, and proof (if any were needed) that tricksy talent does not preclude a poptastic end-result.

In marked contrast, Catrina has funky bass, dark vocals and a creepy, crisp melody. The vocals soar on harmonies, but the structures are unorthodox. Top of the Bucket is all frenetic drums and exemplary chiming guitars – tasty stuff – while Tear the Walls Down (No Memories) is chunky, stuttering, riffy rock, almost from another time, but with crisp drums and a powerful McStine vocal. Pounding but at the same time intricate, again spooky and with a nice guitar solo that mingles beautifully with piano to the fade.

Atmospheric vocals drive Fly, the album’s swaying stately centrepiece, a toe-tapper with FX and keys, while the groovesome intro to Activate is akin to Aristocrats, Randy’s vocal taking it elsewhere with funky chops and a winningly upbeat chorus. But is there room for a contemplative piano ballad? Why, of course! And The Closer is it, with slide guitars it’s a fab little tune. Finally the power drive of Voyager to finish, a four minute ‘epic’ of groovy metal and massive Zappa soloing with big finish harmony vocals.

This pair obviously have the chops, but they also understand the power of sophisticated pop and are adaptable enough to deliver this often quirky material in a direct way. It’s punchy and fun with all the instrumental pizzazz that any self-respecting enthusiast would wish for, but with a sense of melody and a poppy ethic that is often alien to ‘muso’ albums. These guys can pen a good hooky melody while twisting it in any direction they want, or just playing it straight – as that’s what won’t be expected!

01. Program (2:40)
02. Falling From Grace (3:44)
03. Your Offenses (3:27)
04. Catrina (3:37)
05. Top of the Bucket (3:30)
06. Tear the Walls Down (No Memories) (3:05)
07. Fly (3:48)
08. Activate (3:39)
09. The Closer (2:24)
10. Voyager (4:42)

Total Time – 34:36

Randy McStine – Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, FX
Marco Minnemann – Drums, Percussion, Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, FX

Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A./Germany
Date of Release: 3rd July 2020

McStine & Minnemann – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram | YouTube

This news story was originally published here:

Latest Prog News from across the progressive music spectrum & updated throughout July 2020.

02/07/2020: Neal Morse Announces New Solo Concept Album Sola Gratia

Neal Morse has announced the release of Sola Gratia, his new solo progressive rock concept album, on the 11th September 2020. Originating from an idea about writing a record based on the apostle Paul, Sola Gratia came together at the beginning of 2020. The album sees Neal working with long-time collaborators Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Eric Gillette, Bill Hubauer and Gideon Klein.

The title Sola Gratia has echoes of Morse’s 2007 epic Sola Scriptura, about the life of Martin Luther, but was in fact originally the result of a simple marital misunderstanding: Morse comments: “I was talking to my wife Cherie about debuting this new piece at Morsefest 2020 (Morse’s annual fan convention in Nashville) and she said she thought it would be good for me to do a solo album. However, I thought she said ‘Sola album’ and – because some of the new ideas involved Paul’s aggressive pursuit of the early Christians, I could see a link to some of the themes of persecution in ‘Sola Scriptura’.

The music was recorded ‘virtually’ in April 2020 at the height of the Coronavirus lockdown with long term collaborators Mike Portnoy (drums) and Randy George (bass): “It’s the first album we have ever made remotely: I sent them the basic tracks and asked if they wanted to rearrange things, but they just said ‘No, it’s great!’, so they just played to it and sent their parts back over. It wasn’t an easy way to make an album, but creating always has its challenges, no matter how you do it.”

As Morse explains, it was this process that decided that Sola Gratia was to be a Neal Morse album, rather than being credited to The Neal Morse Band: “With the Neal Morse Band, the whole band works together on the writing, and while Eric Gillette plays some guitar and Bill Hubauer has added some keyboards on this one, neither of them wrote – or is singing – on this album.”

Sola Gratia will be released as a limited CD/DVD Digipak (featuring a ‘Making-Of’ documentary), Gatefold 2LP + CD, Standard CD Jewel Case and as a Digital Album. The cover art was created by another longtime collaborator, Thomas Ewerhard.

Track List:
1. Preface
2. Overture
3. In The Name Of The Lord
4. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones)
5. March Of The Pharisees
6. Building A Wall
7. Sola Intermezzo
8. Overflow
9. Warmer Than The Sunshine
10. Never Change
11. Seemingly Sincere
12. The Light On The Road To Damascus
13. The Glory Of The Lord
14. Now I Can See/The Great Commission

Neal Morse will debut Sola Gratia live at his annual Morsefest convention on the 18th and 19th September 2020. A limited number of people will be able to attend in person, with the event also being streamed online. More details and tickets are available here:

SOURCES: For The Lost PR

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02/07/2020: Downes Braide Association Tease New Album

In a statement released on their Twitter feed, Downes Braide Association reveal they are working on a fourth studio album.

The statement reads: “Geoff & Chris are producing some fantastic songs and sending these on to Dave Bainbridge to add guitar & Andy Hodge to add bass, with added spoken vocals of Barney Ashton Bullock this album is turning out to be another masterpiece

A release date for the new album has not yet been set.

SOURCES: Downes Braide Association Twitter

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Veteran proggers Kansas have a new LP out, Absence of Presence, and in light of that, vocalist Ronnie Platt made himself available to TPA for an interview where he talked about the new album, the challenges of recording and touring simultaneously and what he expects 2021 will look like for Kansas.

Kansas banner

2020 so far and Kansas

For my part, I was quite nervous going into my call with Platt; I’ve had the privilege of interviewing many people during my career outside of music, but even in the case of my music interviews, I’ve always preferred to keep it to email, so a telephone interview is still new to me.

To get the ball rolling, I thought it would be best to open up the interview with nice, light conversation: global pandemics and how the 2020 lockdown had affected Kansas.

“Well it started off with a bang, that’s for sure,” Platt began. “With touring and putting the finishing touches on the album [to now being] kept in a holding pattern at the moment. So, you know, it’s a situation that’s beyond our control, so we have to abide by the situation.

“But I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel, I think things are starting to open up,” he added with a sense of optimism toward the future.

“It’s kind of a frustrating thing for us to have our album coming out now, because we were so, so excited about touring and perhaps playing a couple songs from the new album live,” Platt’s tone was genuinely upset about the lack of ability to hit the road with a new album in tow.

He continued: “One of course being Throwing Mountains, which is such a heavy song. You know, a lot of people are classifying that as progressive metal and that’s a perfect way to describe that song. But we are so looking forward to playing that live.

“We still are now, but we have to keep our excitement in containment, I guess.”

I agree with him that progressive metal is an apt description of the song, and also how heavy it is in comparison to a lot of Kansas repertoire, from what I could tell having done as much background listening as possible in the run up to the interview, which I think was appreciated.

Kansas 2020 European tour

So far, this was certainly an easy interview to conduct as Platt’s enthusiasm for his work and easy-going character found the humour in all of our exchanges and every response was accompanied with a good-natured laugh.

But it was time to get back to business.

“Do you want to talk about the tour?” I asked Platt as I was keen to know when audiences would have the opportunity to see Kansas performing.  “I know you guys were meant to be touring Europe this Autumn – has that been pushed back?”

His response was earnest, accepting of a situation out of his control, but that didn’t stop his eagerness to not be weighed down by the situation and get back on to the road.

“It has been pushed back. It’s very frustrating for me now that our first tour was cancelled, and now this second tour of Europe to be kept in a holding pattern is frustrating for me because… I want to go to Europe! And I want to bring this music to you!”

He added, “Our friends on the other side of the pond need to re-discover Kansas and witness this band because this band is on fire and sounding better than ever so I cannot wait to get there… and I cannot describe my anticipation and my excitement of wanting to bring this band to Europe.”

Platt’s enthusiasm for touring and for the album come across clearly, and I remark that the European audience would be glad to have Kansas. I suggest that it’s all about momentum – having the new album to come out in time for the tour and being able to play the newer songs, which they’d now be losing.

“Yeah, that’s the operative word there… ‘momentum’. And we did have such an incredible momentum; that inertia was in high speed, but you want the air out of the bag with the current situation. But I feel very strongly that we’re going to pick up where we left off. Because, I’ll say one thing, we’re all very well rested now!”

Impressions on the album and challenges in recording

Kansas - Absence of PresenceI ask Ronnie next what his overall impressions of the album are now that he’s had some time for it to simmer. His explanation shows to me that the Absence of Presence has much more than musical value, the value for him is in knowing all the hard work that the six band members put into it.

“I am as excited about this album now as I was when we first started working on the basic tracks,” he begins.

“There’s just something about the mystique of the album. It seems like the band is well tuned now. With The Prelude Implicit, I was still new with the band and Zak [Rizvi] didn’t join the band until we were already recording that album. Now I think we have a little maturity as a band with this album. Even though we recorded this album while we were touring – which made our schedule really intense.

“With The Prelude Implicit, we recorded that in the Winter months when we were off and we had the time to focus on just recording. For this album we were touring and at the same time recording.”

“That must have been something really difficult to juggle,” I reply.

“It was. With the band having so much momentum, we did want to take the entire month of August off, but the demand for the band wouldn’t let us, but we didn’t retract. Even though we did end up doing some shows, we didn’t let up on our recording schedule at all.”

Platt mentioned that the pressure and intensity helped the end product. “It helped the intensity, when you’re so focused and forced to be focused on one thing and you’re really striving for your songs to come out as good as they can… Wow! This album just… I can’t wait for everybody to hear this album.

“Between the diversity of the songs… you know very prog rock songs to very heart-felt ballads and that’s within the Kansas recipe and that’s just in one album. We’re really excited, really, really proud and we cannot wait for June 26th.”

[Since the interview, the release date has moved to July 17, 2020]

I am keen to know more about his take on the individual tracks on the album, and my next question was about which tracks stand out the most, to him.

Throwing Mountains because it’s such a high energy, high intensity song and we knew from very early on that we would be playing that song live.”

He exclaims: “That song just screams to be played live,” but adds, “it’s the old adage of ‘which one is your favourite child?’.”

That’s a fair assessment when you’ve put equal effort into every track on the record.

He added that when it comes to the Kansas back catalogue, he enjoys the ability to re-discover the older track as if they were new after re-listening to them. “Maybe I’m a bit fickle, but I change my favourite song every day,” he tells me with another chuckle.

I also wanted to know if there were any tracks that were a challenge for him to record – listening to the album I was impressed by the vocal range on display, and it’s a performance that won’t be easy for any vocalist, no matter how long they’ve been working. Again, Ronnie’s honesty was good humoured and reflected the pride he put into the album.

“Right! No, not really, because Zak [Rizvi] wrote everything in my key which I really take a lot of pride in my range and my endurance, so there really was nothing that was too challenging.

“The challenging thing was to try stay in good voice while we were touring. Because when you’re touring, you never sleep. You never get the right amount of sleep, because you know you’re doing a show, you’re going back to the hotel and I’m not the kind of person that could just go back to the hotel room and fall asleep.”

Platt explains getting enough sleep after shows that have his adrenaline flowing means unwinding is essential – but there is added pressure to his intense live performances: “You know there’s a level of intensity when you’re filling the shoes of Steve Walsh, you know? He set the bar pretty high.”

He elaborated a little on the strains of recording and touring simultaneously.

“I don’t think people realise, it’s not just singing the song once or twice, it’s grinding it out in the studio. You’re kind of in the experimentation realm, so you’re trying things, you’re singing something over and over and over again and making small adjustments here and there, then you’re singing the harmony to that, so you’re trying different harmonies and then different combinations of voices. ‘Does it work well with me, Billy [Greer] and Tom [Brislin] singing? or should it be me, Tom and David Ragsdale?’

“It really is a tricky thing to find the right combination of voices that fit that harmony. Knowing which part fits which person and putting that together, doing a basic mix and experimenting there and going back the next day and listening to it with fresh ears. ‘Did that work? Should we try something different’. It really can be a tedious process sometimes.”

How audiences at live shows have received Kansas

Ronnie Platt - Kansas

Platt’s insights into the recording process were really interesting, and I wanted to know more about what went on in the making of the record, but I was getting close to running over time, so I thought it would be worth knowing how the band’s new music and live shows were being received by younger fans given the new momentum Kansas was experiencing.

Platt’s response was as earnest as ever and filled with appreciation for Kansas’ fanbase.

“I have to tell you this. I have now six years under my belt with Kansas and one of the most flattering things to me is not only to have our original fans still coming to the shows and in the time I’ve been with the band, I’ve seen our audiences get larger and larger and larger, which is extremely flattering.

“Also, the fans from the seventies and then on have brought their kids and their grandkids. And I’ve seen our audience, you know taking the average age, just in the time I’ve been in the band, I’ve seen our audience get younger and younger and it’s really a great thing to have young people have an appreciation for this music. This is not something that has been made with a couple of samples and a drum machine. This is very intense music by intensely talented people. So, for young people to appreciate this music, it doesn’t get better than that! That’s really a great thing and I hope it continues”

What’s in store for Kansas in 2021?


With my time already a little bit longer than planned, and I was sure Ronnie had other interviews scheduled, I wanted to end the interview asking what 2021 had on the cards for the band.

“You ask the hot question there! 2021…

“I will say this… it’ll probably be the most intense touring schedule we’ve had, since I’ve been in the band. And a quick little story: when I first talked to Phil [Ehart] and Rich [Williams], they had told me they had plans on doing about 55 and 65 shows a year. My first full year with Kansas we did 98 shows. My second year with Kansas we did 99.”

He concluded, “we have to make up for 2020. I think there’s a very good possibility of us well surpassing that number next year.”

With the prospect of the busiest year of touring yet with new songs to add to an already energetic live show, my time with Ronnie Platt was up – indeed it had been up for 10 minutes now; what was meant to be a 20-minute chat had run to nearly 30-minutes, but it’s hard not to when you’re speaking to a man whose enthusiasm for his work and his band exudes with every word he says.

I was worried when I was dialling in about how the interview would go. But there was no need to. Ronnie answered and his friendly manner kept the interview in an upbeat tone throughout… it was apparent that he, along with his bandmates, are all excited about the work they’ve done in putting together Absence of Presence and that infectious enthusiasm rubs off on you when you speak with him. I believe this is the sign of a rejuvenated Kansas as the band’s touring cycle has grown since Platt joined the band in 2016. From my chat with Ronnie, the current dynamic of the band is one of positivity and honestly, it reflects in the album.

Even with 2020 being a challenging year for the music industry at large, Platt looks ahead with optimism, confident that when Kansas hit the road, the enthusiasm the band has put into their latest release will reflect in the live shows and on their ever-loyal fanbase.

[Read TPA’s review of Absence of Presence]


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[All photographs by EMily Butler Photography – used with kind permission and our sincere thanks.]

This news story was originally published here:

There is lots to be excited about with classic rock veterans Kansas’ latest effort, The Absence of Presence. First, the album marks a milestone in that it’s been 50 years since the band formed in 1970 in Topeka, Kansas. Second, it’s also been four years on since The Prelude Implicit marked the band’s resurgence, signalling that Kansas was geared to move forward into the future, and The Absence of Presence confirms that Kansas is now well and truly in motion.

The line-up seems to have solidified, with the only change since the 2016 LP being losing David Manion (who joined for Prelude). He has been replaced by the adept Tom Brislin whose work on keyboard duties adds a creative element to Kansas’ latest LP, so hopefully this line-up remains.

The Absence of Presence is lyrically thought provoking and two themes dominate the album. The benefit of experience means Kansas can draw from a well of wisdom to add maturity and insight that younger musicians simply don’t have access to.

The first theme is the paradox of being physically present yet spiritually or emotionally absent or uninvested. This theme is most directly explored in the title track, but also Animals on the Roof, Circus of Illusion and The Song the River Sang all deal with this theme in an abstract way. They question if our absenteeism is represented by not working together and being uninvested in ourselves/the planet/society in favour of consumer culture.

Animals on the Roof is superficially about not fitting in; just as animals on rooves might be a ‘strange sight’ – pests even – they are in a position of greater foresight, despite their small stature. Once we hear Platt’s references to a coming ‘flood’ and a ‘dull, rumbling sound’, it becomes clear the track is a call to action to heed the warnings of those who can see further ahead, but are marginalised for being socially or environmentally conscious. The masses that ignore these visionaries will become victims of their own ignorance and arrogance.

The second theme is that of overcoming – overcoming our absence or non-investment in bigger issues. We see this in the track Jets Overhead, an ode to those in service as it articulates how military families make – and overcome – sacrifices to a larger cause, told through the eyes of someone saying goodbye to an Air Force pilot being deployed (the pilot being deployed having his own absence of presence). We hear:

Then you say: “This ain’t about me, but about everyone I’ve ever known.”
I’ll be waiting right here when you land

and understand the struggle in needing to accept that loved ones cannot be a priority, though that loved one may wish to be so. At the same time, the song reveals that sacrifices are made on both sides and both parties need to find solution to deal with that.

Those that have heard Throwing Mountains, one of two singles released in advance of the LP, will understand that it talks about if we overcome personal doubts that hold us back, we can achieve the impossible – although I’d like to have heard a little bit about how they overcome those doubts, instead of simply relegating them to the past tense.

Musically, Kansas are as good as I’ve ever heard them and the veterans’ decades of experience playing their instruments really shines through in every song.

Ronnie Platt’s powerful tenor vocals are performed with conviction and emotion. His lines are delivered with feeling and nuance – I found his performance in Never particularly captivating. Billy Greer harmonises well with Platt, although I would have hoped to hear some creative use of a second vocalist. There is no absence of Greer’s bass presence – he doesn’t simply replicate the guitar riffs but adds creativity and colour throughout, especially in The Song the River Sang.

In the rhythm section, founding member Phil Ehart’s drumming keeps a steady pace and his playful use of rhythm comes across seamlessly. Ehart really shines in the fast-paced, but short, instrumental, Propulsion 1, where he unleashes himself and spoils us with some double pedals.

Richard Williams and Zak Rizvi showcase their skills with alternating solos in a few tracks, working with newcomer Brislin and David Ragsdale on keys and violin respectively to create exciting and vibrant interludes.  We have instances such as in Throwing Mountains or the title track, where Brislin, Williams and Rizvi solo battle it out, pitting organ against guitar and guitar, before their differences are settled in a unison – first the two guitars, then keys and violin join in.

David Ragsdale’s violin work adds drama, flare, and a strong hook to every song he is present in. The two ballads, Memories Down the Line and Never give Ragsdale the freedom to showcase the raw emotion that only a violin can inspire, and along with Platt’s heartfelt vocal performance, both ballads are an immersive experience.

Closing track, The Song the River Sang, is one of my favourites off the album as it is strays away from the formula of the other songs and is the most ‘prog rock’, thanks to a 7/8 time signature that evokes a flowing river. Dramatic bass drums add a sense of urgency to the first half of a song that is essentially a warning of a coming flood (alluding to the animals on the roof that will see it coming first). The second half is a portrayal of chaos and ends the album suddenly.

Almost every prog trick in the book is on display to strong effect in The Absence of Presence, without suffering from being ostentatious, and this is made possible thanks to a line-up of experienced musicians applying their craft the way they know works well.

The Absence of Presence is a strong album and will sit well in Kansas’ 16-album discography and help to preserve the band’s legacy in coming years. It boasts plenty of memorable moments of music and the thoughtful lyrics lend the album to repeat listens.

It would appear that Kansas, 50 years in, still sound like the Kansas we know and love; they haven’t abandoned the formula that’s worked so well for them, but they have updated it enough to help drive their music to a new audience.

[You can read TPA’s interview with Ronnie Platt HERE]

01. The Absence of Presence (8:24)
02. Throwing Mountains (6:21)
03. Jets Overhead (5:17)
04. Propulsion 1 (2:17)
05. Memories Down the Line (4:38)
06. Circus of Illusion (5:19)
07. Animals on the Roof (5:12)
08. Never (4:50)
09. The Song the River Sang (5:05)

Total Time – 47:27

Tom Brislin – Keyboards
Phil Ehart – Drums
Billy Greer – Bass, Vocals
Ronnie Platt – Vocals, Keyboard
David Ragsdale – Violin, Guitar
Zak Rizvi – Guitar
Richard Williams – Lead Guitar

Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 26th June 2020

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