The Progressive Aspect News

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This news story was originally published here:

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

This news story was originally published here:

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

This news story was originally published here:

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

This news story was originally published here:

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

Warmrain – Website | Facebook | Twitter

This news story was originally published here:

“Across five themed discs we present the band’s progression throughout the tour using material and preferences that resonated with us.” – Markus Reuter.

The odds were stacked against this release coming into being. Originally intended solely as a live album, Markus Reuter states on the Bandcamp blurb that his and Tony Levin’s recorded parts were missing.

Whether this means that the missing parts were added later is unclear, but the get-out-of-jail card is that this isn’t really presented as a live album, rather it paints a journey of their progression across the Americas. With Stick Men, improvisation is the name of the game. From one venue to the next the improvisational talents of all band members are showcased. Markus just went one step further to salvage this extensive release. I think we can allow the band a little creative license.

In their own words, Disc 1 “highlights the spirit of those performances”.

In the main, although some live titles in the Panamerica collection are repeated, there’s repetition in the themes rather than the detail as these survive the journeys between Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil.

In Shades of Starless we are also treated to a live Stick Men staple. We hear strong echoes of the band who drew such inspiration from four beautifully crafted words lifted from Dylan Thomas’s radio play. Stick Men and David Cross may take the musical themes from King Crimson’s Starless and Bible Black, but they make them their own.

Disc 2 is a stereo mix straight off the mixing desk. If disc 2 had a face then it would be staring at you across a dimly lit room with did-you-spill-my-pint menace, daring you to ask what it is about. That the disc has four tracks described as ‘suites’ belies what I suspect is that these are born of full improvisations based around some loosely worked out themes and modes. Played in Argentina, Peru, Uruguay and Chile, random samples, forlorn violin and shimmering effects play herald to mechanical rhythms overlaid with spartan bass sounds. The violin occasionally pops its head above the parapet but then leaves centre stage for a while as otherworldly chords swell and subside. Echoes of Frippertronics-style, effects-driven tapping instruments mingle into the swell as the violin fades to nothing.

Pat Mastelotto plays out patterns on the toms that are music in themselves and wouldn’t be out of place on a Martin O’Donnell soundtrack. In these moments the band puts its collective head down and grooves. These sequences often give ground to somewhat disturbing, relentless passages. Stick Men seem to have accidentally stumbled upon intelligent dance music, though in truth, nothing they do smells of accident.

Discs 3 and 4 really could just as easily have been released as a stand-alone double album. Recorded in San Jose and unedited, disc 3 represents a full concert. It opens with such atmosphere and presence that I find myself wanting to be capable of producing such noise myself.

Of course, there are the inevitable King Crimson covers, but Crimson’s music deserves to be played and re-interpreted (which in its ultimate form leads to the aforementioned Shades of Starless on disc 1). David Cross and Stick Men are eminently qualified for this task. Larks’ Tongues in Aspic‘s The Talking Drum, has a funky/jazzy/groovy feel, David Cross seemingly improvises a whole set of new notes, bleeding, as was done by KC live, into the song, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part II. There’s a rendition of Sartori in Tangier, one of my favourite instrumental tracks from my favourite King Crimson line-up. This track is presented, warts and all, with a slightly shambolic opening and some frenetic soloing – and is none the less enjoyable for it – as if to show how dangerous playing live is.

And then they come back with Swimming in T, a new track (to me) which also features on disc 1. They stop playing to the Crimson crowd and show what Stick Men can do as artists in their own right.

They close with OPEN, which is nice. I’m not normally a big fan of avant-garde music. OPEN has drum and bass grooves working in perfect synchronicity, grooves that can compete with the best of them. There’s nothing like the sound of something akin to a backwards church bell to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. OPEN is what I imagine Bebe and Louis Barron could have written for their score for the sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet, had the technologies used by Stick Men and David Cross been available.

The Bandcamp description of Disc 5 says:

“Disc 5 has been compiled using the isolated improvised parts of Markus and David from the Mar del Plata, Monterrey, Rosario and Guatemala City concerts, edited into a 70-minute continuous sonic journey”.

There’s rather a lot of avant-garde. Despite my aforementioned prejudice, I was caught up in the varied, sweeping, ambient, mood-evoking music. I thought of a situation in which this disc would be best appreciated and concluded that the entire boxed set is replete with nightmarish soundscapes from the Avant Garden, some of which will have been performed to entranced audiences who, I dare say, would have their eyes closed, allowing the music to wash over them like heavy, frightening rain. So – in the dark with the lights off it is!

Cards on the table with this; you probably need to be a Stick Men fan to justify the €70.00 asked for this boxed set. It isn’t as if these are five full albums from the back catalogue, rather, this is a limited-edition documentary cataloguing, as the name suggests, a tour across the Americas. This is a boxed set aimed at collectors.

If you have rigid ideas about what constitutes a live album consider also their two recordings, again featuring David Cross: Midori – Live in Tokyo 2015. The first and second shows are available separately as digital downloads from Bandcamp. They are rather splendid.

Stick Men featuring David Cross – PANAMERICA is, nevertheless, just under 320 minutes of well-crafted music performed by experts and if you’re a fan then it is a must-have.

What this boxed set fired up in me, more than any other reaction, was a desire to see Stick Men live – especially with David Cross.

Disc 1: PANAMERICA: Improvs (Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil)
01. Swimming in T (La Paz) (11:22)
02. OPEN (Buenos Aires) (14:08)
03. Shades of Starless (São Paulo) 08:35
04. Swimming Improv 1 (São Paulo) (4:29)
05. OPEN (São Paulo) (13:17)
06. Swimming Improv 2 (São Paulo) (4:20)
07. La Paz – Opening Improv (La Paz) (17:10)

Time – 73:21

Disc 2: PANAMERICA: Suites (Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, Chile)
01. La Plata Suite (16:21)
02. Lima Suite (11:35)
03. Montevideo Suite (16:54)
04. Santiago Suite (12:08)

Time – 56:58

Disc 3: PANAMERICA: Full Show, Part 1 (Costa Rica)
01. Opening Improv (5:03)
02. Hide the Trees (7:08)
03. Cusp (6:24)
04. The Talking Drum (4:03)
05. Larks‘ Tongues in Aspic, Part II (7:06)
06. Crack in the Sky (5:45)
07. David‘s Improv (4:50)
08. Schattenhaft (6:45)
09. Sartori in Tangier (6:44)
10. Swimming in T (9:18)

Time – 56:21

Disc 4: PANAMERICA: Full Show, Part 2 (Costa Rica)
01. Plutonium (5:48)
02. Red (8:22)
03. Mantra (5:57)
04. Prog Noir (7:27)
05. Shades of Starless (9:58)
06. Level 5 (10:20)
07. OPEN (13:01)

Time – 60:53

Disc 5: ​: Soundscapes (Argentina, Mexico, Guatemala)
01. Floating I (7:04)
02. Talking while Diving (8:18)
03. Hades I (6:06)
04. Floating II (4:26)
05. Skydive (6:22)
06. Under Water (4:08)
07. Hades II (5:18)
08. Floating III (5:25)
09. Infusion (5:07)
10. Whispering Transition (2:16)
11. Hades III (4:20)
12. Floating IV (4:22)
13. Interstitial Finality (3:00)
14. Diving T Coda (4:48) 

Time – 71:00

Total Time – 318:33

Tony Levin – Chapman Stick, Voice
Markus Reuter – Touch Guitar, Soundscapes, Keyboard
Pat Mastelotto – Acoustic and Electronic Drums, Percussion
David Cross – Electric Violin, Keyboard

Record Label: Independent
Mixed: Benni Schäfer (Unsung Productions), Alexandr Vatagin, Robert Frazza, and Markus Reuter
Mastered: Lee Fletcher
Produced: Markus Reuter for Stick Men
Country of Origin: U.S.A./Germany/U.K.
Date of Release: 1st November 2019

Stick Men – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp

This news story was originally published here:

“Is this Prog?”, I hear you asking. Well the simple answer to that is clearly ‘No’. It is, however, superiorly crafted AOR from a British band whose history certainly makes for interesting reading, especially when you consider the various bands/careers that subsequently emerged from this outfit.

In brief, The Babys were formed in London when Michael Corby (keyboards/guitar) was joined by John Waite (vocals/bass), Tony Brock (drums) and, completing the line-up, Wally Stocker (guitar). The band were signed to Chrysalis Records for a record sum of a cool one million pounds and released their eponymous debut album in early 1977, swiftly followed by Broken Heart in September of the same year. In rapid succession the band released Head First (1978), which also marked the departure of co-founder Michael Corby, replaced by Jonathan Cain (keyboards) and Ricky Phillips (bass). They released both Union Jacks and On the Edge in 1980, before the band dissolved at the end of that year.

Before moving on, what happened to The Babys afterwards? John Waite went solo, reemerging in 1984 with the U.S. number one single Missing You. Johnathan Cain would join Journey, becoming one of the main songwriters within the band, especially on 1981’s Escape, where he co-wrote all the tracks, including the two singles Don’t Stop Believin’ and Who’s Crying Now. Wally Stocker and Tony Brock would go one to work with Rod Stewart and, latterly, Elton John.

Musically I would sit The Babys somewhere between Free and Bad Company, with distinct AOR leanings. Certainly, the Free influence can be heard in the epic Dying Man from their debut, you can almost hear Paul Kosoff being channelled through Wally Stocker’s guitar lines. These harder-edged and Free-like stylings might well surprise all who thought they were a pop band.

This excellent box-set from Cherry Red Records comprises the six albums released between 1975-1980 augmented with a multitude of bonus tracks – mainly single B-sides and mono versions of tracks. The exception can be found on the Union Jacks album, where we have six live cuts recorded in Cleveland circa 1979, and on the the ‘bonus’ sixth disc which includes their earliest recordings, The Unofficial Babys from 1975, along with the Live at the Tower Theatre Philadelphia set from 1977. Here the band were promoting their then debut album. So, all in all, a very fine collection of The Babys’ output during their years on the Chrysalis label, whilst showing just how strong they were as a musical entity.

Each of the albums has a mixture of radio-friendly and passionately sung and performed tracks with the earlier albums really showing their influences, which tended to be written out on later albums. John Waite’s voice is a revelation on all of these albums and shows that for a boy from Lancaster he certainly did well. They could certainly write both strong and interesting material too. There is a lot of promise on offer here and some fine bluesy Bad Company-ish guitar work on offer here too.

Give Me Your Love certainly stands out as a fine slow-paced rocker with its excellent guitar riffs. This album was also their U.S. Breakthrough with the track Isn’t It Time?, with its inspired use of strings and horn section to give it that extra punch. This album also had their other single, Silver Dreams, and it’s also worth mentioning And If You Could See Me Fly which has some more remarkably impressive Kossoff-type guitar playing from Wally Stocker. This guy certainly deserves a wider audience and acclaim for his fiery playing.

The Golden Mile also features some very fine keyboards and atmospherics to make this an epic sounding track along with a subtly graceful lead break from Wally, who was apparently a huge fan of Paul Kossoff and based his sound on that style of playing.Rescue Me also has a Free-style creeping in, and sounds all the better for it too.

Listening to these albums again makes you realise just how important this group actually were as a lot of ’80s bands found the music of The Babys to be a template for creating their own AOR music. They certainly had the songs and the chops to deliver them all in one tidy package and were far more than just a pop band. In any guise, much of their material would easily sit on a Free or Bad company album.

The B-side Money That’s What I Want is an old rock and roil track given The Babys’ treatment and sounds awesome with John Waite on red-hot form backed with excellent playing from the rest of the band; a very classy rocking number. the other extra tracks on this album are either mono versions or edits of album songs, but all make this is a very strong album of fine music.

Head First was the first album to really show their AOR prowess, with such fine examples as Every Time I Think of You and the title track Head First, but worthy of note is the fiery Run to Mexico which shows off Wally’s guitar once again, while the crunchy rock of Head First shows off John’s fine voice to fullest; this man could sing the phone book and still sound fine. The rest of the album is ok, but not of the same calibre somehow. Again, bonus tracks are edits and mono versions of Head First and Every Time I Think of You.

The fourth album, Union Jacks, is probably where they hit real paydirt, with new members Jonathan Cain and Ricky Phillips replacing Mike Corby and freeing John Waite to just sing while Phillips handled the bass duties. This album includes Back On My Feet Again and True Love True Confessions, both of which storm along very nicely with swipes at celebrity media stories that have sadly now come over the pond to ruin our press too. There is a return for Wally Stocker’s fiery guitar on Midnight Rendezvous as it gallops along with a strong melody and guitar and keyboard parts all in the right place and sounding very fine indeed.

I have to say, I think this is the best of all their albums as it contains the essences that made this band so good. The material is strong and varied with great performances from all parties and the addition of Jonathan Cain brings something fresh to the sound while his contributions to the songwriting elevate the songs – little wonder why Journey sought him out when The Babys had run its course.

This album also has the quirkier Jesus Are You There?, which questions faith and religious beliefs. I used to love this song in the early ’80s and I still enjoy it now, I think it still stands up well, as indeed does the whole album for me. This is followed by the excellent Turnaround in Tokyo which talks of life on the road whilst touring Japan, where the band had a huge following. With its interesting rhythmic stylings making this a fine song, and with Wally’s guitar interjections and Jonathan’s synths and piano pounding adding to the atmosphere of this song. The closing chant section of “Tokyo, Tokyo, Tokyo” finishes up the song in style.

Last track is another atmospheric slow-burner, Love Is Just A Mystery, which brings things to a good conclusion with its atmospheric keyboards and the space that makes it sound bigger somehow. Again, a couple of edits and mono versions round things out, but wait, there are also six live tracks. Exact line-up, location or recording dates are not disclosed, they seem to be from the Head First album tours but I think Jonathan Cain might be on keyboards, so timewise that would fit. These are solid performances and show how assured and confident the band were by this time.

The last official album, On the Edge is really more of the same as by this time the band had pretty much run its course, and it shows here as the songs are more show and lack substance, although Rock and Roll Is (Alive and Well) is a return to former glories giving Wally a rare chance to shine through once again. He also gets a chance on Downtown where he adds some crunchy guitar lines once again.

The rest of the tracks, Postcard, Too Far Gone and Love Won’t Wait are all standard fare. It’s a shame that the band didn’t manage to harness or play to the strengths that they had showcased so successfully on Union Jacks. I guess constant touring and insufficient time to write and record properly all take their toll eventually.

The final album is an oddity comprising their earliest recordings (pre-Chrysalis) and a live show from 1977 in Philadelphia and featuring songs from their then debut album (they did open for Kiss around this time so these recordings could be from them possibly) but they sound fiery and suitably hard-edged in concert, John Waite’s voice has promise here but is not fully formed. Wally’s guitar gets a chance to soar here though, and he sounds good.

The latter longer songs of this set are the better ones, the band getting a chance to stretch out a little bit and show how good they actually are. It’s a fine set, a tad brief but for a support act it certainly would capture your attention and possibly make you want to check them out for yourself.

The Unofficial Babys album is ok and generally shows the direction in which they would head later once they had signed their million-pound record deal. Interesting but not essential, whereas the rest of the excellent set from Hear No Evil/Cherry Red is most certainly worthy of your investigation, especially for those that like AOR or even Free or Bad Company. The sound is good and the packaging is of mini album sleeves in a clamshell box that Cherry Red do such a great job of. All in all, this is a very good value set and while it may not be to everyone’s taste it is certainly a very worthy set for Journey or John Waite or classic AOR Fans.

Disc One: The Babys (1976)

01. Looking For Love (4:48)
02. If You’ve Got The Time (2:34)
03. I Believe In Love (4:18)
04. Wild Man (3:32)
05. Laura (5:05)
06. I Love How You Love Me (2:25)
07. Rodeo (3:00)
08. Over And Over (4:45)
09. Read My Stars (2:46)
10. Dying Man (6:33)
~ Bonus Tracks:
11. If You’ve Got Time (Alt Version) (2:24)
12. Head Above The Waves (Single B Side) (2:47)
13. If You’ve Got The Time (Mono) (2:26)

Disc Two: Broken Heart (1977)
01. Wrong Or Right (3:28)
02. Give Me Your Love (3:37)
03. Isn’t It Time (4:03)
04. And If You Could See Me Fly (2:50)
05. The Golden Mile (2:53)
06. Broken Heart (3:02)
07. I’m Falling (3:55)
08. Rescue Me (3:50)
09. Silver Dreams (3:00)
10. A Piece Of The Action (4:35)
~ Bonus Tracks:
11. Money (That’s What I Want) (4:29)
12. Silver Dreams (Mono) (2:58)
13. Isn’t It Time (Single Edit) (3:03)
14. Isn’t It Time (Mono) (3:24)

Disc Three: Head First (1978)
01. Love Don’t Prove I’m Right (2:45)
02. Every Time I Think Of You (4:02)
03. I Was One (3:36)
04. White Lightning (3:19)
05. Run To Mexico (4:35)
06. Head First (4:00)
07. You (Got It) (4:28)
08. Please Don’t Leave Me Here (3:07)
09. California (4:02)
~ Bonus Tracks:
10. Head First (Single Edit) (3:48)
11. Every Time I Think Of You (Single Edit) (3:48)
12. Head First (Mono) (3:35)
13. Every Time I Think Of You (Mono) (3:48)

Disc Four: Union Jacks (1980)
01. Back On My Feet Again (3:19)
02. True Love True Confession (4:06)
03. Midnight Rendezvous (3:36)
04. Union Jacks (5:42)
05. In Your Eyes (4:05)
06. Anytime (3:21)
07. Jesus Are you There? (3:34)
08. Turn Around In Tokyo (3:53)
09. Love Is Just A Mystery (3:32)
~ Bonus Tracks:
10. Midnight Rendezvous (Single Edit) (3:08)
11. Intro (Live In Cleveland) (0:09)
12. Broken Heart (B-Side Live In Cleveland) (3:01)
13. Money (That’s What I Want) (B-Side Live In Cleveland) (4:22)
14. Every Time I Think OF You (B-Side Live In Cleveland) (2:39)
15. Isn’t It Time (B-Side Live In Cleveland) (3:59)
16. Head First (B-Side Live In Cleveland) (4:29)
17. Back On My Feet Again (Mono) (3:20)
18. Midnight Rendezvous (Mono) (3:07)

Disc Five: On The Edge (1980)
01. Turn And Walk Away (3:11)
02. Sweet 17 (2:46)
03. She’s My Girl (3:20)
04. Darker Side Of Town (2:25)
05. Rock ‘N’ Roll (Alive And Well) (4:07)
06. Downtown (3:36)
07. Postcard (2:41)
08. Too Far Gone (2:55)
09. Gonna Be Somebody (2:59)
10. Love Won’t Wait (3:01)
~ Bonus Tracks:
11. Turn And Walk Away (Mono) (3:11)
12. Postcard (Mono) (2:43)

Disc Six: Live At the Tower Theatre, Philadelphia (1977)
01. Looking For Love (5:53)
02. Rodeo (3:19)
03. Wild Man (3:58)
04. If You’ve Got the Time (2:45)
05. I Believe In Love (3:41)
06. Give Me Your Love (7:02)
07. If You Could See Me Fly (8:07)
The Unofficial Babys Album (1978)
08. Bitch Or Angel (2:46)
09. I Wear Your Ring (3:53)
10. I’m Falling (3:09)
11. Time On MY Hands (3:07)
12. You’ll Get Yours 2:13)
13. Do It Nice (2:42)
14. Step In Line (2:42)
15. Rainy Day (2:38)
16. Jack The Lad (3:15)
17. If You Could See My Fly (2:02)

Total Time – 316:13

John Waite – Bass, Vocals
Wally Stocker – Guitars, Vocals
Tony Brock – Drums, Percussion, Background Vocals
Michael Corby – Keyboards, Rhythm Guitar (Discs 1-3 & 6)
Johnathon Cain – Keyboards, Vocals (Discs 4 & 5)
Ricky Phillips – Bass (Discs 4 & 5)
~ with:
Lisa Roberts – Background Vocals (Disc 2, tracks 3 & 9)
Pat Henderson – Background Vocals (Disc 2, tracks 3 & 9)
Myrna Matthews – Background Vocals (Disc 2, tracks 3 & 9)
Alan MacMillan – String & Horn Arrangements

Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Catalogue#: HNEBOX129
Date of Release: 6th December 2019

The Babys – Website | Facebook | Twitter | Info at Cherry Red Records

This news story was originally published here:
Yes Guitarist Says Relayer ‘Is Going To Be Pretty Amazing’

Yes, one of the most innovative of all progressive-rock bands, and true legends of the genre, have announced an 8-date UK tour during May and June of 2020. The Album Series 2020 Tour will feature their 1974 album Relayer in its entirety, the latest as Yes continue to revisit their classic albums in full, together with a selection of other Yes favourites.

Yes Photo Geoff Ford

“This could be the most exciting one”, enthused Yes guitar legend Steve Howe. “We’ve been building up to Relayer, I think this is going to be pretty amazing.”

Between 1971 and 1973 Yes established a reputation as leaders of the progressive rock movement with a series of ground-breaking albums. Following the tour supporting their Tales From Topographic Oceans album, another Yes legend, keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman, left to pursue solo projects. The eventual arrival of Swiss keyboard player Patrick Moraz signalled a slight change of musical direction with the Relayer album having a harder avant-garde/jazz edge.

“We didn’t consciously change direction,” said Steve, “we just played the music we had. If the direction changed it was because the writers changed and the different collaborations affected it. (Bass guitarist) Chris (Squire) and (vocalist) Jon Anderson) wrote lots of things together, then Jon and I wrote lots of things together, that was the direction change, it was nothing conscious.”

“When Rick quit after Tales, we regrouped and tried playing with Vangelis for two weeks but we weren’t playing Relayer, we hadn’t written it. As we got ready to go to the studio, and we discovered Patrick, then we became a complete unit and the writing sort of pours into it. Jon and I had written (final track of three) To Be Over and the other music came about through the other collaborations in the studio.”

Steve Howe photo by Geoff Ford

The Relayer album featured The Gates of Delerium on side one, almost 22 minutes long and influenced by Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace. The centre-piece to the track is the dramatic battle scene played out between Moraz and Howe. The battle gives way to the beautiful closing ballad Soon, a prayer for peace and hope.

I had to admit to Steve that, initially, I had found Relayer a very difficult album to get in to. Only the persistence of a good friend compelled me to stick with it but, once it clicked, Relayer became one of my favourite Yes albums and still one I frequently listen to.

“That’s nice!” Steve laughed. “Sometimes these things kind of grow on you, I think that’s kind of nice about music, it doesn’t always grab you straight away. Sometimes it creeps up on you.”

Steve had joined Yes, in 1971 as a replacement for Peter Banks as the band began work on  The Yes Album, the first album to define them a force in progressive rock, and containing the perennial concert favourites Yours Is No Disgrace and Starship Trooper. Steve would quickly gain an international reputation as an outstanding guitarist, extraordinarily versatile in styles from hard-punching rock riffs to intricate acoustic solo pieces in a classical style. The Yes Album also featured a live recording of Steve’s solo piece Clap.

“That variety is something that I do particularly enjoy, partly inspired by people like Chet Atkins, but I love so many other guitar players and I’ve taken that along with me. I found myself fighting a trend as rock went to a kind of blues style. I’d done that in my early years and I felt the guitar would stagnate if everyone was just playing the blues on it,” he laughs, “I thought I’d bring something different, so I went back to the acoustic guitar and that really tested out the recognised ability of what Yes were. The Yes Album had Clap, and I was thrilled that the guys wanted to put it on there.”

Yes logo

“By the time Fragile came along we were really working together to make the most highly original sounds that we could make. I think Fragile really sets the bar for Close to the Edge and the following albums. We had this original sound, full credit to Chris Squire and Jon Anderson, Bill Bruford and Tony Kaye, originally, who was just great and, of course, our other player…”

Later in the year Rick Wakeman replaced Tony Kaye for the Fragile album and the classic Yes line-up was completed when Bill Bruford was replaced by Alan White on drums for the Close to the Edge tour. The one thing that always impressed me about progressive rock was the incredibly high level of musicianship on display.

“We reached a real high, doing Fragile and then Close to the Edge, we valued the musicianship, the artistic ideas and the vocalising that people bring and that’s why we’re still doing it, because it’s exciting to do! Close to the Edge was voted the most-proggy album possibly ever made. It was very experimental. Heart of the Sunrise and South Side of the Sky (from Fragile) were 10-minute epics, but with Close to the Edge we just took it a stage further and I’m very pleased we were brave enough to do that.”

“Alan became our drummer and he did change the style. Chris talked about it sometimes and he’d say ‘You know, it’s not Bill, we have a new guy to develop,’ and when you listen to the drumming, say, on Drama (1980) you can see how the aspects of the drumming became more important in a different way to Bill. Bill always occupied the small, the very intricate and delicate but very powerful position. What Alan did, he brought a more regular style of drumming but it developed into a new drumming style for Yes of which Drama is a great example.”

In recent years Alan White’s health has restricted the time he is able to join the current Yes line-up of Howe, Geoff Downes (keyboards), Jon Davison (vocals) and Billy Sherwood (bass guitar) on stage. Jay Schellen has proved an excellent replacement for the bulk of the set with Alan appearing towards the close of the show, often to a hero’s welcome!

Alan White image by Geoff Ford

“Oh yes. We love Alan sticking at it, he’s a real trooper. He’s had his health issues and we work with Alan so that he’s not loaded with the whole set. We have Jay Schellen again doing large parts of the set. This time Alan will be performing in both parts of the set and the encore – he always does he encore.”

The music of Yes has endured through the years and has been handed down through generations of music lovers. Seeing Yes on their 2018 tour, at Sheffield City Hall, during the interval I got into conversation with a chap who had first seen Yes play the very same venue more than forty years earlier. He was there with his son who had grown up with the music of Yes and was as big a fan as his dad.

“That’s nice and I’m so glad that’s true”, acknowledged Steve. “We weren’t just running round doing things, we were doing things that have lasted very nicely. That’s because of the collaborations, it’s the team-work that signifies Yes.”

Yes 2020 Relayer poster

[All photos courtesy of Geoff Ford.]

Yes: The Album Series 2020 Tour – UK & Eire Dates
26/05/20: Philharmonic Hall,Liverpool
27/05/20: Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham
29/05/20: Barbican, York
30/05/20: Sage, Gateshead
31/05/20: Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
02/06/20: Symphony Hall, Birmingham
03/06/20: Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
05/06/20: Royal Albert Hall, London
07/06/20: Vicar Street, Dublin

For more visit Yes official website | You can also find these dates (and more) at TPA’s UK Gig Guide.

Steve Howe – Website
Yes – Website | Facebook | Twitter
Geoff Ford – Website