June 1st Can’t Get Here Soon Enough…

May 16, 2015

…because there’s never enough BIG BIG TRAIN.

Greg, Andy, David and the gang will be releasing an EP on June 1st (mine is already pre-ordered on Amazon.com [sigh…I don’t like amazon, but it’s easy and I’m lazy].  The EP is titled WASSAIL.

The disc will feature a live bonus track (live is GREAT) but the real treat is NEW MUSIC: three brand new tunes for all of us ‘jones’n’ for our fix of the best band in prog!

Big Big Train are Andy Poole, Danny Manners, David Longdon, Rikard Sjoblom, Nick D’Virgilio, Dave Gregory, Rachel Hall and Greg Spawton

The track list is:

  1. Wassail
  2. Lost Rivers Of London
  3. Mudlarks
  4. Master James Of St George

As I listen to the youtube video of Wassail, I am salivating for not just the EP release but for BBT’s next full length magnum opus. They are somewhat like an English version of Clannad (my favorite celtic band of all-time) especially via the connection and association to a land, people, culture, and ethos.  Infused with the spirit of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Steeleye Span, Strawbs, and Fairport Convention, BUT with their own unique sound & style–Big Big Train is the essence of the “Englishness” of a lost, better, and  perhaps, mythical past.

 

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Great Prog Music from Prog Magazine (the writing ain’t bad either)

May 11, 2015

PROG MAGAZINE MUSIC SAMPLER

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Issue # 55 April 2015 (cover: Andrew Latimer)

Various artists

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Notwithstanding how good the actual magazine is, these bonus/extra CDs that are included every issue are alone worth the price of the subscription.

 

Track 1: The Tangent/A Spark in the Aether (4:14)

I have already written on this track & album in a full review ( https://fatherwatson.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/a-spark-in-the-aether-album-of-the-year-yes-i-think-so/  ) but must reiterate that this song is a prog classic. On the “gem” Andy’s keys simply soar into the stratosphere of joy while Agren’s drums drive this anthem like a charger (a horse) along a pristine beach. The chorus is infectious and the overall feel-good buoyancy suggest we may have the “song of the year” for 2015

 

Track 2: Gong/Tried So Hard (4:33)

If you don’t know Gong you don’t know prog. Go buy their back catalog. This tune starts off part psychedelia Beatles and CSN&Y before fully embracing Syd Barrett style Floyd. This is a mellow mood inducer that’ll have you smelling patchouli and weed. Put on your bell bottoms and granny glasses and thank the Lords of Prog for Gong. R.I.P. Daevid Allen, you will be missed.

 

Track 3: M-Opus/Different Skies (Excerpt) Every Day The Orbit (5:18)

What’s not to like with the opening lush wash of layered sounds mutating into a huge middle section of mid & far Eastern rhythms and sounds. With the sitars and tablas one conjures up the mysterious beauty of back-street markets and sub-Saharan sand-dunes. With the vocals mixed very low only the vocoder space-like spoken ending intrudes on some fine Eastern Prog cum soundtrack worthy instrumental art.

 

Track 4: Gavin Harrison/Hatesong-Halo (8:11)

Take the best jazz-rock fusion sounds of Chicago I, or Blood, Sweat & Tears (Al Kooper Mk 1 version), mix in some deft synth reeds (bassoon?) and concerto like complexity and you have Gavin Harrison’s delightful all instro mini-epic. Jazzy and symphonic with an almost Return To Forever flavor this is one of my favorite tracks on the sampler.

 

Track 5: Von Hertzen Brothers/ Love Burns (4:37)

Possibly my favorite track on the disc! This band, a relative new discovery—and fairly new group—explodes like a fireball or comet of Prog brilliance! Great vocals and great singing, are melded into a grand and melodic symphony of power-metal/prog metal that builds to a crescendo of sonorous bliss. The track makes one seek out the Von Hertzen Brothers album for another “fix” of this aural drug!

 

Track 6: Sanguine Hum/Out of Mind (5:48)

With the outer-space “bleeps” and “burps” coupled with the oscillating electronic gurgles the introduction slides into a gorgeous slow tempo number. The liquidy Mellotron sounds make me smile. “Buttered cats” anyone?

 

Track 7: Rian Adkinson/Pianoburn (3:35)

I like the heavy reverb in the drum opening. What starts off with a bit of an indie rock vibe goes “hard” at the 2:28 mark to produce an almost post-rock heavier ending. Not bad at all.

 

Track 8: The Gentle Storm/Shores of India (6:37)

Now THIS is my favorite track on the album! The Dutch musical project/collaboration between composer/guitarist/keyboard wizard Arjen Lucassen and vocal goddess Anneke van Gierbergen has given the world of prog one of the best albums of 2015. This particular tune opens with 45 seconds of flute only to be subsumed in a whirlwind of tablas and sitars. At 1:23 the guitars come in with Anneke’s vocals kissing the production at 1:38. Anneke has a marvelous instrument with her wide-ranging, octave spanning voice which alternates between a mesmerizing almost narcotic gothic delivery and a higher-range pure crystalline soprano so beautiful it cuts glass. Lucassen’s complex composition tethered to Anneke’s delivery, which at times is so warm and nostalgic to hearken back to Annie Haslam (Renaissance) at her peak, turns this symphonic track into “The” show-stopper. This can’t be recommended highly enough. I’m buying the album.

 

Track 9: Special Providence/ Kiss From A Glacier (4:36)

This in an all-instrumental piece that has touches of the brilliance of both Tangerine Dream and even Radiohead’s “Kid A.” The solid drumming and stellar guitar work morph into some nice jazz fusion in the middle section before rocking out with an almost Dream Theatre level of jamming at the conclusion.

 

Track 10: The Last Embrace/On My Own (7:33)

Another gothic Angelo Badalamenti-esque opening that is drenched in sultry and smoky vocals. The bleeding guitar and emotional lyric delivery had me thinking both Long Patrol (a great, great indie band) and David Lynch soundtracks. This is like Evanescence with substance and far greater musicianship. This beautiful tone-poem builds in intensity and transports the listener to a Stan Ridgway desert highway populated with sleazy dives, neon signs, and starry vistas.

 

You can’t buy this album sampler but you can and you should subscribe to Prog magazine today. Editor Jerry Ewing and his crack staff turn out a lavish product that does ALL of music proud. https://subscribe.teamrock.com/prog/  And, it was a double bonus “coup” for me as Andrew Latimer (Camel) is the cover story.  Camel is my favorite band of all-time.  I am very happy.

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There’s Good Prog and Then There’s Great Prog: Tillison

May 5, 2015

And not just Andy Tillison’s own music but the stuff he likes and selects (and plays) for his amazing new podcast over at Progzilla.

Check out his second edition of DANCE ON A VOLCANO.

Andy isn’t just a renaissance man, he’s an English Man of All Seasons!

http://www.progzilla.com/podcast-dance-on-a-volcano-edition-2/

 

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Speaking of The Tangent/Tillison

May 2, 2015

Sea of Tranquility is a great web resource for music reviews (they generously INCLUDE prog) and I have been reading Pete Pardo & co. for several years now.  One of the best interviews with Andy Tillison appears now on their home page.  Reviewer Steven Reid does a great job and Andy is eloquent, heartfelt and just cool.  I strongly encourage you read it:

http://www.seaoftranquility.org/article.php?sid=3032

And speaking of The Tangent, again– I’ll post this great YouTube video of Andy playing some original music inspired by my all-time favorite band CAMEL (i.e. Andrew Latimer).

 

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More of THE TANGENT (always a good thing)

April 29, 2015

Lest I lose all credibility with my “out-of-the-banks” rave review of A SPARK IN THE AETHER (see prior post) I should say–I haven’t heard all that much of THE TANGENT.  The only other album I’ve heard from start to finish is COMM (also brilliant).  So admittedly I’m a bit new to Andy Tillison and his genius band (thanks primarily to Progarchy and Dr. B) and had not a large corpus to compare it to.  I have a feeling I’m in for a real treat in the weeks ahead as my 2015 CD buying progresses.

In the meantime I was delighted to find a 3 hour podcast featuring THE TANGENT over at Wilf’s (David Elliott) cool podcast, The European Perspective (episode #200 from 4-4-15), hosted by THE DIVIDING LINE.

What a smorgasbord of supernal sounds!  Check it out.

http://www.thedividingline.com/tep.html

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A SPARK IN THE AETHER–Album of the Year? Yes, I think so.

April 29, 2015

A SPARK IN THE AETHER: THE MUSIC THAT DIED ALONE, VOLUMETWO                                                                                         THE TANGENT                                                                                     Inside Out U.S. (21 April 2015)                                                          Band:                                                                                                         Andy Tillison: keyboards & vocals                                                       Luke Machin: guitar                                                                              Jonas Reingold: bass                                                                              Theo Travis: saxes & flutes                                                              Morgan Agren: drums

spark

The rave reviews are starting to come in. And yes, there’s no real reason of worth or merit that gives me leave to review THE TANGENT’s new album (or any album for that matter). I have zero musical aptitude myself. I can’t “carry a tune,” play an instrument, or really understand rhythm, melody, or much else. I have a blog only because any albino three-toed sloth can have a blog. I post these “reviews” (air quotes, real quotes, ontological & metaphysical quotes) because they’re fun to write and my California best-friend enjoys them (or says he does).

But if I ever wanted, truly wanted, to review an album—THIS would be the one!

I just wish now I wasn’t “on record” (well, “record” for the three or so that read this blog) as saying earlier this year that the BEST ALBUM of 2015 was already a “fait accompli” with John Mitchell’s brilliantly stunning LONELY ROBOT, PLEASE COME HOME. But after hearing Tillison & company the “Robot” may have to settle for the silver medal.

I know that even though most readers (my “three” again) eschew reading track by track commentary I nonetheless want to share some thoughts.

Track 1: A SPARK IN THE AETHER (4:20)

What a smart “call” to open the album with this grand and soaring instro (for the first 1:12 or so) which then delivers a killer chorus of the earwig variety! A driving and surging middle and end propels the rest of the disc onward and upward. An A/A+ track.

Track 2: CODPIECES AND CAPES (12:34)

This 5-part mini-epic is, well, EPIC! Shredding guitar riffs by Luke Machin, a chiaroscuro maelstrom of synth/keys and drums, and some biting bitterness in the lyrics make this lengthy song both complex and compelling. An ultimate rating of A++

Track 3: CLEARING THE ATTIC (9:35)

Okay by now I’m just shaking my head in incredulity. Each of the first three tracks ALONE (by themselves) is worth the full price of the album. The soft flute of Theo Travis entrances the listener for the first 30 seconds or so before the keys and drums kick in. Morgan Agren is rock solid on the drums and Tillison…well, more on him in due course. The track has a nice middle section that is jazzy and fusion sounding which almost flirts with a Bossa Nova vibe. The song mixes funk with flutes in a Mahavishnu Orchestra maestro/musicianship tapestry. Tillison’s masterful compositional skills give us another A++

Track 4: AFTEREUGENE (5:47)

A tasteful flamenco-style acoustic solo starts the track and is soon joined by flute and keys. At the 2:20 mark the song morphs into a Floydian space-scape with almost a minor hint of MEDDLE like sonar pings. This wonderful homage to Waters, Gilmore & company has but one spoken lyric: “careful with that sax” and then trails off with a Coltrane like wailing. A+ rating (catching the trend?)

Track 5: THE CELULOID ROAD (21:37)

This is the albums piece de resistance. This 6-part analysis of American media culture (movies & television) is classic jazz/prog fusion but also art of the highest order. This is a tune worthy to be played with SUPPER’S READY.  Vibraphone synths, Reingold & Agren jamming out with Frontiere/Schifren referenced TV scoring, and some of the finest lyrics I’ve heard in decades ensures this song will be listened to repeatedly and with total attention each time.  Is Tillison fairly critiquing American consumerism and the Potemkin facades of hedonistic hypocrisy? Is he cynical and almost vicious in a schadenfreude voyeurism? No.  Tillison has penned a love letter.  This is a tender and yet muscular elegy to the ideals and idea of America and the entertainment (Hollywood, Broadway, and Tin-Pan Alley) hopes and dreams, as well as the actual physical grandeur, of the continent. His words demonstrate an inner hurt yes, but also a truly sympathetic prayer for a land and its exports in wonder that have enriched and bedazzled so many Britons and Europeans over the last 70 years.

A++

Track 6: A SPARK IN THE AETHER PART TWO (8:16)

After the prior magnum opus, The Tangent is almost showing off how incredibly good they all are. This is the perfect coda to a noir-like movie of loss and redemption. The soft and jazz piano opening builds to a deep and cavernous classical jazz/prog finale. Reingold gives the best bass for the last song and Tillison is so beautiful in his playing that calling him the Mozart of Prog is not hyperbole. As the chorus comes back again at the close the listener is surrounded by triumphant closure.

A+

This loosely fitting but tightly knit (a dynamic tension of paradoxical poetry) concept masterpiece will be remembered years from now alongside CLOSE TO THE EDGE, SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND, THICK AS A BRICK, and IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING. It’s that good. Its almost “Future-Shock” like cornucopia of sounds and ideas overwhelms the senses leaving the listener with a silly smile and the urge to literally standup and applaud when the album is over.

A sui generis aural epiphany! Thank you Messrs: Tillison, Machin, Reingold, Agren, and Travis.

http://www.insideoutmusic.com/release.aspx?IdRelease=1779

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ARENA: The Unquiet Sky

April 23, 2015

ARENA, The Unquiet Sky

Studio album 27 April 2015

12 tracks (55:30)

Band:

Paul Manzi: vocals

John Mitchell: guitars

Clive Nolan: keyboards

Kylan Amos: bass

Mick Pointer: drums

ArenaTHEunquietSKYalbumCOVER

Arena has produced a fine piece of prog rock that belongs in the library of every fan of classic neo-prog and especially in the hands of all fans of M.R. James, weird fiction & ghost stories, and classic horror movie adaptations.

The Unquiet Sky, the eighth studio release of one of the long-time mainstays of the “third-wave” of the neo-prog revival of the 1980s, delivers what prog listeners have always enjoyed—pure entertainment, conceptual storytelling, and blistering good musicianship!

This album while not inspired or elevated to “classic” status (at least not yet; time is usually needed in making such judgments) gives us, however, more than songs and music—one is placed into a cinematic horror story of black magic, evil, revenge, and perseverance in heroism. The larger than life story & libretto come from Clive Nolan’s brilliant re-imagining of the famous British short story ‘Casting the Runes’ by master of unsettling and intelligent spectrally-speculative fiction M. R. James. (a great podcast discussing this seminal short story can be heard at:http://www.mrjamespodcast.com/2012/04/episode-12a-casting-the-runes/ )

Nolan has not given us a rote regurgitation of the prose of James but has gone for the visual and emotive power of the 1957 screen adaptation (liberal adaptation) ‘Night of the Demon.’ ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050766/)

curse

From the striking cover art of Kylan Amos (the bass player; this guy is GOOD) to the creepy and complex lyrics, this is a wonderful old-fashioned concept prog album that gets better and better upon successive listens.

The solid rhythm section of Pointer and Amos anchors everything down and keeps the story driving on relentlessly, BUT it’s the standout performances of Nolan on keyboards, Mitchell on guitars, and most of all Paul Manzi on vocals that totally draw the listener into this dark and deadly story.

From the opening 90 seconds of instrumental madness in track 1, The Demon Strikes, the whole disc bleeds out cinematic soundtrack undercurrents, painted upon by Mitchell’s incredible solos and Nolan’s washes of melodic synths and clever samples and sound effects. I am a huge, huge, John Mitchell fan (peremptorily naming his Lonely Robot/Welcome Home album Best Album of 2015 in February) but it’s the singing of Manzi that makes the whole concept story work. Whether the music varies from neo-prog tropes (heavy synths and keyboard duets with lead guitar) to more theatrical Andrew Lloyd Weber stage music (at times almost like Styx meets Tran Siberian Orchestra), it’s Manzi that sings with power and authority holding the listener’s interest. So whether it’s a slower ballad or a rousing power metal/prog metalish anthem, the vocals are clean, clear, and up front in the great mix.  The album is so good it will make you want to track down the movie, and especially the James’ short-story!

Arena has made an album I needed to hear. I rate it a solid A-/A.

http://www.arenaband.co.uk/

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00U0S0MBE/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_8?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER

 

 

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Who’s The Band That Gets All The Chicks?

April 19, 2015

The TANGENT…you’re damn right!  🙂

The lyrics to this masterpiece of funky Jazz-Prog are so incredibly cool, that I’m back in 1968 with my Mustang 🙂

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United We Stand: A Review of 3RDegree’s THE LONG DIVISION

April 18, 2015

3rdegree2

3RDegree: THE LONG DIVISION

Released 4 September 2012

CD Baby

Listen at Bandcamp: https://3rdegree.bandcamp.com/album/the-long-division-cd-quality-24bit-441khz

Band:

George Dobbs/ Lead vocals, keyboards

Robert James Pashman/ bass, keyboards, backing vocals

Pat Kliesch/ guitar, backing vocals

Aaron Nobel/ drums, percussion

Eric Pseja/ guitar, backing vocals

Political manifestos aside, this is a darn fine album that I recommend. Political manifestos that in reality are passionate socio-economic critiques of injustice and manipulated inequality are both needed and welcome. From the striking album art on the cover to titles of several of the tunes (A Nihilist’s Love Song, Incoherent Ramblings, The Socio-Economic Petri Dish) this album is pure Prog-concept “BIG” in theme and rewarding in execution.

Track 1: You’re Fooling Yourself (6:51)

There is almost a Spock’s Beard vibe with this tune; something about the vocal harmonies hearkens back to Neal & co. The lyrics plead for self introspection and reflection, i.e. “take the read pill” therapy. I wish there had been more melody lines but then…

Track 2: Exit Strategy (5:44)

This second song told me where the album was going with both its 28 second instrumental opening, which had me hearing “library music” cues from the late 60s, as well as a mellow yet jazzy late 70s California vibe. There are hints of Ambrosia in this tune. I like Ambrosia.

Track 3: The Socio-Economic Petri Dish (6:51)

And now we have the style kicking on all cylinders. This is some fine Jazz/Funk prog with rhythm and base thick as gumbo, raspy-edged vocals, intelligent lyrics, and a cacophonic 2 minute instrumental opening. This song is Steely Dan meeting early Chicago (sans horns) and is simply “smart” music!

Track 4: Incoherent Ramblings (7:44)

This is 3RDegree’s masterpiece. Critically biting and socially conscious lyrics coupled with minor tonalities and numerous tempo changes weave a thematic Prog classic. Did I mention that the band really plays well?

Track 5: The Ones To Follow (3:12)

The prior track notwithstanding, this is my favorite song on the album! Changing up a bit with this shorter tune, the band gives us a light YES-like chimed opening that is then juxtaposed against darker vocals. In addition the almost English-folk melody produces a strange pastoral aftertaste.

Track 6: A Work Of Art (2:50)

This is another short song that falls a bit flat due to dry, almost emotionless, vocals. But with a crystal clear delivery (the mixing is superb) and intimacy, when the synth-saxophone lines come in, all is well.

Track 7: Televised (6:52)

A heavier piece with nice jazz piano and drums coupled with plenty of tempo changes. More Fusion Prog that gets the head a nodding!

Track 8: The Millions of Last Moments (2:06)

A nice short instrumental interlude of soft guitar that sounds like something Peter White would do. This simple understated melody is well placed in the albums’ song sequence.

Track 9: Memetic Pandemic (7:29)

Again, the bands use of vocal harmonies works well and makes up for lead singer Dobbs’ average pipes. This multi-layered track has a beautiful 2 minute piano and vocal introduction that segues seamlessly into the building volume and quickening tempos. This is a “feel good” song with an almost earwig-like catchy chorus. There is real feel of Pop/Prog era Genesis when the beat starts to swing.

Track 10: A Nihilist’s Love Song (3:39)

The band ends their concept work with gradually building and almost rousing anthem like coda. The repeating chorus “all that is—it’s meaningless. And all that was—it’s meaningless” is refuted by their own energy and underlying defiance of blind fate. Not wishing to be a deconstructionist reviewer, I nonetheless maintain that the emotional power of the song “trumps” the pessimistic lyric. This last song is like a Dylan Thomas shout into the void saying “fight on; keep swimming towards shore.”

A special shout out to Progarchy’s Brian Watson (no relation) for featuring 3RDegree on his debut prog-podcast AMERICAN PROG. This must-listen-to show is featured on Progzilla Radio.

http://www.progzilla.com/podcast-american-prog-edition-01/

The album reviewed above is also given a great review by SEA OF TRANQUILITY’s Pete Pardo at: http://www.seaoftranquility.org/reviews.php?op=showcontent&id=13024

Final Analysis:

This is a slab (I love that old vinyl term) of top-notch American Jazz Fusion Prog. These guys have some real ‘Jamming’ mojo that bring together both rhythmic drive AND, strange though it may see, a Big Big Train sense of care, concern, and seriousness about the way things are and the way things should/could/may be again one day. This band and album deserve to be discovered.

https://www.facebook.com/#!/3RDegree

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/3rdegree2

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High-hat Hagiography

April 15, 2015

 

TOP TEN Reasons Mike Portnoy Is Not The Best Drummer Ever

 

  1. I’m old…I still remember Bonzo’s awesome Moby Dick!!  He was a beast.

 

  1. Sense of humor, could work well with those “others,” and did keep the beat: RINGO!!!

 

  1. Phenomenal rhythm genius AND strong-willed enough to drive even Miles a bit nuts—which counts for something. Not only should every prog head own Bitches Brew but also this drummers own, Lifetime: The Collection.  Tony Williams!

 

  1. Okay, okay, Portnoy is the better stick-man, (heck he could play better with amputated feet stubs) but he couldn’t match the smoky alto range: Karen Carpenter (just listen to Solitaire)

 

  1. Sure we all love Carl Palmer, Alan White, Nick D’Virgilio, Terry Bozzio, & Phil, but c’mon, we bow before Crimson’s original King: Bill Bruford.

 

  1. Gene Krupa…just because he was cool.  That, and Drum Boogie!

 

  1. Because everyone has a sentimental favorite: Max Roach, Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, Billy Cobham, Bill Ward, and, for me: GRAEME EDGE!

 

  1. Animal!

 

  1. Buddy Rich. Because not only was he as good (probably better) than all the others. He used to do “it” in wearing a tight suit and necktie 🙂

 – – – Drum Roll Please – – –

And The Number One Reason Mike Portnoy is NOT the Best Drummer Ever:

peart

  1. NEIL PEART (nuff said!)

 

p.s. Portnoy is awesome by the way and on my best/fave list

 

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The (n)EVERLAND of PROG

Searching For Lost Chords

Stormfields

Christian Humanism in a Post-Modern World

Progarchy

Pointing toward Proghalla