A GREAT show by the Steve Hackett Band last night. Ian McDonald was in the audience and backstage along with Adam Holzman (keyboards on Steven Wilson’s recent album) and Francis Dunnery (who joined the band for a couple of the songs). Steve noted to the audience how much Ian McDonald’s early work with King Crimson influenced him during his early period with Genesis. The set list is here (top of page): http://www.hackettsongs.com/setlist/3tour.html And it was a real thrill to hear so many songs that I haven’t heard in some cases for more than 30 years like The Fountain of Salmacis. Onward (for me) to Saturday’s sold out show in CT, but the band is playing a show at the Theater at Westbury (Long Island, NY) on Friday night. I didn’t take many photos last night, because I didn’t have a high quality camera and I wanted to focus more on the show and the music.
Left to right (after the encore): Roger King, Rob Townsend, Nad Sylvan, Steve Hackett, Lee Pomeroy and Gary O’Toole.
I have to say that the award last night (and the entire band looked like they were having fun) goes to Lee (playing right-handed guitars and bass left-handed) who had huge smiles on his face each time he fired-off those thundering bass pedals. It was a real treat to see such a great band again, this time…on Broadway…at the Best Buy Theater.
More on the tour and Steve Hackett here: http://www.hackettsongs.com/index.html
Esoteric Antenna/Cherry Red Label: CD/LP/Stereo/5.1Mix EANTCD #21002 46:20
Label Website: http://cherryred.co.uk/
Chris Squire Website: http://www.chrissquire.com/
Steve Hackett Website: http://www.hackettsongs.com/
Squackett Website: http://www.squackett.com/
Tracks: 1) A Life Within A Day; 2) Tall Ships; 3) Divided Self; 4) Aliens; 5) Sea Of Smiles; 6) The Summer Backwards; 7) Stormchaser; 8) Can’t Stop the Rain; 9) Perfect Love Song
Collaborators include: Roger King (album producer, keyboards, programming, and 5.1 Surround Sound Mix), Jeremy Stacey (drums), Amanda Lehmann (backing vocals), Christine Townsend (violin and viola), Richard Stewart (cello) and Dick Driver (double bass). Songwriting credits are Hackett/Squire/King with Nick Clabburn on Divided Self, _?_ Healy on Aliens, Gerard Johnson/Simon Sessler on Can’t Stop the Rain and Johnson on Perfect Love Song
PLEASE NOTE: Apparently, the Record Label has long since removed the track samples from Soundcloud, but I have since relocated the Divided Self Youtube clip.
It took a while to get to these fair shores, and I resisted listening to the previews…
Progressive Rock is by now a fairly broad genre and I am quite happy that it has seen resurgence in popularity recently, with both younger and older listeners (thanks in part to artists like Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree). At its worst, some Prog Rock tracks can carry on far too long and collapse under the weight of their own bombast, instrumentation or blatant commercialism, and at best can yield some really inventive music, pulling from a variety of influences and periods (rock, blues, folk, classical, instrumental, vocal…). This is not at all to say that longer pieces are all bad—far from it (my lasting fondness for the Genesis works Firth of Fifth or Cinema Show support this). Since my primary experience over the years has been with the works of Steve Hackett and Genesis, my point of reference is more Hackett than with Chris Squire and his band Yes.
This has been a busy and very productive time for Steve Hackett (SH), since the release of his album Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth in 2010. Chris Squire (CS) appeared, somewhat mysteriously, on the tracks Fire on the Moon and Nomads, and again on the 2011 SH album Beyond the Shrouded Horizon on tracks Looking For Fantasy, Catwalk, Turn This Island Earth and bonus CD tracks Four Winds: North and Enter The Night. Some may recall my recent review of SH’s album Beyond the Shrouded Horizon:
The Squackett project had apparently been brewing for about four years while SH could settle personal matters and scheduling with CS. I more or less parted ways with the works of the band Yes at about the same time that Bill Bruford left for King Crimson; I remained laterally interested in their subsequent releases and followed Jon Anderson’s earlier solo career before his work got a bit too mystical for my taste (although I enjoyed much of Anderson’s collaborative work with Vangelis).
Chris Squire’s work comprises some twenty studio albums, ten live albums and numerous compilations with Yes in addition to his three solo albums and many collaborative works with Rick Wakeman and others. The Yes Album is perhaps my strongest connection to CS’s work. The song I’ve Seen All Good People, and in particular part b: All Good People (penned by Squire) and then later the driving bass line in the song Roundabout from the 1971 album Fragile.
As for Steve Hackett, in his long career, he has constantly reinvented and explored many music genres, styles and formats (having practically invented the “unplugged” album with the acoustic/instrumental Bay Of Kings in 1983). SH has also explored shorter format songwriting, having penned beautiful ballads like the early Hoping Love Will Last (from Please Don’t Touch) to the sardonic Little America (from Guitar Noir).
A Life Within A Day may be too song-oriented for diehard Prog Rock fans that desire longer instrumental works. With one exception, eight of the nine songs vary from four to six minutes in length. Squire, Hackett and Roger King (long-time SH collaborator) have produced an album of concise, well-crafted and accessible songs. For the most part, the album takes few breaks and stays sharp with minimal forays into a more (and often dreaded, in Prog Rock circles) “commercial” sound. I appreciate that the songs are for the most part NOT overly polished; there are some rough edges, quick key and rhythm changes (Jazz and Blues fills). There are enough familiar Prog Rock elements present for this album to strike a successful balance between the shorter format and instrumentation.
A Life Within A Day: Although not as stark in instrumentation or spoken-word, the opener has an air of the SH song Darktown about it; majestic opening, sudden rhythm shifts, aggressive percussion, sharp guitar, bass solos and SH’s clustered vocals with Roger King’s sinister (and familiar) orchestral production. This is the most aggressive track on the album.
Tall Ships: A nylon string guitar opening followed by vamping guitar, bass and percussion riffs (constructed similarly to works penned by Mike Rutherford, but with sounds of Robert Fripp and Bill Nelson-like guitars) sail with this ocean-going journey. CS’s vocals coupled with a rather catchy rhythm, guitar reminiscent of Steve Winwood’s album Arc of a Diver followed by a broad vocal chorus—funky too.
Divided Self: Instantly, The Byrds Turn, Turn, Turn comes to mind—homage to the 1960s? SH sings lead vocals with an infectious rhythm, catchy and quick guitar solo chorus and melodic bass line. Following the main part of the song there is a hauntingly playful ending like that of SH’s Circus of Becoming (with whistling). Some might also notice a similarity to the Genesis song Tell Me Why. This is a great song!
Not An Official Video
Aliens: CS is the primary vocalist and there are times that this easily could be heard as a Yes track (the vocal chorus is akin to Jon Anderson’s sound); the lyrics being of future travels and science fiction. The keyboard opening is a bit timid. This also has a sound that is similar to the opening SH’s Loch Lomond (acoustic guitars sounding a bit like zithers). It remains relatively tame. Layered vocals and guitar solo fills.
Sea Of Smiles: Clustered vocal opening, melodic percussion, keyboards, bass line, up-tempo rhythm that repeats. A guitar solo coda that eventually develops into a dense almost relentless rhythm similar to Group Therapy from SH’s 1982 album Highly Strung.
The Summer Backwards: Is the shortest track on the album and it has a comfortable and reflective quality. The opening is very similar to one of my favorite vocal pieces by SH, Serpentine Song, descriptive of the scene—almost a waltz (trading three and four beats)—no pencil-grey days here though.
Stormchaser: Guitar, bass and drums open with more sinister vocal treatments; reminiscent of Duel from Till We Have Faces. It is the sound of raucous pursuit.
Can’t Stop the Rain: CS is lead vocalist, and at first the processed vocals threw me (auto-tune I find to be a bit distracting), and then the pleasantly layered vocal chorus by Amanda Lehmann washed that feeling away and the contrast seems to fit. It has a rather relaxing, but steady beat with Jazzy acoustic guitar fills. It then shifts to a more somber mood as it blends into a reflective…
Perfect Love Song: This piece seems to me to be more of a building coda to Can’t Stop the Rain than a stand-alone song. The vocals are shared by SH & CS.
Long distance and long-term collaborations are often tricky (compromises made and sometimes continuity lost). At times, A Life Within A Day seems a bit safe for Hackett, Squire and King aka Squackett who have been known as musical innovators throughout their careers. Yet it is a spirited gateway to the rest of their collective works and a solid introduction, I think, to a wider audience. A great change of pace, and I enjoyed many of the songs on this album, almost immediately.
InsideOut – 0505630 – http://www.insideoutmusic.com/
Extended Version 2 CD with hardbound booklet with lyrics, credits and photos
(Also available on vinyl): http://www.hackettsongs.com/
CD 1: 1) Loch Lomond; 2) The Phoenix Flown; 3) Wanderlust; 4) Til These Eyes; 5) Prairie Angel; 6) A Place Called Freedom; 7) Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms; 8) Waking To Life; 9) Two Faces Of Cairo; 10) Looking For Fantasy; 11) Summer’s Breath; 12) Catwalk; 13) Turn This Island Earth
CD 2 (Limited Edition Bonus): 1) Four Winds: North; 2) Four Winds: South; 3) Four Winds: East; 4) Four Winds: West; 5) Pieds En L’Air; 6) She Said Maybe; 7) Enter The Night; 8) Eruption: Tommy; 9) Reconditioned Nightmare
Released in the Fall of 2011, “Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” is an album that has been in steady rotation in my music room and on my iPod since that time, but I wanted to have some time to better absorb the album before writing about it.
Since the release of his last introspective album, “Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth”, there have been many changes in Steve Hackett’s life, he has married his collaborator/partner Jo [Lehmann] Hackett, gotten the rights back to his recording studio as well as his musical works. My impression is that “Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth” is a deeply personal work and somewhat a reaction to his divorce during that period. “Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” [BtSH] is a departure from those inward themes and seems to be more outward looking, explorations and is a journey of discovery and reinvention that Hackett has been known for over his career. Hackett doesn’t stay still, musically for too long, although his work is immediately identifiable—a blend of the familiar along with the new. I wouldn’t necessarily label “BtSH” a concept album, but the pieces are thematically linked.
Aside from his roots being dipped in the blues, Hackett has always been an experimenter with sounds, effect & guitar techniques (he is credited with the fretboard “tapping” style he first introduced on the Genesis album “Nursery Cryme”). It has also been written that prior to his audition for Genesis, SH was preparing, not by playing songs of the day, but exploring new sounds with his guitar, amp and equipment.
SH has released nearly 40 studio and live albums since his departure from the band Genesis in 1977. Sadly, many still associate his musical identity largely with his work with Genesis (though his work with them was an essential part of their output from 1971 through 1977). Hackett, however, has had a rich solo career delving into many genres of music: electric and acoustic, blues, progressive rock, classical and including eastern Europe to the Middle and Far Eastern musical influences. He was also one of the first rock artists to release an “unplugged” album, “Bay Of Kings”, in 1983 (leaving his then label, Charisma Records, to do it). The music press has labeled some of his work as more heavily produced or commercial progressive rock (and was quite successful on the Billboard Charts), like the 1986 eponymous album “GTR” with Steve Howe, Max Bacon, Phil Spalding and Jonathan Mover (produced by Geoff Downes). He has collaborated with a broad range of artists: his brother John Hackett, Nick Magnus, John Wetton, Ian McDonald, Djabe, Chris Squire, Julian Colbeck, Anthony Phillips (and I have left many names off this rather short “long” list), and his current live band including: Roger King, Gary O’Toole, Nick Beggs, Amanda Lehmann and Rob Townsend.
Since his first solo work from 1975 (while still with Genesis), “Voyage of the Acolyte”, each album has included an inventive range of sounds and emotions from the most tender to the ferocious and dark. More recently, keyboardist Roger King has been a close collaborator, co-songwriter, and technical advisor with Hackett. Jo [Lehmann] Hackett also co-wrote some songs on SH’s previous album “OOTTM”, but for “BtSH” most of the songs are written by the trio of SH, RK & JH with two song credits added for Steve Howe and Jonathan Mover.
In many respects this album and back to his albums including “Dark Town” from 1999, have a strong cinematic quality—very visual and punctuated with scene and mood changes and transitional links between pieces. Many of the breaks and tempo changes during a given song are similar to cuts in a film, shifting from broad to intimate scenes (from full orchestra to lone nylon guitar). The contrasts throughout the album (to heighten dramatic effect) are not unlike those techniques used by Robert Fripp et al in many earlier King Crimson’s albums, up to the album “Red”.
“Beyond the Shrouded Horizon” is a journey (but there is a sense of a shifting timeline and locations). The album opens with a broad electric anthem, “Loch Lomond” (the largest freshwater lake in Great Britain, north of Glasgow, Scotland). It appears to be a departure, leaving the old behind to seek the new. There are alternating sections of fierce electric guitar choruses and acoustic accompaniment during the verses that documents the journey outward. The next two pieces “The Phoenix Flown” and “Wanderlust” serve as first a majestic transport to the next destination with an acoustic six-string pause before the next piece.
“Til These Eyes”, I think, is one of the most beautiful ballads that Hackett & Co. has ever recorded. It has a sense of reflective melancholy. It is a song of a mature voice and clearly speaks from a life of experience. SH’s vocals are sung in a low (almost weary) register and are well suited with the symbolism of the lyrics and accompanying music. It has the feeling of a ship’s captain, reviewing his life in a logbook, mulling over the mistakes, the losses and what is sought upon arrival at the ultimate destination: “…til these eyes have seen love.”
The journey continues and is announced by the instrumental “Prairie Angel”. The piece begins with a first languid and then rhythmic electric guitar and then transitions to a raucous blues chorus (with SH playing harmonica) and this leads to a not entirely clear but distinct western destination, “A Place Called Freedom” and a love seen and sought. The original “Prairie Angel” electric guitar theme returns to close the song.
“Between The Sunset And The Coconut Palms” is a lullaby of sorts, a dream while traveling into the night with an orchestral interlude reminiscent of the waves carrying the ship into the next port. “Waking To Life” is the arrival in a different land (and Amanda Lehmann sings vocals). The piece is a cross-fertilization of Middle and Far Eastern music influences (even a sense of a Bollywood production) with an expansive orchestra following an electric guitar solo. The closing instrumental passage and guitar solo appears to be homage to the 1978 piece “Please Don’t Touch”.
The ominous transitional flute introduction to the “Two Faces of Cairo” is reminiscent of John Hackett’s opening to “The Steppes” from the 1980 album “Defector” and then the scene is that of (and almost presages, given the time this album was recorded) the political upheaval of the recent Egyptian revolution. An ensemble of percussion beats out the protest and is accompanied by a searing guitar solo by SH with an intermingled orchestra. “Looking For Fantasy” seems to be another point of reflection from a different point of view and during another time, a Camelot of sorts.
“Summer’s Breath” is a nylon-stringed interlude with distant voices on the beach. Hackett has such a gift for expressing emotions through his guitar. This transitions into a moody and raucous blues piece, “Catwalk”, which recalls his album “Blues With A Feeling” from 1995. One section has a fret board tapping run and solo that just rips a hole in the shifting time window of the journey (louder is better here).
“Turn This Island Earth” is the result of the collaboration of the three main songwriters along with Howe and Mover. It is the portion of the album where the travel is science fiction. It is the broadest, most orchestral, and dramatic piece on the album. It is certainly taking cues from the days of GTR. There is a middle section following an orchestral catharsis that borrows the theme of “Leaving” from the album “Defector” before moving to a dreamy march section with vocals. The mood shifts in this piece are quite dramatic and the musical scenes are as broad as the distance traveled (even with a snippet of Greensleeves) as the journey closes.
Throughout the album, there is a mix of acoustic and electric guitars, extensive keyboards (with digital orchestral sampling), woodwinds and strong support from the rhythm section of the band. Unlike the last release (where the drums were digital samples) “BtSH” includes both digitally sampled and actual percussion by Gary O’Toole and Simon Phillips. The recording varies from broad to sharply compressed (heightening the scenes) and from densely layered to the intimacy of a single guitar (that sounds as if SH is playing in one’s room). It’s an exciting journey and I hope SH continues to record and tour, for many years to come.
The bonus CD includes an interesting collection tracks (and well worth the added expense, although the track “Eruption: Tommy” is dropped on the LP set). A four-part suite entitled “Four Winds” (North, East, South and West) co-written by Hackett and King (except part three by Hackett and Benedict Fenner). The fifth piece “Pieds En L’Air” is movement five of the Capriol Suite written by Peter Warlock in 1926 and beautifully played by the trio (as a quartet) of Dick Driver on double bass, Richard Stuart on cello and Christine Townsend on both violin and viola. From this piece, it is not difficult to hear where the flowing lyrical quality has influenced SH’s work, especially his acoustic guitar pieces. “She Said Maybe” by Hackett and King is a Jazz-like piece that (for me) recalls some of Allan Holdsworth’s or Jan Akkerman’s work, a steady rhythm section and musical improvisations by both Hackett on guitar and King on keyboards, both solo and together. “Enter The Night” is a vocal version of “Depth Charge” from the 1991 live album “Time Lapse”, but this appears to be a re-recording of the piece (credited to Hackett, King and Jo Hackett). It is difficult to pick a stand out in this second CD, but “Eruption: Tommy” (actually written by Tom Barlage of the band “Solution”, not Thijs Van Leer as credited) made famous by the Dutch band “Focus” on their 1971 “Focus II” album is an absolutely splendid cover of this work. The CD closes with a re-recording of “The Air-Conditioned Nightmare” from the 1981 album “Cured”, recast as “Reconditioned Nightmare”.
Note: This article will be published shortly at an online music and audio equipment-related e-zine.
From the recording of Loch Lomond: