John Hackett – Another Life
Cherry Red Records – Esoteric Antenna EANTCD 1053 – CD Time: 48:59
Available at: http://shop.cherryred.co.uk/shopexd.asp?id=5158
More info at: http://johnhackett.com/ and https://www.facebook.com/hacktraxmusic?fref=ts
Tracks: 1) Another Life 2) Look Up 3) Poison Town 4) White Lines 5) Life In Reverse 6) Burnt Down Trees 7) Satellite 8) Forest 9) Magazine 10) Rain 11) Actors 12) Another Day, Another Night 13) Poison Town Reprise
It’s hard for me to believe that it was 10 years ago John Hackett released his last “electric” album Checking Out of London, a collaboration with lyricist Nick Clabburn, brother Steve Hackett, keyboardist Nick Magnus and guest vocalist Tony Patterson. COoL was largely an album of contemplation of modern realities with a fairly narrow and relatively calm emotional range (the song Ego & Id being the exception). Since COol John Hackett has released a collection of acoustic collaborations (see photo, I’m sure some are missing from my collection) and a live album with Nick Magnus in 2010, in addition to other session work with Magnus and others.
In contrast, Another Life exists in a darker realm, and is cathartic, but also treats the subject matter, at times, with sonic irony—where the music belies the lyrics, almost mocking the hopelessness or anger, reveling in the pain, getting to an even darker place perhaps in the hope to emerge in a better elsewhere. It’s not, however, necessarily a nihilist point of view. I also hesitate to say that Another Life is a concept album, but there is a tightly knit theme throughout.
The title track opens the album aggressively and builds to a primal scream of sorts. After listening to it a few times, I detected a structural pattern similar to the verse and refrain comparing it to In The Court of the Crimson King, including the point where John Hackett’s flute enters…coincidental or an homage? In Look Up “Everyone is changing…” and it is reminiscent of the sound of the change The Byrds sang of in the late 1960s (and distinctive opening chords like ELO’s 10538 Overture). The song is embedded with foreboding, but it has a driving energy of what I characterize as hope in the words “Look up and feel the light…” Poison Town is one of the examples of where the music seems to contradict the message of the lyrics, it has a sort of chill-vibe with the soft keyboards and wah-wah treatment of the guitar…kind of swaying and comforted in the darkness of thought. White Lines delves into frustration, with the Doppler-Effect sound and motion of vehicles speeding past on a highway, following the road into a vanished point in the distance…a destination never reached on an endless journey.
Life In Reverse on one hand is bleak, but there is a sense of optimism and beauty in the music—the chord shifts, layered chorus vocals and the gorgeous bridge from John Hackett’s flute (the passage “This rented room…This rented life…” with the chord bends and vocals is powerful). Another example of the sharp contrast of the message in the lyrics and music is Burnt Down Trees, as if one is mocking the other. The music is funky, rhythmic with ripping guitar solos from Steve Hackett, almost as if the music is laughing at reality while the streets burn; like the conditions are so bad, one needs comic relief or escapism. Ant Phillips is a guest instrumentalist on Satellite (12 string guitar and harpsichord). A song of conflicted feelings, opens with Steve Hackett on harmonica, with flowing chords and harmonies from the vocals and guitars. Stark truth and minimal sentimentality “Say how you feel…I just want to hear you try…” By the time Phillips’ rich sounding harpsichord enters, the difficulties of reality return—a very emotional piece, one that cannot be played loud enough to hear all the depth to the layers. Holding onto beauty in the face of despair.
Forest, in a way harkens back, in sound and instrumentation, to many of the songs on COoL. Reflection and self-examination, pondering how things could have gone, yet living with how they turned out. Magazine is the one piece on the album where Nick Magnus is credited as a songwriter along with Hackett and Clabburn. It’s another in the canon of gentle and contemplative songs, somewhat like the early instrumental piece by brother Steve Hammer In The Sand, although it passes through a couple of grander orchestral codas. Rain is perhaps a relationship gone bad (the actual inspiration could be completely different!) and in this the music and lyrics are aligned—the twisting sadness of the minor chords and the forceful vocal refrain, punctuated by Steve’s sustained growling solos.
There was something about Actors that sounded familiar to me…the lyrics seemed to have a parallel elsewhere, and sure enough, portions of the lyrics were used in the Squackett (Steve Hackett and Chris Squire) song Divided Self (a marvelous song, by the way—lyrics also by Clabburn). It’s a song of internal conflict—“Two tongues speaking in my head…” with a curious I Am The Walrus-esque link in the middle before the first guitar solo and vocal choruses. Another Day, Another Night has some sounds of hope with its upbeat rhythm and instrumentation, and is where the message is delivered to whatever is causing the feelings of darkness to move on—kind of an ultimatum with signs of optimism.
And then…the Poison Town Reprise…and a bit of the darkness returns.
Fear not the subject, just get lost in the music—I certainly have…as I click REPLAY.
Steve Hackett – Wolflight
Label: InsideOut Music: Two Clear Vinyl LPs (with CD IOMSECD 417)
Time: About 65 minutes with bonus material (Other formats available)
LP 1: Side 1: Out of Body, Wolflight, Love Song to a Vampire; Side 2: The Wheel’s Turning, Corycian Fire, Earthshine, Loving Sea
LP 2: Side 1: Black Thunder, Dust and Dreams, Heart Song; Side 2: (Extra Tracks) Pneuma, Midnight Sun (with Todmobile), Caress (on LP 2, but not the enclosed CD)
Website: http://www.hackettsongs.com/index.html Shop: http://hackettsongs.sandbaghq.com/
After a pair of tremendously successful Genesis Revisited tours in Europe, UK, Japan and the US (with many sold out concerts and shows added due to demand), I’m thrilled that Steve Hackett is back again creating new music. He did the historic material from his Genesis era a worthy justice, clearly an important part of his life (and heck, mine too) and career, and some of that material will always be part of his live shows, but clearly it was time to move on to new things.
I was fortunate to have a chance to hear a preview of Wolflight in Steve Hackett’s studio in the autumn of 2014 and my immediate impression then was that the music is incredibly cinematic—vibrant sound and images in the tales unfolding in the music, whether vocal or instrumental. The music is drawn from experiences, places visited, dreams, nightmares, ancient history and inspired by love. I sense that there is still even a bit of delicately blended (and not yet completely written) autobiographical experiences.
Wolflight is an album of contrasts, from broad filmic passages, some briefly anthemic, to moments of delicate beauty. There is no formula being rehashed from his earlier work, but some elements that are pleasantly familiar are mixed with the inventiveness and varied regional instrumentation that I have come to appreciate in Hackett’s work throughout his oeuvre. Steve’s primary collaborators continue to be keyboardist Roger King and his wife Jo Hackett, along with live show bandmates and production team: Gary O’Toole, Rob Townsend, Nick Beggs, Amanda Lehmann, Benedict Fenner and others.
Out of Body is the eerie wolf-howl call and then energetic overture to the album, a brief taste of what’s to come. Title track, Wolflight opens gently, setting a scene of calm, but the challenges of the tale are expressed in orchestral and sharp-edged guitar solos in contrast with the acoustic twelve-string verses—a powerful title track that has proven to adhere well in my memory, despite the complexity of the piece. In addition to the contrast of sound there is also the irony of subject—that of pleasure in pain and the attraction of potential danger, which is the exploration of Love Song to a Vampire with Hackett’s hushed verses (almost a lullaby), powerful refrains and soulful peregrinations on his Les Paul guitar.
The Wheel’s Turning revisits some of the sights and sounds of works as far back as the album Please Don’t Touch—carnivals of inspiration and a bit of time-travel (with shades of his Squackett collaboration with Chris Squire in the marvelous song from the album A Life Within a Day, Divided Self). At first there’s the basic song then orchestral moves to a devilish romp with a brief homage to The Air Conditioned Nightmare (from the album Cured) and then his album Blues With a Feeling before returning to strains of Bach and the memory of that distant carnival. Creating a strong sense of place, Corycian Fire, after a gentle opening, Hackett uses his highly processed vocals like an instrument to accompany the orchestral, choral and regional instruments in exploring the history of an ancient underworld, which has some similarities to his earlier and less adorned instrumental Steppes (from the album Defector for those who have listened since the early days). Earthshine and Loving Sea are a respite from the album’s vigorous beginnings (an intermission similar to the days of changing a film reel in a theater). Earthshine, a classical guitar fantasy merges into the joyful twelve-string and vocal harmonies of Loving Sea, sailing freely.
Black Thunder rumbles with raw emotion; part history and part social commentary on slavery and civil rights struggles of Martin Luther King with an homage (in the liner notes) to Richie Havens (and his well-known song Freedom) who worked with Hackett on his second solo album. Dust and Dreams is at first a vamp of languid movements and drifting mirages that adds layers and builds to portray scenes of divergent impressions and ultimately it’s resolved in a returning to the comfort of Heart Song, dedicated to Hackett’s wife and creative partner Jo.
The bonus material on side 4 of the LPs (two solo guitar tracks on either side of a collaboration with the Icelandic band Todmobile) fits quite well with the overall album. Pneuma (translates as breath, soul and spirit) is a subdued rumination, a calming re-centering of sorts. Midnight Sun is powerful, melodic and pleasing in its chord structure and rhythms. Caress gently closes the album (which is on the LP, but not the CD).
Despite the sharp contrasts in the instrumentation and sources of inspiration, Wolflight is a very cohesive album, which upon a few listens will become deeply and solidly embedded in the canon of Hackett’s work. The Steve Hackett Band will be celebrating his 40 year solo career with a tour in 2015, Acolyte to Wolflight. I hope to attend a show (but tickets sell quickly!) and I urge readers to get tickets to a show, which will certainly be quite a visual and aural experience, as all of Steve Hackett’s concerts have been since the late 1970s.
Seeing John Edginton’s recent documentary Genesis: Sum of the Parts, one might be left with the impression that after Steve Hackett left Genesis in 1977 he went on to do a few minor projects and then disappeared into the ether. On the contrary, after his highly innovative work with Genesis during the tremendously creative period from 1971 to 1977, Hackett has had a varied and successful solo career of nearly 40 years with as many albums, including some well-known collaborations, songs in international charts (Wolflight is in the UK charts, as I write this), and a faithful legion of fans who are spreading his work to a new generation of listeners.
If anything, Steve Hackett is more vital and relevant than ever with new-found and ever-growing energy that belies the span of his career—continuing to blaze new frontiers in music and live shows.
My Favorites of 2014
2014 has been a year when I’ve been relatively quiet on reviews, but I have been listening to many things, and I was very fortunate to attend some fabulous concerts that I’ve documented here with brief write-ups and photos (no photos of King Crimson!). I’ve also been focused on other things, including making noise with some guitars. As in the past, my listening is concentrated on what’s available to me, which is relatively narrow in scope, but I do listen to a pretty wide array of music.
This is my list of 14 favorites for 2014 (in no particular order) and then a few special categories. Each title on the list links to the artist or record label website. Happy Listening and I hope you all have a nice Holiday season, no matter what you celebrate. Thank you for reading in 2014!
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
Nick Magnus – n’monix
Tony Patterson & Brendan Eyre – Northwinds
Should – The Great Pretend
Hallock Hill – Kosloff Mansion (My review was somewhat unconventional in interpretation–a really nice album).
Gareth Dickson – Invisible String (a compilation of recent live recordings)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Lateness of Dancers
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live at the Royal Albert Hall 2CD/DVD (a fabulous live album & DVD with excellent sound quality!)
Stephen Vitiello + Taylor Deupree – Captiva (double 10” LP)
Medeski Scofield Martin Wood – Juice
Ben Watt – Hendra
Beck – Morning Phase
Levin Brothers – Levin Brothers (It’s only taken decades, but the Levin brothers got together and made a really marvelous jazz album)
Rosanne Cash – The River & The Thread
Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd – White Bird in a Blizzard
Anthony Phillips – Harvest of the Heart (Anthology Boxed Set): Unlike the recent R-kive Genesis box set, Cherry Red knows how to put together a proper anthology, complete with many tracks of never-before heard music from AP’s archives.
Jason Molina – Songs: Ohia – Journey On (7” 45 RPM Compilation Box Set, a really beautiful set, probably rarer than hen’s teeth by now.)
King Crimson – The Elements (Tour Box, archive, live and some new material as a companion to the 2014 US Tour)
East River Pipe – The Gasoline Age (vinyl reissue, my introduction to the brilliant songs of F. M. Cornog when it was first released on CD in the early 1990s)
Lambchop – Live at XX Merge (I’m so happy that Merge Records decided to release this in honor of their 25th Anniversary. Looks like the LP is out of print for the moment.)
William Tyler – Lost Colony
Olan Mill – Half Seas Over (Live performances 2012-2014)…too short for an album, too long for an EP, but what the heck!
An Accidental Concert Photo
Steve Hackett – Ridgefield Playhouse – 13 Nov 2014
A great show last night by the Steve Hackett Band at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, Connecticut for the Genesis Extended fall 2014 tour of the USA and Canada. More information on the tour is here: http://www.hackettsongs.com/tour.html
This will be the last tour with exclusively Genesis material in North America, with a South American tour scheduled for early 2015. Hackett will have a new solo album in early of 2015 with a planned late summer/autumn tour likely in 2015–stay tuned! The Band: Steve Hackett (guitars), Roger King (keyboards), Gary O’Toole (drums), Nick Beggs (bass, Chapman Stick and guitars), Rob Townsend (woodwinds, keyboards and percussion) and Nad Sylvan (vocals and percussion).
Set List: Dance On A Volcano, Squonk, Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, Fly On A Windshield, Broadway Melody Of 1974, The Return Of The Giant Hogweed, The Fountain Of Salmacis, The Musical Box, I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe), Horizons (acoustic, preceded by an excerpt from Bay Of Kings), Firth Of Fifth, Lilywhite Lilith, The Knife, Supper’s Ready Encore: Watcher Of The Skies, Los Endos (including an excerpt of Slogans)
Acoustic section with excerpts of Steve Hackett’s acoustic solo material, plus Horizons from the album Foxtrot.
The opening section of Supper’s Ready.
From the opening section of Supper’s Ready.
More about the color and the mood, rather than getting a perfect focus.
Encore with Watcher of the Skies with Roger King on Mellotron and Nad Sylvan as the Watcher.
Nick Magnus – n’monix
EANTCD 1032 – Esoteric Antenna (Cherry Red Records) – Time: 46:54
Tracks: 1) Time, 2) Memory, 3) Kombat Kid, 4) Headcase, 5) Eminent Victorians, 6) Broken, 7) Shadowland, 8) Entropy
Nick Magnus – Website: http://www.magnus-music.com/ Discography: http://www.magnus-music.com/discography.htm Solo Albums: http://www.magnus-music.com/solo_albums.htm
Record Label: http://www.esotericrecordings.com/antenna.html & http://www.cherryred.co.uk/
Other music genres aside, I posit that many fans of Progressive Rock (Progressive Metal and other sub-genres included) have fairly high expectations when anticipating the release of an album by a favorite artist or band. The hope is perhaps for certain sounds and instrumentation—in a way, holding onto the past, the memories. I’m certainly guilty of that (I want Mellotrons, Les Pauls, E-bows and bass pedals), but I also hope for variants and invention in addition to complicated rhythms and key signatures that I associate with Prog Rock.
Music can trigger memories; hear a song and it can take one back to a long distant place and time, instantly. My memory of Nick’s work goes back to the early days of the Steve Hackett Band, in the late 1970s through the 1980s, and I certainly remember standing up front at more than a few venues close to the stage, marveling at Nick using his two (four?!) hands, feet and even elbows at times to assist with bringing Steve Hackett’s early work to life (he was a large part of the sound and technology of that era…and the transition from the analog to digital era in instrumentation and recording technology). Then, of course, I have enjoyed his solo work beginning with Straight On Til Morning from 1993.
I’ve heard some recent Prog Rock albums (even albums that I like) where the artist felt it necessary to include frequent derivative historical references and instrumentation or phrasing to other artist’s albums, but Magnus resists this temptation and takes n’monix in unexpected directions and makes it his own. The album does include many new friends as well as old; a connection to the past while looking to the future: Steve Hackett, Tony Patterson, Tim Bowness, Pete Hicks, Rob Townsend, James Reeves, Kate Faber and Andy Neve. Once again, long time collaborator, Dick Foster delivers sharp, witty and poignant lyrics that combine so well with the music.
n’monix is social commentary, history, reality and an observation of the results of technological advancements and the effects they have on us all. The more information available, the more to process, the more to remember and as a result we need devices to cope, mnemonics of many types. And curiously, even with the most tragic and unjust, we humans have such short memories; history is bound to repeat itself, it sadly becomes inevitable. We are victims of our own creations. The album is also about loss on many levels.
Time is the allegro of the symphony or the overture to the opera and it’s aggressive with firm vocals by Tony Patterson (and it will give your audio equipment a workout). By contrast (but very much in keeping with the symphonic reference) Memory is an adagio (slower tempo) waltz of sorts, which shifts from a somewhat shrouded soprano solo to broad choral treatment. Kombat Kid is an allegory. It is part march, part recitative and a story of consumption, manipulation and obsession…a reminder to step away from the keyboard or game controller now and then. Headcase is the only track on the album that even vaguely includes an homage…in this case (it seems to me!) to Gentle Giant…with quirky rhythms and lyrics—and memory games in the lyrics. Eminent Victorians is the most fantastical of the pieces on the album (with a brilliant animated video to accompany and vocals by the carnival “barker” Pete Hicks), and traces the absurdity of the served and servants, the sacrifices of the young and poor for the glory of an Empire and upper class; a familiar theme even today as income gaps grow ever wider and those less fortunate suffer even more. EV also includes prominent and most welcomed solos by Steve Hackett.
Broken is a heartbreaking lament with remarkable and emotional soprano saxophone solos by Rob Townsend (I have to admit that I had quite an unexpected emotional reaction to the track). Reality hits in the mournful resignation and loss of Shadowland and includes choral treatments and a stark guitar solo again from Steve Hackett. Some of the original themes return in the opening of the final track Entropy, an acceptance of reality and the unknown possibilities. I am certain that I have missed some of the literary, mystical and historical references…for now.
Although the subject matter of this album can be rather daunting, I find it to be somewhat lighter in spirit at times and more musical compared to Nick’s brilliant previous album Children of Another God. n’monix is impeccably arranged and orchestrated, and dances on the edge of being symphonic and operatic while including original and accessible songwriting. This is certainly not an album that collapses under the weight of a Prog Rock cliché, in fact, just the opposite–it brings a fresh relevance and viewpoint to the genre.
Steve Hackett Band – Scottish Rite Auditorium
We were fortunate to be in the audience for both the afternoon soundcheck and evening’s concert on Friday night March 28, 2014 in Collingswood, New Jersey. We had seats at the head of the mezzanine and also had a chance to see sound engineer Ben Fenner and lighting engineer “Tigger” perform their magic–they’re on their toes the entire evening! I have a photo of the set list, but I won’t give it away entirely, but rest assured that there are minor changes each evening according to those who attended the Thursday show. The added songs last night included: Squonk, Carpet Crawlers, Lilywhite Lilith, The Knife (from the Ant Phillips days!) and many other favorites from the early to mid 1970s. The Scottish Rite Auditorium is part of Masonic arts complex and in the interior of the building has an eery Moorish feel to it, so the music was appropriate, if not haunting at times.
If you haven’t gotten your tickets yet for this “Genesis Extended” Tour, do so before the ship sails (as in The Cruise To The Edge) and then the band is off for a European tour. More information here: http://www.hackettsongs.com/tour.html
Thank you, as always to the Band (Steve Hackett, Roger King, Gary O’Toole, Rob Townsend, Nad Sylvan and Nick Beggs) as well as their fabulous crew, tour manager and Jo Hackett.
Last night’s encore opened with Watcher of the Skies, always a favorite of mine!
All Photos are copyright 2014 by wajobu, please do not use without permission and credit–thank you.
Lucky 13 – My Favorites This Year…
…A Not-So Comprehensive List
2013 has been a quirky year; for a time I found that inspiration had vanished and I wasn’t interested in listening to music or writing about it at all (a rare occurrence). I’m guilty of having purchased less music this year (an economic curtailment of necessity). Nonetheless, there has been some great music in 2013 (and my slice is a tiny piece of what’s out there). This year I read some music-related memoirs by artists whose work I’ve admired for decades (Burt Bacharach, Neil Young, Michael Feinstein–of his time spent with Ira Gershwin and other books), some histories of Jazz Standards, Blues, Rock and Roll, and records labels (including one of my favorite indie labels, Merge Records). I was also fortunate to attend a number of live shows, and I’ve posted photos of some of those throughout the year.
Is it me or have record labels and artists reduced their output somewhat? Is it a lull in a normal cycle or a sign of the economic times?
Some of the music on this list will be familiar if you have checked-in to read my reviews and some I have not reviewed. I also have some albums I’m still listening to and I haven’t decided if I’ll write reviews for them (an archival release by The Books, La Luz’s first LP, Mary Lattimore and others). One album in particular that I’ve enjoyed recently (although it was NOT released this year) is a live archive solo recording of Neil Young at the Canterbury House in 1968 entitled Sugar Mountain—the album is mostly material that Young wrote or co-wrote with Buffalo-Springfield, and it was recorded right after Buffalo-Springfield broke-up.
A double live CD has also just arrived of one of the last (very lively hot Jazz) gigs played by the house band at Eddie Condon’s in New York City before it closed in 1985—One Night at Eddie Condon’s (Red “The Commodore” Balaban’s Condon Band), with Ed Polcer, Dr Palu Squire, Jack Maheu, Tom Artin, Bobby Pratt, Dave Shapiro and Danny D’Imperio, recorded by Doug Pomeroy)–thanks to Tom Artin for sending this great piece of Jazz history!
The Lucky 13 (all albums purchased–not promos)
Yellowbirds – Songs From The Vanished Frontier – Royal Potato Family: This is my favorite album of the year—just love it–the vibe, the sounds. Please see my June review.
Harold Budd – Jane 1-11 – Darla: The music with companion videos release won’t be available until early 2014, but another beautiful album from HB. I reviewed this album in June, as well.
John Scofield – Überjam Deux – Emarcy: I reviewed this album in August—an excellent follow-up to the original Überjam, and a great vibe with Jazz, Blues and more!
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited: Live At Hammersmith (CD/DVD) – InsideOut: As I noted in my review of last year’s studio release of Genesis Revisited II, I feel like Steve Hackett is the keeper of the spirit of the work of Genesis during the 1971 to 1977 era. So many of the earlier recordings (weak on the engineering and mix, except The Lamb) were greatly improved and enhanced, and this comprehensive 3 CD and 2 DVD set documents the fabulous and memorable Hammersmith show in May of 2013 before the band traveled to the US for their fall tour. The SH Band will tour further in support of this in the southeastern US and Europe and Russia is 2014 (bassist Lee Pomeroy will be replaced by Nick Beggs, a familiar face to Hackett Band fans…I really enjoyed Lee on this tour, he really brought out just how musical Mike Rutherford’s bass lines are in these earlier Genesis classics).
Wire – Change Becomes Us – Pink Flag: I was a big fan of Wire in the late 1970s and then I just plain lost touch with their work. The Words On Music label has a compilation of reinterpretations of their well-known single Outdoor Miner from their 1978 Chairs Missing album, and then I noticed a post earlier in the year by Marc Ostermeier (of the band Should ,and WOM and Tench labels) that a new album was forthcoming.
Juliette Commagere – Human – Aeronaut: Late in 2010 Commagere released her album The Procession on Manimal Records—a diverse combination of songs with dense and gorgeous vocals instrumentation—part art-rock, progressive and electronica. Commagere has returned with another beautifully recorded album of lush songs with her strong vocals and support from husband Joachim Cooder, Ben Messelbeck, Amir Yaghmai, Ry Cooder and recorded by Mark Rains and Martin Pradler. The sound is deep, full, inventive and often fantastical—she is doing her own thing, and I love it (catchy melodies and all). There are times when she channels Elizabeth Fraser as on Low.
Roger Eno – Ted Sheldrake – Backwater: Thirty Years after his first work Apollo with brother Brian and guitarist Dan Lanois, Roger Eno compiled this tribute to friend and neighbor, Ted Sheldrake. Although I reviewed this album in November of 2012, it wasn’t officially released until January of this year.
Cock & Swan – Secret Angles – HushHush: I am eagerly awaiting my blue vinyl (Kickstarter-funded) copy of this digital release that I reviewed in August.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age – BMG: Back in March I did a brief comparative analysis of this album and Steven Wilson’s latest (see below). I think this is a really spirited and fun reinterpretation of earlier works by Roxy Music and BF. Being a lover of old acoustically recorded 78s of the pre-Jazz and Jazz ages, I get this.
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing (and Other Stories) – kscope: A strong album (I think it’s Steve’s best to date), beautifully recorded and engineered by Alan Parsons. My favorite song is Drive Home.
William Tyler – Impossible Truth – Merge: A brilliant solo guitar album by Lambchop and Hands Off Cuba alum, and a great follow-up to his previous Tompkins Square release Behold The Spirit. I reviewed this album in March.
Celer – Viewpoint – Murmur: As I noted when I reviewed this album in April, I find this album absorbing and romantic—a great piece for getting lost.
Ron Sexsmith – Forever Endeavour – Cooking Vinyl: I love Ron’s work–started listening in 1997 with his third album Other Songs. Forever Endeavour is sparsely arranged, but strings, horn, percussion, pedal steel or electric bass are right there when they’re needed. Other than that, the songs are Ron’s voice, and his acoustic guitar. He has a gift for wordplay and expressing emotions with a deft efficiency that flow so naturally with his melodies. Some songs on Forever Endeavour are ironically upbeat, like Nowhere Is and Snake Road—in a sense, keeping the faith. The CD has two bonus tracks (songs written with Don Black and recorded by Don Kerr), Life After A Broken Heart and Autumn Light, and they are just plain gorgeous additions to this album. Here’s a live recording of Autumn Light.
Two of my favorite new discoveries in 2013
Meridian Brothers – Desesperanza – Soundway: I heard about Meridian Brothers in an NPR Alt Latino podcast and was instantly hooked by this band from Bogata, Colombia–buying as much of their back catalog as I could find in physical releases. Their music is surreal and playful—a combination of Joe Meek, Esquivel and Raymond Scott.
La Luz – Brainwash (7″) – Suicide Squeeze: This is a single (my version is on clear vinyl) that was released by La Luz just prior to their new album It’s Alive—It’s infectious and fun! I got to La Luz thanks to Johnny Goss (one half of Cock & Swan).
Steve Hackett Band – Genesis Revisited – Glenside, PA
Ah, the completion of my trifecta of Steve Hackett Band concerts on this 2013 US/Canadian Tour. I had a chance to see the second of two shows held in Glenside, PA at the Keswick Theater (even better to attend the concert with my brother!). It’s evident that the theater is undergoing a restoration…so a bit of the feeling of Darktown was the aura of the venue (with Gog and Magog swarming around and the ghosts of Keswick conspiring a bit on the house PA system, briefly!).
It was another fabulous night and the band was energetic and tight for this penultimate show on the US tour (the last being tonight in New Jersey before returning to the UK for a brief rest and then a series of UK shows). If you can, go see the concerts–they are a real treat. Last night The Lamia returned to the setlist once again. As always, if you copy and share the photos, please credit “wajobu.com”–thank you.
More on the UK Tour and beyond here: http://www.hackettsongs.com/tour.html
Roger King & “Watcher” Nad Sylvan at the opening of Watcher of the Skies
The closing section of Watcher of the Skies
From the Ridgefield, CT show (although Horizons was part of the Glenside set)
From Blood on the Rooftops (one of my favorites)
From the Ridgefield, CT show (although Blood on the Rooftops was part of the Glenside set)
“He’s been stamped human bacon…” from Supper’s Ready
Thanks to the Steve Hackett Band for a very memorable US and Canadian Tour! (L to R: Roger King, Rob Townsend, Nad Sylvan, Steve Hackett, Lee Pomeroy and Gary O’Toole)
Steve Hackett Band – Ridgefield Playhouse – **Videos Added**
A small collection of photos from the Steve Hackett Band show in Ridgefield, CT on September 29, 2013. I request that if you decide to copy or repost these photos they are credited to “wajobu.com” Thank you.
Due to my seating position, I didn’t have many opportunities to photograph Rob Townsend (woodwinds and keyboards) and Roger King (keyboards), but the entire band appears in the photo below. It was another great show on the US Genesis Revisited Tour.
Steve Hackett Band – Genesis Revisited II Show – On Broadway
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
Invention, Influence and Innovation – Bryan Ferry and Steven Wilson
When is a musical work true invention? When is it referential? When is it derivative? Can a work influenced by previous work still be considered original or innovative? I suppose these are questions that could spark a (sometimes heated) discussion like: “What audio speakers sound the best? Is it the east coast or west coast sound?” Often, the proper answer is: “What ever speakers sound best to one’s own ears.”
Generally, I think that most art, design and music works are built on the foundations that came before them and there really is little actual invention, more on the side of innovation or variants of an original. Dig deeply enough and one even can see that Frank Lloyd Wright’s and other modern architectural works (many seemingly original) have been influenced by the works of others or by some reference to design in nature or distant history (like many of Wright’s LA houses of the 1920s being highly influenced by ancient Mayan temples).
I’m certainly not an expert on the extensive back catalogs of Roxy Music, Bryan Ferry, Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson (including Wilson’s various side projects), but I have enough of their music in my collection to know that I generally like their respective work (some albums, in my opinion, being better than others—that’s the subjective part, like the what speakers sound better question). Bryan Ferry and Steven Wilson are from two different musical generations and have been influenced by different works and people, but there is some overlap.
Ferry has noted that much of his seminal listening, writing and songs were influenced by early and mid-20th century instrumental jazz (including Charlie Parker and Ornette Coleman): “I loved the way the great soloists would pick up a tune and shake it up – go somewhere completely different – and then return gracefully back to the melody, as if nothing had happened.” With these influences and those of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, King Crimson and others, Ferry’s band Roxy Music (with a number of different musicians, including Brian Eno and later Eddie Jobson) would go on to create quite innovative and often influential art-glam-pop-progressive rock works in the 1970s and early 80s in addition to Ferry’s distinctive solo works.
Steven Wilson works within a cauldron of many genres (progressive rock, metal, ambient and jazz fusion), and it’s clear from his remixing/remastering work (such as the King Crimson back-catalog, most recently Larks’ Tongues in Aspic) that he has both a deep affection for those influences as well as a respect for the history behind them. Wilson’s latest album The Raven That Refused To Sing is steeped in a mind-bending brew of musical influences, yet stays safely on the side of creatively paying homage while avoiding pastiche or cliché. Throughout the album he tips his hat with musical phrases and instrumental sounds that have kept me looking back into my music collection for their roots (a most welcome research project).
Steven Wilson – Luminol
Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing
Whether it’s a soaring guitar bend of Pink Floyd, a vocal introduction reminiscent of McDonald and Giles’ Tomorrow’s People, a Mellotron phrase from Genesis’ Watcher of the Skies, an electric guitar intro akin to the band Focus, acoustic guitar phrases of Ant Phillips’ The Geese and the Ghost or flute phrases of Jethro Tull, Wilson and his current band blend these deftly into the rather sullen tale of The Raven… I can also hear more recent parallels in the menacing track The Holy Drinker, to the works of (Miles Davis scholar) Bob Belden’s jazz-fusion Animation project (the recent post-9/11 track Provocatism from the album Transparent Heart). The musical and sonic success of this album is also thanks to the great live studio engineering care of Alan Parsons and gifted musicians Nick Beggs, Guthrie Govan, Adam Holzman, Marco Minnemann, Theo Travis and Jakko Jakszyk who have interpreted Wilson’s vision into a cohesive and often stunning recording. The dynamics and emotions are broad, from the aggressive percussion/bass opening to the somber balladic close of the title track. There are minimal overdubs on the album, except for using an original King Crimson MKII Mellotron (recorded at DGM).
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – Do The Strand
In contrast, Bryan Ferry is reinterpreting his own past work with vocals removed, leaving the melodies and harmonies of the original songs, and they’re are filtered through a time machine that brings the listener back to Ferry’s earliest musical influences—the sound, orchestration and recording techniques of the roaring and often buoyant 1920s. Some fans of Roxy Music or Ferry’s original work don’t seem to appreciate the effort (especially the sound treatment, and the monaural recording), but being that I enjoy original pre-and jazz-age acoustic recordings, I think it’s a favorable re-examination of Ferry’s work while avoiding the temptation reissue yet another compilation for the sake of churning a back-catalog. In fact, the recording sounds almost identical to the hi-fidelity of that period, a Victor Orthophonic reproducer and Victrola.
The Bryan Ferry Orchestra – The Jazz Age – The Reinterpreted Tracks
Bryan Ferry – The Jazz Age – The Original Tracks
I like both of these albums very much, for different reasons, and while they are clearly influenced by works before them, they stand very well on their own. Are either as groundbreaking as King Crimson’s In The Court Of The Crimson King? No (again, my subjective opinion). On the positive side, after a somewhat cool start, Steven Wilson’s album has been growing on me (my favorite track, by far, is Drive Home), whereas I liked Ferry’s album almost instantly—I was hooked by Do The Strand. Are either of these albums what I would consider the best of 2013? It’s a bit early for that–let’s wait and see.
Steven Wilson – Drive Home
A List Too Small – My Favorites of 2012
Thank you to all the artists and record labels for such wonderful and diverse music.
This is one list of many, it’s my list, and it leaves off many other favorites that I have enjoyed over the year in addition to the thousands of other albums and single tracks that make up music throughout the World. What has helped me arrive at this list is what I have always loved about music: Does it move me? In addition, is it creative, well recorded and produced with a degree of care that makes me pay attention to it? There was a time when I was obsessed with highly produced and tightly engineered works, then I learned about artists such as East River Pipe and Sparklehorse, and many other genres of music were opened to me.
If you don’t see your favorite album on this list (or even your own album), it doesn’t mean a thing. If an album has been reviewed on my website this year, it’s meaningful to many others and me, but this is only a very, very small slice of the music world. Often people ask me about new music, and what I recommend. When I started this website in late January, 2012 it was first a means to write about music that I enjoyed, but also to get to know other artists and learn about new music that they create, so I could pass it on. Often, the best new music is that referred by a friend. Please feel free to send me your comments and recommendations.
Special note: There are still three or four late 2012 releases that are either enroute to me, have yet to be released or have just arrived. I need to spend proper time listening to and absorbing these albums. Rather than delaying this list further, and if after listening to those last 2012 releases I feel that they hit a sweet spot, I’ll review those albums in early 2013. I know of at least two 2012 releases that I’ll likely not receive until 2013.
I have three categories: Albums (12), Individual Tracks (6), and Special Releases (3) that don’t necessarily fit into a category.
Albums (Artist – Album Title – Record Label)
1) Twigs & Yarn – The Language of Flowers – Flau
2) Lambchop – Mr. M – Merge Records
3) Zammuto – Zammuto – Temporary Residence
4) Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II – Inside Out Music
5) Taylor Deupree – Faint – 12k
6) Billow Observatory – Billow Observatory – Felte
7) Gareth Dickson – Quite A Way Away – 12k
8) Pill-Oh – Vanishing Mirror – Kitchen. Label
9) Brambles – Charcoal – Serein
10) Almost Charlie – Tomorrow’s Yesterday – Words On Music
11) Cody ChesnuTT – Landing On A Hundred – One Little Indian
12) Stick Men – Deep – Stick Men Records
Individual Tracks (from other albums)[vimeo http://vimeo.com/46499688]
1) Library Tapes – Sun peeking through (from the album Sun peeking through) – Self Released
2) Cock & Swan – Orange & Pink (from the album Stash) – Lost Tribe Sound
3) Alex Tiuniaev – Daylight (from the album Blurred) – Heat Death Records
4) Kyle Bobby Dunn – In Praise of Tears (from the album In Miserum Stercus) – Komino
5) Kane Ikin & David Wenngren – Chalk (from the album Strangers) – Keshhhhhh
6) Olan Mill – Bleu Polar (from the album Paths) – Fac-ture
1) Celer & Machinefabriek: Maastunnel/Mt. Mitake, Numa/Penarie, Hei/Sou – Self Released
2) Birds Of A Feather: Michael Frommer – The Great Northern Loon, Porya Hatami – The Black Woodpecker, Darren McClure – The Black Kite, The Green Kingdom – The Great Blue Heron – Flaming Pines
3) Simon Scott, Corey Fuller, Marcus Fischer, Tomoyoshi Date and Taylor Deupree (Recorded live in Japan October, 8, 2012) – Between (…The Branches) – 12k
Record Labels Noted Above
Merge Records: http://www.mergerecords.com/
Temporary Residence LTD: http://temporaryresidence.com/
Inside Out: http://www.insideoutmusic.com/
Kitchen. Label: http://www.kitchen-label.com/
Words On Music: http://www.words-on-music.com/
One Little Indian: http://indian.co.uk/shop/landing-on-a-hundred-1.html
Stick Men Records: http://stick-men.net
Library Tapes: http://librarytapes.com/
Lost Tribe Sound: http://www.cockandswan.com/ Note: I have not listed the weblink to the record label as Google has noted that the website MAY be compromised.
Heat Death Records: http://www.heatdeathrecords.co.uk/
Kesh (Simon Scott’s label): http://www.keshhhhhh.com/
Machinefabriek & Celer: http://machinefabriek.bandcamp.com/ & http://www.thesingularwe.org/fs/
Flaming Pines: http://flamingpines.com/
Review: Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II
InsideOut Music 0506240 (Ltd 2 CD & Book, also 2 CD & 4 LP)
Time: CD 1: 73:18 CD 2: 71:27 minutes
Record Label Website:
http://www.insideoutmusic.com/ & http://www.insideoutmusic.com/artist.aspx?IdArtist=458
http://www.hackettsongs.com/ & http://hackettsongs.sandbag.uk.com/
Photos of Musicians on the Album:
Tracks CD 1: 1) The Chamber of 32 Doors; 2) Horizons; 3) Supper’s Ready; 4) The Lamia; 5) Dancing With the Moonlit Knight; 6) Fly on a Windshield; 7) Broadway Melody of 1974; 8) The Musical Box; 9) Can-utility and the Coastliners; 10) Please Don’t Touch
Tracks CD 2: 1) Blood on the Rooftops; 2) The Return of the Giant Hogweed; 3) Entangled; 4) Eleventh Earl of Mar; 5) Ripples; 6) Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers…; 7) …In That Quiet Earth; 8) Afterglow; 9) A Tower Struck Down; 10) Camino Royale; 11) Shadow of the Hierophant
It has been 16 years and many life changes since the last Genesis Revisited album by Steve Hackett (subtitled Watcher of the Skies) in 1996. Although the span of time recounted musically is similar, 1971 through 1976; the breadth of the work on GRII is far more comprehensive. It’s also worth noting that in 1987 Steve was a special guest on an orchestral reinterpretation album of Genesis work, We Know What We Like: The Music of Genesis (led by arranger David Palmer conducting The London Symphony Orchestra), although in that case it includes works after Steve had left the band (from albums And Then There Were Three and Duke). On that album is perhaps the best example of how well the work of Genesis transfers to an orchestral format: Can-utility and the Coastliners. As much as I love the instrumental section with waves of Mellotron on the original recording, the full orchestra adds great depth and power to that track.
I’ve read (and I’m paraphrasing) that Steve didn’t want to literally re-record these works (as some Genesis tribute bands so painstakingly perform), rather enhance them with the lens of time, since many were recorded somewhat hastily between concert tours in the 1970s. Another added benefit is that some recording technologies have improved, and this is quite clear in the warmth and clarity of GRII. Frankly, I rather liked many of the reinterpretations on the last GR album, and there was the added track Déjà vu originally penned by Peter Gabriel and SH, then set-aside, to be revived and beautifully completed with Paul Carrack’s vocals.
As much as I wanted the limited 4 LP vinyl set, I opted for the 2 CD version along with the extensively illustrated and annotated small format hardbound book—a quite worthy trade-off (designed by Harry Pearce of Pentagram Design). It’s clear that this album was an enormous undertaking (with a special mention for the co-production, recording and mixing by collaborator and keyboardist, Roger King), with some 30 guest musicians and vocalists (including brother John Hackett, SH Band alum Nick Magnus, and the members of the most recent touring and recording SH Band: Roger King, Gary O’Toole, Nick Beggs, Amanda Lehmann and Rob Townsend). I have provided a link above to a page on the SH Website showing a complete list (with photos) of all who participated on GRII. A matrix of the album track performers in included in the credits.
Throughout the album there are a number of acoustic guitar introductions (like the opening to the potent The Chamber of 32 Doors), variations and electric guitar solo fills by Steve that are not on the original recordings; they reflect journeys and musical influences from his many years as an artist. Horizons and Supper’s Ready are preserved in their pairing from the original Side B of Foxtrot. The solo acoustic guitar of Horizons has long been a mainstay of Steve’s live shows since the early days of his solo career, and here it’s just as pure, unrushed and striking as a morning sunrise or evening sunset at one’s favorite place to be. The vocals and instruments on Supper’s Ready are powerful, clear and Steve’s guitar is “up” in the mix (as it is on much of the album). The treatment greatly invigorates the original, and made me want to take the time to listen to the entirety of the track repeatedly. The Apocalypse in 9/8 and the closing section of As sure as eggs is eggs (aching men’s feet) just sends chills up the spine as from those concert days long ago.
The purity of Nik Kershaw’s vocals on The Lamia is different from Peter Gabriel’s more raspy treatment of the song, and to my ear it’s a stunning performance (brighter than the original). Again, the instrumentals have a clarity superior to the original (although, I’ll never turn my back on the Charisma/ATCO recording of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway—too many aural historic memories there). SH’s closing solo echoes the original while adding a smooth lyricism. I’d be interested in knowing how and why Kershaw was chosen for the track. After a brief acoustic guitar link of Greensleeves, Francis Dunnery’s (It Bites et al) vocals on Dancing With the Moonlit Knight are probably the closest to channeling Peter Gabriel and the Selling England by the Pound performance as on any of the album’s tracks. As has been the case during recent concerts, drummer Gary O’Toole performs the vocals on the Lamb’s two tracks Fly on a Windshield and Broadway Melody of 1974. Both are broad and authoritative performances. O’Toole’s voice is his own.
I have always wondered why Anthony Phillips isn’t credited as a songwriter on The Musical Box, since he and Mike Rutherford wrote and recorded the early demos in 1968, when the track was known as F Sharp, but anyway… TMB opens with an almost Raymond Scott-like musical box fantasy, before entering into the realm of the long ago Nursery Cryme album. Sung by Nad Sylvan (who also provides vocals on Chamber and Eleventh Earl), this interpretation has an intimate sound, chamber-music-like, with clustered and freer vocals, before breaking into the raucous guitar-centric bridge and to the familiar closing that was performed in concerts during the mid to late 1970s.
As noted above, I think one of the most powerful and diverse Genesis tracks from the early days, which is frequently overshadowed by Watcher of the Skies or Supper’s Ready, is Can-utility and the Coastliners. Steven Wilson (solo and Porcupine Tree) provides the vocals. This version has the “soft bits and loud bits” and combines the oceanic strings (violins/violas) and bass pedals with the rawness of Foxtrot. Please Don’t Touch (from the 1978 album) closes CD 1 and was a track originally to have been linked with the instrumental Wot Gorilla on the 1976 album Wind and Wuthering. One of the reasons SH left Genesis (well documented) was he felt at that time his contributions to the band were being overlooked, so when he appeared officially as a solo artist, this track was the perfect, aptly named, composition to strike out on his own. It has had many incarnations, including sections of a 1986 track Hackett to Bits from the eponymous GTR album with Steve Howe et al. I remember concerts from the late 1970s and early 80s that would end with this track at ear-splitting volumes. This version is dark and authoritative.
CD 2 contains many tracks co-written with single Genesis members rather than the full band (exception is Hogweed and In That Quiet Earth), and one of my personal favorites is the timeless (and still topical) track penned with Phil Collins, Blood on the Rooftops. For years, SH played small sections of this track as a teaser during his acoustic “breaks” at concerts, and then in the early 2000s, the full track appeared in concerts and live recordings. This piece has a great deal of meaning to me—like entering a time machine to another place. Steve opens with a small fantasy on his nylon string guitar before the track begins, and I consider it a great gift to his fans that it has been recorded again (vocals by Gary O’Toole and woodwinds by Rob Townsend).
The Return of the Giant Hogweed is a different type of track in the Genesis oeuvre that starts with an attack (or rather, an infestation!). It also displays SH’s early fret-tapping technique. Although this video is not the recording from the album, it has a similar spirit and same vocalist, Neal Morse (taken from the 2010 High Voltage Festival by Transatlantic with SH as the guest guitarist).
Entangled was written by Hackett and Tony Banks—the dreams and nightmares of an altered mind. The vocals (fuller than on A Trick of the Tail) are by Jakko Jakszyk with backing vocals by Amanda Lehmann (guitarist and vocalist in the SH Band, and Jo Hackett’s sister). Eleventh Earl of Mar (Banks, Hackett, Rutherford) has a much deeper and clearer sound that I always found lacking in the original recording (and all of the reissues…for some reason the David Hentschel engineering that sounded so great in the Seconds Out live album, just sounded so flat and compressed). Nad Sylvan also adds layers to the spirit of the original Phil Collins vocal harmonies and channels the voice of Noel McCalla at times. Nick Beggs’ bass energetically drives the piece. Amanda Lehmann skillfully adapts the Collins’ vocals on Ripples, adding lyrical depth to the chorus (also a tribute to the engineering, recording and mixing of co-producer Roger King). The instrumental sections are faithful to the original. Lehmann returns again on the closing track Shadow of the Hierophant, which was co-written by SH and Mike Rutherford on Hackett’s first solo album from 1975, Voyage of the Acolyte.
Grouped together are (Hackett and Rutherford’s) Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers…, followed by the group-written …In That Quiet Earth, and Tony Banks’s deeply melancholic Afterglow, the closing tracks of the last official album that Hackett recorded with Genesis (excluding the 1977, 12 inch EP Spot The Pigeon). SH improvises more freely on his guitar in …Quiet Earth and the solos that close (including Rob Townsend’s soprano sax) are more rugged than the original. The strong and familiar voice of John Wetton anchors the close of the trio from W&W.
It’s exciting to hear a reinvented A Tower Struck Down (from 1975’s VotA) with a true orchestral opening (Dick Driver on double bass, Rachel Ford on cello, Christine Townsend on violin and viola and John Hackett on flute). The solid bones of the Tower from Acolyte are present, but in a completely different, even darker skin. Steve Hackett notes that he had dreams of Genesis playing the chorus of Camino Royale (written by SH & Nick Magnus). This track dates from the 1982 solo album Highly Strung, and was always a great concert piece, from when Nick collaborated with Steve in the late 1970s and 1980s—full of spirit and rhythmic precision, a great addition to this collection. This track also includes jazz influences from the Hungarian band Djabe (Steve has collaborated with Djabe on some of their recent albums and concerts). As does Voyage of the Acolyte, Genesis Revisited II closes with Shadow of the Hierophant. This version is more up-tempo and potent, and Rob Townsend’s flute peregrinates throughout the shadows. It closes as it has since it was first recorded with the hierophant traveling on the long journey of seeking and interpreting the sacred and the arcane.
The one thing some (purist) listeners might find missing in GRII is the grittiness of the original recordings, but the defects of these compositions from long ago have been deftly exorcized, and the sonic foundations treated with such care that Hackett not only preserves the legacy of his former band, but enhances it for future listeners. These recordings are not meant to replace the originals; they are akin to variations by composers of the past. In a way, Steve Hackett is the archivist of the musical spirit of Genesis from that time. Sit back and enjoy this brilliantly crafted set of recordings with all the 21st century enhancements. You will not be disappointed.
The Hackett Band will be on tour with many of these recordings in Europe, the UK and America in 2013. I can’t wait!
Squackett – Chris Squire & Steve Hackett – A Life Within A Day
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.
Lorenzo Feliciati – Frequent Flyer
CD: RareNoiseRecords RNR023: 49:38
Record Label Website: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/lorenzo-feliciati-store/frequent-flyer-cd
Album samples: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/jukebox/feliciati/ff/
Artist’s Website: http://www.lorenzofeliciati.com
Italian bassist Lorenzo Feliciati is better known in European modern Jazz circles than in America and elsewhere. His previous solo albums include, Upon My Head from 2003 and Live at European Bass Day and More from 2006. More recently, he collaborated with English keyboardist Roy Powell, trumpeter Cuong Vu (who has worked with The Pat Metheny Group) and drummer Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson’s drummer in line-ups 5 through 7 and ProjeKcts) under the moniker of Naked Truth with a strong and intriguing album entitled Shizaru also on the RareNoiseRecords label.
Shizaru was crafted around no single voice—more like a musical conversation built around varying moods. For Frequent Flyer, Feliciati has not strayed from that concept, adding an even more diverse set of collaborators (many of whom are from the Italian Progressive Rock and Jazz scene). This is an album that blurs genres of Rock, Fusion, Funk, Jazz and includes the edges of Latin and Afro-Cuban sounds. Comparisons of Feliciati’s work have been made to bassists such as Jaco Pastorius and Percy Jones, but technically and stylistically, my vote is for Jeff Berlin (with some influences of Miroslav Vitous).
The subtitle of Frequent Flyer also reveals, I think, something more about the background of the music: Diary of a Traveling Musician, not only documenting the quotidian aspects of diaries, but perhaps disclosing thoughts and desires related to the foundations the work. Musically, Frequent Flyer is as diverse as the moods one might find within a written diary. Feliciati has noted that, “I wanted to do an album with all the wonderful musicians during my traveling around for gigs, festivals and sessions.” Portions of this album had actually been recorded prior to the start of the Naked Truth project.
There are many strong pieces in Frequent Flyer, some more favorable to my ears than others. Two tracks (as noted below) seem a bit underdeveloped in structure, and thus held my interest less. But as with all music, first impressions of an album are often not the lasting impressions after repeated auditions. This album has grown on me as I have listened to it in different environments (home, car or walking). What I appreciate the most is the range of explorations in addition to Feliciati’s musicianship.
The Fastswing Park Rules: At first I was fooled–by the mournful saxophone opening (being reminiscent of Bill Bruford’s Earthworks’ It Needn’t End In Tears), only to be lured into a dark and industrial atmosphere of expansive saxophone, bass and percussion improvisation.
Groove First: Is a very playful, funky and cheerful piece, with melodic and rhythmic shifts reminiscent of Percy Jones and Stanley Clarke and quite similar in many ways to the spirit of some of Brand X’s Moroccan Roll mixed with some Return to Forever and Weather Report. Fender Rhodes and congas provide vigorous and upbeat counterpoint throughout.
93: Is a really great and lyrical piece with dense textures and a deliberate syncopated rhythm that is reflective yet mysterious and is expansive in its arrangement (with a touch of melancholy, in instrumentation, akin to some of the work of the late Mark Linkous, AKA Sparklehorse).
Riding The Orient Express: Percussion and guitar are used to represent the presence of a train and there are breaks where the bass takes the melody. This has some of the feel of Steve Hackett’s recent work in his album Out of the Tunnel’s Mouth. The development of this piece, however, seemed a bit plodding and thin–one of the weaker pieces on the album, for me.
Footprints: Is a very inventive, and fun (yes, I said fun!) arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s piece from the album Adam’s Apple originally by the quartet of Shorter, Hancock, Workman and Chambers. It really shows Feliciati’s quick-hands, musicianship and interpretive skills quite well. In this version, Feliciati takes the Shorter sax melody on bass and is supported by spirited Brazilian-like ensemble percussion. I found a video version of this piece—a great illustration of the spirit of this track.
Never Forget: Is mysterious, edgy and atmospheric. Bass and electronics punctuate as Cuong Vu’s trumpet floats between diaphanous spirit and sinister animal. This is another great track with expansive cinematic qualities.
Gabus & Ganabes: Is spunky and rhythmically driving with bass chordal and melodic drifts and violin work by Andrea Di Cesare reminiscent of Jean Luc Ponty’s mid-career works.
Perceptions: Is contemplative with a piano opening similar in spirit to some of Harold Budd’s work and forms a backbone for this meditation with fluid bass improvisation and sound samples by DJ Skizo.
The White Shadow story: Is funky, visual, electronic, buzzing and starts off brooding, then goes up-tempo with a ripping guitar solo.
Law & Order: This track is the other weaker piece on the album (and that’s my opinion only), it’s rather plodding and a bit too methodical despite the challenging bass and organ runs, which are supported by percussion and guitar. Some might see some similarities with works of Emerson Lake and Palmer.
Thela Hun Ginjeet (for those in-the-know, an anagram of Heat In The Jungle, the story of street encounters with authority): Is a driving cover from the 1981 King Crimson album Discipline. The story I’ve read is that this piece is often played by Feliciati and band mates during sound checks. I’ve always loved this KC album, and this is a great interpretation of the original with some incredible handwork by Feliciati, Gualdi and Block.
Frequent Flyer is an energetic, musical and diverse album to explore. It has great dynamics and a solid sound throughout. I always enjoy being pushed into new musical territories and Lorenzo Feliciati’s travels with a talented group of musicians is a great introduction to his work and influences.
Tracks and players:
1) The Fastswing Park Rules with Bob Mintzer (saxes) and Lucrezio de Seta (drums)
2) Groove First with Roy Powell (Fender Rhodes and Moog) and Paulo La Rosa (percussion)
3) 93 with Pat Mastelotto (drums) and Aidan Zammit (Wurlitzer and strings)
4) Riding The Orient Express with Pat Mastelotto (drums) and Phil Brown (guitar)
5) Footprints with Robert Gualdi, Stefano Bagnoli and Maxx Furian (drums)
6) Never Forget with Cuong Vu (trumpet), DJ Skizo (turntables) and Pier Paolo Ferroni (drums)
7) Gabus & Ganabes with Patrick Djivas (bass solo) and Andrea Di Cesare (violin)
8) Perceptions with DJ Skizo (turntables) and Pier Paolo Ferroni (drums)
9) The White Shadow story with Daniele Gottardo (guitar), DJ Skizo (turntables) and Pier Paolo Ferroni (drums)
10) Law & Order with Jose Florillo (Hammond organ) and Daniele Pomo (drums)
11) Thela Hun Ginjeet with Roberto Gualdi (drums) and Guido Block (bass, lead and backing vocals)
This is a solicited review.
Steve Hackett – Beyond the Shrouded Horizon
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:
“Winter Garden”, the new instrumental CD by Eraldo Bernocchi, Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie on the RareNoiseRecords label: http://www.rarenoiserecords.com/ The album is also available at Darla Records: http://darla.com/ This IS a solicited review, but I already owned the recording.
“Beyond the Shrouded Horizon”, Steve Hackett’s new album available on the InsideOut label and through the artist’s website: http://www.hackettsongs.com/
My Online Reviews Currently Appear At…
http://affordableaudio.org/Affordable$$Audio/Current_Issue.html and http://www.hifizine.com/ Stay tuned for additional online locations.
Nick Magnus – Children of Another God – CD
Magick Nuns Records – MNCD 1002: http://www.magnus-music.com/coag.htm
1) Children of Another God, 2) Doctor Prometheus, 3) Twenty Summers, 4) Identity Theft, 5) The Colony is King, 6) Crimewave Monkeys, 7) The Others, 8) Babel Tower, 9) Howl the Stars Down
Short version: Buy this CD; it’s one of the best progressive rock albums, front to back that you will ever hear. It’s beautifully produced, packaged and recorded and the videos at Nick’s website work very well with the story of the album.
Long version: Nick was first a student steeped in analog synthesizers and keyboard works with progressive bands such as The Enid and Autumn. The latter band made a recording in 1977 when Nick was a mere 22 and it was released privately as a CD entitled “Oceanworld” in 1999 on Autumn Records. Before his solo career started Nick was best known as a long time collaborator with Steve Hackett until the late 1980s. There’s a very good history of Nick’s career at his website. He has also recorded as a guest musician with Renaissance, China Crisis and many others.
Nick is also a pioneer in the transition from an analog to digital recording studio and keyboards. He was also largely responsible for what’s probably the first recording of the Linn Drum on Steve Hackett’s LP “Cured” in 1981. For some, this was Steve’s most pop LP, but it established Steve as more of a songwriter, in addition to his well known instrumental works. Nick’s playing, engineering and production work had a great influence of Hackett’s sound during that period. Nick over time has also created an almost flawless analog “sound” to digital recording and sampled instruments. Since the early 1990s he has been sought out as a consultant on digital recording techniques and electronic percussion. And although in the earlier days he worked with one of my favorite keyboard instruments, the Mellotron (and successor Novatron), his work continues to feature this instrument in a sampled digital form. He was also a large force behind the now out-of-print and much sought-after 1993 CD on the Voiceprint label, “Rime of the Ancient Sampler”, which features the Mellotron and Chamberlin recorded in many forms in original works by a well-known cast of progressive artists from Wooly Wolstenholme (Barclay James Harvest) to Michael Pinder (Moody Blues). Nick’s recording on this CD is an alternate mix of his piece “Night of the Condor” from his 1993 solo Voiceprint CD (VP142CD) “Straight On Till Morning” (“SOTM”).
“Children of Another God” (“COAG”) is the follow-up to Nick’s previous solo works “SOTM”, “Inhaling Green”, “Hexameron” and collaborations with Pete Hicks (former Steve Hackett vocalist) “Flat Pack” and John Hackett’s (Steve’s brother) marvelous CD “Checking Out of London”. “COAG” has some familiar guest artists: Steve Hackett, John Hackett, Tony Patterson (Re-Genesis and solo works), Pete Hicks, Linda John-Pierre, Andy Neve and Glenn Tollett.
“COAG” is (as many progressive works are) a concept album; it tells a story, but it is subject to the interpretation of the listener. Nick’s other collaborator is lyricist Dick Foster, who has contributed lyrics and the back-story to some of Nick’s other solo works. Briefly, the story is contemporary and plausible; ten cloned brothers are violently separated at birth and are drawn together later in adult life. The album has a motto, “Conformity is Power, Diversity is Progress”. I’ll let the listener draw their own conclusions on the outcome of the story and the social commentary, but these are certainly issues that we face as a society as science races ahead of public policy.
The CD starts with the anthem and story “COAG” (video at Nick’s website and youtube along with two other videos). Tony Patterson is the vocalist and everything that a solid progressive album should have is present: guitars, keyboards, Mellotron strings and choir and bass pedals—the song and story builds and then will fill your listening room. “Doctor Prometheus” with Pete Hicks providing vocals, follows with an instantly memorable rhythm and Greek story line that parallels the concept and adds wit (for those not familiar with the myth of Prometheus, search the web or reach for your Greek mythology books!). As is the case with many of Nick’s works, he often pays an homage to other progressive artists and “Twenty Summers”, which serves as an instrumental link to the fourth track “Identity Theft” includes rhythms and sounds that will be familiar to many from Yes to an instantly recognizable homage to the short-lived band UK (“In The Dead of Night”) from their 1977 eponymous LP. “Identity Theft” is, I think, Nick’s solo vocal debut (video also at Nick’s website) and once the song begins he is joined by ex-Enid bassist Glenn Tollett who provides a sensual jazz-like acoustic bass line that intertwines with sonorous wine-glass sampling and vibraphone throughout the song—the story of the clones continues. “The Colony is King” includes chilling vocals by Andy Neve and features sweeping flute from John Hackett and screaming riffs from Steve Hackett’s Fernandes guitar, paralleled with haunting Mellotron—this is a beautiful recording and pulls one into the emotion of the story; a nightmare soundtrack of sorts.
Pete Hicks returns for “Crimewave Monkeys” with a musical introduction that will challenge the sonic and dynamic capabilities of any audio system—a broad and sweeping recording that quickly transitions into a tight rhythmic riff and the vocals depicting a fast-paced hyped twenty-four hour news cycle reporting violence; strong social commentary here. Next is Linda John-Pierre’s emotional vocal presenting a mother’s story of receiving a son and then how the boy is taken by “The Others”, the song’s title. The sentimental power of this piece is very evident and some may criticize it for not being truly a “progressive” work, but the lyrics provide the guidance for the treatment of the music and for me it works very well with the whole.
More history books required along with contemporary parallels in the next track “Babel Tower” sung by Tony Patterson (with his Peter Gabriel-esque vocal treatment); this is where the story, like the tower, falls and we are returned to a reprise of the opening theme of “COAG”, more stirring and sonically broader than the first, but this is not the end. There is a postscript: “Howl the Stars Down” is a somber conclusion to the story, brilliantly sung by Tony Patterson; the song, the vocals and the lyrics are raw, tragic and have the feeling of being in slow motion. This is Tony’s own vocal sound, no imitation here. Nick’s piano and strings paint a stark reality and the vocals are nothing but beautiful.
This work is the complete package; in music and story, from beginning to end, beautifully recorded, played and told. Listen to it over and over; it will be well worth your time.
More on Nick Magnus: Although not well known for this, Nick and Dick Foster recently (and quietly) released an album of “pop” songs in 2009, available only as a download from his website, under the moniker “Magnus & Foster – Don’t Look Back”. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like beautifully crafted songs, catchy tunes and thoughtful lyrics, it’s well worth it!
This review was first published at Audiokarma.org in 2010