2016 – Favourite Music Acquired This Year

The year is coming to an end and what a year it has been. In the news there have been so many high profile deaths and many others of lesser fame yet still tragic losses to the music world. On the bright side, this is the year that I made a number of new musician friends whose music careers have been taking off or climbing steadily higher.

Since we are at the end of another year, it is time for me to post where my journey in music exploration has taken me this year. In some ways the year started out as usual. Orders placed at the end of 2015 were brought home in early January and by February I was checking out the top albums of 2015 on Prog Archives and seeing which ones I thought would be worth ordering. By spring I was back into music history, topping off my Canadian 70’s hard rock and metal and my 60’s garage band collection. Then I discovered the progressive music of Quebec in the 70’s and brought home over a dozen albums from those exciting days. There was a brief period of Slayer and Megadeth classics, and then by the end of the summer I was checking a few more recent prog albums before launching into a 2016 release festa. In fact, I ordered more new releases this year than any other year since the mid-eighties when I was rapaciously following everything metal.

Here are a few lists of songs and albums that I really enjoyed.

Albums of 2016

img_121810. Strategies by Jesus Munoz – Quite a surprise this one. Jesus Munoz is a Spanish amateur guitarist who recorded an album’s worth of music in 2015 and then released it with two additional tracks and a real drummer in 2016. His playing style reminds me of a cross between Steve Howe and Steve Morse. “The Limpid Green” is the track that stuck in my head the most, though nearly every track on the album is really great.

9. Distance by Structural Disorder – I heard about this band through the Facebook page, Progressive Rock Fanatics. The fact that they use an accordion as a lead instrument but make it sound like a synthesizer for most songs intrigued me. I pledged money toward their new album and I was not disappointed. Progressive metal with lots of atmosphere and beautiful slower parts included, I enjoyed listening to this several times before reviewing it.

8. The Perfect Map by Elephants of Scotland – An album that was getting some attention during the end of the summer, I picked it up in the fall and was impressed. Though the vocals need a little more something, the music is top notch modern prog.

7. The Clockwork Fable by Gandalf’s Fist – Three discs! And a concept album! What made this one stand out was not so much the great music but the narrative that it went with. While most narratives are told in the lyrics, this album has a cast of voice actors and comes across as a radio play with musical interludes. For the first two listens, I was more interested in the story than the songs!

marco-ragni

6. Land of Blue Echoes by Marco Ragni – An excellent psychedelic / space rock inspired album of progressive music. Marco released a new album a few months later, “California” which is also very good. It’s thanks to this album that I got to know guitarist Peter Matuchniak of Gekko Projekt.

5. Silence Between Sounds by Karmamoi – An Italian band that don’t sound like RPI, Karmamoi’s album will keep you guessing where each track will take you. Four female singers contribute to the vocals. Great music and singing!

4. Holophinium by KariBow – A perfect blend of melodic rock and progressive rock. Oliver Rusing’s KariBow has been a personal project for nearly 20 years. “Holophinium” was his big leap into having a band and including several guest musicians. He also rereleased an older album, “Man of Rust” in the fall.

3. Overwrite the Sin by Maglev – Another almost one-man-band, Joost Maglev’s first full-length progressive rock album is a treat. Five songs each with its own approach and expertly executed.

2. Evership – self-titled debut. What a class act this is! A perfect blend of modern prog with late seventies / early eighties progressive rock sounds. A real treat!

ctp

1. Hair in a G-String (Unfinished but Sweet) by Colin Tench Project. The subject of my previous post, let’s just say this is a blend of many styles, sounds terrific and is entertaining as well.

 

Favourite Songs of 2016 Purchases

fish-on-fridayOf course each of the above albums had songs that stuck in my head and demanded repeat plays, sometimes over the course of a week, sometimes coming back again and again. CTP’s “Part 4b”, Maglev’s “Judith”, Evership’s “Slow descent into Reality” and KariBow’s “Quantum Leap” were some of the songs that became favourites this year. But here are ten other songs from my 2016 purchases that were played well over a dozen times.

Orbit by Thundermug
Phasors on Stun by FM
Madman by Klaatu
Bloody Well Right by Supertramp (yes, I finally bought some Supertramp albums)
Back to the Stars by Rosenkreutz (one of the best 17-minute plus songs I’ve heard in a while)
A tout le monde by Megadeth
The Endless Knot by Haken
Tick-Tock by Fish on Friday
Meditations by Modern-Rock Ensemble
A ciel ouvert by Grandval

Harmonium_-_Si_On_Avait_Besoin_D'Une_Cinquième_Saison

Rock progressif Quebecois – 10 favourites
I wrote about the progressive rock of 1970’s Quebec in a previous post. Here are some favourite tracks.

En pleine face by Harmonium
Eclaircie by Et cetera
La marche des hommes by Morse Code (keyboard player Christian Simard passed away recently at age 67)
Vivre la mort by Pollen
Voisins (mon chum) by Vos Voisins
Les folleries by Maneige
Algebrique by Sloche
Agneau de Dieu by Dionysos
L’alarme a l’oeil by Contraction
Le chant du Guerrier by Octobre

coney-hatch-outa-handHere’s a list of five new favourites from the hard rock and metal of Canada of the late seventies through to the early nineties.

Turn It Loud by Headpins
Don’t Say Make Me by Coney Hatch
Too Much Carousing by Goddo
Under the Influence by Sven Gali
Metal on Metal by Anvil (such a classic)

nemo

 

Finally, I want to mention ten bands and artists that were mostly new to me whose albums impressed me enough to deserve their own list.

Cocoon by Tiger Moth Tales (Peter Jones)

Refuel by Rocket Scientists

The Road to Avalon by The Minstrel’s Ghost (Blake Carpenter)
Chapter One by Cell15 (Robert Scott Richardson)
Coma by Nemo
Ones & Zeros by 3rdegree
Who’s the Boss in the Factory by Karmakanic
Godspeed by Fish on Friday
The Ones I Condemn by Sacrifice (I’ve known about Sacrifice since the 80’s but this album really stands out)
Mood Swings by Harem Scarem

I want to close off with honourable mentions going to Peter Matuchniak’s solo work, GorMusik, Grandval, Yuka & Chronoship, Q65 (a Dutch garage rock band of the 60’s), and The Troggs (for some of their hard and heavy hitting music of the 60’s).

What is CTP?

Colin Tench Project

ctp

On September 30th of this year, Colin Tench released his long-awaited solo project album “Hair in a G-String (Sweet but Unfinished)”. I call it a solo project because he usually plays in a band called Corvus Stone where everyone contributes to the music creation; all four members come up with their own bits. Colin has played lead guitar on a few other album’s like “The Road to Avalon” by Blake Carpenter’s Minstrel’s Ghost, “The Road to Mingulay” by Andy John Bradford’s Ocean’s 5, and most recently on “Bridge Across Time” by Steve Gresswell’s Coalition (with Blake Carpenter). But this “Hair in a G-String” is a Colin Tench album, with all the music and much of the lyrics created by him.

No. Not quite. Let me correct that. The music was created by Mr. Tench but a rather lengthy list of people (25 I counted including Colin) contributed with some of them building on the music that was created while others – namely Phil Naro and Peter Jones – contributed lyrics to some tracks.

CTP for short (and not to be confused with the Christian Tolle Project) has culminated in an album that can best be described as entertaining and enjoyable. The music is varied and wonderfully composed, performed, and produced. Some of the lyrics are very clever and beautiful while others are quite amusing. It’s an album of progressive music but not in an exceptionally technical way nor in a grandiose fashion. It’s an album of melodic rock in a manner reminiscent of the classic days when melodic rock was a pop radio staple. Though the primary influences would seem to be Genesis, Queen, ELO, and even Santana, one can pick out some Pink Floyd and even a touch of Iron Maiden, plus as many other artists are you care to find. Rumours of both Sir George Martin and Spike Milligan being channeled on this album add to the intrigue. It’s an album of serious music (mostly) not to be taken too seriously (mostly).

The stories behind this album’s creation are interesting. It began way back around 2010/11. Colin had played in a band called BunChakeze (say bunch-of-keys) in the 80’s and they had recorded an album’s worth of material that was never released. After a 25-year hiatus from guitar playing, Colin got in touch with Pasi Koivu, a keyboard player and composer in Finland. Pasi recommended releasing the BunChakeze album. Around this time, Colin decided to pick up a guitar and see if he could still come up with something. What resulted was an instrumental piece that was comprised of some material from BunChakeze, some new ideas, and a little bit of stuff borrowed from elsewhere. The final composition was entitled, “Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Screwed”. Shortly after, Pasi asked Colin to play guitar for a piece he was working on called, “Iron Pillows”. This collaboration was the beginning of Corvus Stone. The guitar instrumental was the beginning of CTP.

Colin became very occupied with chatrooms and through these he came in contact with several people who would become instrumental in his sudden and rapid career development: Sonia Mota (artist), Blake Carpenter (singer), Steve Gresswell (multi-instrumentalist and composer), Stef Flaming (multi-instrumentalist and composer and singer for Murky Red), Andres Guazzelli (composer), Andy John Bradford (folk singer and composer), Oliver Rusing (multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer) and several others too. From 2011 to 2015, Colin would not only go on to release two Corvus Stone albums and one album of remixed tracks and new tracks, but he would appear on a few other albums playing lead guitar and guest on a few more like KariBow’s “Holophinium”, United Progressive Fraternity’s “Fall in Love with the World”, Marco Ragni’s “Land of Blue Echoes”, and Grandval’s “A ciel ouvert”. During all of this, Colin had let singer Phil Naro (who appears on a few Corvus Stone songs) hear “Something Old…” and he took part of the track and recorded vocals with his own lyrics. This became the basis for “Can’t Have It Any Other Way”, the second track on “Hair in a G-String”.

After Corvus Stone “Unscrewed”, Colin decided to work on his solo project in earnest. “The Mad Yeti” was a demo that he had created earlier after buying a microphone called Yeti. This along with other working demos were available on Melodic Revolution Records’ web site. Colin picked up a piece he was working on called “Hair in a G-String” (a title inspired by “Air on a G-String”) and decided to see where he could take it. He also composed a piece called “The Sad Brazilian” which he put on YouTube. Meanwhile in Buffalo, U.S.A., Gordon Bennett, a fellow musician on the United Progressive Fraternity album, found Colin’s Brazilian and pilfered it. Gordo, a very talented guitarist in his own right, went ahead and added orchestral arrangements to the Brazilian and then sent the whole thing back to Colin with a “hope you don’t mind but…” type of a notice. Colin did not mind one bit. Gordo’s contribution had been to enhance the music rather than go over it. Colin was thrilled. Gordo was invited to join the project.

The timing couldn’t have been better. Steve Gresswell, who had provided orchestration for what was to become “Hair in a G-String part 1 (The Opening)”, was becoming busy with his latest recording project, Coalition’s new album “Bridge Across Time”. Gordo was put in charge of most of the rest of the orchestration to appear on the album. Other important names to appear were Phil Naro (vocals and lyrics on two tracks), Vic Tassone (drummer for Unified Past), Oliver Rusing on drums (Oliver commented that he was given the music and with no click track, he had to add his drums and percussion), Ian Beabout on flute for “Lisa’s Entrance Unplugged”, drummer Jay Theodore McGurrin, Petri Lindstrom on bass (Corvus Stone, Saturn Twilight, Progeland, Petri Lindstrom Project, etc.) and a host of others. The biggest addition to the album however had to be Peter Jones of Tiger Moth Tales and Red Bazar.

Peter Jones not only brought his talents as a vocalist and a multi-instrumentalist (he plays a clarinet and a saxophone solo on the album) but also as an improvisational mad man. Though Colin’s lyrics were at times zany enough, Peter was free to interpret them as he liked and add things when he felt inspired to do so. Thus we get the lines, “Put them together and what do you get?/ Goodety goodety good!” Peter also contributes a minion vocal break near the end.

Peter’s serious side can be heard on the first single, “And So Today”. He sings with passion and sentiment on this song about the passing of some of our musical heroes in this past year. It’s a beautiful and touching song.

The album became available on CD in early November and there are plans for a vinyl release of the “Hair in a G-String” parts, “The Sad Brazilian”, and “And So Today”. There is also a bonus track with the download that will not be on the CD and that is Gordo’s orchestral work on “Lisa’s Waltz with full orchestra”, a phenomenal piece on its own.

Currently ranking on the top of several prog lists including CD Baby and Prog Archives, the album received a favourable review in Prog Magazine as well. Colin will be the first to tell you though that this was indeed a band effort. Every single contribution helped make this album the success that it is.

My Most Listened to New Purchases

It’s time to indulge myself in a few lists of personal preference. Each year I buy a lot of music – nearly always on CD – and since 2012 I have been putting all my annual purchases into an iTunes folder for the year of the purchase. By the end of the year, I can see which songs I listened to the most.

As with any year, I had some favourite artists and groups as well as sub-genres I explored. This year my sub-genres of interest were proto-metal (specifically 1969 to 1973), 1970’s Canadian rock (not really a sub-genre but a theme), and 1960’s garage/R&B/freak beat/psychedelic.

Favourite groups included Iron Maiden, White Willow, The Music Machine, and April Wine.

Let’s look at the lists.

Most listened to purchases of 2015

The list includes the most listened to song from ten groups or artists. Some artists actually could have easily taken over the entire list, but I chose only the top song per group.

  1. Talk Talk – The Music Machine
  2. Weeping Widow – April Wine
  3. Jane “J” James – Thundermug
  4. Yalla Yae – A Foot in Cold Water
  5. Never Be the Same – Chilliwack
  6. Land of 1000 Nights – Mahogany Rush
  7. Sub Rosa Subway – Klaatu
  8. Floor 67 – White Willow
  9. Let It Ride – Bachman Turner Overdrive
  10. The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car – Trooper

A lot of bands appear here because one song of theirs was played frequently while making a playlist to burn to CD. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the songs.

Proto-metal – Early Heavy Metal 1969-1973

My interest in buying early heavy music had run its coarse last year. Or so I thought. But then I finally got a hold of Warpig’s 1970 album and shortly after Bedemon’s Child of Darkness was re-released with better mastering. The exploration began anew.

  1. Blue Ice – The Litter (1969)
  2. The Queen – Bang (1972)
  3. Wicked Truth – Bloodrock (1970)
  4. Just I was Born – Blues Creation (1971)
  5. Never in My Life – Mountain (1970)
  6. Not Yet – Sex (1970)
  7. Timothy – UFO (1970)
  8. Hard Times – Valhalla (1969)
  9. Mistress of the Salmon Salt (Quicklime Girl) – Blue Oyster Cult (1973)
  10. Satori, Pt. 1 – Flower Travelin’ Band (1971)

1970’s Canadian Rock 

My proto-metal explorations led me to several hard rock / heavy rock bands from Canada in the 1970’s. This in turn brought me to other less hard rocking but still talented groups. This list is very similar to the first list, suggesting that my Canadian rock explorations were the longest lasting.

  1. Weeping Willow – April Wine
  2. Jane “J” James – Thundermug
  3. Yalla Yae – A Foot in Cold Water
  4. Land of 1000 Nights – Mahogany Rush
  5. Sub Rosa Subway – Klaatu
  6. The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car – Trooper
  7. Let It Ride – Bachman Turner Overdrive
  8. Can’t You See I’m a Star – Moxy
  9. Riding High – Chilliwack (this song was played about as much as Never Be the Same from the first list but it is more guitar rock and worthy of mention)
  10. Little Texas Shaker – Triumph

1960’s Garage/R&B/Freak Beat/Mod/Psychedelic 

I swore I would not start looking for early forms of hard and heavy guitar rock in the mid-sixties. But I did anyway…

  1. Talk Talk – The Music Machine
  2. Find a Hidden Door – The Misunderstood
  3. You Got a Hard Time Coming – The Remains
  4. Follow Me – The Action
  5. Pink Purple Yellow and Red – The Sorrows
  6. L.S.D. – The Pretty Things
  7. Making Time – The Creation
  8. Action Woman – The Litter
  9. Bad Little Woman – The Shadows of Knight
  10. Hey Mama (Keep Your Big Mouth Shut) – The Ugly Ducklings

Post Reunion Iron Maiden (2000 to 2015) 

I hadn’t bought an Iron Maiden album since Seventh Son of a Seventh Son but the packaging of Book of Souls looked so good that I had to see what the Beast was up to these days. I liked it enough to buy Brave New World which I liked enough to buy Dance of Death, which I liked enough to buy the remaining two albums.

  1. El Dorado – from The Final Frontier
  2. The Wickerman – from Brave New World
  3. Wildest Dreams – from Dance of Death
  4. Blood Brothers – from Brave New World
  5. The Nomad – from Brave New World
  6. Paschendale – from Dance of Death
  7. Age of Innocence – from Dance of Death
  8. Brighter than a Thousand Suns – from A Matter of Life and Death
  9. The Great Unknown – from The Book of Souls
  10. When the River Runs Deep – from The Book of Souls

The Music Machine (1966 to 1968) 

One of the most interesting bands I came across was an act from the mid-sixties which are worthy of their own post, perhaps to come in 2016. For now, here are the five songs I listened to the most.

  1. Talk Talk
  2. The Eagle Never Hunts the Fly
  3. Masculine Intuition
  4. Wrong
  5. Absolutely Positively

White Willow

I bought the debut album a year or two ago and always thought to buy another album. I bought three: Sacrament, Storm Season, and Terminal Twilight. These were my five favourites.

  1. Floor 67 – from Terminal Twilight
  2. Natasha of the Burning Woods – from Terminal Twilight
  3. Paper Moon – from Sacrament
  4. Sally Left – from Storm Season
  5. Searise – from Terminal Twilight

April Wine

A band I never had much interest in before, suddenly this year I discovered that from 1971 to 1983, the band recorded a lot of very good hard rock / arena rock. I am still missing the album Power Play.

  1. Weeping Willow – from Electric Jewels, 1973
  2. Bad Side of the Moon – from On Record, 1972
  3. I Can Hear You Callin’ – from Electric Jewels, 1973
  4. All Over Town – from The Nature of the Beast, 1981
  5. Hot on the Wheels of Love – from First Glance, 1978
  6. Listen Mister – from April Wine, 1971
  7. Work All Day – from On Record, 1972
  8. Wings of Love – from The Whole World’s Goin’ Crazy, 1976
  9. One More Time – from The Nature of the Beast, 1981
  10. Roller – from First Glance, 1978

Lastly, I’d like to mention my personal top five 2015 releases, though I didn’t buy too many as I was stuck in the 60’s and 70’s.

  1. No Pocus Without Hocus – Murky Red
  2. Perfect Beings II – Perfect Beings
  3. Unscrewed – Corvus Stone
  4. War and Peace – Pandora Snail
  5. The Book of Souls – Iron Maiden

 

 

No Pocus without Hocus – A Review

Over the last decade or so, there has has been a revival in the heavy psychedelic acid rock scene with many new bands adding a modern and updated twist, creating a heavy stoner crunch with occasional aggressive leaps. Bands such as Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats, Kadavar, Admiral Sir Cloudesley Shovell, and Demon Eye have taken the bridging elements between late sixties heavy psych and early seventies downer rock and recreated them in an up to date sound scope.

One band who have very successfully encapsulated that sound in their music,  enhancing it with an underlying flow of Pink Floydian tones and applying a progressive approach, is Belgium’s Murky Red. Their debut Time Doesn’t Matter was released in 2012 and has been described as Black Sabbath meets Pink Floyd. By the band’s own admission though, the first album didn’t truly capture the sound they were going for. Keyboardist Yolanda Flaming goes as far as to say three of the tracks are today not even fit to be called Murky Red music.

NPWH-album-coverTheir new album No Pocus without Hocus, released just recently as a digital download for now (CD to come once sales of the digital album reach the goal), sees the band developing their sound more in the intended direction with vocalist/guitarist Stef Flaming stating that the final track Elena is where the band has really managed to flesh out the direction of its sound.

The music on this 11-track offering is quite a treat for anyone who loves music as described in the opening paragraph. Wonderful modern day heavy psych guitars abound with heavy prog tendencies. The rhythm section provides a solid pounding when required with drummer René Marteaux doing an excellent job of driving the heaviness and aggressive edges home as well as appropriately handling the trippier and more melancholy parts with Marie Vancamp augmenting the percussion . However, unlike a lot of bands who concentrate on the heavy stoner side, Murky Red deliver lighter songs as well such as She’s Crying Diamonds, Bad Wolf of the Pack (a kind of Pink Floyd meets Planet Caravan and Green Grass and High Tides Forever number) and Wild Flower. In a way, the concept behind the name Iron Butterfly is quite suitable here with Murky Red showing their lighter Butterfly side against the heavy Iron side. It’s my impression though that the heavy side wins out with some excellent guitar riffs of the stoner rock variety showing up in Pixilated Friends, Stoned and Horny and Collateral Damage, as well as in many of the other tracks. You can also look forward to some note and mind bending guitar solos courtesy of Patrick Dujardin.

Special mention must go to Stef Flaming’s voice. Though he aspired not to be the band’s vocalist, his deep, almost Johnny-Cash-goes-ominous-elder-hippy quality suits the sound of the band just perfectly. Flaming guested as vocalist on Corvus Stone’s cover of Murky Red’s song Boots for Hire and in turn, Corvus Stone guitarist Colin Tench plays lead on this album’s track Collateral Damage. In fact, Tench was responsible for the mixing of both Murky Red albums, and I believe he’s done a stellar job of rendering their sound.

A review of this album album would not be complete with saying a few words about the lyrics. Though I honestly haven’t listened carefully to each song’s lyrics, the humorous and quirky ones do tend to stand out. “I smoked all my hashtags with some pixilated friends,” from Pixilated Friends is the first to have arrested my ears. As the amusingly titled Stoned and Horny floats through a spacey segment, Flaming utters, “For those who don’t understand this song, this is the stoned part, yeah”. “The trick is to get back to the horny,” he muses. A Wooden Groove begins as a song with lyrics but soon Flaming tells us that, “from now on, this song will be strictly instrumental”. Indeed it is with a thundering, cantering thrash conclusion. I have to say that Mermaids is also an excellent tune combining the lighter side with the rockier and including the image-conjuring lines, “Mermaids, m-m-m mermaids / fish tails everywhere / mermaids, m-m-m mermaids / fish sticks in the air”.

The album No Pocus without Hocus is an excellent piece of work and fans of heavy guitar rock with a thick stoner crust and a Floydian mantle will surely enjoy this. However, those who prefer a more progressive aspiration will not be disappointed, particularly with the closing track, Elena.

Murky Red is:
Stef Flaming: Vocals & Guitars
Patrick Dujardin: Guitars
Luk Lantin: Bass Guitar
René Marteaux: Drums
Marie Vancamp: Percussion
Yolanda Flaming: Keys

Artwork by Stef Flaming
Mascot: Maurice le Murk

Links

Murky Red web site

Reverb Nation records

Corvus Stone (II)

Corvus Stone are a multi-national group of European musicians who released their second album in September. The album was appearing on the ProgArchives homepage regularly for a few weeks, often with two or three reviews on a given day, and mostly earning ratings of four or five stars. I was interested in the album but thought I could wait until the new year before purchasing it. However, a very remarkable thing happened. Guitarist Colin Tench read a couple of my reviews of other albums and based solely on that he offered to send me his band’s album because he thought I would enjoy it. This has never happened to me before. I was flabbergasted, dumbfounded, and honoured.

The album arrived a few days later and I played it once through. Indeed, this was the kind of music I could enjoy listening to. But if I was going to write a review on the album as a return favour, I would need to listen to it carefully several times. I did so with pleasure. My review was posted last week on ProgArchives and I attach it below. In the meantime, I have been enjoying exchanging messages with Mr. Tench and consider it a great privilege to be able to chat so freely with a professional guitarist of his calibre.

My Review:

I swore I would avoid a track by track run down, but this album is rather rich in really good progressive ROCK with lots of special flavours and assorted delicacies carefully placed on the table so that one may eat to his filling of tasty musical morsels not too hot and not too peculiar. If you are a fan of Deep Purple, seventies Rainbow, The Flower Kings, and other bands, perhaps Camel, with some great emphasis on guitar and keyboard playing supported by an active bass and drummer with good breeding, then this album should appeal. These guys are out to enjoy making music first and foremost. This is their band and it’s for them. If you want to ride along, jump aboard!

“The Simple Life” is a surprising beginning that leaps straight into the music. I can hardly place where I’ve heard something like that before when the vocals come in and I am reminded of Peter Banks era Yes. Keyboards and guitar grab my attention but listen to that bass rumble.

Now a waltz with “Early Morning Call”. Organ and some guitar moments that utter the name Blackmore. And do I detect a touch of old Camel in there? Or is it the Flower Kings? Perhaps something else. The moment has passed. A very pleasing piece of work, this instrumental.

And now for a great rock guitar instrumental that plays through a couple of different moods before a haunting desert theme emerges. But wait! This is not an instrumental. “Boots for Hire” features vocalist Stef Flaming. I picture a black-clad, rugged, middle-aged frontiersman with a black Stetson. But hey, Ian Gillan could have sung this as well. Not the young Gillan. The present day Gillan. The instrumental section transforms into a heavy prog number with a quick tempo and organ, almost like some classic proto-metal bit from the early seventies before the music glides smoothly back into the eerie desert music. “Sun is gone and all is brown” might recall Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”. This epic track takes a long slow journey through a desert twilight atmosphere before closing with some spooky keyboard sounds.

“Sneaky Entrance in to Lisa” is a short instrumental with a Spanish guitar feel and piano. It’s pretty and it’s over pretty quick. We’ll have to wait to later to hear more of where that was going.

A revving engine, the screech of tires, and a Deep Purple salute. “Purple Stone” gets the Purple references on the table. “Yes, we like Deep Purple.” And in case you are still in doubt, check out the artwork on the back of the CD booklet. It’s four purple crow heads carved out of Mount Rushmore! Corvus Stone. Purple Stone. There you go. Two singers here, and my guess it’s Blake Carpenter whose voice is the one I don’t care too much for. The music rocks and rolls and there’s organ and wah-wah guitar. A very cool and busy bass-line comes in twice. The lyric “Will I make it round the bend” has such potential for referencing insanity but instead concludes with, “or will I die?” Wait. Is this referencing “Trashed” by Black Sabbath? And then the Deep Purple tribute line, quoting a favourite classic also about a car. I have to admit that this is the first track that doesn’t warm up to me like the rest of the album has. But it’s shorter than my review of it.

Now another instrumental with “A stoned Crow meets the Rusty Wolff Ral” and a beautiful intro with acoustic guitar and gentle waves of synthesizer chords. It moves into a mid-tempo rock number that brings about some surprising time signature changes and some delightful snippets of weirdness. There’s a flute-like synthesizer, heavy guitar, and organ. This piece will keep you guessing which way its going to turn for the first couple of minutes before the pattern establishes itself. A showcase mostly for guitar and keyboard but don’t ignore the rhythm section.

“Lisa has a cigar” has me at a loss to describe the music. Something European. It’s very nice and then it’s over. And then there’s “Mr. Cha Cha” which has a 1974 rock rhythm feel and has me thinking this could be Deep Purple meets Nektar. This could also be a salute to Rainbow Ritchie Blackmore, late seventies? Nice organ. And a change of pace with a strong mid to late seventies rhythm and synthesizer. That bass doesn’t want to stay in the background. I’m suddenly reminded of “Son of Aleric”, the bonus track on the “Perfect Strangers” reissue.

Tinkling piano, bass, guitar wails, and string synthesizer. Vocals come in. Strangely, this music brings to mind the band Iona for some reason. Interesting and surprising sudden close. Such is “Dark Tower”.

The much lauded “Scandinavians in Mexico” is not the Sonoran party track I had come to expect. The Mexican groove is modest and more like what a Mexican rock band might have striven for. Instead, just enjoy the lively rhythm and the synthesizer and guitar lead work. A great fun piece of music nonetheless.

Oh, look! A bass intro with a bit of mystery, accompanied by acoustic guitar and synthesizer. “Mystery Man” begins and the keyboards and guitar take turns trading quick exchanges. I find the lyrics a little obvious but the vocals are strong. The music takes us through various changes with slow acoustic parts and some harder heavier sections.

I wondered if this next song “Camelus Bactrianus (Tuolla tuonnempana)” would bear any resemblance to the music of the band Camel but it doesn’t match what I know. It’s sung in Finnish and the exotic language sits well with me because it suits the slow and sombre music at the start. Are we witnessing a march to a funeral? Then there’s a change a we get a cool switch to an upbeat rock groove. I love how the song winds down, too.

“Uncle Schunkle” might just get my vote for coolest instrumental in the album. While we get lots of Colin Tench’s rock guitar, the rhythm in this track moves very coolly. The bass is really in there! And there are these abrupt changes in the groove of the rhythm that almost don’t get noticed until after the change has occurred. Yes, this is a great piece but it ends too soon. Or is that a timely end after all?

A slow acoustic piece that sounds very early seventies in approach. Not quite Yes this time for “Eternal Universe” but with some good vocal parts. There’s that sweet flute keyboard sound. At the close it sounds like the song will change gears and really get moving. Perhaps an Andean flute and guitar bit? But no. It just ends. Perhaps there was an opportunity missed here?

“Moaning Lisa” is actually a ballad in the original sense of the word about a woman whose father drowned at sea. As a result of her heartbreak she becomes a target for lustful men and eventually she joins her father, leaving her ghost to haunt the sea winds. The song features a blend of acoustic and electric with a hint of Spanish flavour, though there is more to this than my musical background can describe. The vocals have an accent which adds to the foreign feel. Surely though, even with all its non-traditional elements, this song can’t help but dropping into a heavy rock passage that reminds me a bit of the band Armageddon, who cut one album in ’75. This is a well-developed epic piece that keeps taking the listener into new territory. Catch the flowers-in-the-hair hippy folky passage before it returns to a Spanish ballad and then moves into an almost danceable folk rock conclusion. Great music!

The final song is another Finnish one and a pleasant folky acoustic number, a suitable conclusion for an album that has given us plenty of rock and Spanish-flavoured acoustic music as well.

This album has proven to be a pleasant journey worth repeating anytime. No, I was not dancing in the aisles from the start. This is not an album for pulling off a few great tracks and whistling them in the shower and then getting back to the rest later. Like a hot spring spa, this is an album to sit back and soak up in order to appreciate. The person who sent me this was right in guessing this was my groove. It is an album I enjoy listening to from start to finish, and though there are a couple (only a couple) of tracks that I feel are just alright, I don’t feel like skipping them.

Someone said the album was eclectic but I don’t think so. Corvus Stone is a rock band with a strong seventies feel in the most positive way, and that can be heard in almost every track. The colour comes from the Spanish or other sounds and styles they merge so nicely with their music, meaning it’s more than just a 70’s tribute band. This is really good upper level rock with a flair for blending in folk and ethnic music.

I’m not giving this five stars for the simple reason that I am really now looking forward to their third album, hopefully to come in two year’s time. I have yet to hear the debut, but based on the reviews and what I have heard here I strongly believe that Corvus a Stone will be one of those bands that really hit their mark on the third album. Many great bands produce their most historic work on either their third album or their third with a key new member (Deep Purple, Yes, and Genesis for example). Corvus Stone are on the right path to producing one of the most phenomenal albums of the decade. If this was close to that then I have especially high expectations for Corvus Stone III!

For more information about Corvus Stone:

Corvus Stone website

Scandinavians in Mexico

Good and Bad Years of Modern Prog

One day while checking out a band on the Prog Archives web site, I noticed that their top-rated album was from the year 2000. “That’s the same year as Spock’s Beard’s V and Symphony X’s V: the New Mythology Suite,” I thought. Both those albums have very high ratings. The next two bands I checked out after that also had very highly rated albums in the year 2000. Was there something about that year that was special for prog bands? I decided to make a list of bands and check out how their ratings matched up over the course of the last 25 years.

First, I established some criteria for who and what would be on the list. The bands I had noticed with high ratings in the year 2000 had all begun their recording career in the 90’s. So I decided to limit my list to bands that had released albums from the 90’s and onward. There are two exceptions: Dream Theater, whose second album was their first release of the 90’s; and Pendragon, who are actually a much older band but whose third release was their first of the 90’s. I was tempted to include other bands like Fates Warning, IQ, and Ozric Tentacles; however, all those bands had already released at least a few albums in the 80’s. I wanted to focus mostly on bands that had emerged in the early 90’s in time for the prog revival.

I made a list of over 25 bands and for the graph I prepared, I trimmed the list down to 20. Here are the bands included:

Anekdoten, Dream Theater, Pain of Salvation, The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard, Arena, Jadis, Pendragon, Enchant, Echolyn, Threshold, White Willow, Opeth, Evergrey, Porcupine Tree, Symphony X, Ayreon, Galahad, Anathema, Glass Hammer

For the graph, I used the ratings from Prog Archives. The Y axis begins at ratings of 1.00 and goes to 5.00, which is the highest possible rating. Each square represents a rating value of 0.2. Although in any one year albums received a range of rating scores, in some cases two albums scored the same or very near the same score. In such cases I squeezed two black dots close together. Lines were drawn from the band name to their oldest album and then the rating dots of each subsequent album’s score were connected by the same line. Lines between different bands’ trajectories often intersect.

As I prepared the graph, a very clear wave began to emerge. But as later bands were added, some of the troughs were covered as one band achieved a highly-rated album in an otherwise slump year. Conversely, during some peak years, other bands managed to score very poorly on their release. At the end, in 2014, we see Evergrey achieving a very high rating for their latest release. Since gathering the ratings, this score has come down as more people gave scores of 4 stars instead of five.

My graph of ratings of albums between 1990 and 2014 on the Prog Archives web site.

My graph of ratings of albums between 1990 and 2014 on the Prog Archives web site.

What we can see is that Echolyn and Dream Theater scored very highly in 1992. The scores then drop a little until we reach the period from 1999 to 2002, where 12 albums scored over 4.10, the most albums to score this high in such a short time frame. After that, 2003 sees no band scoring over 4.00, 2004 goes up again but then the scores drop except for an album in 2005 and one in 2007 that scored well. The year 2006 saw only 6 albums released and none scoring over 4.00. Eight albums were released in 2007 but only three in 2008 and three in 2009 and four in 2010. These three years seem to have been difficult years for our 20 bands. Indeed in the latter half of the 2000’s several bands released no album for a space of three to five years, and some even longer. But from 2012 and on we see more albums over a rating of 4.00.

Coloured to better illustrate the wave effect

Coloured to better illustrate the wave effect

I decided to colour in the general flow, omitting any albums whose rating was more than 0.10 lower than the next score above (I missed one in 2009, accidentally including the lowest rated album). The light green makes it easier to see the flow, the rise and fall of album ratings.

Does this suggest that some years were better for progressive rock than others? Is this just the result from Prog Archives? Would other sites for rating albums produce a similar or different result? Is this an indication that progressive rock was more “progressive” during the 1999 to 2002 period than in other years and has recently become more progressive again, or was there some other reason that influenced the ratings?

Is It Yes, or No?

yes heavenIn this month of July 2014, Yes have released their 21st studio album. (Or is it their 20th? I’m not sure how to count Yes albums. Is ABWH considered Yes? Are the two Keys to Ascension albums considered one or two studio releases?)

The new album, Heaven and Earth, was greatly anticipated by fans. However, even before its official release dates (Japan – 16th, Europe – 18th, North America – 22nd) reviews completely panning the album were appearing on the Prog Archives web site and other music review sites. Some reviewers took a sympathetic view: “This is the kind of music Yes wants to write and play now”. Some took a mildly appreciative view: “It’s not really prog, more pop actually, but it’s not that bad”. But the majority took a hatchet to the album, slashing it for being too soft, too pop, and not enough prog or rock. The most amusing description was someone calling it an “intergalactic explosive turd”!

Among the complaints that bassist Chris Squire and drummer Alan White were not really doing much of interest on most of the album, equal disapproval was heaped upon new singer Jon Davison’s song-writing efforts, with some claiming it was asking for trouble to give him so much opportunity to write for a Yes album (“You’re cooking at home”) being that he had only been a member for 2 years and that it was his first album with the band. Hey, at least Benoit David, the previous vocalist for Yes, had not been asked to write anything for the band, just sing the songs. And in a fairly recent interview with Yes founding member and beloved vocalist (and the genius ideas man behind so much of Yes’ classic works), Jon Anderson said it wasn’t right to call the band Yes because what they were writing was not Yes music. Anderson had recently composed an epic song in four parts entitled “Open” which he wrote in the style of Yes’ traditional epic songs. This, in his heart, was what Yes music should be like.

So is the new album Yes? Well, how much in Yes’ back catalogue can be called Yes music? Let’s take a look back and see when Yes music wasn’t what some would have called it.

Case One – The Early Yes

Yes-8001In the early days, Yes were a covers band. But, according to founding guitarist, the late Peter Banks, “(the covered songs) were given the full Yes treatment” (Close to the Edge: The Story of Yes by Chris Welch). Indeed, even when Yes began recording music for their first two albums they included a version of the Beatles’ “Every Little Thing” on their debut and Leonard Bernstein’s “Something’s Coming” from West Side Story on a single b-side. They also added music from the theme to a TV program called The Big Country on a song on their second album, Time and a Word.

When Steve Howe joined Yes in 1970 the picture changed. Although Yes worked toward maintaining a democracy when it came to putting together a song, Jon Anderson and Steve Howe formed a tight relationship coming up with ideas and writing songs for the band. Some of their greatest creations, Close to the Edge and Tales from Topographic Oceans resulted from their collaboration, and over the course of the next several albums, Yes were superstars of progressive rock.

Case Two – The Buggles Collaboration

Yes_DramaIn 1979, after the disappointing album, Tormato and some abandoned recording sessions, Jon Anderson left the band, along with star keyboard player, Rick Wakeman. What were the remaining members to do? There was some partly worked material from the Paris sessions, as they came to be known, but Squire, Howe, and White were looking for direction. They wanted a full five-piece band and with a rehearsal room booked said, “Well, whoever turns up is in the band!” (Close to the Edge: the Story of Yes).

Cue the song “Video Killed the Radio Star” and enter the Buggles, a band comprised of Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, who were together responsible for the worldwide hit that would later kick off MTV’s first ever airing. Working under the same management as Yes, the two approached Yes with some music they had composed for the band, a song called “We Can Fly from Here”. Chris Squire was familiar with the Buggles and they were invited to join Yes. The new album – the first without Jon Anderson – was called Drama, and it included some material begun by Squire, Howe, and White. But the two new members put forward two songs and then, in true Yes tradition, each member contributed and song-writing credits for all songs were attributed to all five members. Many fans and critics were up in arms about the Buggles joining Yes and many were not pleased with these two “purveyors of ear-candy” becoming involved in writing Yes music. However, over time the album Drama has won much favour among fans.

Case Three – The Jimmy Page Connection and Trevor Rabin

yes xyzAnd then Yes fell apart. The band dissolved with Howe and Downes going off to form Asia, Horn becoming a producer, and Squire and White teaming up with Jimmy Page to form the short-lived band, XYZ (eX-Yes and Zeppelin). From their sessions came a song called “Mind Drive” and other music that was only recorded as a rough demo. Squire and White then teamed up with South African rocker, Trevor Rabin. Using a few ideas from the aborted XYZ and some of Rabin’s ideas, the three hired former Yes Hammond organ player, Tony Kaye and formed the band, Cinema. Cinema were never intended to become Yes, but once Jon Anderson expressed interest in singing on the album, it became clear that this was going to sound like Yes and so the band that was supposed to be Cinema became the Yes for the 80’s.

Many fans of the classic Yes of the seventies were outraged at this new arena rock band that called themselves Yes. Well, they were 80% Yes alumni with the two “pillars” of the band, Chris Squire and Jon Anderson. And the band recorded their biggest selling album ever with 90125 and its chart-topper “Owner of a Lonely Heart” (a Trevor Rabin-penned tune for Cinema). However, for many fans, 90125 was even more a gob of saliva on the name of Yes than what the Buggles collaboration had been.

Case Four – ABWH’s Second Album Becomes Yes

yes unionFans of classic Yes only had to wait a few more years. Anderson, discontent with the direction of the band in 1987, once again left, only this time he called up old members Howe, Wakeman, and drummer Bill Bruford and together they put together something less pop and more prog under the name of Anderson Bruford Wakeman and Howe (or ABWH for short). Law suits were filed from the side that still had legal right to call themselves Yes, in order to make sure that Anderson and Co. were not trying to re-start classic Yes while the 80’s Yes still existed. Things got nasty, but while Yes West (Rabin, Squire, Kaye, and White) were plotting their next move, ABWH were enjoying the results of their first album and recorded a live album to follow up.

Then a strange thing happened. While working on material for their second album, ABWH suddenly found themselves in Yes again. Record company execs had come up with the brilliant idea of combining the new ABWH songs on an album with some new songs by Rabin and Co. Collectively, the new material would be called Yes and the album would be promisingly called Union. And so an album was released for the second time under the proud Yes name bearing music that was originally not intended to be on a Yes album.

Case Five – More XYZ and Some Conspiracy

yes keysAfter a successful tour with eight Yes musicians, the Rabin-led Yes managed one more album that was said to be pretty much Trevor Rabin’s baby. Though Rabin had now been a member of Yes for ten years, many fans still saw him as an outsider and this notion was exacerbated after Howe and Wakeman had temporarily been back in Yes and were summarily told they were no longer needed once the Union tour wrapped up. Kaye and Rabin then left, and Anderson, Squire, and White called up Howe and Wakeman and one of the classic line-ups reconvened for a few live shows and some new studio material that included something dredged up from the XYZ days. “Mind Drive” was reworked and became one of the two new 18-minute plus Yes epics.

The release of the song and other new works was, however, withheld by the record company who held on to the double live/studio album, Keys to Ascension 2 wondering if Yes were going to tour it. Wakeman left again, and Yes not only recruited a new keyboard player, but they (Squire mostly, perhaps?) decided to use material that he and song-writer / guitarist Billy Sherwood had been writing for a collaboration album together under the name Conspiracy. Sherwood became a member of Yes, and Anderson and Howe were brought in at the last moment to add their thoughts. “The only contribution Jon and I were able to make,” says Howe in Close to the Edge: the Story of Yes, “was ‘From the Balcony’”. And so with Open Your Eyes, the third Yes album that was mostly not meant to be a Yes album was released. Fans hated it.

Case Six – The Return of Fly from Here and the Buggles

Yes Fly_from_HereYes released two albums after that which did contain music written for Yes, mostly (word has it another XYZ song showed up on Magnification). Then they did some touring and then everyone went off to do other things. Anderson became ill but Squire wanted Yes to start working on a new album. Wakeman refused to be in the band without Anderson and so… Drama-era Yes members Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes were called in with Horn writing and producing and Downes writing and playing keyboards. Their old song written for Yes but only ever played live, “We Can Fly from Here”, was turned into a 22-minute, multi-part song and was sung by Anderson replacement, Benoit David. Many fans didn’t like David singing instead of Anderson and many complained about the 30-year-old song being exhumed for a new Yes album.

So, as we can see, Yes music is not always written by the classic Yes members or for Yes albums. But over the decades of its bizarre history, Yes has sometimes gobbled up outside music in order to keep that giant, lumbering beast that is Yes plodding along. Having a new singer write most of the songs for the latest album is only the latest chapter in the history of Yes, though it is interesting to note that on Heaven and Earth the song writing credits are not attributed to all five members but only two or three members with Davison getting partial credit for seven of the eight tracks.