Lee Speaks About Music… #162

Sola Gratia – Neal Morse

Neal MorseSola Gratia

Introduction…

I have to admit I have lost track just how many albums Neal Morse has made and put out since he left Spock’s Beard around 2002 and I am pretty sure he had a couple of solo albums out before he left the band and if you were to count his Christmas album that would make another one. Since leaving the band he has put out god knows how many Christian albums and a complete rake of studio and live albums under his own name and with his band besides all the other bands and projects he’s worked in. 

I have the biggest majority of his solo albums and the ones he has put out with his band and there was a time when I honestly praised him for his song writing especially in the field of prog-rock. Though I have to confess that since he released Momentum back in 2012 I rather think that things have started to become a bit more stale and I found the last 3 albums I brought The Grand Experiment, The Similitude Of A Dream and The Great Adventure started to speak too much of the same language in that it was all too much of the same thing so I never even bothered buying his last PROG! album Jesus Christ The Exorcist.

I know that Morse is very much devoted to his faith and Christian beliefs and I have nothing against that. I also know he’s a very good songwriter, but at the high rate he churns out music it can be a bit too much food for thought at times and the food in some cases is getting stale before it reaches the table so to speak. It will also cost you an arm and a leg to keep up with it although to be fair I have always found his albums very reasonably priced and they do offer value for the buck.

It was very much the title of this release that caught my eye and made me go out and buy it. The reasoning behind that is because his 2007 album Sola Scriptura has always been my favourite album of his, and the title of this new album Sola Gratia was ringing out to me in the way that it could be a sequel to that album. My second favourite album of his came out a couple of years earlier in 2005 and that album was simply titled ? as in a question mark.

In total I have 14 of his studio albums and those two albums have always been my GOTO! albums of his. Personally, I don’t think anything that came after them is on the same level of par and it’s been a bit too much of the same thing. The question is does Sola Gratia live up to its predecessor or are my expectations too high? Before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork per usual.

Packaging & Artwork…

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The Limited Edition comes with a bonus DVD and both the CD & DVD are stored in a 3-panel cardboard DigiPak that has plastic trays to hold the both discs. It also comes with a 20-page booklet that contains all the lyrics, credits and linear production notes which can be stored neatly in the left-hand side of the Digipak.

Overall, it’s a very neat well-made package to which I got at a very good price of £12.99 from Amazon UK. I pre-ordered it on the 5th August and it arrived a day after its release which is quite good considering it comes from America and it arrived earlier than expected. The album is also available on vinyl and has been pressed onto 2 x 180-gram black vinyl LP’s priced around £24.99 and it also comes with the CD. There is also a CD (only) edition that comes in a standard jewel case for £10.99 and I dare say a Digital Download of the album for not much less.

Artwork.

The artwork and Design layout were done by the German graphic designer Thomas Ewerhard who also done the cover for Sola Scriptura and many other Neal Morse and Spock’s Beard albums. He mainly does the artwork for metal and prog bands and his work is very impressive and I particularly like the artwork he’s done for the German supergroup metal opera project Avantasia. The artwork he has done here is well apt and fitting for the sequel to Sola Scriptura.

The Album In Review…

Neal Morse’s latest studio album Sola Gratia was released on the 11th September 2020. The album contains 14 tracks and has an overall playing time of 65 minutes, 40 seconds and it runs along like a non-stop Rock Opera. I do find that over the more recent years that Neal likes to get more involved in the act for his live concerts and tries to act out the parts. He even adds in the odd stage prop and dresses up to try and look the part of the many concept story albums he writes.

The one thing I do admire about him is that he always puts his heart and soul into his live performance. However, I do find that he’s perhaps going a bit too over the top with his costumes and props 😁😁😁. I also find that the only way you can get to hear and enjoy his concerts are on DVD and not at the concert itself. Because they are played at ridiculously high-volume levels that goes beyond the level of distortion and will bounce off walls all around the arena.

Sola Gratia is indeed a sequel to its predecessor he wrote back in 2007 and the whole idea was ignited by a misunderstanding and of him not quite catching on to what his wife was saying during a conversation they were having at the time. She was asking him if his next album was going to be a solo album and he thought she said “Sola” and thought that would be a good idea hence the reason why we now have a follow up. There are in fact five solas so we may very well see other sequels arrive later.

Sola Scriptura translated to English is “scripture alone” and is a theological doctrine held by some Protestant Christian denominations that the Christian scriptures are the sole infallible source of authority for Christian faith and practice.

To be perfectly honest I myself am not into all this GOBBLEDEGOOK! and quite often in the world of prog-rock the lyrical content is meaningless and all written about mythical fantasies more than anything else. It’s the music and the way the words are expressed are all that really matters to me and when it comes to reality you will find a lot more sense in the song “He Died At Home” that he wrote for his Life & Times album a couple of years ago than what you will ever find here.

When it comes to Christianity and common sense you will also find more logic listening to Stephen Fry talk about religion and he’s a lot wiser man than the likes of Solomon and the Three Wise Men 😁😁😁.

Like all his studio albums they are mostly recorded at his own studios at his home and he started work on the album towards the end of January this year, the recording was done between February – June. Being the highly talented multi-instrumentalist he is, he laid out all the tracks for the demos by himself including playing drums on all tracks and then sent them over to both Mike Portnoy and Randy George for them to play their parts.

As a rule, Neal likes to have the musicians in the same room but due to the Coronavirus this was not possible and it’s the first time he’s ever made an album and had to work this way. All three musicians are the main core on the album though both the other couple of musicians from his band also get to play a few parts and there are also a few string players and backing vocalists that also contribute to it.

The Limited Edition comes with a DVD that shows the making of the album and this bonus feature is something of a norm with all the projects Morse works on and he films everything. It would not surprise me if he takes his video camera with him when he pops down to the grocery store 😁😁😁. So, lets now take a look at the DVD.

The DVD.

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The DVD plays immediately when you insert it into your player and the only way you can access its main menu (as seen above) is by either waiting for the DVD to end or via the Top Menu button on your remote. As a rule, Neal mostly films and documents much of the recording progress for his studio and live albums and you can at times get many hours of film footage on them.

This however, was one of the rare occasions where he hardly filmed anything at all and some of the footage he even recorded after the process to make up the 66 minutes you get here. I find these making of the album very interesting and in this footage, you even get to see how he recorded some of the ideas with his voice on his mobile phone before he had written the music, and him putting those ideas into fruition. 

You also get to see Mike Portnoy and Randy George recording some of their parts at their homes along with the string players recording their parts in Neal’s studio plus hear a song that never made it on the album. The one thing you do not get is a 5.1 mix of the album tracks. Though to be perfectly honest from the attempts I have heard in the past done on his live DVD’s and the other projects he’s been involved in you would only end up being hugely disappointed 😁😁😁.

The picture quality is basic but to be expected when filming yourself on video and I have nothing to complain about especially as the DVD you are getting for practically nothing with the price, I paid for it. I would also say it’s worth getting the Limited Edition especially if you like to see the production side of things. The video editing was done by Randy George.

Musicians & Credits…

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All songs Written & Produced by Neal Morse. Recorded between February -June 2020 at Neal’s home studio. Mixed & Mastered by Rich Mouser at The Madhouse. Pasadena US. Strings recorded by Gabe Klein. Drums tracks Engineered by Thomas Cuce. Artwork by Thomas Ewerhard. DVD Edited by Randy George.

Musicians:
Neal Morse: Vocals – Keyboards – Guitars – Percussion – Drums (On “Building A Wall”)
Mike Portnoy: Drums (Voice Mow only on “Building A Wall”)
Randy George: Bass.

Additional Musicians:
Bill Hubauer: Piano & Aha Moment.
Eric Gillette: Guitar in “Overture”. “In The Name Of The Lord”. Big Solo on “The Glory Of The Lord”.
Gideon Klein: Cello – Viola – Stringed Bass.
Josee Weigand: Violin – Viola

Backing Vocals – Wil Morse, Debbie Bresee, April Zachary, Julie Harrison and Amy Pippin.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Sola Gratia or “grace alone” which it translates too is actually the third Thesis that was written and not the second of the 5 Solas so regarding the sequel side of things Neal may have got his wires slightly crossed. Basically, it’s from the book of Ephesians in the bible that was supposedly written by God and by the Apostle Paul’s hand and can be found in chapter 2 verses 8-10.

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.

In layman’s terms it’s basically saying that we were saved for our sins by grace alone and the grace was a gift from god in offering his son at the alter for us. Although it might not appear that way in the way that it is written in the King James version of the bible (above). But there are several versions of the book and many different interpretations of it which is why there are so many different religions.

The bible was never written in a straight forward way for you to understand and try and decipher. Many songs are also written in the same way and many people will have their own interpretations of them. In the case of songs, I personally think that’s a good thing, but surely if there was a god out there, he would not of given you a book of riddles to lead you up the wrong garden path so to speak, or perhaps he was the author of confusion has Neal mentioned on his One album back in 2004 😁😁😁.

The first notable thing I noticed regarding the sequel is that the material for this album was written over a lot more tracks than its predecessor and they are considerably a lot shorter in length. Most of the shorter tracks also make up the first half of the album and I would even say that Sola Gratia is a bit like listening to an album of two halves with how the material flows along. So, let’s take a closer look at the album.

Track 1. Preface.

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You could say that the preface part of the book lets you know that it’s a sequel to the first book or album and it does so BEAUTIFULLY! with a lovely little acoustic version of “The Door” from the 2007 Sola Scriptura album. I totally love what Neal has done here and even though it’s only 1 minute, 26 seconds long it is one of the best tracks on the album. You will also hear parts of it pop up and reoccur in the backing vocal sections throughout the album, but here it’s just Neal’s voice and his 6 & 12 string guitar and it really is GORGEOUS!

Track 2. Overture.

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After it’s GORGEOUS! opening the album then EXPLODES! into action with this instrumental piece and this is by far the most PROGMATIC! track on the whole album. Neal quite often likes to BIG! things up with his overtures and has done several times in the past on his other albums and they generally contain some really GREAT! musical interplay with the instrumentation and run along some sophisticated time signatures and transitional changes that weave in and out of each other. It’s something he does best and there is no exception here.

This is actually one of the only longer tracks to be found in the first half of the album and besides the 3 main core musicians Morse, Portnoy and George it features his other two band members Gillette and Hubauer and both string players Gideon Klein and Josee Weigand that play their role in beefing up the orchestration very well. It’s also my personal favourite track on the album and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 3. In The Name Of The Lord.

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It’s time to ROCK! things up and this one even throws in some Metal to add a bit more weight to it and could quite easily be seen as the single release from the album. Although without the rest of the story behind its concept it’s lyrical content might very well give people the wrong impression about Neal himself, and that is exactly what it did when I shared the official video with a small group of friends in private group on Facebook last Friday and this is how one person in the group described it.

“Definitely motored right along with some ‘Nasty’. By the sounds of it…he ain’t a fan of Jesus and more the other guy. I enjoyed this you ole Devil”.

The lyrical content is often the reason why so many songs from concept albums do not make good single releases even though musically this would be more fitting for a single release and you will get that impression from the official video that was put out on the record labels Tube channel.

This particular song does also have quite a bit of an Alice Cooper influence and there is a couple of songs on this album that do feel more like Cooper songs rather than Morse.

Regarding the lyrical content it could easily come across like it came across to that person in the group and many more especially, if you know very little or nothing about Neal Morse and to be honest this is a group where I post more songwriter based songs and very little in the way of prog-rock and I only posted this cause it is a rock song.

The fire and anger in Neal’s voice will also give people that impression but he does like to put himself into the right frame of mind and picture of the times he is portraying in the story, and the story is based upon the times where even an apostle like Paul would fear for his own safety talking about Jesus and back then you could even get stoned for uttering the word. 

In The Name Of The Lord” does have more of a commercial rock feel to it which is why I could see it like a single release. The fact that I do like Alice Cooper also makes this appeal to my taste and I do see this song has one of the highlights of the album and it’s a contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 4. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones).

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More influences are coming out of the woodwork here and this a song that is structured around the piano and its vamping style gives it that BEATLE-ESC! feel. It’s quite a jolly up-tempo little song even if the lyrical content is kind of celebrating in an evil way 😁😁😁 and the word “Ballyhoo” is associated with a lot of noise and activity, often with no real purpose behind it.

I suppose you could describe it sort of like making a lot of fuss out of nothing and that is what the chosen ones i.e. Saul and the Pharisees are bragging about here on their road to Damascus. But then again, the Pharisees were seen as hypocrites of god by god.

Track 5. March Of The Pharisees.

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This is a short instrumental interlude and this piece is structured more or less around a continuous bass line that pumps its way along to the beat of the drums very well allowing space for the hammond organ and guitars to build it up and add some power to it.

There is quite a bit of TASTY! guitar work on this by Morse and the way the guitar echoes out in parts and is panned between left and right to good effect puts me in mind of “Dogs” by Pink Floyd. Even the way it marches along also reminds me of “Dogs Of War” by them too though the lead lines very much speak differently and this a GREAT! little interlude.

Track 6. Building A Wall.

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The Alice Cooper influence is back for this ANTHEM ROCKER! of a song though some may even see it has even a Pink Floyd influence regarding its wall. They might even see it has a political influence brought on by the LUNATIC! I chose for the picture here 😁😁😁. However, the wall of separation here was brought on by the Scribes and Pharisees and with Jesus delivering his damming discourse to them as described in the book of Matthew chapter 23 verse 13.

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in”.

Neal’s original drums were left in on this song and the only thing Mike Portnoy is doing on the track is one of his funny voice “Mows” in which you can see in the official video that was once again put out on the record label’s Tube channel.

This is yet another GREAT! commercial rock song that would be fitting for a single release and apart from the lyrics. musically both “In The Name Of The Lord” and “Building A Wall” do have the presence of some of Alice Coopers earlier hits. Though even the lyrics on this particular song could easily be interpreted into today’s political affairs and this is another of the albums highlights and strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 7. Sola Intermezzo.

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It’s time for another musical intermission or in this case an intermezzo which is an Italian pronunciation that is used in the general sense of a composition which fits between other musical or dramatic entities, such as acts of a play or movements of a larger musical work. This also could be seen as a piece to put an end to first part or half of the album and though it’s much shorter than the overture you get some fine interplay and it’s another of the PROGMATIC! tracks on the album.

Track 8. Overflow.

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Like I mentioned earlier in some ways this is like listening to an album that has two halves and most of the material from here on does get longer. This is very much a ballad of a song that perhaps gets stretched out longer over its 6.5 minutes than it really needs to be. It’s not a bad song by any means and it also has a nice musical section to break it up. However, I do feel the chorus is overcooked and can be too repetitious.

Track 9. Warmer Than The Sunshine.

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You could say this is another instrumental piece with what little words you get here and they are only a couple of short verses that come into play at the end. This is also one of the couple of shorter pieces on the second part of the album though both are approaching the 3.5 minute mark and this one works very well with all that has been put into it. 

You could say it does help lift the album back up slightly and once again there is a fine PROGMATIC! touch to it with the interplay between the musicians and instrumentation. It’s also a very well-structured piece of work where the keyboards and bass play more of a dominate role, though the guitars and drums also play vital parts to make it what it is as well and it a GREAT! piece of work.

Track 10. Never Change.

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This next song for some reason has me thinking of the “Warrior” by Wishbone Ash in particular with its one haunting ambient note on the guitar that echoes every now and then to the jangly rhythm guitar. Although it’s nothing like that song I find myself singing the words “I’m leaving to search for something new” and I can actually squeeze in the first 4 lines of that song into the intro of this song before Neal starts singing.

This is one of the better songs on the second half of the album and I like how it builds itself up with quite some power to take it into the next track. Neal also plays a very TASTY! lead guitar solo that runs between 4:10 – 5:31 that is very FLOYD-ESC! which has that feel of some of guitar work Dave Gilmour played on The Division Bell album.

Track 11. Seemingly Sincere.

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By far the most powerful song of the album and when it comes to energy, I would say that a lot of it has been sucked out of it on the second half of the album and it needed something like this to wake it up. It is quite a synth driven track and the sequenced intro is once again quite FLOYD-ESC! and a bit like “On The Run” from their prolific Dark Side Of The Moon album as you can hear in the official video release.

Though it also has some heavy metal driven into it with the guitars and one hell of a powerhouse drummer to help drive it along too. “Seemingly Sincere” is the longest track on the album weighing in at 9 minutes, 34 seconds and it contains some really GREAT! progression that adds plenty of weight to it all with how it builds up into quite a monstrous song that has all the right balls and grit. It’s very much my personal favourite song on the album and jointly merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! along with its instrumental overture.

Track 12. The Light On The Road To Damascus.

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This is the second of the shorter tracks on the second half of the album and effectively its like having 3 tracks rolled into one which does not really work that well at all. Talk about being in the land of confusion and I think Neal certainly was when he put this together.

OK! you could say the intro which is the only part that contains some words may have been essential to get the story across and the short-orchestrated section that follows and ends in a bang works too. However, what does not work is having the instrumental part that comes in at the 2:14 mark on the same track and this little small instrumental piece that is used to bring in the next track might have worked better if he further developed it and put it on another track.

Track 13. The Glory Of The Lord.

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This song should of really of been the final track on the album and it runs along in similar vein to much of the material you will find on other Morse albums such as Testimony for example. It has some nice rich orchestration to accompany the piano from the string players and Eric Gillette‘s BIG! blistering guitar solo works a TREAT! to spice things up and helps it raise the bar a bit. It’s a GREAT! song and another contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 14. Now I Can See / The Great Commission.

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A two-part song to which the first part is really just an extension of the previous song and is like a reprise of it with the backing singers singing it’s title like in the way of a canticle as Neal repeats the words of the first part of the new title to practically the same tune played on the piano.

It then builds up with the orchestration and brings in a transitional change which is sort of like a Gran Finale although it’s not quite over yet has it comes down and he introduces a different melody on the piano for the final part “The Great Commission” to which brings in the final few words and it trickles its way out subtly and nicely on the piano to put an end to it all.

With how the last couple of tracks on the album work he could of easily done away with a track and made the two part song out of the 13th track and titled it as thus “The Glory Of The Lord / The Great Commission“. Though I am sure Neal has his own reasons but I did feel that the album should have ended off with the 13th track.

Summary…

To sum up Sola Gratia by Neal Morse. I would say it’s a decent enough album and much of the excitement and energy is contained within the material that was written for first half of the album. It is an album of two halves and the second half of the album is not in any particular hurry and its as if all the life and energy has been sucked and drained out of it in relation the first half to a certain degree.

In many respects I could also see those who brought the album on vinyl wearing out the first LP in no time at all. Simply because that is where all the adrenalin has been contained and it is only really “Seemingly Sincere” that really lives up to the energetic pace on the second part of the album.

Though I must stress that the way everything works with the concept I can see why Neal wrote it like this and it does work. The second half of the album is far from disappointing either even if I do have a few little niggles with a couple of the tracks in the way he presented them like he did and my personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Overture“. “In The Name Of The Lord“. “Building A Wall“. “Seemingly Sincere” and “The Glory Of The Lord“.

Conclusion…

In conclusion Sola Gratia is a very good fine body of work that Neal Morse has written with all the material that is contained upon it and no doubt he has put his heart and soul into the album. It can be quite exciting in parts and has other pleasurable moments and is quite an enjoyable album to listen to. Though I would not say it was a solid body of work. Though I certainly think it’s a better album than some of his more previous outputs of work he has put out since 2012 and it’s a way better album than Momentum.

As for my question in the introduction of my expectations being too high to live up to its predecessor Sola Scriptura in the way of a sequel. Personally. I would be both shocked and stunned if it did and my expectations were never that high in the first place especially knowing his output of work over the last decade or more. It would take something really special for that to happen and it may never either.

However, in some ways this new album of his has restored some of my faith in him as a writer and I may end up buying Jesus Christ The Exorcist. Though not right away as both this month and next month my music expenses are already tied up with the amount of new releases that are coming out over these couple of months. I also hear that there is also a new Transatlantic album in the pipeline that will be coming out either this year or next year and shall be looking forward to that.

Overall, Sola Gratia is an album that is both PROGMATIC! and ROCKMATIC! and I don’t think it will disappoint many PROGSTERS! especially with its musical content. I can understand some people not being into the religious side of things and this is really a concept about Saul who was blinded by God and later seen the light so to speak on his road to Damascus with the Pharisees.

But as I mentioned earlier. I can take the lyrical side of most prog-rock albums with a pinch of salt as long as the words are expressed well and add to musical side of things to which no doubt Neal can deliver them with ease on that score, because he does have a GREAT! voice and completely throws himself into it like an actor in many respects.

I do think it’s worth going with the Limited Edition that includes the DVD even if the content is not quite up to some of the other behind the scenes in the studio, he’s done n the past. But for it’s price point you are practically getting the DVD for free anyway.

Most Seemingly Sincere…

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. Preface. 1:26.
02. Overture. 5:59.
03. In The Name Of The Lord. 4:27.
04. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones). 2:43.
05. March Of The Pharisees. 1:40.
06. Building A Wall. 5:01.
07. Sola Intermezzo. 2:10.
08. Overflow. 6:27.
09. Warmer Than The Sunshine. 3:21.
10. Never Change. 7:52.
11. Seemingly Sincere. 9:34.

12. The Light On The Road To Damascus. 3:26.
13. The Glory Of The Lord. 6:17.
14. Now I Can See / The Great Commission. 5:17

Lee’s Overall Complete Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 9/10.

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

The Bonus DVD Rating Score. 6/10

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 7.5/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #161

The Red Planet – Rick Wakeman

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Introduction…

It’s been quite a while since Rick Wakeman last wrote a studio album of new material and I could be wrong but I think the last studio album he made of his own new written material would have been Past, Present and Future back in 2009 and that was a triple album of piano solos only. He’s perhaps spent most of the past couple of decades doing things for Television and playing music by other artists than he has in the way of writing new material of his own. He’s also been living in the past in the many live shows and albums he has released and practically played material from his first 3 albums (excluding Piano Vibrations) to death 😁😁😁

Rick Wakeman has a Discography that most likely will fill several planets and you could easily find well over a hundred albums that have been released somewhere down the line floating around in some form or another that have been put out over the past 5 decades. Although he perhaps has around somewhere between 30 to 40 studio albums that are tied to him as a solo artist including the ones he did with his Rock Ensemble over all those years and in all honesty his discography is in a right mess and I am not going to even try and work out just how many official studio albums he has.

What I will say though is that over the many years he has put out some right SHITE! and that’s putting it mildly 😊 Though I would say he has around at least a dozen studio albums that are pretty good and I still think the first six albums he put out in the ’70s (once again excluding Piano Vibrations) are amongst my personal favourites and what I consider to be his personal best output.

Upon reading the many promising reviews of his latest album The Red Planet since its release I see many are already calling it the PROG! album of the year. To be honest, when I look at how disappointing this year has been so far for prog-rock releases it’s hardly surprising because the competition has been pretty much dim and bleak, to say the least, and the Coronavirus has had quite an effect on many musicians this year and it also has played its part of how this album got released and why it was delayed for so long. But before we go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in a plastic jewel case which is not the best presentation and is perhaps outdated and looks cheap these days. I do prefer cardboard DigiPaks and DigiSleeves these days and I could have purchased the album in one that had a pop-out picture a lot earlier on in the year. However, the price for that package was twice the price of what it should have been sold for and was very extortionate.

It comes with a 20-page booklet that mostly comes with more informative information about the exploration to Mars and is also filled with plenty of photos which look quite impressive. It also contains the usual linear and production notes. However, as you can see in the photo above the writing as been printed in very small print and you might need a magnifying glass to read it all.

Overall, it’s well worth it’s money and I did get lucky when I went to order it from Amazon UK. I was about to put it into the basket just before I was off to bed and it was priced at £10.50. But the Mrs was pestering me to hurry up so I left it till the next morning. When I woke up the next day to pop it in the basket it was only £9.00 and being a Prime member, they also delivered it on the same day. That was a nice surprise and I saved myself a few pennies and it’s always nice to get a bargain.

Artwork.

The albums Cover Design, Artwork and Layout was done by Martin Robert Cook who has been a professional graphic designer for over thirty-five years, creating print and digital design for magazines, books, adverts, vehicle livery, signage, packaging and exhibitions. He’s also worked on books and albums for the likes of Jethro Tull, America, Bill Bruford, Billy Cobham and many others. I quite like the album cover and Cook has done a GREAT! job of it and made good use of the many NASA photos and a photo that was taken by Rick’s wife Rachel Wakeman

The Album In Review…

This particular edition of The Red Planet was released on the 28th August 2020 and everything about how Rick Wakeman’s latest album got released is all over the shop and very confusing. The album itself contains 8 instrumental tracks spread over an overall playing time of 55 minutes, 24 seconds. It’s quite a lengthy time slot though not a double album worth of material even if these days it will cost you a lot more money to purchase on vinyl because it comes on 2 LPs. There are some completely dodgy goings on with how this album got released so let’s go back to how the album was originally released.

Rick Wakeman’s Extortionate Emporium…

There is no doubt the Coronavirus very much effected the original release date of Rick’s latest album and The Red Planet was scheduled to be released on the 3rd April. But because he had planned a playback event the day after the album release at the National Space Centre in Leicester it was cancelled due to the pandemic and the albums release date got put back to June. The album was officially released on the 19th June but only in the form of a Digital Download with subsequent physical copies to follow later on has they got made up.

Speaking of made up everything about the website Mr. Wakeman had set up to sell his album on was made up without any real thought at first and things started not to look as rosy as one might expect. For example, my first real interest in the album was that there was going to be supposedly a 5.1 mix and at first it stated on his Emporium website that the DVD that came with the CD in the pop-out DigiPak contained the 5.1 mix of the album.

The only thing that prevented me from pre-ordering it at the time was its ridiculous price tag. With the postage and packing it cost near enough £35 which is twice the price one would expect to pay for such a package. OK! It was limited to 2,000 copies only but quite frankly that’s taking the PISS!

I was having seconds thoughts a week later and it was then when I popped back to the website that I noticed that the 5.1 had been removed and after some further investigation I soon discovered that there was no 5.1 mix of the album at all and the DVD only contained the video footage or some VR footage of Mars like he was showing on his YouTube channel.

It was at this point I had lost all interest in the album and even the Limited CD (only) Edition was priced at over £20 for the pop-out DigiPak as to why it was not priced at £12 like any other DigiPak is beyond me and everything on Rick’s so called Emporium was a complete rip off in my honest opinion and nothing but GREED!

But once GREED! sets in it creates more greed and having extorted all the money out of the suckers who brought up all the limited editions he then decided to do another deal with Madfish Records and release the album again and to get around the fact that it was all supposed to be a limited edition only and not so much piss off all the customers who brought the album. He decides to make a few changes with this new release.

The first was to release the CD in a Jewel Case (Only) at a more respectable cheaper price. The price the original CD should have been sold at in the first place. In all honesty I consider this to be a bit of an insult, and he really has been a bit of a cheapskate in the way he has gone about re-releasing the album and you will soon see how far he’s gone when you compare the original vinyl release to the new one.

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The original Limited Vinyl Edition was limited to 1,000 copies only, and they were pressed onto 2 x 180-gram Red Vinyl LP’s. To be perfectly honest I cannot remember what it was priced at but it would have cost you somewhere in the region of £50 – £60 including the postage and packing. The very fact that they were pressed onto Red Vinyl is the only real thing that should have made it different from any other release and should have been the only thing that is distinguishing between the Limited Edition and future releases.

But a lot more than that has been stripped back for the new vinyl release and not only as he removed the pop-out from the Gatefold Sleeve, but he foolishly decided to save a few pennies by having the album pressed onto 2 x 140-gram Vinyl LP’s instead. The quality has gone completely out of the window for you vinyl lovers and this is one of the major reasons I myself stopped buying vinyl back in the 90’s. It is now sold at a cheaper price of around £30 but in all honesty, you would have to be a complete MUG! to buy this vinyl release talk about adding insult to injury.

To be perfectly honest as a rule I do not subscribe to this sort of GREED! and I did not intend to buy the album at all because of it. The only reason why I ended up buying this album in the first place was because a mate of mine who pre-ordered the Limited Edition CD/DVD happened to of sent me the Digital Download of the album to listen to back in July. So, I felt obliged to buy the album myself.

Back To The Review…

Rick Wakeman has always been my personal GOD! of the keyboards and my first encounter to his skills on the keyboards would have been back in 1971 when I first heard him on the Fragile album by Yes. Since then, I have brought quite a few of his solo albums over the years and as good as some of them are he has also produced a lot of SHITE! over those years like I mentioned in my introduction. I have also seen him play live a few times with Yes and on his own with a band. So, I do have a lot of admiration for this guy’s talent, and he is an extremely talented musician and as always been my personal king of the keyboards.

Although it might not seem that way with the way I described how this release was put out. But as with any review I will give you my own honest opinion and no way will I reflect that side of the business to hinder any part of my review of the album itself. After all the musical content should always hold more value than the price of the album unless it’s a really bad album and to be honest The Red Planet I personally think is one of his better albums and even over its longer time slot of 55 minutes the material we have here does hold up well over it.

Though its certainly not as cranked up as many reviewers have described it and to even make comparisons of it to his 1971 album The Six Wives Of Henry VIII, I can honestly say they are poles apart. I think the best way I could possibly describe this new album is that it’s MOOG DELICIOUS! Which is not how I would ever describe The Six Wives Of Henry VIII simply because that album has a lot more going on in it.

Another way to describe this album especially when making comparisons to some of Wakeman’s other albums is that it’s perhaps more along the lines of his 2003 album Out There and both the Retro albums he put out in 2006 and 2007 respectively.

It’s also worth mentioning that unlike both Retro 1 & 2 in which he did only use only analogue synths. The only analogue synth you will hear on this new album is the Moog and the rest of it was played mostly on his Korg Kronos. Which is another thing that most reviewers got completely wrong. You will also hear the odd throwback to a couple of his 70’s albums Journey To The Centre Of The Earth and No Earthly Connection scattered about in parts on a couple of tracks.

Wakeman as once again assembled his English Rock Ensemble to accompany him again out of a couple of the musicians who have played for him for quite sometime now such as bassist Lee Pomeroy and guitarist Dave Colquhoun. Both of them also played on the couple of Retro albums and Pomeroy even played on Out There and no doubt you would of seen him play with Steve Hackett over the years too. The one thing that did surprise me is that his long-time drummer Tony Fernandez is not on the album and he’s been replaced by Ash Soan.

The album was recorded earlier on in the year between January to March at various studios many of which may have been at the band members own personal studios as you can see from this video that captures Lee Pomeroy talking about the recording process and playing some fine examples of it that was posted on Rick’s Youtube Channel.

There is no doubt that Wakeman has some GREAT! musicians working with him and Lee Pomeroy is an excellent bass player to which you can see in this video. Once the album had been recorded it was left to Erik Jordan to do the final mix assisted by Toby Wood. Simon Heyworth done the Mastering and further Remastering was done by Bill Sellar.

Musicians & Credits…

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All Tracks Written by Rick Wakeman. Produced by Rick Wakeman & Erik Jordan. Recorded between January – March 2020 at The Sunflower, PWL, Shabby Road and The Windmill Studios. Mixed at The Nursery, Cambridgeshire, England by Erik Jordan & Toby Wood. Mastered by Simon Heyworth. Remastering by Bill Sellar. Album Cover Artwork & Design by Martin Robert Cook.

Musicians:
Rick Wakeman: Keyboards.
Dave Colquhoun: Guitars.
Lee Pomeroy: Bass.
Ash Soan: Drums.

The Red Planet Tracks In Review…

All of the tracks upon The Red Planet are based on the names that were given to some of the places or regions that are on the planet Mars. Musically this is not the sort of music that really projects any visualization of the places or to the planet itself unlike some atmospheric soundscape perhaps would. I would even say that the backline to the music is more rock driven more than anything else and most of the tracks are quite busy and run along in the same vein as most rock music.

It is quite MOOG DELICIOUS! in parts like I mentioned earlier and if you think along the lines of the self-titled track on his White Rock album that is the sort of thing you will get with a lot of the tracks here. Where the album does fall short is that there is not enough variety and that is something you will find more of with his earlier albums like White Rock and The Six Wives Of Henry VIII and those albums have a lot more going for them in that the material on them does vary and have plenty of scope for the piano as well. Whereas there is very little piano work on this album at all and certainly not enough to write home about anyway.

So, lets now take a closer inspection at the album and see what we can dig out beneath the surface of it all as I got through the albums tracks.

Track 1. Ascraeus Mons.

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The album gets off to a flying start and quite a very nice THEMATIC! one that is driven along by the pipe organ. Although this piece is not so much like pieces such as “Judas Iscariot” found on his 1977 album Criminal Record and “The Cathedral of the Sky” from the 2003 album Out There which are solely played on the pipe organ.

I quite like how he’s blended and layered some of the other textured keyboard sounds to add colour to it, such as a touch of clavinet and the choral sounds and it works very well. You will also hear his familiar lead lines from the synths and most of the sounds were most likely from his Korg Kronos and his mini moog does not get utilised on this opening track.

Ash Soan’s drums play more of major role in lending support to the piece and they do so in a thumping manner whilst Lee Pomeroy pumps his bass along with them. Dave Colquhoun’s guitar only plays a small part right at the end of the piece to which he adds some fine lead guitar lines to lend support and it’s a nice touch.

Ascraeus Mons is a large shield volcano located in the Tharsis region of the planet Mars. It is the northernmost and tallest of three shield volcanoes collectively known as the Tharsis Montes. Judging by the photograph it looks like somebodies been playing rounders in the sand 😁😁😁

Overall, “Ascraeus Mons” is not so much a MOOG DELICIOUS! track but quite a nice piece to open up the album and you could say that it marches its way along in the way of an introduction and it sets up the album very well for what is to come. I would also consider it a contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! Rick also posted the piece on his Youtube channel so you can hear it for yourself.

Track 2. Tharsis Tholus.

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Judging by the picture of this one it looks like somebody has been constructing golf courses on Mars 😁😁😁 and Tharsis Tholus is another of the three shield volcanoes and is located on the eastern region of the planet. The volcano was discovered by the Mariner 9 spacecraft in 1972 and originally given the informal name Volcano 7. In 1973. Whoever gave it the name it has now must have lived on the planet Zarquon 😁

The way this piece opens up you can plainly hear that Rick has lifted some of the lines from “Spaceman” from his 1976 album No Earthly Connection and Lee Pomeroy is more or less walking along with the same bass line to that track too. It’s a piece that uses some smoother textured flutey sounds from the keyboards at first and then further develops into more of a PROGMATIC! affair with some twisting spasms with the time signature changes along its path. He also gets to fly out a very TASTY! solo on the Moog which perks it up a bit and this is my personal favourite track of the album and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 3. Arsia Mons.

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Arsia Mons is another shield volcano and is the southernmost of the three on the planet. This is a piece that is driven along by a keyboard riff and contains a few more subtle come down sections giving it more of an airy feel. It also allows Colquhoun to utilise his acoustic guitar and the second come down section allows him to incorporate a rather TASTY! lead break on the acoustic. The more uptempo sections that are driven along by Rick’s keyboard riff showcases some really GREAT! bass work from Pomeroy.

Track 4. Olympus Mons.

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Looking at the the title I might have expected something that was a bit more along the lines of the material Rick wrote for his White Rock album as it was written for the Winter Olympic Games. Although Olympic and Olympus are not quite the same, they could be seen as something BIG! and the Olympus Mons is yet another shield volcano but on a much larger scale and is around two and half times the height of Mount Everest.

This is another of the better PROGMATIC! tracks on the album that has a couple of nice transitional changes, though I will say the backline of the drums and bass are certainly more rock driven but work very well. It’s also the shortest track on the album but does feel longer and that might be down to the first section of the piece. Rick is very much flying all the way along though on this one and he also gets to do quite a lengthy TASTY! moog solo to drive it home in the second half of it.

Track 5. The North Plain.

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Vastitas Borealis or as its more simply referred to as the North Plain is the largest lowland region of Mars it was named by Eugene Antoniadi, who noted the distinct albedo feature of the Northern plains in his book La Planète Mars published in 1930. The name was officially adopted by the International Astronomical Union in 1973.

For this piece Rick has created a mystical spacey soundscape intro to try and capture the atmosphere of the region which is quite fitting. The intro lasts for around 1.25 minutes but is further utilised later on as the piece falls back into it around the middle section.

The second and final sections are very much ROCKED! out with some of Rick’s familiar keyboard lines and here he is using some crunchy distorted Hammond and you also get a bit of moog along the way to add good measure. The rest of the band play their part well and Colquhoun also gets to unleash another fine solo on the guitar.

Track 6. Pavonis Mons.

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This next piece stampedes and marches its way along and Rick is once again very much flying along on his synths creating the melody lines as he flies along to the driving rhythm provided by the rest of the band. It’s also one the three rare occasions you get to hear a bit of piano and once again you will hear familiar patterns in his playing to many other albums he’s done over the years. There is no mistaking Rick’s formidable style.

Pavonis Mons is a large shield volcano located in the Tharsis region of the planet Mars and is the middle member of a chain of three volcanic mountains collectively known as the Tharsis Montes. The volcano was discovered by the Mariner 9 spacecraft in 1971, and was originally called Middle Spot and was formally given the name it has now back in 1973.

Track 7. South Pole.

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Just like on earth the south pole is the coldest region on Mars and it was given the Latin name of Planum Australe which translates to the southern plain. According to scientists based on MARSIS radar studies they discovered the first known stable body of water on the planet. Planum Australe is partially covered by a permanent polar ice cap composed of frozen water and carbon dioxide about 3 km thick.

This particular piece reminds me of some of the smoother arrangements that Rick had given to certain parts of Journey To The Centre Of Earth that can be found on many of his live performances of the piece over the years. It’s also another of the tracks on the album where he gets to play a bit more of piano and it’s quite a lovely sounding piece. 

Track 8. Valles Marineris.

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The final piece on the album is the longest track on the album weighing in at just a tad over 10 minutes. It very much kicks off in Ravel’sBolero” fashion and settles down into quite a THEMATIC! style that would suit a Television series especially within its smoother sections that have some nice flutey sounds and a nice bit of piano. You will also get to hear the odd glimpse of melody lines lifted from Journey To The Centre Of Earth and a slight touch of Criminal Record along some of the transitional changes along the way.

Valles Marineris is a system of canyons that runs along the Martian surface east of the Tharsis region of the planet. It’s also one of the largest canyons of the Solar System, surpassed in length only by the rift valleys of Earth. It has also been more recently suggested that Valles Marineris is a large tectonic “crack” in the Martian crust.

Overall, there is a certain feel and sense of BEAUTY! about the final track on the album and it almost builds up to a grand finale at the end however it’s perhaps a bit more on an abrupt ending but winds the album up very well and even over its longer distance it’s not dragged out and seems to be over sooner than it should have been. The rest of the band play their part and fit in very well and I would consider this to be another contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Summary…

To sum up Rick Wakeman’s latest album The Red Planet. It is without doubt one of his better albums and the written material works and flows very well throughout. Both thought and attention has gone into the track placement which works particularly well in making it an enjoyable album to listen to from start to finish. I would even say that it could be seen as a welcoming return back to the world of PROG! Especially in relation to some of his more recent solo piano albums he has churned out over the last few years.

Rick’s formidable style is quite evident on this album throughout though I personally do not think amongst its tracks there is anything quite memorable that would stand out like many of the classics he wrote back in the 70’s. You will also hear glimpses of those albums pop up every now and then too which is something he has done consistently on many of his albums over the years.

I would also say that the titles we also have upon The Red Planet are not that easy to pronounce and will be tricky to remember and judging by the biggest majority of the titles on the album it appears that there is life on Mars after all. However, you might just find they are a load of Geysers 😁😁😁 and maybe Rick seen them as a load of Grumpy old men who like to let off some hot steam every now and then 😁

Joking aside I do feel Rick has done well here and my personal highlights from the album is as follows: “Ascraeus Mons“. “Tharsis Tholus” and “Valles Marineris“.

Conclusion…

In conclusion I would say that even as a 71 year-old ROCKER! Rick has still got it and what it takes and the The Red Planet is quite a solid enough album to testify that. However, personally I do not think it’s got enough or the right amount of variety to be on par with some of his earlier albums from the 70’s and you will find that a lot more was put into those albums.

It is however, quite MOOG DELICIOUS! and if you are one of those who likes to hear Rick fly his way along on the keyboards this will be right up your street so to speak. I certainly think it’s the best album he’s put out since the couple of Retro albums he did over a decade ago and in many ways The Red Planet could be seen as a return to form and both the written material and production standards are quite good.

Though I would not stick my neck out and say that this is the PROG! album of the year even with what little in the way of prog-rock has surfaced so far this year. Simply because although the album does have its PROGMATIC! moments a lot of the backline is more rock driven more than anything else. Besides that, both this month and next month look more promising on the prog-rock front and there looks like some exciting times ahead.

But if like myself you are into Rick WakemanThe Red Planet is an album that does not disappoint and one I do recommend buying. Though personally I would stick with cheaper CD and advice you not to waste your money on the lower quality new vinyl release.  Unless you like your albums to WARP! 😁😁😁

Rick Rocks Out On Mars…

The Album Track Listing is as follows:

01. Ascraeus Mons. 5:53.
02. Tharsis Tholus. 6:17.
03. Arsia Mons. 6:10.
04. Olympus Mons. 5:20.
05. The North Plain. 6:53.
06. Pavonis Mons. 7:14.
07. South Pole. 7:35.
08. Valles Marineris. 10:02.

Lee’s Overall Complete Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 7/10

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10

The Album Rating Score. 7.5/10

Lee Speaks About Music… #160

Still Alive – Tiger Moth Tales

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Introduction…

Pete Jones is back with a new Tiger Moth Tales mini-album and this is the 5th studio release in the discography of the project to date. It was also not intended either has Jones had already been working and recording new material at Fieldgate Studios for his new album in the project which for various reasons beyond control was not ready for release yet. You could say that the album we have here came out of the desperation brought on by the effect the Coronavirus leaving many musicians out of work by not being able to get out there and play live. What we are getting here is a bit of an unexpected surprise and the material for it came out of the blue and was written very quickly.

There is no doubt the Coronavirus has had a massive effect on many musicians and its already forced Jones to put out loads of live albums in the form of a Digital Download on Bandcamp this year and we also saw the first physical Tiger Moth Tales live album A Visit To Zoetermeer Live released earlier in the year back in February. Who knows we might even get to see another studio album from this GREAT! project of his get released by the end of the year and 2020 has been a very testing year for us all so far?

Still Alive contains material that was inspired by the current events of the Coronavirus and it reflects different moods of his own alternating feelings that can be from visions of a doomed world and a growing tone of madness to a desire to see the positives and the spirit of endurance and survival as he put in his own words. The album also comes with a live bonus DVD that captures a session from the Tiger Moth Tales band, filmed live in front of an intimate audience at the fabulous Rockfield Studios in 2018. The question is does it live up to the standards you would expect from Tiger Moth Tales? Before I go into that let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as usual.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD & DVD comes in a very well-presented cardboard Di-Cut Gatefold Digisleeve that has slip pockets on the inside to hold both discs as you can see in the picture above. It does not come with a booklet and all the linear production notes and credits have been printed on the back and inside of the Digisleeve. It also contains the lyrics to the self-titled album track (only) and a bit of formative information. However, it does tend to cater more for the DVD regarding the linear production notes and credits and it’s lacking quite a bit of information on the new mini-album including all the instrumentation that Pete Jones played on the album and the artwork and sleeve design credits.

I pre-ordered my copy on the 13th July from White knight Records for £12.75 which includes £1.75 postage & packaging. This is the cheapest way to obtain the album I find although when it comes to new releases White knight Records are not always on the ball and you will be dead lucky to get it on the day of the release. I actually had to go chasing my copy and finally got it 17 days after it’s released date which is why this review is late. The only way you can really be assured of getting the album on its release date is to buy the Digital Download instead.

Artwork.

Like I mentioned both the artwork and design for the album appear to be missing from the linear production notes and credits and as far as I can make out the artwork for the cover of the album is a modified version of a stockpile photo that was originally done by Kitsana Baitoey of Thailand, The original photo had been noodled around with by Baitoey herself as you can see by the picture below, and it’s fairly obvious that someone else has noodled around with it to get the album cover we have here.

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Kitsana Baitoey’s original bit of noodling of a half alive and half dead tree standing at the crossroads is a concept of how climate change has changed and was done to save the environment. I rather think another nice bit of noodling as been done here that fits in very well with the albums title and the present situation that is bestowed upon us by the Coronavirus as you can see below.

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I have no idea if the original photo was purchased because it is licensed under copyright protection and sold as a stockpile photo. But through my own personal experience of noodling around with photos and images that can be found on the world wide web. You can very easily avoid copyright protection laws by doing your own bit of noodling and adding other images to it to change the look of the original photo or image just like what has been done here. Although I myself do tend to avoid using copyrighted photos and images to be on the safe side, especially ones that are watermarked and are for sale.

The Album In Review…

Still Alive by Tiger Moth Tales was released on the 1st of August 2020. The mini-album itself contains 6 tracks spread over an overall running time of 32 minutes, 7 seconds which is quite short but easy enough to digest and what they call these days a mini album or even an EP to which this release was also branded as. Although back in the ’60s and ’70s it was certainly nothing unusual for an albums worth of material to have a playing time of around 30 – 40 minutes and since the birth of CD in the ’80s things have perhaps gotten out of hand.

As mentioned earlier this album sort of came out of the blue and was quickly put together at Pete Jones’s home and is the work of a one-man operation regarding the writing, recording and all the vocals and instrumentation upon it.

There is no doubt that Jones was taking advantage of the lockdown situation and Still Alive is very much a mini-album that contains material that was written to portray the present situation of the lockdown. In many respects, I can also see why this particular album has been branded as an EP simply because the main core of the album is most certainly the albums self-titled track and it’s been bookended to start and finish that way.

Oddly enough even though we have a good 32 minutes here it actually works more like an EP than an album and it all seems to be over in no time at all. It’s very unusual for myself not to see anything done over this time slot as an album and even Jean Michel Jarre’s debut album Oxygène was only 30 minutes and it works as an album. An EP to me is about twice as long as a vinyl single and contains 3 or 4 tracks at the most and in general, they are around 12 – 14 minutes long and that is exactly the feeling I get every time I play this new release. I also get the feeling that very little was written for it even though that might not be the case.

Throughout the 50 years, I have spent listening to music I cannot recall ever coming across something like this where 30 minutes’ worth of material does not feel like an album and I have albums that were even a couple of minutes under that time slot that I would call albums and not an EP. I am even struggling to call this a mini-album and it has to be the most bizarre thing I have ever come across.

However, what is not bizarre is the material we have on Still Alive and it’s not out of place with his project of Tiger Moth Tales either. Pete Jones has always had the knack of bordering across a wide range of styles and will often write songs that can be both serious, light-hearted and humorous and will throw in the odd bit of prog along the way and all those qualities reflect on this new release. It also has some prog-rock influences from other artists thrown in for good measure which I will go into more detail later on in the album track section of my review. But for now, let’s take a look at the free DVD that comes with it.

It might very well have been that Jones himself thought that there was not enough material to make Still Alive into a full album that he threw in a live DVD to make up for the price that was charged for the physical package. But I am going to be perfectly honest and I can honestly say that the inclusion of the live DVD definitely feels like you are getting something more extra for your money and I personally see it has a really GREAT! bonus item to have.

To be honest, I was over the moon when he released the live album A Visit to Zoetermeer back in February this year and that was his first official physical live release in which the live CD was also accompanied by a DVD of the same performance. I myself much prefer to sit and watch a live concert than just listen to it on vinyl or CD and in this day and age its more of the norm for many artists to put out live concerts on DVD & Blu Ray and I have a good few hundred of them that I can still immensely enjoy watching over and over.

The DVD captures the Tiger Moth Tales band playing live at the fabulous or perhaps more famous Rockfield Studios back in 2018. It’s pretty much the same bunch of musicians from another band he plays with namely Red Bazar who supported Jones at Zoetermeer back in January 2019 and the only real difference is that it was filmed in front of a small intermediate audience in a recording studio rather than a live venue.

Funny enough I also have the band Frost* playing live at Rockfield Studios back in 2013 (as you can see in the picture below) and this is another really excellent and enjoyable CD & DVD package to have. However, there is a major difference between the two live concerts that were filmed live in the studio.

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The Rockford Files

The differences between A Visit To Rockfield and The Rockford Files is that the Tiger Moth Tales band really have been captured live and it has not been tarted up like the so-called live performance that Frost* did at the same studio. It’s blatantly obvious that The Rockford Files is more or less a studio recording and not so much of a live recording at all and it was in fact produced and filmed by Rob Reed of Magenta.

The Rockfield studios itself has a ton of history and is one of the most successful recording studios outside London and is situated just outside the village of Rockfield, Monmouthshire, in Wales. It was set up by Kingsley and Charles Ward in the early ’60s and was more established as a studio around 1963. Over the past 57′ years it’s been running as a recording studio there have been literally thousands of well-known artists who have made their classic albums and records here over the last 6 decades.

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Rockfield Studios

The list of artists and bands that recorded at the studio is way too vast for me to mention them and most of the biggest names in the world of pop, rock, and many other genres have recorded here and even Queen’s smash hit “Bohemian Rhapsody” was made here. However, I did find this short promotional video presentation on the Tube well fascinating and inciteful and it’s well worthy of taking a look at.

I have no idea what month in 2018 that Jones and the band played at the legendary Rockfield Studios but it must have been earlier on in the year and well before the release of his 4th studio album Story Tellers Part Two in October of the same year. I shall give my review of the live concert later on but first, let’s take a look at the DVD itself.

The DVD…

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As you can see the DVD’s menu is pretty basic and very much the same one-page menu system we saw on the live at Zoetermeer DVD. There is no separate menu for the couple of bonus tracks and those tracks will automatically play after the live concert. But overall, it very easy to navigate your way around and simply choose to play all 10 tracks or pick a specific track you want to play.

Picture & Editing Quality.

The 8 tracks of the live concert on the DVD were filmed at Rockfield Studios by Andrew Lawson as part of the Quiet Room Sessions back in 2018 and also edited by him. He’s done quite a good overall job of it. However, the actual picture quality has nowhere near the pristine job that the Dutch filmmaker John Vis did for the A Visit to Zoetermeer Live DVD to which was captured by high-quality HD Cameras and even the DVD had the exact same pristine sharp quality appearance of a Blu Ray.

The first of the couple of bonus videos “Still Alive” was filmed at various locations by Mark Wardle. It also contains various selfie videos sent in by the fans and was edited by Chris Jones (no relation to Pete). Both have done a very good job here. The final bonus video “Hygge” was filmed at Fieldgate Studios in Penarth, Wales by Andrew Lawson. He may have also of done the video editing has this is a solo piano performance, unlike the video of the same song that was filmed by Andrew Lawson and directed and edited by Robert Reed that was included on the A Visit to Zoetermeer Live DVD.

But it would not surprise me in the least if Rob Reed also Directed & Edited this video as well because you can see a TOP JOB! was done on it. But then again it could also be down to the lighting and the fact that it was filmed in a different studio. Overall, I would say that both of the bonus videos do have more of a quality HD look about them than the actual concert itself.

Sound Quality.

The sound quality on the DVD is pretty much the same quality that we had on the A Visit to Zoetermeer Live DVD. It’s a very basic format they have used and it would have been better if they included a lossless format such as LPCM for example rather than a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo 48K 448kbps soundtrack. However, it’s quite good and you may have to turn it up a bit to get the best out of it through speakers and it’s perhaps more a headphone mix, and headphones may give you a better result.

Musicians & Credits…

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All Music Written, Recorded & Produced by Peter Jones. Recorded at Peter Jones home studio sometime in the summer of 2020. Album Cover Artwork Noodled by somebody. DVD Concert Video Filmed & Edited by Andrew Lawson at Rockfield Studios Wales in early 2018. “Still Alive” Bonus Video Filmed by Mark Wardle, Edited by Chris Jones in the summer of 2020. “Hygge” Bonus Video Filmed & Edited by Andrew Lawson at Fieldgate Studios Wales 2018.

Musicians.

Peter Jones: Vocals – Piano – Keyboards – Electric & Acoustic Guitars – Irish Whistle – Melodica – Percussion – Drum Programming.

Still Alive Tracks In Review…

Much of the material that is found on Still Alive reflects different moods and was inspired by Jones own alternating feelings from visions of a doomed world and a growing tone of madness to a desire to see the positives and the spirit of endurance and survival. The project itself started with the albums self-titled track which was originally based on a suggestion from his friend Mark Wardle who suggested the idea that he should write a song for the village where they live concerning these times that have been bestowed upon us from the effects of the Coronavirus.

In many ways, the mini-album kind of works like a concept though I would not say everything is entirely fitting to it in that way although the biggest majority of the material does sort of tie in with all the madness. In many respects, another reason as to why this works more like an EP is really down to how different the material sits and fits with each other and it does not quite gel quite like an album, even the track placement will sound out of place. So, let’s now delve a bit deeper as I take you through the individual tracks.

Track 1. Still Alive.

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There is no doubt that the opening self-titled song reflects upon the present concerning times created by the situation that has been bestowed upon us by the Coronavirus. It also takes in the heritage of our forefathers and how history as shown us the way to fight and survive. Jones has very much taken on the songwriter’s role and this is very much a very skilful well-written song and excellent piece of song writing. Lyrically it’s up there with the best of songwriters and I would even go as far as saying that he has excelled himself when he wrote this heartfelt meaningful song.

Even musically this is very different from anything he’s done before and here he is very much stepping into the Celtic folk realm and folk side of things. Although when it comes to this man’s talented skills on multiple instruments nothing surprises me and Jones is the sort of person who could quite easily sit at a piano and play you the same song in an array of different styles. Besides the use of his guitar and keyboards, he also utilises both the Irish Whistle and Melodica into the song and both the vocals and the harmonies work extremely well as you can see in the official video that was made for the song.

Like I mentioned earlier “Still Alive” is very much the core and central focal point of the whole mini-album and effectively could easily be the “A” side of a single or EP with the rest of the material being perhaps a bit more minuscule in relation to its strength. Though that is not to say the rest of the tracks are all “B” Sides and do not have their own strengths. However, I would say that this is the standout track on the album and is my personal favourite which is very much why it merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 2. The Mighty Fallen.

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I have to admit before hearing this next track the title we have here gave me the vision of it being something more adventurous and likened to some of the material that he wrote for both Story Tellers albums. I would also say that the title we have here would have very much suited some of those whimsical children’s stories that were written for those albums. I would even go as far as to say that I was a bit disappointed when I first heard this was an instrumental piece and I am still not convinced the title could have been put to better use.

The one thing that immediately struck me when I did hear this piece for the first time was that it sounded very blatantly out of place following the previous song. But once you’ve spun the album a few times you do get used to it. The other thing I felt was that it seemed way too long and it is the longest track on the album weighing in at 7 minutes, 27 seconds. Though that might be down to the last couple of minutes where it does tend to drag on a bit over the same ground but that sort of disappears after you’ve played the album a few times as well.

The one thing I should point out though is that this piece is far from “minuscule” and it is a very well-constructed piece of work and no doubt for many it may even be their favourite track on the album. I would also say that it’s a very TASTY! piece of work and features some excellent keyboard and electric and bass guitar work from Jones. It also has a bit of funk thrown in and it’s perhaps a bit familiar with some of the material Jeff Beck does on his albums although the guitar work may also run along the lines of Gary Moore and Snowy White sort of thing.

Overall, I think “The Mighty Fallen” is a really GREAT! track and one that will go down well at his live shows in the future. I would also say that it’s good to have another guitar instrumental like this and I suppose in some ways it runs along with the same sort of vane we got with “The First Lament” from his debut album with its bluesy guitar style. However, unlike that particular instrumental piece “The Mighty Fallen” does not quite have the same bite and it does feel out of place on an album like this.

Track 3. Golden.

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This is a heartfelt song that runs along with the same sort of lines with its presentation and style like we got with “Matchgirl” from Story Tellers Part Two released back in 2018. The same sort of animated video was also put to it has you can see here with the video that Chris Fry (Magenta) posted on his Youtube channel. The song has been edited down to half it’s length to fit the video however it still very much has the same vibes.

The video no doubt fits very well with the songs lyrical content which pertains to the sadness and struggles life can bestow upon us and how there are also some golden moments we can look back upon. You could say that Jones does have the same blood as Elton John & Tim Rice and even Phil Collins running through his veins when it comes to writing this sort of material for animated films such as The Lion King, Tarzan, and other sorts. He’s a big softie at heart and a caring soul.

There are not a lot of words upon this mini-album and you could say that in some respects that both “Still Alive” and “Golden” are the only two real songs on the album in that they contain most of the lyrical content. This is very much another fine piece of song writing although its light-heartedness might not sit that well with PROGSTERS! and it might be the other madness that is to follow that will be more appealing to their taste.

However, this song could easily be seen as another single or even be a very fitting “B”-Side for the opening track and as much as I am more of a prog-rocker myself. Music for my ears has always been about how well it’s written, played, and presented and this song has all of those qualities and is another GREAT! song.

Track 4. Lean Into Madness.

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This is the shortest track on the album and its title has a sort of early Spock’s Beard ring about it. It also contains very strong Frost* and Steve Hackett influences along this path of madness and it’s a very effective GREAT! piece of work that has come out of the madness that is now bestowed upon with the present situation of the lockdown. I would also say that it’s most PROGMATIC! track on the album.

Track 5. Whistle Along.

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Well I don’t think any album would be complete without there being a touch of humour somewhere along the way and that is something Jones does have plenty of and this is quite a magical merry-go-round ride into the madness and another excellent piece of work. This is very much a keyboard-driven track and its been very cleverly put together along with some banters along the way with his voice adding to the fun of it all.

I am even hearing some quirky moog sounds that remind me of the sounds that Rick Wakeman used around 1979/80 on albums like Rhapsodies and Rock n’ Roll Prophet. Plus, a lot of his own influences and the same kind of madness he injected into “The Isle Of Witches” from his debut album Cocoon. I also love the way he ends it all off in a sort of Spike Milligan humorous explosive way and it really is a GREAT! track.

Track 6. Still Alive (Reprise)

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The album closes off very well with a reprise of the opening track of the album and this is very much a shorter alternative version that is more stripped back and a few different words have been added to it. It’s also perhaps a bit more subtle and laidback and along with the acoustic guitar we get an accordion and maybe even a touch of a harmonium sounds played on his keyboard along with his melodica and some subtle percussion that rounds it all off in a military fashion right at the end that ties in with lyrics. It then leaves us with the peaceful and pleasant sound of the countryside.

A Visit To Rockfield Live Concert In Review…

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Musicians:
Peter Jones: Vocals – Keyboards – Guitar.
Andy Wilson: Guitars.
Mick Wilson: Bass – Backing Vocals – Vocoder – Clarinet.
Paul Comerie: Drums.

Well, I have already touched on some of the aspects of the live DVD that comes in this package earlier and I thought it only fair to give it a brief review. As with any live performance, there is going to be something a bit different regardless of how many times they have played the same songs.

I don’t think there is a musician in this world who is capable of playing any song twice and giving it the exact same performance and that is why that when musicians work in a studio they can often do many takes to get what they consider to be the best and what they want out of it. A live performance is an entirely different ball game and the room and margin for error are vast and not every performance is played to perfection and perfection may never be achieved.

What you are getting on this DVD is a genuine live performance, unlike the Frost* DVD I mentioned earlier, and although it might not have been captured as well as Jon Vis and his camera crew did of the same band on the A Visit to Zoetermeer Live DVD. It’s filmed very close up and has been very well edited with the different camera angles to capture the individual musicians at the right time.

There are still some magical moments I can take away with from watching this live concert performed in Rockfield Studios. The other notable thing is that the setlist is also different and this was very much recorded before his 4th studio album Story Tellers Part Two was even conceived and it only features material from his 1st and 3rd studio albums Cocoon and In The Depths Of Winter.

The concert itself is quite short and has an overall running time of 68 minutes, 8 seconds. It’s perhaps a bit strange that Jones decided to only play 3 of the songs from In The Depths Of Winter which would have been his latest album at the time. However, I am certainly not complaining, and Cocoon as always been my personal favourite album of his and you get quite a big chunk of it here and the 5 pieces you do get are mostly classics from that album. It would, however, have been nice if he included something from his second album Story Tellers Part One, and “The Piper” would of went down a treat at this concert.

The band kicks off the show with two or you could even say three of the tracks from his debut album and they are the first and last tracks from that particular album. The “Overture” is up first and I am so glad he decided to do this one because this instrumental piece does incorporate some of the melody lines from other tracks along the Cocoon album and that is how cleverly Jones very well structured that album and it is by far the most PROGMATIC! album he has ever done still today.

This is then followed by the two-part song “Don’t Let Go, Feels Alright” and here you do get the full blown-up version and not just the “Feels Alright” section like you got on A Visit to Zoetermeer Live DVD. This performance for me surprisingly is one of the standout moments of the live concert and it even brought tears of joy welling down my eyes in particular on the first section of the song.

There is a reason why I said “surprisingly” and that is really down to how I hear this two-part song originally on the studio album. It does come across like a couple of pop songs stitched together and it is perhaps one of the least PROGMATIC! tracks on the album.

The difference between listening to a live concert and watching a live concert is like night and day and with how close up this concert was filmed you can very much see all the progression that has been put into the musical side of things. Having watched this performance of the song you would literally think twice about calling it a couple of pop songs stitched together and this is one of the magical moments I can really take from this live concert.

There are moments when playing live can shed more light onto something you might not have thought was particularly that interesting or grabbed your attention hearing the studio version. This can be said when either listening or watching a live performance of some songs and quite often a live performance may help to shed a bit more light on the matter to help you appreciate it a bit more.

The next 3 songs that Jones and the band roll out are all from his 3rd album In The Depths Of Winter which happens to be my least favourite album and still the one I stay clear from the most and take it from me I have heard it enough times to give my own opinion of it and it’s not like I have not tried to give it the light of day so to speak. With the studio album, I find the tracks are too long, overcooked, badly placed, and run along the same ground quite too often. There is not enough variety to spice it up and I find it extremely hard to stick on and listen to its entirety without having to turn it off.

I am not saying that the album does not contain some fine progression and some fine moments. But it’s mostly the same sort of progression Tony Banks used on the Genesis album …and Then There Were Three which does not really speak a lot to me and can be too tedious. I would even say that there was a lot more variety on that Genesis album too and I also may have been very generous in giving the In The Depths Of Winter album when I reviewed it a 6 out of 10 rating.

Though I will say hearing the songs from that album played live in some ways does let me appreciate them a bit more, although that might be down to the fact that I have not got to listen to a whole album’s worth of them. Even though we have 3 of them strung together here I certainly would not say that they represent any form of a highlight of the show but I was pleased to see “The Tears of Frigga” here and that was my personal highlight out of the 3 tracks from that album.

Though that’s not to take anything away from the other couple of songs and it was nice to see the bassist Mick Wilson accompany Jones on the piano with the clarinet on “Migration” and the “The Ballad of Longshanks John” is perhaps one of the better tracks on the album and they did another fine performance here though I did perhaps enjoy it a bit more on the A Visit to Zoetermeer Live DVD.

It’s time for a jolly good bit of fun next and it’s back to the Cocoon album for the final 3 songs and “The Merry Vicar” will always be one of the highlights for me no matter how mad it might appear and come across. I love the progression in this song and even though many of the silly songs that Jones does on his Story Tellers albums have a certain variety of madness about them. They do tend to have bags of diversity and progression and quite a touch of genius about them in my book. They also give you plenty of variety which is something that is certainly lacking on his 3rd studio album. Yes, it’s audience participation time folks although judging by this small intermediate audience I don’t think they were aware of it and were a bit reluctant to join in 😁

Tiger Moth Tales CLASSICS! are coming out of the woodwork for the final part of the show and no doubt both the next couple of songs are classics. Next up we have another really GREAT! performance of “Tigers In The Butter” no doubt just like it perhaps stole the show on the A Visit to Zoetermeer Live DVD it’s very much another highlight with this fine performance. You will also notice how Andy Wilson shreds the guitar a bit differently at the end of what he did later at Zoetermeer and its GREAT! see both him and Jones in action on the guitars.

Like many of Tiger Moth Tales live shows the best is saved to last and “A Visit To Chigwick” has always been my personal favourite song of all of them. Once again Andy Wilson supports Jones on the guitar here only it’s acoustic and he does a splendid job of it. I honestly cannot take anything away from all the musicians and even the drummer Paul Comerie puts in a solid performance on many of the songs throughout the show. I love some of his pattern play too. No doubt the song was the perfect choice to round off what can only have been a really GREAT! night.

Summary…

To sum up Still Alive by Tiger Moth Tales. I would say it’s hard to put it up against his other albums for any sort of comparison because of how the material works in which it does feel more like an EP with its self-titled track being the central focus point. The way that most of the tracks tailspin into one another does give you the impression that Jones was teeing with the idea of some sort of a concept album though I am not sure it really works that way at all.

The material does not really GEL! like an album and in some respects some of the tracks may have been suited for other albums in the future or as bonus tracks for reissues or remasters of his earlier albums and I could even see this as more of an add on more than anything else. What I will say though is that it’s certainly not lacking in variety and there might be a bit too much of it for all the tracks to really Gel with one another and sit like they would on an album.

But of course, all of the observations I have just outlined in the first couple of paragraphs are really of myself trying to make this work as an album when the fact of the matter is that it has been branded as an EP and if you look at it has an EP none of those things will ever matter. Personally, I cannot fault one single track out of the 6 you get on this EP and every one of them is very much true to Peter Jones formidable style and fit in with the material that he has always written so well for his Tiger Moth Tales project. This really answers my original question that I posed at the end of my introduction regarding it living up to the standards you would expect from Tiger Moth Tales.

Conclusion…

In conclusion, I would say that the rather well extended Stay Alive EP holds most of its strength within the well-written songs “Stay Alive“. “Golden” and “Stay Alive (Reprise)” and those are perhaps the highlights of this EP. However, I would also say that those were the least PROGMATIC! tracks on the album especially in relation to both “Lean Into Madness” and “Whistle Along” and those tracks might not be quite up to par with some of the more PROGMATIC! classic tracks that Jones has written in the past, but I do feel they could also be amongst the highlights for the PROGSTERS! including myself. I cannot exclude “The Mighty Fallen” either.

In many respects, what you are getting here is the seriousness, the quirkiness, the humorous, the bizarreness, and all the madness all thrown into one magical melting pot and it all adds up to a very TASTY! recipe and one I can certainly enjoy listening to over and over just as I am sure others might as well.

The other thing you are getting here is a live concert on DVD and that in itself adds GREAT! value to the physical package and the fact that you can also watch it makes it more worthwhile getting over the Digital Download. Both the Physical and Digital releases can be found here: https://tigermothtales.bandcamp.com/album/still-alive-a-visit-to-rockfield-2 priced at £11 and £7 respectively and they both include the EP and Live Concert and I highly recommend you check it out.

This Is Just Another Reason To Survive…

The EP Track Listing is as follows:

01. Still Alive. 5:06.
02. The Mighty Fallen. 7:27.
03. Golden. 5:58.
04. Lean Into Madness. 2:56.
05. Whistle Along. 7:21.
06. Still Alive (Reprise). 3:19.

The DVD Track Listing is as follows:

01. Overture. 4:20.
02. Don’t Let Go, Feels Alright. 11:43.
03. The Tears of Frigga. 6:43.
04. Migration. 3:04.
05. The Ballad of Longshanks John. 3:26.
06. The Merry Vicar. 7:32.
07. Tigers in the Butter. 14:09.
08. A Visit to Chigwick. 9:11.

Lee’s overall Complete Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 8/10

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10

The Bonus Live DVD Rating Score. 8/10

The EP Rating Score. 8/10

 

Lee Speaks About Music… #159

Love is – Steve Howe

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Introduction…

Well 2020 is certainly not a very good year and there seems to be a lack of anything really new or good coming out that is tempting my taste buds right now, so much that I have had to resort to buying Steve Howe’s latest album Love Is. I have to confess I have not brought anything from Howe’s solo career for Donkey’s years and I would very much have to go back Donkey’s years to when even Yes really spoke to me.

Things have got that bad this year that it’s even got to the point of pre-ordering an album before its release date is becoming a waste of space. For example, I brought this album out of desperation whilst waiting for the latest Tiger Moth Tales album to arrive which is an album that was released on the first of this month and I pre-ordered on the 13th of July and right now it’s the 10th of August and it still has not arrived. By the time I get to review the album his next album might be out at this rate 😁

I have spent much of 2020 twiddling my thumbs with what little as came out of it in the music department so far and I only happened to stumble upon this new release of Howe’s by watching Darren Lock on the Tube giving one of his most boring reviews ever and not really telling you anything about the album apart from it was OK!. It intrigued me enough to investigate it and seek out a few tracks from the new album on the Tube I could listen to, having heard the first 3 or 4 tracks out of the 10 I immediately popped over to Amazon UK and purchased it. It also came with a free digital download so I could listen to the album before CD arrived the next day.

Like I mentioned it’s been a while since I last brought a Steve Howe album and his live album from 1999 Pulling Strings was the last one I brought which really is an outstanding album with a really GREAT! live recording. I did, however, buy both Beginnings and The Steve Howe Album upon their release back in the ’70s and still consider both of those studio albums as his personal best. Ever since I heard Steve Howe on The Yes Album back in 1971 he has always been my personal favourite guitarist and I have always admired him for his versatility. As far as prog rock goes, I personally don’t think you will ever come across another guitarist like him.

Almost 50 years have passed since those golden days of the ’70s and these days Howe still continues to play with Yes and has a few other side projects going on besides such as Homebrew and his own jazz trio to which I have heard snippets of here and there.

His latest album Love Is is the first solo album release we have seen from him since Time back in 2011. Many of his solo albums I have heard in the past were down to my older brother buying them though I never found them interesting enough to go out and buy them. Like I mentioned I did buy this album out of desperation and here in my review, I shall tell you how it all turned out. But before I do let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as usual.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in a cardboard gloss printed 2-panel Gatefold DigiSleeve and it’s one of those where you can retrieve both the CD and booklet from the inside or outside of the case because they have not sealed any of the slipcase pockets. It comes with a 12-page booklet that contains the linear credit and production notes, lyrics, and a bit of informative information about the album. Overall, it’s quite a tidy and nice presentable package and I purchased my copy from Amazon UK for £11.49 which is good value.

Artwork.

The design and layout of the album were put together by Douglas & Glen Gottlieb otherwise known as the Gottlieb Brothers. The actual cover artwork itself is made up of photos taken by Steve Howe and it’s perhaps how he himself visualized the album title and the material he wrote for it. I think he has very much captured the right vision here and it’s almost like a throwback to the ’60s but not in a psychedelic way but in more of a peaceful and tranquil way. You could say he’s natured and nurtured the way love is.

The Album In Review…

Steve Howe’s 14th studio album Love Is was released on the 31st of July 2020. The album contains 10 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 43 minutes, 20 seconds which is a very comfortable playing time and easy enough to take in and digest. The album’s material is made up of 5 vocal & 5 instrumental tracks and they have been spread evenly along the albums playing time.

Some of the material for the album was recorded at Langley Studios which is Howe’s own recording studio that he set up in the residential farmhouse where the Yes worked on the material for The Yes Album back in 1971 to which is on Langley Farm in Devon, England that Howe very much went onto buy. Most of the album was recorded, mixed, and mastered at another residential studio in another part of the English countryside situated in West Sussex known as the Curtis Schwartz Studio.

Studio Collage

Curtis Schwartz Studio

Curtis Schwartz is an American composer, producer, sound engineer, and multi-instrumentalist and he set up the residential studio back in 1984. His own production work varies across a wide range of musical genres and musical interests from Hip-hop, Rock, Dance, Pop, Jazz, and Classical. The studio itself features a Steinway D Concert Grand Piano which came from Elton John’s home in Los Angeles.

Many other artists have recorded their albums at the studio such as the likes of Siouxsie & The Banshees, Snowy White & The White Flames, Steve Harley, Jimmy Ruffin, Cutting Crew, Go West, Salena Jones, and Nine Below Zero to name a few. The drummer Carl Palmer also reckoned that it was “The best f***ing drum sound I’ve ever had” and that’s just one of the quotes you will find on the studio’s website.

Most of the instrumentation and vocals along the album was done by Howe himself and was written produced and engineered by himself. He does, however, have his son Dylan Howe playing drums on all tracks and current Yes vocalist Jon Davidson contributing bass guitar to five of the tracks along with a few vocal harmonies. There are no solo guitar instrumental tracks along the course of the album which is perhaps unusual but nevertheless, I do feel the written material is strong enough to hold up and is still very much worthy of a CLAP 😊 so to speak.

Musicians & Credits…

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All tracks Written, Engineered & Produced by Steve Howe. Recorded at Langley Studios Devon UK, and Schwartz Sound Ardingly UK. Further Engineering & Mixing by Curtis Schwartz at Schwartz Studio. Mastering by Simon Heyworth at SAM Chagford UK. Artwork Cover photos Steve Howe. CD Package & Design by Gottlieb Brothers.

Musicians.

Steve Howe: Lead VocalsElectric, Acoustic & Steel Guitars – Bass Guitar (tracks: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9) – Percussion.
Jon Davison: Bass Guitar (tracks: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10) – Harmony Vocals.
Dylan Howe: Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

In the booklet, Howe has written a short essay detailing and describing his own input into the material upon the album. He sees it as an attempt to work in the same way as an artist who paints and draws and details all the colours and textures and how it relates to how his instruments have stolen many years, hours, minutes and seconds over the past half of century. I suppose you could say in a way it’s a bit like the title of one of his songs from his debut album Beginnings many years ago “Pleasure Stole The Night“. However, it runs a bit deeper than that and reflects upon the others who are around him and the steps they have taken through a life lived together and apart.

You could say that the album’s title Love Is covers a lot of ground and having listened to it a good few times you can certainly hear that it’s musical and lyrical presentation reflects upon the finer ingredients and varieties of spices that make up a pleasant journey through life. So, lets now take a deeper look into the album as I take you through each track upon the album.

Track 1. Fulcrum.

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The album gets off to a very promising start with the first of the instrumental tracks on the album and its title reflects on a point or a thing that plays a central or essential role in an activity, event, or situation. The one thing you will always get with Steve Howe is plenty of variety and that reflects on the many stringed instruments he plays he has at hand in his collection. As with most of his solo albums he also gives you a chart in the booklet detailing all the instruments he used on every track, and on this particular track, he has made excellent use of his Gibson Les Paul Junior, Steinberger GM4T, Martin MC38 SH (signature model) and a Rickenbacker 4001 Bass.

The only other person who accompanies him on all five instrumental tracks along the album is his son Dylan on drums and it’s obvious that Howe has put a lot of thought into both the composition and arrangement side of things on every track on this album without going over the top. In many ways, he’s created the perfect balance of colours and textures with how he has layered everything so well. The other thing you will never be short of with Howe is progression and he has bags of it when it comes to any musical genre and is a virtuoso on the guitar.

Fulcrum” is a really GORGEOUS! piece of work that crosses styles of country, jazz and melancholy that all blend and meld in with each other perfectly and is executed with precision, finesse and a jolly good dosing of diversity. You will hear some of his familiar Chet Atkins influences with his picking style and a slight touch of Duane Eddy with the plucky vibe, you could say that pleasure has very much stolen the night listening to this BEAUTY! and it’s very much a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 2. See Me Through.

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The first of the vocal tracks on the album has quite a happy and uplifting bounce about it and runs along at quite a hurried pace. The lyrical side of things is pertaining to a prayer asking God for the strength to carry on sort of thing and are written in a way to show that God exists by the things around you that science cannot really explain or prove. I quite like how he’s gone about the lyrics here though I have to confess I am not a believer in God or Science for that matter. But I have nothing against anyone’s beliefs and they could believe in fairies for all I care. But for me personally, life is what you make it and it’s hard enough getting on with it without wasting time searching for answers to life and the universe.

The vocal side of things is handled by both Steve Howe and Jon Davison (who also plays bass on all the vocal tracks) and their voices work very well in unison with one another throughout the track. Howe as never really been much of a singer and he perhaps has a voice one would have to acquire a taste for to even accept him as a singer. It is something you have to get used too more than anything else and it’s never been his strong point. However, I do feel he has got better in his ripe old age and his voice perhaps works better on this album more than anything he has done in the past.

This is the only track on the album that Howe uses his beloved Gibson ES175D along with a Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul Junior, and a Martin SOM 45. Overall, “See Me Through” is quite a catchy little number and is a very good well-written song that has GREAT! pace to run it very well through the mill and enjoy. I also think the lyrical content is very well written too.

Track 3. Beyond the Call.

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This next instrumental piece is my personal favourite track on the album and it’s quite a THEMATIC! piece that utilises both acoustic and electric guitars very well. It’s perhaps got a touch of Mike Oldfield about it with the fuzz textures and on this particular track, he uses his Steinberger GM4T along with his Martin SOM 45 and Rickenbacker 4001 Bass.

There is plenty of progression and some nice transitional changes along its path as you will hear by listening to it on Youtube posted by the record company. His son Dylan does quite an outstanding job on the military role section and it really is a GREAT! piece of work and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 4. Love Is A River.

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The albums self-titled track which has been slightly extended by a river which very much pertains to how both life and love can flow when all is well and how you find your way down its stream very much reflects upon the lyrical content that this fine song pertains too. This is very much the standout song on the album and it’s also the longest track on the album though there are no long tracks on this album at all and Howe has very much very well crammed all the progression, diversity and the quintessential side things in just under 6 minutes here. It’s also the most Yes like track on the album too.

On this song, Howe’s vocals do take the lead role and are backed up by some fine harmonies by Davison and you can hear how well his voice has matured over all these years and it works very well on a song like this. This is one of the 3 tracks on the album that uses his Fender Steel and it’s also accompanied by his Gibson Les Paul Junior and a couple of acoustic guitars which are a Martin J12-65M and Martin SOM 45. He also plays a Gibson F4 Mandolin and it’s a very well-crafted song and a very strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 5. Sound Picture.

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Another quite THEMATIC! instrumental piece that is perhaps a bit of an unusual road for Howe to go down but he makes it work to his particular style very well indeed. Here he is blending bluesy and jazzy vibes with other textures and going down the odd prog avenue with the diversity the piece displays. He really gets to fly on this one too and from here onwards it’s an all-electric affair and on this particular track he’s using his Fender Stratocaster with a Gibson Country Western and his Rickenbacker 4001 Bass. Overall, it’s another GREAT! piece of work done by him and his son on the drums.

Track 6. It Ain’t Easy.

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It’s time for another song and “It Ain’t Easy” is quite a catchy little number that runs along at a steady mid-tempo pace. It could even be seen as the single from the album with its raunchy feel and it crosses styles between the country blues and rock. Howe is playing on his Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul Junior, and Line 6 James Tyler ’58. The lyrical subject matter is based around life in general with growing and learning and once again Davison’s harmonies running more or less alongside Howe’s but Howe’s voice is more upfront. It’s another well-written song and a GREAT! job by all has been done here for sure.

Track 7. Pause for Thought.

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The one thing about the instrumental tracks along the album is that they tend to have their own way of singing to you and this is another very well worked out instrumental piece that contains much of Howe’s GREAT! finger work and precision on the guitar. It sounds like they have keyboards on this one even sounds like he’s playing an acoustic guitar and its amazing what FX you can get these days.

The synth sounds are coming from his Line 6 Variax + Boss GP10 Synth Setting 51 & 54 and he uses quite an array of guitars on this one and he’s dragged out his Fender Telecaster along with his Fender Steel, Gibson Les Paul Junior, Gibson F4 Mandolin and Rickenbacker 4001 Bass. Overall, “Pause for Thought” is another truly GREAT! instrumental stand out track on the album and another fine piece I would put in contention for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 8. Imagination.

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This next song pertains to the beautiful world of imagination and opens up the mind of lovers looking into it through telescopic vision to get the bigger picture and understanding so to speak. Something along those lines anyway. He plays his Steinberger GM4T and various other guitars on this track and it sparkles with some of his familiar lead runs along its journey. Interestingly enough his vocals on this track are more reminiscent of how he sang on his earlier albums and you will hear those tonal qualities in his voice unlike the tracks on the rest of the album. Jon Davison’s harmonies only play a partial role in the chorus sections and it’s perhaps not the best of the vocal songs on the album but it has some pleasantries.

Track 9. The Headlands.

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The final of the instrumental tracks on the album is another lovely piece of work where Howe utilises his Fender Steel guitar to sing and the other guitars on this track are his Fender Stratocaster and Rickenbacker 4001 Bass. This actually the shortest track on the album but a very TASTY! job has been done on it. A headland is a coastal landform characterised by high, breaking waves, rocky shores, intense erosion, and steep sea cliffs and Howe is flying over it all on this one and it’s another really GREAT album track and another contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 10. On the Balcony.

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Howe ROCKS! things up a bit for the final song on the album and utilises his Fender Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul Junior and Line 6 James Tyler ’58 very well. Once again Howe’s voice handles the lead vocals very well and Davison’s bass and harmonies lend good support and it gives his son Dylan a chance to pound the drums that bit harder. It rounds off the album very well and is another fine song.

Summary…

To sum up, the new solo album Love Is by Steve Howe. I could perhaps sum it up in one word and say it’s LOVELY! Because it really is a very satisfying album that takes you on a pleasurable ride throughout its entirety. I think it’s a very well balanced album to with how the instrumental and vocal tracks have been placed to run in adjacent order one after another and it works very well that way for it. It really is an album that you can just stick on and enjoy from start to finish.

However, if you are looking for some of his more adventurous classics such as “Beginnings“. “Ram“. “Pennants“. “Look Over Your Shoulder” and “All’s A Chord” from his first two albums, for example, you will not find anything that quite measures up to that calibre here. But nevertheless, this album still has enough in the tank to deliver some very well executed and precision skill on the guitar despite it running more along the lines of a contemporary popular or easy-going album and there is also still bags of progression that has been thrown into the pot. My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Fulcrum“. “Beyond the Call“. “Love Is a River“. “Pause For Thought” and “The Headlands“.

Conclusion…

In conclusion, Love Is by Steve Howe may not have enough heat to set the world on fire but is a very comfortable album to sit with, enjoy and get some satisfactory pleasure from. I do also feel that it’s more than just a guitar album with how well some of the songs along the album have been very well written. Although as a selling point it’s perhaps got more chance of reaching Howe’s audience rather than stretching outside of those boundaries bringing in new listeners.

Is it a must for Steve Howe and Yes fans alike? Personally, I would say YES! because it is one of his stronger albums and contains quite a strong body of work. It’s been very well produced and both the writing and arrangement has been very well worked out. There is nothing remotely bad on the album and I’ve played the album a good 20 times now and am still enjoying it and it represents GREAT! value for the buck.

Given the fact that Steve Howe is now 73 years old. I rather think he’s come up TRUMPS! here and it still shows he is very well capable of still delivering the goods. Love Is I personally feel is an album that is not over the top and is very well balanced to give one some pleasurable moments and satisfaction. Howe’s skill on the guitar is also still very evident and I have always loved his versatility and diversity and it still shines here.

Love Is A River Finding Its Way…

The album tracklisting is as follows:

01. Fulcrum. 4:26.
02. See Me Through. 4:26.
03. Beyond the Call. 4:50.
04. Love Is a River. 5:54.
05. Sound Picture. 3:26.
06. It Ain’t Easy. 4:24.
07. Pause for Thought. 3:39.
08. Imagination. 3:54.
09. The Headlands. 3:12.
10. On the Balcony. 4:59.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #158

Masters Of Illusion – Magenta

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Introduction…

Magenta is back with a new studio album since the release of We Are Legend some 3 years ago back in 2017. It could be said that the bands 8th studio Masters Of Illusion has a CINEMATIC! approach to its a concept and the music behind it all. However, there is plenty along its path in the PROGMATIC! department to feast your ears on too.

The one thing you will always get with anything Rob Reed writes is plenty of influences from other well-known artists and bands mostly from that glorious decade of the ’70s when progressive rock was at its peak. I like the fact that he and many other of today’s artists are still keeping prog-rock alive and that is what has attracted my attention ever since the 80’s when Marillion had resurrected that particular genre of music after punk rock had raised it’s ugly head in the late ’70s and swept it aside.

I certainly do not think the likes of both Yes and Genesis managed to keep prog-rock alive and very few of them did, not even Marillion after Fish had left them so I was always on the lookout for someone else to inject some new life into the genre. During the early 90’s we got to see a few more acts follow suits such as The Flower Kings, Spock’s Beard, and even a chap from the Netherlands namely Arjen Anthony Lucassen and his Ayreon project doing something to the keep the genre alive.

Although many of these flew under my radar at the time just like Rob Reed’s own CYAN and I only got to hear of Ayreon through Fish being involved with Lucassen’s 3rd album Into The Electric Castle. The other 2 bands I only got to know right at the end of the ’90s when they formed Transatlantic. As we entered into the new millennium many more bands started to creep out of the woods and even though prog-rock has never really been a popular genre or radio-friendly, there is a lot more out there these days still keeping this GREAT! genre of music alive.

The main core behind Magenta is very much Rob Reed, Chris Fry, and Christina Booth and the backline has quite often changed over the past 20 years. Though they have managed to keep the same backline of bassist Dan Nelson and drummer Jiffy Griffiths who appeared on their previous album We Are Legend this time around. It also features a few special guests on some of the tracks.

The release of the new Magenta album came as a bit of a surprise especially being that it was only a few months ago that Rob Reed had released another of his side projects Chimpan A to which is a collaborative project he did with Steve Balsamo who’s best known for playing the lead role in the London production of Jesus Christ Superstar during the mid-1990s. Apparently, The Empathy Machine is the 2nd album to be released under this collaborative protect and their debut album was released some 14 years ago back in 2006.

I do always pay a particular interest in Rob Reed’s Youtube channel and he does from time to time post and promote other artists besides many of the projects he works in himself. Having heard the material that was written for The Empathy Machine it was quite different to what he does with Magenta and his own solo work and had more of an 80’s electro vibe to it especially “Speed Of Love” and it was not my cup of tea at all which is why I avoided it.

The new Magenta album Masters Of Illusion, however, is certainly not an album to avoid and from what very little has been released on the prog-rock side of things so far this year, this could very well be the prog-rock album of the year. But before I go any further, let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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Both the CD & DVD are housed in a 3-panel cardboard DigiSleeve also known as a Trifold DigiFile. It has die-cut inner pockets to hold the discs and 12-page booklet. The DigiSleeve as been printed on a matt coated finish which helps prevent you from scratching the discs when removing them from the pockets. The 12-page booklet comes with all the usual linear credit and production notes plus lyrics but does not include any additional informative information. Overall, it’s a very neat and tidy package.

Artwork.

The album covers artwork was done by the German musical artist Björn Gooßes who currently resides in Essen in his own country. He also done the album covers for Magenta’s 2013 album Twenty Seven Club and their 2007 album Metamorphosis. He mostly does the covers for many Metal bands and artists and is a member of the Essen based metal band The Very End. He primarily works in the field of digital compositing and uses a variety of techniques to create unique imagery between playful surrealism and colorful morbidity.

To be perfectly honest the artwork he does for many of the metal bands is very impressive and looks more spectacular than the artwork we have here. But what we do have here is all well and apt in keeping in line with the concept behind the album. I would also say that in relation to the minimalistic designs that were done for all the 5 albums I recently reviewed of GoGo Penguin. This is more like it 🙂

Release Editions…

The album was released in 2 formats the cheapest option being the digital download to which can be purchased from Bandcamp for £7.  The CD & DVD package can be purchased from Amazon UK for £12 and it is the cheapest price if like myself you are a Prime Member and it works out £2.75 cheaper than what it would cost on Rob Reed’s own store Tigermoth Records but either way, it’s still amazing value for the buck.

I actually did purchase my copy from Tigermoth Records because I also wanted The Lost Reel CD that features alternative mixes from the new album plus remixes from the band’s back catalog. You can only get it from Tigermoth Records and I purchased it along with the Masters Of Illusion CD & DVD for £20 plus £1.75 P+P. You can also purchase The Lost Reel CD on its own for £8.50 plus £1.75 P+P which I personally feel is well overpriced especially in that it only comes in a cardboard sleeve. But I managed to save £3.25 by buying them both together.

They did also release a very exclusive Deluxe and very Limited V.I.P. Edition that came in a tin mini canister film case for £25. Which also included 6 postcards and a sheet with the names of all the names of those who brought it on a V.I.P. sheet. I do remember seeing the reel case on Rob Reed’s website when they first announced the album was being released and available to pre-order. But what put me off was that it never mentioned how big the case was and I did not like the idea of storing the album somewhere else if it never fitted in my media storage.

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Judging by the picture above (that was not posted on the website) it looks like the only things that would have fitted inside the canister case were the postcards and the V.I.P. sheet. It also looks as if it was pointless making the case in the first place 🙂 But then again I suppose it could be used for a display purpose.

This particular Deluxe Edition did sell out quickly and I am pretty sure that only somewhere between 200- 500 was made. One of them also included a Golden Ticket like Charlie and the Chocolate factory sort of thing and if you were the lucky one to have it you got a special prize. I am not sure what it was but it has been won. A further Golden Ticket has been put up for grabs and to stand any chance of winning it you have to write a review of the album and post it on your Facebook Wall.

There is also a Limited Edition Vinyl release that will be released later this year on the 2nd of October. It’s also strictly limited to 300 copies only and is available to pre-order. It comes on 2 180-Gram LPs and costs around £24.99.

The Album In Review…

Magenta’s 8th studio album Masters Of Illusion was released on the 1st of July 2020. The album contains 6 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 63 minutes, 14 seconds which is quite lengthy for an album and not far off a double album worth of material. They are all quite lengthy tracks as well so there is plenty here to take in and digest although the music does tend to more or less grab you quickly and it’s not an album that you would have to give many spins to really get to grips with.

Much of the new material on the new album Rob Reed wrote over the past seven years and has been left in his archives till now. Only a couple of the tracks have been newly written from scratch and the other 4 were lifted from his archives and have been reworked to make up the new album. Over a year was spent on putting all the material together and recording the album. In comparison to Magenta’s last album, We Are Legend many things have been stripped back and for me personally I am glad to see that they have too.

I found We Are Legend quite a difficult album to get to grips with at first and that was really down to Reed injecting the same sort of modern techniques and gadgets that Gem Godfrey injected into the last Frost* album Falling Satellites. Godfrey is still doing much of the same with their new EP Others that was released last month in June. From what little I have heard from it, in all honesty, it’s put me right off the band.

To be perfectly honest having seen the band live at the Robin 2 in Bilston back in 2016 killed that band for me and it was a dreadful gig. The only good memory I had of that night was bumping into Rob Reed who was doing the support act with the band Kiama and I got to have my photo taken with him 🙂

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The other good thing about the material that is on Masters Of Illusion is that it’s not too heavily influenced were as I thought their previous album We Are Legend was on the verge of overstepping the mark. It’s quite unusual for Reed because in general he reworks and reshapes melody lines from other well-known bands rather than completely nick the same lines and that is where part of his writing genius lies.

There are still a good few influences here on the new album, but far less and it feels more like their own input plays more of a role in making it more of their own sort of thing. For example, their 2nd album Seven is very much one of the bands strongest ever outputs and for many that album would be amongst their personal best. I love the album but that is an album that also contains many influences and a lot more than we have along the lines of this latest offering of theirs. This is where the new album I personally feel really works better and they are being more true to themselves.

Being that I also purchased The Lost Reel with the album I thought I would include a review of it here. The CD comes in a cardboard sleeve just like a single vinyl album would come in only a mini replica. Although the material on the disc is closer to a double album in that you get 9 tracks spread over and overall playing time of 73 minutes, 8 seconds and there is quite a bit to sink your teeth into here.

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I would not say The Lost Reel is an essential part of Magenta’s discography and in reality, it’s just a compilation of alternative mixes and for those who want that bit more and cannot get enough of the band. To be perfectly honest albums such as this are not really my thing and remixes have never been my thing in reality. I used to get sick of those CD singles many artists released years ago where you got 4 tracks and 3 of them were just remixes of the same song. I honestly saw those things as a bit of rip off and would rather have 4 different songs any day of the week.

In many ways remixes are like covers and its very rare the original song can beat in the first place and very few have managed to achieve that accolade either. I would even go as far as to say that less than 1% of all the artists in this world have successfully managed to do something better than the original song. In general, it’s only because the original song was just a bare-bones stripped back basic acoustic folk song such as Bob Dylan’sAll Along The Watchtower” which is why Jimmy Hendrix managed to achieve it.

I think the title that is given to this release is very deceptive too and bears absolutely no relation to the material that is on the disc. I would also say that the biggest downfall is the fact that 5 out of the 9 tracks you get here are mixes of the songs that are on the new album Masters Of Illusion and one of those is the just an instrumental version of the albums self-titled track. It’s perhaps only useful for those who enjoy going to a karaoke for a sing-song 🙂

It’s practically like having the same album twice over and the only track from the new album that is not present is “Snow” and that is actually the shortest track on the new album. So you can see where the biggest majority of the time has been taken up on this release and just under 48 minutes of the 73 minutes as been devoted to the new album leaving just over 25 minutes for the remaining 4 tracks. The 5 mixes from the new album could of just have easily been put on the DVD as an alternative album bonus feature just like Robert Fripp did on the 40th Anniversary editions of the King Crimson albums.

To be perfectly honest I have always been an albums man myself and it’s very rare I will ever buy a compilation album like this or even a Greatest Hits and those Best Of albums. All those types of albums are only really aimed at first-time listeners in a way of introducing you to their music. They offer very little new material at all and if you have the original albums like me they do not really represent any great value for the buck and it can be pointless chucking money at them. It’s also generally only complete avid record collectors who have to have everything that generally throws their money at them.

I’ve been collecting albums since the early ’70s and in all that time I’ve only really come across a couple of compilation albums that were something different and gave you something different for your money. Those albums were the double album Living In The Past by Jethro Tull and B’ Sides Themselves by Marillion. Both of those albums are literally like having another new album because the material that was put on them never found their way onto any of their main discography of studio albums and that is what I call 100% genuine value for the buck.

So far everything I have said about this release is on the negative side of things so lets now take a closer look at just what extra you get here and see if it represents any real genuine value and is worth spending the extra cash. I shall start off with the 5 tracks that are on the Masters Of Illusion album and point out some of the differences. The first of them up is “Reach Out For The Moon” and they are calling this the Shadow Mix.

The first thing that is noticeable about this version is that its been stripped back to the piano and keyboard orchestration in the musical department. Without all the other instrumentation it’s now got the feel of an acoustic pop ballad and near enough 4 minutes has been chopped off to make it perhaps now more suited for a single release. Out of all the 5 mixes from their latest album, this is the only one with a significant amount of difference.

Then we get what they call Victor’s mix of “The Rose” and to be perfectly honest I have not got a clue who Victor is. Once again like most of the mixes its shorter than the original track on the album. The interesting thing is that it features Karla Powell on oboe who is not on the original mix. Given the fact that I can hardly hear much difference at all between this mix and the original, I am beginning to wonder if her name was left off the credits of the Masters Of Illusion album. The only other possible explanation is that Rob Reed must have played the oboe part on his keyboards.  Karla also plays oboe on a couple of other tracks on this album too.

Next up is a Band mix of “Bela” and it’s a couple of minutes shorter than the original mix to which it omits the orchestral intro. The only real difference is that the song now bursts into the action without its intro, it also feels a bit raunchier in the mix. But another notable thing is that Karla Powell also supposedly plays oboe on this track according to the credits on the back of the sleeve and for the life of me I cannot hear an oboe here at all and I am now beginning to wonder if  Karla is on this track at all 🙂

The instrumental version of the “Masters Of Illusion” is the only track that has not been cut short and it exactly what is without the vocals. Like I mentioned earlier these sort of mixes are for those who enjoy going to a karaoke for a sing-song. However, some instrumental tracks are interesting and enjoyable to listen to at times. These days many artists are including instrumental tracks as bonus tracks and some will even include a whole album worth of them. Personally, I never see these as bonus tracks and more of a thing to make it look like they are giving you something extra by including them.

The final of the 5 mixes from the new album is “A Gift From God” and they are calling this the Horn mix. There is no doubt that Karla Powell’s oboe can be heard throughout most of this mix and the original mix and I am now wondering if there has been a cock-up with credits on both albums because the oboe sounds identical on both mixes. The other notable thing on this mix is that Chris Fry’s guitar solo has been replaced with either what sounds like a French or English horn.

The other 4 mixes are all from different parts of Magenta’s 20-year career and they are all new 2020 mixes. The opening track on this album opens up with a new mix of “Legend” that was originally on their previous 2017 album We Are Legend. The significance here is that its only half the length and it’s performed more or less the way they play it live. The album closes up with a new mix of “Turn The Tide” which was originally on one of the bands least favorable albums Chameleon released back in 2011. I personally think this version is a much better mix and I am pretty sure that Rob Reed has replaced and replayed some of the instrumentation particularly the piano and orchestration. There is a lot more clarity and it’s got more of the atmosphere I feel the track needed and he’s managed to give it a new breath of fresh air.

I’ve saved the best two new mixes for last and I was quite surprised to see “Man The Machine” here and this has been reworked into a 5.5-minute version of what was originally the longest track on their debut album Revolutions from 2001. You could say you are only getting a snippet here as the original track was some 24.5 minutes long. I quite like what they have done here although its no match to the longer version. Revolutions is an album that is up there with the very best of Magenta albums and I did tell Rob when I met him back in 2016 that I would love him to do a 5.1 mix of the album. Unfortunately, I am still waiting but maybe if he reads this he might get his finger out 🙂

Finally, we have something that has never been put on any Magenta album and “Not In Our Name” was originally written during the early sessions for the We Are Legend album only it never made the album, or has it seen the light of day before now. It also features Andy Edwards on drums who was involved in the early stages of that particular album before he got dropped from the project in favor of Rob Reed wanting a new backline to try and inject something new into the development of the album. It’s a very good song and is certainly the highlight of this album.

Summary & Conclusion…

Overall, I feel that The Lost Reel is an album that does not deliver and bring enough new to the table to be worth its price point. I do not even see it as an album and it’s nothing more than really the sort of bonus material that you would get for free on re-issues of remastered albums along the line or included as bonus material on a DVD or Blu Ray for example. Personally, I think it should of been put on the DVD or the CD should have been included in a Limited Edition of Masters Of Illusion for a couple of quid more.

Albums like this you will only ever stick on once in a while for a bit of a change and nothing more. It’s far from an essential album to stick an £8.50 price tag on it and sell as one. You would get far more value for your money buying Chris Fry’s solo album Composed. It’s £1.50 more but it comes in a cardboard DigiSleeve and not a cardboard slipcase like this. It’s also a genuine album of newly written material and not a compilation like this.

The biggest downfall is that you are getting too much of the same thing especially by including 5 of the 6 tracks from the new album. I know Robert Reed said in his interview that has it was the bands 20th Anniversary he wanted to give the fans something special.  I certainly think the new album Masters Of Illusion does fit in with that statement but I would hardly call charging £8.50 for this extra bonus disc GIVING! his fans something special.

However, the one thing I would never accuse Reed of is ripping off his fans or anybody for that matter. As a rule, all the music he sells on his website is 100% value for the buck and cheaper than most artists would charge. My personal highlights from The Lost Tapes are as follows: “Not In Our Name“. “Man The Machine” and “Reach Out For The Moon“.

The tracks list is as follows: 1. “Legend [2020 Mix] 6:06”. 2. “Reach Out For The Moon [Shadow Mix] 5:44”. 3. “Not In Our Name [2020 Mix] 7:13”. 4. “The Rose [Victor’s Mix] 7:54”. 5. “Bela [Band Mix] 9:07”. 6. “Masters Of Illusion [Instrumental Mix] 16:37”. 7. “A Gift From God [Horn Mix] 8:31″. 8.”Man The Machine [2020 Mix] 5:32”. 9. “Tune The Tide [2020 Mix] 6:24”.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 6/10.
Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 3/10.
Lee’s Album Rating Score. 4/10.

Getting back to the Masters Of Illusion there is something on this album that for the life of me I cannot get to grips with and I will go into it further in the album tracks section of my review. The good thing about the package is that it does include a DVD and when it comes to mixes I would rather have a 5.1 mix of the album in relation to any alternative mix. The DVD also hosts a few other extras too so let’s now take a look at it.

The DVD.

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The DVD menu displays the album’s artwork and all of its contents on one single menu and is simple enough to navigate by moving the white arrow to your desired choice. Besides the 5.1 mix of the album, it also comes with the two promo videos that Rob Reed posted on his Youtube channel plus a 51-minute interview of the man himself speaking about the new album. All of this bonus content is in Dolby Digital 2.0 (stereo only).

The main feature gives you the choice of a couple of 5.1 audio formats both of which is 48K. The first being Dolby Digital which is the least quality at 448kbps and the other being my preferred choice of DTS which is a much higher quality format at 1.5Mbps.

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Whilst the main featured album is playing it displays the same bit of artwork from the album cover for all 6 tracks on the album. The only thing that changes is the title of the track that is playing. Overall, a GREAT! job as been done here and the bonus material is a nice inclusion and the interview provides some well informative information.

The 5.1 Mix.

The one thing you are sure to get with anything Rob Reed mixes is a quality job and I’ve yet to see him do a bad mix and he very much also has the right head on his shoulders to do 5.1 mixes and I have no complaints here. In saying that I do wish he would go back to doing 24/96K for his albums like we have seen him do in the past because sonically that higher resolution does help to deliver more clarity and definition through loudspeakers.

Where 5.1 wins over stereo are by having more channels to give far greater separation. In any stereo set-up, you are going to need very expensive speakers to compete with a decent set of headphones. Most mixes are best heard through headphones and where 5.1 has its own disadvantages is that you cannot produce that immersive experience in any set of headphones and trust me those 5.1 headphones are nothing more than a gimmick.

The 5.1 system is very much dependant on the source material and the way it’s processed through the AV Receiver. This how it can sonically compete with any set of headphones even without having to spend vast amounts of cash on loudspeakers. Most people will argue the point that it’s impossible to hear the difference between 44.1K, 48K, and 96K. Given the fact that our ears are not even capable of hearing anything above 18K, they would certainly be right to have that assumption. But the way it’s processed through an AV Receiver will make a huge difference and that is why Hi-Resolution Audio is instantly more noticeable on such a system and why I am a surround FREAK!

There are a few engineers who have successfully managed to deliver all the clarity and definition in 24/48K. But those mixes are very rare and I have yet to hear Rob Reed do that. I can instantly detect how much sonically better his first solo album Sanctuary sounds way better than Sanctuary II & III and that’s because it is the only one to have a 24/96K job done on it. This is why I wish he would return back to doing that high-res format. Better still re-release all the all Magenta and Sanctuary albums again in that format and lossless on Blu Ray and I would buy them all again 🙂

But overall, the 5.1 mix he’s done for the new album is very good and he’s done particularity very well with the placement of all the instrumentation and vocals across the 6 channels making it a very satisfying and very good immersive experience.

Musicians & Credits…

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All music written by Robert Reed. Lyrics by Steven Reed. Mixed, Engineered & Produced by Robert Reed. Recorded between January 2019 – March 20202 at Big Studios Wales, UK. Artwork by Björn Gooßes @ Killustrations.com.

Musicians:
Christina Booth: Lead Vocals.
Robert Reed: Keyboards, Mandolin, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Classical Guitar, Backing Vocals,
Chris Fry: Lead Guitar.
Dan Nelson: Bass.
Jiffy Griffiths: Drums.

Special Guests:
Peter Jones: Saxophone (Tracks 3 & 5).
Troy Donockley: Uilleann Pipes (Track 5).
John Mitchell: Vocals (Track 2).

The Album Tracks In Review…

As with most of Magenta’s albums they generally run along the line of some sort of a concept and rather than a concept story the concept behind Masters Of Illusion takes me back to the same sort of idea they had with their 2013 album the Twenty Seven Club in that it’s based on famous peoples lives and how they lived their lives. Only this time around we are dealing with well-known actors from horror films and not rock stars who happened to have been in that club because they all had something in common, in that they all died at the young age of 27.

The interesting part about the particular concept with this album is that although the actors were more known for the character role they played in those old horror films from many moons ago, it’s based on their personal lives and not the characters they played or portrayed on the silver screen so to speak. The concept behind the title of the album is very much how they were all masters of illusion in that once the lights and cameras were off them, the act was over and they went back to being themselves with how they run their ordinary lives. So let’s now take a closer look at the album tracks and see how the album all pans out.

Track 1. Bela.

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The album gets off to a GREAT! start with its opening track and the person whose life this opening song portrays is of the Hungarian-American actor Bela Lugosi who was best remembered for portraying Count Dracula. It was also this particular character that he was also typecasted with which is quite strange really because he only ever played the role twice throughout his career and one of those films was a comedy film starring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

Strangely enough, he was even paid more money for not appearing in Dracula’s Daughter and he very rarely got the leading role in any film and was mostly overshadowed by the likes of Boris Karloff. In total, Lon Channey Jr appeared in 22 films between 1931 – 1955 and he played the role of a vampire more times than he played the COUNT! himself. He also found it hard securing work in Hollywood by the early 1940s, as no producer would cast the actor in anything except horror films.

Bela Lugosi loved life and the fame and fortune that his acting career had brought him, although it was difficult at times to find work he got by, by putting in personal appearances and never really wanted life to end. I think Steven Reed has also portrayed Lugosi’s personal life very well with the lyrical content we have here.

As I mentioned earlier there is something on this album that for the life of me I cannot get to grips with and that is to do with the orchestral side of things. Just by listening to the orchestration, Reed has provided for the one-minute twelve-second intro sounds like he’s scored the music for another movie, and for my ears, it sounds totally out of place. It reflects sadness at first and then bursts into something that is a bit more adventurous like a voyage upon the sea or even fitting to the scene to the James Bond-like character in the Milk Tray advert years ago delivering a box of chocolates 🙂

Once you get past the intro that is really where the song kicks in and delivers the goods both musically and vocally. It really is more to the PROGMATIC! side of things they did for their 2004 album Seven and it features some really GREAT! synth work from Rob Reed and some GREAT! guitar solo work from Chris Fry. The whole band is firing along on all cylinders here and you can very much see that in this promotional video for the album that Reed put on his Youtube channel.

Overall, the opening track “Bela” is one of my personal favorites on the album it has bags of progression, twists, and turns along its path and is a very well structured piece of work. No doubt you will also hear a few influences along its journey and it catches occasional glimpses of Yes, Genesis, and a few others. It’s also a very strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 2. A Gift From God.

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Next up is quite an enchanting ballad of a song and the orchestration on the intro and other parts throughout remind me of the theme tune that was used for the game Tombraider. I guess that would be down to the sound of the harp. There might even be a touch of “Scarborough Fair” thrown into it as well and its a bit like a combination between them both. Once again, Christina Booth, does a GREAT! job in delivering Steven Reed’s lyrics and here she is also accompanied by John Mitchell who adds the odd bit of backing vocals to the song.

Besides the Tombraider influence, there is also BEAUTIFUL! touch of Genesis around the 4:02 mark with the 12 string guitar and the song lifts up from here on a bit and we get another GREAT! guitar solo from Chris Fry and both of these lovely touches works wonderous in the song and are my favorite highlights of it.

The lyrical content is based on Christopher Lee’s personal life and is reflected around the choices he made and could have made looking back upon his career. Like Bela Lugosi, Lee was another actor who was typecasted for his role of playing Dracula and he had played the part no less than 10 times during his career. Although Lee had more of a successful career appearing in no less than 146 films some of which were blockbusters such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and many others. Like Lugosi he was often cast as a villain though unlike him the only way Lee would be waiting for the phone to ring was to play a part where he was not a villain and it certainly would not have been cause he was short of work.

Besides acting Christopher Lee also had a bit of a musical career and had a fine operatic bass voice and sang on quite a few Soundtracks for movies and other artists albums such as The Wicker Man, The Return of Captain Invincible, Funny Man and Peter Knight and Bob Johnson’s (from Steeleye Span) concept album The King of Elfland’s Daughter. During the height of Italo disco, he provided vocals to Kathy Joe Daylor’s song “Little Witch“. He also sang backing vocals on a few heavy metal albums and in 2010 he released his first complete metal album.

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Charlemagne: By the Sword and the Cross won the “Spirit of Metal” award from the 2010 Metal Hammer Golden Gods Awards ceremony. The award was presented to him by guitarist Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath although it’s far from a metal album and more along the lines of a Theatrical Operatic album. It’s perhaps a bit like Jethro Tull winning the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental in 1989 for their Crest Of A Knave album. It was also followed up by a sequel in 2013 entitled Charlemagne: The Omens of Death to which was his 4th and final album.

Overall, “A Gift From God” is a very fine well-written song and could be seen as the pop song of the album in many respects. It’s also one of the two new songs that were written for the album and the title reflects the many talents that were bestowed upon this fine actor and no doubt he was GIFTED! in many ways. There is, of course, other really well good sections that make it much more than a pop song, and its another contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 3. Reach For The Moon.

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This is what I call the ROCK! track on the album and what I like about this track is that it just bursts straight into the action without all this orchestral malarkey. There is some orchestration in the song though it’s only used as a supporting role and not like a theme as in the opening track on the album. To be perfectly honest I do not mind orchestral sounds mixed in with all the other band instruments and Rob Reed does a really STELLAR! job of it. But trying to associate a box of Cadbury’s milk chocolates with something from the Hammer House of Horrors is never gonna work 🙂

The lyrical content is based around the personal life of Lon Chaney Jr who lived in the shadow of his father’s footsteps and how he resented using his father’s name as a marketing ploy to gain work in his acting career. He was very much born into a theatrical family although as he grew up he did other work to make a living and did not want to follow in his father’s footsteps but did show some interest in his father’s acting career and studied makeup at his father’s side, learning many of the techniques that had made his father famous.

It was not until his father died when he was around 30 years old that he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps so to speak and he even had an interest in songwriting and attempted an early career in that. Lon Chaney Jr appeared in no less than 42 films during his acting career and mostly appeared in low budget movies. He is perhaps typecasted for his role in horror films especially as the Wolfman and he also played Frankestiens Monster on a couple of occasions he also played the Mummy and Count Dracula’s son and was the only one to have played all 4 roles. Although his most memorable performance will most likely be in the 1939 film Of Mice and Men and his role as Lennie Small in that film was his favorite role.

Musically this is a song that goes through nice changes and it’s one of the couple of tracks on the album that features Peter Jones on saxophone. There’s a nice little comedown section around the 4-minute mark and we get a lovely bit of lead guitar from Chris Fry and this short section reminds me a bit like how some of the comedowns you will hear in some of Fish’s songs and his voice would sit in perfectly in this little section. There is also a lovely acoustic Mike Oldfield touch around the 7:32 mark that is quite reminiscent of Ommdawn and overall this is another GREAT! album track.

Track 4. Snow.

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This is the shortest track on the album and in reality, the only short track on the album and even this weighs in at just over 6 minutes. The lyrics that Steven Reed wrote here portray the childhood experience of the horrors of living in a Nazi concentration camp during World War II that the actress Ingrid Pitt went through. The title reflects on her escape running over the hills through the snow. She even wrote a short animated film about her childhood experience entitled Beyond The Forest before she died in 2010 and it was her final film to be released back in 2011.

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Ingrid Pitt was born in Poland and she was best known as Hammer Films’ most seductive female vampire of the early 1970s. Her nickname was The Queen of Gothic Horror and although she appeared in many other film and TV genres she loved being involved in horror and even wrote several books mainly in the horror genre. She also did a monthly column in Shivers magazine and appeared at many horror conventions. She appeared in no less than 25 films although a few of them she was uncredited in and never had a significant role in them to be given a character name.

Musically the song is very much constructed around the piano and it’s more of a pop song though it also incorporates other styles such as jazz, funk, and rock. It’s perhaps more familiar with the material that Reed wrote for Magenta’s third album Home that was released back in 2006. It’s got a GREAT! short instrumental section that comes into play with Fry’s guitar solo around the 3:04 mark and it features some fine orchestral and electric piano work from Reed. The whole band is doing a GRAND! job and it’s quite a good song with some nice changes along its path.

Track 5. The Rose.

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This next song is a very interesting one in that it’s got some fine ballad qualities to it but it also has quite a few influences flying out of the woodwork. Mostly early Genesis ones and as soon as it opens up you will instantly notice the first one of them with the 12 string intro. It’s the second-longest track on the album weighing in at 11 minutes, 24 seconds, and contains some GREAT! transitional changes and progression along its path. It also features Peter Jones on Saxophone and Troy Donockley on Uilleann Pipes.

Lyrically the song pertains to the dying love that Peter Cushion had for his wife Helen who he married in 1943 and died in 1971. He never did remarry and although he was not religious he was a firm believer in God and the afterlife and believed that they would become one again when he eventually passed on. The loss of his wife affected him deeply and at one stage he thought of committing suicide and it was only a poem that his wife had written that prevented him from doing so.

In 1975 he wrote a letter to the BBC program Jim’ll Fix It asking that a new rose be bred and named after his late wife. Jimmy Savile the presenter of the show agreed and the process was filmed ending with the creation of a new strain of yellow rose being presented to Cushion, and that is what the rose is pertaining to in the song title.

Peter Cushion was very much typecasted for his horror films in very much the same way Christopher Lee was and they both co-starred in many films together and were the best of friends even off the stage. You could say the pair of them was the king of Hammer Horror films though they also starred in many other non-horror films and blockbusters at that. He appeared in no less than 67 films and several TV dramas and he also was not fond of horror or sci-fi films and preferred other films to them.

Musically there are some really GREAT!! Genesis influences that come into play around the 4:16 mark that incorporates a touch of Camel towards the end of it. Also, watch out for the Rick Wakeman keyboard riff that Reed has nicked around the 6:02 mark 🙂 Overall, “The Rose” might very well project itself like a love song but it’s also got some very good PROGMATIC! moments along its path and is another contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 6. Masters Of Illusion.

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The final song on the album is a 16 minute, 39-second PROGMATIC! epic and just as sure as the album kicked off with something that along the lines of the bands 2004 album Seven it also ends off with one. It’s also the second of the newer songs that were written for the album and you get lashings of GREAT! keyboard and guitar and bags of progression and influences along its path.

The final typecasted actor from the Hammer House of Horrors vaults is none other than the American born actor Vincent Price. He for me had the most distinctive voice of them all and it worked a treat on “The Black Widow” which can be found on Alice Cooper’s prolific album Welcome To My Nightmare. He also made no more than 100 films, appeared in many TV dramas, documentaries, and also worked in the radio and theatre and has 2 stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for motion pictures and television.

Price and Christopher Lee were born on the same day (May 27th) and Peter Cushing was born on the 26th. All three are considered legends of the horror genre, and all three appeared together in Scream and Scream Again (1970) and House of the Long Shadows (1983). He must have had an attraction to films with “House” in the titles and eight of the horror films he appeared in all had “House” in the title. The one I perhaps recall the most is The House on Haunted Hill which was released in the same year I was born in 1959.

Both the Reed brothers have their own favorite film of his which happens to be the Witchfinder General from 1968. The lyrical content we have here is based around the making of that particular film and the blows that Price came to with the film director Michael Reeves. Musically it’s quite a different kettle of fish and it opens up with an orchestral introduction that reflects sadness and features a nice touch on the lead guitar by Chris Fry and allows Christina Booth to come in nicely with the opening verse.

The song then kicks into action around the 1:48 mark and you will get to hear a Marillion influence with the synth work and Camel influences with the guitar work. A bit further on around the 4:24 mark we get some Gordon Giltrap and Steve Howe influences. At 8:45 we get some Yes harmonies followed by more Howe like guitar playing and around the 13:18 mark and it all ends off with more of Howe’s influence. I am sure there is plenty of other influences along its lengthy journey and there is plenty enough here to keep you attentive and listening.

The albums self-titled track is my personal favorite on the album although I do think the lyrical content is certainly the weakest set of lyrics on the album and I find them very repetitive. I would also say that unless you had watched the interview on the DVD you would not have a clue what the lyrics were pertaining too and find them very odd. But the vocals are expressed well enough to carry the song along with the music and it very much merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Summary…

To sum up my review of Masters Of Illusions by Magenta. I personally think Magenta has come back with a force and returned to much of the consistent form that can be found on their first couple of albums. But I would also say regarding its concept I do find that its a bit of an oddball especially in relation to how well the concept worked for their 6th studio album The Twenty Seven Club. The concept is not on that level and I also find some of the orchestration a bit of an oddball in relation to the Hammer House of Horrors actors that the concept is based upon. I know that it is based on the actor’s personal lives but it’s hard not to identify them with the character roles they played.

But having said all that the Masters Of Illusions is very much one of the bands stronger albums and does not disappoint really at all in many ways it’s like an album of pop songs with a load of prog thrown in for good measure. In some ways, it’s a bit like you are getting some of the finer pop qualities found on their 3rd album Home fused with the prog side qualities of their 2nd album Seven. It is only really the orchestral side of things that gives this album more of a new fresh approach more than anything else.

I personally find that once you get beyond the orchestral intro’s and the core of the band comes into play, that is where the excitement really lies and that is where this album becomes far more interesting and enjoyable. Most of the strength of the album is in its opening and closing tracks but there is plenty enough here throughout to keep your juices flowing and enjoy. The track placement as been very well thought out and the album flows very well from start to finish.  My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Masters Of Illusion“. “Bela“. “A Gift From God” and “The Rose“.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of Magenta’s 8th studio album Masters Of Illusion. It’s a very strong body of work with all the material that was written for it and there is nothing remotely enough along this album to really disappoint. As for it being the prog album of the year, I would certainly say it’s the most interesting one I have heard so far this year especially in that the songs were mostly written and structured around the verse and chorus structures that most pop songs are written. Yet there is still plenty of PROGMATIC! goodies that fly out of the woodwork to keep most prog-rockers happy and content and it’s certainly worth checking out.

It does not cost an arm and a leg to check out either unlike Rick Wakeman’s latest album which in my opinion is well overpriced. Plus you get a 5.1 mix of the album in this Magenta package and you are near enough getting the DVD for free. You cannot go wrong at its price point and you are getting 100% value for the buck.

Overall. Masters Of Illusion is near enough a solid album that has been very well written and produced and is near enough up there with some of the bands best output of work over the last 20 years. It’s got everything you would expect to hear from Magenta and you will hear some TASTY! influences from the likes of Genesis, Yes, Camel, Marillion, Mike Oldfield, and more. There is certainly enough to float your boat so to speak and they a really GREAT! band that contains quality musicians.

Let The Spotlight Shine On Me…

The album tracklisting is as follows:

01. Bela. 11:15.
02. A Gift From God. 8:28.
03. Reach For The Moon. 9:24.
04. Snow. 6:04.
05. The Rose. 11:24.
06. Masters Of Illusion. 16:39.

Lee’s Overall Complete Package Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 9/10

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10

The Bonus Material Rating Score. 7/10

The 5.1 Mix Rating Score. 8/10

The Original Album Rating Score. 9/10

Lee Speaks About Music… #157

Long, Long Skies – Gordon Midgley

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Introduction…

Well it was only a few months back at the end of May that Gordon Midgley released a 4-track EP entitled Guests and it was a very promising release that contained some more of his better works and well worth checking out if you have not already. Now he’s back with a 7-track mini album entitled Long, Long Skies to which was inspired by his trip to Chicago in the states last year.

It was also his trip to Chicago and his friends that helped him get back on his feet and recover after an almost all down low and the EP Guests was the first, we had heard of him for quite a while. I guess also with the lockdown due to the Coronavirus he also had a lot more time on his hands to work on more material hence the release of this new offering he has brought to the table. 

Like I have mentioned in many of my other reviews of Gordon’s music over the past few years he has been improving all the time regarding his production skills and he’s also been building up his guitar collection and even taken up the drums. He’s quite a talent and a very skilled multi-instrumentalist who knows how to knock up a GREAT! tune every now and then. 

Here you can see him on his Alesis kit playing to the intro of the albums self-titled track in this demonstration video he put on his Youtube channel to promote the new album. He’s picked up the drums very well and effectively he could be seen now has a complete one-man band. 

Since the death of his father back in 2018 Gordon has travelled to many other countries to get himself out of a rut of how low he was feeling inside. There was even a spell where had completely disappeared from Facebook so I guess he needed to keep himself busy in other ways to heal and take his mind off things. They do say that travel broadens the mind and the Long, Long Skies is an album that reflects his travels and perhaps runs a bit deeper. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The album is available in the form of a digital download only, which is a format and good platform for many unknown artists to get their music out there. It also saves on the expense it costs to put it out in a physical format especially if you are not going to be selling them by the bucket load so to speak. It’s also worth noting that on places like Bandcamp you do have the choice of audio formats to choose from so you still can match the same quality of the physical product and even Hi-Res stereo in some cases where they have made the album available in 24-bit.

Artwork.

The artwork for the album cover was done by Nathan Jon Tillet who is the other half and singer in the Napier’s Bones project. Nathan has the skills and knack of reshaping photographs and doing designs at a very skilful level and I’ve always admired the artwork he does. Here is has remodelled a photograph that Gordon snapped during his trip to Chicago and below is the original photo he took.

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He’s completely polished up the city and it now looks very reflective with its polished tile floor and skyline and he has done quite an amazing job here. To be perfectly honest Chicago needs polishing up and it’s well noted for its notorious crime rate more so than any other city in the whole of the US. 

Long, Long Skies Album In Review…

Long, Long Skies is the 7th release from his output of music from his solo career since 2015. It was released on the 10th July 2020 and is another one of his mini albums in that it comes with 7 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 31 minutes, 36 seconds. The material on the album is made up of instrumental and vocal tracks and over its shorter distance it makes the album much easier to digest, take in and get to grips with in no time at all. I would also say this an album that needs a few spins specially to allow all the tracks to sink in properly. 

Like many musicians these days they have their own little studio set up in their homes and often associate their own little studio setup with a name. The material upon Long, Long Skies was primarily recorded this year at Scanulf Studios which is the name he’s given to his own little studio. You can also see him here in his home studio demonstrating one of the more recent guitars he’s been adding to his collection. 

I think it’s quite evident from this video that Gordon’s skills are branching out into wider areas with how he’s so professionally demonstrated and presented this video and gone into detail about the instrument. I found it very interesting and his confidence very much shines like many Youtube creators who do this sort of thing all the time to more or less to make a living out of it. Although Gordon’s intentions are very much more of a hobby and not for that purpose and I would like to see more of the same in the future.

Much of the material Gordon wrote for his 4-track EP Guests I felt did measure up to some of his finest output of his works like you will hear on albums such as The Fall of the House of Usher and the Napier’s Bones album Monuments. However, on this new album I am detecting something a bit different, it’s hard to quite put my finger on it but I feel some of the material on the Long, Long Skies has more of a song structure about it and a bit more in the rock department.

Although most of the PROGMATIC! elements are still very much evident and present and Gordon never really deviates too far from his own style of music and has never really changed over the years in particular with the biggest majority of work he has done on his solo and Napier’s Bones albums. There is also more of a prog-rock feel to the output of his music and I guess that is down to many of his influences and also the particular different scales he plays over on the guitar.

Speaking of influences I would say some of his usual guitar influences such as Steve Hackett and Brian May have taken a back seat on this new album and have been replaced by a few others and it has a lot more input of himself injected into it too.

Musicians & Credits…

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All songs & music written and produced by Gordon Midgley. Recorded by Gordon Midgley sometime in 2020 at Scanulf Studios Bradford, England. Mixed & Mastered by Gordon Midgley. Album Cover Design by Nathan Jon Tillet.

Musicians:
Gordon Midgley: Vocals – Electric Guitars – 6 & 12 String & Acoustic Guitars -Bass – Analogue Monosynth – Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

The material that makes up the album Long, Long Skies is a mixture of not only vocal and instrumental tracks, but also short and lengthy tracks. One of the more notable differences on this album is that it does not utilise a lot of keyboards and the music is more driven by the guitars, bass and drums that give some of the tracks more of a ROCK! feel and approach to the music. 

As with most of the material Gordon writes there is generally some form of a concept behind it all. Although with his previous EP Guests it was hard to detect if there was one and it perhaps needed more than 4 tracks to give it a bigger picture if there was one. Even though the Long, Long Skies is a bit longer and contains 7 tracks to which 4 of them have lyrical content. I would not say that it’s just a collection of songs because the lyrics do tend to pertain to a journey. They could also reflect his own personal travels out in the wilderness of nowhere-land and into the light of city. 

I will try my best to guide you through the void of this journey as we now take a closer look at the album tracks, but as with all lyrical content each will have their own path of how it comes across and speaks to them. So, let’s now take a closer look as I go through each track individually. 

Track 1. A Single Step.

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The album gets off to a flying start with its opening track “A Single Step” and this is quite a ROCKY! little number and you could say in a couple of ways. The first being in terms of how the music runs along and secondly with what the lyrical content is pertaining too, or at least what I think they are pertaining too. Regarding the lyrical content a single step could be seen as the first step of a journey of a thousand miles and no doubt Gordon has travelled thousands of miles and seen many other parts of the world. 

This particular journey very much reflects back to the days where he liked to travel out into the wilderness and climb mountains which was another one of his hobbies. It also reflects the dangers and risks that is involved in mountain climbing and how one wrong step can lead to one’s demise, and it reflects how close he has come to taking that fatal step. 

Musically this song totally ROCKS! even with how Gordon delivers the lyrics. It’s perhaps a bit like a combination of Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath in that it starts off with like a FLOYDISH! intro and for some reason the heavier guitar riff that comes into play at 1:07 does remind me a bit like Sabbath’sMegalomania” only slowed down a bit more. I even find myself sometimes singing the words “Feel it slipping away, slipping in tomorrow. Got to get to happiness, from the depths of sorrow”. Those lyrics may also pertain to nowhere-land too 🙂 

Overall, “A Single Step” is one of my personal favourite tracks on the album it has all the right elements to make it ROCK! and it’s got quite a powerful build to it all. There are plenty of other influences here and a lot of Gordon’s own input injected into the song. The pumping bass line on the intro also reminds me a bit like Queen’sFlash” and it’s very much a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! 

Track 2. Riviera.

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This next piece is a short little ditty and the shortest track on the album. It features Gordon playing an acoustic solo on his acoustic guitar to which he has given the title of the “Riviera” to it. To be honest I have no idea what Riviera inspired him to write the piece and there are a good few of them dotted around the worlds landscape. The word itself is derived from Latin and maybe applied to any coastline especially those that are sunny and attract tourists.

I chose a picture of the French Riviera basically because it was the first one, I came across that had sun loungers on the beach to reflect the relaxation and warmth that the piece reflects. I have to admit that on my first listen to the piece it perhaps did not come across like that and I found it less interesting. But some tracks do take more than one spin to allow them to open up and speak more to you and that is how this piece comes across to me now and it’s a very pleasant little ditty.

Track 3. Discovery Awaits.

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The second of the 4 vocal tracks on the album has quite a funky groove in particular with the bass line and rhythm guitar it does also feel that it was constructed around the bass line. It’s perhaps something a bit different to the norm of what you would find from his normal output of work for his own solo work and his Napeier’s Bones project but it also has some of the darker and haunting presence you would find on his 2017 album The Fall of the House of Usher.

Lyrically the words are pertaining to taking a new course in direction relinquishing the past and turning over a new leaf so to speak. As a matter of fact, I think that the lyrical content to all the songs on the album are in some way tied to the subject matter of travel and they could be seen as a personal journey through life. I would also say the lyrics to this particular song hold the key to its concept. But then again, I could be barking up the wrong tree 🙂 

Musically it’s perhaps verging a bit more on the popular side of things with its funky groove. However the other elements such as the synth solo (most likely played on his Korg MS-20) that comes into play between the 1:26 – 1:49 mark and the guitar solo around the 2:25 – 3:10 mark plus the way it all ends off give it more of a PROGMATIC! vibe. 

It’s perhaps a bit hard to describe how it differs from the norm but its bit like he’s fused some of material he does with some of the other collaborative projects such as Bowling Tide he’s worked on in the past with some of his more usual style. It’s another of the tracks on the album that took a few more spins for to get to grips with and overall, what he’s done here works pretty well in particular with how the album flows and runs along and it’s an integral part of the story.

Track 4. City Song.

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This is one of two standout tracks on the album and this is a very well-crafted and structured song in both the musical and lyrical department. Lyrically the words continue from the previous song and there is a feel of a story behind the concept of this album depending how you look at it. I also feel it reflects his own personal journey out of the wilderness of the mountain range into the light of the city and travelling to other places and seeing all they behold could perhaps be his new hobby and the discovery that awaited him if that makes any sense. 

There are a couple of songs on this album that put me in mind of Roger Waters and this is one of them in particular with how it runs along musically and the elements we have here such as the environmental sounds in the background and the slide guitar. I’ve always loved how Gordon so well structures his music around both acoustic and electric guitars and everything he’s playing on this song is very well arranged. It’s a song that has plenty of progression and changes its moods with how some of the transitional changes bring it down and how it builds up its power to take it along its course. 

It’s got a GORGEOUS! acoustic section around the 3:03 mark and a GREAT! electric solo that lifts up its power towards the end around the 5:01 mark. The mandolin effect he’s playing on the guitar also works very well in the song. The “City Song” is another of my personal favourite tracks on the album and a very strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! 

Track 5. Dreaming Fields.

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This is another acoustic solo piece and this one is a bit longer and is more structured than the second track on the album. This piece instantly spoke to me and it’s perhaps more than just a little ditty and is a BEAUTIFUL! piece. It works very well to break the album up too and I like it a lot. It could even reflect on how Gordon likes to keep his feet firmly on the ground these days and hiking is another one of his hobbies.

Track 6. Long, Long Skies.

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The albums self-titled track is an instrumental track and happens to be the longest track on the album weighing in at 8 minutes, 22 seconds and it’s the most PROGMATIC! track on the album. This piece has bags of progression along its path and it kicks itself off with a very powerful opening that has quite a Rush influence to it. It also contains a really GORGEOUS! acoustic section that comes into play at the 3:19 mark that is very much influenced by early Genesis and utilises both 6 and 12 string acoustic guitars, and if that’s not enough it even has a slight touch of Mike Oldfield with how it ends off.

The influences fly out of the woodwork on this track and it features Gordon’s array of instrumentation of guitars, bass, synths, drums and they all have been put to good use. Even the mandolin effect he used on the 4th track makes another welcoming appearance and everything is manipulated to perfection.

The “Long, Long Skies” is my personal favourite track on the album but I would not say it merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! with ease because there are some quite strong contenders on this album with the vocal tracks too, especially the “City Song“. But this particular track is very much PROG-ROCK HEAVEN! and is up there with the very best of his works. It’s also the other stand out track on the album.

Track 7 First Rays.

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The final track on the album puts me in mind of some of the early acoustic material that Roger Waters done on Pink Floyd’s 1969 double album Ummagumma and the collaborative work he did with Ron Geesin on the soundtrack album Music From The Body in 1970. Certainly, the way it opens up acoustically and runs along over the first few minutes. It then develops into something a bit more raunchier and rocks up with the electric guitar solo to round it all off.

The lyrical content pertains to embracing the new discovery that was awaiting and this particular song rounds off the story behind the concept and the album very well. It’s very much another contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Summary…

To sum up Gordon Midgley’s mini album Long, Long Skies. It’s an album that yet again contains a strong body of work with the most of the material that was written for it. There is no doubt that since his 2-year spell of being away from music he has returned to form and is producing some of his best output of works that is on equal par with some of his previous works. I think even the EP Guests he put out a few months back also made that quite evident and it was very much a welcoming return to see him back. 

What also holds up well is the concept behind Long, Long Skies and even though I do think it’s more related personally to the man himself, I do feel there is a good story here with how he’s gone about writing the lyrical content and how all the songs on the album are tied to each other to portray it from start to finish. 

Though I could be wrong about the concept and I might have delved into the album too deeply, but that is how it comes across to me personally. I do also see it has a travelling journey and it’s a very good one at that and my personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Long, Long Skies“. “City Song“. “A Single Step” and “First Rays. 

Conclusion…

In conclusion I would say that the Long, Long Skies is quite a solid enough album and it has enough influences to keep your juices flowing and light a few fires along the way. I do also feel it’s a strong output of work and enough has been done here to make the album flow from start to finish and make it a very satisfying album and one that excels in parts. The track placement has been very well been thought-out and I would even go as far as to say that both his EP Guests and this mini album Long, Long Skies are far too good to be given away freely and that is very generous of him to do so. 

Overall, the Long, Long Skies is very much up there with Gordon Midgley’s best output of works and there is no doubt that the right consistency is flowing through this man’s veins right now to be able to come up with something as good as this so soon. The production values speak for itself and so far, 2020 has been pretty much a dismal year for prog-rock and there is not a lot out there at all.  My advice is give the album a couple of spins and you may very well find that 2020 is not a bad year for prog-rock after all.

You can listen for free or even purchase Long, Long Skies for free has it does come at a buy it now name your price. However, I do feel its worthy of putting something in the collection tin after all the hard work that has been put into it. The album is available to purchase in the form of a digital download @ Bandcamp and can be found here: https://gordonmidgley.bandcamp.com/album/long-long-skies

There Beyond The Skyline, More Than Glass Or Steel…

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. A Single Step. 2:48.
02. Riviera. 1:22.
03. Discovery Awaits. 4:04.
04. City Song. 6:54.
05. Dreaming Fields. 1:50.
06. Long, Long Skies. 8:22.
07. First Rays. 5:56.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #156

GoGo Penguin – GoGo Penguin

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Introduction…

My final review in this 5 part uninterrupted series of GoGo Penguin’s discography is of their very latest album to date that got released last month and for some reason the band decided to give the album no title and only use their eponymous name as if it were their self-titled debut album so to speak. I am pretty sure that it was not done in a way as if to say they were turning their backs on their previous albums and music and this was a fresh start and were doing something completely different to what they had previously done in the past.

The one thing I will say about this musical trio is that they do always tend to come up with something a bit more fresh to keep their music interesting and that is something they have managed to maintain throughout their musical career. I would also say that since the release of their 3rd album Man Made Object back in 2016, they have also injected a bit more excitement along the way.

The other thing they have managed to maintain is a level of consistency and that is perhaps a much harder task for many artists and bands to do, but so far, I have yet to see this musical trio disappoint. Having said all that does the bands 5th album measure up to the standards of their previous albums and still carry a torch? Before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in the same quality gatefold cardboard Digisleeve that was used for their debut album and like their debut album it does not come with a booklet. The linear and credit productions notes are printed on the inside of the gatefold sleeve and apart from those it does not come with any additional informative information. Overall, it’s a nice presentation that replicates a mini version of a vinyl album very well.

I pre-ordered my copy on the 17th May from Amazon UK for £10.99 and it arrived on the day of its release to which the release of the album was put back a week. It also came with a free digital download of the album which enabled me to listen to the album before the CD arrived. The album was released in 2 other media formats with the Digital Download being the cheapest option at around £9.90.

The other physical format was the Double Vinyl album which offered you the choice of either clear of black vinyl. The albums were pressed onto 180-gram vinyl with the clear vinyl being the most expensive option of a round £27. It’s also a Limited Edition. The black vinyl is still widely available on Amazon and retails at around £23.99.

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Artwork.

The front cover displays the bands Logo and was designed by the bands pianist Chris Illingworth. It replicates the papier-mâché origami penguin that they found that inspired the name of the band. The layout was done by Paul Middlewick. Just like the bands second and third albums it does not display the bands name or title of the album. Although with the bands Logo printed on the front it does perhaps let you know who the album is by if you are familiar with their Logo that is.

Overall, it’s very much like all of their album covers being very minimalistic and they are not the sort of album covers you would really consider putting on display to look at whist listening to the music on the album. I think the only thing I can say about it, is that it is consistent 🙂

The Album GoGo Penguin In Review…

GoGo Penguin by GoGo Penguin was officially released on the 12th June 2020 a week later than its scheduled release date on the 5th June. The reason for the delay was to show their support for Black Lives Matter which had once again raised a global concern brought on by the recent tragic death of George Floyd at the helm of police brutality in Minneapolis in the States.

The album itself contains 10 instrumental tracks spread over an overall playing time of 43 minutes, 45 seconds which is very much suited to my personal time slot for an album making it much easier for the listener to take it all in and digest. It also goes to show how serious the band are when it comes down to quality by releasing it on a double LP. Most artists would not have laid out the extra expense and would have released it on a single LP despite the vinyl restrictions.

Once again, the album was very well received and it managed to reach Number 2 in the UK Jazz & Blues Official Album Charts. It appears that the Brits are paying more attention to the band for a change, and right at this moment in time of writing at the end of June it has entered the US Top Contemporary Jazz Albums Billboard Charts at Number 6. So, things are looking good for the band apart from the fact that they cannot take the album on road at the moment due to the effects of the Coronavirus.

The band decided to record the album at The Chairworks Studios which is situated in Castleford, Yorkshire, England. The studio boasts that it has the largest and finest residential studio complex and I must say it certainly looks quite smart and posh inside. To be honest with how less music sells these days and how many have set up their own studios at home, it surprises me how people can throw all this money at putting a studio like this together and still maintain it and make it pay.

Studio   The Chairworks Studios

I could not find out the history of when the studio was set up but from what I can gather it may have been around 2012/13 and the studio was the last of the final incarnations in a long heritage line of recording studios in the Yorkshire area. The studio itself is constructed in a late 19th century Victorian factory in Castleford which is one of the more bustling towns in Yorkshire.

The Studio A control room (pictured at the top in the photo above) has one of the largest collections of high-end outboard gear in Europe. Which is all built around what many believe to be the ultimate mixing console that is a well-maintained SSL 4000 G+ with flying faders, total recall and ultimation. One of the double-height live rooms was designed by studio legend John Wood best known for his work with Fairport Convention, John Martyn, Cat Stevens, Sandy Denny, Nick Drake, The Incredible String Band, Pink Floyd and Squeeze.

Studio Accomadation

Residential Studio Accommodation

The residential accommodation is well neat and adequate, it’s also got more room than an hotel room and looks more like a self-contained flat. You can see that no expense has been spared here and it must cost a few bob to record an album at this luxurious studio. Surprisingly most of the artists who have recorded at the studio I have never heard of such as the likes of British Sea Power, Skinny Living, Patrick Wolf, Gavin Friday and many more. The only ones I do know are the Kaiser Chiefs, The Fall and One Direction.

Once again GoGo Penguin used their faithful producers, recording and mixing engineers Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams and the album was once again mixed at 80 HERTZ Studios. They also decided to use the same mastering engineer Norman Nitzsche who mastered their previous album, he also done the vinyl cut of the album too.

The one thing the band had in making the new album was a bit more time off the road which enabled them to a spend a bit more time in putting the new material together. It also gave them more time to spend at home with their families to take away much of the pressure constraints. They spent 11 days in September recording the album at The Chairworks and the album got mixed in November and mastered this year in January.

Musicians & Credits…

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All compositions by GoGo Penguin. Produced by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Recorded at The Chairworks Studios Castleford, Yorkshire, England between 16th – 27th September 2019. Mixed at 80 HERTZ Studios Manchester, England between 4th – 8th & 18th – 22nd November 2019. Recorded & Mixed by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Mastered and Vinyl Cut by Norman Nitzsche at Calyx Mastering Berlin, Germany in January 2020. Artwork by Chris Illingworth. Layout by Paul Middlewick.

Musicians:
Chris Illingworth: Piano.
Nick Blacka: Double Bass.
Rob Turner: Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

According to a live stream Q & A interview with Chris Illingworth hosted by Andy Stott on the 4th June. The reasoning behind the self-titled name that was chosen for the album was down to them not being able to find a track from the new material that would represent the album as a whole. Whereas in the past they always had certain tracks that had a sort of concept or influential meaning behind them that would fit in with an appropriate album title. The other reason for the album having no title was so that is would stand out and say this is who we are so to speak.

The one thing that GoGo Penguin decided on from the start of their career is that they were a band which is why they chose a band name rather than go along with the name of one of the members from it like most Jazz Trio’s would do for example. Even though they appear to look like a jazz trio with the instruments they play, their music could not really be tied to one specific genre and they fuse many ideas from many different genres and styles to make it what it is. They also work as a group or a team in putting their music together and effectively it is done in the way of a statement to say this is who we are and what we do sort of thing.

The new material on their latest album in a way could be seen as extension or expansion of the material that was written for their previous two albums, it also really shows how the band are growing more with confidence. There is no doubt that the band have found their own unique style and are sticking with that formula so let’s now take a closer look at the album individual album tracks to see how it all pans out.

Track 1. 1_#.

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By the looks of the title it appears that the band have started to go more minimalistic with them as well 🙂 This opening track could even be seen as a sharp introduction and effectively that is what is. It’s the shortest track one the album and is a dramatic little ditty played on the keys, to which a bit of bowed bass harmonics and field recordings of the rain, wind, birds and children have been thrown in for good measure to make the piece more effective and interesting.

The sound of the rain pelting down on the windows or roof always gives me a feeling and sense of warmth and security when you are stuck indoors and out of the rain and this opening little ditty captures that. Listening to this piece I visualise myself looking out of a window at the blustery weather in a quiet room like a study and perhaps would have titled it somewhere along the lines of “The Study” or “Out Of It All”.

Track 2. Atomised.

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A change of pace from the much slower opening dramatic piece and the heat is turned up a good few notch’s and this is where the album kicks in sort of thing. Atomisation is a process that reduces things to fine or smaller particles and this is a piece that was constructed around a small particle or rather a 10 second piano loop that Rob Turner came up in Ableton.

Both he and Nick Blacka jammed around the small piece and it was when Turner incorporated a UK garage style beat into it that the bass line came together. Chris Illingworth refined the piano parts and added some classical-inspired flourishes over the top. It very much shows how the band work together has a team and how minimalistic ideas is very much a part of the process of their music.

The band decided to record it live and do a live video of it at Low Four Studios earlier on in the year and recently stuck it on their official Youtube channel to further promote the album and let people know its out there. They very much played it all as well instead of playing a radio edit of the piece and have got it down to a tee. Turner also incorporated a bit of hip-hop style on the kit to break it up for the change at the end.

It’s a very well worked out piece that contains some fine progression as it develops and works its way along and does wonders to inject a bit more adrenalin into the album with its faster pace. For many “Atomised” will be seen as one of the albums stand out tracks and it has to be a contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 3. Signal In The Noise.

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The longest track on the album weighing in at just over 6 minutes and this is a piece that was developed over many years and one they had kept toying around with ideas to try and make it work. They even incorporated parts from other pieces that they had been working on for years and it all started out from the drums to which Illingworth added further ideas into it. They even recorded a version of it for their last album A Humdrum Star but decided to leave it off that album and use it for this one instead.

It’s very much a piece that has bags of progression along its path with all the ideas and parts that have been put into it to make it what’s it’s become. There is a lot of rhythmical patterns that have gone into making it and Illingworth has managed to sculpture some fine melodic lines into the piece. It’s a piece that also uses some effects and all 3 musicians have worked their butt off to make it what is. “Signal In The Noise” is my persona; favourite track on the album and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 4. Open.

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This is a lovely piece that has more of a melodic structure to it, it also has a slight touch of an oriental feel to it as well and uses effects to which Chris Illingworth used an effects pedal on his piano. The pedal he used is a Tensor made by Red panda (as seen below) and it has all sorts of delays, reverse pitch shifting, time stretching and hold effects, it also has a looper and is quite a creative tool.

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It’s very much a very well worked out composition to which a lot more thought as gone into how the piece is written and develops along. The piece is very much structured around the piano and Illingworth is working his butt off on the piece going through many melodic changes and flourishes on the keys. You really do have to have some strength in your fingers to play a piece like this and they are doing a damn site more work that the effects pedal is doing that’s for sure.

To be honest although the effects pedal is doing its job with its swirling and swooshing reverse effect you could just as easily get away without it and it’s use is really bugger all in relation to the work that has been put into the piano, bass and drums. Nick Blacka literally has to weave his bass lines around the piano and he’s done it to perfection. Even his bowed work on the bass that comes into play around the 3:33 mark is a damn site more effective than the pedal 🙂

Rob Turner uses mallets instead of sticks to give it it more of a softer acoustic sound and it was their producer Brendan Williams who suggested the idea to him. It pays to have a good producer at hand and they work to very good effect on the track.

Overall, “Open” is a really GREAT! album track and even though the band are still working around minimalistic repeating sequences there is a lot more progression and thought put into its melodic structure and it carries a lot of weight. It very much another contender the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 5. F Maj Pixie.

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I can only presume that this piece is played in F Major judging by the title and the other smaller part in the title came from a riff that reminded them of the band The Pixies according to an interview with Nick Blacka I read. This is another wonderful piece with a GREAT! melodic structure to which once again came from the idea of an electronic piece that was developed in Ableton Live’s DAW. They had been working on a couple of ideas over a few weeks separately and in the end decided to put them both together and the result worked out very well, I think.

You can hear how well it all turned out in this other live video of the band that was once again filmed at Low Four Studios in Manchester which is taken from their official Youtube channel and they do a GREAT! job of it.

I quite like the quite dramatic change at the end too and that might have come from one of the other pieces they were working on at the time, but it all fits in very well and besides supporting the drums Blacka’s bass line also provides a very good counter melody to the piece. “F Maj Pixie” is another GREAT! album track that has a shining bright quality to it and you can see how well they work as individuals.

Track 6. Kora.

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The title is named after the African stringed instrument in the picture above and the inspiration for this particular piece came from hearing a chap playing one in Piccadilly Gardens which is nothing to do with Piccadilly Circus in London but rather a green space in Manchester city centre. It’s the sound of the instrument that fascinated Illingworth and he wanted to try and replicate the sound on the piano by muting some of the strings in typical Jamie Cullum style who he has met in the past and also has done the same thing on other tracks in the past.

You can see how effective the muted strings work and how like Cullum he has very much mastered the technique. Although the sound it makes very much gives it sort of an oriental vibe and is similar to the Koto which is a Japanese stringed musical instrument derived from China. But it is quite effective and has a plucky sort of characteristic to the sound it projects like the both of these stringed instruments. The live video was once again captured at Low Four Studios.

There is quite a great deal of skill that goes into pulling off a piano performance like this live and Illingworth needs to be on the ball all the time with his concentration and no doubt has his work cut out. It’s perhaps one of the most complex pieces on the album and all 3 musicians have done a GRAND! job on it. It’s very much like “Atomised” with its energy and with how the track stands out on the album and is another contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 7. Totem.

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This is another of the more dramatic pieces on the album and its one that starts off slowly and builds itself up to a comfortable pace to drive it along quite well. Once again, all 3 musicians are working their butt off here and do an amicable job on the piece. The title of the track was inspired by Grayson Perry’s novel “The Descent of Man” and in his book, he describes the financial parts of the city as being a forest of huge totems jutting into the sky.

It’s got quite a THEMATIC! feel to it with how the music is structured and the pace it drives along at. The bass line carries the theme throughout along with the piano which also builds up around the theme. Interesting enough Grayson Perry was into James Bond and military toys and I wonder if that was also another inspiration to inject a thematic approach to the piece. It’s nothing like a Bond theme but it does sound like they are on a mission here and it’s another fine album track.

Track 8. Embers.

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It’s time to soothe things right down to a more calming and relaxed pace and this piece was designed for that purpose and the band wanted something that would reflect the mood of sitting down in one place. They also wanted to create an idea of visiting a particular space briefly and before you know it’s gone. I suppose a fire and it’s burning embers matched that description and they done a very good job of it here and its perhaps not going to set the world on fire so to speak, but is pleasant enough to relax in front of the fire with a nice cup of drinking chocolate or cocoa.

Track 9. To The Nth.

Well the title sounds like it was inspired from the streets in New York but the original idea started out from something that Rob Turner had knocked up in Ableton whilst he was in Tokyo. Like many of the pieces that come from these ideas they very much get further developed and constructed into fine works of art and this particular piece does have more of a jazz structure to it and is lovely flowing piece of work.

There is a bit more of a nice steady flowing pace to this track and its got quite an harmonic and melodic structure to it and it even allows Nick Blacka to squeeze in a bit of bass solo around the 2 minute mark and I like how you can hear his bass strings rattling along with the vibration. I like how the piece builds up too and they all done another GREAT! job here. It perhaps does not have the energy of some of the earlier tracks on the album however, it does have an uplifting feel to it and it’s another really GREAT! album track.

Track 10. Don’t Go.

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Sadly, it’s time to go but it’s no use throwing a tantrum over it like the picture I chose here and no doubt they will be back with another GREAT! album sometime in the near future. This is another piece that was specifically designed to put an end to the album and once again the band recorded it live at Low Four Studios and posted it on their official Youtube channel. They do play the piece slightly faster than it is on the album and Illingworth does not mute the keys on the piano to give it that pluck sound either.

It’s very much more minimalistic in that it uses a repeated sequence of notes on the piano riff that are consistent throughout the short piece. Turner works his way very subtly on the piece and Blacka plays a semi improvised bass melody that works very with the piano. It’s quite an emotive piece and rounds off the album very well.

Summary…

To sum up GoGo Penguin’s latest self-titled album there is no doubt that this particular album has all the makings of their previous two albums and it reflects certain similarities to the material that was written for much of the bands output and it very much all fits in with what the band is and who they are which is really what they saying with its eponymous title. 

However, I would not exactly say that the material on their new album could be seen has a step forward. But it still carries a torch and does measure up to their previous albums in that is does maintain their formidable style and that to me is more important rather than going in a completely different direction.  

Most of the albums strength and excitement I do tend to find has been injected into the first half of the album more or less and effectively it could be seen as an album that has two sides to reflect different moods. I cannot fault any of the material on the album but I do feel that juggling around with the track placement might have helped a bit in particular with how the last few tracks on the album tend to all flow along at a more steady pace and not having something a bit more upbeat to break it up. 

Like many of their albums they do come with a certain amount of standout tracks and this album is not short of them either and my particular highlights from the album are as follows: “Atomised“. “Signal In The Noise“. “Open” “Kora” and I would also include “To The Nth“. 

Conclusion…

To conclude my review the new self-titled album by GoGo Penguin. I personally do not think it’s a solid album and on par with the strength of the material that was written for their last couple of albums. However, that’s not to say that some of the material is not on equal terms with those albums and there is nothing here to disappoint either and overall, its a very enjoyable album to listen to. Like all their albums they have been very well produced and sound GREAT! 

I certainly do not think that their record label Blue Note Records will not be wanting to extend their 3-year record contract with the band either should they choose to stay with them. What lies next for the band will very much be in the hands of their management who has very much steered them along the road of their success. 

The good thing about GoGo Penguin’s music is that it’s not only attracting the younger generation but people of all ages and you can see that by many of the audiences at their live shows. Speaking of playing live once all this pandemic has blown over and they are able to go back out on the road I shall very much try and find the time to see them play live and I know for a fact with how particular this band pay a good bit of attention in getting a good sound it will be worth seeing them live. 

You will get to hear them properly too unlike the biggest majority of these neo prog rock bands who sound totally SHITE! live because they play at ridiculous volume levels and make up some perthitic excuse that they have to play that loud to get a good recording. I’ve never heard of so much crap in my life before and I would not bother wasting my money again going to see a lot of them.  

Over the past month or so since getting into the music of GoGo Penguin who to be honest (like I said at the beginning of this interrupted 5-part series of reviews of their discography) have a name that I never thought would have attracted my attention in million years. I can honestly say that I enjoy their music a lot and all of their albums was well worth adding to my record collection and will sit proudly on my shelf. They are without doubt GREAT! well talented musicians who have brought something a bit new and fresh for my ears to enjoy. 

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Selfie Released Penguin On The GoGo…

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. 1_#. 2:02.
02. Atomised. 4:23.
03. Signal In The Noise. 6:03.
04. Open. 4:47.
05. F Maj Pixie. 5:48.
06. Kora. 5:35.
07. Totem. 3:54.
08. Embers. 3:00.
09. To The Nth. 4:34.
10. Don’t Go. 3:39.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #155

A Humdrum Star – GoGo Penguin

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Introduction…

Much of the success that rubbed off GoGo Penguin’s third album Man Man Object very much continued and followed them along and the bands 4th album A Humdrum Star certainly showed by now that the band had landed on their feet so to speak. The band had spent around 200 days on the road doing a worldwide tour touring their previous album and further shows in America was attracting more of the attention over there than in their own country here in the UK.

Although they certainly never had any problems selling tickets to their live shows here in the UK and if you can afford to put on a show at the Royal Albert Hall in London then you must be doing well and something right. It’s also worth noting that they were also attracting a lot more attention in both Germany and Belgium than their own country too and their decision to cut a 3-album deal and sign-up to Blue Note Records in France appeared to be working out for both the band and the label.

I am pretty sure that the band were put under quite a bit of pressure to come up with the material to follow and measure up to the material that was written for their 3rd album Man Made Object and further the success it had brought them. It’s a difficult task for all artists to do and I would say that only a minority have successfully pulled it off as well. In the music business you are only as good as your next album when it comes to carrying on that success for most in the business.

However, it’s not always a case of how do you “TOP THAT! so to speak and some artists and bands have made such iconic albums that it would be impossible to do that. Pink Floyd’s 1973 album Dark Side Of The Moon is a perfect example of an iconic album and they were one of the few bands who did successfully manage to follow it up. Although I do not personally think they topped that album but I would say that they measured up to their high standards with the next 3 albums they released after it.

I would not exactly say that Man Made Object is an iconic album but it is nevertheless a very good album that contains a strong body of work and I do personally see it as their best album in terms of energy. I would also see it as something that would present the band with a challenge to come up with something next that would still keep their existing audience and attract even more attention and bring in more followers and fans alike to their music.

The one thing they did have in their favour judging by the bands first 3 albums is that GoGo Penguin were a band that were improving all the time. But before we take a look to see if the band had managed to carry on their success and come up with the goods, let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as usual.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in the same quality gatefold cardboard Digisleeve that was used for their 2nd album v2.0 where both the CD and Booklet are retrieved from the both sides like a vinyl album and it replicates a mini version of a vinyl album very well. It comes with an 8-page booklet that contains the linear and credit productions notes but does not include any informative information or photos of the band.

Unlike their previous album to which the CD format was only released in a standard plastic Jewel Case they did release their 4th album with an option of the jewel case or a digisleeve. I got mine from Amazon UK for £5.99 and it arrived in a jewel case. Having discovered afterwards it was also released in a Digisleeve I went out and brought it from a record store in London who were selling them new and sealed on eBay for £10.

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You could say that the album was that good I brought it twice 🙂 but I myself prefer DigiPaks & DigiSleeves and I think they give a better overall presentation which is why I do not mind paying that bit extra for them. I dare say in the future they will eventually re-release their 3rd album in a DigiPak & DigiSleeve with a few bonus tracks and I will buy that to replace the one I already have.

The album was also released in the form of a Digital Download and also on Black & Red vinyl to which both were pressed onto 2 180-gram LP’s. The coloured vinyl was released as a Limited Edition only.  I have to confess that these days with how they put a single album worth of material onto a double vinyl record sort of takes away the meaning of a double album from all those years ago.

I can see why they are doing it, and it is for quality reasons down to vinyl having restrictions of how much you can fit onto one side before the sound deteriorates. But it’s an expensive game these days and its price tag of £24.99 I personally think is well over the odds and you will never convince me that it sounds any better than a CD.

Artwork.

Once again the artwork was done by Paul Middlewick and I have confess that I have yet to be impressed by any of the artwork that was done for GoGo Penguin’s albums and they all look like the designs you would find in the templates you would get with a CD Labelling Kit 🙂 Here they have used a coloured spectrum of lines to represent the Humdrum Star. Not sure it does that at all and they would have been better off using a photo.

Out of their first 4 albums the only cover that made any sort of sense in the way of it being apt would have to be the design that was done for their previous album Man Made Object. The other notable thing about the album cover is that like their debut album they have included the band name and title.

The Album A Humdrum Star In Review…

GoGo Penguin’s 4th studio album A Humdrum Star was released on the 9th February 2018. The album contains 9 instrumental tracks spread over an overall playing time of 50 minutes, 41 seconds. Once again, the album was very well received upon its release and it hit number 5 in the US Top Jazz Albums Billboard Charts. Five places higher than their previous album. Although in the UK it was one place shorter than their previous album and peaked at Number 73 in the UK album charts.

The idea for the albums title was inspired by a quote by the astronomer and scientist Carl Sagan who was talking about the pale blue dot from his book he wrote back in 1994 of the same title which is about a vision of the human future in space. All 3 of the band members have an interest in space and the universe and have even played at the Bluedot Festival on a couple of occasions which has been an annual event since July 2016  It’s very much a music, science and culture event that’s held at the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire, England which is endorsed by the University of Manchester who are the current owners of the observatory.

The band recorded the album at Low Four Studios in Manchester which used to be the old Granada Studios where The Beatles rehearsed for their first ever TV appearance back in the early 60’s. The studio opened up in 1962 which was the same year the building was completed. It was designed by Ralph Tubbs, an architect renowned for his work on the Dome of Discovery for the Festival of Britain and the studio was used to record many TV Themes and Soundtracks for the Movies.

Dan Parrott launched Low Four Studio at the Old Granada Studios with his partner Brendan Williams in May 2016 and the space is now used to nurture and promote new local acts through live performances complete with studio audience and internet music television video live streaming. Very much the same sort of thing Jools Holland is doing these days. Brendan Williams also happens to be one of GoGo Penguin’s producers and recording engineers so you can see why they decided to use this particular studio.

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Low Four Studios

As with much of the new material the band wrote, the biggest majority of it would have been road tested at their live shows as they wrote them. They took some time out to record the album in June 2017 and the album was mixed and mastered between July and October of the same year. Once again most of the mixing was done at 80 HERTZ Studios in Manchester by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams and they used a different mastering engineer and the album was mastered in Germany by Norman Nitzsche.

Throughout 2018 GoGo Penguin spent much of their time on the road promoting their new album and they very much went on a world tour. They kicked off the tour in their own country England on the 8th February 2018 at the Roundhouse in London and also ended it off in Europe at the La Cigale in Paris, France on December the 10th December 2018. They toured most of Europe including Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Netherlands, Turkey and other international countries such as Japan, USA and Canada.

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They took a couple of months off over Christmas and New Year and in February 2019 they went back out on the road again adding countries like Brazil, Poland, Greece and the Ukraine and a few others to their list. GoGo Penguin have always been a hard-working band and spend a lot of their time on the road playing live. It was whilst on tour in America back in 2018 they got to do a mini concert on the 13th September and performed 3 of the tracks from the album “Raven“. “Bardo” and “Window” in Washington at NPR Musics Tiny Desk.

The Tiny Desk was set up by Bob Boilen back in 2008 after he and the editor of NPR Music Stephen Thompson left a bar show frustrated that they couldn’t hear the music over the crowd noise. The artist they were watching at the time was folk singer Laura Gibson and Thompson joked that maybe she should perform at Boilen’s desk.

A month later Boilen arranged for Laura Gibson to just do that and made an impromptu recording and posting it online and it attracted enough attention to make it into a series featuring many new and upcoming artists and more well-known artists such as Sting, Richard Thompson and Cat Stevens to name a few. It’s very popular on YouTube and by the time GoGo Penguin played behind the desk (which now looks like the counter of a book store) more than 800 concerts have been viewed a collective 2 billion times on the Tube. I’ve watched it a good few times and enjoy it.

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This mini concert is well worth watching and I was also quite amazed how the guys managed to set up in such a small space. I am fairly sure that Chris Illingworth does hit a couple of bum notes on “Raven” and to be honest it’s the first time I have ever heard him make any sort of mistake but that is all part and parcel of a live performance and was hardly that noticeable at all. It cannot be easy when you do not have your own instrument either and have to rely on what piano you get for each show.

Speaking of PIANOS! he also has to get permission to put tape over the strings and with an upright piano you will also need to take the front off with a screwdriver. Even though this is something that could be done on a Grand Piano without having to take it apart I often wonder how many would grant permission to put sticky tape on expensive pianos such as a Steinway and those things cost a bomb. The sticky tape does its job though and they knock both “Bardo” and “Window” out of the park on this performance.

The musical trio carried on playing more live shows and writing new material throughout 2019 and also released another EP only this time unlike the Live At Abbey Road EP they put out 3 years earlier this consisted of new recorded material. Oddly enough the EP was titled after the only new track that featured on their live EP from 2016 only this version does sound a bit different and is a minute shorter.

GoGo Penguin’s second EP Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film) was released on the 4th October 2019 it contains 5 instrumental tracks spread over an overall time of 22 minutes, 41 seconds. The EP was released in the form of a Digital Download and on 10″ Vinyl in Europe only. It was also released on CD in Japan only and like always you will pay through the nose for it and £23 for an EP that should retail at around £5 – £7 here in the UK is scandalous. To be honest even though the 10″ vinyl is only around £14 here in the UK I still find that a ridiculous price which is why I opted for the Digital Download and paid £2.79 for it on Amazon UK.

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The music that is featured on the 5-track EP Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film) was the score they wrote for Godfrey Reggio’s cult 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi and performed at the HOME cinema in Manchester, England back in October 2015. They decided to re-record it and recorded it at 80 HERTZ Studios in Manchester between the 25th – 27th January 2019. It was recorded and mixed by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams and mastered by Norman Nitzsche. The cover design was done by Paul Middlewick and the photograph of the circuit board was taken by Alexandre Debiève.

It’s perhaps the most adventurous artwork ever seen on a GoGo Penguin release although the picture of the circuit board I personally think does very little and bares no relation to the EP. I would also say that the music they scored for Godfrey Reggio’s film also bares no relation to the title to which Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi Indian word meaning “life out of balance”. I would also say that out of the 5 tracks that make up the EP it is only perhaps the final track “Nessus” that really sounds like Soundtrack material.

Unlike the Live At Abbey Road EP to which I never seen as an essential part of the bands discography the 5-track EP Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film) is quite the opposite and very much a must to have. Most of the material that was written for it is more up-tempo and exciting and my personal favourite track and standout track from the EP would be the longest one on it entitled “Control Shift“. But they are all very well written and GREAT! tracks. The track listing is as follows: “Time-Lapse City. 3:55“. “Control Shift. 7:08“. “Four Corners. 4:29“. “Ocean In A Drop. 4:19” and “Nessus. 2:50“.

Overall, Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film) is very much up with the material that was written for both Man Made Object and A Humdrum Star and is a very solid body of work. It’s very much worthy of my rating of 10 out of 10 and like I mentioned a must for all GoGo Penguin fans alike. The band also performed the material from it live at a couple of the gigs in the States in the same month of its release.

Musicians & Credits…

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All compositions by GoGo Penguin. Produced by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Recorded at Low Four Studios Manchester, England between 10th – 23rd June 2017. Mixed at 80 HERTZ Studios Manchester, England between 3rd – 21st July 2017 and Low Four Studios Manchester, England between 16th & 17th October 2017. Recorded & Mixed by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Mastered by Norman Nitzsche at Calyx Mastering Berlin, Germany between 18th & 19th October 2017. Assistant Recording Engineer Lee Aston. Additional Engineering by Rob Kelledy. Artwork & Design by Paul Middlewick.

Musicians:
Chris Illingworth: Piano.
Nick Blacka: Double Bass.
Rob Turner: Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Like I mentioned earlier GoGo Penguin were a band that appeared to be improving all the time and regarding carrying on that success most bands are only as good as their next album. The band were put under pressure to come up with the goods when they made their previous album Man Made Object, after all they were signed up to a new record label. The fact that they are constantly out on the road playing live also contributes to a lot of the success but it can also put a strain on you when it leaves little time to be at home with your family.

Like any band there is always going to be some arguments or disputes when you are continuously working together all the time, which is why they decided to record their 4th album A Humdrum Star in their own town in Manchester. This allowed them more time to spend in their own homes with their families and helped relieve a lot of the pressure and gave them more liberation. I certainly think it paid off by how well the album came out and there is no doubt that GoGo Penguin had come up with the goods yet again.

I would also say that they stripped back on quite a bit of the elements that went into making their 3rd album Man Made Object to create what we have here. So, lets now take a look at the individual tracks on the album and see how it all worked out.

Track 1. Prayer.

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The album opens with the shortest track on the album to which mostly features Chris Illingworth on the piano whilst the other two work more in the way of adding effects to the piece such as the effective use of the bowed strings on the double bass and the odd bit of knocks and noises in the percussion department. The piano is also working in a percussive way with how it’s hammering out one continuous note on the one hand whilst a darker mournful melody is crafted out of the other.

It’s quite a dramatic piece that reflects a sense or feel of sadness and loss, it would even work as a funeral march in many respects too. You could even visualize it like staring up at the stars and as a prayer of hope perhaps for those astronauts who are about to take off or those who were lost. As prayers go this is perhaps not a blessing but works very well as an introduction.

Track 2, Raven.

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This is very much the first piece I ever heard of GoGo Penguin and it immediately drew me in and led me to further investigate their music. Now here I am with another 5 albums and 2 EP’s added to my collection writing about it. What drew my attention to this piece is very much the electronic side of things that the piano is playing and no doubt Illingworth has worked the melody lines around that genre of music and has even threw the odd classic elements into the pot with some of the octaves in the faster sections of the piece. The melody lines are really GREAT! and it’s a very well-structured piece.

The piece was originally worked around a little sketch that Illingworth wrote using lots of synths and electronic drums and although both Nick Blacka and Rob Turner do contribute towards the writing on certain pieces, it’s quite evident that this particular piece was very much like many other of Go Go Penguin’s compositions and was more structured around the keys. The inspiration and title of the piece also came from one of Illingworth’s strange dreams he had a few years ago about playing chess with a raven.

This video the band put out on their official YouTube channel of the band performing it live at Low Four Studios where they recorded the album is the same video, I seen that drew my attention to the band. The thing that stuck out to me was not only the well-structured melody lines on the piano, but how the lines were structured around electronic music and the fact that they had replaced the synthetic bass lines and drums with real instruments. In all honesty if I was to hear another pathetic Roland TR808 Drum Machine it would of drove me up the wall. Those things really do sound like Plastic and drive me nuts Lol…

Raven” is very much one of the albums stand out tracks and its melodic structure is very catchy and pulls you in and draws you to it straight away. It also has all the right characteristics to work as the single release from the album and is infectious enough to make people want to go out and buy it. I dare say it pulled in many more fans when they released it too and it is one of my personal favourite tracks on the album that merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! for those reasons.

Track 3. Bardo.

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This is a piece that sort of noodles it’s way along a repetitive sequence played on the keys with part of the strings on the piano taped up to give it more of a muted plucky effect. All three musicians do their own bit off noodling to make it what it is and they each play their part in it. It’s a piece that may of very well of been designed to take out on the road to play live and is that more interesting watching it being played live rather than listening to it on the album. Though it is quite a good album track and has been very well worked out.

The word “bardo” is associated with Buddhism and in Tibet in particular it’s also mentioned in their book of the dead. It’s an intermediate, transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth and used loosely, “bardo” is the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth according to Tibetan tradition.

The band put out an official video on their YouTube channel and once again the video production was done by Antony Barkworth-Knight. It is however, on a radio edit and is only half as long as the 7 minute, 14 second track on the album, but nevertheless portrays the transitional, or liminal state between death and rebirth quite well.

Overall, “Bardo” is more exciting to watch live and it’s one of those pieces you would want to see them play at a gig and it would perhaps standout more at their live shows. I do actually prefer the longer version on the album than the radio edit they put out in this video and it is like I said a good album track but does not stand out so much on the album sort of thing.

Track 4. A Hundred Moons.

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This particular track on the album reminds me a lot of the German electronic band Tangerine Dream and is more familiar with their latter material when they themselves added the singer and percussionist Iris Camaa to their line-up back in 2003. To be perfectly honest this track even sounds more like Tangerine Dream than GoGo Penguin and if I heard it on the radio first I would of even swore blind it was Tangerine Dream. That is really how close these guys are to replicating electronic music and they have got it down to a tee on this track.

It is more down to Rob Turner’s percussion and the ambience that is reflected from the keys on the piano that does give it more of an electronic feel plus the melody Chris Illingworth is playing on the piano. The double bass would be the only instrument that perhaps does not have any electronic element. Although keyboards can quite easily emulate that sound and Nick Blacka’s bass lines work very well here in giving it a rich texture adding some strength to support it.

The band put out another live video of them playing it live at Low Four Studios on their official YouTube channel and you can plainly see how well the percussion drives this piece along. You can also see how Turner does use some strange objects including what looks to me like a metal platter from a HiFi Turntable and it works effectively very well.

A Hundred Moons” is a really GREAT! track and another of my personal favourites on the album and no doubt there is a heavy Tangerine Dream influence here though it also quite possible that neither of these young chaps have ever heard their music. But it does speak the same language to me has that electronic band and they are doing it with acoustic instruments. It’s very much a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 5. Strid.

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This is the longest track on the album weighing in at 8 minutes, 10 seconds and its title is referring to a stretch of the River Wharfe, in Yorkshire, England. Although the Yorkshire dales is a pleasant place to walk even alongside the Wharfe, the Strid might even look innocent to walk along but you do not want to be falling into it. It’s considered to be the world’s most dangerous stretch of water and nobody who has fallen or attempted to swim in it has ever survived. Because of its very fast undercurrent it literally carries rocks along and it will totally pulverise you if you were to go into it.

Both Nick Blacka and Rob Turner work their butt on this track and along with Chris Illingworth’s piano they have captured the danger and the innocence of this stretch of the river with how it travels along with its twists and turns. It’s built up with both pace and calmer sections to portray the drama the river beholds and they do it very well. It’s a very well structured and fine piece of work with some GREAT! progression along its path and another GREAT! album track.

Track 6. Transient State.

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This is one of the more up-tempo pieces on the album with how it runs along at a it’s faster pace, although I must admit with how it opens up with Turner banging away on some tin cans it sounds like dinner is about to be served 🙂 A transient state is when a process of variable or variables have been changed and the system has not yet reached a steady state. The time taken for the circuit to change from one steady state to another steady state is called the transient time.

The idea for the piece came from a time that Chris Illingworth was on tour with the band in Tokyo, Japan and he got a rare day off to do a bit of sightseeing to which was a new experience for him and somewhere totally different to anywhere he’d been before. He packed as much as he could in that one day and it was about those experiences never being in one place very long and always on the move hence the reason for the title.

It’s quite a powerful piece with how it builds up and the piano hammers it’s way along a repeating melody line and goes through some alternating melody lines over the first 3 minutes. There is a more of a progressive change in the section that runs between 3:13 – 3:41 were things speed up on the keys. It plays a repeated sequence of notes and then develops into something a bit more like a jazzy jam and then goes back into its main riff sort of thing to end it all off. All 3 musicians are working their butt off and it’s another GREAT! album track.

Track 7. Return To Text.

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This is a piece that is once again is more up-tempo but has more beauty evolving from the melody lines that Chris Illingworth has crafted out on the piano. There is perhaps a bit more sense of a purpose to this track in relation to the previous track and it’s a very well-crafted piece of work where Nick Blacka’s bass lines once again add some tonality and richness to it all whilst Rob Turner keeps it nicely ticking over. It’s a very pleasing piece to listen to and perhaps reflects its power more in its beauty.

Track 8. Reactor.

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The up-tempo and pace is further fueled and ignited and “Reactor” is a track that has more excitement and a bit more adrenalin thrown in with how it pumps things up and drives them along. Driving it along is very much Nick Blacka’s powerful bass line and it ignites the flame. Musically this piece was most likely structured around his bass line and whilst Rob Turner’s drums provide the right amount of heat Chris Illingworth’s piano provides the right fuel to build it all up and it cooks very well along on gas.

Overall, “Reactor” is quite a powerful track that maintains its high driven energy throughout most of its 6 minutes and 17 seconds only dropping off the pedal on a short couple of occasions. It’s another really GREAT! album track and contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 9. Window.

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The album closes up with a lovely piece entitled “Window” which could be seen as the exit point whatever way you look through it sort of thing. Whatever is in this window has been very well constructed and its musical structure would most definitely have come from the piano and it really is a GORGEOUS! piece of work that once again all 3 musicians have worked their butt off with everything they have thrown into the piece.

They also put out an official video which consists of a shorter radio edit of the track on their YouTube channel. There is some really strange things going on through this window by the looks of the video that was Directed by Antony Barkworth-Knight that was made with the use of CGI by Gelato Visual Effects and captured by Matthew Melbourne.

Window” ends off the album superbly and just like the second track on the album “Raven” it has all the right qualities to make another single release from the album. It’s very much my second favourite track on the album and a very strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Summary…

To sum up GoGo Penguin’s 4th studio album A Humdrum Star. It’s very much an album that is on par and equal terms with their previous album Man Made Object. The difference between the two albums is really down to how they have stripped back more of the techno, trance, dubstep, and dance that’s more associated with the club scene and worked the material around more of the electronic side of music without all those modern attributes thrown into the pot. All the jazz, classical and hip-hop elements are still present as with all their albums and it is those elements mixed with some minimalistic electronic elements that maintains and gives them their distinctive style and is the driving force behind their music.

You simply cannot tag GoGo Penguin down to one particular genre of music because there are several other genres of music that goes into fusing it all together. I would even add Cinematic to all the ones I have mentioned as well. The fact that they do work within all these different genres and manage to come up with consistent melody lines is what keeps their music fresh and why each album does manage to flow along differently from one to the next.

Personally, I do not see A Humdrum Star an improvement over their previous album Man Made Object because their 3rd album was where they had found their feet and could be seen as quite a step forward in relation to the bands first couple of albums. To be perfectly honest how they have stripped back on many of those modern genres that were fused into their 3rd album should by rights make this album appeal more to my taste. Simply because those genres of techno, trance, dubstep, and dance have never appealed to my taste.

But what appeals to me about the music that GoGo Penguin creates is really down to the fact that they are only using minimalistic elements from all of the genres they have managed to fuse into the pot, and they have successfully combined them in a way for them not annoy me and appeal more to me. What makes GoGo Penguin so successful is really their minimalistic approach to everything they do, even down to their album covers. Their music consists mostly of minimalistic motif’s and melody lines that would be completely repetitive if it was not for all the other things that is going on around it.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of A Humdrum Star by GoGo Penguin. I would say that once again the Trio have most certainly come up with goods in making yet another very enjoyable album that is filled with very well written material. It’s an album that has all the makings of pretty much a solid album worth of material with nothing disappointing along its path. My personal highlights from the album are “Raven“. “Window“. “A Hundred Moons” and “Reactor“.

Once again, the album is very well produced and the track placement has been given some careful attention in making the album flow along smoothly. I think all GoGo Penguin’s albums can very much be enjoyed from listening to them from start to finish with how well the tracks have been placed on them, and each one provides the listener with something a bit fresher to listen to and enjoy.

Coming up next for review is the final part of this 5-part uninterrupted series of GoGo Penguin’s discography. Their latest eponymously named album was released a couple of weeks ago and from what I have heard of it so far it does sound very promising and you can find out more has once again Lee SPEAKS! about music…

More Than A Pale Blue Dot Visualized Here…

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. Prayer. 2:54.
02. Raven. 4:57.
03. Bardo. 7:14.
04. A Hundred Moons. 4:27.
05. Strid. 8:10.
06. Transient State. 5:59.
07. Return To Text. 5:22.
08. Reactor. 6:17.
09. Window. 5:21.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.

 

 

Lee Speaks About Music… #154

Man Made Object – GoGo Penguin

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Introduction…

Go Go Penguin’s 3rd album Man Made Object in some ways is a bit like the beginning of a new era for the 3-piece outfit or Trio. They had also signed up to a new record label and started to make more waves in gaining further popularity with their new modern approach to music. The American market in particular were taking more notice and it could be said that this particular album was the starting point that led them to the much further success they now have today.

Whereas both their debut album Fanfares and v2.0 were perhaps more of a jazzy, cinematic laid-back affair, they were now raising the energy levels and injecting more life into their music and heading in a newer direction with it. Both pianist Chris Illingworth and bassist Nick Blacka had also added some new effects to their instruments which revitalised and refreshed their creative juices. By now they were stepping more into the boundaries of electronic music and effectively giving that particular genre a new lease of life and attracting more attention by doing so.

I have to confess that modern dance music and the music that is found in the disco club scene is not my thing and never has appealed to my particular taste whatsoever. The electronic side of things however, was something I had been into many moons ago back in the 70’s and early 80’s with artists like Tomita, Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Vangelis. But those are the only artists I was ever really into regarding electronic music and I could not stand the likes of techno and rave and I very rarely bother with electronic music at all these days and can only listen to it in small doses.

In many respects what GoGo Penguin have done by fusing electronic music into acoustic instruments could be seen as an ART! in itself and has completely opened up that genre of music once again for my ears. This is also what immediately grabbed my attention and made me go out and buy their music.

These days they have been dubbed as the new Brian Eno and Radiohead and it’s easy to see why although I have to confess that neither of those have attracted my attention to go out and buy their music and from what little I have heard of Eno’s music it totally bored me to death I am afraid and no way would I buy it either. But we all have different tastes and no doubt the music of both those artists would also appeal to many.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in a standard plastic Jewel Case which is a common and practical packaging and does a reasonable job of protecting the disc. The booklet that comes with it only has 2-pages and to be honest you do not even need a booklet at all for what little information this band give you. It does provide you with usual linear production and credit notes and on the inside has 5 graphic pictures of what looks like how they assembled the artwork for the front cover.

I do regard the jewel case as old fashioned these days and I do not personally think they give you the best presentation in relation to how cardboard DigiPaks & Digisleeves can be more eye catching and less boring and can present the album to look more like a smaller replica of the vinyl album. I would also say a bit more money as been spent in the making of DigiPaks & Digisleeves and they have more of a quality presentation which is why in general you do pay a bit more money for them and unlike CD’s that come in jewel cases they also tend to hold their price more.

I purchased my new copy from Amazon UK for £6.99 and I would have paid the extra if it was released in a DigiPak or Digisleeve. No doubt if they had of done it still would of held its price instead of dropping down to a lower price and in general most CD’s sold in jewel cases do drop down a lot more after a few years and can even be picked up for half price in most cases too.

As it turns out this is in fact the only album of the bands that was not released in a DigiPak or Digisleeve and it’s quite odd how it got released as well. For example, there is a Deluxe Edition that includes an additional 3 tracks that are remixes. But it was only released in the form of a Digital Download only. They also released the album on a Double Vinyl album to which included one extra bonus track.

Artwork.

Well I was going to say no prizes for guessing who done the artwork design for the album cover? To be honest judging by the minimalistic simplistic design I did immediately think it was done by Daniel Halsall. It’s just as well that I done some research as it looks like being that the band were signed up to a new record label, they got a new cover designer and Paul Middlewick was the chap who got the job.

By the looks of the album cover I think the band must of gave him some coloured Perspex to play with and I have to admit in all honesty GoGo Penguin’s album covers do make me laugh and look like something that came out of a lucky bag Lol… In saying that though at least this one is a bit more colourful and is fitting to the title that was given to the album. But they all look like the designs you would find in the templates you would get with a CD Labelling Kit.

To be honest you cannot really blame Paul Middlewick or Daniel Halsall for the simplistic, minimalistic designs and no doubt a lot of the input that went into the design would have come from the band and not them so to speak. Once again, the name of the band and album title was left off the album cover and GoGo Penguin are perhaps more interested in letting their music being the presentation and attraction rather than the package. I suppose in a way it does make a lot more sense too in that they want you to buy the album for their music more so than being enticed by the artwork.

I also think you can never judge a book by its cover and even I myself in the past have brought an album on the basis of the artwork and that is perhaps even more like buying a lucky bag and you can come unstuck and be disappointed.

The Album Man Made Object In Review…

GoGo Penguin’s 3rd album Man Made Object was released on the 5th February 2016. The album contains 10 instrumental tracks spread over an overall playing time of 47 minutes, 43 seconds. It was the first of a new three-album deal that the band had signed up to with the jazz label Blue Note Records back in April 2015. According the to the bands pianist Chris Illingworth the title of the album was partly inspired by his fascination with ideas of robotics, transhumanism and human augmentation.

There is no doubt that the new direction and the material that was written for Man Made Object was certainly attracting a lot more attention. It was the first of their albums to break into the UK Album charts and although it only peaked at number 72 it is the bands most successful album here in the UK. With the band touring most of Europe and further afield in many other countries it was in America where they did attract the most attention and the album hit number 10 in the US Top Jazz Albums Billboard Charts.

As with the bands previous album v2.0 they decided to record the album in the same two studios Giant Wafer Studios in Wales and 80 HERTZ Studios in Manchester and use the same producers, recording and mixing engineers Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. The only thing that had been changed was in the mastering department and that was done by Mandy Parnell at Black Saloon Studios in London. I found this interesting video of her on Youtube explaining just what goes into the mastering process.

Mandy Parnell has been in the music business for 25 years and has mastered literally thousands of artists music over those years’ way too many for me to mention but the likes of Annie Lennox, Bjork, Brian Eno, Adamski, Chemical Brothers, Glen Campbell, Goldfrapp, John Martyn and Depeche Mode are amongst a few of them. The material for Man Man Object was recorded between May – August in 2015 and mastered in the same year in October.

It was also in October 2015 the band were invited by the arts venue in Manchester called HOME to take part in a film project. The idea of the project was to have a few Manchester musicians write scores for silent movies which they would then perform live along with the film in one of HOME’s cinemas. They were given the opportunity to re-score Godfrey Reggio’s cult 1982 film Koyaanisqatsi, which explores the relationship between humans, nature and technology in a blistering dialogue-free montage to which was originally scored by Phillip Glass.

To avoid any influences, they played back the film without the sound and worked on the new material for it and done their own thing to it. They got to perform it live at Manchester’s HOME Cinema but being as they had put a lot of work into it, they also played it at some of their live gigs.

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GoGo Penguin Live At The Manchester HOME Cinema

Towards the end of 2015 the band got invited to do something at Abbey Road Studios in London as part of the TV series Live at Abbey Road that Chanel 4 were running at the time. They were really doing it has a test pilot most likely to extend the series and were going to make a show out of it with various other bands. Rather than waste the live session they decided to release the live material in the following year and put out a 4-track live EP entitled Live At Abbey Road.

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The Live At Abbey Road EP was first released as a Limited Edition on 10″ 45 rpm Vinyl on the 16th April 2016. Later on in the same year it got released as a Digital Download on the 2nd September 2016 and has never been released on CD. The EP contains 4 live instrumental tracks spread over an overall playing time of 17 minutes, 58 seconds and captures the band playing live 3 of the tracks from their 3rd album Man Man Object and a new track they had written.

The recording took place on the 2nd December 2015 and was mixed on the road at Studios De La Grande Armée, Paris between the 3rd – 8th of December 2015. It was produced, recorded and mixed by Joseph Reiser and mastered at 80 HERTZ Studios by George Atkins.

Being as it was only a 4 track EP and was put out in the same year I decided to include it in this review has I did purchase the Digital Download from Amazon UK for £2.09p. I did also notice that the 10″ 45 rpm Vinyl EP was still available to purchase. But as I do not collect vinyl these days it was no use to me, and even if I did there is no way I would pay £17 for a 4 track EP so I am thankful I do not.

The first of the three live tracks on the EP “Branches Break“. “Initiate“. and “GBFISYSIH” all feature on their 3rd album and personally for me I do prefer the recording of the studio versions. The last track on the EP “Ocean In A Drop” did not appear on the album and was one of the newer pieces they had written. However, last year they did record a studio version of it and it was included on a 5-track EP of new studio recordings entitled Ocean In A Drop (Music For Film).

Overall, the Live At Abbey Road EP does not really give you anything that much different from the studio versions of the pieces they present to you live. I myself prefer the studio versions but no doubt the 3 guys can also perform their music very well live and on this occasion were perhaps performing it more of less like they done the studio versions and it was a bit like having the same thing twice sort of thing. There is a difference in the ambience in the recordings but that’s about it.

I do not see the Live At Abbey Road EP as an essential part of the bands discography and it’s certainly not worth paying the £17 or even more for it on vinyl. The price of £2.09p for the digital download I paid for it is really all it’s worth. It has been very well recorded but in terms of a rating I could only really give it 5 out of 10 even if it’s worth more, and that is really down to the fact it offers very little different.

To be perfectly honest I would rather have a live video of the band and that is still something they have never released. Yet there are some really good quality live concerts of them floating around Youtube. They have obviously been filmed and edited properly too and I am not talking about the ones on there that was caught on a smartphone from someone in the audience and a professional camera crew has been used. As to why a live DVD has not been released by the band is beyond me. I have noticed that they are only short concerts of them floating around the Tube but even though I still prefer watching those to listening to this live EP they put out.

With the band being constantly on the road it’s not unusual for them to post the odd live video of one of their pieces from time to time, and they do also put out official videos of much of the new material they write before the release of their albums and they can be well in advance before the album gets released.

Man Made Object is very much an album that could be seen as the bands turning point in relation to their previous albums and its certainly more of an exciting album. There is something quite unique, fresh and invigorating with how they have so successfully managed to incorporate many genres of electronic music into a band that look more like an acoustic jazz trio. There is way more skill involved in bringing electronic music to acoustic instruments and it’s something I doubt that 99.9% of electronic artists could ever do either.

The biggest majority of electronic music and all that retro stuff we seen with artists like the Pet Shop Boys, Madonna and so on in the 80’s is mostly programmed and keyboard orientated music. Technically most of the skill that is involved in electronic music is in the textures and the layering and not the actual performance and the biggest majority of electronic music is easy enough to play. In many ways it’s a bit like colouring and that is where its art form lies.

What I liked about artists such as Tomita, Jean Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk and Vangelis I mentioned earlier is that they also used a lot of chord progression in their music. But even for them to bring their music to the stage they had to have many more musicians and rely on programming and sequencing. That for me is where the art of live music and performance is lost, whereas with GoGo Penguin you are getting 100% the real deal.

In some ways the music that GoGo Penguin is presenting could be seen as a welcoming return to pop music and I myself detested a lot of pop music in the 80’s down to the fact that is was mostly programmed very much like a lot of pop music is today. I even remember when we got into the 90’s and we started to see newer bands such as Oasis and Blur arrive on the scene and even though they was not my thing that for me was a relief in the way that we had a proper band of musicians making music again instead of all this programmed garbage.

Effectively what GoGo Penguin have done is taken some of the fundamentals from electronic music such as sequencing for example, and instead of letting a machine play it back their pianist Chris Illingworth is very much playing the sequence of notes in real time just like Tony Banks of Genesis would on “Return of the Giant Hogweed” for example. That takes a lot more skill and concentration to perform live especially when you are also playing lead lines at the same time.

Musicians & Credits…

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All compositions by GoGo Penguin. Produced by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Executive Producer Kerstan Mackness. Recorded at Giant Wafer Studios POWYS Wales between May & June 2015. 80 HERTZ Studios Manchester, England between June – August 2015. Recorded & Mixed by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Mastered by Mandy Parnell at Black Saloon Studios October 2015. Artwork & Design by Paul Middlewick.

Musicians:
Chris Illingworth: Piano.
Nick Blacka: Double Bass.
Rob Turner: Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

There is no doubt that GoGo Penguin were pushing themselves and their music into newer territory and it’s instantly recognisable when listening to the bands 3rd album Man Man Object. More effect pedals were being used by both Chris Illingworth and Nick Blacka and they were further developing and crafting the sound and scope of their music even to the point of taping things to the piano.

It was also around this time that Chris Illingworth fitted Yamahiko Pickups to his piano which is a pickup developed and manufactured by Sonaresearch which enables the pianist to be able to hear themselves more clearly in particular in a live performance without having to hit the keys harder. They are also useful for cutting down vibration and feedback as well as other instruments bleeding into the mix. Nick Blacka also fitted them to his bass in the same year and they have used them ever since.

Many of the tracks that were written for Man Made Object were developed around Rob Turner’s electronic compositions he had created on Logic and Ableton to which they used as a starting point. The album has way less of a Cinematic approach in relation to their previous two albums and it centres it focus point more around the electronic dance music that is perhaps more associated with the music one would find nightclubs. It’s certainly one of their most adventurous and diverse albums so let’s now take a closer look at it has I go through the individual tracks.

Track 1. All Res.

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The album opens up with quite a dramatic entrance with the piano and strings and effectively Nick Blacka can be quite a cellist on that double bass of his and how he injects and executes them both into that trio which can be like having another musician making it a quartet at times. The way the piano and strings work together on the intro implants a picture in my mind of a castle by the sea which can be a force of resistance. Although the picture I chose here is another form of resistance.

I am pretty sure that is what the title is pertaining to and when the drums come into play it does sound like all 3 musicians have put on their armour and are putting up a defence rather than making a reservation. Although I could also quite easily pertain its title to resonance because there is plenty of that reflecting from the timbre in the music from the acoustic instruments and it does sound GREAT!

Speaking of GREAT! they also played it to perfection in this live video when they played at the Union Chapel in London back in 2015 before the album was released. I’ve been to the venue myself and it’s great for acoustics and ambience and the sound that was captured here is not that far off the studio recording.

All Res” gets the album off to a positive and promising start and it smoothly gets you into the right groove and mood for the rest of the album. It features some GORGEOUS! melody lines on the piano, expressive strings and excellent bass work and you can hear how well all 3 musicians have contributed to the composition. It really is an excellent well-structured piece that sounds like it was very well designed and engineered.

It’s very much one of the tracks that has all the makings of the single from the album with how it instantly grabs you and is my personal favourite track on the album and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 2. Unspeakable World.

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Quite a playful track on the album and one that is filled with bags of progression over its 4 minutes, 43 seconds and all 3 musicians are working their butt off here. The opening section is quite jumpy and quirky with the repeated motif that Illingworth plays on the keys and I like how the piano lines branch out and further develops itself along. It’s a piece which has the space for all 3 of them to work their way into it and comes down in sections. Blacka’s plucked bass lines and tonality he gets from the bass adds richly to the piece whilst Turner is kept busy throughout.

There is quite a bit of pace and life injected into this track and the repeated motif played on the keys gives me the impression of cars bibbing their horns in busy traffic. The whole piece is quite like travelling through a busy city like New York for example and it really is another superb piece of work very much like the opening track with how they structured the music. It was very hard for me not to give this the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! and it is without doubt a very strong contender.

Track 3. Branches Break.

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The more playful pace and fire from the previous track is settled back down and this is a piece that starts off quite dramatically and builds itself up and injects a bit more pace as it goes along. Once again it features some fine work on the keys from Illingworth and Blacka gets to utilise his bow on the strings although perhaps with less expression in comparison to some of their other dramatic pieces but both he and Turner pretty much have the rhythm and backline well sorted for Illingworth to play along too.

They also put out a video of them playing it live in a studio on their Youtube channel and called it a “Radio Edit” version. Though it’s hardly a radio edit at all and is certainly no shorter than the original track and they do tend to leave more than a 4 second gap between the tracks on all their albums for that matter. The other thing I noticed watching it is that some of the percussion has been overdubbed and is not played live and you can hear it around the 2:12 – 2:38 mark in the video.

Oddly enough Turner’s drums on this track are more profound and tend to make more of a statement than the previous which is busier. The other distinguishable thing is that on the studio version Blacka’s bass lines towards the latter part do stand out a lot more and sound lush and rich with its tonality.  Overall, “Branches Break” is another GREAT! track and it’s very much a piece that works extremely well with its build.

Track 4. Weird Cat.

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This next piece very much weaves itself along quite magically and majestically and both the bass and the drums are doing most of the work whilst the piano revolves itself around a wonderful melody line but is still also extremely busy. Once again, all 3 members are stoking up the fire and cooking on gas and raise up the level of the album by injecting a bit more life into it. Although I would hardly say that GoGo Penguin have not quite got the pace to rock things up but you could perhaps get up and dance to this one to some degree.

The title may have come from another one of Illingworth’s strange dreams, but then again this is an album where many of its tracks are more up-tempo and the music is more focused on rhythm and melody and the title would be less irrelevant. Especially in relation to the more dramatic side of things where the title would have more importance for the music to try and convey and express the given title has in the previous track for example.

Here is another really good example of how well they perform it live taken from their official Youtube channel, and this live performance was also from the same gig they played at the Union Chapel back in 2015 before the album was released and they do a SPECTACULAR! job of it.

It surprises me how this band have still not put any of their live concerts out on DVD or Blu Ray and they must have a rake of them that have been very well filmed. “Weird Cat” is another really GREAT! album track and one I would consider to be another contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 5. Quiet Mind.

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Speaking of titles, I am not sure why they chose this one for this piece and a quiet mind is perhaps more associated with the picture I chose above and is a form of mediation. In general, meditative music is played at a very slow pace and is quite often like floating in space and soothing noises like the sea or that of the whale sort of thing. It’s more of a soundscape that does not involve melody or rhythm like we have here for example. It does however, have a pleasing aspect about the music they are presenting here and I suppose in a way that could reflect why the title was chosen.

It’s a piece that is driven along by a repetitive melody on the keys, a bit like its ticking away the time especially with how the percussion works in the piece. I quite like how the bass also works a bit of a counter melody into the piece. The melody line is quite bright and very catchy and instantly draws you into it. It’s another GREAT! track that you can also hear how all 3 musicians have contributed to it as well.

Track 6. Smarra.

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The title is derived from Hindu mysticism and mythology and is associated with weird dream and sleep paralysis all creepy stuff. This is one of the more adventurous and experimental tracks on the album and one that keeps the drummer Rob Turner on his toes over the first 4 minutes, 45 seconds and is the longest track on the album weighing in at 6 minutes, 31 seconds. It’s a piece that uses a ton of distortion and delayed effects towards the end with how it burns and frizzles its itself out. Mostly from Chris Illingworth although Nick Blacka’s bowed strings on his bass also add to the pot here.

Both Blacka and Turner work their butt off more on this track and the piano plays more of a dramatic role. The distorted effect can be quite intense and I remember in an interview of the band how they mentioned that some people were returning the album thinking there was a fault with the recording. But I cannot remember if it was this album or track, they were talking about. The intensity does burn out and it leaves a more subtle effect to end it all off. It’s a GREAT! piece of work.

Track 7. Initiate.

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This piece almost has an oriental flavour to it especially with its plucky intro to which Illingworth makes the piano sound more like a Koto. The musical side of things is very much constructed around the piano and its quite bright, melodic and glows with a feel of warmth that draws you into it. It runs along at a steady pace too with Turner adding some of his metallic objects into the rhythm section whilst Blacka works his bass into the piece as well as ever and also provides some effects with his bow on the strings on the intro and outro. Overall, it’s another GREAT! album track and has quite an upbeat groove swing to it.

Track 8. GBFISYSIH.

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The title of this piece is perhaps more on the gibberish side and a could be seen as meaningless and GOBBLEDYGOOK! I could not tell what it means either although I did find out through my research that it’s a coded lament for an old friend. It could be that the “FI” in the code are the persons initials and it’s meant to say something along the lines of “Goodbye “FI” see you soon in heaven”. But I was never good at cracking codes.

It’s a very subtle, soothing and GORGEOUS! piece that also has a bit of an oriental and folky vibe and is quite dramatic and expressive. It’s also quite light and airy with the lovely ambience reflecting from the keys it sounds like its calling out to a lost soul. The bass adds a rich texture to support it along with the subtle percussion and this for me is another one of the contenders for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 9. Surrender To Mountain.

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This is another dramatic piece that has quite a purpose-built melodic structure to it and it captures the title very well. It’s very much more structured around the piano and Illingworth plays quite a majestic role on the keys carving it all out as it builds along. Although Turner’s job on the drums and percussion also have played a part in developing the piece and he gets to work them in even more around the half way mark where the piece further develops. Blacka’s role on the bass is perhaps a bit more minimalistic on this piece and it another fine piece work and GREAT! album track.

Track 10. Protest.

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The album closes out with the most powerful track on the album and where as they kicked it off by putting on armour and building up walls in the way of a resistance they are now marching out in force in protest to bring them down so to speak. Well I supposed it could be seen like that and they do have the force here to break through the walls and all 3 musicians are doing the hammering. They are also doing the opposite of the opening track on the album and are really ROCKING IT OUT!

NIck Blacka‘s bass on the track is quite breath-taking and it’s a wonder he has not got blisters with how he is picking out and plucking at the strings at this speed. To be honest it’s a wonder they do not all have blisters and they are all doing such a TOP JOB! here. “Protest” is quite often used to end off many of the bands live shows and I guess they like to go out in style and that is precisely how this truly GREAT! album ends off and it’s very much a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Summary…

To sum up Man Made Object by GoGo Penguin. It’s very much their ground-breaking album and effectively it’s as if they have taken everything out of the music played by DJ’s in the nightclub scene and incorporated it into their music. It’s strange really because like I mentioned earlier in my introduction that the music found in nightclubs and all that modern electronica, techno, trance, dubstep, dance and so on is not my thing at all. Yet this album is my personal favourite of theirs for its diversity and the one I would recommend has an introduction for those who have never heard their music before.

To be perfectly honest I would not exactly describe the music on this album something you could dance along too and I was quite surprised just how well their collaboration with choreographer Lynne Page’s dancers very much shown that it could be danced along too. Strangely enough they also still occasionally play at clubs and their music is attracting a lot of attention from the younger generation, but because of its other influences it has with classical and jazz music it will also quite easily attract the attention of older folks such as myself.

It’s quite a step forward in relation to their first couple of albums, although you could certainly hear this newer direction, they were heading in on some of the material from their second album v2.0. Especially with the last track from that album “Hopopono“. It’s also a very well-produced album and in terms of sound quality the mix is slightly better than their 2nd album but it’s not up to the reference quality recording of their debut album and it is more of a headphone mix.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of GoGo Penguin’s 3rd album Man Made Object. It’s very much a solid album with the material that was written for it and a strong body of work. I would also say that this is their most exciting album especially in terms of the energy that drives it along and it’s as if each track was designed and engineered to run along like it does and the track placement is pretty much perfect. My personal highlights from the album are “All Res“. “Unspeakable World“. “Weird Cat“. “GBFISYSIH” and “Protest“.

I think by now all 3 musicians had got used to how each other ticks and works and this is what helped in the new direction they had further developed and paved the way for them to further develop their music. It’s plain to see how they have moved forward with every album and they are continuously improving all the time.

Man Made Object is very much an album that put more of a stamp on their particular style and made them stand out and sound even more unique. It’s very much the same style and pattern they have continued to work around and why they are attracting a lot more attention today. It paved the way for their next album A Humdrum Star that followed it and that is up next in my 5-part review in this series of the bands discography.

Electronically Designed & Engineered For Acoustics…

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. All Res. 5:15.
02. Unspeakable World. 4:43.
03. Branches Break. 4:22.
04. Weird Cat. 5:39.
05. Quiet Mind. 4:23.
06. Smarra. 6:31.
07. Initiate. 4:47.
08. GBFISYSIH. 3:21.
09. Surrender To Mountain. 3:58.
10. Protest. 4:44.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #153

v2.0 (Special Edition) – GoGo Penguin

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Introduction…

Within the first month of 2013 things were looking up for GoGo Penguin and it was in that first month of January that their debut album Fanfares was nominated for the Jazz Album of The Year by Worldwide Awards. I must admit that some musicians do decide to leave in some pivotal times and that is exactly what the bass player Grant Russell had done at the end of 2012. 

Although one could argue the point that at this moment in time that it may not have been a pivotal time in relation to the success that was about to come to the band much later on. But even at this point the band were making a noise and some headway to a step in the right direction and were more popular than Russell has ever been since he left. But for some musicians it’s not all about being in the limelight and they have to follow their own instincts and do their own thing.  

The double bassist Nick Blacka was no stranger to both Rob Turner and Chris Illingworth and he first met and played with Turner back in 2005. A couple of years later he met and joined up with Illingworth and actually replaced Grant Russell back then and as they had crossed paths with each other and were friends he was a natural fit and they have been together ever since. 

With the Trio now back in place again they spent their time on the road playing many live gigs promoting their debut album and working on new material for their next album. In the following year of 2014 the bands second album v2.0 was released and judging by the title that was given to the album it could very well have a double meaning. The band were also picking up more promising reviews and awards. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as usual. 

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in very much the same slim Gatefold cardboard DigiSleeve that their debut album came with only it also comes with a 8-page booklet and both the CD and booklet are retrieved from the both sides of the DigiSleeve. Once again there is no useful informative information and the only information to be found is the usual linear production and credit notes which are printed on the back of the booklet. 

It’s fairly obvious that GoGo Penguin do not like to give anything away about themselves and do not give a hoot about how they present themselves by being as minimalistic as you can get. All the pages inside the 8-page booklet display broken down images of the graphic image that is printed the front cover of the album. In all honesty I cannot see for the life of me why they even bothered to give you a booklet in the first place and what little information they have provided could of easily have been printed on the inside of the Gatefold DigiSleeve. 

I purchased my copy from Amazon UK for £11.99 and as a rule I think it’s worth paying the extra one or two quid more and prefer both DigiPaks and DigiSleeves in relation to the plastic Jewel Case because they do give a neater presentation. But when I look at how minimalistic they have been with how it’s presented; it does make me wonder if it was worth paying the extra couple of quid. 

Artwork.

Once again, the artwork design for the album was done by Daniel Halsall and to be perfectly honest a child could of done it. There is no real difference with the designs that Halsall does to the designs you would get if you went out and brought a CD Labelling Kit like Surething for example, which basically comes with a piece of software to print out your own album covers and CD labels. If they are actually paying him money for his designs then they must be seriously crazy and have more money than sense. 

The artist and album title names have been left off although you could always re-use the round sticker the names are printed on that is stuck to the cellophane it comes wrapped in. Looking at the design or the lines on the front cover if you were to put the album on its side the lines would look like those you would find in the midi editor of a DAW such as Cubase for example. I hardly think it would catch anyone’s eye in a record store or pick up any awards for the best album cover. Basically, its simplistic, minimalistic and does not do a Dicky Bird for me I am afraid. 

The Album v2.0 In Review…

GoGo Penguin’s second studio album v2.0 was released on the 14th March 2014. The album contains 10 instrumental tracks and comes with an overall playing time of 47 minutes, 20 seconds. The album was very well received and was nominated for the Mercury Prize in the same year which is an annual music prize awarded for the best album released in the United Kingdom by a British or Irish act. 

The album was also released on vinyl in 2016 and because the CD went out of print and they reissued a Special Edition that was released on the 21st April 2018 which just goes to show that even less impressive album covers can still sell very well. The Special Edition also included 3 extra bonus tracks and it came with an overall playing time of 61 minutes, 7 seconds. 

The bonus material that is included is very good and in total you get an extra 13 minutes, 47 seconds spread over the 3 tracks. Although I am not 100% sure but I would expect that the material would have been written around the same time they made this album or possibly left-over material that was written for their 3rd album Man Made Object. To be perfectly honest if it was written for their 3rd album, I could perhaps see why it was left off the album but the first couple of bonus tracks “Break” and “In Amber” I may well of swapped for a couple of tracks on v2.0. “Wash” is not a bad track either and I like the inclusion of all 3 of the bonus tracks you get here. 

It also interesting to note that they did make an official video release of “Wash” despite it not being included on the original album. I guess it was put out to promote the Special Edition that was put out much later than when they put out the video. As a matter of fact, it was 4 years later so they do not exactly rush things out. Once again, the animation for the video was done by Antony Barkworth-Knight who done the video for “Last Words” that appeared on their debut album Fanfares. 

Personally, I do not think the video is as captivating as the one that was done for “Last Words” and I felt that track from their debut album was a much stronger and positive piece of work. However, there is no doubt that “Wash” would of fitted on their second album because much of the material that was written for v2.0 does have more of a dark density feel to the dramatic side with how album flows along, especially in some of the latter stages of the album. 

The albums title is written like a version of a piece of computer software and it’s fairly obvious that the title is referring to the fact that it is the bands second album. But like I mentioned earlier it could also be seen like a double meaning and it could also relate to it being the second line-up of the band like a MK II so to speak. Personally, I thought more thought went into the title than the albums artwork. 

The band decided to record the album at Giant Wafer Studios which is a residential recording studio in the heart of Mid Wales in the UK. Although not all the album tracks were recorded there but they spent a couple of months with producer Brendan Williams who recorded and mixed the biggest majority of the album tracks there during March & April 2013. 

Studio 1 Collage_Fotor

Giant Wafer Studios

Many other bands and artists have recorded at the studios including the likes of Everything Everything, Chapters, Neil McSweeney, Dutch Uncles, Miraculous Mule, Pete Molinari, The View, Seth Lakeman, Dizraeli and the Small Gods and many more. To be perfectly honest I have never heard of any of them but then again, it’s very rare I take notice of what is out there these days and I stopped listening to the radio many moons ago now. 

The rest of the album tracks were recorded in August 2013 at 80 HERTZ Studios in Manchester, England and were recorded and mixed by producer Joseph Reiser. The album was also mastered at the same studio by George Atkins. 

Studio 2 Collage_Fotor

80 HERTZ Studios

I think both studios look very clean and very well equipped but out of the two 80 HERTZ Studios does look very impressive and its very well detailed on their website too. Once again, I have not heard of any of the artists and bands that have recorded there and it does seem that fewer have and that might be down to the cost. But the likes of Aquarelle Quartet, Lang Lang, Skeltr & Kin Kail, The Courteeners and Mammal Hands are among the few. 

There is no doubt that GoGo Penguin’s second album v2.0 has been well recorded and produced. However, this album has nowhere near the quality of the bands debut album Fanfares when listening to it on your HiFi through loudspeakers and unlike that album this is not what I myself or many audiophiles would call a reference recording. Which I very much felt that Fanfares had all the makings of a high-quality reference recording that would easily stand out and impress the listener immediately. 

To get the best results out of this album you will need to listen to it with headphones and it is a headphone mix and a very good one at that. So much that even a 320kbps MP3 digital download will sound GREAT! in headphones and will bring out a lot more detail than the physical CD or vinyl album will do in a pair of loudspeakers especially regarding the characteristics of the double bass. 

The thing that is instantly noticeable on this album when listening to it on loudspeakers is that the bass tends to hang back in the mix which does not allow it to breath and come to the forefront to project a lot of the resonant qualities and characteristics the instrument has. When such an instrument has been very well recorded like it was on their debut album you should be hearing not only how the wood and strings resonate but also how it vibrates. 

Even though all those characteristics are present in the mix, it does not project that well out of loudspeakers and it’s more like a near-field mix where you have to get a lot closer to the speakers to get any real benefit out of them. If like myself you sit between 7 – 8 feet away from your speakers this recording will sound a bit harsh and almost like it’s been recorded in mono. You will have to sit right on top of your speakers to get the best out of it and that is perhaps the best way I can describe it. That’s why the mix sounds a lot better in headphones and you will get to hear all of those characteristics with them in a lot more detail. 

Musicians & Credits…

Band Pic_Fotor

All compositions by GoGo Penguin. Executive Producer Matthew Halsall. Produced by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Recorded at Giant Wafer Studios Llandrindod Wells, Wales between March & April 2013. 80 HERTZ Studios Manchester, England in August 2013. Recorded & Mixed by Joseph Reiser & Brendan Williams. Mastered at 80 HERTZ Studios by George Atkins. Artwork & Design by Daniel Halsall.

Musicians:
Chris Illingworth: Piano.
Nick Blacka: Double Bass.
Rob Turner: Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

The material that was written for the bands second album is more or less along the same lines of the material what was written for their debut album, certainly regarding the style of how it somehow fits into jazz with a more modern approach to that genre of music. However, I do feel that the band were making a few steps forward towards how they were now developing the music and had taken away more of the jazzier elements that was on their debut album to incorporate Dance, Dubstep and even Trance into their music and I have to admit it took myself a good few more spins to get into the album. 

When I ordered all 4 of the bands albums from Amazon this was the only one of them that arrived a week later and it was the only album out of the 4 that presented me with an harder task to come to terms with. But there are also some tracks on this album that point to that newer direction they would heading in from 2016 onwards, to which I feel there was perhaps more of an interesting change with how they further developed and crafted their music. 

The band may have been taking small steps at this point of their career but they were notable changes and it is interesting seeing how they progressed along their career to where it is today and there are some really GREAT! stand out tracks on this album so let’s now take a more detailed look at the original 10 tracks that made it up as I go through them individually. 

Track 1. Murmuration.

starling murmuration shaping a giant bird

The album gets off to a very promising start with it’s opening track and it’s quite a soothing piece that has an ambient chillout feel to it with how it opens up with the reverb that’s been applied to Rob Turner’s drum kit on the first few bars of the intro. Chris Illingworth’s notes on the piano also lend an hand to the ambient mood and feel of the piece and Nick Blacka has slotted right into the groove on the bass and with how he also uses it like a cello which adds a GREAT! effect to it all as it builds up to a crescendo before dropping back down for the keys to end it all off very solemnly.

The title refers to the phenomenon that results when hundreds and sometimes thousands, of birds fly in swarms swooping, intricately coordinated patterns through the sky. Here in the UK it’s quite common to see Starlings swarm in from the surrounding countryside between the months of October to March and there can be as many as 100,000 of them in a swarm.

Murmuration” is another excellent piece of work and GREAT! track that demonstrates how all three musicians have contributed to the writing and how very well effectively they all work together as a combined unit and team. It’s very much a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 2. Garden Dog Barbecue.

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Quite often the names that are given to the titles of the tracks on the bands albums are the inspiration to work the music around and the picture I chose above is actually from the animal rights group PETA who displayed what looks like a dog being barbecued a couple of years later in London’s Trafalgar Square. It also had a slogan written underneath stating “If You Wouldn’t Eat a Dog, Why Eat a Pig? Go Vegan”. 

In an earlier interview I came across during my research the bands pianist Chris Illingworth explained the story behind the tile that was given to this piece and it came from a reoccurring dream he had where dogs were hosting a barbecue, and the dogs ended up cooking themselves. Very strange and weird I must say and dreams can often be like that and it perhaps reflects the rather bizarre music they have presented here. 

I have to confess when I first heard this piece, I thought they was messing about rather than being constructive and it took me a few spins to get to grips with the bizarre and quirky goings on here. I am used to quirky and strange things and being into Frank Zappa he can quite often have that strange bizarre quirkiness in the music that he writes. It can also can be avant-garde at times too and there is a bit of that to the piece we have here too I feel. 

There is no doubt the piece has been constructed together in fragments and the three guys have worked hard putting it all together. It’s piece that runs through quite a few changes or spasms with various time signatures as it goes along and even though it’s made up of minimalistic sections they are quite intricate you can see how well they have worked on it to be able to bring it to the stage and perform it live. That is perhaps the most impressive part of it all because they have pulled it off to perfection. 

It’s quite a party and exciting piece and the band have performed it live at many of their live shows and in October of 2014 they even appeared on the Jools Holland’s show on the BBC. But this live video I chose is from the bands Youtube channel of them performing the piece on the June 2013 a good 9 months before the album was released. 

There is no doubt all 3 musicians are working their socks off and the interesting thing I observed here is how the bass player uses his fingers on one hand and thumb on the other to make the effect that sounds like he is using the bow on the strings.

It’s quite possible that the same technique was used on many of the tracks on their debut album and to me it sounds like a bow was used on the strings and both Grant Russell and Nick Blacka do also use a bow at times.  There is no doubt that “Garden Dog Barbecue” is one of the albums stand out tracks and is very much another strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 3. Kamaloka.

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Kamaloka is often referred to as a place of desires and is associated with the spirit world or the astral plane and can be seen as a place where one travels to in the afterlife when one passes on sort of thing. The music that is presented here does have a sense and feel of travel about it and is on the move no doubt. It perhaps reflects a scene where one is travelling around the streets in a city rather than the picture I chose of crossing over of life from one world or realm to the other. 

The piece centres and is built up around a repeated sequence of notes on the piano and like the opening track it does have an ambient chillout feel to it. It’s perhaps a bit more laid back in relation to the opening track in that it does not build itself up into a crescendo and ambles itself along at more of a constant and steady pace. All three musicians work wonders into the piece and it is quite a desirable piece to listen to and another really GREAT! album track. 

Track 4. Fort.

T 4_Fotor

It’s time to put up some defence barriers and I presume that is the thought that went into this “Fort”. It’s a piece where the bass and a drums do some noodling around the piano and the piano itself is also noodling and echoing its way along effectively with the use of some delay in parts. It’s perhaps more of an effective jam rather than a composition even though there is some form of a structure to the melody line on the piano. It’s not exactly gonna set the world on fire but it has some interesting textures and I quite like how Blacka has worked the bass into the piece. 

Track 5. One Percent.

T 5_Fotor

The Trio give a lot more than 1% to this piece and it is certainly more interesting than the previous track and here you can plainly hear how they are fusing other genres of music into one big melting pot an effectively it works very well. For example, I myself have never been into trance or dubstep and personally detest those genres of music but how they have incorporated it into acoustic instruments does tend to work more in the way of a progression and is certainly more interesting and acceptable for my ears.

The title may very well be pertaining to the 1% of the population who are the richest and have the most money and own the most property, in other words the political power society. It’s quite a busy piece even though it starts off very slowly and builds itself up to unleash its power so to speak. It’s certainly keeping Turner busy on the drums apart from the short section where it does come down and Blacka adds some nice strings to it via the use of his bow on the strings.

The interaction between all 3 players is really good and has it builds its way up into a crescendo towards the end is where Illingworth works a bit of dubstep on the keys which effectively sounds like a CD when it skips and he’s got it down to a tee even to include it in a live performance. It’s another GREAT! piece of work and album track.

Track 6. Home.

T 6_Fotor

Home” is quite a pleasant piece and perhaps describes the comfort and warmth of home. It’s also got more of the jazz flavour in particular with the GREAT! bass work that Blacka works into the piece and it even kicks off with a very TASTY! solo from him. It was also the first piece that they worked on together when he joined them. There is some lovely chord progression that Illingworth works into it on the keys and Turner keeps it all ticking over in a more subtle laid-back way on his kit.

Track 7. The Letter.

T 7_Fotor

This is quite a dark atmospheric, dynamic and dramatic piece and strangely enough they decided to record it in the dark. It’s perhaps the most atmospheric piece on the album and cooks on a very slow burner but captures and portrays the drama of the contents that is contained within the letter. Which on this occasion may very well contain sad news about the loss of a loved one and is quite surreal with how it’s delivered sort of thing. Well that is how it speaks to myself and it features Illingworth playing more of a domineering role and it works very well. That’s not to say that both Blacka and Turner do not do their bit but it’s more of an ambient laid-back track and a good one.

Track 8. To Drown in You.

T 8_Fotor

This is the longest track on the album and more of the darker side of the drama is still present and the title might very well be pertaining to ones dying love for a person in wanting to lose oneself completely and consolidate their affection for that person rather than suffocate themselves by drowning in water so to speak. Although the music that is presented here does give you the feeling of being in water and sailing on the sea. 

It’s a piece that is worked around a short motif or melody line on the piano which is played repeatedly throughout the whole piece from when it comes into play around the 36 second mark. It could even be said that Chris Illingworth is playing the most minimalistic part in the piece in that melody line is repeated throughout. Though he does add some mice touches to it as it builds along and I should imagine it takes quite a lot of concentration to play and pull this off live. 

Even though the melody on the keys is the same throughout I can assure you that over its longer distance there is plenty here to keep interest and alleviate the boredom and this is where this 3-piece outfit really work as a team. Both Nick Blacka’s bass and use of the bow on the strings play a very important role and effectively it’s his contribution that gives it the feel of travelling upon the sea, Rob Turner’s contribution on the drums is outstanding and listening to the bass and drum section between 3:20 – 5:28 reminds me of “The Beds To Big Without You” by The Police. 

Surprisingly there are many pieces of music I have heard from many artists where I could easily accuse a piece like this of not going anywhere. But where this piece does differ is really down to how all 3 musicians have injected their own thing into the composition and that is where it works so well. “To Drown in You” is a really GREAT! piece of work and my personal favourite track on the album and it merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! 

Track 9. Shock and Awe.

T 9_Fotor

This is another dramatic piece of work that would of most certainly of been written by Chris Illingworth being as the other two are barely in the piece. It’s also the shortest track on the album but only by 1 second. It’s a very solemn piece that is almost like being at a funeral and that would be down to the sadness and feeling of helplessness that is associated with the title of the piece. The piece does express and capture those feelings very well and the little nuisances of the ticking of the clock and other noises are captured very well and work very well in the ambience of it all.

Track 10. Hopopono. 

T 10_Fotor

It could be said that the opening and closing tracks of the album are bookends and they both evolve around the same theme in a similar way although this closing track does have a bit more life and pace injected into it. I would also say that both of these tracks are the stand out tracks on the album very much how like a single release from an album would stand out and hit you with more of a focus point that would instantly appeal to you and grab your attention.

I guess they seen it quite like that too and is why they decided to put out an official video of it on their Youtube channel. It really is a GREAT! track and has been played at many of their live shows. It’s quite a strange title and a word I have never come across before and the meaning behind it can be translated as “correct a mistake” or “make it right”.

The word itself comes from Hawaii and traditionally is practised by Indigenous Hawaiian healers and can even be used in forms of meditation and can also be used to say “I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you”. 

I have to admit that reviewing instrumental albums is quite difficult specially to try and review each track individually. But what makes it more interesting is the titles that the pieces have been given and quite often I will come across something I have never heard of before such as the title that was given to this piece. In a way it’s a bit of a learning curve for myself with all the research I do and that is part of the pleasure I get out of reviewing the music I buy. 

I would say that even though the opening track “Murmuration” does share some of the same qualities to what we have here, the difference is really down to how “Hopopono” does tend to have more of an association with electronic music with how the sequence of notes are played on the piano and how it’s more driven along with its up-tempo. 

This track in many ways is where the band first made a further step forward to their musical approach that they would be presenting a couple of years later and would even quite comfortably of fitted in line with the material that was written for the bands 3rd album Man Man Objects. This is very much a very strong contender for albums TOP SPOT AWARD! and winds the album off superbly. 

Summary…

To sum up my review of GoGo Penguin’s 2nd album v2.0. It’s very much an album that takes you along with the flow and is a very comfortable album to listen to with how all the tracks have been very well placed throughout the album. There is no doubt that the band are injecting more fusion of other genres such as dance, dubstep, hip-hop and electronic music into the pot and even at this stage and they were perhaps taking away a bit more of the refined jazz elements that was more notable on their debut album. Although the jazz and classical influences are still present. 

If anything, the album v2.0 has more of a Cinematic approach to music with most of the material that was written for it but it still works very well as an albums worth of material and is a very enjoyable album with a couple of exciting moments along its path. I would say that both the albums Fanfares and v2.0 are more of a laid-back affair regarding pace and tempo and there is very little on them that injects a lot of pace in relation the next couple of albums that were to follow later. 

However, there is no doubt that their first two albums still have plenty to offer and there is no denying their formidable style is still very much present and they both have stand out tracks too. There is a darker side to quite a bit of the material that was written for their second album and it reflects that very well in the dramatic side of it. My personal highlights from this album are “Hopopono“. “Murmuration“. “Garden Dog Barbecue“. and “To Drown in You“. 

Conclusion…

The bands second album v2.0 is another very strong album and contains a fine body of work with the material that was written for it. It does not contain a bad track on the album and even though I mentioned earlier that I may have swapped a couple of tracks for the bonus tracks that they included on this Special Edition and had written around the same time. That is not to say that there are any bad tracks and was merely to point out how well the bonus material was also written. 

GoGo Penguin’s second album v2.0 was the last album to be released on Godwana Records and in the following year of 2015 they signed up to Blue Note Records (France) which is one of the many other labels that are associated with Decca Records. 

With the inclusion of bassist Nick Blacka there is no doubt the band were making further progress not only with how their music was shaping up and developing but also in gaining further popularity. But the key to their success is really down to all the hard work they have put into it, especially with their busy schedule of playing constantly on the road. With the release of their 3rd album they were without doubt picking up even more followers and fans along the way and were adding more fuel to light the flame so to speak. That will be up next in this 5-part series of my reviews.

A Newer Version Of The Band…

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. Murmuration. 4:12.
02. Garden Dog Barbecue. 3:44.
03. Kamaloka. 5:23.
04. Fort. 3:17.
05. One Percent. 5:34.
06. Home. 5:19.
07. The Letter. 6:10.
08. To Drown in You. 6:28.
09. Shock and Awe. 3:16.
10. Hopopono. 3:57.
11. Break #. 4:30.
12. In Amber #. 5:44.
13. Wash #. 3:33.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.