Lee Speaks About Music… #117

Waterfront Station – Dave Friend/Shael Wrinch/Paul Harder

cover

Introduction…

Well if you’re into some soul, jazzy. bluesy and rocked up funk this is an album that certainly ticks all the right boxes for your particular taste and delivers it in style. It also comes right out of the heart of Vancouver in Canada where waterfront station is located. Although the music we have here does not quite date back to the 1920’s when that smashing picture was taken that graces the albums front cover, and is perhaps more along the lines of bands such as Chicago, The Average White Band and Steely Dan who’s music was gracing our ears back in the 70’s.

The album Waterfront Station was released at the end of last year and is an album that cumulates some of the hard work that Dave Friend has put into writing the material over the past 3 years or more. I first stumbled across Dave Friend back in 2012 on Soundcloud and I can tell you that both the music he plays and his production work is amongst the finest on the cloud, and no doubt this album does come with a solid production, and sounds really GREAT!.

Dave Friend is no stranger to working with many GREAT! musicians and doing collaborations with them and working on other projects. Sun Tower was perhaps his main project to which was very much a 3 piece outfit that wrote some pretty darn fine songs together to which they all took part in the production side of things. They was a very fine soft rock band that I have been a fan of since I heard them and are well worth checking out. Both Shael Wrinch and Bruce Warren were very much part of that line up and about 5 years ago it was unfortunate that Bruce Warren moved to America to take up an executive position with Microsoft, which put a damper on things.

Since those days Dave has very much worked with many other musicians on Soundcloud and as been involved in many collaborations and other projects such as another fine project he did with Kevin Sumner. Between the two of them they wrote some well good rocked up blues songs under the name of Hog Iron. He has also done a lot of impressive collaborations with Greg Hurley too, and pretty much everything Dave Friend has been involved in is very impressive I will say.

Waterfront Station is something a bit different and all the material on the album was written by Dave himself. He roped in his old friend Shael Wrinch from Sun Tower and another guy who showed a lot of interest in his music namely a saxophonist who goes by the name of Paul Harder, and here we have another fine 3 piece outfit strutting their stuff in GREAT! style. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the artwork and packaging.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in a very well made and nicely presented DigiSleeve that houses both the CD and booklet in side slip pockets. The Booklet itself is only a gatefold, but nevertheless does contain all the lyrics and linear production notes, plus some very useful background information. Although 300 copies of the CD have been pressed, they have not been made widely available and some have been placed in local stores around Dave’s home town.

Being busy with his own full time job and his family he has had very little time to really promote the album. Though the album has been made more internationally available in the form of a digital download and can be obtained at many online stores such as iTunes and Amazon. I was very lucky and fortunate enough to receive my CD as a gift and feel very honoured and privileged to receive a copy.

The Artwork.

The album covers artwork is an old photograph that was taken in 1923 of Waterfront Station that was provided by the Vancouver Archives that are in public domain. It also contains quite a few more old snapshots from around the 20’s and 30’s around Vancouver. You will also notice that the name of the artists have been omitted from the album cover, though the album is credited to all 3 artists. I am pretty sure they was not mistakenly left off the cover, and my guess is that the album was originally intended to be credited to Dave himself has he wrote all the material.

Another indication as to why I feel that this is Dave’s solo album, is that on the back of the booklet it contains a bit of a biography about himself. Though knowing how thoughtful Dave is and aware of the GREAT! contributions that both Shael and Paul had contributed to the album. It would of been impossible to of left them out.

The Album In Review…

Waterfront Station by Dave Friend, Shael Wrinch, Paul Harder was released on the 17th December 2018. The album contains 14 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 56 minutes and 41 seconds and I can tell you that its Funky Delicious!. The album contains a mixture of vocal and instrumental tracks, judging by the titles of some of the tracks in particular you also get the feeling that there is a bit of a concept thing going on  based around Vancouver and its suburbs. Though the lyrics do also delve into political and other goings on around other countries as well.

No doubt most of the places would of inspired Dave to write about having lived and grew up around these parts and he’s seen a lot of good and bad things going on during his lifetime like most of us. But it was back in 2015 when Dave first collaborated with Paul Harder on the instrumental track “Waterfront Station” a piece that Dave himself was well happy with how it all came out that really ignited the spark enough for him to continue his work with Harder and make an album.

The style of funk music on the album is very much oldschool and sounds like it came out of the 70’s. Being born in the late 50’s myself, the 70’s is really the decade that appeals to my personal taste the most, and most of the time I still very much live in it :)))) especially regarding my own personal taste of music. But personally I would feel that the music we have here would certainly hit the spot with many more people with its funky jazzy and more popular style, and in particular how well it’s delivered which is really very close nit and tight.

Musicians & Credits…

Band Pic

Produced mixed and mastered by Dave Friend. All music & lyrics written by Dave Friend. Recorded sometime between 2015 – 2018. Photographs from the public domain in Vancouver’s archives circa 1920’s and 1930’s.

Dave Friend: Guitars – Bass – Electric Piano – Drum Programming.
Shael Wrinch: Vocals – Backing Vocals – Hammond B3 Organ – Percussion.
Paul Harder: Saxophones.

Bill Zickmantel: Bass Guitar (Track 7).

The Album Tracks In Review…

There is no doubt that the material written for Waterfront Station certainly has more funk to it than Dave Friend’s earlier project Sun Tower to which was more aimed at the softer side of rock with its more ballad ESC style. You still have Shael Wrinch’s fine voice here, but it’s perhaps the presence of Paul Harder’s sax that fits in more into this whole funky outfit to make it work so well to go down this road with this line up.

No doubt most bands would have perhaps more of a brass or horn section in their line up to achieve this amount funky goodness, and even bands like the Average White Band had quite a brass section of session musicians playing on their smash hit “Pick Up The Pieces” way back in 1974. But Harder’s work on this album really bridges that gap and makes it work superbly.

Funk music goes back to the 60’s and although I once read or seen a documentary stating that it was Joe Walsh who created it when he was with the James Gang and came out with “Funk 48” back in 1969, I rather think it goes back earlier than that, and perhaps to the Godfather of funk himself who was certainly James Brown. Although he also injected quite a bit of soul into it as well.

Over the years we have seen a few styles of funk music, and in the 90’s we got to see another really GREAT! band called the Spin Doctors give it a new twist and spin with their much fresher approach to it all. Although the style of funk we get here with the album Waterfront Station is definitely more of your oldschool that harks back to the 70’s I would say. So now let’s take a look a the individual tracks and see how it all takes shape and works out.

Track 1. Terminal City.

The album kicks off with the first of the 5 instrumental tracks that are placed throughout the album. It’s title can be seen as many things and even the city of Vancouver is also nicknamed after it. But it can also be a station such as Waterfront Station and most bus, train and even airport terminals can also be very busy and plenty of activity can be seen buzzing around such places. A terminal can also be seen as the end of the line where passengers have to get off and have reached their destination.

TCRG-RollerDerby

Interestingly enough Vancouver also has a women’s flat track roller derby league, and a team called the Terminal City Rollergirls. Musically the piece very much displays the busy activity of all these places the way it meanders and weaves itself along. The music is mainly structured around a guitar riff that has quite an hook which enables the other passengers or other elements of instrumentation to fit in very comfortably and smooth and iron things out a lot more.

For example you have this raunchy guitar riff with the lead and slide guitar lines playing more of a dynamic role making a statement every now and then, the sax also can play it’s role in places too adding to the dynamics. But both the sax and the rhythm guitar play more of a smoother role and irons out all the edges very well, whilst the bass and drums keep everything nice and tight and in place.

This particular track only features Friend and Harder and gets the album off to quite a flying and very promising start and engages the listeners attention very well with all the fine detail they have put into the piece.

Track 2. Virtual Battlefield.

A song that I suppose could pertain to gossip that so easily can be exaggerated that confronts us from day to day. Whether it be in a working environment or in a bar socialising there is no doubt political matters, the news and even fake news and conspiracies will at some point get on everyone’s tits so to speak, and that is what this virtual battle could be very much pertaining too.

Shael Wrinch provides us with the vocals and backing vocals and his voice instantly reminds me of the former band he was in with Friend namely Sun Tower. This particular song is perhaps also more suited to the style of that old band too.

Musically the bass guitar works wonders on this particular track and contributes a lot to its tightness and groove along with the drums. Harder’s sax plays more of a minimalistic role, but pops up in all the right places and contributes more of a dominant lead role in the little musical interlude breaks. I would also say that the guitar pretty much works its way into the song in the same manner too, and it’s a cracking little number and contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 3. Life Lives On.

The pace simmers down a notch but in fine style and this next track features some wonderful guitar work from Friend and Harder’s sax contributes not only some fine lead lines, but also punctuates and stabs its way along in parts to act like an horn section. Wrinch’s vocals do the business as ever and he also contributes a bit of percussion to the song too. The lyrical content we have here pertains to how the economic system no longer works between private parties, especially with how the government pokes its nose and interferes with economies and businesses these days. 

Track 4. Granville Street.

The second of the instrumental tracks on the album and once again the tempo is back up and this one swings into action in very fine funky style indeed. Just like the opening track on the album “Terminal City” we have another quite busy place here, and “Granville Street” is very much a major street in Vancouver and part of Highway 99 which is also known as the Fraser Delta Thruway south of Vancouver, and the Sea to Sky Highway, the Squamish Highway, or Whistler Highway north of Vancouver. No doubt that highway is on more than the road to hell by the sounds of things there :)))))))).

Granville Street 1959

Though as you can see by the photo above Granville Street is most often associated with the Granville Entertainment District and the Granville Mall. It’s filled with nightclubs and bars and it looks like you could have a GREAT! night out on the town here, it would also be GREAT! if you could swing into one of its clubs and catch these three guys knocking out this GREAT! tune live on stage. It really is a fabulous track that captures the swings and moods of it’s bustling nightlife and is very much another one of my contenders for the top spot on the album.

Track 5. Flip Side.

Speaking of contenders for the top spot on the album, the “Flip Side” is very much my personal favourite track on the album and merits the top spot award. The funky goodness is in full swing and flow here and it’s quite a catchy little number that instantly grabs hold of you with its funky hook and its rhythmic riff. Paul Harder’s sax is working as hard as the whole horn section did on The Average White Band’s smash hit “Pick Up The Pieces“. In some ways it reminds me of that smash hit with how it grooves along, and no doubt this could easily be the track on the album to put out as a single. I dare say back in the 70’s this could of also have been a smash hit. Check it out for yourself here on Youtube.

The song itself does have a bit more going on in comparison to “Pick Up The Pieces” particularly with its changes. It’s also got a very tasty guitar and sax solo too. I love the energy you get in a song like this and it very much drives along in a way that its always on the GO! sort of thing. You could dance yourself away merrily and happily whilst working to this song and it would very much cheer you up and make your day. It’s a GREAT! song for the car too, and I could quite easily put this on repeat for a couple of hours and not get fed up of it, and simply run along with its hook and groove.

Track 6. Routine Conflict.

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Once again Friend, Wrinch and Harder turn up the heat in fine style and this is a song that’s words are based around the type of conflicts that can cause violence and riots, not just in the way the picture I chose above either, which happens to be from the Stanley Cup. But conflicts can arise from all sorts of avenues including political and even religious disagreements, and those are really what this song is perhaps more directed at and pertaining too. Like most of the lyrics on this album they are quite minimalistic but very well thought out and well written.

Routine Conflict” has to be another one of the many GREAT! tracks on this album and is very much another contender for the top spot on the album. It features some really GREAT! guitar and bass work from Friend, and Harder’s sax playing is immaculate as ever, whilst Wrinch does the Bizzo! delivering the vocals and harmonies with his GREAT! voice. These guys really are cooking on gas and they sound as tight as Steely Dan. I suppose being as they are from Canada I could say they are as tight as a bears arse and play as sweet as maple syrup, and these guys certainly have got the FUNK OUT!.

Track 7. Don’t Say Nothin’.

The album continues to flow along in fine style and “Don’t Say Nothin’” runs at a steady smooth pace and has quite a funky hook, swing and groove to it. It also features Bill Zickmantel on bass guitar who makes his only contribution to the album on this track, and along the other 3 guys he slots into place very well indeed. There is some more gorgeous sax work from Harder on this one, and these guys really do things in GREAT! style and it’s another GREAT! and worthy contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 8. Here For Now.

Well if the last song was about being stuck in an hard place and was best to do or say nothin’. This one is perhaps about accepting the situation of where we are for now and getting on with it. I suppose in some way’s both songs could relate to certain things that go on in the world that are not acceptable and putting up with them till it’s time to move on. Once again the guys swing into the action with the groove from the bass line, and we get some more great solos from the guitars and sax.

Track 9. Metrotown.

Next up we have another one of the instrumental tracks, and this one happens to be the longest track on the album clocking in at 5 minutes and 1 second. Metrotown is a major connection point for the TransLink bus routes in southern Vancouver and Burnaby.

Sky Train

It has an elevated train known as Sky Train (pictured above) which is perhaps a bit like the one that opened in my own town of Birmingham back in 1984 to which was the first of its kind in the world. Back then it was called Maglev and the one over here connects Birmingham International Railway Station to the Birmingham’s International Airport. These days its known as Sky Rail and I am pretty sure that it’s original name of Maglev was used because the train is powered by magnets.

Metrotown is also one of the city’s four officially designated town centres, as well as one of Metro Vancouver’s regional town centres so it’s very much another very busy bustling place. There is no doubt that pretty much all the instrumental pieces on this album very much stand out and work very well aptly to the places they are portraying. It’s like making a bold statement without needing any words to do so, or even Wrinch’s GREAT! voice for that matter. Though his contribution to the many songs on the album are also a very important ingredient of what makes an album like this work so well too.

Metrotown” has to be another contender for the album’s top spot and both Friend and Harder are very much laying on the funk in superb style. It’s very well worthy of giving it a blast here on this video to hear for yourself.

Track 10. How Many Times.

The band rock it up a bit more with “How Many Times” and the lyrics we have here are pertaining to how life can be taken away from us especially through the lack of negligence that goes on in this world, which could pertain to many things such as the gun laws in America for example amongst many other things. Sometimes even I get the feeling that the world is being run by machines rather than intelligent human beings. How many times does it take for anything to sink into their tiny puny brains. I am pretty sure that is the message that’s being driven along here and once again they are doing it in GREAT! style.

Track 11. Gassy Jack.

All 3 of the guys contribute to this next instrumental piece and Wrinch plays Hammond on this one and they are all cooking on GAS very much so with the Funky Goodness. Though the gas in this piece does have a bit of history behind it, and his in fact about a person whose name was John Deighton who was originally from Hull here in England and was given the nickname John “Gassy Jack” Deighton back in the 19th century. Here is the very chap pictured below.

Gassy

Deighton was known as Gassy Jack because of his talkative nature and his penchant for storytelling rather than somebody who ate baked beans and spilled them out of his backside :)))))). He spent the last few years of his life running a bar in Gastown in Vancouver and the name stuck with him around that particular area. That much that they even built a statue of him and he’s popular with many tourists.

Gassy jack Statue

Musically the piece is structured around the swinging guitar rhythm and everything else punctuates and evolves its way magically around it all, and the guys really swing their away around the barrel on this one.

Track 12. Nasty Biz.

The nasty biz behind the subject here started in North Korea with Kim Il-sung back in the mid 50’s but can even been seen going back further to Marxism–Leninism and is a portal of communism and socialism and over the years can even be seen more as a religious cult. However you look at it, it’s all very much nasty biz and the guys weave, groove and meander their way along superbly on this one. The song has a great change in the middle section to allow for Friend’s guitar solo and Harder ends it off in style with his sax solo at the end too. It’s very much another cracking song that is another fine contender for the top spot.

Tracks 13. Promises.

The guys rock it out in a very smooth flowing way here with “Promises” and I have to say all the songs on this album have been very skilfully arranged for 3 members to play their part in it all, and this is another quality well written song that displays all the fine attributes that all  3 of the musicians contribute to making it work so well. I would not put my faith in any of the promises a politician would deliver, but what I will say what these guys deliver is certainly more promising and this is another GORGEOUS! track that cooks on the right GAS! and not the shit Vladimir Putin was playing with.

Track 14. Waterfront Station.

The final track on the album is the albums self titled track and is another Funky Delicious instrumental track. Waterfront Station was opened August 1, 1914. The station was designed by Toronto-­based architects Barott, Blackader and Webster, with building costs reaching $1 million. The building was refurbished from 1976 to 1978, transforming Waterfront Station into the transportation hub it is today.

Waterfront Colour

There are many shops and services that support the station and in 1987 the very first Starbucks outside the USA found its way here. It’s also said that Ghosts even reside at the station according the security guards on the late shift, and it’s also known as one of the most haunted places in Vancouver. Though I doubt that they came for the Coffee :))))). It could be that they were hoping to catch the Sky Train to heaven :)))).

The piece kicks off on the guitar in a very Plucky style with it’s opening riff, and it picks up the other pieces of instrumentation very well with how they all wrap their way around it all. It starts to open up and develop its way along superbly with its funky style, the combination of the guitars and sax from Friend and Harder do the BIZ! as usual and even Wrinch adds a nice touch of flavour to it on the Hammond.

It’s another contender for the top spot on the album and well worthy of giving it a spin here on the Tube to put yourself in the GROOVE! and puts an end to what can only be a superb album.

Summary…

To sum up Waterfront Station by David Friend, Shael Wrinch, Paul Harder. I would say that if you are looking for something that feels and sounds like something new and fresh, this album is not going to give you that by any means. However even though the music we have here is very much oldschool and sounds like it came out of the 70’s. It can very much revive and revitalise a lot of the really GREAT! Funky Goodness that came out of that decade and bring it back to life with how well the material has been written and played precisely. The material is highly original, and they have very much put their own stamp and edge with how its been so precisely delivered.

To put it in a nutshell, this sounds like an album and a band that came from the 70’s, and it is like stumbling across a lost GEM from that decade. The production values alone speaks highly for itself, and it sounds very much like the album was produced by a top professional producer and engineer who knew precisely what he wanted it to sound like. Regardless of if you have this album on CD or as digital download, the sound quality is to die for, and you will hear all the dynamics from the instruments with how well its been recorded. You are getting 100% quality bang on for your buck here without a doubt.

My personal highlights of the best tracks from the album are as follows: “Flip Side“. “Metrotown“. “Routine Conflict“. “Granville Street“. “Virtual Battlefield“. “Don’t Say Nothin’“. “Nasty Biz” and “Waterfront Station“. Although this is an album I could of easily have chosen all 14 tracks, simply because there is not a bad track on the album and its pretty much a solid one at that.

Conclusion…

In conclusion of my review of the album Waterfront Station. I personally think that if bands like Chicago, The Average White Band and Steely Dan rock your boat, you cannot go wrong here. The music you get here does very much have a funky, jazzy and even soft rock ballad ESC! feel to it in parts, which very much gives it their own distinctive approach and style to it all. I have nothing but praise for the production and these are pretty much excellent musicians who have a very good head on their shoulders and this album is nothing short of CLASS!.

The album is on many streaming services such as Spotify, Deezer and other places so that you can listen to it for free. It’s also available to purchase in the form of a digital download on many world wide Amazon stores and other places such as Google Play and iTunes and here on Amazon UK its currently priced up at £7.99. You might also find it slightly cheaper on other stores as well. But the album is well worthy of its price point and I think is well worthy of buying to support the artist as well, especially for something of this quality.

Waterfront Station is very much an album that contains everything I have said about it, and is simply Funky Delicious!. It Grooves! and ROCKS! in all the right places and its as tight as BEARS ARSE! and as SWEET AS MAPLE SYRUP!. It’s well worthy of adding to your collection and is worthy and deservedly of a lot more attention.

You can listen to all the tracks for free on this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I75sS6xdmDk&list=OLAK5uy_m8VBLQkkzRyj6gpn9ng7PVSrJ0QmTmLpc

You can also purchase the album from here: https://www.amazon.com/Waterfront-Station-Friend-Wrinch-Harder/dp/B07LFMCQY3

Stuck In An Hard Place Between A Criminal And A Man From Outer Space…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. Terminal City. 3:47.
02. Virtual Battlefield. 3:14.
03. Life Lives On. 3:49.
04. Granville Street. 3:53.
05. Flip Side. 3:23.
06. Routine Conflict. 4:18.
07. Don’t Say Nothin’. 4:31.
08. Here For Now. 4:21.
09. Metrotown. 5:01.
10. How Many Times. 3:43.
11. Gassy Jack. 4:35.
12. Nasty Biz. 4:00.
13. Promises. 4:07.
14. Waterfront Station. 3:59.

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

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 9/10.

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Lee Speaks About Music… #116

The Best Of Lee Speaks About Music 2018

LSAMA

2018 Awards

Introduction…

It’s been quite a busy year for buying both new and old music and I have amassed many more CD’s, DVD’s, Blu Rays, Box Sets and Digital Downloads to add to my music collection this year, and have had an exciting year listening and writing about them all. 2018 as certainly been more of a year for mainstream artists rather than unknown artists and I have purchased very little in the form of a Digital Download. In total I have added another 70 bits of music media that have come in the shape of all those formats I mentioned above.

As usual most of the music I have purchased this year comes from the past, and a lot of it would of been the case of me updating music I already had many moons ago with new reissued box sets and remastered albums. For example in total I purchased 27 new bits of music media that was actually released in 2018 and out of that lot only 14 of them were new albums. The other 13 of them were live releases on CD, DVD and Blu Ray and older studio albums that has been reissued in box sets.

Speaking of box sets I am going to kick off this year’s awards as I did last year by starting with them first. In total I did buy 8 of them this year, two of which were by last year’s winner of the award Jethro Tull to which seen the release of the 40th Anniversary of their 1978 album Heavy Horses, and the 50th Anniversary of their 1968 album This Was. Both are really splendid packages and come in the form of an hardback book just like the Deluxe Edition box set I brought of Clutching At Straws by Marillion who seem to have followed the same suit with how they are reissuing their back catalogue.

We also got to see the release of the 2nd and follow up box set from The Flower Kings with A Kingdom Of Colours II. Another excellent purchase and I also picked up some of the cheaper Clamshell box sets such as The Studio Albums (1979 – 1987) by Sky and even I Lost My Head (The Chrysalis Years 1975 – 1980) by Gentle Giant got reissued again. Another splendid package was Into The Electric Castle (20th Anniversary Earbook Edition) by Ayreon and the most expensive box set I purchased was Chris Squire’s Fish Out Of Water.

All 8 box sets were well worthy of buying and the biggest majority of them were focused on one particular album that comes with an array of bonus material, rather than just a collection of the bands discography or partial discography on CD sort of thing. But this award also takes into account of how well the package is made and presented, and not just the best artist sort of thing. So the biggest contenders up for this award will no doubt be out of Jethro Tull, Marillion, Ayreon, Chris Squire and The Flower Kings to which by far have the best presentations. And the winner is…

The Best Box Set Package Of The Year…

JT HH

Well as you can see Jethro Tull have done it again and to be honest both the DVD Book Edition Box Sets that were put out by the band this year were purely superb. Even though Marillion’s package is very much identical, it does not give you the vast amount of information you get inside the book that comes with the array of discs that you get in a package like this. I would also say that Ayreon’s package was also quite a very high contender because that also comes with a vast amount of information, especially on the production side of things and is another high quality package.

But it also comes down to practicality of how easy it is to store the package, especially for myself who no longer collects vinyl, and the size of the Ayreon package would be better suited for vinyl and not putting CD’s & DVD’s inside them. Whereas with the Jethro Tull packages they are the same size of a DVD and can simply be stored away on a DVD shelf along with all your other DVD’s. They are also easier to hold in your hand to sit down and read them, unlike the Ayreon package to which you would need to put on a table to able to read it more comfortably.

Heavy Horses is a terrific album and the second in the folk rock trilogy of albums that follows up from Songs From The Wood. Both are very much alike with the really GREAT! material that was written for them, and would of even made a perfect double album in reality. To be honest I never seen the 3 albums as a trilogy and I would  not say that the album Stormwatch was ever in the same league. You can read more about the album here: https://wordpress.com/post/leespeaksoutaboutmusic.wordpress.com/

BorderUp next we have the award for the best mainstream artist album that I brought in 2018. I know last year I only had about 3 new albums that were released in 2017 to choose from out of the mainstream albums I brought, which just goes to show you how much new music I buy ;)))))). This year looks slightly a bit better and I have 10 of them to choose from and they are as follows:

Neal MorseLife and Times. Robert Reed Sanctuary III. Fernando PerdomoOut To Sea. Arena Double Vision. Crack The SkyLiving In Reverse. The Sea WithinThe Sea Within. GryphonReInvention. Tiger Moth TalesStory Tellers Part Two. Jean Michel JarreEquinoxe Infinity and The TangentProxy.

All of them are pretty much decent enough albums and some are very strong contenders to win the award and there is a couple of really GREAT! surprises that got released this year, the first being Gryphon’s new album after some 41 years which was something I never thought I would get to see either after all this time. The other surprise was to see Jean Michel Jarre had returned to fine form after near enough 2 decades and he really done well with his latest sequel to Equinoxe.

There is also 3 newcomers to my collection from this lot too. Crack The Sky’s new album had quite a fresh approach and feel about its production which I thought was very good, and Fernando Perdomo also came out with quite an exciting prog rock album based around guitar styles from other prog rock bands from all those years back such as Peter Banks of Yes for example. Though both of these artists did not exactly float my boat enough for me to backtrack on their albums or follow them in particular. Unlike Peter Jones did who is the man behind Tiger Moth Tales. He was that good I snapped up his entire discography and the sequel he did to Story Tellers this year was a brilliant piece of work and album.

Both Arena and The Tangent produced very strong albums this year and Robert Reed once again came up with a masterpiece with his 3rd album in the Sanctuary series. Neal Morse produced a fine mediocre songwriter album and The Sea Within’s debut album featuring Roine Stolt & CO was perhaps a bit of a hit and miss album and perhaps my least favourite of this bunch. So there are at least 6 very strong contenders here. And the winner is…

The Best Mainstream Artist Album Of The Year…

RR- S

Before I even had this album and knew it was going to be released this year, I very much felt this could be the album of the year, and I was not wrong. All 3 albums Robert Reed has released in the Sanctuary series are all Masterpieces in my book. These musical masterpieces bring nothing short of joy to my ears as Reed emulates the music Mike Oldfield so skilfully crafted out back in the early 70’s, and even though he may use all the instrumentation and even rework and reshape some of Oldfield’s melody lines in parts, it’s still very much highly original material that produces the end result.

Effectively Reed brings back to life the sound of Oldfield in 70’s and early 80’s in his own way with these GEMS, and just like myself he has a genuine passion and love for Oldfield’s early music, some may call it plagiarism and style wise they may very well be right, but one thing you will not find in Reeds music is one single Oldfield melody line and to me he is another genius. He’s not only a very skilled multi talented musician, but he’s also a very good producer who not only brings you quality in stereo, but also in 5.1 and all his albums come with 5.1 mix as a bonus too with the cheaper price he charges for his music. Sanctuary III is just like Sanctuary 1 & II and give you 100% Satisfaction. You can find out more about the album in my review here: https://leespeaksoutaboutmusic.wordpress.com/2018/04/28/lee-speaks-about-music-75/

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Next up we have the award for the best Unsigned Artist album and whereas last year I had brought 19 albums done by 12 different bands and individual artists to choose from, this year I only have 4 albums to choose from and one of those is more or less the same artist. So there is not a lot of competition for one of the albums to win this year’s award. The 4 albums are Preliminaries by a new band from Poland I discovered who go by the name of Artyfiction. Monuments by Napiers Bones which is a project by Gordon Midgley and Nathan Tillett.

Another of Gordon Midgley’s projects which is a new one he done with Joan Silentio and Dirk Radloff’s 2 man project of HeartScore that sees him this year venture into Metal with his latest album Black Riders Part 1. All 4 albums are very good and very well produced though there can only be one winner and that is…

The Best Unsigned Artist Album Of The Year…

NB-M

Messrs Midgley & Tillett upped the game with this year’s new album Monuments and without doubt produced their best Napier’s Bones album to date. As a matter of fact this album is that good I would even put it in contention with many mainstream prog rock albums, simply because this is genuine quality writing and musicianship and is a very well produced album too. The albums material and concept is based around some very interesting historical people who not only made their way into history, but did enough to leave behind a monumental monument to make an impact and leave their mark on it.

If you are into prog rock I seriously suggest you check this album out, because it is without doubt up there with even the more wider known mainstream prog rock bands and it genuinely is an excellent album. You can read more about it in my review here: https://wordpress.com/post/leespeaksoutaboutmusic.wordpress.com/50127

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This year I got to discover a total of 7 new artists who I had never heard of before and all of them had been out for quite awhile too. One of those bands were England who released a one off album entitled Garden Shed way back in 1977 and was very much like finding a golden piece of prog rock treasure and no doubt is a truly GREAT! album. I also took a step back to the 90’s to what Andy Tillison was doing before The Tangent and purchased a double compilation by Parallel Or Ninety Degrees entitled A Can Of Worms to which I found interesting, but it was not enough to entice me to try and get any of their albums.

Fernando Perdomo’s album Out To Sea I felt was very good, but the fact that this artist tends to do too much all at once very much meant it would be far too costly to follow him. The unsigned Polish band Artyfiction I thought made a very good debut album, and I shall be keeping a look out to see what they come out with next. Another GREAT! band I got to discover was the Italian band Conqueror. Their 2005 album Storie Fuori Dal Tempo is a truly GREAT! prog album and I do still intend to complete my collection of this bands discography and shall do in the new year.

The two artists that impressed me the most I discovered this year are the one man project of Peter Jones who is Tiger Moth Tales and the Norwegian band Wobbler. Both of these artists impressed me more than enough for me to purchase their entire discography all at once more or less. Both of them I would also consider the most consistent artists to pick up this award too, but there can only be one real winner and that is…

The Best New Artist/Band Of The Year…

Wobbler

Wobbler are without doubt one of the finest prog rock bands there is in today’s world of prog rock. This is a band that crafts out music to make it sound as if it came out of that golden decade of the 70’s, and they have successfully achieved it by using very much the same instrumentation that those prog rock bands were using back in the 70’s. It all started for them back with the release of their debut album Hinterland back in 2005 and even though the band have made 2 line-up changes and produced a further 3 albums over the past 12 years, all 4 albums the band have released have been pretty much consistent and are excellent.

Wobbler Award

All 4 albums Hinterland, Afterglow, Rites At Dawn and From Silence To Somewhere could easily merit this award the band have never put a foot wrong, and all 4 albums contain individual influences from many bands that came out of that golden decade of the 70’s that the band have adapted and adopted to their own unique style. You can find out more about the bands 4 albums on the following links:

Hinterland. https://leespeaksoutaboutmusic.wordpress.com/2018/06/08/lee-speaks-about-music-84/

Afterglow. https://leespeaksoutaboutmusic.wordpress.com/2018/06/14/lee-speaks-about-music-85/

Rites At Dawn. https://leespeaksoutaboutmusic.wordpress.com/2018/06/24/lee-speaks-about-music-87/

From Silence To Somewhere. https://leespeaksoutaboutmusic.wordpress.com/2018/06/30/lee-speaks-about-music-88/

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Well next up we have the award for the best surround mix, and this year I certainly brought more CD’s and even some DVD’s and Blu Rays that do not even come with a surround mix at all. Being a surround freak it is surround mixes that entice me the most to buy an album all over again and in relation to any remaster and remix, this is where the real value and quality is by far, or should I say should be. Simply because not all surround mixes will blow your socks off, and it’s really down to the guy behind the mix in the first place to how they turn out. Some 5.1 mixing engineers are simply dreadful and do no real justice to surround sound and can be disappointing.

In total I purchased 15 items that come with surround mixes ranging from live concerts and studio albums that come on a DVD or Blu Ray and most were actually released this year even if most of the studio albums themselves were released many moons ago. Thankfully I have not had too many disappointments out of this lot and they range from good, very good, excellent and superb. Being as I always tend to score things from a scale of 1 to 10,  a score of 5/10 I would call “Fair” or “Mediocre” being as it was half way there sort of thing.

I suppose you could say if it scored 5 out of 10 it was half decent. But half decent would certainly not be something worth shouting about when scoring a 5.1 mix, and anything lower would certainly be “Poor” or even “Diabolical”. Both 6/10 and 7/10 scores I would call “Good” but in the world of a 5.1 mix I would also say that they could of been mixed better. So for any 5.1 mix to be really good they really need to score between 8 out of 10 to 10 out of 10. 8/10 being “Very Good”. 9/10 is “Excellent” and 10/10 is “Superb” and would be where you would have to be to win this award. So let’s first take a look at how all 15 surround mixes faired, starting from the lowest to the highest.

The Good Pile.

4 of the 15 surround mixes fall in the “Good” pile. Haken’s live concert entitled L – 1VE scored 6/10 and so too did Marillion’s studio album Clutching At Straws that came in the Deluxe Book Edition. Being a studio album Marillion should really be scoring a lot more points here especially as it is a lot harder to get a really GREAT! live mix in relation to recording in a studio. So even though it did score a 6/10 it was a bit on the disappointing side and I certainly would not be approving the both engineers who mixed it either, and they have a lot to learn when it comes to mixing 5.1.

To be honest both of these releases came with better stereo mixes, and the 5.1 mixes were not really an improvement at all. If there was any improvement it was on the odd track and certainly not by any large enough margin to be that significant. The other album we have in this pile was another studio album which was A Curious Feeling by Tony Banks. This I did give a 7/10 and it was mixed by the same engineer who did the 5.1 mixes for the Genesis albums Nick Davis.

This one does have a better 5.1 mix than the other 2 albums, but it’s not up to the par of the early Genesis albums he did the mix for, but I think this was perhaps a very difficult album to mix, and it’s perhaps not an album that is really suited for a 5.1 mix, and I certainly do not think even Steve Wilson could of give this one any better justice. Also scoring a 7/10 is Ayreon Universe by Ayreon and this is a live concert that comes on a Blu Ray though I will stress it does not come with the sound formats you will expect to find on a Blu Ray that’s for sure, and when it comes to doing 5.1 mixes Arjen Lucassen certainly has a lot more to learn.

However I give credit where it is due and I do think Arjen is improving and he did do not too bad here. But an exciting concert to which this certainly is, does need to have a more professional 5.1 mixing engineer to bring out the best here. He still has not discovered DTS yet, and the fact that his 5.1 mixes are in your box standard Dolby Digital do not really do them any real justice at all, especially as far a Blu Ray is concerned.

The Very Good Pile.

5 of the 15 releases made the “Very Good” pile and scored 8/10. 3 of this lot are live concerts and are all on Blu Ray and come with the lossless high end audio you would expect to find on a Blu Ray. I do not have any gripe with either of these concerts either and they all are very good 5.1 mixes. They are as follows: Steve Hackett – Wuthering Nights Live In Birmingham. Led ZeppelinHow The West Was Won (Blu Ray Audio) and YesLive At The Apollo. To be honest I even think the 5.1 mixes of these live concerts are slightly better than the both studio albums that are in this pile.

Speaking of the studio albums they are Chris Squire’s 1975 album Fish Out Of Water that came in the Deluxe Box Set to which I do feel the 5.1 mix could of been better. I would also say the same for Ayreon’s 1998 album Into The Electric Castle that came in the Earbook Box Set Edition but I so see another improvement from Arjen with this mix, but once again he uses the same box standard Dolby Digital surround sound instead of DTS decoding to which would bring out better quality.

The Excellent Pile.

2 of this lot made the “Excellent” pile and one is very much a concert film that’s been reissued on Blu Ray and although the picture quality is not a vast improvement over DVD Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains The Same certainly benefits in the sound department and this is quite an excellent 5.1 mix. But here we also have film footage which is perhaps more suited for 5.1 and most films in 5.1 in all honesty do fair better than music for 5.1 mixes, but even the live concert you get here sounds way better than the vinyl, the video and the DVD formats it was previously released on, and this is really an excellent purchase.

Jethro Tull’s 1978 album Heavy Horses that comes in the New Horseshoes Book Edition is certainly another excellent 5.1 mix that brings this album back to life. Though I must confess none of the Tull albums from 1968 – 1978 needed waking up for me, simply because this is a band who’s albums are never that far from my turntable and I have played consistently every year since I originally brought them back in those days. Having this album in 5.1 brings sheer joy to my ears.

The Superb Pile.

The final 4 of the purchases I brought this year fall into what I call “Superb” 5.1 mixes, in other words they are the superior 5.1 mixes out of them all, and it comes as no surprise to see that 3 of these albums were mixed by Steven Wilson. To be honest both the Gentle Giant albums Octopus and The Power And The Glory he did 5.1 mixes for are quite mind blowing and anyone of these two albums are well up to win this award. But even the 4.1 mix he did for Jethro Tull’s 1968 album This Was is very impressive as well. The other superb 5.1 mix is Robert Reed’s Sanctuary III album, and he is another truly GREAT! sound engineer who does a very impressive job of 5.1 mixes.

Like Steven Wilson it’s very hard to say who is better at doing 5.1 mixes, and they are both superb in this field. But if I had to choose between the both of them, it would have to be Steve Wilson. Simply because he works on other peoples albums that will present him with more of a difficult challenge. But both of these know the ins and outs of what it takes to do a superb 5.1 mix, and they have never let me down. No doubt all these 4 albums are worthy of picking up this award, but there can only be one winner and that is…

The Best Surround Mix Of The Year…

JT - TW Award

I would not say that the 4.1 mix of Jethro Tull’s 1968 album This Was is as mind blowingly staggering as both the Gentle Giant albums with their 5.1 mixes. But boy is this mix impressive and as brought out the sound of this album superbly and to be honest none of its previous recordings will even get near to how well this album sounds with its remarkable detail. This album literally breathes new life with how good the 4.1 mix is, and it’s by far the best 4.1 mix I have ever heard on this planet.

To be honest I am not into Quadrophonic and thankfully this does have a point 1 next to it, so it’s not Quadrophonic or a like those dreadful 4.0 mixes you can get. This mix leaves them in the dust by a massive margin and simply blows them away. Any surround mix that comes without utilising the subwoofer is purely a waste of space in my opinion, and you will never get the best from those type of surround recordings. If you want to hear what a real bass guitar and the low end of a drum kit sounds like, you need a subwoofer and this 4.1 mix sounds like the band are in your living room playing it. It’s purely FANTASTIC.

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For this year’s special album award it was very difficult for me to choose just one album out of the all the albums I brought this year. This final award goes to what I thought was something special that I brought this year and was worthy of a mention all the same, regardless of it being released this year or not. For example last year it was Chris Fry’s 2012 album Composed that won the special album award. I basically boiled it down to 3 contenders and the first that sprang to mind was the 1977 album by the English prog rock band that go by the name of England and their GREAT! album The Garden Shed.

Another truly GREAT! prog album that came out in 2005 was by the Italian band the Conqueror with their 2nd album Storie Fuori Dal Tempo. Both of these albums scored 10 out of 10 in my ratings and are certainly more prog rock than my third choice which was released this year which was the latest album by Tiger Moth Tales entitled Story Tellers Part II. Which incidentally scored 8 out of 10. All 3 albums have brought me tremendous pleasure and are new artists to my record collection that I only discovered this year. I would also consider all 3 albums worthy of this special award, but there can only be one winner unfortunately and the winner is…

The Special Album Of The Year…

Con Award

From the moment I stumbled across the 31 minute epic track “Morgana” on Youtube I instantly knew that this was a special album that would speak my language regarding prog rock, even though the band the Conqueror only sing in their own native language of Italian. The music will always come first to me with the biggest majority of genres of music in this world, especially when it comes to prog rock.

I mean let’s face it does Jon Anderson’s lyrics back in his heyday when he was with Yes make any real sense? Answer! Of course they don’t, and words are only really that effective with the expression a singer will apply to them and the way the vocal line contributes to the music. I am not saying all prog rock is the same regarding the lyrics they write about, but in general I find Singer Songwriters a lot more meaningful when it comes to lyrics, though half the time they are banging their head against a brick wall by making protest songs I will say.

What I have always enjoyed about prog rock is how the music can take you somewhere else, that is something any lyrics or story you write for it can only follow and in reality it is always the music that takes you on the journey. So even having an album like this that you cannot even understand what they are singing about, will not make a blind bit of difference as long as the music takes you on a GREAT! journey and every song on this album will do that precisely and in superb prog rock style that will even take you back to the 70′ itself with how skilfully this album has been crafted.

Storie Fuori Dal Tempo is one terrific prog rock album and even though it was released back in 2005. It very much feels like a long lost GEM from the 70’s. You can find out more about it here: https://leespeaksoutaboutmusic.wordpress.com/2018/02/15/lee-speaks-about-music-60/

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Well that about wraps up this year’s awards and it’s been another GREAT! year for music and my collection has grown a bit more. Things will however slow down a bit in the new year due to me saving up for a new TV and Blu Ray player right now, and I dare say I shall be buying some more films as these new devices will be in 4K. But I have no intention of reviewing films and it will be more than likely a new little phase that will take up 3 or 4 months of the new year leaving me very little to buy new music for awhile.

So my music reviews will be way less frequent during the first quarter of the year at least. But no doubt it will pick back up again later on in the year and no doubt certain new releases will certainly entice me to get them as well. Finally I would like to thank everybody who has taken an interest in my blog site and wish you all a happy and creative new year.

Music was my first love and it will be my last. Music of the future and music of the past…

The immortal words of John Miles….

Lee Speaks About Music… #115

Subjects – Gordon Midgley & Joan Silentio

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Introduction…

Subjects is the latest project and album by Gordon Midgley to which he has teamed up with the Polish singer songwriter Joan Silentio so it’s very much a joint project. Midgley is no stranger to working with other people on other projects and it was not that long ago we seen the release of the 5th Napier’s Bones album Monuments done with Nathan Tillett and what a terrific album that really was. Though it’s now been a year since the release of his last solo album Lifetimes Ago and over this year he has been keeping himself very busy and even added a drum kit to his arsenal of instrumentation, and Subjects is the first album that features real drums played by himself.

Another thing that Midgley is no stranger too, is that he mostly likes to work around the subject matter in the way of it being a concept in one way or another, and the biggest majority of his works are in fact concept albums. He also tends to focus on the haunting dark side of things as with most of his solo material, and this new album Subjects does have quite a dark feel with its atmospheres, and does also contain some of the finer ingredients one might find in prog rock along its path too. Though it does also step into more modern territories with its genres and styles such as dubstep and even a bit of hip hop is thrown in for good measure and the result is quite a mixture of styles and as well as the dark side of things, we also have a few shades of light perhaps.

I have to confess that I do not know a great deal or really anything at all about Joan Silentio, and even though I am not into all the projects that Midgley has been involved in, this one did grab my attention enough for me to purchase it. The album is also sold at a very reasonable price for a digital download, so its not really gonna break the bank and it suits my pocket so to speak. But before we take a deeper look at what you get here for your money, let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

Package

Well as you can see the packaging is nothing really to look at with any digital download and it will not give you something you can hold in your hand either. But for many unknown artists who have not got a massive following to sell their albums by the bucket load, this is by far the most sensible way to sell your music these days. But even a package like this once opened up, can give you a much bigger picture with the contents that are inside it, and the way the music presents itself to you.

Artwork.

The albums artwork was is a photograph taken by Joan Silentio and is very fitting to the albums concept which is based on the context of Christian mysticism back in medieval times, though at first glance the albums artwork instantly reminded me of this classic album by Dire Straits :))))).

Covers

Though I have to confess it was the border and not the actual photograph that gave me this impression, and there is a lot more to someone being in an empty living room living in dire straits here that’s for sure.

The Album In Review…

The album Subjects by Gordon Midgley & Joan Silentio was released on the 30th November 2018. The album contains 14 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 42 minutes, 26 seconds which is a very reasonable and comfortable time slot for my liking too I might add. The album itself consists mostly of shorter tracks ranging somewhere between a minute and half to the two to three minute mark. Only a few of it’s tracks are a bit longer and are around the five minute mark.

The material for the album was recorded during the autumn in both England and Poland and mixed and mastered at Scanulf Studios which is Midgley’s home studios. Apart from one of the tracks entitled “Sometimes” to which was mixed and mastered by Russ Sinfield at The Chaos Cookhouse at his home studio also in England. He also contributes guitar to that track as well.

Most of the instrumentation is played by Midgley himself whilst Silentio takes care of the vocal side of things, to which on some of the tracks she uses her own native language to put across the words, and others are sung in English. Silentio also contributes some keys to some of the tracks too, and I am pretty sure it would be mainly the electric piano that features on quite a few of the tracks. I would also expect that most of the musical side of things here, were also written by Midgley.

Musicians & Credits…

Credits pic

A Scanulf Studios Production. Recorded, Mixed & Mastered in England & Poland by Gordon Midgley at Scanulf Studios except ‘Sometimes’ mixed & mastered by Russ Sinfield at The Chaos Cookhouse. All texts derived from Meister Eckhart ‘Collected Works’. Cover Photography by Joan Silentio.

Musicians:
Gordon Midgley: Guitars, Bass, Drums, Keys.
Joan Silentio: Vocals & Keys.

Additional Musicians:
Russ Sinfield: Lead Guitar (On ‘Sometimes’).

The Album Tracks In Review…

The album Subjects is like I mentioned earlier based on the context of Christian mysticism and all the words we have here on the album are quotations that were made by Johannes Eckhart who was a German theologian, philosopher and mystic commonly known as Meister Eckhart back in the medieval times around the 13th and 14th Century. Although there is no authority for giving him the Christian name of Johannes, which sometimes appears in biographical sketches and its believed that his Christian name was actually Eckhart and his full name was Eckhart von Hochheim.

I suppose you could say that Eckhart was like most religious nutters who liked to derive their own interpretations of the bible and form their own religion by finding a suitable spot on a busy market day and stand there preaching a load of Gobble De Gook :))))). Only the Gobble De Gook he was preaching certainly had a darker side to it all. That much that his own teachings (and the fact that many people were taking notice of them) created a bit of a stir with the Catholic Church in particular. He was tried as a heretic by Pope John XXII and may very well had been burned at the stake, had he not died before the trial was concluded.

It’s said that Meister Eckhart can be considered a symbol of the intellectual spirit of the late Middle Ages. His teachings had a strong influence on the thinkers of the Reformation, including Martin Luther. Some of his ideas have been compared to Buddhist teachings. His texts and quotations put into historical context Midgley first encountered back in the early 2000’s. More recently he experienced a different kind of acknowledgement and resonance to them, and no doubt they would be well apt for the kind of dark haunting music he tends to focus on mostly with his music.

But even though the subject matter of Eckhart’s texts and quotations works very well here, does the albums title of Subjects one might ask? To be honest regarding the albums title even I am confused, especially considering some of the material on the album does tend to be more acquainted with the 11th track on the album “Sometimes” in the way of a reprise before you even get to it. So let’s take a deeper look at the album as I go through the individual tracks.

Track 1. In Darkness.

The album opens up with the longest track on the album which weighs in at 5 minutes, 36 seconds. Musically we have Midgley’s more Cinematic approach like we got on his first 3 solo albums Vanished Age, Out Of Doors and The Darkness of Error, only here we have the element of a voice added to the equation, and I have to say even though Silentio’s voice plays more of a minimalistic role on the most of the tracks we have on the album, it does effectively work extremely well for it.

Silentio is very much playing more of a speaking role on this track as with most of the tracks on the album, and also uses her own native language as well as English to put across the words just like we have on this opening track. The only words she does speak in English do happen to be one of Eckhart’s more popular quotations that reads as thus: “Truly, it is in darkness that one finds the light, so when we are in sorrow, then this light is nearest of all to us”.

I think the other thing that sets this album apart from his first 3 solo albums is that it does have more of an electronica feel to it with the use of the keyboards. No doubt you are still getting all the familiar guitar FX and Steve Hackett like lead guitar swells thrown into the pot, but even on this track I am hearing both early Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk.

For example the Geiger counter sound reminds me of Kraftwerk’sRadioactivity” and the section in the middle with the sound from the mellotron reminds me of Tangerine Dream’s3 AM at the Border of the Marsh from Okefenokee” from their album Stratosfear. I get a bit of King Crimson with the use of the mellotron in particular too. The piece does have a really GREAT! build to it, and I like the vibes from the Electric piano in that middle section too. It’s a cracking starting point for the album  and gets the albums off to a GREAT! start.

Track 2. Deserted.

The first of the few short pieces on the album that effectively build their way up to the actual 11th track on the album “Sometimes“. I do like how this album uses most of that songs melody lines to give you a hint, and this has quite a ThemeIstic relation to the 11th track and uses minimalistic parts of it, including the words.

Track 3. Shadowland.

Another piece where the vibes from the electric piano work very well and contains minimalistic words spoken in Polish. This is a very haunting and distant piece and the electronic side here also reminds me of the dark haunting fear that was projected into a truly GREAT! 1969 album entitled An Electric Storm by White Noise. That album also featured an electronic genius by the name of Delia Derbyshire. It’s certainly an album worth checking out if you have not heard it, and one that can strike fear into you and even makes dogs go NUTS :))))).

Track 4. Awareness.

No doubt Midgley likes to get into the groove with the drums and bass on most of these tracks and once again we have quite a theme going on with the guitar lines. It even sounds like he brought in a violin player especially at the beginning of the track. The minimalistic words once again go along with the flow and the groove and it’s quite an effective piece of work.

Track 5. Nothing Of Our Own.

This one starts off like Vangelis with the sound from the sequencer, and the sound of the lead guitar work quite reminds me of Mick Rogers back in the early 70’s with Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. The words are part of Eckhart’s teachings which are quite similar to Buddhism, and they also sound a bit like his own version of the Lord’s Prayer. He quite often taught the darker way to God and led people up the garden (or wrong) path so to speak, and both Midgley and Silentio do a GRAND! job here of it all here.

Track 6. Derested.

Here we have a reprise of the 2nd track “Deserted” and judging by the title we have here Midgley has either made a spelling mistake or has jumbled up the words in attempt to derail them a bit. Once again it puts the mind in focus of what is to come with track 11 “Sometimes” and I suppose effectively it could be like you are getting a reprise of that track before you have even heard it.

Track 7. Worlds Are Forming.

This is perhaps the first track on the album that Joan Silentio sings on instead of talking. Her voice works very well both ways to be honest, and on this track it sits very well in the groove of the bass and drums. The electric piano features very well here too along with a reversed cymbal effect, it also has a fine lead synth and nice bit of guitar adding to it’ touch towards the end. This is also the first track on the album to have more of a song structure in relation to the other snippets and is a really GREAT! piece of work.

Track 8. First Parting.

A dramatic change of mood here and apart from a couple of words this is more of an instrumental piece than anything else. It’s another step into the lurid territory of the dark and this actually gives me the impression of being stuck on an haunted battleship in dense fog with the picture the music paints. This track is also slightly longer than the other short tracks at its 3 minutes, but oddly enough seems to be over in no time at all and does not seem any longer at all.

Track 9. Ex Nihilo.

The title is written in Latin and means “Out of nothing”. It refers to the view that the universe, the whole of space-time, is created by a free act of God out of nothing, and not either out of some pre-existing material or out of the divine substance itself. It’s also the shortest track on the album at 1 minute 4 seconds and is another fine piece of work that utilises the bass, drums, guitars and synths and also Silentio’s voice in a minimalistic way.

Track 10. In My Heart.

This is quite a beautiful drifting piece with some lovely vibes from the electric piano that blends in very well with the more spacey pad sound and lead synth. Silentio’s voice is very sweet on this track and it reminds of some of the soulful intros you would get from some Tamla Motown Records back in the late 60’s with groups like Diana Ross & The Supremes and Martha & The Vandellas or even a bit later with The Chi Lites as an example.

It’s a really GREAT! track that I would of liked to have seen go on a bit longer and the bass and drums work well in it too. Had it have done I could of also have seen this making a very good single release from the album and it really is a strong contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 11. Sometimes.

Without a doubt this is the stand out track on the album, and even when I play this album it gives me the impression that everything was building up to this one track alone for some reason. Everything about this song tells me its a smash hit and this album is worth buying for this track alone. To me this is the ultimate track on the album and by far the best structured piece of them all. This is where Joan Silentio really gets a chance to sing on the album, and boy does she deliver the goods here.

I love how the album actually builds it’s way along to get to this point, and even in the previous track you can tell more of a song was starting to develop in relation to all the little small snippets that are all effective and have more of darker side to them all. The light on this album starts to appear on the previous track “In My Heart” and with “Sometimes” you get the whole reflection of the light and it truly opens up the light on the album and shines.

Sometimes” is very much like a combination of the Alan Parson’s Project, Pink Floyd and perhaps Donna Summer or some soulful singer like that. The combination we have here purely works a treat. The song contains a super stand out bass line, backed up by the drums, glistening vibes from the keys and rhythm guitar and one terrific guitar solo by Russell Sinfield that echoes David Gilmour. Oh and one hell of a GREAT! voice to marry it all up.

The song really is a potential hit and brilliant piece of work, and for me personally by far the best track on the album that merits the top spot award of the album.

Track 12. Love By Nature Flows.

This is another of the better tracks on the album that also contains some Pink Floyd elements about it, once again we get the glistening vibes coming from the guitar alone this time and the bass and drums are well good too and provide the GREAT! groove here. Silentio’s voice also works very well in both Polish and English, and  we also have a little operatic vocal sample thrown in here too by the sound of it. This is another very well constructed piece of work and both this track or the next one that follows it would potentially make a fitting B-Side for a vinyl release of “Sometimes“.

Track 13. One Good Path.

Here we are back to the electronic synth vibe, and once again the sequencing reminds me of Tangerine Dream, but once again it works very well with the electric piano adding to it, and it has a gorgeous lead synth sound to it as well. It’s another one of the more lengthier tracks that is very well constructed with its melody lines and use of Silentio’s voice in the all the right places.

Track 14. Fountain.

We are back in the darkness where the album began for the final track on the album, and this piece is more like Midgley’s earlier work on his first 3 solo albums that is spacious and uses great guitar and effects, only here we have Silentio’s voice and vibes on keys of the electric piano adding it all very well indeed. More GREAT! Hackett like guitar swells and once again Silentio gets to use her GREAT! singing voice for a change at the end too with the harmonies. It puts the album to bed very well and is another really GREAT! track.

Summary…

To sum up the album Subjects by Gordon Midgley & Joan Silentio I would say that having the extra voice is the key element to making this album sound different in relation to Midgley’s earlier material which tends to focus more on dark dramatic cinematic soundscapes. Much of that side of things also still exists on this album, and I would even stick my neck out and say that some of the material may of come from left over material from his other albums.

But it’s not only Silentio’s voice that makes the difference here, and her vibes on the electric piano are also a key element to that difference, not to mention the fact that Midgley is also working with real drums which also makes this album work very well for it as well. As a musician Midgley’s talent never ceases to amaze me, and he already seems to have found his way even on a drum kit after no time at all in learning how to play them over the short period of time he has had them.

One of the things I did notice about this album is that the writing credits are missing, and I could of easily of asked Gordon if he wrote all the music we have on this album, but my guess is that there is very much a joint thing going on regarding some of the written material we have here. I could be wrong, but it certainly does have some fresher modern elements along the path of this album that I feel could not have been achieved without Joan being onboard.

I feel the source of material used for the albums concept and the use of text quotations from Meister Eckhart himself for the words is all very fitting. I like how Gordon describes the album too in his own words of being “related musical and lyrical motifs are presented in different contexts at various stages of the journey” to which they truly are.

The only real thing that confuses me, is why the album was titled “Subjects” and that would of been more fitting of a name to call themselves, rather than the title of the album. The only re-occurring theme on the album comes from the track “Sometimes” and I do feel that should of been the albums title. I am sure they have a perfect explanation as to why it was not. My personal highlights from the album are “Sometimes“. “In My Heart“. “Love By Nature Flows“. “One Good Path“. “In Darkness” and “Fountain“.

Conclusion…

In conclusion of my review I very much feel that the album Subjects may appear to be an album that mostly consists of little snippets with the biggest majority of the short tracks you get here. But they all make up quite and exciting album that even has quite a wide variety of styles thrown into the pot, yet somehow maintains to flow quite consistently throughout. The analog synths on the album work a treat, though I do also hear what sounds to me like soft synths in some small parts on a couple of tracks, the operatic vocal on “Love By Nature Flows” for example reminds me of Omnisphere and I also hear some sounds that remind me of Camel Audio.

I like the minimalistic approach with the words and I do get the feeling that the album does work its way up through the darkness and builds up to what I would call the track that has the shining light on the album, which is “Sometimes“. Like I said earlier the album is worth getting for that track alone, but you do get much more for the small price of the album and its well worthy of its price point.

Once again the production values are high and there is nothing here that disappoints either, and I like the way both Midgely and Silentio work as a team. I hear all sorts of influences such as the Alan Parson’s Project, Pink Floyd, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, White Noise, King Crimson and loads more. I can even hear a bit of  Tamala Motown soul thrown in here too, and I never thought I would get that remotely from anything Gordon Midgley as ever done. Even down to the fact that is also touches on hip hop and a bit of dubstep, it’s not over the top and all works and blends together extremely well.

Overall the Subjects is perhaps a slightly different road for Gordon Midgley to go down, but I cannot take anything away from what both he and Joan Silentio has put into this album, and I would even welcome more of this in the future. Perhaps something more along the lines where Silentio can get to use more of her singing voice, because I do feel that “Sometimes” would make a hit record and it deserves to be heard a lot more.

You can listen to the album for free on Bandcamp, or even purchase it for as little as £3 and I do highly recommend you give it a whirl. https://gordonmidgley.bandcamp.com/album/subjects

Sometimes I Can Sense That It Is Dark…

The track listing is as follows:

01. In Darkness. 5:36.
02. Deserted. 1:58.
03. Shadowland. 2:06.
04. Awareness. 2:10.
05. Nothing Of Our Own. 2:34.
06. Derested. 1:26.
07. Worlds Are Forming. 2:36.
08. First Parting. 3:08.
09. Ex Nihilo. 1:04.
10. In My Heart. 2:22.
11. Sometimes. 4:58.
12. Love By Nature Flows. 2:54.
13. One Good Path. 4:42.
14. Fountain. 5:02.

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

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #114

Clutching At Straws (Deluxe Edition – Marillion

Main Cover

Introduction…

Marillion’s 4th studio album Clutching At Straws gets the Deluxe Edition treatment and this is the 2nd of their albums from the era when Fish was with the band to be re-issued in the same packaging as the Jethro Tull re-releases in these book editions that come with an array of discs plus an informative book. Clutching At Straws may not have had the success of their previous album Misplaced Childhood but nevertheless it still had quite a bit of commercial success reaching number 2 in the UK album charts. It was the bands 2nd best highest charted album and it also produced 3 top 40 singles. So it was not that far away from the popularity of their previous album and personally I felt it was a better album overall.

The band were at the height of their success back in 1987 and like many bands it can be also familiar for a band member to leave and go off to do something else at the pivotal point of their career, and this was to be the last straw for the bands front man Fish who bowed out a year later in 1988 after the band done a successful tour of the album. I also bowed out from the band myself and went on to follow him rather than the band, though Marillion still went on to make many more albums with their new front man Steve Hogarth and are still doing well and are going strong still even today.

Fish went onto have quite a successful solo career of his own just like Peter Gabriel did when he left Genesis back in 1975 and since they both departed from the success they had in their previous bands, many fans were hoping that one day they would return back to the fold. Unfortunately it was never to be and it’s way to late now for it ever to happen, even if it did I personally do not think they could never recapture what they had back in their heyday with their former bands.

The only way you really can go back to those magical times, is really by getting these type of new reissues to rekindle the old flame, and ignite the old spark to relive it all again. And I have to say that these type of box sets can really do that and the way they have presented them in packages like this, really does give the album the type of respect it deserves. So let’s now take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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As with all these Book Editions they are superbly constructed out of thick cardboard with plastic trays to hold the discs firmly in place and look like a quality hardback book. The fact that they are also the same size of a DVD makes them so easy to store too. To be honest the way these packages have been constructed is even better than most box sets that cost over £100. I personally think the way they have been designed, they are by far the best designed package you can get especially for a packaged box set that comes with CD’s/DVD’s and Blu Rays.

Artwork.

The artwork was done by Mark Wilkinson who also done all the artwork for the other Marillion albums during the Fish era of the band. He also done many of Fish’s solo album covers too and covers for other rock bands such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. The setting for the artwork on Clutching At Straws was a picture taken at a British pub in Colchester called the Bakers Arms.

Fish wanted some of his heroes in the picture who had inspired the lyrics for the songs on the album, and amongst the crowd in the bar on the front of the album are Robert Burns, Dylan Thomas, Truman Capote and Lenny Bruce. On the back cover it had John Lennon, James Dean and Jack Kerouac.

Wilkinson expressed his disappointment with the artwork, and it was down to the fact that the record company had brought the release date of the album forward, that he was rushed to get it done which did not give him the time to add some more characters he wanted to include and put more detail in the overall picture.

Clutching At Straws Deluxe Released Editions…

Editions

The Deluxe Editions come in 3 formats the cheapest of them being the Digital Download which contains all the new mixes, demos and a live concert that are on the 4 CD’s and is currently priced on Amazon at £11.99. That’s quite value for money considering you are getting 4 albums worth of material here, especially when you consider that most single albums are generally around £7.99 for the MP3 digital download.

The 4 CD + 1 Blu Ray Book Edition Box Set is currently priced on Amazon at £35.90 though some places right now you can get for around £30 if you shop around a bit. This is the edition I opted for and got it for £22.73 by pre-ordering straight away on the 7th September from Amazon. It does pay to pre-order things before the release date and I saved a good £13.17 by doing so on this occasion. The vinyl release is the most expensive and you get 5 LP’s that come in a box for around £60.

The Album In Review…

Marillion’s 4th studio album Clutching At Straws was originally released on the 22nd June 1987. The album contained 11 tracks and had an overall playing time of 52 minutes, 14 seconds. Due to vinyl restrictions the vinyl release did not contain “Going Under” although they did release “Going Under” on the B-Side of the single vinyl release of “Incommunicado“. It was also the first Marillion album to be released on CD too.

Just like the bands previous album Misplaced Childhood it was Chris Kimsey who was again behind the production for Clutching At Straws and the album was recorded at Westside Studios in London which is now very much defunct and has been for quite awhile. To be honest this studio is so defunct that it’s practically impossible to find out any history of the place even though many artists recorded their albums there when it functioned as a recording studio.

The success that their previous album had brought the band meant that they was now more busier than ever with an heavy schedule of gigs booked up all over the world to play, they also had the pressure of coming up with another album to live up to the more commercial success that Misplaced Childhood had brought them. It was only the success of that album where the band made any real money to which all the band members could actually now go out and buy their own house at last.

The bands first two albums brought them nothing more than a heavy debt with the record company to pay off, and they had to play more live shows and release a live album just to pay it off. Being well off and more famous all of a sudden can bring all sorts of problems, and it’s not all like a bed of roses and easy to cope with for some people. It was during this period that Fish started to isolate himself more from the other members of the band and his addiction of drugs and alcohol did not really help him or his family out either.

Fame can be a struggle and too much to handle at times, and when you are the front man of the band you are always going to be the centre of attention for the press to get their teeth into. The only way to follow up success is to come up with something that was more of less a carbon copy of the album that brought in that success, and the band decided to try and do that by making a follow up to Misplaced Childhood.

They even wrote and recorded a few songs to try and do that, but soon found out they was not working out and they may have been trying too hard. So they scrapped that idea and those few demos they wrote can be heard on the 4th CD in this box set. So let’s now take a closer look at the package contents you get here.

The Package Contents…

With any package or box set like this it’s bound to come with an array of bonus material and extras in relation to just having the album on CD. Even the book that comes with it could be seen as a very good extra and good thing to have. Though the one thing I will point out is that the ones that come with these Marillion packages are nowhere as good as the ones you get in the Jethro Tull packages, and are nowhere near as informative.

For example you do get a 60 page book, but most of it is filled with pictures, the production notes and lyrics, and it contains very little informative information about the time the album was recorded. As a matter of a fact what little informative information you do get in this book is quite disappointing, and you get no more in reality than you would in a booklet that comes with a CD. I would even say you could read it in the time it would take you to have a dump on the toilet :))))).

The other difference between the Jethro Tull packages and Marillion’s is that we get a Blu Ray instead of a couple of DVD’s. To be honest apart from the documentary they include I cannot see any other real reason to use a Blu Ray disc, and effectively a DVD would of been just as suffice. They also give you 4 CD’s in relation to the Tull packages were they will give you 2 or 3 depending on the album and the bonus material they had around that time. Whereas it appears that Marillion are sticking to a format of giving you 4 CD’s and a Blu Ray by the looks of things. So let’s now take a look at the contents starting with the CD’s.

CD1.

The first disc contains the new mixes of the original album and as Steve Wilson was not available like he was with their previous re-issue of  Misplaced Childhood they have brought in both Andy Bradfield & Avril Mackintosh to do the new stereo and 5.1 mixes of the album. To be honest I have never heard of any of them before, but apparently they are known for mixing albums for well known pop artists such as Anastacia, Robbie Williams, Howard Jones and many others.

Hardly the right qualifications to mix a Marillion album I would of thought, but I have to say they have done a very good job on the new stereo mixes, they so sound fresh and it revitalises a bit of life back into the original recordings, something they may have needed too to stop them from being too outdated. Overall I am quite impressed with these new mixes and they are ticking all the right boxes here and have not gone over the top at all. I would even say they present you with a new feel in relation to the original album and it works very well for it.

You do not get any bonus tracks on this disc either, and you only get the original album tracks to which I like. In total you get 11 tracks spread over the original playing time of the original CD which makes the album weigh in at 52 minutes, 14 seconds.

CD’s 2 & 3.

The next 2 discs contain the whole of the concert the band performed live at the Edinburgh Playhouse on the 19th December 1987. In total you get 19 tracks spread over the 2 discs. The concert was mixed by Michael Hunter and it’s never been released before in its entirety, although 4 of the tracks from this same concert “Slàinte Mhath“. “Sugar Mice“. “Incommunicado” and “White Russian” was put on the double live album The Thieving Magpie that was released back in 1988.

This live concert is without doubt the best bonus material you get in this package and it really is a GREAT” live show they put on at the Edinburgh Playhouse. The 2nd disc contains 10 tracks and comes with an overall playing time of 62 minutes, 9 seconds. Disc 3 contains 9 tracks with an overall playing time of 52 minutes, 14 seconds making the whole concert 1 hour 54 minutes, 23 seconds long.

It may also be worth noting that this CD Box Set also contains an incomplete recording of the last song they played at the concert which was “Market Square Heroes” to which the band also played “My Generation”. “Margaret” and “Let’s Twist Again” during it, though it does get cut off after 10 minutes, 9 seconds and I guess they must of run out of tape. But this track is not included on the vinyl Box Set.

CD 4.

The 4th disc contains a load of demo tracks and you get 13 in total and the disc comes with an overall playing time of 68 minutes, 14 seconds. The first 9 demos were previously released on the 1999 remastered edition of the album. The other 4 demos are all previously unreleased and the first of them is “Hotel Hobbies/ Warm Wet Circles” that are the original Mosaic Demos. The other 3 demos are of “Just for the Record“. “Torch Song” and “Slàinte Mhath“.

To be honest I never had any of these demos before and it’s quite interesting to hear their original ideas for the album, before they scraped a majority of them, and how the songs that made it on the album were developing. Some of these recordings are quite good too, though not all of them I will stress. Some of the music from these demos got uses on Marillion’s 5th album Seasons End to which John Helmer penned new lyrics for Steve Hogarth to sing them. Fish also used some of his lyrics from some of the demos on some of is solo albums.

The Blu Ray.

SS 1

The Blu Ray contains the 5.1 mix of the album and a few other bonus features that were not included on the CD’s. The main menu is simple enough to navigate and get around and I like how by clicking on some of the featured options it simply displays them, rather than having to load up to another screen. For example by clicking on the “Track Select” option at the top, it displays the tracks that have been given the 5.1 treatment as seen on the next snapshot I took with my phone.

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As you can see by the tracks it’s only the album tracks that have had a 5.1 mix done on them, and everything else on the Blu Ray is in stereo only. You may also notice on this screen that it’s also hidden the other bonus features and it looks as if it has loaded up another screen to get here. But it’s not the case at all and it simply just hid the other options. Next up we have the “Audio Select” which is only for the 5.1 mix of the album.

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All the audio for the 5.1 and stereo mixes in this section are in 48/24 and by default it’s set to Stereo. It comes with 2 choices for the 5.1 surround sound the first being my preferred option of the DTS-HD Master Audio and a Dolby Digital mix.

SS 4

As you can see from the picture above they have also included the original 3 videos that were made for the 3 singles that got released from the album. These have not been enhanced in anyway and not even the fact that your Blu Ray Player can upscale the picture is not really gonna exactly do any favours by doing so either. Even the audio on these things is not that good in particular either, and they are only really good for a bit of nostalgia more than anything else.

SS 5

The Blu Ray also includes the original 1987 flat transfer mix of the album and also contains the other 3 bonus tracks that was included on the 1999 remastered release of the album. They come with an audio quality of 48/16. The only remaining bonus feature is the documentary to which I will discuss in a bit.

SS 6

During the playback of the audio only album and bonus tracks it also plays a slide show of pictures and displays the title of the track you are currently playing. This is always good to have rather than one still picture that could potentially burn out your pixels or backlight and flat panel TV’s.

The Documentary.

Just like the Deluxe Box Set Edition of Misplaced Childhood you also get 1 hour documentary that features the original line up of the band being interviewed this time by  Mick Wall. Here they discuss the making of the album and the events that happened around that time, and even how most of the members of the band went out and brought a house from the success of their previous album  Misplaced Childhood. Mick Wall also interviews them in one room all together and also individually in some parts throughout the course of the interview.

To be honest just like the interview of Misplaced Childhood I reviewed last year, I was not that overall impressed by this interview either. There was some interesting points such as how Steve Rothery wrote about 90% of the music for the album and how Fish was left to do all the interviews with all the radio stations and magazines on his own all the time. How the band were busy gigging with them being on the road, and how they did not have much time to write any the new material for the album. It even touches on Fish’s addiction problems and why he decided to leave.

I have watched it a couple of times and I do like the fact that they all appeared to get along with each other as well, despite the fact that they were all interviewed separately on their own as well.

The 5.1 Surround Mix.

Both Andy Bradfield & Avril Mackintosh have done the 5.1 surround mix and sometimes or you would think that two heads are better than one. Here I am pretty sure it was not the case at all and this is not a mix to write home about and neither of these two really have the right head on their shoulders to do 5.1 mixes, and they are without a doubt missing Steve Wilson’s expertise this time around.

To be honest because the album does tend to have a lot of atmospheres throughout a lot of its music, it can make it quite a challenge and very difficult to do a 5.1 mix. It may not be the type of album that is really suited to 5.1 simply because of the way the atmospheres can reflect quite heavily in the first place in the mix, and this particular 5.1 mix they have done, does give you the impression that mostly they are bleeding reflections from the front into the rear channels too often, rather than focusing on the right elements of instrumentation to take out of the front and place in the back.

I personally felt the pair of them did a much better job with the new stereo mixes and were not really the right engineers to be put in charge of a 5.1 mix. This 5.1 mix is not very impressive at all and lacks quite a bit of focus and imagination when it comes to placement and the placement of the right instrumentation in particular you need to move around to make it work in a 5.1 mix.

I think overall they managed to do the mix without really going overboard and taking away the original way and feel the album should sound and project itself to you. But the 5.1 mix does somehow sound more bland in relation to the new stereo mix, and it does not quite grab me as much or really do anything to bring out any better dynamics or clarity. Overall it’s not bad but could of been better and it’s way off giving you a more of a spectacular way of listening to the album that really good 5.1 mixes can do.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced by Chris Kimsey. All music written and arranged by Marillion. Recorded at Westside Studios London 1987. Recording Engineer Nick Davis. Assistant Engineer Richard Sullivan. Mixed at Advision Studios London by David Jacob. Assisted by Avril Macintosh. Sleeve Concept by Fish. Illustrations & Design by Mark Wilkinson. Photography by Janus Van Helfteren. 2018 Credits Mick Wall Linear Notes. Photography by Steve Rothery. Fish. Stuart James & David Plastik.

Musicians:

Fish: Voice.
Steve Rothery: Guitars.
Pete Trewavas: Bass & Vocals.
Mark Kelly: Keyboards.
Ian Mosley: Drums & Percussion.

Additional Musicians:

Tessa Niles: Backing Vocals (“That Time of the Night” and “The Last Straw”)
Chris Kimsey: Backing Vocals (“Incommunicado”)
John Cavanaugh: Dr Finlay Voice (“Torch Song”)

The Album Tracks In Review…

The album Clutching At Straws contains a set of songs that’s lyrics are basically a concept around Fish’s own struggles with handling success and the problems that came with it, such has his divorce from his wife, his abuse of alcohol and drugs and even down to the pressures put on the band by the record company to some extent. You could say that Fish carries the “Torch” for the character he portrays in the story who has all these problems including writers block and the character Torch evolved from the “Jester” from an earlier album cover of theirs. The album even starts off like a concept album with its opening 3 tracks which are very much joined together in the way of a suite, and all the other individual tracks are related to it all.

Clutching At Straws was very well received by the critics and for many of the bands fans it was their favourite album. Even today without Fish many of its songs are still being played live and feature strongly in a Marillion live set. No doubt it’s an album that fleshes out some of Steve Rothery’s finest guitar solos and it oozes and wreaks of them. For me personally as with all 4 studio albums the band made with Fish. it is he himself that puts the balls and grit into the bands music, and that was certainly something that was lost when he quit the band.

For me he is very much a singer that has dynamic aggression in his voice that can raise the game when it needs to be lifted up. Without him the band just never said the same thing to me afterwards despite having some really GREAT! musicians. Just like all 4 of the album he made with the band, they all contain some truly GREAT! classic songs. So let’s mow take a deeper look at the albums tracks.

Tracks 1. Hotel Hobbies.

The first part of a 3 part suite, and collectively the opening 3 tracks on the album over its 14 minutes have always been amongst my personal favourite tracks on the album along with the 9th track on the album “Slàinte Mhath“. Though no doubt this album does have a few other classics along its route over the course of the album too. “Hotel Hobbies” is the shortest of the 3 pieces than make up the suite and it kicks off with some excellent vibes from Mark Kelly’s keyboards to which he does use quite a lot on this album.

Another strong feature on this album is not just the bass guitar from Pete Trewavas but also the use of the bass pedals he uses, and they are put to good use here along with Steve Rothery’s guitar that features a lot throughout this opening track and lift it up along with the pace of Ian Mosley‘s drums. This song has quite a powerful build up that allows Rothery to let rip with his guitar and this part and the 3rd part of the suite do have more of a pace about them.

Fish has always had the ability of writing such brilliant lyrics, and the fact his voice can change in an instant from a more ballad-ESC style to something with a lot more grit and aggression, allows him to express his own words superbly and raise the game and turn up the heat so to speak. Effectively when you look at the lyrics and the character of Torch that Fish portrays here, you could quite easily make a comparison with the lyrics that Peter Gabriel wrote for the character Rael and story he portrayed for the Genesis album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. They are both stories about being off the rails so to speak. “Hotel Hobbies” very much sets the opening scene and gets the album off to a flying start.

Track 2. Warm Wet Circles.

I suppose you could call this the come down section of the suite, though it does build it’s was up very well to lead into the more powerful section and final part at the end. It also contains a very tasty guitar solo from Rothery that very much has the same tone that Steve Hackett had on his guitar on “Spectral Mornings“. It’s perhaps my favourite part of the 3 tracks that make up this suite, though they are all extremely very well crafted pieces and fit perfectly together. “Warm Wet Circles” was the 3rd and final single to be released from the album and it was released on the 26th October 1987 and broke into the UK Top 30 and reached number 22.

The lyrics are pertaining to the character of Torch thinking back to his old haunts and seeing how his life used to be scares him, the warm wet circles are how most alcoholics will sit in a pub and run their fingers around the rim of their glasses, I suppose those with spirits in them like brandy and whiskey could be seen as a warm drink in that it can warm up the cockles of your heart or something like that:))))).

Track 3. That Time Of The Night (The Short Straw).

The atmosphere of how the final section of the suite opens up cinematically depicts the nights time with its presence. Both the bass line and drums are ticking over the hours and the delay and reverb on Rothery‘s guitar blend in very well with the keyboards and provide the perfect ambience. It’s the longest section of the suite at its 6 minutes and builds up to a more chaotic and melodramatic finish. The chorus of previous track “Warm Wet Circles” is reprised towards the end with Tessa Niles singing out the last few words of the song.

Fish describes the lyrics of the song as being a sort of resignation statement with how they relate to the arguments and sorting out all the problems for the band both existent and non-existent, into the early hours of the morning. He would often lay awake in bed staring at the ceiling considering his options of where he wanted to go with his life, He was tired of the touring and felt trapped. It ends off the 14 minute suite very well indeed.

Track 4. Going Under.

The opening 3 songs on the album that make up the suite are not the only part of the albums concept story based around the character of Torch, and “Going Under” and the rest of the albums tracks are still very much part of the whole concept. Though the only way you got the full story was with the CD release only and this track was left off the vinyl release due to time restrictions. Although it did get put on the B-Side of single release of “Incommunicado“.

The lyrics describe Torch’s concerns about his drinking habit though as with many alcoholics they can often think about how stupid it is with what they are doing, but do nothing to stop it. I have known a good few over the years and trust me giving them advice is like going in one ear and out the other. Trying to knock some sense into them is like fighting a losing battle yourself and many of my friends have gone under, and are literally 6ft under as well.

The lyrics in this song were also improvised and Fish sung them from the top of his head, and because they did not want to change the vocal line they left the as they were. It’s another atmospheric dreamy song and contains some fine guitar work from Steve Rothery though like many of the songs on this album, the lyrics pertain to the same subject more than being an actual story, and effectively most of the tracks on this album can stand up on their own with how they have been written. So even though this track was omitted from the vinyl release its not as if you are losing anything from the story.

Track 5. Just For The Record.

One of the more happy up-tempo tracks on the album that really pertains to having a good time at the bar knocking drinks back with your mates and forgetting all about your problems, and nothing else matters when this happens either, and sometimes you even forget you have a wife and kids at home and they are miles away. I know I have been there a few times myself in the past :)))). This is also a song that features some terrific keyboard work from Mark Kelly and it does sound quite a bit different from the other songs on the album this one.

To be honest the way I myself have always seen the more up-tempo side of this song and the way it projects itself, is that it sounds more like the pop side of Genesis with Phil Collins on vocals. The sort of thing they was doing in the 80’s with the songs “Another Record” and “Who Dunnit” from their 1981 album Abacab. I have always seen Marillion being more like what Genesis would of sounded like in the 80’s had Peter Gabriel had not of left the band with most of their songs, particularly on their first 2 albums and when they first started out. Here they are more like the 80’s side of the band but I do quite like this song and how it leaps and springs its way into the action.

Track 6. White Russian.

No doubt when it comes to spending your time drinking away in a bar, politics will always crop up in most conversations and all the shit in the world that is happening will come along with it. White Russian is very much a drink or cocktail made with vodka, coffee liqueur and cream or most often milk served on the rocks with ice, and no doubt after a few of these things you will be racing and chasing the clouds home :))))))).white_russian

The song itself is very much a Marillion classic and has it all with really GREAT! guitar and keyboard work along with all the grit, edge and aggression in Fish’s voice which is perhaps expected as the subject matter of the lyrics deals with the rise of neo-Nazism and violence in Europe during the 1980s. Fish got his inspiration for the lyrics from an encounter he had with a Jewish American DJ who was working in Austria whilst the band were tour there in 1986. It was an election year and the DJ was troubled by what he saw as anti-Semitism in the campaigning of some parties and was ordered not to voice his thoughts on the air about it which led him to resign. The President of Austria elected that year would later be revealed as a former Nazi and accused of war crimes.

White Russian is both a cocktail and a term for Russian anti-communists of the early 20th century. Ultimately the song is less about political ideology and more about personal conviction and courage. At this point in the story Torch is dismayed by what he sees and feels strongly that something must be done, but he lacks the will to do anything about it himself being in the mess he is in with his own addiction, and jumps on a plane and races the clouds home so to speak.

Track 7. Incommunicado.

The first of the 3 singles to be released from the album and it was actually released before the album in the UK on the 11th May 1987. It also broke into the Top 10 of the UK singles charts and reached number 6. The song is heavily keyboard based with it’s main riff played at a fast pace by Mark Kelly in the same kind of style they wrote “Market Square Heroes” much earlier. It’s also said that Kelly got his inspiration from Adam Wakeman whilst Fish may have been inspired by The Who with the lyrics.

Incommunicado” could be seen as a status of prisoners not being allowed to communicate with the outer world. But in a more verbal sense it can also refer to somebody (as Torch) not being able or not willing to communicate with people. Torch really wants to be famous but he doesn’t want the responsibilities that go with fame. ‘Incommunicado’ is another word for ‘pissed’ is how Fish would put it himself. It’s another of the many classic songs on this GREAT! album and features the producer Chris Kimsey on backing vocals.

Track 8. Torch Song.

Another really GREAT! song with atmosphere and one that portrays perhaps the romantic side of fixation to drink in the way that you are not really bothered if it kills you. It features the voice of John Cavanaugh playing the part of Dr. Finlay from the Scottish TV program Dr. Finlay’s Casebook that ran from 1962 – 1971. The coughing noises you hear are for real as Fish had a heavy night the night before :))))).

Track 9. Slàinte Mhath.

The title in Gaelic and means “Good health” and often used when someone buys you a drink in Scotland. It’s at this point that Torch reflects on the down and out stories one would hear in a bar, and as to where they are now in life. It also takes in some of the history where Fish grew up such as the Bilston Glen area in Lothian were several large coal mines which were closed by the Thatcher government in the 1980’s. The “‘Firing Line” refers both to Flanders and Bilston Glen\ Clydeside in the First World War.

In the more recent context, it refers to the lines of men waiting to see whether they would keep their jobs in the heavy industries, the implication being that the men of the 80’s unemployment lines were no more or less fucked than their grandparents standing in front of the guns. This is very much another superb classic song from the album that lifts up the album and the band rock it out.

Track 10. Sugar Mice.

The 3rd and final single release from the album once again broke into the top 30 singles charts in the UK and peaked at number 22. Fish wrote the lyrics whilst he was on tour in the US and in the very town that is mentioned in the song Milwaukee. They very much relate to the time spent away from his family being on tour with the band that led to his divorce from his wife. The fact that unemployment was also at an all time high in Europe is also mentioned in the song and he even dedicated the song to all the unemployed people in Europe when they play live at Loreley in 1987.

In an interview back in 1987 he quoted “Torch has run away from everything and everybody and gone in search of a dream that doesn’t exist!”. He also quoted “I ended up in some shit hotel, imagining what it would be like if somebody left their wife and kids in Scotland or whatever, and went half way across the world and ended up in a horrible hotel with a disgustingly sad bar downstairs. We checked in on a Sunday, and all you saw out the window was the dealers standing out on the corner, and that’s kind of what the song was about”. It’s another excellent bit of songwriting and really GREAT! ballad of a song.

Track 11. The Last Straw / Happy Ending.

The final song on the album is where the character Torch has gone that far down that the only way he can go now is back up, and he starts writing again and is back in the bar drinking again. I suppose you could say he’s back to square one with his own observations and look of life and realises he is no martyr and there is no point in trying to be like one, as deep down everyone at some point has a bit of Torch in them and ate some point we can all be clutching at straws so to speak.

The second part “Happy Ending” is just Fish yelling the word “No” followed by some muffled laughter fading off into silence, and Fish said himself that he does not like happy endings and there is not one here either, and it ends off a really GREAT! album and sadly it was to be the final straw for Fish with Marillion.

Summary…

To sum up the latest Deluxe Edition of Clutching At Straws by Marillion. I can only say that it’s another really splendid package that’s well worth getting, and the way it’s been presented with all 5 discs fitting neatly into a 60 page hardback book that will sit proudly along with your DVD’s on the shelf, will even make a GREAT! Christmas present for someone special at this time of the year. With all you get here it does offer extremely GREAT! value for the money.

The new stereo mixes done by Andy Bradfield & Avril Mackintosh are very good, and the fact that they have also included the original mix of the album on the Blu Ray is good to have too. So effectively you could sell or pass on your old CD simply because you have everything and more besides than what all the previous issues will give you. The bonus material is very good and it’s GREAT! that they have included the live concert they performed at the Edinburgh Playhouse. Which is personally my favourite bonus feature you get here. The demos are quite interesting too.

Although both Andy Bradfield & Avril Mackintosh have done a really GREAT job on the new stereo mixes, I cannot say that I am that impressed by their work on the 5.1 mix and things could of been a lot better had Steve Wilson been available to do it that’s for sure. To be honest the 5.1 mix is my main reason for buying a release like this in the first place and this 5.1 mix does not really impress me enough to say it’s any better than the new stereo mixes they done. But overall I am quite happy enough with the bonus material you get here, so I am not too disappointed.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of Marillion’s Deluxe Edition of Clutching At Straws there can be no doubt that the bands 4th album is a truly GREAT! album, and even though it is done in the way of a concept album, it presents itself more like a collection of individual songs that are related to the same subject matter, rather than it being a continuous story and it works very well for it. For me personally this is an album that merits a 10 out of 10 score just like the bands first 2 albums Script For A Jesters Tear and Fugazi and is very much another solid album with all the material they wrote for it.

Personally for me I do not think a lot of truly GREAT! music came out of the 80’s, and around the time Marillion came out in the 80’s with Fish they was without doubt the nearest band you could get to early Genesis. These days there are several bands that try and emulate what Genesis did back in their heyday with Peter Gabriel. They was one of the very few bands that kept prog rock alive in the 80’s more so than what Genesis did themselves or Yes did for that matter.

Marillion were very much a force when they had Fish with them in the 80’s and the material they wrote back then even allowed both Steve Rothery and Mark Kelly to shine with their solos. Something that I felt went out of the window by trying to work around a totally different singer they got in to replace Fish with. I am not saying Steve Hogarth is a bad singer, but he was a bad choice and does not have the aggression and balls Fish had in his voice for the rest of the band to work in the same way it carried on.

They just totally mellowed themselves out of the game for my liking. You might just as well well buy a Porcupine Tree album, or an album filled with constant ballads and no balls. That is truly what Marillion are today I am afraid, and that is why they no longer speak to me at all, and why I went on to follow Fish rather than stick with the band. My highlights from the Clutching At Straws album are very much the first 3 tracks on the album along with “White Russian“. “Incommunicado“. “Slàinte Mhath” and “Sugar Mice“. Alternatively just simply stick the whole album on, it does not disappoint.

So If You Want My Address It’s Number One At The End Of The Bar…

The CD track listing is as follows:

Disc One: 2018 Andy Bradfield & Avril Mackintosh Re-mix
1. “Hotel Hobbies”
2. “Warm Wet Circles”
3. “That Time of the Night (The Short Straw)”
4. “Going Under” (Alternate Version)
5. “Just or the Record”
6. “White Russian”
7. “Incommunicado”
8. “Torch Song”
9. “Slàinte Mhath”
10. “Sugar Mice”
11. “The Last Straw”
12. “Happy Ending”
Disc Two: Live at the Edinburgh Playhouse 1987 (2018 Michael Hunter Mix)
1. “La Gazza Ladra”
2. “Slàinte Mhath”
3. “Assassing”
4. “White Russian”
5. “Incubus”
6. “Sugar Mice”
7. “Fugazi”
8. “Hotel Hobbies”
9. “Warm Wet Circles”
10. “That Time of the Night (The Short Straw)”
Disc Three: Live at the Edinburgh Playhouse 1987 (2018 Michael Hunter Mix)
1. “Pseudo Silk Kimono” (Intro)
2. “Kayleigh”
3. “Lavender”
4. “Bitter Suite”
5. “Heart of Lothian”
6. “The Last Straw”
7. “Incommunicado”
8. “Garden Party”
9. “Market Square Heroes” (incomplete, featuring “My Generation,” “Margaret,” and “Let’s Twist Again”)
Disc Four: 1999 Remaster Demos            
1. “Beaujolais Day” (Demo)
2. “Story From A Thin Wall” (Demo)
3. “Shadows On The Barley” (Demo)
4. “Exile On Princes Street” (Demo)
5. “Sunset Hill” (Demo)
6. “Tic-Tac-Toe” (Demo)
7. “Voice In The Crowd” (Demo)
8. “White Russians” (Demo)
9. “Sugar Mice In The Rain” (Demo)
10. “Hotel Hobbies/ Warm Wet Circles” (The Mosaic Demos) *
11. “Just for the Record” (Demo) *
12. “Torch Song” (Demo) *
13. “Slàinte Mhath” (Demo) *
* Previously unreleased

Lee’s overall Complete Package Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 10/10

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10

The Bonus Material Rating Score. 8/10

The 5.1 Mix Rating Score. 6/10

The Original Album Rating Score. 10/10

Lee Speaks About Music… #113

Proxy – The Tangent

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Introduction…

The Tangent are back already with another new album and Proxy is the bands 10th studio album release and the band are now into their 15th year since they released The Music That Died Alone back in 2003. Well obviously their music has not died yet and they are still not alone even if Andy Tillison is the only consistent member in the band today who was on their debut album 15 years ago. Though Jonas Reingold was also with the band back then as where many of The Flower Kings when they merged together with Tillison to form the band and in the following year Theo Travis joined the band and a pretty much appeared on every album since 2004.

No doubt the band have gone through various line up changes since it began and have been lost in London on a couple of occasions, and even got lost in Ledston come to think of it. But despite all that, the bands music has remained pretty much consistent throughout its career with Andy Tillison being at the helm of the writing. Like many prog rock bands that came out in the 90’s and 2000’s most musicians tend to play in more than one band and some are involved in many other projects. Both The Tangent and The Flower Kings have found it very hard to keep the same bunch of guys together since they set out, but what still keeps them both running is the bands main songwriters and that pretty much keeps the both bands formidable style too.

Speaking of their styles they are also very similar in the way that they both like to incorporate and inject a bit of jazz into their music, they also like to write lengthy songs, and they both tend to cram a double albums worth of material onto one CD with every release. One could say they give you too much, and not all their albums are always easy to digest either. For example since I brought this new release I have only just got into their last album The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery having decided to give it another couple of spins, and it’s been over a year since it was released.

To be honest that 2017 release is giving me more enjoyment this year than what it ever did when I purchased it last year. I always knew it had a couple of good tracks on it, but quite often with any album where only a couple of tracks really speak to me, they tend to get put aside until they find a place in the queue again. I think there is another one of their albums in that last sentence somewhere, and that is perhaps still one of my ultimate faves of the band that did not take me a year to appreciate it either. So the big question now is will Proxy be the album of this year or the next? :))))).

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in a very well constructed 3 panel DigiPak with a sturdy plastic tray to hold the disc and a side pocket to store the booklet. The 14 page booklet contains all your usual linear and production notes, pictures and includes the lyrics.  It does not come with any real informative information but overall it’s a very neat packaged presentation.

Artwork.

The artwork cover layout was done by Andy Tillison. The cover photographs (including Pawn) was taken by Martin Reijman. Additional photos by Casey Orr. It’s perhaps the most minimalistic artwork cover on any of the Tangent’s albums, though no doubt that little chess piece could be seen as an agent and procurator and power to act for another in a menacing world of evil doers.

Proxy Released Editions…

The album was released with 4 editions for you to choose from, the cheapest being the Digital Download on MP3 which is around £7.99. Next up we have the CD which was my personal choice and is priced at around £9.99 and I saved a few pence by pre-ordering it on Amazon and paid £9.85. Though for the price of a tenner it’s excellent value considering it comes in a nicely presented DigiPak. But even for vinyl lovers you are getting a very good deal too.

Coloured Vinyl

The vinyl album comes with a choice of your standard black vinyl and also comes with the choice of 2 colours of orange and yellow. They all come with the CD included in the price too and the Black Vinyl is priced at around £18.99 and the Coloured Vinyl is around the £22 mark. But considering you get both the vinyl and the CD for the price that’s quite a bargain and you could say you are getting the CD for free. Especially with the price of vinyl these days.

The Proxy Album In Review…

The bands 10th studio album Proxy was released on the 16th November 2018. The album itself contains 6 tracks (CD Only) and has an overall playing time of 67 minutes, 34 seconds. Though in reality it could be said that the new album only contains 4 tracks simply because one of them had been previously released back in 2013 and the other one is an excerpt from a new album and project by Andy Tillison and could be seen as an advert or plug :))))).

The vinyl release does only contain the 4 new tracks that were written for the album and this would of been due to vinyl restrictions so they did not have to use more than 1 LP to cut down on the cost. To be perfectly honest I very much prefer the old 30 to 40 minute time slot, and with the price of vinyl these days it makes sense to go back to that time slot too. Both Andy Tillison and Roine Stolt are well known for cramming as much as they can get on a single disc as I mentioned earlier, and I will quite often call it too much food for thought rather than see it as getting any extra value for your money.

Though being as this album comes with a track I already have heard and have, and a track that is a plug for another album :))))). It could be said that the album we have here with its 4 new tracks is only 47 minutes, 16 seconds long, which is much more of a manageable and suitable length to make it much more easy to digest and get into a lot more quicker than their previous album. For me personally if you’re gonna make a double album stick it on 2 discs and not one, and even by doing that it’s more of a manageable way to listen and take in the music.

To be honest I would even prefer the bonus material to be put on another disc, and in reality the vinyl version of this new release truly represents the album and not the CD with it’s bonus tracks on it. I know Andy Tillison likes a good rant and now I am having one :)))) simply because there is no need to cram as much as you can onto one disc at all and that is not the way to make an album either.

An album should be a collection of material you have most recently written for it. It’s not for sticking material off another album on it just to plug it :)))))) and that is the type of material you would present to a magazine that comes with a CD of various artists plugging their new material or present to a radio station and not stuck on an album like this. The new material written for any album should be the focus point, and it should not have anything on it to distract that focus point either. That is how you truly make an album and treat the albums new material with respect. For me the bonus material is irrelevant and should be placed somewhere else and not here, and that is my point.

I am not saying that I dislike bonus material or even the bonus material on this album. But it just maybe why people do go running back to the 70’s or 60’s for that matter and that is my hint :))))))). Because those are the decades when people made albums, real albums, and they did not just stick anything on the buggers either :))))). I can understand when artists remaster older albums and stick bonus tracks on them, and even box sets that come with bonus tracks, but no new album in reality should have a bonus track.

Bonus tracks are quite often the tracks that the artist wrote at the time and left off the album simply because they either felt they never fitted in with other material written for the album, or they did not think were good enough for the album. Not that this is the case here I should add. But in reality this album does have 2 bonus tracks and not 1 like it’s made to believe even if “Supper’s Off” has been re-recorded and had a few of its lyrics changed here and there.

Most of the newer material was written whilst they was on their last tour and they had sort of merged themselves together with the band that was double billed with them the Karmakanic. Some of the members from that band played with The Tangent and the name the Tangekanic was made out of the two names to which they released a live entitled Hotel Cantaffordit. The live album featured live tracks from both bands, and to me it was a bit of a mixed bag and did not entice me enough to buy it. To be honest I do prefer live concerts on DVD rather than just having them in audio only these days.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced written and mixed by Andy Tillison at MBL Otley Yorkshire. Recorded in England, Austria and Sweden between Autumn 2017 – Spring 2018. Main Session at Woolpack Music Studios Otley Yorkshire England. Cover Layout by Andy Tillison. Cover Photographs by Martin Reijman. Additional photos by Casey Orr.

Musicians.

Andy Tillison: Vocals/Hammond Organ/Pianos/Synthesisers/Electronic Drums & Bass Synth (Track 4).
Luke Machin: Electric & Acoustic Guitars.
Jonas Reingold: Bass Guitar/Taurus Pedals.
Theo Travis: Tenor & Soprano Saxophones/Flute & Alto Flute.
Steve Roberts: Drums/Percussion/Assorted Gongs.

Special Guest Goran Edman backing vocals.

The Album Tracks In Review…

The latest album Proxy is not a concept album and is merely how Tillison describes it himself as being “a protest song, a reflection, a couple of regrets and a rant”. Nothing new there then :)))))) and no doubt Tillison has always been quite cynical and likes to have a good rant and he’s always had things to protest against too. Though people have been writing protest songs well before he and I were born, and they will never change the world I am afraid. Writing protest songs is like flogging a dead horse, and when it comes to politics, you may as well bang your head against a brick wall.

No doubt there is a lot of truth in his lyrics, but I can also see a humorous side to some his lyrics too, and some of the things he does come out with do make me laugh at times, even if I shouldn’t. But I am sure that’s how he also intended them to be as well. To be honest the world I drive through so to speak is the funny side of it, and I will always look for the funny side of anything rather than focus my attention on all the doom and gloom in the world. I am not into politics and do not see any point spending my time talking or moaning about it.

Life is short enough without wasting my time on all that shit. So I tend to stay clear of the news most of the time and am much more happier and enjoy life more for doing so. I am not completely blind to all the crap that goes on in this evil world. But if you cannot have a good laugh, you might as well be dead is how I see it.

Speaking of having a good laugh, this is what I do get out of the rant song on this album entitled “Supper’s Off” and I shall be treating it as a bonus track in my review here and talk about the both bonus tracks you get here first. The song was originally released on a companion album back in 2013 and effectively L’etagere Du Travail is an album that consists of out-takes and alternate mixes and was the companion to the other 2013 album Le Sacre Du Travail. This companion album is basically what’s known as the shelf off work that never made it on Le Sacre Du Travail.

It was also released through the Tangents Merch Desk from their official website and perhaps more of a fan base release than an official release like the the other album that was released on Inside Out Records and had a record label. Though to be honest in the past I have seen the album sold on Amazon, though nothing surprises me as to what turns up on that site :)))))). The album was released on CD and download only and has never seen a vinyl release.

But I suppose you could say by sticking it on this album it could be seen as having more of an official release. But it’s still not been put on vinyl like the new tracks written for Proxy have, and as this is a reworked older song it can only be really seen as a bonus track. Hence my reason for treating it as such.

The Bonus Tracks.

The version of “Supper’s Off” we have here is over a minute longer and has either been replayed completely by the line up of the band on this album or they have reworked part of the original songs structure in the music and lyric department. The song itself no doubt is a rant and one that pertains to how today’s prog rock bands do not really get a look in, especially in relation to the more successful prog rock bands from 70’s had and were doing so well, and how still today people tend to go back to that decade for their music rather than go along with the new sort of thing.

To be honest you could say that even I myself still live in that golden decade, and many of those bands from the 70’s made music to last a lifetime. I would even say the biggest majority of music I buy these days are new mixes of the albums I already brought back in that decade too. But I still buy some of the newer prog rock bands too, and being a person who likes to review the music I buy and post it in a few prog rock groups on Facebook. You would also have to be blind not to notice all the posts of the artists and albums that came out of the 70’s in those groups, and they are literally plastered with the same thing every day of the week.

Much of today’s prog rock or neo prog rock whatever you want to call it is done mostly by artists who loved that golden decades music too, and some are even trying to emulate the music that came out of the 70’s with their own music too. Personally I do not see this as a bad thing and for me these new bands are very much keeping prog alive today, even if it’s not really dead judging by the zillion posts you see in these prog groups on Facebook :))))). I think even with written reviews of their own music they even like to be compared to those GREAT! bands from the 70’s but it’s always a good thing to create your own style and many bands do just that too.

Getting back to the song “Supper’s Off” there is no doubt that The Tangent have their own particular style and when it comes to lyrics Andy Tillison can also incorporate a bit of that anger that was injected and fuelled by many punk rock bands with their protests and rants. He even played a bit of punk rock himself in the past and a lot of those type of lyrics have very much been part of him throughout his career. I myself detest punk rock but I cannot deny that some of those bands wrote some really great lyrics to their songs. But effectively what Tillison has done by changing the lyrics in the chorus in particular for this newer version of the song. Could be seen as it stepping away from its original title to which he has still kept.

But to be honest i  have always loved this song and even with the change of lyrics we have here, I can still laugh my bollox off at it :)))))). No doubt the songs title is pertaining to the band Genesis and their song “Suppers Ready” and the original version of “Supper’s Off” (which I would not say was a demo either) used the word “Genesis” instead of “Seventies” in the chorus so it’s now as thus:

We tried to change the world
But the world won’t take the hint
They go running back off to the seventies
And all the other bands are skint

It’s really GREAT! song and good to have another version of it even if there is not a real lot of difference between the two versions. It could also be one of tracks on the album that merited the top spot award of the album, if I was to include it with the albums new material here, which is another good reason to treat it as a bonus track.

The 2nd bonus track on the album is an excerpt from the 3rd track entitled “Jomakh” from Andy Tillison’s new project he calls Kalman Filter. The album was released earlier on this year back in June and is titled Exo​-​Oceans. The album itself contains 3 tracks spread over a playing time of 74 minutes, 57 seconds and this excerpt is 10 minutes, 25 seconds of the longest track on the album which is some 42 minutes, 17 seconds long. It also features his long time friend Matt Stevens playing guitar on the 1st track of the album.

To be honest over the years The Tangent have been going. Tillison will often stick the odd bonus track from his solo albums on The Tangent albums and its nothing new for him to do at all. After all he is the main man behind the music of the band so he’s bound to plug something from his solo material and other projects he’s involved in every now and then.

But this is perhaps something a bit different from his usual keyboard work to which is something a bit more familiar with electronic bands such as Tangerine Dream for example. What we have here is sort of electronic Jazz and is quite laid back ambient chillout Jazz and to be honest it’s pretty catchy too. That catchy that I actually gave this 42 minutes, 17 second track a blast on Bandcamp to which you can listen to the whole album here on this link. https://kalmanfilter.bandcamp.com/album/exo-oceans

To be perfectly honest I am glad I did give it a blast too simply because the 10 minute, 25 second excerpt you do get here is very good and even after some 22 mins of the 42 minutes, 17 seconds you do get here it still sounds good and was actually enticing me to buy it. Then all of sudden the Jazz went out of the window and we got something that was perhaps more associated with meditative music in that there was practically nothing there at all but some noise, and every now and then you got something that was perhaps more familiar with being in space with the keyboard sounds.

Honestly I would of got more satisfaction watching paint dry than the last 20 odd minutes of the track, it totally bored my pants off and was a complete waste of space. Then right at the very end you got Tillison telling Alexa to play “Slow Rust” by The Tangent :))))). I think meditative was the wrong term for it and I perhaps needed a sedative to calm me down from saying WTF’s this shit all the time LOL… He just totally ruined the whole thing for me I am afraid.

Now that I have got the bonus tracks out of the way let’s take a look at the 4 new tracks that were written for the Proxy.

The Proxy Tracks In Review.

Track 1. Proxy.

The album opens up with its self titled album track and this is really a GREAT! 16 minute track that many reviewers have already pointed out sounds pretty much like what you would expect from The Tangent’s music and to an extent I would also agree. But I would also say that there is not only The Tangent’s style here at all regarding the musical style of things in the musical intro, and there is some things here that very much remind of what The Flower Kings did on their first couple of albums Back In The World Of Adventures and Retropolis. Both of these albums are different in style to what The Flower Kings were doing when the both bands merged together to make up The Tangent when they first started, and those first couple of albums from the mid 90’s are also my personal favourite albums by The Flower Kings too.

The intro is certainly more around the lines of Jazz Funk with some superb bass work from Jonas Reingold. No doubt both The Flower Kings and The Tangent do tend to focus more on the jazz side of things with their music, its perhaps only down to the fact that they stretch it out more to allow for more transitional changes is where prog rock comes into its element more than anything else. Which can be a good thing about the both bands when it works well over a distance like this, and on this track it works very well with all it’s changes and keeps the interest and attention.

No doubt the lyrical side of things and Andy Tillison’s cynical approach to delivering them is very much the same, and to be honest with all the words he throws into his songs I have no idea how he can remember them all when it comes to perform them live on stage. To be honest it’s very rare Tillison’s lyrics will really grab me and perhaps the only time they do grab my attention is when they make me laugh most of the time. “Lost In London” is a prime example of those side of things. Most of the time listening to his lyrics is a bit like going down my local pub and listening to some fool babble on about politics all day long, and the subject of politics has never really grabbed my attention simply because it never changes and it’s the same old shit.

I suppose I could compare these type of lyrics to most pop songs that have nothing more than “I Love You” and “Baby Baby” in them, simply because they babble on about the same old shit too :))))) and these type of songs are not genuine songwriter lyrics that have a lot more scope and thought put into them. But I have always put the music first with any song in reality and if the music speaks to me then that’s fine with me. What I like about prog rock more than anything is how the music will take you somewhere else, and its not all verse and chorus all the time. And in the case of this song it is the music that will say something different with all it’s changes, unlike the lyrics which are basically saying the same old thing. I am not saying his lyrics are not good by any means, but sometimes it would be a good idea to change the subject sort of thing.

Like most of The Tangent’s songs they are driven by Tillison’s keyboards, and the “Proxy” features mostly the keyboards, bass and drums and is not a song that offers a lot of space for a guitarist like Luke Machin to really shine. I would also say it gives more space Theo Travis on the sax in reality. But the song flows and works well enough with all the progression you get, and it really is an excellent track and for those who want to start a war without anyone knowing who you are. You can now do it all by Proxy :))))) and this is one of my contenders for the top spot on the album.

Track 2.  The Melting Andalusian Skies.

The instrumental track of the album and this is a piece that runs along in a menacing and meandering way with its jazzy flamenco style. There are some nice twists and turns along the way and Luke Machin does get to feature more on this one and does a Grand! job too along with the rest of the guys. Besides all the meandering it also has a nice comfortable relaxed style about it too and this may have been inspired from a Spanish holiday and Tillison describes it as a sun-drenched Mediterranean fusion instrumental, more Chick Corea than Che Guevara. It’s another really GREAT! piece of work and a very strong contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 3. A Case Of Misplaced Optimism.

The shortest track on the album and one that the band described as an attempt to find the missing link between Porcupine Tree and Jamiroquai. Personally I do not get anything from those couple of artists that even remotely reminds me of them. Though I have to confess I have heard little from them both. But what we do have here is perhaps more of a real jazzy song and it’s quite a funky one at that.

To be honest everything about this track says more to me about Weather Report and Jeff Beck, that it will ever say to me about Porcupine Tree and Jamiroquai. Lyric wise it is something different for a change and the lyrics are perhaps something more along the style of lyrics that Sting would write.

It’s certainly got a 70’s sound and style about it all, and I could even associate many other artists with it too such as Stevie Wonder for example. It’s certainly got a dance groove to it as well and with that beep you hear every now and then that gives it that space feel, I could even perhaps associate it with the 70’s funk disco band Space with it as well.

In retrospect I could quite easily call this a class act and it’s been very well produced. That well that I doubt if it could be performed this tight live and sound as good as this. I am not disputing the talent of the musicians in the band, but this song I would say is the nearest The Tangent have ever been to real jazz and I love it. Enough to even merit it as the best track on the album, though to be honest all 4 of the new tracks could equally merit the top spot on the album.

Track 4. The Adulthood Lie.

This is perhaps the most talked about track on the album that I noticed way before the albums release. To be honest the way it was being hyped up as some massive dance track, I was half expecting something completely different and more along the lines of modern dance music, to which would most certainly would not of been to my taste or my cup of tea so to speak. It does have some modern touches to it, but it is not something that is that different regarding The Tangent’s style and output of music.

Lyrically we have the same sort of holiday thing like the previous track, only here they are pertaining to the music scene in Ibiza. Such as DJ discos, the nightclub party life and rekindling ones youth back to the times even to the extent of going back to vinyl records. I have to confess that in my youth I hated Discos and I have been to Ibiza once and would never go back there again either :)))))). As for vinyl records, I would not go back to those things either, and certainly do not think the price of vinyl these days should cost any more than the CD. So lyrically this song is never gonna say a thing to me in a million years :))))).

Having said all that though, this is quite a catchy song and it does have something quite mysterious about it, and for the life of me I cannot put my finger on it either. To give you an example of the mystery behind it, when I first heard this track on the album I honestly thought this was another song that The Tangent had already done a good few years ago and was not a new song. I should mention that before the album was released, I did get to hear the single version of it about a month beforehand, but I only listened to it once. I have even been going through all my Tangent albums to see if I could find it, but cannot.

So listening to it once a month beforehand somehow must of planted the idea in my brain that this was not a new song at all when I finally got the album. To be honest I am still confused and am sure this is not new :))))))). If it is new then it must of had a very catchy effect on me without me even noticing it. So there might be something a bit special about this song. But is it the best track on the album out of all the 4 new songs here?. My answer would be NO!. But then again out of all the 4 new tracks you get here on the album Proxy. I could not really pick a favourite even though I have, and no doubt this is another contender for the top spot on the album.

Summary…

To sum up The Tangent’s latest album Proxy. I would say the 4 tracks that have been placed on the vinyl version represent the album and not the other 2 bonus tracks you get the on the CD even though they are both very good bonus tracks. No doubt if like myself you enjoy The Tangent’s music you will not be disappointed with this new release and all 4 of the new songs have been very well crafted and are up there with some of the bands best material.

The good thing about it is that The Tangent’s music has never really changed and that’s what I like about it, and even though “The Adulthood Lie” may have been hyped up prior to it’s release, its nothing that new at all to my ears and thankfully it was not some mad rave or trance sort of thing thing either :)))))).

I like the placement of the tracks on the album and the fact that the couple of 16 minute lengthy tracks have been spaced out more, it makes it much more of an enjoyable album and a lot easier to take in and digest. Getting back to the question I posed in my introduction of will Proxy be the album of this year or the next? I would say unlike their previous studio album The Slow Rust Of Forgotten Machinery this one grabbed me more and was way more easier to take in and digest.

I think the overall length of the 4 new tracks being just over 47 minutes is a way better suited time slot for any album even for a CD. Though even that time slot is not really suitable to squeeze on 1 LP due to vinyl restrictions and it will suffer slightly a bit for it. Many did it years ago too and that’s why I prefer the CD and will not go back to vinyl myself. Not only that I cannot be arsed to get up to turn the album over all the time :)))))).

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of Proxy by The Tangent I honestly cannot fault a single track on the album, not even the bonus tracks on the CD either. I think for fans of the band this album has to be a must and no doubt the material is very good and right up there with their very best albums to be honest. The Tangent’s music will not suit everyone’s taste and to be honest I was quite shocked by the effect both this new album and The Flower Kings latest album had on an American reviewer from the Progarchy website.

He had been quite a fan of both bands for a good while, but having received both albums to review before they was released, it made him quit the Progarchy after some 6 or 7 years of doing album reviews and turn his back on both bands in disgust all over their political viewpoint with their lyrics. I am pretty sure it was the track “America” on the latest album of The Flower Kings that got his goat up, and to be honest I could not see WTF was wrong with it :))))).

Just as well I do not pay that much attention to politics and peoples viewpoint about it, and like I said in my review Andy Tillison’s lyrics have never really grabbed me only when they make me laugh, and for me the music is really the thing that has always grabbed my attention and not so much the lyrics. I certainly would not let any political shit stand in the way of the music I love so much either or even go out and buy an album just to burn it all over religion like some idiots did back in the 60’s LOL…

Overall the Proxy is a truly GREAT! album that has some really nice touches of jazz, funk and even dance groove along its path, and it flows very well throughout its entirety even with the bonus tracks. It very much has everything you would expect from The Tangent and very much keeps the world of prog rock still ticking over in the 21st century.

Let’s Do It All By Proxy, So We Never Have To Take The Hit…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. Proxy. 16:07.
02. The Melting Andalusian Skies. 8:51.
03. A Case Of Misplaced Optimism. 6:13.
04. The Adulthood Lie. 16:05.
05. Supper’s Off. 9:53.
06. Excerpt From Jomakh (Bonus Track). 10:25.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 10/10.

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

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 9/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #112

Equinoxe Infinity – Jean Michel Jarre

JMJ - EI

Introduction…

Jean Michel Jarre is back again with another new album and Equinoxe Infinity is the sequel to his 2nd album Équinoxe that was released 40 years ago back in 1978. Depending how you look at it Equinoxe Infinity its either his 20th or 15th studio album, but in my book it’s actually his 15th studio album. Even though he did make a couple of albums back in 1972 & 73 before Oxygène got released in 1976 they was made for music libraries and not international releases.

You also cannot count the 1983 album Musique pour Supermarché to which only 1 copy was ever pressed and the master plates were deliberately destroyed afterwards :))))) and both Electronica 1 & 2 are collaboration albums. But Wikipedia has never really been the full shilling but it can be resourceful at times.

I have to confess that when it comes to electronic music there is only a few artists in this world who have really grabbed my attention enough to make me actually go out and buy them. Electronic music can be a bit like Sci-Fi films to me these days, to which I have lost the appetite for and have not had any real interest in watching them for more than a decade now. Though I have over the past 7 years heard quite a bit of electronic music on Soundcloud by unknown artists, and I do not mind it in small doses and having put some of my own amateur efforts of music on there and getting to know quite a few people from around the world with its social community, it even encouraged and spurred myself on, to do a bit of it too in the past.

But listening to electronic music as always been like a phase thing in relation to all the other music I listen to such as prog rock, rock, traditional folk, folk and pop sort of thing. There are only certain phases when I can sit down and listen to an albums worth of electronic music, and those phases can quickly go out for months on end before it gets another short spasm of attention for me to listen to it.

Oddly enough from the time we hit the 80’s and the charts was full of pop bands playing all that retro keyboard orientated music along with new wave and artists like Howard Jones, Duran Duran, The Pet Shop Boys, Gary Numan and all that. All that stuff just made my blood curdle and I completely switched off listening to the charts for a decade. I honestly had never heard so much dribble in all my life regarding pop music and it just never spoke to me at all. Still to this day it doesn’t either.

The 80’s has always been the decade I detested the most, simply because music was changing drastically and even all those artists I loved in the 70’s were no longer churning out the same style of music I loved them for in the first place. Even prog rock bands like Yes and Genesis had gone pop, and rock bands such as Judas Priest and all that had gone into more commercial rock. The 80’s was a funny decade for music though oddly enough it was also the decade that I listened to more electronic music, and I mean electronic music and not that crap in the charts that people were singing a load of drivel too :))))). “Like to get to know you well?” I don’t bloody think so mate :)))))))).

The 80’s I could say was my biggest phase for listening to electronic music and even though the German band Tangerine Dream had been out for over a decade since they started out in the late 60’s. It was in the 80’s that they were actually my favourite group. To be honest I was into Tangerine Dream back in the mid 70’s but it was not until they made the album Stratosfear in 1976 that they first started to really impress me. It was in that same year that Jean Michel Jarre also released Oxygene that also impressed me. Both were extremely clever at layering music.

But both of these artists were not my first experience of listening to electronic music, and just before I got into both of those I heard the Japanese electronic genius Isao Tomita. This guy blew my mind and actually introduced me to classical music, something of which I have never been that fond of, and still prefer him playing it even today than any orchestra. It was actually through hearing Tomita that even made me go out and buy some classical music. I quite like classical music, but it will get way less of a spin on my turntable so to speak, even in relation to electronic music to which I can only play in certain phases.

The only other band I like in electronic music is another German band and that is Kraftwerk. It also took me a lot longer to get into their music and I did not really until the 90’s. But basically I got into all this music from a friend of mine who I have known since the early 70’s. But effectively the reason why Tangerine Dream was my favourite group in the 80’s was because that is the time they had Johannes Schmoelling playing for them, and back then their music was more prog rock than Yes and Genesis were in the 80’s :))))). I would even say Jean Michel Jarre was too.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in a very well made 4 panel DigiPak with a sturdy plastic tray to hold the disc firmly in place. It also comes with a slotted panel for you to store the booklet. The booklet is an 8 page one that contains the usual credit and production notes and some pictures and that is about all it contains, and it does not come with any informative information about the making of the album or anything.

The Artwork.

The artwork was by Filip Hodas based on the original artwork work of Michel Granger who designed the original 1978 albums artwork. I quite like the artwork especially being much more of a larger and visual presentation of the Watchers that were quite small on the original artwork that was done for Equinoxe back in 1978. The album has also been released with two different artwork covers and being as I ordered my copy from Amazon you was never going to really get a choice of which cover to choose, and it was always gonna be pot luck as to which one you actually got.

Covers

Both covers look GREAT! to be honest, but if I had the choice of choosing like you would in a record shop. I would of chosen the artwork on the left. Though no doubt I would of most likely ended up paying a couple of quid more for it in a shop and not got it for the price of £9.99 which is a GREAT! price. The cover on the left is meant to show mankind in peace with nature and technology and the other on the right depicts a picture of fear and distortion with machines taking over the world.

Equinoxe Infinity Released Editions…

Equinoxe Infinity was released in 4 editions and oddly enough on Amazon the actual MP3 Digital Download of the album costs £1 more than the CD and is priced at £10.99. I have to say that has got to be the most stupidest thing I have ever seen and I personally do not think any Digital Download is worth more £5 in reality. You would have to be completely BONKERS! to pay the extra pound for the download when you can have the physical product which gives you loads more quality, and at least you are getting something you can hold in your hand for your money.

The vinyl edition comes with 1 LP and is currently priced at £21.99 on Amazon. I am so glad I no longer collect vinyl and I certainly do not think it should cost any more than a CD either. No doubt today’s vinyl collectors are being well ripped off with the ridiculous price of the things. The final edition is the Box Set which is priced up at £69.99.

Box Set

This package comes in a shiny black box and you get the albums Equinoxe & Equinoxe Infinity on vinyl and CD. Plus it comes with 4 large artwork posters and a card for you to download the MP3 digital download of the 2 albums.

The Album In Review…

Equinoxe Infinity by Jean Michel Jarre was released on the 16th November 2018 and my copy arrived on the day of it’s release. The album contains 10 instrumental tracks that all seamlessly blend and join into each other and are spanned over an overall playing time of 39 minutes and 49 seconds. Like I said earlier the album is a sequel to his 2nd album Équinoxe that was released 40 years ago back in 1978 and I personally feel that Jarre has not only worked around some of the melody lines from the original album but also incorporated and fused together some of the music from Oxygene and a few other albums to get what we have here.

Back in 1997 when Jarre done his first sequel to his first album Oxygene which was Oxygene Parts 7 – 13 to which I was very impressed with that album and no doubt it sounded like an excellent sequel. Although some 19 years later when he made Oxygene 3 in 2016 I felt he had lost his way a bit and it was an half decent album, but far from a good sequel. I also felt the same about Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells 3 and in all honesty he had completely lost the plot regarding that being any form of a sequel, and you could even say it was more of a sequel to his song “Moonlight Shadow” from his Crises album back in 1983 than what it ever was to Tubular Bells.

Even with films it’s very hard to make a good sequel and just like Jarre and Oldfield some are good with the 2nd sequel, but very rarely can they keep that consistency and make a third. Somewhere along the line they are bound to lose the plot. To be honest I personally felt that throughout Jarre’s career between 1976 – 1997 he had been pretty much consistent with the 9 studio albums he had put out over those years and the only real dent would of been on the album Waiting for Cousteau to which the albums self title track was some near enough 47 minutes long and effectively watching paint dry is a damn site more interesting than that garbage :))))).

Oxygene Parts 7 – 13 was probably the last album of Jarre’s that really touched my soul and after that he decided to try and change his style and do something more differently. It’s not unusual for any artist to try something new and let’s face it you can get fed up of doing the same thing all the time. For example Jarre did have a newer approach to his music back in 1984 when he done Zoolook and used a lot of sampled sounds and voices to create it, and that was perhaps modern but I absolutely love that album. But the change he made in the year 2000 with the album Métamorphoses may very well have been inspired to try and keep in the limelight with all the modern day dance music that was coming out by other artists at that time.

I personally think that Métamorphoses is not a bad album even though it’s not like its predecessors and it steps into trance and dance music that was becoming more popular around that time. Though personally modern day trance and dance is not my cup of tea at all, but the fact that Jarre’s style and presence still articulated it’s way in the album made it more acceptable than the crap others were doing with it to which I detested and it’s certainly not for my ears. But then Jarre goes from one extreme to another with the album that followed it in 2002 entitled Sessions 2000 and once again I got more excitement from staring at a wall and watching paint dry :))))). Honestly not one single track on that album said a bloody dickie bird to me and it was just dreadful.

The 2003 album Geometry of Love was a much better effort I felt and both this album and Sessions 2000 is very much Jarre trying to do something more in the way of Jazz. Though Jarre’s levels of skills as a player in all honesty are not cut out to make any Jazz musician I am afraid and I would not exactly say he was a pianist either. I admire the guys creativity though but I can assure you he is no Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman for that matter never mind a skilful jazz pianist. But I quite like Geometry of Love and it’s a much better effort. I also quite like his 2006 album Téo & Téa which may not be everyone’s cup of tea either, but its a pretty decent effort for my ears even though there was a lot of controversy over it.

In 2007 Jarre put out Oxygène: New Master Recording which was basically him playing live in his studio at home, and after that you never really heard anything from him apart from the odd live concert he played right up until 2015 when he put out Electronica 1: The Time Machine and in the following year Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise. Both albums contained collaborative works done with various other artists neither of which impressed me at all. It may of been that he had been out of action for quite a while that he decided to work with other artists to make his way back into the limelight sort of thing, but to be honest Jarre has mostly always been in contention with it and has always been one of the more popular electronic artists.

Musicians & Credits…

JMJ-Main-Press-Photo-2018-Peter-Lindberg-med-res

Composed produced and mixed by Jean Michel Jarre at JMJ Studio. Production Assistant Stephane Gervais. Technical Assistant Patrick Pelamourgues. Pre-Mastered with the new FiDef algorithm. Mastering by David Perreau for Yakuda Mastering 2018. Artwork by Filip Hodas based on the original artwork work of Michel Granger. Portrait by Peter Lindbergh. Graphic Design by Eric BDFCK Cornic.

Musicians:

Jean Michel Jarre: Yamaha CS80. ARP 2600. VCS 3. AKS Eminent 310. Roland Paraphonic 505. Minipops. Mellotron. Korg PA 600. Korg Polyphonic Ensemble. Korg MS20. GR1. Erica Synths Modular System. OP1. Modular Roland System 500 1 & 8. Roland Boutiques. Nordlead 2. Nord Modular. Small Stone. Electric Mistress. Big Sky & Capistan. Moog Sub 37. Moog Taurus 1. Animoog. Arturia ARP 2600/CS80. Omnisphere. NI Kontakt. NI Reaktor. Dune 2. Legend. Spitfire. Boom. Replica XT. Satin. Vahalla. Digisequencer.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Like I said earlier Jean Michel Jarre has not really touched my soul since 1997. But Equinoxe Infinity is an album that very much sees Jarre back to his very best and no doubt this is quite a good sequel to that 1978 album Equinoxe. Although some may not see the album as the perfect sequel, simply because there is no doubt some melodies and FX that came from Oxygene and other albums thrown into the pot here. Some reviewers are even stating that Jarre may very well have used the actual parts from those albums and mixed them in without playing them again and threw in some newer sounds to make the album we have here. Though I doubt that is the case and even if he did, all I can say is that he done a bloody good job of it :)))))).

Jarre spent a year working on the project for the sequel of his classic 1978 album and quite often he will draw his inspiration from the visual side of things that reflects in the albums artwork, and the music will effectively work as a Soundtrack to it. This short video shows you the man himself speaking about it all.

Jean Michel Jarre has always been one for the latest technology over the years though I have to say when 5.1 surround sound was introduced in 1994 he was nowhere to be seen regarding that technology. It even took him a decade to realise it even existed and it was not until 2004 that we got to see the first 5.1 release with a new compilation album he made entitled Aero. He was so impressed by 5.1 Surround sound that he invested some money into Bang & Olufsen or some other company to build an Home Cinema Set up to which he helped design and used to sell on his own website.

We even got to see more 5.1 mixes on his live concerts though over the last decade he seems to have lost his way a bit. I was even disappointed that when he did release Oxygene 3 in 2016 he also released a box set of all 3 Oxygene albums but in stereo only. Had he have given them a 5.1 mix I would of brought the box set, but no way was I buying something I already had. I also noticed that with the box set he released a couple of months ago in September entitled Planet Jarre. That he had given 12 tracks a 5.1 mix and even  “Opening” from this new album was one of them. But they was in the form of a 5.1 Digital Download only and not put on a disc.

Something tells me that Jarre lost quite a bit of money having that Home Cinema System built and he may have lost interest with 5.1 surround sound completely. Not even the box set for this release comes with a 5.1 mix and it’s a shame because Aero and his live DVD’s Jarre in China and Live from Gdańsk have superb 5.1 mixes. Equinoxe Infinity is very much and album that is worthy of a 5.1 mix and should of been given the 5.1 treatment. Though no doubt a lot of Jarre’s music has GREAT! atmosphere to work well in Stereo.

So now let’s take a look at the individual tracks of the album as I go through them in my review here, and this is an album that comes with 10 movements that all have titles to them rather than Equinoxe that came with 8 parts.

Track 1

The album kicks of with the first movement “The Watchers” to which Jarre describes were looking at us from the cover of the first Equinoxe album, now they are rising again and may be from a very ancient past and they are also timeless and we can feel that they could still be here after we have gone. It’s the opening scene of a movie of which we still don’t know how it will end is how the man himself sees it. Musically it may have a touch of Vangelis with some of its main melody lines on the synths and even the pulsating bass sequence gives it that feel too. Though both Jarre & Vangleis have always used the iconic Yamaha CS80 and I would not personally say Jarre is doing a rip off job here at all.

As with some of the old vintage synths he is using, he is also using the soft synth versions of them too that Arturia had developed and he’s mixing both analog and digital synths on this album. Some of the sounds we have in this track are also familiar to some of the material from Revolutions and Rendez-Vous and the vintage synths and this album certainly sounds like he did back in 1976 when he first became more widely popular with his classic album Oxygene. This opening track certainly sets the scene we have here and gives you the feel that your in for one terrific journey.

Track 2

Equinoxe Infinity is a nonstop album and each track blends into one another perfectly and seamlessly like one big symphony. Only each movement has its own moments in it which keeps the listener very attentive and focused to what’s going on has it transgresses along. It’s a very addictive album and even after my first spin of the album I immediately hit the play button again and played the album again and could not put it down. The album very much can raise the game in all the right places throughout the way it flows from track to another and this second movement “Flying Totems” picks the pace up very nicely even if it’s not flying at that much of a faster pace as its title may suggest.

You will instantly notice the bass synth sequencing on this track is quite reminiscent to the original 1978 album. Even some of the flourishes with layered FX sounds are a bit like we got on Oxygene in some regards. It’s main theme is more bold and though many feel its got another Vangelis thing about it, this is perhaps more reminiscent to the stronger themes we got on albums such as Rendez-Vous and Chronologie. Jarre’s counter melodies, layers and textures are very colourful throughout and this is an excellent piece of work that lifts things up a bit very well.

Track 3

The second longest track on the album is up next and this third movement is entitled “Robots Don’t Cry“. Judging by the album cover and this video that was made for it they perhaps do not get a chance to when they get their heads blown off :)))))).

It’s a piece that uses a lot from the Mellotron and it uses some of the chord progression you would find on Equinoxe and Oxygene along with the bossa nova beat that was also very familiar with those couple of albums. Apart from the lead melody lines and some sound textures it very much flows and feels like something from those albums too. According to Jarre he only recorded this track once and in one go, including the melody and the rhythm track. It’s another really GREAT! track.

Track 4

The 4th movement “All That You Leave Behind” has a really GREAT! build to it and as it builds from the beginning you get some of the textures that were familiar on albums such as Zoolook and even Metamorphoses that was much later. But as it transcends along it brings in more of the original sounds you got on Equinoxe and no doubt that this track is going back to what was left behind and to that album. You can certainly hear how Jarre is tying the both albums together on this track and this is really where you can hear that this album is no doubt working in the way of quite a very good sequel.

Track 5

The fifth movement “If The Wind Could Speak” is the shortest track on the album and just over a minute and half long. There is no doubt that more from the 1978 album Equinoxe is seeping its way into the album and effectively this like having the the wind and rain from Equinoxe Part 8 (Band In The Rain) with some voices from Zoolook thrown into the equation along with a new lead melody line.

Track 6

More of the 1978 album Equinoxe gets fused into this 6th track and movement on the album which is entitled “Infinity” and this is the most up-tempo track on the album with its dance style that we got from his later albums Metamorphoses and Téo & Téa. Only here Jarre has also incorporated the lead lines from Equinoxe Part 7. It’s the most lively track on the album and would perhaps be the number one choice for the single release from the album. Some may even see it has the best track on the album, but personally I could not choose one simply because this is an album that works and flows like an album and each part plays it’s part very well in putting it all across.

Track 7

The 7th movement “Machines Are Learning” is another of the shorter tracks on the album and comes in at 2 mins 7 secs. Once again we get some familiar bass synth sequencing we got on the album Equinoxe and it actually sounds like it was done on the Pro One though that synth is not in list on this album. I actually sold one on ebay last year for a mate of mine and it is a very Fat synth.

Though Jarre never used that synth, not even on the original album and this was most likely done on the ARP 2600. There is also quite a lot of new sounds thrown along the lines of the sequencer on this track that add to the tension and suspense of the piece. It simmers the album down effectively enough for it to bring it back up with the next track and works very well to do that too.

Track 8

The Opening” is the 8th movement and a piece that Jarre had composed or the album although he composed a live version of it first to play it on his US tour at the Coachella Festival in the summer of 2018. There is a difference between the both versions and Jarre gave the studio version more of a different approach of how he wanted the piece to be in the first place. He very much seen that the live version would work as the opening of his live concert, whereas the studio version for the album was more of an opening used in the sense of opening a gate into another porthole into somewhere else that leads into virgin territory as an example. Which does not have to come into play at the beginning of the movie sort of thing.

Once again we have the familiar bass synth sequence lines used for the rhythm to drive it along just like we got on the albums Equinoxe and Magnetic Fields and he has blended in an array of other familiar and new sounds to accompany it. It’s another GREAT! track that lifts the album back up with its faster tempo and pace, and adds to the excitement and the listening experience.

Track 9

The 9th track on the album “Don’t Look Back” is a way of saying you do not have to look back once you gained knowledge from the past and you should be focusing more on the future and what it holds. The music also expresses that in the way that this piece does not use many elements from Jarre’s past albums such as Equinoxe and his other albums to reflect the music we have here. It still contains Jarre’s touch of style but in a different way, and its got quite a mystic feel and sense of purpose about it. it also flows along at a wonderful steady pace throughout.

Track 10

The final track on the album is the longest piece and the albums self titled track and weighs in at 7 minutes 32 seconds. I suppose in some ways with its slower pace you could say it was a bit like the self titled album track “Waiting For Cousteau” from that 1990 album with how it opens up, only this is not some 47 minutes long and does have more to its build than that boring piece of crap :)))))) and does not annoy me either.

To be honest I would not say this particular track that ends off the album is very strong and it’s more of a soundscape to float your way through the stars in that vast open space. It does have some nuisances that creep their way in as it builds towards the end and effectively puts a good ending to the album.

Summary…

To sum up Equinoxe Infinity by Jean Michel Jarre. I would say that it’s an album that captures a lot of the magic about the man’s music from many moons ago and that is what grabs me about this album more than anything. OK to some extent I can understand some reviewers wanting something more in the way of something new rather than stepping back to the past, but you could not really do that to make a sequel to an album that came out originally in 1978.

Some may even like the way that Mike Oldfield done his third sequel to Tubular Bells with his more modern approach. But as a sequel it simply does not work as one and sounds absolutely bugger all like the first two. It’s marginally light years away and what on earth possessed the man to try and incorporate “Moonlight Shadow” into the piece. No doubt Oldfield did get carried away by his own moonlight shadow and that album simply was not good enough to even associate it with the name of Tubular Bells.

No doubt Jarre has blended in some new elements to the old elements, and much of the other elements came from his other albums he has put out over the years. But he has still very much incorporated some of the original elements from the 1978 album which very much links it, and makes it work as a sequel, even if it is not like he did with Oxygene 7 – 13 where he reworked most of the original melody lines from it’s predecessor. I personally felt that second sequel to Oxygene was very much a masterpiece of work just like Oldfield done with his second sequel to Tubular Bells.

Equinoxe Infinity is an album that may not have captured all of the genius within Jarre’s creativity with how it shined back in 1997 when he made  Oxygene 7 – 13. That sequel was a masterclass stroke of genius in every way. But what we have here does capture some magic and personally this album is very much a return to form and he is without a doubt back to his very best.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of Jean Michael Jarre’s latest album Equinoxe Infinity. I would say he has made one very addictive album that even I myself could not stop playing on the day it arrived. To give you an idea just how well good this album really is. On the same day it arrived I also had the latest album Proxy by The Tangent arrive. For my personal taste in music prog rock will always come before electronic music, and after playing Equinoxe Infinity 3 times before I even played the new Tangent album. The Tangent’s album only got one spin that day in relation to the 7 spins I gave this album.

I am not saying that The Tangent’s album is not good by any means, but this album of Jarre’s is just so much more highly addictive. I still cannot stop playing it now :)))). My personal highlights from the album are “The Opening“. “Flying Totems“. “Infinity“. “All That You Leave Behind” and “Robots Dont Cry“. Though the best way to experience the album is by listening to it from the beginning to the end.

Like I said I was not expecting any great expectations with this latest release but he certainly has exceeded all expectations and for me this album is very much a winner and a welcoming return back to what I have always loved about his music. This album may have been made in 2018 and even with all its more later technology it still sounds like it came out of the 70’s, and if you are doing a sequel to an album that came from that decade, that’s exactly what it should sound like and not something too far removed.

Jean Michel Jarre is truly back to his very best and this album certainly has to be amongst the top albums to come out in 2018.

The Watchers Are Watching You…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. The Watchers (Movement 1). 2:58.
02. Flying Totems (Movement 2). 3:53.
03. Robots Dont Cry (Movement 3). 5:43.
04. All That You Leave Behind (Movement 4). 4:00.
05. If The Wind Could Speak (Movement 5). 1:32.
06. Infinity (Movement 6). 4:13.
07. Machines Are Learning (Movement 7). 2:07.
08. The Opening (Movement 8). 4:16.
09. Don’t Look Back (Movement 9). 3:35.
10. Equinoxe Infinity (Movement 10). 7:32.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 10/10.

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

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 9/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #111

This Was (50th Anniversary Book Edition) – Jethro Tull

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Introduction…

Another splendid package just hit the shelves so to speak and this is the 10th Jethro Tull album to be re-released in these rather splendid Book Editions that come in the form of an hardback book the size of a DVD and as well as a book you get 4 discs that fit very nicely in the package. This Was… was the bands debut album that was originally released some 50 years ago now way back in 1968, and the album and the band are very much celebrating their 50th Anniversary, and once again are doing so in GREAT! style by presenting this quality well made package. Just like the 9 albums that got released in the same style with these really GREAT! packages, I can tell you they certainly do not disappoint and are quality all the way.

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Perhaps the only thing that does disappoint me so far about these really GREAT! packages can be seen by looking at the picture above, and that is that the 1970 album Benefit still has not been given the same treatment yet, and my 2013 Collectors Edition just does not look right stacked up against this lot somehow :)))).

50 years is pretty much a long musical career to be still going out there today and for Ian Anderson to be still going out there and still performing many of the songs from the bands lengthy career. Though Anderson himself has been performing for slightly longer and first started his musical adventure way back in 1963 in The Blades alongside John Evans and Jeffrey Hammond. The Blades went through a few incarnations between 1963 – 1965 and by that year Barrie Barlow had joined the band and all 4 members eventually wound up in Jethro Tull at one point or another.

In the same year The Blades changed its name to The John Evan Band. A band that had a few line up changes itself along with a few name changes along the way between the years of 1965 – 1967, and this band actually went through 8 incarnations predominantly as a 7 piece outfit. Though Jeffrey Hammond dropped out of the band after 3 incarnations of the band back in 1966 and was replaced by Derek Ward who was replaced himself by Glen Cornick in 1967. By this time Anderson was gaining more confidence and his songwriting had started to develop a bit more, but success was a long way away from a struggling musician who found it hard to even afford enough money to eat never mind put some sort of a roof over his head having gone out into that world from the comfort of his parents house.

Both Anderson and Cornick shared a bedsit at some point to cut down the cost of the rent and would often live on a tin of Irish Stew between them. I suppose it was towards the end of 1967 that both of them decided a change was needed and they started to look for another guitar player. It was whilst they were playing a gig supporting McGregor’s Engine that they clapped their eyes on Mick Abrahams and Clive Bunker happened to be that bands drummer too. After a chat backstage in the dressing room both Abrahams and Bunker agreed to join The John Evan Band to which most of it’s members decided to leave and the 8th and last incarnation of The John Evan Band did not even have John Evans in it himself and consisted of Ian Anderson, Mick Abrahams, Glen Cornick, Clive Bunker and Tony Wilkinson on sax.

By 1968 Wilkinson had dropped out leaving them as a four piece and their search for a new name was over when Dave Robson a booker at the Ellis-Wright Agency suggested the name Jethro Tull and the band played their first official gig under that name at London’s Legendary Marquee Club on the 2nd February 1968. It was only a couple of weeks after that gig that the music press announced that the bands first single would be released on the MGM Record Label with the Mick Abrahams song “Sunshine Day” as the A side and the song “Aeroplane” penned by Ian Anderson & Glen Cornick was chosen for the B side.

Single

The fact that the bands name had been misspelt as Jethro Toe may have appeared that the band were not off to a flying start, but that was not the only spelling mistake. They also misspelt Glen Cornick’s Christian name as Len instead of Glen though the surname of Barnard was right and was the name Cornick had been using at that time. But in the end the band was spared the cock ups and embarrassment simply because both Chris Wright and Terry Ellis could not negotiate the deal with MGM and refused to sign the contract preventing the single from being officially released. Although a few copies did sneak out and are thought to fetch between £500 – £1,000 these days.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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As with all these splendid packages they are very sturdy and very well constructed by using plastic trays to hold the discs firmly in place, and how they have been well sealed and fixed into a quality hardback book. Everything about this package is sheer quality and well thought out with its presentation being the same size of DVD so you can easily store it along with your DVD’s and Blu Rays.

Besides all the GREAT! music and bonus extras you get on the discs, the other really GREAT! thing about these packages is the book it comes with, and this one has 98 pages in total that contain a lot of information about when the album was made and how everything came together from the offset, including the production side of things. You also get some great glossary photos along with all the linear notes and lyrics.

To give you a better idea just what the package looks like I have made a video with myself talking you through it. Though it’s nowhere as informative as my lengthy review here, and I am not the most confident guy to be able to present a review like I have written here by simply talking about it. But nevertheless least you can see the package and how much easier a package like this can be stored.

The Artwork.

The albums artwork concept was done by Ian Anderson and Terry Ellis and it may have been Anderson’s idea to have them all dress up as old men for the front cover photo shoot. They also included 3 dogs whose owners were there for the shoot so that they could control their dogs and one of them bit Glen Cornick on the back of the leg during the time of setting the photo shoot up. Both the front and back cover photographs were taken by Brian Ward. Additional photos for this package was provided by Martin Webb. Max Browne & Hajo Muller.

It was also Anderson’s idea not to include the name of the band or title of the album on the front cover too, and his reasoning behind it was so that people would look at the front cover and have to pick it up and look at the back to see who it was by. That way if people did do that they more or less were 50% of the way to selling the album. Even more bizarre was the picture on the back of the cover of Ian Anderson holding the scales of a fish to which had totally nothing to do with anything on the album.

When questioned as has to if it meant anything, he said that Salvador Dali made a living from it and Rene Magritte did pretty well and when you grow up as an art student you learn the value of surreal eccentricity in getting attention.

This Was (50th Anniversary Book Edition) Review…

The 50th Anniversary 3 CD/1 DVD Book Edition of This Was by Jethro Tull was released on the 9th November 2018. I pre-ordered my copy of it from Amazon on the 29th August and got for £30.63 which was a bit cheaper than it’s £34.99 retail price tag. As a rule it does mostly pay to pre-order these type of releases as soon as possible to save that bit extra on the overall price.

For example also being released on the 23rd of this month is the Clutching At Straws 4 CD/1 Blu Ray Book Edition by Marillion to which I pre-ordered on the 7th September. You can still pre-order it right now, however it will cost you some £35.90. But I shall be getting it for £22.73 which is quite a saving.

As a matter of fact 3 of the 10 Jethro Tull DVD Book Editions I only paid £14 for them. 4 of them cost between £18 – £20. 1 was £27.50 and it was only the last 2 I brought that cost me £30  by pre-ordering them on Amazon. The good thing about pre-ordering anything on Amazon is the fact that you do not pay for the item until the week it’s due to be released and on the day they actually dispatch the item to you, which is mainly the day before it’s release.

The original album This Was got released way back on the 4th October 1968 and contained 10 tracks that had an overall playing time of 38 minutes, 21 seconds. The album was released on Island records and recorded at Sound Techniques Studios in Chelsea London. It was also produced by Terry Ellis and Jethro Tull and engineered by Victor Gamm. The album cost around £1,200 to make, money that neither Ellis & Wright had at the time, but Ellis wanted to do things right by the band after the bad experience he had with Ten Years After at Decca Records.

He could not get a record label interested enough to take on Jethro Tull to put up the money to make the album, so with what money Ellis & Wright did have they started to look for a cheap enough studio and he was put onto Sound Techniques by Pink Floyd’s agent at the time Bryan Morrison. With what money they did have, they managed to get 3 tracks recorded and mixed and Ellis had to get a loan from his bank to complete the album. No doubt it was a gamble but one that paid off in the end.

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Sound Techniques Studios

Sound Techniques Studios has quite a bit of history since it opened its doors in mid 1965 and closed its doors in 1976 and many mainstream artists had recorded at the studios including the likes of Elton John, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Cat Stevens, Pentangle, The Yardbirds, The Who, Stackridge, John Martyn, Magna Carta and many more. Pink Floyd even recorded their first two singles “Arnold Lane” and “See Emily Play” there, and much more went on inside this studio than what meets the eye.

The studio itself was founded by recording engineers Geoff Frost and John Wood who had both been working at Levy’s Sound Studio in the centre of London. It was during 1964 that Morris Levy was going to be selling up his studio and both Frost and Wood decided that maybe they should set up a studio themselves. Frost left Levy’s in September of the same year to look for a place to set up a studio, and by December 1964  Frost eventually found a property that had been a former dairy located at 46a Old Church Street, Chelsea, London, with both the first and second floors available to lease.

It was in that same month of December 1964 that they registered the name of the company and Wood also left Levy’s so they could make alterations to the couple of floors they had leased to their own requirements for their new studio. Because of lack of funds both Wood and Frost designed and built most their own studio equipment from Frost’s background experience in electronics and being the chief engineer at Levy’s.

Frost learnt a lot about amplification from his days in the army and always had an interest in building his own mixing desks, and this is where there was a lot more to this studio than meets the eye. As well as having a fully functional studio to record many artists, they also created a workshop to which Frost spent most of his time building mixing consoles. Other engineers were that impressed by his work that they wanted his mixing consoles in their studios too, and it was not long before Frost and his team manufactured desks for other studios such as the Music Centre and Trident Studios.

Mixing Consolses

Many more artists were recorded on consoles designed and built by Frost and his mixing consoles were even used to do Queen’s first 3 albums. Sadly the studio closed in 1976 when the lease on the building ran out, and Frost and Wood were unable to purchase the property due to lack of funds. But since 2014 they have been working on a documentary to which both Neil Innes & Nick Turner are directing which is titled The Parts You Don’t Hear/The Untold Story Of Sound Techniques and I have to say it looks very interesting indeed from this teaser trailer video that was put on Vimeo 3 years ago.

The documentary film is still very much in the making and both Innes and Turner have interviewed many of the artists, engineers and those who remember their time at Sound Techniques and how it innovated the making of music. Ian Anderson recalls his time there and it was a very educational one too, and he learnt quite a bit from Victor Gamm who was the engineer for the This Was album, and it even helped him setup his own future regarding being a producer and sound engineer himself. He will also feature in the documentary.

You can find out more about who will be featured in the documentary and just how much the studio brought to the music industry to which they are still updating on their website here:  http://www.soundtechniquesmovie.com/

The Package Contents…

This particular box set comes with an array of bonus tracks over the 3 CD’s that come with it plus a DVD that comes with a 4.1 surround mix of the album and 5.1 surround mix of a couple of bonus tracks. It also comes with a vast lot of information in the 98 page book you get too. But first let’s take a look at the CD’s that come in the package.

CD 1.

The first disc contains all the new Steve Wilson mixes of the original albums 10 tracks plus it has a further 6 bonus tracks, and this disc with all 16 tracks comes with an overall playing time of 57 minutes, 45 seconds. In this section of my review I am only going to focus on the bonus tracks rather than the main album tracks to which I will go through in my main review of the albums 10 tracks. Out of the 6 bonus tracks on the first disc you do get 4 that are previously unreleased, though 3 of them are just alternative takes and only 1 of them has never seen the light of day before.

The first couple of bonus tracks “Love Story” and “A Christmas Song” are nothing new and have featured on many compiled and live albums before. Both of these songs were recorded after the album later on in the year at Morgan Studios London on an 8 track rather than the 4 track recorder that the album was recorded on at Sound Techniques. The first of them on the 30th October 1968 and second a few days later in November. Both songs were also released in the following month of December 1968 as a single with “Love Story” being the A-Side and was the first time Anderson had started to learn to play the mandolin and it was the last song that was recorded with Mick Abrahams.

This was actually the 2nd official Jethro Tull single and early copies miscredited the songwriter as Ian Henderson. I have always loved the B-Side “A Christmas Song” a lot more and it’s always been one of my all time favourite Christmas Songs. Anderson also played the mandolin on this track too and as Mick Abrahams was not present David Palmer was brought in to do a string quartet arrangement and the odd slieighbell or tambourine was overdubbed afterwards. I also felt it rather odd that “A Christmas Song” was not the A-Side especially as the single was released in December right on top of Christmas.

The first of the 4 previously unreleased tracks is “Serenade To A Cuckoo (Take 1)” and on the 13th June 1968 they recorded the song twice, the 2nd Take was the version they used for the master on the album and was slightly longer by about 22 seconds. You can hear the difference between the 2 takes and this unreleased version is played at a bit of a slower pace with its swing and does have a slightly different feel about it.

It’s all about pace with the next bonus track too “Some Day The Sun Won’t Shine For You (Faster Version)” and one could even perhaps argue that they could easily of slowed one track down and made the other one faster to make it look like your getting something a bit new here :)))))). But I can assure that is not the case and they are different, and this version was recorded a month earlier than the master version that appeared on the album on the same day as the previous track, and Ian Anderson dedicates it to Terry Ellis on the intro.

The 5th bonus track “Move On Alone (Flute Version)” was recorded on the 2nd July 1968 and at this stage the song had not got vocals on it, and this was actually take 6 of the backing track to which was first recorded with no orchestra on that day with Anderson’s flute instead. They have also added the vocal track to this mix as well which came from take 8 of the master track recorded 25 days later on the 27th July. Anderson decided that the flute may of been a bit too intruding on Abrahams guitar and as it was really his moment he decided to have it removed and replaced with a brass section that was once again arranged by David Palmer. It’s also thought that Abrahams had never noticed the flute had been replaced till after the album was made too.

The final bonus track “Ultimate Confusion” is an instrumental piece that has never seen the light of day before. It never got as far as another take because basically it was just a mad jam and they thought it was bollox :)))))). It’s more of a mess around and an experimental piece that’s perhaps even Avant Garde and quite unusual but also quite interesting. It’s certainly not gonna set the world on fire but I was glad that they decided to include it here.

Overall the bonus tracks on the first discs are very good and I have no problem listening to this CD as an whole with them included here either. Steve Wilson has done a terrific job with these mixes too.

CD 2.

There is nothing new about the bonus material on the second disc, not even the mixes and no doubt the material we have here has surfaced in one place or another. But as it was originally from this decade and era it’s perhaps good to have it all in the right place and what you get here is another fine selection of bonus material. The 2nd CD comes with 20 bonus tracks which have an overall playing time of 59 minutes, 43 seconds.

The first 9 tracks on this disc come from two different sessions that was recorded live for John Peel’s Top Gear at the BBC Studios in Piccadilly London. Both sessions were recorded in mono only and was previously released back in 2008 on the This Was 40th Anniversary 2 CD Deluxe Edition.

The first session was recorded on the 23rd July 1968 to which they played the following 5 songs “So Much Trouble“. “My Sunday Feeling“. “Serenade To A Cuckoo“. “Cat’s Squirrel” and “A Song For Jeffrey“. Four of these songs  eventually wound up on their debut album and it was only the Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee song “So Much Trouble” that never found it’s way on it.

The second session recorded at the BBC for John Peel’s Top Gear was recorded a month after the bands debut album was released on the 5th November 1968 to which they played the following 4 songs. “Love Story“. “Stormy Monday“. “Beggar’s Farm“. and “Dharma For One“. Even though the recordings are only in mono they are very good and no doubt some of these tracks would of also surfaced before 2008 on various other box sets and compilations.

17 of the 20 tracks on this 2nd disc are all original mono recordings and next couple of tracks you get here were in fact were released on the 1st official Jethro Tull single to which “A Song For Jeffrey” was the A-Side and the single was released a couple of weeks before the album in September 1968. It was a song that Anderson wrote on a slide guitar whilst he was learning new things about playing rhythm guitar.

It’s title was in recognition that although Jeffrey Hammond had left The John Evan Band to go to art school, he was still very much part of the band has he used to still go and see the band play and eventually would wind back up in the band to which he did later on. The B-Side “One For John Gee” was an instrumental piece written by Abrahams and as they had already written a song for Jeffrey they thought it would be fitting to name the piece in recognition of John Gee who gave the band its residency at the Marquee Club.

The next 3 tracks were also bonus tracks on the 1st CD to which are “Someday The Sun Won’t Shine For You (Faster Version)“. “Love Story” and “A Christmas Song“. The only difference on this disc is that these are the original mono recordings.

Up next we get the original mono recordings of the first intended single of the band to which was never officially released and only a few copies slipped onto the black market. The A-Side “Sunshine Day” was penned by Abrahams and recorded at the CBS Studios between the 6th and 7th January 1968 and was produced by Derek Lawrence. Anderson cannot even recall ever being involved in the recording of the song, but according to Lawrence he did some backing vocals along with Tony Wilson (later of Hot Chocolate).

The B-Side “Aeroplane” also came from the sessions done with Lawrence only this was recorded in the CBS Studios back in October 1967 whilst the band was known as The John Evan Smash. Anderson & Cornick penned the song and it features Both Anderson & Cornick are on the record along with John Evans, Barrie Barlow and guitarist Neil Smith. Both Tony Wilkinson and Neil Valentine also played sax on the song but they somehow got edited out of the original recording, perhaps for good reason too.

Also during that same session with Derek Lawrence as the The John Evan Smash another song written by Anderson & CornickBlues For The 18th” got recorded which is included here. I quite like Anderson’s voice on this song and Anderson also found it easier to write songs with Cornick too. Both “Aeroplane” and “Blues For The 18th” also had a flute on them, but as Anderson recalls he was not even playing the flute at this time and could not get a note out of it until December 1967 and Lawrence must of brought in a session player to play the flute.

The final 3 tracks on CD 2 are the only stereo tracks on the disc and only one of them is a song which is “Love Story” and this is the 1969 US Promo Single Stereo Mix for FM Radio Airplay. The final couple of tracks are US FM Radio Spots which were used to advertise the American release of the album. I quite like how they hype up the band as the best new group and new sound and also some American DJ announcing Jethro Tull as an uncommon name who play uncommon music :))))) they are quite interesting to hear too.

Disc 3.

The final disc also contains 20 tracks and has an overall playing time of 76 minutes, 32 seconds and what you do get here is the UK original 1968 mixes of the album This Was twice over. The first 10 tracks are the original 1968 stereo mixes of the album. The remaining 10 tracks are mono mixes of the album only for some reason these mono mixes are the 2008 remasters that was included on the This Was 40th Anniversary 2 CD Deluxe Edition. I can only presume that these mono remasters are what they consider to be the best recordings of the mono version of the album.

Although the album was released in the UK with both mono and stereo releases the mono recordings were soon phased out after about 3 months, some say that they were phased out after a couple of weeks of the album release, however it was more likely within 3 months or a bit longer, though they are extremely rare to come by these days.

It’s also interesting that the stereo release of the album was also released with 2 different mixes. The difference is with the panning of the vocals and instruments in the two mixes. Mix 2 was released in the US and somehow that mix found its way back here in the UK and is the most common mix used in all countries ever since. This mix featured Anderson’s voice panned to the left and his flute to the right on the opening track. Mix 1 had Anderson’s vocals and flute panned to the left and has never surfaced on CD before now, and that is the stereo mix they have included on this CD.

They have also included the original mix 2 that was originally only intended for the US on the DVD which I go through now.

DVD.

Scene 1

The DVD’s main menu presents you with two options to choose from. The first option being the new mixes done by Steve Wilson and the second being the flat transfer of the original US stereo mix of the album to which indecently is the mix on all the releases since 1969 from Mix 2. Only the albums that got released before this release had the Mix 1 stereo mix on them. Clicking on the first option will present you with the following menu below. Clicking on the second option will play the original album.

Scene 2

As you can see from the menu above, this menu is all related to the Steve Wilson mixes and this menu has 5 options to choose from. The first three options “Play Album”. “Track Select”. “Audio Select” are related to new mixes of the albums 10 tracks, and the other two options “Associated Recordings” contain the bonus tracks.

Clicking on “Play Album” will play the album in stereo by default and I myself like to head into the “Audio Select” to make my preferred choice of audio before playing the album. But you can also simply change the audio by pressing the audio button on the remote control of your player.

Scene 3

By clicking on the “Track Select” you can simply select any one of the albums 10 tracks to play if you have not got time to listen to the whole album, or simply choose a favourite track to listen too or to play to a friend. The latter is perhaps the most times I would use this menu because in general I like to listen to the whole album. You can always skip a track as well with the buttons on your remote should you not want to listen to it.

Scene 4

The “Audio Select” menu is where you can select your desired choice of audio, and for surround freak like myself the DTS surround mix will always be my preferred choice. I have always preferred the DTS decoder over the standard AC3 which is Dolby Digital. Though all 3 of the audio soundtracks on this DVD are high quality audio format of 96/24 and are very good. Both of the surround mixes for the main album are in 4.1 only, and there is no 5.1 surround mix simply because the album was recorded onto 4 tracks.

The only 5.1 mixes you get on this release are the couple of bonus tracks that are contained in the first of the “Associated Recordings” which are “Love Story” and “A Christmas Song“. Both of these songs were recorded on 8 track at Morgan Studios and also come with a high quality audio format of 96/24 and are very good.

The second of the “Associated Recordings” contains 4 bonus tracks which are “Serenade To A Cuckoo (Take 1)“. “Some Day The Sun Won’t Shine For You (Faster Version)“. “Move On Alone (Flute Version)” and “Ultimate Confusion“. These 4 tracks are in stereo only, and the only difference between the tracks here in relation to those on the 1st CD is that they come with a high quality audio format of 96/24 instead of 44.1/16. Just like the album these tracks were recorded at Sound Techniques on 4 track only and Wilson did not see the point in giving them a 4.1 mix.

Scene 5

Like with all the DVD’s that come in these Book Editions of Jethro Tull you can see they have taken the time to include a slide show of pictures that display whilst you listen to the tracks on the album. You get quite a few photos displayed throughout all the tracks on the album and its a lot better than having one still picture that could potentially do more harm to your flat panel TV by burning out a few pixels, or even the backlight on LED displays. It’s good to see they have a good team behind them unlike the Mascot Group who did the DVD for Ayreon in my last review.

The Steve Wilson Stereo & Surround Mixes.

Once again Steve Wilson is back at the helm with his new mixes of the album both in stereo and multichannel surround sound and he really brings out the best with these recordings, and in my opinion his mixes are way better than the original mixes regardless of them being in surround sound or just stereo. Even the stereo mixes he has done for this album have really brought this album back to life, and I have never heard this album sound as good as this either.

No doubt doing a surround mix from 4 track master tapes was always gonna present a problem, but I have to say how Wilson has worked with the 4 tracks by separating some of them (where they never had more than 2 things going on at the same time) he’s done the bees knees with this mix. The job he has done here is just as good as having a 5.1 mix, even if there is nothing in the centre channel.

To be honest I was not expecting a great deal from a 4.1 mix when I first seen this release announced on the Jetrho Tull website before I purchased it, and I have in the past have in the past brought some Quad mixes to which I do not rate a lot at all. For example Rick Wakeman’s Six Wives album  I brought with a quad mix and in relation the stereo mix I already had of the album, I thought I wasted my money buying it. It also put me off buying the other albums he released with Quad mixes too.

But there is a difference between a Quad mix and a 4.1 mix and it’s that .1 Sub channel that makes all the difference. It makes one hell of a difference having your subwoofer control the bass in your speakers and that’s where 4.0 and 5.0 mixes really suffer. I would rather be missing the centre speaker which is only the dialogue speaker that most would use to put the vocals in. No doubt Wilson could of done a 5.1 mix and even placed the vocals in the centre speaker, but with having so little he could separate from the 4 tracks he very much made the wise decision to go with 4.1.

Another reason why Wilson would of chose not to place the vocals in the centre speaker would of been down to him trying not lose anything from the way the original recording sounded and this is what I do admire a lot about Steve Wilson and his mixes. Even though there were two stereo mixes of the original album released with reverse panning being the marginal difference, depending on which mix you had the vocals were either placed to the left or the right in the mix. So it would not have made a lot of sense to place them in the centre speaker in the first place, and by doing so purists might have been banging on doors :)))))).

I think with any surround mix you have to pay a lot of attention to the original stereo mix, and just because you have an array of tracks to play with you cannot simply start placing any instrument anywhere for the sake of it. What you do not want to be destroying is the focal point which will always be coming from the two front speakers and the centre speaker. Take too much away from the stereo field and will you will create a gap and it sound nothing like that record you have heard for donkeys years and are accustomed to hearing it that way.

This is where many sound engineers go wrong and to be honest there are not many GREAT! engineers who can successfully do GREAT! surround mixes. I would even go as far as to say that there are less than a hundred in relation to the thousands who can do GREAT! stereo mixes. Unlike Arjen Lucassen who is still very much learning the art of surround mixing and is making progress. Steven Wilson is quite a master at it and in my top 5 when it comes to working in this field, and this 4.1 mix is quite magical.

Even the stereo mixes on every track are golden, and not just the odd track here and there sound better for the new mixes, which is something I also felt Arjen did not get quite right on his own album Into The Electric Castle that was in my last review.

Musicians & Credits…

Jethro-Tull-1968

Produce by Terry Ellis & Jethro Tull for Chrysalis Productions. Recording Engineer Victor Gamm. Cover Concept by Terry Ellis & Ian Anderson. Artwork by Phil Smee at Waldo’s Design & Dream Emporium. Photography by Brian Ward. Martin Webb. Max Browne & Hajo Muller. Surround & New Stereo Mixes by Steven Wilson. DVD Authoring by Ray Shulman at Isonic.

Musicians.
Ian Anderson: Lead Vocals (Tracks 1, 3, 7, 9) – Flute – Harmonica – Claghorn – Piano – Backing Vocals.
Mick Abrhams: Guitar – 9 String Guitar – Lead Vocals (Track 4) – Backing Vocals.
Glen Cornick: Bass Guitar.
Clive Blunker: Drums – Hooter & Charm Bracelet.

Additional Musicians.
David Palmer: French horn and orchestral arrangement.

The Album Tracks In Review…

There is perhaps no questioning the promotional skills of Ian Ellis and for a debut album to reach number 10 in the UK album charts is quite an achievement for a band that had hardly been known at all 6 months earlier. But the album was very well received an was even greeted well by the music critics. But no doubt the band were very busy before the album was released not just with having a residency at the Marquee Club and on the 29th June 1968 they played a free concert in Hyde Park supporting Tyrannosaurus Rex along with Pink Floyd and Roy Harper. But it was at the Sunbury Jazz and Blues Festival in August 1968 that really got things going and enough for more people to take notice.

The festival was held every year and there was always one unknown band that got to make it since it had been running. The band stole the show according the music press who gave them raving reviews. John Peel also did his bit at the BBC for them and soon they was also making appearances on TV. The album got released in the US in February and reached 69 in the Billboard charts. Jethro Tull were not quite ready to take America by storm but it would not be long before they did, and rest is pretty much more or less history.

I suppose it could be said that the album This Was these days does not quite measure up to the praise it got 50 years ago when you look at how well the band progressed after its release. Many would even say when you look at how well their next album Stand Up turned out by comparing it to their debut album, it could be said that “This Was” Jethro Tull but “This Is” the real Jethro Tull. But their debut album really is not that far away when you look at how it was made musically. You still have the combination of blues and Jazz and the classical influences, although predominately it is perhaps more on the blues side of things. But that is not necessary a bad thing either, but the big question is. Does it still stand up after 50 years? Well let’s find out as I got through the albums 10 tracks.

Track 1. My Sunday Feeling.

Well no doubt the opening track of the album is perhaps so typical of the standard of blues you got from many bands during the invasion of British Blues scene back in 60’s. Bands such as The Rolling Stones, Cream and many others were at it well before, many were influenced by the black music that came out decades before from the banks of the Mississippi down to New Orleans in the States.

I guess you could say even The John Evan Band were at it too, and by the time it had changed to a 4 piece and its name to Jethro Tull they was still churning it out and bands like Fleetwood Mac and The Groundhogs surfaced in the same year. Though the latter of those two had been knocking out the blues well beforehand as a support band for John Lee Hooker but around the same time in 1968 they too were Scratching The Surface so to speak.

To be honest there is quite a few tracks on this album that remind of The Groundhogs perhaps more than any other band, apart from the flute and vocals of course, and the flute does make a difference on a song like this. But musically you could say they shared the same style more less and even though both bands had a very good drummer and bass player, I personally felt that Jethro Tull were much more of a closer knit and tighter outfit. You can hear it just by listening to this opening song too.

Although the song was written by Ian Anderson the 12 bar blues was never really his thing, but I guess as it was more Mick Abrahams thing he knew it would keep him happy enough. I think it’s quite a good song that has a really great swing to it. I also think that Clive Bunker was the best drummer Jethro Tull ever had. The song as been in and out the bands live set many times over it’s 50 years and has been played a lot more than many of the songs I would of loved to have heard from some of their other albums.

Track 2. Some Day The Sun Won’t Shine For You.

Another Anderson penned song and this is a more of a slower acoustic 3 chord blues standard that features both Anderson and Abrahams together in unison on vocals and features Abrahams on guitar and Anderson on the old Gob Iron instead of the flute, he can play the thing too. I have always admired his technique on the instrument to which he was influenced by the style of Sonny Terry the American folk blues artist who was known for his energetic blues harmonica style. It’s also arranged similarly to Big Bill Broonzy’s blues standard “Key to the Highway“.

Track 3. Beggars Farm.

This as always been my favourite track on this album and “Beggars Farm” is very much more of Ian Anderson’s style of writing even though he co-wrote this with Abrahams. This is perhaps a song you could put on the album Stand Up and it would fit with the material on that album like a glove. Though no doubt many styles have come from Anderson’s writing over the many years and besides the blues rock side of things we have here, there is also a folky element about it too.

The song has a terrific build to it and Bunkers drums tick along like a clock to it, and the fills he puts into it are very much precise. Anderson’s vocals raspy flute do the business, Cornick has all the right grooves on the bass and Abrahams guitar has quite a melodic feel to it’s rhythm. This is very much to me another Jethro Tull classic and merits my top spot on the album award.

Track 4. Move On Alone.

A short bluesy ballad of a song written by Abrahams and he gets to sing lead vocals on it too and does a fine job indeed. It was originally recorded with Anderson playing flute on the track, but before the album was released it was replaced with a brass section arranged by David Palmer and it works very well in giving it more of a homely feel and perhaps even a Fleetwood Mac feel about it. It’s another fine song and considering both the bass and drums were recorded onto one track only they sound GREAT!.

Track 5. Serenade To A Cuckoo.

The band jazz things up for the longest track on the album and it’s one of the 4 instrumental pieces on the album and was penned by the American Jazz multi-instrumentalist Roland Kirk who played and an array of saxes, flutes and clarinets, some even at the same time as seen in this photo of him from him 1972.

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Kirk wrote the piece back in 1964 and it featured on the album I Talk With Spirits which is the very album that Jeffrey Hammond played to Anderson and not only did he learn and memorised the piece well, but he also picked up on Kirk’s vocalizing style on the flute. It became his party piece at the Marquee and even though this version is some 1 minute 35 seconds longer than Kirk’s original. Anderson plays the flute throughout the entirety of its  6 minutes 8 seconds here.

No doubt the whole band are well into the Jazz swing on this fine piece and it was also one of those fine pieces that went down very well with the audience back in those days too. To be honest just like Bach’sBourrée” worked so well on Stand Up this is another piece that could of quite of easily worked on that album too. It’s very much a contender for the top spot on the album and an excellent piece of Jazz.

Track 6. Dharma For One.

Another of the instrumental pieces on the album and this one you could say is Clive Bunker’s party piece and it was written by Anderson and Bunker. I suppose in some terms you could say that what John Bonham done for Led Zeppelin’sMoby DickClive Bunker did for Jethro Tull here and he really was a superb drummer and no way would this album be as tight as it was without him either. Like I mentioned earlier he was by far this bands best ever drummer.

Besides Bunker’s drum solo the piece has a touch of the east to it which most likely inspired the title of which “Dharma” is an Indian word meaning “the way, the path or the truth”. Anderson also plays Claghorn on the piece besides his flute and this was actually something he knocked up himself by attaching a sax mouthpiece to a bamboo flute and  a plastic toy trumpet he brought from Woolworths to which he cut the bell end off and attached it to the end.

It was Jeffrey Hammond who dubbed it the Claghorn when he seen Anderson with it on stage at the Marquee Club. “Dharma For One” is another excellent track on the album and this one got dragged out a lot at their early live shows and could go on as long as 20 minutes in some cases.

Track 7. It’s Breaking Me Up.

Another standard blues song and once again this is penned by Anderson though this is perhaps familiar with many blues songs and even “Baby What You Want To Me Do” written by Jimmy Reed way back in 1959 springs to mind here. Anderson is back on he old Gob Iron for this one and once again both he and Abrahams take on the vocal duties. Speaking of the vocals this is one they both struggled with to sing live and could not get it quite in unison with one another to how they done it here in the studio. It’s another fine song and a GREAT! track.

Track 8. Cat’s Squirrel.

Another instrumental track and this one was traditionally arranged by Abrahams and one of the pieces he brought with him when he joined the band. Abrahams was inspired to play piece after hearing Eric Clapton play with it with Cream and it was not really a piece Anderson wanted to play or have on the album either. But has it was another party piece for Abrahams he let it go and decided to include it on the album. I think another reason why it was included on the album was because it also went down well with their fans, so Anderson thought maybe it would be a good idea to record it and let them have something in return for supporting them.

I can perhaps see why Anderson never wanted it to be included because effectively it’s perhaps something more like a jam more than anything else though it’s not a bad track and to be honest you can hear the same sort of thing on The Groundhogs 2nd album Blues Obituary that came out just over a year later.

Track 9. A Song For Jeffrey.

The only single release from the album and it actually got released twice on a single. The first being here in the UK on the 13th September 1968 to which it was the A-Side. Then it got released in the US in February 1969 as the B of “Love Story“. It’s also been released on many compilation and live albums and is perhaps the most featured song that the band play live from this album. To be honest I have no idea what Anderson is singing the song through, but it’s very hard to catch what he is singing and almost like he shut himself in a cupboard whilst singing it :)))))).

But the music carries the song well enough and it’s quite a mixture of psychedelic blues, jazz and folk. His flute and harmonica work very well in the song too. and because the song does step away from the blues Anderson was quite surprised how well Abrahams worked his way through it on the guitar. “A Song For Jeffrey” is another really GREAT! song and is considered as one of the albums highlights by many too.

10. Round.

The final track is a very short instrumental piece that is credited to the band. It’s all of a minute long and the 4.1 mix on the DVD does go round the speakers too :))))). Anderson recalls that they wanted another song to complete the album and were stuck for original material, and he did not really want to play another blues cover.

Terry Ellis came up with the idea of playing a round as in the case of the French nursery rhyme and in the song “Frère Jacques” more generally known in English as “Brother John“. So Anderson came up with a simple idea on the piano and the rest of the band played in a round around him, hence the title we have here too. It ROUNDS up the album very well indeed, although with it being only a minute long. You would perhaps be wise to avoid putting your money in a Jukebox to play it :))))).

Summary…

To sum up the 50th Anniversary DVD Book Edition of This Was by Jethro Tull. There can be no doubt that your are getting another quality well made package for the money. Even at it’s retail price of £35 its well worthy of its price point. The 98 page book alone makes an excellent read and contains a lot of insight into the bands early history of their career from the bands members including their management. It also contains a 12 page in depth feature entitled “A View Frome The Clouds“. As told by Billy Ritchie the founder member of the Scottish band 1-2-3 who’s name got changed by the Ellis-Wright Agency to the Clouds. Plus much more than I have focused on in my review here.

Regarding the 4 discs there is no doubt that the bonus material is bountiful and much of it is the same thing, especially on the 3rd CD where you get the complete album twice over in stereo and mono. But there was not a lot of bonus material back then. But the real bonus regarding the CD’s is really on the 1st CD with the new mixes by Steven Wilson and these truly do not disappoint and I have to say they are BRILLIANT!. So too are the surround mixes on the DVD.

This Was was indeed the only album to feature the guitarist Mick Abrahams whose love of the blues was his reason for leaving to go on and form Blodwyn Pig. His personal love of the blues was the conflict between him and Ian Anderson which forced him to leave after the album was made. Back in 1968 the blues was still pretty much the IN-Thing and with a skilful blues guitarist like Abrahams his guitar playing was the motivation that reflected the blues on this particular album. There is no doubt that even Anderson himself wrote some the tracks on this album to cater for his blues playing, even if he did not want to go in that particular direction himself.

Ian Anderson seen the blues has something that had already been done by countless artists over the years, what he wanted was to create something new and step away from the same old thing. His vision to incorporate and fuse jazz, folk and classical styles into the blues can even be heard on this album, and some of the tracks on this album very much reflect the direction he wanted to go in at the time, and how the next album Stand Up turned out as well as it did. Some of the tracks on this album are even worthy of being put on Stand Up too.

The album This Was is not an album one can simply write off. I also could not say that “This Was Jethro Tull” and see the next album as being “This Is Jethro Tull“. Simply because some of the material is written in the same vein and its not marginally that different. My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Beggar’s Farm“. “Serenade To A Cuckoo“. “Dharma For One” and “A Song For Jeffrey“.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of this splendid quality package. It’s very much a package that presents the bands debut album with the respect it well and truly deserves. This 4 piece line up of Jethro Tull could certainly play the blues and do it in style. Regarding the blues side of things on this album it’s up there with the best, and it’s still very much an album that also blends in jazz, folk and classical styles that presents you with something that was new and fresh at the time, to which also went on to make the bands next album Stand Up so well.

This Was now stands up even more so with a new lease of life having Steven Wilson at the helm with his new mixes, and I can honestly say that he has totally breathed new life into these recordings, and this album has never sounded as good as it does now. They really make you want to play the album over and over again and they outstrip the original recordings. You simply cannot go wrong with this package, and according what I have read in the book you get inside it. Wilson’s new mixes of the album will also be released on vinyl later on.

To be honest I have never seen Jethro Tull’s debut album This Was as a mediocre album, and for me personally I could not fault any album the band released from this album back in 1968 up to their Heavy Horses album in 1978. I have also always regarded this album being much better than their 1979 album Stormwatch which to me was really the first crack I ever seen in Ian Anderson’s writing and was where it started to go downhill a bit more. No doubt Jethro Tull did go on to make another couple of GREAT! albums after that 1979 album and they have always been up there as one of my personal favourite bands of all time. But my Golden Era of the band has always been the first 10 years of their career from 1968 – 1978.

Even though Jethro Tull were not quite ready to take on America at this stage it would not be long before they did, and the Americans even took notice of their debut album when it was released in the following year. Although the band never played at Woodstock in 1969 both “Beggar’s Farm” and a “Serenade To A Cuckoo” can be heard blasting out of the PA System in the Documentary film of the festival.

As many will know Tony Iommi joined the band for a short stint after Abrahams departure and made an appearance with Jethro Tull on The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus TV show. Though it was not the band for him and not long after he went on to form Black Sabbath and Martin Barre winded up as the guitarist and enjoyed a 43 year career with the band. Jethro Tull effectively as always been Ian Anderson’s band and that’s how it still operates today.

Someday Soon’s Gonna Find You Way Down On Beggar’s Farm

The CD track listing is as follows:

Disc 1. (Steve Wilson Mixes)

01. My Sunday Feeling. 3:42.
02. Some Day The Sun Won’t Shine For You. 2:49.
03. Beggar’s Farm. 4:22.
04. Move On Alone. 1:59.
05. Serenade To A Cuckoo. 6:08.
06. Dharma For One. 4:14.
07. It’s Breaking Me Up. 5:03.
08. Cat’s Squirrel. 5:42.
09. A Song For Jeffrey. 3:21.
10. Round. 0:57.
11. Love Story. 3:03.
12. A Christmas Song. 3:08.
13. Serenade To A Cuckoo (Take 1). 5:46.
14. Some Day The Sun Won’t Shine For You (Faster Version). 2:36.
15. Move On Alone (Flute Version). 2:00.
16. Ultimate Confusion. 2:55.

Disc 2. (Associated – Live & Original Recordings)

01. So Much Trouble (BBC Sessions). 3:19.
02. My Sunday Feeling (BBC Sessions). 3:49.
03. Serenade To A Cuckoo (BBC Sessions). 3:37.
04. Cat’s Squirrel (BBC Sessions). 4:38.
05. A Song For Jeffrey (BBC Sessions). 3:13.
06. Love Story (BBC Sessions). 3:04.
07. Stormy Monday (BBC Sessions). 4:09.
08. Beggar’s Farm (BBC Sessions). 3:22.
09. Dharma For One (BBC Sessions). 3:46.
10. A Song For Jeffrey (Original Mono Mix). 3:22.
11. One For John Gee (Original Mono Mix). 2:07.
12. Someday The Sun Won’t Shine For You (Faster Version) (Mono Mix). 2:36.
13. Love Story (Original Mono Mix). 3:05.
14. A Christmas Song (Original Mono Mix). 3:06.
15. Sunshine Day (Original Mono Mix). 2:22.
16. Aeroplane (Original Mono Mix). 2:25.
17. Blues For The 18th (Original Mono Mix). 2:53.
18. Love Story (1969 US Promo Single Stereo Mix for FM Radio Airplay). 3:02.
19. US FM Radio Spot #1. 0:52.
20. US FM Radio Spot #2. 0:56.

Disc 3. (Original Album Mixes)

01. My Sunday Feeling (Original Stereo Mix). 3:41.
02. Some Day The Sun Won’t Shine For You (Original Stereo Mix). 2:47.
03. Beggar’s Farm (Original Stereo Mix). 4:21.
04. Move On Alone (Original Stereo Mix). 1:59.
05. Serenade To A Cuckoo (Original Stereo Mix). 6:08.
06. Dharma For One (Original Stereo Mix). 4:13.
07. It’s Breaking Me Up (Original Stereo Mix). 5:01.
08. Cat’s Squirrel (Original Stereo Mix). 5:39.
09. A Song For Jeffrey (Original Stereo Mix). 3:22.
10. Round (Original Stereo Mix). 1:00.
11. My Sunday Feeling (2008 Remastered Version – Mono). 3:43.
12. Some Day The Sun Won’t Shine For You (2008 Remastered Version – Mono). 2:49.
13. Beggar’s Farm (2008 Remastered Version – Mono). 4:23.
14. Move On Alone (2008 Remastered Version – Mono). 2:00.
15. Serenade To A Cuckoo (2008 Remastered Version – Mono). 6:07.
16. Dharma For One (2008 Remastered Version – Mono). 4:13.
17. It’s Breaking Me Up (2008 Remastered Version – Mono). 5:01.
18. Cat’s Squirrel (2008 Remastered Version – Mono). 5:40.
19. A Song For Jeffrey (2008 Remastered Version – Mono). 3:26.
20. Round (2008 Remastered Version – Mono). 0:59.

Lee’s overall Complete Package Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 10/10

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10

The Bonus Material Rating Score. 7/10

The 4.1 Mix Rating Score. 10/10

The Original Album Rating Score. 7/10

Lee Speaks About Music… #110

Into The Electric Castle (20th Anniversary Earbook Edition) – Ayreon

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Introduction…

Into The Electric Castle by Ayreon was the very album that introduced me to world of Arjen Anthony Lucassen and his project of Ayreon back in 1998 when the double album was originally released. To be honest I cannot remember which magazine drew my attention to Arjen and his project at the time, but it would of been some HiFi or Electronic mag like Sound On Sound. But whatever mag it was I know that it had an headline stating something along the lines that almost every artist wanted to jump on his bandwagon so to speak and play for him.

I have to admit at the time I felt it rather strange, especially for a guy who came from Holland who I had never heard a dickie bird about before :))))). But the headline was enough to catch my interest and read all about it. To be honest when I started to read the list of artists who was playing for him on the album there was only three artists I knew on it. Two of them were keyboard players Thijs Van Leer of Focus and Ton Scherpenzeel who I had only known via the band Camel.

But it was the ex singer from Marillion, Fish who I was more of a fan of at the time, that led me to the album in the first place and also enticed me to actually buy it. Having heard the album I have to admit I was quite blown away by it, that much that Arjen got himself a new fan and I have very much followed his Ayreon project ever since.

Now it’s 20 years later and I am buying it again, only this time it’s costing me more or less 3 times the amount of money for it. So what’s the big attraction this time around? And is it really worth it?. Well you can find that out in my review here, but first up let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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Well with any package that comes like this you are no doubt looking at genuine real quality. It’s very much the size of a 12 inch vinyl album and the fact that the artwork is printed onto an hardback book makes it even more superior quality than a vinyl album. However for a person like myself who no longer collects vinyl, this type of package as GRAND! as it looks, does present me with a problem of storing it. That is why I personally prefer the Book Editions like the way Ian Anderson is presenting the Anniversary Editions of his back catalogue of Jethro Tull. They are the same size of a DVD and are easy enough to store, and like CD’s they do not take up that much space.

This is now the third package I have brought this size and because my storage units do not have enough depth. The only way I can fit them into my units is by displaying them by the width, and just one of these things is gonna take up a space that you can fit 50 – 60 CD’s in. So not only are these things pricey, but they cost you a lot more to store as well. But no doubt they do make a very attractive eye-catching package. And just to show you how appealing it is and how much I like it. I have perhaps gone a bit over the top with the video presentation here, to show you just how GRAND! it looks :)))))).

As you can gather by the video the discs very well slot into place and it comes with a very informative 38 page book. Which is actually that informative that it actually goes into a lot of the production side of things too, besides having all the usual lyrics, credits and linear production notes. It also comes with a lot of stunning artwork and photos too.

Artwork.

The artwork for the album cover was done by Jef Bertels and even though Bertels went on to do the artwork for Ayreon ever since, this was the very first work he had done for Arjen and it was Arjen’s brother Gjalt who found the right artist to do the job for him. The original painting is still very much hanging on his wall along with a few others Bertels as painted over the years.

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He even provided Arjen with all the extra artwork for this Earbook Edition too, and it’s very well apt and looks GREAT!. All the linear and production notes was done by Arjen himself and the design and layout for this 2018 release was done by Roy Koch at mascot label Group.

Into The Electric Castle 20th Anniversary Editions…

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The new 20th Anniversary Editions of Into The Electric Castle was released in 4 formats and I have to say it’s a bit strange the way Arjen’s gone about these releases. For example the cheapest option is the Digital Download route which is currently £10.99 on Amazon. The downloads you get are also the new remixes of the album and not the original mixes from 1998. But it is the new mixes that Arjen himself has remixed is really the selling point and enticing factor about this release, although this may not be the sort of thing for most purists.

The cheapest of the physical formats is the Vinyl release to which you get 3 LP’s on black vinyl for 28 Euro. Now for some reason the recordings on this release are not the new mixes, and are the original 1998 mixes. I am not sure of the reasoning behind this especially as 1998 mixes was released on vinyl for the first time back in 2011 on 3 LP’s. Though it maybe because it was released as a limited edition back then and it’s no longer available. But even so, it’s hardly a limited edition now with this new release :)))))). But you do also get a download card so you can download the new remixes for free.

I also find it very strange because the new thing that the 20th Anniversary Editions tend to be focusing on are the new mixes, so why was they not included on the vinyl release. The other thing that is also very odd and strange is the fact that the new mixes were not released on CD apart from the next package up, and to get your hands on a Double CD with the new mixes on you are going to have to shell out a lot more money for it. But you do get more besides a Double CD in the package.

But the fact that not everyone is not made out of money to afford such a package. I rather think that Arjen is not really playing the ball game here with his fans, and he should of at least of put out a Double CD package of the new mixes at a more respective price for those who could not afford all the bells and whistles so to speak. A CD/DVD package would not of gone a miss either, especially for 5.1 surround freaks like myself, and I have to say I hate it when artists get greedy by putting such things in more expensive packages only, enticing you to pay more money for them to get your hands on the thing you want.

The Earbook Edition is the next package up and is priced at 50 Euro. Around £44 here in the UK and this is the edition I opted to go with in the end. This edition comes with 4 CD’s plus 1 DVD with the 5.1 mix of the album. It also comes with the discs in a hardback book making it a very nice well presented package. I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon on the 28th August simply because I knew I would get it cheaper and I got it for £37. 65. But if you ordered it directly from the Mascot Label Group it would come signed by Arjen himself. But I would of ended up paying £50 or more for it with postage & packaging added to the price, and the price of ink is not worth that much more I am afraid :))))))).

The Limited Box Set is the most expensive package priced at 100 Euro. It’s a one off pressing and only 1,500 have been pressed. The box set comes with the same items you get in both the Earbook plus the Vinyl Edition. Only the you do get Gold Coloured Vinyl instead of the normal black. It also comes with a 3D Sculpture that has been framed of the Electric Castle plus a download card so you can download the album for free.

Regardless of this perhaps not being the sort of release for purists or not, it did not take long for all the physical releases to sell out. The 1,500 box sets sold within a week and the Earbook and Vinyl Album to which I am sure they made either 3,500 or 5,000 of each at first have also all sold out, though these are not limited editions and more will eventually surface again once they have made more.

Into The Electric Castle (Earbook Edition) Review…

The 20th Anniversary Earbook Edition of Into The Electric Castle by Ayreon was released on the 26th October 2018. Like I mentioned earlier this release is not really for purists and everything that you have in this package is all about the new mixes. Some may even see a release such as this as the artist trying to milk more money out of their fans, and no doubt the way a package like this has been so very well presented, it will attract the attention for them to buy it.

My real incentive for purchasing this package was for the 5.1 mix on the DVD and not the CD’s. To be honest if Arjen had of released the 5.1 mix either on a DVD on it’s own or along with 2 CD’s like most artists do for around £20. I may well of still brought this Earbook Edition because this is my favourite Ayreon album and the package is without a doubt worth the price I paid for it from Amazon. But packages like this do present me with a problem of storing them, and eventually I will have to spend even more money on buying other storage units to do such a thing. So let’s take a closer look at what get here in the package.

CD’s 1 & 2.

The first two CD’s contain the newly mixed version of the double album and as with all new remixes there is bound to be something different with how they sound and compare to the original mix. Over the past decade or more I have brought many of these type of new releases from artists and the difference you do get is a lot more than you would get with a remaster, and any remaster is not really going to be a major improvement in the first place, and is nothing more than an enhancement of the original stereo recordings.

Doing a complete new remix can no doubt make a difference. To be honest some of the new remixes from my personal experience sound better than the original recordings. There are a ton of new production tools that have came out over the years and no doubt technology as come on in leaps and bounds even over the past 20 years. Having gone back into the original recording of the tracks, Arjen did also find some parts he left out of the original mix, and felt he could use them in the new mix like he explains in this video of the trailer he made for this new release.

Both the CD’s come with the same playing time of the original 1998 double album so the new mixes and the parts he left out originally do not really add any extra length to the tracks. The 1st CD comes with 7 tracks and has an overall playing time of 47 minutes, 24 seconds. The 2nd CD contains 10 tracks spanned over and overall playing time of 57 minutes 13 seconds.

CD’s 3 & 4.

Both discs 3 & 4 contain the instrumental new mixes of the album and effectively these type of bonus discs are only included to make you look like you are getting something extra for your money. This is something a lot of artists and record companies do these days to entice you to buy these type of packages. I suppose they come in handy if you want to do a bit of karaoke and give yourself a sore throat trying to sing to them LOL…

But apart from that they are perhaps not going to get played that much I would of thought, and these type of bonus features do not really give you something more like a song they may have been recorded at the time the album was made and left off the album for example. Some instrumental versions can sound interesting and I actually listened to both of these discs whilst writing out my review here. They come in handy for multitasking purposes and are quite soothing for doing such a thing and do not distract your attention as much.

The DVD.

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The DVD’s main menu is simple enough to navigate your way around and by default its set at the first of the 4 options to choose from. The latter 2 options are for the bonus material and the one thing you do not get is an “Audio” option. That’s basically because the DVD only comes with one soundtrack which is the 5.1 mix, and not even a stereo soundtrack as been included for the main feature.

So for those who do not have a 5.1 system, this DVD will be pretty much useless to them. It will however play in stereo, but no doubt you will be missing quite a few things from the mix :))))))). By clicking on the “Play All” option it will simply play the album.

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The “Select Track” will take you to the following screen as seen in the picture above, and here you can select a specific track to play if you wish. This feature comes in handy if you just want to listen to a certain track or play it to a friend.

The DVD Bonus Features.

The two bonus features “Vocalists” and “Cover & Instrumentalists” only come with a stereo soundtrack. These are also the same videos that were released on the 2004 Special Edition of Into The Electric Castle and you get to see Arjen giving you a bit of background information about the singers and instrumentalists on the album.

To be honest I never brought this release and had never seen the videos before. But back in those days and even earlier you would quite often get some video footage on special editions such as these type of VCD’s that you had to put in your computer to be able to see them. Some were even the official videos of the songs they made rather than little documentaries like we have here. Though they was never really great quality, and nothing as been done to enhance the ones you get here either and they look very small on this DVD too and would look much better on Youtube in reality. No doubt these videos will most likely be still on Youtube floating around somewhere.

The first of them “Vocalists” is the longer of the two and is around 17:45 minutes and shows you Arjen talking about how he got in touch with the singers, and plays some of their vocal parts unaccompanied. It’s quite interesting because back then we never had the internet so you had to go about getting in touch with people by other means which was a lot harder to do. Some of the vocalists came to Arjen’s home so he could record them, and for others he had to go to their homes or studios to record them.

The second video “Cover & Instrumentalists” runs for less than 8 minutes and here you get to see Arjen talking about the painting Jef Bertels done for the albums artwork and how the album was recorded on 7 DAT machines which presented a lot of synchronising problems back in those days in comparison to the conventional DAWS we have these days. Plus he talks about some of the musicians that featured on the album and plays a bit of their parts unaccompanied too.

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The picture you see above is what displays on your TV whilst playing the album on the DVD. To be honest no real serious thought has been applied here and so much more could of been done. Such as putting in more pictures to work in the way of a slide show for example. It’s quite disappointing that nothing else has been done here, and it does not even display the title of the track your playing either.

Even if they made the picture glow or move would a been a damn site better than having a still picture displaying on your TV throughout the duration of the album, and I would advise anybody to turn their TV off whilst playing the album as well. Unless you want to burn out the pixels on your nice TV or the backlight on LED displays. No doubt the DVD side of things has been rushed and they had sloppy people with no brains working on it. They are nothing more than a bunch of mindless jerks who’ll be the first against the wall when the revolution comes :)))))))).

The 5.1 Mix.

Well on my last review of Ayreon’s Universe I did mention how Arjen was improving on his 5.1 mixes and no doubt once again he has improved on this release too. To be perfectly honest I am quite surprised how well he has done here considering he still does not know what DTS and 96K or even 24 bits is yet :)))))) and once again he’s used the box standard Dolby Digital audio format to do the 5.1 mix we have here which is in 16 bit 48K.

No doubt Arjen still has a great deal to learn regarding mixing 5.1 to even get up to Steven Wilson’s standards never mind somebody like Chuck Ainsley’s expertise. But I will give him a big pat on the back here because he has done a very good job on this mix, and I am quite impressed just how well he has done with this mix and how well he has utilised the 6 channels with the placement too, and I like this one enough to even give it 8 out of 10 too.

Though it would of been great if he also included a 5.1 mix of the original 1998 mix as well, simply because with a new mix like this you are not really going to hear how much clarity and dynamics the 5.1 mix brought out with all the new things he has thrown into the pot here.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced by Arjen Anthony Lucassen. All songs written and composed by Arjen Anthony Lucassen except for the lyrics on tracks 2,5 & 6 of disc 1 written by Fish. Lyrics for track 1 disc 1 & track 9 disc 2 plus all narration written by Peter Daltrey. Lyrics for track 3 disc 1 written by Jay van Feggelen. Melody line on track 6 disc 1 written by Anneke van Giersbergen. Stereo & 5.1 mix by Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Mastered by Brett Caldas-Lima at Tower Studio. Artwork by Jef Bertels. Design/Layout by Roy Koch.

Vocalists & Characters

Fish: (The Highlander)
Sharon Den Adel: (The Indian)
Damian Wilson: (The Knight)
Edwin Balogh: (The Roman)
Anneke Van Giersbergen: (The Egyptian)
Jay Van Feggelen: (The Barbarian)
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: (The Hippie)
Edward Reekers: (The Futureman)
Peter Daltrey: (The Voice)
Robert Westerholt & George Oosthoek: (As Death)

Instrumentalists

Arjen Anthony Lucassen: All Electric & Acoustic Guitars/Mandolin/Bass/Minimoog/Mellotron & Keyboards.
ED Warby: All Drums.
Roland Bakker: All Hammonds.
Robby Valentine: All Pianos – Synths Solos (Disc 1 Track 2A. Track 3A. Disc 2. Track 4)Mellotron (Disc 2 Track 6A)
Rene Merkelbach: Synth Solos (Disc 1 Track 5. Disc 2 Track 7) – Harpsichord (Disc 2 Track 2)
Clive Nolan: Synth Solos (Disc 1 Track 3C)
Ton Scherpenzell: Synth Solos (Disc 2 Track 5C)
Thijs Van Leer: Flute (Disc 1 Track 3C. Track 4. Disc 2 Tracks 2 & 3)
Erno Olah: Violins.
Taco Kooistra: Cello.
Jack Pisters: Sitar.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Into The Electric Castle is very much a Space Opera or you could say Rock Opera with the artists Arjen roped in to pull it all off. It came off the back of his 2nd album Actual Fantasy which was not so well received at the time, so he more or less ploughed everything he had into his 3rd album and it was a very costly album to make, and quite a gamble he took on which could of left him broke if it never succeeded. No doubt with all the singers and musicians he hired he most likely took a leaf out of Jeff Wayne’s book with how he in particular went about making War Of The Worlds.

The first time I ever heard Into The Electric Castle I actually thought it was the nearest thing I had heard to Jeff Wayne’s classic even if both musically and story wise they are poles apart. Both albums have the dramatics without a doubt, but for me personally they both work very well in different ways. For example the story behind Into The Electric Castle does not quite contain the suspense of the HG Wells classic War Of The Worlds.

To be honest the story behind Into The Electric Castle does not grab me like War Of The Worlds at all, and if anything its perhaps a bit more like something from Dungeons and Dragons or that TV Series the Crystal Maze which are both things that I felt was boring and did not attract my interest at all. I suppose in some way it could also be seen as something like the horror film the Haunted House. Only set in another dimension in space with a load of different characters that came from another time out of something like the Twilight Zone :)))).

I would even say that the story behind Into The Electric Castle is more or less set in one location and does not really go anywhere else like War Of The Worlds does. This is where the story lacks that bit more excitement for my liking. Not being that much of a film buff myself, I suppose the best way I could describe it is that its a bit like watching the couple of hospital dramas they have on the TV here in England Holby City and Casualty. Holby City I find boring because its set inside the hospital and goes nowhere else, where at least with Casualty you get to see a lot more outside the hospital, and even see how they got their injuries in the first place, rather than just arrive in hospital which has you thinking WTF happened to him :)))).

Story wise Into The Electric Castle is a long shot off the better stories that were written for the Ayreon albums The Human Equation and The Theory of Everything which to me do have the suspense plus more substance to them and are more interesting for my liking. It’s also easy to follow those stories just like War Of The Worlds and those type of stories will contain more of my interest to get more into them. But there can also be a downfall to having a good story that is easy to follow and get into, in relation to having a story that is far more harder or even bizarre to comprehend.

For example I could quite easily say that Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds is the best concept album that was ever made. But as with most stories that are easy enough to understand and follow, just how long can you go on listening to the same story all the time before it starts to wear off. I am not saying that I can no longer listen to that album, but its not the type of concept album I would get out that often and could play over and over like The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway by Genesis and Thick As A Brick by Jethro Tull for example.

I mean what’s so good about some Schizo off his head in New York and a whimsical spoof? In reality everything about the story lines behind both of these albums are quite bizarre and practically incomprehensible. Yet to me they are both the GREATEST! concept albums ever made. So just what makes them work so well and stand out? The very thing that makes Into The Electric Castle stand out, and that is the music and the way the vocals are put across and expressed. That is why this Ayreon album as always been my favourite.

Arjen no doubt picked a fine cast of singers and musicians Just like Jeff Wayne did for  War Of The Worlds and both albums work extremely well for it. So now let’s take a look at just what Arjen as done by remixing the album and find out if it was worth doing as I take you through the albums 17 tracks.

Disc 1.

Track 1. Welcome To The New Dimension (2018 Mix)

From the moment the album kicks off with it’s opening track you will instantly notice the difference with the new mix. The explosion has much more ambience in it creating a lot more of a spacious sound. Even the violin played by Erno Olah and the synth have either been moved around in the mix or the levels have been brought up to make them stand out more. He also added in a Solina String Ensemble from the Lexicon 300 at the end, which was left out of the original mix. Personally I think the new mix sounds better for the adjustments he’s made on this track.

The opening track is also the shortest track on the first disc and is very much the introduction to the story narrated by Peter Daltrey who is the voice and plays the part of the character (Forever). He welcomes the other 8 characters who have been chosen to take on the challenge and quest of Electric Castle. I told you it was a bit like the Haunted House. Crystal Maze and Dungeons and Dragons only I do not think the prize is a Million pounds :))))) and is the Grail of Salvation and you could die for just lagging behind in this game too :)))))). But it’s all quite fascinating this opening entrance scene gets BIGGED up very well indeed.

Track 2. Isis And Osiris (2018 Mix)

Things get a bit more bigged up for the first song of the album too as this is the longest track on the first disc and weighs in at 11 minutes 10 seconds. It’s here that the 8 characters are left to wonder through the maze in search of their quest for the Grail. Fish features mostly on this song and he plays the part of the (Highlander). The song itself is split into 4 parts A, B, C & D (like many of the more lengthy tracks throughout the album) and the first part A is entitled “Let The Journey Begin” and it also features vocals from Sharon  Den Adel who plays the (Indian) and sings the chorus sections and also Damian Wilson who plays the (Knight) also gets to make a small contribution at the end of the part A.

Part B “The Hall Of Isis And Osiris” features Edwin Balogh (The Roman) singing the verses and  Anneke Van Giersbergen: (The Egyptian) on the chorus section, and Fish rounds off parts C & D by himself. As you can gather all the characters have either paired up and split up in their search for the quest of the Grail and they all play their parts very well. Robby Valentine plays a synth solo on a Juno 6 on part A and Arjen’s guitar that plays the main theme is backed up by 6 violin parts played by Erno Olah. Jack Pisters Sitar is very well utilised on this track in particular on part B.

Isis And Osiris” is a really GREAT! track that not only has the driving force with its power chords to ROCK! but also blends in some fine acoustic guitars and mandolin to cater for its change of styles along its transitional path and also features some really GREAT! synth work too. Nothing as been added to the mix and to be honest I cannot even tell if Arjen has done anything to this track by doing a side by side comparison with the original track. But this is a long track to really notice what as been done if anything at all. It’s sounds more of remaster than a new mix.

Track 3. Amazing Flight.

The second longest track on the first disc comes in 3 parts (A, B & C) and weighs in at 10.25 minutes. Peter Daltrey as the voice of Forever returns on the intro to let them know he’s still around and warns them of danger ahead. It features the soulful voice of Jay Van Feggelen who plays the (Barbarian) singing the words to the verse sections of the song, and this guy has the soul of Tom Jones in his voice and is a really GREAT! singer. Arjen himself sings the chorus sections and he plays the part of the (Hippie) he’s not such an uncool singer himself and his voice works very well too. It’s also noticeable on this new mix he’s thrown in a bit of an orchestra on the 2nd chorus and a trumpet. These were left out of the original mix as they was samples and he wanted to use as little samples as possible. Effectively he put them in there in the first place to give it that bit more of The Beatles sound like they did with “Penny Lane“.

This song features some excellent Hammond Organ played by Roland Bakker besides all the lush guitars played by Arjen and it also features a couple of synth solos, the first of which is played in part A “Amazing Flight In Space” by Robby Valentine who also plays the piano on part C “Flying Colours“. The second solo is played by Clive Nolan on part C and its his only contribution on the album. It also features some GREAT! flute work by Thijs Van Leer in this final part of the song too, and this is first of the 4 tracks on the album he appears on. Sharon Den Adel also contributes some fine chanting on part B “Stardance“.

Unlike the previous track to which you cannot really notice a difference between the both mixes, on this track you certainly can and its not just to do with the original samples being put back in the 2nd chorus. No doubt Arjen has been doing a bit of tweaking to the overall sound of the original mix and for me personally it sounds a bit lighter and brighter. But is it any better one may ask? Well to be honest I still prefer the original mix and it has nothing to do with the samples we have in the new mix either, no doubt purists will probably not like this mix and put it down a peg or two. But its not a disaster and is still quite good and sounds even better in 5.1 which brings out a track like this even more so.

The “Amazing Flight” as always been my favourite track on the album, regardless of the new tweaks in the mix and the original additions that were left out in the first place. It still very much is my fave and merits the Top Spot Award of the album. The diversity and progression is GORGEOUS! and what else can I SAY! apart from it is AMAZING!.

Track 4. Time Beyond Time (2018 Mix)

Here (The Futureman) is brought into the story and Edward Reekers adds his fine voice to the many textures and expressionist vocalists we have on board for this journey, and here we also have the voices of Damian Wilson and Edwin Balogh adding to the equation of this fine song. “Time Beyond Time” is not only a song that simmers the album down a bit with its acoustic articulations, but it also has a really GREAT! build to it that injects a lot of power to it as well. It also contains a very well refined orchestral section to which not only brings in the violins and cellos played by Erno Olah and Taco Kooistra but Thijs Van Leer also plays some very well refined flute without him throwing his voice into the instrument as both he and Ian Anderson frequently do on occasions.

Although as far as I can tell nothing as been added to the new mix. However it has had some tweaks which perhaps gives it a nice fresh feel, but most noticeably Arjen has removed some of the synths at around the 5:05 – 5:10 section to which you will instantly notice a drop in the sound level without them being here, making it feel more empty. To be honest I cannot even see any logic in why he would want to do this, because apart from those 5 seconds I actually thought the new mix was better but taking out those synths was sacrilege :)))))) and there was no need to at all.

Track 5. The Decision Tree (We’re Alive) (2018 Mix)

Peter Daltrey is back again as the voice of Forever and a decision has to be made which one of the 8 has to die for the other 7 to continue on with their quest. The fight for survival is thought out very expressible between Fish (the Highlander) and Jay Van Feggelen (The Barbarian). It also features a tasty synth solo from Rene Merkelbach a fine bit of Hammond by Roland Bakker and this song marches and stomps its way along with ED Warby on the drums who does some pretty darn good fills at the end too.

The new mix sounds GREAT! and better than the original to my ears and although Arjen done all the vocals on the chorus (with Fish doing the counter melody vocals in answering back) he also added Damian Wilson’s voice to support to add a bit more strength to his own. To be honest it’s hard to tell if this is a new addition or was on the original, simply because with the amount of times his own voice as been tracked it sounds like it could of been any Tom, Dick or Harry :)))))).

Track 6. Tunnel Of Light (2018 Mix)

Tunnel Of Light” is the last contribution by Fish on the album and besides him 5 of the other main singers feature in the chorus section and the only two singers left out here are Arjen himself and Jay Van Feggelen. Fish has really done a terrific job and back in 1998 he still very much had all that GREAT! range in his voice too. Once again nothing as been added to the new mix, but it does have a bit of a polish and brings out all those acoustic guitars and the mandolin Arjen played on the track very well and does project them a bot more than the original mix. But both mixes are GREAT! in my book and not even a purist could really complain about the mix on this track.

Track 7. Across The Rainbow Bridge (2018 Mix)

The final track on the first disc is another very powerful song and one of the stand out tracks just like the 3rd track on the first disc “Amazing Flight“. Only this is like a bit of cross between Led Zeppelin and Rainbow and a bit more. The two singers we have here very much sound like the singers from those bands on this track too, and Damian Wilson does quite a very good Robert Plant whilst Edwin Balogh does the same justice to Ronnie James Dio as well.

Even the Narrator Peter Daltrey has more of a singing role towards the end and it sounds like he’s making announcements in a railway station :)))) and Arjen does his GREAT! part on the vocals on his own Hippie chorus :)))))). The song purely ROCKS! even with this new mix too which once again has no additives apart from a bit of a polish. The rainbow bridge will effectively wipe away their past and their future lies beyond it, and they have to cross it to be able to enter into the electric castle to continue their goal.

Disc 2.

Track 1. The Garden Of Emotions (2018 Mix)

All 7 survivors have made it across the rainbow bridge and are now “In The Garden Of Emotions” which is part A of the longest track on the 2nd disc and comes in 3 parts. Peter Daltrey does his bit with narration and both Arjen and Anneke Van Giersbergen take on the vocal duties in this first part which has quite a BIGGED UP James Bond-ISH sort of theme that reappears throughout the suite in parts. We also get some radio like sounding guitar with tremolo applied to it that gives it perhaps more of a Beatles-ESC sound which works very well with Arjen’s voice.

Part B “Voices In The Sky” is the more powerful section and things are getting heated up again with Jay Van Feggelen the (Barbarian) questioning the decision of Edwin Balogh (The Roman) who has decided to take up the leadership. Sharon Den Adel (The Indian) also features in this part in between the heated argument and we get some heavy guitars and powerful drums from ED Warby to beef and ROCK it up. Roland Bakker‘s hammond and Arjen’s GREAT! synth work does a tasty job to take it into Part C “The Aggression Factor” which features Sharon Den Adel, Edward Reekers and Damian Wilson on vocals and the final words are put over by Anneke Van Giersbergen.

As far as I can make out there are no new additions or as anything been omitted from the new mix, and once again because of it’s length it’s pretty much hard to hear if anything has been done on this track with the both mixes. If anything its perhaps had a bit of a polish and nothing more.

Track 2. Valley Of The Queens (2018 Mix)

Perhaps the most notable ballad track of the album that features solely the voice of Anneke Van Giersbergen. The notable difference with the new mix is that Arjen originally had 2 guitars and cellos on it, and he’s omitted a guitar and cello to make it sound more intimate and took some of the reverb down too. I think it works very well for it as well and was glad he never decided to remove Rene Merkelbach’s harpsichord and Thijs Van Leer’s flute. “Valley Of The Queens” is a GORGEOUS! song that has a GREAT! medieval folky feel about it.

Track 3. The Castle Hall (2018 Mix)

This is the point where they have finally entered into the castle and it’s hall is full of the ghostly spirits of the past that fish for men and the Barbarian and the Knight call out for their heroes of the past such as the Knights Of The Round Table. Vocal duties are taken on by Jay Van Feggelen and Damian Wilson respectively. It also features Robert Westerholt & George Oosthoek doing some frightening death growls mixed in the with the spooky FX on the intro whilst Peter Daltrey does his bit as the narrator.

The song is mainly driven by the drums and the lowered bass notes of the mini moog besides the acoustic guitars and it also features Thijs Van Leer’s last contribution to the album with his flute. The new mix if anything sounds a bit cleaner and as a bit more width to it which works very well on the intro. But overall there is not a big enough difference for the new mix to sound any better than the original mix, and for those who prefer that extra bit of bass from the moog, the original mix is the one for you.

Track 4. Tower Of Hope (2018 Mix)

Both Arjen and Edward Reekers take on the vocals separately and in unison together for this song. Musically its got quite a sprightly start with the synths and the Juno 60 playing the bagpipes and goes into a more powerful rocked up section with the heavy guitars and drums. It also contains a nice little jazzy section in the break too which has some nice little interplay between Arjen on the guitar and Robby Valentine on the synth. On this new mix Arjen also included a couple of violin fills played by Erno Olah that got left out of the original mix.

Track 5. Cosmic Fusion (2018 Mix)

Cosmic Fusion” is the 2nd longest last track on the 2nd disc and is split into 3 parts. Part A “Soar On The Breeze” is mainly sung by Sharon Den Adel apart from a couple of lines at the end of this first part which are sung by Edward Reekers and Edwin Balogh. Part B “Death’s Grunt” features both Robert Westerholt & George Oosthoek who play the part of (Death) and here they are doing their death metal grunts well enough to make even Sharon Den Adel scream :)))))) and this is hers and their last contributions to the album as once again death as claimed another soul.

Part C “The Passing Of An Eagle” is an instrumental piece that features Ton Scherpenzell’s only contribution to the album with his synth solo. It also features some really GREAT! lead work on the guitar from Arjen and Erno Olah on the violin and is my favourite part of this track. Arjen even adds a touch of James Bond with his twangy Strat and sounds like Duane Eddy on his day off :))))))) but I quite like it too. The new mix has a bit of brighter edge to it, but there is not a lot of real difference here at all and both mixes sound GREAT!.

Track 6. The Mirror Maze (2018 Mix)

This is my personal favourite track on the 2nd disc and even though I was never really a fan of The Beatles this song certainly has that Beatles feel about it with it’s lovely piano melody and strings on the mellotron played by Robby Valentine. Even Arjen’s voice has that John Lennon presence about it. This song also comes in two parts and Part A “Inside The Mirror Maze” also features Edward Reekers on vocals as well as Arjen and its got some gorgeous transitions with how it all builds up over its two parts. Even the the change to the acoustic guitar in this first section works beautifully with Reekers voice and its like a cross between The Beatles and The Moody Blues sort of thing. There are some lovely lead guitar touches from Arjen too.

Part B “Through The Mirror” even has a bit of Pink Floyd feel about it when Roland Bakker‘s hammond brings in the second part and both Edwin Balogh and Damian Wilson take over the vocal duties on it and it rocks it’s away along a bit more wonderfully. For the new mix Arjen used the original horny sound he played on the Oberheim during the slide solo, to which he had left out for the hammond that’s on the original mix.

Track 7. Evil Devolution (2018 Mix)

This is quite an heavy synth based song that features  Edward Reekers solely on vocals and also has a powerful guitar and synth section in the middle and a flying very long synth solo from Rene Merkelbach which is his last contribution to the album. Nothing as been added or deducted on the new mix and when comparing the both mixes it’s hard to distinguish any difference at all between them, and nothing new may not have been done at all. If it has it’s more of a remaster than any remix.

Arjen created the bubbling FX noise by blowing through a vacuum pipe into a bowl of water which is on the intro during the short narration to which sounds like Peter Daltrey delivered his voice whilst he was in the hot the tub :)))))).

Track 8. The Two Gates (2018 Mix)

At this point in the story another decision has to me made in choosing the right gate. One will take you to your destiny whilst the other is oblivion. Jay Van Feggelen and Edwin Balogh take on the main vocal duties and Arjen is also in the chorus section. For this new mix Arjen brought up the levels of Jays backing vocals that comes into play after Arjen’s bit of Brian May sounding guitar. Roland Bakker’s hammond is back for this song too and it’s another GREAT! song.

Track 9. “Forever” Of The Stars (2018 Mix)

This is where everything about the story unfolds as Peter Daltrey the voice of “Forever” explains that he is of the stars and everything was an experiment to observe human emotions on the planet earth and the experiment is all over and everything about it will be wiped away and appear to be nothing more than a dream. This new mix does appear to have more width to it and brings it out that bit more, and works very well with all the FX and Tangerine Dream sequencing which was done on the moog and Daltrey’s voice through the vocoder makes it sound like it was one big computer that was behind the whole experiment.

Track 10. Another Time, Another Space (2018 Mix)

The albums ends off with another Beatles-ESC come stroke ELO song. It’s another one of the better songs on the 2nd disc and one you could play on its own rather than most of the tracks which were are really more done in a way to put over the story apart from the transitional change at the end that is, and perhaps the lyrics. It’s got a really GREAT! chorus too and it features Arjen, Edward Reekers, Edwin Balogh and Damian Wilson on vocals and the last words come from Peter Daltrey.

It also features Robby Valentine on piano and the watery piano at the beginning was played on the Juno 60. Erno Olah on violin and Taco Kooistra on cello. The new mix does sound like it does have a bit more space and width about if anything at all and there is not a great deal between the both and it puts and end to a really GREAT! album.

Summary…

To sum up the 20th Anniversary Earbook Edition of Ayreon’s Into The Electric Castle. The very fact that the original album was very well mixed in the first place leaves very little room for improvement, though I do feel some of the tracks do sound better with the work done here, and others may have suffered slightly for messing about with them in the first place, especially to remove things from the original mix. I do however feel that more good as been done here in making the biggest majority of the tracks sound better, but I certainly would not stick my neck out say that new mixed album is better than the original, and I will certainly be keeping my original album.

The couple of bonus CD’s you get are either here or there as to what a person sees as genuine bonus material. I doubt very much that instrumental versions of the albums tracks will get any great deal of attention in relation to unreleased bonus material, and for what good the instrumental tracks will give you, he may as well of just stuck the original 1998 mix of the album on them. Speaking of the original 1998 mix. That is something I felt should of definitely of been put on the DVD with a 5.1 mix, and in all honesty I would of preferred a 5.1 mix of that rather than the new mixes. But there is no reason why both the original and new mixes could been put on the DVD with 5.1 mixes when you look at how much capacity a DVD can hold.

It’s also unfortunate that the 5.1 mix on the DVD did also have a couple a glitches on one of the tracks “The Mirror Maze“. Arjen is aware of the issue and it was not his fault and was done during the authoring process of the DVD by the Mascot Label Group. To which he did get on to them and they will be replacing the DVD. To get your DVD replaced it’s just a simple case of sending an email to questions@mascotlabelgroup.com with proof of purchase (a scan, screen grab or photo of the receipt will do) and your address. Also put Ayreon DVD in the subject line of your email. I have done so myself and they will be sending me a new DVD out just as soon as the new ones have been pressed out which may take a few weeks.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of the newly mixed 20th Anniversary Earbook Edition of Into The Electric Castle. Overall I think the new mixes and the 5.1 mix are well worthy of having and the package is well worth it’s price point. The 38 page book contains a great detail of information a lot of which I never used in my review. Arjen as very well detailed the production side of the album and it tells you practically every instrument he played and all the FX he applied to all the instruments in the mix.

You get a lot here for the money and it’s a damn site cheaper than what other artists such as the Eagles will give you for double the price, and all that is in their package is a few CD’s and DVD that comes in a DigiPak that generally sells for £20 and they are charging £80 for it. Welcome To The Hotel Can’t Afford Ya is all I have to say about that rip off package :)))))) and this package is Glorified in comparison to it.

Arjen is also taking the album to the stage next year where it will be performed live from start to finish. All 4 concerts he’s putting on in his own country sold out in 4 days. I could not afford to go myself and Holland is a bit of journey for me to travel. But no doubt the concert will be filmed and another live DVD will be released afterwards and I will look forward to that. Into The Electric Castle is up there with my favourite concept albums and my personal highlights from the double album are as follows: “Amazing Flight“. “Across The Rainbow Bridge“. “The Mirror Maze“. “Isis And Osiris“. “Tunnel Of Light” and the “Valley Of The Queens“.

Hey Dude, You’re So Uncool! But Hey, That’s Alright…

The 2 CD track listing is as follows:

Disc 1.
01. Welcome To The New Dimension. 3:06.
02. Isis And Osiris. 11:10.
03. Amazing Flight. 10:15.
04. Time Beyond Time. 6:04.
05. The Decision Tree (We’re Alive). 6:23.
06. Tunnel Of Light. 4:03.
07. Across The Rainbow Bridge. 6:23.

Disc 2.
01. The Garden Of Emotions. 9:40.
02. Valley Of The Queens. 2:25.
03. The Castle Hall. 5:49.
04. Tower Of Hope. 4:53.
05. Cosmic Fusion. 7:27.
06. The Mirror Maze. 6:34.
07. Evil Devolution. 6:21.
08. The Two Gates. 6:28.
09. “Forever” Of The Stars. 2:01.
10. Another Time, Another Space. 5:25.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 10/10.

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

Lee’s 5.1 Mix Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Bonus Material Rating Score. 5/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 9/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #109

Black Riders Part 1 – HeartScore

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Introduction…

The 6th album to be released by HeartScore sees the man behind the project Dirk Radloff going in a bit of new direction. Well I say a “bit” but this is perhaps more of a totally different direction and shift from prog rock too metal. His latest album Black Riders Part 1 is certainly nothing like its predecessors, and it appears to have unleashed the BEAST! out of him. There is quite a Mighty Wrath Of War going on throughout this latest release of his which was inspired by the dark poems of the famous American 19th century author Stephen Crane.

Well no doubt Judas Priest had their “Metal Gods” and Queen had their “Lap Of The Gods” but through Crane’s inspirational words, I suppose you could say that HeartScore now has it’s “Wrath Of The Gods” and this is quite a very powerful and masterfully well crafted piece of work. The way the album flows along it even comes across is like a concept album to some degree even if it’s not, but how all the tracks have been so well placed it can give you that impression.

I suppose in a way it is a concept based on author of the words himself Stephen Crane. Although setting music to poetry is nothing new for Dirk Radloff and 4 of his 5 previous albums were all set to the poems of famous authors who are no longer with us, and have not been for more than a century in most cases.

No doubt a lot of people would never have heard of Dirk Radloff and his project of HeartScore unless you was an unknown musician like myself who got to discover him and his music on Soundcloud and various other streaming sites alike. But before I go into a bit of the man’s background and his music, let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork as usual.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The CD comes in a very slender and neat slimline Digisleeve with a pocket on the right hand side to hold the disc in place. As quite often with some DigiSleeves they do not come with a booklet just like the one here, and all the linear credit and production notes are written on the sleeve itself. Overall it’s a very neat and tidy looking presentation and the fact that its slimline, it also takes up less space to store.

The Artwork.

The artwork cover and all other drawings were done by Alexander Stanton. The artwork concept, design and layout was done by Dirk Radloff himself. I like the way the artwork drawings have been printed onto a black background, and it perhaps gives one the impression that the drawings have been drawn onto a blackboard with how they stand out so well. You get a lot more of Stanton’s artwork if you buy one of the super packages to which also comes with a 48 page Hardcover Book.

HeartScore The Project And The Man Behind It…

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Dirk Radloff is a multi-instrumentalist from Germany who received formal classical training on the violin as a child and music very much ran in his family and his father also a played the violin & cello. He studied music at an early age and learned how to read and write music on the staff. He also took up playing the guitar and in his youth spent much of it playing live in various bands even playing American surf music similar to instrumental bands such as The Shadows with a band called The Golden Tornados and I do believe he was also the singer in a rock band at one stage. But no doubt music flowed through his veins and he had also studied the art of arrangement and composition.

By the time Radloff had got into his 30’s he very much decided to work on his own studio project to which he called HeartScore. No doubt Radloff had learned all the fundamentals of music well enough and had studied very hard in composition and arrangement. He had also picked up a lot about production work and in 2003 he released his first album Sculptures under the name of his own project HeartScore. The very name of his project implies two things. The first meaning that its music written from the heart or could even be seen as Art. The second means that the music was scored onto a musical staff or piece of paper.

To be honest you have to be very clever to be able to compose music in the way that Radloff composes his own music, and he does compose or write it before he’s even played a note of it himself. If Radloff has a weakness its certainly not in his musical capabilities but rather the lyrical side of things for his songs. Which is why when he set up his own studio project he decided to set his music to the poems of well known American poets, such as the likes of Edgar Allan Poe, Langston Hughes, and Emily Dickinson for example.

Radloff’s own musical influences are quite vast and come from a wide spectrum of musical styles and genres such as classical music of the many GREAT composers such a Wagner, Liszt, Chopin, Bach you could probably name them all. Rock, Prog Rock, Jazz, Metal, and even Pop such as the likes of The Who, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Steely Dan, Yes, King CrimsonVoivod, King’s XCaptain Beefheart and so on, and a lot of those styles can reflect in his own music he writes.

I would even say that his own vocal multi part choral vocal harmonies come from his love of Queen’s music, and they still feature in his music today, despite coming off the main vocal duties himself for a few years now, and these days he very much hires an American singer by the name of Chris (Courtesy of Studiopros) to take on the main vocal duties for him. He also appeared on his last album that was released back in 2016.

But hiring or bringing in other singers and musicians into his own project, as very much been a thing from the offset since his first album Sculptures. And even on that album he had Oliver Harstack contributing some dramatic vocals on 4 of the tracks of the album. Radloff’s debut album Sculptures is a very good album by the way, and one that he himself sees more of an experiment and having a weakness to it regarding his own compositions and perhaps the production side of things. These days he tends to shun away from it. You will not even see it on his own Bandcamp site where he sells most of his music these days either.

But I myself beg to dither, and this is an album that purely rocks, and it also comes with a very good production and has also been professionally mastered too. And later on in footnote of my review here I shall be giving somebody the opportunity to win the album in my very first ever competition. But please bear in mind that the CD is not brand new, but it is as good as new and is in excellent condition.

Also my reason for giving one person the chance to win it, is because I have the album twice as you can see in the picture below. So it’s not that I am going to be starting a trend of running competitions in my reviews by any means, and I am not that wealthy enough to go out a buy a brand new copy either to give away :)))))).

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As a musician Radloff is very talented and his main instruments he plays are the violin and guitar. Apart from those instruments and his voice, much of the other instrumentation is programmed such as the drums and keyboards for example, and occasionally he will bring in the odd musician now and then to play some of those instruments and others for him.

As a composer he is also very serious about his music, and is always looking for other avenues to market and sell his music. Not in the way of becoming rich and famous, but I suppose in the way of getting his music out there a bit more for more people to recognise and take a bit more notice of it. After all there is not much point in making records and releasing them in the form of a physical product only to find out that your basement is getting cluttered up with them :))))))).

For any composer who makes music in their studio only, who does not go out and play live. Its always going to be difficult to attract any great deal of attention to your music. Like many musicians like Radloff they also have a family and a job to keep a roof over their heads and only get the chance to make music is in their spare time. Most people create music in their spare time as an hobby and even give it away for free. But if you had spent all the years studying music to be able to create it in the skilful way he does, and threw in the money it cost to produce it as well. You certainly would not want to be giving it away, that’s for sure.

Making music can be very costly, and Dirk Radloff is not the type of person who will skimp on creating his music and getting it out there either. He is not the type of person to give up on it either, despite the fact that it costs him a damn site more money to make an an album, than what he will ever get back in return. It’s perhaps understandable because there is no doubt there is a lot of skill that goes into his music, and there are not many musicians even in the mainstream world who possess this guys talent, and can write music in this way of putting the pen to the paper first, and play it afterwards.

I first stumbled upon Dirk’s music a good few years ago now on Soundcloud and it appealed to me enough to buy it. I have been a fan of his music ever since and have even collaborated with him on occasions as many other have as well. But from also being an avid listener of music and not just a creator of it myself. I can honestly say you have to be some sort of genius to be able to create music the way he does.

I am not saying the music he makes will appeal to everyone’s taste, and this recent new change in direction could even be even be seen as a way of seeing if it does grab more attention and appeals to more people. Even if he is also quite heavily into metal himself. But he also has gone about things a bit differently with his choice of physical media formats he has chosen for this new release, and no doubt he is still looking into other avenues to get his music across to people.

Black Riders Part 1 Limited Editions…

Besides the usual Digital Download of the album you can buy. Black Riders Part 1 also comes in the form of 2 other physical media packages. Both of these packages also come with the option of a Super or Deluxe Package that comes with an Hardback Book. All of these physical packages are also extremely limited and only 50 copies of each have been made and are available to purchase. No doubt that Dirk Radloff has gone to even more expense in paying to have these type of physical media formats made with the less quantities he has ordered, in relation to getting them cheaper by ordering them more so in bulk.

But I guess he was fed up of stocking them by the masses in his basement :))))))). So in the long run he may have done the sensible thing. But there is no expense spared here and they are all quality packages to suit your personal choice.

CD Package

The CD package is perhaps one of the most common of the physical media formats these days and is my personal preferred format these days (apart from a 5.1 mix on SACD/DVD or Blu Ray that is) and its also perhaps more widely available even though they have re-introduced vinyl again these days. It’s also the most durable and reliable format and does away with all your surface noise and snap, crackle and pop marks :)))))).

This next media format is something you do not see so much these days, and just like vinyl it appears to making a comeback in some places, and somebody thought it would be a good idea to try and re-introduce the Cassette back onto the market.

Cassette Package

For me personally the Cassette was a format I was glad to see the back of in reality, although no doubt it served its purpose back in its day, especially for musicians to record their song demos on. Portable Cassette players were quite convenient to do so by simply picking up your guitar and hitting the record button and recording it onto a blank tape. These days it’s just as convenient enough to do so with your mobile phone or computer.

No doubt they used to also use this format for pre-recorded albums of mainstream artists back in those days too, but back then I can honestly say that I myself never walked into any record shop and brought one brand new, and I would not either. I would always buy the vinyl record back then rather than waste my money on such an inferior audio format. I am not saying they do not sound good and its really down to if you’re not the type of person who spends a great deal of money on HiFi and are not that bothered about genuine quality and forking out that much more for it. I would even say that a lot of today’s younger generation are not really fussed about genuine quality when it comes to playing their music these days, so this will certainly appeal more to them.

But the Cassette was perhaps more prone to get damaged and the oxide on the tape did not last that long before it started to deteriorate. So it was not the most reliable of audio formats and in reality I would even rate the digital download on MP3 a more reliable product even if it’s not a physical one. But no doubt seeing the rebirth of the Cassette is perhaps more of a novelty for the younger generation these days, so I can see why Dirk has decided to include it here.

Book Packages

Both the CD and Cassette packages also come with the option of buying them in a Super or Deluxe Packages as I mentioned earlier. All of these packages also come with a free digital download of the album too. But with the Super package you also get an Hardback Book, and the only way of getting your hands on the book is by buying it in one of these packages, as its not sold separately. No doubt this package will bump up the price and the book is a separate item and it does not come with CD or Cassette fixed inside the book like most mainstream packages. So you do get two quality items for the money here.

This is the package I opted to go for myself in the end has you can see by the picture below, and to be honest I am glad I did. You can also see that I went for my preferred choice of audio format too, and this what you get with with the CD Super Package.

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To give you a better look at the book itself, I decided to post a video presentation that Dirk did himself and posted on his own Youtube channel himself awhile back. It saves me making a video to show you plus he has a lot better means than myself of making such a video too, and the music you can hear in the background is the only instrumental track on the album and is titled “Gods” and no doubt it ROCKS too.

 

To be honest the book is certainly more impressive than how it looks in this video, and here Dirk mainly flicked through the pages, so you are not really going to see how impressive all the artwork Alexander Stanton has done here, and he’s certainly done plenty of it too. Besides the really GREAT! artwork the 48 page book also comes with all the lyrics and some useful informative information about the American poet Stephen Crane whose poetry is set to the music we have here. It really is a splendid well made package and GREAT! presentation.

The Album In Review…

Black Riders Part 1 by HeartScore was released on the 1st November 2018. The first day of November was specifically chosen to tie in with the date that the American poet and novelist Stephen Crane was born which was on the 1st November 1871. I pre-ordered my copy on the 22nd of October and it arrived a few days before its release a week later on the 29th which is not bad going at all considering it came from Germany.

The albums itself contains 20 tracks, and even though the biggest majority of them are very short and being around the 2 to 3 minute mark, the album still weighs in with an overall playing time of 60 minutes, 58 seconds making it the longest of all HeartScore albums. Though quite a few of his albums are generally around the 50 plus minute mark and his previous album only had half the amount of tracks on it, but was in fact only around 3 and half minutes shorter than what we have here.

Speaking of his last album which never came with a title and was the first album to feature a session vocalist by the name of Chris. The fact that album never had a title apart from Radloff’s own project name of HeartScore in many ways it perhaps marked a brand new direction for HeartScore with having a lead vocalist. But what you get with this new album is more of a change in direction to anything Radloff has ever done before regarding the albums he has put out over the last couple of decades.

To be honest over the years I have known Dirk I have always kept in close contact with him and his music on Facebook like a friend. I have most likely heard more or less nearly everything he has done regarding his music, and I have to admit when he first posted some of the new tracks he was working on for this album over the last year, I was not overly impressed with the new directional change from prog to metal.

Metal is not really my thing in relation to prog rock apart from bands like Black Sabbath who are not really thrashing it out, and neither do they have a vocalist whose doing nothing else but death growls where you cannot understand a bloody word they are saying :)))))). So that type of metal never did really appeal to me. Thankfully Dirk had never seen the need to change his vocalist, not even for this new direction he was heading in with his music. But speaking of the session vocalist he uses from Studopros Dot Com they do not come exactly cheap at 100 Euro per song. Especially when you have an album with 20 of them and the biggest majority of them are really short.

No doubt you do sometimes get a discount when you hire a session singer to sing more than one song in one session, and he would of also saved some money on one the tracks to which is an instrumental track. But I still would of reckoned it would of cost him well over £1,000 in my currency to hire Chris just to make this album, and that’s without paying for the session player to play a bit of Saxophone on one of the tracks too. So has you can plainly see, Dirk does take his music seriously enough to lash out the money in making it, and there is no skimping here at all.

Musicians & Credits…

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All songs written, arranged and produced by Dirk Radloff. All lyrics written by Stephen Crane. Mastering by Russell Sinfield. Artwork Concept Dirk Radloff. Cover Artwork & Drawings by Alexander Stanton.

Musicians.

Dirk Radloff: Guitars/Violin/Choir Harmonies/Make Noise O-Coast Modular Synthesizer/Programming & Drum Programming.
Chris: (Courtesy of Studiopros.com) Lead Vocals.
Gdaliy Garmiza: Saxophone (On Track 1 “In The Desert”)
All FX Sounds (On Track 10 “God In Wrath”) Provided by Free SFX Dot Co Dot UK.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Black Riders Part 1 is without a doubt an album that mainly consists of short tracks apart from 2 of them that is. But not even them are really that lengthy at 5 and 6 minutes. There is no doubt that Stephen Crane was a writer of short stories and poems and that is why most of the lengths of the tracks are quite short I would expect.

To be honest the fact that I seen just how short some of Cranes poems was whilst Dirk was in the process of making some of the tracks for this album, I felt that there is just no way that I myself could use poems like that to make songs with in the first place, and I would have had to rework them and add some more lyrics to them to work. Or even write my own words based around the subject matter of the poem itself, which would of been more of the way I would of went about things here personally.

I would even of thought that his singer Chris never had a comfortable job trying to put what few words we have here to sing to the music, and no doubt it is hard work with the music Dirk had presented to him to sing. But the fact that he had so little to sing and had to repeat some of the poems twice over may have even pissed him off :)))). I certainly know I would of been if somebody chucked these short poems at me to sing :)))))))).

But what I would also say is that certainly a lot of things have changed since I heard those first mixes awhile ago of some of the tracks, and the final mix and mastering of the tracks has certainly shed a lot more light even on the dark side of things we get with the wrath and anger of Cranes own words with how this album as actually turned out in the end.

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Stephen Crane

The American poet, novelist, and short story writer Stephen Crane was born in New Jersey on the 1st November 1871 he died on the 5th June 1900 at the age of  28 whilst he was in Germany from a series of haemorrhages he had for the last few months of his life. Though Crane being also a reporter and writer for newspapers spent most of his time travailing, he spent most of his life in New York. He became notable for his works in the Realist tradition as well as early examples of American Naturalism and Impressionism. He is recognized by modern critics as one of the most innovative writers of his generation.

His first book of poems The Black Riders and Other Lines marked Crane’s first serious venture into poetry. However it did not exactly go down very well and received mostly criticism, if not abuse, for the poems’ unconventional style and use of free verse. He wrote it 1895 the very the same year his second novel was published The Red Badge of Courage that gained him more attention and is perhaps his most notable works. His first novel Maggie: A Girl of the Streets was inspired by Emily Dickinson and the fact that Dirk had written music to some of her poetry in the past may have been the connection we have here for him to latch onto the works of Crane.

The music Dirk wrote is well apt to Cranes book of poems and if anything it projects and unleashes the evil monster and the beast that he portrayed as god in many of his poems. So let’s now take a deeper look into the individual tracks of the album and see how well it as all turned out in my review here.

Track 1. In The Desert.

From the moment the album kicks off you get the impression that we are in a war and a very bitter evil one at that. There is no doubt doubt that Stephen Crane’s poetic words are suited to the dark evil side of war, and being in a war where you have just about had enough and are at the end of your tether so to speak. I suppose it could make one want to rip his own heart out and eat it with how war can be so disappointing, needless and pointless at times, and these words could also pertain to the bitter side of war even if that was not Cranes real intentions here. To which they was more based upon showing how human nature can be so inherently sinful and corrupt.

In The Desert

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter — bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.

No doubt the words we have here are more barbaric, and the creature in this picture and the words could just of easily have been a man. Cranes poems in his book The Black Riders and Other Lines may have been inspired by the wrath of god from the old testament in the bible interacting with disrespectful humans and was heavily criticised for the way he more or less portrayed god as the devil. But what we have in this poem could of easily related to the vision Crane had about war without him having battle experience that reflected in the book he wrote after it. The Red Badge of Courage to which won international acclaim for his writing about the Civil War that was more accepted by and praised by its readers.

Dirk uses electronic drums on this album and they do a pretty darn good job here pounding and stomping their way across the desert. As the track transcends along the drums are almost like machine guns pulverising and obliterating everything in sight. The drums really are like a heavy artillery. The heavy metal guitars follow the drums and project the the dramatics we have here too. Chris’s voice has the right direct and authoritative approach to deliver the words very well, and Gdaliy Garmiza’s saxophone adds that extra desert feel with his lines and along with the heavy guitars and it sort of gives this opening track a King Crimson feel with their album Red for example.

Track 2. Mystic Shadow.

The heavy artillery are still fighting in the desert by the sound of the drums spraying out more bullets in the middle section of this short track. This middle section is also quite punk rock like even though the drums and the heavy clashing of metal guitar are thrashing and thrapping it all out. We even get somebody trying to eat fire instead of his heart to pay for his sins so to speak :)))))))). You even get a slight bit of lead work from the guitar chiselling out some unusual mystic lines before it fizzles out at the end.

Crane very much wrote these dark poems based on some of his own personal experiences so its told, and no doubt he had some crazy shit going on in his head when he wrote them :)))))). They are all based on anti-religious themes and bring out the forces and presence of evil. The words we have in this short poem pertain to what he perhaps seen as the real the truth and not the truth that many believe as it should be. The god we have here is very much like the Damned :))))))) and the music we have here captures all the essence of it all.

Track 3. There Was A Crimson Clash Of War.

The album no doubt feels like a concept album with how each track bounces off each other, and how quickly they follow one another, they are almost joined together with how there is not much of gap between the tracks. It’s almost like each track is made of rubber with how they bounce and spring on you with a sense of dramatic action that is not going to stop. This track plants a picture in my mind of several Giant Locusts marching through the desert into war, and they mean action :)))))).

There is some great vocal expression from Chris and no doubt he’s done the business on all the tracks on the album. The drums are pounding and the guitars are menacing to drive the dramatic action we have here, and around the 1:50 mark we get a touch of the east with some fine lead lines to which are either coming from a synth, or Dirk may have even used his violin with some FX applied to it to make the sound we have here. Unless he brought in some Egyptian snake charmer :)))))). It’s very much one of the contenders for the Top Spot on the album.

Track 4. Behold The Grave Of A Wicked Man.

The story of a so called just spirit who prevents the maid from putting flowers on the wicked man’s grave, only her tears proved her love for the man more than the flowers, and the spirit was not just in the first place because he took his vengeance out on her and not the wicked man. Once again we get plenty of expression with the vocals and the music stomps it’s way along very well. We also do get more diversity with the changes on this track too.

Track 5. I Stood Upon A High Place.

Another short song with a short poem that works very well with all that Dirk has thrown into the pot here. He even manages to get his violin out for this track too. I suppose in some ways Crane’s words here could be seen as the pot calling the kettle black? or even a case of let he who is without sin cast the first stone?

High Place

I stood upon a high place,
And saw, below, many devils
Running, leaping,
and carousing in sin.
One looked up, grinning,
And said, “Comrade! Brother!“

Track 6. Once I Saw Mountains Angry.

Well the first thing that came to my mind when I seen this rather bizarre title, was the bizarre words that Jon Anderson of Yes wrote for the song “Roundabout” with the sentence “Mountains come out of the sky and they stand there” and this guy Crane must of been off his Rocker:))))). But I suppose the moral of this story is that there is no need to make a mountain out of a mole hill, or rather you can turn a mountain into a mole hill if you have the courage to face up to it in the first place.

Like I mentioned earlier the way the tracks have been placed on the album, it does feel like a concept album, and it even feels like the story is continuing on from the previous track with the subject matter of them both being about high places. This is a very powerful track on the album with some great metal power chords on the guitar, powerhouse stomping drums, even the bass line coming from the synth is spring loaded and another excellent job by Chris on the vocals, and this is another contender for the Top Spot on the album.

Track 7. Black Riders Came From The Sea.

Black Riders Came

Black riders came from the sea.
There was clang and clang of spear and shield,
And clash and clash of hoof and heel,
Wild shouts and the wave of hair
In the rush upon the wind:
Thus the ride of sin.

The albums titled track sees the battle raging once again against the forces of evil and despite the lack of lyrics here they are not rushed and do get spread out more over the course of this song. This is actually one of the longer of the short tracks on the album, and at its time of 3 minutes, 35 seconds does allow the musical structure a bit more scope. So you do get a bit more diversity with this one, especially in the middle section with the transitional change. This allows Dirk to use his more familiar choir harmonies, to which the last two lines of the words are used for him to do so. It’s quite melodic too, and the only words that do get repeated by Chris here are those in the first line.

Track 8. Behold From The Land Of The Farther Suns.

The modular synth runs an electronic sequence throughout this track and I have to say it works pretty well with the combination of the guitars and drums. Once again Dirk gets to use his choir harmonies too and Chris do his usual GREAT! job with the expressive vocal line. The words we have here are pertaining to the bible where God comes back to find out that the Devil has taken over the world he created, and undone all the good work he had done.

Track 9. Once I Knew A Fine Song.

It’s time to simmer things down with “Once I Knew A Fine Song” and Dirk really has turned it into a fine song too, and we get a break from the heavy metal to something with more of a melodic structure. The synth has been put to good use and here it’s been utilised with a bass synth to drive it along with the drums. I quite like the different tones in Chris’s voice on this song and he really does get to sing it with the more sweeter side of his voice that has more passion. Dirk’s choir harmonies are also very sweet too.

The rhythm on the electric guitar blends in very well and violin gets put to excellent use here and adds something like a bit of Paganini‘ touch to it. Effectively Crane’s words we have here once again have the feel that they are running along the lines of a concept story album with how they relate to previous track. For example where on the previous track God lost his world to the Devil, these words could be seen as God thinking back to the beauty before the Devil got his filthy hands on it. It’s a GREAT! song and very much a contender for the top spot on the album.

Track 10. A God In Wrath.

The Mighty God Of Thor hammers is way into the drama here and God takes his wrath out of the wicked man by beating several barrels of shit out him :))))). No sparing the rod of discipline here I can tell you :)))). He beat him that hard that his thunderous blows rolled over the earth so that people could hear it and come running to see what would happen to them if they did not play the ball game :)))).

A God In Wrath

This is one of the 2 longer tracks and the 2nd longest track on the album that runs for dead on 5 minutes. It runs along at a slow pace at first to allow God to hand out his beating and it uses a free sound FX sample for the thunderous hammering. The synth features throughout this track and crafts out the melody for Chris to sing along to. The hammering thunder rolls its way out after the first minute and half and Chris gets more support from the heavy guitars and drums.

It develops more into a song and allows Chris to express the words more over the next couple of minutes. It also picks up a bit more pace too, and the hammering thunder along with some percussion come back into play around the 3 and half minute mark to bring the pace back down and drive it home slowly. It’s quite a dramatic piece this one and the placement of it on the album works very well particularly after the change of mood  it follows from the previous track, and effectively it works like the calm before the storm to bring the album back up again on the track that follows it.

Track 11. A Man Saw A Ball Of Gold In The Sky.

Not all that glitters is gold and no doubt things do look different when looking up at them in relation to gazing down on them, and that is what is behind this strange bit of Cranes naturalism method of writing. This is quite a very well structured song and the shortest track on the album which is 8 seconds shy of 2 minutes. The song rocks its way along with the metal guitars, drums and percussion and I like how the heavy driven rhythm of the power chords slows down in parts too. The metal guitars are very effective on this song and its also another song where Dirk gets to accompany Chris with some of his fine choir harmonies.

Track 12. In A Lonely Place.

Things are hotting up very well and this is a very powerful track and my joint favourite track on the album that jointly merits the albums Top Spot Award. Everything about this song cooks on gas from the start with it’s howling feedback from the guitar on the intro  to its death metal powerful force the guitar brings out on this track. Once again we get more excellent expressive vocals from Chris and more fine choir harmonies from Dirk he’s done here and along with the drums this song purely ROCKS….

Track 13. There Was Before Me.

Another powerful track that has a King Crimson feel about it especially with its mystical intro. It’s another very well structured song with powerhouse drums heavy metal guitars, expressive dramatic vocals and it has a fine melodic section very fitting to the words of infinite beauty that was seen beyond all the snow, ice and burning sand in Cranes poem. It’s another contender for the albums top spot.

Track 14. I Met A Seer.

King Crimson meets Thrash Metal is perhaps the best way to describe this next powerful track and like many of these short tracks they power themselves along with GREAT! expressive force. This one even comes with some fine synth work and the drums are ricocheting bullets :))))))))))) and it’s another GREAT! track. This an early version of the song from over a year ago that Dirk made a video of in the way of an adaption to Stephen Crane’s words in the poem.

Track 15. Should The Wide World Roll Away.

Another song with plenty of the force driving it along and the opening melody that also runs in other sections of this short song remind me of something like a cross between The Prodigy and Adam And The Ants. You get the twisted fire starter and prince charming rolling this wide world away:))))) only with more fearsome MIGHT!.

STWRA

Should the wide world roll away,
Leaving black terror,
Limitless night,
Nor God, nor man, nor place to stand
Would be to me essential,
If thou and thy white arms were there,
And the fall to doom a long way.

There can be no doubt that Crane had a very strange way of putting things over with the words in his poetry, and even though this poem may strike doom and terror. But one could even turn the words we have here into being prejudice with the word “White” being the most positive word symbolising purity.

Track 16. Gods.

Gods” is the only instrumental track on the album and the longest of the shorter tracks on the album. It’s not even the title of one of Crane’s 67 poems he wrote in his book of poems for the Black Riders though no doubt it works very well as a theme. This is very much my other joint favourite of the album that merits the Top Spot Award of the album along with “In A Lonely Place“. It’s a terrific piece with some really great lead work on the guitar, which is something most metal albums really lack, and that’s perhaps why it appeals to me a lot more. It’s all very well structured with it’s chord progression and transitional changes.

Track 17. Places Among The Stars.

Another nice little change with this fine song with gives Dirk another chance to get the violin out and this has quite soulful swing to it. There is some fine synth work in this one too along with the guitars which do project a bit of power to it every now and then. I think Chris could even be dancing around the stars whilst he’s singing this one. Once again the track placement is very good here and it’s as if we do have a story concept with Crane’s poetry. Since the wide world rolled away all is left is the emptiness of space to roll along in, and that is how it could appear too.

Track 18. God Fashioned The Ship Of The World Carefully.

The powerful master force picks back up here with this powerhouse metal rocker that features more power thrashed out metal power chords driving it along with the synths and drums. The choir harmonies return and the lead vocals are expressed with convincing force. It’s another really GREAT! track that ROCKS HARD….

Track 19. Truth Said A Traveller.

Another track that stomps along with a GREAT! marching force and the choir harmonies we have here could even give this song a bit of a Queen presence and feel about it. Besides the guitars I like how the bass drives this along and it’s and GREAT! track on the album and like its abrupt ending too.

The story concept is perhaps a bit lost with these last few tracks, but even I still feel the tracks are very well placed on the album, and it’s not intended to be a story concept anyway, but it did have that impression to some degree I think.

Track 20. In Heaven.

The final track on the album is the longest and once again the modular synth is put to good use and it almost gives it the feeling of a Sci-fi horror on the intro. This is another track that paces its way along dramatically with Chris expressing the words every now and then throughout the song. The song itself is built up very well with guitars and drums adding force and might to it all.

In Heaven

In heaven,
Some little blades of grass
Stood before God.
“What did you do?”
Then all save one of the little blades
Began eagerly to relate
The merits of their lives.
This one stayed a small way behind,
Ashamed.
Presently, God said,
“And what did you do?”
The little blade answered, “Oh my Lord,
Memory is bitter to me,
For, if I did good deeds,
I know not of them.”
Then God, in all His splendor,
Arose from His throne.
“Oh, best little blade of grass!” He said.

Both the picture I pieced together and the words that Crane wrote depict God as being the Devil, and that is very much more or less how Crane seen God throughout the whole of his book of poems he wrote for the Black Riders and Other Lines. The God we have here only favours the sinners and not those who do good deeds. “In Heaven” is another GREAT! track on the album and ends off this powerful album very well indeed. It also sounds like all the other little blades of grass got exterminated :))))))).

Summary…

To sum up my review of Black Riders Part 1 by HeartScore I very much think that Dirk Radloff chose the right genre of Metal to put to Stephen Crane’s book of poems he wrote for his Black Riders and Other Lines. Most artists in this genre are always looking for something dark and evil for the subject matter for their lyrics, and no doubt Crane’s anti-religious themes portray not just the wrath of a god, but in an unjustly manner, and not just the evil that men do, but the evil their god does along with it. He could even be describing the barbaric side of war with some of his poems too.

To be honest most of Stephen Crane’s poems in the Black Riders are pretty hard to get the real gist of with how they have been written, and that’s why I did not go into them all in my review here. Plus the one’s that I did touch on, are very much my own interpretations of them to which even I myself may of not of fully grasped and could of got the wrong end of the stick with them. But I am far from any expert on Crane’s works and have not gone into any great detail about him in my research for this review either. His poetry I find is very bizarre to say the least, and it may even twist your own mind trying to decipher it all too :)))))).

What we have here is certainly a very powerful album where plenty of thought as gone into the placement of the tracks for it to work so well. The way the tracks have been placed does feel like it’s even done in the way of a concept story album with how the words in Crane’s poems follow one another. A lot of the first tracks on the album very much give you the feeling that there is one mighty battle of war going on. I like how there are also tracks like “Once I Knew A Fine Song” and “Places Among The Stars” to simmer the album down with their more melodic structure. They along with the two longest tracks give the album a bit more variety.

Conclusion…

Overall Black Riders Part 1 by HeartScore is quite a solid enough album that manages to make a very exciting powerful experience over its 61 minutes and will certainly ROCK! your socks off. I think even though the biggest majority of the tracks are short, the way they follow one another with hardly any gap at all between them, does also lend to giving the album more variety with how it flows and it helps to keep the listener more attentive with how it drives its way along.

Even an old prog rocker like myself can enjoy an album like this even if Metal is not really my personal cup of tea. But the material we have here is still very well structured with some great chord progression and the album is very well produced and mastered giving you genuine quality for the money. I cannot fault the written material and my personal highlights from the album are “There Was A Crimson Clash Of War“. “Once I Saw Mountains Angry“. “Once I Knew A Fine Song“. “In A Lonely Place“. “There Was Before Me“. “Gods” and “God Fashioned The Ship Of The World Carefully“.

Whether Black Riders Part 2 or not turns out to be the very next HeartScore album in the future, we will have to wait and see. But no doubt there are plenty more poems left in Stephen Crane’s book of the Black Riders and Other Lines. But Crane’s words are well fitting for an album like this, and I suppose I could say that Metal meets King Crimson and Other Lines maybe the best way to describe the new direction of HeartScore’s music, and no doubt Dirk Radloff has unleashed the “BEAST” and it ROCKS HARD…

You can find out just how well the album ROCKS HARD by giving it a blast or even purchasing it from Bandcamp from the link here: https://heartscore.bandcamp.com/album/black-riders-part-1

I Stood Upon A High Place And Saw Below Many Devils. One Looked Up Grinning
And Said, “Comrade! Brother!”…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. In The Desert. 3:00.
02. Mystic Shadow. 2:17.
03. There Was A Crimson Clash Of War. 2:51.
04. Behold The Grave Of A Wicked Man. 2:37.
05. I Stood Upon A High Place. 2:29.
06. Once I Saw Mountains Angry. 2:01.
07. Black Riders Came From The Sea. 3:35.
08. Behold From The Land Of The Farther Suns. 3:05.
09. Once I Knew A Fine Song. 2:57.
10. A God In Wrath. 5:00.
11. A Man Saw A Ball Of Gold In The Sky. 1:52.
12. In A Lonely Place. 3:01.
13. There Was Before Me. 2:22.
14. I Met A Seer. 2:21.
15. Should The Wide World Roll Away. 3:14.
16. Gods. 3:41.
17. Places Among The Stars. 2:49.
18. God Fashioned The Ship Of The World Carefully. 2:46.
19. Truth Said A Traveller. 2:59.
20. In Heaven. 6:01.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 9/10.

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

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.

_______________________________________________________________________

Competition Time

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As I mentioned earlier in my review I had a spare HeartScore CD going and it’s not brand spanking new but is in excellent condition with not a mark or scratch on it. The CD contains a 10 page booklet with all the linear production notes, lyrics and pictures. The album Sculptures was released back 2003 and it was the very first HeartScore album to be released. Back in those days Dirk used to sing the vocals himself and did so on his first 4 albums, and on this album he also had Oliver Harstack contributing some dramatic vocals on 4 of the tracks. The lyrical content is also very good and on this album he set his music to the poetry of Langston Hughes, Emily Dickenson, E. E. Cummings and Edwin Arlington Robinson.

The album Sculptures is very much a different breed of rock in relation to the metal we have here on his latest album Black Riders Part 1. It’s also my preferred choice of rock music out of the two albums as well. No doubt both forms of rock and metal music have more or less the same sort of power chords on the guitar to drive the music along, only one is more heavier than the other, but where rock music really has the cutting edge is with the lead guitar lines, and the album Sculptures certainly has all those elements.

Sculptures is a very well crafted rock album that contains some very well structured songs on it. Some of the chord progression even steps on the boundaries of prog rock and it contains two ingredients you do not see in Radloff’s music today. They are his own lead vocals and the bass guitar. The album is more less powered by the guitar, bass and vocals and even the programmed drums sound real. It also contains some keyboards on some of the tracks and to be honest I know that keyboards are not his instrument, but he can play a bit, and on this album he may very well have played them rather than program them like he does mostly.

Personally I do not think there is a bad track on the album Sculptures and the album comes with 10 of them and over an overall playing time of 44 minutes, 38 seconds. It’s got some classics along it’s path in my opinion too and I would even rate this album with a positive strong  rating of 8 out of 10. To be honest the album Sculptures is hard for me to describe what rock bands you could associate it with. I suppose Queen would be one of them, but the album also flows very well like a good Deep Purple album even if it’s nothing like that band.

My personal highlights from the album are “Blue Bayou“, “When Sue Wears Red“. “Aunt Sue’s Stories“. “The Saddest Noise, The Sweetest Noise“. “Judgement Day“. “Little Julie (Delinquent)” and “John Evereldown“. As you can see I even chose 7 out of the 10 tracks on the album just in my highlights here, that’s how good this album really is, and its certainly a very good album.

What Do You Have To Do To Win?

To win the CD Sculptures by HeartScore all you have to do is answer the following 2 questions which are both related to the music of HeartScore.

Question 1. Give me the name the first real drummer to play on an HeartScore album?

Question 2. Give me the name of the only song set to Stephen Crane’s poetry that HeartScore most recently published that did not appear on his new album Black Riders Part 1.

The Rules.

As with all competitions they must have some rules. The rules are quite simple enough and all you have to do is post your answer to the both questions in the comment box of this review. Please note you can only post your answers here and not on any other social media site. The first person to post both the correct answers wins the CD.

In order for me to send the CD to you I will need to contact you for your name and address to send it too. So you can either drop your email address along with your answers so I can contact you for your address, or email me your name and address at l.lucas@talktalk.net the CD is entirely free and I will pay for the postage myself to send it to you. All the best with the competition.

Lee Speaks About Music… #108

Ichigo Ichie Live in Japan 2016 – Camel

DVD Cover

Introduction…

Well it’s been quite awhile since I brought a live concert of Camel on DVD though I do have most of the bands DVD’s and have all their albums. Though to be honest after Andy Latimer’s long term illness which put him out of action for more than a decade since they made their last album A Nod And A Wink back in 2002. I was hugely disappointed by the fact that he chose to do a re-recording of their classic 1975 album The Snow Goose in relation to doing an album of new material. In all honesty the re-recorded version was a complete waste of time in the first place, and not something that needed to be done at all, and for me it will never touch the original I am afraid.

So that very much put me off Camel for awhile although I was tempted to go and see them live when they announced their Moonmadness tour a couple of years ago. But the price of the concert ticket was a lot more than I ever expected, so I had to give that a miss as well. So I sort of lost track of Camel (apart from playing their albums every now then still after all these years) and to be honest I was not even aware that their keyboard player Guy LeBlanc had passed on in 2015 and was replaced by Peter Jones.

Although I did catch a video of one of their songs they performed live around a couple of years ago, that somebody put on Youtube and seen they had a new keyboard player. He was also playing the keyboards and saxophone at the same time, but I was not aware of who he was, but I never seen nobody do that before I can tell you :))))). But I also came across another video of Camel live on the tube which showed Andy Latimer playing seated in a chair, and I thought surely he’s still ill, and that sort of put me off Camel again seeing that to be honest.

I know a lot of musicians who will play till they drop down dead, and even just seeing videos on the tube of Ian Anderson these days croaking and struggling to get out the words to those Jethro Tull songs cause his voice is shot and has been for years. In all honesty I could not go and see that even if the concert was free.

Don’t get me wrong I love these artists to bits and the music they have made that has brought joy to my ears over all these years. But even when my own mother was in hospital dying of cancer, It got to the point after a few visits seeing her deteriorate and looking nothing like she used to be, that I could no longer go and see her. I was not there the day she died either. Even today when I think of her I often visualise how she used to look and not how she looked in hospital, and to be honest when I seen her in hospital, there is no way I would like that image of her planted in my brain.

I am not saying that the likes of these artists look anything remotely like seeing somebody die of cancer wasting away. But Andy Latimer did look seriously ill in that video I saw, and I felt that he should not of even been playing on the stage. But he also may have only had a bad back, and let’s face it, standing up playing a Les Paul is not exactly gonna do anyone’s back the world of good with the weight of them :))))).

Having just got into the music of Peter Jones over the last couple of months, very much made me take another look at Camel, and even though I only found one song from this concert on Youtube I did by accident stumble across a website in Japan that actually streamed the whole 2 hour concert and watched it. Having seen it, I was quite blown away by it and knew I just had to have and buy the DVD. It was good to see that Andy Latimer never needed a chair as well, and looked a lot better health wise and was in flying form. But before I go any further, let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The DVD comes in a standard DVD case, not the best of quality cases like Amaray for example, but nevertheless adequate enough to do the job and even the hub that holds the disc is quite good at holding the disc firmly in place, and it’s a simply case of pushing down on the hub to release the disc. It also comes with a few photos printed on a one sided leaflet like you can see here, and for those wondering if it’s a booklet, unfortunately they did not go to that much expense on the product I am afraid :)))).

I did try and order it from Camel’s own website but unfortunately they was out of stock at the time, and I had no idea if they was going to be getting any more back in stock. So my only real chance of getting it brand new was from left over stocks in other outlet stores, and some of those were charging ridiculous prices. To be honest I got a bit lucky when I ordered this from Amazon UK and the week I was gonna buy it, I had to many bills to pay and at the time it was also priced at £30 which in reality is double the price a product like this should cost.

Having put it off for a week it came down to £20 which is still expensive, but this was very much a concert I wanted. So I would of even paid the £30 if I had too, but luckily enough I never had to in the end. I do suggest you shop around a bit if you are after it yourself, and places in America might be the best option to get it at a good price. Although I did get mine here in the UK and it was on Amazon Prime too and only took a day to arrive.

The Artwork.

The artwork for the cover was done by Michael Munday its quite plain, simplistic and nothing really too look at to be honest. It also looks as if the red hot sun in Japan as burnt the couple of chaps beneath to a crisp :))))). The photographs on the leaflet inside the case were taken by Lenya Alec Bass.

Ichigo Ichie Live In Japan (DVD) In Review…

The live DVD was released by Camel Productions on the 15th January 2017 and is region 0 or free so it plays in all countries and comes in the American format of NTSC. No PAL I am afraid but nevertheless still of very good picture quality for a DVD. There is also nothing here for surround freaks like myself either I am afraid, but it’s been very well recorded and mixed and sounds great in stereo.

Ichigo Ichie is a Buddhist term that means “once in a lifetime” or “one’s lifetime” as in from one’s birth to death. The term is also often translated as “for this time only”. “Never again” or “one chance in a lifetime”. Although in reality none of these terms could really apply to Camel simply because they did play two nights at the EX Theatre in Roppongi Tokyo Japan and the live footage we have here was taken from both of those nights. So it was hardly a one off thing :)))).

The DVD…

SS 1

The main menu is simple enough to navigate around and only comes with two options “Play Concert” and “Select Track”. There is only 1 soundtrack for the audio and it’s your standard CD quality of 16 bit 44.1 Khz. You also get no bonus features which is a bit disappointing, and it would of been nice if they could of either made a slideshow with some pictures and some music, or done something in the way of a few interviews from the band members talking about the concert.

SS 2

The “Select Track” menu gives you the option to select a track from the setlist and here you can see the 15 tracks they played from the bands discography. It comes in handy if you want to play a favourite track or quickly show a friend something from the concert which may even entice them to go out and buy it.

This is something both me and my friend always used to do a good while back, when were around each other’s houses looking at what new music we had brought. It comes in handy if you have not got time to watch the whole concert so to speak. These days we still keep in touch via phone and email, and we still quite often talk about our latest music purchases.

Picture & Sound Quality.

Both the picture and sound quality are of good enough quality. It’s not a concert where they have gone to town on having it filmed with an array of HD cameras, and I dare say the concert was actually filmed by the TV studio crew of Asahi in the building itself. They may have even live streamed the concert in Japan or edited it to show at a later date on Japanese TV.

In reality the DVD is no different to the quality you would of got back in the early 90’s, and the only bit of today’s technology that helps it, is the fact that most DVD Players and Blu Ray players can upscale the picture anyway. So the picture quality does look that bit better for it. The concert as been well edited too, and is not over the top, plus the sound as been very well mixed. Overall the concert as been captured very well.

Musicians & Credits…

Band

Recorded live at the EX Theatre in Roppongi Tokyo Japan between 20th & 21st of May 2016. Filmed and Directed by David Minasian. Assistant Director Trinity Houston. Produced and Promoted by Nobu Maruyama. CO-Producer Atsuo Kurabayashi. Executive Producer Susan Hoover. Motion Graphics and Camera Operator Karla ‘Gaby’ Martinez. Monitor Engineer Toru ‘Yama’ Yamamuro. Backliner Hisazi (Char) Ootomo. Audio recorded by Robert Cooper & Bunny Warren. Mixed by Chris Binns. Andrew Latimer & Denis Clement. Mastered by Chris Binns. Cover Artwork by Michael Munday. Photography by Lenya Alec Bass.

Musicians:
Andrew Latimer: Guitar/Vocals/Flute & Recorder.
Peter Jones: Keyboard/Vocals/Penny Whistle.
Colin Bass: Bass Guitar/Vocals.
Denis Clement: Drums/Recorder.

The Concert In Review…

The EX Theatre in Roppongo in Tokyo is situated on the ground floor of the TV Asahi Ex Tower building which is a 17 story building that opened back in November 2013. Since its opening its become quite a popular venue for many mainstream pop and rock bands to play there. The theatre also hosts a wide range of performances such as musicals, film screenings, and even fashion shows. There are also facilities for trade exhibitions and various sports events. In addition, the second floor of the building features a spacious garden and a café.

EX TV Tower

The very same year it opened it also won the Good Lighting Award from The Illuminating Engineering Institute of Japan. The “EX” implies Excite, Expand and Experience. Over 300 pieces of customized 40PXL Traxon Media Tube were mounted and fitted onto the aluminium curtain wall on the facade of the building. The building not only lights up at night but it also showcases pre-programmed dynamic graphics such as the cartoon character “Go-chan” panda and advertisements such as the upcoming entertainment performances are displayed on EX Tower’s building.

TV Asahi is a major Japanese broadcasting company operating a television network of about 23 local affiliates with a successfully developed base for transmitting new culture and information to the public in Japan.

EX Theatre Stage

The theatre itself (although it does not look it) holds a capacity of near enough 2,000 people, 920 seated and the rest standing. Camel played the venue two nights running on the 20th and 21st May 2016 and I would at a guess of expected most likely to be playing to a packed out audiences on both nights being down to the fact that it had been some 16 years since they last played in Japan.

On With The Show…

The concert we have on DVD here, is made up of the performances from the both nights, and no doubt they would of taken what they seen as the best performances from the two shows and edited them and stuck them together to make the 2 hour live concert we have here. I am pretty sure the set list was also the same for the both shows and I have to say they certainly have packed in quite a few classics from the 70’s too, and it really is a terrific live show. Though to be quite honest regardless of what material Camel played from their entire discography between 1973 – 2002 you could not really go wrong.

In my eyes Camel are one of the most consistent progressive rock bands of all time, I think the only one of the 14 studio albums they made that was not up to their usual standards would of been their 1982 album The Single Factor. Though no doubt the material that was written for the albums Mirage. The Snow Goose and Moonmadness will be amongst many of the fans firm favourites including myself, and out of the 15 tracks you get in this set list, 8 of them are from those albums.

The band kick off with what I have always considered my favourite track from their 1973 debut album “Never Let Go“. This particular song as been used countless times to kick off their live shows with, I have even heard them end a concert with it as well. It’s another classic in my eyes and perhaps a good little number to warm up with as well. To be honest I am quite used to Latimer singing this song, but here Jones takes on the verses and Bass joins in with him on the chorus. No doubt the band are in full control and Latimer rocks it up a bit with his guitar solo too towards the end.

I would not say the opening song was the best live performance I have heard of it, but no doubt the band have rehearsed very well beforehand and do a comfortable job of it. They have obviously warmed up enough already for them to take on the next song to which Latimer does sing, and is one of my personal favourites from the Mirage album. Though any song from that album would be a fave no doubt and “The White Rider” is another Camel classic even if what you get here is only the third part of its original suite without its intros of “Nimrodel & The Procession“. Latimer still has his voice too and the band do a fabulous job it, and it gets ended off with the sound of an aeroplane flying over from the keyboards.

The classics are still rolling out and up next we get “A Song Within A Song” from the Moonmadness album with both Latimer and Bass sharing the vocal duties in unison with one another. Jones as pretty much got the original keyboards sounds more or less spot on for this song too. There is no doubt that Pete Jones is handling Pete Bardens notation on the keyboard note for note on this song. It must have been a lot fun playing Bardens keyboard lines too. But no doubt Jones will also add his own sounds and his own thing and feel to a lot of the numbers in this live set too.

To be honest I like the fact that Camel are back to a 4 piece band again just like they was when they first came out, and all 4 members of the band are pretty much in shape and on form here too. Being unsighted I am quite amazed at just how well Jones gets about the both keyboards when it comes to change all the patches for the sounds. Even with sight I would have difficulty trying to remember all these changes I can tell you.

It’s off to the bands 5th album Rain Dances and “Unevensong” is another of my faves from this album and we get Bass and Jones sharing the vocal duties in unison with one another here and no doubt the band are in flying form on it. Then we get a selection from the bands classic album The Snow Goose with “Rhayader / Rhayader Goes To Town“. “Preparation / Dunkirk“. Latimer gets on his Fender Strat for this set and his touch and tones really ring out on this super set. Jones work on the keyboards also works a treat even with some fine haunting sounds, and he also plays the penny whistle on “Preparation“. This really is an exciting concert and they are rolling out classic after classic for most of it.

It’s back to the Moonmadness album for the next three tracks and the first of them “Spirit Of The Water” features both Latimer and Clement on recorders whilst Jones plays the piano and Bass sings it. Jones take on the vocals on “Air Born” and his voice quite suits the song too, and even though I had read reviews regarding the sound of drums or even some people thinking they need another drummer. I can honestly say I could not fault the work Denis Clement contributes to this band one bit. He’s very much doing a bang on job and his timing is precise. The first hour and  7 minutes is dedicated to the bands first 5 albums and “Lunar Sea” ends it off superbly, not though they are taking a break though and this is a 2 hour set without any.

It’s off to the 1981 album Nude next and “Drafted” is the only song they play from this really GREAT! album. Nude as always been one of my favourite albums in the same way their earlier albums were I suppose, and its shame they never did a bit more from it here. Pete Jones introduces the next one which is “Ice” from the bands 1979 album I Can See Your House From Here. It’s the first album that Collin Bass played on and he has been with the band ever since. It’s also the first piece Latimer gave to Jones to learn when he joined the band in 2015. This piece gets pretty much played at every Camel concert and no doubt Latimer likes it a lot because it gives him chance to express some fine lead lines on his guitar.

They are moving on a decade for the next couple of tracks to their 1991 album Dust and Dreams and they have combined track 4 “Mother Road” with track 15 “Hopeless Anger” from the album for this fine performance, and Latimer rocks this one out on the guitar. You can also see the first part of it for yourself as this official video was released from the very same concert.

It’s a shame they never also never let you see “Hopeless Anger” because on this part not only do you get to see Andy Latimer still rocking it out on his guitar, but Pete Jones keyboard work on this piece is quite exceptional as he practically adds an orchestra to it.

Were almost finished now and the band do say goodbye with a track from another really GREAT! album of theirs Stationary Traveller and the final track from that 1984 album too with “Long Goodbyes“. They dedicate it to both Chris Rainbow and Guy LeBlanc who are no longer with us. But the show is not quite over yet as the crowd applaud for more, and they get it too with this sure fine classic “Lady Fantasy“. The best encore you could ever get, and just before they play and do a superb job of it Latimer introduces us to the band who along with himself have done a really superb job here. It puts an end to a very exciting concert in GREAT! style.

Summary…

Considering Camel had not played in Japan for 16 years, I am sure the fans at this concert had a terrific time and witnessed what can only be a superb concert with all the band flying and burning along on all cylinders. To be honest I suppose in today’s world this DVD could be described as a no thrills package being as the concert is only standard definition and in stereo without having any 5.1 surround sound like many artists are doing these days. But in saying that even if I did end up paying £30 for this DVD, I honestly think it would of been money very well spent, and it’s the next best thing to being there and that will cost you a lot more.

Having purchased this concert and watched it a few times now, there is no doubt that this is like many of the other concerts I have on DVD of Camel that I can still watch over and over every now and then and enjoy. It’s not the kind of concert you will perhaps buy and play a couple of times and let it gather dust that’s for sure, and they certainly roll out the classics here too. But like I said earlier, Camel have never really strayed away from their GREAT! style and are very consistent when it comes to their music. In my eyes they are the most consistent prog rock band I know, and no way on this earth could I say that about the likes of Genesis and Yes that’s for sure.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of Ichigo Ichie Live In Japan by Camel. I would very much say that as old as Andy Latimer and Colin Bass are now, they are still very much playing at the level of their very best and with the younger members Denis Clement and Pete Jones the band Camel are just as much as a force as they was back in the 70’s when I seen them with their original line up. I am so glad to see Andy Latimer pull through his illness and that he’s still in fine shape to be able to keep this band going and still very much feel alive with how they can still skilfully perform these truly GREAT! songs from their excellent discography.

Just watching this concert on DVD as seriously changed my mind about paying the higher ticket prices they charge to see them play live these days, and the next time they do go on tour I am seriously thinking of going to see them. Because this band have always been up their with my elite prog rock bands, and they have never really disappointed me throughout their entire career. Just having this concert on DVD as brought tears of joy to my eyes and I cannot wait for their next live concert to come out from their last tour they did this year.

During the duration of putting this review together, I have noticed that the DVD is now back in stock on Camel’s own web store and is priced at £12.50. But this price does not include VAT and Postage & Packing. So I hardly think you will pick it up any cheaper than the price of £19.99 I paid for here in the UK from Amazon unless you live in America. But it’s well worth that price anyway and it really is an excellent concert.

Saw You Sitting On A Sunbeam In The Middle Of My Daydream…

The live DVD track listing is as follows:

01. Never Let Go .
02. White Rider.
03. Song Within a Song.
04. Unevensong.
05. Rhayader / Rhayader Goes To Town.
06. Preparation / Dunkirk.
07. Spirit Of The Water.
08. Air Born.
09. Lunar Sea.
10. Drafted.
11. Ice.
12. Mother Road.
13. Hopeless Anger.
14. Long Goodbyes .
15. Lady Fantasy.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 6/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Picture Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee’s Audio Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Live Concert Rating Score. 9/10.