The Best Of Lee Speaks About Music 2018
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…
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/
Up 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 Morse – Life and Times. Robert Reed – Sanctuary III. Fernando Perdomo – Out To Sea. Arena – Double Vision. Crack The Sky – Living In Reverse. The Sea Within – The Sea Within. Gryphon – ReInvention. Tiger Moth Tales – Story Tellers Part Two. Jean Michel Jarre – Equinoxe Infinity and The Tangent – Proxy.
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…
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/
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…
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
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 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.
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:
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/
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 Zeppelin – How The West Was Won (Blu Ray Audio) and Yes – Live 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…
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.
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…
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/
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….