Lee Speaks About Music… #151

Guests – Gordon Midgley

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Introduction…

Well it’s been sometime since the last release we seen of Gordon Midgley and because he’s been out of the limelight for a while so to speak, he thought he’d best get a quick EP out there to show everyone he’s still around. By the look of the EP cover it also looks like he has been having some very strange guests over as well, but then again they may not appear to be too strange when you delve into some of his own solo and collaborative work projects he has been involved in the past.

Guests is actually his 6th solo release and having listened to it first on Bandcamp it was obvious to me that Gordon was back to doing what he does best and it immediately appealed to my taste to purchase it on the day of its release. In general, around 90% of the work he puts into his own solo material and his other project of Napier’s Bones does appeal to me a lot and he is a very talented multi-instrumentalist who knows how to knock out some well good written material. The only album that did not appeal to me was the last album he put out Lifetimes Ago.

Lifetimes Ago

Lifetimes Ago is an album that came off the back of what I would consider his strongest output of his solo works The Fall of the House of Usher and was released around 3 months after its release at the end of 2017. It’s a very different breed and is more of an ambient experimental body of works where the music is created by the use of Guitar FX to create atmospheric soundscapes more than having a great deal of structure to the written material. It’s perhaps not too far away from his first 3 works Vanished Age, Out of Doors and The Darkness of Error. However, those I do feel have a lot more structured composition about them even if they do run along the same ambient atmospheric route to a certain degree.

I would also say to a degree I can understand why Gordon decided to go down a different route and his other hobby of mountain climbing would of give him more of an inspiration to go down this road and this is perhaps an album that was made for the mountains and for those who are more into the experiential soundscape side of things more than myself. It’s nothing unusual for any artist to try something different and having heard it on Bandcamp a few times back then it did not entice me to purchase it.

The only thing on the album that did appeal to me were the last 3 tracks and after 3 years I decided to give the album another listen. It was still only the last 3 tracks that spoke to me but as the album was cheap enough and priced at a couple of quid, I decided to purchase it for a quid more because those last 3 tracks were very good. The couple of acoustic tracks in particular are really what I would call the GEMS! on that album and they have some really GREAT! melodic structure to them.

His latest offering Guests has plenty of well good structure to the material some of which I felt was strong enough to even work into a new album rather than an EP. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The 4 track EP is available in the form of a digital download only, which is a format and good platform for many unknown artists to get their music out there. It also saves on the expense it costs to put it out in a physical format especially if you are not going to be selling them by the bucket load so to speak. It’s also worth noting that on places like Bandcamp you do have the choice of audio formats to choose from so you still can match the same quality of the physical product and even Hi-Res stereo in some cases where they have made the album available in 24-bit.

Artwork.

The artwork was done by Gordon himself and he does quite often get out and about a lot and get many ideas on his travels. Not just for album covers but also his music with some of the things he spots along the way. Though that’s not to say that many of his ideas for his music can also come from the books and literature he reads. I quite like how he has noodled around with the pictures he took on this journey he had out in the countryside on his bike. You can also see from one the photos he took of the strange looking iron statues he came across in a field below where the idea came from.

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It now looks like a prehistoric rocking horse with a dinosaur or dragons head on it and looks very good with all the detail you can now see in it. No doubt these guests are very strange indeed and it’s very well suited for the title of the EP. I think the only thing I would have personally changed would have been the placement of the fonts, in particular the size of the word “Guests” to which is on the big side. I would have made that smaller and positioned it to the top right and centred the artist name. But overall, I quite like it.

The EP Guests In Review…

The 4 track EP Guests by Gordon Midgley was released on 22nd May and comes with an overall playing time of 24 minutes, 48 seconds which is not far off a mini album. I am pretty sure that most of the material would have been written this year and he also stated that he worked on it quickly and tried to maintain a degree of spontaneity in producing the EP. He also said it might be a little rough around the edges, though if it is I am not noticing it and has a rule Gordon’s production work over the past three years has improved in leaps and bounds.

Like most musicians these days they record everything at home and Gordon calls his own studio Scanulf Studios which is no doubt very well equipped and these are just a few of his many instruments and tools he uses on the tracks on the EP. It was only just recently that he added a 7 string PRS guitar to his heavy artillery of instruments.

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For the past couple of years or so he has also been learning and playing the drums and that was perhaps eminent on the collaborative album Subjects he did with Joan Silentio back in 2018 and he’s also utilised them very well again here. Although the material on Guests is certainly more in line with the work, he did for both The Fall of the House of Usher and the Napier’s Bones album Monuments and is more of a PROGMATIC! affair.

Musicians & Credits…

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

Musicians:
Gordon Midgley: Vocals – Electric & Acoustic Guitars -Bass – Analogue synths – Drums – Tambourine.

The EP Tracks In Review…

Listening to some of the material that was written for Guests it does give me the impression that Gordon may have been working on a new album at the time and let it go to get something out there. There are a couple of lengthy tracks along the way and to my ears the written material is quite strong and no doubt this is very much a welcoming return to form. So, let’s now take you through the 4 tracks of the EP.

Track 1. Perchance.

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The opening track is a bit like being in a dream-state mind or could even be seen as an awakening of coming out of a dream. It could even be seen as coming out of some of dreams he had on the mountains from his previous album Lifetimes Ago and although this is a soundscape I do feel there is more structure and much more going on to make me more aware of what has actually been put into it. I do feel it’s perhaps different in relation to the other 3 tracks you get here, but it’s quite an interesting piece that keeps you alert and attentive in many ways.

Besides the effective use of the guitars the cymbals in particular have been put to very good use. I can also hear little nuisances that have crept in most likely by accident and a good example of that comes at 1 minute, 42 seconds into the track where you hear like a bird chirping. It also gives it the feel that an environmental field recording may of been used but the sound is actually coming from his plectrum screeching across the strings.

There is such a thing in written music known as “Accidentals” and basically, it’s a symbol (♮) and natural that cancels out any of the sharps and flats that are written along the staff. I quite often refer to some of these little nuisances that creep in by accident as “Accidentals”. Although they are far from natural so to speak and was never intended in the first place. But I can quite often be amused and even amazed of how some of these little accidents work so well and have often been glad they happened.

The other thing that works extremely well are the vocal harmonies that Gordon has done and they are a bit on the Yes side of things and have been very well blended into the mix. It’s a piece that takes its time to build up and unveils some splendours with the guitars and voicing harmonies between the 3:12 – 4:02 mark before it comes back down and slowly winds its way out very well. It also includes some hand percussion and it even sounds like a choral sitar was used at some point.

The word “Perchance” means by chance and is often associated with sleep, dreams and even death and like I mentioned earlier Gordon does like reading and gets much of his ideas from books and literature. I am not entirely sure if he has read Hamlet by William Shakespeare and if he was inspired by him at all but I did come across these words from that play that old Shaky wrote.

“To die, to sleep – to sleep – perchance to dream:
ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come
when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.

Track 2. Signs.

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Signs” is one of the two lengthier tracks and the title put me in mind of Napier’s Bones 4th album Alpha – Omega Man. I would also say that what we have here would have perhaps been fitting with that project of his and it makes me wonder if he was working on a new Napier’s Bones album and he had a new concept in mind for it. The lyrical content behind both “Sign’s” and the final track on the EP “What Remains?” do appear to fit in with some sort of concept and although I am not 100% sure (not having asked Gordon himself) but the signs he is referring to here do tend to relate to judgement day.

To be perfectly honest I am not entirely sure if this whole EP is based around a concept. But I do get the feeling that a much larger picture was needed for them to run along that way and it needed an albums worth of material for it take more shape and not a 4 track EP. In some way I would even go to the point of saying that such a GREAT! song may have even of been wasted or rather too good to be putting on an EP.

It’s a song that is very well structured and has some GREAT! progression and transitional changes along its path. It has quite a melodic opening that sort of washes, glides and slides its way in and has a sort of trippy FLOYD ESC! feel to it. It’s a bit like a cross between “Breathe” and “One of These Days” or even earlier material that Pink Floyd done with how it also utilises slide guitar. Both the bass and drums are also very utilised throughout the song and provided a very strong backbone.

The first transitional change comes in around the 1:35 mark and a heavy guitar riff is brought in to thicken it up and take away more of the ambient trippy feel. It builds itself up very well into a powerful crescendo and is very neatly and tidily rounded off to bring in the next section around the 2:26 mark which is the acoustic guitar section that provides the backdrop for the vocals to come into play. Gordon’s voice works very well at delivering the lyrics in this section and the synth is brought into play for the next traditional change around that comes into play around the 3:40 mark.

This next section is even more powerful and the solo on the synth and some of the heavier power chords and bass give it more of a Rush feel and from here on until the end it’s a bit like a combination between Rush and the band Mountain crossing paths with one another and it really is an excellent piece of work. It’s also my personal favourite track on the EP and merits the TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 3. There Shall Be No More Night.

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This is a lovely melodic acoustic piece that utilises 6 and 12 string acoustic guitars along with some phased swells from his Gibson Les Paul that give it that Steve Hackett touch. Two 12 strings guitars are used and it gives it a sort of harpsichord effect or even an early Genesis touch. There is another little accidental that pops out of the woods here too at the 1:33 mark, and it sounds like a Cuckoo sneaked its way in to say hello. Once again, it’s caused by the fingers sliding on the strings and I often find these small things to be little GEMS.

The video demonstration that Gordon made above shows how he played the main melody on the 6 string and he pinpoints were the other guitars come into play. “There Shall Be No More Night” is the shortest track on the EP and is just under a couple of minutes. It could easily for me be another favourite track of mine and I love these little acoustic ditties.

Track 4. What Remains.

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We now go from the shortest track to the longest and final track on the EP and like I mentioned earlier the lyrical content is tied to the 2nd track and there is some form of concept going on around the dance of death or some other ritual or battle. This is another well written song and piece of work that has all the progression and changes that we got with the 2nd track “Signs” only this one does have a bit more power. I suspect his new 7 string PRS was utilised for the heavy opening and Gordon does ROCK! this one out a bit.

Once again Gordon is in fine voice to deliver the very well written lyrical content and I am hearing the likes of Rush again with the synths and even parts that put me in mind of Marillion’s self-titled album track “Fugazi“. There are also many other influences I am hearing along its 10-minute journey. Most of the track is very much power driven but it also has some well interesting comes down sections and even a couple of very TASTY! guitar solos along the way.

What Remains” is a song that has bags of really GREAT! progression and transitional changes along its path and perhaps too many for me to point out in detail. To be honest it was very hard for me not to give this the EP’s top spot award and I could of easily of give it to tracks 2, 3 & 4 and those are the tracks on the EP that I certainly feel will speak the most to many. It winds off the EP very well and it leaves you wanting a lot more.

Summary & Conclusion…

To sum up the 4 track EP Guests by Gordon Midgley. There can be no doubt that this could very well be seen as a very welcoming return, not to form but to doing what he does best and that is prog rock. Overall, the material on the EP is quite a solid body of work, however the opening track might sound a little out of place with the other 3 tracks because it is different and perhaps more fitting to the material that was written for his previous album Lifetimes Ago.

I think he was right to put something out being that he had not for quite a while now but on the other hand I cannot stop thinking that “Signs“. “There Shall Be No More Night” and “What Remains?” could have been put to better use on an album rather than an EP. Those 3 tracks are also my personal highlights and are the PROGMATIC! core of the EP.

I do also feel that all 4 tracks on the EP Guests are somehow tied to a concept and he may have very well been working on an album project here rather than an EP. As to what the concept and where the idea for the concept came from, I have not got a clue. Apart from that it may be tied to some sort of judgement day like I mentioned earlier. Whatever it is it rocks my boat and I cannot really fault anything here.

To conclude my review of the latest EP Guests. I would say that this is a must to add to your collection and 3 of the 4 tracks I personally think are the same level of par of what we seen on both The Fall of the House of Usher and Monuments and both of those are excellent albums. It’s another little chapter of many of the GREAT! pieces of work Gordon Midgley as skilfully crafted and is very well produced and I highly recommend it for all PROGSTERS! alike.

You can listen for free or even purchase GUESTS! for free has it does come at a buy it now name your price. However, I do feel its worthy of giving something after all the hard work that has been put into it. It’s available in the form of a digital download @ Bandcamp and can be found here:  https://gordonmidgley.bandcamp.com/album/guests

The Dance Draws Near…

The EP track listing is as follows:

01. Perchance. 5:38.
02. Signs. 7:06.
03. There Shall Be No More Night. 1:52.
04. What Remains?. 10:12.

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

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 9/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #150

Script For A Jesters Tear (Deluxe Edition) – Marillion

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Introduction…

Another of the re-issued box sets by Marillion is upon us and this is fifth one of their albums from their back catalogue to be re-released in what they call the Deluxe Edition. I think the band could have been a bit more adventurous like Ian Anderson with how he has titled the re-issues of the Jethro Tull back catalogue by giving each edition an associated name to go with each album, rather than just call it a “Deluxe Edition”. It’s rather confusing especially being that just over a decade ago many artists were re-releasing their back catalogue of albums as double CD or LP that included extra bonus material on the second disc just like the album pictured below.

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Marillion have also copied Ian Anderson with the packaging they chose to put out these new re-issues by putting all the discs in a hardback book. I very much favour this type of packaging in that they have a feel of real genuine quality and presentation about them and they can also be easily stored along with your DVD’s. The other thing the band are doing regarding these new re-issues, is that they are not re-releasing them in any particular order or to mark the anniversary of when they were originally released. They also stick to same format by including 5 discs.

The bands debut album Script For A Jesters Tear is the third album they have re-issued in these rather tasty packages that comes from the Fish era of the band. To be perfectly honest this is the only era of the band I am interested in which is why I purchased both the new re-issues of Misplaced Childhood and Clutching At Straws in this series and never bothered with the other two albums that got released Brave and Afraid Of Sunlight. The bands debut album has always been my personal favourite album of theirs and the only other album I am waiting for them to get around to is Fugazi and that will most likely get re-issued next year.

My main interest and reason for buying these types of albums all over again is really for the 5.1 surround mix of the album more than anything, but you do also get quite an array of bonus material thrown in along the way. Some of which has never been released before, so there is good value here plus you get a book to read all about the time when the album was made. They also come with a documentary with all the original band members speaking about when the album was made and oddly enough, they have titled it “Sackcloth and Greasepaint”. That would have been an appropriate name for this edition rather than just call it a “Deluxe Edition”.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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Personally, I do not think you can go wrong with these book editions and they really are genuine quality and the 5 discs store very neatly into the hardback book that’s made with thick quality cardboard and sturdy plastic trays to hold the 4 CD’s. The Blu Ray is stored in its own slip pocket and is gloss coated inside to prevent the disc from getting scratched. It also comes with a 60-page book that provides a brief look into the history of when the band started and their debut album and it also includes all the linear notes, credits, lyrics and a lot of photos and artwork.

The Artwork.

The artwork and design layout were done by the English illustrator Mark Wilkinson who done all the artwork for the band back in the days when Fish was in the band. He also went on to do most of the artwork for Fish’s solo albums as well as album covers for bands such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. The artwork he done for this album is my personal favourite album cover of all Marillion albums, although it was the artwork, he did for the bands second album Fugazi that was chosen by Gigwise in 2012 that got rated the 29th best album cover of all time.

I have nothing but praise for Wilkinson’s artwork and I suppose Fish himself deserves some praise with the ideas he presented to him. I shall also touch on the artwork a bit later on in the bonus material that is included on the Blu Ray. The bands logo name was done by Joe Mirowski.

Script For A Jester’s Tear Deluxe Release Editions…

As far as I can make out unlike the previous Marillion Deluxe Editions there is no Digital Download for this release and it was only released in the form of two box sets. The 4 CD + 1 Blu Ray is the cheaper of the two and retails at around £30. It also gives you more bonus content with the addition of the Blu Ray.

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For vinyl lovers it has also been released as a 4 LP box set and is accompanied by 24-page booklet containing rare photos, new artwork and memorabilia. Plus, an extended essay from Prog Magazine editor Jerry Ewing. It does come at a higher price and retails at around £60.

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I cannot find out any information regarding the quality of the vinyl as to if it’s been pressed onto 180- or 140-gram vinyl but no doubt 3 of the LP’s in this box set will have restrictions regarding sound quality due to them being around the 46 – 48-minute mark. This is personally where I have always seen this format being inferior in relation to the CD and why I chose to relegate my turntable to the attic 20 odd years ago.

Marillion In Brief History…

The band was originally formed in Aylesbury which is in the county of Buckinghamshire in England by drummer Mick Pointer and bassist Doug Irvine at the end of 1978 after they both decided to leave the band Electric Gypsy and form a new band of their own. It was also Pointer who chose the name of Silmarillion, after J.R.R. Tolkien’s book. In 1979 they played one gig in London as an instrumental band with Neal Cockle on keys and Martin Jenner on guitar who were later replaced in the same year by guitarist Steve Rothery and the keyboard player Brian Jelliman. It was not until around March 1980 that this new line-up got to play their first gig.

At this point the band certainly was not going anywhere and it was not until the name was shortened to Marillion and Doug Irvine left in 1981 and they brought in a new bass player Diz Minnitt who only joined on the account that they also took in his pal Fish that things started to develop more. It was this newer line-up of the band that started to write and develop much of the bands earlier material and in this same year that they had also had written the demos of “He Knows You Know” and “Garden Party” that were to appear on the bands debut album.

Between 1981 & 1982 most of the material was written by the same line-up which is why 4 of 6 tracks on the bands debut album are also credited in the writing to Brian Jelliman and Diz Minnitt. However, it was not until Mark Kelly replaced Jelliman at the end of 1981 and Pete Trewavas replaced Minnitt in the beginning of 1982 that the material started to take more shape and the band were actually going places. Though even before Minnitt left the band had played over 100 gigs including Friars in Aylesbury where they built up a bit of a following.

It was Fish who was the one that got them out playing live more by getting the gigs. He also took on a more demanding role and control over the band, but he knew it was going to take a lot more than himself to get the band on the road to success. He decided they needed a press officer if things were going to progress and by chance, he landed on a good one who had a lot of connections in the music business. Keith Goodwin had worked with the likes of Yes, Black Sabbath and Argent who was the key to getting the bands foot in the door so to speak.

Not only did Goodwin get the band noticed in music magazines such as the Melody Maker, NME and Record Mirror, but also got them a prestigious session with the BBC’s Friday Rock Show which enabled them to get their foot in the door of London’s famous Marquee Club which led to further bolster their success. It was also at the Marquee Club that they were spotted by the Genesis manager and founder of Charisma Records Tony Stratton-Smith who later sent out a couple of chaps over in a flash roller to try and sign them up for a record deal. Although it was only a singles deal that was on the table at the time to which the band turned down.

In the end the band decided to sign up to EMI Records and sign over the publishing rights to Charisma and the deal was done at the Reading festival they played in August 1982. There was another Genesis connection when the band went into Park Gate Studios in Sussex to record their first single “Market Square Heroes” along with “Three Boats Down From The Candy” on the 25th October 1982. It was produced by David Hitchcock who was the same guy who produced Genesis 1972 album Foxtrot.

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They also released a 12″ single so they could include their epic 17-minute track “Grendel” on the B-Side. The reason they did was because it never fitted in with the tracks, they had planned for their debut album. “Market Square Heroes” did not exactly give the band instant Stardom and failed to break into the UK’s Top 40 and peaked outside it at number 53.

However, success was not too far away and neither was actually charting the single with their second single release on the 31st January 1983, that got released to co-inside with their debut album that would get released in the following month. “He Knows You Know” did manage to break into the UK’s Top 40 and peaked at number 35. To save wasting a track they used “Charting The Single” for the B-Side.

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The bands debut album Script For A Jester’s Tear did even better and broke into the Top 10 of the UK albums charts and by now they was on the road to Stardom though it would take at least another couple of years before they were lining their pockets with Gold so to speak and the rest is really history and a fascinating one at that.

Script For A Jester’s Tear (Deluxe Edition) In Review…

The original album Script For A Jester’s Tear was released back on the 14th March 1983. The album contained 6 tracks spread over an overall playing time of 46 minutes, 56 seconds. The album received commercial success in the UK on its release and peaked at number 7 in the UK album charts. Part of the albums success may of also came from the late Tommy Vance plugging some of the tracks from the album on the Friday Rock Show that was one of the popular rock shows on BBC Radio 1 back then.

The bands debut Script For A Jester’s Tear is the only album to feature the drummer Mick Pointer the very man who formed the band and gave it the name. It was down to both he and Fish not getting along that well in the end that led to his dismissal even though the bands guitarist Steve Rothery fought in his defence to try and keep him on. The dismissal hit Pointer hard forcing him to pack it all in and set up his own kitchen designer business to which did for the next ten years. Though like a phoenix from the flames he returned to the music business to prove his critics wrong and has had a successful music career with the neo-prog rock band Arena for the past 25 years.

The new Deluxe Edition of the album was officially released on the 3rd April 2020. Though due to distribution problems many outlets including Amazon put a hold on it for a couple of weeks and were not releasing it until the 17th. I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon on the 31st January and due to the Coronavirus also having an effect on the postal service it did not arrive until the 21st. Though I cannot complain and I got it much cheaper than the retail price of £29.99 and ended up paying £23.99 for it.

One of the advantages of having a residency at the Marquee Club was that it had its own in-house studio around the back of it which was mainly used for residents of the Marquee Club only. It was the band who chose to record the album there. It was also the perfect location for Fish and it was his watering hole. Although David Hitchcock had produced the bands single “Market Square Heroes” he had been injured in a car crash and Nick Tauber was brought in to produce the album.

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Tauber had produced Thin Lizzy’s early records, though he’d recently had success with the new-wave banshee Toyah Wilcox. He very much helped flesh out some of the superfluous bits and got the right layering to get them the right sound. The album was recorded onto a 16-track mixing console and the band were on a tight budget to record the album. The Marquee Studio closed in 1988 coinciding with the demolition of the Marquee Club. Many artists had recorded live and studio albums there such as the likes of Elton John, Vangelis, Toyah Wilcox, The Clash, Groundhogs, Ralph McTell and many more.

The album comes with an array of bonus material with this new Deluxe Edition that reflects that period of when the band first started out. So, let’s now take a closer look at what you get for your money here.

The Package Contents.

As with the other couple of Deluxe Editions I have of Marillion the book that comes with them provides very little informative information and is mostly filled with glossary pictures and artwork. Regarding the very little informative information they contain you can read it within a couple of minutes whilst sitting on the toilet taking a dump :)))) and they are nowhere near as informative in relation to how well written the new Jethro Tull Editions have been so well compiled and put together.

I would also say that this particular release certainly packs in a lot more extra bonus content in relation to the other couple of Deluxe Editions, though it’s not all good and there are a few things here that could have been done better. But on the whole, I still feel you are getting good value for the money here regardless. So, let’s now dig deeper into the contents of the 4 CD’s and Blu Ray that come with it.

CD 1.

The 1st CD contains the new re-mix of the albums 6 tracks done by Andy Bradfield & Avril Mackintosh and these were the same guys who did the new mixes for the Deluxe Edition of Clutching At Straws that was released in 2018. I personally thought the new stereo mixes they done for that album were pretty good, but the new stereo mixes they have done for this album is quite outstanding and they certainly breathe a very welcoming breath of fresh air to the album.

They have brought out much more clarity and dynamics with this mix and I am hearing things I have never heard before. It’s quite a BIG! improvement over the original mix and the album sounds way better for it. Avril Mackintosh is the one who specialises in vocal production and you can hear every single word as clear as a bell in this mix. It does not suffer with the lack of bass either and every instrument is very well refined and detailed and it’s certainly up their with the best new stereo remixes.

CD 2.

The 2nd CD contains or supposedly contains a new remix of the 3 track 12″ version of the Market Square Heroes EP that originally was released back in 1982. It also contains a remastered version of “Charting The Single” which was the B-Side of “He Knows You Know” that was released back in 1983. However, I have noticed in many reviews that quite a few people are kicking up a fuss regarding the version of “Market Square Heroes” they have actually remixed here and included as part of the EP.

To be perfectly honest I do not know what all the fuss is about simply because if you were a purist I hardly think you would be buying something that has been newly remixed in the first place, unless you buy these things to kick up a fuss that is :)))).

But I myself have noticed that this is not the original version that was on the 12″ EP that Bradfield & Mackintosh have actually remixed, and instead they have remixed the alternative (Battle Priest Version) that was included as one of the bonus tracks on the 1997 remastered album. It might have been that they were not able to lay their hands on the multi-track tape of the original version. There have been many alternative versions of this song that got released over the years.

The other couple of tracks “Three Boats Down From The Candy” and the epic 17 and quarter minute long “Grendel” are remixed versions of the original studio tracks that were included on the original EP. Overall, another GRAND! job has been done with these new mixes and they have more punch with the bass but still define very good well detailed clarity and I am certainly not complaining and they sound GREAT!

CD’s 3 & 4.

The final couple of discs contain a previously unreleased concert of the band playing live at the Marquee Club in London on the 29th December 1982. This a really superb live concert that captures the band playing all 6 songs from their debut album before it was released in the following year plus a few others including “Market Square Heroes“, “Three Boats Down From The Candy“. “Margaret” and “Grendel“.

No doubt this concert has been bootlegged over the years and most likely is floating around on Youtube. But the sound quality on this release is to die for and this is well and truly a GREAT! bonus to have included. So now let’s take a look at the Blu Ray.

The Blu Ray.

The Blu Ray contains all of the material that is on the 4 CD’s only there are some differences and good and bad points about some of them. It also contains a few more extras besides and they really have packed in quite a lot onto the disc. The one thing that they have not included with this release is the original mix of the album.

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The blu ray’s main menu displays Mark Wilkinson’s artwork that was done for the album cover and I must say it looks even better on my 50-inch TV. Speaking of the little TV in the picture on the far left, it has some concert footage on a loop of Fish singing along to “Grendel” and they have done a GREAT! job on the menu.

The menu gives you 6 choices to choose from, the first of which is the main feature which contains the 5.1 surround mix of the Script For A Jester’s Tear album. You will also notice there is no “Audio Options” on this menu and it is only the main feature that comes with a surround mix and the rest of the bonus material is in stereo only. The audio and track selection options are hidden away and a pop-up window (as seen below) displays the other options if they have any when you click on any of the 6 bonus features.

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The main featured album gives you 3 audio choices to choose from all of which are 24-bit 96K high resolution quality. By default, its set to the LPCM Stereo mix. The other 2 are surround mixes and you have the choice of either the 5.1 DTS HD Master or the 5.1 LPCM mixes. There is certainly no lack of high-end audio options here but I shall go into further detail later on in the 5.1 mix section of my review.

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Once you’ve made your audio choice for the album and hit the “Play Album” it displays another one of Mark Wilkinson’s SUPERB! pieces of art. This is the only picture you do get whilst listening to the album and the only thing that does change is the highlighted colour of each album track as it goes along.

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They have also included the new mix of the Market Square Heroes EP on the blu ray. I must admit I would have expected a 5.1 surround mix for the 4 track EP especially how other engineers have done so in the past for other bands and artists. However, I am certainly not complaining and the fact that we also have a 24-bit 96K LPCM Stereo mix sonically and fidelity wise makes all the difference.

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The same as also been done for the SUPERB! live concert they played at the Marquee Club and once again this concert is in audio only and includes a 24-bit 96K LPCM Stereo mix and it sounds FANTASTIC! The concert comes with a running time of 92 minutes, 49 seconds.

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They have also included the Recital of The Script DVD on the blu ray and this live concert captures the band at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on the 18th April 1983. It was originally released on VHS back in October 1983 and later released on DVD in July 2003 to which they included the extra video footage and only bit of video footage from the concert they played at the Marquee Club in 1982.

No doubt you will find this concert on Youtube and the fact that it was captured with video cameras back in those days and not 35mm film does unfortunately mean that there is no way of improving the picture quality. Today’s modern technology of flat screen HD TV’s and Blu Ray is not gonna exactly do it any favours either and will in fact make it look worse than what it was back in those days.

But for nostalgic purposes this is still good to have and no doubt the band gave another truly remarkable outstanding performance. However, this concert was not captured as well on video as the open-air concert Live At Loreley that caught the band 4 years later in 1987, and the Hammersmith Odeon is quite a dark and dismal place and the lighting was not the best in relation how well it has improved today. But one of its downfalls is that it was either badly edited or they never used enough cameras to capture the band properly, and for most of the concert you can only really see Fish more than anyone else.

But you do get to see Fish in combat and destroy house plants :)))) and I had to laugh even more when it came to Steve Rothery’s guitar solo on the opening track “Script For A Jester’s Tear” to which I was expecting the camera to point at him. Instead all you could see was the camera jerking around showing you Fish and Pete Trewavas and it was only at the very end of the guitar solo that you got see Steve Rothery from a distance standing in a spotlight LOL. Honestly some of these camera men have no idea and I do rather think this was more than likely only filmed with a couple of video cameras.

The concert has a running time of 81 minutes, 39 seconds and comes with a 4:3 TV aspect ratio and the picture has black borders on both sides of the video which is to be expected. It also comes with a LPCM 16-bit audio soundtrack which does sound very good. To be honest this concert I never had unlike Live At Loreley which I did buy on both VHS and DVD. I had seen in on Youtube and I am glad they included it here.

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The “Extras” bonus material is once again more nostalgic than any real quality and it does contain the extra 11-minute video footage of the Marquee Club that was on the Recital of The Script DVD. You also get the 3 videos that were made for the single versions “Market Square Heroes“. “He Knows You Know” and “Garden Party“. In total you get an extra 23 minutes here.

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The final extra bonus content you get on the blu ray is the documentary they have entitled “Sackcloth and Greasepaint” and this is longer than the documentaries they done on the previous Deluxe Editions and has a running time of 93 minutes, 29 seconds. They have also gone about things differently by interviewing all 5 members of the band individually rather than all in the same room at the same time.

Personally, I think this documentary is better than the previous documentaries and I quite like how they have also included a chapter index that details the various points about the album they are discussing as you can see below.

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The documentary goes into quite a lot more detail than what the 60-page book you get with the package and that is very brief. Besides the 5 original members of the band they have also included the bands ex-bass player Diz Minnitt in the interview who along with the bands drummer at the time Mick Pointer shed more light on how the band originally started. Another important person they brought along to interview is the artist Mark Wilkinson and this is interesting how he goes into more detail about the artwork he done for the debut album and singles.

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The artwork that Mark Wilkinson done for the bands debut contained quite a few references to the bands and even others music such as the posters on the wall and the records on the floor of the singles that got released. There is also a couple of albums on the floor Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful Of Secrets and Bill Nelson’s Do You Dream In Colour?

It also contained a couple of references to a couple of the songs that would later appear on their second album Fugazi. Such as the figure of Punch on the TV screen and the inclusion of a Chameleon and these would have been some of things Fish had asked to be included, simply because he had not heard a note of the bands music when he worked on the album cover.

The Jester was Fish’s idea and it was something he had in mind long before he had joined Marillion. He wanted to portray a struggling writer in his surroundings and Wilkinson took it on from there and decided to put him in his own surroundings of the bedsit he was living in at the time. He even painted his own fireplace and wanted to create the real sense of a seedy environment and included copies of Kerrang! Sounds and the Daily Mirror which featured the story of the Yorkshire Ripper on the front page.

Wilkinson was put under a lot of pressure to get the artwork for the album done in time for the albums release. Things would of been fine if he did not have to replace and make alterations to some of the things that he had put in at the last-minute sort of thing, and he was given a hard time by EMI. Some of the things he had to change were for branding reasons for example the Coca Cola can, the Fairy Liquid bottle and even the name on the ashtray which had a Fuller’s Brewery logo on it had to be changed.

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Originally the painting above the fireplace was a painting of John Lennon floating in water but he was asked to remove it by EMI due to not having enough time to get permission granted from Yoko Ono. A painting of Ophelia, who is mentioned in “Chelsea Monday” was used to replace it has seen above. One of the things that were left in was the words to Paul McCartney’sYesterday” that were in the empty violin case because permission was granted for them. McCartney was said to be impressed although he never got any work from him to do his album covers.

Overall, the documentary is very good and is another of the good things about the extra bonus content you do get with the blu ray. The one thing I did however notice regarding both the documentary and the book, is that it never gave one mention to the engineers who done the new stereo and surround mixes.

The 5.1 Surround Mix.

The surround mix was left once again to the same engineers Andy Bradfield & Avril Mackintosh who done the previous 5.1 mix for the Clutching At Straws album. I did mention in the review of the Deluxe Edition of that album that they never had the right head on their shoulders to do a 5.1 mix and it’s even more evident with this surround mix. The 5.1 mix they done for the Straws album was nothing to write home about and did nothing to bring out the clarity, and dynamics to give you the immersive experience that you will get from an engineer who knows what they are doing and has a lot more experience and imagination to do the job in the first place.

Like I have mentioned in the past doing a 5.1 surround mix is a totally different ball game and it really is all about placement and knowing what to take away from the front channels to place in the rear. It requires a hell of a lot more thought, immigration and attention than any stereo mix and just because an engineer can do an excellent stereo mix does not mean he can do the same for a 5.1 mix. In this world there is only around 1% of producers and mixing engineers who are capable of doing an excellent 5.1 mix and getting the right man for the job is a lot more difficult task.

But I suppose everybody has to start somewhere, but in all honesty these pair are not learning anything and are taking a step backwards rather than forwards. Where I do give them praise though is with the stereo mix and they have really gone to town and knocked it out of the park and that is the real winner and it was a shame they never included that remix on the blu ray in a Hi-Res audio format.

A completely new mix was done for surround mix and once again more reflections have been used for the rear channels instead of actually using any of the instruments. What instruments they have used to place in the rear are too low in the mix quite often and even though they have made the vocals clearer, there are certain parts where they are too low to hear and they could have perhaps utilised the rears for those parts.

Overall, the surround mix is very disappointing and its quite clear that they lack the vision and attention to detail to be even given the job of doing the surround mix in the first place. I honestly get ZILCH! from this mix and would not even bother to play it again. It’s a complete shambles in relation to how well they done the stereo mix on the CD and I would even go as far as saying that it was not even worth sticking it on the Blu Ray. I think even my rating of 3 out of 10 is on the generous side.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced by Nick Tauber. All music written and arranged by Fish, Steve Rothery, Pete Trewavas, Mark Kelly, Mick Pointer, Diz Minnit, Brian Jelliman (Except tracks 1 & 5 by Fish, Steve Rothery, Pete Trewavas, Mark Kelly, Mick Pointer and track 3 by Fish, Steve Rothery, Pete Trewavas, Mark Kelly, Mick Pointer, Brian Jelliman. All lyrics written by Fish.

Recorded & Mixed by Simon Hanhart between December 1982 – February 1983 at the Marquee Studios London, England. Assistant Engineers Mark. Andy. Mike Martin. Illustrations & Design Layout by Mark Wilkinson. Art Direction & Logo by Jo Mirowski. Photography by Steve Rothery, Fish, Andy Phillips, Stuart James, Stef Jeffery, Simon Fowler, Alan King, Robert Ellis, Mike Eldon & Peter Sims. Remixed by Andy Bradfield & Avril Mackintosh. DVD Authorising by Ray Shulman. Linear Notes by Jerry Ewing.

Musicians:

Fish: Voice.
Steve Rothery: Yamaha SG 2000/Yamaha Acoustic/Squire 57 & Fender Strat Guitars/Marshal & Mesa Boogie Amps.
Pete Trewavas: Rickenbacker 4000 Bass/Fender Precision Fretless Bass/Peavey Amps.
Mark Kelly: Steinway Grand Piano/Harpsichord/Mini Moog/Roland JP8/PPG Wave 2.2 Emulator/Pro One/Yamaha CS15/Korg CX3 Organ.
Mick Pointer: Tama Kit/Paste Cymbals/Percussion.

Additional Musicians:

Marquee Clubs Parents Association Children’s Choir (Appear on “Forgotten Sons”).
Peter Cockburn (Newsreader on “Forgotten Sons”).

The Album Tracks In Review…

Marillion could be seen perhaps as the godfathers of neo-prog rock and they were certainly one of the more notable new bands to hit the scene that were venturing back down the road of prog rock after a wave of punk rock, new romantic, new wave and all the other so called retro electronic garbage many bands and other artists churned out in the 80’s. I quite often visualised and likened the band to early Genesis when they had Peter Gabriel and often thought this is what Genesis might have sounded like had Gabriel not left the band.

You could say that in the 80’s Marillion were my Genesis and in my opinion, they certainly wrote better material than they ever did in that decade. They also had a singer who like Gabriel had that bit more edge and aggression, and certainly churned out a way better debut album than they ever did as well. So. let’s now take a closer look at the albums individual tracks.

Track 1. Script For A Jester’s Tear.

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The albums self-titled track was one of the last to be written for the album and like many of the songs on this album it’s an absolute classic well written song that has a really GREAT! musical structure and well-thought-out lyrics. Fish wrote all the lyrics to the songs on the album and to be honest these are more like songwriters lyrics that you would associate with some of the GREAT! singer songwriters in this world, and not so much the fantasy and mythical stories that are commonly associated with many prog rock bands including early Genesis. These have far more purpose and meaning to them even more so than the lyrics that he wrote for “Grendel” which are more or less along the lines of that band.

The lyrics to this particular song pertain to the breaking down of a relationship and it could be said that this is “Kayleigh (Part One)” because they were inspired by the very same woman he had broken up with before he quit a secure life in the forestry commission to join the band. In my personal opinion this song is way better than that hit song that winded up on the bands 3rd album a couple years later, and this is the real playground of the broken hearts.

Musically there is some GREAT! progression along it’s path that allows the room for all the instrumentalists in the band to play their role besides the singer, and even though the song starts on the keys and the first section of the song is more developed by Mark Kelly’s keyboards it is very much more structured around the guitar. In the interview Steve Rothery stated that he had not quite developed his guitar sound at this stage and he did not really develop it till the bands second album Fugazi.

That may have been the case regarding the actual sound but his guitar work on this song and many of the other songs on this album outshine anything he went on to do when Fish had left the band. The guitar solos in this song are very strong and provide the main themes to drive it along. It’s a very powerful song that has a GREAT! come down section and features a nice blend of acoustic guitar, some dominant bass lines, well-crafted harpsichord and synth work and it all builds up to its powerful ending and allows Fish to use his voice with GREAT! expression and aggression.

The albums self-titled track a “Script For A Jester’s Tear” gets the album off to a very positive start and is one of the 4 songs on the album that merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! This is very much an album that is so hard to choose a personal favourite track and I could of easily chose 5 out the 6 songs on it.

Track 2. He Knows You Know.

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A song about the problematic problems that are associated with drugs to which in some circumstances will no doubt lead one to an early grave. The song is perhaps written more in the way of an anti-drug song to show the effects that drugs can have with drug abuse. The inspiration for the lyrics came from his own experience of suffering from stomach cramps brought on from bad speed. I know the feeling myself and have been there in my youth especially with blues more so than sulphate.

Luckily for me I soon seen sense to get off them and music has always been my own personal drug apart from a bad nicotine habit of smoking cigarettes. Fish is very much right when he stated “there are no different types, they’re all just drugs and anyone who takes them is weak-willed and has no part in society”.

The problem with any drug including weed is that those who take them are not living in the world of reality and can often be reckless minded and have an “I don’t give a FUCK!” attitude and inflict harm on others. I’ve literally seen a kid stab his best to death over a £20 bag of weed. So, for anyone who thinks weed is harmless, they are literally off their head. I know plenty of people who take them including some of my friends, and I call them all life wasting “CUNTS! who do not belong in society! But alcohol can be just as harmful when abused and mixed with weed it can be lethal as in that case.

This is very much another of my favourite tracks on the album and a very strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! It’s the shortest track on the album and is perhaps the only song on the album that was really suitable for a single release. I love the aggression in Fish’s voice on this song and the words “Problems. problems and don’t give me your problems” have seeped into my brain that every time I am in conversation with somebody and they have a problem I will quite often jokingly burst out singing this song :)))).

Track 3. The Web.

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The longest track on the album and this particular song just like “Grendel” is more like early Genesis and has more of a GABRIEL-ESC feel about it. Even lyrically this is stepping on Genesis territory and we have heroes and characters from Greek Mythology such as Ulysses and Penelope. But it also has been mingled in with words that pertain to some of the other tracks on the album perhaps to make it work like more of a concept idea to some degree, and this web is spinning quite a yarn and perhaps even too much of one for me to even try and decipher the lyrics we have here.

There is no doubt that all the band are doing quite a STELLAR! job on the song and it features some GREAT! guitar and keyboard solos and once again there is some really good progression along its path. I think it’s quite a good song, but personally for me it is the lyrics that let it down and the fact they are trying to sound too much like early Genesis but they are not on the same level or par sort of thing.

Track 4. Garden Party.

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Another of the many classics on the album and this is very much another one of my personal favourites that merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! The lyrics are based around a cynical outlook of the upper class who like to  entertain their guests by hiring bands to play at their garden parties and the reason for them having cucumber sarnies and other vegetable varieties is so they can throw them at the band if they are not all that good they can have a bit of snotty nosed fun. But it also gives the band a chance to intermingle and have a good piss up and have a proper party so they say :)))).

Musically the song was written and structured around Mark Kelly’s riff on the synth and this is a song that would have been written around the keys very much like how “Market Square Heroes” was structured. He also gets to fly out a really GREAT! synth solo too. and solo section is supported by some excellent bass work from Trewavas. Rothery also joins in on part of the solo playing along the same lines as Kelly, although his guitar is utilised more in the chorus sections which are more subtle to which he blends in some nice rhythm guitar and phasing FX.

The verse sections are where more of the power lies and Fish gets to express his vocals very well in the song and also gets to change its texture and give it another accent with the speaking parts. Something that Peter Gabriel used to also do with Genesis and they both are very good at doing.

I can perhaps see why “Garden Party” was released as a single because it is quite infectious with the riff on the keys that drives it along in much the same way that “Market Square Heroes” did. However, I prefer the full version rather than an edited down version and that is why is perhaps does not work for me as a single.

The video they made for it was a bit like something along the lines of the stories Enid Blyton wrote about the Famous Five. Only they were perhaps trying to do it in the same way that the likes of Adrian Edmondson, Dawn French and others did in the comedy series The Comic Strip Presents with Five Go Mad In Dorset. That incidentally was shown on Channel 4 in the previous year and it would not surprise me if the idea for the video came from that TV series.

Track 5. Chelsea Monday.

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If you like guitar solos then you should like this classic song and personally, I do not think that Steve Rothery did a better one that what is on this song. No doubt he got to play many GREAT! solos back in the early days when Fish was in the band, but this one as the cream on top of them all. His guitar work on “Chelsea Monday” is pure bliss and it charms me with its smile and its totally GORGEOUS!

If I had to make the choice to only pick one of the songs from this album to be my personal favourite, it would be this one down to the guitar work on it. Musically the song was even constructed around the guitar, only it was Pete Trewavas’s bass line that was at the core and was the basis of its structure. Everything worked around it including it and it’s a master-stroke piece of work and I could play this song till the cows come home.

The lyrics and the way Fish delivers them are SUPERB! and they pertain to a young girl’s dreams of becoming an actress and making it to the silver screen so to speak. However, rather than face the prospect of failure she decides that she’s going to commit suicide and go out in a blaze of fame, but she still managed to charm them with her smile. This is very much another song that merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 6. Forgotten Sons.

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The album ends off with yet another Marillion classic and although “Forgotten Sons” can be seen as a political song and has perhaps certainly become more of one, the lyrics that Fish penned for it were based around the chaos the IRA inflicted in England and their own country. The original idea came to him when he was working at the employment office seeing all these people wanting to sign up to the army because they could not get a job to which he thought they were crazy.

This is a song that goes through some really GREAT! progression and transitional changes, the songs versus are structured around the keyboards, bass and drums and the chorus is more guitar structured. There is also a couple of bridge sections that were developed for the spoken parts. They originally wanted the ITN Newsreader Trevor Mcdonald to do the spoken parts but he wanted something like 2 grand and has the band were on a tight budget and Peter Cockburn ended up doing them. It also features the Marquee Clubs Parents Association Children’s Choir.

I like how they have adapted and incorporated the Lord’s Prayer with different lyrics and “Ring-a-ring-a Roses” into the song and no doubt the whole band are firing on all cylinders. Pete Trewavas’s bass work is outstanding and once again we get some GREAT! guitar solo work from Steve Rothery and they are all out in full force to deliver the goods and put the album to bed in tremendous style. “Forgotten Sons” is the 4th track on the album to merit the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Summary…

To sum up the new Deluxe Edition of Marillion’s debut album a Script For A Jester’s Tear. I personally think for those like myself whose incentive to buy these albums all over again for the 5.1 surround mix will be hugely disappointed. However, the new stereo mix of the album on the CD is way better than the original mix and really brings the album back to life in many respects. Both the Market Square Heroes EP and the live concert at the Marquee Club are also superbly mixed and the fact that both of these have also been included on the Blu Ray in Hi-Res Audio makes this package even more worthwhile.

The rest of of the bonus material is also very good and although the 60-page book is not as informative as the documentary they have included on the blu ray, it still all comes very neatly packaged in a quality hardback book that will store nice and easy along with your DVD’s on the shelf and is a very well presented package well worth its price point.

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Now all I need is the new Deluxe Edition of Fugazi to complete my personal Marillion collection and I have heard that is scheduled to be released next year. I shall also be keeping my eyes peeled so I can pre-order it well in advance to get it at the best price.

Conclusion…

Marillion’s debut album Script For A Jester’s Tear is quite a force to be reckoned with and is a very strong body of work. Debut albums do not come much better than this and even though Led Zeppelin made quite a good debut album, it was the bands second album that spilled out all the guts and energy and in terms of how well this debut album of Marillion’s really is, it’s more on par with that album and not many bands have done that with their first album.

Out of the 6 songs on the album 4 of them are absolute CLASSICS! and “Script For A Jesters Tear“. “Garden Party“. “Chelsea Monday” and “Forgotten Sons” are very much my personal highlights from the album. But I certainly do not have any “Problems” playing the whole album that’s for sure.

The new Deluxe Book Edition of the album represents quite an expansive and broader look and way to showcase the bands debut album and all they were doing around this time period. My only real gripe would be with the surround mix and their unfortunate insight of them not including a Hi-Res audio version of the newly mixed debut album on the Blu Ray. But overall, with all you get here, it still holds a lot of GREAT! value for the buck and is well worth getting.

The Playground Of The Broken Hearts…

The CD track listing is as follows:

Disc One: Script For A Jester’s Tear (2020 Stereo Re-mix)
01. Script For A Jesters Tear. 8:43.
02. He Knows You Know. 5:23
03. The Web. 8:50.
04. Garden Party. 7:20.
05. Chelsea Monday. 8:17.
06. Forgotten Sons. 8:25.
Disc Two: Market Square Heroes EP (2020 Stereo Re-mix)
01. Market Square Heroes. 4:18.
02. Three Boats Down From The Candy. 4:30.
03. Grendel. 17:17.
04. Charting The Single (2020 Remaster). 4:47.
Disc Three: Live at the Marquee Club, London (29/12/82)
01. Garden Party. 8:47.
02. Three Boats Down from the Candy. 5:24.
03. Grendel. 19:24.
04. Chelsea Monday. 9:14.
05. He Knows You Know. 5:33.
Disc Four: Live at the Marquee Club, London (29/12/82)
01. The Web. 11:24.
02. “Script For A Jester’s Tear. 9:35.
03. Forgotten Sons. 11:25.
04. Market Square Heroes. 5:27.
05. Margaret. 6:45.

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. 10/10

The Stereo Re-Mix Rating Score. 10/10

The 5.1 Mix Rating Score. 3/10

The Original Album Rating Score. 10/10

Lee Speaks About Music… #149

A Visit To Zoetermeer Live – Tiger Moth Tales

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Introduction…

Pete Jones and his Tiger Moth Tales project have been busy more recently releasing quite a few live albums in the form of a digital download on Bandcamp, and if you were to look at the Tiger Moth Tales discography on Bandcamp you would in fact see that he has twice as many live albums in relation to the 4 studio albums that have so far been released. However, A Visit to Zoetermeer could be seen has his first ever official live album release simply because it is the only live album that has been released in the form of a physical product and released by his record label White Knight Records.

The other “First” factor about this particular release, is that it also comes accompanied with a DVD so that you can actually see the live concert besides just listen to it in audio only on the CD. To be perfectly honest a live DVD of Pete Jones is something I have been waiting to see get released for a while now and I myself would sooner watch a live concert than just listen to it on a CD or any format for that matter.

To be perfectly honest I have never been to see Pete Jones play live and it is without doubt something I want to do eventually as well. I have seen many live videos of him on YouTube but never a full concert like we have here, so this really was a must for my collection. Although what I would also say that even just listening to the many other self-live releases, he has put out on Bandcamp in the form of a digital download only. I can honestly say I enjoy those as well and this is really down to how he interacts with his audience and will quite often speak to them in between the songs he plays.

Pete Jones is not only quite an amazing talented musician, but he very much comes with a good sense and dose of humour that will also reflect in a lot of his own written material. The DVD that comes in this package also gives you a bit more, but before I go any further let’s take a look at how it has been presented.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The both discs come very well presented in a 2-panel cardboard DigiSleeve and I myself prefer this type of packaging in relation to the standard plastic Jewel Case. The one thing it does not come with is a booklet, so its perhaps a bit limited regarding having any additional informative information though it does have the usual linear and production notes printed on the inside as you can see in the photo below.

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The both discs slot neatly into the slit pockets and the fact that the cardboard has also been printed gives it a smoother surface to protect the discs from being scratched. The discs also hide a couple of nice photos that was snapped at the concert and the back of the cover contains the set list for both the CD and DVD.

Overall, it’s a very neat and well-presented package and both DigiSleeves and Digipaks do in general cost one or two pound more than the price of a single CD in a Jewel Case. I do not mind paying that bit extra for this sort of packaging either. I purchased my copy from White Knight Records for £12 plus £1.75 for the postage & packing making a total cost of £13.75 which is very much a bargain considering you are getting a CD & DVD.

I also think it is cheaper than purchasing it from Bandcamp because you do tend to pay extra tax on that site and this may of cost between £15 – £18 knowing them from the past when I have ordered CD’s from there. The artist might also get to keep more of the money too with the 15% that Bandcamp charge for each sale.

The Artwork.

Like most live albums the artwork generally consists of a photograph taken from the live concert and that is the case here. The Dutch photographer Ard Van Der Heuvel took the photos and no doubt done a super job. I have no idea if the same person did the cover design and layout because the linear notes are missing that information. It may have been done by Pete’s brother Chris Jones but whoever done the design and layout done another super job.

A Visit To Zoetermeer Live In Review…

A Visit To Zoetermeer Live by Tiger Moth Tales was released on the 21st February 2020. The CD of the album comes with a running time of 70 minutes, 10 seconds which is like a double album of material. No doubt this time slot might be considered too long for a single studio album but a live concert can go on much longer and the 70 minutes here might even be considered as quite short. Though I certainly am not complaining and I am glad to see the release of a live DVD at last.

Tiger Moth Tales is very much the work of one-man Pete Jones and quite often he does go out and perform live on his own, though on occasions he also performs with the band he is also part of who go by the name of Red Bazar. It’s the musicians from this particular band that often lend him a hand to be able to perform his own material live and bring it to the stage with a fuller sound like you will find on his studio albums where he himself plays all the instruments.

For this concert all the members of the band were there apart from the keyboard player Gary Marsh, and I have to say they are all capable musicians of doing a GREAT! job and along with Jones himself they have well and truly brought the music of Tiger Moth Tales to the stage and put on an excellent performance and show. But before I go on to the show let’s first take a look at the DVD that comes in this package.

The DVD. 

The DVD that comes in this package has some very basic features and things about it and to be perfectly honest I was not expecting it to be anything more when I ordered it. For example, it’s hardly likely that Pete Jones and his project name of Tiger Moth Tales could hire somewhere like the Royal Albert Hall or even the Genting Arena here in my own town of Birmingham to put on a live show with all the trimmings. That’s not to say he has not played at such venues with the prog rock band Camel he toured with a couple of years ago, but he’s hardly likely to fill those type of venues under his own name so he has to play at more smaller venues.

So, it perhaps does not really need to have something that looks a bit more professional regarding the DVD menu. But surprisingly there is a couple of quality things about this DVD and it’s not all as basic as it may appear. It also comes with some of the promotional videos that were made for some of the songs which make for some good bonus content.

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The DVD’s main menu is about as basic as you can get and it does only have the one screen as you can see above. This is basically down to the software they used to authorise the DVD and to be honest whatever software they used was quite basic especially regarding the lack of menus and how the only way you can play the videos is by using the select button on your remote control. For example, not even the “Play Button” on your remote will play the videos.

To play a video you will have to use the navigation dial on your remote to navigate over one of the arrow pointers till it is highlighted to a green colour as you can see how I have highlighted the first track “Toad of Toad Hall” in the picture above. Once it is highlighted you simply hit the select button in the middle of the navigation circle (on most remotes) rather than the “Play Button”.

The other basic feature is that it only comes with one audio track which is Dolby Digital 2.0/48K and I also was not expecting it to come with a 5.1 surround mix. But the stereo track is quite good and well acceptable. Overall, with both the main feature of the concert and the bonus content all being put together onto one single menu it perhaps does not look like that much in the way of a more professional presentation. But least everything is all in one place and can be easily accessed.

To be perfectly honest it does not cost that much to get some decent software that can do a much more professional and respectable job regarding the menus. Having dabbled in video editing and putting together a couple of DVD’s for my holidays a decade or more ago now, I came across an excellent piece of software for DVD Authoring and making professional DVD menus made by DVDFab. I cannot remember the version I had but I am pretty sure it cost me less than £80 and having just checked out the latest version of the software it still can be had for less than £100.

This short video demonstration gives you an example of how well you can build your own DVD menus with DVDFab and how it does look more professional. Though I will say that some of the icons I used in the DVD I made for my family holiday I used for the purpose of the kids and so too was some of the extra features I put in. But the software gives you an array of buttons to choose from and you can even make your own customised buttons and menus. It also includes 3D and animation and it’s nowhere near as complicated to use like some of the reviews of the software make it out to be.

These days DVDFab is more up to date and even caters for 4K and no doubt will pack in a lot more features. I am not saying it’s the best software out there but I have also used video editors that cost four to five times as much and they are not capable of doing menus like this and for its price point I certainly do not think it can be beaten. It will also do a much better job than whatever they used to make the DVD menu for this concert DVD which really is basic.

But regarding making this video demonstration. I did so not do it to promote DVDFab in anyway but to show that there is better software like this out there and hopefully this might provide some useful incite in how to go about making DVD & Blu Ray menus. I am no expert by any means and do not claim to be, you may have also noticed in some of my earlier reviews of DVD’s and Blu Ray’s that have basic menus how I have stated that I could have done a better job myself. In all honesty I could have done regarding the menus by using this software. But I am not employing that I would want the job and I certainly am no expert when it comes to video editing.

The Bonus Features.

The bonus feature consists of 5 promotional videos that were done to promote the last couple of Tiger Moth Tales studio albums The Depths Of Winter and Story Tellers Part Two. I have seen them before and some are even longer than the ones that were put out on YouTube on Rob Reed and Chris Fry’s tube channels. It’s really GREAT! to have included them here and this is one of the two quality things you get with this DVD.

Speaking of Rob Reed it was he who directed and done the video editing on all 5 promo videos and Andrew Lawson was the guy behind the camera doing the filming. They have both done a super quality job of them and the footage as been shot very well and captured in HD. In total the 5 videos give you an extra 22 minutes, 14 seconds of GREAT! bonus content.

The Picture & Editing Quality.

The Dutch film maker John Vis was the man behind shooting the film footage for the live show. To be honest there is very little I can find out about him and the linear and credit notes that come with the CD do not really provide you with any informative information and it simply states “Filmed by Jon Vis” and does not even mention how many cameras and operators were used. However, I can see he is no stranger to filming many of the live shows for the newer neo-prog bands and see he has filmed bands like Riverside, Mystery, Big Train and many others in the past.

Both the filming and editing is the other quality thing about this DVD. John Vis done an outstanding job in the way he has captured the live concert very well in full HD. To be honest by putting the DVD in my Sony Blu Ray player the picture quality in all honesty looks immaculate and as sharp and just as pristine as a Blu Ray and you would think it was a Blu Ray disc and not a DVD. I am fairly sure that around 3 cameras at least were used to film the concert and you can see they captured all the angles very well.

Geert Jan Schoonbeek was the guy who done the editing and pretty much a bang on job was done here to as well. Peter Jones is very much one of those artists you need to capture well especially when he’s playing the guitar and keyboards at the same time. I have seen countless live videos of him on YouTube and not one of them that have captured him so precisely like they have done here. This is by far the best live video footage I have seen of him and it displays this man’s talent and the other musicians on the stage 100%.

The Sound Quality.

The sound quality on the DVD is a very basic format they have used and it would have been better if they included a lossless format such as LPCM for example rather than a standard Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo soundtrack. It’s quite good like I mentioned earlier but the sound quality on the CD is better. It’s a shame that more thought was not put into the DVD especially in relation to the stunning quality job that was done for both the picture and editing.

Musicians & Credits…

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All songs written by Peter Jones. Recorded live at the Cultuurpodium Boerderij, Zoetermeer in the Netherlands on the 26th January 2019. Filmed by John Vis. Edited by Geert Jan Schoonbeek. Photos by Ard Van Der Heuvel. All Promo Videos Directed & Edited by Robert Reed and Filmed by Andrew Lawson.

Musicians.

Peter Jones: Vocals – Keyboards – Guitar.
Andy Wilson: Guitar.
Mick Wilson: Bass – Melodica – Vocoder & Backing Vocals.
Paul Comerie: Drums

On To The Show…

The music venue Cultuurpodium Boerderij is situated in the south Holland city Zoetermeer and was originally a farmhouse and part of an old vacant farm and back in the 70’s. It was converted into a large hall and manly used for discos and was used as a youth centre. Over the years it developed from an open youth centre into a cultural stage and more and more concerts were planned. As the population began to grow in Zoetermeer it created a need for a larger hall for pop music and the like.

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In 1998 the Boerderij moved to a newly built building (as seen above) and has since become a culture stage with a program offering consisting of concerts, dance nights, cabaret and theatre. It’s a much smaller venue than the 013 in Tilburg but like that venue it does have a couple of rooms you can hire to put on a live show.

Venue Collage 2

The biggest of the two rooms is the large hall and this holds a capacity for around 750 people and is where this particular concert was performed and the many other prog rock, blues and rock bands who have played at the venue which includes the likes of Steve Hackett, Alan Parsons, Fish, Paul Carrack, Deep Purple, Saxon, Uriah Heep and many others. The other room is a lot smaller and more like a bar to which they call the stage cafe’ and holds a capacity of around 100 people.

On With The Show…

When Pete Jones and his project of Tiger Moth Tales took the stage on the 26th January 2019 at the Cultuurpodium Boerderij it was the second time he had played the venue. He first played there exactly a year earlier on the 26th January 2018 when he was promoting his 3rd studio album The Depths Of Winter. On this occasion he is promoting his 4th studio album Story Tellers Part Two and I also noticed that on December 14th 2019 he played the same venue for the third time.

The live concert on the DVD has a running time of 74 minutes, 5 seconds and is near enough 4 minutes longer than what you get on the CD. Though for the life of me I could not tell you, or have not spotted what extra content you get with the 4 minutes and they both contain the same set-list. Both the CD and DVD also contain Pete Jones speaking to the audience as well and it’s not as if the concert on the CD has been edited down like many concerts of other artists have been by cutting out the talk in between the songs.

I can only presume that part of the talking in between the songs may have been cut out from the CD. The reason I have not spotted what parts is really down to me only playing the CD once. I do prefer to watch a live concert than just listen to it and for me personally any concert on DVD or Blu Ray is my preferred choice and it’s very rare I will even play the CD’s that come in most of these packages.

The 9-track set-list features material from 3 of the Tiger Moth Tales albums and the only album he does not play anything from is his 2nd album Story Tellers. The band enter the stage and Pete Jones greets the audience as he done so with the opening song off his latest album Story Tellers Part 2 entitled “Toad Of Toad Hall” to which he kicks off the show with. This is very much a song that features quite a lot of lead synth work and is structured around a dominant bass line and is a really GREAT! song.

Throughout most of the concert Jones is only on vocals and keyboards and he is using his trusty Technics KN6000 keyboard rather than a moog to which was used for the studio version. No doubt he uses it because he knows his way around it and to be honest it still puzzles me how he is able to change all the patches so quickly even for when he uses the split function to layer many more sounds. The bass player Mick Wilson also controls a lot of the extra sound and vocal effects such as the motorbike sound in this opening song via the use of an iPad or some similar device he has on a stand.

The other thing I noticed that was on a stand is a Stick Bass or Chapman Stick that was not used throughout the entire concert, it could have been that they played a Red Bazar set either before or after and why this set was so short in the first place.

However, Jones wastes no time rolling out the next number which is the 2nd part of the final track from his debut album “Feels Alright“. He tones things down another notch with another of his songs from his latest album “Match Girl” to which features mostly Jones on his own on the piano with Mick Wilson contributing a nice touch of Melodica to accompany him. It’s also during these last couple of numbers that Jones starts to have more of a conversation with the audience and reminds them he has CD’s for sale and needs to clear up more space in his garage :)))).

The first of two tracks from his 3rd studio album is up next and “Hygge” is not exactly the type of song to raise the tempo up and only slightly lifts it up a notch in the second half of it. I have to admit that The Depths Of Winter is my least favourite album and that is down many of the tracks being a bit too BALLAD ESC! and the fact that many of the tracks on it do tend to drag on longer than they really need to. But in saying that this is one of the albums better tracks and this live version is quite welcoming.

It also gives Andy Wilson a chance to play a lead solo on the guitar and the blend of the keyboards and guitar over its melodic parts give it that Genesis feel. Jones was no doubt influenced by that band when he wrote “Hygge” and part of its melodic structure does sound like it’s been lifted from “Ripples” although it’s not quite a classic like that particular song of theirs and it sort of crosses boundaries and sounds like some of the material that came off the couple of albums that followed it and his own input of course.

A couple of my favourite tracks from the last couple of albums are up next and the first of them is “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” and I was so pleased to see that he had included this in the set-list and this does help to pick the pace of show up more and Jones and the band more or less knock it out of the park. Another cracking job by all is done with “The Ballad of Longshanks John” and I quite enjoy watching how Jones can play different melody lines at the same time with his hands on the keys and he really can sound like an orchestra at times. I see they also brought along the voice of Jamie Ambler to which is triggered on the device Mick Wilson operates on many of the songs, he also uses it for some vocoder effect on this song and another.

The last part of the show is where things really start to cook on gas and they are certainly cooking up some excitement with this 3-course meal of songs that is on the menu to which all are from his debut album Cocoon. Playing different melody lines at the same time with both hands is perhaps even more evident when playing two instruments and this as always been part of the showcase and highlight of seeing Pete Jones or Tiger Moth Tales live.

I would also say he does need a band behind him to pull off “Tigers In The Butter” over its entirety like he did here and can be seen in this video that is taken from the live concert to which Rob Reed uploaded on his YouTube channel.

This is quite an outstanding performance of the song and captures much of the essence that was contained in the studio recording. It also gives Andy Wilson a chance to fly out a blistering solo on the guitar at the end and even Paul Comerie on the drums gets to really bash his kit out a lot more.

You can also see how well this show has been captured on film by John Vis and his camera crew and how it’s been skilfully edited by Geert Jan Schoonbeek not only to capture Jones but also the other members of the band. But the show is not quite over and the next couple of songs are also classics from the Cocoon album and “The Merry Vicar” is very much another of the songs that works very well with having a band behind him.

I quite like how Pete Jones and Andy Wilson have a bit of fun on the guitars on the introduction by playing little snippets of songs like “Day Trip To Blackpool“. “Smoke On The Water” and the theme tune to “Match of The Day” and this is a GREAT! fun song all the way and they pull it off extremely well. The band do not leave the stage to go off and come back for an encore and finish off the show in SUPERB! style with the classic “A Visit To Chigwick” and once again having two guitarists works very well with the fine melodies that are along this superb song. This really is quite a GEM! and the perfect way to end off quite a magical evening and very enjoyable show.

Summary…

To sum up A Visit To Zoetermeer Live by Tiger Moth Tales. The fact the concert comes with a DVD besides a CD gives you the opportunity to see the amazing talent Pete Jones possesses and he is without doubt an artist you really need to see. The fact that I myself have not got around to seeing him live makes this package even more worthwhile and very much gives you much more of a picture than you would most likely get to see at a live show. I truly take my hat off to both John Vis and Geert Jan Schoonbeek who between them have captured everything about this live performance and have presented it to you with sheer quality.

Sure, I could argue the point that the DVD comes with a no thrills basic menu. I could also argue that the sound quality could of marginally have been improved if a bit more attention had of been applied to compiling the DVD. But these are only minor little niggles and take nothing away from the enjoyment and experience you will get from watching this live concert.

No doubt that Pete Jones is like an orchestra by himself but the well capable musicians he has with him on the stage do help bring the music of Tiger Moth Tales out to their full potential near enough and they all do very much a TOP JOB! I quite like the set-list of songs he chose to do and it does showcase some of the best material from 3 of the 4 studio albums and my personal highlights from the show are as follows: “Toad Of Toad Hall“. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf“. “Tigers In The Butter“. “The Merry Vicar” and “A Visit To Chigwick“.

Conclusion…

In conclusion I would say that if you have not seen Pete Jones this package will well and truly give you the opportunity to do so and I am well and truly grateful that finally at last we have a DVD release and hopefully in the near future we will get to see more DVD releases especially if they come as good as this. The bonus material of the promo videos are also quality and I am glad to see that were included. But I still want to see him live in concert and still enjoy the many audio live concerts he has put out simply because he is very entertaining.

The very fact that this package comes with a CD & DVD for £12 means that they are giving you the DVD for practically nothing and both the picture quality and editing is truly STUNNING! Its price point represents amazing value for the buck and you simply cannot go wrong here and I highly recommend the physical product over the Digital Download.

You can purchase live album in the form of a Digital Download for £7 or the physical CD/DVD from for £12 from Bandcamp here: https://tigermothtales.bandcamp.com/album/a-visit-to-zoetermeer-3

It’s also available from other outlets such as Amazon and the CD/DVD can also be purchased from White Knight records here: https://www.whiteknightshop2.co.uk/store/Tiger-Moth-Tales-A-Visit-To-Zoetemeer-LIVE-DVD-CD-p173130588

There will be more to come from Pete Jones and Tiger Moth Tales soon, but coming up next for review is the latest Deluxe Edition of Marillion’s debut album Script For A Jester’s Tear which I recently added to my collection. But meanwhile “Stay Safe” well and keep your distance during this Coronavirus lockdown. But don’t isolate yourself away from the music. During these unfortunate circumstances A Visit To Zoetermeer Live by Tiger Moth Tales is very much a concert you can still see and is just the ticket to add yo your collection right now.

Step Inside The World Of Your Dreams…

The Live Set-List is as follows:

01. Toad Of Toad Hall. 4:27.
02. Feels Alright. 5:01.
03. Match Girl. 4:25.
04. Hygge. 8:38.
05. The Boy Who Cried Wolf. 7:00.
06. The Ballad Of Longshanks John. 7:22.
07. Tigers In The Butter. 14:07.
08. The Merry Vicar. 9:49.
09. A Visit To Chigwick. 9:47.

Lee’s overall Complete Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 9/10

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10

The Picture & Editing Quality Rating Score. 10/10

The Sound Quality Rating Score. 8/10

The Bonus Features Rating Score. 10/10

The Concert Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #148

On The Byways – Pravinand Maharaj

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Introduction…

Well it’s time for something quite different again from me especially in relation to many of the prog rock albums I have purchased and reviewed in the past. In some respects, I would even say that this is a bit different to the artist in question that I have come to know since I stumbled across him a good 8 years ago now on Soundcloud. But there is a reason for that and it really boils down to the fact that this album was made a good decade before he even joined Soundcloud. 

The artist in question is none other than Pravinand Maharaj and most people on the cloud would perhaps be more familiar with his stage name persona of Johnny Minstrel that he goes under. Like many artists who upload music to Soundcloud in relation to the world outside it of mainstream artists, they are virtually unknown. But I am pretty sure that Pravinand has made a name for himself on the cloud and many of those on the cloud like myself who would have stumbled across him would have instantly recognised the gifted talent he has to write such GREAT! songs.  

The true art of being a GREAT! songwriter is having quality lyrical content to fit to the music. I would even say that when it comes to songwriters’ songs the lyrics certainly play more of an important role in relation to the musical content. Though it is good if you also have a good balance between them both, and having recently just listened to the latest song that Bob Dylan put out after 8 years on the 27th March entitled “Murder Most Foul“. I can honestly say that musically it SUCKED! big style. 

I must admit when I saw Dylan’s latest song was some 17 minutes long I thought he had ventured into the realms of prog rock :))))). But in reality, it’s nothing unusual for him and even in the past he has dragged many of his songs out in exactly the same way where the music goes absolutely nowhere. A good example would be “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” he wrote many moons ago, and although it was only 5 minutes long, it seems to go on for an eternity. 

This is basically because the music has been structured from verses only and there is no chorus to change anything and a lot of his songs are typically written that way too. The rock band Nazareth actually done a 9-minute version of that song back in the 70’s and managed to make it sound way less monotonous. But I would say that many of the artists who have covered his songs have managed to bring them more to life and done better with them in reality. 

I cannot deny that Bob Dylan is a GREAT! songwriter and that really boils down to the fact that guy is a pure lyricist. That is an art in itself and is one of the qualities I instantly picked up on when I bumped into Johnny Minstrel on Soundcloud. Although his debut album On The Byways might not reflect some of those finer qualities on some of the songs. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork. 

The Packaging & Artwork…

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Well as you can see by the both the packaging and artwork there is nothing much to look at here at all. No doubt with any digital download it does not come with all the trimmings the physical product will give you, but for the many unknown artists out there it’s still by far the best way to get your music out there and the sensible way to go unless you have bags of money to throw down the drain and have the space to store a pile of unsold CD’s. Although it may not look much to look at, it does have a plus side to it and that is that it comes at a much cheaper price that will fit most people’s pockets.

Artwork.

As I mentioned the artwork or picture never gave us much to look at either, and that was perhaps my funny side of things in seeing that Pravinand had perhaps turned his back on us sort of thing. However, when this album was originally released it never had the picture it has now and it had a photo that was taken of him when he was only 2 years old as seen on the original album cover.

Original album cover_Fotor

The new photo was taken by one of his daughters Zai many years later whilst they were on a hike and was snapped at Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape town. It was the leaf that fell on his head at the time that inspired her to take the photo and both his girls loved the photo and Pravinand did mention to them that maybe he should use it for an album cover hence the reason for it now being used instead.

To be perfectly honest I am not sure how any of the two photo’s tie in with the albums title of “On The Byways” but he certainly is not turning his back on the byways and over the years you could say that his music has been on a journey through them.

Pravinand Maharaj In Brief History…

Pravinand Maharaj was born and raised in Durban, South Africa and currently resides in the largest city in the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal. Durban, is a coastal city in eastern South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, and is known for its African, Indian and colonial influences. KwaZulu-Natal is also referred to as KZN and known as “the garden province” so I guess you could say that there is a sense of beauty about the place in relation to how it was back in the 1800’s when part of it was occupied by the Zulu Kingdom.

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He was also raised in a church which gave him an advantage with having a readymade audience, and it was their kindness, patience and encouragement that gave him the confidence to improve his song writing and to take it more seriously. By the time he had reached his mid-teens he was heavily influenced by the American hippy gospel songwriter Larry Norman which perhaps explains why today he still has long hair. Norman was considered to be one of the pioneers of Christian rock music and released more than 100 albums during his lifetime before he died back in 2008. 

Much of Christianity does reflect still in the songs that Pravinand writes today and it was the fact that much of the lyrics in songs had a touch of controversy and people never seen them as scandalous that further encouraged him to write songs about social issues besides love songs and songs with just a story to them. The songs he writes musically can also border across many genres that include folk, blues, rock, country and gospel. But foremost he is a singer songwriter and one hell of a good one too. 

Many people have covered his songs on Soundcloud including myself, though I have to confess that I could hardly give them the justice they deserve in relation to himself and the many others that have done so. To be perfectly honest in all the years I spent on Soundcloud I do not think I have ever come across anybody who has his ability to write such GREAT! songs the way he does. He writes songs that good that you wish you could of wrote them yourself. I would even stick my neck out and say that even if Bob Dylan was to listen to his songs, I bet he would have wished he had written some of them too. 

This song is just one of the many GREAT! songs he has written over the years and I could showcase many of his songs that would also give an account of just how well and truly this guy is when it comes to song writing. It’s understandable why many have covered his songs too and this one has also been covered. But this is him on his own with his guitar and harmonica as Johnny Minstrel. 

I chose this particular song “World Gone Bad” because it does reflect some of the social issues that came from the controversy around the world, he seen that inspired him to write songs in this way. I also chose it to prove that he is not just a songwriter who writes songs about Christianity that most people would find dumped into a religious bin sort of thing. There is a lot more to his song writing and a lot of truth reflects in the words that he writes as you can see with the lyrics I have also included here. 

I was born downtown on a bed of rats
From a dirty faced kid to a mean ol’ cat
Mama said son you look just like your dad
It’s hard being good in a world gone bad

Don’t wanna go where I don’t want to be
Don’t want to say what I don’t really mean
What a lowdown rotten life I had
It’s hard being good in a world gone bad

Gonna pull up my boots
Pick up my cane
Put on my hat
Get on the road again
Hit that trail before the break of dawn
You can wait all you want but baby I’ll be gone

Some get their kicks in the back of a hearse
Some drink blood just to quench their thirst
Me I’m on the edge going mad
It’s hard being good in a world gone bad

It’s also interesting how Pravinand came up with the persona name of Johnny Minstrel and I did fire a few questions at him to help out with this review. He told me that he was going through a rebellion against his surname of “Maharaj” basically because in some circles it was seen an exclusive high-class title. I did check it out for myself and seen that it is a Sanskrit title for a “great ruler”, “great king” or “high king”.  

He mentioned it to a group of friends he was with having a few drinks at the time and told them that he wanted to change his surname, and when asked what too? He immediately answered “Minstrel” without giving it any prior thought. He also felt that subconsciously it may have come from his paternal grandmother’s maiden name “Mistry” and he always loved the idea of a wandering singer.  

Pravinand Maharaj may not be the minstrel in the gallery that Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull may have proclaimed to be back in 1975. He may not have been Johnny Minstrel when he wrote the collection of songs that are found on the album On The Byways. He also may not have written as many albums as Larry Norman the very man who influenced him.  

But no doubt his songs would be fit and good enough to entertain the many kings and queens of this world and he has certainly written an array of quality songs under his persona name of Johnny Minstrel. Today he still writes GREAT! songs and feels blessed with his tolerant family and friends he has around him. He also loves what he does and long may it continue too. 

The Album In Review…

The album On The Byways by Pravinand Maharaj was originally released on the 1st November 2001. Although the original album did contain 14 tracks but he was never happy with how the album flowed and it was only more recently whilst being on the lockdown due to the Coronavirus that inspired him to trim the album down to lesser tracks, and by doing so it was the first time he enjoyed the flow of the album more. 

The new trimmed down version of the album would have been released around the 28th March 2020 and it contains 8 tracks that span over an overall playing time of 37 minutes, 36 seconds which is a very reasonable and comfortable time slot for an album. It’s also a time slot I very much prefer in that it’s easy enough to give the album several spins for me to be able to review it. 

I have to confess that I myself listened to the original 14 track album on Bandcamp a good few year back now and it did not entice me to buy it. It may have been that I felt the album never really flowed along properly, although one of my major reasons for not buying it was really down to the production side of how it sounded more than anything else, I remember at the time. Having listened to the new stripped-down version of the album on Bandcamp, it spoke to me enough to add it to my collection. 

The album was recorded somewhere between 2000 – 2001 making it more or less it’s 20th Anniversary now, so you could say it was due time for a remaster and a newer presentation. It was recorded on his trusty Tascam 34 4 track reel-to-reel Tape Recorder (which is the same as the one pictured below) presumably at his home in Asherville, Durban at the time. He still very much has the reel-to-reel today and uses it to record the biggest majority of his songs. 

Tascam 34_Fotor

Although when he recorded this album, he also had some other musicians that lent him a hand and he does have more or less have a band behind him. He also had an engineer in Michael Jacob’s who mixed and mastered the album and I have to admit that many of the things I saw about this album when I originally heard it with it’s 14 tracks appear to have vanished. 

Musicians & Credits…

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All songs written and Produced by Pravinand Maharaj. Recorded in Asherville, Durban. South Africa between 2000 & 2001. Mixed & Mastered by Michael Jacob. Album Cover Photo by Zai Maharaj.

Musicians.

Pravinand Maharaj: Vocals – Guitar – Harmonica.
Sykes Maheeph: Lead Guitar.
Ryan Joshua: Keyboards.
Alistair Peters: Bass – Drums.

The Album Tracks In Review…

On The Byways is an album of songs that were written before Pravinand Maharaj became Johnny Minstrel sort of thing, and even though they are very much the same person there is something a bit different I personally can hear. Especially in comparison to how when I first stumbled across him much later on the cloud when he was known as Johnny Minstrel. One of the first observations I certainly noticed about Pravinand’s songs and how he delivered them with his approach in 2012 when I first came across him, that it was like hearing a cross between Bob Dylan and Bob Marley and that still resonates with me today. 

Though on this album there is certainly a lot more Dylan about it more than anything else, and there is only a couple of songs towards the end of the album that come across to me in the same light in relation to the way he wrote songs later on when he became Johnny Minstrel. However, the bit of difference I am hearing and the only way I can really pin it down is perhaps to the lyrical content more than anything else. 

As a rule, Pravinand’s lyrics can run deep in that they have a sense of a more meaningful purpose, they can also be spiritual and sometimes you have to dig deeper into them to to reveal what is really on the surface. I would also say that the couple of songs that are on this album where you do have to dig deeper and delve more into them might also reflect the “Byways” we have in the albums title we are going down. 

For example, a byway can often be an unsurfaced route or track and is not always visibly easy to see in relation to a road. They can also be described as green lanes where the grass has covered part of its path making it harder to see. Although to be perfectly honest I have no idea why he chose the albums title and my own observations might very well be running along too deep. 

The one thing that certainly has not changed is Pravinand’s voice and in many respects, I very much prefer it in relation to either Dylan’s or Marley’s for that matter. I do however, think there is a certain tonal aspect in his voice in the way he expresses certain words that does come across to me like Marley, and that in reality is what personally gives me that Bob Marley vibe besides just the lyrical side of things I see in both Dylan’s and Marley’s writing. 

Pravinand very much has a clear distinctive voice that delivers his songs in almost a speaking mannerism, it’s this characteristic in his voice and the way he expresses his words that really makes the words more coherent and easy to understand unlike Dylan for example who at times can mumble his words out through his nose.

But I would also say that the album On The Byways contains a certain amount of variety which does work very well in making it an enjoyable album to listen too so let’s now take a closer look at it as I go through the albums individual tracks.

Track 1. Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind.

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The album kicks off with a song that has that 70’s country blues feel about it that is perhaps familiar with artists like Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, The Band and many others were doing back then. Lyrically the words have more of a popular music familiarity about them in that this is a love song, but that is also something those artists I mentioned were also doing themselves back then as well. I would also say that the lyrics are pretty much straight forward, short and to the point which is all you need for a song like this. 

What makes a song like this work well is how it’s delivered and no doubt Pravinand’s voice does that with ease and it comfortably sits with it. Musically the song has a certain swing to it and is very much sounds bright and that might reflect on how the song itself has been structured more or less around a chorus structure rather than a verse. The musical interludes in between each chorus does help deviate your attention from how the song has been structured. 

The instrumentation works extremely well in particular with how the honky tonk piano and harmonica feed off one another. This is also the type of song where instruments such as a banjo and mandolin would fit in comfortably and amongst the acoustics it’s almost like I am hearing those instruments as well even though they are not present. 

Overall, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind” is a song that works very well as the albums opening track in that its brightness warms and welcomes you to it and pulls you in. The song has been very well recorded and its only really the addition of the scratched vinyl effect that was used that hampers the recording right at the end more than anything.

The idea to include it came from the keyboard player Ryan Joshua and I do think it works very well. But it is a bit too loud in the mix and I really think the extra bit at the end that comes back into play after the record as faded out should have really been removed. 

Track 2. Wasting Time.

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There is no doubt you can see that Bob Dylan’s influence does reflect heavily in the way that Pravinand has structured the music for his songs and this particular song has been structured in the opposite way from the opening track in that it uses verses only. Most of Dylan’s songs are structured this way and they work well just like this one when they are kept over a shorter distance unlike some of Dylan’s songs that can tend to drag on and on as if they are wasting time so to speak.

This song has more of a country folk feel about it and once again the musical interludes in between some of the verses help it along and the acoustic and electric guitars are very well blended together to give it more of an acoustic feel. Alistair Peters drums are quite subtle on most of the album and effectively work like a ticking clock to help each song tick over and flow very well and there is a nice cohesion with the vocals and instrumentation throughout.

The lyrics and the first word of the songs title are tied into the word “Waiting” and they relate the time it takes for something to happen or arrive. It’s a bit like waiting for a bus and the time that is wasted waiting for it and the time wasted could even perhaps be seen as flogging a dead horse sort of thing.

Track 3. Damn. 

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Once again, the Bob Dylan influence is present and this song even flows along like a Dylan classic, in many respects it’s like a fine wine with its rich blend of acoustic guitars and the harmonica is perhaps what contributes to making it sound DYLAN ESC! Musically the song is quite uplifting, joyful and instantly latches itself onto you. The drums are more up front with the vocals and have more of a dominant role. The song also has verse and chorus structures and there is a lot more going on for it especially in the lyrical department where a lot more thought has been applied. 

There is also a touch of BRILLIANCE! with how the songs title pertains in some way to a love song. Although this is far from any normal love song and I have to confess that at first when I tried to decipher the words we have here, I went off down the wrong garden path so to speak. 

The very thing that led me down the wrong path or road had a lot to do with the songs title. For example, the word “Damn” can quite often be associated with an “I don’t care” attitude sort of thing. Trying to associate the word “Love” with the songs title that came at the end of the first verse in particular (as seen below) is really what led me down the wrong path regarding the lyrics that Pravinand wrote. 

This is the movement/ this is the moment
This is the minute I did not plan
You came from some place/ walked into my face
Now I’m still displaced
I love you damn

For example, how this opening verse came across to me at first resembled something along the lines of how Rod Stewart described the words “Maggie, I wished I’d never seen your face” in his song “Maggie May” which pertain to that he wished that he had not been hooked in a way that he could not walk away from the situation. That one sentence alone at the end of that song really sums up that song in a nutshell and says it all. 

But as I went through the other verses and chorus in the song it was only then that I knew there was something more spiritual about the words he wrote here. Many of the songs Pravinand writes are not quite that simple that you can sum them up from one single sentence and the lyrics can run much deeper and have a much deeper meaning to them which is not always easy to see. 

I have to confess I was tearing my hair out trying to decipher these lyrics and even started to look up Narcissism because some of the words do have a narcissist way about them as well. But it was the word “Hereafter” in the second verse and the way many of the verses were written that led me to believe there was more of a Godlike thing going on here.  

Most of the confusion I had with the lyrics was really down to me associating the word “Damn” with the “I don’t care” attitude and it was not until I actually looked up the word “Damn” that I see in Christian beliefs it means to be condemned by God and that is more along the lines of what these lyrics are pertaining too. It’s quite interesting, unique and BRILLIANT! how he has managed to portray them in the same light as a love song. “Damn” is very much like a Dylan classic and its very much one of my two personal favourite songs on the album and it jointly merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! 

Track 4. Cuisine Of Madness.

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Well there might be a lot more cooking up than just food in this next song and love is also on the menu along with the bountiful palate of food that might be a lot more than what you would find in paradise or even in the palace of a king so to speak. This song has quite a Mexican vibe about it and it fits in well with the scene at the table in the restaurant that the story of the song puts across and portrays. The trumpet played on the keyboards by Ryan Joshua lend well to give it that Mexican vibe too.

Overall, “Cuisine Of Madness” is a song that provides a bit more spice and flavour, it also works very well in giving the album more variety. Alistair Peters bass stands out more on this track and Sykes Maheeph’s lead guitar is featured very well throughout giving it that extra touch to spice things up. Pravinand’s voice works as well as ever and cuts through the mix like a knife and they have all served up some good food here.

Track 5. Looking For You.

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This is another song that features Sykes Maheeph on lead guitar and they rock things up a bit more here, the opening riff on the guitar even has a slight touch of The Beatles song “Daytripper” although they are not quite taking the easy way out and are on the lookout for love. Ryan Joshua’s piano also features well and even a bridge has been thrown into the musical structure that works very well. It’s certainly different from most of the songs Pravinand writes and this is more of a pop song but once again lends very well to give the album more variety.

Track 6. Cathedral.

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The last 3 songs on the album all have in one way or another a musical resemblance to Dire Straits certainly this song and the next more so than anything. The way this song runs along is a bit along the lines of “Sultans Of Swing” and it has that swing to its rhythm. The subject matter behind the lyrics however, is quite a different kettle of fish and I quite like the subject matter behind the lyrics we have here because they have a stab at religion. 

Pravinand was brought up and raised as a Christian and obviously his Christian beliefs are very strong. But you can see that he is not blind to what really lies beneath and behind many of the religions that were set up in this world. The chorus of the song does sum up the songs title and portray a lot of the truth about most religions. 

I’m leaving the cathedral of the fellowship of saints
I’m going where the windows are not stained glass panes
Maybe in Palestine
I will find
Something of the good man
Time left behind

The “Cathedral” is another excellent song on the album and it features some GREAT! guitar work from Sykes Maheeph on lead guitar and is a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 7. The Only One.

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It’s time for some blues and they do not come much better than this CRACKING! song. Once again, I am hearing the Dire Straits resemblance only the influence is heavier on this particular song and it’s more to the style that was found on the bands final studio album On Every Street with songs like “You and Your Friend” and “Fade To Black“. I think the amount of reverb used on this song is more or less spot on to the amount used on those particular tracks on that album and why it resembles them so close. 

The songs title relates to Jesus Christ and the words convey how he tends to get the blame for everything and once again this is a very well written song and all have done a TOP JOB! here. This is the other personal favourite track on the album of mine and it may very well be down to the Dire Straits influence that made me choose this particular song to jointly merit the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! 

Track 8. The Ghost In Your Reflection.

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The final song on the album is the longest and weighs in at just over 7 minutes. It’s a song about the spirit crossing over to the other side and the ghost in your reflection could be seen as the spirit that is waiting for you to cross over in the afterlife sort of thing. Well that’s how I see it, but there might be a lot more to it and it is without doubt quite captivating, gripping and convincing with how Pravinand delivers the fine words he’s penned to this well fascinating story. 

This is a song that does come across like a cross between Bob Dylan and Bob Marley and has more of what I hear in Pravinand’s much later songs under his persona name of Johnny Minstrel. There is also a slight Dire Straits presence here too, although that is perhaps only in some of the touches that Sykes gives to it with the electric guitar which work very well. But the other thing this song reminds me of and it always has me thinking of it, and that is “Madison Avenue” by Bachman Turner Overdrive. 

To be honest that particular song by BTO most people might not have heard of and it comes from one of their later albums they made in 1978 entitled Street Action. It’s a song where the rhythm for the verses is driven along by the bass line and it’s the melody on the bass line that resembles this particular song of Pravinand’s. I made this short demonstration to give you more of an idea of where I see some similarities between the both songs but on the whole both songs are very much poles apart. 

Overall, “The Ghost In Your Reflection” is very much another of the truly GREAT! songs and what I personally see as another very strong contenders for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! It’s the perfect song to wind up the album and put an end to a very enjoyable album.

Summary…

To sum up On The Byways by Pravinand Maharaj. It’s very much an album that will take you down a few byways with the variety it provides to the listener and runs along the borders of country, folk, blues, pop and even rock with its styles. There is quite a Bob Dylan influence along the lines of the songs on this album, but there is many other influences too. If you’re into the likes of others such as Eric Clapton, The Band, Crosby Stills & Nash, Dire Straits, Bob Marley, Otis Taylor and many more, then this is an album that I feel will appeal to your particular taste. 

Besides all the influences I mentioned there is no doubt that Pravinand Maharaj has his own way of delivering his own songs with his voice that very much gives him his own distinctive style that in many ways sets him apart. He is very much a lyricist who carves and sculptures out fine songs like a skilled craftsman which is how I described him a good few year ago, and even though the songs on this album were written a couple of decades ago now it shows that he had that quality craftsmanship back then too. 

Since he made this album Pravinand has gone on to write hundreds of quality songs, many of which can be found on Soundcloud under his persona name of Johnny Minstrel and he still very much continues to churn out truly GREAT! songs. I dare say he could even make many more albums out of the many songs he has written over all the years and my personal highlights from this album are as follows: “Damn“. “The Only One“. “Cathedral” and “The Ghost In Your Reflection“. 

Conclusion…

On The Byways is an album that contains a collection of 8 very well crafted songs that make up quite a solid albums worth of very well written material. The songs have been very well placed throughout it to make it work and flow like a good album should. The album has also been very well recorded and comes with a very good production. Credit also goes to all the GREAT! musicians who contributed to it and to Michael Jacob who done the mixing and mastering.

This is very much an album that I feel would sit well in most people’s record collection and will provide them with many hours of satisfaction and pleasure. It’s also a very comfortable album to listen to being that it’s not over 40 minutes and will leave you wanting more. At its low price point of 4 US dollars you simply cannot go wrong and it offers amazing value for the buck.

You can listen to the entire album for free or even purchase the album in the form of a digital download from the link here: https://pravinandmaharaj.bandcamp.com/album/on-the-byways

No doubt there will be more to come from Pravinand Maharaj or Johnny Minstrel in the near future and I know he is currently working on a new album of new songs. He has also acquired the production skills and services of another truly GREAT! talented songwriter and musician namely Bas Kooman to lend a hand and I am well looking forward to it. But in the meantime, I highly recommend his debut album On The Byways and the least you can do is give the album a spin. 

Blame It On Jesus Christ, On The Burning Sun

The Album track listing is as follows:

01. Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind. 3:03.
02. Wasting Time. 4:13.
03. Damn. 4:16.
04. Cuisine Of Madness. 4:17.
05. Looking For You. 4:37.
06. Cathedral. 5:06.
07. The Only One. 4:52.
08. The Ghost In Your Reflection. 7:02.

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

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #147

Electric Castle Live And Other Tales (Blu Ray Edition) – Ayreon

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Introduction…

It seems to appear that Arjen Lucassen has now caught the bug for playing live or rather is enjoying taking his music to the stage to present it in theatrical style like a rock opera. Since 2015, its the 3rd time now his music has been presented live but as ever the man himself plays very little part in the live performance and leaves it all in the capable hands of the musicians some of which who have played with him on his Ayreon project in the past. Arjen is without doubt one of the most successful musicians who does not have to go out and play live to sell his music by the bucket load, and he has been since he started out doing his own music projects back in 1995.

To be perfectly honest I cannot think of any other musician who can sit at home and make music and sell it at the rate he can. Selling music today is one of the hardest things in the world and the only way many musicians can generate any money from it is by going out on tour and playing as many live shows as they can. They have to travel all over the world as well to make their living. Yet here we have one guy who can put on one show over a few nights at one venue in his own country, and hardly play a part at all on the stage himself and still come out on top.

There are many people who would call Arjen Lucassen a genius, and there are many factors that come into the equation regarding how as an artist he has been so successful. The first of those would be that he was lucky that he came out in a generation or a decade before computers and the internet robbed many musicians of their livelihood. Secondly part of his success is really down to getting many other well-known musicians involved in his projects.

But the biggest part of his success is really down to having a business head on his shoulders. In any business you have to gamble and take risks, you have to be prepared to put your money where your mouth is and chuck loads of money at it. Selling music is no different to selling Coca Cola and at the end of the day it is a product you are selling and nothing more.

Marketing, presentation and packaging all play their part and the fact that over the past few years music has been presented to us in many other packages including expensive box sets, and with these type of products being more or less the in-thing today with the many artists who are releasing their products in this way. It is the very reason why Arjen can now take the risk with the vast amount of money it takes to put on a live show of this calibre.

He knows that should he loose out he will be able to generate the money back on the sale of the DVD and many other formats the live show has been put out on. In a way it’s a bit like having a safety net to fall back on and in reality, Arjen is not doing anything really more different than what he has done all along. He certainly does not make his money by performing live and he still very much makes it from the comfort of his own home more or less.

His latest release The Electric Castle Live And Other Tales is another spectacular live show like the last one he did back in 2017 with Ayreon Universe. Only instead of it being a show that showcased the best of Ayreon it showcases his classic 1998 album Into The Electric Castle and also features most of the original singers including Fish who was the very person that really introduced me to Arjen’s music and his project of Ayreon back in 1998. The biggest change is with the line-up of musicians that were on the original album, and only a few of them are here.

The “Other Tales” side of it features mainly live performances of some other songs from some of the other projects Arjen was involved in and a bit more besides. But before I go any further let’s takes a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The blu ray comes very well presented in a cardboard Digipak to which is around 20 centimetres taller than the standard size of a dvd or blu ray and I like the fact that despite it being slightly taller it still fits comfortably into most media storage shelving units. I personally prefer this packaging in relation to the flimsy blue plastic case that most blu rays come packaged in and it has a sturdy plastic tray to hold the disc in place and is also easy to retrieve the disc without getting your fingers over the disc. It also comes with a 12-page booklet that contains all the linear and production notes and photographs of all the singers and musicians who took part in the show. I pre-ordered my copy from Amazon on the week of it’s release and got it for £14.99.

I did originally pre-order the Earbook edition months ago when it was first made available to pre-order from Amazon. But cancelled it for two reasons. The reason why I did originally want the Earbook was because this is my favourite Ayreon album and I already have the Earbook of the new remix of the album Into The Electric Castle that was released in 2018.

My first reason for cancelling the Earbook was really down to the price point and usually when pre-ordering in advance any album on Amazon you do end up getting it a lot cheaper, only this time the price was not dropping down and it’s price of £47 I very much considered as overpriced and in reality it should cost less than £40. When I pre-ordered the Earbook of Into The Electric Castle it was also priced at around the same price and I ended up getting it for around £10 cheaper.

The second reason why I had to cancel was really down to the lack of my financial situation and how the Coronavirus has affected the cost of living with many supermarkets being empty and looking like something out of a Sci-fi movie with aisles of empty shelves. To get by I have had to do most of my shopping at my local corner shops to which are more expensive and I only generally use them to pick up the odd thing here and there and not my weekly shopping. This is what forced me in the end to cancel the Earbook and get the blu ray instead.

The Artwork.

The artwork, layout and design were done by Roy Koch and it kind of represents the cover of an ancient or very old book. No doubt the Earbook would help give it a better presentation than the blu ray being as it’s made with much thicker cardboard and the same cardboard that would have been used to make a hardback book. The back-cover photograph was taken by Eddy Jolen and the rest of the photographs in the booklet were taken by Laili Soeng, Cristel Brouwer, Tim Tronckoe, Robert Zant, Dorien Goetschalckx, Lorena All, Rik Bauters, Ton Dekkers, Matthias Kirsch, Jostijn Ligtvoet, Steph Byrne, Bert Treep and William Van Der Voort.

Media Release Editions…

The live album has been released in the form of 5 physical formats which give you a wide choice to choose from and a good variety of choice to suit your pocket so to speak. I dare say it will also be made available in the form of a digital download which might be the cheapest option for you to lay your hands on it. But personally I do not think that any digital download is worth any more than £5 in reality and I prefer something I can have in my hands and hold and look at.

The cheapest of the physical formats in reality are all you really need when it comes down to just wanting to listen or watch the live show and the first of them is 2CD + DVD edition for around £15 on Amazon UK.

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This edition comes very well presented and packaged in a cardboard Digisleeve pack and is excellent value for the buck in that you not only get the CD’s to which you can listen to anywhere, but also get to watch it live with the DVD.

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The other of the cheaper alternatives is priced the same and that is the Blu Ray Edition. With this edition you do only get the one disc and you do not get the audio only like you do with the other package that comes with the CD’s. However, you do get to watch the show in HD which is more of a superior quality and this would be my personal choice out of the two and I do prefer to watch a live concert rather than just listen to it. The other thing you get that the 2CD + DVD edition does not have is 3 hours of bonus content that includes interviews and the making of documentary.

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For vinyl lovers who like all the snap, crackle and pop the concert as also been released in the form of a 3 LP box set which is priced up at around £23 on Amazon UK. The LP’s have been pressed onto Gold 180-gram vinyl and given the price of vinyl these days this package is also very well presented and comes at a very reasonable price. You do only get the audio only here though and you are also missing out on a couple of tracks due to vinyl restrictions. But this also comes with a free digital MP3 download which will include the couple of tracks that are missing.

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Now we are getting into more of the deluxe or elaborate editions and the Ear-Book or Picture-Book edition in reality gives you the same content that you get with both the 2 CD + DVD & Blu Ray editions. The only real difference is the way they have been packaged and that it also contains an extra DVD that includes the 3-hour bonus content that was only on the Blu Ray edition plus a 44-page book. There is no doubt there is a real element of quality regarding the packaging as the discs come in a hardback book the same size of a vinyl album but the question is do you really need to have the same concert on all 3 of the formats that come in this package.

This edition retails at around £47 (49 euro) on Amazon UK and from the Mascot Label Group EU store which I personally think is overpriced by at least £10. Although Amazon is still the cheapest place to get it from down to the fact that you will also pay extra for the postage and packaging from Mascot Label Group which could bump the price up top around £55.

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Finally, we have the most elaborate box set which is known as the Super Deluxe Wooden Box Set. This particular edition is only available on Arjen’s website and from the Mascot Label Group EU store and is priced up at a WHOPPING! 159 euro and is limited to 1,500 copies only. The box set contains all of the other 4 formats above and the only real difference is that instead of the vinyl edition coming on Gold coloured vinyl it comes with a Marble splattered colour instead. You do also get some other trinkets such as a picture disc, tee shirt, slipmat, poster and a signed certificate.

No doubt once again one really has to question if they need the concert on all of these formats and it is without doubt far too much of the same thing. But the craziest thing here has to be the packaging to which it does come in a real wooden box and by the looks of it, it looks like a dartboard cabinet :)))). It also looks as if the only way you could store this thing is by hanging it on the wall like a dartboard cabinet and it’s just as well that he has not thrown in a set of darts LOL..

Electric Castle Live And Other Tales In Review…

Electric Castle Live And Other Tales by Ayreon was released on the 27th March 2020. The Blu Ray contains the whole concert from start to finish that was performed and filmed during the last show that was put on at the 013 Poppodium in Tilburg on Sunday 15th September 2019. The 013 is one of the most popular music venues in the Netherlands and many artists have played there, it was also the same venue they had performed at back in 2017 for the Ayreon Universe show.

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The venue holds a capacity of around 3,000 and the live performance was captured from one of the four live performances that were put on between the 13th to the 15th September 2019. The show was put on to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Ayreon’s 3rd album Into The Electric Castle and two of the live performances were put on, on the final day the 15th.

Once again Arjen had the keyboard player Joost Van Den Broek at his side to help set up the show and he most likely could of never have done it without him. Most of the original singers who helped make the original album are present and only 3 of them missing.  Sharon Den Adel who played the part of the Indian was very busy at the time and Simone Simons stepped into her role. Robert Westerholt who played one of the two characters to represent death was also unavailable and Mark Jansen stepped in to take his part. It was Arjen’s personal choice to replace Peter Daltrey who played the part of the voice and narrator and being a fan of the Sci-fi series Star Trek, he managed to get hold of the actor John de Lancie to play the part.

The biggest change is in the musician department and only 3 of the original musicians are present. They are his long-time drummer Ed Warby along with Thijs Van Leer on flute and Robby Valentine on piano. Though all the replacements that were brought in were certainly more than capable of filling in and doing the job, most of which also played on the last concert Ayreon Universe and no doubt Arlen certainly has a terrific line-up that is capable of putting on quite a SPECTACULAR! Show.

The Blu Ray.

You certainly get a lot for your money regarding the blu ray and it contains 335 minutes of content counting the couple of bonus features. Regarding the actual content of the concert and bonus features the blu ray is missing nothing at all and the only thing extra you are getting with the Earbook is the 44-page book and the way the package is presented to you. Although no doubt the Earbook would have also provided you with some very informative information.

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The main menu is very well animated and the picture of the original albums artwork has all the things flying around it and castle also moves about. The menu itself gives you the choice of 5 options to choose from “Select Track”. “Play All”. “Audio Set-Up”. “Behind The Scenes” and “Interview”. All the menus are very well animated and easy enough to navigate your way around.

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The “Select Track” part of the menu comes in two parts to cater for all the tracks has you can see in the picture above. This comes in handy when you want to play a specific track instead of listening to the whole concert, the tracks can be easily be navigated from one page to the other.

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The “Audio Set-Up” menu gives you the choice of two audio tracks to choose from Dolby Digital 2.0 and DTS 5.1 both of which are 48K. By default its set to stereo so you will have to go into menu to set it to the surround mix or alternatively use the audio button on your remote which allows you to switch between the both.

The Bonus Features.

The couple of bonus features that you get are very lengthy and the first of them “Behind The Scenes” comes with a running time of 1 hour 47 minutes, 27 seconds. In this footage you do get to see them setting up the stage and some of the rehearsals along with interviews with a good few of the singers such as Fish, Damian Wilson and the narrator John de Lancie and so on. Most of the footage is of Arjen and Joost Van Den Broek talking about the show and various other things relating to the music of Ayreon and so on.

The second bonus feature “Interviews” comes with a running time of 1 Hour 32 minutes, 23 seconds and even though this might look like you are getting quite a lot extra, there is not a lot different here in relation to what you get in the “Behind The Scenes” footage. To be perfectly honest I find it rather strange why they titled this bonus footage “Interviews” simply because the only people in it are Arjen and Joost Van Den Broek and the interviews with the other artists are in the “Behind The Scenes” only.

Overall, the bonus content is quite good although in reality it is only the “Behind The Scenes” footage that is really worth watching. Simply because around 90% of it is of Arjen and Joost Van Den Broek talking about the show and various other things and the same footage has been used to make up the other bonus feature “Interviews”. I think the biggest drawback is that there is very little content showing you actually behind the scenes and interviewing the other singers and musicians that took part in the show.

Picture & Editing Quality.

Panda Productions were the team behind filming and editing the live show and the video & post production was done by Jens de Vos and the use of a total of 12 camera operators including himself. To be honest for a venue this size 12 camera operators might seem over the top, but I cannot really argue with the end result. The concert has been very well captured visually and a TOP JOB! was also done on the editing side of things. Regarding the picture quality its quite pristine and that good that even the DVD would still look like 1080p full HD if you were to put it in a blu ray player with good upscaling.

The 5.1 Surround Mix.

Perhaps the biggest surprise regarding the 5.1 mix was the fact that for the first time ever Arjen actually used DTS. However, I would not get too excited because this is not a true master lossless format that is a common feature that is more widely used with Blu Ray these days, but I suppose he has to start somewhere and in a way it could be seen as some sort of improvement. Though not by a lot and that is really down to how he has gone about the mix and to be honest he has gone about it in the same way most 5.1 mixing engineers would do with a live concert.

The one thing the 5.1 mix certainly is not, is the way that Arjen describes it in the “Interview” section of the bonus material. To which he mentioned that most people say you have to be careful with these types of mixes but he just went over the top and put things here, there and everywhere sort of thing. To be perfectly honest if he was talking about the 5.1 mix, he done for the remix of the Into The Electric Castle album he did a couple of years ago I very much think that he would be right to make those observations. But this is a much more tamed mix in relation to that album and the 5.1 mix for this concert is not going to give you a better result by any means and it does not offer you that same exciting experience.

But like I said most live shows have 5.1 mixes like this where the rear channels are mainly used for the audience and not so much for the instrumentation and the backing vocals. Like many of these types of mixes they do have their moments in parts but you do have to wait and for much of the concert the music and vocals are only really using the front channels more than anything else. The only time the rear channels do come into play is in between songs with the interaction of the audience and the odd keyboard FX that have been thrown into the pot to add to good effect.

You will get to hear some of the guitars panned in the rear channels on “Garden of Emotions”. The synths also get utilised a bit more on tracks like “Castle Hall” and Evil Devolution” too, and the vocals get put to use in the rears on “Twisting Coil”. But the highlight of the tracks were the 5.1 mix gets utilised more is the “Tower of Hope” and besides the keyboards being put to good use on the beginning of the song it also gets very well utilised for the break in the middle where the musicians get to play their individual spots.

To be honest there is not a lot of live concerts out there that have really good or GREAT! 5.1 mixes and it’s very rare they will measure up to the better job that has been given to more studio albums. But this is really down to how good the engineer is in the first place and there is some very cable 5.1 mixing engineers out there that have to the ability to do truly stunning 5.1 mixes for live concerts. It’s unfortunate that those engineers are still very much in the minority and people are still not learning anything from them yet.

Like I have mentioned in my other reviews of Ayreon regarding Arjen’s ability to do a 5.1 surround mix to which he as been improving all the time and to be perfectly honest I do not see this mix in anyway as a setback. Personally, I think he has followed guidelines of what the biggest majority of mixers are doing with live concerts which is nothing really to write home about and nothing special or GREAT!  But overall, this is not that bad and acceptable, and both the stereo and 5.1 mixes are as good as each other.

Musicians & Credits…

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Executive Producer Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Lead Producer Joost Van Den Broek. Production Manager Naomi Van Hak. Co-Producer & Storyboard Lori Linstruth. All music and lyrics by A.A. Lucassen (except Highlander & Kayleigh lyrics by Derek W. Dick. Barbarian Amazing Flight lyrics by Jay Van Feggelen. Egyptian melody line on Tunnel of Light & lyrics on Shores of India by Anneke Van Giersbergen. Out of This World lyrics by Marcello Bovio. Ashes lyrics by Astrid Van Der Veen. Twisted Coil lyrics by Lori Linstruth. Narration written by John de Lancie & Marnie Mosiman.

Video & Post Production by Jens de Vos. Camera Operators Jens de Vos, Jolien Artis, Nick Maris, Bart Sperling, Casper de Coninck, Erik Wijnen, Frederik Celis, Maria Munoz, Gilles Schijvens, Stijn Janssens, Michel Sequaris, Timo Vandiest. Stereo & 5.1 Mixes by Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Mastered by Brett Caldas-Lima at Tower Studios. Blu Ray Authoring by Scott Long. Blu Ray Menu by Scott Long & David Letelier. Front Cover & Layout by Roy Koch. Back Cover Photo by Eddy Jolen. Photographers Laili Soeng, Cristel Brouwer, Tim Tronckoe, Robert Zant, Dorien Goetschalckx, Lorena All, Rik Bauters, Ton Dekkers, Matthias Kirsch, Jostijn Ligtvoet, Steph Byrne, Bert Treep and William Van Der Voort. Visuals by David Letelier. Paintings by Jef Bertels.

Vocalists & Characters

Fish: (The Highlander)
Simone Simons: (The Indian)
Damian Wilson: (The Knight)
Edwin Balogh: (The Roman)
Anneke Van Giersbergen: (The Egyptian)
John Jaycee Cuijpers: (The Barbarian)
Arjen Anthony Lucassen: (The Hippie)
Edward Reekers: (The Futureman)
John de Lancie: (The Voice)
George Oosthoek & Mark Jansen: (As Death)

Instrumentalists

ED Warby: Drums.
Joost Van Den Broek: Keyboards.
Marcel Singor: Lead Guitar.
Ferry Duijsens: Guitars/Mandolin.
Bob Wijtsma: Guitars/Mandolin.
Johan van Stratum: Bass.
Ben Mathot: Violin.
Jurriaan Westerveld: Cello.
Thijs Van Leer: Flute.
Robby Valentine: Piano.

Other Vocalists

Dianne Van Giersbergen.
Jan Willem Ketelaers.
Marcela Bovio.
Robert Soeterboek.

On To The Show…

The concert is split into three sections and in total the whole show including the credits at the end have a running time of 2 hours, 38 minutes, 36 seconds. The show kicks off with its main feature to which they play the whole of the double album Into The Electric Castle from start to finish. It was also important to have a castle to make the show and the story look even more convincing and the one he had built provided the right backdrop to set the scene I personally think.

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But you also had to have the lights and visuals to also make it work and  David Letelier done an excellent job on the visuals which included moving pictures and animation to complete the backdrop and make it look even more convincing, plus a camera crew of 12 operators to capture it all. No expense was spared here and the show is nothing more than SPECTACULAR!

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Because Arjen had recently remixed the album a couple of years ago, he was not as concerned in having the same line up of musicians who played on the original album like he was with trying to get most of the original singers. Like I mentioned earlier it was only Ed Warby, Thijs Van Leer and Robby Valentine who played along with Arjen himself on the original album and Arjen was looking for something to give the album a slightly different edge or sound.

This particular band line-up is much the same line-up that played at the Ayreon Universe show and consists of 10 musicians. The newcomers to the line-up are Jurriaan Westerveld on cello, lead guitarist Marcel Singor and Bob Wijtsma on guitar and mandolin. The other good thing is that Arjen himself also makes more of an appearance in that he plays the original role as the hippie. He may only mainly feature on vocals but you do get to see more of him on this concert.

Part One: The Main Feature…

The stage is set and show opens up with with the albums opening track “Welcome To The New Dimension” to which is the introduction to the story that was set to the album. Although the actor and narrator John de Lancie has changed some of the words they still follow along the same lines and do not deviate away from the original storyline. There are very few musicians on the stage for this opening number and Ben Mathot on violin along with the keyboard player Joost Van Den Broek are the first to make an appearance on the stage.

The first glimpse of John de Lancie is on a large screen projection of him narrating the words above the castle at first and then at the end you see him standing on top of the right-hand tower of the castle. He very much narrates the words from different places on the set throughout the whole show and the way everything has been planned and set up really makes it quite an entertaining show and his role can be very convincing, authoritative and funny at times and he’s certainly done the business regarding presenting the story and is perfect for the role.

As the show goes on you get to see more musicians and singers come out of the woods so to speak and the next track “Isis and Osiris” is really where it all kicks off and the action starts to come more into play. This is where Fish makes his appearance and this is really a song where his voice does have more of a speaking role rather than singing and using some of the aggression and characteristics you would find in many of the songs he sang on his solo albums and from the days he was with Marillion.

So, this is quite a comfortable job for his voice and he is able to present it more or less spot on to how he did it on the original album even though he has lost a lot of the finer characteristics in his voice over the years and cannot project his voice like he could back in those early days. Many of the other singers who also featured on the original album 20 years ago also do pretty much a bang on job still today.

The album’s 3rd track “Amazing Flight” as always been my personal favourite track of the album and is one of the major highlights of the album. This is also where Arjen himself makes his first appearance and unlike Fish who is one of the first characters in the story to be killed off, he has more of major role to play in the story and for me Arjen has always had quite a good voice and he still very much has it as well as you can see in the video he put out on the tube from the show.

John Jaycee Cuijpers plays the part of the Barbarian who was originally played by Jay van Feggelen but he does an admirable job here and the interaction between him with Arjen works very well. I quite like how the flautist Thijs Van Leer of Focus makes his entrance and first appearance in the show through the castle doors. The projections onto the castle also make it more realistic including the ones on the doors.

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You can also see how well the audience love this particular song by the reaction at the end in this snapshot I took from the blu ray. You can also see the smile on their faces although you may have to zoom in here and it’s not quite the same as viewing it on a much larger TV.

Well so far, I have only covered the first 23 minutes of the shows main featured album and I could go on about every track from that album simply because the way the show has been presented and the performances of everybody well and truly shines. Fish once again does an amicable job on “The Decision Tree” although he’s more low key alongside Anneke Van Giersbergen on the “Tunnel of Light“. The likes of Edwin Balogh and Damian Wilson provide the right power it takes to deliver “Across the Rainbow Bridge” which ended off the the first disc of the original double album.

The Garden of Emotions” is another of the albums highlights for me and this is a song that does have some really GREAT! progression along its path. It’s also a song that features most of the singing crew and musicians to pull it off as you can see in the second video Arjen posted on his YouTube channel from the show.

Into The Electric Castle is an album that has quite a few highlights to the songs that were written to its story and many will even like the soft touch that Anneke Van Giersbergen lends to “Valley of the Queens” with her fine voice and the Celtic feel the song has with its musical presentation. It would also be a personal favourite song for many I also feel.

 “The Tower of Hope” is another of my personal highlighted tracks especially for the interaction play between the musicians. But the biggest highlight of the show for myself comes from one man alone, and that is the track on the album that was named after him namely Robby Valentine. He actually featured more on the original album than he does on this live show, though the little spot he gets here when they roll out the white grand piano for him to play is pure BRILLIANCE! and it’s by far the most sophisticated part by a long shot.

The way Valentine knocks out some of the classical GREATS! on the piano in this 5-minute slot he gets is truly STUNNING! This guy is more convincing and SPECTACULAR! than the many pianists in the world of classical music and my GOD! he’s far more entertaining than those boring idiots by a long shot. He knocks classical music out of the park as if it was nothing to play LOL! and he honestly stole the show for me. His 5-minute spot is worth the price of the Blu Ray alone.

My personal second favourite track on the album is “The Mirror Maze” and Robby Valentine also gets to play the piano on this song before they wheel off the piano. They even bring Fish back for the final song despite him dying at the end of the “Tunnel of Light“. But it was perhaps understandable being as it was the final song of the album and everyone who took part in the show is on the stage to join in and put an end to the main featured part of the show which runs for 1 hour 48 minutes, 34 seconds. Overall, everybody involved in this show puts in 100% and they have done a truly GREAT! job of bringing Ayreon’s third album Into The Electric Castle to the stage.

Part Two: Other Tales…

This extra feature of the show is presented by Michael Mills via the use of a pre-recorded video of him that was used for the introduction. Most of the material the band perform here is new territory for me and is mostly from other projects that Arjen has been involved in over the years. To be perfectly honest there is very little in this set that would even entice me to go out and buy the albums the songs came from either. But I cannot take a thing away from the performance and it also gives some of the other singers a chance to take more of a part.

The only song I do recognise out of the 6 they perform live in this small set is the Marillion song “Kayleigh” to which gives Fish another chance to sing the song. It’s not the song he wanted to sing either and they had to work on him a bit to get him to perform it. I can perhaps see why Fish wanted to do another song instead and his voice cannot really project this song like he sang it many moons ago and it’s not on par with how he did it many years ago with Marillion and even his own band.

The only song that speaks to me out of the remaining 5 songs is the very last one they perform with the rather bizarre title of “Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin“. It’s a song that came from Arjen’s second solo album entitled Lost In The New Real and to be honest I was unaware or never really paid that much attention that he had made any solo albums.

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The album was released back in 2012 and it might be worth me checking it out at some point because I think this is a really GREAT! song and it works very well to round off this little small set of “Other Tales” which runs along for around 33 minutes.

Part Three: Speech And Encore…

The final part of the live show sees Arjen return to the stage to give his speech and show his appreciation to everyone involved in it all and to his fans in the audience. He also has an electric guitar with him to which he does play the rhythm to the final song he chose to end off the concert which is a song from his Star One project entitled “Songs of the Ocean“. This also gives everyone who took part in the show a final chance to return to the stage and take their bow to the audience for the final time.

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Summary…

To sum up the Electric Castle Live And Other Tales by Ayreon. There is no doubt in my mind that Arjen has once again pulled off another truly GREAT! live show that is just as SPECTACULAR! as the one he pulled off for Ayreon Universe back in 2017.  A week after its release the live album hit the number one spot in Holland’s official album charts and it’s hardly surprising given the performances of all the singers and musicians.

For me personally it’s the concerts main event and how they pull off the whole of the double album Into The Electric Castle live from start to finish that is highlight of this concert and not so much the “Other Tales” side of it which does contain material from his other projects to which mostly are less interesting to myself. But I cannot take anything away from the performance and its certainly not enough for me to take away any points from my concert rating score.

The only real downside I can see in relation to the Blu Ray of both Electric Castle Live And Other Tales and Ayreon Universe is perhaps in the bonus footage department. You do get more bonus footage on this latest concert and a good 3 hours’ worth. But a lot of it does tend to be the same footage they have used across the couple of bonus features and it’s mainly set in the one location. It also does not show you that much of how the show was set up and its perhaps not so much behind the scenes like you got with the bonus footage on Ayreon Universe.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of the Electric Castle Live And Other Tales I would say that this is a concert or rock opera that provides truly GREAT! entertainment. I also think it’s more of a must to have a visual presentation of the show and both the CD/DVD and Blu Ray packages are all you really need to get the full benefit of a concert like this. They both have the same price point of around £15 and no doubt you are getting genuine real value for the buck.

The performances, production, visuals, theatrics, sound and editing make it what it is and its nothing short of SPECTACULAR! No expense has been spared to put on a show like this and I feel that this will appeal to more than Ayreon fans alone. It might even introduce more people to the world of Arjen Lucassen’s music and deserving so I might add. Who knows what is the next project for Arjen but whatever it is, it would not surprise me if he brings it to the stage yet again and I am looking forward to it?

Another Amazing Live Flight In Space…

The Live Set-List is as follows:

01. Welcome To The New Dimension. 3:10.
02. Isis and Osiris. 10:51.
03. Amazing Flight. 8:26.
04. Time Beyond Time. 6:30.
05. The Decision Tree. 5:44.
06. Tunnel of Light. 4:29.
07. Across the Rainbow Bridge. 6:05.
08. The Garden of Emotions. 9:00.
09. Valley of the Queens. 4:18.
10. The Castle Hall. 5:45.
11. Tower of Hope. 5:32.
12. Cosmic Fusion. 6:53.
13. Robby Valentine. 4:52.
14. The Mirror Maze. 6:52.
15. Evil Devolution. 5:00.
16. The Two Gates. 6:54.
17. Forever of the Stars. 1:39.
18. Another Time, Another Space. 6:18.
19. Shores of India. 5:23.
20. Ashes. 5:06.
21. Out in the Real World. 4:01.
22. Twisted Coil. 9:18.
23. Kayleigh. 4:14.
24. Pink Beatles in a Purple Zeppelin. 4:36.
25. Songs of the Ocean. 5:43.

Lee’s overall Complete Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 10/10

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10

The Picture Quality Rating Score. 10/10

The 5.1 Mix Rating Score. 7/10

The Bonus Features Rating Score. 7/10

The Concert Rating Score. 10/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #146

Solitude – Flávio Franco Araujo

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Introduction…

Over here in the UK the South American country Brazil is perhaps more well noted for two things, football and music, and the country no doubt is not short on GREAT! talent when it comes to either of them. Internationally over the many years the country has produced one of the very best football teams ever and no country has won the World Cup more times than Brazil. I myself have very fond memories of the side they had when they won the World Cup for the third time in Mexico back in 1970 and even the GREAT! team they had that did not win it in 1982. That side was by far the GREATEST! football team I have ever seen still to this day. It had the style, flare and the skill that was equivalent to what the Harlem Globetrotters gave to Basketball.

Musically the country is perhaps noted for being the birth place of Samba music although Bossa nova is also a well-known style of Brazilian music which was a new trend that was popularized back in the 1950s and 1960s. The music of Brazil was formed mainly from the fusion of European and African elements and rhythmically I suppose there is some of the elements that came out of Africa that is associated with the percussion side of things. But also, Latin American rhythms were also widely used and fused with jazz we get what’s known as Latin jazz or even Afro-Brazilian jazz, which includes bossa nova and samba.

The country is well noted for its many talented musicians in all fields of music including classical, folk and many other genres besides, and today have become more universally accepted worldwide. I have to confess I myself do not know a great deal about the country’s music and its many talented musicians. But I have watched many music documentaries that have nothing but high praise for the musicians that have come out of Brazil and I know what skill it requires to make the music that I stumbled upon Soundcloud a good few year back when I landed on BongÔMusics.

BongÔMusics was set up by a very talented multi-instrumentalist and producer who is known as  Flávio Franco Araujo. Over the many years he has set up his own studio and produced many talented artists and helped them make many records. He is perhaps more known as a producer and BongÔMusics is the name of his studio and not the name of a band so to speak. But now finally after all these years he’s got to release a very fine album of piano solos entitled Solitude, which really shows this GREAT! man’s talent as a pianist, a composer and as a very skilful arranger. But before we go any further into his history let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

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Well as you can see the package is nothing to look at and that is just one of the many disadvantages a Digital Download will present to you in relation to a physical product that would also include things such as linear production notes and credits, along with lyrics and glossary photos and such. Though the Digital Download is perhaps more popular these days than any physical media format and quite often provides you with a cheaper alternative way of getting your hands on an album.

I have to confess that I myself am more of physical product guy and prefer something you can touch and hold in your hands in relation to the Digital Download. But I can also see the point of using this format especially for the lesser known artists who are not going to be selling their albums by the bucket load and will most likely end up with a load of CD’s cluttering up their basement or garage.

Let’s face it music is very hard to sell these days and the Digital Download is really the only way the artist can protect themselves from losing a pile of cash with the extra expense it costs to put your album out onto a physical format. So, for many lesser known artists this is really the best way you can go about getting your music out there.

Digital Download v Physical Format. The Way I See It…

Being more of a physical media guy my own personal view of how much a Digital Download should cost really boils down to all the things you are missing out on regarding the packaging and the extra content you get with a physical media product. I myself certainly do not believe any Digital Download should cost any more than £5. That is not to say that the music is not worth more than that and is really down to what more you get with the physical product.

For example, a Digital Download is a bit like buying a CD that comes with no packaging and all the other informative information about the product that comes with it. If you were to take a CD out of its jewel case and sell it on its own, the chances are that you would most likely get less than half of the price you paid for it with the packaging and the rest of the contents. The informative information that comes with any album is just as vital and important as the music itself to a collector like myself. It’s also one of the most useful things to have to write a detailed review about any album too.

Now I am not saying that all artists should charge no more than £5 for a Digital Download and at the end of the day it’s up to themselves what they think it’s worth. But it’s very rare I would pay more than £5 for such a thing and being more into the physical side of things is where I personally see more quality and value can be had for the buck. The Digital Download really should be much cheaper and should be sold as a cheaper alternative way of getting your hands on an album and not sold at the same price as a physical product which offers way more.

But you could also argue the point that because a lesser known artist is hardly likely to sell as many copies and hardly any at all in comparison to any mainstream artist. That you should pay more to give the artist support. But that does not reflect on the price point of the both formats in relation to what they are actually worth, and to charge the same price for a Digital Download as a CD will reflect that its price point is too high and overpriced.

The Artwork.

The artwork for the album cover was a photograph taken by Flavio himself and it was taken along with several other photos from where he lives. The photo he chose no doubt represents the albums title of Solitude very well I feel as you can see from the original photo below. He also edited the photo in Lightroom to give it that personal touch for the album cover and it also works very well I feel.

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Flávio Franco Araujo In Brief History…

Flávio Franco Araújo was born in Guararapes, Brazil and currently lives in São Paulo. Although São Paulo is not the capital city of Brazil it is the most populated city and I guess in some ways it’s a bit like how the many musicians here in England would have moved to London to get noticed with there being something more going on. Whether the city of São Paulo works that way or even that was the reason for Flavio to move there I could not personally tell you. But it is a city that does tend to have a lot going on for it and even the 2014 World Cup was hosted in the city.

Flavio is a practically self-taught musician and composed his first song at the age of 13. His passion and his love of music I guess goes back to the quality music he would have heard in his parents’ house when growing up as a child and the music of Chopin, Lizst, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and great arrangers like Claus Orgeman and Quincy Jones would have influenced him in many ways. He was also passionate about cinematic music, especially from older films and they also provided an influence for him. He loves romanticism but he also liked to dare in other musical styles.

He plays various instruments, such as acoustic piano, keyboards, guitar, bass guitar and has learned all of them quite well, though I would say that it is his love of the piano and keyboards is where he excels the most and as a keyboardist and pianist, he has performed in jazz festivals such as Tatui with the group Amatuza and Paraty with the Rhandal de Oliveira’s quartet. He has also performed along with Ná Ozzetti, Raul de Souza, Sizão Machado, Duda Neves, Claudio Celso, Max Sallum, Adyel, Pete Wooley, among others.

Being also a producer the other instruments he plays no doubt come in handy and get utilised and sound quality and production is also another side of his passion in wanting to achieve the best there is out there by keeping up with the latest technology. It was back in 1993 that he founded and established the critically acclaimed studio, BongÔMusics, and focused on advertising campaigns and musical productions such as albums, soundtracks, post production, mixing and mastering. Flávio is currently working on children’s music projects, film soundtracks, publicity and his instrumental music albums. Throughout his career, Flávio has won several awards as a composer and producer at Brazilian popular music festivals and respected publicity celebrations.

The Album Solitude In Review…

The album Solitude by Flávio Franco Araujo was released on 7th February 2020. The album contains 8 instrumental piano pieces spread over and overall playing time of 46 minutes, 28 seconds. The 8 tracks on the album are all his own compositions and portray 8 moments of his life that were very important to him, most of which relate to his family and he also pays homage to his idol Bill Evans.

Solitude is very much Flávio’s debut album and is an album that contains 8 piano solos that he wrote over many years. He has spent perhaps more of his own time producing other people’s music and playing and arranging more widely known mainstream music than he has given to his own compositions. Time has no relevance regarding his own music and his philosophy is that he likes to wait for the right moment. For example, the albums self-titled track “Solitude” was written at a time or a moment where he revaluated everything and started to be a little more isolated.

He also told me that he was very connected to the universe at the time and most of his compositions are born that way. However, you look at his music you can see he is very proud and passionate about it. But the other thing that keeps him busy is live performance and he has performed with many GREAT! quality musicians besides doing live solo performances like the one we have here of him performing his own unique arrangement of the well-known Harold Arlen composition “Somewhere Over The Rainbow“.

This live performance comes from a free concert he gave at the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall in the United States on March 5th 2019. Flávio also performed some of his own material that is on the album at the same venue along with a few more covers. From this live performance you can quite easily see how passionate he is with his approach to the keys and there is certainly a degree of skill than has been put into the arrangement he gave to the piece to which gives it a lovely jazzy flavour.

A couple of years ago Flávio did mention to me that he planned to do some travelling and do some live performances to get his name out there a bit more. He also set up a series of live performances with other musicians to which he called Vinyl Review. Although this was pretty much set up at his own studio or at another location in his own country as you can see from the picture below.

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The concerts they gave would also of been performed to friends who they had invited over. Vinyl Review was a really GREAT! series that I enjoyed a lot and they actually premiered and streamed live these performances at an exceedingly high quality, where both picture and sound quality were pristine. This is something that is very hard to achieve especially streaming it live over the internet. The quality was as pristine as blu ray too and it might be worth them putting them out on that format.

A lot of the concerts have now been edited down to single tracks to which Flávio has put on his own Youtube channel. But no doubt the musicians were class as you can see from this live performance of “Footprints” which he put out in January this year.

My guess is that Flávio chose the word “Vinyl” or “Vinil” in Portuguese (to which the Brazilian language is derived from and uses) for the series to represent the high quality. Although in reality I would say that the quality was much better than vinyl simply because vinyl does have its restrictions and is prone to surface noise. Though no doubt for many it is still regarded as one of the better media formats and is still widely associated and popular with many music collectors.

Quality has always played an importance to his and other people’s music and I guess when you are working with musicians of this calibre you want the best for them. The production side of music also plays a big factor and has a producer he is not short in this department either, and his production work and skills are of very high standards.

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Like I mentioned earlier Flávio set up his own studio BongÔMusics back in 1993 and over the decades he has maintained and kept up with the latest technology so that he is able to achieve such high-quality standards. However, this year his studio has been stripped down and his own debut album Solitude might very well be the last thing to come out of BongÔMusics. But even though it only comes in the format of a digital download it has also been made available in a hi-res 96khz at some outlets.

Musicians & Credits…

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All music composed, arranged and performed by Flávio Franco Araujo. Recorded at BongÔMusics studios Morumbi, São Paulo. Brazil. Recorded mixed and mastered by Flávio Franco Araujo. Album cover and design by Flávio Franco Araujo.

Musicians.

Flávio Franco Araujo: Piano.

The Album Tracks In Review…

Solitude is an album of instrumental solo piano pieces and you could say that it’s very much a family album in that the biggest majority of the pieces are dedicated to those in Flávio’s family, some of which were very much written to remind him of the wonderful times he had with some of those who are no longer here. There is no doubt that each piece will have a special place in his heart and you could also say that it’s also a personal album that has more of a personal meaning to him.

However, you look at any piano piece there is a certain feel of elegance, beauty and grace and the piano is an instrument that can capture many emotions and moods that can be quite captivating. I think there is a certain amount of pleasure one can get from playing any instrument and even I myself can get tremendous pleasure and joy playing the piano. Though I have to confess that I am far from an accomplished piano player or pianist like this guy is, but any instrument will give you a sense of reward and pleasure no matter what level you can play it at for that matter.

The very fact that I can play the piano to a certain degree does mean that I have a particular interest and love for the instrument. Though I have to confess that an album that consists of nothing but piano or even guitar solos is not the thing in general I would personally buy. I have done many moons ago in the past and they are the kind of albums that I would rarely get out and play these days. I like more elements of instrumentation thrown into the equation and prefer an album where only one or two solo pieces have been put onto the album.

So, without further ado lets now take a look at the albums individual tracks as I go through them one by one and see how the album all pans out and works.

Track 1. Sol Brilhante.

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The title translates in English to “Bright Sun” and Sol also happens to be the name of Flávio’s beautiful wife to which this opening piece on the album is dedicated too. You could say that the album gets off to a bright start with this opening piece too and it does sound bright and has an air of elegance and romance to the piece. It also dances itself along quite wonderfully as if it’s telling a story and use of 8va variants work well to lift the piece up and it also utilises some of the lower regions to provide a certain amount of weight to the piece.

Overall, “Sol Brilhante” is a really beautiful piece that has a certain amount of air, grace and elegance to it and contains a touch of darkness to give it a bit of shade with the added weight from the lower regions of the keyboard that comes into play around the 3 minute mark. It’s a piece that lends more from the classical side of things rather than jazz and the beauty it has is perhaps why he chose the piece for his wife. It’s a GREAT! start to the album in some ways it reminds me of some of pieces that Rick Wakeman wrote for his Country Airs album back in 1986 and I see this has one of the contenders for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 2. Solitude.
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The albums self-titled track is one of the three longer pieces on the album and is played at a more subtle slower pace and lends to the space with its movement to represent the emptiness and the loneliness that is associated with the word “Solitude”. It’s a piece he wrote in a moment where he started to revaluate everything and started to be a little more isolated. I guess there are many times when we want to be by ourselves at times and isolate ourselves and collect our thoughts. Although right now in the present situation with Coronavirus spreading rapidly around the world, having to isolate ourselves is perhaps not the same thing.

This is another fine piece that has more of a classical structure to it and has a certain feel of sadness and beauty and also has a sense of warmth about it. It fits the title like a glove and Flávio did feel he was connected with the universe when he wrote it. Even though that is not him in the picture I chose to use for this piece, I do also feel it fits the picture too and see it has him collecting his thoughts with the universe.

If anything, “Solitude” is a piece that very much has perhaps more of a chilliout mood to it and also a sense of purpose with its melody lines and the environmental recording of the rain and birds singing at the end works very effectively to round the piece off. It’s a very well-constructed piece of work and is played with precision and his fingers are quite magical with how he touches upon certain keys that add to the beauty of the piece. It’s very much a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 3. Flavia Jogando Bola.
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Jogando Bola translates to “Playing ball” and this is a very playful piece that has a feel and sense of joy about it all. The piece itself reflects back to Flávio looking back on his past to the times when his daughter Flavia was a couple of years old and playing ball. I guess we all have fond memories and moments we like to gaze back at every now and then and this really is a GORGEOUS! little piece that dances along joyfully and the keys really do express and capture the joyful moment in time he was looking back on.

Track 4. Miss You.

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Miss You” is the longest track on the album and was inspired by the film music that Flávio’s father loved so much. It’s a piece that very much has a feel of loneliness like the 2nd track on the album “Solitude” only there is a lot more movement to the piece and it touches on jazz and classical structures to make it what it is.

It’s quite a powerful dramatic and expressive piece that captures many moods along its path and builds itself around melodies that contrast between light and shade. I would also say that you would have to have quite some strength in your fingers to be able to play a piece like this over its 10 minute and 19 second journey and it’s another very well worked out piece and one that has some really GREAT! chord progression along its path.

Track 5. Bella.

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This is a piece that Flávio wrote in a way of a dedication and remembrance of his dog Bella after she sadly passed away. Once again, it’s a piece that is built around a classical music structure in that it is built around a theme and variations of the theme. It’s a very well-crafted composition that has a sense of purpose about it, it starts off slowly and even though the piece builds up a bit quicker with its pace it constrains itself and holds everything together really well.

It’s not really a playful piece like the 3rd track on the album he wrote about his daughter and its perhaps done more in a way to represent the pleasure that Bella brought to him and his family over the 90 odd dog years she lived. It’s a very emotive piece that captures sprinkles of joy and a touch of sadness with how it presents itself to you and is a wonderful little journey through the life of Bella who is pictured in the photo above. It’s another of my contenders for the albums TOP SPOT!

Track 6. Beautiful Flowers.

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This piece was composed in honour of Flávio’s father Florentino and the “Flor” in the first segment of his name means flower in Portuguese hence the reason for the title he chose here. His father was a true master of the craft and very much his hero and this particular piece has been very well crafted in a way of a dedication to him and is the second longest track on the album weighing in at 8 minutes, 44 seconds.

There is quite a lot of beauty here which is to be expected in that it deeply shows his love for his father, and this is a piece that has eloquence, grace and even romance and is another very well constructed piece of work with how it all builds up to its heights and goes through motions and emotions that take in both happiness and sadness. It really is a masterclass piece of work and he has also backed it up slightly in parts with some warm strings which support the piano very well. This is another strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 7. Mother.

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The second piece that Flávio has dedicated to his mother is much shorter and once again this is a piece that has a sense of purpose about it and is more constrained like the 5th track on the album. This is perhaps done in way to represent how mothers have more of caring aspect about them in that they keep us safe from harm and are more protective or sometimes even overprotective by watching over us sort of thing. Well that is how it comes across and speaks to me, and it is perhaps more sombre and reflects darker shades, yet still manages to shine some light and is another wonderful worked out piece of work he has composed here.

Track 8. For Bill.

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The final piece on the album pays homage to one of Flávio’s idols namely the American jazz pianist and composer Bill Evans. To be honest I have never heard of him though jazz is perhaps not that popular in my own record collection although I do love certain aspects of it and am perhaps more into jazz fusion and the sort of thing that Flávio does with the other GREAT! musicians he plays with.

But I do have tremendous respect for some of the truly GREAT! jazz pianists and one that perhaps amazes me is Oscar Peterson. I also love boogie and ragtime music and have seen many old vintage clips of some those GREATS! from the past way before my time play them and enjoy a lot.

To be perfectly honest when listening to the album Solitude it does tend to lend more to the contemporary classical side of music than it does to jazz. But this is a piece that really displays some of the more technical aspects of playing jazz and it’s as if Flávio is playing a serenade to his idol Bill Evans and he certainly does justice to him too.

He also performed this live at the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall in Fayetteville Arkansas in the United States and done a GRAND! job of it as you can see in this video that he put out on his Youtube channel.

You can also find many more live performances on his Youtube channel including a straw of 3 of the other pieces from the album Solitude he also played live from the same venue. “For Bill” is a perfect way to put the album to bed and end off a very satisfactory body of work and a GREAT! album of fine piano pieces. It’s also my personal favourite track on the album and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Summary…

To sum up the album Solitude by Flávio Franco Araujo. I would say that the biggest majority of music that was written for the album does have more of a contemporary classical feel and lends itself more to that style more so than the jazz side of things. But that is perhaps to be more expected given that the album does have more of a personal side to it and is very much a family album.

I suppose in a way of categorising it in the way of giving it a genre, it’s bit like the genre of New Age that was given to the Country Airs album that Rick Wakeman had done back in 1986 and it is quite similar to that type of album. But then again how exactly does New Age really categorise a particular style of music especially when they have ambient electronic music, acoustic and all sorts filed under the same name tag. Like the many genres that evolved over the years they do tend to be ridiculous.

You can see that Flávio has put a lot of thought into the placement of the tracks on the album and it does flow and work very well in the order that they have been placed. The other good thing the album has in its favour is its overall time slot, which at 46 minutes is a very comfortable listening time that flies by in no time at all making it much easier to give the album another spin afterwards.

Reviewing any instrumental album presents a difficult task especially for me to convey how each piece comes across individually. But as with any album I review I do listen to the album several times and each track intensely. Though I may not be the best when it comes to wording things, especially when it comes to describing piano pieces. Solitude is an album that also presented me with quite a challenge to pick my personal highlights from the album but they are as follows: “Sol Brilhante“. “Solitude“. “Bella“. “Beautiful Flowers” and “For Bill“.

Conclusion…

To conclude my review of the album Solitude. I personally do not think that an album filled with piano pieces is going to appeal to the masses, and it will appeal to those who are more into the piano than myself. But that’s not to say you cannot get tremendous pleasure and joy out of listening to an album like this or deny the skill that went into making an album like this either.

I would even say that given the current circumstances we are in with the Coronavirus and how we are all revaluating our lives to fit and work around it. An album like this might be just the ticket and the thing you need right now to focus on other things and I certainly think it will make you appreciate some of the beauty there is in this world.

Every musician in the world comes with their own appraoch and personal touch to their own instrument and that is where the real value lies within an album like this. For example, being more into prog rock myself Rick Wakeman has always been my personal god of the keyboards. But when it comes to playing the piano, he is no Oscar Peterson or even Flávio Franco Araujo for that matter and I would hardly say that his album Country Airs was one of his better albums. I personally do not think it’s a bad album but in all honesty the album Solitude speaks to me a lot more than that album of his.

The album Solitude is an album I highly recommend and contains a very fine strong body of work and I personally could not fault a single track upon it and each piece is very well composed, played and arranged and the quality production speaks for itself. It’s an album that I feel has a lot more to offer than I thought, even if it is made up of solo piano pieces and is not the sort of thing, I would personally buy these days. It’s also an album that one can truly appreciate and there is no doubt that Flávio Franco Araujo is a very gifted talented musician.

You can listen to the album for free on places like Spotify, Amazon Music and Apple Music or alternatively you can purchase the digital download of album from Amazon and many other outlets for around £9.99. You can even purchase an hi-res version of the album from here: https://www.prostudiomasters.com/album/page/55320

A Moment To Revaluate Everything

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. Sol Brilhante. 4:35.
02. Solitude. 7:24.
03. Flavia Jogando Bola. 4:06.
04. Miss You. 10:19.
05. Bella. 3:48.
06. Beautiful Flowers. 8:44.
07. Mother. 3:49.
08. For Bill. 3:43.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #145

Ordinary Man – Ozzy Osbourne

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Introduction…

Well it’s been a good decade since Ozzy Osbourne released an album and three years since both, he and his former band Black Sabbath decided to call it a day and put an end to their career back in their own town of Birmingham England at the Genting Arena on the 4th February 2017.  Now he’s back with his 12th studio album and being that he is now an ageing 71-year-old rocker, this could very well be his final album. 

Given the condition of his health over the last year with having a bad fall whilst recovering from pneumonia and being diagnosed with a mild form of Parkinson’s disease, I guess we should be thankful that he was able to make another album. But then again, I am sure Osbourne has stated many times in the past that he’s extremely lucky to still be here given all the antics he has got up to in the past. But at the end of the day I guess he is still mortal and just like the new albums title suggests an ordinary man. 

Ozzy Osbourne has always been the crazy man of rock n’ roll but what makes things even more crazy is that despite him now being at the ripe old age of 71. Many will still go out and buy this new album of his including those still in their teens and not just the many who like myself who have followed him over all these years. 

I can remember going back to my youth and in my teens when I first heard artists like Frank Sinatra. For the life of me I could not imagine myself buying records by those particular artists who were perhaps more popular with my parents’ generation than my own. Back then I would have even considered them to be old bags making records and would have made fun about them with my mates. But of course, as you grow older you get wiser and get to have much more respect for those type of artists and the one thing Sinatra still had in his ripe old age was his voice and that is something Osbourne still has kept intact today. 

I guess you could even say that Ozzy is an extraordinary man and I’ve always found him to be quite a character and such a likeable and down to earth guy. He may not have the best voice in relation to many other rock singers. But for me personally when it comes to rock music and the music he made with both Black Sabbath and his own solo career, he and Alice Cooper are very much the only singers I have ever said that rule. Throughout his entire career there as only really been one album that never rocked my boat, but before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork. 

The Packaging & Artwork…

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The Deluxe Edition CD comes in a 3-panel cardboard DigiSleeve to which the artists name, albums title and tracks have been etched or stencilled in silver leaf effect. Both the CD and Booklet slot into side pockets or slots on the right and left side on the inside of the DigiSleeve and the 14-page booklet contains all the linear notes and credits plus the lyrics. Overall, it’s been very well presented and for me personally it was worth paying the extra couple of pounds more for the deluxe edition. I do prefer both cardboard DigiSleeves and DigiPaks in relation to the standard plastic Jewel Case. 

Artwork.

The artworks design and layout were done by Jeff Schulz who is an Associate Design Director at Sony Music Entertainment and an acclaimed creative director with 25+ years of experience guiding the vision of top brands, artists, and properties. Over the past near enough three decades Schulz has designed many album covers for artists such as the likes of Leonard Cohen, Miles Davis, Robert Cray, Bon Jovi, Patti Smith, Avril Lavigne, Whitney Houston and many others. Most of the album covers he has designed are worked around portraits and pictures of the artists themselves.  

The photography was done by Sam Taylor-Johnson and the back of the album cover photograph was taken by the albums producer Andrew Watt who is involved with a lot of things on the album. The bat illustration in the middle of the booklet was done by Jon Contino. Overall, the albums artwork looks pretty neat and cool and this is one bat that not even Ozzy will be biting the head off :)))))). 

Release Editions…

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The album was released in 7 formats counting the digital download leaving you the choice of 6 physical formats to choose from. Oddly enough the digital download is not the cheapest option and is priced up at £9.99 on Amazon UK. The cheapest of the 6 physical formats is the Cassette priced up at £8 and this format gives you the choice of 4 different cover art pictures to choose from on Ozzy’s website as seen below.

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It was also released with the choice of 2 CD editions and as you can see, I opted for Deluxe Edition which I pre-ordered from Amazon UK and got it for £11.98. You can also get it in a standard plastic Jewel Case which is a couple of quid cheaper for £9.99 on Amazon and they are one of the cheapest retailers to purchase the album from. The only difference between the standard and deluxe versions is the packaging and nothing more. 

For vinyl lovers you have the choice of 3 vinyl editions you can choose from and the standard Black vinyl version is priced at £20. The Picture Disc version retails for £25 and the Deluxe edition comes in a smoke Silver colour vinyl and is priced at £40. It’s also worth noting that on Ozzy’s website all vinyl albums have been pressed onto 140-gram vinyl and not 180 gram and I thought this might have been a typo error because most other outlets are advertising it as 180-gram vinyl. 

However, having stumbled across more recent reviews about the issues some people are having with the vinyl release, it does appear to be that the vinyl industry is cutting corners once again and giving you less quality at a premium price. This is one of the very things that got my goat up about vinyl years ago and why I finally gave up on it simply because the thinner they cut the vinyl the more static it attracted and it was also more prone to warp a lot easier too and generate more surface noise. 

This recent video I found on the YouTube talks about the problems of quality control that is still going on today regarding vinyl and Osbourne’s latest album Ordinary Man is at the centre of it with the vinyl release. 

In other recent news it appears that “Vinylgeddon” is upon us due to recent fire that has decimated Apollo Masters in Banning, California. The plant produced 75-percent of the world’s lacquers that is used to make the stampers to make new recordings of vinyl records, with Japan’s MDC providing the remainder. Although it’s not quite “Vinylgeddon” and many albums are pressed well in advance but it will no doubt slow things down eventually for a while and will take at least a couple of years to hopefully get everything back together if they can. 

This recent video I found on Youtube explains more about it and what it will mean for the future of vinyl. Although a lot of it is only speculation and only time will tell just how much of an effect it will have on the vinyl industry.

The Album In Review…

Ordinary Man by Ozzy Osbourne was released on the 21st February 2020. The album comes with 11 tracks and has a total playing time of 49 minutes, 21 seconds which is a very comfortable time slot though not so comfortable to fit on a vinyl album. Which is why these days a single album like this now comes on 2 LP’s instead of one to cater for vinyl restrictions although I am pretty sure the album was put onto a single LP. I think it’s good they are now catering for quality but no doubt it does also bump the price of the album up for vinyl lovers doing it like this.

It was after finishing the farewell tour with Black Sabbath back in 2017 that Osbourne kept working on new material though various health issues got in the way and he was even forced ho to cancel his “No More Tours II” tour that was scheduled to kick off in February 2018. The tour was cancelled again in 2019 and was due to start in North America in May this year but once again had been cancelled and rescheduled to start in the United Kingdom in October 2020.

In September 2019, he was featured alongside American rapper Travis Scott on American rapper Post Malone’sTake What You Want“, from Malone’s third studio album Hollywood’s Bleeding, which went on to become Osbourne’s first Billboard Hot 100 top 10 in over 30 years and is also included on this album. In November last year Osbourne announced that he had been working with the Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagan, and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith on new material for a new album and since then we have seen 4 single releases between November – February surface prior to the albums release.

Most of the album was recorded at various studios a couple of which namely Electric Feel and Gold Tooth Music studios in the States are most likely home studios, but some of the tracks were also recorded at Abbey Road and Sarm studios in London, England. Sarm Studios were established by Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records, and it was originally known as Basing Street Studios. It has also been known in the past as Island Studios and SARM is an acronym of Sound and Recording Mobiles.

The studio is situated in Notting Hill in London and was built inside a former church that had been de-consecrated. The old church began its life as a studio back in 1969 though has a record producer Chris Blackwell’s career goes back much further and in 1964, he produced a cover version of Barbie Gaye’s 1956 song “My Boy Lollipop” which became Millie’s breakthrough blockbuster hit in the United Kingdom, reaching No. 2.

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Basing Street Studios.

In the 70’s Blackwell got to produce quite a few ground breaking albums including Led Zeppelin’s Volume IV and Jethro Tull’s Aqualung along with many other artists such as Iron Maiden, Bob Marley, Steve Winwood, Free, Bad Company, Robert Palmer, Jimmy Cliff, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, King Crimson, John Martyn, Mott the Hoople, Quintessence, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, Sparks, Cat Stevens, Spooky Tooth, Traffic and many more. The studios were also used by notable non-Island Records acts, such as Madonna, The Clash, Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, The Eagles, Dire Straits, East 17, Boyzone, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Rihanna, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Genesis, Yes and so on.

The studio changed its name to Sarm West and in the mid 1970s, Sarm was the first 24-track recording studio in England and later became the first with 48-track facilities. In 1982 the producer Trevor Horn of Buggles brought the studios and the Band Aid smash hit “Do They Know It’s Christmas” was recorded in Studio 1 at Sarm West in 1984. In May 2011, two new studios and music business offices were added. The redesign also included living accommodation, to facilitate a return to the studios’ 1970s policy of long-term bookings. The studios are currently owned by SPZ Group, which is a holding company belonging to Trevor Horn and his late wife Jill Sinclair. The Sarm Studios complex also houses the offices of the SPZ-owned record labels ZTT Records and Stiff Records, and publishing companies Perfect Songs and Unforgettable Songs.

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Sarm studios.

Ozzy’s new album Ordinary Man was produced by the guitarist Andrew Watt who is also known for working with rapper Post Malone, both producing his songs and playing with him as a guitarist. He’s also collaborated with many more popular artists such as Justin Bieber to name one of them, and to be perfectly honest you would hardly think he was the right candidate to work on album for the prince of darkness. To be perfectly honest I have never heard of him or Post Malone for that matter and the likes of Justin Bieber is hardly going to raise my eyebrows and I would most likely PUKE! at the thought of him and Malone :))))). 

Though through my research I did get to discover that Watt got together with both Glen Hughes and Jason Bonham back in 2013 to form a hard rock supergroup who went by the name of California Breed and they made a one-off album together. So, he may very well have the credentials that are required though I was quite surprised not to see Zakk Wylde on the new album though these days when I look on Youtube there are literally thousands upon thousands of unknown guitarists who are quite capable of doing the job. Guitarists are very much ten a penny these days and not like they was many moons ago. 

Besides Andrew WattDuff McKagan, and Chad Smith who are the main musicians on the album it also features the ex Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash on a couple of tracks and Elton John also contributes piano and vocals to a track. It also features a few more musicians besides so let’s now take a look at the albums credits. 

Musicians & Credits…

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Executive Producer Andrew Watt. Recorded at various studios in the USA and United Kingdom. Recording Engineers Andrew Dudman, Dominik Gryzbon, Paul Lamalfa and Matt Still. Assistant Engineers Matt Jones and George Oulton. Mixed by Manny Marroquin and Alan Moulder. Mixing Assistants Caesar Edmunds, Scott Desmarais, Robin Florent, Chris Galland, Tom Herbert and Jeremie Inhaber. Mastering by Mike Bozzi and Dave Kutch assisted by Kevin Peterson.

All compositions written by Osbourne, Smith, McKagan, Tamposi, Watt (except Tracks 1 & 7 by Osbourne, Smith, McKagan, Watt. Track 4 by Osbourne, John, McKagan, Walsh, Watt. Track10 by Osbourne, Post, Smith, Watt and track 11 by Osbourne, Post, Webster, Walsh, Watt. Art Direction & design by Jeff Schulz. Photography by Sam Taylor-Johnson. Back Cover Photo by Andrew Watt. Illustrations by Jon Contino.

Musicians.

Ozzy Osbourne: Vocals – Harmonica (Track 6).
Andrew Watt: Guitar – Keyboards (Tracks 2, 4-10) – Piano (Track 4) – Bass (Track 7) – Backing Vocals – Programming & Arrangements.
Duff McKagan: Bass (Tracks 1-6, 8-10).
Chad Smith: Drums (Tracks 1-10).

Additional Musicians.

Slash: Guitar (Tracks 1 & 4).
Elton John: Co-Lead Vocals & Piano (Track 4).
Tom Morello: Guitar (Tracks 8 & 10).
Post Malone: Co-Lead Vocals (Tracks 10 & 11).
Caesar Edmunds: Synth Bass (Tracks 2, 3, 6, 9, 10) – Synth Programming (Track 1).
Charlie Puth: Keyboards (Track 1).
Travis Scott: Vocals (Track 11).

Backing Vocalists: Ali Tamposi. Kelly Osbourne. Holly Laessig. Jess Wolfe. John Bowen. Christopher Hann. Gareth Treseder.

The Album Tracks In Review…

There was certainly no expense spared that went into the making of Osbourne’s 12th studio album Ordinary Man and there are way too many people involved in the making of this album for me to list them all in the credits. I would even think that if this album was to hit Number 1 in many countries I doubt if he would even get his money back and this must be the most expensive album he’s ever made.

This is an album that uses many modern techniques that’s found in the biggest majority of today’s pop music and also involves many artists who are not fussy about using programming and loops. I very much doubt that Osbourne has ever made an album like this before and this was all new to him including many of the people he had worked with on the album. But it also includes many musicians and he even paid Andrew Watt to fly over to Abby Road Studios in London, England to get an orchestra put on some of the tracks, and had him fly over to Atlanta to get Elton John on one of the tracks.

I have to confess that when I look back at all the GREAT! musicians Ozzy has worked with and had in the past on his previous albums from his solo career. I was not expecting a great deal looking at the backbone of the main musicians who are featured on this album. I would even say that with Osbourne being 71 and not in the best of shape after his last accident in the many interviews I have seen of him. That he was not in any fit shape to make an album. So, let’s now take a look and see how it came out.

Track 1. Straight To Hell.

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Straight off the BAT! excuse the pun :))))) the album gets off to a flying start and this opening track sees Ozzy flying high again and the opening words “alright now” takes me even further back to that sweet leaf of his and just like both of those songs the lyrical content pertains to the harm that drugs can do to you and this is an anti-drug song like the many he has had done in the past, and just like the many it’s one HELL! of a song too.

There is no doubt that even Osbourne himself must of been well chuffed with how the song came out that he could not wait to get it out there, and an official video was made for the song and released last year on the 22nd November. The video perhaps describes hell as being more of a riot and Ozzy is perhaps portrayed has the instigator of it all in the way it’s been put across but it’s very well made and he looks GREAT! in it.

Straight To Hell” is one of the more rawer edged songs on the album that is perhaps a bit more minimalistic regarding what’s been put into it to make it ROCK! particularly in the music department but it has all the right elements for it to work so well. It features Slash on lead guitar and the solo is very well executed. Ozzy’s voice stands out as well as ever and the other singers backing him up have been mixed in extremely well and this has to be a contender for one of the albums best powerful songs.

Track 2. All My Life.

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I like how the lyrics have been put into context in this song and the lyrics are perhaps a bit more personal in that they relate to Ozzy’s past and even the present with how he’s still here and doing what he does the best. It’s not quite the end for him yet and he’s fighting to live on for eternity. Musically the song is low key and has more of a down tempo about it that effectively works very well to bring the album down a notch. Andrew Watt‘s guitar solo slots in very well and Osbourne’s voice is the only voice here and this a good example to show just how well he still has his voice and it’s a really GREAT! song.

Track 3. Goodbye.

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There is quite a Black Sabbath feel to this next song and the thumping of the bass drum on the intro puts me in mind of “Iron Man” then it changes into something more along the lines of The Police and their hit song “Don’t Stand So Close To Me” in particular with the structure of the verses and I could almost sing some of the words from that song to the melody here and it’s like it’s been fused with “Electric Funeral“. Even the transitional change we get in the song is very much along the lines of Sabbath and you can see that the musicians had listened extensively to Osbourne’s entire career to make the new material work so well for him. 

Once again, the lyrics are well written and put into context and you do get the impression that this album is meant to be his final album and its almost as if he’s writing his last will and testament to us all. There is nothing overcooked on these opening tracks and if there is any modern technology used you certainly cannot hear it and that is another excellent song that has all the right raw power to drive it along and another fine example how Osbourne’s voice has not changed a bit. 

Track 4. Ordinary Man.

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This song has quite a BEATLE-ESC! feel about it and it features Elton John on piano and he also gets to sing the second verse of the song. It also features Slash on the lead solo. Besides having such a GREAT! voice for rock music Ozzy has always had the characteristics in his voice to sing ballads exceptionally well and that even goes back to the 70’s when he was with Black Sabbath and “Changes” from their 4th album Volume 4 is a fine example and testament to that. Back in 2001 when I first heard “Dreamer” that song alone enticed me to buy the album Down To Earth immediately and I have yet to find an album from his solo career that has ever let me down.

Once again, the lyrics are excellent and they pertain to him wanting to be remembered after he’s gone and no doubt he will be, simply because he’s already made history as far as I am concerned.  I can see why Osbourne wanted an orchestra on this song and why he sent Watt to Abbey Road because he has always been a fan of The Beatles. “Ordinary Man” is my personal favourite track on the album and it merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

The official video was only released today and just in time for me to add it in for my review. I personally do not think it’s as good as the other two official videos that were made and it’s a reflection of Ozzy looking back on his past in a sad way.

Track 5. Under The Graveyard.

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Yet another really GREAT! track and I would say that the album was worth it’s price point at this stage and were not even half way through it. This was another of the early single releases that was put out last November. The song is a look back on Osbourne’s life around the time he was sacked from Black Sabbath with his battles with drug and alcohol addiction and how his wife got him back on his feet again.

No expense has been spared on the official video that was made to promote the release either, and I have to say how they found the right actors to play the part of Ozzy and his wife Sharon does look very much like how they were back in early 80’s. “Under The Graveyard” is my second favourite track on the album and is a very strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! I would even say that this may very well be a firm favourite with most of his fans.

Track 6. Eat Me.

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Ozzy gives you something you can get your teeth into like the title suggests and the lyrical content is on the black comedy side of things. The intro on the harmonica and the opening power chords from the guitars do have a Black Sabbath feel about them and hearing Osbourne on the old “Gob Iron” does cast my mind back to “The Wizard” from the bands self-titled debut album even if the melody line he’s playing sounds something more along the lines of a freight train rather than the haunting melody and sound he had on that old classic.

But that’s not the only thing in this song that takes me back to Sabbath’s debut album and around the 2:13 mark you will also hear they have nicked the vocal melody line from N.I.B. to which is played on the guitars. Though all these things are only little snippets to reflect back on the past and the song has much more to it and I would even say there is a touch of Alice Cooper thrown in along the way too. If anything, “Eat Me” is another very TASTY! album track and is yet another of the albums highlights and it contains some great bass work from Duff McKagan and Andrew Watt’s guitar solo adds very well to it all as well.

Track 7. Today is the End.

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The songs title is something more along the lines of what you might find for a movie and this song would even work well for a movie too. Most of the songs along the album pertain to Osbourne’s personal life and death as if it were the end for him. Although the lyrical content to this song is quite different, and if you dug deeper into them, they could be pertaining more towards some of the tragic events that have taken place in the world such a school shootings for example. Though I am sure there are many other things people will intemperate them too as well.

Overall, “Today is the End” is another GREAT! album track the lyrical content is a bit on the repetitive side but Ozzy’s expressive voice fits in it like a glove and it contains a really GREAT! guitar solo.

Track 8. Scary Little Green Men.

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Well no doubt the subject matter behind this song is entirely different and here we are touching on those scary little green bug-eyed monsters from another planet. The question really is is there anyone out there? It’s the first of two tracks that features Tom Morello on guitar (another unknown guitarist to myself) but I have vaguely heard of the band he is associated with Rage Against the Machine. He has also been involved in a few other bands and played with the likes of Bruce Springsteen in the past too.

Though I have to confess that for my own personal taste in music the Springsteen’s and Dylan’s of this world I have only ever seen as GREAT! songwriters and not performers, and I very much prefer their songs covered by other artists who I think done a damn site better with them. But we all have different tastes for sure. I am not sure who is doing the silly voice in this song but it sounds like the actor and musician Jack Black. I like how the song can simmer down and build up some adrenalin with how it flows along and this is another GREAT! song on the album.

Track 9. Holy For Tonight.

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This is yet another song that’s lyrical content pertains to how it’s coming to the end of Osbourne’s life and how he’s running out of time. In many ways this would have been the perfect song to end off the album and it’s the second of the truly GREAT! BALLAD-ESC! tracks on the album. Like I mentioned earlier with “Ordinary ManOsbourne’s voice works in a very powerful way when it comes to toning things down more and he can deliver songs like this with ease. This is another of the songs that contains an orchestra recorded at Abbey Road and another contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! 

Track 10. It’s a Raid.

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This next song features the Rapper Post Malone and although he’s actually singing rather than Rapping and to be honest his singing voice is fine and he does a good duet here with Osbourne on the song. The song itself does contain elicit lyrics to which Osbourne is certainly no stranger to himself however, the elicit lyrics in this song are more along the typical lines that is associated with most Rap artists and well over the top as ever. The song was released as a single on the day before the release of the album.

Overall, “It’s a Raid” is not a bad song but perhaps not up with there the rest of the tracks on the album and for me personally I would associate it more of a bonus track more than anything else. It also features Tom Morello on guitar and the guitar on this track has been distorted to death to which I personally feel sounds really cheap and nasty and it does nothing for me I am afraid.

Track 11. Take What You Want.

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The final track on the album is a bonus track and features Post Malone and Travis Scott on vocals and they’re vocal parts feature more on the song than Osbourne’s. To be honest I like how the song opens up with the melody line on the guitar and Osbourne’s voice on the opening verse sounds GREAT! and you get the instant feeling that this is gonna be a good song to end off the album. Then the song changes drastically into a modern pop song with stupid effects applied to Malone and Scott’s vocals and it just ruined everything about it all for myself. The only other good thing in it is the guitar solo but overall, this is a track I could do without and it does not speak to me personally.

Summary…

To sum up Ozzy Osbourne’s latest album Ordinary Man. I would say for those who have been waiting a decade to see a new album finally materialise it certainly does not disappoint and no doubt this is an album that has put Ozzy back in the limelight and an album I would personally consider a must for his fans and all those who are into really great rock music. The material that was written for the album is very strong both musically and lyrically and the only thing for me personally that really stops this album from being completely solid is the final couple of tracks on the album. 

The album has been very well produced and no doubt Andrew Watt has done an excellent job and had the right vision to pull it all off and make it work and suit Ozzy down to a tee. The album does not contain any of the more familiar musicians who have worked with Osbourne in the past, and although I myself would have preferred to see some of them here I do not think they are really missed at all when listening to the album. 

My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Straight To Hell“. “Ordinary Man“. “Under The Graveyard“. “Eat Me” and “ Holy For Tonight“. Though the first 9 tracks on the album are all equally as good and I could easily say they are the highlights of the album and the life and soul of the album. If it was not for the last couple of tracks this album would score 10 out of 10 with ease and be up there with his very best albums without a doubt. 

Conclusion…

Ordinary Man by Ozzy Osbourne is an album that purely ROCKS! and is a most welcoming return from the prince of darkness. It’s a very exciting album and one of the best rock albums I have heard in sometime. Ozzy comes from an era and decade that invented pure heavy rock music and when it comes to music that purely rocks in a heavy way there were only really 3 bands that stuck out above the rest and they were Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin and it was around the same time back in 1969/70 that all 3 of these bands churned out their finest rock albums ever. 

I would even say that Black Sabbath were the most consistent band out of those 3 when it comes down to churning out solid albums and the only album they ever made that never spoke to me was the final album Osbourne done with them back in that decade which was Never Say Die. The albums self-titled track was GREAT! but the rest of the album SUCKED! :)))))). Personally, I do not think Ozzy ever made an album in his entire solo career that sucked at all and they all can rock in a good way just like this album does. If this is to be Osbourne’s final album, he has certainly done justice for his fans and gone out on a high. 

Yes, I’ve Been A Bad Guy, Been Higher Than The Blue Sky…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. Straight To Hell. 3:45.
02. All My Life. 4:18.
03. Goodbye. 5:34.
04. Ordinary Man. 5:01.
05. Under The Graveyard. 4:57.
06. Eat Me. 4:19.
07. Today is the End. 4:06.
08. Scary Little Green Men. 4:20.
09. Holy For Tonight. 4:52.
10. It’s A Raid. 4:20.
11. Take What You Want. 3:49.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 9/10.

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

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 9/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #144

The Gathering – Osmosis

The Gathering CD Cover

Introduction…

Well the first of the new albums I have to review of the new year is another freebie that has only just been released and was very kindly sent to me by Gary Hetherington. Some of you may remember I reviewed Hetherington’s debut album Long Time Coming back in November which was an album of romantic pop songs, although what we have here is a collection of folk songs put together and compiled by four individual musicians hence the album being entitled “The Gathering” I would expect.

In many ways it takes me back to the early 70’s when a group of folk musicians mostly from the band Fairport Convention got back together and called themselves “The Bunch“. Only those fine bunch of folkies put together a compilation of rock n’ roll cover songs and called it Rock On back in 1972 when the album was released.

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It’s also worth mentioning that some of those musicians released what I consider to be one of the finest folk albums in that same year which was also a one-off album entitled Morris On.  I myself was a massive fan of Fairport Convention back then and from that one band alone the members of it went on to form many other well-known folk bands such as Steeleye Span, Fotheringay, Matthews Southern Comfort, The Albion Band and so on. Richard Thompson also went on to have one of most successful solo careers and is amongst the very best folk song writers and still is today.

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This particular album The Gathering in many respects follows along the lines of how those couple of albums were put together and the material was mostly written by others rather than themselves. The only odd thing I do find a bit strange is why they decided to call themselves Osmosis. The albums title I personally would of thought would have been a far more fitting name to go with. But before I go any further let’s take a look at the packaging and artwork.

The Packaging & Artwork…

The CD comes in a single cardboard sleeve which replicates a mini version of a non-gatefold vinyl album. The song titles and some credits are printed on the back of the sleeve and it does not include a booklet to include the lyrics and more informative information regarding the linear notes and credits. The packaging is very well presented although because it is on the slim side it might present you with a harder task to locate the CD when stored along with your collection. But overall, you cannot really complain at the budget price the CD is sold for.

The Artwork.

The albums artwork is very fitting to the albums title and this bonny bunch of lads and lasses look like they have gathered together in a harvest field to celebrate the bringing in of the harvest. The artwork itself no doubt was not done by any of the members of the band and is in fact quite an antique piece of artwork entitled “The Harvest Home” and was done by the famous English artist and possibly the most famous caricaturist of the Georgian Era, Thomas Rowlandson who was noted for his political satire and social observation.

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Thomas Rowlandson

Rowlandson was a prolific artist and printmaker who produced a wide variety of illustrations for novels, joke books, and topographical works. This particular piece of artwork and illustration was used for the Dr Syntax series which tells the story of a clergyman who travels the countryside and gets up to all sorts of adventures. The British miscellaneous writer William Combe was the author of all three of Dr Syntax series to which he was chiefly remembered for and he used all of Rowlandson‘s illustrations for the series.  “The Harvest Home” was most likely used for the first series entitled “Tour of Dr. Syntax in Search of the Picturesque” that was first published in 1812.

The Album In Review…

The Gathering by Osmosis was released on the 6th February 2020. The album consists of 10 tracks to which 8 of them are covers and only contains 2 original songs and it comes with an overall playing time of 42 minutes, 26 seconds. A very respectful time slot for an album making it easy to digest for a reviewer like myself. It’s also in line with my preferred time slot of 30 to 40 minutes to which all albums were back in the 70’s. The album was produced by Gary Hetherington and even though he only features on a couple of the albums tracks, it was he who also provided most of the instrumentation throughout the album.

Osmosis are a 4-piece studio band comprising of Karin Grandal-Park, Sheree Hemingway, Peter Dunk & Gary Hetherington and all its members have worked with each other on other projects at one point or another. Like I mentioned in the introduction I did find it a bit odd why they decided to go with the name “Osmosis” instead of “The Gathering” for the name of the band. Osmosis for example, is the spontaneous net movement of solvent molecules through a selectively permeable membrane into a region of higher solute concentration, in the direction that tends to equalize the solute concentrations on the two sides.

But it also can be the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas and that is perhaps why the name was used. Though being that all the members of the band come from all over the place from places in England such as Yorkshire, Kent and Lancashire. I personally felt that “The Gathering” would have been better suited for both the name of the band and album just like that classic album from 1972 was simply titled “Morris On“.

Work started on the album back in the first week of October last year and has Gary Hetherington was the main musician of the line-up it was he who had to make all the backing tracks for the other members to choose which cover songs they were going to do. As there were 4 members in the band, they each chose 2 cover songs each although being that it was Karin Grandal-Park who also contributed the 2 original compositions to the album, she got to feature on 4 of them.

The album is very well produced and Hetherington also seen the sense to include a couple of other additional musicians to lend a hand on a couple of the albums tracks. Both are really good guitarists and the one of them namely Karl Robins is certainly no stranger to Hetherington and myself and he contributes some fine acoustic guitar on a couple of the tracks. Alan Dublon on the other hand is someone I am not that familiar with, although I do have him on my list of Facebook friends. It might very well be that I came across him many years ago on Soundcloud collaborating with some other musician on the cloud and he contributes electric guitar on one of the albums tracks.

Musicians & Credits…

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Produced & Mastered by Gary Hetherington at The House. All songs are traditional covers and were written by various poets and hymnsters except tracks 6 & 9 written by Karin Grandal-Park and track 8 written by Joan Baez. Cover Design by Gary Hetherington. Painting by Thomas Rowlandson.

Musicians.
Karin Grandal-Park – Vocals (Tracks 2, 6, 9 & 10).
Sheree Hemingway – Vocals (Tracks 4 & 8).
Peter Dunk – Vocals (Tracks 1 & 5) – Bandoneon (Track 1).
Gary Hetherington – Instrumentation – Vocals (Tracks 3 & 7).

Additional Musicians.
Karl Robins – Acoustic Guitar (Tracks 3 & 4).
Alan Dublon – Electric Guitar (Track 4).

The Album Tracks In Review…

The Gathering is an album of traditional folk songs most of which were covered by many mainstream or signed artists who specifically are associated with traditional folk music. There is also some original written materiel along the album too and much of the lyrical content in many traditional folk songs can stretch back centuries to the medieval times and were quite often found in hymns and poems. For hundreds of years many folks have used the words to sing to and even put a musical accompaniment around them to make up a song.

Gary Hetherington has worked closely with the other singers and musicians to provide them with a backing track that they felt comfortable to work with and was suited to the way that they wanted to deliver each song. Well certainly in the case of the arrangements for himself and the two female singers on the album. Whereas Peter Dunk who contributes to a couple of the songs in the way of using his own voice as the main instrument, would have done his own arrangements though Hetherington may have provided the environmental elements in the background during the production process. So, let’s now take a closer look to see how it all worked out.

Track 1. I Live Not Where I Love.

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The words to the song started out as a poem that was written on the Virgin Mary, by Robert Southwell around 1596. Robert Morley set some verses of it to music around 1600 and the song has been covered by many artists including the likes of Steeleye Span, Linda Thomson, Tim Hart & Maddy Prior and Mary Black to name a few.

Peter Dunk’s approach to the song is more like an Acapella the sort of way Martin Carthy would do many a song back in the 60’s unaccompanied even though he was also quite an accomplished guitarist. Although Dunk is not entirely unaccompanied here and uses his Bandoneon in the way of a drone and it seats well in the background and supports his fine folky voice very well and is all it really needs.

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The bandoneon is a type of concertina particularly popular in Argentina and Uruguay. It’s a bit like the German squeeze box from hell the Accordion but without the register keys and did originate from Germany and was developed in the mid-1800s and named by the German instrument dealer Heinrich Band (1821–1860). It was originally intended as an instrument for religious and popular music of the day back then and by 1910 they were being produced expressly for the Argentine and Uruguayan markets who used the instrument mainly for the Tango and traditional Orquesta típica which is a Latin American term for a band which plays popular music as seen below.

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Overall, Peter Dunk has done a very fine job here and his voice is very much suited to this particular genre of traditional folk. It sets the right mood for the album and this is perhaps a love song that one would take to the grave so to speak and works very well as the opening track.

Track 2. Down By The Sally Gardens.

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Another song that came from a poem and was written by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats and was published back in 1889 in his first book of poems entitled “The Wanderings of Oisin and Other Poems”. Yeats spent his childhood holidays in the County of Sligo in Ireland and it’s been suggested that the location of the “Salley Gardens” was on the banks of the river at Ballysadare near Sligo where the residents cultivated trees to provide roof thatching materials.

His poem was subsequently first set to music by Herbert Hughes back in 1909 to which others followed suit such as the 1920’s composer Rebecca Clarke. Although the poem has been part of the repertoire of many singers and groups, the melody is mostly set around the song “The Maids of Mourne Shore” that Hughes originally put Yeats words from the poem too and we no end of artists have recorded the song including the likes of Marianne Faithfull, The Waterboys, Loreena McKennitt and even James Galway done an instrumental version of it.

Karin Grandal-Park takes on the vocals for this one to which she does a fine job and it sort of has a Vera Lynn feel about the way she delivers the song and I perhaps get that vibe from the way she tends to hold on to a word and stretch it out that bit longer. Gary Hetherington’s done a splendid job on the musical side of things which I do suspect was mostly done on the keyboards including the guitars, though he may of also played the odd touches on his acoustic guitar. The piano and the flutes work particularity well with the accompaniment and I am pretty sure it his voice that backs up Karin’s on the last couple of verses.

To be honest this is not a song I am familiar with and is quite new to me despite it being over a hundred years old. The way it’s presented here is quite pleasantly very soothing and they have both done a GRAND! job of it.

Track 3. Scarborough Fair.

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This song I think everyone is familiar with and the biggest majority of people would no doubt associate it with Simon & Garfunkel. Though the song itself was not written by them but Art Garfunkel did write the Canticle that accompanies their version and for me personally they exceeded all expectations and I certainly do not feel there has ever been a better version of the song and I have heard many different versions.

Gary Hetherington takes on the vocals for this one and takes on pretty much most of the instrumentation that is once again supplied by the use of his keyboards. It also features Karl Robins on acoustic guitar and one of the female singers have also accompanied him on the backing vocals and at a guess I think its Sheree Hemingway. They have not included the Canticle either but then again that was not part of the original song.

The lyrics to “Scarborough Fair” can be traced as far back as 1670 to a Scottish ballad titled “The Elfin Knight” collected by Francis James Child. But they only appear to have something in common with that version. Although the English references to the fair and refrain was brought to light much later in a tune by Frank Kidson in 1891.

Simon & Garfunkel’s version of the song was based around the Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger version recorded in 1957 that Martin Carthy had picked up on and rearranged for his own version in 1965. It was also Carthy who taught Paul Simon how to play the song on guitar. However, what Simon & Garfunkel did with the song was to present it in the way of a sweet folk ballad which really swept and stripped away all the traditional folk elements that many had previously done with the song and by doing so they made it more popular and that is why their version still stands out today.

This version that Hetherington has done is also on the sweeter side of things and that is really down to him having more of a sweeter voice. If Peter Dunk was to sing this song for example, it would most likely bring back all the traditional folk elements and would have a different arrangement worked around his voice which very much is more suited to traditional folk music. But overall, this is another fine pleasing and sweet version of the song and quite a good all-round job has been done here.

Track 4. She Moved Through The Fair.

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From one fair to another and this a song I know quite well being very much into Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention. Though thousands of artists have covered the song and oddly enough even Art Garfunkel recorded quite a lush version of it on his Watermark album back in 1977. It’s traditionally an Irish folk song although the earliest commercial recording of the song was done was done by a Scotsman back in 1936 namely Sydney MacEwan. It has been found both in Ireland and in Scotland and scraps of the song were first collected in County Donegal by the Longford poet Padraic Colum and the musicologist Herbert Hughes. The lyrics were first published in Hughes’s Irish Country Songs, published by Boosey & Hawkes in 1909.

This is the first of two songs on the album that Sheree Hemingway gets to sing and I have to say her voice is very well suited and she has worked wonders on the song. It also features Karl Robins on acoustic guitar and Alan Dublon on electric guitar who also both work wonders here. Regarding the instrumentation and arrangement this for me personally is the best worked out song on the album and really is GORGEOUS! and it has all the right elements in the instrument department. It’s very much a very strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 5. The Captain’s Apprentice.

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This is another song I am not familiar with and the song is derived from an event that took place back in the 18th century about Captain James who was brought to trial and hanged for the murder of one of his young servants who had only committed a trifling offence. The young servant or apprentice was tortured and abused by James and left to die of starvation, though this story has been portrayed in many different ways in songs over the years and quite often the lyrical content has been changed to put it across. Another title the song goes under is “The Cruel Ship’s Captain” and besides the many who have put the story to the genre of traditional folk, it’s also been set to operatic classical music as in the version done by Vaughan Williams.

Although the version we have here is very much done like many other folkies have portrayed the song by doing it unaccompanied as in a Acapella and Peter Dunk and his fine folky voice returns to do his second track on the album and does another GRAND! job of it. This time he is only accompanied by the sound of the wind which also works very well in the background. “The Captain’s Apprentice” is the shortest track on the album and both the songs that Dunk has taken on are only around the 2 – 3 mark, but he has done quite a stellar job on them both and they work wonders on this album.

Track 6. Down in the Deep, Deep Water.

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This is the first of the two original compositions on the album that were written by Karin Grandal-Park and here she is accompanied very well by Gary Hetherington on the piano and he also threw in some orchestral instrumentation into the arrangement too. The lyrical content pertains to to a dying love lost to the spirit of the water sort of thing, and although it’s done in sweet way, I quite like how it describes all the beauty that is lost above the deep water.

Many songs in traditional folk music do have a darker side to them and although this song might sound on the brighter side of things with how it’s delivered it does cross between light and shade with its lyrical content and is a very well written song and a fine job has been done here.

Track 7. Bold Fisherman.

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A popular English folk song that dates back to the early 19th century and lyrically this is perhaps one of the more cleaned up seductive songs in relation to many other songs in the realm of traditional folk music such as “The Bonney Black Hare” and “The Astrologer” for examples. One of the earliest recordings of the song was done by the Norfolk singer Harry Cox around 1950 and judging by the lyrics Gary Hetherington has followed those because the biggest majority of folkies who recorded the song from the 60’s onwards (when it became more popular) refereed to the meeting of the maid and the fisherman being in May and not June as in the Harry Cox recording of the song.

Musically Hetherington has done his own thing with the arrangement and give it more of a light-hearted pop folky ballad feel and approach which tends to take away the traditional folk side of how many other artists approached the song. Many artists did also use instrumentation rather than do an unaccompanied version like Cox did such as Tim Hart & Maddy Prior and Shirley Collins. Though one of the finest versions I have heard is the one done by The Young Tradition who were a trio back in 1966 when they recorded the song and they used their voices only.

To be honest the way Hetherington has done the song in his own way is a very good thing and it gives the song more of a pleasing aspect to it. But his voice I do feel is better suited to the sort of pop songs he done on his own debut album. In some ways the way he’s arranged the song around the piano sort of puts me in mind of how one would arrange a song for a TV series sort of thing.

For example, there a lovely flutey sound he’s put in that reminds me of the same sort of flute that was used in the theme tune to the American TV Series “Taxi” that starred Danny DeVito. The violin also has more of an orchestrated classical presence to it that one would also find in how they use strings for a TV Series rather than a fiddle that is more widely used in folk music. But overall, he’s done a fine all-round job here.

Track 8. Silver Dagger.

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This for me is the highlight of the album and Sheree Hemingway must have a fine drop of Irish blood in her or was born in Ireland. Once again Gary Hetherington has done a GRAND! job on the musical arrangement and the violins and uilleann pipes give it a Celtic feel. Hemingway’s voice is perfect for this song and in my opinion, it suits her better than Joan Baez who originally wrote and recorded the song back in 1960. I think one of the hardest jobs ever is to do a cover of a song better than the original and I personally think this version is better and that is why it merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 9. Gallows Tree.

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The second of the original songs written by Karin Grandal-Park takes on perhaps a familiar subject with many folk songs and Fairport Convention done a couple of them back in the early 70’s with songs such as the “Poor Will And The Jolly Hangman” and “The Hanging Song“. Once again Karin has done a fine job on the lyrics and delivers them very well with the subtle drone arrangement that Gary had provided here. I like how he even put ringing of the bell in towards the end too which is very haunting and fitting in with it all.

Track 10. Ae Fond Kiss.

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Karin takes on the final song of the album and this is very much a love song to which comes from a love letter that the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote to Mrs Agnes Maclehose who he had established a platonic relationship with and sent to her on 27th December 1791 before she departed Edinburgh for Jamaica to be with her estranged husband. The original words were set to the tune of “Rory Dalls‘ Port” and the musical score was published in the collection of Scottish folks’ songs known as the “Scots Musical Museum“.

Ae Fond Kiss” is Burns most recorded love song and has been covered mostly by Scott’s such as The Corries back in early 70’s although even the British folk and soft rock band Fairground Attraction done a version of it in the late 80’s. The first recording of the song was done by the Glasgow Orpheus Choir back in 1951 and both Allan Bruce and Niven Miller recorded the song in 1960. In other countries the song is also known as “Just A Kiss” and in 2004 they also made a romantic drama film directed by Ken Loach that was inspired by the love song.

I would say that because the lyrical content is based around love and romance, the song leans more towards the Celtic folk side of things with its approach more than it would to traditional English folk music where they would use instrumentation like mandolins, dulcimers and so on. For example, a light and airy approach that James Horner done for the arrangement of “My Heart Will Go On” which was the theme song for the Titanic movie sung by Celine Dion would even suit the lyrical content we have here.

I do personally feel with the arrangement that Gary Hetherington has done here with the piano and violin is more fitting to a song like this and he very much had the right vision with his approach to the music. It does also suit Karin’s voice and she delivers the words very well and they have both done a really GREAT! cover version and done justice to Robert Burns GREAT! words and it puts an end to a very fine album.

Summary…

To sum up The Gathering by Osmosis. I would say it’s an album like many albums you would find in the world of traditional folk and folk music where most of the material is arranged rather than completely written by the artist themselves. It is more of a covers album but that is also what even many artists in this field of music still do today regardless of them being able to write GREAT! songs of their own like Richard Thompson for example.

The fact that there is 4 people and 4 voices involved here, it does give the album much more of a wider variety and each song has been very well arranged to fit the voice that is going to deliver each song. Being more into English folk rock and traditional folk myself, I would say that the voices of both Sheree Hemingway and Peter Dunk are much more suited to that field of music. But not all the material on this album belongs to that field of music and that is where both the voices of Karin Grandal-Park and Gary Hetherington help out to give the album a bit more scope and variety and it works very well.

On the musical side of things Gary Hetherington has really done a FABULOUS! job on the instrumentation and arrangements throughout and the additions on a couple of the songs by both Karl Robins and Alan Dublon are most welcome and work very well. The couple of songs penned by Karin Grandal-Park also fit in very well amongst all the cover songs and I would also say that her voice on the “Gallows Tree” is also suited more to the traditional folk side of things. 

My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Silver Dagger“. “She Moved Through The Fair “. “The Captain’s Apprentice” and “Ae Fond Kiss“.

Conclusion…

In conclusion I would not say that The Gathering by Osmosis is an album that is going to set the world on fire, but what I like about the album is that the songs are short and not overcooked which all adds to making it quite a pleasant enough album that one could quite easily sit down with and get some pleasure out of listening to it, and at its price point I do feel there is good value here. The mixture of traditional and light hearted folk songs works very well and the album has been very well produced.

If traditional folk and folk is your tipple then I personally cannot really fault anything along the lines of this album and overall, it’s not a bad cuppa tea at all and a very good professional job as been done by all who have contributed to making the album. The album is not going to break your bank account at its price either and can be purchased on ebay here on the link provided: https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Osmosis-The-Gathering/324065014119?entryapp=dlp

The album is now also available in the form of a digital download on Bandcamp which does give you the opportunity to listen to the album for free or purchase should you wish to do so and can be found here:  https://osmosis-music.bandcamp.com/releases

On Every Link A Heart Does Dangle

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. I Live Not Where I Love. 2:59.
02. Down By The Sally Gardens. 4:38.
03. Scarborough Fair. 3:50.
04. She Moved Through The Fair. 4:16.
05. The Captain’s Apprentice. 2:31.
06. Down in the Deep, Deep Water. 4:37.
07. Bold Fisherman. 5:38.
08. Silver Dagger. 4:55.
09. Gallows Tree. 3:50.
10. Ae Fond Kiss. 5:12.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 7/10.

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

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #142

Of Humanity And Other Odd Things – P.O.E.

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Introduction…

The final album of 2019 I received as a Christmas gift from my good friend in Germany Dirk Radloff and although it arrived a few days before I did not open it until Christmas day. I was quite pleasantly surprised to see that Satan had also popped along to add a bit of darkness to the joyful time of the year, although I did wait till Boxing Day before I let him out of his cage so to speak :)))).

P.O.E. is an abbreviation of Philosophy Of Evil who are a 4 piece band from Italy who released their first EP “The Tell-Tale Heart” back in 2015. The whole concept and project of the band goes back a bit further and stretches back to the cold winter months of 2012 when the singer of the band Charles Wooldridge was experimenting in combining some of the evil texts from the famous author Edgar Allan Poe to put to the genre of metal.

Though it was not until around 2015 that he finally found the rest of the musicians to put his project into fruition and in the autumn of last year they got to release their debut album Of Humanity And Other Odd Things. It’s perhaps more of an album that verges along the lines of rock, prog rock and metal and you could even say the sort of horror rock you would get from the likes of Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson and is heavily influenced by those artists and many others.

Charles Wooldridge sounds more English than Italian and that’s because it’s only a stage name he’s using for the band. Whether the rest of the band members are using stage names I could not tell you, but my first encounter with Wooldridge was on Soundcloud around 2014/15 when he was collaborating with Dirk Radloff a.k.a. HeartScore and using what I presume is his real name Giacomo Rossi. He is a talented guy who is involved in many other projects and holds a Master’s Degree from the Modern Music Institute and also runs his own classes giving vocal lessons to students.

It was only last year that my good friend Dirk from Germany (who gifted me this album) further collaborated with Giacomo Rossi and decided to change the singer for his own HeartScore project. Back in November we seen the release of Black Riders Part 2 which is another GREAT! album well worth checking out and you can find my review of it here: https://leespeaksoutaboutmusic.wordpress.com/2019/11/08/lee-speaks-about-music-131/

This video of the song “There Was A Man And A Woman” that was put out to promote Black Riders Part 2 shows you the power and range that Rossi can project from his voice, and he really has what it takes to make a GREAT! rock singer.

In some ways both the projects of HeartScore and P.O.E. have something in common in that they both use the poetry of famous authors to create the lyrics. However, unlike HeartScore not all the lyrical content is derived from poetry alone and they have inputted some of their own lyrics and they have not only based their songs around Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry but also his stories.

The band P.O.E. are very much a 4-piece outfit that can take things a bit further by going out playing and performing live on stage which does have its advantages. I would also say that the music that the band present is perhaps not so much on the metal side of things like HeartScore and when Giacomo Rossi becomes Charles Wooldridge his voice does not project a lot of the power that is required more so for the HeartScore project he’s also involved in. But before we 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 standard plastic Jewel Case to which they are perhaps going out of fashion these days in relation to cardboard Digipaks and Digisleeves that I personally think give a much more quality presentation of your album and do prefer. Although in general the Jewel Case is still the cheaper economical solution when it comes down to the cost and they also do a good enough job of protecting the disc.

But I would not say that the Jewel Case was more robust in relation to Digipaks and Digisleeves and the plastic material that is used to make them is very brittle and can easily break and you do have to be more careful with them. Quite often the Jewel Case will not survive the postal journey it takes to arrive to your home from the store and this one did not survive the trip from Germany to England.

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As you can see in the photo above the front of the case was cracked and one of the pieces that attaches it to the main tray had snapped off. The spine was also damaged and all the plastic clips around the hub that holds the CD in place had also snapped off. Luckily the CD was not scratched or marked and the cases are cheap enough to buy and easy enough to replace them with. I always have a few spare cases at hand to cater for these situations.

The CD comes with a 16-page booklet that contains all the lyrics and some GREAT! pictures but no real informative information. The credits are also not informative enough simply because it gives you the names of the band only and does not even tell you who’s playing what instrument. The CD is self-made and was not done by a manufacturing company but nevertheless it is very well printed and quite a professional quality job has been done here.

Unless you were unlike myself who has made CD’s in the past, you would never notice the difference. The only thing it really lacks is that more attention could have been applied and given to the linear notes and credits.

Artwork.

The albums Artwork & Cover Design was done by Eddy Talpo and the photography was done by Anna Lisa Russo. I personally think it fits like a glove in relation the music the band are presenting to you and is well fitting with the haunting and horror you will find in a lot of Edgar Allan Poe’s works too. I like it a lot and it should attract attention I feel. Pretty much a bang on job as been done here.

The Album In Review…

The album Of Humanity And Other Odd Things by the Philosophy Of Evil was released on the 7th October 2019. The album contains 13 tracks and comes with an overall playing time of 44 minutes. 58 seconds and is a well comfortable time slot for you to easily digest and soak in all its content. All the written material is original and all writing credits are credited to the band.

The album was released through a small independent record label known as Sheratan Records. Although like many small record labels they are perhaps irrelevant these days and only really serve a purpose in trying to make the product you are making look a bit more like it was professionally made and distributed. Though according to what little information comes with the linear credits and production notes on the CD it was also Sheratan Records that mixed, mastered and produced the album.

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Sheratan Records by all accounts offered a multi service for artists and bands ranging from artistic production, social media management, recording facilities and even included video making in their services. So perhaps they were more than just an independent record label and you can see that just by judging the professional standards of the videos of the band that are on their YouTube channel and Facebook page.

I would also say they provided a quality service and done pretty much a decent job for the band. It also looks like the band spared no expense in getting a quality job as you can see from this video of them covering and doing their own version of the pop song “Girls Like You” that was originally done by Maroon 5 featuring Cardi B.

To be honest I had never heard of the song before but did have a listen to the original version and I prefer this version by P.O.E. in relation to it. Whoever masterminded the script for the video also had a very good head on their shoulders too and it’s a really GREAT! video production that has been done here for sure.

The band also go out of their way to look the part as well with their image that really is suited to the music they are purveying and putting across. The makeup and masks remind of the likes of Kiss, Alice Cooper and many others.

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Everything about the band P.O.E. very much looks like they are going the right way about things with how they are promoting themselves including the photo shoots of the band. You certainly could not say they are not trying. I also think it’s very clever how they come up with the name of the band Philosophy Of Evil out of the famous authors surname and the abbreviation of it also serves well as a logo and looks the business on the albums cover. Even how the band describe themselves in their own words sums them up to a tee has you can see below.

“What we want is to express the dark, sick, evil side of human soul, that part of soul that lives in each of us and every day it’s powerfully trying to come to light in order to disrupt our being. It’s the tense for what is ugly, grotesque, unsettling that the genius of Edgar Allan Poe was able to describe sublimely with his poetry and his stories. This is all part of us and we try to celebrate it and, in some cases, exorcise it through our songs. That said, do not take us too seriously. We never do”.

Although everything with how P.O.E. are going about things and how it might appear to be looking on the ROSIE! side. Through my research of the band very little information can be found out about them and the only resourceful place to find out about them is on their Facebook page and YouTube channel. So far everything about the band appears to be coming out of Sheritan Records and judging by the fact that their website no longer there could mean that it no longer exists.

Like I mentioned earlier that being a band gives them the advantage to go out and play live and spread their name out a bit. But so far, I can see no physical evidence that they have played live as of yet, but they seem to have a couple of gigs lined up this year judging by some of the announcements and posters they have put on their Facebook page. It could also be that the band also need to rehearse the material well enough before they present it to an audience that has caused the delay and why they chose this year to do so. So, lets now take a look at the band line-up.

Musicians & Credits…

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All songs written by Philosophy Of Evil. Mixed Mastered & Produced by Sheratan Records. Artwork & Cover Design by Eddy Talpo.  Photography by Anna Lisa Russo.

Musicians.

Charles Wooldridge – Vocals – Piano & Keyboards.
Emmanuel Botch – Guitar.
Francis Gebirge – Bass.
Aleksander Ladislaw – Drums.

Additional Musicians.

Sofia Mazza – Vocals (You’re My Stream)

The Album Tracks In Review…

Of Humanity And Other Odd Things is an album that consists mainly of short songs and some very short instrumental pieces that are used as an introduction and intervals to the next song. The album can also flow along like a concept album and at times it feels as if it’s a continuous story. However, it’s not a continuous story and is made up of individual tracks to which most of them are only adapted around some of the works of Edgar Allan Poe. Only one of the tracks actually uses the lyrics from one of his poems and the rest of the lyrics are very cleverly written and put into context by the band.

There is quite a theatrical presence in the way the songs are delivered and it also slightly touches on classical music in particular with use of the orchestration on the keyboard. I would also say most of the material was written on the keyboard too. Besides the likes of Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper that I have already mentioned. There is quite a mixture of influences here and even the Italian composer Vivaldi springs to mind in particular on a couple of tracks with some of the stringed arrangements. So, lets now take a deep look into the album as I go through the individual tracks.

Track 1. Prelude.

The title pertains to an introduction and this 33 second introduction that starts off the album is quite a haunting one that sounds like it came out of a horror movie. Perhaps something along the lines of Chucky. For all I know this opening might have come out of a film because there is a young girl speaking the few words here and I am pretty sure it’s not Charles Wooldridge :))))). Though he or one of the other band members might have whispered “Poe” at the end of this short ghostly evil poem.

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The musical box is used in many horror films and its put to good effect here, it’s also often used on many of Alice Cooper’s albums and here it also accompanied by some reverse effects and a musical saw and has been very well put together and gets the album off to quite a chilling and eerie start.

Track 2. Puppet Show.

The opening song of the album also has an Alice Cooper feel about it and a load of others no doubt, the strings in particular have a bit of a Vivaldi feel about them. I am pretty sure the band put this track out before the album was released to give people a taster of what was to come. The combination of the piano and metal power chords works extremely well together and the music has been very well constructed with how it crosses between the genres of metal and classical. It also contains some well tasty guitar solo work from Emmanuel Botch too and the changes and progression also work a TREAT!

The lyrics pertain to a puppet wanting to be free who would rather be dead than be tied to his master sort of thing. The lyrics are very well written as you can see from one of the verses below and Charles Wooldridge delivers them very well.

My life is the disgusting triumph of lie
You all soulless puppets without a brain
The noose is ready and we were prepared to die
In a theatre that has no wall or chains

To be honest I am not sure they are from any of Poe’s poems and stories although both manikins and puppets have been associated with many of the puppet shows that many have put on to put across some of Poe’s works. In 1995 A puppet adventure PC game entitled “The Dark Eye” was also based on his works. The “Puppet Show” is a really GREAT! song and the band are pulling all the right strings here for sure and its very much a strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! It could easily be a firm favourite for most too I feel.

Track 3. Horror Vacui.

The songs title “Horror Vacui” in physics reflects Aristotle’s idea that nature abhors an empty space. In visual art the Latin meaning of “horror vacui” is “fear of empty space” and in Greek “fear of the empty”. It’s a form of art that involves the filling of the entire surface of a space or an artwork with detail as seen in the picture of the fall of Babylon by the French Renaissance goldsmith and engraver Jean Duvet below.

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The Fall Of Babylon

The Italian art critic Mario Praz used the term “horror vacui” to describe the excessive use of ornament in design during the Victorian age. The interest in meticulously filling empty spaces is also reflected in Arabesque decoration in Islamic art from ancient times to present. There are many other examples of it too and I quite like how the way they have gone about the lyrics in this song in the way of a scientific approach to prove the nonexistence of god.

There is quite an influence from the Canadian band Rush in this song and even the way they have gone about the lyrics is the sort of approach the now just recently sadly departed Neil Peart gave to that bands lyrics. The way the song is driven along by the keyboards and guitars also reflects the style of music that band was churning out in the late 70’s and early 80’s and the chorus of song has a very strong Rush influence.

Overall, “Horror Vacui” is another very well written and constructed song in that it also contains a fine bridge and they have thrown quite a lot into it over the just under five minutes you get here. It’s very much another song I would consider as a contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! despite the heavy influence here.

Track 4. Love & Death.

A short piano interlude and introduction to the next song and I quite like how the effect of the stylus being dropped onto the record at the beginning with its crackle and pop gives it a warm feeling. It’s draws a picture in my mind of somebody sitting by the fire in a big house, perhaps even the House of Usher :))))).

It is only a short piece however, there is quite a lot that has been put into the melody of this piano piece and it’s a very well-constructed piece that does have you thinking that piece is twice as long as the one minute and ten seconds you get here. It’s quite strong with how the piece develops along and makes more of a bolder statement sort of thing and it sets up the next song very well indeed.

Track 5. You’re My Stream.

A powerful rock ballad of a song and one that was musically constructed around a very fine piano melody. Francis Gebirge’s bass works very well in accompanying the piano and strings and it also features Sofia Mazza who adds a touch of operatics to the song with her GREAT! voice along with Charles Wooldridge it works very well as a duet in putting over the lyrical content which pertain to restless love.

An official video of the song was put out on the bands YouTube channel that very well portrays the songs lyrics in the way of a picture animated storyboard sort of thing. The video was done by Davide Cilloni and he’s done quite a top job of it and it describes the story to the song right down to a tee.

You’re My Stream” is another really GREAT! song, it’s very well-orchestrated and arranged and everyone has done quite a top job on it to make it what it is. It’s also another strong contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 6. In Loving Madness.

The songs title is perhaps not what you would read in an obituary column in a newspaper or see on a headstone in a graveyard as in the words “In Loving Memory” would suggest. However, if you were one of the sick twisted tormented evil souls the title here maybe more appropriate so to speak :))))).

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It’s at this stage that the album does tend to sound more like there is a conceptional story going on and the lyrical content in this song does continue from the previous song. The lyrics are on the repetitive side in this song too but they do portray the power and strong bond of love in wanting to hold on to it in death very well, even to the point of being interwound and interlocked in the stream of their souls.

Musically it’s got some GREAT! progression here in particular with the key change that lifts it up around the 1:46 mark. I think most of the songs were written on the keys and once again we have some very good piano and orchestration here. The guitars also work their way in very well and the heavy metal section in the middle section is very well worked out and works wonders. There is also some Gothic choral sounds and bells that work very well in the piece and the band have really done a GREAT! job here.

Track 7. Sehnsucht.

Another short interlude and instrumental piece and the word “Sehnsucht” is a German noun translated as “longing”, “pining”, “yearning”, or “craving”. Some psychologists use the word “Sehnsucht” to represent thoughts and feelings about all facets of life that are unfinished or imperfect, paired with a yearning for ideal alternative experiences. Well that is how Wiki translates it and it sounds fitting to the effective piece done on the guitar here by Emmanuel Botch who I expect would have composed this little ditty.

Track 8. Shipwreck.

The next song is quite a theatrical and haunting bit of fun and is very different and sounds like something you might find in a Tim Burton movie. It’s like they are having a bit of a funfair carnival ride on this ship and its very cleverly done. It sounds like they have the crew joining in on the vocal side of things and if Charles Wooldridge done all the voices, I am hearing here that would be quite something special. Though I am sure there is also a female in this crew as well and it could be that Sofia Mazza may have contributed her voice to this song as well.

Musically you are not just getting all the fun of the fare with the organ, you also get a bit of a reggae vibe thrown in it which has me thinking of “Ghost Town” by the Specials. Although this is not so much like that song at all and they pack a lot more into it especially in the metal department with the guitars. Both Francis Gebirge’s bass and Aleksander Ladislaw’s drums play a good role in this very well constructed song. “Shipwreck” is a really GREAT! album track and another of the contenders for the albums TOP SPOT!

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It’s also worth mentioning that Edgar Allan Poe’s one and only completed novel entitled The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket from 1838 also included various adventures and misadventures about shipwrecks, mutiny and cannibalism. It’s also said that his novel predicted the future some 46 years after it was published, as a yacht sank in real life and 3 of the 4 survivors also decided to eat the cabin boy. I am sure he made a tasty snack too :)))))). Although the lyrics in this shipwreck do not pertain to Poe’s novel and is more like a bunch of Jolly Rogers onboard the vessel having a bit of fun :))))).

Track 9. The City In The Sea.

We’re staying on the sea or rather in the sea for this next song and this is the only song on the album that uses one of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems for the lyrics and his poem also contained the same title. There is no doubt that Charles Wooldridge has done an exceptional job of putting Poe’s words into the context of delivering them as a song. This is something I also felt he done another super job with how he handled all of Stephen Crane’s poems that Dirk Radloff presented to him for the HeartScore album Black Riders Part 2.

Poe’s poem tells the story of a city ruled by a personification of Death using common elements from Gothic fiction. Which is very much what a lot of the subject matter of the material on this album is touching on.

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Once again theatrics plays a part here with how Wooldridge delivers the words with both speaking and singing roles and there is some GREAT! progression thrown into the musical side of things. Like the biggest majority of the songs they are written on the keys and the organ in this song does give it a Gothic touch and even an eerie haunting feel to it. The guitars and drums drive the song along and both the guitar and bass play very much an integral role in making this song stand out even more.

The band also spared no expense again by having an official video made which was done by Video maker & Director: Mattia Maffini who specialises in promotional videos and he’s done a SUPERB TOP JOB! on this video and it looks very professional.

Overall, a TOP JOB! has been done executing Poe’s poem and this is another really well worked out piece of work. It reminds me of a cross between Alice Cooper and the band Sparks and this is another contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 10. Schizophrenia.

Roll up it’s time to take another carnival funfair ride into the world of madness and this is another short interlude and the final of the instrumental pieces on the album. It’s also a very well-orchestrated nice little ditty done on the keyboards.

Track 11. Ratz Everywhere!

Another song that would go down well in a Tim Burton movie and judging by the title it would perhaps suit an adaption of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Once again there is plenty that goes into making a song like this and you have to have quite a bit of skill to be able to pull it all off. I would also say that many of the songs on the album would present a challenge to be able to perform them live and they might need a couple of more musicians to do so.

There are quite a lot of influences in this particular song and even popular bands like The Police springs to mind in certain places. My favourite sections are where it comes down from all the mayhem and madness in couple of parts and brings in an acoustic section. In both of the acoustic sections Wooldridge uses the sweeter side of his voice and it reminds me a bit like Burk Shelley of the band Budgie with songs like “Riding My Nightmare“. Also, many others and it’s a really GREAT! transition that has more of a melancholic feel to it. “Ratz Everywhere!” is another really GREAT! song and yet another contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 12. Why Does The Rabbit Want To Kill Me?

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The title very much puts in mind of the killer rabbit that was in the Monty Python film The Holy Grail and its one of my favourite parts in that film and extremely funny. The rabbit in this song is not funny but you would not want to mess with him :))))). Besides the keyboards and heavy guitars Gebirge’s bass features very well in this song and the bass line on the intro of the song reminds me of “Don’t Forget To Breath” by Arena. This is another very well worked out song and GREAT! track on the album.

Track 13. A Strange Case.

The final track on the album is the longest and weighs in at 6 minutes 36 seconds. It’s a song that has some really GREAT! progression along its path and its intro is as bold as brass with the orchestration. Besides the orchestration that also is utilised in the song it also has some very good thematic and theatrical parts that is worked in with some heavy metal and once again this is a very well-constructed fine piece of work. There are also many influences along the way here too and the likes of Alice Cooper, Marilyn Manson, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and even a touch of death metal gets thrown into the pot.

The title chosen here is often associated with detective stories and Edgar Allan Poe’s short story entitled “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” has been described as the first modern detective story. That particular story was also adopted and adapted by a Play Group and “The Strange Case of Hotel Morgue” is freely based on that Poe classic. It’s also interesting that both Poe’s ”The Fall of the House of Usher” and Robert Louis Stevenson’s ”The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” are representative of the Gothic tradition and the key aspects of the genre include an eerie atmosphere and psychological introspection.

However, what we have here is very much a Charles Wooldridge & Co. adaption and many of the songs along this album deal with the torment of life and the torture of death. It also deals with the power of love and evil and how in particular it’s controlled, and the story ends off where it all began with the puppet master pulling the strings.

To be honest I am not entirely sure what the concept story if it has one is all about. But I do feel that there is one here with how everything relates with the lyrical content. In many ways I could also see that some of the lyrical content throughout the album is also touching on reincarnation in a way that the torture never stops sort of thing. However, you look at the lyrical content there is no doubt that they are fitting with the works of Edgar Allan Poe and “A Strange Case” is very much my personal favourite track on the and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! It also is like the chap at the very end was dying to put the album to bed as well :)))))).

Summary…

To sum up the album Of Humanity And Other Odd Things by Philosophy Of Evil. I have to confess that this was quite a difficult album to get into hugely down to the many influences it has along the way. It did take me quite a good few spins for myself to see the woods through the trees or the light at the end of the tunnel so to speak before I got to appreciate the album a lot more. My immediate and initial response to the album was that I have heard it all before and do I really need another album like this right now.

I think another one of the things that did not help is that although I think the album has been very well produced. I personally think it could have been mixed better and the mix does let a few of the tracks down a bit. Most of the tracks can be very busy especially in the keyboard department with all the orchestral and stringed arrangements, the mix really needed more width for everything to cut through properly.

Some tracks sound like they are in mono because of the close proximity in the mix and it needed a bit more attention paid to the incrementation to separate the instruments properly. Some tracks can sound a bit cluttered and muddy in parts too though overall, the mix is not extremely bad enough to spoil your listening pleasure and is acceptable. It’s far from a really bad mix and in all honesty, I have heard a lot worse from many mainstream artists albums in the past. I would also say that your average Joe would not hear none of the things I have pointed out about the mix either, and you would have to be somebody like myself who pays closer attention to detail.

Well so far, I have only pointed out the negative points about the album, but after several listens to the album all of those soon went away and more of the positive side of the album did shine through far greater and spoke to me a lot more. Because of the many influences you will hear I do feel that this is an album that is not going to instantly grab you straight away, unless you can brush aside those influences that many other bands have presented us with in the past.

But there is something that lies deeper within the surface and what makes the difference is the skill that has been put into the song writing especially with how well they have constructed and developed both the music and vocal lines, and that in particular is where this album can shine if you are prepared to give it the time of day so to speak. The lyrical content and concept are also very good and that is where it also quite interesting and different.

Conclusion…

Overall, P.O.E.’s debut album Of Humanity And Other Odd Things is a very strong well written album and there is not a bad track on it and it’s quite a strong solid album. It’s that strong that half of the tracks upon it are very much contenders as personal favourites and it was extremely hard for me to pick just one of them to be my favourite and I could have picked all the other contenders easily too. My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Puppet Show“. “Horror Vacui“. “You’re My Stream“. “Shipwreck“. “The City In The Sea“. “Ratz Everywhere!” and “A Strange Case“.

The influences might be flying out of the woodwork but the way the band have carved and sculptured the material around the theatrical side of things, and blended it with metal, prog rock and classical music is quite a work of art and this is one very satisfying album that is well worthy of at least giving it shot. I am pretty sure it will not disappoint either especially if you want something to ROCK! your socks off.

The Philosophy Of Evil consist of really GREAT! musicians who certainly know there stuff to be able to knock out an album like this. Whether the band can take the album to the stage remains to be seen. But so far everything they have done in the way of going about things certainly appears to be right way and even the video production for the couple of songs on the album will testify to that. I do feel they need to get out there and play live to spread their name out a lot more. I also think they should do more to promote this CD simply because it’s very hard to obtain and they need to put it out in more outlets.

You can listen to the album on some streaming platforms like Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music. You can also buy the Digital Download of the album and CD here on Amazon Dot Com. https://www.amazon.com/Humanity-Other-Odd-Things-Explicit/dp/B07YGNF8TH But it is not available to purchase internationally on Amazon.

Although according to the most recent news about the band I have only just discovered. They have now been signed up to Revalve Records for the worldwide distribution of their debut album “Of Humanity And Other Odd Things”, which will be released in a few months’ time on the 3rd April 2020. So, it’s good to see they are sorting things out and they need to because this is an album I highly recommend.

I Will Show The Darkness, I Will Love The Pain…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. Prelude. 0:33.
02. Puppet Show. 4:19.
03. Horror Vacui. 4:54.
04. Love & Death. 1:10.
05. You’re My Stream. 4:31.
06. In Loving Madness. 4:13.
07. Sehnsucht. 1:27.
08. Shipwreck. 3:40.
09. The City In The Sea. 4:03.
10. Schizophrenia). 0:52.
11. Ratz Everywhere!. 4:41.
12. Why Does The Rabbit Want To Kill Me?. 3:59.
13. A Strange Case. 6:36.

Lee’s Packaging Rating Score. 7/10.

Lee’s Price Point Rating Score. 8/10.

Lee’s Album Rating Score. 9/10.

Lee Speaks About Music… #141

At The Edge Of Light – Steve Hackett

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Introduction…

Released precisely a year ago now At The Edge Of Light is Steve Hackett’s 25th and latest studio album to date. It’s an album that continues very much in the same light as his previous two albums Wolflight & The Night Siren but perhaps more like the latter of the two with its diversity and the way that it was recorded mostly at his own home in Teddington. Once again, he has brought in some other additional musicians as well as retaining the ones that have been with him for quite a while and a few who appeared on his previous album. 

In many respects you could say that these days Steve Hackett is going down the same road of Peter Gabriel regarding World Music. I would also say that this particular album is also verging more into the popular music side of things with its diversity and its wider range of musical styles. At The Edge Of Light may have PROGMATIC! and ROCK! elements about it, but he’s also introducing pop, blues and even gospel into the mix here along with the CINEMATICS! and DRAMATICS! 

There is no doubt that through playing and visiting many other countries that Steve Hackett has broadened his musical palette so to speak and is presenting you something a bit different each time to keep things fresh. In many ways he is taking his music to new heights and in new directions with how he’s going about things and he is expanding upon them. But is this new direction really working? Well it certainly appears to be and before I go any deeper into how it is let’s first take a look at the packaging and artwork. 

The Packaging & Artwork…

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Just like his previous two album releases both discs come in a high quality thick cardboard Digipak Mediabook which is the same material used to make a hardback book. Clear plastic trays on the left and right of the inner panels hold the discs firmly in place and it comes with a 28-page fixed booklet with all the linear credit production notes and lyrics. It also comes with some high-resolution pictures that are associated with the albums tracks. I very much like the presentation the Mediabook presents and these things are the kings of Digipaks when it comes to genuine top quality. 

The album was released in 4 media formats the cheapest of them being the Digital Download. A Double Vinyl LP. A CD only edition and a Mediabook that includes a CD & DVD. The Mediabook was my preferred choice and I purchased it from Amazon UK for £14.69 saving a few quid over its retail price. A Limited-Edition Double LP pressed that came with the CD was also released giving you the choice of black, white, blue, red and clear vinyl. 

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Artwork.

The artwork for the albums front cover and the photos for the Mediabook were done once again both Maurizio & Angéla Vicedomini. Much of the photos were used to represent each track on the album and were taken from many different countries. The layout and design were done by Thomas Ewerhard. The album cover represents the dark and light that pertains to the subject matter of the material written for the album and looks quite striking but nevertheless it does not quite grab me like some of Hackett’s earlier solo albums such as the artwork that was done for Voyage Of Acolyte, Please Don’t Touch and Highly Strung for example. 

At The Edge Of Light Album In Review…

Steve Hackett’s 25th studio album At The Edge Of Light was released on the 25th January 2019. The album contains 10 tracks that span over and overall playing time of 53 minutes, 21 seconds and Hackett himself described the album as a companion to his previous album The Night Siren. It also shared the same success as his previous album also by reaching number 28 in the UK charts and once again did better in Germany and peaked at number 13 in the official German album charts. 

2019 was a good year for Steve Hackett and a couple of months after the release of his new album in March of the same year he was awarded the best guitarist award by the Classic Rock Society. I am sure he was humbly honoured by the award and good on him to get it too, simply because there is no doubt, he is a very good guitarist and one of the many GREATS! out there. 

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Speaking off his guitar playing I have always admired his work on the nylon and acoustic guitar more so than his playing on the electric, but he can without doubt play some GREAT! solos on the electric. Much of his better solo work on the electric does come for the past more than the present. For example, the solo he played on the Genesis song “Firth Of Fifth” I am sure many people will never forget but in reality he never played a great deal of guitar solos with Genesis. Sure, he played some fine lead lines on the electric for the band but that particular song is the only guitar solo that stands out. 

A lot more of his electric stand out solos can be found on his earlier solo albums and the guitar solo he played on “Spectral Mornings” would certainly be another GREAT! stand out guitar solo. But more recently on his last couple of albums Wolflight and The Night Siren I have been paying attention to his solo work and it does appear to be standing out a bit once again. But on this latest album At The Edge Of Light is where I personally feel his guitar solo work has come out a lot more and is starting to shine once again and he really has put some GREAT! guitar work into this album. 

Steve Hackett had no old material left and everything was written new from scratch for this album. The same methods were used to record and mix the album and was mostly done at his own house in Teddington with the other musicians recording their parts at their own homes or studios and sending them to Hackett for Roger King to mix. Most of the core musicians who have appeared on his previous albums are here along with a few others such as bassist Jonas Reingold and drummer Simon Phillips to name a couple. There is also a real sitar player on the album and McBroom sisters who are more known for their harmonic backing vocals with Pink Floyd also make an appearance. 

The DVD.

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I am not entirely sure why Hackett decided to use a DVD rather than a Blu Ray for the Mediabook like he had done with the two previous releases but I do not think you are really losing out on anything regarding the audio and even the picture of the albums cover looks a lot sharper and brighter than the album cover itself. I like how they used the whole of the picture too unlike the way they did the menu for The Night Siren. The stars in the sky also twinkle besides seeing the lighting flash every now and then.

Speaking of the menus they have been done differently in comparison to both Wolflight and The Night Siren and instead of using drop down menus for the options which are “Stereo Audio” and “5.1 Audio” it does have to load to another screen to show you the further options as you can see in the picture below.

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By clicking on any of the “Stereo Audio” and “5.1 Audio” options from the main menu it loads to another screen that gives you 3 further options of “Play Album”. “Track Select” and “Audio Select”. It’s certainly most unusual for the “Play Album” option not to be included on the main menu and you do have to navigate a bit more than the way they done things for Wolflight and The Night Siren and I felt the way they had gone about the layout and navigation for those two albums were a bit better.

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By clicking on the “Track Select” option another menu drops down displaying the albums tracks for you to choose from and the options to go “Back” to the previous menu or to the “Main menu” are also included as you can see from the picture above. Pretty much the same for the “Audio Select” as you can see in the picture below.

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The “Audio Select” gives you the choice of 3 audio soundtracks and by clicking on “Stereo” (not seen on this display picture) it will playback in stereo. The other 2 surround mixes can be seen in the display picture above and by default the audio is set to the DTS Master 5.1 mix. There is also a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and a LPCM Stereo mix. All 3 formats are in 24 bits & 48K.

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Unlike both Wolflight and The Night Siren whilst listening to the album it displays the albums front cover for every track and the only thing that changes is the title of each track as it goes along. I have no idea why they never chose to follow suit by displaying a different picture for every track especially as the pictures in the Mediabook were designated to represent each track on the album. 

The bonus material seems to be getting shorter too and the only bonus feature is the behind the scenes documentary entitled “Somewhere at The Edge of Light” well that’s at least how it is refereed to twice in the Mediabook but on the disc itself they call it a making of documentary. But basically, you get a 20-and-a-half-minute video shot and directed by Paul Gosling showing you how they went about recording the album and speaking about what it’s all about. The audio is in 48k 16 bit which is well adequate for this purpose and it provides some useful informative information. 

The 5.1 Mix.

Once again, the 5.1 mix is all good and Roger King has done another very good job of it without going to overboard. There maybe a few places where he may of gone over the top for the effect on “The Eye of the Sun” for example, but overall he has done well with the placement and threw in some well good panned out parts across all the channels which do add to more of an exciting mix. Another example of that would be Hackett’s lead guitar solo on “Beasts of our Time“. I quite like how he’s panned the intro played on the dobro guitar on “Underground Railroad” in the rear left channel, and on that track, he has made well good use of separating the instrumentation throughout.  

The 5.1 mix works wonders for much of the orchestration too in particular on “Beasts of our Time” and “Those Golden Wings“. The 5.1 mix does bring out much more than the stereo mix and once again like the 5.1 mix he did for The Night Siren album it’s a very satisfying and enjoyable mix and well worth of a rating of 8 out of 10. 

Musicians & Credits…

2018 © Tina Korhonen/ www.tina-k.com

All tracks Produced by Steve Hackett & Roger King (except track 8 Produced by Steve Hackett & Benedict Fenner). All tracks Recorded & Mixed by Roger King at Siren (Except track 8 Recorded & Mixed by Benedict Fenner at The Paddock. Additional Engineering by Tamas Barabas (Track1). Johann Asmundsson (Track 3). Mark Hornsby (Track 5) and Benedict Fenner (Track 7).

All compositions written by Steve Hackett (except Tracks 2, 4 & 5 by Steve Hackett / Jo Hackett / Roger King. Tracks 3, 6 & 10 by Steve & Jo Hackett. Tracks 1 & 9 by Steve Hackett / Roger King. Mastered by Roger King at Siren. Design by Thomas Ewerhard. Photographic artwork by Maurizio and Angéla Vicedomini for Iconphoto. Blu Ray Authoring by Ray Shulman. 5.1 surround Mix by Roger King.

Musicians.

Steve Hackett: Vocals – Electric, Acoustic, 12 String & Dobro Guitars – Bass Guitar – Harmonica.
Roger King: Keyboards – Programming & Orchestral Arrangements (except on track 8).
Rob Townsend: Tenor Sax – Flute – Dudek – Bass Clarinet (Tracks 2 & 3).
Amanda Lehmann: Vocals (Tracks 3, 4, 5, 7 & 10).

Additional Musicians.

John Hackett: Flute (Tracks 2, 3, 5 & 9).
Jonas Reingold: Bass (Tracks 2, 3 & 7).
Dick Driver: Double Bass (Tracks 3 & 5).                                                                         Benedict Fenner: Keyboards & Programming (Tracks 7 & 8).
Christine Townsend: Violin & Viola (Track 5).
Gary O’Tool: Drums (Track 1).
Gulli Briem: Drums & Percussion (Track 3).
Nick D’Virgilio: Drums (Track 5).
Simon Phillips: Drums (Track 7).
Malik Mansurov: Tar (Track 1).
Paul Stillwell: Didgeridoo (Track 3).
Sheema Mukherjee: Sitar (Track 6).
Durga McBroom: Vocals (Track 4).
Lorelei McBroom: Vocals (Track 4).

The Album Tracks In Review…

One of the things that still remains in putting the album together is the synthetic aspect side of things. For example, even though there are 4 GREAT! drummers on the album they only get to play on one track each. So, most of the tracks the drums have very much been programmed. The orchestral arrangements are also still present for the dramatic side of things however, the fact that there is less of them I do feel this album works better for it especially in comparison to both Wolflight and The Night Siren. 

Regarding the orchestral arrangements I really felt sorry for Christine Townsend simply because her violin & viola was being mixed and blended in with the other orchestral arrangements that Roger King had done with his keyboards. If you read my last review of The Night Siren I did note that the orchestral arrangements were not like listening to Jethro Tull where you can hear the orchestral elements played with real instruments, rather than having everything far too blown up to the grandeur scale of things for you to hear her parts stand out and say that she is even on the album. 

Watching her playing her parts in the short documentaries that have come with the last 3 albums you can clearly hear the whole resonance that the violin and viola produce and it sounds way better than the end product where they have been mixed with synthetics. I can understand to a degree that they are trying to replicate a full blown out orchestra rather than a string quartet for example, but it does without doubt ruin the fine qualities the real instrument can produce and it no longer speaks the same language. 

As a musician you want to be heard and I am sure if people bumped into Christine and said “you’re that person who played on Steve Hackett’s albums” she would most likely reply “Oh yes I am on there somewhere” :)))))). Strangely enough she does only appear on the one track on this album. 

The other thing I feel works better on this album is that Steve Hackett is mainly sticking to his main instrument the guitar and he does utilise all of them to a great extent including the Dobro on one of the tracks. 

Although At The Edge Of Light is not a concept album it very much starts off and ends off like one with how the material was written for some of the tracks to tailspin and link up with one another so let’s now take a look at the individual tracks. 

Track 1. Fallen Walls and Pedestals. 

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The album opens up in GREAT! style with an instrumental piece that is done in a way of an introduction to the dramatic piece that it is to follow it. This opening piece is the shortest track on the album and features Malik Mansurov on Tar who also played the instrument on the previous two albums only here the instrument is only used at the very beginning for all of about 7 seconds. It’s also one of the 4 tracks on the album that real drums have been used and features Hackett’s long time drummer Gary O’Tool who retired from playing with Hackett’s band back in October 2018 due to wanting to spend more time with his family and concentrate more on the school of music he set up in Denmark Street, London to teach others to play various instruments.

The title suggests something along the lines of the battle of Jericho and O’Tool’s drum ignite the spark for the piece to explode into action. Hackett plays some blustering solo on his electric guitar which reflects the power of the battle and the falling walls and Roger King provides the backdrop for him to run his lead lines over with the orchestral strings that have an eastern flavour and add to the dramatics. It really does get the album off to a flying start and it very nicely tailspins into the next track.

Track 2. Beasts in Our Time.

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The first of the vocal tracks on the album is quite an epic piece of drama that sort of pertains to the beasts of today stepping into new shoes of those from the past and reflects on the horror that still exists sort of thing. The song is put across in stages and is sort of like a horror story or nightmare and in a way like “The Wheels Turning” from his Wolflight album. It’s like going from a pleasant dream into a nightmare sort of thing as in the official video that made to promote the album.

Steve Hackett handles all the vocals and harmonies himself and also utilises his acoustic guitar very well into the opening verses of the song which is how the basis of the song was constructed. The song contains some fine progression and transitional changes and features a blistering sax solo from Rob Townsend besides some GREAT! solo work on the electric guitar by Hackett.

There is also some really GREAT! interplay between Rob Townsend on the bass clarinet and John Hackett on flute in sections too. Roger King handles all the orchestral duties and also and also provides some haunting vibes on the keys and it also features Jonas Reingold on bass. The “Beasts in Our Time” is my personal favourite track on the album and merits the albums TOP SPOT AWARD!

Track 3. Under the Eye of the Sun.

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For this next song they drop most of the dramatics and orchestration and Roger King gets to play some synth work for a change. There is a string section in it and it features both Jonas Reingold and Dick Driver on bass though the latter of the two is playing the double bass with a bow which adds to the string section more in the way of a cello. It also features Gulli Briem on drums and percussion that drives it along very well and at some pace. Both Hackett and Amanda Lehmann are on vocal duties and the combination of their harmonies give it a bit of Yes presence, it reminds me a bit like “Into The Lens” from their 1980 album Drama blended in with a bit of GTR sort of thing.

It has quite a mystic come down section in the middle and features Paul Stillwell on didgeridoo to which Rob Townsend plays the dudek. He also contributes bass clarinet and sax too whilst John Hackett’s echoing flute brings us back into the light and the song bursts back into the action with Hackett flying along on his electric guitar and it gets rounded off nicely enough with another string section. Overall, it’s quite a good song and good to get a break from all the overblown orchestration all the time.

Track 4. Underground Railroad.

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Another of the songs on the album that gives us a bit more variation and lyrically it runs along the same lines as “Black Thunder” from his Wolflight album in that the lyrics are pertaining to the freedom of slavery and back in the days of pre-Civil War in America many of the slaves who were digging the tunnels for the underground railroad did get to escape. Musically the song runs along the lines of blues, gospel and rock and Hackett does a well tasty job on the Dobro guitar as well as the electric and acoustic. He also plays the old Gob Iron (harmonica and bass on it too and both Durga and Lorelei McBroom (more notorious for working with Pink Floyd) add the gospel touch to the song with their GREAT! vocals and harmonies. 

The “Underground Railroad” is a really GREAT! track the way it’s been put together and how everything works its way into it. I also personally think it’s better than “Black Thunder” with how well everything slots into place like a glove. It’s another contender for albums TOP SPOT AWARD! and I do feel it’s one of the albums stronger tracks and it works particularly well in providing the album with some variety. 

Track 5. Those Golden Wings.

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The CINEMATICS! and DRAMATICS! are back in BIG STYLE! and this is the longest track on the album weighing in at some 11 minutes 19 seconds. It’s an epic love song that means a lot to Hackett as its about his wife and it reflects what he himself describes as her personal journey to get to where they are in their relationship. The song itself goes through some twists and turns and captivates the romantic side of things and the dangerous voyage and quest it took to get there. 

The way the song opens up with the orchestral side of things is like being at the movies watching something like “Gone with the Wind” or “My Fair Lady” sort of thing, but thankfully it’s only a short introduction and the 12 string comes into play to bring in the opening verse. Personally the 12 string and nylon work that Hackett plays on this song are my favourite parts about it. 

The melody line he plays on the electric that first comes into play around the 3:18 mark and gets repeated in other parts of the song. For some strange reason has me singing the words “In a most delightful way” to it, which are the very last sentence of the chorus for “A Spoonful of Sugar” that Julie Andrews wrote for the film Mary Poppins. I am sure it’s nothing like that song but for the life of me I cannot get it out of my head every time I hear it :)))))). 

The orchestra and choral sections project the grandeur scheme of things in BIGGING IT UP! sort of thing and once again Christine Townsend’s violin and viola and Dick Driver’s double bass lend support to the orchestration Roger King has provided for the piece. It works pretty well and Hackett rocks it up on his electric guitar which does lend a hand in breaking it up in sections, but there is quite a bit of repetitiveness that goes into stretching this one out. It also features Nick D’Virgilio on drums and John Hackett once again on flute. 

I think for many they would see “Those Golden Wings” as the highlighted track of the album and their personal favourite. For me personally there are certain aspects I can like and dislike about it and there are times I can enjoy listening to it and others where I think it’s too overblown sort of thing. I do see it has a contender for the albums TOP SPOT AWARD! regardless because quite a lot has been put into it. 

Track 6. Shadow and Flame.

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This next song gives us another touch of an eastern flavour like we have seen on the past couple of Hackett’s albums only this time it features Sheema Mukherjee playing a real sitar. It was inspired by India and depicts the strong contrast of light and dark on the River Ganges, where life and death interplay within and at the water’s edge according to Hackett. Apart from the vocal side of things Hackett’s only other part in the song comes into play towards the end with his electric guitar and Roger King takes pretty much care of the rest.

The opening intro puts me in mind of Peter Gabriel’sExposure” but it soon goes off down another road and builds into a raga. Sheema Mukherjee does do a very good job on the sitar and there is a lot of heavy percussion thrown into the pot here. This sort of eastern music is not in particular to my taste but luckily enough it has not been dragged out and is only a 4-minute track.

Track 7. Hungry Years.

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The pop song of the album and this is quite a light and airy song and it sort of takes me back to 1981 with his 5th album Cured. The melody line in the verse section also is a bit along the same lines as the self-titled track from Camel’s 1978 album Breathless. It’s also a song where Amanda Lehmann gets to utilise her voice a lot more and it does work very well alongside with Hackett’s in particular with the harmonies too. It also features Simon Phillips on drums and Jonas Reingold on bass to which is bass line does stand out well during Hackett’s lead break on the guitar at the end. Overall “Hungary Years” is a very fine song and Benedict Fenner also gets to contribute some keyboards with Roger King on the track. 

Track 8. Decent.

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Descent” is the first part of a sort of 3-piece suite that work in conjunction with one another to round off the album. The first couple of parts are instrumental pieces and this particular piece is something that Hackett did with Benedict Fenner and was originally intended as a bonus track for the album. Steve Hackett got his inspiration for the piece from Ravel’sBolero“. However, it also sounds like a combination between Holst’sMars the Bringer of War” from the Planets and “Apocalypse 9/8” from “Suppers Ready” by Genesis. 

Track 9. Conflict.

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Spiralling out of the darkness of fear, the 2nd part of the suite represents a battle and sounds like something that you would associate with a spy or James Bond movie. It features Steve Hackett and Roger King and according to the credit notes John Hackett contributes flute to this piece also. Though you would be lucky to pick him out amongst the orchestration that King has provided. The piece winds itself down nicely to allow King to start the final part of the suite on the piano.

Track 10. Peace.

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A song of hope ends off the final part of the suite and the album very well and Amanda Lehmann returns to support Hackett on vocal duties and apart from his guitar on the track the rest is very much handled by Roger King. The chorus section of the song reminds me of Neil Young’sSouthern Man” and Hackett even has a bit of Brian May touch with the sound to it on the solo. “Peace” puts the album to bed very well and all 3 parts of the suite very well slot into one another and work very well to round off the album.

Summary…

In summary Steve Hackett’s 25th studio album At The Edge Of Light I do feel it offers slightly more variety with the material that was written for it. The acoustic side things is also more present here in relation to his previous album The Night Siren. Though perhaps not quite as present with his 23rd album Wolflight. You could say that his last 3 albums have been moulded together in the same way, especially regarding the synthetic aspects with orchestral side of things. Though what wins this album over for me personally is that it does have less of the fuller blown out orchestration and the wider variety it offers like I mentioned. 

The bonus material is very much on the slim side of things and I can only presume that the official video that was made for “Beasts in Our Time” would have been made after the DVD was finalized and rendered. But it was good to see that it was included on the Genesis Revisited Band & Orchestra live release. But the bonus content does appear to be getting shorter and shorter and they could have perhaps included the couple of bonus tracks that the Japanese release got. But I cannot really have any complaint as it does come with a very good 5.1 mix and that is the real bonus for me personally. 

Conclusion…

To round up my review of At The Edge Of Light by Steve Hackett and regarding if he is taking his music to new heights and in new directions with how he’s going about things and he is expanding upon them. I personally think regarding the PROGMATIC! side of things nothing has really changed and even by going along with more of a CINEMATIC! approach like he has over his last 3 albums could be seen as a newer approach to how he’s going about making his music these days. 

But in all honesty Hackett has always had a certain amount of dramatization within his music since the day he started his solo career. His approach to writing has never really changed either and the one thing that has never changed is his own formidable style and approach to his music and that is what I have always admired about him. He’s very much stuck to his gun’s and give his fans from day one what they want and he’s still very much doing that with this GREAT! album despite some of the synthetic aspects that have been thrown into the pot along the way.  

The Mediabook is well worth its price point and for surround FREAKS! like myself it’s well worth getting for the 5.1 mix. The bonus material is on the slim side but the documentary does give you some informative incite and is useful. My personal highlights from the album are as follows: “Beasts in Our Time“. “Underground Railroad“. and “Those Golden Wings“. 

Journeys Of The Dancing Fool Underneath The Merciless Moon…

The CD track listing is as follows:

01. Fallen Walls and Pedestals. 2:17.
02. Beasts in Our Time. 6:30.
03. Under the Eye of the Sun. 7:06.
04. Underground Railroad. 6:22.
05. Those Golden Wings. 11:19.
06. Shadow and Flame. 4:24.
07. Hungry Years. 4:34.
08. Descent. 4:20.
09. Conflict. 2:36.
10. Peace. 5:03.

Lee’s overall Complete Package Value Rating…

The Packaging Rating Score. 10/10.

The Price Point Rating Score. 10/10.

The Stereo Mix Rating Score. 10/10.

The 5.1 Mix Rating Score. 8/10.

The Bonus Material Rating Score. 3/10.

The Album Rating Score. 8./10.