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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Rush - Hemispheres

Already having achievement with their two previous albums; 2112 and A Farewell To Kings, it was time to let Rush to do a part two-like series of Cygnus X-1 Book 1: The Voyage which left their fans a question mark over what happened next to the main character after he entered the black hole. The album, Hemispheres, says it all. This was also a move for Rush because at the time, they were getting to go to a new direction as they were getting ready to go into the ‘80s as they were moving away from their heavy metal epic of 20-minute pieces to more of a Synthesized greek like battle in 8-minutes with their upcoming album that was in the works in the pre-Permanent Waves era.
The opening 18-minute epic, Cygnus X-1 Book 2, starts off with a bang. The tales of exploring the feud between Apollo, who shows his love of science and love while Dionysus wants to have peace, and all hell breaks loose in this prog-rock battle as the band do some heavy improvisation of the rock opera sequel. Neil Peart’s drumming is imaginative as he comes up with some awesome drum patterns while Alex comes up with some heavy duty guitar work, and Geddy Lee, being the narrator, leaves you breathless as he plays some awesome bass lines on his Rickenbacker. In the midsection, there is an atmospheric Tangerine Dream-like sound for the explorer to come in as a disembodied spirit who wants to Apollo and Dionysus to stop their Civil War and their feud against each other and buried the hatchet. Then the band comes in to lead a climatic climax as Neil bangs the gong for the explorer’s scream as the finale is Geddy singing alone with an acoustic guitar as he sings about the war being over and staring a new life on the planet that is exhilarating and more edificated.
On the other hand, the power rocking autobiographical Circumstances deals with Neil Peart before he joined Rush, who in the early ‘70s was in London trying to decide to whether to stay in England and be disillusioned of what he sees or head back to join the group. The Trees, starts off as a classical guitar arrangement from Lifeson while Geddy sings about the rests in the forests beyond the Trees, then becomes a mind blowing crown achiever with this Political brawl between the humans and the oaks demand a union to stay where they are and not be cut down.
The 9-minute instrumental suite La Villa Strangiato becomes a lukewarm Prog centerfold to close the album to a T. It shows Neil, Alex, and Geddy’s composition as they are like football stars playing their instruments so well and taking turns one by one. It starts off classical, then becomes like a Yes meets King Crimson meets Zeppelin a la number. You can tell these guys are having a ball playing this piece and just having a good time and making fun of themselves. All in all, this a groundbreaking achiever for Rush fans who followed the band and the younger generation who are following in the footsteps of Rush, including a new Progressive Metal band that are carrying the footsteps of Rush, Heart of Cygnus.

Rush - A Farewell To Kings

For most of the Prog Rock generations, you couldn’t deny one band from the outskirts of Canada who have gold records, packed stadiums and arenas, high voices, and mind-blowing drum solos, still a cult band to this day since their hey day in the mid ‘70s of one band, Rush. As the British Prog Rockers like; Yes and ELP were selling out Madison Square Garden, The music was growing from a different part of the United States to having their own influential sounds in the British Rock scene. With a bit of Yes and Led Zeppelin to the mix to fill out the gigantic tours, all it took was a three-piece, looking like nerds and sorcerer’s from a new world, it was up to Rush to go all the way.
After receiving a huge breakthrough in 1976 with their essential science-fiction dynamic concept of 2112, The group went to Rockford Studios in Wales to come up with material for the next album to come up that was something good in the footsteps of their fourth album and give the so-called punk bands the middle finger in the world of Tolkien and poetry in the new land of wonders, a true milestone. Their fifth album, A Farewell to Kings had all the ingredients it needed; Two Sci-Fi epics and the technical skills of their craftsmanship as musicians from the following footsteps of the sounds from Pink Floyd to early Genesis, had a combining force of pure and hard ‘70s heavy metal.
The main highlights are the radio friendly hit single for them Closer To The Heart, the sinister 11-minute epic of the black hole of invisible force of an astronaut forcing to go inside the heart of Cygnus X-1, and of course Xanadu, another 11-minute epic based on the 19th century poet by Samuel Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. While the three center points remain live favorites, around the fire place, there’s a little place in Rush’s soul inside the pleasuredome. A Farewell To Kings is a magic carpet ride to enjoy listening to. There’s the heavy folk rocker Cinderella Man, based on the 1940s classic film Mr. Deeds Goes to Washington starring Gary Cooper, Geddy Lee’s warmful vocals on the Moog pastiche with the Tolkien related works of Madrigal, and the titled track which starts out as a classical fingerpicking guitar introduction from Alex Lifeson, and then it becomes a firestorm piece with Neil Peart’s drumming going all over the place on the drumkit while Geddy sings about turning the pages of history and coming up with some excellent bass riffs. The true masterminds is superb almost getting an A+ from your last day as a senior in High School and moving on to be cult heroes without any radio airplay.
After releasing another album which features the sequel Cygnus X-1: Book II from another essential classic, Hemispheres, Rush went into the ‘80s with Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures and seeing the group going into a little bit Art Rock in a scientific way. Today, they are still growing after the release of Snakes & Arrows in 2007 which remains one of the highlights of Rush’s career and knowing they still got it. As for Rush, they still drink the milk of paradise and they still do to this day.

Web - I Spider

After dropping their R&B/Soul sound from their previous first two albums, The Web became simply Web. From their homage sound of Otis Redding into more of a cross between a format of the lost treasure of Jazz Fusion/early Prog. I Spider was the last album for the group. Now featuring newcomer keyboardist and lead vocals Dave Lawson from Episode Six, it was up to him to have the new direction that Web really needed to be in. With a bizarre cover of hands pretending to be an animal of sorts including a geese, rabbit and wolf, just goes to show you how they could go a little further than Colosseum and ELP. The music itself is astonishing and distinctive. The centerpiece of the album includes the dynamic 10-minute opening suite, Concerto for Bedsprings, it starts off with the saxes giving a fanfare introduction and then Lawson comes in with an eerie vocal lines ‘lying in my bed/shadows painting on the wall/thoughts inside my head/they’re making not sense at all!’ you just gotta love lyrics like that! Then it becomes more of a jazz waltz in 3/3 time signature similar to Coltrane’s My Favorite Things – suddenly, it becomes a hard rock a la Deep Purple style with You Can Keep the Good Life, the next, a finale Loner which ends as if Ornette Coleman played it as a crescendo.
For the obscure prog-rock scene in the early ‘70s that had the homage of the sound of early Jazz had a ball – and for Dave Lawson who kept the tempo going and his voice filling up the small venues and not doing any antics like Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman to name a few. As for ballads, he took it up a notch with the titled track and Love You which starts off as a mellotronic lukewarm acoustic folk piece then becomes an attack with a vicious sax routine while the bass does some heavy walking and the guitar has a heart attack with its fuzztone like sound. It took the band a while to get into Lawson’s roots of the jazz sound while thinking how they were going to capture the sound. For Dave, it was a challenge for them to record the last album, according to the liner notes on the Esoteric reissue, Dave claimed it took a few weeks to get into the material for the band to try its hands on: “We rehearsed my new material for some time in a Monastery and even a Nunnery and then we were given no more than five days in Wessex Studios to record ‘I Spider’. On that album, I tried to use my voice like an instrument and didn’t use vibrato, which is very hard to do. I didn’t feel that I was given enough time to put vocals down to put my satisfaction.” Well Dave, you did. And you nailed it big time! As the group got tired of being simply called the Webb, after performing in Sweden which is heard on the album of Concerto for Bedsprings and Love You in 1971, you can tell that it was time for a change for them.
The group later became Samurai and releasing just one album and soon Dave went to become a member in Greenslade, then being a session musician and a film composer for Steven Spielberg’s production of the animated 1993 classic We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, and Kenneth Brannagh’s Frankenstein. Listening to this album, you’ll soon be having the good life of I Spider and not being too pretentious.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Man - Back Into The Future

A crossover between the US West Coast sound and the homage of the Grateful Dead, Welsh prog-pub rockers Man gets the audience jumping and dancing with its bluesy guitar works and early incarnation of the Jam Band sound. Almost sounding like coming out of the greasy truckers party, the band had a huge following from their psychedelic-era in the late ‘60s to experimental homage’s that would make Jerry Garcia proud – Back Into The Future was their seventh album, and while the music is groovy, it was the group’s eclectic sound that would make your money worth wild.
Man was formed in the Swansea area in Wales in the mid ‘60s as two bands The Bystanders and The Dream, they soon become a concept album band in the psychedelic scene to follow in the footsteps in The Beatles Sgt. Pepper with their first two albums released on the Pye label; Revelation and the 2 Oz’s of Plastic With a Hole in the Middle. Even though they had a small following, the group moved to the label United Artists as their music was growing from a psychedelic pop sound to more of a blues prog influential jam sound that would be about for only 19 and 24-minutes long of pieces like Alchemist, Bananas, C’mon, and Would the Christians Wait? The Lions are having a Draw.
Back into the Future sees Man going a little commercial and singing a traditional Welsh folk song along with a choir. With some beautiful composition pieces like A Night in Dad’s Bag, the melodic country rocker Don’t Go Away, the funky rockin’ blues wah-wah sound of Ain’t Their Flight, and the Gentle Giant renaissance folk rock taste of Never Say Nupus to Nepalse, including some astonishing lushful pieces like the self-titled track and the welsh Gwala choir following along with Man on an old 19th century Welsh tune Sospan Fach, the bonus tracks that are now featured in this 3-CD set released on the Esoteric label, just keeps getting better and better on the expanded reissue edition.
On Discs 2 and 3, in its entirety is the full performance of Man’s live recording at the Roundhouse in London on June 24, 1973 just before the album was released. You can tell they were having a good time including the audience were having a ball. Live tracks including the 19-minute version of C’Mon, which starts out as a train-chugging upbeat tempo then during the midsection of the piece goes into a Floyd-like atmospheric composition as Phil Ryan who replaced Clive John because of the touring schedule for him, was almost a disaster for him. Phil and the two other guitarists Micky Jones and newcomer for the band Tweke Lewis do an outer space guitar work and then get the wheels rolling for the last 3-minutes of the piece while Micky gets the rhythm chugging and Tweke lays down the guitar work like David Gilmour and Jimmy Page combine. This was a perfect match made in heaven for the Man band.
Jam Up, Jelly Tight / Oh No, Not Again (Spunk Rock ’73), a little different from the Penarth live album, is almost a sequel to the Grateful Dead’s arrangement of their 23-minute instrumental track, Dark Star. The band is doing a country blues rocking sound in the first 13 minutes then becomes a powering achievement. Back into the Future is one of their crowning achievements and its influential roots of the West Coast, a sound of the American scene in the late ‘60s still grows and it keeps on growing with the legacy from these five guys who know the score very well.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Julian's Treatment - A Time Before This

A lost concept album from the mind of science-fiction writer/keyboardist Julian Jay Savarin, A Time Before This is considered a lost gem for this lost progressive rock group. Almost sounding like they came from a different planet, they had this sound that even King Crimson wished they could have released something good like this. Their first and only album is one of the most essential reissues that I’ve enjoyed listening to in part of all concept albums for this short-lived band in the early ‘70s. The concept album involves the only surviving human living in a post-apocalyptic planet on Earth, leaves his home to search for a new planet while he meets strange alien life-forms including Alda, the red planet of the outer worlds of annihilation and Altarra, the blue planet of love. Then he finds out if he’s the only survivor on earth or just as a safety measure to live in a different planet in the solar system. While the concept seemed like something out of a Star Trek episode, the music is astonishing.
The introduction, First Oracle narrated by lead vocalist Cathy Pruden, sets the scenery of the story as it heads into The Coming of the Mule, a sinister robotic composition featuring ambient sounds from Julian Jay Savarin’s keyboard while guitarist Del Watkins does some heavy guitar sounds to set the tone of the piece. And then, the albums heads off into the outer limits with the group following in their trails. Phantom City and The Black Tower have a jazz-orientated King Crimson rock tempo. During the album, in comes some beautiful lushful pieces with evil (Alda, Dark Lady of the Outer Worlds and Altarra, Princess of the Blue Woman), the ray of lightning arrangements on once again a jazz relative number with Fourth From The Sun, the galloping rumble on their Floydian sound on Strange Things, an homage to the Canterbury sound in the Solar System on The Terran with a psychedelic pop taste to it, a classical rock touch with the two brothers of the planet that is almost recorded inside a dark and disturbing cave (Twin Suns of Centauri and Alton, Planet of Centauri), and the solar planets combine with a darker twist of the question if we, as humans, are the last surviving members on our home planet with the self-titled track.The group disbanded after the release of this album. Forward to 1973 with a new line-up including bassist John Dover and keyboardist Julian Jay Savarin when they released another concept album based on Julian’s fantasy novel The Lemmus Trilogy with Waiters on the Dance with a new female vocalist from Catapilla, Jo Meek. After the album was released Julian became a writer in the mind of Science-Fiction and he’s still writing today. Strange creatures and Post-Apocalyptic Earth and female planet gods? Not bad for a short-lived band that were ahead of their time

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

It was like that it was almost recorded in the early 1980s with this magnum opus. Genesis’s last album to feature front man Peter Gabriel, is a gem of a kind. Now with a new hairstyle, dressing up in a leather jacket with a Puerto Rican makeup on his face, he now looked like someone living around the block a dozen times.
Soon as Peter was thinking about going up to Solsbury Hill, the band almost sounded very mystical with their concept album. Almost coming out of a strange fictional science fiction/fantasy book with other concept pieces, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway storyline is weird. It’s strange tale of graffiti-artist street punk named Rael who lives in the Subways of New York City who goes in a bizaare adventures, brings up some astonishing highlights: The sexual rocker of Counting Out Time, the mellotron segues of Fly On A Windshield/Broadway Melody of 1934, the new wave of pre-80s new wave sound of Tony Banks synthesizer with Back In NYC, the beauty Carpet Crawlers, and the dynamic titled-track that would make Peter and Genesis sounded like they were recorded in the 22nd century or in the late ‘70s.
Since there are some beautiful compositions done by Tony Banks and his keyboards, there’s the twisted side of Genesis. The roaring upbeat rhythms of In The Cage and Here Comes The Supernatural Anaesthetist which features Steve Hackett’s magnificent virtuoso guitar solo as he takes over while Phil Collins comes up with some fusion technique on the drums, The avant-garde keyboard whirling composition on The Waiting Room and a group of weird characters: The disfigured creature of The Colony of Slippermen who wandered lonely as a cloud, the erotic half-snake, half-woman creatures of the Lamia in which Rael eats that would make a big run for your sexual dreamland, and the old fairy Lilywhite Lilith will take you into the tunnel of light. As Peter left the band after his last gig with them in Paris in 1975, Genesis would make two more albums (A Trick of the Tail & Wind and Wuthering) and then Steve would leave the band, and soon Genesis would become an 80s mainstream band.
Going back and listening to it again, it almost sounded like an alternate soundtrack to Alejandro Jodorosky’s 1970 midnight movie classic El Topo and setting the scenery in which it never saw the light of day. Slippermen, Erotic sexual female snakes, and a Puerto Rican street punk? They never get much better than this.

Caravan - Caravan

It’s not your typical Canterbury prog album that put Caravan on the map of the late ‘60s. The original members started out in the early days with members of The Soft Machine
from 1964 to 1967 before going into different groups which would become part of the prog and psychedelic movement. Even though the Soft Machine were vicious and avant-garde with the first two albums, Caravan were more calm and very much relative to the Beatles with their self-titled debut album released on the Verve label in 1968.

The opening track Place of my Own is spot-on perfect with its psychedelic mod groove, Pye Hastings sings beautifully as Dave Sinclair’s Hammond organ does its homage to the bebop jazz scene of the late ‘50s, Policeman has a Beatles relative touch while Love Song With Flute shows Caravan’s mellower side, the roaring sinister track of Cecil Rons pays tribute to the crazy diamond of Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett with its explosive voice from Hastings and the booming sound on Richard Coughlan’s drums blows the roof down on the floyd’s first singles Arnold Layne and See Emily Play, their first single, Magic Man, is a magic carpet ride beauty set with a dreamy organ, bass, and guitar tone to the song as Pye and David sing about the Magic Man high above in the sky.

The album is also like I’ve mentioned before, dreamy with its Indian relative sound with the booming sound of the tom-toms done well by drummer Richard Coughlan as he and the band take it up an notch with Ride, and while they have a sense of humor with another floyd relative number of Syd’s singles with the band and their first album by saving enough money with the psychedelic pop sound of Grandma’s Lawn, the last number Where But For Caravan Would I? closes the album with its 9-minute composition. The instrumental arrangements of the suite sees the band moving into the deeper waters of experimentations. It has that evil tone in the midsection of the organ piece as David Sinclair just takes over the instrument. As the group went forward to the land of grey and pink, their first album is an essential classic. It shows how good for life to be fun. The music and the tracks including their next single which appears as a bonus on the reissue, Hello Hello, is excellent.