Reviews of Progressive Rock, Jazz Rock, Hard Rock, and Stories from beyond.
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Clouds - Up Above Our Heads [Clouds 1966-1971]
It’s been quite interesting for a band as a three-piece, whether it’s Keyboards, Bass, Drums, or Guitar to name a few to create sounds of Jazz, Prog, and Hard Rock to name a few. When people think of a trio, they think of; Triumvirat, ELP, Rush, Le Orme, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cream, and Grand Funk Railroad for their first five albums. But, there is one band that deserves a lot of recognition to be a part of the Three-Piece.
Clouds were an obscure prog-psych trio that have influenced the sounds of Pop, Jazz, Classical, and Rock combined like an orchestral soundtrack to Little Nemo’s adventures. They didn’t have different line-ups like Yes did in the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, ‘00s, and didn’t do any one of the pomp and circumstances that ELP were doing in their later days as well, but with Clouds, wanted to have a good time and come up with soothing and good old enjoyment with the Drums, Organ, and Bass.
Formed out of the ashes of 1-2-3 in 1967, the band featured Billy Ritchie on Keyboards, Ian Ellis on Bass Guitar, and Harry Hughes on drums. Billy’s organ-driven sound had inspired people including Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman who would come to the Marquee and were blown away of his performance including a young David Bowie who called Clouds in 1967, “three thistle and haggis-voiced bairns had the audacity to face a mob of self-opinionated hippies with a brand of unique pop music which because of its intolerance of mediocrity, floated, as would a Hogarth cartoon in Beano.”
The trio were later signed to Chrysalis Records and received word-of-mouth while performing at the Aragon Ballroom, Royal Albert Hall and the Fillmore East in the late ‘60s, but their three albums released on a 2-CD set called, Up Above Our Heads [Clouds 1966-71], released on the Beat Goes On label, shows how obscure and under-rated this band really were. If they had been around today, they would have given ELP and Genesis, a huge run of their own money and been blown away from what they have heard.
The Clouds Scrapbook, released in 1969, is the band’s first album of its symphonic humor jazz tinged pop flavored album. There’s a lot of that sound and sometimes a bit of the time changing rhythm between the three men with a boost in their material like rocket-driven The Carpenter, the touching balladry of I’ll Go Girl and Ladies and Gentlemen while they go into a bit of the Carousel Ragtime music with Grandad and a tribute to the workers and the industrial relationships they were in during the socialist movement on the militant British anthem, Union Jack. Elsewhere to go into a jazzy street thanks to the sound of Bluesy Soul on Ian’s walking bass line on Old Man as they take their dramatic pastoral strings to a level on Waiter, There’s Something In my Soup.
It was a good start and could have made Clouds something extraordinary. Up Above Our Heads, their second album on the Deram label in 1970, sees them paying tribute to the Jazz scene in the ‘40s and ‘50s that proves to be a fun groove for them to go into. Their take of Louis Prima’s Sing, Sing, Sing, which is 13-minutes long, is a must listen to track done by Ian’s bass work and Harry’s drumming as they duke it out going through signatures throughout the entire piece as Billy comes in to do organ related sounds of Fats Waller in his homage to the Jitterbug Waltz in a freak-out style!
The boogie-woogie sounds of Waller’s organ which I could tell that Billy was heavily inspired of his work could be found on the powder keg brass-rockin tune of Take Me To Your Leader while Big Noise From Winnetka is the centerpiece on the track. In the piece, Ian does this fusion-like bass line as he and Harry play like a team as he uses the sticks to play the strings while going back and forth on percussion and bass. It just goes to show you how Clouds were way ahead of their time and deserve a lot of recognition.
Third and final album, Watercolour Days, released in 1971 was their farewell as Chrysalis was moving into another direction with up-and-coming band, Jethro Tull to become the next big thing. The symphonic structures were in there, and the dramatic chord structures were in there from their first album, but they knew if they were going to call it a day, this would be it.
However, there are some wonderful tracks like the uplifting title track and Leavin’, the proto-metallic piece Get Off My Farm, and the harpsichord classical beauty of I Am the Melody that resembles sessions from The Mason Williams Phonograph Record. The bonus tracks which feature their singles in the late ‘60s including a rare live performance of 1-2-3 at the Marquee performing a beautiful take of Simon and Garfunkel’s America, it is a must listen to 2-CD set to go into the history of Clouds music.
Friday, July 13, 2012
Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Knifeworld - Clairvoyant Fortnight
The creative genius and the mastermind behind Knifeworld and part of the Cardiacs, Kavus Torabi has been a busy man lately after the band’s mind-blowing debut back in 2009, Buried Alone: Tales of Crushing Defeat, shows that while they are working on a follow up to their first album, the group can bring the sounds of Prog, Pop and the Avant-Garde genre up to a whole new level this year with the release of their third EP this year, Clairvoyant Fortnight on the Believer’s Roast label.
Now if you have a combination of Frank Zappa, King Crimson, and the Rock in Opposition sounds of the late ‘70s, proves to show that this band are going to hit the big time one day to be following in the footsteps of Zappa himself with a touch of the Avant-Prog Pop flavor sounds they have in their sleeves. And never forget, having a dark sense of humor in their music as well to get the flow and vibe going in their musical atmosphere.
Now with the opening title track, which you can see a music video of the composition on YouTube and be on the look-out for a cameo of snooker legend, Steve “Interesting” Davis at the very end, who hosts his own radio show, The Interesting Alternative Show on Phoenix FM in the UK which plays Canterbury and RIO Prog material music to fill your ears. But let’s get to the track which features Kavus and Melanie taking turns with vocals on the time-changing psychedelic quirky pop number which has eerie organ sounds, rhythm clapping sections, and very sing-along like if you will to take you into the Outer Limits.
There are some fantastic moments from the opening number that bits of it reminded me of The Move’s I Can Hear The Grass Grow while In a Foreign Way has some melodic uplifting moments featuring touches of guitar, sax, and flute, combining together in a glorious sound to make you get ready for the last track that clocks in for 7-minutes. The Prime of our Decline, has some heavy brass, hard and time signature rock elements to it with a militant dramatic musical element on the guitar and drums with a mini operatic format that will take you for a wonderful joy ride for the sun to come up.
Humor, Fun, Quirky, and an enjoyable EP to listen to, Knifeworld have got a long road ahead of them and since they are flaming with fire into the night, they will make it big into the Prog world like no other.
Panic Room - Skin
It’s been a while since Panic Room released another album since their first two (Visionary Position and Satellite) had taken the Prog World by surprise. When it was announced this year that Mark Powell, label manager of Esoteric Recordings was starting a new label called Esoteric Antenna, a label for signing up-and-coming prog bands like; Sanguine Hum, Tin Spirits, Squackett, The Reasoning, and of course, Panic Room, it seems that it was time for a new album and they have brought something here to the table with Skin released this year.
A lot of the female prog and symphonic bands that I’ve admired like; Renaissance, Magenta, Curved Air, Within Temptation, and Amberian Dawn, Panic Room has suddenly finally have broken the door down for the resurrection of the Female bands to come out and letting them know to come out with a bang. Today, the Female bands that were part of the ‘70s and now in the 21st century has finally come to show that it is no longer a boy’s club anymore, but it is a door that you can open to write stories in a song complex, and you can also give the genre a drink that is something energetic, and finally give it a huge boost to flap their wings in the soaring sky.
Now with the resurrection going on and getting straight through the album, Panic Room have a touch of the Experimentations and a bit of the Alternative sound as well to stay true to their musical background and give them a huge pat on the back for a job well done. Skin is a dark and emotional album from start to finish and while they moving into the right direction, they have got an organized piece of work and the song structures are spot on thanks to Anne-Marie Helder’s gripping vocals.
The opener, Song For Tomorrow kicks off with a feedback atmospheric guitar background before going into haunting melodic rock mode that is straight out of the sessions of Pink Floyd’s The Division Bell with a touch of fusion and some touching guitar sounds that sets the tone on what is about to come. Chameleon carries a bit of the first track with a moving beat that has a dance flavor with a jazzy touch to it while Screens has a touch of orchestral ‘80s New-Wave synth patterns with a middle-eastern rock sound to it.
Back to the string section sound with an acoustic rhythm upbeat doing some heavy strumming on Chances shows that Helder can give you some goose bumps from a touching and life-lesson view on all the chances that you made and the times you screwed up, you have nowhere to go or run to. Tightrope Walking features an African-tribe percussion jazzy sound and a moody late haunting prog sound that resembles of Supersister’s No Tree Will Grow (On Too High a Mountain) while Promises has an edgier rockin’ symphonic sounds of the ‘70s with an attitude.
Most of the time Panic Room have really come around since working on Skin, it has shown their true love of the Progressive Rock and Art Rock sound by carrying the torches of Pink Floyd, Kate Bush, Premiata Forneria Marconi, and Radiohead. They've never made a bad album since launching back in 2007 and since they’re off to a big start, the pieces of music they have are fitting perfectly like finding a diamond in the rough, and now they can finally go into the soft and evocative moments in their music.
Velvet and Stars has this ¾ time signature waltz that is a mourning piece that has a narrative song complex and very tender as the aural sounds of the acoustic guitar comes into the lukewarm sunrise in the acid folk turned into a lively drum beat done by Gavin John Griffiths on Freefalling as they pay tribute to Radiohead’s OK Computer-era as the last three tracks come into full swing. The title track is a dance-like ballad on the grand piano as Anne’s voice gives you a touching angelic sound as if she’s right behind you while Hiding The World goes into the Heavy Metal sounds as if Helder was teaming up with Kirk Hammett, Jordan Rudess, and Lars Ulrich to come up with this sonic-metallic rocker.
The closer, Nocturnal, which closes the album, has uplifting turned pounding elements with keyboards and the string sections to give it a volt of electricity as the guitar comes around helping Anne’s vocalizations to give it a wonderful climatic ending. Now coming in full circle and in full swing, Panic Room have now finally got the recognition they deserve with a lot of power in their body and Skin is a must listen to record.
Thursday, July 5, 2012
Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal: An Island Anthology 1967-1972
You know, I have become quite fond of hearing label samplers after hearing the Vertigo Retrospective back in 2005 after discovering that they’re some different obscure progressive rock bands from the late ‘60s and ‘70s. While hearing the compilations from the labels of Charisma, Polydor, Dawn, and Deram, it was time to take another leap from the swimming pool into the deep waters of the “Pink Label” period from Island Records.
While the Pink Label-era of Island is now considered a collector’s item in the Vinyl format that are now on eBay for a rocket price for that one lucky person to bid $120 or $300 of their own money and cherish this vintage collection and play it on their record player and go into a time machine like it’s 1970 all over again. Here, in this 3-CD set, it covers the underground scene in the psychedelic and progressive period from 1967 to 1972.
The 47 page booklet contains histories of the bands and artists in alphabetic order and a history of the label done by Mark Powell, label manager of Esoteric Recordings and author of Prophets and Sages. Since this is the 2009 edition, it doesn’t have the King Crimson songs Cat Food and Groon (they were from the 2005 version which is now out of print and hard to find), which is a minor let down, but listening to this set in its entirety, makes you feel like you could go back and check out the bands that would later achieve success.
When you listen to Strangely Strange But Oddly Normal: An Island Anthology, the title comes from the band, Dr. Strangely Strange, you will experience the sounds of Prog, British Folk, Hard Rock, and Avant-Garde experimental music from the bands and artists who had made it and some who never did. You have the names like; ELP, Traffic, Jethro Tull, Cat Stevens, Spooky Tooth, Mott the Hoople, Fairport Convention, Free, and Nick Drake to name a few who’ve influenced their sound of the genre and having younger generations to listen their music and discovering that real good music isn’t dead, it’s been revived for the 21st century.
Then there are some mind-blowing moments from the compilation like the symphonic psych-pop upbeat tempo of Rainbow Chaser by Nirvana (UK), the mellotronic fantasy proto-metal rocker of Supernatural Fairy Tales done by Art (Pre-Spooky Tooth) featuring Mike Harrison’s vocal arranging as if he could have been Roger Chapman’s brother while Brass Rock band Blodwyn Pig takes the Blues Rock sound with an attitude on Sing Me A Song That I Know So Well.
Also, the haunting melody of story-telling comes at you with Sandy Denny’s voice on The North Star Grassman and the Ravens and there is one band that some of the prog fans need to take note of. Prog-trio Clouds, who were championed by Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman and David Bowie are the centerpieces in this compilation with organ, bass, and drums on the driven beats of The Carpenter and the orchestral dramatic ballad of psychedelic beauty on Watercolour Days.
There are some great sounds from the Folk and Rock obscurity from Quintessence, Fotheringay, Amazing Blondel, and Wynder K. Frog and showing how they were ahead of their time. So if you want to understand about the history of the “Pink Label” sounds of Island Records, this is one of the compilations that is worth the trip to follow the brick road into the Paper Sun of real good music.
Tuesday, July 3, 2012
Harsh Reality - Heaven & Hell
Now while the cover has a combination of; gothic, horror, and a bit controversial, you began to wonder where their influences have shown in the stories of HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe. And the only surprise that this is actually a five piece band called Harsh Reality that was formed in Hertfordshire back in 1968 and it is really them on the cover drenched in blood being tortured by demon like creatures that is almost like something out of a Mario Bava’s 1960 Italian cult classic, Black Sunday.
The band released their only debut album, Heaven & Hell, originally released on the Philips label back in 1969 and reissued in 2011 by the good people at Esoteric Recordings who have done a wonderful job restoring the album and given the album the recognition not only in the Prog community, but for collector’s to search for the original LP that is hard to find and out of print. The sound of Harsh Reality’s music is a combination of Traffic, Family, Procol Harum, and a touch of Graham Bond thanks to the organ driven sounds of Alan Greed, whose voice has a combination of Steve Winwood and Roger Chapman.
However, there’s a bit of; Acid Folk, ‘60s Soul sounds of Stax, Prog-Psych, and Experimental Avant-Garde noises as well to go along with it. So imagine if it was the end of the ‘60s and you were to play this album from beginning, middle, and end, you wish that they could have been the next Traffic, but disbanded the same year when the album was released. If the band hadn’t broken up, they would have created some great albums and influenced a lot of musicians to understand why they were ahead of their time.
Listening to Heaven & Hell in its entirety, it’s not the greatest album that they made, but it’s one of the most lost classic albums that have been found in deep hidden treasures in a secret island that has some listener’s to take point and make notes to why they never followed in the big names of the Prog and Psych scenery. You have the Soulful ballad touches of Tobacco Ash Sunday which Paul Weller of the Jam covered for his AOL sessions, has a mellowing groove while the Soul-Blues shuffling opener When I Move could have hit the Mod dance floor in a manner of seconds.
Then you have a song like sound resembling The Who and The Yardbirds on Devil’s Daughter which according to the liner notes deals with someone being hanged as the 3-part musique concrete noises of Folk and the early beginnings of Krautrock come into fit place of Mary Roberta. And Girl of my Dreams which has a bit of a middle-eastern psych-pop opera feel, shows that Harsh Reality could write an uplifting yet soaring composition to make it a sensation of a hit single.
The original vinyl version of the album on the Philips label which was on eBay years ago, selling over about £400 ($626), makes it a special treat to buy it and treasure it in their record collection. A must listen to album that has finally saw light at the end of the tunnel.