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Friday, October 26, 2012

Beggars Opera - Close to my Heart/Touching the Edge/Lose a Life

In the 1970s, Scotland’s own Beggars Opera were considered the obscure early pioneers of Symphonic Progressive Rock with their first three albums from the Vertigo-era before going into the Straightforward Rock sound that wanted to move away from that sound that had received a mixed reaction from the fans who wanted the band to stay true to their earliest work with: Act One, Waters of Change, and Pathfinder. Now many years later, the band is going into more of an alternative and art rock sound for the 21st century.

Originally, they were a five piece band, today, they are now a trio featuring; Ricky Gardinier on guitar, Virginia Aurora Scott on keyboards/lead vocals, and their son Tom Gardiner on drums. So it’s almost a family partnership between the three members of the Gardiner family who now go into futuristic sceneries and take it into a different scale that would have embraced into a different direction than they were back in the golden-era of the ‘70s. It was Close to my Heart, that took ten years in the making to work on the album due to Rick’s illness and you can tell how it’s more of a new age/atmospheric space rock adventure.

So while the album has a lot of the sci-fi beauty elements on the title track, the jazz rock speeder on Warm Eyes, and the rumbling middle-eastern rocker on You Stranger, they pay more of an homage to Porcupine Tree’s On the Sunday of Life-era, which is evidential on the closer, Here Comes Everybody that is a surfing space adventure into the outer limits of space featuring Ricky’s virtuoso guitar playing and Virginia’s mellotron work setting the tone of the piece. Now while it sounds very interesting and kind of surprising on the new sound that the band is going into this new sound that could have fans say, ‘This is amusing, I might want to check this out.’

Now with Virginia’s voice, it’s a combination of Steven Wilson, Cathy Pruden of Julian’s Treatment, and at times Bjork, but you could tell that she was listening to some of these artists and want to take it up a notch which is heard on the electronic swirling nightmarish tale on Tight Blue Lips that would have hit the dance floors in about a second.. Touching the Edge, released back in 2009 it has more of a time travelling adventure and the recording process feels like it was done very quickly and done it in one night and went throughout till dawn.

The opener Dancer in the Wind and Escalator of Tall Stories are both hard driven-paced-experimental rock and a wonderous magic carpet ride into unbelievable imagination that at times sounds like something out of the Discipline-era of King Crimson while Attraction Gaze which features Ajijo on Sax, is very modern Rush sound that has some heavy power chord riffs that Rick does and Tom creates this Neil Peart-drum like sound as an homage to him. Meanwhile, Dreamtime, is a nightmarish take on the Master of Reality-era of Black Sabbath that has a dosage of hard jazz rock as Aijio takes the sax over as the robotic vocals, bass, drums, keyboards, and guitar arrangements are delicate.

Then it’s the ambient/atmospheric 16-minute tribute to the people who died in the Prison Camps around the Second World War on the finale Auschwitz. With keyboards and Rick’s guitar, it’s a mourning yet emotional take on some who survived and some who passed on during that time period and Gardiner’s Floyd style on the guitar, is just spot on as Virginia does this Celtic vocalization as if its a sound for peace and hope. Forward to 2010, the band sees them going into darker territories with the release of a 22nd century dystopian rock opera, Lose a Life.

You can hear of a futuristic city gone wrong with the electronics taking over the universe which is evidential on the 11-minute epics, Electrofire Invasion which owes a debt to the Wish You Were Here-era of Pink Floyd with Rick’s guitar sending a view of what has happened to the city and what went horribly wrong while Masts on my Roof has some sensitive and intense moments with a dosage of a moody ballad and uplifting mellotron and organ sounds along with synth droning’s and double-tracking vocals that Virginia does as if they are paying tribute to George Orwell’s classic, 1984.

Cosmic Tango, is a terrifying composition of dealing with a person going insane of the social media and the corporations taking over the enterprise and finding out there is nowhere out and no way out of here while Doctor Carlo has this Gilmour and Brian May influential sound that Rick does on his guitar giving it that layered sound before going into the sound to pay tribute to the Floyd and Queen man for an introduction as it goes into this jazzy uplifting momentum for thanking the Doctor to make a person sane and healthy again. Then everything becomes a mourning surrounding atmosphere on the closing track, Tango For the End.

It begins with a haunting Mellotron chord progression followed by a militant drum rumble and guitars filling the aftermath of what’s happened to the city and the networks have taken control of it with an epic-like score. A wonderful and hand-shaken comeback from a band who have come a long way, who have influenced both in the Symphonic and Experimental Rock sounds in the 1970s and in the 2000s and what will lay ahead for the future for them.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The Reasoning - Adventures in Neverland

It’s been a rough year for The Reasoning after the disappearance of guitarist Owain Roberts who was reportedly missing in March of this year and there’s an ongoing search to bring him back safe and sound. The band is still worried about what happened to him, but they have Owain in their heart and soul and let him know they still care for him and hope that he’s okay.

And since with their announcement on being signed to Mark Powell’s new label for up-and-coming bands/artists with Esoteric Antenna, it all makes perfect sense to be signed with one of the most independent prog labels that has been around reissuing obscure albums since 2007 and now helping new bands getting a lot of recognition. That and their new album, Adventures in Neverland, has a spiritual and dramatic journey on their story and looking forward into the future on what has happened and what will the long and winding road will take them into.

The opening introduction, Hyperdrive, starts off with a countdown and then goes into a heavy rocking exploration into the outer limits with Keith Hawkins’ guitar lines, keyboards, bass work, and Rachel Cohen’s vocals, feels very sci-fi and deeper elements that makes them feel that they could have written a concept album on the TV series, Firefly. The alarming guitar punches feels like its looking for its prey on The Omega Point before going into this gentle and haunting middle-eastern surround atmosphere in the piece while The Glass Half carries the spooky metallic elements like a mysterious creature coming from another planet.

It has the synths, Brian May-like guitar sound, Matt Cohen’s bass work, and smoothing drum works by giving Rachel dancing to the beat and coming in by dealing how to be remembered as the only survivor on the post-apocalyptic planet. It all comes to the driving energy beat of Stop the Clock which it’s the catchiest and soothing songs by dealing with trying to race and escape the dystopian world before it collapses and dealing how blind the place has become with corruption as the piece has some similarities of Rush’s modern work as if it was left off the sessions for Grace Under Pressure.

Otherworld begins with a lullaby keyboard introduction done by Tony Turrell as he takes Rachel into a calm after the storm which deals with moving on and the struggles on breaking down the door and finding out who you are and not running away in this moving ballad. You can tell that Rachel’s got an amazing angelic voice that makes you feel that she’s right behind you to calm you down and lets the listener know that everything’s okay.

I can also tell there is some Alternative Rock flavor in the Reasoning’s work as its evidential with End of Days which the band go into the dreamland mode about the heart of human kind is coming to an end while the fierce and synth freak-out turned ballad mode on No Friend of Mine deals with the corruption on the Social Network and how its affecting the teenager’s mind and alienating their friends and being an isolated person. The lyrics are poignant as Rachel sings about keeping distance away from your loved ones and dealing with the person’s dark side; "It might be best to wait a little longer/listen carefully, there’s so much I need to say/do you really dare to think you know me?/always quick to decide but if you live another day/Keep your distance.” Threnody is another track that I imagine the band might have been reading a lot of the stories from the DC universe and Sci-Fi stories as well for research by going into this album.

It is another dramatic swirling composition that has some virtuoso guitar sound, layered upbeats, and hypnotic keyboard work as the lyrics talk about what do you want in return after shaking hands with the devil and being betrayed by getting out of the mess from being tortured and how it can be done not to make the mistakes you’ve made and how you’ve let your friends down in the lost and found section.

Forest in the Hands and Teeth has this Atmospheric/New Age sound as it goes into the sounds of Tangerine Dream’s Phaedra period with its gentle folk lukewarm crisp that has this strange combination of gothic/horror fairy-tale for adults in the realms of Edgar Allen Poe meets HP Lovecraft while the closing title track resembles the era of Pink Floyd’s A Momentary Lapse of Reason. The 7-minute piece begins with Keith’s guitar playing doing a Gilmour-sque introduction as it appears to go into Symphonic Town about going into the world of Neverland and seeing how its beautiful and surreal it has become.

Wonderous, Moody, Magical, and Beautiful, Adventures in Neverland is The Reasoning’s finest work and has a Sci-Fi Rock Opera flavor to support the elements in their musical career. The Reasoning surely bring an atmospheric fairy tale compositions in their work and they have done a superb job, a highly recommended album to listen to.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Beggars Opera - Nimbus: The Vertigo Years Anthology

Taken their name from a 17th century composer, Glasgow’s Beggars Opera were almost the bees knees of Orchestral and Classical Rock music in the 1970s. They were one of the most electrifying and mind-blowing overlooked bands to come out that Progressive genre and this 2-CD set released by the good people at Esoteric Recordings covers their time period at the time when they were with Vertigo Records on their first four albums from 1970 to 1973

The liner notes are done by Metal Hammer/Classic Rock Magazine writer Malcolm Dome which shows the history of the band and the rare pictures show almost like going back in time to see how their performances were if you were be able to see them live back in that time period of the golden-era when Prog was king. They are well researched and it shows how they were ahead of their time and still pack a huge punch with their music.

The sound of Beggars Opera resembles adventure, time-and-space, and its out of this world time signatures. And while they received a fan base in Germany, the band could have been bigger than ELP and would have given them a huge run for their money. The sound of Alan Park’s organ is haunting and soothing as lead singer Martin Griffiths whose voice resembles Angus Cullen and Ian Gillan feels that he’s right behind you telling a story and who could not forget Virginia Scott who’s now married to guitarist Ricky Gardiner, whose guitar playing is astonishing and with a Ritchie Blackmore sound that is out of this world that is a mix of Hard Rock, Jazz, and Symphonic while Virginia's mellotron playing could take the listener somewhere beyond the future.

Act One released in 1970 is pieced together with classical compositions and its thumping debut makes it a surreal structured well-balanced explosive introduction and owing a debt to Keith Emerson and The Nice. With the swirling Poet and Peasant, Passacaglia, and the 11-minute roaring suite on Raymond’s Road, sees them going into a eruptive yet volcanic rollercoaster ride like they’ve never been on ages ago and just have a grand old time while the closer Light Cavalry pays an homage to the Canterbury band, Arzachel and a doomier version of Caravan as Alan Park carries the sound of David Sinclair and Dave Stewart in his sleeve.

1971’s Waters of Change is the band’s turning point and remains a favorite among Prog fans. The psychedelic trip into Space and travelling backwards on the atmospheric Time Machine is a true centerpiece as the Jazz Rock comes in full swing on I’ve No Idea as a Mellotron fanfare turned into Fantasy Rock makes it a perfect combination on the Silver Peacock while they go into a thumping hard rock with a dosage of the Moody Blues late ‘60s period on The Fox that makes Beggars Opera carrying some of the flaming fire in their pockets to see where the flaming torch will take them to.

When they released Pathfinder, it was the last real Beggars Opera album before they went into a Straightforward Rock sound and although they wanted to go into a different direction, the album itself has some outstanding moments in there. The cover of Richard Harris’ MacArthur Park, which stayed true to the original pop hit, is jaw dropping as the swooping thunderous evil eruption on The Witch, makes it a terrifying story featuring Alan’s moment to shine on the Organ along with the rumbling galloping rocker dealing with the Sister of Satan on Madame Doubtfire which could have been a perfect Hammer Horror film title and a perfect piece that is perfect for Halloween.

With Get Your Dog Off Me released in 1973, they went into more of a Soul and Bluesy Rock genre and adding Linnie Paterson from Writing on the Wall fame replacing Martin as a vocalist, almost sounds like it was going to be a dividing line in the sand among Beggars Opera fans to whether or not to appreciate the new direction they were going into. Even though its not the full album, there are only four tracks that made it on there as they were saying good-bye to Vertigo and moving on to Jupiter Records.

There’s the raunchy shuffling rockin' balls out roar of Working Man (not the one by Rush, but a different song) as Linnie sings his heart out about going to work and blessing him for what he’s doing as Requiem is pre-Queen and Frippertronics that Ricky does on his guitar with a dosage of Brian May and Robert Fripp that makes it experimental while the cover of Mason Williams’ Classical Gas is unbelievable.

Starting off with this mellowing piano introduction, it goes into this Renaissance Rock sound from Guitar, Harpsichord, Drums, Mellotron, Synths, and Bass that makes it a tribute to the composer as it sounds very spacey and funky in the midsection and not screwing it up, it’s a nice tribute to Mason himself. Now if you see an Astronaut riding with a horse flying off into the universe, make sure you wave and smile by saying ‘Hi!’ to him and let him know how much Beggars Opera meant so much to you.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Tractor - Tractor

When it comes to an obscure prog or hard rock band that released only one or two albums and broke up, it would be considered a collector’s gem that goes up for about $700 to buy on eBay and the one who wins keeps it in its original format whether it’s the Pink or Swirl label from Island or Vertigo and its the pure music geeks enjoyment to listen to the album the way it was meant to be. That said, one of the most lost and unsung bands from the UK was a band called Tractor.

Hailed by Stuart Maconie, BBC Radio Presenter of Stuart Maconie’s Freak Zone and Julian Cope, who championed the sole self-titled debut album as the Album of the Month on the Head Heritage site back in November 2004 after the passing of John Peel who started his own record label, Dandelion Records, is now considered one of the most finest gems in the history of the overlooked bands of the golden-era from the early 1970s. 40 years later, it still sounds fresh and with some dosages of Folk, Doom Metal, Proto-Punk, Ambient, Blues, and evil Psych at its best, this was the album that would have scared the hippies with a mighty explosion.

The burst tone generator introduction into the power chords of Space Rock dealing with the issues on the dangers of the Music Business can come bite you in the gut with the opener All Ends Up as vocalist Jim Milne describes about what the listener needs to know about signing the contract with: “Don’t sign your life away/don’t let the man in the grey suit deceive you/ once you’re in you stay/If you tell him you’re lonely, he’ll never believe you/sign forgotten lies.”

With a punch of the chords in a heavy tone along with the percussion and bass lines, it makes it very Sabbath meets early Hawkwind that forms with a lot of structured background inspiration. Little Girl in Yellow starts off with this gentle folk acoustic around the fireside then becomes a road along rockin’ adventure while Everytime It Happens and The Watcher carries the spirit of the heavenly sounds of the Haunting Acid Folk sound with its structured beauties.

Then, Ravenscroft’s 13 Bar Boogie is a shuffling blues hard rock groove that is perfect for a dance at the prom as Jim and drummer Steve Clayton lay down the harder edges of the Blues as they go into town and dealing with making love, shows that the band are having a blast and having fun performing this wonderful little ditty. Shubunkin, meanwhile, has this Krautrock atmospheric background in the realms of Agitation Free meets Amon Duul II as Jim takes his guitar into the Milky Way as he and Steve go into the Outer Limits to set the voyages in their space ship to make it a fantastic adventure.

Hope in Favour has some upbeats as the drums make it sound like a train chugging as Jim’s voice goes into the Leslie Speaker by making him sound like a Robot on dealing with your choice of words as the 9-minute closer Make The Journey, sounds like a ‘60s Garage Rock adventure into the Wild that was left off the Nuggets box set as if Todd Rundgren had produced the album and would have been a match made in Garage heaven.

The bonus tracks which was originally released in 2002 in honor of the 30th anniversary of the re-release features a live performance at Glaystonbury, demo tracks, and a new song No More Lies, makes it an uplifting issue dealing with War, Peace, and how the politics can stop making excuses. Tractor were way ahead of their time, but this is quite an adventurous exploration for those who are looking for unknown and unsung music.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gnidrolog - In Spite of Harry's Toenail/Lady Lake

The identical twin Goldring brothers, Colin and Stewart formed this five-piece short-lived band known as Gnidrolog around in 1972. The brothers were once former actors living in the theatre and show business-era as kids, but grew tired and focused on their music career and their anti-war implications as well with Gnidrolog’s sound as well. That and their first two albums (In Spite of Harry’s Toenail and Lady Lake) have received the Esoteric treatment showed that they have a sound of Acid Folk, Doom, Political Boundaries, and Avant-Garde madness as well.

Their first album, In Spite of Harry’s Toenail, originally released on the RCA label in the Summer of 1972, showed a darker and sinister approach of the brothers music which is shown on the 7-minute Victorian/Steampunk epic, Snails that starts out as a mourning funeral between flute and oboe and then it escalades into a Horror film score in the style of a mass-madness Zombie apocalypse as Colin’s voice resembles the spookiness between the late Martin Raphael of Ramases and Peter Hammill of Van Der Graaf Generator.

Between Guitars going into an attack mode and haunting vocals, it has this weird persona of different collaboration styles of; Black Sabbath, Frank Zappa, and Captain Beefheart working together and creating this terrifying composition that is perfect for George Romero’s 1968 cult classic, Night of the Living Dead. The 9-minute opener, Long Live Dead Man is almost a volcanic eruption between the guitar and swooshing bass lines including the shrieking flute solo and Colin’s voice makes it a perfect introduction to start the album off with a cannonball exploding out for attack.

Peter, which was a tribute to the Goldring’s father, is a soft and tender subdued composition while Time and Space which starts off in this 19th century classical piece as both flute, acoustic guitar, oboe, and recorder follow Colin’s voice about what its like to go into different voyages in the Outer Limits as it goes into this King Crimson meets Marsupilami freak-out session to send you goosebumps until the very end.

Then it all comes to the closing title track that is the real kicker. It starts with a mellowing downbeat and then it goes into ride into boogie blues-rock anthem with a chugging rhythm between guitar and bass and harmonica, making the ride a fun adventure into unbelievable results. Following the release of their first album, Lady Lake released in December of that year, proves to be somewhat there last, but imaginative as well.

It moved away from the sinister tones into more of a jazzy and spiritual tone that is proved on their second album and its quite staggering. The opening 11-minute I Could Never Be A Soldier is emotional and poignant dealing with the a person’s point of view as a soldier in the Army, dealing with what’s been going on with the War in Vietnam and to get away and praying for peace instead of killing innocent victims and how love can’t be helped anymore.

The brass-rock touches on Ship along with the acoustic folk moments in there are inspiring while the moving piano ballad Same Dreams, deals with looking back on the good times you had with friends and dealing with looking into the future and seeing where the direction you might go into. At times it sounds like Slade’s How Does it Feel, but its such a powerful song with guitar, oboe, piano, and drums as Colin sings his heart out about his reflection on looking back on his life in his childhood.

After the release of Lady Lake, the band broke up and the Goldring Brothers formed a Punk Rock band called The Pork Dukes in 1976 and reformed Gnidrolog and released Gnosis back in 2000. It’s kind of a shame that Gnidrolog could have been something amazing, but we have these two albums and still 40 years later they were ahead of their time and they would have pushed the envelope with their music.