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Friday, April 27, 2018

The Aaron Clift Experiment - If All Goes Wrong

It’s been three years since the Aaron Clift Experiment have released a new album since the release of their second album, Outer Light, Inner Darkness. And for me, it’s also been a good while since I’ve listened to some of the most amazing bands and artists from the progressive rock genre to come out of Austin alongside Thirteen of Everything, Crocodile, Proud Peasant, and Opposite Day to name a few.

Last year, the Aaron Clift Experiment performed at RoSFest (Rite of Spring Festival) along with Anglagard, Unified Past, The Neal Morse Band, and for the first time performing in the states at the festival was The Fierce and the Dead. During that same year, it was announced they working on a follow-up to their second album entitled, If All Goes Wrong.

They recorded the album at Antimatter Studios in Austin, Texas with Randy Miller in the production helm (Burt Bacharach, Christopher Cross, Michael McDonald of the Doobie Brothers) and crowdfunded the album with IndieGoGo. The goal was raised by 132 backers. Their main target was $10,000. But it reached to $9,467. I knew that while that they almost reached their goal, they knew they would create something special with their third album.

Now listening to If All Goes Wrong, it’s a return to the sounds of not just the prog-rock genre, but a mixture of both hard rock and pop rolled into the mix. And the six highlights on here, just shows how much they’ve really took me on a different level. With Savage in a Fancy Suit, it is a nod to the late great Jon Lord of Deep Purple. Aaron honors the master and bringing not only, the Purple sound, but the forces of Uriah Heep’s Ken Hensley.

You can hear some of the aspect from the Demons & Wizards-era and it shows how much appreciation Clift and his band members bring the two combinations into a giant circle. Better off Before is their nod to Psychedelic-Baroque pop essences of The Beatles Sgt. Pepper-era meeting early Queen whilst Jeff Lynne conducting and arranging the composition bringing the two together.

It’s almost like a mini-opera of the composition as if they wrote it for an animated series and doing it the right way. Inspired by the 1986 classic by Hayao Miyazaki, Castle in the Sky gives the band a chance to create this alternate score by giving them a chance to nod their heads to Miyazaki’s career for all the accomplishments he’s achieved.

There are some stop-and-go moments, Moving Pictures-era, ascending rhythms, and flying towards the sun moments that just gives them a chance of a lifetime to spread their wings and head towards the light. The only small criticism I have is the opening track, Faith.

Now it is a terrific introduction that gives the engine all revved up and the drums rumbling, and some thundering guitars also done by guest musicians Dave North and Van Wilks, but I could tell that Aaron was struggling to hit that high note in the bridge of the midsection of the song, but it’s almost as if he nearly strained his vocals with it. I wish that he could lowered it down a little bit and give his voice a chance to relax. But it is a killer introduction to start the album off.

Absent Lovers which was inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey, is a moody composition. Filled with a classical guitar and haprischord introduction filled with a string section and the mellotron (in which at times I would say Mellotron’s galore!). The song has this structure of getting away from the madness of what has happened behind closed doors and being free from the scenery and avoiding the scenario before bursting the door down in the midsection.

Wild Hunters has this mid-‘80s New Wave sound. Like a cross between the combination of both Peter Gabriel and Danny Elfman doing a collaboration during the sessions of So and So-Lo, the bass riffs done by Devin North along with Kevin Chin and Dave North doing some incredible guitar work through space and time. It has this score of a sequence straight from the Library sequence where Emilio Estevez’s character does this incredible dance sequence before closing the door whilst screaming to break the glass in John Hughes’ 1985 classic, The Breakfast Club.

Aaron Clift has shown no sign of stopping. He and his band members have brought a light of hope at the end of the tunnel with the new album, If All Goes Wrong. The Experiment have almost finally reached Emerald City in the land of Oz after following the long yellow brick road to see where their goal will reach them towards.

Kearin Cook’s artwork of the album cover, has this tug towards Miyazaki’s third film from the title-track on the album. If All Goes Wrong took me about six or seven times listening to this album. Now is it The Aaron Clift Experiment’s greatest album? No, but it is a very good release this year. And I hope Aaron continues to do more amazing work for many, many years to come.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Security Project - Contact

It’s been a good while since I reviewed another live release from one of the most mind-blowing tribute bands honoring the solo career of Peter Gabriel. Last year, they released their third live album entitled, Contact. The concerts were recorded between the States in November of 2016 and in Japan in April of last year. I’ve always admired of what Security Project has been doing by honoring Gabriel’s work to show more and staying true to his vision.

In October of 2016, Happy Rhodes took over vocal duties and taking over Brian Cummins who appeared on the first two Security Project releases (Live 1 and Live 2). When I first heard Security Project’s music back around that time frame in 2016, I was completely spellbound on how they captured Gabriel’s career work. And while they threw in some of the work he did with Genesis including two of the tracks from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, I knew right away this was not just a tribute band, but keeping the vision of Peter Gabriel’s machine going.

There are 11 tracks on Contact. One of which is a Kate Bush composition from her fifth studio album in 1985, Hounds of Love. The reinterpretations of the classics bring new life and seeing where Security Project will take them next into. Happy Rhodes’ vocals on Mother Stands for Comfort, is one of the most smoothing and ominous compositions thanks to Trey Gunn’s touch guitar that creates this jazzy scenario as Cozzi’s marching guitar rhythm takes a walk into the unknown.

The walking into the mysterious jungle of the wild on No Self Control is walking through a dangerous maze with traps. Jerry Marotta’s percussion adds the tension and the danger that comes with it and watching your step after the maze. If you make one wrong step, you’re dead. The music adds the tension as the vocals of the titled line is a chilling response and knowing that the pain can be excruciating.

Security Project delve into the waters of King Crimson’s THRAK-era with the song, Intruder. Rhodes makes you feel as if she’s hypnotizing you while Cozzi, Marotta, and Jameson created these visual mysterious effects as if something terrible is creeping up behind you and the danger is towards the victim and there’s no chance in hell of escaping.

Jameson’s keyboards set up the scenario of the News crew arriving to see what is happening to know what is true or false and knowing that the killer is ready to hunt its next target before the rhythm section sets up the intensity of what he’s doing next on the haunting version of Family Snapshot. The seguing between Games without Frontiers and Of These, Hope from the score of Scorsese’s 1987 controversial classic, The Last Temptation of Christ, is an interesting combination.

You have the twist of war along with the diplomacy being a children’s game and the line “Jeux Sans Frontieres” and becoming this cat-and-mouse section of what to do in case of the dangers the politicians doing one thing wrong after another it suddenly changes as the atmosphere becomes ambient as Marotta and Cozzi follow suit and knowing that the rope is close to being loose and there’s about 25 seconds to climb up.

It gave me chills when I listen to this. It felt at times like a suite of the two Gabriel compositions and knowing that Security Project got it nailed down on wood. This is my fourth and fifth time listening to Contact. And I have to say I’m very impressed of what they’ve accomplished and I hope one day they come to Texas. This is worth checking out and they’ll start touring at the late end of May on the 24th at Woodstock, NY at the Bearsville Theater to a two-day gig in Canada between Toronto and Montreal.

So if you admire the first four albums of Peter Gabriel's solo career before hitting the big time with So, please check out Security Project which they'll appear at the Bearsville Theater in Woodstock, NY on Thursday May the 24th. You won’t be disappointed.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Chris Squire - Fish Out of Water

By 1975, Yes already achieved success with The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge, Tales from Topographic Oceans, and Relayer. By that time period, the band took a hiatus after they finished touring during the promotion for Relayer as they decided to focus on solo projects. Steve Howe released Beginnings, Patrick Moraz did The Story of I, Alan White released Ramshackled, and Jon Anderson did his mind-boggling release of Olias of Sunhillow.

But then Chris Squire released his debut Fish Out of Water. Originally released on the Atlantic label in November of 1975, Chris’ debut album was like a breath of fresh air. And for him, on the album showing Squire’s support including Bill Bruford, Patrick Moraz, King Crimson’s Mel Collins, Caravan’s Jimmy Hastings, and childhood friend Andrew Pryce Jackman, who was with Chris in his first band, The Syn, worked on the orchestration for the album.

Hermann Hesse once said, “Solitude is Independence.” Squire knew he achieve his independency both of the bands and now in the solo chair. And since dawning upon this album back when I was in Houston Community College 11 years ago, and nearly forgot about until Esoteric making the announcement of reissuing Chris’ magnum opus, it was time to ride up on the ship once more by both discovering and the understanding that he was more than just an incredible bass player, and more than just being a member of both The Syn and Yes.

The name, Fish Out of Water, means that Chris whose nickname was “Fish”, wanted to be away from the Yes context and be “Out of Water”. For him to open the door to show the landscapes and beyond the topographic oceans that were close to the edge.

This year, Esoteric Recordings have brought the doors open and bringing Chris’ legacy alive with the amazing 2-CD reissue set that the first disc contains the new stereo mix by King Crimson’s Jakko Jakszyk, the second disc containing the original mix, and four bonus tracks including single versions (Lucky Seven and Silently Falling), and A and B-sides (Run with the Fox and Return of the Fox) of a Christmas single that he did with Alan White.

The opener Hold Out Your Hand, featuring the St. Paul cathedral organ done by organist Barry Rose and Squire’s killer introduction from his Rickenbacker before Bruford kicking into overdrive thanks to Jakko’s mix as the clavinet come to the center as Chris sings “You can feel it/coming with the morning light/And you know the feelings/gonna make you feel alright/Almost close enough to Hold Out your Hand/span the distance/store resistance/to attack is to retreat.

The lyrics have a spirituality vibration as if Chris is giving the listener to search for their inner self and be at peace with themselves to move forward. Jackman’s orchestration is lifting and soaring to be following Squire’s vocalizations and heading upwards to the heavens before coming back down to Earth by seguing into a romantic ballad of You By My Side.

Chris and Jackman share this emotional walking line that they do between their instruments. Chris’ lyrics tugs your heart as he’s bringing love and hope throughout his singing. And knowing that he’s always by your side and understanding that a brand new day is upon them.

The flutes are clearer in the new mix along with the Tubular Bells and its gives this warmth feeling that is almost letting the listener that everything’s going to be okay. The horn sections that Jackman’s arrangement gives, is in one word, hope. Silently Falling feels like something straight out of the sessions between Close to the Edge and The Moody Blues’ In Search of the Lost Chord.

I feel this nod to Ray Thomas’ flute playing that Jimmy Hastings does as if he’s honoring Ray’s improvisation as Chris opens the door to see what lies ahead between the band and the piano work as if the heavens are opening up for us to see what is to come. The improvisations shine brightly throughout the midsection as Squire gives each of the members some free-rein including some incredible organ work.

While Jackman helps out, Chris is very much like a conductor. And what he does is that he gives them ideas and some brainstorm moments by giving directions on where he wants them to go next. And it’s a great opportunity for his support team by letting him know, they’ve got his back. Lucky Seven is the song being in the time signature of 7/8. First it starts off with some Rhodes-like intro before Squire, Bruford, and Jackman go into space and time.

Mel Collins helps out on the controls through his sax while you hear this clapping rhythm in the background throughout the midsection as Bill himself is laying down some incredible work on his kit. Mel creates these improvisations throughout his sax as if he’s making sure the ship is ready to head back towards Earth. Knowing that he’s got back up, he and the members give Chris an amazing landing.

The closing track, Safe (Canon Song), is taking an example of closing the book and starting a new chapter. You have this amazing pastoral introduction from the string and harp section before Chris sings “When your savior lets you down/who will mind?/when your lover turns around/joy in the morning/love in the stars/peace and understanding/standing right beside you when you’re walking down the street/walk in time.

The symphonic beauty gives this warmth sun rising atmosphere as if a new day has arrived. And everything has to come full circle. Jackman’s arrangements really bring the hope of the new beginning. It’s a shape-shifting composition clocking in at 15-minutes and it is a great finale to close the album off. The bonus tracks on the second disc as I’ve mentioned earlier contains the original mix, single versions, and two bonus tracks that were released as singles in October of 1981 containing Run with the Fox and the instrumental version of Return of the Fox featuring Nikki Squire on vocals.

The song has this pop flavored touch that you can imagine this could have been written during the sessions for Supertramp’s Crisis? What Crisis? Squire and Alan White do well on the Christmas single and makes you feel that you were home on that December snowy evening to watch the trees, having hot cocoa, and opening your presents while seeing the snow coming down outside.

The 24-page booklet contains liner notes by Sid Smith describing the history of the album, interviews with Bill Bruford, Gregg Jackman (Andrew’s brother), Patrick Moraz, and Jakko Jakszyk about the album. Jakko’s new stereo mix on disc one is like a breath of fresh air. He’s not trying to re-write history on the album, but to honor Squire’s legacy and staying true to the multi-tracks on disc one.

He brings clarity that’s on Fish Out of Water. And I can imagine Chris would have been thrilled of seeing his 1975 solo album bring another life and Esoteric Recordings brings it back to give Chris the recognition he deserves. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “Life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself.