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Friday, June 11, 2021

Gentle Giant - Free Hand


In 2012, during the time at the beginning of promotions for Prog Magazine’s compilation of Prog Rocks! Ray Shulman describes the origins on their seventh studio album Free Hand. “The idea was to kind of get back to our roots. We lost my brother Phil. He left for the fourth album. And so it was an idea to get back to our roots and go back to the kind of writing style in our earlier albums.”

There’s no denying that Free Hand is quite a leap forward for Gentle Giant to take it a step further by having all the creativity they had done. From the swirling label of the Vertigo label to signing with Chrysalis Records, Free Hand was also one of their most successful releases. Reaching the top 50 in the Billboard album charts, this shows how much they have come a long way.

Now in a new reissue from the Alucard label and remixed by Steven Wilson who had done their previous work including Octopus, The Power and the Glory, and the Three Piece Suite, it is time to take a trip down memory lane by focusing on why this band are deserving more recognition and were often under the radar in the Progressive Rock genre.

From the moment you listen to groovy introduction of Just The Same you feel the synthesizer solo work done by Kerry Minnear taking it a step further by channeling his Herbie Hancock approach before the vibrations of the clapping rhythm going back and forth, it is quite a swinging tune that Derek sings in that style as if it was returning to the 1930s of vaudeville and a bit of Leonard Bernstein to kick things off.

On Reflection starts with the introduction of the vocals going back and forth between Ray, Derek, Gary, and Kerry going into this complicated approach on the acapella sequence as if they were returning to their Octopus-era before the melodic piano, glockenspiel, and vibraphones done by Kerry, gives some insight to honor the grand wazoo himself, Frank Zappa.

The first two minutes gives you an insight on a trip to the medieval period for Kerry reflecting the good memories of school friends, and the best parts of your child hood as if Minnear himself has become a multiplicity version of himself that Wilson goes for the jugular to bring the two versions of Kerry singing a duet before the heavier rocking approach done by Gary and Ray go into a duel with his keyboards.

The title-track becomes a cat-and-mouse introduction between Kerry laddering effect and Ray’s climbing upwards and downwards on his bass before it transforms a dueling clavinet battle to be free from the torture and learning how to fight back once and for all. I can tell throughout on the new mixes on the third composition shows the guitars, drums, and bass are really cooking as it goes into a hot boiling temperature by giving Gentle Giant’s way of cooking, a hot and spicy flavor with some renaissance-like twists for the lemon that is pouring into the soup!

Time To Kill features I believe the first video game with the sound effects of Atari’s PONG before the sinister nightmares of the pounding piano, thunderous drums and guitars setting up the crime scene on what just happened. Derek is our detective lending our help with his Mundy partner on foot, seeing where the criminal has left some clues and mysteries to solve the case by bringing the killer with some complexing justice in an operatic approach. As Gary brings some of the most brutal arrangements into the forefront, Weathers and Minnear make their instruments sound like a gun battle between the police and the criminal in a final showdown.

His Last Voyage gives Steven a chance to have Kerry come into the forefront in his mixing. With a bit of the reverbing effects, it is a journey into the man’s life as he goes on his last journey into finding his inner self. He and Ray blend well in this mournful waltz-like sequence, knowing that there’s no turning back once he leaves his country to one day find peace with some unexpected changes throughout Gary and John’s motif throughout the song.

And then it becomes a Miles David-sque ending for the band to come out swinging with a Kind of Blue finale channeling the introduction of All Blues. Gary knows how to nail those wah-wah bluesy effects by nailing the hammers down as he makes his guitar cry out to the gods at the end as it becomes a climatic finale with a fanfare vibration.

Talybont. Now this is where the medieval vibrations come into the center. Channeling the styles of Gryphon’s Red Queen to Gryphon Three, Gentle Giant haven’t forgotten their renaissance roots from their first two albums as it comes out swinging. Between Clavinet, recorder, and violin goes from medieval, classical, and heavy rocking vibrations that gives the band a lot of team work.

Mobile is a nod to the Celtic Rock influences that has a Folk-Rock arrangement. You can imagine Derek is dancing the jig town to town. With a nod to Steeleye Span and Horslips, they have a way to show respect to the genre by taking it a whole new level of moving forwards into the future.

Steven’s mixes on this album are quite intriguing. I loved how he would bring the instruments and vocals through various locations on the EQ by honoring the band’s legacy. There will be a dividing line in the sand on whether they will accept Steven’s new mix on the album or not, but here, Free Hand is the real deal.



Sunday, June 6, 2021

A Sweet Niche - WIRES


A Sweet Niche is the work of Keir Cooper and Olly Sellwood. Like a cross between Jazz, Alternative, and Intensive Rock, Keir and Olly have known each other since childhood. Olly has played with several artists from the Bad Elephant label including active members of Knifeworld’s own Charlie Cawood and Chrome Hoof’s Emmett Elvin. Not only that but he’s also played with Necro Deathmort and Vodun while Keir performs with the London-based band Yossarian and Chris Brett Bailey’s guitar sextet TMWKFBIMGYL.

They have started out as Eye Music. The first output for Baritone Sax, Guitar, and Drums. And then Eye Music 2. Joining A Sweet Niche is drummer Tim Doyle. WIRES is a knock-out release from 2019. It is like a powder keg ready to erupt at any second. From the influences between Faust, WorldService Project, Diablo Swing Orchestra, Henry Cow, Captain Beefheart, and the first three Soft Machine albums with a fuzztone aspect by honoring Mike Ratledge.

There are moments where we are living in the nightmarish dystopian landscape after everything came to a screeching halt in March of last year when the pandemic and COVID-19 hit. And A Sweet Niche carries some of those expertise. As a listener, you can imagine yourself walking on a dangerous tightrope. And from beginning to end, you may never know if Keir and Olly might cut the rope at any second.

Crossed over between the Rock In Opposition movement, Punk, Poetry, and Avant-Rock, they have cooked something hot and spicy inside their kitchen by giving Gordon Ramsay the big giant middle finger. Olly’s sax at times channels Lol Coxhill, David Jackson from Van der Graaf Generator, Lindsay Cooper, John Coltrane, and Univers Zero’s bassoonist Michel Berkmans.

I always imagine that not only A Sweet Niche transfuse Punk and Jazz, but listening to some of the legends of RIO bands while preparing WIRES. There’s Art Zoyd, Guapo, Magma, and honoring the late great Roger Trigaux of Present. I loved the two-part epic on Don Quijote. It becomes sort of like the last stand for the noble to envision his knightly story.

Chaotic, complex, alarming, and tensed, they bring the tragic hero of La Mancha with these haunting background themes on how much Quijote has become his own worst enemy. Vocals add more boiling temperatures that makes Sweet Niche’s arrangements even hotter!

Chantal Brown’s soulful take on The Art of Cultivation, tips her hat with a swinging attack honoring the late great Nina Simone while Eleanor Sikorski’s poetic mind of Allen Ginsberg adds the danger that is coming from the outside world for the Hungerstrike. But once Luke Toms challenging combination between vocals and the instruments on What Pulls You Back, gives Sweet Niche more ammunition than ever!

WIRES is a roller-coaster ride from beginning to end. As I’ve mentioned earlier, it is a challenging debut that A Sweet Niche have unleashed, but holy shit in a fucking handbag! They are out of this world!



Saturday, June 5, 2021

Potter's Daughter - Casually Containing Rage


Formed in New York City as Dyanne Potter Voegtlin was a student at the Manhattan School of Music studying classical piano performance, Potter’s Daughter not only do performances in the Big Apple but in the northeastern side of Pennsylvania. They have released their 2018 studio debut on the Melodic Revolution label entitled, The Blind Side. And now they have a new album in the works coming out this fall called, Close to Nearby with guest drummer, Simon Philips.

Last year during the pandemic, they released an EP called, Casually Containing Rage. Three songs that includes a Warren Zevon cover, this was my introduction to the music of Dyanne and Jan-Christian’s music. For me, it was quite an experience since it’s been many years I listened to something from Nick Katona’s label. For me, to open the door to the Melodic label once more, it’s putting one foot into another.

The opening track of To My Love which is a re-arrangement of the sixth track from The Blind Side, it starts off with a middle-eastern mellowing take from The Savage Rose’s two studio albums between the sole self-titled debut and In The Plain in the late ‘60s, Dyanne pours her heart and soul singing to the gods once more.

And all of a sudden, it transforms into a laid-back groove with Patrick’s drum work and Jan’s calming Bass lines while Dyanne tips her hat to the late great Freddie Mercury by channeling the reverbing vocal works on Queen’s The Prophet’s Song from A Night at the Opera. Once Amit’s oceanic guitars fill the salty waters, it cuts to an abandoned area of an art deco movie theater that has now becomes a ghost town.

The cover of Warren Zevon’s Accidentally Like a Martyr from his third 1978 studio album, Excitable Boy, is a heartfelt tribute to the singer-songwriter. While I’m not the biggest fan of Warren’s music, it fits well with Dyanne’s vocals as she looks up to the angelic skies knowing that Warren is watching her, carrying that beautiful arrangement of the song throughout the EP thanks to Jan’s bluesy textures.

The closing track might be one of Potter’s Daughter’s controversial piece called, We Could Be. It tackles the news reports from NPR’s David Greene on the death of George Floyd who was murdered by Police Officer Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020, is a haunting composition. Whether you agree with this piece or not, you have to give Dyanne a huge amount of credit for tackling this subject.

With its electro-jazz arrangement, the struggle to bringing peace and understanding without violence, is a big, big challenge as Jan has a little split second on the Guitar Synthesizers honoring the late great Allan Holdsworth. Casually Containing Rage is sort of the peak on what is to come for Potter’s Daughter’s next studio album this coming fall.

It will be quite a revelation to see and understand Dyanne’s wings have finally spread by flying over the clouds and seeing the good and bad situations from the outside world on Earth. She might one day bring peace and happiness to our home planet. And with their EP released last year, it will get you going to see what Potter's Daughter will have in store for us on Close to Nearby.




Wax Mekanix - Mobocracy


Wax Mekanix is a name you probably may or may not recognize. One of the founding members of cult rockers Nitro, Mekanix has been writing and recording music for forty years, his music can be both raw and bold. And his latest release on the Electric Talon label entitled Mobocracy, is a pure brutal machine gun metallic release last year.

From the opening track of Blood In Your Eyes, there are some fanfare midsections with blistering guitars and drums that take us into some spacey outer limit reverb effects, followed by rising sequences to raise a lot of hell. Victorious has a dooming post-apocalyptic vibe tackling the theme for survival of the fittest.

Part Budgie and part Dee Snider, it is an epic battle with a metal operatic roar to be a part of a fight club with knocked down brawl with some heavier solo sections while All Freaks has a ‘70s rising Glam Rock stomper. The introduction has this Hendrix-sque intro as Wax channels a sing-along type style of Budgie’s Homicidal Suicidal at times.

With the ignition for lift-off, Mad World has this nod to Peter Hammill’s lyrical textures as if he’s channeling Van der Graaf Generator’s Killer with a booming fast-sped action sequence of thrashing guitars that becomes a climatic duel between good and evil. Ghostland tackles the subject by facing your own demons. Tidal drumming that makes you go surfing at the right momentum, it’s a neo-psychedelia atmosphere as it goes into a deep, dark area as the victims confront the abusers and knowing that there’s no turning back now.

Closer, Black sees Wax honoring the late great Ennio Morricone on The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. With a dark spaghetti western theme and flamenco vibes of Ottmar Liebert with some hand-clapping rhythm section, it becomes an intense tango with some difficult sceneries that can keep you guessing until the end.

Mobocracy will take some time to get into. But for Wax, he got me intrigued to see what he cooked inside the kitchen. And it is a combination between Doom, Power, Thrash, and Avant-Metal. It is all here!