Category Archives: CD Reviews

Wonderful Return of The Gardening Club

The Gardening Club – “The Riddle” (Gonzo, 2018)

Progressive rock band The Gardening Club recorded its new album at producer and guitarist Norm Macpherson’s Garry Oak Studios in Metchosin, British Columbia in Canada. This place, encircled by woods and near the Pacific Ocean, was a great place for composing and recording the new record.

Most of the music on The Riddle is by guitarist and vocalist Martin Springett. He delivers a wonderful set of slide guitar performances that add an enchanting bluesy feel to the band’s particular style of folk-influenced progressive rock. The vocals sometimes recall the Strawbs and Echolyn as well.

The Gardening Club – “The Riddle

Guitar play an essential role in this album featuring the slide guitar as well as exquisite acoustic and electric guitar interplay between Martin and Norm Macpherson.

Although we associate heavy use of keyboards with progressive rock, the keyboards here appear in the form of a handful of delightful synth solos.

“The Riddle” also features a few saxophone solos. The smooth jazz saxophone is too sappy and breaks the magic of the album. Having two great guitarists is more than plenty and much more satisfying.

The lineup includes Martin Springett on vocals and guitars; Sean Drabitt on fretless electric bass; Norm Macpherson on guitars; Norm’s son, James Macpherson on drums and keyboards; and Wayne Kozak on saxophone.

Martin Springett is also well-known as an illustrator. He created the beautiful artwork for the CD version of the album.

Buy “The Riddle” in North America

Buy “The Riddle” in Europe

A Celebration of Progressive Rock Bass Mastery

Various Artists – A Life In Yes: The Chris Squire Tribute (Purple Pyramid, 2018)

A Life In Yes: The Chris Squire Tribute honors the work of the late Squire, who was the longtime bassist of progressive rock masters Yes. Chris Squire performed some of the most memorable bass solos in progressive rock history.

This project was produced by multi-instrumentalist and Squire’s friend Billy Sherwood. He did a great job this time, recruiting a truly impressive cast of first rate musicians: Todd Rundgren, Steve Porcaro (Toto), Annie Haslam (Renaissance), John Wesley (Porcupine Tree), Sonja Kistina (Curved Air), Patrick Moraz (Yes, The Moody Blues), Steve Stevens (Billy Idol), Dweezil Zappa, Steve Hogarth (Marillion), Larry Fast (Synergy), Jon Davison (Yes, Glass Hammer), Brian Auger, and David Sancious (Jeff Beck, Bruce Springsteen).

The song selection is interesting, with several tracks from Tormato and Fragile, plus pieces from other Yes albums and a few curiosities.

As one would expect, A Life In Yes: The Chris Squire Tribute highlights the electric bass, performed by Billy Sherwood. He’s an outstanding instrumentalist, who shines when he ventures into real progressive rock.

The first track is the solidly progressive rock composition “On Silent Wings of Freedom: which appeared on the album Tormato (1978). This fabulous version features Jon Davison on vocals; Billy Sherwood on bass, guitar, backing vocals; Jay Schellen on drums; and Patrick Moraz on keyboards.

Track 2 is “Hold Out Your Hand” from Chris Squire’s first solo album Fish Out of Water. It is a very Yes-sounding song with superb bass work. The lineup here is Steve Hogarth on vocals; Larry Fast on keyboards; Billy Sherwood on bass, guitar; and Jay Schellen on drums.

The beautifully-melodic “Onward” appeared on Tormato. The Jon Anderson vocals are replaced on this occasion by the great Annie Haslam (Renaissance). The rest of the band includes Billy Sherwood on bass, excellent slide guitar, keyboards, and backing vocals; and Jay Schellen on drums.

Track 4, “South Side of The Sky” is the Yes progressive rock classic from the album Fragile (1971). The fierce rock guitar is played by Steve Stevens. The rest of the band: Billy Sherwood on vocals, bass; David Sancious on keyboards; Steve Stevens on guitar; and Jay Schellen on drums.

“The Fish” is a knockout electric bass fest, also from the album Fragile. Hats off to Sherwood for his bass work here. His colleagues here are Sonja Kristina on vocals; and Jay Schellen on drums.

Track 6 is from Yes’ least appealing era. “The More We Live – Let Go” appeared in the pop-leaning Union album (1991). It features Billy Sherwood on vocals, bass; Steve Hackett on guitar; Steve Porcaro on keyboards; and Jay Schellen on drums

The tribute returns to genuine progressive rock on track 7, “Parallels” from the Going for the One album (1977). Once more, the bass lines are by Sherwood are exceptional. The band: Jon Davison on vocals; Tony Kaye on keyboards; Billy Sherwood on bass, guitar; and Jay Schellen on drums.

Track 8, “Owner Of A Lonely Heart,” from the album 90125 (1983) was one of Yes’ greatest hits. This was a time when Yes moved away from progressive rock and embraced radio friendly AOR. The best of this version is Dweezil Zappa’s skillful guitar solo. The lineup here: Nikki Squire on vocals; Dweezil Zappa on guitar; Billy Sherwood on bass, keyboardss; and Jay Schellen on drums.

Another classic, and radio hit, is “Roundabout,” from Fragile. This striking version includes Todd Rundgren on vocals; John Wesley on guitar; Tony Kaye on keyboards; Billy Sherwood on bass; and Jay Schellen on drums.

Track 10, “Don’t Kill the Whale” was included in Tormato. It holds special significance now that several countries have disgracefully decided to hunt whales again. The unmistakable Brian Auger provides the stand out organ solo here. The other artists: Candice Night on vocals; Billy Sherwood on bass; and Jay Schellen on drums.

The album contains two bonus tracks. Track 11 is “The Technical Divide” from the supergroup The Prog Collective, featuring Chris Squire, Alan Parsons, David Sancious, Gary Green and Billy Sherwood. By the way, more pop-leaning than progressive.

The final track is “Comfortably Numb” from Pink Floyd’s The Wall. The musicians here are: Chris Squire, Alan White and Billy Sherwood.

Buy A Life In Yes: The Chris Squire Tribute

Roine Stolt’s Epic Alchemy and Social Conscience

Roine Stolt’s The Flower King – Manifesto of an Alchemist (Inside Out Music, 2018)

Swedish guitarist, composer and progressive rock marvel Roin Stolt is a prolific artists who has been involved in numerous projects as band leader or as part of super bands: The Flower Kings, Transatlantic, Agents of Mercy, and Kaipa DC. His latest project is called Roine Stolt’s The Flower King, which is a subtle way to clarify that this is a solo endeavor rather than a new Flower Kings album.

Although many identify Roine Stolt as a progressive rock musician (which he is), the multi-faceted artists is also influenced by classic rock, blues and jazz.

The album begins with a short atmospheric piece titled Rainsong. This is followed by the least favorite song on the album, Lost America, which is a classic rock/hard rock song with catchy hooks.
Progressive rock starts trickling in with “Ze Pawns,” a track with dreamy keyboards and mesmerizing slide guitar. The introspective vocals recall the work by Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters.

High Road is one of the finest pieces on the album, symphonic progressive rock at its best; full of memorable and beautiful electric guitar work.

Rio Grande is an instrumental epic with outstanding guitar, drums and keyboard work, including evocative mellotron.

Next To A Hurricane is a happy, sing-along song with pop and jazz harmonies.

On The Alchemist, another instrumental, Roine Stolt incorporates jazz fusion, Zappaesque zaniness and blues, including interplay with saxophonist Rob Townsend.

Baby Angels is a sweet song with unexpected ukulele.

Thirty Wakeup sounds like a tribute to Focus’ signature classically-rooted instrumentals, with Roine’s guitar joined by electric organ and flute.

Roine Stolt has a great ability at making epic progressions. The Spell of Money is an instant-epic that feels familiar right from the dramatic beginning. It combines superb musicianship with politics and social criticism about the dark side of money.

The album includes Roine Stolt on lead vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, bass, ukulele and drums; Hans “Hasse” Fröberg on vocals; Nad Sylvan on vocals; Max Lorentz on vocals and Hammond B3; Zach Kamins on organ, Moog synth and Mellotron; Rob Townsend on soprano saxophone and flute; Michael Stolt on bass and vocals; Jonas Reingold on fretted and fretless basses; and Marco Minnemann on drums

The album is available in various formats: limited edition CD digipak, Gatefold 180g 2LP + CD and as digital download.

Buy Manifesto of an Alchemist

Arabs in Aspic Live At Avantgarden in Trondheim

Arabs in Aspic – Live At Avantgarden (Apollon Records, 2018)

Live At Avantgarden showcases the energy and talent of Norwegian progressive rock band Arabs in Aspic. This the seventh album by the band from Trondheim and its first live recording in a familiar and friendly environment.

Throughout the album, Arabs in Aspic delight the listener with a vintage sound that recalls the finest groups of the early 1970s. The band uses the exquisite mellotron generously and skillfully, along with notable electric organ and guitar work, plus a formidable rhythm section.

The influences range from the memorable progressive rock of Pink Floyd and King Crimson to the classic hard rock of Uriah Heep.

The lineup includes Jostein Smeby on guitar, vocals; Stig Arve Kvam Jørgensen on Hammond organ, mellotron, synths, piano, vocals; Erik Paulsen on bass, vocals; Eskil Nyhus on drums, percussion; and Alessandro Elide-Metal on percussion.

Buy Live At Avantgarden

Dramatic Instrumental Rock

Alizarin – Cast Zenith (2018)

Alizarin is an instrumental rock trio from Los Angeles. On their album Cast Zenith, the band delivers a fabulous set of tracks that showcase the talent of guitar wizard Josh Kay, supported by a formidable rhythm section that includes Jon Damon on drums and Steve Ostaszewski on bass.

The music ranges from progressive rock to fusion, and guitar-hero rock. Although the music gets very intense at times, thankfully there is no prog metal.

Acclaimed keyboardist Adam Holzman makes a guest appearance, playing synths on two tracks.

Guitar Genius Dewa Budjana Dazzles Again

Dewa Budjana – Mahandini (Moonjune Records/Bukalapak, 2018)

Indonesian guitarist Dewa Budjana continues to demonstrate why he’s one of the finest guitarists in the jazz and rock scenes. He’s a prolific artist who has recorded and collaborated with some of the biggest names in the progressive jazz and rock fields.

Dewa Budjana has explored various musical genres in past albums. On Mahandini, he incorporates harder edged music. He rocks out throughout the album with a dazzling mix of progressive rock, jazz fusion, Indian vocal percussion (konnakol), transfixing Balinese traditional music and some hard rock.

His colleagues this time are multi-faceted keyboardist Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Marco Minnemann (The Aristocrats, Steven Wilson, Joe Satriani), and extraordinary Indian bassist and rising talent Mohini Dey.

The guests include the unmistakable vocals of rock star John Frusciante (Red Hot Chilli Peppers) on two tracks, fusion guitar virtuoso Mike Stern (Miles Davis, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Billy Cobham, Jaco Pastorius) and the enchanting vocals of Indonesian singer Soimah.

Dewa Budjana’s wide range of guitar sounds and techniques is truly impressive with masterfully-crafted melodies and solos, spectacular shredding and exquisite slide guitar.

Buy Mahandini

The Fusion Marvels of Barxeta II

Per Mathisen, Jan Gunnar Hoff and Horacio “El Negro” Hernández – Barxeta II (Losen Records, 2018)

The Barxeta series revolves around two exceptional instrumentalists and composers, bassist Per Mathisen and keyboardist Jan Gunnar Hoff. This is state of the art jazz fusion featuring outstanding instrumental performances inspired by some of the finest acts: Return to Forever, Weather Report, Pat Metheny, and others.

On Barxeta, rhythm is also essential. On volume II, Hoff and Mathisen invited Cuban maestro Horacio “El Negro” Hernández, one of the most reputable drummers in the jazz and Cuban music scene. Horacio’s drums are a perfect fit.

Throughout the album, the listener is treated to masterful bass work, captivating piano and superb synthesizer work by Jan Gunnar Hoff, and the creative drumming of Horacio “El Negro” Hernández.
Barxeta is a recording studio in eastern Spain and a great place to realize the ideas of this talented group of musicians. Per Mathisen promises more Barxeta releases in the next years.

Buy Barxeta II

New Editions of All Three “Phenomena” AOR Rock Concept Albums

Phenomena

Phenomena, an easy listening rock and pop music concept album series envisioned by record producer Tom Galley and his brother, guitarist Mel Galley, is now available in brand new editions. The contributors were leading rock musicians like Brian May (Queen), John Wetton (King Crimson, Asia), Glenn Hughes (Trapeze), Don Airey (Deep Purple), Mel Galley (Whitesnake), Neil Murray (Whitesnake, Black Sabbath) and Cozy Powell (The Jeff Beck Group, Rainbow) among others.

Phenomena released three albums in the 1980s and early 1990s, and had a number one hit single in South America with “Did It All For Love,” while the album charted throughout Europe, in Japan and Brazil.

 

Phenomena II Dream Runner

 

Phenomena III – Innervision

 

 

The Phenomena series presents ear friendly, toe tapping rock with pop hooks and catchy melodies.

Buy Phenomena, Phenomena II Dream Runner and Phenomena III – Innervision in North America

Dina El Wedidi Explores Ambience and the Sounds of Trains

Dina El Wedidi – Slumber (Kirkelig Kulturverksted, 2018)

Egyptian artist Dina El Wedidi is known as a vocalist, composer and percussionist who performs world music rooted in Egyptian tradition. Her new album Slumber takes her in a totally new direction.

On Slumber, Dina El Wedidi enters the world of electronic music and sound experimentation in the studio. For two years, she worked with the sounds from various Egyptian train stations, people in the streets and moving trains, including train whistles. The result is a set of electronically processed music featuring ambient music layers, trance-like percussion generated by trains and Dina El Wedidi’s dream-like vocals.

Dina El Wedidi’s previous recordings include Aswan (2013), Jinja (2014) and Turning Back – Tedawar W’Tergaa (2014).

Slumber is a transfixing, masterfully-crafted and accessible experimental album by the multifaceted Egyptian artist Dina El Wedidi.

Buy Slumber in North America

Buy Slumber in Europe

Entrancing Ambience from Laraaji, Arji OceAnanda and Dallas Acid

Laraaji • Arji OceAnanda • Dallas Acid – Arrive Without Leaving (2018)

Arrive Without Leaving is a fascinating collaboration that brings together various artists involved with acoustic and electronic ambient music, minimalism and sounds explorations.

On Arrive Without Leaving, Laraaji, Arji OceAnanda and Dallas Acid take the listener on a spellbinding voyage through mesmeric music, combining evolving electronic layers, mystical flutes and Laraaji’s signature sound on the electrified zither.

The lineup includes Laraaji on electrified zither, mbira, percussion, electronics, voice, ThumbJam electric violin, samples; Arji OceAnanda on percussion, ThumbJam strings, ThumbJam flute, Peruvian cacho seed pods, hand chimes, mbira, shakers; and Dallas Acid, featuring Linda Beecroft on steel tongue drum, gong; Michael Gerner on Moog synthesizers and Mellotron; and Christian Havins
Pn Moog synthesizers and Mellotron.

Buy Arrive Without Leaving