Category Archives: CD Reviews

Battle Scars

Galahad – Battle Scars
Galahad

Battle Scars (Avalon Records, 2012)

British progressive rock band Galahad is one of the survivors of the second wave of British progressive rock bands of the 1980s. This was the era that some call neoprog. Galahad is known for taking risks and going in new directions in every new album.

I have mixed feelings about this release. The vocals and keyboards are outstanding throughout the album. However, the band seems to have been infected with the prog metal bug and has added hard rock and heavy metal guitar riffs, making the music less attractive for a progressive rock audience.

Battle Scars opens with beautiful symphonic keyboards, whispered vocals and mellotron. At around minute 3:30, the band switches to hard rock guitars that are of little interest.

Track 2, ‘Reach for the Sun,’ brings more of the hard rocking guitars, although you can also find superb keyboard and electronic music work.

‘Singularity’ uses captivating electronic beats and string synths as well as the same old hard rock riffs. However, at a certain point, guitarist Roy Keyworth breaks away from prog metal slavery and treats the listener to fine solo guitar work.

Track 4, ‘Bitter and Twisted’, sticks to you. It has a catchy hard rock feel with some interesting synth moments.

Some of the best vocal work appears on ‘Suspended Animation’, where you can also find notable organ passages and guitar melodies.

The highlight of the album is ‘Beyond the Barbed Wire,’ where once more we find outstanding keyboard dexterity and where the electric guitar breaks away from the hard rock mold.

Keyboards and guitars fight it out on track 7, ‘Seize the Day.’

The album concludes with the remake of one of the band’s classic tunes, titled ‘Sleepers 2012.’

I hope you like what we have come up with, and if you know us well you’ll realize that we try and make each album different from the previous one, but still include certain Galahad traits,” says vocalist Stuart Nicholson. “Plus, I’d like to thank all those who have shown patience and stuck with us – it is greatly appreciated by the band.”

The 2012 lineup of Galahad includes Stuart Nicholson on vocals; Roy Keyworth on guitars; Spenser Luckman on drums; Neil Pepper on bass, guitar & keyboards; Dean Baker on keyboards.

Unlive From A Dead City

Tin Scribble – Unlive From A Dead City
Tin Scribble

Unlive From A Dead City (2011)

Guitarist and vocalist Michael Allen Moore leads Tin Scribble, a progressive rock band from Detroit. Unlive From A Dead City has a dark and introspective feel overall: in the lyrics, musical atmospheres and even the cover of the album. The group’s sound is characterized by the thick sounds of electric guitars and ambient layers as well as very short acoustic pieces that provide a welcome contrast.

Although you can find some influences from legendary bands of the 1970s, such as Van der Graaf Generator, Tin Scribble also has neoprog and more contemporary elements in the form of grunge rock. Although the band gets dangerously close to metal on a couple of pieces, they have thankfully not fallen for the heavy metal trap that other bands have fallen into.

The band’s website and the liner notes are a little confusing as to who are permanent members of the band. According to the CD booklet, the main participants in the recording are Michael Allen Moore on guitar, keyboards and vocals, Bryan Atterberry on guitar, Todd Richardson on guitars; Clinton Sabon and Ryan Looney on drums and percussion; Danielle Collen on bass, vocals; Melissa Roberts on violin and Michael Rais on double bass.

Highlights include ‘Scizophonia’ , ‘Corinnia ‘, ‘Invisible Sun ‘, ‘Guitaristic at Ease ‘, ‘Breakable’, ‘For a While’ and ‘Wake.’

Unlive From A Dead City is a promising album by one of the most interesting progressive rock bands in the American Midwest.

Knifeworld Tales

Knifeworld Buried Alone - Tales of Crushing Defeat
Knifeworld

Buried Alone – Tales of Crushing Defeat (Believers Roast, 2009)

Of all the recent progressive rock acts I’ve heard lately, Knifeworld is surely one of the most original and quirky. The band is led by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Kavus Torabi. He has one of the most charismatic voices of the new generation of progressive rock singers.

Knifeworld’s is hard to categorize. Kavus Torabi is always full of surprises, changing tempos abruptly and creating various moods that range from dreamy and exotic to high energy rock. Toravi uses familiar rock music instruments such as electric guitar, keyboards and bass as well as rarely used instruments in the genre such as Indian santoor.

The vocals play and essential role. Toravi masterfully combines male and female solo vocals, choruses, ethereal voices and overdubbed sections.

Highlights of Buried Alone – Tales Of Crushing Defeat include ‘Singled Out For Battery’ where Toravi shows his skillful guitar and vocal work plus the use of a recorder solo by Katherine Blake.

On ‘Corpses Feuding Underground’ you’ll find tasty saxophone work by Sarah Measures. The style has connections with the exciting Canterbury sound.

The dreamlike ‘Severed of Horsehoof’ mixes sound effects, skillful tempo changes and Toravi on a wide range of instruments, including the santoor; and more of the outstanding horn creations by Sarah Measures.

‘An Arrival’ has a surreal feel, mixing santoor, guitar and electronic ambiance with a wide range of ethereal female and male vocals.

The otherworldly ‘Unwreckaged’ features more of the brilliant piano, synth and santoor atmospheres.

‘The Money Shot’ has a familiar feel. It includes the always welcomed mellotron, guitar and horns.

Lastly, the short composition titled ‘Torch’ showcases Torabi’s capacity on various types of guitars.

The rest of the pieces feature the heavy metal or hard rock riffs that never bring any value to progressive rock.

Musicians who performed on Buried Alone – Tales Of Crushing Defeat include Kavus Torabi on guitars, bass, vocals, keyboards, violin, santoor; Khyam Allami on drums; Melanie Woods on vocals; Katherine Blake on recorder; Sarah Measures on saxophone, clarinet, and flute; Ben Jacobs on trumpet; James Larcombe on piano, vocals; Crawford Blair on/ bass; Shona Davidson on vocals; and Johnny Karma on vocals.

Buried Alone – Tales of Crushing Defeat is a fascinating and audacious recording that presents the multitalented Kavus Torabi joined by a fine cast of musicians.

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Great Night with Vital Information

Steve Smith & Vital Information - Live! One Great Night
Steve Smith & Vital Information

Live! One Great Night (BFM Jazz 302 062 415 2, 2012)

Four of the finest musicians in the jazz fusion scene are captured live in this superb double set that includes a music recording and a DVD. Live! One Great Night features talented drummer Steve Smith (Journey/Hiromi /Steps Ahead), keyboardist Tom Coster (Santana/Gabor Szabo), bassist Baron Browne (Jean-Luc Ponty/Billy Cobham), and guitarist Vinny Valentino (Bill Evans/Jimmy McGriff).

Live! One Great Night contains a tasty mix of funk, blues, jams and the outstanding konakol vocal percussion style of southern India performed by Vinny Valentino and Steve Smith.

Album highlights include the straight ahead fusion piece ‘Time tunnel’ , the delicious konakol-infused ‘Interwoven Rhythms synchronous’ and Interwoven Rhythms synchronous’ and the captivating swinging blues composition ‘Jimmy Jive.’

Our music allows for individual expression and re-invention,” says Steve Smith about Vital Information’s concept. “We thrive on swing, groove, and creativity. We want to surprise each other every night on the bandstand with new ideas and in the process keep our audience ‘in the moment’ with us.”

Steve Smith and Vital Information have been around since 1983 and have grown into one of the most important jazz fusion acts. The group’s founder and drummer, Steve Smith, has performed with well-known rock, jazz and world music acts, including Journey, Steps Ahead, The Buddy Rich Big Band, Ahmad Jamal, Zakir Hussain, and Hiromi. Steve was recently voted 2012’s #1 Fusion Drummer in Modern Drummer Magazine.
His Hudson Music DVDs Steve Smith – Drumset Technique/History of the U.S. Beat and Drum Legacy – Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants are best sellers in the music educational market.

Baron Browne brought a real serious groove element to the band,” says Smith of his rhythm section partner since 1998. “He’s my favorite bass player to play with because he can play all styles and he always makes the music feel so good.” Browne has worked in the past with jazz luminaries Gary Burton, Billy Cobham, Jean-Luc Ponty, Steps Ahead, and Tom Jones.

The adaptable Tom Coster plays a wide range of keyboards and accordion. He played with Gabor Szabo and Rahsaan Roland Kirk and later with the Santana band for nine years. Coster composed and co-composed some of Santana’s most popular tunes including “Europa”, “Dance Sister Dance”, and “Carnaval”. Tom has recorded many solo albums under his own name and has been a member of Vital Information since 1986.

Vinny Valentino is a recording artist and educator. He has been touring and recording with Vital Information since 2006 and. At age 16, influenced by the music of guitarist George Benson, Vinny began pursuing jazz as a career. “The turning point for me was hearing George Benson in concert; it was an eye-opening experience,” recalls Vinny.

Vinny and his mentor George have since developed a close friendship. George Benson refers to Vinny as a “young genius with brilliant tone and fresh ideas.”

Vinny earned his Bachelor of Music in Jazz Studies at Howard University and has shared the stage or recording studio with such jazz greats as Gary Bartz, Randy Brecker, Bill Evans, John Pattitucci, Richard Bona, Bob Moses, George Benson, Steve Gadd, Dennis Chambers, and Jimmy McGriff.

The band is currently on its 30th Anniversary Tour:

June 6 Center for the Arts Grass Valley CA
June 13 Sculler’s Boston MA
June 14 Ephrata Theatre Ephrata PA
June 15 & 16 Iridium NYC NY
June 17 Blues Alley DC
June 18 & 19 Night Town Cleveland OH
June 20 Jazz Kitchen, Indianapolis IN
June 21 Ottawa Tavern Grand Rapids MI
June 22 & 23 Jazz Café at the Music Hall, Detroit MI
June 24 Martyr’s (clinic @5pm) (concert @8pm) separate entry/ticket, Chicago IL
June 26 Radisson Hotel at the Historic Lackawanna Station, Scranton PA
June 27 Cape Cod Jazz Fest /Wequassett Resort & Golf Club 8:30pm, Chatham MA

Epic Blomljud

Moon Safari - Blomljud
Moon Safari

Blomljud (Blomljud Records, 2008)

Blomljud (meaning flower sound) is a double album by Swedish progressive symphonic rock band Moon Safari. What characterizes this fine band is the use of well-crafted vocal harmonies with state of the art instrumental symphonic rock.

The lyrics are in English and you will find very little solo vocal parts. Instead, all of Moon Safari’s instrumentalists are excellent vocalists as well, creating vocal harmonies with the participation of most of the band members. Their best vocal work is when the musicians go into a complex jazz harmony direction, with a strong American flavor, think of a cappella acts like The Hi-Lo’s, Manhattan Transfer or Take 6. Other times, they shift to classic prog harmonies in Yes or Starcastle mode; and even into a less interesting sweet pop direction reminiscent of the Beach Boys and 10CC.

On the instrumental Sadie, Blomljud is a real treat for progressive rock fans. Moon Safari uses a wide range of keyboards, such as grand piano, organ, synthesizers and mellotron plus special effects and various forms of guitar, including the fabulous wailing sound of the pedal steel guitar. Musical influences range from early Yes to progressive rock-era Genesis and IQ.

In great progressive rock tradition, Blomljud includes several epics, including the impressive Other Half Of The Sky, which is 31:42 minutes long. This ambitious piece and other cuts on the album include excellent arrangements with transitions that flow seamlessly. Moon Safari also combines beautiful acoustic pastoral moments with high energy instrumental passages.

The line-up on Blomljud includes Simon Åkesson on lead and backing vocals, piano, moog synthesizers, mellotrons, Hammond organ, piano accordion, special effects, and choir arrangements; Petter Sandström on lead and backing vocals, 12-string acoustic guitar, electric guitar, special effects; Pontus Åkesson on electric guitars, 6 & 12-string guitars, mandolin, backing vocals; Johan Westerlund on bass, lead vocals; and Tobias Lundgren on drums, percussion, backing vocals.

The album also features several guests musicians, including former member and band founder Anthon Johansson on electric guitar; Anders Pettersson on pedal steel guitar; Andreas Persson on percussion; Måns Axelsson-Ljung on violin, fiddles; and Mona Falk on cello.

Moon Safari was formed in 2003. Their first album was A Doorway to Summer, released in 2005. The album reviewed here, Blomljud, came out in 2008. The third album, Lover’s End was released in 2010. Their latest recording is another double album, this time a live set titled The Gettysburg Address (2012), released just a few weeks ago.

Blomljud is an impressive progressive rock release with all the right ingredients, including a unique vocal style.

Buy the album:

In North America: Blomljud

In Europe: Blomljud

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Shades of Mantra

Mantra - Mantra
Mantra

Mantra (Arabiandrock ARCD003, 2012)

The Andalusian progressive rock album that never came out is finally available thanks to the Arabiandrock label. Mantra was one of the most exciting Andalusian rock bands in southern Spain in the 1970s. They combined progressive rock with Flamenco and Arabic influences.

If you are familiar with the bands of the time, Mantra followed the Iman school, with extensive dual guitar and keyboard jams fused with flamenco and North African melodies.

The music on Mantra comes from an album demo recorded in 1979 that never came out. At the time of the recording, Mantra featured Tato Macias on drums, José Manuel Portela Ghessi on keyboards, Juan Ahumada Caputto on guitar; José Antonio Ramírez Harana on bass; and Tito Alcedo Gil on guitar.

Mantra is an essential album in any collection of Andalusian rock. It is a worthy testament to a group of young innovative musicians who took progressive rock in unexpected directions.

Read more about the band’s history and this recording:

Get the album from http://www.arabiandrock.org/tienda.html

Primary Elements

Six Elements - Primary Elements
Six Elements

Primary Elements (Tower of Harmony, 2012)

The debut CD by Georgia-based progressive rock band Six Elements is a concept album with reflective inspirational lyrics. Six Elements is basically the project of composer and keyboardist Michael (Misha) Shengaout. The album features session musicians and the major collaboration of Stanley Whitaker on vocals.

Although Whitaker is well known as the guitarist of two of the finest progressive rock bands in the United States, Happy The Man and Oblivion Sun, he is also an outstanding vocalist. While Primary Elements has some instrumental moments, the focus of the album is on vocals and lyrics. Whitaker delivers passion and nuance throughout the album, with a unique seasoned voice, which at times is reminiscent of Peter Gabriel’s work.

Misha Shengaout shows great potential as a composer. As a keyboardist, he needs a little more original programming. He relies too much on overused sampled flutes and other instruments.

The highlight of the album is Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘If’“. “Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” has inspired millions of hearts and souls (including mine), capturing the ideal of human character in just 32 short lines,” says Shengaout. “Our ideals make us who we are, which is why this poem should be shouted from every rooftop, and absorbed by our senses in every possible way.“

Primary Elements is a fine album that showcases the talent of composer Misha Shengaout and the superb vocals of Stanley Whitaker.

IZZ Artistry

IZZ - Crush of Night
IZZ

Crush of Night (Doone Records DR10-669563, 2012)

The highly anticipated album by American progressive rock band IZZ is now available. Crush of Night is Part 2 of a 3-part series of albums that started with The Darkened Room (TDR) in 2009.

Crush of Night is a real treat. It is state of the art progressive rock all the way through. The album opens with the shortest song on the album, ‘You’ve Got a Time.’ Soon, the listener is exposed to rich vocal harmonies, intricate bass lines and conclusive guitar solo.

‘Words and Miracles’ starts with a fast tempo instrumental section with fabulous guitar interplay. If the music has a Gentle Giant feel, don’t be surprised. Gentle Giant’s guitarist Gary Green appears on this piece, bringing his signature sound and tempo changes. Halfway through the piece, the composition slows downs, introducing tasty vocals and keyboards.

“Having Gary come to the studio and record with us was an amazing experience,” says IZZ bassist John Galgano. “Gary came in and not only added his signature guitar playing, but also contributed to the writing, added a few blistering solos and even sang backing vocals on Words and Miracles. It is a great honor to have Gary playing alongside us on this record and we know that fans of Gary will enjoy the guitar artistry that he’s added to this IZZ record.”

Track 3, ‘Solid Ground,’ showcases the superb male and female vocal interactions and harmonies that IZZ is known for. Solid Ground also features a beautiful jazzy groove, a superb guitar solo and more of the great bass lines.

‘Half the Way’ begins as a beautiful piano ballad that develops into climactic synthesizer and guitar melodies. I always think Tom Galgano’s keyboard solos are too short so his longer synth solo is a real treat.

The album continues with the remarkable ‘Crush of Night’ 26 minute suite, which is divided into two parts.

Part 1 is the outstanding ‘This Reality,’ which is one of the longest cuts on the album. It’s also one of the pieces where IZZ shows their fusion of classic progressive rock with cutting edge sounds. The track includes ever changing passages with potent bass and drums, synth, piano, guitar and bass solos, electronics, outstanding female and male vocal interplay, and an edgy electronic section with mesmerizing vibraphone sounds and climactic finale with string synths and guitar.

Part 2, Track 6, ‘The Crush of Night,’ has an epic feel from the very beginning and highlights the female vocals of the talented Anmarie Byrnes, undoubtedly one of the finest voices in the progressive rock scene. Accompanying Byrnes is a brilliant collage of percussion interplay, exquisite piano and grand finale on guitar and synths.

The final track is titled ‘Almost Over,’ where guitarist album Paul Bremner showcases his talent in a series of morphing guitar solos.

The line-up on Crush of Night includes Paul Bremner on electric and acoustic guitar; Anmarie Byrnes on vocals; Brian Coralian on electronic and acoustic drums and percussion; Greg DiMiceli on drums and percussion; John Galgano on bass guitar, acoustic/electric guitar, vocals; and Tom Galgano on keyboards, vocals.

With Crush of Night, IZZ demonstrates that it is one of the leading forces in the American progressive rock scene.

Even More Symphonic

The Enid - Live with The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & The Warwickshire County Youth Choirs
The Enid

Live with The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & The Warwickshire County Youth Choirs (Operation Seraphim / Enidworks EWCD2, 2012)

The ultimate symphonic rock band, The Enid, has released this superb 2-CD live set this year. The Enid has always been known for its symphonic and romantic approach to progressive rock. In this occasion, the regular electric band is expanded massively with the participation of The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & The Warwickshire County Youth Choirs.

Disc 1 features classics by The Enid from the earlier albums, ‘Judgement’, ‘In The Region of the Summer Stars’, ‘Childe Roland’, ‘The Mirror of Love’ and ‘Fand’.

On CD2, The Enid presents a mix of new pieces and more classics, with the climactic conclusion that The Enid does so well. The cuts on the second disc include ‘Terra Firma’, ‘Terra Nova’, ‘Space Surfing’, ‘Malacandra’, ‘Shiva’, ‘The Art of Melody’, Barclay James Harvest’s ‘Mockingbird’ and ‘Dambusters and Land of Hope and Glory’.

The line-up on this album includes several generations of musicians, led by the charismatic composer and keyboardist Robert John Godfrey; Jason Ducker on guitars, Max Read on keyboards and programming, guitars and vocals; Dave Storey on drums and percussion; and Nic Willes on bass, guitars and percussion.

The special guests are The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mike Seal and The Warwickshire County Music Service Youth Choirs, which include The Warwickshire Girls Choir, The Warwickshire County Youth Chorale, Northampton Decibelles, Seraphim Trompetiers. In addition, the album features the Symphony Hall Organ played by Sean Montgomery.

The pieces on Live with The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & The Warwickshire County Youth Choirs were recorded at Symphony Hall in Birmingham (UK) in October 2011. It was recorded by Abbey Road Mobile and engineered by Will Shapland who’s known as one of the world’s best mobile engineers.

A DVD of the live performance is planned and due to the success of the concert, The Enid is planning to perform more concerts with symphony orchestras in the future.

Live with The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & The Warwickshire County Youth Choirs is an outstanding collection of philharmonic pieces by one of the finest progressive rock bands of all time.

Before Kickstarter and other crowd funding tools, The Enid were pioneers in the music world, establishing a system to maintain the band and make new recordings, with fan support. The fan support is still there and thanks to their support, music fans have been able to listen to The Enid’s past and new works in a new setting, with the rich sounds of a full orchestra and choirs. Fans who subscribe to The Enidi club have access to discount tickets, specially recorded free album every year and many other perks. To join go to The Enidi.

Live with The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra & The Warwickshire County Youth Choirs is available exclusively from the band’s official website at: theenid.co.uk

Hard Hat Fusion

Allan Holdsworth - Hard Hat Area
Allan Holdsworth

Hard Hat Area (1993, reissued by MoonJune Records in 2012)

Hard Hat Area, one of the legendary jazz fusion albums of the 1990s, long out of print, is available once more thanks to the Moonjune label. Hard Hat Area is one of the finest solo albums recorded by British electric guitar maestro Allan Holdsworth.

MoonJune Records remastered and repackaged Hard Hat Area in digipak format. The album features the outstanding sinuous guitar solos that Allan Holdsworth. He developed a peculiar guitar style, beautiful and innovative, with a sound and technique that has been imitated by many other guitarists. Hard Hat Area is fusion at its best, with Allan Holdsworth on guitars and synthaxe, and his touring band formed by skilled instrumentalists: Steve Hunt on keyboards, Skuli Sverrisson on bass; and Gary Husband on drums.

Hard Hat Area was recorded on a 32-track Mitsubishi digital recorder at Front Page Recorders in Costa Mesa, California, near Holdsworth’s home. Overdubs and mixing were made directly by Allan Holdsworth at his home.

Hard Hat Area is a classic fusion album that has aged very well, with a superb mix of jazz fusion, progressive rock, and mesmerizing electronics.