Steve Hughes – Once We Were – Part Two (Progressive Promotion Records, 2016)
British composer and multi-instrumentalist Steve Hughes delivers Part Two of his progressive rock epic titled Once We Were. Steve Hughes was the drummer of two well-known British progressive rock bands, Big Big Train and The Enid.
As in Volume One, Steve Hughes plays a wide-range of musical instruments. Although he’s known as a drummer, he also plays various keyboards, bass, guitars, and provides most of the lead vocals.
Stylistically, Steve Hughes composes pieces where some of the vocals parts lean towards pop, while the instrumental sections are state of the art symphonic progressive rock with new elements that make the music sound more modern, especially with his use of electronics.
Steve Hughes’ lyrics on Once We Were – Part Two shows his concern about misguided politicians, propaganda and other socio-economic issues.
The opening track is essentially a well-crafted pop ballad. Progressive rock arrives with the powerful ‘Life’s a Glitch’, where the vocals are more spirited, drums are muscular and there’s a rich mix of keyboards and guitars, including notable keyboard and guitar solos.
‘Propaganda: Part Two’ is a short instrumental passage, with some East Asian influence in the form of melodies and gongs.
‘They Promise Everything’ builds up very nicely, incorporating an impressive array of keyboards, guitars and percussion in grand symphonic fashion. The unrelenting waves of keyboards and guitars is spectacular. Hughes is a masterful arranger and easily moves through various tempos and atmospheres.
One of standout pieces on the album is track 5, ‘There’s Still Hope’. Here, the vocals are truly fascinating, a nicely-shaped spoken word call and response exercise between male and female vocals. In another section, Hughes uses vocoders brilliantly. There are also exquisite electronic ambiances, vibrant percussive segments, and some of the best guest female vocals.
Track 6, ‘She’s’, begins as a melancholic poppy song with a Beatles flavor and nostalgic harmonica. It quickly progresses into full blown epic progressive rock with outstanding guitar and keyboard work that furiously mixes symphonic rock and jazz-rock.
‘Spider on the Ceiling’ is a short transitional ballad. It leads into the other magnificent epic titled ‘Clouds’. This profoundly satisfying (mostly instrumental) composition mixes classic 1970s-style progressive rock with Alan Holdsworth-style fusion guitar, soaring violin, and cutting edge electronics. Here, Steve Hughes demonstrates he’s one of the most talented acts in the British progressive rock scene.
The album concludes with ‘One Sweet Word’, a laid back folk-rock song with great overdubbed vocal work and ambient sounds.
Steve Hughes plays most of the instruments, including drums, percussion, keyboards, bass, guitars, and vocals. Guests featured: Angie Hughes and Katja Piel on vocals; Maciej Zolnowski on violin; Keith Winter and Dec Burke on guitars; and Richie Phillips on saxophone.
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