Rich Batsford, Valentine Court, 2009

Rich Batsford - Valentine CourtAnd now for something completely different! I got this from a fellow Thoughster who asked me to review it.
This is an instrumental, all piano album. Yeah you understand me right, piano only!
I must admit I think it is extremely brave for someone to release an album like this. This must feel very naked for a musician.

So what about the music?  There is no doubt in my mind that Rich is a very talented individual with a lot of strong ideas. I am confident that anyone who likes and understands piano, will recognize his skills. In the about 43 minutes the disk lasts he is able to show that. He plays steady, yet is able to express himself with variations in volume, song tempo´s, etcetera, and to project his intentions through his songs.

That said, I have a few suggestions also:
I think he could try some ideas with very little notes. A little Satie like. I would be very curious to find out if he can work with silence. In this collection I feel he is at times too present with his playing. And I do not mean the way silence is used in Just Sitting ;-).
More really slow tempo´s and sometimes fast could also help to variate more.
On the production side I sometimes felt the sound could use a little more room to make the piano sound bigger.
But overall, my congratulations to Rich, great work.

Personal play tips: Lyndall, Namaste, Jewel.

Website

Ajalon, This Good Place, 2009

ajalon - this good placeThis is the first album I hear of this American band. Based on this, it will not be the last! Excellent symphonic rock. But before I get ahead of myself, a step back.

When the disk started I was somewhat confused. I really thought it sounded kinda plastic, especially the guitars. But it didn´t take long to get sucked into listening. Though I still feel that they can improve in some aspects, this has turned out to be a very versatile and upper class disk. The overall sound suits the music just fine, so forget my earlier whining.

The most important member seems to be Randy George, who also plays with Neal Morse live. That gives the direction away a little. But understand me right, Ajalon are no copycats. In fact, most does not resemble Neal, or his former band mates SB at all. Here a lot of material focusses on the excellent vocals and the sometimes incredible guitar shredding. As is standard in this type of music, there is a lot of feel and light and dark in the album. And the inevitable epic track is present here also ;-).
I am sure it will get better with every play. Love this stuff!

Personal play tips: just push play en then repeat.

Website

Highest Dream, Far Away From Here, 2009

highest dream - far away from hereFirst thing I noticed about this melodic rock band is that they are able to steer away from the ever so predictable path of melodic song writing and dare to add different types of musical interludes (keyboard and or guitar solos, instrumental breaks, and so on) in their songs. Compliments! Well actually this is hardly a band. Just a singer (Riq Ferris) and a multi instrumentalist (Leo Mendes) with some help here and there.

That said, I think there is room for improvement also. The production would benefit from a more beefier sound I believe. Despite all the great playing, the overall perception is a little light. But maybe that was just the intention?

If melodic rock is your thing, you will surely enjoy this record. It´s got the hooks, it´s got the songs, and the eighties sound. And enough ideas to keep it interesting for the more critical listener.

Personal play tips: Restless Dreamer, Far Away From Here, All I Want.

Website

Touchstone, Discordant Dreams, 2007

touchstone - discordant dreamsProgressive / symphonic rock the British are famous for. Big selling point are the duo lead vocals of Kim Seviour and Rob Cuttingham (also keyboards).
When 2 voices sing together almost continuously, there is always a risk that the end result is neither fish nor meat.  Making it all to smooth often. I must confess that was my first impression here also. But as is often the case, repeated plays adjusts your hearing to the sound the band really has.

And it is no denying that this is a very nice record. Nothing too heavy of course, but still it rocks where it needs to. The songs have a lot of atmosphere. It is highly melodic and holds a lot of variation within the songs. Maybe due to the involvement of John Mitchell, but it resembles Arena (The Visitor era) at times. But that is not a bad reference in my opinion.

Only thing I am not too keen on (and we hear it in a lot of recordings alas) is the sound of the drums, especially the snare. When the snare has a constant sound (which no drummer in real life has), I feel it becomes to mechanical. I wished more drummers and engineers would record the actual snare sound, this making the drums sound more organic. But let´s face it, this still is a very enjoyable album! I am curious how their next album will sound… More on that later.

Personal play tips: Discordant Dreams, See The Light, Being Hannah.

Website

Several Shorts 3

scott mosher - infernoScott Mosher, Inferno, 2004

Talking about mixing different styles… What we have here is a mix of progressive rock and ambient. The good thing is, it actually sounds very refreshing. Just the vocals need some more work I think. Definitely one for the daring and open minded.

green carnation - acoustic verses

Green Carnation, Acoustic Verses, 2005

In my previous post about this band I talked about their great progressive metal. But as the album title already suggests, this is a different beast. But what passion and beauty, what pure and intimate music. Essential for all those special moments. Very classy!

world stage - the day america criedWorld Stage, The Day America Cried, 2001

Dedicated to the victims and families of the 9-11 disaster, and put together by Jim Peterik, I guess most by now will know what to expect.
The tracks are emotional but alas basic. Emphasis on vocals, with mostly piano backing. Some drums and guitar, but not much. Mostly slow paced. A pity it rocks so little.

Joe Bonamassa, The Ballad Of John Henry, 2009

joe bonamassa - the ballad of john henryLike probably a lot of people I had heard of Joe Bonamassa before, but as I am not the greatest blues lover in the world, I always hesitated to buy one of his records. But a while back I heard the opening track of this one and was very impressed. So the waiting days are over, I had to have this.

And indeed, that opening title track is a monster. A fierce slow riff on  a pounding beat. Great stuff I can listen to all day. Next is a cover of a song most of us will know from British singer Sam Brown, Stop!. This gets the blues treatment here and, despite not being as good as the the opener, is still an enjoyable ditty. So onwards the level of interest keeps changing. But I reckon in time I will appreciate the blues workouts a little more…  I am glad to have this and am sure that people who like their blues a little rockier, or their rock a little bluesier, will appreciate this.

By the way, just after releasing a new album, talk is that Joe is participating in a new super group called Black Country Communion, together with Glenn Hughes, Derek Sherinian and Jason Bonham. One to watch out for!

Personal play tips: The Ballad Of John Henry, Story Of A Quarryman, Happier Times.

Website

Platitude, Nine, 2004

platitude - nineMaybe you have that also sometimes; there is so much going on in a record, you kinda get lost listening to it.
This is what happened to me when I started playing this disk. These 7 musicians (2 keyboard players and 2 guitar players!) fire away constantly making this a hard album to get into.

But after several spins it grows on ya. After all this is melodic metal with a lot of progressive twists. Despite all the notes fired at the listeners, this is a very enjoyable affair once you get used to it. And from that point on you start hearing the melodies. Without doubt a very competent band, that maybe should consider the adagio less is more. But then again, there is a market for this I am sure. And understand me well, these guys know what they are doing!

So for all you tech freaks out there, pick this one up. If you prefer more instant melodic music, this may be a little heavy weight. I think this will continue to grow on me.

Personal play tips (subject to change): Dark Mind, Catch 22, Supernova.

Website

Riverside, Anno Domini High Definition, 2009

Riverside - Anno DominiDon´t know about you, but when I read about a band who gets seriously hyped I almost always get suspicious. But then again, if you don´t give them a try, you will never know, right?

So when the opportunity presented itself, I bought Anno Domini High Definition by Polish band Riverside. So the first question to answer is, is it any good?

I can honestly say I think it is. Especially music wise this is a very convincing album that speaks loudly of its qualities. This is somewhere between symphonic rock and progressive metal, with some unexpected twists added. Think of brass (really! and it works) and some more modern sounds (sequences). It rocks where it needs to, the guys know what they are doing, know how to write a good tune, can lock into a groove and how to spice it all up with clever arrangements.

The only 2 things I feel leave room for improvement are the lead vocals and the length of the album. I think 44 minutes is rather short and as far as the vocals go, they are in no way bad, but fairly clean. I would love to hear Jorn Lande or Steve Hogarth doing this. I know, 2 very different types, but both are able to add an extra dimension to a song.

That said, these remarks are obviously minor. This is top notch without doubt. If you haven´t checked them out yet, do it, you will not be disappointed!

Personal play tips: hey there are 5 songs on this record…

Website

Beardfish, Destined Solitaire, 2009

beardfish - destined solitaireLooking back on my posts I noticed a lot of symphonic and progressive albums. Must be a phase I am in. Naah not really, I love that stuff.

So another one of those is this band with the quirky name Beardfish. Likely a concious effort to resemble Spocks Beard? This I sometimes noticed in the songs, though they are surely not a copycat. The start of the album is very promising, with a lot of Hammond organ. Reminded me of another great band from the same part of the world I reviewed earlier: Magic Pie. But as the album progressed (pun intended) the differences became more clearer.

It is obvious that these guys are very competent. They add a slight jazz feel to their songs. Not only on chord progressions and moods, but also through their choice of weapons. Harpsichord anyone?
The music is at times mainly instrumental with a lot going on, and at times it is melodic with typical symphonic use of organ, mellotron etc.. As a whole this is less rock as the earlier mentioned Magic Pie. Nevertheless, this is convincing material. And according to the “law of symphonics”, they do not shy away from creating lengthy material…

Only criticism I have is the use of certain words. We have a saying that translates to something like ” they don´t need to do that”.  Meaning they have enough quality to show for and don´t need to shock the listeners. Now is shock a too big word, but I hope you get my point. But maybe I get it after reading the lyrics.

Personal play tips: Awaken The Sleeping, Destined Solitaire, The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Off.

Website

Silent Lapse, Birthright, 2009

silent lapse - birthrightRecently I read a news item somewhere that these guys where offering their album for free. So I visited their website and asked for it.

I got it pretty quick, and recently started playing it. Before hand you always wonder with a stunt like this, will it be worth the while. And to cut a long story short, it is! Though this band may not have reached the top in the prog metal field, I think this is a quality release and any serious fan should get him or herself acquainted to this band. It is simply an offer you can´t refuse! I won´t elaborate on that as this is up for grabs. Figure it out yourself. I will just repeat that you won´t be disappointed… Support them!

Personal play tips: just play it already!

Website