Spitfish, Penny Dreadful, 2019

spitfish - penny dreadfulFrom Polish coastal city of ships, Gdansk, comes Spitfish. Despite being a “new” band, it’s members describe themselves as experienced. They are a trio, with David Zwolan on vocals, bass and synths, Pawel Kwagz on guitar and Jedrzej Antkewicz on drums. Yeah, I had not heard of them before either.
The CD holds 7 tracks and almost 28 minutes of music, making it more of an extended EP or mini album. But it’s the music that counts, so let’s take a look.

Opener Into The Void is a quite misleading half minute intro, built on sequencing and a mellotron type sound. But when it bursts into second track Grim Suspiria, we hear what the band is really about. Powerful guitar riffs, pounding drums and an energy that harkens back to punk. And it must be said, the album does sound mature. It is well played and recorded, and the songs are delivered with swagger and bravado.
Another good thing about them is that the music is well put together. They got hooks and melody. By using dynamics in their arrangements, the band also avoid sounding like a one trick pony. A good example is Swallow The Dust, with it’s soft intro and a verse that builds up the tension before they set loose in the chorus.

Yup, good one!

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Tony Mills Festival Fundraising and Bands info

Tony Mills Festival fundraiserAs many of you already know, Tony Mills was diagnosed with terminal cancer in April 2019, so a huge fundraising effort is underway to collect as much money as possible for cancer research in Italy.

Black Swan Productions is very honoured to present the Tony Mills Festival Crowdfunding effort. There are many ways you can donate. All money will go to Tony Mills for his therapies or to the Fondazione Piemontese per la Ricerca sul Cancro, according to the information on the website. Please support Tony Mills and cancer research by donating and be generous! We need you.

The Tony Mills Festival is a celebration of Tony Mills life and music, organized by Black Swan Productions, that will be held on Saturday, September 21, 2019 at the Luppolo Saloon in Roletto (TO), Italy, from 3:15 to 11:30PM, in the context of a larger 3-day biker fest.

tony mills festivalThere will be six bands, selected by a team of Italian record labels, playing a selection of their original material and Tony Mills songs from his different projects. The festival will close with a rare headlining performance by Docker’s Guild, who will present a special show made exclusively of material featuring the voice of Tony Mills (Docker’s Guild, Shy, TNT and solo works).

 

Oxley Meier, The Alluring Ascent, 2019

Oxley-Meier-the-Alluring-AscentAs if running an award winning venue, touring with Jeff Beck or releasing numerous albums isn’t enough, you can always get together to do another combined album. So that is what Pete Oxley and Nicolas Meier did on their fourth album together.

Since they tour as a quartet, or perform as a duo, all songs on the album can be played in both formats. As usual, they also use a plethora of stringed instruments of which the 11 string fretless guitar, or a 7 string nylon are amongst the less obvious choices.

But it is the music that counts and this album is just wonderful for many occasions. Yes it is jazzy, but this oozes the mood of a weekend barbecue with some good friends, drinking wine and enjoying each other’s company. Musically it is of the highest order, with intricate playing. But the guys made sure it would work for both the occasional listener, as well as the fan that studies every lick and trick. It is tasty, it is sophisticated as it is warm and authentic.
East Coast Jams is such a fine example. On the surface it passes along nicely, but there are so many details incorporated that showcase how talented all the musicians involved are.

A very enjoyable album, and one I would play to people who say they don’t like jazz / fusion.

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Phil Vincent, Hypocrite, 2019

phil vincent - hypocriteIt is no secret that I am a fan of Phil Vincent’s work. In any capacity, and in every band he is in. So if you do not share that sentiment, little use in reading on ha ha.
I know the man works hard and on average releases more than 1 album in about every year. To me, the quality never drops. If anything, I admire that Phil keeps trying to push his boundaries, whilst still staying true to his favourite style, the hard rock made popular by bands like Dokken, Winger and Whitesnake. I also think his production skills keep improving, adding more clarity and punch to his releases.

So solo album 21 sees Phil delivering 12 more songs. As on his solo albums he takes care of about everything, with only some help on guitar solos and acoustic guitar. Since his style is known, let’s have a look at some of the more different tracks. Back In The Day is a  great 7 minute track with lots of piano as well as his trademark vocal harmonies and a catchy chorus. What Might Have Been sees him add drum beats, giving the track a modern flavour. Waste Of Time opens with a clean somewhat psychedelic sounding guitar and a vocal. After the opening solo, the song comes alive and arrives at more familiar territory. Another track with a beat is Caught In The Act. There is a bit of sequencing in the bridge, giving it a somewhat progressive (Saga?) feel. But the chorus is again vintage PV.
I am sure the most surprising song on offer is the closing title track. This is a monster with a synthetic, almost industrial groove and a bit of harsh vocals (“lies” “despise”) in the chorus.

Like I said, in my book the man can do no wrong, great album!

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Vasil Hadzimanov Band, Lines In Sand, 2019

vasil hadzimanov band - lines in sandBeen a couple of years since previous album Alive was discussed here. And looking back, and now hearing this, I have been wondering; is this album more accessible, or have I grown in understanding this type of music? As you will know by now, a lot of releases coming from Moonjune are not for the faint hearted. Often based on jams and improvisations they always impress with musical and technical skills, but rarely hit home on first play. I consider most of them growers…

So how about this one then? Well it seems that this time, the mix of fusion, funk, psychedelia, rock and so on, has generated a couple of tracks I like from the first time I heard them! Mr. Moonjune has some recurring themes (always helpful to connect with), and a great funky groove going. The way the piano arpeggio in San Snova is rhythmically accompanied by the band is very imaginative. Lost, with vocals from Marta Hadzimanov, is a beautiful jazzy song, with impressive restrained playing. And Maklik is just brilliant.
Of course, variation is key here, and they do sometimes indulge in extensive soloing on whatever instrument they seem fit. But for me this is an album that I would play again in the future.

Yes, I like it, especially the funky side of it!

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Caravela Escarlate, Self Titled, 2019

caravela escarlateOriginally self released in Brazil in 2017, but now out worldwide on Karisma Records, here we have the second album from Brazilian band Caravela Escarlate (Crimson Ship). The 3-piece band sing in Portuguese and are heavily influenced by the classic prog of bands like Yes, PFM, Le Orme, or ELP as well as by traditional Brazilian music.

Since I do not speak Portuguese, I was glad the press sheet told me that lyrically the album deals with science fiction, comics and environmental concerns. The music however, speaks directly to me for it does sound as described. So if you are familiar with those names, you will know what to expect. And it must be said, it does sound authentic, as if written and recorded in the Seventies.
This also means that, even when the songs are melodic, they are also fairly “busy”, with a lot happening and many twists and turns. In all fairness the singing in their native language did not bother me much, it takes nothing away from the music. And instrumental songs like Atmosfera or Cosmos are done really well. In fact Cosmos so far has turned out to be my favourite track amongst the 8 on offer. Genre aficionados will also applaud that the album closes with an 11 minute epic.

Even when you are not stuck in the days long gone by, this is a expressive album that is worth tracking down.

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Yage, Nordwand, 2019

yage - nordwandMountains. Mountain tours put to music. So do you have to be a mountaineer to enjoy this album?

To continue the comparison: without having the actual experience, I would imagine that doing mountain tours (especially when the mountain is big and the paths treacherous) is demanding for both the body as well as the mind. And in that sense Yage have succeeded in their mission.
In no way this is an album that digests easily. The 67 minutes of music require you to pay attention, while not giving you much time to relax. It’s a full throttle journey from start to finish. Part of that is due to the high level of energy, the wall of sound. Another part is due to the use of the German language in the lyrics. Living close to the German border, that is not really a problem for me, but that will not be the case for everybody.

That said, there are lots of things to enjoy here. The guys build their songs on skilled riffs of quality and variation. And despite being a 2 man affair, sound like a proper band. Okay, the lead vocals will not be for everyone (nor will the “rap” added to Zwicker), but the reality is they work well within the musical frame Yage have set up for themselves. And in a track like Planet Broesel, they use dynamics to great effect so you do not miss vocals at all.

So definitely one to check if you like your rock hard as metal and do not mind a bit of adventure…

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Skylake, In Orbit, 2019

skylake - in orbitDo not know how often I have listened to this before I could convince myself to start writing about it. And with opening with a sentence like that, I guess many of you will wonder what is wrong with it…

To be honest, it might be just me. I mean, this is a very solid album from start to finish. That is, for those who like expressive progressive rock with loads of dynamics and maybe a bit of alternative touches. The songwriting ticks all the expected boxes, and the band sound confident. And are fronted by a female singer.
You see, it took me all this time to realise that my, eh challenge, with this release probably lies with the vocals. Not that singer Suzan van den Engel has a bad voice or sings out of key. But somehow the vocals don’t grab me. At all. The reason I suspect, is that all vocals are extremely safe, nicely coloured between the lines so to speak. No edges, thus leaving me unaffected by them. Where is the emotion? Even the (male) aggressive shouting in Smooth Skin – War Within lacks depth and true aggression. At least in my ears.

So yes, interesting songs and all, but for me to keep listening to the band, I really need them to show their true colours and add identity to what they deliver. This is too much brain and far too less heart for my tastes.

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Fervent Mind, Tranquilize, 2019

fervent mind - tranquilizeThe last couple of weeks I have been listening on and off to this album and I keep realizing how hard I find it to describe it accurately. I think the press sheet says it best: “the music balances on a fine line between the rough and the delicate, with elements from post rock and metal, as well as dream pop, trip hop and contemporary jazz”. So let’s just call it a progressive rock album…

I know, that description is a mouth full, but while listening to the album, it just proves true. Opener A Series Of Fragments puts emphasis on the voice of singer Live Sollid, and the track segues seamlessly into Torrid, maintaining a somewhat laid-back feel, albeit injected with haunting guitar feedback before suddenly exploding in pounding riffs and wailing vocals. Next track Fervent kicks off in stylish progrock style, before turning into a groovy pop tune. And then back again.
So with 3 songs in, it is clear the band do not shy away from combining all those element I mentioned earlier. And I must say, they are good at what they do. Singer Live can sound delicate, but also bring some power to the mix, and the band follows accordingly.

All in all I find myself pretty impressed by this album. It takes you places, and gets better with every play. A classic in the making?

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Toto, All In 1978 – 2018, 2019

toto - all in 1978 - 2018Despite already owning all regular Toto albums, I still thought this would make me a nice present from the kids for father’s day. So they did 🙂

And while listening to all these albums I know so well, I did find that the remasters of especially the first 7 albums breathe new life into them. Because in all honesty I have always loved the music, but the production always seemed very smooth. And if my ears and memory do not fool me,  these new versions have more punch, especially in the drums and the guitars. And as a bonus, some discs contain tracks I did not yet have too!

But the main reason for wanting to have this 13 CD collection was of course the inclusion of the Live In Tokyo 1980 EP and the Old Is New CD. The Live EP has 5 songs, 3 from one of my favourite Toto albums Hydra, and Tale Of A Man, whose studio version would not surface until the XX release. It ends with Runaway, a new David Paich song (for me at least). Great rocker that went down a storm.
Some tracks from Old Is New already have been released as singles. On these tracks the band revisit old recordings they for some reason never finished (that include many past members like the Porcaro brothers), rewrote parts or added them, fresh lyrics and vocal melodies by Joseph Williams and voilà. An album that sounds like Toto, past or present… (pun intended). Turned out great I feel!

Well, then on to some remarks; sadly the CD box does not include the liner notes from Andrew McNeice that where present in the full on version (including vinyl). And 1 album is missing from this collection; the Dune soundtrack, so it is in fact “(almost) All In”. ( I do not reckon the various live albums and their covers album Through The Looking Glass are candidates for this box). Also, Hydra comes as a mini vinyl replica, all others are wallet versions (some with such small print my old eyes sadly can hardly read the song titles).

But this is minor, the music is and will stay timeless!

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