Alan Simon, Big Bang, 2018

ALAN-SIMON-Big-BangA couple of releases into Alan Simon now (check for instance this or this). And now we have Big Bang playing. And it is definitely something different compared to those before. Not only from a technical point of view, with the press sheet talking about 120 musicians or 200 active tracks per song on average… Or the inclusion of the sound bank of the universe from NASA.

This is indeed a musical odyssey from the origins of our universe to the destiny of planet Earth. And one that marries classical themes and orchestrations with contemporary music like never before in Simon’s work. As far as I know it that is. With a starring role of Supertramp’s John Helliwell on various saxes. So the instrumental pieces prevail and are a showcase of diversity, atmosphere and feeling. Lingering dreamy melodies, sound scapes and bits of rock interweaving. Like in Seven Moons In the Sky, where Roberto Tiranti delivers the vocals. Or on Fools, with Saga’s Michael Sadler. And Pink Floyd fans will embrace The Soul Of The Stars, with great guitar playing by Paolo Ballardini.
Because of the less obvious rock side, at first I wasn’t too sure about this album. But the more I played it, the more I fell for it. Diversity, dynamics and combining genres has always been part of Simon’s music and this is no exception. There is a certain grandeur to the themes that will get you hooked, sooner rather than later. Else you can always look at the fantastic space photography present in the art.

So the man delivered again. Simple as that!


Darryl Way, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons In Rock, 2018

darryl way - vivaldi's 4 seasonsSometimes life as a reviewer is easy. And in this case it is. For those of you who do not know Darryl Way, he is one of the founding members of Curved Air where he delivers the violins. Curved Air recorded a track called Vivaldi some 50 odd years ago and this CD is essentially giving a bit of a rock treatment to the whole of the Four Seasons from the classical composer.

Now a bit of a heads up; when I say rock, in this case that means that bass, drums, rhythm guitars and layers of synthesisers have been added to the movements. The original melodies are still played on violin with only some embellishment in the slower parts.

So what does this re-interpretation leave us with? Well, Way knows how to play and does the music justice. Is it very different? No. Does is rock hard? Again, no, don’t think that was the intention.

This is a well done version, with a bit of extra spice here and there. Nothing more and nothing less. If you like rock and enjoy classical music, this will work since you will be familiar with most of the melodies. If you hate either, avoid. I like this version for what it is.


Alan Simon, Songwriter, 2017

alan simon - songwriterIt never seizes to amaze me how much there is to learn about all the music out there. Here I was thinking I had never heard of Alan Simon before, and then it turns out he has been involved in a wealth of albums, rock operas and soundtracks! So maybe you know about the Excalibur releases? I didn’t to be honest, but if this compilation is anything to go by, the man is a songwriter indeed. And in capitals! No wonder he can have people from for instance Supertramp, Midnight Oil, Fairport Convention on board, as well as guests like Alan Parsons, Martin Barre, John Wetton and Justin Hayward, to name a few.

This 40 track double CD is divided in a world & symphonic side and a “British” side. For me, CD 1 is filled to the brim with wonderful music. Indeed a lot of folky melodies and instruments, as well as more classical sounding pieces. But all done with a great sense of atmosphere and emotion. Melancholy runs strong throughout the songs, but that makes it easy to connect. The second CD is more pop and rock oriented I guess. But the quality and melodies remain. All released between 1995 and 2017, but sounding fresh and vibrant.
Lots of details, perfectly produced and very varied. Rich in ideas and textures, with a plethora of different instruments, it is a pleasure the keep hitting the play button.

Very impressed by the wonderful collection of material and a trigger to go dig in his back catalogue, I have been missing out! And since Excalibur IV has just been released, again with an impressive cast, I get another chance of finding out more…


17 Pygmies, Isabel II, Abaddon Rising, 2015

17 pygmies - isabel iiActually the picture on the left does not do justice to the packaging of this album. By now I would say “as usual” 17 pygmies spared no expense when it comes to wrapping their albums. Housed in a transparent little envelope comes a 26 page booklet, containing the essay Jackson Del Rey wrote about the story, a wrapper for the CD (beautiful) and a wrapper for the whole of it (pictured left), with the Fibonacci sequence on it (not visible here) if I am not mistaken. All very beautiful and probably costly.

And all that beauty is perhaps needed to match the music. Because beautiful is a word that pops up in my mind on a regular base while listening to this. The 10 tracks are Isabel XII to Isabel XXI, a logical continuation of the previous album. The opening track with the vocals of Meg Maryatt sets the tone. It may be mellow, but the tension building here is really great, very good start of the album and what we are to expect. Some of the songs are instrumental. Sometimes with a beat or percussion guiding the track along. Various instruments are used to help build the atmosphere needed. Especially the acoustic guitars and various violins prove helpful. The music is described as a mix of prog, classical and folk and that is a tag I understand. But for me this is a lovely album that anyone with ears and a heart will enjoy. So please give it a chance!

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Janet Feder, This Close, 2015

janet feder - this closeDon’t know about you, but I kinda like it when an artist releases music that is so personal and intimate, it is unique. And for me Janet Feder just did that. I can understand why she writes that previous work happened in her head and this comes from the heart. And even if only 3 from the 9 songs contain her vocals, she speaks volumes with her guitar as well.

With a background in folk and rock, but also classically trained, the tools were already there I guess, but the decision to just be, paved the path for these songs. And don’t expect to be overpowered by technique. When I say intimate, that is what you get. It feels like she is there in the room with you pouring her heart and soul out through her playing or singing.
The album opens with Crows and Ticking Time Bomb, 2 of the vocal tracks. Brooding with atmosphere and suspense, these suck you into the album immediately. Happy Everyday Me is the first instrumental track. Nylon stringed guitar and various sounds that enhance this composition. No Apology contains almost unidentifiable sounds behind another classical guitar piece.

And yes, the playing is impeccable, but what counts most for me is the way this music has been enriched. Janet and her friends succeeded in creating timeless music that touches on a deeper level. That Close indeed!


Bill Thurman, Some Kinda Blue, 2014

bill thurman - some kinda blueOne of the pleasant things of independent music is that it often surprises you. Must be that it takes strong willed musicians to get their craft in the open without backing of a company. Now take the current release from Bill Thurman for instance. I happen to know Bill from a discussion group and have always thought of him as a fiddler (using the word with respect, as that is one hell of an instrument to get some serious tone out of). But on this EP, Bill turns out to be quite the multi instrumentalist. On the list are piano, B3 organ, gut string guitar, acoustic bass, percussion and violin / fiddle. And on top of that, he sings too. And not half bad either. Hallelujah gets a fine and convincing rendition, and Shady Groove will probably light up any square dancing fest. Not than I know anything about that, am just presuming :).

Bill’s vision on the 6 songs (all are traditionals or covers) is fine. In fact, my only point of concern would be the thing needs more songs to showcase all the facets of his many talents. Nice listen!


Coppelius, Zinnober, 2010

coppelius - zinnoberOne of the joys of doing this, is the opportunity to bring unknown music to the fore. Well this is another perfect example of that. But first a question: do you think a band consisting of cello, upright bass, clarinets, drums and vocals can a) rock, b) sound like nothing you have ever heard before, or c) is something special?

Well, to me the right answer is d) all of the above. This outfit looks too crazy to work, but in reality this kicks major ass. Unique in many ways, yet rocks your socks off easily. The use of the German language does not distract at all (for me understanding that is easy, but that will not apply to everyone). It is a pity German is also the only language in which they correspond in booklet and website, but I am guessing that market is big enough for them to exist viably.

So if you like your music with a twist (think a mixture of progressive rock / metal / alternative / classical) and are not afraid to listen to songs you do not understand the lyrics of, but enjoy groove, melody and just powerful music, this might also be a great discovery for you. Go check it out! (I put a video from this album here a while ago).


Rich Batsford, Mindfulmess, 2012

Rich Batsford - MindfulmessOkay, this one I did not see coming. I did a review on the previous album from Rich Batsford, Valentine Court, which I still remember for the boldness of creating a solo piano album (as in piano being the sole thing you hear). On this new effort however, Rich hooked up a microphone and added his vocals. Not only lead, but also phenomenal harmonies. After reading he once was a member of a Beach Boys tribute band, I knew where those were coming from…

Another cool thing are the small rhythmic variations in the songs. Quite sure many drummers would really hate to play along to those. Yet they are not important in the way that they dominate. It is more of a small arrangement aspect to spice the songs up. Talking of songs, prepare to be blown away with the total package. I would go as far as to suggest that if Rich recruited a band (in Coldplay style) he would have hit appeal. Top X-factor material for sure.

Because if anything, this album is a joy from beginning to end. His vocals have great charm and, coupled with his impeccable piano playing, create moods that I cannot resist. In fact I think anyone with even the littlest interest in music will fall in love with this. It may be a mindfulmess (yeah, took me a while to figure out), but that mind sure creates beautiful things. BUY!


PS: To Rich, album 1: piano, album 2: piano and vocals, if album 3 needs guitars, give me a call 😉

Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Night Castle, 2009

trans-siberian orchestra - night castleSite regulars will have probably have read my posts about Savatage, Jon Oliva’s Pain, Circle II Circle and maybe even some of the classical stuff. So they will understand why the most successful enterprise that involves Paul O’Neill or Jon Oliva also gets a feature here. Of course that would be Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

To me, it is kind of hard to explain why this thing really took off in the USA. I mean, it is not that different from what Savatage did. Yet somehow this seems to work a lot better in the public eye. Not that I care much about that, I just love that combination of classical themes with pompous rock music. Especially when I get to hear people like Jay Pierce, Jeff Scott Soto, Tom Hockenberry or Jennifer Cella singing. And with a cast of players like Paul and Jon, together with Al Pitrelli, Chris Caffery, Johnny Lee Middleton or Jeff Plate (read Savatage) amongst a whole bunch of other great musicians, choirs and orchestra and all, you will not hear me complain.
This, being the fifth release, is a continuation of what we have heard before. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. Yes, I like bands to develop, but I can understand why the concept that is Trans-Siberian Orchestra is carefully guarded. And as long as they deliver the goods, and all those people show up at the concerts, you can expect them to keep going at it. Man, they are even bringing it to Europe now. Grandiose, and if the styles mentioned are tingling your spine as well, you should give them a listen!


Stäni Steinbock, The Runaway Kantele, 2011

stani-steinbock---en-kanteleThis album is a real labour of love from the Aland islands in Finland with the Finnish national instrument the Kantele having the major role. Musician Stäni Steinbock (a regular contributor to the Music Thoughts group) not only recorded 23 of his songs, but produced, mixed and did the artwork as well. So he is quite a busy guy!

The music on this album is pretty hard to categorize for me. Besides the kantele we hear slide guitar, cello, violin, keyboards, clarinet, occasional drums and various other less common instruments. So perhaps qualifying it as a mixture of folk and classical music comes close.
With this information up front, it will probably not come as a surprise that this is a very mellow album. For my regular taste that is. But that is not saying this cannot be enjoyed. Better yet, some songs and melodies are very beautiful.  The Sun Cat for example is a very uplifting song with a simple and effective melody.  Stäni sent me a little story to go with every song, but even without that, the mainly instrumental music has a way of getting your imagination fired quickly. And that is added value!

So maybe not for everyone, I still want to encourage you to check this out if you have a broad taste in music or can easily delve into all things folk or classical.