It 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…
Actually 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!
Don’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!
One 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!
One 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).
Okay, 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!
Site 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!
This 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.
Therion are a pretty recent discovery to me. And I must confess that the combination of classical music, metal, vocals in the vein of Orff’s Carmina Burana, Gothic and orchestrations really manages to stir me up. And in a good way! Mastermind Christofer Johnsson let more people in the current line up contribute to the song-writing. So we can hear tunes by the great Thomas Vikström and Snowy Shaw as well.
As expected, there is a lot of variety on board. But the melodies and arrangements are striking as always. I think a lot of work must go into thinking this out and recording the little symphonies. Lot´s of detail and piecing things together I am guessing. But as said, the result is intriguing to say the least. Maybe not for everyone, but for people into Gothic, Classical music and or metal, this is something you have to delve into! As I am not familiar with Therion’s complete back catalogue, I am not sure how the vocals on older material sounded. On this disk we sometimes hear more screaming parts and those are new to me. Yet I think they only add colour to this already beautiful palette. Kudos to Therion, they did it again!
Recently I was invited to visit a concert (thanks René) from this 7 women strong band in a theatre nearby. I was only happy to oblige as I heard of Reincarnatus before, but was not yet familiar with the music. The show proved very good; the lovely ladies wearing a lot of black leather, handling lots of (medieval) instruments and combining music and lyrics from that time frame with modern day drums, guitars, bass and keyboards. Leading lady Renate also amused the crowd with her great sense of humour and informative background stories. The way she handles the hurdy gurdy is reminiscent of one Edward Van Halen… And several ladies proved to be multi talented, constantly switching instruments and lead vocals. So of course I bought this album to listen to at home. And ladies, thanks for signing it!
The album did not disappoint at all, better yet, it impressed me even more as especially the guitars were more dominant in the mix then they were in the live sound. Describing their sound is tough though. Because of the many medieval instruments it sometimes sounds like folk or classical (film) music, impressive (duo or triple) singing, sometimes combined with Gregorian chants and pop vocals, a lot of fiddle, and all held together by a rock combo of drums, bass and guitar. Also the use of many old languages adds to the picture. Some parts keep sending the shivers down your spine.
So I can only applaud the ladies for the courage to assemble this and serve it to the public. I hope they gather a big audience with it and recommend you go see them when they are in your neighbourhood. For now that is mainly mainland Europe, but who knows…