Touchstone, Mad Hatters (Enhanced), 2009

Touchstone - Mad HattersI have reviewed the other albums from this lovely English band before on this blog. Recently I have found out about this re-release from their 2006 debut.

As I am impressed with the quality of the band, I ordered the CD from the website and got it fairly quick.

So the question is, how do these songs hold up to the other titles? Well in all fairness, I think the Touchstone sound is already clearly audible, but not completely on the same level as later releases. Which is a natural thing.
Main point are the female vocals. I am not completely sure it is Kim Seviour, the booklet does not tell who did what (except for the live tracks). But these are less adventurous as on later albums. On these 4 songs the vocals of Rob Cottingham are more prominent. Song wise it still is easy digestible progressive music leaning towards neo prog. I like Misguided Fool and the title track best. The latter having a mid section reminding me heavily of Yes (era Starship Trooper), without it sounding like a copy.

Added are live tracks Original Sin and Dignity. Not mentioned in the booklet, but also present is the track Mad World (Tears For Fears) where mister John Mitchell makes a guest appearance.

To sum it up, a nice addition to any prog collection.

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Classic: City Boy, The Day The Earth Caught Fire, 1979

city boy - the day the earth caught fireBecause of the title track being covered by the likes of Lion´s Share and Jorn Lande, I was pointed to this fantastic, yet unknown to me, band from England.
Only after buying it, I found out that one of my guitar heroes, Mike Slamer, was in the band. Which certainly adds to the charm of City Boy.

In case you don´t know the title track, I believe it is worth the money for this album on it´s own. What a grandiose song. It has a very clever and inspirational arrangement and is as catchy as the flu in wet and windy September.

But there are other tracks of the same calibre on board. And while titles like It´s Only The End Of The World or Interrupted Melody might suggest a depressed affair, the truth couldn´t be farther from it. This is very uplifting stuff with that timeless quality that makes it a classic. After all, released in 1979 and still a great listen.

The band hold several singers, so a lot of vocals can be heard. But the solo´s are also very nice. If you liked Slamer on his solo records, with Steelhouse Lane or Streets, you gotta hear this as well. The guy has an unbelievable tone.

So it´s melodic, it is symphonic, it rocks, it is intelligent, it is a classic. Buy it, it has been re-released a couple of years ago!

Oz Knozz, 10,000 Days & Nights, 2008

Oz Knozz - 10,000 Days & NightsI always thought my band Chinawhite is slow releasing albums, but these Americans out do us in that field easily. In 30 years of existence this is their second output! At least, if memory serves me right.

And with an album not even reaching 40 minutes, I am guessing they put quality over quantity any time.

What we have here is a mixture of melodic hard rock and more progressive tinged music. There are a lot of backing vocals and catchy choruses, but also keyboard solo´s and short instrumental pieces and riffs that show the band are not afraid to experiment.

Of course, with so many years under their belt, it is clear from the word go that these guys know their instruments. Some guitar solo´s are very impressive. But melodies are never far away, making this an easy to digest album. Most of the songs lasting 3 to 4 minutes also contributes to the quick acceptance of this record.

I like it, and hope the band will not let us wait that long for a next release. Meanwhile I will try to track down a copy of Rough Mix, their previous release.

Personal play tips: just start it up!

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Everon, Flesh, 2002

everon - fleshFor some reason this was the only Everon CD not present in my collection. Glad that finally got corrected!

If you are not familiar with Everon, let me explain a little. Everon are a German band playing melodic progressive rock that sometimes borders into metal. They have a great feel for grandiose songs with massive orchestrations and melodic soloing. But don´t shy away from shorter rocking songs or heartfelt ballad type pieces as well. For some the voice of leader Oliver Phillips (also keyboards and guitars) is an acquired taste, but I have no problem with that.

I think it is an asset when a band creates a sound that identifies them within seconds. Due to owning their own studio (Spacelab) Everon are able to record their CD´s  virtually at home and they put that to good use. All their albums have a clear and massive sound.

Song wise we get what we can expect from them. And I don´t mean that to put them down. There is a reason I buy all their output. Again Phillips pours out his heart and the songs magnify those emotions very well. Just listen to a couple of guitar solo´s and get a good grasp of what melodic soloing should be about.  Another great album from this band whom I feel deserve more recognition. Give them a try!

Personal play tips: try the first 3 tracks, they are a good representation for the band.

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Classic: It Bites, Eat Me In St. Louis, 1989

it bites - eat me in st louisOut of the 3 disks this band released in the 80’s, it is hard choosing. They all have that special quality that makes me still enjoy them very much.

The first reason I like this band is their singer, and guitarist extra ordinaire Francis Dunnery (whose solo albums afterwards are very different, but still full of class). His soloing is out of this planet and distinctive. Second it´s the way they were able to melt rock and pop into high quality songs, filled to the brim with musicianship, melody and adventure. Never a dull moment!

Just take a look at the songs on display on this third album, their last studio album with the original cast of FD, John Beck on keyboards and vocals, Bob Dalton on drums and vocals and Dick Nolan on bass and vocals. A lot of vocals in the band, which created wonderful harmonies.

The album starts with a rocking Positively Animal, which sets the mood brilliantly for what is to follow. Track Still Too Young To Remember should have been a number 1 hit all over the world if there was any justice. Humour was never far away in the lyrics of this band, with songs like Underneath Your Pillow or People Of America being more testimony to that. But the absolute highlight of the album to me is the stunning drama that is The Ice Melts Into Water. A true heartbreaking lyric about losing a daughter. And music to match.

At the time the band got some criticism about being too loud at times. I think they were light-years ahead. In recent years the band has been revived and is releasing new material with former fan John Mitchel (o.a. Arena) stepping admirably in the shoes of Francis. Their return is welcome, but please check out their career start.

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Classic: King Crimson, Beat, 1982

KING CRIMSON - BEATMost people will have expected the first King Crimson album In The Court Of The Crimson King. And I fully understand everybody in that respect. That is an absolute cracker, with songs like for instance 21st Century Schizoid Man and the title track being timeless.

But to me, Beat is the one to discuss here. Besides it being the record that got me into King Crimson in the first place, I feel this album sounds as fresh today as it did back then.

The four piece consisting of Robert Fripp, Adrian Belew, Tony Levin and Bill Bruford were creating some very powerful and imaginative music at the time, which has stood the test of time remarkably well.
Whether it´s the groove of Sartori in Tangier (where Tony Levin is beating his stick to everyone´s joy), or the instant addictiveness of Neal And Jack And Me or Heartbeat, or the absolute melting drama of Two Hands (just listen to the voice of Belew and his clean guitar, counter-parted by Fripp´s frippertronics), this album still grabs me by the throat every time I hear it. Needless to say that if music does that to you, it has got to be a classic.

For people unknown to the Crimson King, this album is a good way to start educating yourself. I am sure it will whet your appetite, leaving you wanting more.

Magnum, Into The Valley Of The Moonking, 2009

magnum - into the valley of the moonkingFor over 30 years British rock band Magnum have been pleasing us with their records. Over the years they have released several classic (symphonic) rock albums (especially in the 80´s) and after a few albums under the Hard Rain moniker, they are slowly but steady getting back in top shape.

Proof of this is the album on hand here: last years Into The Valley Of The Moonking. From the artwork to the songs and performance, it is all there! Listening to this I noticed I was no longer trying to compare to albums past. No, this collection of songs grabs your throat and goes straight for the heart. Here they stick to their guns and do what they do best, create an album of rock songs with that typical Magnum progressive touch. Nothing too heavy, but it rocks. Chock-full of melody with all arrangements adding to the atmosphere of the album. Bob Catley isn´t capable of singing badly in my humble opinion, but depends on the material delivered to him. And this time Tony Clarkin must have had several inspirational moods. He delivers big time on this one.

For me an album that sits with the best of them. I sadly missed a few recent albums (not for long I think), but be sure to not miss this one. A classic in the making. Get it!

Personal play tips: The Moonking, In My Mind´s Eye, If I Ever Lose My Mind, but better to play them all…

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Robert Berry, The Dividing Line, 2008

Robert Berry  - The Dividing LineRobert Berry is one of those people I feel is not known enough. In my humble opinion he deserves a much bigger audience. Be it melodic rock or more symphonic work, he pulls it all off in style and with class. Just listen to his album with The December People (he still officially does not claim this by the way) where he plays various Christmas songs in the style of bands like Queen, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Kansas, etc.) My favourite X-mas album of all time!

This is by my knowledge his latest release so far en borders mostly into melodic rock territory. If you know his work you already know what to expect. For the non believers, Robert Berry is a very capable multi instrumentalist who writes songs with memorable choruses, great hooks and enough variation to keep playing and enjoying them. Because of his studio work (I believe he owns and works from Soundtek Studios in Campbell California) he also knows how to make everything sound good.

So I hope this will stimulate more people to check him out. Solo, or with bands like Three, Hush or Alliance. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Personal play tips: The Dividing Line, This Life, Young Hearts.

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Hybrid Ice, Mind’s Eye, 2009

hybrid ice - minds eyeThe first album of this band I heard a few years back. Little late since it was originally released in 1982 , but it was a reissue (with an awesome extra track).
Not so long ago I read somewhere they posted a video for a track of the current release on YouTube. And what an exceptional track it was, I was hooked…

Described as one of the most famous unsigned bands ever (to me they are one of the best) this release is filled with great to exceptional songs. The quality is in fact unbelievable. Why they have to do it all by themselves is beyond me. Or maybe it is because they want to.

This is melodic rock with a lot of depth. Both musically as well as lyrically. Some songs and arrangements border on progressive rock. But it all has meaning. And what melodies! This is highly addictive stuff with everything in the right place. As they say in the album closer “Faith Without Works is dead” (see the video also). I am so glad they still have the faith to produce another album and I for one hope their work is not ended yet.
So far they have 3 albums under their belt, so I have to find their second album as well. Fingers crossed there are more coming up. Fantastic stuff, GET IT!

Personal play tips: just push play and repeat.

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Ajalon, On The Threshold Of Eternity, 2005

ajalon - on the threshold of eternityI reviewed a more recent album of Ajalon earlier here, and now this one turned up for playing.

Interesting here is the use of flutes in some tracks. Gives it a folk vibe at times. But other than that, I feel I can repeat myself saying that Ajalon is worth checking out if you are into classic prog or progressive rock.

Is some aspects this album made me think of bands like White Heart or John Elefante. These are also Christian acts who serve very convincing material without preaching their beliefs to the listener all the time. Ajalon are definitely more progressive though. Not unlike (in a positive way) Neal Morse, for which member Randy George is also active.

This material only grows after repeated plays. It is so diverse, yet able to attract with the clever use of melody and arrangements. Great performances throughout. Songs ranging from 4 to 16 minutes. It is all I can wish for in a progressive band. Top notch, so don´t hold back and buy their albums.  Simple!

Personal play tips: play and repeat…

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