Classic: Gentle Giant, Civilian, 1980

gentle giant - civilianI am guessing this first Classic Album will raise a few eyebrows already 😉

This is actually the first Gentle Giant album I ever heard and I immediately fell in love with it. And I said it before, albums you grow up on, tend to stick with ya and get that aura of being fantastic due to all the memories attached.

Even for the time it was rather short, but I just kept playing the LP at the time. For it´s wonderful choruses, the great use of Hammond by Kerry Minnear, the inventive guitar licks by Gary Green, and the somewhat hoarse voice of singer Derek Shulman. (and to complete the list of musicians involved: Ray Shulman played the bass, and John Weathers drummed). And a lot of singing of course.

And yes, this has little to do with their previous output. So imagine my surprise checking out albums like Octopus, Free Hand or Missing Piece. From where I was coming from (hard rock) that was not an easy task. But I grew into it and have since also developed a taste for quality symphonic music.

But this was close to perfection according to me. On it´s own I regard it a classic melodic rock album with some symphonic influences. In hindsight I understand some of the older fans as well. they thought it was a sell out and hated the band for it.

For me, I still enjoy playing this (meanwhile upgraded to CD) All Through The Night

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.

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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.

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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.

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