(updated 30 July 2010) Glass Hammer, best known as the American progressive rock band from Chattanooga, TN, continue to transform their sound in Three Cheers For The Lonely Hearted (Sound Resources (USA) SR2624 2009). Steve Babb and Fred Schendel returned to the studio for this project drawing on some of Glass Hammer's past but with an eye on driving the band forward in yet another direction. This new release is a collection of eleven shorter numbers with more tracks than ever before fronted by their female vocalist, Susie Bogdanowicz. [Editors Note: This review was originally written in November 2009 but was lost in our database; apologies to readers and the band for the publishing delay.]
While Glass Hammer is often fronted by their male singers, Babb and Schendel have embraced female vocalists since in the 1990s with solos and an occasional lead track. In the next decade, the band's sound continued to grow and their recordings evolved with even more female vocal solos primarily by Susie Bogdanowicz, Bethany Warren and Flo Paris. Supported by the Glass Hammer team, the decade also saw the launch of UI Blue, fronted by Laura Lindstrom who contributed to The Inconsolable Secret. Babb and Schendel also contributed to the launch of successful solo careers of Tracy Cloud, Michelle Young and Flo Paris.
Three Cheers For The Broken Hearted captures the production team's creative energy focusing it primarily on accessible female fronted tunes. The prominence of Steve Babb's bass guitar licks also span the entire album. Those that follow Glass Hammer will be surprised with the overall lighter texture of this album. It's not the progressive- or metal-edged sound that has characterized the band's growth this past decade. To whet our appetite with samples prior to release, Babb told us, "You'll hear some of Susie's vocals - but the samplers don't do her justice. You'll really love her ballads - I promise - but you'll have to wait till you can hear the whole album to appreciate it properly." He was so right.
"Come On, Come On," "The Lure Of Dreams," "A Rose For Emily" and "Sleep On" and "The Curse They Weave" are all fronted by Susie's multilayered vocals, with her solo voice rarely emerging from the harmonies. While "Come On, Come On" is a lovely ballad amply arranged with guitar and keyboard breaks and crisp percussion, "The Lure Of Dreams" is far more angular in construction and augmented with Babb's and Schendel's backing vocals. Even on the very gentle "A Rose For Emily," Susie's vocals are multi-tracked in layers that glide atop gentle arrangements and Beatlesque male harmones. Psychodelic electronic sounds contribute to the harder charging "Sleep On" and add breadth to the album. Susie's solo voice sneaks out in several brief passages within "The Curse They Weave."
Glass Hammer have also continued to propel the their past into the sounds of Three Cheers. "The Mid-Life Wierd" is an upbeat and accessible rock tune fronted by Steve and Fred, backed by Susie. Reminiscent of Perelandra, warm keyboard washes lie below the piano and sung melody and emerge again during the instrumental break. The slower paced "Sun Down Shores" continues to build on this "classic" Glass Hammer sound but with even more emphasis on Beatlesque harmonies. The gentle Schendel-fronted ballad "Falling" also pays homage to the band's roots. The vocal work is supported by a lovely instruemental arrangement of keyboards, guitar and crisp percussion.
Susie Bogdanowicz's crystalline lead vocal finally emerges in album standout "Hyperbole" while instrumental allusions to Yes and ELP shine through the arrangements. Harmony vocals in the chorus are especially stunning. Schendel's guitar solos are tremendous. And so as not to forget where the band have been, "The Curse They Weave" revisits their soiree in harder- metal-edged rock.
Three Cheers For The Broken Hearted returns Glass Hammer to the three stalwart members that have seen the band through the past decade. Their digression into shorter songs along with renewed emphasis on ballads and female vocal content may interest some listeners and alienate others.
Glass Hammer's artists clearly have significant creative spirit. The diversity makes this a wonderful album. Where will they go from here?