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Auralgasms' Beat Of Discontent
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Image © Sal The Band 2004
Image © Stephen Lambe 2004
Our exclusive interview with Sal will be published here soon!
(21 August 2004) Sal are an immensely talented and likeable four-piece band from Cardiff in South Wales playing an infectious brand of power pop with a punkish edge to it. They are fronted by the delightful Cat, who also co-writes many of the lyrics with the chief architect of the bands sound, songwriter and guitarist Noog. Kev provides some excellent, mobile bass and Den delivers some remarkable drumming considering the speed and power of many of the bands' songs.
Having met the band by chance a couple of weeks earlier, we travelled to Cardiff in Wales to see the band play a rousing 40-minute set in the tiny "Clwb Ifor Bach." The band clearly relish playing live, and despite a smallish audience, gave the set their all. Noog and Kev are both dynamic and skilled live performers, but it is Cat that captivates, throwing herself around on the fast numbers yet still seeming to live every emotion the lyrics send her way, from anger to joy to sadness.
Those that might dismiss the band as another throwaway power pop band should think again, however. It is easy to write a catchy chorus, but in Noog they have a songwriter of genuine craft. There is a moment at the end of the chorus of "The Breakup Song," for instance, that Burt Bacharach would be proud of, and though his songs are remarkably catchy and fun, they also have a Beatle-esque quality about them. Lyrically, too, there are simple truths crammed into the twelve songs than some artists manage in a whole career. The words are direct and emotional, and the songs are all the better for it. As a guitarist, he is remarkably inventive within the unenviable strictures of playing fast metal-edged pop. There are few guitar clichés, here, as he throws in odd teasing moments of reggae here, or a little acoustic there to lift the arrangements out of the norm.
And then there is Cat. She has a voice of richness and power, with a hint of New Wave diva Siouxsie about her singing. She has real talent, with a genuine vulnerability and charm, which compliments Noog's song writing perfectly. Backing and harmony vocals are used sparingly but to excellent effect.
Dysfunctional includes twelve songs (plus a bonus track) and is well titled, as each song illustrates an aspect of the dysfunctionality of the human condition, with Cat pictured on the cover in what might be a straightjacket. Ten of these tracks are up-tempo rock, while the other two demonstrate a more gentle aspect to the band. The album opens with "Suffer in Silence" a song about domestic abuse, some joyfully metallic rhythm guitar building to an excellent, typically classy chorus. The tempo is maintained with the clever "Run Away," though the pace relents at the beginning each chorus teasing a little before tilting into the main chorus. The ultra-speedy "Perfect" is up next, its lyrics funny and aggressive, once again using a sudden drop in tempo to build tension before a heads down surge into the chorus. There is more playfulness on "Desperate and Dateless", with Den drumming at full throttle, but and some a spine tingling use of backing vocals on the sing-along chorus.
"Death Ray" has an inventive instrumental intro, before launching into a full-tilt punk metal workout, with one of few guitar solos on the album! After the relentless, yet wonderful speed of the first five songs, the band then shows that they can slow it down, with the enthralling power ballad "Tomorrow I'll be gone". Along side his ever-efficient guitar, Noog plays some effective electric piano, and a string quartet boosts the arrangement. Cat here shows that she is also versatile--her vocal positively aches, and the song builds impressively and emotively. A remarkably mature piece of song writing, even if the lyrics do occasionally stray into cliché. The excellent "The One" kicks up the pace again, and has an interesting chord progression on the verse, before another excellent chorus, which is less immediate but is therefore more rewarding with repeated listens. There is more fast metal on "The Loser", with another pithy lyric and great chorus.
The familiar "Wake Up" is slower and classier, instrumentally quite sophisticated and well structured, and one of the strongest songs on the album both melodically and lyrically, while "Less than me" teases with a reggae influenced verse and a full-throttle chorus expressing an excellent lyric about jealousy. "The Break Up Song" is another album highlight, through a great "twist in the tale" lyric and a punk-ish chorus with a wonderful pop climax. Album closer "For Real" is a brief and beautiful acoustic guitar and strings led ballad, with Cat’s gentle vocal high in the mix. The reviewed copy of the album also features a bonus track, the bands anthemic "I Thought You Were Dead."
This album really is something special, and it deserves huge commercial success, outstripping pretty much everything already on the market in indie and punk / metal circles. Vital, emotional, tuneful and inspired, it is a remarkable debut that screams to be heard. In a word, brilliant.--Stephen Lambe
Image © Spherics 2004
Image © Stephen Lambe 2004
(20 August 2004) Musical Discoveries first became aware of Spherics during the Guilfest festival in July 2004, where they performed as a six-piece hard rock band, fronted by the striking Shylo Van Heyzen. Subsequent investigation revealed them to be a band of considerable talent and depth, playing songs in a variety of styles while maintaining a philosophy of playing music with emotion and atmosphere. The core of the band, based in Surrey, UK, are Shylo who provides wonderfully warm yet powerful vocals, and talented multi-instrumentalist Jay Wood who plays all studio instruments. We here review their four-track EP "Making Waves" to whet the appetite of readers for more coverage of this excellent and immensely promising new band.
A folk-influenced acoustic introduces "23.50," before both electric and acoustic guitars lead the instruments into the song proper, a slow paced rocker which maintains is rootsy lilt though out. Shylo's lead vocal is wonderful, and the multi-tracked vocals on the chorus are spine tingling. Next up is "Love Song?," one of the band’s finest pieces. This is lighter and funkier, but still wonderfully atmospheric and passionate with an uplifting chorus and some great, sustained guitar.
Electric guitar harmonics--always good for setting a mood--introduce "Sunsets and Cemeteries" which is wonderfully atmospheric pop, with another delightful vocal arrangement and some inventive instrumentation. "My darkness" is much more up-tempo and heavy, a keyboard-laden verse leading into a raw, aggressive chorus, showcasing Jay's rock guitar style (with strong echos of 80s gothic rock as well as contemporary heavy rock) and Shylo's impressive vocal range.
As a showcase for what the band can do this EP is just too short. So many musical styles are suggested--and indeed mastered-- while maintaining a consistent mood, we were simply left desperate for more. Having heard some of the bands other material, including some rough mixes from their forthcoming album, they have talent to burn and an exciting future. A stunning EP and an exciting taste of the future.--Stephen Lambe
Image © Stephen Lambe 2004
Photo by Stephen Lambe
© CET Records 2004
Image © Stephen Lambe 2004
(21 August 2004) Claire Toomey EP. Having seen 17 year-old prodigy Claire Toomey perform with a full electric band at Guilfest in July 2004, we were mightily impressed--not just with her songs and voice, but with her maturity and personality. This review of her five-track acoustic EP, entitled "The Overtones Session" released earlier in the year, acts as a taster for further coverage of Claire on Musical Discoveries. Over the next few months, watch out for a review of her first, highly impressive, electric ep, and an in depth interview.
It has often been said that the test of a good song is whether it stands up on its own when played accompanied by acoustic guitar or piano. On these five songs, Claire demonstrates just that. They are played with a minimum of fuss or overdubs--an occasional bass or second guitar is all that are added to the sparse arrangements to accompany Claire's guitar and strong lead vocal. Her voice is interesting--strong and warm, she sings with a refreshingly earthy but charming Southern English accent and a minimum of vibrato. Her vocals are up front but mixed with as little reverb as possible, giving a sparse yet intimate effect. The result--beautifully realised--is that it feels like she is there singing in the room with the listener.
These are not really folk songs--their excellent hooks and contemporary construction place them very much in the pop rock genre--though "Never Would" has some nice folky picking before leading into the song proper. The excellent "Don’t Wanna Hate You" is full of anger and has a fuller arrangement, with bass and overdubbed guitar adding to a song reminiscent of Thea Gilmore. "I Believe" is much more folky, with another excellent chorus. The final two songs on the EP will appear in electric versions on the forthcoming band CD. "One Last Look" could easily make Claire famous, a potential hit single given the right treatment, while "World Without Windows" is equally impressive, a great song and a literate lyric.
This is very impressive stuff, leading to the inevitable conclusion that Claire could well be the most promising young singer songwriter to emerge in years. Very good, and more importantly, it is only the beginning.--Stephen Lambe
(26 September 2004) One Last Look. Seventeen year old Croydon, England singer songwriter Claire Toomey's second EP offers considerable development from her first, entirely acoustic offering recorded last year. Here we now have three of her best songs, "One Last Look," "I can’t stay here" and "World Without Windows," with a further acoustic version of the final song. Such is the quality of these offerings that any of the three songs could have been chosen as the lead number. The chosen arrangements are tasteful throughout--soft rock, guitar led backing is supplemented by some appropriate keyboards and just the hint of a contemporary sheen. Claire's tight, effective backing vocals add considerably to the arrangements, enhancing her intimate, very English lead vocals without swamping them.
"One Last Look" is glorious, acoustic and shimmering U2-style electric guitar giving way to Claire's edgy vocal, leading into the delightful hook of the chorus. There is a brief echo guitar break at the end of the song, which bodes well for live performance. The backing vocals are especially effective on "I can’t stay here," the simple refrain of the chorus bolstered by some effective keyboards, while there are some lovely atmospherics on "World Without Windows" and the vocals on the chorus are a delight. The acoustic version of the song is an effective, stripped down version of the same arrangement.
These electric versions are clearly designed to enhance the songs and Claire's voice as far as possible, without the instrumentation being too intrusive and are therefore somewhat neutral and it would perhaps have been nice to hear a ballad on this ep by way of contrast. Ultimately, Claire may have to ask herself some important questions about direction if she is to find a large market for her undoubtedly great songs, but in the meantime let us revel in her considerable talent.--Stephen Lambe
Image © Auralgasms 2004
Individual Artists' Websites
Au Revoir Borealis
(19 August 2004) The folks at www.auralgasms.com have recently released an exceptional compilation album entitled The Beat of Discontent (Auralgasms (USA) 2004) which features some of the websites' favorite artists. Auralgasms is "devoted to the discovery of new and under-appreciated artists." Like Musical Discoveries, Auralgasms seeks to promote emerging bands and artists that are noteworthy, but whom the industry may not be aware of.
In fact, The Beat of Discontent includes songs by several artists that have been reviwed and featured here at Musical Discoveries including Kristy Thirsk, Daughter Darling, and Hungry Lucy.
The Auralgasms team have done a wonderful job of selecting a group of artists from variety of genres ranging from electronica to folk.
Some of our favorites are reviewed below. Au Revoir Borealis' "Waldorf Theft Song," which is a melange of 80's Brit-moodiness, modern electronic washes and Cocteau Twins acoustica. Great music for a late night drive to the ocean. "Run Away" by Kristy Thirsk. Many Musical Discoveries readers will be familiar with the work of Canada's angel voice, Kristy Thirsk who fronted the now-defunct band Rose Chronicles and whose voice shaped Delerium's sound. The catchy and melodic "Runaway" is probably the strongest track from Kristy's solo album "Souvenir."
The slow-like-honey sound of Violet Indiana is well-represented by the track "Busted." Violet Indiana is Cocteau Twins co-founder, Robin Guthrie and ex-Mono frontwoman, Siobhan de Mare. Together, the two create lush melodies that would sit comfortably in a Twin Peaks episode. Anabret's sound is both uplifting and dreamy. Hailing from Seattle, their sound might best be described as a synthesis of U2, Alan Parson's Project and Coldplay--mellow, but meaningful, Anabret are definitely worth a listen.
The diminutive but feisty candaian Emm Gryner is also featured on the compilation. The instantly catch "Symphonic" is a perfect pop song from her album Asianblue. A rippingly hooky verse and harmonically rich chorus compel repeated listens. Daughter Darling's "Broken Bridge" is a terrific piano/trip-hop fusion creation. Garnering wide acclaim for being innovators of a new and more melodic trip-hop sound, Daughter Darling are just deserving of such praise.
Orange County's Trespassers William are an exceptional acoustic outfit whose shoegazing/folk vibe calls to mind the Cowboy Junkies or Mazzy Star. Let the sweet melancholic ambience of "Lie in the Sound" wash over you. "The Beat of Discontent" is a perfect way to become familiar with superb artists of whom you may not have yet heard. Highly recommended! You can order your copy at www.auralgasms.com.--Justin Elswick in Provo, UT and Russ Elliot in New York
Image © Sanctuary Records Group 2004
More Kate Aumonier
Interview and Photos
(08 August 2004) In the run up to her debut album last winter, emerging British singer songwriter Kate Aumonier released a four track EP entitled "Fall From Grace." Critics acclaim, "With one of the best vocals from any of the new UK female artists and a live performance that has utterly mesmerised crowds from the Albert Hall to the Bush Hall, Kate Aumonier is a new and very unique talent." Our exclusive interview presents further information on the artist's background and unique perspectives.
Kate Aumonier was discovered by legendary producer Glyn Johns. She worked with his son Ethan as well as Mike Rutherford and Gordon Raphael, and developed the credentials to become a new force in British music. Given the impeccable credentials that may burden other artists, it is refreshing when you meet her to come across someone who cannot help smiling and laughing, someone who jokes about the turmoil of being expelled from school. But ultimately that experience took her on a voyage that led to her working with some of the most outstanding creative musical forces of the past five years. Read our interview for further details.
Here I Am (Sanctuary Music (UK), SANCD224, 2004) is comprised of eleven radio friendly length tracks and includes the four songs from Kate's EP "Fall From Grace" (Sanctuary Music (UK) SANEP227, 2003). Listeners familiar with the EP will therefore find seven new tracks. The album's production continues to focus on the singer with both backing harmonies and even the more powerful instrumentals never overpowering Kate's lead vocal.
The album's material varies between the gentler edge of singer songwriter ("Simple Heart," "You With Me" and "By This Time"), robust Alison Moyet-style ballad ("Fall From Grace" and "Medusa Let Go") and bluesy rockers ("Laugh As You Fall"). Accessible radio tunes include "Morning After Girl" and the evocative "Much Like Yesterday." There is indeed something for every female vocal enthusiast on the album and the material naturally grow on the listener with repeated plays.
Other standout numbers include the robust title track which actually concludes the album. Here Kate's voice soars in the catchy chorus well above the robust electric guitar-based rock instrumentation. Lush backing vocals line the chorus of the stunningly produced "Beautiful Girl." The guitar solos demonstrate the virtuosity of Kate Aumonier's sound. The edgy singer songwriter "Modern Day Crawl" is also certain to appeal to Thea Gilmore enthusiasts.
After the best part of two years writing and performing, Kate Aumonier and Sanctuary Records have produced and released an album of diverse music certain to please female vocals enthusiasts.
Here I Am has indeed been worth the wait. Catch Kate on tour this autumn and give her album the listen it deserves.
Photo © Amy Freeman 2004
(25 July 2004) The latest EP from Sam Holmes, based in Cheltenham, England, is a lightly arranged and heartfelt four-track demo made in 2003 (review). A self-titled EP drew critical acclaim from our editorial staff as well as authors for the Classic Rock Society about fifteen months ago. Sam clearly operates in the singer songwriter territory. The material on her latest EP is well played, sensitively sung and well produced. In addition to acoustic instrumentation, vocal layers add texture to the songs.
The EP opens with the track "Falling Down," a gently rocking ballad with occasionally layered vocals accompanied by acoustic guitar and light keyboard. "Breathe In" has a bluesy feel with more prominent piano--listen for the jazzy solo during the instrumental bridge--and overall instrumentation that is more robust. Lovely harmonies add texture and depth to the material. Sam's sweet voice works perfectly with the piano and acoustic guitar arrangement.
"Spaces" is a very lightly arranged ballad sung from Sam's heart. And it has been produced effectively with limited resources. But perhaps the most representative illustration of Sam's vocal talent her performance on the track "Solid Ground" that concludes this EP. Vocal layers perfectly join the acoustic arrangement of consisting of guitar and cello. Her tender vocals effectively deliver the heartfelt lyrical message.
While Sam now has amassed seven tracks, there are no plans for a commercial release. She is however out there performing on stage--check out the news section of her website for upcoming shows--and securing notariety in the music press. Sam Holmes has tremendous potential and we are going to be hearing more from this young woman.
Image © Pacific Moon (Japan) 2004
Image © Halftone Music 2004
More Eri Sugai
Mai | Air
(25 July 2004) It is unbelievable how poorly the modern Asian music is known in other parts of the world, especially in Europe. European and American crossover artists such as Enya and Adiemus sell millions of their albums fairly easily, but unfortunately, they leave also many smaller but at least equally wonderful artists behind.
Review. One of these great artists almost totally unknown outside Asia is Japanese Eri Sugai, whose stunning debut album Mai (review) was released in 2000 in Japan and in 2001 in several other territories. Additionally, Eri Sugai performed on Air by the ensemble Stella Mirus (review), who are planning a new release soon. Eri Sugai's new album is entitled Kaori (Pacific Moon (Japan) CHCB-10051 (PMR-0051), 2004). Eri Sugai's music will most certainly appeal to fans of Adiemus and Miriam Stockley to name a few.
Musically, Kaori is very carefully made, a great wholeness, which kind of continues from Sugai's debut album Mai. The features of Asian and Japanese music cultures are still strongly featured in the music; in addition to the invented phonetic lyrics, Eri Sugai has successfully used e.g. Asian gamelan instruments, shamisen, sitar, Chinese flutes, and lots of percussion, and she literally makes the music to tell stories. Stories from imagined voyages to Asia, stories from the Okinawa area in a modernised folk song "Teinsagu Nu Hana" which also features some African-sounding, Adiemus-like vocals, and so on. Even the 1300-year-old well-known composition "Etenraku" has been splendidly modernised, so that the old and the new traditions go smoothly hand in hand on that song.
Although those Asian flavours are still strongly present in Eri's music, that feature is not making the music to become numb or boring. Also, much criticism has been expressed about new age or crossover music, insisting that the artists of those genres are producing samey music from album to another, this is not the case with Eri Sugai at all. Eri Sugai's music is indeed diverse and very enjoyable with all kinds of flavours and rich ideas, but that doesn't make her music too diverse either!
Both melodically and rhythmically, Kaori is a splendidly made album, featuring dynamic pieces such as the lilting "Breath of Earth" as well as the sequel to "Song of Birth" (from Mai), entitled "Kunino Sazuchi," and very melodic, almost angelic and heavenly piece "Eternal Prayer" which features baroque-like chorus setting. Another piece which deserves a special mention is "Silence," featuring the idea of "shishi odoshi," a bamboo water piece in the Japanese tea garden which gently plops when releasing the water from its hollow and hitting the rock beneath it. Eri Sugai's idea of using sounds like this in her music is indeed an unique and a wonderful one, and the idea is resulted as a delicate, unwinding piece.
Each and every track on the album is an important part of a big musical rainbow, a rainbow which wonderfully contains numerous and numerous colours. And, the more one listens this album, the more colours, different hues and dimensions can be found. The musical experience is so unforgettable that the more one listens the album, the more difficult it is to place the pieces into any ranking. This property is one of the features, which every musician and songwriter should keep always in mind when making music.
Interview. MD: What did you have in mind for Kaori? Eri Sugai: Like a fresh fragrance. Arising from the album like fresh wind weaving out of the bamboo grove. You can hear the quiet whispering of the spirits that say they dwell in the hollows of the bamboos. Just like the layers of bamboo leaves are so refreshing and cool, the layers of brightly hued signing voices become also so crystalline clear.
And how does the album develop? From the magestic voyage in the opening it goes on to the ancient story song of the second, and in the third, transcending the ethnic instruments gamelan and the digiridoo. I use my voice to weave the aesthetic sounds of harmony. As instruments of various nations dance in sound, my voice throbs and dances to the waves of these sounds, and runs between these waves and weaves a tapestry of its own.
How about some more examples? We find transitions of nature and songs of praises to the earth. There are no boundaries of lands to the words I create yet there is such a feeling of nostalgia for ancient Japan in the rich resonance of these sounds. You can feel the landscapes, the images of the Japanese kokoro--the psyche--in these. But5 I don't stop at Japan or Asia. Instead I attempt to integrate Western sounds.
How do you create the music? Painstakingly. I record the voice in many layers before placing the main vocal in this chorus. Finally I construct my world of sounds and weave the ancient beauty of Japan into the tapestry. You'll find bright hues of sounds dedicated to the heavens in festivals and ceremonies in the sound, and an unlimited expression of the human voice and a gift delivered from the heavenly skies.
Please compare it to Mai. The album contains the hearfelt desire not only to listen to the voice but to the fragrance of the music. Because I have had many journeys to so many lands, I know now how my own country and other countries can coexist in harmony and in the same way that I love this island of the four seasons, my own nostalgia for this ancient land pulses strongly in each piece of this album.
One must only hope, that already in the near future the word of the unique and wonderful music made by Asian artists such as Eri Sugai could spread also outside Asia, and that this could increase the recognition to worldwide level. This music really deserves the worldwide attention, both in terms of the album sales as well as in terms of live performances. In summary, Eri Sugai's album Kaori is indeed a real ear-charmer, and a must-listen!--Suvi Kaikkonen in Oulu, Finland and Russ Elliot in New York
Image © Sony Music 2004
(19 July 2004) To celebrate Kansas' 30th anniversary of their debut album, Sony/Legacy have reissued the bands first two albums on CD with newly remastered sound and deluxe packaging. Kansas consists of Kerry Livgren (guitars and keyboards), Steve Walsh (lead vocals and keyboards), Robby Steindhardt (violin and vocals), Richard Williams (guitar), Dave Hope (bass) and Phil Ehart (drums).
The debut album from 1974 is quite impressive for a first outing. The album opens with "Can I Tell You," a jam rock piece that features some excellent violin work from Robby and is the first track to feature what would become Kerry Livgren's trademark electric guitar sound which is instantly recognizable. "Bringing it Back" a J.J. Cale cover completely rearranged is an up tempo piece that features Robby handling lead vocals, a strong rhythm section and once again stellar violin work from Robby as well.
"Lonely Wind" a gorgeous ballad written by Steve Walsh showcases Steve's great voice with subtle piano and guitar. This track could have easily been a single for the band and is one of the many gems on this disc. Outstanding harmonies showcase what would become Kansas' trademark vocal sound.
"Belexes" a Kerry Livgren composition is a combination of hard rock and progressive rock. Steve's deft Hammond organ work is featured. This track particularly is a showcase for the outstanding musicianship in the band. A fan favorite ending with a short but outstanding drum solo.
"Journey from Mariabronn" is without a doubt the crowing glory of the album. The song opens with a great synth line and builds from there to a soaring instrumental intro somewhat mystical in sound and just all around brilliant and executed perfectly. A gorgeous melody which stays with the listener long after the song is over. This is pure progressive rock with Kansas' trademark touches. The middle section features some of the best drum/guitar interplay in music history. This builds to a frenzy with stunning synth/violin harmonies. The intro is revisited again followed by another verse building to a dramatic climax of soaring vocals and synths. Simply put this track alone is worth the price of the CD.
"Pilgrimage" a mix of rock and R&B features great vocals from both Robby and Steve. These harmonies would become the hallmark sound of the band. Steve and Robby's voices blend together perfectly. Some great soloing from Robby and Kerry give a slight country feel to the song at times. "Apercu" another Livgren composition clocks in at just under 10 minutes and combines all the elements of progressive rock. Complex arrangements, intricate playing, stunning synth leads all weaved together perfectly. A haunting melody underscores the track which comes to a climactic ending. Kerry's thought provoking lyrics is a highlight.
The final track "Death of Mother Nature Suite" has a King Crimson/ELP feel to the track. This track has an eclectic combination of styles throughout the song. From blistering guitar to acoustic strumming to ethereal organ sounds. Steve's Hammond work as well as Kerry's guitar solo's are a highlight. Full blown progressive rock with hard rocking flourishes bring the album to a powerful conclusion. Another Livgren composition this song showcases the musical genius of Kerry Livgren and the complexity of his compositions.
There is a bonus track--"Bringing it Back" live from the Agora Ballroom, Cleveland, Ohio 1975. This previously unreleased live track shows Kansas can deliver the goods live just as good if not even better than in the studio. A blistering version of this track featuring an extended organ solo. Robby brings the song to a thundering finale with some truly outstanding violin work.
Newly remastered sound by Joseph M. Palmaccio at Sony music studios adds clarity and depth to the music that was missing from the original mid 80s first CD releases. Vocals are clear and crisp. Keyboards and violins sparkle. Guitar, bass and drums shimmer with sonic perfection. Separation and detail are excellent throughout making it hard to believe these albums were recorded thirty years ago.
An informative essay written by Bret Adams along with
excellent photos of the band
make this new reissue a must have. Whether you're new to Kansas or a longtime fan this new remaster will be a welcome addition to your music collection--Scott Bassin
Image © Sony Music 2004
(19 July 2004) Kansas' second album released in 1975 shows the band maturing and coming into their own with what many consider to be one of their finest albums. The CD opens with "Down the Road" a catchy full fledged rocker with Robby handling lead vocals. Excellent violin, organ and guitar interplay throughout. Kerry and Richard's dueling guitar parts during the middle break is a highlight to this short but excellent track.
"Song for America," a ten minute progressive rock gem, is without a doubt the best track on the CD and one of the best in the entire Kansas catalog. A Livgren composition this track finds the band at their finest. The song is perfectly structured from start to finish, not an easy feat for a ten minute song. The opening guitar/bass riff followed by a gorgeous melodic lead line played by Robby is pure sonic bliss. Steve Walsh has never sounded better during the verses which showcase the songwriting genius of Kerry Livgren. Stunning synth and organ lines interwoven with lead violin highlight the instrumental passages. Phil Ehart's drum work is second to none. Not enough can be said about this track as it's simply one of the finest tracks ever recorded in the progressive rock genre.
"Lamplight Symphony" another progressive rock epic with it's sweeping synths, lush violins and haunting melody is another highlight of this album. Steve and Robby's vocal harmonies work perfectly. The middle part with its ascending and descending synth and violin lines is not to be missed. Kerry's gorgeous acoustic piano arpeggio's highlight the soft passages bringing the track back to the verse and then to a powerful conclusion.
"Lonely Street" a blues like track gives bassist Dave Hope a chance to shine. This raw and gritty number features the trademark dual guitar sound Kansas would perfect on future albums. "Devil Game" with its blistering guitar lines and stabbing organ lines is pure fun. Phil's deft drumming is a highlight of this track.
"Incomudro-Hymn to the Atman" the closing track is without a doubt the most adventurous cut on the CD. Coming in at just over 12 minutes this would be the longest track the band ever recorded. All the elements of a great progressive rock track can be found here. Sweeping melodies, virtuoso playing, elegant lead lines, soaring vocals all tightly interwoven into this exquisite and moving gem. A special highlight is Phil's extended drum solo which shows just how exceptional a drummer Phil Ehart is.
There is a bonus Track--"Song for America" (single edit). This is the previously unreleased single edit. Don Kirschner edited the track himself and it's a nice treat hearing it on CD for the first time. Another is "Down The Road" live from the Agora Ballroom, Cleveland, Ohio 1975. Another piece from the 1975 show allows the band to really let loose. Kerry and Richard's dual guitar work is a highlight.
Newly remastered sound by Joseph M. Palmaccio at Sony music studios adds clarity and depth to the music that was missing from the original mid 80's first CD releases. Vocals are clear and crisp. Keyboards and violins sparkle. Guitar, bass and drums shimmer with sonic perfection. Separation and detail are excellent throughout making it hard to believe these albums were recorded thirty years ago.
Informative essays written by Bret Adams along with excellent photos of the band make this new reissue a must have.
Excellent photos of the band make this new reissue a must have.
Whether you're new to Kansas or a longtime fan this new CD will be a welcome addition to your music collection.--Scott Bassin
Image © Sonya Greta 2004
(01 July 2004) Indie singer Sonya Greta recently debuted her ten-track album, Vigilante Arcade (Self-Released (USA), 2004). The words and music were all composed by this folk-based California songstress. Sonya is able to blend pop, folk styles and even a bit of country effortlessly while being a remarkable contemporary storyteller.
This collection of songs portrays a temperment based on
tales of misfortune, failure, anger and recovery. Yet, she leaves you with some optimisim, that ray of hope in her
music. The title song, "Vigilante Arcade" has a hint of
country in this upbeat melody with great harmonica
accompaniment. She changes her focus in the next track, "Ode to Mrs. Pontellier" with a more somber
and haunting vocal. Sonya's soothing tone and her sensitivity
shines through, along with the instrumental background.
In making this CD she said, "My goal was to make use
of the modern production techniques available, while keeping
the organic elements of the performances." Well, she certainly achieves her goals with the moving lyrics and flowing refrains. Her sensuous tones appear in "I Don't See You" and "Woodswoman" which evoke a haunting sensation.
Sonya takes center stage with her instrumental performances on harmonica, acoustic and electric guitars, piano and Wurlitzer piano. However, her striking vocals and musical creativity put her in the limelight.
Image © Melissa Rapp 2004
(01 July 2004) Contemporary folk artist, Melissa Rapp, presents her debut album, Sweet Revenge with great
aplomb. This Hawaiian-born songstress brings enthusiasm to her music and lyrics. All the songs were written by Melissa with the exception of "Come Dream With Me" which was a collaboration with Laurie Haines.
Music has always been a part of her life growing up on Oahu, and she pursued her music during her college career at Stanford. With these influences in her life, her music reflects her passions. Her vocals have a compassion and sincerity, which can also change to one of determination and intensity
in the more pop/rock melodies she has written.
Her soulful renditions are reminiscent of Sarah McLachlan, but Melissa displays her own edgy style in her vocals. "Fragile" stands out in the track list with a breathy tenderness that touches the soul. Other tracks that take center stage include "Waimaolo Night," "The One You Remembered," "Don't Ask Me To Be Yours" and "Come Dream With Me."
There is a rawness and simplicity to her style.
Yet, her tapestry of songs reflect images of relaxation
and bring a soothing feel to the listener. This introduction to her musical talents on Sweet Revenge
is a great start to her career.
Image © Ventura Distribution 2004
(25 August 2004) On January 26, 2004 Yes played their very first all acoustic live set from a studio in Los Angeles after the premiere of the theatrical release of YesSpeak. This performance was transmitted via satellite to twenty five theaters in the US. What followed was one of Yes' finest performances capturing the band in great form and spirit.
The DVD opens with a beautiful shot of the stage lit with candles with Rick's solo piano in the background--indeed very atmospheric and moody and it sets the stage for what is to come. The opening track "Tiger Rag" is a jam number played by the band as a sound check. Steve is absolutely on fire on this track as is Rick allowing them to showcase their respective skills with a different style than the normal prog rock Yes is known for. They pull it off with stunning results. It is a a highlight of the show and quite frankly we weren't expecting it to be. As the song progresses Jon asks each band member to play a solo bit for the sound check and Jon improvs with some very funny lyrics as well. The band is in great spirits and everyone is clearly having a great time.
"Long Distance Runaround" is the next track and it's a bit abbreviated from the regular album version. Jon's voice has never sounded better and this track is perfectly suited for an acoustic rendition. Rick and Steve’s harmonic intro sounds great. Chris on acoustic bass and Alan on his scaled down drum kit hold down the rhythm section perfectly. This song is simply gorgeous and performed acoustically it really is a highlight of the show. "South Side of The Sky" starts with Rick playing a gorgeous melody on the grand piano followed by the first three verses of the song. The band has been playing this song live on tour in the electric format for the last two years and this track has been a fan favorite of the Yes live show. The song has been reworked for this acoustic version and its given new life to a Yes classic. Jon's voice is clear and strong soaring above Steve's acoustic slide guitar work. Chris' acoustic bass and Alan's brush work are rock solid. Rick's piano flourishes are brilliant throughout the track. After the band part of the song ends Rick closes the number with a few minutes of what has to be some of the most melodic piano parts he has ever played.
The Jon Anderson composition "Show Me" follows and has also been played on the last tour by Rick and Jon. A beautiful song which showcases Jon’s gorgeous alto tenor voice. Rick's piano parts are once again stunning particularly the middle break. Chris provides some great melodic bass work and Steve and Alan add little flourishes to this beautiful song. "Roundabout" is completely reworked in a lounge/shuffle style and works perfectly. Steve starts the piece with some beautiful solo acoustic guitar followed by the classic acoustic guitar intro. For a song that has been a classic rock staple since 1972 this new version sounds fresh and alive and breaths new life into this classic track.
"Time is Time" from the Magnification album follows and is perfectly suited for an unplugged rendition. This short but melodic piece is a perfect end to this acoustic set but the show wouldn't be complete without one more track which brings us to "I've Seen All Good People." The first half of the song originally is all acoustic and this version has improved on that as well. Steve's melodic guitar parts shine and Chris' classic bass lines sound great on acoustic bass. Jon, Steve and Chris' vocal harmonies have never sounded better. The second half of the song is where the band lets loose and it's refreshing to hear all of Steve's great solo guitar parts on acoustic guitar played perfectly which is no easy feat! A fine ending to an absolutely magnificent performance.
Bonus features include four TV trailers for the YesSpeak DVD as well as two further cinema trailers. A "behind the scenes" featurette of unseen excerpts of what happened before the band went live with rehearsal footage is an extra treat. Rick Wakeman's narration of "behind the scenes"--complete with dead pan commentary--is not only hilarious but is quite special. Some truly "Spinal Tap" moments come to mind and Rick's comments on all the band members and what went on that day are alone worth the price of admission!
Filmed in 16:9 widescreen, picture and sound are stunning throughout as are the camera angles. The stage is beautifully lit and the show expertly directed by Robert Garofalo of Classic Pictures. Dolby digital 2.0 stereo, 5.1 surround and stereo DTS audio options are available. All in all this is a must have for any fan of great music. Yes has never sounded better and this acoustic reworking of some of the bands best tracks breathes new life into these classic songs. The band is currently on tour and still has the magic and virtuosity that made them the progressive rock giants they are and this DVD proves that. This DVD is sure to please fans for years to come. Simply a must have!--Scott Bassin in New York