The Steve Bonino Project – Pandora – Melodic Revolution Records

When I was young, I was fascinated by myths and legends of ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt and I was given a book, ‘The Story of Greece’, which had belonged to my mum when she was a child herself. With lots of colour plates I was fascinated by the stories of Achilles, Hyacinthus, Apollo, Arachne and many others, including of course Pandora. Many people will have heard the term Pandora’s Box even if they do not know the myth from which it was taken. Although the story has been retold many times in many ways, the base is always the same in that Pandora opened a container as she wondered what was inside, releasing many evils into the world and although she attempted to close it quickly only one thing was left behind, often referred to as hope.

Steve is a multi-instrumentalist, and although Eric Johnson has assisted with a guitar solo on one song, he does everything else himself apart from the female vocals, where Shimmer Johnson provides the lead on “My Name Is Pandora” and C.C. White provides additional vocals throughout. Steve is no stranger to concept albums, with the two excellent ‘Stargazer’ albums behind him, but it is very different indeed to work on an original story as opposed to a well-known myth, how to make it relevant for the modern day? Quite easily in his hands it appears, as he mixes it with the story of Eve and Christianity, bringing it right up to date when someone at a garage sale come across a jewelled box they cannot open and asks for advice, only to regret it when they get inside.

The lyrics are thoughtful and at times quite deep, making us think, but in contrast the music is light and full of hooks, so they combine together in a manner which is both fascinating and intriguing, making us curious to investigate further, much like the protagonists in the story. The idea of bringing in a singer to take on the role of Pandora herself makes total sense as here she has a voice and is able to explain who she is, and in Shimmer Johnson, Steve has found the perfect vocalization of his ideas. I can see them working together more in the future.

As well as the songs, there is a spoken word piece called “Origin Story”, where we hear the story of Pandora according to the original legends, explaining to those who did not grow up reading Greek myths (which is most people in fairness), all accompanied by an underlying keyboard piece. I also ought to make mention of the drums, as although they are programmed it shows that when someone really knows what they are doing then they can become a valid instrument. It really feels like there is a human driving the sound as opposed to a computer.

The end result is an album which is deep, wanting to make us think and also investigate the story further, while also being thoroughly enjoyable on a musical level. Complex, and complicated, it is a delight the first time it is played and that feeling only deepens the more one gets inside.

By Kev Rowland

CARY HEUCHART – HOURGLASS – RECORDs

It took seven years for Cary to follow-up on ‘Blue Rain’, but in 2021 he returned with ‘Hourglass’. As with the previous album this is primarily a solo affair, with Cary providing the vast majority of the instruments but he does have a couple of bassists on different songs with the biggest difference being the assistance of drummer Grant Ball on many. Here we have an album which is out of time, and sounds as if it should have been released no later than 1972, and even that could be a push. This album is steeped in psychedelia, as well as bringing in some classic Mellotron and Moog sounds and comes across as Roy Harper crossed with Tyrannosaurus Rex (yes, the earlier variant).

It is dreamy, full of space, without a care as Cary sings his love songs in an era when the world was full of peace and love. It is an incredibly relaxing album, full of space within the arrangements, which can be surprisingly complex even when coming across as being simple. The more this is played the more one notices the nuances here and there from different instruments which add to the overall feeling without ever intruding into the sound. The ballads have a simplicity which feels so at odds with the rushing and hectic world we now live in, and the album moves us in both emotion and time.

It is an album which benefits from being played on headphones when one really has the time to devote to it and relax into Cary’s world from a time past.
7/10 Kev Rowland

ETERNAL RETURN – ONCE ONLY – NEWDOG RECORDS

Eternal Return is a quintet which brings together various duos/trios that have previously recorded and toured together. Within this ensemble we have Dogon, the duo of Venezuelan Miguel Noya (synthesisers) and American Paul Godwin (vocals, piano) who first met at Berklee some 40 years ago. Alongside them is bassist Australian Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree, no-man, O.R.k.) and his frequent collaborator, Estonian guitarist Robert Jürjendal (Toyah Wilcox, Fripp’s Crafty Guitar School). To complete the line-up, we have Venezuelan drummer Miguel Toro, while they have a guest trumpeter in Damascus-born Milad Khawam and the album was recorded in Berlin. 

In other words, this is a truly international band bringing together a great many influences and styles. The best way to describe this is probably progressive ambient, with links to the likes of David Sylvain (especially, one can really imagine him performing on some of these) and This Mortal Coil. It is an album which goes through many styles, with guitar and/or synth/piano often the lead instrument, yet at its heart is a strong percussive element (much more than “just” drums) while Edwin’s smooth meandering and slid basslines have an incredibly important part to play in holding it all together. It is something which can be both relaxing and luxurious and experimental and edgy, so much so that even when everything is calm and making sense there is still an edge which provides a tension. It is atmospheric, but the high use of cymbals combined with the differing backgrounds from those involved make this something which needs to have close attention paid to it or important elements will be passed by. 

This definitely benefits from being played on headphones and not just in the background as it will just disappear. Fans of no-man, King Crimson, and some of the more ambient prog noodlings of Marillion may well find this intriguing.
7/10 Kev Rowland

ENVY OF NONE – ENVY OF NONE – KSCOPE

Many years ago, I reviewed an album by a famous rock star, and back then I said the only reason people were even talking about it was due to who was involved as opposed to the value of the music it contained, and now here I am saying exactly the same thing again. While much may be made of singer Maiah Wynne, or that famous producer and engineer Alf Annibalini (guitar, keyboards, programming) is involved, or Coney Hatch co-founder Andy Curran (bass guitar, synthesized bass, programming, guitar, backing vocals, Stylophone), but this will be on the top of many people’s “must hear” list due solely to the fourth member of the band, one Alex Lifeson.

Many people were wondering if Alex or Geddy would get back into the studio at any point, given they have spent virtually their whole musical lives wrapped up in Rush, but I am sure most people expected that something would happen at some point, but I never expected this. Firstly, Alex trod the boards in front of someone who was known as “the professor”, one of the finest percussionists and drummers ever involved in rock music, yet he has come back with a band where the drums are all programmed. Also, even though there are some guitar solos here and there, for the most part they are kept very much in the background. This is an electronic pop rock album for the most part, with the concentration very much on the synths and Maiah’s vocals. That she is a good singer is never in doubt, and the band are very good at what they do, but overall is it any good? All I know for sure is that I don’t like it, I really don’t like it, and would not have played it as much as I have if it were not for one of Canada’s finest rockers being so heavily involved, and in some ways, there is the issue. If Alex had gone out and produced something which was in any way similar to Rush he would be castigated for doing it without Neil, so he has gone out and done something I certainly never expected.

I am just going to say that even though here we have a band featuring the one ad only Alex Lifeson I doubt I will ever play it again. 6/10 Kev Rowland

JOE & TODD – STATE THEATER NEW JERSEY 2005 – CLEOPATRA RECORDS

What I have here is a recording of Joe Jackson, Todd Rundgren, and NY-based string quartet Ethel. I really was not sure what to expect from this, and I am sure the people there that night did not either, as while I thought all acts would be playing together onstage, I wasn’t aware that each would have an individual set and they would only come together for a few songs at the end. This means we start with a series of classical pieces from Ethel, which is very clever but not what I would expect at a rock concert. I played this part once and then found myself skipping the first five numbers and I would expect many others to do the same.

To be honest, I was not sure what to expect from Jackson either and thought I would probably listen to his songs and then skip smartly to the main attraction, so I was amazed at just how good this section was and how much I enjoyed it. It has made me totally rethink my opinion on Jackson, (I used to see him on Top of the Pops but don’t own any of his material), as he is a very good pianist indeed and has some fine songs. He also has a strong rapport with the audience who react strongly when they recognise one of his songs. He plays all the hits, from “Steppin’ Out” to “Different For Girls” and “Is She Really Going Out With Him?”, and the 11 songs he performs are an absolute delight. The crowd are well up for it, and on the last song they all happily shout “where?” at the correct moment, with so much force that Jackson even loses it as he chuckles.

From an all-piano set we get Todd, the wizard, the true star. He kicks off with “Love of the Common Man” on a 12-string, and after a few more numbers in that vein we get “Compassion” with him now sat at the piano. The highlight of his set is probably “Hello, It’s Me” with his delicate vocals as he gets into falsetto, accompanying himself on piano. The last of the four sections finds everyone on stage, and “While My Guitar Gently Sleeps” is a delight, with the string section rocking along, Joe on piano and Todd on electric. The finest version ever recorded is of course the one by Yellow Matter Custard but this is still mighty fine.

This available as a 2 CD and DVD set, and I am sure fans of both Jackson and Rundgren will find this a long overdue release. 7/10 Kev Rowland