LOBATE SCARP – SPIRALS AND PORTALS EP – INDEPENDENT

This is the first time I have come across Lobate Scarp, who released their debut (and to date only) album back in 2012, followed it up with a single in 2016, and are now back with as EP. The band is based around singer and keyboard player Adam Sears, while other stalwarts have been Andy Catt (bass, vocals) and drummer Mike Gerbrandt: it is also interesting to see the involvement of none other than Rich Mouser, the famed Spock’s Beard producer. There are three new songs on this 25-minute-long EP, plus a slightly shortened radio edit of the opening song “Nothing Wrong.” Aside from the core band, they also bring in many more musicians when the time is right, although not as many as on their debut when (including the members of the choir) they boast more than 50 people were involved.

This is a pleasant melodic rock with progressive tendencies here and there, but there are some interesting sections and approaches which made me think more of neo-prog, especially on the rambunctious chorus for “Nothing Wrong”. I was enjoying what I was hearing, without anything massively resonating if I am being honest. Then I came to the third song “Beautiful Light”, which is different from the others both in style and content. It soars, it is commercial, it contains more diversity and spread than the others, and I sat up, paid real interest, and wished there were more like this. Hopefully, this EP, after such a gap, shows that the band is more active again as I really want to hear a full album from these guys.
7/10 Kev Rowland

OUTSIDE IN – KARMATRAIN – AAA RECORDS

Outside In are a rare beast indeed, as not only are they a progressive rock band, but they are a progressive rock band from New Zealand! Our wonderful country has a geographical mass a little larger than the UK, but less than five million people live here, and while a third of that population can be found around Auckland, realistically there is an incredibly small market for both live work and recorded material. But there are some who cannot help themselves and just have to perform, whatever cost and hard work that entails. The band came together with a while back, releasing an EP as long ago as 2015, but there have been the usual issues with any new group and it is only fairly recently that the line-up stabilized around Mikey Brown (vocals and harmonies, lyrics, synthesizers, keyboards, guitar), Jonnie Barnard (guitars), Adam Tobeck (drums), Elliott Seung Il Park (bass) and Joe Park (guitar). Here is a band that are determined to do things their way, so even before they had an album deal they recorded a series of three videos that tell a story and should be watched in the correct order (to see what I mean take a trip over to https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWIwBrxGaiovJ9_nG7-BaLSq96fJbfebg). They have since signed a deal with TeMatera Smith at AAA Records, and the result is ‘Karmatrain’.

The obvious musical influences are Porcupine Tree and Radiohead, although some have also been pointing towards the likes of A Perfect Circle or Karnivool. In many ways, the album revolves around the vocals, and Mikey Brown is one of the most exciting new male singers I have come across for a while, with the music swirling around so it all comes together. Just listen to the outro of “Mushrooms” to hear what I mean, where the vocals mingle, rise and swell. But the reason the vocals are allowed to shine is due to the music, which is always the perfect accompaniment, so guitars can be staccato in one place to provide some emphasis or they can be more in the background. There is not much space in the production, but somehow there is still a great deal of clarity and no muddiness in the sound, it is just that to get the correct effect it needs to be all-encompassing. When going through a collection of potential songs for the album, Mikey realized a few were lyrically influenced by a novel he had read while on holiday in Nice about ten years ago, Hermann Hesse’s ‘Siddhartha’. The themes being fairly universal he decided to incorporate more of the book’s influence into the writing process until eventually, it was obvious that this was becoming a concept album. The album has ended up with each of the 12 songs representing one of the 12 chapters from the book. Each song has a story that relates to that chapter but also has a parallel story from his own experiences. It just gradually became a more conceptual thing that provided a framework to pin ideas against.

I’ve sat and listened to the album back to back four times today, and each time not only do I get more from it but I am amazed that the music is so polished and finessed from a band that very few have come across before this. I had not, and I work in the same city! It was also self-produced by guitarist Jonnie Barnard (then mixed and mastered by Dave Rhodes), yet this sounds as if it could have come from a top studio. There are strong dynamics, shifts in tempo, and powerful performances from all the players. Listen to what is going on behind the lines and there are some simply stunning bass lines from Park while Tobeck is never settled and is constantly shifting the percussive approach. This means that some bars may be hi-hat/snare, others may just be cymbals, and he is putting in fills everywhere. Then on top of a complex foundation, the two guitarists mix and mingle.

This is crossover progressive rock for the 21st century, influenced by more recent acts than many within the scene, creating a sound that is looking both to the recent past and also for the future. Outside In, the prog band from the end of the world you have never heard of. Outside In. Karmatrain. Investigate them on YouTube, then get the album.
9/10 Kev Rowland

https://outsideinnz.wixsite.com/mysite 
https://outsideinnz.bandcamp.com/

DRIFTING SUN – SINGLED OUT – INDEPENDENT

In 2015, after a gap of some sixteen years, Drifting Sun returned with their third album. Keyboard player Pat Sanders had decided it was time, and created a brand-new version of the band, with himself being the only person who had appeared on the two albums in the Nineties. Making up for lost time they have released four acclaimed albums since then, as well as a number of singles which have often included bonus songs which were not available on a  physical CD and were only available as downloads. So, a decision was taken towards the end of 2019 to release a physical album (and download of course), containing 12 songs ranging from solo piano pieces to full-blown band numbers, plus some interesting demos and various outtakes. Full details of where each track originally appeared are included in a 6-panel Digipak along with a full-color 12-page booklet.

In my humble opinion Drifting Sun’s last album, ‘Planet Junkie’, is their best album to date and one of the few to get full marks from me, and I am sure many people have discovered the band because of that release and hopefully, they will be looking back through the catalog. But there are distinct and different areas of the band, and this collection only includes rarities from the time when Peter Falconer was singing with Drifting Sun, who appeared on the albums ‘Trip The Life Fantastic’. ‘Safe Asylum’ and ‘Twilight’. Having played this a lot now, one has to wonder just how so many of these songs did not make it onto a full album yet given their release rate they are already putting many other bands to shame. Yes, some of them are solo pieces, and to my ears, there is probably more piano than normal, but there are some real delights on here. It is a nice bookend to Falconer’s time with the band, as he is a wonderful singer, melodic and emotional, and while there have been a few line-up changes even during that short time, there is a restrained beauty as everyone comes together.

Musically it is often based on piano, with those lush vocals, and then the other guys coming in and out as the need arises. Sometimes their contribution to the music is by not taking part at all. Take for example “Atlantis” which originally featured on the “Remedy” single: this song is basically Peter and Pat who provides piano (plus there are some strings) and is simply stunning. Harmonies abound and I fall into the music headlong, immersing myself in the emotions. I really enjoyed the solo piano pieces such as “Bubble” – I could listen to a whole album of music like that (Pat – are you reading this?) – and although the album is slightly more fractured due to coming together from different musicians and time periods the overall result is something which is a delight from start to end. There are some gems on here to be discovered, and it is great they have not been “lost” in the world of digital downloads but are available in a physical form all in one place. More crossover to my ears these days then neo-prog, this is a rarities compilation worth discovering for the quality of the music and not just the scarcity of the material.
8/10 Kev Rowland

FRANK WYATT & FRIENDS – ZEITGEIST – INDEPENDENT

When Frank Wyatt was diagnosed with cancer, it led him to think he ought to release at least one more album, and for the assistance, he turned back to his old friends. This means that on this album we have everyone who played on Happy The Man’s debut from 1977 (plus everyone who was there at the time of their last release ‘The Muse Awakens’ in 2004), every player from Pedal Giant Animals’ 2006 album plus everyone from Oblivion Sun’s 2013 release ‘The High Places’ as well as a few other guests. The album took far longer to come together than was originally expected, as not only did many people live in different states, but Wyatt had to keep undergoing treatments. However, as Wyatt puts it “The album’s concept turned into a sort of  ‘goodbye, or one last swing at it’  as I had been diagnosed with the big ‘C’ and told I was short on time. I had no idea the project would take so long! I’m five years out of warranty now and still kicking. Perhaps the project has been what’s kept me going; I’ve been too stubborn to give up on completing it. I plan more work already… music is great medicine.”

Happy The Man was undoubtedly one of the most important progressive bands to come out of America in the late Seventies, mixing influences from the likes of Genesis, Yes and Gentle Giant with more jazzlike tendencies and often producing albums which were mostly instrumental. Needless to say, given how virtually everyone on this recording has been involved with keyboard player Frank Wyatt and guitarist/vocalist Stan Whitaker during their long musical journey together, one would expect this to be somewhat similar, and it is. I still remember hearing Happy The Man’s ‘The Muse Awakens’ where I said “it is hard to believe that this is prog from America as it definitely belongs at home in the UK – with the way that it switches both tempo and melody reminiscent of a style of prog music that virtually no-one plays anymore. Mostly it is relaxing, almost soothing, but at no time it can be said to be simple background music as there is just so much going on.” I could have left it there without the speech marks as all those words apply to this album as well. There are some pieces where we have some wonderful piano and keyboard interplay, others where there is a great deal of complexity, others where there are lush vocals, and others where there is none.

This is a soaring, wonderful, glorious progressive rock that embraces the genre without trying to become anything it is not. This is not neo-prog, or prog metal or any of those sorts of things, but rather American polished progressive rock which looked firmly across the Atlantic for influences more than 40 years ago and is still doing so today. This album is superb in every way and should be in every progressive rock lover’s collection.
8/10 Kev Rowland

Lee Martin “At Home” Gig Review

I have been writing gig reviews for more than 30 years, but always from notes taken at the time which act as memory joggers, so this is the first time I have ever written a full review while the concert itself is still taking place! With the current restrictions in New Zealand, and in many other places in the world, live music has stopped overnight as gatherings are not allowed. Originally on this date South African-born Lee Martin was supposed to be playing a gig with her full band, and as that wasn’t possible, she decided instead to host a gig from her house. It felt intimate, and very special, yet she also ensured the sound was going to be as good as possible, utilising her normal PA and mix so her vocals had just a touch of reverb and bounce. I soon realised I needed to find some way of capturing what was taking place so out came the laptop and I am watching the gig on my TV, writing the review as it goes.

By the time it started there were already more people viewing than she expected to attend, and with the help of a glass of red wine she took us on a journey. We started with “Thinking About You”, the lead track from her ‘Lost Girl’ EP which came out last year, which really set the mood. This was followed by a new song, “When I Was Still At Home”, which talks about her emotions at being away from her family as she now lives in New Zealand, and about a lucid dream where she thought her recently departed grandfather was in her room talking to her. As with all her songs, there is a backstory and she made a point of telling us these which adds so much to the experience.

“What If I Die?” is about living your life to the fullest, and not having regrets. Lee has always wanted to see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” and visiting Italy and the Greek Islands, and she started to think she might never achieve those things if she didn’t organise them. So earlier this year she actually booked the flights to make her dream a reality. Of course, they have now been cancelled but at least she tried 😊. Lee has a very warm and welcoming style, and her friendly and engaging manner combined with her clear and strong vocals means she is a singer-songwriter who the audience warm to immediately, even if they don’t know the material.

“That’s How It Goes” is far slower, sung in a lower register, much darker and I was immediately reminded of Johnny Cash.  “Brave Train” is more upbeat, all about doing the right thing when the time comes. Given the only feedback she was getting were from comments on the Facebook page, Lee was performing as if there was a live crowd in front of her, interacting with comments between songs but without losing the flow of the performance itself. It really did feel like Lee was performing just for each viewer, but without any of the awkwardness which comes when you are sat in the front row of a plane and unable to see the safety video to the stewardess does a presentation just for those three people.

“Whiskey and Red Wine” is another song from the EP and is about a very personal experience from Lee when she was attacked at night and is how she got through it with the love and support of her family and friends. Another slowie, quite country in many ways, it moves around in tempo and feel, as Lee shares yet more emotion. “I Miss You” is her latest song, literally only finished the day of the gig. This is quite different in approach, almost a rock number played on acoustic, with vocals quite breathy and quiet, packed with emotion, just coming to the fore during the bridge and chorus.

“I Can’t Wait Forever” apparently works better when everyone is drinking and swaying, and works much better with a full band, and is another Cash-inspired slow number full of emotion and heartbreak. This was one of the highlights for me, as it really takes the listener into different world, where the guitar and voice, especially the voice, are all that matters.

“Finally Going My Way” is about balancing dreams and personal life, and how friends can be lost while dreams are pursued. Another slower number, with Lee singing in a lower register, she somehow comes across with an American accent, which given she is from SA is not what one expects. But this number soon wakes up, and we get some Joplin-style power. Americana rock, all performed with just vocals and an acoustic. “Kiss My Lips” was originally supposed to be the final number and is a love song as one would expect from the title, but again feels very personal and that Lee is singing to each individual. She then started taking requests, and first up was “Head On My Shoulders”, one of her older numbers and one I hadn’t heard before. This one is upbeat and bouncy, and given she hadn’t played it in years and certainly not rehearsed, sounded mighty fine indeed.

“Lost Girl” was the title of last year’s excellent six-track EP and is probably the slowest number performed tonight. Packed full of emotion it contains many long-held notes and there is no room to hide if a singer can’t maintain pitch, but there is never a problem for Lee who really shines when she gives her voice the room to swell. “I Know You’re Sleeping” is another old one I hadn’t previously come across, a love song written when she was living in New York and her boyfriend was back in South Arica. There were loads of comments coming into the thread, with more and more requests, so Lee kept extending the set, with the next song being “Thunderstorm”, one which Lee wasn’t convinced she would be able to remember more than a verse and chorus as it was so long since she had played it. All about finding the right man to dance with her in the rain, it is more upbeat than many, and yet again once she got into it the memories kicked in and she made it all the way through with no issues. We even got a snippet of a song she wrote in Afrikaans which originally appeared on the Southern Soul ‘Package’ album in 2006, before finally getting to the end of the set with “A Way Out Of Here”, again from the ‘Lost Girl’ EP.

There were many requests for “Hallelujah”, a song she plays in her covers sets, which she very much makes her own with sumptuous vocals. She finally finished what was supposed to be an hour-long set, with a repeat of her very latest song, “I Miss You”. 100 minutes just swept past, and lock down all of a sudden didn’t seem so bad

For more information check out
www.leemartinmusician.com
http://www.aaarecords.com

And to see the gig yourself, 
https://www.facebook.com/leemartinmusician/videos/1145816102460241/

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