Volapük were a somewhat unusual RIO outfit formed in 1993 by percussionist Guigou Chenevier, who was already known for being a founder of Etron Fou Leloublan, who became a charter member of the Rock in Opposition collective in 1978 along with other groups including Henry Cow, Univers Zero, Stormy Six, and Samla Mammas Manna. Bass clarinettist Michel Mandel received a master’s degree in music from the Grenoble Academy of Music while cellist Guillaume Saurel studied at the Avignon Academy of Music. Yes, what we have here is an instrumental trio bringing together instruments in a very strange indeed. This recording, taken from their 1998 Polish tour finds Guigou providing drums, saxophone, vocals and electronics, Michel is on bass clarinet, clarinets, taragot, vocal and Guillame cello and vocal.

If one could imagine a RIO avant prog chamber trio experimenting more than one could even expect from that description, then possibly one might be able to somewhat understand what is taking place in front of our ears. I can only imagine the Polish audiences were somewhat blown away by what they were experiencing as there is perfect silence during the course of each song, although they are all well received once the audience gets themselves back to reality. Influenced by Art Zoyd? Definitely, but being taken in a quite different direction. The band released four studio albums during their existence (they broke up in 2010), yet this was the only live album which was a limited release on a Polish label back in 1999. That this has now been revived by Cuneiform is wonderful, as not only is the label the logical home for this release, but this is something which will be of great interest to fans of RIO as not only is this wonderful historically but is something which is simply fascinating and exciting throughout. There is a freshness to this, a sense of no-one (including the musicians) really sure where the journey is going to take them or what the end destination may be.

All I know is that I am now intrigued and can see I need to further investigate the music of  Volapük as they walked through musical boundaries as if they did not exist. 8/10 Kev Rowland


Like many others, I first became aware of Jimmy when he joined Spock’s Beard as their live drummer so Nick could concentrate on vocals when he took over from Neal, and then after Nick’s own departure he stayed in the seat. I had seen the Beard a few times with Neal, and there was no way I was going to miss out on seeing them again without (especially as Enchant were support), and that night I was blown away by the drummer I had not previously heard of. These days he can also be heard with Pattern Seeking Animals, but I have also come across him working with Steve Bonino and know that while he is widely known for playing in prog bands there is far more to Jimmy than “just” that.

I get the impression this album was recorded over quite a period of time, as the musicians vary quite a lot with the only constant being Jimmy himself who provides all lead vocals and drums as well as keyboards. Something I find interesting is that Jimmy has obviously decided he is not a good enough songwriter to provide material for his own album, and has instead looked to others, with Greg Lastrapes providing four and Steve Bonino two along with other writers and two well-known covers. The major weakness of Nick D’Virgilio’s debut solo album, ‘NDV’, was the material included and by using other writers it has allowed Jimmy to display his diversity of styles, and how much he feels at home with being the frontman.

Although there are some very well-known friends performing here, as would be expected, this is not a prog album at all. Instead, what we have are a variety of songs performed in a rock/pop manner with Jimmy taking them wherever he wishes. This means the listener has no idea what is going on, as we may be in a world of funk, or something thoughtful or dynamic, with lush harmonies or a more direct approach. What is never in doubt is that Jimmy is a great singer, and it is something of a surprise to hear his vocals as here is someone who could happily be at the front of a stage as opposed to being hidden by the drums and one can easily understand why the Beard came calling. The two covers could not be more different, in that we get an angular take on Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed and Painless” which I prefer to the original. With Mike Glendenning and Randy Jacobs on guitars, Bill Lanham on bass, he brings out an inner beauty I find somewhat missing from the version on ‘Remain In Light’.

However, the highlight is the closing number, Split Enz’ “Six Months In A Leaky Boat”. For those living outside New Zealand or Australia it will be difficult, if not impossible, to understand just how important this band was, and how Tim Finn and brother Neil (who formed Crowded House after their demise, another NZ outfit, whatever Aussies say) are regarded. Even though the song tells the story of how long it took pioneers to sail to New Zealand, it was felt by many in the UK to be about the Falklands War and was banned! Some people concentrate on the middle section of this song, which is the jaunty rock section, but it has an important intro and outro, and Jimmy has ensured these are given the reverence they deserve, with Ryo Okumoto providing a delicate piano introduction which is more direct than the original with less orchestration, but still with the sounds of the storm while the close out is by Otmaro Ruiz.

In many ways this song is a wonderful representation of what can be found on the album, as Jimmy has made it his own, with stacks of confidence. I love it and have heard the original countless times yet understand this is a homage. I sat and played this album three times straight the other day, enjoying it more each time as there is a warmth and companionship within this which only comes from someone doing what he loves, and not attempting to fit inside any particular musical box or expectations but doing what makes him happy. This needs to be heard by a much wider audience than progheads as this is a delight from start to finish. 9/10 Kev Rowland


25 years on from its original release, the cover has changed in that Devin has had a new photo taken, and the album has been remastered and also now includes seven bonus tracks including the songs from the ‘Christeen’ EP. I vividly remember the impact this album had on me when it was released, as while I knew Devin from Strapping Young Lad, he had only released one album under his own name prior to this one and when I heard this I was absolutely blown away by the production and his approach to prog metal. It was recorded after Devin had checked himself into a mental hospital where he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and while he played most of the instruments himself, he also brought in SYL bandmate Gene Hoglan on drums, Fear Factory bassist Christian Olde Wolbers plus Andy Codrington (trombone).

It was with this album that Devin really got to grips with his wall of sound approach to production: he later described this as “the parent project” of ‘City’ and ‘Biomech’, and anyone who knows those albums will agree this bastard offspring is far greater than what went before. This was the release which had me desperate to find out more about the mad Canuck and is still as fresh today as it was all those years ago. That he can go full on pronk on “Ants” is just wonderful but compare that to the anthemic bombast which is “War”, still one of my very favourite tracks of his, and it is interesting to note just how close the ‘Retinal Circus’ version is to this. This album is where Devin really came of age and found himself, and the learnings he took on that journey has been the foundation for what he has achieved since. These days Devin Townsend is a household name to anyone interested in progressive metal, but back then he was a musician who had toured with Steve Vai and The Wildhearts (one of the tracks on ‘Infinity’ is co-written with Ginger), then formed his own band which gained critical but little popular acclaim, Strapping Young Lad. This album changed all that, and I loved it 25 years ago, and my view has still not changed. Awesome. 10/10 Kev Rowland


Here we have the debut album from T.A.P., a multinational group of musicians who have known each other for years in one way or another, yet only recently decided to work together to create their own music. Mike Jobborn (keyboards, synth, soundscapes, drum programming), Mark Cook (Warr guitar, guitars, basses, drums, soundscapes, synths, samples, strings) and Suzi James (guitars, bass, oud, flute, percussion) play on all eight tracks while Gayle Ellett (Hammond, Moog, Mellotron) is on five and then Paul Sears and Bill Bachman add drums to one song each (although I must say the drum programming on the other tracks is much better than is often the case).

I reviewed Gayle and Mark only recently (Gayle Ellett and the Electromags), plus have known the music of Djam Karet for decades, while The Muffins (Paul Sears) is never too far away from my playlists and I reviewed the debut Fearful Symmetry (Suzi James) album a while back and Mike Jobborn and I have been FB friends for years. Knowing so many people in a band can actually be a problem at times (I am also friends with Gayle, Paul and Suzi!), as there is always the worry that if an album is not as good as one might expect how do I say that without upsetting someone? Luckily that has not happened too often, and generally we became friends in the first place because I enjoyed their work, and here we have something which is an absolute delight. There are times when the music is quite Floydian, where the instruments are blended in such a way that they rarely move above the keyboards but rather blend in to create something which is amorphic, changing and swelling as the need arises. There are others when it is more direct, but always the feeling is that this is a living and breathing stream of consciousness, something which is in motion and creating its own path as it meanders through the landscape and to fully appreciate the delights one needs to immerse oneself in the flow. 

The interplay between the instruments is delicate, and there is very much the feeling this will always be a studio project just because there are so many threads being brought in and out, multiple guitars and keyboards mixing with the rhythm section, yet there are also times when people take a rest and sit back, knowing their contribution to that section of the music is not to be involved at all. This is thoughtful stuff; there has been no sense of ego or self as all those involved have put that to one side and instead have become part of a collective whole. This is not music to be played in the background but needs to be listened to on headphones when one has the time and inclination to let the rest of the world pass by. This is timeless album, and somehow feels quite modern (although wonderfully dated at times by the Hammond) yet belongs to the era when people listened to music just for its own sake as opposed to being another background noise. If that is you, then there is much here to enjoy.     8/1 Kev Rowland


Over the course of self and state-ordered quarantine during the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, multi-instrumentalist Juan R Leõn found time to write a short parable inspired by an article on faith and the “new normal”. Not being confident in his own singing abilities, Juan reached out to friend and poet Corey Stano to provide the vocal performance on “The Rhino And The Oxpecker”, which is the opening track on this release. I noticed this album was indicated as being a deluxe edition, so wondered what else was available and I note that SATL independently released an album of the same name in 2020, but that is all I know about it, so cannot state if this contains the same recordings/songs or if it has been dramatically altered. What I do know is that I am incredibly pleased that Nick Katona has seen fit to sign the band to MRR as this is an intriguing release from beginning to end.

I have long been a fan of Hibernal and the way that Mark seamlessly blends his music with wonderful science fiction worlds, and in some ways what we have here is a sister project to that as Corey tells stories while Juan provides a soundscape using his skills as a bassist/stickest (he also plays American Flute). We also get some additional dialogue where it makes sense, with Winston Churchill’s words being instantly recognisable, all of which builds layers on layers of gossamer threads so that while none of it feels oppressive the result is a very strong structure indeed. As a poet, Corey is obviously used to giving performances of her own work and her presence is wonderful, so much so that one does not even notice she is not singing, as it fits so well with the musical scaffold being built. Juan can play delicately at times, allowing the ambience to build, but there are others where he shows just how adept he is at different styles, providing complex note density.

This is a wonderfully fresh and exciting piece of work as it is so out of the norm and quite different to what we normally expect to hear. It is definitely a partnership in that there is just the right balance between vocal and musical leads, while the music enhances the words and vice versa. There are messages within the music so that when it finishes one can be found contemplating what has been played, with the result being something which is difficult to truly describe but very easy indeed to get lost inside and enjoy. 8/10 Kev Rowland

Colin Carter – Tracks In Space – Melodic Revolution Records 

It would take ages to list all the bands and musicians Colin has been involved with in the last 50+ years, but many will recognise his name from being co-founder of Flash with Peter Banks. Five years on from his debut as a solo artist, ‘One’, he is now back with this five-track release which is just under 30 minutes in length. Colin provides lead and harmony vocals, drum programming, bass, keyboards and guitar while he also worked long distance with George Keller who added guitar and more guitar. Colin’s vocals still have plenty of range, and it is difficult to realise he was in his seventies when this was recorded, having been born just a few hours after Peter Banks in 1947.

This does not sound like an album of today, nor does it sound British, which is probably not a surprise given that Colin has been living in the States for more than 40 years now. It feels like a late Seventies commercial mild rock album, of which there appeared to be many back then. There is not really enough of an edge, but just enough to give the album some presence, and while the drum machine is obviously not as good as the real thing it is not too obtrusive in this instance. The result is something which is mostly middle of the road and quite forgettable, but there are some instances (such as on “Night Vision Number 2”) where things start to come to life as the music moves more in a power pop direction. Would I play this in preference to the first two Flash albums? No, and having written about it I cannot imagine playing it again, yet while it is on this is a pleasant listen and I am sure there are plenty of people out there who will be surprised to know Colin is still going and will be intrigued enough to give this a try.

Rating: 6/10 Kev Rowland