PSYCHOYOGI – ACCIDENT-PRONE – INDEPENDENT

One of the unexpected side benefits from my books being published is that I am being contacted from even more bands than before, and such is the case with PsychoYogi. I heard from Chris Ramsing, who wrote all the songs on this album (and also provides vocals and guitar), who asked if I would be interested in hearing their latest album, which was released in 2018. I of course said yes and was aware that the name of the band had alerted something in the deepest recesses of my musical brain. It didn’t take long to realise that some six years Paradise 9 announced that the replacement for Carl Sampson (who for me I will always associate with Casual Affair) was Justin Casey, who also played in PsychoYogi. I don’t think Justin is still with Paradise 9, but he certainly is still there in PsychoYogi, and along with Chris, Izzy Stylish (bass) and John Macnaughton (alto and tenor Sax) has produced an eccentric, eclectic album which is right up my proverbial street.

Chris told me they are influenced by Zappa, Beefheart, King Crimson, Gong, etc., but that “etc.” includes a myriad of other areas such as the Canterbury Scene (especially anything involving Robert Wyatt) and a huge chunk of Cardiacs. This is not music which will ever find much airplay on a “normal” radio station, as they weave musical threads together in unlikely patterns, underpinned by a very melodic bass line. It is this which often keeps the music contained and allows the guitar and sax to move and find new directions when the time is right. The drumming is rarely rock oriented even in the progressive sense, and has far more in common with jazz forms, and this all combined with music which I found to be incredibly inviting and enjoyable on first hearing has made for a fascinating album indeed.Complex and complicated, this is music which needs to be sat and listened to, concentrated on, as while it isn’t heavyweight in the normal sense of the word, it isn’t something which can be left in the background. Listeners will be richly rewarded and given this is their fourth album I look forward to investigating more of the music of PsychoYogi.
8/10 Kev Rowland

PAT TRAVERS – SWING! – PURPLE PYRAMID RECORDS

I must confess that when I saw this album and read about it, I was more than a little intrigued. Like many people my age I have been fully aware of Pat Travers and remember him from the Seventies and Eighties in particular, but that was from a blues-based hard rock perspective and certainly never expected this! As the album title and cover may lead you to believe, what we have here is a selection of big band classics from the Forties and Fifties, which Travers has arranged so the electric guitar is now the lead instrument. Some are purely instrumental, while others do have vocals, and the result is something which I must confess is really interesting. Over the years I have seen various rock musicians take jazz songs and move them into a pure rock context (Steve Waller, ex-MMEB, always performed an incredible version of Glenn Miller’s “6-5000” when I saw him), but here we have a slightly different approach in that Travers has worked hard to keep the jazz sound. Piano is often the foundation of the music, with drums which combine both jazz and rock approach, and a bass that sometimes is electric and others is upright. He also doesn’t shy away from having brass sections when he feels it is right.

While Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood”  is treated much more as rock, others such Duke Ellington’s “Take The ‘A’ Train” is more into the jazz arena as he allows himself to play alongside the lead horns, emphasising notes, before going into a solo where he maintains very much the jazz feel. It is an interesting album, and for someone such as me, who is happy to listen to pure jazz as well as hard rock/metal and other forms, there is a lot here to enjoy. What Hammerheads will think of this I have no idea, whereas I am sure jazz purists will be our buying copies just so they can set fire to them, but if you have an open mind this is a very pleasant jaunt through some well-known standards.
7/10 Kev Rowland

NEON LEAVES – A ROOM FULL OF STRANGERS – FLICKNIFE RECORDS

Neon Leaves is a new name to me, although apparently this quartet have been together for some years and this their second album was released back in 2016 but has only recently come to my attention. Comprising Trevor Barras (drums, percussion, backing vocals), John Bowes (piano, keyboards, guitars, flute, backing vocals), Graham Jones (bass, bass pedals, guitars) and Alan Le Patourel (lead vocals, guitars, samples), they were all members of Ishmael in the Eighties before getting back together in 2011 as Neon Leaves. Musically there are a fascinating mix, as while Hogarth-era Marillion are a major influence on their sound there is a great deal else going on. I was listening to “Degrees of Separation (Dear John)” and the early stages of that song sounded almost exactly like another band and it took me ages to put my finger on it, early Credo! But that single song also includes elements of the likes of Porcupine Tree, Japan, Pere Ubu and early Genesis, and there are times when one just doesn’t think the different threads will ever get back together again, but somehow it all makes sense.

The band uses space as a very deliberate additional instrument, allowing it to move between the music so there are times when the arrangements are quite dense and others when it seems the listener can walk between the notes. The use of piano, guitar sustain, different bass sounds and a drummer who understands that what he doesn’t play is as important as what he does, along with an incredibly melodic singer makes for very interesting listening indeed. Delicate, straddling the sub genres of neo prog and crossover, there are also times when the band become almost psychedelic on “The Owl and the Beetroot Jar” (as an aside, if you have never had a kiwi burger you simply must – just add fried egg and beetroot into the bun as well, honest it works!), and the result is an album I enjoyed the more and more I listened to it. Given it is now fur years since this release, I wonder if there is a new one on the horizon? I hope so
8/10 Kev Rowland

NATIONAL WRECKING COMPANY – NATIONAL WRECKING COMPANY – HYPERSPACE RECORDS

According to the press release these guys are an extreme metal band, but if they are then they are like no other extreme band I have ever heard! What we actually have is a band firmly rooted in blues-based rock from the Seventies, with great songs and wonderful production. The project started off as a collaboration between vocalist Jimmy Kunes (Cactus, Savoy Brown), bassist Randy Pratt (Cactus, The Lizards) and Emmy winning engineer/ producer, JZ Barrell. All songs were originally written on the bass before being  arranged by JZ Barrell (who also produced, recorded, mixed and mastered the album). The two guitarists couldn’t be more different in both age and styles, as there is  23-year-old shredder Jesse Berlin working alongside Phil Bader, a 60 something finger stylist in the vein of  Beck and Knopfler. At the back the drumming is shared TC Tolliver (Wendy O Williams & The Plasmatics) and Neil Cicione (Rickity) while keyboards are provided by Scott “The Doctor” Treibitz on keyboards.

This is classic rock, oozing class and style from the first note to the last. The songs are well-thought out and strongly arranged, with loads going on underneath the vocals from very different approaches to the guitar plus a huge variety of sounds and styles from the bass, while the keyboards are mostly organ sounds following the guitar riffs or providing support, just like the old days. Then there are the vocals. Anyone who has previously come across Jimmy Kunes knows his style of singing, which is very rooted in Paul Rodgers, full of soul, blues and power. He knows his range, and throws his voice around wielding it like yet another instrument, and like the rest of the sounds is full of warmth, honesty and passion. Any fan of classic rock which is refusing to pander to any particular fashion is going to fall in love with this album on the very first play, and from there on discover it is hard to move on to anything else. Full of influences from the likes of Cactus (unsurprisingly), Free and Bad Company, this is a delight from start to end.

If that wasn’t enough this album ends with quite a different song, which apparently is from the next album, featuring the last ever recording from the instantly recognisable and thoroughly nice guy (I was lucky enough to interview him once), the one and only electric gypsy himself, Bernie Tormé. It sounds as if he was given the track, and just told to enjoy himself over the top of it all, and I love it. A great ending to a great album which is certainly well worth investigating by all music fans.
9/10 Kev Rowland

MASTERMIND – PROG, FUSION, METAL, LEATHER & SWEAT, LIVE! – INDEPENDENT

By the time the band recorded their 1998 studio album ‘Excelsior!’ there had been some changes in the Mastermind camp, as bassist Phil Antolino had departed (to be replaced by guest Bob Eckman) and keyboard player Jens Johansson (Stratovarius etc) had come on board. During the recording of what would turn out to be ‘Angels of the Apocalypse’, which also featured new singer Lisa Bouchelle, Mastermind were asked if they would like to play NEARFest (North East Art Rock Festival 1999). The one problem they had was that Jens wasn’t available, but Bill had become friendly with Mickey Simmonds (Fish and many others) and he agreed to join the tour.

This is a very different recording indeed to the others, as they are concentrating both on the last album and the next one as opposed to material from the first four, as by now material was being written which would feature a live keyboard player as opposed to Bill triggering sounds. Also, by using Lisa as a singer at certain points (she only features on a few songs) it allowed them to move much more into Lana Lane territory, although even when she was using multiple guitarists they never ripped it up like Bill. Here the band are allowing themselves to produce a much fuller sound, with Mickey sounding as if he has always been there as opposed to only rehearsing with the band for three days before the tour. 10 songs with a playing time of 80 minutes, they are all of reasonable length but only “When The Walls Fell” is substantially over ten minutes long.

The Berends brothers are loving the change in band dynamic, and both keep pushing their respective instruments to the limit, so that one never knows where they are going to go and while there are times when they keep it subdued and even allow Lisa’s acoustic guitar to come to the fore, it is when they are at their most bombastic and heaviest that they really shine. This is the live album of theirs to focus on, the one where the take the progressive rulebook and demolish it by sheer force of will and loud drums, shrieking guitar, dynamic bass, strong keyboards and great vocals combining with wonderful songs. Put on “The End of the World” and marvel in the harmony between Bill and Mickey as the song shifts and swoops like a swallow over a waterfall.

Mastermind were truly a band like no other, and now Bill has formed a new version in Brazil I can only hope that one day I will again catch them in the live environment as this is simply incredible (with strong production to boot). You may well have missed Mastermind first time around, but there is no excuse now with this so easily available.
9/10 Kev Rowland

MASTERMIND – LIVE IN TOKYO – INDEPENDENT

This was originally released in 1997 as a limited-edition CD by Cyclops, and since has been made available by Bill on Bandcamp. Recorded in Tokyo on January 23rd of that year, it was designed solely for people who were seeing the band in concert and might want to have a memento of what they sounded like in a live environment. Here we get nearly seventy minutes of the classic trio sound being produced by Bill Berends (guitar, midi-guitar, vocals), Rich Berends (drums and percussion) with Phil Antolino (bass and midi-pedals). I still count myself incredibly fortunate to have caught this line-up at one of the few UK shows they performed, only a few months after this album was recorded, as here was a prog trio who not only never sounded like a trio there were times when they really were pushing the boundaries of prog. Far heavier than any of the other prog rock acts around, but somehow never falling into metal, here was a bombastic Wagnerian band taking ELP to a logical much heavier conclusion.

I am guessing this was recorded to straight to DAT, as this sounds as if any postproduction was limited at best, and it is the sound which lets this down. Listening to this on its own is incredibly enjoyable, but there is no doubt that the sound is flat and pretty unmixed. One gets the impression that this was exactly what the audience heard that night, warts and all. There are times when it isn’t quite right, when the guitar drops behind the midi, or the vocals waver, but none of this stops the guys from pulling out all the stops. Why they have never become a household name I will never know, and Mark Robotham of Grey Lady Down (later Thieves’ Kitchen) proved he had real balls that night at The Orange when he sat down on the same drum stool recently departed by Rich Berends who makes Bonzo, Keith Moon and Carl Palmer seem quite sedate. Phil shows he is more than happy to prove his worth with some incredible bass playing while Bill cranks it up and rips the place apart with incredible guitar while also somehow keeping everything going on the keyboards as well.

This isn’t the album to start listening to the band with, even though they were on fire that night with yet another incredible 24-minute-long “Brainstorm”, but for any fan this is essential.
8/10 Kev Rowland

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