THE GRAFENBERG DISCIPLES – NO WORDS – HIGHLANDER RECORDS

Last year I reviewed the debut album, ‘Johnny On The Spot’, by The Grafenberg Disciples and it is safe to say I fell in love with it. Since the album was originally released it has been picked up by Sony and reissued, and the band have added an additional song which has also been released as a single with an accompanying video. When I hear the word “Single” I tend to think of songs about 3 minutes in length, possibly 4, but here we have something which is nearly 9 minutes long. It has been released as a tribute to Neil Peart, and all proceeds from the single and video go to the Cedar Sinai Special Research Program For Glioblastoma, the aggressive form of cancer which took his life.

This one song really sums up the album in many ways and reminds me again of just why I gave that release top marks. Bassist Bob Madsen and guitarist Chad Quist originally wrote material for a project with Tony Carey, who once he heard the music said they needed a new band so brought in drummer Gregg Bissonette along with Hans Eberbach to create something very special indeed. It commences with gently layered picked guitars and swirling keyboards and piano as it builds the ambience, but quite quickly it becomes very dramatic and real vehicle for Hans. There are times when the music is slipping and sliding, at others more direct, with all those involved constantly changing the attack and approach, so this is always striving and changing. Then at the front are Seal-type vocals, which take it to a whole new level. This is a release which sounds huge, as if it were Journey in their heyday but looking past their AOR fame into their real roots. It is an absolute delight from start to finish and if you have yet to come across this band then surely this one song will send you straight to the album. Incredible.
10/10 Kev Rowland

ARNOLDO’S LIZARDS – SATANIC ATTACK OR DIVINE PUNISHMENT – MELODIC REVOLUTION RECORDS

The latest signing to Melodic Revolution Records is a duo based in Mar del Plata, Argentine, comprising Alvare Goco (vocals and backing vocals) and Jack Dimensions (vocals, backing vocals, piano, keyboards, synthesizers, and programming). For the album they have also been joined by Elías Ciambotti (bass and electric guitars), Ezequiel Volpe (bass), Randall Lewer (electric guitars), Florabril Leguimus (backing vocals) and Andres Guazzelli (backing vocals). The only way to really describe this album is as art rock, as musically this is all over the place. The main feature of the album are the vocals of Alvare who sounds as if she has been classically trained, and is simply wonderful, but the songs themselves are a very strange combination of different styles. The first time I played this I did so four times back-to-back, and by the end of it I was still confused by what I was hearing, and I still cannot decide if the issue is with me or with the music itself. 

This is an unsettling album in that it is moving in so many different areas, from pop to faux classical, prog and funk to symphonic. I get the impression, rightly or wrongly, that this is a very visual band and that it will make more sense in a live setting but all I can say for sure is that it confuses the hell out of me when I play it. But, that does not make it a bad album at all, just one I am still attempting to get my head around. It is out of time, as to my mind it should have been festering and growing out of the incredible CBGB’s scene in the Seventies, sitting alongside Television and Talking Heads, as they can go from something that is quite rocky into a Latin break which would be more at home on a Santana release if it weren’t for the manic laughing in the background. This will not be to everyone’s tastes, and to be honest, I am still not sure if it is to mine, but I know I would much rather listen to bands like this who are genuinely trying to do something different than sound like everyone else at the zoo. Each song is very different indeed, and this feels way more like an artistic performance than “just” an album. This is one for those who want their music to be out in left field and as far removed from the sensible mainstream as possible.
7/10 Kev Rowland

LITTLE SPARROW – ALONE – INDEPENDENT

There is no doubt in my mind that Katie Ware is one of the most precious vocal talents to come out of the UK, and this her latest release proves that yet again. The new single from the forthcoming album ‘Feather Moon’ was inspired by the novel ‘The Lovely Bones’ by Alice Sebold and tells the story of being lost, alone in the darkness, desperately trying to escape and asks whether we are ever truly alone. Certainly, the accompanying video is designed to show that there are things beyond our ken, and if we search for some things, they may just turn around and find us instead. A lot of thought went into the video, and I do wish I had been there in the room when it was suggested to Katie, as I know it must have taken an awful lot of hard work to pull it off.

Let us hope the video attracts some attention as Katie’s Kate Bush-style vocals and thoughtful songs are always an absolute delight. Here we start with gentle wordless harmonies, lightly stummed chords and orchestration, before she takes the lead into what in many ways is a folk song, although it also contains some wonderful strings and one can imagine that if this had been recorded by Ms. Bush it would be topping the charts everywhere. Yet again this is a real song, one which demands close attention to be paid by the listener, and those who are prepared to do just that will find themselves all the richer for it. It is an absolute delight – I just can’t wait for the album now!  
9/10 Kev Rowland

JOHN HOLDEN – CAPTURE LIGHT – INDEPENDENT

Last year I was fortunate enough to hear John’s second album, ‘Rise and Fall’, and it is safe to say I was blown away by what I was hearing. Here was a multi-instrumentalist who had brought together a group of singers and additional musicians to deliver an album that was simply epic. John and I got to talking afterwards, and that of course led to me wondering what was the debut like? Well, I can honestly say that it is another absolute delight. As well as providing all the material and producing the album, John also provides guitars, bass, keyboards, and programming, but he has also brought in a host of star names to assist including the likes of Emily Dolan Davies, Gary O’Toole, Billy Sherwood, Oliver Wakeman, Peter Jones etc. Then to cap it all he some wonderful singers in Joe Payne (The Enid), Jean Pageau (Mystery) and Julie Gater. Although the album is fairly split between male and female vocals, Julie had a huge part to play as she sang the vast majority of songs as they were being developed (John admits he is unable to sing) and provided guide vocals to the others so they knew what John required.

This is one of those albums where it is difficult to describe what is the most important aspect of the overall. All performances are wonderful, with complex arrangements, the vocal melodies are sublime, while the lyrics are often thought-provoking. Take for example “One Race” which is all about Jesse Owens, not only that race itself at the 1936 Olympics but his return to the States. It actually got me thinking about the man who was famous for setting four world records on the same day and defeating the myth of Aryan supremacy in front of Hitler, so much so that I undertook some research and discovered that not only did Hitler actually shake his hand, but that in many ways he was disowned by his home country on his return due to the colour of his skin. It reminded me of the story of Muhammed Ali returning from the Rome Olympics and then throwing his gold medal into the Ohio River after he and a friend were refused service at a restaurant.

One of my favourites is “Dreamcatching”, which is mostly instrumental, featuring some wonderful flute, saxophone, and fretless bass, along with some spoken words about where dreamcatchers hail from and the significance of the different elements. Interestingly, Peter Jones added the flute and saxophone as he was undertaking some backing vocals, and then presented them to John to use if he wished, yet they are an integral part of the overall sound. There is no real theme to the album, and each song is quite different to the rest, yet it is always the strength of the arrangements combined with complexity and simplicity which makes this such a compelling piece of work. That it is a debut from an “unknown” is just incredible, as it is polished and refined in a way that convinces the listener they are playing an album by someone who has been at the very top of their game for a great many years. This is polished progressive rock that is commercial, yet also refined and combing both elements of the Seventies and today to combine in one album that is simply essential for anyone who enjoys this style of music. Check out John’s informative website for more details on his albums, all the musicians involved, and then buy them. Simply superb from beginning to the very end.

Kev Row;and 10/10

KINETIC ELEMENT – POWERED BY LIGHT – INDEPENDENT

One of the issues of being known as a reviewer, plus also taking some years out of the scene to concentrate on collating some books, is that material can build up. In the end I decided to keep up to date with the most recent material and delve into the older material when I had time. Due to multiple reasons neither of these approaches have worked, and I now find myself in a position where I still have albums to review which were sent to me years ago as well as being somewhat behind on the more recent albums (although I have committed to reviewing every single album ever sent to me). One way of slowly dealing with this is that when I am sent an album by a band, and I have yet to review the old one, then I do both at once. That is what has happened here, as I am pretty sure keyboard player/singer Mike Visaggio sent this to me nearly 7 years ago but given I have recently received the new live release, I dug this out of the vaults and put it into the pile, which led me to discover this is a real delight and I definitely should have played it sooner!

This was the debut album from the quartet, released in 2009, and as well as Mike features Todd Russell (guitars), Tony D’Amato (bass) and Michael Murray (drums, backing vocals). There have been quite a few changes in the band over the years since then, and only Mike and Michael are still involved. I have no idea why there was a six-year gap between this and the second album, ‘Travelog’, but during that period a decision was made for Mike to drop lead vocals and concentrate on keyboards, which to my mind is a shame as vocally he is very strong indeed. This album is built around the keyboards, and I found myself having internal debates as to whether this section or that sounded more like Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman, as his use of Mellotron is reminiscent of both. There are times when the music does sounds as if could have come from the Seventies, that is mostly due to the keyboard sounds being deployed, and for the most part this is a very modern sounding album indeed. The keyboards and use of piano are indeed evocative of Procol Harum, yet there are also plenty of others when it is more like 3 or a fresher Flower Kings.

Melodic and incredibly accessible, this is progressive music which has much in common with classical in the way some of the keyboard string arrangements are set, and one can imagine songs such as “Peace of Mind, Peace of Heart” having a major live presence, building from an emotional keyboard-led vocal into something far funkier and more dynamic. Overall, this is an incredibly polished and enjoyable progressive rock album which just gets better the more it is played.

Kev rowland 8/10

MANNA/MIRAGE – FACE – NEW HOUSE MUSIC

Any review of Manna/Mirage is going to look back to The Muffins, the Canterbury influenced quartet founded by Dave Newhouse (keyboards, reeds), Billy Swan (bass) and Michael Zentner (guitar, violin) all the way back in 1973. Named after The Muffins’ debut album, Manna/Mirage released their debut in 2015 with Dave being joined by Billy and Paul Sears from the line-up which released 2012’s ‘Mother Tongue’. However, for the 2018 ‘Rest of the World’ it was now just Dave with additional musicians, many of whom have continued through to this their third album. 

Dave provides keyboards, woodwinds, and saxophones on this release, and apart from the final song everything on the album is instrumental. Dave is renowned for providing Canterbury-influenced progressive rock for well over 40 years and he is showing no sign at all of changing now. He can also be found working in The Moon Men with Jerry King, who is one of the returning musicians, providing bass and other instruments. Musically this sounds like a mix of Henry Cow, Caravan, Soft Machine, Zappa and even Can, heading deep into the avant-garde to create something where there may be repeated melody, or there may not. It may contain delicate keyboards, or it may not. The woodwind may be taking the lead, or guess what? It may not. The result is a musical journey where one is never quite sure where the end is going to be, but it is always way more interesting to follow a road less travelled than the highway everyone else uses. It may take longer, but in the end, it is always more fulfilling, and life is all about the journey. This is an album which should only be played when the listener really has the time to fully immerse themselves, to focus intently on the music, preferably by playing it on headphones. 

It is hard to pick a favourite, as each song is as intriguing as the next, but I am glad that “Fly Away” is at the end of the album as it is so very different indeed to what has gone before, with swirling piano and delicate vocals. In many ways it is out of place with what has gone before, which also makes it a perfect ending, as it is this lack of conformity throughout the album which makes it such a delight. This conforms most strongly with numbers which could be viewed as commercial, and therefore is a massive contrast to everything else, so therefore fits the overall rationale of the album, if that makes sense. This is something which all lovers of Canterbury-style Prog need to discover at once, if not sooner.

Kev Rowland 8/10