TIM BOWNESS – ABANDONED DANCEHALL DREAMS – INSIDE OUT

I first came across Tim in the band No Man is an Island (Except the Isle of Man), where he was vocalist and co-writer with Steven Wilson. They soon shorted their name to no-man, and I reviewed various of their albums back in the Nineties, and Tim worked with various different musicians until he finally released his own debut back in 2004, ‘Hotel’, which I also reviewed. A short ten years later, and 2014 saw Tim release his second solo album, ‘Abandoned Dancehall Dreams’.  There are a host of other musicians, including of course Wilson, and colleagues from no-man, with plenty of other incredible talents such as drummers Pat Mastelotto and Andrew Booker. But this album is not really about the music, as that is always very much the accompaniment for Tim’s wonderful vocals.

Anyone who has come across no-man will have an expectation for what is being delivered here, and they will not be disappointed. There is a whimsical melancholy about Tim’s material, and an honesty and genuineness that other bands aspire to but rarely achieve. Tim’s relationship with guitarist Michael Bearpark goes back many years, not only with no-man but other outfits, and his use of different guitar techniques to emphasise the emotions in the voice is sublime, with Stuart Laws providing bass that has the right amount of delicacy and warmth. There are times when the music feels quite twee, such as on “Smiler at 52”, yet the emotions and reality of the vocals take the song in quite a different direction from the electronic backing which is behind it. This is an album which bears repeated listening as there is a great deal to be taken from it, by singer who has been at the front of the game for many years.
Kev Rowland 8/10

SOFT HEARTED SCIENTISTS – THE CONTINUING ESCAPADES OF THE… – FRUITS DE MER

Back in 2013, Fruits de Mer Records released a double vinyl retrospective of the Welsh bands’ early work, concentrating on the first four albums.  The label convinced them it was a great idea to undertake another, to look at the next four albums, and they should also add a new song at the same time. The result, “Please Read Me” was released as a single in 2019 and is here as an extended version. The album itself contains 4 slabs of vinyl, as while there is a double album of SFS songs taken from ‘Wandermoon’, ‘False Lights’, ‘The Slow Cyclone’ and ‘Golden Omens’, there is another double vinyl set where they gave Marc Swordfish (Astralasia) to do what he wished with their instrumental tracks. The result are four numbers, each spread over a complete side of vinyl, where he has taken music from throughout the career and turned it into something quite different.

Released in September 2020, I note it is already sold out at the label, but it may still be possible to pick one of these up elsewhere. Soft Hearted Scientists are without doubt one of the most interesting and genuine psychedelic bands around, as not only do they have the sound, but they are also adventurous, so each song is distinctly different, and one is never sure where the journey is going to lead. We also have quite short perfectly formed pop numbers in between epics, yet all with real direction and purpose. I often feel I should only to them music while clad in tie dye and with some strange smells in the air, relaxed and into the groove. The vocals really bring us into the stories, and I am as much in love with “Seaside Sid” as I was the very first time I heard it, as it contains absolutely everything one could ever expect from a psychedelic song with so many different layers and instruments all combining into a pop nonsense which is superb. But is there a darker message in there?

However, the same cannot be said for the last two albums that contain the four “Astral Adventure” numbers. There are individual sections which are very nice, but I found it hard to stay focussed and after a while, I realised I was only playing the songs all the way through as I needed to do so to be able to review it. When listening to music is a duty and not a pleasure then that is a problem. But given this set was aimed at fans, then at least this is here as an extra as opposed to the main course, as for me one of the joys of SFS is their purpose, which on these has become sadly diluted. What this set does bring home is just what a great band they are, and it also reminded me that although we have had a few songs, they have not released a brand-new album since 2016!! Let’s hope that 2021 is the year.

Kev Rowland 7/10

THE TANGENT – AUTO RECONNAISSANCE – INSIDE OUT

All you really need to know about this album can be summed up in this quote from Andy Tillision, who said, “Possibly one of a very few albums to be influenced by ELP, The Isley Brothers, Steely Dan, Aphex Twin, National Health, Rose Royce, Squarepusher and Return to Forever that will be released this summer”. I must confess I had to google Squarepusher, but while I have plenty of ELP, Steely Dan and National Health in my collection, and I have a nodding acquaintance with Return to Forever, the others have never interested me so I will have to take his word for it. Of what there is no doubt whatsoever is that this is a progressive album in the very truest sense of the word. There are plenty of Canterbury musical references in particular, and tracks such as the epic “Jinxed in Jersey” show here are a band who are consistently refusing to conform to what anyone really think they should be doing, even from those within the prog scene. Andy’s storytelling is incredibly vivid, and one can imagine him undertaking the journey he describes, bringing the characters to life.

One has no idea where the music is going to lead from one minute to the next, as they treat progressive rock as an ideal as opposed to a style, no Genesis or Pink Floyd clones these, rather The Tangent is continuing to push boundaries just like it used to be. We can go from pleasant gentle harmony to a Hammond being ripped to pieces with a guitar hard over the top, no drums to a driving beat, electronics to quiet, one just never knows. We have the same line-up on this album as the last one, and the quintet are obviously comfortable with each other, egging each other on with layers that pay repeated playing and deep listening. The Tangent are undoubtedly one of the most interesting progressive bands around, and as someone who has followed Andy’s career with keen interest since Parallel or 90 Degrees all I can say is that this is yet another outstanding album.

Kev Rowland 9/10

TIM BOWNESS – LATE NIGHT LAMENTS – INSIDE OUT

Since 2015’s ‘Stupid Things That Mean The World’, Bowness has released two more solo albums (plus one with no-man and one with Peter Chilvers) and is now back with the third solo release ‘Late Night Laments’, so his sixth to date. Mixed by Steven Wilson and mastered by Calum Malcolm (The Blue Nile, Prefab Sprout), this album is mostly a collaboration between Bowness and Brian Hulse, who provides synths, keyboards, guitars and programmed drums, yet there are also plenty of guests (although not as many as is often the case) including of course Colin Edwin and Richard Barbieri, but a special mention must be made of Tom Atherton, whose vibraphone provides a very different feeling to about half the numbers, while singer Melanie Woods may only be on three songs but has she has a major impact.

This is less dynamic than the last album I heard of is, more focus on softer numbers and beauty, yet is no less powerful for that. The vibraphone provides a strike and delay that is very different to keyboards, and when combined with fretless bass it has a wonderful effect, and then of course at the front we have Tim’s vocals. He truly is one of our finest singers, with a hidden strength, and his knowledge of how to layer the arrangements and yet somehow keeping them simple and allowing his voice to always be at the forefront of what is happening is very special indeed. I can understand why some people may feel this album is a little “samey”, but each one of these numbers is a delight, and the result is something I can play all day. Fans of no-man or Bowness should all be grabbing this as yet again he shows why he is so renowned as writer and performer.

Kev Rowland 8/10

VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR – LIVE AT THE PARADISO 14.04.07 – GONZO

This double CD set captures the band after they had reinvented themselves as a trio following on from the departure of David Jackson. The quartet had reformed in 2004 and recorded ‘Present’, yet after touring a decision was made to part company with Jackson and to instead work as a trio of Hugh Banton (organ), Guy Evans (drums) and Peter Hammill (vocals, guitar, piano). This CD captures them in their tenth show as a three-piece, having yet to release any new material, although they were trialling some music which would be recorded for ‘Trisector’ the following year. This meant the band had to reinvent their music, as apart from debut ‘The Aerosol Grey Machine’, they always had an additional melodic element either with woodwind or strings, but that was no longer the case. Part of this has been countered by Hammill becoming far more aggressive on guitar, and while they have replicated some parts normally played by Jackson, there are others where they have simply restructured the arrangements.

Opener “Lemmings” shows exactly what direction the band is going to take, while “A Place To Survive” is deliciously fractured and dynamic. Hammill, Banton and Evans started playing together in 1968, and more than 40 years later they were determined to prove that the latest iteration of VDGG were not only valid but were continuing to drive their legacy forward. There is plenty of emotion, both on stage and off, with the delicate piano introduction to “Man Erg” being one of the highlights of a tempestuous double CD set. The Paradiso is often used by progressive bands to record concerts as the crowd is always rapturous, and there is great sound quality to be had, and such is the case here. VDGG have continued as a trio to this day, having released four studio albums to date, yet at the beginning they were looking back into the classic catalogue and producing songs in a brand-new way. Essential for any fan of the band.

Kev Rowland 8/10

NEKTAR – LIVE FROM WILDEY THEATRE – INDEDPENDENT

This album was recorded on Nektar’s ‘Up Close and Intimate’ Tour of North America and focuses on new and classic Nektar tracks spanning their 50-year career. Recorded at their sell-out show on March 7th , 2020, it was also filmed, and both versions are available to download from their website. Drummer Ron Howden (bass, vocals) and Mick Brockett (special effects) were all in the band for the most important part of their career (1969-1977) while Ryche Chlanda (guitars, vocals) was in the band in the late Seventies, Randy Dembo (bass, 12-string guitar) was in the band in the early 2000’s and it is only keyboard player Kendall Scott who is the “new boy”. There is another version of Nektar touring Germany, based around keyboard player Klaus Henatsch, but to my mind this is the genuine article. Of course, can it ever be Nektar without Roye Albrighton who died in 2016? Well this certainly sounds pretty good to me.

Ah, sounds, there is the only problem with this album, which is nearly 140 minutes long and covers the band’s complete career although with a heavier focus on the early years and the latest album. This  just does not sound like a professionally recorded modern release, but much more like a high-quality audience bootleg. There are times in the quieter sections when some members of the audience can be heard talking over the music, and the overall sound is much more muddied which tends to happen when there has been no separation of the microphones/inputs. This is a real shame as the actual performance is that of a band really tight having already played more than 20 shows in tight succession prior to this one. Yes, there are times when the vocals do not quite hit right, but I would much rather hear that then a “cleaned up” version which has been modified to sort all mistakes.

This is very much an album which fans of the band will want to have in their collection, but certainly is not the best introduction to those who have not come across them prior to that. The new album ‘The Other Side’ is well worth investigating, while ‘A Tab In The Ocean’ will always be their classic to me, but while this is not something for a newcomer, for people like me this is still a very  solid release indeed although it does feel like an opportunity missed. 6/10

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