IONA – EDGE OF THE WORLD: LIVE IN EUROPE – SKY RECORDS

I am finding it hard to believe that here I am in 2022 writing about an album which was released in 2013, yet there is not a single review for it on ProgArchives. Recorded at different venues in the UK and Holland, here we have a double CD set capturing one of our finest prog folk bands in their natural environment, live on stage. I first came across them nearly 30 years ago with their second album, ‘Book of Kells’, and by the time they got to this recording there had been some significant line-up changes, but multi-instrumentalist Dave Bainbridge is still there, along with singer Joanne Hogg (acoustic guitar, keyboards) and drummer Frank Van Essen (also on violin) who was a guest back then, with the current line-up completed by Phil Barker (bass, electric double bass, darbuka) and Martin Nolan (Uilleann pipes, low and tin whistles). Strange to think that both Nick Beggs and Troy Donockley were involved on that album all those years back, wonder whatever happened to them……?

When a band contains a genuine multi-instrumentalist like Dave Bainbridge, it allows the band to have incredible breadth and diversity in what they are playing, here always steeped in the Celtic tradition of the Western Isles along with the Christian message which made the isle of Iona such a focal point for centuries. There is something very special about those islands, as anyone who has ever been will attest to, with powerful communities and a feeling of being in a place removed from much of modern life, and being all the better for it. This is what Iona bring with their music, changing mere notes into something magical and transformative. Whenever I listen to their music I am back on the islands, up in that area of Scotland where my father was raised and retired to.

Joanne has a wonderfully clear voice, similar in some ways to Annie Haslam or Christina Booth, while beneath her we have music that is often built on an incredibly powerful rhythm section with Dave and Martin guiding the melodies. While it is Celtic, it has much more direction and passion than the likes of Enya, and while it can indeed go into the dreamstate, there is a great deal going on and this never falls into the background. There are times when this really rocks, times when we all want to reel, and plenty of others when all we can do is listen and be taken away. This is complex music, with complicated arrangements, yet there is also a sense of space and fresh air within it so it never smothers but instead lifts the listener.

Containing music which does indeed go all the way back to ‘The Book of Kells’, more than two hours long spread over two discs, this is the perfect introduction to Iona for anyone, and is a delight from beginning to end.
10/10 Kev Rowland

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

The Gardening Club – Strange Kingdom Single – Melodic Revolution Records

Given the way Martin has been recording in the last few years it is hard to imagine that he had basically given up in the musical area and was instead concentrating totally on his artwork. Since the reissue and success of the original ‘The Gardening Club’ a few years ago, he has been working at pace and to date there have been two albums under that band name, and he has now signed with Melodic Revolution Records for the next one, ‘Strange Kingdom’. As a taster here we have the title cut, plus “The Owl”, as a two-track single. The first song features Martin Springett on vocals, Norm MacPherson on slide guitar and James MacPherson on drums with Morry Stearns (keyboards), Peter Dowse (bass) and Wayne Kozak (saxophone) while “The Owl” is Martin, Norm and Peter.I have been a fan of Martin’s work since I first came across it at the time of the reissue, and over the last few years we have been in constant contact, and of course he kindly provided the artwork for my series of books (and has already designed the cover for Volume 4 even though I haven’t even finished collating the material yet!). That to one side, our friendship is also in a place where I can say exactly what I want about his music and know he will not be upset by it if it is negative, although given the strength of everything I have heard to date I feel that will be incredibly unlikely. Martin has a knack for bringing together Camel and Roy Harper in a way that makes total logical sense, and although he moves through different styles (these two songs are very different with sax playing a very important part in the first and being totally absent in the second), his material has a lived in style which is relaxing like a favourite armchair. In Norm MacPherson he has the perfect musical foil, someone who understands what they are looking to achieve, and together they create music which is rooted in the Seventies when it had a power and presence, far removed from the plastic celebrity of today. I am so looking forward to the full album.

5 Stars | Kev Rowland, September 2020

Links:
http://martinspringett.com/
https://mrrmusic.com/

Potter’s Daughter – Casually Containing Rage – Melodic Revolution Records

Here we have three songs from Potter’s Daughter, showing some different sides of one of the most exciting bands coming out of America at present. Based around the amazing vocals and piano of Dyanne Potter Voegtlin, the first song is a new arrangement of “To My Love” which featured on their debut album ‘The Blind Side’. Here we are treated to a laid back, almost funky number by the whole band, and there are sections when it is just the rhythm section and Dyanne’s vocals, as she provides layered harmonies. Then we have “Accidentally Like A Martyr”, which was originally written and record by Warren Zevon on his ‘Excitable Boy’ album. Here she provides vocals and keyboards and is joined just by her son Jan-Christian Vögtlin, who provides bass, guitar, and drum programming. This is almost a torch song, with Dyanne front and centre.The last number again features just Dyanne and Christian and is “We Could Be”. Warm organ in no way prepares the listener for an incredibly powerful and moving song dealing with racial injustice. It includes NPR radio broadcasts about George Floyd and Ahmaud Abery, and while people need to grab this to play in the car, what I urge everyone reading this review is to stop doing so and go over to YouTube and watch one of the most powerful music videos I have ever seen. Filmmaker Serena Künzler has created a perfect piece of visual to go with the lyrics, and it starts by saying “Dedicated to everyone fighting for their sisters and brothers”. The EP, this song, and this video, are incredibly charged and powerful.

5 Stars | Kev Rowland, September 2020

Links:
https://pottersdaughterband.com/
https://mrrmusic.com/