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TRACKLISTING:
1. Snowtorch – Part One (19:39)
a) Star of Light
b) Retrograde
c) Fox on the Rocks
d) Celestine
2. Helix (5:54)
3. Snowtorch – Part Two (16:11)
a) Blowtorch Snowjob
b) Fox Rock 2
c) Coronal Mass Ejection
4. ” … ” (2:34)

LINEUP:
Phideaux Xavier – acoustic guitar, piano, vocals
Ariel Farber – vocals, violin
Valerie Gracious – vocals
‘Bloody’ Rich Hutchins – drums
Mathew Kennedy – bass guitar
Gabriel Moffat – electric guitar
Linda Ruttan Moldawsky – vocals, metal percussion
Molly Ruttan – vocals
Mark Sherkus – keyboards, piano
Johnny Unicorn – keyboards, saxophone, vocals

With:
Stephanie Fife – cello
Chris Bleth – flute, soprano saxophone

With 7 albums released since 2003 (not counting Ghost Story, originally released in 1997 and reissued in 2004, and mostly consisting of material dating from a previous project called Satyricon) Phideaux need  no introduction to prog fans. Based on a group of childhood friends who grew up together in the New York area, but are now scattered all over the US territory, they are a proudly independent outfit, a group of gifted musicians coming from diverse backgrounds led by the remarkable talent of Phideaux Xavier, whose highly individual approach to the production of progressive rock has turned them into firm favourites of a wide-ranging, yet rather volatile scene.

Throughout the years the band have perfected a format that, while not exactly uncommon in the prog world, has been given a new twist by Phideaux Xavier’s fertile mind and keen awareness of social matters. All of the band’s albums since 2006’s The Great Leap have been based on elaborate concepts that, eschewing the  often formulaic fantasy topics that are still quite popular with prog bands and their fans, present reflections on the state of  the modern world – albeit coached in metaphorical terms. In some ways, Phideaux has become a 21st-century equivalent of Roger Waters, down to the configuration of the band – which, with its ten members, plus various collaborators, is a veritable mini-orchestra. Everything, so to speak, is done in the family, with guitarist Gabriel Moffat in the role of the producer, and backing vocalists (and twin sisters) Molly Ruttan and Linda Ruttan Moldavsky responsible for the elegantly minimalistic artwork.

Released in the spring of 2011, a couple of months before Phideaux’s appearance at the 2011 edition of ROSfest, Snowtorch is a compact, 45-minute offering that  manages to pack more content in its streamlined running time than most of the sprawling behemoths favoured by some artists. Featuring the same line-up as its predecessor, 2009’s  Number Seven, it is, in Phideaux’s own words, “a musing on life, language and solar flares”, conceived as single suite in various movements, though split in two separate halves connected by a stand-alone song also based on the composition’s main theme.This strategy of building the album’s musical content around a recurring theme is what makes Snowtorch a symphonic offering in the truest sense of the word. With a perfect balance between vocal and instrumental parts, and the added bonus of thought-provoking lyrics, the album stakes its claim as the rightful heir of the great classics of the Seventies – though bringing a definitely modern twist to those old prog warhorses, the epic and the concept album.

In fact, listening to Snowtorch may evoke strong comparisons with classical music, on account of both the structure and the nature of the compositions, which combine the powerful surge of exhilarating crescendos with intimate, low-key moments. However, Phideaux’s sound is quite far removed from the somewhat cheesy grandiosity of bands such as The Enid. With two keyboardists (plus Phideaux himself on piano) providing a lush, yet tightly-woven background tapestry, bolstered by Ariel Farber’s violin and guest artist Stephanie Fife’s cello, Chris Bleth’s flute adding a pastoral touch to some of the quieter sections, the music possesses a dramatic fullness that complements the harmonious beauty of the vocal parts.

The first half of the “Snowtorch” suite opens with the subdued melody of “Star of Light”, introduced by piano, organ and Phideaux’s husky, expressive voice; then it soon gains intensity, the intricate, orchestral keyboards and relentless drumming driving the vocals along towards a climax. The main theme is introduced, and brought to fruition in a splendid, organ-driven section peppered by guitar excursions, the two instruments sparring in a peaks-and-valleys pattern. “Retrograde” revolves around a lovely, emotional duet between Phideaux and the band’s other lead vocalist, Valerie Gracious, whose soaring soprano shows more than a hint of steel without any trace of saccharine – an enthralling song almost out of a classic Broadway musical. The entertaining ditty “Fox on the Rocks” (with lyrics penned by keyboardist Johnny Unicorn), sung by Phideaux in a near-falsetto register, prepares the listener for  instrumental “Celestine”, a veritable keyboard tour-de-force,  pastoral and stormy in turns, where solemn mellotron washes underpin the sparring of piano, synth and organ, with violin, metal percussion and sax joining the fray.

As previously hinted, “Helix” bridges the gap between the two parts of the titular suite – a majestic, powerful piece sustained by Valerie Gracious’ commanding performance, with all the instruments working together to produce a solid wall of sound  – which reminded me of the dramatic sweep of some episodes of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. “Snowtorch Part Two” – shorter and somewhat edgier than Part One – opens in almost upbeat fashion with the funnily (and punnily)-titled instrumental “Blowtorch Snowjob”, then culminates in the explosive, ELP-influenced keyboard-and-drum orgy of “Fox Rock 2” (with an unbridled organ solo that would sit quite comfortably on Tarkus). Things finally mellow out with the sedate, Pinkfloydian atmosphere of “Coronal Mass Ejection”, an ominous, somber piece which reprises the album’s main theme, briefly climaxes with guitar slashes and intense vocals, then ends with sparse piano. The short “ghost track” included at the end as a sort of instrumental summary wraps things up with a cheery feel that seems to release the tension built up throughout the album.

Effortlessly marrying superb musicianship and genuine passion, Snowtorch brims with gorgeous melodies, the kind that stick in your mind for quite a while. While often pervaded by a sense of impending doom, it can also be oddly jaunty; for all its lush, multilayered arrangements, it is never gratuitously pretentious. With all-round flawless performances, excellent songwriting and beautiful singing, it has quickly established itself as one of the strongest releases of the year so far. Though influenced by the great tradition of the golden age of prog, unlike the myriad of “retro” acts Phideaux manage to sound like no one else on the current scene. An album such as Snowtorch is living proof of how they are almost single-handedly dragging symphonic prog right into the 21st century.

Links:
http://www.bloodfish.com/

 

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Passion (5:27)
2. Empathy (11:20)
3. Feeding Frenzy (5:47)
4. This Green And Pleasant Land (13:13)
5. It’s Just A Matter Of Not Getting Caught (4:41)
6. Skara Brae (7:31)
7. Your Black Heart (6:46)

 LINEUP:
Nick Barrett – vocals, guitars, keyboard, keyboard programming
Peter Gee  – bass
Clive Nolan – keyboards, backing vocals
Scott Higham – drums, backing vocals

One of the front runners of the Neo-Prog movement (together with Marillion, Pallas and IQ) who in the mid-Eighties brought the genre back into the limelight, Pendragon do not need any introduction to the community of progressive rock fans. Never the most prolific of bands, throughout their 33 years of activity on the music scene the Stroud-based quartet have established themselves as firm favourites with those who privilege the more melodic, song-based side of prog.

Even if I was obviously acquainted with the band’s reputation, I have to admit that, before Passion, I had never listened to any Pendragon album in its entirety. For a number of reasons, mainly related to my personal circumstances, while in the Eighties I had become quite familiar with Marillion, most of the other bands managed to flow almost completely under my radar. In the following years I only heard a handful of scattered tracks that left little or no impression – especially as my tastes evolved in a different direction from “mainstream” symphonic prog and its offshoot Neo.

Passion, Pendragon’s ninth studio album – released in April 2011, and recorded with the same line-up as 2008’s Pure –  like its predecessor may well prove quite divisive as regards the band’s fandom. A masterpiece for some, a borderline sellout for others, it is definitely a bold statement, and therefore bound to rub some people the wrong way. Whatever you may think about the band and the whole Neo-Prog movement, it is undeniable that, with their last couple of releases, Pendragon have taken a big step forward into the 21st century, even at the risk of alienating their more conservative fans. Though some might call it sacrificing to fads, it might also be seen as being willing to take risks – a more than healthy attitude for a progressive rock band.

Neo-Prog often gets a bad rap in some prog circles for being both derivative and not as complex as other subgenres, as well as frequently too  “accessible”. While all of those aspects may be considered true to a certain extent, it is also true that they have earned bands like Pendragon a loyal following among those people who shy away from anything too convoluted, or lacking in melody. Indeeed, in compositional terms, Passion is rather straightforward: the same, however, might be said about highly acclaimed “modern prog” icons Porcupine Tree (incidentally, a clear influence on this album). It is also very balanced in terms of running time (54 minutes), featuring 7 tracks, only two of which longer than 10 minutes, and therefore fulfilling the role of the obligatory “epics”.

The first shock for prog purists comes right at the beginning of the title-track, after the industrial-sounding drum loops and gentle guitar chords – in the shape of heavy riffing and near-growling vocals with a definite Opeth flavour. The song, rather linear in structure, relies on the atmospheric interplay between Nick Barrett’s guitar and Clive Nolan’s keyboards, occasionally slashed by razor-sharp riffs and increased drumming speed, and plenty of electronic effects. The following number,  Empathy (one of the two epics previously mentioned), makes very effective use of cutting-edge technology to create an ominous, claustrophobic atmosphere, with spacey effects, heavily treated guitar and dirge-like vocals (as well as heavy riffing) that reinforce the Porcupine Tree comparisons. This is offset by a clean, melodic guitar solo and solemn church-like organ section towards the end, though not without the further shock of a rap-style vocal interlude. True to its title, “Feeding Frenzy” pursues the same dark, menacing tone, slowly building up to a powerful climax of heavy guitar chords and crashing drums, and ending with some rather scary vocal samples.

Though strategically placed right in the middle of the album, the second epic (and longest track), “This Green and Pleasant Land”,  is, in my view, probably the weakest, most predictable track on Passion, though the heavier, faster second half and the yodeling voices at the end inject some spice in a song that might have used some editing. Moreover, I feel that the lyrics, though undeniably sincere, tend to simplify some rather complicated issues (such as multiculturalism), and possibly reinforce negative stereotypes.  The short “It’s a Matter of Not Getting Caught” has a brief, riff-driven section sandwiched between two slow, meditative ones; while “Skara Brae” (the name of a Neolithic settlement in the Orkney Islands) is one of the highlights of the album, and my personal favourite – with its raw, almost Sabbathian opening, and the successful combination of clean, melodic guitar and vocals and the intense heaviness of chugging riffs perfecting the example put forward by Porcupine Tree in their more recent efforts. The album is wrapped up by the lovely, piano-led ballad “My Black Heart”, soulfully interpreted by Barrett (whose voice is undisputedly an acquired taste, but also very attuned to the music), and reminiscent of the more intimist moments of The Tangent or Big Big Train.

Coming in a sumptuous package complete with striking artwork by German-based Killustrations design studio, a thorough booklet and a 120-minute making-of DVD titled A Handycam Progumentary, Passion may disappoint the more traditional-minded fans, but its bold approach may also win the band a few followers among the ranks of the more modern-oriented prog devotees. Though not everyone’s cup of tea, this is an interesting, well-crafted offering by a highly professional band who – unlike other veterans of the prog scene – refuse to be stuck in a musical time-warp.

Links:
http://www.pendragon.mu/

http://www.killustrations.com/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. G.B. Evidence (5:19)
2. Arabesque (12:32)
3. Dark Magus (9:00)
4. L’Ombra di un Sogno (6:55)
5. Più Limpida e Chiara di Ogni Impressione Vissuta, Part I (5:08)
6. Battery Park (6:37)

LINEUP:
Giovanni Parmeggiani – Hammond organ, acoustic and electric piano, Arp Odyssey, Minimoog
Cristian Franchi – drums
Daniele Piccinini – bass
Marco Marzo Maracas – guitar, oud

With:
Richard Sinclair – vocals (4)
Antonio “Cooper” Cupertino – percussion (4)

Hailing from the historic Italian city of Bologna, home to the oldest university in the world, Accordo dei Contrari (Italian for “Agreement of the Opposites”) started out their career in as a trio; then, after a number of line-up changes, recorded their debut album, Kinesis (released in 2007) as a quartet. The same line-up is featured on Kublai, their sophomore effort, released in the spring of 2011 – an album that is sure to put them on the map of even the most demanding lovers of progressive rock. Sadly, the band was one of the “innocent victims”, so to speak, of the unfortunate cancellation of the 2011 edition of NEARfest, which deprived American prog fans of the opportunity to witness a number of exciting modern bands.

While the album’s title may bring to mind the fabled character of the Mongolian emperor celebrated by the likes of Marco Polo and S.T. Coleridge, in this case the name Kublai is meant to  represent “the most distant point in an imaginary landscape. It represents ordered chaos, light and dark, the balance between written and improvised music.” A clear statement of intent that accurately sums up the musical content of Accordo dei Contrari’s second album. With its stylishly minimalistic cover artwork, Kublai is a supremely classy package that shows a band whose compositional and instrumental mastery is growing by leaps and bounds.

Running at a compact, perfectly balanced 45 minutes, the album sounds fresh and original even when the band’s main sources of inspiration are referenced. While Accordo dei Contrari do not choose to employ as extensive an array of instruments as other modern bands, they manage to create an impressive volume of sound with a rather restrained instrumentation, dispensing with the violin and saxophone featured on their debut, and therefore perfecting the “electric quartet” format. For an album that might be tagged as jazz-rock, Kublai seems to revolve a lot around Giovanni Parmeggiani’s stunning keyboard work. Indeed, the keyboards are definitely the driving force of the disc, with the distinctive rumble of the Hammond organ lending a touch of unbridled hard rock passion to the overall sound: there are moments on Kublai in which Parmeggiani sounds as if he was channeling Jon Lord.

Opener “G.B. Evidence”, a variation on a Thelonious Monk composition, immediately introduces the listener to the fascinating world of Accordo dei Contrari, with Cristian Franci’s crisp, inventive drumming, bolstered by Daniele Piccinini’s sleek, versatile bass lines, sparring with Marco Marzo’s simmering guitar and Parmeggiani’s subtly layered keyboards. In the second half, guitar and organ engage in a sort of dialogue that conjures images of Deep Purple jamming with Mahavishnu Orchestra. Clocking in at 12 minutes “Arabesque” presents Accordo dei Contrari’s own twist on the obligatory prog ‘epic’, making effective use of a steady electronic drone to create a faintly ominous atmosphere underlying the stately beauty of the Eastern-flavoured acoustic guitar arpeggios in the first part of the track. The overall loose, somewhat rarefied texture, the flow of the music broken by frequent pauses and surges in volume, occasionally gains intensity in bursts of energy that bring to mind the revolutionary sonic melting pot of Area circa Arbeit Macht Frei. Bookended by sonorous gong. “Dark Magus” (a nod to Miles Davis’ 1974 album of the same title) reinforces the impression of classic jazz rock coupled with the intensity of vintage hard rock. Parmeggiani attacks his Hammond with unadulterated abandon, while Franci’s stellar drumming propels the whole of the composition along, with Marco Marzo’s guitar in an invaluable supporting role.

Strategically placed at the opening of the album’s second half, “L’Ombra di un Sogno (Shadow of a Dream)” is the only track with vocals, provided by none other than the ‘voice of Canterbury’, Richard Sinclair, who also wrote the gentle, moving lyrics in memory of his dog. Centred around Sinclair’s subdued yet emotional interpretation, his velvety baritone bending the music to its will, the song – somewhat sparse at first, with a hauntingly insistent guitar line, then taking a jazzier turn towards the end – brings the the sound of iconic Canterbury bands such as Hatfield and the North and National Health into the 21st century. On the other hand, “Piu’ Limpida e Chiara di Ogni Espressione Vissuta, Pt. 1”  steers towards a more symphonic direction, with organ and guitar alternating in the lead role, and an overall solemn, meditative feel even when the pace picks up. The album ends with the “Battery Park” (inspired by a windy, sunny February day by the Hudson River in New York City), a lovely, piano-led  piece based around a main theme developed in a stop-start movement, the various sections climaxing and then subsiding like the natural flow of a water course.

A perfect marriage of formal elegance and emotion, rich with diverse influences but always cohesive, Kublai clearly proves that Accordo dei Contrari are ready to take their rightful place alongside D.F.A. as purveyors of impeccably executed, yet warm and emotional jazz-rock in which keyboards play a prominent role. The band have amply fulfilled the promise shown by their debut, Kinesis, and the compositional and technical maturity shown on their sophomore effort bodes extremely well for their future career. A must for fans of the Canterbury scene and classic jazz-rock in general, Kublai will delight anyone who loves great music – whatever the label attached to it.

Links:
http://www.accordodeicontrari.com/

 

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TRACKLISTING:
1. A Visit to Newport Hospital (8:25)
2. Contrasong (4:21)
3. Boilk (9:23)
4. Long Piece No. 3 –  Part One (5:06)
5. Long Piece No. 3 –  Part Two (7:39)
6. Long Piece No. 3 –  Part Three (8:01)
7. Long Piece No. 3 –  Part Four (2:51)

LINEUP:
Mont Campbell – bass, vocals, organ, piano, French horn
Dave Stewart – organ, piano, tone generator
Clive Brooks – drums

With:
Henry Lowther – trumpet (2)
Mike Davis – trumpet (2)
Bob Downes – tenor sax (2)
Tony Roberts – tenor sax (2)

Released in 1971, Egg’s sophomore effort is one of those albums that, in a way, can be said to be representative of a whole movement, though they rarely get the appreciation they deserve. Though “Canterbury scene” may sound rather vague as a definition, being more about a place than an actual musical style, it is nonetheless undeniable that most of the bands and artists associated with this most peculiar subgenre do share a number of features that go beyond their somewhat ‘incestuous’ sharing of personnel. Many see the output of the  “Canterbury scene” as a subsection of jazz-rock with poppy leanings and occasional excursions into more avant-garde territory; however, to these ears at least, the best Canterbury outfits offer a complete progressive package of humour, sophistication, diverse influences, and remarkable musical chops. Quintessentially English,  with a timeless feel that often eludes the more stereotyped instances of symphonic prog, the Canterbury sound commands fierce devotion, though its quirky nature can also leave listeners somewhat cold.

To all intents and purposes, Egg was a continuation of Uriel, the psychedelic progressive quartet that also included guitarist Steve Hillage (later with Khan and Gong), whose only album was released in 1969 under the name of Arzachel.  After Hillage left, the three remaining members took a different, more experimental route, pushing the keyboards at the forefront, and dabbling in those genre-defining contaminations between rock and classical music – as witnessed by “Fugue in D Minor” and “Symphony No.2”, both featured on their 1970 self-titled debut album.

In spite of its cult status among true-blue Canterbury fans, The Polite Force is generally not rated as highly as the likes of Third or In the Land of Grey and Pink. Some reviewers have even hinted at comparisons with the much-reviled ELP – owing to the similar configuration of both bands – which, unfortunately, does not do the album any favours. Now, though I consider ELP one of the most influential bands in the history of progressive rock, and rate their first five studio albums quite highly, I do not find the connection between their sound and Egg’s as evident as some maintain. While The Polite Force is very much a showcase for Dave Stewart’s distinctive style, and therefore a real delight for keyboard fans, it would also be unfair to state that the band is dominated by him. In fact,  bassist/vocalist Monty Campbell and drummer Clive Brooks (who joined blues-rock trio The Groundhogs after Egg’s demise) do not just function as supporting cast for Stewart’s keyboard antics, but drive the band’s sound along with their impressive, though understated, skills. Campbell is also a vocalist very much in the classic Canterbury mould, with a polite (pun unintended), pleasant voice that is the perfect complement to the band’s quirky, complex sound.

Though seven tracks are listed on the back cover, the album actually comprises four compositions, one of which, “Long Piece No.3” is divided into four parts. “A Visit to Newport Hospital” is one of the most impressive openers to be found on a Canterbury album – introduced by an almost Sabbath-like riff, heavy and plodding, which suddenly loosens up into a cheery, sprightly organ section. The gently ironical lyrics, relating some of the band’s experiences in their Uriel days, are an unobtrusive yet essential accompaniment to Stewart’s elegantly assertive organ; Brooks’ drumming underpins everything with a discreet touch.  The song then comes full circle, ending with the same gritty organ riff as it began.  In the following “Contrasong” a full-blown horns quartet punctuates Stewart’s dynamic piano forays and Campbell’s urgent vocals, with a basic 5/8 9/8 pattern reminiscent of Gentle Giant’s counterpoint arrangements; Stewart switches to organ later during the song, propelling it forward in parallel with Brook’s drumming, and the horns coming in bursts.  Next comes the somewhat controversial “Boilk”, a full-fledged avant-garde piece almost 10 minutes long, very much in the vein of King Crimson’s “Moonchild”. The composition, which had already appeared on Egg’s debut (though in shorter form), opens with the sound of running water, and includes improvisations on a Bach theme, tolling bells and a host of other effects.

The album closes with the ‘epic’ instrumental “Long Piece No.3”, about 20 minutes long if taken as a whole – though its four parts are listed separately. As the liner notes point out, the ‘outer’ parts (One and Four) are rhythmically based, while the ‘inner’ ones are harmonically based. Interestingly, the whole composition comes across as somewhat fragmented, with frequent pauses breaking up the flow of the music. Part One opens with Stewart’s briskly repetitive organ, assisted by Campbell on piano and organ, and driven along by Brooks’ skilful drumming. Part Two immediately introduces Stewart’s fluid organ, with the drums going back to a supporting role (though essential), and a palpably more melodic texture – though its central section contains a sort of improvisational organ piece that might bring “Boilk” to mind. Campbell’s bass introduces the textbook-Canterbury Part Three, with its almost military drum pattern, unbridled organ flights (sometimes reminiscent of Soft Machine’s Mike Ratledge), and tone generator adding wailing, guitar-like effects. Part Four wraps up the album in a short but intense climax, driven along by frantic drumming and harsh, fuzzed organ.

As Edward Macan intimates in his book Rocking the Classics, The Polite Force can be seen as bridging the gap between keyboard-based symphonic prog and the jazzier, quirkier sound typical of the Canterbury scene. Definitely one of the finest moments of  Stewart’s career, its eclectic nature – featuring as it does avant-garde experimentation, more or less ‘conventional’ songs, classical touches and plenty of instrumental brilliance –is likely to appeal to a wide range of fans of progressive music. While not a full-blown masterpiece like Third or The Rotters’ Club, it is doubtlessly one of the most interesting productions coming from the variegated Canterbury universe – and as such highly recommended.

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Cannonball (7:40)
2. Still in Love (4:28)
3. No Inbetween (4:41)
4. Better Days (6:12)
5. Brother Where You Bound (16:34)
6. Every Open Door (3:05)

LINEUP:
Rick Davies – keyboards, vocals
John Helliwell – saxophone, vocals
Bob Siebenberg – drums
Dougie Thompson – bass, Cha Cha, background vocals (2)

With:
David Gilmour – guitar solos (5)
Scott Gorham –  guitar (5)
Scott Page – flute (4, 5)
Marty Walsh – guitar (1, 2, 4, 5)
Doug Wintz – trombone (1)

When Roger Hodgson left the band in 1983, many were ready to write Supertramp off for good. After all, the interplay between his distinctive high-pitched vocals and Rick Davies’ gruff, bluesy tones, as well as their differing songwriting styles, had always been one of the main points of attraction for the many fans of the band. It was therefore quite a shock for the sceptics to be confronted with such a strong release as 1985’s Brother Where You Bound – a still relatively underappreciated album that, however, can easily be put on a par with the band’s renowned Seventies output.

Starting from the elegantly minimalistic cover, depicting the stages of man’s evolution in five different colours on a pristine white background, Brother Where You Bound simply oozes class. Supertramp always had the uncanny knack of marrying catchy hooks with interesting, thought-provoking lyrics, and this album is no exception. Rick Davies, left alone to cope with vocal duties, unleashes a performance that is nothing short of awesome, especially on the album’s pièce de resistance, the 16-minute title-track. Add a couple of prestigious guest musicians to the mix, and you have a near-masterpiece on your hands.

In the best tradition of a band known for strong opening tracks, “Cannonball” does not disappoint the listener. Backed by a steady, almost danceable beat, and introduced by Davies’ scintillating piano, it is one of the vocalist/keyboardist’s many songs about a broken relationship, where you can positively hear the anger in his voice, belying the mock-cheerfulness of the sudden bursts of horns and the almost singalong coda. However, while the horn-heavy “Still in Love” seems to reprise the apparently carefree mood of Breakfast in America, on the whole the songs come across as definitely more somber and less accessible. Both the slow, understated “No Inbetween” (featuring great keyboards and sax) and the relentless “Better Days”, with its frantic pace and splendid flute solo, convey an aura of almost claustrophobic pessimism and disillusion

Interestingly, it is mainly Davies’ voice that makes Brother Where You Bound a markedly darker, less upbeat offering than Supertramp’s 1979 mega-hit, Breakfast in America.The title-track, in particular, is anything but an easy, radio-friendly listen, made up as it is of various parts interspersed by recorded voices, odd noises and sudden silences, underpinning the oppressive atmosphere conjured up by lyrics imbued with all the paranoia of the Cold War years. Davies’ stunning, highly dramatic vocal performance and David Gilmour’s trademark, crystal-clear guitar tones link all the pieces together to create what is possibly the band’s best epic. In comparison with such a wild, exhilarating ride, album closer “Every Open Door”, a slow, moody piece, is a tad anticlimactic, also on account of its decidedly more optimistic message.

If you only know Supertramp for the likes of “Dreamer” and “The Logical Song” (which is as perfect a pop song as they come), you will probably be inclined to dismiss them as little more than ‘prog-lite’ for those who hesitate to delve into the more demanding examples of the genre. Although it is true that the band possess a great feel for melody and memorable hooks, they are also outstanding musicians, and purveyors of above-average lyrics.  While they may represent the ‘easier’ side of prog, they do so with inimitable style and class, displaying songwriting skills that are far from average. Brother Where You Bound is a prime example of ‘crossover’  prog at its very best, and as such highly recommended to anyone but those prog fans who think that ‘pop’ is inevitably a bad word.

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