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Posts Tagged ‘Saxophone’

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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Tracklist:
1. Northern Hemisphere (5:03)
2. Isadora (4:19)
3. Waterways (7:00)
4. Centaur Woman (7:09)
5. Bathers (4:57)
6. Communion (4:02)
7. Moth (4:03)
8. In The Stable Of The Sphinx (8:20)

Bonus tracks  (Eclectic re-issue, 2004):
1. Waterways (demo) (6:40)
2. In the Stable of the Sphinx (demo recorded in July 1968) (11:10)
3. Eight Miles High (recorded at Tangerine Studios, London, 3rd September 1969) (6:51)

Lineup:
Dave Arbus – electric violin, flute, bagpipe, recorders, two saxophones
Ron Caines – soprano & alto saxophones (acoustic & amplified), organ, vocals (4)
Dave Dufont – percussion
Geoff Nicholson –  guitars, vocals
Steve York – bass guitar, harmonica, Indian thumb piano

Though I have neglected my blog for some time, I have definitely not forgotten about it (and hopefully neither have you, my dear readers!). Unfortunately, my other reviewing commitments sometimes have to take precedence – unless I want to find myself even more backlogged than I already am.

Anyway, for the first update for almost three weeks, here is another 1969 album, and one of the lost gems of the earliest years of progressive rock. As a matter of fact, having been released a few months before In the Court of the Crimson King, Mercator Projected might very well be considered as the first prog album – though, sadly, nowhere as well-known as King Crimson’s iconic debut.

Mercator Projected marks the debut of East of Eden, one of the most exciting, authentically progressive acts of  those golden years, now unfairly overlooked by most.  Drenched in exoticism, from its stunning, surprisingly modern cover (depicting a heavily tattooed woman’s back) to its evocative title (a Mercator projection is a cylindrical map projection that distorts the shape and size of large objects),  the album is a thoroughly exhilarating listen, blending Eastern sounds with jazz, blues, heavy rock and psychedelia in a heady brew that might at first sound dated, but still holds a deep fascination for the  discerning music fan.

One of East of Eden’s strengths lies in their use of an impressive array of instruments that, at the time, were not yet common currency in rock music. Dave Arbus’ electric violin (which, incidentally, also graces The Who’s “Baba O’ Riley”) dominates the proceedings, weaving ethereal melodies or bringing a strident note to the compositions, while saxes and flute add their distinctive character to the band’s sound. In the best tradition of the original progressive rock movement, and not unlike the mighty Crims’  seminal debut, the songs on this album are at the same time accessible and experimental, harsh and gently soothing. While the band do not reject their rock and blues roots, they also push the envelope with their richly textured soundscapes, which evoke many different moods.

Closing track “In the Stable of the Sphinx”, a jazzy, sprawling instrumental (also present in a longer version in the 2004 remastered edition), is possibly the album’s masterpiece: mainly guitar-driven, unlike most of the other tracks, it features some brilliant sax and violin work. Flutes take centre stage in the dreamy, hippyish “Isadora”; while “Waterways” and “Bathers” conjure images of Eastern-style languor and sensuality, with lashings of sumptuous violin and keyboard melodies. On the other hand, the bluesy, harmonica-driven “Centaur Woman” sounds somewhat grating, and is in my view the weakest offering on the album, even though the slightly distorted, dramatic vocals add some spice to the song.

As even a cursory listen will make it clear, Mercator Projected is not the accomplished work of a seasoned band. However,  even in  its undeniable rawness,  it shows the promise than East of Eden would fulfill in their sophomore effort, Snafu. It is a great pity that they did not achieve the fame they would have deserved for their highly individual, creative approach to music-making – they could have become as big as Yes or King Crimson, but now they are forgotten by almost everyone but the real aficionados of the ‘golden era’  of the genre.

On any account, Mercator Projected is highly recommended to anyone who likes their prog to be eclectic and challenging, even if a bit rough around the edges. This is an album that every self-respecting prog fan should  try at least once.

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