HiWe are pleased to announce that a new Salander album will be released on March 3rd on Bandcamp www.salander.bandcamp.com. It is called The Fragility of Innocence and is a concept album about an 8 year old girl living in Iceland called Silja.Dave Curnow has written the story and this will come packaged with the album.We thank you for your support this past year and thank you in advance for your interest in this new album. We really hope you enjoy it as it probably will be our last.Dave and Dave from Salander
Review: The Neal Morse Band, ALIVE AGAIN TOUR, Aurora, Colorado, February 28, 2015.
Last night, I had the incredible privilege of seeing the Neal Morse Band live in Denver (actually, in the suburb of Aurora), playing at the Soiled Dove Underground. To make it all so much better, I had the company of my beautiful, prog-friendly wife, Dedra. Colorado prog friends, Geddy, Vince, and Amy, were there as well. And, just to make the company even more interesting, Dedra and I sat with two brothers—Joe and Dave, originally from Columbus, Ohio, but now residing in Denver. Joe might even have been a bigger Neal Morse fan than I am, if such a thing is possible. The guy waved, pumped his fist, and screamed “amen” throughout the whole show. I loved it. Before and after the concert, we talked about the American founding fathers and the constitution! Not something I was expecting. But, when I told them I taught history at CU, they became pretty animated and wanted to make sure I taught only from primary sources. As it turns out, I do. So, a great geek time was had by all. Neal Morse and Thomas Jefferson have far more in common than you might suspect.
But, of course, if you’re reading this, you’re not interested in my pedagogical style or my views on the saint of Monticello. You want to read about Neal! Or Mike! Or Randy! Or Bill! Or Eric! Of course, you do.
Whether or not I can add much to Tad Wert’s excellent review of the Nashville show remains to be seen. I will do my best.
Let me get the suspense out of the way. This was one of the single finest rock concerts I’ve ever seen, and I feel deeply honored to have been there. All day, today, I’ve been able to think about little else. I’ve seen Neal Morse before, and I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed myself at his shows. But, this. This was truly something special. Not only is Morse coming off of the single best album of his career, The Grand Experiment, but he has also truly expanded the show into a “band” effort. He is still the leader, to be sure, but this was the show of the band, not of an individual, or of an individual with a supporting band. These guys meshed so very, very well together.
So very well. Sigh. . .
I took pretty copious notes, trying to record my reactions, during the 2.5 hour concert, and words such as “AWESOME” and “INSPIRED” appear frequently. At one point, I looked at my notes and thought, “I’m turning into a teenaged girl. All I need is some hearts on top of my ‘i’s.”
As to the set list, the guys played The Call; Leviathan; Harm’s Way/Go the Way You Go; The Grand Experiment; The Creation; Somber Days; Waterfall; In the Fire; Alive Again; Rejoice; Reunion; King Jesus. In between there were several solos—all quite good.
Let me offer a number of observations.
Neal and Mike were clearly in the highest of spirits, and the two really served as the pillars around which the others moved (Randy’s a pillar, too, really).
Morse was in full “ham” mode, and I loved every moment of it. I wasn’t alone. Morse had the audience, totally and completely, from the first second to the last.
When I first saw Eric Gillette and Bill Hubauer on the MOMENTUM tour, they properly blew me away. I’d not seen a thing, as it turns out. They’ve each grown so much in confidence, it was almost like watch two entirely new players last night. Hubauer could’ve been in Procol Harum, and Gillette would’ve been a nice substitute for Trevor Rabin on 90125.
Holy schnikees, these guys are amazing. Given his age, Gillette has fantastic future ahead of him. And, he sings as well as he plays.
Every one of the members of the band played wonderfully. Randy even played a bass pedal solo!
The second best moment of the night was the performance of Waterfall from the new album. As I’ve noted here and elsewhere, this is the best album of Morse’s career, and I’ve been a huge (huge!) fan since THE LIGHT. In context of the new album, Waterfall offers a beautiful 6.5 minutes of Genesis-like delicacy and wonder. In concert, however, it’s an altogether different thing of beauty. Watching Neal, Bill, and Eric on guitar and Mike on tambourine exuding love and tenderness, I was moved at the most profound level.
The best moment, though, arrived with the finale of the main set, the title track of the show and one monster of a prog tune, Alive Again. I realize some will take this as hyperbole, but it’s how I felt and how I feel: I was at a 1973 Yes concert, listening to the first live version of Close to the Edge or at a 1978 Rush concert, hearing the first live performance of Xanadu. Yes, this is how good “Alive Again” is. This is the greatest prog epic Neal has written, and it’s one of the best prog epics ever written. In hindsight, I realize the entire set list had been carefully constructed to lead to this 30-minute plus finale.
Before heading to the concert, I checked out some reviews and came across some of the standard comments about Neal. Too preachy is the most common complaint. Really??? If Jesus is half as cool as Neal makes Him, call me a follower. I love Morse’s convictions, his sense of purpose, and his humor. Morse is a natural leader and a man endowed with immense gifts. Preach it, Neal. Preach it until the end of days.
I tried three times to make it through the movie Avatar. I never made it. Every time I came to the floating mountains, i wanted to scream as loudly as possible–you stole that from Roger Dean! And, the movie reeked, anyway.
I can’t say the same about Sid Meier. In his own way, he’s a genius. Needless to write, I was rather shocked when I saw the trailer for the forthcoming Meier game, STARSHIPS. Here’s a screen capture:
Now, check out the image from the cover of Retropolis by the Flower Kings.
Well, let’s hope this is just a case of admiration.
Well, Andy Tillison and Sally Collyer did, and we had an amazing, very good, awesome, wonderful time! They’re on their way home now, but the memory and goodness of their visit remains palpable. Tillison lectured as well as performed before a Boulder audience on Thursday. It was an amazing event, and I’ll report more fully about it in the next day or two.
In the meantime, pull out some Tangent, put on the headphones, and turn out the lights.
Review: Glass Hammer, THE BREAKING OF THE WORLD (Sound Resources, 2015).
Tracks: Mythopoeia; Third Floor; Babylon; A Bird When it Sneezes; Sand; Bandwagon; Haunted; North Wind; and Nothing, Everything.
The band: Steve Babb; Fred Schendel; Kamran Alan Shikoh; Aaron Raulston; Carl Groves; and Susie Bogdanowicz.
Additional musicians: Steve Unruh and Michele Lynn. Produced by Schendel and Babb.
Birzer rating: 10/10
A mortal yet strives in his fallen state
Blessed is he
Who hears yet the strains of the song eternal
Just when you thought the greatest and most venerable American prog band could get “none more prog,” along comes THE BREAKING OF THE WORLD, the best work of Glass Hammer’s career and, in some related fashion, their most progressive album thus far. This is not just album number fifteen in a list of fifteen sequential studio albums. Of course, there’s no such thing—and never has been—as “just another Glass Hammer album.” Each is a treasure, in and of itself. At the risk of sounding somewhat bizarre, I must write that THE BREAKING OF THE WORLD is so progressive, that it probably goes beyond progressive rock. It’s not genre-less, but it is probably genre-creating or, at the very least, genre transformational.
Glass Hammer has never shunned or forsaken its loyalties, and one always hears a bit of their loves and admirations in their music. Sometimes it’s Yes, sometimes Genesis, sometimes Kansas, and sometimes, ELP.
But, it’s always, also, distinctively Glass Hammer, wonderfully Schendel and Babb.
I tire of moving in place
I want to see what is beyond these walls
Confinement is death to my soul.
For everything there is a season. For better or worse, the music of Glass Hammer did not enter into my life and penetrate my very soul until 2002. Fortuitously, a close friend and academic colleague knew of my love (obsession wouldn’t be inaccurate) of everything prog. She also, amazingly, knew Babb and Schendel really well.
As I’ve proudly mentioned elsewhere and frequently, LEX REX, Glass Hammer’s prog saga from 2002, just utterly floored me. I mean floored me. Really, utterly floored me. LEX REX did not merely become another part of my rather sizeable and ever-growing album collection, it became a defining album and remains so to this day, 13 years later. One of the problems with encountering a masterpiece from a band is that every subsequent release not only has to match that one, but it must best it. The standard is pretty amazingly high, and it only goes up for every album release. “Now, without further ado. . .”
No way could these two guys from Tennessee do that again, at least not without re-writing and re-hashing LEX REX. But, then, came SHADOWLANDS (2003) with its overwhelming intensity; THE INCONSOLABLE SECRET (2005) with its depths of imagination and poetry; CULTURE OF ASCENT with the glorious voice of Susie Bogdanowicz (the best voice in rock, to my mind, with David Longdon and Leah McHenry standing at the top with her); the playfulness of THREE CHEERS (2009); the sonic horizons broken with IF (2010) and COR CORDIUM (2011); the soulfully penetrating story of PERILOUS (2012); and the classical reach of ODE TO ECHO (2014). I guess two guys from Tennessee really can do astounding things, repeatedly!
The stench of morality, real or imagined
Reeking like burning hair
All those meddling fools, all those pious Judases
Let them all burn in the world they hold dear
I sail away, crossing the Rubicon.
Following this band rather seriously for almost a decade and a half, I can state a few things rather certainly. First, this band never settles. Second, this band never stops pursing excellence. There’s almost a holy fidelity in Babb and Schendel’s struggle against the tapioca conformity of so much of this post-modern world. In true romantic fashion, the two wield a number of finely-honed (most likely, Elvish) blades against such demons of conformity and the whirligig of the abyss. Third, not content to fight alone, they lead not only their fellow artists, but also their fans in a righteous rage against all that grates in the here below.
It’s worth pondering the sheer amount of talent Babb and Schendel have gathered around them and their two-decade plus project. Of course, Babb is one of the best bassists alive, topping Squire and equaling Lee, and Schendel can plays the keys as well and, frankly, far more tastefully than the standard bearer of prog, Wakeman. Then, add in Aaron Raulston, one brilliant pounder of skins. And, with Raulston and Babb, you have the single best rhythm section alive. Shikoh plays with mighty innovation and verve. Groves gives everything he has in his singing, presenting melodies in a divine fashion. And, then, of course, there’s Bogdanowicz, who, I assume, must’ve been given some preternatural glimpse of heaven, for her voice is something out of Dante’s Paradiso.
On this album, Babb and Schendel have also brought in Michele Lynn to contribute on vocals and Steve Unruh to play violin and flute. Each adds considerably to what is already an incredible album.
Indeed, THE BREAKING OF THE WORLD holds together perfectly. The album begins with a re-working of J.R.R. Tolkien’s 1931 poem, “Mythopoeia,” dedicated to his closest friend, C.S. Lewis. In many ways, this is Glass Hammer dedicating not just this album—but its entire body of work—to its many, many fans. Through the mysterious turning of the spheres, Babb and Shendel have been offered a glimpse of all that matters here and in eternity. This album, then, is nothing less than a gift.
Track two, “Third Floor,” is equal parts serious intensity and playfully quirky. ON the serious level, the lyrics seem to be a mythological story dealing with the loss of reason as well as of imagination. At a more playful level, it’s about an elevator’s frustration at being limited in its movements.
“Babylon,” the third track, has a Neil Peart-quality, a righteous anger against those who wield a falsely righteous anger. At what point does a warning become mere unrelenting bitterness?
Possibly a sequel to Yes’s “Man in a White Car,” the fourth track of the album, “A Bird When it Sneezes” is a very humorous wall of jazz fusion, thirty-four seconds in length. As with “Man in a White Car,” “A Bird” is more mystery than story.
Melancholic, “Sand” considers the endless devouring of time, the wasting of time, and our inability to recapture what has come before.
Track six, “Bandwagon,” is the most traditionally progressive of the songs, something from the GOING FOR THE ONE and the POINT OF NO RETURN era. Pounding, energetic, and hyper, it presents the perfect counterpoint to “Sand.”
“Haunted,” the seventh track, might very well be the conclusion to the story so beautifully told in PERILOUS. The guitarist, Shikoh, writes the music, while Babb pens the lyrics. Babb, an accomplished and published poet, offers his best verse here. If the opening track, “Mythopoeia,” presents a Glass Hammer mission statement, “Haunted,” offers the highest of the high, a sort of liturgical desire. This is my favorite track of the album, and its essence certainly lives up to its title, with Babb giving us words equal to those of T.S. Eliot and David Jones in their penetration and pervasion. If I’m interpreting this correctly, “Haunted” is about the tragedy of the seasons and the seemingly endlessness of human follies. But, as with all haunted things, there’s a hopefulness, as it reveals there is something vital beyond the present moment. Certainly, the words that Babb writes here are worthy of his next book of verse.
The penultimate track, “North Wind,” immediately brings to mind George MacDonald’s classic, AT THE BACK OF THE NORTH WIND. Lush, the song, driven by bass and keyboards, contemplates the meaning of the warmth or coldness of a emotional responses. As with so much on this album, whatever problems exist, the world will right itself in its own time. Or, in God’s own time.
Also beautiful, especially lyrically, is track nine, “Nothing Everything,” a meditation on how the smallest thing represents the largest, but also how the smallest thing influences the world in ways uncounted and uncountable.
For a band known for their tightness, they’ve never sounded tighter.
For a band known for its soaring melodies and harmonies, they’ve never soared high or this rapidly.
For a band known for its poetic lyrics, they’ve never been more poetic.
In 1950, J.R.R. Tolkien expressed his desire to create a mythology and a world so rich that artists, poets, and architects of a million backgrounds might play around in it. Babb and Schendel have never shied away from their profound admiration of all things Inklings. As mentioned earlier, the opening song references and rewrites much of Tolkien’s poem of appreciation to his best friend, C.S. Lewis.
It’s worth repeating two stanzas from the original poem:
I would that I might with the minstrels song
and stir the unseen with a throbbing string.
I would be with the mariners of the deep
that cut their slender planks on mountains steep
and voyage upon a vague and wandering quest,
for some have passed beyond the fabled West.
I would with the beleaguered fools be told,
that keep an inner fastness where their gold,
impure and scanty, yet they loyally bring
to mint in image blurred of distant king,
or in fantastic banners weave the sheen
heraldic emblems of a lord unseen.
I will not walk with your progressive apes,
erect and sapient. Before them gapes
the dark abyss to which their progress tends–
if by God’s mercy progress ever ends,
and does not ceaselessly revolve the same
unfruitful course with changing of a name.
I will not treat your dusty path and flat,
denoting this and that by this and that,
your world immutable wherein no part
the little maker has with maker’s art.
I bow not yet before the Iron Crown,
nor cast my own small golden sceptre down.
I’ll come back to these stanzas in a moment.
Before getting back to them, though, it’s vital to discuss the meaning of the album title, THE BREAKING OF THE WORLD. The idea also comes from Tolkien, specifically from the end of the Second Age of Middle-earth. In Tolkien’s legendarium, he wrote that the men of Númenor, blessed by all of the gods, took their gifts for granted, listened to the lies of Sauron, and began to worship death itself. In a final act of hubris, the men of Númenor decided to invade the Blessed Realm, the land of the gods.
To save the world as a whole, Iluvatar (God the Father) broke the island kingdom, though not before the Men of the West, such as the human ancestors of Aragorn, made their way to Middle-earth. The story is long and involved, as mythic as it gets (this is Tolkien, after all), and the lesson is clear: never take for granted all that is given us and never make a god of false things.
In one of Tolkien’s many writings, he put the following into the mouth of a wise woman: “We cannot dwell in the time that is to come lest we lose our now for a phantom of our own design.”
And, this brings us back to Tolkien’s poem, “Mythopoeia.”
In every word, every note, every piece of art that Glass Hammer presents or ever has presented, Babb and Schendel refuse to compromise, they refuse to give in, and they refuse to worship false things. They are progressive, but only if that progress leads us to Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.
THE BREAKING OF THE WORLD will be available for pre-order on March 1. To pre-order (starting March 1), go here.
GAVIN HARRISON RE-IMAGINES PORCUPINE TREE TRACKS ON UPCOMING SOLO ALBUM “CHEATING THE POLYGRAPH”
“Cheating the Polygraph” out April 14 on Kscope; teaser video posted online
ENGLAND – Gavin Harrison, drummer for British prog innovator, Porcupine Tree, has announced a brand new solo album of re-imagined songs from the acclaimed Porcupine Tree repertoire, Cheating the Polygraph, due out in North America on April 14 via Kscope (April 13 in the UK, April 17 in Germany, April 22 in Japan).
Cheating the Polygraph can be pre-ordered now through the Kscope web-store at: www.kscopemusic.com/store.
1. What Happens Now?
2. Sound of Muzak (So Called Friend)
3. Start of Something Beautiful
4. Heart Attack in a Lay-By (Creator had a Mastertape / Surfer)
5. Anaesthetize (The Pills I’m Taking)
7. Cheating the Polygraph (Mother & Child Divided)
Gavin Harrison currently finds himself working with British progressive rock group, King Crimson. His playing and performing résumé includes stints with artists as varied as Iggy Pop, Lewis Taylor, Manfred Mann and Kevin Ayers.
Cheating the Polygraph is an ambitious project which sees the restlessly creative Harrison re-imagine eight Porcupine Tree songs in a set of vivid and vibrant new arrangements that give full, free rein to his inquiring musical mind.
The tracks which comprise the album were recorded over a five-year period, with Harrison working in conjunction with a crew of some of the finest contemporary musicians, including the gifted saxophonist Nigel Hitchcock and bass player Laurence Cottle. It’s a set that will no doubt excite much controversy; Harrison’s use of the ‘Big Band’ musical sound stage isn’t some ersatz attempt to make a ‘Swing’ album; it’s closer in execution and arrangement to the innovative works of Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention – a layered, richly-textured selection that is both beautifully-recorded and incisively delivered.
“I think every album needs a focus – a master plan – and whilst I thought about writing new tunes for a big band project, I made a version of Porcupine Tree’s ‘Futile’ (with Laurence Cottle) and it came out really well,” commented Harrison. “It felt like a good plan to follow on with some of my personal favorite PT songs and see if we could make them work. I had a vision that the arrangements would never lean towards a clichéd classic big band sound, but always follow a modern contemporary angle. So even if you didn’t know the original tune, you could still enjoy it as a modern composition that would work with this instrumentation. I couldn’t be happier with the results. Laurence Cottle’s immense talent as a musician and arranger was mind blowing.”
No respecter of arbitrary musical pigeonholing, Harrison doesn’t so much ignore genre confines as smash right through them – Harrison states in his thoughtful liner notes: “It’s very important to me to push the boundaries of music whilst respecting what came before. In the arrangements of these pieces we really get ‘out there’ with some of the harmonies and rhythms, and we vastly extended the edges of the original compositions.”
Harrison also drops little musical depth bombs throughout by interpolating shards of melody and musical themes from other Porcupine Tree songs seamlessly into the musical patina of Cheating the Polygraph, which serve to underscore his frontiersman spirit; this is some of the most enthralling, engaging and challenging music you’ll hear in 2015, but there is also wit and charm in abundance here, too.
From yesterday’s major Toronto paper:
The prog-rock trio formed in 1974. To put this longevity in focus: when a 21-year-old Peart drove his mother’s Pinto to Pickering, and nailed his audition with existing band members Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson, Pierre Trudeau was prime minister. Stateside, a scandalized Richard Nixon was about to resign. And Paris was home to the new Charles de Gaulle Airport.
Politicians come and go. Buildings open and close. But one thing that hasn’t changed since that July day more than 40 years ago: Rush is still, first and foremost, a live act. In the same way Corvettes are designed to go fast or the Kardashians were placed on earth to destroy synapses, Rush is all about playing in front of an audience.
“Live shows were always religion for us,” says Peart, sipping his double Macallan. “We never played a show — whether it was in front of 15 people or 15,000 — where it wasn’t everything we had that night.”
It captures the essence of Peart fairly perfectly . . . at least from what I know and love of the man.