Afternoon Progarchists, as someone who writes for a variety of different sites I find myself getting sent diverse and eclectic albums to listen to, all of which roughly fall into the margins of the progressive genre, and today I have three radically different releases, all of which have been bouncing round my brain as I ride the mean streets of Bristol on the bus to and from work. Two are freshly minted (one so fresh it’s not even officially released yet – but it’s one hell of a pre-order!) and one EP which has been out for a while, so without further ado, lets introduce today’s picks.
Verity Smith – Parenthesis
I first encountered Verity at the Classic Rock Society Awards back in 2014 where she was performing as part of Clive Nolan’s Alchemy musical, where she played the parts of Jane Muncey and Jessamine and was truck by her vocal prowess and stage presence.
A powerful singer she has also toured with Pendragon celebrating the 20th anniversary of their Masquerade Overture album, as well as performing and working as part of Clives Caamora theatre group, she also sings in various bands around Cheltenham, and this EP is her second solo release and is an absolute belter of an EP.
Collaborating with Alex White as producer, this record oozes class and style as well showcasing Verity’s distinctive and versatile vocals, and has lots to grab you and pull you in.
As anyone who has seen any of Clive Nolan’s musicals or been familiar with his work knows how great Clive is at talent spotting and encouraging new voices, and in bringing Verity to the wider attention of the prog community he has again struck gold.
From the opener of Choices, with Verity’s great vocals hits the spot immediately, and not only does this record showcase her range, it also showcases her compositional skills, and proves her versatility from powerful singing to more restrained emotional harmonies. Drop the Bomb with its fine piano motif, synth driven sound and some great guitar work sees Verity well and truly rocking out on the chorus. Meanwhile Give it Back positively rollicks along with some great emotional lyrics from Verity and it sounds like not only is she performing the songs but living them, and the guitar work on here is fantastic, a real powerful driving song.
The closing track on the EP Happiness is also my favourite on the record, with some fantastic lyrics, a fantastic chorus that gets you singing along (and some stunning synth work as well) and rounds off this excellent EP in style.
With this EP Verity has well and truly announced herself as not just a fantastic live performer, but an excellent songwriter and recording artist, this is very much Verity’s time to shine, and with music like this I have no doubt she will do, and will find a receptive audience in the wider rock scene where her brand of music will be welcomed with open arms.
Emmett Elvin: Assault on the Tyranny of Reason
Bad Elephant Music
This is the 2nd original album release on Bad Elephant out on 23rd September following on from Bloody Marvels and the compilation Emmetronica, this is Knifeworld/Guapos/Chrome Hoofs multi instrumentalists latest opus, and featuring a mighty roster of guests like Kavus Torabi, Chloe Herington as well as the unexpected sound of a chamber orchestra.
I say unexpected but this is Emmett Elvin, unexpected is his raison D’Etre, he doesn’t do conventional, he doesn’t do safe. Thank goodness I say, as what Emmett does take us on is a musical mystery tour of his unique worldview, and anyone who follows his Facebook will know, Emmett is also a political creature, hence the titles of tracks like The Democracy they Deserve, with its powerful guitar and intense riffs, the title track as well as Dozy Phantoms.
There will I am sure be nay Sayers and readers who disagree that music should be political, to counter that I call bullshit, life is political and the world we are in currently is in a bloody dark place, echoes of that which rebound throughout this album.
As part of experimental musical groups like Knifeworld and Guapo you never know quite where Emmett is headed next, and I rather suspect he likes that, hence you get tracks like Heartburster with some real funky jazz grooves that could easily fit onto some dark twisted soundtrack juxtapositioned with tracks like Boiling where Emmett brings his unique vocals into touch. This is definitely not an easy listening kind of album, Emmett isn’t just pushing the envelope, he’s relocating the whole stationary store, and with hints of the eclecticism of the BBC Radiophonic workshop, and on tracks like Mars is So Yesterday he definitely gets his psychedelic groove on.
Meanwhile tracks like Allweareislove with its more chilled out and mellow feel counteract the darker parts of the album with some fantastic keyboard work from Emmett, who when on stage with Knifeworld makes his complex keyboard parts look effortless. He is on stage the embodiment of insouciant cool.
Its fantastic that in the last few years there are bands and artists who are taking instrumental music into a whole new arena and Emmett is at the forefront of that.
What I’m trying to say is buy this album, and don’t have nightmares.
Or what Rob did next…
Rob Cottingham talented keyboard player and founder member of Touchstone left the band last year and announced the formation of his new group Cairo recently.
Looking to take his music in a new direction he has recruited the talented band around him to move in a different direction.
Rob is well known for working with talented female vocalists, and this is no exception with Rachel Hills on vocals, whilst James Hands (guitars) Paul Stocker (bass) and Graham Brown on drums and backing vocals.
Expertly produced by John Mitchell (he knows what he’s doing that chap!) $@Y is released on the 3rd October, and is well worth a pre-order.
With Rachel’s vocals at the fore and the vocals of Rob and Graham as well, there is plenty of fantastic vocal harmonies throughout the album, and in looking for a new sound Rob has certainly found it here.
From the opening track Cairo you can hear the progression in Robs music, and to my mind his keyboard work has never sounded better or sharper, sometimes it takes a brave new move to unlock new creativity and he certainly sounds invigorated and refreshed here.
On tracks like $@Y, with its powerful chorus and fantastic harmonies it has a touch of the 90125 Yes about it, which is no bad thing and the way that Rachel and Robs vocals work together is fantastic.
Katrina, is about Hurricane Katrina and is an intensely personal song written by Rob about far more than just Hurricane Katrina, and with its message of Government ineptitude and people suffering deserves to be heard, and sadly resonates as true today as when the catastrophic Hurricane hit.
Meanwhile tracks like Dancing the Gossamer thread, about the death of one of Robs close friends, and the hauntingly beautiful Searching showcase a band who are on fire, with some fantastic melodies and musical interludes.
This covers all musical bases, with light and shade throughout the record, and the way the band work together is a joy to behold, whilst Rob gets to play with his electronica box of tricks on the brilliant Random Acts of Kindness Part 1.
As someone whose been around the prog/rock scene for a while and heard a few albums over the years, you get a feel for when a band are giving it all, and this is a definite example of a group pushing themselves musically, and it paying dividends in spades. Of course when that happens the real winner is us, the audience.
The band are playing 3 UK gigs this year to launch the album, I really hope I’ll be able to make it to the Rotherham gig to see this fantastic debut album brought to the stage, and I’m betting it will be as powerful live as it is on record.