A few days ago Steve Hackett released a music video for his track “Andalusian Heart” off his upcoming acoustic album, Under A Mediterranean Sky. The track is absolutely stunning. For just under six minutes I was able to slow down and be transported to another world. It’s so hard to slow down these days and be present with something. There’s always something that needs to be done, something to worry about, or one more email or twitter feed to scroll through.
The symphonic overtones set the scene, but Hackett’s calm Spanish-influenced guitar is obviously the main attraction. The visuals for the video are quite stunning as well. Well done, Mr. Hackett. Well done. I can hardly wait to hear the rest of the album.
This is probably old news to you by now, but Transatlantic announced their latest album, The Absolute Universe, is coming out in February on an abridged version and an extended version. I’m sure we’ll have more to say about that once we get a chance to hear both versions, but for now check out the press release:
TRANSATLANTIC – the Prog Supergroup of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt & Pete Trewavas – are pleased to announce their fifth studio album ‘The Absolute Universe’, set for release on February 5th, 2021. Representing the band’s first new music since 2014’s ‘Kaleidoscope’, with ‘The Absolute Universe’ the band have done something unique and created two versions of the record: ‘The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)’ & ‘The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version)’.As Mike Portnoy explains: “We’ve got two versions of this album. There is a two CD presentation, which is 90 minutes long, and a single one – that’s 60 minutes. However, the single CD is NOT merely an edited version of the double CD. They each contain alternate versions and even in some cases, new recordings. We wrote fresh lyrics and have different people singing on the single CD version tracks as compared to those on the double CD. Some of the song titles have also been changed, while others might remain the same, but compositionally what you’ll hear has been altered. You must appreciate that what we have done is unique. We revamped the songs to make the two versions different.” Pete Trewavas adds: “We did write some new music for the single CD,” adds Trewavas. “What’s more, there are also differences in the instruments used on some of the tracks across the two records.”Each album will be available on CD, LP & Digitally. But there will also be what has been called ‘The Absolute Universe: The Ultimate Edition’, which collects both versions together in one lavish package that includes 5LP’s, 3CD’s & a Blu-ray that contains a 5.1 surround sound mix with visuals & a behind the scenes documentary. All editions have unique artwork created by Thomas Ewerhard. The full list of formats is below, and pre-orders start on the 20thNovember:‘The Absolute Universe: The Breath Of Life (Abridged Version)’Special Edition CD DigipakGatefold 2LP+CDDigital Album‘The Absolute Universe: Forevermore (Extended Version)’Special Edition 2CD Digipak3LP+2CD BoxsetDigital Album‘The Absolute Universe: The Ultimate Edition’Limited Deluxe Clear 5LP+3CD+Blu-Ray Box-set – contained within a foil-finished lift-off box with extended 16-page LP booklet & 60x60cm poster
Initial tracking began in September 2019 when the band met up in Sweden to write and arrange the new material. As Portnoy explains: “Over a period of 10-14 days, we mapped out the songs. Then we all went back to our home studios and did the recording. That’s the way we always do it. At one point, though, it was suggested that instead of doing what was by that time going to be a double album, we should just be content to do a single CD.”“What happened was that everything kept expanding and expanding,” recalls Stolt. “Therefore we decided it made sense to make it a double album. It was Pete and Neal who then came out and said they felt this would be too long, and we should reduce it to one…But we were already recording, and it didn’t seem feasible to cut it back. There were so many pieces that each of us loved in what we were planning and didn’t want to lose. That’s when we ended up in discussions over the best way forward.”This album also marks a return to the concept album for Transatlantic. “Well, the idea of Transatlantic deciding to do a concept record this time around won’t shock anyone, right?” laughs Portnoy. “What we have is essentially one giant composition, split into chapters. The storyline is about the struggles facing everyone in society today.”“We didn’t start out with the idea of this being conceptual,” admits Stolt. “The way things work with us is that we have a load of ideas, and these are developed spontaneously when we meet up. Everything happens in the moment.”So, how does this new ground-breaking album compare to Transatlantic’s previous four albums?“I always try not to compare albums as much as possible,” insists Morse. “It’s very difficult when you’re trying to be creative, because your natural instinct is to constantly compare. But in order to create you have to kind of step away from that. Having said that, I would say this would have more in common with ‘The Whirlwind’ album (the band’s third, from 2009) than others that we’ve created.” For Trewavas, ‘The Absolute Universe’ is a momentous project.“I think it is right up there with the very finest albums we’ve done. As the others have said, it compares very well to ‘The Whirlwind’, which I believe represents Transatlantic at our best. As on that album, we took our time to write and arrange everything, and that shines through. I am very excited for people to hear it.”Transatlantic were originally formed in 1999, releasing their debut album ‘SMTPe’ the following year as well as its follow-up ‘Bridge Across Forever’ in 2001. Following a 7-year hiatus, the band reconvened to record and release the much-acclaimed epic 77-minute, single-track album ‘The Whirlwind’ followed by a world tour in 2010 which included an appearance at High Voltage Festival in London where they were joined by legendary Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. The band’s fourth album ‘Kaleidoscope’ arrived in 2014, going on to win ‘Album Of The Year’ at the Progressive Music Awards.
Kerry Livgren has long been one of my favorite guitarists and lyricists. Next to Rush, Kansas was one of the first prog bands I ever heard. I think my first prog concert may have been Kansas (minus Livgren). I was so fascinated by Livgren and his conversion-to-Christianity-story that I wrote a paper about him for Dr. Brad Birzer’s Christian Humanism course in college in the fall of 2015. Besides Livgren’s magnificent lyrics, I also drew heavily from his autobiography, Seeds of Change, for that paper.
Back in August of this year, Livgren self-published, via his Numavox label, a new book entitled Miracles Out ofSomewhere. It isn’t a typical memoir or autobiography. It does not follow a chronological structure. Rather it is a collection of 40+ short personal stories that demonstrate examples of miraculous events in Livgren’s life. Most chapters are dedicated to one story, but there are some that contain multiple brief stories centered around one theme.
Stories range from what might be considered coincidences all the way to full-blown “only God could have done this” miracles. I had known about Livgren’s 2009 stroke, but I never knew how serious it was. The doctors told him it was as bad a stroke as a human could have. The initial brain scans after the stroke showed that half his brain tissue died. Brain scans taken two years later showed the majority of that tissue was alive and perfectly healthy. Even the doctor didn’t believe the medical explanation he came up with to explain it to fellow medical professionals. Livgren still struggles with some issues related to the stroke (he had to find a new way to play “Dust in the Wind” for an appearance with Kansas last year), but for the most part he made a miraculous recovery.
The book ends with excerpts from the last few years of his journal entries as his wife dealt with an equally serious health crisis: breast cancer and heart failure caused by the cancer treatment. The surgeries and treatments worked for the cancer, but her heart was initially left in very poor shape. But, just eleven months ago they found out her heart is now completely normal after she almost needed a heart transplant eight months earlier.
Stories range to the more lighthearted as well, such as Kerry’s first time driving the Kansas tour bus after he joined the band in their early days. The steering barely worked, and the brakes were almost non-existent. After cresting a hill they found themselves hurtling towards a freight train, forcing Kerry to stand on the brake pedal with all his weight. The bus stopped a mere three feet from the tracks. Robby Steinhardt caught the whole thing on audio recording, but sadly that tape is gone.
The story about Livgren being reunited with his “Dust in the Wind” guitar a few years back, after selling it decades ago, is also a fun story, as is the one about Kansas’ first LA party with industry bigwigs. Dave Hope decided to jokingly mock a girl with a Farrah Fawcett hairdo, so he shouted “Hey Farrah.” The girl turned around, and she turned out to be Farrah Fawcett.
Miracles out of Somewhere is hard to put down. Livgren’s writing is so inviting. I felt like I was having a conversation with him. Since the stories are arranged in no particular order, the book jumps around a lot. As such it helps to have a basic knowledge of Livgren’s life and the history of Kansas. Even so that isn’t required to make this an enjoyable read. The storytelling is so good that the reader is quickly drawn in and taken back in time.
Livgren’s faith is intimately embedded in these stories, but I wouldn’t call this a religious book. He’s just telling the stories from his perspective, and his faith is inseparable from that perspective. As a Christian myself I can’t help but appreciate that aspect of the stories, but even if you’re not a Christian, don’t let that stop you from reading this book. If you’re a fan of Kansas and Livgren, you’ll enjoy it.
The book itself is just a simple paperback, likely printed by a print shop near Livgren’s home in Kansas (it’s also available as an ebook). Perhaps it lacks from some grammatical editing that a publisher’s editor could’ve added, but we’re talking about a periodic missing apostrophe and a run-on sentence here and there. As it is, the book has the charm of someone writing these stories out as-is and sending them to you. In a way it made Livgren feel closer than if the book was highly polished by a big-name publisher.
For less than $15 (a little more if you live outside the US – for international shipping) this book is a bargain. It’s only $4 for the ebook. With everything going on I found it to be a welcome escape to a seemingly simpler time (no era is ever as simple as it can seem in hindsight). Some of the stories are heavy, but the miracles God has worked in Kerry’s life bring a smile to my face and peace to my heart. If you’re sick of the negativity and want rest for your soul… well, Kerry would be the first one to tell you to turn to Jesus. But after you’ve done that, give Miracles Out of Somewhere a go. It’s a must-read for Kansas fans, and it’ll brighten your day.
Good evening everyone. This is just a quick update to announce that Rick Krueger is now an editor here at Progarchy, joining myself and C. S. Morrissey. Rick will now be running our Facebook account, since he’s the only one of the three of us brave enough to enter that lion’s den. Thanks, Rick!
We’ve also changed our Contact page. Instead of having a separate email address that you’d have to type into your browser, we’ve added a contact form you can fill out directly on the page. We’re hoping this streamlines things and makes it easier for artists and labels to contact us. If you already have a direct email contact with us that you consistently use, then keep communicating with us that way.
We also turned our “Choice Cuts” page into a more general “About” page, moving some info from the old Contact page to this page. We still have a list of our favorite posts that we think welcomes newcomers to our site to help them understand what we’re all about here.
We’ve been up and running for eight years this month, and we’re so happy to have you as our readers. We love this music, and we’re grateful for the opportunity to tell people about it. Prog on!
The Flower Kings – Islands – Inside Out Music, October 30, 2020 Tracks: CD 1 – 1. Racing With Blinders On (4:24), 2. From The Ground (4:02), 3. Black Swan (5:53), 4. Morning News (4:01) 5. Broken (6:38) 6. Goodbye Outrage (2:19), 7. Journeyman (1:43), 8. Tangerine (3:51), 9. Solaris (9:10), 10. Heart Of The Valley (4:18), 11. Man In A Two Peace Suit (3:21) CD 2 – 1. All I Need Is Love (5:48), 2. A New Species (5:45), 3. Northern Lights (5:43), 4. Hidden Angles (0:50), 5. Serpentine (3:52), 6. Looking For Answers (4:30), 7. Telescope (4:41), 8. Fool’s Gold (3:11), 9. Between Hope & Fear (4:29), 10. Islands (4:12)
In an effort to find some sort of silver lining in this ridiculously crappy year, I’ll point out that there have been a lot of great releases in the progressive rock world in 2020. The Flower Kings’ upcoming album, Islands, probably wouldn’t have been released this year if the year had unfolded as normal. With many countries in lockdown and bands unable to tour, numerous musicians have found themselves with, as Styx once put it, too much time on their hands.
Multinational band The Flower Kings chose to make the best of their extra free time and use the Internet to their advantage, recording their new album from homes in Sweden, Austria, California, Denmark, and Italy. Fittingly, the album emphasizes the many forms of isolation we experience in 2020 – beyond just the physical. Thus the title Islands.
I’m not an expert on The Flower Kings’ discography, but I generally like their music and appreciate the profound impact they have had on the rebirth of classic progressive rock starting in the 1990s. I didn’t particularly enjoy last year’s Waiting for Miracles. It was a little too political for my taste. The artwork alone was a bit obnoxious – an elephant standing on a house of cards while being hypnotized and surrounded by a bunch of oranges… that’s about as subtle as a political cartoon.
Roger Dean’s artwork for Islands, on the other hand, is fantastic. It’s too bad he hasn’t been doing their artwork all along, because it really fits their music. The lyrics “Upside down between earth and sky” from the track “Between Hope & Fear” are particularly reflected in the album art. Islands in particular has a lot of nods to Yes, which has probably always been in their music. Jonas Reingold’s bass stands out to me as being particularly Yes-like on this record.
From the very beginning, Progarchy has been a huge supporter of Big Big Train, and we’ll continue to support them come what may. I think the band is making by far the most interesting music in the music industry. You’d be hard-pressed to find another band or artist making such high quality music with such profound lyrics. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better vocalist than David Longdon.
At the beginning of the year the band released The Passengers Club, a subscribers-only site that gives hardcore fans an inside look at the past, present, and future of the band. Content seems to be provided primarily by Greg Spawton and David Longdon, as well as the band’s manager, Nick Shelton. We get demo track downloads, exclusive video content (including live footage from the earliest days of the band), blog articles, and photo albums. As a fan I’ve absolutely loved The Passengers Club. It’s been worth every penny, and it has brought some much-needed joy to an absolutely awful year.
UK band Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate released a stellar single earlier this year entitled “Nostalgia for Infinity.” It is a pretty sedate track, but it has a good groove and a nice melancholic vibe. The flute in the middle is a nice touch. Check it out:
Neal Morse, Sola Gratia, September 11, 2020, Inside Out Music
Tracks: 1. Preface (01:28), 2. Overture (05:59), 3. In The Name Of The Lord (04:27), 4. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones) (02:43), 5. March Of The Pharisees (01:40), 6. Building A Wall (05:01), 7. Sola Intermezzo (02:10), 8. Overflow (06:27), 9. Warmer Than The Sunshine (03:22), 10. Never Change (07:52), 11. Seemingly Sincere (09:34), 12. The Light On The Road To Damascus (03:26), 13. The Glory Of The Lord (06:17), 14. Now I Can See/The Great Commission (05:17)
Last Saturday, August 29, 2020, I had the great opportunity to talk to the magnificent Neal Morse about his new solo album, Sola Gratia. Morse is perhaps the most ubiquitous artist of “third wave” progressive rock. You’d be hard pressed to find contemporary progressive rock artists that aren’t influenced by him in some way. His latest solo effort proves why. The lyrical and musical songwriting is in peak form.
As a sequel to 2007’s Sola Scriptura, this album finds Morse exploring the story of the Apostle Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of Christians to the faith’s most ardent missionary. It is a profound story of God’s grace. Morse explores the drama of this story as Paul (then called Saul) wrestles with the newly founded Christian church and the sincerity of its followers. While Paul is on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians, Jesus appears to him. Paul then converts and repents. The album ends with Paul converting and glorifying God, leaving us on a cliffhanger of sorts for a possible part 2 in the future.
The album pulls a few lyrical and musical highlights from Sola Scriptura, but, as Morse says in the interview below, they are merely sprinklings. It is enough to be familiar without sounding like a retread. The music gives room for the listener to breathe and think about the lyrics, which makes this an enjoyable album to return to. At just over an hour long it isn’t a chore to return to as a double album might be. The music has its expected complexity with the usual suspects playing on the album – primarily Mike Portnoy and Randy George – but the lyrics are the highlight here. There are a lot of calm moments that allow you to reflect. I found that quite appealing about the album, and it has quickly become one of my favorite Neal Morse solo albums.
But enough of that. The interview covers the background of the album, how it was written, and its connections to Sola Scriptura. We talked a bit about Paul, and Transatlantic and Flying Colors came up a few times as well.
Bryan: Hi, this is Bryan from Progarchy.
Neal: Hey how you doing man?
Bryan: Good how are you?
Neal: Good! Good good.
Bryan: Thanks so much for your time this morning. I really appreciate it. I know you’re a busy man.
Neal: Well, you know, got a couple things going on. That’s alright. I’m sure you do too.
Bryan: Well I don’t have an album coming out every month. [laughs]
Neal: [Laughs] Yeah.
Bryan: So tell me about the background for your upcoming album, Sola Gratia. I’ve had a chance to listen to it several times, and it’s fantastic.
Neal: Oh thanks man. Thanks, I’m glad you like it. Well I mean I started getting these ideas while I was on vacation – sort of half vacation half work actually. We did some gigs down in Australia, and then we took a trip to New Zealand and I was just getting a flood of ideas.
The Tangent, Auto Reconnaissance, Inside Out Muisc, Release date: August 21, 2020
Tracks: Life On Hold (5:31), Jinxed In Jersey (15:57), Under Your Spell (5:45), The Tower Of Babel (4:36), Lie Back & Think Of England (28:16), The Midas Touch (5:55), Proxima (Bonus Track) (12:27)
The Band: Andy Tillison (vocals, keys), Jonas Reingold (bass), Luke Machin (guitar), Theo Travis (saxophone, flute), Steve Roberts (drums), and artwork by Ed Unitsky
Last Saturday (August 15, 2020) I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with the brilliant Andy Tillison about his latest album from The Tangent: Auto Reconnaissance. A truly outstanding album, it is my favorite Tangent album since 2015’s A Spark in the Aether (which was my album of the year that year). Lyrically and musically this albums stuns.
I won’t bog you down with a long review here, but you’ll be hooked from the very first notes. Tillison’s combination of storytelling is at its prime on “Jinxed in Jersey,” and his cultural critique is in fine form on “Lie Back and Think of England.” The passion in his voice is palpable – a direct consequence of the unique writing style he adopted beginning with 2013’s masterpiece Le Sacre du Travail. Andy and I talked about that very thing at length in the latter half of the interview. As he says below, this album is much more philosophical than the last two. That is expertly displayed on “Tower of Babel,” where Tillison takes the technocracy head on.
The music is diverse, with a heavy jazz theme throughout. The classic prog sound that the band has curated over the years is everywhere – Auto Reconnaissance sounds like a Tangent album. The saxophone and flute from Theo Travis add to that seventies Tull vibe, but Luke Machin’s crunching guitars bring the rock. He also brings the soul when he needs to. I can’t recommend this album enough. It’s absolutely breathtaking.
After a few pleasantries (which I didn’t include in the transcript but left in the audio), we dug right into the album. The interview is pretty wide ranging covering the recording process, the overall concept, a deep dive on a couple tracks (“Jinxed in Jersey” and “Tower of Babel”), some philosophical musings on America, Britain, technology, television, etc., and a detailed look at Tillison’s writing process. We also talked a bit about the overall history of the band and Tillison’s own background with music and why he originally wanted to create The Tangent.
Bryan: So tell me a little bit about Auto Reconnaissance and the background of the album and where the ideas for it grew out of.
Andy: Well the background of – this album was recorded before the word coronavirus entered my life. When I say recorded – it was written before that. We were just hearing the news coming out of China at the beginning of the year. We were recording parts of it when we were together, so I was able to record the drums here with Steve, and Theo came here, which basically means that all the keyboards, all the vocals, the drums, and all the saxophones and flutes were recorded actually in this room on the microphone I’m talking to you with for the most part. That was kind of nice to be able to do, and just after that we started picking up the fact that there may be lockdowns and things. But in any case, Jonas Reingold was going to play all his bass parts in Austria anyway because he was about to set off on the Steve Hackett world tour. Luke was going to do his parts at his house anyways because he’s got his own studio there, all his guitar amps are there. It would seem pointless dragging them all the way up to Yorkshire. We recorded it in our normal way, in fact slightly more together this time than any time in the past. It would be us, you know – the lockdown comes along and everybody has to find new ways to work and we find a way of actually doing it together, which was a bit bizarre.
The background to the actual record – it was made in a fractious time in England. The end of the final debates on Brexit as three years of arguing came to a close. Very depressing times when England was busy shouting at itself. Signs of a bad debate, much in the same way as I guess there’s a big fight between the Republicans and the Democrats over on your side of the water. You know, I wanted something that reflected that, but I didn’t want something to be miserable, so I wanted to make an album that – I think it was about really looking at the problems that we were in but having a bright light visible at the end of the tunnel that we were in at the time. I think that’s what I was trying to do with this record. That’s why the title is Auto Reconnaissance, which means looking at yourself. That involves everybody looking at themselves – whole countries looking at themselves and working out our place in the world really. I think that’s what the focus of the album was, yeah.
Great news from Inside Out music for all of us who missed Devin Townsend on his most recent tour – and for everyone who missed shows that were canceled because of the pandemic. He is also doing a live online show on September 5. More on that below.
The following courtesy of Inside Out:
Devin Townsend will release ‘Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1’ on October 23rd, 2020, a document of his Winter 2019 European tour that saw him taking on possibly his most ambitious live show to date.
Recorded in December 2019 in London, UK on the penultimate night of the tour in support of his latest album ‘Empath’, this run of shows saw Devin joined by an incredible line-up of musicians. The band was made up of guitarists Mike Kenneally (ex-Frank Zappa) and Markus Reuter (Stick Men, The Crimson Project), drummer Morgen Agren (Kaipa, Mats & Morgan, Frank Zappa), bassist Nathan Navarro, Haken keyboard player Diego Tejeida, and guitarist/vocalist Ché Aimee Dorval, as well as vocalists Samantha & Anne Preis and Arabella Packford.
Devin’s plan for the Empath touring cycle was to divide it up into three ‘Volumes’, and this was Volume 1. The idea behind the shows was a simple one: none of the backing tapes or click tracks that had long been necessary to bring the kaleidoscopic cacophony in his head and on his records to life in the flesh. This would just be Devin Townsend and a band of genius-level musicians getting up there and trying to keep it from spinning off into outer space. Or maybe just letting it spin-off into outer space for the sheer hell of it.
The whole objective was that I wanted to make that statement: This is by the seat our pants,” he says. “Because it’s important to me to represent this hyper anal-retentive music that I’ve made over the years, but in a human way. Rather than it just being, ‘Well, here it is, perfectly done.’
I was overwhelmed by the fact that all these brilliant people that I have so much respect for were willing to come together and play this weird shit with me,” says Devin. “I had these unique players and this interesting instrumentation that allowed us to interpret the music in different ways. It was clear to me that I could just have fun and be me and know that they would be effortlessly be able to follow that.