Big Big Train Release Acoustic Version of “Common Ground” – New Album Out Now

Today Big Big Train released a special live-in-studio acoustic version of their song “Common Ground” off their new album of the same name. The album was released on Friday, and it’s the top release of the year thus far, in my opinion.

Check out Progarchy’s interview with David Longdon about the album: https://progarchy.com/2021/06/29/big-big-trains-david-longdon-the-progarchy-interview/

And check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2021/07/18/big-big-train-common-ground-2/

https://youtu.be/M2eu2SPjdb4

Also check out the band’s release day video, which features not one, not two, not even three – but four Nick D’Virgilios.

https://youtu.be/XmY3IU8NBBc

The Neal Morse Band’s Randy George: The Progarchy Interview

The Neal Morse Band, Innocence & DangerInside Out Music, August 27, 2021
Tracks: 
CD 1: 1. Do It All Again (08:55) 2. Bird On A Wire (07:22) 3. Your Place In The Sun (04:12) 4. Another Story To Tell (04:50) 5. The Way It Had To Be (07:14) 6. Emergence (03:12) 7. Not Afraid Pt 1 (04:53) 8. Bridge Over Troubled Water (08:08)
CD2: 9. Not Afraid Pt 2 (19:32) 10.Beyond The Years (31:22)

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to interview Randy George from the Neal Morse Band about their upcoming album, Innocence & Danger. What an album! After back-to-back double concept albums, the band decided to make an album of independent songs. It’s still a double album, but it’s very digestible.

Innocence & Danger has quickly risen to one of my favorite albums of the year, and Randy George’s brilliant bass playing has a lot to do with that. His bass is more prominent in the mix, and it really shines opposite Mike Portnoy’s drums in the rhythm section. I think Neal Morse’s vocals also deserve a mention as they are the best they have sounded in years. Maybe that’s due to a lack of touring over the past year+, but he (and everyone else) sound great. The vocal harmonies are turned up to the max, and the prog is in full force. But don’t be surprised if you hear a few other surprise elements in the music – something we talk a bit about in the interview below. Oh, and “Beyond the Years,” the album’s 31-minute epic, may be the best long song I’ve heard from Neal Morse and company.

This interview was conducted on July 21, 2021 via Zoom. There was quite a bit of scratchiness in the Zoom audio, so I’ve decided to spare you that and just give you the transcript, which was edited lightly for readability. The interview is pretty wide ranging. We start with an update on the last year and a half for Randy before we go into a deep dive of the album. Then we discuss some of Randy’s influences as a musician before we talk a bit about the history of prog, it’s place in the music world, and how the future will look back on their music. 

NealMorseBand_2

Bryan: Thanks for joining me here for Progarchy. I really appreciate you taking the time.

Randy: Yeah! Happy to do it.

Bryan: It’s been tough career-wise for musicians without being able to tour. How’ve you been in that regard?

Randy: Well, you know, I guess we’re all feeling it to some degree. I guess as a function of where I live it hasn’t really been that bad. We had done that Cover to Cover 3 CD, and it was wrapped and delivered to the label before the pandemic hit. There were some videos that needed to be [made]. We wanted to do videos, so there were a few videos, and I did a couple of those. And then Neal [Morse] did Sola Gratia. I recorded that and then we did videos for that. Then we did Morsefest in September, and my wife and I have been playing locally since September, pretty much twice a month or three times a month ever since last September.

In a lot of ways, yeah we had to wear masks a little more during the time, but for the most part we kept busy. We felt it most right at the beginning. Everybody was sort of freaked out, got shut down March through July or whatever. Then people started to open up a bit. So initially everyone was a little bit like, wow, there’s nowhere to go. But we both work from home. We really didn’t travel outside very much. We’re here on our own little plot. Plenty to keep us busy here. But yeah I watched it from a distance. I’m sure for some people it was really hard, and it sucks that it had to happen like that. I look forward to the end.

Bryan: Yeah I think everybody does. Morsefest was one of the first – definitely one of the biggest in the prog world of concerts that came back in person. That was kind of exciting because it was a glimmer of hope after so many months of nothing at all live-wise.

Randy: People will always find a way.

Bryan: Yeah exactly. I’ve had a chance to listen to Innocence and Danger a little bit over the last couple of days. It’s a fantastic album. It feels like a little bit of a different direction, especially after the last two concept albums. Can you tell me about how the album came together?

Randy: Well, the whole thing – we were going to start working on Innocence & Danger way back in the beginning of 2020. We initially signed a record deal with Inside Out. Then the pandemic hit. Mike [Portnoy] was really busy with Sons of Apollo, and we didn’t really have any clear cut date in mind that we could get together and do this. So quite honestly between signing the deal and getting in the studio to do this, it was more than a year. We did in January come together at Neal’s house and wrote the whole thing in about twelve days and tracked the drums and took it home and developed it over the next couple months, and Rich [Mouser] mixed it.

We went into it not having a lot of pre-written material. Neal didn’t have anything. Bill [Hubauer] and I both brought recorded ideas that were predominantly raw ideas that could be developed rather than finished demos that already had a lot of development to them. The Neal Morse Band tends to – no matter what you bring in, they want to redo it. So we kind of, it’s easier to bring in ideas that they can all sort of get their head into and write with. Some of it is much easier to do that, between Bill and I and Eric [Gillette], we have plenty of musical stuff. Neal, of course, he may not have come in with anything, but he gets up early in the morning and he’ll start writing and work on ideas then we end up working on them the same day or the next day. So Neal does actually write a fair amount of stuff. He just doesn’t always go into the session with all of it prepared, unless it’s a concept thing were he has an idea. We knew this wasn’t going to be another concept album. We just wanted to do an album of songs. We felt it was the right time for that.

Continue reading “The Neal Morse Band’s Randy George: The Progarchy Interview”

All We Are Is Dust in the Wind… Remembering Robby Steinhardt

Robby-SteinhardtBy now I’m sure you’ve heard that Robby Steinhardt passed away a week ago at age 71 after complications from acute pancreatitis and sepsis. I wanted to write something sooner, but it’s been a busy week. Since Robby Steinhardt is a far more important figure in progressive rock than he is given credit for, I thought I’d share a few thoughts. The timing of his death is doubly tragic since he was in the final phases of finishing a new solo album, and he had plans to tour the country in the future. I hope that album still gets released. 

More so than any other band member, Steinhardt is arguably the one person who set Kansas apart from any other rock band in the 1970s. His violin created an entirely new sound. Sure there were other rock and progressive rock bands incorporating violins into their music, but no one else came close to touching Kansas. Pretty much every other rock band that incorporates a violin does it in a way that allows the violin to shine in a more traditional symphonic way. The violin tends to add a folk element to a rock band’s sound. That isn’t a critique against violinists in rock bands who play that way, but Robby didn’t play that way. Even though he was classically trained, he was able to take that background and apply it to a rock sound, creating something entirely new in the process. 

Steinhardt’s violin had this magnificent ability to supplement Steve Walsh’s and Kerry Livgren’s keyboards in some parts of songs while carefully interplaying with Livgren’s and Rich Williams’ electric guitar riffs at other parts. He played a hard a fast violin for those rock moments, but he could play the gentler, smoother sounds when needed too. “Song For America,” one of Kansas’ best tracks, displays both methods. Without the violin, that song just wouldn’t have the power that it has. It’s pure Americana, and it’s pure progressive rock at it’s finest. Arguably a top ten track in the genre. 

https://youtu.be/DYklWF1lqEM

Like many people, I was initially drawn to Kansas’ music by the violin, as was my Dad, who saw the band play at Six Flags in Missouri in the early 1970s before the band released their first album. As a kid, he was struck by a rock band using a violin. I had the same reaction as a kid. I was exposed to Kansas’ music about the same time I first heard Rush’s music, and both bands ended up playing an enormous role in my life, so much so that I wrote an academic essay on Kerry Livgren for one of Dr. Brad Birzer’s (Progarchy’s founding father) classes in college. But it was that violin that first grabbed my attention and pulled me in for a closer listen. 

If being a whiz on the violin wasn’t enough, Steinhardt also had a golden voice that elevated Kansas’ sound. In his prime, Steve Walsh had the finest voice in rock music, but Steinhardt added a grit to their sound. Walsh was capable of that heavier blues singing, which can be heard on their first couple of albums. Steinhardt didn’t add a blues flair, though. His voice had a natural deepness and tone, and the harmonies the two vocalists made were glorious. His voice had a distinctive sound, and it was backed by a lot of power.

Together Walsh and Steinhardt made a sound that was unique. Just listen to “The Devil Game.” When they harmonize, Walsh takes the highs and Steinhardt takes the lows, providing a well-balanced sound that reflects the lyrics. How many bands would have a secondary singer open up their album, as Kansas did with “Down the Road” off Song For America? That shows how vital Steinhardt’s vocals were to the band’s sound.

Continue reading “All We Are Is Dust in the Wind… Remembering Robby Steinhardt”

Big Big Train’s “Common Ground” – Album of the Year?

big big train common groundBig Big Train, Common Ground, July 30, 2021
Tracks: The Strangest Times (5:08), All The Love We Can Give (8:06), Black With Ink (7:23), Dandelion Clock (4:14), Headwaters (2:27), Apollo (7:50), Common Ground (4:54), Atlantic Cable (15:06), Endnotes (6:59)

I love writing about Big Big Train. In fact, they’re one of the reasons I was drawn into reviewing progressive rock on a more regular basis. They are also one of the reasons this website was founded back in 2012. Our founders understood that Big Big Train wasn’t your ordinary rock band, and the band deserved a more intellectual approach to reviews. I don’t know if I’ve been able to live up to the standard Dr. Brad Birzer set for us, but I try my best. Big Big Train makes it easier by providing such solid material to write about. Common Ground is no different. In fact it may be the best album they have released since I began writing for Progarchy. It is certainly the best record released thus far in 2021.

Common Ground gets off to a rousing start in the best way possible. I’ve never enjoyed the opening of a Big Big Train album this much. While I don’t dislike Big Big Train’s more mainstream pop-like tracks (“Make Some Noise,” “Folklore,” “Wassail”), they aren’t my favorite in the band’s catalog. While “The Strangest Times” might fall into that aspect of the band’s repertoire, I absolutely love this. The piano at the beginning is so bright and upbeat, reminding me a bit of some of the more popular artists the band site as influences on this record. However I think it reminds me more of the band’s work back in the days of English Electric. The guitar work is phenomenal, proving right away that even though brilliant guitarist Dave Gregory may have left the group, the group haven’t abandoned the unique sound he brought to the table. I imagine lots of credit should go to Rikard Sjöblom for maintaining that tone. 

https://youtu.be/i35_HcKjR18

Nick D’Virgilio absolutely hits a home run with his lead vocal sections on “All the Love We Can Give.” I was hoping we would get to hear more of his vocals on this record, and we do. Of course there is also his brilliant drumming throughout the album, which we probably take for granted at this point. This song has some blistering instrumental passages with heavy guitars and some face melting Hammond keyboards. We also get to hear a different side to David Longdon’s glorious voice, featuring the lower end of his register. The vocal harmonies at points in the song remind me of Gentle Giant and the Neal Morse Band, although this is nothing new for Big Big Train. They seem to have utilized it a bit more though throughout Common Ground than they have in the past.

As a matter of fact, the next track, “Black With Ink,” allows that to shine. We get a lead vocal from Rikard, Nick, and Carly Bryant, who joined the band for live shows, providing backing (and apparently lead) vocals, keyboards, and guitars. It’s a nice touch that the band included her on the recording, as well as Dave Foster (guitars on two tracks) and Aidan O’Rourke on violin throughout the record. 

Lyrically “Black With Ink” is somewhat close to my heart, since Greg Spawton was influenced by a trip to a museum (I work in the collections department of a history museum). After a BBT show in Birmingham, England, in 2019, Greg visited the local art museum and saw a label about the history of the collection, which suffered from a bombing raid during World War II. Spawton talks more about that song at the official Big Big Train blog for the album, but in summary it grew out of a frustration with the destruction of knowledge (book burning, destroying art, etc.). The song specifically looks at the destruction (many centuries and millennia ago) of texts at libraries in Alexandria and Baghdad. 

On the other side of the lyrical spectrum, Longdon keeps the band grounded in the present. “The Strangest Times” and “Common Ground” are influenced by the insanity the world has been going through over the last year and a half. In a recent interview, Longdon admitted to Progarchy’s Rick Krueger recently that he cannot wait for these lyrics to no longer be relevant, since we are all sick of quarantines, lockdowns, and other assorted nonsense. 

“Apollo” is an almost eight-minute-long instrumental track, and it is glorious. The song was contributed by Nick, and it grew out of material he had created at his day job at Sweetwater, a music gear retailer and production studio in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He describes this track as Big Big Train’s “Los Endos,” which I believe they achieved. It’s a beautiful song, and I can see them either closing a first set or closing a live show with it before an encore. The inclusion of Longdon’s flute was a really nice touch, which will most definitely be a hit live. It’s pure BBT, brass band and all. 

https://youtu.be/88HHhbD1vFE

“Atlantic Cable” has all the grandiosity of “East Coast Racer.” I don’t think I have enjoyed a Big Big Train song this much since ECR. Spawton’s booming bass is at Squire-esque levels of brilliance. The interplay of the guitars, violin when it is used, the myriad voices, the long instrumental passages – this is Big Big Train’s “sound” at its absolute finest. I hope when they play it live, they extend that guitar solo as it peaks toward the end.

Lyrically the track tells the story of laying the first telegraph cable across the Atlantic, formally linking the old world with the new. This song is much grander than that story, though. The story serves as a metaphor representing the commonality we all share, which supports the overall theme of the album. The track has calmer passages, but it still has the hard rocking sections that feature on the rest of the record and also hearken back to The Underfall Yard and English Electric

A song about laying a steel cable across the ocean floor was never going to be a pastoral piece of music. It needed some stormy moments, some grandeur. And it needed to be long enough to tell an epic tale. 
Greg Spawton

The video the band shared for this song in the blog for the album is hilarious. It’s a video of Nick trying to figure out how to play the complicated time signatures. It was only a matter of time before the expletives were directed at Greg (all in good humor, of course), but it’s quite entertaining. It also goes to show how technically complicated this music is and how good these musicians are that they can (eventually) play it.

The Dave Desmond brass band shines bright as ever on “Endnotes,” the final track. The hint of violin reminds us of where the band has been, but in a more subdued light.

The pastoral elements and folk elements in the band’s arsenal are pulled back throughout Common Ground in favor of a heavier rock sound, but it’s undeniably Big Big Train. It’s exactly what I wanted from the band moving forward. I never complained about the pastoral direction the band moved into because I enjoyed it, but I’ll admit that I was beginning to miss certain elements that were more prevalent on The Underfall Yard and English Electric. I don’t think any of us wanted them to start copying themselves, though. Instead they have progressed into slightly different waters, pulling together all of those elements into a truly astounding whole. The hard rock, the atmosphere added by the violin and Longdon’s flute, and those stunning vocal harmonies create a pure sound. 

Existing fans will almost assuredly love Common Ground. If you are new to Big Big Train, then this is as good a place to start as any. The album displays everything the band does so well.

Thanks Big Big Train. You’ve made a crappy year a little brighter. 

https://www.bigbigtrain.com
https://www.bigbigtrain.com/common-ground/
Album out July 30, 2021.

https://youtu.be/wIQnhCcI4gA

 

A Hevy Devy Year: Devin Townsend’s “Galactic Quarantine”

Devin Townsend Galactic QuarantineDevin Townsend, Devolution Series #2 – Galactic QuarantineInside Out Music, 2021
Tracks: Velvet Kevorkian (02:28), All Hail The New Flesh (05:32), By Your Command (08:18), Almost Again (03:42), Juular (03:50), March Of The Poozers (05:25), Supercrush! (05:15), Hyperdrive (03:42), Stormbending (05:21), Deadhead (07:55), Aftermath (06:51,), Love? (05:21), Spirits Will Collide (04:35), Kingdom (05:05), Detox (06:20)

Just a few months ago I pontificated about the sheer brilliance of the mighty Devin Townsend. I’m happy to announce that Devin has since surpassed my already high expectations with the release of the second volume of his Quarantine Series, this one formally entitled Devolution Series #2 – Galactic Quarantine.

Over the last year many music artists turned to the Internet when their ability to tour was cut off. None did it better than Devin Townsend. I’m not sure when he started live streaming, but I know I saw him announce impromptu live streams on Twitter pretty frequently as he worked on mixing various things. With his tour cut short, he began working on several live stream concerts, many of which raised money for hospitals in the UK and Canada in the early days of the pandemic.

This particular show originally aired on September 5, 2020 with musicians contributing from around the US and Canada. How anyone could pull this off to the extremely high level that he did it is astounding. It’s one thing to live stream yourself performing music, but it is another thing entirely to incorporate musicians from around the world and merge them onto a single screen. 

The setlist is a what’s what of some of the best music from Devin’s career, be it solo music, Devin Townsend Project, or Strapping Young Lad. It’s all good, and it’s all really really heavy. Sure, there’s plenty of cursing, but that’s par for the course with Devin and his music – particularly the Strapping stuff. Less so in his other work after Strapping. Besides, those Strapping songs have a level of rage that befits the world we live in. It’s also nice to hear Devin play that music again, especially since it seemed for a while like he wasn’t going to be returning to those songs or that style of music. He’s been very open about how it took a very toxic mindset for him to write that music all those years ago, but hopefully playing it doesn’t bring up those same emotions. For me, listening to it is rather cathartic. 

“Deadhead” is always a favorite when it gets included in his live sets, with its Floydian atmospherics and the gut-tearing crunch of Devin’s vocals. The sweetness of the clean vocals mixed with the grittiness of his distorted vocals perfectly represents the struggles of love that he sings about in the lyrics. 

He may end the live album with one of SYL’s most intense songs (“Detox”), but he also gives us the beautiful “Spirits Will Collide” off of Empath near the end of the show. There’s so much hope in those lyrics – really in that entire record. In that regard, this live show has some very disparate lyrical themes, but our lives are full of conflicting emotions. Why shouldn’t our music be full of that too. It can’t or shouldn’t be happiness and sunshine all the time, and likewise it shouldn’t be doom and gloom all the time. Balance is key. 

Musically the whole show is perfect. Guitars, drums, wall of sound… the mixing is fantastic, and many of the songs sound better than the original album recordings. Townsend’s vocals seem to get better with age, which makes for a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. He’s one of those few artist’s that I would almost rather listen to live, in part because of his voice but all because of his sense of humor. 

This is yet another great minor release from Devin Townsend that any fan will certainly want to check out. This particular release would also make a good entry point for Devin’s music, since the tracklist features songs from across the heavier side of his career. Highly recommended.

http://www.hevydevy.com
http://www.facebook.com/dvntownsend
http://www.omerch.com
https://www.instagram.com/dvntownsend/
https://www.youtube.com/user/poopynuggeteer/featured

https://youtu.be/4rOhiHLPT9Q

 

We Have Become “Comfortably Numb” – Via Law and Liberty

It’s always nice to see progressive rock taken seriously outside of our little prog bubble. Today I came across this recent July 2 essay by Henry T. Edmondson III over at Law & Liberty, a wonderful website dedicated to the tradition of classical liberalism and its impact on law and society. Edmondson is professor of political science and public policy at Georgia College.

https://lawliberty.org/we-have-become-comfortably-numb/

In this essay, Edmondson looks at vice and virtue through the lens of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb,” going so far as to compare the lyrics of this song (and others by Pink Floyd) to the wise words of Aristotle. Here are some brief highlights:

Ours may be an age of unanticipated consequences. The longevity offered by medical progress proceeds apace with a falling interest in those things that make for a meaningful life. The constant connectivity of social media is shredding the nation’s shared fabric; and, convenience and the alleviation of pain may have produced an untroubled insensitivity to things that matter.

How then, might the prophetic Waters/Gilmour composition have anticipated the present day? The “prophet” in this sense is not a fortune-teller; rather he sees further in the distance than others, and has the capacity to articulate what others cannot. In this case, “Comfortably Numb” suggests that the individual life is dissolving into an insubstantial existence—the “smoke” of “a distant ship” visible “on the horizon.”

And this:

The collective politics of the band were decidedly left-of-center, especially those of Roger Waters, who could be arrogant and obnoxious, especially to his bandmates. Pink Floyd’s acclaimed album “Animals” (1977) repurposes George Orwell’s Animal Farm so that the oppressors include the commercial class as well as the political. But the band’s insight into the human condition has appeal across the political spectrum. Their diagnosis of our present state is remarkable, and when that acumen is expressed through their art, it is arresting.

Aristotle, in his Ethics, develops the idea of the cardinal virtues. In Aristotle’s scheme, for every virtue, there are two vices: one vice is too much of the virtue; the other two little. One of those virtues is temperance or moderation. It is flanked by two vices, indulgence on the excessive side and insensibility on the defective side (Nicomachean Ethics, III, 11).While self-indulgence may be easy to recognize, insensibility may not, and that vice may offer a clue to the state of comfortable numbness. Whereas lust and desire may run amok in the vice of excess; in the defective vice of insensibility, the passions that support virtue, including honor, ambition, love, pride and fear, are scarce. Consequently, the insensible life is bland and driftless: comfortably numb. Aristotle warns such a state is barely “human.” Curbing the vice of excess seems relatively straightforward, at least compared with awakening someone from the insensible state, precisely because the motivating passions are enervated. Perhaps ruminative artists like Pink Floyd can be of assistance in the quest for a cure.

The Wall is certainly a deep lyrical well from which to draw. In 2019 I wrote an in depth piece about “Hey You,” arguing that the song touches on our most deepest of human desires – connection with others. Certainly that theme connects with the numbness spoken about in “Comfortably Numb.” If one can’t get the human connection they need, then they will often turn to drugs, alcohol, lust, or any other vice instead. We would do well to heed Pink Floyd’s warning, especially in an age where we are torn apart by loneliness, substance abuse, lust, and violence.

RIP Mary Weinrib

Geddy Lee’s mother, Mary Weinrib, passed away on July 2 at the age of 95. Many of you probably already know this, but she was a Holocaust survivor who met her husband, Morris, at Auschwitz. She gave her total support to Geddy and his bandmates when they started Rush, and obviously without her we wouldn’t have been blessed with Rush’s music.

From her obituary:

Manya (Malka) Rubinstein was born in 1925 in Warsaw and grew up in Wierzbnik, a Jewish shtetl that was part of Starachowice, Poland, which was occupied by the Germans beginning in 1939. Mary endured the labor camp at the munition’s factory in Starachowice and the concentration camps at Auschwitz, where she met and fell in love with her husband Morris Weinrib, and at Bergen-Belsen, where she was finally liberated in April 1945. Reunited and married in 1946, Mary and Morris emigrated to Canada. After her husband Morris’s sudden death in 1965, Mary was left with three young children and a variety store that her husband had owned and managed. Mary was determined to learn the business; and, against the advice of well-meaning friends, she took over managing their store in Newmarket, and she successfully ran the business until she retired. People were drawn to her zest for life, her sense of humor, and her compassion and generous spirit. There’s a customer for everything, Mary would say, and if you couldn’t find it at Times Square Discount, you didn’t need it. Preparing family meals at Rosh Hashanah and Passover was a large-scale labor of love for Mary, who cherished her family above all; and after full days running the store, Mary would cook and bake over several nights, making everybody’s favorite dishes and desserts. The mother of Rush bass player and lead singer Geddy Lee, Mary was an early supporter and a fixture at Rush concerts. When the first Rush album was released, Mary plastered the windows of her store with Rush posters and gave albums away to any kids who wanted them but didn’t have the money to buy them. Among the longest living Holocaust survivors, Mary lived to see her family grow and prosper. 

We offer our sincerest condolences to Geddy Lee and the rest of his family, including Alex Lifeson, who I’m sure was close with Geddy’s mother as well, since they were childhood friends.

Read more at Rush is a Band: https://www.rushisaband.com/blog/2021/07/05/5630/Geddy-Lees-mother-and-Holocaust-survivor-Mary-Weinrib-has-passed-away-at-the-age-of-95

https://youtu.be/qehYgK_IsWs

Album Review – The Catch – Excuses For Kings

The Catch Excuses For KingsThe Catch, Excuses For Kings, 2021
Tracks:
Daedalus And The Angel (3:14), Circus (3:19), Riches To Rags (6:03), Real Love In The Modern World (2:55), What In The World (3:59), Leviathan (7:49), Find Another Way (5:10), Excuses For Kings (8:05), Last One To Leave (2:01)

First off, I’ve been sitting on the debut album from UK band The Catch for too long, so my sincere apologies to the band, who graciously sent me their CD Excuses For Kings for review quite a while ago. I have been listening to and enjoying it ever since I received it. It has an aesthetic that reminds me of some of the music on the Bad Elephant Music label or music from Cosmograf (Robin Armstrong) and his new label, Gravity Dream Music. The vocals even remind me of Progarchy’s very own Dave Bandana. 

The music might best be described as a combination of the dominant progressive sounds of both the 1970s and the 1980s. There are synth overtones, but the electric guitar plays a primary role along with upbeat drums playing a steady rock rhythm. The band is a two person group made up of singer-songwriter Robert Williams and guitarist Donovan Baine.

Williams provides vocals, guitars, bass, and programming – presumably synths and drums. If the drums really are all programmed, then they are some of the better sounding programmed drums I’ve heard in a while. I’m not usually a big fan of programmed drums, but these didn’t stick out to me at all. They have a natural sound. With that said, I’ll always encourage a band to find a real drummer if at all possible. 

The combination of prog technicality with excellent songwriting make this an enjoyable record on repeated listens. The lyrics are dense, telling a stories that reflect on our crumbling society. Williams packs a lot into each song, and he often (but not always) sings rather rapidly, so there will always be more to uncover on repeated listens. Perusing the lyrics in the booklet will help in that regard. 

Real love in the modern world
Freedom from the cursed career of Albion
To live in the mortal realm
To feel the air and bless the ground we walk upon

An on, moving into the sun, seekers of the permanent one

 – “Real Love In The Modern World”

https://youtu.be/lWBenn7ECDY

The highly poetic lyrics are not only well-written, but they are also rather profound. There is a lot of religious, historical, and mythological imagery. We’re forced to consider how we think we’ve come so far, when in reality we’ve fallen from great heights:

Once we ferried stone
From Memphis to Cairo
Now we sit in traffic instead
Moving by stars and trash spewed from cars
Strewn up and down this highway tonight

– “Excuses For Kings”

This is just a taste of what you can expect in the musical and lyrical journey in Excuses For Kings. The fast-paced music whisks the listener away on this voyage, with upbeat rhythms and smooth guitars keeping your interest along the way. It’s a enjoyable listen from start to finish, and I highly recommend you check it out. 

The best place to buy the record is from their website, where you can buy a CD-quality download or pick up the CD. The CD comes in a nice digipack with a bit of a mystical album cover showing ancient or medieval ruins morphing into the horrid-looking high-rise condos that desecrate modern cities. The disc also comes with a booklet featuring all the lyrics.

https://the-catch-music.com/home
https://www.facebook.com/TheCatchProg/

https://youtu.be/KpXWYlw82Xc

Friday Night Progressive – 10th Anniversary Show

The Friday Night Progressive online radio show is celebrating its tenth anniversary tomorrow night (June 25, 2021) starting at 9PM EST. The show is hosted by Ron Marquiss, and it celebrates the best in independent progressive rock, instrumental, and fusion. The free show focuses on the more complex and technical side of the genre rather than the poppier stuff. You can find links to all the places you can listen to the show live over at their website: https://fridaynightprogressive.com.

Drive In Movie Band Cover (1)In addition to the tenth anniversary show, Ron is releasing a short album called Lines & Circles under the band name, Drive In Movie Band. The group features musicians from all around the world. This just under a half-hour album is all instrumental, highlighting the complex and jazz side of the genre. The first track even has a bit of an early King Crimson vibe. 

Lines & Circles has the following lineup: 

  • Ron Marquiss – Composition, Keys, Guitar, Bass
  • Jordan Marquiss – Drums
  • Joe Compagna – Bass
  • Nathan Ames – Guitar
  • Adrianne Simioni – Violin
  • Astraea Antal – Flute
  • Bret Harold Hart – Guitar and other instruments
  • Brent McDonald – Guitar and Keys
  • David Leiter – ELP sound FX

The albums are a way for Marquiss to cover the costs of running the free Friday Night Progressive radio show. You can check them out at the following links:

Melodic Revolution Records: https://mrrmusic.com/project/drive-in-movie-band/
https://driveinmovieband.bandcamp.com

Almost 50 Years In, Kansas Still Carries On

kansas_point-of-know-return_2cdRecently legendary prog band Kansas released their latest live album, Point of Know Return Live & Beyond. The album features performances taken from various shows during their 2019 and 2020 fortieth anniversary tour of Point of Know Return, one of the finest albums in rock history.

I’ve seen Kansas live only once, and that was back around 2008 or so. It was a free show at my town’s annual week-long Independence Day festival. The lineup featured Steve Walsh on keyboards and vocals, Phil Ehart on drums, Rich Williams on guitar, David Ragsdale on violin, and Billy Greer on bass and vocals. I enjoyed the show, and in fact that show launched me into Kansas’ music. But there was no denying that at the point Walsh’s voice was long past its prime, and it was no surprise when he decided to retire from Kansas in 2014. 

Kansas’ new lineup formed, and they have since taken the world by storm with their 2016 album The Prelude Implicit and 2020’s The Absence of Presence. Their recent live lineup (as heard on this live record) features Ronnie Platt on vocals. His voice has its own sound, but he’s absolutely phenomenal singing this music, kind of like Nad Sylvan singing for Steve Hackett’s Genesis Revisited shows. The band’s rendition of “Nobody’s Home” sounds almost identical to the original record.

Combine Platt’s voice with the winning combo of Phil Ehart on drums, Rich Williams and Zak Rizvi on guitars, David Ragsdale on violin, Billy Greer on bass, and Tom Brislin on keyboards, and you’ve got an unstoppable prog rock powerhouse. The energy levels on this live record remind me of the energy Kansas had in the 70s. I imagine Platt isn’t dancing like a maniac at the keyboards the way Walsh used to, but the audio has that same intensity. 

In addition to playing all of Point of Know Return, the band include a few newer tracks as well as some other hits and deep cuts. It’s great to hear “Song For America” and “People of the South Wind” (Monlith is an underrated album). “Two Cents Worth” was a surprise, but it’s cool to hear that blues element that appeared in Kansas’ early work. From beginning to end this live record is a must-listen. I’m so glad the band continues to carry on and bring this music to old and new fans. Kerry Livgren’s lyrics are some of the best out there, and they deserve to be heard for years to come. 

Order the album: https://kansas.lnk.to/PointofKnowReturn-LiveBeyond

CD1
1. Cold Grey Morning
2. Two Cents Worth
3. The Wall
4. Song for America
5. Summer
6. Musicatto
7. Taking in the View
8. Miracles Out of Nowhere

CD2
1. Point of Know Return
2. Paradox
3. The Spider
4. Portrait (He Knew)
5. Closet Chronicles
6. Lightning’s Hand
7. Dust in the Wind
8. Sparks of the Tempest
9. Nobody’s Home
10. Hopelessly Human
11. Carry On Wayward Son
12. People of the South Wind
13.Refugee
14. Lonely Wind

https://youtu.be/D3S-1p18_So