The Neal Morse Band live in concert at the Crofoot Ballroom, Pontiac, Michigan, February 24, 2019. Thanks to Paula Pasma for the great pic!

Prog Past, Present, and Yet To Come

One of Robert Fripp’s “devil bugs” caught up with the Krueger household on February 24 — the same day a “bomb cyclone” hit West Michigan, causing a 30-degree temperature drop in 24 hours, along with whiteout snowstorms.  It’s taken this long for us (and the region) to emerge from hibernation  — but through the depths of winter to the cusp of spring, music has taken sad songs and made them better.

That very day late last month, I trekked across the state to catch The Neal Morse Band’s Great Adventour stop in suburban Detroit; Neal and his merry crew (including son Will and daughter Jayda at the merch table) didn’t disappoint.   As I anticipatedThe NMB’s live take on The Great Adventure was even tighter, more driven and more finely honed than the fine studio album (first half glitches to Morse’s keyboard rig notwithstanding).

Hearing all of TGA in one go brought home how thoroughly integrated the new effort is.  The key musical themes (as well as flashbacks to The Similitude of A Dream) aren’t just repeated, they’re developed in near-symphonic ways: transposed, transformed rhythmically and harmonically, recapped in unexpected contexts throughout the work.  Kaleidoscopic contrasts of rhythm, instrumental color, vocal textures (mainly from Morse, guitarist Eric Gillette, keyboardist Bill Hubauer) and tonality meshed smoothly with drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist Randy’s George’s badass forward propulsion, ably mirroring the lyrical highs and lows of another journey to the Celestial City.

In sum, TGA is a genuinely impressive concept work, marked by ambition, intelligence, technique and sentiment in just the right proportions.  The result at the end of each set (and the encore medley that covered Morse’s entire solo career, ending the night where it began) was sustained, extended, unforced ecstasy in the audience — a feeling that, I believe, couldn’t have been manufactured or manipulated into existence.  I couldn’t help think that, consciously or not,  Morse’s recent work fully embodies the ongoing ideal of American revivalist religion — an ideal, whatever its flaws, that’s been a cultural constant from the Puritan theologizing of Jonathan Edwards to the rough-hewn democratic juggernaut of today’s Pentecostalism.

And, in the inspired, paradoxically complex simplicity of its drive to the finish, The Great Adventure live reminded me of nothing so much as Gustav Mahler’s massive Resurrection Symphony. Like Mahler, Morse and band embraced everything that came to hand, running the risk of grandiosity to shape a new musical world — a payoff acknowledged by the heartfelt, fervent applause of the 300 souls in attendance.

Continue reading “Prog Past, Present, and Yet To Come”

The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 3

In Part 1 of Tim Bowness’ latest Progarchy interview, Tim discussed his previous solo albums, working again with his first band Plenty, reuniting with Steven Wilson for fresh No-Man music, and how it all feeds into his new album Flowers At The Scene (released March 1 on Inside Out Music).  Part 2 was an in-depth look at the new album’s music and players.  To finish up, the conversation branches off into the process of writing, the genesis of Tim’s label/online shop Burning Shed, the state of the music business and more!  Note that [brackets] below indicate editorial insertions.

I’ve always found your lyrics very, again, distinctive and appealing.  The words for your songs, if you read them on the page, they look very sparse; they’re epigrammatic, or they’re almost like a hymn text.  But they convey a lot of emotion and meaning when you sing them – It’s like you hear what’s behind them, kind of like a minimalist take on lyrics.  Was there anyone who particularly influenced how you write lyrics – or melodies, for that matter?   Where do the words come from for you?

I think the words in some ways came before the singing, because I used to like poetry, before I ever really was in a band.  So I’d always loved reading, and still am a fairly avid reader of novels and poetry.  There were a lot of lyricists I adore, so, I think … Joni Mitchell is an absolutely fantastic lyricist.  But I can’t say there’s any lyricists I’ve been particularly influenced by.

I think that, in terms of that pared down style, I guess I always quite liked people like Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter and Raymond Carver.  Certain writers like that.  And, although I don’t think I’m anything like them, that might be the core influence.  And there’s also, there’s an English poet called Ian Hamilton, who has a very sparse approach, and I always used to like his work.

And so in some ways, it’s kind of closer to that; it’s closer to the poetry that I grew up reading, without being particularly like it.  And as I said, I’m a fan of many singers, many lyricists.  Again, Roger Waters, fantastic lyricist, fantastic concepts, but I can’t say it’s particularly influenced me.  So maybe it comes from outside of music, the lyrical element of what I do.

Plus, I also think it comes, of course, from my own experiences, my own obsessions, my own emotions.  So that’s thrown into the mix.

Would Philip Larkin be in the mix?  It just occurred to me that was another person that kind of worked in that epigrammatic, lyric style?

Yeah, very much so, yes indeed!  The Collected Works of Philip Larkin are on my shelf.

Well, it’s amazing how busy you are, because along with all of what you do – your solo work, No-Man — you also co-direct one of my very favorite online shops!  And it’s certainly a favorite of all of us at Progarchy.  Burning Shed is just a wonderful place to buy music from, even across the pond.  You’re listed as a co-director; what does your role there involve?

Well, I still – the newsletters you receive, I write them.

Oh, OK!

The text that goes on the site, I write it.  So I suppose, in a sense, Burning Shed was my idea of a company.  So I started burningshed.com as an idea of doing cost-effective, experimental solo albums.  And so initially, we released three CD-Rs.  So the idea was originally in 2001, online, on demand, cost-effective solo albums that labels wouldn’t be interested in.  So Steven [Wilson] gave us a Bass Communion album; I gave a Samuel Smiles live album; Roger Eno gave an ambient album.  And almost from the off, it did better than we thought it would do.

Continue reading “The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 3”

The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 2

In Part 1 of Tim Bowness’ latest Progarchy interview, Tim discussed his previous solo albums, working again with his first band Plenty, reuniting with Steven Wilson for new No-Man music, and how all this feeds into his new album Flowers At The Scene (released March 1 on Inside Out Music).   We dig into the new album in depth below!  Note that [brackets] below indicate editorial insertions.

Pulling it back to Flowers At The Scene, it’s interesting what you said about how really, there are some [pieces] that you’re producing, there’s some that you and Brian [Hulse] are working on, there’s some that you and Brian and Steven [Wilson] are working on.   It all feels like a unity when I listen to it.  Despite the variety of colors, it’s, as you say, it feeds on what you’ve done before, but it goes in really interesting, different directions.  Are there any particular songs that you feel are at the core of the album?

I would say you’re right, it does feel like an album.  One thing that’s important to me is, I know in this age of streaming and Spotify it’s not particularly fashionable, but I love the album.  I’ve always loved the album as a statement.  And in some ways, although this album is different from the other albums – I mean, the previous three albums had themes to a degree.  Lost In The Ghost Light was a narrative concept album. Stupid Things That Mean The World and Abandoned Dancehall Dreams had linking lyrical themes in a way.  This is different in the sense that it’s eleven very separate moods, very separate lyrics, very separate songs.  And yet it fits together, I think, in a kind of classic 43-minute album format.  And in some ways, I think it’s the album that flows best of all four.  There’s something about it that it kind of moves from one mood to another.  And yet it holds together.

I suppose the key songs would have been when “Flowers At The Scene” and “Not Married Anymore” were written.  And I just felt that Brian and I had been coming up with material that had its own distinct identity.  And I also had a certain idea of how I wanted them to sound – and suddenly that was it!  And I guess that there’s this [Robert] Fripp line, he would always say that a new direction presented itself.  And I think that it’s true, because I’d continued writing material on my own, and I’d continued writing material with Stephen Bennett while I was recording the Plenty album.  And although the material was good, it felt like it was gonna be a continuation of Lost In The Ghost Light or Stupid Things That Mean The World.

And I think that it was when I’d written the fifth song with no purpose really – Brian and I just kept on writing together because we were excited by what we were doing.  And I think it would have been “Flowers At The Scene”, the title track itself, and I thought, “this is the new direction; it’s presented itself.” And from that moment on, it became a very exciting and immersive project and I said to Brian, “I think this is the basis of a new solo album. And it feels like a fresh direction after the other albums.”  And you’re right that, what’s kind of interesting for me is it’s fresh, it’s a reset, but perhaps because of the mood of some of the music and because of my voice, there’s also a sense of continuation.

And certainly one of the things that contributes to it being fresh is this cast of musicians that you gathered, which is really genuinely impressive.  So many great names with great work that have fed into this.  I was wondering if I could just toss out names and, in a few words, you could try to describe what each of these guys have brought to the music for the album.  Starting with Jim Matheos.

Well, Jim’s somebody I’ve known for a few years.  He asked me to guest on an OSI album [Blood], probably about nine years ago now.  And I really enjoyed it.  So the track, which is called “No Celebrations”, felt very different for me; it was very much in that OSI art-metal style, but it accommodated my singing as well.  And after that, we carried on communicating together.  So occasionally he’s asked me for advice about things, and also we had co-written a couple of tracks that had never been released.

And when I was doing this album, I thought I’d love to get him involved.  Because one of the tracks I’d been developing had him on anyway, and he’s an incredibly versatile guitarist.  Very, very nice guy, but what people I don’t think are aware of is how versatile his talent is.  So his own music can be anything from sort of ambient experimental to metal to classical acoustic guitar.  And I knew how good he was as a soloist, and so I got him – really, he was my stunt guitarist on the album on a few tracks.  And he did some fantastic work on it.

Peter Hammill.  What a legend!

Yeah!  Well, Peter’s somebody who when I was growing up, when I was in my teens, he was one of my favorite singers.  And as I’ve said to people, what’s interesting with this album is that, probably my five favorite singers when I was 13 would have been David Bowie, Peter Hammill, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Kevin Godley.  And I’ve two of them on the album, and it’s an incredible thrill to have that!

Over the years, Peter’s become a friend.  We ended up playing on lots of the same albums in Italy, and we got to know one another.  And over the years, he’s guested on my work; and we even live in the same small town in England!  And so he’s probably my sort of coffee and chat companion, where we’ve put the political and the musical world to rights once a month.  And as I always say about Peter, he’s as nice, generous and decent as his music is frightening!

[Laughs] Oh, that’s a great summary!

[Laughs] Absolutely!  Cause, you know, you wouldn’t want him to be as frightening as [Van der Graaf Generator’s] Pawn Hearts really, would you?

[Laughs] No, not in the slightest!

It is true; you’d be coughing your coffee up.  It’s not good!  [Both laugh] So yeah, lovely guy, and we’ve worked on a few things.  And the thing about Peter is he is very honest about his opinion.  So interestingly enough, I’d asked him to work on Lost in the Ghost Light, but he wasn’t as much a fan of that material.  So basically, he works on what he likes.  And he’d worked on the Stupid Things That Mean the World album, and I’d played him this album in progress.  He’d mixed an album for me as well.  There’s a Bowness/[Peter] Chilvers album that’s been unreleased that Peter’s mixed, which is quite an interesting project in itself.

And while I was making the new album I said, “ah, you know, a couple of Hammill-shaped holes here!”  And he heard it, and he heard exactly what I wanted, and he really liked the material.  One of the tracks he put a great deal into it, there’s a track on it called “It’s The World”.  I’d played it to him, and initially I wanted his bite – there’s a real sort of bite in his voice, I wanted this in the chorus.  And he said, “Yep, I know exactly what you want; I’ll get it to you.  But I tell you what else I’ll give you; I’ll give you guitars, because the guitars on this aren’t working!”  And so he completely re-recorded the chorus guitars, and almost went into sort of Rikki Nadir [from Hammill’s proto-punk solo album Nadir’s Big Chance] mode, and did a fantastic job.

So on the track “It’s The World” he’s on kind of backing and lead vocals, and also adds some really ferocious guitar parts.  And he made the piece work.  So that was an interesting case, where the piece I think was pretty good as it was, but he gave it an extra edge and an extra looseness.

Got it!  One of the newer singers on the album is David Longdon.  I know you collaborated with Big Big Train on a b-side [“Seen Better Days (the brass band’s last piece)”].  What did David bring?

Well, I suppose I asked him to be on the piece [“Borderline”] and I’d suggested a particular approach to backing vocal which he used.   I almost wanted this kind of rich, Michael McDonald/Steely Dan approach.  That’s something I wanted: a comfortable bed of David Longdon voice, really, and he gave that.  And then he added some flute as a means of contrasting with the trumpet.  And he did a beautiful job in both cases, really.  So I suppose what he gave was himself, so he kind of knew the places where I wanted him to play, and where I wanted him to be, and with the backing vocal he was effectively re-singing the melody that I’d already sung on the demo.

But with the flute, he performed a really beautiful solo, and it was great!  Because although the trumpet was recorded in the outback in Australia – I used a jazz musician, a guy called Ian Dixon, who’s worked with No-Man, he was on Returning Jesus, several tracks on that, and he’s a wonderful sort of jazz trumpet player.  And his studio is a tin shack in the outback in Australia!  And he said when he recorded it, it was in the middle of the rainy season.  So he’s recording that with crashing rain on the tin roof – which I thought was very romantic!  And David really beautifully worked with Ian’s trumpet.  And to me, it sounds as if the two could be in the room together playing!  So they worked very nicely together, and I suppose in that case, I knew what I wanted, and I got what I wanted.  But it was still different, the playing, the expression that the two of them had given was entirely their own.

Continue reading “The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 2”

The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 1

Tim Bowness first made waves in the art-rock world in the 1990s via No-Man, his longtime collaboration with Steven Wilson; albums like Flowermouth and Wild Opera led to Bowness’ working with Robert Fripp, Phil Manzanera, Nosound’s Giancarlo Erra (on Memories of Machines’ Warm Winter) and many others.  Since 2014, Bowness has also pursued a solo career, with a trio of critically acclaimed albums released on Inside Out Music.

Bowness’ latest album, Flowers At The Scene, is out on March 1.  Having previously interviewed Tim in 2015 and 2017,  it’s been exciting for us at Progarchy both to hear the new album in advance — and to talk about it with Tim in depth.   In the first part of a 3-part interview,  Tim lays out what’s led up to Flowers At The Scene, and how it’s different from his previous solo albums — and also teases No-Man’s first new music in more than a decade!

So first of all, congratulations on the new album; I’ve really enjoyed listening to it.    What a prolific run in the last five years! 

Thank you!  Yep!

Could you unpack for us how the albums you’ve made for Inside Out, starting with Abandoned Dancehall Dreams – how have they led up to Flowers at the Scene?

Well, I think that Flowers At The Scene is kind of a statement in itself, really; it feels like a reset of the solo career.  And I think that the other three Inside Out solo albums really were leading up to Lost In The Ghost Light.  I think that was the conclusion of a particular way of working.

It started off really with – when I’d written Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, that was an album that  I presented to Steven Wilson as a possible No-Man album, and it was pretty much how we’d done No-Man’s Schoolyard Ghosts – that I’d written songs and I’d co-written songs, and I’d brought what I thought was the best of that to Steven and had an idea for an album.  And with Schoolyard Ghosts, we then worked on the material together, produced the material together, Steven added to what I’d written and so on.  But with Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, he was in the middle of working on his Raven album, and just said, “Look, I’ll mix it; this is your album.  Release a solo work!”

So that’s how the recent run of solo albums started; it was something I’d assembled with a No-Man album in mind, and it became what feels like my debut solo album. (I know it’s my second solo album, but it feels like my debut solo album!)  Stupid Things That Mean the World emerged out of that, really, in that Abandoned Dancehall Dreams had got a very positive reaction and I was feeling very energized by that, really, so I was writing quite a lot of the time.

And with Lost In The Ghost Light, that was the conclusion of a project that I’d kind of been working on probably for about ten years.  And some of the songs in that concept had been on Schoolyard Ghosts, some on Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, some on Stupid Things That Mean the World.  And I didn’t think I was going to complete it!  But there was a certain point in 2016 when I focused on it and it all came together.

And with Lost In The Ghost Light, it felt like a conclusion to a particular way of writing and working, and I think specifically that pieces like “Smiler at 50” from Abandoned Dancehall Dreams or “Sing to Me” from Stupid Things That Mean The World, that it was almost like an album-length exploration of that type of music.  And of course, it had a very specific overall concept, which is the first time that I’ve ever worked, really, with a kind of narrative concept album.  The Lost In The Ghost Light story was one that I’d been writing about for years and one that I really wanted to finish.  So I was delighted when it was finished!

But after that, it really felt like I needed to do something completely fresh, completely refresh my own musical palette to keep things exciting.

Thanks!  The other thing that you’ve done recently is you’ve also gone back even deeper into your past.  I know that you worked with Brian Hulse and David K. Jones to re-record the music of your very first band, Plenty.  And It Could Be Home is a really delightful album. Was that part of your process for trying to find something new?  How did that project feed into this new album?

I think you’re right; I think it did feed into this album in some ways.  Because what was interesting is that we’d not worked together for thirty years, and it was actually very creative.  Going back to that material, we wanted to be faithful to it.  But what was exciting was that we were doing something new with it, and it was taking us to new places.  Partly, in my case, it was re-introducing me to ways of singing and writing I’d long abandoned.  And so, as much as it was old material, it really felt like it was a new project.  And we enjoyed doing that so much that Brian and I continued writing together.

And we just felt that what we were coming up was something that wasn’t Plenty, and it was kind of hinting at what I wanted to do on my next solo album.  So it definitely directly fed into Flowers At the Scene, the fact that we just continued to write, record, produce together.  And eventually there was a project that we were both excited about, and that became Flowers At The Scene.  And of course, there are other collaborations and other methods of writing used on the album.  But yeah, I think the Plenty experience directly led to this and fed into it.

Continue reading “The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 1”

Kinetic Element, The Face of Life

I first encountered Kinetic Element at 2017’s Progtoberfest III in Chicago:

As I entered Reggie’s Rock Club on the final day of Progtoberfest, the Virginia band Kinetic Element were winding up their set … their take on classic prog, spearheaded by keyboardist Mike Visaggio, sounded accomplished and intriguing; I wished I could have arrived earlier and heard more. Plus, you gotta love a band with a lead singer in a kilt!

I’m still working on arriving earlier; fortunately, Kinetic Element has stepped up with more to hear.  Forged in the crucible of key personnel changes, KE’s new The Face of Life is a sturdy album of ambitious, appealing prog from the grassroots.  Visaggio, longtime drummer Michael Murray, bassist Mark Tupko, vocalist Saint John Coleman (he of the kilt), and new guitarist Peter Matuchniak rise to a tricky challenge — shaping music that’s steeped in the “founding proggers” while striving for fresh sonic territory and aptly framing the cultural and spiritual musings of Visaggio’s lyrics.

Album opener “Epistle” lays out Kinetic Element’s approach; seven minutes of space-age blues melded with a modernized take on 1 Corinthians 13, it’s a driving showcase for Tupko and Murray’s grounded groove, Visaggio and Matuchniak’s timbral variations and upbeat solo flights, and Coleman’s forthright delivery.   The epic “All Open Eyes” admittedly kicks off in familiar Yes Album territory, as a cappella vocals trade off with wistful guitar/mellotron licks.  But KE quickly heads their own way, building from a ear-catching symphonic overture through dramatic piano-led balladry (which Coleman aces) into an exciting instrumental with hot licks aplenty from Matuchniak, Tupko and Visaggio, as tempos, textures and the players’ roles constantly shift.  The return to the ballad for the big finish is a classic prog move (just ask Neal Morse), but Coleman’s portrayal of the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting is utterly committed, and Tupko’s “Heart of the Sunrise” tribute toward the end tastes like a delicious cherry on top, not like half-baked leftovers.

Similarly, the title track’s opening can’t help but recall Going for the One’s “Awaken” to my ears.  But again, there’s a swift upshift to a more aggressive vibe, as Matuchniak and Visaggio push hard atop Tupko and Murray’s steamrolling riffs, Coleman testifies over gospel-inflected piano, and the band cycles through an organic, consistently surprising rotation of related ideas.   “Last Words” is an affecting coda to the album, a two-verse meditation sung first to Visaggio’s digital string quartet, then to a full band backing that floats to a serene conclusion.  Throughout, the mix by Glass Hammer’s Fred Schendel and Steve Babb is full, present and warm.

So if you want meat and potatoes prog that’s more than a hackneyed rehash of the past, Kinetic Element’s proudly blue collar efforts fill the bill.  The Face of Life is a satisfying listen and a genuine achievement, splendidly realizing the latent potential of a fine band.

For more on Kinetic Element and the new album, check out this article at (of all places) Broadway World.  The Face of Life is released on February 28, when physical and digital versions will be available from BandcampMelodic Revolution Records, CD Baby, and Syn-Phonic Music.  Or, to pre-order the new album (along with previous albums and t-shirts) direct from the band, message Mike Visaggio on Facebook.  I did!

— Rick Krueger

kinetic element

The Neal Morse Band, The Great Adventure

I was skeptical when I heard about the Neal Morse Band’s new project.  A concept album that’s a sequel to their previous concept album?  Might Neal, Eric Gillette, Bill Hubauer, Randy George and the ever-prolific Mike Portnoy have finally taken this “epic of epic epicness” thing too far?

But then, I was skeptical about 2016’s The Similitude of a Dream, too.  A double album based on John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress sounded like a disaster in the making to me.  (Yes, this lifelong Lutheran still bore psychological scars from Morse’s Sola Scriptura.)  But, to my ears, Morse and crew rose to the challenge, unreeling Bunyan’s basic narrative with an enticing flow of steady invention, high style, and hearty commitment. And on the evidence of the Similitude of a Dream Live and Morsefest 2017 videos, the work got sharper, more dramatic and more engrossing the more the NMB played it.   At this point, along with the two Testimony sets and ?Similitude is firmly ensconced in my Top Ten of Morse-led albums.  (Which Transatlantic still rules.  But I digress.)

So I gave The Great Adventure a chance — and I’m glad I did.   It’s got enough continuity with Similitude to feel like a genuine sequel, but also enough musical and lyrical freshness to stand on its own merits.  On initial hearings, I think it’s a smashing success that will reward repeated listens.

Continue reading “The Neal Morse Band, The Great Adventure”

Andy Tillison – Now on Bandcamp!

From Andy Tillison, posting on the Tangent’s Facebook group page:

Hello – and as promised, here is a link to my very own Bandcamp page. I would like you to consider this a BETA, or work in progress. A few things I need to make clear. These are flac/wav/mp3 downloads only. I am doing this to make the music available – the re-release of these limited interest titles on any form of media would be impossible to finance. I’m sorry that the world ended up like that. However, the quality is exactly the same as the original CD releases. Nothing for your shelves… but plenty for your ears. …

Yes – the albums have to be paid for, I’m sorry but assure you that I plough as much as possible into the development of new work. Most of you realise this. More titles are in preparation from Po90, The Tangent and my own solo work.  Same time next week?

What’s in Tillison’s first wave of Bandcamp releases, you ask?  Follow the jump for the details!
Continue reading “Andy Tillison – Now on Bandcamp!”