The Big Fall Prog Preview!

What new music, live albums, and reissues (deluxe and otherwise) are heading our way between now and Black Friday?  Check out the exhaustive (and possibly exhausting) sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with a few other personal priorities — below.  Pre-order links are for CDs or combo packages; vinyl editions are frequently available from the same website.

  • September 21:
    • Marillion, Happiness is Cologne and Popular Music.  Limited edition live reissues from Racket Records and earMusic.  Pre-order at Amazon or other online retailers.
    • Nosound, Allow Yourself.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • September 28:
    • Blackfield, Open Mind (The Best of Blackfield).  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin, Star Clocks.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • October 5:
    • Steve Hackett, Broken Skies – Outspread Wings (1984-2006).  Esoteric Recordings reissue box set (6 CDs + 2 DVDs).  Pre-order autographed copies from Hackettsongs.
    • King Crimson, Meltdown: Live in Mexico.  3 CDs + 1 BluRay.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • October 12:
    • Glass Hammer, Chronomonaut.  Pre-order autographed copies or the deluxe bundle from Glass Hammer’s webstore.  Pre-order deadline: October 11.
    • Sanguine Hum, Now We Have Power.  Pre-order from Bandcamp.
  • October 19:
    • Greta Van Fleet, Anthem of the Peaceful Army.  The first full-length album from Frankenmuth, Michigan’s young Zepheads.  Pre-order at GvF’s webstore.
    • iamthemorning, Ocean Sounds.  Live in the studio; audio/video bundle.  Pre-order at Burning Shed.
    • In Continuum, Acceleration Theory.  With Dave Kerzner and an all-star line-up.  Pre-order bundles from Bandcamp. Pre-order deadline for special bundles: September 30.
    • Frank Sinatra, Only the Lonely: 60th Anniversary Edition.  Yes, really.  The greatest concept album of the pre-rock era, with Sinatra and arranger Nelson Riddle at their most gorgeous and devastating.  “Make it one for my baby … and one more for the road.” More info at Super Deluxe Edition.
  • October 26:
    • Anathema, Internal Landscapes.  The best of the band’s Kscope albums.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Haken, Vector.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Procol Harum, Live In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.  Esoteric Recordings reissue with bonus tracks.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • November 2:
    • Opeth, Garden of the Titans: Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.  Various audio & video formats/bundles available.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Steven Wilson, Home Invasion: In Concert at the Royal Albert Hall.  Various audio & video formats/bundles available.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • November 9:
    • Jethro Tull, This Was — The 50th Anniversary Edition. Steven Wilson remix included, on 3 CDs + DVD.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Friendship.  Pre-order from Rikard’s webstore.
  • November 16:
    • Marillion, Brave Live and Live in Glasgow.  Limited edition live reissues from Racket Records and earMusic.  Pre-order at Amazon or other online retailers.
    • The Tangent, Proxy.  Pre-order special bundles from The Tangent webstore.
  • November 23:
    • Marillion, Clutching at Straws Special Edition.  4 CDs + 1 BluRay.  Pre-order autographed copies from Marillion or Fish.
  • TBA:
    • The Beatles, White Album 50th Anniversary Edition?
    • Big Big Train, Merchants of Light Blu-Ray
    • King Crimson, The ReConstruKction of Light (40th Anniversary reissue) and Heaven and Earth (Crimson ProjeKcts box set)

— Rick Krueger

Lightning Round Reviews: September 7, 2018

It’s been a busy week at the mailbox and on the doorstep.  With a clear day off, I decided to listen to all the new music I’ve received since Monday.  Capsule reviews follow the jump; albums are reviewed in their descending order on my freshly made up Personal Proggyness Perception (PPP) scale, scored from 0 to 10.

Continue reading “Lightning Round Reviews: September 7, 2018”

In Concert: Lake Street Dive — A Tale of Two Tastes

Lake Street Dive at Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheater, Grand Rapids, Michigan, August 30, 2018.

Boston-founded, Brooklyn-based pop’n’soul band Lake Street Dive has swiftly become a quintessential Meijer Gardens act — debuting in 2015, returning every year since, regularly selling out shows even though their ticket prices have doubled in just four years.  (The quintessential Meijer Gardens act?  Undoubtedly Lyle Lovett, who’s appeared during 13 of the Amphitheater’s 16 seasons.)

In that time span vocalist Rachael Price, guitarist/trumpeter Mike “McDuck” Olson, stand-up bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Mike Calabrese have seasoned their initial Motown-meets-Beatles stylings with funk and disco flavors, signed with quirky Warner Music imprint Nonesuch, added keyboardist Akie Bermiss as a full member, and scored a top 10 album, 2018’s Free Yourself Up.  With 2,000 fans spanning the generations in attendance, this show was set to be a celebration — by both players and audience — of the band coming into its own.

From my point of view, they delivered; the night felt like the most fun of the three Lake Street Dive shows I’ve heard.  The simple choice of having Calabrese’s drum kit face the audience (instead of toward stage right) seemed to open a more direct connection between the group and the crowd.   And with four albums to choose from, the setlist felt like it flowed better, with more variety in the moods and grooves, consistent forward motion, and a gathering momentum.

Throughout the night, Bermiss’ pads, rhythms and synth licks gave Olson leave to be looser on guitar and play more solo trumpet, and Calabrese’s drumming was splashier and more extroverted.  Playing to their respective strengths, Kearney held down the bottom end with solidity and style, while Price cooed, cajoled, tempted and triumphed, delivering alternately sassy and lovelorn reports from the front lines of 21st-century romance.  Multi-part harmonies were spot on throughout the night, with Bermiss contributing a winning lead vocal on a typically oddball cover, Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One.”  Other eccentric ideas like a triptych of songs about the same loser (“Bobby Tanqueray/Spectacular Failure/Doesn’t Even Matter Now”) and the microsuite “Seventeen” came off without a hitch, too.  By the encore, as Price soared on the driving “Dude” then simmered through the lounge jazz take on the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” that brought Lake Street Dive to prominence,  I was convinced — this had been a great evening.  And the audience response seemed to bear that out.

Except for one thing: my friend from college — who’d first brought Lake Street Dive to my attention, who consistently raves about their abilities, who’s attended all their Meijer Gardens shows with me, whose musical opinions I deeply respect — wasn’t convinced.  And he had fair points to make.  For one thing, the live sound was substantially louder and boomier than on previous visits  — I realized that, on the uptempo tunes, I’d been compensating by listening through the low end fuzz and haze to hear the harmony vocals or Kearney’s detailed bass work.  In addition, the thicker, chunkier sound of the Dive’s quintet formation just didn’t work for him; while acknowledging Bermiss’ ability and musicianship, he strongly prefers the open space and freer interplay of the original quartet.  And both of us agree that the band’s writing could use a shot in the arm — all the onstage energy pumped life into the new tunes, but on disc both the Nonesuch albums (Side Pony and Free Yourself Up) run out of steam before they run out of songs.

So while I enjoyed the evening, this show also served another purpose — illustrating that “in matters of taste, there can be no dispute” — de gustibus non est disputandum, for any Latin majors.  Both of us had strong opinions of the show — and the cool thing was that we could talk through them without feeling like we had to convince the other to abandon his point of view.   Probably good for me to remember the next time one of those classic online prog-rock discussions (“Was Genesis any good after Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett left?  Did Trevor Rabin ruin Yes?  Was Signals where Rush jumped the shark?”*) break out.

And, since “in matters of taste, there can be no dispute,” I do think that both my friend and I would encourage you to check out Lake Street Dive —- on record and live — for yourself.  You can also check out another local review of the show, with an extensive photo gallery, here.  The setlist:

  • Baby, Don’t Leave Me Alone with My Thoughts
  • You Are Free
  • I Don’t Care About You
  • Red Light Kisses
  • Mistakes
  • Bobby Tanqueray
  • Spectacular Failure
  • Doesn’t Even Matter Now
  • Hello? Goodbye!
  • Hang On
  • I Can Change
  • You’re Still the One
  • Call Off Your Dogs
  • Seventeen
  • Shame, Shame, Shame
  • Musta Been Something
  • Bad Self Portraits
  • Good Kisser
  • You Go Down Smooth
  • Dude
  • I Want You Back

— Rick Krueger

*- For the record, my answers are: yes; no; and absolutely not.

 

In Concert: “And Toto, Too?” “Toto, Two!”

Toto at Frederik Meijer Gardens Amphitheatre, Grand Rapids Michigan, August 24, 2018.

Toto’s sold out my local outdoor shed twice in the past three years.  Last time through, they stacked the deck, playing plenty of hits and radio favorites.  This year, with the anniversary compilation 40 Trips Around the Sun to flog, they took more chances with a deep-cut setlist, a semi-acoustic storytellers interlude, and extended displays of their fearsome chops.  Riding a fresh wave of Internet love, they could do no wrong for the hyped-up crowd.

And the same held true for me; I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart (and possibly my critical faculties) for Toto.  A posse of Los Angeles studio aces melding Steely Dan’s shuffles, Boz Scaggs’ blue-eyed soul, crunchy proto-Van Halen guitar and proggy synthesizer fanfares, with the mission statement (from founding drummer Jeff Porcaro in Rolling Stone) “craft is content”?  No wonder rock critics hated their guts, especially when when they got triple platinum sales out of the box.  Their goal was to make sleek, catchy pop with a touch of musical ambition, get on radio and move records — not bare their souls, change the world, or even necessarily write sensible lyrics.  There’s an odd,  appealing purity to that aim, no matter how calculated the strategy.

Top 40 radio courts a different sound these days, but Toto still has a knack for the killer hook; kicking off, new songs “Alone” and “Spanish Sea” were every bit as engaging as the singalong version of “Hold the Line” and Toto IV’s “Lovers of the Night” that they framed.  Following spirited takes of tracks from forgotten-stepchild albums like Tambu and Turn Back, the band lit the fuse on Kingdom of Desire’s funky instrumental “Jake to the Bone;” guest keyboardist Dominique “Xavier” Talpin (subbing for founder David Paich) and guitarist Steve Lukather stoked their lengthly solos to the boiling point, while synth whiz Steve Porcaro and the rhythm section (Shem von Schroeck on bass, Shannon Forest on drums, Lenny Castro on percussion) simmered underneath.  Building on the momentum, “Rosanna” was a foregone, happily welcomed conclusion to the first half, with singer Joseph Williams (the John Williams’ son!  Really!) and sax man Warren Ham helping bring the crowd to their feet.

The storytellers interlude — with everyone sitting on stools and Lukather playing acoustic guitar — had its charms, even though the six selections (including Porcaro’s “Human Nature” from Michael Jackson’s Thriller) were truncated to keep things moving.  Ramping up again, the band dove deeper into their catalog, holding the audience’s attention even through obscurities like the Dune soundtrack’s impressive “Desert Theme”.  But in the end, past was all prologue; the moment Lukather shouted, “Are you ready for that song?” and Castro and Forrest launched the polyrhythms of “Africa,” Meijer Gardens went joyously, deliriously nuts.  It was gonna take a lot to drag 2,000 fans away from that moment; they were all in — dancing, singing along, clapping during Castro’s exhilarating solo, chanting back and forth vocals with Williams, responding with a full-throated standing ovation.  Hard to beat an extended moment of pop ecstasy like that — even if you’re frightened of this thing that you’ve become.

One quick and grungy cover of Weezer’s “Hash Pipe” later (sadly, without Rivers Cuomo or “Weird Al” Yankovic in sight), Toto was done, the crowd went home happy, and my streak of satisfying shows in 2018 was unbroken.  Check out another review of the show, with an extensive photo gallery, here.

Setlist:

  • Alone
  • Hold the Line
  • Lovers in the Night
  • Spanish Sea
  • I Will Remember
  • English Eyes
  • Jake to the Bone
  • Lea
  • Rosanna
  • Storytellers interlude:
    • Georgy Porgy
    • Human Nature
    • Holyanna
    • No Love
    • Mushanga
    • Stop Loving You
  • Girl Goodbye
  • Lion
  • Dune (Desert Theme)
  • While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  • Make Believe
  • Africa
  • Hash Pipe

 

— Rick Krueger

Soft Machine: The Fusion Years

Continuing the saga of Soft Machine, currently on a 50th anniversary world tour (coming to North America this fall).    Click here for Part One, covering the band’s psychedelic years of 1966-69; Click here for Part Two, covering the jazz-rock years of 1970-1973.  The Softs’ new album Hidden Details can be ordered at Bandcamp. 

Seven albums on, Soft Machine was stuck.  Founding organist Mike Ratledge was still around, but his contributions had diminished to an ongoing flow of “cosmic tinkles” — minimalist electric piano patterns enhanced by tape delay effects.  Keyboardist/reed player Karl Jenkins had taken up the compositional slack, but the music was edging into blandness onstage, no matter how much oomph bassist Roy Babbington and drummer John Marshall kicked up.  At Marshall’s suggestion, the Softs decided to freshen their palette with a different solo voice — namely, Allan Holdsworth on guitar.

Recruiting a guitarist for a band that hadn’t had one since 1968 seemed a drastic move, but the gamble paid off handsomely.  The young Holdsworth brought guts and brio back to Soft Machine’s sound, digging deep to play off Babbington and Marshall, spitting out energetic improvisations that channeled his idols John Coltrane and John McLaughlin.  Equally fired up, Jenkins and Ratledge composed extended suites with plenty of space for blowing, and the Softs hit the road with a completely new set.  Archive releases from that year’s world tour such as Cuneiform’s Switzerland 1974 and MoonJune’s Floating World Live (recorded in England in early 1975) amply display the impressive results.

The excitement carried over to 1975’s Bundles, the Softs’ first album for EMI’s Harvest label.  The side-long epic “Hazard Profile” is the perfect introduction to the new sound: Holdsworth’s light-speed melodicism nicely complements Jenkins’ classically tinged ruminations; Babbington and Marshall groove relentlessly; Ratledge even provides a skittering synthesizer solo that nods at his salad days.  The players are in full flight throughout, locking in over a variety of backgrounds and moods; there’s new room for acoustic interludes (Holdsworth’s “Gone Sailing”) and multi-sectioned proggy workouts (the Jenkins/Holdsworth mashup “Bundles/The Land of the Bag Snake”).  Even the “cosmic tinkles” get a shot of adrenalin in Ratledge’s unstoppable crescendo “The Man Who Waved at Trains/Peff” and Jenkins’ lush, spacious “The Floating World.”  The future looked bright again.

But, predictably for those who know both Soft Machine and Holdsworth history, it wasn’t that simple; Holdsworth left just as Bundles was released, joining Miles Davis alumni Tony Williams’ New Lifetime.  With more touring already booked, the group quickly tapped up-and-coming guitarist John Etheridge (Holdsworth’s suggestion) for the open slot.  Etheridge fit the bill, with his spare, muscular style leaving more space for his bandmates to shine onstage.

Recording the next album brought further changes: Alan Wakeman (Rick’s cousin!) joined on hard-charging solo sax, so Jenkins could focus on keys and composing; the new tunes drew sharper lines between tightly arranged prog/classical movements and vamps to improvise over; and Mike Ratledge’s long exodus from Soft Machine culminated in contributions to just two tracks.  Despite all these shifts, 1976’s Softs had plenty of energy and appeal, a striking variety of well-crafted textures, space for free blowing on Side Two (dig “The Camden Tandem” and the end of “One Over the Eight”), and first-class playing throughout.

Still, poor record sales and precarious finances took their toll.  Wakeman bailed on the eve of another tour, replaced by Ray Warleigh; afterwards, Warleigh and Babbington left, with the bass chair taken first by Brand X’s Percy Jones, then by Steve Cook; violinist Ric Saunders became the second soloist, lending a Mahavishnu Orchestra tinge to the proceedings.  By 1977, the band was actively splintering, with members taking lucrative side gigs to make ends meet and a variety of live substitutes (even Holdsworth!) filling in as necessary.

Given the situation, recording Soft Machine’s 1977 Paris gigs was deemed the way forward to another album.  Disaster ensued: equipment was held up at customs, safety officials limited attendance, an assistant recording engineer failed to turn up, and Etheridge and Cook’s instruments were stolen after the first night.  And yet Alive and Well: Recorded in Paris comes off remarkably well: the new music is solid; the band interplay on “Huffin'” and “The Nodder” is stunningly on point, and even the Giorgio Moroder-style disco funk concoction “Soft Space” (complete with uncredited contributions from Ratledge) clicks. (Note that Esoteric Recordings’ 2010 reissue features an extra disc of live outtakes.)

And then — nothing.  Well, nothing except 1981’s Land of Cockayne — in actuality, producer Mike Thorne’s invitation for Karl Jenkins to record with both rock and orchestral forces.   Despite a stellar cast (including Softs alumni Marshall, Warleigh and Holdsworth, plus bass legend Jack Bruce) and echoes of past glories like “Panoramania” and “Sly Monkey,” Land of Cockayne is a completely different beast, the most mainstream music ever released under the Soft Machine name.  Ultimately, it proved a marker toward the rest of Jenkins’ career, occasionally in collaboration with Mike Ratledge: advertising jingles (including the inescapable-for-a-time DeBeers Diamond music), then the 1990s classical crossover project Adiemus, then a full-blown career as an orchestral composer, culminating with a 2015 knighthood.

It had been a good run, but after one last week-long London residency in 1984, Soft Machine was no more.  Still, the legacy of the band lived on in its recordings and in the work of its numerous alumni until …

But that’s an unlikely tale for another time.

 

softs legacy

— Rick Krueger

 

 

 

Soft Machine: Hidden Details

From its formation in the heady days of the 1960s to its final dissolution about 15 years later, Soft Machine rarely stayed in one place for long.  The British band’s journey through technicolor psychedelia, meaty jazz-rock and idiosyncratic jazz fusion (equal parts Mahavishnu Orchestra, Terry Riley and Jimmy Webb) took shape on the fly, in a blur of live gigs and album sessions — along with multiple personnel changes following founding drummer Robert Wyatt’s departure.  At the end, changes came so fast that the final album of the original discography, 1981’s Land of Cockayne, was Soft Machine in name only — effectively the first solo effort by composer/keyboardist Karl Jenkins, foreshadowing his eventual emergence as a classical crossover star (and a knight of the British Empire).

But starting in 2002, the persistence, dedication and improvisational spirit of MoonJune Records impresario Leonardo Pavkovic accomplished the extraordinary — bringing together Soft Machine alumni from across multiple incarnations, first as Soft Works, then in a long-running series of tours and albums as Soft Machine Legacy.  2015 brought about the resumption of the original band name, with the group consisting of 1970s Softs John Etheridge (guitar), Roy Babbington (bass) and John Marshall (drums), joined since 2006 by prolific saxist/flutist/keyboardist Theo Travis.  Hidden Details is their sterling new album, released to coincide with a worldwide 50th anniversary tour.  It’s an impressive addition to the Soft Machine canon; there’s fresh, exploratory depth throughout, coupled with the immediate appeal of fine players enjoying both each other’s company and the exquisite music they’re making.

soft machine band shot

The tracks on Hidden Details span a broad range of genre and style: there’s driving slowburn riff rock (Travis’ title track), thick chunky funk (Etheridge’s “One Glove”), even a sprightly pop groove with a psychedelic lilt (Travis’ “Fourteen Hour Dream,” complete with 1968 title reference).  True to previous Legacy efforts, the band revisits vintage Softs classics, too; Mike Ratledge’s “Out-Bloody-Rageous” from Third features exuberant soloing by Travis, one-man horn section licks from Etheridge and plenty of steam in the engine room courtesy of Babbington and Marshall.  Also present and correct: Ratledge’s “The Man Who Waved at Trains” from Bundles, updating original elements like Babbington’s hypnotic, cyclical bass and Travis’ reimagined take on Ratledge’s electric piano ‘cosmic tinkles’.

Even more exciting than the great tunes is the way the band works together throughout this album; tight but loose, the Softs listen to and play off each other in unexpected, delightful ways.  Travis is equally at ease trading thick piano stabs with snarling Etheridge guitar on “Broken Hill,” saxing it up over a stutterstep Babbington riff during “Ground Lift,” and weaving flute-based loops punctuated by Marshall for the closing duet “Breathe.”  Etheridge runs a gamut of sounds and styles as well, from the lyrical semi-acoustic arpeggios on “Heart Off Guard” and “Drifting White” to the full-on electrified power of “Flight of the Jett” and “Hidden Details” (complemented by Babbington’s nods to Hugh Hopper’s ground-shaking fuzz bass). And when the quartet builds music from silence — joining in one at a time on “Ground Lift” or engaging each other simultaneously on the epic free blow “Life on Bridges” — the results are extraordinary.

So the 2018 incarnation of Soft Machine has nothing to prove; for all with ears to hear, they bring their experience, confidence and musicality to bear on Hidden Details, and the results really are superb.  It’s a winning album, great material for these Softs to bring to North American and British audiences this fall — in the US, for the first time in more than forty years!  Check out the new album on Bandcamp for yourself, and don’t hesitate to catch them live.

— Rick Krueger

 

 

Psst! Looking for a Good New Rock Memoir?

Well, look no further, bunkie!  Check out these upcoming publications:

kramer hard way

Out August 14 (hey, that’s tomorrow!):

The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5, and My Life of Impossibilities by Wayne Kramer.

“The first memoir by Wayne Kramer, legendary guitarist and cofounder of quintessential Detroit proto-punk legends The MC5.”   More info about Kramer’s MC50: Kick Out the Jams – The 50th Anniversary Tour (which I’m seeing in September) here.

 

Out September 18:lukather memoir

The Gospel According to Luke by Steve Lukather

“The outrageous and often hilarious autobiography of legendary session musician and lead guitarist and singer of Toto.”  Check out more about the current bizarre synchronicity between Toto, Weezer and Stranger Things here. (I’ll be at Toto’s Grand Rapids show in a couple of weeks; look for a review to follow.  Hoping for advance copies on sale at the merch booth …)

 

Out October 23: daltrey memoir

Thanks a Lot Mr. Kibblewhite: My Story by Roger Daltrey

“The frontman of one of the greatest bands of all time tells the story of his rise from nothing to rock ‘n’ roll megastar, and his wild journey as the voice of The Who.”  Given that Pete Townshend’s Who I Am has been out for a while, I’m looking forward to Daltrey’s take.

 

And, out November 13:tweedy memoir

Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc. by Jeff Tweedy

“The singer, guitarist, and songwriter, best known for this work with Wilco, opens up about his past, his songs, the music, and the people that have inspired him.”  I’m a huge Wilco fan; Tweedy is one of the few remaining rockers I know who takes the idea of music as the basis for community seriously.  Very interested in what he’ll be putting down here.

Any other rock books coming soon you’d like Progarchy fans to know about?  Leave the info in the comments!

— Rick Krueger