Brian Dunne with Brennan Wedl, The Pyramid Scheme, Grand Rapids Michigan, May 5, 2023.
Back when I started to read the music press in the mid-1970s, one of rock critics’ ongoing themes was “The Search for the New Bob Dylan.” Who could fill the bill? A widely-hyped superstar-in-training like Bruce Springsteen or Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler? A fresh-faced folkie like John Prine or Steve Forbert? Or maybe Bob Dylan himself, after he: a) went acoustic again; b) went electric again; c) got divorced; or, d) got found by Jesus? The quest for an artist with that kind of potential, a unique alchemy of words, music and voice, got downright obsessive – and ended in disappointment more often than not.
Now that rock itself has taken a back seat to pop and hip-hop in mass culture — and Bob D. himself is 20-plus years into his ultimate, impressively rich comeback — “The Search for the New Dylan” has long been moribund. But if somehow it became a thing again, I’d submit New Jersey-born, Brooklyn-based Brian Dunne for consideration. On the basis of his first visit to Grand Rapids, touring behind his fourth album Loser on the Ropes, this youthful singer-songwriter is the real deal.
With three recruits from Brooklyn group The Tube in his corner, Dunne came out swinging: the catchy rocker “Stand Clear of the Closing Doors”, the stutter-stepping “Rockaway”, the new album’s pensive title track and the mid-tempo singalong “The Optimist” all connected solidly with the small but enthusiastic crowd. Dunne’s vivid, thoughtful lyrics — questing, skeptical, bemused, poignant all at the same time — gained force and traction riding his insistent verbal rhythms, immediate melodies, tightly constructed tunes, and direct, appealing voice. The backing band delivered consistent muscle: on guitar, keys and backing vocals, Tyler Rigdon added high harmonies, extra propulsion and Brothers in Arms/Born in the USA atmospherics; bassist Sam Gehrke locked in with a tight, solid groove; and Chris Krueger laid down an irresistible backbeat that vibrated the walls — or at least the cushions in the booth my wife and I occupied. (Full disclosure: Chris is my nephew!)
His pace firmly established and the crowd fully on his side, Dunne varied his attack, weaving in back-catalog highlights like the Mellencampish “Nothing Matters Anymore” with the band and the hushed “Chasing Down a Ghost” as a duet with opening act Brennan Wedl. Solo songs “New Tattoo” and “Taxi” set up a final full-band run, with the winning singles “Bad Luck” and “It’s A Miracle” bringing the audience to their feet and the rootsy “Fiona” (from Dunne’s collaborative side project Fantastic Cat) giving Rigdon, Gehrke and Krueger the chance to channel a bit of The Band.
Plowing into their encore without bothering to leave the stage, Dunne and his seconds delivered their final haymakers with the affecting “Sometime After This” and the rollicking “If You Wanna Stay Awhile”. All in all, an enjoyable night that sent me happily to the merch table for CDs and an autograph! If you’re looking for fresh, thoughtful songwriting that has both forthright appeal and subtle intensity, Brian Dunne’s music might just knock you out. (And check out The Tube and Brennan Wedl too!)
(A quick note: for new releases, order links are embedded in album titles; online playlists/previews/etc. follow reviews when available. For catalog albums, playlists are linked with titles.)
Once again, I get to second a positive review from Bryan — this time of Fauna, the new release from prog-metallers Haken. Wildly creative, I found this to be the British sextet’s most appealing effort since 2016’s Affinity, stirring in flavors of fusion, postmodern pop, funk, reggae, electronica and even opera alongside one heavy yet tuneful chorus after another. Whether on the short, sharp shocks of “Taurus” and “Lovebite” or the extended journeys of “Sempiternal Beings” and “Elephants Never Forget”, Ross Jennings’ vocals soar, Charlie Griffiths and Richard Henshall’s guitars crunch, Peter Jones’ keys fill what few sonic crevices remain, and rhythm section Conner Green and Raymond Hearne thunder. Play it loud — but look out for multiple, exciting curveballs on every track!
Last month also saw the release of two live albums from veteran bands who’ve made it through the pandemic back to the stage:
Van der Graaf Generator’s The Bath Forum Concert(a CD/DVD/BluRay set) documents the venerable trio’s 2022 return to action; tackling an ambitious setlist that spans their entire career, guitarist/pianist/singer Peter Hammill is as declamatory and vehement as ever, organist Hugh Banton covers the aural spectrum between cathedral and crypt, and drummer Guy Evans locks into or disrupts the grinding soundscapes as the spirit moves him. The beautifully filmed video shows VDGG working hard and watching each other, opting for the flow as they feel it rather than relying on clinical precision; warts and all, this is refreshingly in the moment, a strong show that captures the band’s existential angst and humanistic idealism in full.
Two years after their 2020 Far Eastern tour collapsed around them, King Crimson satellite band Stick Men returned to Japan and blew away any cobwebs that might have accumulated at Osaka’s BB Live venue. The resulting album Umedashowcases avant guitarist Markus Reuter, multi-bassist Tony Levin and percussionist Pat Mastelotto at their aggressive, angular best; whether on long-standing improvisational frameworks “Cusp”, “Schattenhaft” and “Swimming in Tea”, newer compositions “Ringtone”, “Tentacles” and “Danger in the Workplace” or Crimson classics “Red”, “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Pt. II” or “The Sheltering Sky”, these guys are frighteningly good, whether working up a hair-raising din or backing off for spacey, unexpectedly lush interludes. A great introduction for newbies and a must for fans.
Plus, in February and March the recorded music industry resumed cranking out deluxe box set reissues and compilations — apparently the market of Boomers (like me) with more money than sense isn’t tapped out yet:
Transatlantic’s The Final Flight: Live at L’Olympia is a worthy souvenir of the latest — and last? — tour by our favorite “more never is enough” classic-prog supergroup. Over three hours, Neal Morse, Roine Stolt, Pete Trewavas, Mike Portnoy and sidekick Ted Leonard play every possible note of their ultra-epic The Absolute Universe, plus generous chunks of the band’s first three albums (sorry, Kaleidoscope fans). You might notice some rough edges in Morse’s singing despite a few preemptive downward key shifts, but Transatlantic still delivers the goods without fail — the jaw-dropping ensemble work, knockout solos, choral counterpoint, head-spinning transitions and heart-stopping climaxes just keep coming. And if this is their swan song, thanks for 20+ years of over-the-top thrills and spills are well past due!
Rick Wakeman’s latest album, A Gallery of the Imagination, is less a conceptual effort (like The Six Wives of Henry VIII or even the recent The Red Planet) than an impressionist suite based on a overall musical approach (as on his Piano Portraits releases). As such, Wakeman’s strong suit — spacious melodies decorated with arpeggios aplenty, then rocked up via finger-busting solo work — is here in abundance, with appropriately sturdy backing by The English Rock Ensemble. But be prepared — the line between prog and middle-of-the-road pop is remarkably thin at times, especially when sentimental lyrics like “A Day Spent on the Pier” are declaimed with stagey brio by vocalist Hayley Sanderson. If you can deal with that, there’s plenty to enjoy here.
Simon Collins and Kelly Nordstrom (best known in the prog world for the Sound of Contact album Dimensionaut with Dave Kerzner and Matt Dorsey) veer in a heavier direction with their new project, eMolecule’s The Architect. The initial blasts of electronica-laced prog-metal, amped up with gusto by Nordstrom, slot in beautifully with the dystopian sci-fi narrative, but it takes a while for Collins’ trademark vocal inflections to peek through the robotic audio processing. Ultimately, the light and shade of “Beyond Belief” and “Awaken” (a ballad in the Phil-to-Simon family tradition) and a building sense of Floydian atmospherics provide the contrast needed for eMolecule’s well-executed sound and fury to fully connect.
I stumbled across the British post-rockers Plank via 2014’s excellent Hivemind. After tackling animals and insects as their previous subjects, the trio widen their horizons here, returning after 9 years for their new concept opus The Future of the Sea. This is a stunning set of limpid, gorgeous instrumentals, weaving elements of psychedelia, prog and math-rock into textures of massive breadth and heft (whether the big guns are being held in reserve or out on parade at any given moment). The closing 6-part suite “Breaking Waves” is a full-on, monolithic delight that mounts to a shattering, satisfying climax. Give this one a try!
The ongoing passing of rock legends tends to direct me toward their most recent releases, especially if I’d dismissed them on initial notice. Thus, when David Crosby died in January, I bit the bullet and picked up his Lighthouse Band’s CD/DVD Live at the Capitol Theatre. Ignoring this beauty, released late last year, was a mistake; it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, even moving document of Crosby’s late career renaissance, here shown in collaboration with Snarky Puppy bassist Michael League and singer/songwriters Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. Yes, the man’s voice is a shadow of its former self here — but so is his legendary ego; this lovely set may be more of a team effort than Crosby, Stills and Nash (& Young) ever was. The jazz-inflected songwriting, the hushed vocal blend, the lovely sense of understatement and space all make this delicate music blossom and take root in the heart. This tour came to West Michigan on Thanksgiving weekend of 2018; hearing this set, I’m sorry I missed the show! Yes, it’s that good.
I wish I could say the same about 18, the collaboration with Johnny Depp that turned out to be guitar legend Jeff Beck’s swan song; even putting aside Depp’s recent notoriety, there’s a mismatch of tone that makes the album a puzzling listen. Though Beck’s rich melodicism is as compelling as ever, his soaring aesthetic keeps bouncing off the consistently lugubrious song selection and morose vocals from Depp. Usually I’d be all over an album that ricochets from Motown and the Everly Brothers to Killing Joke and The Velvet Underground, but the eclectic selection simply refuses to cohere. Some glorious moments (instrumental takes on the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Talk” and “Caroline, No”, the John Lennon cover “Isolation” that closes the album on a solid footing), but Beck’s light and Depp’s dark cancel each other out far too often for the music to take wing.
In the meantime, the past month has seen multiple first-rate releases in the jazz (and jazz-related) world:
From out of left field, Lake Street Dive singer Rachael Price teams with guitarist/songwriter Vilray Blair Bolles for I Love A Love Song! This second duo effort pairs Price’s well-honed jazz and pop sensibilities with whimsical Vilray originals in the Great American Songbook tradition. Well-upholstered arrangements from a finely tuned large combo and a boxy yet lush recorded sound set up the retro feel; but ultimately it’s Price’s subtle, in-the-pocket sense of swing that sells the music, often breezy and melancholy at the same time.
Piano legend Brad Mehldau has never hesitated to incorporate rock songs into the jazz canon; with Your Mother Should Know, he makes a program of Beatles tunes (plus David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” — it originally featured Rick Wakeman on piano!) sound not just obvious, but inevitable in the idiom. Above all, this is fun, albeit often of a serious stripe; from the headlong boogie woogie of “I Saw Her Standing There” through the thickened harmonies of “I Am the Walrus” and hovering balladry of “Here There and Everywhere” to the stretched-out gospel of “Baby’s in Black” and the ecstatic extended solo of “Golden Slumbers”, Mehldau’s instincts for where to take these songs by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison are unerring, his invention refreshing and often astonishing, his technique impeccable. Absolutely worth a listen, whether you’re a Fabs fan or not.
Are improvisational Australian trio The Necks “jazz”? Hard to say; but while their music resists categorization (or even description), their latest release Travelis as attractive a summation of what they do as anything. Four pieces of music, each one made from scratch at the start of a day in the studio, building from a minimal idea that gains momentum, complexity and impact through repetition and variation of ideas, dynamics and sounds. “Signal” rambles, “Forming” smolders, “Imprinting” shimmers and “Bloodstream” flares up for a riveting double-album journey. Is it world-inflected rock? Ambient jazz? Something else? I frankly don’t care; I just know that after an online listen, I had to buy it. (And kudos to Vertigo Music of Grand Rapids for having it in stock!)
Brought to you (mostly) by the letter B! Purchasing links are embedded in the artist/title listing; a sample follows each review.
Dave Bainbridge, To The Far Away: put simply, a thrilling, ravishingly beautiful album. Separated from his fiancée on the eve of their wedding by the COVID pandemic, guitarist/keyboardist Bainbridge focused on the essentials — love and the longing it stirs, the beauty of the world and the changing seasons, the desire for hope and a future. Poet Lynn Caldwell’s words (movingly sung by Sally Minnear and Iain Hornal) capture these themes with rich simplicity, cradled in a lush orchestral blend of rock, prog and Celtic folk. Often evoking the palette of his breakthrough band Iona, Bainbridge and a stellar group of collaborators grab your attention and your heartstrings again and again, whether on the dramatic instrumental “Rain and Sun”, the epic paean to the creative spirit “Ghost Light”, the classically-tinged rhapsody “Infinitude (Region of the Stars)” or the yearning sprint of “Speed Your Journey”. Already one of my favorites of 2022, and recommended without hesitation. (And check out our extensive interview with Dave here.)
Erewän – How Will All This End? – Anesthetize Productions, December 10, 2021
Tracks: Rising Sun on the Shore (4:06), Childhoods (5:05), Walk Away (5:32), Headline (7:07), The Banshee’s Keening (5:45), Witches of the Middle Ages (4:33), Twist of Fate (5:24), Evil’s In Us (8:14), Highlands (5:49)
Erewän’s late-2021 album, How Will All This End? has a fresh sound mixing a variety of rock and acoustic sounds. While Erewän may sound like a band name, it is actually the stage name for a Nice, France-based solo artist. Musically that may surprise you, since there is a rather heavy Celtic influence on the record. Erewän wrote all of the lyrics and the music, and Alexandra Lamia and Eric Bouillette guest on a couple of tracks. The rest of the music was performed by Erewän, who also made the artwork.
The album mixes elements of traditional progressive rock with folk music, particularly Celtic folk music. Irish whistles and violin are prevalent, along with acoustic guitar. Erewän plays some excellent electric guitar, as well. It’s a very pleasant album to listen to no matter where the music goes. At many times it’s rather soothing.
How Will All This End? is essentially a concept album, with all of the songs connected by the theme of the evil mankind has committed throughout history, and how that evil infiltrates each of us. The lyrics are sobering, and they force us to take a good look inside. Thankfully the music isn’t as gloomy as the lyrics can sometimes be.
Evil is deep down inside men
Evil is in each of us
Evil! Evil! Evil! Evil!
Man is a wolf to man, He is the danger
He’s proved it through the ages, man can be toxic
Obsessed with one thing: How to own more
More power or money, so he made up the war
– “Evil’s in Us”
As you can imagine, the record has some rather dark moments. “Headline” is a difficult track addressing the problems of bullying in schools and school shootings. It takes a very dark turn with the sounds of gunfire and screaming midway through the song. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s a reminder of the evil we deal with in the world.
Thankfully the next song starts off more upbeat musically. “The Banshee’s Keening” has a very Celtic feel, as the name might suggest. I’ve always enjoyed the sounds of Irish whistles, which this song has in abundance, along with what sounds like fiddle in the background. The song is about exactly what the title says. A banshee is a spirit in Irish folklore that roams across the land “keening,” or wailing, in response to someone’s death.
“Witches of the Middle Ages” displays the calmer elements of the album, with a simple acoustic melody and the haunting Irish whistles and what I believe are bagpipes (it might be a guitar effect). The lyrics tell the story of a girl accused of being a witch and then executed by the Inquisition.
Thankfully it’s not all doom and gloom. In the lyrics of “Evil’s in Us,” Erewän gives us a glimpse of hope:
But demons rub shoulders with angels
Yet maybe angles could win sometimes
If you take time to listen to your heart
To your heart
To your heart
The final track is instrumental, which is a very good thing. The album is quite dark lyrically, and “Highlands” gives the listener a chance to decompress. It’s a soothing track, starting out acoustic with Irish whistles, piano, and strings before gradually adding in the rock elements. Midway through it jams into an electric guitar solo that retains the Celtic folk music styling with its melody. It’s a great bookend to the opening instrumental track, which eases the listener into the journey Erewän takes us on. Both songs remind me of Dave Bainbridge and Dave Brons’ solo work. If you’re a fan of their work, definitely check out Erewän.
My one complaint about the record is Erewän’s vocals can sometimes be difficult to understand. His accent is thick, which might leave the listener lost at times. I’ll compare it to the recent Premiata Forneria Marconi album, which features both English and Italian versions of the songs. I listened to the English version first, and I found Franz Di Cioccio’s vocals to be difficult to follow, although I really enjoyed the music. When I listened to the Italian version, his vocals sounded great and very natural. All that to say, I would love to hear a version of Erewän’s album with French vocals. I know that would limit the marketability of the record, but it still would be nice to hear.
Even as it is, How Will All This End? is a great album filled with a beautiful blend of rock and acoustic folk music. The lyrics make you think, which is what good art should do. The guitar solos soar, blending well with the Irish whistles. Give it a listen on Bandcamp.
Chances are that if you’ve seen Dave Bainbridge’s name on this website, it’s due to his role as the current guitarist in Lifesigns (both live and on their fine Altitudealbum). If you’re deeper into modern progressive rock, you may have heard his guitar on Downes Braide Association’s Halcyon Hymns. Or maybe even his keyboards on the last two Strawbs albums, The Ferryman’s Curse and Settlement. (That’s right – Bainbridge is a world-class player on both instruments!)
But Dave Bainbridge’s track record goes a lot deeper than his recent credits; from the 1990s through 2015, he was a major creative force in Iona. Fusing rock with progressive, jazz and folk elements and steeping it all in the spirituality of early Celtic Christianity, this British band captured an international audience while collaborating with prog luminaries like Nick Beggs (the band’s first bassist) and Robert Fripp (who provided ambient sounds for two of their finest albums).
After Iona wound down, Bainbridge continued making music; his solo albums feature both a sweeping range of styles and an impressive array of collaborators. His new album, To the Far Away(exclusively available in multiple formats from Gonzo Multimedia) is a genuine tour de force, based on deeply personal subject matter; it simultaneously evokes the sound of Iona and hones the power of Bainbridge’s solo work into a dramatic swirl of thrilling acoustic and electric guitar work, pounding rhythms and lush orchestral soundscapes. I haven’t heard anything quite like this in a long time; it’s gripping, heart-on-sleeve romantic stuff. But don’t worry — on epics like “Ghost Light,” (extensively featured starting at 1:50 in the promo video below) the guitars and synths still go all the way to 11!
Which meant I was delighted when Dave Bainbridge agreed to talk about To The Far Away, his recent revamp of the Iona catalog, his other band projects and much more with me; he was genial and generous with his time, willing to dive deep into every question, and obviously grateful for what he’s been able to accomplish in his career. You can hear our conversation just below; selected excerpts, as well as a link to a complete transcript, follow the jump.
Big Big Train, Welcome to the Planet:Yet another stellar addition to BBT’s discography, their latest effort consolidates the widened horizons of Grand Tour and the intimate subjects of Common Ground, casting an epic light on the everyday glory of family, community, love and loss. With Nick D’Virgilio, Rikard Sjöblom, new guitarist Dave Foster and new keyboardist Carly Bryant all involved in the writing, rockers like “Made of Sunshine” and “The Connection Plan” hit with maximum impact; ballads like “Capitoline Venus” and “Oak and Stone” are masterfully expressive; instrumentals like “A Room with No Ceiling” and “Bats in the Belfry” unleash the requisite nifty twists and turns — not forgetting less easily classified delights like the multi-sectioned “Lanterna” and the woozy dreamland wash of the title track. Throughout, Greg Spawton’s firm hand on the tiller and the late David Longdon’s vocal authority are rock solid, their partnership the beating heart of this music. In the wake of Longdon’s untimely passing, we can’t know if Welcome to the Planet is the last stop on Big Big Train’s journey or a way station before what might come next. But such considerations pale in the face of what we’ve been given; this one — easily my favorite BBT effort since the English Electric days — is a real thing of beauty, an album to be treasured and listened to again and again. (Check out Bryan Morey’s detailed review here.)
As previously promised, a look at the big reissues landing in the next few months — especially those available in one or more box set formats. Ordering links are embedded in the artist/title listings below.
The Beach Boys, Feel Flows – TheSunflower and Surf’s Up Sessions, 1969-1971: between their initial impact and their imperial phase as timeless purveyors of fun fun fun, Brian Wilson and his family pursued heaviness and relevance in a market that thought it had outgrown them — at least for the moment. This slice of the Boys’ catalog features less slick, more homespun takes on their timeless concerns (the same amount of girls, less cars, more daily life), with Wilson brothers Dennis (on Sunflower) and Carl (on Surf’s Up) taking the lead. The brilliant moments — “This Whole World,” “Forever,” “Long Promised Road,” “Til I Die” for starters — outweigh the embarrassingly dated ones, and music to make you smile is never too long in coming. Available from The Beach Boys’ webstore as 2 CDs, 5 CDs, 2 LPs or 4 LPs (colored vinyl).
BeBop Deluxe, Live in the Air Age:when Bill Nelson’s avant-glam guitar heroics didn’t generate bigger record sales, a live album was the next obvious move for this sterling British quartet. Better chart positions weren’t forthcoming, but 1977’s Live in the Air Age is an exquisite slab of BBD at work — Chuck Berry updated for the Apollo era, with a bit of Bowie/Mercury panache in Nelson’s vocals and blazing solos aplenty. Available from Esoteric Recordings as 3 CDs (adding the complete 1977 London concert) or 15 CDs/1 DVD (adding all surviving recordings from the 1977 British tour and a live television special).
George Harrison, All Things Must Pass: the quiet Beatle exploded on his first album after the Fabs’ breakup, immersing his radiant devotional compositions in Phil Spector’s patented Wall of Sound and drafting Ringo, Badfinger and the embryonic Derek and the Dominoes as his rock orchestra. The new remix scales back the symphonic swirl, brings forward George’s vocals, and gives the rhythm section a kick in the pants; just right to these ears. A serious contender for the single best solo Beatle album, well worth an immersion course. Available from the Harrison webstore in Standard (2 CDs or 3 LPs — limited colored vinyl available as well), Deluxe (3 CDs or 5 LPs), Super Deluxe (5 CDs/BluRay or 8 LPs) and Uber Deluxe (5 CDs/BluRay/8 LPs/various bespoke gimcracks/”artisan wooden crate” — you don’t wanna know what it costs) editions.
The Elements of King Crimson – 2021 Tour Box: the 7th annual compilation of tidbits from the Discipline Global Mobile archives, doubling as a concert program. This year’s selection of rarities focuses on the nine drummers that have called King Crimson their musical home (sometimes two or three of them at once). Studio snippets – like the one with Fripp, John Wetton on bass and Phil Collins on drums – live tracks, oddities, previews of coming attractions, and more. Available from Burning Shed or on Crimson’s current USA tour.
Lee Morgan, The Complete Live at the Lighthouse: never a mass media superstar, Morgan was nonetheless a jazz icon — one of the finest trumpeters of his day who played with heroes of the music like Art Blakey and John Coltrane, recorded more than 20 albums as a leader for Blue Note Records, and even managed to score a Top 25 pop hit with his funky “The Sidewinder.” This box (another product of jazz archivist Zev Feldman’s boundless energy) sets forth an entire weekend’s worth of recordings by Morgan and his dedicated, powerful 1970 band. Bennie Maupin on reeds, Harold Mabern on piano, Jymie Merritt on bass and Mickey Roker on drums bring the sophisticated, challenging compositions and spirited solos and backing; Morgan takes it from there, lyrical and fiery in turn. This is a great potential entry point if you want to explore jazz as a newbie, and a serious desert island possiblility for those already into the music. Available from Blue Note’s webstore as 8 CDs or 12 LPs.
Clive Nolan and Rick Wakeman, Tales by Gaslight: keyboardists Nolan (Pendragon, Arena) and Wakeman (Yes, Strawbs) box up their out-of-print concept albums Jabberwocky (with dad Rick W. reciting Lewis Carroll’s nonsense verse) and The Hound of the Baskervilles, adding a bonus disc collecting rough drafts of a 3rd album based on Frankenstein. Separate booklets and art prints for each of the 3 CDs included. Theatrical as all get out, and surprisingly good fun if you’re in the mood for Victorian-flavored melodrama. Available from Burning Shed.
Marillion, Fugazi: the band’s 1984 album, perceived as a “sophomore slump” at the time, is much more than a bridge between the feral debut Script for A Jester’s Tear and the early masterwork Misplaced Childhood, with plenty of gripping moments to recommend it. A new remix by Andy Bradfield and Avril Mackintosh compensates handily for the production nightmares recounted in this deluxe edition’s copious notes. Also includes a complete live set from Montreal; the CD/BluRay version adds bonus tracks, documentaries, and a Swiss television concert. Out September 10; pre-order from Marillion’s webstore as 4 CDs/BluRay or 4 LPs.
Van der Graaf Generator, The Charisma Years, 1970-1978: VDGG may have shared the stage with Genesis in each band’s formative years, but they were a thoroughly different beast. Peter Hammill’s desperate existential narratives and the wigged out instrumental web woven by David Jackson, Hugh Banton and Guy Evans made for a unique, highly combustible chemistry — bonkers dystopian sci-fi narrative over free jazz one moment, raggedly soaring hymns to human potential the next. This 17 CD/3 BluRay set collects the band’s 8 studio albums from the Seventies, adding extensive BBC sessions, a live show from Paris, all surviving television appearances “and more.” Now available from Burning Shed; the four newly remastered albums in this box (H to He Who Am the Only One, Pawn Hearts, Godbluffand Still Life) are available as separate CD/DVD sets for those wanting a lower priced introduction to this underrated band’s indescribably stirring music.
The Beatles, Let It Be: the Fab Four’s star-crossed attempt to return to their roots – recording live in front of movie cameras – ultimately became their first post-break-up release, drenched with Phil Spector’s orchestral overdubs to cover the rough spots. With a new 6-hour Peter Jackson documentary on the sessions hitting Disney Plus Thanksgiving weekend, Apple unleashes a fresh stereo remix (the 4th in the series that kicked off with Sgt. Pepper’s 50th anniversary). Super Deluxe versions also include 27 sessions tracks, a 4-track EP and a test mix of Get Back, the proposed original version of the album. Out October 15th; pre-order from the Fabs’ webstore in Standard (1 CD or 1 LP), Deluxe (2 CDs with selected bonus tracks) and Super Deluxe (4 CDs/1 BluRay or 4 LP/1 EP) editions. (The companion book of photos and transcribed conversations from the sessions, Get Back, is released on October 12.)
Emerson Lake and Palmer, Out of This World – Live (1970-1997): a compilation of key live shows in ELP’s history: their 1970 debut at the Isle of Wight Festival; a career peak show at the 1974 California Jam; the 1977 full-orchestra extravaganza at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium; 1992’s comeback concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall; and a previously unreleased 1997 show from Phoenix, Arizona. Out October 29; pre-order from ImportCDs as 7 CDs or 10 LPs.
Joni Mitchell, Archives , Volume 2 – The Reprise Years (1968-1971): more archival recordings from the early days of Mitchell’s recording career. Home and studio demos, outtakes, unreleased songs, her Carnegie Hall debut and much more — a complete acoustic set recorded by a enraptured Jimi Hendrix, anyone? Out October 29; pre-order from Mitchell’s webstore on 5 CDs or 10 LPs (4000 copies only), The Carnegie Hall concert is available separately on 3 LPs (black or white vinyl).
Genesis, The Last Domino? Yet another compilation of Genesis’ greatest hits, fan favorites and core album cuts, released just in time for their first US tour in 14 years. No real surprises in the track selection, but the blurbed promise of “new stereo mixes” of four Gabriel-era classics is intriguing. Out November 19; pre-order from Genesis’ webstore on 2 CDs or 4 LPs. (The UK version of this compilation, out September 17, sports a slightly different track list.)
Elvis Presley, Back in Nashville:the King’s final sessions in Music City, stripped of overdubs a la last year’s From Elvis in Nashville box, that yielded material for three years worth of albums. 82 tracks encompassing country/folk, pop, religious music and Christmas music. Out November 12; pre-order from the Presley webstore on 4 CDs or 2 LPs.
In the Works (release date forthcoming):
Robert Fripp, Exposures: another exhaustive (and potentially exhausting) set from Discipline Global Mobile. This one promises to cover Fripp’s “Drive to 1981,” including his guest-star-heavy solo debut Exposure, the ambient Frippertronics of God Save the Queen and Let the Power Fall, and the egghead dance music of Under Heavy Manners and The League of Gentlemen. Tons of live gigs promised to supplement rarities and studio outtakes.
Marillion, Holidays in Eden: the new Marillion album (now officially titled An Hour Before It’sDark) may push this further back on the release schedule, but Steve Hogarth’s second effort with the boys (an intriguing effort that tried and failed to go commercial) is next up for the deluxe reissue treatment.
Porcupine Tree, Deadwing:a promised deluxe set in the vein of 2020’s In Absentia. Internet gossip flared up when Steven Wilson, Steve Barbieri and Gavin Harrison were rumored to have reset the band’s legal partnership earlier this year; who knows how or when the Tree may blossom again?
Renaissance, Scheherezade and Other Stories: coming from Esoteric Recordings, the folk-prog quintet’s finest hour in the studio, melding orchestral grace with an Arabian Nights theme for the half-hour title track. If this is in the vein of other recent Renaissance issues, hope for a multi-disc set with a bonus live set and a surround remix.
2020 was going to be Big Big Train’s breakout year in North America. Building on ten years of increasing momentum, the road first paved on 2009’s The Underfall Yard (singer David Longdon’s debut with the band) had led to five more thrilling albums, brought to life in concert by a fearsomely talented septet (and the BBT Brass Ensemble). It was official — that spring, Big Big Train would tour the United States for the first time!
Then, as with so many other events, the coronavirus pandemic brought those big big plans to a screeching halt. Shows for 2020, then 2021 were inexorably cancelled; as the enforced period of inactivity lengthened, guitarist Dave Gregory, violinist Rachel Hall and keyboardist Danny Manners left the band. While the double album career survey Summer’s Lease and the live Empire served as worthy capstones to their era, BBT’s faithful Passengers couldn’t help but wonder: what was next for founder Greg Spawton, Longdon (both pictured above) and remaining compatriots Nick D’Virgilio and Rikard Sjöblom? Had the Train reached its final destination?
Fortunately, the answer was a resounding “Nope!” With Big Big Train’s brand new release Common Ground set for release at the end of July, followed by North American and UK tours in 2022, David Longdon was kind enough to join me for a Zoom chat last week. Obviously excited by both the new album and the prospect of returning to the stage, Longdon was generous with his time and his answers, open about the toll the pandemic took on him and his beloved country, and willing to “thrash through” the intricate lyrical and musical ideas on the record. A delightful mix of familiar and innovative elements, Common Ground is yet another BBT album of exceptional artistic ambition, power, beauty and grace, and David Longdon couldn’t be happier about it! A transcript of our conversation follows the video. Enjoy!!
So I wanted to start back last year, because the pandemic threw all of us into uncharted territory. One of the first impacts from our end, as a music fan, was that you cancelled your North American tour, Big Big Train’s first American tour. We had tickets for the Fort Wayne show, and we were disappointed, but we certainly understood.
But obviously, that enforced pause in playing live went on a lot longer. How did that feed into making your new album, Common Ground?
Well, everything ground to a halt, didn’t it? The world as we knew it just ground to a halt; the unthinkable happened! It’s such an extraordinary time. And it was very much like – I said so at the time — like living in like a Ray Bradbury book, or something like that. Or certainly a J.G. Ballard book, this apocalyptic times kind of thing. “It’s awful! Were we gonna make it through? Is this gonna be our equivalent of whatever saw off the dinosaurs?” That kind of stuff.
The news bulletins were horrendous. The death rates were going up, the R-rates in the UK, they’re looking at that. Each day the wave of fresh cases, and more worryingly, the rising death toll. It was going up and up and up and up. And of course, in the UK, we’d seen it coming over from Europe in the months leading to up to our first lockdown. And we knew what was coming, because we’d had correspondences from our European friends. Yeah, it’s the stuff of nightmares! Very uncertain times.
One of the things that I found as a comfort would be walking in nature, being in the natural world; I always take great comfort from that. I’d rather be outside than inside, particularly when things were starting to get a bit hairy, back in March last year for us. Yeah, it was horrendous!
So music, writing music and going for walks in nature were the thing that kind of kept me on the straight and narrow, really. It kept me sane. So that’s how I dealt with it. And through the first lockdown I was finishing off the record that I made with Judy Dyble [Between a Breath and a Breath].
I don’t see how what happened to the world in that time could have not had an impact on the record, really. And with losing three members of a long-standing lineup: again, some of that quite possibly came to a head as a result of being a real crossroads for the band and for the world at that time.
So yeah, the pandemic was a huge impact on the album. And the band. And the world. And everything!
OK. So you mentioned there were some changes thrust on you by circumstance – the band members leaving, for example. As you and Greg and the others started writing and recording. what changes were intentional choices?
OK. Well as I said to you, personally, from my writing point of view, rather than writing songs where in the past, something like “Ariel” I’d be researching The Tempest, I’d be researching the life of William Shakespeare. I’d be researching the life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and collating lots of information to make the story and make it scan as a piece of music, I just felt like I needed to write in the real world, in the now of that time, if that makes sense.
I know that, inevitably songs like “The Strangest Times,” which is very directly about the pandemic, I know that will eventually be a time capsule of that period. But I can’t wait when it is! I’m looking forward to that being the case! I would say that in particular.
Neil Young tries to sort out the shambles his Archives Volume II pre-order process became one more time, at the NYA Times-Contrarian:
A DELUXE edition with subtle art differences is coming for those who couldn’t get the limited first one because of the demand and shortage. Those who got the first limited one will get a letter of authenticity sent to them. The Deluxe set is coming March 5 2021. I really hope you all enjoy the music as much as we did making it back then.
Love and be well, Neil and NYA
Links to pre-order the Deluxe Edition (which features the “II” in red, for the same price as the sold-out Limited Deluxe Edition) and the Retail Edition (smaller box, smaller book, $90 less) from Young’s online store The Greedy Hand are now active.
So what have we learned from all this?
If you’re Neil Young, you’ve learned that these days it takes a minimum of four months for a second pressing of a box set, no matter how loudly you complain to your record company;
If you’re Warner Reprise, you’ve learned that Neil Young will never, ever let go of a bright idea unless he does so on his own — so for pity’s sake, don’t tell him something can’t be done;