Four Months, Four Albums – 2021’s Best Thus Far

There has been a lot of music to wade through thus far in 2021. Most good. Some not so much, depending on who you ask. Despite the title of this post, I don’t think my four favorite albums of the year thus far represent each month, but who cares. Let’s go!

Atravan - The Grey LineAtravan – The Grey Line 

This album was the biggest surprise of the year, so far. Out of the blue back in January, Shayan Dinati of Iranian prog-metal band Atravan contacted us about a review of their album. I gave it a listen and immediately discovered this was worth spending a lot of time with. They dwell in the area of prog metal perfected by Riverside – atmospheric and brooding with thoughtful lyrics. Sure, they’ve got room for improvement to reach the heights of Riverside, but this is a great album in its own right. I was hooked right away, and I highly recommend the album. The Dutch Progressive Rock Page had similar praise for Atravan: 

Steve Hackett Under A Mediterranean SkySteve Hackett – Under A Mediterranean Sky

When I heard last year that Mr. Hackett was working on an acoustic album, I was very excited. I’ve really enjoyed his recent solo output. His last three rock albums are some of the best from his entire solo career. But I also really like his acoustic moments, and he doesn’t disappoint on Under A Mediterranean Sky. He takes us on a grand instrumental tour of the Mediterranean, something sorely needed in an age of travel restrictions. The combination of his stunning guitar work, Roger King’s masterfully arranged symphonic notes, and various world instrumentation make this a beautiful and contemplative album. It isn’t rock, but it’s gorgeous. Check out Rick Krueger’s review:

Nad Sylvan Spiritus Mundi album_coverNad Sylvan – Spiritus Mundi 

Nad Sylvan’s latest solo album is a slight departure from his last three albums, but it’s just as good an album, if not better. Putting the poetry of William Butler Yeats to music may not be a new idea, but Nad has done a wonderful job with it. The album has its rock moments, but it also has pastoral tones that haven’t been as prevalent in his work. His voice is top notch with a versatility that shows he is so much more than a Gabriel or Collins sound-alike. Check out Rick Krueger’s recent interview with Nad, and check out my review.

And now for my favorite album of the first four months of 2021…

Soen - IMPERIALSoen – Imperial

Swedish prog metal supergroup Soen can do no wrong, it seems. I first became cognitively aware of Soen a couple years ago through one of the editors at the Dutch Progressive Rock Page, who frequently sang their praises in reviews and best-of lists. I quickly became a fan of their last couple of albums, and I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across their new release back in January. I was listening to their 2019 album, Lotus, one Friday evening when I wondered if they had any new music coming out soon. It just so happened that they released Imperial that very day, so I dowloaded it and have been happily enjoying it ever since. It’s heavy when it needs to be, but it can recede to quieter moments when necessary.

Joel Ekelöf has one of the best voices in metal, and he really sets Soen apart. They have a heavy guitar crunch that’s more typical of mainstream metal and hard rock bands, but the music is distinctly progressive. Their melodies and lyrics are catchy yet intelligent. My only complaint with the album is that it isn’t longer. It’s 43 minutes, but I could easily listen to much more. Great stuff.

Hopefully the rest of 2021 will be full of more excellent music! 



The Peaceful Beauty of Nad Sylvan’s “Spiritus Mundi”

album_coverNad Sylvan’s latest solo album, Spiritus Mundi, is one of the finest records released thus far in 2021, and I expect it to be one of the top albums of the year come December. Sylvan brought his vampirate trilogy to a close with 2019’s The Regal Bastard. Spiritus Mundi, which is Latin for “spirit of the world,” departs from the more classic prog sound on his previous three albums, but it hasn’t quite set sail for new genres. Rather it explores different musical territories, including classical, folk, acoustic, and rock, all befitting the beautiful poetry of William Butler Yeats which serve as the lyrics. The musical elements from his previous albums are all here, but they are interpreted in a different way. In an interview with Progarchy’s very own Rick Krueger, Nad expands upon the development of the record and his collaboration with Vermont-based musician Andrew Laitres, so I’ll direct you to that for more info about how the album came to be. 

As it should be, Nad’s voice is the centerpiece on the record. All of the musical elements serve to frame his voice and the lyrics, bringing the poems to life through varying sounds. The baroque elements found on Nad’s vampirate trilogy pop up now and again, such as on “Cap and Bells” and “The Realists,” which I think adds a flavor that is uniquely Sylvan. Laitres also provides some lead and backing vocals, which adds some variety.

Musically the album is more open and relaxed than Sylvan’s previous records. It doesn’t have the heavier rock moments that those albums had, but the lyrics don’t call for it. Nad plays most of the keyboards, as well as some of the acoustic, electric, and bass guitars, and the orchestration. Jonas Reingold and Tony Levin also appear on bass, along with Steve Hackett on the 12 string. The Flower Kings’ Mirkko De Maio appears on drums. There are a few other guests too, but this should give you a sample of what to expect. It seems fitting that Nad, who’s become well-known for his work with Steve Hackett’s touring band, releases this sort of more acoustic and classically inspired record soon after Hackett released a beautiful acoustic album, Under a Mediterranean Sky

I’ll readily admit I’m frequently skeptical when an artist says they’re going in a new direction on their next album. While I didn’t have particular reservations about this album going into it, I was admittedly curious about what that different sound might be. I didn’t expect him to move into some sort of techno-pop trash like Steven Wilson, and thankfully he didn’t. Instead he leaned more heavily into the folk and classical elements that already existed in his music. At times the music is reminiscent of Big Big Train, and at other times I hear bits that remind me of Jethro Tull. The rock is still there though, with a fantastic bass line and slide guitar on “The Fisherman.”

Spiritus Mundi is a well-rounded album that offers a breath of fresh air in a very dark time in our world. Perhaps that is fitting since many of Yeats’ poems offered a similar freshness to the broken and hurting world of the early twentieth century. Nad Sylvan may have taken an unusual path to rock stardom in his 50s and early 60s, but that seems to have brought a maturity to the music he makes. This album is well-crafted, and it is both a fitting tribute to Yeats’ poetry and a wonderful introduction of that poetry to new audiences a century after it was written.

Sylvan is one of the most creative people working under the broad umbrella of progressive rock today. He seems to get better with each passing record. I only hope he gets the chance to tour his own music someday. Check out Spiritus Mundi along with his other solo albums. You won’t be disappointed.

Signed albums available from Nad’s webstore:
Or purchase from Burning Shed:

Over at TIC: Love Letters by Classical Composers


Over at my other main website, The Imaginative Conservative, editor and scholar Stephen Klugewicz has published an excellent piece on love letters written by the great composers of the western classical tradition.

Itzhak Perlman and the CSO – “1812 Overture” – Live at Ravinia – 8/20/16 and 8/21/16


Itzhak Perlman, violin
Bramwell Toveyconductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61
Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92 (without Itzhak Perlman)


Itzhak Perlmanconductor
Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Symphony No. 5 in E Minor, Op. 64
Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33 (featuring Lynn Harrell on cello)
“1812” Festival Overture, Op. 49 (with live cannons)

3191_by-STRINGS-EXCLUSIVE-Lisa-Marie-MazzuccoWithout a doubt, Itzhak Perlman is likely the greatest violinist alive today. Born in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1945, to parents that moved from Poland to British Palestine in the 1930s, Perlman began playing the violin at a very early age. He skyrocketed to fame at the age of 13, when he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show. Not surprisingly, he continued his studies at Juilliard. At the age of four, he contracted polio. He recovered, but he has had to walk with crutches ever since. Today, he plays the violin and conducts while seated. 

Listening to Itzhak Perlman play Beethoven on Saturday night was an honor and a privilege. After the orchestra took their places (they had the A team out both nights), Perlman drove his motorized scooter out to center stage, grabbed his crutches, and without any help from anyone else, climbed the few steps to his seat and sat down – all while the audience gave him a standing ovation. We all knew this was going to be amazing before it had even started. Once Perlman sat down, the first chair violinist handed him his violin. He took it and looked it over before nodding to the first chair. Everyone in the audience laughed, because it was obvious that Perlman was making sure that no one had made a switch with the instruments. This particular violin was a cut above everything else on that stage – it sounded absolutely beautiful. I know that an organization or donor has loaned Perlman a Stradivarius to play for the duration of his life, but I highly doubt they would bring such a priceless instrument to an outdoor venue. Plus, if it had been a Stradivarius, I’m sure they would have brought it out to him under lock and key. Regardless, this instrument sounded amazing.

Continue reading “Itzhak Perlman and the CSO – “1812 Overture” – Live at Ravinia – 8/20/16 and 8/21/16″

Vladimir Feltsman – Pictures at an Exhibition – Live at Ravinia

Vladimir Feltsman, Piano

August 8, 2016, Martin Theatre, Ravinia, Highland Park, IL

Brahms – Four Ballades, Op. 10
Brahms – Two Rhapsodies, Op. 79
Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition


Last night, I was fortunate enough to see Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, as well as some selections from Brahms, performed live by brilliant pianist, Vladimir Feltsman. Feltsman was born in Russia in 1952, and he made his piano debut at age 11 with the Moscow Philharmonic. He continued his study at Moscow’s Tchaikovsky State Conservatory in 1969, later studying conducting at the Moscow and Leningrad Conservatories. In 1979, after years of growing increasingly frustrated with the Soviet Union’s communist suppression of artistic freedom, Feltsman applied for an exit visa. The communists responded by banning him from giving public performances and suppressing his recordings. After eight years of this, he was allowed to leave the Soviet Union and move to America, where he soon made his debut performance at Carnegie Hall. He is now an American citizen, and he currently lives in upstate New York with his wife. All this to say, the man is a brilliant musician and a lover and defender of freedom.

Photo courtesy of Ravinia Festival
Photo courtesy of Ravinia Festival – this was not taken at last night’s concert

Ravinia is probably the finest music venue in the Chicago area, if not the entire country. Ravinia opened in northside Chicago suburb Highland Park in 1904, and it has been the summer residency of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra since 1936. It even hosted one of George Gershwin’s final public performances of Rhapsody in Blue. It is also the oldest outdoor music festival in the United States. The venue is situated mere blocks from Lake Michigan in a lovely older suburban area. The park has a covered pavilion with seats, as well as a much larger lawn area, complete with old oak, maple, and birch trees, among many others. The site also features the Martin Theatre, which has beautiful prairie style architecture, stained glass windows, and chandeliers, as well as wonderful motifs painted on the ceiling. It is a wonderful example of early 20th century prairie style architecture. The park also includes multiple high class restaurants with excellent cuisine, with a menu that changes for each performance.

Continue reading “Vladimir Feltsman – Pictures at an Exhibition – Live at Ravinia”

Review: Jason Rubenstein NEW METAL FROM OLD BOXES

Review: Jason Rubenstein, NEW METAL FROM OLD BOXES (Tone Cluster, 2014).

new metalSo.  You’ve been a progger since the 1970s, you’re musically trained, and and you’ve enjoyed a solid if now former career as a software engineer with several major companies.  What do you do?  You write a brilliant, stunning, majestic soundtrack to your life, especially if you live in glorious San Francisco.

I exaggerate a bit, but not much.  This, essentially, is the background to music maestro Jason Rubenstein.  He has just released a rather stunning album, New Metal from Old Boxes (Tone Cluster, 2014; mixed by Niko Bolas and mastered by Ron McMaster).  While many Americans and other citizens of western civilization might simply desire new wine from old bottles, those of us who live in the republic of progarchy can rejoice heartily.  We can have our wine and our Rubenstein!

From the first listen, I was hooked.  This is a mesmerizing album best described as cinematic.  While dark and brooding (just look at Rubenstein’s photo—the guy is the perfect Hollywood dark hero), the music is always playful and mischievous, never coming anywhere near the dread of dull.

Almost effortlessly, Rubenstein employs classical jazz, noir jazz, prog, metal, classical, and jazz fusion.  If I had to label it, I’d called it “Cinematic metal prog.”  At times, it’s downright frantic, always extravagant, but never campy or over-the-top.  While this is certainly Rubenstein’s creation, he is never shy about borrowing styles from those he clearly admires.  I hears lots of The Tangent, ELP, King Crimson, Cosmograf, Cailyn, Tool, Dead Can Dance, and even Wang Chung (only from their spectacular To Live and Die in LA soundtrack)

Alex Lifeson? Harrison Ford? No.  Jason Rubenstein.
Alex Lifeson? Harrison Ford? No. Jason Rubenstein.

Rubenstein credits himself with keyboards, synths, samplers, computers, programming, and angry noises.  In terms of sound quality, this album is perfection itself.  Pardon me for employing such a Catholic term, but its production is immaculate.  Even the packaging is a work of art.  Like the music, it is dark, brooding, and industrial.  Intricate pipes and strings, smelting of iron, nail heads (in a V’ger pattern), more strings, more pipes, and, then, rather profoundly, a GQ-Rubenstein, looking every bit the Hollywood action hero.

Admittedly, looking over my review, I’m tempted to fear that I have given the impression this is just a hodge podge of musical ideas.  Please note, that nothing could be further from the truth.  This is the soundtrack of your best day.


To visit Jason Rubenstein’s beautifully designed website, go here.

Cailyn Lloyd’s VOYAGER in Progress

Our friend, Cailyn (she of Four Pieces fame), just released information today about her fourth album, VOYAGER.  Here’s a bit of what she has to say:


I am in the studio, working on a new project called Voyager.  This project arose from my interest in the Planets Suite by Gustav Holst. Problem was, the music as it stood did not easily lend itself to a rock interpretation and the opening movement, Mars, had already been explored extensively by better artists than I.  The idea gradually evolved from there to a musical interpretation of the Voyager Space Project.

Voyager will include excerpts from Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune from the Planets Suite as well as ten original pieces of music (see track listing below).  I have finished the composition for all of the tracks and I am now working on the instrumentation and programming.

While I originally imagined this as a progressive rock suite, it will be more eclectic, not adhering to any single genre.  Much of it is classically inflected symphonic prog, particularly the Planet Suite excerpts as well as Io, Titan, and Triton.  Europa and Pale Blue Dot are more New Age with blues inflections.  Enceladus is free form without time or key signature.  Ariel and Miranda are classic-progressive rock hybrids.

Voyager will primarily be an instrumental work though I have sketched wordless vocals for several of the tracks. Most of the drumming will be recorded on an acoustic set and I am now looking for the right a session drummer for this project. The bass guitar and keyboards will be more prominent, especially the keys as much of the original music is being written at the keyboard.

Run time: about 56 minutes.  Track listing with brief descriptions:

Voyager – A quiet symphonic introduction leads to a bluesy guitar progression followed by a powerful progression of chords that builds to a grand crescendo before a return to the opening theme complete with synths, voices, guitars, and drums.

To find out more (and you should!), including a full track description, click here.


Beauty I’d Always Missed: Days of Future Passed

My dad served on the merit badge review board for our local Scout troop. I’ll never forget the night he complained to me about one of my fellow Scouts who waTheMoodyBlues-album-daysoffuturepasseds trying to pass the requirements for the music merit badge, which included so many hours listening to and writing about classical music. “You know what he told me?” asked my agitated father.

“’I’ve listened to the Moody Blues and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.’ And I told him, ‘Young man, that ain’t classical music.’”

I was filled with embarrassment, both for my dad and my buddy. I knew where they were each coming from, and knew nothing I would say could bridge the generation gap. But I did tell my friend that the London Festival Orchestra on a pop album and ELP’s blistering cover of Pictures at an Exhibition were no substitutes (in Scouting) for the real thing, i.e. original arrangements.

The London Festival Orchestra’s appearance on Days of Future Passed was more a novelty than an innovation. Band legend has it that Deram Records wanted the Moodies to cover Dvořák’s 9th Symphony. That story is disputed. If true (and acted upon), the Moody Blues would have pre-empted “Rondo” and Pictures. Either way, Days of Future Passed (1967), while not a prog album in the strict sense, opened up possibilities that energized the emerging prog scene.

Technically this is a psychedelic pop record adorned with orchestral cinemascapes. Apart from the opening and closing motif (drawn from the chorus of “Nights in White Satin”) the symphonic sections seem almost thematically disconnected from the band’s songs themselves. In fact, the listener can detect a difference in the audio quality of the rock songs. It has the feel of two different musical works mashed together. To the mind’s eye this is visually a day in the life of any city, punctuated by trippy music videos.

The most memorable songs here are Justin Hayward’s “Tuesday Afternoon” and Ray Thomas’ marvelous, pulsating gem, “Twilight Time.” John Lodge’s “Time to Get Away” underscores the latent pastoral psyche of Britain, unbound by place or time (though the Tiny Tim-like falsettos are my least favorite moments). And then there is Graeme Edge’s poetry, introduced here with great effect by Mike Pinder’s reading – a voice befitting a medieval bard, looking down on the city’s humdrum routine with both an ethereal sagacity and sympathetic proximity.

Being worked out here were elements that would fall seamlessly into place with On the Threshold of a Dream (1969). Regardless of whether the Dvořák story is true or not, the band realized the mythic proportions that orchestral sensibility could bring to their music. More importantly, they learned to master the arrangements themselves and temper the elements into cohesive statements.

It would be a stretch in my mind to herald Days of Future Passed as the prototypical prog album.  But it put the Moody Blues on a trajectory to inspire the first generation prog artists, waiting in the wings to unleash beauty worth not missing.