Worth a Thousand Words: A Photo of Susie

Glass Hammer has released this gorgeous photo of Susie Bogdanowicz laying down her vocals as she fronts the band on the forthcoming album, VALKYRIE.

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Susie Bogdanowicz, GLASS HAMMER.  Photo courtesy of Julie Babb.

This photo has to be the best teaser and advertisement possible for the new album.  After all, Bogdanowicz is, at least to my ears, one of the two best voices in the current rock world.

Susie Bogdanowicz Fronting Glass Hammer

susieI couldn’t be happier with this news.  I regard Susie Bogdanowicz as the finest female voice in rock, and, along with David Longdon, one of the two finest voices overall in rock.

Glass Hammer just gets better and better.  What a great development.

http://teamrock.com/news/2016-06-17/glass-hammer-16th-album-valkyrie-susie-bogdanowicz

Glass Hammer: VALKYRIE!!!

Holy schnikees this looks amazing!  So thrilled to see the trajectory of a band move more and more toward perfection.  Incredible.  Glass Hammer is simply nothing short of astounding.  Thank you, Steve and Fred!  So much brightness you offer in a world of immense darkness.
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Glass Hammer is in full production on “Valkyrie”, a full-blown concept album that bassist Steve Babb compares to their previous works “Lex Rex” and “The Inconsolable Secret”. 
 
Steve-Aaron-credit-Karel-Zuiderveld
Steve Babb and Aaron Raulston, proggers extraordinaire! Glass Hammer. Photo by the amazing Karel Zuiderveld.

“Still, we’ve managed to come at this album in a totally new way. We have been in the rehearsal room for months, rehearsing the album as if it were to be a live concert. Our shows are so much more edgy than our studio albums and we really wanted to capture that energy. When we felt the ‘show’ was ready, we hit record. That happened over the last weekend and the results are outstanding. There is still a lot of studio work to do, but the basic tracks have been captured and we are well on our way to making “Valkyrie” a very unique album.”

 
As for the concept Babb was willing to say that, “‘Valkyrie’ is about a soldier who marches away to battle only to find himself embroiled in a war that was far more than he bargained for. The story is intense, as is the music.” 
 
No release date has been set yet but the band has promised “Valkyrie” for sometime in the fall of 2016.

Glass Hammer, LIVE AT THE TIVOLI (2006)

Glass Hammer Live at the Tivoli (Sound Resources, 2008)

Recorded at Lee University, October 17, 2006

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Sound Resources, 2008.

Tracks: Eiger Dreams (intro music); Run Lisette; A Cup of Trembling; Lirazel; Heroes and Dragons; Longer; Knight of the North; Beati Quorum Via; Having Caught a Glimpse; and South Side of the Sky)

Call it being a loyal fan, call it being more than a bit OCD, or call it being a bit of both. . . . LIVE AT THE TIVOLI was the last Glass Hammer release I needed to become a full-fledged, more than honorable, Glass Hammer completest.  I can now rather proudly state that I own every single album and DVD Glass Hammer has released.  This is not small feat given 1) how much the band has produced in its glorious history; and 2) given just how hard it is to find a few of their DVDs.  But, I’ve done it.

Continue reading “Glass Hammer, LIVE AT THE TIVOLI (2006)”

Make That A Combo, Please

There have been quite a few CD/DVD/Blu-Ray combos released in the prog world recently, so here’s a rundown of the best of the bunch.

Gazpacho: Night of the Demon

Night Of DemonAn outstanding performance by the boys from Norway. Even through tricky time signatures that require lockstep coordination of playing, Gazpacho delivers an emotional and beautiful show. Jan Henrik Ohme’s vocals are spellbinding – delicate and tremulous one minute, powerful and commanding the next. While he’s caressing the microphone, his bandmates play their hearts out. Songs I thought I knew take on new meaning and accessibility. This set is a perfect introduction to someone curious about this somewhat enigmatic and definitely magical group.

Glass Hammer: Double Live

glass-hammer-double-live-deluxeAs light as Gazpacho is dark, Glass Hammer has been riding a high for the past few years – Ode To Echo and The Breaking Of The World are both instant classics. Double Live features the best cuts from those albums, as well as a terrific rendition of the epic “The Knight Of The North”. Steve Babb and Fred Schendel have been together so long they are telepathic onstage. Aaron Raulston is excellent on drums while Kamran Alan Shikoh has matured into an astonishingly inventive guitarist. Carl Groves is the best male vocalist GH has ever had, and Susie Bogdanowicz steals the show with her performance. No fancy camera work here – the music and performance are strong enough to speak for themselves.

Spock’s Beard: The First Twenty Years

Spocks Beard 20 yrsThis is a fine collection of Spock’s Beard tracks. The first disc features the best of the “Neal Morse Years”, while disc two has six tracks from Beard versions 2 and 3 (featuring Nick D’Virgilio and Ted Leonard) and a new epic featuring a big reunion of everyone. You might think that losing your lead vocalist and sole songwriter would mean the end of a band, but the Beard is nothing if not resilient. The songs from the post-Morse era certainly hold their own against anything from the first six albums. I wish they had included “The Great Nothing”, but there’s only so much space on a compact disc! Of course, long-time Beard fans want to know how the new epic, “Falling Forever” stacks up. To my ears, it’s a pleasant listen, but not particularly memorable. It’s clear that Neal’s path has diverged from the Beard’s, and each camp has its own strengths that don’t necessarily mesh into a powerful whole anymore. The DVD features performances from 1997’s Progfest interspersed with contemporary interviews of the band. It’s illuminating for the hardcore fan, but not essential.

Flying Colors: Second Flight: Live at The Z7

Flying Colors Z7Phenomenal growth from this band. As mentioned in the interviews included in the Blu-ray, the first album had the members somewhat tentative about critiquing each other, while during the recording of Second Flight they were much more collaborative. This is set is a terrific performance that showcases the talents of each member. Casey McPherson is a very confident frontman, and an amazing vocalist. Steve Morse’s guitar work is jaw-dropping good, and Dave LaRue almost steals the show with his bass solos. Mike Portnoy is, as usual, controlled chaos on the drums. Neal Morse plays more of a supporting role in this group, keeping in the background for the most part. “Cosmic Symphony” and “Mask Machine” are highlights, while the segue from “Colder Months” into “Peaceful Harbor” is one of the most beautiful musical moments I’ve ever heard. The quality of the Blu-ray is top-notch, both in sound and video. An excellent choice for the prog fan who enjoys the likes of Boston, or even classic Journey.

Rush: R40 Live

1035x1511-R40.Tour.Cover7.FNL-copyWhich brings us to the big release of the year: Rush’s R40 Live. I have every live DVD Rush has released, and this isn’t the best performance. But there is something so special about this show that it will probably be the one I return to most often. There were times I caught myself thinking, “Gosh. they are looking old!”, but then I had to remind myself they’ve given of themselves so generously for 40 years. 40 years! How many bands have kept the same lineup for that long, and are still talking to each other? ZZ Top is the only one that comes to mind. The fact that this show is from Toronto makes it even more moving.

This is a top of the line production, with every possible camera angle a fan could ask for. The sound on the Blu-ray edition is outstanding; there are two surround mixes to choose from: front of stage or center of hall. The show itself is masterful – it is a trip back in time from Clockwork Angels all the way to “Working Man”.

The animated intro is hilarious – I had to go through it practically frame-by-frame to catch all of the visual puns. Every album and tour is name-checked somewhere in it. The initial stage set is very elaborate, but as the band goes back into their history, you can see workers slowly dismantle it. At the start of the second set, Alex is front of a huge stack of Marshall amps, and we’re transported to the 1970’s. By the time of the encores, Alex and Geddy are down to single amps on chairs in a high school auditorium.

My only quibbles are selfish – I wish there was at least one track from Power Windows/Hold Your Fire, and I don’t know why the bonus tracks at the end couldn’t have been inserted into their proper places in the concert video. Other than that, it’s a very good setlist.

What comes through most clearly as the concert progresses is the love and respect Alex, Geddy, and Neil have for each other. They look like they’re having the time of their lives, and they’re so glad to have several thousand fans along with them. Thanks for the ride, boys. It’s been a great one.

 

 

Glass Hammer: Double Live

A review of Glass Hammer, DOUBLE LIVE (deluxe edition, Sound Resources, 2015). 

2 CDs/1 DVD.  Tracks: Nothing, Everything; So Close, So Far; Mythopoeia; Third Floor; The Knights of the North; If the Stars; and Time Marches On.  The DVD consists of the 1.5 hours of the show at RosFest, May 3, 2015.

Glass Hammer: Steve Babb; Susie Bogdanowicz; Carl Groves; Aaron Raulston; Kamran Alan Shikoh; and Fred Schendel.

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(Sound Resources, 2015)

For a band that specializes in writing studio masterpiece after studio masterpiece, it’s somewhat surprising to find that Glass Hammer has released six live albums (albums defined as CDs and/or DVDs): LIVE AND REVIVED; LEX LIVE; LIVE AT NEARFEST; LIVE AT BELMONT; LIVE AT THE TIVOLI; and, now, DOUBLE LIVE.  Two live songs also appear on 2007’s COMPILATIONS.  The band doesn’t even tour that much, but, when it does, it’s something mightily special.

Additionally, the band has over twenty years of material to choose from.  Not surprisingly, three of the seven live tracks on DOUBLE LIVE come from the band’s last album, but the selections reach all the way back to 1995.  “Nothing, Everything,” “Mythopoeia,” and “Third Floor” come from THE BREAKING OF THE WORLD (2015).  “If the Stars” from IF (2010).  “The Knight of the North” from INCONSOLABLE SECRET (2005).  “So Close, So Far” from SHADOWLANDS (2004).  And, “Time Marches On” from PERELANDRA (1995).  I was a bit surprised by the last selection as it appears three other times on Glass Hammer releases.  Still, of the four versions, this is by far the best.

Coming off what is arguably their best album to date, THE BREAKING OF THE WORLD, the six members on stage look as happy and as confident as can be.  It’s an absolute joy to watch them perform on stage even though the camera work is a bit stiff compared to, say, the visually fluid LEX LIVE.  Clearly, they love each other, their music, and their ability to perform their art together and for others.  Joy simply exudes from the screen.  Babb grooves, Schendel glides, Raulston pounds, and Shikoh soars.  And, sheesh, are these guys tight.  I could probably watch the interaction of bass, drums, guitar, and keys in “Time Marches On”—especially beginning at the the 1:23:34 mark.  Holy Moses, these guys are amazing.  All of them.  I’d love to just tell each one of them individually—”you are doing what you were meant to do on this Earth!!!!”

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Though I adamantly love the Glass Hammer albums fronted by Carl Groves and Susie Bogdanowicz (CULTURE OF ASCENT, ODE TO ECHO, and THE BREAKING OF THE WATER), I had no idea what kind of a frontman Groves would prove to be on a live stage.  I had no worries about Bogdanowicz.

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Susie the magnificent.

She possesses one of the two best voices in rock today, and I’ve said this and written this repeatedly.  She’s also gorgeous (her all black outfit makes her look like a superhero), and it’s quite clear that she gives every aspect of her soul to this music.  Unlike so many in the world of music, she also conveys all of this power on stage as a person and an artist with a clearly good and gentle soul.  It’s a fascinating paradox.

Groves, though, clearly proves his mettle on this live album.  He’s absolutely fun to watch.  I wish I had better descriptives coming to my tired mind at the moment, but the word that keeps coming to me is “fun.”  And, I mean this in the best sense.  He’s playful and mischievous, but not at all self centered.  He’s the front man, but he leads as one of equals not as the cock on parade.

While I noted above that this is one very tight band, I also have to say this: while the band celebrates its friendship and art, we, too, should be celebrating.  It’s an honor, a privilege, and an inspiration to look at what Babb and Schendel have accomplished over the past two decades.  I could never even count how many hours of sheer pleasure they’ve given me, how many times they’ve inspired me, and how often they’ve demonstrated that good and light can exist in a world of darkness and chaos.

CHRONOMETREE: Glass Hammer’s 3rd-Wave Prog Masterpiece

Glass Hammer, CHRONOMETREE (Sound Resources, 2000).  Artists: Steve Babb and Fred Schendel with Brad Marler; Walter Moore; Arjen Lucaseen; Terry Clouse; Susie Warren Bogdanowicz; Sarah Snydor; and Jamie Watkins.

Tracks

  • “All in Good Time/Part One”—Empty Space & Revealer; An Eldritch Wind; Revelation/Chronometry; Chronotheme; A Perfect Carousel; Chronos Deliverer.
  • “All in Good Time/Part Two”—Shapes of the Morning; Chronoverture; The Waiting; Watching the Sky.
Taken when PERILOUS came out.
Taken when PERILOUS came out.

Fifteen years ago, Glass Hammer released a masterpiece: CHRONOMETREE.

I almost modified “masterpiece” with bizarre and unexpected, but masterpiece probably doesn’t need exaggerations or qualifications.  All masterpieces are bizarre and unexpected.  They don’t fit the norm.  Neither does CHRONOMETREE.

A gorgeous cover or a gorgeous album.
A gorgeous cover or a gorgeous album.

Originally, Fred Schendel had written the music to be a part of a solo instrumental release.  Steve Babb liked the music so much, he asked Schendel to make it a GH album, a concept about concepts.  Schendel happily agreed.

I remember my wife and I left town for a week’s vacation and when we returned a lot of Chronometree’s music had already been written by Fred. He wanted it to be an instrumental solo project, but the sound of that Hammond organ and the retro style of the music was such that I insisted we make it a full blown Glass Hammer project with a storyline. We never imagined it would be such a turning point for us. That’s the moment we embraced our roots and we have never truly repented of it. Prog fans couldn’t resist the storyline, as everyone could relate to our character “Tom” and his slacker friends. Chronometree was a prog album about taking prog albums too seriously. We’re all guilty of it. Leave it to Glass Hammer to call attention to that.—Steve Babb, July 28, 2015

It’s worth remembering at this point that GH had not fully established itself as a major and globally-known progressive rock act when CHROMONETREE first appeared.  While Babb and Schendel had been friends since the 1980s, they had been releasing Glass Hammer albums only since 1993.  Though they loved progressive rock, they had no idea where the genre existed in the early 1990s.  Many now label them—in hindsight—as “neo prog,” a part of the second wave of progressive rock.  They are really, however, pioneers of 3rd-Wave Prog and have maintained their status as one of the two or three premier bands of 3rd Wave over the past fifteen years.  Their music, always deep and often overblown (when necessary), really defines the American aspect of 3rd-Wave Prog.  They are, to put it bluntly, quintessential to 3rd-Wave Prog.  They define it, they embody it, and they progress it.

In the early 1990s, however, Babb and Schendel labeled themselves “fantasy rock,” blending the imaginary worlds of the Inklings (C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien) with the musical talents and stylings of Kansas and Yes.  To their surprise, they sold well, supported by their own successful recording studio, SOUND RESOURCES, which had recorded everything from country music to audio books.  Indeed, they have never lost money on any Glass Hammer releases, and their popularity and profitability has grown at the same pace as their artistic innovation and confidence.

Let me admit a personal bias here.  I know Steve Babb, and I consider him a very good friend.  He is, from my perspective, a man of immense talent as well as as integrity.  Every dollar he and Schendel have earned is much more than justly earned.  They appeal to the soul and the mind, not the emotions or the pocketbook.  Yet, they have done well where so many others have failed.  Indeed, the less commercially viable and artistic their art has become, the more successful they have been.  A beautiful paradox.

The titles.
The titles.

I have had the privilege of writing about their history over at Carl Olson’s magnificent Catholic World Report: http://www.catholicworldreport.com/Item/2988/the_music_of_glass_hammer_an_appreciation.aspx

Prior to CHRONOMETREE, Glass Hammer had written and produced three of their fantasy rock albums: JOURNEY OF THE DUNADAN (1993); PERELANDRA (1995); and ON TO EVERMORE (1998).  In almost every way, CHRONOMETREE signaled a new era for Glass Hammer.  Though still rooted in fantasy, the story of CHRONOMETREE is as much science fiction and psychological study as it is fantasy.  While it is only a notch below LEX REX in terms of artistic expression, it was a necessary precursor to LEX REX and to all of the albums that have followed.

Star voice changing feel call it out

sounding round the bright sized time

We never saw again

Forgot between the real pulse

The breath of life attain

Let play the sonic wind revealing

Not turning form loose tale

Of awesome thunder turn around the scene

To passion shall not surely fail

–From the opening of CHRONOMETREE.  Tom, it seems, is getting word from 1972’s CLOSE TO THE EDGE.

As mentioned above, every single Glass Hammer album has been better than the previous one.  And, yet, there’s not a dud anywhere in GH’s discography.  GH really do define excellence at every level: song-writing; lyrics; production; and packaging.  One consistent criticism of GH has been that they are “retro-prog.”  Forgive me a pet-peeve, but this is total nonsense.  There is no doubt that Babb and Schendel possess a healthy piety toward those who come before them.  But, so does any great artist.  Art cannot be so radical that it is not recognized by the larger community.  It also is never totally derivative unless it is an obvious mockery.

Do Babb and Schendel love Yes and Kansas and Genesis?  Of course.  So does probably everyone reading this article.  Yet, Babb and Schendel move well beyond their inspirations.

If nothing else, Glass Hammer should be praised not only for their very healthy innovation (Have you ever heard an album like LEX REX?  No, it’s unique.), but especially for their never-ending pursuit of excellence.  I offer the following two pieces of evidence out of a hundred such: 1) Susie Warren Bogdanowicz as singer.  This woman is a goddess of song and voice.  Outside of David Landon and Leah McHenry, she is the single best voice in rock right now.  2) Aaron Raulston, drummer.  This guy could easily hold his own against Peart, NDV, and Portnoy.

Lesser men than Babb and Schendel might be intimidated at having such talent in their band.  But, NOT Babb and Schendel.  They seek the excellent and incorporate it whenever they can.  They’re leaders, not cowards.  And, they wisely realize, adding the extraordinary talents of a Bogdanowicz or Raulston only serves to make them all better.

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CHRONOMETREE is the last of the somewhat original lineup, though it should properly be considered a nexus for the band as well as for 3rd-Wave Prog.  Brad Marler provides lead vocals, and even the brilliant Dutch prog master Arjen Lucassen plays on the album.

As most describe the album, CHRONOMETREE is as a “tongue-in-check” concept album about being too obsessed with concept albums.  Having spent many hours of my pre-marriage days wearing headphones and listening intently to progressive rock over and over again in the dark of my bedroom, analyzing every lyric to the point of absurdity, I very well understand the obsessive element.

And eldritch wind howls and moans

Through the space that I was shown

Can you hear their urgent call

Hidden in the sound

As this smoky room begins to fade

And eldritch wind howls and moans

Through the space that I was shown

I’ve been called to other stars

(and the heavens know my name)

I’ve been shown another world

As the vinyl turns

As the vinyl turns

–An Eldritch Wind

Perhaps by grace alone, I have turned this teenage obsession into a healthy hobby as an adult.  Regardless, I can relate to the protagonist of the album, though I can also assure the reader that I have never believed that the albums or bands were sending me gnostic messages.

I have always, however, looked for the symbolism and deeper meanings in progressive rock albums.  Obviously, Babb and Schendel have as well.  For me, the lyrics are the biggest draw to prog.  But, equally important is how artists mingle and match the word and the note.

With just the moon

To light our way

We headed back to Tom’s house

To wait for the day

The voices in his head

Had told him wrong

Science reduced to the musings of a song

All mixed up with the essence of his bong

Chronometree!

–Watching the Sky

If you know Glass Hammer, nothing in this article has been a revelation to you.  You know very well that Glass Hammer should be the proper synonym for beauty, truth, goodness, and excellence.  You also know that Babb and Schendel would NEVER release anything that is less than perfect.  And, you know that as natural leaders and artists, Babb and Schendel readily and properly form community around them and their art.

If you don’t know Glass Hammer, I envy you.  I would give so much to listen to GH for the first time. . . again.

Wow, double-live Glass Hammer coming

And, it looks beautiful.  What a captivating cover.  To go to the actual site, click here.

Glass-Hammer-Double-Live-Deluxe

Two CDs – One Bonus DVD

Recorded at RoSFest 2015, Glass Hammer “Double Live” marks the bands first live album in over ten years.

Prog Magazine declares Glass Hammer’s RoSfest 2015 performance, “…the boldest set of the weekend. Steve Babb and Fred Schendel have always succeeded in creating an ensemble that fully complements their sense of musical grandeur.”

Stay tuned! Release date to be announced soon.

Progarchy. com declares Glass Hammer, “. . .awesome.”