The Fall 2021 Box Set Bonanza

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.

Out Now:

The Beach Boys, Feel Flows – The Sunflower 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.

September:

Bob Dylan, Springtime in New York – The Bootleg Series, Volume 16, 1980-1985: Outtakes, alternate versions, rehearsals, live performances and more from the era that yielded Dylan’s albums Shot of Love, Infidels and Empire Burlesque. Out September 17; pre-order from Dylan’s webstore and elsewhere in the following formats: 2 LP Highlights, 2 CD Highlights or 5 CDs complete. (There’s also a subscriber-only 4 LP set from Jack White’s Third Man Records.)

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, Godbluff and Still Life) are available as separate CD/DVD sets for those wanting a lower priced introduction to this underrated band’s indescribably stirring music.

October:

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).

Pink Floyd, A Momentary Lapse of Reason (Remixed and Updated): the 2019 remix of Floyd’s post-Roger Waters comeback from the opulent The Later Years box, now available on its own. “Sounds less like the 1980s, more like classic Floyd” is the party line here. Out October 29; pre-order from Floyd’s webstore in 1 CD, CD/DVD, CD/BluRay or 2 LP formats.

November:

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’s Dark) 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.

— Rick Krueger

King Crimson in Concert: A Love Letter on the Occasion of – A Final Hot Date?

Robert Fripp, resplendent with mohawk, at August 28th’s Royal Package presentation.

A studio album is a love letter. And I enjoy love letters, especially when they’re from my wife. But live music … (looking to the heavens with a sigh) I’ll always go for the clinches.

Robert Fripp, King Crimson Royal Package presentation

King Crimson, Meadow Brook Amphitheatre, Rochester Hills, Michigan, August 28, 2021

Following an opening set from The Zappa Band that showcased Frank Zappa’s lifelong trademarks — smug, satirical vignettes enfolded in gleefully virtuosic workouts — King Crimson went straight for the clinches. The rock (as in the opener “Pictures of A City” and “Radical Action II”) rocked hard; the metal (including “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part Two” and “Level Five”) was remorselessly heavy; the out there material (“Neurotica” and “Indiscipline,” played back to back) went waaaaay out there; the more intricate music (the opening multi-part drum trio, along with “Discipline,” a welcome surprise in the setlist) shone with both precision and passion.

Left to right: Mel Collins, Tony Levin, and Jakko Jakszyk groove on “Neurotica,” as Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison wait to pounce. Photo by King Crimson manager David Singleton. Click here to access Singleton’s online diary for the show.

To be fair, the genres — along with the era a song may have come from — are never that clear cut with this Crimson, even within individual pieces. The mid-section of “Pictures of A City” saw Mel Collins pushing at the boundaries of tonality with his sax solo, egged on by Robert Fripp’s banjo-from-hell guitar chords. Tony Levin’s inventive bass lines on “The Court of the Crimson King,” “Red” and “Larks Two” honored the original work of Greg Lake and John Wetton while adding his own spin to spur on Collins and Fripp. And the drum battle that opens “Indiscipline” turned into a comedic cutting contest, as Pat Mastelotto, Jeremy Stacey and Gavin Harrison moved from flashing their chops to cracking up each other with their contributions. (Harrison’s deadpan disco snippet got the audience laughing too.) By treating everything as brand new, the band gracefully transcends the multiple eras in which these varied musics were birthed.

With a shorter setlist than recent tours and fewer surprise choices in the mix, what stood out for me this evening were the ballads — “The Court of the Crimson King,” “Islands,” “Epitaph” and “Starless”. Even the two guys sitting in back of me who talked through a good chunk of the show shut up for them! Vocalist/guitarist Jakko Jakszyk stood and delivered, drawing old emotions and new insights from the lyrics as he sang. And the ensemble coalesced around him with palpable intensity, cradling the vocals, then conjuring up the ironic circus of “Court,” the serene seascape of “Islands” (kudos to Stacey for his luscious piano work), the bleak cultural devastation of “Epitaph.” The endlessly mounting tension of “Starless” was, as always, a high point — melancholy and uplifting at the same time, grabbing for the audience’s heart as it built and cracking psyches wide open as the double time finale took flight. After that, what could be the encore but a slamming “21st Century Schizoid Man,” complete with Levin prodding Fripp and Collins to even greater extremes and a kit-spanning drum excursion by Harrison?

The band takes a bow following “Starless.” Photo by King Crimson manager David Singleton.

I make no secret of my admiration for King Crimson; Robert Fripp and his various co-conspirators have formed my ideal of the questing musician’s life and work since I stumbled into a Frippertronics record store show back in 1979. And I’ve never hesitated to sing the praises of the current Crimson incarnation; their 2017 and 2019 tours yielded two of the best rock concerts I’ve ever attended. So it moved me that, with the COVID-19 pandemic delaying this show for a year and throwing numerous obstacles in their path, Crimson could return to the States and provide another genuinely awe-inspiring evening for the thousands gathered in this Detroit-area amphitheatre. Never say never; but if (as Crimson’s management has stated) this may the final time the band plays North America, I’m convinced that we shall not see their like again.

Band and audience seen in 360 degrees at the final bow. Photo by Tony Levin; click here to access his online diary for this show.

Setlist (as assembled by Robert Fripp):

  • Drumsons – Bish! The Way to Universal Peace and Amity
  • Pictures of A City
  • Red
  • The Court of the Crimson King (with coda)
  • Tony (Levin bass) Cadenza’s Wernacious Slitheriness
  • Discipline
  • Neurotica
  • Indiscipline
  • Islands
  • Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part Two
  • Epitaph
  • Radical Action II
  • Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part Five (Level Five)
  • Starless
  • 21st Century Schizoid Man (including Gavin Harrison drum solo)

— Rick Krueger

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Twenty-Two): Island

If the album cover looks familiar to you, that’s because it was designed by the same man responsible for Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery and Ridley Scott’s Alien: H. R. Giger. Island may be the strangest thing to come out of Switzerland since that eccentric creator of biomechanical horrors. That small, idyllic mountain country may not come to mind when one thinks of avant-garde, but, like Giger, Island certainly does not fit the Swiss mold – or any mold, for that matter. Pictures is easily one of the bolder, more original releases that I have ever heard. Like Van der Graaf Generator, Island relied not on bass or guitar (in fact, they feature not a single guitar on the entire album), but rather on percussion, keys, and woodwinds. Like Gentle Giant, Island’s free jazz-style approach offered the band opportunities for some incredibly complex improvisation. And like King Crimson and Peter Gabriel, Island wasn’t afraid to add a dash of black humor to their lyrics, providing the album with a (somewhat) lighter tone than is suggested by that horrifying album cover. Now to the music itself:

The album opens with the appropriately titled “Introduction,” which sounds like Ligeti’s Requiem or something out of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. This brief piece ends with some eerie words whispered over a cacophony of sound before it transitions rapidly to…

The dynamic “Zero,” which opens with a flourish of keyboards. The interplay between keyboardist Peter Scherer, drummer Guge Jurg Meier, and woodwind wunderkind Rene Fisch is impressive and will probably remind most listeners of King Crimson or Gentle Giant. But we do not hear the vocals of Benjamin Jager until…

The title track. Jager, who sounds a bit like Peter Gabriel, has some fun on this song (it takes a quirky fellow to sing about “gastric juices”), but the focus remains on the instruments, and Jager himself is no slouch on percussion. In the middle of this complex piece we are entertained to both a gentle clarinet solo and smooth sax work courtesy of Fisch. These mad scientists of music continue to experiment on…

“Herold and King / Dloreh,” a fitting title for such an odd piece. After some three minutes of beautiful but somewhat dark piano melodies, we get a good half minute of silence before Jager’s vocals fade in…singing the lyrics in reverse, of course (look again at the title of the song). Once again, we are treated to some fascinating interplay between keys, sax, and percussion, and at one point the ominous sound of a drone provides an additional layer of eeriness. To up the weirdness factor, the track includes some whispered vocals (reminiscent of Goblin or VDGG) and scat (or something like it) throughout. The strange brew continues to satisfy on…

“Here and Now,” the closing track. This piece features (briefly, alas) a gorgeous and textured organ sound, and the percussion and sax shine as they have throughout. The drone effect is again put to good use, adding a haunting layer to what is otherwise the most “upbeat” track on the album.

This is a challenging album that may not initially appeal to your tastes. In fact, it may take three or four spins before you can appreciate it, and it is certainly worth more than one listen: this is top-notch musicianship with a healthy dose of dark humor. Anyone who appreciates Gentle Giant, Van der Graaf Generator, or King Crimson will be impressed by this little-known avant-garde masterpiece. Just don’t let Giger’s monster scare you off.

Stay tuned for number twenty-three!

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Twenty): Gracious

An album cover designed by Roger Dean. A mellotron sound inspired by In the Court of the Crimson King. An opening suite reminiscent of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. this is…Gracious!! had many of the key ingredients needed for a superior prog album, but it didn’t sell, and the band broke up not long after their sophomore effort. Perhaps Gracious tried to be too much at once: prog, psych, hard rock, blues, space rock, etc. Sometimes this eclectic blend works; sometimes it does not. this is…Gracious!! lands somewhere in the middle. Here are some of my thoughts:

Unlike most of the albums I have reviewed, this is…Gracious!! includes a true prog epic, the four-part suite “Supernova,” which takes up the entire first side of the album. Clocking in at just under twenty-five minutes, “Supernova” had the potential to be a classic prog epic, but it suffers from some shortcomings. The first two parts of the song – the Floydian instrumental “Arrival of the Traveler” and the Crimsonian “Blood Red Sky” – are fine examples of prog’s “classic” era (although Paul Davis’s vocals may be an acquired taste for some). Anchored by drums and mellotron, the latter would have fit nicely on King Crimson’s debut album. Unfortunately, “Blood Red Sky” transitions rather awkwardly into “Say Goodbye to Love,” a romantic guitar ballad with saccharine lyrics that just feels out of place on this epic piece. The fourth and final part, “Prepare to Meet Thy Maker,” thankfully returns to the Floydian/Crimsonian sound.

“C. B. S.” opens with a catchy guitar riff courtesy of Alan Cowderoy, and stays anchored by Martin Kitcat’s clavinet and piano.

“Blue Skies and Alibis” also opens with a catchy riff and is by far the strongest and most upbeat track. Kitcat and Cowderoy share centerstage on mellotron and guitar, respectively. The rhythm section also holds its own: drummer Robert Lipson anchors the song with his pacing, and Tim Wheatley’s nimble fingers produce a hopping bass line.

It’s too bad Gracious never had a chance to develop their sound, as they may have ended up among the prog elite of the early 1970s. Alas, they are now instead part of the long but colorful list of obscure prog artists. this is…Gracious!! may be a diamond in the rough, but it’s certainly worth a listen: you may find it more polished than I did.

Stay tuned for number twenty-one!

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Fourteen): Circus

This Circus closed after a brief tour in 1969 – our loss, in my humble opinion. Formed by Mel Collins (of King Crimson fame) in the late ’60s, Circus produced only one eponymous album in their brief existence, but it’s a gem. Collins takes centerstage here on sax and flute, but fellow bandmates Ian Jelfs (vocals and guitar), Kirk Riddle (bass), and Chris Burrows (drums) more than hold their own.

The majority of the songs (five out of eight, to be exact) are covers – but dull and uninspired they are not. And the three original songs (all penned by Collins) would be worthy additions to an early Soft Machine or Giles, Giles, and Fripp album. Here are (more than) a few highlights:

Circus opens up with a cover of the Beatles’ classic “Norwegian Wood,” and it is one of the better interpretations of any Beatles song I have ever heard. Rather than relying on melodic vocals (although Jelfs does sound somewhat Beatle-esque in his singing), the band members allow their instruments to do most of the work for them. Collins is absolutely superb on the sax, and the middle of this lengthy cover includes some fun interplay between the drums and guitar.

“Pleasures of a Lifetime” – Collins’s first contribution to the album – opens with a gentle acoustic melody, but picks up the pace about halfway through thanks to Burrows’s deft handling of the sticks.

The cover of Henry Rollins’s “St. Thomas” is a great upbeat tune, featuring top notch work from Jelfs on guitar and Collins on flute.

“Goodnight John Morgan” is another original tune and, alas, an all too brief one. I suggest listening to this one as you sit at a smoky bar late at night with a scotch in your hand while the rain pelts the roof above you. Collins’s sax will put you into that kind of mood.

“II B. S.” (a cover of a Charlie Mingus classic) opens with a funky bass riff that doesn’t let up. Percussion anchors this tune, but Collins once again shines through on the saxophone.

The last two songs – a cover of The Mamas & the Papas’ “Monday Monday” and a cover of Tim Hardin’s “Don’t Make Promises” – feature masterful work on the flute courtesy of Collins.

Sadly, Circus couldn’t deliver the same quality of material for a second album, and they split up, Collins going on to replace Ian McDonald in King Crimson. But at least we can enjoy this hidden gem, which sounds as fresh and as lively as it did when it was released over fifty years ago. For those who enjoy jazz fusion mixed with a healthy dose of psychedelic rock, you will not want to miss this under-appreciated effort.

Stay tuned for number fifteen!

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Thirteen): Samurai

Originally known as Web, Samurai were another one of those unfortunate What if? bands that were lost in the shuffle of the early days of progressive rock.

Web released three albums in the late 1960s and early 1970s, including the well-received but commercially unsuccessful I Spider (which is on my list of future reviews). By 1971, however, band leader and keyboardist Dave Lawson (later of Greenslade fame) changed the name to Samurai, hoping, perhaps, that the change of name might result in a change of fortune. Alas, that was not to be. Yet we do have their sole eponymous album as a result of that name change, and it’s a true hidden gem. Samurai features the talents of Lawson on vocals and keyboards, Don Fay and Tony Roberts on winds, Lennie Wright and Kenny Beveridge on percussion, Tony Edwards on guitars, and John Eaton on bass. Part of the Canterbury/jazz-fusion movement of the early ’70s, Samurai relied on drums and woodwinds to drive their unique sound, although the keys and guitars are given their chances to shine. Here are a few of the highlights from the album:

“Saving It Up For So Long,” the first track, could have made a good single. It opens with a jazzy guitar riff and drum beat, making it as close to radio-friendly as a progressive band was likely to get. The saxes, courtesy of Fay and Roberts, are also a nice touch.

Edwards is given another chance to showcase his talents on the fifth track, “Give a Little Love.” His riff is both catchy and distorted, giving the song an early King Crimson feel (think Lizard-era).

Lawson, whose nimble fingers on the keys anchor the sound of every song on the album, really shines forth on the last and longest track, “As I Dried the Tears Away.” His Hammond organ solo in the middle is especially satisfying to the ear.

If you are the type of fellow who enjoys a daily or weekly pilgrimage to the Canterbury sound, in particular to Soft Machine (Robert Wyatt era in particular), early King Crimson, or Caravan, this album will be a pleasant surprise for your wandering ears. Even those less inclined to walk that path will nevertheless appreciate the top-notch musicianship of this solid but under-appreciated album.

Stay tuned for number fourteen!

The Best Prog Bands You’ve Never Heard Of (Part Twelve): Fruupp

Well, perhaps you actually have heard of these chaps. Although they never made much of a name for themselves, Fruupp opened up for some of the biggest names in progressive rock, including Genesis, Queen, and King Crimson, in the early 1970s.

Founded in 1971 by Irish guitarist Vincent McClusker, Fruupp included classically trained Stephen Houston on keyboards and oboe; Peter Farrelly on lead vocals, bass guitar, and flute; and Martin Foye on drums. They recorded four albums in their five year tenure, but the sudden departure of Houston in 1975 (he became a clergyman) and poor record sales eventually forced the band to call it a day.

Fruupp’s third album, The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes, is considered their masterpiece. A concept album (based on a short story by Paul Charles), it tells the tale of a lad named Mud Flanagan, who, after the death of his parents, traverses the Irish countryside looking for the end of the rainbow. The influence of Genesis, especially in the songwriting, vocals, and keyboards, is evident throughout the album, but Fruupp are not mere copycats.

The album opens with a beautiful symphonic piece titled “It’s All Up Now”: Flanagan has made the decision to leave home and journey out into the wilds of the Emerald Isle. But shortly after his departure, “The Prince of Darkness” – a song that would fit nicely into the sinister world of Nursery Cryme – interrupts young Mud’s pleasant travels. Thankfully, our hero manages to avoid the road to hell and continues on his way, encountering a beautiful woman and experiencing several strange visions before reaching his journey’s end in the lengthy but uplifting “The Perfect Wish.”

Houston’s keyboards steal the show on this album, although McClusker and Foye are able to showcase their talents on guitar and drums, respectively, on the heavier “Annie Austere” and “Crystal Brook” (the latter also features some gorgeous flute courtesy of Farrelly).

It’s a shame Fruupp never enjoyed the success that other symphonic bands did, as this album certainly offers hints of bigger things that might have been. The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes may not reach the heights of Foxtrot or Selling England By the Pound, but it is certainly a worthy addition to the traditional symphonic prog canon.

Stay tuned for obscure prog band number thirteen!

King Crimson’s Music Is Our Friend USA Tour

It’s been a long, long, loooong wait for King Crimson to reschedule their pandemic-postponed tour, originally planned for last summer. But as of today, there’s rejoicing in the air at Discipline Global Mobile:

We are pleased to announce the dates for the re-scheduled 2021 King Crimson tour of the USA. This is also a good moment to publicly thank all those who have worked so hard to make this tour possible. The dates have changed on an almost daily basis over the last six months as rules and restrictions have changed.

The California Guitar Trio will be appearing as a special guest for the first leg of the tour. King Crimson will be accompanied by the Zappa Band for the whole of the second leg of the tour from 22nd August – 11th September, and also for the concerts in Concord and Los Angeles on 5th and 6th August.

There are currently Royal Package places available at all these concerts. The Royal Package gives priority seating at the front of the venue, early access, special merchandise, and personal insights and answers from David Singleton and one of the band members. Anyone with an existing place reserved last year, who now needs to move to a different venue or apply for a refund, should contact iona@dgmhq.com.

Crimson manager David Singleton has much, much more on the headaches involved at his DGM diary. And Crimson founder/mainman/guitarist Robert Fripp has also reacted in characteristic fashion:

The Crimson Beast Of Terror has woken from its enforced slumbering and is venturing out to stomp flat the psyches of innocents not yet experienced in the hammering onslaught of King Crimson’s uncompromising pounding – bish! bish! bish! – before turning on a beat to jellify hearts with gut-wrenching passion and soul-squeezing epic unfoldings to remind us that we are all mere subjects in the unfolding drama of the universe’s unfathomable mysteries while simultaneously rocking out and having a great time bopping about with Tony and Bobby and Gavin and Jakko and Mel and Pat and Jezza too.

Tour dates are listed below; Royal Packages are available by clicking the appropriate link, and regular seats will go on sale soon. I look forward to entering the Court of the Crimson King for the 10th time on August 18 at Meadow Brook Amphitheater!

July 22, 2021 – Clearwater, FL – Ruth Eckerd Hall

July 23, 2021 – Delray Beach, FL – Old School Square

July 24, 2021 – St. Augustine, FL – St Augustine Ampitheater

July 26, 2021 – Orlando, FL – Dr. Phillips Walt Disney Theater

July 27, 2021 – Atlanta, GA – The Fox

July 28, 2021 – Nashville, TN – Ryman Auditorium

July 30, 2021 – Fort Worth, TX – Will Rogers Memorial Auditorium

July 31, 2021 – Cedar Park, TX – H-E-B Center

August 2, 2021 – Greenwood Village, CO – Fiddlers Green Amiptheater

August 3, 2021 – Sandy, UT – Sandy Ampitheater

August 5, 2021- Concord, CA – Concord Pavilion

August 6, 2021 – Los Angeles – The Greek

August 7, 2021 – Scottsdale, AZ – Talking Stick Ballroom

August 23, 2021 – Saratoga Springs, NY – SPAC

August 24, 2021 – Northampton, MA – The Pines Theater

August 26, 2021 – Canandaigua, NY – CMAC

August 27, 2021 – Lewiston, NY – Artpark Ampitheater

August 28, 2021 – Rochester Hills, MI – Meadow Brook Ampitheater

August 29, 2021 – Highland Park, IL – Ravinia

August 31, 2021 – Milwaukee, WI – Miller High Life Theatre

September 1, 2021 – Cleveland, OH – Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica

September 2, 2021 – Huber Heights, OH – Rose Music Center @ The Heights

September 4, 2021 – Holmdel, NJ – PNC Bank Arts Center

September 5, 2021 – New Haven, CT – Westville Music Bowl

September 7, 2021 – Philadelphia, PA – The Mann Center

September 9, 2021 – Forest Hills, NYC – Forest Hills Stadium

September 10, 2021 – Boston, MA – Leader Bank Pavilion

September 11, 2021 – Washington, DC – The Anthem

— Rick Krueger

Album Review – The Rebel Wheel’s “Simple Machines”

The Rebel Wheel - Simple MachinesThe Rebel Wheel, Simple Machines, November 11, 2020
Tracks: 
Pulley (4:06), Hammer (5:21), Inclined Plane (4:48), Screw (5:40), Fulcrum (4:36), Switch (5:19), Wheelsuitewheel (11:37)

I’ve been sitting on the promo CD for Ottawa, Ontario band The Rebel Wheel’s latest album, Simple Machines, for a while, although I’ve been listening to it a fair amount. The album has been a pleasant surprise for me. I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve listened to it. The Canadian three-piece is comprised of Andrew Burns (bass, keyboards, vocals, producer), David Campbell (guitars, keyboards, vocals), and Alex Wickham (drums, keyboards, vocals).

While The Rebel Wheel have several albums and several decades under their belt, Simple Machines finds them making a few changes, with every band member contributing to the writing and a different band member producing it compared to past records. Their overall sound is hard to pin down, as it is rather varied. I think Primus must be a major influence for Andrew Burns, who produced the record. Skimming through their discography on Bandcamp, I definitely recognize some similar musical ideas, but a Primus influence sounds much more prominent on Simple Machines. I hear this in some of the vocals, particularly on “Inclined Plane” and “Wheelsuitewheel,” as well as in the funk-influenced brand of metal on the album. That influence is present in the music and vocals, but not in the lyrics, which are rather simple in their construction, yet still deep with meaning. Not surprisingly I also hear a Discipline-era King Crimson influence in the guitars and bass.

With those two prominent influences there is still plenty of room for innovation. Some of the music almost approaches metal, if we’re going to call what Primus does a kind of metal. But it’s probably more accurate to call The Rebel Wheel progressive rock with heavy a jazz influence. The drums are distinctly jazzy. The bass drives the songs with guitars adding the flourishes and the keyboards filling the soundscape. There are experimental moments too, such as on the eleven and a half minute-long final track.

Even though I’ve made the connections to both Primus and King Crimson, the resulting record sounds quite unique and fresh. A King Crimson influence might be common enough in the prog world (I mean, who hasn’t been influenced by them to at least some degree), but Primus not so much. With the more progressive synth sounds, the record takes on its own life. The vocal harmonies add a nice touch. There’s even some blisteringly heavy guitar at points that remind me of Rush, but I’ll leave that to you to find those moments in the album.

I highly recommend The Rebel Wheel and their latest album. It’s a welcome departure from the Neo-prog territory common amongst most straightforward “prog” bands today. It’s got a crunch and a pleasant quirkiness that doesn’t blend into a symphonic backdrop. It grabs your attention. You won’t find too many other bands making music that sounds quite like this.

https://www.facebook.com/TheRebelWheel/
https://therebelwheel.bandcamp.com/album/simple-machines

Jakko M Jakszyk: The Progarchy Interview

When Jakko Jakszyk was 13 years old, he saw King Crimson play at Watford Town Hall — and it changed his life. Embarking on a globetrotting career that’s crossed paths with, among others, Level 42, The Kinks (he replaced Dave Davies for a week) and Steve Hackett, Jakszyk eventually found himself singing and playing guitar with founding members of Crimson in The 21st Century Schizoid Band. Which led in turn to The Scarcity of Miracles, a “King Crimson ProjeKct” with guitarist Robert Fripp and sax master Mel Collins — culminating in an invitation to join the current, career-spanning version of the band in 2013.

Since then, Jakszyk has been the voice of King Crimson in concert, tackling epics originally brought to life by Greg Lake, Boz Burrell, John Wetton and Adrian Belew with remarkable aplomb. And, if that wasn’t intimidating enough, simultaneously playing some of Fripp and Belew’s most challenging guitar parts. Oh, and co-writing knotty new Crimson pieces like “Suitable Grounds for the Blues,” “Meltdown” and “The Errors.” As a result, his undeniable melodic gifts, assured lyricism and instinct for the musical gut punch now have a bigger stage to play on than ever before.

All of this has beautifully set up Jakzsyk’s new solo album, Secrets and Lies. Released by Inside Out/Sony on October 23, it melds the yearning melancholy of 2007’s The Bruised Romantic Glee Club with the ferocious attack of present-day Crimson; fellow members Fripp, Collins, bass/Stick maestro Tony Levin and master drummer Gavin Harrison contribute along with Mark King (Level 42), Peter Hammill (Van Der Graaf Generator), John Giblin (Simple Minds, Brand X) and even Jakszyk’s daughter. It’s a poised, exhilarating album, a thoroughly compelling showcase for the man’s hard-won talents and thoughtful, well-honed viewpoint.

Having heard Jakko Jakszyk in concert three times with King Crimson (including the best rock concert I’ve ever attended), it was an undeniable thrill to speak with him about Secrets and Lies, his progress in the court of the Crimson King and more!

How the solo album took shape:

“I’d met Thomas Waber of Inside Out – I think it was at the launch of the album that Steve Hackett put out that I sang on [Genesis Revisited II; Jakszyk sings “Entangled”].  And then I kept bumping into him ’cause I did a number of gigs with Steve, and then there were some other events.  And whenever I saw him he said, ‘Look, if ever you decide to do a solo record, we’d be really interested in working with you.’   I wasn’t sure it was a good idea; it had been such a long time since I made another one.  So, it was partly down to him and his installing confidence into me, really.

“And then I made the decision – for the past seven years we’ve toured in biannual chunks; we do two months here and two months there throughout the year with Crimson.  There’s lots of stuff: rehearsals and getting stuff together, so it becomes a full-time job.  And then, this year was only one chunk of touring, in the middle of the year.  So I thought, ‘This is probably a good time to do it.’

“And I’d already written some songs.  I’ve written a load of stuff [for] Crimson, some that has been accepted as part of the repertoire.  But there was a handful of others that I’d written that when I took to Robert [Fripp] – we started to have this in-joke where I’d play him some stuff and he’d say [assumes a West Country accent as he quotes Fripp] ‘I love this!  It’s marvelous!!  Ideal track for your next solo record!!!’  Which is not too subtle code for, ‘We’re not playing this, mate!’  So, I had a basis of an album there, material-wise. So I started recording it, I think, last summer, as in 2019, in between the Crimson tours.  And writing lyrics and doing stuff while I was away.  And I started on it in real earnest in the autumn – almost about a year ago.”

Secrets and Lies’ takes on obsession and betrayal:

“The opening track, which is called ‘Before I Met You,’ is based on a book by Julian Barnes [Before She Met Me]. And in that book, it tells the tale of a middle-aged man, I think he’s a college lecturer.  And he meets this woman who’s a fair bit younger than him, and he leaves his wife and family for her.  But he starts to get really obsessed with her and starts to fetishize objects that she might have had earlier that morning – a pen that she was writing with, or a cup or something. 

“And he starts doing this very weird thing where – when she first left school, she became an actress, and she made a handful of mediocre movies.  And although that was way in her past, he becomes so obsessed with her that he finds them.  He finds little cinemas around London which are showing these old films.  And he sits in the dark watching these, getting really wound up – because there’s his new love filming these love scenes.  Which of course are not real, anyway; and anyway, they were before he even knew she existed!  So, it’s a tale of a guy being so obsessed with someone that he ends up destroying the very thing that he loves.

“In terms of betrayal, there’s a song called ‘It Would All Make Sense.’  And it’s autobiographical, a song that happened to me, but something that happened to me a long time ago.  So, totally with the benefit of hindsight and distance, you can write about it!

“But I guess it’s something that’s – unfortunately, many of us have been through.  Which is the suspicion and the clues that someone you’re living with is having an affair.  And the clues get more and more blatant, and more and more real, but you’re less likely to believe them, ‘cause you don’t want to.  And you confront them and they deny it, and then you’re placated by that, because you don’t wanna believe it.  And then other people say, ‘No, no, this is really happening.’  So hence the chorus of that tune.  ‘It would all make sense; all of that makes sense much more than the stuff you’re telling me.'”

Songs on “the shifting grounds of contemporary politics:”

“[‘Uncertain Times’] was, again, was something that happened to me.  The Brexit debate in England became incredibly divisive, and it split up families and friends.  You get to a point where problems, be they political or personal, are invariably nuanced and complicated.  And the trouble is that you reduce an issue to black and white like this, right or wrong.  And it becomes a divisive concept, I think.

“On the day of the results, when it was announced that the Leave campaign had won, there was a place in Hammersmith in West London called the Polish Center, where I used to take my adoptive father when he was in his 80s.  And it was a place that I have a great nostalgia for, ‘cause it’s a cultural center, and it’s got a café and a restaurant.  And the night of the result it was covered in racist graffiti, which was discovered in the morning.  This is a place that had been there for 56 years, partly in tribute to the contribution of the Poles during the Second World War.

“So, it was pretty upsetting, and I uncharacteristically posted something about it on Facebook.  And everybody was very nice and very sympathetic, but after a while it started to get shared.  And then people that weren’t my ‘friends’ in inverted commas started to read it, and for a couple of weeks I got really abusive emails, all along much the same lines.  Which were ‘We won.  You lost.  Why don’t you eff off home?’ 

“Well, I’m the son of an Irish woman, born in London, so I’m not sure where they want me to go; but it seemed that I was getting abused because of the incorrect letters in my surname!  And of course, it’s divisive, simplistic populist politics [which is] popping up all over the world, not least in Britain and America of course. And you have leaders that are just pumping out half-truths, untruths, downright lies.  And appealing to this kind of populist notion of very simplistic answers to complicated questions.  So, the song’s kind of about that.

“The other political song on the record is the thing that I wrote with Peter Hammill [‘Fool’s Mandate’].  And Pete Hammill actually was also partly responsible for me making a solo record.  ‘Cause I kept bumping into him, and he kept saying, ‘Have you made your solo record yet?’ And I said, ‘No.’  ‘Well, have you even started?’ ‘Well, no, not really.’ ‘Look, you ought to; this is your moment!  You must do it!’  So in the end, the last time he said it to me, I said, ‘Listen, Peter, I will make a solo album on condition you contribute; you’re on it.’  And he said, ‘Of course!’

“So, I sent him this track.  He said, ‘Have you got any unfinished tracks?’  And I had a series of instrumental things that I was using as a kind of base to play guitar over on these videos that I do for PRS Guitars or some of the events that I play at.  ‘Cause when I’d seen other guitar players do it, they were either kind of  straight ahead rock things or fusion things.  So I always tried to do something a little different.

“So, I had a collection of different ethnic-based pieces; this is based on traditional Middle Eastern music.  And I sent that to Peter, and he sent back multi-tracked voices, bits of guitar, and a lyric that was kind of ambiguous.  It could have meant anything, I guess.  And it was about an individual, and what he might regret and what he might not regret.

“So, the combination of the stylistic nature of the music and that kind of vague lyric – I ended up writing it about an English politician called [Arthur James] Balfour, who at the turn of the last century was desperate to get the Arab nations onside, ‘cause the English were trying to defeat the Ottoman Empire.  But at the same time, he was a Zionist, so he was negotiating behind their backs! 

“And I was kind of intrigued by the number of unpleasant political and violent hotspots in the world, and how if you trace their origins, invariably there’s an Englishman [chuckles] at the bottom of it!  So I ended up writing about that.”

Exploring “the tangled threads of family history:”

“You know, my background story is an ongoing thing, and I’ve discovered a lot more.  in fact, exactly in the past twelve months, there’s been an extraordinary amount of discovery.  I think it’s part of the reason I called the albums Secrets and Lies, because I discovered a lot more of both of those things.

“Actually on the album, there’s a thing called ‘The Borders We Traded,’ which is about my mother and myself, and how my mother abandoned me and went to another country – hence utilizing the geographical location as an additional metaphor for that separation. 

“And I talk about two places really in that; one is where she ended up.  My mother was quite a famous singer in Ireland in the ‘50s, and she came to England for her career.  But she ended up getting married to an American serviceman; and I’m sure she had an idea about what America was like from many of the movies she must have seen at the time.  But she ended up in a place called Bearden, Arkansas.  And no disrespect to that location, but I’m not sure that’s what she was expecting.

“And so, I remember standing in Bearden, Arksansas when I first went there, to meet her for the very first time.  And it was a very weird experience, where you’re standing in this place.  And it’s quite a culture shock for someone that grew up just outside London, and had a reasonably cultured upbringing, and went to the theatre and worked in the arts.  So, there was that really weird moment of thinking, ‘If she hadn’t had me adopted, I’d have been brought up here.’  And how much of who I am is innately who I am, and how much of it is subject to location.  It’s that whole nurture/nature thing, I guess.

“So that song really was about that.  And then there’s an instrumental that my daughter wrote, which I’ve kind of stuck them together, just because it felt like she kind of wrote it out of nowhere.  And it’s this kind of connection to Ireland; it’s this very Celtic, Irish piece that she’s somehow channeling out of some kind of DNA or something, I don’t know!”

[The tale of Jakko M Jakszyk’s long and winding road to King Crimson follows the jump!]

Continue reading “Jakko M Jakszyk: The Progarchy Interview”