The Flower Kings – Islands – Album Review

The Flower Kings – Islands – Inside Out Music, October 30, 2020
Tracks: 
CD 1 – 1. Racing With Blinders On (4:24), 2. From The Ground (4:02), 3. Black Swan (5:53), 4. Morning News (4:01) 5. Broken (6:38) 6. Goodbye Outrage (2:19), 7. Journeyman (1:43), 8. Tangerine (3:51), 9. Solaris (9:10), 10.  Heart Of The Valley (4:18), 11. Man In A Two Peace Suit (3:21)
CD 2 – 1. All I Need Is Love (5:48), 2. A New Species (5:45), 3. Northern Lights (5:43), 4. Hidden Angles (0:50), 5. Serpentine (3:52), 6. Looking For Answers (4:30), 7. Telescope (4:41), 8. Fool’s Gold (3:11), 9. Between Hope & Fear (4:29), 10. Islands (4:12) 

In an effort to find some sort of silver lining in this ridiculously crappy year, I’ll point out that there have been a lot of great releases in the progressive rock world in 2020. The Flower Kings’ upcoming album, Islands, probably wouldn’t have been released this year if the year had unfolded as normal. With many countries in lockdown and bands unable to tour, numerous musicians have found themselves with, as Styx once put it, too much time on their hands.

Multinational band The Flower Kings chose to make the best of their extra free time and use the Internet to their advantage, recording their new album from homes in Sweden, Austria, California, Denmark, and Italy. Fittingly, the album emphasizes the many forms of isolation we experience in 2020 – beyond just the physical. Thus the title Islands

I’m not an expert on The Flower Kings’ discography, but I generally like their music and appreciate the profound impact they have had on the rebirth of classic progressive rock starting in the 1990s. I didn’t particularly enjoy last year’s Waiting for Miracles. It was a little too political for my taste. The artwork alone was a bit obnoxious – an elephant standing on a house of cards while being hypnotized and surrounded by a bunch of oranges… that’s about as subtle as a political cartoon.

Roger Dean’s artwork for Islands, on the other hand, is fantastic. It’s too bad he hasn’t been doing their artwork all along, because it really fits their music. The lyrics “Upside down between earth and sky” from the track “Between Hope & Fear” are particularly reflected in the album art. Islands in particular has a lot of nods to Yes, which has probably always been in their music. Jonas Reingold’s bass stands out to me as being particularly Yes-like on this record. 

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Steve Hackett Sells England By the Pound – Live at 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, MI – 10/3/19

Steve Hackett, Live at 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, MI, October 3, 2019
Band:
Steve Hackett, Nad Sylvan, Craig Blundell, Jonas Reingold, Rob Townsend, Roger King

Setlist:
Set 1
Every Day
Under the Eye of the Sun
Fallen Walls and Pedestals
Beasts in Our Time
The Virgin and the Gypsy
Tigermoth
Spectral Mornings
The Red Flower of Tachai Blooms Everywhere
Clocks – The Angel of Mons

Set 2
Dancing With the Moonlit Knight
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Firth of Fifth
More Fool Me
The Battle of Epping Forest
After the Ordeal
The Cinema Show
Aisle of Plenty
Deja Vu
Dance on a Volcano

Encore
Los Endos

I had been looking forward to this concert ever since I bought tickets at the beginning of the year. I had never seen Steve Hackett live, but it had been at the top of my bucket list for a while. He’s my favorite guitarist, and I’ve loved all of the recent Genesis Revisited live albums. I consider Selling England By the Pound to be one of the finest albums ever made, so I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to see Mr. Hackett and company perform it live. They didn’t disappoint.

During the first half of the show, the band played highlights from Hackett’s 1979 solo album Spectral Mornings and this year’s At the Edge of Light. The whole set was very strong, but I particularly enjoyed Craig Blundell’s drum solo. Some drum solos can be a little boring, but not this one. Very engaging, interesting, and complex. The opening “Every Day” really highlighted the light and airy style of Hackett’s solo music, while “Beasts In Our Time” showed how heavy his music can be. Jonas Reingold’s bass was exceptional all night, but the bass line on “Under the Eye of the Sun” really allowed his talent to shine.

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