Here are the albums of new music from 2018 that grabbed me on first or second listen, then compelled repeated plays. I’m not gonna rank them except for those that achieved Top Favorite status, which I’ll save for the very end. The others are listed alphabetically by artist. (Old school style, that is — last names first where necessary!) Links to the ones I’ve previously reviewed are embedded in the album titles. But first, a graphic tease …
“And I hold the love of who you are
The passion your hands brought to my ears
The music’s blood became our bond
A good man, that we honor here.”
— Robert Berry, “Our Bond”
Robert Berry has pulled off something remarkable. The Rules Have Changed, Berry’s new effort under the moniker 3.2, succeeds at a daunting task — paying deeply felt homage to the late, great Keith Emerson, whose shocking death thwarted the collaboration the duo were planning after 30 years apart. Painstakingly crafted, packed with inspired musicianship on songs that tackle weighty, thoughtful themes — matters of life and death, in fact — it’s music created to touch the heart, and to last.
My first, astonished impression was how completely Berry assimilates Emerson’s style and sound, makes it his own, and takes it to thrilling new places. True, there was already material to work with before Emerson’s death — an unused composition from the early days of 3, Emerson’s ideas that later formed the backbones of three more songs, as well as Berry’s Celtic-tinged “This Letter” and the upbeat single “Powerful Man.”
But beyond the achievement of playing every instrument himself — Carl Palmer-style drums, bass, guitar, and virtuosic keyboards — Berry is absolutely dialed in to what made Emerson’s music so special. The eight songs here take expansive, unpredictable forms, launching inventive salvos of extended melody and harmony, deployed in a dizzying mix of classical, jazz and rock idioms that shoulder each other aside with gleeful abandon. Whether the tune’s a collaboration or a solo effort, Berry nails this every time. All the classic Emerson colors are present and correct, too: lyrical grand piano; detuned uptempo boogie licks; spitting, sinuous Hammond organ lines; majestic multi-tonal synthesizer riffs and pads; and of course, lead Moog solos that will melt your face off. (Berry’s no slouch on lead guitar and bass, either.)
Crafting lyrics to match the impact of this music had to have been an uphill struggle — but again, Berry has risen to the task. He celebrates the sweet mystery of love for all it’s worth — love of parents and children in “Powerful Man,” love of a spouse, kids and grandkids in “This Letter.” He confronts the challenges of leaving a legacy (“What You’re Dreamin’ Now” and “Your Mark on the World”) and time’s inevitable passage (“One by One”). The title track, in memory of Magellan’s Trent Gardner, and the Emerson tribute “Our Bond” look loss, despair and death itself in the face, courageously grieving without flinching. Even the ultimate question — does anyone guide our path? — turns up as the subject of “Somebody’s Watching.” In sum, these lyrics are powerful, rich and mature, with nary a cliche in sight — exactly what was required.
I’m not exaggerating: this fine album pays the best tribute possible to Keith Emerson, taking the potential embodied in 3’s 1988 debut, To the Power of Three, and realizing it to the full. Robert Berry never stood still after his halcyon days with Emerson and Palmer, as his solo albums, production work, and collaborations with Greg Kihn, Ambrosia, Alliance and December People attest. Still, The Rules Have Changed may well be the achievement of his career; it honors a mentor he respected and loved and reveals his own talent and passion in action at the highest level. Here’s hoping Berry can bring the planned international tour of 3.2 (complete with 3’s live guitarist Paul Keller) to a town near you soon! In the meantime, listen for yourself:
— Rick Krueger
The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” was released as a single on March 14, 1966, eventually reaching number 14 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. Influenced by Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar and John Coltrane’s Africa/Brass album, it was one of the first (if not the first) glimmerings of psychedelic rock. And thus a progenitor of prog? I think so.
Check out three views of this pioneering tune for yourself. First, a Byrds promo appearance lip-syncing for an unknown TV show. Note David Crosby’s brilliant outfit, complete with Russian hat:
Of course, “Eight Miles High” has been covered numerous times. Back in 1988, it was the one of the key tracks on To The Power of Three, the collaboration of Keith Emerson, Carl Palmer and Robert Berry. How Eighties is this? Check out Berry’s headless Steinberger bass! Emerson’s keytar! Palmer wielding a Dynacord electronic drum controller at the front of the stage! Plus the, uh, dancers “playing” snare drums in the background. Goodness! (Though it does serve as a reminder that Robert Berry releases his posthumous collaboration with Keith Emerson, 3.2: The Rules Have Changed, on August 10.)
Three years later (ouch) in 1991, “Eight Miles High” was one of the cover tunes on Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s album Spin. Since their 1981 version of Lesley Gore’s “It’s My Party” had snagged number one on the British single charts, Stewart and Gaskin had been bringing a thoroughly proggy attitude to the synth-pop duo format. Spin is no different, mixing quirky originals with fresh takes on Rufus Thomas’ “Walking the Dog,” Joni Mitchell’s “Amelia,” Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” — and the Byrds. One bonus feature of the album: the precocious pre-Porcupine Tree percussion of Gavin Harrison. Check out the spectacular drum fill that kicks off this version!
Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin’s new album Star Clocks, featuring “eight Dave Stewart originals alongside a cover of an iconic 1960s song,” is out on August 17. Pre-order it at Burning Shed.
Bonus track: Stewart & Gaskin’s samurai/Beach Boys/cathedral bells version of “It’s My Party,” with special guest video appearance by … Thomas Dolby?
— Rick Krueger
After Emerson Lake & Palmer’s late-1970s collapse, the separate members of the trio didn’t stop making music, releasing solo projects, launching new bands — and often working with one (but never both!) of their former colleagues.
The last such project before ELP’s 1990’s reunion was 3, a Geffen Records brainstorm to bring together the post-Lake & Powell Keith Emerson, the post-Asia Carl Palmer and guitarist/vocalist Robert Berry, a hot young gun from Los Angeles in the Trevor Rabin mold. Aiming for another 90125 (or at least another GTR), the 1988 album To the Power of Three had some solid, intriguing moments — but it wasn’t pop enough to yield a substantial hit, or prog enough to reactivate ELP’s fanbase. When Geffen cut off tour support and ordered 3 back into the studio for another album, Emerson pulled the plug on the band.
Fast forward to March 2016. With an archive live release from 3’s US tour stirring fresh interest, Berry and Emerson planned to collaborate on a duo album, updating and re-energizing their sound for an environment where prog of all stripes had found an audience again. Then, succumbing to depression on the eve of a Japanese solo tour, Emerson killed himself.
Nevertheless, using co-written songs and musical ideas Keith Emerson left behind, Robert Berry (also a classically trained pianist) persisted, playing all the instruments himself for the now-solo project 3.2. The result is The Rules Have Changed, due for release on August 10 from Frontiers Records. No less of a progressive music authority than Innerviews editor Anil Prasad calls it “an expertly-executed and performed album that takes the spirit of the first 3 release and propels it into edgier and more adventurous territory, while retaining the melodic qualities of its predecessor.”
I got to meet Robert Berry a couple years back, when his charity band December People (playing Christmas songs in the styles of classic rock and prog artists) toured Michigan for the holidays. Our brief conversation revealed him as a down to earth guy, with fond memories of his time in 3 and deep respect for Keith Emerson. Based on the sample track “Somebody’s Watching,” which absolutely captures the sound of the original band at their most daring and delightful, I’m definitely looking forward to The Rules Have Changed, and I wish Berry’s 3.2 project all the success in the world.
— Rick Krueger