Earlier this year, I questioned whether or not 2018 was going to be a poor year for prog. It seemed like the the progressive rock community took a few months to stop and take a collective breath… but that was only the breath before the plunge. The second half of the year saw many excellent new releases. The following are some of my favorites from 2018, in no particular order (my top two at the bottom of this list are tied for first place).
Radiant Records–the company founded and owned by Neal Morse–is having a three-day sale, with the wonderful tagline, “Prog more, spend less.”
The sales are on cds/DVDs/ and/or blu-rays of MORSEFEST2015, SNOW LIVE, SIMILITUDE OF A DREAM, ALIVE AGAIN, KaLIVEoscope, TESTIMONY 2, MOMENTUM, GOD WON’T GIVE UP, and SO MANY ROADS.
Frankly, all specular releases.
To go to the sale (which ends this Friday), go here: http://www.radiantrecords.com/category/191735-bargain-bin.aspx
As I am sure is true for all of us, albums I love and cherish and listen to, repeatedly, carry with them fond personal memories. For better or worse, almost every single Neal Morse album and Spock’s Beard album comes with a story, and usually more than one. As I’ve mentioned on progarchy before, I’ll never forget the release of the first Spock’s Beard album, THE LIGHT. Being a prog fan since as far back as I can remember, I had no idea about the arrival of neo-Prog in England, and I had to content myself in the early 1990s with jam bands such as Phish and jam pop bands such as the Dave Matthews Band to satisfy my not so easily satisfied prog desires. I had purchased so many CDs and had had so many discussions with the manager of Tracks in Bloomington, Indiana, that she remained on the lookout for me. Anything that even remotely smacked of prog, she let me know. She rather gleefully handed me a copy of THE LIGHT when it first came out. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement. I was just plain elated, inserting that cd in the tray, putting on my Sennheizers, and falling into prog bliss, attempting to follow all the nuances of the album and to figure out all of the lyrics. I mean really, who is the catfish man?
And, why did this guy with such a great voice have to cuss so much?
by Rick Krueger
After the jump are the new albums and videos from 2017 that grabbed me on first or second listen, then compelled repeated plays. I’m not gonna rank them except for my Top Favorite, 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.
After what seemed like an eternity (yes, even at age 50, patience is not one of my virtues), my copy of the deluxe edition of SNOW LIVE by Spock’s Beard arrived this afternoon. And, the wait was more than worth it. This thing is just loaded to the max with goodness and beauty. Lots of truth as well. 2 CDs, 2 DVDs, and 2 Blu-ray disks. Additionally, the set comes with a certificate of authenticity. My authentic number is 1,887 out of 2,000, in case you were wondering. And, you were wondering, right? There are also a number of elongated postcards of the band members and a poster.
The best part of it all, though, is the book. The size of a traditional album, the SNOW LIVE book is a thing of glory at 50 pages. Full of liner notes and photos, I found myself quite taken with what Radiant Records has produced. I’ve only begun to explore this all, but I’m thrilled to have it. This is some of the best packaging I’ve seen, and I hope other bands take notice.
I really like, for example, the Rush boxset of 2112, but I think I like this open book format the best. As sturdy as the Rush 2112 box is, I’m always a bit afraid it will get crushed. Not so with the SNOW LIVE deluxe packaging. It just feels solid. As solid as it is beautiful.
Thank you, Radiant! And, thank you, Amy Pippin at Radiant Records for doing the hard work of processing all of the orders and getting these shipped out.
Several bands have recently released some nice live albums. In no particular order, here are a few of the most notable:
Pineapple Thief: Where We Stood
Wow, when I first heard this, I wondered who or what lit a fire under this group’s collective backside. After watching the excellent film that accompanies this recording, I have to say it’s having Gavin Harrison behind the drum kit. As good as Pineapple Thief’s 2016 album Your Wilderness is, I think the versions from this show are better: tight, energetic, and riskier. And if you ever wondered where Bruce Soord came up with the band’s name, now you can find out. By the way, every song from Your Wilderness is performed here, except for “Where We Stood”. Go figure.
Spock’s Beard: Snow Live
A lot of us fans of the classic Spock’s Beard lineup never thought we would see them reunite, let alone perform the double-album masterpiece, Snow. Well, Neal Morse managed to get all the Beardsters – past and current – together at his 2016 MorseFest, and they delivered a tremendous performance of Snow in its entirety. I’m probably biased (because I was there), but it is quite an emotional experience.
Yes: Topographic Drama Live Across America
I approached this set with trepidation – it is the first recordings of Yes without the late Chris Squire participating. However, as I got into the music, I was very pleasantly surprised. Jon Davison does an excellent job on vocals and acoustic guitar, while Billy Sherwood fills Squire’s huge shoes. Steve Howe is still full of fire, and Geoff Downes is uniformly excellent on keyboards. They perform all of Drama (one of my favorite Yes albums), as well as “The Revealing Science of God” and “Ritual” from Topographic Oceans. Add in “And You and I”, “Heart of the Sunrise”, “Leaves of Green”, “Roundabout”, and “Starship Trooper”, and you have a set to satisfy any Yes lover. It definitely helps that Jay Schellen was able to play drums and assist Alan White. God bless him, but Alan’s timekeeping has gotten a little shaky over past few years. That said, this is a surprisingly strong set of performances from Yes.
Jeff Lynne’s ELO: Wembley or Bust
Holy cow, this is a fun concert to watch! I wish I’d been there in June of this year when Jeff Lynne, supported by a crack band, played songs from every phase of his career, including The Traveling Wilburys. The love for Jeff from the huge crowd is evident, and he delivers an outstanding performance. I had forgotten just how many popular (and beautiful) songs he’s written. Takes me back to my high school days when ELO’s music was inescapable on the radio. How far we have fallen…. Anyway, this show had me grinning from ear to ear from start to finish.
Though Neal Morse’s Radiant Records has become much less friendly (at least to reviewers) over the last year or so, I’m still rather excited about this release.
SNOW has been a masterpiece of prog since it first came out 15 years ago. I’m still kicking myself for not purchasing the deluxe package of Marillion’s last album, so I’m not going to make that mistake for this one.
And, I’ll not so quietly wish that Neal Morse and Radiant become more responsive to their fans in the not so distant future.
To order, go here: http://www.radiantrecords.com/products/692-snow-live.aspx
Radiant Records has announced a live release of Morsefest 2015, featuring two concerts covering Sola Scriptura, ?, and selections from the catalogs of Transatlantic and Spock’s Beard. One of the concerts even finds Mike Portnoy and Nick D’Virgilio on the same stage together.
You can pre-order the set now over at Radiant’s website. My only beef with the variety of sets on offer (besides the high price) is the fact that they aren’t offering a 2 Blu-Ray/4CD set. All they have is the 2DVD/4CD set or the 2 Blu-Ray set. Why they aren’t offering a DVD/Blu-Ray/CD set (much like the excellent Transatlantic KaLiveoscope box set from a couple years ago) is anyone’s guess.
Check out the trailer:
Fire Garden, FAR AND NEAR (2016). Tracks: Far and Near; There’s Something; A New Day; Life of a Drifter; A Thousand Lost Souls; War and Peace; Faint Shadows; Whitelight; and Diary of a Blood Moon.
One of the single best things about being a hyperfan of progressive rock music is always dealing with the most interesting of people. When it comes to prog—the musicians, the engineers, and the fans—we’re all basically a bunch of OCD perfectionists. And, I think we understand each other in ways non proggers simply cannot (as in, not constitutionally equipped to do so). In the nearly ten years I’ve been reviewing music online, I’ve met a number of absolutely fascinating people. None less so than Chicago’s young master of all that is melodic metal prog, Zee Baig.
The moment I first found Zee’s music—as first sold through his ep, aptly titled THE PRELUDE—I knew I had to reach out to him. I did, he was responsive, and we pretty quickly established a friendship through email. We talked about war, tradition, music, kids, art. You name it, and Zee and I talked about it. Even though we’re only a three-hours drive from one another, we’ve never actually met in person. Strange, but true. And, here’s hoping, someday soon this will be rectified.
Until that glorious moment, I’m more than content listening to Zee’s astounding music. It, in and of itself, has become a close friend. The band’s first album, SOUNDS OF MAJESTIC COLORS, has remained in my constant listening rotation since it first appeared in 2014. There’s no mistaking that the best of Dream Theater influenced and inspired much of the first album, but Fire Garden takes chances that Dream Theater never would. This is especially true in lyrical content. To be sure, Fire Garden is no clone of DT.
FAR AND NEAR, Fire Garden’s second full-length album, has just appeared on the market, and it’s a stunner, as strong and as good as anything else that has come out this year. This is no small praise when one considers how many greats have come out: from Frost* to Glass Hammer to Big Big Train. FAR AND NEAR stands with those at the very top.