Here are the reissues and live albums from 2019 that grabbed me on first listen, then compelled repeated plays. I’m not gonna rank them except for my Top Favorite status, which I’ll save for the very end. Links to previous reviews or purchase sites are embedded in the album titles. But first, a graphic tease …
What new music, live albums, reissues (regular, deluxe or super-deluxe) and tours are heading our way between now and All Hallows Eve? Check out the exhaustive (and potentially exhausting) sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with other personal priorities — below. Click on the titles for pre-order links — whenever possible, you’ll wind up at the online store that gets as much money as possible directly to the musicians.
- Dave Kerzner, Static Live Extended Edition: recorded at the 2017 Progstock festival. Kerzner’s complete Static album in concert, plus selected live highlights & new studio tracks. Pre-orders ship in late August.
- August 30:
- Sons of Apollo, Live with the Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony: recorded at Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s Roman amphitheatre (the site of previous live efforts from Anathema and Devin Townsend). Available in Blu-Ray, 3 CD + Blu-Ray, and 3 CD + DVD + Blu Ray versions.
- Tool, Fear Inoculum: Tool’s first album in 13 years. Available via digital download, as well as “a deluxe, limited-edition CD version (which) features a 4” HD rechargeable screen with exclusive video footage, charging cable, 2 watt speaker, a 36-page booklet and a digital download card.” Really.
Following the jump, the reissues and compilations from this past year that:
- For one reason or another, I absolutely had to buy (whether I previously had a copy or not), and
- That grabbed me on first listen and haven’t let go through repeated plays. Except for my Top Favorite at the end of the post, I haven’t ranked them — in my opinion, they’re all worth your time. But first, a graphic tease …
Music is powerful. C.S. Lewis wrote: “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.” [The Weight of Glory]
Music is transcendent and truly exists only among man (whales, wolves, and birds notwithstanding.) who use music to imitate and re-create the ontological, above and beyond the emotions of pain, loss, or even temporary contentment.
As much as I/we may like and enjoy rock and pop music (I do love the Ramones, Beach Boys, and Abba. to name but a few) the true worth of progressive rock music, “prog,” is that it not only frustrates the mere commercial designs of FM station managers and music directors (3-minute bites and bottom line revenues $) but that its subject matter soars above cars, girls, booze, and rebellion.
The greatest prog bands and performers have always opened the listener to challenging vistas of speculative fiction, socio-economic dynamics, and the very heart of man itself—sin and redemption; self-sacrifice and self-reflection; and grace. Whether it’s RUSH with 2112, DREAM THEATRE with Scenes from a Memory, or MARILLION’s Brave, the best of progressive lyrics and engaging musical composition, always enrich, and makes one more human than just about any other genre of current musical fare.
And as much as I love science fiction concept albums or cosmic themed instrumental tone-pieces, there is one theme that touches something very deep inside all of us—the stories of our homes, families, neighborhoods, towns and shires. The idea of place is both nominal and real. We all come from some place and we all want to go back to those special places of the heart—our past and our future—that bring reunion and safe haven.
There are some seminal bands that have addressed these topics of land and earth, i.e. PLACE, and its inextricable connection, at least hitherto, with the wandering and prodigal pilgrims of the age of impermanence. JETHRO TULL gave us the criminally underrated Heavy Horses (and other classics on most of their discography) and Ray Davies & The KINKS produced the greatest of the 1960s musical manifestos to agrarian worth and the encroachments of modernity for modernity’s sake with The Kinks Are The Village Preservation Society. Some of early GENESIS also taps into the vanishing pastoral Britain (parts of Selling England & Wind and Wuthering might be examples). BARCLAY JAMES HARVEST also explored these themes in their 1970s and 80s recordings. John Lees specifically addresses his own background of growing up in Manchester in his 2013 album North.
It doesn’t matter whether one grew up in East London, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Glasgow (Al Stewart’s 45 year career is sprinkled with nods to not just his love for “general” history but to his own roots), Dublin (Horslips) or Topeka, Kansas (Kerry Livgren’s career with and without KANSAS bespeaks a loving and nostalgic nod to his home town and state).
All of the above is my way of saying that progressive music has found its penultimate, if not ultimate, purveyor of music of “place” with BIG BIG TRAIN.
I just listened to my copy of Wassail (which finally arrived from amazon.com) and in a heightened state of “enthused” tranquility wanted to pen a review that wasn’t a review. Nobody can say it any better than Brad Birzer did in his own superb review a few days ago right here ( https://progarchy.com/2015/06/05/a-good-little-truth-bbts-wassail/ ) but I wanted to share just WHY BBT touches so many of us.
The best music, like the best literature, art, and food is not abstract, ethereal, and free-floating in the aether. BIG BIG TRAIN grounds their brilliant songs in their own mother Muse of England; not England of the silver-screen or modern television, but England of the docks, quarries, factories, row houses, back alleys, family tables, and gravesides. BIG BIG TRAIN is the soundtrack to contemplating the “higher things.” Though Wassail is only a four song ep it continues their passage through the seas of brilliance to the Grey Havens of musical Proghalla.
And as much as I love hearing Joey singing “Beat on the Brat,” BIG BIG TRAIN elevates us all in ways that Southern Agrarians, British dock workers, West Virginia coal miners, and families of faith not only understand, but believe in their souls. While BBT writes the truth that the hymnist penned in the words “change and decay in all around I see…” they also place us at the family table of peace and community.
The number that most embodies the spirit of the season depicts a violent robbery of Santa Claus. Thirty-five Christmases ago, The Kinks released “Father Christmas,” a gritty tale about a department-store Santa getting rolled by a gang of teenagers. “Father Christmas, give us some money/We got no time for your silly toys/We’ll beat you up if you don’t hand it over/Give all the toys to the little rich boys.”
It’s a 45 with a sense of humor. It also has a sense of the Beatitudes.
If upon first listen “Father Christmas” rings as cynicism inverting the spirit of giving into one of taking, subsequent spins reveal a track telling us to give thanks for our good fortune rather than the small fortune under the tree. A hoodlum instructs St. Nick to hold off on the Bionic Man costume for his brother and the cuddly doll for his sister. “But give my daddy a job cause he needs one/He’s got lots of mouths to feed.”
“Father Christmas” invites us to be more Christ like. An ode superficially about the ultimate expression of materialism (theft) becomes a spiritual admonition to remember the least among us.
And, as Dan points out, the ultimate coda to the song is how Ray Davies actually got shot in New Orleans when he chased two muggers!
By the way, Dan says the best Christmas songs “can be counted on an eight-beaded abacus” and lists “Silent Night” as one of the eight best.
I have to say that the only version of “Silent Night” that I can wholeheartedly endorse is Leah’s version. And I wish Dan could have seen her amazing show last night, because she did epic metal versions of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”, “The Holly and the Ivy”, and “God Rest Ye Merry”, which Dan will have to make room for on his abacus! But more about Leah’s incredible concert later on, as Progarchy shall post a full review…