Shed a tear for the hardcore prog collector — actually, don’t. This week has been absolutely crammed with articulate announcements looking to part fans from their hard-earned cash or pull them deeper into debt. And no, I’m not talking about the upcoming Derek Smalls solo album. Check out what’s coming our way as winter (hopefully) gives way to the spring of 2018:
How many of your favorite albums has Bill Bruford played on?
All those amazing early Yes albums (oh man, who can ever forget the way the drums come back in along with Rick Wakeman’s organ solo in “Roundabout”?), plus King Crimson albums like Red and Discipline (to name just two of my favorites), not to mention his insanely great solo work (I will always love “Fainting in Coils” — am I right, Kruekutt?) and, all considered, it is undeniable that if anyone ever deserved 100 honorary doctorates for contributions to progarchy, that man would be Bill Bruford.
But now he’s Dr. Bill Bruford, and he earned the doctorate himself. You can download and read his dissertation (thanks, Internet!) or buy it this year in print because it is being published by the University of Michigan Press.
Congratulations, Dr. Bruford! And welcome to Academy!
Well, this fits perfectly. Earlier today, our grand master of the sound stream, Craig “Yes, I’m a Folklorist” Breaden, posted about Steve Howe.
Now, as I type this, St. Nicholas and his entourage are screaming across the world, spreading love and joy, and the angels are getting ready to announce the birth of the messiah (not quite in this order, but I’m doing my best to take a trans-temporal position here).
For whatever reason–and, frankly, I’m really not sure why–I’ve listened to Yes’s 90125 every Christmas Eve since Christmas 1983.
Here I am, 34 years later, sitting in my home office, getting last minute Christmas gifts together and, sure enough, listening to 90125.
There’s absolutely nothing about 90125 that should be Christmas-y, but it is and always will be a Christmas album to me.
Drowning in stylistic audacity. . . when we reach, we believe in eternity. . .
Thank you Jon, Chris, Trevor, Tony, Alan, and Trevor. 34 years later, still Holding On.
For every Charley Patton putting songs to record in the South in the early decades of the last century, there were dozens who influenced the course of music without ever seeing a recording studio or microphone. One such country blues guitarist was Arnold Schultz, whose dynamic, syncopated thumb/index picking made an impact on musicians in western Kentucky, particularly Kennedy Jones, Mose Rager, Ike Everly, and Merle Travis. This Muhlenberg County sound, along with Maybelle Carter’s “scratch,” recast country music guitar playing, giving it a slick swing, a jazz potential, and directly shaped the music of Chet Atkins. As country music hit its sophisticated stride in the 1950s and 60s, Atkins was behind much of its transformation, his instrumental prowess, coupled with his skills as a producer, advancing an ethic of musicianship in country music that continues to hold sway. To this day much of the world’s guitar talent resides in Nashville.
And in England…
When Steve Howe joined Yes in 1970, he was able to up their game by bringing to it a music — channeling Travis and Atkins — that went deep to the roots of blues and country. He connected the dots with some hints of irony, for how could such classical posturing of the kind Yes exhibited (successfully) live tooth-by-jowl with such self-styled provincialism? That it works so well is one of the primary reasons Yes was Yes, and why Steve Howe is such a special guitarist. Like John Fahey, Howe was essentially a classical guitarist with a passion for the complex picking styles emerging from the American South decades prior. And ultimately this is what made progressive rock’s first wave what it was and gave it a freedom that could roam stylistically, because it could do justice to the styles that in their own rights were already a musical gumbo. Prog rock was and is about musicianship and musical literacy but, more importantly, it’s about creative synthesis, world music back to the source, and putting together the puzzle pieces in ways that make sense and that rock. And nothing, NOTHING, rocks like the kind of right hand action Merle Travis and Chet Atkins could bring to country swing.
Howe’s impact on Yes is is up front on 1971’s The Yes Album (his first with the group). The band was impressed enough with their new guitarist that they tucked a live instrumental, Howe’s “Clap,” in the middle of the first side of the album, setting up the “Disillusion” sequence in the next track, the prog epic “Starship Trooper.” In retrospect this was a radical move, and pushed Cream’s blues homages (“Spoonful,” “Sitting on Top of the World,” etc.), and Zeppelin’s folk tributes (thinking their reading of “Black Mountainside” and “Gallows Pole”) into new terrain. Put them in the cosmos, a space pastoral, conjuring the kind of world suggesting the LP covers Roger Dean would soon be painting for the group. Set the controls for the heart of the Delta.
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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.
by Rick Krueger
As I entered Reggie’s Rock Club on the final day of Progtoberfest, the Virginia band Kinetic Element were winding up their set. From the merch stand (where Discipline’s Matthew Parmenter was kind enough to make change for me as I bought CDs), their take on classic prog, spearheaded by keyboardist Mike Visaggio, sounded accomplished and intriguing; I wished I could have arrived earlier and heard more. Plus, you gotta love a band with a lead singer in a kilt! (Props to Progtoberfest’s Facebook group admin Kris McCoy for the picture below.)
The second high point of the festival for me followed, as fellow Detroiters Discipline held the Rock Club spellbound with their baleful, epic-length psychodramas. Matthew Parmenter reeled in the crowd with his declamatory vocals and emotional range; from there, the quartet’s mesmerizing instrumental interplay kept them riveted. The well-earned standing ovation at the end felt oddly cathartic, as if the audience was waking from a clinging nightmare, blinking at the newly-rediscovered daylight — even while rain clouds and colder temperatures rolled in outside.
Or, perhaps, I meant logo!