Sunday, September 29, 2013

CD Review: The Prog Collective's Epilogue


(Purple Pyramid Records)

A couple years back, Yes guitarist and keyboardist Billy Sherwood had the idea to launch a project with a bunch of his talented prog-rock pals and former bandmates and see what would happen. Sherwood solicited collaborations from members of Yes, Asia, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, and others who recorded together as the Prog Collective, the outfit's 2012 self-titled debut album performing better than anybody involved had expected.

The Prog Collective's Epilogue

Hoping to capture lightning in a bottle for a second time (or on tape, as the case may be), Sherwood enlisted an all-star collection of talent for the creation of Epilogue, the sophomore effort by the Prog Collective. This second kick at the can includes artists like Rick Wakeman and Chris Squire of Yes; Jordan Rudess and Derek Sherinian, both veterans of Dream Theater; Larry Fast (Synergy); Steve Hillage (Gong, solo artist); John Wetton (Roxy Music, Asia); Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Deep Purple); Patrick Moraz (Moody Blues); and Tony Kaye and Peter Banks (both Yes, Flash). There are a bunch of other musos here, as well as ol' Captain Kirk himself, William Shatner, providing vocals on one song as only Shatner can.

The resulting music is exciting and exhilarating, blending traditional 1970s-styled progressive rock with contemporary sound and recording techniques. After all, modern day proggers like Spock's Beard, the Flower Kings, Dream Theater, and others have updated and expanded the definition of prog-rock over the past 20 years or so, dragging the music's intricate sound and virtuoso instrumentation into the 21st century with a focus on balancing songcraft and melody with flailing guitars and buzzing synthesizers.

Are We To Believe?

"Are We To Believe?," the opening track of Epilogue, is a perfect example of the Prog Collective's tightrope walk, the song sounding like a cross between early, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis and poppy, 1980s-era Yes. XTC's Colin Moulding takes the microphone for "Are We To Believe?," sounding curiously like Phil Collins in his vocal phrasing, but delivering an altogether otherworldly performance as Rick Wakeman's synths rage away in providing an instrumental foundation for the song. Steve Hillage adds some nice texture with his innovative guitar solos, while Mel Collins fleshes out the tune with squalls of sax and flute.

The vastly underrated John Wetton provides vocals for "What Can Be Done?," the Asia frontman bringing a particularly British sort of soul to his performance as guitarist John Wesley and keyboardist Derek Sherinian create a claustrophobic, dark-hued musical ambiance to serve as an instrumental backdrop. Fee Waybill of the Tubes is the odd man out on Epilogue, a seemingly out-of-character choice as collaborator, and his vocals are all but lost below the backing harmonies and instrumental fury of "Adding Fuel To The Fire." Steve Morse's guitar swats and stings like a pterodactyl-sized wasp here, while Jordan Rudess's understated keyboard fills strike like a stiletto rather than hitting like a bludgeon, and Sherwood's lively percussion proves to be a deft addition to the song.

Tomorrow Becomes Today

"Tomorrow Becomes Today" features Peter Banks' final performance, recorded before his death earlier this year, the guitarist layering his gorgeous tone and brilliant stringplay behind the soft, almost buried-in-the-mix vocals of Curved Air's Sonja Kristina. Banks' guitar soars and flutters like a nectar-drunk hummingbird before Larry Fast's cacophonic keyboard runs break the spell. Banks' guitar continues to flow with the current, though, rising to the top at times, otherwise just propping up the fragile construct. It's a stunning swansong, and a fitting tribute to an overlooked talent.

By contrast, "Shining Diamonds" is a sort of Yes/Moody Blues hybrid with bassist Chris Squire and keyboardist Patrick Moraz cementing the rhythmic bedrock on which Alan Parsons layers his breathless vocals and closet prog-rock fan Steve Stevens (best-known as Billy Idol's longtime guitarist) contributes a solid effort of electric and acoustic guitarplay. Moraz's imaginative keyboard solo showcases both his talent and influence on younger keyboard wizards like Rudess and Sherinian while Stevens' energetic solo displays his unassailable prog chops.

Just Another Day

Sherwood takes the vocal spotlight on "Just Another Day," a spry prog-pop tune with classical undertones, the song bringing more than a hint of vintage Pink Floyd to its mystery. Gentle Giant's Gary Green adds a gorgeous mix of electric and acoustic guitars while Tony Kaye provides brilliant Hammond organ and other keyboards to fill out the performance, bringing up memories of his long-forgotten band Badger. Sherwood's voice is tailor-made for this sort of lofty space-rock exercise, capturing a cosmic vibe while his rhythm guitar and subtle percussion work create a mesmerizing instrumental tapestry.

Shatner has become somewhat of a prog-rock aficionado these days, and his upcoming album Ponder The Mystery is produced by Sherwood and includes contributions from guitarist Steve Vai, keyboardist Rick Wakeman and other prog and jazz legends. Here Shatner delivers a spoken word performance on the title track atop a miasma of Sherwood's six-string chaos and drummer Jim Cuomo's solid timekeeping. Shatner's voice is electronically-altered to fit with the mood of the song, but it's an effective effort as no heavy lifting is needed in the face of Sherwood's energetic and innovative fretwork.

The Reverend's Bottom Line

It's unlikely that the Prog Collective's Epilogue will gain many converts among those rock snobs who turn up their noses at progressive rock's frequently meandering soundscapes (even while they wax poetic about Miles Davis's bleating improvisations). For those of us who grew up during the golden age of bands like King Crimson, Yes, ELP and Gentle Giant, though, the Prog Collective is like catnip to a bored feline.

While there's little innovation on Epilogue, neither is there a need to reinvent the wheel here…this is music performed by virtuoso instrumentalists for listeners who enjoy its intricacy and dimensions. Plus, it sounds like everybody here is having a heck of a lot of fun playing music without commercial expectations, and if the Prog Collective manages to convey the charms of prog-rock to a few younger listeners, 'tis all the better!

Click on the CD cover to buy the Prog Collective's Epilogue from

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Blodwyn Pig Anthology CD Available

Blodwyn Pig's Pigthology CD A lot of folks thought that original Jethro Tull guitarist Mick Abrahams was a bit daft when he left that band after its 1968 debut album This Was to form a new band. Dissatisfied by the musical direction that Tull was veering towards, Abrahams joined up with multi-instrumentalist Jack Lancaster (sax, flute, violin), bassist Andy Pyle, and drummer Ron Berg (later replaced by former Tull bandmate Clive Bunker) to form the British blues-rock outfit Blodwyn Pig.

The band's lifespan was short indeed, comprised of a pair of original albums over two years, two tours of the U.S., and several festival appearances opening for artists like the Who, Procol Harum, Miles Davis, Pink Floyd and others. The band's critically-acclaimed 1969 album Ahead Rings Out was a forward-thinking mix of blues and rock with jazz-fusion undertones while the following year's Getting To This adhered to a similar musical blueprint.

Blodwyn Pig went through several fits and starts throughout the 1970s before breaking up, with Abrahams putting together an all new band for 1993's Lies album. The band has recorded sporadically ever since, sometimes under the guise of Abrahams' solo albums, to the point that it's hard to tell the difference between Blodwyn Pig and Mick Abrahams these days. The band may have become a mere footnote in rock 'n' roll history, a proverbial cult band of interest only to blues-rock fanatics and Anglophiles if not for the Internet, where obscurity often finds the respect it originally deserved.

The last couple of years have seen a steady flow of Abrahams and Blodwyn Pig archival releases, everything from studio outtakes to live shows, often of dubious provenance. With the recent release of Pigthology – a collection of rare unreleased tracks produced by Abrahams and Lancaster – fans finally have a band-curated archival album, made available by the good folks at Gonzo Multimedia.

Pigthology features twelve tracks, including rare studio versions of such longtime fan favorites as "Dear Jill," "See My Way," and "Drive Me." Pigthology also includes tracks from the band's 1970 appearance on John Peel's BBC show ("Baby Girl," "Same Old Story") and live performances from the Marquee Club in Soho in 1969 ("The Change Song") and the Luton Town Hall in 1973 ("Cosmogrification"), among other tracks. Click on the CD cover to buy Pigthology from 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

CD Review: Steve Hillage's Live In England 1979

Live In England 1979

(Gonzo Multimedia)

An important member of progressive rock's royal family, guitarist Steve Hillage had his fingers in a number of groundbreaking and influential prog-rock outfits of the late 1960s and early '70s. With keyboardist/guitarist Dave Stewart (no, not the Eurythmics guy), Hillage formed the group Uriel, which evolved into prog cult faves Egg after Hillage's departure for school.

Progressive Rock Royalty

The guitarist popped up a couple years later to form the short-lived prog outfit Khan with Stewart, the band releasing one acclaimed album, 1972's Space Shanty, after which Hillage hooked up with former Soft Machine guitarist Daevid Allen in the influential psychedelic experimental prog band Gong. Hillage contributed fretwork and songwriting to three of Gong's most important albums: 1973's Flying Teapot and Angel Egg, and 1974's You.

After reuniting with Stewart and Egg to record that band's third and final album, 1974's The Civil Surface, Hillage hung out his shingle and begun flying solo with the 1975 release of his excellent debut album, Fish Rising. A number of acclaimed albums would follow, including 1976's L and the following year's Motivation Radio. By the mid-1980s, however, Hillage had turned to production, working on albums by Simple Minds and Robyn Hitchcock before virtually disappearing from music altogether. He would resurface in the 1990s, working with electronic dance band the Orb before launching his own electronic outfit System 7, with which he has explored the far reaches of popular music well into the 2000s.

Steve Hillage's Live In England 1979

In 1979, however, Hillage and band were touring in support of that year's Live Herald album, itself a collection of fine performances of material from across the previous half-decade of Hillage's career. Live In England 1979, a two-disc CD/DVD set, takes the Live Herald tracklist one step further…capturing a February 1979 performance by Hillage at The University of Kent, this Gonzo Multimedia release offers up over an hour of mind-bending prog-rock audio but also a video version of the performance.

Live In England 1979 opens with the psychedelic-tinged six-minute rocker "The Salmon Song," taken from Hillage's debut disc, that offers up plenty of screaming guitars courtesy Hillage and his old friend Dave Stewart, and some amazing percussion work by drummer Andy Anderson. "Unzipping the Zype" is a freeform band jam that includes synthesizer wizard (and longtime Hillage partner) Miquette Giraudy and bassist John McKenzie along with Hillage, Stewart, and Anderson, every band member getting an instrumental moment in the spotlight while Hillage and Giraudy share vocals. The song is a spacey amalgam of prog-rock, jazzy licks, electronic riffing, and heady percussion.

Electrick Gypsies

Hillage's take on Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" is taken from the guitarist's album L and twisted into a hallucinogenic musical landscape that the composer wouldn't recognize. With Giraudy's synth swirls providing a multi-hued backdrop, the band's gorgeous vocal harmonies, and Hillage's imaginative guitar licks take the hippie anthem to an entirely higher plane of consciousness. Ditto for the band's take on George Harrison's classic "It's All Too Much" (taken from the Beatles' Yellow Submarine album), the performance graced by dancing synths, melodic vocals, and gorgeous guitar lines.

Two bonus tracks on Live In England 1979 are actually live performances from an uncredited 1977 show, perhaps the Rainbow Theatre show in London that was partially documented by Live Herald. Both "Hurdy Gurdy Glissando" and "Electrick Gypsies" are culled from Hillage's L album, the former ostensibly inspired by the Donovan tune, Hillage and crew taking their vision to deliciously mind-altering extremes, the performance a third eye-opening psychedelic brew of soaring guitars; buzzing, throbbing synthesizers; breakneck percussion; and fluid bass lines that mix jazzy and classical elements into the prog-rock stew. The latter is a more straight-forward 1970s-era hard rock number but with plenty of proggy flourishes like phased fretwork, jazzy percussion, odd time changes, and oscillating synth riffs livening up the performance.    

The Reverend's Bottom Line

The DVD portion of Live In England 1979 offers up pretty much the entire audio portion of the set, minus the 1977 live bonus tracks but including the ethereal dueling acoustic and electric guitars of "Radio," a simply stunning performance that emerges from billowing clouds of smoke-machine generated fog, as well as the scorching "Light in the Sky," another period rocker with plenty of spacey visuals, Giraudy's oddball vocals, and Hillage's lively fretwork. The DVD also includes a 2006 interview with Hillage and Giraudy talking about the Live Herald album and the tour documented by Live In England 1979.  

Overall, Live In England 1979 offers up a fine representation of the Steve Hillage Band on stage as well as the guitarist's creative state of mind during the latter part of the 1970s as Hillage explored the outer reaches of the psych, prog, and hard rock universes. The CD and DVD are a lot of fun, and a welcome reminder of Hillage's immense and often underrated talents and his hallowed status as one of progressive rock's great guitarists and composers.

(Click here to buy Steve Hillage's Live In England 1979 from

CD Review: Hackamore Brick's One Kiss Leads To Another

One Kiss Leads To Another

(Real Gone Music)

Brooklyn-born Hackamore Brick were one of the great "should have beens" in 1970s rock 'n' roll, the foursome's decade-opening album One Kiss Leads To Another earning the Brick cult band status, the vinyl LP becoming a high-priced collectors' item that only grew in status as the years passed. The band's curious mix of minimalist pop-rock songcraft and overt Velvet Underground influences – the band members were reportedly all VU fan club members – presaged both late 1970s new wave and '80s-era power-pop sounds. 

Cult Favorites

Comprised of singer/keyboardist Chick Newman, guitarist/singer Tommy Moonlight, bassist Bob Roman, and drummer Robbie Biegel, Hackamore Brick was the proverbial mystery band. Although One Kiss Leads To Another generally earned the band critical kudos, not much else seems to have been written about Hackamore Brick in the music press. When they disbanded a little more than a year after their debut album's release, the band disappeared into the rock 'n' roll memory hole along with fellow obscurities Blue Ash and Crabby Appleton, awaiting re-discovery at a later date. The band's story isn't really remarkable by rock 'n' roll standards. Newman and Moonlight formed the core of the band, with Biegel and Roman coming on board later.

After gigging around the NYC area for the better part of a year, opening for folks like Richie Havens and British jazz-rock band If, and playing solo shows at such dubious locales as the city's Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, the band came to the attention of Kama Sutra Records. The label was attempting to branch out beyond its bubblegum pop music roots, signing rockers such as the Flamin' Groovies and Dust, so Hackamore Brick fit right into the label's plans. One Kiss Leads To Another was recorded in just one week with former rock critic Richard Robinson producing, the album subsequently released into the world with little or nothing in the way of promotion…not unlike those great Groovies and Dust records, when you think about it.     

Hackamore Brick's One Kiss Leads To Another

After decades of discussion and conjecture, One Kiss Leads To Another has finally been reissued on CD and is available for deeper inspection. The album kicks off with Chick Newman's laid-back ballad "Reachin'," the song's mellow vocals and elegant arrangement sounding like an outtake from Lou Reed's self-titled 1972 solo debut, and belying a similar dark lyrical hue resting uneasily beneath the surface. The song's introspective vibe and minimalist instrumentation echoes that which would come later from Jonathan Richman's Modern Lovers and also places it in the 1980s college rock firmament alongside bands like the dB's and Game Theory.

Moonlight's "Oh! Those Sweet Bananas" may sport an oddball title and slightly-skewed lyrics but the song furthers the band's Velvet Underground connection with Newman's flat, Lou Reedish vocal intonation, an infectious melody, and Moonlight's raw, undisciplined, and minimal fretwork. By contrast, the guitarist's "Radio," which was released as the album's single, is an early 1960s-styled gentle rocker with a great chorus and a melodic hook, but a definite mid-1970s vibe with awkward lyrics and Moonlight's breathless vocals.

I Watched You Rhumba

"I Watched You Rhumba" is similar in style to "Radio," albeit more upbeat and not dissimilar from some of REO Speedwagon's later tunes, mixing a pop-rock rhythm with energetic pianoplay and spry guitar licks driving the fast-paced vocals. Newman's mid-tempo "I Won't Be Around" is an interesting construct, the arrangement driven by the singer's vocals and top-of-the-mix piano with an underlying keyboard riff and a few crashing cymbals and cascading drumbeats. "And I Wonder" is even more pastoral, the vocals literally hidden beneath the lush instrumentation and calliope keyboard washes with work at a counterpoint with each other. One keyboard track sounds like Ray Manzarek of the Doors, mysterious and atmospheric, while the other evokes the psych-pop of bands like the Millennium. The song builds to an interesting instrumental crescendo with a definite Middle Eastern vibe that simply sings "psychedelic." 

The Newman/Moonlight composition "Zip Gun Woman" is an up-tempo rocker that could have provided an interesting musical direction for the band had it forged a second album. Riding a strident keyboard riff that flowers into a proggish jam, Moonlight's rapidfire vocals dance effortlessly along the edge with dangerous appeal. The Real Gone Music CD reissue of One Kiss Leads To Another includes three bonus tracks, including the previously unreleased single version of "I Watched You Rhumba" in glorious mono. A cover version of the Leiber-Stoller song "Searchin'" was the B-side of the "Radio" single, the song a solid rocker with a Rolling Stones feel, snarling vocals, and punkish intensity. 

The Reverend's Bottom Line

So, does Hackamore Brick's One Kiss Leads To Another live up to the hype you ask? Well, yes and no…the album is a solid collection of pop-oriented rock songs with intriguing performances. However, Robinson's immature and often slight production leaves several songs sounding unfinished, although the re-mastering for CD certainly provides a welcome sonic "pop" to the material. A stronger guiding hand in the studio may have also helped the young band further develop some of the songs into true power-pop masterpieces.

Moonlight wasn't the strongest guitar player on the late 1960s scene, and his six-string contributions here are largely overshadowed by Newman's stellar and ever-present keyboards. The rhythm section of Roman and Biegel are sturdy but unspectacular, but the songwriting skills of Newman and Moonlight are the album's definite high point, the pair – both solo and together – showing a great deal of promise as composers that, with a little ripening, could have been world-beating. Overall, I'd heartily recommend One Kiss Leads To Another for any fan of 1970s pop-rock, Hackamore Brick an also-ran that could have been great given the time and attention they deserved. [Review by Rev. Keith A. Gordon]

(Click here to order Hackamore Brick's One Kiss Leads To Another from