Reviews roundup – Esquire vs. General Lee vs. The Fertility Cult vs. Al Atkins vs. Spirits Burning & Clearlight
III: No Spare Planet
As the name suggests this is the third album from Esquire is the band formed by Nikki Squire, the first wife of Chris Squire from Yes. You can’t really call her prolific, as the debut came out in 1983, the follow up appeared in 1997 and it’s taken nineteen years for the third album to make an appearance.
Ms Esquire has some form in the prog world having sung on Chris Squire’s 1981 single “Run Like a Fox” and his 1975 solo album ‘Fish Out of Water’, and she sticks to the tried and trusted melodic prog template here.
In some ways it’s a sad release as her collaborator on this record, Nigel McLaren, passed away last year but the music hear serves him well as a testament to his abilities. Songs like “Ministry of Life” and “Human Rhythm” show that Nikki isn’t resting on other peoples laurels but has a talent that should have been more visible over years. Fans of melodic prog should pay attention to what’s going on here as it’s certainly worth it.
Country meets Southern rock time. And it’s off to the swamps of, um, Singapore.
Yes, you read that right. Singapore. You won’t be surprised to learn that the band have named themselves after the Duke boys car in the Dukes of Hazzard, and they’ve turned their hand to country rock meets southern rock meets blues rock.
And they’re quite good at. There is some excellent guitar work on tunes like “Redhill Remorse”, “Opium Hill” and “No Place For The Blues” and even if the vocals need a wee bit work it made for an enjoyable forty minutes. It probably works best in a club atmosphere but southern rockers looking for something a bit left of centre could make themselves at home here.
THE FERTILITY CULT
A Forest Of Kings
Over in Finland back in 2008, The Fertility Cult decided that they wanted to be Black Sabbath. The old doomy version that is. However since then they’ve moved on (or possibly backwards) into a a more free flowing dirty prog oufit.
And so it is that they jam out on tunes like “Blood of Kings” and “City on the Edge of Forever” in a free festival style Nik Turner fronted Hawkwind style prog meets psych fashion. And if you are a fan of the old school Wind then this is definitely for you.
Granted, some of it sounds a wee bit murky but it’s quite possible that they’ve used cutting age digital recording techniques to make it sound like it was recorded onto a reel to reel tape trailing out the back of the Roundhouse in 1972. It’s cosmic, man, and if you still fit into your loon pants then this is your new soundtrack.
It was only last year that we had an anthology from the Atkins May Project who feature original Judas Priest vocalist Al Atkins. And now we’re getting a set of rerecorded songs from his time in Priest and Holy Rage to remind us that he was the original Judas Priest vocalist.
He’s brought in a host of buddies including Ian Hill, his former Priest colleague, John McCoy (ex-Gillan), Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear) and Roy “Z” Ramirez (formerly of Halford). And in case you’ve forgotten that he was the original Judas Priest vocalist things get under way with a version of “Winter”, a song that popped up on the Rob Halford fronted debut by Judas Priest, ‘Rocka Roll’.
Atkins has a powerful voice well suited to the sturdy, almost power metal sound he’s pursued over the last few decades and tunes like “Heavy Thoughts” and “Cradle To The Grave” will satisfy many a power metal fan. The album proper ends with a cracking version of “Victim Of Changes”, which also features the aforementioned Ralf Scheepers on vocals. The least said about the bonus track the better as “Mind Conception” (billed as an early Judas Priest demo extract) is actually a brief KK Downing guitar solo with Ian Hill on bass. Gits!
SPIRITS BURNING & CLEARLIGHT
The Roadmap In Your Head
This is the second collaboration between Spirits Burning and Clearlight, although with a grand total of thirty five musicians involved it’s much more than that. In amongst that lot are assorted past and present members of Gong, Blue Oyster Cult, Hawkwind and more, so you won’t be surprised to learn that this is full on space rock.
It’s a mainly instrumental ride through spacerock and prog fusion although it does finish up with “Roadmaps (The Other Way)” which was written and sung by Gong man, Daevid Allen who passed away in 2015. The likes of Nik Turner, Bridget Wishart and Albert Bouchard pop in to honk and wail, as well as respected figures such as Theo Travis and Judy Dyble.
As you should determine from the titles there are nods to the fusion sounds of the seventies on pieces such as “Coffee For Coltrane” and even if a couple of tunes sound like unfinished pieces this is a record that space rockers and pot head pixies will clasp to their bosoms.