Reviews roundup ~ Dennis Rea ~ Eric Congdon ~ Rosa Nocturna ~ Melancholic Prosperity
Turns out that it’s been 11 years since Dennis Rea last released a solo album. Not that he’s been sitting idly during that time. No, he’s been part of the multinational, improvisational MuzEnergo tours of 2013 and 2015 that played across Russia, traversing upwards of 6000 miles as well as his own tour with his ad-hoc band Terraine during 2019.
The music here was recorded between 2016 and 2019 and sees his take on freeform improvisation coloured by those tours as well as his his years in China and Taiwan as an English instructor and musician alongside his investigations into the music of the Tuvan region, just outside the northwest border of Outer Mongolia, with their traditions of throat singing.
The music on offer tries to take all of those influences alongside his own Western free jazz influences and on the punningly titled “Giant Steppes” it largely works.
He’s using traditional Uyghur, Russian and Tuvan traditional music as a jumping off point to make his own explorations accompanied by some tremendous saxophone work from Dick Valentine on two of the tracks. Those moments were the highlight for me as Rea nd Valentine bounce off each other like twins separated at birth. There are psychedelic moments, metal moments and moments of madness before the closing ‘The Fellowship Of Tsering’ goes all prog. Largely due to the keyboards which tie it together in a Tangerine Dream meets Gentle Giant manner.
Don’t come here if you’re looking for 4/4 time and standard chord progressions. But if you want to know what it sounds like when an imagination is allowed to run riot, then come on in.
Album number six from Eric Congdon sees him channeling his inner guitar here across 14 tracks.
His past few releases have been acoustic affairs but he wanted to rip out in a manner appropriate to his early influences, which would be Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Eric Johnson, Carlos Santana and Mark Knopfler. John McLaughlin and Joe Satriani.
So there is a lot of shred going on. Which was a good way to let out all that pent up energy during lockdown. Here’s hoping his home studio has got some decent soundproofing.
There’s no doubting his talent as he takes on guitar, bass, keyboards and bouzouki. There are a few tracks where he has guest bass players including two with fretless bass from Tony Franklin (Blue Murder, Whitesnake, everybody). I remember him when he was just a wee boy sitting alongside Roy Harper. The only consolation is I was an even wee-er boy.
Anyway, back to the music. He covers a lot of bases here as the influences above suggest. He can kick out the jams but I found myself warming to the jazzier numbers. ‘Last Chance Motel’ is probably my favourite. It’s very Santana-esque and the clean tones employed are ‘ an absolute delight. Is the album too long? Yes. I did start to zone out about two thirds of the way through but ‘Blues By The Slice’ managed to re-engage me with its’ dirty, dirty riff.
If you are a fan of solo guitar albums then this is one of the good ones. Check it out.
Andele A Bestie
Fancy some Czech symphonic folk metal? Of course you do. Who wouldn’t.
This is the fourth album from Rosa Nocturna who have taken a kitchen sink approach to making music with about 25 people contributing to the record. The core band seems to comprise four members if the booklet is to be believed. If the PR bumph is right then it’s a six piece with two vocalists credited as members.
Although when you consider that one of the songs has five vocalists credited as narrator, werewolf, dragon, snake and choir then you’ll get the general idea of what they’re presenting. Most of the music is the work of Tonda Bucek and he certainly knows how to compose a tune. Most of the words are beyond me as they sing in their native tongue although they have included a couple of bonus versions with English vocals at the end just so folk like me can get the general gist of what’s going on.
They’ve been on the go for over a decade now so have had plenty of time to get their sound in order. And it’s a good sound. This record errs towards a power metal approach to their symphonic sound which isn’t a surprise considering how popular power metal is across the North Sea. Apart from composer / guitarist Bucek the core band of guitarist Petr Vosynek, bassist David Koudela and drummer Dan Havránek do a great job while the two main singers are Viktorie Surmová and Aneta Zatocilová. I’ve long been a sucker for this sort of thing so it’s no great surprise that I enjoyed this.
There are a lot of good melodies and although there are nods to mid period Nightwish they’re not really beholding to anyone. The best songs – ‘Pharmacist’, ‘Falling’ and ‘Skinchangers’ – can hold their heads high alongside anything else I’ve heard this year in the genre. Is it different enough to break out? I’m not sure but with a full English on the way they might find a way. A good one.
Contents Under Pressure
A one man prog band, Melancholic Prosperity is the brainchild of songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Hankins.
And when I say multi I mean multi. He’s credited with about 16 instruments here. Granted, most of them are keyboards but there is still room for trumpet and kazoo amongst many others.
Another album that has arrived due to furlough / lockdown it sees Hankins looking back to the glory days of symphonic seventies prog. So lots of Yes, Starcastle and Kansas influences.
If there are two things that make this record stand out then it’s a) the trumpet, a not often utilised instrument in prog and b) the vocals, which are awful. If you were only to hear the opening track you wouldn’t go any further. Off key and out of tune. Oh dear.
Which is a real shame as some of the music is really great. The multi-part title track is outstanding and it benefits from being instrumental. For sure, the drum programming isn’t perfect but as a composition it’s outstanding. A whole record of instrumentals like that and it would have been a real treat. The RIck Wakeman like keyboard work that adorns the record is never less than delightful. Maybe cull an EP of the instrumentals and try again. I’d like that.
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