DANIEL LANOIS/ROCCO DELUCA

(May 5, 2015; THE DUCK ROOM at BLUEBERRY HILL, Saint Louis MO)

Daniel Lanois with Jim Wilson and Kyle Crane (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Daniel Lanois with Jim Wilson and Kyle Crane (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

For a guy who’s NOT a household name, Canadian musician/producer Daniel Lanois has sure had a huge impact on modern music. He engineered some of Brian Eno’s early ambient recordings, collaborated on Eno’s 1983 masterpiece APOLLO and some later works, co-produced U2 with Eno on seminal albums like THE UNFORGETTABLE FIRE, THE JOSHUA TREE, ACHTUNG BABY and more, did peerless auteur-style producing duties for albums by Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young and others, and released some terrific, pleasant solo recordings of his own, among them ACADIE, FOR THE BEAUTY OF WYNONA, BELLADONNA and his brand-new FLESH AND MACHINE. Lanois is a gentle, philosophical musical visionary who seems utterly tuned in to the deepest aspects of artistic intent and maximum creative impact. His show at the Duck Room was surprising in the dynamic range of what was performed and the sharp-edged clarity of the sound.

Rocco DeLuca (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Rocco DeLuca (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

The audience was first treated to a handful of songs by opener Rocco DeLuca, who has a soft voice of incandescent, emotive clarity, double the impact of similar intonation by, say, Bon Iver. “You sing like a bird, Rocco,” Lanois told him early on, in an apt compliment. The sound crew were clearly on their game right from the start, and this made every tune stand out, from the loud to the more gentle numbers.

Daniel Lanois (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Daniel Lanois (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Lanois delivered both about equally, with a major tribal aspect to the rhythmic foundation that had the audience really riveted. “Sioux Lookout,” a track from the new album, was introduced as a piece “about the balance with nature,” as Lanois explained the challenges and daunting experiences faced by the indigenous Canadian tribes he has so clearly been influenced by both musically and philosophically. And a beautiful instrumental piece was introduced with the comment “I wrote this song when I saw the empty eyes of a native compadre.” Lanois is adept at both instrumentals and “conventional” songs with vocals, and the show was divided roughly equally that way. A rousing, aggressive piece called “The Burning Spear” was put together “like a punk thing,” the artist told us, and indeed, it rocked and tranced the crowd out in delerious fashion. But then Lanois would turn around and do a tender song like “I Love You,” from 2003’s SHINE, which featured simple lyrics that expressed that sentiment unpretentiously, something he said that more songs need to do. Also performed from that album: “JJ Leaves L.A.,” one of several tunes showcasing Lanois on his “trusted friend,” the steel guitar. It’s definitely a signature element of his sound. And he did one of his best-known songs “The Maker” from ACADIE, drawing a tremendous response from a crowd that kept growing throughout the show, it seemed. Lanois was effusive with his praise for the audience and their enthusiastic reactions to the material. A highlight was the communal “Congregate,” which featured Rocco again on strong vocals, and which inspired a short commentary by Lanois about the value of gathering for special, magical moments in life. The crowd ate these moments up.

Daniel Lanois (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Daniel Lanois (photo credit: DARREN TRACY)

Worthy of special praise were the vocal harmonies by Lanois and “mighty” Jim Wilson (his bass player and sideman for over a decade). Wilson is a consummate musician who has sung and played guitar in another revered band called Mother Superior who have performed and recorded as Henry Rollins’ backing band. Lanois clearly has the utmost respect for Wilson judging from their amiable musical partnership and back and forth comments, and Wilson, all smiles at the show, obviously feels the same way. From the hypnotic rhythmic elements all night (courtesy of Kyle Crane), to the well-paced variety, soothing instrumental passages, and the affable warmth of master Lanois himself, this was a truly delightful, pleasing show all around. Lanois is something of a rare gem in the music industry, a guy whose actions and enthusiasm ripple throughout different genres, with lasting impact. One hopes he will return to St. Louis again before too long, and judging by the enthusiastic response tonight, that’s more than likely.


THE GREAT CRUSADES/PLANEAUSTERS: SPLIT

(BOXING CLEVER RECORDS 7” single; 2014)

Freat Crusades Planeausters Screen-Shot-2014-07-27-at-4.45.25-PM

Way back in the previous century, the Great Crusades released one of my favorite albums, 1997’s THE FIRST SPILLED DRINK OF THE EVENING. The record was filled with songs that were equal parts sloppy Rolling Stones rock ‘n’ roll, snotty Replacements punk, moody Americana and drunken Celtic reels, with Brian Krumm’s smokey Leonard Cohen cum Kris Kristofferson baritone delivering his own Dylanesque lyrics. Seventeen years later, the band still sounds wonderfully ragged on “Sometimes On Sundays, Too,” a love song that wouldn’t be out of place on something coming from Dylan himself. During the ensuing years following that first release, Krumm has continued to gargle with broken glass, giving him a voice that is a huskier (and more melodic) approximation of Rod McKuen. When he rasps the chorus, “There were parties every Saturday/At the house on Illinois Street/And sometimes on Sundays, too,” you may find yourself clearing your throat in sympathy. The music is a jangly, acoustic blast of what has been dubbed “rock-noir,” featuring a very hymn-like arrangement and orchestration. In short, “Sometimes On Sundays, Too” is every bit as sublime as anything from that first Great Crusades album.

The Great Crusades (Christian Moder, Brian Leach, Brian Krumm, Brian Hunt) (uncredited photo)

The Great Crusades (Christian Moder, Brian Leach, Brian Krumm, Brian Hunt) (uncredited photo)

The B-side of this special split single features frequent tour-mates and kindred spirits of the Great Crusades, Germany’s Planeausters. In fact, Crusader Brian Leach is listed as producer; he adds a nice bit of piano to the track, as well. “Wouldn’t Say It’s Over, But It’s Gone” also acts as the flip-side of the new-love tale of “Sometimes On Sundays, Too.” The tune has to be one of the most horribly effective break-up songs of all time. Musically, the track is a sleepy, languorous bit of shoegazing with some nice guitar work from Michael Moravek and an impossibly slow drum track from Per Ceurremans, one that sounds like it was played back at half-speed while the song was being mixed. “Wouldn’t Say… ” is my introduction to Planeausters, but I gotta say, if this cut is what this band is all about… gimme more. As the magnificent Boxing Clever Records branches out past the release of these exquisite split singles, moving into the realm of full-length albums, maybe a deal can be struck for the release of the latest Planeausters record. Make it happen, Jim!

Planeausters (Michael Moravek, Per Ceurremans, William Kollmar) (uncredited photo)

Planeausters (Michael Moravek, Per Ceurremans, William Kollmar) (uncredited photo)

The Great Crusades’ latest full-length is THIEVES OF CHICAGO, available at their Bandcamp page. As with all singles from Boxing Clever Records, this release is available directly from the label’s web-site; also available from the fine folk at Boxing Clever is a limited edition skate deck featuring the record’s cover art. Tell ‘em the Mule sent you!


RENAISSANCE: SYMPHONY OF LIGHT

(RED RIVER ENTERTAINMENT/SYMPHONIC ROCK RECORDINGS; 2014)

Renaissance cover

Quick, name the most prominent female-fronted progressive bands of the ’70s. Not so easy, is it? That’s ’cause there just weren’t that many, which makes Renaissance an extremely important band in the history of prog. So let us now salute the band’s five-octave-ranged vocalist Annie Haslam, for however she did what she did. Namely, to make exceptional ’70s classics like TURN OF THE CARDS, ASHES ARE BURNING and NOVELLA, to keep it going fairly consistently through subsequent decades, and to take care of her classically trained pipes so that Renaissance could remain a going concern into the modern age. The public at large, of course, probably didn’t realize the band was still around past the ’90s, and truthfully, there is something a bit anachronistic about this band in the new millennium. But that said, the level of musicianship in Renaissance has always been incredibly high, and Ms Haslam has a stellar voice, soaring, commanding, sometimes ethereal, and always displaying warmth and something more than a little regal. Her songwriting partner, and the other rather indispensable long-time member of the band, was Michael Dunford, whose guitar work had elegance and shimmering musicality; Dunford drew from folk, classical and rock in somewhat equal measures. Sadly, he passed away during the making of this album, which took the band by surprise and could have spelled the end. But… Haslam and company carried on to pay tribute to Dunford’s talents, which are plentiful here.

Renaissance, 2012 (photo credit: RICHARD BARNES)

Renaissance, 2012 (photo credit: RICHARD BARNES)

Although I’d be lying if I said this album approached the classic sound of their amazing ’70s run, it’s still lovely and listenable. I particularly liked the cinematic dramatics of “The Mystic and the Muse,” with its rapid changes and the vibrant keyboard work of Rave Tesar, and some of the shorter, more evocative tunes like “Waterfall,” which casts a nice Pagan-like tranquil spell, and the gender-balanced, accordion-flavored pop truffle “Air of Drama,” which is nicely crafted. “Porcelain” is also a highlight, very musical and airy, with one of Haslam’s more relaxed vocals, and some nice chord progressions. The background vocals are charming. And let’s give it up for Haslam’s ability to still hit those amazing high notes without much trouble. Being operatically trained has its advantages, for sure. By the time I got to the last track, “Renaissance Man,” I felt rather melancholy, though. It felt like this music belonged in the past, and I almost wanted to be back there.

Renaissance (Michael Dunford and Annie Haslam) (uncredited photo)

Renaissance (Michael Dunford and Annie Haslam) (uncredited photo)

That’s the thing with bands you remember from their prime. You were younger, so were they, and the whole dang music business was a different animal back then. What is the significance of a band like Renaissance in this day and age? Any band, of course, has a right to keep doing the things that distinguished them in the first place. But Renaissance don’t sound like the NOW, and their classically infused brand of prog just sounds a little out of place. I couldn’t help thinking about an amazing date I had around 1977 or so, taking this girl to see Renaissance in concert and watching her awestruck face as this unique band served it up in their prime. And I got chills listening to stuff like “Midas Man” back then. I like Renaissance, and Annie Haslam is a true pioneer among female vocalists, capable of stunning emotional heights and stirring forays into your subconscious. But I seldom truly LOST myself in this new music; I couldn’t escape the underlying theme of time going by. There are moods when you WANT that sort of thing, however, even if it makes you sad. The loss of Michael Dunford hangs over this project, as does the loss of youth itself. Ms Haslam, however, always sounds wise and knowing and devoted to the graceful acceptance of what must inevitably be. It’s not always easy to do that as a listener, though, and SYMPHONY OF LIGHT put me in mind of a trip to the art museum, struck by the vivid colors and brief sensations and indescribable nostalgia for something I never truly experienced. And leaving, all I could think of was the march of time and the yearning for something different. Such things are buried in this music despite the peppy, pleasing production. How to grow old gracefully, even rock groups gotta deal with that.


IAN ANDERSON: HOMO ERRATICUS

(CALLIANDRA RECORDS/KSCOPE MUSIC; 2014)

Ian_Anderson_Homo_Erraticus_Packshot_Large

Like that dotty old aunt that just refuses to go away, since the apparent demise of Jethro Tull, the band he’s fronted since 1967, our Mister Anderson has been a very busy lad (and clever, as well), releasing two albums in less than two years and launching at least a pair of world tours with another currently underway (for full details, go here: jethrotull.com/tour-dates/). The first album, a sequel to Tull’s 1972 opus, THICK AS A BRICK, rather ingeniously titled THICK AS A BRICK 2 (or, for the acronymically advanced among us, TAAB2), prompted a solid round of touring, occasionally featuring a Jethro Tull Favorites set but – more often – a performance of the original TAAB album followed by the playing of TAAB2 (with an intermission between… our hero is, after all, no longer as spry a fellow as when this game was begun – but, then, who among us is?). The maestro absconded from the band he created with two then-current members, adding three new names to the credits section. This is the apt and able crew that toured with Ian on his most recent stage jaunts and who are here returned to the studio for the recording (and subsequent release) of HOMO ERRATICUS, a collection of tunes written by the man himself and the fictional wunderkind protagonist of the TAAB albums, Gerald Bostock.

Ian Anderson (publicity photo)

Ian Anderson (publicity photo)

As our boy Ian (with a sparse few exceptions) was the primary songwriting force in his previous engagement, it is no surprise that – but for the name on the label – this HOMO ERRATICUS could, in fact, be another installment of the Tull canon. Don’t think of this statement as a condemnation; it isn’t, just an observation. Besides, writing with a fictional entity about a non-existent tome written by an equally non-existent historian seems to have endowed the “laird of the manor” with a renewed vigor for the process. There hasn’t been a Tull record this well thought out and featuring such a strong set of songs from bow to stern since CREST OF A KNAVE (for which, no doubt in an effort to prove the point, they won a Grammy for Best Heavy Metal Performance). So, the premise – and there’s always a premise – of this newest of Mister Anderson’s recorded output is this: After a trip to Mathew Bunter’s Old Library Bookshop in Linwell, Gerald Bostock comes across a dusty, unpublished manuscript, written by local amateur historian Ernest T Parritt. The book is entitled “Homo Britanicus Erraticus.” Two years prior to his demise (the Year of Our Lord, 1926), Mister Parritt, after a fall from his horse during a hunt, “awoke with the overwhelming conviction of having enjoyed past lives as historical characters: a pre-history nomadic neolithic settler(“Doggerland”), an Iron Age blacksmith (“Heavy Metals”), a Saxon invader (“Enter the Uninvited”), a Christian monk (“Puer Ferox Adventus”), a Seventeenth Century grammar school boy (“Meliora Sequamur”), turnpike innkeeper(“The Turnpike Inn”), one of Brunel’s railroad engineers (“The Engineer”), and even Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria (“The Pax Britannica”). These past lives are revealed through the first portion of the album, subtitled “CHRONICLES.” The endangered Parritt’s delusions also extended to his prophesying events yet to come (the second part, “PROPHECIES”) and the fanciful possibilities of future Parritt lives (part the third, “REVELATIONS”). The poet Bostock then took it upon himself to render this Parritt’s lives in a more lyrical fashion. As with his award-winning entry of 42 years previous, the work was introduced to our Ian, who then reworked Mister Bostock’s reworking, adding his own musical flourishes. And, now, the hue and cry is heard the world over (or, at the very least, throughout several large cities in the industrialized nations): “Well, yeah… but is it any good?”

Ian Anderson (Scott Hammond, David Goodier, Ryan O'Donnell, Ian Anderson, Florian Opahle, John O'Hara) (photo credit: Carl Glover)

Ian Anderson (Scott Hammond, David Goodier, Ryan O’Donnell, Ian Anderson, Florian Opahle, John O’Hara) (photo credit: Carl Glover)

Yes. Yes, it is good. There are several differing versions of the “Ian Anderson sound” (and, by extension, the “Jethro Tull” sound) and most are on display at various junctures, nestled cozily amongst the fifteen tracks here presented. Oddly enough, the Tull-like “Doggerland” also features a very Ken Hensley-an (he of Uriah Heep fame) heavy Hammond organ sound (provided by Tull ex-patriate, John O’Hara) that is not unwelcome. Mister Anderson’s proclivity for Scottish, English and Celtic folk melodies is highlighted on “Heavy Metals,” featuring the hammer and anvil as sole percussive instrument. Two late 1970s and early 1980s Tull offerings, STORMWATCH and A, are evoked on “Enter the Uninvited,” which features a rather lilting, if forceful rhythm. Though the tune is driven more by the keyboards, there are some very nice guitar flourishes (by the aptly titled Florian Opahle), a quite nifty bassline (by another Tull refugee, David Goodier) and, of course, the very essence of Tullitude, the Laird Master Anderson’s unique and masterful excursions on the flute. As befits the song’s title and this particluar imagined pre-life of Mister Parritt, the introduction to “Puer Ferox Adventus” has a very churchy feel, with mantric chants (the Monking around of the clerics, no doubt), leading to remembrance by Brother Parritt before the song becomes a canticle with lyrics that recount the life of Christ as told in the Gospel of Luke. As a counter-balance to the lyrics, the music takes on a much harder edge. The piece is the longest on HOMO ERRATICUS – over seven minutes – and is a solemn, stately affair. If not the centerpiece of the album, it is certainly one of the best of a truly grand offering from Mister Anderson and his musical conspirators. “Meliora Sequamur” continues the Psalmic bent of the previous number, though from a decidedly different point of view. The song is far more pastoral than the previous and introduces the pipe organ and a monastic choir to great effect. Highlighted by a more powerful presence of both organ and bass, “The Turnpike Inn” also features an inventive guitar signature running throughout. There is also a very nice flute chart and just a hint of accordion bleeding through toward the end of the piece. The subject matter (Parritt, the Engine Driver) of “The Engineer” demands and receives a heavier, virtually metallic sounding guitar part over what is, essentially, a Celtic folk tune. The dichotomy, which should be quite jarring, is actually an asset. The final piece of “CHRONICLES” is one of those Ian Anderson specialties, where our man Ian experiments with the number of syllables that can be comfortably fit into a standard four bar blues. Bassist Goodier and percussionist Scott Hammond drive “The Pax Britannica,” with minimal obstruction from other instrumentation, outside the Laird’s flute and rather unobtrusive work from Opahle’s guitar and O’Hara’s keyboards. Lurking somewhere around the edges, I’m sure, is the vocalist Ryan O’Donnell.

Ian Anderson (Ryan O'Donnell, David Goodier, Scott Hammond, Ian Anderson, John O'Hara, Florian Opahle) (photo credit: ALEX PAVLOU)

Ian Anderson (Ryan O’Donnell, David Goodier, Scott Hammond, Ian Anderson, John O’Hara, Florian Opahle) (photo credit: ALEX PAVLOU)

The next three numbers encompass Parritt’s “PROPHECIES,” beginning with “Tripudium Ad Bellum,” an instrumental that is very reminiscent of the early (as in, Mick Abrahams early) progressive Blues of Jethro Tull. There is a certain jazzy feel to the near-apocalyptic proceedings as England (and, indeed, the world) is off to war, with the improvisational bon vivant himself, Ian, providing the lead instrument via the flute. “After These Wars” is an extension of the previous song, featuring many of the same musical themes. The setting is now a post World War II England, where the rebuilding of a continent has seen many a miraculous discovery (including television). The number has the lilt and bent of a folk song, but the muscular bass work and power-chording guitar (and subsequent solo) belie that folkiness. Skipping ahead ten years or so, “New Blood, Old Veins” finds a more stable, more adventurous England spreading wings and taking flight to discover the world about them, while inextricably moving toward a new “English Invasion” spearheaded by four fabulous minstrels, Liverpudlians by birth. Again, the themes of “Tripudium Ad Bellum” repeats here, with the jazzier aspects of Mister Anderson’s flute; the new elements introduced in “After These Wars” are also present, with forceful guitar work and a powerful rhythm section, highlighted by a slightly menacing organ. Whatever his presumed mental status, this imagined Parritt fairly well hit a nail or two rather solidly with his “PROPHECIES.”

Ian Anderson (seated: David Goodier, Ian Anderson, Florian Opahle; standing: Scott Hammond, Ryan O'Donnell, John O'Hara) (photo credit: CARL GLOVER)

Ian Anderson (seated: David Goodier, Ian Anderson, Florian Opahle; standing: Scott Hammond, Ryan O’Donnell, John O’Hara) (photo credit: CARL GLOVER)

As far as Parritt’s “REVELATIONS” go, the first two seem to be spot on, as they depict “future” occurrences from 2013 and 2014. For a gentleman that never existed, his fictional fortune-telling was on a par with Nostradamus or HG Wells. “In For a Pound” is, one supposes, the love story of HOMO ERRATICUS; it’s all our man, Ian, performing vocally and joining himself on the acoustic guitar with everything fitting in rather nicely at just over half a minute (proving, in fact, that love is fleeting). The problem of ever-widening urban sprawl amid growing societal and economic discord is addressed in “The Browning of the Green.” As more and more city-dwellers seek to “get back to the country,” they unfortunately drag all of the “comforts of home” with them, despoiling every acre of the idyllic rural landscape. The music has an edginess about it, not quite heavy metal but definitely leaning in that direction. Looking into our future another ten years, Parritt has a message from the stars: “We don’t like your kind ’round here, Earthman!” The spoken word piece is called “Per Errationes Ad Astra.” The final of Parritt’s “REVELATIONS” and the final musical offering is called “Cold Dead Reckoning.” The song leaps ahead another twenty years (to the year 2044) and foretells of the ultimate demise of the crumbling society of man and an eventual rebirth of humanity and spirituality, all to a pounding beat. About ten years ago (uh… from present day… that would be 2004), there was a television series called THE 4400, a science-fiction tale with very similar aspects to “Cold Dead Reckoning.” I mention this not only because of the similarities in theme, but also because, somehow, the melody of the song reminds me of the series’ theme song. Coincidence or… did our nonexistent Parritt have something to do with it? As he’s been gone these 86 years (longer, if you consider his fabricated existence), we may never know. The only certainty regarding his writings and the reworking there-of by the equally mythical Gerald Bostock – and by extension, their collaboration with Ian Anderson and his musical minions (who, I am told, are quite real) – they most assuredly make for an enjoyable listen! In fact, this HOMO ERRATICUS is the best music to come from the Ian Anderson/Jethro Tull camp since CATFISH RISING, more than 20 years ago. (There are several versions of HOMO ERRATICUS to choose from: a standard CD version, a CD/DVD version, a 2-CD/2-DVD version with a hardback book, a downloadable version at iTunes, and a double set of glorious vinyl… choose wisely! Going here: www.kscopemusic.com/ can help.)


WISHBONE ASH: BLUE HORIZON

(SOLID ROCKHOUSE RECORDS; 2014)

Blue Horizon

All through the 1970s – my formative years as a music lover – my brother managed a trucking terminal a few miles from an MCA Records pressing plant. Naturally, all of their product shipped through that terminal. And, just as naturally, there were instances where some of that product was damaged. This product basically fell to my brother to do with as he saw fit. So, what does that story have to do with Wishbone Ash? Well, Wishbone Ash’s US label was Decca, an imprint of MCA. The first time I heard the Ash was when my brother brought an impressive stack of vinyl for my consumption: The Who, Elton John, Budgie, Neil Diamond, Blues Project, Blue Mink, Mose Jones and… the first three Wishbone Ash albums (just to name a few). Holy Batcrap, Commisioner Gordon! I had slipped into my own blissful state of musical Nirvana! Thanks to my brother, Mike, I eventually owned every Ash record up to THERE’S THE RUB (they jumped ship in the States to Atlantic Records for two albums before returning to MCA) and I loved every one! That kinda makes me a “lifelong fan.”

Wishbone Ash (Joe Crabtree, Andy Powell, Bob Skeat, Muddy Manninen) (photo credit: TIM ASSMANN)

Wishbone Ash (Joe Crabtree, Andy Powell, Bob Skeat, Muddy Manninen) (photo credit: TIM ASSMANN)

Like those two Atlantic releases and all but a select few since, this new Ash album is a hit or miss affair for me. It ain’t horrible… in fact, once you tally the points, there are more hits than misses. “Take It Back” opens the proceedings. A track that is very much in the vein of the Laurie Wisefield era, it features the trademark harmony guitar sound, a solid vocal from Andy Powell and fiddle from longtime associate, Pat McManus. Reverting to the band’s blues roots, “Deep Blues” has the aggressive sound of the group’s first album. The song has a great blues riff and some finest-kind soloing from both Andy and Jyrki “Muddy” Manninen. “Strange How Things Come Back Around” is another Laurie-sounding tune with some odd, Frippian guitar synchopations. I’m not too sure about those backing vocal “la-la’s” during the slower bridge sections… they seem to drag the whole thing down. There’s a fade in/fade out right before the instrumental break leading into the solos that completely transform the number into a kind of Tommy Bolin era Deep Purple funk thing. While there is certainly an air of the familiar, this is not your standard Wishbone Ash song and, actually, is rather enjoyable because of it.

One of the few misses, “Being One,” sees the Laurie Wisefield love-fest continuing. Unfortunately, Powell delves into two of the group’s weaker albums (NEW ENGLAND and LOCKED IN) for inspiration. The song has a slow, funky sort of groove which, eventually, morphs into a progressive jazz piece… with all of the trappings that the term connotes. Powell’s silky voice provides a welcome tension to the rough riffs and hard edges. “Way Down South” is a lazy, laconic (as the name implies) Iain Matthews/Fairport Convention style folk number. The tempo picks up during the instrumental section, with Bob Skeat’s deep, emotive bass leading the way into another nice solo. The tune isn’t awful but, at well over six-and-a-half minutes, it’s just too long for it’s own good. Next up is “Tally Ho!” Now, this is more like it! This is the Wishbone Ash I fell I love with way back when, the progressive folk banner flying high. There are moments that recall “Leaf and Stream” from the legendary ARGUS and, the solos in the middle section are quite effective in context. My only complaint is this: Andy’s vocals are a little weak here; this is one instance with the latter-day Ash where the vocals of either Ted or Martin Turner would have worked better. Speaking of vocals, Manninen makes his debut on lead with the dirty blues of “Mary Jane.” His voice is a little rough but, a welcome change from Powell’s (I really am a fan of Andy’s voice… it’s just that over the course of ten tracks… well, you know, variety and spices and such). The tune features some very nice harmony guitar work and a couple of slide solos.

Wishbone Ash live, circa 2009 (uncredited photo)

Wishbone Ash live, circa 2009 (uncredited photo)

After mentioning the refreshing change of pace from Andy’s vocals on the last track, he delivers what may be his two best vocal performances on BLUE HORIZON. “American Century” features an aggressive “FUBB” like intro before settling into a PHOENIX or ARGUS progressive groove. The drums of Joe Crabtree keeps a mid-tempo rhythm going, while Skeat’s charging bass propels the tune forward at a faster pace, creating a brilliant musical dichotomy. “Blue Horizon” is definitely a “song” in the strictest sense, with powerful lyrics and atmospheric vocals on display over the pure musicianship of the players (the hallmark of Wishbone Ash). That isn’t to say that the musicianship is sub-par; far from it! The guitars seem a little louder and each solo sends the tune into a different place, stylistically. The first has a James Bond/mystery vibe happening while others have a majestic, almost Floydian feel. Eventually, everything kicks into a more Ash sounding instrumental section, with Tom Greenwood adding some nice organ flourishes. The ARGUS song, “The King Will Come,” is evoked with “All There Is To Say.” It’s another pretty, Cletic folk tune, with guitars and lyrics reminiscent of that earlier number. Pat McManus adds some very nice fiddle and bazouki for a more folky feel. If you’re a long time fan, BLUE HORIZON will fit comfortably next to the rest of your Wishbone Ash albums, though it may not get as much play; if you’re new to the band, I think that you’ll find the album a refreshing change from a lot of today’s music and will, ultimately, lead you to seek out those earlier albums.


IAN ANDERSON

(14 July, 2013; PEABODY OPERA HOUSE, Saint Louis, MO)

THICK AS A BRICK 2 (band photo by MARTIN WEBB)

THICK AS A BRICK 2 band (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

Three fifths of the (very likely) final incarnation of Jethro Tull descended upon the beautiful Peabody Opera House (formerly the Kiel Opera House, lo those many years ago) on this hot mid-July evening. Ian Anderson, whose latest solo outing is THICK AS A BRICK 2: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO GERALD BOSTOCK, is in full TAAB mode on the current US tour, performing the seminal Tull album in full, followed (after a short intermission) by a complete reading of the sequel. This is a move that a lot of “classic” acts have taken up quite recently and, while – more often than not – they don’t live up to the hype (or the album they’re trying to replicate), Ian and his five henchmen delivered everything that this enthusiastic crowd could have hoped for and more! For the record: It ain’t Tull, but it ain’t bad.

Ian Anderson and Ryan O'Donnell live in Berlin, 2012 (photo: MARTIN WEBB)

Ian Anderson and Ryan O’Donnell live in Berlin, 2012 (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

Ian’s band wandered onto the stage a few minutes late, dressed as a cleaning crew. They proceeded to sweep, dust and clean just about every surface on the stage before approaching their instruments and, looking over their shoulders to make sure the boss wasn’t watching, began to play “Thick As a Brick.” We’re not talking about that little edit that was released as a single in a few countries; we’re talking about the entire album-long song. They eventually got rid of the work smocks (or, maybe, they were “dirty Macs,” a la the “Thick As a Brick” single sleeve) as Mister Anderson appeared, stage left, strumming his acoustic and singing the opening lines of the nearly hour-long tune. Anderson’s vocal parts are now split with actor/singer/circus performer Ryan O’Donnell, giving Ian more time (and breath) to focus on his flute playing, which is as flawless as ever. O’Donnell’s voice is a softer, subtler version of Ian Anderson and is no less expressive. In theory, I suppose, Ryan is performing in the role of Gerald Bostock, the character created as part of the original THICK AS A BRICK album cover. This is a man who knows his way around a stage, a great performer and a lot of fun to watch.

Scott Hammond live in Berlin, 2012 (photo: MARTIN WEBB)

Scott Hammond live in Berlin, 2012 (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

The rhythm section of drummer Scott Hammond and former Tull bassist David Goodier bring a nice jazz vibe to the proceedings, while still maintaining the heavy rock underpinning of the original work. Hammond’s not-overly-long solo was imaginative and as impressive as any I’ve seen in a while. The other Tull expatriate, keyboardist John O’Hara, is as eye-catchingly expressive and verbose as Ryan O’Donnell. His parts seem to be the glue that holds the entire performance together. Guitarist Florian Opahle is a scary kind of flashy, kinda like Ian’s longtime band mate, Martin Barre. He just stands there and rips these amazing leads and solos, acting like the least likely guitar-hero of all time. For some odd reason, Florian’s stage presence reminds me of a younger Gary Rossington. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that. The ensemble is “completed” via the video inclusion of violinist Anna Phoebe – who is busy at home recording a new album and raising a young daughter – during an instrumental break that happens in what would be “Side One” of the original album. The end of “Side One” has a cool fade, just like it did on the album, and leads into a serio-comic public service announcement warning men of a certain age to have regular medical check-ups to keep the plumbing clean. Though the message was entirely serious, it was a fun diversion that offered a much needed break for the musicians onstage. It also helped us geezers in the crowd (and we were legion!) put a mental stamp on where we were within the intricacies of the THICK AS A BRICK album.

Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle live in Berlin, 2012 (photo: MARTIN WEBB)

Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle live in Berlin, 2012 (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

Having considered the plumbing, Ian and his lads were back to rocking with “Side Two.” Since we’re still talking about the same song, it would be easy to say that the rest of the first set was very much like the first part. That, however, isn’t exactly true. The intensity of Opahle’s and O’Hara’s solos picked up, as did the theatrical aspects of the stage presentation. The pure musicianship and artistry of this band is an amazing thing to witness. Bringing the first album to a close, Ian announced a 15-minute break. The rapt crowd was on their feet, still reeling from the stunning performance we’d just experienced and abuzz with anticipation for THICK AS A BRICK 2.

Ryan O'Donnell live in Berlin, 2012 (photo: MARTIN WEBB)

Ryan O’Donnell live in Berlin, 2012 (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

Well… most of us, anyway. To be quite honest, I was a little – uh – underwhelmed by TAAB2 upon first listen. My one hope was that this band would be able to bring it to life onstage… instill it with the sense of fun that was exhibited in the first half of the evening’s show. What can I say? They did! Even the spoken word pieces (which I think gave me the most problems on the album) were good, given the inherent theatricality of Anderson’s stage persona and voice. O’Donnell’s vocals were more forceful here, due – I would guess – from the fact that he was now portraying a grown-up and more confident Gerald Bostock. The musicians were again turned loose, imbuing the sometimes pastoral tunes with a more vivid sonic life than they have on disc. The main difference, I believe, between the two albums (outside the obvious) is that TAAB2 is “songs” whereas the original is a single “song.” While there are technically no stops between the numbers, there is a certain sense of separation. This even minute respite offered the audience a nice give and take with the band that we didn’t have with the first set.

Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle live in Berlin, 2012 (photo: MARTIN WEBB)

Ian Anderson and Florian Opahle live in Berlin, 2012 (photo credit: MARTIN WEBB)

Nearly two-and-a-half hours after the “cleaners” took the stage, good-nights, thank yous and introductions were said and made. My friend, Bill, asked me if I thought there’d be an encore. Just about the time I was saying, “I don’t think so,” John O’Hara came out and began playing the introduction to “Locomotive Breath.” He was soon joined onstage by Scott Hammond, followed by the rest of the band. The crowd erupted as Florian played one of the most revered riffs in rock history and as Ian led the band through one of the most beloved songs in the Jethro Tull canon. I dare say that even the people in the $95 seats left feeling that they’d gotten their money’s worth. I know I did! Bill commented on the way out that he knew Ian couldn’t get away without doing a Tull song. I reminded him that he’d just done an entire Tull album, front to back. “Well, you got me there!” he said as we exited the lobby and headed for home.


BLACKMORE’S NIGHT: DANCER AND THE MOON

(FRONTIER RECORDS; 2013)

blackmoresnight_album_cover

Ritchie Blackmore is a rocker. Starting in the early 1960s with Screaming Lord Sutch’s Savages and the Outlaws, Blackmore rocked. Through two stints in both Deep Purple and Rainbow, Blackmore rocked. He tried really hard not to rock with Blackmore’s Night but, as may have been mentioned somewhere else, Ritchie Blackmore is a rocker. Thus, the duo’s (that would be Blackmore and his wife, Candice Night… see the nifty wordplay involved there?) latest, DANCER AND THE MOON, rocks harder than any of their previous releases… in a very Renaissance Fayre sort of way.

The album starts with a kind of slow burn on Randy Newman’s classic, “I Think It’s Going To Rain Today,” before the percussion kicks in followed, in short order, by a classic Blackmore fill and a solo that, while understated for Ritchie, reminds the listener just who we’re talking about here. Candice’s beautiful, lilting voice adds a certain “classical” sound to the tune that makes this one of my favorite versions of the song. The next couple of songs, “Troika” and “The Last Leaf,” revert to form for what this group has become best known for: Old European Folk Music. The latter definitely sounds like something that you would expect to hear from a minstrel in the Courts of Camelot, while the former is very reminiscent of a Russian or Eastern European gypsy song.

Blackmore's Night (MICHAEL KEEL)

Blackmore’s Night (photo credit: MICHAEL KEEL)

A very atmospheric take on one of Uriah Heep’s best known songs, “Lady In Black.” is next, with Candice’s woodwinds adding a great touch and Blackmore doing what he does best… shredding. Yes, I said shredding! The only thing that could have possibly improved this version of the song would have been inviting Ken Hensley to add a little heft with that awesome Hammond B3 that he’s so well known for. “Lady In Black” is followed by a nifty little madrigal performed by Ritchie on acoustic guitar. “Minstrels In the Hall” is short and certainly sweet.

Temple of the King” is the last of the “covers” on DANCER AND THE MOON, a tribute to Ritchie’s friend and Rainbow vocalist/lyricist, the late Ronnie James Dio. I’m sure that Ronnie would have approved of this arrangement, replacing the bluesy hard rock vibe with a more medieval sound. Blackmore once more steps out of the wandering minstrel boots to offer a fiery electric lead and another great solo. The title track has a very Celtic sound that, once again, returns to the core concept of Blackmore’s Night. Coming, as it does, after “Temple of the King,” it’s easy to imagine “Dancer and the Moon” as something that Blackmore and Dio would have written for LONG LIVE ROCK ‘N’ ROLL.

Blackmore's Night (publicity photo)

Blackmore’s Night (publicity photo)

Galliard” and the traditional tune, “The Ashgrove,” continue in the vein, with Night’s voice taking front and center and Blackmore chiming in with some understated acoustic instrumentation before adding what can only be described as an “elegant” solo on the next track, “Somewhere Over the Sea (The Moon Is Shining).” Completely eschewing the medieval and folky arrangements and instrumentation, the band reworks the previous song as “The Moon Is Shining (Somewhere Over the Sea).” With modern keyboard textures, the use of electronic drums, and some very haunting lead guitar work from Ritchie, I could see this one getting some airplay on some Classic Rock stations around the country. Think Joe Lynn Turner-era Rainbow on this one.

Saying that Candice Night is Ritchie Blackmore’s muse may be a little over the top, but how can you listen to something like “The Spinner’s Tale” and at least not think it? Ritchie is here just to offer atmosphere, as it’s really Candice’s vocals and penny-whistle that carries the tune. The final track of the album is another instrumental, another tribute. “Carry On… Jon” is a slow blues riff with great guitar and an organ solo (compliments of Bard David of Larchmont, also called David Baranowski) that’s very reminiscent of Blackmore’s Deep Purple cohort and best friend, Jon Lord. Ritchie mentions that he had the song ready to record and once the tape started rolling (so to speak), it took on a rather melancholy feel. Like “Temple of the King,” it is a fitting tribute to a colleague so closely associated with Blackmore’s career. DANCER AND THE MOON offers more of the guitar histrionics that we’ve come to love and expect from Ritchie Blackmore, the rocker, but it also offers a glimpse at a softer, more nostalgic side of the man in black and somehow manages to maintain the stated aesthetic of Blackmore’s Night: To present an updated version of Renaissance and medieval style folk music. The album succeeds on all counts!