Quorum – Another World (2015)

Quorum_AnotherWorld4.5 out of 5 Stars!

In a single word…impressive.

Granted, being American, I’m not a huge fan of foreign-language-sung lyrics, especially those in Russian. Sorry to say, but to me, the Russian language is often too harsh-sounding, and frankly, not all that “musical” to my ears. No offense to any Russian-speaking individuals, but usually I would rate an album down at least half a star for being “not as melodic” lyrically.

But in this case, what IS melodic is Quorum’s actual songs and delivery. Damn, this band knows how to play with feeling, with intensity, and with constant melody in mind. Sure, the lyrics are sung in Russian, but unlike many other groups that have elected to deliver music in that language, the vocal passages here are NOT in any way harsh-sounding, but overall melodic. Quite so! Therefore, bravo to the band for softening the harsh consonants and making everything sound a tad softer, seemingly closer to—well—”French.” Again, no offense to any Russian-speaking folks…just my opinion.

For any fans of bands such as Genesis, IQ, Yes, Pallas, Pink Floyd, The Flower Kings, Unitopia, etc., this album (as well as the band’s previous release from 2011) will be nothing short of a welcome addition to their music collections. Melodies and Prog-Rock majesty abound, with complicated instrumental arrangements, numerous time changes, heavy keyboards and soaring guitars, and wicked percussion accompaniments—and that’s all included in the twelve-minute track “Another World,” for pity’s sake. With several additional tracks often pastoral one moment, then equally slamming the next, the band does not let any listener fall into a hypnotic haze for too long throughout this collection of songs, offering instead intense shifts in mood and melody without warning, equally rivaling the best work of the aforementioned bands in the Prog-Rock genre.

Quorum is a more recent discovery for me, and I’m so happy I happened to stumble upon the band. It’s certainly a talented lot, especially when it comes to the Prog-Rock genre, and after numerous (and enjoyable) hearings of this album, I pray the band continues on for many years to come. It’s inventive material overall, with the musicians being masters at their crafts and obviously having an ear for melody, so the band (if Quorum does continue to release material in future years) is destined to become one of the leaders in the genre. Mark my words!

Fans of Prog-Rock, please join me in celebrating this more recent additional to the ranks of impressive bands delving into the “never too saturated for my taste” genre.

 

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Quireboys – A Bit of What You Fancy (1990)

Quireboys_Fancy5 out of 5 Stars!

For anyone who, like me, yearned for a Faces (or a Rod Stewart returning to the sound of his first albums) comeback, this is the ultimate album to grant that wish.

When I first heard the intro to the opening track “7 O’Clock,” I thought I had stepped back in time to the early 1970s. This band kicks major ass, not only replicating the sound of The Faces (featuring Rod Stewart) but also simultaneously whisking the production quality into the ’90s. Each and every track on this album brought to mind The Faces, but also gave a healthy helping of The Rolling Stones, Mott The Hoople, and any of the other classic rock ‘n’ roll bands of the early ’70s, all with a slamming dose of The Faces illuminating the proceedings.

Many singles resulted from this album: the aforementioned “7 O’Clock,” “There She Goes Again,” “Hey You,” “Whippin’ Boy,” etc., and even many of the non-single tracks could have been singles in their own right, that’s how catchy and memorable they are, with my favorite being the closer “Take Me Home.” And each of these tunes matches the classic “party rock ‘n’ roll” quality of the best tracks from The Faces.

A grand achievement, and this is a band that has (for the most part) consistently delivered the same quality goods on most of its subsequent albums, albeit with some personal changes through the years, often rivaling in quality the same kick-ass rock style as appears on albums such as A Nod Is As Good As A Wink, or any of the higher-quality Rod Stewart albums such as Every Picture Tells A Story or Never A Dull Moment. And despite the various personal changes, through it all, the voice of Spike, or “Jonathan Gray”–the “Rod Stewart for the next generation”–delivered in spades.

To any fan of The Faces, this is the album to grab ASAP, and all of the Quireboys’s albums will also likely please your taste buds. The Faces sound (or now, the Quireboy’s sound) lives on. I adore this band and can’t wait for each new release.

Important additional note: Anyone interested in this album/band should also search under titles by “The London Quireboys.” Depending on which side of the Atlantic Ocean you live, the name of the band alternates between the “London” version of its name and the one without.

 

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The Quest – Do You Believe? (1993)

Quest_DoYouBelieve4.5 out of 5 Stars!

This release is a fine collection of melodic rock tunes with slices of progressive rock tossed in for good measure.  Fans of Saga or Magnum, and perhaps, to a lesser extent, even Styx (the earlier, non-commercial/more progressive version of this band) would likely appreciate this.

The Quest actually reminds me of Saga in more than a few places, although with a more palatable singer…catchy melodies with some intricate arrangements, atmospheric keyboards, and grand harmony vocals.

This is an extremely overlooked band that I wish had put of more material. They certainly have (had?) the potential.

So if you’re a fan of melodic/AOR rock who is craving more “depth” to the instrumentation passages of each song, then this one may be for you.

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Queen – Queen II (1974)

Queen25 out of 5 Stars!

This is the DEFINITIVE Queen! I’m sure many people will disagree, but in my opinion, the band produced nothing more “forward thinking” and breathtaking and inspirational than this in the “hard rock” arena, especially considering the era in which it was released.

Sure, A Night At The Opera sold many more units and is considered by the majority The Masterpiece by Queen. But that album (as generally solid as it was) is typically rated “brilliant” based on one or two truly magnificent tracks (such as the outstanding classic “Bohemian Rhapsody”), whereas, to me, Queen II from start to finish, whether starting on the “Black Side” or the “White Side,” is the true (and often overlooked) MAGNUM OPUS of this group.

Considering that I often skip over tracks on every Queen album except this one says a whole lot. I can even tolerate “Funny How Love Is” (usually rated as the worst track by many reviewers), unlike Queen tracks of later years, since the song truly seems to somehow “fit” among the remainder of the album, probably since I’ve worn down the grooves of the various vinyl versions I went through since the ’70s and I would be lost without it—no pun intended, but that song is “grooved” in my memory with the remainder of the track listings, and the album would seem empty without it.

Anyway, with the linked “Procession” and “Father to Son,” “White Queen (As It Began),” “Some Day, One Day,” and “The Loser in the End,” the album’s “White Side” is nothing short of stunning, whereas the album’s more bombastic “Black Side,” leading off with the jaw-dropping “Ogre Battle,” which flawlessly flows into the trio of Prog-oriented tracks “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke,” “Nevermore,” and the gigantic, awesome “The March of the Black Queen,” plus the aforementioned “Funny How Love Is” along with “Seven Seas of Rhye,” left a profound and lasting impression on me back in 1974, and even today, the layered guitars, the driving rhythms, the piano flourishes, and (of course) the grand and spellbinding vocals send chills of excitement up my spine. Not only did Queen’s songwriting and lyrical content take a giant leap forward from its debut album, but the cover art featured probably the most enduring image of the band and perfectly matched the majestic content of the music.

Therefore, Queen II is GENIUS, I tell you, no doubt about it—pure and unadulterated (and underrated) GENIUS!

 

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Puppet Show – Traumatized (1998)

PuppetShow_Traumatized3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Puppet Show originated in California in the late ’90s, and the group’s debut album appeared shortly thereafter, being one of the many purchases I’d made through the Kinesis Records website nearly two decades ago. At the time of purchase, I had hoped to rate Traumatized a tad higher on my rating scale, perhaps giving it a 4-Star review or better, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. And even after reexamining the album through the years, giving it numerous “fresh hearings,” I eventually realized that time will not be able to erase the initial issues I had with it.

First let me say, that overall, this band showed a LOT of promise. On lengthy and complex tracks such as “Relativity,” “Marathon,” The Ring of Truth,” and “In the Heart of Man,” although Genesis influences creep up frequently, I give the band props for not completely duplicating the sound and for developing its own unique style when it came to instrumentation and song arrangements. Nevertheless, the band’s primary influences are all too obvious, therefore, the music on this release should certainly appeal to fans of Genesis, plus early Marillion, IQ, Pallas, Twelfth Night, and various other bands of the Neo-Prog variety.

My general problem with Traumatized, however, isn’t with the band’s musical influences or the compositions themselves, but with the vocals. Granted, the singer is “okay” and definitely has the right “attitude” for this genre, using a lot of dramatics in his delivery. But unfortunately, he also has a huge tendency toward sharpness, being “thisclose” to the correct notes, but hitting them a bit too forcefully (or over-dramatically) and, therefore, he ends up sounding off-key during many of the verses, bridges, and choruses. His performances aren’t horrible, mind you, but had he been more precise in his delivery, much of the “cringe factor” I experienced upon initial hearing, and with each subsequent playback through the years, would have been minimized.

Therefore, I feel the overall music and instrumentation on Traumatized deserves at least a 4-Star or a 4.5-Star rating, whereas the vocals drag down the entire proceedings, and I finally ended up giving this 3.5 Stars. Although, based on my issues with this album, I couldn’t bring myself to purchase Puppet Show’s second collection—The Tale of Woe, released in 2007—I did, however, read several reviews that claimed the situation with the vocals did improve. Anyway, be your own judge.

 

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Proteo – Republikflucht! …Facing East (2013)

Proteo_Republilflucht4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Who the heck are these guys from Italy, and where the heck have they been all these years???

Not sure, but the album is damned terrific! There are a ton of Prog-Rock influences here, so it’s hard to list all of them. Let’s just say that the singer has a similar style/sound as Michael Sadler from Saga but with a wider range, and the musicians are all quite adept at their respective instruments in this quirky marriage of Prog-Rock with a touch of Jazz Fusion, Funk, Pop, even a sprinkling of Metal tossed in for good measure, all perfectly meshed into a electrifying, rock-solid, and stirring blend of top-notch “uniqueness.” I hear some Gentle Giant, some Spock’s Beard, some Yes, some Pain Of Salvation, some Marillion, a bunch of the “old” Saga…well, you name it, and it’s probably there. Heck, there’s even a hint of Santana on the track “Berlin.”

As I said, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where Proteo gets its greatest influences, but the band have somehow managed to give the overall “package” a distinct sound. All but one of the six songs is lengthy (more than nine minutes), thus allowing the musicians a chance to expand their ideas into some fun and memorable Prog-Rock tracks. And the short tune, oddly named “Funny Girls Playing Double Dutch,” is a quirky piece of music that is altogether catchy in a vein similar to other odd songs like those that have popped up on albums by Genesis, The Flower Kings, or even Queen. Generally, the whole album is not “heavy” or depressing at all, but rather light as far as atmosphere and mood. I could listen to this for days, and certainly have.

Now, with all that said, I’m sure I’m not even close to accurately describing the music, and I’m sure most anyone who reads this review and decides to give this album a chance based on something I said will likely curse me for my inadequate comparisons. But sometimes a band comes along that defies comparisons, that plays music that touches each listener in specific ways, or brings to mind specific similarities to other bands. And Proteo is one such band. I’m sure each listener will find that the music offered here reminds them of something completely unique, or something rivaling other bands out there, so have fun deciding for yourselves.

I, for one, CANNOT WAIT for Proteo to release more material. After hearing this album, I also tracked down Proteo’s debut release, 2009’s Under a Red Polar Light, which also contains some enjoyable material. Few other groups in the recent past have sparked my interest with their “uniqueness” other than Haken, Barock Project, and A.C.T, to name a handful. Therefore, Proteo is one band that falls into this exclusive category…a group to watch to see what exactly it will create next. Fantastic!

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Power of Omens – Eyes of the Oracle (1998)

PowerOmens_EyesOracle2 out of 5 Stars!

Disappointing. I really wanted to love this release, but I just can’t get into it. Sure, the musicians know how to play their instruments, but what they don’t seem to grasp is how to play all of their instruments “together as a band” in order to generate any sort of cohesive sound. It seems as if, within any given track, each musician is off doing his own thing for much of it, jamming in different keys or rhythms while the vocalist is soaring (sometimes horribly off key) above the mishmash in an attempt to create some sort of melody or structure.

With the drummer adding fills at the most bizarre times, playing (what seems) counter to the bassist on many occasions, and the guitarist and keyboardist off in their own technical twiddling worlds, the songs come across as nothing more than extensive jam sessions, with dozens of different ideas all jumbled together, leaving no hummable parts and no foot-tapping grooves.

The few times they actually sound like a band (people actually playing the same song or the same arrangement of the same song) come along too rarely and the album seems overly disjointed, directionless, and too technically creative for its own good.

Poor Heart – Poor Heart featuring Lou Grammatico (1987)

PoorHeart_13.5 out of 5 Stars!

Does the name Lou Grammatico sound familiar? No? Then how about the shortened version of the name by which he is better known?…Lou Gramm?

Yes, this is the same Lou Gramm who went on to worldwide fame as the frontman for the group Foreigner. This album has since been re-released and re-titled numerous times under various monikers in order to (I’m sure) further cash in on Lou’s eventual name recognition. I have a copy of the original re-published vinyl version from 1987 with the title listed above (complete with the cover I’ve included, including the “let’s cash in on the money” sticker announcing Lou’s revised–and more famous–name). But originally, the band’s sole album was released as nothing more than a demo, handmade version back in 1970 under the simple name Poor Heart with the same tracks, only in a different order.

Regardless…if one were to close their eyes when listening to this album, they would think that someone had slipped on an album by Three Dog Night. Yep, Three Dog Night! There are, in actuality, three singers, with Lou Gramm being one of them, and the music is in nearly the same exact vein as Three Dog Night. Same instrumentation, same guitar and organ tones, same production sound, same everything! Gramm takes the “Chuck Negron” role (the highest tenor voice) when it comes to the three singers, and the majority of vocals are done in harmony or inter-changed vocal swapping, so it’s usually hard to pinpoint which vocalist is singing actual lead most of the time. But Gramm’s higher voice comes through loud and clear and is the most recognizable.

If you’re a fan of Three Dog Night’s, this might be of interest to you (if you can even locate a copy). Don’t expect any of the Dog’s magnificence when it came to selecting memorable songs, however, since that’s where Poor Heart lacked in supplying the goods (and likely why they fizzled out quickly). Yet the album is enjoyable enough and brings back memories of an era when arena-rock such a Three Dog Night ruled the roost in America. Plus is also allows a glimpse into Lou Gramm’s past prior to his success in Foreigner.

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Perfect View – Hold Your Dreams (2010)

PerfectView_HoldYourDreams4 out of 5 Stars!

From Italy, Perfect View swept onto the scene back in 2010 with the impressive Hold Your Dreams, a terrific AOR/Hard Rock release that would fit nicely in one’s music catalogue amidst other bands such as Journey, FM, Giuffria, Bad Habit, Work of Art, Valentine, and Shy. And the band’s powerful, wide-ranging vocalist, Massimiliano Ordine, comes across as a commendable combination between Lou Nadeau (Wrabit) and the exceptional Fergie Frederickson (Trillion/LeRoux/Toto/etc.)

Here, on rocking tunes such as “One More Time,” “Run,” “Showtime,” “A Better Place,” “Speed Demon,” and “Believe,” not to mention the lush ballads “A Reason To Fight,” “Where’s the Love,” and the title track, layered and glorious “pomp-ilicious” keyboards (provided by Pier Mazzini) and sprightly guitar riffs and solos (courtesy of Francesco Cataldo) rule the day, while the tight rhythm section of bassist Cristian Guerzoni and drummer Luca Ferraresi keep things in line. And, of course, each of the dozen tracks features a ton of gigantic harmony vocals, along with Ordine’s catchy, hummable melodies that could easily make Perfect View the envy of any aspiring artist in the AOR genre, and perhaps even among the majority of established acts as well. To top things off, all the material is wrapped up in a high-quality production package that’s appropriate for this type of grand and well-written material.

Therefore, fans of the aforementioned AOR/Hard Rock bands should find this album entertaining, as well as the group’s equally impressive sophomore effort, Red Moon Rising, that dropped in 2014. In my opinion, Perfect View is, without a doubt, one of the most promising AOR/Hard Rock acts of the new century—perhaps not “perfect” just yet, but certainly possessing the musicianship and the songwriting chops to one day achieve that goal.

 

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Pentwater – Pentwater (1977)

Pentwater_13 out of 5 Stars!

Here’s a Chicago band that released a single album back in 1977. When they played the local scene, Chicago bands were on the verge of being signed to recording contracts left and right—Survivor, Tantrum, The Boyzz, Off Broadway, Gambler, Trillion, Hounds, etc.—but the one thing that set Pentwater apart from the rest of the pack was that they were a Prog-Rock band. About the only other similar acts in Chicago that fell into that genre (and were offered a recording deal) were both Shadowfax and Zazu (the former had some mild success and continued on for years, while the latter released a single album and it went nowhere). So when the Pentwater album appeared, I had eagerly listened to it several times, but unfortunately, I distinctly remember not being impressed. Now, after all these years, I finally managed to track down another copy and, sadly, my impressions truly haven’t changed.

Certainly the band had imagination with their songwriting and arrangements, including some Gentle Giant, Kansas, ELP, Yes, and King Crimson influences into their sound, and musically they weren’t too shabby and I give them credit for that. The inclusion of some flute, violin, and Mellotron proved an unexpected touch, so I applauded them for that. But the problems lie mostly in the vocal department. Some of the leads are absolutely wretched, almost maniacal sounding, and when the vocalist sings “straight,” without the wild silliness, both his tone and accuracy leave a lot to be desired. The background vocals are also not the most superb (they occasionally attempted to perform counterpart vocals in a style similar to Gentle Giant, but just didn’t have to talent to pull it off successfully). Therefore, the band is at its best on the few instrumental tracks that appear.

The production quality is also quite lame, even for the era, with some of the instruments dropping back into the mix seemingly at random on several tracks, lending an uneven and unpolished feel to the songs, as if they had been recorded on a tight budget, and in a basement or home studio.

Now, with all that being said, the band wasn’t absolutely horrible (again, the instrumentation is quite commendable at times), so Prog-Rock lovers who crave obscure releases within the genre might find Pentwater of some interest. Just don’t expect brilliance or perfection or anything earth-shattering.