Urban Tale – Urban Tale (2001)

UrbanTale_UrbanTale4 out of 5 Stars!

This truly is a band I’m liking more and more as I listen to their two better-than-average albums.

At first listen, I thought of them as a cross between Blanc Faces, FM, Place Vendome, or Survivor, but after further listening, I decided to add in a mix of Toto, Alias Eye, Saga, and even Steely Dan when it comes to the fine keyboard work, the sometimes-complicated arrangements, and even a few light jazz influences on several tracks.

Overall, this band, on both albums, shows top-notch professionalism, from the melodic songs to the stellar production to the performances by all the musicians.

Every AOR fan should check out this band!

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Unified Past – Shifting the Equilibrium (2015)

UnifiedPast_Shifting4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Shifting the Equilibrium is an outrageously enjoyable album by New York band Unified Past, a group featuring guitarist extraordinaire Stephen Speelman on guitar/keys, dexterous bassist Dave Mickelson, and thundering drummer Victor Tassone, not to mention the newest addition to the band, Mr. Phil Naro (Druckfarben/Talas/D Drive/Backhand, etc.), who provides the jaw-dropping vocals.

The music on Shifting the Equilibrium, the band’s most recent album, initially reminded me of classic Yes, especially since Naro has a similar range and vocal quality as Jon Anderson (although he does have a gruffer delivery), but with an updated, more spirited “take” on the Yes style of Symphonic Prog. Therefore, imagine Yes with heavier (almost Prog-Metal) guitars, a slamming rhythm section, and Keith Emerson-like keyboards when it comes to various synth tones during the solos and fills. Or perhaps imagine the usually keyboard-heavy sound of the defunct group Cairo, but with an equal balance of both guitar and keyboards.

Regardless, Unified Past is a talented lot with (generally) its own sophisticated sound. The melodies are catchy, the vocal harmonies grand, the songs occasionally complex, and the musicianship always stellar. So basically, this is one dreadfully obscure band to watch and to pray that the “big time” ain’t too far into the future for these deserving guys.

Wake up, Earth’s Prog-Rock fans, to Unified Past…especially since I have it on good authority (I’m proud to call these talented dudes my FB buddies) that a new album is being created even as I type this updated review of an amazing album.


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Twin Fusion – Identical Creation (2008)

TwinFusion_IdenticalCreation3.5 out of 5 Stars!

Back in 2008, Twin Fusion released its one and only album, which occasionally reminds me of the band Lucifer’s Friend, only without the predominant keyboards/Hammond organ. The main lead vocalist even has a similar tonal quality and style of the magnificent John Lawton (of Lucifer’s Friend and Uriah Heep fame) on a few of the earlier tracks (“Off We Go Alone” and “Treasures Of Mind,” for instance), although perhaps not the same power when he’s going for the high notes.

Still, Lucifer’s Friend springs to mind when listening to many of the tracks on offer here. Early Uriah Heep influences pop up on other tracks (“He Drinks His Wine” and “Rock ‘n’ Your Soul,” as examples). Had the band included a full time keyboard player (perhaps it did, since you can occasionally hear touches of piano and various keys on a few tracks, but generally they are so buried in the mix that they may as well have not been included), then the comparisons would have been even more obvious.

So in general, the band’s overall style has a lot of ’70s’ influence with modern-day Progressive Metal tossed in for good measure. I might have given this album a higher rating were it not for several average tracks near the end (“Celtic Passage,” where the most glaring keyboard passage on the album is rather cheesy, and it sounds like the main lead vocalist is sharing duties with another less-accurate singer—the same thing on the track “Olympus Mons”). The production quality could also use improvement. But generally, this isn’t too bad, especially if you’re into the metal sound from the ’70s (and enjoy bands as diverse as Lucifer’s Friend).

I’m unsure if Twin Fusion is still together, but I certainly wouldn’t mind hearing more from the band, especially if it continued to develop its sound (and get better production). Twin Fusion definitely had the potential and talent to grow.


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Three Dog Night – American Pastime (1976)

ThreeDogNight_AmericanPastime2 out of 5 Stars!

A band on death’s doorstep.

Any semblance of brilliance the band once possessed had utterly vanished by the time this album came out.

Shortly afterward, Danny Hutton (who appears on only one track—”Mellow Down”—as a lead vocalist) left the band and they were forced to perform with Jay Gruska as the third vocalist (thankfully that didn’t last long) to promote the album.

The actual band itself consisted mostly of studio musician types as well.

Avoid this album at all costs, even if you’re a die-hard fan. An ugly end to a great band.

Three Dog Night – Harmony (1971)

ThreeDogNight_Harmony4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Harmony is probably my favorite overall Three Dog Night album.

Despite the album’s age, the sound quality still holds up well, and the songs the band selected for Harmony were generally above average.

With tracks such as “Murder in My Heart for the Judge” and Hoyt Axton’s “Never Been To Spain” (both sung by Cory Wells, which his iconic vocal performances claimed as his own), the band’s own song entitled simply “Jam,” along with “My Impersonal Life” (what an evil/metal sounding guitar tone!) and Joni Mitchell’s “Night in the City” (both sung by Danny Hutton), and Stevie Wonder’s “I Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer,” Paul William’s “Old Fashioned Love Song,” and the track “You” (all Chuck Negron masterpieces), this is probably one of the band’s “heavier/rockier” efforts.

The only thing that kept me from rating Harmony a perfect 5 Stars was that this is the first album where the band started to shy away from their trademarked “swapping” of lead vocals. The singers, it seems, began to enjoy being the lone vocalist in the spotlight, selecting their own tracks and getting away from the three-singer-team effort. Therefore, the two final tracks on Harmony—”Family of Man” and “Peace of Mind”—were the only songs that reverted back to the “older” days of trading vocal leads throughout the songs (although “Jam” is borderline), and it was a sign of things to come when the band’s cohesiveness eventually vanished.

Despite that one criticism, however, I believe, had the band continued on this heavier/rocking road, they might have retained their “cool” factor a lot longer instead of gaining an undeserved future reputation of being nothing but a “singles’ band.”

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Three Dog Night – Naturally (1970)

ThreeDogNight_Naturally4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Now, it’s been several years since the band’s debut album, and by this time they definitely have their act together and know how to get “the most bang for the buck” when it comes to songs for album inclusion, production, marketing, etc. But despite the inclusion of a little ditty entitled “Joy To The World” (which ended up sounding like a kiddie-anthem and prophesied uglier things to come for the band’s image, sadly) this isn’t a shabby album.

At this time in their history, now covering songs by excellent bands such as Free, Spooky Tooth, and Traffic (and making them “their own”), Three Dog Night possessed a bit of a “hip factor” in the world of music. And listening to this album today, I can see why.

Although always leaning toward the “pop end” of music, the band could still include songs like “Liar” (by Argent), for example, which even today has a certain power, an interesting atmosphere, and truly denigrates the original Argent version. I recall how once (I believe it was Rolling Stone Magazine) compared Three Dog Night to, of all bands, Grand Funk Railroad. As a 10-12 year old during the band’s heyday, I never really “got” the comparison. But now in retrospect, I finally see the huge similarity…the organ and guitar tones, for example, while the voice of Chuck Negron wasn’t that “dissimilar” to the voice of Mark Farner. Regardless, this is one of their better efforts, apart from the aforementioned “Joy” track.

The trade-off/dual lead vocals are flawlessly performed, as in “I Can Hear You Calling,” “Heavy Church,” or “One Man Band,” the arrangements were pretty decent overall, and the musicianship was well above average. Also, the Spooky Tooth cover of “I’ve Got Enough Heartache” is also certainly better than the original version from the album Spooky Two, and a track in which the gospel-inspired and gritty vocals of Cory Wells shines while the background vocals/harmonies from the other guys are near perfect.

Anyway, definitely not a bad place to start for anyone seeking to delve into Three Dog Night’s history.

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Three Dog Night – Three Dog Night (1968)

ThreeDogNight_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Yes, a forgotten gem. What I like most about Three Dog Night’s debut album is its “live feel” (the actual unpolished quality). I mean, come on, Chuck Negron briefly goes flat on a single ad-libbed note near the end of the track “One” and it actually remained in the final/released mix, not to mention the song became a huge mega-hit. What recordings of today (even live recordings) haven’t been overdubbed, and re-re-re-recorded, with vocal lines painstakingly corrected line by line so as to remove what might have once been a semblance of a brilliant vocal performance, flaws and all?

Yep, you can’t get a better “live in the studio/one take and we’re done since our budget is tight” feel than this album.

This is a riveting trip back in history where record companies gave next to nothing to artists to “do their thing ASAP or else get dumped from your contract.” Yet despite this slight “flaw,” the album has a magical charm that remains even to this day.

The album contains some enduring classics. Aside from the aforementioned “One” (written by Harry Nilsson), there’s Traffic’s “Heaven Is In Your Mind,” a cover of The Beatles “It’s For You,” a cover of The Band’s “Chest Fever,” Neil Young’s “The Loner,” and the Cory Wells-sung “slammer” track “Try A Little Tenderness,” originally released by Otis Redding, and Cory actually ended up making it his very own “classic.”

Basically, the resulting release was a whopping “Hot Damn!” These guys delivered a harmonic debut, a rock-solid rendering of the music scene back in 1968, which prefaced many years of nearly constant Number One hits on the band’s part. Unfortunately, were it not for the damned drugs that hijacked the personal lives of the musicians by the mid-’70s, the band might have lasted much longer, since the guys were always apt-chameleons to shifting styles and musical trends.

Granted, the band did not write the majority of its own material (barely a fraction of its output, truthfully), but the members sure had a gifted “golden ear” for “hearing hits,” and the group subsequently tackled some excellent material from outside songwriters and usually altered the songs to fit the overall band style and—often—bettering every one of them. The “Dogs” also sensed how to improve when it came to production and presentation, and quickly perfected the “rough-edge” style by the second album Suitable For Framing (the tracks “Feelin’ Alright” and Eli’s Coming” anyone?). And with three gifted singers at the helm, each adopting songs that miraculously fit their own personal vocal style (lyrics and melodies that matched their unique vocal nuances to perfection), they mastered the art of harmonic rock-‘n’-roll. And when the singers couldn’t agree on exactly which vocalist should actually tackle the lead, they incorporated the “swapping lead vocal” technique that brought them equal success.

Therefore, this album is basically the genesis of what would become a brilliant strategy for fame, harmony, and hits. And with that in mind, I happily give it high ratings.


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Kaipa – An Overview

kaipa_logoAlbums In My Collection

– Angling Feelings
– In The Wake Of Evolution
– Keyholder
– Mindrevolutions
– Notes From The Past
– Sattyg
– Vittjar

An Overview

This band from Sweden has the uncanny ability to truly kick my ass. Although, at this point in time, I’m still unfamiliar with their early releases (from the 1970s and ’80s), getting “into them” just as the new decade began when they reformed with basically a new line-up, and thus, I started listening to only their newest releases. And, surprisingly and thankfully, each album gripped me.

Everything Kaipa delivers is ultra-professional, from the performances of each musician down to the high-quality production. The melodies of their songs are generally engaging, and their arrangements will have most lovers of Prog-Rock in a perpetual heavenly bliss. The bottom line…every album the band has released since reappearing back in 2002 has been a 4- or a 4.5-Star rating from me, each featuring countless jaw-dropping moments, with each album close to perfection.

For those unfamiliar with the band, they play a generally bright, highly complex version of Symphonic Progressive Rock, with a perfect mixture of extended and shorter tracks, an impressive range of instruments, and both male and female vocals with rich harmonies. And grand KUDOS to Aleena, the female vocalist, whose style and delivery and range are extraordinarily! The tracks where she is featured are typically my favorites.

In many ways, Kaipa sounds similar to The Flower Kings when it comes to their overall sound and musical approach, and that’s certainly not a fluke, considering that Roine Stolt (founder of The Flower Kings) was also the guitarist of the original Kaipa back in the ’70s and also involved in the band’s resurgence within the first half of the new decade. Like the band The Tangent, due to their own connection to Roine, I place Kaipa firmly in the “Offshoots of The Flower Kings” category, whether they deserve the classification or not. Be that as it may, keyboardist Hans Lundin truly deserves a round of applause for “keeping the dream alive,” being (I believe) the only consistent member of the band since their formation, and thus, is the grand master of the entire affair, despite Roine’s occasional involvement.

If I had to offer any negative critique to the band, it’s that the majority of their albums can be, in my eyes, overly long. This is the same critique I would also offer to both The Flower Kings and The Tangent. But frankly, I’d much rather have too much new music with each album than too little, so my critique is quite minor in the grand scheme of things, especially to a band that offers such wonderful material.

Highly recommended for all Prog-Rock fans!

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It Bites – An Overview

ItBitesAlbums In My Collection

– The Big Lad In The Windmill
– Eat Me In St. Louis
– It Happened One Night
– Map Of The Past
– Once Around The World
– The Tall Ships

An Overview

Another band, this one wonderfully quirky in its early years, that often straddles the line between Progressive Rock and AOR. Since they seem to fall mostly into the Progressive Rock genre, especially these days, I’ve included them on this list.

The earlier releases, featuring the talented Francis Dunnery on lead vocals and guitar, provided the most “quirky” aspect of this band. The material on the early releases was a mixture of Pop Rock/Hard Rock/AOR Rock and Progressive Rock, a unique-sounding blend to be certain, and these albums grabbed me instantly. They had a unique flavor that no other band has yet to duplicate.

Then the band disappeared for many years…until…

It Bites blasted back onto the scene in the new decade—but when Francis left the band to go solo and John Mitchell joined as his replacement. Since then, the band got rid of the more “quirkier” aspects in favor of more straight-forward Prog-Rock (in the Neo-Prog variety) approach, and the subsequent albums are also terrific, yet completely different from the band’s original releases.

So, for fans of Prog-Rock, be warned of the two different versions of this band. Both are extremely talented and enjoyable, but whichever style you might prefer depends on your personal preference when it comes to “what’s enjoyable” within the Prog-Rock universe.

Personally, I love both versions of the band, and hope that this newest incarnation continues for many years to come!

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Quidam – An Overview

QuidamAlbums In My Collection

– Alone Together
– Quidam
– Saiko
– Sny Aniolów (aka. Angel’s Dream)
– SurREvival
– The Time Beneath The Sky (aka. Pod Niebem Czas)

An Overview

A band from Poland, one of my favorites from that country, with two distinct eras—prior to 2003, they boasted a terrific female vocalist, and afterward (and to the present day) feature(d) an enjoyable male vocalist. Each era has lyrics sung in both Polish and English.

Both eras are also quite superb musically, with songs/arrangements that run the gamut of the Neo-Prog-Rock style, featuring luscious guitars (electric and acoustic), keyboards, extra percussion instruments, even flute, usually along with intricate and wonderfully (at times) mellow and absorbing atmospherics. On each of the albums I own, the production quality is near perfect. So depending on one’s taste, you might find either (or both phases) of the band entertaining, as do I.

Regardless which of the band’s eras you might prefer (female vs. male lead vocals, or whether its Polish or English in which they sing), when it comes to the music itself, fans of both modern and legendary groups such as Millenium, Galahad, Moonrise, Jethro Tull, Introitus, Marillion (especially on releases with the male vocalist, only not as drab), and even latter-day Pink Floyd will probably savor something offered by this terrific band.

And a special note: on the album The Time Beneath The Sky (aka. Pod Niebem Czas), the band’s rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter” is hauntingly terrific…just the way I had always imagined the song SHOULD sound, especially with the female vocals.

Overall, an excellent band!

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