Preview – Preview (1983)

Preview_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

From the state of New York came Preview, an admirably melodic AOR group that released only a single album full of catchy material before (mournfully and unjustifiably) disappearing off the scene prior to gaining any traction. Years later, however, a bootleg became available of the band’s unreleased second album, and although Preview seemed to have soldiered on (at least for a short time) in the same overall style on its second potential release, creating another decent record, the songwriting didn’t seem quite as immediate or the “polish” quite as sparkling. But then again, these tunes had not been finalized for an “official” release, therefore, although the potential certainly existed, who knows what the tunes may have sounded like in a professionally produced and mastered condition?

Nevertheless, this eponymously titled debut is an obscure gem of the AOR genre, equaling nearly every other platter from similar Arena Rock bands during the same era.

On this collection of ten highly memorable songs, any number of them (especially “All Night,” “Running Back,” “Red Lights,” “Love Finds a Way,” and “Open Up Your Heart”) might have been hit singles had the band received so much as an iota of promotion from its record label, Geffen Records. Indeed, with four obviously talented musicians in its ranks, as well as a recognizable lead vocalist supported by tight background harmonies, Preview had a sturdy foundation for success. Yet better still, Preview also had one hell of a secret weapon in its musical arsenal—a marvelously gifted tunesmith in keyboardist Ernie Gold, who composed nine of the ten songs and co-wrote a handful of them with Alan Pasqua, keyboardist and composer associated with artists such as Giant, Santana, and Eddie Money. So with Gold at its creative helm, the band possessed a songwriter worth his weight (and every pun intended) in gold, an enviable resource for any AOR band. By the way, it should also be noted that vocalist Jon Fiore contributed one tune, the stunning closer “It’s Over,” showing that’s Gold’s talent wasn’t entirely unique within the band.

Anyway, I played this album continuously upon first purchasing it back in 1983, and indulged in it countless times through the following decades, and even now, it’s lost none of its harmonious power or charm. In fact, one hearing of the full album is never enough during a single sitting, and I still find myself hitting the REPLAY button to get a second dose, even after all these many years.

So, one might ask themselves, how could a band with so much raw musical potential and superb songwriting muscle go absolutely nowhere and remain so wretchedly obscure?

To answer that question, I’m once again pointing a finger directly at the record label—and guess which finger I’m using! This is the same finger I aimed several years earlier at RCA Victor when it likewise did nothing to promote another top-class act called Susan, allowing that band’s enjoyable debut album to flounder when, with a modicum of effort and a few extra advertising dollars, could have saved the group from entering the gates of oblivion. Why record labels go to the trouble of contracting bands, then do virtually nothing to aid the band in selling records—the label’s very business, their raison d’être, for pity’s sake—is beyond my understanding.

Anyway, all of my blame-casting aside…fans of diverse AOR groups such as Survivor, Cobra, The Babys, Journey, Franke & The Knockouts, Prism, Honeymoon Suite, Loverboy, and Wrabit will most certainly find interest in this mostly unknown group. Now, the trick is to actually track down a copy of this album to add to your collections. But be patient…it’s worth the efforts of investigation to do so, and thankfully, copies now seem more readily available then they were years ago.

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The Doors – L.A. Woman (1971)

Doors_LAWoman4.5 out of 5 Stars!

I freely confess, I was never a fan of The Doors during the band’s actual existence (from 1965-1973). In hindsight, the reason was certainly understandable—when the band burst onto the scene in ’67 with its self-titled album, I was only seven years old, and during that time in my young life, The Monkees were (to my mind) the next best thing to peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and chocolate milk. Then, when I really started “getting into” music around the age of eleven or twelve, no one within my circle of friends even owned an album by The Doors, but instead, introduced me to “new” and exciting groups they’d discovered such as Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Jethro Tull, Yes, The Allman Brothers Band, Grand Funk Railroad, Led Zeppelin, Bloodrock, and Black Sabbath. Plus, by this time, The Doors had already lost Jim Morrison (RIP) and were already considered “old hat” and “hanging on by a thread.”

Therefore, it wasn’t until the early ’80s—when I’d reached my twenties and regularly performed in my own groups—that I gained an interest in the band. For this sudden exposure, I thank a Chicagoland act called Moonlight Drive. As the name implies, the outfit was a “Doors tribute band,” fairly popular in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, and I luckily found my own band playing several shows with the group in the tri-state region. Of course, I’d certainly heard of The Doors, but only knew the hit singles such as “Hello, I Love You” and “Touch Me,” and had always thought the band rather lightweight and way too “acid rock poppish” for my tastes. But after seeing Moonlight Drive deliver a dramatic, heavy-hitting set of The Doors’s best tunes, including many of the non-hit singles, on several nights, I suddenly found myself hooked. Only then did I realize that The Doors’s back catalogue apparently had much more to offer than the Pop-Rock fare I’d always associated with the band, so on a whim, I subsequently purchased the six studio albums from the “Jim Morrison” heyday.

My favorite of the group’s platters not only proved to be the “rockingest” of them all—no surprise, considering my preference for heavier material—but also the last of the Morrison albums. On L.A. Woman, the group included one amazing track after the other—not one “filler” in sight—and I ended up playing it regularly through the decades, certainly more so than any of the group’s earlier efforts, which I consider less consistent (and yes, as on 1969’s The Soft Parade, for instance, occasionally way too light for me). Additionally, this collection had a biting edge to it, along with a darker atmosphere (perhaps since I knew it would end up being Morrison’s swansong), and also included more Blues-based tunes as opposed to much of the group’s previous and “trippier” Psychedelic-tinged work.

Here, Morrison performs at his grittiest and gruffest best, belting out the lyrics with an almost punkish urgency and dementia—I have to believe that vocalists such as David Johansen from New York Dolls gained much inspiration from Morrison’s performances—where I can easily forgive his occasional inaccuracies regarding pitch. Moreover, his often cryptic and mysterious lyrics are, as ever, pure poetry, justifiably earning him legendary status in the rock ‘n’ roll world.

Meanwhile, although never a stable fan of Ray Manzarek’s organ tones (depending on the track, such as the catchy hit “Love Her Madly,” where the Hammond has a Farfisa sound that always rubbed me the wrong way), his rollicking performances on the funky opener “The Changeling” and the thumping “The WASP (Texas Radio and the Big Beat)” helped launch both tunes to the top of my “favorites” list, plus his strange Hammond insertions on “L’America” made for some creepiness I found endlessly charming. And of course, his wildly melodic traditional piano dexterity on the bopping “L.A. Woman” as well as the Fender Rhodes that graces that composition and also provides the haunting leads and solid chord patterns on the stunning “Riders on the Storm” aided to create two unforgettable and endurable classics, which incidentally are my other two favorite tracks not only on this album, but in the band’s entire catalogue.

Meanwhile, Robby Krieger impresses throughout. His guitar leads (especially on the bluesier songs “Been Down So Long,” “Crawling King Snake,” and “Cars Hiss By My Window”) are always tastefully executed and often inspired, while his rhythm guitar bits (as well as those provided by “guest” rhythm guitarist Marc Benno) never distract or hog center stage when not warranted, allowing the songs to breathe without clutter. Drummer John Densmore also displays the full spectrum of his skills, his tempos always tight and punchy, and his fills perfectly appropriate on both the rockers and the laid-back numbers. Additionally, although just one in a long string of session bassists playing on each of the band’s studio albums, Jerry Scheff also delivered a meritorious performance, his bass lines working in perfect tandem with Densmore’s beats, and his riffs always melodious with first-rate implementation. Plainly speaking, in my estimation, he was the “guest bassist” through the years who offered the most energy and backbone to the band’s overall sound.

Regardless, anyone still unfamiliar with The Doors (and without the good fortune of having a tribute band like Moonlight Drive to provide a marvelous replica) who yearns to investigate the band, L.A. Woman is a great place to begin, since it shows the group at the height of its fame and creativity. After Morrison’s passing, the surviving members went on to release two additional albums, but alas, the music seemed a pale imitation of what appeared on this platter, so who knows what else the band may have fashioned had Morrison not left this planet so tragically young? I can’t help thinking that, if L.A. Woman gives any indication, chances are it would’ve likely been just as exceptional.

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Masquerade – Surface of Pain (1994)

Masquerade_SurfacePain4.5 out of 5 Stars!

From Sweden, Masquerade appeared on the scene in the early ’90s, released two albums, then disappeared, only to resurface again with two additional albums just after the turn of the century. Surface of Pain, the quartet’s second release, is a woefully underrated collection of sizzling Hard Rock/Heavy Metal.

On hard-hitting tracks such as “Wasteland,” “Say Your Prayer,” “America,” “Feels Good,” “Judas Kiss,” and “Suffering,” the guitar tones and riffs (provided by a guy who goes professionally by the name of Thomas G:son—real surname, Gustafsson) are some of the most brutal and engaging I’ve ever heard, and backed by the merest hint of keyboards to round out the band’s already full and rich sound. On the other hand, “God of Man” and “Free My Mind” drop things back tempo-wise, with G:son adding acoustic guitar to the backdrop for Masquerade to deliver a grand and crushing ballad in the former instance, and a mellow and melodic tune in the latter piece, which also closes out the album on a dreamy, wonderfully atmospheric note.

Moreover, the band’s singer, Tony Yoanson, has a forceful and passionate voice occasionally similar to Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, and the strength of his melody lines, with full and punchy background harmonies, along with the pounding rhythms (thanks to bassist Henrik Lundberg and drummer Marco Tapani), provide for some memorable, head-bangin’ tunes.

Therefore, Masquerade was an obscure band shamefully ignored by the masses, with Surface of Pain shockingly rated with dismal scores on several music-related websites. I almost have to wonder if there are two versions of this album floating out there in the universe—the version I’ve owned and enjoyed for more than two decades, and another version that keeps getting lambasted by other reviewers (often with surprisingly vitriolic language). It’s almost as if there is a personal grudge being held against this particular band and this specific collection of tracks. Well, whatever the reason for the seemingly unfair hatred, I felt Masquerade (and Surface of Pain) truly deserved much more respect.

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Syzygy – Realms of Eternity (2009)

Syzygy_RealmsEternity4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Like the heavily Gentle Giant-influenced album The Allegory of Light, Syzygy’s impressive debut from 2003, Realms of Eternity, the Ohio band’s sophomore release—or its third, depending if one counts a single platter the group issued under the name Witsend back in the ’90s—still has those same influences sprinkled throughout when it comes to several tracks, but here the musicians have also considerably expanded their style into numerous other realms. And for this outing, the band also brought in accomplished vocal powerhouse Mark Boals, who surprisingly doesn’t sound like the “normal” Mark Boals I’d come to admire from ultra-slamming albums he did with Ring Of Fire, Royal Hunt, Yngwie Malmsteen, etc., but instead has trimmed away much of the former gruffness from his vocal cords, and his smoother tone and occasionally dramatic delivery seem absolutely perfect for this intriguing material.

On both shorter and lengthier tracks such as “Dreams,” “The Sea,” “Darkfield,” “Variations, Parts 1 & 2,” “Vanitas,” and the mammoth and glorious “Dialectic,” the band delves deeper into Yes and Genesis territory, featuring countless passages, shifting moods, and elaborate scoring, while also giving generous nods toward outfits such as Spock’s Beard, Moon Safari, The Flower Kings, Jethro Tull, Transatlantic, etc., all of which makes for another grand affair of classic Symphonic Prog-Rock with a touch of Avant-Prog.

Although the vocal segments are generally melodious, with a few songs openly flirting with Pomp Rock and AOR-styled choruses, the band simultaneously injects layered and labyrinthine harmony arrangements that once again bring the Gentle Giant influences to the fore. Meanwhile, the band delivers the vigorous and astounding material with top-quality musicianship. Indeed, the nimble fingers of guitarist Carl Baldassarre and keyboardist Sam Guinta continually impress, while bassist Al Rolik and drummer Paul Mihacevich consistently direct the band through twists and turns galore, showcasing everyone’s sheer diversity and talent.

As a quick aside, I must declare that it’s a crying shame the grayscale cover art is so damned bland and sedate, since the music on offer is the complete opposite—colorful, exciting, and vibrant—and the artwork doesn’t even come close in reflecting what’s in store for the listener.

Anyway, since this terrific release, the group put out a live “digipak” album in 2012, then Cosmos and Chaos in 2014, a “20th Anniversary Compendium” of the album previously issued under the Witsend name from 1993, but no other fresh material. I’m just hoping the band is still active and in the process of creating additional Prog-Rock magic for a future release.

Now, can someone please tell me once and for all how to actually pronounce the name of this exceptional band? 🙂

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Gillan – Future Shock (1981)

Gillan_FutureShock4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Gillan (the band) always played a weird-ass concoction of Hard Rock/Heavy Metal/Prog-Rock and even “How The Hell Do You Classify That?” Rock that somehow got simply clumped into the “New Wave Of British Heavy Metal” movement of the early ’80s (thanks to the era of the band’s productivity and splendor).

But just savoring each track on any of the band’s many albums showed that it had a TON of diversity, thanks to the extraordinary musicians involved (on this album, keyboardist Colin Towns, guitarist Bernie Tormé, drummer Mick Underwood, bassist John McCoy, and vocalist Ian Gillan) and their individual histories of playing on such diverse albums in numerous bands with such diverse styles.

As you can no-doubt tell, “diversity” is the key issue (and word) here, and 1981’s Future Shock is no exception. This collection of tracks features an eclectic blend of genres, where it’s almost unfathomable to pinpoint any primary category for the overall platter, except “pure Gillan wildness.”

Certainly many tunes, such as “Night Ride Out of Phoenix,” “Don’t Want the Truth,” “Sacre Bleu,” “Bite the Bullet,” “(The Ballad of) The Lucitania Express,” the title track, and the band’s rousing rendition of Guida/Royster’s “New Orleans,” could be considered simply Hard Rock bordering on Heavy Metal, yet each of the songs also includes such wacky guitar leads or avant-garde keyboard solos, or unpredictable arrangements and rhythmic breaks or tempos, that some people might argue the songs are Progressive Rock in nature also.

The same genre-oddness befalls “No Laughing in Heaven”—although the song’s foundation is Blues-based Hard Rock, Gillan’s vocals, an amusing and stunning combination of talking and shrieking during the verses, is like a precursor to Rap—”Heavy Rap Metal,” of course. Then we come to the absolute jewels of the album, the borderline Prog-Rock ditties “If I Sing Softly” and “For Your Dreams,” with both containing haunting scores and instrumentation that set them apart from the other eight tunes.

By the way, all of the aforementioned tracks appear on the original vinyl version of the album, but I also purchased the CD “re-mastered” version a decade later, which features ten additional bonus tracks—including my favorite, “Mutually Assured Destruction”—where even more craziness ensues with “genre-merging” from song to song, although not quite as stark or numerous.

Anyway, on Future Shock, the exact genre into which each track actually falls is entirely dependent on the personal preferences of the listener. As for me, as mentioned above, I call the band’s overall style “pure Gillan wildness,” and I still love every single moment of this album, as well as each platter produced by this unique, entertaining, and phenomenal band during its way-too-short existence. Nevertheless, Ian Gillan will forever remain my favorite vocalist of all time, and Colin Towns will always retain a spot on my Top Ten Rock Keyboardists list—both individuals proved enormously influential when it came to my own musical growth, and their performances on Future Shock show exactly why.

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Time Requiem – The Inner Circle of Reality (2004)

TimeRequiem_Reality4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Led by keyboardist extraordinaire Richard Andersson (Space Odyssey/Adagio/Majestic), Sweden’s Time Requiem never got the recognition it so richly deserved, in my opinion. Between 2002 and 2006, the band delivered a trio of dynamic and dramatic near-perfect studio albums, with The Inner Circle of Reality (the second release) also featuring the brutally powerful Apollo Papathanasio (Majestic/Firewind/Evil Masquerade) on vocals, unheralded guitarist Magnus Nordh, and the always-stellar rhythm section (from The Flower Kings/Karmakanic) of bassist Jonas Reingold and drummer Zoltan Csorsz, both playing outside their “normal realm of Prog” in hard-hitting fashion.

As with each of the band’s releases, The Inner Circle of Reality presents complex yet highly melodic Prog-Metal/Prog-Rock of the Neoclassical variety. Compositions such as “Hidden Memories,” “Reflections,” “Dreams of Tomorrow,” “Definition of Insanity,” and the nearly twelve-minute title track contain outstanding, often breathtaking musicianship throughout, especially when it comes to Nordh’s sizzling guitar leads and Andersson’s delicious keyboard fills and wickedly speedy solos. Any fans of artists such as Symphony X, Harmony, Yngwie Malmsteen, Artension, Stratovarius, and Royal Hunt will certainly savor the jaw-dropping proficiency on display here and, probably like me, wish the album contained more than just seven tracks (not counting the eighth tune, “Bach Prelude Variation,” the horribly brief album closer that would’ve likely had Johann Sebastian Bach himself smiling proudly and begging to hear more).

Although Time Requiem, after suffering major lineup changes—most noticeably with the gifted Goran Edman replacing Papathanasio on vocals—released its somewhat more commercial third album (Optical Illusion) in 2006 and seemed on the brink of gaining wider recognition, the band suddenly vanished without a trace. Even worse, founder/mastermind Richard Andersson, apart from popping up as a “guest keyboardist” on several albums through the subsequent years, has kept a sinfully low profile, while all the while I’d prayed he’d once again put together another band to showcase his enormous songwriting and performing talents.

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Dave Kerzner – Static (2017)

DaveKerzner_Static4.5 out of 5 Stars!

The name of Florida-based keyboardist and vocalist Dave Kerzner first came to my attention back in 2015 when investigating a band called Sound of Contact, a Prog-Rock act that also included drummer Simon Collins (son of Phil Collins, of Genesis fame). The group’s sole album in 2013, Dimensionaut, proved fairly impressive, especially when it came to Kerzner’s grand and symphonic keyboard arrangements. So in 2016, when I saw Kerzner’s name in association with yet another new band, this one called Mantra Vega (also including vocalist Heather Findlay from Mostly Autumn), I snatched it up without question. And once again, the keyboard-rich material on that debut, The Illusion’s Reckoning, made a terrific first impression. So Kerzner was “two for two” in my book, and I started delving into the man’s background, seeing what else I might have missed.

Well, one of the tidbits I unearthed was that the keyboardist had also delivered a solo album in 2014, New World, which became another “no-brainer” for me when it came to the decision of purchasing it. And, no great shock, the album ended up being another first-class winner. This time, however, Kerzner provided the lead vocals (along with keyboards, some guitars, bass, and drums, and the proverbial kitchen sink, I’m sure) as well as composed and produced lush and breathtaking soundscapes, his performances enhanced with the aid of various Prog-Rock cohorts, such as drummers Nick D’Virgilio and Simon Phillips, guitarists Steve Hackett and Francis Dunnery, and even the magnificent Keith Emerson himself (RIP), to name but a few. Okay, I decided, so the guy not only knows some top-notch people in “the biz,” but has talent—considerable and enviable talent at that!

So, with his name indelibly emblazoned in my mind, I certainly did not miss the announcement of Kerzner’s latest album, Static, which he dropped on the Prog-Rock community in late 2017. And guess what? Yes, it’s another gem, this time with Kerzner repeating his songwriting, performing, and production duties as skillfully, enjoyably, and as powerfully as he did on his first solo effort. And like before, a wealth of “guests” (most notably Hackett and D’Virgilio again) pop up on several tracks, but despite the presence of these musicians injecting their own talents on various tunes, it also becomes crystal clear that, like the previous album, Static is easily Kerzner’s beautifully and lovingly nurtured baby. Indeed, with both New World and Static in his arsenal, creating a one-two punch of musical muscle, Kerzer can now claim his own distinctive sound/style, much in the same way as other solo musicians (Neil Morse instantly springs to mind) has his own identifiable brand stamped on each new collection of tracks he releases under his own moniker.

Sure, amidst the varied tunes, both brief and lengthy compositions, I can sometimes hear, as examples, a bit of Pink Floyd, Genesis, Spock’s Beard, and Transatlantic influences, but Kerzner never attempts to clone any other artist. He doesn’t need to, actually, since his creativity seems to know no bounds.

Aside from the brief “Prelude,” the album opens with a mighty and sardonic bang in the form of the upbeat, glorious, and occasionally eclectic “Hypocrites,” a track that includes everything from numerous and diverse passages, tempo shifts, ballsy guitar rhythms and leads, keyboards galore (including Mellotron and synth solos), and creepy digital ambience tossed in for good measure. The vocals, done in luscious multi-part harmony for the most part, do seem to have a “David Gilmour/Pink Floyd” flavor when it comes to Kerzner’s range, timbre, and execution, but heck, the man can’t help it if his voice possesses a few homogeneous traits of another singer, right? He does, however, do much to avoid direct comparisons, delivering the lyrics with layered harmonies and electronic enhancements. And in the end, this track is a real corker, and one of my favorites—”we’re all hypocrites”—indeed!

The title track, on the other hand, is—music-wise—pretty much in direct opposition to the previous tune, with a dreamy, keyboard-grounded background over a lazy rhythm, luxuriant in its spacier atmosphere and laid-back vocal delivery. In other words, more along the lines of groups such as Pink Floyd or Airbag. Whereas on the quirkier and bopping “Reckless,” the poppish vocal melody, varied and highly creative instrumentation, and overall eccentric character of the song arrangement suddenly brings to mind the wonderfully produced material released by the late Kevin Gilbert on his The Shaming of the True release. And no shock that Kerzner might have adopted some of the same “sound/style” qualities as Gilbert, considering the two had worked together in and around the group Giraffe and the latter’s solo material.

From this point forward, the album moves at a brisk clip, with several shorter, more direct tunes such as “Chain Reaction” and “Millennium Man” (which remind me of the catchier, straightforward side of artists such as World Trade or Trevor Rabin, only with multifarious studio enhancements and Prog-Rock embellishments), “Trust,” “State of Innocence,” and “Right Back to the Start” (delightfully mellow ballads that I can easily envision Art Rock artists such as Roxy Music or 10cc would have killed to release decades ago if given the studio capabilities of the modern age), and “Quiet Storm” and “Statistic” (electronically enriched tracks that add avant-garde strangeness to the overall collection).

And then, the album closes with “The Carnival of Modern Life,” the nearly seventeen-minute magnum-opus, which deserves (no, it demands) its own paragraph. Talk about varied and strange, this wickedly creative track has it all when it comes to Prog-Rock magic…heck, just look at the eerie cover art (thanks to equally brilliant artist Ed Unitsky) and that should give you an idea as to the song’s off-the-wall qualities when it comes to numerous melodies, rhythms, and sound effects. Yet, the organs and synths, the guitar and bass runs, and the vocals performed in the same multi-layered resplendence as the aforementioned “Hypocrites” all work to perfection. In fact, the track’s mischievously assorted instrumentation and sundry mood shifts reflect the often-insane reality of modern society’s ever-alternating viewpoints and occasional mass-hysteria moments. How long it took Kerzner to piece together and mix this mammoth masterpiece is beyond me, but my guess would be months, since the level of detail with the shifting song arrangements, the various sound effects and voice-overs that add atmospheric tinsel, would seem a mighty daunting task. But damn it, the whole track works, therefore, bravo to the mastermind behind this daring and audacious composition.

So in total, Kerzner has once again delivered an album of exceptional quality, and now, after reveling in his work for several years, I can clearly and undoubtedly declare that the man has a laser-focused brain and boundless imagination for creating engaging music in the Prog-Rock variety. And I’m so damned covetous!

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Saga – Silent Knight (1980)

Saga_SilentKnight4.5 out of 5 Stars!

When it comes to Saga’s third album, the first album I purchased by this Canadian band back in 1980—on a whim, actually, due to the eye-catching cover art—the instant I heard the synth intro to the opening track “Don’t Be Late,” I fell in love. Indeed, I clearly recall listening to the album several times in a row, then dashing to the record store the very next day to purchase the band’s prior two albums to discover all that I had missed thus far.

Including the dramatic opening tune, the superbly produced Silent Knight is brimming with synth magic, thanks to dual keyboardists Jim Gilmour and Michael Sadler, with the music expertly accented by an unsung guitar hero in the form of Ian Crichton, whose distinctive sound and dexterous style proved the icing on the proverbial cake. Add to that the ever-melodic bass riffs of Jim Crichton and the solid tempos of drummer Steve Negus, then toss in Sadler’s instantly identifiable vocals, and what you get is a collection of lush and glossy Prog-Rock with generous AOR overtones.

Along with “Don’t Be Late,” many of the additional songs included in this collection, such as “Too Much to Lose,” “What’s It Gonna Be,” “Help Me Out,” “Compromise,” and the stunning closer “Careful Where You Step,” display the band firing on full Prog-Rock cylinders. The labyrinthine song arrangements and creative instrumentation proved to be quite brilliant in their subtlety and polished execution, while Sadler’s vocal melodies etched their way into the listener’s skull, forging a permanent home in the memory banks like any of the best AOR songs of the period. Although Silent Knight wouldn’t become the band’s breakthrough album—that would come the following year with Worlds Apart, when Saga suddenly became MTV’s video darlings thanks to the single “On the Loose”—this third album cemented a solid foundation for the band’s deserved success.

Unbelievably, despite several lineup changes and a temporary break-up or two, Saga pretty much stayed around in some form or another for four full decades (officially calling it quits in 2017, its fortieth year) and I’ve stuck with the group for the entire ride (more than twenty studio albums), regardless of several “iffy” releases along the way where the group experimented with less-Progressive styles and sounds. Thankfully, however, those missteps proved few and far between. Nevertheless, Silent Knight will forever remain my favorite Saga album, since not only was it my introduction to the group, but the opening synth-riff to “Don’t Be Late” still has the power to put a smile on my face, even after all these many years.

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Traumhaus – Traumhaus (2001)

Traumhaus_14.5 out of 5 Stars!

Traumhaus is one of my favorite new “recently discovered” outfits. In my estimation, the band comes across almost as a German-language version of Symphonic Prog/Neo-Prog groups such as IQ, Galahad, Magellan, Pendragon, Also Eden, Leap Day, and Transatlantic, with (sadly) only three releases to its credit.

The band’s self-titled debut album, like its subsequent two collections, features terrific keyboard-rich material with a few heavier elements tossed in, thanks mostly to forceful guitar sprinkled throughout and the occasionally powerful rhythms amidst the pompish synths. Additionally, although most tracks on this debut fall between the five and nine minute mark, relatively short by Prog-Rock standards, another composition, “Ausgeliefert,” is a nearly eighteen-minute grand and glorious epic, acting as the album’s unrivaled centerpiece. But regardless of the various song lengths, many of the tunes, including “Zu Spat,” “Wandler,” “Am Abgrund,” plus the two instrumentals “Peter und Der Wolf” and “Navanita,” contain complex orchestration, sweeping keyboard backgrounds and nimble synth solos, tempo variations, numerous moods, and melodies galore.

One note of warning: the vocals, sung in the band’s native language as mentioned above, do sound a tad harsh, almost intrusive at times, and may not appeal to some listeners. Thankfully, on many tracks, the vocals are not the main focus, taking a backseat to the often-stunning instrumentation.

Nevertheless, Traumhaus is one band I’m praying will release another album in the near future since the most recent one (Das Geheimnis) came out back in 2013 (and included a twenty-seven minute epic, certainly the band’s most audacious accomplishment). Perhaps the delay between each album’s release is due to the band’s various lineup changes through the years, aside from keyboardist/vocalist Alexander Weyland, who I assume is the founding member/leader. But whatever the reason for the lengthy gaps in the band’s output, a new album is warranted, especially since the music is so entertaining, creative, and often spectacular, which means that for all fans of the Prog-Rock genre, Traumhaus is worthy of discovery.

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Wishbone Ash – Argus (1972)

WishboneAsh_Argus4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Through the many years since Wishbone Ash first appeared on the music scene, my friends have continually and playfully (or sometimes, intensely and angrily, depending on their level of alcohol consumption) bantered over which of the studio albums in the group’s catalogue is its finest work of art. Back in the olden days (around the time of the band’s magnificent Live Dates album, one of the greatest live recordings of all time, in my opinion) my answer was always Argus, the group’s third release. And now, more than four decades later, even with more than twenty additional Wishbone Ash studio platters over which to debate, my response still remains the same, and unless miracles happen to alter my perspective, it likely always will.

Now, I’m in no way claiming that any Wishbone Ash album other than Argus is somehow undeserving of the “best studio album” spot, since I find the overall quality of several of the band’s other releases quite high. Indeed, I feel that the 1970 debut album, along with Pilgrimage, There’s the Rub, New England, and Just Testing, all contain generally top-level material, and I also find the majority of the group’s other early albums (prior to 1980) fairly entertaining. It’s just that, when hearing Argus even nowadays, intense memories of people and places and events instantly spring to mind. This album greatly contributed to the soundtrack of my early teen years, and the cherished recollections the music conjures will forever play an integral part regarding my feelings toward this particular platter (as well as for Live Dates).

But even putting aside my impassioned opinions and looking at this album objectively, Argus has a ton going for it. Not only is the songwriting quality consistent throughout the album, with the performances by each musician outstanding, but the band at this point in time (drummer Steve Upton, bassist Martin Turner, and guitarists Andy Powell and Ted Turner—the classic lineup) elected to incorporate an intriguing blend of everything from Blues, Country, Folk, and Prog-Rock into its often-catchy Hard Rock style. The band’s trademarked twin-guitar sound borders on rock ‘n’ roll perfection, while the song arrangements are often deceptively intricate and energetically charged. And best of all, the album contains a commendable balance of both heavy and light moments, with most of the seven tracks—”Throw Down the Sword,” “Blowin’ Free,” “Warrior,” “Time Was,” and “The King Will Come”—becoming long-standing concert favorites. And even the two additional tunes included—”Sometime World” and “Leaf and Stream”—have an undeniable charm that makes Argus, for me, not only a perfectly sequenced collection of tunes, but also a rich bounty of those exquisite memories I mentioned above.

But is the album an unblemished masterpiece? No, not quite, as I feel some of the vocals—never Wishbone Ash’s strongest asset, if the truth be told—could have been “tweaked and patched” to match the utter perfection of the guitars and rhythm section. Additionally, although Derek Lawrence’s production is highly commendable given the technology of the era, I would have liked the songs to have a tad more ambience, a “big hall” sound, which is why the tracks on Argus that also appear on Live Dates possessed an even greater allure for me in a concert setting.

Nevertheless, despite these slight flaws, Argus is a Hard Rock classic, and for the reasons stated above, will forever remain my favorite studio album from this extraordinary band.

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