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Ben Wheeler

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A Life Within A Day
A Life Within A Day
Offered by TwoRedSevens
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Quality musicianship and production stamped all over it, 16 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: A Life Within A Day (Audio CD)
I don't know why it took me so long to get this album. I've been aware of it for a year but the build-up to the new Yes album Heaven and Earth made me impatient for a bit of Chris Squire's bass and vocals. It's actually sounds more like a Hackett album with Chris Squire guesting than a real 50/50 collaboration but, anyone familiar with Hackett's recent material shouldn't mind that - the man is on a creative roll. This has been one of my favourite albums this year - great songs, quite melodic but with all the trademark bass and guitar you'd expect from both of them. Does it sound like Yes and Genesis? No, it sounds like Steve Hackett and Chris Squire experimenting and being themselves. Quality musicianship and production are stamped all over it and I wish Heaven and Earth had been produced as well as this. For all the Yes fans complaining about the lightweight sounding latest album - this is where you'll hear the bass you want to hear. Squire has an excellent voice and it's a pity he doesn't give himself a track on Heaven and Earth - never mind - Squackett is a great album for your collection. Probably a one-off but an immensely enjoyable collaboration.

Heaven & Earth
Heaven & Earth
Price: £12.79

55 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Moments of magic - but lifeless production, 28 July 2014
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This review is from: Heaven & Earth (Audio CD)
I have some shock news for some Yes fans - it may not be easy to take but here it is... It's not 1972. What's more it's not 1977 either. There's no point pining for Close to the Edge 2 or Going for the One (again). It's 2014. The band is not going to sound like it did in the 1970s, these are not guys in their 20's - with the exception of Jon Davison - they are all in their late 60's.

Personally, I would rather Yes create new music than continually live on past glories as a live act. I don't want to hear Siberian Khatru yet again - but I can accept that many fans do and ticket sales don't lie. So given that today's Yes is mainly a 1970s back catalogue touring act - the promise of new material is intriguing. You might wonder 'why bother' as new Yes material never seems to survive in a live set-list for more than one tour. Perhaps, as musicians they want to show that they can still cut it, haven't run out of ideas and are not, despite their live shows, a band stuck in a time warp. But is the new material any good?

The reviews of Heaven and Earth have been far more mixed than for Fly From Here which was generally well received - despite the re-cycling of Drama era material. Although only three years later, Heaven and Earth has a very different feel for two main reasons - the input of new vocalist Jon Davison who co-wrote almost every track and, the absence of Trevor Horn behind the desk - replaced by Roy Thomas Baker. So, let's discuss the songs, and then the production.

I won't go through every song - there are many other reviews that do that perfectly well. The key thing for me is, does this new album sound like a Yes album? Does it, even without Jon Anderson, capture the 'spirit of Yes'? It definitely does. There are standout tracks that are as worthy of the Yes name as anything they've produced before. Believe Again, To Ascend, Light of the Ages (written by Davison on his own) and Subway Walls will please the long-term Yes fan. There's a lot of Steve Howe - albeit sounding quite similar - but at least he's not lost in the mix. It's also good to hear Geoff Downes own keyboards rather than his rather awkward (and some would say `winged') interpretations of Rick Wakeman live. There are other songs that are lighter, `progressive easy listening' even but they are strong on melody and they grow. That's the good part.

The big disappointment is the production. Many reviews cover this. It seems flat and tinny - it lacks the atmosphere and dynamics we should expect from Yes. Simply, the instruments don't seem to breathe. The bass isn't as clear as it should be and the drums have the lightest sound ever on a Yes album. The power house of Chris Squire and Alan White is not what it was - at least not here. After a couple of plays of the CD I began to notice I had to turn up the volume to hear it at the right level. I then did a test - I played the opening overture from Fly From Here - and my worst fears were confirmed. It was a lot louder, much clearer and the instrumentation had the energy and dynamics so missing on Heaven and Earth.

So, what went wrong? I remember an interview with Mike Oldfield years back - he said he always plays his masters through 'ordinary hi-fi' to make sure it still sounds like he wants it to. Perhaps Yes should have done the same. It's all very well listening in the recording suite - us mere mortals don't have £10,000 speakers. I had my doubts when I heard Roy Thomas Baker was producing - they went for a 'name' rather than someone who could have given their new music a much more contemporary sound.

Is Heaven and Earth as bad as some of the reviews? Certainly not. Nothing could be as bad as Union - an album so dire that even charity shops would politely refuse to accept. It's way better than Open Your Eyes, its better than a lot of the songs on The Ladder too. If it had had a bit more time and they weren't, in their own words, rushing it at the end due to their touring - it might even have been a really good Yes album.

If you are new to Yes - go and buy the latest greatest hits `Wonderous Stories' and if you want more, get the complete albums from the 1970's like Fragile and Going for the One and 90125 to appreciate the Rabin 80's era. If you still want more - then Heaven and Earth deserves your £10. If, like me, you simply 'have to' buy the lot - you'll find enough here to keep the faith. And, in 2014 being able to listen to a new Yes album is a minor miracle - and that gets it an extra star. Overall I am happy with that.

Footnote: For Chris Squire fans - if you haven't already got Squackett's Life Within A Day - his recent work with Steve Hackett - it's well worth a listen. The bass is clearer, the writing is excellent and the production is just what's missing from Heaven and Earth. Maybe Chris should have called Hackett's producer Roger King.
Comment Comments (16) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 14, 2014 12:27 PM BST

Man On The Rocks
Man On The Rocks
Price: £10.60

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The guitar is back!, 7 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: Man On The Rocks (Audio CD)
I think if we are honest, loyalty to Mike's earlier work has meant that his more commercial vocal tracks have always been, shall I say, 'endured' more than really enjoyed. It's not that he can't use vocals really well, but the out and out vocal albums of the past have been patchy at best and I have found myself listening out for the guitar breaks. So, when I heard he was planning another all vocal album I thought 'here he goes again' - I'll buy it but, will I then have to kid myself I am really enjoying it?

Having now played Man On The Rocks several times, there are some key differences that really make it a much more rewarding experience. He uses the same vocalist on all tracks and Luke Spiller is exceptional. A touch of Freddie Mercury, David Gilmour - he brings vocal consistency and it makes for a much more complete listen. Then there are the songs - and, while of course there is the 'sounds like Moonlight Shadow' track in Sailing - the rest are very different and some clock in at 7 minutes plus. There are extended instrumental breaks and, probably of greatest pleasure - Mike's guitar is back and at its very best. The title track is stand out and, the final track 'I give myself away' is beautiful - and there's a sublime guitar solo. With this album, vocals and Mike's sound fit together better than ever before. The man is a genius - he still has it and, while there is an instrumental CD of all the tracks I don't think it's needed. These are fine songs in their own right and a worthy addition to Mike's legacy. Now Mike - you enjoyed playing at the Olympics - so how about a tour?!

Watertight Marketing: Delivering Long-Term Sales Results
Watertight Marketing: Delivering Long-Term Sales Results
by Bryony Thomas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great marketing book - and so much more, 16 Aug. 2013
I am writing this review as a marketing consultant who mainly works with small businesses - the target audience for this book. Having originally qualified in marketing 20 years ago I felt I needed to re-fresh my thinking and find a book that addressed today's marketing challenges - for me and to also help my clients. When I heard that Bryony was writing a book I had a feeling that this could be exactly what I was looking for. She has certainly delivered - but it's far more than 'just' a book.

You can use Watertight Marketing in several ways - as a marketing book it is well laid out with great illustrations and case studies. It's a stimulating read with many bite sized nuggets and could easily be read start to finish or dipped into. Where it wins over so many other marketing books is that it also a practical and very well thought out system that can actually be used - and Bryony has provided a huge amount of support material, workbooks and exercises that allow business owners to apply it to their business and work out, as Bryony puts it, where they are "leaking profit". You then get to understand what you need to do to plug the leaks and create a watertight marketing strategy.

As good as the book is, it is the application to your business that will make the value in her process become very clear. It really is like working with your own marketing consultant. The book is a great start point and then head over to the Watertight Marketing website and find out more.

Thick As A Brick 2
Thick As A Brick 2
Price: £14.49

8 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A wasted opportunity for Tull's finale, 6 April 2012
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This review is from: Thick As A Brick 2 (Audio CD)
If ever there was evidence that, despite Ian Anderson writing all their material, Jethro Tull really was more than the Ian Anderson band - it's listening to this without Martin Barre. OK, it's an Ian Anderson album but it's billed as Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson and it's a sequel to one of the most loved Tull albums - so why not make it a fully fledged Tull album? Instead, what we have here is Ian helping himself to the whole Thick as a Brick legacy, surrounded by musicians who have clearly been briefed to sound like Tull. It's not a bad record and they do a very good job - but it could have been so much better with Martin's guitar work and heavier drums from Doane Perry.

Anyone who has followed Jethro Tull over the years will know that line-up wise it's been a revolving door around Ian and Martin. Bassists would come and go, keyboard players too - it didn't really matter but, now that Ian has gone the whole hog it just sounds 'Tull Lite'. Perhaps his ego has got the better of him and, as the video shows - he has directed every single phrase each of the musicians play with the resulting sound being rather 'airtight' and lacking the freedom of expression heard on the original Thick as a Brick. Concept wise it does work but it doesn't flow as well as the original and, as other reviewers have said, it sounds more like Ian's recent solo albums despite some nods to the original.

On the positive side, it's a new album of Ian Anderson songs and that alone is well worth the money but, as a sequel I feel it has been a wasted opportunity to create a 'proper' Jethro Tull release that could have made a superb swansong for a band that now looks like it might just fizzle out. One more thing, Ian looks more and more like Ming the Merciless - perhaps previous members of Tull might have a view on that one!!

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