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Fergal Woods "Axe Victim" (Leitrim, Ireland)
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Theories Of Flight
Theories Of Flight
Price: £12.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Be Warned !, 26 July 2016
This review is from: Theories Of Flight (Audio CD)
This is one hell of an album ! Powerful songs, great singing and a superbly engineered recording mark this release as something special and one that would grace the shelves of any fan of heavy/prog rock.

I must admit to losing interest in Fates Warning 20 years ago when they seemed to drift aimlessly and so many other newer groups were producing superior material. Ray Alder's new band Redemption was one such in the more recent past (check them out if you haven't already) and it was reading a review of one of their albums that I saw a reference to "Darkness in a Different Light" as a great comeback record. That was an apt description and showed that the band were better than ever.

"Theories" is even better ! Fates Warning stands out in the ever more cluttered field of prog metal in that songs take centre stage as opposed to instrumental "showing off'. They have absorbed much of the energy of nu-metal and refined this through their quarter century of experience to produce what sounds like a timeless classic.

Several of the songs like the opener, "The Light and Shade of Things" and "Ghosts of Home" have quite lovely restrained and slow intros that would make excellent tracks on their own but they all develop into crushing rockers. The band is now officially down to a 4-piece but many of the tracks have fine guitar interplay going on, and the arrangement of the guitar parts and sounds show a lot of thought. Compared to others (no names mentioned) there are few guitar solos here, and they are used as embellishment rather than being the main focus. That said the guitar break in "White Flag" is state of the art.

Apart from Alder's powerful singing and fine melodies the first thing I noticed about the sound was the magnificent drumming of Bobby Jarzombek. This gives an unstoppable momentum and drive but also allows a rhythmic freedom and really comes to the fore in "Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen" and "The Ghosts of Home" (a bone fide genre classic). Alder's vocals shine throughout this recording and are nicely augmented by understated harmonies.

My only quibble is the title track which closes the album. It's a mood piece with sampled female voice, picked electric guitar, time-change, short guitar solos and ....that's it ! Doesn't go anywhere ! I find this a let-down to what is otherwise a really outstanding release.


NINE
NINE
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £15.13

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Northern (De)Lights !, 17 Mar. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: NINE (Audio CD)
Circus Maximus had a hard act to follow after the "Isolate" release of 2007 which awoke Prog Metal fans to the fact that Scandinavian groups can hold their own with the very best the US and UK has to offer. Wisely the band took their time (5 years) rather than rush out copycat material to cash in on the sudden notoriety. The wait has most definitely been worth it!

Not counting a brief introduction the CD has nine tracks - hence the name. I like the fact that they've gone with 3 long songs (8 - 10 mins) and 6 shortish cuts (4 - 6 mins) because this enables them to fully realize their main strengths - the ability to write complex, multi-faceted instrumental music and their penchant for coming up with almost commercial - sounding, tightly structured melodic rock. Many metal fans cringe when they hear the word commercial or melodic but these guys rock hard and are merely creating light and shade.

Fans of their 2 earlier releases need have no fears about quality - this is pretty much more of the same but with slightly better and more economical arrangement. Eriksen's vocals continue to sound more confident and the keyboard contributions are more muscular this time.The Haugen brothers on guitar and drums to my ears are at least the equals of the Van Halens, and contribute outstanding performances. If you doubt the musicianship of this band then listen to "Burn After Reading". I guarantee if you play this for a metal fan who doesn't know the group he'll tell you it's Mike Portnoy on drums !

Everything you want from Prog Metal is here - crunching riffs, blazing solos, unison runs, time changes, contrasting dynamics and Mats Haugen plays the most wonderful solos with a beautiful tone and as fast as you please. The real bonus in my opinion is the quality of the actual songs, and unlike other bands in the genre you can hear all the words and the singer doesn't sound as if he's in agony trying to reach notes that are too high for him.

I have a slight preference for the albums longer songs - "Architect of Fortune" has 4 different riffs (including one that Black Sabbath would have been proud of) before the singing even starts ! "I Am" is easy listening Prog with lovely instrumental interplay between the (very fine) vocals. "Last Goodbye" starts like an 80's New Romantic number before a most beautiful (seriously folks!) guitar passage livens things up. This number is a fitting album closer and at a shade under 10 minutes is probably the best long track they've yet recorded.

I've seen Dream Theater, Symphony X and Kamelot live but must confess that my 2 favourite Prog Metal bands both hail from Scandinavia - these boys and Sweden's Seventh Wonder. Circus Maximus have a new album released this very week and I await nervously to see if they can maintain this almost impossibly high standard. Watch this space ! "Nine" is a perfect Ten !


Isolate
Isolate

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scorcher !, 11 Mar. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Isolate (Audio CD)
I can't believe that only 3 people have reviewed this album (the comment about non-arrival is not a product review and it is an indictment of Amazon that it is left to stand!). I couldn't agree more with their enthusiastic championing of what is one of the best releases of the last 10 years in the field of prog metal. The Circus rolls in and leapfrogs virtually every other group in the genre!

I won't repeat what the other aficionados have said other than to add that this is a lot more than progressive metal. Progression is certainly obvious from their debut which was outstanding on it's own merits. The Norwegians have incorporated a more melodic heavy rock style to their complex time changes, syncopated runs and dynamic twists which means they've come up with real tunes that you can sing along with - catchy melodies are not generally associated with this type of music. It's quite obvious that Circus Maximus have no hang-ups about writing memorable choruses. That said the instrumental breaks are out of this world - "Sane No More" saw the repeat button hit twice the first time I played it only to have to repeat that procedure with the very next number "Arrival Of Love".

Vocals are stronger with better melodies on this outing and harmonies again lift them above most of the competition (right up there with Shadow Gallery) I'm more aware of drums on this than on the debut and Mats Haugen effortlessly unleashes jaw-dropping solos that make much more musical sense than the vast majority of household names. There isn't a weak track to be seen in this 55 minutes (extended with "repeat" buttons) which just flies by. Hopefully the imminent release of their 4th album "Havok" will see a publicity campaign and possibly tour, which will maximise exposure of this great group. Otherwise myself and my 3 reviewer friends will just have to sinfully enjoy our own little secret !


First Chapter
First Chapter

4.0 out of 5 stars Bridging the gap between Prog Rock and Metal, 10 Mar. 2016
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This review is from: First Chapter (Audio CD)
There seems to be an accepted view that Prog Rock is best done by English bands and Prog Metal is the domain of the US. However for the past decade there has been a slow dawning of realisation that the old order is changing. Scandinavia has become a hotbed (Frozen North!) of much of the best that has been happening in these genres in the recent past. Undoubtedly the Nordic groups have been strongly influenced by past masters but have managed to intermingle the best of both the "Old Worlds" and have forged musical paths that are full of character, colour, melodic creativity, superb instrumental dexterity and have unearthed some magnificent vocalists in the process.

Which brings me to Oslo's "Circus Maximus" and their debut "First Chapter". Recorded in 2005 this is a hugely accomplished and mature release by the 5-piece which is based around the Haugen brothers - Mats who is a sensational guitarist, and Truls on drums. The line up is completed by Michael Erikson (vcls), Glen Mollen (bass) and the since departed Espen Soro (keys).

This 10-track offering contains everything that Prog Metal has to offer, thankfully leaving out any growling and screaming as Erikson has an excellent range and concentrates more on melody than some of the nasty habits to be found elsewhere. These Norwegians rock hard with some extremely aggressive riffing and syncopated passages, but they never get carried away and make intelligent use of lighter moments to allow songs to breathe. Harmonies are used very effectively to augment the vocals and piano is contrasted with more usual synth sounds to show that these guys have total confidence and conviction in the strength of their songwriting.

Prog Metal is extremely hard to review because by nature songs have numerous changes and don't follow straightforward verse - chorus patterns. Circus Maximus play very complex music but it is also very accessible. The only instrumental "Biosfear" has great playing but is musical and not just an exercise in showing off ! Other reviewers have referred to "The Prophecy" which is an outstanding track and stands comparison to anything recorded by any of the long established supergroups.

The title track is overly long and perhaps a shade too adventurous for such a young band, but it contrasts with some of the headbanging riffs they incorporate into some of the other tracks and shows these guys are risk takers. "Imperial Destruction" is another of my favourites and thankfully (despite their name) the band doesn't resort to the very over-used cliche (even Kamelot and Symphony X are at it!) of using Latin chants.

I'm giving 4 stars because there a couple of less than convincing songs towards the end and because both of the bands following releases are stronger than this CD, and also because they successfully moved away from some of the more derivative elements on show here (like Geoff Tate-sounding vocal lines and Dream Theater riffery) My advice , for what it's worth, is to try "Isolate" or "Nine" first then go for this. Their 4th album "Havok" is on release next week and I've already got my copy ordered ! Going back to my Scandinavian theme in the introduction I must also recommend Pagan's Mind and Seventh Wonder - 2 superb Prog groups and if you prefer a more melodic hard rock sound you can hardly do better than Eclipse or W.E.T !


Don Quixote: Pt.1 (Wonders of the World)
Don Quixote: Pt.1 (Wonders of the World)
by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Full of delights, 2 Mar. 2016
Just a couple of quick points - Rutherford highlights the humour and wit at every opportunity so this is anything but dry and as such is a quite delightful read and Cervantes has to be one of the most intelligent and scholarly writers I've ever read and most certainly was a man ahead of his time. The author claims he is merely writing what he has collected from "historians" accounts of the fictitious knight and this allows him from time to time to add his own "subjective" ideas or thoughts. This clever technique allows him to gloss over some events or give the impression in others that he is speaking to you the reader !

Quite apart from the hero's (mis)adventures some of the best reading is to be found in the stories of the characters passing through the narrative. This brings to mind comparable works like the tales from the Arabian nights. Quixote's more lucid moments in conversation on the nature of art, or on chivalry or love are quite profound and appear interspersed between scenes of high farce of the sort to be found in comic opera. Cervantes own introduction is also intriguing as he discusses the "formula" for writing a medieval thriller (my phrase) and then includes each device as the story progresses.

As this year is the 400th anniversary of Cervantes's death this is as good a time as any to delve into this wonderful work. This is more manageable than most editions of the classic as it does not contain the second set of stories. The physical size and weight of a book can put many off reading large tomes so on all counts this version can be positively recommended.


Gone Like the Cotton
Gone Like the Cotton
Price: £12.51

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Release of "Lost" Classic, 29 Feb. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Gone Like the Cotton (Audio CD)
The other reviewers have it spot on when they comment on the wonderful harmonies of this family band. There is also a good cross-section of musical styles on show which is probably a nightmare for the marketing men but that's their problem - if you like good music this is a record to be savoured.

It's hard to mention the Cox Family without referring to Alison Krauss who has produced this as well as their earlier CDs and she has raved about them since first hearing them nearly a quarter of a century ago. Indeed there is an uncanny resemblance between the vocals of both Cox sisters and Krauss which has fooled many listeners. Alison's contribution here, apart from her crystal clear production, is limited to multi-tracked violins, having resisted the temptation to sing along !

Partly the cross-section I've referred to is due to the fact that 4 of the family provide lead vocals. The songs cover acoustic blues, gospel (the 3-part harmony title track), love songs, bluegrass, straight country and even a cover of the David Gates pop standard "Lost without your Love". There is a fine ensemble of backing musicians and the presence of drums, bass and electric guitar give a country rock feel to numbers like "In my Eyes" and "I'm not so far away". Session musicians include members of Krauss' own Union Station alongside the likes of Sam Bush (mandolin), Sonny Landreth (slide guitar) and Pat Bergeson (electric guitar)

There is a "happy ever after" feeling about this recording. The booklet tells the story of how this record actually dates from 1998 when it was practically completed only to see record company upheavals leaving the masters gathering dust. Thankfully the recording was not totally forgotten and another change in record company personnel created the opportunity for the group to return 17 years later to the same studio to finish their vocals. Don't under any circumstances let that time lag put you off, or jump to the conclusion that this is a dated sound. On the contrary the voices and harmonies are as good ever and the word "timeless" is the appropriate one here.

This is a most attractive album and hopefully their next recording won't take as long to see the light of day - highly recommended ! You should also check out their other 3 releases (especially "Everybody's Reaching Out" which surpasses this) in addition to the much better known Gospel collaboration with Krauss titled "I Know Who Holds Tomorrow"


One Eighty
One Eighty
Price: £13.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Tasty !, 31 Jan. 2016
This review is from: One Eighty (Audio CD)
Ambrosia were one of America's finest bands even if their abilities were somewhat overlooked on this side of the Atlantic. The groups main men in terms of both singing and songwriting were David Pack (guitar) and Joe Puerta (bass). These 2 outstanding vocalists both possessed beautiful falsettos which enabled the group to frequently embellish their choruses with unsurpassable harmonies. Their 2 most successful tracks were both lifted from this album, "You're The Only Woman" and "The Biggest Part of Me" and the spine-tingling harmonies augmented some of the classiest music released in the late 70s/early 80s. Think Steely Dan, Toto and Michael McDonald-period Doobie Bros and a cursory listen will show that Ambrosia could hold their own with any of these.

The band's first 2 albums (they released 5 in their original and best form) were practically regarded as art-rock and received substantial critical acclaim for orchestration, literary co-writing and instrumental experimentation. The next 2 (my favourites) moved nearer mainstream rock - "One Eighty" and it's predecessor "Life Beyond LA" and were more successful commercially. Keyboardist Christopher North left and then rejoined the group during this period and the foursome was augmented by a second keyboard player, David Cutler Lewis and, more prominently, extra vocalist Royce Jones.

I can only describe this as extremely intelligent rock music with contrasting harder and softer pieces and with some of the finest slices of blue-eyed soul that you could wish for thrown in. Pack's solos are lyrical and not virtuoso pieces but there are plenty of instrumental bridges linking back to the vocal parts which subtly demonstrate why their earlier work was often categorized as Prog Rock. "Kamikaze" could easily fit onto a Yes album with Joe Puerta's punchy bass leading the track through differing time signatures.

"Rock and a Hard Place" is the nearest they ever came to hard rock (as the title suggests), but "Ready" and "Crying in the Rain" are also understated riff rock and "No Big Deal" is straightforward (by their standards) rock 'n' roll complete with boogie woogie piano. "Living On My Own" is another Ambrosia classic featuring the vocalists harmonizing along to a bass groove. Jones vocal in the bridge around 1min. 45 into the track is one of my favourite moments in music and there's a tasty keyboard instrumental section. Burleigh Drummond on drums underpins all the above mentioned tracks with crisp patterns and extremely musical fills and wrote and sang lead vocals on "Crying in the Rain" in addition to harmonies throughout the album.

For a long time this band's output was unavailable on CD other than the (highly recommendable) "Anthology". That collection also featured a Pack solo track "I just can't let go" with Michael McDonald and James Ingram and which was touched up with contributions from Ambrosia and is one of the finest vocal arrangements in the history of recorded popular music ! Warners finally got around to releasing the cds at the turn of the millennium - a mere 20 years late and the version I'm reviewing is from that date. The sound is superb. I note there is now a re-mastered version on sale which I see no need to purchase. If you want to augment your collection with music that is totally timeless and that reveals new secrets to you even years later this disc will not disappoint ! One of my Desert Island Discs.


M  Our World
M Our World
Price: £12.40

4.0 out of 5 stars Amp Trio Turn it On, 29 Jan. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: M Our World (Audio CD)
New kids on the block (this is their 2nd album) Amp Trio have moved up several rungs on the jazz ladder with this very fine offering. They play piano-led self-written material that covers a wide range of emotions and makes for very satisfying listening. The 10 track CD has 50 minutes music with 6 instrumentals. Of the 4 songs here 3 were penned by pianist Addison Frei, and Tahira Clayton provides delicious vocals. I came across this group on Jazz FM where "Stand By You" has almost become a staple and is a beauty. Check out YouTube where Clayton is superb in a live rendition and Frei shows how sympathetic an accompanist he is.

The Trio also are augmented on 3 tracks by guitarist Brad Kang including a slightly more experimental title track which starts with a glassing effect before Kang adds to the atmosphere with subtle tones and lovely spaces. The following track "Circa" is a study in serenity written
by the group's drummer Matt Young, which is tantalisingly short! "Boundlessly in Balance" is the set's most intense track but has a lovely
lighter contrasting central section. One of the reasons I like this CD so much is because it's totally uncluttered - it's not filled with non-stop notes, and nobody gets in anybody else's way. The sound is crystal clear and the overall mood is pensive but there is more than enough variety and rhythmic changes to keep this as nothing less than engrossing.

Personally I feel that the songs take this release to a higher level and Miss Clayton is a superstar in the making, and I will certainly be keeping an ear out for future offerings from her. Hopefully they will continue to work together as there is such a focussed vision on this recording that it sounds to me like group and singer were made for each other ! "Her Way In The Room" is another brilliant song that sounds like it's already a classic and Frei again excels with a very sweet solo and Clayton shows she is easily the equal of Karrin Allyson or Stacey Kent or anyone else you'd care to mention !

Many of these tracks are on YouTube so you can check out "Periphery", "Culture" and "Phil's Bill" in addition to the above mentioned tracks to get an overall flavour of how strong an album this is. Highly recommended !


Quando O Canto & Reza
Quando O Canto & Reza
Offered by FastMedia "Ships From USA"
Price: £64.54

5.0 out of 5 stars Brazilian artistry at it's finest !, 17 Dec. 2015
This review is from: Quando O Canto & Reza (Audio CD)
This is a recording not to be missed. Roberta Sa has a most beautiful relaxed voice and singing style and now in her mid-30s has produced a half dozen or so CDs of high quality and a quite superb Live DVD of her best loved songs. This CD, made with guitar trio is right up there with her best work and may well be her proudest achievement. Don't just take my word for it for Roberta was voted the "Best Female Singer" at the 2011 "Premio Da Musica Brasileira" (Brazilian Grammies) and "Quando o Canto E Reza" picked up the award for "Best Album". Amazon have incorrectly listed the year of release as 2006 - it should read 2010.

The album is a set of compositions written by the samba songwriter Roque Ferreira from the Bahia region of north eastern Brazil. There is a different style and set of influences here than in the more urban settings of Rio and Sao Paolo where most of the better known Brazilian music emanates.This recording has a greater vitality about it which is hard to explain - it feels less like jazz which can be aloof and slightly more folky or grounded. The guitar trio bring out the best in Roberta as sometimes it feels like singing is so easy for her that she never pushes herself. Not so here.

Songs mostly start with guitar introduction and not with your typical jazzy chromatic swaying chords. Often the rhythm isn't recognisably samba or bossa nova initially as melodies intertwine or harmonise before chords enter to establish the tunes rhythm. The guitar melodies (with lovely contrast in the sounds of different guitars used - one of which is a 7-string) are not virtuoso flamenco-style attacks but gentle melodies that never outstay their welcome. Roberta's singing is as seductive as ever but just contains (to my ears at least) a little bit more edge than usual. The tracks feature 2 percussionists who are delightfully restrained and get just the right feel for this music.There are a couple of tracks where there is an ensemble of voices to add effect to choruses but in the main there are no overdubs just voice, understated percussion and 3 guitars. This live feel is what makes this CD so attractive and why it was such a breath of fresh air when it was released.

These are very high quality songs with real variety. The arrangements are outstanding in the way the guitars complement each other and you have one of the very best voices in Brazil on show here - what more could you possibly want ?


Saudade
Saudade
Price: £13.28

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Transitional Album, 27 Nov. 2015
This review is from: Saudade (Audio CD)
This album saw Luar na Lubre trying to find a new identity for themselves after the departure of vocalist Rosa Cedron. The result of this change resulted in a less than cohesive album of mixed fare and quality. I'm not sure of the order of events around Cedron's departure but the balance of songs and instrumentals was different and with a glut of duets newcomer Sarah Vidal from Portugal wasn't really given sufficient scope to establish her own personality.

The album opener "Desterro" wasn't the best choice (too downbeat) and is one of the weakest openers LNL have ever recorded. Of all their albums Saudade is the one with lowest contribution of bagpipes so overall the energy level is down on what fans have come to expect. There are still many lovely passages and Mina Mai is a powerful song with an excellent arrangement. There is a fine dance set "Danza Dos Esqueletes" but the album's outstanding song is the remake of "Tu Gitana" done as a duet. "Teo Nome, Amarante" is another lovely duet with a couple of nice time changes and 2 very good instrumentals separate these songs.

So overall this is nowhere near the band at their best and lacks really memorable songs. "Galego Guajiro" is perhaps the best instrumental starting with an attractive melody and has a lovely Mexican feel as it's second theme but the contrasting following section is a bit heavy-handed and the tune fizzles on out a percussion solo. The title track is a gentle melancholic tune that retains its focus unlike the above-mentioned, but it's too short !

Luar Na Lubre came back with much stronger albums after this so with an extensive back catalogue to choose from "Saudade" is not an essential purchase. They have 2 excellent compilations (15th anniversary, and a 3 CD retrospective which features 5 tracks from Saudade) but my own recommendation is their classic 3 in a row set of "Plenilunio", "Cabo do Mundo" and "Espiral" which are really all 5 star releases.That 3 CD compilation "Sons Da Lubre" also has a concert DVD in addition to 45 songs so depending on value for money you have got good choices !


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