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Oliver Wakeman finds a proper collaborator
on 5 July 2013
I've often thought that Gordon Giltrap is one of the most under-rated British musicians in contemporary history.
Listen to one of his own albums and unlike the aimless meanderings of most (non-folkie) contemporary acoustic guitarists, Giltrap has that strange ability to not just compose one key melody/memorable piece, but to pack the entire album with the same, release-after-release.
I have never worked-out quite how he does it. Listening to his contemporaries on either side of the Atlantic and beyond, such as Clive Carroll, Preston Reed, Doug Smith, Al Petteway, Tommy Emmanuel, Kaki King etc. reveals that although some might be more 'technical' than Giltrap, they don't even come close when it comes to have the 'composing chops'. Basically they can play wonderfully, but invariably what they play is just some complex doodling.
Of course with Giltrap we get the trademark legatos, the blindingly swift lead runs, the gorgeous tones he entices from a guitar...but always it is the piece/song which takes precedence. No showing-off for showing-offs sake.
So that is Giltrap, the virtual Lennon-and-McCartney of the instrumental guitar world. What about Oliver Wakeman, is he an equal cohort?
Well, despite being a Yes fan from the age of (no need to reveal that) I have easily resisted any desire to see Yes live for several years now, since the hilarious merry-go-round with vocalists commenced. So I missed all of Oliver's Yes career in its entirety. I knew of his dad, having seen him live with Yes and on his own (I remember watching a rib-splitting gig in Coventry when Rick accidentally thumped his lead vocalist with a microphone).
So I was a bit apprehensive about Olivers contribution to Ravens'.
In the end, that concern was all unnecessary. Oliver manages to step beyond his fathers (somewhat lengthy) shadow and asserts himself on this recording. And that's no mean feat when your 'oppo' is a composing machine like Gordon Giltrap.
Raven's was the second of two CD's I purchased the same month with 'ravens' in the title, the other being Stephen Wilson's 'The Raven That Refused To Sing'. Wilson's album, recorded live in a studio and packed to the eyebrows with top-notch musicians is a wondrous thing, except in one regard - regrettably Wilson just doesn't have the 'composing chops'. The musicians on the album are fine, but the tracks, though superbly arranged, just aren't memorable.
Giltrap and Wakeman's Raven's is different beast altogether. Here the pieces/songs are distinctly memorable. Wakeman avoids the 'Richard Clayderman Trap' with his piano playing, whilst his composing skils and playing match those of Giltrap. On their solo pieces, each contributes equally fine works to the album, but together, particularly with the albums standout track 'Is This The Last Song I Write' they have not just the chops but also the technical ability to match anything Wilson thought his band was capable-of. The pick of additional musicians is adroit, particularly the vocalists.
If there is any weakness, it's the same that others have noted - that the release jumps across too many genre's, as if Wakeman and Giltrap were fearful of being pidgeon-holed. Perhaps writing to a concept (this is after all 'progressive' music) might be better for another project they pursue. There are some particular instrumental highlights for me - Oliver's lead work which is speedy, confident and accurate, and Giltrap on a nylon guitar, which is a real treat. Some pieces could have done with a bit of beefing-up, but live renditions invariably fix this. A female vocalist for at least one track might have been an idea.
Otherwise though, the criteria for whether a release gets a 5-star or not from me is simple; does it get played more than once? For me, months after purchase, Ravens & Lullabies still gets played. Poor young Mr. Wilson's release has disappeared somewhere deep into my CD collection, gathering dust.