Are Albums Necessary?

LPDuring my travel from California to Illinois, then my long-term cold recuperation (which still isn’t complete), I thought about today’s music distribution and whether full-length albums were even needed anymore (for the most part anyway).

The thrust of music has become a long, long playlist these days since the arrival of the iPod.  Of course the iPod hastened this form of listening but honestly, if it wasn’t the iPod, it would have been something else soon enough.

It would seen that the long-player has really become a worn out ideal.  It’s seems to be held onto simply because that’s the way the music of the golden age was distributed.  And yes, it’s still a cool form.  Get the best 7-10 tracks and get them onto an album, and let the album talk for itself.  Except, I’m doubting whether many albums talk for themselves at all.

Yes, there are forms of music that still need the complete album.  But the audiences for those are built in, and more than ready to buy those albums to enjoy a full experience.   Prog band, free-form music, and such like those that benefit.  But more often than not, most recording artists create songs.

And those songs really come off better as singles sold thorough iTunes, or other sources.  I cannot tell you how many times I have been fond of a song, only to hear the rest of the album, and wonder, “what happened?”

I thought that this would be an interesting reentry point for me while I start to assemble the TAPSheets that are long overdue.

Simply put, I wonder whether the need for the album largely exists anymore.  What do you think?

Ohhh boy…

Just a quick note, lest you think I have abandoned ye!  I’m in transit to IL (finally).  As nature would have it, I’ve been afflicted with a very nasty cold.  In addition to her moodswings, our return to IL has been greeted by a spring blizzard (Storm Virgil), which has dropped 17 inches of snow in our path.  Most of our roads have icy conditions, and so we’re taking it slow. 

I haven’t abandoned you.  Merely on a small hiatus.  Cold, Flu, whatever, be gone!

Review: The Next Day – David Bowie

BowieNextDayUnless you have been hiding under a rock—and hey it is 2013 and this could be offputting to readers, so I can’t really fault you—you already know that, after a 10-year hiatus, David Bowie has reemerged with his 24th long player, iThe Next Day/i. iThe Next Day /iis unequivocally the finest project that Bowie has been associated with in perhaps the better part of three decades.

span over a period of roughly 24 months, Bowie and longtime associate, Tony Visconti, were able to assemble a compact cast of characters—many of whom began their working relationship with Bowie 20+ years ago. Notable participants include the talented Gerry Leonard (guitar), Gail Ann Dorsey (bass), Zachary Alford (drums), Earl Slick (guitar), Tony Levin (bass), Sterling Campbell (drums), David Torn (guitar), and Steve Elson (sax).

The roughly hour-long disc—if you count the three supplementary sides included within the iDeluxe Edition/i (note: Japanese pressings will include a fourth bonus track titled “God Bless The Girl”) —is 100 percent Bowie. It’s all here: the darkness, the humour, the distinct British gentility. In fact, this may be the most distinctive Bowie album that the artist has committed himself to since iScary Monsters (And Super Creeps)/i (1980). While that statement certainly shouldn’t intimate that he hasn’t done stellar work in the interim, enthusiasts who have carefully followed his career will undoubtedly be amazed at the artist’s solid return to form.

Many of his most ardent followers put Bowie on deathwatch after he suffered a full-blown acute myocardial infarction while on stage at the Hurricane Festival in Scheeßel, Germany, on June 25, 2004. Something obviously happened to the artist during the intervening decade. iThe Next Day/i is infinitely more than a contrived comeback. None of Bowie’s mid-‘70s contemporaries has crafted ianything/i as inspired in the better part of three decades. As for the music itself…it is sorely tempting to simply exclaim, “IT’S DAVID BOWIE! BUY THE DAMN THING AND THANK ME LATER!!” But I owe you (and the music) much more than simplistic, passionate praise.

The title track “The Next Day” suitably opens the proceedings with a hard and heavy crunch. The demonstrative chorus proves that the artist is more than alive. The audible seething in his voice is evidence that he might be stronger and more profound than ever before. The sax-heavy syncopation of “The Dirty Boys” expresses a different kind of underlying anger, tension, and even a hint of depravation, gilded in fear. Both Elson (sax) and Levin (bass) absolutely shine—and not only here, but throughout. “The Stars (Are Out Tonight)” was chosen as the second single, and, honestly, if this platter has a weak link, this might be it. Not because it is in any way inferior musically. But any song that dates itself by celeb name-dropping (read: “…Brigitte, Jack, and Kate and Brad…”) immediately loses points for creativity.

But all is forgiven as “Lost Is Love” kicks in with a relentless teutonic rhythm that recalls Bowie’s best work with Brian Eno. “Where Are We Now”—the single that initially heralded the return of the Thin White Duke—equals the likes of “Word On A Wing” or “Wild Is The Wind” in unadulterated spirit. The heartfelt ballad takes Bowie back to Berlin during what the artist has called the darkest time of his life. There are references to area landmarks as well as the denizens of what was, in the mid-1970s, a still deeply divided Germany. Levin (bass) has rarely sounded this majestic—outside the confines of his work with King Crimson or Peter Gabriel, that is.

The finger-snappin’ “Valentine’s Day”—with roots clearly entrenched in doo-wop—is a cryptic narrative that was perhaps inspired by the rash of deadly school shootings that have plagued the globe in recent memory. It is none other than good ol’ Bowie who could even conceive of the irony of naming the central character Valentine. Listen to his multi-layered harmony backing vocals for a sonic sweetness that adds even more tension to the topic. The effect is chilling.

We next find our hero out-Bono-ing U2 in the post-mod “If You Can See Me,” with its hard, anxious, unrelenting rhythm that provides a perfect bed for Bowie’s somewhat ‘stream-of-consciousness’ lyrical content. Another absolute highlight, “I’d Rather Be High,” is propelled by Levin’s pulsating, undulating bass lines and slightly off-kilter syncopation. The story line is seen from the vantage point of a 17-year-old British soldier during World War I. In typical teenage-angst fashion, his thoughts roam from “training these guns on those men in the sand” to teenage sex, drugs, and military authorities, who are quite rightly deemed “generals full of shit.”

“Boss Of Me” is an original that could have as easily been written about an adult love interest as about the demands afforded by a relationship with a child—specifically, a daughter, just like Alexandria Zahra Jones, the offspring of Bowie and his wife, Somali-born fashion model, actress, and entrepreneur Iman.

The upbeat, fun, and funky “Dancing Out In Space” returns to themes and motifs of both space and dancing. These have long been the subject matter within a myriad of the artist’s musical endeavors, dating back to Bowie’s international debut “Space Oddity.” The slightly disconcerting lines “something like a religion, dancing face to face/something like a drowning, dancing out in space” are Bowie at his most esoteric and inspired.

a href=”http://www.musictap.net/2013/03/14/review-the-next-day-david-bowie/bowie-2/” rel=”attachment wp-att-1560″img class=”alignright size-medium wp-image-1560″ style=”border: 1px solid black;” alt=”Bowie” src=”http://www.musictap.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/Bowie-300×225.jpg” width=”300″ height=”225″ //aNothing short of hypnotically catchy, “How Does The Grass Grow” should be chosen as a single because it truly and succinctly demonstrates the power that Bowie still commands through his craft. The rhythm section of Dorsey (bass) and Alford (drums) locks into an impenetrable groove that rocks the song and listeners alike to the very core.

If iThe Next Day /ihas a token rocker, “(You Will) Set The World On Fire” is it. Its edginess recalls classics such as “Panic In Detroit” and “I’m Afraid Of Americans,” while presenting a combination of crispness and bite that has become one of Bowie’s sonic calling cards. Here is another side primed for release as a single.

With its name ripped out of the lyrics of “Heartbreak Hotel,” Bowie’s “You Feel So Lonely You Could Die” is an emotive, mid-tempo ballad suitably of the vintage “Drive-In Saturday” mould. Of particular interest are the final 20 seconds or so as Alford (drums) plays the introduction to “Five Years” from Bowie’s seminal iThe Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars/i (1972).

iThe Next Day /iconcludes with “Heat,” arguably the darkest and most poignant selection. Because Bowie has vowed never to give another interview about his work, it is unlikely that the backstory will be revealed. However, the song’s moniker and the lines “My father ran the prison/I can only love you by hating him more” bring to mind the Einsatzgruppen and its role in The Holocaust. The motif of Germany as a backdrop locale runs throughout iThe Next Day/i, right down to the cover artwork—a perversion of the cover art on Bowie’s luminous “iHeroes”/i (1977) album—the centerpiece of his so-called Berlin Trilogy: iLow/i (1977), i“Heroes”/i (1977), and iLodger/i (1979). This bonus material is far from the typical throwaway fodder that many artists use to entice sales of overpriced “expanded editions” of their wares.

There are a trio of additional selections available on all non-Japanese-issued deluxe editions of iThe Next Day/i. The haunting “So She” is no doubt a play on the word Soshi, meaning an elder or patriarch within Zen Buddhism—of which Bowie is a practitioner. The grinding and somewhat abrasive instrumental “Plan” could easily have been a leftover from the Berlin Trilogy, specifically, the non-lyrical material circa “iLow”/i and i“Heroes.”/i The final extra on the non-Japanese versions is another single-worthy contender titled “I’ll Take You There.” This jaunty, upbeat rocker has just a touch of pop lilt and is the closest thing to pop on the entire project—just in case you thought Bowie might fizzle and eventually go the way of the vast majority of his colleaguesspan style=”font-size: xx-small;”!– What way is that? –/span.

As of this writing, iThe Next Day /ihas topped the ITunes download charts in more than 40 nations. This is no surprise because the return of The Thin White Duke is a gift to behold and revisit, and the experience truly gets better upon each revisitation.

strongRelease Date: March 12, 2013/strong
p style=”text-align: right;”strong–Lindsay Planer/strong/p

Rediscovering Great Bands: StarCastle – Unheralded Classic Band

SCBandSince I’m headed to Illinois, I thought it appropriate that I revisit a progressive band that originated in the Champaign/Urbana area that went by the name of Starcastle.  Starcastle began their career just as the ’70s were dawning, and enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity although many people this days would be hard-pressed to remember the band.

The first album, the excellent self-titled Starcastle, issued on Epic Records in 1976, and featured vocalist addition, Terry Luttrell (R.E.O. Speedwagon – 1st album).  The album, with its seven songs, including the epic “Lady of the Lake” that became an FM favorite, sold extremely well, well enough to give Epic Records the faith for a follow-up album.  Fountain of Lights (1977), a six track perfection was released a mere eleven months later underscoring the determination of the band to rise into the upper echelon of well-established Prog bands like Yes.

StarCastleStarcastle (the album) began with the previously mentioned “Lady of the Lake”. It is a gorgeous composition that underscored the already impressive talents found in the band.  But it didn’t stop impressing there.  With six more gems, the album left a warm feeling in the hearts and souls of prog fans looking for more like Yes, Genesis, and ELP.

Fountains of Light yielded astonishingly perfect songs given that they released their debut not that long before.  Three standout tracks include the single issue, “Diamond Song (Deep Is The Light)”, “Dawning of the Day” (which SHOULD have been the single issue, as it is much better than “Diamond Song”), and the stupendous cruncher,  “Silver Winds”.  “Silver Winds”, edited, might have also made an excellent single.

StarCastleFountainsOfLightBoth of these multi-layered albums could be happily played beginning to end for the excellence in the grooves.  The band’s third LP, Citadel, released in 1978, while not as perfect as the previous releases, still did not disappoint in its eight tracks.  Its attempt at radio cuts were noticeable but the album was a noble blend of the past with an eye to a promising future.  In 1979, Starcastle released a different album than what fans were originally used to.  Real to Reel tanked, Epic dropped the band, and the band called it a day.  However, there were good songs to be found on Real to Reel, although it doesn’t factor well in what could be called the great trilogy (their first three), thereby giving it some distance from the trilogy, and becoming, instead, a hard-core fan’s addition.

CitadelIronically, Starcastle drew strong comparisons with Yes, which helped the band in their rising popularity.

The band reformed much later to record Song of Times (2007), an album that I liked extremely well (read review here).   Starcastle had a great career.  Unfortunately, the band was tugged from sea to shining sea, unable to continue the cataloging that should have been respectably large.  Nevertheless, the catalog left behind is remarkable.

I write this article for several reasons.  The first is to merely alert some of you who may not be aware of this band, and that the albums from this now defunct band are well worth your efforts in acquiring.  At least, anyway, their first three albums.  The second is to challenge those that know of the band to discuss what are their best albums, songs, cover art, etc.

For me, I say their shining moment was their great debut.  But others point to Fountains of Light.  What say you?

The Spirit of Completist Collections

CollectingEarlier today, I visited a consummate vinyl collector.  It wasn’t the large collection of vinyl in the traditional manner, i.e. accumulating albums from everyone.  No.  Instead, it was a dedicated collection that gathered every recorded things from certain bands.  We’re talking singles, EPs, flexi-discs (some very rare), LPs from every production country like UK, US, Japan, Germany, etc, and posters, cassette boxes, and other items.

What particularly struck me  about this collection is that most, if not all of the bands were from the very late ’70s, through the ’80s.   Which led me to a conclusion that th eperiod mentioned was rich with recordings of all kinds, and in various forms.

While many albums were collectible through the ’60s and ’70s, none were as rich as the availability of recordings, special press vinyl, and assorted B-sides and EP releases that were released by the prolific bands of the ’80s.

The ’90s, or any period thereafter up til now has been weak in such extra materials.  And yet, this period has never been more ripe for such proliferation of special additions beyond the standard releases.

OR

Is this now a dead part of music?  Would such wealth of extra recorded materials, singles, vinyl (with colors, gimmicky pressings, and odd shaped vinyl), bonus collections of outtakes, etc be enjoyed by fans of certain bands?

Not only had the bands gotten into extra collectible materials during the height of their careers, but the labels did as well.  I saw amazing things in this collection that had me wondering why such activities could not exist today.

Do we have a rock period today that is, by and large, lazy, and not very clever? I wonder if the labels would be interested in producing such feverish collections.

I do know that some bands do this today; My Chemical Romance comes to mind with their recent distribution of collectible singles.   But not so much others.

If you were/are such a collector as I spoke of earlier, would you collect from a favored band in such a way?  I recognize that we’re not all completists, but such an interest could be contagious fun.

MCR-CW-posterboxset

In Memoriam: George Duke

George Duke was a powerhouse of a keyboardist.  Traditionally, he was accustomed to the Jazz style he loved so well.  But like Sonny Rollins, George Duke, at times, stepped outside that to hit a few notes with the Rock, R&B, and Pop kids.  His life of music was rich , with a deep legacy left behind.  Even today, he is revered for his music craft, keys, and synth playing.

Duke played with Miles Davis, an historic legacy all by itself.  With Stanley Clarke, Frank Zappa, Michael Jackson, and Billy Cobham in his resume as well, it shows the depth that George Duke has gone to create music, all kinds of it.

And so it is a fact to say that the loss of George Duke, 67, who died on August 5 in Santa Monica, CA of a heart complication, will leave a black shadow in the places he usually stood, played, or otherwise lived.

He will be missed. But one thing is sure, will always be sure.  That is his inclusion in the Great Band will change it dramatically.  They have no idea!

GeorgeDuke RIPGeorge Duke
1946 – 2013
RIP

Midnight Oil Gets 2CD Compilation on April 30

wpid-image003.jpgLegacy Recordings, in conjunction with Columbia Records, will release a career-spanning collection for Midnight Oil that reaches into every LP and rare EP.  The 2CD set will include 28 singles, along with eight band-chosen tracks in a chronological timeline presentation.

The set is called Essential Oils and is scheduled for release on April 30.

ESSENTIAL OILS by MIDNIGHT OIL

(Columbia/Legacy 88725 49763 2)

CD ONE – Selections: 1. Run By Night (A) • 2. Cold Cold Change (B) • 3. Back On the Borderline (B) • 4. Wedding Cake Island (C) • 5. No Time for Games (C) • 6. Don’t Wanna Be the One (D) • 7. Armistice Day (D) • 8. Lucky Country (D) • 9. Only the Strong (E) • 10. Short Memory (E) • 11. Read About It (E) • 12. US Forces (E) • 13. Power and the Passion (E) • 14. When the Generals Talk (F) • 15. Best of Both Worlds (F) • 16. Kosciusko (F) • 17. Progress (G) • 18. Hercules (G).

CD TWO – Selections: 1. Beds Are Burning (H, Mainstream Rock #6) • 2. Put Down That Weapon (H) • 3. Dreamworld (H, Modern Rock #16, Mainstream Rock #37) • 4. The Dead Heart (H, Mainstream Rock #11) • 5 . Warakurna (H) • 6. Blue Sky Mine (I, Mainstream Rock #1, Modern Rock #1) • 7. Forgotten Years (I, Modern Rock #1, Mainstream Rock #11) • 8. King Of the Mountain (I, Modern Rock #3, Mainstream Rock #20) • 9. One Country (I) • 10. Truganini (J, Modern Rock #4) • 11. My Country (J) • 12. In the Valley (J) • 13. Surf’s Up Tonight (K) • 14. Redneck Wonderland (L) • 15. White Skin Black Heart (L) • 16. Say Your Prayers (M) • 17. Golden Age (N) • 18. Luritja Way (N).

Source index (album unless otherwise noted):

A – from Midnight Oil (originally issued Australia 1978, Powderworks)

B – from Head Injuries (originally issued Australia 1979, Powderworks)

C – from Bird Noises (EP originally issued Australia 1980, Powderworks)

D – from Place Without A Postcard (originally issued Australia 1981, CBS)

E – from 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1 (originally issued Australia 1982, CBS; U.S. 1983, Columbia)

F – from Red Sails In the Sunset (originally issued Australia 1984, CBS; U.S. 1985, Columbia)

G – from Species Deceases (EP originally issued Australia 1985, CBS; U.S. 1990, Columbia)

H – from Diesel and Dust (originally issued Australia 1987, CBS; U.S. 1988, Columbia)

I – from Blue Sky Mining (originally issued Australia U.S. 1992, Columbia)

J – from Earth and Sun and Moon (originally issued Australia U.S. 1993, Columbia)

K – from Breathe (originally issued Australia U.S. 1996, Columbia/W.O.R.K.)

L – from Redneck Wonderland (originally issued Australia U.S. 1998, Columbia)

M – from The Real Thing (Studio and live recordings, originally issued Australia U.S. 2000, Columbia)

N – from Capricornia (originally issued Australia 2002, Sony Music internationally on Liquid 8)

Legacy Recordings’ New Legacy Vault

LegacyVaultHere’s something new for your collecting spirit.  Legacy Recordings have launched a new project that can potentially open up long out-of-print albums of music from even the most obscure of Sony music artists.  Dubbed the Legacy Vault, this forum allows for you to provide your input and suggestions in a voting procedure that could have a desired album being made available digitally for your enjoyment.

Accessible at LegacyRecordingsVault.com, this new site can become a template for other labels to follow to finally make lost music completely available to the fan, where it belongs in the first place.  Hey…music was made for fans, right?  Certainly, all these recordings should not be in some unattainable state.

Hopefully, with the Legacy Vault, fans of all kinds can soon possess that out of reach album.  Head on over to the vault and join in the forums.  Vote for albums already suggested, or begin your own campaign.  The forums found at the site are designed to be open and free-form thus encouraging.

Currently, there are over thirty titles on the list.  If you agree with them, vote and help their possibility of release.  Start your own and argue the need for your suggestion to see the light of day once again.

I’m excited about the possibilities of Legacy Vault.

Review: The Raven That Refused to Sing and other stories – Steven Wilson

StevenWilsonRavenI’ll start off by saying that if you already are a Steven Wilson or Porcupine Tree fan, then this is a must-have album, with whatever format you choose to listen. I was lucky enough to grab one of the Book/CD/DVD/BluRay packages before they were gone and I will be reviewing this “little” paperweight.  If you are not a rabid fan like me, or if you haven’t heard Wilson’s work before, then I also hope I will give enough info to spur on some exploration.

I’ll set the stage with who is playing on this album.  Steven Wilson sings and plays guitars, keyboards, bass, and the original King Crimson mellotron (imagine!).  Nick Beggs (Lifesigns) is on bass and Chapman stick and backing vocals, Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats) on lead guitar, Adam Holzman on keyboards, Marco Minnemann (Aristocrats, UK, Eddie Jobson) on drums and Theo Travis (Robert Fripp) on flutes, saxes and clarinet.  Additional musicians are Jakko Jakszyk (Robert Fripp, Schizoid Band) on vocals and Alan Parsons on guitar.  Yes, THAT Alan Parsons (Dark Side of the Moon), who Steven had engineer the album!  If you’ve watched and listened to the Get All You Deserve concert film, then you know how amazing these musicians are.  Leave it to say that this band (also Wilson’s touring band still) is one of the finest collections of musicians since, well, since maybe the double trio Crimson of Thrak.

Since I mentioned Alan Parsons, I’ll talk about the audio now.  The CD sound is wonderful, with Parsons engineering and Wilson mixing, how could it be otherwise?  The depth of the music, the subtleties, the dynamic range, are captured in warm analogue tones – it is a pleasure to listen to. The BluRay and DVD versions are of course mixed in brilliant 5.1 by Wilson, and “authored” by Ray Shulman (Gentle Giant). To be honest, I am not sure what that means exactly, but it is an expert job and you won’t be disappointed in whatever system you have. See more below.

The book, a massive tome, features short stories by Wilson and illustrated by Hajo Mueller.  The Raven that Refused to Sing is co-authored by them both.  The music complements the stories perfectly (or is it the other way round?) but in any case, it is interesting reading.  In my opinion, these are well-written pieces although they lack some originality and held no surprises for me.  The prominent recurring theme is death, spirits and haunting and the haunted, not exactly cheery subjects, and the music reflects this in no uncertain terms.  In other words, the deep and sad parts of Porcupine Tree’s The Incident are carried on here.

So for the music:  I think if you are a long time listener of the Steven Wilson family (solo, Porcupine Tree, No-Man and Blackfield) then this will fit snugly into your expectations.  The sound and tone of the album is not new, so don’t expect a sudden freak out with Donna Summer (one of Steven Wilson’s big influences – believe it or not) or a right turn into Country Music – this is pure Wilson borrowing from his library and sprinkling the compositions with some Canterbury (National Health, Caravan) and a brief moment of Opeth metal.  But let me say that the songs here are new and fresh sounding and take you to a place that is quite deep and spiritual.  You might think that with the powerhouse musicians playing that it could be some techno fest, but it is not. There is wonderful soloing to be sure but it is in keeping with the pieces, not overshadowing them.  This is about theme, song, words, and orchestration too (Dave Stewart of Egg, Hatfield and the North and National Health did the string arrangements).

There are 6 songs that, together, total 55 minutes, keeping with Steven Wilson’s belief that shorter is better (at least 55 minutes in the Proggy world is short!).
“Lumninol” is over 12 minutes and begins as a driving piece of jazzy, funky up-tempo Canterbury to start, then develops into soft, Crosby Stills and Nash-like vocal and answering harmonies with Govan’s jazz guitar lightly playing along.  Holzman’s piano takes a turn next, with beautiful, subtle runs that are breathtaking.  Like in most if not all of Wilson’s work, he knows how to hook you with melodic lifts that cause an addiction of sorts.  The music then becomes a sonic wall of beautiful mellotron and brings back the days of Court of the Crimson King, intentionally no doubt.  This sweeps you away and the piece comes to a pulsing close as it started with guitars and keyboards counter playing until the end.

“Drive Home” at over 7 minutes takes a quiet turn with guitar and piano in a simple melody that has a Porcupine Tree sound without a doubt.  Nick Beggs’ walking bass here really comes through the mix. It has almost a Celtic feel to it, or perhaps Nordic folk.  Just a presence of something out there that is hard to quantify but sounding somewhat ancient to me.  The music builds until it reaches a climax of sorts with Bevan showing that he is not just flash but capable of real emotional playing.  Think “Comfortably Numb” here.

“The Holy Drinker”, at just over 10 minutes, begins in a jazz-rock fusion vein and reminds me a lot of Return to Forever.  Then it develops into a hard rockin’ song that could have been on Fear of a Blank Planet.  It changes time more than once and features heavy Hammond organ with Deep Purple vibes.  Again, that National Health reference is here, with piano and flute exchanging leads. This is the most jazz that Wilson has incorporated into a whole album thus far.  I think too that this song really creates the dividing line between his PT stuff and his solo recordings. The song ends with eerie tones and his haunting voice floating away.

“The Pin Drop”, at 5 minutes, has a real Radiohead vibe to it.  Harmony vocals blend with Travis’ blazing sax until gentle guitar playing background to vocals and an interesting pulsing. I also think that early Ambrosia is in there too, especially from “Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled”.

“The Watchmaker” at almost 12 minutes is a beautiful suite.  It begins with dreamy folk music guitar.  And then for me, it moves along in a Genesis way, slowly adding layers of melody, Yes-like bass and finally becoming a bit metal sounding for the last couple of minutes with grinding guitar and explosive drumming to finish; Endos might be a reference point too.

“The Raven that Refused to Sing”,  at nearly 8 minutes, is a soft lament compared to the other pieces before it.  It is the longest of the stories in the book.  With quiet piano and gentle guitars it is quite mournful and emotional.  There is something very personal going on here, beyond the fact that it is a solo record.  As I listened to the album a second time, I couldn’t help but wonder if Steven Wilson was letting us in to some of his deepest emotional places.  And that, in the end, makes this the most special record of his career to these ears.
The set comes with a second disc, labeled Demos, which is an alternate take on the album with an additional unused song.  Wilson does most of the guitar work himself here, and this “rehearsal” disc could stand as the main release too.  Not as rich in instrumentation, my overall feeling was that the drumming was a bit more aggressive and the overall playing a little looser. My point here is that it is not a throwaway extra but a great album too.

The BluRay and DVD are identical, except for one thing.  On the BluRay, there is an additional choice for Master Audio in 5.1.  This particular choice is better than any other 5.1 mix offered in this package, though all the 5.1 versions are amazing.  The breakdown of each instrument is clear and precise and the sound moves around you as good as any surround I’ve heard.  Steven Wilson has made his name by being the 5.1 guru these days and this is no exception.  Besides the album, there are also two picture galleries, one of the book artwork and another featuring stills during the recording process.  Then there is a “making of” documentary, filmed by long-time collaborator Lasse Hoile.  The album was recorded in one week, by the way.  Not surprising with the brilliant artists associated with this project.

So there you have it.  Whichever way you decide to listen to this album, you will not be disappointed.  The Raven that Refused to Sing and other stories is a masterwork in song, musicianship and just plain craft.  It is a journey worth taking and is worth many repeated listens.

Here is the link to Steven Wilson’s site.  And I would recommend that you watch the illustrated video of the title track while you listen to beautiful music that, needless to say from my perspective, is pretty hard to beat these days.

Release Date:  February 26, 2013

–Bob Metcalf

In Music, NYC Rules The Roost…Or Is It LA? Or…

CBGBPoint to the east, and there are a ton of great bands making music. New York City, where much of east coast music seems to come from, is a hotbed of creativity. And rightfully so because there is a huge population there with every form of musical taste and style that you could possibly imagine.

Point to the west for their contributions, and, like the east, you’ll find a wealth of great music being imagined and recorded. From San Francisco to Seattle, and from San Diego to Los Angeles, you’ll encounter no shortage of music.

Of course, there is every location in between those two coasts. Texas provides quite a vast number and variety of bands, some with a strong penchant for the old school psychedelia. Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, and, well, numerous other locations, all have their breeding grounds.

But there is one thing that you’ll find about all of the US locales with a rich history of music — the differences between them all are quite noticeable.

From as far back as the ’70s, when underground bands began to try and grasp their share of the glory that was there for the taking, we were all given greatness with each locale strangely unique, even noted for the kind of styles you could enjoy should you chose one place over others.

In the US, I have always found my favorites originating from the Big Apple, New York City for those unaware of the term. In fact, I would often start with NYC bands when hunting for new music. There was, and still is, a certain flavor and charm to the music — call it a rougher edge. The Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Television, Wayne County, the Ramones, and New York Dolls were my favored selections as I grew up. Today, there are The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol, Swans, Raveonettes, to name but a few.

Of course, the LA market held a strong sway over fans as well. With a lighter edge, there seemed to be a more laid back feel to bands. The Doors, Jackson Browne, the Eagles, the Runaways all held Hollywood in thrall. Today’s LA bands include Foster the People, Foxygen, Green Day, and Mars Volta.

But scoot up north a bit to San Francisco, and the music became more psychedelic, a bit harder and a little more political. There you could find bands like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Blue Cheer, Journey, Sly and The Family Stone, and Steve Miller, to name but a few. Today’s SF bands include Neurosis, Bassnectar, and the Dodos.

Of course, there are many locales that produce fine music. The small group that I have mentioned here are just notable starting places. As an interesting poll-like experiment, I’d be interested in discovering which location that you turn to for your idea of good music. Let me know in the comments section below which region of the country appeals to your musical tastes!