Category Archives: BD

Review: The Night Siren – Steve Hackett

Most will recognize Steve Hackett as one who helped Genesis create six classic studio sets from Nursery Crymes (1971) through Wind & Wuthering (1976). That short lifetime with Genesis gave Genesis and Hackett a lot of structure. After his departure, Genesis changed their style of music beginning with their post-Hackett venture, … And Then There Were Three… (1978). Steve Hackett went on to produce more than 20 studio sets as well as partner for a successful GTR collaboration with Steve Howe, and a very interesting outing with Chris Squire in a band called Squakett. There were others.

Throughout Steve Hackett’s recorded career, he has produced enduring classic recordings that have been remastered and expanded over time. His place in the world of Rock and Roll is an essential one. With elaborate skill on the guitar, Steve Hackett is a classic delight for prog fans everywhere.

With the release of his latest studio set, The Night Siren, fans like myself can only be excited. The new album brings eleven new tracks, all of which are well expressed songs with plenty of Hackett guitar wizardry on display. The songs are showcase his unusually strong talent of songwriting.  As “In the Skeleton Gallery” will reveal (see video below), Steve Hackett has lost nothing in his interpretation of today’s culture. He creates music that is uniquely him (and well-loved by fans), and still is able to address the problems of today’s word within his lyrical scope.

You will be warmly overjoyed by the eleven new songs. You will amaze at the quality of the music found here. The start of The Night Siren with “Behind The Smoke” amply sets the stage. There is not one disappointment. In fact, the Hackett magic is in place but imbued with a current world sound as well.

The Deluxe Edition of The Night Siren provides the CD, and on a separate Blu-Ray disc, provides access to 5.1 Surround tracks as well as  Hi-res Stereo tracks. The 5.1 Surround is offered on DTS-HD Master Audio, and 48 kHz/24-bit LPCM. The Stereo is 48 kHz/24-bit LPCM. The Blu-ray disc also provides a video, “Somewhere In Darkest Teddington – The Recording of The Night Siren.”

The booklet is a 24-page, full-color collection of lyrics, artistic photo manipulations, and a complete page of album credits.

If you’re a Steve Hackett fan, The Night Siren will not disappoint. It belongs in your collection.

 

Review: Quadrophenia – Live In London – The Who (BD)

WhoQuadropheniaLiveInLondonQuadrophenia, the classic Who album from 1973 is one of Rock’s most powerful works. It no longer matters how it’s presented as the songs are a living thing that transcend their presentation. In July of 2013, Roger Daltrey, and Pete Townshend, the two remaining parts of The Who, played the entirety of Quadrophenia for a Wembley audience. It was recorded and is now a permanent part of our Who collection. And although Daltrey and Townshend have aged enough to not provide the same quality of performance that the band gave the album back when it was released, they still give the material a good go.

The just released Quadrophenia : Live In London video of the Wembley Arena show is a grand view of the songs.  The stage is heavy with musicians who play as accurate a reproduction of the songs as is possible. And even though the stage has many others, the spotlight remains on both Daltrey and Townshend.  With streaming video being played that flashback to the band’s early years, as well as video of a time many decades past that helped to encourage the original album’s production, the whole set is a miracle to watch.

Of course, Daltrey and Townshend no longer have the range of voice for their tunes. But none of that matters, nor does it seem to bother them much. You see, it’s Quadrophenia playing up there, folks. It doesn’t matter how Daltrey may not reach a certain pitch, he still nails the songs in a beautiful way.  Because of this, Quadrophenia: Live In London becomes an essential for Who fans, or more accurately, Quadrophenia fans.

At the point of “Bell Boy”, the song that required the participation of Keith Moon, a video is shown of him doing his parts. During this song, Daltrey is riveted to the video, back to the audience, and is clearly a man who loved a lost brother. It’s a beautiful thing to see even as Daltrey finishes with a kiss thrown to the video image of Moon.

The sound quality presented via the selectable DTS-HD Master Audio, and Dolby TrueHD for the 5.1 Surround is excellent. But just as excellent is the PCM stereo reproduction, which I preferred. (I’ve never been a true fan of 5.1 Surround but I do not decry its usefulness for the fans that appreciate it.) Just as beautiful is the sharp video that plays back for the viewer.

The Blu-ray contains a bonus set of six tracks outside the Quadrophenia set. Those songs include “Who Are You”, “You Better You Bet”, “Pinball Wizard”, “Baba O’Riley”. “Won;t Get Fooled Again”, and “Tea & Theatre”. Again, the songs test the vocal range of the singers, but even so, those songs are second fiddle to the real star on stage, the performance of the entire classic album of Quadrophenia.

Yes, it’s worth having and enjoying.

And now, for the most important of them all, the remix of Quadrophenia.

Release Date: June 10, 2014
Label: UMe
Website

–Matt Rowe

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

Review: Get All You Deserve – Steven Wilson – BD

This is an over two-hour concert film of Steven Wilson’s Grace for Drowning tour recorded in Mexico City earlier this year. This set includes the BluRay disc, the duplicate on DVD and 2 CDs of the entire concert as well. There is not much in the way of extras – a picture gallery and a travel film with additional “sound track” music by the band. But let’s be clear – this is an awesome musical and visual set that should not be missed if you are a fan of Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson or simply a fan of great music and fantastic playing. The band basically covers his Grace solo outing, plus some other tracks including a new one. To my eyes and ears, this is one of the finest concert films I have ever seen.

The stunning film clips, lighting and stage production are by Lasse Hoile, who has worked with Steven many times in the past, including most of his videos. Still photos, film edits and other visuals are constantly shown on a back screen that is made of semi-transparent gauze. At times it seems the musicians are being seen through an otherworldly mist, depending on the tempo and mood of the piece being played. The lighting is sometimes forceful and dramatic especially during some of the percussion interludes, and at other times soft and gentle. The film was created using many cameras handled by an expert Mexican film crew so that all of the musicians were captured in logical sequences and you are placed at times on the stage with the musicians and at other times in the audience to great effect.

Steven Wilson is the conductor here, besides playing guitar and keys. His hand movements, his stage roaming and his overall “busyness” act as a focal point to the music being played. It is interesting that he started out as a reluctant front man with Porcupine Tree, but he has embraced his lead role wholeheartedly as displayed during this tour. He has assembled one heck of a great band here: Marco Minneman (Eddie Jobson, The Aristocrats) on drums; Adam Holzman (Miles Davis) on keyboards; Nick Beggs (Kajagoogoo, Steve Hackett) on bass and stick; Niko Tsonev (session work) on guitar; and Theo Travis (Robert Fripp, Porcupine Tree, The Tangent) on sax, flute and keys. And they are so tuned to Steven and his music that it is a pleasure to watch them work through the compositions.

Marco Minneman is one of the world’s finest drummers – Steven said in an interview that much of the live show centered on him, and that is obvious. He is the heart and pulsating engine of the concert. Adam Holzman is a ridiculous keyboardist, with some runs that make your jaw drop. Nick Beggs is a solid bass player, definitely in the Tony Levin camp, especially on the stick and he also provides the backing and harmony vocals. Niko Tsonev, a Bulgarian working out of London, England, is a guitarist’s guitarist. At times he has the same approach as Alan Holdsworth, at times Robert Fripp, and at other times he reminds me of Reeve Gabrels (David Bowie’s Tin Machine). In other words, he is up there! Theo Travis truly shines throughout all the pieces as well – his flute and saxes aren’t just for the occasional fill, but create entire soundscapes during many of the instrumental passages.

If you know Steven’s solo work, then you know the songs, but what makes this set so incredible is the freedom that the musicians have to expand on the originals and really spread out. Over the course of the concert there are jazzy melodies, dark and swelling walls of sound, metal chords, acoustic beauty and everything in between. At times I can hear Caravan, King Crimson, Opeth, Return to Forever and of course Porcupine Tree. And the sequences are so well put together that nowhere during the show does “sameness” become a problem. Steven also plays some wonderful guitar as well, indicating to me how underrated a guitarist he is.

To give you an idea of how powerful the set is, it begins with Marco alone at centre stage on his kit as he begins a complicated drumbeat. Then Nick Beggs walks on and takes up the bass, now playing his part in counterpoint with Marco’s drums. And the other musicians in turn proceed to their spots, each in turn contributing amazing solo work in the midst of the basic melody that keeps expanding. Steven Wilson then comes on the stage and off they go!

The show ends with the sequence in reverse, a very dramatic ending to a major concert release. There is an encore of course!

The audience is quite respectful throughout the concert, and is basically mostly unnoticeable when the band is playing, even during the quieter pieces. So crowd noise is at a minimum, loud audience noise being a personal gripe of mine on concert recordings. The sound for all the discs in the set have been mixed by Steven Wilson, so you know the audio is impeccable as always. The CDs, by the way, have excellent sound too, but I have to admit that the sound on the BluRay is so powerful that it was a little bit of a letdown to hear it on CD.

I would highly recommend this incredible concert. If you were not familiar with Steven Wilson or his work with Porcupine Tree or No-man, then this would be an excellent way to hear and “see” the music of one of the most influential artists of the past two decades.

Release Date: September 25, 2012

–Bob Metcalf