Music Emissions Latest 5 Star Reviews Feed This feed gives you the latest Albums receiving 5 stars reviewed on Music Emissions en-us 260 Music Emissions 79 60 <![CDATA[1. Waterboys - The Live Adventures Of The Waterboys ]]> Let's start by being honest here. This album is one of the greatest live albums of all time by a band who could have been one of the greatest bands of all time.

There. It's been said.

Recorded at three different concerts in 1986 a year after the release of This Is the Seaand two years before the release of Fisherman's Blues, this album demonstrates why the Waterboys were so good, clearly shows why they could have been better and hints at what went wrong.

This is Mike Scott's Big Music played live. The second disk of this album in particular is proof that the Big Music - the term lead Waterboy Mike Scott used to describe his powerful, epic sound - could be played live and with the same effect as in the studio. This disk, and a part of the previous one, were recorded at the Waterboys' Glastonbury appearance. At this point, it is clear to anyone who listens that this was something special. This was an epic performance of a stupendous sound by a band who were standing on the verge of greatness. U2 would have been shitting themselves for even a pompous self-important prig like Bono could see that, if the Waterboys trod the same path as they had already taken, that path would lead them to the status as the best band in the world.

What happened afterwards is well known, and hinted at in the first couple of tracks of the first disk, which was recorded in a small intimate setting in Dublin early in 1986. Scott was veering off the path he had set himself. He was in the early stages of a process which would see him abandon the Big Music in favour of the forced folksiness of Irish-inspired leprechaun-rock. The result for the Waterboys' destiny was to be catastrophic. They blew their shot at greatness. U2 breathed a sigh of relief.

So this album is what remains of that aspiration, that greatness, that power and passion before Scott threw it all away. The highlights of the first disk are the performance of "This Is the Sea" and the cover of Prince's "Purple Rain." Both show the Big Music as it was and would never be again. Even "Meet Me at the Station", a traditional number which Scott enhanced here can be seen in the same light and, dare it be said, the version of "Fisherman's Blues", played very much in the style of the Big Music, is a far superior version than the insipid version on the album of the same name. Scott could have done it. He chose not to.

But it is to the second disk, the continuation of the Glastonbury performance which commenced on the first disk, to which we should all look. There are few superlatives which have not already been used which can describe this. "Be My Enemy" is fast and furious while "Old England" has more passion and feeling than the album version as it delineates the decline of England as the Little Englanders stand by and dream of how good supposedly was in the old days.

There are several covers on the album. "Purple Rain" has already been mentioned, and indeed the album opens with a cover of Dylan's "Death is Not the End". But in the middle of the second disk Scott takes two of his own songs and wraps them in covers - the first, "The Thrill Is Gone" with Van Morrison's "And the Healing Has Begun" and the second, "The Pan Within" with Patti Smith's "Because the Night". It is that last mentioned track which is the highlight of the album. "The Pan Within" was already the finest song Scott had written and in the humble opinion of this reviewer, one of the finest songs ever written by anybody. This performance is the equal to the monumental studio version, both are towering achievements in the history of modern popular music.

Of course the album would not be complete without "The Whole of the Moon", the Waterboys' most successful single, and by this time the superlatives really have run out. The album closes with three tracks which merely confirm what has already been said. This was a performance which will stay with anyone who was there for the remainder of their lives. To have been there was a privilege. Few could overlook that fact.

The album itself has a tortuous history. Many of the tracks featured on two previous bootlegs and for some obscure reason NMC managed to get the rights to the tracks and released them as a double CD under the title The Live Adventures of the Waterboys. NMC never paid Scott any royalties and the album is not listed in the official discography of the band. Yet Scott himself regards the recording as a classic from the finest period in the Waterboys' career.

Whatever its status, if you can get hold of a copy of this, do so. It will not be easy. The album has long been deleted. Occasionally copies pop up on eBay but at ridiculous prices. I would say it was worth it, but then it was I who made those bold opening statements, statements I stand by.

<![CDATA[2. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles - Tears Of A Clown: The Collection ]]> There are many compilations of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles material. Picking one is a matter, partly of choice, but largely I suspect, as in this case, of availability and price. Any compilation which does not contain, at the very least, "I Second that Emotion", "Tears of a Clown", and "The Tracks of My Tears" is not worth having, so it should come as no surprise to learn that this compilation contains those very tracks. It also contains "Going to a Go-Go" which perhaps, in my view, gave it the edge over the half dozen alternatives which were also available at the time.

For those who do not know, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were a product of the stables of Berry Gordy at the Motown label of Detroit. During the sixties Motown dominated popular music in a way that no other record label in the history of popular music has ever achieved before or is likely to again. From the issue of the band's earliest hit single, "Shop Around" in 1960, until the end of the decade, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles enjoyed almost unbroken commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic. Many of their most well-known hits rank up there as timeless classics, recognisable to virtually everyone in the western world.

The success of the group was largely due to two factors. The first was the distinctive silky smooth vocals of Smokey himself. His high-pitched voice never wavered as he sang his away across so many of these wonderful songs. And that he managed to maintain this for the whole of the decade is a tribute to him. Not surprisingly, as the seventies approached, he announced his retirement from the band, no doubt worn out by constant touring, recording and producing. The second factor was, in common with the rest of the Motown stable, the nature of the songs. Almost all under three minutes and mostly possessed of a combination of catchy tune, memorable lyrics and the ease with which anyone could hum the combination into their memory, their success should come as no surprise.

In this sense, a review of this album is pretty much as close as it comes to a pointless exercise. What can I say about Smokey Robinson and the Miracles that has not been said already? There may be a personal favourite of yours left off it - hardly surprising given the group's prolific success and longevity - but that is almost inevitable. All of the tracks on the album, with the sole exception of one unreleased track ("Show Me You Can Dance") were hits.

The band has received pretty much every accolade and musical award (including - eventually - induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame) that there is. Their influence has stretched far and wide, their songs being covered by many major artists including the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and to this day their music continues to be popular and regularly features on radio, TV and films. As I write this, another song of theirs is being used for yet another advertisement on TV. Like I said, timeless.

So why should you get this album? Well, for a start, if you do not have a Smokey Robinson and the Miracles album in your collection there maybe something wrong with you and you probably ought to consult a doctor. But as for this album, there is no particular reason to have this one rather than any of the other alternatives. This one just happened to be convenient at the time and the place. It may be that there are other albums out there which are equally good. If so, buy one. But whatever you do, do not go without the music of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles in your collection.

<![CDATA[3. Joe Jackson - Look Sharp! ]]> There are some albums which, when they are first released, you may overlook. Yet gradually it begins to dawn on you that the album is actually quite good. Then, looking back across a number of years, you realise that actually you were dealing with a classic all the time. If ever there was such an album from the last year of the seventies, when punk was morphing into something more sustainable, that album was Joe Jackson's debut Look Sharp!

Jackson should have had, but perhaps never quite managed, the same critical acclaim as accorded to Elvis Costello. Both arose out of the turmoil of punk. Both penned thoughtful, incisive lyrics wrapped up in catchy pop songs. Both displayed an intelligence and a vision which has arguably made them among the most influential of all the late seventies New Wave acts. But whereas Costello's roots are firmly in the urban - specifically London - scene, Jackson drew upon a wide variety of influences stretching back as far as Eddie Cochran, with whom there is more than a passing resemblance in terms of the way they constructed their songs and the themes about which they wrote.

Joe Jackson's songs are full of wit and pathos. He cleverly describes love and relationships, and the personal (probably autobiographical) feelings which accompany them. "Fools in Love" and "You Got the Fever" contain sentiments which probably every male can recognise as exemplifying the moments of personal vulnerability we have all had but for reasons of pride and vanity do not share with others. At other times, Jackson can move into politics with a small "p" and still retain that pathos - the disabled woman who only gets her news from Sunday papers in the song of the same name is, at the same time, a song about the isolation of the old and a stinging attack on the banality, stupidity and viciousness of the British gutter press. Incredible how this song was written more than thirty years before we all finally woke to the fact and forced Murdoch to shut down his flagship Sunday trash rag.

Musically, Look Sharp! is full of tight, well executed songs which, if a single word could be found to describe them, it would be "sparse". The melodies are driven, and sometimes restrained by guitar riffs which are so sharp that they could almost be part of the percussion. Graham Maby's masterful bass lines flood warmly over the background, occasionally stepping forward to add texture and depth to the melody. The music can vary between edgy New Wave pop like "Got the Time", reggae-influenced ballads such as "Fools in Love" and the country tinged "(Do the) Instant Mash". There is something on here for everyone.

Of course the album's stand out track, and the one which seems to exemplify everything "Look Sharp!" is all about, we are talking here of "Is She Really Going out with Him?" which features perhaps the greatest of all New Wave opening lines -

"Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street"

Is there anyone among us who has not wondered, at some point, "what does she see in him?" Jackson mixes clever lyrics, full of the pathos and loneliness which can be found on many of his songs, with a clever melody, sparsely delivered by a guitar which seems to be able to curtail a chord almost as soon as it has been plucked and a rich bass which fills in any gaps. This was about as close as anybody came at the time to the perfect New Wave pop song.

Look Sharp! is one of those albums which has stood the test of time. If anything, it even sounds better than it did when it was first released. Whatever you look for in music - sheer volume apart - you will find it in the songs of Look Sharp! For that reason this album must rank as one of THE essential albums of the seventies.

<![CDATA[4. Mel Monaco - Single Again ]]> Canadian Mel Monaco’s latest release, “Single Again”, will surprise many. Fans who have followed her steady rise in the indie music world won’t be taken aback, but newcomers and novices to this talented performer will be pleasantly surprised by her powerful and emotive pipes, deceptively simple songwriting, and inventive musical arrangements. One can certainly be excused for glancing at her pictures, song title, and believing she offers more of the same vacuous pop we’ve been subjected to for a decade or more with diminishing melodic returns. If so, move past that assumption, click play and bask in the glow of a truly formative talent.

One of the song’s strongest musical qualities is its appealing bombast. The thunderous rhythm section work is, nonetheless, light on its feet and swings impressively. It imbues the track with a chest-beating quality quite appropriate for the song. “Single Again” strikes an assertive tone from the outset and suggests, by sheer energy alone, to be a declaration of independence recovered and possibility regained. The drumming, in particular, gives the song a hard-hitting pulse and helps push the tempo in inventive ways.

Monaco’s vocal has raw, impassioned bluesy power, but she’s isn’t some bucket of blood belter, ala Janis Joplin. Her vocals have a deceptively subtlety able to conjure atmosphere with scat singing alone and, even if an enormous part of the track’s success is due to her ability to match the instrumental strength note for note, she thoroughly inhabits the lyric and expresses it in a deeply credible, dramatic manner.

Monaco embodies the DIY ethic so many rising artists are forced to adopt in challenging times, but while “Single Again” can rightly be consider quite “homemade”, there’s no lack of professionalism in its presentation. The production helps explode the song’s potential and its quasi-classical muscle helps ensure the track will linger in the memory long after its final note fades.

<![CDATA[5. Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky - Swan Lake ]]> When I've been asked about works by Tchaikovsky, and I mention Swan Lake, I get an enthusiastic response. The title may have slipped the other person's mind, but everyone has heard at least parts of this ballet at various times. It takes two hours, 35 minutes to listen to all 55 songs. It's well worth the time it takes. It keeps drawing you in for more contemplation. And there's just a sense of power, which comes out through the speakers. In the midst of all the beauty, one can lose sight of what a sad tale this is. Even in the sad stories there are moments of joy and inspiration. The entrance horns alone bring a sense of excitment. And the shifts in the tempo are majestic and hypnotic. The music makes for a treatise on grace, beauty and love. This work is the composer's best. I'm open to listening to other albums to make a comparison. From what I've heard so far, this stands at the top. It brings the most pleasure, as long as I'm not thinking too much of the difficulties the princess experiences. 

The slower moments are a good chance to catch one's breath, when things speed up again. There's always the chance to just contemplate the beauty of the playing at one time and to appreciate the composer's vision. Classical music at its best covers the spectre of human emotion with triumph ringing from the playing. It becomes a tonic to liven up one's day as much as a chance to focus on narrative. The music endures because of a desire in humanity to have something much greater in culture. Tax dollars may always help keep classical music stations and symphonies afloat to some degree. I'm glad there's outlets in the commercial music world via streaming, downloads and even antiquated means to enjoy these recordings. This music is bound to continue to live and thrive in some capacity. 

<![CDATA[6. Joel Ansett - The Nature Of Us ]]> Spokane, Washington native Joel Ansett’s first full-length album, The Nature of Us, is one of the finest pop/soul/r&b/folk hybrids to emerge in recent years. Ansett’s debut release, an EP entitled The Living Room, garnered national attention and propelled him into supporting slots with national touring acts such as Andrew Ripp, David Cook, and Deas Vail. The Nature of Us represents the fullest realization yet of his stylish blend of musical styles and stands tall as an impressive collection of fully rounded songs. Nothing receives a short shrift from his artistic vision – he maintains a striking balance between musical, lyrical, vocal, and production excellence throughout the album’s entirety. 

The Nature of Us opens with “Kingdom Come”. An acapella vocal intro quickly gives way to a slinky, understated r&b groove and other strengths are readily apparent. Ansett takes a compositional approach to his songwriting here – the almost painterly weave of assorted instruments into a coherent whole stamp the song with sophistication and finesse more heavy-handed purveyors of the form can only aspire to. While the album’s musical strengths are obvious, the success or failure of The Nature of Us hinges on Ansett’s vocals. The album’s first single, “Already in Love”, sports an intelligent lyric providing him with an exceptional forum to show off his deft phrasing and emotive skill. Ansett turns his focus over to muted, yet melodic, folk with the track “Turn to Gold”. The song has a decidedly gossamer like quality, but never sounds tentative. Instead, it sounds a carefully crafted mood piece with a light touch of atmospherics and completely confident. “My Heart is Set” carries on the acoustic guitar work heard in the preceding song, but its deployment here feels more ornamental than necessary. The song succeeds thanks to the unique confluence of pop and folk influences and another superb vocal performance from Ansett.

The mid-tempo acoustic shuffle of “In the Eye” has compelling rhythmic qualities, interesting lyrics, and a bit of wry, semi-amused detachment in his singing. The acoustic guitar, scarce on the earlier tracks, makes it presence felt by the album’s midway point. “Tragedy is Not the End” has a sparse arrangement, but beautiful melodic qualities still carry the day. The lyric content is, ultimately, hopeful but this is rather weighty material and fans with no interest in such a thing are likely to pass. “Give Our Hearts Some Weight” is straight, sturdy folk peppered with light post-production touches – this is stylistically similar to the earlier “Turn to Gold”. He offers up another stylish bit of pop soul with an artsy twist on “New York”, but the album’s final track, “Kings and Queens”, builds even further on its template by adding gently cascading guitar runs and bright keyboard swells.

The Nature of Us will impress many on multiple levels. Ansett’s first foray into the full length album form is an astonishingly complete work with a strong sense of self-assurance pervading every track.

<![CDATA[7. Rebecca Jade - Weather The Storm ]]>

Rebecca Jade and the Cold Fact are a San Diego based outfit describing themselves as eclectic soul/funk, but the title track from their latest album Weather the Storm is pure R&B goodness the likes of which we seldom hear nowadays. However, let’s make some crucial distinctions before moving on. Retro moves like this aren’t actually uncommon – there are always a number of young singers or bands flying the flag for an otherwise moribund genre, often times marrying some coy gimmick to their presentation, and hoping their studied recreation of bygone styles clicks with a modern audience.


Rebecca Jade isn’t messing with any of that. Discerning listeners will know, less than a minute into the track, they are in the hands of a fantastically talented vocalist. Jade’s deep connection with traditional R&B plays effortlessly – she inhabits every measure of the song with a dreamy swoon, like someone slightly intoxicated by their own survival. Her lyrical content is conversational, stripped down, yet remarkably affecting. It’s yet another example of how a first class interpreter can make what, on paper, seems like innocuous and average musings evolve into a poetic, intensely human meditation on perseverance.


The production captures the song’s mood well and balances the competing instrumentation. Jade’s collaborators, the Cold Fact, offer top-flight musical support and are primarily distinguished by their sympathetic interplay. There isn’t a single second in this song when it sounds like Jade is singing over the band or when, collectively or individually, the music overtakes Jade. Instead, their tight connection between singer and band gives “Weather the Storm” its single strongest quality. The use of organ and dramatic, yet appropriate, drumming stand out in particular, but Jade wisely surrounds herself with a bevy of talented artistic partners.


It doesn’t overwhelm listeners, announce itself brashly, or pander for your attention. Make no mistake though – this debut single serves notice. Rebecca Jade and the Cold Fact might linger for a time in semi-obscurity, but a singer and band with this depth of talent and sophistication won’t remain quasi anonymous for long. “Weather the Storm” is a true stunner.

<![CDATA[8. Hildegard Von Bingen - Ordo Virtutuum ]]> There are very few people who can be described, genuinely, as a genius. Perhaps once in a generation a true genius arises. There is, however, little doubt that Hildegard von Bingen can not only be described as a genius, but perhaps as one of the more remarkable ones. Quite simply, women in twelfth century Europe were accorded scant regard for their intellect, it being generally assumed that they were inferior creatures. That Hildegard should be accorded such respect, and even consulted on important matters of state and theology by ecclesiastics and laymen alike testifies not only to her genius, but to the remarkable nature of the woman herself.

Hildegard is frequently known today for her musical work. It was she who took liturgical music from the plainsong of the Gregorian chant and turned it into a work of great harmony which is today known as polyphonic chant. What is more, with what is perhaps her greatest work, the Ordo Virtutuum, Hildegard was responsible for so much more than just church music.

Ordo Virtutuum means Order of the Virtues and is a morality play about the struggle of a soul between the Virtues and the Devil. In itself, this may seem nothing special, but to start with, this was written in 1151 and, in that sense, can be said to be the precursor of the opera and possibly even the modern concept album. In its day, the idea of performing music in this way, and in this polyphonic style, was pretty much revolutionary, centuries ahead of its time. This CD, released by the German ensemble Sequentia, first appeared in 1982 and was enhanced and re-released in 1998 to coincide with the 900th anniversary of the birth of Hildegard von Bingen.

The Ordo Virtutuum is sung by a large group. There are 17 individual female voices representing the 17 Virtues - Hope, Chastity, temperance and so on. Then there is a male chorus of the Patriarchs and the Prophets and a female chorus of Souls. Finally there is the Devil himself. He is unmistakeable for he does not sing, but barks and shouts, for the Devil cannot reproduce Divine Harmony.

The plot comprises four parts - acts if you like. Part One sees the meeting between the Prophets, Patriarchs and Virtues and the adoration of the latter by the former. Part two introduces the Souls. They complain about being imprisoned in bodies. The principal Soul is happy but wishes to skip life and proceed straight to Heaven. On being told by the Virtues that life must be lived first, the Devil is provided with an opportunity to seduce her away. Part Three has the Virtues introduce themselves and their qualities, showing the Soul the path to Virtue. Meanwhile the Devil interjects with insults and observations. In Part Four the Soul Repents and is welcomed back by the Virtues who then bind the Devil. Finally, Part Five is a kind of procession of all the characters.

Now, for most of us, the exact detail will pass us by. If you are interested, there is a translation booklet in the CD, but is that really the point? I would argue that you do not actually need to understand Latin to appreciate this. Quite simply, this is beautiful music, a beauty which transcends language and time. The female voices have a grace and elegance which almost defies belief and provides some of the most relaxing, calming music you will ever hear. And when the Devil enters and begins his ranting, well you do not need to comprehend a single word of Latin to hear the humour in his words. For an hour and a half you can let this wash over you, listening more intently at the moments of tension and drama (they are not hard to spot even without a knowledge of Latin). You will not even notice the passage of time.

In our twenty first century arrogance we often forget that music has a long history. We may think that music of our time is at the vanguard of social change, that the music of our time is unique in crossing boundaries which have never before been crossed. Yet when you listen to music such as this you quickly realise that all of our preconceptions about the importance of modern music are nothing new, and may even pale into insignificance by comparison. Stylistically innovative; an entirely new genre with a significance stretching down even to today; social commentary on the issues of the day: all these are terms which can be ascribed to Hildegard von Bingen in general and Ordo Virtutuum in particular. This is music which everyone should listen to.

<![CDATA[9. Beatles - Please Please Me ]]> The Beatles are finally on Spotify. It seemed only fitting to review one of their albums. The debut is a great place to go. It's one of four albums I've listened to today. I'd have to say I like this one of the best, although With the Beatles, Beatles for Sale and Help are all excellent, as well. No need to worry about tracks, going on too long. The 14 cuts take 32 minutes. "There's a Place" is my favorite track. It's beautiful, and it  wraps up in 1:50. "Misery" is another winner, which I haven't heard as much as other songs on here. Still, I can never really tire of their version of "Twist and Shout." "Please Please Me" and "Love Me Do" are the hits I've heard plenty of the for decades. They still sound good. The energy of t he band is admirable, and there's humor lurking in these songs.

I'm a long time fan. There's the reality, I don't spend nearly as much time these days listening to the band. It's  always a pleasure to revisit. It's hard to have a playlist without some songs by the Fab Four. And there's plenty of good songs here to make the speakers a conduit for joy. There may  be other bands to go to for dazzling instrumentation. This group is without parallel for  the personality they exude, and the chemistry the group has on each disc. I think the early recordings are the most fun. And it's hard for any other band to match the catchiness of these songs. More than 50 years later there's still a freshness to these songs. Of course, I'm willing to go back further in time to hear the music, which satisfies me. So, I'm happy this band is there whether it's for streaming or downloading. I'll be listening.  

<![CDATA[10. Rory Gallagher - Irish Tour '74 ]]> There is an urban legend that when Jimi Hendrix was asked how it felt to be the world's greatest living guitarist, he replied, "I don't know. Ask Rory Gallagher." True or not, the story demonstrates both the reputation of Gallagher as a blues guitarist and the esteem in which he was held by his peers. Although he released several studio albums, it was his live work which really captured attention and there can be little doubt that Irish Tour ‘74is his finest live performance to be captured on vinyl. Not only vinyl, but the concert was recorded and released as a film to widespread critical acclaim and helped spread Gallagher's reputation in the States.

The recording is actually of a concert in Belfast which, in 1974, was a feat in itself as the city was being torn apart by sectarian violence. Into this walked Gallagher with his band, palyed a magnificent concert before an audience which, Catholic or Protestant, appreciated and enjoyed what was laid before them. And Gallagher's charming and unassuming personality made that all the more easy to understand.

Without doubt this is one of the finest live records ever made. Much of the album consists of live performances of tracks off his recently released album, "Tattoo", such as "Cradle Rock", but there are also some fine covers thrown in there for good measure, such as Muddy Waters' "I Wonder Who". But what impresses the listener is the sheer ability of Gallagher to improvise his way across a whole raft of blues tracks in a way which few others, especially few other white blues artists could ever do.

For example, listen to the epic eight and a half minutes of "Too Much Alcohol". Never once does this flag or become tedious, despite the fact that it is little more, lyrically, than a recitation of the types of alcohol you can buy on 31st Street and the percentage alcohol in them. Gallagher's ability shines through on tracks like "A Million Miles Away" and "Walk on Hot Coals" where his blistering guitar licks and solos really push the boundaries of what music can do. On tracks such as "Who's That Coming" and "Back on My Stompin' Ground", Gallagher slides his way across the fretboard with equal ease. And just to prove that none of this is a fluke, or can only be done with amplification and an electric guitar, Gallagher covers Tony Joe White's "As the Crow Flies" with an acoustic guitar and the power does not let up one little bit.

But let us not forget that there was more than just Rory Gallagher and his guitar at work here. Gerry McAvoy had been with Gallagher on bass for many years and complemented his guitar perfectly, anchoring the track so that Gallagher could go off on his improvisation. Rod De'Ath's drumming was alongside McAvoy providing a steadciness of tis own. And then, unlike on Gallagher's other great live record, "Live in Europe", from two years before, Lou Martin provides a keyboard accompaniment which assists in driving some of the tracks along, filing them out so Gallagher could improvise more freely.

The album remains, forty odd years after its release, probably the finest example of a white man playing blues guitar live that there is. Never mind Clapton, Gallagher could do this all day and blow Clapton clean out of the water. Not even Stevie Ray Vaughan could come this close. If you want to hear blues rock at its finest then you need look no further than here for this is probably the defining album of the genre. If you listen to this, everything else, even the legendary Cream performing live. Sadly, Rory Gallagher is no longer with us. A man who never married, he had dedicated himself to touring and burned himself out. In 1995 he died of complications arising out of a liver transplant. Thankfully, he left us this behind.

<![CDATA[11. Ludwig Van Beethoven - Symphony No. 5/egmont ]]> Familiarity can be a curse, or it can be a major plus. It's hard to find a more recognizable passage than the introduction of Beethoven's Symphony No. 5. It's hard to tire of it, because it's so magnificent. The movies have contributed greatly to carrying on Ludwig's legacy. Listening to other parts of the work on the radio gave me a fresh perspective on it. Hearing the whole symphony at 36:22 makes for the ideal approach. The subtle moments and the powerful ones are all worth hearing on repeated listenings. The New York Philarmonic under the direction of Kurt Masur perform it all splendidly. The two-disc set also includes with the opera Egmont, which is anti-climactic. Still, it has great moments, too with a rousing finish. It all makes for a strong album, taking 74:53 to finish.  

This work is the kind of music, which conjures up visions of greatness. The composer lived in the 18th and 19th centuries, yet his brilliance remains unmatched. Beethoven tops the list of composers for many listeners. For Classical music, I lean toward Bach. Others may prefer Brahms, Mozart or Tchaikovsky. This deserves some more listens before making a final judgement. It's not a requirement to pick a favorite. The most important thing is to just keep listening. When there's a symphony of this magnitude to sift through, it's not enough to settle for a disco remake. It's great these works can inspire current artists. It's best to appreciate them by listening to the albums themselves. 

The great works live on, because we need them to. There's a fullfilment from taking them in. It's good to have contemporary artists. Their vision is important, as well. It's important not to forget the greats from the past. There's the need to revisit, discover and enjoy. 

<![CDATA[12. Johann Sebastian Bach - Magnificat ]]> Bach's music is a spiritual experience for many, when they listen.

With the Christmas season starting to get close, there's no better time than to listen to this classic two-disc package. It's hard to come up with a good double album. But this album doesn't sound ponderous, at all. This record contains 52 tracks and clocks in at more than two-and-a-half hours. I've played it all the way through a couple of times in recent weeks. I just finished listening to it in two nights. Playing one disc a night is a rewarding way to spend stereo time. Whether it's going through the parts of the Mass, or majestic instrumental cuts, such as "In Dulci Jubilo," it's a perfect set. A Lutheran, Bach composed some amazing pieces, which serves as reflections on the Catholic church teaching. The beauty of his music is well received in the secular realm, as well. His works are too long to be played as part of Masses, and unfortunately current liturgy doesn't allow for anything close to this type of music to be performed (there are the exception of a few traditional churches). It's worth reflecting on the music, which demonstrates the grandeur of God. Contemporaty Christian music often falls short of inspiring devotion or even enjoyable listening. For fans of traditional Gospel the works of the masters serve as a good respite for spiritual fulfillment, as well.

The Choir of King's College Cambridge along with the Academy of Ancient Music perform with Stephen Cleobury, conducting. Like a good choir director, Cleobury plays the organ and peforms brilliant solos. The solo vocalists are outstanding, as well.  If Bach hasn't entered your music collection, this is an excellent  place to start. It shouldn't be the end either, since there's  another work, which is even better. "Mass in B Minor" is a subject for a future review. 

<![CDATA[13. Electric Light Orchestra - A New World Record ]]>
"Tightrope" starts the album, and the sounds that open it make me think of something from Face the Music. It works to a more dramatic symphonic treatment from there. It’s around the minute and a half mark before it moves out into the song proper, more of a rock and roll stomper, but with all the ELO trademarks.

Starting with some unusual keyboard elements and the sound of a telephone ringing, "Telephone Line" is a mellow one that’s also got quite a bit of progressive rock built into it. It’s without question one of the band’s most classic pieces of music. It still holds up very well. We get a reprise of the introduction mid-track.   

Operatic vocals open "Rockaria!" (and return later) but it’s a very Chuck Berry like number and has always reminded me a lot of “Roll Over Beethoven.” It is good, but not really a standout as far as I’m concerned

Now, "Mission (A World Record)" is one that doesn’t get the same amount of attention as some the rest here. That’s a shame as far as I’m concerned. I’d consider this the best piece of the whole disc. In fact, it might be my favorite ELO song. Lyrically, it’s a science fiction piece. It’s quite symphonic. It’s very much a progressive rock number. It’s dramatic and powerful, even though it’s understated at times. There are some great jazzy grooves, too.

Although "So Fine" lands more in the AOR rock end of things, feeling at times like the Beatles, it is still quite proggy. It’s energized and fun, too.  There is a weird little percussive section with symphonic overtones mid track.

"Livin' Thing" truly is another classic cut from the band. I love the little Spanish sounding vignette at the start and in the middle of the cut. It’s definitely got some Beatles influences, but that’s really just the starting point. It is a wonderful cut with some great changes and alterations.

There’s a real vintage music texture on "Above the Clouds," but it turns more towards science fiction and prog music. It’s symphonic and also has some old styled rock and roll built into it. I like it, but it’s far from my favorite piece on the disc.

The guitar riff that opens "Do Ya" is classic and as good as this song is, that makes perfect sense. I’ve always found the lyrics to be a bit silly, but that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment.

The combination of Beatles-like rock with space music and symphonic elements is classic ELO and the core of "Shangri-La." It’s another that’s quite good, but not really a highlight of the set. It’s more because the rest is so good, though.]]>
<![CDATA[14. Gandalf's Fist - A Forest Of Fey ]]>
Sound effects and a theatrical monologue open “Childhood Ghosts.” There is a drifting into sort of rather frightening mysterious forest. Melody emerges tentatively in that section. A folk music meets progressive and space rock sound emerges for the song proper. This is pretty, dramatic and powerful. It’s basically a ballad and rather short, but it’s an extremely effective way to start the set. Some more theatrical elements come back at the end and segue this into the next piece.

Next comes “Gardens of the Lost.” As the theatrical things (mostly an out of breath, panicked searching) end, a folk prog sound emerges. The female vocals lay down the first verse. Then it powers out to harder rocking music that’s crunchy and distinctly progressive rock for the next set of vocals. There are definitely metallic elements as this stomper continues. It’s still all prog, though. The piece works through several shifts and changes. There are sections that feel like epic metal. A flute solo movement brings more in line with Jethro Tull styled prog.

“A Forest of Fey (Including Wisdom of the Reptile and the Lament for a Silent Verse)” is one of the most diverse pieces here. It’s a real thrill ride of a song. Parts of it land in more melodic territory, coming across and prog ballad. Other sections rock out hard in a real crazed prog rock jam that’s sometimes a little chaotic. Still other things land in the middle, melodic, but fast paced and impassioned prog. It works quite well. I don’t think it’s my favorite piece here, but it’s very good.

A short piece, “The Figure Speaks” is more about continuing the story. It’s literally a spoken monologue, a sort of introduction. There is some atmospheric music as its companion and the voice is processed in a dreamy sort of way.

“The World We Created” is another that’s quite diverse. There is a mysterious sounding mellower section. There are also powered up, very catchy, prog choruses. The whole piece is a real powerhouse that has such a wide range of sounds and vibes that it is a masterpiece by itself. It might be my favorite number of the whole disc.

“The Circus in the Clearing (Including the Fanfare for the King's Tournament)” is amazing. It has a great dream-like quality to it. With dramatic keyboards and almost psychedelic vocals, it is so effective that when it’s done you will likely not believe over four minutes have passed. You’ll also be ready to back up and hear it again. It’s one of the highlights of the set.

A short piece, “Blood for a Royal Pardon”  is essentially a dreamy progressive rock ballad. “Drifter on the Edge of Time” is definitely another highlight of the set. The balladic structure here has a nice balance between psychedelic elements and progressive rock. The dual male and female vocals are great, too. The whole piece is just very classy and tasteful. I really like this one a lot. It has a lot charm. It gets powered up in the later sections, but even then it’s essentially a power ballad.

With Celtic sounds at the start of “Forest Rose (Coming Home),” flute again brings some reference to Jethro Tull. The tune works out to a full on progressive rocker that’s melodic and powerful. It’s another strong piece, but nothing here is weak, so that goes without saying, really. “Return from the Tournament” is a short, but dramatic, progressive rock ballad.

Another melodic prog song, “Stories Old and Stories Told (Of Children Brave and Children Bold)” has a great growing progression. There are some powerful moments, and it really soars. “A Poison Tree” is another fairly short and rather ballad-like piece. The effects and theatrics at the end seem to bring us back to the scene where it all began. The lyrics to this one are by William Blake.
<![CDATA[15. Dream Theater - Dream Theater ]]>
At just a little over two and a half minutes in length the opening instrumental is the shortest piece here. “False Awakening Suite” is a real powerhouse, spinning together progressive rock, classical music and metal into a smoking hot jam. It’s a great way to start the set in style.

“The Enemy Inside” starts off very much as a thrash tune. It’s a powerhouse rocker. It gets proggier as it continues, but this song is very metallic. There’s no question about that. The chorus has some great hooks. There is a pretty crazed progressive rock jam mid-track. The vocals on this are classic Dream Theater and the whole tune is a real winner.
The opening section of “The Looking
 Glass” (which recurs in the song at various points) feels so much like Rush to me. There are other movements here that are trademark Dream Theater, though. Some are harder edged and some are mellower. The vocal arrangement here is powerful, and the guitar solo is particularly melodic.   

The instrument titled “Enigma Machine” is a real screamer. It starts with some spooky music, but then some serious metal comes in to take over for a while. After that it just keeps reinventing. It’s hard edged, but also very proggy. It reminds me of some of Rush’s old instrumentals, but taken toward the crunchier end of the spectrum and brought into the 21st Century.

I think “The Bigger Picture” is my favorite song of the whole disc. It has everything that is so great about Dream Theater. There are great musical shifts and changes. We get virtuoso instrumental work. It has emotional vocals. The whole thing is just so powerful. It comes in hard edged, but drops to a ballad motif to continue. From there the piece evolves pretty organically. It gets very hard rocking after a time and runs through like that for a while before dropping way back down and then getting reborn. This is just such an amazing piece of music. I can listen to it over and over again. Everything just gels on this.

There is a pretty and mellow extended introduction on “Behind the Veil” that borders on space rock. From there, though, some serious crunch joins. That type of fury gets shifted toward the prog end of the spectrum from there. Then, though, it gives way to a pure metal section. Vocals and keys join, spinning it more to the prog end again. This is another powerhouse tune that’s quite diverse and dynamic. It’s not as effective as “The Bigger Picture” to me, but that’s more about how strong that piece is than it is about any weakness here. This is still a killer tune that’s classic Dream Theater.

While “Surrender to Reason” doesn’t grab me as much as some of the others, it’s not for any kind of flaw. It’s classic Dream Theater. it’s full shifts and changes. It’s powerful and dramatic and emotional. I love the fast bass line on the mid-track jam. I also love the lyrical reference to the first album. It’s got some incredible moments. It’s just that a couple of the other things stick with me a bit more. It’s still a great song.

I suppose in some ways you could call “Along for the Ride” a power ballad. It certainly starts off with a balladic approach and then gets powered. The song isn’t one of the best, but I love the keyboard solo. It seems to me that it must be a tribute to Keith Emerson because it really sounds like him, right down to the voicing on the keyboard.

The epic of the album, “Illumination Theory”  takes up the last 22 plus minutes. It is possibly Dream Theater’s greatest epic song ever. I would argue that the piece would not work without that kind of space. Sometimes the journey is the important thing, less than the destination. Other times, the journey is part of the destination. Such is the case here. This piece seems to be constructed with a lot of thought and care so that each piece is necessary to deliver the message of the composition. It isn’t just jamming for the sake of jamming or extended length for the sake of filling time on an album. This is a treatment where each bit of the construction seems necessary to make the story work. It opens with a powerful section that feels very much like music from an epic film, but delivered with both rock and symphonic elements. After a time, though, it shifts to a full on hard rocking mode to continue. The evolution of the piece continues as this works through a number of shifts and changes. It’s about four minutes in before the vocals ever enter. The lyrics on this seem to have a very Zen element to them, showcasing how one needs to two sides of yin and yang to fully appreciate either end of the equation. For that reason, this extensive journey with varying sounds and textures is necessary to really capture it. The piece continues to showcase that through all kinds of varied themes within that rocking sound. Within a couple minutes they take us through a neo-classical jam that’s a real powerhouse. Then it drops way down to spacey atmospherics from there. In some ways, this makes me think of a similar section of Yes’ “Close to the Edge.” From there, though, it moves into a purely symphonic movement with classical strings turning into a symphony. There are some familiar classical themes as this moves forward. Then it shifts out to a bass driven section before the whole band join and we’re into another hard rocking movement. When it shifts out into a fast paced progressive rock jam after that set of vocals, it definitely seems like something Emerson, Lake and Palmer would do. It gets more of a crunchy edge as they resolve out of that, though. A smoking hot keyboard dominated jam emerges beyond that point and this thing just keeps screaming. As it works to the powerful resolution there are more symphonic elements that emerge. This section is so emotional and potent that it’s amazing. There is a real sense of the symphonic as it reaches its climax. But, don’t shut off the player just yet. After an extended silence, the music returns. A piano dominated mellower coda closes it. Again, it seems completely necessary to really complete the piece.
<![CDATA[16. Pat Travers - Retro Rocket ]]>
The opening high energy rocker “I Always Run” reminds me a bit of Thin Lizzy in some ways. It’s also not that far removed from some early heavy metal. It’s a real screamer and a great way to start things. There are some killer shifts and changes. The guitar solo section even calls to mind space rock quite a bit.

With “Searching for a Clue” we have a screaming hot rocking jam. It’s even more high energy than the opener was. It’s got a lot of metal in the mix along with plenty of 1970s hard rock. This has some killer organ sound later in the piece, too.

A slower cut, “Who Can You Turn To” is a bluesy jam. It’s almost psychedelic in nature in some ways. It also makes me think of ZZ Top and perhaps Robin Trower quite a bit. It’s another hot number that is quite retro in nature. Yet, this is decidedly crunchier and heavier than the stuff that came out in the 1970s.. It does turn to a fast paced jam later and even leans toward punk rock as it builds outward into insanity.

The bass starts “Up Is Down” off, feeling a bit like something Geezer Butler might play. As the song kicks in from there, comparisons to Black Sabbath are still not out of the question. This is another killer tune on a disc that’s full of them. Again, I really love the guitar solo segment. It’s extended and rocking.

The guitar just weaves magic all around the outside of the scorching hot rocker titled “Mystery at the Wrecking Yard.” This is the least conventional thing here. It tends to lack the standard verse/chorus kind of pattern, instead landing as almost a free-form jam. It’s also one of the best tunes here. I love the energy and all the varying patterns of instrumental interplay. This just screams.

“You Can t Get Their From Hare” is next, and almost like a turbo-charged, heavier Allman Brothers, this killer instrumental is very classy. Bluesy hard rock, “I Am Alive” is another that’s near to heavy metal. More of an anthemic classic rocker, at times “I Wanna Be Free” makes me think of Kiss just a bit. In other ways I’m definitely reminded of Robin Trower here.

On “Hellbound Train” we’ve got another screaming slab of hard rock with metallic influences. I think this is one of my favorites here. A live track, “Looking Up,” is a great groove and features some smoking guitar soloing. There’s also a bonus track “Lead Me Home (Them from the Walking Dead). Classic blues rocking sounds and more modern elements merge on the rocker.
<![CDATA[17. Tim Russ - Lifeline ]]>     
There is a dramatic, ballad-like sound to that opening title track. I absolutely love this number. The choruses are more powered. The multiple layers of vocals later add a lot to the power of the song. I think this might be my favorite song ever from Russ. There is some blues rock built into “Dust Bowl,” but that’s to be expected as it is a cover of a Joe Bonamassa song. I love Russ’ vocal performance here. It’s very much the kind of thing that would have been at home in the 1970s, but there is a production texture that’s more modern.
“Rock Me Baby” song was originally done by an artist named “Melvin Jackson.” I have to admit that I’ve never heard that gentleman before. What we have here, though is a high energy old school rock and roll tune. This is a standard twelve bar number. There are no surprises here, but Russ’ vocals really pull it off with style. I dig the saxophone, too.
There’s a real soulful old school vibe to “Rainbow's Cadillac.” It’s a song written by Bruce Hornsby and another fun cut. I love the backing vocals. I also like the rather funky guitar sound. This is just a cool tune. “Jelly Roll’ comes next and jazz and blues combine on this smoking hot song, a John Martyn composition.  Russ wails out the bluesy vocals in fine fashion. Written by Bo Bice, “Witness” has a real retro soul sound. The organ adds a lot to that vibe.     
“No Place for No Hero” is a mellower tune that is classy. It’s another written by an act I don’t think I’ve heard before – the Heavy.  It really has a 1970s vibe to it. It’s definitely more along the lines of proggy music. I absolutely love “Lead Me Home.” Musically, somehow it almost feels like something I could imagine Peter Gabriel doing.(even though it was written by British blues artist Jamie N. Commons). Russ’ vocals are so powerfully bluesy on the tune. This is a great soulful piece.
“Little School Girl” is an old time rocker (written by old time blues artist Fred McDowell) and a lot of fun. It’s high energy and classy. The harmonica adds quite a bit to the mix. With “Woke Up This Mornin'” we get a  killer blues rocker that was written by the King of Blues himself, B.B. King (RIP). The arrangement is classic. It’s really Russ’ powerhouse singing that makes this as special as it is. And, it is certainly special.
Another cool retro soul sounding cut, “Unchain My Heart” is classy stuff, too. “Doom Doom Diggity” is a big change. It’s got a metallic guitar sound, but it’s also got a lot of hip hop built into it. The combination of sounds works great. It’s an unexpected, but effective way to end a great album.
<![CDATA[18. Mater Thallium - Abandoned By The Sun ]]> Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

I really love this album. The mix of sounds here is extreme. There are things like folk music, full classical arrangements and more mixed with progressive rock and even doom metal. I love music that mashes unlikely things together, so this is obvious for me. It’s also done so well that it’s exceptional. 

The sounds of the sea start the opening cut “Sudden Dereliction.” Then a folk prog styled movement rises up to bring us into the musical portion of the proceedings. It drops before the one minute mark to a little weirdness. Then it pounds in with something that’s equal parts doom metal and crazed progressive rock. It drops to mellower territory for the first vocals. At the end of the verse it powers to that same doom metal meets prog sound. The drop for the next section of singing is less complete mellow texture. The piece continues to shift and evolve from there. I could see this being called heavy metal, but it’s far too proggy for that title to really fit. It continues alternating between the harder edged instrumental sections and mellower vocal movements. Around the five minute mark a more adventurous movement serves as the backdrop for another vocal section. It’s definitely prog rock. That styled movement becomes the “go to” for the vocal sections as the alternating pattern continues.

“Suicidium” is essentially a classical piece with Gregorian chant for vocals. It’s a shorter number. Another song that alternates between mellower and more ferocious sections, “Exiled Witness” also balances metal with prog. It tends to sit more fully on the prog end of the spectrum, though, even feeling a bit psychedelic at times. This is a real powerhouse that’s so amazing.      

“Maternal Mortality” starts with a more metallic movement. It drops to a particularly mellow movement with female vocals. From there it works to jazzy prog with male singing. Working through a number of shifts and changes, this really is more purely prog than some of the other stuff. At times it wanders toward folk prog. Other parts are more psychedelic. In some ways it reminds me of very early King Crimson at times.              

The metallic riff section on “Fear of Water” has a real doom Sabbath kind of vibe to it. Yet, as usual, it’s balanced with more pure progressive rock and psychedelia. This is another great song on a disc that’s full of them. I also make out some old school Crimson in the mix here. Although there are no huge changes on “Mother Free,” this is less metal than some of the rest. It also has more world music and folk prog in the mix. It’s actually one of my favorite cuts here. It just seems to work particularly well for some reason.

“Purgatorial Membrane” is pretty much pure progressive rock. It starts mellow and quite pretty and works out to fast paced prog mayhem. I love this instrumental. It may be short, but it’s great. Next comes “Finite,” and this progressive rock masterpiece is one heck of a powerful musical journey. It works through so much different territory. There are turns this way and that. While it’s based on the same basic musical concepts, it’s not like a copy of anything here. It’s one of my favorite songs here, really. As a pretty and quite mellow movement guides the ending of the song, the sea sounds from the first track return.

<![CDATA[19. State Urge - Confrontation ]]> Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

A candidate for best of 2015, I love this album. I liked their previous one, but this is even better. It’s got such a great mix of sounds. It’s a dramatic and powerful ride. It never disappoints, either. This Polish prog band have outdone themselves. If you’ve liked them in the past, you must get this. If you’ve never heard them, this would be a great starting place. 

The title track comes first, and keyboards start it. The vocals join along with some more rocking elements. The cut resembles a combination of modern prog with modern metal. This eventually segues straight into the next number.

Next comes “Revival.”  Shifting this way and that, the extended opening instrumental section gets really intense at times. I love the retro organ sound. There is a weird twist out to a pure jazz treatment that works really well.  A couple minutes in the track shifts to something that feels like a continuation of the opener. The first vocals come in over the top of this new movement. The piece continues to evolve from there in dramatic modern progressive rock fashion.              

An energized and dynamic example of modern progressive rock, “Liquid Disease” also feels like a continuation of what has come before it. It is evocative, powerful and ever changing. The length of this (7:10) lands it in near epic territory. The musical shifts and changes add to that effect. It is really an impressive piece of music.

A pretty keyboard tapestry brings “Cold as a Lie” in from the previous number. It has a definite classic prog vibe to it as the vocals come over this moody backdrop. It’s a couple minutes in before it powers out from there. It loses no magic in the process. In some ways, this reminds me quite a bit of Nektar. It’s a great cut and one of my favorites here. An organ eventually takes this into the next number.              

Organ weaves melody on the introduction to “Midnight Mistress.” It works through shifts and changes and gets incredibly intense as it continues. This is a perfect example of great modern progressive rock. It has harder rocking sections counterpointed by mellower ones. Yet they all work together to tell one cohesive musical tale. This is so intense at times. It’s one of my favorites here. It has some very dramatic and powerful sections.

“New Season” is a balladic piece for this two minutes plus. It’s moody and very pretty with acoustic guitar really leading the way. That guitar gets some real chances to shine in some intricate soloing. The cut gets intensified with a more full arrangement and some rocking sounds after a time. There’s a tasteful guitar solo during this powered up section, too.              

At four minutes in length, “Before the Dawn” is one of the shorter cuts here. It has a real soaring modern progressive rock sound. It’s also got some high energy moments. It gets into mellower territory at times, too. This makes me think of Pink Floyd along with acts like RPWL and Porcupine Tree.

The first couple minutes of “More” are set within a minimalist kind of mellower motif. It powers out after that into a different kind of keyboard dominated movement. It has more energy and intensity. There’s something in this section that sounds a lot like theremin. The piece continues to evolve as guitar takes more of a central role. This piece is the true epic of the album, clocking in at over ten minutes in length. It’s also one of the most dynamic, growing through a lot of different sections. It’s my favorite piece here. It is just packed with so many tasty sections. That makes it the best choice for closer of anything here.

<![CDATA[20. Telergy - Hypatia ]]> Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

Telergy consistently releases strong progressive rock albums. Robert McClung is the main person behind Telergy and he’s really outdone himself this time. This album is a contender for best of the year already for me. Like the other Telergy discs, this is a concept album. This one tells the tale of the legendary teacher, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer Hypatia of Alexandria. The album features performances for a number of renowned musicians including Oliver Wakeman (Yes), David Ragsdale (Kansas), Chris Caffery (Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Angus Clark (Kitaro, Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Bryan Hicks (Trans-Siberian Orchestra), Corey Glover (Living Colour), Mike LePond (Symphony X), Oliver Holzwarth (Rhapsody of Fire, Blind Guardian), Oliver Palotai (Kamelot), Blake Carpenter (The Minstrel’s Ghost, Corvus Stone) and more.

Like the previous Telergy disc, this album alternates between short skits or theatrical bits that set scenes and move the story forward and the actual musical pieces. That really imparts a definite “concept album” and “art” sort of feeling to the set. We’ll ignore those parts for this review, though, and focus on the music. 

I was completely blown away by the opening piece (“Astronomer”) the first time I heard it. Electronic symphonic elements meet flute and more on the introduction. As it builds gradually, it is very much classic progressive rock. Then it powers out to a more hard rocking jam from there. This powerhouse instrumental at times calls to mind Jethro Tull, mainly from the flute coming across the top. It moves towards some seriously metal territory, too, though. We’re taken through a number of shifts and changes, but it’s a pretty straight course, This just such an effective piece of music. It has killer jamming throughout.

Although “Philosopher” is completely different from the previous one, it does share the power and majesty of that number. This one does have some non-lyrical vocals. It really has more dynamic range. I find that it’s a powerhouse rocker in some places. It moves out to more melodic, almost jazz-like sounds at other points. I love some of the piano playing on this. The thing is, everything here works so well. This magic turned to music. Sections of this land near mellow world music. A jam later is definitely metallic prog, leaning toward the metal end heavily. 

“Mathematician” is next. This instrumental is a big change. It’s more purely melodic and progressive rock oriented. In fact, it’s quite symphonic and very nearly classical in nature. Still, it gets intense, at times feeling like soundtrack movie to some action thriller.

More dynamic than anything we’ve heard to this point, parts of “Teacher” land near fusion. It actually starts closer to the music of “Mathematician” and gradually works towards fusion territory. From there it eventually shifts out to more rocking sounds closer to the first couple pieces (excluding the “scenes”). It’s a strong piece, but not one of my favorites. 

More than the first three minutes of “The Burning of the Library of Alexandria” build in quite a classical music way. Sure, it’s still got rock in the mix, but it’s decidedly symphonic rock with classical changes. The piece explodes out from there in metallic prog that screams and moves forward furiously. Nonetheless, there is plenty of prog keyboards and more to land this purely in progressive rock territory for all but the most avid “no crunch in prog” purists. This does have a lot of non-lyrical vocals. Some of those are gang chorus vocals, while others are soaring operatic ones. Late in the piece it drops to a mellow piano driven motif and eventually works its way back out from there. It’s quite melodic as it continues down that musical road. There is a killer saxophone solo further down this musical road.  

A more melodic progressive rock powerhouse, “Scapegoat” does at times call to mind something like a proggier Deep Purple. It’s a shorter piece than some of the rest and more of a mainstream, “straight line” approach. It still gets crunch and is compelling. 

Coming in noisy and suitably violent, “Murder” is rather electronic and very much a driving piece. There are operatic vocals later, and the piece moves through a number of changes. It shifts to near metal later. There is a scorching melodic guitar solo, but then it modulates out into a rather symphonic rock based movement. From there it leans towards extreme metal for a time. That works through, and more operatic vocals come over the top. Then it resolves to a mellow, rather classical movement from there. Metal rises up punctuated by the operatic voices. Metallic prog that’s fast paced emerges from there.

Although there is a final theatrical bit, the closing musical piece is “Martyr.” The mellow cut is purely symphonic. Although not my favorite thing here, it definitely serves a purpose.

<![CDATA[21. X - Wild Gift ]]> There was talk about this band being a new sensation in the 1980s. 

I don't remember hearing much about them after a couple of years. More than 30 years later , I get around to playing one of their albums. I like it.  It doesn't take a long time to get through it. These 13 tracks combine for 32 minutes of frenzy. I can't seem to find any subtle moments. But there's nothing wrong with keeping things fast. And the shorter the better works more often than not as a measuring stick for an artists listenability. Radio DJs used to play an extra Beatles cut, since their songs are short. It all sounds great. The vocals are clear and powerful. The voices blend together. It takes a few listens to start to focus on the lyrics, and they're intriguing. 

I'll just revel in the catchiness of it all. This music holds my interest consistently. I don't find it veering into musical woodwork. It's simple, which could serve as a springboard for passion. There's no getting mired in artistic statements. This band just seems to enjoy what it's doing. The enthusiasm is contagious. The music takes dark turns, but there's a hook waiting to draw you in. This makes "White Girl" such an effective cut. Somehow in the midst of the hard rock, there's a beauty to what I'm listening to.  It makes it confusing as to why some hard rockers resist the punks. For some it must be heavy or not worth pursuing. I guess metal has its limits for me. This comes closer to what the Rolling Stones and the Who were all about in the 1960s. I for one am glad, I'm not merely beholden to the new releases. It's great to have more music to choose from. 

<![CDATA[22. Freedy Johnston - Can You Fly ]]> This is one you may have missed in the 1990s. 

In the midst of playing Public Enemy, Matthew Sweet, R.E.M., the La's and My Bloody Valentine, this record could have slipped through the cracks. There's no use lamenting the past. Here's the chance to get caught back up. Johnston is known for one top 55 hit, which made it into the closing credits of a Will Ferrell movie. No, "Bad Reputation" isn't on this album. There's plenty here to savor, anyway. This is one, where if the term, "masterpiece" doesn't seem to fit, then give it another spin. I find it keeps getting better. His voice sounds great. And the music rocks, when it needs to. There's no scratching your head about what the lyrics are. It's also a reward to listen to them even if the cuts include a title, "The Mortician's Daughter." The vocals call to mind John Lennon with some Elvis Costello and Mountain Goats thrown in. "Sincere" features a classic rock sound. The hook may not jump out you as much as a listener might like, but keep listening. "California Thing" shows Johnston can draw you in and asking for more. 

There's an intimate quality to the cuts, which calls to mind the best of singer/songwriter music. There's more of a rocking quality to the music though. It doesn't go off the charts in terms of rocking hard. There's plenty of tempo with some abandon thrown in.  "In the New Sunshine," "Tearing Down This Place" and "Remember Me" all show this is a major accomplishment by the artist. It left him with a tough act to follow to top or equal this disc. Fans might have a favorite cut off another release. This is one, which can reside in any music lover's collection. It's a good argument for taking time to visit the past. For some of us this can reside in the recent section of the playlist. 

<![CDATA[23. Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky - Sleeping Beauty ]]> I've stated in the past an unwillingess to review Classical music. 

It seemed too much of a scholarly endeavor. I failed to see the practice of listening to the works as an entertainment quest. I had a change of heart on this after watching another film take on the Sleeping Beauty story via Maleficent. The recent adaptation looks at the story through the eyes of a villain. I prefer the 1959 animated version. But lest I digress. Both versions feature the song "Once Upon A Dream." The more recent movie includes the song by Lana Del Rey. This motivated me to explore the source material further. Andre Previn's version of the ballet features 61 songs and clocks in at two hours and 36 minutes. It's time well spent. The melody is so amazing throughout from beginning to end. I had trouble in my youth comprehending how people could listen to both rock and classical. The styles seemed so different. As you examine popular works based on Classical pieces, it becomes much easier to understand. Certainly movies are enhanced by the works of the masters. And if I can spend time writing about Ella Fitzgerald and others singing the songs of George Gershwin. Surely, there's a place for symphonic evaluation. 

This is a work of haunting beauty. The tempo changes I crave are all present in this piece of music. It takes a lot of time to get through the whole work. There's no requirement to partake the whole thing in one gulp. There's worse ways to spend an afternoon or evening, as well if one hearing is preferred by the listener.  I'd have to say the song is best served in the context of "The Spell." I'm also partial to the effect the whole album or excerpts leave on me with repeated listens. 

<![CDATA[24. Louis Armstrong - Ultimate Collection ]]> A two-disc collection from Louis is a no-brainer. 

This is a must have. To the unitiated it's required listening. To the converted it's an affirmation, which brings renewed pleasure. It's not hard to get drawn into an album with "Tiger Rag" and "When The Saints Go Marching In." But I'm pleased to get introduced to any blues Armstrong wants sing about. "Wolverine Blues" and "Muskrat Blues" do just fine. I'm thrilled to hear "Bye and Bye," which shows the necessity of Gospel music, when looking at the evolution of popular music. Any doubts about whether Armstrong had a claim to country greatness is pushed away with "Down in Honky Tonk Town." "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans" and "Swing That Music" are among the others, which dazzle. Armstrong is essential with his singing and trumpet playing. It's hard to quantify just how a remarkable an artist, he is. Eighty years later his recordings still sound fresh and inventive. The recording quality of this collection is excellent, as well. 

Armstrong's music works as music to sit and focus on the various aspects of the recordings. It refuses to stay in the background, regardless of the importance of a task. He's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an influence. To any musical taste, Armstrong works. The melodies are just too good. His enthusiasm for performing is contagious. His skills as a bandleader are without parallel. He could select the right musicians to play along with him. Armstrong could also just let things go with a solid instrumental. There's humor in the music, when he needs it. He generally doesn't over do it. And this collection is solid throughout the 36-track excursion. It clocks in at less than two hours. At the end, there's nothing wrong with revisiting the whole thing again soon. 

<![CDATA[25. Cattle Decapitation - The Anthropocene Extinction ]]> The Harvest Floor. Prior to that I was a simple dabbler in the realm of not only Cattle Decapitation, but grind/grindcore/whatever in general. There were a handful of tracks on Harvest that grabbed my interest, the band weaving the violent and razor-sharp foundations of their sound with a more grandiose melodies, particularly from vocalist Travis Ryan. These dark melodic passages seemed to counterpoint the aggression perfectly, and when Monolith Of Inhumanity was released three years ago, I was absolutely hooked. That album remains a staple and one of the absolute finest metal efforts I've ever experienced. Needless to say, the weight of that album and the years since have left expectations incredibly high for The Anthropocene Extinction.

However high those expectations may get for me, there is always an initial letdown. Because it simply isn't what you loved before; it never is. Which is undoubtedly a good thing however you look at it because, let's face it, we crave variety in art. Well, some of us do. In that vein, Cattle Decapitation offer enough of it this time around that, after the early "oh this isn't Monolith" nonsense clears away you see the beauty of subtle changes. It's not evident early; "The Anthropocene Extinct" sounds lifted from Monolith in almost every way; brutally engineered with an absolutely soaring chorus standing out in morbidly beautiful contrast. This track was released previous to the record as a teaser, so it's been through the grinder but still retains its status as one of the band's best tracks to date. But wait! There's more! "The Prophets Of Loss", featuring some guest vocal work from Philip Anselmo, is somehow more raw and violent than most of the band's straightforward past material, utilizing smarter songwriting to create a more dense and choking atmosphere. Huge moments abound on The Anthropocene Extinction, so much so that picking them out would turn this into an essay. Let's just say that this record matches the impact of Monolith Of Inhumanity while variating the sound enough to not make it derivative. Even if what they do best is still that incredible juxtaposition of brutality and melody.

There are no (NO) bands in metal today that are hitting on the high gears like Cattle Decapitation are. At the top of their game in all facets from individual performance to songwriting to the pivotal engineer/fifth member (Dave Otero). This record is the second in a hopefully long line of examples of a particular blend of metal taken to its limit, reshaped slightly in the process and delivered with the utmost passion and precision. In a word, it's amazing. Again.]]>