This week I’ve been listening to “The Illusion’s Reckoning”, the debut release from a new project named Mantra Vega. The band was put together by former Mostly Autumn singer Heather Findlay and keyboardist Dave Kerzner from Sound Of Contact.
Since Findlay left Mostly Autumn back in 2010 she has released an EP titled “The Phoenix Suite” in 2011, a live album with guitarist Chris Johnson in 2012 and an acoustic album of reworked songs called “Songs From The Old Kitchen” later that same year. I have to confess to not being over keen on “The Phoenix Suite”, which was quite a departure from her work with the excellent Mostly Autumn, much preferring the latter acoustic recording.
Since then things have been pretty quiet until the single “Island” was issued in the summer of 2015 as a taster for the then-upcoming album. The song is rather reminiscent of “Rumours”-era Fleetwood Mac, which is no bad thing!
Given her background with Mostly Autumn, with Findlay joining forces with Kerzner from progressive rock band Sound Of Contact you might have expected Mantra Vega to be full-on progressive rock too. Certainly the comparisons with Findlay’s earlier work are there, the epic sweep of “Veil Of Ghosts” or “Lake Sunday” being two examples, but the sonic palette is perhaps a little broader in terms of style than her old band.
Joining the pair on the album are drummer Alex Cromarty (Mostly Autumn), bassist Stuart Fletcher (Halo Blind), the aforementioned guitarist Johnson (Mostly Autumn, Halo Blind) – all three of whom are also members of the Heather Findlay Band – and guitarist Dave Kilminster (Steven Wilson).
In addition the album boasts contributions from various guests including multi-instrumentalists Angela Gordon (Mostly Autumn) and Troy Donockley (Nightwish) amongst others.
According to the band’s website the record is “a concept album which flows more like a film score than a more typically linear piece. The album’s journey is painted with far-reaching audio moodscapes, which in their diversity, purposely echo thoughtful lyrical themes. The album is delivered in a predominantly crossover-progressive rock package, but at times takes on a hard rock, contemporary, retro, and even acoustic, folksy twist…”. Well, the first part sounds suitably grandiose for a progressive rock outfit for sure, but the description of the actual music is pretty bang on, I’d say.
My favourite tracks here are the dreamy “Island”, “Veil Of Ghosts”, the Led Zeppelin-like “Mountain Spring”, “I’ve Seen Your Star” and the near-ten-minute “The Illusion’s Reckoning” which features a guitar solo from Arjen Lucassen.
Findlay and Kerzner have come up with some great material here. I’m not familiar with the latter’s previous work, but the keyboards are great throughout the album. There are, naturally, plenty of echoes of the fabulous work that Findlay – who sings beautifully here – has produced in the past within these tracks.
At times musically soothing, sometimes harder edged, this is a great melodic progressive rock album, well worth investigating…
“The Illusion’s Reckoning” tracklist:
1. Every Corner / 2. Island / 3. Veil Of Ghosts / 4. Lake Sunday / 5. Mountain Spring / 6. In A Dream / 7. Learning To Be Light / 8. I’ve Seen Your Star / 9. Island (Reprise) / 10. The Illusion’s Reckoning / 11. Mountain Spring (acoustic version)
I have previously written a little about Yorkshire progressive rock band Mostly Autumn, having seen them perform in Gloucester on their Glass Shadows tour in 2008.
Guitarist / vocalist Bryan Josh’s band have managed to achieve a decent level of exposure and popularity given that progressive rock isn’t exactly trendy and without any major label support and promotion.
In fact, for the past ten years the band have been issuing their music through their own Mostly Autumn Records label. To date the group have released eleven studio albums but, in common with other acts that rely on income from live performances and recordings, have a greater number of live releases to their name, and in the case of Mostly Autumn there are (I think) fifteen so far.
2014 saw the release of the band’s most recent studio album “Dressed In Voices” to very positive reviews.
This was the third studio release to feature lead vocalist Olivia Sparnenn-Josh, who replaced long-term vocalist Heather Findlay in 2010. Other band members are keyboardist Iain Jennings, multi-instrumentalist Anne-Marie Helder, bassist Andy Smith, drummer Alex Cromarty and most recent recruit, multi-instrumentalist Chris Johnson.
“Dressed In Voices” was a concept album that looks at a scenario where a gunman finds that time has temporarily stopped and he comes face to face with one of his dying victims, forcing him to face up to the full ramifications of his actions and all that he has taken away from his victim. As Bryan put it “…if you take somebody’s life I believe you must be forced to feel the full weight of what you are taking away – their past, present, what could have been, and the effect it would have on family, friends, loved ones… the killer is forced to witness all that as time briefly comes to a standstill”
Such is the quality of the record that the band decided to perform the album in its entirety during their 2014 tour. This proved to be a good decision, going down very well with gig goers, and so the latest live release “Box Of Tears” captures the experience of such a performance for posterity. With such an excellent album as source material, how does the live version hold up against it?
Well, as superb as the studio recording is, to my ears this new release has an additional power to it, both in terms of actual sound but also emotionally speaking.
I must say that Olivia seems to be singing better than ever – her voice is crystal clear and has the ability to soar on numbers like opener “Saturday Night” and yet also to be delicate when required – as evidenced on “First Day At School”.
Comparisons can be made between Bryan and Pink Floyd man David Gilmour, with the influence being audible in his vocals and guitar playing, but Bryan often has a heavier rock edge than Gilmour – just listen to “Down By The River” for proof of that.
The whole band are playing brilliantly, and although the remaining members may not have such distinctive roles to play as Bryan and Olivia they all mesh to provide excellent musicianship throughout.
As this performance is of a single story it’s difficult to point to particular highlights because clearly the whole thing ought to be taken as a whole. Nonetheless, I will mention some of the numbers that I enjoyed most – “The Last Day”, “Skin On Skin”, “First Day At School”, “Running”, “Home” and “Saturday Night” would all fall into this category.
One could argue that this is superfluous, especially so soon after the studio album’s release, but I would say that “Box Of Tears” is one of Mostly Autumn’s best live albums and an essential addition to their catalogue. Brilliant…
“Box Of Tears” tracklist:
1. Saturday Night / 2. Not Yours To Take / 3. Running / 4. See You / 5. Home / 6. First Day At School / 7. Down By The River / 8. Skin On Skin / 9. The House On The Hill / 10. The Last Day / 11. Dressed In Voices / 12. The Library / 13. Footsteps . 14. Box Of Tears
Karnataka are a progressive rock band, formed in Wales in 1997 by singer Rachel Jones, keyboard player Jonathan Edwards and bassist/guitarist Ian Jones.
With the addition of drummer Gavin Griffiths and guitarist Paul Davies the band recorded their debut album “Karnataka” which was released in 1998 year, and followed it with far superior “The Storm” two years later. The latter album particularly had a celtic tinge to it and both were solid progressive albums with some similarities to the likes of Mostly Autumn.
By the time the third album, “Delicate Flame Of Desire” was recorded and released in 2003 the line-up had expanded to include Anne-Marie Helder on flute and additional vocals. Again a huge leap forward from the previous record, and benefiting from some wonderful harmony vocal work between Rachel and Anne-Marie, the album was their must successful to that point, and gained wider media coverage than before as well as some radio play. However, in the summer of 2004 the band announced their decision to disband.
Rachel went on to join fellow Welsh progressive rock band The Reasoning, whilst Jonathan , Gavin , Paul and Annie-Marie formed a new band, Panic Room. Gavin has also played with Mostly Autumn. Annie-Marie is also currently a member of Mostly Autumn, and has an acoustic side project with Jonathan under then moniker Luna Rossa.
Ian resurrected Karnataka in 2007, teaming up with keyboardist Gonzalo Carrera, drummer Ian Harris, guitarist Enrico Pinna and singer Lisa Fury. The new line-up recorded and released the band’s fourth studio album “The Gathering Light” in 2010.
Moving on and building on “Delicate Flame Of Desire”, this was the group’s most progressive and ambitious album thus far and took their sound into a slightly heavier direction too. However, later that year Gonzalo, Ian Harris and Lisa all departed the band.
Now, in 2015, comes the band’s fifth studio record, “Secrets Of Angels”. With the core line-up of Ian (Jones) and Enrico completed with singer Hayley Griffiths, keyboardist Cagri Tozluoglu and new drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi, the group have delivered undoubtedly the best album of their career to date.
Further developing the heavier aspects of “The Gathering Light”, the likes of “Poison Ivy” echoing aspects of the sound of bands such as Epica and Within Temptation. However, it doesn’t reach the metallic sounds of those bands. Nonetheless, this is excellent up to date sounding stuff.
There are some fantastic memorable melodies here, with tracks such as “Because Of You”, “Forbidden Dreams” and “Feels Like Home” being notable examples, and Hayley’s vocals are strong and crystal clear throughout. In fact, all five members of the band shine on this album which is full of top class performances and compositions.
The record’s final track, “Secrets Of Angels”, is a seven part twenty minute epic. Beginning with some gentle celtic sounding instrumentation before Hayley’s vocals come in, the track ebbs and flows through the various sections beautifully, and despite its length, the track remains as instantly accessible as the rest of the album, which is no mean feat for a progressive rock record.
Drawing on all the great things that the band have done throughout their history, whilst still sounding very much a band relevant to today, “Secrets Of Angels” deserves to move Karnataka up a league or two and bring them much wider recognition than they have enjoyed previously.
This really is an excellent modern sounding progressive record album. Give it a spin, you won’t be disappointed…
“Secrets Of Angels” tracklist:
1. Road To Cairo / 2. Because Of You / 3. Poison Ivy / 4. Forbidden Dreams / 5. Borderline / 6. Fairytale Lies / 7. Feels Like Home / 8. Secrets Of Angels (I The Temptress / II Crimson Tears / III Last Dawn / IV The Battlefield / V Requiem For Life / VI In The Name Of God / VII Secrets Of Angels)
It’s been a while, but welcome to the third in my occasional series of posts on the subject of my favourite top ten albums from a particular year. This time I’m not looking back quite so far, only five years.
2010 was easier to choose a top ten from than for my previous posts, 1995 and 1987, perhaps because it’s that much more recent so there is less nostalgia for, or emotional attachment to, certain records? In any event, here we go – my top ten albums of 2010, in alphabetical order…
1. Alter Bridge “AB III”
The third album from the American hard rock band Alter Bridge, formed by singer Myles Kennedy (also known for his work with Slash) and three former members of Creed. This record has a loose lyrical concept dealing with struggles with faith and, to quote Kennedy, “touches on the thoughts and emotions of someone who has come to question everything that was once regarded as an absolute truth”.
Both Kennedy and Mark Tremonti provide some stunning guitar playing, and Tremonti also provides some quality vocals to support Kennedy’s as always superb delivery, sharing lead vocals on “Words Darker Than Their Wings”.
Standout tracks include lead single “Isolation”, “Ghost Of Days Gone By”, “Slip To The Void” and the wonderful, emotional “Wonderful Life”, a song that truly shows what a brilliant singer Kennedy is.
2. Black Country Communion “Black Country Communion”
The debut album from a short-lived bluesy hard rock supergroup which included former Deep Purple singer/bassist Glenn Hughes, blues guitar superstar Joe Bonamassa, former Dream Theater keyboardist Derek Sherinian and drummer Jason Bonham, son of the late Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, and a really good drummer in his own right.
A 1970s style hard rock record, with similarities to the likes of Deep Purple, this is a great showcase for the individual talents in the band, with some really good material too. Bonamassa’s playing is heavier than normal heard on his solo material, and the vocal performance from Hughes is also far noticeably more hard rock than is often the case.
The best tracks are “Black Country”, “Song Of Yesterday” (with Bonamassa taking lead vocals), “Stand (At The Burning Tree)” and the epic eleven minute closing track”Too Late For The Sun”. They may not have lasted long, partly due to Bonamassa’s decision not to tour as his solo career remains his priority, but all three Black Country Communion albums are certainly worthwhile investments.
3. The Black Crowes “Croweology”
Released just before the band went onto their second hiatus (with a third break to follow earlier this year), this 20 track double album featured mainly acoustic re-workings of tunes from the Black Crowes’ back catalogue.
There is more space on this record than to be found on the original source albums, and some of the numbers such as “Ballad In Urgency”, “Wiser Time” and “Thorn In My Pride” are several minutes longer than their original versions, and definitely benefit from the extra room to breathe. Even if you have the original versions of these songs, this collection of re-recordings is a valuable addition, showing once more just how good Chris Robinson and Rich Robinson can be when they are able to work together!
4. Cathedral “The Guessing Game”
Arguably the heaviest album on this list, “The Guessing Game” is British doom metal band Cathedral at their best. Coming five years after their previous album, the brilliant “The Garden Of Unearthly Delights”, this release was the band’s only double studio album.
Amongst the doomy guitar motifs there are numerous musical styles to be found, including progressive rock, folk and psychedelia, and sounds like it could well have originated in the 1970s, whilst still being recognisably a Cathedral album.
“Funeral Of Dreams”, “Cats, Incense, Candles & Wine” and “Requiem For The Voiceless” are amongst the inventive highlights of this album, and the quality only really dips a little for closing track “Journeys Into Jade” which lyrically is a look back over the band’s history and a bit pedestrian musically. Still, up to that point this is a near flawless progressive doomy folky psychedelic trip…
5. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals “Grace Potter & The Nocturnals”
Grace Potter and her Nocturnals first introduced themselves to my conciousness via their cover version of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” which was featured on the soundtrack album “Almost Alice” in 2010.
This was followed by the sassy “Paris (Ooh La La)”, the video for which demonstrated that not only does Grace possess a great voice and instrumental ability (keyboards and guitars) but also a great pair of legs.
Fortunately, there sounds more than hold their own without the visuals, and this is a great album from start to finish. My favourite tracks include the aforementioned “Paris (Ooh La La)”, “Medicine”, “Tiny Light” and “Hot Summer Night”
6. Imelda May “Mayhem”
“Mayhem” is the third album from Dublin-born rockabilly singer Imelda May. Reputedly recorded in just two weeks, the album features Imelda with her usual band – Imelda’s guitarist husband Darrel Higham, bassist Al Gare, drummer Steve Rushton and Dave Prismeman on trumpet, flugelhorn and percussion.
The album produced five singles, “Psycho”, “Mayhem”, “Kentish Town Waltz”, “Sneaky Freak” and a remixed version of “Inside Out”, in addition to which this album features live favourite “Proud And Humble”, “Eternity” (a track written by Darrel that channels the Everly Brothers), the slinky and sensuous “All For You” and a spirited cover of the classic “Tainted Love”. A simply excellent album.
7. Iron Maiden “The Final Frontier”
Coming four years after “A Matter Of Life And Death”, this is, to date, the longest Iron Maiden album, clocking in at a little over 76 minutes, and became the band’s fourth UK number 1 album.
The record also continued Maiden’s run of strong album releases since vocalist Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith had returned to the line-up in 1999.
Containing mainly lengthy, somewhat progressive, tracks, the highlights of the album for me are “Satellite 15… The Final Frontier”, “El Dorado”, “Coming Home”, “The Talisman” and “When The Wild Wind Blows”.
8. Joe Bonamassa “Black Rock”
“Black Rock” was Bonamassa’s 8th studio album, his 12th release (including live albums) in just ten years. Despite the regularity with which he tours and releases music, there is no drop in standards to be found here. In fact, both his singing and guitar playing seem to keep on improving.
As is often the case, this album is a mixture of Bonamassa originals and tastefully done cover versions. Of the former, my favourites are “Blue And Evil”, “Quarryman’s Lament” and the acoustic piece “Athens To Athens”.
Of the covers, “Steal Your Heart Away”, “Spanish Boots”, “Three Times A Fool”, “Night Life” (featuring the legendary B.B. King) and the atmospheric “Bird On A Wire” are standouts.
9. Mostly Autumn “Go Well Diamond Heart”
The ninth studio album from British progressive rock band Mostly Autumn, “Go Well Diamond Heart” was the first album released since original vocalist Heather Findlay had left the band in early 2010 and backing vocalist Olivia Sparnenn had taken over lead vocal duties.
The album was released in two versions – initially a double album version only available from the band’s website, which was followed by a single disc version available through retailers.
Although Heather had been an integral part of the Mostly Autumn sound, Olivia’s pure, yet sensual vocals helped the band develop their sound still further, and although this could be considered a transitional album it is nonetheless a very solid record with some great material from the band’s founder, guitarist/vocalist Bryan Josh.
The strongest of the tracks are “For All We Shared”, “Go Well Diamond Heart”, “Back To Life”, “Hold The Sun” ,”And When The War Is Over…” and “Ice”.
10. Saint Jude “Diary Of A Soul Fiend”
“Diary Of A Soul Fiend” is the debut, and to date only, album by British rock band Saint Jude. Since the release of the record, guitarist Adam Green has died, and the bassist and keyboard player featured on it have left the band. This may go some way to explaining why, although all three were replaced, there seems to be little in the way of activity from the band.
The album, though, is a corker. Soulful vocals from Lynne Jackaman over the top of some great bluesy instrumentation from drummer Lee Cook and the aforementioned trio make a potent combination.
“Down And Out” is the absolute highlight of the record without a doubt, but “Soul On Fire”, “Rivers And Streams”, “Parallel Life” and “Southern Belles” all keep up the high quality of this album
So, there you have it – my top ten albums of 2010. The year in which the David Cameron was became British Prime Minister in a coalition between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, Chelsea replaced Manchester United as Premier League champions, Matt Smith made his debut as the 11th Dr, Who, and top film releases included “Toy Story 3”, “Inception”, “Despicable Me” and “Iron Man 2″…
Mostly Autumn are a progressive rock band from Yorkshire, founded in the mid 1990s around band leader Bryan Josh.
The band recorded a number of very good celtic and folk tinged progressive rock albums with a variety of line-ups based around the central pairing of Josh (lead guitar / vocals) and Heather Findlay (vocals).
I was introduced to the group via the track “Half The Mountain” (from third album “The Last Bright Light”) on a sampler CD given away with Classic Rock magazine at the start of 2001.
Instantly impressed, I set about collecting the band’s back catalogue and then subsequent releases – the quality of each release an improvement on what had gone before.
Having caught the group live back in 2002 at the Fleece & Firkin, I was able to introduce my better half to the group when they performed at the Guildhall in Gloucester whilst they toured in April 2008 to promote the new album “Glass Shadows”
The show was very good. Bryan Josh’s vocals and guitar playing reminiscent of David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, and Heather Findlay’s vocals as strong and ethereal as on record, despite being several months pregnant.
Missing that night was backing vocalist Olivia Sparnenn (who stepped up and replaced Findlay – no mean feat – when she left for a solo career in 2010) as she was then doing her A level examinations. Phew, rock and roll eh?!
Despite her absence the band put on a very good show – musically excellent, with quite a few numbers from the then brand new album. We did find it a bit disconcerting that members of the band kept leaving the stage whenever they didn’t have a part to play for a couple of minutes as the coming and going tended to distract from those actually performing at the time. Nonetheless, we were thoroughly entertained.
Hope to catch the band live again soon, now that Olivia is fronting the band, as their recorded material continues to get better all the time.
1. Fading Colours / 2. Caught In A Fold / 3. Flowers For Guns / 4. Unoriginal Sin / 5. Another Life / 6. Evergreen / 7. The Spirit Of Autumn Past (Part I) / 8. The Spirit Of Autumn Past (Part II) / 9. Distant Train / 10. Simple Ways / 11. The Second Hand / 12. Tearing At The Faerytale / 13. Above The Blue / 14. Nowhere To Hide (Close My Eyes) / 15. Broken Glass / 16. Never The Rainbow / 17. Pocket Watch / 18. Carpe Diem / 19. Heroes Never Die
1 and 17 originally from “Heart Full Of Sky” (2006) / 2, 5, 9 and 10 originally from “Passengers” (2003) / 3, 4, 11, 12 and 13 originally from “Glass Shadows” (2008) / 6, 7 and 8 originally from “The Spirit Of Autumn Past” (1999) / 14 and 19 originally from “For All We Shared…” (1998) / 15 and 18 originally from “Storms Over Still Water” (2005) / 16 originally from “The Last Bright Light” (2001)