When it rains, it pours.
Every now and then, you have one of those weeks where so much good music shows up at your doorstep unexpectedly all at once, that it can be a little overwhelming. That happened this week, when our in-box filled to overflowing with new music (nearly all of it pretty great stuff to boot). So, the question here becomes what to do with all of it, particularly given both our limited space and the time constraints involved in actually getting around to writing about all of it.
Fortunately, The Rockologist is exactly the sort of semi-regular feature that is ready-made for situations like this. Stitching together a bunch of short, little mini- reviews fits the format perfectly, and since it’s been a good little while since we’ve dusted one of these columns off anyway, we figured why not?
So, for your consideration:
Recorded just this past January at the Solana Beach, California based Belly Up Tavern, The Jayhawks first-ever, full-length official live album is a digital only release that was first made available online exclusively through the nightclub’s BellyUp Live imprint. Now, it has been afforded a wider release through Amazon, iTunes and the other major internet music services. The 20-song, 80-minute setlist draws from throughout The Jayhawks long and storied career, and makes you realize just how many great songs that singer/guitarist Gary Louris and company have been responsible for over the course of three decades as one of the most loved, uniquely American bands.
Songs ranging from their earliest recordings for TwinTone (“Aint’ No End”); through the band’s two acknowledged 1990s classics for American Recordings, Hollywood Town Hall (“Waiting For The Sun,” “Take Me With You When You Go,” “Settled Down Like Rain”) and Tomorrow The Green Grass (“Blue,” “I’d Run Away”); to latter-day albums Smile, Sound of Lies and Rainy Day Music are all equally represented in what amounts to a greatest hits set.
Although on-again, off-again founding member Mark Olson is once again MIA here, the band’s trademark harmonies and alt-country twang remain remarkably intact. Louris also once again demonstrates just how underrated he is as a guitarist, with some Neil Young worthy shredding on Jayhawks staples like “Waiting For The Sun,” and “Big Star.”
With The Jayhawks still sounding this inexplicably great in 2015, it’s just too bad this excellent live recording doesn’t get a more proper CD release.
As anyone who has ever been to a Porcupine Tree show, or who might have caught King Crimson’s sold-out reunion tour last fall already knows, Gavin Harrison is without question, one of the greatest drummers in the world.
Harrison’s playing is as flawlessly executed as ever on his new solo album Cheating The Polygraph, out this upcoming Tuesday from K-Scope. Having said that, it should be noted that this album is one of those acquired tastes that isn’t necessarily going to be easily digested by everyone, including some fans of his former band Porcupine Tree. Despite the fact that Cheating The Polygraph consists entirely of reinventions of Porcupine Tree songs, Harrison’s jazzier sounding new arrangements are about as far removed from the original versions as – well, as big-band jazz is from progressive metal.
In some cases, the songs are rendered barely recognizable at all. Even Steven Wilson, the guy who wrote most of these songs, is said to have been unable pick them apart from the originals when he heard this album. That said, Wilson also called it “a beautifully executed piece of work,” and taken on purely musical terms it’s hard to disagree.
Harrison’s drumming is nothing short of stunning throughout, and the supporting cast of world class musicians tackle their assignments with an equal measure of precision and gusto. Bassist Laurence Cottle in particular, just funks the living daylights out of “Halo” (which shows up here in a mashup with “Hatesong”). Other radical reworkings of PT tracks run the gamut from “The Start Of Something Beautiful” to “The Pills I’m Taking (from Anesthetize).”
Though this may take a few listens for some to warm up to (much as it did for me), those willing to stick with Cheating The Polygraph will be richly rewarded for it.
Marillion guitarist Steve Rothery’s latest solo album The Ghosts of Pripyat actually came out last year, but was one of the nicer surprises included in a package that came through from the Inside Out label this week. The instrumental music on this album is a bit of a departure from what Rothery does with his day-job as guitarist with Marillion though.
What is heard on The Ghosts of Pripyat is much more atmospheric, layered and textured than the grandiose epics more closely associated with the iconic British prog-rock band Rothery helped found some three decades ago. Even so, fans will instantly recognize Rothery’s signature guitar sound. For the uninitiated, think of it as equal parts David Gilmour and Steve Hackett, with a hint of Yes guitarist Steve Howe thrown in for good measure, and you wouldn’t be too far off the mark. But although you can hear hints of all three here, as a guitarist Rothery is in a class uniquely his own.
Rothery is assisted here by a core band that includes second guitarist Dave Foster; keyboardist Ricardo Romano; bassist Yatim Halimi; and drummer Leon Parr. Hackett guests on the tracks “Morpheus” and “Old Man Of The Sea,” with Steven Wilson (yes, him again) completing a prog-rock fan’s wet dream lineup of guitar-slingers on the latter track. Incidentally, Inside Out has a very nice free sampler available which includes a live version of “Old Man Of The Sea” from this album, as well as tracks from fellow proggers Riverside, Haken and Spock’s Beard (not to mention the more metallic song-stylings of Devin Townsend and Fates Warning). Download it here.
Lonely Robot is the highly buzzed about latest project from John Mitchell, best known for his work with It Bites and 90s prog-rock supergroup Kino. Marillion’s Steve Hogarth guests on piano and backing vocals on the tracks “Why Do We Stay?” and “Humans Being” (which also features lead guitar from Nik Kershaw).
This is essentially a solo album from Mitchell, that has the sort of rich sounding production and arrangements that bring to mind the early 1970s concept albums from the Alan Parsons Project (before Parsons eventually gave way to making more radio-friendly pop-rock music in the 1980s) and Supertramp. The sound is also stylistically close in tone to the densely-produced prog-pop of Steven Wilson’s work with No-Man and Blackfield. The loose concept in play here involves a lonely robot marooned in space (or something), and will likely appeal to fans of the 1970’s space-rock that bands like Hawkwind used to specialize in.
Although it occasionally comes off as just a tad-bit over-produced, John Mitchell’s Lonely Robot is an intriguing enough effort, and is definitely worthy of a serious listen – particularly for those who miss the classic prog-rock era of bigger than life sounding concept albums.
*Article first published at Blogcritics Magazine.