Dave Kerzner – New World (deluxe edition)
If you are a fan of mid-period Pink Floyd (Dark Side… but the David Gilmour/Rick Wright axis), then this 2 CD set will be manna from heaven for you as it was for me. Kerzner has had a pretty active sideman career thus far including playing keys in Sound Of Contact (great prog band with Phil Collins sound-a-like Simon Collins – yes, his son). Late in 2014 he released a single disc version of this his first solo album which was great, but this over two hour version is simply amazing. Most of the songs feature the core of Kerzner on vocals and keys with Nick D’Virgilio on drums and Fernando Perdomo on guitar + bass. Their work is great on it’s own, but some songs also feature cameos from prog royalty the likes of Steve Hackett or Francis Dunnery on guitar, Keith Emerson on moog, Billy Sherwood on bass, Simon Phillips or Nick Mason (via programming) on drums. That Kerzner doesn’t need anyone else, however, is evident on my fave song from the album “Under Control” on which he handles all the instruments himself. The lengthy opener “Stranded (part 1-5)” is pure Dark Side… right down to the wailing female vocals with some added help via Jason Scheff of Chicago and a great growling Steve Hackett solo. Some of the additions to the deluxe version are merely sonic landscape intros like “Reflection” or longer versions of songs truncated to fit on a single disc, but there are also some excellent new songs like “Premonition Suite” or “Realign”. There simply has not been a better album release so far in 2015. To get the full 2 CD set with packaging you must go to davekerzner.com which will give a link for the purchase (it’s not cheap, but it’s worth it), but otherwise a cheaper digital download is available on itunes. The single CD version can be had on Amazon if you must but however you get it you won’t be sorry.
Steve Hackett – Wolflight Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
These two albums by progressive rock guitar slingers have a very similar production sound to them – sorta bombastic – in-you-face. Hackett throws in some very nice acoustic guitar and lute which Lonely Robot does not, but both albums feature the guitar side of prog rock. Hackett is of course the former Genesis string-wiz who has done a great job of staying true to progressive music for over 40 years while Lonely Robot is really John Mitchell from Arena and It Bites. Both albums a worthy of purchase, but I’ll give the edge to Lonely Robot. Hackett isn’t a bad singer, but he really needs a stronger singer to pull off the harder-edged songs while Mitchell has a vaguely Peter Gabrielish voice more suited to progressive bombast. The opening pairing of “Out Of The Body” which goes right in to “Wolflight” is one of the best bits on Hackett’s album as is “Airlock” opener for Lonely Robot. The only guest of note for Hackett is Chris Squire on bass for “Love Song To A Vampire” while Mitchell uses folks like Steve Hogarth (Marillion) and Nik Kershaw though where isn’t spelled out anywhere. Perhaps the Lonely Robot album is the most in need of editing with too many so-so songs, but it also has the most memorable songs in “Oubliette” and “Are We Copies” – both outstanding. “Black Thunder” and “Corycian Fire” stand out on the Hackett album for me, but the closing medley of “Dust & Dreams” and “Heart Song” are my faves overall. Between these and the Dave Kerzner album, 2015 has been great for prog fans.
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Back in the halcyon days of my youth, one could buy an album strictly because the cover was great and you figured the music had to be good. Any more it seems that every cover I like turns out to be some growly voiced metal band so it was great that a nice cover went with an equally nice album. This is a strange one, but alot of fun – a 2 CD set with the same songs on each however the first CD has “gentle” versions (more acoustic) while disc 2 is the louder blustery “storm” versions. At first I figured I would generally prefer the quieter ones, but surprisingly the louder ones win out at least half the time for me. If you have $60 or so, the CD version is an import in a great hardback book basically – or you can save over 2/3 the cost and download it. The project is fronted by Dutch progressive metal guitarist Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Ayreon, Star One, etc.) with vocals from Anneke van Giersbergen from the Gathering. The story involves a man sailing away in the 1600’s from his wife and soon the be born son. The quieter disc really sounds alot like a great lost Renaissance/Annie Haslam album while the louder disc seems like Transiberian Orchestra or even Jethro Tull with a female lead. The MVP of the whole thing is Ben Mathot on violin whose playing really dominates (his playing on “Brightest Light” for instance is very classical). It’s interesting to play a song like “Eyes Of Michiel” in both versions and here the almost baroque-ness of one version versus the much heavier arena-friendly louder version. There really isn’t a bad song on the album – my fave is probably the classical jig in the gentle version of “Heart Of Amsterdam”.
Ringo Starr – Postcards From Paradise
Brian Wilson – No Pier Pressure (deluxe)
New CDs from members of two of the biggest “B” bands of all-time in the Beatles and the Beach Boys. By now, you don’t expect anyone to buy an album by either of these 70-somethings that isn’t a devoted fan. Let’s face it, Ringo will never do another “It Don’t Come Easy” and Brian will never do another “Good Vibrations” so either you live with their past music or you try to keep up with where they take you in the 2000’s. In Ringo’s case, where he takes you is in a pleasant stroll into his past with a tribute to his first starring band Rory Storm & The Hurricanes or into the title track which is just that – a string of Beatles titles made into a song with the help of Todd Rundgren. A nice fun idea that was done first by Barclay James Harvest on their 1975 song “Titles”. These two songs might be enough to pull in a fan (it really is nice to do a “spot-the-title search” with lyrics like “I know that we can work it out, there ain’t no need to twist and shout”), but there are a few other goodies here as well like my fave “Touch And Go” which features a Sir Douglas Quintet feel thanks to Benmont Tench’s keys work. While Ringo’s tunes aren’t very adventurous, at least he tries to rock which is something sorely lacking from Brian Wilson. His music is pleasant and tunefully wistful, but with ex-Beach Boys Al Jardine (my fave vocalist in that band), David Marks and Blondie Chaplin you would hope they would have at least attempted one rocker (hey Brian, how’s about next album doing a covers set of your fave oldies in a return to 15 Big Ones?). At any rate of these two albums Wilson gets the edge simply because the harmonies always win out (and vocally he sounds great – autotuned or not). If the disco version of “Here Comes The Night” is the worst Beach Boys related song ever, then surely #2 has to be “Runaway Dancer” featuring some dude named Sebu. “On The Island” featuring the twee vocals of “She & Him is icky lounge music followed closely by the next song “Half Moon Bay” with new ager Mark Isham playing horns – pleasant but dull. Take these three off and add the three bonus tracks and it becomes a decent album. The 2 songs with Jardine and Marks “Whatever Happened” and “The Right Time” are nice ballads while “Sail Away” with Chaplin and Jardine has a nice “Sloop John B” feel. The best song on the record is “Guess You Had To Be There” featuring Kacey Musgraves which is a bit more lively and fun. Speaking of fun, Nate Ruess of that band sings on “Saturday Night”. “The Last Song” seems to be a lament for something lost and that something may be the Beach Boys (“don’t be sad there was a time and place for what we had, if there was just another chance for me to sing to you … there’s never more time for the ones that you love”). It’s hard to know if one needs to thank or blame co-writer and producer Joe Thomas as he seems to be leading on the whole thing which doesn’t have the spark you hoped for, but then you always have to add the addendum that considering where Brian was musically and emotionally for so many lost years it truly is amazing how well his solo career has turned out. That being said, why don’t you call up Jeff Lynne next time and let him produce and rock and roll album?