"Album & Demo Reviews"

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by Eric Harabadian... 

Big Elf • Money Machine

Record Heaven Music
Dark cynical lyrics about greed, corruption and deception draped in psychedelia and Beatlesque-type arrangements and melodies make for an intense and captivating listen. All that combined with blatant elements drawn from progressive and classic rock bands like Deep Purple, ELP, King Crimson, Black Sabbath, Gentle Giant and Atomic Rooster presents Big Elf as somewhat derivative in many ways. But those are some cool influences and, besides, the writing is strong and the musicianship rates right up their with the masters. Well worth checking out!

Saga • House of Cards

SPV/Steamhammer Records
Not many bands can claim that they’ve survived over twenty years with their original line-up intact, but Canadians Saga can. The progressive-oriented rock group first gained stateside status in the late seventies, with the FM single "On the Loose." With their latest offering they’ve shown they are still vital and still kicking out classic material. Michael Sadler’s lead vocals are as clear, articulate and dramatic as ever and their trademark crunchy-yet-clean guitars and symphonic-type arrangements remain contemporary and relevant. A lyric sheet is included so read along. This is some of the best writing to come out of the present rock genre in some time. Needless to say, just get it!

Steve Walsh • Glossolalia

Magna Carta Records
This is technically the second solo album by Kansas frontman Steve Walsh. His first was released on CBS/Kirshner Records over twenty years ago. But fans of Kansas as well as those who crave intelligent, awe-inspiring vocals and lyrics will be glad he chose to reveal himself once again. Walsh is like a chameleon or great method actor, able to alter his voice and persona to fit the mood of the piece he is singing. And there are many represented here, whether it’s the progressive rap/funk of "Heart Attack," the tribal/primal aura of "Glossolalia," the epic and stately "Kansas" or the heartfelt ballad "Nothing." Walsh handles every lyric with care, conviction and self-assured grace. Bravo!

Shadow Gallery • Legacy

Magna Carta Records
One thing that is apparent right away with this group is their lush production and arrangements coupled with their sublime melodies and symphonic sound. While all the band’s members are masters of their craft no one individual appears as an egotist or standout. There is a team aesthetic at work here which makes for a strong and impressive performance. This is progressive metal at its finest and most eloquent!

Tempest • Balance

Magna Carta Records
This is a fun disc! From the outset the tune "Captain Ward" rocks in a buoyant and swaggering manner in its tale of a brave Scottish pirate. "Dancing Girl" continues the album’s light-hearted mood with a spirited Irish-type jig. Tempest is not your typical rock band as you may have guessed. Theirs is a career crafted out of blending traditional folk and world music elements with rock and other contemporary influences. From traditional music of the 16th century right up to the present day the decade-plus old Tempest continues to forge a unique and entertaining voice in the world of eclectic multi-cultural rock and roll.

Ice Age • Liberation

Magna Carta Records
This is yet another fine offering from the folks at Magna Carta. Blending instrumental virtuosity with a dramatic and highly poetic vision, this band truly crafts songs that are individual masterpieces, in and of themselves. While their collective chops are awesome, their songs never suffer or take a back seat to technique. Highly recommended!

Rustic Overtones • Viva Nueva

Tommy Boy Records
This is extremely inventive and above average R&B-influenced modern rock. While this Portland, Maine group’s ska and punk roots are evident they also add generous dollops of latin, jazz and ambient elements as well. David Bowie sings backup on a couple tracks and the album is co-produced by Barenaked Ladies’ Dave Leonard. This is good music to dance or just lay back and get your groove on to.

Lakota Thunder • Veterans Songs

Makoche Recordings
A collection of Native American songs honoring the rich culture of a proud people and their warriors. Contemporary American Indian artists perform drum and chant odes to Sitting Bull, The Battle of Little Big Horn and their brothers who served in the various great foreign wars. Long live the power and message of the drum!

James LaBrie • Mullmuzzler 2

Magna Carta Records
This is the follow-up to the Dream Theater frontman’s debut " Keep it To Yourself" and is another triumph. With help here from progressive stalwarts like guitarist Mike Keneally and Magellan’s Trent Gardner, among others, LaBrie hits the mark every time. Whether he’s engaged in a metal-oriented shred fest or a lilting mid-tempo ballad LaBrie always brings something vocally interesting to the table. LaBrie wrote all of the material on the album, collaborating with various members of the band as well as Gary Wehrkamp and Carl Cadden-James from Shadow Gallery. The result is a disc strong on lyrics, melody and arrangement with balanced and inventive performances. LaBrie is a vocalist with a dynamic and dramatic presence but maintains respect for his sidemen and the songs as well. He never chews up the scenery or overshadows the record’s mood or atmosphere. Good stuff!

Arise From Thorns • Before an Audience of Stars

Dark Symphonies
Well produced and performed acoustic-driven progressive rock in the vein of groups like Renaissance, Fairport Convention and Curved Air. Many of the songs have a dark and moody tonal color with strong vibrant vocals and odd-metered tempos and time signatures. Very ambient and serene but ambitious and captivating as well!

Two Airplanes • The Killers Among Us

UberWorks Entertainment
Now here’s something really different! A funky rock band from St. Petersburg, Russia. Let me tell you something -- these guys could teach American R&B bands a thing or two. This stuff grooves! They are also very adept at reggae and ska featuring punchy horns and infectious rhythms throughout the whole disc. All the songs are sung in their native tongue but, while the vocals are significant and strong, the beat is what you’re most likely to focus on anyway.  Good stuff!

Shao Rong • Orchid

Pacific Moon Records
Chinese lute master Shao Rong is a true leader in the New Age/world music movement. More specifically she is taking an ancient Asian instrument and its music and blending them with western instruments and rhythms to interesting effect. The album, which combines Chinese and Japanese musicians, highlights Rong’s delicate and shimmering playing supported by guitar, bass, piano and assorted percussion.  This is beautiful music and a welcome change from the typical new age and "snooze" jazz
instrumentals out there. Highly recommended!

Page Wilson with Reckless Abandon • Bridge of Love

Planetary Records
If you are looking for unabashed, pure and rootsy country, blues and bluegrass Wilson and company are the real deal! Wilson, host of a Richmond, Virginia radio music revue program, plays acoustic guitar and sings in a relaxed and articulate style. He can croon on love songs like "Nouveau Beaujolais" or get down and funky with the humorous "Chicken Thigh" or "Richmond Blues." Assisted by his crack band Reckless Abandon, Wilson performs here before an appreciative audience who really seem to be digging the festivities. And why not? When Wilson and company get together there’s sure to be a party!

by Kyle Kipp... 

Unwound • Leaves Turning Inside You

Kill Rock Stars
Olympia, Washington underground legends' long-awaited return with a masterpiece double-album recording of 14 tunes/75 minutes of music (with enhanced CD-ROM videos available on the CD) in the form of hypnotic emo much along the lines of Sunny Day Real Estate's How It Feels To Be Something On.  In other words, this is a basic rock/punk three piece band but with very melodic, orchestrated and dynamic musical movements.  Many of the tunes give off the flair of extended instrumental (non-vocal), spacey/ambient, mellow, and non-distorted guitar tunes at times (see the track "One Lick Less") yet it often picks up and becomes quite intense and frenetic (see the track "Terminus").   This is definitely not a "jam band" but more of a small symphony, even incorporating keyboard tracks into the mix at times to give an even thicker layered effect.  The vocals sound quite harmonized (doubled in the mix much like Sunny Day's) and applied in more of an instrumental way.  At times, it almost sounds as if the vocalist is singing in a different language.  This is definitely not something you would put in for "party music."  This is thought provoking music that is very stimulating to the senses.  Listeners seeking a type of more mellow No Knife, Sonic Youth or Fugazi type sound would probably dig this recording.  I recommend this to any indie and/or progressive rocker who is looking for something a little more musically "in-depth."

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