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The Rockologist - by Glen Boyd

Music Review: Steve Hackett - Wolflight



One of the most unexpected surprises of the concert season this past winter was seeing Steve Hackett, accompanied by a group of world class musicians, playing what amounted to a fanboy's dream setlist of early Genesis classics from the band's celebrated 1970s era as prog-rock pioneers on the Genesis Extended tour.


The spectacle of witnessing note-perfect versions of epics like "Dancing With The Moonlit Knight," "The Fountain Of Salmacis" and "Supper's Ready" - songs that in some cases haven't been dusted off on a concert stage for decades - performed live, up close and personal in an intimate theater setting was the sort of "pinch me" event that you just didn't think was still possible in 2014.



Revisiting the classics also seems to have re-lit a creative spark under Steve Hackett, as evidenced by his first solo album of all-new original material in four years. Wolflight is a stunning piece of work that recaptures much of the same dramatic sweep that drove his earliest solo recordings, on albums like Voyage Of The Acolyte and Spectral Mornings. This is easily Hackett's best record since those first few albums after leaving Genesis (right as they were on the verge of hitting the commercial jackpot with a more streamlined pop sound in the '80s).


Of the ten new songs here, nearly half clock in at well over the seven minute mark. But even on the comparatively shorter pieces, not a single note is wasted. The classical flavored guitar of the short, instrumental "Earthshine" for example, could fit nicely alongside something like "Horizons" on a mixtape of Steve Hackett's acoustic work. But while many of these songs recall elements of Hackett's previous work, both with Genesis and as a solo artist, this should not be mistaken as a mere rehash of past glories.



Wolflight is rather, an album that pushes Hackett's unique artistry more forward than it does backward, and the scope of its reach is nothing short of epic. In keeping with the cinematic flair, the music draws inspiration from a number of historical and cultural reference points, taking the listener on a journey that unfolds layer by layer through a series of stories told from different time periods and exotic locations.

The title track flows seamlessly between lilting acoustic guitars and richer sounding, far-eastern flavored prog to follow a narrative metaphor equating a band of warriors to wolves fighting for their freedom. "Corycian Fire" favors the sort of middle-eastern sound that conjures images of an ancient, biblical Arabia, while building its Arabian flavored guitars into an exploding crescendo of rapturous choir voices you'd more likely expect from a screen adaptation of a Dan Brown novel (or at least a Game Of Thrones episode). "Black Thunder" draws from more contemporary American sources, referencing the struggle for civil rights and Martin Luther King Jr., while putting a heavy, prog-sounding spin on the blues (not to mention what may be the longest held note of crying sustain ever heard on a Steve Hackett record).

But through it all, Hackett's instantly recognizable, signature tone - particularly on songs like "Wolflight" and the gorgeous two-song punch of "Dust and Dreams" and "Heart Song" that closes this album - is front and center. It is as unmistakable as it is unmatched. Hackett is joined on Wolflight by longtime collaborators Roger King on keyboards; Rob Townsend on saxophones; drummer Gary O'Toole; and the great bassist Nick Beggs. Amanda Lehmann adds harmony vocals, and other guest musicians include Malik Mansurov on tar and Sara Kovaks on didgeridoo. Yes bassist Chris Squire also guests on "Love Song To A Vampire."

Wolflight is available in stores and through the usual digital outlets this Tuesday from Inside Out music.



*Article first published at Blogcritics Magazine.
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Simple Minds Big Grab

March 22nd 2015 11:11
Music Review: Simple Minds - 'Sparkle in The Rain' (4CD Deluxe Boxed Set)



Of all the bands once touted as being the "next U2" back in the early 1980s (anyone else remember Big Country?), Scottish art-rockers Simple Minds were the ones who probably came the closest to actually grabbing that big, brass ring.

But although their actual run at the top was one of those brief, blink-and-you-could've-missed -it moments so common to any number of bands lumped under the umbrella of "New Wave" back then, Simple Minds were far more than just another 1980s one-hit wonder. It should also be noted that of all those would-be successors to the throne of Bono and company, Simple Minds are just about the only ones still making records (their latest, Big Music, was released late last year).

That "one hit" was of course, "Don't You Forget About Me," which became a world-wide smash after being featured in the brat-pack movie The Breakfast Club. Interestingly, they didn't even write that song. But it is still the one they are most often associated with today (along with, though to a slightly lesser degree, "Alive And Kicking" - a song which they actually did write).



But what Simple Minds real fans - and not the ones who sing those two aforementioned hits on karaoke night - remember most from that short-lived period, are the three great albums the band released between 1983-85: New Gold Dream, Sparkle In The Rain, and Once Upon A Time.

As the album that served as the bridge between Simple Minds artsy-fartsy beginnings that peaked on the dreamy, atmospheric New Gold Dream, and the big stadium anthems that became their eventual calling card with Once Upon A Time, it's not surprising that 1984's Sparkle In The Rain is really the meat in this particular sandwich.

Although there are a few missteps here (not the least of which is their well-intentioned, though ultimately droning, meandering cover of Lou Reed's "Street Hassle"), fans who cite 1983-85 as Simple Minds golden period will almost unanimously tell you that Sparklewas a pivotal turning point.

This is the album where Simple Minds went big.

Everything about Sparkle - which gets the 30th anniversary treatment (albeit a year too late) with a deluxe boxed set coming out March 31 - suggests a band hungry to break away from its status as an artsy cult band at the time, only to make that big, bold grab.



While this album documents a band clearly still in transition, it also set the stage for them to do exactly that.

The first thing you notice about Sparkle In The Rain are the big, brash sounding drums. These come mainly courtesy of producer-of-the-moment Steve Lillywhite, whose credits at the time included XTC and of course his biggest clients U2. Lillywhite productions were instantly recognizable for the big drum sound he favored (a trademark he shared with fellow 1980s producer Phil Collins).

Big drums were big Steve's thing, and the drums on Sparkle are absolutely, ridiculously enormous. Listening to these songs some thirty years later, you also start to see that besides sounding somewhat dated now, the sound of the big boom - impressive as it may have seemed at the time - often tends to overwhelm the songs themselves.

Even so, in terms of great songs Sparkle In The Rain has more than its share of real keepers. The long-lost extended versions of largely forgotten gems like "Waterfront," "Up On The Catwalk" and especially "Speed Your Love To Me" (originally released as 12" vinyl singles - remember those?), are particularly welcome additions to this boxed set.

There is also a full 1984 concert from Glasgow (that also includes songs from New Gold Dream and parts of a BBC radio broadcast included here. An import version of this boxed set also includes a surround mix for Blu-ray from the ever prolific Steven Wilson.



*Article first published at Blogcritics Magazine.
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Music DVD Review: The J. Geils Band - 'House Party: Live In Germany' (CD/DVD)



Long before their brief, early 1980s run as MTV video-star darlings boasting a short string of hits including "Love Stinks," "Freeze Frame" and "Centerfold," Boston's J. Geils Band built a reputation as one of rock's premier live bands by routinely opening shows for everyone from Aerosmith to the Rolling Stones.

They also made a habit, more often than not, of regularly upstaging the headliners. Actually, that may be putting too polite a spin on it. What they really became best known for was blowing those other bands off the stage. As polished as Peter Wolf, Magic Dick, J. Geils and company may have looked and sounded on those MTV video clips, what got them to the dance in the first place was something far different. They were quite simply, an amazing live band.

Coming up in the 1970s arena-rock era of lasers, flashpots and fog machines, the J. Geils Band defied the odds with a show that combined the frenetic pacing of an old school R&B revue cut straight outta' James Brown territory, with the tight chops and snarly attitude of a bar band that cut its musical teeth playing four sets a night for nothing more than free beer.



If the latter-day, pop-star incarnation of the J. Geils Band came off as just a bit too slick for some, back in the day they was just downright greasy. Of the two officially released concert recordings from this era, the single-disc Full House is a genuine classic, and the double-live Blow Your Face Out isn't too far behind.

Both of these amazing live albums effectively bottle the lightning - right down to frontman Peter Wolf's jive-talking speed raps between the songs. But the single most pivotal of the many combustible elements making up J. Geils Band's electrifying live shows from this era - the visual one - has gone undocumented. Until now.

As a stand-alone document of the period, House Party: Live In Germany isn't going to replace Full House as the definitive live J. Geils Band album. Not by a long shot. But it does capture a great show, and it provides the first official visual evidence on DVD and Blu-ray of just what made these guys so great in concert. To put things in perspective, it should also be noted that on this night, the J. Geils Band were performing on a bill sandwiched in-between Patti Smith and Johnny Winter.



What stands out most watching this though, is the elastic charisma of spider-legged frontman Peter Wolf, and the chemistry between him and the extraordinary Magic Dick. Visually speaking, Magic Dick serves primarily as Wolf's other half with the wild Afro - an onstage foil not unlike the role Clarence Clemons used to play against Bruce Springsteen in the E Street Band.

Originally taped for Germany's long-running TV concert showcase program Rockpalast, this 1979 concert captures the J. Geils Band in a transition period. Touring behind their current at the time album Sanctuary, the first half of the show leans heavily on material from that album, with several songs hinting at the more pop-rock direction that was just around the corner.



But it is only during the second half when things really start to catch fire, on crowdpleasers like "Lookin' For A Love," "Whammer Jammer" (the longtime set-staple showcasing Magic Dick's considerable skills on the "licking stick"), and what may be the most over-the-top version of their early classic "House Party" ever. By the time of the encores, which include a cover of the Supremes "Where Did Our Love Go?" and concert favorite "First I Look At The Purse," the show becomes the sort of house party that if I were Winter or Smith, I'd be fearful of following.

Thankfully, with House Party: Live In Germany, we finally have the visual evidence proving just how greasy, down and dirty they once were, right before they briefly became squeaky-clean (well, mostly anyway), MTV pop-stars. Fronting this vagabond assortment of rogues, Peter Wolf and the J. Geils Band have never looked or sounded better.





*Article first published at Blogcritics Magazine.
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Steven Wilson, to those who know him, is probably best known as the Grammy nominated creative force behind the trailblazing, modern-day progressive rock band Porcupine Tree. But he has several other titles under his belt as well.


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Bob Marley's Final Uprising

December 22nd 2014 11:06
Music DVD Review: Bob Marley - 'Uprising Live!'


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Jeff Beck, The Boat And Live In Tokyo

December 1st 2014 10:44
Music DVD Review: Jeff Beck – ‘Live In Tokyo’


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Music DVD Review: The Rolling Stones – ‘From The Vault – L.A. Forum (Live In 1975)’


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Music Review: Neil Young – Storytone


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Music DVD Review: Eric Clapton – ‘Planes, Trains And Eric’


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Queen Rocked Once. Yes, "That" Queen

September 7th 2014 07:43
Music DVD Review: Queen - 'Live At The Rainbow '74'


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