Sugarfoot

In the Clearing

Crispin Glover

Sugarfoot’s latest represents a branching out: Unlike the Norwegian band’s earlier releases, the overall feel of the music has become “country prog” (for lack of a better term) more than simply “country rock.”

No doubt this has something to do with the fact that bassist Bent Sæther also is in Motorpsycho (not to be confused with Motorhead, although the former group did start out in kind of a prog-inspired hard rock vein before incorporating psychedelic, pop and avant-jazz elements).

Of course, founding members and guitarists Øyvind Holm and Hogne Galåen, who were in psych-pop outfit Deleted Waveform Gatherings, obviously are not ones to be tied to a mainstream musical genre either.

But perhaps the man most responsible for Sugarfoot’s evolutionary quantum leap is producer Lars Horntveth, himself a musician and composer with experimental jazz group Jaga Jazzist.

Galåen, when asked by email, was kind enough to tell Good New Music the story of how Sugarfoot ended up with such a strong producer:

“Lars Horntveth had collaborated with Motorpsycho earlier … and we needed to think fresh after two albums recorded at Rancho de la Luna, Joshua Tree,” Galåen explained. “We knew that Lars would have a different approach to this album just by knowing who he is as a producer, but also as a musician. We spent some days together before going to France and Black Box Studio and we hit it off right away. It’s fair to say that all the songwriters in Sugarfoot present songs to the band, which then either will be formed in style by every member or it will die there and then as an SF song, but this time we let Lars make all decisions regarding what songs to record. We ended up with 11 songs recorded in this amazing studio in rural France, two of which did not end up on the album, but were released as a bonus 7” with the (500-copy, sold-out) first edition of ‘In the Clearing.’ …

“After the week in the studio, we took a break from it, knowing that Lars would still be working on this from his hometown Oslo, and after a while the sessions started to reappear and we all knew that this was going to be something different. The rest of the backing vocals and percussion were finished and Lars took it to (Blanca Studio in Bergen, Norway) and mixed it together with Matias Tellez, who also did a fantastic job.

“You know, one special thing about this album is that the sound it has, is so big in the way that every tiny little detail is so clear. I’m absolutely stunned by how it came out. And the reception from the fans has been overwhelming. It is good to be in Sugarfoot at the moment and we’re gonna play as much as we can for the fans, but Norway is not the best country (in which) to be a touring band—cold snowy winters and long distances between the big cities combined with roads over big mountains. It’s surely not the best and pretty expensive but hey, in the long run it is worth it!”

Comprising another major factor in the album’s excellence are the pedal-steel stylings of member Roar Øien, whose playing sounds decidedly more non-country, perhaps even jazzy, this time around. GNM posited this perception to Galåen, who responded:

“Roar is the best pedal steel player I’ve ever heard! He can adapt to anything, whether it’s pure country or in (more of a Daniel) Lanois landscape.

“The first time we met Roar was when (Deleted Waveform Gatherings) still had some momentum. We were finishing a double album and he put down a few tracks on it. We fell in love with his playing right there and then, and he’s not just a fantastic player but also one of the best guys you’ll ever meet.

“On ‘In the Clearing’ he’s amazing. I believe Lars made an impact on him as well as all of the other members—like if our mantra was to really try to do something different, something we’d never done before. … This was really different for all of us.”

Opening track “Changing Times” is a perfect example of the newfound “country prog” motif—Jon Anderson-like vocal refrains, Chris Squire-ish bass runs, Tony Kaye-style organ riffs and even a mini acoustic guitar solo à la Steve Howe, all with the added delight of pedal-steel embellishments poking their little heads out like eels from their hiding places!

The title track’s structure and arrangement are mind-blowing and allow it to fluctuate in spirit between Poco in its finest spaced-out pedal steel hour (think “Driving Wheel” from 1974’s “Seven”) and Led Zeppelin during its Middle Eastern infatuation phase (i.e. “Kashmir” on 1975’s “Physical Graffiti”).

The pedal steel takes center stage for “Ladybug Fly,” serving as lead guitar on a light and airy song that also boasts impressive harmony vocals, acoustic strumming and a nearly military drum beat. A unique closing passage sees all the instruments except pedal steel slow to nearly a stop and then gradually resume their previous tempo, all while the vocals and pedal steel continue unabated.

Lead singer Holm hands the reins over to Sæther for the “The House on the Hill,” a Sæther composition that despite featuring a Clavinet in stark contrast to other, pseudo-electronica passages manages to overall have the feel of “Countdown to Ecstasy”-era Steely Dan!

Closing out the album is by far the proggiest track, “Foggy Town, Pt. 2—Noyant-La-Gravoyère,” named after the municipality in western France where Black Box Studio is located. It begins in earnest as a ballad, but after about four minutes the tempo shifts as the song becomes an instrumental and the keyboards morph into the sound of Tony Banks on early Genesis LPs such as “Nursery Cryme” and “Foxtrot.”

At the end of the day, Sugarfoot’s fifth effort is a fine updating of classic country rock, lending new meaning to the term “Cosmic American Music” in a way that genre pioneer Gram Parsons surely would have appreciated.

Tracks
1. Changing Times
2. Cotton Candy Clouds
3. In The Clearing
4. Ladybug
5. Just A Dream
6. The House On The Hill
7. Little Miss Darkness
8. Original Sin
9. Foggy Town, Pt. 2—Noyant-La-Gravoyère

Total time: 45:00

External links
artist link
Bandcamp
Crispin Glover Records (vinyl)

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Roine Stolt’s The Flower King

Manifesto of an Alchemist

Inside Out

Relatively fresh off his amazing 2016 collaborative album with Jon Anderson (“Invention of Knowledge,” under the moniker Anderson-Stolt), Swedish prog vet Roine Stolt perhaps takes a cue from his experience of reassembling bits of unfinished Anderson songs that had accumulated over the years — this time applying it to his own odds and ends dating back 15 years or so.

With his Flower Kings outfit inactive and FK keyboardist Tomas Bodin waylaid by tinnitus, Stolt enlisted bandmates Jonas Reingold and Hasse Froberg, along with a few other musical cohorts, to form “Roine Stolt’s The Flower King” and realize his latest creation.

The cognoscenti will recall that Stolt’s 1994 solo album, “The Flower King,” is considered to be essentially the first Flower Kings album. This new group’s name, therefore, accurately signals that this is neither a Flower Kings proper nor a Stolt solo record.

Stolt has said in interviews that the recording process was relatively quick, compared with his old band’s modus operandi, and that the music benefited from this.

“A lot of the guitar work is actually my spontaneous ‘demo’ guitars and that goes for much of the synth work, too,” he says in the album’s press release. ‘I didn’t want to ‘process’ ideas too much as there is much power in the initial creation — I wanted to keep it that way.”

As always there are obvious influences from prog heroes past, as in the opening two tracks (“Rainsong” and “Lost America”) comprising a 10-minute opus, impressively calling to mind the stylings of guitarists Steve Howe and Trevor Rabin — simultaneously.

There are plenty of keyboards to enjoy on “Ze Pawns,” a jazzy guitar ballad boasting some nice synth-Rhodes-organ touches, as well as dynamic (and dynamically recorded) drumming by madman Marco Minnemann of supergroup instrumental power trio The Aristocrats.

“High Road,” clocking in at more than 12 minutes, pays tribute to not one but two classic groups: It starts out a tad “Topographic,” gives way to shades of ELP midway and then comes full circle by revisiting the initial theme — with an added tip of the hat to gone-but-not-forgotten Chris Squire via Stolt’s workout on Rickenbacker bass.

Other highlights include the three instrumentals: “Rio Grande,” a Genesis-like number in the vein of “Dance on a Volcano” and “Los Endos” only less intense; “The Alchemist,” an instrumental bit of sax-laden funky jazz fusion that would do The Headhunters, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Return to Forever proud; and “Six Thirty Wake-Up,” a dreamy affair complete with flute.

Tracks
1. Rainsong
2. Lost America
3. Ze Pawns
4. High Road
5. Rio Grande
6. Next To A Hurricane
7. The Alchemist
8. Baby Angels
9. Six Thirty Wake-Up
10. The Spell Of Money

Total time: 69:41

External links
artist’s site
amazon.com
iTunes Store

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Anderson/Stolt

Invention of Knowledge

Inside Out

Anderson-StoltFor all intents and purposes, this is “Yes meets the Flower Kings.”

Jon Anderson has been saying for years that he wished to return to creating what he calls “Yes Music” — the long-form, epic style of progressive rock epitomized by that band on such albums as “Close to the Edge,” “Tales From Topographic Oceans” and “Relayer” in the 1970s.

In retrospect, 2011’s “Open” — a 21-minute song Anderson wrote with guitarist/arranger Stefan Podell that was only released digitally — seems to have been a way for the Yes founder and former lead singer to get his feet wet again.

For the full-album “Invention of Knowledge,” Flower Kings guitarist/vocalist Roine Stolt was enlisted to help “open the book” on compositions written a decade ago during a frenzy of online collaboration initiated by Anderson with songwriters from around the globe.

Anderson provides the album’s lead vocals and lyrics; Stolt handles guitars, arrangements and a few background vocals.

The process of “rejuvenating” the songs included sending MP3s back and forth between California (Anderson’s home) and Sweden (Stolt’s) via the information superhighway. When the demos were finished to the pair’s satisfaction, Stolt and members of the Flower Kings and Karmakanic — along with keyboardist Tom Brislin — recorded the backing tracks in Sweden.

“All basic music arrangements (had already been) laid out,” Stolt told Good New Music by email. “I had written all chord structures, bass lines, rhythms etc. Much of my guitar parts and even a few solos were recorded already.

“Much of the backing vocal arrangements were there, too — so the band recorded quite heavily arranged music. However, they were all contributing with new ideas and developed their parts further. (And) Jon … rewrote quite a lot of the lyrics and re-sang much of the vocals, and added new vocal ideas and melodies. … So it was a project in constant development.”

Three of the four songs on “Invention” consist of two to three movements. According to a Stolt interview via Skype on June 3 with That Drummer Guy, the second and fourth song (“Knowing” and “Know”) were originally a single composition that Anderson decided to split and move apart in the track listing.

A look at songwriting credits for the entire album reveals that, for some of the multipart songs, individual movements were written by different sets of people — meaning that some of the writers collaborated with each other not only in absentia, but after the fact.

The title track sets the tone, establishing Anderson’s voice and Stolt’s guitar as the two main instruments.

Anderson’s voice sounds as good as ever, and his lyrics remain dependably mystical: The overall theme deals with ley lines; crystal streams of energy; and how man invents his understanding of the world.

Stolt’s musicianship shines throughout, particularly in a crescendo of massed guitars two-thirds of the way through “Chase and Harmony,” the second movement of “Knowing.”

The rest of the supporting musicians and a small army of background singers continually dazzle and amaze, as well. To borrow a line from the album’s intro, “All the stars, just so much space.”gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Invention of Knowledge: (i) Invention, (ii.) We Are Truth, (iii) Knowledge
2. Knowing: (i) Knowing, (ii.) Chase and Harmony
3. Everybody Heals: (i) Everybody Heals, (ii) Better by Far, (iii) Golden Light
4. Know …

Total time: 1:05:01

External links
Jon Anderson’s site
Flower Kings site
amazon.com
iTunes Store

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AndersonPonty Band

Better Late Than Never

Liaison

andersonpontyEver since the collaboration between Jon Anderson and Jean-Luc Ponty was announced as a Kickstarter project last summer, prog and fusion fans have been anxious to hear how these icons would sound together. The end result far and away exceeds anyone’s expectations.

One of the first things that stands out is Anderson’s embrace of the jazz vocal ethos. The former Yes singer doesn’t float downstream with the current — he rides thermals into the stratosphere. Of course, it would be hard not to be swept up by the jazz vibrations when the other musicians are all from Ponty’s camp, having been in the electric violinist’s band at one time or another. However, it wasn’t always like that.

Guitarist Jamie Glaser is heard on the live CD/DVD but not seen in the DVD, having been overdubbed in on both as a replacement for Jamie Dunlap, the Anderson associate who had to bow out of the project after the one-off Colorado concert from which the DVD and its CD counterpart had been sourced.

“(Dunlap’s) success in the TV and film world made it impossible for him to continue with us,” Ponty told Good New Music by email. “Then Jon really liked Jamie Glaser’s playing and personality after hearing and seeing some videos of him performing in my band before and also solo. So we hired a second Jamie after our first Jamie left!”

But leaving Dunlap in the DVD when the music was now performed by Glaser posed a problem.

“From what I remember Jon suggested to add some footage of Jamie Glaser in the recording studio, since he was not with us in Aspen but joined our project later on, but it didn’t really work with the flow of our concert DVD,” Ponty told GNM. In the end, the Dunlap footage was left on the cutting room floor.

The convoluted changes caused an online ruckus among a number of fans, some of whom were already up in arms because postings to the Kickstarter page were interpreted as indicating there would be a studio CD and a live DVD — a misunderstanding the artists attributed to overzealous promotion by someone other than themselves.

When asked if the intention was always to enhance the live performance with overdubs, Ponty said in his email: “Yes, the plan was to capture the raw energy of our live performance and to enhance it later. As we were listening to our live recording, Jon and I would come up with new ideas, Jon usually taking the lead for his songs and me for mine. I am sure glad we did — I love what we achieved this way.”

But keyboardist Wally Minko, drummer Rayford Griffin and bassist Baron Browne did no overdubs, Ponty said. “All you hear on the album is their live performance except for one of Jon’s songs, ‘I See You Messenger.’ We didn’t like our live performance of that one, so Jon came up with new ideas and I did a totally new arrangement for it, so this is the only song which was recorded from scratch and why you see recording studios credited. As for me I kept all my live solos but I was not yet mastering all the songs in Aspen and even forgot to play in some sections, so I overdubbed a few parts. Jon’s singing in Aspen was excellent overall but he came up with additional ideas afterwards and overdubbed a few more vocal parts.”

Regardless of the long road taken, “Better Late Than Never” was worth the wait: It’s an amazing mix of newly arranged Yes/Jon Anderson songs, as well as Ponty instrumental standards infused with newly written Anderson lyrics. Here’s hoping the album and tour do well enough to inspire the duo to co-write and record an entire studio follow-up.gnm_end_bug

Tracks
1. Intro
2. One in the Rhythm of Hope
3. A for Aria
4. Owner of a Lonely Heart
5. Listening with Me
6. Time and a Word
7. Infinite Mirage
8. Soul Eternal
9. Wonderous Stories
10. And You and I (CD only)
11. Renaissance of the Sun
12. Roundabout
13. I See You Messenger (CD only)
14. New New World (CD only)

Total CD time: 61:24

External links
Jon Anderson’s website
Jean-Luc Ponty’s website
amazon.com
iTunes Store

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Jon Anderson

Survival & Other Stories

Gonzo

Taking inspiration from his recoveries following several events in 2008 (a near drowning while swimming in the ocean; an almost fatal respiratory attack that cost him his job as lead singer of Yes; and liver and pancreas surgeries), Anderson has culled an array of songs from recent online collaborations to create his first studio record of new material since 1998 as well as one of his finest albums.

When the singer/songwriter put out a call on his website four years ago for one-minute music samples from artists interested in working with him, he didn’t necessarily envision an entire album.

“I wasn’t sure what would happen,” Anderson tells Good New Music via e-mail. “I was very happy when I got so many people contacting me, and a lot of them very talented, so I just started working with a dozen of them, writing music for songs, musicals — symphonic, indigenous ideas, all very different; some of them have worked, some are still being created.”

The global submissions gradually morphed into full-on compositions. “(The collaborators) would send music, aka backing tracks, and I would sing the melodies and lyrics, send them back for a feedback, and then move on to production,” he says. “It’s a way of creating. Most of the time I’d leave it to them to finish all the music, and then they’d send me the files for me to mix.”

Anderson makes it sound easy when he explains how he came up with the words and music to lay over the backing tracks: “Melody and lyric seem to come at the same time. I get an idea of what I’m singing about as I try out the first melody.”

Good New Music was also able to reach four of Anderson’s eight “Survival” collaborators by e-mail. Here’s what they had to say about their work on the album:

JAMIE DUNLAP: “I’m based out of Los Angeles composing for film and TV. Been the composer for ‘South Park’ since 2003. Currently scoring for a Disney XD show called ‘Pair of Kings.’ … I met Jon through mutual friend/amazing musician Fritz Heede a few years back. I would send sketches to Jon over the past three years and we would bounce ideas back and forth, as he has a large network of musicians around the world. … ‘New New World’ is a blend of midi strings enhanced by the real deal. I played guitar and bass with programmed drum loops à la Alan White, one of the best fucking rock drummers on the planet!! My bass attempt was to remotely capture the essence of Chris Squire’s style from ‘Close to the Edge.’ … ‘Sharpening the Sword’ was a track inspired by a documentary I worked on about the plight of the people in Uganda. … ‘Effortlessly’ was a very rough guitar track I sent to Jon and he actually used it as is. … Additional musicians: Don Markese — woodwinds on ‘Sharpening the Sword’; Aryeh Frankfurter — hammered dulcimer on ‘New New World.’ ”

JANN CASTOR: “I met Jon Anderson in 1993 in Los Angeles. His manager at the time, Linda Livingstone, heard my ‘Concerto for 11 String Guitar & Orchestra’ and from her office she called Jon saying, ‘Jon you gotta meet this guy.’ … I was then a Polish immigrant, who settled in Australia, fresh in USA — my next stop where I wanted to pursue my career as a film composer. … After many years (Jon) invited me to collaborate with him on his projects. I took his offer and things started rolling; some of the music was symphonic, but the song I sent him via e-mail, ‘Unbroken Spirit,’ was a milestone in our collaboration. … I recorded, mixed and produced not just the music, but also a video clip for that song. Basically, the whole thing was done over Internet. Let it be said that Jon’s input, musically and lyrically, was very crucial. The song started to have a new lease on life, just like Jon, after his respiratory collapse he suffered in 2008. The video clip I made reflects his ‘coming back to Earth’ in a subliminal way, I think, and found its place on Jon’s official website. … Jon is an inspirational and prolific songwriter with much to offer, as usual. His ‘after Yes’ artistry proves that one stays creative and forever young with no qualms or apprehension. After all, music is the most powerful of The Arts.”

PETER KIEL: “I got in touch with Jon on a gig he did in Fryslan (north Holland) in late 2007. We exchanged ideas on the Internet ever since. One day Jon put a melody with lyrics on a piece of music I sent to him some months before, and ‘Understanding Truth’ was born. Sometime later, Jon mentioned he would like to use it for his new album and it happened. My contribution was strictly instrumental, because (my) music was there already before the (melody and lyrics).” Note: Guitarist Peter’s keyboardist brother Arjan also collaborates with Anderson, doing orchestral work.

DAN SPOLLEN: “I was contacted by Jon in the summer of 2008. I recalled handing off a CD of mine after a show he did in Philadelphia a couple years earlier, and I presume this is what he called about. He asked if I would be interested in trading a few ideas via e-mail and then ‘see what happens.’ I sent a couple of mp3’s, one of which was an excerpt from a larger work of mine called ‘Moment to Moment.’ Two days later he sent it back with his vocal part. This was to become the track ‘Incoming.’‘Love of the Life’ also came about after I sent Jon the basic song, which he then added vocals to. It then continued to evolve over a period of time. For both tracks, Jon did all of the vocals, and I wrote and recorded all the music, with a few ideas from Jon. We continue to trade thoughts and ideas, with several songs in various states of completion. I hope to release these at some point in the near future.”

Despite so many people being involved in “Survival,” the songs seem to be cut from the same cloth. The singer’s newfound appreciation of life is obvious in his voice, which sounds as good — if not better — than ever. And Anderson has hinted in interviews that there are at least a couple more Internet-collaboration albums to come.

So it really is a “New New World.”

Tracks
1. New New World
2. Understanding Truth
3. Unbroken Spirit
4. Love Of The Life
5. Big Buddha Song
6. Incoming
7. Effortlessly
8. Love And Understanding
9. Just One Man
10. Sharpening The Sword
11. Cloudz

Total time: 48:13

External links
artist’s website
amazon.com
iTunes Store

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