Magic Pie

The Suffering Joy


magicFirst the Swedes and now the Norwegians. Maybe it’s something about that part of the world, but Magic Pie is set to join The Flower Kings in helping music aficionados remember why progressive rock did so well back in the ’70s.

In the span of three albums, Magic Pie has evolved into the quintessential modern prog band. Like their predecessors TFK, they retain the best parts of all that has come before in crafting their own style — in this case, the perfect blend of symphonic and metal prog, helped in no small part by the addition of Icelandic co-lead singer Eirikur Hauksson (as friend Allan Olsen’s self-chosen replacement).

Like many symphonic prog bands, Magic Pie knows the value of a well-placed, well-executed multimovement epic. In a show of self-confidence, the 24-minute “A Life’s Work” starts the album.

The rest of “Joy” continues the saga of a protagonist whose success leads him to crave more power and wealth, regardless of the cost. Eventually the “hero” begins to regret some of his deeds while becoming conflicted between the desire to achieve more and the realization that there’s nothing left to gain.

It’s a great tale, told with magnificent musicianship and singing that often puts harmony and group vocals in the spotlight.gnm_end_bug

1-4. A Life’s Work
• • • • Pt. 1 – Questions Unanswered
• • • • Pt. 2 – Overture
• • • • Pt. 3 – A Brand New Day
• • • • Pt. 4 – The Suffering Joy
5. Headlines
6. Endless Ocean
7. Slightly Mad

8. Tired

9. In Memoriam

Total time: 1:10:45

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East Village Opera Company

Olde School


Good musical guilty pleasures are few and far between these days, but the East Village Opera Company comes to the rescue with its third release, an amalgam of ’70s rock excess and bombast fused with some of the finest operatic melodies.

Check out this lineup: guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, string quartet, male and female vocalist, augmented by the Czech Philharmonic string section and New York orchestral brass and winds, with spot R&B horns.

“The Ride” sets the tone: Zeppelinesque “Black Dog”-style riffage/rhythm alternating with passages of ELO-like ambience and brief segments of faux Floyd space rock, adorned with Wynona Judd-meets-Kelly Clarkson vocals spewing preposterous lyrics vaguely inspired by Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries.”

Other highlights include the vaudeville/baroque-styled “Help Me,” with its not-so-incongruous, sparingly used “sounds like Brian May” guitar; a nearly simultaneous simulation of Steely Dan, Chicago and KC and the Sunshine Band on “Brindisi Libera”; the Freddie Mercury tribute “Walk”; and the beautiful, steel-guitar-embellished “As You Were Then.”

Although “Va Tosca” is practically a straight-opera reading, and a few tracks temper Italian vocals with progressive arrangements, “Olde School” is a major departure from previous EVOC albums in its use of newly written English lyrics and even-harder-rocking instrumentation. If the plan was to make opera more palatable for the masses, then it’s a big “mission accomplished!”

1. The Ride (from Richard Wagner’s Die Walküre)
2. King Of The Night (from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s
Die Zauberflöte)
3. Help Me (Jove, in Pity) (from George Frideric Handel’s
4. Brindisi Libera (Pop The Cork) (from Giuseppe Verdi’s
La Traviata)
5. Gloria (from Giovanni Bononcini’s
6. Walk (from George Frideric Handel’s
7. As You Were Then (from Vincenzo Bellini’s
8. Soldiers (from Charles Gounod’s
9. You’re Not Alone (from J.S. Bach’s Cantata BWV 208
Was Mir Behagt, Ist Nur Die Muntre
10. Va Tosca (from Giacomo Puccini’s
11. Butterfly Duet (from Giacomo Puccini’s
Madama Butterfly)

Total time: 57:55

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The RPWL Experience

Tempus Fugit/SPV/InsideOut

RPWL’s latest release contains “This Is Not a Prog Song,” a title easily tweaked to “This Is Not (Your Grandfather’s) Prog Band.” Drummer Manni Muller (who took over for Phil Paul Rissettio), bassist Chris Postl, guitarist Karlheinz Wallner and singer/keyboardist Jurgen “Yogi” Lang make music that lacks bombast yet retains the ethereal synthesizer and cosmic guitar playing normally associated with traditional prog outfits.

Not bad for a band from southern Germany that began 10 years ago as a Pink Floyd tribute group. Combining a knack for concise solos with English vocals annunciated so perfectly they sometimes take on a British accent, RPWL’s sound is a study in contrast: melodic as well as hard rock; modern and old-school; electro-acoustic.

“Where Can I Go,” for example, features strummed acoustic guitar, multitracked vocals, “Strawberry Fields Forever” calliope and mellotron, and a fictional televangelist commercial interspersed with outer-space slide guitar.

The dirgelike cover of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War” recalls the interpretation given “Father of Night” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, and no wonder: Lang has cited Mann as his reason for becoming a musician, inspiring him to the point of transporting his first synthesizer purchase 30 miles home – on a bicycle.

“This Is Not a Prog Song” is RPWL’s answer to those who dismiss the group as Pink Floyd wannabes with no identity. True to the title, it opens with a few seconds of guitar feedback before hitting the ground full-speed-ahead, propelled by chiming rhythm and fuzzed-out lead guitars, throbbing bass lines and Liam Gallagher-like vocals.

“Stranger” begins with a brief heavy metal guitar riff but soon shifts to Middle Eastern via electric sitar, alternating between the two throughout. The drumming at times is tribal, and when Jan Hammer-influenced keyboards and Argent-inspired organ are added toward the end, the track finds itself in a blissfully kaleidoscopic plane.

These compositions and the likewise catchy, well-written and precisely executed remainder of “Experience” should rapidly expand the band’s fan base outside of its homeland.

1. Silenced
2. Breathe In, Breathe Out
3. Where Can I Go?
4. Masters Of War
5. This Is Not A Prog Song
6. I Watch Myself Sleeping
7. Stranger
8. Talk To The River
9. Choose What You Want To Look At
10. Turn Back The Clock

Total time: 1:07:01

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10,000 Days

Inside Out

sagaMichael Sadler knows when to call it a day: After a couple of so-so studio albums and a pair of live releases (the first a fair performance of 1981’s “Worlds Apart” LP, the second an excellent harvesting of all the “Chapter” songs originally strung out across seven nonconsecutive albums), the master of the bombastic vibrato is leaving the Canadian prog-rock group.

But he’s going out on a high note, turning in as good a vocal performance as ever for an album of excellent new material that distills the high points of Saga’s 30-year career into one neat, nonconcept album. Perhaps showing his humble side, Sadler even steps back from the microphone to let the band rock out on the seven-minute instrumental “Corkentellis.”

All the cool keyboard styles are there (including the occasional just plain piano), and that crunchy staccato guitar still sounds great. When it gets into keys-guitar call and response and double lead, as in “Book of Lies,” the listener is transported to seventh auditory heaven.

The remaining band members intend to carry on, as they’ve put out an open casting call for a new lead singer, asking aspiring singers to download backing tracks and post their auditions on YouTube. Saga can go the Sadler-clone route or opt to pick someone original, but either way, the replacement will have some big shoes to fill.gnm_end_bug

1. Lifeline
2. Book Of Lies
3. Sideways
4. Can’t You See Me Now?
5. Corkentellis
6. More Than I Deserve
7. Sound Advice
8. 10,000 Days
9. It Never Ends

Total time: 50:56

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The Flower Kings

Paradox Hotel

Inside Out

Sweden’s Flower Kings have one hell of a work ethic: 11 years, nine studio albums, four of them double albums. Not to mention side-project and solo releases.

They sing in English. They make clear their influences (Yes and Genesis) without aping à la Starcastle and perhaps are the best contemporary progressive rock band.

With “Paradox Hotel,” they’re not resting on their laurels. The music, like fine wine, is intoxicating as ever. When two CDs’ worth of basic tracks are laid down in a week, it’s clear a band knows what it’s doing.

Lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Roine Stolt is comfortable doing more co-writes with keyboardist Tomas Bodin and bass player Jonas Reingold; even second guitarist Hans Fröberg contributes a song (the hard-rocking “Life Will Kill You”). The emphasis is more on taking chances and less on precision, with no degradation to melody.

For those dying to know this year’s “concept,” it’s the curiosity of existence, with the “Paradox Hotel” being a reference to people’s life on Earth — complete with references to space travel, war, the devil, politics, greed, optimism, insecurity, progress, philosophy, pessimism and God.

Room 111
1. Check In
2. Monsters And Men
3. Jealousy
4. Hit Me With A Hit
5. Pioneers Of Aviation
6. Lucy Had A Dream
7. Bavarian Skies
8. Self-Consuming Fire
9. Mommy Leave The Light On
10. End On A High Note 

Total time: 1:12:57

Room 222
1. Minor Giant Steps
2. Touch My Heaven
3. The Unorthodox Dancing Lesson
4. Man Of The World
5. Life Will Kill You
6. The Way The Waters Are Moving
7. What If God Is Alone
8. Paradox Hotel
9. Blue Planet 

Total time: 1:03:07

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