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3’s A Charm

20 October, 2010 2 comments

I wasn’t going to do this while I was home… but those who know me must have known I wouldn’t be able to resist ;o)

It’s been a few days since I returned to the fold, and they’ve been bliss. Family and friends, music and looking forward to more of the same over the remaining week.

Why am I posting then? Well, having been away I haven’t been able to pay as much attention to new music as I’d like so, over the last few days, I’ve taken the opportunity to give some new releases the attention they deserve. There have been many, and some I’ve yet to listen to, but 3 in particular have been given the full treatment, lights off, volume up, AKGs on…

I had one of them sent to me in Afghanistan but I wasn’t able to give it the attention it deserved (and believe me, it needs attention!) out there, the other two were waiting patiently on my desk when I returned home.

First up, ‘The Big Red Spark‘ from the world’s smallest progressive rock band, Tinyfish. This is a hard one. Despite knowing one of the members I’d heard very little of Tinyfish’s previous material and so had no bar against which to measure. Perhaps this is a good thing as I doubt anything that’s gone before could have been compared to this. A concept album in every way ‘The Big Red Spark‘ can, in my opinion at least, only ever be listened to in its entirety (discounting the 4 extra tracks on the bonus DVD in the version I received).

Cover art from Tinyfish's The Big Red Spark

The Big Red Spark

There’s a flow to the album which demands that you follow the curve, to jump into ‘I’m Not Crashing‘ without having heard the previous 18 minutes or so would diminish the experience to the point of negating the whole thing. With this in mind I find myself drawing comparisons between ‘The Big Red Spark‘ and another concept album I have to listen to in its entirety, Marillion‘s Brave. Now, I’m not saying that Tinyfish are similar to Marillion by any means (although the influence of Mr Rothery is more than apparent in the guitar playing of Jim Sanders), I just feel that there is a similar impetus to the album. Both are dark concepts however Tinyfish manage to portray the darkness and concern of the ‘doomsday’ machine while retaining a levity to the music. It’s this juxtaposition of concept and performance which I find most intriguing, and it’s this which makes it works so well.

Next up was an album I’ve been waiting on since I heard of its release very early this year. Alter Bridge have already released an album which is up there in my favourites, 2007’s Blackbird, and expectations for this, their 3rd release, were high. I’d heard a couple of tracks from AB III

Cover art from Alter Bridge's AB III

AB III

prior to it’s release, the single ‘Isolation‘ which was available to stream from the Roadrunner website  and the ‘Words Darker Than Their Wings‘ which was available as a free download for 24 hours from the same site prior to the album’s release. I must admit to being somewhat disappointed on my first listen, but then perhaps day 1 of R&R wasn’t the right time to try it out… but then I listened again and felt the same. Oh dear! Not one to jump to conclusions I waited a couple of days and set myself down in a quiet room with my headphones and tried again. This time it clicked, the power of Mark Tremonti‘s riffs is dumbfounding, the dynamics, the breaks, the arrangements are outstanding and Myles Kennedy‘s voice is, as ever, quite simply staggering. In retrospect I think the difficulty I had at first was that I was expecting a Blackbird II, or at the very least something which resembled a mixture of One Day Remains and Blackbird, but ‘AB III‘ is something completely different. As stated by the band the subject matter of this album is for more introspective and, as a result, it also smacks of a darkness not found in the previous offerings. Highlights for me would include the opening couplet of ‘Slip Into The Void‘ and ‘Isolation‘ along with ‘All Hope Is Gone‘ and the storming ‘I Know It Hurts‘, but to pick these out is an injustice to what is, finally, a tour de force in the catalogue of what is fast becoming one of my favourite rock bands of the new millennium.

And now for something completely different…

It may come as a surprise to many that, despite my various links to the band, and my predilection for the style of music they play, I have never owned an original release by Mostly Autumn. Shocking I know, but it’s the truth! Yes, I’ve seen them live on several occasions and yes, I know several of the current members very well (not least Andy Smith who plays bass in Morpheus Rising!) but I quite simply have never purchased anything they’ve released.

Well, I’m glad to say that’s now all changed. I’m one of the individuals who pre-ordered ‘Go Well Diamond Heart‘, Mostly Autumn’s first album with Liv Sparnenn as lead vocalist.

Cover art from Go Well Diamond Heart

Go Well Diamond Heart

I had no choice really, Liv collared me at one of the Morpheus Rising gigs earlier this year and ordered me to buy it as some of the content would ‘mean’ something to me? And she wasn’t wrong. ‘Go Well Diamond Heart‘ has a theme running through it, not a concept as such, merely a common thread to several of the lyrics interspersed with some of the band’s more usual ethereal fair. The title track is dedicated to Ben Parkinson, a member of 7 RHA, who was caught in a landmine explosion in Afghanistan while ‘And Now The War Is Over…‘ could have been written for any serving member of the Armed Forces who have served in any conflict. The album has something for every kind of MA fan, there’s the acoustic folky feel to tracks such as ‘Violet Skies‘ and ‘Deep in Borrowdale‘, the straight forward rock of  ‘Something Better‘ to the grandiose of the title track and ‘Ice‘ (included on the 2nd CD only available with the pre-order). Knowing members of the band I’m only too aware of the amount of work which was involved in producing this album and the end result is a testament to every minute of it. Emerging from 13 years with Heather Findlay as the lead female vocalist this album could have been lost somewhere in the ‘in between years’ while the band found their feet. I’m glad it hasn’t, and I’m glad I broke the cycle and bought this album, it’s a diamond.

3 great albums which will each rate highly in my 2010 rankings, but 3 very different experiences.

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War Songs, Pt. 3: Watching…

9 September, 2010 Leave a comment
Myles Kennedy of Alter Bridge in Barcelona 3-6-08

Image via Wikipedia

I was going to wait until the weekend until I posted this, however, as I heard the new single ‘Isolation‘ today, pre-ordered ABIII and ordered tickets for the Birmingham show in October (Yes! I’ll actually be home for a gig!) I thought I might as well make it Alter Bridge day!

Some songs embed themselves in your psyche. Not those songs that hook themselves into your consciousness for a day, but those which you hear and they immediately mean something to you. It doesn’t even necessarily have to coincide with the sentiment of the song. It’s personal, and it’s special.

One such song for me is ‘Watch Over You‘ by Alter Bridge. The reincarnation of Creed, a band whose lyrics I always found insightful perhaps due to my faith or perhaps just due to their skillful creation, were something of an unknown to me when the first album was released.  One Day Remains was very much ‘Creed with a new vocalist’  however Blackbird, their 2007 follow-up, was something entirely different. Myles Kennedy stamped his authority on this one, and then some. His vocal style and breadth of range never cease to amaze me and he is one of a handful of lyricists whose work I wish I could call my own. Tracks such as ‘Blackbird‘, ‘One By One’ and ‘Before Tomorrow Comes‘ are as fresh now, 3 years on, as they were when I first heard them. Thoughts such as

Will I be defined by things which could’ve been, I guess time can only tell

are with us all, and yet they are so hard to write. But of the songs on both albums ‘Watch Over Me‘, in both its original form and as a duet with Cristina Scabbia of Lacuna Coil, means far more to me than the simple lyric can.

Leaves are on the ground, Fall hs come
Blue skies turning grey, like my love
I try to carry you, and make you whole
But it was never enough I must go

And who is gonna save you when I’m gone
And who’ll watch over you
When I’m gone

You say you care for me but hide it well
How can you love someone not yourself

And who is gonna save you when I’m gone
And who’ll watch over you
When I’m gone

And when I’m gone who will break your fall
Who will you blame
I can’t go on, let you lose it all
More than I can take
Who’ll ease your pain, ease your pain

And who is gonna save you when I’m gone
And who’ll watch over you
And who will give you strength when you’re not strong
Who’ll watch over you when I’ve gone away

Snow is on the ground, Winter’s come
You long to hear my voice, but I’m long gone

At this time in particular I want to ask these questions of my wife. She has so much going on while I’m away, I need to know she will be safe, and protected from everything and yet I’m powerless to do so. I can only gain strength from the knowledge she has family and friends to lean on in my absence.

I think, of all the songs I’ve sung to myself over the years, this is the one I’d most like to cover. Perhaps not in its original form, but maybe as either the acoustic version seen on the live DVD or, if I could convince someone to play the role, as a duet. A bonus track next year? You never know…