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Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited II (2012)

5052205062463_1500x1500_300dpi.600x600-75From amazon.com

I was in line for the pre-order of this superlative CD set. My vinyl copies of most of the originals that were culled for this song roster have suffered a strange fate that I can only account for by vaguely remembering that I had my records stacked on the floor and leaning against a heat-radiator which (while a student in Buffalo NY), was hot for endless winters… Stunned to find them warped beyond playability I have lived without this music for a long time. I find much of digital (CD) music generally sonically disappointing these days and was hesitant to replace my now-useless LP’s with dubious digital versions.

But still I could not resist the compulsion to go after this set and I will testify that I am not disappointed. This is a highly recommended re-creation of much of the classic-period (as I would define it) Genesis repertoire.

These kinds of musical exercises can pretty much go in one of two basic directions, a faithful recreation, maybe with a few of the original cast being one; I was pleased to see that Mr. Hackett and company took the other fork – avoiding the county-fair ‘oldies-show’ pitfall while re-imagining the music from a modern point of view and taking advantage of the bias of your particular instrument/s while opening the process up to folks who are equally enthusiastic about the journey.

I can see that a fair amount of time has gone into the track sequence and the various ways these songs were re-conceived and performed. The engineering of the material (primarily Roger King) is wonderful in it’s innovation, punch and clarity and the reclamation of Steve Hackett’s guitar authority within these songs, for my ears, reinvigorates and expands the originals. That hanging guitar sustain at the commencement of ‘The Chamber of 32 Doors’ will tell you all you need to know about Mr. Hackett’s approach to this music and his role in it’s original conception.

I confess that I went out and bought a sub-woofer, to upgrade the near-antique conglomeration of Hi-Fi (see how old I am?) components I cling to, essentially at the time of committing to this music purchase. I was stunned at the contribution to the output of my almost silly-looking paired Tandberg Fasett speakers those new-found lower bass notes made and this recording has plenty of those, even at the more subtle, low bass setting I prefer to maintain.

There are so many exemplary performances and vocal treatments here that both pay homage to and build upon the originals. I was afraid I would miss Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins’ voices but after a couple of playings and the expected getting-used-to period, I came to realize that it was the music that held steadfast and the new players brought something to the endeavor.

I have read through the various reviews here and agree with many of the comments; I also disagree with a few perspectives. So, I think that Gary O’Toole hit his marks on all his vocalizations; these never sounded better. Contrary to some opinions here, I greatly enjoy Amanda Lehmann’s handling of ‘Ripples’ and found that it opened up a new way of hearing that song, so-far “owned” by Phil Collins. Forget about who she is or is not sounding sort-of like; just listen to the intent of the music. I hit the repeat button a few times here (I had a similar reaction to hearing Shelby Lynne sing ‘Surfer Girl’ on Brian Wilson’s Musicares tribute video; I think some of this may involve getting over the gender bias of an original music and see what new may come of it). Rob Townsend’s wind contributions really do nudge a lot of this music into the improvisational jazz arena that it often tends toward. I have greatly enjoyed Mr. Hackett’s association and projects involving Steven Wilson and have yet to be disappointed with those outcomes; in so doing, I have become a huge fan of Mr. Wilson’s work with Porcupine Tree and on his own – this originating with these more recent collaborations of two creative thinkers. The participation of the Hungarian jazz ensemble Djabe in support of this music (and vice-versa) seems like a natural collaborative extension of their combined musical capabilities and interests.

Without pursuing the ‘favorites’ quagmire (okay, I’ll allow Musical Box…), I highly recommend this music purchase: obviously to Genesis freaks but also to younger listeners possibly new to what we still call ‘progressive rock’ – those who may find something missing or redundant in much of the musical out-pour these days. The long form, epic, ‘tone poem-ish’ nature of Mr. Hackett’s recent original works and now this particular ‘musical rehash’ – which may suffer under the “progressive” moniker – lends itself to introspection, absorption and a degree of musical feeling that remains with you after the demands of the day inevitably take you back over. The original or traditional classical and other musical references (the music-box intro; Greensleeves) which ‘set up’ or embellish certain selections help to redefine, enrich those pieces and bridge the chasm to other music forms and your own music memory.

Get it, queue it up, crank it up (I definitely agree with that fellow!) and sit down and listen. It’s quite excellent.

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January 25, 2014 Posted by | Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited II | , | Leave a comment

Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited II (2012)

G2From seattlepi.com

I know there are those who feel artists who rework their older material are being creatively lazy by not simply issuing new music. I sometimes wonder if such critics are the same folks who complain if they don’t get note-for-note renditions of their favorite hits when legacy bands hit the stage.

But I see considerable merit when performers and composers like Keith Emerson, Jeff Lynne, or Steve Hackett take the time to devise fresh approaches for the classic releases they became known for. For one matter, albums produced back in the day were typically shaped in comparatively short time frames. The music was mixed and engineered using the technology available at the time. So it shouldn’t be surprising that as the decades have progressed, creative folks are inspired with new ideas to refresh what they did so long ago.

In some cases, as with Lynne, they hear shortcomings they’d like to improve on and now have access to technology that can be used to brighten or enhance old analog sounds. And, as in the case of Hackett, they now have the opportunity to reinvigorate their early work by drawing from a new vista of sonic possibilities.

I realize it would be heretical to suggest Hackett’s Genesis Revisited II in any way supersedes the 1971-1977 era of music from Genesis that Hackett participated in. But I admit feeling this two-CD set is something of a major achievement for Hackett. Yes, the foundations, building blocks, arrangements, melodies, spirit and flavor of the original recordings are alive and well in Hackett’s revisions. At the same time, it’s clear Hackett invested considerable time and care in shaping what he couldn’t have done before with a wide range of collaborators that enlarge the cast of characters in the Genesis theatre of songs.

In fact, there are 35 vocalists and players in this production. Singers including John Wetton (Asia), Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree), Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth), Simon Collins (son of Phil), Conrad Keely, Francis Dunnery, Neal Morse, Nad Sylvan, and Nik Kershaw provide a rich palate of voices that is sometimes very evocative of Gabriel’s quivering tenor but just as often deliver the stories as if playing different parts in a prog rock musical. For but one example, “Ripples” features a female singer, Amanda Lehmann, to evoke the vibrato of Marianne Faithful.

In his extensive liner notes, Hackett has much to say about his choices and changes. For example, he claims:

“The temptation to infuse those tracks with more detail and enriched clarity was irresistible. On these versions I’ve altered the detail within the songs whilst aiming to preserve the authentic spirit of the originals. Real string instruments are often used either with or instead of Mellotron, there are several new introductions, plus many additional effects recorded on Apple Mac Logic with amp plug-ins instead of going the traditional route.”

In addition, Hackett created new vocal parts and altered both his guitar lines as well as other instrumental solos. For example, he believes “The Chamber of 32 Doors” is now more symphonic than the 1974 version on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. “Supper’s Ready,” the opus from 1972’s Foxtrot, now has more texture due to the multiple vocalists. “Broadway Melody of 1974” is bluesier, with a colorful cacophony of city sounds, and “Camino Royale” is now spicier with New Orleans jazz stylings.

Looking over the song list before I played disc one, I knew “Musical Box” from 1971’s Nursery Cryme was going to be my real test for comparison. Right out of the box, as it were, the original was my favorite Genesis performance piece and the song I played most frequently. I was far from disappointed by the new version. In his notes, Hackett admits he was now able to do things he couldn’t the first time around, and the soundscape now includes Nad Sylvan’s multi-tracked choirs and the Fiddlers three have “become soprano sax and violin along with slightly distorted flute.” (His liner notes state “Musical Box” was the first time he used his pioneering “tapping” guitar technique, a playing style showcased on 1973’s Selling England by the Pound.)

Likewise, “Return of the Giant Hogweed” benefits from clever new effects like police sirens, John Hackett on scat flute, Rob Townsend doubling the bass, and dual guitar leads from Hackett and Roine Stolt. Two tracks, “A Tower Stuck Down” and “Please Don’t Touch,” may be new to Genesis fans as both were songs Hackett describes as “branches,” that is, songs written for but not released by Genesis. Still, they fit nicely in this package, like two long lost cousins showing all the obvious family traits.

Much credit should go to Roger King, who played keyboards and co-produced this magnificent branch, to use Hackett’s term, of the Genesis musical legacy. This is an expansion of the role he played in the first of these projects, the 1996 Watcher of the Skies: Genesis Revisited. It’s on that album that songs like “Waiting Room Only” and “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)” were redone, which accounts for their absence on the second volume. Like Watcher, the frequent use of strings on Genesis Revisited II adds new majesty to the tracks.

In addition, the variety of the performers gives the songs more distinctive character and interpretations than the singular vocals of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins were intended to deliver. Further, the digital mastering allows for a more precise, clear distinction of all the instruments in their often sophisticated time changes and unexpected layers.

Will you forget the originals listening to the new versions? Probably not, and you shouldn’t. At the same time, you don’t need to be overly familiar, or even have ever heard, the classic albums to appreciate Hackett’s re-imagining of Genesis music. Genesis Revisited II trumps and is a far superior experience to many a similar release of completely new progressive rock lyrics and melodies. It’s a beautiful bounty of musicianship rooted in the past, but with branches reaching high into the surreal cosmos of Genesis.

February 27, 2013 Posted by | Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited II | , | Leave a comment

Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited II (2012)

G2From somethingelsereviews.com

As Steve Hackett prepares to release his second set of reimagined Genesis songs, following 1996′s Watcher of the Skies, it’s confession time: The John Wetton-led update of “Firth of Fifth” from that ’96 set has long since replaced the original in my iPhone.

The same, I’m ready to admit, is likely to happen again with several key cuts from his sprawling double-disc Genesis Revisited II, set for release October 22, 2012 via InsideOut Music. Among them: Neal Morse’s fleet remake of 1971′s “The Return of the Giant Hogweed” (from 1971′s Nursery Cryme, Hackett’s Genesis debut), Steven Wilson’s brilliant turn on 1972′s “Can-Utility and the Coastliners,” and Wetton’s deeply emotional take on “Afterglow,” originally found on 1976′s Wind and Wuthering, Hackett’s finale with the band.

In each instance, and this is probably blasphemy to some, I hear new and deeper complexities, even as Hackett uses all of the intervening experience and technology to give the surrounding music its own fresh resonance.

See, for all of the compositional wonder of Peter Gabriel-era music from Genesis, his vocals could be a difficult and acquired taste. Though Gabriel would begin to handle lyrics with a far more intriguing complexity as a solo artist, he hadn’t yet developed that nuance and power. Occasionally, he simply grates. At the same time, Hackett was (with a tip of the old chapeau to Phil Collins at the drums) the most involving instrumentalist in the band.

Is it any wonder, then, that Hackett’s solo reworkings of classic Genesis, most of which have boasted both superior vocalists and a more mature approach to his own contributions, often seem every bit the equal (and sometimes the better) of the original versions?

Even tracks like “Supper’s Ready” from ’72′s Foxtrot, which for some reason I’ve never completely connected with, come to hold new intrigues here. Hackett brings to bear decades of experience exploring the intertwining wonders of Bach, while Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt finds new voicings, and ultimately new meaning, too. Elsewhere, “Horizons,” the instrumental from Foxtrot, is given a authoritative re-reading, while 1976′s “Entangled” (with Jakko Jakszyk on vocals) has such clarity that it sounds born anew. Legacy fans will also thrill to new instrumental elements on The Music Box, which originally ended up on the editing room floor back in 1971. Hackett also includes remakes of several solo offerings, the best of which are a pair of tracks from his 1975 debut — which, of course, included major contributions from Genesis bandmates Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford.

Of course, with a project this expansive, not all of it rises to the level of definitive. For instance, Amanda Lehmann’s turn at the mic for “Ripples,” admirable though it may be, can’t touch the emotional sweep of Collins’ initial version on Trick of the Tail, also from ’76. Nad Sylvan of Agents of Mercy manages both a dead-on Gabriel during 1974′s “The Chamber of 32 Doors” and a spitting-image Collins on “Eleventh Earl Of Mar” from Wind and Wuthering, but not much more.

Yet even then, nothing about this collection is rote. I was particularly struck by Hackett’s ruminative explorations of the instrumentals “Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers/In That Quiet Earth” from Wind and Wuthering — moments which illustrate, over and over again, a lasting passion for this era of music. It’s something, quite frankly, his former bandmates are apparently unable to muster. Rutherford and Gabriel never seem to reference this period in their on-going tours, Tony Banks has turned to classical, and Collins has long since retired.

That leaves Hackett as the gatekeeper, steward and cheerleader for this sound, for this whole portion of the Genesis legacy. I, for one, am glad he’s here to do it — if for no other reason than this: He’s given me a opportunity to listen to these old favorites in a new way, and sometimes to discover something I like even more than the original.

February 27, 2013 Posted by | Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited II | , | Leave a comment

Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited II (2012)

G2From Blogcritics.com

When considering the history of Genesis, most fans tend to view this band through two distinctly different prisms. For these folks, the “Gabriel” and “Collins” eras exist as polar opposites – light years apart artistically (and certainly commercially).

Two different bands, representing approaches completely independent from one another.

This rear view appraisal, though in some ways unfair, is also dead-on accurate. The eighties pop-rock, MTV video darlings led by drummer/singer Phil Collins that sold albums by the truckloads, bares so little resemblance to the artier, trailblazing prog-rock of the earlier Peter Gabriel model, as to be virtually unrecognizable as the same band.

But where these same two opposing – and equally vociferous – camps of Genesis fans most often miss the point is in identifying just where the division between the “prog” and the “pop” incarnations of Genesis actually took place.

The departure of Peter Gabriel after the tour behind 1975’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway is most often cited as the breakaway point. But the truth is, Genesis made at least two recognized prog-rock classics (A Trick Of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering) during the post-Gabriel years.

Then guitarist Steve Hackett left.

In retrospect, Hackett’s split from the group was what really cleared the decks for Genesis’ subsequent musical shift towards commercial pop – much more so than Gabriel leaving them behind ever did. Hackett’s own post-Genesis career has had its own share of creative missteps of course (GTR, anyone?).

But on the bulk of Hackett’s solo material over the years, his aim has remained mostly true.

Simply put, and even though he is largely unrecognized as such, Steve Hackett is one of the most underrated guitar players on the planet. For proof of this, one need look no further than his work on those original Genesis albums, and on early solo recordings from the same period like Voyage Of The Acolyte and Spectral Mornings.

From the quiet, acoustic understatement of “Blood On The Rooftops,” to the crying sustain heard during the closing section of the epic “Supper’s Ready,” Hackett’s guitar playing with Genesis, though often overlooked at the time, was an integral component of the many elements which made up the band’s densely layered sound.

These songs, along with a few from Hackett’s early solo career, get a long overdue second look on the just released Genesis Revisted II.

But the facelift is mostly a cosmetic one. Unlike its predecessor Watcher of the Skies: Genesis Revisited, on the second volume of Steve Hackett’s re-imagining of his early work with Genesis, the arrangements remain mostly true to the original versions. The biggest differences here are in the vocals – which are taken on by a variety of singers including Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree); Michael Akerfeldt (Opeth); and John Wetton (Asia, King Crimson).

For the most part, the kids all nail their parts in loving, convincing fashion. Old-school prog-rock vet Wetton does a particularly nice job on “Afterglow.” The one minor misstep is when Amanda Lehmann takes on Sally Oldfield’s original vocal part on “Shadow Of The Hierophant,” from Hackett’s first solo album Voyage Of The Acolyte. Some things simply shouldn’t be messed with, and Oldfield’s oddly haunting voice on that track is definitely one of them. The deep thudding drums of the original are also sorely missed.

The results become even more mixed when the originals are matched up with modern-day studio technology. If you grew up with Genesis albums like Foxtrot and Selling England By The Pound, it’s hard to miss the comparatively flat sound here on songs like “Return of The Giant Hogweed” and “Dancing With the Moonlit Knight,” when placed side-by-side against the edgier-sounding originals.

On the other hand, songs like “The Lamia” and especially “Ripples” (which beautifully reproduces the swelling mellotron of the original version), sound pretty great on these new recordings. Hackett’s guitar has also never sounded better than it does here.

In much the same way that the tired arguments about the two incarnations of Genesis are mostly unfair, comparing the updates heard here with the originals is mostly a case of apples and oranges.

But the contrast is at times also impossible to ignore.

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited II | , | Leave a comment

Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited II (2012)

G2From Ultimateclassicrock.com

Ever since vocalist Peter Gabriel abandoned Genesis‘ classic quintet line-up in 1975, following the release of the double-album concept-epic ‘The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway,’ the band’s ’70s purists have pined for a full-prog reunion.

The closest we’ve come was in 1999, when all five members (Gabriel, drummer-vocalist Phil Collins, bassist Mike Rutherford, keyboardist Tony Banks, guitarist Steve Hackett) joined forces for a stylish re-interpretation of ‘Lamb’ highlight ‘The Carpet Crawlers,’ released on the compilation ‘Turn it on Again: The Hits.’ But in 2012, it appears that dream is dead: Gabriel’s far too focused on his solo career and humanitarian efforts, while Collins — saddled from drumming by a debilitating spinal injury — announced his retirement last year.

Throughout it all, Hackett has always embraced the material from Genesis’ peak-prog period, reflecting fondly in interviews, constantly expressing his interest in a possible reunion (which is sad considering he was left out of the 2007 trio reunion), and playing the ’70s classics on-stage. His critics (and even his former bandmates) seem to feel Hackett’s stuck in the past — but he clearly still loves interpreting these songs, adding new textures and flourishes as the years go by.

The double-disc ‘Genesis Revisited II’ is Hackett’s second collection of updated Genesis tunes, and it’s a far more cohesive and inventive set than 1996′s ‘Watcher of the Skies.’ Utilizing the same basic format as that album, ‘Revisited II’ is almost entirely comprised of Genesis material, balanced out by a handful of solo Hackett tunes, most of which were originally rehearsed by Genesis in the ’70s.

As with any ‘Revisited’-style album, it’s tough to know where to draw the line. What’s the point of a note-for-note cover (especially since the early albums have been remastered)? On the other hand, is diverging from the source material prog-rock blasphemy? Hackett strikes a mostly successful balance: adding a few new intros, expanding a few Guitar Hero-style solos, and taking some bold liberties with his taste in singers, all-the-while keeping the songs’ core mysticism in-tact.

‘Lamb”s ‘The Chamber of 32 Doors’ is given a glistening classical guitar intro, while vocalist Nad Sylvan nails the nuance of Gabriel’s theatrical vocal; Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson adds warmth and color to ‘Foxtrot”s overlooked ‘Can Utility and the Coastliners,’ which is augmented by live orchestrations; ‘Wind & Wuthering’ highlight ’Blood on the Rooftops’ perked up by some excellent soprano sax. The album’s true highlight is, unsurprisingly, the 23-minute epic ‘Supper’s Ready.’ Hackett utilizes several vocalists, none of whom — at least on paper – -seem logical singing on the same track: Opeth’s Mikael Akerfeldt belts passionately; Simon Collins echoes the smooth delivery of his dad, and …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead’s Conrad Keely adds a punk edge to the track’s ripping mid-section. Hackett adds extra guitar flourishes throughout, ending with a furious finger-tapped solo.

There are numerous reasons why Hackett’s ‘Revisited’ project works so well. One is that he joined forces with some of prog-rock’s finest players and singers; another is that he never views the material through a nostalgic lens. ‘Revisited II’ has an urgency most ‘tribute albums’ don’t, mostly because Hackett’s so liberal about letting the songs go to some often strange new places.

Sometimes, though, the risks don’t pay off — mostly due to some awkward vocalist choices: Gary O’Toole is distractingly macho on ‘Broadway Melody of 1974′; Amanda Lehmann’s throaty vibrato is distracting amid the swirl of ‘Ripples” tender acoustics; meanwhile, Nik Kershaw’s more straightforward, sleepy vocal interpretation on ‘The Lamia’ feels out of place given the track’s absurd lyrics.

But without taking a few gambles, the project wouldn’t feel so vital. Warts and all, ‘Revisited II’ is the stuff diehards dream about — and in 2012, it’s about as close to in-the-flesh classic Genesis as it gets.

February 19, 2013 Posted by | Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited II | , | Leave a comment