Classic Rock Review

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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 (2005)

Genesis+Revisited+Steve_HackettGenesis_RevisitedFrom amazon.com

Wow! Quite the feat! Obviously, a great deal of work, and love, were put into this album, not to mention production!

Having heard Genesis mostly from “Selling England by The Pound”, onward (except for “Watcher of the Skies”) there are some songs I’d never heard before. The third, for example, is a killer instrumental with Steve playing an insane, frantic Jeff Beck-like, seething solo. In fact, Jeff was one of Steve’s influences, and he quotes Jeff (from the Yardbird’s: “I Can’t Make Your Way”) fom 6:05 to 6:11 minutes into the track, “Fountain of Salmacis”, one of the great pieces I’d never heard before.

Prior to that, (though I haven’t really read the notes), I’m guessing that’s probably Steve singing through some device on “Dance on a Volcano”, which I’m sure most people would agree would have been much better suited to Paul Carrack, (who sings on a couple of other pieces), in the upper registers. However, in a couple of sections (when the vocal “octavider”, or whatever it is, goes ominously low) it couldn’t sound cooler! Perhaps if he’d sung the “whole” song like that, it might have worked better.

But there’s plenty of amazing things happening throughout this album. Like “Watcher of the Skies”,(imagine Steve playing this with King Crimson, since three key members of that band are playing it with him), and the amazing interpretation of “Firth of Fifth”, with some beautiful classical guitar in the middle, and then Steve demonstrating he’s one of the best rock guitarists in the world in the following section, not just with speed, but taste, and (more importantly something sorely missing these days),”creativity”.

The orchestra, at the beginning of this piece, recalls something enchanting, and beautiful not unlike “Nutcracker Suite”. Too bad that section wasn’t even longer! “Your Own Special Way” is nice, but occasionally there’s a little synth “riff” that sounds a little too “soft rock”, but Steve (I think wisely), leaves out the familiar riff in the chorus, and does a brilliant solo, that I can’t possibly imagine being topped by anyone on the planet!

“Waiting Room Only” is the “strange” piece, pretty much a “Number Nine”-ish, weird bit of Hackettry- at first. But by about two minutes into the piece, it starts to get rather interesting, and soon, more “musical”, with some fairly cool stuff going on.

I have to admit that I don’t really care for the following version of “I Know What I Like”, except for the funny bits, and the famous solo that Steve pretty much keeps intact and even adds to, that is only now becoming deservedly recognized for being the very first “real” example of the two-handed, finger-tapping technique in rock guitar, years before Eddie Van Halen unjustly got all the credit.
At the beginning of “Los Endos”, Steve demonstrates that he can play a pretty decent bit ot Flamenco, and then the band goes into high energy mode, the rest of the song being intact with all kinds of great little moments, with great drumming and layered drums, synth guitar, mellotron, and so forth.

Overall, a great album, especially for the usually low price. But if you’re not that familiar with Steve Hackett, he has even better albums- since, and prior. But this is still a “keeper” considering that almost all of it is superb.

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

Steve Hackett Spectral Mornings (1979)

1249059949_steve_hackett_spectral_mornings_remastered-cdFrom starling.rinet.ru

Some consider this Steve’s masterpiece, and others even believe that he’s never made a decent album since; while I can’t embrace the latter statement, the former seems quite close to the truth for me. After the somewhat out-of-place-and-out-of-time experimentation with ‘alien’ musical genres on Please Don’t Touch, he goes back to the tried and true: the Genesis formula. Of course, there are multiple changes and additions to it; actually, there’s so many of them that Spectral Mornings hardly sounds like Genesis at all.

But the core of the sound, whatever one might say, still stems from Steve’s Genesis functions: the ‘mystically flowing’ guitar noodlings, so characteristic of Steve’s sound on tracks like ‘Musical Box’ and ‘Firth Of Fifth’, are back, and they’re back firmly and with a flare. This doesn’t stop him from further experimenting – this time, with Japanese and Spanish musical elements; but for the most part, everything works. There’s hardly anything on here as incredibly powerful as ‘Shadow Of The Hierophant’, but, on a song-for-song basis, the album is considerably stronger than Voyage Of The Acolyte.

In fact, there ain’t a single bad or half-dull song anywhere on the album: some have slightly boring passages incorporated in them, and a couple of melodies are sorta average, but there’s nothing on here that would make you want to sleep or at least say, ‘eh, this guy thinks he’s such a cool experimentator, but instead he’s just a pretentious jerk.’ Everything works.

Although, of course, it takes skill to appreciate the ‘everything’. For instance, I’d read some excited remarks about the opening ballad, ‘Every Day’, and expected a truly moving album opener – and then they play this dull, Tony Banks-ish synth opening and the bland vocal harmonies come in (this time, the main vocal functions are handed over to one Pete Hicks; probably unrelated to Tony Hicks of the Hollies), and it’s just your average bop-pop ditty with little true excitement about it.

And then, abracadabra, it suddenly transforms into a magnificent guitar fiesta with Steve at his very best! In a twinkle of an eye, mind you. He just springs out, as if of nowhere, and first plays a flurry of notes along with the cheesy synth, but then the song really takes off and it becomes a fast rocking track with an amazing guitar part. Believe me, I don’t spill epithets like that: an amazing Steve Hackett guitar part is well worth hearing. Imagine something like the solo on ‘Firth Of Fifth’, only faster, more energetic and pulsating, but not less cleverly constructed. On ‘Every Day’, Steve plays as fluent as ever, and faster than ever before – displaying his talents for all their worth.

After the storm, the calm – a gentle ballad, ‘The Virgin And The Gypsy’, with a nice enough vocal melody and an inspiring duet between Steve on the acoustic and brother John Hackett on the flute. Similar in style to ‘Entangled’ off Trick Of The Tail, only shorter and more concentrated. Then it’s time for the Weird: a song with a title like ‘The Red Flower Of Tachai Blooms Everywhere’ can’t help but contain elements of Japanese music, and it’s indeed a very convincing and heart-lifting Japanese stylization.

Maybe other people will have problems with that, but not me – I adore Chinese and Japanese motives, and I’m glad to see Steve is able to adapt them to his music without butchering the essence. Fading out, it passes the baton on to ‘Clocks – The Angel Of Mons’; the ticking of clocks at the beginning certainly draws on associations with Pink Floyd’s ‘Time’, but apart from that, the compositions don’t have anything in common: Steve’s is a Gargantuan instrumental prog epic, with ferocious drumming, gruff synth patterns, and more outstanding guitar textures.

The second side, likewise, continues the practice of interspersing little simplistic ditties with ‘serious’ compositions – the jazzy ‘Ballad Of The Decomposing Man’, telling a story of a blue-collar worker, is nice and pretty, with strong harmonica parts from Steve, but feels somewhat at odds with the ensuing Spanish guitar of ‘Lost Time In Cordoba’. However, both pale when compared to the last two mighty tracks. ‘Tigermoth’ might sound a bit too similar to ‘Clocks’, with the same use of Powerhouse Everything – bombastic drumming, overwhelming synths and spacey guitar, but it’s just as effective.
And then, of course, there’s the title track. How could I bypass it? How could I?

And what a clever idea – to bookmark the record with two great guitar workouts, the first one on ‘Every Day’, the second one here? The main theme to ‘Spectral Mornings’ is simply blistering, a guitar-cry of love and hope and everything that’s beautiful; and so what if it gets repeated over and over? By repeating the same ‘moment of pure beauty’ over and over again Steve pretty much achieves the same as Eno with his ‘ambient’ stylistics: emphasizing the eternal beauty of the static over the passing beauty of the dynamic. Hell, this one solo is more precious and treasurable to me than an entire album of, say, Steve Howe exercises in finger-flashing (not that I really dislike Steve Howe, mind you – I’m a big fan of his guitar style, it’s just a totally different matter).

A pretty solid 13 for this album, even if it doesn’t really make as much sense to me as Selling England By The Pound does; and as good as the songs are, ‘Clocks’ and ‘Tigermoth’ more or less double each other, which is hardly necessary. But overall, this album does one thing for me: showcases an artist who wasn’t afraid to seek new, creative ways of using his guitar as late as 1979 and – surprise surprise – who succeeded in his quest.

June 6, 2013 Posted by | Steve Hackett Spectral Mornings | | Leave a comment

Steve Hackett Beyond The Shrouded Horizon (2011)

MI0003236269From sequenza21.com

Guitarist Steve Hackett may be best known for his work with early Genesis in the 1970s and participation in the 80s rock super group GTR, in which he played alongside Yes guitarist Steve Howe. But for over thirty years, he has had a distinguished solo career, releasing a number of exquisitely wrought recordings with a variety of collaborators.

Those who are “in” on the existence of this impressive catalog might wish that it had less of a cult status, as that’s what would befit much of Hackett’s output from a qualitative standpoint.

However, remaining slightly below the mainstream’s radar has had had a fortunate byproduct. Hackett has been able to avoid the pressures of mainstreaming and homogenizing his records’s content, a fate that has befallen far too many prog legends once the A&R people got their way. Instead, Hackett has happily explored eclectic music-making; work that encompasses prog rock epics, synth-haloed alt pop songwriting, blues-inflected electric guitar shredding, pastoral neo-folk ballads, and crossover classical compositions played on nylon string guitar. Sometimes all of these approaches appear on the same album.

Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, Hackett’s most recent studio release, epitomizes this eclecticism. Yet, amid all this variety, it is a musically cohesive and engaging recording. The principle reason: Hackett’s singular creative vision remains crystal clear and his chops and voice are both in sterling shape.

Fans of the guitarist’s progressive rock catalog will warm to “Loch Lomond” and the twelve minute epic “Turn This Island Earth;” the latter features guest bassist Chris Squire (of Yes). Squire also provides a contrapuntal bass part on symphonic prog song “Looking for Fantasy,” and lays down a sepulchral groove on “Catwalk,” a roiling blues-rock number that showcases Hackett’s soloing at its most hot-blooded. Amanda Lehman lends nimble vocals to three songs, while John Hackett duets with Steve on the pastoral psych pop piece “Between the Sunset and the Coconut Palms.” Longtime collaborator Roger King provides beautiful synth textures and keyboard playing throughout.

Hackett’s two brief acoustic guitar solo compositions, “Wanderlust” and “Summer’s Breath,” are tantalizing palette cleansers: one would love to hear them in expanded incarnations. For those wanting a concise “single-worthy” pop song, complete with Beatles-esque harmonic shifts and supple string arrangements, Hackett supplies “Til These Eyes.”

Yes, Beyond the Shrouded Horizon is a stylistically omnivorous collection; but one that maintains high musical standards throughout.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Steve Hackett Beyond The Shrouded Horizon | , | Leave a comment

Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited (1996)

untitledFrom starling.rinet.ru

Despite the somewhat deceptive title, this certainly isn’t a Genesis album: it’s a pure Steve Hackett product destined to bring you back memories of blossoming Genesis classics from their ‘prog’ years so as to distract you from the murky crap of Calling All Stations… nay. I bought it out of curiosity quite a long time ago, and, since I didn’t have the least desire to start a Steve Hackett solo page at the time, I thought I’d review it here, like, you know, kind of a posthumous appendix for the whole band.

One might expect a helluva lot of fun and well-tingled nostalgia from this album, especially seeing as Steve was the only remaining member of the band that managed not to lose his ‘serious’ image over the years. Moreover, he was the guitarist, and through 1971-77 he was the strongest link in the chain that bound the band to rock music. You’d expect something brilliant on this record, wouldn’t you, now that Steve broke free and was totally free to reinterpret the classic Genesis tunes to his own liking? Well forget it. This album sucks. No, not as bad as Stations, because this last incarnation of Genesis should take its rightful place in Lucifer’s jaws alongside the Spice Girls and Puff Daddy, but still nowhere near as good as even the weakest product of Peter Gabriel.

There’s a cast of thousands on the album, with well-known stars like John Wetton, Tony Levin, Bill Bruford, Ian McDonald (guess Steve was really a big fan of King Crimson), Chester Thompson (the guy who drummed on Seconds Out), a ton of little-known vocalists and even the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Talk of megalomaniacs! What they really manage to do, however, is successfully butcher half a dozen Genesis classics, plus adding their contributions to a couple new and totally forgettable Hackett compositions. When the record opens with ‘Watcher Of The Skies’, you’d think everything’s gonna be alright: they recapture the vibe with the soaring Mellotrons (whose existence was probably long forgotten by Tony Banks) and some good vocals from I don’t know whom (one of the main vocalists seems to be Paul Carrack of Roxy Music fame, but there’s just too many of ’em, including Steve himself), the only point of insecurity being electronic drums used in the middle section. However, this is the first and nearly last good moment on the record. Yup.

To cut it short, there’s so many songs on here that I really enjoyed in their original versions, but I just can’t stand these fantasy-less, sometimes atonal reinterpretations! ‘Dance On A Volcano’ is completely ruined by the affected vocals that get totally lost in the background (Phil, come and save us!) ‘Fountain Of Salmacis’ is performed as sloppily as possible – never in my life could I love the song if this were my first version. The delicate guitar and Mellotron lines are turned into a horrid mess of murky, synthesized sound, and the vocals are affected again by some totally unnecessary gadgets. The worst blow, however, comes when they deliver two of my favourites.

‘Firth Of Fifth’ starts off okay (I actually like that glockenspiel intro that replaces the pianos), but the instrumental section is tossed off as badly as possible – Steve does a good job on his trademark solo, but man, this passage was never limited to that solo! Where’s the beautiful flute? And what’s with that synth/drum battle in the middle? It sucks! What a horrendous version! Not as horrendous, though, as ‘I Know What I Like’ that’s transformed into a primitive reggae march with about zero percent of the power and the humor it initially possessed. Dang, dude, this is bad.

This is ear-offending for me! And to top it off, Steve offers us a reinterpretation of that classic tune from The Lamb, yeah, ‘The Waiting Room’, you guessed right. Here it’s called ‘Waiting Room Only’, but it’s only fair that it stinks even worse than the original. Six minutes of unlistenable cacophony that end only to lead us into the above-mentioned version of ‘I Know What I Like’. YUCK! YUCK! As far as I know, ‘Watcher Of The Skies’ and the reinterpreted version of ‘Los Endos’ that closes the record (and even includes a short, delicious snippet of ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’) are the only welcoming aspects of the record, but even so, they add absolutely nothing to the originals. And the two original compositions are blistering pieces of finest bullshit (especially the booming instrumental ‘Valley Of The Kings’). Shun this record, exclude it from your sight and hearing. If you really need to hear somebody ruining ‘I Know What I Like’, get Seconds Out: that one is at least substantial.

Oh! I almost forgot that they do ‘Your Own Special Way’ here! Well, doesn’t that prove my point that this is the best song on Wind And Wuthering? ‘Pop’! Hah! Actually, Steve Hackett likes it better than ‘One For The Vine’! Ha ha I say!

March 5, 2013 Posted by | Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited | , | Leave a comment

Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited (1996)

untitledFrom musicstreetjournal.com

Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett has assembled a wide variety of musicians to rework many classic Genesis songs. The end result is quite interesting. Some songs are quite true to the original, some are quite different. Some are wonderful, some not quite so impressive. In general, this is an intriguing work, that is quite satisfying for the fans of old Genesis. Musicians joining Steve Hackett on the album include John Wetton, Bill Bruford and Tony Levin.

Track by Track Review

Watcher of the Skies
Very true to the original version, this track is very ominous and mysterious in the intro. The number gradually builds into a very strong performance. The musicians on the track are John Wetton, Steve Hackett, Bill Bruford, Tony Levin and Julian Colbeck.

Dance On A Volcano
Other than two aspects, this is a very faithful cover of this Genesis classic. The elements that vary this version from the original are a gritty guitar introduction and strange, spooky vocals (similar to the Horror-based prog band Halloween). The lineup for this number is Steve Hackett, Chester Thompson, Alphonso Johnson, Julian Colbeck and Will Bates.

Valley of the Kings
The musicians here, Hackett, Nick Magnus, Jerry Peal and Hugo Degenhardt, put in a nice performance on this instrumental guitar showcase.

DejaVu
An adult contemporary format is given character by a strong instrumental break and solid guitar stylings. Hackett, Paul Carrack, Pino Palladino, Hugo Degenhardt, Roger King and the Sanchez/Montoya chorale are the musicians on this piece.

Firth of Fifth
A refreshing change in this rendition, which, otherwise, is very true to the original song, is made by a very intriguing orchestral instrumental break. Hackett, Bill Bruford, Ben Fenner and John Wetton all put in solid performances on this cut.

For Absent Friends
Colin Blunstone, Steve Hackett (with two others providing the orchestration), produce a pretty and delicate performance of a song which has always been quite enchanting.

Your Own Special Way
This song has always been one of my favorite Genesis songs, but this rendition has far too much of an adult contemporary sound (in the vein of late era Doobie Brothers). The musicians here are Hackett, Paul Carrack, Aron Friedman, Richard Macphail, Jeanne Downs and Richard Wayler.

Fountains of Salmacis
This tune has always been a very dramatic and powerful piece. Here the musicians (Hackett, Chester Thompson, Alphonso Johnson, John Hackett and Julian Colbeck) turn in a rendition which, (other than a vocal line in the first verse that is in the vein of death metal and a short orchestral break), is quite faithful and well executed.

Waiting Room Only
According to the liner notes “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway had an atonal jam called The Waiting Room-we tried to recapture its spirit by similarly abandoning form here and creating a whole new piece in the process which we`ve titled Waiting Room Only. ” The result is a very solid piece with textures ranging from beautiful to unnerving. The musicians on this track are Hackett, Roger King, Hugo Degenhardt, Will Bates and the Sanchez/Montoya Chorale.

I Know What I Like
This number features `60`s rock, blues and jazz modes, which make it an unusual reworking. The result is somewhat familiar in certain ways, yet completely new in many others. The musicians on this piece are Hackett, Tarquin Bombast, Will Bates, “Spats” King, Aron Friedman and Nobody.

Los Endos
The musicians on this piece are Hackett, Ian McDonald, Pino Palladino, Hugo Degenhardt, Roger King and Chester Thompson. This seems to be a somewhat of a modernization of this Genesis classic with some interesting changes. This version is a unique prog rock/fusion instrumental full of surprising twists and turns.

March 4, 2013 Posted by | Steve Hackett Genesis Revisited | , | Leave a comment

Steve Hackett Beyond The Shrouded Horizon (2011)

MI0003236269From musicstreetjournal.com

With a career spanning some 40 years, Steve Hackett has continued to blaze a trail across the prog firmament of which most other musicians can only dream. Once the introverted, bearded and bespectacled guitarist with Genesis, since his departure from the band in 1977, he has carved a solo career, which includes more than 20 albums and collaborations with other musicians including his flautist brother John.

After a relatively quiet period, he came roaring back last year with the immaculate Out Of The Tunnel’s Mouth which was accompanied by some stunning live performances including a slightly abbreviated appearance at the High Voltage Festival in London. So is Beyond The Shrouded Horizon as good as its predecessor? The answer fortunately is a resounding “yes.” In recent times, his songs have been punctuated by certain episodes in his personal life which often made for lyrically interesting material. But now, he appears to put that particular past behind him having recently married Jo, who has co-written many of the songs and really seems to have brought a spring and a fresh new energy into the body of work here.

Retaining the Electric Band line-up (Messrs Nick Beggs, Roger King, Gary O’Toole, Rob Townsend and Mlle Amanda Leamon), who played so brilliantly with him on the recent tours, the album is a magical mystery tour to some very special places dear to Hackett’s heart. However, what you will notice throughout this album is the immaculate, almost totally effortless way in which Hackett can coax some magic out of his beloved Gibson Les Paul, using every effect in the book, to produce a collection of diverse and highly listenable pieces. Packed full of different moods and textures, this is one of the stand-out prog albums of the year, crafted by one of the greatest exponents of the genre. This album takes the Hackett canon of work to a completely new level. It’s not to be missed.

Track by Track Review

Loch Lomond
The swelling opening chords of “Loch Lomond” leading into a huge slab of melody punctuated by the characteristic wah-wah guitar sound opening into a melodic acoustic section topped by lush harmonies with Amanda Leamon clearly audible and also some bagpipes – perhaps another first in prog.

The Phoenix Flown
“The Phoenix Flown” is an all too brief guitar driven chunk of prog with a great rhythm in which Hackett goes off on a flight of fancy with some gorgeous flowing melody lines that again demonstrate a man on top of his game.

Wanderlust
This is a 44 second acoustic piece which serves as a bridge to the next number.

Til These Eyes
“Til These Eyes” is a rolling river of a song, acoustically led with close harmonies and a lilting melody, underscored by Richard Stuart on cello, Dick Driver on double bass and Christine Townsend on violin and viola.

Prairie Angel
This was a work in progress when Hackett was last on tour. Not anymore. It is now a full blown anthem with a creamy guitar melody that develops into a mighty bluesy workout with lots of hard and heavy riffing.

A Place Called Freedom
If there was to be a single release from BTSH, then it would be the very attractive “A Place Called Freedom” which goes from acoustic, jingling guitars with a delightfully light vocal melody line into that rich creamy guitar and soaring keyboards. But it is that great guitar sound which keeps coming back and hitting you head-on. This is absolutely delicious!

Between the Sunset and the Coconut Palms
This is a gentle acoustic guitar and vocal harmony which brings to mind of Hackett’s “Serpentine Song” and which takes you off on a magic carpet to somewhere warm and wonderful – all woven into its melody lifted even higher with a lovely lilting symphonic passage.

Waking to Life
“Waking to Life” has Amanda Leamon singing above sitar and a swelling melody line before that extraordinary guitar and sustain comes back to send your senses reeling yet again.

Two Faces of Cairo
This is another great musical stopping point in the musical travelogue with some full on drumming from Gary O’Toole and that wonderful Arabian guitar sound which Hackett has constantly captured so well in recent musical excursions. It then morphs into another one of those searing guitar interludes where he can sustain notes almost at will.

Looking for Fantasy
Here is a wistful little song about a lady of a certain age reflecting on her past life recounting some of the key events of the 60s and 70s while dating a guy half her age who “resembles a young Jimmy Page.” Again a beautiful acoustic guitar underscores and heightens the nostalgia of this piece – a recurring theme in Hackett’s work over the decades.

Summer’s Breath
“Summer’s Breath,” another acoustic interlude, makes an all too brief appearance before taking us to the next piece.

Catwalk
One of the stand-out tracks, “Catwalk” comes swaggering in a bluesy full-on, “look at me” kind of way that harnesses both Chris Squire and Simon Phillips in the rhythm section. It sounds like Still Waters with attitude with Steve just getting out there and strutting his stuff in the most spectacular style.

Turn This Island Earth
This incredible journey ends with the haunting “Turn This Island Earth,” a shimmering piece of musical beauty which embraces the cosmos, among the planets, where again, Hackett lets rip with a little bit of jiggerypokery while on this flight of fancy.

March 3, 2013 Posted by | Steve Hackett Beyond The Shrouded Horizon | , | Leave a comment

Steve Hackett Beyond The Shrouded Horizon (2011)

MI0003236269From prog-sphere.com

Steve Hackett, with a solo career of well over 30 years behind him is certainly not resting on his laurels with this album of both literal and metaphorical travellin’ tales. Backed by his usual electric band Steve takes us on an Odyssey from Loch Lomond, the band marching over the hills on the back of an almost metal riff, to end with the epic symphonic tale of Turn This Island Earth, on the way visiting many exotic corners of the globe and indeed beyond and inward. Make of that what you will!

On the way we encounter all sorts of styles melded together to make an involving and cohesive whole, and without any of the tempo and mood changes sounding forced. A great blues-rock riff that puts me in mind of early Uriah Heep crashes into the almost sedate introduction to Prairie Angel, and throughout the album classical touches abound as do various world music influences. Possibly a balalaika on Waking To Life is later complimented by a distinct middle eastern feel, leading into some Kashmir-like sounds on the intro to Two Faces Of Cairo, so far one of my favourite moments on the album.

Throughout Steve’s guitar sounds more energised than ever, when one would expect a mellowing over time, and he even verges on heavy in places, especially on blues shouter Catwalk. Some of the songs are bridged with short acoustic pieces which add to the overall cinematic atmosphere.

The longest song on the album is the closer Turn This Island Earth, clocking in at just under 12 minutes. As befitting such a mini-epic, everything is thrown at this, the orchestra and the treated vocals at the start lending it an almost ethereal presence until a rock riff from Steve takes the song down another alley, but the theme is never lost even in the more chaotic Sorcerer’s Apprentice sounding moments. A classical symphony in miniature, this is an unexpected but great way to end a fine album, which, at just short of an hour long has not made the mistake of many over-ambitious projects where bands feel they have to get as close to filling eighty minutes as possible. In Steve’s case never mind the width, feel the quality.

The second CD has, we assume, a few items recorded at the same time as the main album but not necessarily fitting in with the theme. This CD at just under half an hour starts with the Four Winds mini-suite featuring some fine classical piano and classical guitar, as well as some restrained electric soloing from Steve.

Classical piece Pieds En L’Air conjures visions of costume dramas in the grounds of stately homes, electric instrumental She Said Maybe is pleasant if unassuming, and there’s a stunning cover of Focus song segment Eruption:Tommy, not bad for a bonus disc, but you should be more than sated with the main course anyway.

There’s no doubting the love and enthusiasm Steve and the band have put into the making of this well produced album, and Steve along with Roger King and wife Jo have written some gorgeous stuff here that sounds at times like the soundtrack to an epic film, and it sure is a journey well worth taking.

…..and I didn’t even mention the “G” word!

February 28, 2013 Posted by | Steve Hackett Beyond The Shrouded Horizon | , | Leave a comment

Steve Hackett Beyond The Shrouded Horizon (2011)

MI0003236269From seattlepi.com

Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett has racked up over 20 albums over the course of his long solo career. After his indelible contributions to that group’s classics such as Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Hackett followed Peter Gabriel out the door in 1977. His solo career had actually begun in 1975 with the great Voyage Of The Acolyte, and has continued at a prolific pace ever since. And as unlikely as it may seem, the 61-year-old axe-hero has come up with one of his finest efforts yet with Beyond The Shrouded Horizon.

Beginning with a wickedly powerful feedback-laden riff, which then opens up beautifully ala “Watcher Of The Skies,” the time-shifting “Loch Lomond” soon settles into an acoustic groove that just screams Selling England By The Pound. Although Steve’s vocals have always been a little on the thin side, his guitar playing has always more than made up for it. In the case of “Loch Lomond,” his electric solo midway through is a powerful testament to the man’s talent.

More than anyone, Hackett is aware that he is a guitar player first and foremost. His solo recordings have always held a fair amount of instrumentals, and Beyond is no exception. Of the 13 tracks on the album, five are instrumental. One of Steve’s trademarks is in providing a short, acoustic introductory piece to his songs. Actually this practice dates back to Genesis, and the indispensable “Horizon’s” which precedes “Supper’s Ready” on Foxtrot. For Beyond The Shrouded Horizon, he prefaces two tracks in this manner. “Wanderlust” does a nice job of setting up “Til These Eyes,” and “Summers Breath” performs the same function for “Catwalk.”

Without a doubt it will be the final song on the album that will receive the most attention. “Turn This Island Earth” is a nearly twelve-minute slice of prime British prog, and longtime Hackett fans should love it. I know I do, as it features time and mood changes galore, as well as plenty of guitar.

Even though Steve Hackett qualifies as a bona-fide guitar legend for many of us, he has never received the widespread acclaim he deserves. Although I realize that this album will probably not be heard much outside of his avowed fan base, it should be.

Former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett has racked up over 20 albums over the course of his long solo career. After his indelible contributions to that group’s classics such as Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Hackett followed Peter Gabriel out the door in 1977. His solo career had actually begun in 1975 with the great Voyage Of The Acolyte, and has continued at a prolific pace ever since. And as unlikely as it may seem, the 61-year-old axe-hero has come up with one of his finest efforts yet with Beyond The Shrouded Horizon.

Beginning with a wickedly powerful feedback-laden riff, which then opens up beautifully ala “Watcher Of The Skies,” the time-shifting “Loch Lomond” soon settles into an acoustic groove that just screams Selling England By The Pound. Although Steve’s vocals have always been a little on the thin side, his guitar playing has always more than made up for it. In the case of “Loch Lomond,” his electric solo midway through is a powerful testament to the man’s talent.

More than anyone, Hackett is aware that he is a guitar player first and foremost. His solo recordings have always held a fair amount of instrumentals, and Beyond is no exception. Of the 13 tracks on the album, five are instrumental. One of Steve’s trademarks is in providing a short, acoustic introductory piece to his songs. Actually this practice dates back to Genesis, and the indispensable “Horizon’s” which precedes “Supper’s Ready” on Foxtrot. For Beyond The Shrouded Horizon, he prefaces two tracks in this manner. “Wanderlust” does a nice job of setting up “Til These Eyes,” and “Summers Breath” performs the same function for “Catwalk.”

Without a doubt it will be the final song on the album that will receive the most attention. “Turn This Island Earth” is a nearly twelve-minute slice of prime British prog, and longtime Hackett fans should love it. I know I do, as it features time and mood changes galore, as well as plenty of guitar.

Even though Steve Hackett qualifies as a bona-fide guitar legend for many of us, he has never received the widespread acclaim he deserves. Although I realize that this album will probably not be heard much outside of his avowed fan base, it should be.

February 27, 2013 Posted by | Steve Hackett Beyond The Shrouded Horizon | , | 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