Lee in Limbo’s Big 2012 Album Review (3/3)

Lee in Limbo's Big 2012 Album Review Wrap-Up

Jazz/Fusion Albums

Diana Krall – Glad Rag Doll: An unconventional album from a woman probably most well known for her smooth, piano-driven trio/quartet interpretations of classics jazz standards. Here she also interprets standards and classics, but this time it’s classic blues-era standards. In fact, guitar features prominently in a number of tracks. A surprising—and surprisingly good—album, worth checking out if you have any love of early Twentieth Century popular music. I suspect I’ll be reviewing this album in the future.
The Fusion Syndicate – eponymous: This is an instrumental album or thoroughly enjoyable jazz fusion as envisioned by Billy Sherwood and a cast of dozens of the finest living progressive rockers and jazz rockers in music today. It’s sort of a companion piece to his other recent project, The Prog Collective, which also features many of the same musicians, culled from the long list of celebrity rockers he has recruited over the years for his classic rock tribute albums (including last year’s Songs of the Century, a Supertramp tribute, amongst others).

Progressive Rock Albums

Anathema – Weather Systems: This band probably belongs somewhere in the Alt.Rock or Classic Rock category, but there is something distinctly progressive about their music that immediately grabbed me. The arrangements are lush and the playing is superb while servicing the songs admirably. Not a heavy band, at least on this album, but very much an excellent example of Progressive Pop, if not thing else. A lovely album.
Anthony Phillips/Andrew Skeet – Seventh Heaven: Okay, this is technically a classical/symphonic album, but it features suites and pieces with structures that remind me of Ant’s progressive works, so I’m putting it here. That said, anyone looking for Simon Phillips/Mike Rutherford rhythm section work will be disappointed. It’s not a rock album. But it’s a fantastic album, and I will be finishing my review of it in the next week or so.
Asia – XXX: I know classing Asia Prog will make some people spit up their almond milk, but I don’t think you can class a band with this prog pedigree anything less than Progressive Pop, which is close enough for kissing in my books. The album is a sturdy third release from the revitalized original line-up, and wwhile I haven’t quite grabbed hold of any individual songs the way I did on their previous albums, the album is solid and doesn’t give me the feeling that perhaps they are perhaps a little past their prime. It’s a great Asia album, whatever you class Asia as, and it proves that they have more in them than that two albums the original line-up created back in the 80s, before it all went horribly wrong.
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part One): This is a really good band, and this album really shows them arriving at a sound and style of writing that suggests to me what Genesis might sound like today, if they had continued after Calling All Stations. I’m not calling them a Genesis clone. Just that Genesis keeps ringing through the back of my mind when I listen to this album. Not at all derivative. Probably in my top ten albums of the year, but not the top five. Yet.
Flying Colours – eponymous: This album still sits in my top five for the album of the year. It’s a great little album that confounds expectations. They don’t skimp on the musicianship, but it’s all inservice of some very well-thought out songs. I reviewed this album last year, for those keeping score.
Glass Hammer – Perilous: The previous two albums featuring new vocalist Jon Davison—who would win the Jon Anderson sound-alike award for 2012 hands down—were quite a treat, as they meld a lot of my favourite classic progressive elements together. They sound great, but I haven’t had the album long enough to really fall in love with it.
IZZ – Crush of Night: Here’s a prog rock band I’ll bet you haven’t heard of before. They’re fabulous, and this is probably their most progressive offering to date. I’m genuinely impressed by this album. Somewhere in my top ten for 2012, I think.
Ian Anderson – Thick as a Brick 2: This is a fantastic album. Top five album material, right here. I reviewed the album last year, and it still gets more hits per month than any other review I’ve done, with the possible exception of Julian Lennon. A great album, and an excellent revisitation to the world of Gerald Bostock.
Marillion – Sounds That Can’t Be Made: This album is both more and less progressive than Marillion have been in years. It’s an album that is defying my love, and yet I want to love it, because it does so many things so very well. I’m hoping a few more listens will help me finish the review I started when I first borrowed a copy from my buddy. It’s definitely a solid album, well worth listening to.
Mystery – The World Is A Game: Well, I’m listening to the album for the first time, and I’m thinking it answers a question no one asked, namely ‘what if Jon Anderson had taken over vocal duties for Marillion after Fish left?’. It’s actually good. I’m liking it a lot. It’s not in my top ten yet, but I may be checking these guys out more in the not-too-distant future.
Neal Morse – Momentum: This is an incredible album, right out of the gate. Probably the most satisfying and unrestrained prog rock album from Neal solo, and a great workout for Mike Portnoy as well. Top ten album, I’m pretty certain.
Nektar – A Tab In The Ocean: SOUNDS like a lost early 1971 Genesis album, if Peter Banks had replaced Anthony Phillips instead of Steve Hackett. Vocals sound like Syd Barrett before he lost his mind, in places, and in others like Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton during their Cream period. So, I guess we’ll call this English Prog circa 1969. Interesting. I’ll have to listen to it a few more times before I can really decide if I genuinely like it, but I can definitely see why some people like them so much.
Rick Wakeman – Journey To The Centre of the Earth 2012: Technically a remaster project gone totally out of control, Rick managed to reintegrate all of the original score music he wrote for the project before it had to be curtailed for the original live recording. So while it’s a revisitation, it’s a very worthy one, with lots of fresh material. I’ve only played it once so far, but I may review it after I’ve played it a few more times. I’ll keep you posted.
RPWL – Beyond Man And Time: These guys seem to have an early 00’s Porcupine Tree vibe (which reminds me, PT released a new album, but I still haven’t gotten my mitts on it). I haven’t listened tot he full album yet, but it sounds like something I’ll want to come back to again soon. It’s not quite as proggy as some neo-prog bands, but there’s a nice line on Pink Floydian groove with mellifluous vocals. Good keys and guitars, too. Yeah, I could learn to like this band.
Rush – Clockwork Angels: Top five album. I reviewed it earlier this year. Not sure it’s my #1, but it’s got so much to recommend it to the position. Best Rush album in decades.
Saga – 20/20: I know some folks have toruble calling Saga prog, but I’m not one of them; ‘Don’t Be Late’ earns you a room in the Home For The Terminally Proggy for life. I think that calling this a comeback album would be disingenuous, considering Saga never really went away. I also can’t call this a radical change in sound, because Saga has been revisiting their classic sound for the past few albums. That said, I think this is the most successful effort to recapture their magic sound (without sounding like they are trying too hard or too slavishly), and a happy return to the fold of vocalist Mike Sadler, who had briefly retired from the band. My sympathy goes out to the guy who sat in for him on The Human Condition (a highly underrated album), but frankly, Mike Sadler is the voice of Saga, and they just can’t quite hit that special groove without him in the fold. I’d say this is the best I’ve heard from them since Generation 13. I may do a proper review of this album in the next month. Almost definitely.
Squackett – A Life Within A Day: I’m almost finished my review of this album. It’s not quite as stellar as I’d hope for, but repeated listenings have revealed more under the cover than my initial write-up on the album showed, so I’m glad I haven’t posted it yet. It’s very much what the tin says it is: Steve Hackett and Chris Squire. Good stuff.
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II: Speaking of Steve, who has been a very busy guy lately, this is probably in my top five albums of the year, despite being a covers album. It’s uncanny what he has done with these tracks. It’s not a perfect album, and not every singer pleases my ear, but over all, it’s a very successful follow-up to one of my all time favourite albums. I’ll have a review of this written some time this or next month. Stay tuned.
The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet: This is a challenging shift in their sound that had fans and critics alike scratching their heads a bit. I think it’s a fantastic album, and I was very happy to review it last year. In retrospect, I can’t say it’s one of my top five, but it’s a really interesting album. Looking forward to their next album, which, given the rate at which Omar works, ought to be tomorrow.
The Memorials – Delirium: I couldn’t review the new Mars Volta album without also paying close attention to Thomas Pridgen’s band and their sophomore effort. I intend to review this album properly in the new year (apologies for taking so long, guys), so that should tell you what I think of it.
The Prog Collective – eponymous: This is a Billy Sherwood solo project disguised as a supergroup, and it works quite nicely on those grounds. There are lots of reasons to dismiss this album, but they’re all superficial excuses to dismiss the guy who was let go from the 90s iteration of Yes for being the fifth wheel. The thing is, it really is a great album with great chops and imminently memorable melodies. Sherwood works best as a composer of modern progressive pop, and this album is proof that he wasn’t just a fifth wheel. He’s promised more to come, and I for one welcome it. Top Five Album here.
Tony Banks – Six Pieces For Orchestra: Like Seventh Heaven, this album can and probably should be classed Symphonic/Orchestral music, but it has enough of what I consider to be Progressive features that I’m fine putting it here instead. It’s largely down to Tony’s solos, which are performed by some wonderful musicians. It’s not rock and roll, but it’s great music to me. This album hasn’t quite sailed into my top five albums of the year, but that’s only because I haven’t had it long. I reckon I’ll be reviewing it some time in the next few months.
Trevor Rabin – Jacaranda: This isn’t technically a progressive rock album, but it’s also not really a pop or classic rock album, because it’s too varied for that. It bears a lot more resemblance to his soundtrack work, though the pieces here are more fully realized than soundtrack music tends to be. It’s also not the album I want from Trevor right now (still waiting for that rumoured Jon/Rick/Trevor project), but it’s still a very good album. I think anyone who is serious about writing instrumental rock music ought to give it a listen, as well as anyone who thinks he is a poor second to Steve Howe in the acoustic department.

Well, there are still plenty of albums I’d hoped to hear in 2012, but if they’re not on the list above, I haven’t had my hands on them in the year or 2012, so I left them off the list. That includes things like Anthony Phillips latest synth instrumental offering, Private Parts & Pieces XI: City of Dreams (which I will be reviewing), The Rolling Stones’ latest (which I probably won’t be reviewing), the new Keith Emerson trio project (which I may listen to yet), and the unrealized Jon Anderson/Rick Wakeman/Trevor Rabin project (which will probably never happen), amongst many, many others. Anyone who says the music industry is in danger of drying up and blowing away because of internet piracy should really open their eyes and look at what century they’re in, but that’s neither here nor there. The point is, there’s plenty of new music going around, which is why I stuck my 2012 list here, because I simply can’t review it all in greater depth right now.

Now, about that Top Ten/Top Five list: Can’t do it. Turns out my top picks for 2012 come out to twenty albums (not including my own), and I can’t order them, either, so I’ve put them down in alphabetical order. To be sure, some of these albums are closer to my top five than others, but I haven’t had enough time to evaluate them all, so the jury’s still out. Maybe next month, eh?

Anyway, here’s my Top Twenty of 2012:

Amanda Palmer/GTO – Theater Is Evil
Anthony Phillips/Andrew Skeet – Seventh Heaven
Big Wreck – Albatross
Flying Colors – eponymous
Ian Anderson – Thick as A Brick II
IZZ – Crush of Night
Marillion – Sounds That Can’t Be Made
Neal Morse – Momentum
Rush – Clockwork Angels
Saga – 20/20
Soundgarden – King Animal
Steve Hackett – Genesis Revisited II
The Fusion Syndicate – eponymous
The James Rocket – Launch
The Mars Volta – Noctourniquet
The Memorials – Delirium
The Prog Collective – eponymous
The Rest – See-Saw
Tony Banks – Six Pieces For Orchestra
Van Halen – A Different Kind of Truth

And with that, I’m going to go get some breakfast and get back to work on my novel. Have a nice day.

© 2013 Lee Edward McIlmoyle

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