Mike's Music Reviews: A-F

 

  Artist (see also Other Related Artists)
** Album Title
Year Released
Somewhat Similar Albums (Artist)
My comments go here, and of course are just my opinion based on my own musical tastes. If I don't like an album at all, I won't include it here; however that doesn't mean lack of inclusion means I necessarily don't like it - I may not have it, I may not have typed a review yet, or aliens may have eaten it. In any case, all albums that are listed in here get a thumbs-up from me.

Ratings in the first column are as follows:
  *   means one of the artist's best albums
  **   means an overall must-have album (one you just can't live without!)

 


 

  Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (see also Yes, J. Anderson, B. Bruford, R. Wakeman, S. Howe)
* Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe
1989
An Evening of Yes Music Plus (ABWH)
No matter what the lawyers say, ABWH IS Yes. Their one album is one of the best Yes albums, and Chris Squire's absence did not sink it. It is a little hard to pigeonhole though, Teakbois for example draws heavily on Caribbean themes while Birthright is a dramatic song about nuclear proliferation and Australian Aborigines. This album features close, intertwined harmonies between all the players, and there really isn't a bad song on it. Very melodic, this will satisfy any fan of Yes.
** An Evening of Yes Music Plus
1994
The Thieving Magpie (Marillion)
This is one of the most inspired live albums there is, one of those performances where everything just clicked and massive musical energy was in the air, and we can all thank our lucky stars that it was recorded. Somewhat like an expanded Fragile format, there are sections designed to highlight each of the player's talents, and all work well. Most versions of songs on this double album are rearranged from the familiar Yes versions, such as an acoustic Time And A Word/Owner Of A Lonely Heart/Teakbois medley that many will find quite superior to any of the original studio versions. Rick Wakeman's solo includes some of his typical awe-inspiring playing where the notes come so fast you can barely consciously distinguish them. Old favorites like Long Distance Runaround have even more power in the way they are performed here. This a disc I play to my uninitiated friends to show them why Yes is so great.
  Jon Anderson (see also Yes, ABWH, Jon & Vangelis)
** Olias Of Sunhillow
1976
Relayer (Yes)
Fish Out Of Water (Chris Squire)
This is truly a concept album, and not only was it Anderson's first solo effort, it is one of his best. A mystical story of a man's journey in a fantastical world, this story may almost have come out of one of the more serious passages in The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. Jon's incredible vocal talents in conjunction with his usual lyrical abstraction may leave you feeling like you can't quite grasp the full meaning of this work... yet you still feel like you understand just through the feeling of the music and the bits that are clear. That sounds strange perhaps, but amazingly it works well. The songs focus on atmospheres and textures as much as on the melodies and they all blend into a single, flowing stream of music... it's a stream that you cannot just listen to, rather you must immerse yourself in it.
* Deseo
1994
 
I never thought too much about Latin music until I heard this album. There is nothing worse than an artist that tries too hard to be something they aren't - fortunately, this album stays far, far away from that. Jon shows that a love of good music transcends genres and stereotypes about them, and this has produced an album that has all the groove and tempo of traditional Latin music while retaining the happy, lyrical voicescapes that Jon is a master of. Jon performs with many notables in Latin music including Milton Nascimento, Cecelia Toussaint, Ruben Rada, Eduardo El Signore, and many others.
  Toltec
1996
Deseo (Jon Anderson)
Building a bit upon the path explored with Deseo, this album shifts into another unknown area... that of American Indian music and culture. This album has more of a "New Age" feel (I hate using that term for fear of scaring anybody off) and is more of a connected "stream of consciousness" album than is Deseo. Jon has integrated into this album many spoken passages from Longwalker, an Indian medicine man, which serve to convey the sense of spirituality and natural knowledge this album is built on. A good album, and a bit off the beaten path, it might even give you something to think about.
** The More You Know
1998
 
Whoa, radical shift in direction!!!! This is an EXCELLENT album, but it's a bit hard to describe without prejudicing it. The best way to describe it may be that if you take everything that's wrong, trite, boring, repetitive and annoying with modern popular music, this album pretty much does the opposite. If I told you that Jon and his wife Jane worked with Francis and Bobby Jocky to make an album that ranges from R&B to reggae to "World music", you might think "ugh, I hear that garbage all the time on the radio!!" But trust me, on The More You Know, it actually WORKS... everyone I've loaned this CD to so far had to be threatened with bodily harm before they would consent to return it, saying things like "Man, that was a really really good CD!!" Give it a try, modern music has needed more of this kind of thing for a long long time.
  Tony Banks (see also Genesis)
* A Curious Feeling
1979
...And Then There Were Three... (Genesis)
Banks's first solo album, this is a dark study in keyboard atmosphere. This is pure Tony Banks, many layers of keyboard textures that are almost oppressive in their heaviness, underneath a storyline about a man facing impeding death. It won't win any awards from the Optimist club but it's saved by being quite introspective, not just whiny like a sad country song. As much as anything else, this is an excellent portrait of the man many believe is the true heart and soul of Genesis above all others. Only three people played on this album: Banks, Genesis live drummer Chester Thompson, and vocalist Kim Beacon. If you like Genesis tracks like The Lady Lies and Burning Rope, you'll probably love this album.
  The Fugitive
1983
 
Tony Banks has never had much commercial success outside Genesis, which is quite a puzzle given an album like this. The Fugitive takes a decidedly more upbeat, pop-ish turn from the dark songs Tony is known for, and while they aren't all wildly joyous, they are reflective and generally hopeful. Some, like Charm, are downright bouncy (even though it's an instrumental) while several others are good old love songs. This album definitely sounds like the decade it came from, yet it doesn't sound dated. Tony chose wisely in singing his own songs on this one.
  The Beatles
** Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
1967
 
This really was the first progressive-rock album, and one of the few that singularly changed an entire generation of music. Perhaps no single musical work has had as much mystery surrounding it either, which makes it even more interesting. There are so many Beatles books and sites out there I won't go over it again here, but Sgt. Pepper is certainly an album that you should have... I'm still hearing new things after listening to it hundreds of times.
* Abbey Road
1969
Archaeology (The Rutles)
Abbey Road is one of the Beatles' finest, plain and simple. I particularly find the Sun King/Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam suite to be great, while Octopus's Garden is a nice example of bouncy fun. All in all, a great disc.
  Brand X (see also Phil Collins)
  Product
1988
 
Brand X is an excellent progressive fusion-jazz group that has been operating off and on for decades now, and includes Phil Collins, John Goodsall, John Giblin, and Morris Pert among others. Product is a good album for someone who isn't really "into" fusion jazz but wants to hear what it's about. Phil focuses more on percussion than singing, and while you can definitely hear the Collins influence it is refreshing to hear an album where he's just another musician in equal partnership with the others.
  The Buggles (see also Yes)
** The Age Of Plastic
Drama (Yes)
The Buggles produced two albums before both members (Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn) joined Yes. The most famous song on this album is Video Killed The Radio Star (which incidentally was the first video ever shown on MTV.) This album is very electronic, somewhat in the vein of Devo at times, and the songs are generally related to post-modern technological overload... as you can tell by such titles as I Love you (Miss Robot) and Astroboy (And The Proles on Parade). The music is very well written and well executed, and of course very space-age sounding, and at many points it's just downright catchy. A great album... but what else did you expect from a couple of guys good enough to be recruited for Yes?
  Kate Bush (see also Alan Parsons Project, Peter Gabriel)
** The Kick Inside
1977
Lionheart (Kate Bush)
This woman is one of the most amazing vocalists the world has ever seen. The music is progressive (Kate was backed up on this album and Lionheart by most of The Alan Parsons Project), the emotion intense, Kate's vocal abilities stunning, and the songs are superbly original. The songs range from spiritual to haunting, from personal introspection to Wild West gangsters, from personal challenges to love and sex. If you are ever lucky enough to find a video of hers from this era (such as Kate Bush Live At Hammersmith) you'll see that hearing the music is only the half of it... she dances and performs with stunning talent as well... it makes the music take on a depth that's amazing even by progressive-rock standards. This is one of my all-time favorite albums, period.
** Lionheart
1978
The Kick Inside (Kate Bush)
This was a follow-up to The Kick Inside and while it's not a carbon-copy, it's the same type of music in general, again with backup provided courtesy members of The Alan Parsons Project. This is also one of my favorite albums, and as a bonus if you listen closely you'll realize she mentions the Battle of Britain and one of the neatest airplanes ever made, the Spitfire. For that reason alone this album is a must-have, and no matter what my friends think of the idea, I'm still determined to have Kate's love chile!!!
  Camel
** Music Inspired By The Snow Goose
1975
Voyage Of The Acolyte (Steve Hackett)
The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table (Rick Wakeman)
Camel is one of the lesser-known progressive rock acts, yet they are one of the best. They have a great ability to figure out what sounds quot;neat" and make the best of it. This album is quite a good example of that. The musicianship is evidenced by the fact that knowing no more than that the album is about a goose, the music easily places you into the goose's life and lets you follow right along in what's going on with his life and loves. All this even without the benefit of lyrics, as it's an instrumental album. A unique tale told by some very inspired musicians.
  Phil Collins (see also Genesis, Brand X)
* Face Value
1981
Duke (Genesis)
Peter Gabriel IV
Face Value was Phil's first solo album away from Genesis, and as you would expect, it has great percussion. Hugh Padgham's engineering influence shows in that trademark stark and somewhat bare atmosphere, which works well. In The Air Tonight and I Missed Again are well-known tracks, although the suite of The Roof Is Leaking/Droned/Hand In Hand is reminiscent of Genesis's Duke album. In fact Phil borrowed Behind The Lines from that album for this album, although it was preformed in a radically different (pop/jazzy and bouncy) style.
* But Seriously
1989
So (Peter Gabriel)
But Seriously was a conscious attempt by Phil to make a more serious album, which it did turn out to be. On But Seriously, Phil takes a deep look into the dark corners of humanity, and then into himself. You may be familiar with a few songs here, such as Do You Remember, I Wish It Would Rain Down, and Another Day In Paradise. Others are more moving, such as Colours (Phil's answer to Peter Gabriel's Biko), the brutally honest examination of blame in a rough relationship in All Of My Life (it's been said that Phil is psychologically incapable of going more than a week without writing a new song using the phrase "all of my life" in the lyrics), and Find A Way To My Heart is an uplifting plea for patience in love. There is even the odd jazz/swing track (Saturday Night And Sunday Morning.) This album shows Phil well in his more serious moods, and the emotions behind the messages are conveyed well.
  The Dead Milkmen
  Metaphysical Graffiti
1990
 
This is irreverent hilarity, plain and simple. I was first attracted to it by the track making fun of progressive rock, Anderson, Walkman, Buttholes And How! but found that there were more treats to be had. They lambaste most of popular culture (In Praise Of Sha-Na-Na for example), they honor The Doors in If You Love Somebody, Set Them On Fire ("You know that it would be untrue / You know that I would be a liar/ If I were to say to you / I didn't set your house on fire") and they even regale us with twisted tales of his uncle Earl's maggot farm. Oh yeah, let's not forget the advice on getting ahead in life (Do The Brown Nose) and the urgent warnings about the left-handed, lesbian, midget albino Eskimos. A very funny disc, along the lines of King Missile or a cleaner Frank Zappa.
  Emerson Lake & Palmer
* Tarkus
1971
Foxtrot (Genesis)
Tarkus is one of the weirdest albums I know of, and is certainly the strangest offering ELP ever made. The mechanical armadillo tank on the cover should wake you up to that fact. The epic title track, over 20 minutes long, is somewhat akin to some of the other multi-part prog epics, perhaps most closely identifiable with Genesis's Supper's Ready in structure and feeling. ELP turned the prog world upside down, in large part due to Keith Emerson's combination of flamboyant, savage, and often downright brutal playing of his Moogs and synthesizers (he stabbed his keyboards with large knives during early performances in order to hold the keys down, thus solving the practical problem that automatic sustaining of notes hadn't been invented yet!) However, as if to offset the shock value, Emerson is a genuinely prodigal classical piano virtuoso and composer... his peers include Rick Wakeman and perhaps Tony Banks - but very, very few others could even come close to keeping up. This is balanced by Carl Palmer's awesome drumming and Greg Lake's mastery of his voice as well as bass and regular guitars. All this comes together uniquely on Tarkus into a bizarre mix of sci-fi, humor, and even a bit of sacrilege. The music ranges from eclectic Moog extravaganzas to a sacrilegious pipe-organ church hymn to old-fashioned saloon tunes, with just about everything in between. A good album, perhaps not the easiest introduction to ELP but certainly not a boring one.
** Trilogy
1972
Lizard (King Crimson)
This excellent album finds ELP in a bit of a post-romantic mood, with several songs of loves lost, a good bit of angst and even some more tales of the Wild West. Living Sin even makes Dylan's How Does It Feel seem like a song of deep affection. Musically, several songs (Trilogy, Hoedown, and Abaddon's Bolero) focus on Emerson's keyboard work or piano virtuosity (The Endless Enigma), while some (like From The Beginning) focus on Lake's guitars. Palmer gets his digs in too, perhaps most notably in Hoedown. All songs feature brilliantly effective playing by all concerned, and it may be said that Trilogy is one of ELP's most cohesive and emotional albums.
* Pictures At An Exhibition
1972
 
This live album does a good job of capturing ELP's formidable raw energy in the early 70s, conveying the scope of their talents fairly well. This is a distinctively ELP-styled rendition of Mussorgsky classical work of the same name, wherein ELP performs their trademarked transformation upon a classical piece. They fuse classical with modern and acoustic with explosive overamplification, eventually emerging with one assembled work of bad-boy progressive rock that would leave most NPR devotees with severe psychological damage. They don't disrespect the original work while effecting this transformation, they just use it as a springboard for forging into the unknown. As a bonus, there is a neat little version of the Christmas song Nutrocker at the end.
** Brain Salad Surgery
1973
Fragile (Yes)
This album has a more refined edge than Tarkus or Pictures At An Exhibition, and furthers ELP's musical development in the early 70s. Most notable on this album is another great progressive rock epic, Karn Evil 9. (The bits you hear on the radio are but four short, radio-friendly minutes out of a diverse half-hour work!) This song is basically a dark vision into a technological, apocalyptic hell, earning King Crimson lyricist Pete Sinfield "many thanks and a garland of martian fire flowers" for his collaboration on the lyrics. Quite a change from the unique version of the British hymn Jerusalem that opens the album.
* Return of the Manticore
1991
The Best Of ELP
I wasn't going to include box sets here but what the heck, with ELP it is hard to pick out any two or three "best" albums. The chief fault of this set is that there is not much new, so you will inevitably end up duplicating a lot between this and any reasonably sizeable collection of ELP albums. Even the newer studio version of Pictures At An Exhibition that premiered on this set was later released on In The Hot Seat album. A funny thing to look for on ELP albums is how producer Eddie Offord's name changes regularly between "Eddy" and "Eddie"... maybe he was trying to avoid taxes or something?
  Fish (see also Marillion)
  Internal Exile
1991
So (Peter Gabriel)
Invisible Touch (Genesis)
This is labeled "Internal Exile - a collection of a boy's own stories." At times this album is extremely emotionally charged and asks hard questions of relationships, such as when Just Good Friends (Close) asks "What would you do if I opened my heart to you / Would I just be another who's wasting his time / Darling are we just good friends?" Other songs examine, explain and indict the disaffected industrial life in Scottish cities. Not too many shades of Marillion are to be found here, however fans of Fish-era Marillion should enjoy this CD. A creditable remake of the classic song Something In The Air helps fill out the album.
* Sunsets On Empire
1997
 
This album is a real treat. It is often harsh and accusing, telling a story of one who is fed up with the status quo, however it makes for good fuel for such songs as The Perception Of Johnny Punter. Other topics touched upon range from love songs for Fish's daughter to a blazing accusation of Federal agents' persecution of militia members in the Midwest to questions about self-righteous zealotry. The sound is decidedly modern, often with an angry, bold feeling to the songs. Although strictly speaking this may not be a theme album, it seems to flow together well in that sense.
  Robert Fripp (see also King Crimson, ProjeKt Two)
* Exposure
1979
 
This is an album of songs and pieces of songs that Fripp has worked on with other artists, and includes some real gems. Due to the nature of this album, there is a wide variety of types of songs here, from three-chord rock to humorous screaming vocals to atmospheric Frippertronic music to historical sound bites. In particular, this album's version of Peter Gabriel's Flood, with surrounding bits placing it into the context of The Battle of Britain, is very powerful and emotional and is actually far superior to the version released by Gabriel. The rest of the album contains a great number of artists including Daryl Hall, Phil Collins, Brian Eno, Peter Hammill, Tony Levin, and Jerry Marotta.

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