STEVEN WILSON – Grace for Drowning (2011)

Review by: Ali Ghoneim
Album assigned by: Roland Bruynesteyn 

Steven Wilson has been behind many of the recent reissues of classic prog rock albums, and after listening to one his own albums, it’s easy to see why. This is a guy who is thoroughly familiar with the prog sound. Unfortunately, while that makes him suited to helming reissuing projects, it doesn’t help make albums like Grace for Drowning terribly exciting. The album faithfully reproduces elements of ITCOTCK-era King Crimson — the apocalyptic choirs, soothing mellotron, hysterical sax, etc. – and mixes them in with drum machines and some metal guitar heroics. The end product bears much of the form of a prog rock album, but in my opinion little of its spirit. I can’t put my finger on it, but the album comes off like the pet project of someone who is more of a producer than a songwriter, making all of the songs seem a bit perfunctory. Instead of being an independently vital and distinct work, Grace for Drowning ends up sounding like a generic calling card for Wilson’s skills as an excellent producer.  
To be fair, I should probably give his other albums a shot before I write him off like this.

PROCOL HARUM – A Salty Dog (1969)

Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by: Ali Ghoneim 


I own a version of the album without the title song A Salty Dog (I own a 2cd version of the the first 4 albums, that also includes the debut album, called Procol harum, without A Whiter Shade Of Pale, go figure), but I will separately review that song at the end.

So my album starts with The Milk Of Human Kindness. With its folky melody and quite bluesy guitar it sounds rather unlike ‘classic Procol harum’, but the voice is Gary Brooker and when the organ joins for the chorus it’s unmistakably Procol harum. Although the guitar sound doesn’t really work for me, it’s an energetic opener.

The second song, Too Much Between Us, is more subdued, with nice acoustic guitar. Paul McCartney would be proud of this song; it’s that nice!

The Devil Came From Kansas starts relatively promising with the verses, but it turns out to be rather mediocre further on. I think it’s the mix of power chords on the guitar, the silly drumming and the whiney group singing. The guitar solo’s are nice, however.

Boredom starts with sleighride sounds ( like a Beach boys Xmas song), but turns out to be more tropical. A nice stylistic excursion, albeit not very substantial. Once again, the singing doesn’t really seem to fit the happy melody but that may be because it tries to convey boredom. With the slightly more enthusiastic yelling at the end you would expect the song to speed up and end in a frenzied hysteria, but nope…

Juicy John Pink starts with bluesy guitar and harmonica and remains a bluesy song throughout. It’s an OK performance, but this really is like ELP playing Are You Ready Eddy?, showing stylistic diversity for the sake of it. And any number of bands of the era could do this better, from Paul Butterfield to Cream.

Wreck Of The Hesperus sounds like a more piano driven and speeded up version of Whiter Shade Of Pale, with added orchestra. An impressive song nonetheless.

All This And More, again, is a very typical Procol Harum song. I like how the vocals, piano and the guitar mix; this is one well arranged song.

Crucifiction Lane is distinguished more by Trowers’ singing than by his guitar playing. It’s sort of a power ballad that suffers a little from a lack of dynamics: there is no strong build up towards a glorious finale, but the instrumental ending is nice.

Pilgrim’s Progress is a little Paul McCartneyesque once more: nice vocal lines but the organ moves into Whiter Shade territory pretty soon. The hand clapping at the end gives it almost a gospel feeling.

A Salty Dog really belongs here, as it gave the album its title. It starts and ends with seagulls screeching. It’s a very solemn song, mostly because of the organ, but also because the singing is by far the best on this song.

On the whole I would call this album more symphonic rock than progressive rock, as only in the double keyboards (and in the song titles) something proggy could be discerned. The orchestral flourishes and some nice compositions elevate it above the pop music of the day, but instrumental virtuosity, tricky time signatures and heavy philosophical or mystical lyrics are mostly absent. Not having listened to it for a few years it was actually quite a bit more middle of the road than I remembered. It’s pleasant music, but I somehow expected something more challenging of it.

RAY BARRETTO – Acid (1968)

Review by: Ali Ghoneim
Album assigned by: Alejandro Muñoz G

When a Latin jazz musician releases an album called Acid — in 1968 no less — you would be forgiven for assuming it combines latin music with psychedelic rock. You would be forgiven, but you’d still be wrong. Not a hint, lick or indeed dab of psychedelia is on the entire thing (the eight minute long improvisation of Espiritu Libre comes close, but when the improv is this dry, it’s just called jazz). The only psychedelic thing about the album isn’t even on the album, it’s on the cover. What a waste of psychedelic font.

Not that Acid is a straightforward latin jazz record. It does draw influence from 60s soul/rock and tries to give them a latin spin, but the end result doesn’t really transform these genres in any significant way. A Deeper Shade of Soul sounds like a medley of covers rather than anything truly transcending typical soul. In fact, its melodies seem to be snatched from Twist and Shout and Summer Nights. The Soul Drummers is a bit of a slog except for that section near the end when the horns kick into high gear. And while Mercy, Mercy, Baby is a pretty good song, everything cool about it has nothing to do with the fact that Ray is belting your stock 60s soul/rock lyrics over latin percussion. Finally, Teacher of Love is Ray’s unconvincing attempt at hippy rock lyrics, not that actual hippy rock lyrics are all that convincing in the first place. Here’s a sampling:

I come to my class tonight
Don’t be late or you’ll be left behind
Cause I’m the loving loving man
I’m the teacher of love
(teacher won’t you teach me tonight!)

Stupendous. (That means it’s stupid, right?)

Where the album really shines is on its more straightforward latin tracks. All of the songs were written by Ray Barretto, a percussionist, but the real stars on display here are in the horn section. Just listen to the explosive horn riff that opens the first and best track, El Nuevo Barretto. It is the definition of a pick-me-up. Once that groove kicks, it’s hard to not let yourself be transported to a more pleasant state of mind. Think this is the kind of music George Clinton meant when he coined the term “mood control”. 

ROY WOOD – Boulders (1973)

Review by: Andreas Georgi
Album assigned by: Ali Ghoneim

I’ve read interesting things about Roy Wood, as well as his bands Wizard & the Move, though I’ve never actually heard any of his work until now. Part of the reason that I’ve never been motivated enough to check it out is that I am not at all a fan of ELO, the most famous band associated with him. I am also not familiar with the ELO stuff featuring him, but it’s possible to see a connection between the ELO I do know and this stuff. I must say I like this a lot better, though.

As far as the music goes, it’s hard to describe, but I will try. It’s vaguely Beatle-esque pop with strong folk influence. There are also touches of Beach Boys harmonies and 50’s rock ‘n’ roll. He plays almost all the instruments on the album himself. All the songs are very strong melodically. A couple of them have quirky qualities to them, most notably “Ms. Clarke and the Computer”, which sounds like a children’s song sung by a 70’s computer voice, which in the middle inexplicably turns into jazz for a couple of measures before resuming. “When Grandma Plays the Banjo” sounds just like you think it would. Amusing but not one I’ll likely go back to again. This one, “Rock Medley” and “Rock Down Low” don’t work for me much, but all the other ones are very good.

Thumbs up on this one.

This review is also posted on Amazon here.

TYRANNOSAURUS REX – Unicorn (1969)

Review by: Andreas Georgi

Album assigned by: Ali Ghoneim

In the USA, where I grew up and live, T-Rex is known for the one song that was a hit on American rock radio, correctly named “Get It On”, but euphemistically renamed “Bang a Gong”. This is a damn shame because they (he – Marc Bolan, actually) made a bunch of really great and unique albums. I do not know the two albums before this one, but this one is generally considered a step up. “Unicorn” is their 3rd album, and the last featuring percussionist Steve Peregrine Took. Bolan fired him later that year for a variety of issues – drug habits, attitude, etc. In a sense it’s a shame because, even though Marc Bolan was always the driving force of T-Rex – really he WAS T-Rex, Took was actually quite a talented guy. This is the last album before a transition to electric rock and glam stardom over the next 3 albums. Listeners who are only familiar with “Get It On” or with the “Electric Warrior” albums will be quite surprised by this album. This album is still almost entirely acoustic, with Bolan playing acoustic guitar & vocals, and Took on various percussion, harmony vocals and other assorted instruments. There are a number of elements which were definitely played down on T-Rex’s later glam stuff, namely a fair amount of surrealist weirdness and dissonant vocals (“bleating” (as George S put it) and “Punch and Judy” have been used as descriptions) which might be an acquired taste for some. If I had to describe the music, picture a cross of Donovan, Syd Barrett, and themes from Tolkien and William Blake. It’s very much of its time (1969), but does not fare worse for it at all. It’s not dated – it’s timeless! I won’t give a song by song description, but it’s a solid album. The last song features a poem narrated by John Peele.

I would recommend the version of the album with the extra tracks. Most of them are alternate takes of songs on the album and are fine, but no great revelations. There are, however, two versions each of the A and B sides of the single following this album, which still featured Took, “King of the Rumbling Spires” / “Do You Remember?”, both of which are great. The A side is the first Tyrannosaurus Rex song to feature an overtly hard, electric sound, along with a wonderfully dissonant melotron at the end, and is one of their highlights, I think. The B side is great too. The single version features Bolan on lead vocals and Took harmonizing, while the alternate take reverses the roles, with Steve Peregrine Took on lead vocals, and Bolan accompanying. It’s revelatory how good Took is, actually (in both roles). Alas, only room for one ego in the band. Of course the first T-Rex album you should get is “Electric Warrior”, but do not neglect this one or several others which are great. All the albums from this one through “Tanx” in 1973 are must-haves for fans of T-Rex. 

Five stars – Thumbs Up!

This review is also on Amazon here.


Review by: Roland Bruynesteyn
Album assigned by: Ali Ghoneim

Well, what do we have here?
Oh, Freedom – In principle a nice gospelly, anti-slavery tune, performed very generically, with a weird monologue (presumably by Bernie) in the middle. After that he joins in the singing, which doesn’t really add anything of quality, to put it mildly.
The Banks of Marble –  Bernie starts singing solo this time, and it’s pathetic: his phrasing, his diction, his (total lack of) sense of rhythm. He sounds like a priest, recorded separately, with music added later. With the (little) chorus you can hear the other singers desperately trying to make up for Bernie’s lack of talent. Second verse is more of the same. Loving Phish, Adam Green, Ween and many 60’s artists, I’m no stranger to silly lyrics but this beats everything, and detracts from the musical enjoyment, such as it is.
Where Have All the Flowers Gone –  This starts with a traditional drumming pattern that reminds me of an old Christmas song that I can’t be bothered to check. Some electric piano creeps in, and then Bernie with a pacifist sermon. He really likes long enumerations. When the chorus starts, hearing several professional voices comes as a relief: some are a little whiny, but they’re certainly adequate.
This Land Is Your Land – A reggae-ish intro doesn’t make things any easier for Bernie; his delivery is painful to hear and sounds insincere. This is strange, come to think of it, as most likely Bernie believes what he’s ‘singing’ and probably had a hand in his lyrics as well. The music and the ‘back-up’ singers are certainly OK, but it still sounds like a low budget version of songs like We are the world of the same era.
We Shall Overcome – “In many ways, the world in which we’re living today is an extremely depressing place. It’s hard to deny that, and it’s wrong to deny that”. No Bernie, it isn’t difficult or wrong to deny that. Having a choir sing We shall overcome (with nice electric guitar) may be true in most cases, but it doesn’t help your message. A message that, even thirty years ago, seemed to imply that government can solve all life’s problems, on an individual level, for society as a whole, and even for the whole world: just give politicians more power!
What to make of it? Curiosity value? Certainly, with him being a current presidential candidate and all. Musically it’s nothing special: happy gospel music with dated 80’s production values. Some nice voices, a nice organ tone or electric guitar here and there, but even without Bernie’s ‘contributions’ it’s nothing special. ‘Bland’ is the word I think.
It’s also very short, 5 songs, half an hour, but already too long to not bore the hell out of you. Lyrically it’s even more outdated, bordering on the insane: with a mix of faith and socialism Bernie tries to make the listener feel guilty, failing miserably but making a fool of himself.
Emotionally charged? Sort of. I switched between outright laughter, frustrated anger and annoyed mockery, so on an emotional level he certainly got to me, once. But I will absolutely never listen to it again. Bernie lost any sympathy I might have felt for him as an underdog in the American presidential elections. I’d even prefer Trump over Sanders as the worlds’ next US president, and that’s saying something.
In fact I’d prefer most tv evangelists of the 80’s and 90’s over his pathetic semi-religious hippy shit. Any tune can be a nice singalong song at any of his campaign meetings, but playing the cd (including his spoken parts) out loud at these meetings, is bound to make him lose the nomination.
In the end, this half hour taught me a lot about American politics I more or less feared and did not want to know…

NEGATIVLAND – Dispepsi (1997)

Review by: Ali Ghoneim
Album assigned by: Tristan Peterson

Dispepsi is an anti-consumerism, anti-commercial, anti-soft drink record by a group called Negativland. It alternates between sample heavy soundscapes and a couple straightforward songs. The more trad songs parody commercial jingles, which have thankfully gone out of fashion in the 21st century. All I will say about the parodies is that the basic melodies and singsongy vocals get their point across at the expense of enjoyability. Even the mixing on some of lead vocals sounds hollow. I couldn’t tell whether this was meant to reflect the soulless nature of jingles or just the band’s vocal talent; Dispepsi is my first and only Negativland record. “Aluminum or Glass” is the most honest attempt at an unironic tune, and even it sounds way too middle of the road to be memorable.
What Negativland is much more adept at is putting together sample-based music. Brooding sax and jittery dance music soundtrack the whole experience, showing that the band has way more musical talent on hand than they let on during the parody tracks. The group samples everything from TV spots, radio jingles, interviews with industry professionals, ad execs, testimonials from regular jacks like you and me to endorsements from famous jacks like Michael Jacks(on). This might all sound incredibly boring and pretentious, and while the latter is certainly true, the end result is actually dazzling –if a bit dizzying at times. The samples are mixed and matched and juxtaposed and repeated and repeated and repeated, but not TOO much. Five different interview samples will start and stop interchangeably, building and dropping threads, weaving them into a cohesive whole remarkable for sample based music, all the while underpinned by a kaleidoscope of shorter samples bursting left and right. It’s as if the Avalanches took a media studies course. It’s blunt and pretentious as hell, but boy does it ever keep your attention. 

PARLIAMENT – Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome (1977)

Review by: Jaime Vargas Sánchez
Album assigned by: Ali Ghoneim

Boys and girls, it’s yet again George Clinton armed with a set of grooves. Put the record on and see if you can resist the whole 8 and a half minutes of “Bop Gun (Endangered Species)” without at least bobbing your head. That was difficult, wasn’t it? It probably didn’t help that “Bop Gun” is not simply a groove (which it is), but is filled to the brim with nice touches and the most perfect combination of tightness and freedom. The guitar riff is unrelenting but excellent. Bernie Worrell’s keyboards are funky as hell but as limber and flowing as the best jazz (and his unexpected folk synth melody in the only break that the groove has is a wonderful surprise). This mixture of a totally “in the pocket” rhythmic feel and a free-flowing attitude are the defining traits of all the tracks, and they help to avoid the record degenerating into either flatlining banality with a beat or indulgent anything-goes anarchy.

The twin title tracks, “Funkentelechy” and “The Placebo Syndrome” are quite different from each other, not only because they are the longest and the shortest tracks respectively. “Funkentelechy” is a pure funk groove – an excellent one. No more but definitely not less. “The Placebo Syndrome” is a melodic song with incredibly heartfelt synth lines, mellow horn charts, a vocal tour-de-force and a rhythm section adamant on showing how you can turn a potential ballad into funk heaven. “Sir Nose D Voidoffunk” is another monster groove but in this case the mood is more oppressive and menacing, but with lots of humor (the horns are having a good time with the multiple quotes of Looney Tunes music). “Wizard of Finance” is an old-school R&B ballad where the vocals are hilarious and impressive at the same time and the interactions among the musicians are as tight-knitted as a good woolen jumper.

And then there’s the hit, “Flash Light”, which has dancefloor written all over it. The scratchy guitars, the singalong “da da da dee” refrain, Worrell showing the world how well he’s read the Stevie Wonder’s Book Of Cool Keyboard Bass Lines – it’s an ass-shaking masterpiece.

It’s well-known that Funkadelic and Parliament were basically the same band with two different recording contracts (a time-honored trick; what do you do when your band signs an exclusive recording contract as “Duke Ellington And His Orchestra?” Well, record for other people as “The Jungle Band” or “The Harlem Footwarmers”, of course!), but Clinton also liked to somewhat differentiate the output of both bands, Funkadelic being the more rock-oriented, psychedelic band and Parliament being the more dance-oriented, commercial band. This has had the effect that Funkadelic has always generated more praise than Parliament from rock critics.

I have expressed in the past the feeling that the current obsession of every outlet with “Best Of All Time” lists has created the phenomenon that some bands seem to only have one record, a situation that grows worse in time, since from one generation to another the situation evolves from everybody namedropping the same record to everybody listening to the same record. Parliament are a clear example of this, as here we have an album that went platinum in its day and nowadays you never hear about, because everybody is busy praising the also great “Mothership Connection” (and Funkadelic’s “One Nation Under A Groove”, which, while awesome, was also the point where Funkadelic started being undistinguishable from Parliament). Correct this mistake and listen to this good, if not revolutionary, collection. To paraphrase Mick Jagger, “It’s only R&B and Funk… but I LIKE it”.

THE VISIT – Through Darkness Into Light (2015)

Review by: Ali Ghoneim
Album assigned by: Kevin O’Meara

This album is to metal what Sparks’ Lil Beethoven is to electronic music.

Or at least that’s the conclusion I — someone who hasn’t listened to much metal beyond Sabbath — have made after listening to a 55 minute long “metal” album with no guitars. The metal tag comes from the band’s bandcamp page, so know that I’m not making any assumptions here.

Purely in terms of form and structure, I can see how someone could argue that this is a metal album. Chugging guitars are replaced with cellos, but you can still recognise the music that they’re playing as distinctly metal — again I don’t know much about metal so take that with a grain of salt. 

Prior to listening to this album, I had been aware that some metal acts liked to mix a lot of baroque/orchestral passages into their songs, but I was under the impression that those passages would then eventually gave way to stereotypical metal fair. Here, however, the whole album seems to be one prolonged ornate passage, which really caught me off guard the first time I listened to it. Here I was thinking: “Ok, the guitars are definitely gonna come in now….ok now……now?” But they never did, and the album was a much more interesting and engaging “metal” album because of it.

To be completely fair, it might very well be that these kind of metal albums sans guitar and drums are common, and that the visit isn’t doing anything new. In that case, my opening statement is a lot of hyperbole from someone who doesn’t know shit about metal. But AS someone who doesn’t know shit about metal, Through Darkness Into Light was a pretty enlightening listen. 

MINI MANSIONS – Mini Mansions (2010)

Review by: Syd Spence
Album assigned by: Ali Ghoneim

1967, a mythical year in rock music. This year is when rock music began to explore new realms of musical possibility. R&B, Music Hall, Pop, Country, Folk, Blues, etc were transformed into a kaleidoscope of novelty. Likewise, people have been worshiping this year for decades, and Mini Mansions is another in a long line of nostalgia acts seeking to emulate that epoch.

Nostalgia is the key word here to describe Mini Mansions. This record sounds like the band really liked 1967, especially the Beatles’ Magical Mystery. And that is what they do, create psychedelic pop album with all those brit psych pop attributes. Harmonies, keyboards, astral lyrics, etc are all on display here, and well, i was bored literally midway through the first listen. Oh, they can create slightly catchy tunes probably on the par of one of those third string Brit psych groups like The Action or Kaleidoscope, but so what? This album was released in 2010! The epoch is gone, and I will say that if this record was recorded and released in 1967 it would be given all the acclaim and admiration of say Nirvana’s (the psych band) The Story of Simon Simopath. In other words, only record collectors scouring each and every record released during that period would even bother, and even then they would probably play it rarely.

That Nirvana album, as mediocre as it is, was at least was a product of it’s era. Mini Mansion’s debut is not. It’s the 21st century and paisley isn’t the hip new fashion. Perhaps, I’m being too harsh on Mini Mansions. I mean i too spent my time buried in the aura of ‘67, collecting every psychedelic relic i could get my hands on. I remember in college, going “Golly Geeze, I wish bands sounded like Piper era floyd again.” I’m as guilty of nostalgia worship as Mini Mansions, and i didn’t have the gumption to actually learn an instrument and make said such music. So kudos for that triumph.. 

Also, this is their first album made by relatively young dudes, perhaps in the future they will find their own sound, one that reflects novelty. There are plenty of examples of good bands releasing nostalgia pieces as their first record. The first one that pops up in my mind is Primal Scream, whose debut is just play ‘60s as much as possible. Later they released interesting genre crossing masterpieces like Vanishing Point and Screamadelica. So there is hope, but honestly, these days i don’t have any for rock bands.

See the production on this album is indicative of ourtime. It has all the digital perfection of a Mumford and Sons record. It’s bland, digital, and has no warmth or space that is oh so needed for great psychedelia. This is the grand problem with modern rock bands. They continue to use modern music equipment in a postmodern world, and thus it just doesn’t sound right. To my ears, digital productions sounds best on electronic and hip hop music i.e. art forms that use digital instruments. The use of traditional instruments with the sterility of today’s production just innately sounds wrong. Don’t get me wrong i think a musical genius could possibly use these old instruments in this new environment, but for new artists honing their craft, it just sucks. 

So I’m giving this a THUMBS DOWN. And i wish the musicians would try to make music that reflects the times more. Psychedelia in a digital space would and does sound brilliant. Try that instead of this sad ‘67 worship.