Friday, 27 February 2015

Sanguine Hum - Now We Have Light


For their third studio outing, Sanguine Hum have gone all out for a double concept album. Very 70's! This is a band I have sort of followed over the course of their last two albums and they are a very distinctive band, mixing a whole lot of influences and sounds. There is a bit of Hatfield and the North as has been mentioned in reviews of the band, Frank Zappa and more traditional prog fare like a bit of Yes and Genesis, but it all comes together in quite a nice cohesive whole. However, for me I always felt there was something that didn't quite completely gel. I couldn't put my finger on it till I heard their live album from last year. I felt the music was impressive, but a bit too "careful". It came across as a bit too studious and introverted. No such problem with this new album. Whether it's the bonkers concept of the album or realising they have something special on their hands, but this album is a complete triumph. I will be bold enough to say it could be the 21st Century's equivalent of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. In fact it reflects that albums obscure concept too. Here, rather than a protagonist Rael, we have a bloke called Don and something to do with the paradox of buttered cats. It's all clearly explained in the lengthy synopsis within the album booklet! Musically, the album is quite excellent. Mixing fusion like instrumentals and tricksy songs in a manner that keeps the dynamics of the album flowing effortlessly. The playing is full of enthusiasm and ambition from all concerned. The band do play very tightly and work off each other very nicely. This is a great album and one that has made me go back to their earlier albums and maybe those will be appreciated more now. By the way, the album is on Esoteric Antenna, who had a such a succesful year last year with the albums they released and it looks this year is going to be even better!


Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Unthanks - Mount the Air


This is one of those albums that defy categorisation and transcends genres. The Unthanks may be classed as a folk group, but they have always plowed a much wider path, adapting songs by the likes of Robert Wyatt and King Crimson. With this latest album they have ventured even further away from traditional folk songs. Sounding more jazzy, with pronounced trumpet and brushed drums, they do evoke Gil Evans period Miles Davis but on epic tracks like Foundling and the title track there is more of the spirit of Islands and Starless by King Crimson. Which is no coincidence as the band covered Starless on their last album.

The Unthank sisters both have a light, wistful air to their voices which is enhanced by the spacious and sparse production. This is all enhanced by the empathic and expert mastering of Denis Blackham.

The album may be classed as eclectic folk, but this is one album that can't be easily pigeonholed and rightly so. The quality of these heartfelt songs is sublime and has to be enjoyed on its own terms. In some ways they are not a million miles away from what Big Big Train have been doing lately, but coming at a traditional form of English songwriting from somewhat different directions, but somehow meeting in the middle.


Friday, 6 February 2015

Rick Wakeman - Reissues

Well, these have been a long time coming. It is hard to believe that this is the first time that Wakeman's A&M catalogue has been properly remastered since the albums were first released on CD around 1990. Those were also poorly packaged as was the norm in those days, which didn't do justice at all to the flamboyant packaging of the original vinyl LP's. The catalogue however was reissued in Japan around 2003 as papersleeve editions which did mention a remastering. But what the source of the tapes they used for this is unknown. I have them as shown below and they are an improvement over the original.
There were plans to re-release the catalogue by Esoteric many years ago, but Wakeman decided to do them himself. But, again a few years dragged on and nothing. But now at last, Universal have picked up the reigns and we now have the first fruits of this reissue program. Strangely not the first two albums that were chronologically released, but the first two studio albums. So, Journey to the Centre of the Earth is not included in this first batch of releases. What we have is Six Wives and King Arthur. The format of these re-issues is a CD of the remastered album plus a DVD with high resolution stereo and quad mixes. Some may argue that it's a shame they didn't go back to the original multitracks, if available and produce a new 5.1 surround mix. There is still some discussion on the origin of these quad mixes, whether they are from tapes or transfers from vinyl sources. However, the MLP 24/96 stereo is very good.
Both albums have been remastered at Abbey Road and sound really clear and detailed, especially King Arthur where the vocals of the choir, orchestra and low synth notes are very impressively presented. The menus on both discs has been authored by Neil Wilkes, who has been involved in projects such as the King Crimson and Yes archival releases and I have the feeling it was him who guided the decision to have these discs released in lossless high resolution. The packaging of these reissues is quite good, with the original artwork reproduced within the booklet which includes, notes by Jerry Ewing and even the full lyric book from King Arthur.
For me, these are pretty good upgrades of Wakeman's albums. It's especially good they have them not just as CD but in high resolution stereo on the DVD. It's that which gives the best representation of the classical, orchestral grandeur of Wakemans music, especially on King Arthur.