Notes from the Edge Spring round-up
It’s been a bit of an odd first quarter here at Turner Towers, various circumstances have conspired against me in getting things published as quickly as I’d like, and so here’s a roundup of some of the fantastic albums that have been hitting the desk over the last few months.
I am going to start with the latest album from one of the hottest live bands around at the moment, and a band whose UK tour had to be postponed due to the Corona virus.
Franck Carducci: The Answer
Flamboyant French performer Franck Carducci and his all-star band of regulars return with their latest musical adventure, the Answer.
If you are a Carducci fan then you will already have an idea as to what exciting things to expect from this release, if this is your first time, then well, you are in for a real treat.
With a cast of, not quite, thousands, including the beautiful vocals of long time Carducci collaborator Mary Reynaud, alongside guest appearances from drumming legend Jimmy Palagrosi and Derek Sherinian, Franck knows who to collaborate with, and whilst his core band features on 4 of these songs, it’s great to see them stretching their wings and collaborating more widely.
Like all the great bandleaders Franck knows the best to work with and how to bring out the best of them and still focus on the bands core sound.
From the epic powerful opener (Love is) the Answer that blends some beautiful folk sounds combined with a gloriously proggy Hammond sound, the 8 minutes time allows this song to ebb and build to a wonderful music statement of intent, and of course combined with those wonderful harmonies, it has echoes of the greats of prog like early Yes for instance, whilst still managing to be its own sound. No mean feat these days.
Slave to Rock ‘n’ Roll, is quite frankly brilliant, an absolute blast of pure adrenaline from start to finish the start of the story of Franck’s alter-ego Arion,, a hard Rockin’ slab of tongue in cheek fun about being a rock and roll star, and Franck steps up to the mic as this homage to classic rock songs, is done with affection and it shows.
The flipside to the story is told in its sequel the longer and deeper Superstar, covering the darker side of the music industry (theme’s Marillion have also covered on tracks like Three Minute Boy) and with a beautiful vocal from Mary Reynaud, the music is a perfect homage to this style of flamboyant and epic rock, and again, as a story the band throw themselves into the story and the era, and the music and images it evokes are on absolutely on point.
In between the closing two epics, The After Effect & Asylum, is the touching The Game of Life, a beautifully affecting ‘torch song’ dedicated to his daughter, and the pared back beauty of this late night jazz cafe song, provides a wonderful contrast, and showcases Franck’s vocal skill and song writing prowess, all in all a wonderful piece that contrasts the moods on this album.
Are three epics tracks on an album too much? Depends on how good they are to be honest; we already know Superstar is superb, how about The After Effect? Another grower, which again features Mary Reynaud’s vocals prominently, and is another one of Franck’s ‘story-songs’ looking on the meaning of Life on earth from an alien perspective, (not too deep then!) with swathes of keyboard and guitar and plenty of sinewy bass, this is a full on contemporary prog epic, that shows the bands chops to great skill and aplomb.
Whilst the closing epic Asylum has some great chunky riffs, wonderfully mellow Floydian passages, it sees Franck taking on another character, this time trapped in the dark Asylum.
His live set apparently is full of these different characters, as much as a show as a gig (and let’s be honest we’d rather see something exciting live instead of four old blokes playing a note by note retread of the album) and the on-stage exuberance and performance shines through on these tracks.
The band is a well drilled machine, and this is reflected in the performances and the way the music and lyrics combine to tell the story.
The bonus tracks On the Road to Nowhere is a wonderfully acoustic folk sounding piece and is a light uplifting track and Beautiful Night has more of that classic symphonic rock sound and is another builder, with Franck’s powerful vocals to the fore.
I really enjoyed this album, and whilst Franck as a performer and songwriter is following strongly in the progressive tradition, there is plenty of originality and style here for this to be a continuation and something original rather than a slavish carbon copy.
I feel that this album will be even stronger (if possible) when performed live.
1) (Love is) the Answer 08:00
2) Slave to Rock ‘n’ Roll 05:42
3) Superstar 12:27
4) The After Effect 10:02
5) The Game of Life 04:32
6) Asylum 11:10
7) On the Road to Nowhere (Bonus Track) 02:38
8) Beautiful Night (Bonus Track) 07:10
Franck Carducci: Bass, 12 string guitar, Electric guitars, vocals
Mary Reynaud: backing vocals (1/2/4/6) Vocals (3), theremin (4)
Olivier Castan: Hammond organ, mellotron, synths, piano, backing vocals (1-4)
Antonino Reina: drums, backing vocals (1/2/3/4)
Steve Marsala: Electric guitar (2/3/4) backing vocals (1/2/3/4)
Christophe Obadia: didgeridoo (1) backing vocals (1/3) electric guitar (2/3/4)
Sandra Reina: backing vocals (1/3/6)
Amelynn Vecchi: backing vocals (1/3/6)
Richard Vecchi: Piano (5)
Thierry Seneau: trumpet (5)
Derek Sherinian: Hammond organ, mellotron (6)
Jimmy Pallagrosi: Drums (6)
Fabrice Dutour: Lead Guitar (6)
Released on 28th November 2019 available from https://franckcarducci.bandcamp.com
Next up is Pineapple Thief frontman (& old friend of the HLC) Bruce Soord whose second album was released towards the end of last year:
Bruce Soord: All this Will be Yours
Bruce’s 2nd solo album was released on the KScope label in October 2019 and is a more intimate and personal affair than the recent Pineapple Thief albums.
Bruce has always had a way with a melody and is a damn fine lyricist, and the opening acoustic The Secrets that I know showcases his skills at their best, this is far less widescreen that his PT band records, and, as this is Bruce has a concept around it, based around both the birth of his daughter, and the lack of opportunity in his hometown of Yeovil, Bruce has weaved together a conceptual masterpiece.
Focusing on the smaller personal picture, rather than the ‘big concepts’ really draws you into this album, and minimalism is the key here, from the openers The Secrets that I know, with its acoustic guitar that then draws you into Our Gravest threat apart, that grows and builds, as layers of guitar and electronic sounds are weaved into the mix, this is powerful moving stuff.
A combination of progressive sounds and singer/songwriter intimacy, Bruce pulls this off to perfection.
With no track longer than 6 minutes, Bruce uses his storytelling skills concisely here, a clear example of less in more, and to the fore throughout this startlingly brilliant album is his guitar playing, whilst the title track is one of the finest songs he’s written, either solo or for the Pineapple thief.
His solo’s and guitar work throughout this incredibly dramatic and atmospheric record is haunting and beautiful, and the intimacy that the record has really marks this out as one of 2019’s better releases.
The way the album ebbs and flows and builds is a masterclass in how to put a listening experience together, and this is one of those beautifully immersive albums where you have to listen all the way through to get the full power of the record.
Bruce as a songwriter is in fine form at this moment in time, and on tracks like One Misstep and the closing duo of Cut the Flowers and One day I will Leave You is contemporary progressive song writing at its best.
This album is nothing short of a masterpiece.
1) the Secrets I know 2:25
2) Our Gravest Threat Apart 4:15
3) The Solitary Path of a Convicted Man 3:44
4) All this will be Yours 6:05
5) Time Does not Exist 3:35
6) one Misstep 4:03
7 You Hear the Voices 6:57
8) Cut the Flowers 4:37
9) One Day I will leave You 5:13
Release Date 25th October 2019
Finally, in this update we head to a fantastic concept album from drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi, again featuring a veritable Whose Who of the contemporary progressive scene:
Zio: Flower Toriana
Released on January 25th this year, this probably stakes it’s claim for the first major concept album of the new decade, and is the brainchild of Karnataka drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi, and this concept is around Jimmy’s love for sci-fi and video gaming, and with vocalists of the calibre of Hayley Griffiths (whose versatile vocals can cover pretty much all bases, as the titular character) That Joe Payne bringing his astonishing vocal theatrics to the role of our hero Alan, whilst the aforementioned Franck Carducci (who I mentioned has a knack for the theatrical) throws himself into the role of bad guy Nato with absolute relish (you can tell he’s loving this) whilst our old friend Heather Findlay adds her unmistakable vocals as Belbi.
With a highly original concept as this Jimmy has assembled a stellar band to bring it to fruition, his drumming is as powerful as it ever has been, and working with the heavier influenced bass of Lzi Hayes they provide a superbly powerful sound for the band to build round, as co-composer Olivier Castan’s keyboard and piano work is blast throughout and the guitars of Marc Fascia weaves and intertwines to create some sublime soundscapes.
Getting Hakens Richard Henshall onboard for some unique solo’s is a masterstroke, and it’s fair to say that Zio is a progressive rock supergroup, drawing talents from all elements and spectrums of the scene, with the emphasis firmly on rock, as you get the wonderfully epic Straight Up from the Underneath that weaves mixtures of symphonic rock, with traditional prog keyboard sounds and then some almighty prog metal riffing of the highest order.
This is entertainment with a capital E, and the beauty of this album is there is so much for you to enjoy, whether it’s the luscious guitar work on tracks like Erwins opera, or the beautiful vocals of Hayley Griffiths and Joe Payne, who work so well together when duetting, the dark electronica that builds and introduces Inner City Shorroma, which then builds and gets heavier and has some fantastic crunching riffs, whilst the vocals of Hayley soar and fly, her versatile vocals fitting this album perfectly.
You can see why Jimmy chose to mix Hayley and Joe, as to mind they are two of the finest vocalists working across the span of music that falls under the progressive genre in 2020.
As for the concept, Jimmy has pulled together a musical and lyrical masterpiece, where every piece of the jigsaw fits together perfectly and it covers so much musical scope that there is plenty here for those of you who like your big riffs or your prog metal, whilst it also appeals to those of you who like a nicely executed story, some fantastic vocal work and a full on concept album.
Above all it sounds like the musicians involved in this project enjoyed it very much, and that comes across in the album, from the opening introduction of This Ride to the closing title track (where the accordion is played by Jimmy’s uncle, adding a family feel) and the way Heather and Hayley’s vocals intertwine on the almost folkish piece is a fantastic way to end the album,
This is interesting, fresh and bloody marvellous, I have no doubt that this will be finding its way into plenty of peoples top ten by the end of the year, and, according to those who’ve seen Zio already on tour, you have to go see them, they are bloody good (memo to self, go see Zio if you can!)
1) Ride Along 2:19
2) x-Ray 6:22
3) Wings Inside 3:23
4) Gold and Power 2:35
5) Straight up from underneath 7:04
7: Erwins Opera 6:48
8) Inner city Shorroma 7:50
9) Ma petite Histoire 1:28
10) Interstellar List 5:51
11) Flower Torania 2:06
Jimmy Pallagrosi: drums, percussion, concept
Olivier Castan: keyboards, artwork, co-writer
Lzi Hayes: bass
Marc Fascia: guitars
Hayley Griffiths: vocals (playing Flower Torania)
That Joe Payne: vocals (playing Alan)
Franck Carducci: vocals (playing Nato)
Heather Findlay: vocals (playing Belbi)
Cagri Tozlugo: Orchestration
Alfonso Alfano: accordion
Alex Lofaco guest bassist
Richard Henshall: guitar solos.
Release date 25th January 2020
Available from https://www.jimmypallagrosi.com/shop