May was a busy month musically - anything to take my mind off the debacle that is the UK political scene at the moment! - though unlike the past 3 months there was no live music. However, there was some excellent new material, and also some delving into the archives, discovering material from the 1970s.
The New Material:
There was much anticipation, as the month turned, for the arrival of the latest album from Big Big Train, though I had been fortunate in securing a review copy during April (as I hinted in last month's piece). Grand Tour carries on the legacy of the band with a towering collection of songs firmly in the musical style of the last 10 years of the band, yet now casting their net further afield than the shores of England. There are echoes of their earlier work, both musically and lyrically, but also fresh ideas and themes, and it's good to see the compositional weight being shared wider through the band. Some have hinted that, although the music is great, it sounds similar to earlier albums: but that's like saying 'I like apples, but they're all a bit apple-y'. This is Big Big Train at their best in terms of composition, atmosphere and musicianship, and this will easily be a contender for a high place at the end of the year and maybe even further on.
Bad Elephant's offering this month was a quintessentially 'Proggy' album - Brighteye Brison's 'V'. Three songs: the shortest 12:32, the longest 36:54, and all three steeped in the sounds and textures of 'classic' progressive music, without being uncomfortably regressive and nostalgic.
United Progressive Fraternity grew, along with the excellent Southern Empire, from the ashes of Unitopia, and their second album, Planetary Overload - Part 1: Loss, picks up where their 2014 debut - Fall in Love with the World - left off. This is a no-holds-barred paean to the planet we call home, wearing its desire to stop the creeping disaster of Climate change firmly on its sleeve, and is a wonderful and moving collection of soaring and stirring songs.
A Storm is Coming is Norwegian guitarist Bjorn Riis's third full-length solo album, and carries with it much of the energy and inventiveness that he brings to his band Airbag. Another superb collection of songs, it maybe doesn't have quite as strong a Gilmour-esque feel to it of his earlier solo and band output, but it's still a stellar offering.
Joe Cairney, the voice of Comedy of Errors and Grand Tour, put out a charity single last month for the benefit of the Firefighters' Charity - his and his friends' take on the Mystery song 'The Sailor & the Mermaid'. An excellent rendition and an equally excellent cause.
Talking of 'the voice', there is none so distinctive in Progressive music as that of Jon Anderson. His latest album, 1000 Hands - Chapter One, is one that lifts my soul every time I listen to it: there's just something about it that makes me feel better about life - perhaps the evident joy in Jon's voice and the positive attitude at the heart of his music. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but, like a good claret, Jon seems to be improving with age!
The last of my 'new' albums this month is 'Don't Panic' by Izz. For a lover of the works of the late Douglas Adams like myself, this is a treat, as it draws on Adams's work in a wonderful way. A really good album, and worth the wait.
Earlier this year Esoteric Recordings released a box set of 9 albums by Nucleus & Ian Carr - Torrid Zone: The Vertigo Recordings 1970-1975. This is a great collection of jazz/ fusion, featuring people such as Karl Jenkins, Chris Spedding & Alan Holdsworth among many others, and Burning Shed do a very good deal on the set.
Gong were a band that I was aware of but hadn't really given much time to, despite Steve Hillage's involvement with them in the early 70s. Having heard some of their material on Progzilla Radio, I took the plunge and bought 4 of their albums: the Radio Gnome trilogy (Flying Teapot, Angels' Egg & You); and the Pierre Moerlen-led fusion album Gazeuze! (again featuring Alan Holdsworth) This is unique music: bizarre; confusing, yet strangely alluring; brilliantly played and hinting at what was to come in Hillage's solo career. The later Moerlen material has a wonderful edge to it - different from the earlier music, but just as attractive.
I also have Progzilla to thank (more particularly Graham Harfleet) for the last purchase this month. Peter Hammill - and his band Van der Graaf Generator - feature regularly in Graham's show, and although I have a few VdGG albums I was lacking some solo Hammill. Following recommendations in the chat room I splashed out on 4 of his works: Chameleon in the Shadow of Night, The Silent Corner & The Empty Stage, In Camera, and Over. While there are, naturally, similarities with his VdGG work, there is an energy and power in the music that is strangely appealing. In the more acoustic numbers I can detect distinct echoes of Roy Harper. I've not had much chance to listen more than once, but these albums will, I'm sure, repay repeated rumination.
So, a full month, and a busy one. June is already shaping up nicely too: so see you next month!