Category Archives: Music

Glass Hammer Set to Release New Album

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Hannah Pryor, Fred Schendel, Steve Babb, and Aaron Raulston

“Wow”, just “Wow”. Check out the video for The Years Roll By, the new song from Glass Hammer’s upcoming album, At The Gate. If you need a lift, this song will do it! It hearkens back to GH’s classic, more “symphonic” sound, while incorporating the heavier edge they’ve had lately. IMHO, it’s one of the best songs they’ve recorded in their long career:

Here’s the official press release with more info:

The Years Roll By is the opening track on Glass Hammer’s At The Gate concept album —set for release on October 7th, 2022.

Bandleader Steve Babb said the following about the new album: “At The Gate completes our sword and sorcery inspired trilogy that began with 2020s Dreaming City. We followed that up with last year’s Skallagrim—Into The Breach.”

For the uninitiated, he went on to explain. “It’s the story of a scarred and battered thief, Skallagrim, who’s had his memory stolen along with the love of his life. He’s got to fight unimaginable horrors and slay hideous creatures and sorcerous villains if he’s ever to reclaim either. Finally, at the end of the last album, his memory is returned, but he finds himself cursed to wait one thousand years for a chance to find his lost love! At The Gate picks up at the end of his tale as he prepares to face the ultimate challenge of his life—to finally rescue his girl and defeat the evil being who has imprisoned her.

“Of course, as with any Glass Hammer concept album, there is more to it than a simple plot. On the surface, it appears to be about magic swords and heroes, but it’s actually a story about confronting evil, how to survive it, and how to face despair and heartache.

And most importantly, it’s about why the pursuit of profound and lasting joy in an often joyless world is worthwhile, even when all available evidence suggests it cannot be found.”  

Babb says he chose to open the album with a ballad. “…something ethereal, something reminiscent of what our fans call classic Glass Hammer. The Years Roll By fits the bill, I think. Of course, there’ll be plenty of metal and prog on the new album. The next music video I plan to release hits really hard!”

Autographed copies of At The Gate are available for pre-order on the Glass Hammer Store website. www.glasshammer.com

Stratford Festival Review: Freedom Cabaret 2.0

In last year’s cut-down Stratford Festival lineup, actor/musician/playwright Beau Dixon’s Freedom Cabaret (part of the Festival’s Forum of other performing arts and speakers) garnered some of the strongest reviews. Walking out of yesterday’s performance of Freedom Cabaret 2.0, I completely understood why.

Subtitled “How Black Music Shaped the Dream of America”, this year’s cabaret is loosely structured around the life of work and Martin Luther King, Jr. Dixon’s command of the black musical tradition is formidable and thrillingly eclectic; grasping the connections between decades and genres with a firm hand, his new set comfortably mingles jazz, soul, folk, gospel and even a touch of hip-hop in an arc that illuminates both King’s journey and the idealism he set loose during the era of the Civil Rights Movement.

And the ensemble that Dixon has reconstituted for this year — serving as the lynchpin on piano and vocals for a trio of singers with rhythm section — grasps those connections at the same level, vividly painting a compelling portrait of King’s context, life, death and legacy. Shakura Dickson’s floating soprano and Alana Bridgewater’s earthy alto scale the gospel heights of “Oh, Happy Day” and “Move On Up A Little Higher”, then pull back for an eerie, hovering “Strange Fruit” and Nina Simone’s wrenching “Four Women”; Aadin Church runs the emotional and vocal gamut from soaring tenor to down-home baritone on showcases like Louis Armstrong’s “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue”. Rohan Staton on guitar, Roger Williams on bass and Joe Bowden on drums lay down one irresistible groove after another, slipping serenely from a Jeff Beck quote in “People Get Ready” to the abstracted jazz of “Freedom Day”. And Dixon ties it all together with his supple piano, his power-packed voice and his understated yet emotional narration.

Most fascinating to me were the artists Dixon chose to anchor King’s story. Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today” and “Living for the City” bookended the narrative, melding harmonic sophistication with unaffected idealism; the Staples Singers “Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)”, “Freedom Highway” and “Respect Yourself” embodied both the lament of the oppressed and the spiritual grit to stand up against that oppression. But the searing quartet of pieces by chanteuse Nina Simone provided the real key to unlock the heart of King’s message. From unflinching confrontation with racism’s deepest horrors in “Mississippi Goddamn” (operatic in structure, visceral in its impact) through the heartbroken elegy for the fallen leader “Why? (The King of Love Is Dead)” pivoting to the visionary hope of “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”, Simone’s music is brutally honest and unsparing — but it also incarnates how King’s dream of hatred conquered by love was set loose in the 1960s and how its ramifications have been rippling out ever since.

The dream and its spread — even after the horrors of black history in the United States, even in the face of what obstacles remain following the progress of the Civil Rights era — are why Dixon and his ensemble can finish Freedom Cabaret with a hearty invitation for the Festival audience to join the “Love Train” that King set in motion. If you can, I highly recommend you catch it.

Setlist:

  • Oh, Freedom
  • Love’s in Need of Love Today (Stevie Wonder)
  • Why? (Am I Treated So Bad) (The Staples Singers)
  • Oh, Happy Day (The Edwin Hawkins Singers)
  • Move On Up A Little Higher (Mahalia Jackson)
  • Strange Fruit (Billie Holliday)
  • Mississippi Goddam (Nina Simone)
  • Freedom Highway (The Staples Singers)
  • People Get Ready (The Impressions)
  • We Shall Not Be Moved
  • John Henry (Harry Belafonte)
  • Black Man in a White World (Michael Kiwanuka)
  • (What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue? (Louis Armstrong)
  • Respect Yourself (The Staples Singers)/Respect (Aretha Franklin)
  • Freedom Day (Max Roach & Abbey Lincoln)
  • Phenomenal Woman (Maya Angelou)/Four Women (Nina Simone)
  • So Much Trouble in the World (Bob Marley and the Wailers)
  • Why? (The King of Love Is Dead) (Nina Simone)
  • Harlem (Langston Hughes)/To Be Young, Gifted and Black (Nina Simone)
  • Living for the City (conclusion) (Stevie Wonder)
  • Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now (McFadden & Whitehead)
  • Move On Up (Curtis Mayfield)
  • Love Train (The O’Jays)

Personnel:

  • Joe Bowden, drums
  • Alana Bridgewater, singer
  • Aadin Church, singer
  • Shakura Dickson, singer
  • Beau Dixon, piano, singer, musical director
  • Rohan Staton, guitars
  • Roger Williams, basses

Freedom Cabaret 2.0: How Black Music Shaped the Dream of America runs through August 28th at the Tom Patterson Theatre’s Lazaridis Hall in Stratford, Ontario. Tickets are available at stratfordfestival.ca.

— Rick Krueger

Live from the Stratford Festival

This is an exciting time for the Stratford Festival. In 2022, we reopen our theatres, honour the excellence of the past and embark on a new leg of our journey together. A fresh start: an opportunity to reassess ourselves in the world today, reaffirm what we value and take the best path to an extraordinary future.

This will also be a year to celebrate milestones: our 70th season, the 20th anniversary of the Studio Theatre, the 10th season of The Meighen Forum, and the grand opening of our glorious new Tom Patterson Theatre.

It’s fitting, then, that our season theme for 2022 is New Beginnings. Our playbill explores the difficult moral and ethical decisions a new journey entails: What is the best way to start again? How can we avoid the traps of the past? In an imperfect world, what is good?

From Shakespeare’s most iconic play, Hamlet, to the American family classic Little Women; from the great Nigerian Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman to such captivating new plays as 1939 and Hamlet-911, we offer you stories about navigating a new start in life.

Antoni Cimolino, Artistic Director, Stratford Festival

Since 2004, my wife and I have been regular visitors to the Stratford Festival in southwestern Ontario. We’ve fallen in love with the Festival’s unbroken ethos across 70 seasons — dynamic, top-level performances by a dedicated repertory company of classics by William Shakespeare, Molière, Anton Chekhov, Berthold Brecht and others, as well as substantive, appealing musicals and fresh, often experimental works by today’s playwrights. We’ve also fallen in love with the city of Stratford; set in the heart of Ontario farm country, it combines picturesque architecture, unique shops and eateries, and a stunningly beautiful park system along the Avon River and Lake Victoria. And the thought of everyone who’s trod a stage at the Festival’s multiple theatres, played a rock show at the hockey rink or busked for change on the streets (ranging from Alec Guinness and William Shatner to Richard Manuel of The Band and native son Justin Bieber) makes the place a performing arts lover’s dream.

Which is why it hit hard when, in the wake of the worldwide pandemic, the Festival’s 2020 season was cancelled and the 2021 season only went on under severe limitations and restrictions. It’s true that the summer of 2020 brought welcome YouTube screenings of the Festival’s ongoing project to film every play by Shakespeare (along with other archival videos), culminating in the online Stratfest At Home subscription service. But, a few days back at a local B&B, with a full season of 10 productions energizing the town around us, has served to remind me that there’s nothing like the real thing. And that experience is what I plan to share here with you.

Over the next few days, we’ll be attending Molière’s The Miser (currently in previews at the Festival Theatre), Shakespeare’s Richard III (at the new Tom Patterson Theatre), and Freedom Cabaret 2.0: How Black Music Shaped the Dream of America (at the TPT’s Lazaridis Hall). Look for reviews posted here ASAP after each performance. Whether you’re able to visit the Stratford Festival this season or in the future (or take in what it offers online), my hope is to capture at least a bit of the serious fun, the sheer emotional and intellectual sweep, the thrills, spills, heartbreak and heart’s ease — in short, the immersive, cathartic experience live theatre at its best can provide, and that the two of us have come to love and crave.

— Rick Krueger

Glass Hammer Set to Release New Album

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Here’s the latest news from one of our favorite artists:

At The Gate, the third album of the Skallagrim trilogy, is set for release on October 7th. The new album follows Dreaming City (2020) and Skallagrim – Into The Breach (2021), bringing the story of the ‘thief with the screaming sword’  to its conclusion.

Vocalist Hannah Pyror is back to front the group and is joined by bandleader Steve Babb, keyboardist Fred Schendel, and drummer Aaron Raulston. In addition, vocalists Jon Davison (Yes) and John Beagley (Life In Digital) will contribute as well as guitarist Reese Boyd.   

Babb says to expect another 70’s metal-influenced project but also promises a return to the symphonic-prog sound the band is best known for.

“An album can be both things,” he claims. “Since the inception of the trilogy in 2020, it’s been my intention to tell this sword and sorcery-inspired tale with appropriate music. And to do that, I needed the sound to evolve toward something grand by the end of the third album. Skallagrim’s story is one of lost joy, of grief, and longing, and ultimately of a worn-down swordsman’s coming to grips with what the world can and cannot offer him. It’s probably the most important story we’ve ever told through music, so important to me that it led me to retell it in novels.” Babb’s book, “Skallagrim – In The Vales Of Pagarna,” was released in March of this year.

Babb adds, “So, for those who love our newer, edgier sound, they won’t be disappointed. But I’ve brought back the pipe organ, the choirs, and the sweeping ballads for those who miss the sounds of our earlier albums. I think it works, but the fans will be the ones to decide!”

The Bardic Depths’ “Promises of Hope” Is a Triumph

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The Bardic Depths, a musical project begun by musician Dave Bandana and lyricist Brad Birzer (who also founded this blog!) have just released their second album, Promises of Hope.

Rock artists fear succumbing to the dreaded “sophomore slump”, but Bandana et al. need have no worries on that front. Promises of Hope shows tremendous growth from their eponymous debut album, which was an all-around delight itself. (Reviewed on Spirit of Cecilia here.) There is now a stable core of musicians involved: Bandana on vocals, guitars, keyboards; Gareth Cole on guitars, Peter Jones on vocals, sax, penny whistle, and Tim Gehrt on drums.

Like their debut, Promises of Hope is a concept album, this time relating a tale of divine intervention in an attempted suicide in a fantasy realm. Sounds heavy, I know, but this is some of the most life-affirming music I’ve ever heard. The opening song, And She Appeared, is roaring rocker that is reminiscent of classic ’70s Rush. Cole’s lead guitar trades wonderful solos with Richard Krueger’s galloping organ. It’s an exhilarating way to begin an album. Lyrically, it introduces the main character, a woman who is

“Halo’d wrapped in white
Radiant wrapped in white
Innocence made real
Beauty made manifest”

However, there is something tragic in the offing, because she brings “promises of hope, but never of victory.”

Regal Pride, the next song, features lead vocals by Peter Jones, as well as his excellent saxophone flourishes. Our heroine has been betrayed by a man of mystery, and the melody is suitably somber.

Track three, Consumed, is the best of the album. It features a stunning classical guitar intro by Kevin McCormick, and soon shifts into a beautiful British-folk melody that sounds timeless. Jones’ penny whistle and Donny O”Connell’s spritely violin add Celtic atmosphere while Cole pulls off two more excellent electric guitar solos. The heroine has lost hope, and she is consumed by a fire.

Next up is The Burning Flame, which has a very spacey intro that calls to mind Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd. McCormick contributes another excellent guitar solo, this time on electric, while Paolo Limoli provides wonderful piano and Fender Rhodes accompaniment. Jones takes lead vocals here, and they have a definite bluesy edge. This entire track is a gorgeous, slow burn (pun intended!) of song that I wish lasted far longer than six minutes. Fortunately, it segues into the extended instrumental, Colours and Shapes, where Jones’ sax continues the spacey blues mood.

In Why Are You Here? our heroine is confronted in the afterlife:

Why are you here?
Did you not respect?
Did you not cherish it?
Could you not love life?

This is another somewhat slow song, but one that is enlivened by Limoli’s tasteful piano fills and Cole’s terrific guitar solos. 

Things pick up with Returned, where the protagonist’s suicide is rejected by her Creator:

“You must return
You will make good
Rewrite this wrong
You must Love”

These lyrics are accompanied by a triumphant melody that is bursting with energy. The album’s co-producer, Robin Armstrong really shines here, lending his talents on keyboards, vocals, bass, and lead guitar.

With our heroine given a new lease on life, The Essence explodes out of the speakers with an insistent beat and infectious melody that is truly exhilarating. 

“Reconciling hope, reconciling all.
Reconciling everything.
It is the universe made real.”

Bandana’s vocals and synths are outstanding here; they convey the pure joy of the lyrics.

The final track, Imagine, is a coda addressed to all of us and the choices we must make:

“Imagine a world in which we are judged by
Our most insufferable, our sorriest…

A horror beyond time…

Imagine a world in which we are judged by
Our best and our glory, our gift and our love…

There is a word and it needs to be heard.
It is hope. It is what you promised to me.
Rise up and see, it is our victory.”

Krueger’s church organ is appropriately employed here, because this last song is a hymn to hope. As the song unfolds, the tempo increases inexorably, and I’m reminded of the final scene in C. S. Lewis’ Narnia book, The Last Battle, where the protagonists reach paradise. As they realize where they are, they cry out, “Further up and farther in!”

Some final thoughts on this special album:

Dave Bandana has said that Robin Armstrong really pushed him to do his best, and it shows. His vocals and keyboards are terrific throughout. Peter Jones is the secret weapon of The Bardic Depths – his singing and sax work are some of the best elements in the mix. Gareth Cole’s lead guitar is AMAZING!

Promises of Hope is an outstanding album with an inspiring concept. The melodies complement the lyrics perfectly. As good as their debut was, this is even better. The core group of Bandana, Cole, Jones, and Gehrt have gelled into a formidable ensemble, and I hope they plan to tour.

Promises of Hope is on Gravity Dream Music. Here is the official lyric video for The Essence

COSMOGRAF – ANNOUNCE NEW ALBUM – HEROIC MATERIALS


We are really pleased to announce that Cosmograf returns with their ninth new studio album, Heroic Materials to be released on 9th September 2022.
 
William ‘Billy’ May looks back on his life at the age of 99 and realises the world has completely changed since he was a young man put into an impossible scenario, defending his country from the air. He no longer recognises much of the modern world but understands that the human race must live in a different way in the future.
 
“This album is really about change, our refusal to accept it, but also recognising that it’s essential to our survival”, says Cosmograf’s Robin Armstrong. “The story centres on a WWII Spitfire pilot who laments a lost golden era, but reflects that the human race must change its ways in order to preserve our existence on the earth.” 

Robin is joined once again by drummer, Kyle Fenton, and there is a special guest appearance from ex-Big Big Train keyboard player Danny Manners, who plays piano on the 13 min title track, set in three parts.
 
The lead track from the album, British Made is released on our Bandcamp page today, and the video for the track is available to view on YouTube now. 
British Made is really a nostalgic throw back to a golden era of motoring where design and craftsmanship was more important than carbon footprints.  I think it’s incredibly sad that we are coming to the end of this present journey with the motor car, as we reject fossil fuels for electric power, even if it’s for good reasons” says Robin.

The album sees the character wrestling with his memories of the war, and harbouring nostalgia for a past era but he realises that change is essential if we are to avoid climate catastrophe.

Heroic Materials will be available in CD, Deluxe Media book edition, Vinyl and Digital formats and pre-ordering is now live on the Gravity Dream Music website.

Heroic Materials Pre-order link: https://bit.ly/2YObrzH

 


The new single ‘British Made’ on YouTube: https://youtu.be/Lqj40KJLrtA

Neil Peart: Cultural Repercussions REVISED AND EXPANDED

Coming, June 14, 2022, from WordFire Press

Thanks to Kevin J. Anderson and Wordfire Press, I had the opportunity to revise and expand my intellectual biography, Neil Peart: Cultural Repercussions, originally published in 2015.

On June 14, Wordfire will release an ecopy as well as a trade paperback. To preorder the ecopy, go here: https://books2read.com/b/3LwEA1.

I’ve had the chance to write about many of my heroes during my professional career, including J.R.R. Tolkien, Christopher Dawson, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, and Russell Kirk. Peart, though, remains at the top of the list. The man combined integrity, intelligence, and action. It was such an honor to write about him and spend time in is mind and in his soul.

His words meant a great deal to me at 13, and they remain a great deal to me at 54. Peart has been, I believe, one of the most influential figures of the last half century–shaping the lives of many non-conformists, and unleashing the power of the individual spirit and mind.

R.I.P. Vangelis

A giant of electronic/space/soundtrack music has passed away: Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, better known as Vangelis. His music for the movie Chariots of Fire won an Academy Award for Best Score in 1981 (back when Oscars reflected both artistic excellence and popularity).

Chariots

His first solo album, Earth, was released in 1973, just before his soundtrack to the Frederic Rossif film, L‘Apocalypse Des Animaux. He continued to release solo albums and soundtracks at a regular pace until 2021.

I first became aware of Vangelis via his extraordinary soundtrack to one of my all-time favorite movies, Blade Runner. Rarely has the music matched the visual landscape the way his did for that movie. Set in a dystopian Los Angeles, Vangelis’s themes are a perfect complement to the many moods Ridley Scott evoked in that masterpiece. Unfortunately, his actual soundscapes for the film were never officially released. Curious listeners should seek out a bootleg album called “Blade Runner: Esper Edition“, which compiles all of Vangelis’s music directly from the film.

Another excellent example of his empathetic soundtrack composing talent is Antarctica. His music for Koreyoshi Kurahara’s film is an incredible evocation of snowbound wastes, adventure, open spaces, and timelessness. His compilation album, Themes, is a nice introduction to Vangelis’s best soundtrack work of the 80’s.

Antarctica

One of his best solo albums is El Greco, which is dedicated to the Greek artist who lived and worked in Spain in the late 16th – early 17th centuries. That, and 1984’s Soil Festivities, are masterpieces of melodic electronic music. Vangelis’s gift was to take electronic music and make it sound warm and organic, and both the aforementioned albums are prime examples of that.

El Greco

He could also compose and record very challenging music. His sole album for the Deutsche Grammaphon label, Invisible Connections, is a melding of Anton Weber-like atonality with Tangerine Dream rhythmic drive. His 2001 album, Mythodea, is dedicated to NASA’s Mars Odyssey mission. Scored for a full chorus and orchestra, it is a massive work that, frankly, I find exhausting.

Much more accessible is his final trio of albums, Rosetta, Nocturne, and Juno to Jupiter. Rosetta is dedicated to the European Space Agency’s mission to the Rosetta comet, and it has some of the most moving music he ever composed. Nocturne is a delight – Vangelis revisits some of his most memorable songs and plays them on acoustic piano. Juno to Jupiter is dedicated to the NASA mission of the same name. It features the outstanding vocals of soprano Angela Gheorghiu, and is a terrific summation of all Vangelis has done in his career. Whether intentional or not, it is a perfect final solo album.

Vangelis Trilogy

Finally, we have to acknowledge Vangelis’s most popular music – the albums he recorded with Jon Anderson of Yes. Short Stories, The Friends of Mr. Cairo, and Private Collection are all wonderful examples of prog/space/ambient music. I’ll Find My Way Home from The Friends of Mr. Cairo was a big hit in the U.S. in 1981, but for me, Private Collection is far and away the best music of this fruitful partnership. Every song is a timeless classic, with the epic Horizon closing things out on an incredibly majestic note.

If you aren’t familiar with Vangelis’s music, I hope this post has piqued your interest. He was a towering talent in electronic music and composition, and he will be missed. R.I.P. Vangelis Papathanassíou.

The Spirit of Cecilia Interview: Record Store Day 2022 with “Jazz Detective” Zev Feldman

Back in 2020, I talked with archival producer Zev Feldman about his ongoing efforts to make great, officially unreleased recordings by titans of jazz available the right way — with state of the art sound, lavish documentation and full payment to musicians (or their estates) and other rights-holders. As co-president of Resonance Records and consulting producer for Elemental Music, this year Zev is responsible for five new sets he’s shepherded toward release on LP this Record Store Day, April 23rd; links to each album’s Bandcamp page (which offer CD and download pre-orders for April 29th release) are below!

It was a delight to catch up with Zev again and talk about this cornucopia of fine jazz from the vaults! Listen to our conversation below; transcribed highlights follow the jump.

Continue reading The Spirit of Cecilia Interview: Record Store Day 2022 with “Jazz Detective” Zev Feldman