Category Archives: Music

Evership To Release Third Album

Evership

It’s been a long wait, but we can now rejoice: Evership (Shane Atkinson & Beau West) is set to release a new album, The Uncrowned King, Act I. If you haven’t heard their previous work, every self-respecting fan of melodic, intellectually stimulating prog rock owes it to him or herself to give them a listen.

From their latest newsletter is this teaser:

Album 3 is the first half of a Rock Opera adaptation of the 1910 book by Harold Bell Wright called The Uncrowned King. This story is an allegory in the style of The Pilgrim’s Progress but with a story arch of Twain’s Prince and the Pauper meets Dicken’s Christmas Carol. 

A pilgrim on a search for Truth arrives at the Temple of Truth with questions about the journey. In answer, the Keeper of the Temple retires him to The Quiet Room, overlooking The Beautiful Sea, where he is visited by the The Four Voices of Life. Each Voice tells him a piece of a story entitled “The Uncrowned King”, to give answer to his questions.

Rich with imagery, Shane has adapted the story faithfully to a progressive rock format we believe our fans will enjoy. Broken into two releases, the story is an allegory on the nature of truth. It is a statement that real truth cannot be derived solely by the senses, but it is more transcendent and one must be courageous in its pursuit and consequence.

Sounds like a fascinating premise for a concept, and I can’t wait to hear it. You can preorder The Uncrowned King, Act I here.

Meanwhile, while you’re waiting, enjoy listening to “Ultima Thule” from their debut album:

Rhiannon Giddens with Francesco Turrisi, “They’re Calling Me Home”

Rhiannon Giddens & Francesco Turrisi’s There Is No Other was one of my favorite albums of 2019. Reviewing it, I described it as

A sweep of traditions and times woven together . . . one of those albums that Duke Ellington might termed ‘beyond category,’ resonating with the core of our shared humanity.

Giddens and Turrisi’s breathtaking new effort They’re Calling Me Home does it again. Recorded in Ireland under lockdown conditions with limited guests, the duo spin shimmering sonic webs with viola, banjo, guitar, accordion and hand percussion, enlivening a brilliantly eclectic gamut of spirituals, folk songs, hymns, Baroque arias and striking originals.

And as always, Giddens’ incomparable voice compels your attention, tracing the commonalities of these variegated songs across the centuries — caressing Monteverdi’s “Si dolce e’l Tormento” and the Anglo-Appalachian “When I Was in My Prime,” testifying to a hope beyond reason on “I Shall Not Be Moved,” staring down mortality itself on a vehement, haunted version of “O Death:”

Separated from their extended families in North Carolina and Italy by the pandemic, Giddens and Turrisi have made, essentially, an album of laments; They’re Calling Me Home faces up to the spectres of separation (temporary and permanent) that continue to stalk our world. But strengthened by the confrontation, they — and we — come out the other side refreshed, able to rejoice in the life and love still there for us to find and cherish.

Buy They’re Calling Me Home at Nonesuch Records; listen to it below:

— Rick Krueger

Frost* Heats Up

Album_Cover

Frost*’s upcoming album, Day and Age, showed up in the DropBox this past weekend, and considering their last one, Falling Satellites, was one of my top 5 of 2016, I immediately plugged it into the USB port of my home stereo. After eight consecutive listens and picking my jaw up off the floor, I have to state up front that Day and Age is Jem Godfrey, John Mitchell, and Nathan King’s finest achievement. Ever.

The album opens with the title track, and it is a galloping monster straight out of the gate. A young boy tells the listener to “enjoy yourselves, you scum!”, a relentless beat is established, and one of the most addictive keyboard/guitar riffs ever recorded takes charge. I think Frost* must have been listening to a lot of Synchronicity-era Police before writing this song, because it reminds me of that massive, tense, steamroller of a song, “Synchronicity II”. It is a masterpiece of controlled chaos that builds inexorably for nearly 12 minutes. There’s even a little ska-like section at the 5:33 mark that makes the Police invocation explicit. However, in a battle of the bands, Frost* would beat the pants off Messrs. Sumner, Copeland, and Summers. This is an incredible track, and after I heard it for the first time, I wondered if the rest of the album could possibly hit the high bar it set.

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King, Godfrey, and Mitchell are Frosted*

I need not have worried, as every song on Day and Age is equally strong. There is not a single clunker on the album. I don’t what lit a fire under John Mitchell, but his vocals have never sounded more impassioned (and he’s sung quite a few songs with a lot of passion!). The core of the group is Jem Godfrey (keyboards, vocals), John Mitchell (guitars, bass, vocals), and Nathan King (bass, keyboards, vocals). They have enlisted the talents of three different drummers – Pat Mastelotto, Darby Todd, and Kaz Rodriguez – and each one provides perfect support depending on the needs of the song.

“Terrestrial” is the first single, and it is a great choice – melodic, energetic, and leaving the listener wanting more:

“Waiting for the Lie” is a keyboard-based ballad that provides a nice respite from the fast-paced previous tracks. It features a beautiful melody that is allowed to shine through a no-frills production. “The Boy Who Stood Still” is a spoken-word allegory about a boy who, you guessed it, stood still. So still, that he disappeared. The narrator tells the tale over an infectious bed of ’80s – era synths and skittering drums. It sounds weird, but it is oddly attractive.

“Island Life” begins with some waves on the beach as washes of synths and some arpeggiated guitar (there’s that classic Police vibe again!) as Mitchell sings of escaping a dreary life and “living in this island life”. “Skywards” is my second-favorite song (after the title track), with some especially beautiful chord progressions in the melody. You think you know where it’s going, and it takes an unexpected turn and ends up even better than you anticipated.

Wait, did I say “Skywards” was my second-favorite song? I actually meant “Killing the Orchestra”! An electric piano and delicate vocals introduce this one, and it gradually builds into a mini-symphony that includes Mitchell’s best guitar solo of the album. It is nine and half minutes of musical bliss that segues immediately into the closing track, “Repeat to Fade”, that reprises some of the themes from the title track. This is a terrifically dense and claustrophobic track that features Mitchell hollering, “Enjoy yourselves, you scum!” Sounds oppressive, I know, except that the melody is very uplifting and makes the dark atmosphere bearable.

Nathan King recalls the writing and recording of “Repeat to Fade”: “We were 30 feet by the sea, next to a nuclear power station and a lighthouse, in midwinter! …in my head you can absolutely hear the bleak isolated oppression having an effect on us.”

The recording conditions may not have been ideal, but Jem, Nathan, and John have managed to produce a pop/prog masterpiece of an album from them. I’ve listened to it a dozen times now, and I find new delights every time.

Day and Age will be released on May 14, 2021 on InsideOut Music. You can preorder it here: https://frost-band.lnk.to/DayAndAge

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & the London Symphony Orchestra, “Promises”

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!
Imagine if you will . . .

From silence, a seven note riff on piano, celeste and harpsichord, cycling over two repeated bass notes. Recorded so intimately you hear the piano’s damper pedals lift, as much a part of the cycle’s rhythm as the melodic tones.

About a minute and a half in, the cry of a saxophone. First responding to the keyboard cycles, then skirling continuously over them. Electric piano creeps in to fill the empty sonic crevices while the London Symphony’s strings pass above, dividing from a unison note into clustered washes. The blues are unmistakably evident from Pharaoh Sanders’ first note — and somehow the emotion he conveys is echoed in the ethereal, dissonant orchestral blanket.

The riff cycles, the sax and strings ebb; Sam Shepherd (aka Floating Points) steps forward with hesitant, mellow yet insistent synthesizers. Then, unexpectedly, Sanders vocalises — running scales, lip trilling, removing his horn from the equation and trusting us with his unadorned humanity, to gripping, gorgeous effect.

As he picks up the sax again, the mood and the eternal motif shift to match. Darker, thicker keys in a minor mode support grittier, more active improvisation and a stark synthesized squall by Shepherd, before subsiding to quiet counterpoint behind the unending riff.

Sanders leaps in once more — only to give way to a sustained, yearning solo cello solo that awakens the orchestra. The meditation that ensues is another moment of sheer beauty — gigantic, suspended unison lines that become a breathtaking mash-up of spiritual jazz and the English pastoral tradition, John Coltrane and Ralph Vaughan Williams locked in brotherly embrace.

The string chords pile up, mounting through consonance to dissonance — then collapse! In the ensuing silence, a quiet violin, answered by electric piano. Then, Sanders — this time so hushed, yet so gritty and breathy, over a fragile web of keyboard accents strung across the unstopping riff. A distant synth joins the dialog; Sanders cajoles it closer, helps it take more definite shape, then backs away, as Shepherd fires up free floating sequences across the stereo field and weaves a solo around them.

For the final time, Sanders breaks loose above the echoing, fading field of electronic sound, both conjuring up both the heady free jazz of his youth and the measured maturity of his long career into a memorable melodic volley. Shepherd returns to his subdued accents on synth, organ, electric piano; the riff patiently continues to cycle. Silence resumes its initial place in the piece, now dominant but not triumphant.

Until the riff stops! In its place, thick, ponderous organ chords that trail off into vibrato and echo. Total quiet; a slow-growing cloud of treated strings that burst into glittering fireworks, then subside into the final silence.

Fortunately, you don’t have to imagine this. Floating Points’ remarkable collaboration with Pharoah Sanders and the LSO is real. And moving. And my favorite album of the year to date. Listen to it below, then get it for yourself via Bandcamp.

— Rick Krueger

Transatlantic: Absolute Genius

The three versions of the album. Photo from nealmorse.com

So, after much anticipation and perhaps some untoward eagerness on my part, Transatlantic’s Absolute Universe: The Ultimate Edition box set finally arrived yesterday.  Or, maybe one should write more appropriately, it landed!  And, yes, I was and am thrilled.

I had received a promo copy of two versions of the album—The Breath of Life (Abridged) and Forevermore (Extended)—and I’ve been playing them pretty much non-stop. 

But, with The Ultimate Edition, I now have yet a third version of the album, Mike Portnoy’s blu-ray version. If you have to pick just one of the three, I’d highly recommend the blu-ray version as the best.  Not only does it capture the spirit of The Breath of Life (which Morse mixed and curated) and Forevermore (which Stolt mixed and curated), but its sound is just nothing short of glorious.  Each instrument is crystal clear as is the space between each. 

Most astonishing of all sounds to emerge from the blu-ray version is Pete Trewavas’s bass. I’ve always thought of him as an excellent bassist, but I didn’t realize just how excellent until hearing the blu-ray version. Somewhat funny that he was the only band member NOT to mix and curate a version of this album. 

Continue reading Transatlantic: Absolute Genius

The Spirit Of Cecilia Says, “Yes!”

Roger Dean’s logo for Yes, one of the most recognizable in rock

No site devoted to discussing progressive rock music (among many other topics!) can ignore for long a true giant of the genre: YES. Dating from the late ‘60s, Yes was one of the first prog groups to achieve mainstream success. More than fifty years later, they are still active, so Spirit of Cecilia has decided to divide our discussion of them into three parts. This post will focus on their music beginning with their 1969 eponymously titled debut album through 1973’s live album Yessongs. Let’s join Editor-In-Chief Brad Birzer, Arts Editor Tad Wert, and all around brilliant writer/musician Kevin McCormick as they attempt to analyze the music of one of the most influential and productive groups in rock history.

Brad: My earliest prog memory is of Yes.  I’m the youngest of three boys (with my oldest brother being eight years older and my older brother being five years older), and I was exposed to all kinds of music at a very young age.  In our house, we had classical, jazz, big band, musicals, and every variety of rock and pop. Sometime around 1973 or 1974 (the memory is somewhat fuzzy on the details–I was only five or six), I discovered the three-disk set of Yessongs.  I was stunned–especially by the artwork which I studied like a talisman. Later, when I was older, I appreciated the music.  But, at first, it was Roger Dean’s paintings that grabbed me fiercely. I count Yessongs as my first real prog love.  And, love it was. It wouldn’t be until Kansas’s Leftoverature and ELO’s Out of the Blue that I found albums to rival Yessongs in terms of artistic beauty.

Yes is certainly my earliest progressive rock love, and, from them, thanks to my brothers, I began to listen to Kansas, Jethro Tull, and Genesis.

While Yes has now experienced a massive history–indeed, is there a rock band that can quite match it in terms of malleability and lovegevity?–it’s the period of the Yes Album through Going for the One that seems nearly flawless.  To think about the albums of that period–The Yes Album, Fragile, Close to the Edge, Tales, Relayer, and Going for the One–is to be overwhelmed!  Such innovation and harmonic glory, all wrapped into a neat package.

When I was younger, Fragile was my favorite of the Yes albums.  But, ever since starting college, Close to the Edge has been my favorite.  Indeed, not just my favorite Yes album, but a favorite album.  If forced to rank it, it would compete (not necessarily defeat) Moving Pictures, The Colour of Spring, Spirit of Eden, and Selling England by the Pound.  If it’s fallen out of the top five for me, it’s only because Big Big Train released The Underfall Yard in 2009.

Kevin: Looking back at the early stages of Yes, it’s important to remember the context of the music of that time: it was all over the map.  There was a collision of styles brought together by much of the experimentation and cultural upheaval of the 1960’s.  Prior to this most musicians and audiences stayed in their respective corners. 

Continue reading The Spirit Of Cecilia Says, “Yes!”

A Symposium on The Cure: Prog or Something Else?

Readers of Spirit of Cecilia, we have a special treat for you: not a dialogue, but a full-fledged, three-way symposium! The topic: Is the Cure a prog band or not? Join Editor-in-Chief Brad Birzer, Tad Wert, and the brilliant Kevin McCormick to learn what they concluded.

Brad: Tad and Kevin, I’m in the mood to talk about The Cure!  Granted, in the middle of the COVID crisis, “The Cure” could mean a lot of things, not all of them pleasant.  But, I mean specifically the English rock band, led by everyone’s favorite mischievous trickster, Robert Smith.  That guy with huge teased hair, smeared lipstick, and boot-like tennis shoes.

Though identified and remembered mostly as a Goth and a post-punk New Wave group, The Cure always employed progressive rock elements rather effectively in many of their songs and, sometimes, throughout the entirety of some of their albums.  Some of this prog influence, of course, came from the band’s love of minimalism, drone/wall of sound, and Eric Satie. 

Admittedly, because of my prog obsession, I want The Cure to be proggish!  So, I might be reaching here.  But, it’s really hard for me to listen to album such as their 1989 masterpiece, Disintegration, and not think prog.

If pushed, I would happily rank that album in my top 10 albums of all time, sitting near Spirit of Eden, Laughing Stock, Moving Pictures, Songs from the Big Chair, Skylarking, Selling England By the Pound, and Close To the Edge. Every song on Disintegration fits perfectly with every other song on the album, and it makes for a wildly effective album in its consistency, art, and beauty.

In hindsight, Smith has claimed Disintegration to be the middle of a trilogy, beginning with 1982’s Pornography and ending with 2000’s Bloodflowers. If a trilogy isn’t proggy, nothing is!

Of course, much of The Cure is really clever pop as well.  In fact, despite having a distinctive sound, The Cure are about as diverse–when it comes to style–as any band over the past fifty years.

Tad: Okay, Brad, I’ll tentatively  accept your assertion that The Cure are prog, even though it never occurred to me until you and I made each other’s acquaintance! Even though I was a huge British music fan in the ‘80s, I was a little late to the Cure party. I think it was because my first exposure to them was hearing “The Lovecats” on the radio and I took an immediate dislike to that song (I still think it is too cute for its own good). However, while working in a record store in 1985, a coworker was a Cure nut and he played The Head On The Door instore repeatedly. I liked that album, and they earned my grudging respect.

That said, THOTD was the only Cure album in my collection for many years until I heard “Why Can’t I Be You?” on the radio, and I realized there was a gaping hole in my musical knowledge. So I embarked on an exploration of Cure music via some shady file-sharing software (this was in the ‘00s, before streaming!) and discovered how terrific Seventeen Seconds, Faith, Disintegration, and Wish were. 

When most people think “prog”, they think of extraordinary technical proficiency on musical instruments, shifting and odd time signatures, long song lengths, and lyrics that deal with deep subjects. While The Cure fail to check the boxes on the first three criteria, they often hit the jackpot on the fourth. And I would argue even their early work – Seventeen Seconds and Faith – have a proggy sensibility to them. Both of those albums (particularly the latter) set up and carefully maintain a consistent atmosphere throughout their entire length. They aren’t mere collections of unrelated songs, but song suites whose impact is far greater than the sum of their parts. As far as later works, I think “From The Edge Of The Deep Green Sea” off of Wish is about as proggy as you can get. I’m holding off on sharing my thoughts on Disintegration until we hear from Mr. McCormick!

[To keep reading, please scroll down a bit . . .]

Continue reading A Symposium on The Cure: Prog or Something Else?

Unfold the Future by The Flower Kings

Highest Prog Fantasy: Unfold The Future by the Flower Kings

[Originally published in 2017]

A review The Flower Kings, UNFOLD THE FUTURE (2002; remastered and reissued, 2017). Tracks: The Truth Will Set You Free; Monkey Business; Black and White; Christianopel; Silent Inferno; The Navigator; Vox Humana; Genie in a Bottle; Fast Lane; Grand Old World; Soul Vortex; Rollin’ the Dice; The Devil’s Schooldance; Man Overboard; Solitary Shell; Devil’s Playground; and Too Late for Tomatos

Grade: A+.  Glorious.  Full.  Enchanting.  Mesmerizing.

The Flower Kings released its first boxset, A KINGDOM OF COLOURS (Insideout Music), in very late 2017.  Granted, we’re more than a bit late coming to the news, and I (Brad) only realized that the boxset had come out when seeing an advertisement for the forthcoming second boxset.

This set—a gorgeously packaged one at that—is part 1 of 2, re-releasing the band’s first official seven studio albums.  Missing are any b-sides, extra tracks, live releases, and the album that started it all, Stolt’s 1994 solo album, THE FLOWER KING.  But, these absences are certainly fine, as the boxset is what it is.  The next set, according to Insideout, will have three full disks of new or previously unreleased material.  Additionally and spectacularly, of those original albums re-released for A KINGDOM OF COLOURS, the final one, 2002’s UNFOLD THE FUTURE, has been completely remastered by the Flower King himself, Mr. Roine Stolt.

Despite being a life-long prog fan, I didn’t come to The Flower Kings until the band released its 1999 album, FLOWER POWER.  When it came out, one of my best students (now, amazingly enough, a beloved colleague) lent it to me, knowing my love of all things prog.  Not only did FLOWER POWER floor me, but I had to purchase it and everything the band had done to that point.  To say I became a MASSIVE fan of the band in 1999 would be pure understatement.  My love of the music produced by Stolt and co. was tangible, and I simply couldn’t get enough.  Of those first seven studio albums, my favorite—to this day—is SPACE REVOLVER (2000).  Yet, there’s nothing the band has done that I don’t love. 

When UNFOLD THE FUTURE came out in November, 2002, I was just completely my first book (on Tolkien) and starting my second (on Christopher Dawson).  It was a heady time in my professional life, and The Flower Kings served as a thrilling and inspirational soundtrack.  To me, the band was making not just prog, but mythic prog.  Not just prog, but actual high fantasy.  Indeed, unlike almost any other band in rock, The Flower Kings alone were defining and making albums as manifestations of fantastic moods or states of being.  BACK IN THE WORLD OF ADVENTURES was explorative; RETROPOLIS was playful; STARDUST WE ARE was redemptive.  Of those first seven studio albums, though, the seventh, UNFOLD THE FUTURE, was boldly confident and righteous.  Not pretentious, but definitely righteous.

Even more than the previous releases, the band embraced every form of musical expression for UNFOLD THE FUTURE: everything from Genesis-like symphonic prog to Metheny and Brubeck-like jazz to tiddly-winks and novelty music.  It was all there.  All there.  Everything.  Nothing absent.  Yet, it all came together in some appreciative whirligig of cohesive and thunderous reality. 

Additionally, while the themes of earlier albums, such as FLOWER POWER, were overtly pagan, the themes of UNFOLD THE FUTURE are subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) Christian.  But, they’re mythically Christian rather than pietistically Christian.  At center stage in the drama of UNFOLD THE FUTURE stand two mighty figures: the devil and the Holy Mother.  Whether Stolt means the Holy Mother to be the white goddess who appeared to Socrates, the White Buffalo woman who appeared to the original Sioux, the Lady of the Lake who appeared to Arthur, or the Virgin Mary, it probably matters not.  She’s the Holy Mother, and she hates the devil.

The three central tracks of the album are 1) The Truth Will Set You Free; 5) Silent Inferno; and 16) Devil’s Playground.

The opening track, “The Truth Will Set Us Free,” not surprisingly, takes us to the beginning—allowing us to imagine the first rainfall on the earth and the incomprehensibly huge heart and grace that allowed it all to come into being.  The second main track, “Silent Inferno,” is tenebrous, and the world slides easily into the twilight realm of existence, a haunting and foreboding hovering over all humanity.  The final track, though, “Devil’s Playground,” pits the two giants against one another, the force of Hell and the Holy Mother.  Though the song ends on a nebulous note, it’s hard not to believe that the Holy Mother has not emerged victorious.  After all, how could the album—or the band—ever promote the transcendence of the human person (as seen on the cover of the album) without a victory against the forces of evil.

Well, maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part.  Still, let me just state: I’ve been listening to UNFOLD THE FUTURE for sixteen years now, and it never gets old.  That Stolt has remastered the entire album is just an added blessing and grace.  Perfecting that which is already perfect. 

At least perfect as understood in this world of sorrows.

Placing a Transatlantic Call

In the latest Spirit of Cecilia dialogue, Editor-In-Chief Brad Birzer and Arts Editor Tad Wert exchange thoughts on the massive set of new releases from progrock’s supergroup, Transatlantic. There are several different versions of The Absolute Universe (you can check them out here), and each one has its own charms.

Brad: Tad, I just finished watching the Transatlantic Roine Stolt interview (available on Youtube as a part of a series), and I couldn’t help but think of you.  I also couldn’t help but think–yet again–what a grand gentleman Stolt is. So interesting and intelligent. Prog musicians are articulate in general, to be sure, but Stolt is exceptional even among exceptional people. Does my soul good. He is, truly, The Flower King. 

I know that you like the new album(s), The Absolute Universe, from Transatlantic, and I very much do as well.  Indeed, I’m rather in love with the extended edition, and I’m growing very fond of the abridged version as well.  The more I listen to each, the more I realize how different (and yet so complementary) each is to the other.

What’s interesting to me is that from the opening minute, you know it’s a Transatlantic album.  There’s something about the instruments, the voices, and, especially, the energy that is uniquely Transatlantic.

As I’ve been devouring the new album(s) and anticipating the massive box set on its way in three or so weeks I’ve been waxing nostalgic.  I bought the first Transatlantic album, SMPTe, shortly after it came out.  A student (now a colleague in the philosophy department) had lent it–along with Flower Power by the Flower Kings–to me, and I was immediately taken with both.  Since then, I’ve bought every Transatlantic album–studio and live–as they’ve come out.  In many ways, my last twenty years have, in some way, been shaped by Transatlantic.

Then, of course, there’s the distinctive Transatlantic art.  The great Transatlantic ship is wonderful, and the band has, probably, the best font for any band since Yes’s classic signature.

Tad: Brad, you and I are on the same wavelength. I have been immersing myself in both versions of The Absolute Universe (How’s that for a provocatively countercultural title?), and I am increasingly drawn to the extended version. It turns out that Roine is the main mastermind behind that set, while Neal Morse is the one who put together the abridged version. 

I have not seen the Stolt interview, but Morse has begun his own podcast and his first guest is none other than Mike Portnoy! It is also on YouTube, and it is such a pleasure to watch and listen to two very close friends discuss all kinds of topics. I highly recommend you check it out.

I also grabbed my copy of SMPTe to listen to again, and it holds up incredibly well. I think it has stood the test of time – has it really been 21 years since it first came out? – and it can now be considered a progressive rock classic. Those first chords of All Of The Above are so stirring to me; I almost get emotional listening to them now. And as you mentioned, from the opening notes of Overture from The Absolute Universe, you know you’re listening to a Transatlantic album! When Portnoy’s drums kick in gear and start propelling the entire band – that is a very satisfying listening experience for me. Also, Morse’s organ playing the opening melody of Heart Like A Whirlwind (extended version)/Reaching For The Sky (abridged version) is a special moment.

I think you would agree with me that Morse dominated the first two Transatlantic albums (and probably the third) but on this one I get the sense that all the members had relatively equal input. I am especially pleased to hear Pete Trewavas stepping up and singing more lead vocals. His songwriting contributions are more accessible – in other words, poppier – than Stolt’s and Morse’s, which keeps things grounded. Hopefully this album will greatly expand their audience.

Brad: Excellent responses, Tad.  I didn’t know about the divided duties regarding two different versions of The Absolute Universe. I must admit, while I love both versions, I’m still much more taken with the extended version.  For two reasons, really.  First, I love all of Stolt’s guitar and vocal parts.  And, second, because my favorite track–”The World We Used to Know”–is only on the extended version.  “The World We Used to Know” is the quintessential Transatlantic song, blending the old so perfectly with the new. It’s clear that the band is honoring Yes and Rush in the song, but the song remains completely a Transatlantic track, despite its influences.

If I were forced to rank Transatlantic’s first four albums, I would rank them: SMPTe; The Whirlwind; Bridge Across Forever; and Kaleidoscope, recognizing that each is great.  That is, there’s not a huge difference between No. 1 and No. 4 in terms of quality.  I have to give the first place to SMPTe, mostly because of the memories associated with my first listen to it, twenty-one years ago.  Those opening chords still ring in my soul and play in my mind.  It’s such a classic.

Now, after having given The Absolute Universe several spins, I would place it in the No. 2 spot.  It might, in some ways, be better than No. 1, but I’m still too taken with SMPTe–even after 21 years–to rank it anything other than No. 1. Regardless, The Absolute Universe is truly special, and life is better because it exists.

Tad, what version did you end up buying?  At first, I ordered individual copies of the abridged and the extended, along with the blu-ray.  I quickly changed my mind, however, cancelled that order, and then ordered the deluxe package from Radiant Records.  I was a bit hesitant at first to do this, given the money involved, but now that I’ve heard and devoured The Absolute Universe, I regret nothing!

One thing that strikes me as interesting.  There’s definitely an overlap of style when one considers the Neal Morse Band, The Flower Kings, and Transatlantic, and these three bands have so critically defined Third-wave prog.  Yet, they have hardly any imitators.  It’s impossible to imagine the current prog movement without, for example, Steven Wilson and all of his imitators.  Why isn’t the same true of Stolt, Morse, Portnoy, and Trewavas?

Tad: Good question, Brad, and one that had not occurred to me until you asked it. My first answer is because they are all such incredibly talented artists that any attempts at imitation would pale in comparison! But I also think Portnoy doesn’t get enough credit for his role as arranger and producer in Transtlantic, and he is simply inimitable in the music world. WIthout his energy and guidance, TA would not be near the artistic force they are. 

Like you, the more I listen to both versions, the more I prefer the extended one, Forevermore. I go into greater detail why in my earlier post on this album.

My ranking is the same as yours, except I would place Bridge Across Forever ahead of The Whirlwind. I think the melodies are stronger on BAF. Also, I always get a kick out of Suite Charlotte Pike, because Charlotte Pike is a road near my home that I often drive on!

As far as what edition(s) I ordered, I went with both the extended and abridged versions, but I am very tempted to go for the big box like you did. I imagine some people might consider the release of so many different versions a crass commercial move, but it’s really not. Every version is a separate work that stands on its own, and I am grateful to Morse, Portnoy, Stolt, and Trewavas for bestowing so much music on us.