Tag Archives: progressive rock

Another Miracle: The Flower Kings at 25

Interior art, Flower Kings, WAITING FOR MIRACLES (Sony/Inside Out, 2019).

Looking death straight in the eye

You will never feel that much alive

—Roine Stolt

For anyone in the prog world, Roine Stolt is a grand and solid name, a trusted master of the craft and a man as honest about his opinions as anyone ever has been in the rock world. From The Flower Kings to Transatlantic to Anderson-Stolt to Steve Hackett’s band, Stolt is anywhere and everywhere excellence is. 

Simply put, when I think of Stolt, I imagine that other master of amazing things, Tom Bombadil. And, yes, that means Goldberry is nearby. “He is.”

The new Flower Kings, WAITING FOR MIRACLES, is a thing of beauty, delicate yet everlasting.  Sounding a bit like FLOWER POWER and SPACE REVOLVER, the new album has everything a fan loves: mystery, lingering, soaring, contemplating, undulation.

This is glorious and mighty prog.

The album opens with the fragile and compelling “House of Cards,” moving immediately into the Tennyson-esque rage against fate, “Black Flag.” Followed by ten-minute “Miracles for America,” a plea for the future of the free world, and then another ten-minute track, “Vertigo,” disk one is nothing if not dizzying.  If there’s a rock anthem on the album, it’s track no. five, “The Bridge,” which might very well have topped the rock charts in 1983, with its reminder of the theme of the album, “waiting for miracles.” “Ascending to the Stars,” track six of disk one, gives us a mysterious and dark Flower King, an instrumental and orchestra joy somewhat reminiscent of Kansas in its heyday. Despite its name, “Wicked Old Symphony” is the poppiest of the tracks on disk one, a track that hints at the Beatles as well as early 1970’s America. “The Rebel Circus,” track eight, is another wildly wacky and infectious instrumental, followed by the intense and aptly-named, “Sleeping with the Enemy.” The final track of disk one, “The Crowning of Greed,” is a poem, at once reflective in theme, and progressive in tone.

Disk two is much shorter than disk one, and I have no idea if it’s meant to be a “bonus disk” or a continuation of the album. That track one of disk two is a reprise of track one of disk one does nothing to answer my confusion about all of this. Track two, “Spirals,” is a feast of electronica and reminds us once again of the theme of the album: “Call on miracles—For America.” “Steampunk,” the third track of disk two, seems to take us back into the world of adventures. If “Black Flag” followed the voyages of Ulysses, “Steampunk” has us follow Aeneas. The final full track of the album, “We Were Always Here,” is a rather beautiful rock song, reminding us of life and its unending beauties. “It’s so simple in its purities/All that genius—life energies/like forgotten springs of melody.” Disk two ends with the 52-second long bluesy circus piece, “Busking at Brobank.”

Overall, WAITING FOR MIRACLES, is a joy.  It’s not just a joy as a Flower Kings album, it’s a joy as a rock album. Anyone serious about his or her rock music should add this to the collection. One final note—while I’m not wild about the cover art (too political for my tastes), I absolutely love the interior art, making a physical purchase of WAITING a must.

P.S. I proudly bought my copy from my favorite store, Burning Shed.

Best of Yes, Post 1983

For most music fans, and especially prog rockers, Yes existed between 1969 and 1983.

Some would even end Yes around 1979.

Amazingly enough, though, Yes still exists. And, while the band has never produced a perfect album since 1983’s 90125, it has produced a number of tracks equal to the best of the “classic Yes” period.

The two best albums of this later period were Magnification (2001) and Fly from Here-Return Trip (2018).

For those interested (and with ears to hear), here are my favorites from 1987-present.

  • Birthright (Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, 1989)
  • Dreamtime (Magnification, 2001)
  • Endless Dream (Talk, 1994)
  • Evensong (Union, 1991)
  • Fly From Here (Fly From Here-Return Trip, 2018)
  • Homeworld (The Ladder, 1999)
  • I’m Running (Big Generator, 1987)
  • In the Presence Of (Magnification, 2001)
  • Into the Storm (Fly From Here-Return Trip, 2018)
  • Life on a Film Set (Fly From Here-Return Trip, 2018)
  • Magnification (Magnification, 2001)
  • Minddrive (Keys to Ascension 2, 1997)
  • New Language (The Ladder, 1999)
  • Order of the Universe (Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, 1989)
  • Shoot High Aim Low (Big Generator, 1987)
  • Silent Talking (Union, 1991)
  • Spirit of Survival (Magnification, 2001)
  • Subway Walls (Heaven and Earth, 2014)
  • Themes (Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, 1989)

Seeking the Humane: Big Big Train’s “Grand Tour” ~ (Birzer’s Second Review)

If all of this sounds too intelligent and too good to be a part of popular culture, it’s because it is! No, no, no. This is not pop. This is art. True, good, real, and beautiful. Imagine, for a moment, how many other manifestations of secular culture take seriously a Christian saint, let alone analyze the very stones used in the art of Byzantium? Truly, what this band offers us is a precious gem. And, while the members of the band (at least as far as I know) are not religious, they certainly take the religion of the past quite seriously. Not just Theodora, but the band has also written gorgeously on its previous releases about St. Edith, the granddaughter of King Alfred, the first great English king, the first to codify Anglo-Saxon common law, and the blessed recipient of Marian visions.
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2019/05/big-big-train-grand-tour-bradley-birzer.html

Big Big Train – Official Website

Inspired by the 17th and 18th century custom of the Grand Tour, where young men and women travelled to broaden the mind, Big Big Train have made an album of songs set in distant lands and beyond.

Grand Tour will be released on May 17th 2019 and is available to pre-order now on double heavyweight gatefold vinyl (featuring a 24 page booklet), digipack CD (featuring a 52 page booklet) and on standard and hi-resolution (24/96) download. Grand Tour will be available on all good streaming services on release day.
— Read on www.bigbigtrain.com/

Tim Morse III (Album Review)

Tim Morse, Tim Morse III (Cymbalick Music, 2018). Tracks: Wake Up; Labyrinth; The Marquis; The Path; The Mary Celeste; My Ally; and Circle/Talisman.

For any one who has followed progressive rock over the past twenty-plus years, the name Tim Morse means something.  Something very good.  Something very special.  Not only is Morse the author of one of the very best books ever published about Yes—Yes Stories: Yes In Their Own Words—but he’s a serious and truly gifted musician in his own right.

His latest cd, Tim Morse III, is nothing but a delight and a pleasure.  Morse is, to put it at its most basic, classy.  He has taste.  A lot of it. 

True to prog, he can jump from style to style as well, all with elegance and ease.  Tim Morse III has hints of Yes, Big Big Train, Lifesigns, Genesis, Glass Hammer, Steely Dan, Dave Brubeck, and others. When he needs a keyboard jam, there’s a keyboard jam. When he needs a guitar to soar, the guitar soars. While his vocal range isn’t huge, it’s quite solid, and he knows how to use his voice to its best. Heck, he even gives us cow bell on track six, the wonderfully nostalgic “My Ally.”

Most importantly, though, it’s clear that Morse loves what he does.  There’s an infectious optimism to his music that is absent in so much recent prog music. Without naming names, too many musicians have gone down the path of cynicism, outrage, and naval gazing. In short, they have become obsessed with their own worries and fears, calling their bloviatings about politics, art. It’s not, and it’s a sad moment in prog history.

Even when Morse is dark—such as on the second track, “Labyrinth,” or on the fifth track, “The Mary Celeste”—he doesn’t leave the listener there. We see the darkness, maybe even experience it, and, then, we move on.  The themes of this album are not some unrelenting and unremitting tenebrous existence but but a life of joy, forgiveness, love, and redemption.

Frankly, having spent way too much time over the last six months watching the news cycle and the social media circus that devolves from it, I’m finding Tim Morse III a breath of alpine air, clear, cool, and wholesome.

Actually, to be even more blunt, Morse’s music makes me want to be a better father, a better professor, and a better writer.

Birzer Guide to Art Rock and Pop

Spirit of Cecilia Books has begun a series of ebooks–Cecilia’s Notations–on the history of modern music (mostly rock, pop, and jazz).

Other volumes in the series, forthcoming: on Talk Talk, Big Big Train, Rush, Glass Hammer, Tears for Fears, and Kate Bush.

To purchase the first volume of Cecilia’s Notations, Birzer Guide to Art Rock and Pop, please click here. It’s only $2.99.



This Strange Engine by Marillion (1997)

This Strange Engine (1997)

Twenty-two years ago, Marillion released its album, THIS STRANGE ENGINE.  It should be remembered that this is the fifth album to feature the voice and lyrics of Steve Hogarth.  As such, reviewers still had to compare the Marillion of Fish to the Marillion of Hogarth.  While THIS STRANGE ENGINE earned its just share of good reviews, it also had reviewers crying that while Fish had innovated, Hogarth rested. 

AllMusic went so far as to label THE STRANGE ENGINE “ordinary.”

If only.

Granted, Marillion had just come off two of its most powerful and unrelentingly intense albums–BRAVE and AFRAID OF SUNLIGHT–but this should not lessen the power of THIS STRANGE ENGINE.  Rather, it should add context.