Monday, February 4, 2013

Lifesigns - Prog Done Proud

Lifesigns is what I like about the new music business. There's much to carp and moan about, I'm all too aware, but I try to find the positives, and this is a most wonderful exhibit of why. I received this message on my Facebook page on New Years Eve:

Hi Tony, 
Just wondering, with your love of prog if I could point you to something new
for January 2013 - 
Hope you like it! 
Have a great year, and
best wishes,

The sender, JY, is John Young, the musical mastermind who's put together an incredible lineup, and together with engineer Steve Rispin (Asia, Uriah Heep, Dave Kilminster, Snakecharmer) has succeeded in producing a modern prog rock classic. Gathering up talent such as drummer Frosty Beedle, and the legendary Nick Beggs on bass & vocals would be impressive enough, but he's also brought along Steve Hackett, Thijs Van Leer, Jakko Jakszyk, and Robin Boult for assistance.

Now, I'm guessing that John Young spent a good deal of time and money over the last few years putting this all together, and that the participants may not be vacationing in any exotic locale with their session fees, but the beauty is that with no record company standing in the way, the record did get made - there are no contractual headaches for the participants, and no A/R man to not hear a single. I also love and greatly appreciate that John Young has enough passion to have seen this through, and then the determination to seek out ears he suspects may be friendly - and boy, was he right.

Lifesigns is a tremendous listening experience - it reminds me of all the reasons that, yes, I do love prog rock. It's extremely well written, the playing is superbly engaging, tones are tweaked to perfection, and the vocals are just amazing - Young's voice is a tenor in the tradition of the angels Wetton and Gabriel, and Beggs's roof raising harmonies are magical. Each song sounds like a hit single in mini-album length - got it?

Esoteric Antenna, a division of the dependable Cherry Red Records had the moxy to realize and release this record, and it seems to be breaking out nicely, with great first reviews - include this in the raves.

Lighthouse sets things in motion, and it's complex, flavorful, and chewy - Young provides melody galore with both his vocals and his keyboard work is endlessly engaging. Beggs and Beedle frolic rather wildly underneath to create a delicious stew. The intro is enthralling - a lovely soundscape that prepares the ear for what's to come. Into the first verse, and it's clear that the trip is a good trip. Classically British prog with healthy amounts of pop melody - everyone on board has long, long resumes filled with a proper roadmap to this new location, and the sound is very new, but familiar. Like meeting a long lost friend for the first time. Guitars throughout the body of the song are provided by the one and only Steve Hackett, and I say that with great specificity - Hackett is not only the guy making the most regularly engaging music currently coming out of England, he's also amazingly busy, and that he took the time to participate here speaks grand volumes. Robin Boult signs on to unleash a guitar solo towards the end of the tune that fits like a glove, and provides a lovely trail into the sunset. Friends of classic prog will find heaps to love here.

Substrata bass and some nicely reverberated jungle drums plough a deep furrow into which John Young lays down more melodic wonderment on Telephone. Beggs and Beedle are a fantastic rhythm section - their inventive jousting is the perfect terrain for Young's melodic soundscapes. The harmonies here make me miss classic Yes tremendously, and session wiz and occasional Fripp bandmate Jakko Jakszyk puts down some tasty guitar harmonies and fills. Young's vocals fit his songs perfectly - he employs some deft phrasing, and his dynamics show that all that time spent around great singers has paid off. Ten minutes have never slipped by so pleasantly, and again, this record is so captivating that my attention span is never taxed. These tunes build like orchestral masterworks, ever spiraling upwards.

Fridge Full of Stars is a cinematic number - Young seems to possess an endless supply of melodic invention, and the production and backing is amazingly simpatico - Hackett throws down a fabulous but too brief acoustic guitar solo, but I'm let down only for seconds until Beggs gets busy under the next verse with a virtuosic bass performance that almost but not quite overtakes the song - then the harmonies and sophisticated song craft again take center stage. Focus mainman Thijs Van Leer stops by to provide a soulful flute interlude as Young and band delicately weave a hypnotic underpinning. After the ethereal instrumental section, the band takes things even higher and the layering of voices, instruments, and atmosphere sends the song into another orbit completely. This album should come with an oxygen mask.

At just over eight minutes, At The End of the World is the album's shortest number, and I find myself wishing it were longer - this is all about the art of songwriting, and musicianship. At the risk of sounding repetitive the melodies and harmonies are lovely, the accompaniment picture perfect.The tones captured across the whole of the record are fantastic, and it is revealed that grown up rock is a good, good thing. Everything here indicates proper dosages of skills, experience, and true inspiration - nobody here is mailing it in, this is being performed for keeps.

Carousel enters the world with the hottest guitar solo on the record, but it's not - it's Nick Beggs letting fly on the Chapman Stick, and I've just got to say that the appearance of the man's name is enough to get me to buy any record on which he appears. The prog rock hallmark of good taste. The set close features the most sophisticated musical interplay on the album, and John Young's keyboard wizardry is astounding. It's so brilliant that it has a way of disarming the listener - he's so melodic and musical that you seldom feel the tension that can exist when a keyboardist sets off into his imagination. You can hear the care taken to make certain that the notes serve the song and not the opposite.

Lifesigns is one of the coolest gifts to cross my desk yet this year - I hope John Young and company are able to parlay this into a spate of touring, shows, and a follow up record. This record is an hour of excellent listening. Do yourself a favor and get yourself a copy, set back and enjoy the trip.


Paul Kentish said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more,
Saves me the eloquence!