Thursday, October 16, 2014

Abbhama - 1978 - Alam Raya

Alam Raya

01. Kembali (4:37)
02. Asmara (2:57)
03. Alam Raya (3:42)
04. Karam (3:53)
05. Keriadaan Yang Ada (5:24)
06. Terlenia (Instrumental) (3:04)
07. Air (4:34)
08. Malam (3:54)
09. Indonesia (7:40)
10. Ibu (4:16)

- Iwan Madjid / piano, vocals
- Oni / keyboards
- Darwin / bass
- Robin / drums
- Dhrama / flute
- Cok B / guitar
- Hendro / oboe

It’s hard for a band outside Europe or USA to reach the rest of the world and sadly some good material is lost due to the limitations of Asian or African countries, this is the case of ABBHAMA, an Indonesian band who released a cassette in 1978 called “Alam Raya”.
The information about them is pretty hard to find being that they were not popular even in Indonesia because as in many countries of Asia, the charts are dominated by native Folk bands and Pop groups mainly from United States and there’s a very small fan base for Progressive Rock bands.
ABBHAMA was born in 1977 and was the brainchild of the talented keyboardist Iwan Madjid, who was clearly influenced by Yes, Genesis, ELP and all the Symphonic icons but with also a strong French and Italian influence, the special touch are the lyrics sung in their native language and the clear ethnic influences.
The addition of Oboe by Hendro (That’s how the musician is credited) gave them a very special and unique taste. Due to the strong and characteristic Indonesian sound, ABBHAMA could have a place in Folk Prog, but the essence of their music is clearly Symphonic.
Sadly their story ends with the release of Alam Raya, proving once more that you don’t only need to be skilled but also require to have the luck of being born in a country with a strong musical industry.
After ABBHAMA disbanded Iwan Madjid and the bassist Darwin formed a more mainstream oriented band named WOW that apparently had more luck in the Indonesian charts releasing three albums.

One of my obsessions since I joined the Symphonic team and started to clean the bandlist was to listen ABBHAMA, a band from Indonesia that had only released a cassette back in the late 70's called "Alam Raya", almost unknown even in their country, for this reason I thought it would be one of the few bands in the genre I wouldn't listen, until I got a copy of the album (It was released by a Japanese label on CD).

I must say it's quite an experience, not the best music available but very addictive, somehow sounds like a soundtrack of a movie made in Bollywood (knowing of course that Indonesia is not India, but I find similarities in style) but one that mixes Neo Classical, Baroque, Prog, Pop and even some ethnic music with birds chirpings and everything.

One thing I must say Iwan Madjid does a very proficient work with the piano, Ona makes miracles with a set of keyboards that sounds very unprofessional (cheap), and Dhrama plays the flute in the purest style of Peter Gabriel, but the most impressive fact is the sweet voice of Iwan Madjid, very childish, almost like a kid before the change of voice, something like Jon Anderson meets Annie Haslam when they were 12, the arrangements are very solid (probably the best) but they lack of musical weight maybe even a bit cheesy but just can't stop listening it.

Sometimes they try to be pompous but neither the instruments, the music or the voice helps them, it's evident they are a Symphonic band in structure but their style is so unique that puzzles me, the only thing I can't stand are the terrible electronic drums..

For some people they may not sound too professional or even be too innocent, but the beauty of their music is precisely there, simple tunes very naïve but they have something special, but lets go with some tracks.

The album starts with "Kembali", really frightened me, I don't know what they tried to do at the beginning, some sort of Indonesian Disco intro very rhythmic that suddenly changes when the vocals start, not very radical to be honest but you know they have something, until then the real deal starts, the keyboard work first influenced by ELP and then a hard guitar work with a jazzy flute that suddenly turns Baroque to return to the poppy intro with some Focus reminiscences...that they are Prog there is no doubt, but this is not the strongest track of the album, despite this fact it's evident they know how to make radical changes.

"Asmara" starts promising with a solid keyboard intro until the voice joins, lets be honest, it's a bit hard to get into such a complex language, again some diluted Baroque influence and a guitar a la Ian Akkerman, provides some delightful moments, good track, maybe a bit soft for people used to the classics but they are good.

Now is the turn for "Alam Raya" which starts again with a Flemish guitar and flute which brings again the name of Focus to the memory, but the structure of the track is closer to TRIUMVIRAT, the bird chirpings are very cheesy and sound out of place unless there's a relation with the lyrics (Something I don't pretend to know), another good track except for the horrendous drums at the end.

"Karam" is more or less, in the same vein of the previous track but more melodic, to be honest by this point the voice of Madjid is starting to sound annoying, but for some reason I can't stop listening the album, the track evolves to something very light, almost like a Christmas song in a weird (for us) language.

Most of the other tracks are in the same vein, all mixing elaborate arrangements with simple tunes that go between naïve beauty and cheesiness and even an Instrumental called "Tarlenia" that is well performed but looses that charm that only Madjid vocals can ´provide, so it would be useless to describe each track except maybe "Indonesia" which is the closer they get to an epic.

"Indonesia" is the longest track of the album (7:40 minutes) and one of the most interesting, this time we listen an extremely beautiful folksy tune guided by the flute and later oboe that reminds me of the Peruvian band FRÁGIL, most precisely the song "Lizzy", but again the trademark appears, Madjid and his peculiar voice that starts a series of changes, the piano work is simply outstanding, but then they start to Rock in the purest style of the late 50's for some seconds, just to return to the same melody but this time slightly more dramatic and then close the song with the full band. Extremely good material that is closed with a synthesized violin, the best song of the album.

What else can I say about ABBHAMA and "Alam Raya", well, all the musicians are well trained and most of them obviously have classical formation, because of the sound iseems evident they don't use the most expensive instruments or the most advanced technology, but they know how to get the best from what they have.

The music is good but not outstanding and the voice well, it's definitely their trademark, some people may find it funny or amateur, but I believe we are before professional musicians that make an absolutely unique album (I never heard something remotely similar).

Now we get to the hardest part, the rating, if we were judging only quality in comparison with other Prog bands, then the three stars that the two previous reviewers gave would be perfect because that's what they deserve, but here we are before a special case and according to the guidelines we must also evaluate if the album is an excellent addition for any Prog collection, and for God's sake it is, something so unique will make any collection richer without a single doubt.

Abahami - 1975 - Freeway


01. Abahambi
02. Kwamashu
03. Storm
04. Sithandwa
05. Song For My Baby
06. Those Days
07. Umlazi

 A killer South African Jazz Funk album from Johannesburg, totally undiscovered and recorded in 1975.

The project Abahambi is a never mentioned band with the very famous bass-player Sipho Gumede, as the band leader. Unfortunately no more recording sessions of this particular formation are known. Sipho's reputation grew higher in the early 80s, while he produced the african Combo „Sakhile“.

 SIPHO Gumede was born in Cator Manor, Durban. His earliest musical memory is of playing guitar and penny whistle. The guitar was home made: a 5 gallon tin, wood and fish gut. He and his friends would play the tunes of Spokes Mashiyane, Zakes Nkosi and Lemmy "Special" Mabaso.

At the age of 12, Sipho went to stay on a farm some 30 kms from Umlazi. He was exposed to many different kinds of music - vocal and soulful traditions, the music of weddings and funerals. After school each day, he'd pass the time watching cattle practising on a borrowed guitar. This period was crucial in the formation of Sipho's musical outlook.

Sipho returned to Umlazi at the age of 16 and met the late great jazz guitarist, Cyril Magubane who introduced him to the music of Wes Montgomery and the world of jazz. He also met Dick Khoza and landed his first professional job as a member of the Jazz Revellers, switching from guitar to bass.

In 1970, Sipho headed for Johannesburg, arriving in a strange city he headed for the only place he knew. Dorkay House in Eloff Street. There, he met the great musicians of the time.

He joined Dennis Mphale and Cocky Tlhotlhalemaje in "Isintu" and worked with Dennis' band at the Piano Culo Music Festival. Thereafter, Sipho rejoined Dick khoza who was based at the Pelican Nightclub. The Pelican was a great musical laboratory in the 1970's. On any given night, legendary artists would pop in for a jam or perform as part of the Sunday night cabaret.

Later Sipho joined Gibson Kente and toured the country. He then left Gibson to concentrate on practising and perfecting his technique, upon hearing the music of Stanley Clarke, Airto Moreira, Flora Purim and Chick Corea. He then teamed up with Jabu Nkosi, Barney Rachabane, Duke Makasi, Dennis Mpale and Enoch Mtlelane as the short lived Roots. After the demise of the Roots, Sipho met Bheki Mseleku forming a dynamic and creative partnership which eventually led to the formation of Spirits Rejoice - a group which provided the space to create, which both artists had been looking for.

Spirits Rejoice were an innovative and creative band that explored the many facets of jazz fusion. In 1982, Sipho together with Khaya Mahlangu, decided to explore fusion coupled with the African sounds he had grown up with, and so Sakhile was born. It was here that Sipho was able to merge the divergent musical paths travelled over the years and produce magical songs like 'Mantombi'.

Since then, Sipho has continuously been creating new and challenging music through a series of inspired collaborations. He toured the United States of America, Canada and the Bahamas with Harry Belafonte and Letta Mbulu. Along with Caiphus Semenya, Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa and Letta Mbuli, he produced the musical show 'Buwa', which told the story of South African music in the context of South African history. The show played in Harare, Zimbabwe and several otherAfrican statets before it closed in Sweden.

1987 saw the rebirth of Sakhile. They toured Switzerland, Italy and the United Kingdom. They also represented South Africa at the 'Meeting of the World' music festival which took place in Finland and the (then) Soviet Union. Sakhile also toured several African states and together with Abigail Kubheka, they played all the major cities in Germany. Later that same year, Sipho performed with Caiphus Semenya, Letta Mbulu and Hugh Masekela at the Montreux Jazz Festival in an African Evening produced by Quincy Jones.

In 1992, his solo album "Thank you for Listening" won an OKTV Award for Best African Fusion Album. In 1995 he was awarded with an achievement award from Johnny Walker Black Label for his outstanding contribution to the South African Music Industry.

Sipho Gumede died on Monday 26 July 2004 after a short illness. He was 47.

Amanaz - 1975 - Africa


01. Amanaz 2:52
02. I Am Very Far 3:39
03. Sunday Morning 5:25
04. Khala My Friend 3:40
05. History of Man 3:15
06. Nsunka Lwedo 3:27
07. Africa 4:51
08. Green Apple 4:11
09. Making the Scene 3:35
10. Easy Street 3:50
11. Big Enough 4:06
12. Kale 5:06

Keith Kabwe (vocals, maracas, tambourine)
Isaac Mpofu (guitar, vocals)
John Kanyepa (guitar, vocals)
Jerry Mausala (bass, vocals)
Watson Lungu (drums, vocals)

Fantastic psychedelic rock album recorded by Amanaz in Zambia in ’75; & in the early '70s Zambian way stylistically very much rooted in late ‘60s psych, with a few African moves thrown in here & there for flavor. Amanaz were a five piece band (two guitars, bass, drums, vox) & all five members wrote & sang, so there is a fair amount of variety in the songs, though they are stylistically coherent, moving from a sort of semi-Africanized “Loaded” Velvets feel to something maybe along the lines of a stripped down Iron Butterfly, maybe even hinting at something like early Funkadelic, but always high level, plenty of fuzz, riffs, post Ginger Baker drumming, & with a ramshackle underground sound & feel – raw, organic, beautiful. This feels like it was hand carved out of an old tree, rather than recorded in a studio. Mostly sung in English, with a couple of tunes in the Bemba language. A fairly close parallel would be the equally brilliant Chrissy Zebby Tembo album “My Ancestors,” also recorded in Zambia & released around the same time. Beautiful Sunday morning comedown feel. Sounds good immediately, but repeated listens reveals rare timeless magic. Facsimile reissue, hand numbered from a limited edition of 450 – heavy cardboard sleeve & 180g vinyl.

Abstract Truth - 1970 - Silver Trees

Abstract Truth
Silver Trees

01. Pollution
02. All the Same
03. Original Man
04. Silver Trees
05. In a Space
06. Moving Away
07. Two
08. Blue Wednesday Speaks
09. It's Alright With Me

Think of a discount Jethro Tull with a heavy, often kind of sloppy DIY vibe, and with psychedelic and jazz influences in the dominant slots contra Tull's hard and blues rock.

There's a frequent, odd absence of drumset when you'd expect it.  Abstract Truth does have a drummer, but it's almost as if he couldn't be bothered to record a part most of the time and as if he were religiously against playing more than two minutes at a stretch. Occasionally, as on "Blue Wednesday Speaks", they're more in the territory of early King Crimson (though again, a discount, DIY etc. version).

Abstract Truth's first LP isn't as celtic as their second one and though it retains a distinct folk taste it's much closer to dark prog and late psychedelia (Arcadium, Catherine Ribeiro + 2 Bis). It's still more "thrid stream jazz" than "acid test jam", and that's certainly good for me. The keyboards are quite present: clavi, piano and Hammond dominate most of the tracks together with the saxophone. Great dream-like melodies, a bit reminding of Greg Lake.

Abstract Truth - 1970 - Totem

Abstract Truth

01. Jersey Thursday 3:49
02. Coming Home Baby 6:34
03. Oxford Town 4:10
04. Fat Angel / Work Song 10:03
05. Summertime 5:13
06. Scarborough Fair 3:45
07. Parchman Farm / Moaning 3:00
08. Ain't Necessarily So / Take Five 10:03
09. Total Totum (Acid Raga) 5:17

Kenny Henson (guitar, vocals)
Peter Measroch (keyboards, flute, vocals)
Mike Dickman (guitar, vocals)
Robbie Pavid (percussion), Ian Bell (flute), Brian Gibson (bass, vocals), Sean Bergin (flute, saxophone), Robbie Pavid (drums), George Wolfaardt (bass, flute, drums, vocals), Brian Alderson (keyboards), Harry Poulos (guitar), Eric Dorr (flute), Ramsay Mackay (bass)

“Totum” is named after the club the band labored in to make a living, and is still a bit too primal to be considered a classic. The folk pieces are a bit ordinary and the odd cover tune doesn’t help. Still, some cosmic journeys and other extended weirdo pieces go a long way to making this desirable, especially the sitar drenched closer.

You would never guess Abstract Truth are a South-African band from their music. Combining British folk (there's also a Donovan cover in the album), third-stream jazz and psych-rock, they sound like a more rock version of The Pentangle. Most tracks feature extended jams, usually very elegant but sometimes quite unfocused ("Total Totum" sounds like "Taxim" by Kaleidoscope, but it's even worse). The true problem is recording quality though: sybilants sound awfully and the sound's often croaky.

Ablution - 1974 - Ablution


01. Bluegaloo
02. Woodchurch Sorceress
03. Kokt Tvätt
04. The Nard Finished Third
05. Equator
06. Third Meter Stroll
07. The Visitor

Ola Brunkert : drums, percussion
Malando Gassama : percussion
John Gustafson : bass
Jayson Lindh : flute, Fender piano
Pete Robinson : keys
Jan Schaffer : guitar
Barry de Souza : drums, trumpet

Swedish based large scale jazz rock ensemble, with hot playing from all. Organ, guitar, multiple percussion, piano and, best of all, Bjorn J:Son Lindh freaking out on flute all over this! Has a “Lotus” era Santana vibe going.
Funky, thundering, and twisty turning on a prog rock dime, this is some seriously sexy and strutting work and another great fusionoid entry from a country that was swimming in the best of the stuff back in the day, with Ablution's attack here being akin to the most frenzied passages of flute-y fusion expounded by Bjorn J:son Lindh on his early albums, though modulated by other bits that relate to the most juicily high flying moments of Michel Urbaniak's Fusion and The Chris Hinze Combination.

Abacus - 2010 - Destiny


01. When I Depart (7:30)
02. Promised Land (6:53)
03. One More Embrace (8:01)
04. Destiny (10:08)
05. The Light (13.21)
06. The Fight (8:24)

Jürgen Wimpelberg / vocals, keyboards, guitars, programming
Robert Valet / acoustic guitars
Peter Terhoeven / guitars

German outfit ABACUS is among the pioneers of the progressive rock genre, issuing its debut album back in 1971 and with three more productions released prior to splitting up in the middle of the decade. After a brief reunion a few years later, they went into an elongated hiatus, reforming again towards the end of the 90's with a new album appearing back in 2001. "Destiny" is the second album by the reformed version of this act, and was released by Musea Records in 2010.

While "Destiny" isn't a production that makes me raise my eyebrows in any way whatsoever, I'd suspect that those who generally find music described as pomp rock to be of interest are ones who should give this disc a spin. Relatively easygoing songs blending hard rock and soft rock themes with art rock flurries on top in the shape of richly layered keyboards is the main course, with two epic-length creations that add a more distinct art rock expression as dessert.

Abacus - 2001 - Fire Behind Bars

Fire Behind Bars

01. Avalanche Part 1 (7:40)
02. Nightflight (5:24)
03. Rien Ne Vas Plus (7:51)
04. Don't Look Back (8:45)
05. Helping-Hand-Song (7:45)
06. Loser (7:05)
07. Fire Behind Bars (5:47)
08. Avalanche Part 2 (6:58)

- Jürgen Wimpelberg / keyboards, vocals, guitars, drum programming
- Manfred Heilmann / vocals, guitars
- Rainer Niklowitz / drums, percussion
- Reinhard Schulte / bass
- Robert Valet / acoustic guitars
- Peter Terhoeven / guitars
- Pattrick Pelzer / vocals

Abacus was a progressive rock band that was formed in 1971. They released four albums ("Abacus", "Everything You Need', "Just a Day's Journey Away", and "Midway") and then broke up due to problems with their label. They reformed in 1979 and attempted to release a fifth album in 1980, but again ran into problems as the people who held the rights to the band's production demanded that the lyrics on their new album be only in German.

In 1997, Jürgen Wimpelberg decided to finish that fifth album with some guest musicians. The first seven tracks on this album are re-recordings of the tracks from that album, to which he has added an 8th track, "Avalanche Part 2", which is an instrumental. None of the original members of the group remain; even Klaus Kohlhase, the original bass player who reformed the group in 1979, is gone, although his presence is still felt on "Nightflight" and "Loser" where he wrote the lyrics to the songs.

The sole group credit goes to Jürgen Wimpelberg (keyboards, vocals, guitars, & drum programming), which makes the group a one man band. Listed as "friends" on the album are Manford Heilmann (vocals and guitars), Rainer Niklowitz (drums and percussion), Reinhard Schulte (basses), Robert Valet (acoustic guitars), Peter Terhoeven (guitars), and Pattrick Pelzer (vocals). Most of the writing credits go to Jürgen Wimpelberg, but Manford Heilmann shares the music credit on five of the eight pieces and Pattrick Pelzer gets a lyric credit for "Rien Ne Vas Plus".

This CD sounds nothing like the bands original CDs, at least not the three which I have heard. This album has a much more synthesized sound and is dominated by keyboards, which is not surprising given the fact that it is mainly the work of a keyboardist. On its own, this album sounds somewhat overproduced and uninspired. There is nothing wrong with the sound, but nothing to excite the listener either. This probably should be categorized as pop music with a progressive feel, although that might not be completely fair either.

Abacus - 1974 - Midway


01. Let's Face The Voice And Dance
02. Including Revelation
03. Me And You
04. 11 Garden
05. You Are Not The One I Love
06. For The Moment
07. Be Beholding
08. Hermann The German
09. Here We Go
10. Midway

- Chris Williams / vocal
- Charlie Schade / guitar, sitar
- Chris Barutzky / keyboards
- Klaus Kohlhase / bass
- Allan Warren / drums, percussion

I'm beginning to notice a pattern with Abacus and their work. Although each effort following the promising debut have been generally underwhelming, there's always a handful of tracks on a given album to save it at least partially from the dregs of mediocrity. On "Midway", the band's fourth record, this redemption comes most visibly in the form of the ten minute title track Abacus close the album with. Weaving a mid-paced rhythm section with atmospheric leads and a smattering of vocal parts, it's a far cry from the brand of art pop the band had veered towards. While the collection of shorter tunes on "Midway" aren't all duds, it comes across as a dreadfully inconsistent piece of work.

Much like "Everything You Need", Abacus open up "Midway" on its weakest not. "Let's Face the Voices and Dance" may be one of the more memorable pieces on the album, but the unabashed cheeriness of the atmosphere, the happy-go-lucky rhythm and superficial horn arrangement do nothing for me. I get the impression that I would have probably felt better towards the song had it not been placed at the start, however. Most of the tracks follow a much more mellow path, somewhere in between a typical ballad by The Eagles and the familiar psychedelic pop that had been a part of Abacus' sound since the very beginning. While cheesiness is one thing, it's a lesser ill when compared to monotony. Although tunes like "Me and You" and the quirky "Herman the German" are decently penned and performed, there's a feeling towards the middle of the album that Abacus have forgotten the rock aspect of their sound. Luckily, Abacus charge their sound with a dose of caffeine and much-needed innovation with the surprisingly complex and strange track "Be Beholding", a song that takes the calculated dissonance of King Crimson in as an influence along with their more typical inspirations. Unfortunately, by the time "Be Beholding" rolls around, most of the album has been lost already on bland acoustic pop.

One of the things that got me excited about Abacus' self-titled first album was the spotlight on musicianship and keyboard wizardry. While it's conceivable that Abacus didn't suddenly lose their skills, there's little opportunity within the context of the songwriting for them to demonstrate it. Chris Williams' voice has taken a far greater presence in Abacus' sound than at first, and with a voice that's middling at best, it's disappointing that he seems to be the only member whose talents are given room to breathe.

Abacus - 1973 - Everything You Need

Everything You Need 

01. Anyway We Can
02. Slide Away
03. Ivan Hood The White Knight
04. Thing We Do
05. Everything You Need
06. What A Day
07. Paranoia Agency
08. Hold Up The Flag
09. Don't Worry
10. Everything You Need

- Chris Williams / vocals, acoustic guitar
- Hans Rolf Schade / guitar, vocals, moog
- Christoph Perutzky / piano, organ, synth
- Klaus Kohlhase / bass
- Konstantin H Bommerius / drums

Produced by Gerd Muller, 1972's "Everything You Need" marked Abacus' third album in a two year period.  The album also reflected the band's first personnel change with former 2066 & Then drummer Konstantin Bommarius replacing Felix Hans.  Against that backdrop it shouldn't have come as a surprise to discover the Abacus creative well starting to run dry.  Those circumstance might also help explain the band's abrupt change in musical direction with tracks like 'Anyway We Can (Song For H.)' and 'Thing We Do' seeing their earlier progressive roots shed in favor of a somewhat unexpected set of pop and country-rock tinged moves.  Mind you, it wasn't like these guys were trying to copy The Flying Burrito Brothers, or Poco, but there was a definite country twang herein.  As on the earlier albums lead singer Chris Williams remained an acquired taste.  For an English guy he sure didn't sound very English to me.  In fact, his vocals frequently sounded pale and weak compared to the rest of the band's energetic performances.  Side two featured a five part, side-long title track suite.  Anyone expecting a return to the band's progressive roots was in for a major disappointment since the suite sounded more like a series of five song fragments haphazardly stitched together.  Of the five segments, only one even came close to have a progressive tinge - 'Paranoia Agency'.  The rest ranged from adult contemporary pop to straight ahead commercial pop.

- Complete with catchy hook, 'Anyway We Can (Song For H.)' was a rollicking pop-rock number that would have sounded pretty good on early-1970s FM radio.  Nice telecaster solo from Hans-Rolf Schade.  rating: *** stars
- Complete with a top-40 melody, one of Williams better vocals, sweet multi-part vocal harmonies, and a lyric that included the phrase 'got to keep on moving, all that happy screwing ...'), 'Slide Away' showcased the band at their most commercial.  Easy to see progressive fans falling into a coma when listening to this one.  Personally I kind of liked it.   rating: *** stars
- 'Ivan Hood the White Knight' (their spelling, not mine), sounded a bit like a sub par concept piece crossing  early Rush, Jethro Tull (with a Germanic edge), and Rick Wakeman.  Any idea what language the weird refrain "bi a niya, bi a niya ..." was in ?  It sounded like they'd borrowed a page out of the Magma's Kobaïan dictionary ....  rating: ** stars
- Continuing to play-spot-the-influences, 'Thing We Do' seemed to borrow heavily from Donovan's patented blend of hippy philosophy and catchy, top-40 pop melodies.  Again, progressive fans were probably appalled to find themselves singing the insidiously catchy closing refrain "la la li li la li  ..."   rating: *** stars
- As mentioned, 'Everything You Need' was a twenty minute, side long suite spread across five section (which actually sounded like five entirely different songs that had been haphazardly stitched together.)
- Even though it took awhile to get going, powered by some powerhouse drumming from Konstantin Bommarius and a beautiful Hans-Rolf Schade jangle guitar lick, 'What a Day' evolved into the album's prettiest number.  It was also another track that served to showcase Williams voice in a positive light.   rating: **** stars
- 'Paranoia Agency' saw the album abruptly verve from prettiest song to weirdest number ...  With Williams talk-singing his way through the first part of the song, this one actually sounded like a Monty Python outtake.  Literally a horrible vocal (imagine a German Kermit the Frog backed by a crew of Muppets), the second part of the song at least sported a nice heavy metal guitar riff.   rating: ** stars
- 'Hold Up the Flag' found the band rediscovering the concept of a catchy melody - this time adding a vague  Caribbean flavor to the mix.  Elsewhere its doubtful this one would have attract much attention, but on this set it actually didn't sound half bad.   rating: *** stars
- If anything, sporting the album's most memorable melody, the acoustic 'Don't Worry' was even more radio friendly.  The song also featured one of the prettiest sax solos I've ever heard.

Abacus - 1972 - Just A Day Journey's Away

Just A Day Journey's Away

01. Seasong (7:11)
02. Munchen 23 (5:12)
03. Hamm Spring 71 (3:59)
04. Ballad Of Lucky Luke (3:01)
05. Continued On Page 2 Col. 6 (5:10)
06. White House May Come - White House May Go (4:12)
07. What Else (8:51)

- Felix Hans / drums, percussion
- Charlie Schade / guitar, sitar
- Chris Barutzky / keyboards
- Chris Williams / vocal
- Klaus Kohlhase / drums, percussion

The band's second outing was rather more mainstream than the first, yet still offers much to like. The propulsive "Seasong" is the obvious attraction here for prog fans, but it's not the only game in town. "Continued On Page 2, Column 6" is one of those herky-jerky-quirky numbers that seem to crop up on all of Abacus' records, and moreover makes them so enjoyable. "White House May Come, White House May Go" is another one of those enchanting, sitar-laden numbers, with a chord progression and vocal harmonies that, oddly, remind me a lot of Chicago's "Wishing You Were Here"!

Most of the rest of the album is decent, but won't really rock your world. I daresay few proggers will appreciate the blues-folk numbers like "Ballad of Lucky Luke"!

Abacus - 1971 - Abacus


01. Pipedream Revisited Part 1 & II
02. Cappucino
03. Don't Beat So On The Horses
04. Song For Brunhilde
05. Song For John And Yoko
06. Radbod Blues
07. Chestholder

- Felix Hans / drums, percussion
- Charlie Schade / guitar, sitar
- Chris Barutzky / keyboards
- Chris Williams / vocal
- Konstantin Bommarius / drums, percussion

Like Van der Graaf Generator and their lesser-known contemporaries Aardvark, Abacus represented an early 70's wave of prog that tried to bring the keyboards to the forefront, usurping the long-held role of the guitars in rock music. With the use of distortion and thick organ textures in the keyboards however, most of the bands that took this approach never distinguished themselves a great deal from their guitar-based counterparts. While Abacus did not steer away entirely from the use of guitar in their music, they were one of the few bands that really capitalized on the use of rock organ in their music. Released at the beginning of their genre's golden age, Abacus' self-titled debut is a convincing slice of progressive rock, with a welcome dose of jazz and 60's beat pop to add extra colour to the style. As promising as Abacus sounded at this early stage in their career however, some inconsistent songwriting standards kept "Abacus" from the cult classic status it could have had.

Often dainty and at times downright psychedelic, Abacus' sound reflects a transition of styles between the 60's and 70's. The organ-rich performance is filled with the sort of symphonic arrangement and sophistication indicative of the 'classic' 70's progressive rock, but Abacus would not have sounded out of place in the latter part of the decade prior. Although the excellent, pastoral mini-epic "Pipedream Revisited" opens the album on a bit of an exceptional note, most of the tunes here sound like organ-driven renditions of tunes that could be found on a British Invasion compilation. It's no surprise really, given that Abacus were originally a beatpop group called The Fashions. Although other reviewers have noted a Krautrock sound on "Abacus" (and rightly so), much of the band's influence has been certainly derived from British rock tradition. Then again, with a song title like "Song for John and Yoko", this shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

Of these two primary styles (prog and 60's pop), the greatest moments on "Abacus" may almost always be attributed to the progressive end of their sound. "Pipedream Revisited" kicks off the album on a very strong note, weaving psychedelic charm into a keyboard- infused framework, pleasantly fusing classical tradition with pastoral folkishness. The instrumental "Capuccino" is arguably the best thing that the album has going for it, a fast- paced, theatrical and energetic jazz-fusion piece that ends much too soon. From there on, Abacus begin to shift towards their other style, toning down the instrumental sophistication to make room for ex-Grail frontman Chris Williams' vocal contributions. Although "Don't Beat So On the Horses" represents a comfortable mix of the two styles, Abacus' vocal melodies are rarely as endearing as their instrumental prowess. Although William's voice is tuneful enough and echoes the band's Merseybeat-influenced past, the melodies rarely feel like they are worth the diminished instrumental arrangements. "Song for Brunhilde" represents the album's lowest point, eschewing the band's typical rock organ flair for a sitar-tinged piece of hippie folk with a song structure that goes nowhere and lyrics that may cringing from more discerning listeners. "Song for John and Yoko" is a decent tune in the familiar 60's pop style. With "Radhod Blues" and "Chestholder", Abacus return to the style hinted at by the first couple of tracks, but they are not nearly as impressive. "Chestholder" in particular tends to raise an eyebrow from me; although it begins promisingly enough, the album's finale tosses together samples from earlier moments in the album. Although it's clear that the band were trying to wrap up their debut with a quick summary of the album, but the completely chaotic and patchy way this climax is thrown together leaves the album on a fairly weak note.

Abacus' songwriting lulls significantly towards the middle of the album, and although it improves, it never really recovers. It's a shame, because if the first two tracks on the album were any indicator, the album could have been really excellent. Instrumentally, Abacus have a lot going for them on this self-titled debut. While Chris Barutzky's keyboard work is above and beyond the strongest aspect of the band, the musicianship upholds an impressive standard throughout. It's unfortunate "Abacus" didn't manage to fulfill the potential of the band, but then again, how many bands manage to nail it on their first time around? As it stands, "Abacus" is a pleasant album for its style, but the inconsistency keeps it from being a real gem.

Aardvark - 1970 - Aardvark


01. Copper Sunset – 3:17
02. Very Nice Of You To Call – 3:39
03. Many Things To Do – 4:22
04. The Greencap – 6:05
05. I Can’t Stop – 5:29
06. The Outing-Yes – 9:39
07. Once Upon A Hill – 2:53
08. Put That In Your Pipe And Smoke It – 7:35

- Stan Aldous / bass
- Frank Clark / drums
- Steve Milliner / keyboards, recorder, vibraphone
- Dave Skillin / vocals

A progressive act without a guitar player? That’s exactly what this early 70's British foursome is.

Originally, they became known mainly because Paul Kossoff and Simon Kirke played in the band before leaving to form legendary band Free. After their departure, Aardvark were mostly a studio act and recorded their only album in 1970.

As is to be expected, Aardvark’s material is highly keyboard oriented, the brunt of the music being carried by the fuzzed-up Hammond organ which more or less simulates the job of a distorted guitar. The soaring vocals by Skillin are pleasant and the music is quite melodic. The album contains some ear-friendly piano/keyboard interplay as well as some good R&B guitar riffs and harmonic choruses.

Aaron Lightman - 1970 - Aaron Lightman

Aaron Lightman
Aaron Lightman

    Out Of The Morning
    They Call Me Traveler
    None For Me
02.On Monday Me
    I Have A Little Friend
   (Take 74 Interlude)
03.Little Girl
04.The Morning After
    Down To The Sea
    Something Simple
    Now Is The Time

Words and music by Aaron Lightman / interludes by Ronald Frangipane and Dean Christopher

Woodwind – Romeo Penque, Irving Horowitz, Phil Bodner, Joe Grimm, Leon Cohen, George Berg / French horns – Don Currado, Joe De Anglis / drums – Al Rogers / bass, concert bass – Joe Mack / harpsichord – Ronald Frangipane / electric guitar, harmonica – Hugh MacCracken / solo classical guitar – Sal Di Troia / violin – Max Ceppos, Irving Spice, David Rothschild, Joe Mallen, Manny Green, Gene Orloff, Lou Stone, Arrianna Brun / viola – David Saxon, Seymore Burman, Harry Lefkowki / cello – Seymour Babarb, George Ricci, Charles MacCracken / harp – Gene Bianco

Produced by Ronald Frangipane, Dean Christopher and Neal Ceppos
Arranged by Ronald Frangipane and Dean Christopher
Engineered by Neal Ceppos
Recorded at Bell Sound Studios, NYC
Original album design by Milton Glaser

“The thoughts and voice of one man as he journeys through the timeless flowing of the mind to discover his humanity” – original album notes

Little is known of this unusual Philadelphia singer-songwriter, whose delicate vocals and catchy tunes have earned him comparison with Donovan and the Bee Gees, winning him a considerable cult reputation in the process. His sole album, which blends melodic folk-pop with extravagant orchestral interludes, first appeared in 1969 and makes its long-overdue CD debut here.

“Aaron Lightman is a young singer-composer-actor from Philadelphia. Although in his twenties, his child-like appearance and slight build (100 pounds soaking wet on a good day!) tend to make people think he is much younger. Realising that we are all children in an ageing world, his songs are like his appearance. They take delight in simple things: a misty dawn, merry-go-rounds, rainy afternoons, a young girl’s hair, summertime, squirrels and the sea. Some of these songs were brought to the attention of the producers, who were looking for a vehicle to unite their classical background with popular music. The result is this album; a modern cantata utilising a chamber orchestra instead of a vocal choir; a flow of undefinable music telling a story that need not start or finish in any specific time or place or travel along a precise linear road; the thoughts and voice of one man as he journeys through the timeless flowing of the mind to discover his humanity” – original liner notes

Aaron Lightman is likely more well known in contemporary times than when he was an active musician. Hailing from Philadelphia, his slight and short build portrayed him as a much younger person, with a supposed childlike appearance and slight hundred-pound build, which also typified his singing style. Lightman's voice itself was described as a cross between the Gibb brothers from the Bee Gees and Donovan Leitch. Owing no small allegiance to the '60s psychedelic era, Lightman's music was very orchestrated, similar to certain songs of the Beatles or the Moody Blues in a melodic baroque pop vein. He co-wrote songs with Dean Christopher and with producer Ron Frangipane, who also worked with Melanie, Janis Ian, the Monkees, John Lennon, Dusty Springfield, and the Rolling Stones. The Poppy label, distributed by MGM, issued his eponymous debut album in 1970, and the single "Down to the Sea" b/w "Now Is the Time." He worked with string players Gene Bianco, George Ricci, and Gene Orloff; drummer Al Rogers; flutist Romeo Penque; and acclaimed jazz woodwind player Phil Bodner. Lightman's record does not seem to have attracted much attention when it was first issued, but upon its reissue in 2008 by the Fallout label, Lightman enjoyed renewed interest. Another factor in his reemergence is that his niece is contemporary pop star Toby Lightman. She dedicated her second album, 2006's Bird on a Wire, to him.

Betty - 1971 - Handful


01. Boogie With You
02. Blind With Shame
03. Just For Fun
04. High Rollin' On The Freeway
05. River Bummin'
06. Handful (Of Love)
07. Thank You
08. Learn How To Boogie
09. Harley Perdoo
10.Lights Gonna Shine

*Al Rodriguez - Drums
*Mike McMahon - Guitar
*Kerry Kanbara - Bass, Vocals
*Anthon Davis - Lead Vocals, Guitar
Guest Musicians
*Tom Jordan - Keyboards
*Lee Marks - Chorus
*Ed O'Donnell - Chorus

Hard-Psychedelic-Boogie-Biker-Rock: Not just another hardpsych CD which is completely unknown. This record beats most others of the same kind. Amazing heavy fuzzguitar, great vocals, organs, the whole thing. If you like Brigade, Butterfingers we think this is even better..
Hideously rare hard-rocker from Los Angeles, CA. Try to imagine Dragonfly merging with Canned Heat and you'll be close. As only 200 copies where pressed as original LP´s and sold by band at gigs, this record is very rare! If you like crude, powerful heavy rock, this one is not to be missed. C.F.
This album has a very awkward atmosphere of mostly danceable boogie. That isn't awkward in itself, but when you play every riff and solo with very deeply fuzzy heavy psych riffs and solos, it just sounds weird. I'd like to rate it higher, especially when the guitarist plays acidic wah solos, but that happy party time piano rhythm constantly gets in the way of any heavy sound the guitarist accomplishes. But there are some really good tracks that are more straight-forward heavy psych, like "Just for Fun" and "Handful", and in those instances the keyboard player actually helps with the effort by switching to a less happy sounding organ.

 Originally recorded in 1971 by California's long-forgotten Betty, Handful is an interesting and frustrating album, but not because of any of the songs on it. The ten tracks are standard for the time period and show that the musicians were competent if not particularly imaginative songwriters. Opener "Boogie with You" has a distinct roadhouse feel reminiscent of the Doors or Canned Heat. Guitarists Mike McMahon and Anthon Davis lay down some funky guitar licks accented by Tom Jordan's piano and an able rhythm section comprising Al Rodriguez on drums and Kerry Kanbara on bass. And the other nine songs on the album are variations on this theme.

"Blind with Shame" contains some poppy guitar hooks and a catchy chorus, and "Thank You" replaces the piano with an organ and blues riffs with Moby Grape-inspired metal chords. On "Lights Gonna Shine," the band travels the farthest afield by trading out the shouted lyrics and boogie sensibility of the other tracks for a more folk-oriented point of view.

Listening to the album does pique an interest in the band that put them together, and in that regard Shadoks Music misses out. There was a huge opportunity here to track down the members of the band for interviews and have them put Handful into both an artistic and a historic context. It's nearly impossible not to wonder what became of Betty.