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Category : The Playlist (3)

Playlist – June 19/12

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Published on: June 19, 2012

Clockwork Angels, the 20th studio album by Canadian prog-rockers Rush, represents a stylistic return of sorts to the concept album phase of their career perhaps best exemplified in their breakthrough 1976 album 2112 (in fact, the cover art is a nod in military time to the epic). There is a lyric narrative of a sci-fi/steampunk aesthetic that spans the entire album, but gone are the 7-movement suites of old. Instead, the individual songs, when taken out of the context of the narrative, are intended to stand on their own. The overall story arc is reminiscent of ‘The Fountain of Lamneth’ from 1975’s Caress of Steel and to an extent, ‘2112’, however, the allegory is more subtle and refined on the newest release.

Fans are already quite familiar with the first two tracks, ‘Caravan’ and ‘BU2B’, as they were released as a single and b-side respectively a couple of years ago. The album versions have been updated and treated to some nifty new mixes and a new intro for ‘BU2B’. What struck me immediately was the in-your-face sonic barrage and crisp sounds thanks to producer Nick Raskulinecz, who returns to the helm after 2007’s Snakes and Arrows. The drums are particularly snappy on these opening tracks, aided by Neil Peart’s deft pounding and expertly orchestrated drum parts.

It is easy to detect many ‘Rushisms’ throughout the album such as tension-breaking half-time choruses/bridges, tight ensemble figures, and lush orchestrations. Parts of ‘Halo Effect’ remind me of ‘Half the World’ from 1996’s Test for Echo and sections of the title track recollect ‘Double Agent’ from 1993’s Counterparts. They even go so far as quoting their own song ‘Bastille Day’ from Caress of Steel during ‘Headlong Flight”. The band does break some new ground however, as many of the songs have sections that take on a decidedly middle-eastern flavour, and there seems to be more emphasis on improvisation, especially in Peart’s case. More often than not, Peart’s exploratory ventures yield fantastic results (the extended breakdown in ‘Headlong Flight’ is a shining example), though I can’t help but feel that some of the songs would have been better served with more crafted drum performances. In addition, many songs feature a string section that is at times unsettling and sinister (in a good way on ‘BU2B2’) and at other times beautiful and sublime (‘The Garden’).

Though Rush have influenced countless other groups of various genres, they reveal a few influences of their own; Peart’s drum pattern at the opening of ‘The Anarchist’ is not unlike the one played by Matt Cameron on Soundgarden’s ‘Jesus Christ Pose’ and the verses have a certain energy and urgency that recalls U2 circa 1983. Make no mistake though – Clockwork Angels is undeniably Rush sounding like Rush.

Guitarist Alex Lifeson has more moments to shine on Clockwork Angels than on other recent releases and turns in some slick solos on the title track and especially on ‘Headlong Flight’- using a wah pedal to great effect. ‘Halo Effect’ and ‘The Garden’ highlight some very effective acoustic work. His electric sounds massive throughout and though some riffs aren’t necessarily the most memorable,  they still brim with energy and excitement.

Geddy Lee steals the show not only with some truly inspired bass playing (check out ‘Seven Cities of Gold’), but with some of his best vocals to date. Staying more within the lower and middle parts of his register really makes the high notes pop when he forays into the stratosphere. Songs like ‘The Wreckers’ and the title track feature strong melodies that highlight the maturity and complexity of his voice. He plays some thunderous bass lines that are up front in the mix and the sound of the bass is an ideal balance of clarity and grit.

Unfortunately, the clear snappiness of the first two tracks is not always present in some of the other songs. My perception could be partly because ‘Caravan’ and ‘BU2B’ were recorded in a different studio separate from the other songs. It also seems that because there are so many instruments fighting for sonic space at times, some of them sound a little more dull in the mix when compared to the opening tracks. Most often, it is Peart’s drums that suffer from this effect although not to a degree that detracts discernibly from the overall listening experience. A notable phenomenon that for me has occurred often with newer albums, and Clockwork Angels is no exception, is that I felt the need to listen to it on several different systems and subsequently judge which of them got the most out of the mix. This is strictly my personal old-school opinion but I feel that older albums recorded well with less technology simply sounded good on any system. I don’t mean to assert that producer Raskulinecz’s work is anything less than tremendous; I believe this curiosity is just a product of today’s recording practices and technology.

As has been the case with every new Rush release since CounterpartsClockwork Angels has taken some time to grow on me and I’m sure it will continue to do so. The stellar musicianship abounds as always but some of the songs didn’t grab me initially. The jury is still out for me on a couple of tracks (‘Carnies’, ‘Wish Them Well’) but there is nonetheless something to be appreciated in them as well.

It is astounding to consider that Rush has been together in their current form for almost 40 years! They have transcended their cult status and have become an institution of progressive and hard rock that still tours the globe despite the fact that they are all perilously close to 60 years of age. At this point, it is difficult to tell if Clockwork Angels will rank among their best work. What can be said is that it is arguably their most ambitious work and you have to admire a group with their history and longevity still pushing themselves to create greatness.


Playlist – April 25/12

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Published on: April 25, 2012

I bought this album in the mid ’90’s and I STILL listen to it frequently. For me, it is just one of those albums that never ceases to amaze and I always pick up on something I never noticed before, each and every time I play it.  I have been a die-hard fan of John Scofield since I first heard him and would have to give him the lion’s share of credit for turning me on to jazz.  I am more of a casual fan of Pat Metheny although there are a few albums of his that I would miss if I no longer had them.

The interplay between the two guitar giants is astounding.  Their distinct tones complement each other perfectly and you really get a sense that they are pushing themselves and each other to the limit and having a blast doing so.  Just as unique as their respective guitar tones is each performer’s writing style.  It is fascinating to hear Scofield’s interpretation of Metheny penned tunes and vice-versa, particularily the Metheny composition ‘Message to My Friend’, a beautiful ballad on which both are playing acoustic guitar.  Another highlight is the Scofield jam ‘Everybody’s Party’ where both trade burning solos and are flawlessly supported by Steve Swallow on bass and Bill Stewart on drums, who takes a funky solo himself that builds tension and releases nicely into the bridge.   Metheny’s ‘The Red One’ showcases some slick harmony lines and a Metheny signature guitar synth solo.

The album, for me, is a perfect combination of the cerebral and the visceral.  During its best moments, there is an almost telepathic communication between not only the guitarists but with the rhythm section as well.  It is for these reasons, and many others, that ‘I Can See Your House from Here’ has a place in my top 5 albums.

Playlist – April 07/12

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Published on: April 8, 2012

I have been listening to my good friend Caleb Miles‘ new album ‘Strange Weather‘ for the last several days in preparation for a CD release show in Berwick later this month.  In the relatively short time I have known him, he has quickly become one of my musical heroes – a Jack of All Trades and Master of All! Aside from the fact that all of the songs were written and performed by him (playing every instrument no less), he also recorded it himself.  It is this point that I find truly astounding.  Every time I listen to this album (and also his previous releases which were recorded largely in the same fashion) I picture some sort of eight-armed wizardry taking place and can’t help but feel both envious of his many talents and truly proud and lucky that I get to perform these songs with him live.

From a drum perspective, Caleb stays out of his own way and serves the songs, yet still has an instantly identifiable style.  ‘Oh Sadie’ is a study in minimalism and is a personal highlight.  ‘Do I Have to Beg’ has an Al Jackson-esque laid back feel that you just don’t hear much anymore.  The drum fills in ‘The River’ recall some of Ringo’s best work and ‘Story Never Told’ has an understated funk (sans drumkit!) that simmers all the way to the end.  The pinnacle and emotional high-point of the album after several listens remains ‘Silver Spoon’.  Another drumless track (with the exception of a remarkably subtle and effective hi-hat part), it draws the listener in with a tragic tale that is told with a soulful vocal delivery supported perfectly by resonator guitar.

If you have not yet heard any of Caleb’s music, I highly recommend you pick up his albums and see him live in concert – you’ll be glad you did.

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