A-Ω (Switzerland): A Life (Oros 776 001, double, with inserts, 1977)
Priska Weidmann (occasional vocals), Erica Laederach (occasional vocals)
This band evolved out of a gospel choir named Les Amis and recorded this ambitious concept album, telling the story of a man’s life, between 1970 and 1976. Musically it’s similar to Jethro Tull, offering song-based progressive with blues and folk edges and quite a bit of flute; despite varying sound quality and a few uneven moments, it’s mostly pretty good. The band apparently reformed in 1997 under the name Mü, though I’m uncertain whether they released any further discs. GRADE: B–.
A Certain Call (UK): A Certain Call (Ellie Jay EJSP 9595, 1981)
Patricia Capper (joint lead vocals), Joyce Cochrane (joint lead vocals), Karen Marland (joint lead vocals), E Linda Moore (joint lead vocals), Mandy L Roberts (joint lead vocals), Pauline Swain (joint lead vocals), Christine Wain (joint lead vocals), Freda E Whiteley (joint lead vocals)
With its attractive hand-drawn front cover, slightly MOR piano-led backing and (above average) solo and choral singing, this ‘new musical’ by one David R Irwin should have broad appeal to collectors of school projects LPs. According to the liner notes, it ‘is a moving account of the journey of a family who left Brighton in 1856, travelled to Liverpool and sailed to Boston, to walk the 1000 miles to Salt Lake City’: their eventual destination communicates that the LP was intended to promote Mormonism. The best cut is side one’s slightly symphonic closer, ‘Dreaming’, but this is pleasant throughout (though in no way exceptional). GRADE: C+.
A Euphonious Wail (USA): A Euphonious Wail (Kapp KS 3668, 1973)
Suzanne Rey (joint lead vocals, percussion)
The opening ‘Pony’ is rather brilliant, epitomising the way female vocal West Coast sounds had moved in the early seventies, and indicating the kind of direction Jefferson Airplane could have taken had they continued in the Volunteers vein rather than metamorphosing into Jefferson Starship. Several other cuts maintain the same anthemic feel (especially side two’s riff-driven opener ‘F#’) but others are more generic seventies rock, and there are a couple of rather limp ballads. Overall, it’s an odd album – none of it is original or distinctive, but the band has a gift for creating great hooks, meaning that without the weaker numbers this could have been a minor classic. GRADE: C+.
A Fleeting Glance (UK): A Fleeting Glance (No label AS2324, 1970)
One of the most astonishing British private pressing rarities, only two copies have resurfaced of this 1970 concept album. Telling the story of a woman’s life from her own conception to giving birth, the LP was put together by a variety of musicians and bands at a social club, and allegedly includes an uncredited appearance by Billy Fury. Linked by narration and sound effects, the music runs the gamut from heavy space-rock jamming (including a snatch of ‘Interstellar Overdrive’) to folk/rock (an acoustic cover of ‘Light My Fire’ and a stunning version of ‘Watch The Stars’), avant-garde choirs, krautrock-styled interludes and even trad jazz. The result is among the trippiest albums I have ever heard, comparable only to Jumble Lane in terms of eccentricity, although the music is infinitely better, with a strong Pink Floyd spacy edge. Indeed, had Syd Barrett remained with Pink Floyd, one could well imagine The Dark Side Of The Moon might have sounded thus. GRADE: A.
A Formal Horse (UK): A Formal Horse (No label, CD, with minisleeve, 2014)
Emily Tulloch (lead vocals)
The Southampton band’s five-track, 20-minute EP combines metallic riffs, jazzy time signatures and a nimble, playful mood to excellent effect. An obvious reference point would be American outfit District 97, but this is more whimsical and far less bombastic, adding up to an effective (if perhaps rather slight) debut. GRADE: B–.
A Formal Horse (UK): Morning Jigsaw (No label, CD, with minisleeve, 2015)
Francesca Lewis (lead vocals)
This is a little more substantial than their first, at close to 26 minutes, and again features five tracks. One description of their music states that ‘their dense instrumental passages are reminiscent of King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra… with influences as diverse as Bartók and Bon Iver’, but that seems to me to be gilding the lily. There are again plenty of odd time signatures, but this is only mildly weird stuff – as with their first, it sounds like a playful British twist on contemporary heavy American prog styles. GRADE: B–.
A Formal Horse (UK): Made In Chelsea (No label, CD, with minisleeve, 2016)
Hayley McDonnell (lead vocals)
Another five-track EP (this one running for a whopping 17½ minutes, so they’re really spoiling us) with another female singer – perhaps they’re trying to emulate Wapassou? There’s very little change in their sound, however, and not much to add to my reviews of their earlier work. GRADE: B–.
A Formal Horse (UK): Here Comes A Man From The Council With A Flamethrower (No label, CD, with gatefold minisleeve and booklet, 2019)
Hayley McDonnell (lead vocals)
Whilst building on the sound of their earlier EPs, their first album proper has more spaces between the riffs and more variety, giving the music plenty of room to breathe. Presented as a continuous suite of music, this is an impressive album that ebbs and flows, with enough textural richness to make you forget that they use no keyboards or indeed any extraneous instrumentation. Hayley McDonnell’s English rose vocals – with more than a hint of Barbara Gaskin – provide the final ingredient in a winning stew. GRADE: B–.
A Formal Horse (UK): Meat Mallet (No label, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2021)
Hayley McDonnell (lead vocals)
The big news here is that Hayley McDonnell has come on in leaps and bounds – here she sounds like a force of nature, with an incredible range of styles and intonations. The backing music is suitably knotty but always melodic, confirming that A Formal Horse are one of the most interesting progressive bands operating today. More importantly, whilst their influences were obvious on earlier releases, this time they sound like themselves, so this is both superb and sui generis. GRADE: B–.
A Man Dies (UK): A Man Dies (Columbia 33SX 1609, 1964)
This rather good Christian concept album – performed by Valerie Mountain, Rick Forde and the Strangers with occasional input from a children’s choir – offers lively beat with stripped-down electric arrangements. The result is a sixties pop album that’s enjoyable on its own terms, and it’s definitely one of the better Christian music ventures. GRADE: C+.
A New Idea Of Heaven (UK): A New Idea Of Heaven (New Image NI CD 1, CD, 1992)
Lorna Cumberland (joint lead vocals), Jill Dowse (occasional vocals)
This unusual album was the result of a collaboration between Lorna Cumberland and Richard Wileman of Lives & Times and Jill Dowse and Nick Weaver of Eternal Energy. Both bands consisted of a female singer and a male multi-instrumentalist but their styles were quite different (though both took the same low-budget approach, with programmed drums and no bass). The first four cuts, penned by Cumberland and Wileman, offer an odd mix of neoprogressive, darkwave and gothic rock, before the album offers a brace of symphonic pop numbers by Weaver. Finally, the disc climaxes with four neoclassical instrumentals by Wileman, presaging the direction he would later take with Karda Estra. This latter material is excellent, but the disc as a whole is a peculiar mishmash of styles, with Weaver’s contributions being mediocre at best. GRADE: C.
See also Lives & Times
A Paradise Is Born (West Germany): A Paradise Is Born (TTS HGP 8016, 1980)
Margit Abt (joint lead vocals)
This lovely electric folk album features wholly self-penned material and covers a range of styles, sometimes resembling the more acoustic numbers from the Carol Of Harvest album or early Emtidi with added rock elements. On the dreamy instrumental ‘Freundschaft’, they even sound like Ash Ra Tempel circa Starring Rosi, with the lead guitar a dead ringer for Manuel Göttsching, whilst side two’s opener ‘Teufelspiel’ would almost pass for an outtake from Amon Düül II’s Hijack. As a result, the album’s only real failing is its lack of consistent mood, heightened by the presence of four different lead singers, but several tracks are absolutely first-rate. GRADE: B–.
A Tree Of Signs (Portugal): Salt (Solvtio Perfecta SPII, cassette, 2012)
V-Kaos (lead vocals, keyboards)
This cassette EP, limited to 21 copies, offers low-budget, stripped-down doom metal with a garage ambience. Occasionally it’s a little too primitive for its own good (especially some of the repetitious and sluggish drumming) but it’s certainly an enjoyable release, making one wish they had recorded a full LP. As a footnote, the set was reissued as a one-sided album (Chaosphere Recordings, with insert, Sweden, 2013). GRADE: C+.
A-Austr (UK): A-Austr (Holyground HG 113, with booklet, 1970)
Denise Calvert (occasional vocals, keyboards), Yvonne Carrodus (occasional vocals, tambourine)
One of the first established private pressing rarities, AèAustr offers an odd mixture of styles, mostly comprising Beatles-derived hippie pop whimsy, and occasionally sounding like a scrappy, low budget answer to Abbey Road. Probably the best cut, however, is the doomy ‘Thumbquake And Earthscrew’, sung by one of the two female members. GRADE: C+.
A’nish (Isle of Man): Way Of The Gull (Purt Sheearan PSRCD003, CD, with digipak, 2018)
Ruth Keggin (joint lead vocals, piano, flute, whistle), Anna Camilla Goldbeck-Wood (joint lead vocals, violin), Vanessa Hutchinson (double bass)
This Manx band, including the very talented Ruth Keggin, offer a lovely collection of delicate acoustic folk that at times hints towards Pentangle (though they don’t have any of that band’s passion for experimentation). Gentle, haunting and intricate, this is another fine addition to Keggin’s discography. GRADE: C+.
See also Aon Teanga:Un Chengey, Ruth Keggin
Aalto (Finland): Aalto (Centre Of Wood CoW 007, CDR, with booklet, inner and string wrap, 2008)
Johanna Rossi (principal vocals), Hanna Uotinen (occasional vocals)
The nearest comparison for this would be their countrymen Ancient Bear Cult, who released their debut the same year. This is ethnic folk based around female vocals, throat singing and didgeridoo, with lots of other exotic acoustic instruments (doshpuluur, sitar, igli, jew’s harp and more). The result is delicate, haunting and unusual, although whilst I wouldn’t want to listen to this kind of music every day. As a footnote, the first five songs are by the band proper and the final four early demos by leader Sampo Salonen. As a second footnote, the packaging is quite unusual: a plain CDR housed in an inner sleeve sandwiched in a booklet by a string wrap. GRADE: B–.
Aalto (Finland): Tuulilabyrintit (Uulu UULU 007, CD, with digipak, 2011)
Petra Tikkanen (principal vocals, kantele)
Quite different from its predecessor, this virtually abandons the throat singing and blends the ethnic instrumentation with electric rock. It’s a good album, and far more accessible than its predecessor, but it’s also far more conventional and a good deal less distinctive. GRADE: C+.
Aalto (Finland): Ikaro (Uulu UULU 009, CD, with digipak, 2014)
Petra Tikkanen (principal vocals, kantele)
This is a bit of a step up, with a more psychedelic atmosphere and some genuinely eerie and haunting moments. Its only drawback is that it doesn’t contain any real killer cuts, though there are no obvious weak moments either. GRADE: C+.
Melinda Abbass (Canada): A New Singing Sensation (Maritime MR-10003, 1966?)
Melinda Abbass (lead vocals)
Cut by a 15-year-old nightclub singer from Nova Scotia, this is an extremely pleasant period album of soft beat and pop. She didn’t quite live up to the title, however, as no-one, to my knowledge, ever heard of her again. GRADE: C+.
Abbey Tavern Singers (Ireland): We’re Off To Dublin In The Spring (Spin Budget SBS 1008, 1968)
Margaret Monks (joint lead vocals)
The ‘Budget’ in the label name doesn’t just apply to the price of the record: this set of Irish pub folk tunes sounds like it was taped on a portable cassette recorder. The back cover proudly pronounces ‘stereo, playable mono’, but the results sound more like the reverse.
Absolute Zero (USA): A Live In The Basement (No label SP01, CD, 1990)
Aislinn Quinn (lead vocals, keyboards)
This crazy collision of Cantebury, RIO, electronica and all kinds of other influances goes some fascinating places. It’s just a pity that the journey is so short – two tracks totalling a fraction under 19 minutes. GRADE: B–.
Absolute Zero (USA/UK): Crashing Icons (M=R M=R2, CD, with poster, USA, 2003)
Aislinn Quinn (lead vocals, keyboards)
With four tracks of between 12 and 21 minutes powered by ex-Gong drummer and Canterbury stalwart Pip Pyle, this much later album certainly isn’t lacking in ambition. It isn’t lacking in experimentation either, with the title accurately summing up its incredibly diverse contents. Each of the four pieces could be compared to a sea journey: sometimes tempestuous and thrilling, sometimes calm and engaging, sometimes a little dull and uneventful. As such, some moments of this work much better than others, but overall it’s a fascinatingly bold and weird project with truly incendiary musicianship. GRADE: B–.
Leila Abdul-Rauf (USA): Cold And Cloud (Saadi Saati SS-0˙1, some on blue marbled vinyl, with inner, 2013)
As far removed from her work with Hammers Of Misfortune as one can imagine, this eerie, ambient LP isn’t quite avant-garde, not exactly new age and not truly psychedelic either, whilst having leanings in all those directions. Multilayered vocals, synthesisers and found sounds combine to create hypnotic soundscapes that gently unfold before drifting away, and the whole thing has an appropriately dreamlike ambience. GRADE: C+.
Leila Abdul-Rauf (USA): Insomnia (Malignant Antibody Treatment 05, CD, with digipak, 2015)
Titling such a dreamlike, even soporific, album Insomnia appears perverse, but there’s certainly a dark, haunting undercurrent to the ambient music here. Other than noting that the slight modern jazz element underpinning Cold And Cloud is more evident here – this could easily have come out on ECM – there’s not really a lot to say: the hazy, impressionistic music appears, envelops and then disappears, and life goes on as normal. GRADE: C+.
Leila Abdul-Rauf (USA): Dimunition (Malignant TUMORCD109, CD, with digipak, 2018)
Here’s instalment three – slightly more gothic and borderline industrial but still gauzy and haunting and arty, with its sombre ‘haunted house’ cover and the enigmatic lyrics arranged into a spiral. Whilst there isn’t any actual ‘dimunition’ here – this is easily as good as her first two – it does raise the question of how much more of this stuff any sane person really needs. It also raises a wry smile: I can’t think of any other album whose label name and catalogue number is less appropriate for its contents. GRADE: C+.
See also Amber Asylum, Cardinal Wyrm, Fyrthu, Hammers Of Misfortune, Ionophore, Saros, Valkyrie, Vastum
Abigail (Czech Republic): První (No label, CDR, 2003)
Zdeňky Tvrdíková (principal vocals)
Whilst this was marketed as progressive rock, it’s actually a collection of fairly straight melodic rock songs and ballads with something of a seventies feel. That feel spans both the symphonic rock of the early seventies and some new wave influences, including a bit of saxophone, creating a pleasant and atmospheric album that could appeal to some prog fans without actually being prog. GRADE: C+.
Abigail (Czech Republic): Dwojí (No label, CDR, 2006)
Zdeňky Tvrdíková (principal vocals)
This is a good deal proggier than their first, with some neoclassical references and knotty riffs thrown into their early-seventies-meets-late-seventies sonic stew. At times it reminds me of the odd little filigrees and unpredictable tempo changes on Lene Lovich’s Flex, though this is dramatic – with a faint lineage to French stylists like Catherine Ribeiro and Catherine Lara – rather than cute and playful. GRADE: C+.
Abigail & Company (USA/West Germany): Live Im Studio (Flop FLOP 2, West Germany, 1983)
Abigail (lead vocals)
As a whimsical mixture of folk and swing, with a pre-war aesthetic, acoustic full band backing and all-original material, sung in both English and German, this is certainly unusual. It’s also extremely well done, but this simply isn’t a style of music I like. GRADE: C.
Doris Abrahams (USA): Labor Of Love (Philo PH 1034, 1976)
Doris Abrahams (lead vocals, guitar)
This doesn’t sound like a labour of love at all: it’s identikit polished mid-seventies pop and soft rock, with big studio arrangements including strings and horns on material taking in influences from country, blues, folk, soul and jazz. It’s all very professional but also very anonymous, with the slyly funky ‘See Saw’ (one of two self-penned numbers) being the best thing on offer. GRADE: C.
Abronia (USA): Obsidian Visions/Shadowed Lands (Reverb Worship RW 366, CDR, with DVD case and insert, UK, 2017)
Keelin Mayer (lead vocals, saxophone)
This jamming underground rock album draws on both Krautrock and the Velvet Underground, with the primitive drumming serving as a clear homage to the latter. Keelin Mayer’s saxophone adds a slight free-jazz edge to proceedings, and the band manages
See also Eternal Tapestry
Abstract Club Band (Indonesia): Abstract Club Band (Remaco 77503, 1972?)
Giving few hints of its Far Eastern origins, this is a slick fusion of pop/rock, soul and funk, with strong lounge edges. It’s a nice album, if a terminally obscure one, and the occasional fierce fuzz leads will probably be the highpoint for most listeners. GRADE: C+.
Abus Dangereux (France): Le Quatrième Mouvement (AJ 1001, 1980)
Sylvie Voise (joint lead vocals), Caitriona Walsia (joint lead vocals)
This jazz-fusion album starts out with a touch of zeuhl, but quickly settles down into more laid-back grooves (though the Magma influence returns on the closing ‘Ballade Courte’, which is a bit livelier). Mostly instrumental, with some scatting, it’s high on virtuosity but sometimes a little low on excitement and invention. The band went on to cut a further three albums with an all-male line-up. GRADE: C+.
Abyss (USA): Dare To Dream… (Sound Machine Studios, 1983)
Pat Fischer (joint lead vocals, bass, synthesiser), Nancy Rogers (vocals, guitar, drums, percussion), Penny Lorio (joint lead vocals, guitar, keyboards)
The band name and album title made me expect prog, but the opening ‘Just For Today’ combines propulsive congas and rich harmony vocals to suggest a mildly funky twist on sixties folk/pop. The sixties pop influence resurfaces on ‘Maybe It’s The Rest’, but most of the remainder is low-budget, rather MOR singer/songwriter fare, with the three band members playing all the instruments between them. GRADE: C.
Académia (Sweden): The Tale Of Ocean Waves (Académia Music, CD, 1993)
Sara Löfgren (lead vocals, guitar)
An album blending naïve folky pop (with some Christian lyrics, to boot) and rather ambient instrumentals into an ambitious conceptual whole could have worked brilliantly – the Ithaca album isn’t a million miles removed in its approach. However, the pop songs here are never remotely in the same league as their countrymen Abba and the album as a whole isn’t remotely in the same league as Ithaca. Safa Löfgren, who was in her mid-teens when this was recorded, was later a moderately successful pop star in Sweden. GRADE: C.
Academy (France/USA/Italy/Greece): Academy (RCA 460003, with insert, France, 1971?)
Ann Calvert (lead vocals)
With each of the four members hailing from a different country, Academy was quite a multinational band, but they operated out of France, where they issued their sole album. It’s a lovely LP of relaxed folk/rock with some singer/songwriter edges, with American expatriate Ann Calvert providing both the gentle vocals and the lyrics. Some cuts have occasional psychedelic tinges, including some biting lead guitar on ‘I’m Going Fine’ and tablas on ‘Got To Get Myself Together’. GRADE: C+.
Academy (UK): Pop-Lore According To The Academy (Morgan Blue Town BT 5001, 1969)
Polly Perkins (joint lead vocals)
Usually referred to as ‘psychedelic pop’ or even ‘acid-folk’, Pop-Lore According To The Academy must be one of the most misdescribed albums in this volume. In reality, the LP is basically an acoustic jazz work, with some folky tendencies and a definite underground hippie vibe, but no real psychedelic elements. Although Polly Perkins’s vocals are excellent, the music is of a pretty variable standard, with only the closing ‘Yellow Star’ really standing out. Unsurprisingly, the album was not a hit (and nor was the extracted single, the totally uncommercial ‘Rachel’s Dream’), and Academy quickly broke up. GRADE: C.
See also Polly Perkins
Ace Of Cups (USA): It’s Bad For You But Buy It! (Big Beat CDWIKD 236, CD, 2003, recorded 1966?-1969?)
Denise Kaufman (joint lead vocals, guitar, harmonica), Marila Hunt (joint lead vocals, keyboards), Mary Ellen Simpson (occasional vocals, guitar), Mary Gannon (occasional vocals, bass), Diane Vitalich (drums, backing vocals)
The all-female Ace Of Cups (which evolved out of the garage band Denise & Co, which issued one of the most collectable singles of all time) existed throughout the late sixties, supported a number of big-name acts and sang on Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers, but never got to cut an album of their own. This compilation reveals them to have been a likeable band with a slightly soulful sound though no distinctive style of their own; had they released an LP at the time, it would almost certainly have been more cohesive and more polished than this. GRADE: C+.
Ace Of Cups (USA): Ace Of Cups (High Moon HMRCD-10, double CD, 2018)
Denise Kaufman (joint lead vocals, bass, handclaps, harmonica), Mary Ellen Simpson (joint lead vocals, guitar, handclaps), Diane Vitalich (joint lead vocals, percussion), Mary Gannon (occasional vocals), Buffy Sainte-Marie (occasional vocals)
Four decades after they first operated, the Ace Of Cups reunited to cut a studio album – and it’s a double, too. With high-profile guests like Jack Casady, Bob Weir, Barry Melton, Pete Sears, Taj Mahal, Jorma Kaukonen and David Grisman, this trawls through a variety of West Coast styles and manages the unusual feat of sounding simultaneously modern and vintage. However, its rootsy sound, drawing on blues, soul and country, and mellow mood put me in mind of Joy Of Cooking, and whilst this is all fairly inconsequential it’s also charming and delightful. GRADE: C+.
Achor (UK): A Door Of Hope (Dovetail DOVE 16, 1975)
Claire White (joint lead vocals, guitar), Sue Martin (joint lead vocals), Mavis Ford (joint lead vocals), Jackie (joint lead vocals), Cilla Atfield (flute, melodica)
The beautiful but twee cover illustration of a smiling child amid a tranquil, magical landscape sums up the contents perfectly. This is jolly Christian folk/rock, containing some lovely moments but also embodying many of the worst traits of the genre, including some tinny string synthesiser and tentative cabaret-style drumming. The numbers written by band leader Claire White are considerably better than the remainder, indicating that she was the group’s real talent. As a footnote, the band was calling itself ‘Valley Of Achor’ at this point, but since all subsequent releases were as plain ‘Achor’ I have listed it thus. GRADE: C.
Achor (UK): The Wine Of Lebanon (Dovetail DOVE 46, with insert, 1976)
Claire White (joint lead vocals, guitar), Mavis Ford (joint lead vocals), Irene Wilkie (joint lead vocals), Sue Martin (joint lead vocals), Ann Smith (joint lead vocals)
This is a world away from their patchy and underwhelming first, partly because Claire White is writing almost everything and partly because they’re backed by the cream of the Christian underground (including Mo Witham and John Pantry). It’s still unfailingly sweet and mellow, though that comes with the territory, but these beautifully crafted songs should appeal to anyone uplifting, mildly symphonic folk/rock. GRADE: C+.
Achor & Friends (UK): Hosanna To The Son Of David (Dove DOVE 54, 1978)
Mavis Ford (joint lead vocals, keyboards), Claire White (joint lead vocals), Sue Martin (joint lead vocals), Irene WIlkie (joint lead vocals),
Ann Woodroffe (joint lead vocals)
White is far less prominent this time around, with Mavis Ford stepping up to contribute some keyboards and share the arrangements with band leader Chris Head. Musically, this is a pleasant enough collection of folk and folk/rock songs, but with almost nothing over three minutes, it’s pretty slight – especially as their songs have little structure and such basic lyrics that they have to repeat everything to fill up the space. GRADE: C+.
Achor (UK): End Of My Day (Cedar 1, 1978)
Claire White (joint lead vocals, guitar), Mavis Ford (joint lead vocals), Sue Martin (joint lead vocals), Irene Wilkie (joint lead vocals), Ann Woodroffe (joint lead vocals)
Claire White is back in the driving seat, writing everything, but this isn’t a particularly memorable crop of songs. It’s pleasant enough throughout, but only the closing cut – which is both the simplest and the shortest – ranks among her better compositions. GRADE: C.
Acid Frog (Italy): Acid On The Beach 2018 – Live At Barakan (No label, download, 2018)
Michela Zamataro (lead vocals, tambourine), Shall Intonti (organ)
This nine-minute, three-track EP – including covers of Shocking Blue’s ‘Love Buzz’ and the old warhorse ‘Tobacco Road’ – isn’t the most substantial debut release. However, its winning combination of assertive female vocals, acid guitar and trebly organ should win it more than a few fans. GRADE: C+.
Active Heed (Italy/Norway): Visions From Realities (No label, CD, with digipak, Italy, 2013)
Marit Børresen (occasional vocals)
Although this was marketed as progressive, it’s not really anything of the kind, consisting of folky singer/songwriter rock. Oddly, the album was penned by Umberto Pagnini, who does not play on it; instead, most of the instrumentation is provided by one Lorenzo Poli. Pleasant, melodic and occasionally rather amateurish, it’s a solid collection of well-crafted short songs, but never makes any great impression.
Acid Mothers Gong (Japan/UK/Australia): Live In Nagoya (Vivo vivo2006020CD, CD, Poland, 2003)
The first half of this collaboration between Acid Mothers Temple and Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth is simply stunning, with a mantric wildness never heard in Gong’s own music. The second half is more ponderous – a brief moment when Allen and Makoto Kawabata (I assume) attempt stand-up comedy doesn’t work at all, and some of the musical pieces become a touch more ponderous, but at its best this is stunning stuff. GRADE: B–.
Acid Mothers Gong (Japan/UK/Australia): Live Tokyo (Voiceprint BP382CD, CD, with digipak, UK, 2006)
Gilli Smyth (occasional vocals)
Like their first, this features some wild, amazing, awesome jams. Also like their first, it has the odd moment of borderline musical comedy that doesn’t work so well, though there are fewer of them this time around. That said, this isn’t quite as startling or experimental as its predecessor, so it’s moot which album is better. GRADE: B–.
Acoustic Sounds Skill (Japan): Sorairo No Sora, Mizuira No Mizu (No label OT-3140, with booklet and insert, 1984)
Yumiko Kune (ocasional vocals), Harumi Ishikawa (ocasional vocals), Harumi Ishikawa (ocasional vocals), Hiroko Hayashi (ocasional vocals), Fumiko Mizogami (occasional vocals)
Belying its 1984 release date, this rare private pressing offers late sixties or early seventies-style acoustic folk, with a dreamy, late-night vibe. The band was actually a duo of a male singer and a multi-instrumentalist, with several guest female singers who perform about half the lead vocals between them. GRADE: C+.
Ad Vitam (France): Ad Vitam (No label JA04AV, CD, 1999)
Virginie Coutin (lead vocals)
The brainchild of composer and multi-instrumentalist Jad Ayache, Ad Vitam offered unplugged zeuhl that took its influences from the quietest moments of Mekanïk Destruktïw Kommandöh. An unusual and distinctive variant on the genre, it’s perfect late night listening. GRADE: C+.
Ad Vitam (France): Là Où Va Le Vent (Le Triton TR1-02505, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2002)
Isabelle Feuillebois (joint lead vocals), Julie Vander (joint lead vocals)
For their second and final album, Ad Vitam replaced their original female singer Virginie Coutin with two actual members of Magma (including Christian and Stella Vander’s daughter Julie). That said, this is further removed from zeuhl, being folkier and more avant-garde, and it sounds as though its main inspiration may have been Stella Vander’s solo album D’Épreuves D’Amour. Whilst not as adventurous or as edgy as that set, this is a lovely LP and the better of their two releases. GRADE: C+.
See also Magma, Offering, Christian Vander
Aelementi (Italy): Una Questione Di Principio (Andromeda Relix AND65, CD, 2017)
Francesca Piazza (lead vocals)
This highly promising debut album bridges Italian and South American modern prog styles, with its crunchy hard rock guitars and mellow, understated moods. There are also hints of AOR and mainstream rock, and even a little pop too (I can hear echoes of Abba in the chord changes within some of the soaring choruses). Overall, it’s decidedly above average, and with a little more variety and stretching out could easily have been a B–. GRADE: C+.
Aerium (Russian Federation): Song For The Dead King (Black Lotus BLR/CD078, Greece, CD, 2004)
Veronika Sevostjanova (lead vocals)
The description ‘gothic metal with soprano vocals’ might lead you to expect a Nightwish or After Forever clone, but the feel of this album is very different – slower, darker, doomier and more low budget. With excellent instrumental performances and some very powerful singing from Veronika Sevostjanova, the result is a fine LP. GRADE: C+.
Aeron (USA): Paltareon – The Far Memory Of The Elves (Eldar Productions 36941, with insert, 1979)
Arwen Tooke (joint lead vocals, guitar), Elanor Tooke (keyboards)
The title suggests that this is going to be prog, but instead it’s odd spacy, trippy guitar-led rock (though not really psychedelic either). They were unquestionably out-of-time hippies with a mystical Californian sensibility, but there are some slight hints of new wave here too, reflecting the era. With a quiet and introspective mood and a very thin, low-budget production, this isn’t a particularly involving or exciting record, but it does have a certain charm and a very distinctive sound – and was quite a brave venture for the late seventies. GRADE: C+.
Aeron (USA): Girl With The Golden Eyes (Eldar Productions EP007A, 1982)
Arwen Tooke (joint lead vocals, guitar), Elanor Tooke (keyboards)
This is in the same trippy, mystical hippie style as their first, but with a more overtly psychedelic and progressive feel. Overall this is the better of their two albums, but once again it’s a difficult record to describe or classify. GRADE: B–.
Aes Dana (Italy): The Far Coasts Of Sicily (Hi, Folks! HF 004, with insert, 1987)
Donatella Gulì (joint lead vocals), Antonia Zane (joint lead vocals, glockenspiel), Licia Consoli (harp)
This is a beautiful album of delicate, tranquil Celtic folk, with wide-ranging acoustic arrangements, alternating songs and instrumentals. Giving no hint of its late eighties origins, it’s really stunning stuff and much better than the somewhat similar (and rather better known) Róisín Dúbh. An obscure CD reissue exists with bonus tracks (retitled Far Coasts… And Lost Tracks), whilst a seond Aes Dana album, Frontiera, dates from 2003 and features band leader Giuseppe Leopizzi plus Irish collaborators. GRADE: B–.
Affinity (UK): Affinity (Vertigo 6360 004, 1970)
Linda Hoyle (lead vocals)
Affinity’s sole album marked a move away from the band’s psychedelic roots towards a progressive jazz/rock sound; indeed, the group gained a residency at Ronnie Scott’s. Although consisting mainly of covers, the album is a masterpiece: opening with a powerful reading of Alan Hull’s ‘I Am And So Are You’ and closing with an eleven-minute blowout based around ‘All Along The Watchtower’, it takes in a cover of Annette Peacock’s risqué ‘Mr Joy’ and two excellent originals by singer Linda Hoyle, ‘Night Flight’ and ‘Three Sisters’. Sadly, Affinity’s only other release was a non-album single, ‘Eli’s Coming’/’United States Of Mind’. These two tracks were included, together with two out of three tracks from a 1969 acetate (the omission being a different attempt at 'All Along The Watchtower') and a clutch of later demos, on the Angel Air CD reissue of the LP. GRADE: A–.
Affinity (UK): 1971-72 (Angel Air SJPCD145, CD, 2003, recorded 1971, 1972 & 2003)
Vivienne McAuliffe (lead vocals)
The chances of Affinity making a second album as good as their first had to be pretty slim, but this collection of demos from 1971 and 1972 (fronted by new singer Vivienne McAuliffe, formerly of Principal Edwards Magic Theatre) proves they could have done it. Less jazzy than their debut, but otherwise recognisable as the work of the same band, this is superb progressive rock with excellent tunes and a high level of atmosphere and energy. They try their hand at ‘All Along The Watchtower’ for a third time (they must have really loved the song!) but everything else is new, including a slightly higher proportion of self-penned material. Excellent sound quality is a bonus, suggesting that these might have been finished recordings awaiting mastering and release, but shelved at the eleventh hour. Although the seven songs add up to an album’s worth of material, a couple of former members added two newly-recorded instrumentals to round off the disc. GRADE: B.
See also Cloudsongs, Linda Hoyle, Principal Edwards Magic Theatre
After Dinner (Japan): Glass Tube (Kang-Gung AFT-1001, with booklet, 1984)
Haco (lead vocals, keyboards, tapes)
This odd little mini-album, featuring eight songs totalling 26 minutes, mixes Japanese classical music, electronic effects and pure avant-gardism to offer an odd series of vignettes that at times recall countrymen Geinoh Yamashirogumi. The UK version of the set, simply titled After Dinner, added both sides of the band’s excellent 1982 single ‘After Dinner’/’Cymbals At Dawn’ but dropped ‘Désert’. GRADE: B–.
After Dinner (Japan): Souvenir Cassette (Zero 0-0788, cassette, 1988)
Haco (lead vocals)
This live cassette, commemorating the band’s European tour, is somewhat more robust and rocking than the studio set, making clear their RIO lineage. However, it’s still quite whimsical and quintessentially Japanese, so whilst consistently inventive and frequently fascinating it may not appeal to every listener. GRADE: B–.
After Dinner (Japan): Paradise Of Replica (Zero 0-1289, CD, 1989)
Haco (lead vocals)
At a fraction under 30 minutes, the band’s second and final studio album is barely more substantial than their first. However, it’s probably their best release, emphasising the classical and chamber music elements underpinning their quirky style; in fact, had it been a bit less fragmentary, I might well have awarded it a B. GRADE: B–.
See also Haco
After Forever (Holland): Prison Of Desire (Transmission TM-023, CD, 2000)
Floor Jansen (joint lead vocals)
This Dutch band’s debut is rich symphonic metal with soprano and death vocals, epic male choirs and huge swathes of keyboards, owing an obvious debt to Therion and other pioneers of the genre. Compared to other similar acts, the metal elements are perhaps slightly toned down here, with the rock and neoclassical aspects more to the fore, but accomplished as this is it’s not particularly distinctive. As a footnote, the album was subsequently released as a double CD (Transmission TM-068, with slipcase) with six bonus tracks and a lengthy additional disc of demos and session tracks, including one duet with Within Temptation’s Sharon den Adel. GRADE: C+.
After Forever (Holland): Decipher (Transmission TM-029, CD, 2001)
Floor Jansen (joint lead vocals)
Whilst this is in the sams style as their first, it’s a huge step forward: it’s beautifully crafted and superbly arranged, and Floor Jansens’s singing is nothong short of stunning. Indeed, the death vocals are the only negative (and particularly pointless given than Jansen is so good). Once again, a double CD exists (Transmission TMD-069, with digiapk and booklet) with lots of bonus material taken from contemporary singles and demo sessions. GRADE: B–.
After Forever (Holland): Exordium (Transmission TME-041, CD plus DVD, with book sleeve, 2004)
Floor Jansen (principal vocals)
Handsomely packaged in a lavish book sleeve, this unusual release couples an EP (three new songs, an instrumental and two covers, totalling around 26 minutes) with a DVD featuring a promo video, a live number, two short and uninteresting ‘making of’ featurettes, several photo galleries and the song lyrics. The original songs are somewhat self-parodic and rather messy, but I do like their cover of ‘One Day I’ll Fly Away’, whilst Iron Maiden cover (‘The Evil That Men Do’) isn’t bad either. GRADE: C+.
After Forever (Holland): Invisible Circles (Transmission TME-045, CD, with book sleeve, 2004)
Floor Jansen (principal vocals)
Like its predecessor, this has a beautiful, lavish book sleeve; unfortunately like its predecessor it also completely over-the-top. Soprano, death and choir voices duel it out with narration and sound effects to tell the story of a dysfunctional childhood against a continuous backdrop of riffs and orchestral flourishes, with the simple piano ballad ‘Eccentric’ being by far the best thing on offer. In fairness, this is very well done, but sometimes less really is more. GRADE: C+.
After Forever (Holland): Remagine (Transmission TMSA-055, SACD, 2005)
Floor Jansen (principal vocals)
Less messy and contrived than Invisible Circles, this is a solid and well-crafted album but considerably below the band’s peak on Decipher. The album works well in surround sound, making the SACD version a worthwhile purchase, whilst the standard CD version (Transmission TSMP-055) initially came with a bonus ‘making of’ DVD and a slipcase. GRADE: C+.
After Forever (Holland): After Forever (Nuclear Blast 27361 18110, CD, with book sleeve, Germany, 2007)
Floor Jansen (principal vocals)
Their final album is a little more restrained than their last few discs, but doesn’t break any new ground for them (or for the symphonic metal genre in general). However, it is a pleasant enough disc and is very attractively packaged. GRADE: C+.
After Forever (Holland): Mea Culpa (Transmission TMD-067, double CD, with digipak, booklet and slipcase, 2006, recorded 2000-2006)
Floor Jansen (principal vocals)
This beautifully packaged compilation focuses mainly on non-LP tracks and alternate versions, and offers an excellent overview of the band’s career. Along the way, it captures all aspects of their (admittedly not particularly broad) sound, containing some excellent tracks. After this, Floor Jansen went on to form ReVamp before, quite surprisingly, joining Nightwish. GRADE: B–.
See also Ayreon, Anthony Arjen Lucassen’s Star One, Nightwish, ReVamp
Agamenon (Spain): Todos Rien De Mi (Explosion 34111, 1975)
Carmen Garcia (joint lead vocals), Dulce (joint lead vocals)
Although it’s from the mid-seventies, the album sounds several years earlier, and is a rare example of a European band taking its influences from West Coast guitar-based psychedelia. The opening title track in particular is a masterpiece of hard psych, sounding more like Jefferson Airplane than Jefferson Airplane, with wall-to-wall screaming Jorma Kaukonen-style acid guitar. The band moves into a dreamier progressive folk style on ‘Al Salir El Sol’ and ‘Happy Marriage, Eleanor’, whilst other tracks have an Abba, Earth & Fire or Shocking Blue-style Europop sensibility, with a punky edge and again omnipresent slashing fuzz guitar. Altogether, this is one of the most interesting albums to emerge from Spain. GRADE: B.
Agapè (Canada): Le Troisième Seuil (Agapè AG-2001, with booklet, 1973)
Carole Paquin (bass)
In some ways this could be considered the Quebecois equivalent of Sounds Of Salvation, similarly offering forlorn and rather eerie folk with apocalyptic lyrical concerns, linked by all kinds of sound effects. The backing ranges from the acoustic to the electric, with some excellent acid leads and a typically breezy Canadian feel here and there, and there’s also a wonderfully doomy church organ overture that brings to mind Jacula. As a footnote, Carole Paquin is one of three people credited with playing bass. GRADE: B–.
See also Voice Des Jours De Rêve
Age Of Innocence (South Africa): Nowhere Land (No label AOI 2001, CD, 2001)
Sherry-Lee Jones (principal vocals, piano)
This Off The Edge offshoot sounds exactly like a folkier version of the parent band, right down to the light Pink Floyd edges. As with their other albums, it’s a pleasant tapestry of songs and short instrumentals that doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s beautifully put together and wonderfully melodic. GRADE: C+.
See also Off The Edge
Agincourt (UK/USA): Fly Away (Merlin HF 3, with insert, UK, 1970)
Compared to the follow-up album A Game For All Who Know (released as Ithaca), this sounds rather insubstantial, but taken on its own merits it’s a lovely album of quintessentially English hippie pop, with a light, summery feel. GRADE: C+.
See also Ithaca
Agnès (France): Un Bouquet De Soleil (Art & Musique AM 8308, 1979)
There’s a limit to how exciting a voice-and-acoustic guitar (plus occasional flute) album of Christian folk can be, but this is lovely stuff. Cornuault has a beautiful voice and the material is well-composed throughout, with a very gentle and mellow feel. GRADE: C+.
Agnus (Argentina): Pinturas Y Expresiones (Dipsicopu A-0001, with booklet, 1980)
Alejandra Bernie (joint lead vocals), Laura Fazzio (keyboards, flute, backing vocals), Cecilia Gloria (flute), Graciela Girotti (backing vocals), Marcela Canalis (backing vocals), Graciela Cassano (backing vocals)
Simultaneously complex and charmingly amateurish, this large band’s sole album features long, elegiac compositions dominated by electric guitar, string synthesiser and flute. Much of the disc is instrumental, but it also makes excellent use of choral, almost liturgical, female vocals, creating an eerie and somewhat sacred atmosphere. With fine musicianship throughout and some haunting melodies, the end result is one of the best progressive albums from South America. As a footnote, the disc was limited to 300 copies and is now extremely rare. GRADE: B.
Agua De Annique (Holland): Air (The End TE090, CD, 2007)
Anneke van Giersbergen
Anneke van Giersbergen’s first project outside the Gathering surprisingly isn’t all that different to the parent band, offering trip hop-infused atmospheric rock. Within that framework the disc is quite varied, ranging from ballads to borderline metal, but whilst the songs are consistently good it often sounds like a recap of her work with her earlier band, defying critics’ assertions that the Gathering needed her more than she needed them. GRADE: C+.
Anneke van Giersbergen With Agua De Annique (Holland): Pure Air (Agua Recordings JAMMM20091901, CD, 2009)
Anneke van Giersbergen (principal vocals, guitar, keyboards), Sharon den Adel (occasional vocals), Marike Jager (occasional vocals)
Conceptually, this is bizarre, mixing stripped-down, folky cover versions with similar remakes of songs from the previous album. Throw in guest co-vocalists on a few songs and the result is more like a career retrospective from a major star short on new material than a second LP from a new band (though this is basically van Giersbergen solo, with no consistent collaborators). Musically it’s decent enough, but I still find this a baffling release. GRADE: C+.
Anneke van Giersbergen & Agua De Annique (Holland): In Your Room (Agua Recordings JAMMM20093010, CD, with sticker, some autographed, 2009)
Anneke van Giersbergen (princpal vocals, piano)
Probably their best album, this is a charming set of mid-paced atmospheric folky rock with some good hooklines. However, it’s also fairly generic, which is a disappointment considering how innovative the Gathering used to be. GRADE: C+.
Anneke van Giersbergen & Agua de Annique (Holland): Live In Europe (Agua Recordings ADA 004, CD, 2010)
Anneke van Giersbergen (lead vocals, guitar, piano)
Much heavier than any of the studio albums, this is a strong set that recalls mid-period Gathering (though without the crushing doom-influenced guitar work). But whilst this is good – and easily the best of the Agua de Annique releases – it’s still not as good as the Gathering’s work following her departure. GRADE: C+.
See also Gathering, Anneke van Giersbergen
Aguaturbia (Chile): Aguaturbia (Arena LPD-075-XX, 1970)
Denise Corales (lead vocals)
Whilst this is a thoroughly enjoyable album and important as one of the earliest South American psychedelic LPs, it’s also a classic case of a record’s mystique outweighing its contents. The band’s exotic locale, the disc’s rarity (allegedly only 300 copies were pressed) and enormous price and the risqué cover with the band posing nude all add spice to a good but not outstanding album of garage and acid-rock. Their version of ‘Rollin’ And Tumblin’’ is as good as raw blues ever gets, a ten-minute take on ‘Crimson And Clover’ is nicely trippy and ‘Erotica’ (on which Corales moans orgastically over an acid-rock jam) is striking even today, but their version of ‘Somebody Is Love’ is perfunctory and the fourteen-minute ‘Ah Ah Ah Ey’ is mostly a drum solo (and not a particularly distinguished drum solo at that). Nonetheless, there are enough flashes of brilliance here to make one understand why Aguaturbia are spoken of in tones of hushed reverence. GRADE: B–.
Aguaturbia (Chile): Volumen 2 (Arena LPD-080-XX, 1970)
Denise Corales (principal vocals)
Despite a pointless cover of ‘Jailhouse Rock’, this is a much more consistent album than its predecessor. In particular, ‘EVOL’ is their all-time classic: eight minutes of truly deranged acid-rock during which the band frequently appears to be on the verge of total chaos. Once again, the disc featured a very controversial cover, depicting Corales being crucified. After one final single, Aguaturbia mutated into Flaco and Panal. GRADE: B.
Aguaturbia (Chile): Versión Acústica (Mylodon MyloCD081, with digipak, 2010)
Denise Corales (lead vocals)
If you ever wanted to hear a reformed Aguaturbia reinterpreting their songs (plus a medley of classic rock covers) in an acoustic blues/rock style, here’s your chance. If, like me, you didn’t ever want to hear this, then this is a surprisingly good album. Denise Corales is in superb voice throughout and the acoustic arrangements work remarkably well (especially on their classic ‘EVOL’). That said, I would have preferred a set of new songs, and can’t imagine this replacing their original albums in anyone’s estimation. GRADE: C+.
Aguaturbia (Chile): Fe, Amor Y Libertad (Plaza Independiente PICD510690, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2017)
I suspected that the first Aguaturbia album of new material in 47 years might be mediocre blues/rock rather than the garage psych explosion everyone was hoping for. I was just about right: it’s actually rather good, and rather heavy, blues/rock, but it’s still a mile away from their original incarnation. GRADE: C+.
See also Panal
Agusa (Sweden): Agusa (The Laser’s Edge LE1073, CD, with digipak, USA, 2015)
Jenny Puertas (flute)
The two long instrumentals here – one of 20 minutes and the other of 18 – are simply superb and typically Scandinavian. I can hear hints of Änglagård and Sinkadus, particularly in the folkier flute-led passages, but the music here is less complex and more organic, though it never descends into jamming or improvisation. The dominant instrument is organ, delivering a stately early seventies sound, and there’s a fair amount of variety coupled with a complete lack of histrionics or showiness, adding up to a remarkable album. GRADE: B.
Agusa (Sweden): Två (The Laser’s Edge LE1080, CD, with digipak, USA, 2017)
Jenny Puertas (flute)
Unlike their last studio album, these features five tracks of between five and 10½ minutes apiece. As such, the music here isn’t quite as carefully constructed, with stronger psychedelic elements and more of a jamming feel, though it’s still packed with fine moments and is sometimes more intense than Två. GRADE: B–.
Agusa (Sweden): Ekstasis – Live In Rome (Kommun 2 KOMMUN2: 47, CD, with digipak, 2018)
Jenny Puertas (flute)
With four pieces of between 11 and 24 minutes, this is a substantial set by any measure. It’s also musically superb, especially considering that it was recorded live and without overdubs. With all four tracks striking just the right balance between being organic and complex, involving and technical, bolstered by an excellent recording, and the end result is a modern classic. GRADE: B.
Aiguade (France): Chansons Pour Que… Fleurisse Le Géranium (No label PS 4.933, 1974?)
Eliane Tabanous (joint lead vocals)
With all-original material, this melodic acoustic folk album has a mellow and mournful sound. None of the songs is individually outstanding, but collectively they add up to a very pleasant and consistent LP. GRADE: C+.
Aiguade (France): Chansons Des Temps Figés (Baccara International BI 001 732, 1976?)
Eliane Tabanous (joint lead vocals)
For their second and final album, the band upped the rock quotient by adding drums and some electric guitars. Some cuts have a progressive edge and are very good, but others are a bit too jaunty and throwaway. In overview, the better cuts here are a huge step up from Fleurisse Le Géranium, but this is also a less consistent LP. GRADE: C+.
Aigues Vives (West Germany/Holland): Water Of Seasons (Aarton Music S-135, with insert, West Germany, 1981)
Hendrikje Horn (occasional vocals, flute)
With delicate acoustic arrangements, including gentle flute and violin, Aigues Vives draw on classical music as well as folk and only occasionally fringe rock. When they do, they’re at the best – the fuzz guitar leads significantly lift the mildly psychedelic ‘Heroes’ and ‘Planet Of Dreamers’, which are by far the most impressive tracks. Elsewhere, they occasionally hint at an unplugged Jethro Tull due to the Ian Anderson-like vocalist and of course the flute, whilst also recalling the better moments of fellow Germans Sündenfall II. With little percussion and limited variation in mood, some people may find the album too dainty, but those who enjoy the straighter end of outfits like Emma Myldenberger will find plenty to enjoy here. GRADE: B–.
Aigues Vives (West Germany): Dwarfs Casting Long Shadows (No label, cassette, 1983)
Eva Küllmer (keyboards, saxophone, flute, backing vocals)
Following line-up changes (including the addition of a drummer), Aigues Vives commenced recording their second album but got no further than completing four songs totalling 14½ minutes, which were released as this cassette EP. Notwithstanding the more uptempo and rock-oriented approach, this isn’t a huge diversion from the first release, though there’s nothing here of the quality of Water Of Seasons’ best songs. As a footnote, the entire EP was included as a bonus on the CD reissue of the album (Garden Of Delights CD 102, Germany, 2004). GRADE: C+.
See also Various ‘Overlast? Zomer Parkfeest ’83’
Ainulindalë (France): Nevrast (No label Ainu01, CD plus DVD, with gatefold minisleeve and booklet, 2014)
Alice Jean (occasional vocals)
Mixing songs and instrumentals, with arrangements based around acoustic guitar and strings, this progressive folk concept album is richly melodic, beautifully crafted, and delicate and haunting. The combination of fantasy-inspired lyrics, world-weary vocals and gentle sometimes brings Shide & Acorn to mind, especially on the delicate ‘Namarië’. An excellent surround six on the accompanying DVD completes a package that should delight lovers of early seventies underground folk. As a footnote, this was the band’s second album: ten years earlier they had released The Lay Of Leithian. This was presumably performed entirely by leader Thomas Reybard, with similar (though much simpler) backing from acoustic guitar plus occasional percussion and flute topped off with odd, mumbling and whispering vocals. GRADE: B.
Ainur (Italy): From Ancient Times (ElectRomantic Music ART420, CD, 2007)
Federica Guido (joint lead vocals), Urania Pinto (joint lead vocals), Elena Richetta (joint lead vocals), Cecilia Lasagno (harp)
This project by guitarist and composer Luca Catalano is ambitious indeed, being performed by a seventeen-piece ensemble. With multiple singers, it has almost a rock opera feel, and with one of the male singers having a classical style has some highbrow pretensions too. That said, this isn’t the most ambitious album, being almost entirely song-based, though the music varies effectively from delicate folk/rock to more dynamic progressive rock. A record like this could easily have collapsed under the weight of its own pretensions, but this is listenable enough and contains some lovely passages. However, it’s not an album I can imagine playing frequently, particularly given the Tolkien-inspired lyrics. GRADE: C+.
Ainur (Italy): Children Of Húrin (ElectRomantic Music ART 2222, CD plus DVD, with booklet, 2007)
Federica Guido (joint lead vocals), Elena Richetta (joint lead vocals), Barbara Bargnesi (joint lead vocals), Eleonora Croce (joint lead vocals),
Daniela Lorusso (cello), Chiara Marangoni (French horn), Cecilia Lasagno (harp)
The band’s second album is in the same vein as their first, but with one significant change – Catalano has evolved into a truly outstanding composer. The songs here are so rich, so melodic and so beautiful that this LP has huge appeal for people – like me – who don’t particularly like concept albums, rock operas or Tolkien. The bonus DVD features a few amateurishly-shot live songs, one song performed in the studio, and quite a few interviews in Italian (without English subtitles). GRADE: B–.
Ainur (Italy): Lay Of Leithian (ElectRomantic Music ARTPQ1911, double CD, 2010)
Elena Richetta (joint lead vocals), Barbara Bargnesi (joint lead vocals), Eleonora Croce (joint lead vocals), Chiara Marangoni (joint lead vocals,
French horn), Cecilia Lasagno (joint lead vocals, harp), Piera Dematteis (occasional vocals)
This 25-track double album is even more grandiose than their previous work, and it doesn’t equal the best moments of Children Of Húrin. But hugely pretentious as they may be, Ainur are extremely good at what they do and this is a fine and accomplished record by any standard. GRADE: B–.
Ainur & Euthymia (Italy): Progressive Rock Night (No label PROG DVD 880, DVD, with insert, 2010)
This DVD – featuring a five-song set by Ainur and two numbers apiece from Euthymia and the all-male Vurtula – is presented as a concert film with interviews interspersed between the performances. This could have worked had the segments not been filmed in a mixture of 16:9 and 4:3, with the live performances in soft focus and the interview segments in arty black-and-white, creating a rather amateurish document. GRADE: C+.
Ainur (Italy): The Lost Tales (ElectRomantic Music ART 13051, CD, 2013)
Elena Richetta (joint lead vocals), Federica Guido (joint lead vocals), Roberta Malerba (joint lead vocals), Daniela Lo Russo (cello), Chiara Marangoni (French horn), Cecilia Lasagno (harp)
Oddly, this mostly comprises re-recordings of material from the earlier in their career, though it is bookended by three new songs. Focusing on the folkier end of the band’s repertoire, this isn’t as ambitious as its predecessors, but it still contains some fine music. GRADE: B–.
Air (USA): Air (Embryo SD 733, 1971)
Googie Coppola (lead vocals, keyboards)
This obscure band delivers solid jazz/rock on its sole album. The best moments are the extended instrumental breaks, but with eleven tracks on offer they’re few and far between. GRADE: C+.
See also Tom & Googie Coppola, Jeremy Steig
Aisi (USSR): Aisi (Melodiya C60-06235, 1974?)
For the most part, this all-female band’s scarce album is lounge jazz and pleasant without being especially memorable. However, ‘Orovepa’ has some progressive and acid-folk leanings and is an interesting extended piece. GRADE: C