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New and Updated

Updated 4th May:

Byrnie Baker Band (USA): Certified Rock And Roll (BBB BBB6006, with insert, 1983)
Charity R Goodin (joint lead vocals, percussion), Coleen A Goodin (occasional vocals, percussion)
This turned out not to be the ‘real people’ bonehead hard rock I expected from the album title and cover, but a slick and slightly funky rock LP with remarkably professional arrangements and production for a private pressing. Whilst there are a few hard rock and AOR leanings and some very slight progressive edges, their biggest influence was clearly the Doobie Brothers and for the most part this is melodic and groovy, occasionally catching fire when the band stretches out and jams. GRADE: C+.

Julie Covington (UK): Julie Covington (Virgin V2107, 1978)
Julie Covington (lead vocals)
Backed by musicians including Richard Thompson, Willie Weeks, Andy Newmark, John Cale, Ray Cooper, John Kirkpatrick, Trevor Lucas, Simon Nicol, Chris Spedding, Steve Winwood and Andy Fairweather-Low, and featuring covers of Sandy Denny, Kate Bush and Anna McGarrigle numbers, Covington’s second and final solo album is a classy affair indeed. It’s also utterly devoid of personality, making it a great deal less than the sum of its parts. GRADE: C+.

Creched (UK): My Friend Jesus (No label AC 003, 1975?)
This mysterious white label album has the word ‘Creched’ (I think) handwritten on one label and ‘My Friend Jesus’ on the other, with ‘AC 003’ (presumably the catalogue number) written on the plain white sleeve. Musically it’s Christian folk/rock with full band backing and occasional strings: a bit sweet and twee if sometimes quite beautiful, and very professionally arranged and produced. It seems likely that this is an unreleased album intended for a specialist Christian label rather than a private pressing, though it’s possible that it was issued under a different band name and/or album title. Ultimately, all I can say with any degree of certainty is that it’s British (judging from the singer’s accent) and dates from the seventies. GRADE: C+.

Dzintars (USA): Manai Tautai (No label, 1978)
Lolita Ritmanis (joint lead vocals, bass, keyboards, flute), Brigita Ritmanis-Osis (joint lead vocals, piano), Ilga Damberga (joint lead vocals), Andra Zommere (joint lead vocals), Laura Zommere (joint lead vocals)
As usual, the haunting ballads, with copious flute, please far more than the upemtpo cabaret-styled numbers. However, there are quite a few of the latter, so whilst perfectly pleasant this is far from their most memorable album. GRADE: C.

Enfants De Dieu (USA): Les Enfants De Dieu (Philips 6325 149, France, 1975)
Deborah Faithy (joint lead vocals)
Despite the French band name and title, this was actually a project of the notorious American cult Children of God, which had already issued an album with Jeremy Spencer (with the same drummer appearing here). Mainly compiling singles and B-sides issued in France over the previous couple of years, this is an enjoyable collection of melodic and uplifting pop/rock and folk songs exuding a deceptively wholesome vibe. As a footnote, ‘Deborah Faithy’ was probably Faithy Berg, one of the cult founders’ daughters, or possibly her sister Deborah. GRADE: C+.

Forgotten Silence (Czech Republic): Vemork Konstrukt (Magick Disk Musick MDM-XXXVII, CD, 2023)
Andrea Baslová (principal vocals, keyboards)
Forgotten Silence’s first album in nearly two decades with a female member sees them returning to metal, with lots of jazzy tempo changes, angular riffing, relaxed mellow passages… well, you know the drill. Ultimately, that’s its only drawback: whilst it’s unsurprisingly very good, it’s surprisingly unsurprising, mainly because the rest of the world has caught up with (or even surpassed) them in the last 19 years. GRADE: B–.

Kaye Family (UK): The Kaye Family Album (Hira HL 8536, 1972)
Lounge/’Incredibly Strange Music’
Ellen Kaye (principal vocals, organ), Sharron Kaye (occasional vocals, bass, vibraphone, saxophone, clarinet)
The organ-led lounge music here – ranging from ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ to ‘Stranger On The Shore’, ‘Telstar’ and ‘Ticket To Ride’ – is pleasant and quaint rather than particularly memorable, but the cover and sleeve notes place this firmly in ‘real people’ territory. According to the back cover, this is a ‘wonderland of sound’ that will enable you to ‘drift along on clouds of romance, feel philosophical, hear the swirling colours of sun-drenched Spain, linger upon lonely seashores, fly amongst the stellar constellations [what other kind are there?], go for a trolley ride, swing with the up-tempo big band style beat’. However, it's probably the front cover that will make this a significant score for collectors of the fringe and the weird – the band are the oddest-looking bunch you can imagine, including one member who resembles a cross between the Yorkshire Ripper and a werewolf. GRADE: C.

Last Adam (USA): The Last Adam (Salvation Army TLA 7770, with insert, 1980)
Patt Wadenpfuhl (lead vocals, percusson, flute, flügelhorn)
This is perhaps a marginal case for a B–: not everything works well musically and I find some of the lyrics trite even for a Christian album. But the flurry of drums that opens the powerful ‘Receive It’ make clear that this is not going to be your average Jesus rock LP, and whilst the album never gets that wild again it’s equally effective on the prog-edged AOR numbers and the delicate, beautiful acoustic cuts. Using French horn and flügelhorn as solo instruments adds distinction to their sound and overall they don’t really resemble anyone else: the dealer who sold me the LP, a good two decades back, compared it to Reign Ghost, which is as good a reference point as any though I prefer this. GRADE: B–.

Larry & Myra (USA): Eat The Day (The Alien Nation LS-101, 1970)
Myra Spatz
This beautiful harmony folk LP has all-original material and well-judged backing – mainly from acoustic guitars but also occasional bass, keyboards, drums, percussion, saxophone, flute, clarinet and harmonica. But lovely as it is, it doesn’t have the freak appeal that the label name suggests (and which is sometimes quoted as the artist name in dealer lists, in order to imply that this has some kind of ‘real people’ or space-rock credentials). GRADE: C+.

Lavender Jane (USA): Lavender Jane Loves Women (Women’s Wax Works A001, 1973)
Alix Dobkin (principal vocals, guitar), Kay Gardner (occasional vocals, flute, piccolo, harmonica), Pat Moschetta (bass)
This lesbian/feminist trio largely served as the vehicle for singer/songwriter Alix Dobkin, with bassist Patches Attom and multi-instrumentalist Kay Gardner only appearing on certain tracks. Musically, it’s a varied acoustic folk set, ranging from delicate Dobkin originals to the acapella traditional folk of ‘Eppie Morrie’, some throat singing on the appropriately titled improvisation ‘Yells’ and even an acoustic cover of ‘I Only Want To Be With You’. Dobkin went on to a lengthy career in women’s music whilst Gardner issued numerous (quite interesting) albums in the new age field. GRADE: C+.

Spirit & Sounds (UK): Fly Away (Creation SAS 001, 1982)
Persephonie Aaron (joint lead vocals), Naomi Watson (occasional vocals)
This obscure private pressing by a black band offers lovely, gentle folk with excellent harmonies and backing from acoustic and electric guitars, bass and keyboards. Most of the material is penned by the group’s talented leader Vince Clarke (nothing to do with Depêché Mode, needless to say!) and his gentle voice and simple yet lush arrangements create an uplifting, beatific mood that perfectly complements his humble lyrics. GRADE: C+.

Torre (Argentina): La Torre (RCA Victor TLP-50023, with inner, 1982)
Patricia Sosa (lead vocals)
Solid hard rock South American style, with a few local touches, including some Latin-esque rhythms but also (unfortunately) some very eighties synthesisers. Nonetheless, La Torre managed a enjoyable and generally satisfying debut, and went on to become one of Argentina’s leading rock bands of the eighties. GRADE: C+.

Updated 27th April:

Meg Baird (USA): Furling (Drag City DCD782CD, CD, with minisleeve and poster booklet, 2023)
The supremely talented Meg Baird returns with another lovely connection of her own songs. Playing almost all the instruments herself, she creates another swirling tapestry of sound – delicate, haunting, eerie and spacy, almost like Sandy Denny on hallucinogenics. GRADE: B–.

Dzintars (USA): A Faraway Song (No label, 1978)
Lolita Ritmanis (joint lead vocals, bass, keyboards, flute), Brigita Ritmanis-Osis (joint lead vocals, piano), Ilga Damberga (joint lead vocals), Andra Zommere (joint lead vocals), Laura Zommere (joint lead vocals)
The jolly opener ‘Our Song To You’ is unlikely to endear this to many listeners, but the second cut ‘Starry Meadows’ has a dreamy mood and a slight psych/folk feel. Subsequent songs span both styles, with a few very agreeable moments, including the funky rock break in ‘Sutīsū Tev Buču’ and the mildly psychedelic guitar work on ‘Nenāk Miegs’. As a footnote, this was their first album sung in English, their first to be oriented more towards pop and their first to include almost entirely original material by the Ritmanis sisters. GRADE: C+.

Maestro Subgum & The Whole (USA): Jiggle The Constable (Yoni Yay! 001, 1991)
Jenny Magnus (joint lead vocals, flute), Kate O’ Reilly (joint lead vocals)
The band’s first vinyl LP is a particulary good example of their jazzy cabaret rock – think Slapp Happy without the dissonance or Stolen Babies without the metal elements. But if it’s the dissonance or metal elements you love, you may like this a lot less. GRADE: C+.
Maestro Subgum & The Whole (USA): Lost Lost Lost (Uvulittle UVU-506, CD, with digipak, 1992)
Jenny Magnus (joint lead vocals, flute), Kate O’ Reilly (joint lead vocals)
On their website, Uvulittle describe this as ‘the pinnacle of the band’s recording career, both because of the writers and singers and the size and tightness of the ensemble’. They’re not far wrong: this is probably the band’s best, but like all their albums it lacks the killer songs or wild eccentricity that would have taken it to B– or above. GRADE: C+.

Olifant (France): Douce Dame, Gentils Galants (No label OLIF 1, 1975?)
Laurence Villien (occasional vocals, flute, crumhorn)
This Breton folk album, replete with strong early music influences, is superbly arranged for diverse acoustic instruments and beautifully performed, with outstanding sound quality for a private pressing. However, although it’s one of the best examples I’ve heard of its style, the lack of any rock or progressive elements makes it far less exciting to my ears than Malicorne, who blended such elements with electricity to create something genuinely challenging. GRADE: C+.

Smith’s Comfort (Australia): Smith’s Comfort (Heaven HRS-1003, 1975)
Sue Smith (joint lead vocals, tambourine, flute)
This Christian album, which features entirely original material and full electric backing, is a bit of a grab-bag of styles: at times it reminds me of everyone from Bob Dylan to Gerry Rafferty, John & Beverley Martyn to Neil Young. At its frequent best – the 6½-minute ‘If I Go Down’, where the Martyn and Young references are most obvious, the moody, minor-key ‘Is There Anybody Here?’ with its mildly psychedfelic edge, and the haunting two-part instrumental ‘Turning Over’ – this is a delight. But when they combine folk club and musical comedy styles on ‘The Bring Back Song’, you may wish this was a CD and not an LP so you could hit the skip button. GRADE: B–.

Softwire (UK): Resonance (No label, download, 2023)
Emily Feinson (joint lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, shaker, clarinet, harp, ukelele), Gabi Mikolajczak (occasional vocals), Sarah Binney (organ, backing vocals), Clare Hurst (saxophone)
Softwire occasionally get too whimsical for their own good here – notably on the throwaway ‘It Has To Be Now’ and the fifties rockabilly-flavoured ‘Grow Grow’ – but this is counterbalanced elsewhere by lots of quirky musical twists and turns and some unexpectedly interesting lyrics. The resulting is a winsome grab-bag of sounds that few people will like from start to finish but that will delight many listeners now and then. GRADE: C+.

Updated 20th April:

Anchoress (UK): Versions / EP2 (No label, CD, with gatefold minisleeve, autographed photo and ribbon, 2022)
Catherine Anne Davies (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, drum programmes, flute)
‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and ‘Friday I’m In Love’ are perhaps not the most obvious choices for Ms Davies to cover, whilst I’d never previously heard of ‘Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town’ or ‘Sweetness Follows’. They’re all nicely performed, adding up to a charming 17½ minutes of music, but I’d much rather hear her interpreting her own compositions – or better still releasing a whole album of new stuff. GRADE: C+. 
Anchoress (UK): Versions / EP3 (No label, CD, with gatefold minisleeve, autographed photo and ribbon, 2022)
Catherine Anne Davies (lead vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, drum programmes)
This third instalment is a bit folkier, peaking on a faithful rendition of All About Eve’s ‘Martha’s Harbour’. Elsewhere my feelings remain unchanged – this is a pleasant EP but I’d really prefer to hear more of Ms Davies’s own material. GRADE: C+.

Athena’s Revenge (UK): Rise Of The Goddess (No label, CDR, with sticker, 2023)
This isn’t doom metal or progressive metal or gothic metal; it’s just good old-fashioned metal. Well, quite good old-fashioned metal, at any rate: the band’s straightahead approach places the emphasis firmly on the melodies and riffs and only the ‘bonus track’ ‘Down The Rabbit Hole’ really sticks in the mind. GRADE: C+.

Dzintars Dzied (USA): Pie Jums Ar Dziesmu (No label RA-6176, 1976?)
Lolita Ritmans (joint lead vocals, guitar, bass, flute), Brigita Ritmanis-Osis (joint lead vocals, piano), Inta Kurmina (joint lead vocals), Ilga Dambergs (joint lead vocals), Andra Zommere (joint lead vocals), Laura Zommere (joint lead vocals)
This is more uptempo than their first couple of efforts, emphasising its MOR credentials – one could imagine this sort of stuff being performed as a musical interlude during an episode of ‘The Two Ronnies’. As such, there’s nothing here for underground rock fans, but the slight sense of dislocating weirdness that persists could hold some appeal for ‘real people’ collectors. In any case, the haunting, flute-led ‘Vizija’ is possibly their best recording. GRADE: C.

Updated 13th April:

Dzintars Dzied (USA): Celinieks Es Esmu… (No label R 5821, 1975)
Lolita Ritmanis (joint lead vocals, piano), Brigita Ritmanis-Osis (joint lead vocals, bass), Inta Kurmina (joint lead vocals), Māra Saukante (joint lead vocals),  Linda Ranke (joint lead vocals), Ilga Damberga (joint lead vocals)
This unusual album was put together by a number of musicians of Latvian descent living in the USA. Effectively a folk choir venture, it has a strong MOR slant, setting their massed (and occasional solo) vocals against relaxed backing from bass, piano and drums. It would be easy to write this off as mere cabaret fluff, but the Latvian vocals and occasionally haunting atmosphere take it closer to ‘real people’ territory and its slightly eerie, forlorn vibe could also be appealing to those enjoying late sixties and early seventies Welsh harmony folk. As a footnote, Lolita Ritmanis was apparently only 12 when this was recorded. GRADE: C+.
Dzintars Dzied (USA): Dzintars Dzied (No label, 1975)
Lolita Ritmanis (joint lead vocals, bass, piano), Brigita Ritmanis-Osis (joint lead vocals, bass, piano), Inta Kurmina (joint lead vocals), Māra Saukante (joint lead vocals), Linda Ranke (joint lead vocals), Ilga Dambergs (joint lead vocals)
The cover, which depicts the  singers clad in seventies dinner suits and cocktail dresses, suggests the band may have plied its trade around the Latvian cabaret circuit, if such a thing existed. However, this once again has a slightly eerie and haunting atmosphere that distances it from straight MOR, though the more uptempo and rock-influenced numbers are perhaps less interesting. What’s more, their propensity for writing their own material (though there are Latvian language covers of ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’) also gives them distinction. GRADE: C+.

Harlequin (UK): Inscape (Beach Hut, 1986)
Rose Halls (joint lead vocals)
The programmed drums don’t impress, reminding one that this rural folk/rock LP dates from the mid-eighties, but otherwise this is pleasant stuff (even if their slight cabaret and lounge edges sometimes become obvious). In some ways, they’re best when they’re at the most traditional – a nice rendition of ‘The Parting Glass’ and an effective, minimalistic cover of Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Can I Have My Money Back? – but the semi-electric stuff mostly works well too. GRADE: C+.

Screaming Gypsy Bandits (USA): Back To Doghead (No label, acetate, 1970)
Caroline Peyton (occasional vocals)
Screaming Gypsy Bandits’ unreleased first album – clearly recorded at a professional studio and with excellent sound quality – is quite the wild trip. Mixing jazzy, funky jams slathered in horns with spoken voices and effects, the whole thing is very Zappa-esque, very satirical and very, very American. The CD reissue (Piety Street PFAM1007, CD, with digipak, 2009) adds lots of worthwhile bonus material, similar in style and quality to the original acetate, but unfortunately includes only just over half (side one and one song from side two) of the acetate itself. GRADE: B–.
Screaming Gypsy Bandits (USA): In The Eye (Bar-B-Q BRBQ 3, with insert, 1973)
Caroline Peyton (joint lead vocals, guitar, percussion, recorder)
Completely different from its predecessor, this mixes acid-folk (generally very good and arguably peaking on ‘White Teeth’, complete with sitar) with barroom rock (not quite so exciting, but given distinction by some decent guitar leads). They also manage to throw in some soulful ballads and occasional jazz influences too, creating one of those odd early seventies rootsy albums that borrows liberally from anything and anything. As such, this is much patchier than their first, but the better tracks are genuinely excellent. GRADE: C+.
See also Caroline Peyton

Traveler (USA): Distracted (No label, download, 2016)
Carol Burrus (principal vocals, piano, flute, ukelele)
This 21-minute EP is atypically short but typically lovely, offering another beautifully sung, crafted, arranged, played and produced selection of mellow songs. GRADE: B–.
Traveler (USA): One Touch Of Nature (No label, download, 2020)
Carol Burrus
Traveler’s final album (eight songs in half an hour) clearly illustrates Carol Burrus’s winning formula. Start with a genuinely lovely voice, then write some decent songs before arranging them tastefully (not too little but never too much) and finally record them superbly. It sounds simple, but I could name dozens of higher-profile bands that can’t pull off the same trick with such aplomb. GRADE: B–.

Updated 6th April:

Fuego (Argentina): La Nueva Generación (Karusell 831 287-1, 1986)
This obscure Argentine LP is a bit loungy and very eighties, with a few fifties influences and lots of synthesisers and saxophone. As such, whilst quite catchy and fairly well put together, it’s not exactly what you might call memorable. GRADE: C.

Traveler (USA): Beautiful Light (No label, download, 2013)
Carol Barrus (principal vocals, piano, flute)
This is even better than Possibilities: a collection of delightful, mellow songs with beautifully judged semi-electric arrangements and some particularly haunting flute. Once again, their music could have wide appeal, bridging singer/songwriter, folk and soft rock styles to excellent effect. In short, Beautiful Light lives up to its name by being both beautiful and light. GRADE: B–.

Maria Rosa Yorio (Argentina): Rodillas (CBS 120-946, with inner, 1987)
Maria Rosa Yorio (lead vocals)
Yorio’s back to her full name for her final album and she’s writing a bit more, but this isn’t a huge improvement over Puertos. Sure, it’s quite well executed, with a few nice moments of light rock (notably on the self-penned ‘Podras Viajar’) but these sorts of mildly funky, partly synthesised pop LPs were ten-a-penny at the time. GRADE: C–.

Updated 27th March:

Exploring Birdsong (UK): Dancing In The Face Of Danger (No label, CD, with minisleeve, 2023)
Lynsey Ward
Like their debut, this is a 25-minute EP; and also like their debut, the music is rather impressionistic and quite hard to describe. Once again it’s very piano-based, with a complete absence of guitar, and once again there’s a fair amount of variety within tracks – most shift from soft impressionistic passages to symphonic rock and back again – but not between them. It’s all richly melodic and rather accomplished, but whilst thoroughly enjoyable leaves me with relatively little to say and no real idea of how they might develop artistically from here. As a footnote, both EPs were combined into an orange vinyl LP. GRADE: C+.

Factor Burzaco (Argentina): 3.76 (Altrock, CD, with minisleeve, booklet and envelope, 2015)
Carolina Restuccia (principal vocals)
Factor Burzaco are a fascinating band and they’re not afraid to experiment: this weaves in everything from pure electronic avant-gardism to neoclassical stuff and all points in between. In terms of its electicism, it’s up there with fellow South Americans Fulano and MediaBanda. However, it’s nowhere near as energetic and far more ponderous, with a detached, slightly academic feel, though there’s still plenty to admire here. GRADE: B–.

Fille Qui Mousse (France): Trixie Stapelton 291 Se Taire Pour Une Femme Trop Belle (Futura, unreleased test pressing, 1972)
Barbara Lowengreen (occasional vocals), Sylvie Peristeris (effects)
Bookended by relaxed Ash Ra Tempel-style spacy jams, this unreleased oddity (intended for the free jazz-oriented Futura label but aborted at the eleventh hour) mainly consists of pure experimentalism. From prepared piano to weird electronic effects to a poetry reading against a backdrop of dogs barking, the album wanders the fringes of the avant-garde, never really settling anywhere but always intriguing and holding the attention. As a footnote, track titles vary wildly across the plethora of reissues, as indeed do the numbers of tracks, but all appear to include identical contents. GRADE: B–.

Hammers Of Misfortune (USA): Overtaker (No label, CD, with digipak, 2022)
Jamie Myers (principal vocals), Sigrid Sheie (organ, backing vocals)
It’s all change again for the ever-unpredictable Hammers Of Misfortune: this time round they’re offering an oddball hybrid of thrash and power metal, with constant unpredictable tempo changes and all kinds of other metal and early seventies references thrown in. The results are rather relentless and don’t always make for comfortable listening, but this is certainly a very creative LP. GRADE: B–.

Tülay Nedret Baran (Turkey): Tülay Nedret Baran (Türküola 455, cassette, West Germany, 1976)
Pop/World Music
If you love the first couple of Selda albums, you’re bound to like Tülay Nedret Baran. I choose those words advisedly, as whilst this has the same upbeat sound (and very similar arrangements) to some of Selda’s early work, the psychedelic edges and fierce eclecticism are entirely absent, making this a pleasant diversion rather than a work of profound artistry. GRADE: C+.
Tülay Nedret Baran (Turkey): Zühtü (Türküola, cassette, West Germany, 1976)
Pop/World Music
The version of ‘Mehmet Emmi’ here underscores Nedret Baran’s differences with Selda more graphically than anything on her debut: whilst it’s well done, it's the unexpected acid-rock edges and funky breaks that made Selda’s version a classic. This interpretation is merely likeable, which extends to the album as a whole. GRADE: C+.

Laurie Styvers (USA): Spilt Milk (Warner Brothers WS1946, 1971)
Laurie Styvers (lead vocals)
The former Justine member’s solo debut is probably best remembered today for a scathing review by American critic Robert Christgau, who appeared to dislike her because she was upper-middle-class (which is debatable) and because she came from LA (she didn’t: she was based in Colorado and recorded the album in London). It’s a pity that her actual music has been overshadowed, as this is a rather lovely, sedate piano-based singer/songwriter LP, though it lacks the killer songs that would have taken it to the next level. As a footnote, the British pressing came with an entirely different sleeve and added a printed inner; given Christgau’s eccentricity, he would probably have written an entirely different review had the US version been packaged thus. GRADE: C+.
Laurie Styvers (USA): The Colorado Kid (Chrysalis CHR 1038, UK, 1973)
Laurie Styvers (lead vocals, piano)
Like her debut, Styvers’s second and final album was recorded in London with Hugh Murphy producing and backing from top session players (Alan Parker, Jerry Donahue, Henry Spinetti, Tommy Eyre, Tristan Fry, Pete Willsher et al). It’s musically similar to her debut too, albeit with fuller arrangements and a slightly more MOR feel occasional hinting towards acts like the Carpenters. Once again, the lack of really strong material holds the album back, but the best mumbers are the richly melodic ‘Oh Colorado’ and the rather Elton John-like ‘You’ll Be The Tide – I’ll Be The Bay’, which features some sitar licks. GRADE: C+.

Updated 20th March:

Maestro Subgum & The Whole (USA): Hot Ol’ Wadda (No label, cassette, 1990)
Jenny Magnus (joint lead vocals, flute), Kate O’ Reilly (joint lead vocals)
Maestro Subgum’s vaguely Brechtian music could have some appeal for RIO fans interested in something more mollifying, but the cabaret edges underpinning their sound makes them a hard sell for rock fans. This is nice enough, but they certainly don’t have the eclecticism of, say, Slapp Happy – let alone the songs. GRADE: C+.

Neuschwanstein (Germany/UK): Alice In Wonderland (Belle Antique BELLE 223740, SHM-CD, with minisleeve, booklet, poster booklet and obi, 2022, recorded 1976 & 2022)
Sonja-Kristina Linwood (lead vocals)
The genesis of this album is odd through and through: apparently recorded in 1976 but unreleased until 2010, it was remixed and reissued in 2022 with a new English narration by Sonja-Kristina Linwood. Don’t expect any Curved Air-style singing, though: this is pure spoken voice over mellow, flute-laden, slightly generic symphonic prog, creating a slightly more conventional cousin to Mother Gong’s Fairy Tales. GRADE: C+.

Opel (UK): Twist And The Double Claw (No label, download, 2023)
Claire Colley (lead vocals, keyboards)
The opening ‘Funny Little Fellow X Space Druid’ is a slowly developing – or perhaps more accurately oozing – minimalist space trip that sounds like a cross between Revolutionary Army Of The Infant Jesus and Join Inn-era Ash Ra Tempel. It’s followed by the three-minute ‘Davey’s Ocean’, where they also sound like they’re channelling Manuel Göttsching, and the livelier 16-minute ‘Stick Teeth’, which appears to draw from anything and everything German and early seventies. It all makes me think that for Opel, the future is bright – and the future’s very definitely Kraut rather than folk. GRADE: B–.

Square Wild (UK): The Tree P (No label, CD, with minisleeve, 2021)
Lucy Shevchuk (lead vocals, guitar)
With their angular metallic riffs and aggressive lyrics, Square Wild are quite different from the normal run of modern prog bands. The jazzy undertones mean they slightly resemble A Formal Horse, who might be the best point of reference, but then again they’re quirky enough to resemble the kind of band that routinely got signed by The End Records in the USA. Throw in some post-punk touches and a few references to classic rock and you have a fascinating debut – if a short one, at three songs in 15 minutes. GRADE: B–.

Updated 13th March:

Maestro Subgum & The Whole (USA): Stormin’ And A Fever (No label, cassette, 1990)
Jenny Magnus (joint lead vocals, flute), Kate O’ Reilly (joint lead vocals)
This is much jazzier than their first couple of albums, with plenty of horns and a professional-level recording. The satirical edges remain, adding a slight cabaret vibe, and the whole thing is mildly diverting without delivering the occasional surprises that would have made it truly compelling. GRADE: C+.

Traveler (USA): Cross The River (No label, download, 2004)
Carol Burrus (principal vocals, flute)
Carol Burrus’s elegant, smoky voice, the acoustic guitars and hand percussion combine to create a breezy, mildly jazzy mood that reminds me more of some early seventies Canadian outfits than anything American. Another point of reference might be RJ Fox/Oasis, with a relaxed hippie vibe permeating the proceedings. At just over 23 minutes, this isn’t the most substantial debut, but it's certainly a very pleasant one. GRADE: C+.
Traveler (USA): Old Red Shoes (No label, download, 2005)
Carol Burrus (principal vocals, piano, flute)
With 10 songs and nearly 46 minutes of music, this is somewhat more substantial than their first and is musically in a similar vein. Once again, this isn’t the kind of album that is likely to change anyone’s life, but it’s well-crafted, heartfelt and very listenable. GRADE: C+.
Traveler (USA): Possibilities (No label, download, 2008)
Carol Burrus (principal vocals, piano, flute)
It all comes together for Traveler here: they haven’t changed their style, but they have written a delightful collection of songs. This unassuming free download could delight fans of all kinds of bands: from Fleetwood Mac to Mazzy Star; from the Cowboy Junkies to Folkal Point. In short, it’s a little treasure. GRADE: B–.

Updated 6th March:

Renaissance (UK): Live Fillmore West And Other Adventures (Repertoire REPUK1419, quadruple CD plus DVD, with slipcase, 2023, recorded 1969-1970)
Jane Relf
This substantial set compiles a variety of live recordings of the original Keith and Jane Relf-fronted Renaissance (including the previously released Live Fillmore West in a slightly different and slightly better mastering) plus a few studio demos. How much you like it will depend on how much you love their first album, as they had a small repertoire and all five songs appear in multiple versions. That album is one of my all-time favourites, so to my ears this archive set is a magnificent release and the sound quality is better than I remember from Fillmore West. The final disc is a short DVD featuring three different live versions of ‘Island’ plus one of ‘Kings And Queens’. GRADE: A.

Spektrum (UK/New Zealand): Enter The Spektrum (Nonstop Recordings SPEKCD005, CD, Germany, 2004)
Lola Olafisoye (lead vocals)
Lola Olafisoye went on to join the superb Chrome Hoof and a few elements of their sound can be heard in the oddball electronic funk here. Like Chrome Hoof, this is radical, creatifve music, but unlike Chrome Hoof there are no rock or prog elements of any kind. More pejoratively, unlike Chrome Hoof there isn’t a high level of variety and after a few songs you’ll be wise to the band’s full complement of tricks. GRADE: C+.
Spektrum (UK/New Zealand): Fun At The Gymkhana Club/Death At The Gymkhana Club (Stopstart SPEKCD002X, double CD, with slipcase, UK, 2007)
Lola Olafisoye (lead vocals)
This is slightly less diffuse than their debut, with the emphasis more on rhythm and melody, which is to the music’s advantage. But whilst the arrangements are imaginative and the textures carefully considered, a quick glance at the lyrics will demonstrate that this is a band with little to say and a limited vocabulary with which to say it. Some copies came with a disc of remixes Death At The Gymkhana Club, which emphasises the dancefloor elements of their sound and isn’t too compelling to my ears. GRADE: C+.

Updated 27th February:

Art Moulu (France): Art Moulu (No label, cassette, 1990)
Jo Thirion
Jo Thirion’s post-Étron Fou Leloublan project isn’t a million miles away from her former band, offering the same kind of playful, scrappy, experumental jazz/rock. However, this is not perhaps quite as audacious, so whilst enjoyable enough it’s all a little insubstantial – especially with less than 25 minutes of music. GRADE: C+.

Art Zoyd (France): Live – Et Avec Votre Esprit, La Fôret Des Samplers (In-Possible AZGH-2020, double CD, with gatefold minisleeve and attached booklet, 2020)
Yukari Bertocchi Hamada (keyboards), Nadia Ratsimandry (keyboards)
With its horror-movie scuttling sound effects, sampled Ligeti-like vocals and electronic pronouncements and bangs and clashes from electronic percussion, this is peak Art Zoyd. It’s rather good Art Zoyd too, and probably their best release for some time, but intriguing as it is it breaks no new ground for the band and makes me long for their early rock- and jazz-based works. GRADE: C+.

Ishi (Italy): Troppo Silenzio (No label, cassette, 1992)
Marinella Ollino (lead vocals)
Covers of ‘Orly Flight’ and ‘Close Watch’ give a strong clue as to this post-Franti band’s influences, but don’t expect anything too overtly Velvet Underground-styled. Instead, this offers dark and mournful folk/rock with a few jazzy edges, peaking on the two long songs on side two, which add some psychedelkic and progressive touches. GRADE: C+.

Siena Root (Sweden): Revelation (Atomic Fire AFR0076V, CD, 2023)
Zubaida Solid (lead vocals, keyboards)
Like The Secret Of Our Time, this is straightforward seventies-style rock: mostly heavy and bluesy, but sometimes delicate and folky and sometimes ethnic and trippy. It’s all thoroughly enjoyable, peaking on ‘Dusty Roads’ with its gorgeous refrain, but their track record demonstrates that they’re capable of so much more. GRADE: C+.

Fiamma Dallo Spirito (Italy): Sabba (Black Widow BWRCD 252-2, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2022, recorded 1975)

Vittoria Lo Turco

In late 1975, Jacula singer Vittoria Lo Turco (who had also released a number of pop singles as 'Fiamma') recorded about a side's worth of a solo album with Jacula collaborator Franco Bergamini, which was preserved on a master tape and half-a-dozen single-song acetates. This reissue adds an alternate instrumental take of one number and a rehearsal recording to bolster the set to around 29 minutes. But what of the music? With religious and occult-themed lyrics, this bears a certain resemblance to Tardo Pede In Magiam Versus, showcasing the same dramatic vocal style and occasional organ stabs, but is considerably folkier and sometimes has a slight stage musical feel. That's not to say it's exactly straight, however: there are plenty of odd twists and turns, with a darkly gothic atmosphere pervading the proceedings. The results are nothing short of fascinating and provide an intriguing addition to Jacula and Antonius Rex's knotty discography. GRADE: B–.

Takami (Japan): Y De Noir (LLE Tapes MM-3049, cassette, 1982)
Takami (lead vocals)
Imagine The Marble Index with electronic backing and you’re pretty close: this intriguingly weird, spacy album sees Takami’s Nico-like intonations backed only by electric guitar and synthesiser, both echoplexed to the maximum. The results are supremely trippy and perversely fascinating, despite a lack of variety across the four tracks (as ‘songs’ doesn’t quite fite the bill). GRADE: B–.


Updated 20th February:

Grateful Dead (USA): Dave’s Picks Volume 45 (Rhino R2 712507, quadruple HDCD, with digipak and booklet, 2023, recorded 1977)
Donna Godchaux (occasional vocals)
This bumper edition of Dave’s Picks features two complete shows from consecutive nights over four CDs. The first set from 1 October 1977 is solid rather than spectacular, culminating in an intense ‘The Music Never Stopped’ but the second features some excellent moments, including a fine segue of ‘Estimated Prophet’, ‘Eyes Of The World’, ‘Dancing In The Street’, ‘Not Fade Away’, ‘Black Peter’ and ‘Around And Around’ (overall a strong B–). The show from the 2nd is decidedly superior, with both excellent first and second sets, including some superb jamming in the second (a strong B). GRADE: B.

Maestro Subgum & The Whole (USA): A Soft First In A Hard Place (No label, cassette, 1988)
Jenny Magnus 
At just under 29 minutes, this is considerably shorter than their debut; however, it’s also more experimental and interesting, stitching together their odd cabaret pop vignettes with string interludes and a few moments of pure experimentation. Once again, Slapp Happy is an obvious reference point, though this is more overtly theatrical – and therein may lie its downfall for some listeners. GRADE: C+.

Dreamtime (Australia): Tidal Mind (Cardinal Fuzz/Tym/Little Cloud CFLCR011/TYM060, CDR, with gatefold minisleeve, UK, 2019)
Tara Wardrop (drums, bells)
At 37 minutes, this is little more than half the length of its predecessor, and as a result is rather insubstantial. It’s rather good, though, with a nicely trippy and spacy sound, though I can’t imagine anybody rating it among 2019’s most significant releases. GRADE: B–.

Wondeur Brass (Canada): T’As Vu Mon Coing (Nikad Robom 006, cassette, Yugoslavia, 1987)
Joane Hétu (joint lead vocals, synthesiser, saxophone), Diane Labrosse (joint lead vocals, synthesiser), Marie Trudeau (bass), Danielle Roger (drums, backing vocals)
This live recording from Belgrade has sound quality slightly above that of a good bootleg, but the music is rather interesting. Crossing free-jazz and new wave influences, the band channels Henry Cow through an eighties prism, and whilst the results are somewhat rambling and diffuse (as is much live Henry Cow) it’s certainly full of surprises. GRADE: C+.

Updated 13th February:

Hayley Griffiths (UK): Far From Here (Posh & Rock, CD, with digipak, 2023)
Hayley Griffiths (lead vocals)
This collection of electric folk songs sees Griffiths in fine voice and reminds me more than anything of Barbara Dickson’s Parcel Of Rogues. However, I don’t find it so compelling, despite varied (and beautifully crafted) arrangements – perhaps it’s just a little too slick, or maybe it’s the slight showtune feel that underpins a number of the performances. GRADE: C+.
Hayley Griffiths Band (UK): Melanie (Posh & Rock, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2023)
Hayley Griffiths (lead vocals)
Released simultaneously with Far From HereMelanie is quite different, offering symphonic hard rock bordering on AOR. As such, the two albums map out the range of styles pursued by Griffith’s former band Karnataka, albeit with the progressive elements toned down, and like Karnataka are pleasant and engaging but a little too restrained for their own good. GRADE: C+.

Kladivo, Konj & Voda (Yugoslavia): Zorenje (Mladinski Klub OOZSMS Žalec 21, cassette, 1979)
Damjana Golavšek (joint lead vocals)
The recording here is less than stellar – on many tracks most of the vocals and instruments are crammed into the right-hand channel, creating a very odd listening experience – but the music is frequently lovely. With backing mainly from acoustic guitar, the band offers a procession of charming and wistful original songs that are at their best genuinely delightful. GRADE: C+.

Maestro Subgum & The Whole (USA): A Diamond In The Dumpster (No label, cassette, 1987)
Jenny Magnus, Kate O’ Reilly
The obvious comparison for this satirical cabaret pop is Slapp Happy, although Maestro Subgum’s music is more obviously rooted in singer/songwriter and Americana styles. In addition, whilst they have Slapp Happy’s expansive and willingness to experiment, they don’t share the band’s gift for unforgettable melodies, making this more of an intriguing curio than anything. GRADE: C+.

Sciflyer (USA): The Illusion Of Unlimited Choice (Darla DRL353-2, CD, 2020)
Sophia Campbell (bass, backing vocals), Sonya Trejo (drums)
Sciflyer’s first set of new recordings in well over a decade posits them (or, rather him, as mainman Steve Kennedy has two new female bandmates) as old dogs that haven’t learned any new tricks. These seven pieces, summing up to a grand total of 34 minutes, drift by pleasantly and I can imagine most readers enjoying them, but nobody is going to mistake this for a significant artistic statement. GRADE: C+.
See also LSD & The Search For God

Tale Cue (Italy): Four Tales (No label, cassette, 1989)
Laura Basla (lead vocals)
On the plus side, this neoprogressive band is a hint more ambitious than many and can manage the occasional good hook (as on ‘Hunt The Mouse’). On the downside, the sound quality here is rather average, some of the tempo changes are handled less than adeptly and, as already noted, the good hooks are merely occasional. GRADE: C.
Tale Cue (Italy): Voices Beyond My Curtain (Muséa FGBG 4030.AR, CD, France, 1991)
Laura Basla (lead vocals)
Unsurprisingly, this is considerably more mature (and considerably better recorded) than their cassette, building upon the band’s strengths. But whilst the music here is dynamic and energetic and beautifully crafted, it’s also a little lacking in variety – and once again the band don’t demonstrate much flair for the killer hooks that would have made it a B–. GRADE: C+.

Updated 6th February:

Capturing Virga (USA): Capturing Virga (MPLS, CD, with gatefold minisleeve and insert, 2009)
Gretchen Kieling (occasional vocals, guitar, bass)
These mostly instrumental vignettes, based around electric guitars, bass and drums hint at both latterday King Crimson and a variety of post-punk bands; with its angular, hard-riffing style this is also quintessentially American. On the downside, there’s not much variety until the seventh track, after which the album goes in a number of interesting directions including a rather winsome song, but there’s no arguing that the jams here are lively, energetic, dynamic and extremely well recorded. GRADE: B–

David Carroll & Friends (UK): Bold Reynold (Talking Elephant TECD483, CD, with gatefold minisleeve and booklet, 2023)
Lucy Cooper (occasional vocals)
New old-school electric folk albums are pretty thin on the ground, so this came as a very welcome surprise. Its success is partly due to the richness and diversity of the instrumentation: keyboards, mandolin, violin, bouzouki and assorted woodwinds help to breathe new life into familiar songs like ‘Follow Me Up To Carlow’, ‘Poor Murdered Woman’, ‘Banks Of The Nile’ and ‘She Moved Through The Fair’. But it’s largely down to the quality of Mr Carroll’s ‘Friends’, including Graeme Taylor, Brian Gulland, Dave Pegg and Chris Leslie. Breeding always tells. GRADE: B–.

Ashley Hutchings & Friends (UK): The Beginnings Of Fairport Convention – Official Bootleg (Big Purple 1967-2017-50, CDR, with minisleeve, 2017)
Becky Mills (joint lead vocals, guitar), Ani McNiece (guitar)
Running for nearly an hour, this enjoyable live set peppers Ashley Hutchings’s spoken-word recollections of the early years of Fairport with performances of songs from their sixties repertoire. Hutchings proves an engaging narrator and there’s a fair amount of variety in the musical content too, making this a must for Convention completists. GRADE: C+.

Producto (USA): 2 (No label, CDR, 2005)
Ané Díaz, Laura Morgan
Like their first, this is proof positive that presentation – or more specifically production – can make all the difference to an album. With mediocre sound quality, this might appear an insignificant collection of varied short rock songs drawing on blues, post-punk, psych, prog and just about anything and everything else. However, it’s all presented so vividly and with such immediacy that it can’t fail to catch and hold the ears, once again making it a B­– despite its slightly insubstantial nature. GRADE: B–.
Producto (USA): 3 (No label, CDR, 2007)
Ané Díaz (lead vocals)
Their third and final album – running for a fraction under 32 minutes – is more experimental and (perversely) expansive than their first two, crossing elements of post-punk and metal with some ethnic elements. However, I don’t find it quite as compelling, so the trade-off is moot. GRADE: B–.
See also Instruments

Updated 30th January:

Cast (Mexico): Vida (No label AVCA013, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2015)
Lupita Acuña (backing vocals)
Cast don’t play to their strengths here, as this is entirely song-based. They’re not bad songs, averaging about eight minutes and containing a few decent instrumental diversions. But ‘average’ and ‘decent’ is about as far as I can praise this when comparing it to their last few albums. GRADE: C+.
Cast (Mexico): Power And Outcome (Progressive Promotion PPRCD048, CD, with digipak and booklet, Germany, 2017)
Lupita Acuña (backing vocals)
This returns to the band”s usual blend and songs and instrumentals; the main change is that violin has replaced woodwind as a lead instrument, adding an epic neoclassical dimension to their sound. With a few Arabian edges in the music, the result is a consistently enjoyable widescreen tapestry of sound. As a footnote, Lupita Acuña once again barely appears. GRADE: B–.
Cast (Mexico): Vigesimus (Progressive Promotion PPRCD092, CD, with digipak and booklet, Germany, 2021)
Lupita Acuña (backing vocals)
Whilst this has the same majestic sound as Power And Outcome – albeit a touch heavier and more riff-driven, sometimes bordering progressive metal – it is slightly more song-based and also slightly more neoprogressive. The two things are not unconnected and it’s mainly the penultimate 11-minute instrumental that gets it over the line to a B–. GRADE: B–.

Golden Caves (Holland): Dysergy (No label, CD, with digipak, 2020)
Romy Ouwerkerk (lead vocals)
Slightly different from their earlier work, this is considerably harder-rocking, with its riff-driven borderline-prog approach sounding thoroughly modern. But whilst it’s enjoyable and atmospheric enough, there’s little complexity behind the glossy sheen and nothing you won’t have heard before if you collect this kind of stuff. GRADE: C+.

Maggie Reilly (UK): Starfields (Telamo 405380431354, CD, with digipak and booklet, Germany, 2019)
Maggie Reilly (lead vocals)
The spacy cover, with it standing stone imagery, implies something mystical or proggy but this is business as usual for Ms Reilly. The folky, melodic pop songs here are classy, catchy, sophisticated and beautifully arranged and I can’t imagine anyone dislking this album. However, nice as it is, I can’t imagine ir ranking among anyone’s all-time favourites either. GRADE: C+.
Maggie Reilly (UK): Happy Christmas (Red Berry RBR017CD, CD, 2021)
Maggie Reilly (lead vocals)
Whilst I can’t imagine a Maggie Reilly Christmas album topping anyone’s presents list, this is as pleasant as you’d expect and more tasteful than you might anticipate. It’s eclectic too, with ‘Everybody Xmas Everybody’ and ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman’ sitting cheek-by-jowl alongside ‘Silent Night’ and Joni Mitchell’s ‘River’. GRADE: C+.

Stefano Poletti & Gothic (Italy): La Pendola E Il Carillon (No label MP 9302, CD, 1992)
Laura Amadori (joint lead vocals)
Despite the band name, this isn’t gothic in any way – it mixes delicate folky songs and instrumentals recalling seventies Italian prog or the straighter end of Renaissance with a few more uptempo (and more obviously neoprogressive) numbers. However, atmospheric as it is, it’s somewhat undercut by the low-budget recording and (to a lesser extent) a slight lack of substance. GRADE: C+.

Updated 23rd January:

Cast (Mexico): Com.Unión (Muséa FGBG 4716.AR, CD, France, 2007)
Lupita Acuña (occasional vocals, percussion)
The common description of this Mexican band’s music as ‘neoprogressive’ didn’t inspire me to review their albums, and I found this set’s two predecessors Nimbus (2004) and Mosaïque (2006) (on which Lupita Acuña makes brief guest appearances) patchy, with great instrumentals but mediocre songs. This, however, is a huge step up: harder and more dynamic yet still quite ornate, with lots of woodwinds, and with the songs and instrumentals on an equal footing. That said, the album sags a little in the second half, recovering with the final two tracks, which suggests that some judicious editing might have been in order, but this is still a solid B–. GRADE: B–.
Cast (Mexico): Originallis (No label, double CD, 2008)
Lupita Acuña (occasional vocals)
Opening with a mediocre song followed by an excellent instrumental, this substantial double album quickly confirms the impressions I gained by listening to Nimbus and Mosaïque. In fairness, most of the subsequent songs are good enough but most of the subsequent instrumentals are excellent – and there are plenty of them, so this is another generally strong set. GRADE: B–.
Cast (Mexico): Arsis (No label AVCA012, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2012)
Lupita Acuña (occasional vocals)
Cast play to their strengths here by opening the album with a 25-minute instrumental suite, which is mostly excellent despite a few clumsily handled tempo changes. This is followed by a fair-to-middling nine-minute song, on which the band’s neoprogressive roots become more obvious, and finally a much more appealing mixed vocal and instrumental suite containing some superb passages. GRADE: B–.

Project: Patchwork (Germany): Tales From A Hidden Dream (Membran, CD, 2015)
Magdalena Sojka (occasional vocals), Jessica Schmalle (occasional vocals), Melanie Nocon (occasional vocals), Claudia Kettler (occasional vocals), Claudia Orth (occasional vocals, flute), Angela Götz (occasional vocals), Dagmar Albers (occasional vocals), Sylvia Hartmann (occasional vocals)
Thanks to its mixture of well-crafted hard rocking songs and elegant ballads, interspersed with occasional classical-styled diversions, the debut album by this conceptual duo plus copious guests is easy to listen to. It’s difficult to describe for the same reasons, as everything here is smooth, polished and tasteful, but without the great songwriting or occasional surprises that would have made it memorable. GRADE: C+.
Project: Patchwork II (Germany): Re|Flection (Progressive Promotion PPRCD061, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2018)
Jessica Schmalle (joint lead vocals), Magdalena Büchel (occasional vocals), Melanie Mau (occasional vocals)
This feels more confident and accomplished than their first, but it’s also less diverse, with the brief classical interludes removed. As such, it’s very pleasant, high-class background music that should appeal to both AOR and prog collectors but is unlikely to delight anyone from either group. GRADE: C+.
Project: Patchwork3 (Germany): Ultima Ratio (Progressive Promotion PPRCD 102, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2022)
Anne Trautmann (occasional vocals), Miriam Kraft (occasional vocals)
According to the linet notes, ‘This album is the third and last one in the PP history, because our story has been told.’ The story in this case is quite ambitious – this is a concept album about the Covid crisis and governments’ response to it. Musically, it’s less expansive, offering the collective’s usual polished AOR and mellow prog. GRADE: C+.

Updated 16th January:

Electric Pink Moon Project (Italy/USA): The Electric Pink Moon Project (Revenge rev0009, CD, Italy, 2019)
Deborah Perry (lead vocals)
Ever wanted to hear Nick Drake’s Pink Moon reinterpreted in a stripped-down heavy garage rock style by an Italian-American combo of experimental musicians, including two core members of Thinking Plague? If so, here’s your chance. And if so, why? GRADE: C+.

Producto (USA): 1 (No label, CDR, 2002)
Ané Diaz, Heather McIntosh, Laura Morgan
Cramming 11 tracks into 29½ minutes, this isn’t exactly what you’d call a substantial debut, but it is consistently interesting musically (and extremely well recorded as a bonus). Essentially, Producto blend progressive and post-punk influences with just a hit of shoegaze into interesting alternative rock that could (at a push) be described as a blend of King Crimson and Siouxsie & The Banshees, though there are plenty of classical, folk and even alt-country influences too. As such, this is varied, creative and ultimately intriguing enough to merit a cautious B– despite offering slightly slim pickings. GRADE: B–.
See also Instruments

Red Sand (Canada): Forsaken (SPBN Music SPBN 08, CD, with gatefold minisleeve, 2019)
Pensylia Caron (keyboards)
The band is Québecois, but my first impression remains: their music sounds like seventies Rock Progressivo Italiano filtered through a neoprogressive prism. On the plus side, that means it’s majestic, stately and never too ostentaious; on the downside, it’s perhaps a little simplistic though always atmospheric and very well-judged. But the other good news is that they still don’t sound much like Marillion. GRADE: C+.

Updated 9th January:

Amarok (Spain/Venezuela): El Ojo Del Mundo (Azafrán Media AP 2137, CD, with gatefold minisleeve and booklet, Mexico, 2021)
World Music/Progressive
Marta Segura (lead vocals)
The world music elements underpinning the band’s delicate, intricate sounds are more obvious than ever here, but this is still very much a prog album, including a 17½-minute suite. With marked classical and symphonic influences thrown in, plus just a little rock, the resultsare distinctive, striking and genuinely impressive. GRADE: B–.

Hipgnosis (Poland): Valley Of The Kings (Lynx Music LM 207CD, double CD, with digipak and booklet, 2021)
Ania Batko (principal vocals)
In my review of their first album, I described Hipgnosis’s music as ‘strange, minimalist, rather inconsequential’ and in my subsequent reviews used ‘odd’, and ’strange’ multiple times. Valley Of The Kings does nothing to dispel that impression. Whilst I like what they do, their music is all about atmosphere, even if it’s frequently song-based: meandering electronic space-rock that takes you on a journey without a destination and occasionally catches fire (and catches your ear) only to drift back into lassitude. For brief snatches, you’ll conclude they’re a potentially brilliant band; for the most part, you’ll enjoy listening but wonder whether they’ll ever fulfil that potential. GRADE: C+.

Spider (South Africa/USA): Spider (Dreamland DL-1-5000, 1980)
Amanda Cohen (lead vocals), Holly Knight (keyboards, backing vocals)
What’s interesting about this album isn’t the music – standard eighties rock and AOR, about which there isn’t much to say – but the line-up. Keyboardist Holly Knight would become a prolific superstar songwriter, but vocalist Amanda Cohen, guitarist Keith Lentin and drummer Anton Fig had previously been the core of the South African jamming prog band Hammak, whose album in contrast is well worth a listen. GRADE: C.
Spider (South Africa/USA): Between The Lines (Dreamland DL-1-5007, 1980)
Amanda Cohen (principal vocals), Holly Knight (keyboards, backing vocals)
This is perhaps slightly better than their debut, but with this kind of music the outcome is usually the same: high level of professionalism, low level of creativity, and it all hinges on the songs (which aren’t great here). This time round, the main point of note is ‘Better Be Good To Me’, which subsequently became a huge hit for Tina Turner. The band, minus Holly Knight, subsequently mutated into Shanghai. GRADE: C.
See also Amanda Cohen, Hammak, Shanghai

Wicked Minds (Italy): Visioni, Deliri E Illusioni (Black Widow BWRCD 136-2, CD, 2011)
Monica Sardella (joint lead vocals), Sophya Baccini (occasional vocals)
This collection of cover versions of material by early seventies Italian bands recaptures the vibe of the era perfectly – Anglocentric reference points for the sound could include Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Atomic Rooster et al. With its assertive rhythm section, frequent fuzz guitar, Hammond organ and (sampled) Mellotron, this is retro rock at its best and should delight lovers of the era. Band member Monica Sardella fronts three of the 13 songs and guest Sophya Baccini two, once again proving that she has an excellent voice as long as she’s not performing in Presence. GRADE: B–.
See also Electric Swan, Presence

Karen Zanes (USA): Cloaked (Infinity Vine IVR 06, CD, with gatefold minisleeve, 2021)
Karen Zanes (lead vocals, guitar, kehyboards, percussion, ukelele)
Zanes’s second album was just under half an hour of beautiful, haunting, delicate acoustic music of shimmering beauty and radiance. Her third is just over half ajn hour of beautiful, haunting, delicate acoustic music of shimmering beauty and radiance – another genuinely delightful release. GRADE: B–.

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