Katarzyna Sobczyk & Henryk Fabian With Czerwono-Czarni (Poland): Zakochani Sa Sami Na Swiecie (Pronit XL 0491, 1968?)
Katarzyna Sobczyk (joint lead vocals)
Backed by Czerwono-Czarni, Sobczyk and Fabian turn in a charming album of beat with period arrangements including fuzz guitar and organ. With few weak tracks, this is a solid album all through and a fine example of its style. Czerwono-Czarni also issued albums of their own, with Sobczyk and Fabian returning the favour by guesting as vocalists. GRADE: C+.
See also Czerwono-Czarni
Soft Rock (USA): Soft Rock (WC Knapp Recordings SR-8931, 1975?)
Dede Thompson (principal vocals, guitar, percussion)
Despite the band name and title, this doesn’t contain any soft rock at all: it’s a mixture of gentle acoustic folk/rock songs and trad jazz instrumentals. Both types of material are well performed, with some precise playing and excellent recording quality, but most readers, like me, will probably prefer the songs. This is one of the scarcest American private pressings, selling for several hundred pounds. GRADE: C+.
Softeis (West Germany): The Colours Of A Rainbow (No label S 001, 1978)
Eleonore Wittekindt (keyboards)
Light yet sumptuous and hard rocking, this is typical late seventies German prog, at times similar to McOil, Octopus or Pancake. After seven fairly short songs, the album closes with two instrumentals (also quite short): the symphonic ‘Illusion’ and the more unusual and inventive ‘Komposition Für Bass Und Schlagzeug’, which does what it says on the tin. GRADE: C+.
Softeis (West Germany): Eiskalt (No label PM 181, 1981)
Eleonore Wittekindt (keyboards)
This is a touch more ambitious than its predecessor, with stronger hard rock and light metal edges, and a vastly better recording suggesting that their budget had increased significantly. Overall it’s a solid enough album, although their foray into reggae (on ‘Play The Reggae’, unsurprisingly enough) probably wasn’t a great move. GRADE: C+.
See also Anabis
Softwire (UK): Signal To Noise (No label, download, 2018)
Emily Feinson, Sarah Binney, Yingxin Jiang
It’s not clear whether this 13-person collective is a loose band or whether this is a compilation of material by different singers and songwriters sharing some backing musicians. Either way, it’s a pleasant set that I’ve seen compared to Schnauser – which makes sense in terms of its melody and playfulness. However, this is much straighter, with the progressive elements coming from the three fine instrumentals; the remainder is sophisticated pop with plenty of hooks and some soulful and folky edges. GRADE: C+.
Softwire (UK): Bandwidth (No label, download, 2019)
Emily Feinson, Sarah Binney, Yingxin Jiang
‘All tracks will be at least 96% awesome, we promise’ says the Bandcamp page, but the loss of the progressive edges from Signal To Noise is regrettable. Instead, the collective here offer diverse modern rock, ranging from borderline progressive metal to indie to ballads and even a stab at rap – definitely above-average and packed with hooks but not exactly ‘96% awesome’. GRADE: C+.
Softwire (UK): Wavelength (No label, download, 2021)
Emily Feinson (joint lead vocals), Sarah Binney (keyboards)
Their claim of ‘awesomeness’ has risen to 97%, and once again it’s hyperbole: this album is probably of marginal interest to most people, especially as they’re continuing to move towards electronic pop (and borderline dance music). Nonetheless, there’s plenty of naïve charm here and a fair amount of variety too, including some singer/songwriter edges and even a mellow acoustic guitar instrumental, so if you like the idea of a modern-day York Pop Music Project you could do a lot worse. GRADE: C+.
Softwire (UK): Frequency (No label, download, 2021)
Emily Feinson (occasional vocals, guitar, synthesiser, clarinet), Sarah Binney (occasional vocals, piano)
Like the yang to Wavelength’s yin, this simultaneous release focuses on the folk and rock ends of the collective’s repertoire. There’s everything here from acapella folk to indie rock and borderline metal, and whilst not exactly ‘97% awesome’ it’s all rather good, and may have more appeal to readers of this website than Wavelength. GRADE: C+.
Softwire (UK): A Very Softwire Christmas (No label, download, 2021)
Emily Feinson (joint lead vocals, keyboards, drum programmes), Sarah Binney (keyboards, backing vocals)
A very Softwire Christmas indeed: mixing original songs and a couple of more familiar Christmas numbers, this offers everything from electric rock to electronic pop and even a quasi-mediaeval instrumental. Ultimately this is a short and somewhat incoherent LP, but the joyful naïveté that has characterised their previous albums is often in evidence, resulting in a charming and quirky little set. In any case, the best song is the least characteristic: Emily Feinson’s eerie synthesised rendition of ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’, which puts me in mind of psychedelic folk stylists like Rowan:Morrison. GRADE: C+.
Solar Plexus (Sweden): Solar Plexus (EMI Odeon E 154-34573/4, double, 1972)
Monica Dominique (joint lead vocals, keyboards)
This debut double album is impressive in its scope and scale, not least for the twenty-four minute ‘Concerto Grosso För Popgrupp Och Symfoniorkester’. That said, the long suite is rather patchy and elsewhere the album includes a few musical jokes that don’t work well, so a little judicious editing could have seen a far more consistent single LP. Overall, Brian Auger seems to be their biggest infuence, although they cover quite a range of territory. This was also released in an alternate version featuring English rather than Swedish lyrics. GRADE: B–.
Solar Plexus (Sweden): Solar Plexus (EMI Odeon 4E 062-34797, 1973)
Monica Dominique (keyboards, flute, backing vocals)
Their second album comes with an identical front cover to their first, only with a slightly different colour scheme. Musically it’s far mellower, toning down the rock elements and often straying perilously close to lounge. That said, two classical pieces on side two (Händel’s ‘Silent Worship’ and Stravinsky’s ‘Danse Russe’) are much more interesting and adventurous, with the latter sounding like Renaissance if they based their music around organ rather then piano. GRADE: C+.
Solar Plexus (Sweden): Det Är Inte Båten Som Gungar – Det Är Havet Som Rör Sig (Harvest 4E 062-34975, 1975)
Monica Dominique (keyboards, backing vocals)
The opening title track has an effective groove, but the rest of this shows the band moving towards slick jazz/funk – even the seventeen-minute ‘Jorden Är Ett Underbart Ställe’ isn’t terribly adventurous or exploratory. Nonetheless, it’s all very well put together. GRADE: C+.
Solar Plexus (Sweden): Hellre Gycklare An Hycklare (Harvest 4E 062-35166, 1975)
Monica Dominique (keyboards, handclaps, backing vocals)
The fourth and final Solar Plexus album is a laid-back affair, with strong funk and soul edges; the only truly progressive cut is the closing ‘Vakna Morgon’. Like its two predecessors, this is a pleasant listen without being particularly exciting or creative. GRADE: C+.
See also Monica Dominique
Solar Plexus (USA): Solar Plexus (Evidence Music 43138, 1975)
Lin McPhillips (lead vocals)
Whilst operating in the same broad territory as their Swedish namesakes, this American band were completely unconnected. With strong Latin influences and arrangements dominated by percussion and horns, plus occasional wordless vocals, the album has a rather loungy feel but also some quite elaborate playing. As a footnote, whilst the disc was credited to their own Evidence Music imprint, it was actually issued by the famous custom label Century. GRADE: C+.
Randy Masters Featuring Solar Plexus With The University Of Santa Cruz Chamber Singers (USA): Voices (Evidence Music
Lin McPhillips (joint lead vocals, electronics), Elizabeth Bice (joint lead vocals), Nicole Bouché (joint lead vocals), Susan Brison (joint lead vocals), Kathy Caton (joint lead vocals), Rebekah Levy (joint lead vocals), Elizabeth A Rechard (joint lead vocals), Caroline Davis (joint lead vocals), Dawn Saari (joint lead vocals), Evelyn Shiro (joint lead vocals), Meri Tassano (joint lead vocals)
As the title suggests, this album unites Solar Plexus with a choir, making for a more ambitious set than their debut (particularly with tracks of 23 and 16 minutes). Again, the music is rooted in Latin sounds and is quite loungy, but there are some mildly experimental moments hinting towards Michal Urbaniak and Urszula Dudziak, and the longer songs really give the band a chance to stretch out and groove. GRADE: B–.
Solar Plexus (USA): Solar Plexus (Inner City IC 1067, 1979)
Lin McPhillips (lead vocals, percussion, electronics)
Their third and final album moves even closer to Urszula Dudziak (to whom one track is actually dedicated), though mostly at her loungiest and most Latin-esque. That said, this is a long and varied LP, with quite a few weird moments and touches of free jazz; it’s frequently very interesting, although unlike its predecessor it’s quite patchy too. GRADE: B–.
Solar Project (West Germany/Holland/Finland): The Final-Solution (No label SP 001, CD, with sticker, West Germany, 1990)
Inka Kuopamäki (backing vocals)
A concept album called The Final-Solution by a German band could have been excruciating, but this actually concerns itself with the possibility of a computer-generated war. Musically, it’s a varied set of hard rock and neoprog songs, with a few good melodies but also a listless, low-budget sound that makes it rather forgettable. GRADE: C.
Solar Project (Germany/Holland): World Games (No label SP 002, CD, Germany, 1992)
Anja Kiehle (joint lead vocals)
As demonstrated by the full colour booklet and much improved recording quality, they had a vastly bigger budget for their second album. Musically, however, this is in the same vein as their debut, whilst taking them a step closer towards full-blown rock opera. On the plus side, the disc avoids the pomposity associated with the genre, but it’s all very lukewarm, nondescript and inconsequential, despite obvious attempts to make some big political statements in the lyrics. GRADE: C.
Solar Project (Germany): The House Of S. Phrenia (No label SP 003, CD, Germany, 1995)
Anja Kiechle (joint lead vocals)
This is a huge step forward for the band – it’s lively, dynamic, powerful and extremely well recorded. With tracks of up to nineteen minutes, it’s also quite ambitious, taking in elements of Indian music, folk and jazz, although the basic style is bluesy hard rock, sometimes hinting towards Pink Floyd. Of course, at heart it’s still neoprog, and once again their attempts to be profound don’t work particularly well, but this is a very accomplished record for what it is. GRADE: C+.
Solar Project (Germany): …In Time (Muséa FGBG 4225.AR, CD, France, 1997)
Anja Kiechle (joint lead vocals), Sonja Mischor (flute, backing vocals)
For the first couple of minutes, it sounds as though Solar Project have gone electropop, but the rest of the disc channels Pink Floyd and various bluesy and hard rock acts from the seventies through a neoprogressive prism. Early on, there’s some excellent Hammond organ work, and overall the instrumental sections easily outclass the rather uninspired songs. In particular, it becomes obvious how odd and how amateurish Anja Kiechle’s androgynous singing is, and how little the band actually has to say on the lofty topics it addresses. GRADE: C+.
Solar Project (Germany): Five (Muséa FGBG 4372.AR, CD, France, 2000)
Anja Kiechle (joint lead vocals), Sonja Mischor (occasional vocals, flute)
With all but one of the six tracks being well over ten minutes, this is by far their most progressive album to date. It’s also their closest to Pink Floyd, sometimes borrowing liberally from the band’s back catalogue (the verses of ‘The Air’ take both their rhythm and chord sequence from ‘Sheep’, for example). Not everything works well: the disc is occasionally tedious and never particularly exciting, but it’s well crafted, polished and highly listenable. GRADE: C+.
Solar Project (Germany): Force Majeure (Muséa FGBG 4549.AR, CD, France, 2004)
Bettina Wirtz (lead vocals), Jade (saxophone)
The opening ‘Days Of Wrath’ has a much more modern vibe, hinting towards bands like Anekdoten, but the rest of the disc shows the group moving back towards its usual late seventies Pink Floyd style. Despite one track of 30 minutes and another of 20, this is nowhere near as ambitious as its predecessor, mostly comprising spacy pastiches of The Wall et al. GRADE: C+.
Solar Project (Germany): Chromagnitude (Muséa FGBG 4715.AR, CD, France, 2007)
Sandra Baetzel (joint lead vocals, saxophone)
Slightly better than Force Majeure, this is a strong album of mid-paced Pink Floyd-style rock. Atmospheric and accomplished as it is, there’s very little variety on offer, and this certainly doesn’t break any new ground for the band. GRADE: C+.
Solar Project (Germany): Aquarmada (Green Tree GTR 145, CD, 2014)
Sandra Baetzel (joint lead vocals, saxophone)
Solar Project aren’t quite such blatant Floyd copyists as their Swiss contemporaries Cosmos, but there’s not much in it, making differentiations between their various LPs rather slight. Nonetheless, this is among the better ones, with a procession of stately, well-crafted songs and instrumentals with plenty of spacy Dave Gilmour-esque guitar work. GRADE: C+.
Solar Project (Germany): Here I Am (Green Tree GTR-151, CD, 2015)
Sandra Baetzel (occasional vocals, saxophone)
The Floyd edges are downplayed a bit here, though this is in their usual relaxed and spacious mode. Both their songs and instrumentals are well crafted, placing them a tier above most modern prog bands, but excitement is in rather short supply. GRADE: C+.
Solar Project (Germany): EMP – A Tribute To Pink Floyd/The Final-Solution – Limited Edition (Green Tree GTR 154, double CD,
with digipak and booklet, 2015)
Anja Middeldorf (occasional vocals), Sandra Baetzel (saxophone, backing vocals)
This ‘25th anniversary’ reissue of The Final-Solution adds a bonus disc of Pink Floyd covers. It opens with a superb version of ‘Echoes’ recorded in 2001 by an all-male trio, followed by a 2014 take on ‘Money’ by the line-up with Sandra Baetzel. This was never my favourite Floyd number, but it’s a solid version that extends the song with some effective rock jamming. Finally, there’s a truncated version of ‘Pigs’ (with a few moments of ‘Sheep’ and ‘Pigs On The Wing’ interpolated) recorded in 1999 with Anja Middeldorf sharing the vocals. Grading a three-song covers album isn’t easy, but there’s no question that this is by far the best thing Solar Project has ever done, even if it graphically illustrates the gulf between their writing talents and those of the Floyd. My comments on The Final-Solution remain unchanged. GRADE: B–.
Solar Project (Germany): Paranoia (Green Tree GTR 158, CD, 2016)
Sandra Baetzel (occasional vocals, saxophone)
Following on from their actual Floyd tribute album, this is once again very Floydian – not, as I’ve noted before, to the same extent as blatant clones Cosmos, maybe not even to the same extent as Fruitcake, but then again the differences aren’t necessarily in Solar Project’s favour: the least Floyd-like songs here are also the straightest. Like most of their albums, this is far from bad, but it has to say something that the old Solar Project LP I’ve ever rated above a C+ was the Floyd covers set. GRADE: C+.
Solar Project (Germany): Utopia (Green Tree GTR 174, CD, 2018)
Sandra Baetzel (saxophone, backing vocals)
After implying in my review of their last that Solar Project would never produce a B– album of original material, I’m now having to eat my words as they’ve managed it here – well, just about it. Paranoia’s big advantage is that it features two lengthy suites, allowing the band to stretch out and jam. Its even bigger advantage is that they’re sloughing off their most obvious Floyd influences, though that’s not to say this is particularly original – on the contrary, they sound distinctly German for the first time in years, channelling the chunky riffs and soaring Hammond organ of mid-seventies outfits like Jane and Birth Control. As such, don’t approach this expecting anything cutting-edge, but do expect a mainstream German prog sound delivered with style and élan. GRADE: B–.
Solar Project (Germany): Ghost Lights (Green Tree GTR 181, CD, 2020)
Sandra Baetzel (occasional vocals, saxophone)
I don’t find this quite the equal of its predecessor, though it’s far from poor. Once again, it mixes mainstream seventies German prog influences with Pink Floyd, though this time with more emphasis on the latter (notwithstanding yhat ‘On The Run’ is an original song, not the Dark Side Of The Moon instrumental). In addition, vocalist Holger vom Bruch is becoming more eccentric, notably on ‘Chivvy’, which could lead to some interesting – in both the literal and pejorative senses – results on the next album if he continues down the same path. GRADE: C+.
Soldier String Quartet (USA): Sequence Girls (Rift 13, with insert, 1988)
Laura Seaton (harpsichord, violin), Mary Wooten (cello)
As their name suggests, the Soldier String Quartet were led by violinist and composer Dave Soldier. As their name doesn’t suggest, they were actually a sextet: a string quartet (with the first violin also playing a little harpsichord) plus a contrabassist and drummer. The music ranges from relatively conventional chamber orchestra sounds through settings of three blues tunes to mildly discordant avant-prog, and is extremely inventive and creative. The band went on to cut many more albums, which I haven’t heard. As a footnote, Soldier also worked with the Velvet Underground’s Maureen Tucker in the Kropotkins. GRADE: B–.
Solid British Hat Band (UK): Mister Monday And Other Songs For The Teaching Of English (Longman LG 0 582 56421 2,
with insert, 1971)
Dede Brewer (joint lead vocals, guitar, percussion, kazoo), Gil Eden (joint lead vocals, guitar, percussion)
Connected to Everyone Involved, this obscure folk/rock band issued two albums on the Longman label, both intended to be used for teaching English (as odd song titles like ‘Present Continuous Baby’, ‘Did You Use To Be Like Me?’ and ‘If You Go To Rome’ attest). This pleasant debut is rather similar to Faraway Folk circa Time And Tide, though more consistent in mood, with a dreamy and quite dated sound. Terry Cox from Pentangle is the drummer. GRADE: C+.
Ken Wilson & The Solid British Hat Band (UK): Goodbye Rainbow (Longman LG 567, with insert, 1974)
Dede Brewer (joint lead vocals), Gil Eden (joint lead vocals)
Much rarer than their debut, this is also much more contemporary, with a broader musical palette and far more electric instrumentation. Creating a hippie folk feel in parts, the album often bears a resemblance to Everyone Involved (as do the ecological and anti-car lyrics to ‘The Houses Are Built’ and ‘Not Enough Ways’). Altogether, it’s a fine album, completed by a stunning multicoloured psychedelic sleeve. GRADE: C+.
Solid Ground (West Germany): Backstage Love Affair (Omnibus BUS 1004, 1980)
Rita Dotzier (joint lead vocals)
Offering melodic hard rock with some funk and pop edges, this is a solid if not tremendously exciting album. The best moments feature some high-octane guitar work, with the heavier cuts definitely being the finest. GRADE: C+.
Solid Ground (Montenegro): Open Silence (No label, download, 2013)
Tamara Brajović (occasional vocals), Strahinja Kovačević (keyboards, trumpet, backing vocals)
This unusual and obscure album blends progressive rock, metal and jazz like Diablo Swing Orchestra, but in a completely different way. Whereas the Diablos are at heart avant-gardists, throwing a little of everything into the mix to see what will happen, Solid Ground is more an old-school jam band blending in heavy rock guitars and jazzy rhythms and trumpet. In keeping with their seventies leanings, the sound here is spare and sparse, eschewing the modern wall-of-sound favoured by the Diablos and reminding me more of Stinking Lizaveta, though this consists of lengthy songs rather than pure instrumentals. As such, those expecting devil-may-care mayhem won’t find it here, but, being far more restrained, this could have much wider appeal. GRADE: B–.
Soliloquy (Australia): Soliloquy (Record Collector RCLP 026, double, UK, with certificate of authenticity, 2018, recorded 1974)
Carmel Chayne (lead vocals)
When I obtained this band’s extremely rare EP ‘Alive To Die’/‘Father Moonshine’/‘Asian Way’/‘Lady Tarantula’ (Moby Productions LYN 2868) I assumed them to be British or American and assumed from the music (knotty, angular, riff-driven, somewhat progressive rock) that it dated from around 1978. In fact, it was recorded in 1974, making the faint post-punk edges somewhat prescient, and the band turned out to be Australian: discovered by Maurice Gibb, they were transplanted to London to record an album, but despite the promotional EP on the Bee Gees’ Moby label they failed to gain a record deal. Listening to this double album, it may be because their music fell between two stools: two knotty to be mainstream rock but too unambitious to be full-blown prog (despite the presence of a side-long suite). Nonetheless, they were unquestionably a good band and occasionally an excellent one, so this comprehensive retrospective was long overdue. GRADE: C+.
Solstice (UK): Silent Dance (Equinox EQRLP 001, 1984)
Sandy Leigh (lead vocals)
Solstice was the only female-fronted band to emerge in the first wave of neoprogressive outfits, alongside higher-profile groups like Marillion, IQ and Pendragon. However, unlike those bands, they were very much a hippie outfit, and their debut album welds a neoprog musical palette with strong influences from folk, world and psychedelic music. With hints of Renaissance here and there and a fair bit of Curved Air or It’s A Beautiful Day-style violin, it’s quite an interesting record, although the rather average songwriting and dense, fairly lo-fi production (by noted folkie Nigel Mazlyn-Jones, no less) add up to a disc that’s more promising than it is polished. The second CD reissue (F2 Music 200709A, 2007) adds a bonus disc compiling the band’s two 1982 cassette EPs – First Light (as an all-male quartet) and Pathways (with Susan Robinson, also of Quasar, on vocals) – with a 1983 demo (featuring Robinson’s short-lived replacement, Shelley Patt), the Peace Tape cassette single, and a radio session from the same year. GRADE: C+.
Solstice (UK): New Life (Progressive International PRO 017, CD, 1992)
Heidi Kemp (lead vocals)
Album number two, by a reformed line-up, is a lot less varied than its predecessor but also a great deal more consistent. This time round they sound like a folkier Pink Floyd with quite a few Curved Air touches; the results are elegant and mellifluous if a little short on invention. Once again, the band issued a ‘definitive edition’ as a double CD in 2007 (F2 Music 200709B), this time adding some live tracks from 1984 with an all-male line-up and almost a dozen studio and live numbers from 1985 with Barbara Deason on vocals. GRADE: C+.
Solstice (UK): Circles (A New Day AND CD13, CD, 1997)
Emma Brown (lead vocals)
Mixing mid-paced rockers with a vaguely Celtic feel with a few moments of acoustic folk, this isn’t an enormously exciting record. However, it’s listenable enough, and it makes clear their influence on a new generation of neoprogressive bands, most notably Mostly Autumn. Once again, there was a ‘definitive edition’ reissue (F2 Music 200709C), but this time it only adds four bonus demos, which I actually like better than the album itself. As a footnote, Clive Bunker plays drums, which is presumably why this was released on the Jethro Tull-related label A New Day. GRADE: C+.
Solstice (UK): The Cropredy Set (A New Day AND CD53, CD, 2002)
Emma Brown (lead vocals), Jenny Newman (violin, backing vocals)
This live album doesn’t quite live up to its billing, actually being recorded in the studio back in 1998 (since there were serious technical problems with the actual Cropredy recording). Nonetheless, it’s possibly their best outing, featuring a good cross-section of material performed with real energy. This time round, the ‘definitive edition’ (F2 Music 200707) adds a DVD of the show; I think this is synced to the studio CD, with onstage comments and applause interpolated, but the liner notes don’t make this clear. GRADE: C+.
Solstice (UK): Spirit (Festival Music 201002, CD plus DVD, 2010)
Emma Brown (principal vocals), Jenny Newman (violin, backing vocals)
What’s surprising about the first half of this comeback (for a second time) album is how monotonous it is and how little the band has developed artistically. Musically, it’s their usual mid-paced folkish rock with slo-mo neoprog guitar and vaguely Celtic violin, whilst lyrically they’re still offering vague imprecations against capitalism and celebrating Native American traditions. Thankfully, things improve with the interesting ‘Oberon’s Folly’, which couples a Bronski Beat cover with an excellent instrumental from violinist Jenny Newman, and the intense, Eastern-flavoured ‘Here And Now’. The closing title track ends the disc on a rather soporific note, but whilst this is mostly underwhelming it does have its moments. The set also includes a lengthy DVD Solstice Live containing a fine performance with excellent audio quality though slightly fuzzy visuals. One of the highlights of the live set is a genuinely witty drum solo (not an adjective I ever expected to apply to that particular activity). If this set really demonstrates anything, it’s that Solstice are vastly better on stage than in the studio. GRADE: C+.
Solstice (UK): Kindred Spirits (Festival Music 201106, DVD plus CD, 2011)
Emma Brown (lead vocals), Jenny Newman (violin)
Another day, another DVD: this one has better picture quality than Solstice Live and offers another solid live set. The humorous drum solo isn’t nearly as funny when seen for a second time, however, and I have no idea why they suddenly veer into goodtime ska territory with a cover of ‘Ducks’ (although the audience seem to enjoy it). The accompanying CD sensibly doesn’t duplicate the DVD tracklisting but offers a different performance, completing an enjoyable and well-assembled package. GRADE: C+.
Solstice (UK): Prophecy (Esoteric Antenna EANTCD 1024, CD, 2013)
Emma Brown (principal vocals), Jenny Newman (violin)
Unusually, this combines five lengthy new songs plus three ‘bonus tracks’ – remixes by Steven Wilson of early recordings from the Sandy Leigh era. The new numbers are frequently so somnolent than one imagines the band has gone into hibernation, whilst all their usual lyrical motifs (principally environmentalism and Native American imagery) recur frequently. The remixes are perfectly pleasant, but mainly serve to confirm that the band has achieved zero artistic development or progression in nearly thirty years. GRADE: C+.
Solstice (UK): Sia (Giant Electric Pea GEPCD1066, CD, with gatefold minisleeve and booklet, 2020)
Jess Holland (lead vocals), Jenny Newman (violin)
On the opening ‘Shout’ – the longest and most complex track yet attempted by the band – Solstice sound revitalised, as well they might after a seven-year absence. The remaining tracks (five new songs plus a remake of ‘Cheyenne’) aren’t as adventurous, but then Solstice never operated at the most virtuosic – let alone most experimental – end of prog. Nevertheless, this collection of soft rockers and ballads is thoroughly satisfying, bolstered by an excellent recording, and they’re to be congratulated for their longevity. They should also be congratulated for releasing their best album to date, a remarkable 36 years after their debut. GRADE: C+.
Solstice (UK): Sia Live (No label, download, 2021)
Jess Holland (lead vocals), Jenny Newman (violin), Johanna Stroud (backing vocals), Olivia Armon (backing vocals), Meg Knightsbridge
Sia was arguably Solstice’s best album, so this live set – which features much of the LP plus a few older numbers – is also solid and enjoyable. If those don’t sound like the most effusive descriptors, they effectively summarise the band’s career as a whole: their work is rarely less than listenable but also rarely (if ever) exciting or challenging. GRADE: C+.
See also Quasar
Soluna (Argentina): Energia Natural (Microfón SUP-844, 1977)
Mónica Campins (occasional vocals, organ, dulcimer)
The mellow folky and slightly jazzy rock here, with lots of tempo changes and unusual chord progressions, is both typical of the Argentine seventies underground and redolent of similar music from Canada. At its best – the lively, exploratory ‘Detrás De La Valla’ – it’s superb, but for most of the time it merely drifts by pleasantly, notable mainly for its high level of craft. GRADE: C+.
Soma White (Poland): Soma White (No label, CD, with box sleeve, 2013)
Hania Zmuda (lead vocals)
The most striking thing about this album is its packaging: the disc comes housed in a very thick card foldout sleeve with a velvet lining. Musically, the disc has elements of space-rock, with a definite Pink Floyd influence, but is also heavily rooted in post-rock, with a pop feel to much of the songs and occasional jazzy tinges. The result is a strange, minimalistic LP containing some fine passages, but which never really seems to go anywhere. GRADE: C+.
Somerset (USA): East Of The Sun (American Gramophone SR-4534, 1977)
Laura Olshefski (backing vocals), Joni Potts (backing vocals)
Whilst firmly rooted in rural rock, this unusual album has a dreamy, slightly trippy sound that sets it apart from most LPs in the genre. This is best demonstrated on the lovely, haunting ‘Someday’, but the disc is pleasant and gentle throughout, with a procession of chilled-out ballads distinguished by some fine flute work. GRADE: C+.
Sonatinenblues (West Germany): Sonatinenblues (No label 141180, 1972?)
Ingelore Hinnersmann (flute), Hedda Gerdes (cello)
Only a couple of copies are known of this privately pressed album, which comes housed in a striking and very basic orange paste-on sleeve. The music is rather folky and all-instrumental, but with full rock arrangements, most comparable to the Dutch band Avalanche (although nowhere near as fiery or psychedelic). GRADE: C+.
Songs Of Our Land (Papua New Guinea): Songs Of Our Land (Niugini Press, 1976?)
From the cover, one would expect this to be a world music cash-in aimed at tourists; in fact, it’s schoolgirl folk in a very English style. All the songs are self-penned, with massed vocals and simple acoustic guitar accompaniment, and all are very short; the album crams around twenty songs into as many minutes. GRADE: C+.
Sonja-Kristina (UK): Sonja-Kristina (Chopper CHOP E 5, 1980)
Sonja-Kristina Linwood (lead vocals)
The former Curved Air singer’s solo debut has an interesting line-up of musicians (Liam Genockey, Colin Towns, Gaspar Lawal, Nigel Gray, Lawrence Juber and old colleague Darryl Way) but the same can’t be said of the material. Whilst this is pleasant and highly competent, it’s also a pretty bland set of mainstream rock and folk/rock, with nothing to suggest that Linwood had an illustrious background in progressive music. Only the intense, new wave-flavoured ‘The Comforter’ really stands out from the crowd. GRADE: C.
Sonja-Kristina With Ty*lôr & Friends (UK): Songs From The Acid Folk (Fruithouse FHCD1, CD, 1991)
Sonja-Kristina Linwood (principal vocals, guitar, accordion)
Far superior to her solo debut, this is a very enjoyable album of acoustic folk/rock, varying from the gentle to the intense. Whilst a few songs are remakes of material from earlier in her career, most of the compositions are new and they’re generally of a high standard. However, lovely as this is, this is nowhere near as psychedelic as the title suggests. GRADE: C+.
Sonja-Kristina & Cloud 10 (UK): Harmonics Of Love (HTD CD 34, CD, 1995)
Sonja-Kristina Linwood (lead vocals, guitar)
Recorded with some of the same musicians as Songs From The Acid-Folk, Harmonics Of Love is often to similar its predecessor whilst adding a dreamier, new age-ish edge (as interludes of marimbas, birdsongs and storms suggest). Once again, most of the songs are new, but there are remakes of ‘Blind Man’ and ‘Elfin Boy’. Overall I slightly prefer this album, but there’s not much in it. GRADE: C+.
Sonja-Kristina (UK): Cri De Coeur (Market Square Music MSMCD116, CD, 2003)
Sonja-Kristina Linwood (lead vocals)
As a collection of jazz standards (‘Round Midnight’, ‘Love For Sale’, ‘Cry Me A River’ et al) Cri De Coeur shouldn’t really be my tasse de thé. However, it’s beautifully done, with sparse, spare backing and some of Linwood’s best singing. In particular, an almost psychedelic version of ‘Solitude’, drenched in echo effects, is quite outstanding. GRADE: C+.
See also Curved Air, Mask
Sonoma (USA): Sonoma (Dunhill DSX-50156, 1973)
Kathy Ward (joint lead vocals), Tricia Johns (joint lead vocals)
Relaxed, good-natured rock from the band formerly known as Punch. Ranging from rural material to folky stuff to borderline hard rock, it covers a fair range of territory but never threatens to leave its comfort zone. GRADE: C.
See also Punch
Sonship (USA): It Shall Be (Messianic LBA 2001-S, 1977)
Nancy J Helms (joint lead vocals, guitar)
No prizes for guessing from the band and label names that this is Christian folk/rock. Although rather slick, with full electric backing, it’s a nice example of the genre, with some flowing, melodic songs and some excellent vocals, particularly from Nancy Helms. In particular, the extended coda of the closing ‘Sing Halleluia’ is quite mesmerising, suggesting they could have made an outstanding progressive rock album. GRADE: C+.
Sonsong (UK): Sonsong (Zebra Music, with insert, 1976)
Jackie Stoner (occasional vocals), Barbara Hall (occasional vocals), Jo Orchard (violin), Melanie Smailes (autoharp), Helen Farr (backing vocals)
Linked to Narnia by keyboardist Peter Banks, Sonsong was a multimedia enterprise as much as a rock band, and this was the soundtrack to their stage show. It’s an unusual record, combining sweet, downbeat and dreamy folk/rock with lyrics focusing on apocalyptic concerns, and contains several excellent tracks; only the irritating ‘Glory Glory’ fails to pass muster and should have been removed from a lengthy LP. A couple of years later, the band resurfaced as Face To Face and released a second LP Turning To You. GRADE: C+.
See also Face To Face
Sonus Umbra (Mexico/USA): Snapshots From Limbo (Moonchild CD-7275, CD, USA. 2000)
Lisa Francis (occasional vocals)
This band appeared to operate in parallel with Kurgan’s Bane, with Luis Nasser and Lisa Francis involved with both projects (although the latter is credited here as a guest, mostly sticking to backing vocals and only singing lead on part of the closing ‘Insects’). Based on this evidence, I think I prefer Sonus Umbra: this is a varied collection of electric and acoustic pieces stitched together with sound effects, containing several particularly good instrumentals (of which ‘Erich Zann’ has an astonishing 3D soundstage). GRADE: C+.
Sonus Umbra (Mexico/USA): Spiritual Vertigo (Sound Of Shadow SU5313, CD, with digipak and booklet, USA, 2003)
Lisa Francis (occasional vocals)
Like its predecessor, this offers atmospheric song-based prog, with sound effects linking the pieces together. Once again, metal riffs are used relatively sparingly and to good effect, creating a nice tapestry of harder and more relaxed moments. GRADE: C+.
Jenny Sorrenti (Italy): Suspiro (Harvest 3C064-18174, with inner, 1976)
Jenny Sorrenti (lead vocals)
The former Saint Just singer’s first solo album is a gorgeous folk/rock affair, with consistently excellent self-penned material. ‘Canta (Immaginando Magico)’ is decidedly the best thing on offer, but there are no really weak moments. Her former Saint Just colleague Tony Verde helped out, while (more surprisingly) Peter Kaukonen, brother of Jefferson Aiplane’s Jorma, produced and played mandolin.
Jenny Sorrenti (Italy): Jenny Sorrenti (RCA PL 31425, 1979)
Jenny Sorrenti (lead vocals, guitar)
This is in a similar style to her debut, but the songwriting is not as inspired. Nonetheless this is a lovely album with some beautifully crafted hooks and arrangements creating a mellow mood throughout. GRADE: C+.
Jenny Sorrenti (Italy): Medieval Zone (Celtica Napoletana CN001, CD, 2001)
Jenny Sorrenti (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards, mandola)
After a silence of more than twenty years, Sorrenti returned with a fine new album. As its title suggests, this features quite a few mediaeval texts and traditional songs, with only about half the material being self-penned. However, there is no mediaeval instrumentation, with the album alternating between Clannad-style spaciness (good) and electric folk/rock (excellent). GRADE: C+.
Jenny Sorrenti (Italy): Com’è Grande Enfermidade (Polosud PS054, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2004)
Jenny Sorrenti (lead vocals, keyboards)
A much more consistent album than its predecessor, this features mostly original songs and some beautiful, crystalline atmospheres. At times, Sorrenti sounds uncannily similar to Máire Brennan, and this does occasionally tend towards the same kind of Celtic sleepiness as latter-day Clannad, but mostly this is a very strong set. GRADE: B–.
Jenny Sorrenti (Italy): Burattina (Odd Times, CD, with digipak and booklet, 2009)
Jenny Sorrenti (principal vocals, keyboards)
The dramatic opening suggests that Sorrenti has returned to the avant-gardism of the first Saint Just album, but this soon settles down into a more conventional folk/rock style. Unlike her earlier albums, most cuts feature strong world music elements, drawing on a number of ethnic traditions. This is another enjoyable set, showing a commendable willingness to take some (minor) risks. GRADE: C+.
See also Curva Di Lesmo, Saint Just, Arturo Stàlteri
SOUL 50 Voices’ Groove (Germany): The SOUL 50 Voices’ Groove (A Band On…, CD, 1999)
Antje Münder (joint lead vocals), Inga Rumpf (joint lead vocals)
This 50-voice gospel choir’s main claim to fame was the involvement of the well-travelled Inga Rumpf, who gets star billing on the front cover. That said, she sings solo on just two of the 12 cuts and writes just one. Musically, this is far better than I expected, with the full electric band backing adding a nice bluesy mood that occasionally recalls Rumpf’s work with Frumpy and Atlantis (though of course without any of the progressive elements). GRADE: C+.
See also Atlantis, City Preachers, Frumpy, ID Company, Inga Rumpf
Soul Doubt (Italy): Winter’s Tale (No label, CD, with gatefold minisleeve and booklet, 2010)
Francesca Pretolani (keyboards)
This concept album is packed with lyrics, as these things tend to be: that’s a pity, as it’s only during the instrumental sections that the music really takes flight. In fairness, this is well-crafted, elegant Italian prog, but it’s also noticeably lacking in excitement. GRADE: C+.
Soul Doubt (Italy): The Dance Of Light And Shade (No label, double CD, with digipak, booklet and slipcase, 2010)
Emma Ronca (occasional vocals), Francesca Pretolani (keyboards)
Despite the lower grade, the problem with Soul Doubt’s second album isn’t that it’s inferior than their first; the problem is that it’s exactly the same but more than twice as long. Once again, it mixes folkier and harder rocking passages; once again it’s absolutely packed with lyrics; and once again the music never really has room to breathe and the words (this time in the form of a borderline rock opera) have a lot less to say than the band imagine. Over the course of an hour and three quarters, it all becomes a touch tedious. GRADE: C.
Soulful Bowlful (Canada): Sweet Soul Music (Arc 747, 1969)
As the band name and album title suggest, this is a soul music cash-in featuring covers of familiar material (‘The Letter’, ‘Rescue Me’, ‘When A Man Loves A Women’ et al). Surprisingly for an exploitation LP, it’s sought-after by collectors – probably for the heavier, more psychedelic ‘Heartful Of Soul’ and ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’, both of which are excellent. GRADE: C.
Sound Of Feeling (USA): Leonard Feather Presents The Sound Of Feeling And The Sound Of Oliver Nelson (Verve VS-8743,
split LP, 1968)
Alyce Andrece, Rhae Andrece
This split LP features the Sound Of Feeling on one side and Leonard Feather’s Encyclopaedia Of Jazz All-Stars, arranged and conducted by Oliver Nelson, on the other. The Sound Of Feeling side features dissonant and sometimes quite weird modern jazz, fronted by twin sisters Alyce and Rhae Andrece (best remembered for a cameo appearance in 'Star Trek'), who sometimes sing words and sometimes scat in a similar manner to Urszula Dudziak. The second side offers more melodic and conventional instrumental jazz, once again with plenty of horns. Overall it’s a fine album, but one for jazz and avant-garde fans: this has nothing to do with rock, let alone psychedelia. GRADE: C+.
Sound Of Feeling (USA): Spleen (Limelight LS 86063, 1969)
Alyce Andrece, Rhae Andrece
The band’s first album proper tones down the free jazz edges considerably, largely replacing scuttling horns and flailing drumming with slow, spare arrangements built around double bass, piano, vibes and electronics. The result is more original and unusual, with a greater likelihood of appealing to rock and progressive listeners (although it’s still very much rooted in jazz). However, it’s mostly very eerie and minimalist, so those disliking avant-garde music will find little to enjoy. GRADE: C+.
Sound Of Feeling (USA): The Sound Of Feeling (No label R-2557, single-sided LP, 1971)
Alyce Andrece, Rhae Andrece
Only one copy is known of this single-sided demo album, which features a number of later recordings in a very different style. Much more accessible than their earlier work, this retains occasional jazz elements, but mostly offers funky rock or delicate ballad backing, sometimes with a heavier sound. It’s mostly excellent, and likely to appeal to those who struggle with their other recordings. Four of the seven songs later appeared on the Sunbeam Records compilation Up Into Silence, along with ‘Spring Rain’, a beautiful ballad from the same sessions that failed to make it onto the demo LP. GRADE: C+.
Sounds Of Brass Featuring Dennie Loren (South Africa): Live! Live! Live! (Continental SZB 8269, 1969)
Dennie Loren (joint lead vocals)
The band name might make you expect some kind of James Last exploitation fare, but this is actually rather good soulful rock with a loungy edge. Dennie Loren has an excellent voice and the instrumental backing is suitably slick and funky on fine versions of ‘Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye’, ‘I (Who Have Nothing)’, ‘Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In’, ‘Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight’ and especially a superb version of ‘Nothing But A Heartache’. In fact, this is better than most of the more sought-after American lounge private pressings. Despite the triple assertion of the title, I question whether this was actually recorded live: the applause certainly sounds overdubbed (and not particularly carefully). As a footnote, two members of the band later went on to work with the post-Mellow Candle outfit Flibbertigibbet. GRADE: C+.
Sounds Of Salvation (UK): Sounds Of Salvation (Reflection RL 310, with booklet, 1974)
Gill Adams (joint lead vocals), Carol Gledhill (joint lead vocals, recorder), Rita Aldington (percussion)
Eschewing the praise-the-Lord format favoured by so many Christian albums, this LP opens with a lengthy and bizarre sound collage, which ends with the sound of glass breaking, before segueing into ‘Overseers’, a manic piece of heavy psychedelic rock with screaming fuzz guitar leads. The album never reaches the same level of intensity again, but remains consistently interesting throughout, with a very eerie and stoned atmosphere. A cover of Country Joe & The Fish’s ‘Who Am I?’ gives a fair indication as to the band’s influences. GRADE: B–.
Sounds Of Synanon & The Synanon Choir (USA): The Prince Of Peace (Epic BN 26475, 1969)
The subtitle ‘a rock-jazz cantata’ adequately describes this complex and ambitious album, which is definitely worth hearing. Apparently, Synanon was ‘a re-education community… founded in 1958, it provides an answer for people for people who seek a more fulfilling way of life – and find it in Synanon’s totally integrated, non-violent and drug-free community’. Other recordings had previously been issued under the same name. GRADE: C+.
Sourdeline (France): La Reine Blanche (Discovale WM 03, 1976)
Catherine Burban (joint lead vocals, percussion, dulcimer, psaltery), Pascale Piat (violin)
Whilst this French folk LP is firmly traditional and all-acoustic, the droning vocals and exotic instrumentation (including tablas, dulcimers, psalteries, mandocello and crumhorn) place it firmly in the acid-folk camp. Sourdeline’s music could be regarded as an acoustic sidestep from Malicorne or a Gallic twist on early Pentangle, and with its crystalline atmospheres and early music edges makes for delightful listening. GRADE: B–.
Sourdeline (France): Jeanne d’Aymé (Discovale WM 22, 1978)
Catherine Burban (joint lead vocals, spinet, dulcimer, psaltery)
Their second album adds electric guitar leads and heavier percussion, moving the feel of the music slightly closer to rock and significantly strengthening the psychedelic dimension. This time round, one side is all-traditional and the other is self-penned (with the sides oddly reversed on the CD reissue, at the band’s request); both are excellent and easily the equal of their first. GRADE: B–.
Sourdeline (France): Sourdeline And Friends (Reverb Worship RW 261, CDR, with minisleeve and insert, UK, 2014)
Catherine Burban (joint lead vocals, dulcimer, psaltery), Margaret Ayre (occasional vocals, guitar, cello)
The reissues of La Reine Blanche and Jeanne d’Aymé prompted the nucleus of Sourdeline to come out of retirement after more than 35 years. Aided by a number of ‘Friends’ (including Fern Knight’s Margaret Ayre, who appears on three out of eight songs) they returned with an album that was true to their seventies style. In fact, this could be their best album, though there’s not much in it. GRADE: B.
See also Difference Engine, Hare & The Moon/Futur Passé, Fern Knight
Sourvein (USA): Sourvein (Game Two GT 15, CD, 2000)
Liz Buckingham (guitar)
Falling somewhere between doom metal, stoner rock and grunge, the music here is wonderfully stripped-down and swampy. For sure, they’re one-trick ponies, and the metalcore-style vocals (which also recall Lemmy Kilmister) don’t do much for me, but this is admirably single-minded and uncompromising stuff. GRADE: C+.
Sourvein (USA): Will To Mangle (Southern Lord sunn20, CD, 2002)
Liz Buckingham (guitar)
Like their first, this is impressive in small doses, but they don’t vary their formula across the album’s length, making it rather one-dimensional. Nonetheless this is undeniably fine sludge metal and probably a bit of a step up from its predecessor. GRADE: C+.
See also Electric Wizard
South Side Senior High School (USA): Context 70 (No label, 1970)
Eileen Laasko (occasional vocals, guitar, bass), Sue Sugerman (occasional vocals), Sue McCormick (occasional vocals, guitar), Diana Landes (piano), Jane Seidenberg (organ), Mary-Rita Clare (drums)
This extremely rare college project LP is much more interesting than most in the genre due to its sheer diversity. The music ranges from jugband sounds through singer/songwriter fare to avant-garde classical music, weird experimental psychedelia, electronic effects, performance poetry and a great garage rock number by an all-female trio called Adam’s Rib. The end result is completely incoherent, constantly unpredictable and largely fascinating. GRADE: C+.
Southern Contemporary Rock Assembly (Australia): SCRA (M7 LW-3312, 1971)
Sheryl Black (joint lead vocals)
The band name might lead you to expect progressive rock, but this is nothing of the kind. This is one of those early seventies albums that throws all kinds of musical elements into the mix, but their two principal influences were sixties pop and more contemporary bluesy rock. If that sounds like an odd blend of styles, it is, and whilst this is well composed and performed there are no truly outstanding songs on offer. GRADE: C.
Southern Contemporary Rock Assembly (Australia): The Ship Album (Atlantic SD 1002, 1972)
Sheryl Black (joint lead vocals)
Whilst not a million miles removed from their debut, this second and final LP is a bit jazzier and integrates the blues/rock and (less prominent) pop elements rather better. The closing ten-minute ‘Something Like The Feeling’ stretches out nicely, with some good instrumental sections, but while far stronger than its predecessor this still isn’t a particularly memorable album. GRADE: C+.
Soyol-Erdene (Mongolia): Soyol-Erdene (Melodiya C90-15961-2, 1981)
This long-running Mongolian band’s sole album is now a very rare and expensive collectors’ item. Musically, it’s quite oddball, offering soft, slightly MOR pop with a dreamy feel and some symphonic edges plus rather a lot of fuzz guitar. The end results are interesting, distinctive and very enjoyable. GRADE: C+.
Soyol-Erdene (Mongolia): 1971-1993 – Golden Collection (No label, double CD, with DVD case and booklet, 2000)
This compilation of the groundbreaking Mongolian band features wide-ranging material spanning more than 20 years (including three of the nine tracks from their 1981 LP). Their stock-in-trade was the kind of weird, slightly folky, off-kilter pop that characterised many Eastern Bloc acts, with a haunting, psychedelic atmosphere and quite a bit of fuzz guitar. However, the set takes in everything from mainstream pop and borderline MOR through to pretty good hard rock and lightweight metal. GRADE: C+.