The Raven on the Strawberry Path

Merry Christmas to everybody, and a happy New Year!

Fir albums

These are not Christmas presents as one might suspect. Rather, they are Christmas tree decorations.

It’s been a while since I’ve written a blog post — again. I was busy, really busy indeed. In comparison to my usual workload at the university, I ended up doing 1.5x the courses I usually do. But it was fun, certainly. I even got to teach kids as part of my pedagogical studies.

However, lots of stuff happened in music as well. I began to spend my money on CDs. I have a growing collection of around 20 albums now. It’s an undescribable feeling, when you own music. CDs give music a material form, something to grab with you, something to look at, album art, lyrics, descriptions, labels, credits. It’s like collecting ancient treasure.

I partially feel like I have lost to all the copyright companies that shut down grooveshark. After all, here I am buying music, and that’s exactly what they want. If they only knew they wouldn’t even get a dime out of me if not for my musical education on grooveshark, in a brilliant community together with all other marvellous people. They have no idea.

But I don’t care about that now. My own enjoyment is what matters more. What I do respect however is the work of those clerks at the record store. How they manage to categorise all the discs and listen to the endless requests of the customers that all sound so obscenely similar. I say, I’ve been observing.

The record store I’ve been frequenting, Keltainen Jäänsärkijä. I used the picture from their website — with their blessings, I hope.

A record store is a temple of music really. A gallery of album covers and mysteries of what lies inside the box. It’s a place where a man can seclude himself in his own thoughts and breathe in the magestic air of thousands and thousands of hours these musicians have spent to shape their feelings into music. And once in a while, pretty often even, at the “oldies” department you come across an old friend of an album and you smile. “How do you do”, you ask, and it replies to you, with a similar smile: “I’m as great as ever pal. You should drop by for dinner sometime.”

Linda Hoyle — Pieces of Me

You can click on the pics to enlarge them.

And at times, you meet a long lost one, a distant, forgotten traveller, a rare bird at that. In your early years you might have exchanged some of those passionate glances at each other and felt the pleasant tention in your silent conversations, but your paths walked side by side never crossing each other, and both of you went your own ways before too long. But this time, you meet her in person again, and in a moment of bliss you hug each other by reflex and recall all the past moments you had. And she still looks beautiful after all these years.

Some days, as you continue walking around, you bump into a stranger. You apologise in a discreet manner, when you are suddenly captivated by the depth in his eyes. It feels like a gamble, but you go out of your way offer him a drink, and since the moment you walk out of the store, for that very night you become the best buddies; there’s so much you want to know, and he has lots of unique wisdom to give. He offers you a drink back, and it turns out he lives in a close neighbourhood and would love to have another chat soon. You promise to come and visit him often. And this time you know your promise is going to hold.

All these encounters I’ve had in these three months alone, pleasant, charming, to be remembered forever.Pieces of Me

It is perhaps needless to say that my regular stops at the record temple began since I had made up my mind on buying the new Linda Hoyle record (read my post about that here). It was the first time I felt like I wanted to support an artist. It’s amazing how one album might change your life like this, isn’t it? It’s beyond music already — it’s not like The Fetch was any close to the best albums I’ve had to listen. However, it was Linda‘s power, the undying hope and the connection with the past that I felt from it, all feelings that I treasure a lot now. Spectacular, I say.

My first visit to the temple wasn’t quite yet successful, as I couldn’t find that particular album in the store. However, there was a label named Affinity/Linda Hoyle with two albums under it. They knew who she was, I thought! And her first solo album was there too. So I bought it, Pieces of Me.

While I was at it, I asked the clerks for her latest album. They didn’t even seem to have heard about it before. I felt very important for a while, as a harbinger of news, a boy in his prime whose knowledge finally exceeded that of wise old priests and surprised them as they wrote the name of the album down on some tiny piece of paper, which one of them produced from behind a vinyl pile.

Fir the FetchFor now, however, I had to retreat from the battlefield — with a trophey alright, yet not the main goal still. But the pleasure was already there, as I listened to the album one time after another, each time finding new things from the CD and from inside myself. The whole treasure was there for me to exploit, to touch it, to feel it, to see it, to hear it.

One month later, I dropped by the store again. I didn’t even have the intention to buy anything, but when my gaze did behold Linda’s latest album! — brand and new — oh! How grand was my own surprisement, how majestic my excitement, how immeasurable my amusement. I had changed the world, and there it was for me to claim — and I grabbed it with my palm, payed my respects and marched out of the sacred temple, proud and victorious, yet most thankful. If only all people would listen to requests like these gentle priests do in their domain.

The FetchNow what about those strangers I met? Here’s one that I got acquainted with just a week before Christmas. I was searching through old used records, literally recognising each and every album, when suddenly, a raven hit my eye. Most puzzled, I pulled out the CD case and examined it. When the Raven has come to the Earth. The cover, it mesmerised me and called for me. The band’s name? Strawberry Path. Neverheard.

I made a quick search on the Internet for the band, but found nothing sufficient. And then I made up my mind — I shall have it. Actually, I had already made my decision as soon as I saw the cover and was simply gathering courage for it. This is how people treated music back in the 70s, it seemed to me. If the record looked interesting — they bought it. It feels ungraspable now, but bands like Caravan, Uriah Heep, Pink Floyd — all started as no-name bands. There was no Internet to explore the bands beforehand. You had to take a chance and have your mind blown after. Which most certainly happened with Strawberry Path.

Fir StrawberryTurns out, it was a Japanese band. And boy did the Japanese know how to make good music at the time. Somewhat similar to German krautrock, they incorporated the features of the hard rock and prog rock wave and made them their own. Bands came out of nowhere and vanished a couple of records later back to wherever they came from. Japanese rock scene from the 70s is full of riddles.

As I walked back out the store, I didn’t have a bag to carry the CD in, so I put it in my pocket — and I have a habit of keepin my hands in the pockets as I walk, especially during winter. This way I was continuously reminded of the disc and trembled with excitement the whole way home, which happened to be a particularly long one. The desire to find out what was on the disc was tormenting, yet spectacular. And after all this suspension, I finally got to throw myself back on the couch, put the disc in and listen to it, indulge into the pleasant realm of music and to realise it was good, almost too good; all this was quite something. That happened around 2 am.Strawberry Path

I never suspected the disc to be so good. There were hints of Hendrix in the guitar, driving chords and swift melodies. Woman called Yellow “Z” worked great with its heavy riff, but it wasn’t until the drumming tsunami of Spherical Illusion that I got blown away. The next morning I put the disc right in again and tuned up the volume. The party continued and my enjoyment was reassured as I understood that the disc was more than just the sum of its parts. I had found a new friend.

This concludes the tale about some of my best music-related experiences this autumn. Yet this is just the beginning — I’ll continue paying my visits to the temple and find new targets of worship. Moreover, since I do have those bought records in my shelf now, it would be odd not to provide some reviews on them. As a farewell Christmas/New Year gift, I leave you with the Strawberry Path song below, which I would urge you to listen in its entirety. So long, and until we meet again!

Strawberry PathWhen the Raven has come to the Earth
★★★★☆

Exploring the band further on progarchives.com, it seems like it is classified as progressive rock. I wouldn’t really agree — this album is pure rock, with some very imaginative passages nevertheless. Though one year later, this band grew into Flied Egg, indeed a prog band, one that I’ve heard of too. This could be the reason why some people might regard Strawberry Path as a prog band.

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Linda Hoyle and her first album in 44 years

Linda Hoyle — The Fetch
★★☆

Do you remember the band Affinity and their only album released in the 1970?

Linda Hoyle sang on that wonderful album, and their music sounds like The Zombies stepping out from their sunshine psychedelia towards mellow, jazzy prog. The band sadly disbanded while they were recording their second album, leaving behind such classics as their 7-minute wonderland visit called Night Flight and their 11-minute cover of All Along The Watchtower.

Below is their cover of Eli’s Coming (originally sung by Laura Nyro and covered by Three Dogs Night)

One year later in 1971 Linda released an album of her own called Pieces of Me. This album is a very personal exclamation, in which Linda unleashes her strong feminist side. Each song is a statement, such as Hymn to Valerie Solanas especially (read more about Valerie Solanas and her relationship to Andy Warhol here) and once I discovered the album, it immediately became one of my favourites. Compared to the sweet prog Affinity had, this album has some unusually rough and heavy material. Black Crow is paying tribute to Beatles‘ Hey Bulldog and the featured song of the album Pieces of Me is one of the heaviest pieces (pieces of me are so heavy!) yet released at the time, while still preserving its somewhat jazzy structure.

The opening track to Linda‘s solo album, Backlash Blues:

Now, that was to remain Linda‘s last release for 44 years, which is a real shame, since she has such a marvellous voice, said by some to be a crossover of Grace Slick‘s grace with the power of Janis Joplin.

But then!

Suddenly, while I was discussing Affinity on one of the prog forums and bringing up Linda Hoyle‘s solo production, I couldn’t help but notice that a new album was released — in August of 2015, just one month ago!

That was an even stronger surprise than seeing Robert Plant perform on stage in Pori Jazz. I had to immediately have a listen to the album, and so I did. Even if just for a while, it felt like I was living in the 70’s! It was not just a fantasy anymore — all the music that was made then, all the artists, they suddenly became a reality. And I was a part of that reality.

The opening track The Fetch from the album The Fetch:

Let’s not bring up that Linda‘s new album The Fetch wasn’t really that good. Most of the songs were not interesting musically, rather resembling Christmas carols concentrating on the quality her voice — which had lost quite a bit of its shine due to the years. Yet there were a couple of very good, proggy songs, and the voice was good enough to clearly hear that it’s still her singing, Linda Hoyle, in person, true to her style! Some of the lyrics also had some of that feminism left in them (even the word “fuck” was heard, quite abruptly so amidst a relaxing, jazzy piece), and the first song of the album is pleasingly different from all the prog I’ve heard until now. I just hoped that the whole album would be just like its first piece, however this album gave me more than just music. It gave me new feelings, just like Hoyle‘s first solo album. “Affinity fans spanning generations will surely be overjoyed. It’s as if Linda never left…”, Tom Semioli writes in Huffington Post.

An interview with Linda Hoyle promoting her new album:

What is more, Linda states in the interview above that she’s writing “a lot, so much that I have to restrain myself” and that she’s already working on her next album. This is surely happy news for anyone respecting her style.

I’m considering writing her a fan letter, there is a whole lot that I would like to convey. I also think I’ll drop by the store today and see if I can find either a copy of The Fetch or Pieces of MeAffinity will also do.

p.s.

By the way, do you have any idea who is responsible for the album cover art of The Fetch? That’s right, it’s Roger Dean himself! The person who’s famous for painting the surreal album covers of Yes and a great deal of other prog bands. Just another little thing that was done right for Linda‘s album.

Electric Light Orchestra – Electric Light Orchestra (album)

Electric Light OrchestraElectric Light Orchestra (album)
★★★★

(known as No Answer in US)

Somehow I’ve been avoiding ELO albums until now, and I’ve been missing a lot! Their first record is full of creative and experimental pieces that are at least as good as any of their popular stuff. As an album it was somewhat rough, but a pleasantly different experience that expanded my understanding of music.

Even though I was already familiar with the 1st Movement instrumental, which I hold in high regard, my favourite piece ended up being the classical-sounding Battle of Marston Moor (July 2nd 1644). Enjoy!

Cleves — The Cleves [1970]

ClevesThe Cleves [1970]
★★★☆

Been a while since I last wrote a review. This album is claimed to be prog rock by multiple sources (Youtube & Allmusic), and when I couldn’t find the album on progarchives.com, the mother of all progsites, my interest grew. Moreover, the band turned out to be Australian, and there was nothing Australian that could come to my mind except for AC/DC. That’s when I knew I had to fix this gap in my knowledge, and fix it quick.

As it turned out, the only album by Cleves wasn’t anywhere near prog, although they obviously have a certain twist in how they groove. The Cleves is a pleasant mix of psychedelic rock and heavy-going solo jams, resembling somewhat the style of Argent. The steady beat on the background seems to unite the whole album. A nice listen, but nothing too special.

Below is the third song from their LP, Keep Trying, which I consider to be the highlight of the album.

Unnkerr Swéghléoðras: Part 1 — Distant Melodies

So Grooveshark was shut down two weeks ago on Friday, forever. Together with its playlists, databases and broadcasts. I still haven’t completely gotten over it. Yet my knowledge and passion for music remains—so I thought I might employ a similar tactic to Rich Aftersabbath and release my own one hour mixes of songs from different artists. Rich has done a great job of compiling rare heavy psych, yet it doesn’t always need to be rare, heavy or psych, does it?

This first release is called Distant Melodies and consists solely of progressive material. For now, the medium I’m using is Youtube, perhaps later I’ll change to something better. I’ve tried to choose best quality I could find. Enjoy!

Unnkerr Swéghléoðras: Part 1 — Distant Melodies

Track listing:

  1. Weed — My Dream
  2. Yes — Then
  3. Starcastle — Diamond Song (Deep is the Light)
  4. Julian Jay Savarin — Child of the Night
  5. Emerson Lake & Palmer — In the Beginning
  6. Jade Warrior — Lady of the Lake
  7. Camel — La Princesse Perdue
  8. Greenslade — Sundance
  9. Caravan — But Where for the Caravan Would I?
  10. Premiata Forneria Marconi — Impressioni di Settembre

Play time: 1h 3min 34s

If you have a moment to spare, I would love to hear your thoughts on this project. Thanks!

 

Next release: Unnkerr Swéghléoðras: Part 2 — The Dark Book of Love

Album Saturday? — Rush Hour, part 2

I was really tempted to write “Rush Hour, part 3” and leave you all wondering where did the part 2 go. But then I figured that would be too cruel. Anyway, let’s Rush it down!

It’s been a while since I last visited the 80’s decade when listening to music, because that’s when the music got towards unbearable with all those electronics and other mindless crap. Of course there are exceptions like that of Tom Waits, but not everybody knows him. So far, Rush is a popular rock band that I tend to like. Let’s see if they’re going to break that 80’s boundary for me, since Hemispheres was their last 70’s album.

Rush — Permanent Waves
★★☆

Well, what can I say… I don’t know if it’s just me, but did Rush turn towards pop rock right as the 80’s have begun? Because the Spirit of the Radio, the first track of the Permanent Waves was and is the ultimate Rush hit. And you can hear that they aimed for it to become one. Shortish solos and many elements cramped together, not what I was seeking after Hemispheres. The next track on the album, Freewill feels rotten inside as well. It features a guitar solo that is going overboard, and the catch line “I will choose free will” doesn’t even feel genuine. Jacob’s Ladder, on the other hand, gets Rush back on track, even if it doesn’t beat the previous epics they had made, and the track feels very empty and unfinished. Same thing can be said about Entre Nous, the slightly Different Strings, and even the 9 minute long Natural Science. Did they lose all their imagination? At least they’re losing all that credibility they’ve managed to attain from 2112 through A Farewell to Kings to Hemispheres. This was their weakest album so far.

Rush — Moving Pictures
★★★☆

Moving on to the Moving Pictures, supposedly their best album, if one can judge by the ratings on progarchives.com. First thing I notice is the simple beat on background of Tom Sawyer, and the whole album features poor and simplistic drumming. Yet Rush seem to regain some of their complexity they had lost in their previous album. Red Barchetta features a couple of tasty riffs, failing to achieve anything special nevertheless. The third, instrumental track named YYZ is perhaps the best one on the album and it gets points for feeling quite different from their other stuff, but it doesn’t beat La Villa Strangiato. Limelight isn’t even worth discussing, whereas I tended to enjoy The Camera Eye in spite of most of it being built on solely two chords. The Witch Hunt would be a decent addition to a Halloween playlist, and Vital Signs sounded like a song made by The Police (an indication of all that is boring, so I’ve been told). Not quite what I was expecting from their best rated album.

Rush — Signals
★★★

As if this progression wasn’t evident before, Rush have gone fully pop in this album, which was a sad, final blow to my heart (will I be able to survive?) Although in the end, since all the songs sounded pretty much the same and the sound was quite full to my surprise, it was quite an enjoyable album because of its consistency. The album had some Chemistry of a kind that kept the songs together. Digital Man even featured a nice kind of solo. And the 80’s electronics weren’t that bad, but I wish they had experimented more with that style. Yet shifting from an accomplished prog band to some second-grade background music is not the right way to go…

Rush — Grace Under Pressure
★★☆

Why to invent more, when it sounds all mighty and powerful with a basic beat and an appregiator like in the Red Sector A? Spice it up with some seemingly meaningful and touching lyrics, a lame guitar solo, and the job is done. There are still some nice parts shining through, like the sync between the drums and the guitar picks in The Enemy Within, but the whole picture lets me down. What should I call it… Progressive pop? Even Starcastle were more creative when they went pop in their third album. I’ve had enough of this kind of Rush.

 

To sum up, this day was a grand disappointment. I made a right decision to stop at Hemispheres on Saturday. All the motivation to listen to the Rush albums that I had acquired has gone now. It might just be that I won’t be rushing on with the part III of the Rush Hour saga.

Read the reviews on first 6 Rush albums here.

Amon Düül II — Carnival in Babylon ; Premiata Forneria Marconi — Per un amico

Amon Düül IICarnival in Babylon
★★★★☆

This album by Amon Düül II is extremely underrated. The only reason I can think of is that this band’s fan base grew too accustomed to their crazy music. Amon Düül II are a krautrock band that is well known from their surrealistic themes and a very distinctive, experimental style. Their music often feels to be completely out of this world — but less so in this album (yet still very much out of this world). In spite of all the listeners’ expectations, Carnival in Babylon contains music that is harmonic, coherent and understandable.  This eccentric team has proven here, that they can make “normal” compositions which sound full and entertaining, yet are easier and more pleasant to the ear (if only you forget about the awkward voice of their male singer, the only reason why this album hasn’t scored full points). And there isn’t anything wrong with sounding pleasant — I had a wonderful, blissful time listening to this pack of joy.

 

Premiata Forneria MarconiPer un amico
★★★★

On the other hand, I was a little surprised to find that Per un amico, the second album by Premiata Forneria Marconi is considered to be a classic in the Prog Rock world (#15 on progarchives.com). Even on Allmusic, a full mark was given by most of the listeners. And I can partly agree with that, since there are some pretty amazing parts on this album, like the bestowing beginning of the first track Appena un ‘po, which to my disappointment worsened along the way. The follow-up Generale doesn’t fuse together with the previous track and disturbs the listening experience. Il Banchetto is quite good, and sounds like something Emerson, Lake and Palmer would make, but lesser. When I was listening to that track, I kept imagining all the different passages that felt as if they were left out. The album ends, however, with the brilliant Geranio, in which the alterations in the volume level become a significant part of the melody. Therefore don’t get the wrong impression: 4 stars is still a very high score, and Per un amico is an album definitely worth listening to. But in my opinion it just doesn’t stand among the best there is.