Jaugernaut (a.d.) – Contra-Mantra

Jaugernaut (ad) - Contra-Mantra

More info: www.jaugernaut.com

Verdict (Rating): Pomptastic return (85%)

Jaugernaut date back to 1980. They released two albums back in the 80’s (Jaugernaut & Take Em There), but eventually split in 1986. Then in 1999 one of the band members, Jim Johnston (who had joined in 1982), was contacted via email by someone interested in finding out if he was the Jim Johnston who had been a member of Jaugernaut. Jim discovered that was still interest in the band’s albums. Jim re-released the second album with a few bonus tracks from his own recordings. Jim was then interested in getting the band back together to release a third Jaugernaut album, but his former band mates didn’t share his enthusiasm.

So we have Jaugernaut (a.d.) which is effectively a Jim Johnston solo record, albeit one that continues the legacy from the first phase of the band. Jim’s original idea was to release a 90 minute double album, but in the end he has split the release over two albums. Contra-Mantra is the first part of that double album.

Right at the start of “Anthem” there are some modern drum/synth soundx which trick the listener into thinking that this album is coming from somewhere completely different when all of a sudden the 80’s AOR style synths swirl into action. This track is a mixture of Rush, Saga and Harlan Cage with possibly some neo-classical progressive rock in there as well. The electronic sounds again ‘blip’ an introduction to “The Damage Is Done” which has an AOR-Prog feel (Rush meets 90125-era Yes). “Better Living Thru Anarchy” continues the theme.

The centre piece and central track of the album is “The Hard Way” which weaves it’s way around a Saga meets Styx backbone. The album’s Pomp feel then gets put aside for the straight ahead (Foreigner/Aerosmith) bluesy rock of “Vanity” and the rockin’ “A Different World”. “All I See Is Gray” closes the album with a power ballad that reminded me of Brad Love.

I’m a sucker for anything to do with 80’s music and Contra-Mantra is no exception. The surprising element I found about this album was the fact that despite the retro nature of the actual music it came across as feeling fresh. I haven’t heard the first two albums, but I’m guessing that this one continues the series in fine fashion and now we’ve got the second half of that double album to look forward to.

Nil – Nil Novo Sub Sole

Nil - Nil Novo Sub Sole

Verdict (Rating): Charming New Age Symphonic Rock (87%)

More Info: www.unicornrecords.com , www.nilweb.com

This is the band’s fourth album and sees the French symphonic progressive band add singer Roselyne Berthet as a full member and making full use of her voice. The other members are Samuel Maurin (bass), Benjamin Croizy (keyboards) and  Frank Niebel (drums).

Of all the Unicorn CD’s submitted for review recently, this is the one that I thought I would have most problems relating to. In fact, the CD has ‘charmed’ it’s way into my affections.

Opener “Le Gardien” has an eerie atmospheric start with the vocals wafting in as if upon a mist, before the synth swirls and the song takes on a King Crimson rhythmical quality. I also detected echos of Enya’s pseudo-classical composition in here. In fact, this 20 minute track veers off in many directions that include elements of Pink Floyd and Led Zep. As a contrast “Linceul” is a short (4min!) ethereal ballad.

“Deregeneration” steers more of a traditional prog path ala Pink Floyd, but does add some good ethereal vocals to the mix later on. King Crimson are again a reference point for “198”, but mixing in symphonic overtones

“Abandon” begins with some smoky  French jazz before transforming into a more traditional prog rock. “Derives” is a King Crimson style playout for the CD.

I think Unicorn are onto a winner here and I could imagine this eventually competing with Hamadryad as the label’s best selling record.

Ring Of Myth – Weeds

Ring Of Myth - Weed

Verdict (Rating): Too left field for me (60%)

More Info: www.ringofmyth.com, www.unicornrecords.com

Ring of Myth are an American progressive rock trio consisting of Danny Flores on vocals/bass/guitars/keyboards, George Picado on guitars and Scott Rader on drums/percussion/keyboards and vocals. The band have previously released an album called “Unbound” on the Kinesis label in 1996. This new album sees a move to Unicorn Records and also the return of original drummer Scott Rader back into the band.

Doing some research for the review it seems like on “Unbound” the band’s sound was a marriage of Yes, Rush and Genesis. I guess any progressive rock trio is going to be compared to Rush at some point in their career.

Listening to “Weeds” I can hear the Yes and Rush influences, but as the band say themselves this album represents a move towards “a more experimental, cacophonous, left field, anything-sort-of-goes mode”. One of the reasons that Yes are always going to the reference point for the bands are vocals of Danny which bear a noticeable resemblance to Jon Anderson albeit without reaching the same heights as Jon. In their early days the band were called Catfish after the Jimi Hendrix song “Catfish Blues” and I can, at least I think I can, hear a Hendrix influence behind their more ‘cacophonous’ sound.

I seem to be getting really picky when it comes to vocals recently. Although I can’t quite put my finger on why, I found Danny’s vocals slightly annoying, maybe because I kept on thinking of them as a below par tribute to Yes vocalist Jon Anderson. Not really fair as I should be evaluating them on their own merits, but then who said life was fair…. In fact, I got the impression that the whole ‘new experimental’ approach being taken by the band was an attempt to stop the Yes comparisons which I’m sure followed their first album. In general, the discordant/cacophonous style didn’t work for me and after listening to the album, I was left wishing the band has taken a more mainstream approach.

Talisma – Chromium

Talisma - Chromium

Verdict (& Rating): Disjointed listening experience (60%)

More Info: www.unicorndigital.com

This is Talisma’s second recording for Unicorn Records. Talisma is a Canadian trio consisting of  Donald Fleurent (BASS/SYNTH GUITAR/KEYBOARDS), Martin Vanier (GUITARS/SYNTH GUITAR/12 STRING GUITAR), Mark DiClaudio (DRUMS).

This is an instrumental album that offers the listener a series of relatively short musical interludes. The closest comparison I can think of is King Crimson, with perhaps a touch of Al Di Meola for the quieter guitar based moments. The shortness of the tracks and the somewhat repetitive nature of some of them give the effect of a musical scrapbook of ideas waiting to be transformed into proper songs at a later date. Quite often just as you are ‘getting into’ a track it stops and the next one starts, making for a disjointed listening experience.

One or two of the tracks, such as Chromium and Cumulus, did stand out as being more listenable, but overall this is a challenge for the listener to stay the course.

Julian Garner – Your Good Self

Julian Garner - Your Good Self

Verdict (& Rating): Prog meets adult pop  (65%)

More Info: http://www.renrag.co.uk/

Julian’s solo recording career goes back to 1999 and “Wake The Lion”. “Doublethink” followed in 2001 and a instrumental release called “Flowdown” in 2002. “Your Good Self” is his most recent release.

Describing Julian’s music isn’t something you can really do adequately in one or two sentences. For example, his list of influences includes XTC, Squeeze, It Bites, Joe Jackson, King Crimson, Radiohead, Rush, Sting and Yes. The result of these influences is a style that mixes English adult pop with prog.

In fact, the most obvious prog elements are tagged at the beginning and end of the album with 12 min and 8 min tracks. In the middle the English adult pop dominates. I have to admit enjoying the odd snippet of Squeeze or XTC on the radio, but I’ve never quite liked them enough to spend cold hard cash on their efforts. Julian’s interpretation of the genre is one that almost, but not quite, works for me. It is mainly Julian’s voice that I have problems with – it’s ‘reedy’ (I don’t know what it means either, it just seems like a good description) quality starts to bug me after a while. I’m reminded of Alan Whittaker where it took a collaboration with another singer (Sally Rivers) to bring out the best in his music. Putting the vocals to one side, the other elments such as songwrting, playing and lyrics all seem to he heading in the right direction and get a thumbs up from me.

Given my apathy towards the intelligent adult pop of XTC, Squeeze, Sting and Co, maybe I’m not the best person to be passing comment. It seems to me that there is potential here, but it isn’t quite being realised. XTC or Squeeze fans may get more mileage out of this than I did.

Pedestrians Of Blue – The Second Monologue

Pedestrians Of Blue - The Second Monologue

Verdict (Rating %): Another effective showcase for a promising act. (90%)

More Info: http://www.pedestriansofblue.com/

POB debut EP “Circles Of Butterflies” received a very positive review at Mood Swings back in 2002. I expected an album to follow. The project seemed to falter and it wasn’t until 2004 when founder members Johannes Stole and guitar player Torfinn Sirnes, hooked up with bass player Rudolf Fredly and drummer/producer Harald Levang, that the ball seemed to start rolling again.

POB play a mixture of AOR, hard rock and prog. Think of bands like Styx, Kansas and Saga fused with Metallica and Dream Theater.

“The Garden” develops into a classy melodic hard rock tune that serves as a great introduction to the band. Given the length of time since the last EP, it is perhaps a bit surprising the find a reworked version of “Father & Son” from that EP turning up again here. A good track that has been effectively enhanced this time out. “World Of Thing” starts of with a doom laden intro worthy of Black Sabbath. As it progresses, the verses are more laid back and the chorus is a catchy mixture of Kansas and Styx.

Once again POB have created a very effective showcase for the band’s talents. Their blend of AOR, hard rock and prog sounds fresh and modern. The band have a set of songs ready for their debut album. I hope this EP does the trick and persuades a record label to sign the band and release the debut.

In A Cage – In A Cage

In A Cage - In A Cage

Verdict: Musical reflection on the 70’s and 60’s (68%)

More Info: http://www.gama-music.com/in%20a%20cage.html

On one of the websites (http://www.soundclick.com/pro/default.cfm?BandID=378727) featuring their sound samples In a Cage describe their music as power/pop rock with a 70’s/80’s flair. In fact, the album is a, at times eclectic, mixture of mostly 70’s and some 80’s music with a 60’s influence mainly on the vocal harmonies. Whilst it might be tempting to describe this as progressive rock, pop-rock from a bygone era is perhaps more representative as the influences include City Boy, Queen, 10cc and Brian Protheroe, Beach Boys and The Beatles

“Fall On Your Knees” is a symphonic slightly discordant introduction to the album that comes across as mixture of The Enid, Queen and Alice Cooper. The vocals are very theatrical and it is easy to imagine a manic live performance of this track. In contrast “Closer To The Heart” is a dreamy ballad with some jangly guitars and 60’s style vocals and “Silent Serenade” continues the theme albeit with more a mid-tempo 80’s pop-rock feel and a touch of Beach Boys to the vocals.

“Man Or Machine” rocks it up a bit more sounding like Queensryche. “Rainbow Lake Of The North” is a 60’s style free-love track that if you want a Rainbow connection think of Ritchie’s recent liking for Medieval music. More straight forward is the chugging rhythm of 80’s style rocker “The Game”. Staying with the 80’s “So It Goes” starts off with a piano led vocal to mutate into a 80’s style pop-rock track.

“Perfect For Pleasure” is a slow 60’s influenced track with the more of those Beach Boy’s inspired vocals. There is a bit of funk on “The Hollow Servant” with an 80’s synth rock background. Back to the 70’s for the last couple of tracks – lightweight pop on “Bourne To Freedom” and glam pop-rock on “Dear World”.

This a bit of an ambitious project as it attempts to gel together music from a number of different eras. The focus on 60’s and 70’s pop meant that the backbone of the album fell just outside my personal ‘musical window’ which is more 80’s based. However the album represents an interesting take on the music from those decades.

Brunorock – Interaction

Brunorock - Interaction

More Info: www.brunorock.com

Verdict (Rating): Catchy & well executed melodic hard rock/pop (85%)

Brunorock is a solo project by ex Dark Sky and Nightpride singer Bruno Kraler. His previous solo album “X-Over” was reviewed at Mood Swings. His new album, “Interaction”, had been released on MTM and is boosted by help from guests such as Fredrik Bergh (Street Talk) & Rachel Bolan (Skid Row).

Whilst an impressive guest line-up is not always guarantee of success, in this case, they seem to have help Bruno step up a level. This is an improvement on “X-Over”.

There is more of straight ahead melodic hard rock sound to “Interaction” compared to “X-Over” which had distinct pop overtones. Having said all that, I’d pick Rick Springfield, who also mixed rock and pop, as a pretty good reference point.

The album is crammed full of catchy melodic hard rock tunes. The standard is good and consistent across the album. This makes picking out individual tracks for comment difficult, perhaps highlighting that the album needs a couple of really killer tracks to move it from the good to the great category. However, I’ll pick out “Pray For Rain” which has got an “early Duran Duran do AOR” feel, the rockin’ “Take The Trophy” and the catchy “Hard Working Day” as the pick of the bunch.

It the sort of album that I enjoy listening to when I want something catchy and not too demanding to listen to.

Sally Rivers & Alan Whittaker – Secret Life

Sally Rivers & Alan Whittaker - Secret Life

More info: http://www.broadjam.com/artists/artistindex.asp?artistID=9560

Verdict (Rating): Chill out music (75%)

Sally Rivers is an established session singer who has worked with The Rolling Stones, Frankie goes to Hollywood, Robert Palmer, New Order, Simply Red and Paul Simon. She is also a vocal coach. Alan Whittaker is a singer/songwriter whose influences include Crowded House, The Beatles, Peter Gabriel and Neil Finn. Two of his albums, Out Of This World and Top Of The World, have previously been reviewed at Mood Swings.

Alan’s previous work has been laid back pop rock. This style is one explored again here. However, this time Sally’s voice gives the material a lift and the overall effect is more pleasing. Sally has a soulful voice with a rock edge to it.

Title track and album opener, “Secret Life”, is a positive start that is continued throughout the album. The best tracks along the way are “Cold” (showcases Sally’s vocals well), “Nothing Changes” (builds into a sensitive ballad) , My Love (a simple ballad), Seven Days (a soulful mid-tempo track), Shallow Man (the album’s best track), In Your Eyes and Don’t Blame Me (good ballads) and Shades Of Green (closing instrumental).

I actually did most of my listening to this album prior to writing the review whilst on holiday in the south of France. It fitted in with the holiday atmosphere well.

Suns Of March – Bulletproof Heart EP

Suns Of March - Bulletproof Heart

More info:  http://www.sunsofmarch.com

Verdict (Rating): Successful fusion of Southern Rock and Alternative. (85%)

Suns of March are a bunch of 6 guys from Montgomery Alabama USA – Charles Smith (guitars & vocals), Eddie Wohlford (keyboards & vocals), Michael Wright (lead vocals, guitars & harmonica), Steve Stewart (drums), Tom Shrout (bass & vocals) and Zebulon Bowles (fiddles, mandolin & vocals).

Remember back in the 80’s when 38 Special blended AOR and Southern Rock to create a successful fusion? Well, Suns of March are attempting something similar in the 00’s by blending rock, southern rock, country and alternative. This EP is a taster for their album.

“Bulletproof Heart” blasts off the EP with an uptempo number that adds just enough alternative to the Southern Rock backbone to create a compelling start. “San Jose” displays more of a country flavour ala Steve Earle. “I Learned It From You” has good a singalong quality. “Sentimental Moonlight” shows that Suns of March can wimp it out with the best of them, sounding like a countrified version of GnR.

The purpose of any sampler is be an appetiser for the full album. This EP certainly does that. On the evidence presented here the album is well worth investigating.