Queen + Marc Martel?

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Marc Martel is an extremely gifted singer. I first became aware of him in 2011 by way of  an online Christian music forum. Someone mentioned a band named Downhere whose singer, Martel, sounded like Freddie Mercury. After listening to some songs on the band’s website I ordered one of their cds, Ending Is Beginning. Listening to the cd it is quite apparent that he is a very talented vocalist. However, within the context of Downhere he did not really sound like Freddie Mercury.  Despite this I still enjoyed the cd.

Fast forward a few months later to Martel’s online  audition for Roger Taylor’s official Queen tribute band The Queen Extravaganza. While watching his performance of Queen’s Someone To Love, it is extremely clear that Martel has the uncanny ability to sound like Freddie Mercury when he wants too. That video to date has over 11 million views! Martel has spent the last few years fronting The Queen Extravaganza.  He also found the time to launch his solo career. His first solo album, The Impersonator, is a diverse collection of upbeat pop and rock songs, I highly recommend it.

In the eyes of quite a few it makes perfect sense for Martel to front Queen.  I must say that I am a big fan of Queen + Paul Rodgers. The Cosmos Rock, the one studio album that they recorded together, is a great set of underrated songs. On paper this combination  should not have  worked, but it did.  Paul  Rodgers has been one of the best singers in rock music since the 1970’s and he’s only improved with age. His bluesy vocal stylings brought a different flavor to Queen’s music.

I am also a fan of Queen + Adam Lambert. In many ways Lambert was the perfect choice to front Queen after Paul Rodgers  moved on. The man has an absolutely amazing voice. His vocals on Queen’s Who Wants To Live Forever will give you chills.

Queen + Marc Martel?  That sounds like a winning formula. Not to take anything away from the great job that Adam Lambert  is currently  doing. But Marc Martel fronting Queen would sound so amazing.  In a perfect world Martel and Lambert could alternate tours fronting Queen.  I must say that Martel does have an edge over Lambert in one area.  I feel that Martel’s style  of songwriting would gel better with Queen, if they  ever decided to record some new music.  I know that is a big stretch, but as a fan I can dream. Perhaps, someday one day. In the meantime please watch the attached videos and enjoy a sample of what this very talented man is capable of.

Phil Collins: Passion

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One of my favorite attributes of Phil Collins is that the man sings with passion. From his early days in the mid 1970’s fronting Genesis too now that passion is ever present. His recent television appearance singing Another Day In Paradise is a great example. It is apparent that he is still recovering from his recent health issues and surgeries. His mobility seems limited and he looks a little rough around the edges. Dare I say that he looks a bit older than his 65 years. Vocally he has lost some of his range, but overall his distinctive voice is still there. The one thing that remains in full force is that passionate delivery. In some ways this makes up for what may be lacking.

I found myself watching this performance with a smile on my face, I couldn’t help it. Critics didn’t get it and many fans overlooked it. This man and his music have brought a lot of joy to a whole lot of people. I believe that a big reason for his success is his passion. The man loved to play drums and he sang about what he knew with passion and conviction. The song If Leaving Me Is Easy, from his first solo album Face Value, has got to be one of the greatest examples of pure, raw emotion ever recorded.

Whether he’s singing about Blue Girls, Carpet Crawlers or the dissolution of his first marriage the man sings with conviction and passion. Over the years he has chosen to use his own triumphs and tragedies to tell stories. Whether playing  drums or singing songs he has done so with great passion. I am quite pleased that he has chosen to continue to share his musical gifts with the world again.

Arrow Season Five

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Season five of Arrow is off to a very promising start. The show really needs to rebound from a very messy and disappointing season four.  The fourth season started off well with the introduction of Damien Darhk and ended with Team Arrow splintering after fighting off world-wide nuclear destruction. Just saying that latter part in regard to Arrow sounds rather silly, nuclear missiles and world-wide destruction?!?  What happened to the gritty street level Arrow of a few seasons ago?

Below are some of my thoughts on the early goings of season five. Beware there are some spoilers included.

Three episodes into Season Five and thus far I am quite satisfied. Some of the issues from season four seem to have been corrected. The show has returned to fighting crime on the streets of Star City. The action sequences, once among the best on television, are great again. As season four progressed the action become more and more lackluster, almost an afterthought. At times the action sequences looked like a bunch of grownups play fighting. And the final confrontation between Arrow and Damien Darhk was really rather lame and anticlimactic .

One of the shows most important characters since season one has been Thea Queen/Speedy. Last season there was far too much focus on her. As Speedy she never looked good in her mask. Willa Holland, the actress that portrays Thea, had a great stunt double. However Willa, as Speedy, was never really all that convincing to me as a warrior or a superhero. On the personal side, all of the over the top angst and drama surrounding the character grew old a long time ago. This season she is in a great place serving as Oliver’s chief of staff. For now she has retired as Speedy, a very good thing in my opinion.

Curtis Holt, one of the show’s recent additions, was on the verge of becoming the Jar Jar Binks of television. At times during season four he felt like a silly and unnecessary addition to the show. So far I am enjoying his slightly more serious demeanor as he prepares to join Team Arrow. However, if he left the show I would not miss the character at all. It would seem that he is here to stay, for now anyway. It appears to me that the show’s writers felt the need for a lighthearted and slightly airheaded character to replace Felicity Smoak. Felicity is still a huge part of the show, however her recent story arcs have turned her in a much more serious direction. The thing about Felicity is that when she was acting as comedic relief her character was far from annoying.  I wish that I could say the same about Curtis.

Speaking of Felicity Smoak, it is beyond me as to what the writers are thinking. They spent the latter half of season four turning Felicity, one of the most likable characters on television, into someone rather unlikable. So far in season five the ire that she displayed in season four is now replaced by criticism and sarcasm that she directs toward Olivier/Green Arrow.  There are occasional flashes of the old Felicity, in part due to her new SCPD boyfriend.  Let’s see how long this new relationship lasts.

Oliver’s flashback storylines have been a part of he show’s framework since the beginning.  The flashbacks serving to show us the events that transformed playboy Oliver Green into Arrow.  Seasons one through three told engrossing story’s about his time on the island, as well as In Hong Kong.  At this point I really would not miss Oliver’s flashback storylines. Last seasons flashbacks started off interesting, but became rather pointless as the season progressed. This season’s new flashback storyline is far more compelling and relevant, but I am not sure how much longer they can continue this aspect of the show.

An extremely pleasant surprise with the new season is a separate storyline for John Diggle. Diggle, like Thea, has been an important character on the show since the beginning. After leaving Team Arrow at the end of last season I was not sure if we would see him again. But this season introduces a new storyline for Diggle that looks to intersect with Green Arrow’s story arc. I would love to see him rejoin Team Arrow, along with the new recruits.

The other new additions to Team Arrow, along with Curtis, are Wildcat, the new Canary and the incredibly cool Ragman. Seeing Ragman was a nice surprise. A minor character in the comics, he makes a surprisingly smooth transition from the comic page to the television screen. I am not sure if he will be a permanent addition to Team Arrow, but I do want to see more of this character.

When Arrow first premiered in 2012 it quickly became one of my favorite shows on television. However the quality of the show has diminished as Team Arrow grew bigger and bigger. The bigger team brought less focus on Oliver/ Arrow, less compelling storylines for the supporting cast and a lighter tone to the show. With shows like The Flash and Supergirl the growing supporting casts have not lessened the quality of the storylines. Nor have they taken anyway the focus from the show’s main character. At times in season four Arrow felt like a co-star on his own show. The expanded supporting casts on The Flash and Supergirl made the shows better. I am hopeful that Arrow can follow suit, so far that seems to be the case in the early going of Season Five.

Kansas – The Prelude Implicit

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Kansas recently released their newest studio album The Prelude Implicit. The band’s last two fully original studio albums, 2000’s Somewhere To Nowhere and 1995’s Freaks Of Nature are tales  of two vastly different bands.    Somewhere To Nowhere is the band’s absolute worse album and Freaks Of Nature is one of their very best.

The Prelude Implicit is the first Kansas album to feature new singer Ronnie Platt. I was aware that the band had a new singer, but this is my first exposure to his vocals. The album also features long time members Phil Ehart on drums, Richard Williams on guitar and Billy Greer on bass. The lineup is completed by new members David Manion on keyboards and Zak Rizvi on guitar.   This new incarnation of Kansas makes an extremely positive argument for classic bands putting out new music. The Prelude Implicit is a fantastic album that sounds like classic Kansas, without sounding retro. The ten songs showcase excellent songwriting that combines the prog rock sounds that the band explored in the 1970’s with the more commercial rock sounds found on their releases from the 1980’s. 

The whole band sounds great, but there are a few standouts.  Ronnie Platt is the perfect middle ground between the band’s prior two singers, Steve Walsh and John Elefante. Those are some mighty big shoes to fill. Platt steps up to the microphone and he sings like a champion.

 Veteran violinist David Ragsdale is one of the biggest stars of the album. One of the things that sets Kansas apart, even from other prog bands, is the heavy use of violin in their music.  His violin is a huge part of what gives this release that classic Kansas sound.

The band’s long time drummer and founding member  Phil Ehart has always been a solid drummer. One of Ehart’s strengths has been his ability to play great without being to flashy or busy. He is a solid drummer who plays for the song and that is reflected throughout the new album.

I do have two rather minor criticisms.  The music is fantastic, however I do feel that the keyboards are downplayed somewhat in the mix.  The second issue is the cover art, it is just okay.  The illustration is decent, but I really do not care for the colors used.  Is it a bad cover?  No, but it will not go down in history as an example of excellent cover art.   As I said, minor criticisms.

If you are a fan of the great music of Kansas I would highly suggest that you get your hands on The Prelude Implicit. I have listened to this album steadily for the past three weeks.  I can honestly say that it is among my top five favorite Kansas albums.  Highly recommended!!!

Genesis 2016: The Outline Still Remains

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If you are a fan of the solo careers of the various members of Genesis than 2016 has been a very good year.

Steve Hackett recently finished his highly successful Acolyte to Wolflight/Genesis Revisited tour. He is currently recording his next album and next year he will hit the road to support it. Part of the new live show will be dedicated to celebrating the 40th anniversary of the classic Genesis album Wind and Wuthering.

This year Phil Collins has slowly emerged out of retirement with a few live performances. His autobiography, Not Dead Yet, is due to be released later this month. With each live performance he appears stronger and healthier. That is a very good thing to see.

Mike Rutherford is currently touring with Mike and the Mechanics. Their set list includes some new songs that I can only assume are going to appear on the next Mechanics album scheduled to be released next year.

Peter Gabriel recently finished a large co-heading tour with Sting. He also released two new singles this year, I’m Amazing and The Veil.

What a great year, so far, but one member of the band is noticeably absent. Tony Banks where are you? We know that he is alive and well but he is keeping a very low profile. His only recent activity has been the release of older material. 2015 saw the release of his career spanning box set A Chord Too Far as well as remastered reissues of two of his solo albums, A Curious Feeling and The Fugitive. If you are not familiar with Tony’s solo music I would highly recommend purchasing the boxset. But where is the new music?

The extended members of the Genesis family have been active throughout 2016 as well. Anthony Phillips, Ray Wilson, Daryl Stuermer and Chester Thompson all continue to be involved in studio recordings and/or live shows.

All of this activity makes Tony’s silence that much louder. I do not mean to harp on Tony, but I am a huge fan of his rock solo albums. His two classical albums leave me a bit cold, but at least they contain new music. His last release of new music was in 2012, that’s a bit too long for me. I find it curious that he has chosen to remain so still. It feels like he wants to be incognito, as if he is a fugitive on the run from a music studio. I know that his solo career did not help his bank statement, but I sure would love to hear some new music from Mr Banks in 2017.

Thus far, Tony Banks’ absence aside, 2016 has been quite a productive year from the Genesis camp.  2017 looks to be more of the same.  In my opinion the odds of a Genesis reunion are slim to none, despite the fact that some members of the band seem open to the possibility.   If the band never reforms I am fine with that.  I am happy that the various members of the band continue to produce new music.  And some continue to carry the torch by keeping the great music of Genesis in their set lists.

Steve Hackett’s Secret Weapon

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I was recently listening to some music from an obscure progressive band from the 1990s. During one of the instrumental breaks there was a flute solo, which is not uncommon in the context of progressive rock music. It got me to thinking of the great flute players in progressive rock. Of course the first two names that come to mind were Peter Gabriel and Ian Anderson. The third was a name that does not get enough mention, John Hackett, Steve Hackett’s younger brother.

John Hackett is an extremely talented flautist who just happens to like rock music. Steve Hackett’s first four albums would sound drastically different without John Hackett’s distinctive flute adding color and emotion to several of the early songs. And for a time he proved just as valuable in Steve Hackett’s live band, handling flute, rhythm guitar and bass pedals. Their musical association may have lessened over the years, but it has never ended. Both continue to perform on one another’s albums and still play together live, from time to time. They did record one full album together, Sketches Of Satie, released in 2000, which I would highly recommend it.

Steve Hackett has had a great career as a solo artist that continues presently. His musical artistry continues to evolve and progress. That being said, there is something extra special about his early run of albums: Voyage Of The Acolyte, Please Don’t Touch, Spectral Mornings and Defector. Part of what makes these four album so special is John Hackett. Listen to songs like The Steppes, Kim, Jacuzzi, Lost Time In Cordoba, Hands Of The Priestess (Part 1), Please Don’t Touch, The Virgin And The Gypsy, The Toast, etc and try to imagine how these great tracks would sound without John Hackett’s flute. Overall he only played on a handful of songs, but  his performances are so impactful. To remove these songs would ruin the overall flow and feel of the albums. I believe this is most prominently displayed on what is arguably Steve Hackett’s best album, Spectral Morning.

Steve Hackett’s unique approach to the guitar adds a great deal of different textures to his music. The guitar is complimented by Nick Magnus’ strong keyboards. Add to this the wonderfully dreamlike and exotic sounds of John Hackett’s flute work and you are treated to music that truly stirs the emotions.

Over the course of his great career Steve Hackett has predominantly worked with three fantastic, and stylistically different keyboard players. Those three are Nick Magnus, Jilian Colbeck and Roger King. One of the truly remarkable things about Steve Hackett’s records are the vast amount of keyboards that are present. He is first and foremost a guitarist, but he allows so much room for keyboards. Obviously the combination of electric guitar, acoustic guitar, classical guitar and keyboards have helped to give his brand of progressive rock a unique touch. But the added flavor of John Hackett’s flute work, early on, was Steve Hackett’s secret weapon.