Song Spotlight: Taking In The View, By Kansas

The 1980’s were very difficult years for progressive rock. It’s safe to say that every major progressive rock band was affected by the transition from the 1970’s to the 1980’s. Many bands streamlined their sound while others simply disbanded. American progressive rock band Kansas did both. Thankfully their breakup was short lived.

Kansas opened the 1980’s with a succession of increasingly commercial albums: Audio-Visions (1980), Vinyl Confessions (1982), Drastic Measures (1983) and Power (1986). In that span of time the band had three top forty singles. One could argue that they successfully transitioned and survived the changing climate of the music scene.

Their 1986 album Power is a very interesting one to me. The band disbanded and went their separate ways in 1984. Power is the first album by the reformed band. The album features the return of lead singer Steve Walsh after his departure in 1981. Also returning were the ever reliable Phil Ehart on drums and Rich Williams on guitar. Filling out the lineup were new band members Steve Morse on guitar and Billy Greer on bass. Absent from the reunion were long time members guitarist Kerry Livgren and violinist Robby Steinhardt.

cover_17188962016_r

Power is a very mainstream rock album, but it still carries the essence of the band’s sounds from the 1970’s Overall it is a very guitar driven album. Rich Williams and Steve Morse handle the guitar duties admirably. Steve Walsh’s keyboards are very present, but nothing like the keyboard heavy albums of the 1970s. It should be noted that Power is one of the few Kansas albums not to feature any violin.

I must say that I am a big fan of this album. Steve Walsh is in fine form vocally. The songwriting, band performances and production are exceptional. I do not  have a negative thing to say about this album. This is purely a rock album, but traces of progressive rock do crop up a few times over the course of the album. Power is the sound of a 1970’s progressive rock band successfully navigating the choppy waters of the 1980’s music scene.  The spirit of 1970’s Kansas is ever present, but the music sounds fresh and new.

KANSAS_08

I could highlight any of the ten songs on the album. But I will focus on the seventh track, Taking In The View, the album’s quietest song. Of all the songs on the album this one captures the essence of 1970’s Kansas the most. Musically the song features just acoustic guitar and keyboards, leaving plenty of space for Steve Walsh’s vocals. He delivers a typically passionate and powerful vocal performance. A children’s choir, something different for Kansas, appears briefly in the latter half of the song. This track would have fit right in on the classic Kansas album Point Of Know Return (1977).

Taking In The View is just one of ten songs that showcase Steve Walsh’s stellar vocals. The whole band delivers solid performances on the album, but Walsh is clearly the standout. Power is a testament to Kansas and their ability to remain commercially relevant and yet stay true to their musical roots. The album may not be as complex as prior efforts, but to this fan’s ears it still sounds like Kansas.

In The Rapids, An Overlooked Gem By Genesis

In The Rapids is a Genesis song that really does not get much attention. It is the penultimate song from the band’s superb concept album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway (1974). At two minutes and twenty two seconds the track is short, but it sure is not sweet. The band packs an incredible amount of music and emotion into this compact gem.

Genesis-The_lamb_lies_down_on_Broadway-1

Peter Gabriel certainly had his fair share of great vocal performances during his time with Genesis. Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, The Lamia, The Battle Of Epping Forest, Back In N.Y.C. are just a few that come to mind. I would say that In The Rapids stands as one of my favorite vocals from Peter Gabriel.

It is amazing how much the band packs into this song. There is more brilliance on display inside of this short song than many bands are able to put onto an entire album. Every member of the band shines here adding their musical parts and pieces to enhance the collective whole.

5734de10b659a2829dcf7d901db817ab

The song has a deceptively low key intro, just clean guitars. Peter Gabriel enters soon after, initially delivering a reserved vocal.  At the 0.54 mark the rest of the band slowly enters. They spend the remainder of the song slowly building layer upon layer of musical tension, emotion and drama. To fully appreciate this gem you really have to listen to it with headphones on.

The band puts on an absolute clinic in subtlety and finesse. Initially the music is a foundation for Gabriel’s vocals. But as the song progresses there is so much going on, the music feels as if it is swirling around Gabriel’s vocals.

At the 1:29 mark Steve Hackett’s electric guitar wails and the rest of the band bring up the intensity. At this point there is less than one minute until the song segues into the album’s finale with the song It. The desperation in Gabriel’s vocal is nearly heartbreaking. Steve Hackett’s guitar adds to the melancholy felt during this end portion. It almost sounds like his guitar is weeping. Phil Collins is at the top of his game here and throughout The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. Not content to just display his considerable skills on the drums, Phil always had a musical approach to the drums. His drumming is not merely keeping the time, his playing elevates the somber mood of the song.

83d13722be3e5a8ad6f4d61d64dcb668

Before you know it the song is over. The tension is released with the siren like intro of the album’s final song.  As a stand alone track In The Rapids is very emotional. But taken in context with the rest of The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway the song is so much more. At this point of The Lamb’s storyline as a listener you are emotionally drained by Rael and John’s journey.

For me In The Rapids is the most overlooked gem in the entire Genesis discography. At 2:22 it is all too easy to miss this track. After the tour for The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway the band never played this song live again. It is to bad that in later years Genesis never really explored much of The Lamb live beyond the title track, In The Cage, The Carpet Crawlers and a section of Colony Of Slippermen.  Granted, In the Rapids is an unusual song to play on its own. Perhaps it would have worked best in the context of a medley. I have included audio for both In The Rapids and It.  Since one goes directly into the next, it is hard to play one without the other.

Troy T.

The Music Of Cirrus Bay: A Trick Of The Wind, A Wuthering Tail

Cirrus Bay are a U.S. based band with its musical heart firmly rooted in 1970s progressive rock. One of the great things about this band is that they do not sound retro. They may be playing 1970’s styled progressive rock, but their sound is throughly modern.

The band’s predominant influence is 1970’s Genesis, with a huge emphasis on the keyboard stylings of Tony Banks. The overall sound of Cirrus Bay is a laid back, slightly folksy, take on the sounds of the classic Genesis albums A Trick Of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering. The big point of difference with Cirrus Bay is the band’s use of female vocalists. While the music heavily draws on the sounds of Genesis the female vocals help to give the band a different sound. The influence of Genesis looms largely on all of Cirrus Bay’s albums. The band utilizes that influence to create a progressive rock sound that is their own.

cover_44281015112009

To date Cirrus Bay have released five albums. With each new release the band continues to hone their craft. The first album, The Slipping Of The Day (2008), is a mixed bag. It features a male and a female vocalist. I am sorry to say that the male vocalist is not a very good singer. As a result about half of the album is good. On subsequent albums female singers have handled the vocals quite effectively. The band’s second album, A Step Into Elsewhere (2009), firmly establishes the Cirrus Bay sound. The band delivers melodic, keyboard driven prog accented by acoustic and electric guitars. Overall the music may not be as flashy as other prog bands. That said, there are plenty of long, well played instrumental passages present. Whimsical Weather (2012) and The Search For Joy (2014) continue the band’s evolution and subtle refinements. With their latest album, Places Unseen (2016), the band delivers their best album.

cover_22291015112009
Bill Gillham is the band’s main songwriter and he handles multiple instruments on the albums. It is quite obvious that he is heavily influenced by Tony Banks. Whether playing keyboards or piano he proves to be quite a skilled disciple of the unique keyboard styling of Tony Banks.

whimsical-weather-cover

Gillham also handles most of the guitar playing on the albums. He is quite adept at acoustic and electric guitar. Strummed acoustic guitars feature prominently throughout the music of Cirrus Bay. On the electric guitar Gillham does, at times, produce some Steve Hackett-like guitar sounds and riffs.  Keyboards may be the primary instrument on Cirrus Bay’s albums, but there is plenty of tasteful guitar throughout.

cover_4034101022014_r

For the bulk of the albums Sharra Acle and Anisha Gillham handle the lead vocals. On the band’s most recent album, Places Unseen, the lead vocals are handled by Tai Shan. All three singers have similar sounding voices that would not be out of place singing folk songs or ballads.

a3631898018_10

Mark Blasco handles the drums and bass. Cirrus Bay’s intention is not to showcase over the top virtuosity. This is reflected in Blasco’s handling of the drums and bass. A skilled player, he lays down the song’s foundation, playing what each song requires. When he needs to step it up for the more involved instrumental breaks he does so quite well. There are plenty of opportunities for the band to showcase their instrumental prowess.  Over the course of their albums some songs routinely extend pass the ten minute mark.

Although the main influence is A Trick Of The Tail and Wind And Wuthering the sounds of other Genesis album do crop up as well. Listening to Cirrus Bay’s catalog one can hear small musical traces of the Genesis albums Foxtrot, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, And Then There Were Three and Selling England By The Pound.

Another great aspect of Cirrus Bay are their beautiful album covers. There is a running theme of painterly landscapes on the band’s album covers. Some of these pictures are so good you want to hang them on your wall. Of the five albums The Search For Joy contains my favorite album cover.

With four solid albums under their collective belts Cirrus Bay has a lot going for them. I am really enjoying their modern take on 1970’s progressive rock. Their future appears to be very bright. If you like well written, melodic progressive rock with long instrumentals this might be a band for you. I highly recommend Cirrus Bay to fans of Genesis and 1970’s progressive rock.

Troy T.

Is It Time For Steve Hackett To Stop Revisiting Genesis?

I love the music of Genesis immensely, they have been one of my favorite bands since the early 1980’s. Their music was my introduction to progressive rock. To this day they remain my favorite progressive rock band.

I also love the music of former Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett. He has established himself as a forward thinking solo artist since leaving Genesis in 1977. During his career he has put together  a discography that is quite impressive. He has explored various genres including progressive rock, classical guitar, world music, blues, pop, hard rock and classical music.

3eb963f7-82a9-4b86-8f77-2f6cb5f5320a

As a solo artist he has always been one to be in touch with his past. Genesis music has always had a presence in his live shows. For many years Horizons, and sections of Firth Of Fifth, Los Endos and In That Quiet Earth have been pretty constant in his live set lists. Over various tours other Genesis songs have been included as well. Songs such as I Know What I Like, Hairless Heart, Carpet Crawlers, Watcher of the Skies, Fly On A Windshield and Blood On The Rooftops. The latter song was a treat because it was never performed live by Genesis. Steve Hackett’s touring drummer Gary O’Toole does a fantastic job putting his own spin on the lead vocals. From tour to tour there was a nice balance of Genesis songs intermingled with his solo material.

hackett_live2013_header

In 2013 Steve Hackett began his highly successful Genesis Revisited tour. This was a tour that featured a set list that was 99% – 100% Genesis songs. Some shows featured the Steve Hackett song Shadow Of The Hierophant. I believe that the popularity of this tour surprised all involved. What was initially intended to be a one off tour has spilled over two tours later. I understand the reason for the show and I understand it’s popularity. However, I now feel that the music of Genesis Is taking up far too much room in his setlist.

1406452962steve

His last tour was titled Acolyte to Wolflight With Genesis Revisited. It was a tour meant to celebrate the forty year anniversary of his first solo album, Voyage Of The Acolyte. He also had an incredible new album out to promote, Wolflight. He played about five songs from each album and a few highlights from the earlier part of his career. This tour could have been an incredible retrospective of his solo career. Unfortunately the Genesis Revisited section of the show ate up half the set list. Do not misunderstand me, the Genesis Revisited set was absolutely great. The opportunity to hear his incredible band expertly play songs like Get ‘Em Out By Friday, The Cinema Show and Can-Utility And The Coastliners was quite an experience. But as great as it was part of me was imaging a two and a half hour set list spanning Steve Hackett’s solo career.

steve_hackett_tour

His recent tour just started and the timing seems a little odd. He has a new album set for release in March, so I am curious as to why the tour started now. That said, I had the great privilege of seeing one the early shows of the new tour. Steve Hackett and his touring band were incredible as always. But I must say that I left the show slightly disappointed. This was a first for me. I have seen Steve Hackett live several times over the years. I know what a full live set of his solo material sounds like. This most recent show featured too much Genesis! Once again please do not misunderstand me, I love the music of Genesis a great deal. But I also love Steve Hackett’s solo music and I wanted to hear more of it.

stevehackettgenrevclassic2017header

At this point it may be time to leave some of the Genesis songs in the past. This new tour is billed as celebrating the forty year anniversary of the Genesis album Wind And Wuthering. So I was aware of that going in. Hearing a few songs from that classic album was great, along with the song Inside And Out. Inside And Out was recorded during the Wind And Wuthering sessions but it was not released on the album. It was later released on the Spot The Pigeon EP in 1977. I was pleased with the Wind and Wuthering set list, especially Inside And Out. When that portion of the show was over I thought for sure that he would return to playing his solo material. To my surprise the set continued with Dance On A Volcano, The Musical Box, Firth Of Fifth, Dancing With The Moonlit Knight and Los Endos. The band did play sections of Steve Hackett’s songs Myopia and Slogans during Los Endos, but that was it.

I know that there are many fans who will strongly disagree with me. I feel that it is time for Steve Hackett to leave Genesis Revisited in the rearview mirror. This Steve Hackett fan wants to hear more Steve Hackett songs on the next Steve Hackett tour. He left Genesis in 1977 and he has not looked back musically. He has proven himself to be a vital artist who continually pushes himself and his music forward. He proves that with each new album that he releases.  I do not have an issue with Genesis songs in his set list, just the amount. Going forward I would love less Genesis and more Steve Hackett.

Troy T.

Tony Banks And Marillion’s Fish

What a classic pairing of two progressive rock greats. Over the course of two albums Tony Banks collaborated with one time Marillion singer Fish on three songs. Those albums were Tony Banks’ solo albums Soundtracks (1986) and Still (1991). It is said that Fish auditioned for Genesis after Phil Collins departed in 1996. True or not, these three songs give a little insight into what a Fish led Genesis may have sounded like.

his025

On the surface Fish leading Genesis sounds like a very intriguing idea.  It is quite apparent that the music of Genesis was a huge influence on Marillion.  As a big fan of both bands I am sure that I would have enjoyed this pairing a great deal. At the time Fish possessed a unique voice that sounded like an amalgam of Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel. Realistically I do not believe that it would have worked. New material by this pairing would most likely have been fantastic. But could Fish have handled singing Genesis’ back catalog? I really can not imagine Fish effectively singing songs like Mama or Tonight, Tonight, Tonight. Over time would he really want to?

617lmx1shel

41ujymiu9bl

Personally I would have loved to have seen Wang Chung singer Jack Hues front post Collins Genesis. Hues recorded an exceptional album with Tony Banks in 1995, Strictly Inc. And I do believe that he had a voice that could tackle the band’s back catalog successfully. In hindsight the best solution may have been to go the route that Mike and the Mechanics went down. Utilizing two different singers may have been the best solution.

Let’s get back to Fish and Tony Banks. Their first collaboration was the song Shortcut To Somewhere, written by Tony Banks and Fish. Of the three songs this is the only one  to be recorded while Fish was still a member of Marillion. It is an upbeat synth rocker that would have fit right in on the Genesis album Abacab. Overall it is a good song, but far from either party’s best work.

fish-jayney-klimek-tb-nik-kershaw-andy-taylor-1991

The next two songs appear on Tony Bank’s album Still.  Angel Face is a slow, moody song written solely by Tony Banks. Vocally it shows Fish in a slightly different light since he did not write the lyrics.  This is an excellent track

Written by Tony Banks and Fish, Another Murder Of A Day clocks in at just over nine minutes.  It is a dramatic, piano driven rock track. The song features a passionate vocal from Fish, one of Tony Banks’ flashier keyboard solos and some great guitar from Daryl Stuermer.

Tony Banks and Fish worked quite well together, more collaborations would have been welcome. Based on these songs would Fish have worked out fronting Genesis? Perhaps, but only if they focused on new material and select Genesis tracks in a concert setting. Listening to the song Something In The Air, from Fish’s second solo album Internal Exile (1991), may give further insight. It is a cover song, but Fish’s rendition sure sounds a lot like it could have been a mid to late 80’s Genesis song. Maybe it could have worked out well. We’ll never know, but it is fun to imagine the possibilities.

Troy T.

Steve Hackett, A Birthday Appreciation

65818114b982b8dbe2d8959e0fff6c4f5ecafd-jpg

I want to acknowledge the 67th birthday of one of my biggest musical heroes, Steve Hackett. His music has been such a huge part of my life for over thirty five years. I first became aware of him in 1981 after hearing the Genesis album A Trick Of The Tail. After fully exploring the music of Genesis it was only logical to look into the solo albums of the band members. Highly Strung was the first Steve Hackett solo album that I purchased. 1981 started a musical journey with the music of Genesis and it’s members that has continued to present day.

hackett258

Steve Hackett’s unique approach to the guitar and to songwriting have had a profound impact on me. I would consider myself to be an amateur musician and songwriter. His work with Genesis, and more so his long solo career, have influenced me a great deal. I absolutely love his musical contributions with Genesis, but it was as a solo musician that he truly blossomed as an artist. Over the years he has established a musician vision that is uniquely his own.

hackett-steve-eng

I applaud Steve Hackett for truly being a progressive artist. He has not been content to repeat the past or rest on his laurels. Four decades into his solo career and he continues to take risks as he pushes himself as a singer, songwriter and musician. It is astonishing how much music is inside of this one man. With each new album he continues to delight me. Just when you think that you have heard it all from Steve Hackett he puts out an album like his last one, Wolflight. Released in 2015 Wolflight features Steve Hackett taking his songwriting and guitar playing to new levels.

wolflightfrontcover

His newest album, The Night Siren, is slated to be released in March of 2017. I am eagerly awaiting the opportunity to plunge into  his newest collection of songs. For some time Steve Hackett has been one of the few music artists that I trust. Whatever musical journey that he opts to go on I am right there along for the ride. Over the course of this long journey I can honestly say that he has disappointed me only twice. I was extremely underwhelmed by the albums Tribute (2008) and Beyond The Shrouded Horizon (2012). The albums are not  bad, they are just not up to his usual standards. I would definitely rank them as my least favorite albums in his catalog.  On the flip side his 1993 release Guitar Noir is my favorite of his solo albums.  I would also rank it as my favorite album by any artist.

hackettnoir

stevehackett-leemillward500

I will now proceed to wrap this up by listing my favorite songs by Steve Hackett. With over twenty studio albums to his credit picking favorites could be a difficult task. After some very deep thought, here are my top twelve favorite songs by Steve Hackett.  Of course this list is subject to change over time.

Walking Away From Rainbows
Spectral Mornings
The Steppes
Overnight Sleeper
Little America
Valley Of The Kings
The Virgin And The Gypsy
Hoping Love Will Last
Icarus Ascending
Take These Pearls
This World
Every Day

Troy T.

John Wetton, My Humble Tribute

img_22361

As a fan of progressive rock I am well aware of the importance of John Wetton.  However, outside of his work with Steve Hackett I do not own any of his music.  Of course I have heard some of his work with King Crimson and  U.K. in the 1970’s and Asia in the 1980’s.

img_2237

It’s his work with Steve Hackett, when Wetton  toured as part of his band in the late 1990’s, that I am most familiar with.  The set list was mostly Steve Hackett and Genesis songs.  But also included were songs from Wetton’s past, including The Court Of The Crimson King, Battle Lines and Heat Of The Moment.  One of the things that impressed me about Wetton was how dignified he looked on stage singing and playing the bass.  He also brought a different feel to some of the classic Genesis songs that was rather refreshing.  In 2012 Wetton lent his vocals to Steve Hackett’s reworking of the Genesis classic Afterglow.  This live rendition seems like an appropriate song to end this tribute.

Troy T.