Friday, February 6, 2015

My Favorite 21st Century Prog Folk Albums

Prog Folk, of course, melds elements of folk music, i.e., the use of traditional acoustic instruments to play traditional regionally-sourced melodies in a way, with the often electrified instruments and engineering/recording techniques common to progressive rock music. My Prog Folk tendencies seem to be drawn to the more folky side of prog folk than the rockier side like Jethro Tull or The Decemberists. Though the relatively new category called Indo-Prog has been created as a separate identity, I am more of a belief that it and many folk or traditional "world" musics should be included in the Prog Folk category. Despite this fact, I have chosen to keep this list closer to the definition and delineation given by ProgArchives.com.
    In the modern era (21st Century Progressive Rock) there are three artists that, for me, stand out head and shoulders above the rest:  FAUN, IONA and CORDE OBLIQUE. You cannot go very wrong with a purchase of any of these artists' albums, though there are some that I feel are better than others, as you will read below. I warn you also that the there may be several albums below for which you question the "Prog Folk" label. I will ask the reader to reserve judgment until you have first become a listener by clicking on some of the blue/purple colored texts that I've tried to include with each album review so that you can be linked to YouTube videos of those particular songs, video adaptations or live performances, albums, or samples. The "Prog Folk" sub-genre of music can be quite broad, and I see it as my mission to test your boundaries and definitions with this list.




1. THE AMAZING Gentle Stream (2011) (Electric Folk/Psychedelic Pop)

This happens to be my favorite album of the year 2011. The melodies, warmth of the music, incredible group jams--led, of course, by my guitar hero, Reine Fiske--make this album one that I want to come back to often--more than the most others I own. It currently ranks #9 on my list of All-Time Favorite Albums. I recognize that it has flaws, especially in the fact that it is not so proggy as some of the other masterpieces and excellent collections of progressive rock music. But as an electric folk album it is a real gem.
     Special recognition needs to go out to band 'leader' and chief composer Christoffer Gunrup. His mellifluous voice is sublime and emotionally heart-wrenching. His guitar play is every bit the match for Reine Fiske. In fact, the two may make up my favorite guitar duo of all-time--not for amazing licks, technique or speed but for the way they so perfectly complement and blend together--despite the fact that they each have quite distinct styles. Watching their YouTube video performances has allowed be to see and understand just how essential Christoffer's contributions are.
   
1. "Gentle Stream" (7:00) starts the album out with an incredible sound that is quite reminiscent of some of the masterpieces of psychedelic rock from the late 1960s and even the Southern rock groups of the early 1970s. A smooth, incredibly warm and melodic song--both in terms of the instrumentalisits and the vocals. Great vocal harmonies in the vein of CROSBY, STILL, NASH & YOUNG. The drum work is incredibly fluid and smooth, restrained yet full--kind of like STEVE GADD's understated mastery. But my favorite part is the vocal-accompanied all-out jam by the band for the final two and a half minutes. The adrenaline rush is incredible! (11/10)

2."Flashlight" (4:56) continues the album's 60s/70s psychedelic/Southern rock feel--as do all of the songs on Gentle Stream--this time in the vein of DAVE MASON/JESSE COLIN YOUNG. A simpler, almost acoustic song with flutes, picking acoustic guitar, and some organ. Nice ERIC CLAPTON/ BLIND FAITH instrumental section in the middle, followed by simple electric guitar and saxophone soli to end. (8/10)

3. "International Hair" (6:08) is another standout song, this time starting like a JONI MITCHELL, FLEETWOOD MAC or AMERICA song. Singer Christoff Gunrup has an amazingly smooth, sensitive, and familiar voice; he sings as if he is putting his entire being into his efforts. The smooth, subtle work of the drummer is again stellar. A lull of delicate play at the 4:20 mark turns into another group jam with Reine Fiske playing the slide or pedal steel guitar and some roiling percussion dueling going on all around. (10/10)

4. "The Fog" (4:29) begins with some acoustic guitar picking which again revives images of STEVE WINWOOD/BLIND FAITH. The vocals enter, ever-so delicately, at times feeling like they are being held up or shored up by the background singers' sustained "ahh's" and "ooohs." Fiske's guitar picking gets a little more forceful at the 2:20 mark, and from there out, until multiple electric guitars begin a southern rock harmonized duel right out of the archives of  THE MARSHALL TUCKER BAND or even THE ALLMAN BROTHERS. (9/10)

5. "Gone" (6:13) has much more of a CSN&Y feel to it--especially the electric guitars. This song has some awesome hooks, both instrumentally and vocally, but the highlight is one of the album's trademark all-out band jams--previewed with the rhythm shift at the 2:21 mark but really starting at about the 4:07 mark. Almost a SANTANA or AMERICA feel to it. Wonderful b vox! (9/10)

6. "Dogs" (6:38) starts out with an even stronger CSN&Y sound and feel--like it was a song that didn't make it onto 1970's Déjà Vu (but should have)Christoff's vocal is mixed a little back and the electric guitars are very much in the foreground. This is not quite as engaging a song, despite it's familiarity,   until the 4:12 mark when the electric guitar swiches on his wah-pedal and starts to lead into an awesome HENDRIX/CLAPTON/ROBIN TROWER playing backed by some amazing organ play that is reminiscent of PROCUL HARUM's MATTHEW FISHER or perhaps even STEVE WINWOOD. (9/10)

7. "Assumptions" (2:08) is a kind of vocal interlude, almost like sacred church or meditative music.(8/10)

8. "When The Colours Change" (6:02) is the album's final masterpiece. It begins with a very slow moving rhythm though with full band members' participation. Sitar or (and/or pedal steel?) and harp bring a rich fullness to this song that is so gorgeous. This song reminds me of some of the LARRY LEE-penned OZARK MOUNTAIN DAREDEVILS songs from the 1970s. Beautiful song with stellar performances across the board--all collaborating and synthesizing into a seamless aural quilt. (10/10)

Again, this is my favorite album Y2K11, yet, in terms of its contribution to "progressive rock" it suffers a little. It is more of a revival of some long lost and yet not forgotten sounds and traditions that give it such a warmth and home-like familiarity that set this album apart from the other Neo, revivalist or imitative work being done today. Absolutely gorgeous vocals and melodies coupled with mesmerizing guitar and drum play.




2. IONA Open Sky (2000) (Celtic Electric Folk/Prog Folk) is one of my favorite albums of the 21st Century and definitely my favorite album from Y2K. It is one of those collections of songs that I enjoy playing start to finish, though I do have my favorites ("Woven Chord," "Wave After Wave," "Castlerigg," and "Hinba"). Others have eluded to the fiery guitar soli, the driving drumming, the amazing interplay and interweaving of traditional Celtic instruments, the peaceful, sometimes-ambient lulls, and Joanne Hogg's voice. I am here to reiterate and reaffirm all of it. Plus, the song structures are so interesting and delightful. Take "Castlerigg" (a veritable prog masterpiece, IMHO): It begins sounding like a traditional Irish song bordering on New Age with flutes and heavenly background keys. The music puts you into an ancient wood, as if you are walking with a group on a hunting or reconnaissance party. Then at 1:20 an ominous drum, tambourine and bass thrum begins as a bagpipe seems to "walk into the song" as if another party?the traveling minstrel or bar?has just walked out from behind a rock escarpment, or from out of a cave, marching right into the majestic mellotron forest glen (sounding a lot like a Kate Bush song from The Dreaming). Then the minstrel stops, all ears turn to the soft 'responsorial' music of an acoustic guitar picker and his violin side-kick laying down the setting for Joanne to begin to whisper some unearthly and ever-so-powerful words of "light" and "memory" and "waves" until the intensity builds with Joanne's wordless keening at the 6:05 mark until an Enya-like pause at the 6:50 mark clears the glen for response of the flutes and bagpipes with a full accompaniment of a driving drums, bass and synths chords, building, building as the drums and cymbols crash and clang to a climax and finale. Masterful song construction, beautifully orchestrating the listeners' mood sways.

1. "Woven Cord" (9:29) is a powerful instrumental; great start to finish. (10/10)

2. "Wave After Wave" (6:17) puts on display a great complement of instruments helping to build around Joanne's powerful voice and catchy melody. (10/10)

3. "Open Sky" (5:42) is a soft, simpler song--mostly acoustic--with an odd Indian-sounding instrument (or two) but wonderful vocals and vocal harmonies. (7/10)

4. "Castlerigg" (9:28) (as above) is an absolutely amazing song that takes you on an amazing journey, start to finish. Incredible beauty and power. (10/10)

5. "A Million Stars" (3:22) is beautiful atmospheric song with solo violin accompanied by background synth wash. The melody is quite haunting--very Vaughan Williams-like. (10/10)

6. "Light Reflected" (5:13) is a song that begins by showcasing Joanne's extraordinarily sensitive, subtle voice talents. Nice fretless bass, background piano arpeggio melody. Nearing the three-and-a-half minute mark the song threatens to break into full power, more so at the 4:00, then finally does with an awesome electric guitar solo before falling back to the ambient sounds from the beginning. (8/10)

7. "Hinba" (4:59) another song with an odd Celtic/not-Celtic/World music feel to it. The violin sounds more like that of Shankar from Peter Gabriel's "Passion Sources." A rather straightforward 'rock' chorus is this song-full-of-subtleties's only 'flaw.' Great instrumentation in last two minutes. (9/10)

8, 9, 10. "Songs of Ascent (Parts 1, 2, & 3)" (7:59 + 9:07 + 4:55) What I used to think of as "The weakest part of the album because of their soft, 'going nowhere' feel," I have grown to really enjoy. The music takes me to beautiful places in (and out of) Nature. Nice sounds, very ambient. Not a lot of development or power; very little catchy melody making. This is more like movie soundtrack music (very pleasant, often beautiful, soundtrack music). Second half of "Part 2" is the best. "Part 3" is very folkie and has some nice Joanne vocal weaves and rocking climax. (Check out the electric guitar and Celtic flute duet/duel!) (8/10)

11. "Friendship's Door" (7:15) is most interesting for it's reiteration several of the album's previous themes (often in the background, as if listening to review tapes). The song itself is otherwise good if not very memorable. (7/10)

Aside from the album's weaknesses, it makes up for it in its unusual and distinctive sound. Truly something worth checking out for every proghead. After years of finding myself continually drawn back to this album--and the fact that Songs 8, 9, and 10, "Songs of Ascent" (Parts 1, 2, &3) have grown on me, I can declare that this has become one of those albums I will always carry with me.



3. ULVER Shadows of the Sun (2007) (Ambient/Electronic World Music) I'm going out on a limb here by posting Shadows of the Sun as a Prog Folk album but the sound, song structures, and instrument choices are, to my ears, so similar to those of DEAD CAN DANCE, ATARAXIA, PETER GABRIEL and other artists who have earned Gothic, Traditional and World folk music status that I could not deny it. Plus, it is an album who's message to humanity is so earthy and so important that I believe it needs wider exposure. 
     This happened to be my first Ulver album and it remains one of the best collections of songs, start to finish, from this, the 21st Century, that I have heard. And though this is a dark and pessimistic concept album, it does an amazing job of conveying the despair and hopelessness of our role as perpetrators and victims of planet Earth's demise. The use of piano, tympanic drums, Oslo Session String Quartet, deep breathy vocals, synthesizers and even trumpet and theremin all help to impart the heavy, tragic mood ever-so exquisitely, even beautifully, if that is possible. I am ever awed by the wonderfully unexpected and subtle turns and twists within each and every song--including the "extra" 2 minutes of recorded silence at the end of the album's last song (after the world and/or life on the planet has been extinguished). Though an inattentive listen may leave the listener thinking the album is just one song and one mood, the attentive head-phoned listener is privy to a very artful and intimate experience.
     The first song, "EOS," sucks you into the album experience like light into a blackhole, the other songs entertain as you fall in ("All The Love," "Let the Children Go"), as light begins to fade, and the last song, "Whatever Happened?" spits you out on the other side, into a fresh, new universe. A lot to ponder; a lot of responsibility in the album's message. A fantastic album. Definitely a classic of our time, for the ages; a masterpiece. One of my two favorite albums from 2007.
     Including this album among a list of "Favorite Prog Folk Albums" may seem to some to be a bit of a stretch as most people consider this a Post Rock/Math Rock album, but, to my ears, the simple song structures using a small sample of instruments mixed with Garm's Earthy voice and heavily Earth-centric message here all lend to its being a collection of music founded in folk traditions. Not unlike DEAD CAN DANCE and ATARAXIA. 




4. FAUN Eden (2011) (Electrified Pagan/Celtic/World Folk) is perhaps the best pure folk Prog Folk album I've ever heard. Every song is engaging and so well balanced between gorgeous melodies, amazingly coordinated and complementary instruments and voices interwoven in magical balance, plus there is a great warmth and mesmerizing, intimate quality to the recording and due to the fullness of the sound. There are many songs on Eden that are longer than the band has traditionally recorded, which, due to the mesmerizing weaves and melody lines, is something I enjoy tremendously. The drones, samples, and electronic contributions of computer whiz Neil Mitra are back with a vengeance (after a break from 2009's "acoustic" album, Buch der Balladen) and I have to admit that he's really found his perfect place in the mix: never overpowering but always present, helping to fill the field with warmth and emotion. Band-leader and lead male vocalist Oliver Sa Tyr has truly mastered his gentle but emotional instrument. Sometimes haunting, others romantic and enticing, he sings as if the heir apparent to the God Orpheus. And the band has finally found in Margareta Eibel the right female vocalist to replace the superb soprano, Lisa Pawelke. Teamed with founding member Fiona Rüggeberg's professional alto voice, the two soar. Plus, Margareta comes with more instrumental diversity than Lisa had (hurdy-gurdy was Lisa's lone instrumental contribution) and Fiona has added a few new instruments to her spectacular repertoire. Eden sounds more full blood Celtic than previous albums but it is a sound that suits FAUN. If there is any "flaw"--and I'm not sure if this can be considered a flaw considering the power and beauty of this album's songs, but this album represents quite a departure in linguistic choice as many songs and narrations are done in English, and far less of the songs are gathered from ancient and mediæval tongues as was done on Licht and Renaissance.  

1. "Prelude" (2:04) sets the appropriate "ominous industrial" tone for the subject of this album, man's fall from Eden. A Neil Mitra masterpiece. (9/10)

2. "Lupercalia" (3:15) opens with ominous base note, synth wash and treated drums setting the stage for Fiona and Magareta's perfectly timed, sacred/religious-sounding harmonies. Harp, haunting ghost-like background voices and intermittent bursts from a sonorous horn complete the spell cast by this masterpiece. (10/10)

3. "Zeitgeist" (4:03) opens with clock-like harp-bass lines and straight-timed drumming before Oliver's rather thin voice enters. Strings harmonics accompany a sample narration of environmentalist content. Bagpipe and hurry-gurdy play into the mix as well. Another display of Mitra's masterful electronic "glue." The lone acoustic harp accompanying Oliver's voice to song's end is brilliant. I just wish I understood German. (9/10)

4. "Iduna" (3:22) opens with a Celtic bagpipe and hurry-gurdy melody weave accompanied by a throbbing electronic bass line, clapping, and Oliver's bouzouki. Fiona and Magareta weave their voices into the lead vocal followed by "la-la-la-las." Trilling flutes also mix into the mid-song instrumental weave. Quite a rousing jam! (10/10)

5. "The Butterfly" (1:34) opens with Oliver and Fiona (and later Margareta's harp) weaving a very traditional (and familiar) sounding Celtic reel sans percussion. Gorgeous recording. (10/10) The melody line carries forward to become the basis for the vocal weave of:

6. "Adam Lay Ybounden" (4:37) is the album's first song sung in English. Here Margareta displays a high trilling in her vocal approach that is similar to that of early ELIZABETH FRASER (Cocteau Twins). Also, the vocal duet is unusual (for Faun) for its alternating timing and different style of harmonizing. The song's highlight is the whistle and bouzouki carried Celtic melody. (9/10)

7. "Hymn to Pan" (6:57) opens with gently picked bouzouki and sequenced percussion setting up for Oliver's low and confiding vocal (again entirely in English). Fiona's harmonizing background voice soon joins in as do full hand percussion and Fiona's wood flute. The song's instruments soften to the extreme as Oliver and Fiona continue singing the chorus. An African/Balinese-sounding marimba weave takes the fore as support to Fiona's flute and Oliver's delicate, almost-nervous solo voice. Amazing vocal performance! At the end of the sixth minute the support of the full band instrumentation rebuilds until again falling away as Oliver and Fiona finish the song's vocal. (10/10)

8. "Pearl" (5:05) opens with a Peter Gabriel-like computer sequence before Margareta explodes onto the scene with a LOREENA MCKENNITT-like vocal (in English). Full percussion, bagpipes, and strummed bouzouki fill out the rest of the band's contribution but this is Margareta's song to shine on. (10/10)

9. "Oyneng yar" (5:34) tambourine-support is all Fiona needs to open this song with her awesome vocal. Oliver on nyckelharpa, Rüdiger and Neil laying down an awesome percussion weave, Margareta's hurry-gurdy (and background harmonies) and Fiona's flawless recorder play complete this full-bodied, full-spirited song. (9/10)

10. "Polska fran anderson" (4:37) is an instrumental that begins with a gorgeous three-part weave of Oliver's nyckelharpa, Margareta's hurry-gurdy and Fiona's high whistle. Somebody switches into harp (Margareta) while Oliver adds bouzouki (multi-tracking?) in continued support of Fiona and Oliver's solos and weaves. (9/10)

11. "Alba" (7:17) bouzouki and percussives provide background support for another one of Oliver's hypnotic vocals (in German). A quiet song that I wish I knew German for I know that the story being told is the key to really valuing this song. (9/10)

12. "Ynis avalach" (5:09) is another instrumental traditional Celtic weave with full percussion on display, full band playing at first at a rather hypnotic pace before picking up the pace significantly at the three-minute mark. Nice trick to shift into third gear for the last two minutes. (9/10)

13. "Arcadia" (7:16) opens with nyckelharpa, whistles/chalumeaux, hurdy-gurdy, big percussives and electronic drones, all blasting away in a powerful weave before yielding to the lovely and, again, different duet vocals of Fiona and Margareta. Margareta's echoed solo vocal in the second half of the song is almost religious ecstatic. Fiona later takes up the lead with Margareta's angelic soprano supporting her in such a protective way. Brilliant song--so well conceived and constructed. (10/10)

14. "The Market Song" (5:51) is a rather traditional folk song sung in English by Oliver and Fiona, at first alternately, and then in harmony. Some wonderful soloing from Fiona on her special transverse wooden bass flute (chalumeaux). Also kudos for the standing vertical violin (saz) solo and later bagpipe solos. The band really takes out all the stops on this one! (9/10)

15. "Golden Apples" (7:35) may be the most beautiful and most powerful song on this, an album of many powerful and hypnotic songs. The finale is so deliciously and dangerously tranquilizing that I feel I must warn the reader/listener to be on his awares!
     Set up by a slow, methodically repeated harp arpeggio, soon Fiona is singing like the most seductive siren to grace these ears. I would definitely be tempted by her offer of this apple! Absolutely stunning, gut-wrenchingly emotional song! Neil and Rüdiger's contributions are also very important to this one--they just kind of sneak up on you. What an end to an incredible album! (10/10)

Without doubt one of the finest albums of this genre I've heard, it is also one a handful of albums that I've heard from my lifetime that leave me weak, drained, so well-satisfied and aurally coddled that I call it among my favorites.




5. MEDIÆVAL BÆBES Mirabilis (2005) The Mediaeval Baebes are an all female Renaissance/folk vocal group whose members fluctuate from album to album, and song to song. I include Mirabilis in the realm of progressive folk because the vocal arrangements and song choices are so sophisticated and so well engineered with lots of interesting modern recording effects and techniques, and because the supporting cast of 'medieval' folk instrumentalists are of such high caliber. Some of the instruments accompanying the vocalists include: glockenspiel, harmonium, concertina, hurdy-gurdy, dulcimer, zither, cittern (lute), baglama (saz), oud, violin, viola, cello, double bass, finger cymbals, tabla, psaltry, sitar, chanter, trumpet, saxophone, autoharp, mellotron, piano, and multiple size recorders. Mirabilis is a mesmerizing, fascinating listen with diverse, virtuosic performances from start to finish.

1. "Star of the Sea" (3:32) let's you know what you're in for from the beginning. Recorders, lutes, had percussives and a full choral vocal presentation. (9/10)

2. "Trovommi Amor" (4:39). A song that fails to really get up and go anywhere despite the slow build of harmonized voices and instruments. (8/10)

3. "Temptasyon" (3:20) begins as a delicate solo with solo acoustic guitar accompaniment before the full choir takes over and seduces us into blissful supplication. (9/10).

4. "San'c fuy belha ne Prezada" (1:36) is a spectacular solo voice performance with (9/10).

5. "All for Love of One" (3:39). Simple but gorgeous. (10/10)

6. "The Lament" (3:27). Lackluster vocals brings down some extraordinary instrumental performances. (7/10)

7. "Musa venit Carmine" (3:27). Amazing arrangement of myriad vocal layers all performed over an ensemble of hand percussives. (10/10)

8. "Kilmeny" (3:59). Another unexpected and beautiful arrangement of layers of vocals and wonderful Renaissance instrumentation. (9/10)

9. "Lhiannan Shee" (2:56). One of the group's signature eerie yet mesmerizing vocal arrangements. The vocals waft and wave like the sea and its waves. (9/10)

10. "Umlahi" (2:15). Beautiful, church-like vocal arrangement, almost a cappella (finger cymbols). (10/10)

11. "Cittern Segue" (0:52). A brief solo instrumental that feeds into:

12. "Return of the Birds" (3:45). a very upbeat dance-like medieval song sung in ensemble form in a foreign language. (Latin?) (8/10)

13. "Tam Lin" (4:24). An incredibly stripped down and eerie version of this traditional Celtic folk song. The few and seldom modern effects and incidentals add immeasurably to the eeriness of this song. (10/10)

14. "Scarborough Fayre" (3:24). Yes, the same one we're all familiar with (thanks to Simon and Garfunkle) only arranged in a truer-to-traditional medieval folk 'dance' tune. (8/10)

15. "Come My Sweet" (3:21). An upbeat ensemble piece that builds as it goes along. (10/10)

16. "Märk Hure Vår Skugga" (3:43) is a traditional Scandinavian folk song performed in a very delicate, bare-bones style. (10/10)

17. "This World Fareth as a Fantasye" (4:08) is a beautiful sing-a-long dance to Nature song with wonderfully uplifting instrumental performances and sultry, siren-like vocal performances. (10/10)

18. "Away" (2:20) ends the album with a very classical Palestrina-like sound. (8/10)

Without a question one of the finest, purest examples of prog folk that exists. 




6. FAUN Renaissance (2005) (Electrified Pagan World Folk) on this their third major album release, FAUN puts on display their continued experimentation with electronic support to the moods of their medieval and Gothic-tinged story telling. This seems to be the directional flow that Germany's prog folk masters have chosen since their more acoustic start on 2002's Zaubersprüche. What is especially impressive with this group's evolution is the serious way in which the band has researched and reinterpreted folk songs and stories from a wide variety of cultures. In fact, on Renaissance you will find lyrics being sung in Portugese, Lithuanian, Romanian, Spanish, and Yoruba--as well as in variations/dialects of their own native German. Amazing!

1. "Satyros" (3:34) The album opens with a very festive yet sacred sounds of multiple female voices harmonizing in Renaissance/mediæval fashion over some hard driving hand percussion and fast moving "ancient" instrumentation. (10/10)

2. "Da Que Deus" (3:54) opens with similarly layered harmonies of multiple female voices but moving at a bit slower a pace than the album opener. Nice recorder and harp solos are given space between the vocal sections. (10/10)

3. "Tagelied" (5:01) opens with strummed lute and deep heart-beat thrum drum establishing a deep penetrating effect before the male lead vocal enters with female background vocal support coming from far back in the mix. There is an ominous, almost scary feeling conveyed through the music and singing of this song. Beautiful wooden flute solos are interspersed between the vocal sections. A brilliantly constructed song. (10/10)

4. "Rhiannon" (3:31) is an instrumental reel that opens with some treated/synthesized and acoustic hand percussives weaving together with bagpipe, bazooka, and other instruments all moving together at breakneck speed. (9/10)

5. "Sirena" (5:11) opens with some sequenced rhythms playing quietly, well behind the harmonized vocal "ooooo-aahhs." The Arabian-tinged droning medieval troubadour music that develops would probably be better were I to have an understanding of the lyrics. (8/10)

6. "Königen" (6:25) opens with some Arabian-sounding female voice panning around in the far background as arpeggiated harp plays in the foreground. Set to a slow tempo of computer-sequenced electronic drums and hi-hat, a single female voice enters to carry the lyric over a beautiful, rather simple melody line. Very little embellishments to the vocals or recorder solis. Pure and simple, the story must be quite powerful in order to have been given this very simple arrangement. Again, I wish I knew the language so I could better appreciate the story of the Kings. Lovely song! (9/10)

7. "Iyansa" (4:51) is another droning simple piece with mostly solo female voice singing the lyric. Hypnotic. (9/10)

8. "Rosmarin" (6:45) returns to the more woven textures of the earlier songs, including the vocals, which start out with just Oliver singing but soon add the female harmonies (interestingly, in a lower register!) Hurdy gurdy, bouzouki, bagpipes, and hand bells and shells weave nicely to form a solid support for the vocals and in-between soli, until at the four minute mark everybody stops and a series of synthetic sounds take over in a quiet interlude before percussive and single-note instruments are slowly added back into the mix. At 5:40 an electric guitar power chord surprises and is repeated every few seconds to the end of the song as a single voice whispers repeatedly "es come der tar" or something like that. Wow! What a surprise! Awesome song! (10/10)

9. "Das Tor" (8:13) opens with another deeply ominous electronic background industrial drone as a crazed female voice hums a simple nursery rhyme melody in the middle ground. Lisa takes up a simple melody alone for the first verse and then is joined by another female voice and some other instrumentation (violin, flutes, hand drums, electronic drums, harp). The song builds and builds, slowly but ever so powerfully, resolutely. Even the vocals begin to climb the ladder of octaves as the foundational rhythms and weaves plod along insistently, unrelentingly, beautifully. By the sixth minute the song is devolving into the opening mix, with those eery hums and now laughing children's voices carrying forward the disturbing feeling of this song. Incredible song. Incredible. (10/10)

FAUN here show their continued and increasing experiments with inputs from computer and electronic-generated support as contributed by electronic expert, Neil Mitra. For the most part it works--especially as a complement or takeover for the rhythm section. Oliver, Fiona and Rüdiger's contributions on ancient traditional instruments are virtuosic yet restrained and never overbearing--which puts a nice focus on the vocals of which the gorgeous voice of Lisa Pawelke seems to have taken greater prominence. I have to say that, so far, every FAUN album seems to be better than the previous one. (Too bad Totem did not continue this trend.) This album may be better than 2011's Eden but it has not yet won my heart to the extent that Eden has. It may be the warm intimacy the listener experiences from Eden's due to its engineering and production. Plus Eden's packaging is so full and engaging.




7. MIDLAKE Antiphon (2013) (Eclectic Folk Rock) is Midlake's first album after the departure of front man and chief songwriter Tim Smith. Tim Smith's talents are considerable but Antiphon shows us just how talented Smith's band mates are--and how their founder's talents may, in fact, have overshadowed and suppressed the full display of Midlake's true potential. This is an amazing album. And truly a Prog Folk album. One of my favorite Prog Folk albums of all-time--and preferable to Van Occupanther.

I am in total bliss as I listen to songs 5 through 10, "Vale" (4:31), "Aurora Gone" (4:38), "Ages" (4:39), "This Weight" (3:34), "Corruption" (5:18), "Provider Reprise" (5:01) are all, each and everyone, masterpieces of Prog Folk.





8. TIRILL Um himinjçdur (2013) (Eclectic Electrically-enhanced Folk) is the most recent solo release from this true master of the folk-centric Prog Folk sub genre, Tirill Mohn. Her work with the original WHITE WILLOW lineup and her other more recent collaborative project, AUTUMN WHISPERS are well, well worth checking out as well. During my listening of this album I found myself remarking for the first time at how similar Tirill's voice has evolved to sound like that of enigmatic American singer-songwriter,  JEWEL.

Album highlights for me include: the heart-wrenching harmonized singing and melodies of "Serpent" (4:40) (10/10); the multi-layered choral approach to "Fagrar enn Sol" (2:56) (10/10); the awesome male-female duet, "Muzzled" (4:56) (10/10); the gentle "Voluspa" (3:08) which is sung in Tirill's native language, the mellotron-drenched "Moira" (4:46) (9/10); "The Poet" (5:04) (9/10); the medieval folk song, "Quiet Nights" (3:07) (8/10), and; the album's most proggish and 'mini-epic,' "In Their Eyes" (9:25) (8/10). 




9. IAMTHEMORNING ~ (2012) (Chamber Prog Folk) comes from the more classical side of Prog Folk but qualifies as Prog Folk for me because of the dominance of its simple piano and chamber strings instrumentation support of lilting singer Marjana Syomkina. Though songwriters Marjana and Gleb Kolyadin are students of classical music school in St. Petersburg, Russia, their song approach is very folky. The few albums that include drums or electric bass and electric guitars only bring the song stylings closer to those of Jethro Tull and others on the more rock side of Prog Folk. Still, the majority of this stunningly gorgeous album is acoustic and put together as short folk-like songs.

~ is a refreshing stream of beautiful crossover/chamber rock/folk rock songs often interlinked by interludes/etudes called "~[intermissions]" (there are six not intcluding the two long breaks of silence amid the final 11m42sec 'song' "i.b.too" [8/10]). The often-piano-based songs showcase the wonderful, smooth, controlled, breathy voice of Marjana Syomkina--often on multiple tracks. The music most often reminds me of TORI AMOS when it is stripped down to just piano and voice (e.g. on "circles") and IONA when a full chamber rock band is accompanying Marjana (e.g. on "burn"). The voice most often sounds like IONA's JOANNA HOGG, though it does take on the classic TORI AMOS and even, sometimes, JANE SIBERRY/KATE BUSH-like stylings (e.g. on "weather changing," "~[intermission III]," and "would this be"). The full band interplay is exquisite--especially since there is invariably a stringed instrument or two or three in the mix--right up my alley for perfect prog (though I love woodwinds and accordians, too)! And keyboard payer Gleb Kolyadin's touch on the piano/keyboards reminds me tremendously of RENAISSANCE's master ivory tickler, JOHN TOUT.

Favorite songs: 1. "~[intermission I]" (2:48) (9/10); "inside" (4:16) (9/10); 3. "burn" (4:40) (10/10); 4. "circles" (3:19) (8/10); 5. "~[intermission II]" (0:52) (9/10); 6. "weather changing" (3:05) (9/10); 9. "touching II" (4:04) (10/10); 11. "monsters" (3:59) (9/10); 12. "serenade" (2:28) (10/10); 13. "~ [intermission V]" (0:55) (9/10); 15. "~[intermission VI]" (1:46) (9/10), and; the musical parts of 16. "i.b.too" especially the sublime final three minutes.



For lovers of clean, clear, crisp, dynamic folk/chamber music in the tradition of IONA, TORI AMOS, KATE BUSH, JANE SIBERRY, RENAISSANCE or ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN.






10. FAUN Luna (2014) (Electrified Pagan World/Celtic Folk) is another gem of prog folk music from Germany's "Pagan Folk" masters, FAUN. Upon first listen I found high points, but after repeated listens I've come to love this entire album. Not quite as good as their masterpiece, Eden but back to that level (after 2013's disappointing Von den Elben). The spectrum of emotions this album takes one through is nothing short of remarkable. From nostalgia to haunted fear, celebratory joy to bitter sadness, the power of mutual support to the despair of isolation, there is nary an emotion left untouched. The romantically rhythmed vocal ensemble piece "Cuncti Simus" is my absolute favorite.

Five/4.5 star songs:  "Cuncti Simus" (3:56); "Hörst du die Trommein" (3:23); "Walpurgisnacht" (3:50); "Buntes Volk" (4:17); "Menuett" (4:57); "Hekate" (4:16); "Blaue Stunde" (4:36);  "Frau Erde" (4:29); "Die Lieder Werden Bleiben" (3:19), and; "Era Escuro" (3:33).





11. ILL WICKER Untamed (2016) (Classic Prog Folk/Acid Folk)

Wonderful Prog Folk from Sweden--some call it "Acid Folk" for its similarities to the newly (and only minimally) electrified folk music of the late 1960s and 70s. A very welcome addition to the 2016 catalog of prog releases because this is a sound that is, unfortunately, all too rare in prog world today. This is true Prog FOLK music. The band uses a lot of acoustic instruments and multi-voice vocals weaving in and around each other in a manner that is quite reminiscent of the original folk bands who tried electrification, who tried "progressive" experimentation--and especially those bands that used more complex and idiosyncratic instrumental weaves, like THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, SPIROGYRA, and COMUS. From Sweden, this is the band's second release after the encouraging debut of 2014's Under Diana. The band's sound and lyrical choices are the closest thing I've heard to Germany's pagan folk masters, FAUN, yet singing mostly in English as opposed to Faun's German and many old and ancient language explorations.


1. "I Was Here When The Sea Was Young" (2:40) is a fast-moving upbeat tune with some very complicated weaves of both instruments and vocals. A great opener and my favorite song on the album. (10/10)

2. "The Charm On Your Chest" (8:07) opens with a brisk pace but then turns into an exercise in subtlety and beauty. Throughout the second, third and fourth minutes I am filled with feelings of walking alone in an enchanted and beautiful woods. At 4:10 when the percussion hits intimate a change, I envision coming out of the woods to the vision of a beautiful lake below me and mountain hillsides beyond. But then the music makes feel as if I need to run--as if I am being pursued and need to escape. Violin, mandolin, and acoustic guitar shine above the organ and percussion as the pursuit becomes more intense in the seventh minute. Horses! closing in! Is it me they're after? The voice of a spirit enchanter asks me what I'm experiencing--why I'm choosing this adventure. And I stop--all sources of terror and fear disappear--they were all of my own creation. Nice journey. And what a story it seems to be telling of young love. One of the most emotionally powerful musical pieces I've ever heard; a vertiable prog masterpiece. (10/10)

3. "Untamed" (6:29) opens with the instruments establishing a perky pace like a ballad, but then, surprise!, when the vocals (presented in multiple voice harmony) take their turn the instrumental support becomes quite sparse and quiet. This pattern continues, somewhat, though the instrumental support becomes more prominent ver the course of the song. The instrumental section that begins at the end of the third minute is quite nice, with some surprise chords thrown in beneath the soloing violin. And then, at the beginning of the fifth minute, the vocals return in a joyful and unusually constructed four- or five-part harmony. The collective instrumental and vocalise play to the songs end is rather steady and beautiful. Great song. (9/10)

4. "Silent Impulse" (7:13) starts out as a slow song with kind of eery, drawn out multilayered vocals singing over some simple instrumental accompaniment (acoustic guitar and violin). But the second half of the song--about the time the singers finish their work--turns into a jam with a build up of slowly increasing speed and dexterity. (8/10) 

5. "Earth Child" (7:59) opens with quite a medieval feel and sound as hand drums and acoustic instrumentation repeat a brief little pattern a few times. The song then develops into more of an instrumental jam until, surprisingly, at 1:19 some very playful, festive (drunk?) vocals (led by a bacchanalian male) enter and follow along with the jamming instruments. Just as quickly and surprisingly, the music slows to a crawl at the two minute mark. The music and ensuing vocals sound almost ritualistic, give cause for a little fear and trepidation. But then the forward march signal is given and the band returns to cantoring along the path. Definitely the most COMUS-sounding song I've heard on the album. The mandolin soloing at the end of the fifth minute is refreshing. The wild orgy continues until at the end of the seventh minute everything slows, quiets, like the calm after all of the drunken regaliers have fallen asleep and the fire's flames begin to die down for lack of attention. Cool musical story tellling! (9/10)

6. "The Trials Of Madame Dillner" (5:11) opens as a kind of traditional folk song with standard accompaniment, single vocalist (male), and brief bridges of instrumental soli (mostly violin) between the vocal verses. In the second half of the second minute female background singers mirror the lead vocalist and mandolin joins the violin's melody making. AT 2:45 there is a shift in the foundation to more broadly fill the bass end (congas, bass, organ, lower register violin play). The vocals begin sounding so Dylan-cum-Judy Dyble-esque! Nice traditional folk song. (8/10)

7. "Min Levnads Afton" (6:36) a gorgeous MEDIÆVAL BÆBES-like rendering of a traditional Swedish folk song. My second favorite song on the album. (10/10)

Line-up
Emil Ridderstolpe
Emma Lagerberg
Thea Åslund
Hampus Odlöw
Ebba Wigren
Adam Grauman



These are very polished and professional folk musicians, people! Well worth checking out. And this, their second album, shows much improvement in composition, performance refinement, and sound engineering. An album that deserves to be heard--and one that deserves to be ranked among Prog Folk's classics! Certainly one of the finest Prog Folk albums of the new millenium!

91.43 on the Fishscales = five stars; a masterpiece of Prog Folk music.




12. CORDE OBLIQUE The Stones of Naples (2009) (Neo-Mediæval Folk) is the third of RICCARDO PRENCIPE's neo-medieval folk fashioned music presentations. This album sees a definite step forward in the compositions' leanings toward folk and medieval music and away from straightforward neoclassical music. For me, this pays off with The Stones of Naples feeling like the most accessible and most enjoyable Corde Oblique album yet. Plus, The Stones of Naples enjoys the benefit of vocal contributions of no less than six women, each of outstanding voice, including:  Caterina Pontrandolfo (familiar to us from the previous album, Volontrà d'arte) on songs 1, 6 and 10; Floriana Cangiano on songs 2 and 9; Claudia Sorvillo on songs 4 and 11, Monica Pinto, Geraldine Le Cocq and Alessandra Santovito on songs 7, 5, and 3, respectively.

Because of this last fact, I will add that more than either of Riccardo's previous two Corde Oblique albums, this one is much more song/ballad oriented. You have to travel eight songs into the album before you get to an instrumental, and, again, unlike the previous albums, this one has much more of a medieval folk feel to it. This album contains songs of such consistently high standards that are all so enjoyable that I prefer to not single out any songs that I like more than any others [though, between you and me, I find myself swooning with absolute bliss during the string of five songs: 3. "Flower Bud" (6:11) (10/10), 4. "Flying" (5:44) (10/10), 5. "Like an Ancient Black and White Movie" (2:10) (10/10), 6. "La città dagli occhi neri" (5:44) (10/10), and 7. "Nostalgica avanguardia" (5:14)(10/10).] Let's just say from the album's opening notes and song to its last you are in for a real treat.




13. FAUNS Awaiting the Sun (2011) (Prog Folk Rock) is a folk-based prog album on the scale of ANTHONY PHILLIPS' The Geese and The Ghost.

1. "Scenes From A Dream" (6:30) begins with a delicate weave of multiple absolutely heart-wrenching melodies coming from harmonizing vocalists, wooden flute, acoustic guitars, electric guitar. A middle section of full out electrified rock music similar to early GENESIS momentarily disrupts this bucolic bliss, but the pastoral feel returns to play out to the end with a piano, fretless bass and heavily distorted electric guitar lead weaving the baseline melody from the starting section. (10/10)

2. "Every Wave Its Prey" (4:43) with its SMITHS sound and crashing spacey middle and end sections. (8/10)

3. "The Path" (10:10) denotes a return to the ANT PHILLIPS/STEVE HACKETT Voyage of the Acolyte guitar sounds but this one incorporates the alluring vocal talents of violin/flutist Kirsten Middeke. (9/10)

4. "Way To The Sun" (4:56) opens with a STEVEN WILSON-like acoustic guitar strum before being joined by flute, bass and drums. Again we are graced with the presence of the ethereal voice of Ms. Middeke. The SW comparisons continue though an AL STEWART "Infinity" familiarity emerges as the song plays out. (8/10)

5. "A Perfect Place" (10:45) begins with cymbal play, TONY LEVIN-like Chapmanstick play and piano before electric guitar and rock drumming join in (and take over). The song establishes quite a heavy Crimsonian sound with its interwoven arpeggios coming from several distorted electric instruments. By the time the MORRISSEY-like vocal enters the group weave has settled back into the realm of the near acoustic, but, for the chorus parts, the metal-like guitar chord strums return. (8/10)

6. "The Path (Reprise)" (1:49) reprises the chords and melodies from the acoustic parts of 3. "The Path." (9/10)

7. "Dawn" (20:24) finds the band again returning to the GENESIS/STEVE HACKETT/ANTHONY PHILLIPS realm of pastoral acoustic music. The harmonized voices of a male and a female present the very folk-like melody and lyric lines. At 5:00 a very familiar GENESIS "Cinema Show"-like instrumental section begins. Three minutes of absolute gorgeous music. In the beginning of the ninth minute the Genesis influences continue with an uptempo shift into a full-out rock section with first organ then flute, then electric guitar solos playing. Choral chanting fills a section before the early ANT PHILLIPS--sounding electric guitar screams through a brief "Knife"-like solo. At the start of the twelfth minute everything shifts to a more RPI folk sound--acoustic guitar strummed and banged for percussive effect eventually turning into a very ANT PHILIPS Geese and the Ghost-like song. The transition from here into a military percussive build-to-crescendo section using a single acoustic guitar's arpeggiated descending chord sequence is so beautiful and so PREMIATA FORNERIA MARCONI. Truly one of the best prog epics to ever come out of the Prog Folk sub genre! (10/10) 

A gorgeous album of more prog rock-leaning Prog Folk. Worth it only if you listen to the prog epic "Dawn." Truly a classic!




14. NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA I a Moon (2011) (Chamber Folk) I've been waiting for a rival to my favored KARDA ESTRA, CICCADA, CICADA, IONA, and AFTER CRYING CDs. There is even a bit of the POLYPHONIC SPREE feel here, though much more evolved and refined. Chamber music for the folk--though I hear some of the early GENESIS sounds in the piano, synths and vocal harmonies. Unlike KARDA ESTRA, the instruments are far less washed by the floating background of synths and other electronics (thus the POLYPHONIC SPREE reference), and also unlike Karda Estra, NSRO's music on this album is more folkie--quirky, off the wall, melodic, upbeat, happy/silly music. At times I'm even reminded of DAVID BYRNE, early IVY, YUGEN, and, of course, THE CARDIACS. Yet, the moods conveyed from song to song can change quite dramatically. "Berliner Luft" is very upbeat and light--like travelling minstrels entering the faire--while it's instrumental follower, "Morpheus Drone," is more late night reflective or mourning, while next, "The Earth Beneath Our Feet," has a very basic GREEN LINNET folk feel to it, while the next, "Ring Moonlets," has a delightful modern/Renaissance feel to it--not quite comparable to GENTLE GIANT, the masters of that ilk, more like Robert Fripp's work with THE ROCHES. The next, "When Things Fall Apart," has a delightful multi-layer all-female vocal presentation with only piano accompaniment. Reminds me of the MEDIAEVAL BAEBES, only with more innocence and a more pastoral BENJAMIN BRITTEN/RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS sense.

I quite enjoy this album--a delightfully pleasing find. Overall, the songwriting is outstanding, the vocals quite good (lead female vocalist, Sharron Fortnam, belies comparison--part teen ingenue, part Nicolette Larsen, part JACQUI MACSHEE from THE PENTANGLE). The musical weaves are often KING CRIMSON-like though not unlike those of AFTER CRYING or JAGA JAZZIST. It is such a nice thing to find upbeat progressive music. I look forward to a long association with you, NSRO. Highly recommended to all music/prog lovers.

Added 11/13/11: What a find! Thanks again, progstreaming.com. Surprisingly refreshing, quaint and beautiful avant/chamber compositions of which the vocalized ones are my favorite--but only by a slight bit. This is an overall masterpiece whose music keeps sucking you in, keeps you coming back and continues to unravel its layers of beauty with each and every listen. Definitely one of my five favorites from 2011 (so far)--an amazing year for prog, IMHO.

1. "Morpheus Miracle Worker" (5:21) sounds a bit like one of KATE BUSH's more folk-oriented songs (e.g. "Army Dreamers" or "Night of the Swallow"). (8/10)

2. "I a Moon" (2:24) with its female vocal harmonies and simple acoustic instrumentation, this song reminds me of an upbeat MEDIAEVAL BAEBES song. (8/10)

3. "Guitar Miniature #3" (1:43) is a cute little folk-cum-classical guitar solo piece. Nothing too remarkable. (6/10)

4. "Heavy Weather" (8:10) is the album's only piece to feature prominently a male voice in the lead (soon joined by female and later by small chorale of both females and males). Musically it reminds me a lot of Genesis' "A Trick of the Tale" mixed with an old ballad by The Roches ("On the Road to Fairfax County"). A beautiful piece; an extraordinary composition, despite being a bit despondent. (10/10)

5. "Berliner Luft" (6:12) is a cute little instrumental that brings into play a kind of Euro-electro/Krautrock crossed with KRONOS QUARTET kind of feel to it. Sophisticated yet simple, cheery yet with a bit of a kind of Punk edge. (9/10)

6. "Morpheus Drone" (2:25) begins like a Yo-yo Ma "Silk Road" piece of 'world music' with random rings of odd chimes and hanging percussives soon joined by solo cello--which plays a haunting though rather repetitive melody--Celtic, I believe. (8/10)

7. "The Earth Beneath Our Feet" (5:32) seems to be a continuation of its predecessor, though melody and instruments change within the first minute (acoustic guitar). Once the vocals join in (1:18) the song takes on a very KATE BUSH feel--the vocal melody straight out of Kate's repertoire and style. While beautiful, the song doesn't really develop into anything very winning or emotional until guitar and strings (cello) team up at the 4:00 mark. (8/10)

8. "Ring Moonlets" (3:23) is a beautiful little old-new instrumental song à la GENTLE GIANT, Windham Hill and THE CALIFORNIA GUITAR TRIO (and so many others). (10/10)

9. "When Things Fall Apart" (4:32) is perhaps the most KATE BUSH like song yet on this superb album. Piano and female vocals in harmony sing this song of sorrowful hope, they are later supplanted by a gorgeous string trio, to which the piano is eventually rejoined. So "The Sensual World"! (10/10)

10. "Mitte der Welt" (6:09) is an instrumental that starts in a quirky KRAFTWERK-way--making the listener almost jump to the player to see if the disc is skipping--before joined by clarinet and kletzmer rhythm section--and later synths and oboe. This little avant gem could be coming from the likes of YUGEN, SKE, or perhaps even UNIVERS ZERO. (9/10)

Surprisingly refreshing, quaint and beautiful avant/chamber compositions of which the vocalized ones are my favorite--but only by a slight bit. This is an overall masterpiece whose music keeps sucking you in, keeps you coming back and continues to unravel its layers of beauty with each and every listen. Definitely one of my five favorites from 2011 (so far)--an amazing year for prog, IMHO.





15. VOX VULGARIS The Shape of Medieval Music to Come (2003) (Neo-Medieval Folk) Woodwind artist Rasmus Fleischer is a serious student of baroque and medieval music and it shows in this outstanding instrumental album, but be prepared for the most authentic recently-composed period music you may ever hear. As was true of the traditions of the times, the melodies and structures are very repetitive and rigid but that is part of the album's charm: you think you're hearing modern performances of long lost music--performed, of course, on period instruments.

 1. "Stella Splendens" (7:51) (9/10); 2. "Rokatanc" (3:54) (9/10); 5. "Cantiga 166" (5:13) (10/10); "La Suite Meurtriere" (4:27) (9/10);




16. ATARAXIA Llyr (2007) (Ambient Electronic Folk) is a very pleasant neoclassical ambient world folk music album very much in the vein of DEAD CAN DANCE with a remarkably strong female vocalist singing all lead vocals while being supported by traditional instruments and synthesizers. Francesca Nicoli's enigmatic operatic mezzo soprano voice reminds me at times of ENYA or Gunnhild Tvinnereim (SECRET GARDEN) (on "Sigillat"), Ana Torres Fraile (UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA) (on "Quintaluna") at times of a Chinese Opera singer ("Llyr" and "Evnyssien") and others ELIZABETH FRASER (COCTEAU TWINS) (on "Klepsydra") and still others of NINA HAGEN (on "Elldamaar"). The band tends to be hide intentionally behind veils of obscurity, however they themselves call their music "a cosmogonic dark folk" ("praying for Beauty"). Beautiful music it certainly is.

Favorite songs:  "Evnyssien" (8:48) (10/10); "Siqillat" (6:47) (9/10); "Klepsydra" (4:51) 9/10); "Borrea" (5:56) (9/10).




17. AALTO Ikaro (2014) (Eclectic Traditional/World Folk) Prog Folk coming out of Finland. The blending of what sounds like Arabian and Indian instruments with the gut-stringed instruments and shamanic voices native to Finland, plus Didgeridoo, banjo, a kind of zither/autoharp, reed instruments, and "Tibetan" or "Tuvan" (or Sami? or some other Siberian tribe's) vocal overtone singing make this more of a blending of ancient and sacred intercontinental indigenous traditions. Coming from North America, I am biased in that I think I am hearing First American rhythms and vocals, too--especially songs like the album's opener, "Ikaro" (8:12) (8/10). 

2. "Vapathaja" (7:30) presents with a jazzy Eastern European/klezmer sound. Sultry female lead vocalist, Petra Poutanen, the delicate acoustic stringed instruments, along with the virtuosic clarinet performance give it a bit more of an international flavor. (9/10) 

3. Sitar-, doshpuluur- and mandolin- dominated "Heijestumia" (5:19) has quite a fun minstrel/troubadour feel to it, though is quite Indian-sounding. The "Tuvan" throat singing adds a mystical quality to the song's feel. (9/10)

4. "Kastepiesaroita" (4:16) and 5. "Kastepiesaroita II" (5:23) present as an ethereal pair of Eastern-spiced meditative songs. The first is dominated by an effluent, hypnotic female voice singing as if trying to lull the listener into a trance or some receptive state. Part II continues the hypnosis using only instruments. (8/10)

6. "Sateentuoksuisia Unia" (4:55) is for me one of the albums high points. Beautiful melodies, almost a Cassandra Wilson feel to the banjo, baritone guitar, didgeridoo and hand drum foundation with some great vocals, lead and harmonies, throughout. (10/10)


7. "Metsätaloushöömei" (6:26) has quite a shamanic story-telling sound to it as male vocalist alternates between throat singing and pleasant tenor folk singing. The 'shout chorus' and female 'yodeling' take the song into even stranger territory. Ends like a front porch bluegrass jam straight out of the Ozarks! Not a song for the faint of heart! I like it! (8/10) 

8. The album's closer--and its longest song at 10:39--"Kuun Tytär" is its best. Opening with didgeridoo, subtle background strings sounds and harmonics all playing over the syncopated rhythms of a hand drum. At 1:28 a clarinet enters, claiming the melodic lead with repetition of its simple ascending note sequence. At 2:10 the etheric, delicate voice of Petra Poutanen again graces us with its present. I wish I could find the translation to the Finnish lyrics here because they must tell quite a powerful little story. The song is mesmerizingly beautiful and haunting in a very MEDIÆVAL BÆBES kind of way. (10/10)

Overall this is an interesting album of unusual and often beautiful, hypnotic, and joyful songs. I can't remember the last time I've ever come across such an eclectic blend of world instruments into the songs represented here. But it works! I have been listening to this album over and over for several weeks now and each listen only seems to deepen my immersion and enjoyment of them. I'm not sure this is a "masterpiece of progressive Folk music" but it is definitely worth checking out. If you're looking for something different, something out of the ordinary and entertaining, I would highly recommend that you check this one out.




18. CICCADA The Finest of Miracles (2015) (Progressive Greek Folk-Jazz Rock) It’s been five years since Greece’s Ciccada released their highly acclaimed debut album, A Child in the Mirror on AltrOck Records. Now they are back with an album that displays the maturation process the band has undergone in both recording and compositional technique. The songs of The Finest of Miracles show improved mastery of the band’s proclivity for weaving sophisticated instrumental structures using their multiplicity of ancient and traditional folk instruments integrated with modern electrified instruments. They have also refined their symphonic sensibilities, as is displayed in the long-playing masterpieces, “Around the Fire” and the 18-minute long “The Finest of Miracles Suite.” They are also much more evenly paced, eliminating the occasional tendency they had previously to over-do or flood passages with too much information. 

1. “A Night Ride” (6:26) is an instrumental putting on immediate display the fact of the band’s maturation as well as its further commitment to both rock music and symphonic song structures. Also on display is the multi-instrumental virtuosity of leader Nicolas Nikolopoulos who is credited with flute, tenor sax, Mellotron, synthesizers, electric and grand pianos, organ, and glockenspiel. The contributions of guest musician Lydia Boudouni on violin are also quite significant. Nice opener. (8/10) But, we’re all waiting for the complete ensemble—and especially the contributions of vocalist extraordinaire, Evangelina Kozoni. The next song does not take long to satisfy. 

2. “Eternal” (8:02) starts out sounding very much like A Child in the Mirror’s “A Garden of Delights”—though a bit more spacious. By the middle of the song the band has started mixing things up enough and by the end of the sixth minute they have finally broken away from its predecessor: organ, acoustic guitars, flutes, Mellotron and violins. In retrospect, it feels as if it is really Evangelina’s vocal melody that keeps bringing me back to “Earthly Delights,” not so much the instrumental music. Still, a great song. Great sound. (8/10)

3. “At the Death of Winter” (4:04) starts out with flute, synths, Mellotron and marimba setting things up for Evangelina’s storytelling vocal. The song is impressionistic:  jazzy, folkie, kind of childlike and pleasant. At times it even treads into GENTLE GIANT territory—especially with the jazzy section beginning in the third and the rondo weave of male vocals accompanying Evangelina which soon follows during the fourth minute. Surprising and beautiful song! (9/10)

4. “Around the Fire” (9:16) is a true symphonic construction with no single section lasting more than 45 seconds and never less than 30. It opens with two wooden flutes playing together for the first 30 seconds. Multiple tracks of acoustic guitars fill the next 30 seconds before an all-out acoustic JETHRO TULL instrumental weave bursts out. This is then joined by organ and Evangelina’s vocal. Next there is a brief instrumental of medieval instruments before the music returns to the JTULL theme with electric guitar and flute flashing in and out in an enthusiastic dance. Next Evangelina returns with the organ before the song quiets down to the medieval instrument section this time with Evangelina’s voice. It sounds like a 1960s folk songs with its strummed acoustic guitars and background vocal harmonies. Gorgeous! At the five minute mark we get to hear two electric guitar soli before the song devolves into a rapidly strumming acoustic guitar. Then, at 6:30 we get to hear some impassioned JTULL flute and guitar soli, building into a heavier JTULL crescendo before returning tho the 60s folk section with the addition of Mellotron and GENESIS-like guitars to exit. Amazing song! (10/10)

5. “Lemnos (Lover Dancer)” 0:47) is a song in the true medieval folk minstrel tradition. Plus horns! (10/10)

THE FINEST OF MIRACLES SUITE:

6. “Birth of the Lights” (1:52) opens surprisingly heavily, with and odd time signature, before evolving into a softer and lighter “sunshine and unicorns” mood. (9/10)

7. “Wandering” (6:42) opens sounding a lot like very early GENESIS. Sax with background violin and piano are interspersed with the “mischievous” “interruptions” of flute A weave of multiple synths ensues before the song returns to the sax and violin weave, this time interlaced with slightly heavier sections—one of which has some raunchy jazz guitars. The song always comes back to either the sax and violin theme and/or the flutes over acoustic guitars for its grounding. This is very much a soundtrack for a film—like an old silent film soundtrack—one in which five or six very distinct personalities are interacting and/or conversing. (9/10)

8. “Sirens Call” (1:38) starts with simple acoustic guitar arpeggios joined by flute and then double bass and Rhodes piano. Violin and flute trade soli throughout. (9/10)

9. “As Fall the Leaves” (3:09) is a medieval folk ensemble set up for Evangelina to sing in her native Greek. Very RENAISSANCE like. (10/10)

10. “Song for an Island” (4:47) sees the suite step into the electronic era with trumpets and Mike Oldfield-like lead guitar with Evangelina continuing singing in Greek. The music has the feel of an early bluesy JETHRO TULL or GENESIS song. Horns join in at 1:10, adding something special before the song returns to the opening vocal section. In the fourth minute it takes a turn into new territory—a kind of “MacArthur Park” sound and structure. At 4:30 a circus-like element is introduced—which carries us through to the end! (9/10)

Amazing composition pulled off with such skill and maturity! Awesome!

This album has an amazing 1970s feel to it in the way it is composed and performed; such mastery and maturity is rare in this day and age. Always a sucker for medieval and folk traditions, this album has bewitched me—much more than even their debut—to which I also ascribed five stars.





19. TENHI Saivo (2011)

Somber and stark but profoundly emotional in an ULVER-kind of way, this Finnish band sings in its native language but needs no translation in order to get its message across. Each and every one of the surprisingly diverse songs has its own separate and powerful impact--one that engages and sucks one in. I am left astonished, stunned, at the beauty and effectiveness of these fairly simple yet masterfully constructed songs and their impact. Combining classical instruments with more traditional folk music instrumentation with the dark Leonard Cohen/Krystoffer Rygg-style male vocals is done in unusual and yet ingenious combinations and totally unique styles. Breathtaking as a whole, breathtaking each and every single song!





20. ANTHONY PHILLIPS Field Day (2005) (Solo Instrumental Acoustic Guitar) is a collection of 36 songs on 2 CDs that Ant felt he had to get out of his brain--some old, some newly conceived--all played on guitars from Ant's personal collection. the most interesting thing about this collection of brief very catchy instrumental songs is that Ant hadn't played guitar for years! He's made quite a career of composing and playing keyboard-based soundtrack music for television and film. Still, one of the premier recorded masters of the 12-string guitar it is a treasurable experience to have 36 new pieces of his performed on his diverse collection of 12-string and six-string guitars and other instruments of the lute family. As always, titles and unpredictable melodic and tempo shifts are ever-present in these works. Recording and flow is wonderful, with the synth-backed first and last songs providing perfect bookends for the otherwise all-acoustic guitar performed album. One of the best representations of the genius that is Anthony Phillips. Highly recommended. Try these samples:  "Nocturne" (3:47); "High Fives" (1:53); "Steps Retraced" (4:11); "Credo" (1:55); "Bel Ami" (2:03), and: "River of Life" (3:24) (a cover version).



21. AUTUMN CHORUS The Village to the Vale (2011) (Choral Post Rock) is a brilliant Post Rock/Folk Rock album with folk choral type vocals set over some very pastoral music (despite the presence of drums). Unusual with an amazing male lead vocalist (Robbie Wilson) and interesting use of organ, strings, horns and effects (recorded in a church??) With only one song clocking in at less than five minutes--and three over seven--I'm not sure this album deserves the "Crossover" label-- think "Folk" label much more appropriate--though band calls themselves Post Rock/Modern Classical--both of which there are definite presences. There is even a strong feel of church chorale influence. As Robbie sings--and the engineering effects here cause a church-like echo--one cannot help but feel transported to some sacred or angelic venue. Amazing to have this kind of voice singing over the Post Rock/Folk Rock music! "Progressive" in the truest sense of the word. It is definitely a stunning album, start to finish. Reminds me of the best sides of FLEET FOXES and THE DECEMBERISTS playing over music by SIGUR RÒS and RADIOHEAD. Check it out, everybody! Try listening to the following album highlights:  "Three Jumps the Devil" (7:17) (10/10); "Brightening Sky" (5:23) (9/10); the COLDPLAY-like "Rosa" (16:11) (8/10), and; the charming and heart-strings pulling "Bye Bye Now" (4:09) (9/10). 






22. IONA The Circling Hour (2006) (Celtic Prog Folk) Any Iona album is worth owning and listening to regularly--even the most recent, more-overtly and heavily Christian, Another RealmThe Circling Hour is no exception. Coming right on the heels of guitarist DAVE BAINBRIDGE's IONA-collaborated "solo" effort, Veil of Gossamer, and six years since the last studio album--the supreme achievement that is Open Sky--2006 finds the band still in great form.

Song favorites: "Sky Maps" (6:43) (10/10), "Empyream Dawn" (7:50) (9/10) and the three-part "Wind, Water and Fire" suite (10/10).

While this album doesn't have quite the staying power of Open Sky (to their credit:  not many albums do), it is still an amazing display of prog folk mastery. Iona is a band that has few equals in 21st Century prog world.





23. SEVEN REIZH Strinkadenn Ys (2001) (Prog Folk) Not quite the polished masterpiece that the few reviewers on PA have raved about, this one reminds me, qualitatively, of CIRRUS BAY's Stepping into Elsewhere in that there are some brilliant ideas, brilliant melodies, but not quite developed as far as could be taken. To be sure there are many absolutely breathtaking passages, but they often come over the top of rather banal, straightforward passages of rock chord progressions or steady backbeats (I hear a lot of GENESIS' ABACAB throughout this album's longer, rockier songs) over which the soli are then performed. The vocals and keys and folkier, 'non-rock' instruments are superb. The IONA, SALLY & MIKE OLDFIELD, XII ALFONSO and ALAN STIVELL--and even ENYA and CLANNAD--comparisons are quite understandable. I'd add not only GENESIS (big time!) but DUNWICH and even SURVIVOR. I consider all of the album's songs to be of at least 4 star quality (though the "ABACAB" similarities of "Mall eo monet de YS" are a bit too striking for my tolerance), with no less than seven songs earning 5 stars, but the album has too many spots of what I'll call 'simplicity' for me to give it an overall 5 star "masterpiece" rating. The stretch of diverse masterpieces that flow from "Hybr'Ys" (9:15) (10/10) (Link to live version here), through the sublime instrumental "Kan KêrYs" (6:14) (8/10) the amazing eery Arab-sounding "Liñvadenn" (5:16) (9/10) (concert version here), the VON HERTZEN BROTHERS-like "Tad ha Mamm" (8:44) (8/10) and the gorgeous, gorgeous "Enora ha Maël" (4:40) (10/10) are what make prog so special! Perfect captivation of the gambit of emotions of the human experience. A beautiful album that I highly recommend--especially for those who love melody and subtlety.






24. CORDE OBLIQUE Hail of Bitter Almonds (2011) (Neo-Mediæval Folk) brings RICCARDO PRENCIPE's neo-medieval music project more fully into the prog world. The Post Rock sound and format similar to ANATHEMA is present here. Also, this album has by far the greatest diversity in terms of tempos and musical stylings yet used on a Corde Oblique album. It seems that Riccardo has taken Corde Oblique from the realm of neo-classical, into neo medieval classical, then neo medieval folk, and now prog folk rock with a very consistent medieval folk tinge throughout. Once again drawing from the vocal talents of a stable of superb singers--this time four female and two male--yielding some truly memorable songs. Not as consistent as its gorgeous predecessor, The Stones of Naples, the highs and diversity of styles and dynamics makes this another gem, if more proggy.

"A Hail of Bitter Almonds" (2:07) (10/10) "Le pietre di Napoli" (4:59) (9/10) "The Man of Wood" (4:08) "Gioia di Vivere" (3:50) (8/10)




25. KOSMOS Salattu Maailma (2013) (Eclectic Prog Folk) is an album of diverse folk-rock from Finnish band, Kosmos, stretching from outright progressive rock of the opener to more of a country-folk of "Loitsu," to pastoral prog folk like "Simpukka," then to a more eerie ballad form of "Tuuli" and then to the realm of psychedlia with "Uni." All of it is very nicely composed, performed and recorded. I really appreciated the printing of the lyrics in English as well as the gorgeous album and web art work.

1. "Salattu Maailma" ("A Hidden World") (6:59) begins with a very MOODY BLUES/IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING feel and sound. When lead vocalist, Päivi Kylmänen arrives, the instrumental support includes beautifully finger-picked acoustic guitar, simple drum and bass with intermittent flute. Mellotron returns during the harmonized chorus. The instrumental C section between 3:05 and 4:30 is gorgeous and surprises us with a treated spoken voice in its middle. I cannot imagine a prog folk song being more beautiful or perfect than this one. (10/10)

2. "Simpukka" ("Seashell") (4:07) opens with the sound of waves and seagulls at the seashore. A finger-picked acoustic guitar gently introduces a "Here comes The Sun"-like melody and sound before Päivi joins in to punctuate this George Harrison theme. A very pretty folk song accented by flutes and a little Mellotron. (8/10)

3. "Loitsu" ("Incantation") (4:13) incorporates a much more straightforward folk-rock sound with strongly strummed acoustic guitar accompanied by drums, bass and, of course, the delicate vocals of Päivi Kylmänen. In the third minute a fiddle pops in for a folksy solo. Nothing very proggy, exceptional or even memorable about this one. (6/10)

4. "Pelli" ("The Mirror") (3:28) is a traditional sounding folk song which happens to beautifully showcase Päivi's extraordinary vocal talents. I am here reminded of Sandy Denny, Jane Relf, and the other understated female masters of the 60s folk rock tradition. (9/10)

5. "Tuuli" ("The Wind") (7:04) opens sounding very much like a classic JOHN MARTYN song--complete with that haunting Echoplex guitar sound. The chorale voice approach used here is also incredibly effective for reinforcing the eery feel of the song's opening. At 2:30 the song shifts as strumming acoustic guitar and bass and drums take over instrumental support for the "chorale" vocal singer/story-tellers. Melotron sneaks in during the fifth minute in a MOODY BLUES kind of way. Fiddler reappears for a pleasant solo in the sixth minute, giving the song more of a Celtic feel than it may have had before. (9/10)

6. "Uni" ("A Dream") (7:35) opens with the sounds one would associate with war-time air raid: sirens, bombs, screams, and the surprising silence and stillnesses of the bewildering aftermath. At 1:30 a male spoken voice begins telling a story over the sparse and discordant musical notes and sounds lilting in the back- and foreground. Near the three minute mark a gentle bass, almost imperceptible organ, Hammond synth/organ take over the song's soundscape--periodically joined by a n early-FRIPP-like fuzz guitar. (9/10)

7. "Takaisin Virtaan" ("Back to The Stream") (5:21) has very much the same feel and sound as the Rolling Stones' classic "You Can't Always Get What You Wanted"--same melody line and same pace, hand percussion use. Nice song but a little too familiar. (7/10)

Salaattu Maailma is a beautiful, though short album with some quite pleasant and memorable music by the angelic voice of 60s throwback Päivi Kylmänen. Takes me back to the beginnings of Prog Folk. Highly recommended.






26. NOMADS OF HOPE Breaking the circles for a while (2014) (Dreampop Prog Folk) is an entry from a two-person band like Dead Can Dance and 2013's excellent SCARLET STORIES. Kind of a Cocteau Twins approach: finished guitar tracks with vocals laid over the top. A refreshing album of gorgeous, often hypnotic music that mixes sounds that are at times reminiscent of LUSH, ROBIN GUTHRIE, KATE BUSH, PETER GABRIEL, and even JON HASSELL. Highly recommended.

1. “Breaking the Circles” (3:00) Opens with some heavily treated guitar familiar to me from years ago via Jan Akkerman and The Edge. There is a little PINGVINORKESTERN in Ingemo’s vocal’s melodic sense. though her soprano floats and lilts over the top of the music sounding a lot like Lush’s Miki Berenyi. (9/10)

2. “In The Shadows” (3:21) opens with some heavily treated, layered electric guitars very much like ROBIN GUTHRIE. The vocal enters like a beautiful LUSH song from their first album (partly Robin Guthrie produced), “Sweetness and Light.” Beautiful guitar chord progressions. Some nice Mellotron, too! (9/10)

3. “Every Daybreak” (6:13) opens like a set up on a classic PETER GABRIEL soundtrack song, like from Passion: Soundtrack from The Last Temptation of Christ or Rabbit-Proof Fence or even “Signal to Noise.” When Ingemo’s gorgeous voice enters it is like none other than KATE BUSH. Awesome layered guitar work. Three songs into it and still not a drum, snap or click to be heard! (9/10)

4. “The Day” (4:26) is, for me, the weakest song on the album. Some abrasive slapped guitar and dirty percussives make an incongruous background to Ingemo’s whispery voice. (6/10)

5. “Kindly Winds” (4:17) involves Ingemo’s lilting voice floating ethereally over heavily treated piano and guitars and some drums. The song has trouble deciding whether it’s going to kick in or hold back. (It holds back.) Some nice guitar lead in the final minute. (7/10)

6. “Politics and Dreams” (5:01) begins very much like an old PETER GABRIEL song with dated electric piano (mididd with organ?) Ingemo’s vocals are quite strikingly reminiscent of quintessential KATE BUSH. The Celtic-like flutes and hand drums make it even more so. Nice song. (8/10)

7. “Connections” (4:13) opens with a heavily treated guitar strumming with a second less-muddied guitar and bass playing along. Ingemo adds background ghost voices before coming in with an echoed lead vocal. I like the construction of this song—chord progressions and vocal melody. It’s quite unusual and alluring. Ingemo’s voice styling here is quite a bit like that of KATE BUSH on the “Man with the Child in his Eyes.” Quite nice. (9/10) 

8. “I Used to Forget” (3:52) opens with an old sounding electric piano before drums, bass and voice join in. Rolling toms like a gently rolling sea accompany Ingemo’s layered singing—which sound like KATE BUSH (The Dreaming era) singing with the Mediæval Bæbes. The keyboard interludes sound like a live, over-amped keyboard—“Bob Mayo! Bob Mayo!” (they yelled on Frampton Comes Alive!) Nice flute solo. Awesome song! One of my favorites. (10/10)

9. Hear My Voice” (6:18) opens with some dirty, grungy bass, drums and guitar. Ingemo’s voice sounds like she’s trying to provide the interpretive glue for the song like Kate Bush, Elisabeth from FUNIN, BJÖRK, or one of the BRAINTICKET chanteuses. Nice chunky bass à la Tony Levin or Bill Laswell. The guitar interplay in the fourth and fifth minutes is awesome and is followed by an equally intriguing weave of voices. Another favorite. (10/10)

10. “Gloomy Silvernight” (5:12) opens kind of Canterbury jazzy with some mediæval folk instruments woven into the mix. A wooden flute pulls the song even more into medieval folk realm, but then it feels equally Indian in its pulsing, snaky, hypnotic weave. The vocal doesn’t begin until the 1:46 mark. Once again feels like KATE BUSH—a very breathy, Sensual World-era Kate—in both style and melodic sense. Another awesome favorite. (10/10)

11. “All Nights” (2:56) opens with almost a Rolling Stones guitar sound—a little more treated—and then a very Miki Berenyi (LUSH)-like lead vocal. (8/10)

12. “Water Flowing” (7:32) returns to the familiar PETER GABRIEL/BRIAN ENO/JON HASSELL foundational rhythms and sounds. Singing about the fall of the Berlin Wall, Ingemo’s stylistic approach is again very similar to that of KATE BUSH—again, Sensual World era. A Very powerful vocal to go over another beautiful blend of hypnotic music. This is the best song on the album both in terms of content and feeling fully formed and polished. (10/10)

Overall a very pleasant listen—one that draws me in and entices me to push “replay” or “continuous play.” I have favorites but it all flows and fits together nicely. And I love the album artwork!




27. MIDLAKE The Trials of Van Occupanther (2006) (Eclectic Folk)

A brilliant album of quite intricate and subtly constructed songs. A songwriting style that seems common to many Midlake songs is used to great success here: that is the process of slowly adding an assortment of instruments to flit and playfully dance around the lead vocal. Quite remarkable and endearing.

1. Fan favorite "Roscoe" (4:49) is not one of my personal favorites. (8/10)

2. "Bandits" (4:04) is a multi-dimensional, multi-part song that really displays a lust for story telling through the music as well as through the lyric. Quite an intricate display of composition and performance. One of the album's best. (9/10)

3. "Head Home" (5:45) contains some of my favorite vocal arrangements that I've heard in a long time--with quite daring and unexpected changes in direction and melody. (9/10)

4. "Van Occupanther" (3:15) is augmented by some stunningly delightful flute and woodwind play thorough out the song--brilliantly offsetting the flat-toned lead vocal. It's as if the vocal is the foundation and everybody else is dancing playfully around him. Amazing! My favorite song on the album. (10/10)

5. "Young Bride" (4:56) is a brilliant song in the vein of RODDY FRAME/AZTEC CAMERA and ARCADE FIRE. Another favorite. (10/10)

6. "Branches" (5:03) slows things down and gets a little bogged down in the syrup of the lyric & lead vocal. Nice piano work and song shifts. (8/10)

7. "In This Camp" (5:44) sees Tim Smith singing in that FLEET FOXES style upper register. Again nice piano support and subtle incidentals before the song crashes into the eminently cathy chorus melody. (9/10)

8. "We Gathered in Spring" (3:33) sees the band singing in some of the tightest, most even harmonies--CROSBY, STILLS & NASH and AMERICA-like. Beautiful. (9/10)

9. "It Covers the Hillsides" (3:14) is upbeat and bouncy in a MAMAS & THE PAPAS/JOHN SEBASTIAN way. (8/10)

10. "Chasing After Deer" (2:42) is another delicately embellished song--subtle instrumental touches gathering around the solid, beautifully sung lead vocal. (8/10)

11. "You Never Arrived" (1:39) (8/10)

An imaginative display of thoughtful, playful, yet beautifully executed song craftsmanship.




28. FAUN Licht (2003) (Pagan Folk) is Germany's Prog Folk masters' second major release and quite a step forward from Zaubersprüche in that the band loosens up a bit and diverges and varies its path from straightforward Renaissance Faire music. The album shows the band putting their instrumental chops on full display from the get-go:  the first two songs are instrumentals with 2. "Andro" (3:45) using a metronomic stroke from its to really amp things up. This is a kick ass grooving, jam song. (10/10)

3. "Unda" uses some great lute, hand drums and hurry gurdy to support the recorder, voices, and bagpipes which alternate for the front and center melody holder. (9/10)

4. "Von den Elben" opens with harp and berimbao playing support for the lilting voice of first one and later, with the help of the lute and hand drums, a second female voice. Wonderful performance by the lead voice (Elisabeth?). (9/10)

5. "Ne Aludj El" has a bit of a Gypsy/Moorish sound to it despite using pretty much the same instruments as above. Upbeat and festive tune. (8/10)

6. "Deva" is just a -supported wordless vocal dirge.

7. "Punagra" (4:41) opens with some group chanting of the title before some wonderful upper register penny whistle work takes over the show. Later a balalaika solo takes center stage. Awesome percussion support on this one. Interesting key change with a little over a minute left--which, along with the chalumeaux (reeded recorder that is the predecessor to the clarinet) gives the music a bit of a Middle eastern flavor. (9/10)

 8. "Wind & Geige" (5:05) is a fairly simple, repetitive foundation for "geige" (violin) and whistle solos to be showcased between fairly brief lyric sections sung by the two women in harmony. (8/10)

9. "Isis" (5:40) opens with a male voice reciting some spell or invocation before the same balalaika chord progression from the last song fades in to support the singing of a quite extraordinarily beautiful male voice (which kind of reminds me of Mariuz Duda's gentle upper register). Giege and harp slowly join in support of this singer. If my German were better, this lovely song might not seem so long and soporific. (9/10)

10. "Cernunnos" (5:02) is the odd duck on this album for its long narration from a male voice (Christian von Aster). Again, not knowing enough German, the significance is lost on me. Plus the musical support consists of only drums. Probably a fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm.

11. "Egil Saga" (5:10) opens with some kind of synthesized percussives in support of a single female voice. I swear these sounds goes straight back to 1980s New Wave--of which the German scene was quite advanced. (Think Bauhaus, Schilling, Nena, and Yello.) A little weird--especially for a folk song! (7/10)

12. "Fort" (3:54) is a beautiful folk song in the "Scarborough Faire" tradition with some awesome Celtic harp playing and nice three part vocal harmonies throughout. A nice high note to end the album. (9/10)

I have reconsidered my rating of this album due to it's rather narrow instrumental variation and its two rather weak songs ("Cernunnos" and "Egil saga"). Yes, wind & violin player Fiona Rüggeberg is wonderful, as are percussionist Rüduger Maul and strings player Oliver Sa Tyr. And, while this is a step forward for the band, there are great things to come!      




29. CICCADA A Child in the Mirror (2010) (Progressive Greek Folk Rock) It was quite a struggle trying to hear and/or acquire a copy of this album or its music. But, the persistently high ratings and reviews lead me to persevere--and I am very glad I did. My first listen was appreciative ("a lot of JETHRO TULL riffs," I remember thinking), but I knew this child in the mirror was no simple kid, so I took my time, let it percolate, let the music get familiar, before trying to comment on it. I immediately knew we had a collection of very intricately constructed songs performed by very skilled "classical" chamber musicians (from Greece). Repeated listens caught me thinking of WOBBLER, THIEVES KITCHEN, ALAN STIVELL, and even a little bit of NIL, GENTLE GIANT, THE CHIEFTANS, HAPPY THE MAN, GRYPHON, DIXIE DREGS and even some Southern or Country Rock. Such an odd yet intriguing mix, no? The presence and influence of Greek folk melodies and folk instrumental traditions are quite obvious--and very charming. I only hope/wish that this album gets the listens and attention I believe it deserves.

1. "Ciccada" (4:38) opens with bass and lower register recorder, then organ, weaving a very folk-sounding tune together. The song then alternates and even mixes Renaissance instruments/styles with TULL's Thick as a Brick/Passion Play era sounds/styles (and riffs!). There is also some kind of indescribable YES-like quality to it. I absolutely love the acoustic guitars and recorders in this song.
     When drums arrive, the song settles into a pretty standard JETHRO TULL rock groove for a little while. The softer sections are noticeable for their recorder and wooden flute solos and fine folk acoustic guitar work, but are interspersed with Tull-like bursts of explosive guitar riffs. Definitely an intro into the classy and multiverse world of CICCADA (though lacking any vocal contributions)! (8/10)

2. "Isabella Sunset" (6:09) starts with piano and violin before drums, bass, flute and electric guitar join in--Baroque to rock in an instant! The vocal melody and lyric very much has the same feel as that of NIL or THIIEVES KITCHEN where the female singing is really just another instrument in the (very complicated) weave--here an beautifully trained operatic folk singer--often even mimicking the melody line of another instrument. A pretty song with, again, some very intricate songwriting construction. I hope the group continues to explore more multi-voice harmonic weaves as there are near the end of this one as I much prefer this kind of vocal weave to those barbershop quartet/Beach Boys-like ones of MOON SAFARI. Great outro. (8/10)

3. "A Child in the Mirror" (6:00) is a gorgeous jazzier song with the gorgeous vocals and melodies of Evangelina Kozoni sung in her native Greek! Backed by electric piano and fully jazz-oriented rhythm and accompaniment. Awesome song! (9/10)

4. "A Storyteller's Dream" (7:08) is a beautiful song--yet another (mostly) instrumental--with a very strong grounding in folk traditions--not unlike THE PENTANGLE or ALTAN. For me, probably the album's most emotive song. I love the organ solo with strumming acoustic guitars and mellotron mid-song which builds into quite a jam! (10/10) IMHO, stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any of the all-time great prog-intrumentals.

5. "Raindrops" (4:16) has a very pastoral, folk feel to it, with flute, acoustic guitar, bassoon, electric piano (?) and Evangelina's fluid, nearly operatic voice constantly weaving in and out of each other's melody lines. (8/10)

6. "An Endless Sea" (5:27) opens as a kind of piano chamber piece until Evangelina's voice enters. A key, tempo and timing shift at 0:55 makes for an interesting tension-building presence. Evangelina does not sing during these heavier sections. 
    Back to the original pastoral piece at 1:55, heavy at 2:23, then combined into the fourth minute before getting soft and then quite discordant and chaotic around 3:30. A very interesting song with gorgeous flute play throughout. Definitely captures the volatile moods of the sea! (8/10)

7. "Epirus--A Mountain Song" (4:58) begins with piano, clarinet and voice setting an almost chamber music-like scene. They are later joined and embellished by acoustic guitars, drums, electric bass, and electric guitar in a kind of IONA-like slilghtly amped up rock version of a folk song. I like the male b-vox on this one. More of this in the future would be nice. (8/10)

8. "Elisabeth" (7:08) is another instrumental tune that begins like an acoustic folk song before turning classical chamber music--perhaps even Renaissance music. Surprisingly, it goes to heavy rock power chords near the two minute mark, then digresses back to its pastoral yet intricate and sophisticated acoustic weave. Back and forth several more times--which surprisingly works really well--kind of like AFTER CRYING or some YES and KING CRIMSON. Some nice segues and added instruments (cello, organ) spice it up and keep it from getting too repetitive, predictable or boring. Halfway through the back beat falls into a very standard Country and Western beat--which again works! (8/10)

9. "I Stigmi--The Moment" (3:14) is a very classy folk-jazz-classical chamber piece with keys, electric guitar, and woodwinds noodling around over a standard C&W bass & drums back beat. The guitar picking even seems to come right out of Nashville. I love the fact that Evangelia Kozoni's vocals are being sung in her native Greek. (9/10)

10. "A Garden of Delights" (8:23) has a very Greek JETHRO TULL beginning to it. The near-operatic vocals of Evangelia Kozoni change this--as does the very catchy chorus, giving the song much more of its own identity. Music and lyric/vocal together lead us on a journey quite like a classic Greek play--full of many twists and turns, trying to get us to see sense and joy against the backdrop of a very arduous life of pain and struggle. Quite a journey! Quite a powerful, convoluted song! A true example of what I'd call classic progressive rock. (9/10)

While this is truly a progressive rock album, the folk foundations both instrumentally and melodically are quite pervasive--in every song. 




30. JUDY DYBLE Enchanted Garden (2001/4) (Prog Folk) is a much more electronically enhanced and supported album than 2009's Talking with Strangers, thus I'd have to call it more of a Prog folk album. Plus, there are some amazing blendings and borrowings being done from musical traditions from all over the globe.

Youtube offers samples of some great songs, including: the haunting saxophone-drenched "Breathe the Same Air" (5:42) (9/10), the South African-influenced "Summer Gathers" (6:05) (9/10), and the amazing India-psychedelia-drenched "Enchanted Garden" (7:43) (10/10)




31. GRAVENHURST The Ghost in the Daylight (2012) (Literate Prog Folk) is a collection of incredibly powerful songs by Nicholas John Talbot, a young man who only took his own life in December of 2014. The pain of his existence can be felt in every song, including some that I've posted from his back catalogue. "The Prize" (6:38), "The Foundry" (4:23) (9/10), "The Carousel" (1:30) (10/10); "Islands" (8:07) (9/10); "Three Fires" (4:17) (8/10); and "In Miniature" (4:34)

Publishing his songs since 1999, here are some from his backlog--which is well worth exploring.




32. CORDE OBLIQUE Volontà d'arte (2007) (Neo-Mediæval Folk/Neo-classical)is Riccardo Prencipe's second release of neo-medieval folk music under the title Corde Oblique. As on the debut Respici, Riccardo surrounds himself with collaborators who are up to his vision and standards. I love the consistently high quality of composition and performance on this album. I am, however, biased toward the less-classical- and more medieval folk-orientation of two of Riccardo's future albums, 2009's exquisite The Stones of Naples and 2011's wonderful Hail of Bitter Almonds.

Album standouts include:  the very Spanish-, almost GIPSY KINGS-sounding 1. "Cantastorie" (4:15) with the crystalline voice of Caterina Pontrandolfo (9/10); the medieval sounding 2. "Amphitheatrum Puteolanum" (4:29) despite Ms. Pontrandolfo's voice being treated with reverb (9/10); 3. "Casa Hirta" (9/10); the special piano-guitar duet on 4. "Before Utrecht" (5:44) (9/10); 5. "Atheistic Woman" (4:53) with its quirky, almost LEONARD COHEN vocal (9/10); the ANTHONY PHILLIPS-like solo guitar 9. "Pannegio" (2:42) (9/10); 10. "Cuma" (5:28) with singer Claudia Florio and her gorgeous operatic voice (8/10); the pretty piano suite "La Pioggia sui Tasti" (3:03) (8/10), and; the beautiful, more classically arranged "Piazza Armerina" (5:16) with guitar and clarinet (9/10).





33. AMAROK Quentadharken (2004) (Folk-Jazz Fusion) is a well-crafted folk-jazz album by Spanish musicians. The recording sounds a bit as if it were recorded live in a small club--especially the thin-tinny drums. This is, however, the album's weak point: It doesn't really feel like a studio album. Still, the performances are wonderful; the group definitely has a polished, well-rehearsed sound to it--a sound that is at times 1960/70s jazz (think early FERMATA and SANTANA), at others Middle Ages troubadour music (even Gypsy or Arabic), sometimes even Celtic. Sometimes Amarok's music is sax driven, others piano, others guitar, others saxophone, often organ, and still others driven by synthesizer or its sultry female vocalist. Variety and diversity are never lacking here! The music crosses and blends so many time periods, so many cultural lines, as to be often breathtaking, and always unusual and unexpected. All of the music could survive without the presence of the vocals and be just fine.


Album highlights: the work of the bass and woodwind players; the guitar and keyboard work; the interesting symphonic and deeply layered song constructs. 

Favorite songs: the 'medieval jazz'y "Encantamiento" (2:56) (9/10); the KING CRIMSON-plays-French-MIKE OLDFIELD-like epic, "Tierra Boreal" (9:02) (9/10); the gorgeous vocal on the GENESIS 'medieval Arabic,' "La Espiral" (7:54) (9/10); the moving little LEGRAND/LAGOYA/ RAMPAL-like "Alumbrado" (1:38) (10/10); the acoustic-based, jazzified, GENESIS Selling England by the Pound-like "Los Origenes" (5:04) (8/10); the STEVE HILLAGE-meets-STEELY DAN-like "Los Hechos" (3:08) (9/10); the KOTEBEL-like "La Batalla" (4:18) (8/10); the delicate ALAN STIVELL-meets- SPIROGYRA-like "Final" (4:42) (8/10); the wonderful woodwind-dominated folk song, "Coda" (4:06) (10/10), and; the funked-up YUGEN-like, "Laberintos de Piedra" (5:22) (8/10).




34. MESSENGER Illusory Blues (2014) is not unlike MIDLAKE for the sake of the electrified full band sound packed with lots of subtleties--though there are a few "heavier" passages and instrumental sounds used--bringing it almost into the realm of DOVES, LANDBERK or IONA. Definitely a progressive sound throughout and with plenty of unexpected compositional and stylistic switches and turns though it tends more toward the softer end of the dynamic spectrum. Guitars, drums, bass, and violin are heard along with harmonized male vocals on every song. Sometimes it gets a little jazzy, sometimes it feels like the more soft, somewhat acoustic side of LED ZEPPELIN (like on 6. "Somniloquist" [5:16]), at other times it's a bit like STING. It is always good and very well recorded, mixed and engineered. The entire album is available to listen to via this YouTube link:  the hypnotic TEA CLUB-like 1. "The Return" (5:58) (love the flute!), and; the awesome LANDBERK-like 3. "Dear Departure" (7:55). Though it is listed as an EP, it contains over 45-minutes of music.




35. TIRILL Nine and Fifty Swans (2011) (Literate Prog Folk) is a much more mature and sophisticated version of the Tirill from 2003's A Dance with the Shadows. Her voice styling has become more breathy, her choices in instrumental support and pacing more diverse, and her male companion on background vocals helps present a nice contrast and edge to her music. The lyrics are all taken from the poetry of W.B. Yeats--which makes for gorgeous English lyrics. Great idea!

Favorite songs:  "O do not Love too Long" (4:34) (9/10); the proggy "He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven" (2:41) (9/10);  the delicate, Spanish folk sound of "Before the World Was Made" (3:05); the breathy, the Celtic-infused "To a Child Dancing in the Wind" (3:00) (8/10) and "The Fisherman/Carolan's Ramble to Cashel" (4:57) (9/10); the male-voice-led "Parting" (2:29) (8/10), and; "The  Wild Swans at Coole" (5:30) (8/10). 



36. FAUNS LeafFall (2007) (Prog Folk) German Prog Folk family band Fauns (not to be mistaken with the German Pagan Folk band "Faun" -- with no "s") issued this very Tolkein-inspired international debut in 2007 to some critical acclaim and then their 2011 followup masterwork Awaiting the Sun before fading from sight. Whether the band still exists or the Berlin-based Hartmann family have and some illnesses or falling outs I do not know; their music is very difficult to hear much less acquire but well worth the effort. They have quite a little back catalogue of albums that never found international release, but if you can get your ears on LeafFall or Awaiting the Sun you can thank me later.

1. Chant (0:22)
2. On Misty Shores (8:36)
3. The Sprig Within Her Hair (3:43)
4. Dead Winter Sleep (7:28)
5. Tauriel (4:15)
6. As Her Autumn Song Called (4:27)
7. Lasselanta (0:30)
8. Cuiviénen (11:00)






37. FAUN Zaubersprüche (2002) (RenFest Music) is Faun's first release from a major music label. The album has a sound throughout--especially the first three songs--that makes it sound as if it were harnessed straight from the stages of Renaissance Fairs. The band has a very warm and engaging sound--which is captured very nicely through some very nice engineering. The individual performances are not quite as tight and polished as they could be but, again, the sound is great (better, IMO than on quiet Licht or the washed out & over-produced Von den Elben). The mood captured on Zubersprüche is quite relaxing though mesmerizing. I can imagine sitting on my wooden bench beneath a cool August night sky being lulled into a pleasantly hypnotic state by these songs. The vocals have a ways to go before they reach the heights of Renaissance, with Oliver and their harmonies, in particular, as yet unpolished.

Favorite songs: the amazing jewel of the album (and its finale), "Troum und Speigelglas" (7:37) (10/10); Oliver and Fiona's gorgeous "Das Wassermanns Welb" (3:31) (9/10); the Alan Stivell-like instrumental, "Keridwen & Gwion" (3:08) (9/10); "König Von Thule" (3:23) (8/10), and; "Tempus Transit" (4:16) (8/10).





38. COMUS Out of the Coma (2012) (Eclectic English Prog Folk) After a forty year retreat (coma) the masters of weird (1971's First Utterance) return with a brief (three medium length songs and one 16-minute excerpt from a live performance in 1971) album of equally clever, accomplished and unparalleled unusual songs. Well worth giving the time to get used to and then won over by.

"Out of the Coma" (8:31) (8/10); "Sacrifice" (8:38) (9/10), and; "The Return" (6:27) (9/10).




39. VIIMA Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta (2006) (Electric Folk/Prog Rock) is a brilliant prog folk album from Finnish prog rockers, VIIMA. Fronted buy a female singer, (Päivi Kylmänen) all the lyrics are sung in Finnish. The opener, "Leihonan Syksy" (6:27) (8/10) sounds like a dead ringer for a Finnish "Living in the Past." The title song (6:37) (8/10) is at times a bit bland, at times a bit too folksy, but still a solid song. "Ilmalaiva Italia" (5:59) (9/10) is a mellow tune with some simple but great musical support to some awesome vocal harmonies. "Meri" (7:57) (9/10) is great throwback to CURVED AIR's "Marie Antoinette" with great electric guitar substituting for David Cross' violin. "Luuttomat" (5:56) (8/10) starts as a gorgeous acoustic guitar vocal & flute folk song before switching gears to electric guitar and saxophone. The finale, "Johdatus" (9:31) (9/10) again shows a lot of similarities to CURVED AIR, musically, but especially in the lead vocalist's sounds and stylings. The piano-based, classically-tinged second section and the electric guitar play in the eighth minute are both highlights for me.





40. THE ARBORISTS A Place for You to Run Away (2014)





ILL WICKER Under Diana (2014) (Classic Prog Folk/Acid Folk)

A brilliant debut album in the true folk oriented prog folk tradition like those bands in the 1960s who first tried electrifying their music. The vocals are a little less polished and synchronized than their follow up, Untamed, but the raw energy and passion that these youths have for their music comes busting through. Much more crazed and untamed--like COMUS--than their next release.

1. "Fret" (7:53) elaborate hand percussion, glockenspiel, accordion, guitar, and four-part vocal harmonies fuel this one. Solos come from from both fiddles, glock, and percussion. When compared to their 2016 sophomore album, the vocals sound much more frenzied and unpolished. (8/10)
2. "Vassal of the sun" (8:13) opens like a dirge with organ reed organ and accordion holding long low chords while the voices and guitar fill the middle and a lonely mandolin ditties around the high registers. The instrumental mid-section steadies and soothes with guitar, glockenspiel and mandolin weaving together a fabric over which the fiddles can take turns gently soloing. This is awesome! A key shift moves the song into vocal range for the final two minutes. Nice song! (9/10)
3. "Iblissa" (7:18) starts off quite unremarkably but then takes one on an amazing journey with its emotional and eery second half. Glimpses of things to come and easily the best song on the album. (10/10)

4. "Under Diana" (5:21) slow to unfold, this is more of a song of prayer to their goddess. (8/10)
5. "Nicor" (10:27) Guitar, fiddle, viola, mandola, and incidental percussion (shells, etc.) support Emil's solo vocal on this one. Good folk song with lots of frenzy and free form play in the instrumental sections. The soft four part harmonizing in the the "lie du die du die" section and the crazed vocals that follow are my favorite parts. Unfortunately, the song is lacking a bit in the way of memorable melody lines. (8/10)

6. "Darkling woods" (7:25) guitar, mandolin, fiddle, bowed double bass and harmonium support Emil's storytelling vocal on this one. It feels traditional. A second fiddle and hand percussion comes later. Emil certainly does have a totally unique singing style: the nasal part is all Dylan, the way he whisps the tail of some words--especially at then end of lines--is akin to Bulgarian folk style singing or even Leon Thomas. (8/10) 

Line up:
- Emil Ridderstolpe / vocals, guitar
- Emma Lagerberg / vocals, reed organ, fiddle, glockenspiel
- Thea Åslund / vocals, fiddle, viola d'amore
- Hampus Odlöw / mandola, accordion, vocals
- Ebba Wigren / percussion


85.0 on the Fishscales.


AUTUMN WHISPERS Cry of Dereliction, Vol. II (2013) (Folk Pop) show a marked improvement from its predecessor, 2011's Volume I. There is much more variation and breadth to the song stylings and instrumental choices here and a greater presence from the gorgeous voice of Tirill Mohn. Leader Dino Steffens has wisely allowed more input from his band mates and other contributors in his effort to present the world with his "poetic rock with progressive and classical elements." Still, not everything works here. I wish the band had not decided to include the David Bowie/Uriah Heep-like "Walls" (4:51) (6/10), and "The Puppet's Monologue" (3:34) (7/10) is of questionable value. Another complaint I have is with the monotonous lack of variation in Dino's singing and voice melodies. Every song's vocal sounds the same. Also, the Doppler Effect on sustained violin/strings notes is way overused. Overall this is really just a collection of pretty straightforward folk pop. 

Highlights for me include:  the prog epic, "Cry of Dereliction, Volume II" (12:57) (9/10); "Fire and Ice" (4:01) (9/10); the John Lennon/Beatles-like "Auguries of Innocence" (3:43) (8/10); the pretty if laid back "Autumn" (7:58) (8/10), "I Measure Every Greaf I Meet" (5:52) (8/10), and "To a Child Dancing in the Wind" (5:29) (8/10). 





TIRILL A Dance with the Shadows (2003) (Introspective Folk) is a collection of mostly soft and somber single-instrument based folk songs sung by the delicate voice of former WHITE WILLOW violinist, Tirill Mohn. "Vendela" (6:37) stands out as the only faster-paced, full-band supported song. The album's finale, "When You Sleep," is another standout due to the contributions of the ensemble of accordion, violin, and percussion that give it its Italian café feel.
     Tirill is obviously a very contemplative poet/lyricist as her season-based lyrics are quite evocative of the thoughts she has during certain times of the year. My recommendation of this album pales next to her 2013 release due mostly to the feeling that this is really a pop folk album more than a Prog Folk effort.
    A variation of this album was released from a different label in 2011 under the title, "Tales from Tranquil August Gardens." While it has a few more songs added to it, the packaging of the original is part of what makes it worth owning. Try the following song samples from YouTube:  "Dressed in Beauty" (5:21) (9/10), "June's Flowers" (3:25) (8/10), and; "Winter Roses" (4:43) (8/10).





FAUN Totem (2007) (Pagan FolkI find Totem quite disappointing considering the meteoric rise Faun had achieved from 2002's Zaubersprüche to 2005's Renaissance. After the first two over-electrified songs smack you in the face, the album calms down into simpler song structures that place more emphasis on the vocals--which is similar to their approach on their previous album, Renaissance. But this time there is a lack of power and conviction. There are even several occasions in which I hear obvious instances where the vocal harmonies and musicians' timing are off kilter. Again, disappointing. The lack of emotion conveyed is, to my mind, indicative of intra-band discord. 
     This is Lisa Pawelke's last album with the band--after she had finally achieved prominence and more front time with her vocal talents. She left the band after Totem to pursue more concentrated studies in classical training. She will be missed for an album or two, but, thankfully, the band reloads and comes out better than ever with Buch der Ballladen (2009), Eden (2011), and Luna (2014). 
     The album ends with two songs that are most interesting for the way in which they illustrate the contrast of styles the band has explored: the Goth metal-ish "Zeit nach dem Sturm" and the a cappella female vocal duet between Lisa and Fiona, "Der stille Grund"--perhaps a farewell gesture to Lisa. While Totem is a decent, listenable album, it's just not as powerful or engaging as its predecessor.




ABEL GANZ Abel Ganz (2014) (Eclectic Prog Folk) is an album of quite diverse and eclectic styles, though it is essentially a collection of nice retro Prog Folk in the same league as THE DECEMERISTS and ECHOLYN (though I like this album better than anything I've heard from the latter two). The five-part epic entitled "Obsolescence" (23:22) (8/10) is a true prog epic--opening in an acoustic folk fashion like THE DECEMBERISTS, but closing with hard electric instrumentalism. The album has a couple of full-blown world music songs, including "Heartland" (5:08) (9/10) complete with woman singing in an unusual foreign language and ENIGMA-like rhythms and synth washes, and the instrumental "End of Rain" (5:33) (9/10). "Spring" (2:25) (8/10) and "A Portion of Noodles" (3:22) (8/10) are both Windham Hill-like solo acoustic guitar pieces. "Thank You" (6:57) (7/10) is an out-and-out Country/Western song. "Recuerdos" (4:20) (8/10) is a beautiful, sensitive, horn-supported CHICAGO/FROGG CAFÉ-like song. There is even a modern neo-chamber piece, the album's opener, "Delusions of Grandeur" (2:12) (10/10). "Unconditional" (14:05) is a kind of ECHOLYN-meets-PORCUPINE TREE song of suitable prog length. (9/10)
     The album's finale,  "The Drowning" (5:25), with its deeply stirring male vocal with only the support of a horn section, almost defies categorization and yet may be the most beautiful and effective song on the album. (10/10) What a way to end and album!
     This is definitely an album that has been well worth the attention and time I've given it to get to know its depths and subtleties. What I originally thought was good I now highly recommend as an excellent addition to any prog music lover's collection. Well done Scotland!





JACK O'THE CLOCK All My Friends (2013) (Quirky Prog Folk) is the third album released by this San Francisco quintet. I would call their music avant-folk as much as prog folk, though it is definitely firmly founded in folk sounds and folk traditions. However you choose to categorize it, this is a collection of brilliantly conceived and beautifully performed and recorded music. 




STEVE UNRUH The Great Divide (2009) (Acoustic Prog Folk) is an acoustic, old English and bluegrass-influenced version of Prog Folk not unlike The Strawbs, Gryphon or the more acoustically-oriented solo albums of Ian Anderson, Cat Stevens, or Peter Shelley with a little pinch each of Peter Hammill and Frank Zappa thrown in there for good measure. Entertaining, mostly unpredictable, and, thankfully, mostly instrumental. (I cringe to think of hearing this music delivered by electric instruments. Devin Townsend!)




WOVENHAND Mosaic (2006) (Introspective Folk) "Swedish Purse" (3:31); "Dirty Blue" (4:46); "Whistling Girl" (4:41); "Winter Shaker" (3:44); "Deerskin Doll" (5:37) (8/10), and "Truly Golden" (3:34) (9/10).




MOTIS L'homme-loup (2006) The French folk and prog traditions are often quite distinctive from those of other nations and the work of Manu Tissot is no exception. Acoustic instrumentation is his the foundation and strength of his music but there are electronic enhancements and electric instruments to make important and sometimes key contributions to each song. Of the MOTIS songs I've been able to hear, the ones from L'homme-loup feel the most universally accessible and appropriate for the Prog Folk monicker, while the ones from 2004's Les prince des hauteurs contain more a bit more diversity of styles and tempos and much more variety in electronic enhancements, and those from 2011's Ripaille exhibit a little more prog rock stylings (e.g. riffs from GENESIS, GENTLE GIANT, YES, et al.) though in simplified, abbreviated forms.

Try listening to: "Prince des hauteurs" (from Le prince des hauteurs) et "L'homme-loup" (13:07); and "Ripaille" (3:44) and "Pleine lune" (6:00) from Ripaille to see your reaction.




THE MERLIN BIRD Chapter and Verse (2014) (Choral Prog Renaissance Folk) is an album that feels too scattered, unfocused, lacking cohesion and consistency--as well as lacking good production--but I LOVE the concept of blending medieval, Renaissance, and sacred church choral music stylings with both ancient acoustic and modern rock instrumentation while often using prog rock song stylings. I wish the singing was of a higher quality. The bands attention to and/or budget for recording/engineering needs great improvement. Many of the songs sound as if they were recorded in one take with the full band and no engineer and then left that way!

Favorite songs:  the anthemic, "Chapter and Verse" (2:56) (9/10); the pretty little instrumental, "In Dreams of Egypt" (1:23) (9/10); the beautiful harpsichord accompanied vocal of Shakira Searle on "Of Night and Day" (4:59) (8/10); the gorgeous Sergio Leone/Mediterranean-sounding instrumental "The Word That Was" (3:30) (9/10); the troubadour style story-song, "Unto Rome" (4:17) (9/10), and; "Another Told Story" (7:17) (9/10).

A band with a great idea and awesome but as-yet-unrealized potential.




JUDY DYBLE Talking with Strangers (2009) (Eclectic Prog Folk) A highly enjoyable album of variety of folk-based songs using different styles and tempos as well as a variety of support instruments--some electric--and one song a duet with renowned prog artist, TIM BOWNESS (NO-MAN, NOSOUND, MACHINES). The album is a bit more stripped down and stark than the warm and sonically exciting Enchanted Garden from 2004. Try YouTube samples of: "Talking with Strangers" (3:26) "Dreamtime" (4:22), "Jazzbirds" (3:28), "C'est la vie" (4:17), and "Grey October Day" (6:08).




Special Mention: Prog Folk from the 1980s & 1990s 

Though DEAD CAN DANCE had from their 1985 debut, Spleen and Ideal marked their turf in the new "World Music" genre, they always displayed a lot of folk elements within or behind their music. Many listeners think of the almost ambient electronic washes and voice treatments when they think of DCD but there was a lot of effort on the part of the duo to study and bring in elements of many traditional instruments and sounds into their own music--especially with Lisa's distinctive and daring vocal explorations. However, their album that comes closest to true folk music comes from 1990. On Aion, Brendan and Lisa backed off from their layers of electronically enhance, sequenced or sampled musical textures and went for a more raw, acoustic and "medieval" sound.
      Another group from this pre-21st Century period that is difficult to pinpoint in terms of their musical stylings is Hungary's AFTER CRYING. An After Crying album is often one of the more diversified and eclectic collections of songs a listener might come across. One might go from oblique avant jazz to prog ballad to cinematic soundtrack to neoclassical church or chamber piece to metal rocker to solo etude all in the space of one side of an album! Definitely a roller coaster ride of eclectic surprise.
     After Crying put out no less than three masterpieces in the Nineties ranging from the more piano-based debut, Overground Music, to the very symphonic prog masterpiece, Megalázottak és Megszomorítottak then to their YES Fragile-like De Profundis.
     I've chosen several other singular albums as representations of the little outstanding Prog Folk that was being produced in the 1980s and 1990s.



DEAD CAN DANCE Spleen and Ideal (1985)


Try the YouTube samples of these songs:  1. "De Profundis (Out of the Depths of Sorrow)" (4:00) (9/10); 2. "Ascension" (3:05) (9/10); 3. "Circumradiant Dawn" (3:17); 6. "Enigma of the Absolute" (4:13).



DEAD CAN DANCE Within the Realm of a Dying Sun (1987) finds Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard honing their skills and sound in their new found niche of Gothic electro world pop. Synthesizers and reverb abound on this excellent album though the European mediæval folk foundations are audible throughout. "Summoning of the Muse" (4:56) (11/10) is one of the pinnacle achievements of Prog Folk, and "Dawn of the Iconoclast" (2:08) (10/10), "Xavier" (6:15) (10/10), "Cantara" (5:58) (9/10), and "Persephone (The Gathering of Flowers)" (6:33) (10/10) are not far behind.





LES NEGRESSES VERTES
 Mlah (1988) Though the music of Les Negresses Vertes is called Gypsy Punk among many other names, these French songs represent some of the truest forms of what I feel should represent Folk rock. Were you to blend the musics of the CLASH with the GIPSY KINGS and then have them use the instruments, sounds and sensibilities of French street musicians and put them into the body minds of a group of irreverent French twenty-somethings you might get a picture of what you'd find on this album. (You can sample Mlah on YouTube.) I used to listen to this album (though mostly Side One) for hours and hours in the late 80s, screaming, clapping, and dancing along to every song, and any and every song might be the one that hooks you in, but I do have a few favorites that I'll recommend that you try first. The opening instrumental "La Valse" (1:32) is actually quite sedate and pretty. Their "big" hit was "Zobi la Mouche" (3:26) and "C'est pas la mer à boire" (5:34) is my absolute favorite for its uninhibited exuberance but you really can't go wrong with any of the first five songs (Including "Voilà l'été" [4:06]). Also great are the discordant "Orane" (4:16) and the toned-down "L'homme des Marais" (3:31).
 





DEAD CAN DANCE The Serpent's Egg (1988) sees Perry and Gerrard moving slightly from European musical traditions, deepening their commitment to World folk sacred music traditions with their stark monastic sound. The listener will often find himself being bathed in the sound of a lone (treated) voice which might be accompanied by only one simple instrument like an organ, celeste, glockenspiel, tubular bells, finger cymbals, or synthesizer drone. In fact, "Song of Sophia" (1:24) and "Echolalia" (1:16) come straight out of SouthEastern European vocal musics such as the (at that time) newly popularized Bulgarian Folk vocal traditions. The best treats include: "The Writing on My Father's Hand" (3:15) (10/10); "Ulysses" (5:09) (9/10) and the well-known "The Host of The Seraphim" (6:19) (10/10).





PAZZO FANFANO DI MUSICA Pazzo Fanfano di Musica (1989) I've finally been able to hear this amazing album for the first time and I am BLOWN AWAY! The medieval/Renaissance-influenced music I have been craving! It doesn't get better than this, folks. It is all the best of 70s RPI (especially BANCO, LE ORME and even PFM) combined with the pastoral sounds of STEVE and JOHN HACKETT a la Voyage of The Acolyte ("Suspiri del fiore" [3:32] [10/10]), and the most emotive of classical composers ("La dolce follia," "Agilmente" and "Affettuoso")--the Italians, of course. There are lots of strings, flutes, organ, Mellotron, classical guitar ("Intermezzo I" and "II") and even harpsichord. The vocals from female singer Megumi Tokuhisa are wonderful if quirky (especially because of the lyrics being in Japanese.) And the shocker of all is that this music is all composed and performed by an all-star band of Japanese musicians! "Fragoroso" is much jazzier, pure prog, with an uptempo, piano- and drums-driven sound, but otherwise the album is replete with nostalgiac references to the musics of Renaissance and Italian composers. The piano and violin duet that is "Onde" is one of the most gorgeous pieces of music I've ever heard--reminding me of the music of Taiwan's lovely CICADA or the world's RYUICHI SAKAMOTO. "Fiori per Algernon" (7:56) (9/10)


Folks, this is a masterpiece of timeless music--one for the ages--a collection of songs that will represent our crazy modern world far better than 99.99% of the stuff that's been put out for the past 100 years.





PETER GABRIEL Passion Sources (1989) is not an album by Peter Gabriel, per se. It is in fact a compilation of songs from a wide variety of Middle Eastern artists that Mr. Gabriel collected with the intention of creating a soundtrack for Martin Scorsese's 1988 film adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis' novel, The Last Temptation of Christ. Gabriel used these songs to represent a type of music that he thought might fit the soundtrack because their musical traditions go back far into history--some perhaps to the time of Christ. Though Gabriel used samples from these songs to make his soundtrack--which was then embellished, edited, and polished before being released two years later under the title, Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ--the songs here on Passion Sources are in their original forms and are quite wonderful illustrations of a diversity of world folk and religious traditions. Some YouTube samples for your listening pleasure:  "Fallahi" (2:55); "Call to Prayer" (3:54); "Shamus-Ud-Doha Bader-Ud-Doja" (4:51); "Wedding Song" (2:40), and; "Al Nahla Al 'Ali" (2:53).




DEAD CAN DANCE Aion (1990) is an exhibition of medieval folk music traditions with a lot of acoustic instrumentations. Though moving slightly away from the synthesized direction of the previous The Serpent's Egg and to which they would return en force with Into the Labyrinth, there is still this ubiquitous tension or pulling on the senses of some very serious Eastern and Middle Eastern influences and leanings within their sounds and stylings. Lisa's unusual and distinctive vibrato is on full display here due to the absence of the use of the deep reverb and other electronic effects on her voice as previous albums. Not my favorite DCD album but it is probably their most nearly true "folk" album. Try these YouTube samples to get a taste for this wonderful, rich album:  1. "The Arrival and the Reunion" (1:38); 2. "Saltarello" (2:30); 6. "As the Bell Rings the Maypole Spins" (5:13) (10/10); 7. "The End of The Words" (2:06) (10/10); 9. "Wilderness" (1:24) (10/10); 10. "The Promised Womb" (3:25) (9/10), and; "Radharc" (2:49) (8/10).




Hungary's AFTER CRYING Overground Music (1990) This is a debut album! I can think of few if any debut albums that have this kind of maturity of composition and performance (ANGLAGARD's Hybris?) In my opinion, too much is demerited for the heavily accented voices of the male vocalists--especially since one has a voice remarkable for its similarity to that of prog legend JOHN WETTON. Balance that with the virtuosic voice of female singer Judit Andrejszki, and the virtuosic play from all of the other instrumentalists but then add the fact that this music is deeply engaging, often amusing, and incredibly creative in its conception and I cannot conclude anything other than I am listening to the fully realized work of master music makers. If you disagree, then I challenge you: You try to perform it!

There is a valid issue raised with respect to this music's inclusion into the "rock" world: There are no guitars and very little bass-and-drum rhythm. But then, where does it belong? Jazz? Avant-garde? Post Rock? Neo-classical? Folk?

Favorite selections: the "Madrigal Love" series (22:02) especially the centerpiece, "To Black" (5:08) (9/10) and the 11-minute "Shining (...to the Powers of Fairyland)" finale (10:45) (10/10); the gorgeous piano playing and John Wetton voice stylings of "Confess Your Beauty" (6:53) (9/10), and; the King Crimsonesque opener, "European Things" (8:28 (8/10).

Also, as a gift to the world in a period virtually bereft of quality symphonic "rock" music, this stands out. Brave, impassioned, and unusual. To this day. It is one for the ages. An inspiring reminder to those listening in 1990 (and listening still): "This is what music can do!!"




IONA Book of Kells (1992) is Celtic prog Folk (and Christian) artist IONA's breakout album though it is their second release. The distinguished crystalline voice of Joanne Hogg is on full display for all to hear, thanks to the fairly sparse instrument arrangements--especially in prolonged intros and outros. The other half of the band's core, Dave Bainbridge is also present on keys and guitars. This band seems to always be comprised of members who are all virtuosos on their respective instruments and this album is no exception. What changes in the future, however, is that bass/Chapman stick player Nick Beggs (KAJAGOOGOO), percussionist Teri Bryant and reeds player David Fitzgerald move out to make room for future mainstays Phil Barker (bass), Frank Van Essen (drums, percussion, & violins), and Ullilean pipe and whistle virtuoso and future star in his own right, Troy Donockley--who happens to make his debut as a guest musician here. The Book of Kells is a much more sparsely instrumented album than Iona's successive releases, but there are always plenty of gorgeous and glorious instrumental sections throughout all Iona albums. Also, as might be surmised from the album's title, which is is taken from the famous illustrated Christian texts of the New Testament that was created around 800 AD and then preserved in Ireland's Abbey of Kells, this is a concept album.
     What results from this mix of personnel is an album with such seamlessness, such depth and complexity of textures, as to astound even me who had already been a tried and true Iona fan for several years before going back into their early catalogue to discover this one. I didn't think that any Iona album could be better than Open Sky but the amazingly intense whole-goup focus on this concept album may have done it. What's more, this music and presentation is to my ears a prime example of all that is essential and at the core of prog: great story, great instrumental performances, great songwriting drawing from many traditions, great album art, all gelled into a powerful display of great human emotion. "Matthew - The Man" (11:53) (10/10) may be the best prog epic of the year but, heck! The whole album is like one continuous prog epic! Amazing! Beautiful! Another piece of man-made art that makes me proud to be human.

Try these samples from YouTube:  1. "Kells Opening Theme: Faith Is Without Within" (4:18) (8/10); 2. "Revelation" (4:39) (9/10); 3. "Matthew - The Man" (11:53) (10/10); 4.  "Chi-Rho" (4:40) (9/10); 13. "Kells" (5:30) (9/10), and the finale; 14. "Eternity - No Beginning, No End" (6:50) (10/10). 



AFTER CRYING Megalázottak és Megszomorítottak (1992) Back with the same cast as on Overground Music, Hungary's After Crying has added more use of drums/percussion and have now included synthesizers and organ into their play. Less emphasis on piano, less employment of vocals, this has a bit of a darker complexion to it. I like the fact that After Crying evolves from album to album as I hate coming in with expectations for 'more of the same.' New instruments, new listenings and new influences yield new ideas, growth and development. As others have pointed out, AC have continued to grow in confidence with regards to letting space and time spread out, letting their ideas percolate and develop slowly, thoughtfully, and, often, emotionally.

Favorite selections: the sublime DAVID SYLVIAN/jazz-tinged title piece (11:45) (10/10); the avant monastic chant-orchestral "A kis hös" (3:31) (10/10); the modernized folk étude, "Végül" (2:29) (9/10), and the subtley-slow developing, but beautifully powerful epic, "A gadarai megszállott" (22:14) (9/10).

I consider this another masterpiece, essential for the singularity of this band's unusual approach and high quality product during a time of relatively sparse contributions in the fields of symphonic "rock" and Prog Folk. Yet, despite saying this, I stand firmly by the notion that this 1992 album stands as tall and as beacon-like now as it did then.

Another shout across the cloud-covered Earth: "Look what music can do!"





BROADSIDE ELECTRIC Amplificata (1995) Born in the Philadelphia area from graduates of respected local music programs, Broadside Electric are a true folk group telling the tales of old stories from many cultures in a very professional though often humorous fashion. The blending of electric instruments like electric bass and electric guitar with more traditional folk instruments is why I've included BE on this list. The band was quite prolific and active in the 1990s but have fractured and become less so in the 21st Century. Their sound is very much like Quebec's CONVENTUM--only with multi-voiced vocals, sung mostly in English, which makes them sound like a precursor to THE DECEMBERISTS. Check out "When I Was a Fair Maid" (6:35), "Robin Hood and The Tanner" (5:40), "Rufford Park Poachers" (5:54), and "L'incoronazione di Poppea" (3:37) to see what I mean.




DUNWICH Il chiarore sorge due volte (1995) Thanks to Ivan Melgar for this suggestion. A lot of really good music--the medieval parts/influences being my favorites. I guess I'm discovering something about my prog tastes: I seem to like the groups who incorporate old and acoustic instruments and arts (e.g. operatic singing, symphonic structures, chamber strings and troubadour insturments) and I really enjoy good female voice--and boy does DUNWICH have one in Katya Sanna! While the metal/heavy prog elements of this album are not my favorite, there are more than enough of the softer, subtler, more 'medieval' and pastoral/folk sections and themes to make up for these. While not a masterpiece, this is great music--music that continues growing on me with each listen. Ivan mentions MIRANDA SEX GARDEN--which went on to become one of my favorite bands from the Naughties, MEDIAEVAL BAEBES (especially with "Yatima" and "La nuova rugiada"), while I find myself also reminded of DARGAARD, CLAIRE HAMMILL, LOREENA MCKENNITT ("La rivalsa di Aki-Gahuk" ), and ADIEMUS/MIRIAM STOCKLEY as well as EPICA, WITHIN TEMPTATION, and NIGHTWISH. I love the ROY BUCHANAN-like electric guitar work and vocal variety on "Il viaggio di Wesahaycah."

Five star songs: 2. "Storia di Ora" (2:51); 3. "La pietre de Dunwich" (5:42); 9. "Izanami e Izanag" (2:43), and; 11. "Epilogo" (2:18).

Four star songs: 5. "Il viaggio di Wesahaycah" (3:44); 6. "Yetima" (4:51); 7. "La nuova rugiada" (2:09); 8. "Solo por sognare" (4:44); 10. "La rivalsa de Aki-Gahuk" (4:55), and; "Il samurai della primavera" (2:49)

Not a masterpiece but close; definitely an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially one that appreciates the integration of older 'medieval' instruments and themes and beautiful clear female vocals.




Hungary's AFTER CRYING De Profundis (1996) is a monumental work of art. With it's small pieces intended to display the skill and artistry of its individual members, I am reminded of YES's Fragile. Yet, as so many reviewers have noted, there are definite signs of the influence of Robert Fripp and Keith Emerson. Most predominant, however, are the deep and rich traditions of Hungarian classical and folk music. As with many "Eastern European" music traditions, we "Westerners" sometimes have some difficulty hearing the 'beauty' or getting used to the 'melodies' of these musics. That is why repeated listening, attentive headphone listening, and background listening are all important--to, if you will, immerse oneself or imbue oneself in these sounds and textures. Such has been the educative approach which has led to last night's 'breakthrough.' It all makes sense. It is truly beautiful, powerful, albeit, at times, complicated music. With two short songs being among the most hauntingly beautiful songs I've EVER heard, I knew I had to keep listening to the rest of this music. I now champion five songs from this album to be included among the pantheon of all-time 'classics.' 
The first is the first song on the album:

1. "Bevezetés" (3:38) A female choir chanting angelically from within a chapel/cathedral setting over an organ. Beautiful arrangement. (10/10)

2. "Modern Idök" is an orchestral behemoth with very theatric male voice singing in Hungarian. (8/10)

3. "Az üstökös." A beautiful piano rondo. (9/10)

4. "Stalker" is one of the album's two epics, clocking in at over 12 minutes. Beginning with a very ominous rolling bass line accompanied by sporadic percussion and percussive guitar playing and strings until 2:20 when brass and woodwinds join in. At 2:50 an electric guitar takes over, playing over a fairly standard rock beat & rhythm section until gradually joined by the brass playing a very PHILLIP GLASS-like rolling part. The 4:55 mark sees a winding down to a quiet section: bells, organ, light cymbol play, and spoken word carry on until at 6:55 when a flute takes over with an airy melody. Then, just as you're lulled to sleep, all hell breaks loose at the 7:55 mark. Very CRIMSON-esque "Red"-like until the 9:23 mark when it just as suddenly stops. Instead, a FRIPP-like guitar solo struggles within its sadness and melancholy while a distant organ and the sound of a train traveling on its tracks serves as its only background. Amazing song! (9/10)

5. "Stonehenge" is a rather uninteresting cello solo not unlike some KRONOS QUARTET pieces. (6/10)

6. "Külvárosi éj" (3:36) is one of the most stunningly beautiful, creative instrumental pieces I've ever encountered. Floating, shifting electric guitar arpeggios over which build tympani, cello, and trumpet into a weave of such intricacy and majesty--?! (11/10)

7. "Manók tánca" is a chamber music song built around a piano which later engages a drum kit. (8/10)

8. "Kifulladásig" contains an electric guitar playing in a kind of STANLEY JORDAN meets NARCISO YPES style. Not unlike something ROBERT FRIPP would do. It does have a quite beautiful mid-section sounding more like BRUCE COCKBURN beginning at the 2:00 minute mark. (7/10)

9. "De Profundis" (11:34)  is a four part epic of almost 12 minutes. The first part has a very medieval, chamber music feel--complete with minstrel-like vocals--while later adding piano. At the 5:00 minute mark, section b. slows down the piano, bassoon, flute, cello--having a very GENESIS feel to it. Section C presents a MIKE OLDFIELD sounding guitar solo until at 9:55 we have a return to the beginning format and vocal. Wonderful song! Very pastoral and accessible. (9/10)

10. "Jónás imája" begins a series of short pieces with one longer piece (the 8 minute "Esküszegök") in the middle. Like "Fragile," these pieces seem to serve mostly to showcase the individual talents or experimental song structures of the group. This one contains a storytelling over electric bass harmonic arpeggios. (6/10)

11. "Elveszett város" contains oboe playing over a chamber orchestra. (6/10)

12. "Kisrasút" is a piano piece done in an almost DON PULLEN-plays-Ragtime fashion. (7/10)

13. Esküszegök" Very CRIMSON-esque electric rock band until the third section when brass and woodwinds are added. (6/10)

14. 40 masodperc" is 40 seconds of street noises and organ.

15. "A világ végén" (3:45) A female voice singing over SUPERTRAMP-like keyboard, joined later by bassoon, then flutes with synthesized strings, then oboe. (7/10)

Giving this innovative and very progressive yet far-from-perfect album anything less than "masterpiece" status is really difficult for me. Kind of like getting used to GENTLE GIANT: it requires persistence and appreciation for the mathematical possibility of musical dimensions. Yet, most everyone agrees on the genius and virtuosity of GG. Were the same numbers able (or willing) to access AFTER CRYING, there might be greater appreciation for them.


GIPSY KINGS

I'm sorry but I simply cannot publish this page and list without a shout out to one of the most amazing Gypsy/Flamenco Folk Pop rockers ever to cross these ears. Just listen to any song from their Best of album (1994) or Greatest Hits (released for the U.S. in 1995) and you will get a feel for their virtuosity, passion and delightful energy. It is, to me, truly amazing how much emotion these guys can pack into a song--both vocally and instrumentally.

Here are a few that I highly recommend that you try: "Djobi Djoba" (3:27); "Un Amor" (3:40); "Quiero saber" (4:08); "Viento del arena" (5:28), and; "Love and Liberte" (3:55).


RIPAILLE 



PENNOÙ SKOULM Trinkan (2009)


LÚNASA Otherworld (1999)


DERVISH Spirit (2004)


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