Sunday, November 14, 2021

Favorite Modern Prog Folk Albums

Being one of my favorite sub-genres of progressive rock music, the creation and maintenance of a "Favorites" list is no small undertaking--even for the relatively short(so far) 21st Century--but, here it is. 

CORDE OBLIQUE A Hail of Bitter Almonds (2011)

A Hail of Bitter Almonds 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--helps A Hail of Bitter Almonds yield some truly memorable songs--even more consistent than its gorgeous predecessor, The Stones of Naples. The highs and diversity of styles and dynamics of this album makes A Hail of Bitter Almonds another gem--and more proggy.

1. "A Hail of Bitter Almonds" (2:08) opens the album powerfully--on the powerful vocal pipes oFloriana Cangiano and great violin accompaniment from Alfredo Notarloberti. (9.5/10)

2. "Together Alone" (4:15) presents us with a nice male vocal singing in English with standard accompaniment from Riccardo, strings, piano and drums. The shift at 2:50 is nice--and effective. (8.75/10)

3. "Arpe di vento" (4:58) opens with a very familiar melody--as if from the previous album ("Bario gotico"?) but then deviates into something different. Fast-pace guitar strumming and hand drumming with soloing violin accompany singeFloriana Cangiano (a CRANBERRY lead singer, Dolores O'Riordan, sound-alike) as she tells us her story. Could use a little more variation once the foundation is laid. (9/10)

4. "Paestum" (5:06) piano and strummed guitar establish a fast-paced rhythm before settling back in sparse support of singer Annalisa Madonna double tracking her vocal in two channels(?). The song goes back and forth between delicate and rolicking. A remarkable song--especially for the vocals! (10/10)

5. "La Madre Che Non C'è" (2:47) opens with Riccardo soloing, sounding as if he might be taking us on an instrumental journey, but then multiple female voices join in. In the second minute the song totally shifts into ballad-type form with, again, multiple tracks of female vocals harmonizing with each other. (Are both voices those of Caterina Pontrandolfo--who is the only vocalist credited to this song?) The song then suddenly shifts into the realm of classical instrumental, but then finishes with Caterina in the driver's seat again. (10/10)

6. "Slide" (2:53) is an instrumental with wooden pan flutes taking the lead--though in a very ethereal, almost sound-effect kind of way. Great melodies and effect. (10/10)

7. "Le pietre di Napoli" (5:00) again that familiar melody of Riccardo's, but then the heart-wrenching voice of Floriana Cangiano makes one quickly forget any disconcerting thoughts. What a gorgeous voice! Excellent choice for the dominant lead singer on the album. 

     The song takes a left turn at the two minute mark, into guitar dominance, with piano, violin and wordless voice becoming more supportive. How interesting! And it works! It builds back onto a kind of dance frenzy before dying at the end. (10/10)

8. "Jigsaw Falling Into Place" (4:20) the cover of a RADIOHEAD song with mandolins and plucked violins opening with the rock band instruments before Claudia Sorvillo takes on the vocal lead. Industrial-sounding programming takes this one into territory Riccardo has not explored before (at least on tape). Definitely a sign of adventurousness. Claudia's vocal in the second half is not quite as powerful as one might want or expect. Perhaps it should've been brought more front and center. You can tell she is enjoying the singing--and the band is really rocking! Well done. (9/10)

9. "Crypta Neapolitana" (2:15) brings us back to the folk-based middle ages--until the 0:35 mark when other instruments join Riccardo and Caterina to give it a kind of Man of La Mancha feel. The male thespian voice only enhances this Spanish Broadway musical feeling. But nice! (10/10)

10. "Gioia di vivere" (3:47) guitar and Floriana Congiano return to sing an impassioned love song--with fine support from strings, distant violin, and ethereal background vocals. Gorgeous singing, gorgeous melody lines, and an awesome ending twist. This one's a keeper. (10/10)

11. "Red Little Wine" (4:14) is a full-band instrumental with lute and piano exchanging the lead. A little repetitive but nice. (8/10)

12. "The Man of Wood" (4:08). It doesn't get more folkie than this. Guitars, dreamy, layers of Sergio Panarella's MORRISSEY-like male vocal, violin, and, later, full acoustic rock band with male and female background choir (all performed by multiple tracks of Sergio and Claudia Sorvillo?). Great song. (10/10)

13. "Le Piccole Cose" (2:37). There's that melody again! Riccardo opens this gentle and gorgeous song with his guitar and violin. Caterina Pontrandolfo performs the lead vocals here with her usual calm and reassuring vocal tones. It is certainly a beautiful song! (I cannot help but ask at this point whether or not Riccardo is intentionally recapitulating this theme--as if in a concept album?) (9.5/10)

14. "Pietra Bianca" (3:48) opens as a Riccardo instrumental--sounding like a lullaby--before clarinet and Floriana Cangiano'wordless vocalizations join in, weaving in with the guitar, clarinet and organ. Gorgeous and powerful song! (10/10) 

15. "Su un dipinto di Giovanni Bellini" (3:22). Riccardo and Floriana Cangiano close out the album with an almost-Celtic sounding song. It's nice enough but something is missing. (8/10)

94.50 on the Fishscales = a five star masterpiece on the scale of the greatest masterpieces of all-time. This album started out high on my playlist, disappeared for a while, but I found myself returning to this one--and this one more than any of Riccardo's other beautiful albums. A real grower! Check it out and then let it percolate. You'll become an addict like me, no doubt. 

TIRILL Said the Sun to the Moon (2019)

A concept album of gorgeous folk music inspired by the four seasons and Tirill Mohn's long-standing connection to Rudolf Steiner and the Waldorf educational model, we have here a journey through the Nordic year beginning with Autumn and ending with a late summer sunset (or sunrise) in which Tirill employs, adapts, or re-forms known poetry and song lyrics to fit her vision and mood. The four seasonally titled "interlude" songs, "Autumn," "Winter," "Spring," and "Summer," manipulate the words of Steiner himself, while other more full-bodied songs are adaptations of works by the likes of Nick Drake, Mark Strand, Patric Crotty, and Kathleen Jessie Raine. 

Lineup / Musicians:
Gjermund Kolltveit: kanklés, Hardanger fiddle, lyre
Nils Einar Vinjor: electric guitars, guitalele
Alsaug Marie Holgersen: double bass
Sigrun Eng: cello
Bjarne Magnus Jensen: violin
Uno Alexander Vesje: harp
Julie Kleive: additional vocals on tracks 1, 4, 7, 8, 9, and 10
Marte Bjørkmann: harmony vocals on tracks 8 and 12
Dagfinn Hobæk: lead vocals on track 11
Tirill Mohn: vocals, acoustic guitars

01 "Autumn" (1:13) strongly plucked concert harp with the whispery voices of Tirill Mohn and other female soprano, Julie Kleive, open the album with their poetic introduction. (5/5)

02  "Clothes of Sand" (3:08) acoustic guitar and, later, cello, support Tirill in this Nick Drake song. Female vocals harmonize below Tirill during the chorus. Viola and/or violin join the cello beneath the second verse. Like singing with a string quartet. Wow! (9/10)

03 "Under the Harvest Moon" (2:14) harp and Tirill and other voices. A traditional folk song that sounds as if it could be an Andreas Vollenweider Christmas song. (4.5/5)

04 "Winter" (1:58) two harps dancing slowly around each other before Tirill and the beautiful soprano voice of Julie Kleive join in, also singing in tandem as if circling around one another. Stunning! (5/5)

05 "Under the Small Fire of Winter Stars" (2:26) bowed stringed instrument and folk percussives provide the mood accompaniment for Tirill's campfire story-version of this Mark Strand poem. Evocative! (4.5/5)

06 "To the Realms of the Spirit" (3:17) acoustic guitar and other harp and/or lyre (?) duet with bass and Lithuanian zither ("kanklés"). No voices or lyrics despite its inspiration coming from the words of Rudolf Steiner. Very pretty. (8.5/10)
07 "Spring" (1:16) harp and folk madrigal Tirill (and Julie). (4.25/5)

08 "Shapes of a Dream" (4:05) in her breathiest, most knee-buckling voice Tirill sings (with accompaniment from vocalist Marte Bjørkmann) over a guitalele. A bit of a Judy Collins melody haunts the listener as does the gentle pastoral mood set by the beautiful work of the musicians. (10/10)

09 "Said the Sun to the Moon" (3:09) Tirill and soprano vocalist, Julie Kleive, sing together while harp and lyre (two harp tracks?), guitar, bass play in support on this Kathleen Jessie Raine lyric. Very nice chordal structure from the instrumentalists between the vocal verses. Prog folk does not get better than this! (10/10)

10 "Summer" (1:34) harp supports the now-familiar duo of two female singers (Tirill and Julie, I presume). But wait, do I hear three vocal tracks working in harmony? (4.75/5)

11 "Beneath the Midnight Sun" (4:15) opens with the gorgeous male voice of Dagfinn Hobæk singing with the harp/lute accompaniment. Tirill makes her delicate presence known with occasional harmonized vocals (more as the song goes on). There is an eerie edge to this song--not unlike some of the pagan folk songs of the German band FAUN. Violin joins in during the third minute as does traditional folk Hardanger fiddle. Based on a lyric by Patric Crotty, this is an amazing song--my favorite on the album and one of my favorite songs of 2019! It has all of the qualities of a timeless classic. (10/10)

12 "Iridescent Horizon" (4:34) opens with long-sustaining synthesizer-like treated electric guitar notes floating into the sky like cinders rising from a campfire. Joined by delicately played folk guitar and then Tirill's spoken voice reciting some poetry--poetry evoking beauty and wisdom. The "infinite" guitar is awesome! What an amazing end to an amazing musical journey! I feel bathed, washed, cleansed, refreshed, renewed, revitalized, and reborn! (9.5/10)

One of the most beautiful, enrapturing albums I've ever heard, flowing seemlessly, sucking the listener in from its first notes and then spitting one out at the end limp yet refreshed. Like Sirens enticing and entrapping sailors on the Mediterranean, the vocal duet arrangements and performances of Tirill and Julie Kleive are stunning and totally beguiling. The use of traditional folk instrumentation throughout is also planned meticulously and pulled off flawlessly.

94.44 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of prog folk and one of the best albums of 2019 and one of the finest prog folk albums of all-time.

FAUN Eden (2011)

Eden 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 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 Elisabeth Fraser. 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. (8/10)

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 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. (10/10)

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. (9/10)

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.

94.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.

FAUN Renaissance (2005)

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.

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.

94.44 on the Fish scales = five stars; a certifiable masterpiece of progressive rock music.

MIDLAKE Antiphon (2013) 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.

94.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.

HANDS OF THE HERON 13 Moons (2021)

I hear similarities to bands like Fleet Foxes, Mediæval Bæbes, and The Moulettes (among many others) in the weaves, harmonies, and even instrumental choices of this Bristol band's beautiful vocal-centred music. 

Lineup / Musicians:
Bec Garthwaite: vocals, acoustic guitar, flute, drum 
Beatrice Lee: vocals, accordion, acoustic guitar 
Bethany M. Roberts: vocals, banjo, violin 
Claire Vine: vocals, clarinet, saxophone 
Tom Yates: vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar 
Cajon: George Whitcombe 
Additional strings (tracks 8, 9 & 11) arranged by Bethany M. Roberts, recorded by Bethany M. Roberts & Rowan Elliott 

1. "Summer Harvest" (1:46) and excellent four-voice a cappella song very much out of tradition of English folk music. Great introduction! I love how the four voices resonate so perfectly with one another: true harmonics. Bruised fruit! (10/10)
2. "Reckoning" (4:06) like something striaght out of PINGVINORKESTERN's brilliant 2014 release, Push ("Me & The Wave"). Gorgeous and with several separate motifs presented. (9.5/10)

3. "Watercolour Fade" (3:26) both Fleet Foxes and Mediæval Bæbes (at their most liturgical) come to mind here in this fully a cappella four voice song. Recorded in a "chamber" setting thus giving it an almost church-religious sound and feeling. (9.5/10)

4. "Skipping Rope" (3:58) a beautiful song with quite powerful, poignant lyrics by Bec Garthwaite. I love the contributions of the clarinet, violin, and, of course, three harmonizing vocals. (10/10)

5. "Copper Green Flame" (2:25) opens with a high-register four-voice weave of harmonies before giving way to gently picked acoustic guitar, banjo, guitar, violin, harmonium, flute, and clarinet. (9.25/10)

6. "Contrary Motion" (2:55) an a capella rondo weave of four voices each singing their own two line threads. (9/10)

7. "Softly Spoken Woman" (5:14) brilliantly lyricked with intricately woven delicate instrumental performances. I'm not certain who the principle vocalist is but I think it could be Beatrice. (9.5/10)

8. "Tongue in Twines" (3:52) volume-pedal controlled and chorused electric guitar chords with gently picked acoustic guitar supply foundation for spoken reading of a poem by two voices. Saxophone and second voice appear as if for emphasis and to incredible effect. Reminds me of the incredible music-accompanied spoken poetry of Anne Clark in the 1980s and 90s. (9.5/10)

9. "Moonbloom" (5:30) plucked violin and reverbed flute open before multiple voices of ethereal vocalise join in. There is a bit of Eric Satie here. The vocals become worded at the end of the first minute--the song sounding more like Mediæval Bæbes' "Tam Lin" the longer it goes. (9.25/10)

10. "Solar System" (3:49) guitars, saxophone, and violin support the solo voce of Beatrice Lee while the other women add their accents and harmonies here and there to great effect. (9/10)

11. "Take Me Outside" (3:13) harmonium drone is the lone support for the vocal weave which begins with one voice and gradually and almost echo-like becomes a constant though "considerate" companion of the lead. Violin and low male voice appear in support in the second half. Beautiful. (8.75/10)

12. "Sorrow Spun " (3:20) like a more traditional folk song. Could have come from O Brother Where Art Thou. (8.5/10)

93.125 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of all original compositions of vocal-centric Prog Folk music.

CICCADA Harvest (2021)

Another long span of time passes since the band's sophomore album (which was released five years after their 2010 debut), yet here they are, with a sound and maturity (and comfort or ease) and intimate sound better than ever!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Dimi Spela / vocals
- Evangelia Kozoni / vocals
- Aggelos Malisovas / fretted & fretless basses
- Yiannis Iliakis / drums, percussion, backing vocals
- Yorgos Mouhos / 6- & 12-string acoustic guitars, electric guitar, vocals
- Marietta Tsakmakli / soprano, alto & baritone saxophones, backing vocals
- Nicolas Nikolopoulos / flute, clarinet, tenor & baritone saxophones, recorder, piano, electric piano, organ, Mellotron, synthesizers, harpsichord, clavinet, glockenspiel, backing vocals

1. "Eniania (Keepers of the Midnight Harvest)" (7:25) folk electric guitar with Mellotron flute--which is so interesting knowing what a FINE flute player they have in Nicolas Nikolopoulos). I love the whole-band choral entrance over the guitar--it sounds so pagan! Gorgeous! The band then flips on the instrumental switch in between the first two choral passages. At 3:15 the guitarist doubles the speed of his arpeggiated lines as a jazzy support ensemble kick into a sax and flute-led section. A minute later the lead instruments switch to jazz electric guitar, organ, and synth, then they trade back to the flute and saxes for the sixth minute before turning quite cinematic. The whole-band weave over the final two minutes is nothing less than astonishing--so much to listen to--all so idiosyncratic and worthy of individual attention. The final minute sees the main choral theme carried forward by recorders and organ over a militaristic style distant snare drumming. Wow! What an opener! We have really missed you, Ciccada! (13.75/15)

2. "Open Wings" (5:28) pure Ciccada Prog Folk in the JTull tradition. The lead vocals are much smoother, less operatic (Dimi's work?) and the production a little more modern (a little tighter, more intimate to the listener). Awesome guitar work--on many instruments--by Yorgos Mouhos. A wonderfully engineered, many-layered and intricately-woven construct. (9/10)

3. "The Old Man and the Butterfly" (7:52) a little heavier prog here, still folkie, but with Yorgos taking the lead vocal! Perhaps more reminiscent of early Prog Folk rockers like SPIROGYRA or even Samla Mammas Manna (in sound, not humor and quirk)--and even some of the more flower-power happy Canterbury artists (like KHAN or today's MAGIC BUS). A non-instrumental song by Ciccada that is not led by Evangelia's voice: something I never imagined! But it's great! A top three song, to be sure!(14/15)

4. "No Man's Land" (8:40) a return to the more-British school of Prog Folk--a little JTull, a little STRAWBS, even a little Pink Floyd and Renaissance--before Evangelia enters with her immaculate, uncorrupt voice. Again, I wish to point out the incredible detail and compositional skill that this band puts into each and every instrumental line of their very complex weaves; it's like watching the Bruges masters of tapestry at work! No line is rote or lame, all functioning to give more life to the whole. 
And a totally fresh sound and style for Ciccada to explore--and they do it so well! A top three song for me. (18.75/20)

5. "Who's to Decide?" (4:40) more jazz-tinged (though definitely still very much shaped by their regional and, probably, local influences), this song has a lot of similarities to some of the more dark, psychedelic musics of the RPI masterpieces from the early 1970s. As well-performed and composed as the previous songs but just not my cup of tea (as BIGLIETTO PER L'INFERNO, OSANNA, MUSEO ROSENBACH, and even some LE ORME and BANCO are not to my tastes). (8.5/10)

6. "Queen of Wishes" (12:39) This one seems to have more foundations in classically-influence folk traditions, with lots of hard lines in transitions despite the exploration of some wonderfully diverse and  dynamic range. This is a song that I grew to love more with my third and fourth listens. Such an unique and eclectic expression of old prog styles: I hear tinges of Anthony Phillips, Gryphon, England, Genesis, Renaissance, Mike Oldfield, early Gentle Giant, Goblin, Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso, and yet it's all fresh, all perfect. The only place it might have some minor deficiencies is in the melody department. My final top three song. (24/25)

Total Time 46:44

92.63 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a certifiable masterpiece of sophisticated Prog Folk and definitely an album that keeps giving every time you listen to it--and will, I'm sure, keep giving for years to come. Methinks we are very privileged to be able to hear their work--and to have it preserved for all-time in these recorded albums. 

NEEDLEPOINT Walking Up That Valley (2021)

Refreshing psychedelic folk from Norway that brings back nostalgic feelings from 1967's Summer of Love--when love and optimism were still at the center of the Hippie/Flower Power movement--before the tragic death of cult icon John Griggs in 1969.  

Line-up / Musicians:
- Bjørn Klakegg / lead vocals, guitars, violin, flute, cello
- David Wallumrød / Hammond organ, clavinet, Fender Rhodes, harpsichord, upright piano, Prophet-5, ARP Odyssey, ARP Solus, Minimoog
- Nikolai Hængsle / electric bass, backing vocals, guitars (1,4)
- Olaf Olsen / drums
- Erik Nylander / percussion
- and the Carry Me Away Choir: Indra Lorentzen, Camilla Brun, Maria Vatne, David, Nikolai, and Bjørn

1. "Rules of a Mad Man" (5:11) reminds me of The BYRDS, The ASSOCIATION, The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, and Sweden's The AMAZING. (8.75/10)

2. "I Offered You the Moon" (7:51) an intricately woven Summer of Love-like pop psychedelic song that has an unexpected jazzy feel. Amazing Pat Metheny Group/RTF/Chick Corea-like instrumental passage in the fifth and sixth minutes. Love Erik Nylander's congas! And then the bass, Fender Rhodes, and drums really get to shine over the final 90 seconds. Wow! (14/15)

3. "Web of Worry" (3:34) As if Paul Simon wrote and sang a Stevie Wonder song. At the two minute mark, during the instrumental passage, it turns full Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. So cool! (9.25/10)

4. "So Far Away" (3:11) could be acoustic LED ZEPPELIN, BREAD, CELESTE, or PAUL SIMON. And then it goes Massive Attack unplugged at 2:20! Just brilliant. (9/10) 

5. "Where the Ocean Meets the Sky" (4:25) more complex, sophisticated jazz-tinged pop psychedelia that sounds like it comes straight out of a California Pop Festival of 1968 or 69. Again, strongly reminiscent of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young from this era--especially the front-and-center bass play and perfect vocal harmonies. Brilliant and beautiful. Again, great hand percussion play to go with the gorgeous drumming and richly nuanced instrumental tapestry. (9.25/10)

6. "Carry Me Away" (3:56) has a very Brian Auger's Oblivion Express and, less, Santana feel to it. The guitar solo over the is so straight out of Eumir Deodato's 1973 world-wide jazz funk version of Ricard Strauss' "Also Sprach Zarathustra" as inspired from the 1968 classic film 2001: A Space Odyssey. (9/10)

7. "Another Day" (4:45) despite its interesting instrumental palette (including harpsichord), this one drags a little too much. (8.25/10)

8. "Walking Up That Valley" (10:44) opens like it's going to break into "Hair" by The Cowsills. But with the appearance of the vocal we can see that it is a true folk song--a gorgeous one at that. Simple guitar with solo voce, gradually joined by other guitars and Hammond. At 4:30 we transition into a uptempo, more jazz-rock instrumental passage. The sound palette of guitars, bass, and snare drums and cymbals is very cool thought the flanged lead guitar is nothing too exciting. I'm quite reminded of Gadi Caplan's masterful jazzy Prog Folk album from 2016, Morning Sun. As a matter of fact, this entire album has a similarity to that wonderful album. The guitar solo over the zoom-along AMAZING-like passage in the ninth minute is astonishing! What an amazing passage! Some of Al Stewart and Donovan in the gorgeous next session. The way we're cut off from the continued jam at the end feels like robbery! One of the best prog epics of the year--maybe the best. (19.75/20)

Total Time 43:37

A collection of sophisticated, deeply layered folk psychedelia that issues new and pleasant discoveries with each and every listen. Wonderful. Each and every song seems so lovingly created--from composition, lyrics, and performance to recording and mix. An absolute treasure. One of my favorite albums of 2021.

91.84 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; clearly a masterpiece of retro-psych Prog Folk.

TIRILL Um Himinjǫður (2013)

This 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 on 1995's Ignis Fatuus 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) (10/10) 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 Night" (3:07) (9/10), and; the album's most proggish and 'mini-epic,' "In Their Eyes" (9:25) (8/10). 

93.33 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.

FAUNS Awaiting the Sun (2011)

Germany's other FAUNS--not to be mistaken for the Pagan Folk band FAUN--is a folk-based prog band creating music on the scale of ANTHONY PHILLIPS' The Geese and The Ghost and Sides--somewhere in between the two.

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. (9/10)

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. (19/20)

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. (16/20)

6. "The Path (Reprise)" (1:49) reprises the chords and melodies from the acoustic parts of 3. "The Path." (4.5/5)

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! (40/40) 

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

92.61 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. 

CORDE OBLIQUE The Stones of Naples (2009)

This 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 woman, 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 this string of five songs: "Flower Bud," "Flying," "Like an Ancient Black and White Movie," "La città dagli occhi neri," and "Nostalgica avanguardia"). Let's just say from the album's opening notes and song to its last you are in for a real treat.

1. "La quinta ricerca" (3:13) opens the album with Riccardo's lute serving notice that this is going to be music that feels like it comes from five hundred years ago. When sublime singer Caterina Pontrandolfo joins in with the accompaniment some other medieval instrumental accompanying her the ancient resolve is affirmed. An orchestral finale is unexpected but wonderful. (10/10)

2. "Venti di sale" (5:29) is opened with solo grand piano for the first minute--laying down some gorgeous introductory work--before vocalist Floriana Cangiano and a full force folk ensemble rush into the void with some quite dynamically diverse music--both acoustic guitars, violin, and hand percussion, and modern (fretless bass and drums). Lacking a memorable melodic hook to make this total ear candy. (9/10) 

3. "Flower Bud" (5:46) a stunningly gorgeous song with just the music but then you add the incredibly sensitive vocal of Alessandra Santovito (in English!) and you get bliss, utter bliss. The start of that string of five songs of Olympian perfection. (10/10)  

4. "Flying" (5:44) is a gorgeous remake of an ANATHEMA song (from 2003's A Natural Disaster), with the crystalline pipes of Claudia Sorvillo delivering the vocal--though she is later beautifully doubled (by another vocalist?). The rock drumming and piccolo-like arpeggio notes from the classical guitar in the final minute and a half are sublime! (10/10)

5. "Like An Ancient Black & White Movie" (2:10) opens with delicate piano, strings and Riccardo's classical guitar setting up a dreamy mood for yet another stunning vocal (the third one in a row in English!) this time by the ethereal KATE BUSH-like voice of Geraldine Le Cocq. (10/10) 

6. "La Città Dagli Occhi Neri" (5:44). Caterina Pontrandolfo, voice of the opener, returns to sing this one in Italian, accompanied by Riccardo's lute and bass. Though it feels like she is singing in a relaxed, even lazy fashion, her slight rasp and gently trilling vibrato are sheer perfection here. Drums and rock instruments join in for the final 1:10 as Caterina sings some non-lexical vocables with the violin. (10/10) 

7. "Nostalgica Avanguardia" (5:14) a gentle, almost religious-feeling song as sung by Monica Pinto in Italian. The music becomes almost Gypsy fast while Monica continues to sing with what feels like respect and reverence. (9/10)

8. "The Quality Of Silence" (1:48) is a nice little instrumental duet between Riccardo and pianist Luigi Rubino. (8/10)

9. "Barrio Gotico" (7:16) sees the return of Floriana Cangiano to the vocal mic as Riccardo and a simple Spanish folk ensemble supports. Riccardo on guitar, hand percussionist Michele Maione also on board. Well performed but a little long-winded and monotonous--though the final two minutes sounds like primo soundtrack music to a classic Italian Spaghetti Western. (8/10)

10. "Dal Castello Di Avella" (3:58) Caterina Pontrandolfo returns to the vocal helm for the third and final time with a song brimming with feelings of love and nostalgia. This woman could sing anyone into peace, calm, and, dare I say it, love. The spiritual intentions behind her singing remind me of American spiritual singer, SHAINA NOLL. An eminently simple song--just Caterina and Riccardo--but one that comes across as utter perfection! (10/10)

11. "La Gente Che Resta" (3:24) opens with solo clarinet before a fully-scored folk troupe gather behind him in support of another Claudia Sorvillo vocal effort. The clarinet interplay behind and with the vocal is quite magical but the song lacks any memorable melodies. (8/10)

12. "Piscina Mirabilis" (2:56) is a nice little solo classical guitar piece from Riccardo to close out the album. Nice. (9/10) 

92.50 on the Fishscales = a five star masterpiece of progressive rock (folk) music.

CORDE OBLIQUE Per le strade ripetute (2013)

Riccardo takes a step back to his mostly acoustic and antique roots. Whereas A Hail of Bitter Almonds saw his musical palette increasing its infiltration of electronic instruments, here we see CO returning almost exclusively to an all-acoustic selection. As a mater of fact, Riccardo even advertises it: "No samplers, no synths, no keyboards"! With even more flawless vocal performances than usual, this album may be Riccardo's masterpiece.  

Line-up / Musicians:
- Riccardo Prencipe / Classical & acoustic guitars, e-bow, backing vocals (3), arranger 
- Floriana Cangiano / vocals (1,5,10)
- Caterina Pontrandolfo / vocals (2,6)
- Annalisa Madonna / vocals (3)
- Evi Stergiou / vocals (6)
- Lisa Starnini / vocals (7)
- Edo Notarloberti / violin, cello (11)
- Manuela Albano / cello (3)
- Umberto Lepore / bass, double bass
- Alessio Sica / drums
- Salvio Vassallo / drums (6,10)
- Francesco Manna / percussion (6,10)
- Spyros Giasafakis / recitation & cymbal (6)

1. "Averno" (6:03) fast-picked with electrified acoustic guitar adding notes and the voice of Floriana Cangiano guiding us into Averno with her words. In the second minute, the band launches into full gear with strumming, etc., while Floriana begins to sing. The addition of bass and strings accents at 3:25 is so powerful! What a start! (9.5/10)

2. "Il Viaggio Di Saramago" (3:22) Caterina Pontandolfo, my favorite, returns for another song about some historic landmark. I swear, Caterina could sing, talk, cajole, or vibrate me into doing whatever she wanted of me! What a singer! (10/10) 

3. "My Pure Amethyst" (5:05) Analisa Madonna gets a turn at the lead vocal (with Riccardo offering some background support with the title words in the choruses). Guitars, cello, drums, bass. Very nice. (8.5/10)

4. "In The Temple Of Echo" (1:55) solo guitar at its classical finest. (4.5/5)

5. "Bambina D'oro" (6:18) Riccardo and Floriano open alone before being joined in the chorus by drums, double bass, and violin. Another wonderful vocal performance. After 90 seconds, the full band really kicks in, and the music becomes very proggy in the instrumental passage following the second chorus of "oh-ho"s. At 3:10, then we settle back down with a return to the opening format--plus a few more instruments ready to add their flourishes and embellishments. Floriana hits some notes! Then things quiet way down at 4:30 for an amazingly delicate vocal and guitar duet. The band slowly starts to rejoin at 5:25 but never to the levels of that third minute--never spoiling the perfect intimacy that Riccardo and Floriana have established. (10/10)

6. "Heraion" (3:15) Caterina returns for some ghost-like vocalise behind the folk hand drums and theatric whispering narration of Spyros Giasafakis. Eva Steriou assists Caterina in the second half. Cool. (8.5/10)

7. "Due Melodie" (5:45) it's time for newcomer Lisa Starnini to have a turn at lead vocal. To be honest, she sounds pretty much like a clone of Caterina or Floriana. The music behind her is more throughly textured with lots of instruments offering chords and multi-note contributions. Until the lively instrumental passage at the end of the fourth minute, the song is rather dull and "typical" for Riccardo/Corde Oblique. Still: Welcome Lisa! (8.5/10)

8. "Le Fontane Di Caserta" (4:10) a gentle instrumental that almost sounds as if it could be a lullaby with steel-string guitar strummed and arpeggiated while violin solos in the lowest registers. After 90 seconds, Edo climbs out of the sonorous bass notes and approaches upper octave domains. Riccardo's playing is surprisingly simple and subdued--even when he's soloing. Again, "lullaby" is all I can think of for a rationale. Still, there is an undeniable simbiosis between the two that is charming, endearing--makes you want to get up and hug them when they're done. (8.75/10) 

9. "Requiem For A Dream" (2:26) an instrumental demonstrating an absolutely stunning display of virtuosity from multiple instruments--and it's beautiful and emotional! (10/10)

10. "Ali Bianche" (6:47) Floriana sings her heart out with this unlikely and challenging structure and instrumental grouping. Unbelievable vocal--one that provides the glue to make everything work. I will go so far as to even assert that I don't think the music would have worked alone. (14/15)  

11. "Uroboro (8:01) whoever Edo Notarloberti is, he is incredible! After four minutes of violin solo (with some suppport from bowed double bass), there is a significant gap before we get a solo guitar piece with outdoor garden noises--as if an improvised piece was being captured live, as it developed. (A continuation of or variation of song #4 "In the Temple of Echo"?) What a guitarist! We are so fortunate to have his music! (14/15)

Total time 53:07

It's so difficult to assess Riccardo's music since it's always of such superior quality, always a demonstration of a virtuoso at the peak of his playing, compositional, and delegating powers. I LOVE this album and its timeless music. I LOVE the "modernized"-thinking of A Hail of Bitter Almonds.

92.39 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of timeless Prog Folk and truly a treasure for any music lover--prog or no. 


Thank you, progstreaming, for a new lease on hearing new music! Now that I've heard the music of NSRO I must have it! I've been waiting for a rival to my favored KARDA ESTRA, CICCADA, CICADA, IONA, and AFTER CRYING CDs. 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 KE, 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, 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") (10/10)

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. (3/5)

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"). Beautiful piece, extraordinary composition, despite being a bit despondent. (20/20)

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. (9/10)

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. (10/10)

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 favorites from 2011--an amazing year for prog, IMHO.

92.38 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. 

JACK 'O THE CLOCK Repetitions of the Old City - I (2016)

I really liked 2013's All My Friends but it showed signs of the band not firing on all cylinders yet--not everyone seemed able to rise up to composer Damon Waitkus' expectations. I'm glad to report that, while this is, sadly, only the second Jack O' The Clock album I've listened to, immaturity and scattered energy are no longer at issue:  the band is performing Damon's compositions seemlessly, flawlessly, and Damon's composition and production skills are at his most masterful high.

Damon Waitkus - vocals, guitars, hammer dulcimers, guzheng, flute, piano, pianet, mandolin, percussion, wine glasses
Emily Packard - violins
Kate McLoughlin - bassoon, vocals, flute
Jason Hoopes - basses, vocals, zither
Jordan Glenn - drums, percussion, marimba, vibraphone
Sarah Whitley - samples (2)
Fred Frith (Henry Cow, The Residents, et al.) - electric guitar (6)
Darren Johnston - trumpet (5, 8)
Jonathan Russell - bass clarinet (7)
Andrew Strain - trombone (8)

1. "I Am So Glad To Meet You" (1:37) Damon Waitkus singing multiple tracks in his unusual, warbly, ANDY GIBB-like voice over an atmospheric echoscape. (3.75/5)

2. "The Old Man And The Table Saw" (10:30) a refreshing prog folk composition that sounds like no one else, proclaims (or reconfirms) that Jack O' The Clock is unique to folk and progressive rock music. (18/20)

3. "When The Door Opens, It Opens On Everything" (12:08) opens with a very folk/bluegrass-sounding acoustic guitar intro. At 1:15 the music shifts to a kind of AARON COPELAND/EDGAR MEYER sound in support of Daimon's vocal. Kate McLaughlin's bassoon plays a nicely prominent role in this one. Stellar performances by all band members in this mesmerizing composition. I even hear echoes of some of the sounds, melodies, and dueling of John McLaughlin's SHAKTI music ("Get Down and Sruti" from Natural Elements) on this one. (23.75/25)

4. "Epistemology / Even Keel" (5:45) opens sounding far more like an old WEATHER REPORT or JONI MITCHELL soundscape. But then all that dissipates in lieu of Daimon's nursery rhyme-like vocal. Not quite a cappela, it is supported rather sparsely with bird- and animal-like sounds created by acoustic instruments. The second half ("Even Keel"?) uses an electric jazz guitar and acoustic guitar to provide the foundational support for Daimon's voice. Double bass, shrill violin chirping, bassoon and flute provide occasional and intermittent accents and support. I like this song a lot. It's certainly a top three song. (9.5/10)

5. ".22, Or Denny Takes One For The Team" (6:58) opens as if we are getting to unleash a high-speed Celtic reel, but when dulcimer, electric bass and drums enter to support and mirror the established lead melody of the violin, it feels more rock like. At 1:30 everything shifts into a dreamy MARK ISHAM-like section. Violin and cymbal play support the baseball reference section as sung by Daimon and his support chorus. A lot of FLEET FOXES similarities in this middle section. I like it very much. The story here feels very dream-like, as if imagination (and time) is toying with the recollection of some past memory. My favorite song on the album. (15/15)

6. "Videos Of The Dead" (7:21) opens with bass and low tom thumping a slow, straight 2/2 time while the guitar of prog legend Fred Frith slide over and between. While the time signature gradually shifts, and the song develops, it is still fairly sparse and simple when Daimon's simple vocal begins. At 2:50 things become heavier, more insistent as first the low end and then the middle of the soundscape fills a bit. Flute solos in the fourth and fifth minutes while the song shifts and other instruments snake around beneath. When Daimon returns to sing at the end of the fifth minute, a full Nu-grass kind of jam is mounting an assault beneath him. then, suddenly, at the 5:40 mark, order is restored just when I thought (and hoped) that wild chaos was about to break open. Awesome, even amazing song. My other top three song. (14.25/15)

7. "Whiteout" (2:28) a foundation of odd sounds (including synths, zithers, bass clarinet, bowed double bass, and what sounds like a backwards flowing solo electric guitar throughout) supports the slow, treated play of a hammered dulcimer. (9/10)

8. "Fighting The Doughboy" (13:42) starts out with a bit of an odd, gangly plod-and-hop sound that might have come off of a MAHAHIVSHNU ORCHESTRA or JEAN-LUC PONTY rehearsal during the 1970s. By the end of the second minute it's feeling more like a UNIVERS ZERO song. But then lyrics/vocals appear. At 4:30 the song suddenly steps into a straightforward rhythm--but only for about half a minute, when it returns to the syncopated UZed sound, style and pacing. Horns, violin, vibes, and bassoon are all quite prominent. At 6:30 another foray into straightdom provides a section with some interesting background vocal activities and harmonies--and even a lead vocal from a different male (Jason Hoops?). At 8:20 a kind of calypso foundation begins over which SHANKAR-like violin melody leads before a flanged Daimon Waitkus vocal slowly emerges (and continues moving into the foreground--with accompanying vocalists). At 10:30 new section begins with a sound that is reminiscent of some of JONI MITCHELL's jazzy-world music from the mid 1970s. Voice samples from the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. are interwoven among the Dixieland party that ensues--and plays out to the song's end. Intriguing song! High marks for creative originality. (27/30) 

9. "After The Dive" (3:38) a very cool, unusual song with great, delicate performances from all--and a nice vocal from Daimon. (9/10)

Total time 64:07

92.32 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of prog folk and progressive rock music. This band is maturing, gelling into one of the most compelling masters of the modern prog scene.


Clever and transporting "Viking folk music" from Norwegian artists Ivar Bjørnson (guitarist for ENSLAVED) and drummer/singer Einar Selvik (aka "Kvitrafn" in the black metal band GOGOROTH and folk band WARDRUNA). This is a stunning album that starts out more regional Nordic folk but then begins to sound and feel more familiar Western European folk rock the further you get into the album. 

Line-up / Musicians: 
Einar Selvik (Wardruna): Lead vocals, Kravik-lyre, Taglharpa, goat-horn, Bronze-lure, flute and percussion
Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved): Guitars and electronics
Silje Solberg: Hardanger-fiddle and backing vocals
Iver Sandøy: Drums, percussion and backing vocals
Håkon Vinje: Backing vocals
Anna Lisa Lekven, Laila Moberg, Marianne Evensen Østrem, Lisa Nøttseter, Lise Renee Aase, Kristine Bjånesøy Tikkanen, Linda Nytræ, Leif Østrem, Brede Lærum, Jan Helge Kordts, Jan-Ove Hansen, Richard Myhre Gåssand and Stine Kobbeltvedt: Choir under management of Stine Kobbeltvedt (4, 11)

1. "Hugsjá" (4:35) Celtic melodies with deep bass thrum and lower register multi-voice singing (are they using some throat singing?) which sounds almost like chant. Quite enthralling, mesmerizing, even consuming--like a spiritual entrainment thing. (9/10)

2. "WulthuR" (4:16) opens with a solo horn whose sound is unfamiliar to me. It is then joined by folk instruments, multiple drums, and acoustic guitars before solo voice sings. The chorus "dance" section uses deep background choir voices to anesthetize the listener. (10/10)

3. "Ni Døtre av Hav" (6:02) big drums, low droning horn-like thrum, berimbau-like stringed instrument, electric guitars, and full drum kit support simple folk melodies and both solo and choral vocal sections. Super powerful. Mr. Selvik has an extraordinarily engaging voice--as do the choir with his choral arrangements. (10/10)

4. "Ni Mødre av Sol" (5:55) opens with multiple bowed instruments setting the melodic and harmonic stage for drum and vocals. The vocal melody lines here are a bit foreign to Western 12-note scales, using semi-tones and warbles that are not typical in Western European singing traditions (as far as I know). They sound more akin to Middle Eastern or Indian scales. At 3:40 drum kit and pulsing electronic bass line fills the soundscape as choir of Nordic gods sing their worship. The never-changing foundational weave gets a bit old. (8.75/10)

5. "Fornjot" (4:41) finger picked stringed instrument is alone in support of Einar's story telling voice. At 1:05 the soundscape fills out as drums and other deep-toned instruments (church organ bass pedals?) join in for the chorus. Very dramatic, very powerful. The drums and deep thrum settle into a steady pattern for the second verse before repeating the ramp up for the second (final) chorus. (9/10)

6. "Nattseglar" (7:06) opens a bit like a louder version of a ROXY MUSIC song before electronic water and rowing sounds are faded back in lieu of a simple melody plucked on a single- or two-stringed folk instrument. Einar's lone vocals are used sparsely over the first 90 seconds, alternating with violin-like instrument, before they become doubled up with steadily increasing numbers of other vocal tracks singing the same thing, some in delay or echo of the lead. Cool effect! Full drums kick in at 3:45, but the rest of the song's weave remains the same (getting a little old). The drumming becomes more animated as the song progresses as does the activity of a late entering church organ. Instruments begin to drop off  little by little starting at the 5:35 mark until we are left with a bouncy synth chord, drums, and synchronized vocal choir accompanying the final highly-electrified "bermibau chord." (13.5/15)

7. "Nytt Land" (7:48) opens like a song from an album of Sweden's THE AMAZING: heavily distorted notes and chords from an electric guitar. Multiple reverbed Einar vocal tracks with harp join in. The chorus explodes upon us at 2:20 with squeeze box-like sounds and a vocal passage from a large choir--here using the broadest aural spectrum and most Western chord structure yet heard on this album. Very engaging, even pretty, melodies and harmonies created on this one. Before the ending water sounds the large choir pumps back up for a long recapitulation of its previous explosive passage. (14/15)

8. "Nordvegen" (3:41) fast-moving folk acoustic guitar work not far from work of Jimmy Page, The Beatles, or even Anthony Phillips over which Einar sings in a lone voice reverb. Very cool song. (9.25/10)

9. "Utsyn" (5:23) a deep inner-planetary hum opens this song. It is soon joined by the balalaika-like instrument and Einar's singular voice and some acoustic guitar background strums. Then a second male voice enters to harmonize with Einar before the full "orchestra" of the full band enters for the chorus. Powerful! In the fourth minute a kind of calm between the storm passage allows for thunderous background strokes and bowed and instruments to convey the ominous calm. Around the four minute mark all hell bursts forth again but then the song finishes with just the chorus, 'balalaika' and wave sounds. (9/10)

10. "Oska" (7:29) opens with a Western rock chord structure coming from guitars, drums, strings and other synthesized banks of instruments. Einar & Co. enter singing long-held "oh"s while the Celtic-sounding Nordic folk instruments weave in a kind of reel or jig. There's a little UK folk sound and feel to this one--like Horslips, Led Zeppelin, or even Steven Wilson. It's just a long rollicking jam with full choir singing their long Tuvalu-like polyphonic notes. The horn used in the sixth and seventh minutes is absolutely awesome for building tension! Finish with the sounds of wood burning--on a large scale! Wow! (It all makes sense when one hears the translation of the word "oska"--it means "ashes"!) (13.5/15)

11. "Um Heilage Fjell" (5:26) again based in more familiar Western European sounds and structures, this one seems to be sung in tones of respect, awe, and reverence. Great plaintive vocal from Einar while full chorus and big band/big sound accompany him with a stream of supportive, sometimes antiphonal, and, later, echoing vowels and phrases. Amazing end to a stunningly powerful album. (10/10)

Total Time 62:22

92.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of very powerful Prog Folk--this one of the Nordic variation. An absolutely riveting album from start to finish. One of the best albums of 2018 and certainly one of the most refreshing. I think it will be quite challenging for you to go away from listening to this one without being deeply affected, perhaps even haunted. 

AALTO Ikaro (2014)

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.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Marko Niittymäki / mandolin, banjo, percussion, mandola, guitar, vocals
- Petra Poutanen / vocals, kantele
- Antero Mentu / guitar, sitar, tambura, vocals
- Sampo Salonen / vocals, didgeridoo, doshpulur, percussion
- Panu Ukkonen / clarinet, vocals
- Kusti Rintala / drums, percussion

1. "Ikaro" (8:12) more native than folk? More sacred/ritualistic than festive/celebratory. Like something from a Robert MIRABEL album. (12.5/15).

     The second song, "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. Wonderful, delicate strings plucking throughout! (13.5/15)

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. (8.75/10)

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. (9/10) Part II continues the hypnosis using only instruments. (8.25/10)

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. (20/20)

Total Time 52:41

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.

91.82 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music.


Richard--of KARDA ESTRA fame--sings! And beautifully! 

1. “Ghost” (3:34) Steve Hackett never did anything as profoundly emotional or powerful as this. It’s just gorgeous! In the Ben Watt/Tracey Thorn pantheon of folk songs! (10/10)

2. “Last Grains” (3:34) a throwback to the halcyon days of late 1960s Burt Bacharach. So catchy! Where is Laetitia Sadler? What a beautiful background vocal voice Richard has! Like Ben Watt. (9/10)

3. “The Sea Witch” (3:21) a more version introspective version of a KARDA ESTRA song. (8.5/10)

4. “Mephisto Portrait” (3:53) reminds me of the sensitive older vocal songs of ANTHONY PHILLIPS except with more engaging chord progressions. (9/10)

5. “Cassiopeia” (3:33) a familiar KE favorite (one of my all-time favorites from my second most favorite KE album) recreated with a very different, more deeply dimensional and somehow raw, human soundscape. Brilliant! Such emotion brought to the performances! Nice work, Amy Fry! (10/10) 

6. “Three Occulations” (3:33) “live” piano background for another simple folkie song. I love this singing voice! It’s so real, conveying such a vulnerable human side of Richard. (9/10) 

7. “Andromeda Variations for Guitar” (1:56) a personal classical guitar étude with a little Steve Hackett flare to it. (4/5)

8. “Chaos Theme for Clarinet” (1:56) (4/5)

9. “Unmarked on Any Map” (3:26) not as good as the other vocal songs but still remarkable for the up-close and personal side of Richard being revealed here! Bravo! (7.5/10)

10. “The Veil” (2:14) more like a simplified KE song but a nice representation of the “hidden” side of the man behind KE. (4/5)

11. “Introduction and Ceres” (2:25) a reworking of another old KE song, stripped down to acoustic guitar and clarinet (and some little electric strums in the “Ceres” part). For some reason the music hear reminds me of Woody Allen’s Gershwin soundtrack to Manhattan. (5/5)

12. “Wine of the Cosmos” (2:40) Gorgeous singing, choosing some interesting melody lines over some duplicitous guitar chords. Reminds me of Serge Gainsborough song from the 1960s/70s. I love this voice! (9.5/10)

13. “Alice Afternoon” (4:32) now THIS one sounds like a gem from an Anthony Philips Private Parts and Pieces album. Stunning! (10/10)

14. “Golgotha Dancers” (1:45) due to the percussion and melodies used, this one has a world music, even African or at least Moorish, feel to it. Love the horns. Great closer! (5/5)

I must admit to being rather shocked to hear Richard’s voice. It’s gorgeous! And conveys sush wonderfully accessible human emotion. Why has he been hiding this from us all these years? I love the stripped down versions of some of his old Karda Estra classics, as well. They give the songs the same human accessibility that his YouTube videos through the years have done. Lovely album! Truly lovely!

91.74 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of classical-infused prog folk music—or “unpluggedness.”

IONA Open Sky (2000)

IONA is a band from the United Kingdom that uses traditional Celtic instruments to augment and enhance its rock music. Comprised of five musicians who each have virtuoso command of their instruments, they include: Dave Bainbridge on guitars, Joanne Hogg on vocals and keyboards, and Troy Donockley, the master of dozens of traditional Celtic folk instruments, including uillean pipes, low whistles, tin whistle, vocal, acoustic & e-bow guitars, bouzouki, portugese mandola, harmonium, while multi-bass player Phil Barker and drummer and violinist Frank Van Essen form a formidable rhythm section. Since their formation in 1989, the band has used their Celtic roots, poetic lyrics and complex music to help convey a Christian message. Open Sky was Iona's fifth album release.

Iona's Open Sky is one of my favorite albums of the 21st Century. 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"). Other reviewers 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. I will add that the intricate song structures are often unpredictable, usually quite interesting, and always 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" (9:28) is a powerful instrumental; great start to finish. (19/20)

2. "Wave After Wave" (6:15) uses a great complement of instruments to help build around Joanne's powerful voice and catchy melody. (10/10)

3. "Open Sky" (5:39) is a soft, simpler song with wonderful vocals and vocal harmonies. Mostly acoustic. (8/10)

4. "Castlerigg" (9:25) is an amazing song. (See above.) Song of the Year for me. (21/20)

5. "A Million Stars" (3:19) is a beautiful solo violin (accompanied by background synth wash) piece. The melody is quite haunting--very VAUGHAN WILLIAMS-like. (10/10)

6. "Light Reflected" (5:11) begins by showcasing Joanne's extraordinarily sensitve, 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" (4:57) is 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)

Songs 8, 9, & 10 = "Songs of Ascent" (Parts 1, 2, & 3). I used to think that the "Songs of Ascent" suite was weakest part of the album because of their soft, 'going nowhere' feel. Nice sounds, very ambient, just not a lot of development or power; little catchy melody making. More like movie soundtrack music (very pleasant, often beautiful, soundtrack music). But upon years of listens I have come to appreciate the plethora of subtleties and beautiful pacing. 

"Part 1" (7:59) develops like a synth-orchestral BRIAN ENO/SAMUEL BARBER piece before low flute enters in the fourth minute. Full band ushers in Joanne's vocal at 4:15. Nice fretless bass work. Odd whispered vocal mirroring Joanne's lead vocal. Sounds a bit like the Titanic soundtrack music themes. (12.75/15) 

"Part 2" (9:07) begins with some gorgeous harp, percussion and treated piano work. More and more layers are added with synths, acoustic guitar, and Uillean pipes joining in. All instruments drop out at the three minute mark leaving behind a kind of synthy stream/waterfall sound--not unlike that of the intro to Yes' "Close to the Edge." Percussives and Uillean pipes pepper the background, as if from far away in the woods. Gradually the percussives, pipes and synths start coming closer and closer until by the five minute mark they are up front and center. Then they fade away leaving by the 6:30 mark an empty space which eventually begins to fill with soft synth and the slow playing of a repetitious melody of single piano notes. Eventually pipes, strings and sustained electric guitar notes join in. (18/20)

"Part 3" (4:55) is very folkie with acoustic guitar and bazouki (and later Portuguese mandolin) playing while Joanne weaves some gorgeous wordless vocals throughout. The final two minutes explode into a full band rocking climax. (Check out the electric guitar and Uillean pipes duet/duel!)  (9/10)

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)--though the delicate vocals of the first four and a half minutes are pure perfection. The song itself is otherwise not very memorable. (8/10) 

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.

91.55 on the Fish scales = a five star masterpiece; one of those albums that I never fail to listen to from start to finish, one of those albums I will always carry with me, one of the best albums to have been released in the 21st Century.

ESPERS II (2006)

The Pennsylvania-based Prog Folk band led by Greg Weeks and singer Meg Baird release their second album. With II the trio is "officially" expanded to a sextet.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Greg Weeks / performer, vocals, producer
- Meg Baird / performer, vocals
- Brooke Sietinsons / performer
- Helena Espvall / performer
- Otto Hauser / performer
- Chris Smith / performer
- Laura Baird / flute
- Gary Olsen / performer
- Jesse Sparhawk / performer
- Lord Whimsey / performer
- Paul Sommerstein / performer
- Willie Lane / performer 

6- & 12-string acoustic guitars, Fender Jazz Bass, cello, recorder, flute, sleigh bells, gongs, bells, '78 Les Paul Custom, Space Echo, Echoplex, Crumar Toccata, Crumar Performer, Univox Mini-Korg, dulcimer, Arp Odyssey, Omnichord, Doric transistorised organ, singing bowels, drum kit, doumbek, dholak, bongos, Crybaby, Blue Box, Big Muff (Russian), and Fuzzrite.

1. "Dead Queen" (8:13) eerie space notes drop like water droplets before a "Stairway to Heaven"-like guitar enters at the end of the first minute. Multiple voices singing in amazing harmony weave enter at 1:35. The verses are very slow and methodic like one of MEDIÆVAL BÆBES' slower, more delicate songs. Violin and fuzzy electric guitar duet in the instrumental section, left and right channels, respectively, before recorder-like stringed instrument instrument joins in the left (and continues playing harmonics beneath the next vocal verse and successive instrumental section). A whole mess of odd instruments (see "Instrumentation" list) join in to create quite an unusual sonic landscape through to the ending fadeout. (13.5/15)

2. "Widow's Weed" (6:51) raw electric guitar dominating the acoustic instruments at work in the wings, this is dark music rises and falls over three minutes before "settling" down to a slower, more spacious soundscape in which Meg sings in a dreamy-downer voice. (13/15) 

3. "Cruel Storm (5:17) a bluesy base with acoustic instruments, electric bass and electric guitar, precedes the entrance of the amazing voice of Meg Baird. This sounds like a song from 1970-71--from the likes of GAY WOODS or Maddy Prior from The Woods Band, BARBARA GASKIN (Spirogyra), or even Judy Dyble, Jacqui McShee, or Sandy Denny. A simple song but astonishingly beautiful. (9.5/10)

4. "Children Of Stone" (8:54) opens with a more traditional folk rock instrument palette, including drums and bass, before male-and female chorus of voices enter in a gorgeous wave of woven harmonies. Flute and picked guitars create a bit of "I Talk to the Wind" sound/feel in the third minute and carry it forward beneath the next verse of vocal weave. AT 3:05, after the end of the second verse, an eerie old synth screams single notes portamento-style until 4:10 when the next vocal verse begins. In the sixth minute a couple voices take the lead while a very low synth portamento note counterposes, singing in a foreign language. Other instruments--including beautiful solo vocalise threads--join in and build a fairly thick soundscape--though all and every instrument and voice somehow remain distinct and distinguished. Very cool, beautiful, and memorable song. (18.5/20) 

5. "Mansfield And Cyclops" (5:57) another gorgeous song that sounds like it came from 1971 with another incredible vocal from Meg. The difference between this and "Cruel Storm" is that the instruments' contributions are significantly more enriching and noteworthy: drums, multiple guitars, and other stringed instruments. This feels like it could come from a TIRILL MOHN album. (10/10) 
6. "Dead King" (8:02) guitars, hand percussives, strings, and flute open this one before Meg enters and sings an English-style folk ballad. There is an odd "organ" and "synthesizer" as well as some background vocal help. This one drags a bit and is more interesting from the instrumental perspective than the vocal or lyrical presentation--especially as it moves into the middle when creepy, eerie, even scary sound embellishments take over. (13/15)

7. "Moon Occults The Sun" (6:47) opens simply, weaving several traditional folk instruments together, before cello and drums enter and move the music into a more forward direction. Around the one-minute mark a male vocal enters in the lead department (with some far background support from Meg). The active drums and cello make for some interesting bridges between the verses until the three-minute mark when another strange fuzz-embellishment to an electric guitar teams up with a different sustain-prone guitar to give us a very interesting, beautiful weave. This goes on for a full two minutes (of prog bliss) while the band jams beneath. Cool! Things calm back down for the final minute and the final vocal verses. (13.75/15) 

Total time 50:01

91.25 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a veritable modern masterpiece of refreshing Prog Folk; definitely an essential addition to any prog lover's music collection. 

ILL WICKER Untamed (2016)

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.

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
Adam Grauman - drums

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. (15/15)

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. (13.5/15)

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. (12/15)

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! (13.5/15)

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. (14.5/15)

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!

91.05 on the Fishscales = five stars; A-; a minor masterpiece of Prog Folk music.

CICCADA The Finest of Miracles (2015)

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 "overture" 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. (8.5/10) 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. (17/20)

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! (19.5/20)

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


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. (4.5/5)

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. (8.5/10)

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. (4.5/5)

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.

90.95 on the Fish scales = five stars; a minor masterpiece of folk-based progressive rock music.

IONA The Circling Hour (2006)

Any Iona album is worth owning and listening to regularly--even the most recent, more-overtly and heavily Christian, Another Realm. The 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:  the three-part "Wind, Water and Fire" suite (13:48) (30/30); 6. "Sky Maps" (6:43) (15/15); 5. "Factory of Magnificent Souls" (5:06) (9/10); 1. "Empyream Dawn" (7:50) (13.5/15); 3. "Strength" (5:59) (9/10), and; the gorgeous finale, 11. "Fragment of a Fiery Sun" (2:47) (4.5/5). 

While this album just doesn't have the staying power of their previous efforts, it is still an amazing display of prog folk mastery, one that has few equals in 21st Century prog world. Nothing less than four stars will serve.

90.90 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a masterpiece of Prog Folk and a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music in general.

MOULETTES The Bear's Revenge (2012)

The sophomore release from this band of folk masters/virtuosi. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Hannah Miller / cello, guitar, banjo, dulcimer, glockenspiel, percussion, vocals
- Ruth Skipper / bassoon, autoharp, kazoo, vocals
- Georgina Leach / violin, viola, whistling, vocals
- Jim Mortimore / bass, mandolin, guitar, banjo
- Oliver Austin / drums, guitar, banjo, bass, percussion, vocals
- Rob Arcari / pandeiro, washboard, bass drum, vocals
- Faye Houston / vocals
- Laura Hockenhull / vocals 
- Ted Dwane / double bass, vocals
- Matt Menefee / banjo (2,12)
- Ben Startup / double bass & sounds (4,11)
- Ríoghnach Connolly / flute & vocals (4,10,12)
- Ellis Davies / guitar (5)
- Esther Miller / nyckelharpa (11)
- Fred Kinbom / lap steel guitar (12)
- Liz Green / vocals (12)
- The Queens Park Rogues / ? (12)

1. "Sing Unto Me" (4:53) immediately noticeable is the expanded lineup--as well as the far more prominent and continuous presence of multiple male voices within the vocal weave. (8.75/10) 

2. "Country Joy" (3:33) a guitar-based song with delicate and precise female vocals for the verses, bull band chorale representation in the choruses. Great performances from the guitar, mandolin, banjo and female vocalists. (9/10)

3. "Uca's Dance" (4:21) amazing violin performance on an amazing song (string quartet with drums and many voices). (10/10)

4. "Some Who You Love" (7:25) tick-tock of a grandfather clock is soon joined by plucked muted cello and violin and then lead and background harmonized vocals. Gorgeous sound. Once again I am reminded of MEDIÆVAL BÆBES--especially their 2012-13 incarnation. An absolutely beautifully paced, constructed, and engineered song. Another stellar display of violin play. Can Prog Folk get any better than this? (14.5/15) 

5. "Revenge Of The Bear" (1:58) strings, bassoon and flutes building up to a frenzy before settling into a little "classical"-like control. (4.5/5) 

6. "Songbird" (4:11) guitar and female alto vocal opens in a very old-fashioned 1970s-like folk fashion. Background female vocals join in at 0:40 for the chorus, violin in the second. A Vaughan-Williams-like lark-like violin soars in instrumental passage before third verse. What a beautiful vocal weave. Pure folk perfection. (9.25/10)

7. "Muse Has Wings" (3:42) banjo and Hannah in the lead with smooth, more traditional choral background vocals. Other instruments (like violin, hand percussions, clapping) join in at various points during the song. The vocal weave does begin to unfold so that the final third sounds very much like an old-time ANDREWS SISTERS performance. (9/10) 

8. "Unlock The Doors" (4:56) much more aggressive, proggy soundscape and emotion open this song through the instrumental first minute. Voices and clapping enter, totally arranged like an Andrews Sisters style. Male voices join in during the chorus. Violin and bassoon stand out during the instrumental bridges. Great musicianship and composition; not my favorite melody or form. (8.75/10)

9. "Half-Remembered Song" (4:54) a bluesy 1940s Haarlem feel to this one. I'd almost expect Billie Holliday to be standing at the microphone in a smoke-filled jazz hall singing this one. I absolutely love the sudden switch in the back ground weave at 3:50--tossing an almost-Russian element into the song. (8.75/10) 

10. "Grumpelstiltskin's Jig" (3:31) cello warms up before launching the band into a traditional sounding contra dance. Violin and flutes trade the lead through the first half, but then it gets dark and dreary in the middle "intermission." Again I feel as if I'm being immersed into some very dark Eastern European musical traditions. Luckily, it returns to the upbeat jig for the final minute. (8.5/10)

11. "Circle Song" (5:05) sounding much more like a Moulettes song--like the shantie styles of their first album: the presentation and arrangements are just more theatric than the more "traditional" forms, the lyrics more intellectual and multi-dimensional. (9/10)

12. "Blood And Thunder" (8:01) opening with some mood-setting effects and sounds, the musical palette is almost bluegrass before the vocals enter. Effects used on the vocals reveal an attempt to tell a kind of detective mystery. Again, this is The Moulettes at their finest. Banjo and squealing violin are quite prominent trhougout as the vocals and effects give this quite a familiar MEDIÆVAL BÆBES feel. (13.5/15) 

Total time 56:30

The sound engineering on this album is so phenomenal that it just feels like such a treat to be allowed to be present among these musicians (for that is truly the feeling of the headphones experience). While many of the songs represented here are absolutely stunning creations, I feel that the album is a bit too scattered in its sounds and styles. On their debut, The Moulettes established a kind of forma and style that now feels like their truest style, the sound that is their destiny, but here the band tries to "branch out" into other, often simpler styles--which, to my mind, is almost demeaning to the potentialities of this creative crew. I like it much better when The Moulettes are The Moulettes for there is now one else out there like them, no music so fascinating and impressive. While mega kudos are again in order for Hannah and the gang's creative arrangements and precision performances, I'd like to add a special shout out to violinist/violist Georgina Leach for her meteoric rise in confidence and virtuosity.  

90.80 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a masterpiece of Prog Folk music and a highly recommended addition to any prog lover's music collection. This band may be the finest Prog Folk band I've ever heard. 

DEAD CAN DANCE Dionysus (2018)

Lisa and Brendan are back with what may well be their best Dead Can Dance album ever. Though partitioned into two suites, I cannot help but treat each "movement" as its own entity, its own song, as they each have very separate sounds and stylings.

ACT I  (16:39)
 - "Sea Borne" (6:45) typical layering of simple Middle Eastern and mediæval tones, melodies and instrument sounds which is augmented by a many-layered "chorale" of Lisa's vocal tracks. Relaxing, joyful, processional, cinematic, and beautiful. (14.25/15)

 - "Liberator of Minds" (5:22) a different set of Middle Eastern "instruments" with different pacing and feel. Though possessing several nice melodies and a nice hand drum pace-setter, this one lacks strong, central vocal presence. (8.5/10)

 - "Dance of the Bacchantes" (4:32) feels more contiguous with "Liberator" due to the use of the same hand drum for the rhythm setter. More vocal use--some imitative of animals and human revelry--coupled with a brisker pace make this one a bit more interesting. (8.75/10)

ACT II (19:27)
 - "The Mountain" (5:35) slow meditative Middle Eastern music making me feel as if I'm walking through a desert village with the very real chance of running across Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi. Both Brendan and Lisa's voices are used here in a kind of slow call-and-response format. The sound of the bleating of mountain goats and animal neck bells join this song to the next. (9/10) 

 - "The Invocation" (4:51) with only hand cymbols and djembe-like bass to provide rhythm, Lisa uses multiple tracks to present a vocal-based music quite like the female choir of Bulgarian folk singers known from the Le Mystère des voix Bulgares albums of the 1980s. Hammered zithers, bowed rabab (?) and hand drum and clap tracks eventually join in to fill the sections between Lisa's Bulgarian sections. Masterful. (10/10)

 - "The Forest" (5:31) opens with electro-pop synth drums before African male singing enters. Brendan's vocal track(s) are backed by electro-pop bass and drums while alternated by zither and rabab like synths. Later, the Youssou N'dour-like voice is joined by multiple tracks of female choral singers á la MIRIAM STOCKLEY from the ADIEMUS records of the late 1990s. Electro-synth "jungle" noises are used to bleed this song into the final one. (8.5/10)

- "Psychopomp" (3:30) involves some very simple single voice singing by both Brendan and Lisa, in separate tracks playing off of one another, all performed over a very simple, austere soundscape of breathy flutes and hand percussives like shells and nuts, rainstick, bass drum, and Hamza El-Din like frame drums. (9/10)

90.67 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of electro-simp world folk music. 

STEVE UNRUH Precipice (2019)

Steve Unruh is, to be sure, a refreshing whirlwind of energy, virtuosity, and sonic excellence, whether he is operating with his own material or his numerous contributions to and/or collaborations with other prog artists. His fearless mastery of dozens of instruments alone is worthy of avid attention and respect, but his skill in the engineering and production room is, to me, equally astonishing; his presence has, in my humble opinion, vastly improved the performance levels as well as sound quality in every project with which he has been involved. 
     Precipice is listed as Steve's ninth solo release (since 1997! I always think of him as a "young newcomer"!) There are, without doubt, some monster songs and performances here but, as before, I find Steve's personal song structure a bit of an acquired taste (especially his voice)--one that I have not yet mastered (acquired). As with many prog artists, I marvel at his instrumental prowesses as well as his compositional choices (in terms of both instrumental palette and directionally), yet, at the end of the day, find myself never completely connecting to his music. I truly appreciate his contributions to Prog World--especially the way he champions the acoustic side of rock instrumentation but also in his dedicated commitment to manual mastery of the instruments he chooses. (Did I mention that Steve plays all the instruments by himself as well as composed, self-engineered, and self-produced this album?)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Steve Unruh / violin, flute, vocals, guitar, sitar, bass, drums, keyboards, mandolin, kalimba, angklung, percussion, composer

1. "Luxury Denial" (10:38) a totally unique, pop-folkie JTULL-esque set of songs melded and packaged into a nice 11-minute epic. (18/20)

2. "Uncharted Waters" (4:18) opens with a sad kind of minor chord pop feel with electric guitar and keyboard chords while Steve sings. The flute playing is great. (8.5/10)

3. "Send the Sunshine" (5:41) pure retro-JTULL for fast-movin' flute-driven first 2:30, then things slow down to a more old-time folk feel (Contra dance, anyone?) as the strings (violin, bass, take turns at the front and center for a couple minutes. When the music returns to full speed in the fifth minute, the violin keeps the lead while a full complement of folk-rock instruments bob and weave in support. (8.75/10)

4. "Reckoning" (9:00) opens gently, spaciously, with part-Will Ackerman, mostly-Spanish feel as acoustic guitars dominate until the light Spanish tapestry fills and settles into a supporting role for Steve to sing over. Things darken and deepen in a Porcupine Tree way in the third minute. As the song gets progressively heavier (matched by Steve's aggressive delivery of angry lyrics), I'm really liking this; that fourth minute was awesome. The fifth minute ends with a solo Spanish guitar, which is then joined by Steve's GENTLE GIANT/IAN ANDERSON-like singing in the sixth. At 6:30 an instrumental section begins imply though ominously before slowly building into a full band exposition with trilling flute, electric guitar, and violin trading solos. (18/20)

5. "Suspension" (2:09) kalimba and African percussion supporting flute solo. Nice African-feeling melody! (4.5/5)

6. "Constellation" (5:39) strummed acoustic guitar with Steve singing. Joined at the one minute mark by trip hoppy drum program and sitar. Interesting instrumental choices! At the two minute mark another shift takes us into some gut-wrenchingly beautiful music:  chords, harmonics, melodies, it's all orgasmically gorgeous! But then it reverts back to acoustic guitar--this time picked in arpeggiated chords--with support from bass. At the end of the fifth minute multiple wind instruments enter. It sounds so ANTHONY PHILLIPS-ish! Then children's voices enter to signal the beginning of the song's deconstruction and finish. Beautiful! (9.5/10)

7. "Precipice" (9:42) opens sounding as if Porcupine Tree and KBB had teamed up around 2002. Great chorus with "silly life" lyric! The amped up passion in Steve's voice starting at the end of the third minute is so powerful and moving! There's a lot of familiar sound and feel here to the music of much under-appreciated GUY MANNING. Actually makes me want to cue up some of Guy's solo albums. Nice TONY PATTERSON-like vocal layering in the seventh minute--after which the soundscape broadens out with mandolin and lots of guitars in support of an instrumental section. UNITOPIA-sounding section as the vocals pick back up in the ninth minute. Glad to hear the return of that awesome chorus one more time before the song builds into its finale. Excellent! (18.5/20)

Total Time 47:07

I find it interesting that Steve had just completed a significant collaboration with UNITOPIA founder MARK TRUECK on this year's UNIVERSAL PROGRESSIVE FRATERNITY release, Planetary Overload, Part 1 - Loss--and album that I am very familiar and fond of--because there were many times, both sonically and lyrically, in which I found myself thinking I was back in that UPF album--even vocally!

90.26 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor-masterpiece of progressive rock music coming from the folk-rock angle.

THORK Nula Jedan (2007)

An album from the French mood-masters who created the band NIL, the leadership of the brothers MAURIN (one of which has by this album left the project) have given way to that of Sebastien FILLION (with the help of brother/cellist Arnaud) to produce this enigmatic collection of hard-to-describe songs. The music is modern, perhaps "ahead of its time" in its odd, sometimes ethereal, sometimes jazzy sounds and passages. It can thus be said with some confidence that this is truly progressive rock music as its songs take the listener to places and in directions that you have likely never travelled before. While listening through this album I find myself reminded at times of DEAD CAN DANCE, FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM, AKT, STING, LUNATIC SOUL, STEVE JANSEN and, of course, NIL.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Sébastien Fillion / vocals, guitar, bass, synths, piano, Fender Rhodes, programming, whistles, glockenspiel, percussion
 - Arnaud Fillion / cello, oud
- Claire Northey / violin
- Samuel Maurin / bass, fretless bass (8)
- Philippe Maullet / drums, percussion (1,8)
- Violette Corroyer / backing vocals (1,3,8)
- Hugo Quillet / trumpet & flugelhorn (6,8)
- Jérôme Blanc / trombone (6,8)

1. "Ex-Slave" (12:47) (24/25)

2. "Ici" (5:36) (8.5/10)

3. "La Lumière" (9:10) incredible blend of gentle approaches from voice, percussion, bass, background vocals, oud, strings, keys, even drums--all topped off with an awesome electric guitar solo in the second half. (19/20)

4. "J'aurais Pu" (4:37) wonderfully deep LUNATIC SOUL-like atmospherics with vocoder-treated voice. (8.5/10)

5. "Danse Des Airs" (6:20) gorgeous intro with keyboard weave and then powerful entry of bass and rest of band. Even the jazzier third section fits and retains the engaging beauty and allure. (9.5/10)

6. "Au Ciel" (7:09) awesome ethereal vocal from Sébastion Fillion over shape-shifting strings weave. (14/15)

7. "Revoir" (7:51) (13/15)

8. "01" (8:13) (12.5/15)

9. "Ces Rêves-là" (4:22) (7.75/10)

Total Time: 66:05

90.19 on the Fish scales. A refreshingly original musical journey--with amazing sound engineering.

FAUN Luna (2014)

Another gem of prog folk music from Germany's folk masters, FAUN. Upon first listen I found high points that stood out for me, 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 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).

90.0 on the Fish scales = Another five star masterpiece of prog folk from Germany's folk masters; a minor masterpiece for the world of progressive rock music.

USVA Uoma (2006)

Over 71 minutes of wonderful folk-tinged instrumental jazz fusion from this seven-member jam band (and a whole mess of guests) from Finland. Throughout the album I enjoy the electric instruments like the bass and the drum kit drumming, but it is the traditional folk and classical instrumentation that really love:  harp, violin and strings, xylophone, marimba and other hand percussions, flutes, and other woodwinds (sax, bassoon, clarinet). I also seem to enjoy the slower parts best--even though the album never gets going at break-neck speeds, they just have a brilliant way of magnifying the weave of melodies during the slower sections. 

Album highlights include:  the album's gorgeously scored opening suite, "Kuoriutuminen," Parts 1, 2 & 3 (10/10) the wonderfully Japanese-flavored 8-10. "Vesikko" suite (23:02) (10/10); 7. "Arabian Ran-ta" (10:00) with its wonderful shift at the 3:50 mark (9/10); the stepped down beauty of "Chinese Daydream, Part 1" (3:12) and then the shift into a higher gear for the brass-dominated "Part 2" (5:43) (8/10); the brassy, American jazz rock sounding, 4. "Different Realities" (11:14) (8/10), and; the pretty, if simple, harp-based, 11. "Lullaby" (4:22) (8/10).

There's a lot of music here, but it is all quite enjoyable and some of it compositionally masterful.

90.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of folk-based jazz fusion. 

DEAD CAN DANCE Anastasia (2012)

After a 16 year break, this album is the "comeback" album for the team of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard. Though Lisa had been traveling quite a successful path as a solo artist and soundtrack composer (with award-winning contributions to Insider, Ali, Gladiator, and Whale Rider as well as lauded collaborations with Klaus Schulze). The album opens with the stunning duo of "Children of the Sun" (15/15) (on the short list for 2012 Song of the Year) and "Anabasis" (14.5/15), this latter song establishing a trend of Middle Eastern-influenced or -sounding songs that permeates most of the album. Nowhere is Lisa's incredible vocal talent in question, it is in the band's choices of computer-driven percussion tracks and loops or the quality of the computer-generated Middle Eastern instrumental sounds samples that sometimes bring the album's overall feel and effect "down."

3. "Agape" total exploration of Middle Eastern sounds with Lisa's vocalise playing right into the mood (13/15)

4. "Amnesia" a very cinematic spie movie-themed melody over which Brendan takes a turn at the lead vocal. (8.25/10)

5. "Kiko" a long, simple, and monotonous attempt at a Middle Eastern sound. (12.5/15)
"Opium" Brendan's turn. The deeper, darker sound, and percussion tracks work on this one--the strings banks from the computer keyboard, too. (8.75/10)

6. "Return of the She-King" opens with computer-bagpipes and evolves slowly into a beautiful exposé of Celtic stylings.  (13.25/15)

7. "All in Good Time" opens with bare bones and Brendan's heart-felt vocal. Stunning. Great melodies and textures. Almost like an old-fashioned crooner's ballad. Me like. My other top three song. (9/10)

89.76 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of atmospheric progressive world music.

GADI CAPLAN Morning Sun (2016)

Eclectic fare from world traveller guitarist Gadi Caplan. Some songs are folk, some world (Indian), some pop, some jazz, a little infusion of Canterbury style, a lot of instrumental, several with pleasant vocals. A very pleasant journey. I found myself thinking of Roy Harper's Stormcock throughout my first listen to this material. Successive listens have slowly revealed the surprisingly wide diversitty in sounds and styles covered on this album--though throughout Gadi's electric guitar sound choices are always unusually clear, crisp, and concise--kind of like those of Roy Buchanan or Blue Öyster Cult's "Buck Dharma" Roeser in the 1970s.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Gadi Caplan / Guitars
- Danny Abowd / 

1. "Hemavati" (3:42) is a wonderful horn-backed soft rock instrumental with beautiful, sensitive guitar play performing the lead in a way that is, to me, reminiscent of blues legend Roy Buchanan. (9/10)

2. "Island" (5:33) is a gorgeous little folk song in the style of 1990s STEVEN WILSON/ PORCUPINE TREE--one that makes you appreciate more the genius of SW in that time period. (9/10)

3. "Good Afternoon" (2:25) the only song on the album that I don't absolutely love, it's more in an acoustic blues style though quite reminiscent of some of HARRY NILSSON's songs, it continues to dsiplay Gadi's extraordinary skills in vocal arrangements, lead guitar play, and production. (7/10)

4. "Vivadi Swara" (5:39) opens as a pure ROY BUCHANAN song with acoustic guitar and synth providing sparse background support for the sensitive lead electric guitar work. At 1:38 the song opens up with strummed acoustic guitar, full band support and Gadi's whispery, jazzy lead vocal. I hear a little George Harrison in this one. Such stellar songwriting and production! A true gem! (9/10)

5. "Morning Sun" (4:14) a sparsely constructed folk song that truly feels like it came out of the mucis catalog of 1970s HARRY NILSSON or the introspective side of ROBERT WYATT or JEFF BUCKLEY. Extraordinary and beautiful! I love the wooden flute play, too. (10/10)

6. "La Morena" (5:46) opens gently but with vocals joining in almost immediately. The vocals are very beautifully executed--quite like Coldplay's CHRIS MARTIN. I love the BEATLES-like contribution of the violin and Gadi's finishing vocalizations. (9/10)

7. "The Other Other Side" (5:14) from my very first listen this song has been my favorite. A bit more dynamic and electric than the previous six songs, this one also has a little more diversity in way the accompanying instruments are presented. Sounding slightly PINK FLOYD-ish, slightly Hawaiian, though mostly Harry NILSSON and STEVEN WILSON-ish, this one has the gift of an extraordinary vocal and an awesome bluesy guitar solo in the final minutes. (10/10)

8. "Lili's Day, Pt. 1" (2:49) opens with quite an different, synth-dominated trip hoppy sound and feel--here bringing to mind some of the work of some of the early Post Rock bands (like Tortoise and Bark Psychosis). Great groove! (10/10)

9. "Lili's Day, Pt. 2" (2:28) continues the Post Rock sound with its great guitar weave while adding a Dick Parry-like breathy sax to take the lead. (9/10)

10. "Lili's Day, Pt. 3" (1:50) sees a shift in the music starting with the eery militaristic drumming, minor chord synths, and more sustain-effected guitar lead. (8/10)

11. "Lili's Day, Pt. 4" (2:37) shifts into a more straight rock mellow outflow with the violin and strings synths taking the dominant lead in presenting the melodies. (8/10)

89.09 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. This is a type of clear, clean, simply constructed song production I wish there was more of in this day and age. Beautiful. Do check it out:  Highly recommended.

MEDIAEVAL BAEBES 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 rock because the vocal arrangements, song choices are so sophisticated, 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. The album is a mesmerizing, fascinating listen to diverse, virtuosic performances from start to finish.

1. "Star of the Sea" (3:32) (9/10). Let's you know what you're in for from the beginning.

2. "Trovommi Amor" (4:39) (7/10). A song that fails to really get up and go anywhere.

3. "Temptasyon" (3:20) (9/10).

4. "San'c fuy belha ne Prezada" (1:36) (7/10).

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

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

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

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

9. "Lhiannan Shee" (2:56) (8/10). One of the group's signature eerie yet mesmerizing vocal arrangements.

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

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

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

13. "Tam Lin" (4:24) (10/10). 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.

14. "Scarborough Fayre" (3:24) (8/10). 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.

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) (10/10). A traditional Scandinavian folk song performed in a very delicate, bare-bones style.

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

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

88.89 on the Fish scales = B=/4.5 stars; a masterpiece of Progressive Folk music and a near-masterpiece of progressive music.

ATARAXIA Llyr (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:  5. "Evnyssien" (8:48) (10/10); 4. "Llyr" (5:58) (10/10); 9. "Borrea" (5:56) (10/10); 1. "Siqillat" (6:47) (9/10), and; 6. "Klepsydra" (4:51) 9/10).

88.89 on the Fish scale:  definitely a 4.5 star "almost masterpiece."

FAUN Licht (2003)

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. (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" 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" 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!

88.83 on the Fishscales = B/four stars.

CORDE OBLIQUE The Moon Is a Dry Bone (2020)

Riccardo is stepping way outside his usual sound and style palettes with this panoply of "nufolk" songs, most of which contain layers of heavily-treated (electrified) instruments. Even some of the vocals are more rollicking and quirky than anything I've ever heard from a Corde Oblique album before.  

Line-up / Musicians:
- Riccardo Prencipe / classic acoustic and electric guitars, ebow
- Rita Saviano / vocals on tracks 3, 8, back vocals on tracks 2, 6, 7
- Edo Notarloberti / violin
- Umberto Lepore / bass
- Alessio Sica / drums
- Luigi Rubino / piano on track 8
- Michele Maione / frame drums, percussions
- Carmine Ioanna / accordion
- Caterina Pontrandolfo / vocals on tracks 4, 6, 10, back vocals on track 7
- Denitza Seraphim / vocals on track 5
- Maddalena Crippa / spoken voice on track 7
- Sergio Panarella / vocals on track 6
- Andrea Chimenti / vocals on track 2
- Miro Sassolini (vocals on track 9)

1. "Almost blue" (3:01) I was not ready for this heavily-effected instrumental, but I like it! (8.75/10)

2. "La strada" (4:24) aside from the male vocal in the lead, this could come from any other Corde Oblique album. Great song base, violin display, and background vocal. (8.75/10)

3. "The moon is a dry bone" (3:04) She was a momur! Factor in some cabaret Burzaco and you might get what it is I feel I'm hearing. I like it! (9/10)
4. "Le grandi anime" (3:48) discordant guitar chords somehow conveying a very familiar Corde Oblique melody. I swear: Caterina Pontrandolfo could sing the clothes off of a monastery of monks. A wonderful addition to the great Corde Oblique catalogue. (9/10)

5. "Le torri di Maddaloni" (4:12) opens with 90 seconds of lute-like guitar play with subtle accordion in the background. Then it switches to hand drum over which a coven of witches led by Rita Saviano chant their pagan chant. At the end of the third minute after nylon string guitar enters, there is a lull and tehn an evening out and beautification of the music. Feels deeply antique. (9/10)

6. "Il figlio dei Vergini" (4:30) classical guitar and accordion (beautiful!) with the one and only Caterina Pontrandolfo singing a over the top. In the second minute there is an awesome wordless vocalise and b-vox chants as the guitar and accordion dance beautifully with each other. Then, in the third minute, there is a amped up fast rhythm (led by hand drum) over which Caterina returns to the original melody. The
 song then finishes with an an unusual right turn with Sergio Panarella lending his vocal talents to sing wordlessly over first a bare-bones section and then a full band. Interesting--and very different--song. (9.25/10)

7. "La casa del ponte" (5:39) like a film soundtrack with spoken word vocal and both fast and slow dynamics and moods. At 3:40 the coven of witches returns to sing their curses or dirges (in Italian, of course) over the band (with some damned fine drum and bass play). Another interesting and wonderfully fecund song. (9.25/10)

8. "Temporary peace" (4:58) Another Riccardo interpretation of an ANATHEMA song from the 2001 album, A Fine Day to Exit). Lead vocal (in English) from Rita Saviano and piano from Luigi Rubino. (8.75/10)

9. "Il terzo suono" (2:14) another off-beat mélange of styles that is very unlike anything I've heard from Riccardo before. All-male vocals, performed by Miro Sossano. (4.5/5)

10. "Herculaneum" (3:18) any chance to hear the sublime voice of Caterina Pontrandolfo--here with accordion, strummed acoustic guitars, and hand drums--is welcome, a highlight. Lovely to hear the accordion expressing itself so fully and prominently.  (8.5/10)

11. "Almost Blue part two" (3:41) a multi-guitar instrumental with effects rendering a kind of shoegaze sound to it. Pretty, melodic, but nothing very new or exciting here. (8.5/10)

Total Time: 42:49

88.81 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of Progressive Folk music--one that truly spans the full spectrum of Prog Folk, musica antica to modern NuFolk.

CHARLIE CAWOOD Blurring Into Motion (2019)

Classically-influenced instrumental acoustic folk music in the same vein as NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA, Charlie is quite the multi-instrumentalist! 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Charlie Cawood / acoustic, electric and classical guitars, acoustic bass, bass VI, handclaps
- Marjana Semkina / vocals (3, 10)
- Alice Barron / violin
- Georgia Hannant / violin
- Maddie Cutter / cello
- Robyn Hemmings / double bass
- Julie Groves / flute, piccolo
- Emily Suzanne Shapiro / clarinet
- Ben Marshall / cor anglais
- Thomas Stone / contrabassoon
- Lucy Brown / French horn
- Nathaniel Dye / trombone
- Maria Moraru / piano, celeste
- Elen Evans / harp
- Beibei Wang / vibraphone
- Catherine Ring / glockenspiel
- Evan Carson / bodhran, percussion
- Steve Holmes / minimoog, bass synth 

1. "Dance of Time" (5:03) nice, gentle multi-thread weave of guitars, tuned percussion, flutes, and strings. (8.67/10)

2. "The Stars Turn" (3:59) same as the previous song: a gentle weave of the exact same instrument palette. A little more Steve REICHian/NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA construction here. (8.67/10)

3. "Falling Into Blue" (2:36) fast-picked acoustic guitars behind Marjana Semkina singing in her lower registers. Winds, xylophone, and Marjana's background vocals join in the chorus. Strings and tuned percussion remain for the second verse. Again, this could be a quaint little NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA song. (4.25/5)

4. "Abyss of Memory" (3:05) multiple acoustic guitars with piano and vibraphone weave this one at another moderately slow pace. The melody line repeats over and over while myriad other instruments  join in and create other layers and harmony threads. Interesting. (8.75/10)

5. "The Dark Within" (4:37) guitar and strings open this one like a WILLIAM ACKERMAN tune. At 0:50 piano and woodwinds join in and it gets beautiful. At 1:30 double bass and percussion and vibes are added. It actually doesn't feel as dark as it feels full of 'disappointment' though it does get a little discordant toward the end. (9/10)

6. "Blurring Into Motion" (3:29) fast-picked acoustic guitars, piano, and soon, flute, start this weave. Strings join in at the end of the first minute (including bass). (8.5/10)

7. "From Pure Air" (4:05) harp and classical guitar open this one. A very gentle, soothing, calming song. (8.75/10)

8. "A Severed Circle" (4:35) another beautiful multi-instrumental weave that once again reminds me of the NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA though also some of Jesy Chiang's CICADA compositions as well. Very nice. A top three song. (9/10)

9. "The False Mirror" (3:28) More of the same; beautiful but basically background music. (8.67/10)

10. "Flicker Out of Being" (4:27) a pleasant song in which Marjana Semkina's beautiful, ethereal voice blends in as if it were another string or wind instrument. A top three song for me. (9.25/10)

11. "Between Two Worlds" (4:48) flute and chor anglais over guitars, vibraphone and piano in another fast shifting NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA-like song. Very nicely constructed tapestry. (8.75/10)

12. "Voice of Space" (6:35) slow and brooding piano, acoustic guitar, harp and vibes with secondary instruments providing chord accents every sixth whole note. Reminds me of many Pat Metheny song openings. Flute and winds take over lead melody over the top while celeste does another line in the middle. Strings eventually join in, thickening the weave. Another top three for me. (9.25/10)

Total time: 50:47

While the music here is beautiful--often calming or even soothing--and the compositions quite intricate and harmonically sophisticate, there is too much a "sameness" of the music and too often a lack of fully engaging melodies.

88.70 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; wonderful contribution of neo-chamber jazzy folk music of the mostly-acoustic kind; an excellent addition to any prog lover's  

THE FLOOD Chamber Music (2018)

Though from Germany, this band of pop prog folk artists is inspired to do a whole album based on the works of Irish author, James Joyce. The overall feel here is nice--the band seems to be trying to conjure up some of the fervor for poetry and literature like the Beat poets were doing in the 60s. At times there are song melodies and lyrics that remind me of John Lennon and some of the simple folk artists of the late sixties. The German accent distracts a little from English lyrics, but the German lyrics (translations of Joyce into German?) are effective. Kind of cool. Big respect! Very theatric--sometimes cabaret-like--sometimes a bit too simple. Flute, acoustic guitars, piano, and hand percussion are the most prominent and oft-used instruments here.

Line-up / Musicians:
Michael Kops - Guitar, Vocals
Thomas Stolp - Piano, Organ
Matthias Stolp - Flutes, Saxophone
Heiko Hendrich - Bass
Ruprecht Langer - Percussion
Thomas Müller - Recitation

1. "For F." (Part I) (1:46) flute with picked nylon stringed acoustic guitar other helpers. (4/5)

2. "Tilly" (3:36) solo flute playing in lowest registers over which spoken voice recites something in German. Bass and acoustic guitar join in to create a weave before piano, electric guitar and drums join in, amping things up for a freaky-dramatic voice to sing over in English. (9/10)

3. "Strings In The Earth And Air" (1:56) solo piano opens before band joins in to support Al Stewart-like singer. Very nice. (5/5)

4. "Now, O Now, In This Brown Land" (5:43) for the first two minutes this is very much like John Lennon's "Imagine": pretty poetry with recorder and acoustic guitar, but then, when you think the song is over, a male spoken voice recites a literary passage over electrified acoustic guitar. Then, midway through the fourth minute, voice drops off and flute, hand percussion, and strumming guitar intensify toward a frenzy. The coolest song on the album. (9.5/10)

5. "Nightpiece" (7:48) (9.5/10)

6. "What Counsel Has The Hooded Moon" (2:42) the most obviously Beat/cabaret like song on the album. The vocal is so over-the-top theatric--but it works! (9/10)

7. "My Love Is In A Light Attire" (3:57) (9/10)

8. "Another Wonder" (0:35) a little flute & piano dittie before #9. (5/5)

9. "She Weeps Over Rahoon" (2:05) Pure folk. Could be Tim Buckley or Donovan. (8.5/10)

10. "I Hear An Army Charging Upon The Land" (3:43) (8/10)

11. "Winds Of May" (2:32) great music and very theatric vocal performance. (9/10)

12. "Flood" (2:19) piano and whisper/muted almost-spoken voice. Powerful. (8.5/10)

13. "Dooleysprudence" (6:21) dynamic piano over which singer in English and spoken voice in 
German cohabit the foreground. Interesting! A little long. (8.75/10)

14. "Alone" (5:24) proggy instrumental. (8.5/10)

15. "For F." (Part II) (1:45) nice flute and piano piece to bookend the album. (4/5)

Total Time 52:12

88.65 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive folk music.

GRAVENHURST The Ghost in the Daylight (2012) (Literate Prog Folk) A collection of incredibly powerful Prog Folk songs by Bristol's Nicholas John Talbot, a young man who only took his own life in December of 2014. 

1. "Circadian" (4:11) dreamy folk music (in the vein of THE CLIENTELE) that lulls you to submission while some very eerie, creepy lyrics and equally disturbing heavily-treated electric guitar leads are unleashed over you. Hypnotic. (9/10)
2. "The Prize" (6:38) starts out tame and subdued (while Nick sings) though there is a full band present (drums, bass, and multiple guitars), but then goes crazy for the final 90 seconds afterwards. (9/10)

3. "Fitzrovia" (8:08) again, masterfully tranquilizing us with some beautiful music that must be conveying some deeply disturbing message (and power). The constant clock-like finger strike of a muted guitar string is perhaps the most unsettling of all noises, despite the preponderance of multiple floaty synth creepers and ghostly washes far beneath but ubiquitous with the guitar and voice. Masterfully creepy. (13.25/15)

4. "In Miniature" (4:34) beautiful guitar picking of a steel-string guitar for a minute before Nick enters with his voice, singing in a fairly fast cadence. Warbling high-pitched synth note joins after the first verse and stays with us to the end. (8.75/10)

5. "The Carousel" (1:30) like waking up and finding yourself trapped inside a wind-up music box. 

6. "Islands" (8:07) cool techno-pop synth drone and synth drum program with organ beneath and various creepy incidentals injected over the top and into the sides. In the third minute, Nick's heavily reverbed voice joins with the "side" noises, sounding as if a ghost were permeating the walls, whispering messages, talking to itself while totally oblivious to our existence. (8.5/10)

7. "The Foundry" (4:23) a chilling indictment of the consequences of human submission and complicity. (8.75/10)

8. "Peacock" (2:44) lone steel-string guitar up close and personal. So intimate! (4.25/5)

9. "The Ghost of Saint Paul" (6:02) more intimate guitar, odd tuned percussive (guitar harmonic?) occasionally floating underneath as Nick sings about a long overdue or missing saint. High synth note begins floating in the background during the second verse and Nick begins doubling up his vocal withs some gorgeous harmonies. (8.5/10)

10. "Three Fires" (4:17) what a chilling song! Such a calm, beautiful voice telling such a disturbing story. The music is absolutely perfect for the conveyance of psychological instability--of detachment from causing harm and destruction. (9/10)

The pain of Nick's existence can be felt in every song, including some that I've posted from his back catalogue. He uses such a calm, beautiful voice to lull us into a false sense of security when, in fact, he is telling some deeply unsettling stories. The music here is absolutely perfect for the conveyance of psychological instability. (The whole album is.)

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

88.33 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a masterpiece of mood-setting music and a near-masterpiece of Prog Folk; something everyone should hear though I suppose not everyone will want to add this to their music collection.  

AMAROK Quentadharkën (2004)

Quentadharkën 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) and "Hsieh" (7:31) (13.5/15); the KING CRIMSON-plays-French-MIKE OLDFIELD-like epic, "Tierra Boreal" (9:02) (18/20); the gorgeous vocal on the GENESIS 'medieval Arabic,' "La Espiral" (7:54) (13.5/15); the moving little LE GRAND/LA GOYA/RAMPAL-like "Alumbrado" (1:38) (5/5); 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).   

88.1 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near masterpiece.

VIIMA Ajatuksia Maailman Laidalta (2006) 

Is a brilliant prog folk album from Finnish rockers. Fronted buy a female singer, Päivi Kylmänen, all the lyrics are sung in Finnish. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Päivi Kylmänen / vocals
- Kimmo Lähteenmäki / keyboards, drums
- Jarmo Kataja / bass
- Mikko Uusi-Oukari / guitars, flute
Guest musicians:
- Jankke Kuismin / bass (2, 3 & 5) 
- Kimmo Alho / Alto saxophone (5)

The opener, 1. "Leihonan Syksy" (6:27) aside from the female vocals, this one sounds like a dead ringer for a Finnish "Living in the Past"--until the instrumental stuff starts at the halfway point. Great mid-section with drums and Mellotron and then guitar and flute soloing. (8.75/10)

The title song (6:38) is at times a bit bland, at times a bit too folksy, but still a solid song. (9/10)

3. "Ilmalaiva Italia" (5:59) is a mellow tune with some simple but great musical support to some awesome vocal harmonies. It does thicken and become a kind of Blue Öyster Cult/Yes aggressive blues-rock in the middle, but then it settles back into the pretty mellow theme for the final 90 seconds. (8.75/10)

4. "Meri" (7:57) is great throwback to CURVED AIR's "Marie Antoinette" with great electric guitar substituting for David Cross' violin. (13.5/15)

5. "Luuttomat" (5:56) starts as a gorgeous acoustic guitar vocal & flute folk song before switching gears to electric guitar and saxophone after the opening 90 seconds. The soft, folky vocal section alternates with the NIL-like bluesy ominous music of the instrumental section twice before finishing on the soft side. (8.5/10)

The finale, 6. "Johdatus" (9:31) 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. (17.5/20) 

Total Time: 42:30

88.0 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of Prog Folk.

JACK O'THE CLOCK Repetitions of The Old City, II (2018)

The busy and genius mind of Damon Waitkus and friends follows up the late 2016 release with a new masterpiece of unusual "Prog Folk." This may be my favorite Jack O' The Clock release with some truly memorable songs and the usual level of high quality composition, performance, and recording exceeding all previous levels. My one complaint of Damon's work remains the often "closed" or impenetrable nature of his lyrics due to the extremely personal nature of the subject matter of his stories.

Line-up / Musicians:
Damon Waitkus - vocals, acoustic, electric, baritone and piccolo guitars, hammer dulcimers, banjo, mandolin, ukelin, keyboards, guzheng, flute, percussion, wine glasses, car horn, field recordings
Emily Packard - violin, baritone violin, viola, melodica, car horn
Kate McLoughlin - bassoon, vocals, recorder, car horn
Jason Hoopes - bass, voice, piano guts, car horn
Jordan Glenn - drums, percussion, vibraphone, marimba, bells, melodica, car horn
Thea Kelley - vocals
Ivor Holloway - tenor saxophone, clarinet
Art Elliot - pipe organ (1)
Darren Johnston - trumpet (2)
Dave McNally - piano blizzard (2)
Sarah Whitley - samples (2)
Cory Wright - clarinet (8)


1. "Damascus Gate" (2:20) a dream-like weave of electric, acoustic, and field recording sounds within which an effected collection of voices is warbling the preface of the story that follows. "What do you remember?" The Blizzard of 1978 must have burned some powerful memories into Mr. Waitkus. (4.5/5)

2. "Miracle Car Wash, 1978" (13:41) a mercurial musical journey used to take us through a chunk of Damon's recounting of a snow storm, the masterfully composed and rendered music, unfortunately, makes the most sense to it's composer, often leaving us out on a lurch, wondering "Why this twist?" "Why this turn?" (25.5/30)

3. "Island Time" (5:26) a song that stands out for it's totally different stylistic approach--both constructively and vocally--from any previous Jack O' The Clock song I've ever heard. The male vocal performance here is amazing. (Damon performing in a more choir-classical style?) (9.5/10)

4. "Errol at Twenty-Three" (3:58) Damon and a guzheng open this as the story of the Blizzard of 1978 continues. Multiple voices join in with several other folk instruments and percussives in a theatric/stage-like fashion. I imagine a stage performance of this song with costumes and fast-moving sets while the music is played from an orchestra pit below. Gorgeous, complex, genius, worthy of a Tony nomination! (9.5/10)

5. "Whiteout" (1:10) a multi-track looping of voices, percussives and electric instruments. Not sure how this concludes the blizzard story. (4/5) 


6. "Guru On the Road" (5:51) A percussion-led instrumental with lots of string and wind/woodwind instruments playing into the weave. Not unlike a Markus Pajakkala (UTOPIANISTI) song. Beautiful! Even the inclusion of the laugh and studio end comment, "That's such a wild card."  (9/10)


7. "My Room Before Sleep" (2:10) Damon duet with a hammered dulcimer. (4.5/5)

8. "Into the Fireplace" (6:55) opens with "tuning" strings and winds before bursting into a thick, heavy, proggy weave at 0:45. What a delicious surprise! The singing versus return to the more sparsely orchestrated opening theme, but the thick wall of sound reappears with enough frequency to keep me on edge. the complexity of the overall weave of many instruments (and many voices) is also quite impressive, engaging, and beautiful. What a masterpiece of composition and collaboration! (15/15)

9. "Unger Reminisces" (1:27) a dreamy soundscape with commensurately dreamy effected vocals from multiple tracks of Damon. (5/5)

10. "I’m Afraid of Fucking the Whole Thing Up" (5:47) a strangely out-of-place story of an insecure, underconfident youth being told to do something useful--like going downtown to get a job. For a while I thought this second half of the album was the continuation of the Blizzard story. Musically this is more straightforward folk rock with a bluegrassy jazziness to it. (8.5/10)

11. "Double Door" (1:32) odd cacophony of instruments, voices, and field recordings. To what purpose? (3/5)

12. "A Sick Boy" (9:44) a song that has trouble hooking us both musically and lyrically--the story, and its accompanying music, are just not that engaging--are too personally projected from Damon's memories. If this is a concept album, then this is a disappointing lowpoint on which to end the album. Too bad! (16/20)

87.69 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of jazzy progressive folk music; masterful songwriting and performances that somehow keep the listener at an arm's length due to the highly personal nature of the stories they represent. What an awesome display of collaboration from a large and wide variety of instrumentalists in some quite complex compositions! 

MIDLAKE Trials of Van Occupanther (2006)

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.

87.27 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.

CICCADA A Child in the Mirror (2010)

It's been 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. 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? I only hope/wish that this album gets the listens and attention I believe it deserves.

1. "A Child in the Mirror" (4:38) is another instrumental, here mixing Renaissance instruments/styles with TULL's Thick as a Brick/Passion Play era sounds/styles (and riffs!), yet also contains some kind of indescribable YES-like quality to it. I absolutely love the acoustic guitars and recorders in this song. (9/10)

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 THIEVES' 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. "Ena Pedi Ston Kathrefti" (6:01) is a beautiful jazz-folk song sung in Greek that has a melody that wiggles its way into your brain and won't let go. Beautiful folk vocal over jazzy, almost avant garde music. (9/10)

4. "A Storyteller's Dream" (7:09) 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-instrumentals. (10/10)

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

6. "An Endless Sea" (5:28) is a piano and acoustic guitar song that opens like a RENAISSANCE song from the 70s. When Evangelia's vocal enters it is only briefly before a shift in the song dynamics takes it into a little heavier, more insistent rock domain. At 1:50 everything calms down and returns to the folk-rock base that it opened to. Beautiful flute play (in lieu of a vocal for the second verse)! Interesting song bouncing back and forth--almost like a conversation being held between the folk and rock elements of the band. (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 slightly amped up rock version of a folk song. I like the male background vocals on this one. More of this in the future would be nice. Pretty song. (9/10)

8. "Elisabeth" (7:09) 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" (8:24) 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)

87.0 on the Fish scales = B/4.5 stars. It is, IMHO, a near-masterpiece of  progressive rock music--and a wonderful debut. This is a sound I hope to hear a lot more of in the future.

TIRILL Nine and Fifty Swans (2011)

Nine and Fifty Swans 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).

CHARLIE CAWOOD The Divine Abstract (2017)

Charlie Cawood – Acoustic, Electric & Classical Guitars, Fender VI, Acoustic & Electric Bass Guitars, Sitar & Pipa

Elizabeth Nott – Darbouka, Riq, Frame Drum (1, 11)
Ben Marshall – Oboe & Cor Anglais (2, 3, 4, 5, 12)
Flora Curzon – Violin (2, 3, 4, 5)
Francesca Ter-Berg – Cello (2, 3, 4, 5)
Lucy Brown – French Horn (2, 3, 4, 5, 9)

Ben Woollacott – Drums, Percussion & Cymbals (6, 7, 8)
Wang Xiao – Erhu (6, 7, 8)
Dennis Kwong Thye Lee – Xiao (6, 7, 8)
Diego Tejeida – Piano (6, 7, 8)

Chlöe Herington – Bassoon (9)
Alexandra Petropoulos – Flute (9)
Nicki Maher – Clarinet (9)
Oliver Sellwood – Baritone Saxophone (9)
Josh Perl – Clarinet & Bass Clarinet (9, 12)

Steve Holmes – Piano, Celeste, Minimoog, Bass Synth (10)
Katharine Blake – Treble & Sopranino Recorders (10)
Lucie Treacher – Kendang, Ceng Ceng, Gong, Kempur, Kenang, Klentong, Kempli & Genterak (10)

Hannah Davis – Vibraphone & Glockenspiel (11, 12)
James Larcombe – Piano & Dulcitone (11, 12)
Julie Groves – Flute (11, 12)

1. "Shringara" (3:19) opening with a very Indian sound, the entrance of Western bass and electric guitar over the sitar give this a very STEVE TIBBETTS sound and feel to it. (8/10)

2. "The Divine Abstract: Echolalia" (1:08) a nice, slow orchestral intro
3. "The Divine Abstract: The Earth’s Answer" (3:26) acoustic guitar-based. Strings and winds join in fairly quickly. It has a nice PAUL WINTER or even ANT PHILLIPS feel to it.
4. "The Divine Abstract: Fearful Symmetry" (2:34) acoustic guitar opening joined by orchestral instruments. This one is more up-tempo and WILLIAM ACKERMAN/WINDHAM HILL-like.
5. "The Divine Abstract: The Western Lands" (1:58) pretty strummed acoustic guitar foundation is soon joined by and strings, horns and winds. My favorite movement of the suite.
     Graded as a whole: (17/20)

6. "Earth Dragon: The Golden Flower" (1:56) acoustic guitar, piano and percussion instruments are quickly joined by Chinese string and wind instruments (erhu and xiao) playing at a nice brisk walking pace. Nice film soundtrack music.
7. "Earth Dragon: An Invisible Landscape" (3:30) second movement slows it down to more contemplative or even observational--until the thick electric bass gets involved. Then it feels like it steps up into an elephantine walk--two different paces or courses, one hypervigilant, the other confident and free.
8. "Earth Dragon: Origin Of A New Being" (3:09) picked guitar chords joined by Chinese winds, strings, and electric bass and percussives gives this one a feel as if the walker/palanquin is in heavy pedestrian traffic. Piano interlude and shift gives this one a cool, PAT METHENY-like feel. My favorite piece of this suite--and one of my favorite songs on the album.
      Graded as a whole: (18/20)

9. "Garden Of The Mind" (6:44) a pretty neoclassical folk song not unlike a NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA, PAUL WINTER CONSORT, PHILIP GLASS, or CICADA song. (14.25/15)

10. "The 32nd Path" (6:19) based in pipa (Chinese mandolin) weaving together with several other odd instruments (including Fripp-llike electric guitar arpeggiations) in a very rich, complex tapestry, this one sounds like it could spin off into an aggressive STEVE TIBBETTS or ZHONGYU song, but instead it remains constant (though never boring) and Asian as a RYUICHI SAKAMOTO song. (9/10)

11. "In A Floating World" (3:51) another stellar composition of relaxing world music--this time with flute, bass, tuned and untuned percussion, and guitars playing the most prominent roles in the weave. (9/10)

12. "Apotheosis" (7:15) a slow paced weave of multiple instruments each playing arpeggi together establish a chord progression with more instruments (and different melody lines) added with each round of the progression. When bass line is added in the beginning of the second minute the song takes on a different feel--less minimalistic and more jazzy. (13.5/15)

Total Time – 45:09

86.75 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very nice contribution of cross-cultural jazz-neochamber-folk fusion. A wonderfully enjoyable and pacifying listening excursion--one that I will be returning to many times over the course of my remaining years.

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. (7/10)

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!

86.36 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.   

LEAFBLADE The Kiss of Spirit and Flesh (2013)

Danny and Sean are back with another solid effort of ANATHEMA-like Prog Folk. I'm glad: I love the voice and vocal arrangements these guys put out there.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Daniel Cardoso / drums, percussion
- Danny Cavanagh / bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboards
- Sean Jude / acoustic guitar, classical guitar, poetry, vocals
- Kevin Murphy / bass

1. "Bethlehem" (8:28) Good song with the final minute being the highlight for me. Interesting lyrics. (16.75/20)
2. "The Hollow Hills" (6:47) (12.5/15)
3. "Sunset Hypnos" (5:23) cool NEIL YOUNG- and DAVE MASON-like feel. (9/10)
4. "Fuchsia" (2:37) nice little classical guitar duet. (4.5/5)
5. "Oak Machine" (8:01) an absolutely stunningly beautiufl and haunting song with amazingly sensitive multi-track vocal harmony from Sean. (14/15)
6. "Thirteen" (6:54) (12.75/15)
7. "Beneath a Woodland Moon" (4:40) (8/10)
8. "Portrait" (10:56) an attempt at a kind of liturgical Gentle Giant vocal arrangement for the first four minutes, then the electric rock instruments enter and change everything (thought there is still a SIMON & GARFUNKLE sound and feel). At the six-minute mark it slows back down for a bit--very pretty--but then goes full ANATHEMA at 7:10. The repetitive vocal and two-chord fabric that ensues goes on for a full two minutes before finally breaking at 9:00. Classical guitar over ANATHEMA atmospherics sets up a section with some very delicate, breathy slow vocals--just a few words recapitulating the opening motif and lyrics--to the end. Gorgeous finish. The rest is kind of all over the place. Still, a good song and a great ending to the album. (17.5/20)

Total time: 53:46

85.45 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a solid album of atmospheric Prog Folk that is certainly recommended for all lovers of the sub-genre. Sean Jude's voice and vocal arrangements alone are worth checking out.

ILL WICKER Under Diana (2013)

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,2016's Untamed, but the raw energy and passion that these youths have for their music comes busting through.

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)

Much more crazed and untamed--like COMUS--than their next release--and less polished vocal performances and engineering/production, as well, but still, it is wonderful to hear young people of the 21st Century picking up the folk torch of the artists of the 1960s who first caught the prog bug. And these guys are serious, seriously talented, and committed to their craft. Give this one a listen. Then move to the real treat, Untamed. 

85.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any Prog Folk lover's music collection.

WOVEN HAND Mosaic (2006)

Line-up / Musicians:
- David Eugene Edwards / vocals, guitar, bass
- Ordy Garrison / drums
- Daniel McMahon / piano 
- Elin Palmer / strings

1. Breathing Bull (1:30)
2. Winter Shaker (3:43)
3. Swedish Purse (3:30)
4. Twig (2:12)
5. Whistling Girl (4:40)
6. Elktooth (3:17)
7. Bible And Bird (2:21)
8. Dirty Blue (4:42)
9. Slota Prow-Full Armour (5:53)
10. Truly Golden (3:33)
11. Deerskin Doll (5:33)
12. Little Raven/Shun (4:12)

Total time: 45:06

AUTUMN CHORUS The Village to the Vale (2012)

A brilliant 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; I think a "Folk" label would be much more appropriate--though the 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 effects 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 Post Rock/Folk Rock music! "Progressive" in the truest sense of the word.

Album highlights:

1. The opener, "Three Jumps the Devil" (7:06) (9/10), surprises with the 1:45 minute glockenspiel bells and xylophone intro before a definite Post Rock/Math Rock sound kicks in--plus horns, strings,. Then the amazing voice of Robbie Wilson enters at 2:40. So reminiscent of some of the great folk/ psychedelic voices of the late 1960s! JESSE COLIN YOUNG, TIM BUCKLEY, DONOVAN, ART GARFUNKLE, etc.

2. The album's second song, "You'll Wait Forever" (6:29) is very much like a piece of classical chamber music--with, of course, the occasional voice lead angel Robbie Wilson. Unfortunately, the strings' lead melody gets repeated a bit too often, wearing thin on the listener. (8/10)

3. "Never Worry" (4:00) offers another church-like setting for Robbie Wilson's voice to grace us with. For some reason this song reminds me a bit of a song that crosses SIMON & GARFUNKLE with TIM HOLLIS. (8/10)

4. Unfortunaely, by the time song 4, "Thief" (7:26), rolls around, the music and slow pace is getting abit old. Still, "given a chance, "Thief" does change things up a bit: it is more of a story, less chamber/ church-like, and uses piano and drums, and contains, of course, an absolutely stunning lead vocal. At 4:40 the upbeat kick in reminds one of the true rockers of Post Rock/Math Rock. (9/10)

5. "Brightening Sky" (5:24) is a dynamically diverse song with the other diversion being the intermittent presence of a female vocalist with voice almost as angelic as Robbie's. (9/10)

6. At 16 minutes in length, song 6, "Rosa", is the album's longest. A choral presence accompanies the neoclassical music of the first 4:20. After that it softens to present space for Robbie's plaintive voice. In the tenth minute starts a true Post Rock/Math Rock song à la MONO--starting very slowly, very quietly, very minimally, while Robbie sings an amazingly angelic vocal--soaring above the notes of picked guitar strings and floating keyboards like Icarus to the sun. At 12:20 the music breaks into crescendo as if the heavens had burst open with rain or sunshine. This is a sensitive epic fit for any church venue. (8/10) An amazing song. If only I understood its objective. (Should I be on my knees?)

7. "Bye Bye Now" (5:33) tugs at one's heartstrings because of the presence of the spoken voices of small children. The integration of the child and mother's (and, later, father's) voices is done over the entire song, the first two minutes of which are constructed like a very slow dirge, over which Robbie Wilson begins singing--at first in solo, and later in chorus--at the two minute mark. The song threatens to pick up at 3:00 when the little child says "Bye!" but then quiets back down, lets the child and mother speak again, then takes the final minute to fade. At the end I find myself asking, "Why? What was the purpose of this song? What was he trying to say?" (8/10)

It is definitely a stunning album, start to finish. The long intros and exceptionally patient, delicate fades throughout the album make it an exercise in DELIUS/ELGAR/BRITTEN listening. Overall, I come away from listening to this album feeling as if I've just heard bits of FLEET FOXES and THE DECEMBERISTS playing over music by SIGUR RÓS, PAUL SIMON, DIRTY THREE, RADIOHEAD, and, of course, the three composer giants mentioned in the previous sentence. Despite the breathtakingly delicate, sensitive, beautiful vocals on display in The Village to the Vale and the sophisticated 'modern classical' musical constructs, there is a musical sameness, a kind of ennui that prevents me from giving this album 5 stars "masterpiece" status.

84.29 on the Fish scale = narrowly missing the 4.5 stars, near masterpiece status. Thus, a solid four star record that is highly recommended as an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection. Check it out! Decide for yourself. But come to the experience with time, quiet, and patience: you'll be amazed at what unfolds.

Band leader, composer, and voice extraordinaire, Robbie (Lloyd-)Wilson, sadly passed away from cancer on December 13, 2016. His supreme talents have been taken from us far too early. We are so very fortunate to have this album as a testament to those skills.

IONA Another Realm (2011)

Astounding beauty. Memorable melodies. Mature, virtuosic performances. My disappointment with this album lies in the 'new' overt Christian message in Joanna Hogg's lyrics/message. On all previous IONA albums the lyrics have been more poetic, allegoric, the Christian message present but not so blatant, not so 'in-your-face.' Before, the poetry and imagery were able to blend in with the music. On Another Realm the band's music definitely plays secondary support to the lyrics' Christian message.

Favorite songs:  the VAUGHAN WILLIAMS-like instrumental, "Rauch" (6:21) (10/10), the simple, straightforward, folk-poppy "Speak to Me" (3:30) (10/10); the incredibly gorgeous, incredibly powerful closer of disc 2, "As It Shall Be" (3:17) (10/10); four star songs:  The East-meets-West spiritual "The Fearless Ones" (5:42) (8/10); the slightly-oriental (RYIUCHI SAKAMOTO)-sounding "Saviour" (5:07) (8/10)

A solid four stars though a disappointment when compared to previous IONA and IONA-related issues.

LUNAR CAPE Lunar Folk Tales (2017)

Using an interesting format by releasing three different versions of the same album, the first instrumental, the second with vocals sung in the band's native Russian, and a third with the vocals sung in English, LUNAR CAPE has an intentionally non-pop motivation behind their light, folkie jazz tunes. Gorgeous melodies abound throughout.

Olga Scotland – flute, recorders, tin whistle, mandolin, spring drum, sound effects, VSTi
Andrey Shashkov – bass guitar, basso recorder, vocals
Roman Smirnov – guitars, washboard old school custom, vocals
Paul Bulak – keyboards (3)
Grigory Shelehov – drums (3, 7)
Alexander Koval – drums (4, 8)
Shahid Rashid – vocals (8)

The instrumental versions:

1. "History Of The Moon" (2:43) opens with nice guitar arpeggio repeated until wooden flute (basso recorder?) and, later, treated wooden alto flute enter. Cool Northern folk intro! Almost a R. Carlos Nakai feel to it. (9/10) 

2. "Nymph Syrinx Amidst The Stars" (5:37) delightful upbeat prog folk that sounds like it came from the flower children of the 1960s and early 1970s. (9/10)

3. "Doughball's Travels" (3:56) slightly more Russian/Eastern European informed Prog Folk here with balalaika, flutes, accordion and hand percussives weaving together with the electric bass and electric guitar. Could be a polka. Or a track from a Spaghetti Western. (7.5/10)

4. "Old Man Crawley And Wood Goblin" (5:10) slower and a little more sinister, the flute makes it a bit more disarming. Electric guitar tracks in the end of the second minute turn it back to scary, but they disappear within 30 seconds and we're then treated to a gorgeous flute solo over gentle electric guitar arpeggi. This is then followed/joined by odd/eerie male vocalizations before everything crumbles into the end. Interesting. (8/10)

5. "Blacksmith" (2:55) opens with electric guitar before mediæval wooden flutes bring in a mediæval folk melody (English). Halfway through the guitar starts strumming while mouth percussion (basso recorder) and breathy flute play off each other before returning to the pastoral beauty of the verses for the finish. (8.5/10)

6. "Who Brought The Berries?" (6:15) plays like a whimsical Rockabilly song with rodeo bass, drums and guitar play while flute and percussives play around above, between, and below. The frenzied flute solo in the end of the third minute is cool. A slowed down section soon ensues in which a bluesy pick-less lead guitar solo ensues (somewhat reminiscent of legendary Roy Buchanan). Flute joins in while guitar continues to perform its magic. Truly an astonishing guitar sound and solo! Then at 5:25 we return to the happy-go-lucky sound and melodies from the opening section. (8.5/10)

7. "Greedy Cousin Leprechaun" (4:29) brooding bass line opens before rapid-fire cymbal and fuzzy electric guitar "power" chords join in with a second electric guitar track of picking. Flute enters and takes the lead. Fuzzy guitar takes lead at 1:43 with a STEPPENWOLF-like solo. Flute returns in a higher octave. Flute, tin whistle, and guitar take turns in the lead to the end. (8.5/10)

8. What The Peacock Is Silent About (Oriental) (7:34) opens in a brooding manner like a song from RETURN TO FOREVER's Romantic Warrior album. At 1:25 the song shifts rather dramatically into a kind of C&W/Rock structure and sound over which flute displays the melody. Lots of neat shifts from the instrumentalists within the constantly changing weave here. Even the styles of flute play shift form time to time. Electric guitar takes a turn to deliver a 1980s-EDDIE VAN HALEN style solo beginning at 3:40. At 4:40 the bass takes a turn with minimal support (in a typical jazz style). At 5:40 guitar strums and Arab-sounding male chanting enter before bass and flute accompany. Cool section! The final minute feels like the end to a FOCUS or FROM.UZ song before emptying space for the wind-supported Arab chanter. (8.5/10)

Total Time 38:39

84.375 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a nice addition to the creative, jazzy edge of Prog Folk.

FAUN Midgard (2016)

As clear, well-performed and well-constructed as ever but, somehow, it's lacking the exciting freshness of past releases like RenaissanceEden and Luna.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Oliver S. Tyr / vocals, Irish bouzouki, nyckelharpa, mandocello, celtic harp, saz, tar, guitar & various lutes
- Fiona Rüggeberg / vocals, bagpipes, flutes, rebab, recorder, fujara, seljefloit, harmonium, chalumeaux & pommer
- Katja Moslehner / vocals, percussion
- Stephan Groth / vocals, hurdy-gurdy, cistern, whistles
- Rüdiger Maul / darabouka, davul, bendir, tamborello, riq, berimbao & other percussion instruments
- Niel Mitra / computer sampler & synthesizer

1. "Midgard Prolog" (0:50)

2. "Federkleid" (4:42) opens with birds, harp and Fiona's wooden flute. Pretty. The band joins in with the strings and drums and handclaps before the big newcomer Katja Moslehner and the choir take over. Nice vocal arrangements but nothing really new here until the final 20 seconds. (8/10)

3. "Sonnenreigen (Lughnasad)" (3:54) OK, with Fiona in the lead, and a nice melody in the chorus, but nothing new here. (8/10)
4. "Alba II Intro" (2:00)
5. "Alba II Cello" (6:10) cello is a nice addition (8.5/10)
6. "Nacht Des Nordens" (5:34) features the dual voices of newcomer Katja Moslehner and founding member Fiona then joined by the guys for the chorus. The song just doesn't do much musically. (7/10)

7. "MacBeth" (5:57) a pretty musical base for Oliver to tell this ancient story. Nice melodies and delicacy. (9/10)

8. "Gold Und Seide" (4:35) the warbly vibrato of newcomer Katja Moslehner is interesting. (8.5/10)
9. "Brandan" (3:58) one of the better songs on the album because it has something new in its sound and construct--plus it features the solo pleasant voice of newcomer Stephan Groth. (8.5/10)
10. "Odin" (5:58) (featuring Wardruna) has a nice ominous feel to its opening joined, eventually, by multiple voices, a pair of males first (with Oliver in the lead), then background female banshees. Lots of whistles and ancient strings woven together in a kind of royal processional. The collective "choir" chanting in the middle is very cool. (8.5/10)
11. "Rabenballade" (5:03) crow, bouzouki and Oliver introduce this song. Full band join in with the first chorus. At 1:10 the instrumental weave doubles in thickness--which is nice. The drwn out second half has some really nice instrumental performances and tension. One of the three best songs on the album. (9/10)
12. "Lange Schatten" (3:33) opens with a very pastoral flute which is joined by Fiona's pleasant, relaxed, upbeat pretty voice. It could be a nature song or a maiden' innocent love song. (8.5/10)

Bonus Tracks
13. "Aufbruch" (4:54) pleasant song with a nice beat, nice low end, and great lead vocal by Stephan. (8.5/10)

14. "Alswinn" (3:47) a nice mediæval-sounding song with Katja singing in a pleasant lead. (8/10)

15. "Räven" (6:04) almost an Americana/C & W feel to it with Katja's pretty vibrato. (8/10)

Total Time: 65:59

The album just lacks much in the way of surprise and buildup/crescendo, the songs mostly flow at one speed without any tension or drama. The focus of the album, I know, is to explore "ancient" Scandanavian folk songs, but the music just needed a little more spice.
     I don't get the addition of the "bonus tracks"--why aren't they just considered part of the album from the first place. I guess for the limitations of vinyl pressings.

83.5 on the Fishscales = four stars; B; a nice album of folk songs performed on period instruments but nothing extraordinary or essential.

KOSMOS Salattu Maailma (2013)

Salattu Maailma 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.

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) (Sorry that the YouTube link is only to a sample--the first three minutes--of the song.)

“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)

“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)

“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 female masters of the 60s folk rock tradition. (9/10) 

“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)

“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) 

“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. Back to the beginnings of Prog Folk. 

82.86 on the Fish scales = Solid four stars.

TENHI Saivo (2011)

A late comer as it was only released in December, this album is as haunting as it is beautiful, as unique as it is masterful, as stunning as it is stark, as amazing as it is emotional. Prog folk at its absolute best. Finnish folk at its most captivating. I don't know Finnish but, frankly, one needn't in order to comprehend the mood and emotional message of these remarkable songs. And though the album captures an overall vibe, each and every song has its own unexpected uniquity; all the songs here have a surprising variety.

TIRILL A Dance with the Shadows (2003)

A Dance with the Shadows 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) (8/10) stands out as the only faster-paced, full-band supported "prog" song. The album's finale, "When You Sleep" (5:15) (9/10) 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, Um Himinjo∂ur, 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).

CORDE OBLIQUE Volontà D'Arte (2007)

Volontà D'Arte 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).

FAUNS Leaf Fall (2007)

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 gone on to other things or experienced 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 Leaf Fall or Awaiting the Sun you can thank me later.


A very interesting music of a folk-chamber orientation not unlike NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA, CARDIACS, AUTUMN CHORUS, or even YUGEN (or its later incarnation, EMPTY DAYS) and some of the more thoughtful, jazzier bands from the 70s Canterbury Scene. Beautiful vocals throughout. Recommended for late-night fireside listening.

BEDEDEUM Brevistele (2002)

Line-up / Musicians:

1. Cuncti simus Concanentes
2. La Ruota La Ruota
3. Foggy Dew Foggy Dew
4. Tress
5. Il Sogno Di Senta Il Sogno Di Senta
6. Saltarello
7. LAttesa
8. Ombra
9. Da Una Ferita Aperta As Una Ferita Aperta
10. Major Gaudio Major Gaudio
11. Tourdion
12. Fairy Nurse Nurse Fairy
13. Extra

The Hemulic Voluntary Band (2007)

I would like this album even more were the story/lyrics not about the life of a bunch of rodents. (Literally!) I like the GENTLE GIANT, YES and JETHRO TULL influences and "In the Wild" and "Late November" are definite prog classics. Sometimes sounds a bit like THE DECEMBERISTS--especially the 27-minute epic, "A Dangerous Journey." Wish there were more efforts to layer vocal harmonies as in the 18th minute of "A Dangerous Journey."

***** 5 stars: the rockin' "In the Wild" (5:56) (9/10) and medieval love song, "Late in November" (4:57) (9/10).

**** 4 stars: "The Groke" (6:05) (8/10); "Waiting By The Bridge" (7/10); The GENTLE GIANT-like title song, "The Hemulic Voluntary Band" (4:55) (7/10), and what could be 5 stars were the lyrics more relevant and the musical shifts more varied stylistically and in tempo: "A Dangerous Journey" (26:32) (8/10).

80.0 on the Fish scales = solid four star album; excellent addition to any prog rock music collection.

THE KENTISH SPIRES The Last Harvest (2018)

An interesting intersection of sounds and styles as bluesy rock, pastoral folk, quirky jazz, goth female vocals, and retro sound engineering all are brought together. 
Lucie V - vocals
Paul Hornsby - reeds & keyboards
Danny Chang - guitar
Rik Loveridge - Hammond organ and synths
Phil Warren - bass
Tim Robinson - drums
1. "Kingdom of Kent" (11:10) the stew here almost works but, unfortunately, it all ends up still tasting like its component parts. The section surrounding the electric guitar solo in the fourth minute is the best--and where Lucie's voice is most integral--as a Clare Torrey background instrument. (8.5/10)
2. "Clarity" (Bonus Track Mixed By Rob Reed) (3:58) campy medieval jazz-folk? It's no Monty Python or Gryphon. (7.5/10)
3. "Sprit Of The Skies" (sic) (4:22) a great Sixties flower power sound and style is spoiled by a weak chorus. (9/10)
4. "TTWIG" (3:48) too weird to be taken seriously; maybe in the 1960s this would have worked. (7/10)
5. "Introception" (7:17) sounds like something from The Bay Area 1960s psychedelic movement--but from a band that we never heard of cuz they just weren't good enough to make it to Monterey or a record label. (7/10)
6. "Clarity" (3:58) the band's own more mediæval version of this bluesy song is in my opinion much better than the one above. (8/10)
7. "The Last Harvest" (13:09) opens as a quite ordinary plodding rock standard before exploding into an interesting jazz fusion extravaganza at the 3:58 mark. Unfortunately, this too becomes tedious in its foundational singularity despite an stop-and-start pseudo-bridge in the seventh minute. Just before the seven minute mark we regress into the Procul Harum-like plod of the opening section over which Lucie tries to scream us out of our malaise and boredom. Guitar solo is too familiar--technically competent but we've heard it before. Sax and background chorus of "ohh/ahh's" as well. (7.5/10)
8. "Hengist Ridge" (4:30) a smooth jazz start to this one is at least engaging, sax and pretty rhythm support (especially the jazzy guitar). It even seems to give Lucie a little more reason to sound and feel genuine in her performance. heck! She's packing the power of a soul/R&B diva on this one!  Easily the best song on the album. (9/10)

Total Time 52:12

The final song seems the direction I would strongly urge this band to explore more of: we need to fill the void left by the absence of EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL, SADE, and SWING OUT SISTER. But Canterbury sound? I don't hear it.

79.38 on the Fishscales = C+/3.5 stars; a good, competent though rather inconsistent and scattered effort.

FAUN Totem (2007)

I 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 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, who left the band to pursue more concentrated studies in classical training. While Totem is a decent, listenable album, it's just not as powerful or engaging as its predecessor.

WILLOWGLASS Book of Hours (2008)

While I am choosing to not do a full detailed review of Book of Hours, it is only because the reviewers preceding me have said it all. Beauty reigns supreme throughout this pastoral and melodic CD. While the highs are not quite as high as those few on the group's previous eponymous disc, the consistency is of a much higher level and a noticeable maturation has occurred in both Andrew's song-writing skills and his recording/mixing skill.  Also, the drumming/drummer has stepped up a few notches. The most important comment I have to make is: I hope Andrew keeps making beautiful music like this for years to come--an album every year or two would be great!

4 out of 5; excellent addition to any prog music collection.

BEDEDEUM Oltre Il Sipario (2008)

Line-up / Musicians:
Antonio Pincione - guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, cordofoni, ammenicoli fonogeni, atmosfere e contaminazioni;
Chiara Vatteroni - Celtic harp, recitato, attesa e puntiglio;
Davide Lazzaroni - Voce, recitato, flute, aerofoni modulanti, percussion, ammenicoli fonogeni, revolver, cerimonie e visioni;
Gabriele D'Ascoli - Bass, macchina di Türing, percussioni bic-palorziche, ammennicoli fonogeni, dicotomie e sfumature;
Jacopo Bisagni - Cornamuse (Uillean pipes, piva dal carner), whistles, flute, disciplina e puntiglio;
Martino Salvetti - Violin, dissolvenze e dissociazioni;
Micaela Guerra - Voce, percussion, emozioni e silenzi;
Andrea Cecchinelli - Viola, giovinezza e scapigliatura;

1. Le pietre blanche (6:21)
2. Le voci di Derry (5:15)
3. Geordie (4:21)
4. Gerard Duval, tipografo (7:15)
5. Pee-Wee & the quaker (4:48)
6. Una stagione all'Inferno (4:10)
7. Bettogli, 1911 (8:00)
8. Quando qui distesa (2:59)
9. An dro & Dies Irae (7:36)
10. La canzone di Salvatore (6:46)

Total time 57:35

GIAN CASTELLO Taliesin (1999)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Gian Castello / tin whistle, concert flute, tenor flute, dulcimer, guitar, percussion, lead vocals, auto-harp
- Anna Manusso / violin, vocals
- Enrico Cotella / keyboards, percussion 
- Marco Canepa / digital sampler, computer, percussion

1. Introduzione : Kali-Yuga (4:06)
2. Guardami - Parte Prima (3:53)
3. Tema Di Gwion (2:30)
4. Le Vite Precedenti (6:35)
5. La Reggia Di Tara (3:25)
6. Englyn (4:32)
7. Chi É Il Tuo Dio? (5:08)
8. I Misteri Del Mondo (5:23)
9. Guardami - Parte Secunda (2:51)
10. La Canzone Di Taliesin (4:29)

Total Time: 41:22

WILLOWGLASS Dream Harbour (2013)

While I have to agree with other reviewers that Andrew Marshall's instrumental compositions are maturing--and that his more-showcased flute playing has definitely improved--I still find the song elements, sounds, and stylings too derivative of (mostly) classic and Neo-GENESIS. The mysteriously separated two epics at the start of the album, "A House of Cards" (Parts 1 and 2), are, in my opinion, too disjointed and all over the place--they lack flow and sense-making shifts and turns--and are, again, often incorporating sounds and riffs too close to something from a classic 70s Genesis or Jethro Tull song.

The highlights of the album for me are the three Interludes (I'm including "Helleborine" with the other two because of its brevity) and the near-perfect (though blatantly Genesis sounding) title song (9/10).
7. "The Face of Eurydice" (7:35) (8/10) has some excellent parts but also lacks from feeling a bit disjointed and inconsistent.

I will give this album a four star rating because of the wonderful tradition of bucolic soundscapes that Mr. Marshall is championing--and for the fact that he is doing a very fine job of it. Keep on trying, keep on growing, Andrew, your masterpiece is coming.

THE DECEMBERISTS The Hazards of Love (2009)

 Another album that has taken me a LONG time to get to know in order to write a review of it--partly because I am not particularly attracted to this kind of music--let's call it the modern version of BIG BROTHER AND THE HOLDING COMPANY. Great production, cool concept album, but boy do I get tired of feeling like I'm sitting round the campfire after the long day's work cattle ranching or prospecting under the hot sun. And, excuse me, but I was never, am not, a fan of JANIS JOPLIN. Plus I get very tired of that electric bluesy bass riff spouting off every four beats for four to six minutes ("Won't Want for Love," "The Wanting Comes in Waves," The Queen's Rebuke," etc.) By the way, call me crazy or something, but, isn't the music on this album just good ole standard rock and roll? 

My three favorite songs rely on sounding like classic rock proto-prog groups from the 1960s: "Prelude" (PROCUL HARUM), "The Hazards of Love 1" (TRAFFIC "John Barleycorn") and "Margaret in Captivity" (RENAISSANCE [and later, PEARL JAM]), and the others like JANIS and her HOLDING COMPANY. 

3 stars. Not my favorite album. Not one I particularly enjoy. I understand the 'goodness' of it. I just don't like this music.

KOSMOS Ajan peili (2019)

One of my favorite old-time Prog Folk bands is back with another great album of spacious, thoughtful music--this one a little more diversified in sounds, styles, and instrumentation than their last album, 2013's wonderful Salattu Maailma.

Line-up / Musicians:
Päivi Kylmänen: vocals
Kimmo Lähteenmäki: drums, conga-drums, organ, mellotron
Kari Vainionpää: guitar, bass
Olli Valtonen: shrutibox, taalmala
Ismo Virta: guitar, mellotron, organ, synthesizer, drums
Juha Kulmala: reading
Arto Kuronen: bass
Sini Palokangas: violin, saxophone, xylophone
Kari Riihimäki: electric guitar

1. "Ajan peili" (5:55) arpeggi from acoustic guitars are soon joined by bass and Mellotron to create a lush, gorgeous sound reminiscent of Salattu Maailma's title song. Singer Päivi Kylmänen enters toward the end of the first minute to spacious soundscape. She is joined by other vocal tracks (all her?) for the choruses. Mellotron (and flute) only appears when there is no singing. (8.5/10)

2. "Eilinen" (2:45) electrified acoustic guitar accompaniment and drums for Päivi's singing. (4.25/5)

3. "Lapsen uni" (5:20) (/10)

4. "Aina lähellä" (3:11) xylophone with Päivi's gorgeously layered multi-voiced singing. (8.75/10)

5. "Kohti taivasta" (3:58) more upbeat acoustic guitar driven song with hand percussion to support Päivi's Jim Morrison-like singing. (8.5/10)

6. "Salainen oppi" (4:20) piano and voice open this one for the first verse. It sounds like a recital piece for some Russian cabaret. Soprano sax, flute, Mellotron, and some other chorded organ-like keyboard join in between the singing verses. Nice instrumental passage in the third minute with some nice saxophone interplay with the final verse. (8.5/10)

7. "Jatkuvuus" (5:00) heavier with brooding Mellotron and other synths. Great soundscape! Top three for me. (9/10)

8. "Minä olen" (11:57) opens with simple Mellotron and finger-picked acoustic guitar before wind noises take over, transitioning us to the dark turn in mood as a slowly emerging ominous electric guitar riff repeated over as 'tron and drums join. Päivi enters in the quiet of the first and second minutes with a beautiful melody and then again at the end of  the heavier third minute. The first chorus at 3:40 is surprising for its spaciousness, but then the instrumental jam that follows has some cool electric guitar lead work. Not your most complex or intricately performed prog epic but effective. A quiet section starting at 5:50 has bass, slowly picked acoustic guitar, and Mellotron strings while a male voice speaks. Nice. Early King Crimsonian. Ending at 7:47, the heavier motif returns, building to a Clapton-esque rock'n'roll frenzy after Päivi finishes singing. (21.75/25) 

Total time 42:22 

on the Fishscales = 

MOSTLY AUTUMN The Last Bright Light (2001)

The much touted voice of Heather Findlay and the guitar play and compositional skill of Bryan Josh, and yet there is much more male lead singing, and a whole lot of familiar folk/Celtic folk or standard rock/R & B song structures. The brilliance is too little and too far between. Album highlights: the beautiful environmental advocacy folk song, "Eyes of the Forest" (9/10) and the Celtic folk song, "Shrinking Violet" (8/10). The rest is just cinematic melodrama or folk or rock rehash.

WILLOWGLASS Willowglass (2005)

The eponymous debut release from Willlowglass gives one an exciting glimpse into an artist who seems to be able to bridge the beloved prog music of Genesis, Camel, and even KC & Nektar in the early-to-mid-1970s and the much more mature second release, Book of Hours (2008). The highs on this disc are extremely high (e.g., the ends of "A Blinding Light" [6/10], "Waking the Angels"[7/10], some sections of "Remembering" [5/10], and the whole of "Garden" [10/10]), but the brief interludes "Peace" "Interlude No. 1," "Into the Chase," and "The End") are a bit too simple while "Into the Chase" [4/10] and "Tower of the King's Daughter" [2/10] simply fail to draw one in. Plus there's something just not right about the drumming-as if it is too simple and reserved, just fill. Still, a wonderful preview of things to come. Worth a listen, maybe even owning, but, essential or excellent addition? No. Three stars.

JOHANNES LULEY Tales from Sheepfather's Grove (2013)

This one is tough to give a rating to because it sounds SO MUCH like a few other albums/artists (JON ANDERSON's Olias of Sunhillow, ENYA, MIKE OLDFIELD, and YES/STEVE HOWE) and yet it has such great sound, compositional facility and production.

Favorite songs:  I like the acoustic guitar work on 7. "The Fleeting World" (8/10) and the first and last thirds of 3. "Guardians of Time" (8/10); 6. the ADIEMUS-like multiple drum rhythms and the deep bass chord pulse on "Give and Take (Part 2)" (8/10); and the lead guitar on the album's best song, 10. "Voya" (9/10), sounds EXACTLY like mid-70s Steve Howe, start to finish, note for note, sound/style for sound/style!

This is a solid four star album, maybe even higher, despite the familiarity. It's because, IMO, Luley has taken the sounds, styles and feeling of the above-mentioned artists, merged them, and produced music that is BETTER than the original artists.

Though I love and miss MOTH VELLUM, it is nice to hear music still coming from at least one of its members. Also:  Cool artwork on the album cover.

CAMELIA'S GARDEN  You Have a Chance (2013)

This album reminds me of a HARRY NILSSON album with some vocal tendencies toward IAN ANDERSON. While the band uses some instruments typical to progworld (like synthesizers, mellotron, organ and woodwinds) I don’t find much to warrant this as prog (the STYX-like “Dance of The Sun, The Remark, Birth of The Light” (6:16) (8/10) being the exception) and even the “folk” element is rather slippery--the “Some Stories” bookends, “Clumsy Grace” and, maybe, “’til The Morning Came” might qualify. The proggiest parts of this album, outside of the above mentioned “Dance…,” occur in parts of the instrumental song, “We All Stand in Our Broken Jars” (5:33) (8/10), and the brief symphonic part of the piano solo song, “A Safe Haven” (3:40) (8/10), the synthesizer in “Knight’s Wow” (4:00) (7/10), and, of course, the GENESIS passage in the second half of “Mellow Days” (9:39) (8/10). The vocals—and their harmonies—are nothing remarkable—except for their similarity to Harry Nilsson. The guitar and ukelele play is overly repetitive. The album is well recorded and engineered and it has a very nicely packaged product. However, I find too little here to satisfy my prog sensibilities.

3.5 stars rated down for lack of originality and lack of true progginess.

OLOFERNE Oloferne (2003)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Alessandro Piccioni / vocals, bass, flute
- Giacomo Medici / vocals, guitar, percussion
- Giuseppe Cardamone / violin
- Gianluca Agostinelli / guitars
- Stefano Procaccini / guitars, bass
- Marco Medici / drums, percussion

1. Thoss The Feathers (3:22)
2. Elfish Tree (4:08)
3. Marcia della vita passata (3:58)
4. Campi di gioia (3:38)
5. Fa# come Fard (3:54)
6. Garrucha (5:51)
7. Requiem (6:32)
8. Tremere (3:45)
9. Nel fiume dentro me (3:49)
10. Medievale D451 (2:08)
11. Horus Eye (3:27)
12. Al pub (1:43)
13. Ludd di Wittelsbach (4:59)

Total time: 51:14


Clever, melodic, engaging, and interesting poppy prog folk from this British husband and wife team.

Line-up / Musicians
Clare Fowler: Vocals
John Fowler: Vocals, Guitars, Drums, Bass, Keys

1. "The Cult Of More (1:45)
2. "Stephanie (4:30)
3. "Maybe Dreamers (6:59)
4. "Not Just A Kiss (4:10)
5. "Arrogance And Blackmail (4:57)
6. "PityBomb (4:34)
7. "Afraid Of The Silence (3:38)
8. "Trying Hard (4:08)
9. "Isolate Resolve (6:21)
10. "Flicker (4:26)

Total Time 45:28

Others (Not yet reviewed):

FLAIRCK Symphony for the Old World (2000)

GROVJOBB Vätarnas Fest (2000)

GROVJOBB Under Solen Lyser Solen (2001)

THE DECEMBERISTS Picaresque (2005)

CORDE OBLIQUE Respiri (2005)

THE DECEMBERISTS The Crane Wife (2006)

SCARLET THREAD Valheista Kaunein (2006)

TENHI Maaäet (2006)MOTIS L'Homme-Loup (2007)

STEVE UNRUH The Great Divide (2007)

JACK O' THE CLOCK Rare Weather (2008)

JUDY DYBLE Talking with Strangers (2009)

LEAFBLADE Beyond, Beyond (2009)

VIIMA Kahden Kuun Sirpit (2009)

MILDAKE The Courage of Others (2010)

JACK O' THE CLOCK How Are We Doing and Who Will Tell Us? (2011)

STEVE UNRUH Challenging Gravity (2011)

COMUS Out of the Coma (2012)

AALTO Tuulilabaryntit (2012)

JUDY DYBLE  Flow and Change  (2013)

SCARLET THREAD Never Since (2013)

JACK O' THE CLOCK All My Friends (2013)

HE MERLIN BIRD Chapter and Verse (2014)

JACK O' THE CLOCK Night Loops (2014)

AMAROK Hayak Yolunda (2015)

JACK O' THE CLOCK Outsider Songs (2015)

CORDE OBLIQUE I Maestri del Colore (2016)

FAUNS (FAVNI) Windswept (2016)

MOSTLY AUTUMN White Rainbow (2018)













MEDIÆVAL BÆBES Prayer (2020)

THE WITCHING TALE The Witching Tale (2021)