Alan Simon — Excalibur IV - The Dark Age of the Dragon
(Babaïka Productions EXCAL-4-, 2017, CD)
by Jon Davis, Published 2018-01-19
If you've always felt that Rick Wakeman's epic concept albums were a little too understated, Alan Simon has got you covered. There may be no ice-skating dinosaurs involved (maybe a dragon, though), but when it comes to Celtic fantasy, Simon is doing his best to make the genre his own. With his fourth installment of the Excalibur trilogy (as it was apparently planned), he presents 73 minutes of heavily orchestrated romantic melodicism with elements of Celtic folk music, kind of like Riverdance meets Phantom of the Opera with touches of Alan Stivell and Jethro Tull tossed in. For every brief moment where a tin whistle or Uillean pipes plays a rousing melody backed by a nice acoustic guitar or an energetic ensemble, there are about ten moments where a plodding rock rhythm section backs a massive string section sawing away on big chords. For every lovely bit of singing from one of the guest stars there’s a time when a vocal is mangled by Auto-Tune — there is definitely something suspicious going on with Sonja Kristina’s voice on “The Passion,” and that’s not the only place I hear it. Many tracks are ornamented by tacky saxophone parts (think cheap imitation “Baker Street”), and even Martin Barre’s great tone on the lead guitar can’t save tracks from descending into sappy overblown sentimentalism. I’ve tried to give this album a chance, but honestly can’t find a single track that I like from beginning to end. Life is just too short, and there is so much better music out there. Obviously, between the session musicians, the guests stars, and the elaborate packaging, a lot of money was spent on producing this, and I assume it came from all the people who bought Alan Simon’s previous albums, which means there is an audience for this kind of thing, but I am quite happy not being among that group.
Seaprog 2019 Lineup Almost Complete – The Seaprog festival in Seattle is scheduled for June 7-9 this year, and they've announced their lineup of performers. The revitalized Trettioåriga Kriget will cap Friday night, perennial favorites Marbin are on Saturday, and District 97 will finish off the fest on Sunday night. In support, they've booked a stellar variety of artists from the Northwest and around the world, including EchoTest, Markus Reuter and Trey Gunn, and the live debut of the amazing Troot project. » Read more
You Can Be Part of an Ambient Electronic Project – The Gesture of History is a new electronic project put together by Sam Rosenthal of Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Steve Roach, and violist Sam Shadow. The music started as an instrumental track Rosenthal was working on for a Black Tape album, but took on a life of its own and demanded further enhancements. The majority of the funds raised will go to manufacturing costs for LP and CD editions, as well as other items as detailed on the Kickstarter page. » Read more
Jazz Composer Mark Lomax, II Releases Epic 12CD Set – In addition to being a fine jazz drummer, Dr. Mark Lomax, II is a composer in residence at Ohio State University, where he has been very busy on the compositional front. The year 2019 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first ship bringing African slaves to North America, and in commemoration of this, Lomax has produced 400: An Afrikan Epic, a 12 volume set of CDs featuring a variety of different musical ensembles. » Read more
Chicago-Based Surabhi Ensemble Tours the World in January – Surabhi Ensemble was formed more than a decade ago in Chicago with the aim of bringing together musicians from varying traditions to make music. Saraswathi Ranganathan, who plays veena, assembled a cast that includes Arabic oud, Spanish guitar, and percussion from Africa and India. This month, the group will be sharing their sounds with concert-goers in Southeast Asia, Europe, and Africa. » Read more