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Robert Berry

Prime Cuts

Review by Gary Hill

The latest release in the Magna Carta series Prime Cuts, this time the attention is turned on Robert Berry's considerable work on the label. The first point I need to bring up is somewhat of a mixed one here. Included in this release is a nice mini-documentary that runs on PC's detailing a lot of Berry's remarkable career in an in-studio interview. While this video is a great touch, there is also a bit of a problem with it, though. Since I generally listen to discs while reviewing them on my PC, this was rather annoying. You see, there doesn't seem to be any way to play the CD tracks on a computer - only the video. At least I couldn't get it to work on my PC. Still, I suppose the additional material is worth the extra hassle I had in reviewing the disc.

Overall it should say that this is a very listenable disc with some killer material. Granted there aren't a lot of Berry original compositions as the bulk of the material comes from various Magna Carta tribute CD's. Still this disc really does give a good cross-section of this incredibly talented musician's work. I have reviewed all the songs but the new previously unreleased track "Life Beyond L.A." on the discs on which they originally appeared. For the sake of consistency those reviews here will be modified from those reviews.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Roundabout
I personally have been rather bored with the original version of this song for years, having heard it so many times that it has lost its appeal. (Although, it should be noted that the group managed to create a cool second coming with it since this was recorded with their acoustic, bluesy version). Berry breathes some wonderful new life into this piece, reworking it dramatically, while still retaining some of the best of the original. Berry uses an almost minimalistic approach, while still maintaining so much of the charm and flair of the Yes version. This song displays a very fresh approach to the source material.
Minstrel in the Gallery
Leif Sorbye joins Robert Berry to put in a modern prog take on this Jethro Tull classic. Somehow it actually feels a bit Deep Purpleish at times.
Brain Damage
A true solo effort, Berry does quite a faithful rendition of this Pink Floyd piece, playing and singing every part himself.
Watcher of the Skies
This is a fairly faithful, but still updated rendition of this Genesis classic.
Winespring Reel
With a title that includes the word "reel", you have to know that you are in for a Celtic one here. This is one of two tracks here that come from Berry's Soundtrack to The Wheel of Time album. It is a bouncy and fun Celtic rocker that still has a lot of progressive rock leanings interspersed. It eventually drops to a more acoustic, gentle section that is quite evocative. As the Celtic textures return to lift it back up, it gets quite powerful before its threefold dramatic conclusion.
Life Beyond LA
This song was originally recorded by Ambrosia, for whom Berry recently served as vocalist. It is a somewhat proggy pop rock cut with a lot of energy. It feels a bit like Sweet at times.
Karn Evil 9 1st Impression
A very strong rendition of this ELP rocker, the piece includes some wonderful prog chops. While remaining rather faithful to the original it definitely breathes new life into the composition. The musicians on this number are Berry, Simon Phillips, Jordan Rudess and Mark Wood.
Different Strings
This prog ballad version of the piece is simply incredible. I've always liked this track a lot, and I think I like this version better than the original. While Robert Berry's vocals are very different than Lee's, they work quite well here.
A Theme For The Wheel Of Time
With a Celtic sort of backing music, the vocals weave an evocative trail over the early modes of the cut. As it continues to evolve a hard edge takes the piece and it becomes more complex and prog oriented. It alternates between the earlier mode and this later one. The middle section is a very powerful instrumental break, and as the chorus comes out of that it is with a renewed energy and vitality.
Carol of the Bells
With lead vocals by Robert Berry, this cut takes the classy Christmas favorite to new heights. He keeps the original flavor by bringing in an arrangement that one might quite easily imagine Yes doing in their heyday. This is a great cut and it features some very inspired Howeish guitar work, and an awesome vocal arrangement. The modulating progression late in the track is quite effective
 
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