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Minstrel’s Ghost

The Road to Avalon

Review by Gary Hill

This is the kind of progressive rock concept album that was such a big deal in the 1970s. The music (the main album) is divided into two suites and then those are made up of several shorter pieces. Still, there are recurring musical themes and this all tells one extensive tale. The Minstrel’s Ghost is the brainchild of singer and songwriter Blake Carpenter and the disc features Zoltan Csörsz Jr. (Flower Kings) on drums, Colin Tench (Corvus Stone) on lead guitars, Troy James Martin on bass and Marco Chiappini on lead keyboards.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Bonus Track
The Road To Avalon
It’s not often you get a bonus track that’s almost 16 minutes in length, but that’s what we have here. This the first three tracks of the disc assembled as basically one piece of music. In a lot of ways, taken like this, it really does a good job of serving to capture the spirit of the whole set in one more condensed construction.
Part I: The Design
I. The Journey Begins (The Avalon Overture)

Lush keyboards lead this off in a manner that makes me think of Pink Floyd. In fact, as this builds out, I’d say there are definite links to something like Wish You Were Here. That said, though, this is more intricate and complex in some ways, perhaps begging comparisons to Yes. Then, a little after the one minute mark, crunchy guitar brings it back into Pink Floyd like territory as this trudges forward. A melodic movement takes it forward from there, perhaps feeling a bit more like modern progressive rock. There’s a keyboard laden portion later that brings Genesis to mind a bit. This complex and extended instrumental keeps evolving. At times keyboards dominate, but then at other points some seriously crunchy guitar solos and takes the track in other directions. There’s a particularly evocative movement at the end that serves to segue this nicely into the next piece.

II. Avalon Part I
They power it out here as this movement joins. The guitar sound borders on metallic, but seems to lend something closer to Pink Floyd. That said, this arrangement, treated just a little differently, wouldn’t be out of place on a heavy metal album. The vocals bring it into mainstream AOR territory. There are nice keyboard layers over the top at various points along the road here and some more killer guitar soloing. The chorus is very accessible and contagious. It’s got a real anthemic quality to it. A crescendo segues this into the next piece.
III. Merlin
Feeling a bit sad and suitably mysterious, this is a major contrast from the bombast of the last movement. Keyboards hold it for a time, but then a mellow guitar solos, weaving lines of melody and more of those Pink Floyd comparisons. The vocals come in over the top in slow, gentle lines of melody. A little before the two minute mark it powers out into a more full arrangement with more energy. This is very accessible, but yet purely progressive rock. This feels like it could have been released in the heady days of the first coming of progressive rock, the 1970s. The chorus is, again, catchy, and keeps this from being “for prog fans only” material. Parts of the melody here make me think of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing.” They modulate out for some cool keyboard textures and sounds in an instrumental movement and the guitar takes over the soloing from there. The section takes the piece into the next one.
IV. Lady Of The Lake
Textural keyboards serve as the backdrop for some theatrical dialog to open this piece up. A little before the one minute mark acoustic guitar rises up and the song proper emerges from there. Electric guitar solos over the top and other instruments add icing to the cake of sound. The arrangement maintains a ballad-like structure as the first vocals come across. Then a soaring progressive rock instrumental movement takes it forward from that segment. There’s a tasty guitar solo later that’s got quite a bit of crunch in it. This definitely has a classic progressive rock vibe to it.
V. Excalibur
The electric guitar motif that opens this is more straightforward and hard rocking. There is a cool keyboard bit that comes across the top. The vocals here are more rock and roll than any of the others we’ve heard to this point. The keyboard solo dominated instrumental section later really does call to mind Yes in some ways. Considering the subject matter here, comparisons to Rick Wakeman’s solo material seems too obvious, but it really does apply on this cut.
VI. Avalon Part II
This brings back musical themes from the first section of it. Again, Pink Floyd is a pretty decent reference point. This is pretty, dramatic, evocative and quite effective. The vocals are gentle, but have enough power to cut over the top of the arrangement. It works out into some pretty powered up progressive rock as it continues. The Pink Floyd references are definitely less valid as it gets more energy and sounds in the mix. The guitar solo later is tastefully crunchy.
Part II: The Life
I. Camelot

Sound effects and bits of theatrical vocals, like something from a film start this. Then the drums solo as the crowd roars. The crowd drums away as the drum solo continues. Then the rest of the instruments join and we’re off in a powerful melodic prog jam. There are some more straightforward rock and roll sounds in the mix, to a large degree being brought to the table by the guitar soloing. The vocals also bring that mainstream, AOR sound to the fore. This is an accessible and powerful piece of music. I’m reminded in some ways of Yes, but this more crunchy and straight ahead than that comparison would make one believe. Still, some of the keyboard work is quite Wakeman-like. I have to say that at points I’m reminded of Starcastle quite a bit, too. This crescendos to segue into the next number.

II. A Love Betrayed
Keyboards with bits of whispered voices serving as theatrical background open this up and then keyboards start to rise beyond that in Pink Floyd-like fashion. The soloing guitar adds to that Floyd reference. It eventually modulates out to a prog ballad approach for the vocals and the cut works out from there as it continues. The vocal line is another that’s accessible and mainstream. I’m particularly fond of the backing vocals that soar over the top later. In fact, I’d say this has one of the best vocal arrangements of the whole disc. The cut gets an infusion of power in time to move out into the next movement.
III. The Son
A galloping arrangement brings this in, feeling a bit like Iron Maiden, in the most metallic piece of the whole disc. It turns towards more melodic, but really, this one would fit well on a metal album. There are some more proggy elements at points, but this is straightforward and quite metallic. It’s a great rocker that brings some serious contrast to the table. The instrumental section around the two minute mark actually makes me think of early Judas Priest. From there sounds of medieval combat are heard as the music drops away. It fires out with some keyboard soloing over a rocking motif and then works back into the song proper. After a reprise of the chorus, the combat sounds return.
IV. Avalon Part III
The metallic tones and combat sounds from the previous one open this up and then it shifts to something a bit more like crunchy Pink Floyd. It works out to more pure prog later and the vocals are some of the most rocking of the disc. It’s a tasty cut, encompassing some changes and complex musical structures while still working some pretty mainstream elements into the mix. The crescendo takes us into the next cut.
V. Le Morte d?Arthur
Coming from the previous number, the crunch fades away and keyboards rise up to bring a mellow, balladic sound into play, perhaps a bit like Tangerine Dream. Acoustic guitar comes in and plays some tasty melodies and brings some more nods to Pink Floyd to the table. The cut is pretty and a bit sad. There are some rather symphonic elements that come over the top. In a lot of ways this reminds me somewhat of Alan Parsons Project.
VI. The End
Rising out of the previous one, this has an almost metallic intensity to it. Still, the sounds are definitely progressive rock and the piece does a great job of wrapping up the themes of the entire disc into one exceptionally satisfying conclusion.
 
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