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Rick Wakeman

Softsword

Review by Gary Hill

Let me just start this review to say that I like this album a lot. It has some trademark Rick Wakeman music, particularly as the opening and closing book-ends. What’s in the middle is often a bit more surprising. It’s no less captivating, though. There are some unusual things here, but almost everything works really well. I really love some of the vocal performances on this set almost as much as I love Wakeman’s keyboards.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Magna Charter

Bombast opens this and the cut builds out in a powerful progressive rock fashion as the drums pound away. The keyboards build melodies over the top. That introduction runs for a little more than a minute. Then, amidst the same drum pounding, new melodic elements emerge taking the piece forward. There is another stop around the two and a half minute mark. A piano based melody emerges and the vocals come in over the top of that as it moves forward. It’s a mellower motif for those first vocals. This gets quite powerful as it builds out after a time. There’s a faster paced jam that takes over eventually. It’s a bouncy kind of arrangement and the vocals return over that backdrop. It drops back for a classically inspired bombastic section after the vocals drop out of it. It continues with a real classical flourish tempered with some rock elements. We’re taken through several changes from there. Then, after the nine-minute mark another stop takes us back to the first vocal section. It continues evolving from there until it works out to the end.

After Prayers
This is a pretty, rather soulful tune. I love the jazzy bass line that runs through this at times. The vocal performance is exceptional, too. This is very much a mainstream rock song with a soaring vocal arrangement. It’s powerful. It’s not really progressive rock, but it’s great.
Battle Sonata
Intricate and melodic, there is a combination of progressive rock and world music on this instrumental piece.           
The Siege
I like this piece a lot. There is a bouncy sort of classical meets hard rock vibe. There are some moments that make me think of something Wakeman might have done with Yes. The keyboard jam mid-track is particularly noteworthy, too.
Rochester Collage
There is a real classical bombastic fanfare element to this instrumental. It’s tasty.
The Story of Love (King John)
Mellow music starts this one. The bass that comes in is rather funky at times. This gets worked out into more pure progressive rock later. The vocals still maintain a soulful element, but musically it’s more typical Rick Wakeman solo prog. I love the slower section later, too. What it lacks in musical energy, it makes up for in vocal power.
March of Time
I love the keyboard sounds as this plods forward. It’s trademark Rick Wakeman. There is a real symphonic element to this. It has a lot of classical music in the progression and arrangement. It is a great instrumental.
Don't Fly Away
There is almost an Island vibe as this opens. That bass brings a bit of funk and the vocals are soulful. There’s a bit of an ‘80s pop vibe to this as far as I’m concerned. For that reason, although this has some charms, I think it’s one of the weak links here.
Isabella
This instrumental is very much classic Rick Wakeman in tone and style. I like it a lot.
Softsword
With recorder built into it, there is an olde time musical element here, mixed with electronic sounds. It’s another instrumental.
Hymn of Hope
There is no question right from the start that this is a rocker. It’s got scorching guitar amongst the slow moving progression. This rocker is much more like classic Rick Wakeman theatrical progressive rock. It’s a real killer. It’s fairly short, though.
 
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