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John Hackett - Nick Fletcher

Beyond the Stars

Review by Gary Hill

I was really surprised with this disc. I was expecting something instrumental and fusion-like. While there are some fusion elements, this is more of a powerhouse progressive rock based project. Although one song is delivered sans vocals, the rest have singing featured prominently. I find this to be quite a captivating and powerful set, really.

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Track by Track Review
Beyond the Stars
A cool prog rock grind opens this tune. It works out to something with a bit of fusion in the mix. The track continues from there with the vocals over the top. This keeps shifting and changing along the ride. There are some great layers of vocals, and this is just a particularly strong progressive rock jam. There is a good balance between the more boisterous movements and the mellower ones. This also has some particularly crazed bits of guitar work. It gets particularly intense as it moves its way forward.
A Horse Named Cadillac
Starting with a more stripped back arrangement, guitar solos with a sound that makes me think of David Gilmour a bit. Eventually this makes its way out to a full group treatment. This is still decidedly prog, but it's more mainstream than the opener was. In some ways I'm reminded of King's X a little here, but perhaps merged with Pink Floyd. The guitar soloing later in the piece is especially expressive and melodic.
A Time in Place
A mellower movement starts this cut in some fusion-like ways. Some flute dances across the top of this musical tapestry. It powers out into more of a pure fusion jam from there. As the vocals come over the top of the rather off-kilter, but fairly laid back, fusion arrangement I'm reminded of the band UK's first album to a large degree. This is an intriguing number that shows a different side of this outfit. Around the half-way mark this explodes into a powerhouse jam with some killer guitar work. It eventually makes its way back to that UK type section as it continues to evolve.
Leaving It All Behind
A mellower cut, there is a real balladic vibe to this. It has a lot of fusion in the mix, making me think of something Jean-Luc Ponty might do from a musical point of view. Of course, the vocals bring a different angle. It's a classy number and a definite change from the stuff that has come before.
The Spyglass
A faster paced cut this has a bit of an old Genesis feeling to it in some ways, but merged with a real fusion element. It's another fairly large change from the rest of the stuff, yet still feels tied to the rest. The guitar soloing is rather mean and built on some cool angular progressions. There is a weird creepy voice at points. After the two and a half mark it drops to a mellower, slower moving interlude that's quite pretty. The cut shifts and changes from there and gets a bit crazed at times after it works back to the song proper.
Mist on the Lake
Mellow, intricate sounds open this with acoustic guitar playing paired with layers of atmospherics. That holds the cut for the first minute and a half or so. Then it gets electrified and climbs out into more rocking territory. That bit works through, and then they shift to a different section that has more of a progressive rock melodic approach. Eventually the vocals join. There is almost a folk rock vibe to some of this cut. There is a mellower interlude around the six and a half minute mark. It grows back upward with some cool guitar soloing over the top. It makes its way back to the song proper before they take it to its closing.
The Waves of Fair Isle
Subtle acoustic guitar textures open this cut and it grows in mellow ways from there. It starts to rise up a little after the half-minute mark, but still remains mostly sedate. In fact, this instrumental never really rises up far, remaining the mellowest cut here.
Sign of the Times
Coming in faster paced and rocking, this is one of the more mainstream songs here. It still has plenty of prog built into it, and is firmly tied to the other music here, though. There are some cool guitar fills on this, and the vocal hooks are some of the most infectious of the whole disc.
That Ship Has Sailed
Coming in mellower and more balladic, this feels like The Strawbs or perhaps The Syn or even Procol Harum early. It builds gradually outward as it works forward. The cut works through a lot of changes and variants, but overall stays reasonably consistent until around the half-way mark (at over eleven and a half minutes of music, this is the epic of the set) when it gets more exploratory in a powered up jam. That modulates to an instrumental movement with some killer guitar work that's more closely tied to the earlier portions of the track. This instrumental section is quite extensive and gets very intense as it drives forward. It eventually makes its way back to the song proper for the final vocal segments of the track and the album. It's an effective closer.
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