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Rocking Horse Music Club

Circus of Wire Dolls

Review by Gary Hill

This is a double CD that is essentially a concept album or rock opera, depending on how you look at it. It's packed full of great music that lands in the progressive rock zone. There are some particularly interesting guest appearances here, too. Names that stand out for me include Tim Bowness, David Cross, Chris Difford, John Hackett, Greg Hawkes and Rob Townsend.

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Track by Track Review
Disc One
Prologue: Riverside

Atmospherics begin this song and the album. Piano comes up to bring some melody. Other instrumentals swirl around after a time, but this remains sedate and moody. Vocals come in as the arrangement coalesces into a mellow prog zone. I'm reminded a little of things like Porcupine Tree here. Eventually this ramps up the volume as it continues forward.

Circus of Wire Dolls
More of an AOR rocking prog sound is on display here. I'm reminded a little of early Marillion in terms of the guitar lines and energy. It drops to a more stripped back section for the vocals to join. There are some decidedly Steve Howe-like guitar breaks on the track at times. This is a complex number that really works so well. This just keeps reinventing itself as it works through various prog excursions.
Packed Up
There are still definite proggy elements at play here, but this has more of a mainstream rock arrangement overall.
Senseless Sky
A clarinet is heard on this number, bringing a bit of a jazzy approach. The tune is mid-tempo, reflective music. There is a balladic aspect to this, and it feels like something that would have been at home in the 1970s in a lot of ways. 
Animate in 5/8
Fast-paced and so cool as it kicks out of the gate, this combines progressive rock and fusion angles in fine fashion. It has some twists and turns along the road. The first vocals have some processing on them for artistic effect. There are some definite Beatles-like elements on this track.
To Reach the Other Side
While there are proggy elements in the mix, this is more of a mainstream rock song at its core. The usage of both male and female vocals on this is quite effective. This gets into some really powerful and dramatic territory as it continues.
Will You Be My Downfall?
There is more of a bouncy mainstream rock meets musical theater vibe to this. The duet of male and female vocals works well.
So Little Left
Somehow this reminds me of something Alan Parsons might do. It's a melodic, slower rock tune.
It’s Not About You
Symphonic sounds open this track. The cut fires out from there to a jam that has a lot of classic rock and roll in the mix. This is catchy, high energy and really feels like something that would have been all over the radio in the early 1970s. A wailing horn is a great touch. It wouldn't be a big stretch to imagine David Bowie doing this track. There is a dropped back section later that really ups the classic rock feels. Some of the guitar work on that section makes me think of Queen. The tune screams out from there with hard rocking jamming.
Trapeze Waltz
This is a waltz with some symphonic instrumentation. This is another that feels a bit like musical theater.
Energetic and mainstream with some definite prog angles in play, this is another strong piece on a set that's full of effective music. The female vocals really soar on this thing. It reminds me a little of what Renaissance, although the singing is lower register than Annie Haslam's vocals. This works to a faster, purely prog jam later, and the vocals get higher in that section, really accentuating that Renaissance connection. It comes back to the song proper from there, but the vocals are really intensified when it does.
Cut from a Different Cloth
This is a moody piece that's very much mainstream rock. It's slow moving and on the mellower end of the spectrum.
Disc Two
Face of Rain

There is so much magic and drama on this number. It's a mid-tempo melodic prog rocker. The has such great textures to it. It's one of my favorites here. It's another that makes me think of Alan Parsons Project to a good degree. The synthesizer on this is used to great effect.

Another mellow piece, this has some cool moods. It's sort of like electronic pop with an organic flair. It's a ballad that has plenty of progressive rock tendency at play.
This comes in moody and melodic and builds upward. Both male and female vocals paint themselves upon the fabric of this song. The piece builds gradually and gets quite prog oriented before it's over without moving far from its main concepts.
Lost a Piece of Me
Intricate music and a rich and dense vocal arrangement combine to create a cool mellower prog motif here. At just under a minute-and-a-half long, this is a short interlude.
House Party at Jack’s
More of an electronic groove brings this into being. The cut works out from there with weird voice samples and cool synthesizer work from there. It's spacey and rather trippy. Other than those sampled voices that are more incidental, this is an instrumental. At just less than two-minutes, it's also a short one.
Flowers in November
A piano and voice arrangement gets this underway. There is a rather Beatles-like vibe to it. This is a moody ballad at its core.
Every Show Must End
This comes in harder rocking out of the gate. It has some decidedly prog based riffing and twists and turns. It drops to a Beatles-like balladic approach that still has some prog tendencies in place. This gets into more mainstream rock stuff as that powers up, but we're brought back to proggy zones as an alternating pattern sets up between the two modes. Some of the jamming later gets really powerful and quite proggy. After it all peaks we're left with a piano and vocal movement that has a lot of emotion built into it. That section serves to close the track in style.
All Shall Be Well
Starting with just vocals of the female variety, the instruments join quickly, bringing a slow moving and evocative mainstream rock mode. This is somewhere between ballad and soft rock song. This has some prog tendencies in the mix.
Circus Waltz
Bouncing prog motifs take control as this song comes out of the gate. There is a circus angle to this music befitting the title. David Cross' violin work brings something really special to it. This instrumental is quite a powerhouse piece that really soars. It has prog, jazz and space rock leanings at various points.
Coda: Slide Down the Cellar Door
This melodic prog rocker is another that makes me think of Alan Parsons Project. It's a classy cut with a nice balance of sounds and intriguing changes. This gets quite powerful at times, particularly on the closing movement.


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