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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Alan Davey

Four Track Mind Volume 1

Review by Gary Hill

These recordings from former Hawkwind bassist, singer, keyboardist and songwriter are all essentially home recordings done on a 4-track recorder. They are items he’s had sitting around for a long time and has chosen to put together on a series of discs and release. The recording quality on these is actually quite good. I find that remarkable, because if memory serves I used to own the same unit he used (a Fostex X-15) and my recordings were never this good. Guess it shows what someone who really knows how to use the equipment can do. It also shows what a stellar musician can do with such rudimentary gear because all of the music here is solid. Much of it, as you might guess, is similar to Hawkwind. It should certainly please fans of Hawkwind and anyone who is into Alan Davey’s solo work. I’d heartily recommend getting both of these discs. Not only do they provide a glimpse at the inner workings of musician recording at home, but they also are quite entertaining. Check out Davey’s website or myspace for ordering information.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Spiritual Modulation
Coming in bouncy and rather light, this shifts out more to the type of rock you might expect from Davey. A few varying motifs are played out in this track and it’s a cool one. The fast paced structure makes for a great opener. After a time it modulates out to keyboard weirdness (in a motif that is very much in keeping with Hawkwind sounds). It drops back to near silence and then noisy keys take it. The music from the first segment returns with winding, almost spaceship like sounds over the top. When those elements leave we are back where we came in. Weird keyboard sounds re-enter towards the end, serving as icing over this main backdrop in its closing moments.
R.E.M. Time
This is gentle and pretty but still has enough odd characters floating about to keep it in the space rock vein. This is primarily a keyboard based number. A spoken voice, feeling like it’s from a TV, comes on board after a time. The cut is quite intriguing, and while it won’t get you on your feet and rocking, it works. I’ve always loved this kind of mood piece. Sound effects end it.

Chinese Whisperer
This is an even more mellow keyboard based number. It is both weirder and lighter in tone. I can see where the title at least in the first half) comes from as this has a fairly sedate musical presence and you can hear elements of Asian sounds in the mix. The mid-section fires out with a hard rocking, Hawkwind-like abandon. It drops back to the keys for the closing sections of the track.
Transient
A distorted, warbled keyboard sound leads things off here. As this intro ends Davey launches into another hard rocker that’s full of Hawkindisms, particularly in the form of the keyboard lines swirling overhead. A change later leads it out towards more soaring elements.
Slumber Head
Here we have more ambient keyboard weirdness pervading. This moves through a number of changes, but never gets far from its origins in the process. It’s a good mood piece and is one of the more purely pretty cuts here.
Chasing The Dragon
Keys bring this in with a faster paced approach. As the rest of the instruments bound in we have a quick tempoed rocker that again feels a bit like Hawkwind. Keys provide elements of melody over the top of this backdrop. We get a few changes in this ride and it’s one that will feel rather familiar (yet new) to Hawkfans. Keys take the closing sections of this and end it in a satisfying way.
Hypno Trip
This one is just plain weird – and I mean that in a good way. Keyboards and sound effects lead us on our journey with bits of Native American sounding melody lines. I’m not sure this is one you’d program for your playlist, but it’s also not one where you’d hit “skip.” It’s just a bit strange to my ears.
In A Sphere
Once more keys start this one up and a new melody – very pretty and yet a bit mysterious – takes it. This feels like some of the more pure rock driven music of Hawkwind – think Hall of the Mountain Grill, but not quite. This is one of my favorites of the set. We get a number of different musical themes that emerge, but yet it never really goes too far from its starting point.
E-on Strings
While this one doesn’t differ from the previous piece that much in terms of format, the moods and modes of the music separate it nonetheless. I’d have to say that of the two I prefer the previous composition, but that this one is also one of the highlights of the CD for me.
Wind of Ghosts
This one is also started with keys, but it’s a much more dramatic texture here. The cut takes off in more rocking modes with a hard-edged sort of jam. This again has a lot of Hawkwind in its mix, probably along the lines of something from Electric Teepee. It’s bouncing and a bit noisy, but also quite cool.
Dark Light
This one is a bit harder rocking and higher in terms of energy level. It’s also not quite as potent as some of the rest of the stuff here. It’s not bad. It just doesn’t really stand out.
Moody Motion
Pretty keyboard textures bring this one in, feeling a bit like more standard pop in a way, but almost like church music in another. It builds up gradually, as if gliding around the edge of some pond. It seems to turn darker later on, but in subtle ways.
Flight to Andromeda
Hard rocking guitar based jamming makes up this one that would easily fit on a Hawkwind disc. The thing is, some of the upper layers are a bit warbly. Now, Davey might have intended it, or it could be some sort of an issue with the Fostex. Either way, it kind of ruins the piece for me. That makes this the only track here where I’d actually hit “skip.” It’s a good song, that sound just bugs me really badly.

Sunrise Assassins
This is one of the highlights of the disc. Layers of ambient, textural sound are merged in a way that they produce a killer mood. This one actually has vocals. I’ve always liked Davey’s voice and the singing certainly adds to the Hawkwind texture of the track. I also like the little buzzing lines of guitar that come and go.
Moonstone
Keys rise up very gradually here. They begin to write a story with their musical elements and textures. This is a story of space and mysterious entities. It’s a story that moves slowly but grows in nearly imperceptible ways. This is a story that sits near our unconscious, but yet begs for our attention. In other words, this is a cool mood piece.
Chasing the Dragon
Here we get a different version of the track from earlier on the CD. I think I like this one better. That makes sense because it was done a couple years after the earlier recording, so my guess is Davey liked it better, too. It also has vocals which definitely add to the enjoyment.  This version feels closer to something from Chronicle of the Black Sword. The guitar solo is quite tasty, too.
Sword of the East
This one was actually done by Hawkwind on the Xenon Codex CD and it’s always been a personal favorite. Here it rises quite gradually. Once the rings of keyboard sounds enter its quite recognizable. It launches into the hard rocking patterns with style and finesse. There’s more of a keyboard presence on this version. It suffers a bit from the absence of vocals. There is an intriguing drop back mid-song and when Davey brings it back up into the main song surface it’s all the more powerful – and more inline with the Hawk-version. While I prefer the Hawkwind rendition, this one is still quite good and it’s interesting to have this alternate telling. It’s also a highlight of the CD.
Motor Pink Head
The title would lead you to think that this song resembles a cross between Motorhead and Pink Floyd. This hard rocker feels a bit like a powerhouse telling of the “Get Smart” theme song and seems like it would have fit nicely in the soundtrack of one of the Austin Powers movies. It’s got a cool surf music texture to it. I don’t really hear either of the bands that seem to get a name check in the title, but when it’s this much fun, who cares? It’s a great way to end the disc on a high note.
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