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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic

with Oral Moses - Extreme Spirituals

Review by Gary Hill

Progressive rock, experimental in nature, has always flirted with unique combinations. Rick Wakeman’s IceCapades type version of the Myths and Legends of King Arthur... album and Jon Anderson’s EarthMotherEarth ballet are two examples that immediately come to mind. It is with that same spirit that Birdsongs of the Mesozoic have teamed with bass-baritone vocalist Oral Moses, who specializes in art-song renditions of the old African American spirituals. The result is like no other progressive rock disc you’ve ever heard. While it’s not my favorite of Birdsongs’ albums, I like this quite a bit – and they get bonus points for stretching the limits of the genre.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
I'm A Rollin'
Dramatic piano and percussion opens this, then the group swing into a short burst of typical jazz influenced sound. It drops back to the earlier mode as the deep voice brings in the lyrics. As it carries on typical Birdsongs’ sounds punctuate this and an operatic female voice joins in the mix. This is definitely not your typical progressive rock, but it is an example of what we are about to experience on this album. The group find plenty of opportunities here to pull in sequences of their fusion-laden musical explorations, but equal emphasis is given to the traditional gospel singing, too. The mix is an unusual, but effective one.
Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray
A playful rhythmically driven jam starts this one off and the group work through it alone for a time until the vocals enter in much the same fashion as the fist cut. Birdsongs… seem to put more of their sound into this one, creating varying waves of music in a catchy, but yet somewhat chaotic sort of performance.
A Little More Faith In Jesus
The piano that leads this off is beautiful. The group move this into a jazz oriented ballad approach that is captivating. A short burst of dramatic, operatic sound serves as a punctuation mark, but they quickly take it back to the song proper for the lyrical delivery. As this moves onward it reminds me a lot of some sort of opera. Later, though the arrangement turns toward a more dramatic and harder rocking exploration. They manage to work in a pretty and rather extended musical segment that works quite well. I love the heavier prog movement, rather like ELP that serves as the backdrop for the next verse. More jazz ballad-like sounds eventually end it. 
Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child
Pretty and sedate sounds open this, but as the vocals enter this is another that resembles opera quite a bit. It is pleasing, but also rather sad. The arrangement moves in very classical ways. Some of the melody lines that ensue here are breathtakingly beautiful.
Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho
The rhythm section that leads this one off calls to mind the music from Charlie Brown cartoons just a bit. All those references, though, are washed away when they launch into the full arrangement. It is a dramatic and somewhat dissonant and dark prog rock (albeit jazz and classically tinged) treatment and the vocals seem to fit this one better than they did some of the previous numbers. They move through some unusual musical wanderings on this number and it’s an extremely potent piece of music. I’d have to chalk this as one of my favorites on show here. A killer guitar solo soars across the soundscape later in fine fashion and there are plenty of masterful musical moments thrown into this extended arrangement.
Swing Low Sweet Chariot
Tentative tones start this and the vocals enter quite a ways back in the mix. Piano flits across the top, but then the voice and other sounds rise upwards. This is a more experimental approach with atmospheric waves of sound making up the backdrop. It’s also another of the highlights of the disc with piano and vocals creating most of the foreground sounds here. It moves out into a great jazz instrumental segment, albeit a very slow one, for a time. The mellow excursion late in the number is especially effective, too.
Listen To The Angels Shoutin'
Starting with a mellow sound, this shifts to a fast paced, angular progression to back up the vocals. This is rather RIO like in texture. It’s a good changeup, but not one of my favorites here.
Wayfaring Stranger
This one seems to combine classical, jazz and RIO textures for the basis of the track. It’s one that moves quite a bit and some of the segments are particularly powerful. I especially like the jazz oriented melodic musical interlude later.
Great Day
This has a more bouncy and light texture to the musical melody. They turn it towards more dramatic, melodic prog at points. This feels like it could have come from a Broadway musical at other times. They include some other intriguing musical passages later, including a great rubbery sort of rhythmic based movement. This is another highlight.
Nobody Knows The Trouble I See
Sounds rise up gradually here and when the first vocals enter it is with atmospheric backing. Piano joins to move the track forward slowly. Eventually other instruments make their presence known ever so gradually. This is another that feels like opera a lot of the time.
Oh Freedom
Pretty sounds gradually rise in this arrangement. It never soars high, though, preferring to make its point through elements that are closer to atmosphere. This one is a bit odd, but it grows on you.
Amen
They close the set with this, starting with an almost techno-textured percussion. As the instruments join they bring a fusion texture and a feeling of positivity. This becomes quite the cool little rocker – a bit of the Vince Guaraldi texture is heard on this one. It’s another standout on the disc and between that and the title makes a great closer to a very unique disc.
 
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