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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Puppet Show

The Tale of Woe

Review by Gary Hill

When people start compiling their lists of the “best of 2007,” I'll bet this disc will make a lot of them. These guys have produced a killer album. The vocals are evocative and captivating and music is stellar. Puppet Show merges neo-prog and classic styles in a way that I don't think I've heard anyone else accomplish. You'll hear echoes of Yes, Genesis, Marillion and others here, but the end result is a musical tapestry that is all their own. I particularly like they way they break up the disc by alternating between ten-minute plus epics and short tracks. This serves to make a very listenable experience. The epic “The Past Has Just Begun” is in my view the centerpiece of the album. It can hold its own with similar epics from any of the prog greats. Whether your particular taste in progressive rock runs to the classic era or neo-prog, it's a safe bet that you'll really enjoy this disc. I'd consider it a “must have” for any prog rock fan.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Seasons
A classic keyboard dominated prog rock sound with elements of Yes, Kansas and Genesis, lead this off in a slightly off-timed instrumental progression. A staccato pattern shows up twice later to herald the drop back to the more stripped down arrangement that serves as the backdrop for the verse. They power it up in a triumphant sort of sound after this verse. The style on this section is more in line with neo-prog acts and at times the vocals remind me a bit of Geoff Tate – as if he might sound were Queensryche actually a prog band. Around two and half minutes in they drop it back to a short jazz type romp – way down in volume. Then it moves out into a more traditional prog excursion that's full of drama. This makes its way through, twists and turns, as if deftly navigating some sort of rocky field. The killer guitar driven jam that takes it at around the four or four and a half minute mark is a nice touch. This heralds a return to the newer progressive rock sounds and leads out into an almost metallic jam laced with Eastern textures. Then another Yes-like passage takes it before they move out into more neo-prog. This works through a whole new series of changes and alterations. After a crunchy segment they pull this out into one of the more inspired vocal segments of the disc, then more Eastern toned keys take it. This eventually resolves out into another old school prog jam that becomes interspresed with more modern textures before twisting into some more of those Eastern sounds, this time in the form of a smoking guitar solo. From there they pull it down to pretty, sedate keys that serve to backdrop the final vocals of the song – feeling a bit like early Marillion. This is one heck of a twisting and turning thrill ride and a great way to start off the disc.
The Seven Gentle Spirits
This one feels a lot like Starcastle in its opening segment to me, particularly in the way the instruments skirt across the top of the arrangement. A transitional segment takes it down to balladic modes to carry the cut forward. This rises gradually with a classic prog sound. Suddenly it bursts out in an ELP goes metallic segment that works its way through by morphing into a different motif. This crescendos and gives way to just piano that serves to accompany the first vocals of the track. It is pretty and evocative and grows very gradually. When they finally burst back up from there just before the four and a half minute mark those Starcastle textures are once again in prime form. This works through a number of minor changes on the main musical theme to keep it interesting. Keys weave their story across the top later on, feeling a bit like Keith Emerson. Then it turns more towards those balladic concepts, but with a more invigorated arrangement for the next vocals. Another instrumental progression, this one perhaps feeling a bit more like ELP than Starcastle, takes it after these words are delivered. When it comes out of there we get a great multilayered vocal arrangement that reminds me a lot of Pentwater. They move out from there into more classic prog sounds. The bouncy Pentwater like segment returns after this. It then gives way to some soaring musical endeavors. After a time the song is completely reborn into a crunchy, guitar driven jam that is quite powerful. They work through a number of stylistic and thematic changes during the course of their next tour-de-force. They eventually turn back out to more melodic segments for the next vocals, but quickly shift it out with a weaving guitar line dancing underneath those vocals. This gives way to something akin to fusion and then another fast paced crunch jam that marries classic and neo-prog sounds. I actually hear echoes of Genesis' early material (think “The Knife”) at times on this. There is another killer keyboard solo, too. Then it resolves outward into more melodic tones for a triumphant return to the vocal section. Another guitar driven instrumental segment eventually takes it from there to run the track to its concluding section. This part turns quite Yes-like at times. They return to the opening musical themes to finally end. At over fourteen minutes in length, this cut qualifies as epic. It's got more than enough twists, changes and drama to keep the listener intent for the duration, too.
Harold Cain
“Harold Cain, with a wave of his hand, said goodbye to all that...” - oops, wrong song – darn my Yes addiction. Bouncy and a bit off-kilter, this is a cool track that reminds me a lot of some of ELP's work. Mind you, this has more of a pure rock and roll texture in some ways than that might convey, but I really do hear a lot of similar ground here. This is one of only two tracks here that clock in under the five minute mark. It's simpler texture and shorter duration make it a nice change of pace between all the epics. Still, they do change things up here with a more lushly arranged, slower portion. At times the vocals here remind me of White Witch.
The Past Has Just Begun
Clocking in at nearly seventeen minutes, this is the longest piece on the CD. A sound that really calls to mind classic Genesis leads this off and holds the track for nearly the first minute. Then they drop it into a new jam that does a nice job of combining new and old progressive rock stylings in a sound that is both fresh and recognizable. Just before the minute and a half mark they drop this back to a dramatic, mellower segment and then power this out into new territory. This gives way to a potent building progression as they carry on. It seems like they change things up just about every twenty seconds or so, making this hard for a reviewer to keep up with. That, though, makes it one heck of a listening experience. Ac crescendo around the two and a half minute mark gives way to an acoustic guitar based ballad approach. The vocals come over this in powerfully evocative ways. Changes and reworkings of these themes keep the track occupied for a while. This reminds me a bit of Hogarth era Marillion, perhaps along the lines of the Seasons End disc. This sense of constancy is a nice break after those rapid shifts in musical structure that made up the introduction of this one. While they change the instrumentation and focus as they carry forward, the general musical themes stay reasonably constant, making this one of the longest consistent segments on show. Indeed, it's not until past the six minute mark that they change things up with a new instrumental excursion that reminds me a bit of both ELP and Kansas. The keyboards really power this movement. After around a minute like this, though, they drop back to textural keys for the next vocal section. Hints of a burst of power show up as they move this forward. Again, I'm reminded of Marillion here, but more the Fish era of the band. While there were sounds that make the listener think they might burst out from there, that's not what happens. A bit after the nine-minute mark they shift out into a slow moving, but very tasty jam. This leads into a powerhouse instrumental movement that is purely on fire. Guitar solos over a big chunk of this. More changes and rearranging takes the cut through its next musical journey in fine fashion. More Marillion elements show up here, mixed with other sounds to make a texture that is purely the creation of Puppet Show. This jam becomes both powerfully rooted and soaring in terms of the powerhouse keyboards flying over the soundscape. They twist this into the next vocal segment. As those vocals carry on (with great layering added to it) they still manage to work through a series of challenging alterations and left turns. The piano dominated jam that takes over later in the cut is a great touch. So is the Yes-like section that takes it for a brief time after this. That one doesn't stay around, though. Instead it's replaced by some of the most metallic music on the whole disc. While they pull a couple changes into this motif they don't alter the grand plan here that much. This epic is so powerful and so dynamic it's incredible. In fact, when this killer piece ends all you can do is say, “wow” and try to catch your breath.
God's Angry Man
The other track on the disc that's less than five minutes, once again, it couldn't come at a better time. This starts with ambient sounds that hold the track for almost the first thirty seconds. When they jump in, it's with a pounding sound that combines RIO with King Crimson, Rush and progressive metal. This is a frantic jam that's simply awe-inspiring. It's just quirky and off-kilter enough, but not so far that it is hard to listen to. After about a minute they drop it back to a free form, experimental jazz type jam that has a lot of open space. This seems like a marriage of King Crimson and Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. It gets rather dissonant and strange. It turns into a space noise fest as they power it upwards. They crank out into something I would describe as “Metallica meets King Crimson” for a time, but then more ambient sounds (mostly voices in the background) take it. This sounds like someone screaming (but backwards tracked).
On Second Thought
The pretty balladic picked guitar that leads this off feels all the more balladic after the chaos of the last number. When the vocals come over the top of this the effect is the most Genesis-like sound of the whole disc. They build up gradually with more layers of sound added into the mix as they carry it forward. As this becomes more full force it seems to me to have more of those Queensryche elements. This doesn't stay around long, though, as they launch out into a frantic hard edged jam that's equal parts neo and classic progressive rock. This soaring excursion becomes exceptionally powerful and gives birth to an extended keyboard solo before launching out into a soaring new vocal arrangement. They move this through a series of changes and new musical themes emerge but they still retain the general sounds and textures. At about five and a half minutes, though, they crescendo and then drop it back to ambient weirdness. A short playful section that feels like cartoon music gives way to scorching jam that has elements of King Crimson, more pure jazz and other textures thrown together in a screaming journey of power and fury. This gives way to a return to some of the earlier musical themes as they launch this out into more of a neo-prog jam. This resolves to more melodic territory before dropping back to just keys that accompany the next vocals. They grow this organically into a full band treatment that is powerful and inspiring. A guitar solo soars out from this. There are more vocals coming across as this extended solo plays out. I've always loved music with that quality of not compartmentalizing vocal segments and instrumental solos. This finally winds down into a melodic fade that ends the disc in fine fashion.
 
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