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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Gentle Giant

Playing the Fool

Review by Steve Alspach

Gentle Giant, at the time that this record was released, had a legacy of albums that demonstrated that the band was able to combine flat-out rock with some of the more complicated counterpoint arrangements found in progressive music. This album demonstrates that they were not just an accomplished studio band, but their music was executed live with as much precision.

The band at the time were: Derek Shulman, vocals, alto sax, descant recorder, bass and percussion; Ray Shulman, bass, violin, acoustic guitar, descant recorder, trumpet, vocals and percussion; Kerry Minnear, all keyboards, cello, vibraphone, tenor recorder, vocals and percussion; Gary Green, electric, acoustic, and twelve-string guitars, alto and descant recorders, vocals, and percussion; and John Weathers, Drums, vibraphone, tambour, vocals and percussion.

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

Track by Track Review
Just The Same
This song stays true to the studio version (found on Free Hand). The syncopated opening between Gary Green and Kerry Minnear starts the song. The band finishes this with a segue to the next song.
Proclamation
This arrangement is a seamless blend of "Proclamation"and "Valedictory," the two songs that bookend "The Power and the Glory." ("Valedictory" is a reprise of "Proclamation" but with different lyrics.)
On Reflection
This song gets a total reworking from the original version. The second part of the song gets placed first with a medieval-type arrangement with recorders and strings - then, the impossible-to-follow vocal line. And if that isn't enough to amaze the listener, they go through the second verse with one person singing and another playing the same vocal line, then some one else singing while yet another follows on the same melody line. Few bands would have the skill or nerve to pull this off, yet Gentle Giant do it flawlessly. The live arrangement comes off as being more cohesive than the studio.
Excerpts from Octopus
This piece starts with "The Boys in the Band" (complete with the coin spin and producer-at-the-time Martin Rushent's laugh), then the band segues into an acoustic-guitar version of "Raconteur Troubadour" and even slip in an excerpt from "Acquiring the Taste." Next up is "Knots" with its crazy vocals. The piece finally finishes up with "The Advent of Panurge", varying from the original with a recorder section in the middle instrumental section.
Funny Ways
Originally on the very first Gentle Giant album, this tune features an extended vibraphone solo from Kerry Minnear (who also takes lead vocals) and one of the biggest flubbed notes on trumpet ever recorded (courtesy of Ray Shulman). I'm kind of a surprised that they didn't either get another take of that song or just overdub that little flub. Well, give them points for honesty, I guess.
The Runaway
This song is from the impossible-to-find "In a Glass House" album that was never released in the US and is now unavailable on CD. The album, recorded in 1973 and the first album without original member Philip Shulman, was based on a concept that those in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. The songs are from the view of the one to whom those stones would be thrown. This song starts in a Pink Floyd "Money"-like tape loop of glass breaking, then goes into a 6/4 tempo that rocks. The song closes out on a 4/4 groove.
Experience
Also from the "Glass House" album, a keyboard intro goes into a rather bouncy 9/8 section for most of the song, then about halfway in, it abruptly stops. There is a little keyboard interlude, then, like its predecessor; the song blows into a 4/4 rocker with a little swing to it.
So Sincere
This song stays true to the original for a bit, but then goes into an extended jam session that ends up with the band all playing drums.
Free Hand
Unlike the studio version, this version rocks out in its entirety. This performance avoids the little meandering that is in the original rendition and stays in a driving mode throughout. A Gary Green guitar solo highlights the song.
Sweet Georgia Brown (Breakdown in Brussels)
During a concert in Brussels, the band experienced some sound problems. While waiting to get it fixed, Ray Shulman broke into an impromptu version of this old classic on violin. Gary Green and John Weathers jump in
Peel the Paint / I Lost My Head
These two songs are similar in that they start off rather softly, but then change into all-out rockers. The band makes a medley out of the second halves of these two pieces, leaving the softer first parts out. In this manner the medley closes the album out with an energetic bang.
 
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