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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Pilgrim Speakeasy

Moon Emperor

Review by Gary Hill

Prog purists will probably not embrace this as progressive rock, but as experimental and creative as it is, I think it qualifies. You won’t hear a lot of traditional prog here – although the names King Crimson and Pink Floyd (and a couple others might come to mind) but the melding of funk sounds with world music and hard rock into a celebration of musical exploration qualifies it as progressive rock in my book. I like this disc a lot – and if you give it a chance, you probably will, too. For more information or to order the disc, check out the myspace profile.

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
Radiators
Shakers begin this and then other instruments join in a tentative sort of arrangement. It powers up into a funky sort of arrangement that is both psychedelic and prog-like in its approach. It drops later to a percussive sort of tribal rap. Still further along we get a more straight rock approach that takes it forward to the reprise of the earlier modes. This one is an uplifting sort of ‘60’s influenced hippie music with more experimentation in the mix. An exceptionally tasty guitar solo makes its appearance amidst the vocals near the end of the track.
The Experiment
A bluesy acoustic rock mode leads this one off. The cut moves out into a weird sort of jazzy excursion that is quite cool. All sorts of textures and sounds merge and coalesce on this unique piece. There is some killer guitar work swirling around the top of much of the later portions of the track. A full-on prog break takes it over later with some rather Yes-like lines of melody. It drops to acapella at points. This is a killer track.
Impropaganda
Here we get a psychedelic number that is more hard rocking in texture. This one might be a bit odd from a prog rock perspective, but I don’t think many out there would dispute it being included in that genre. It drops into a more gentle, retro sounding segment later in an interesting twist. It explodes back out later into its earlier modes with more reckless abandon and unchecked power. Still that’s not the final word as this works its way out into a more laid back movement that feels just a small amount like Marillion, Pink Floyd and Hawkwind all rolled into one. One final reprise of the final themes ends this in fine fashion. This is another strong piece of music. It is one of my favorite tunes on show here.
Afrodesiac
An acoustic ballad approach is the order of the day as this song enters. This little jam would have felt at home on the Hair soundtrack way back in the day. It has a lot of that “age of Aquarius” texture. It is reborn into a hard edged neo-prog sort of jam, still rather odd in its delivery – but in a good way. Then a new acoustic rock soloing mode takes it. The mellow hippie sounds and more heavy textures alternate in terms of control of the track and this is another highlight.
Vibrations
Percussion and world music meets space keys and other sounds on this odd mix. Various sampled spoken snippets weave in and out over the course of the track. Even laughter shows up. At times distorted vocals come in. Then other types of music (crunchy guitar riffs, world music progressions) come across the top here and there. While this one is quite strange, it’s also really cool and one of the standouts.
Jack And Jill
Playful keyboard sounds lead this off. Eventually it kicks into an R & B infused sort of jam that calls to mind Parliament Funkadelic quite a bit. The smoking female vocal line on this is so tasty. This is one of the most one-dimensional pieces of music – and the least prog – of the disc, but it’s still quite strong.
Black Mind
A quick bass sound is heard and then the music launches in with a weird King Crimson goes reggae kind of element. The vocals remind me a lot of Jack Bruce’s in Cream. There are some spoken (but not really rapped) lines in this mix. It even turns rather metallic, but in a ‘60’s sort of way at points, and I even hear a little Hendrix mixed in with Parliament at times. This is my favorite piece of music on the whole disc. It’s a killer.
Lev'
Here the funk shows up in earnest. Between the guitar and bass sounds, this one is purely funkilicious. After this introduction the focus comes onto a great retro keyboard sound – that is again quite funky. This is another that feels a lot like Parliament – but really wasn’t Parliament almost progressive funk? This is another highlight. It moves through a lot of changes, but never loses sight of its soul and spirit. Still, the triumphant jam later truly brings in the progressive rock sounds.
Moon Emperor
The title track opens with a slow ballad approach and brushed percussion. The gentleness here is a nice break from the furor of the number before – and some of the guitar work feels a bit like some of Robert Fripp’s more sedate moments. The King Crimson comparisons are valid in more than one way as this winds up exploding into one of the most dramatic and chaotic passages on the whole album. Varying segments appear from nowhere and run through then leave again. If this ain’t prog I don’t know what is. It’s a heck of a ride, but a little too busy for a lowly music journalist to document in too much detail. Suffice it to say that it returns to the modes that started it for its final outing.
Minions
This has a more stripped down approach and lots of funk in the arrangement. It’s not one of my favorites, but it’s solid nonetheless.
Metal Dragon/BNG
A bluesy, somewhat off-kilter acoustic mode leads this off, but there are other sounds that bring a bit of variety to the mix. After a showing of vocals in a few lines this shifts out to a powerful funky sort of hard rocking mode. This turns towards a T-Rex sort of sound later in a glam rock abandon. It’s another winner.
The Great Escape
Pretty acoustic guitar, accompanied by bass makes up the opening to this cut. Eventually it intensifies by the addition of layers and evocative sounds. It shifts out into a very triumphant prog rock excursion after a while. Adrian Belew like guitar lines swirl around odd spoken and sung vocals that would feel at home on a Parliament disc. Eventually, though, this runs through and drops back to the gentle tones to carry it onward. Another frantic prog explosion takes it later and alternates with a melodic segment. Then a smoking guitar solo emerges to lead this one onward. The mellower sounds eventually have the final word, though. It makes for a great disc closer. While I still think I prefer “Black Mind” to this, it’s a tight race. At over 8 minutes it’s the longest on show here.
 
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