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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Pentwater

Out of the Abyss

Review by Gary Hill

Combining heavy helpings of Yes, Genesis and ELP with the some of the weirdness of Frank Zappa, Out of the Abyss, and Pentwater in general had some of the quirkiest and most unusual progressive rock ever created. This album is most likely one of those albums that you will not be all that sure of on the first few listenings, but will probably grow to be one of the most prized CD`s in your collection. The vocals are quite unique, and until one gets used to them, even a bit annoying at times, but actually they are very good. Having an almost psychotic sound occasionally, these songs contain some of the most creative arrangements that I have ever heard. The musicians (Ron Fox, Phil Goldman, Ken Kappel, Mike Konopka, Ron LeSaar, and Tom Orsi) play a wide variety of instruments, augmenting the typical guitar, bass, keyboards and drums with (among other things) anvil, oboe, tubular bells and theremin. Honestly, the theremin itself earns them some points in my book. Pentwater was a Chicago area band that were performing for about 9 years in the 1970`s and this album is a compilation of material that they recorded from 1973 to 1976. All of the material here is previously unreleased with the exception of Gwen`s Madrigal, and even that is an unreleased version. This album might be a bit hard to locate, but is worth the effort. You should be able to find it through various mail order services, or directly from the label--for pricing and ordering info, contact them at Syn-Phonic, P.O. Box 2034, La Habra, CA 90631, Phone: (714) 894-9506, M-F after 6pm PST, Saturday anytime, FAX: (714) 894-9506, 24 hrs (yes, it's the same as the phone number).

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
EM 54
The intro to this one is almost a twisted old Yes sort of approach, which eventually gives way to a more conventional Yes feel. Later portions of this song point up some of the interesting instrumental/vocal interplay that this band did so well. There is an almost conglomerate Yes/Genesis sort of sound to some of the later portions of the song---which leads to sections which seem to almost alternate between the two. Lyrically, this one seems to be the story of a person stuck in a life that he does not like and he dreams of escapes of "sailing free, drifting down the roadway, you and me growing very slowly", but ultimately it is unfulfilling for "this just can`t follow through_, you`re just a wondrous thought, for I imagined you."
Take
This song seems to be a tale of the band-my hunch is that it was written towards the end of Pentwater`s career. The biographical info on this album says that the band broke up over frustration with the disco era, and I can see that in these lyrics--"We found the friends who had helped along, pushed the songs, ever since rock and roll died", "the more we`ve played, the more we`re denied". Musically, Take has a nice emotional feel to it, and they pack one heck of a lot into a 2:45 song.
Cause & Effects
Featuring some interesting bass work and fine percussion, the intro here has a very twisted sound, but then leads into a very old (first albumish) Yes feel. There is an organ break which really reminds one a lot of Rick Wakeman`s style. If this song leans in any one musical direction more than others, it would have to be in a Yes-mode, but it does contain some seriously bent passages, and a nice section that is very reminiscent of ELP. Some of the nuances of the lyrics to this song are still a bit of a mystery to me, but it seems to be rather a political/sociologically critical piece, as the following excerpt points out "You`ve seen all the love and warmth we can hold, and yet millions die, so few could die old."
Necropolis
Some nice storm effects (ala The Doors` Riders on the Storm) begin this number. Then as the instruments come in, it is in a mode very similar to the violin based sections of Hawkwind`s Hall of the Mountain Grill album. This slow, ballad type section gives way to a Kansas/Yes sort of portion, which actually reminds me a bit of Max Webster at times. After carrying on with that type of mode for a while, it jumps back into the intro section again to finish the song. This is a tale of looking forward to spending the after-life with all our legends who have passed before. "I leave tomorrow`s geniuses, hoping to find yesterday`s best". Among the honored dead who are mentioned by name, are Einstein, Handel, Bogart, Houdini, Cleopatra, George Reeves and Gene Krupa.
Billboard Smiles
This song, again, starts with the Yes stylings (including some very Chris Squireish bass work at times), dropping into some very psychotic type music, again rather in the vein of Max Webster. Lyrically a poke at corporate America, this track is almost Zappaesque at times and contains some very interesting vocal interplay. Some lyrical excerpts of interest include "Buy!! Sell!! Good!! Bad!!, It`s a game of consumer loss" and "free expression, with a yes man, we can sell slums, like a good parade".
Gwen`s Madrigal (The Violation Version)
A very energetic and somewhat jazzy section serves as the intro to Gwen`s Madrigal. Although this arrangement is a bit quirky, it really seems a bit tame compared to some of the other material on this album. This song contains some of the most solidly Yes influenced material to be found on the disc. Containing another section that seems very much in a Zappa vein, the lyrics are a story of a woman who is sort of a superhero, protecting children from sexual molestation. "Jamie finds his parts clutched in violation, some say little boys look so fine"_"Gwen flew down to save the child, touching children isn`t right". Musically, the resolution to this song is again very Yesish.
The Journeys
Lyrically, I am not really sure exactly what this song is about, but it does contain some nice positive imagery. An example of this is "Wake up! It`s morning, so take it by the tail, I must rise with freshened eyes." The general feel to the intro to this number is sort of a progressive take on Kiss` I Still Love You (although, this song predates that one by several years). There is some wonderful texturing to this song. Fairly shortly in, it begins a musical journey covering lots of unknown twists and turns, touching at times on Yes, Jethro Tull, Genesis, and ELP. The piece includes a very nice piano/acoustic guitar section.
Oceans
Containing some old Genesisesque moments and more of the severely off-center stuff, this number is almost Crimsonesque at times. Oceans seems to be a song of wanting to split the "oceans" between two people. Lyrical highlights include "with every emotion, I find a split in our oceans" and "I search for an answer, I only want to give pleasure, and someday to say, if there is a way, that I could love".
Kill The Bunny
Kill the Bunny is a quirky and rather strange instrumental with some old Yes stylings in places.
 
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