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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Salem Hill

Mimi's Magical Moment

Review by Josh Turner

They don't even sound like the same band and I hate to say it, that turns out to be a very good thing. I'd sooner think this was a new album by Kaipa or Kansas than by Salem Hill. If not for the cover, I would have been totally tricked. Now that I know the true origins of this material, I'm flummoxed to learn how much this band has actually matured. As fans, we benefit greatly from a complete overhaul. Thrown into the deal is custom detailing and a shiny wax coating. This exponential increase in value seems to be a common thread among bands on the ProgRock Record label and this band is the perfect example. They have taken their music to new heights and like Frogg Café and Little Atlas; they have done so in a dramatic way. If there were such an award, Salem Hill would get "Most Improved" Progressive Rock band. While Frogg Café and Little Atlas would be in the running, it is Salem Hill that takes home the ribbon. So long story short, Mimi's Magical Moment really moved me.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Joy Gem
This is immediately impressive and it doesn't ever let up. Each section plays like Kansas' greatest hits in succession. For this reason, it should come as no surprise to find David Ragsdale, Kansas' former violinist, present in this piece. The string sequences he constructs are quite brilliant. The elegant use of the bells is clever as well. I found myself thinking at one point that a certain part was strangely similar to the music of Neal Morse. No more than a second after this thought crossed my mind, Neal's voice apparates (Ask any 8 year old and they should be able to tell you what this means) out of thin air. It's obvious they've been influenced by this man and you can tell these students have studied their progressive homework. Their vocals, arrangements, everything are very much improved. While their earlier efforts may have been slightly amateurish in nature, this is high-quality caliber stuff. I'd put it right at the top of the stack. I can't say I feel guilty for my judgment or criticism. It's alright; because I know they have climbed to a whole new peak. This, however, leaves one major dilemma. They've reached such mountainous heights; I'm not exactly sure how they can take it to the next level. This is like going from a losing record to winning the national championship and this first song is quite the coming out party. They've raised the bar and set entirely new expectations. The lyrics are hard to understand, but they can do no wrong. Even those are utterly absorbing as well. This will appeal to fans of Transatlantic's Bridge Across Forever and Kansas' Song for America. There's even a piano-like interlude wedged into the middle that borrows from Steve Walsh and Neal Morse. As long as they're working in some really great influences, the guitars swish like Steve Howe and their guest vocalist Alyssa Hendrix sounds an awfully lot like Kaipa's Aleena. Taking all this in, they could not have begun any better.
All Fall Down
In the past, Salem Hill may have been guilty of sameness, but all you need to do is go just one track further and you'll find something significantly different. While they may have started in epic form, they follow it up with this semi-short ballad. If the first allegedly copied Transalantic or Kansas, this one could be taken out of the line-up as it's substantially less tumultuous. The voices are all angelic whether they sing alone or work together in harmony. Throughout the course of this song, I hear Beach Boys, Spock's Beard, Moody Blues, and The Beatles. Billy Joel's "Piano Man" is definitely in the chorus. There are Latin licks at the interior with Jeff Eacho's flutes. It's like Ian Anderson hand-in-hand with The Tangent's Canterbury Sequence. Parts of this song also remind me of that fabricated fifties hit from that clever flick called That Thing You Do. Unapologetically, it ends with child play and the last lines of that classic kiddy song, "Ring Around the Rosie."
Stolen By Ghosts
For an epic, it's unusually unique and never all that redundant. The reprisals are done efficiently and effectively. There are a lot of different parts sequenced together, but by no means is it piecemeal. Actually, the framework it's modeled on is absolutely ingenious. It's elegantly knitted like a complex crochet blanket. The sadder and softer parts have the aura of Alan Parson's Project. We get a wily and witty patch of Izz. Oddly enough, the "new" Spock's Beard is stitched all over it. There's a sketch of A Guy Named Sid and a smattering of A Flash Before My Eyes. Transatlantic even pops in again for another peek. This time they bring "All of the Above," which is appropriate, considering this band is dabbling in it all. The greatest area of improvement is in their drums and this song probably demonstrates their most significant adjustments. They continue to use this atypical instrument, but find a way to use its irregular attributes to their advantage. The spot where Michael Dearing sings alone with the piano is heart-wrenching and the wrap-up is emotionally intense. In addition, there is an interesting and unexpected Genesis passage that trails this piece. Time passes on, blurring the surreal nature of the antagonist's pain. His empty soul endures, but yet it still suffers. Flexible and fluid, the violin is naturally rubbed into the sores of this symphonic wound. This song is depressing, lonely, and profound like a candle that burned too brightly and then burnt out completely. All around, it's a seriously well-written song and it's served with a slab of bittersweet emotion. This one hurts so very good. It's hard to pick a favorite, because everything on this album is done so well. The first track is terrific, but this may very well be the best one. It's an exquisite and defining piece that takes that coveted middle spot on the mantle.
The Future Me
This embodies all the elements they did right in the earlier songs and yet it's still distinct. To get an idea of how this track sounds, think of Transatlantic's "Duel with the Devil." In my humble opinion, the bass was always the strength of Salem Hill. In this track, Patrick "John" Henry's hammer hits so hard, the ringing bell is knocked clean off the top. In layman's terms, this is probably where it sounds the best. The guitar is like Krister from Karmakanic and Alyssa drops in for another appearance. She brings along Fred Schendel as her guest and he creates a superb solo on the ivory keys. Additionally, each song offers something special and different. In this case, on top the many layers of progressive pie, they incorporate accessible avant-garde in the fashion of Far Corner. So far, this is one of my favorite albums up the year. It's up there with Neal Morse's ? and Tomas Bodin's I A M. I can hardly believe it, but this is really as good as the aforementioned masters. The music caught my ear, but something on the sleeve caught my eye. This album was dedicated to Jerry Keller. They couldn't have given him a more melodious, magical, or momentous memorial than this marvelous album.
 
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