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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Sean Filkins

War and Peace & Other Short Stories

Review by Alison Reijman

One of the great legacies of English prog rock is its continuing additions to its anthology of albums at whose heart is the storyteller’s art. Jethro Tull, Genesis, Pink Floyd, Marillion and many others have all delivered great collections all with a central storyline and in some instances continue to do so.

But now and again comes along a new “voice” with an original take on the art of storytelling, in this instance, Sean Filkins. By no means a newcomer to the business, Filkins is a time-served and seasoned performer whose previous band was the highly acclaimed Big Big Train. Such was their standing that among the guest performers on their Difference Machine were Spock’s Beard’s Nick D’Virgilio and Dave Meros and Pete Trewevas from Marillion.

That was then, and right now, armed with an album title first conceived way back in 1992 and some song lines based on personal stories, Sean’s first solo album is one of those “oh so English” prog gems which just shimmers with life and radiates a unique energy. Surrounding himself with some excellent musicians such as John Mitchell from It Bites, Gary Chandler from Jadis, Lee Abrahams from Galahad and his old musical partner John Sammes from Indigo Pilots, the overall effect is a joyful tapestry of emotionally-charged and memorable soundscapes.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Are You Sitting Comfortably?

Think Atom Heart Mother as a radio crackles into life, a pot of tea is made and the strains of Jerusalem set the scene for the ensuing story.

The English Eccentric
Frenetic keyboards, crashing drums and a chunky guitar explode to kick off the album’s flagship song, setting the scene for the storyline on this CD. Filkins’ voice has a terrific warmth and lyrical quality. Does he sound like any other British prog singers? Possibly, but as this track unfolds, with a rumbling bass and an underpinning guitar riff one second and a dash of acoustic guitar the next, this is a beautifully crafted and thoughtful song about the man who sees life “through rose tinted glasses.” Without doubt this is one of this reviewer’s personal favourites of 2011 so far.
Prisoner of Conscience Part One, the Soldier
The pastoral sounds of walking through the countryside to the accompaniment of birdsong suddenly gives way to the abrupt overhead roar of aircraft  followed by the sound of plaintive flute trailed by frantic tablas and sitar. From here, the story takes on a more somber twist as a nurse (Filkins’ wife Amanda) announces the patient is coming around. From here, Filkins takes up the story of suffering and conscience of what it is like to be a frightened soldier. Sweeping changes of tempo, dramatic keyboards and intense guitars, including the most delightful flamenco passage, provide the backdrop to Filkins’ soaring vocals. You can so palpably hear his pain and confusion.
Prisoner of Conscience Part Two, The Ordinary Man
A very simple keyboard and guitar motif launches Filkins straight into the next chapter of the soldier’s tale which is very much voice and lyric driven. Again his voice swoops to new heights on this gorgeous bittersweet celebration of life and love which builds through more exemplary keyboards from John Sammes and Gerald Mulligan’s solid drumming. And then comes John Mitchell’s full blown guitar solo which leads into the song’s glorious climax in which you feel the vanquished has at last conquered his demons of war. 
Epitaph for a Mariner
The most complex of all the songs begins with Filkins’ daughter Abigail singing the sailor’s hymn, “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.”  The sounds of crashing  waves take us into the dreamy, haunting “Siren’s Song” passage with a piano-led melody and swirling enticing sounds with Daisy Sammes providing the siren’s voice. This is another incredibly beautiful interlude in this wonderful collection. Again, this morphs smoothly into “Maelstrom,” with its wonderfully modulated keyboard sequence over a solid beat and guitars from Lee Abrahams.  And the lyrics are spoken deep in the mix before the pay-off “The sea’s no friend to man” looms large.

The composition then goes straight in to a musical meditation, “Ode to William Pull,” a tribute to the eponymous mariner, one of the brave men of the sea who never made it.

“Epitaph” is then the finale with Filkins again calling the shots with his searing vocals joining forces with wonderful keyboards and guitars for the “Oceana” refrain that suddenly gives way to a plaintive piano solo, which makes for a fitting end to an epic track.

Learning to Learn
Again, the piano introduction is a perfect launch pad for Filkins’ gentler tones with a flute and acoustic guitar accompaniment, which builds beautifully into a fluid guitar solo by Darren Newitt before the tempo changes again into a meditational passage complete with sitar and tabla. Through it, Filkins brings about an optimistic and uplifting close to a stunningly original collection.

               

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