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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Various Artists

There Is Hope: Disaster Relief USA

Review by Larry Toering

This is so good it's almost unreal, as there are thirty two tracks from which to choose. Combined they take you to the moon and back with some of the most interesting music I've heard in a while. I don't normally review compilations, and I knew this might be a very daunting task to describe without completely giving away everything about it. The list of artists featured is a staggeringly good one, with contributions by from some artists I'm actually familiar with. For instance, prog outfits such as Clark Colborn, Six Elements, Gary Hill and Corvus Stone, as well as so many I've never heard of but will be exploring further. I haven't been this pleased with a compilation in years, and all put together for a great cause, being Disaster Relief USA. It comes highly recommended by this writer who simply can't get enough of the sheer beauty to be found on it. It might sound glowing the way I describe it, but glow is what the music does, like that of the sun. All proceeds from this disc go to help relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy and you can purchase it here: http://thereishoperecords.com/album/disaster-relief-usa.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Sunshine And Bullets – Give Them Hell

This is a pure smack in the face to start of such an eclectic set of music. There is a lot going on here with change-ups galore, containing everything from alternative rock and pop, to softer and even harder touches of metal and grunge. Adding to the mix, great female and male vocals are blended together perfectly.

Mama Kaz – Surviving
Speaking of female vocals, this is a completely different but equally enjoyable cut. However, this is much more up my alley, but it contrasts the opening track perfectly, in its description of survival, which hits a home run for this release. It is beautifully crafted, indeed.
The Robo Drum - A Little Faith

This sticks close to the previous track with s similar vibe, and once again female vocals are featured in this interesting band. A very soothing melody really drives this to another level, though, with tasty acoustic guitar lines. By this time the set really oozes that prog vibe by way of variety and conceptual order concerning the concept of the whole project. And, it even contains some rapping, backed by a killer electric lead. This is brilliant, all there is to it. I love it.

John Orr Franklin - Shadow of Liberty
There is sort of a military feel to this, not to say that it's applied in any hard-core fashion, but rather there is just something spiritual about the whole thing. Things just get more interesting as it goes here, with another killer track with blistering guitar work.
Lisa LaRue 2KX - Recurring Dream

 This is a more delicate number altogether, with an interesting intro motif to set it up, as it goes into a whole other realm of  equal but completely different vibes. There is a very cerebral atmosphere to this, yet it contains some dark shading, as well. An almost gospel appeal is also very strongly felt. What a sublime listening experience this gem is. There’s no calling this anything straightforward, it's prog all the way.

Barbara Rubin - Angel Heartbeat

This track starts with a piano bit that instantly goes into a female vocal melody, not that unlike bands like Evanessence, but much more identifiably unique. There is a lovely whispering quality to the voice that really commands the entire track. Once again this is brilliant.

Way Up - 3 AM
If the last song was unique, this is quite the opposite but not in a bad way. They just sound very reminiscent of Tool, in fact very much so, as I almost thought it was them the first time I heard it. This is another killer track with a very percussive vibe.
Paul D'Adamo - Miss You
How cool is this? At this point in the set you would never expect such a jazzy number to sooth the already already exquisite vibes to be found so far. I like every note of this and definitely want to hear more from this artist.
Reasonable Project - Fire In Your Liberty
This is a deceiving number at first, as it starts off very slowly. Just when you think it's going to stay that way, it goes into a completely mesmerizing hypnotic track altogether. This is simply another fine piece of work with searing guitar and female vocals.
Amadeus Awad - Autumn Eyes
The blues come calling here, and what a fine groove it contains. It really goes perfectly with the previous tune, but with a lighthearted male vocal to contrast it. It is beautifully delivered, as the acoustic guitar comes on strong. In fact, I think this is one of the most interesting tracks on offer.
Halo - Tigers Hand
This is a lot more along the same lines and fits so well they could almost be the same band, and the go factor once again is very evident here, and I mean in the AOR sense. However, this does contain a lot more going for it in the vocal department.
The Minstrels Ghost - Avalon Part 2
This is even more of the same along the lines of the previous two, however it contains a guitar bite they don't, which is contrasted with light harmonic touches. And some seriously nice guitar work that has a mainstrem ring to it, at least in terms of its hard-edged sound.
Triphon - Open The Gates
Now we have a full blown metal fest of the prog inclined sort, but also in the death metal sense. I like how bands today blend melodies with vocal parts that come on so strong that you'd think they would never be heard together. It's well rounded out with alternative rock factors going for it, too. This is a very interesting track in every way. Somewhere between GWAR and System Of A Down, is the only way I can describe it.
Jordi Kuragari - Bounced
A lot of these tracks start off with a vibe that finds them easily as good as instrumentals, and you never know which one is actually going to wind up being one. Well, this is the first one on offer, and it's absolutely stunning, a guitar piece that anyone would like. This is where there is no denying this compilation is more prog than not. This is just killer!
Corvus Stone - October Sad Song
Corvus Stone are actually one of four artists on offer whom I have heard and reviewed before, and they are definitely a prog sensation with which to reckon, as this is extremely satisfying and then some. The guitar playing on this, along with the synth is just out of this world. This is easily one of the high points here, with amazing improvisation and trade offs between said guitar and keyboard. This  is simply wild!
The Inner Road - Beyond The Horizon
This has a very commanding intro with a mystifying, almost gothic feel to it. It’s another instrumental, but with less guitar dominating it. I find it to be as good as most anything surrounding it here.
Scarlet Hollow - 20 20
For once in several tracks so far, this takes the listener to a different place, and a fine place it is. More female vocals get a lead role and they're fantastic. This is so mellow and just plain sweet with ups and downs that don't lose each other throughout the track. At this point there is not one bum note in the set of well put together artists. More great searing guitar is featured on this, as well. There is almost a Heart feel to this. “Bottom line is the bottom line.”
Laura Casale - Pavane De Madame Liberte
So far, there haven't really been any full blown ballads, so this comes in at the right time, and shows how well this whole collection of songs work together.
David Mark Pearce - Strange Ang31s
This is one of the more metal moments, but harking back to a more 80s sound, and it's a very welcome approach at this point. This has almost an “Iron Maiden meets the Scorpions, meets the present” ring to it. This is another killer track that I will be listening to for years to come, I like this variety that much. I'm just wondering at this point what more this guy has in store to hear in his catalog. If anything,  I feel transformed to the past while hearing this.
Nelson Blanchard - Just Like Long Ago
Even though this sounds like a classic country number, it's not without a pop quality as well, and I'm not one to listen to this sort of thing on my own, but placed within these great tracks, it somehow comes without noticing the difference in styles contained here. I would have to say this is uniquely chosen indeed, for such a harder edged set than this track carries. This gets an even crack with the rest.
Kracked Earth - Heavens Gate
I'm not sure what to call this, except for an enjoyable piece of music, and it's almost liberating to hear after all of the intensity above. I still get a prog vibe from it all, as it cuts right through everything else on offer, but I'm not so sure it's for me, but I can certainly appreciate it, and the cerebral groove it carries.
Quasar - White Heathers (Live 2011)
This is an interesting female fronted track that definitely rings of more prog, and more pop and almost gothic points, as well. I love the synth work here, very ringing of Keith Emerson or even Rick Wakeman. However, there aren't really any ELP or Yes stylings going on, just a strong resemblance of the two mentioned keyboard wizards. It really stands well on its own.
Brian Chatton - Too Fat Baby
There is an instant Latin feel to this eclectic number, with a bottom end to it that really pulsates a sort of Falco influence. You can definitely feel that Chatton himself is heavily influenced by the 80s Euro sensation. Even though it's obviously humorously playful concerning the title repeated in the chorus, I have to say I'm turned off by that, but it doesn't hurt the whole thing either.
Pat Zelenka - Platypus & Dolphin
This is way more like my kind of tune. In fact this is awesome, and I'm so glad I have it for repeated listens, as it's one of the more killer moments for me. I think it's fantastic, with its R&B inclined grooves and sweet percussive chops.
Andy John Bradford's Ocean 5 - Empty Hands
Being one of the more altogether more straightforward numbers, this has everything from a Beatles influence, folk and even jazzy factors going for it. At first it doesn't really do much in the way of inspiration, but by the end of the track all I want to do is hear it again. In fact, I've actually had to do that with several of these tracks to wrap my head around them, and that is one mark of greatness about this whole set.
Clark Colborn – Bittersweet
This is another point where I am aware of the artist in question, and Colborn has become a quite rotated artist in my playlist of late. Here he contributes one of the more beautiful tracks I've heard him do. After recently releasing a couple of solid re-worked covers, it's a joy to once again hear him in his own light. This is absolutely stunning!
Leibowitz - 1812
This is probably the most interesting take to this point. And it, along with the track above and so many others here, is full on prog. I can say this alone is another one that sells the set. What a treat this is, indeed.rt.
Jay Tausig - Mercury
Once again this is another instrumental prog fest, and certainly one of the highlights for me, with its sensational delivery of beautiful spacey and hypnotic tones. 
Gary Hill - Quasar Suite
Speaking of hypnotic, it doesn't get any more so than right here with this eleven minute, simply epic synth track from Gary Hill, another artist of whom Im aware. I become more and more enthralled with his work as I get the opportunity to hear more. Hill is not your run of the mill musician. He is so much more than that, with other writing and author work that is equally compelling as his music. This is a wild instrumental with a very space rock approach that goes just about everywhere there is to within its structure. This is one of the more amazing pieces on offer, with what I find to be most interesting as it nears the end. In fact as it does, it seems to have a start over feel, as the melody comes on with playfully strong chords at the end. Listening to this can be either soothing or distracting, depending on what it's surrounded by, and here it's no distraction, as these cuts all complement each so well that it's almost seamless. As I take the time to describe this in as much detail as possible, it still has to be heard for one to believe and fully appreciate what I'm talking about. Abstract and primitive, it almost sounds like it's being played backwards, or on what I've seen referred to before as backward piano, but synth here of course. It takes a lot to describe, simply because it's by far the longest player in the set. Stunning? Oh yes, but that does not even begin to sum it up!
Six Elements - If
This is the only track in the set that I own already, and it goes without me saying that it is indeed a prog piece, but I can't refrain from mentioning it because that is ultimately what I feel categorizes these songs together with the relief concept. This band is amazing, and I find this track to be nothing short of brilliant, not to mention based on Rudyard Kipling factors. It’s another track of the most compelling nature  here, as well as a good selling point for this compilation.
Mars Hollow – Midnight (Live)
There is some lovely guitar to bring this one into the picture, and it contains a nice baroque touch to start with, but winds up going into what almost resembles a Yes sound in some places. This is another high point for me, with yet another epic addition to help seal the progressive nature of it all. Brilliant synth work really sets this on fire, with a totally symphonic approach as it continues. There is more sheer brilliance going on here.
Fight Another Day – Rub Some Dirt On It
This closes the entire set with a bang, as this band, one of so many I've never heard, deliver a heavy rock track that can still somehow be described as prog. At least that is how it rubs me, anyway. What an exhausting set of artistic music this is for such a tragic situation to support.
 
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