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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Jeffery Michael Straker

Vagabond

Review by Gary Hill

I really like this set a lot. It combines modern sounds with older ones to create something that’s familiar and yet fresh. The songs, with different arrangements would feel like they could have been released at just about any time in the last 50 years. There is a universal element to them. These are songs that should feel comforting in terms of their familiarity. Still, the overall concept is modern at the same time. This is cool stuff.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Birchbark Canoe

Percussion opens this. Then some electronics joins. The sound becomes sort of a modern, minimalist approach to an older sound. There are some tasty piano and some intriguing older sounds in the mix. The vocal arrangement is interesting, too. This is a great song. The harmonica adds a lot to the mix. It’s based on a real merging of older and newer sounds. It’s unusual and unexpected. It’s also strong. More layers of sound later move it beyond that “minimalist” heading.

Rosetta Stone
There is a folk rock vibe, much like the music that came out in the 1960s and 1970s, to this. Yet, it’s also modernistic in many ways. The vocal hook to this one is very accessible. That makes it work even better than the opener did.
Burn the Boats
Somehow, I’m reminded of the bluesy ballad side of Elton John on this mellower, but very evocative tune. Sure, there are more modern elements here, perhaps like Radiohead, but that EJ vibe is present, too.
Botanic Gardens
There is a lot more energy to this cut. It’s bouncy and fun. It combines a bit of that modern sound with a classic rock element. There is a lot of psychedelia here. This is one of the best pieces of the whole set. It’s classic and yet modern at the same time. There are some great hooks, both musical and vocal ones. I really like this number a lot.
Sans Souci
While there are more modern elements (and even a proggy keyboard dominated jam later) to this, it really makes me think of a cross between Little Richard and Elton John. It’s a great high energy rock and roll song more than it is anything else.
Raven

Although this is more or less a piano based tune, it turns to a more rocking motif mid-track. This is a great example of that classic sound paired with modern elements. It’s also a strong number that’s among the highlights here.

Cathode Rays
Symphonic elements serve as the icing on the top of a piano and vocal song. I prefer not to call this one a ballad, though. That’s because it’s got a lot more energy and power than that word conveys. It gets every emotional and powerful. This is one of the best songs of the whole set.
Myopia
Another great composition, this is more of a diverse rocker. It has mellower and more rocking sections. It’s got a lot of range in terms of sound and instrumentation. It’s a fun number that still manages to combine classic sounds with modern ones. It’s another standout.
Foolish (twitter love lament)

This piece is less than a minute long. It’s essentially a piano based ballad. It’s a good tune and I normally wouldn’t consider ending on something like this a good move, but it works well. It’s a nice cap to end a great disc.

 

 
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