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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Focus

Hocus Pocus: The Best of Focus

Review by Gary Hill

Focus is probably known mostly for the one song “Hocus Pocus.” This set begins and ends with that number (two different versions). In between we find that they have produced some awesome fusion and progressive rock over the years. Most of the stuff is instrumental, but there are some vocals here and there. This is probably not really for the hard-core Focus fan, but for the casual listener, it’s a great introduction.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Hocus Pocus

The best known tune from Focus, that opening riff kicks in and you are hooked. This is a killer rocker with some great jamming. When you consider it’s arguably the most popular rock track to feature yodeling (are there really any others?) and you’ve really got something special. One section after another tracks it through crazed jamming and different instruments shine at different parts of the song.

Anonymus
This starts off with a very classically based progressive rock jam. After a time it shifts towards psychedelic rock. As the flute starts soloing we’re in a more folk prog sound. The piano solo lends some jazz to this. After some proggier jamming the rhythm section takes over for a while and I love the bass playing on that section. When the rest of the instruments return this feels a lot like fusion. The guitar solos like crazy over the top of the mix. It just keeps evolving until they slow way down at the end.
House of the King

There’s an olde world music section that opens this. Then acoustic guitar fires off in a rocking pattern. As the rest of the band kick in and the flute solos over the top this feels very much like something Jethro Tull would do. It runs through like that until around the two minute mark. Then they shift it to a more hard rocking jam for a short time before returning back to the Tull-like territory to continue.

Focus

There is a real mellow, melodic fusion vibe to this thing. After the one minute mark it powers up to some soaring territory for a bit. Then it drops back down to continue. It works out to more mainstream progressive rock later, actually making me think of Yes a bit. Then they shift it back to that fusion sound. They work it through a lot of killer jamming as the piece continues. There is really a progressive rock meets fusion and jam band sound to a lot of this extended piece of music.

Janis

This is a mellower jam that’s got a lot of flute in the mix. It’s a pretty concise and cohesive piece of music. While it’s not as dynamic as the rest of the stuff here, it’s no less effective.

Focus II
Here we get back into more dynamic territory. There are some melodies here that feel very familiar to me. The cut works between progressive rock, fusion and more. It even gets into some seriously classical oriented territory. This is a powerful composition.
Tommy
This is a gentle yet powerful piece of music. It lands somewhere in the territory between fusion and melodic progressive rock. It has a few alterations as they work through. We get some pretty intense guitar soloing on this and the cut contains some non-lyrical vocals.
Sylvia
Taking us through a number of alterations, this is very much a mainstream progressive rock piece. It has classical music and more in the mix. The melodic guitar soloing is classy and the whole piece just works really well.
Focus III
A particularly mellow piece of music, this starts off with sedate sounds that make me think of Genesis a bit.  As it grows out from there, I’m still reminded of that band a bit. This is less about fusion and more about pure progressive rock, really. Eventually it grows out into more of a rocking sound, but it’s still well rooted in prog rock and not really fusion at all. There are some great melodies that ensue here. It gets grounded back down into mellow sounds later, too. It continues evolving, though and gets more rocking sounds again later.
Harem Scarem
This rocker has some cool music elements. There are some “yeah, yeah, yeah” vocals. It’s got a driving sound that’s rooted in both jazz and rock music. A mellower, melodic movement is included later in the track, too. There is some pretty intense jamming at times on this number. Like most of the group’s music, it changes a lot, but it always seems like the evolution is organic. There are some bits of “Hocus Pocus” right at the end of this.
Mother Focus
Starting with acoustic guitar there is a real classic rock meets fusion kind of feeling to this in a lot of ways. It’s got some non-lyrical vocals. They take it through quite a few changes and it’s another classic example of the greatness that is Focus.
Focus IV
Piano and flute drive this at the start. The flute drops away, though, leaving the piano to hold it for a time. Then other instruments join in a full group approach. The piece works forward via classic rock that’s slow and thoughtful, but also very melodic. They take it through a number of movements and it does land more on the fusion end of the spectrum at times. It eventually works back out to piano to end.
Bennie Helder
There aren’t any big surprises here. Instead, we get another great piece of fusion meets progressive rock that works through several variations along its path. It’s a fairly melodic number, really.
Glider
With some prominent percussion and non-lyrical vocals (including some yodeling), this number continues the fusion turned prog journey of the majority of this set. It has some great melodies and rocks out quite well, without getting really turbo-charged.
Red Sky at Night
Although there are no surprises here, this instrumental prog rocker has some great musical moments.
Hocus Pocus (US Single Version)

This version does sound quite a bit different than the original. I prefer that one to this. A lot of times songs are just edited for single use. This one seems to have a different mix. I suppose it’s cool to have both versions, but frankly, I’d rather listen to the album version any day.

 
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