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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Al Stewart

Past, Present and Future

Review by Gary Hill

You really can’t beat Al Stewart. His music is always effective and powerful. As this new reissue shows, he has a wide range of sounds. I can see with people arguing with this landing under “progressive rock,” but honestly, there is enough prog here for me to include it there. I’ve seen debates online about whether or not Al Stewart is prog, and they seem pretty evenly divided. What’s not in question is the quality of this set. It’s great stuff, and that is certain.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Old Admirals

It would be easy to think of this as strictly a folk song. The thing is, the layers of sound built into it, along with some of the changes, land this closer to the folk prog that emerged in the 1970s. I love the dropped back sections. The Maritime elements here are classic. So is the sound of the organ. The vocals are the real selling factor, though. I love the symphonic touches to this piece, too. This is complex and extended. It’s also just so cool.

Warren Harding
It might be a stretch to call this track prog. That said, it’s an energetic rocker that’s a lot of fun.
Soho (Needless to Say)
The overlayers on this bring some prog to the table. Yet, there is also a fast paced funk vibe at hand. This is great stuff. The instrumental section on this with the multiple layers of soloing guitar is definitely at least jazz, if not prog rock.
The Last Day of June 1934
Country music elements, straightforward rock and folk prog all merge on this energetic rocker. I love the intricate guitar at the end.
Post World War Two Blues
This is like a folk prog version of something Arlo Guthrie would do. It’s fast paced music with some hints of bluegrass.
Roads to Moscow
The intricate guitar section that opens this is very much like something you might expect from early King Crimson. The cut works out into a powerful arrangement that is very much progressive rock to me. It’s evocative and the music just weaves so much magic. As the arrangement fills out later with chorale vocals and more layers of instrumentation, not only does it become more powerful, it also lands far more in the prog rock territory. This is definitely one of the best songs here. This is epic in scope and even in duration, really.
Terminal Eyes
This is much more of a rocker. It’s a cool cut. The shifta and changes here are definitely prog rock. Sure, it’s an AOR kind of thing, but this is classy prog.
Nostradamus
There is a bouncy vibe to this. It’s definitely folk prog with a rock element. It’s also a lot of fun. I like this one a lot. It’s one of my favorites here. The later sections rock out more and bring some real prog to the proceedings. Parts of this make me think of the first Hawkwind album a bit, when it mellows back down. This is another piece that’s of epic length and scope. There are so many different movements. The energized jamming later really rocks. This lasts almost ten minutes.
Bonus Tracks
   
Terminal Eyes (Single Version)

Here we get a single version of the most rocking tune of the set. I think I might like this version better. It’s more direct and condensed and somehow that works well for it.

Swallow Wind
Here is more of a straightahead rocker. There are some cool changes and enough proggy elements to keep it in that genre.
Nostradamus (Single Version)
A single version of an epic piece has to be a bit of difficult proposition. What gets cut? What stays?  I have to say this shortened, simpler, version loses some of the magic, but it’s still pretty good.
 
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