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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Jim Griffin

To a Far City

Review by Gary Hill

I first heard about Jim Griffin when I reviewed an album from his band Zombie Picnic. Well, this is his new solo album. Not only do I love the music, but the whole thing is inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's "The Quest of Iranon." Since I'm currently working on an updated and revised edition of The Strange Sound of Cthulhu: Music Inspired by the Writings of H.P. Lovecraft, this takes on a special significance. The thing is, even without that connection this is so worthwhile. It's a trippy kind of journey that is really befitting the story. The album is made up mostly by a number of epic pieces. Even the one short number is still five minutes long. That would be a long song on a lot of discs. If you like adventurous folk based prog rock with healthy helpings of psychedelia, you should love this.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
An Ocean Mind
Weird trippy sounds open this. As the sounds of the ocean are heard in the backdrop, the music has dropped back. There is a rather psychedelic element that rises up in echoey ways to move it forward.  A distant spoken voice is heard among the sound-effects as it makes its way. Eventually some acoustic guitar rises up in an intricate melody to lead the next movement. Other musical elements are part of the arrangement as it works forward in an intriguing mellow prog motif. After the three minute mark electric guitar enters, and we're taken into a killer hard rocking prog jam. There is some great guitar soloing over the top and the cut works back toward the more melodic, but still retains some of that crunchy edge. It drops to weird atmosphere as it approaches the half-way mark of the song (this is 14 minutes long). More effects and sedate music create the next movement here, seeming to link it to the opening of the piece. After the seven and a half minute mark it rocks out with a fast paced, electric guitar driven movement that is so cool. It eventually works to a crescendo, and mellower music takes over again. Then an almost fusion based melodic rock movement enters to herald in the next movement. The first vocals of the album come in amidst this arrangement. They are kind of echoey and understated. Bits of processed vocal, almost like some trippy echo, are heard at times alongside the main vocal. After a while this works out to a killer jam band meets prog kind of thing after the vocals have ended. More mainstream rocking singing comes in over the top of that backdrop. Near the end that completes, and then more of the ambient sound enters to eventually end the piece.
(i) Clouds

While this cut is shorter than the opener, it's still ten-minutes of music. An acoustic guitar arrangement creates a folk prog backdrop. A spoken vocal brings direct lines from H.P. Lovecraft's text as the tune grows. There is some great instrumental work as the musical element develops. Sound effects and a child are heard after the end of that spoken voice. There is still music here, but it's sparser. Then a drum beat enters as the effects and child are still present. The cut begins to build back out from there in more of a pure melodic prog jam as it continues. Eventually it works its way through and drops back for a repeat of the section with the child and effects. Then more of that drum based element takes over for a while. As it gets into more of a full prog arrangement again there are some cool bits of melody. I love the keyboard sounds over the top. Again, an interlude brings back the child amidst a mainly acoustic guitar based arrangement. From there we're taken into a full percussive movement before other music rises up and threatens to explode forward. It drops to a keyboard based section with some noisy percussion elements as the spoken voice returns, moving the story onward. In some ways this bit makes me think of Vangelis just a little. The cut grows outward with some cool acoustic guitar chording. Then an electric guitar brings in a tentative melody and the cut begins to become more of a full prog rock journey. It drops back to the strange percussive elements to end.

(ii) A Chance To Dodge
Another epic length piece, this weighs in at 14 minutes. The sounds of the sea serve as the backdrop for some acoustic guitar work. As the arrangement fills out, it has more of world music turned folk vibe. It continues like that for a couple minutes before dropping way down for some vocals. Then, as that part continues seemingly more echoey and distant, there are sound effects added to the mix. The "song" section comes a bit closer before the effects drop down and a fairly lush instrumental movement takes the piece onward along its journey. There are some weirdly processed spoken vocals after a time. It works its way forward with some cool melodies as more sung vocals enter. The prog rock section that builds out is slow, but powerful. It drops to symphonic elements for the next spoken vocal. The cut continues to evolve with intriguing prog twists and turns. I particularly like the killer melodic prog movement around the 11 minute mark. It has some intriguing counter-points and instrumental work.
(iii) Moon Viewing
A ten-minute piece, the sound of crickets and other effects start things here. It gradually builds out from there. With some incidental bits of music in the mix, eventually an intricate acoustic guitar part starts and builds out in tasty folk prog ways. As the vocals are heard, I'm reminded a bit of some early Pink Floyd. It works through getting into more powered up prog stylings, but then drops back down to mellower stuff to continue later. Folk music stylings eventually work upward to create a powerful, but rather sedate folk prog tapestry. It drops away before this is over, with just acoustic guitar remaining at first to be replaced by the effects.
The Gifts of My Journey
This is the shortest cut here at just five minutes of music. It's the most mainstream thing here, too. I can make out hints of things like the Grateful Dead, but merged with more pure folk prog sounds. It eventually works out to some trippy space music at the end.
 
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