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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Art in America


Review by Gary Hill

Built around a trio of siblings, one particularly unusual aspect of this band is the use of harp in rock music. This is their second album. Their legendary first disc was released all the way back in 1983. It was eponymously titled and the title track got radio airplay and was featured on MTV. In many ways this feels like it could have been recorded at the same time. The band's form of AOR prog seems largely unchanged. The production is the big difference as that first set was handled by long-time Yes producer Eddy Offord, and had a real Yes kind of vibe a lot of the time. This one feels a bit more straightforward in terms of production. It doesn't make the album any less effective, though. I just hope it doesn't take another 36 years for us to hear more new music from this act.

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Track by Track Review
A Tale of the Unexpected
A sound bite that seems like it might be a movie on a television starts this. Other sounds are heard including someone answering a phones as rhythmic element emerges. The cut builds out from there with a lot of style. After exploring more powered up, but still quite melodic, themes for a while we get a drop to tribal percussion. Then more sound effects and other oddities emerge over the top of that before the more rocking melodic sounds return. This is an energetic instrumental that makes me think of Alan Parsons in a lot of ways. It's a cool introductory piece. It drops to what sounds like a marine workout chant at the end.
I Am I
A piano led keyboard arrangement brings this into being. It works out from there with a more AOR prog rocking texture for the entrance of the vocals. The cut explores calling to mind things like Saga and Alan Parsons from there. This is both catchy and meaty with its prog stylings. This is classic Art in America that feels like no time has passed between their debut album all those years ago and this one today.
A mellower cut, this has an AOR prog ballad approach. Intricate patterns of sound live at the core of this number. Some parts of this, particularly when it drops to just instruments mid-track, make me think of Genesis a bit. As it powers up later along the road we're back into Alan Parsons-like zones. This is a pretty and particularly effective piece of music.
More of a blues rock based thing at heart, this still has plenty of killer prog built into the structure. This is another particularly catchy tune. It definitely has an AOR edge to it. There are some interesting sound bites built into this thing, including a bit from "Uncle Buck."
The New Swami
Another rocker, this has more of a pure prog sound. It's still flavored with a bit of an AOR edge. The hooks on this are so cool. The whole track is magic. It's also one of my favorites here. This tune has some great shifts and changes. A new classic from Art in America, this even has a psychedelic exploration at the end. Then again, with that title, it sort of had to, didn't it?
Someone Called My Name
More of a mainstream melodic rocker, this is a solid tune. It's Art in America so they infuse enough prog to keep it interesting, but this is one of the most mainstream tunes here. The vocal performance gets particularly powerful, and I love the backing vocals on this, too.
For Shelly
This is another highlight of the set. It comes in as a powerful acoustic guitar driven melodic rocker. It grows gradually and has a particularly evocative vocal arrangement. The prog elements come with a lot of the overlayers. It drifts into some trippy, rather spacey zones around the halfway mark, but works back to a modified version of the earlier half of the number at it continues. It retains some of that dreamy element, though.
When We Were Young
This number comes in particularly mellow and stays that way for quite some time. Atmospherics really drive it for more than a minute. Then again, this is over seven-and-a-half minutes long, so it has room for that kind of expression. It gets into more AOR melodic prog as the cut shifts into the vocal driven portion. There are some spacey and proggy elements over the top of a pretty mainstream rock arrangement. I love the slow moving, melodic and expressive guitar soloing that emerges over the top later in the number. The piece works to some variants and changes as it continues, getting into a mellower prog exploration on an instrumental break.
More sedate, intricate textures bring this into being and serve as the backdrop for the vocals as it gets underway. Then around the one-minute mark it seems to end. After a short pause a rocking purely progressive rock based thing takes over. This is one of the most powerful passages of the set, and the song is one of the strongest here. It works though some variants as it continues and there are some sound bites that emerge in the mix.
Don't Look Down
A guitar sound begins this in a rather singer songwriter way. After the first set of vocals it gets an infusion of hard rock added to the mix. This isn't the proggiest thing here, but there are plenty of prog elements on the layers on top of the mix. The guitar solo on this thing is purely on fire.
No Wonder
A bouncy and quite classy prog number, this is a lot of fun. There are some hints of world music in the mix here.
Goodbye My Love / Mind's Eye / Peace of Mind
At almost eight-and-a-half minutes of music, this suite is the epic of the set. While the opening movement is bouncy and catchy, it's packed full of progressive rock adventure, too. It creates an accessible and yet meaty opening movement. Around the three-and-a-half-minute mark it shifts to a dramatic and mellower sound that has hints of Pink Floyd built into it. This second movement, an instrumental one, evolves as a picked guitar part joins and other layers create some dramatic trippy sounds to carry it forward. Then a new fast paced prog jam slowly rises from there to move things forward. This has so much of that classic Art in America sound. It is proggy, driving and still very catchy in an AOR way. We're back into vocal zones with this part of the tune.
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