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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

District 97

Screenplay

Review by Gary Hill

This new live set from District 97 is pretty strong. The band is a unique one, combining fusion, traditional prog, metal and more. Most of the vocals are of the female variety (Leslie Hunt), but Jim Tashjian also sings lead sometimes. The first CD and part of the second contains original songs from the band's catalog, while a big chunk of the second includes covers. The music here is not all from one show, but rather tracks are taken from various gigs.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2021  Volume 3. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2021.


Track by Track Review
Disc One
                     
Forest Fire

After a spoken section the drums start the show. The rest of the band join in a powerhouse progressive rock jam. The cut has some interesting twists and turns in an adventurous prog arrangement. It has some really dramatic and powerful moments along the road. There is a pure fusion break with some psychotic guitar work at one point. There is an excursion into freaky space further along that gives way to very freeform jamming.

Sheep
This is a frantic, crazed number with a lot of strange textures and changes. Fusion, metallic textures, Rock In Opposition leanings and more merge on this song. There is a smoking hot guitar solo movement further down the road that gives way to a keyboard break. From there the cut drives upward in some intriguing ways.
Sea I Provide
I love the guitar sound on this. It has a meaty, almost metal texture. The cut has some killer twists and turns. I'm reminded at times of Dream Theater to some degree. This is more AOR based than the first two tracks were. It's definitely more mainstream. Of course, District 97 only get so mainstream.
Bread & Yarn
Keyboards are the only backing for the first vocals (of the dual male and female variety) of the song. That motif holds it for a time. This is another cut that's more mainstream. It gets pretty hard rocking. The male vocals are the dominant ones on this number. This is a powerhouse tune. There is a unique keyboard break around the halfway mark of the song. The number turns to an almost metallic jam from there to take it to its closing.
Trigger
This is even more AOR based. It has some seriously prog based diversions, but at its heart is a hard rocking jam. This has some really dramatic moments, though. The closing section is an intriguing little foray into hard rock.
After Orbit Mission
This is a cool bass solo that has a bit of a fusion vibe to it.
Shapeshifter
Coming out of the previous cut, there is a cool, tastefully off-kilter fusion prog jam at the start of this. It drops down from the opening for the entrance of the vocals. There is some screaming hot metallic stuff beyond that first vocal movement, but the cut drops back down afterward for the next vocals.
Blueprint
Fusion and more melodic progressive rock merge on this cut.
Ghost Girl
I was a big fan of this song when I first heard it on the studio album from which it comes. A piano and vocal arrangement starts it, and the cut grows outward from there. It suddenly pounds in with a metallic fury around the two-minute mark. It screams out as it continues. This number continues to evolve with a real hard-edged and powerhouse prog arrangement. They end the song, and there are some introductions. Then we get quite a bit of silence, but hang in there. Some cool heavy prog jamming emerges beyond that quiet. This short instrumental movement is classy.
Disc Two
         
Divided We Fall
This comes in seriously metallic and drives out with a real raw rock meets prog approach. There are melodic sections that feel quite jazzy providing some great contrast.
Jealous Guy

This is a guitar and vocal solo. It's also a cover of the John Lennon song. It's also just a little less than a minute-and-a-half long.

Snow Country
There is a fairly mainstream introduction on this. That gives way to a powerhouse jam and a transition to more unusual prog. This cut is mean, expressive and powerful. It's a great pairing of seriously metal-based music and progressive rock.
Takeover
I dig the hard rocking edge on this. There is a real 70s riff rock vibe. The vocals are more soulful hard rock based. Yet, there are still prog breaks and some Dream Theater like moments here, too.
The Actual Color
This is another potent rocker that's diverse. It has hard-edged rock, fusion and unusual prog all rolled up into one.
A Lottery

There are some melodic and reflective parts of this track. Harder rocking movements create contrast. I dig the keyboard dominated instrumental break a lot.

Termites

This killer tune is one of the most successful here. It has a pretty perfect combination of mainstream hard rock, metal and powerhouse prog. It even turns out into some extreme metal for a while.

Presto Vivace

The first of a series of cover songs, this is a solid rendition of the UK instrumental piece.  While I definitely prefer the original, the keyboard sounds on this are an intriguing touch.

Back in N.Y.C.

Coming out of the previous piece, this is a Genesis song. The vocals bring more of a hard rock edge to the song. I don't think this is as successful as the previous one was, but it is interesting and effective enough. Then again, it's not one of my favorite Genesis songs, anyway.

Travels with Myself-and Someone Else

The first of a couple Bill Bruford pieces, this instrumental jazz fusion cut gets a great live rendition here. I'd consider this more successful than either of the previous two songs.

Fainting in Coils

Another Bruford tune, this has spoken male vocals over the top of it as it starts. The cut works out into a hard-edged, up-tempo fusion jam. Again, they do the song justice with a scorching hot rendition.

Long Distance Runaround

Here we get a classic Yes song. The bass is pretty far up in the mix, and they play it pretty faithfully. This is actually a really strong version of the tune.

Red

From Yes, they make their way to King Crimson. They play this one quite faithfully, too. It really rocks like crazy.

21st Century Schizoid Man

Another King Crimson cover, this screamer turns more metallic than the original, and that says a lot. The vocals are male ones this time around. This is a powerhouse. It's not played completely faithfully, but it's also almost an augmentation. I'd consider it a smashing success.

Out on the Tiles

Other than the actual closer (yes, this is listed as the last song, but there is an encore track - hinted at on the track list) this is the most unexpected cover tune of the bunch, coming from Led Zeppelin. I think that the instrumental mix on this is too far down, or the voice is too far up in the mix. It's a good version, though. It just seems kind of subdued because of the recording and mix. There is a radio announcer after the song. Then they announce that they are going to play one more.

Unlisted Track (Walking on Sunshine)

A cover of the hit from Katrina and the Waves, they bring a metal edge to this song. It's an interesting change, and a fun number, but not a highlight of the set.

 
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