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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Al Stewart

Year Of The Cat - 2CD Remastered & Expanded Edition

Review by Gary Hill

This new version of Al Stewart's classic Year of the Cat album is all class. The first disc features the original album remixed from the original master tapes by Alan Parsons. That first disc includes one bonus track, a song recorded live in the studio. If that wasn't enough, you also get a live show on the second CD and a great booklet. It's all enclosed in nice digipack. I know that Al Stewart doesn't consider his music to be progressive rock, but many people, myself included, feel that most of it really does fit. Here's what I think is probably nearly universally accepted, though - Stewart is a great songwriter and performer. He has one of the smoothest voices in the business. Everything I have ever heard from him is incredibly high quality.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2021  Volume 4. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2021.

Track by Track Review
CD One
           
Year of the Cat
            
The Original Stereo Mix Re-Mastered

                 

Lord Grenville
The track launches in, feeling almost like it's already been going on. There are wonderful symphonic prog layers over the top of a more pure folk arrangement here. The soaring movement later is decidedly prog rock oriented and so cool.
On the Border
A faster paced tune, this is even more purely proggy than the opener was. I love the intricate acoustic guitar fills that show up throughout the run of this tune.
Midas Shadow
A dreamy kind of arrangement is on display here. This has a cool groove. It's again, decidedly proggy. The keyboards really bring something special to this cut. That's particularly true of the solo movement.
Sand in Your Shoes
A playful groove is the concept of this number. While there are still some of those proggy leanings, this is more of a pure mainstream rock song. It's fun, but not as strong as some of the others here.
If It Doesn't Come Naturally, Leave It
A higher energy rocker, this is classy stuff. It has some catchy hooks, and a lot of style.
Flying Sorcery
There are some great folk rock turned proggy concepts on this number. I really love some of the instrumental work so much. We get some harmonica on this tune. It's another slab of the kind of quality music one expects from Mr. Stewart.
Broadway Hotel
This piece is dramatic and dynamic. It covers a lot of musical territory. I really dig the violin work later in the piece. This is a powerhouse prog number based on trademark Al Stewart concepts.
One Stage Before
One of the most decidedly prog numbers here, I really love the keyboard work on the song. The whole tune is just so cool. The guitar solo is so tasty.
Year of the Cat
This is probably Stewart's best known tune. It's a pretty safe bet that if you are reading this review, you know this song. It is really a sublime piece of music. It still holds up all these years later.
Bonus Track:
                       
Belsize Blues
                
Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in September 1975

This bouncy tune is a lot of fun. It's probably not the proggiest thing here, but it's sort of down-home roots rock sound is so cool.

CD Two
                       
Live at the Paramount Theater, Seattle
                     
Apple Cider Re-Constitution
I really dig this energetic folk rocker. It's definitely not among the more prog-like moments here, but it's a lot of fun. The guitar solo is on fire.
The Dark and the Rolling Sea
This is more of a rock number, and it has some definite progressive rock in the mix. There are also hints of world music, too. The live performance is dramatic and dynamic. This is a strong piece with a number of different flavors and moods.
One Stage Before

I love this live performance of the dramatic and powerful number from the album proper. The piano really shines here, but the whole song is so classy. It's so dynamic and has so many stellar passages. The instrumental movement takes it in some great prog directions.

On the Border
Here we get a live version of another tune from the album proper. Before the song Stewart talks about the idea behind the number. This is a potent live performance of a strong song.
Broadway Hotel
This is a powerhouse jam. It is another effective live version of a strong tune from the album proper.
Roads to Moscow
There is some Russian folk music suitably built into this tune. The number seems very evocative. While the first movement is purely folk music based, as other instruments join and the cut fills in more fully, it takes on more progressive rock leanings. It gets decidedly powerful.
Year of the Cat

There is an extended spoken introduction to this cut. Stewart explains what the song is about in the introduction. The piano brings it in from there. I love the synthesizer break on this live version. The guitar soloing takes on a rather sitar-like feel at times. I have to say that I may actually prefer this live take to the studio version. It's just so strong. 

Sand in Your Shoes
This live version is energized and classy. It's a lot of fun, and a solid performance.
If It Doesn't Come Naturally, Leave It
Another powerhouse live performance, this is a great way to the end the show and the CD set.
 
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