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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Nolan & Wakeman

Tales by Gaslight

Review by Gary Hill

This new set collects three albums by Clive Nolan and Oliver Wakeman into one impressive box set. The whole package is so cool, (there is a bonus video showcasing the package on our YouTube channel because it's that impressive). The first CD is a rock opera concept album based on "Jabberwocky," while the second is one on the Sherlock Holmes tale "The Hound of the Baskervilles." The final disc includes a series of tracks that were recorded for a never finished set on "Frankenstein" and several pieces that had been created for the previous two albums.

This is quite a potent album from a musical point of view. Musical theater is combined with prog rock, and there is quite a bit of range. Parts of this are more AOR oriented, while others focus on meaty symphonic prog. There are narrations and sung vocals. I'm reminded a lot of times of music from Oliver Wakeman's father, Rick's solo catalog, but this does stretch beyond that territory.

In addition to the two named musicians, there are a number of notable artists included here. That list boasts names like Tracy Hitchings, Peter Banks, Rick Wakeman (as narrator on "Jabberwocky), Arjen Lucassen and many more. This is an impressive set both musically and as a complete package.

This review is available in book (paperback and hardcover) form in Music Street Journal: 2021  Volume 5. More information and purchase links can be found at: garyhillauthor.com/Music-Street-Journal-2021.

Track by Track Review
Jabberwocky
                   
Overture

Atmospheric textures rise up. A spoken voice (Rick Wakeman) rises up to deliver lines. A drumming is the first instrumentation. A powerful keyboard based movement ensues, an this cut really feels like something that would fit in Rick Wakeman's catalog. The track works outward from there with a dramatic symphonic prog arrangement. It shifts to a more prog ballad based concept for the entrance of the real vocals. It's a decidedly guitar prog based arrangement that works really well. More classically tinged symphonic prog returns at the end, as does Mr. Rick Wakeman's spoken vocal.

Coming To Town
A powerhouse hard rocking prog jam is on the menu here. The vocals are meaty and so rocking. Again, this wouldn't be out of place in Rick Wakeman's solo catalog. It drops from this harder rocking section to a mellower, melodic movement for female vocals (Tracy Hitchings). The jamming that ensues after that section is purely on fire, and the cut drives back out into the harder rocking zones from there to bring it back to its origins.
Dangerous World
Harpsichord music brings this in with a decidedly artsy and old world sound. The cut work out with vocals and whistling over the top of that basic arrangement. There is a dreamy kind of circus vibe built into this cut. When it shifts to more of a melodic prog zone, Hitchings' vocals return. The song continues to grow and evolve with killer prog music at its heart. There are some decidedly soaring and melodic concepts at play on this tune. There is a return to harpsichord music later with theatrical male vocals. There is a dramatic and rather dark twist into symphonic later and Rick Wakeman's narration returns.
The Forest
Some metallic guitar is heard as this cut gets underway. This is a real powerhouse prog stomper as the vocals come over the top. This piece works through all kinds of changes. It has some particularly powerful and intriguing prog movements.
A Glimmer Of Light
More of a ballad, this is essentially keyboards and vocals. Those vocals are provided by Hitchings, and the main keyboard sound is piano with augmentation from others.
Shadows

There is a real symphonic bombast to this piece. The cut has a lot of style and charm and some cool exploration. It's a real powerhouse.

Enlightenment
There is a lot of magic and style in this powerful prog rock number. It's a mid-tempo cut that is quite dramatic. It is intense without really rising to the level of driving hard rock. At least that applies to the bulk of the cut. It does drive upward toward more furious hard rock zones as it approaches the end of the song. There is a drop back to a playful sound, and Rick Wakeman's voice returns at the end.
Dancing Water
Trippy keyboard concepts are on display here. Some of the vocals on this track are decidedly theatrical. The whole piece has a prog rock does musical theater vibe. There are some real symphonic things at play at various times here.
The Burgundy Rose
Piano brings this number into being. The tune grows in some magical ways. There is a triumphant, uplifting feeling to it for some reason. This is a very mainstream prog piece. It's also so cool.
The Mission
The tentative opening section on this makes me think of Rush's A Farewell to Kings album to some degree. The track fires out from the introduction to a driving hard-rock section that feels like the kind of rock that was popular in the 1980s. This is prog, but definitely of the AOR variety. That said, it's a killer tune. I'm reminded of things ranging from Alan Parsons Project to Survivor on this tune. The guitar solo is purely on fire with both intense fury and melodic mastery.
Call To Arms
Decidedly symphonic prog is on the menu as this number gets underway. The track builds in a soundtrack sort of way. Rather operatic chorale vocals rise up as the instrumental arrangement is building and exploring. Rick Wakeman's narration returns later on this number. This number covers quite a bit of territory. After that first narration part the cut works to more of a hard rocking jam for a short time with more trademark Rick Wakeman type sound and some more intriguing changes ensuing as it work onward. The only real lyrical vocals of the cut appear near the end, after the second narration. They come amidst a hard rocking movement that ends the cut.
Finale
Seeming to come out of the previous piece, this begins with a hard-edged symphonic jam. It drops to mellower stuff for another narration before powering back outward after a time. This is a fairly short closing piece that has seriously dramatic and soaring symphonic prog music built into it.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
                   
Overture

Dramatic atmospherics that include the sounds of a wolf or hound are heard as this starts. A narration comes over the top, and there is a real spooky edge to the whole thing is runs through. The cut works out from there to dramatic prog that has symphonic soundtrack concepts built into it. This is a really powerful number that does a great job of readying the audience for a spectacle to come. There are some seriously bombastic moments, but mellower sections are also including, allowing for a nice dynamic range and contrast.

The Curse Of The Baskervilles
Harpsichord brings this in and serves as the focal point for the music that backs up the narration. This piece works to a driving, hard rocking prog rock concept. The vocals are of the dramatic, nearly theatrical prog variety. The cut is a real powerhouse, but it also had some dropped back, symphonic prog concepts at play.
Three Broken Threads
Continuing the story, this also has narration. It is a dramatic symphonic prog jam with some interesting twists and turns. This is particularly dynamic, nor staying anywhere all that long. While there is plenty of progressive rock in the mix, in a lot of ways, there is an energized movie soundtrack feeling to this, but delivered on prog instruments. I am also reminded of Rick Wakeman's solo work on this.
Shadows of Fate
Dramatic symphonic prog serves as the backdrop for a narration. A little after the one-minute mark the song builds out to a hard rocking prog jam. This cut has a lot of twists and turns. Its seven-minute running time creates a lot of space, and they put that to good use.
A Home in The Mire
Synthesizer music serves as the backdrop for a narration. The cut works out after that to a theatrical powerhouse prog jam. There is a drop back around the two-thirds point of the track to mellower sounds for another narration. This is a powerful, driving progressive rock tune. It has a really classic sound to it. We get another narration later.
Run for your Life
This is another powerhouse prog number at times. It has some crunchy sound in the mix and a lot of fire. Yet, it also has mellower sections and dropped down movements. I love the tone and dynamics of this cut. It's AOR based, but still meaty.
Picture of a Lady
A ballad, this has a piano and vocal arrangement. Some other instrumentation joins after a time for augmentation, but the focus remains unchanged.
The Argument
In some ways this feels like a continuation of the previous track. This is a very musical theater based track, but with a progressive rock concept at its heart.
Second Light
Keyboards are the main concept here. A narration is over the top of that element. This has a dramatic, theatrical aspect to it.
Seldon
Symphonic elements bring this in, and the cut works out from there. It explodes to hard rocking fury from there. There are some seriously powerhouse nearly heavy metal portions of this.
Death on the Moor
With keyboards, bass and atmospherics serving as the main musical concept, this includes an extensive narration. There is a good energy to this song.
By Your Side
A dramatic and evocative powerhouse balladic piece, this is quite a tasty tune.
Waiting
This is another hard rocking piece. That said, it's pure AOR prog. There is a theatrical dropped back section at the end that has another narration.
Chasing the Hound
The music here has an up-tempo driving impetus, fitting with the title. A final narration ends the story, and the prog rock explodes out from there with passion and style. It makes for a particularly satisfying close to this second CD.
Dark Fables
             
The Overture

Majestic sounds and killer symphonic keyboard textures are on hand for this cut. I really love the synthesizer work mid-track in particular. The tune drives out from there into a more powered up progressive rock jam. That said, the keyboards are still dominant.

I'd Give You Everything
A piano based arrangement starts this. The vocals come over the top of this as a balladic sort of concept. There is a theatrical element to it. There are some duet vocals on this, and the cut continues building as it works forward. It really explodes out into dramatic symphonic prog for a while.
The Mirror
I love the passion and melody of the piano that opens this track. The vocals come in over the top of that backdrop. This becomes a potent prog rock piece.
Elizabeth
This one begins with a piano solo. Synthesizer rises up after a short time, and the piece continues to evolve. This instrumental is a beautiful keyboard solo.
Why Do You Hate Me?
Distorted, processed percussion starts this track. Vocals come in over the top of it with a swinging groove. Eventually it blasts out to dramatic hard rocking prog, but it drops back to the strictly percussion arrangement. We get a much more developed and involved arrangement further down the road. I love the particularly expressive guitar solo.
The Wedding Approaches
Again, this begins with a keyboard arrangement. The piece has a pretty and rather old-fashioned arrangement. This piece is beautiful and quite classical in nature. There is a real operatic quality to it.
Time Passes
This is another symphonic piece of music as it gets underway. It explodes outward into smoking hot symphonic prog from there. This is a screaming hot tune. As the vocals join, the piece turns to more of a hard-rocking AOR prog sound. It's driving and powerful.
A Descent into Madness
A powerhouse keyboard solo brings this tune into being. It's driving and potent. Then it drops to delicate mellower sounds based around piano. The exploration continues from there with intriguing old-school music playing its part. As a keyboard solo explodes this definitely feels like something that would fit in Rick Wakeman's solo catalog. This becomes quite a potent stomper from there, but with all the focus on keyboards. I love this instrumental.
221B
There is a playful vibe to this up-tempo number. The sound on it feels a little less polished, but the track has some great music that more than makes up for it. There is a jazzy angle to this thing.
The Man Called Sherlock
There is a lot of drama and style built into the keyboard heavy introduction here. The track moves out from there with a more symphonic take before working to more music that would fit in Rick Wakeman's solo catalog. After the extended introduction piano takes control, serving as the backdrop for the vocals. The piece grows outward as a soaring, but still rather mellow and soaring arrangement as it continues. After the vocals are finished this powers into a hard rocking and driving prog jam that is quite tasty. That eventually evolves to take the track to its close.
The Baker Street Irregulars
Piano starts this track. It grows out from to a playful and energetic keyboard based arrangement led largely by the piano. The cut works forward in that format for a while before shifting to more serious feeling and more fully filled out progressive rock. The synthesizer solo section later again calls to mind the solo work of Rick Wakeman. This instrumental is quite tasty.
The Jabberwocky (read by Rick Wakeman)
This recitation has only the sound of a crackling fire as its backdrop.
 
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