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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Happy The Man

Death's Crown

Review by Gary Hill

Happy the Man was a US based prog band in the 1970's. The sound of the band was similar to many of the greats of prog, while forging out its own uniqueness. Given the nature of this sound, it is really odd that this band never made it to the level of Yes, ELP, King Crimson and Genesis. They have reformed, though, so perhaps they still will have the chance.

This disc, originally recorded in the 1970's, was not released until 1999. The disc consists of an extended concept piece and two shorter numbers. The concept piece has a rather unusual lyrically theme. Very early on, the main protagonist of the story is hung and dies. The remainder of the piece shows him learning more about life and existence in the afterlife than he ever did in the first one. It is a strangely moving and lifting piece. The musicians on this disc are Dan Owen, Frank Wyatt, Kit Watkins, Rick Kennell and Mick Beck.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: The Early Years Volume 1 at

Track by Track Review
Death's Crown
Part One
Haunting tones, building slowly and feeling a bit like very early King Crimson make up the mode of this first movement. It is quite powerful and evocative. It sets the scene quite well. "here it is…My life here is ending, Marching to the gallows to meet the masked man, death, Filled with sudden terror, Wondering what will be beyond."
Part Two
A very brief effects laden segment, this signifies the transition from life to afterlife.
Part Three
Coming straight out of the previous movement, this starts with guitar tones that seem to combine the sounds of early Genesis with Steve Howe. This intro also includes spoken chanting and sound effects low in the mix, adding a bit of a Marillionish texture. The piece jumps into a faster mode that seems to feel quite a bit like early Yes and Starcastle. This one gets very quirky at times and drops into a much more sedate type of verse segment. It ends in fast paced prog style, then drops to silence.
Part Four
Coming out of the abyss, church bells bring this one up, and the cut begins to build in a moody sort of prog style. It becomes a wonderful, rather triumphant sounding prog ballad. Lyrically this one finds the hanged man trying to come to grips with his place in the afterlife. He finds himself drawn to his own funeral as an observer. The song keeps building in power and passion becoming a very triumphant sounding number. However, overall it still stays firmly planted in a balladic sort of style and reverts to the more sedate format later. At moments this one feels just a little bit like early Hawkwind. A great jazzy progression takes the cut into new territory late and serves as the outro.
Part Five
Another segment that runs straight out of the previous movement, sedate tones begin this one. It starts building in almost neo-classical textures, becoming more and more intricate and complex with some wonderful musical themes emerging, then moving away. It gets a bit Starcastleish and a bit Yesish at times. This movement is very dynamic. The ending moments of this instrumental segment are a bit odd.
Part Six
In an almost Flower Kings like arrangement, this cut starts in slow prog fashion. After a time, a very Genesisish build takes the cut for a short period. Then it drops back to its previous style. When that Genesisish mode returns, it is more intense and lasts a bit longer. The cut drops back to its earlier state for a couple moments to end.
Part Seven
Fast paced prog jamming takes the piece into this movement. This one comes across as a pretty solid combination of many of prog rock's heavy hitters including ELP, Yes, Genesis and Starcastle. After a couple minutes, it drops to a mellower segment to herald the verse. The faster jamming segment that began this one returns after a time, but then the cut drops to the sedate tones to end.
Part Eight
Percussion heralds this piece in, and a dramatic off-kilter, odd jamming takes it in its next direction. It is a brief, somewhat dissonant, instrumental passage.
Part Nine
Keyboard dominated triumphant tones begin this one, another very brief instrumental piece. The tone at the beginning is slow, almost plodding, but as it ends, the tempo speeds up dramatically making a dramatic exit.
Part Ten
This instrumental segment emerges from the last one in fairly sedate tones and slowly builds. It just keeps jamming in this format for a time.
Part Eleven
Triumphant, harder edged prog tones begin this one. This is a very dramatic conclusion to the piece; our hero having found the truth and truly understanding is home at last and happy. Of course, the central answer that he is given loses me just a bit. It is this: "To think it is to create it." There you have it, the meaning of life.
New York Dreams Suite
Sedate mid-tempoed prog, just a tiny bit Yesish, starts this cut and begins a building process. After a time, a quirky sort of off kilter riff changes the piece and an instrumental break ensues. This break starts in an odd weirdly textured mode, but quickly explodes into a great prog jam. The cut then drops to a sparse arrangement for the verse, and as the intensity of the vocals increase, so does the music. It moves into another of those strange jams. The resolution out of this jam is a keyboard-dominated break in atmospheric tones, and the number begins a slow build from there to lead to the next verse in slow balladic fashion. More intense moments serve to punctuate the spaces of the song. The cut resolves in a mellower, almost atmospheric direction.
Merlin of the High Places
Pretty sedate tones begin this composition. It builds slowly on this for a time before dropping back to near silence as a new verdant on the theme emerges. It is reborn in an even more inspiring direction. The next change to this instrumental piece is a more experimental sort of jam that lasts only for a brief time before becoming a rather fusion based fast paced prog riff based rocker. It drops back from there to an almost space rock mellow interlude, then back up to the harder, faster jam. The composition then drops to a dramatic, rather dreamy, balladic mode. The next jam is built on this groundwork and is very powerful and emotional.
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