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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Jeremy Schonfeld

Iron and Coal

Review by Gary Hill

What an intriguing disc this is! It combines musical theater, ethnic music, progressive rock and other styles into something that’s very cool. While not everything here fits under the “progressive rock” heading, there’s quite a bit of it that does. The unusual combinations of music presented throughout, along with those bits that are prog rock make this one land into that category. The one thing I have a little trouble with here is the vocals. While they are interesting and unique, at times they are too operatic and theatric for my tastes. I’m personally not enamored with those styles, so it’s more of a personal taste question than it is any kind of universal weakness.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
The Mourner's Kaddish

World music stylings open this in a great way. The vocals come in over the top. They are world oriented vocals both in delivery and language. This cut works by building upon the same basic themes heard in the introduction, but with a more filled out arrangement upon that musical progression. It’s pretty and powerful and you don’t need to understand the lyrics (I think they are in Yiddish) to enjoy the piece. Then about two and a half minutes in, the whole thing switches. It turns to a more pop rock approach with English lyrics. There’s a crooner kind of sound on the vocals. It should be noted that the lyrics earn a parental advisory for the disc. In another interesting twist, this works out after that section into an expansive symphonic rock styled arrangement. It’s a killer.

Dead Beat Heart
A hard rocking sound that feels like a combination of Pink Floyd, the Beatles and Alice Cooper opens this. It drops to a piano based balladic approach that’s very soulful for the vocals’ entrance. It boosts back out to rocking territory from there and this is a great tune. The music fits well into an AOR approach and there’s some killer retro keyboard work going on within it. A more rocking instrumental (there are some non-lyrical vocals) later calls to mind a cross between Supertramp and Pink Floyd and takes it back into progressive rock territory. The chorus vocals come back in over the top of this and it’s another smoking hot resolution.
Good Stuff
Riff driven hard rock opens this. It feels like a cross between Van Halen and Led Zeppelin in terms of the riffing, but the vocals have an almost urban feeling to them. This is a great rocker with a lot of soul. There’s definitely funk and honky tonk built into this. The guitar really comes close to stealing the show, but it’s hard to upstage Schonfeld’s vocals. It seems at this point like the disc is just one winner after another.
Save Me
Wow! This feels like a cross between Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More. It’s got some killer arrangements that border on symphonic rock. It’s another reason this disc keeps flirting with progressive rock. It’s also another winner on a CD showing no sign of letting up. It does earn the disc another parental warning. The arrangement keeps getting reworked and changed around and it turns out towards more pure progressive rock later.
Yedid Nefesh - Good Man
The first three minutes here are built in a symphonic world music approach. The vocals and lyrics (Yiddish again, I believe) emphasize that ethnic element. Then it shifts, like the opener did, to more purely symphonic rock sounds and the lyrics shift into English. There’s a cool groove brought to the piece later that feels a bit like jazz and a bit like crooner music.
Bad Man
Jazz, hard rock and funk are assembled on this smoking hot number. It’s certainly a highlight of the set. Considering how strong everything here is, that says a lot. The saxophone solo on this is simply awesome!
Piece of Me
Mellower motifs bring this in as a balladic number. It stays in that vicinity as it continues. Then after the first verse it gets a bit more energy and instrumentation, but overall it remains essentially the same. It turns into some seriously hard rocking music later in the piece, but the general song structure remains reasonably unchanged. It just gets a crunchier arrangement. Symphonic elements round this out into more progressive rock later and it drops to mellower territory in a distinctly progressive rock oriented arrangement from there. The keyboard solo reinforces that connection. It turns into a real powerhouse after that but drops back down for the outro.
Nothing Really Matters - Stop, Stop
A powerful symphonic arrangement serves as the backdrop for the opening section of this multi-part track. The vocals are operatic in that section. That sound never works well for me, so this first half of the cut is one the low points in the set for me personally. Still, the second half works out into a high energy progressive rock jam with some funky vocals. This is another showstopper. There’s an incredible instrumental section later.
If Ever
More of a balladic piece, this one is perhaps closer to a classic rock texture than a progressive rock one. Still, there’s enough prog here to make it fit. As it builds later it turns towards a mix of theatrical music and progressive rock.
Time
Musically this is essentially a symphonic prog arrangement mixed with jazz. The vocals, though, are more crooner styled in nature. It’s an intriguing cut, but not one of the standouts. It definitely gets more energy later and this is another point for a parental advisory based on the lyrics.
Yet
Combining progressive rock with Beatles-like rock, theatric sounds and jazz, this cut is good, but not one of the highlights of the set.
Iron and Coal - I Gotta Song
The theatrical sounds of the previous number are included here. This is perhaps less progressive rock than some of the other music, but it’s still got some symphonic elements and works pretty well. It shifts towards more pure progressive rock (with more theater built in) later. The second half really feels like a continuation of the first, and overall this one probably lands closer to theatrical music than it does progressive rock.
Story of Love
A spoken section (Yiddish?) opens this. Then we get a piano based balladic sound that’s got some theatrical vocals. It gets more powerful as it continues, but lives mostly in that musical theater territory.
 
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