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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Peter Banks Empire

The Mars Tapes

Review by Gary Hill

This set is a rehearsal tape. That said, the band set up in a studio to start working on material that was to be an album. They recorded everything. So, while this is rehearsals, it’s good quality rehearsals. Yes, some of it suffers in the sound quality department, but really only the first couple tunes have a problem to the point where it’s a little distracting. Not everything here is progressive rock in my opinion. Most of it is, though, and the fact that this is a Peter Banks band (Yes, Flash and more) definitely lands it there. The vocals (Sidonie Jordan) often bring a soulful vibe to this, pulling it more down to earth and grounding it in reality. It should be noted that Phil Collins plays drums on one song here. This is definitely worth having from an archival perspective, but you’ll find some gems here, too.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2015  Volume 1 at

Track by Track Review
Disc One
Out of Our Hands
As this opens, there’s no mistaking the Peter Banks trademarks. This is a powerhouse progressive rocker. The only thing is, the recording is a bit muddy and distorted. The cut works through a number of shifts and changes. The female vocals here are quite soulful. It lends a different texture. The mix of melodic and more rocking sections is great, too. I love the guitar, keyboard interplay section later in the track.
Medley: Foundation, Destiny, Far Away
The section that opens this seems to combine fusion with space rock. As it works out for the vocals, this makes me think of Gong a bit. The vocals really add a lot of power and passion to the piece. After the piece works through some changes there is a powerful and involved instrumental section. That gives way to a more mainstream rock vocal movement. After that section works through we get some particularly dramatic progressive rock that emerges in the instrumental movement. It turns a bit towards metallic sounds, but then gets more into psychedelic rock territory from there. Another vocal movement is heard after that jam. It’s particularly soulful and compelling. Another powered up progressive rock jam takes it. After that works through, it drops to a mellower movement with atmospheric guitar elements. Another vocal movement emerges. This one is very much mainstream rock music. It has a real R&B quality. Yet, there are some prog elements that show up within at times. The final instrumental section has a mellower, more atmospheric progressive rock sound.
Somewhere over the Rainbow Bar and Grill
Guitar soloing opens this, feeling a bit like it could have come from Banks’ Yes era. From there they take this out into a soaring kind of jam that’s part prog and part fusion. This carries forward instrumentally with different little shifts and turns taking it. There are sections that are more guitar dominated and others that are more in line with an ensemble sound. Some portions are keyboard dominated, too. This is a good instrumental, but perhaps it stays around a bit long for the kind of fairly simple jam band music that it is.
Do What You Want
A powerhouse prog rock jam opens this and holds it sans vocals for the first couple minutes. It does feel a bit like Yes at times. The vocals come in and bring a different kind of element to the table. It’s almost like Motown goes progressive rock to me. I really love the instrumental section that ensues beyond this vocal movement. It is another point where we get some great keyboard and guitar interplay. The cut really scorches. They bring us back for one more vocal movement. This one, though, is a powerhouse progressive rock based segment. That ends it in style.
Dancing Man
A funky bass line starts this. It’s got a real R&B kind of vibe, with some jazz in the mix. This is a bit too mainstream and pedestrian for my tastes, but it has its charms. The mellower movement is almost pure jazz and one of those.
Where Yes Means No
Another instrumental, this is very much a fusion type tune. It has some definite funk in the mix. It also has some of the most impassioned guitar soloing. That guitar soloing is really what sells this piece.
Disc Two
Off with the King's Head
The opening section and those that continue it are made up of smoking hot progressive rock laced with fusion. The guitar soloing is powerful and moments call to mind Banks’ work in both Yes and Flash. The cut has a number of shift and changes that work really well. It does a great job of balancing the more intense stuff with the more melodic for variety. In fact, this is one of the most effective instrumentals here.
Something's Coming (West Side Story)
When Peter Banks was with Yes, they did a version of this piece. This one is considerably different than that one, though, with much more of a focus on crazed guitar playing. That said, it does start with drums before the rest of the group join and launch out into the jam that has plenty of both prog and psychedelia in it. There are moments of this that call to mind the Yes version, though. There are some moments here that are more modern in nature than the Yes version of the piece, and seem to have some hints of jazz. This is an instrumental version, too, further contrasting it to that take. There are some themes from other parts of “West Side Story” that show up later in the jamming.
The Fall of the Empire
This is very much a tasty fusion number. It’s a great instrumental and includes both impressive textures and melodies.
When the Banks Overflow
I love this piece. It has some surf music along with some definite progressive rock. There are moments here that definitely make me think of Yes.
Ascending to the Planet Mars
More of a straightforward rock jam, there is still quite a bit of fusion in the mix here. It is a short one, but also quite tasty.
Bonus Track - Sky at Night
This starts with a very flamenco kind of classical sound. It continues building in that regard. After a crescendo around the two minute mark, the piece becomes even more classical and sedate. As the vocals come over the top it resembles Renaissance quite a bit. Eventually that section works through, and the cut explodes into a real powerhouse prog jam. That section at times reminds me of Yes. Once that finishes, though, the whole thing drops way down to the classical motifs (but a little more worked up) for the next vocal movement. After running through like that, it turns a bit soaring and rather spacey. Ground control chatter for a rocket launch is heard in the mix at the end of this.


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