Wednesday, November 30, 2016
What's the "X Factor" that distinguishes the most talented artists from the millions of wannabe aspiring musicians?
Partly, I suppose, it's a gift of innate ability. But that's not enough to make it. It takes work, perseverance and a singular vision. When I interviewed Steven Wilson about his earliest creative endeavors for the new vinyl box set, The Delerium Years: 1991-1993, I was struck by his indomitable drive and passion. Steven told me he knew it was his destiny to be a professional musician. For every obstacle—and there were many—he just worked harder.
My 7500 word sleeve notes, which appear as a "perfect bound" book within the 9 disc vinyl box set, offer a rare peek into Steven's childhood and early career. (I also wrote the sleeve notes for the previous Porcupine Tree vinyl box set, The Delerium Years: 1994-1997, released earlier this year.)
Porcupine Tree - The Delerium Years 1991 - 1993 traces the explosive start of Steven Wilson's career in Porcupine Tree. The band started out as little more than a joke. During his teenage years in the 1980s, Wilson mucked about with primitive recording gear in his bedroom and dreamed up an imaginary band with an absurd name and an outlandish backstory. As a lark, the teenager began writing songs for his fake group. The punchline? Wilson's joke band was seriously good. Delerium Records, a record label for underground music, released Porcupine Tree's fresh take on psychedelic and progressive music to great success.
The latest box set includes the first two Porcupine Tree studio albums, On the Sunday of Life... and Up the Downstair, as well as the Staircase Infinities mini album, the stand-alone EP Voyage 34: The Complete Trip, and the archival compilation album Yellow Hedgerow Dreamscape. But these records aren't just the story of how Wilson had the last laugh when his joke band became a reality. These formative releases also trace how Wilson honed his craft and found his voice as an artist.
The LPs (pressed on 180g heavyweight vinyl) have been remastered by Steven. (Hedgerow Dreamscape and On the Sunday of Life... feature Steven's remasters for the recent compact disc versions of those albums.) This version of Voyage 34 will revert to the original full length version of "Phase IV" featured on the original vinyl release.
The deluxe box includes a 'perfect bound' book featuring rare and unseen archival photographs. The box, book and LP packaging is designed by long-term collaborators Lasse Hoile and Carl Glover. Strictly limited edition. (The previous box set has already sold out.) Released January 27 and available for pre-order at Burning Shed.
Above all, it's a pleasure to work with Steven himself.
Sunday, October 30, 2016
I also reviewed two albums by two Porcupine Tree musicians. 1) Songwriter and guitarist John Wesley's A Way You'll Never Be showcases a tougher, grungier sound and some of his greatest guitar solos ever. Hear "By the Light of the Sun" and hear the title track here. 2) Burnt Belief is an instrumental group consisting of bassist Colin Edwin and Boston-based touch guitarist Jon Durant. Their third album, Emergent, consists of instrumentals that ventures into unearthly realms. Hear "Ghost Aquatic" from the album.
Also in the issue of Prog magazine: A Pink Floyd extravaganza that looks at the making of Atom Heart Mother... Plus exclusive interviews with Van der Graaf Generator, Brian Eno, Kansas, Opeth, Nosound, Glass Hammer, Gong - Band, Stick Men, Director John Carpenter,
Thursday, September 01, 2016
In May, my wife and I drove to northern Maine for a thrilling travel-story assignment: A Moose Safari.
Neither of us had ever seen Moose. We rose before dawn to meet our guide Ashley, from Northeast Whitewater and travel to a remote and hidden lake where we silently paddled in canoes in search of the elusive creature.
I wrote about our experience for the new issue of American Way, the in-flight magazine of American Airlines, now in aircraft seatbacks. (Here's a PDF of the story and a link to their website version.)
Hopefully the story will whet your appetite for a Moose Safari, which I highly recommend. Here's a list of recommendations of where to stay, where to eat, and what to see when you travel to the town of Greenville at the southern end of Moosehead Lake.
MOOSEHEAD LAKE MUSTS…
Chalet Moosehead Lakefront Motel
Visitors can soak up the spectacular views of Moosehead Lake from Adirondack chairs near the water’s edge. Better yet, take the motel’s free canoes and paddleboats out for a spin or dive off the dock for a swim. Balcony units include a whirlpool tub. The motel is centrally located near town and the friendly service will get your visit off to a great start. Mooseheadlodging.com
Spring Creek Bar-B-Q
This outstanding Texas-style BBQ restaurant in Monson is well worth the twenty-minute drive from Greenville. Outside, a locomotive-shaped BBQ smoker offers tantalizing smells of ribs and chicken. Inside, Southern rock tunes complement the framed Allman Brothers Band autographs hanging on hand-carved wooden walls. Try the exceptional lightly grilled cornbread and spring-time fiddlehead and feta salad. Springcreekbar-b-qmaine.com
Stress Free Moose Pub
Après safari, head to this popular lakeside bar and restaurant, which stays open late. It offers outdoor veranda seating and an indoor, four-sided communal bar. (The mugs hanging over the bar are inscribed with the names of regular customers.) Excellent burger and fries, plus veggie wraps that vegetarians will crave long afterward.
Northwoods Gourmet Girl
Abby Freethy quit her job as a private chef, moved to Greenville, and launched her own line of all-natural condiments. “There’s no junk in the jar,” says Freethy. Inside the Northwoods Gourmet Girl retail store, her small crew prepares 19 bottled products—including ketchup, caramel sauces, preserves—and dispatch them to online customers and stores as far away as California. Northwoodsgourmetgirl.com
The Katahdin Steamboat, built over a century ago, once lugged timber across Moosehead Lake. Nowadays, the 102 feet long steamer, named after Maine’s highest peak, takes tourists out for 3 to 4 hour cruises. You’ll get up close to Mount Kineo’s impressive 700 foot cliffs, which rise straight out of the water. katahdincruises.com
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Amid several projects this summer, including researching and writing a whopping 7,600 word liner note essay for an upcoming vinyl box set, I contributed a couple of pieces to the two most recent editions of Prog magazine.
I reviewed the 11th album by The Pineapple Thief, a British band I've long been a fan of in issue 68 (Jon Anderson cover). Your Wilderness features drummer Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree, King Crimson) and is one of the best albums in the band's catalog. Here's a taste of the album courtesy of YouTube: In Exile
No Man's Land
For issue 69, released this past week, I reviewed a concert by YES in Lynn, Massachusetts. I last reviewed a YES show in 2014 during their final show with bassist Chris Squire, who sadly passed away last year. truth, In truth, I wasn't expecting much from the show. Longtime drummer Alan White decided to sit out the tour due to health issues following surgery. Steve Howe is now the only remaining member from the band's classic era. Indeed, YES's lineup nowadays is a bit like the Celtics basketball team after they lost their championship-winning big three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. But, like the current Celtics team consisting largely of no-name players, YES can still hold their own on the big court.
Monday, July 18, 2016
Nowadays, it's not often a band comes along with a sound so unique that you can't really compare them to other artists.
Bent Knee, a six-piece from Boston, is one such band. They don't sound derivative of anyone else. As a recent The Wall Street Journal feature on the band put it, their sound taps into cabaret, ’70s piano-based folk, chamber pop, industrial rock, metal, prog rock and more.
The Boston Globe noted that they're making a bid for the big time and ran a great review of the band's latest album, Say So.
In the latest issue of Prog magazine, now on newsstands and available digitally, I interviewed the band about their horror stories about touring America in a small van and delved into the tight familial bonds between these six musicians. (I wouldn't classify Bent Knee as "prog rock" band; just very progressive in the uniqueness of their sound.)
To get a feel for the band's sound, check out the music videos below. "Leak Water," from their just-released album Say So, is about how a young girl endures the beauty regime her mother submits her to every morning. "Good Girl" is about battling societal gender expectations.
The video of "Being Human," from the band's previous album, Shiny Eyed Babies, showcases how remarkable this band is live—you won't be able to take your eyes off them. (Look for their fall tour dates at http://www.bentkneemusic.com/tour.)
More details on the band and its albums at www.bentkneemusic.com