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Progressive Voice
World Music Reviews by
Brian Grosjean, host of Sunday morning FM On Toast
The Culture Café

“World Peace Through Cultural Celebration”

To Wake The King

If Gather close and Secret Green will lead you on the path through the hedgerow leading to a secret, mystical place where Merlin lives, the wind is on the Moor, and where we can conjure up the summer.  Here "sinister shadows creep", "the hag and hungry fiend look to rend one into rags", and "Tom O'Bedlam spits a curse at the meek around him".  But fame and honor is welcome, five Goddesses dance, and will be well as the King awakens. (From the album's lyrics).

If you can make the jump of pure imagination, Secret Green have created this marvelous escape into a certain state of mind. And they have done so without resorting to juvenile fairy stories or beasts.

The album's setting is in an alternate universe of England's past, where all is yet unspoiled by the modern world. This album tells no operatic tale, but paints a large scale picture in full flower of music of the Albion of Celtic legend. Beginning this album with Prelude, one starts off watching the sun rise over an English village, then you follow the minstrel through the village, his flute keeping up a jolly tune on his way to the "Beltane Fair, a dancing day..." in the mystical place of "Albion, Avalon of the Heart".  Over the course of the next almost hour of music, you meet the denizens of this place in stories of realistic people exhibiting courage, fear, joy and feelings of loss. It all makes sense and makes a worthwhile diversion.

The performances of Francis Lickerish (guitars, bass,etc), Jon Beedle (guitars), William Gilmour (keyboards) and Matt Hodge (drums and percussion) along with six supporting musicians are flawless. Helen Palmer's voice is a winner, with just enough Celtic lilt to make the album's transformation believable, but without the operatic drama of Agnieszka Swita of Caamora or the modern angst of Christina Booth of Magenta.  Palmer is a ringer for Candice Night of Blackmore's Knight, but with even more voice control. Although it plays a prominent role in many of the songs, the orchestra is not credited anywhere except that it is played by Francis Lickerish.

To Wake The King is a fully symphonic picture, although not in a form one would recognize outside of the rock and folk worlds.  Folk guitars, a beautiful solo lute, flutes and woodwinds place the music squarely in Celtic England.  To understand the music, one should be acquainted with the music of The Enid from Robert John Godfrey on symphonic keyboards and the same Francis Lickerish on that sustained guitar style that must have been taught to Mike Oldfield. The orchestra supports the folk and rock musicians, especially on the tracks Camlann and Nimuë  where the orchestra ebbs and flows, almost to being lost, then returns with a huge pipe organ in tow creating all sorts of drama and tension.

When compared with other recent symphonic excursions such as the rock opera Her by Caamora or Magenta's Metamorphosis.  To Wake The King has much to offer and is very satisfying if you let yourself go and believe in Albion. There are no overwrought operatic binges, wild guitar solos, or huge choral blasts. The music stays within bounds, and lets the melodies and lyrics work. The full color CD booklet helps to prolong the fantasy with costumed band members in settings of "Albion" (one is sporting his kilt) and provides complete lyrics.  A really masterful package.

Percy Howard's Meridiem
A Pleasant Fiction (Voiceprint)
The singer Percy Howard has a long resume of jazz collaborators and guest appearances.  He began his Meridiem project in 1997 and continues here as he enlists the master collaborator Bill Laswell on bass and Charles Hayward on drums, as well as Living Color guitarist Vernon Reid, Haroun Serang, former Guns n Roses guitarist Buckethead, the singer Jarboe and plenty of others in supporting roles.  The result is an exciting, jazz fusion in the best sense of the word that was originally released in 2004.
Lyrically, this is an emotional affair. The lyrics deal with stories of good and evil.  The poignant and sometimes disturbing stories are presented in various formats, between Jarboe's whispered secrets to Howard's throaty shouts to the falsetto prayers of "Chasing the Blues Away".  Vernon Reid and Buckethead's guitar matches the charged emotions with a barrage of grunge guitar, heavy waves of metal or weeping blues.
The entrance to most songs is a showcase of the vocal abilities of  Percy Howard and Jarboe as they become the characters they sing about.  Living to experience life before its all gone. In A Pleasant Fiction, Jarboe whispers her story over a complex drum riff, moving slowly but inexorably to the instrumental climax.  Her voice has a quality of Barbara Gaskin and My Brightest Diamond - brittle then sharply strenuous. There are even early Gong references in Give Me Everything.Although sometimes the collaborators seem to get carried away with themselves, like in Where You Stand which was too distorted to comprehend or enjoy, for the most part Percy Howard has captained an enjoyable and challenging ride. 


 Copyright ©WWUH: January/February Program Guide, 2010

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