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Wednesday 20 April 2016

Reviews: Santana, Shiraz Lane, The Experiment No.Q

Santana: IV (Santana IV Records)

In 1969 San Franciscan Jam Rock band Santana, named after their founding guitarist/writer, exploded on to the Woodstock stage with a compelling performance of Soul Sacrifice that was unlike most of the bands playing, the Afro/Latin rhythms mixed with blues/psychedelic mind bending exploration, and free form jazz to create a unique sound. This performance was the catalyst for Santana's golden period starting with the self titled debut, through Abraxas which this year was was deemed "culturally, historically, or artistically significant" by the Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in their National Recording Registry in 2016, then concluding their classic trio with Santana III which was the first record to feature Neal Schon.

Now everyone knows what happens after that Keyboardist/Vocalist Gregg Rollie and Neal Schon left the band and formed Journey (you know how that went) but Santana went on to become more jazz based until his high profile worldwide number 1 collaboration album Supernatural in 1999 brought him back to the mainstream. A few years ago Schon pitched the idea of doing some work with Santana like the old days but Carlos himself was adamant that if they were to collaborate it would be with the inclusion of Rolie as well as original percussionist Michael Carabello and drummer Michael Shrieve, tragically bassist David Brown died in 2000 and timbales player José Octavio "Chepito" Areas is not part of the project either, so they are deputised by Benny Rietveld (bass) and Karl Perazzo (timbales) but five of the original members of Santana are present which is probably enough to make it officially a reunion.

Musically very little has changed either picking up where they left off with the Jazz influenced Afro-Latin rhythms still as impressive as they were originally, over the course of the 16 tracks on this record there is the usual mix of instrumentals and vocal tracks with Rolie especially having the same vocal prowess he did way back when. Instrumentally the music is key with Santana's smooth, intense, distinctive playing style working in conjunction with Schon's more traditional approach, add into this mix the hammonds and organs, the extensive use of percussion and the vocal harmonies and the stage is set for premium Latin rock.

However that never really happens at 16 tracks and 75 minutes it maybe a bit too long for most people and does drag a little in the middle, meaning everything becomes a little bit of a slog however with tracks like Fillmore East (dedicated to New York's legendary venue), Anywhere You Want To Go, Blues Magic, Love Makes The World Go Round and Freedom In Your Mind (both featuring Ron Isley on vocals) it does capture that classic Santana sound perfectly but there just needed to be a bit of quality control to really make an impression 7/10

Shiraz Lane: For Crying Out Loud (Frontiers)

For Crying Out Loud is Finnish band Shiraz Lane's debut album and they do as much as possible from the first chord to show you they mean business, their blues-based, sleazy hard rock vibe give them a similar sound to their obvious inspirations G'N'R, Skid Row and Aerosmith, with a bit of Cinderella and The Darkness thrown in on the tongue in cheek Begging For Mercy. For a young band they are accomplished musicians, all playing their instruments with precision and also the right amount of louchness that gives them the swagger of the 80's Strip.

The five members synch well and they can write a catchy tune with big ballsy riffs and more hooks that a fishing trawler but there is one thing that let's them down and that's the vocals, Hannes Kett tries to be the bastard lovechild of Axl Rose and Justin Hawkins but can't quite make it meaning that he squeaks and shrieks along through the songs rather than employing the wider range of Hawkins and Rose. It's because of this that I can see there being more than few listeners that are distracted from the actually very solid backline, especially on the title track and M.L.N.W where he apes Hawkins badly.

When he does reign it in he does have a good voice on Same Ol' Blues, but mostly it's the Vince Neil-like sky scraping shrieks that fill tracks like the Skid Row style Mental Slavery, the bluesy Behind The 8-Ball and Bleeding as well as the funky Momma's Boy. Shiraz Lane are a good band there is no denying that but if they want longevity they need to reign in the vocal histrionics a bit for the band and Kett's own sake. 7/10        

The Experiment No Q: Right After The Experiment No Q (AenimaRecording)

I reviewed the debut record by The Experiment No Q a while back and it impressed me with it's clash of styles and sounds fusing together under a conceptual banner. The concept revolves around a Steampunk Science- Fiction Rock Opera that tells of and inventor; "No.Q, mid-nineteenth century scientist who has imprisoned the souls of the musicians in a mechanical maze and the vital energy in a book of alchemical emblems, (he) is ready to use this book to the supreme blasphemy: create life, a real life for his inspiration." so not a rom-com by any means, however even bypassing the complicated back story there is enough here to intrigue and hook the listener. The project is the brainchild of Paolo Vallerga (No.Q) who like his narrative namesake has once again gathered a group of musicians together to lend their talents to this conceptual piece. It's this group mentality that gives the album it's considerable edge, every musician contributes something different bringing Vallerga's lyrics, music and storyline to life with expansive soundscapes that have their roots in 70's prog rock.

There has been some changes in line up since the debut with David Sugerman and Oxy Hart taking up the two vacant vocal positions although  Fabio Privitera, Kevin Zwierzchaczewski and Nalle Påhlsson all make a comeback, instrumentally Påhlsson still contributes bass with new boy Massimo Bozza, drumming comes from the returning Mattia Garimanno who splits his time with Andrea Falaschi, the guitarists are the returning pair of Andrea Palazzo and Jacopo Garimanno and keyboards from Marco Signore and Paolo Gambino. Theses are the more traditional instrumentation that are the main body of the sound adding but as this is a cinematic experience there are of course more than the traditional instruments with traverse flute and kalimba which comes from Dino Eldrisio Pelissero again (most evident on the folky Close To The Sunrise) and violin from Andrea Bertino.

The songs once again have to really be taken as a whole piece as the segue into one and other adding more each time driving the story along with a classic rock sound that blends Jethro Tull, Yes, Rush and Therion who also have the rock opera style to their sound. The album opens with the hammond fuelled heaviness of Don't Let Me Kill The No.Q which is a slow burning doom style track with bass-driven riff and a rapid fire rap-like vocal, this moves into the Goth-style The Overturned Dreamer, while we get an industrial theme on Welcome To The Garden and the first proper female vocal on the thundering The Secret Language.

This second record is a little heavier, a little darker than it's predecessor mirroring the change of pace in the storyline however with the first six tracks making up a suite so to speak, the final part of the album has flourishes of hope but it is still a darkly, theatrical piece, with Another Life as the most theatrical track. This is yet another sublime album from No.Q and his collection of musicians, with intelligent, poetic lyrical content and virtuoso performances yet again The Experiment No Q have released one of the prog records of the year. 9/10


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