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Glass Hammer - Shadowlands

Glass Hammer - ShadowlandsThe masters of the prog concept album are back!  Only this time, they present us with an album without a concept, if you ignore the fact that one of the tracks seems to be inspired by early 19th century French History.  But fear not because music maestros, Fred Schendel and Steve Babb have produced another classic album in Shadowlands.

Shadowlands has that distinctive Glass Hammer sound that has been continually honed and developed over the years, not too dissimilar to the last album, Lex Rex, but now more refined.  Whilst previous work has clearly concentrated to a degree in recreating the terrific analogue sounds and styles of yesteryear, Shadowlands flows almost effortlessly, by comparison.  The classic sounds are still there but are subtler.

Press ‘play’ and within a few seconds you are filled with anticipation of something rather tasty.  The bright and pacey intro of So Close So Far with acoustic guitar and keyboard leads to synth and electric guitar then onto harmonious vocals (Walter Moore and Flo Paris take lead vocals on this track).  A third of the way in and the pace slows and the keyboard sound takes on a spine-tingling Court Of The Crimson King flavour.  Two thirds of the way into the first track and after a pause of a couple of seconds, the mood takes on a YES style momentarily before returning to classic Glass Hammer.

It is fair to say that Run Lisette (featuring Bethany Warren on backing vocals) also has some smidgeons of YES with Howe style guitar work and Wakemanesque keys.  Instead of using a pipe organ sound sample on a modern keyboard, Fred and Steve went the whole hog and travelled some distance to use a real church pipe organ. Playing such an instrument is a skill in itself as there is quite a delay in hearing the resultant sound after hitting a key on the manual.  Once a player has got used to the delay in hearing the note played, it is not too difficult to play a solo piece.  However, combing the instrument in an arrangement consisting of many instruments is not so easy but the GH chaps somehow manage it without a flaw. 

Farewell To Shadowlands, the (sort of) title track has some great Moog and guitar riffs plus the delicious vocals of delectable GH stalwart, Suzie Bogdanowicz taking prominence.

Longer, which was written by Dan Fogelberg in 1979, sees Walter taking the lead vocal role.  Prog guitar and keys take on a funkier style in the latter half of the track though the usual intricacies abound.  Great version.

Glass Hammer (courtesy of Bart Lindstrom)The final track, Behind The Great Beyond, is an epic 20 minutes piece.  Opting for real strings instead of sound samples, The Adonia String Trio (Rebecca James: violin, Susan Hawkins: viola, and Rachel Hackenburger, cello) join GH for this one.  Opening with an early 19C drawing room mood, courtesy of the trio, the music returns to the present in GH prog mode accompanied with pizzicato strings.  Of course, prog bands using an orchestra is nothing new, except that it usually sounds disjointed like an afterthought.  In this case, the string section subtly blends in with the band as part of the band and not just an ‘add on’.  Hats off to Fred who was responsible for the string arrangements.  At the midway point, some Spanish style acoustic guitar gives way to Latimer style electric guitar before the tempo is hiked up in a brief combination of sounds from Italian prog to Genesis and IQ and Alan Parsons Project.  Towards the end of the track, the style changes to that of Tull’s Passion Play era at its foot-tapping best.

Production quality is rarely commented on these days unless the recording is absolutely abysmal but we often ignore the fact that many CDs sound flat due to poor stereo imaging, not to mention too high a recording level resulting in slight distortion.  Well, these chaps have obviously spent a lot of time on this album to produce an image that makes full use of those two channels on the hi fi resulting in a warm and crystal clear reproduction which is involving for the listener.  In fact it begs for a DVD DTS Audio version, it’s so vibrant.

If the official release date for the album wasn’t 14th January 2004, Shadowlands would be a strong contender for prog album of 2003 for composition, arrangements, production and performance.  Classic present day prog at its very best.  And finally, a special mention for the GH vocalists, Walter Moore, Susie Bogdanowicz, Sarah Snyder, Flo Paris and Bethany Warren, who are living proof that prog vocals can be excellent.

Jem Jedrzejewski

(Band photo courtesy of Bart Lindstrom and Glass Hammer)

http://www.glasshammer.com/

 

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