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John Hackett - Checking Out Of London

John Hackett - Checking Out Of LondonKnown to many as Steve Hackett's younger brother, John Hackett's follow-up to last years classical release Velvet Afternoon, Checking Out Of London is what you would describe as more towards the commercial side of 'prog'. With guest musicians such as Nick Magnus (drums and keys) and brother Steve (lead guitar on four tracks), the vocals are shared by John and Tony Patterson. John himself performs lead vocals on nine out of twelve tracks, while Tony takes lead on the other three, and backing vocals on all other tracks. Tony is the frontman from Re-Genesis (see reviews Progeny2) and has a distinct Gabriel type voice, which is what you expect from him being in such a band.

Now John is mainly known for his flute playing, but on this album, surprisingly, there is no flute to be heard at all! Instead John has produced the goods on the string side of things, as in acoustic, electric and bass guitars, with a little keyboards thrown into the mix. John's voice is what you would call soft and mellow, but on all the songs he sings on, his voice fits the songs mood both in feeling and performance.

On to the album, well it is well produced as you would expect from the stable of the team of Nick Magnus and John, and has a total running time of a shade over fifty minutes. The lyrics were written by Nick Clabburn (all but one track Dust, self-penned by John) and the songs seem to flow very well with the lyrics. There is a strong King Crimson feel on Fantasy - imagine Greg Lake's voice on the quieter In The Court Of The Crimson King passages, then you get the picture. Tony's voice on the other hand is sharper in attack, and on the more rock type songs such as Ego & Id it stands out in tones such as Ray Wilson and Peter Gabriel. On this song too, the guitar riff controls the whole thing, add a blistering Steve Hackett solo with a touch of Hammond and here you have one of the album's highlights. The Crimson theme appears again on DNA, where I feel John's vocals are at their best, and there is some nice percussion touches too.

Late Trains kicks the whole thing off with John singing, and there is a nice slide guitar in the instrumental passages, along with a warm bass, and it is the type of song to end the day with a glass of wine watching the sunset disappear. Steve takes the harmonica role on Hallway And The Pram, and this has a strong solo Steve Hackett feel to it from a such period as Cured and Highly Strung, and the vocal harmonies shine on this song.

Whispers has Tony taking the lead vocals, and has a Peter Gabriel feel to the softer side of his vocals. This song works well too, as it climbs and changes to the Defector style that Steve had in songs such as Time To Get Out. Headlights is a gentle number, in which the acoustic guitar works well combined with the solo from Steve on electric guitar.

Dreamtown is, for me, a very moving song. Imagine a slow song from Peter Gabriel, or the quiet parts on Here Comes The Flood. The harmonies set the scene on this too, and is again a strong highlight on the album. There is a strong 'reggae' feel to More, and again John's voice shines on this, and the trademark Steve solo gives it a welcomed lift. The title track Checking Out Of London is a ballad
and lyric-wise the strongest song. The piano, harmonies and swirling guitar put a nice edge on this one, and the only song written by John, Dust, follows the same thread, a nice slow start then a classic acoustic guitar solo giving it extra bite. Winter is just what it feels like! It reminds you of a stroll along a frozen canal with your loved one, and going home to a warm open coal fire. The mood is set in the song, slow and dreamy and a perfect ballad. For me it is my personal favourite on the album, and it just sets the scene as I mentioned before.

Checking Out Of London is released on February 7th 2005, and it is a worthwhile purchase. Available from the links and websites below, and from the Camino link, there are some MP3 extracts too. This is a pleasant album from John, both musically and lyric wise, and a very early contender for album of the year!

Danny Mayo

John Hackett

Camino

 

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