Telos Music, 2004
I came to this independent artist, simply known as Rain, via the review at Ground and Sky. He made the album available from his website as 92 kb/s mp3s, a generous gesture to tempt people to buy the full-quality CD, which worked on me. I'd say the CD was pretty essential to getting the most out of this album, as Rain's soft style of symphonic prog is pretty lushly produced. It's akin to "Dust and Dreams" era Camel, or later Genesis in their occasional progressive moments. While it doesn't really rock, its strength is sweeping melodies laden with sumptuous arrangements.
Melodic is the order of the day. With true independent spirit he plays most of the instruments and arranges them with flair. Its heavily keyboard-based textures are reminiscent of Tony Banks, with guitars only used for colour. Pleasingly he includes plenty of acoustic instruments, not depending on keyboards to make orchestral effects, as Camel were inclined to do. A small string group accompanies the narrations at the start of each song, for a subtle chamber-classical effect, blending tastefully with the songs' soft rock. Rain's vocals are mellow and restrained, if not what you'd call strong. Again Camel's Andy Latimer springs to mind, or Ray Wilson (Genesis's "Calling All Stations"). It's comfortable among the keyboard textures that support him.
"The Lammas Lands" has one of those infectious riffs that fans of Genesis-style light prog lap up, first introduced by the string players over the narration, and developed with nice dynamics into the main song. "Parsifal" is a perfect blend of sound, with some deftly-multitracked choral voices chanting a monotone tune over organ and a pair of delicately breathy sax lines. "Light and Magic" is a particularly slinky extended song, held together by an arching keyboard theme, ending in Pink Floyd country with an elegant sax solo, with a subtle quote of the Mellotron opening of Genesis's "Watcher of the Skies" along the way.
The album's concept is based on a journey of self-discovery across the USA, as the narrator, a Mr. Jaeger, follows the footsteps of a young traveller named Rick. Each track is introduced with Rick's spoken-word postcard, followed by Jaeger's thoughts in response. These are full of philosophical musings, and littered with erudite literary and artistic references. The CD even contains a mini-movie, accompanying poetry and a discussion which will satisfy anyone tickled by these. The tale concludes with a melancholy twist at the foot of Mount McKinley. The pastoral landscapes seem a little too gentle and English for a broad American travelogue, but maybe this reflects the inner, philosophical preoccupations of the album's concept.
It's an easy and engaging listen for anyone into the softer side of prog. Since it's not derivative, and supported by quality lyrics, it shouldn't inspire any neo-prog guilt. Unless you're wet enough to feel guilty for liking a good tune.
June 13, 2005