Battle of the Bottle (Less is definitely more!)

The Reasoning

Image by tim ellis via Flickr

The Reasoning are a rock band who’s members have previously been part of progressive bands such as Magenta and Karnataka. They were, in 2010, a 7 piece band with Matt Cohen on bass, Rachel Cohen on vocals, Dylan Thompson on vocals and guitar, Owain Roberts on guitars, Maria Owen on backing vocals and guitar, Tony Turrell on keyboards and Jake Bradford-Sharp on keyboards. They’d released 3 original albums, a live DVD, an acoustic album of reworkings of their own material and were preparing for a short tour and recording a fourth album.

By late 2010/early 2011 they were a 5 piece band with Maria Owen and Dylan Thompson having departed to begin their own projects (Abraxas Scorn and Shadow of the Sun respectively). When I heard the news that Maria and Dyl had left I wondered how the band would survive, let alone evolve. Dylan had been an integral part of the song writing and took a lead role in many of the early vocals and live both had helped create the band’s ‘sound’.

Shortly after the departure of these two the band embarked on the aforementioned tour and the word on the street was very positive. Tighter, punchier, great new arrangements… I was unable to make any of these gigs for various reasons and so had to rely on others for reviews but the vibe was most definitely positive.

And so it was, in early 2011, that the band embarked on a journey to the USA to fulfil their commitment at RoSFest 2011. And this is where the review begins…

The Bottle of Gettysburg by Mark Wilkinson

The Reasoning’s performance at RoSFest was recorded for posterity and the band decided having heard it that there was the potential to release a live album. Live in the USA: The Bottle of Gettysburg is the result of that decision.

Having toured with the band in 2010 I knew their set as it was, the original arrangements from the albums, the layered vocals, the two guitar parts (3 when Maria picked up the acoustic) and was still unsure, despite hearing otherwise, how they would pull this off.

I needn’t have worried. At all.

After the Intro (an original composition? TT?) the band dive straight into Diamonds & Leather from Adverse Camber. I get the impression there are some ‘opening nerves’ as this track kicks in, nothing truly noticeable, but I feel it’s there. But only momentarily. By the time Owain picks his second break the band are in full swing. I’m pleased to report that the intertwined vocal parts are still there, with Tony taking on more than he has in the past. I can tell the arrangements are different, in fact I know they have to be as there’s only one guitar now, but for the life of me I can’t tell where that second guitar went!

Next up is Fallen Angels and again, the new arrangement has filled out to the point where you can’t think where anything else would go? This is a leaner, meaner and most definitely gig fit band on stage. I’m not sure if it’s just the CD mix or if it was the same live but Matt’s bass is more prominent, something I feel has been lacking both in recordings and live performances before. And it’s good to hear. The combination of Jake, on excellent form, and Matt’s beefier bass give the songs a bottom end/drive which I felt had been lacking on occasion before.

And this is where I have to be honest. (Matt, close your eyes and open them again in a paragraph!)

While I regard the songwriting of The Reasoning very highly, tracks such as Chasing Rainbows, Dark Angel, Breaking the Fourth Wall (not on this live album sadly) and Call Me God? never cease to impress, I’ve always felt the arrangements built up to something which just didn’t happen. I’m not sure how to explain it but I just felt that many of the songs which promised so much ultimately had something missing.

I stand corrected. And then some. These new arrangements are stronger, more confident and most definitely deliver. Less, in this case, is most definitely more!

And then there’s Rachel. Already regarded by many as one of the better female vocalists in the British Prog Rock scene this performance can only increase her standing. Having assumed many of the lead vocals which Dylan had previously sung there’s a  character to her voice which I’d never been aware of before. Shadow of the Mind is a perfect example of this.

In short, this album is a triumph, a testament to the abilities of the members of The Reasoning to reinvent their material and to help it grow. There isn’t one track on the album where I thought “Oh, there used to be an additional (enter instrument/artist) part in there”. Each member of the band has taken on that little bit more, expanded their role and the end result is one of the strongest live performances I’ve heard from The Reasoning.

The track listing is:

Intro / Diamonds & Leather*** / Fallen Angels* / Sharp Sea** / The Nobody Effect*** / Shadows of the Mind* / The Thirteenth Hour*** / How Far To Fall?** / Chasing Rainbows* / 14*** / Dark Angel** / Aching Hunger*

* from The Awakening
** from Dark Angel
*** from Adverse Camber

Highlights for me are Shadows of the Mind, Chasing Rainbows and Aching Hunger… and the artwork. Matt announced his excitement on Twitter shortly before releasing the album about the cover artwork, and holding it in my hands I can see why. Mark Wilkinson, he of early Marillion album sleeve fame (among many other things), has done the guys proud. (Matt, if you read this, I want the whole chill sauce story next time we meet!)

If this performance is anything to go by, and the arrangements the shape of things to come, then this weekend’s gigs at The Borderline and The Robin 2 will be great and the EP they’re currently working on (due December 2011) should be a welcome addition to any prog fans collection. I, for one, can’t wait!

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Loosely woven, but intricate nevertheless…

It would be so easy, with the pedigree of those involved, to label this album as a progressive rock collaboration, to pass it off as another throwaway from the MA stable which has, over the last 2-3 years produced a seemingly endless stream of projects and offshoots.

To do so would, in this case, be a travesty. Parade’s debut is all that, and so much more.

The Fabric is an album which draws threads from genres spanning decades and weaves them into something which is almost greater than the sum of it’s parts.

Come Alive has all the jangly sparkle that current chart breakers seem to need, a quirky track which would be as at home on Radio 1 on a Sunday night as it would being introduced by Whispering Bob. Start Again is reminiscent of a late 80s style of guitar based pop a la Stone Roses crossed with Transvision Vamp, a strangely alluring mix. The album continues to surprise, at one time airing psychedelic rock with the panache of Jim Morrison’s The End (High Life) before bursting forth with an almost perfect Brit pop anthem (Feedline) of which both Gallaghers and Mr Brown would be proud, hurling headlong into Gothic grandiose the likes of which Wayne Hussey can now only dream. And then finally leaving you with a haunting melody (Ending) which seems to pull all those loose ends into a delicate yet cohesive whole.

At other times there’s an introspective feel to the songs (Facing Down) which almost seems out of place.

There are definite nods to the time Chris Johnson has spent touring with Fish in both the construction of some of the songs and the use of ‘grooves’ to guide some of the tracks. And it’s also apparent that some of the material was perhaps meant for an alternative vehicle. What is not so apparent is where Parade will go from here?

High points on the album are The Diamond, a hypnotic track which draws you in with the rhythmic acoustic guitar and almost cardiac drum beat, and The Dogs which can only be described as ‘prog meets 28 Days Later’ and showcases the vocal talents of both Chris Johnson and Anne-Marie Helder to great effect.

It’s not all roses. The eclectic mix of styles and the ‘loose’ production make The Fabric a hard album to listen to. It seems that the edges of this material may be somewhat frayed, there’s an incoherence to the overall album which may turn some listeners off (I missed the excellence of Ending for this very reason on my first listen!), all I can recommend is perseverence and eventually the disparate threads will create a whole.

On first listen The Fabric may confuse, on the second it will amaze and on each listen thereafter new emotions and experiences will abound.

It’s like Dali in sound.