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Fernwood, USA

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Samples

Fernwood - Almeria. 2008 private
Fernwood - Sangita. 2009 private
Fernwood - Arcadia. 2015 private. Also avail on LP.

Interesting story on how this album got into my possession in the first place. Gayle Ellett had reached out to see if I had a chance to hear the Arcadia CD he had sent. Umm... well... uh... What CD was that again? LOL. Turns out there is a print magazine called Under the Radar that they had sent a promo copy to. They're like all professional and stuff. Obviously not my Under the Radar, the textbook definition of Amateur Hour. After a few laughs, Gayle was kind enough to send me the CD anyway (and is housed in a very nice digi-pak). It's a little outside of our normal UTR fare, but I'm glad to say it's a very good album that I'm looking forward to soaking more with.

Fernwood are the California based duo of Todd Montgomery and Gayle Ellett, the latter most known to progressive fans as a member of Djam Karet. They each play a tremendous amount of (primarily stringed) instruments, including but not limited to, Greek and Irish bouzouki, sitar, banjo, dobro, mandolin, tenor ukelele, violin, and... Moog, Mellotron, organ, Rhodes, and electric guitar. Despite the presence of these latter instruments, the music is always calm and peaceful. In fact, I would like to use a term that Fernwood best represents. Unfortunately it has become somewhat of a pejorative, but shouldn't be regarded as such. And that term would be New Age.

35 years ago, the New Age movement had just begun and offered up a promising style of music that promoted music from around the world, generally in a tranquil, cosmic, and meditative manner. But it didn't take long for labels such as Windham Hill and Narada to turn the style into an almost Adult Contemporary pop music, perfect for bored rich housewives sipping sangria before their next yoga class.

Fernwood returns us to the original spirit of the genre, recalling pioneers such as Popol Vuh, but taking it to the next level. There are 11 tracks here, each as spellbinding as the next. Typically, I'm not fond of music such as this as I generally hear it, quite frankly, as dull. And yet I found myself transfixed and swept away by the blend of sounds created here. The production is stunning, and provides the crystal clear sound music like this needs to breathe. I see this as an album that is likely to grow in stature, and my initial rating is conservative (Gnosis 10 / RYM 3.5 which means Very Good and well worth owning)!

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The Morrigan, England

Website
Samples

The Morrigan - Spirit of the Soup. 1984 private (LP); 1999 English Garden (CD)
The Morrigan - Rides Out. 1990 private (LP); 1997 English Garden (CD)
The Morrigan - Wreckers. 1996 English Garden
The Morrigan - Masque. 1998 English Garden
The Morrigan - Hidden Agenda. 2002 English Garden

I haven't heard the debut, so we start with "Rides Out"...

On paper at least, England's The Morrigan doesn't sound like my cup of tea. In essence, The Morrigan play rocked out versions of English traditional folk songs. Or self-penned tracks that sound like English traditional folk songs. Fortunately I happened upon "Rides Out" not long after the CD release, and was captivated immediately. Not only are these spirited reproductions - or originals - but there is definitely a psychedelic/heavy rock slant to their approach (and guitar sound), reminding me of some of the early 70s greats like Mellow Candle or The Trees. The female vocals and recorders - heck th…

La Coscienza di Zeno, Italy

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Originally published November 3, 2013 and moved forward to highlight their new album La Notte Anche di Giorno.

The band is still active as of August 2016, and a 4th album is in the works.

La Coscienza di Zeno - s/t. 2011 Mellow (CD); 2014 Fading (CD)
La Coscienza di Zeno - Sensitivita. 2013 Fading (CD)
La Coscienza di Zeno - La Notte Anche di Giorno. 2015 Fading (CD); 2016 Fading (LP)

----La Coscienza di Zeno

La Coscienza di Zeno's debut is fastball down the middle Italian progressive rock. If you're a fan of the style, then hard to imagine one not enjoying this. It does eschew the retro instrumental palette, but compositionally similar to the 70s masters.

----Sensitivita

Continuing on from their debut, La Coscienza di Zeno have made some significant improvements in many areas... and perhaps a few steps back in others. Let's focus on the positive first. The instrumental palette has been increased to include more of an analog orientation, though there is …

Il Bacio della Medusa, Italy

News: Il Bacio della Medusa have a new album, their 4th, called Seme*,and has just been released om AMS, who picked the band up in 2015 and reissued their back catalog. Label says: "Contrary to what often happens in the vast progressive rock panorama, crowded by many prolific artists, Il Bacio della Medusa has always taken their right time to release a new album: this time six years have in fact passed from the previous “Deus Lo Vult”. Nothing to complain, however, when the wait is rewarded by the high quality of the result.“Seme*” is no exception in this sense and, if the wind instruments played by Eva Morelli and Simone Cecchini’s voice represent elements of continuity with the past, everything else has been completely revolutionized. We are in fact facing the band’s most immediate and at the same time more varied record, a blend of hard, folk, jazz and classic rock, typical songwriter’s moments and even country and electronic music! If it’s true that ‘prog’ means also evolutio…

Vespero, Russia

News: Addendum and good news at that - Now on CD! Vespero has just announced their latest studio album Shum-SHIR, which will be out November 17th. That's the good news. The OK news is that it will be LP only (on Tonzonen). I'm not so keen on this trend myself. I love LPs - but from another era. Oh well I'll probably get it anyway, since I'm such a huge fan of the band. Band says: "Shum-Shir' is second part of 'Abyssinian Tales' (first -'Lique Mekwas' was released as CD on R.A.I.G. In 2016). Fully instrumental psyche-kraut-rock with ethno influences. Mastered by Eroc."
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Location: Astrakhan

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Scherzoo, France

News: According to a September post on Facebook: "Scherzoo was in the studio in August to record the eight titles of their 4th album, and everything went great! The album is currently in the mix."  I never did hear the 3rd album, being somewhat spooked by the second one. Certainly a band I continue to follow however and welcome any chance I can to hear them.

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Location:  Lyon

Overview: Scherzoo's sound is somewhere between avant prog and Zeuhl, whereas Thollot's solo works scratch the avant angle and add in some Heldon like electronic rock.

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Astrolabio, Italy

News: Astrolabio are still quite active on Facebook anyway, and touting their 2nd album from 2016. I still haven't heard it, but did finally manage to get a few notes out on their debut.

Facebook Website Samples
Location: Verona

Overview: Astrolabia was formed from the ashes of a band called Elettrosmog who released a couple of demos in the mid 2000s. They are yet another fantastic band playing the Italian retro prog style. Their first album L'isolamento dei Numeri Pari received high marks from me, though unfortunately I didn't get a chance to pen any notes down. Next time. But it left a strong enough impression for me to add them to the A-List,and I look forward to the new album.

UMR notes

El Circulo de Willis, Spain

News: El Circulo de Willis are active and playing live shows in their native Spain. No word on a new album. I've only heard the latest from 2015 called Retales, but I was mightily impressed with the music and will certainly explore their back catalog as opportunity affords.

Facebook Samples Website
Location: Madrid

Overview: El Circulo de Willis play an exciting instrumental progressive music driven by flute and guitar, with some sax, synthesizer, and metal touches. Like a blend of Ozric Tentacles, Naikaku, and Dream Machine with a bit of Kong thrown in.

Taipuva Luotisuora, Finland

News: Taipuva Luotisuora have returned in 2017, after a two year break, playing live concerts well into the summer. No word yet on a new album.

Facebook Website Samples
Location: Turku

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ARC, England

News: ARC has a new album entitled Fleet that was just released on October 20th. Auto buy!

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UMR notes