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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Happy The Man

The Muse Awakens

Review by Steve Alspach

Comic Ian Shoales once said, during the hubbub concerning record ratings, that it would be a good idea to have ratings , but only the right ones, such as "TMS" - Too Much Synthesizer, "NGL" - Needs Guitar Lessons, and "OFMTMMTR" - Old Farts Making Too Much Money to Retire. If that's the case, then "The Muse Awakens" gets a rating of "BTRWTI" - Band That Records Way Too Infrequently.

Happy the Man's latest album is all that we have come to expect from them - a wide array of instrumentals with the token vocal track, all done with top-notch musicianship. Old hands Stanley Whitaker and Frank Wyatt are here to provide the lion's share of compositions, and Rick Kennell fills out on bass. Keyboardist David Rosenthal is an excellent fit on keyboards, and Joe Bergamini on drums and percussion finishes out this lineup.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Contemporary Insanity
There is some top-notch interplay between Rosenthal and Whitaker on this hectic opener, penned by Rosenthal. It's a very complicated piece that spotlights the tightness of the band as a unit.
The Muse Awakens
HtM are masters at light, airy instrumentals. Here Wyatt's soprano sax takes the lead. The band then goes into a harder, 5/4 mode before settling back to the main theme.
Stepping Through Time
This song starts in a rather languid tone, but Bergamini's drums propel the dynamics to Rosenthal's nimble keyboard finale.
Maui Sunset
This is prototypical Happy the Man, a soft instrumental in 6/4, with a slight role reversal as Wyatt plays Fender Rhodes and Rosenthal plays synthesized flute. Whitaker's understated guitar solo adds to the languid mood.
Lunch at the Psychedelicatessen
There are some playful moments on this tune. The opening theme shows a bouncy Whitaker riff backing a Wyatt lead.
Slipstream
Frank Wyatt takes center stage on this piece. Switching piano for saxophone, Wyatt plays lead melody while Rosenthal fills out beautifully, and Whitaker makes a couple of short-but-well-placed appearances.
Barking Spiders
This bit of funk-fusion sounds like something the Dregs might pull off with its tricky time signatures and powerful passages.
Adrift
The title implies the mood. Wyatt gets the spotlight here with both melody and soloing, showing his skills on saxophone.
Shadowlights
The lone vocal track on the CD, this may be the hardest rocking number as well, though at a slow 7/4 it doesn't exactly induce headbanging.
Kindred Spirits
This piece by Rosenthal captures the compositional spirit of Kit Watkins, his predecessor in the band. It's another slow-yet-hypnotic composition, full of warmth with Fender Rhodes, bar chimes, and soprano sax.
Il Quinto Mare
The band pulls out all the stops on this finale. Rosenthal plays a string-section keyboard to give the song a bit of an orchestral feel. The group then goes off to a slow-paced movement in 13 with the melody heavy on half- and whole-notes before fading to the sounds of birds on the shore.
 
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