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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

The Merlin Bird

Chapter and Verse

Review by Gary Hill

The most dramatic thing about this set is the vocal presence. There are layers and layers of vocals. The music itself is quite powerful. It’s symphonic progressive rock. The thing is, as good as that is, it is completely overshadowed by the vocal arrangements. If you like vocal heavy music, you will love this. Personally, I think such an involved and powerful vocal presence makes this both unique and quite captivating.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
To the Unknown God

I love the multi-layered vocal arrangement that opens this. There is a chorale kind of effect, but it also makes me think of things like Manhattan Transfer. As the instruments join it becomes a dense and powerful piece. It’s very definitely progressive rock with some cool shifts and changes that make me think of Renaissance a bit. The full vocal arrangement with both male and female vocals dancing all over this is incredible.

Chapter and Verse
As strong as the musical elements are on this, it is again the powerhouse vocal arrangement that really fills all the empty spaces. This has a bit more of an aethereal quality to it. Yet, it’s still has powerful moments. There are mellower sections where it drops way down, but it grows back outward. It’s again rather like Renaissance.
Chapter 3
This is just a short instrumental piece. It is rather symphonic and has hints of Middle Eastern music.
Words Across the Sky
Chanting in Latin, rather like something monks might do, open this. After a time like that, the female voices come in (in English). It creates a rather round-like texture. This is purely acapella.
In Dreams of Egypt
Symphonic elements get some keyboards in the mix as this grows with more of those Middle Eastern sounds. The percussion has a real world music feeling to it. Then, before the minute mark it powers out into some killer progressive rock. This is a fairly short instrumental, though, dropping back shortly after it gets empowered.
Of Night and Day

I have always loved the sound of harpsichord. That opens this piece and holds it as it grows. Vocals come in over the harpsichord dominated arrangement. This piece has a real classical bent to it as it grows. There are both male and female vocals at times, but the female ones dominate on this piece. It’s a powerful piece of symphonic progressive rock.

The Word That Was

This instrumental starts in mellower, more atmospheric symphonic progressive rock ways. It grows out into a more rocking sound mid-track with some crunchy guitar that makes me think of Hawkwind a bit. It eventually shifts back down to music more in keeping with the first section.

The Turning

Some of the male vocals on this one make me think of Pink Floyd. It’s another strong progressive rock number. It’s another that musically makes me think of Renaissance. There are female vocals on this, too, but the male ones are the main ones here. It has some very soaring sections. There is a Middle-Eastern tinged instrumental section mid-track. It does include one line of vocals separating the first two sections of it. The third section does get some non-lyrical vocals at times.

Truth's a Lady
This cut is very retro-styled. It has a combination of saloon music with something like rag-time. At least that’s true of the first half or so. It gets more of a prog rock aspect later in the piece. This has multiple layers of vocals, but they are all male. It’s a cool tune and a nice change. The saloon music returns to end it.
Backburner

Gregorian chant opens this. Then it works out to a fast paced progressive rock jam that makes me think of Gentle Giant quite a bit. Some male vocals come over the top of that. Then it drops to a slightly mellower motif for the female vocals. As it intensifies further down the road both types of vocals feature prominently. This is very much like old school symphonic prog, but with a really thick wall of vocals over the top. There are some vocals in a dreamy section later that are either backwards tracked or in a different language. I’m pretty well convinced they are backwards, but it could be Yiddish. It turns just a little crunchy for an instrumental section beyond that. Then chorale styled vocals join over the top of that guitar dominated arrangement.

Unto Rome

There are spoken female vocals at various points throughout. Both male and female sung vocals are also heard. This is another that really makes me think of Renaissance. This definitely a dynamic and powerful piece of music.

Another Story Told
A regal fanfare starts this. After that turns to a more prog based arrangement and run through, it drops to a piano arrangement. When the vocals come in over the top of that, I’m reminded of Genesis a bit. This is definitely another of the most dynamic cuts. We’re taken through quite a few changes. At times this one also reminds me of Renaissance. It’s melodic symphonic progressive rock start to finish. It rocks more at some points and lands in the more sedate territory at others. It’s really quite a thrill ride, though. A mellower, but quite dramatic section is accompanied by the sounds of the wind at the end.
To Be Continued...?
Melodic and symphonic mellow progressive rock is the idea on this short instrumental. It has a very processional vibe to it. It is a cool way to end the set in style.
 
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