Glass Hammer - Shadowlands


Year of Release: 2004
Label: Arion Records
Catalog Number: SR1122
Format: CD
Total Time: 58:08:00

I love it! Ah, but that's not really where I wanted to start this review, so let's rewind just a bit and start over.

What will likely be mentioned in every review of Glass Hammer's latest release Shadowlands is that the album includes a cover of "Longer," the classic Dan Fogelberg song (and one of my favourites, as it happens), however, that is but one element on what is a spectacularly done suite of music. Equally as often, of course, will there be mentions of Kansas ... and specifically their mid-70s period. There are no short tracks here, and that's why you see only five listed below. The shortest is "Farewall To Shadowlands" at 7:30, the album ending with the epic length "Behind The Great Beyond." We shouldn't be surprised by this, Glass Hammer's sound is informed by the classic prog bands of yore (even if those of yore are still making music today) and Yes didn't shy away from long pieces. Sonically, it's of Kansas that you will think of most often, as said, and more than just because of the presence of violin (Rebecca James). This is symphonic prog all the way, you will hear a massive assemblage of Hammond organ, pipe organ, synths, mellotron, piano, and keyboards at centrestage, sharing that space only with the lead vocals Walter Moore, Steve Babb, Fred Schendel and Susie Bogandowicz at varying times through out the album. Add to that a variety of guitars, drums, percussion, Taurus pedals, four and eight string basses and the assistance of The Adonia String Trio featuring, in addition to James, Susan Hawkins on viola and Rachel Hackenburger on cello and you get quite a potent and heady mix. If you were to graph it, you really would find layer over layer of sound, each translucent enough to let the other layers come through, but not so flimsy as to be overwhelmed but the lower layers. It's that tapestry of elements that is not just typical of Kansas, but of Glass Hammer's other influences, namely Yes. One can hear on "Run Lissette," for example, that Schendel's sweet guitar phrases are very much influenced by the fluid playing of Steve Howe, a thread that runs through every track.

I love it! Oops, that's not supposed to come next. !ti evol I

It's just not going to be fair down the road to artists who release material this year, as already for me, two of 2004's top spots are filled (see my review of Steve Morse's Major Impacts 2). Okay, I think in some circles this was released at the end of 2003, but it says 2004 right there on the back of the jewel case, so? This is just such a fantastic album? it's one such that if you love symphonic rock full of rich atmosphere and lush arrangements ? and yes, these words must apply here -- then you can't help being carried away by this buoyant and joyful release. You can't help but be enraptured. No, no hyperbole here. I love it! ? oh, okay, we'll leave it this time.

The adventure begins with "So Close, So Far" with lead vocals by Flo Paris, though they are truly co-lead as she is joined by thee trio of male voices. Before we get to that point when the vocal begin, we are already treated to an proggy overture of keyboards and those sweet guitar lines. When Paris does take over the lead, what emerges is a soft, light, high, voice ? very nice. There's a strong sense of classicism to "So Close, So Far," as it reminds me of the allegories one finds in mythology, here given a medieval setting. A knight gazes upon a woman living on an island who he loves, and yet is separated from her both physically by the water between them and figuratively by his own timidity ? at least in affairs of the heart. "Time spent fighting dragons is wasted, now I know / I wish I had learned to swim instead / But I didn't want to get my feet wet?" the protagonist says/sings. But the moral, if you will, at the end comes with "The journey of a thousand miles, the story goes / Begins not with a step but with the will to step?"

"Run Lisette" is equally epic in story, with and ending that can be read both literally and metaphorically, though it is based on "true events from the Napoleonic wars," says Babb on the Glass Hammer website, telling Paul Burke (Glimmer Media) in an interview, "It just struck me as a unique story; something from the memoirs of a French officer, Baron Marbot. Marbot had a unique way of describing the battle, the event, and his horse Lisette [?] [a story that you can read on the band's website]. The song attempts to capture the glory of Lisette's charge and the bravery of Marbot. It was 'one in a million' stories as the lyrics say. And I wanted to breathe new life into this tale of a soldier and his most peculiar horse." That horse's vicious nature, once a liability, as "she would rage / Killing a groom ? beating down her cage [?] she had murder in her heart [?] took him by the throat and rode away?," became an asset when, with her rider (Marbot) shot at and dazed, they come under closer attack (including a deep wound into the horse's flank). She grabs the attacker (by the throat, we assume) and runs "like the wind to murder him/ Finds her a spot / Clear of the lot / Stomping like death / Biting deep into flesh ? she kills her man."

That layering of elements is present here in a different fashion, as we get two lead vocals overlapping, one the voice of the "chorus" the other the voice of "Marbot" singing compatible but very different lines ? the former describing the scene (in the first instance, wondering why the mare doesn't flee now free), the latter urging the horse to flee. What happens above explains why she doesn't.

"Farewell to Shadowlands" comparatively, seems more contained, though it is no less epic. Here guitar is more present in the mix, taking a much more extensive role, being the lead voice during the instrumental passages, of which there are many? basically, it's an instrumental with brief vocal interludes. The ascending scale the verses go along mimic the path the protagonist is taking from death to afterlife? "He gathered me up / Took me on high?" If you think of the phrase "though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death," this is the starting point for this song ? the reference is unmistakable, at least to me, in the first line, "I walked in the Valley / Of Deepest Despair [?] Fell foes gather 'round me / Shadows draw near ?"

The album ends with the epic length epic "Behind The Great Beyond" (sounds like a Spock's Beardy/Neal Morsey like title ? or Trent Gardner, maybe). Warm piano and strings play a subdued but cheerful opening, seemingly from the early part of the last century (that'd be the 1900s, I mean). Tart keyboards bring us into the latter half of 20th Century/first part of the 21st with a strong sense of Kansasism. Add in some plucked strings (violin or viola) and more Howe-like guitar. And I'm sure it's just coincidence, but there's certain vocal phrasing during the verses of "Behind The Great Beyond" that remind me of a phrase in the 70s hit "If I Can't Have You" (Yvonne Ellman), sung in harmony as though it were the?um, Bee Gees. This is not a problem for me, as I happen to have always liked that song, and have liked the Bee Gees to some degree (even the disco period; heresy, perhaps, but you'll just have to live with it). There are still proggy elements, of course, mainly the Howe like guitar phrases that are on beautiful display here, and some nifty fluttery keyboard effects. And if you loved Point Of Know Return period Kansas (yup, I do), then there are instrumental passages here that you will love, recalling "Closet Chronicles," for example. At the halfway point, we get an acoustic, Spanish-influenced, guitar solo interlude that segues into a beautifully shimmery passage with sweetly singing guitar and vocals that signal a gradual build up to the full accompaniment again. Oh, this is an absolutely lovely passage; sublime, even. I love it!

So, finally, let's look at "Longer." Glass Hammer adds a rich symphonic intro this piece that in its original form was comparatively sparse and intimate. Glass Hammer's arrangement widens the song's scope, opening it up dramatically. I can't say I like it any more or less than original since it is so very different, though the core element of the arrangement, and the romantic warmth, still remains. And if you don't think this song fits with the rest of the album, just by impression alone ? One, Glass Hammer makes it fit easily. If you didn't know the classic ? and I can't assume that everyone does ? you'd never know it wasn't a GH original. Two, "wings" and/or the image of flight appear in nearly all of the album's tracks (the exception, at least in a concrete way, is "Behind The Great Beyond"). What's funny, I was first playing this at work, not looking at the lyrics or tracklisting, and thought to myself when this track begun, during an early keyboard passage, "ha, sounds like 'Longer'." I frowned a bit with the first verse, because I thought?"do they know?" and then I swung around from my computer to my desk and looked at the booklet. "Ah ha! It's more than coincidence?" (Though I wonder if they know a later keyboard passage sounds as though it were lifted from Neil Diamond's "America" [do di-do da-di-do, do di-do, da-di-do]...). I love it!

There is so much here that no review can hope to capture it all without it running for pages (this one alone is more than 1600 words, [and I said "I love it!" six ? technically seven ? times including just now] if you're curious). You just have to listen for yourself, and I, of course, encourage you to do that. Go and get it right now, I guarantee you'll be playing it over and over just to capture all the nuances, and then a dozen more times just to savor those nuances. I love it!


Tracklisting:
So Close, So Far (9:50) / Run Lisette (10:30) / Farewell To Shadowlands (7:30) / Longer (9:55) / Behind The Great Beyond (20:26)

Musicians:
Steve Babb - vocals, four and eight string bass, synthesizers, keyboards, pipe organ, Mellotron, Taurus pedals, percussion
Fred Schendel - vocals, steel guitar, electric and acoustic guitars, Hammond organ, piano, pipe organ, keyboards, synthesizers, Mellotron, drums, percussion

Guests:

Walter Moore - vocals
Susie Bogdanowicz - vocals
Sarah Snyder - backing vocals
Flo Paris - vocals
Bethany Warren - backing vocals

The Adonia string trio:

Rebecca James - violin
Susan Hawkins - viola
Rachel Hackenburger - cello

Discography:
Journey To The Dunadan (1994)
Perelandra (1996)
Live And Revived (1997)
On To Evermore (1997)
Chronometree (2000)
The Middle Earth Album (2001)
Lex Rex (2002)
Shadowlands (2004)
Live At NEARFest (2004)
The Inconsolable Secret (2005)
Culture Of Ascent (2007)
Three Cheers For The Broken-hearted (2009)
If (2010)
One (via GH only) (2010)
Cor Cordium (2011)
Perilous (2012)
The Inconsolable Secret (Deluxe Edition) (2013)
Ode To Echo (2014)
Breaking Of The World (2015)
Double Live (2015)
Valkyrie (2016)

Lex Live (DVD) (2004)
Live At Belmont (DVD) (2006)
Live At The Tivoli (DVD) (2008)

Genre: Symphonic Prog

Origin US

Added: February 9th 2004
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Score:
Artist website: www.glasshammer.com
Hits: 940
Language: english

  

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