Happy The Man - Happy The Man

Year of Release: 1999
Label: One Way Records
Catalog Number: 34546
Format: CD
Total Time: 43:55:00

Happy The Man emerged in the late '70s from the Mid-Atlantic region with a dazzling progressive sound uniquely their own. A highly-skilled and extremely well-rehearsed unit, Happy The Man's two albums on the Arista label set a very high standard for American progressive units to aspire to while challenging and pleasing the most jaded progressive fans. The first album, Happy The Man, was released in 1977; Crafty Hands followed in 1978. Both album's were re-issued in 1999 on One Way Records.

Happy The Man opens with "Starborne," a decidedly un-rocking piece of fluff. The song drifts along on a dreamy melody (reminiscent of John Klemmer's Touch) that threatens to lull the listener to sleep, but a massive crescendo jolts (them) back to wide-eyed wakefulness. "Stumpy Meets The Firecracker In Stencil Forest" is an insane ensemble piece that puts Frank Wyatt's saxophones to good use. Opening as powerful, piano-driven mood piece, "Stumpy..." suddenly turns on its head to become a hilarious, Latin-based jaunt. The music features a staccato melody that conjures visions of colorfully dressed dancers doing a Mexican hat dance who, unfortunately, are stepping all over the sombrero and spraining ankles in the process! Kit Watkins breaks up the dance with wild synthesizer solos that could've been lifted directly from Yes' "Gates of Delirium".

"Upon The Rainbow (Befrost)" introduces the first of two Stanley Whitaker vocals. An excellent tone poem, "Upon..." compares the journey through life with the rainbow bridge of Norse legend. Happy The Man uses a sweet, insistent melody to create a sense of medieval times and the awe of the song's protagonist during an unexpected encounter with a god. Once again, the music reminds of Klemmer's Touch, but it's only a reminder. "Mr. Mirror's Reflection On Dreams" threatens to kick in as a heavy Yes-style jam, but this eight-minute piece has so many melody and groove changes that it's hard to really pin it down. Visions of Todd Rundgren's Utopia, Return To Forever, the afore-mentioned Yes, and Gentle Giant all spring to mind, and Stanley Whitaker emphasizes the Yes influence by managing to sound a lot like Steve Howe.

With a name like "Carousel", one would think the song might be a light-hearted visit to the carnival, but that's not the case. Dark and eerie, "Carousel" is more like a ride through Dante's nine levels of hell. A creepy, lop-sided melody - so much so that it almost causes motion sickness - provides Kit Watkins the opportunity to punch out scary synthesizer solos that incite aural imaginings of unhappy souls wailing in the afterlife. Spooky! Things immediately lighten up, though, with "Knee Bitten Nymphs In Limbo", a goofy collage of off-time melodies and an offbeat ascending riff that doesn't sound so much like music as - dare I say it? - anti-music! The mood is so light-hearted though, that the listener can't help laughing out loud as the song plays out.

"On Time As A Helix Of Precious Laughs" brings guitarist Whitaker back to the mike to sing about accepting the inevitable passage of time with good humor and grace. The vocal segments encapsulate a great RTF-style jam that allows Whitaker to stretch out a bit a la Al DiMeola and Kit Watkins' marimba adds a joyful touch to the song's final minutes. "Hidden Moods" - my favorite piece on Happy The Man- once again resurrects the Klemmer touch (!), then becomes a sweet romp that would be very much at home on any Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays album. "New York Dream's Suite", the album's closer, is a wild ride through progressive/fusion land that pulls out all the stops. RTF, Mahavishnu, Utopia, Jean-Luc Ponty (sans violins) - it's all here, tied into a melodic tour de force that, while giving the nod to the band's influences, is distinctly Happy The Man. A great eight minutes that passes far too quickly and closes the album in style.

To my ear, Happy The Man's music was more fusion than progressive rock. Fortunately, the band's sound was very much their own, and a joy - not to mention a challenge - to listen to. Happy The Man is a great album that, like many of it's mid-Seventies contemporaries, seems to get overlooked by many progressive music fans. If you love melody, complexity, and fun, then check out Happy The Man - it should be a very happy experience!

Starborne (4:22) / Stumpy Meets The Firecracker In Stencil Forest (4:16) / Upon The Rainbow (Befrost) (4:42) / Mr. Mirror's Reflection On Dreams (8:54) / Carousel (4:06) / Knee Bitten Nymphs In Limbo (5:22) / Hidden Moods (3:41) / New York Dream's Suite (8:32)

Stanley Whitaker - six and twelve string guitars, lead vocals
Kit Watkins - synthesizers, acoustic and electric pianos, organ, clavinet, flute, marimba
Frank Wyatt - saxophones, flute, piano, keyboards, vocals
Rick Kennell - electric bass
Mike Beck - percussion

Happy The Man (1977)
Crafty Hands (1978)
Better Late... (1983)
Beginnings (1990)
Live (1997)
Death's Crown (1999)
The Muse Awakens (2004)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: May 8th 2001
Reviewer: David Cisco

Artist website: www.happytheman.com
Hits: 935
Language: english


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