Happy The Man - Crafty Hands

Year of Release: 1999
Label: One Way Records
Catalog Number: 34547
Format: CD
Total Time: 41:33:00

In 1978, Happy The Man released their second album for Arista, Crafty Hands (Arista). The music mined the same adventurous vein as their 1977 debut, but the songs were a bit shorter (only two cracked the seven-minute mark), as was the entire album. This was no loss, however; Crafty Hands beat the proverbial "sophomore jinx" and actually proved to be a better album than Happy The Man.

Crafty Hands heralded changes in the band and in their sound. Ron Riddle replaced original drummer Mike Beck and the light-hearted sound of Happy The Man was replaced by a darker, more serious tone. Riddle fit well into the band's established framework, and the musicianship on Crafty Hands more than equaled that found on the first album. The sound, however, seemed to be the mirror image of Happy The Man; the arrangements were more intense and meaty, giving the songs the occasional air of genuine rock.

Harpsichord introduces "Service With A Smile", a brief but powerful piece highlighting Stanley Watkins' multi-tracked guitars. "Morning Sun", a New Age-sounding Watkins' composition, reminds of "Starborne" from the first album, but there's no danger of falling asleep here; Riddle's sturdy drumming and Whitaker's acoustic guitar propel the song nicely along to its "sunset". "Ibby It Is", the first of the two "long" songs, kicks as an ensemble jam, then becomes a Yes-style instrumental laced with short, quirky keyboard interludes and an eerie (Wind And Wuthering-era) Genesis-like middle. Whitaker hauls out some amazing sounds from his guitar, alternately reminding of Steve Howe, Steve Lukather, and John Scofield in places. "Steaming Pipes" wraps the first half of the album in the unique Happy The Man style; multi-layered Wyatt saxophones and Watkins-Wyatt keyboards, growling guitar from Whitaker, and spot-on support from Riddle and bassist Rick Kennell, fading oddly away on a lop-sided melody accented by Watkins' parping synthesizers.

"Wind Up Doll Day Wind", the "other long song", brings together the composing skills of Watkins, Whitaker, and Wyatt for Crafty Hands' tour de force. Whitaker sings Wyatt's lyrics over a great Kansas/Yes/Supertramp arrangement that incorporates every element of Happy The Man's musical arsenal. Again, the guitars remind of Howe, but once Whitaker steps on the wah-wah pedal, the sound becomes very much his own. "Open Book" opens with shimmering keyboards and saxophones, then breaks into a medieval passage that conjures visions of dancers wending their way through a 12th century English village, only to be vanquished by the massive return of the original melody. "I Forgot To Push It" kicks in hard as a Yes-style rocker that uses electric guitars, Stax-Volt style horns, and loads of hand-claps to drive the punchy riffs along. "The Moon, I Sing (Nossuri)" closes the album in fine Kit Watkins style, built on layered electric keyboards, acoustic guitars, and flutes, sounding almost like the logical antithesis to "Morning Sun."

One thing I haven't mentioned is Happy The Man's predominant use of the three-count on Crafty Hands. Almost every song is based on three-count beats, whether they be 3/4, 6/8, 12/8, or 15/8. In fact, the three-counts are so heavily used that I like to call Crafty Hands "Count Three and Play"! I mention this only because it is so apparent and also because it adds a fine continuity ("flow", if you will) to the album. If you like to waltz around your living room, there are plenty of melodies here to which you can indulge yourself.

Let me wrap by saying that I absolutely love Crafty Hands and that it ranks squarely among my most favorite progressive albums of all time. If you've never heard Happy The Man, this is a great place to check them out. A great album by one of America's Best.

Service With A Smile (2:42) / Morning Sun (4:05) / Ibby It Is (7:51) / Steaming Pipes (5:42) / Wind Up Doll Day Wind (7:10) / Open Book (4:54) / I Forgot To Push It (3:03) / The Moon, I Sing (Nossuri) (6:16)

Stanley Whitaker - six and twelve string guitars, vocals
Kit Watkins - pianos, harpsichord, Moog, fake strings, clavinet, B3, recorder
Frank Wyatt - pianos, harpsichord, saxophones, flute, words
Rick Kennell - bass
Ron Riddle - drums, 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 15th 2001
Reviewer: David Cisco

Artist website: www.happytheman.com
Hits: 795
Language: english


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