Yoke Shire - A Seer In The Midst

Year of Release: 2002
Label: Zygo Records
Catalog Number: B00007LAZS
Format: CD
Total Time: 57:48:00

Yoke Shire's Masque Of Shadows album has been a constant companion since I first heard the opening notes of "The Three Welcomes," and it's an album I never get tired of hearing. I love its blend of dirty guitar riffs, fruity fluting, and oak-smoked vocals, as well as the more contemplative and experimental tracks, all wrapped up with leafy imagery of simpler times gone by.

But I was starting to wonder if this was just a one-off project before I then saw the ads for A Seer In The Midst. Great, I thought, some new material to get to grips with, but on closer inspection, the ads revealed that this was a collection of older pieces re-released, a couple of live tracks, and only two new compositions. Still, having discovered the band relatively recently, most of the tracks would be new to me.

Having unwrapped the CD, the liner notes explained that the band had been channeling all their energies into building a new studio since the Masque album, and that Seer is really a stop-gap release until brothers Craig and Brian are able to produce an album of completely new material. When you look at Seer from this point of view, it's quite an eclectic mix of tracks, some of more interest than others, but as an album it's pretty much one for collectors only.

Not that there's anything intrinsically wrong with Seer, as it gives new listeners an idea of the Yoke Shire sound and the impressive diversity of the brothers' musical talent, and the album does just what the publicity says. But as an album in its own right, I found it a bit lightweight. Perhaps it was because I was distracted looking through the liner notes at the time, but the first two tracks pretty much went in one ear and out the other. "Mesmerize" is a laid back jam, with some nice flute playing and mellow sounding synths, but is more new age than 'days of olden glory' suggested by the images and words on the liner notes. "Ghan Buri Ghan" on the other hand is little more than a bass guitar workout in swing style, a cast-off little ditty of limited interest.

The live tracks represent the highlight of the Masque album, with the opus "The Brook, The Mirror And The Maiden." I approached the live version with curiosity, to see how they would reproduce the multi-layered instumental section. The band's publicity makes a big deal about how the boys play completely live with no samplers etc, and to their credit they manage to pull off this track pretty well - as I listened to it I idly thought that it would have been adventurous to include this track as a multi-media option to enable listeners to view video footage and see just how the two brothers cover all the bases.

But while the trilogy of live tracks show the band at their pioneering best, they also display an unfortunate tendency to indulge in lengthy rambling, extending the original nine minute track to over twenty minutes but adding nothing of value. Granted, there will be the odd extended note by one player to allow the other to switch instruments, but most of the extra running time is taken up with pointless soloing. Ironically, given that this is my favourite Yoke Shire track, I was breathing a sigh of relief by the time the riff on "Return Voyage" kicked in. Sorry guys - this may have been great on the night, and I tip my cap in respect of your musical talents, but listening to it in my living room was a drag.

The remaining four tracks come from older tapes dusted down and given a remastering. Now normally I tend to find demo material of limited interest, perhaps playing it a couple of times for curiosity value and then moving on, but in this case by the time I'd finished playing these tracks I felt more reassured about having bought this album.

"24 Hours Past" treads more familiar ground, with a solid mixing desk job bringing the best out of the crunchy guitar riffs and adding character to the hazy sounding vocals, and the swirling guitar solos propel the song to its conclusion, with some amusingly manic laughter echoing around the speakers as the final notes fade out. "Mystical Mistress" continues in the same vein, with the production giving the song the trademark Yoke Shire vibe, and adding a very effective contribution from an organ in the song's mid-section. The band's preference for old-fashioned instruments is endearing, and brings a warmth to their sound that newer technology sometimes loses. But the other thing that I admire about the band is their adventurous spirit in pushing the envelope with the sounds they can coax out of their repertoire of traditional instruments. (Does anyone remember Queen's 'no synths' disclaimer on their early albums?)

This pioneering stance is evident on "Dogfight," which sounds like it's been entirely created by guitars, and while this isn't anything radical in itself, it shows that even in the band's early development they weren't willing to be limited in their imagination, even if they probably didn't have access to the wider range of instruments they now have at their disposal.

After the grating feedback of "Dogfight," A Seer In The Midst brings a tranquil change of mood, gently lulling the listener with its mandolins and a whimsical sound reminiscent of the Flower Kings. This is the album's epic, with its changing moods as we progress through the song, with the initial calming vibe soon giving way to something more ominous as the trademark flurries of guitar notes pick the tempo up, before finally settling into an extended synth fade out with multi-tracked vocals.

In spite of the lavish packaging, Seer is a bit of a motley collection but it does have its moments and is a reassuring reminder to fans that Yoke Shire are still on the go. Whether it's worth paying full price for is debatable - yes it contains an hour's worth of material, but the extended live tracks make that argument slightly redundant - and perhaps it could have been issued as a mid-price sampler. But having said that, at least some effort has gone into making previously rare tracks available again, and the production on the two new pieces shows that the band's investment in their studio has paid dividends.

So guys, now that the studio is built, let the ale run freely, smoke 'em if you've got 'em, and deliver us the true sequel to Masque Of Shadows so that we might celebrate once more!

Mesmerize (4:56) / Ghan Buri Ghan (2:51) / Maiden Voyage [Live] (5:44) / The Brook, The Mirror And The Maiden [Live] (20:01) / Return Voyage [Live] (2:51) / 24 Hours Past (5:29) / Mystical Mistress (4:53) / Dogfight (1:48) / A Seer In The Midst (9:15)

Craig Herlihy - lead and backing vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, bass, harmonica, flute, dulcimer, mandolin, bass pedals, theremin, marimba, melodihorn, drums, percussion
Brian Herlihy - electric and acoustic guitars, baritone guitar, backing vocals and percussion


Brad Dillon - drums, backing vocals, percussion, glockenspiel (tracks 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9)

Yoke - Yoke (1995)
"A Foreshadowing" (1998)
Masque Of Shadows (1999)
A Seer In The Midst (2002)
"Solar Solstice" (2004)
The Witching Hour (2007)
Awakening Celtic Spirits (2011)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: March 1st 2003
Reviewer: John Stout

Artist website: www.yokeshire.com
Hits: 649
Language: english


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