Happy The Man - Beginnings

Year of Release: 1990
Label: Cuneiform Records
Catalog Number: 55003
Format: CD
Total Time: 59:26:00

Because of their planned NEARfest 2000 appearance/reunion, I thought I'd give this disk another listen. I bought it about two to three years ago, and I'm glad I have given it another chance. Although this is another one that entered my collection but didn't grab me right way; I can't think why. Of course, there isn't anything I can say about Happy The Man that hasn't been already said other than what I think about the music.

Other than snippets in others' reviews or mentions in books about progressive rock, I knew very little about Happy The Man going into this. There is an excellent biography on the official Happy The Man site, which also accompanies the Musea versions of both their self-titled debut and their second album Crafty Hands. Vocalist Cliff Fortney appears on four of the album's seven tracks, making Happy The Man essentially an instrumental band, which they became for their two contemporaneous releases. There are fleeting vocals on the Frank Wyatt penned track, "Leave That Kitten Alone, Armone," named for Ed Kinestrick's 3-legged dog. Kinestrick worked in Madison College's theater department - where Stanley Whitaker went to study - and with whom Wyatt tried to produce the "Death's Crown" project Happy The Man initiated; the music was released in 1999.

Beginnings is a collection of tracks from the band's early days, circa 1974 and 1975. Some of the tracks were recorded live by the band, the others recorded at Mennonite Broadcasting, but all in Harrisonburg, Virginia. There are moments during certain tracks where I couldn't help but think of Genesis. Cliff Fortney has a much different voice than Peter Gabriel - a smoother, silkier voice, so isn't so much that they sound like Genesis, but rather that same sense of the odd. Of course, I find the first track's title "Leave That Kitten Alone, Armone" echoes Pink Floyd's "Careful With That Axe, Eugene." I've not listened to the latter enough to see if there is any musical kinship, but given Floyd's psychedelic beginnings and HTM's jazz beginnings (no pun intended), I rather think that the similarity is purely of a grammatical nature.

Happy The Man's musical style here is light jazz. Not lightweight, but rather open, airy? arrangements take time to evolve. On the first of the disc's seven tracks, "Leave That Kitten Alone, Armone" the entire lyrical content is that refrain repeated throughout, making this an otherwise all instrumental affair. The lightness and energy in the arrangement underscores the "happy" in their moniker. "Leave?" shows the lyrical flair Stanley Whitaker has on guitar? actually, all the musicians here - Mike Beck (drums), Kit Watkins (keys), Frank Wyatt (piano, sax), and Rick Kennell (bass) - are excellent musicians. Just listening to the interplay between them and the dynamics... great.

Not everything here is bright and happy as "Don't Look To The Running Sun" begins with quiet, understated notes - keys, light percussion? This track is very much like early Genesis compositionally, and even with its bouncy chorus, there is something dark lurking. Though it never occurred to me until just now, I hear echoes of Happy The Man in Galahad, perhaps only because Stuart Nicholson has a voice similar to Fortney's?but there's a phrase in "Parade" (In A Moment Of Complete Madness) that comes to mind here. Hmm ? odd that that track is about "old" rock stars reuniting on stage "one more time" ? which echoes a line in this song which is "Can we turn the page / One more time?" And didn't Genesis have a song "Musical Box" where the refrain is "play me my song, here it comes again?"* Okay, the kinship is tenuous, but I do find that there are some sonic similarities between Galahad and Happy The Man.

The Genesis influence is felt quite strongly in "Gretchen's Garden." There are even some guitar notes that could have been borrowed from "Supper's Ready." It says in the biography mentioned above that the influences heard here are "more derivative than the band's subsequent output [but] point to key elements of its future style?" Having heard VDGG recently, parts of this track make me think of that band as well, as Fortney sounds a bit like Hammill.

Nevertheless, by the time we get to "Portrait Of A Waterfall" the sound is far jazzier than before, the Genesis-isms behind them.

Although the production is rough on a couple of tracks, given that were recorded live, the overall sound is good. And chalk me up as another Happy The Man fan.

*I've not seen the printed lyrics, so it could be "playing my song, here it comes again"

Leave That Kitten Alone, Armone (9:16) / Passion's Passing (8:40) / Don't Look To The Running Sun (9:52) / Gretchen's Garden (11:04) / Partly The State (9:20) / Broken Waves (5:49) / Portrait Of A Waterfall (6:45)

Mike Beck - drums, percussion
Cliff Fortney - lead vocals, flute, Rhodes (2 - 5)
Rick Kennell - electric bass
Kit Watkins - multi-keyboards, vocals
Stanley Whitaker - electric guitar, vocals
Frank Wyatt - keyboards, alto sax, flute, vocals

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: June 1st 2000
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow

Artist website: www.happytheman.com
Hits: 1032
Language: english


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