North Star - Tempest

Year of Release: 2000
Label: Space Monster Optional Entertainment
Catalog Number: CD-0500-4
Format: CD
Total Time: 57:19:00

If you were expecting more heavily Genesis influenced music as on their previously released albums, most notably on Feel The Cold, then the new North Star album, Tempest will be a pleasant surprise. The lineup for this outing, their first since 1992's Power, is Dave Johnson on guitars of various types, Glenn Leonard on drums, Kevin Leonard on keyboards, and Joe Newnam on sitar. What this all means is that it is an all instrumental affair.

The album opens with the title track, Tempest, which features a blistering guitar solo by Johnson that is just on this side of biting swirling winds which buffet you right off your feet. If you like Liquid Tension Experiment and other like bands then you'll like this, though the presence of the bass is minimal on this track. Keys are the second most prominent instrument...there were times when I thought of Magellan, especially during the last minute or so when the thumping bass is clearly heard. Some slight comparisons can be made to Djam Karet during the second track "Yes, I Know," this composed by Johnson.

To contrast with the tracks that take a instrumental, hard-edged prog bent there are a few that take them into many different territories not at all traveled by the neo-prog bands they once were grouped with. "Yes, I Know," in fact, ends on quite a jazzy note. "Colossus," which closes the album, is grandly triumphant sounding - this is soundtrack quality music. You can almost see the Roman legions marching across the Italian landscape... Okay, I do picture the film Ben Hur here; of course the Museum Replicas Limited catalog did just arrive, the cover featuring gladatorial Roman armor on the cover (including the gladiator) - no doubt to tie in with the success of Gladiator. The track is a rearrangement of "March Of The Centurions," a 1995 track by Kevin Leonard.

"Bathroom By The Bongos" is a fun track. Light keys tinkle, so to speak, over a rumbling bass and percussion ... the bongos of the title, of course. There is something processed sounding about it though, as it is akin to rhythmic contemporary instrumental. Three minutes in, it changes to something quite dark and sinister ... keys buzz ominously, as the rhythm becomes a slow, but stuttered, grind ... I thought of Rush ... a darker, slower "YYZ" perhaps.

Johann Sebestian Bach's "Prelude In C" is next, played on light keys and xylophonic percussion ... hmm, not surprisingly Ed Macan comes to mind. Heard alone, this would get North Star cataloged in the New Age section, however divergent from reality that category is. Unlike ELP, say, this isn't a rock version of a classical classic, but the sparse instrumentation is probably far different than Bach composed for.

"Raudra" is spaghetti western by way of sitar, and from what it sounds like, only sitar. The gun fighters are standing at opposite ends of the road, staring each other down while the dust swirls at their feet and the sun beats down, baking hot. Except this dusty, dirty road is in India not the American Southwest. This is a very good track, one of those that I'd label intriguing and involving. Like other single-instrument tracks that have easily become my favourites (David Lanz' "Leaves On The Seine" comes to mind as one), the use of space, of echo and reverb, make this a full-bodied track. The instrument and the way Newnam plays it fills the spaces that would be occupied elsewhere with bass and percussion - three instrumental sounds with only one instrument. The track also appears on Eastern Compositions For The Western Attention Span.

"Getting' Gigué Wit It" is, while a play on the Will Smith title "Getting Giggy With It," it is more Mannheim Steamroller at Christmas meets the music for the Disneyland Electrical Parade. This is another Bach piece, 'Gigué' from "French Suite No. 5"; if I tell you that it also sounds a lot like what Emerson Lake and Palmer would do, or at least Emerson, you wouldn't be very surprised. Of course, ELP also come to mind with "Plastic Bombastic" which is perhaps a nod to ELP in a way, a sarcastic nod. This sounds very much like Emerson's arrangement of Prokofiev's "Romeo and Juliet" on 1992 Black Moon (if memory serves, Prokofiev gave it a different title ... but memory doesn't serve me enough to remember what that title is). The title references back to a title on their second album, Feel The Cold, "Plastic Fantastic."

"Goodbye Mom" is an emotional guitar lead track that begins with the kind of solo that many tracks end with - that sense of riding off into the sunset, of looking back at the adventure behind, knowing that the future will never be the same. Another of Johnson's compositions, this one for his mother who had passed away. While I didn't, of course, know his mother, I imagine she would be well pleased with this track as it's a beautifully and lovingly played. One of the best on this album about top notch tracks. The tolling bells that end the piece are at once sad and hopeful.

Despite some of the similarities, I think North Star have found their true heading. Tempest will help to bring them up out of the crowd. Well done after an eight year absence.

Tempest (6:54) / Yes, I Know (5:02) / Bathroom By The Bongos (6:23) / Prelude In C (2:38) / Opus V (6:00) / Raudra (9:09) / Getting' Gigu? Wit It (3:21) / Plastic Bombastic (7:00) / Goodbye Mom (6:09) / Colossus (4:43)

Dave Johnson - guitar, guitar synthesizer, bass; electric drums (3)
Glenn Leonard - drums; doumbek (5) and keyboards (5, 4)
Kevin Leonard - keyboards; bass (1, 3) and organ (5)
Joe Newnam - sitar (6)

Triskelion (1984)
Feel The Cold (1985)
Power (1992)
Tempest (2000) Extremes (2005)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: October 1st 2000
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Hits: 857
Language: english


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