Tag Archives: Liam Davison

Top Ten Songs of 2011

We’ve had my ten top albums of the year, here’s my top ten songs. Not being a fan of top-40 style singles, almost all of these are album tracks – in fact there’s only one single on the entire list.

As is usual for this sort of thing, it’s a completely personal and subjective list. But I’d much rather listen to any of these than any X-factor bollocks, and so should you. So there!

10: Yes – Fly From Here
The title track of Yes’ most recent album saw the “Drama” team of Geoff Downes and Trevor Horn return with a much-expanded version of what started life as an unrecorded Buggles song. I suppose calling a five-part prog-rock epic taking up half an album a “song” is cheating, but I’m setting the rules here, and this is certainly the best thing Yes have recorded for years.

9: Journey – Edge of the Moment
One of the standout songs from “Eclipse”, this classy hard rocker is a great example of the other side of Journey’s music from the radio-friendly ballads.

8: Blood Ceremony – Daughter of the Sun
The ten-minute epic that closes track of their second album “Living With the Ancients” is a great example of why I’ve described them as sounding like Black Sabbath fronted by Angela Gordon, with it’s combination of bewitching flute and doom-laden guitar.

7: Mostly Autumn – Questioning Eyes
It’s not a completely new song (It originally appeared on Breathing Space’s 2008 album “Below the Radar”), but the powerful live version on “Still Beautiful” rises to even greater heights. It shows the extent to which Olivia Sparnenn has grown as a vocalist in the past three years.

6: Mastodon – The Sparrow
The multi-layered ballad with it’s rich harmonies is my clear favourite from “The Hunter”. Probably because it’s the most prog thing on the album.

5: Liam Davison – Heading Home
Liam’s long-awaited solo album “A Treasure of Well-Set Jewels” was one of the surprises of 2011, a well-crafted album with a very capable supporting cast. This song is a standout with it’s wonderful interplay between Liam’s soaring lead guitar, Iain Jennings’ swirling Hammond organ and Paul Teasdale’s propulsive bass riff.

4: Panic Room – O Holy Night
A welcome and unexpected end-of-year surprise was this spine-tingling version of the traditional carol released as a free Christmas download from their website.

3: Heather Findlay – Seven
Heather’s solo EP “The Phoenix Suite” took quite a few listens to fully appreciate, and once the record finally clicked, this atmospheric and brooding number became the firm favourite.

2: Opeth – Folklore
The dramatic closing section on this song with the galloping bass riff has to be one of the most exciting pieces of music I’ve heard all year.

1: Steven Wilson – Raider II
Another lengthy prog epic is my “song” of the year. With its swirling Mellotron and spiralling sax and flute it sounds like a cross between 70s King Crimson and Canterbury-scene jazz-rock dragged into the 21st century, and the heaviest sections are the bits without guitars. Amazing piece of music.

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Top Ten Albums of 2011

2011 has been an incredible year for new music. In fact, I can’t remember another year when I bought so many new release, which makes the traditional end-of-year list especially hard this time round.

So, after much deliberation and consideration, here’s my completely personal and subjective list of ten best albums released in 2011.

10: Uriah Heep – Into the Wild
70s veterans Uriah Heep have undergone something of a renaissance in recent years. Even if this album doesn’t really break any radically new ground for them, with their trademark combination of searing guitar and Hammond organ they rock far harder than any band in their fifth decade of existence has any right to.

9: Steve Hackett – Beyond the Shrouded Horizon
Much like Uriah Heep, the former Genesis guitarist has hit something of a purple patch recently, with his third album in two years. It’s a rich, ambitious album that combines some heartfelt songwriting with his distinctive symphonic liquid guitar style that has rightfully made him the godfather of prog guitar.

8: Anathema – Falling Deeper
A largely instrumental set by Liverpool’s Doom-metallers-turned-proggers, containing radical orchestral reworkings of material from their earlier metal years. It’s an album for which you should sit back and let the huge atmospheric soundscapes wash over you.

 

7: Touchstone – The City Sleeps
The rising stars of the British female-fronted progressive rock scene deliver a strong third album, with a highly melodic mix of prog, hard rock and metal than builds on the success of their previous album “Wintercoast”.

 

6: Within Temptation – The Unforgiving
In which the Dutch band opt out of the symphonic metal arms race in favour of a far more rock-orientated album that emphasises Sharon den Adel’s incredibly powerful vocals over overblown arrangements. More varied than previous albums, there’s an emphasis on big anthemic choruses that ought to have a lot of crossover potential.

5: Chantel McGregor – Like No Other
Chantel’s debut album proves she’s far more than just a virtuoso guitarist, and far more than just a blues artist. It’s a hugely varied album demonstrating her talents as a singer-songwriter who can do hard rock, folk and pure pop as well as she can do blues-rock guitar wig-outs.

4: Dream Theater – A Dramatic Turn of Events
The band which more or less invented prog-metal deliver their best album for years, proving that Mike Portnoy’s departure, far from finishing the band, has given them the kick up the backside they needed, with more emphasis on composition than instrumental showboating.

3: Liam Davison – A Treasure of Well-Set Jewels
The solo album from Mostly Autumn’s second guitarist was an unexpected surprise, with some great songwriting and big atmospheric arrangements reminiscent of the early years of Mostly Autumn. Great guest performances from supporting cast including Iain Jennings, Gavin Griffiths, Anne-Marie Helder and Heather Findlay, but none steal the spotlight from Liam’s own contributions.

2: Steven Wilson – Grace for Drowning
With his second solo release, Steve Wilson has taken a step away from the metal stylings of recent Porcupine Tree albums in favour of swirling Mellotrons and spiralling saxophones. The resulting jazz-tinged album sounds like a cross between 70s King Crimson, Canterbury-scene prog, and the ghost of Porcupine Tree past.

1: Opeth – Heritage
Sweden’s finest drop the death metal growls and go all-out prog with perhaps the most musically ambitious album they’ve done to date. Far more varied than their earlier non-metal “Damnation”, it manages to sound both gloriously retro and absolutely contemporary at the same time.

With such a strong year, there are many more great albums that would have appeared in many years’ top tens, so honourable mentions for Also Eden’s progtastic “Think of the Children” Magenta’s excellent “Chameleon”, Matt Stevens unclassifiable instrumental “Relic”, very solid releases from veterans Yes, Journey and Megadeth, and Mastodon’s “The Hunter”.

I’ve also made the decision to exclude live albums, but I will mention Mostly Autumn’s powerful “Still Beautiful”, Heather Findlay and Chris Johnson’s beautiful “Live at the Café 68″, and The Reasoning’s hard rocking “The Bottle of Gettysburg”.

And there are a few albums I’ve yet to hear, and since it’s too close to Christmas to be buying albums for myself. So the reason for the absence of Nightwish’s “Imaginaerum”, Kate Bush’s “50 Words for Snow” and Morpheus Rising’s “Let The Sleeper Awake” is not that I don’t think they’re good enough, only that I haven’t heard them yet. Perhaps, for the purposes of end-of-year lists, the year should run December to November, so that late-year releases count as next year?

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The Five Songs Meme, 2011 edition

I think the Five Songs Meme started out on Livejournal and spilled over to the blogosphere.

It’s quite simple – just list five songs you really into at the moment; not your five greatest songs of all time, but five songs you’ve been listening to a lot recently, for any given value of “Recently”. And give a few words explaining why.

Not sure in these social networking days whether blog memes still have any traction, but it gives me an excuse to talk about music, so here it goes.

Barclay James Harvest – The Poet/After the Day

I’m a late convert to Barclay James Harvest. While they’ve been on my radar screen for decades, it was only seeing the John Lees Barclay James Harvest at the 2009 Cambridge Rock Festival that prompted me to start exploring their very extensive back catalogue. The version of this song I’ve been listening to comes from a 2006 live album by the John Lees BJH. It’s the sort of music for which the term “Epic Symphonic Prog” was invented; hugely melodic. massive walls of Mellotron from the late Woolly Woolstenholme, and some fantastic lead guitar. We’re in serious goosebumps territory with this one.

Heather Findlay – Phoenix

The title track from Heather’s debut solo EP. While the stripped-down production is a significant move away from the big wall of sound which characterised her previous band, her distinctive melodic songwriting is still recognisable. This is perhaps the strongest song on the EP, a powerful vocal performance, with some intriguing and very dark lyrics.

Judas Priest – Persecution

The double concept album “Nostradamus” is Judas Priest’s equivalent of Kiss’ “The Elder”. It’s a strange mixture of metal, prog and more than a trace of west-end musical theatre. While parts of the album venture into those most un-Priest regions, it does contain a few old-school metal belters, and this is the best of them.

Liam Davison – Heading Home

Liam’s solo album has been one of the unexpected surprises of the year so far, revealing Liam not only to be a great songwriter but a far better singer than many of us imagined. The production and arrangements recall the cinematic sweep of early Mostly Autumn. This is perhaps my favourite song, ending with a glorious solo backed by washes of keys from Iain Jennings, and a great groove from Stolen Earth/Breathing Space bassist Paul Teasdale.

Phideaux – Have You Hugged Your Robot

I don’t really know that much about this band; “313″ is the only album of their I own, but this song is one of the standouts. Despite a piano figure lifted from Greig’s “Hall of the Mountain King”, this particular song more quirky pop than prog, but there something about the exuberant energy of this song that gets me.

And that’s it.

I’m not going to tag anyone in particular, but anyone who wants to pick this up and run with it is welcome to. Post on your own blog if you’ve got one, in the comments here if you haven’t, or somewhere within Facebook’s walled garden if you really don’t want your words visible to the whole wide Interweb.

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Liam Davison – A Treasure of Well-Set Jewels

Liam Davison is best known as guitarist for Mostly Autumn. When he left the band at the end of 2006 he stated that he was to work on a solo album. In the end it would be three years after he rejoined the band before the album was to see the light of day.

Liam is something of an enigmatic figure on stage with Mostly Autumn. He prefers to shun the spotlight and lurk at the back of the stage; but his playing is not that of a typical rhythm guitarist, playing melodic fills and lead runs rather than merely strumming chords. His name has only appeared a couple of times in MA’s songwriting credits to date, both for folk-flavoured numbers. But he’s also been playing a live improvisation on tour with echoes of Robert Fripp. Which made it difficult to predict the direction his solo album might take.

The music varies from the indie-flavoured opening hard rocker “Ride the Seventh Wave”, the electronica loops on “Into the Setting Sun”, and the acoustic ballad “One in the Lifetime”. But throughout there’s a strong emphasis on atmospheric progressive rock with a very strong Pink Floyd flavour. Standouts for me are “Eternally Yours”, ending with that epic slide solo featured in the album’s promo video, and “Heading Home”, with it’s wonderful interplay between Liam’s soaring lead guitar, Iain Jennings’ swirling Hammond organ and Paul Teasdale’s propulsive bass riff. It’s a big, rich, cinematic sound, superbly engineered and mixed by John Spence.

Liam shares vocals with Heather Findlay and Anne-Marie Helder, and the three distinctively different voices complement each other well. While Liam sings much of the lead vocals, several songs are duets between Liam and either Anne-Marie or Heather with some great use of harmony. One exception is “Once in a Lifetime”, sung solely by Heather, who also contributed the lyrics. Heather and Anne-Marie give excellent performances, but neither of them steal the show, this is still very much Liam’s album, showcasing his songwriting, and above all his superb lead guitar. If you like it when the solos can last for two or three minutes, and are still good enough not to outstay their welcome, you will love this album.

While much has been made of Heather’s and Anne-Marie’s contributions, on an album like this the instrumental supporting cast are just as important. In particular, Liam’s Mostly Autumn colleague Iain Jennings excels himself on keys. It’s the sort of all-enveloping cinematic sound we heard on early Mostly Autumn albums, and as such provides the perfect instrumental foil for Liam’s own playing.

This is a superb album, and while it’s only February, it’s a potential candidate for album of the year. Like many independent releases, it’s got a general retail release in March, but is available online now

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