Tag Archives: Rob Cottingham

2013 Albums of the Year – Part One

It’s end-of-year list time again, when every music blogger is compelled to go back through the year’s record releases and try to pick out the best of them,

Let’s get the obvious disclaimers out of the way first. This is not intended to be a definitive list of the very best albums released in the year. For starters all preferences are personal and subjective. And secondly and more importantly, it’s restricted to those records I’ve actually had the chance to hear. There are no doubt a great many awesome releases I haven’t heard yet.

After many repeated listens I’ve managed to whittle the list down to 21 (Why 21? Why not?). The fact that it turned out to be very hard to restrict it to just 21 speaks volumes about how great a year it’s been. One or two big names ended up not making the cut.

So, without further ago, here’s the first half of my list,  Had I not abandoned trying to sort them all into meaningful order as an impossible task, they would be 21 down 11. As it is, they’re sorted alphabetically.

Big Big Train English Electric Part Two

English Electric Part 2The second half of English Electric follows in a similar vein to the first, with their very evocative and very English brand of pastoral progressive rock. The storytelling lyrical focus shifts to northern England and the twentieth century with tales of railwaymen, coal miners and shipbuilders, and it all sounds far more authentic than much 80s-style neo-prog.

Black Sabbath13

Black Sabbath 13Neither quite the masterpiece some hoped for nor the trainwreck some feared, the reunion of Ozzy Osborne, Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler still delivers a very solid piece of work that proves they still have something to say after all these years. If this does prove to be their final album, it’s a worthy addition to their legacy.

The Computers Love Triangles, Hate Squares

The Computers Love Triangles Hate SquaresThe best no-nonsense old-fashioned rock and roll record I’ve heard all year, by a band who sound as as though they have one foot in 1958 and one in 2013, full of short and punchy tunes that hit you right between the eyes. The end result somehow ends up reminding me of some aspects of very early Blue Öyster Cult.

CosmografThe Man Left In Space

Cosmograf - The Man Left In SpaceAn evocative and atmospheric album from multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Robin Armstrong. Though there are guest appearances from Matt Stevens and Nick D’Virgilio amongst others, Robin plays most of the instrumentation from guitars to drums to keys. The haunting title track is a standout, perhaps one of the songs of the year, and there’s a lot to like across the rest of the album.

The Fierce and The DeadSpooky Action

Spooky ActionMatt Stevens and his band in full electric mode mixing progressive rock, post-punk, indie/alternative and metal resulting in the instrumental record of the year. Narrow genre definitions cannot contain this record; it’s the sort of thing that ought to have a huge crossover appeal way beyond the narrow confines of the Prog world.

King BathmatOvercoming the Monster

KingBathmat - Overcoming The MonsterA powerful combination of grungy guitar riffs with progressive rock textures and melodies, sounding like what you might get if you combined Black Sabbath with Spock’s Beard. The end result is a record with a very contemporary feel despite its use of organic 70s sounds, old-school progressive rock reinvented for the 21st Century.

MaschineRubidium

Maschine - RubidiumThe long-awaited début from Luke Machin’s band combines some stunning instrumental virtuosity with a very mature approach to composition. Their complex and ambitious songs are a seamless blend of metal, jazz and rock into, with great use of dynamics and an ear for a good melody. This is the sound of a band from whom we can probably expect great things over the coming years.

Mr So and SoTruth & Half Lies

Mr So and So - Truth and Half LiesThe fruit of a successful Pledge Music project, Mr So and So’s fourth album is by far their most impressive to date. It’s a hugely varied record with some strong songwriting that uses their distinctive dual male/female lead vocals to great effect, and the harder-edged guitar-driven sound strongly captures the power and energy of their live performances.

RiversideShrine of the New Generation Slaves

Riverside - Shrine of the New Generation SlavesRiverside have always been one of Poland’s finest bands, and with the combination of 70s Deep Purple style hard rock riffs and Porcupine Tree style atmospherics they have delivered what might be their best album to date. They may wear their influences on their sleeves to some extent, but they have more than enough creativity of there own to be any kind of pastiche.

Rob Cottingham Captain Blue

Rob Cottingham - Captain BlueA solo album from Touchstone’s keyboard player, aided and abetted by a strong supporting cast including Touchstone guitarist Adam Hodgson and former Mostly Autumn vocalist Heather Findlay. It’s a concept album with a Gerry Anderson flavour, with music reminiscent of Touchstone’s early days, plus the occasional excursion into disco-pop.

Thea GilmoreRegardless

Thea Gilmore – RegardlessAn album of Americana-tinged songs with stripped-down arrangements that emphasise the fragile beauty of the Thea Gilmore’s heartfelt vocals, enhanced this time by a string section to add some extra colour.

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Video for Chasing Storms

New video for the song “Chasing Storms” from Rob Cottingham’s solo album “Captain Blue”. The album goes on general release on August 5th through Plastic Head Distribution.

I reviewed the album back in January; it’s an excellent work with great guest contributions from Heather Findlay and Touchstone’s Adam Hodgson.

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Rob Cottingham – Captain Blue

Captain Blue is the second solo album by keyboard player and vocalist Rob Cottingham, best known as a member of Touchstone. Rob has described that album as “a cross-genre-ational album covering the themes of time, self-realisation, death – and not taking yourself too seriously“. It’s a concept album, telling the tale of the mysterious Captain Blue.

The album also features the delightfully named Dr Goatius Foot on bass, Touchstone’s Adam Hodgson on guitars, Gary O’Toole on drums, Heather Findlay on vocals, and on one track, the guitar legend Steve Hackett. While all of these make great contributions, the emphasis is on Rob’s own vocals and keys.

It begins with the dramatic voice of Shane Rimmer, the voice of Thunderbirds’ Scott Tracey, on the epic spoken word “Condemnation“, which reinforces the Gerry Anderson feel of the whole album.

Parts of the album sound far lighter version of Touchstone, whether it’s rockier up-tempo numbers or lush ballads, with the dual male-female harmony lead vocals recalling that band’s early years when Rob handled a greater proportion of the vocals. In a couple of places it veers into dance-pop territory, and I can easily imagine a club remix of “The Drowning Man“. At times it strips right down delicate to piano and vocals. It’s all very song-orientated and highly melodic throughout, made up of of shorter numbers rather than sprawling epics, with the occasional instrumental bridge piece, and the instrumentation is more about atmospherics and colour rather than pyrotechnics. Although Rob does indulge in a keytar solo at one point. The production is immaculate, with a clear and crisp yet rich sound.

Rob Cottingham has taken a supporting role as a vocalist in Touchstone of late, but here he sings the majority of the lead vocals, with a voice that’s been compared with the clean vocals of Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt. Heather Findlay takes more of a supporting role here, adding harmonies as well as duets with Rob, only taking sole lead on one or two songs. Her contributions are sublime, with some ethereal yet sensual performances that are as good as anything she’s ever done.

It’s a consistently strong record with little in the way of filler despite a 70 minute running time. High points include “Only Time Will Tell” with so many multi-tracked harmony vocals it sounds like the Mellotron of early King Crimson. It almost makes me wonder if Heather took a trip back in time in Captain Blue’s timeship to lay down the original “choir” settings for the first Mellotron. The album closes with the big wall of sound epic “Soaring to the Sun” with Steve Hackett on guitar, before The Magic Roundabout’s Zeberdee tells us it’s “time for bed”.

This is an impressive piece of work that grows on repeated listens. Any fan of either Touchstone’s music or of Heather Findlay’s vocals ought to love this. But so should anyone that likes atmospheric and melodic rock, written and performed by real musicians and real singers.

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2012 – A few more records of note

I decided to restrict my best-of-2012 list to full-length studio albums of new material with a 2012 retail release date. But there are a few great records that fall outside that definition, and would be difficult to place in any kind of ranking. But they’re all too good not to give a mention, so here they are.

The Heather Findlay BandSongs From The Old Kitchen

A delightful album of acoustic reworkings of Heather’s songs from Mostly Autumn, Odin Dragonfly and more recent solo work, with the band featuring the now-departed Dave Kilminster and Steve Vantsis. The organic chilled-out arrangements are a very good match for the natural warmth of her voice, making this perhaps the best record she’s made since going solo.

KarnatakaNew Light, Live in Concert

Live album (also an excellent DVD) capturing the band on their first tour with new vocalist Hayley Griffiths, fronting the short-lived six-piece lineup with multi-instrumentalist Colin Mold, whose violin playing enhanced the Celtic side of their music. Aside from Hayley’s imaginative re-interpretation of old favourites, this record is also a showcase for Enrico Pinna’s phenomenal guitar playing.

Crimson Sky - DawnCrimson SkyDawn

Excellent four-track EP from the new lineup of Crimson Sky with Jane Setter and Moray McDonald, with two brand new songs and two reworked older numbers. As with their previous work, it’s an intriguing blend of progressive rock and 80s-style new-wave, and benefits from a far more polished production than earlier recordings.

Twelfth Night Live and Let Live - Album CoverTwelfth NightLive and Let Live

The classic and long out-of-print single LP-length album from the seminal 80s neo-proggers, reissued and expanded into a two-hour double-CD capturing the entire two-hour show, which must have been a painstaking labour-of-love to put together.

Rob CottinghamCaptain Blue

One of those records where the pre-orders shipped in December, although the retail release isn’t until the new year There will be a full review of this forthcoming, but let’s just say this is a good one. Will it make the 2013 end-of-year list? Time will tell on that…

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