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Date: 03 September 2022
Uncle G’s FUN Music Reviews
Spotlight: Synthesizer Classics (2022 Cleopatra Records, Inc.)
By Gary “Uncle G” Brown
When it comes to music, I always preferred, rock. Upbeat, and electric. When I was a teen, what I enjoyed most was usually labeled, hard rock. Bands like Led Zeppelin, or the Alice Cooper group. The typical setup was; guitar, bass, drums, and vocalist. Sometimes in a band, the guitarist or bassist was a multi-instrumentalist, and could also play the harmonica, and or the keyboards. Or maybe the singer was also a trained pianist or could play the flute. Add those instruments to what you were doing, and the possibilities of what music you could create would be endless.
Make the piano and keyboards a primary sound, and hard rock changed to what was called art rock. This is the early 1970s. That’s prog-rock in today’s world. Of course, this branches off to all kinds of different categories. I like metal-prog. Doing all this and not just being that guitar, bass, drum, and vocalist set up opens the door to all kinds of possibilities. Fans of popular music started hearing the results of what could be, in the late half of the 1960s.
In today’s world, one result would be that Pink Floyd’s music catalog could very well be worth money close to a billion dollars. Congrats to them. Having an open mind about music, seriously paid off. Much of this success comes from the late keyboardist, Richard Wright. His keyboard and sometimes piano playing cemented Pink Floyd’s fame. Take Richard Wright and his instruments away, and nobody would know who Roger Waters was.
One of today’s acts, and a band that I would put under the prog rock umbrella, and onto a branch of which I’ll call, progressive metal, and who just put out a pretty solid new studio album called, Will Of The People, is Muse. I’ve been following them, since their debut album. Talented guys, and nowadays, loved by millions. Their next time in Las Vegas, and I’m there. But I could also say that for any of the artists who contribute to this very fine recording, that I’m about to say a few words about. These are skilled players, who made a name for themselves, due to their proficiency and understanding, in part, of the instrument around which this album, centers itself; the synthesizer.
The synthesizer was developed in the 1950s in New Jersey (USA) by what is now an out-of-business electronic company called RCA. Today, the now defunked company is more like a brand name. They are the ones who first came up with this musical device, which they labeled; The RCA Electronic Music Synthesizer Mark I. Believe it or not, it didn’t have a keyboard. The machine was pre-programmed and as big as a house (exaggerating some). I’ve recently seen a few YouTube videos on the subject, so now I’m an expert. Feel free to follow in my footsteps. And try to research Robert Moog (1934 – 2005), while you’re at it. This gentleman was the inventor of the first commercial synthesizer, back in 1964. Long story short, the synthesizer is nothing like we see on stage today. A lot of advancement in the instrument has, of course, happened since its inception, and all very much, to our benefit. In 1967, both The Beatles and The Moody Blues included the then still kind of new keyboard musical instrument in what they were doing in the studio, and with much success. Then the next year, American musician/composer Wendy Carlos simply went to town with it, releasing her now masterpiece; Wendy Carlos – Switched-On Bach (1968).
“Uncle G” discusses…Synthesizer Classics (2022 Cleopatra Records, Inc.)
It’s nice people still recognize me as a music reviewer, and from time to time, send me whatever new thing they have close to releasing, or have just put out. Kind of burnt out, and not wanting to repeat myself, ad nauseam, I took a break from writing, for a while. Lately, I’ve been focusing on my health and a few other things instead. Then, one day here recently, I got an email about this album and the opportunity was all of a sudden there for me to do a review on it. Wrapped up here living, for the most part, the life of Riley, I played the digital version I was sent. Cleopatra Records, for you the consumer, has released this on CD, and a pretty cool-looking vinyl record. Should you after reading whatever it is I got to say about the release, decide that Cleo’s Synthesizer Classics is a much have item for your music collection, then I imagine either one would be fine. But let’s not jump the gun, quite yet. I still have a few hundred words to go.
The Songs and the Artists Giving Tribute
Tubular Bells by Derek Sherinian
Holy shit! I’m old enough to have had Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, around the time it was released. I’ve been a fan of Mike Oldfield’s ever since. I was never disappointed with anything in the Oldfield catalog. Always being able to find something offered in each album that was worthy of hearing again, a hundred times over. Albums such as Tubular Bells, and its sequel TB II, are some of my all-time music favorites.
I discovered Derek Sherinian when he was playing for Alice Cooper. Back in the 1990s. He participated in one of Alice’s best solo concept albums; Alice Cooper – The Last Temptation (1994). I saw Alice twice in that decade, which are the only times I saw Derek play live, so far. I followed him to Dream Theater. Honestly, I was already into the band. I did purchase Derek’s first solo record, Planet X, when it came out in 1999. since then, he played with Billy Idol. His band is always on fire, and Billy’s great. There is no one else simular. Moving on, I’d love to see Derek’s newest band, Sons of Apollo, if and when the next time they play Las Vegas (fingers crossed). On this record, Synthesizer Classics, Derek shows the world that he’s from the school of hard rock, and graduated at the very top of his class. His contribution is the lead-off track to this record. Derek hands in, a monstrous performance. Four minutes and twenty seconds of synth 101. An outstanding beginning! A fine tip of the hat to what I believe to be, a wonderful musical instrument. And such a cool song! I recommend if you have not already have it in your music collection, to get ahold of the original composition by Mike Oldfield. It’s a long piece of music that is capable of blowing your mind if you have not heard it before, in its entirety. Especially when you take into account that Mr. Oldfield was still a teenager when Tubular Bells was released and that he played on the album, just about every sound that was heard. And get this. The music, and or parts of it, were never really intended for inclusion in any horror movie. Things have a weird way of working out sometimes. And it all starts with that keyboard intro, which becomes truly mesmerizing, thus explaining its popularity. Even helped create the Virgin empire. Warning, probably…still can’t be played on old tin boxes. I’ll leave it at that.
Magic Fly by Rick Wakeman
If I go visit the country Ireland, and while in a pub and after having a few pints, boast that I’m all Irish, they will look at me and think to themselves that in reality, all I am, is a dumb American who can’t hold his booze well. Put aside the drinking, I may not have the smarts of one of a Harvard professor, but I don’t personally think I’m downright stupid. I admit to not being a know-it-all. Every day I’m alive comes with learning opportunities. The second song offered on Synthesizer Classics, performed by Rick Wakeman, a master of the piano and keyboards, I never heard before. Strange because I have an about-average knowledge of art rock/stoner music from back in the day. As a young teen, I was into bands/musicians from not only the states but from other countries, as well. For example; Nektar, Kraftwerk, Abba (only kidding), and a ton of artists from the UK. What about France, you ask? The song Mr. Wakeman performs, on a tribute album that highlights a machine that made him millions of fans and dollars, is entitled, Magic Fly. New to my ears. I heard of Spanish Fly, but care not to elaborate on that. Magic Fly, was originally performed by a band from France, called, Space. Released in 1977, this was the title track of a highly successful debut record. I did my research. The video for this by Space is simply 1970s wild (and a must-see). That was decades ago. Rick’s new spin on Magic Fly, would make any old disco ball, come to life again. Immediately upon hearing this, if you are into these players, you know it’s Mr. Wakeman. The updated song is upbeat and you can wiggle your butt to this one. If older, be careful not to break a hip. Lastly, I love the last few seconds. This must have been a good experience in the recording studio.
Pulstar by Geoff Downes
Track three spotlights a musical genius that just passed away; Vangelis. A signature, instrumental with multi-layers of keyboards, making for a wonderful wall of sound. Offering tribute is Geoff Downes, one half of the band that helped usher in cable’s MTV when they launched their video playing station with a song from, The Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star. For Geoff, after that, it was a brief stint in Yes and then a long career with Asia. And then back to Yes. I read stories about how back in the day how Geoff would like to go to parties and play cover tunes on the piano or whatever keys were available. In 1996, his third solo record, which I have in my CD collection, was dedicated to this and called, Geoffrey Downes – Evolution (1996). Jump 26 years later, and it’s Geoff who has the honor and privilege of covering one of Vangelis’ greatest hits; Pulstar. A song by Vangelis that could be found on his 1976 record, Vangelis – Albedo 0:39. Was always a favorite of mine, that Mr. Downes performs flawlessly while adding a bit of his own flair. I’m thinking the master would approve, for I sure do.
Chase by Jordan Rudess
I had the honor of seeing the self-proclaimed keyboard wizard, Jordan Rudess in concert one time, back in 2007, with the band Dream Theater. This is a gig Jordan had has since 1999. I was mesmerized watching him play in concert. That whole band is kick-ass. The song Jordan plays was a huge disco hit, back in the 1970s. From a gritty prison movie called Midnight Express. I saw it in a drive-in theater back when the R-rated film was released. Left an impression on me, that even Scared Straight, couldn’t do. Regarding the track that is offered here on Synthesizer Classics from the film, it’s more uplifting, and nowhere near as dark as the movie it comes from. The music (part of the score) centers around two synthesizers; the Roland SH-2000 and the Minimoog. Crafted into a disco hit, it’s one of those instrumental hit songs, where the melody just stays with you, for hours at a time. Jordan Rudess, as one could only imagine if familiar with his work, rocks it up a tad, yet keeps the original flavor of the composition throughout the five-minute-long piece. I admit to this being a favorite track of mine, giving it numerous repeat plays.
Oxygene (Part 4) by Patrick Moraz
What follows are four more songs that like the first four before them, spotlight the bands and musicians that made the synth great. If into Jean-Michel Jarre, then you’ll love what one time, Yes and Moody Blues team player…on the keys, Patrick Moraz, did with Oxygene (Part 4).
Escape From New York by Thijs Van Leer
If you are aware of the legendary film director John Carpenter, then you are aware that he is also a musician, and has done the score for several of his hit movies. A founding member of Focus, Thijs Van Leer, brings us John’s title track to one of my favorite John Carpenter films; Escape From New York. A good showcase for the instrument, and a nice offering from a gifted multi-instrumentalist.
Tour De France by Nyte Jewal
Are any Kraftwerk fans reading this? Not one of my top 3 albums from them, but not a clunker; Tour De France. Their 11th studio record was released in 2003. An artist, perhaps inspired by Kraftwerk at one time or another, Nyte Jewel, is credited and does an outstanding job performing a song by a band that was way ahead of its time, in electronic music. And back in the day, Rolling Stone magazine shit all over Kraftwerk, while at the same time, offering praise to out-and-out butt-wipes such as David Crosby. I knew better and have been a fan/follower since their hit album Autobahn came out. I love that record!
Visitors by Larry Fast
Closing out Synthesizer Classics is yet another catchy tune. It’s called, Visitor. Performed by a very well-known musician from New Jersey; Mr. Larry Fast. This man has an awesome solo catalog, plus he’s played with some fabulous acts over the decades. Get this…he’s done music for the 1980s tv show, Carl Segan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. How cool is that? Back to the closing track entitled Visitor, this one is originally from Italy, and yet another band that I initially drew a blank on called Koto. I did recognize the tune, kind of, when first played but admit it’s been ages since I heard it. The remake is in a way a sampler of what the synthesizer can do, and yes, it’s a good song to boot. Worthy of repeat plays, as are the seven songs that I talked about before this.
“Uncle G” RATES…Synthesizer Classics (2022 Cleopatra Records, Inc.)
Using the one to five-star rating system whereas one star means it sucks through a long straw and to avoid at all cost, to five stars in which in this case means you can give your money to Cleopatra Records with glee and know that by doing so you’re helping keep synth music alive, making it as vital today as it was back in the 1970s and 1980s when most of these songs were first found on the charts.
Drumroll please and in memory of Vangelis who was also an accomplished drummer, Gary “Uncle G” Brown rates the new Synthesizer Classics…5 stars! I thank all involved in making a solid album that I would recommend to any of my friends. One request before I end this…I’m hoping for a sequel; Synthesizer Classics II.
Artwork: I’m not sure who gets the credit, but I love the cover art drawing. Super cool!
Synthesizer Classics was released by Cleopatra Records on the 12th of August 2022. For more information please visit…
Promotion by Glass Onyon PR – http://www.glassonyonpr.com
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