Sensitiva Immagine ‎- E Tutto Cominciò Così... 1978 Italy

Sensitiva Immagine arrived during the real barren years of Italian prog. We talk about this phenomena briefly here Italian prog from 1987 and beyond.  The latest LP reissue suggests a date of 1978, but it could just be propagating bad data (1979 or 1980 is more likely). In any case, Sensitiva Immagine was an oasis in a desert, looking towards none other than classic Genesis for inspiration. At this time in Italy, the only band I can think of doing similar was Emphasis, who had half an album with La Statale 17. But they were from the far north bordering Austria, and sang in English. Sensitiva Immagine does it the right way, and sings in the native tongue, which of course then adds in the classic early 70s Italian prog sound as well, like Premiata Forneria Marconi for example. In some ways, Sensitiva Immagine could be considered ahead of their time, predicting the rise of the neo Italian prog movement by at least 8 years. One of only a handful of classic Italian prog albums from 1978 to 1987 you'll find. Don't overlook this one.

Personal collection
CD: 1991 Melos (Japan)

The CD comes in a fine die-cut digi-pak. A few years later, the CD was issued domestically in Italy on the now-also-hard-to-find Kaliphonia label. So finding this one on CD will present a challenge (and a bit of extra expense). I bought mine at the time of release. There is a 2015 LP reissue, which is what I was referencing above (the liner notes in Italian are on display in Discogs).

Skin Alley - Two Quid Deal? 1972 England

For years I passed over this one in the bins. The US Stax copy was a regular buck bin special, and with that ridiculous cartoon rat and cheese cover, it never occurred to me this would be anything worth pursuing. Years later I discovered their brilliant debut and very good followup, but maintained (for no good reason really) that this must have been their sellout album.

And I was right. Except.... Skin Alley were no good at it! You can tell this album is pandering to the early 70s US Billboard charts. You can hear popular bands at the time like Rare Earth in these grooves. But even so, they cannot seem to stop themselves from a full helping of a mid song progressive rock break. It's in their DNA. So while the first 3 tracks all start out with a bit of concern, it doesn't take long for the band to find their sea legs, and create music similar to their debut, especially on 'Bad Words & Evil People'. I wasn't too keen on 'Graveyard Shuffle' nor 'So Glad', but 'A Final Coat' takes us back to the opening trio of tracks. And 'The Demagogue' is similar. For my tastes the best track is the instrumental 'Skin Valley Serenada' that seems to be the model blueprint for a band like Rousseau for example. A gorgeous flute melody over a happening jazzy rhythm pattern makes this one special. In my opinion, Two Quid Deal surpasses To Pagham and Beyond in quality. Yes, that surprised me too.

Personal collection
CD: 2005 Strange Days (Japan)

The above comes in a fine mini-LP. I guess because the album was long considered a dollar bin special, the album was poorly served in the reissue market. The bare bones cheap German Line version came out in 1989, and that's all there was until this expensive Japanese CD hit the market (that I just recently got a good deal on, hence my first time to hear the album!). As such bootlegs proliferated for many years until Esoteric finally reissued the album properly in 2011.

Beggars Opera - Waters of Change. 1971 Scotland

Scotland's Beggars Opera's second effort is one of the more overlooked albums from the rich progressive rock landscape of 1971. The key track here is 'I've No Idea', as in I've no idea why it's taken me 22 years to revisit this album. And I've no idea why I didn't recognize its brilliance until last night. While the band may have toned down their sound from Act One, they raised their game in the songwriting department. Waters of Change represents that wonderful 1971 UK progressive rock sound as also found in bands as diverse as Cressida, Gracious, Nektar, and Uriah Heep. They have quite a large ensemble, including a full time mellotron player, who happens to be female and is strongly involved in the songwriting. This gives a unique slant on the otherwise testosterone driven genre, especially back in those days. Alan Park's organ, though, wins the day, as he did on Act One. Outside of the interludes, including the somewhat silly 'Silver Peacock Intro', all the songs here are quite involved, well thought out, highly melodic, and great for listening over and over.

Personal collection
LP: 1974 Vertigo (Germany)
CD: 1995 Repertoire (Germany)

The LP comes in a fine gatefold. My copy is on the German "spaceship" label, and could almost be considered "common". True original UK Vertigo Swirls still hold value though. The CD comes with unique liner notes written by Chris Welch (who incidentally I saw on the tele last night as one of the participants on a show highlighting the making of Deep Purple's Machine Head).

Titan ‎- A Raining Sun Of Light & Love, For You & You & You... 2007 USA

I remember being tipped to this band back when it first came out 11 years ago. I was as skeptical as ever. A Brooklyn based "stoner" band allegedly playing in the Krautrock style. Sorry, heard that one before fellas. And what one would usually get in that scenario is bonehead chords of fuzz, a on-his-6th whiskey vocalist, 4/4 pounding drums, and hopefully some cartoon art of dragsters, pinball machines, and disproportionate top heavy females with lots of tattoos. Yea, we're hipsters from Brooklyn! Nya-nya. In any case, enough recs came my way that I reluctantly pulled the trigger...

...And I became a Brooklyn stoner hipster on the spot.

After a few listens in 2007, I filed it away with a high grade, and haven't revisited since. Here we are, and I somewhat dreaded it. I probably was just in the mood for it or something like that. Tastes change and evolve over the years right?

I like it even better now. If for nothing else on the album, it's hard to imagine anyone who is into the early 70s proto prog sound not to be absolutely floored by 'Annals of the Former World'. It is absolute perfection in every sense of the word. It constantly changes, has haunting vocals, is heavy as all get out, has some absolutely incredible Hammond organ, is trippy in the best Krautrock style, and the guitar solos are sublime. Maybe the best track I've ever heard from modern times that encapsulates all that was great about 1971. The closest comparison to my ears is Nektar's Journey to the Centre of the Eye... sped up and then cranked to 11.

'Hashishin Ohel' is largely a continuation of the above, with a bit of a noisy ending, but overall is brilliant in its own right. 'Obelisk Orbit Overdrive' is a bit more tedious, but certainly not a poor track, just in comparison with what came before it, one would have hoped for a bit more clarity and editing.

The album ends in a very interesting fashion, with 'Aufruf der Pilz'. As its title hints at, this is a pure play Krautrock attempt. Now I would imagine the gut reaction here, especially for hipsters, is to go right for the Neu! comparison. I don't think so. Actually to me it sounds like the Ashra power trio years of 1979 to 1980 - especially on the archival tapes where the guitars are decidedly more psychedelic. An excellent rendition and very melodic to boot.

These guys were plugged in perfectly at the time. I have two others in the collection from them (before and after), but I don't recall those being quite at this level. And then they sadly disappeared.

As I update this post, the album is practically a commodity here in the States. You can obtain a new CD for under $4, and the LP for under $10. That's crazy. One day I can't imagine that will hold true. When that will be, who knows? Whatever the case, one can not go wrong at that price in trying this one out! It costs less than a hamburger.

Personal collection
CD: 2007 Tee Pee

The CD comes in a fine digi-pak.

Pseudo Buddha ‎- 3 Months In Fat City! - Hooka-Jooka Vol. IV. 2002 USA

I had been impressed by San Antonio based Pseudo Buddha's contribution to the Fluorescent Tunnelvision space rock anthology. A lot of bands today exist to create loose, jamming, psychedelic music and Pseudo Buddha are one of the best. Four long tracks were culled from even longer jams (on 4 different dates) and spliced together for a truly mind blowing cosmic freakout. Not a lot of wasted notes, which is truly remarkable. Maybe it's in the editing, and I'm all for a good editing - especially when it comes to improvisational music (if only more bands took a page from this playbook). Imagine Agitation Free on Second jamming with Amon Duul II on Yeti. Many sounds are deployed - including exotic stringed instruments, winds, hand percussion, and analog electronics. This album captures the true spirit of Krautrock.

Personal collection
CD: 2002 Dogfingers

Maquina - Why? 1970 Spain

Maquina represent the earliest forays into psychedelic music for Spain, similar to fellow countrymen Cerebrum. Coming from Barcelona, their Catalan roots look north to France for inspiration, and one can hear snippets of Les Goths, Omega Plus, Dickens, even the Chico Magnetic Band. The album opens with its gem 'I Believe', a beautiful piano led piece, with a gorgeous melody and some wicked fuzz. The 2 part, 25 minute title track is a loose jam for the most part, and the length takes quite a bit out of its bite. Had this been consolidated into 10 minutes, it would have been a marvel. Again, it's hard to look past the psychedelic guitar here, as he's definitely in "fire" mode most of the time. It's a short album, and even worse, it's short on ideas. On the plus side, when it does fire on all cylinders, the album is sublime. And for the historical record, that is 1970 Spain, it's quite an extraordinary accomplishment.

Personal collection
CD: 1993 PDI

This was the first CD to market, and I nailed it upon release. There are two bonus tracks from a 1969 single (not 100% sure of that - one song seems like a live version of that single). Originals were mythical in stature in the late 80s and early 90s. Turns out there were no less than 6 original pressings going through 1971, so the album isn't quite as rare as was presumed back then.

Ashra - Belle Alliance / Belle Alliance Plus (archival). 1980 Germany

Belle Alliance is the second and final album by the trio of Gottsching, Ulbrich, and Grosskopf. There are many similarities to their previous effort Correlations, though there are some exceptions to be noted. 'Screamer' is very much rooted in the New Wave 80s sound, but with some fine psychedelic guitar soloing providing a great contrast of styles. 'Boomerang' tries for a reggae sound, with mixed results, but once again the guitar saves the day. 'Aerogen' gives one an idea of what happens when sequencer based electronic meets a power trio. 'Sausalito' could also be considered an instrumental progressive rock track, similar to maybe fellow countrymen Rousseau. 'Code Blue' goes deep into electronic space, not that dissimilar to Klaus Schulze's late 70s works. 'Mistral' takes us back to the glorious spacey electronics + guitar of the Blackouts album, and is just gorgeous. Overall an excellent, and diverse, album from veterans who were still exploring music in an exciting way. Unfortunately this album concluded the Virgin era for Ashra, as well as the trio itself.

Reviewing the second half separately, since it includes an extra disc of entirely new material. This would be the "Plus" part. There are only 3 tracks here, of which two make up the majority. 'Flying Turtles' is 11:25, whereas Voices of Heddernheim comes in at a whopping 24:21 ('Urscreamer' is 2:38 for reference). So basically what we have here is the jamming sessions that made up Belle Alliance - though it must be said both of these tracks are entirely unique. With a certain amount of editing, these 2 would have made a splendid addition to the original LP. Perhaps to be expected, the guitar is more psychedelic here, recalling Gottsching's and Ulbrich's Krautrock past. Personally speaking, I wouldn't want to own this album on CD without this extra disc, which was first introduced on Gottsching's own label in 2008.

Personal collection
LP: 1980 Virgin
CD: 2008 Arcangelo (Japan) as Belle Alliance Plus

The gatefold mini-LP styled CD is a 2 disc set that includes a full album's worth of material recorded from the same session. Inside the gatefold are photos of all 3 in the studio while recording. I first picked up the LP in the mid 1980s in my initial discovery of Ashra.

Il Bacio della Medusa - Deus Lo Volt. 2012 Italy

Il Bacio della Medusa returns with their 3rd opus, an album that is likely to please fans of classic early 1970s Italian progressive rock – and perhaps only to them. Allow me a chance to further clarify: If band names such as Delirium, Cervello, and Odissea send a chill up your spine, then Deus Lo Volt will be considered a must purchase. Otherwise, you may want to do a bit more research and get back to us. There is some Italian progressive rock that is easy to digest on initial listening (PFM, Le Orme, Acqua Fragile…) – and then there’s the deep-dive stuff – albums that require hours of listening to a preferred style and still love it despite the quirks. In other words, you have to be “all in” to appreciate an album such as this. Good, bad, or indifferent, I myself would have to be considered “all in”, so I think it’s a wonderful piece overall. But this is not the first album I’d pull from my collection for a co-worker looking to hear a few sounds from my collection. They’d look at me as if I’d just arrived from another universe (well, they do anyway, but let’s not go there…). Deus Lo Volt is a concept album about Pope Urbano II, the Papal overlord of none other than the First Crusade. If there was ever a topic that is likely to draw a gleeful smile from a shadowy progressive rock fan, well then... this has got to take the cake! What the lyrics interpret of his life and ambition is for Italian speakers only, and I could care a less really. I’m here for the music and the vocal representation. On this latter point, the male vocals here are of the 70s gruff variety similar to the aforementioned bands in sentence number #2.  Of course there’s the fluttering flute provided by no less than a shapely and beautiful long haired lass. All the other requisite sounds and themes are in place: Majestic keyboards, hard rocking guitars, and a rhythm section that can’t stand to stay on the same meter for more than 20 seconds. A couple of somewhat disappointing observations: The title track, for the first 5 minutes at least, sounds more like Iron Maiden on their debut than Italian prog rock. And while I love Maiden as much as the next person, I do feel it’s a bit incongruous here. Though the final two minutes of said track show off their Italo-prog cred – add flute - and go all Osanna on us. And then finally we get to the length of the disc. Now I know lots of folks feel that “filling the disc” with 80 minutes of music is tiresome, and while I may not completely agree, I do understand the point. But Deus Lo Vult is only 34 minutes long. Certainly another 10 or 15 minutes could have been added to fill out a normal LP length? We’re in Dalton territory here, right? On the plus side, the CD comes in a wonderful hardbound book cover, with an interesting lyric libretto with photos. I’m really enjoying this musically and aesthetically. But surely, oh surely, there  had to be another 10 good minutes sitting on the cutting room floor?

Personal collection
CD: 2012 private

As noted above, the CD is housed in a hardbound book cover with a libretto.

Il Bacio della Medusa - Discesa Agl'inferi D'un Giovane Amante. 2008 Italy

Il Bacio della Medusa is back with their sophomore effort Discesa Agl'inferi D'un Giovane Amante. Just rolls off the tongue doesn't it? Well if there was any doubt where Il Bacio della Medusa's heart was after the debut, then those were put to rest for the opening here. With the addition of violin, Il Bacio della Medusa declares that they are indeed a progressive rock band, and they're here to stay. Simone Cecchini's vocals have definitely improved, and you can tell he's studied the early 70s masters intently (and even more so on their 3rd album). Love the Pholas Dactylus styled psychotic narration. His performance is definitely one of the highlights of the disc. Meanwhile Diego Petrini gives the old fashioned piano more air time, which is always welcome here at UMR. Not to mention plenty of old school organ. Eva Morelli's staccato flute is layered on the constantly changing rhythms, and guitarist Brozetti still has a bit too much pig squeal in his guitar, but he can lay off when appropriate. For those who miss the glory days of Osanna, you could do worse than pick this album up on your next order.

Personal collection
CD: 2008 Black Widow

Il Bacio della Medusa - s/t. 2004 Italy

Il Bacio della Medusa may have entered the scene quietly, but that album cover certainly is striking. Like a cross between Nuova Idea's Clowns and Manilla Road's The Courts of Chaos, one might imagine this to be some wacky prog metal take on the classic Italian 70s scene. Fortunately it is not and is much more reverent to the Italian progressive rock masters than heavy metal. Still, this is definitely their heaviest album, and also their most modern sounding. It could pass for sophisticated hard rock as much as symphonic progressive. In that way, Il Bacio della Medusa started their career much in the same way as Deus Ex Machina. Hey, you gotta start somewhere. And in 2004, there was a lull in the retro progressive movement, and it seemed every band coming out of Italy were either prog metal nuts, or Dutch styled neo progressive bands singing in English, neither of which interested me much anymore. So here comes Il Bacio della Medusa with their flutes, psychotic Italian vocals, crazy dynamics, even an accordion, plus more ideas than they could control at that time. In retrospect, it's an excellent album, where perhaps the only fault was the aforementioned crunchy guitars, which belied their overall approach.

Personal collection
CD: 2004 Black Widow

In Spe - s/t. 1983 Estonia

Interesting that I've recently listened to - and reviewed - both Tako's second album and Solaris' debut, because In Spe sounds like a direct cross between the two. So once again we have a symphonic fusion album from communist era Eastern Europe. The songwriting here is splendid, as is the execution. Melodies are first and foremost, with some hair raising electric guitar and synthesizer breaks, of the kind you get when listening to classic early 70s Genesis or Camel. Wonderful flute as well. The majority of the album is instrumental, save 'Antidolorosum'. On this latter track I was reminded of the Estonian trailblazing group Mess. In other parts I do hear a certain classical symphonic background as one would hear on Horizont's Summer in Town for example. Even though Glasnost had yet to happen, the ice was thawing on the fringes of the empire, and In Spe was torching it away from the underground. One of the best albums of its type. Mandatory.

Personal collection
CD: 1999 Eesti Raadio

The CD comes in a very fine and sturdy 3 panel digi-pak. If on a budget, the original LP will prove far cheaper, as the CD is long gone from the marketplace. As is always the case with Eastern European albums from the 70s and 80s, the CD will sound better than the cheaply made LPs. But the recording is impeccable as expected.

Sensitiva Immagine ‎- E Tutto Cominciò Così... 1978 Italy

Sensitiva Immagine arrived during the real barren years of Italian prog.  We talk about this phenomena briefly here   Italian prog from...