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TRACK LIST: 1. It Goes On 4:04 2. A Northern Song 5:18 3. Shadowland 6:27 4. Soldier 5:54 5. The War Is Over 5:29 6. The Drowned Girl 6:04 7. The Demon Wife 4:31 8. Where Will You Go 6:03 9. Altai 9:05 LINEUP: Allister Thompson – vocals; guitars Michael DiLauro – basses; keyboards; accordion; vocals Eric Herrmann – drums, percussion; vocals Teri-Lynn Janveau – keyboards; vocals With: Kerry Kelly – vocals Laurie Januska – vocals Shawn Delnick – cymbals Heather Arnold – vocals; violin (2, 6) Denny Stapleford – percussion (4, 5) Gene Scarpelli – guitar (5, 7) Janine Susan Hogg – flute (5)
Prolusion. Born in the UK, Allister THOMPSON came with his family to Canada as a child, and started learning to play guitar in his teens. After moving to Toronto, he played lead guitar for several years in a band called Sleepwalker’s Union; then, after that band’s breakup, in 2002 he joined ‘70s-style glam rock band Crash Kelly (who opened for Alice Cooper in 2006). When they went on hiatus, Allister took the time to record his first proper studio album, “Shadowlands”. He is currently working on this album’s follow-up, tentatively titled "Roseheath".
Analysis. In spite of his relatively long career in the music world, Allister Thompson is anything but a household name. Moreover, an album like “Shadowlands”, which is (at least at a superficial glance) only marginally related to progressive rock, and closer to indie-folk or singer-songwriter music in nature, is much more likely to fly under the radar of the dedicated prog set. This is unfortunate, of course, seen as the album is a stylish effort, full of beautiful melodies and great instrumental performances. In fact, with the exception of haunting closer Altai, there is quite little on “Shadowlands” to bring ‘conventional’ prog to mind. In the album’s press release, names like British folk-rock giants John Martyn, Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and Sandy Denny are mentioned – which is not surprising, seen as UK-born Thompson has been clearly influenced in outlook and compositional approach by the musical tradition of his home country. On the other hand, as he has spent most of his life in Canada, there is also a distinct whiff of Americana to be detected on the album – and this mixture between Old and New World musical heritage is sharply reminiscent of The Decemberists, one of the most interesting and genuinely adventurous bands of this first decade of the 21st century. Like Decemberists mainman Colin Meloy, Thompson is a storyteller as well as a musician, drawing upon the rich folk tradition of both Europe and America to do so. While his voice lacks Meloy’s distinctive quality (which is, however, very much of an acquired taste), being slighter and less dramatic, it is also more melodic in tone, and well-suited to the musical accompaniment. Moreover, even if the album bears only his name, Thompson avails himself of a real band, with an impressive array of real instruments – including those mainstays of folk-based music, the accordion, the violin and the flute. The nine songs featured on “Shadowlands” (which has an ideal running time of about 53 minutes) are for the most part deceptively simple in structure, like the folk-rock ballads of the past. Only the aforementioned Altai – a beautiful, psychedelic-tinged piece, at 9 minutes the longest track on the album – is completely instrumental, with guitar excursions that create hypnotic soundscapes vaguely reminiscent of early Pink Floyd. Album opener It Goes On sounds almost like mainstream effort, though showcasing Thompson’s gentle, understated vocals and guitar skills, as do the melancholy A Northern Song (enhanced by the lilting sound of the ukulele) and the title-track. Things get more interesting from the point of view of a prog fan with the delicate, atmospheric Soldier – where the Decemberists comparisons grow stronger – and the rockier The War Is Over, with a distinct Pink Floyd vibe in the guitar parts. Not surprisingly, The Drowned Girl is where the influence of Colin Meloy’s crew surfaces most clearly – death by water being one of the recurring topics in The Decemberists’ output. With The Demon Wife, instead, we head into American Gothic territory, with a Delta-blues-inspired number and gospel-style female backing vocals – though Thompson’s voice is a bit too well-mannered for this kind of song, which would require a somewhat grittier singing style. While I was not really able to find many traces of traditional prog in “Shadowlands”, the album impressed me for its down-to-earth, yet classy feel, quite far removed from the by-numbers approach of a lot of what nowadays passes for progressive rock. Anyway, though it might take repeated listens in order to be fully appreciated, this is a very pleasing disc with oodles of old-fashioned charm, and a sense of warmth that is often lacking in today’s polished productions.
Conclusion. Though at a first listen “Shadowlands” might not sound particularly related to progressive rock, its charmingly intimate nature will gradually unfold, and reveal a deeply satisfying outing by a gifted musician. Bringing together the hauntingly atmospheric textures of Pink Floyd and the moving quirkiness of The Decemberists, this is an album that will appeal both to lovers of indie-folk and singer-songwriter music and psychedelic progressive rock.
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