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(49 min, Altrock Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Some Stories 3:07 2. Dance of the Sun 6:16 3. The Withered Throne 7:22 4. We All Stand in Our Broken Jars 5:32 5. A Safe Haven 3:40 6. Knight's Vow 4:00 7. Clumsy Grace 2:45 8. Mellow Days 9:38 9. 'Til the Morning Came 4:54 10. Some Stories Reprise 3:47 LINEUP: Valerio Smordoni – vocals; keyboards; acoustic guitar Manolo D'Antonio – ac. & el. guitars; ukulele, b/v Marco Avallone – bass; percussion With: Francesco Favilli – drums, percussion Carlo Enrico Macalli – flute Eliseo Smordoni – bassoon Andrea Bergamelli – cello Giovanni Vigliar – violin &: The Morning Choir
Prolusion. CAMELIAS GARDEN is a young band from Italy. “You Have a Chance” is their debut album, released earlier this year by Falling Records, which is a sort of symphonic division of the avant-garde Italian label AltrOck Records.
Analysis. Coming from the more accessible side of vintage-style symphonic Art-Rock, Camelias Garden is influenced by Genesis and – to a lesser degree – by the Italian band’s countrymen Ezra Winston and Eris Pluvia, having absorbed them into their own organic stew, playing with more emphasis on acoustic instruments. The basic trio of vocals/analog keyboards/acoustic guitar, electric and classical guitars and bass is augmented on the album by five guest musicians on drums, cello, violin, flute and bassoon. The ten tracks they present here are all fully composed, with powerful melodic elements and refined counterpoint by virtue of three lead instruments in most cases – acoustic guitars, keyboards and bass. Eight of the compositions contain vocals with lyrics in English, two of them, namely Clumsy Grace and Some Stories Reprise, only featuring acoustic guitars and vocals, as also does disc opener Some Stories, though there are also parts of cello and flute on this one. All of them are good pieces of pastoral music, albeit the latter is better than the former two, since it contains fewer vocals, is more complicated and has a classical feel to it. On all five of the other songs the band offers the high-flying spirit of Genesis circa ’75-’76 (only with Ray Wilson rather than Phil Collins on vocals) with the lighter lyrical imagery of Yes. Contrasts between louder passages and softer, often totally acoustic, interludes are an integral part of each of those, but are used rather sparingly – not to extremes. One minute the listener hears a lively Moog solo within a symphonic art-rock move; the next minute it’s the beautiful and sometimes haunting melodic work led by acoustic guitar and cello or flute with folk or classical influences, et cetera. The organ, Mellotron and electric guitar are rarely used as more than background fortification – in contrast to the Moog synthesizer and acoustic guitar, both of which are the main driving forces of the majority of the arrangements, those of a full-band sound included. The Withered Throne and 'Til the Morning Came both build from the pastoral-sounding theme played on acoustic guitar to the full bombastic grandeur of Symphonic Progressive. Within the latter piece we find a skilful ability to craft a song that is both accessible and interesting, whereas the former is vocal-heavy and is the only track on the album that sounds derivative, borrowing a riff from ‘Keep It Dark’ (“Abacab”) that runs almost all through it. Well, it didn’t manage without a fly in the ointment in the case of Knight's Vow either. This is a pretty powerful ballad with a lot of potential which, unfortunately, have to take a back seat to getting the vocals across, at least most of the time. However, the band did not intend for this to be a happy-go-lucky album, and the remaining two vocal tracks, Dance of the Sun and Mellow Days, are full of musical drama. Both of them highlight the band’s compositional and performance possibilities, standing out for some amazing, Steve Hackett-style, acoustic guitar work, as well as keyboard work, the latter piece being the album’s strongest proponent of influences of classic vintage Symphonic Progressive. As to the former one, a part of its melodic strength is rooted in some Celtic folk elements, which bring yet another dimension to its sound, especially in its finale, which sounds almost like a traditional Celtic dance with a rhythm section. The bass, acoustic guitar and keyboards are the three consistent elements of it, while cello and flute each appears sometimes as a fourth and a fifth voice, occasionally dropping out to violin or bassoon lines. The instrumentals, A Safe Haven and We All Stand in Our Broken Jars, are both excellent too. While following one another (right in the core of the disc), they sound strongly contrasting, which I find to be another virtue of the album. The first of them is a soft symphonic piece with only piano, Mellotron and flute in the arrangement, while the latter is a full-blown sympho-prog anthem which, moreover, often has a harder, metal-like edge, and features some impressive electric guitar work, augmented by synthesizer solos soaring over the proceedings.
Conclusion. Camelias Garden is a fine melodic (I hesitate to say neo) sympho-prog band that, I believe, will continue to grow, so we can expect big things from these youngsters in the future. “You Have a Chance” is in turn a very good debut album and comes recommended to those who, as I do, love the sound of such compositions by Genesis as ‘Ripples’, ‘Entangled’ and so on.
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