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(75 min, Progrock)
TRACK LIST: 1. Cafe-1 2:10 2. I Don't Believe You 5:21 3. No Tree to Sit Under 3:37 4. Listen to Me 7:02 5. Cafe-2 1:23 6. Not Just a Piece of Paper 7:19 7. Whenever You Dream 5:39 8. Cafe-3 3:33 9. A Place in Time 9:14 10. What do You Know 5:41 11. Cafe-4 3:09 12. The Door 4:45 13. I See 7:00 14. The Last Song 6:25 15. Cafe-5 3:18 LINEUP: Henning Pauly - drums; bass, guitars; piano, keyboards Jody Ashworth - vocals (Trans Siberian Orchestra) James LaBrie - vocals (Dream Theater) Michael Sadler - vocals (Saga) Matt Cash - vocals (Chain)
Prolusion. "Babysteps", the third solo effort by American (Germany-born) multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Henning PAULY, is my first encounter with his work. Henning's other two solo albums are "13 Days" and "Credit Where Credit is Due", though he has four more CDs to his credit, namely "Reconstruct", "Chain.exe", "Unweaving the Rainbow" and "An Absence of Empathy", the former two coming under the moniker of Chain, and the others under that of Frameshift. What's curious is that all seven of Henning's previous creations were released during the last three years, from 2003 to 2005. For "Babysteps" this surprisingly fruitful musician has engaged four well-known singers whose names you can see in the lineup above.
Analysis. Five of the fifteen tracks on this 75-minute recording are instrumental pieces - all those with the 'key' word Cafe in their titles. Part 3: the refined piano, somewhere halfway between Classical and Minimalist music, moves alone down to the finale where meets a fluid electric guitar. Part 2: a beautiful thematic interplay between bass, acoustic and electric guitars. The album's 'boundary' tracks, Parts 1 & 5, are kindred compositions, both developing from soft keyboards passages to Art-Rock-like stuff involving most instruments from Henning's equipment, drums included. Finally Part 4: always fast and intense Techno Metal with excellent string arrangements and a dynamic full-band sound - musically almost a twin brother of the song No Tree to Sit Under. It needs to be mentioned that apart from these two, the use of string ensemble is really extensive only on one of the as-yet-unnamed compositions. This is Whenever You Dream and is one of the songs that form the nucleus of the album's overall image, the others being Listen to Me, I See, I Don't Believe You, What do You Know and A Place in Time, each featuring several sections with different thematic and rhythmic patterns. The music can be viewed as a confluence of heavy Prog and Art-Rock where the corresponding textures normally alternate with each other, although the former ones are usually prevalent. On an instrumental level, the songs resemble Savatage and, to a lesser degree, Queen, though the features typical of the latter band are really obvious only on A Place in Time (excluding vocals of course). Where did I dig up such a term as heavy Prog? Well, only the first two of the tracks I've just listed are signed with marks of genuine Prog-Metal in places, while in most cases the heavy component represents a complex conglomeration of Power Metal, Techno Thrash, Hard Rock and some more related styles. Anyway, throughout each, the textures are rich and full of contrasting instrumentation, displaying smooth ensemble playing, with nothing flashy in the way of soloing. Another interesting aspect of all the songs mentioned is that the piano is really ubiquitous there, being usually an integral part of the picture regardless of whether the music is heavy or not. On most of them (the only exceptions being Listen to Me and I See), Jody Ashworth either does lead vocals alone or shares the lead with one of the other singers, and all of such have a slight operatic feeling in addition. Jody's low-pitched vocals are really unique, quite one-of-a-kind, and are very pleasant and listenable in general. The Door adds heartfelt dramatic vocals to an inventive acoustic guitar, meaning both passages and solos. The remaining two songs are remarkable only as long as they are viewed outside the Prog Rock idiom, piano still being the instrument that stands out the most, even sharing the spotlight with the vocals. Not Just a Piece of Paper and The Last Song blend together Prog-tinged Hard Rock and AOR, though the former is notable for some splendid blues solos on guitar.
Conclusion. Allowing for a couple of simple songs, I can say this is a very good album musically, full of rich textures and contrasts, with a sound that is both thick and rich. Part of what appeals to me is the plentiful use of piano, especially when it rides over the heavy textures. Recommended, especially to those who enjoy (as I do) Savatage's Rock Operas, such as "Streets", "Dead Winter Dead" et al.
VM: October 13, 2006
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