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(47:15, 10t Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Walk on Alone 12:31 2. Voices 6:23 3. Weapon 6:52 4. What Have I Done 5:56 5. Mind over Matter 2:27 6. Prelude 1:48 7. World in Front of Me 11:18 LINEUP: John Baker – vocals; guitars, mandolin Steve Mauk – keyboards; vocals Kerry Chicoine – bass; vocals Jerry Beller – drums; vocals With: Trevor Mauk – cello Tony Jay – voices
Prolusion. The US band MARS HOLLOW is based in Southern California and made quite a splash when they released their debut album in 2010. One year later they have been booked for and performed at festivals in the US and Mexico, having had a handful or so additional concert opportunities, and have managed to write, record and now release a new album as well. This, their latest, excursion is called "World in Front of Me", and as with their previous CD it was issued by the US label 10t Records.
Analysis. Artists taking their cues from the vast and popular art rock catalog of the 70's aren't exactly few and far between. In the vast art rock universe, where competition for attention is as harsh as in other musical genres, it's actually rather difficult to avoid encountering a plethora of acts harvesting this musical legacy. Some copy, some strive to invent, others blend their findings. A token few manage to be truly innovative and bring that legacy on to the next level. In that particular context, I'd describe Mars Hollow as a band that blends and mixes their influences more than anything else, and they do so in a good manner I'll hastily add. The rich, dark and melodic bass motifs courtesy of Chicoine bring forth associations with the likes of Rush, and while the guitars of Baker lightly wandering above don't evoke any highly distinct associations to my ears, his soloing is of the kind many fans of 70's symphonic progressive rock will find familiar and enjoy. And his light-timbre lead vocals may bring forth associations to Rush again, or, possibly, Yes. And the vocal harmonies utilized do add something of an emphasis to the latter two in that department. Mauk's keyboard excursions have something of a US art rock tinge to them to my ears, with Kansas being a name that easily comes to mind, but also artists of a more contemporary nature, like Spock's Beard. I'll leave it to dedicated drum enthusiasts to pick their own choices in that department, while just briefly mentioning that Beller is most certainly on a par with the rest of the band as far as performance goes. But as enjoyable it is to bring associations to the table, the music is the important matter. And while I don't see Mars Hollow as a truly superb unit in the song department, at least not yet, they do know how to craft enjoyable and engaging compositions, positive and enthusiastic, with spirited and energetic instrumental parts that give the instrumentalists ample room to maneuver, and vocal parts more dampened in expression, where the instruments take a back seat so that Baker's voice can soar. Richly-layered symphonic progressive rock, elegant art rock with a foot inside the art pop department and quirky themes with a nod or two in the direction of Gentle Giant all have their place. But most important of all is the mood: positive, jubilant and enthusiastic. Mars Hollow may not be contenders for the most challenging or most original album of the year, but for sheer musical joy and enthusiasm they are prime candidates.
Conclusion. Strong melodies set within a compositional context harking back to 70's art rock in general and symphonic progressive rock in particular are, I think, a neat summary of what Mars Hollow has to offer, performed with joy, liberally flavored with positive moods and harmonic details. Nothing groundbreaking, but a charming production that should find favor amongst many who tend to look back to the 70's as the golden age of rock music.
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