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(57 min, ‘Thieves’ Kitchen’)
TRACK LIST: 1. One for Sorrow, Two for Joy 0:16 2. Deor 7:51 3. Hypatia 8:56 4. A Fool's Journey 8:19 5. Germander Speedwell 14:32 6. The Weaver 4:33 7. Of Sparks and Spires 12:49 LINEUP: Phil Mercy – guitars Amy Darby – vocals Thomas Johnson – keyboards (ex-Anglagard) With: Paul Mallyon – drums (Sanguine Hum) Brad Waissman – bass (Sanguine Hum) Anna Holmgren – flute (Anglagard)
Prolusion. The Anglo-Swedish band THIEVES’ KITCHEN was formed fifteen years ago by drummer Mark Robotham and guitarist Phil Mercy – who is currently its only original participant, while Mark left it back in 2010. The other two official members of the group, singer Amy Darby and keyboardist Thomas Johnson (formerly of Anglagard), joined it in 2007. Issued earlier this year, “One for Sorrow, Two for Joy” is their fifth album, following “The Water Road” from 2008. Click here to visit the band’s section on this website, which features ratings of all its releases and links to reviews of those.
Analysis. Although it didn’t leave me with a very strong initial impression, Thieves’ Kitchen’s latest, “One for Sorrow, Two for Joy”, is the kind of album which takes some time to warm up to – not because it’s too complex, but because it’s so simple. On the one hand, the group still continues to refine their style of mixing jazz-tinged guitar leads and symphonic keyboard passages together with amazing, slightly atonal, vocals. But on the other, they use a more open approach in forming the arrangements, which (in terms of complexity – not structure) are for the most part transparent here. If I had to describe the album as a whole, I’d say that the band has put together a collection of songs which takes elements of classic/vintage-style symphonic Art-Rock, Neo Progressive, Pop Art and Hard Rock and blend them together in a fairly simplistic manner, but using odd rhythmic measures – nearly everywhere! In reality, however, none of the seven tracks presented fully suit the said idiom. I don’t consider in that context the 16-second title cut (disc opener), which represents a narrated quatrain. The only real composition here that left me cold after the second listening either is The Weaver, the plainest thing in the set. Only featuring vocals and an acoustic guitar, this is a sort of acoustic pop-art ballad, featuring no digressions from its initial theme or instrumental interludes either. The song Hypatia is slow-paced throughout, developing for the most part as a symphonic art-rock ballad. However, it contains a few different vocal as well as instrumental themes, purely acoustic ones included. Well, the themes are quite simple in design, but the band’s constant use of odd time signatures along with a non-standard vocal delivery make the piece sound both unique and intriguing, the features being characteristic of the rest of the material as well. The second track, Deor, can overall be described as vintage-sounding Neo Prog, but the musicians are a more talented set than usual for the style, actively soloing ‘behind’ Amy’s vocals, and the instrumental sections seems uncommonly sophisticated for this kind of music, additionally deploying bits of Jazz-Fusion (courtesy of Phil Mercy), as also do all the remaining compositions. The best tracks on the disc are the epic ones, Germander Speedwell and Of Sparks and Spires. The first of them is inspired by mid-‘70s Genesis, blending some of the best vintage symphonic Art-Rock with elements or, rather, interludes of pastoral chamber music, which involve a few acoustic instruments. Phil’s guitar work here is reminiscent of both Steve Hackett and Allan Holdsworth – especially when playing the acoustic version in the former case. The latter piece is in turn a fully original combination of classic Sympho-Prog and progressive Hard Rock, a perfect example of how good this band is – a long, largely instrumental, composition going through a series of thematic and structural changes. A Fool's Journey is similar to it in both structure and style, and would’ve been another masterpiece had it contained fewer returns to the previously played themes than it does. Traditionally, the guitar and keyboards dominate the band’s sound, and Johnson effectively uses his arsenal of vintage keyboards. Crossing the melody lines in various ways, Darby is still incredible as a vocalist, her voice a delight in itself. Mercy is a highly masterful guitarist, using a lot of different tones when soloing. His guitar work is really excellent, and each time I play the disc I am amazed by it.
Conclusion. The overall sound and texture of the album are very familiar, with an early-‘70s instrumentation that is all-too-common these days, but it works well here because of its honesty. The music seems so simple, less complex than any of the band’s previous releases, but is richer in mood. In fact, the whole album is pretty surprising when you get to know it, just for the fact that they were able to make this kind of music work. Certainly, nobody else is doing anything quite like this. I applaud the musicians for their ingenuity in making an album like this succeed. No, I don’t think it’s a better release than either of its predecessors, but it seems to be a more honest one, more accessible. Either way, it will please most, if not all, sympho-prog lovers, particularly those who prefer odd meters.
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