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TRACK LIST: 1. Argamasilla 11:04 2. Willowglass 4:02 3. The Maythorne Cross 10:39 4. Book of Hours 7:13 5. The Labyrinth 16:50 LINEUP: Andrew Marshall – keyboards; guitars, bass; recorders Dave Brightman – drums & percussion
Prolusion. Formed five years ago, WILLOWGLASS is an English studio outfit led by multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Andrew Marshall, drummer Dave Brightman being his sole workmate from the outset. “Book of Hours” is a follow-up to the project’s self-titled debut release from 2005 and is an all-instrumental creation, also.
Analysis. Compared to Willowglass’ previous album, this one is much more uniform stylistically, falling entirely into the symphonic art-rock idiom and is overall more complicated too, and although it’s at the same time wealthier in so-called outside factors, is generally better than its precursor. The music is quite strong throughout and it seems Andrew utilizes a complete set of analog keyboard sounds here: think plenty of Mellotron, Moog, Hammond and the like as-good-as-a-vintage-wine patterns. The recording’s ‘boundary’, longest, compositions, Argamasilla and The Labyrinth, best of all fit the above genre definition in its classic, most widely recognized, sense. Just logically, both are rich in thematic and pace shifts as well as in textural and dynamic contrasts. Combining the Genesis- and Yes-style passages with more original ones, these two in particular showcase Marshall’s technical possibilities as a performer, finding him managing all the instruments deployed seemingly as knowingly as those whose influences are distinct here with a naked ear, beginning with keyboardists Tony Banks and Rick Wakeman. The artist’s approach to playing electric guitar is similar to Anthony Phillips’, while his acoustic guitar parts (found only on the two pieces that are being described last) are patterned after Steve Hackett’s. As a bassist he most often evokes Chris Squire, particularly shining on the third (and the third longest) track, The Maythorne Cross, which includes even a kind of benefit performance for that instrument. The drummer, however, is noticeably straighter than Phil Collins or any of Yes’s battery commanders either and is at times distinctly electronic-sounding. Back to the compositions: It is probably only in terms of diversity or, rather, complexity that the longest two tracks surpass the other three, though the last-named one is in all senses nearly on a par with those, no matter that the music is mostly slow, transforming into a fast-paced sympho-prog romp only closer to the piece’s finale. Furthermore, The Maythorne Cross reveals some distinctly innovative ideas: it deals in places with folk motifs which only arouse associations with the minstrelsy. The remaining two compositions, the title track of the disc and the one that the project’s name is eponymous to, are entirely built up after Genesis’s recipe and while these aren’t too intricate, both are elaborate and generally impressive pieces too. Much of the Book of Hours is a synthesis of basically slow, yet quite full-blown Art-Rock and softer, still mostly keyboard-dominated, passages, but the piece has a long acoustically-driven interlude with no percussion(s) involved, which in turn is the essence of Willowglass. The three core tracks portray Marshall as a versatile musician in the most favorable light: he works really well there as a multi-instrumentalist, bringing in a variety of extra solos with recorders, acoustic guitar and piano. There are quite a few flute leads on each, but although those seem to be somewhere halfway between Andrew ‘Camel’ Latimer and Peter Gabriel in approach, the music itself never leaves the Genesis domain, so to speak. The recording’s prevailing mood would be drama, in a word, and only Willowgalss reminds me of a light autumn morning. In all, minus singing, you’ll get here a lot of what is familiar to you from “Wind & Wuthering”, and even though neither of the compositions reaches the heights of that album, none are too far from those either.
Conclusion. Well-produced, a beautiful booklet and artwork (with medieval landscapes, courtesy of painter Lee Gaskin) included, this “Book of Hours” is much more to my liking than the majority of efforts of those who simplify – and, often, falsify as well as vulgarize – the classic Genesis legacy, having a commercial success as their purpose (you’re well aware, readers, of whom I mean: save only some, mainly first, of the neo bands, of course). Very good as it is, at least overall, with a bit more intensive arrangements on the two shorter full-band-sounding tracks and with less overt influences in general it would have been an excellent release.
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