(All Album Reviews by Vinylroolz)
Stanley Whittaker: Guitars, Vocals
Frank Wyatt: Keyboards, sax, flute, lyrics
Kit Watkins: Keyboards, recorder
Rick Kennell: Bass
Ron Riddle: Drums & Percussion
Happy the Man is arguably America's greatest prog band. Unlike most progsters that followed the golden age of the "Big 5", they don't try to emulate the sound or style of any of their predecessors. They have combined all of their influences into a refreshing new sound. They don't go in for pretention or gimmicks or concepts. They just play!
Crafty Hands is the band's second album, and it shows a marked improvement over their self-titled debut. As good as that was, a year of touring and gelling together has imparted a real identity and focus for this second recording. The change of drummers from Mike Beck to Ron Riddle hasn't hurt them either.
"Service With a Smile" (written by Riddle) is an astounding opener that showcases both Whittaker and Watkins as serious players. Intense lead lines and fantastic rhythms.
"Morning Sun" (written by Watkins) is a much mellower piece. Lots of atmosphere and tinkly bits that builds to a magnum opus of symphonic sound.
"Ibby It Is" (written by Wyatt) is a contrapuntal extravaganza that owes as much to Gentle Giant as it does to Mahavishnu. Weaving their way between sharp, loud passages to dreamy string synths and a gorgeous guitar melody line, then back, this tune shows what outstanding musicians these guys are. Watkins and Whittaker each get off several scorching, emotional solos.
"Steaming Pipes" (written by Whittaker) is a showcase for Watkins' Moog-soloing skills which occur over some very complex rhythmic acrobatics. Then Whittaker himself takes a great solo before a rather subdued ending fade-out.
"Wind Up Doll Day Wind", a group composition, features the only vocals on the album. Vocals are not this band's strong suit. The best parts of this song are the instrumental breaks, and at 7 minutes plus, there's thankfully plenty of those.
"Open Book" (written by Wyatt) is another dreamy number which features Wyatt's flute and Watkins' recorder prominently. These are replaced by Whittaker's very understated guitar work over Watkins' string synth. Very nice.
"I Forgot To Push It" (written by Watkins) is a fun, bouncy little number that shows how tight the band is. Lovely breaks and accents that require split second timing. I am again reminded of Gentle Giant here.
"The Moon, I Sing" (written by Watkins) is another restrained synthfest and, in hindsight, shows the musical direction Watkins would ultimately take with his solo albums. Incredibly layered sounds, simple melodies and great atmosphere. In a word, beautiful.
Happy the Man show a great vision and a synthesis of styles. They have a classical complexity, a jazz sensibility and a prog attitude. What more could you ask for?