Big Hairy Monster!
(All Album Reviews by Big Hairy Monster!)
There's nothing like the heady days of early progressive music: the vocal harmonies of Yes, the power of King Crimson, the complexities of Gentle Giant, the beauty of...Gracious? Who's Gracious?
Gracious was an early symphonic band that released two albums on the Vertigo label before drifting into obscurity--the outstanding debut Gracious!, and it's follow up recording This Is Gracious!!. Both albums are available together on a two for one compilation disk from Beat Goes On (BGO) records. It is seemingly a well produced compilation (I have not heard any other versions of these recordings), and contains nice packaging with some interesting liner notes.
I went into this disk expecting a band that closely resembled The Moody Blues, and came out blown away...these guys were good! The compositions are beautiful, well constructed and creative.
"Introduction" appropriately starts the festivities with a typical late-60's British psyche-influenced sound. The playing is solid, as are the vocals, but this is probably my least favorite song on the CD...mainly because I know what is to come.
"Heaven" creates Gracious' vision of heaven, and is it ever majestic! Slow church organ chords and mellotron set the tone, while subtle bass lines and guitar notes provide color. You can almost picture soaring above the clouds while listening to this. Classical piano riffs slowly creep in, and then the song breaks into some very relaxed guitar strumming and soloing...vaguely similar to Pink Floyd's "San Tropez". After a few interesting vocal and instrumental passages, the song crescendos into the albums masterpiece...
"Hell" is a disturbingly beautiful piece of music. A song that starts with overdriven dissonant electric piano, mellotron, and guitar. This is used to very spooky effect...some of this is on par with the darker moments of YS by Il Balletto Di Bronzo. Nothing overly complicated, just spooky. And there are some riffs here that I'm sure Fripp approved of, however this is much darker than most of Crimson's earlier work. This tension is relieved at roughly the five minute mark by a "la-la" vocal passage that is somewhat similar to Hatfield & The North. At the six minute mark the song breaks into cathouse piano and bar singing ("We're gonna have a good time...we're gonna get smashed on wine..."). This is then quickly replaced by cancan music, before once again turning dark.
"Fugue In D Minor" is a nice instrumental featuring some tasteful guitar and harpsichord work. A nice concept, but at five minutes it gets a little repetitious.
"The Dream" starts off rocking, guitar carrying a sole high note over a repeating drum and bass pattern. This then disappears into a quote of Beethoven. Then the song kicks in proper with harmonies of "Good Night, Good Night". When it seems all is peaceful, the dream kicks in true psychedelic fashion: spooky diminuendos, Gentle Giant-ish electric piano, some tasteful blues jamming, and unusual guitar effects. And while no of the parts are overly virtuosic, they are tasteful. The only problem with this song are some rather dated lyrics, but they always make me smile.
I highly recommend this 2-disk set if you are interested in finding some very early rare prog. See also my review on the This Is Gracious!! companion disc.