(All Album Reviews by bill g)
With the resurgence of what many refer to as progressive music, I tend to lose myself. Or occasionally find myself, but,if so, I find myself feeling like I do when I look at a clear night sky. There is so much there. The abundance can be overwhelming. So, after buying enough cd's to surely land me in the poorhouse, 'Thieves' Kitchen' has probably in the last year surprised me the most.
Generally, 'progressive' artists have clear connections to the 70's. With this 5-piece band, however, the connections, though there, are less obvious: A touch of Hatfield & The North here, a smidgeon of E.L.P. or Gentle Giant there. Shibboleth is, in fact, everything good and fun about prog. The music is extraordinary, if not groundbreaking at times, with a coherence that I suppose could be the musical version of a group of highly trained circus performers where you watch, only to utter the unavoidable phrase, 'how do they do that?'. Indeed, neither Return To Forever, nor Emerson, Lake & Palmer have ever been tighter. But those who know me know tightness and chops mean nothing to me without interesting melody. And interesting melody is all over these remarkable compositions. On top of it all, on this 3rd album, is the compelling voice of newcomer Amy Darby. Hers is a voice as cushy and soft as a heaping stack of large pillows which can only beckon for that perfect swan dive.
In spite of the fact that each member here is a virtuoso, (I say in spite of because sometimes virtuosity kills compostion) the instrumental passages are brilliant, full of twisted metric turns with solos reduced to a minimum. Guitarist Phil Mercy, when he does give in to such wankery, does so in a fun, fluid fashion, a la Alan Holdsworth, and never long enough to wane interest before the music ventures elsewhere without losing the defining framework of the whole. Especially is this so in the 20-minutes plus that make up 'Chovihani Rise', the 5th of the cd's 6 tracks.
So, if you think you'd enjoy music that defies normal commercial boundaries and categoriazation (and perhaps gravity), with enough twists and turns to dizzy a marmot, schedule 66 minutes (the length of the cd), pop a turbo truffle, or your mental stimulant of choice, and lose yourself. Oh sure, you could gather all your finest pillows and commence a fine series of dives. But I do think Amy Darby's voice has more to sink oneself into. And I do think Shibboleth is a lot more fun.