(All Album Reviews by Burgess Penguin)
From the 'burbs of Chicago came Shadowfax, wielding a virtual warehouse of instruments and a love of many styles of music. While not terribly original, this album does contain some very worthwhile and intriguing musical moments. The overall flavor of this album for me seems to be, "Look, we can cover a LOT of stylistic ground!" Yes, they definitely do, but somehow, one senses a lack of clear direction, something of course that changed when they regrouped in the early 80's and went the new-age/world music path. Here, they lay some of the groundwork for what would become their ticket to getting signed with Windham Hill.
1. “Shape of a Word” - Definitely takes its cues from the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Relayer-period Yes in a huge way, the ominous arpeggiated edgy guitars, spacey keyboards, jarring time and meter changes etc. What the tune lacks though is a strong melodic thread to tie it together, giving it a very fragmented feel, though it does feature some very beautiful piano work by Doug Maluchnik.
2. “Linear Dance” - I wasn't sure whether to laugh at this or groan, a rather disjointed patchwork of herky-jerky rhythms and some of the most ridiculous wanky lyrics I've ever heard! And the vocals, VERRRRY BAAAAAAAAD IDEA!!! Songs like this were why some people got turned off to prog. But just as things look grim there's an unexpected segue into-----
3. “Petite Aubade” - If you didn't know, someone hearing this would think, "IS THIS THE SAME BAND?" Yup, it is, as the guys unplug most of the way into a beautiful and complex acoustic piece that jumps through 3 very distinct and unrelated musical genres. They start off with a very brief ominous modern classical sort of thing (with stern bass clarinet and dissonant Chamberlin strings) then leaping into Romantic period musings with flute, rippling piano and nylon-string guitar (this section flows together quite beautifully) and then, going back a few hundred years for some stately Renaissance-period ruminating, the highlight here is woodwind maestro Chuck Greenberg's multiple recorders weaving their melodious magic, quite a charming section, with guitarist Greg Stinson providing passionate counterpoint on his classical guitar with Maluchnik's harpsichord adding the necessary punctuations.
4. “Book of Hours” - For my money, the best electric piece on the album, starting off with shimmering layers of synths, guitars and percussion, the band then kicks into a bass clarinet-led strident groove, building up a frenetic pace and then, segueing into an emotionally charged soprano sax soliloquy backed by sitar and piano. Chuck Greenberg plays his heart out here and practically blows out his sax reed and lungs in the process, then the band roars back in for a dramatic close.
5. “Watercourse Way” - Someone's been listening to A LOT of Oregon here!! The complex interweaving 12-string guitar, the forlorn oboe, exotic percussion and acoustic bass are all here. The tune does have a fairly strong melodic thread but the obvious cop of Oregon's style can be a bit much, afterall, Oregon were doing this a few years before Shadowfax appeared. Very well played without question but disappointing in the respect it lacks originality.
6. “Song for My Brother” - A strong closer, a passionate rock ballad with guitarist Greg E Stinson playing his heart out and weaving compelling melodies as his bandmates paint in the colors.
Not essential but still has some good moments that a prog fan can sink their teeth into and enjoy.