Big Hairy Monster!
(All Album Reviews by Big Hairy Monster!)
Yoke Shire is an unusual group. When most people think of three-piece rock bands, they usually think of power trios like Rush, Cream, or Triumph...guitar, bass, and drums. Rush added synthesizers to the mix to create a more unusual sound than the standard rock trio. Yoke Shire takes this approach a step further, with all of the musicians acting as multi-instrumentalists. Yoke Shire's arsenal includes dulcimer, mandolin, theremin, marimba, Hammond organ, analog synths, harmonica, and flute...and from what I've heard, they play it all live!
Take the originality of Amazing Blondel, add the guitar soloing ability of Carlos Santana, and mix in the folk-prog tendencies of Jethro Tull. Then add elements of ZZ Top blues and Black Sabbath heaviness, and you begin to get a glimpse of this groups sound.
Craig Herlihy's baritone is one of the most unique voices in progressive rock, while his brother Brian and drummer Brad Dillon round out the group.
The disk leads off with a brief instrumental entitled "The Three Welcomes", a short selection that would not have been out of place on a Gryphon record.
"Black Tower" leads us on a journey of Latin rhythms, smokey vocals, subtle Hammond, and tasteful Santana guitar. You can tell that this group has put a lot of thought into its production values, as every instrument is clear and well recorded. Very nice indeed!
"Shape Of A Dancer" is another funky number with some nice harmonica interplay. About two minutes into the piece there is a nice and proggy piano/percussion interlude.
"Magic Circle" shows the bands expertise with acoustic instruments...not overly virtuosic, but very well executed. This could pass as an instrumental that didn't make it on to Led Zeppelin III, and in fact sounds a bit like Bron-Y-Aur Stomp. That is until about 2-1/2 minutes in when it once again sounds closer to Gryphon.
The next tune is "Maiden Voyage", a more up-tempo number that shows the group in a more tradition power trio sound. As with the other songs on this disk, it has a very 70's sound...but in a very good way. The guitar work and song structure here is similar to that of some of Chyld's work from the Conception album.
"Maiden Voyage" segues into "The Brook, The Mirror, And The Maiden", a song, which begins with a very interesting a'capella vocal passage for about a minute. Tuned percussion is then introduced, followed by some vocal / guitar harmonies that are sublime! Slow, spooky, and pure prog. A brief break takes place before the piece kicks back in with a flute passage that Ian would thoroughly approve of. Some shimmering synth work, analog strings, and flutes...the kind of stuff Kitaro albums are made of.
We now segue into "Return Voyage", an appropriate end to this little suite. It is more up-tempo than the previous piece, and reprises themes used in "Maiden Voyage".
"Ghost Notes" is a short piece, percussion, effects, and guitar that remind me a bit of Hackett's early work. It's brief, but it works as an intro into...
"Masque Of Shadows", which is the last actual song on the disk, and sort of captures the magic of everything that has been heard earlier.
"Magic Dust" is essentially a short piano piece that fittingly closes the disc.
I think if there is problem with this recording is Craig Hurlihy's voice: to some it may be an aquired taste. His vocals, like everything on this recording, are like fine brandy that has aged in oaken barrels...it just seems so appropriate.
I think that is part of the magic of Masque Of Shadows, everything is so appropriate. It is immaculately produced, but not to the point of overproduction. It is elegantly played, but not to the point of being bombastic. It is accessible without being cliché'.
...And it is one I am very glad I bought!