(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
This has been a really difficult review for me to write and I don't know why. It's not that I don't like the CD, I think it's fantastic. The main problem I've had is how to adequately describe all of the music on here. There's so much of it, covering a vast range of styles many of which are totally unique on their own. I thought about giving it a broad overview but in the end I found it was better to describe each song individually. Dreadnaught's last album, The American Standard, was rather unique and really caught my attention but this one takes things several giant steps further. There are still many remnants of the progabilly style left over from that album but most of this is uncharted territory.
For those of you not familiar with Dreadnaught, the core of this New Hampshire band is a trio consisting of guitarist Justin Walton, bassist Bob Lord and Tim Haney who has taken over the drum stool from Rick Habib. Doesn't sound all that intimidating, does it? The combined musical talent of this band is incredible, though. The American Standard won numerous accolades from reviewers, some of whom proclaimed it the album of year in 2001. But as I was warned, this one is quite a bit different in many ways.
One of the first noticeable differences is the inclusion of keyboards. Not just a little here and there, there are keys all over the album. Both Bob and Justin tackle the keyboard parts very nicely with distinctive differences; Justin's Rhodes playing is just unbelievably cool and Bob has some excellent orchestral parts that had me fooled into thinking they were the real thing. Another difference is that the album is entirely instrumental. This is not as big of a surprise since The American Standard was mostly instrumental as well
Straight from the opening track, "R. Daniel Olivaw" you can tell that you'll be in for an unusual journey. There's a weird funky beat with some fractured piano playing from Justin along with some other crazy keyboards in the background. Andy Happel provides an odd violin solo towards the end of the track, we'll hear more from him later.
The second cut is a shorter piece more in the "progabilly" style of The American StandardI don't know if the title is a reference to anything but Dreadnaught is definitely not a "One Trick Pony" at all. The next one "Kazak, The Hound of Space" is the first of four songs in which Bob Lord plays all of the instruments. The piece starts off with a chaotic piano intro that evolves into a nice jazzier section with clarinet sounds and then drifts off into distorted noise territory and ends with some cloudy tympani.
"Tiny Machines" is another "progabilly" piece. Justin lays down some really twangy guitar tracks as well as some great piano and Rhodes. It also says that he plays sax on the track, but I think it got lost a bit in the mix.
The fifth track "Northern Pike" is one of my favorites from the album, it's also one of the hardest to describe. The piece starts out with some pulsing experimental noise and then segues into a light funky vamp. There's some great harmonica wailing provided by Ed Jurdi that gives the tune a very nostalgic feel. Also the orchestral keys really stand out on this as well. I guess the closest description to give this would be big band/country/classical/experimental with harmonica or something to that effect. "Gulf of Tonkin" is a quick heavier tune with some intense rhythm section and Rhodes.
The next two songs form the "pants down" suite which was featured on the Earsongs 3 compilation (did you get your copy? they may be sold out soon!). "Are Your Pants Down?" is the short avantgurdy intro piece which is interupted by "Pull Your Pants Down" (oooh!) a really wild heavy piece with an excellent distorted Rhodes lead. As a great deal of the album, this tune has a really cool retro feel to it.
"Big Cats" is another Bob Lord composition. This one sounds like it could have come from Aaron Copland composing for some spaghetti western in the 1950s. The string sections are very deceiving and the piano work is simply brilliant.
"Threnody for the Victims of Brother Theodore" starts out a quiet smokey jazz thing and slowly builds up to a frenzy. Lots more excellent keyboard tracks on this one too. "Fanfare for a Losing Team" is another one from Lord. This is really out there, I wouldn't even know where to begin describing it. Just that it's an incredible piece.
"The Boston Crab" features the basic guitar/drums/bass combo with a few piano bits thrown in. Even though the arrangement may be one of the more basic on the album, the song is quite complex and really showcases the sheer talent of the band. Next comes "Winston Niles Rumfoord" which essentially is an odd piano solo from Bob with some strange woodwind sounds thrown in at the end. This gives way to more really hot Rhodes played by Justin during the intro of "Elba", a really haunting song with lots more great electric piano and heavy bass parts. Another outstanding track!
The epic on this one would have to be the next four tracks that make up "The Sirens of Titan" suite. Written by Lord, the first part features a strangely EQ'ed bass line surrounded by atmospheric keyboard noises. Part two brings back the excellent violin work of Andy Happel who is featured soloing quite a bit more than on the first track. The next part features the only playing from Justin on the piece on get this....a saxophone! Is there no end to what they'll try? I can't get through the review without mentioning the brilliant percussion throughout the album from Tim Haney and his dexterity is particularly strong during this suite.
The final track is another real standout for me and sounds the closest they've come to doing a classic prog song. It reminds me quite a bit of early Yes in many respects although it still has that unmistakable Dreadnaught quality to it. "Royal Jelly" is just a brilliant way to slide you to the end of the album.
Much praise has to go to John Reagan from Big Balloon Records for his work on getting this out, too. I understand they have a double live CD coming out really soon on Comet, the Italian label, if it isn't out already. They are very active almost constantly touring, too. If you have a chance to see them, do not hesitate they are just as tight live! Although it must have been one hell of a task to follow up on the success of The American Standard, I think Musica En Flagrante is unquestionably a worthy successor. A fifty-four minute orgy of killer music!