(All Album Reviews by Phil Jackson)
This is the fourth album by Maestoso, a Barclay James Harvest ‘offshoot’ fronted by Woolly Wolstenholme (The others were released in 1980, 2003 and 2004).
The CD gets going on the 11:36 epic “Soldier of Fortune” with a “Larks Tongues in Aspic” King Crimson start and drums by Kim Turner that sound as if they were recorded in an echo chamber. The piece has discrete sections and if we take the heavy opening sequence as depicting the madness and mayhem of war then the plaintive soldier’s tale that follows makes perfect sense. On 1:46 the classic soaring BJH guitar sound leads us into the ‘story’ itself in a two minute section that ends with what sounds like the sound of a distant bomb then there is a short orchestral sequence that builds the pathos and it take a full five minutes for the ‘folk’ lyrics that lead to a further orchestral section with guitar on eight minutes only to return to the Crimson ‘chaos’ once more. A perplexing if ultimately inspiring piece!
“The Road to Nowhere” returns to the futility of war and the betrayal of those who sacrificed so much more concisely with musical similarities to Procol Harum in latter day albums. All members of the band contribute compositions such as “Matilda Yarrow”, an acoustic guitar led composition by Steve Broomhead with lovely vocal harmonies. Some of the songs have an oddly familiar ring. When Wolstenholme’s “I am the collector” is sung/ spoken, I am reminded very much of Peter Hammill singing “I am the necromancer”!
Midway through the CD there are a trilogy of songs that take a more personal approach in the lyrics as titles like “Closure” (with ‘ringing’ guitar), “Always” (Brooker/ Harum right down to the Hammond organ and nautical references) and “I Don’t Like You (But I Love You)” with its memorable chorus surely worthy of radio play- suggest.
Wolstenholme’s “Shoes” returns to the anti-war theme- “The ways of man are straddled with brutality”- with guest player Geoff Richardson on viola. “Blossom Hill” sounds as if it wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack of Les Miserables while the final piece is a whimsical sketch with Wolstenholme playing the part of a doctor. Its Germanic whimsicality should not detract from the serious message- the tendency of doctors to prescribe “Pills” for everything.
Woolly Wolstenholme and his band come across come across as worthy inheritors of the BJH ‘flame’, as creative musicians and writers who care deeply about the fate of our planet and Caterwauling is equal to anything Woolly or BJH has previously produced.