(All Album Reviews by jlneudorf)
K2 released their critically acclaimed debut album Book of the Dead in 2005 and have finally followed it up with their sophomore effort Black Garden. The band line-up this time around is Josh Gleason (vocals), Ken Jaquess (bass, keyboards), Karl Johnson (guitar), Ryo Okumoto (piano, Moog, Hammond, synths) and Doug Sanborn (drums, percussion). You may have noticed a couple of band members have changed as guitarist Alan Holdsworth is gone as is vocalist Shaun Guerin (he unfortunately passed away in 2003). Also missing is the violin work of Yvette Devereaux. Those are some big shoes to fill and the band has passed with flying colours. Black Garden is an excellent record of ‘70s inflected symphonic progressive rock that sounds every bit as good as the first release.
The title track begins the album on a powerful note. Middle Eastern motifs in the guitars and keys are as strong as ever and the vocals are very Gabrielesque, much like those of Guerin. Lots of great soloing from Johnson and the bass playing of Jaquess really stands out, which is often rare in progressive music as it is frequently buried in the mix. The keyboards of Okumoto are vital to the band’s sound and he makes his presence felt throughout the disc as his playing is exemplary.
Next is “Passage to the Deep” and its lovely intro of passionate guitar and vocals. When the keyboards came in I was reminded of Gary Wright of Dream Weaver fame and when the steely bass groove, scrumptious electric guitar and tight drum fills join the fray, you just might be in prog rock heaven. This is an absolutely great track and should have fans of early Genesis and Fish-era Marillion frothing at the mouth. Throughout the CD the band does a fine job of changing tempos which gives this music great dynamic range. The musical themes drift from dreamy ambient soundscapes to heavier prog sections and everything in between.
“Widows watch” features haunting vocals and excellent piano and synths making this one of the album’s prettiest songs. Dark symphonic touches make for a dramatic and ominous build up in the fantastic “Encounter or Absence” and the layered guitar work sounds great. The albums last two songs are “Summer’s Fall” featuring a lush symphonic arrangement and the Genesis inspired “Path to the Warrior”, a fine way to end what is an excellent album.
All of the musicians are given room to shine with no one stealing the show which makes Black Garden a real joy to listen to. If you enjoy classic sounding progressive rock you are going to love this. Sure they wear their influences on their sleeves but who cares when the songs are this good. Highly recommended!