(All Album Reviews by Sean)
For Echolyn fans this album was something that I bet none of them expected after their breakup in the mid 90s. But old friends stay old friends and eventually bands do get back together, sometimes, and that is the case with Echolyn. This is the cd they released after their reunion. It has all the trademark Echolyn sound for the most part, but it has some new qualities as well which show some growth.
I have most of their 90s catalog and enjoy all the cds and I think anyone that liked those would be wise to check out this album as well. What sets this album apart from previous ones is a sense of calm, of unity, of maturity. Oh certainly all the proggy twists and turns you would expect from these guys are here, but the urge to cram 30 different bits into each tune has been set aside this time. I think the music is better for it in the long run.
In the past I thought that many of the parts of their tunes that flew by could have easily been expounded upon and here that happens! Don't get me wrong, I love the unexpected quality of their older arrangements, that rollercoasteresque "what's coming next?" quality. At the same time though, when I hear a good section, sometimes it's nice to wallow in for a bit.
Another thing I really like about this cd is the keyboard sounds chosen. I can see a return to natural sounds here, with the strong use of real Wurlitzer and Rhodes electric pianos in lieu of the digital keys sounds so present on past albums. Listening to this cd really spoiled me in that regard. Now when I go back and listen to the older albums, I WISH they could have been recorded in this manner.
I like the American stories theme that this cd is written around as well. A loose concept that works nicely. Many of these tunes recall wartime, and reflect what it would have been like to be overseas fighting for one's country and way of life. The music really matches the lyrical content well. Others recall the prohibition era, the suburban 50s and even vacationing across the US of A.
There are some very uplifting musical themes here. The climax to "High as Pride" is probably my favorite, with it's lyrical slide guitar melody and all. That's a goosepimply moment for sure. For fans of the classic Echolyn sound the opener "Texas Dust" and "Human Lottery" really scratch the itch nicely. For pure moody mood to "wallow" in, "67 Degrees" and "1729 Broadway" are fantastic, as are the four instrumental "poems" peppered throughout the cd.
This one is a keeper folks, I hope the upcoming new cd has a similar sound.....
(All Album Reviews by Boceephus)
Echolyn disintegrated soon after the Sony debacle and As The World failed to catapult the band to the big leagues. The members went their own ways, Brett Kull, Ray Weston and Paul Ramsey formed Still and Chris Buzby created Finneus Gauge with his brother, John. Chris and Brett, after a few years apart, contacted each other and began talking of getting together and writing some music. They did and at length put together ten tunes, called on Ray and Paul and added Jordan Perlson on percussives and reformed the Echolyn machine.
On Cowboy Poems Free, Buzby reduces the synth heaviness of earlier recordings and relies more heavily on piano and organ for a more immediate and live feel. This album is a "grower." The more you listen, the more you get trapped by the wonderful melodies and warm, heartfelt lyrics. The lyrics for CPF come from various stages of American history: the depression era (“Human Lottery”, “Texas Dust”), WWII (“67 Degrees”, “Too Late for Everything” and “Brittany”), the 50/60's (“Grey Flannel Suits”, “Swinging the Ax”). The melodies are strong and will get stuck in your head. This has to be Echolyn's most melodic accomplishment.
Musically the biggest difference between CPF and the previous efforts is bassist Tom Hyatt's absence. Ray Weston handles the bass chores well, but he's not as complex as Hyatt. Believe me when I say, you'll hardly notice. The songs are strong enough that you won't miss that component. The addition of Perlson (Buzby's Berkley student) on conga's (mainly) adds another facet to the sound, more airy and breathable. Buzby's keyboard work really shines, not flashy, but more live and energetic. Vocally, Kull and Weston are so "on the mark" and fresh sounding. They never sound forced, as they do on some tunes from the early days. They've matured and wrote vocals lines more suited to their distinct ranges.
The standout tracks for me are “Grey Flannel Suits”, “Brittany”, “67 Degrees” and “Swinging the Ax”. I've played some of these for non-prog music fans with good results.
You can go to Echolyn's website and download some zip files from each disc and put together a good sampler. You'll find that the tunes representing Cowboy Poems Free are among their strongest. Some of the CPF tracks are also featured on the live DVD Stars and Gardens.
*** Cowboy Poems Free is being remastered and due for a re-issue sometime in late 2008 or early 2009. It's worth every penny.