A couple of things I’ve been listening to lately:

Jakko M Jakszyk: The Bruised Romantic Glee Club
I was given a preview of this double album through a King Crimson fan contact, and there are many points of connection, particularly with 1970s Crimson. Indeed Jakko fronts the 21st Century Schizoid Band, who play live versions of songs from that period; not only that but ex-Crimsoids Mel Collins, Ian Wallace, Ian MacDonald and Robert Fripp all play on it. So what’s it like? To these not-particularly-prog-friendly ears, it’s got all the positive features of prog rock and avoids most of the uglier features. It’s melodic, quite personal rather than ‘cosmic’, lyrically accessible and avoids the plod of much of that 70s stuff. The production is bang up to date, and the musicianship superb, particularly Mel Collins on sax and flute and Gavin Harrison on drums.  Sure there are  odd passages of  5/4 or whatever, but at no point does it lose the plot and sacrifice melody to exploration or, as in the case of much Crimson, to confrontation! It’s all highly arranged with little obvious improvisation. I found some of the songs dragged out a bit too long, but I have similar feelings with many ‘serious’ artists such as Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush. The first CD is a song cycle around Jakko’s family and upbringing, and the second a set of cover versions of music that inspired him to start playing, including a beautifully languid version of King Crimson’s Islands.

Yusuf: An Other Cup
This is Yusuf Islam, the former Cat Stevens, himself one of the reasons I picked up an acoustic guitar these many years ago. After many years he’s decided that making music isn’t after all in conflict with his Muslim beliefs, and returned to the studio. Some reviews have said it sounds like he’s never been away, but actually it’s better than that. His last few Cat Stevens albums, from Buddha and the Chocolate Box on, were over-padded, over-synthed and generally over-wrought, and this is none of those. His most popular material came over as simple acoustic melodic songs. In fact if you listened they were far more than that – his arrangements were meticulous and dynamic, and influenced many who now have more ‘cred’, including Bruce Springsteen. Personally I have always preferred the two mid-period albums Catch Bull At Four and Foreigner, where he got a bit heavier and angrier. This album lacks that edge, but is not as wimpy as some might expect from someone extolling the virtues of religion. All his best qualities are there – the warm voice, the unexpected melodic and rhythmic twists, the crystal-clear production. It’s welcome like a letter from an old friend.

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