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(57.30, Musea Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Someone Somewhere 7.56 2. Objet de Cire 5.25 3. Meg Merrilies 7.08 4. Touch the Sun 6.26 5. Suspension 5.24 6. Univers Insense 4.48 7. Oiseau de Feu 7.05 8. The Old World Death 8.15 9. Riding Earth 4:58 LINEUP: Frederic Leoz – vocals; keyboards; guitar Michel Gervasoni – guitar Christian Gendry – bass Pierre Chorier – drums
Prolusion. ACANTHE was a French quartet hailing from the Grenoble area. During their short existence, concentrated in the years 1973-77, they had a lively concert activity, though - like many other bands active at the time - they did not release any of their material prior to disbanding. In recent times former Acanthe guitarist/keyboardist Frederic Leoz found some tapes recorded by Acanthe during their brief career, and set down to the huge task of reconstructing at least a part of the band’s repertoire in order to make it available to the public. "Someone Somewhere" is the result of this remarkable effort.
Analysis. Acanthe were one of the many casualties of the declining interest in progressive rock of the mid-to-late Seventies – a band with some serious chops and songwriting ability, very busy on the live front, but apparently unable to land a record deal, and therefore inevitably doomed to fading into oblivion. It was just on account of a lucky coincidence that prog fans all over the world are now able to listen to some of the output of a talented act, who – in many ways – puts the efforts of many modern outfits to shame. Unlike other higher-profile French bands, Acanthe’s brand of progressive rock is classy and generally laid-back, rather than edgy and theatrical. Therefore, not surprisingly, the band’s sound shows influences from the likes of Pink Floyd, Camel and Caravan, though it would be unfair to Acanthe to call their music merely derivative. Just like Camel (and unlike Ange), however, they suffer from the lack of a truly memorable vocalist – I would go as far as to say that the vocals are the weakest link on an otherwise strong album, while the instrumental parts are often quite flawless. The band started out their career with English lyrics, later switching to their native French – definitely the better choice, since Frederic Leoz’ English is, as all too often happens, rather strongly accented, which can be a turn off for some. The singing parts also have a more mainstream flavour - not necessarily a negative thing, even in the elitist world of prog. Compositionally speaking, Acanthe display a keen ear for melody, as well as a tightness that many established bands would envy. As most prog outfits of the ‘golden era’, they employ a wide array of keyboards, though (much in the way of the above-mentioned Camel and Pink Floyd) never in an overwhelming manner, but rather as an integral part of the musical fabric. There are occasional nods to edgier modes of expression, which add interest to the whole – in particular, some of the organ parts hark back to the distinctive style of The Doors’ Ray Manzarek, a neglected influence on progressive rock. With all the songs running between 4 and 8 minutes, this means there are no epics on “Someone Somewhere” – a characteristic that may be viewed negatively by some, but which I personally find quite refreshing. In fact, the almost 8-minute-long title track, which also opens the album, is the one item that possesses the most epic features – starting in a fashion somewhat reminiscent of Hawkwind, then developing in a psychedelic-tinged feast of keyboards and guitar with nods to Pink Floyd and The Doors. Meg Merrilies, whose lyrics were adapted from a poem by Romantic icon John Keats (the titular Meg is an old gypsy woman living in close contact with nature), is another standout, with the beautifully fluid interplay between keyboards and guitar at the forefront, spiced up by some stunning organ work and somewhat more assertive guitar solo towards the end. Ethnic influences (mainly Indian) grace the instrumental Touch the Sun, where the absence of vocals allows the listener to concentrate on the seamless flow of the music; once again, organ and guitar are the undisputed protagonists, with the intervention of a sitar and tablas in the middle and towards the end lend a touch of authenticity. Album closer Riding Earth, also an instrumental, is probably the most reminiscent of Camel’s subdued brilliance; while The Old World Death (the longest item on the album) channels the more melodic and atmospheric side of Pink Floyd, with plenty of clean guitar licks (both acoustic and electric) and lush, wistful piano. Listening to “Someone Somewhere” cannot but elicit regrets about the untimely demise of the band. A classy outfit like Acanthe, whose elegant, measured brand of progressive rock seems to counterbalance the excesses of many better-known acts, would have deserved a different fate. Kudos to Musea Records for having unearthed this long-lost gem from French prog scene of the Seventies.
Conclusion. An album rich in melody and atmosphere, “Someone Somewhere” will surely delight fans of the more mellow varieties of prog, especially when spiced by a touch of psychedelia and some welcome ethnic influences. Though not overly complex or wildly innovative, the music contained on the album is lush and sophisticated, and performed with enough skill and emotion to satisfy most prog fans. Luckily, at least a part of Acanthe’s material will not be consigned to oblivion – a fitting tribute to their art, and to the memory of bassist Christian Gendry, who sadly passed away in 1980.
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