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(72:24, ShroomAngel Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. The Last Song 8:20 2. Heavy Lifting 6:19 3. Discourse on Method 5:38 4. Drum Roe 1:06 5. Halfway to Salem 7:36 6. Still Life 7:00 7. Talking Points 3:51 8. Like Me 6:18 9. Into the Night 2:20 10. Shards 3:16 11. Alis Volat Propiis 4:47 12. This and That 4:22 13. Busy Signal 11:31 LINEUP: Mark Cook – Warr guitar, guitars, bass; keyboards; percussion Rex Bozarth – bass, Chapman Stick; cello; vocals Steve Powell – keyboards; guitars, bass; vocals Ernie Myers – vocals; guitars Skip Durbin – woodwinds Shannon Day – keyboards John Rousseau – drums Martin McCall – drums
Prolusion. The US band HANDS was originally active back in the ‘70s, but time and circumstances didn't see them acquire a great deal of success back then. They reformed in 2001 however, and have been a going entity ever since. "Caviar Bobsled" is their most recent studio album, released in 2015 via the US label ShroomAngel Records.
Analysis. As odd as the title of this album may be, one might argue that the music on this CD is even more so, then especially considering the context of this being a band based out of Texas, which isn't the corner in the world highest on the list if you want to find an adventurous progressive rock band. Still, that is the home base for Hands and where this album was created. I suspect that a defining trait of the band is their connection to acoustic music and folk music, of the kind that gives many of their compositions a slight Americana feel. Roots music is involved, and while not what one might describe as a dominant aspect of their general style, details of this nature are recurring and ongoing throughout. Liberal use of both flute and Mellotron does add more of a British sound to their material on one hand, while the use of cello, as well as what I thought was a violin, does give other sequences more of a US oriented sound in something of a Kansas-tinged kind of way. Occasional forays into symphonic escapades, as on opening track The Last Song, also provides us with something of a vintage, symphonic progressive rock vibe at times. There is a bit more than merely this to this US band however. Another common and recurring presence on this recording is instrumental details with something of a jazz-oriented expression, frequently combining with the acoustic and Americana-tinged arrangements, in essence giving the band a sound not light years away from Umphrey's McGee on those occasions. They aren't strangers to head out into altogether different territories either, sporting some vocal harmonies of a kind that should sound familiar to fans of Gentle Giant, and occasionally giving the flute a good run in a manner that will bring forth associations to good, old Jethro Tull, especially when this occurs in the more acoustic dominated sequences at hand. Further expanding the musical palette is the aforementioned cello, which is also used to add a slight chamber music touch to the proceedings, and there's also one instance of the band heading towards a sound and expression closer to what King Crimson played around with in the early ‘80s with gliding, hovering instrument textures and wandering, firm, plucked guitar details. All of this combines into material that most often has a distinct US vibe to them, with occasional forays into a more purebred classic English progressive rock sound, style and atmosphere. Acoustic music, folk music and Americana are key elements here, as are the jazz-oriented instrument details, explored partially within a harder to define context reminding ever so slightly of the aforementioned Umphrey's McGee, at other times closing in on the likes of Kansas, and more often than not they end up in a landscape with a total context hard to define, explain or even compare to anyone else that I know of. The lead vocals are sometimes a slight let down though, but, apart from on the otherwise intriguing Halfway to Salem, they are functional.
Conclusion. Those with an interest in progressive rock that feels intrigued by a US band that manages to incorporate Americana, folk music and acoustic rock into an adventurous mix and context that also incorporates elements from jazz, chamber music and vintage symphonic progressive rock should find this CD by Hands to be well worth getting familiar with. The music is deceivingly and subtly complex though, so it really needs a few spins before it will settle with you.
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