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(47:30; Fermez la Bouche Records)
One of the side benefits of being around the progressive scene for so long is that every so often I will be contacted by someone who has been given my details by another musician, and that is what happened here when Chicago-based Refestramus sent me an email after speaking to musician Jerry King. What I didn’t realise at the time was that Refestramus is basically a solo project of Derek Ferguson with many guests, but that Jerry and Ian Beabout (Colouartura) were key players. Derek had been keyboard player in bands in Chicago in the early 90’s, but when the venues started closing many bands also stopped and he had not played for some time. During Covid he was reminded of a song he had written called “Another Country” nearly 30 years earlier, so why not buy some new keyboards and see what it would sound like now? Conversations with Ian, who he knew from his radio show, led to Jerry who immediately agreed to working on the album, which was news to Derek who had thought he was just recording a single song, which in turn led to a writing frenzy over the following year. Craig Cairns was brought in to undertake the lead vocals, and is someone I am sure we will be hearing a great deal more of as he has a great set of pipes, while Eric Castliglia does a fine job on guitars (plus there are other assorted guests, all detailed in the booklet along with their URL’s which is a nice touch). This album reminds me of what was coming out of the American prog scene in the mid Nineties, in a good way. Before Spock’s Beard seemed to dominate that scene, at least to us in the UK, there were quite a few nice prog bands coming out of the States who often mixed a more AOR and commercial style into their music, and this is a fine example of that with nice hooks and a style which allows the listener to get into the album from the first time of playing. It is light, yet varied, with the keyboards solidly at the heart of it all, the rhythm section holding it tight, guitars crunching when the need arises, and more than a few hints of pop elements. One may not think so from the title, but “Agent Mikrovolnovka («Ìèêðîâîëíîâêà, âîðîáåé»)” has a great chorus, although I wonder what Craig thought when he saw the lyrics. The first half of the album is dominated by the “Wasteland” trilogy while the second half is a quasi-conceptual suite of tracks known as “Russian Influences”, and ends with a bonus track that’s a “progged up” and translated cover of Russian pop star Zemfira’s 2000 hit “Forgive Me, My Love.” It must be said it these last songs may have some Russian influences in the lyrical thinking, but not in the music itself. The overall result is a nice lighthearted prog pomp album which I have thoroughly enjoyed and am sure that many others will feel the same way. This is easily available through Bandcamp.
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