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(63:44, Metal Mind Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Arrival 3:40 2. Sacrifice 7:10 3. New World 3:06 4. Silent Companion 2:25 5. Crossing the Wasteland 3:53 6. Perchance To Dream 4:29 7. Lightshow 3:36 8. Occam's Tears 8:07 9. Losing a Hold on Life 3:58 10. From The Outside In 5:27 11. Duel 4:30 12. From the Inside Out 6:40 13. Healing the Rift 4:00 14. The Key 2:43 LINEUP: Clive Nolan – keyboards; vocals Karl Groom – guitars, bass Tracy Hitchings – vocals
Prolusion. The UK project STRANGERS ON A TRAIN was one of a number of different entities featuring the talents of Clive Nolan back in the 90's, and like the majority of them they produced material for the Dutch label SI Music, a label that mainly supplied those with an interest in neo-progressive rock. On this venture Nolan is joined by vocalist Tracy Hitchings and guitarist Karl Groom, with Alan Reed joining the ranks for the second album. These productions were planned as a three album long cycle, and while only the initial two ultimately were recorded and released, these have been rather popular. Out of print for some years now, both albums were reissued by Metal Mind Productions in the fall of 2012.
Analysis. I have been told that this initial Strangers On A Train album made quite the impact when it saw its first release 23 years ago. Whether or not that was actually the case I can't tell, but at least I can state that if that was the case, this is a production that appears to have lost a bit of vitality as the years have gone by. As seen from a 2013 perspective this isn't a memorable affair and in style I'd describe this as pop art rather than neo progressive, even if some distinct touches of the latter are present. The main, driving and recurring element throughout this disc is the piano, light in tone, in flowing, elegant and melodic patterns. Pleasant motifs, occasionally shifting into movements of a more intriguing variety, but by and large delivering motifs and themes of a fairly accessible nature, easy both on the mind and ears. Careful guitar details by Karl Groom, most of then in the shape of melodic guitar solo sequences of a typical neo-progressive variety, flavor the proceedings, especially in the non-vocal passages. Much the same can be said about the various forms of keyboards used, digital strings the most common of these. On top we have the vocals of Tracy Hitchings, a vocalist with a powerful voice who tends to opt for an emotional delivery. A strong and distinct singer, but at least at this point not to the extent of elevating a composition by her presence alone. Which, I suspect, as where this initial Strangers on a Train production has its main shortcoming. My impression is that just how much you enjoy this disc will primarily be based on how compelling you find the lead vocals. Some compositions manage to make more of an impression true, the intriguing instrumental contrasts of Duel a fine display of light toned, energetic and nervous piano contrasted by darker toned, grittier guitar riffs. The subtly new age oriented Healing the Rift another fine effort, with compelling organ dominated sequences as the major points of interest. But by and large, this is a disc that at least today comes across as somewhat bland and anonymous.
Conclusion. If you have a strong affection for piano driven pop art sporting powerful female lead vocals, occasional symphonic oriented inserts and melodic neo progressive guitar soloing as its main distinct elements, this album is one that warrants an inspection. Same goes of you're a dedicated fan of Nolan, Groom or Hitchings I guess. Others might want to approach this one with a bit of caution.
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