ProgBlues Music [Release date 10.07.15]
The curious thing about prog rock is that what once was a ground breaking musical genre now clearly defines a particular retro period of rock history – arguably the late 60’s to the early 70’s.
That’s not to say that over four decades later it’s irrelevant, as this album offers a robust defense to the contrary. It’s a recognizable musical form that pre-dated the intensity of punk, the vacuous nature of new wave, the clatter of hip-hop and rap and always stood above the infantile gestures of heavy metal.
It was and remains the music for the more cerebral rock fan who loves nothing more than to immerse him or herself in a progression, which after several twist and turns and the occasional solo, resolves itself in a meaningful way.
The Mentulls are a contemporary version of a prog rock blues band. Listen to the dreamy lyrics and crashing chords of the title track for example, and you will be drawn in by Andrew Pipe’s sinuous guitar line, full of Trout style volume swells, a substantial vibrato, repeated bombastic chords and a belated Peter Green style touch and tone. The piece is cushioned by brother Jamie Pipe’s keyboard embellishments, before a double tracked harmony guitar resolution. Except that its not completely finished, as there’s a heavier coda on ‘Reflections 11’ with a droning keyboard part on another example of the band’s progressive feel, before Andrew perfunctorily drops down for a gentle outro.
It’s prog rock by any other name, but reconditioned by fine songwriting and guitar playing that reflects the mood and feel of the composition and as such is an integral part of the piece.
The Mentulls are a guitar, keyboard and drum trio who liberally dip into the past to redefine their own future and do so with a layered sound, a melodic bent, the searing guitar work of Andrew Pipe and the ever present influence of Wishbone Ash.
The combination of double tracked harmony guitar lines, strong melodies and a bluesy undertow is essential Ash, though The Mentulls’ adventurous arrangements are less so, and reflect their relative youth and exuberant search for something more.
The band derive their own style from their intricate interplay, a sense of balance that always hones in the more extended pieces, and Andrew Pipe’s warm vocal style
The layered sound is graphically represented by the front cover art work which blends together the sky, the land and the ocean floor. The sky might represent the band’s grand musical vista, rooted (to the land) by Wayne Proctor’s disciplined production. He highlights the sonic qualities of an album full of moods, feeling and textures, but always keeps the band coherently focused, via the fluid track sequencing and the tight arrangements. The sea simply represents the band’s musical depth.
The lack of a bass player does occasionally hamper their soft focus style. Listen for example, as Andrew’s guitar picks up the melody line of ‘Commotion’ with an uplifting feel before working towards a dual guitar finish. Drummer Nick Colman adds his muscular support and Jamie drops in an organ fill, but it sounds a touch too laboured, rather than the smooth underlay that their music demands.
They open with Trower style riffs and a hint of Clapton on ‘Silverbird’ and weave their way through 9 tracks that immerse themselves in several progressions.
The riff driven ‘Home Again’ is one of their strongest songs, complete with a couple of pregnant pauses, a tougher guitar line, and a good hook on a concise song which builds incrementally, while ‘I Can’t Slow Down’ has a vaguely funky feel with lashing of wah-wah and a vocal not too far removed from Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, a style well suited to the song.
‘Passage of Time’ has the same disarming heavy guitar and contrasting lighter vocal as on the opening track ‘Silverbird’ before it rebuilds itself with more wah-wah and steely licks.
And so having toyed with prog, FM rock and lingering melodies, Andrew Pipe teams up impressively with guest guitarist Aynsley Lister on ‘Time To Focus’, an unadulterated, twin guitar-led homage to Wishbone Ash (with perhaps a half pun on the band Focus).
It’s so good you could imagine both Andy Powell and Martin Turner would love to have written the two-part anthem, with outstanding guitar lines that so clearly evoke both the band and the prog rock era.
There’s still time for some glistening vocals over a subtle keyboard wash on ‘Speaking In Silence’ before a final guitar avalanche.
Whether we’re supposed to read more into the album title ‘Reflections’ than we first thought is something only the band will know, but suffice it to say that The Mentulls have struck a wonderful balance in enhancing the past, while drawing the listener into their future musical vision. Prog rock it seems still has a future, and it’s called The Mentulls. ****½
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 19:00
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