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National Health - D.S. Al Coda CD (album) cover


National Health


Canterbury Scene

3.33 | 77 ratings

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3 stars This third release from the exceptional Canterbury band is a polished and tightly played homage to keyboardist Alan Gowen, entirely jazzy and mature but with a rock edge maintained by the drums of the brilliant Pip Pyle and always pleasing guitar of Phil Miller. The cover image starkly depicts what appears to be an ailing Gowen and masks the brightly played and flawless blend of progressive jazz-rock. Dotted perfectly throughout is Jimmy Hastings' spirited flute, the crack vocal arrangements of Barbara Gaskin, Amanda Parsons and Richard Sinclair, assorted brass and Dave Stewart's firm leadership on keys. Pyle says of the material; "..the familiarity gained from rehearsing these tunes in their earlier forms lessened the problems of feel and interpretation when dealing with the second draft. It is fortunate that the scores were almost complete and very little except for the odd finishing touch was required to bring these pieces to a workable point".

Opening on a commercial note is 'Portrait of a Shrinking Man' with its supermarket horns and pseudo-funk but it quickly becomes a rather progressive number with smooth changes, walls of keys and horns, and good doses of plain old prog rock. 'T.N.T.F.X.' is traditional but quite good fusion, adult contemporary jazz swings in 'Black Hat', Stewart's techno rhythms take over for 'I Feel a Night Coming On' and has plenty of freejazz. And, for 1982, it is all pristinely produced. 'Arriving Twice' becomes a soothing and warm goodbye to a cherished friend and colleague, and 'Shining Water' beeps alive with great rock beats from Pyle and synth phrases much like Stewart's work with Bruford. Considering each track here was penned by Gowen, Stewart's more modern approach gives the compositions an extra spark, and 'Flannagan's People' reminds of Keith Emerson's wacky playfulness with a delicate midsection that shows this band's refreshing childlike but absolutely serious approach to progressive rock, and we finish with the fantastic 'Toad of Toad Hall'.

Relegated to the back of the line as a disappointment, a musically vacant farewell with little of the creative juices of the first two records, this album, though not the best of the original three, proves to be their most organized and focused with a surface that appears dry and cheesy, perhaps, but reveals a great sounding set that has many worthy prog moments for those willing to listen.

Atavachron | 3/5 |


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