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Ezra - Songs From Pennsylvania CD (album) cover

SONGS FROM PENNSYLVANIA

Ezra

 

Neo-Prog

3.27 | 21 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
4 stars This is a band that makes the limitations of genre categorization so evident. Ezra are a band that has been floating around the ‘new’ (but not neo-) progressive scene since the early nineties, although they have managed to release only three full-length studio albums in that period with somewhat fluid lineups. The sound is without a doubt intended for small, live audiences of the park festival and pub variety, but that doesn’t make them any less a legitimate progressive band.

The three acts that I can’t help but associate Ezra with are, sort of in order: Salem Hill, the Tangent, and Proto-Kaw. If you take the mature, loose-fitting rhythms and rock harmonies of Salem Hill; some of the unaffected pseudo-pretentiousness and inescapable Yes influences of the Tangent; then mix in some of the time-stopping guitar flights of fancy and unconventional biography of Proto-Kaw, you have a sense of what Ezra is all about.

This, their third studio release, came out around the time the band would have celebrated their silver anniversary, if they are into that sort of thing (which I doubt). The core group of guitarist/vocalist Andy Edwards, drummer Daz Joseph and bassist Gareth Jones appear here, along with keyboardist Colin Edwards who may or may not be related to Andy. Keyboardist Robert Reed left the band after their second album ‘Shapes’ to front his own band Cyan. Jones and Colin Edwards would depart following this release, and the band now includes bassist Jim Bradley, keyboardist Gareth Hill, and a couple of comely female backing vocalists (Lizzie Buckwell and Janine Stobart-Knapp).

I’ve no idea what the title ‘Songs from Pennsylvania’ means since these guys are actually Welsh as far as I know. The album was recorded at Briar Bank Studios, a small former train signal station that if I’m not mistaken is featured on the front cover artwork. This must have been recorded in autumn as the studio photos on the inside cover show the band members in the studio wearing long sleeves but with the doors open and the foliage lush and green outside. The overall mood is one of fall as well, lazy and unhurried but rather upbeat and reflective. This is somewhat in contrast to their second album which was rather depressing with lyrics that seemed mildly fatalistic and negative. Not so here, as most of the lyrics speak of friendship and carrying on and just generally engaging in the act of being alive. There are even a couple of pictures of Andy Edwards that look remarkably like me – I’m thinking of sending him some photos for him to get a kick out of.

Musically the album shows a definite influence of a youth spent spinning Yes and Rush vinyls, and probably some CSNY as well. The overriding instruments are the vocals as well as Andy Edwards appreciable guitar licks, with Jones’ bass being somewhat understated and possibly even tinged with a bit of funk persuasion, probably honed from a childhood of Motown and pop favorites.

The opening “A Little Bit More” is a bit of a misleading introduction as it gives the impression of a fairly straightforward rock album at the onset, belied only by a lush organ sequence. But the band can’t help but wander off on an instrumental tangent behind Edwards’ guitar for several minutes anyway once things get going. The lyrics speak of that friend who seems to have a bit of a problem with moderation on the weekend, if you know what I mean (“I’ve watched you at parties off your head; I knew that some day you’d wind up dead”). But the tone isn’t all that serious, and the keyboard/guitar instrumental passage leaves me wanting to hear more.

Which comes with “Everyday”, the quintessential unhurried anthem of aging rockers everywhere: “we’ll miss the last bus home but we don’t care, everyday we give a little time away”. Much more bass on this one, but still it’s the keyboards and guitar that drive the arrangement of the song.

“Summer Again” is slow and lazy like a summer song should be, and this is the one that reminds me totally of a Salem Hill tune set to a slow pace and performed with eyes closed on a sweaty summer stage in the park. Great stuff, with excellent throwback keyboards to boot.

And speaking of anthems, “Underground” seems like it was meant as a tribute to those bands like Ezra and the others I’ve mentioned who continue to ply their trade unaffected by time and trends:

“I remember when music stirred my soul; no one’s bothered saving rock and roll – we’re still around, making it underground”

There’s some gratuitous piano rolls and an extended building repetitive chorus with a children’s choir backing that just makes you feel good about buying this record, and a blazing guitar blast of energy from Edwards just to prove that old guys can kick it up with gusto when they feel like it.

The long and meandering “Chances” may be a bit of a downer as it reflects on a life spent as a leisurely musical nomad, building as it goes on into a series of guitar and percussion crescendos that really show the influences of the seventies prog gods, delivered in a reverent and patient pace. This is probably my favorite Ezra tune from any of their three albums, and one that could have been committed right alongside a Tangent song on a Progfest compilation CD with no trouble at all.

“Lazy” is just that – a slow, keyboard-driven slacker tune: “Think I’ll just sit here and crack another beer, Mr. Windy will help my mind to clear”. The harmonized vocals are reminiscent of forgotten seventies rockers like the John Hall Band, Greg Kihn, and Tom Petty. I won’t say you have to be over forty to really appreciate this one, but it wouldn’t hurt.

“Alive” wraps things up with lots of piano and keyboards, mature vocals, and an introspective feel. There’s also the great line – “there’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is, what you believe”. A musical celebration of survival and the thoughtful wisdom and appreciation that comes from being one of those who made it through the gauntlet of growing up and old. Sad, but in a pragmatic and realistic way that is rather palatable.

I’ve had this album for a while now and still play it at least once a week, which is more than I can say for probably three-fourths of the rest of my collection. For that reason and because the songs here are full of personal reflections accompanied by some very skilled if rather un-complex musicianship, I’d say this is deserving of four stars.

So that’s what I’ll give it and recommend it pretty highly, especially to older prog music fans who will surely see themselves behind the mike jamming away when they listen to it.

Enjoy.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 4/5 |

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