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Shadowfax - Watercourse Way CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.90 | 64 ratings

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4 stars More recognized for their lighter New Age early Eighties work, American group Shadowfax, taking their name from Gandalf's horse in J.R.R Tolkien's `The Lord of the Rings' books (it doesn't get more `proggy' than that!), initially began life in the early Seventies as more of an exotic jazz-fusion group with plenty of fire in their playing. For their debut album in 1976, `Watercourse Way', the highly-skilled five member band offered predominantly instrumental, frantic and busy fusion workouts that were interspersed with meditative acoustic/ethnic/raga pieces, symphonic grandiosity and a dash of chamber prog, making it a truly eclectic work that reminds of everyone from multi-instrumentalists Oregon, Jade Warrior, Kraan, Deuter, Gryphon, Dzyan, Mahavishnu Orchestra and even Yes - phew, got that?!

Don't let that beautiful and pastoral cover fool you - the breathless opener `The Shape of a Word' is overloaded with the most frantic delirious spasms of Mahavishnu Orchestra-like spiralling electric guitar splinters of G.E. Stinson (with a little bit of Yes/Steve Howe rapid fire runs and droning strains thrown in), keyboardist Doug Maluchnik's glistening piano trickles, Phil Maggini's swallowing bass gargles and Stuart Nevitt's snapping drum eruptions, with a few dreamier flashes and grooving spurts here and there, plus some Mellotron flecks providing a brief symphonic lift near the climax! `Linear Dance' oddly reminds of the early Kraan albums with its slurred vocals and constantly wailing guitars, which also gives it a rough-as-guts Krautrock vibe, but `Petite Audabe' is the first (very welcome!) relaxing break, a gentler acoustic guitar, flute, recorder and piano rumination with traces of whimsy and light chamber-prog elements that wouldn't have sounded out of place on an above-mentioned Oregon album or even the earlier Deuter works, as well as offering the first hints of where the band would head later on in the next decade.

The second side's `Book of Hours' adds in permeating hazy meditative atmospheres, the twisting-turning up-tempo fusion busyness this time laced with histrionic guitars bringing dirty grooves and groaning sitar experimentation that calls to mind German band Dzyan's albums. The title track `Watercourse Way' returns again to gentler folky acoustic sounds and light raga Deuter-like qualities mixed in with oboe, clarinet, flute and chimes. Reflective epic symphonic closer `Song from my Brother' is plied with plenty of regal Mellotron and Andy Latimar-flavoured majestic electric guitar rises, building slowly in victorious and dignified power with commanding drumming behind contemplative and ultimately uplifting jazzy piano passages.

There is tons going on in this album, all of it in its own way completely thrilling, and this diverse collection of sounds and styles impresses more and more on multiple listens. `Watercourse Way' proves to be a completely addictive and constantly surprising album, and considering the gentler direction the band later headed in, this energetic debut is a real one-off deserving of plenty more attention.

Four stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |


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