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Patchwork Cacophony - Five of Cups CD (album) cover

FIVE OF CUPS

Patchwork Cacophony

 

Symphonic Prog

3.86 | 11 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Multi-instrumentalist Ben Bell is back with a follow up album to 2014's self-titled debut "Patchwork Cacophony", with a definite upgrade in terms of consolidating his impressive skills and pushing the envelope even further. "Five of Cups" is a thrilling progressive ride that features superlative keyboard technique, highlighted by piano and organ work that definitely is world class , as well as showcasing Ben's rather impressive vocals skills, which can run the gamut from Roger Hodgson-like sweetness to a more pronounced tone a la Guy Manning. Different moods, alternate feel and deeply personal music.

This new release opens up with a four part epic suite 'Fairytale" that seeks to set the mood for what is to come. The organ-driven "Once Upon a Time" is a fine example of what Ben can do both on his keyboards as well as vocally, further delivered by a multi-faceted keyboard section ("The Wonder of It All" ) that infuses piano, organ, synths and mellotron, in a very Supertramp-ish display that pleases the ear. The gorgeous piano etude "Life is not a Fairytale" has aromas of Frederic Chopin, liquefied ivory pearls that would make Rick Wakeman blush with jealousy. Vocally, Ben hits all kinds a lofty high notes with apparent ease, making this section quite a cracker, drenched in a placid melancholia!

The sprawling "Choices" is a straight forward, organ fueled piece that also incorporates rollicking piano sections and off-kilter drum fills with Ben singing with a sense of urgency (the Manning reference), the Hammond solo seeking to touch emotionally rather that technically, with background choir to add to the suspense. "Closer, closer and closer"?he intones.

The slick "Counting Chickens" suggest a different tangent altogether, jumpy piano leading the way in an instrumental showcase that hints at Geoff Downes' New Dance Orchestra or Alan Parsons Project, something he did on the previous album as well on the track "Dance". The bass guitar takes in a brief ray of the spotlight, fluttering rather effectively below the synth lead, leading the intricate web of keyboards into a majestic foray of sound and delicacy. Definitely a climactic track.

"Maybe" has the guest guitar of Marcus Taylor rasping ahead of the Bell onslaught, a rather rockier affair that has an overt dissonance not unlike Gentle Giant, the focus on the slippery guitar solo and the raspy, bluesy vocal that hints at Mike Patto (Spooky Tooth) . This is definitely not an overtly polished affair, which gives it a sense immediacy and natural flow that is most welcome.

The 9 minute "Everyday" is a wistful slice of what Ben does best, a temperate sonic zephyr guided by windswept lead and backing vocals, a serene pulse adorned with twinkling piano ripples and a permeating prog essence. Placid, hypnotic and deeply melancholic, this is perhaps the finest moment on the album, insistent synths lines a la Manfred Mann fighting with Hammond organ bravado. Utterly delicious.

Changing the pace with "Chasing Rainbows" was dynamically a good move but it's the only weak moment here, initially starting out as a simplistic song that would have benefited with a less sharper tone but that is only my opinion. That being said the piano and bass work make up for the lack of dynamism as the piano solo mid-section is drop-dead gorgeous and most unexpected. Ben struggles a bit with the vocal on occasion, which is not an easy one to begin with, demanding some acrobatics that may have proven to be too difficult to master.

Never one to falter, the all-piano jewel "From a Spark" reverts to an insanely beautiful passage that rekindles classical music of the highest order, a scintillating piece of memorable melody and dexterous playing. Loaded with elongated chords that resonate deeply, this is a masterful and never dull gem of a piece, stamping his talent as undeniable.

A nice epic farewell ends this opus, offering up the dozen minutes of the ELP tinged "Brand New Day" , having saved this fluid melancholy 'for a rainy day', adorned by rumbling bass undertow, fluffy piano undulations and eccentric guitar showcase. Tim Hall is another guest guitarist, who gets to unleash a long and furious solo that spirals, weaves, loops and swerves perfectly, the Hammond giving a strong push forward. Great finale.

As mentioned by other reviewers, Patchwork Cacophony is a very personal, under polished progressive rock manifestation that might not appeal to the overtly technical production fans but its deeply honest, heartfelt and well meaning. The slight and very occasional weaknesses here and there only serve to underline the true nature of Ben Bell's muse and craft. This is no 'cacophony' and definitely not 'patchwork'. On the other hand, if you are looking for perfection, good luck.

Lastly, the artwork is absolutely spectacular, making this a thoroughly entertaining package.

4 mugs

tszirmay | 4/5 |

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