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Hands - Twenty Five Winters CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.65 | 24 ratings

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Cesar Inca
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars With an irregular and sparse discography, Hands have nonetheless remained a solid example of top- notch prog rock from the USA. Hands is an undisputed part of the unsung American prog trilogy of the 70s, together with However and Happy the Man. Their "Twenty-Five Winters" effort, the first for the new millennium, shows the modified line-up (including two founding members from the distant 70s) willingly headlong for the task of creating refreshing music within the genre. It is so thoroughly refurbished that you can't tell that this is the Hands we all had known before: this is prog rock in essence and form, no doubt about it, but now we're witnessing a new road for the new Hands. The album opens up with 'Knock/Enter', a dynamic exercise on country-rock refurbished in a progressive scheme and with a heavily melody-centered focus: the dominant presence of the acoustic guitar guarantees the development of candor, while the impressive violin flourishes set the core for the whole ensemble's energy. Next comes 'Walls', a track that offers a more powerful approach although it preserves much of the melodic vibe that had been present in track 1. 'Walls' sounds to my ears like a hardened Caravan mixed with a bit of classic Kansas. I wouldn't have minded if the first two tracks had been a little more expanded so they could include some guitar or synth solo; both pieces comprise enough effectiveness in their hooks as to allow a more detailed exploration in their motifs. Anyway, they are great tracks. 'Green Room' is a weird, yet soft demonstration of instrumental experimental rock: it features an intro of multilayered guitars on harmonies and lead phrases (that would be Part 1), and then it shifts to a piano-led slow passage on a crepuscular tone, very beautiful indeed (that would be Part 2). 'Dance of Light and Darkness' states a peculiar mixture of Gentle Giant and Beatles-oriented pop-rock, plus a taste of the weirdest side of Tood Rundgren's Utopia: this is what GG should have done after "Interview" if they really wanted to remain interesting while playing the mainstream rock game. 'I Laughed Aloud' is a lovely due of piano and violin that states an inspired exhibition of elegance and constraint: romantic with a slight touch of Gershwin for good measure. The amazing polyphonic 'Zombieroch (Part 3)' bears a very clear title: just like the other Zombieroch pieces, it shows Hands' skill at creating amazing mixtures of Gentle Giant, Happy the Man and Jethro Tull. The lack of a recurrent wind player in Hands at the time makes it necessary to substitute the flute and clarinet sounds for digital equivalents (most likely synthesizers, although it might as well be a Lyricon.). Its 4 span goes by without the listener noticing: this piece is really engaging in its controlled, complex development. The closing track is the most ambitious composition - the 4 part suite 'Leaving'. The first section starts with a warm piano and French horn duet (with the horn played by guest Chris Dulen), that soon evolves into a fuller arrangement. The following section continues in the same reflective vein, this time featuring an acoustic guitar duo that elaborate soaring arpeggios carefully wrapped under synth layers. The third section finds the band exploring their most aggressive side, stating an original confluence of Gentle Giant and Wetton-Bruford era King Crimson: this section is patently based on the interaction between the multiple guitars and the abundant percussions, built on cadence rather than melody. I only wish the resulting climax had been longer, since the energy seems kind of aborted once we go to the next and last section. The 'Above and Below' section reminds me of classic Yes at their most lyrical, with the synth backup and violin providing an almost real orchestra for the motif's soft development. This is not a totally integrated piece, but it contains excellent progressive ideas. I wish the album had been longer (as well as some individual pieces), but "Twenty Five Winters" is more than just OK, it is really great, a proof of the permanence of prog creativity in veteran prog minds. and hands.
Cesar Inca | 4/5 |


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