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Thieves' Kitchen - The Water Road CD (album) cover

THE WATER ROAD

Thieves' Kitchen

 

Eclectic Prog

3.63 | 89 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Lush, sometimes languid, mostly pleasurable

"The Water Road" is the latest from Britain-based Thieves' Kitchen who have been on the scene with various line-ups for about a decade now. According to their website the band made the decision to change from the current recording trend of relying on ProTools track design opting instead for a live studio recording experience utilizing real and classic instrumentation over samples. It's a welcome signal that perhaps bands are going to be more thoughtful in weighing the advantages of various processes as opposed to simply following the pack and I think the approach worked to their advantage-more on that later. The individual band members list some favorite albums in their bios and a sampling of each turns up the following artists: Joni Mitchell, Opeth, Jewel, King Crimson, Fleetwood Mac, XTC, Dylan, and Stravinsky. It is an interesting mix to be sure and makes perfect sense to me. Thieves' Kitchen is a band of music lovers and their passion above anything else is what comes through. Furthermore, unlike some peers, they do not shy away or show disdain for the term "progressive." Rather they embrace it and define it on their own terms, not simply for retro-references but for the true spirit of the definition held by many music lovers.

"The emphasis is on feel, melody, intricacy, and atmosphere." This was the quote from the band site that caught my eye as it seems to be a mission statement. Do they pull it off? Largely, yes. With regard to the first and fourth goals, feel and atmosphere, TK do nail it completely. This is sublime music that at times is as relaxing and peaceful as Conqueror or Karda Estra, at other times quite rocking like Lost World or Anekdoten. But always a marvelous floating atmosphere is present buoyed by the vocal, flute, or mellotron. Sometimes you can feel the conjured fog in the air. The middle two goals they mention, melody and intricacy, lead to the potential trap I often see bands contend with. The Water Road is full of good melodies and intricate passages. This is where technically good bands sometimes lose me: the balance of melody and complexity, and more importantly, are the "complex" parts written and existing as part of the natural flow of the music or are they considered somehow an obligation? I have heard many modern albums where potentially good melodies and songs have been derailed by this obsession with technical complexity where it wasn't necessarily called for. TK dance around this trap in a few places but never quite fall in like other bands I've heard.

The performances are often quite stunning: Mark Robotham's nimble drumming that can also be powerful when needed. Electric leads that both sensitive and soaring. Andy Bonham's jamming fretless bass and the ever present imaginative keyboards parts adding depth throughout. They begin with the epic length 21 minute "the long fianchetto" which features the most beautiful and mournful piano introduction by Tom Johnson before Phil Mercy comes in with some sharp, dancing lead lines. While I'm not totally sold that the length was warranted the piece is nonetheless one of the album's highlights with much flavor added courtesy of Amy Darby's magical recorder and the beautiful guest spots of cello and flute by Stina Petterson and Anna Holmgren respectively. This is followed by a short, feisty instrumental in "returglas" spiked with some occasional vocals chants. "Chameleon" reminds me of "Court and Spark/Hissing of Summer Lawns" era Joni Mitchell with Darby's ethereal vocals over a mellow, jazzy backdrop with introspective lyrics. "Om tare" is a Sanskrit prayer over some pretty ripping fusion. "Tacenda for you" is probably a track that could have been dropped to tighten up the excessive length, not being up to the level of the others. "When the moon is in the river of heaven" recovers nicely with pure mellotron waves and e-piano building with flute into a meditation. "Plainte" is a gorgeous Chinese poem with cello. The title track closes the album in the established meandering way nicely painted with recorder, flute, cello, oboe, and acoustic guitar. The Water Road is a good album that borders on great in places but not quite consistently enough for me to go 4 stars. Close though and still something I enjoyed very much. 7/10

Finnforest | 3/5 |

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