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Prowlers - Mother & Fairy  CD (album) cover




Rock Progressivo Italiano

3.04 | 8 ratings

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3 stars Delightful, melodic, and intimate

Honestly, I did not expect to be knocked out by Prowlers, an Italian band singing primarily in English and leaning well into Neo-prog territory with this release. Nothing wrong with those traits but they typically are not my thing. But playing "Mother and Fairy" they won me over with a combination of heart and ambition. This work is a carefully crafted labor of love, a 2-disc double album filled with long, dreamy songs and gorgeous art design. Prowlers were born in 1985, possibly the lowest ebb in the progressive rock timeline, but they persevered. Fans of hard rock and Barrett-era Pink Floyd, the group would toil many years developing their sound before Mellow would release their demo in 1994. In 1996 came "Mother and Fairy" where they had the honor of working with producer Ciro Perrino, a legend in the RPI field for the classic Celeste group. The material is almost exclusively composed by keyboardist Alfio Costa (later of Tilion) and features the warm, unique vocals of Laura Mombrini. (Strange, the booklet credits Costa but the back panel says all songs by G. Vezzoli, so I'm not sure who wrote the songs-maybe they will write to me and clarify). Flavio Costa (also of Tilion) handles the guitars and the band is rounded out by Marco Premoli (b), Giovanni Vezzoli (d), and Stefano Piazzi (g). Other listed band influences, all which make perfect sense after hearing M&F, are Pink Floyd, Renaissance, Jefferson Airplane, Iron Maiden, Sandrose, Circus 2000, Goblin, Osanna, and The Trip. The band lasted until 1998, when Laura and Giovanni had finally had enough and decided to leave. If my understanding of the web interview I read is correct, Costa as much as said that Mombrini was the heart of Prowlers and without her there was little point in continuing. They folded the band and the Costa brothers would re-emerge a bit later in Tilion, which continues to this day.

Let's get the negative stuff out of the way first. Reading Stefan Ludmann's review of M&F [from Progressive Newsletter, 1996] I was amazed at how different my feelings were. Stefan just savaged this band in his review, ripping the playing, singing, songwriting, production, and artwork. I won't quote him because the auto-German translator may not be "quote accurate" but I believe he actually stated that the recording was not worthy of the natural resources used to make it. Now, I can understand some of his criticisms and believe some people would share them. Even with Perrino helping, this album does have production issues. It often sounds a bit thin or muffled in places, though not to any degree that forced me off the road. Next, as much as I adore Laura's singing, both she and the male leads are capable of sounding out of tune occasionally. Last, while the playing is very competent the Prowlers will never be confused with Crimson or Mahavishnu Orchestra to be sure. Still, given the above criticisms, I come to a VERY different conclusion that Mr. Ludmann. For me "Mother and Fairy" is simply a joy that pleases me more with every listen. While I enjoy quality sound and production as much as the next guy, I am much more interested in what the music does for me. If I am moved by what I hear I can usually forgive sound issues. "Mother and Fairy" is not an album for listeners who require their music to sound as "professionally perfect" as Porcupine Tree or the like. This is music for people like me, who appreciate good melodies and intimate recordings by folks who don't have months of studio time at their disposal to make every aspect immaculate. In fact, I can state in no uncertain terms that I prefer Prowlers to many of the super-polished bands adorning the Neo-prog subgenre (or other genres for that matter.)

"Mother and Fairy" is a large collection of 5-12 minute songs that float and bounce on the synths of Alfio Costa as the primary anchor of the sound. The modern (circa early 90s) synth sound was chosen by Costa here (though he does play some piano as well.) Along with the smooth and melodic guitar lines the sound is closer to neo-prog than traditional symphonic or RPI. Premoli and Vezzoli back them up with an active and interesting rhythm section, never allowing the tracks to stagnate the way I've heard others do. Laura Mombrini's vocals are the signature crown on the Prowlers package and the Prowler's bio calls her the "Italian Annie Haslam." While not as pitch-perfect as Haslam I can understand the reference. Laura's voice is intimate and appealing with a mournful, searching quality to it. I actually prefer Laura's singing over Haslam who has always been too stuffy for my taste. Mombrini handles most vocals although the boys do take a few leads as well. Occasional acoustic guitars are brought in to lend a more classical or renaissance vibe to a few tracks. The Prowlers can rock without question, but their bread and butter is really the slower paced atmospheric sections where the beauty of the melodies and Laura's singing are allowed time to fully play out. The near 13-minute "Awakening of Mother Nature" is a good example of the formula, but every track is consistently appealing and strong. It builds into a climactic rippin' guitar solo before returning to the sad acoustic verse. Another section of pure, amazing beauty is the keyboard passage from 4:23-4:50 of "Emotions" where the bass is just bubbling over Costa's gorgeous moonlit sky melody. Sadly most of the vocals are in English rather than the lovely Italian language but Mombrini seems to have a good handle on it, unlike other Italian vocalists who sometimes slaughter the usage/emphasis. The second disc was recorded in later sessions and perhaps is a bit more adventurous while the first side perhaps a bit more sentimental. There are far too many tracks to dissect in detail here but you can count on many enjoyable moments of warm and accessible progressive rock, a true gem left us by this group of longtime friends.

I think fans of down-to-Earth, melodic neo-prog or symphonic would enjoy "Mother and Fairly" quite a bit and recommend it to those fans. This is two hours of passionate music that shoots for the moon throughout-and despite the noted imperfections on the technical side, it will win your heart over if you let it. I love it and I thank the Prowlers for dreaming big here. 7/10

Finnforest | 3/5 |


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