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Ambrosia - Ambrosia CD (album) cover

AMBROSIA

Ambrosia

 

Prog Related

3.89 | 87 ratings

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tkarr
5 stars This self titled debut release by Ambrosia is on my list of the ten best progressive rock albums by American bands in the 1970s. This work features all of the essential elements of the genre and also boasts an impressive grasp of pop music sensibilities, and more memorable themes and catchy hooks than many artists would produce over the course of a long career. The group displays a mature sound, and awesome instrumental skills that rival those of any of the best progressive rock bands of the day. Whether exploring territory similar to that of Yes, or the Italian sound, ala Banco, displaying their home-grown influences, including vocal kinship with The Beach Boys, and Todd Rundgren, instrumental resemblances to Chicago and Blood, Sweat And Tears, or charting out some of the stylistic elements that they would later hone into the MOR trademark sound of their later, decidedly un-progressive career, they always achieved the highest standards of excellence.

This release was also notable in its production values. It was engineered by Alan Parsons, famed for his work with The Beatles, and his own later work in the Alan Parsons Project. Parsons brought his considerable skills and studio experience to bear on this project, and the album benefited from some of the best pre-production and planning that any fledgling act could ever hope to receive. Some stellar sidemen/women contributed to the outstanding sound of this effort, including Zappa alumni Ruth and Ian Underwood on marimba and saxophone, respectively. A Russian balalaika ensemble enhances the track "Time Waits For No One", and well conceived details reveal themselves in all of the eight tracks included here

This CD begins with a Yes influenced number, "Nice, Nice, Very Nice." It will be immediately clear that these musicians are extraordinarily talented and that the songwriting will be far above what is expected on a debut from an unknown (at that time) group of musicians and writers. Christopher North's keyboards are sophisticated, and show the kind of stately bearing and understated elegance of Rick Wakeman's best work. Burliegh Drummonds drumming is comparable to, and is seen as, a mixture of Bill Bruford's tight jazzy style with some of the flair and power of Santana/Automatic Man drummer Michael Shrieve. The quartet was rounded out with the ubiquitous Joe Puerta and David Pack on bass and guitar. These two probably appear on more albums than Wakeman and half the studio pros of L.A. combined All the band members sang, and their vocal prowess was unrivaled within this genre. Their harmonies were the equal of those of the Beach Boys and the best work of Todd Rundgren's Utopia. "Nice, Nice, Very Nice" had lyrics fron novelist Kurt Vonnegut, and a very catchy song structure that provides all the expected twists and turns of progressive rock, and the hooks and layers of vocals that fans of finely crafted pop music would love.

"Time Waits For No One" begins with tightly played acoustic guitar and piano, and features some nice additional touches like a ringing alarm clock, and tubular bells accenting the chorus. The chorus also lays out the bands powerful vocal style, with overlapping layers of harmony vocal lines. Acoustic instruments punch out some nice jazz inspired lines, and the bridge uses some balalaika, oddly used to cast a Latin tinge to the section, along with punchy hand claps, creating the sounds of a fiesta in this brief song within a song.

The third track "Holdin' On To Yesterday," shows the direction the group would later take. This was Ambrosia's first single, and it received considerable airplay in the mid seventies. This song is a textbook of MOR essentials, and it can be compared to the kind of work that Paul Carrack would bring to the Squeeze with "Tempted" several years later, or the Crowded House favourite "Don't Dream It's Over", which would appear five years later. The track has some very satisfying B-3 work, and a smooth, yet gutsy guitar solo that will remind the listener of the kind of guitar work that graced Joni Mitchell's great Court And Spark album.

The fourth track, "World Leave Me Alone," is another pop-rock gem. This number features crisp acoustic guitar rhythms and gritty electric leads in the style of George Harrison, and a glittering, spacey, Rundgren-esque bridge which leads to the finale, a Beatles inspired ascending progression with Lennon/McCartney/ Harrison style, soaring vocal harmonies.

This, and the preceding track are by no means symphonic progressive rock, but they are welcome nonetheless. These fine examples of pop songcraft are by no means out of place on a release such as this.

The next track is a beautiful work "Make Us All Aware." It has a very classy, Wakeman like piano track, lovely vocals, and a Celtic inspired harpsichord bridge that leads to a brief Moog break, beds of vocal harmonies, and a gentle conclusion to it all. This tune has some Yes-like qualities, and is one of the high points of this CD.

The following track, "Lover Arrive," is a peaceful piano piece with layers of symphonic backing. This calls to mind the romantic melodies of Brahms, mixed with the mid 70s sounds of Elton John.

Moving on to cut number seven, we have "Mama Frog," an Italian sounding composition. This may remind the listener of some of the more straight forward and catchy music of Banco. It combines jazz/rock keyboards with some pulsing drum work, and provides an opportunity for North to show off some Nocenzi style, burbling Moog, and tasty B-3 work. The center section of this tune features a spoken verse from Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, which may strike some listeners as a bit corny, but in my opinion it comes off as ear candy, quite well done, and is, like all the additional sound effects, a wonderful treat. The end of this tune displays an impressive, syncopated drum and keyboards section with stop-start riffs, sounding almost like a passage from Il Balleto Di Bronzo's Ys. This number displays a very, very tight band with chops to spare.

The album's finale is the overpowering "Drink Of Water." Featuring a huge sounding cathedral organ, soulful Hendrix inspired rhythm guitar work, and pristine vocal harmonies, this song is a powerful end to a great and inspired release. This song sounds like Yes meets Beach Boys meets Blood, Sweat And Tears. The organ work will make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, and the lovely lyrics may bring a tear to your eye as well.

This is simply an outstanding effort from a band that would later make a name for themselves writing and recording easy listening hits such as "Biggest Part Of Me," "You're The Only Woman," "Life Beyond LA," and of course, "How Much I Feel."

When there is such a brilliant work such as this self-titled debut waiting to be re-discovered, there can be no reason to subject yourself to that later, radio friendly repertoire.

| 5/5 |

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