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Saint Just - La Casa del Lago  CD (album) cover


Saint Just


Prog Folk

3.14 | 36 ratings

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3 stars Inconsistant

"La Casa del Lago" is a nice piece of Italian prog with much going for it, with some real stand-out "moments". It lies mainly in a folk-rock kind of vein and, while reminding me of a lot of other bands in places, has an overall style all of it's own - it's a great pity the band never got to develop it further, as I feel they could have produced a masterpiece given the evidence before me...

The intro to "Tristana" gives away very little about what is to follow; acoustic guitar and squelched keyboards set up a myriad of expectations which are dashed somewhat when the band kicks in;

A gently grooving riff with perfect, loose execution is topped off by the synth sounds which quickly become somewhat old. When the vocals replace the keyboard, and a winding piano offsets a meandering bass and all is forgiven. Utterly sublime vocal textures with really neat subtle backing vox conjour up a tranquil, if slightly dark pastoral feel. The instrumental textures cotton on quickly, and reach a similar level of sublimity...

There is a feeling here of "Script For a Jester's Tear" underpinning the main direction of the musical development - especially in the piano/bass interaction; forget Genesis! This is much closer to the original style of Marillion - even the Celtic flavoured guitar is there.

A frantic gypsy-style violin drives the textures forward, and everything gets rather chaotic - I'm put in mind slightly of Comus' "First Utterance" in flavour - but chaotic is good, and this doesn't get strung out... A pause and another complete change of texture, and we feel like we're listening to a new track - but this is just an odd little interlude that doesn't progress the music at all. An odd way to end the piece, which sets up expectations that the rest of the album is going to be somewhat inconsistent...

"Nella Vita, un Pianto" has a nice unison moment between 'Cello and guitar melody, before the violin kicks in again, painting a hauntingly evocative scene - I'm getting flavours of an old village in Tuscany with crumbling stone buildings, probably set on a rocky outcrop. Jane Sorrenti treats us to some more sublime vocals that I would like to hear "soar" a little more - maybe that's just me.

The music gently winds its way onwards - progresses - then suddenly changes to a more "rock" moment with a Spanish flavour and some really peculiar time changes. This gets slightly uncomfortable, but maintains the intrigue well enough to not only prevent me from even thinking about the skip button, but instead makes me anticipate the next time I listen to this album. An open invitation indeed. The music develops subtly and continually, with some really great thematic development and conversations happening between the instruments and particularly the vox, which enter a "moment" - one of those rare bits of pure prog that really hits me as perfect.

Unfortunately for my taste buds, this is not maintained, but fortunately for progression, this is moved on and developed. Saint Just may not have the uncanny feel for musical development of, say, Gentle Giant, but they have something close - a natural feel for when the music needs to move on, and, on the whole, the ability and clarity of musical vision to make it happen "just right" - just, maybe, a tad hesitantly. Still, their naievity has a charm all of its own, and 11 minutes still ends up feeling a mite too short for this piece!

"Viaggio Nel Tempo" begins far more conventionally than the previous two pieces, and descends into an ensemble passage that is slightly messy and directionless. I'm put in mind of Jefferson Airplane on a bad day. Around 3:30 we get a nice change with vocals that remind me a little of Clannad, and textural changes that are rather inconsistent. Sadly, this is much too short, and the song never picks up, develops or, more importantly, improves despite my hope that it will.

The title track is kind of more of the same - but fortunately, more of the same of the good stuff that preceeded "Viaggio Nel Tempo". Nothing ground breaking or earth-shattering here, but Jane Sorrenti's vocals are captivating, even when she's just singing "La-la-la". Frankly, she could be singing about doing the washing up or mucking out the cowshed and it would still sound entrancing.

This song enters more into jam territory, and is far less structured or progressive than earlier tracks - but I could care a whole lot less. Frankly, this track could be on continuous repeat and I probably wouldn't get tired of it after a day. OK, an hour maybe...

"Messicano" is a great depature providing a nice contrast however. Uptempo and with an almost Santana-style carnival atmosphere, any darkness that may have previously provided an undercurrent has disappeared for 6 minutes of light and exuberance.

Kind of a pity in a way, as, maybe the departure is a bit too great - I feel here that the spell that this album may have woven is irrevocably lost, despite Sorrenti's enthusiastic attempts to lift it further - in places, she sounds a little like Janis Joplin. The guitar solo is horribly derived and cheesey, and layering another guitar solo in there with harmonica just confuses the whole thing and leaves it floundering somewhat.

"La Terra della Verita" closes side 2 off with what we hope is going to be a return to the opening mood and texture. It's quite a shock to hear Tito Renesi take over vocal duties, but his baritone is pure and steady and contains just enough emotion to prevent it from sounding overly precious - but he doesn't "do" vocalisations with the panache of Sorrenti. Fortunately she drifts into the backing vocals, fulfilling my wish. There's no real development in this little piece, although the instrumentalists grow the texture towards the end, and blur the underlying structure well for a good close to the album.

Conclusion: A really good proggy album, the first half and the very end well worth a listen by any progger - especially those with a predeliction for the folkier sounds. But this is not a pure folk album, and the rock moments are great for chilling out to - kind of Renaissance without the ridiculous "classical" piano bits. The quality of the musicianship is more than reasonable, if a tad patchy - but don't let that put you off. When it's good, it's really good! If you're just starting to explore Italian prog, you might want to dive into P.F.M.'s back catalogue first :o)

Prog Rating (Is it progressive): 6/10

Rock Rating (Does it rock?): 6/10

Creativity Rating (Are the artists pushing their style to the limits?): 8/10

Musicianship Rating (Do the artists execute the music well?): 7/10

Enjoyment Rating (Do I like it?): 6/10

Total : 33/50 = 66%. Technically 4 stars, but dragged down by the not-so-good bits IMO.

Very Good indeed in places, but non-essential. It's well worth checking out "Nella Vita, un Pianto", though - I'd say this piece alone is essential.

Certif1ed | 3/5 |


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