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Happy The Man - Crafty Hands CD (album) cover


Happy The Man


Eclectic Prog

3.87 | 205 ratings

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3 stars "Crafty Hands" is a good enough prog album, as there is pretty much something for everyone in here. That is also it's weakness, however, in that it comes across as somewhat generic, with flavours of just about every classic UK prog band you can think of - except ELP.

Largely Canterburian in style, there are a few original twists that could have saved this from the "Good but non-essential" pile, but on the whole, these are in the execution rather the composition, which is generally poorly thought out - presumably in order to create music that is more "mood music" than "art music". Generally, it seems like HTM took to prefabricating small chunks of pieces, then tacked them all together, pausing only to dream up some new way of linking these chunks via a fill-in or two. The solos tend to be immaculate, so lose the feeling of any kind of spontaneity, but here and there are some genuine moments of inspiration where it all comes together and something shines out of the generally generic soundscape.

Professionally crafted right the way through, in that the music is flawlessly executed and seamlessly assembled, there is still the nagging feeling that you've heard it all before somewhere. However, this album may appeal to fans of classic prog and prog metal alike - the latter will recognise many decorative styles and motifs that have been adopted by the genre rather than riffola.

"Service With A Smile" has flavours of King Crimson, Genesis, Yes and Focus, with little touches of Vai and Latimer in the guitar style - a highly melodic and clear sound with lightly ostentatious decorations - no Vai-style fireworks or breathtaking Latimer one-note wonders here. However, this is all used texturally - the music doesn't really develop, it's more like a little snapshot of a mood, and finishes rather quickly.

In time-honoured tradition, a slower piece follows the opener, with some great ambience. I find the keyboard sound on the cheesey side, but again, hints of early Genesis float through, and there would be a touch of Gentle Giant if it wasn't quite so repetitive - again, this piece is more about texture building than composition and stucture. The gentle major key mood is possibly a little happy for my taste, but the quasi-flamenco guitar solo is well worked out and nicely melodic. Little bits of Camel seem to waft through... and I need to re-think my wording a bit...

"Ibby It Is" lifts the tempo and has some nice percussive touches that keep it moving well. The basic song structure of the first part gets a little wearying, and the time change around 2:00 suggests that the band were maybe running out of developmental ideas. We get into this "idea follows idea" type routine - which has some great invention behind the basic ideas, but the lack of development is what really turns my attention to the skip button. In order for this style to work, it has to have the listener already embraced in its world, so that the music can take the listener where it wants to. However the opening music is not really sufficiently attention-grabbing enough to achieve this, and the keyboard sounds become naggingly annoying despite the proficient playing... kinda reminds me of Dream Theater in many ways.

"Steaming Pipes" begins with an unusual texture, then concentrates around a couple of chords for a while, shifting these around, focussing on rhythmic invention - you can hear the time signatures being crow-barred in. Again, it's those horrible keyboard sounds that really let this down. This piece really does get unbearably repetitive despite the constant breaks, style changes and solos - there is something utterly homogenous about it that, if it has not captured your mood properly, becomes cloying and makes you feel a little "stuck" in a moment not of your choosing. This is my least favourite piece on the album, principally because nothing stands out and grabs me.

At this point I realise I'm only half way through, and the rest of the album stretches a looong way in front of me, despite its relatively short length in terms of time... it must be time for a break.

I may finish this review another time, I may not. This is the third time I've listened to this album, and it doesn't grow on me - in fact, the keyboards sound more naff each time and the music more and more homogenous. The best thing I can say about it is that there are those little "moments" where something shines out, which keep some interest. A good album for padding out your prog collection, but nothing outstanding.

Certif1ed | 3/5 |


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