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McDonald & Giles - McDonald & Giles CD (album) cover


McDonald & Giles


Crossover Prog

3.36 | 139 ratings

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3 stars King Crimson's debut album really took off in 1969. Principal songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald and his drummer buddy Mike Giles decided to leave the band less than a year after they formed - though Giles stayed to drum on the 2nd album as a guest. The two of them made this album with Mike's brother Peter on bass, plus a few guest players (including Steve Winwood on organ), and then moved on to other things. Giles continued with session drumwork, and Ian went on to be a founding member of... Foreigner? It could happen. For the time being, though, McDonald and Giles were still in King Crimson mode, meaning the songs are long, progressive, and jazzy, but taking full advantage of McDonald's Beatles-like way with melody, arrangement, and song structure.

Fun Fact: The remastered CD version I just got actually changes one of the lyrics in "Suite in C" (compared to the LP version I grew up with). The line "some pussy on her knee" is changed to "black kitten on her knee", which was the intent in the first place. Ian's lesson learned: Don't refer to cats using the "p" word if you don't wish to be misunderstood.

"Suite in C" opens the record, and is the clear standout track, a nearly perfect extended suite. Themes are introduced and developed, the melodies are strong, and the solos are lovely. Pure genius. "Flight of the Ibis" , which follows, is gentle, pastoral folk-pop. Supposedly this was developed out of an early version of the Crimson song "Cadence and Cascade", and the two songs are similar but this one's a tad better in my opinion. "Is She Waiting?" is next.... Just acoustic guitars and a smidgen of piano are all this one needs. For this song, Ian paints a picture of his wife at home, biding her time until he comes back home. Sad but hopeful, and ultimately uplifting. Unbelievably beautiful and poignant. So far, we've got three incredible songs. Unfortunately, it starts to tail off just a tad from here....

"Tomorrow's People - The Children of Today" is Mike Giles's feature. He sings it, and decorates the rather simple melody with some fine drumming as always. A touching if somewhat naive ode to children, with a rocking horn-charged arrangement and some nifty percussion features. At 7 minutes, it kind of wears out its welcome, but it's a pretty pleasant song, and Giles has a charming voice.

Side Two is taken up entirely by the "Birdman" suite, featuring lyrics by Peter Sinfield, the King Crimson lyricist at the time. In fact, "Birdman" was apparently a King Crimson leftover that was never recorded. Ian wrote the music inspired by Sinfield's story-telling lyrics of a guy who figured out how to fly. As a sidelong epic, it's not the greatest one I've heard, in fact it's probably the weakest song on the album, but it still has some fine moments. The final two sections are as majestic and poignant as the album gets, and the "Workshop" section has a really funny toys-marching kind of melody. Charming stuff - but overall it falls short of my hopes and expectations. It could have used a bit more excitement and dramatic development (like "Suite in C" has), and the sections could have been integrated a little better with each other. To be blunt, it's kind of boring.

If you're a fan of early King Crimson, you need this album. It's a revealing piece of the early Crimson puzzle, and it's an inspired piece of work by two extremely talented men. However, as a piece of progressive album rock, I would grudgingly have to admit that it is not an essential work for most fans. Consider this a 4-star review if you love McDonald and Giles' work with Crimson, 3 stars for everybody else.

HolyMoly | 3/5 |


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