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Cathedral - Stained Glass Stories CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.78 | 169 ratings

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3 stars Yet another candidate in the "great lost American prog album" competition, Stained Glass Stories has always held a lot of interest for me, in part because of its title. In 2001, before I had even heard of this band, I was pushing for my group's album to be called Stained Glass and Other Stories (Stained Glass is the title of the second track of the Samarkand work that eventually emerged as Spinning In Infinity), and thus as soon as I saw this titled, I was filled with the need to know what it sounded like.

As anyone who's given the US symphonic scene of the 70s more than a passing glance will tell you, there were a fair number of avenues to explore beyond your essential classic Kansas quintet (the first 5 albums) and Todd Rungren's Utopia releases. Aside from the excellent Pavlov's Dog, the relatively disappointing trio of Happy The Man, Ambrosia, Catch The Sky, there's also a host of lesser-known bands like Arabesque, Lift, Mithrandir and Babylon (not all of which I've heard myself) and I'll bet a couple of hundred besides. As with contemporaries Starcastle and Yezda Urfa, the influence of classic early 70s UK prog is pretty audible in some of Cathedral's music (I'll bet bassist Fred Callan was a huge Chris Squire fan and guitarist Rudy Perrone liked his Hackett and Howe), although thankfully like the latter, Cathedral does have enough of an identity to hold one's interest.

Unfortunately, one of the first things that will hit you about Cathedral are the overbearing, yet somewhat weak lead vocals of singer Paul Seal who attempts to inject a lot of personality into his various narrative tales, but comes up short because of his technical failings. Thankfully no individual song is ruined by this, certainly not the opening epic Introspect which blends Yes-style prog-fury, a brief drum solo from Mercury Caronia, and a great of colouring from keyboardist Tom Doncourt and guitarist Rudy Perrone, who also gives this piece its cute little closing passage.

It's probably telling that I think the instrumental Gong is the ultimate high-point of a strong album. It moves from an energetic beginning to a sublime section defined by fantastic acoustic guitar work from Perrone, lovely vibes and swirling keyboards. The instrumental skill demonstrated during the "stacatto" guitar mid-section is also very impressive, with loads of enticing effects, and there's then a mammoth solo from Perrone riding some great playing from bassist Fred Callan and drummer Mercury Caronia. Great stuff.

The Crossing has a nice Gregorian opening, before Seal leads his troupe on a merry dance in which the exchanges between Perrone and Doncourt once again catch the ear. Days & Changes daringly opens with a Seal acapella before a beautiful Perrone figure leads the band into a sensational flowing riff in which the intiative seems to pass from one instrument to the next. The evolution of the piece is enjoyable as a number of moods are brought to the table including some fusion from Perrone and segments that sound like outtakes from first The Yes Album. The concuding epic The Search wastes the momentum of a superb symphonic intro, with a painful Seal vocal passage ... the delicious playing of the band does go some way towards regaining lost ground, but it is a pity for both band and listener, that this was ever an issue.

I don't know if Stained Glass Stories is the most essential of little known albums, even on the relatively sparse US scene (sparse in terms of profile and availibility of such records). I would recommend seeking out Pavlov's Dog (Pampered Menial) and Yezda Urfa (Sacred Baboon) first, while Arabesque's Tales Of Power is just marginally less compelling. I can however, confidently assert that you are unlikely to be disappointed by this album. ... 66% on the MPV scale

Trotsky | 3/5 |


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