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Jackson Heights - Ragamuffin Fool CD (album) cover


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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
3 stars Again released on the Vertigo swirl label, JH's third effort at least managed a very promising artwork spread over a gatefold (and posters), but alas the musical propos didn't follow the hopes the fantasy drawings were hinting at. Still reduced as a trio live and inviting a drummer (amongst other musicians) in the studio to beef up their sound. Compared to the previous album, keyboardist Brian Chatton is also involved in the songwriting, which makes them a full and equal trio, but the overall sound of the group won't be altered too much, still hovering on a soft folk rock with west coast influences (CS&N or America or Bread etc..., even some Steely Dan) but without any trace of country rock. Again Giles plays on most tracks (bar two), but he rarely shows what he was up to in Crimson, no anymore than Jackson shows his The Nice chops.

Musically and sonically, RF is quite close to FAB in many regards and it's certainly not the string arrangement on the would-be single of Maureen (the opening track) that will recuse that statement. The following Your Beauty does however spell some kind of proggy ambiance and is linked to As She Starts, both tracks hovering around The Guess Who and Steely Dan. In the same realm, Bebop is a nice tidbit (mellotrons detected >> yummy!!!). Other tracks like Chips And Chicken or the title track to Poor Peter and Bellyful Of Water were ranging from Honky Tonk to hillbilly roadside blues and fun roll-out rollicking rock.

Catch A Thief could almost be a good The Nice track, relying on a wild piano, while Chorale IS a The Nice track (a part of the Five Bridge Suite) with Jackson singing almost Gabriel-like. But most of the second side's tracks remind in some ways the short crazier and zanier The Nice tracks from their first two albums.

Again very deceiving an album, JH was now standing its last leg and everyone decided that they should try out for a full blown-out extravaganza, with full deluxe works; which on the view of the first three albums has me guessing why in the world would someone risk so big with so few in hand (a little more on paper though). In either case RF is a slight improvement on FAB, probably the closest to The Nice in spirit and the album by which you'd want to start to investigate, should you really wish to do so!

Report this review (#173662)
Posted Thursday, June 12, 2008 | Review Permalink
4 stars `Maureen' starts the album stridently, with a slightly tougher and more upfront vocal sound than the preceding album, although to say this was a stab at the charts would be underestimating the sophistication on offer here. There are delightful Piano and Mellotron breaks amongst Yes-like harmonies, (and in fact even a direct steal of an ending from Yours Is No Disgrace, can you spot it?). Once again, triple vocals are in evidence here and this is fine accomplished music, vocal and song-led with much to hold the interest throughout.

At times they are good enough to challenge Crosby, Stills and Nash, whom they had obviously been listening to. There is something refreshing and unpredictable about the writing, the vocals (again three way between McBurnie, Chatton, and Jackson) and the piano, mellotron and acoustic guitars once again framed by the immaculate drumming of Michael Giles.

As well as varied and inventive song based material, `Catch A Thief' is a rare jazz based piano workout and while Brian Chatton is no Keith Emerson, it works well enough. Interestingly there is also a version of Lee Jackson's `Chorale' from `Five Bridges' recorded, probably the way he wanted it to be. It's terrific, with added choral work and Mellotron strings which really flesh it out and make it special.

Overall `Ragamuffin's Fool' could be said to be a little more jovial and `good time' than it's predecessor, defining a kind of eccentric English song-writing based rock where bands pretty much did what they liked , had fun, and worried little about record company balance sheets. This music was never going to change the world, but it is entertaining enough to hold the attention throughout.

Report this review (#270549)
Posted Monday, March 8, 2010 | Review Permalink

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