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Todd Rundgren - Hermit of Mink Hollow CD (album) cover

HERMIT OF MINK HOLLOW

Todd Rundgren

Crossover Prog


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Chicapah
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars After making four of his most progressive solo albums in a row (utilizing various lineups of side musicians) as well as undertaking a major detour into jazz rock/fusion territory with his adventurous group Utopia, Todd Rundgren sequestered himself in the studio in the early months of 1978 and did what he hadn't done since sculpting the admirable "Something/Anything." Here he reverted to his one man band persona and relied on no one but he, himself and his muse to produce the very personal "Hermit of Mink Hollow." I get the feeling that he desperately yearned to get back to the place where he didn't have to answer to anybody but his own ego and create whatever emerged from his fertile brain. It's an impressive but slightly inconsistent virtuoso presentation that, more than anything else, demonstrates the leaps and bounds his studio techniques had improved by over the years.

Side one of the LP version is labeled "The Easy Side" and it starts off with the very upbeat vibe of "All the Children Sing," a joyous romp with chiming synthesizers and the full TR chorale raising the roof. Lyrically it describes the miracle of epiphany as the day when "a bell in your head will ring" and your "universe will explode apart." Considering that Todd had just returned from a vacation in the Middle East to investigate Sufism those lofty sentiments aren't surprising at all. Speaking of idealism, the chart-climbing single "Can We Still Be Friends" is next and it's one of Rundgren's most endearing ditties. On the surface it would appear to be a fairly straightforward ballad but the intriguing vocal sections with their deceptively tricky time signatures make this tune anything but formula. The intertwining la-la melodies that seem to float about effortlessly are almost Gentle Giant-like at times. Lyrically, though, our boy is literally dreaming in La-La Land. A word to the wise. Whatever you do, never but NEVER tell the girl you're breaking up with "let's admit we made a mistake/but can we still be friends?" unless you're prepared to have your eyeballs clawed out and possibly find yourself maimed for life. You, like naïve Mr. Rundgren, might think it's a noble consolation prize to offer but that's the last thing they want to hear at that moment.

"Hurting for You" is another one of Todd's frequent treks into the world of saccharine torch songs and one can't help but to feel sympathy for the courageous guitar lead that valiantly attempts to fight its way up through the sugary Sea of the Overwrought Chorale that eventually drowns it without mercy. Makes a sad song even sadder. "Too Far Gone" sports a samba-styled feel that's a nice change of pace but it's still pretty mediocre fare. The words are about an artist who's become estranged from his family and friends and has all the earmarks of a personal confession. One of Rundgren's most attractive qualities is his fondness for clever studio tricks and his willingness to be silly at times. "Onomatopoeia" delivers both in a short 1:34 span and is pure frivolity from the odd sound effects to the witty lyrics like "onomatopoeia, in proximity ya..." Gotta love it. "Determination" is a strong candidate for coolest song on the album with its bright, piercing guitars, undeniable energy flow and palpable prog aura. It still amazes me how Todd can single-handedly assemble a track piece by piece and have it come out sounding like a full band.

"Bread" is the first cut on "The Difficult Side" and its walking beat during the verse belies the heavy- handed chorus that follows. Once again TR establishes a tight groove for the tune to ride in as the lyrics delve into the tragedy of needless hunger as he asks "where are the days when life was carefree?/why must I suffer this, what was my crime?/begging or thievery, which shall it be?/is there no other choice for me?/I can't live with nothing." Next is the subdued "Bag Lady," a piano-based dramatic ballad that slowly evolves with the help of synthesized strings, saxophone and lush background vocals. The heartbreaking words relate the sobering reality of the shadowy despair that exists all around us. What's needed at this juncture is a silver lining and Rundgren provides one with the infectious drive of "You Cried Wolf," one of the best rockers he's ever written and recorded, bar none. The guitars have the perfect amount of bite, he throws in a hot sax ride and the solid rhythm track will have you dancing through the dining room in your boxers, strumming your air guitar with wild abandon. It'll entertain your immediate family members and house pets no end. Can't ask for more than that.

"Lucky Guy" is yet another piano ballad but what distinguishes it from his others is the exquisitely stacked guitar harmonies ala Brian May that give it a silky sheen. "Out of Control" is a feisty rock & roll number with churning guitars and spicy licks in abundance throughout but it's also instantly forgettable. There's just nothing to latch onto. "Fade Away" serves as the grand finale and Todd manages to throw everything into this would-be power ballad, including the kitchen sink and the Grand Canyon. From the echo-drenched drums to the dense cumulus clouds of the chorale, this is a prime example of over-the-top pop. Rundgren sings "in a hundred million years when the planet disappears/you and I will stay and watch the world fade away..." That's just fine, bucko, but I hope the soundtrack for that glorious event will be a lot more prog and much less blatantly sappy.

Molded in the spirit of his earlier "I played and sang everything" extravaganzas, dedicated fans of Todd's work will find a lot to enjoy inside this album but I would never refer to it as being progressive, per se. To me it signifies an itch he had to scratch at that point in his career to be a bit more accessible to the public at large and, in that capacity, it succeeds. But those seeking his prog-leaning side should look first at albums like "Wizard, A True Star" and "Initiation" before picking up this one. Good, indeed, but not essential.

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Send comments to Chicapah (BETA) | Report this review (#198377)
Posted Saturday, January 10, 2009 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
3 stars Introverted and alone

With Todd now fully committed to parallel careers as a solo artist and as a member of Utopia, it was perhaps inevitable that the inspiration would start to run out, or at least be harder to find. For me, "Hermit of mink hollow" represents the first album by Rundgren which failed to excite me in some way.

I should make it clear straight away that this is not a bad album, but it lacks the spark which has been so consistently apparent in the prolific Todd's output. The running time of under 35 minutes is also somewhat mean when compared with previous crammed productions. Perhaps in an effort to draw a clear distinction between his solo work and that of Utopia, Todd reverts to a genuine solo status here, writing, performing and producing the entire album unassisted.

The album is made up of 12 brief songs, the longest of which is a mere 3½ minutes. Side one, which is sub-titled "The easy side", opens with the upbeat catchy pop of "All the children sing". As which pretty much everything here, it is a finely crafted number which offers nothing substantial. The following "Can we still be friends", a melancholy pop ballad, was a big hit single for Todd, and thus probably fulfilled his ambitions for the album.

"Hurting for you" is a soulful piece featuring a fine vocal performance by Todd, while "Too far gone" is a lighter, whispy basic pop song. We plumb the depths rather with the thankfully brief "Onomatopoeia", which features such classic lines as "Onomatopoeia, Every time I see ya, my senses tell me hubba, and I just can't disagree-a". Oh Todd, what were you thinking?! The track concludes with a succession of onomatopoeic words. "Determination" is the rockiest number on the side, and the one which comes closes to his Utopia style.

The second side is deemed the "Difficult side", but presumably this reflects the songwriting and production challenges as the music is anything but difficult. "Bread" is a plea relating to hunger contained within a pleasant pop melody. The following "Bag lady" explores a similar poverty related theme in a more sensitive piano and vocal performance. After these heavy themes, Todd reverts to a tale of broken love for "You cried wolf", a Stevie Wonder style piece of soul pop.

My personal favourite song on the album is "Lucky guy", a 2 minute pop ballad with a great melody and Brian May like guitar. Actually, I would recommend a great cover version of this song by Kim Wilde if you are interested. "Out of control" is a messy romp through a basic rock song while "Fade away" is a fine closing ballad with a slightly more interesting arrangement.

In all, an album with some decent pop songs (plus one or two not so good ones), which sees Todd retreating into his hollow. After being spoilt by album after album of surprises, it is perhaps understandable that he should choose to take a breather here.

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Send comments to Easy Livin (BETA) | Report this review (#200542)
Posted Sunday, January 25, 2009 | Review Permalink
Kazuhiro
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars His activity after 1973 has been achieved in various shape pursuing the talent further. The plan of Solo in addition to the activity of Utopia appeared as a work without stagnation. "Faithful" in 1976 and "Ra" etc. of Utopia remarkably show his talent and evolution. It even does album "L" of Steve Hillage in produce and I will be able to hear belief in his work. The album of Rundgren till then was a challenge to his own music exactly, an experiment, and one attempt at the album. It related it to masterpieces such as "Something/Anything?" and "A Wizard,A True Star". Showing the talent as his musician is still recognized here for the listener as time of the representative of Rundgren on one the top. "Faithful" This album following also works over one's plan almost alone, it raises, and it is ..high-quality album.. finished as the work. It is likely to succeed as some flow if the settlement of the composition is considered. The concept till then and the composition of the tune are settled further and the famous piece of music etc. are included. A basic composition follows the current style and the tune increases the perfection further. His performance and the skill as a singer of the song are obviously established and advance further in the route with this album.

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Send comments to Kazuhiro (BETA) | Report this review (#226239)
Posted Sunday, July 12, 2009 | Review Permalink
ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars Great opening song with every hints of the skilled producing giant who can be acknowledged for his maestria.

But to be honest, songs as "Hurting for you" are just average rock songs. OK, the man is holding very good guitar lines. But, what else? It had been quite a while now that the great man didn't release some great or even good albums.

I can only describe some damned good pop songs ("Determination") which can't of course be described as highlights of this "Hermit".

Plenty of powerful and catchy songs are featured on this work. It certainly deserves a powerful regard to some good old rocking moment ("Bread"). But to be fully faithful, I have to say that most of this album has little to do with prog. But so were most of his prior albums.

Average rocking parts ("You Cried Wolf") are holding this album above the desperate line. It is a real weak number indeed. Poor combinations, no emotions at all and weak tracks to close this forgettable "Todd" record.

Two stars are very well paid.

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Send comments to ZowieZiggy (BETA) | Report this review (#255061)
Posted Tuesday, December 08, 2009 | Review Permalink
fuxi
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars I was surprised to read some of the earlier reviews which give the impression that this is merely a collection of average tunes. To be sure, you can't call this symphonic prog, but taken on its own terms, as a song suite (mainly piano-based) HERMIT OF MINK HOLLOW seems one of Todd Rundgren's most impressive inventions.

Of Rundgren's previous solo albums it's A WIZARD, A TRUE STAR and SOMETHING/ANYTHING that I know best. They both contain magnificent material, and SOMETHING/ANYTHING has been widely acclaimed as an early seventies pop masterpiece, but I sometimes get the feeling Todd was trying to cram in too many styles, too many sentimental ditties. He usually makes me reach for the skip button.

HERMIT OF MINK HOLLOW, on the other hand, is a joy from start to finish. (It helps that the album is only just over thirty minutes long. But such a thirty minutes!) Apparently Todd rushed to the studio after the break-up of a long-term relationship, and you feel his pain. Tracks like "Hurting for You" and "Lucky Guy" are full of bitterness, but there are few tunesmiths in rock who would have expressed their sorrow in a melody as quirky as "Can We Still Be Friends". At the same time, this album's most visionary tracks (i.e. "All the Children Sing" and "Fade Away") exude the kind of exultation which is mainly experienced (from time to time) by people who are truly down in the dumps. As a listener you're not sure if you're supposed to laugh or cry. I see it as pure magic!

As if his own suffering were not enough, Todd takes on the misery of the world's poor and downtrodden in tracks like "Bread" and "Bag Lady". The songs are short, but Todd's performances are full of confidence. Light relief is provided by "Onomatopoeia" and "You Cried Wolf".

HERMIT may not be the best introduction to Todd Rundren's career, but if you care for his other solo albums, it seems likely you'll enjoy this album as well. Me, I'm just amazed that within the scope of only six or seven years Todd surprised us with so many gorgeous melodies.

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Send comments to fuxi (BETA) | Report this review (#266143)
Posted Sunday, February 14, 2010 | Review Permalink
Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
3 stars This album, to me, marked a turning point in Todd Rundgren's career. Already a successful sonwiter, producer and performer, it is on this album that he starts to sound lazy, like he is deciding to take the easy path, rather than keep the quality of his music up.

That isn't to say that there isn't some fine music to be had on this album, just that there isn't as much of it as on previous releases. Can We Still Be Friends is probably Todd's last great ballad, and the melancholy Bag Lady has beautiful production (although a predictable tragic ending).

Onomatopoeia is amusing for the first few listens, but the joke wears off too quickly. The rest of the album are pleasant, but forgettable pop and rock tunes, all with Todd performing all tasks.

The LP is labeled "The Easy Side" and "The Difficult Side". Honestly, there doesn't seem to me much difference in the technical aspects of either side.

2.5 stars, rounded up.

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#367074)
Posted Wednesday, December 29, 2010 | Review Permalink

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