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COWBOY POEMS FREE

Echolyn

Symphonic Prog


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Dan Bobrowski
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Echolyn disintegrated soon after the Sony debacle and As The World failed to catapult the band to the big leagues. The members went their own ways, Brett Kull, Ray Weston and Paul Ramsey formed Still and Chris Buzby created Finneus Gauge with his brother, John. Chris and Brett, after a few years apart, contacted each other and began talking of getting together and writing some music. They did and at length put together ten tunes, called on Ray and Paul and added Jordan Perlson on percussives and reformed the Echolyn machine.

On Cowboy Poems Free, Buzby reduces the synth heaviness of earlier recordings and relies more heavily on piano and organ for a more immediate and live feel. This album is a "grower." The more you listen, the more you get trapped by the wonderful melodies and warm, heartfelt lyrics. The lyrics for CPF come from various stages of American History. The depression era (Human Lottery, Texas Dust ), WWII (67 Degrees, Too Late for Everything and Brittany) the 50/60's (Grey Flannel Suits, Swinging the Ax). The melodies are strong and will get stuck in your head. This has to be Echolyn's most melodic accomplishment.

Musically the biggest difference between CPF and the previous efforts is bassist Tom Hyatt's absence. Ray Weston handles the bass chores well, but he's not as complex as Hyatt. Believe me when I say, you'll hardly notice. The songs are strong enough that you won't miss that component. The addition of Perlson (Buzby's Berkley student) on conga's (mainly) adds another facet to the sound, more airy and breathable. Buzby's keyboard work really shines, not flashy, but more live and energetic. Vocally, Kull and Weston are so "on the mark" and fresh sounding. They never sound forced, as they do on some tunes from the early days. They've matured and wrote vocals lines more suited to their distinct ranges.

The "stand out" tracks for me are; Grey Flannel Suits, Brittany, 67 Degrees and Swinging the Ax. I've played some of these for non-prog music fans with good results.

You can go to Echolyn's website and download some zip files from each disc and put together a good sampler. You'll find that the tunes representing Cowboy Poems Free are among their strongest. Some of the CPF tracks are also featured on the live DVD "Stars and Gardens."

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Send comments to Dan Bobrowski (BETA) | Report this review (#1855)
Posted Thursday, October 21, 2004 | Review Permalink
Peter
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars I agree with prior reviewer Danbo that Echolyn's fifth album, COWBOY POEMS FREE (2000), is one of their best efforts. For me, it's almost as good as the superb AS THE WORLD (my overall favourite from this excellent contemporary American prog group), and it frequently finds its way to my CD player.

The band's sound had really solidified by this point, and the addition of Jordan Perlson on drums and percussion (complementing regular drummer Paul Ramsay) imparts a funkier, fuller sound to the mix. In fact, the drums and percussion are particularly good throughout, driving the session along in a powerful, even joyous fashion. Keyboard maestro Chris Buzby's generous use of organ (as well as electric piano, synth and acoustic piano) lends a frequently jazzy flavour, and Brett Kull is always busy, and terrific as usual on guitar and slide. Ray Weston, meanwhile, shows himself to be a workmanlike bassist, having taken over those duties from the departed Tom Hyatt. Weston and Kull share lead vocal duties, and work very well together, with Buzby chiming in to help the band to some of their most soaring harmonizing yet.

The writing is as strong as ever, with the song structures being somewhat more straightforward than on previous releases, and less obviously indebted to Gentle Giant for inspiration. The evocative, thoughtful lyrics deal with various periods in American history, from the dust bowl days, to the prohibition era, to WWII and the Vietnam War, and give the album a thematic unity. The "story songs" convincingly portray the indomitable American spirit, with the cost of collective freedom and prosperity borne by individual workers, soldiers and sailors through sacrifice, loneliness, deprivation and danger.

There are no weak tracks, though some are particular favourites: "High as Pride" features a sublime guitar and synth section near the close, and "American Vacation Tune" is great fun with its frantic, pounding drums and "crunchy" keys. "Swingin' the Ax" sounds a little like a wonderful Led Zeppelin and Gentle Giant hybrid, with bluesy slide and infectious electric piano. "67 Degrees" tells a sailor's tale of separation from loved ones, with a smoky, moody start, and powerfully impassioned vocals, while "Brittany" has more great singing, and an epic feel that begs a generous volume setting.

"CPF" is a shining example of an ever-engaging, latter-day progressive rock recording. Complex, but not dauntingly so, the album is never boring, with a different vista always waiting just around the next bend. Yes, there's life in the old genre yet, and Echolyn's COWBOY POEMS FREE is just the shot in the arm to help resuscitate and flesh out your aging prog collection!

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Send comments to Peter (BETA) | Report this review (#1857)
Posted Saturday, April 23, 2005 | Review Permalink
NJprogfan
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars One thing you can always rely on with Echolyn; excellent singing, wonderful harmonies, clever lyrics, and musicianship that is varied and extremely catchy. "Cowboy Poems Free" is no exception. Starting off with, 'Texas Dust' the band plays infectious wah wah guitar licks with some killer fast paced percussion. Upbeat and awesome beginning. I like all the Poem # tracks, they are very ambient and bridge into the following track on the album smoothly. Of course there are the obligatory Gentle Giant-like tracks, "Human Lottery" and the best track on the album, "Brittany". Both have that great harmonized singing and complex beats with Buzby's Kenny Minnear-like clavinet noodling keyboards. There are a few tracks in the mid-section that tend to sound like Canada's Bare Naked Ladies. Although the wah wah guitar attack on "American Vacation Tune" sticks out shiningly. Things pick up dramatically with, "67 Degrees" with a killer keyboard melody that is spooky and dark. The last song, "Too Late For Everything" has the foundation of their following masterpiece, "Mei". All in all, a superior album with all the "Echolyn" trademarks. A tad lesser in quality then their previous albums, but its a natural progression in their style. A solid 3.75 stars.

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Send comments to NJprogfan (BETA) | Report this review (#47389)
Posted Tuesday, September 20, 2005 | Review Permalink
5 stars Echolyn is quite possibly one of the most talented bands to not break out, and they show their talent with "Cowboy Poems Free." From what I can make the CD tells the story from the great depression to the end of WWI.

The song "Human Lottery" tells about a man that had a good job and supported his family but now with no work he is just getting by. It's nice that they breakup the songs with "Poems" that are instrumental works that are nicely blended into the next song.

Personally this is the best Echolyn album I have heard and a solid 5 star album. It seems that a good prog band is hard to find a good prog band now in days but they really shine through.

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Send comments to cowbell1 (BETA) | Report this review (#73184)
Posted Sunday, March 26, 2006 | Review Permalink
2 stars I started listening to this album with high hopes. What I've learned about Echolyn and even the cover suggested a treat. The music started and all was OK and I kinda liked it but then I found myself thinking of completely different things. I tried to concentrate to the music, and did. Then I started to think why does'nt this touch me at all? And I realized suddendly: this is not very progressive! Then I came to read what other PA reviewers think and many like this. And so do I in some extent. Then I read this: "I've played some of these for non-prog music fans with good results. " written by Dan Bobrowski. And yes! Why should you not get good results because this is indie rock with some distant Blood Sweat and Tears influences. Well I listened on and there came also more progressive parts like the High as Pride but the next one American Vacation Tune is indie again. Good music, between 3 and 4 stars but if you are after prog you'll do better elsewhere, only fans should bother: **.

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Send comments to pirkka (BETA) | Report this review (#88095)
Posted Thursday, August 24, 2006 | Review Permalink
3 stars The reformed Echolyn of 2000 comes off as a bit of a different animal than the previous early-to-mid '90's incarnation. The sound of the band is more evocative of bluesy-rock, with fewer synthesizers, more organs, lots of additional precussion, and leaner guitars. There seems to be less in common with the better-known symphonic progressive bands and more with American "jam" bands. I would tend to put most of the music on this album as being closer to that of bands like moe. or Little Feat, or even Led Zeppelin, as opposed to bands like Yes or Genesis.

That said, I think they pull this style off very well. The songwriting still remains rather strong overall, though at times the moodier pieces are not as melodically interesting. As mentioned in the other reviews, the subject matter deals with characters throughout 20th Century America on a very personal nature - everyone from soldiers to bootleggers to squeaky clean 50's white collar workers. The more mature voices (vocally and from a songwriting standpoint) serve the songs well here.

Musically speaking, the songs have a lively feel that suggests they developed more out of jamming than elaborate piecemeal arrangement and orchestration. The playing remains strong, and the vocal harmonies are rich as ever. Contrary to some of the other reviews, however, I would say that the flow of the album is somewhat disrupted by the "Poem" tracks, at least the first two. To me they seem to be coming from a different place than the songs that intertwine with them.

The album does take a few listens to really fully appreciate. However, I think it's time well spent. I don't know that I would recommend it strongly to the most hard-core prog fans, hence the three stars, but going beyond the prog genre, I still think of it as a mostly well- crafted rock album, and would probably rate it higher.

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Send comments to JP312 (BETA) | Report this review (#88713)
Posted Friday, September 01, 2006 | Review Permalink
Gatot
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Definitely, Echolyn is a band which has a character of its own and I haven't found any bad album from them. This album is by no exception representing the band's style in making and performing their music. The album opens with "Texas Dust" (5:16) which comprises various styles throughout its musical segments. It blends the elements of rock, country and jazz at the same time with great vocal and nice keyboard solo. This track ends with "Poem #1" (1:33) which serves as bridge to the next track "Human Lottery" (5:32). This third track combines R&B and southern rock music with some flavor of Brazillian / Hawaian music. The vocal line reminds me to Gentle Giant especially during choir or vocal harmonies. The guitar solo in the middle of the track is also stunning even though it's not that long for typical rock music.

"Gray Flannel Suits" (4:47) starts with combination of keyboard and guitar fills followed with vocal line in jazz rock style. "High As Pride" (6:45) is a nice ballad with heavy influence from Gentle Giant especially on singing style. The music moves slowly with acoustic guitar and keyboard as main rhythm section. Vocal harmonies are really good. The music brings to upbeat and fast tempo with great guitar solo at track 7 "American Vacation Tune" (5:18). What I like most about this track in addition to the guitar is the bass lines - so powerful. Vocal is also excellent.

"1729 Broadway" (6:01) is a mellow track which flows naturally with great rhythm section mainly contributed by Buzby's keyboard work. It's a nice song, accessible to many ears, I believe. You might consider this as ballad as well. In almost similar vein "67 Degrees" (5:21) is another good track as well. The concluding track "Too Late For Everything" (4:33) is another mellow song with nice vocal and clavinet rhythm section augmented with acoustic guitar. This kind of music is similar with the music of Spock's Beard.

Overall, it's a good album with some excellent tracks like "Texas Dust". It's suitable for those of you who like music with some influence of jazz rock even though not that heavy, and of course Gentle Giant. Keep on proggin' ..!

Peace on earth and mercy mild - GW

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Send comments to Gatot (BETA) | Report this review (#120957)
Posted Monday, May 07, 2007 | Review Permalink
Todd
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Rock Progressivo Italiano!
5 stars CPF was my introduction to Echolyn--perhaps that's why it remains my favorite album from one of my favorite bands. I think in some minds it suffers in comparison to its predecessor As the World, but in my opinion the overall songwriting and musicianship is just as good, if not better, and there are more memorable moments overall on CPF. The history, concepts, and high points of the album are well documented by other reviews, so I won't elaborate, except to add that 67 Degrees and Brittany have grown into some of my favorite Echolyn songs. The songs are really enhanced by the music guide on echolyn.com--Brittany especially is given more meaning in the personal WW2 context described there. Definitely worth a trip! Also, I believe the band is currently remastering this for a future rerelease. For now you can find it on emusic.com. Happy hunting!

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Send comments to Todd (BETA) | Report this review (#156142)
Posted Friday, December 21, 2007 | Review Permalink
Epignosis
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Eclectic Prog Team
5 stars Chronicling the various conflicts of America, both domestic and foreign, Cowboy Poems Free is glorious and sometimes downtrodden take on both the big picture and the more common elements of life. Each vignette is treated with respect (although there is a touch sarcasm from time to time), and upon digging into the words, I came away with a sense of awe: Many of these tracks are magnificent tributes to the men and women who have railed against hardship, be it economic or martial. The often grim lyrics are usually juxtaposed with music that evokes an opposite feeling, which unbelievably contributes to the powerful nature of this work.

"Texas Dust" An energetic introduction of a first song, the boys of Echolyn come charging right out of the gates like a sequined cape-wearing rodeo rider. As the dust settles, the beautiful verse begins. The chorus is likewise wonderful; the synthesizer and guitar play their part in a wonderfully melodic way. The soloing in the end is well thought out. This song describes the hardship of the dust bowl, and does so with a callous and yet gentle determination.

"Poem #1" A spiraling synthetic piece bridges the first and second songs.

"Human Lottery" A gritty guitar and some keys get things rocking on this one. It has an extremely catchy vocal melody, and the instrumental section that follows is a bunch of brief solos that are excellently executed. The lyrics here have to do with one man's take on the Great Depression.

"Gray Flannel Suits" I'm pleased as punch with this song. It's about as upbeat as it gets, and the lyrics are outstanding. They describe men going of to work in their "look-a-like" suits. It's a great bit of music, and lots of fun in spite of the context.

"Poem #2" It sounds like an introduction to a Sting song, but it works are a phenomenal transition.

"High as Pride" My favorite song from this album, the vocals work over soft piano at first; mesmerizing and beautiful music enters. I love everything about this great song, from the excellent and nostalgic chorus, to the brave instrumental section that features synthesizer and slide guitar. The sputtering vocals in the end are likewise outstanding. The lyrics are reflective and insightful.

"American Vacation Tune" This one is another upbeat song with a great string of lyrical sections. The music stays loud about all the way through, with the exception of a spoken word bit in the middle.

"Swingin' the Axe" This is a great hard song about bootlegging during Prohibition. Given my affinity for drink, it's probably no matter of curiosity as to how I feel about that period in our country.

"1729 Broadway" A depressing song about a man away from his family, who would "give a year" of his life to see the children, this is a beautiful one even if it is rather despondent.

"Poem #3" Tranquil acoustic guitar and saxophone with sparingly played drums make up the third interlude.

"67 Degrees" A song about a sailor away from home, the lyrics are elegant even if the music is a bit harsh. This song is also very good, even if not quite as memorable.

"Brittany" An epistolary song relaying both mundane news and encouragement from a brother to a young man named Rueben away during World War II, this one has several layers of sound, and while not as easy to follow as the other tracks, carries on in heartrending way. The chorus is jaw-dropping: "When the whole world is another world away, you live your life waiting for words from yesterday. Ball and chained to a cause that keeps us free, you live your life waiting at blessed Brittany." That's something to think about.

"Poem #4" The only "poem" with lyrics, the words describe the consequences of war that the living face.

"Too Late for Everything" The horrors of World War I trench warfare betray the lovely, gentle acoustic music. The protagonist tells of yellow gas, trench foot, his buddy being killed mid-sentence, and in the end, he finds some cigarettes by a dead soldier- a small, very small consolation.

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Send comments to Epignosis (BETA) | Report this review (#218923)
Posted Friday, May 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
4 stars Echolyn's rebirth in 2000 was a spectacular one. And believe it or not, this isn't even their best album since their comeback. In fact, this four star album isn't as good as either of the two albums they've recorded since, yet this is still very close to a masterpiece.

Now I have heard a profusion of confusion as to whether or not Echolyn is a fusion band. Here the fusion is much less prevalent, as the songs mostly have more traditional rock structures. Yet even with that, the Echolyn odd rhythms, chord patterns and vocal harmonies abound. And the lyrics, mostly about the difficulties attaining the American Dream in this modern age, are deep and poignant.

Echolyn are still masters of intricate musical woven patterns. Although many of the tracks here on the surface sound straightforward, listen to the album repeatedly, and the intricacies reveal themselves to the listener. To spectacular effect.

4.5 stars.

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#234905)
Posted Monday, August 24, 2009 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 4.5 stars. I have the remastered version and I do like the album cover better on this one too. When I first heard about this band several years ago I purchased "The End Is Beautiful" , "As The World" and "MEI" all around the same time. I figured I had a good cross section with these three albums. I started with "As The World" and soon found myself wondering why this band is so popular in the Prog world. It was just a difficult listen for me. Within a month I thought i'd move on to their latest thinking it was probably different, and it was and I loved it. I decided to hold off on "MEI" for fear it sounded like "As The World". In the meantime I became friends with Todd (the RPI guy) who had as his avatar "Cowboy Poems Free" and a five star review of that album. I noticed on other sites that this album wasn't held in as high esteem as "Suffocating The Bloom", "MEI" or "As The World" but knowing that Todd and I have very similar tastes in music I bought it and "Suffocating The Bloom". I reviewed the latter recently and thought it was incredible. "Cowboy Poems Free" is even better.Thanks Todd ! Interesting that the band had a hiatus after "As The World" as they all went off doing their thing in other bands.They returned for this one and promptly made a more accessible, song oriented album.This is powerful but the lyrics are even more powerful. Check out Epignosis' review as he explains really well the theme of this recording. This album just blows me away. It could not be more perfect.

"Texas Dust" opens with percussion before a full sound kicks in quickly. It's uptempo. A calm with vocals a minute in.This is moving stuff. The chorus is gorgeous. It picks up after 4 minutes with some excellent guitar.This is a top three for me. "Poem #1" is a short atmospheric piece. "Human Lottery" kicks in with guitar. Drums before it settles with vocals. It's full again as contrasts continue. Some killer bass and guitar at times. "Gray Flannel Suits" has a catchy beat with vocals. I like when they slow it down before 2 minutes and after 3 minutes. It turns powerful before 4 minutes. Nice. "Poem #2" is another soundscape piece. "High As Pride" features reserved vocals and piano to start as strummed guitar joins in. Drums and organ around 3 minutes.This song seems to get better as it plays out. "American Vacation" has this uptempo instrumental intro which impresses before vocals arrive around a minute. Spoken words before 3 1/2 minutes and a heavier sound follows. "Swingin' The Axe" is a passionate track and it's pretty heavy too.

"1729 Broadway" is another top three for me. Spacey sounds echo as a beat comes in. Vocals follow. Organ before 1 1/2 minutes. A moving track. Guitar 3 minutes in is great then he rips it up after 5 minutes for good measure. It blends into "Poem #3" another mellow piece. "67 Degrees" is the last top three song. Love the keyboard sounds to open. Drums then vocals come in. How good does this sound ! Those keys are back late to end it. Great track. Vocals arrive a minute in on "Brittany". This is such a feel good tune for me. It's right there with the top three. It gets fairly powerful at times. It's a blast. "Poem #4" has these loud percussion sounds and vocals.Cool. "Too Late For Everything" ends it in style. A relaxing but dark and meaningful song.

There are so many lines i'd like to quote from songs here. Just brilliant lyrics. Such a talented band. I see the light.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#280642)
Posted Wednesday, May 05, 2010 | Review Permalink
5 stars I again realized today, how rarely in today's music business of bland attempts of self-important so-called artists, you can find such inspired piece of art. So listening to "Cowboy Poems Free" album made me write a few lines.

Echolyn in general is the band I have grown to love, but it wasn't instant. It took me even years for their full appreciation. They are all excellent musicians without doubt, who doesn't have need to exhibit and play like one man for the overall contribution and impression. The band is not derivative and successfully get rid off cliche - problems of most of their contemporaries. They are easily recognizable, though their influences and heroes are still present (obviously Gentle Giant, Yes even Saga come to mind).

The music itself is in layers, you have to uncover it by repeated listening so that's also why you hardly get tired of it. However, I can't say it is not accessible. Structure of this album is very song-like, yet deep and intricate enough for demanding listeners. Difference from earlier albums to me is, that "Cowboy Poems Free" are not so coherent as a whole album, but serve rather as a collection of separated strong and varied tracks. There are clever connections in the small ambient interludes ("Poems"), mostly instrumental ones. The unifying element, present throughout, is retro-bittersweet atmosphere. Wishing turns into anger, gloom, into hope ...

Album's lyrics are conceptual and add very romantic overtone. While music is often tuned on major chords, lyrics are rather sad and mournful, insightful, even bordering with black humour. Sometimes all together it sounds absurd, as life itself can be. The topics are circling around various war chapters during American history.

There are a lot of things to admire. Alternating of expressive voices, Kull's and Weston's, with original phrasing and mature harmonies. Then there are funny and complex rhythm tricks and exotic percussion, as the entertaining chord changes and keyboard/synth colors. Quite a challenge and adventure. Hard to pick the favorite, High as Pride has very intense build-up with slide guitar showcase. Too Late for Everything brings tears to the eyes, while American Vacation Tune or Texas Dust will devour you by the energy and tempo changes. 1729 Broadway or 67 Degrees overwhelm you with strange broodiness and tension, and so on...

Listening to this music is fun as well as deeply affective experience. Masterpiece for me.

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Send comments to stewe (BETA) | Report this review (#297438)
Posted Saturday, September 04, 2010 | Review Permalink
ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars After a hiatus of four years (whose reasons are explained by fellow reviewers), the band got together and released their fifth studio album.

After these four years, each member has evolved and even if the trade mark of the band remains (strong vocal harmonies), the music featured on "Cowboy Poems Free" leans towards a more rock angle ("Texas Dust", "Human Lottery") although that the latter confirms their Gentle Giant inclination in terms of vocalizing.

Most of their previous albums can be categorized in the Eclectic genre, but this one is not such a work. It sounds as if the band converts itself into a more accessible combo. Don't get me wrong: I don't mean radio friendly, just easier to get into.

The problem with this album is that there are hardly any highlights. Nothing that moves me. It is just a collection of good songs, but no more. The jazzy aspects are not alien either but that's not a new element in the music from "Echolyn".

I quite miss the complexity of their earlier albums; this one sounds too hard to my ears: too American oriented to my feel, to basic rock oriented. At this stage, the band has lost his originality and sounds as a million of other ones (OK, let's say a hundred ones).

The music is well executed as usual, but one is expecting more from his band. This work sounds flat to me and I can't rate it with more than two stars (five out of ten: average it means).

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Send comments to ZowieZiggy (BETA) | Report this review (#388827)
Posted Friday, January 28, 2011 | Review Permalink

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