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The Minstrel's Ghost - The Road To Avalon CD (album) cover

THE ROAD TO AVALON

The Minstrel's Ghost

Crossover Prog


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lazland
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars The Minstrel's Ghost is a project that has as its founder Blake Carpenter, and he first came to my attention when he posted a couple of You Tube videos of this, the second recorded release under the project. I was struck not just by the music, but also by the sheer beauty of the artwork that accompanied it. If you get the chance, you really must take a look.

Anyhow, when Blake asked me to undertake a review, I gladly accepted. The subject matter is, of course, those Arthurian legends of Ye Olde Englande (or Wales. It depends upon where you live!). Naturally, many people might be forgiven for wondering just whether the world is ready for yet another slab of such stuff - after all, in the 1970's, a certain Mr Wakeman entertained us all with his own take on the legend, and very successful it was too. Having said that, I personally find that, as good as it was back then, it has rather dated, which is not particularly surprising given that it utilised the cutting edge technology of the time, and this has moved on to the nth degree since.

And Carpenter and his very able band of merry knights give us a wonderful musical scenario, steeped in the latest digital technology and soundscapes. As concept albums go, this one very deftly avoids the easy pothole of the silly and twee, not a particularly straightforward task given the subject matter. Instead, this is a mature and serious piece of art, and I particularly love the "death of Arthur" sequence that closes the album, with sensitive vocals and an expansive rock drama that recalls the best of classic rock. In fact, the only quibble I have is that I don't find the battle effects shortly onto Part Two to be wholly necessary, given the fact that the music itself is more than capable of projecting this. However, this is a minor moan on my part.

On his debut work, Dreams Things True, Carpenter handled all of the instruments. On this, wisely for such an ambitious project, he has had help, although it has taken twelve full years from the time a short song called Avalon was written for it to come to fruition. Appearing with him are Zoltan Csorsz Jr (ex Flower Kings) on drums, Colin Tench (Corvus Stone & Bunchakeze) providing some wonderful guitar work, Troy James Martin (LeeAnne Savage) on bass, and Marco Chiappini (Gandalf's Project) contributing keyboard work.

Having said that, Carpenter is really at the centre of all things, and the pleasant surprise that strikes you immediately is just how damn nice his rather distinct voice is - think Art Garfunkel in a prog setting (this is not a joke, by the way), and you won't be that far off. As mentioned before, the lyrics themselves tell a good story, not a twee one, and musically it is precisely the type of expansive, colourful, and symphonic progressive rock I love. Full of swirling keyboards and intricate guitar work, all backed by delicate and complex rhythm section which allow the story to flow along. If you are a fan of modern thrash, metallic, gloomy prog, then you should avoid this like the plague. If, however, you, like me, sometimes just like to sit back and allow an extremely pleasant piece of music to wash all over you, then I cannot recommend this highly enough.

In addition, the cd is worth buying simply for the sumptuous artwork, provided by Ed Unitsky. If you go to the homepage for Carpenter, you can find a link to Unitsky's own page, and well worth a visit it is, too.

To summarise, collaborator's at Prog Archives get sent a fair bit of music by artists to review. Some of it is exceptional, mostly it is very good, and you get the occasional stinker. This one falls well and truly into the excellent and very pleasant surprise category, and I have no hesitation in awarding this four stars for its sheer warmth and enjoyable listening experience.

In fact, in closing, I can't help thinking that the old Maestro Wakeman himself, might, actually, rather enjoy this, and also think to himself.....this isn't that far off what I would have recorded if I was still that young bloke from the 1970's transplanted to 2012.

My thanks to Blake for providing me with an official pre-release MP3 download. The cd itself is released in December, but can be pre ordered from the website now. Go on, treat yourself with that money gift from Aunty for Christmas. I think you will enjoy.

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Send comments to lazland (BETA) | Report this review (#851646)
Posted Tuesday, November 06, 2012 | Review Permalink
tszirmay
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover Team
5 stars The Minstrel's Ghost is the 2012 sensation, a fabulous musical creation that has all the hallmarks of a classic prog album, where old school symphonics meet the new pristine university. American multi-instrumentalist Blake Carpenter has smartly surrounded himself with some seriously gifted players most notably Hungarian Zoltan Csorsz (still the best Flower Kings drummer ever), who positively explodes here, as well as gifted guitarist Colin Tench (of the thrilling Corvus Stone, Colin Tench Project and Bunchakeze). Others include Marco Chiappini of Gandalf's Project (a close relative in this semi-medieval-pop-prog genre) who shines on devastating organ and assorted ivories. .Bassist Troy James Martin holds it all down with muscular proficiency .And of course main man and master musician Blake Carpenter, who has really carved himself a name for himself with this magnificent opus!

Part 1 ?The Design

The intro to "The Journey Begins "is pure aural devastation, a scintillating tidal wave of impeccable progressive beauty and delivered with smiling faces by passionate musicians who are on the proverbial ball. The drums are truly phenomenal, the guitar work flush with unabashed glory, both Tench and Carpenter trading wicked solos , the sultry synths oozing deep into the soul and fluttering like sonic butterflies when applicable (which is always!) . There are some psychedelic motifs blending well within the misty medieval confines of the classic prog premise, Arthur, Lady of the Lake and Camelot. The spirited music is inspired, diverse in sound and texture (the guitars in particular are way more manic than anything Floydian), with an underlying sense of urgency. The piano work is utterly fascinating and the surly axe solo, phenomenal. What a beginning!

"Avalon Part 1" is a tad poppier , lucid violin scouring the plain, well let's just say more accessible with some sweet vocal work from Blake , a little hint of the Beatles is always welcome but the song rolls along like a bright summer stream, featuring some delirious wah-wah guitar soloing that will bump the goose. Such exuberant enjoyment is a pleasure to behold, "this is Avalon"!

"Merlin" is simply ridiculous, a whizzing acoustic guitar painting Spanish steps and a mellow, laid-back slice of genius that rekindles Pink Floyd that features a stunning vocal from Blake, a rollicking, rocking beat and a general sense of crystalline bliss. Yeah, there is a little nasal Garfunkel in them there pipes, lazland! Colin coughs up some nasty little sizzles on guitar; the man is a bewildering talent, torturing the strings in Jeff Beckian delight. . Spectacular music and sensational goose bumps.

"Lady of the Lake" just keeps the locomotive breath steadily on the tracks, determined to please and titillate both mind and body. Special vocal effects kick this one off the shores of tedium and into the luxuriant depths of languid medievalism, a solitary electric guitar splashing eloquently along and a trembling vocal rendition. The slithering synth display is shimmeringly bright, giving the arrangement a simple but effective sheen.

"Excalibur" is expectedly sharply honed and mythically magical, a methodical and expressive vocal performance, propelled by a simple synth and guitar flurry. In fine and typical progressive epic style, "Avalon Part 2" suggests a continuation of the main theme , with delicate hushed vocals and that confounded chorus that will force you to your knees, while the guitars blaze in all their glory. Words such as ridiculous and absurdly enchanting linger long after the last note is played. Colin and Blake fiddle with their axes breathlessly. "This is Avalon", indeed!

Part 2 ? The Life

"Camelot" begins with more special effects, merchants, soldiers and peasants all in cheerful display, with Zoltan showing off his considerable percussive skills with a brief and à propos solo (the man is a firecracker drummer) , as the countrified guitars kick in , woo- woo synthesizers hooting in the background. Blake sounds like Dave Cousins of Strawbs or current Guy Manning , his nasal twang fulfilling many a fantasy which also has Martin's bass popping wildly all over the track (in sequence with those woo-woos) and Marco drops a whistling solo, egged on by another molten outbreak from Colin Tench.

The cinematic "A Love Betrayed" has a distinctive Floyd feel (circa Wish You Were Here) and remains a highlight track here among so much quality, showcasing some stunning guitar work, loopy bass and a very psychedelic aura. The mellow voice is spot on, seeping eerily into the conscience. The exalted secondary vocal is deadly whilst the fretboard sortie is laudatory.

Things get heavier on "The Sun" (the appearance of Mordred and the evil impressionist lyrics), bluesy and rash guitars thumping along manically, proving this is no soft aural marshmallow but a ballsy affair full of gentleness and savagery

"Avalon Part 3" is therefore bolder and sassier, the venerable organ rambling furiously amid the various effects of unhinged horses, swords clashing and rapiers colliding. The armor comes off with some wicked electric guitar sorties, Zoltan pummeling one-two as if he was guesting on an Iron Maiden album (LOL), Chiappini making his synths sing in crystalline exaltation. This morphs into "Le Morte D'Arthur" , a short and concise vocal depicting Arthur's ultimate defiance and entrance into mortality (and prog immortality) with Blake's finest vocal performance, hushed and yet poignant. Well when the last track is named "The End", you kind of wish it wasn't! More please.

This is a classic, prog fanatics, "hear ye"! No filler, no shortcuts, no boring or ho-hum sections, just pure genius. Aficionados from all the various genres of prog would enjoy this modern reworking of a classic tale. If you like Wakeman, Blackmore's Night , Manning, Strawbs, Floyd and the more adventurous side of melodic prog, you will stick this high up on the family mantle. Blake Carpenter is wizard a true star (thanks Todd!) . Best artwork ever from the new Roger Dean, Ed Unitsky! A complete package.

5 Heavenly avenues Thank you Lazland, you rock me!

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Send comments to tszirmay (BETA) | Report this review (#861905)
Posted Sunday, November 18, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars I have always loved The Flower Kings. The best drummer they ever had was Zoltan! It seemed as tho' Zoltan Cs÷rsz Jr had disappeared and I never understood that. When I saw that he was in this band and that Ed Unitsky had done the artwork, I expected to see the names Roine Stolt and Thomas Bodin too. Well! It is not them but this album is incredible. I don't know if artists choose which band they will work with but I know a drummer will. I have to keep this short as I am not a fan of long reviews. The music on here grabs you from the start and just keeps going. Imagine Rick Wakeman with a twisted Gilmour and a great singer, taking you on a journey to the centre of some crazy diamonds in rock. You can't? Well try it out then. This album should be placed as one of the best albums within the last 10 years.

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Send comments to Tatiana Ferreira (BETA) | Report this review (#869040)
Posted Friday, November 30, 2012 | Review Permalink
apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Neo Prog Team
3 stars A year after ''Dream Things True'' Blake Carpenter (aka The Minstrel) returned with an ambitious work entitled ''The Road to Avalon''.For this reason he recruited a group of talented musicians like bassist Troy James Martin, The Flower Kings' drummer Zoltan Czorsz, guitarist Richard Baysinger and Gandalf's Project's keyboardist Marco Chiappini.Unfortunately Baysinger's schedule prevented him from carrying on with the recordings and Carpenter brought in Corvus Stone's guitarist Colin Tench.Eventually the second album of The Minstrel's Ghost sees the light in late-2012, both as a digital release and as a CD on Melodic Revolution Records (featuring the great artwork of Ed Unitsky).

The story of this work dates back in early-00's, when Carpenter wrote a 12-min. song entitled ''Avalon'', which he had the chance to perform live with his band Ogma in 2003.Two years later Carpenter re-wrote an extended version of this track and started recording it with the help of a local guitarist, but again this project led nowhere.Finally, through The Minstrel's Ghost, Carpenter refined these ideas into a long proggy experience.

''The Road to Avalon'' is everything a Classic Prog fan can dream of and, despite the evident influences and strong resemblances to famous Prog bands, holds all the right components of a good Progressive Rock album.It contains semi-long and short compositions, balanced between epic instrumental themes and sensitive vocal explorations, with a bit of accesibility through the way to make things a bit easier and the overall style comes like a cross between THE FLOWER KINGS, Dutch outfit US, MANGALA VALLIS and early MARILLION.Of course the album offers huge references to Classic Prog acts such as GENESIS, YES or even KANSAS at the most rhythmic parts.The arrangements are tight with tons of multi- layered synthesizers (MARK KELLY's early style comes constantly to mind) and lovely piano textures in a very good performance by Chiappini, supported by a confident rhythm section and melodic guitar themes, often with a ROINE STOLT-kind of approach.The overall style sounds very atmospheric and epic with some nice symphonic atmospheres, containing a strong melodic content, while Carpenter's voice recalls a bit BERNARDO LANZETTI's warm, GABRIEL-esque color.

This one ranges from quite decent to simply great moments.Moving a bit away from the influences possibly would deliver an even more fascinating work but again I can see no fan of Neo/Symphonic Prog, Retro Prog or Melodic Prog who will not enjoy this ambitious offering.A very cool 2012 Prog entry that comes strongly recommended...3.5 stars.

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Send comments to apps79 (BETA) | Report this review (#869645)
Posted Sunday, December 02, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars When I discovered this album and listened for the first time, I immediately fell in love with it.

The Road to Avalon, written and produced by Blake Carpenter from The Minstrel's Ghost, is a masterpiece of music art. To my humble opinion the album has all ingredients to become a real classic. From the drums to the bass, the guitars, the keyboard and the vocals: the compositions and performance are in perfect balance.

One can also immediately recognize the artwork by world renowned artist Ed Unitsky. From the moment that you'll get the album in your hand you'll realize that he truly sketched the universe of the Road to Avalon.

From the first note till the last one it sounds epic. There is nothing overdone, and if you listen with your eyes closed, you're feeling immediately carried away to Avalon and other magical places! Blake has a very recognizable voice, and will instantly remind you on some legendary classic and prog bands. The parts on the acoustic guitar sounds very warm and it makes you feel very close. Some tracks are just perfect as soundtrack . You can hear and feel that there has been put a lot of love and dedication in this album.

This album is a journey, and you'll have to listen to it that way. It takes you away on the clouds of imagination and long forgotten times, and let you forget for a moment the world's ratrace where we live in. Don't we all want to escape from something from time to time?

I gave this album a 5-star rating, because I truly believe that this album is a survivor, and will conquer the hearts of lots of people!

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Send comments to Yolanda (BETA) | Report this review (#872255)
Posted Wednesday, December 05, 2012 | Review Permalink
AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Symphonic Team
4 stars Incredible synth and lead guitar solos with a compelling story retelling the legend of King Arthur.

The Minstrel's Ghost are a group that came to my attention simply due to the overpowering cover art by Ed Unitsky on their latest album "The Road to Avalon". Then on closer inspection I was more fascinated with getting hold of this album as it features an excellent lineup of musicians. Blake Carpenter is a multi- instrumentalist and vocalist and it is really his vision that got the band up and running. He is joined by Zoltan Czorsz Jr on drums, Marco Chiappini on keyboards, Colin Tench on guitars, and Troy James Martin on bass guitar. I knew of Zoltan from The Flower Kings, and was familiar with Carpenter and Tench due to their involvement with Corvus Stone recently among other projects. I always loved Tench's guitar style so was looking forward to that, along with Carpenter's gentle vocal delivery. This is also a concept album based on the tales of King Arthur and the legendary Excalibur, the quest that takes Arthur from the Lady of the Lake to Camelot and finally Avalon. It has been done before of course, we all know that with the likes of Mr Wakeman in the 70s and other artists in the past, but this is a new refreshing take on the legend.

'Part I The Design' is a 31:39 epic that is broken up into 6 parts, and they all seamlessly merge together as one long track. 'I, The Journey Begins (The Avalon Overture)' is a beautiful piece of music with some soothing keyboards and soaring lead guitar. It moves along ebbing slowly until it cascades into the glorious 'II. Avalon Part I', where some gentle vocals enter from Carpenter.

'III. Merlin' is an excellent song with infectious melodies and very relaxing piano along a measured tempo. It features a stunning lead break at the end from Tench and segues nicely into the next section with a narrative voice over, that really reminded me of the transitions on Kiss' "The Elder" humorously enough.

'IV. Lady Of The Lake' opens with mellotron, acoustics and clean lead guitar tones. There is a synth solo that creates a strong melody and a solid percussion throughout. The lyrics tell of how the protagonists find the Lady; "in this lake there is a lady, teacher of the old ways, bearer of the sword of steel, for the one true king, the time has come, its plain to see". Tench's guitars soar with mesmirising string bends and sustained tones.

'V. Excalibur' follows on with a mod tempo commercial sound, and expressive storytelling vocals. The lyrics outline how the sword is removed from the stone by the chosen king. The synths dominate on this track multi layered and with a retro sound. It sounds very much like a Flower Kings song with the over saturated synths and uplifting tempo. More dialogue ends this with "Hail Arthur King of Britain! Long live the king!"

'VI. Avalon Part II' is one I had heard on the online prog radio show Friday Night Progressive (12-07-2012), and it was nice to hear it again on this album in context. I liked it from the first time I heard it, with its swooping keyboards, acoustic vibrations and exuberant rhythms. Chiappini is a master on keyboards, and this song is augmented by a smooth vocal execution by Carpenter. The guitars are incredible, crafted with a lot of emotion and power by Tench.

'Part II The Life' runs for a mammoth 29:07, and again is broken into 6 parts. It opens with the sound of a clammer of voices, laughing as medieval music plays, apparently a scene from Camelot. A voice welcomes the King to Camelot and then a tirade of drums breaks out, a terrific solo from Czorsz Jr. Keyboards leap to the fray and a driving rock beat locks in; this is 'Camelot', a 7:26 minute track with some scorching lead guitar and accessible vocals that speak of rejoicing in the medieval splendour. There is a celebratory vibe and we hear familiar names spoken of such as Sir Lancelot and Lady Guinevere, reminding me of Wakeman's excursion into like territory with "The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round table", namely the songs 'Guinevere', 'Sir Lancelot and the Black Knight' and 'Sir Galahad'. I prefer the more upbeat tempo and heavy guitar work of The Minstrel's Ghost and they feature some fascinating soundbytes and dialogue.

At the end of this track we hear two malevolent voices speaking about betrayal, leading to 'I. A Love Betrayed' opening with gorgeous lead guitar playing. Martin's bassline punctuates the melancholy atmosphere and then some excellent vocals chime in from Carpenter. It has an infectious chorus; "the sky is red, there's no turning back, we can't stop the flood, our world is may, the queen is gone, she's deserted him, his heart is slain, he can't go on, the futures grim, for a love betrayed." After the lead break I love how it gets heavier with a metal distortion attack and powerhouse lead soloing.

We are now into track 'III. The Son', a genuine rocker with an outstanding vocal delivery and overall musicianship. The heavier rhythm with traditional metal chugging is awesome, and the album needed this and it came at just the right time. We then hear the clash of swords as fierce battle commences. It is like the soundtrack of Excalibur, complete with horses neighing and men crying out. It returns then to the heavy gallop of metal and the melody until again we lapse back to the battle, which is quite a fracas with swords clanging ferociously.

'IV. Avalon Part III' begins with an extended instrumental with the similar melody to the previous part. This was also played on the radio show Friday Night Progressive and the two parts segue well. This part has a heavier beat, and features lead and synth breaks trading off nicely over the driving rhythmic foundation. The vocals come in eventually with a solid performance from Carpenter; "this is Avalon". We are lead then down the valley to 'V. Le Morte d'Arthur', meaning that the end is in sight as Arthur dies as the legend foretells. The tempo is still moderate and there is a sadness in the vocals, yet there is a ray of hope as "his name will live on, he will return to us one day." I love the violin sounds on this creating a melancholy soundscape; it is beautiful music. 'VI. The End' closes this with an uptempo synthesizer driven piece, with pumping percussion and bass.

The music may remind one of The Flower Kings, Pendragon or Genesis, yet the band have their own style. The Minstrel's Ghost is certainly a band of accomplished musicians, and this visionary concept album works well on a number of levels. It features incredible synth and lead guitar solos; it features a compelling story retelling the legend of King Arthur; it includes captivating effects that add to the overall enjoyment and the vocals and lyrics are tastefully executed. I was captivated from beginning to end and found this album to be a pleasant journey into the medieval past. The musicianship is sophisticated and the melodies are infectious after a few listens. Strike this down as another album to wrap your ears around in 2012, that has been a very strong year for innovative prog rock.

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Send comments to AtomicCrimsonRush (BETA) | Report this review (#874406)
Posted Monday, December 10, 2012 | Review Permalink
5 stars The Minstrel's Ghost is a project founded by Blake Carpenter.

As I have mentioned in other recent reviews... I am very new to reviewing anything and I am not a professional reviewer. I am just a musician and a fan.

This project has been a long time in coming to fruition. I believe it

has been well worth the wait.

Originally from Rhode Island, The Minstrel's Ghost is Blake Carpenter. He is a singer, songwriter

musician, producer and enginneer with a plethora of influences from classical to metal and all

genres in between. I understand that his favorite styles of music are those which feature his

drive and talent. Blake's writing styles range from folk to original 'prog' as well as hard rock

and heavy metal. The Minstrel's Ghost will take you on a wonderful journey that you may think you

have travelled before.. In previous reviews I have also mentioned my dislike of labelling projects/groups with specific

genres or subgenres,,, so please do undrstand that I'd rather we all just enjoy our music and

worry about labels later if you must.

I have listened very carefully for a number of times and have found no better way to enjoy this

tale. I have seen movies, TV shows, classic films as well as read many versions of the story. I

have also heard some musical versions with a siilar intent. In my view... This is perfect! You get to use your imagination as though you were reading a

story in a book. You get an amazing musical composition for accompiment and you will be too busy

immersing yourselves in it to remember the individual tracks.

There are two main segments to this disc. Each broken down into specific parts of the story. If

you decide to add this to your collection... I would advise the phyical CD over the download.

The art is out of this world and the story and track descriptions are much clearer than my

explainations.

As I am not a pro at this...I will leave it to them (the pros) to carefully itemize and

scrutinize each individual molecule of the Minstrel's Ghost. I continue to enjoy it and have it

as a regular on my current playlist. Bring your favorite beverage and some snacks with you to

your favorite listening spot (headphones please) and let it just wash over you. It ebbs and

flows like the tides. Be careful for the style changes.... from majestic to bang your head. If

you start to doze when you usually listen to tunes on the beach you will not get a sunburn from

this CD. It will keep your attention I assure you.

I sincerely hope that one day I will get to meet Mr. Carpenter. Maybe he'll let me sit in for a

set!?!? In all seriousness... please make the time to listen to the entire album without

interuption at least once. I can't stress this point enough.

Thank you Minstrel's Ghost for sharing your music and heart with us. Please do create more

beautiful compostions for us all to enjoy.

Thank you to all readers of this review for your interest in my opinion.

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Send comments to Scott Brownstone (BETA) | Report this review (#878070)
Posted Tuesday, December 18, 2012 | Review Permalink
Mellotron Storm
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars THE MINSTREL'S GHOST is the project of American Blake Carpenter. He is a multi- instrumentalist and also does the vocals here. Some might know him from singing on the CORVUS STONE album. And speaking of that band, guitarist Colin Tench is on board here as well. We also get THE FLOWER KINGS former drummer Zoltan Czorsz helping out. This is a concept album about King Arthur. And i'm not going to lie, before I listened to this I flipped through the liner notes rolling my eyes somewhat at the pictures and song titles but hey i've always made it clear that i'm just not into concept albums. The album is divided into two parts of six songs each, plus an almost 16 minute bonus track called "The Road To Avalon" which apparently was composed many years previous by Blake.

"The Journey Begins (The Avalon Overture)" is for me the best track on the album. It's an instrumental that really got my hopes up when I first heard it. I really like the spacey synths early on and the guitar that arrives a minute in followed by piano. The guitar is back leading but then the synths take that role around 3 minutes in. Nice. It settles down some then the guitar is back around 5 minutes in. I like the ending to this one as well. It blends into "Avalon Part 1" and we get vocals for the first time just before a minute. I like the intsrumental breaks alot but i'm not big on the vocal sections here. It blends into "Merlin" where we get some atmosphere. Reserved vocals after a minute. A change just before 2 minutes as it picks up some with vocals. It's okay. It blends into "Lady Of The Lake" where we hear spoken words in the background along with some atmosphere. Relaxed guitar then takes over. Reserved vocals join in before 2 minutes. The tempo picks up as synths come to the fore and the vocals stop. They're back after 3 minutes. Lots of atmosphere to end it. "Excalibur" is a vocal-led mid paced tune that's quite good. "Avalon Part 2" ends the first half of the album. It's a feel good instrumental early on that is quite relaxed. The vocals before 1 1/2 minutes are reserved.

"Camelot" reveals an active Zoltan on the kit after we listened to a sample of goings on in the streets back then. The guitar joins in then vocals 2 1/2 minutes in. Man I have a hard time with this track. Just not digging the vocals and sound here. "A Love Betrayed" opens with atmosphere and spoken words. The words stop as the guitar comes in while the atmosphere continues. Reserved vocals before 2 1/2 minutes. I like the instrumental break around 4 1/2 minutes. Vocals are back after 5 minutes. "The Son" is an uptempo track with some good prominant guitar. Vocals join in and they more passionate than usual. "Avalon Part 3" opens with swords clashing as the guitar comes in and takes over. I like this one. Vocals 3 minutes in. "Le Morte d'Arthur" is fairly melancholic including the vocals. This is good. It blends into "The End" where drums pound and vocals soar. Now the guitar is soaring in this uplifting closer.

Without question this is a good album but it's not a 4 star album in my world.

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Send comments to Mellotron Storm (BETA) | Report this review (#901120)
Posted Monday, January 28, 2013 | Review Permalink
Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
3 stars I have tried very hard to appreciate this album. I was first directed to it with a comparison to Rick Wakeman. Now Blake Carpenter is a fine keyboardist, but Rick Wakeman he is not.

The good parts of the album: well first, the band is quite proficient. Carpenter has a flair for full, moody synth patches, similar to Pink Floyd's Richard Wright at times. He even sound like he's occasionally paying homage to Wright, particularly on The Journey Begins and A Love Betrayed. And the guitar solos are aurally perfect. Most of these were played by Colin Tench, who recently made my ears very happy on the debut Corvus Stone disk.

But the album as a whole just fails to keep my interest. First, the composition throughout is lacking. The central theme of the music is built around a piece called Avalon, a drab four-chord 4/4 number with sometimes cringeworthy lyrics. Having this piece played three times (not including a 15 minute bonus version - ugh) brings us to tedium.

Second, nearly every song is played in a similar low-key timbre, every bit in that same 4/4, with only a nice drum solo at the beginning of Camelot and an up-tempo version of the aforementioned Avalon to get your blood pumping.

Third, aside from Tolkein based themes, is there any other topic more overdone than King Arthur? Oh well.

I may have been overly harsh, because I find the album at least workmanlike, and not without some merit.

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#902307)
Posted Tuesday, January 29, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars Before I begin I must warn all I am not a writer,reviewer or musically inclined,unless you count playing 3 BLIND MICE on a trombone musically inclined. I dont play air guitar or even the desk drum kit. So that being said lets continue.. The Road to Avalon...This road begins and ends with the Minstrel himself Blake Carpenter a multi-talented fella surrounding himself with some extraordinary co-horts. Blake, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist, Colin Tench (Corvus Stone, Odin Of London and Bun Chakeze) on guitar, Zoltan Czorsz Jr (Former Flower Kings) drums, Marco Chiappini (Gandalfs's Project) on keyboards and Troy James Martin on bass. Combined we have The Minstrel's Ghosts as it were. The artwork was done by the incomparable Ed Unitsky. Now the music itself is undeniably a grand collection of music served up in 2 parts. From the opening track to the ending bonus track your ears are filled with magic. I have read other reviews on this cd from those who do this for a living and in no way can this be compared to any of those. I will say that for the commoner,keeping within the "story", this is an outstanding cd to add to your collection. From a voice that carries each word perfectly to the guitar work and the drumming this cd is pure joy.In my opinion you can not listen to a single track of this,with exception of the opening track The Avalon Overture, due to the story that is being presented. So listen in its entirety each time for the best results It would be like watching a tv series and skipping 2 weeks worth and trying to figure out where it left off. I suggest STRONGLY, that one listens to this with headphones. It makes a difference in the overall view of the cd. Sit back close your eyes and let Blake and company take you on a magical ride with the sounds of THE ROAD TO AVALON...

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Send comments to progrocks2112 (BETA) | Report this review (#903854)
Posted Thursday, January 31, 2013 | Review Permalink
UMUR
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars "The Road To Avalon" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US progressive rock act The Minstrel's Ghost. The album was released through Melodic Revolution Records in December 2012. The Minstrel's Ghost is the brainchild of Blake Carpenter, who has written and produced "The Road To Avalon" in addition to singing lead and backing vocals and playing keyboards and guitar. He has enlisted some seasoned prog musicians for the recording of this album, among others Colin Tench (Corvus Stone and Bunchakeze) on guitar and Zoltan Cs'rsz Jr. (The Flower Kings and Karmakanic) on drums.

"The Road To Avalon" is an over 70 minutes long concept album telling the story of King Arthur. It's not a theme that's completely strange to progressive rock as Rick Wakeman's 1975 album "The Myths And Legends Of King Arthur And The Knights Of The Round Table" also features the same theme. But I guess a legend can never be told too many times.

The music on the album is progressive rock with influences from as different acts as Genesis, Pink Floyd and Iron Maiden. The influence from the latter mentioned is not because "The Road To Avalon" features much that can be called heavy metal, but some of the guitar solos on the album are very similar in style to the guitar solos on "Somewhere in Time (1986)" by Iron Maiden. The music is generally calm and pleasant to listen to, but there are more energetic parts on the album too. "Camelot", with it's drum solo intro, is an example of that.

The musicianship is overall strong. The keyboard work is intriguing and the guitar leads are really well played, but I have a few issues with the vocals and the drums. Blake Carpenter is skilled enough but he has a rather unremarkable voice. His singing is a bit one-dimensional too, usually singing in a mellow tone. The few times he sings a bit louder are refreshing. The backing vocals are decent and suit the music well. Regarding the drumming I'm honestly a bit disappointed. Considering who's playing the drums, they are generally played in a rather simplistic fashion, that's sometimes a bit dull. The music could have prospered from a more busy and adventurous drumming style IMO.

The sound production is decent, but maybe lacking a bit of power to really push the music forward.

"The Road To Avalon" is an album that features many good qualities and while I wasn't completely blown away upon my initial listen, the album has grown on me considerably after I have spun it more times. The tracks begin to reveal themselves and so do the vocal melodies, that I initially didn't find that catchy. So while there are a few issues with the album that keep me from rating it really high, I still think a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

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Send comments to UMUR (BETA) | Report this review (#906153)
Posted Monday, February 04, 2013 | Review Permalink
Windhawk
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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars US project THE MINSTREL'S GHOST is the creative vehicle of composer and musician Blake Carpenter. He released his first album under this moniker in 2011, and towards the end of 2012 "The Road to Avalon" was released through Melodic Revolution Records.

Those familiar with Carpenter and his musical background will know that this most recent production actually was planned as the debut. But for one reason or another that didn't happen, and by the time the material was ready for recording Carpenter had more or less by luck and chance managed to assemble many a skilled knight to help out with the proceedings. The artwork has been handled by Ed Unitsky, and the instrumental roles not handled by Carpenter himself is catered for by an international crew of fellow musicians. The best known of these arguably Zoltan Csorsz of The Flower Kings fame.

The end result, following a birth that have taken just about 10 years if I remember correctly, are two suites each clocking in at about 30 minutes in length, both of them subdivided into six chapters. And for the more impatient listeners, the main parts from both of these fairly elaborate sets have been assembled in a single track clocking in at a mere 15 minutes. This latter piece credited as a bonus track for rather obvious reasons.

The music itself is of a kind that should find favor with those who enjoy the more mainstream oriented material by the likes of Pink Floyd and Eloy, the latter part of the 70's material from the former and the early 80's productions by the latter. Layered, gentle keyboards with quite a few nods in the direction of vintage symphonic progressive rock are mainstays throughout, supplemented by acoustic guitars first and foremost, but with frequent use of electric guitar as well. The latter partially supplying darker toned contrasting details in the arrangements and partially for lighter toned effects and soloing duties. Those expecting atmospheric laden guitar soloing David Gilmour style will be disappointed however, as axeman Colin Tench appears to draw his inspirations from a rather different direction, at least on this album. His delicate, haunting guitar solo style is one I've heard before however, but it took me quite some soul searching to finally conclude with where I've heard a similar sound before: On UK band Demon's 1989 disc "Taking the World By Storm". Which most likely is an accidental similarity.

One should also note that the use of instrumental contrasts on "The Road to Avalon" is a delicate one. Counterpoints and stark differences aren't elevated to any limelight position, instead they exist as subtle undercurrents, details for the intent listener to uncover and enjoy. The soundscapes are generally silken smooth as a matter of fact, and mix and production have been applied with care to produce a warm and organic mood and atmosphere. Compelling if you like, and in a manner that should give this album a wide appeal. Another aspect that should see this album gain interest from more than a marginal crowd is the compositional structure itself. The individual chapters of both suites as well as the suites as a whole doesn't follow the common progressive rock formula of constantly altering between myriads of themes and the themes themselves are of a fairly accessible nature. Whereas instrument arrangements and the multiple part suite construction are more closely related to progressive rock, the structure of the individual pieces and instrumental motifs are more closely related to mainstream oriented rock. And while I personally found the more sophisticated bass and drum arrangement on Camelot (named Camlot on the CD cover art for fits and giggles) to elevate this piece to a slightly higher plane than the rest, this is one of those details that comes down to individual taste more than anything.

But I'll also have to chime in with a few negative remarks. The theatrical inserts that appear now and then. Why? Casting Gollum in the role of Morgana la Fey was an inspired choice perhaps, but apart from that very vocal invite to jest I'll advice both Blake and others who want to spice up an album with inserts of this kind to find some decent voice actors to cater for conceptual flavoring of that nature, and to think long and hard about whether or not they are actually needed. Employing someone with playwright experience to cater for the actual dialogue should also come in handy. These theatrical features are kept to a minimum on this disc, thankfully, but at least from my perspective the odds are greater for such additions to be of a detrimental rather than the opposite.

A few small sour grapes aside I do find "The Road to Avalon" to be a CD well worth recommending. I'd imagine that a typical audience for this production to be those who enjoy accessible, melodic rock in general, and in particular those amongst that rather crowded audience who frequently listen to Pink Floyd's late 70's albums. Fans of early 80's Camel might also desire to find out more about this album however, as well as those who truly enjoy Eloy's early 80's albums.

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Send comments to Windhawk (BETA) | Report this review (#922552)
Posted Sunday, March 03, 2013 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 'The Road to Avalon' - The Minstrel's Ghost (7/10)

There really seems to be something about the legends of King Arthur and his round table that works with the prog rock mentality. Whether its the noble bombast of their quests, the presence of strong, virtuous characters or merely the fact that proggers generally tend to have a vested interest in this sort of literary culture, I doubt there would have been many raised eyebrows when Blake Carpenter (mastermind behind The Minstrel's Ghost) first announced his intent to adapt these legends into a progressive rock epic. Although "The Road to Avalon" may not be quite as musically ambitious as the prospect of an hour-long suite may suggest, the work Carpenter and his round table have invested into this project is very evident.

Particularly for an album intent on telling some of the most epic stories in the English (and French) literary canon, it's surprising that "The Road to Avalon" is so mellow. Although the symphonic traditions of classic Genesis are evoked, The Minstrel's Ghost draw much of their influence from the well of Pink Floyd, particularly the chillout instrumentation of "Wish You Were Here". Although Carpenter's style of composition remains very focused on the melodic aspect of their sound, there is plenty of time within the album's hour for the musicians to spread their wings. In particular, Colin Tench earns top marks for his soulful leads, the likes of which I've heard before in his work with BunChakeze and Corvus Stone. Although he sticks to the background for the most part, drummer Zoltan Csorsz shines when given the chance, particularly during the drum solo at the beginning of "The Life"- a momentary burst of chaos very reminiscent of Neil Peart's solo on Rush's fantastic "The Fountain of Lamneth". Blake Carpenter's keyboard work is pleasant, but rarely as impressive as Tench's skill with the guitar. Instead, Blake's best contribution to the performance lies in his singing. Although he doesn't sport the greatest vocal range I've heard in my recent listening, he has a pleasant, warm tone to his voice that fits the music. Comparisons to Peter Gabriel are inevitable.

Making an hour-long piece of music is an ambitious undertaking by any stretch, and though The Minstrel's Ghost never once rushes to get anywhere, there are plenty of ideas here that take longer to fully appreciate than the hyper-melodic style might imply. Although there are a few sparse moments of narrative dialogue to help advance the story, most of the album is split between instrumental lead passages, and Carpenter's expository storytelling. The lyrics do a fairly good job of covering the bases of the Arthurian legend, and earn an extra feeling of warmth and sincerity when filtered through Blake's voice. Sadly, the lyrics stick almost obsessively to an ABAB rhyme scheme, and though it gives the album a greater sense of flow, it would have been great to hear the story told somewhat more imaginatively. The music is weakened by this uniform approach as well. Unlike many epics, "The Road to Avalon" does feel like a start-to-finish piece of music, but there are few surprises delivered therein. To its merit however, Blake Carpenter is an expert at using recurring motifs and themes effectively. The finale in particular stands out, injecting the album's most common chorus with a galloping intensity that sits a stone's throw away from progressive metal territory. Also included on the album is a condensed, thirteen minute version of the album, which acts as a welcome 'quick fix' for anyone who might not have the time to listen to the entire thing.

As I've come to expect from anything released on Melodic Revolution Records, "The Road to Avalon" enjoys a crisp sense of production. The artwork and packaging is incredibly engaging, and although Ed Unitsky's usual style of saturating every square inch of the canvas with activity can be overwhelming, the colourful design is a joy to the eyes.

In a way, "The Road to Avalon" brings to the table what the Carpenter/Tench-involved Corvus Stone failed to; that is, a memorable flow and firm sense of composition. For my tastes, The Minstrel's Ghost may fly a little too closely to the mellow end of the spectrum, but there's no denying the vision and talented musicianship that has gone into the making of the album. "The Road to Avalon" is- if nothing else- a tasteful hour of music. The Minstrel's Ghost are not fighting on the frontlines of the current progressive scene. Rather, they are celebrating the mellow groove and melodic spirit that made the original wave of neo-prog so impressive. There are recurring motifs and instrumental depth enough to keep an attentive listener engaged, but if you would prefer to lay back and let it wash over, The Minstrel's Ghost shall allow it. Check it out!

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Send comments to Conor Fynes (BETA) | Report this review (#924727)
Posted Tuesday, March 05, 2013 | Review Permalink
octopus-4
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
3 stars I have the pleasure of owning a physical copy of this album courtesy of Colin Tench (Corvus Stone) who is guitarist on this project, and I have to say that as well as Corvus Stone's, the package of this CD is very good and appears to have been quite expensive for the band as it includes a nice booklet, a pictured CD and all the paintings and photos are excellent.

This is the only contact point, other than the concept with the famous Wakeman's album. The Minstrel's Road To Avalon doesn't pass by a philarmonic orchestra and a chamber choir. The whole album is played by a standard lineup (drums, bass, guitars and keys) and tries to be rock more than symphonic.

Of course, like most of the concept albums there are "circularities": pieces of songs which are recurring, sometimes too often, maybe. The album is structured like a vinyl, a thing that's starting to be frequent enough, with two "macro" parts made each of several songs, plus a bonus track which contains the recurring piece of song which I have mentioned above.

Regardless the musicianship which is above the average, I have to confess that I don't like the opener too much. I understand that an ouverture is made of small parts of the following suite tied together in order to provide the crowd with an anticipation of what is coming. At least in the opera it's so, but in this case we have to wait about 6 minutes before the excellent guitar solo arrives. The sound of the keyboards doesn't sound good enough to me, however the second half of the ouverture is better than the first. Be patient.

The main theme, the recurring one, comes just after the ouverture. The chorus is nice but it will be repeated several times, including the bonus track so at the end one can get tired of it, but as in all the good concept albums/suites the story starts with no solution of continuity: after the main theme, Merlin is the first character to be introduced. My mind goes to the omonimous album by the Dutch Kayak. The major chords and the slow rock atmospheres are quite similar even with the differences due to the different backgrounds: The Minstrel's Ghost is an American band and this can be clearly heard.

"The Lady Of The Lake" is, if we can call it so, one of the most psychedelic moments of the legend, full of magic and wizardry. The guitar solo accompanied by a 12 strings acoustic guitar fits well in it. What I have called "the live sound" of the Corvus Stone album is partially present in this track.

"Excalibur" proceeds on this line. Light rock with keyboards in foreground, then there's the first reprise of Avalon which closes the "Side A" this version is the best of the four in the album.

Side B opens in Camelot. People's voices and what seems a medieval tournament, but on the applause instead of a fanfare there's an excellent drums solo. The rest is a good song, but again I see no minstrels nor ghosts in this music.

Now Guinevere betrays Arthur, we all know the story. The track begins with a dialog, likley Lancelot and Guinevere. The rhythmless bluesy mood is between the intro of Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Blade Runner Blues. The fretless bass sounds a bit 80s and when the vocals arrive I hear echoes of Camel. Surely, it's the best track of the album

"The Son" brings in some more rock. It's probably because I like Colin's touch, but it's when the guitar is in foreground that the album deserves more.

After the last reprise of Avalon, and I have to say that the three Avalon's are different enough one from each other, we arrive at "La Morte D'Arthur" (Arthur's Death in French). The keboards remind again to the main theme, but it's the acoustic guitar that makes the work here. The song is good in its entirety. This is where the vocals work better.

"The End" is an accelerated version of the previous song's coda and a coda to the album.

After three "Avalon"'s the fourth is a 15 minutes song, almost an epic. Not bad but we have already had other 15 minutes of that.

I'm aware that my review has been a bit negative, but looking at the bads is sometimes easier and more immediate than looking at the goods. There are goods in this album, so my rating is not totally negative. The last time I have listened to it I was driving and my sensations haven 't been bad.

It can have three stars

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Send comments to octopus-4 (BETA) | Report this review (#929834)
Posted Thursday, March 14, 2013 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars I got this CD several weeks ago and I┤ve been listening to its music since. I had a hard time to write this review, for the music here is quite deceiving (in a good way). As you might have guessed by its title, it┤s another concept album about the myth of king Arthur. It┤s interesting of how many artists have done concept albums about the most famous version of arthur┤s story that came during the medieval era (Rick Wakeman, The Kinks and Gary Hughes are the ones that spring in mind now). This time this is done by american writer, singer and multi instrumentalist Blake Carpenter, helped out by excellent musicians like Corvus Stone┤s Colin Trench on lead guitar and ex Flower Kings drummer extraordinaire Zoltan Czorsz. Unlike such ambitious projects, this one has the band (Carpenter, Trench and Czorsz plus keyboards player Marco Chiappini and bassist Troy James Martin) playing on all tracks and, quite surprisingly, there are no guests at all.

Upon listening to this CD I was struck by the fine melodies and the overall mellow sound of it all, instead of the expected bombastic epic. In fact during some time I thought the whole work sounded bland and too low key for my taste. However, after a few spins it dawned to me those several subleties that won me over in the end. The Road To Avalon reminds me of those records made around the mid 70┤s where several acts used their virtuosity for the music┤s sake, rather than to just showing off their technique. So if you┤re looking for long solos, spaced out jams,or anything zany for that matter, I suggest you look somewhere else. However, if you like well crafted songs with terrific, but discreet perfomances and elegant arrangements, this is something you should not miss at all. It┤s really amazing how Blake & co made such a tapestry pf sounds that really needs atention to get some excellent guitar and keyboards lines all over the tracks. I know that progressive music is no easy listening stuff, but this CD can be taken for granted beecause it sounds deceptively simple at first. I especially liked Tench┤s tasteful and melodic solos: short, very well done and using great timbres. A true mark of a great musician. There are no fillers to be found on the whole disc and I always find the flow of the songs very well done. There are no lows either, with all the tracks showing high quality. It┤s hard to point a highlight since the quality is so even. I can only mention the instrumental opener, The Journey Begins..., as a personal favorite of mine.

My only gripe with this record are the vocals: Blake Carpenter has a nice, warm voice that is alright, but nothing special and nowhere near the instrumental competence of all involved. It was expected at least to have more than one singer for the colorful set of characters that appear through the story of Arthur┤s rise and fall. And, at 76 minutes of running time, his voice gets a little boring after a while. Nothing that spoils the work, of course. He sings with passion and conviction on several ocasions, which compensantes for his lack of range. I still think this epic would have benefited a lot with the help of some strong and varied voices, but that┤s just my opinion.

With the help of a crystal clear production, a superb artwork and fine songwriting, this is surely one of the best surprises I got from the year of 2012. Highly recommend for the ones (like me) who still think that good melodies in prog music are not only compatible but also a must!

Final rating: 4 stars.

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Send comments to Tarcisio Moura (BETA) | Report this review (#932396)
Posted Monday, March 18, 2013 | Review Permalink
chopper
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars As you may have guess from the title, this is a concept album about the myth of King Arthur and his return to save his country should they need him. Mainly the work of Blake Carpenter who plays keyboards and guitar and provides most of the vocals, backed up by Colin Tench of BunChakeze and Zoltan Csorsz of The Flower Kings fame, amongst others.

The CD itself features artwork by Ed Unitsky of The Tangent fame and it is beautifully done, despite the unfortunate mispelling of Camelot in the track listing.

But what of the music, I hear you ask? Well' I guess you could label it as neo-prog. It features a lot of guitar (which it has to be said is very well played) and keyboard solo work, some of which is reminiscent of earlier Pendragon work. Strangely enough, the drums sounds subdued, particularly during part 1 where it seems to consist of just a snare drum over much of it. Things pick up in part 2 with a short drum solo and this noticeably picks things up. The main Avalon "theme" is memorable and catchy and whilst the music is not as complicated as some prog can be, it is very well done, if somewhat naive in places. The production is excellent and clear.

Lyrically however, I'm afraid some of it is sixth form poetry level ("The once and future king has died today, such a wicked tragedy what more can I say?") but it does tell the story as intended, unfortunately this is the kind of concept work that prog has sadly been mocked for in the past.

Overall though this is an enjoyable album. Whilst nothing ground-breaking it should appeal to fans of neo-prog and similar albums such as Rick Wakeman's concept works and The Jabberwocky. As I said, the instrumental work, particularly the guitar, is excellent and I look forward to hearing more from Blake Carpenter.

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Send comments to chopper (BETA) | Report this review (#938761)
Posted Wednesday, April 03, 2013 | Review Permalink
ProgShine
COLLABORATOR
Errors & Omissions and Crossover Team
3 stars The Minstrel's Ghost is in fact a one-man project by the North American musician Blake Carpenter (vocals, keyboards and guitars), and The Road To Avalon (2012) is his second album. It was released by Melodic Revolution Records in December 2012.

The Road To Avalon (2012) has Colin Tench (Corvus Stone & Bunchakeze) on lead guitars, Marco Chiappini (Gandalfs's Project) on lead keyboards, Troy James Martin (LeeAnne Savage) on bass and Zoltan Cs'rsz Jr. (The Flower Kings & Karmakanic) on drums and it's a conceptual album.

Unfortunatelly, Blake Carpenter had chosen a poor theme to write about. Not that the King Arthur story is not rich and full of details, because it is. But how many conceptual albums with this theme have been recorded since the most famous one by Rick Wakeman in 1975?

I can understand the passion of a musician that becomes the final procuct (in this case a CD), but is so clich' when you look at the final material and the tracklist: 'Merlin', 'Lady Of The Lake', 'Excalibur', 'Camelot', etc. The Road To Avalon (2012) is wrapped in a beautiful digipack with art by Ed Unitsky (The Tangent, The Flower Kings, Guy Manning, Unitopia, Moongarden and many others) but I cannot say the same about the pictures of the band, which are poor, softly speaking, and again, full of clich's with the band dressed in medieval gear with swords and all.

Musically speaking The Minstrel's Ghost and The Road To Avalon (2012) are linked to Neo Prog in some way. Saying that you'll know that keyboards and guitars are the rulers here. You have a lot of nice moments with Marco Chiappini keyboards and several interesting moments with Colin Tench guitars. But when it comes to the basses and drums case they are very often forgotten.

The album production, by Blake himself, is weird and poor. The album is divided into two parts: The Design and The Life and it's like two completely different albums when it comes to production. The former seems to be dead and has no shine at all, and the latter is live and full of sound. Zoltan Cs'rsz Jr. is a good drummer, but here you can barely hear him, his drums are so in the background in the first part of the album that you can only hear the snare, a little bit of the hit-hat and occasional plates. Troy James Martin basses play their part nicely but too low in most of the album and mainly only following melodies without any really clever lines. On top of everything we have Blake Carpenter vocals, which for me, don't work at all. He doesn't really have a good singing voice. The Part I is a bit dull for me. We have some nice moments here and there with vocalizations and some good songs like 'Excalibur', but all in all it doesn't convince. The part II is a bit better, in sound quality and with compositions. It starts very well with 'A Love Betrayed' and its Pink Floydian style. Here the instruments are alive and right on your face. 'The Son' is a bit heavier and it's one of the best tracks.

The Road To Avalon (2012) span over 60 minutes which is an ok running time for a CD. But if you count the Bonus track that carries the name of the album and its almost 16 minutes long the album jumps to 76 minutes which is way too much for this kind of Prog.

All in all, it's an ok album, but lacks in a good production, originality and unity. Too many highs and lows that makes the listening really tiring.

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Send comments to ProgShine (BETA) | Report this review (#944070)
Posted Monday, April 15, 2013 | Review Permalink
memowakeman
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars First of all, I am sorry for taking too long for writing this review, and thanks for the patience. Well, The Minstrel's Ghost offers here in The Road to Avalon" a 76-minute album divided in two parts, which at the same time are divided in mini-passages, songs that are telling a story, jigsaw pieces that have to be together if one want to complete the puzzle; songs that are full of symphonic textures and images created by its sounds.

So "The Journey Begins" with an intense and challenging passage, a 7-minute track that gathers different nuances and shadows over a pillow of keyboards and a nice mixture of symphonic sounds with some spacey atmospheres that produce a delicious sound, overall the mood is mellow and calm, but it changes when "Avalon Part I" begins, because here the guitar adds power and a sense of vertigo or worry. Here the voice enters for the first time and begins to tell the story. "Merlin" is softer and mellow, here the guitars (electric and acoustic) make an excellent communion and create a very nice atmosphere. After a couple of minutes drums enter and the music becomes friendlier. Here I found some reminiscences of Mike Oldfield and Mostly Autumn.

"Lady of the Lake" is a nice instrumental journey that let our minds fly and imagine the scenario, when that kind of thing happens, it means the music has succeeded. Then all of a sudden "Excalibur" begins and the story continues. I must say the voice is not the best I've ever heard, but it is nice to tell the story in this album. In moments the music becomes a bit catchy and easy to dig, belonging in that crossover prog label. "Avalon Part II" starts beautifully, with an instrumental passage that shares tranquility and relaxation, not far from the new age realm, but always within the symphonic one. Later vocals enter and complete the piece. The music may not be the most complex ever, but it is not necessary, its charm lies on it.

The second part of the album starts with "Camelot", here the band put some "live" sounds of the arrival of Camelot, some voices and joy can be heard until drums appear making a cool solo that a minute later is accompanied by keyboards, little by little the instruments join and create a cool and more vivid piece. "A Love Betrayed" begins with a chat between two people, the atmosphere shares uncertainty and even some tension, after two minutes (its two best minutes, actually) the vocals enter and produce that catchy sound near to classic soft rock. "The Son" has come with a rockier style and more energy. After 2 minutes a battle can be heard, swords everywhere, horses and people screaming; and after 30 seconds keyboards enter with the same energy and make a victorious solo. The same energy and vertiginous sound appears in "Avalon Part III", an almost instrumental piece that once again produces images in our head, a very nice one.

"Le Morte d'Arthur" has a softer sound, melancholy dropped here, memories and sighs. It is linked with "The End" but one can easily appreciated the song change with the rhythm, this one is faster and more explosive, with nice guitars and a repetitive but cool rhythm that effectively has the sound of goodbye. But after the end there is another story, a 15-minute song called "The Road to Avalon" which is good, but honestly unnecessary, it is like a big reprise and a summary of what the album is about, nothing more. This is a very good album, and I've listened to it some 5 times so far, however, it lacks of an element that make you love it, because now I feel I will not listen to it soon again, but who knows. Final grade, 3 stars.

Enjoy it!

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Send comments to memowakeman (BETA) | Report this review (#971327)
Posted Wednesday, June 05, 2013 | Review Permalink
lucas
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars A pleasant travel through melodic and oneiric musical territories

The Minstrel's Ghost is a project lead by multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Blake Carpenter. In order to make his concept-album around the Knights of The Round Table, 'The Road To Avalon' a dream come true, he asked friends to help him in his endeavour. Friends include guitarist Colin Tench (already involved in many prog-rock projects, such as Corvus Stone or Colin Tench project), drummer Zoltan Cs÷rsz (of The Flower Kings fame), the young keyboardist Marco Chiappini, and bassist Troy James Martin.

"The journey begins" with Tangerine Dreamesque keyboards, followed by Colin Tench and his aggressive guitar soloing. It lays the ground for the main theme of the album. Colin's soloing is interrupted by a cheerful piano before going on again. Floating keyboards then take the lead. When the mellotron joins, the music slows down and together with the guitar, gives a flair of Pink Floyd to the song. Then some "whistling" keyboards provide a dreamy vibe. Soon, the music accelerates with the aggressive southern rocky guitar of Colin. Keyboard-generated choir together with acoustic guitar and violin close the track. This overture goes through the different themes, that will later be developed in the songs that follow.

In "Avalon part I", the main theme is repeated on guitar after a bizarre keyboard loop (think the short keyboard loop repeated in Lyle Mays' first movement to "Alaskan Suite"). Blake sings with accents of IQ's Peter Nicholls. Keyboards and guitars, both aerial and anthemic, punctuate Blake's chant. The repetitive keyboard layers in the background retain a Berlin school electronic music feel. The chorus that comes at the end of the song features the words to the main theme that is repeated all along the album.

"Merlin" is a slow-paced song. It starts with a gentle guitar in an andalusian way, accompanied by a sad piano. Blake starts here in a "whispering" Fish (ex-Marillion) style of his more recent material. The chorus is very floydian in its approach (think "comfortably numb"). The enchanting keyboards of Marco then accompany the piano, and Colin performs a solo in the Zappa line. Towards the end, Colin and Marco mimic each other in unison and in a cheerful way. "The lady of the Lake" starts with an acoustic guitar like in Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here", with some eerie keyboards, as if escaped from an electronic/ambient record. Aerial solo on electric guitar follows with accents of Steve Morse and Steve Vai. Keyboards then take over with solos in the tradition of neo-prog acts like Marillion's early eighties output. Colin's solos continue in an aerial way. Zoltan maintains the pace with solid and hopping drumming. The song ends with the eerie keyboards of its start.

"Excalibur" is a mid-tempo song opening with bombastic keyboards (dare I say like in Europe's "final countdown" or in Van Halen's "jump"). To this flashy soloing succeeds the whistling keyboards of a Thomas Bodin (The Flower Kings), associated with the sequenced synthesizers of an electronic prog act. In the bridge, the keyboards return to the neo-prog realm of the previous song yet with some bombastic echoes. Colin delivers guitar solos in an aerial mood.

"Avalon part II" returns to an acoustic atmosphere, with andalusian echoes in the introduction. Sad keyboards follow in the tradition of meditative works of electronic prog artist Bernd Kistenmacher. A cyclic acoustic guitar gives an hypnotic feel to the song. Blake sings very low, as if he was whispering to the ear of the listener. Colin provides some Zappa-like solos, then after Blake sings the main theme, he switches to aggressive southern rock of Allman Brothers blended with the aerial solos of Steve Morse. "Camelot" has a cheerful overture with dancing drums, whistling keyboards and sunny guitars (one can even hear Ravel's "Bolero" at 0:47). Keyboards retain a hypnotic feel, like in the overture to Genesis' "The lamb lies down on Broadway", and the keyboard loops remain in the background during the verses. A mellotron shows up after the second verse, and is accompanied by Colin's excited and aerial solos. Tony Banks keeps in mind after the first two verses (think the instrumental bridge in Genesis' "cinema show"). And to remain in the Genesis family, Blake even tries to sound like Peter gabriel, with some "nasal" effects in the voice. After the third verse, keyboards wander in neo-prog territories and the ghost of Mark Kelly (Marillion) floats again. Colin's cheerful solos close the track.

"A love betrayed" starts with slow and aerial guitar solo (with some slight echoes of Yngwie Malmsteen's "Black Star") together with meditative keyboards, like in the overture to Pink Floyd's "shine on you crazy diamond pt 1". Pink Floyd keeps in mind with Blake's gilmouresque intonations of the voice. However, the song turns for a short moment to country-pop when drums join. Then it becomes overtly pop with the catchy chorus, yet with a hard-rock/southern-rock approach in the guitar work. In the bridge comes a keyboard solo with some notes trying to "escape" the cohesive harmony. Blake follows the same approach in his singing, with some higher notes escaping from the regular singing.

"The Son" starts with a "galloping" overture (typical of Iron Maiden: imagine an accelerated overture to Iron Maiden's "Powerslave") followed by raging guitars and upbeat tempo. Hammond B3 replaces the keyboards to provide the atmosphere of the heavy rock songs of the seventies. The galloping theme of the start returns before the last chorus.

In "Avalon part III" the bizarre keyboard loop opening "Avalon part I" returns, Colin provides some aerial solos. The pace turns faster when Zoltan starts beating the drums. The song slows down when Marco performs his keyboard solo. Colin follows with an aerial solo. Blake then joins for the most passionate vocal performance of the whole album, very theatrical in its approach. His colleagues provide backing vocals in the chorus and then the pace goes faster again.

"Le Morte d'Arthur" (Arthurs' Death) is acoustic guitar (with once again echoes of spanish folklore between 0:49 and 1:06), with floating and echoing keyboards, a keyboard- generated choir, to accompany the throbbing voice of Blake (as if "agonizing", see the title of the song).

"The End" closes the album in a fast pace and Blake's vocal performance evoking Iron Maiden's choirs (remember the "wo-ho-ho" of Iron Maiden's "Alexander the Great"). It is a true firework with anthemic guitars and keyboards.

The musicianship is amazing all along the album: Zoltan provides creative chops, Marco explorates various keyboard sounds with an impressively wide range of references from electronic music to progressive rock, Colin provides his unique signature where David Gilmour, Frank Zappa, Al di Meola, Isaac Albeniz, Santana, Steve Vai, Steve Morse and Duane Allman coexist in harmony, Blake delivers heartfelt vocals with intonations adapted to the mood of the song, Troy provides solid bass ground. Combined with a strong sense of melody, this makes for a very enjoyable album.

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Posted Sunday, February 02, 2014 | Review Permalink

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