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Sean Trane
Prog Folk
4 stars A bit overdue, but not exactly coming too late, this double live album came in handy to buy the band more time, as Ballard's departure to a good solo career was a handicap (this was the band's first and last line-up change) and they needed more time to replace him. In either case, this album comes as the band's definitive statement and their only real essential album.

Obviously as expected the bulk of the tracks played in concert came from the preceding three albums, ATN, ID and Nexus (3tracks each), and their live version being often superior to their studio ones. This is indeed the case for Spheres, Dance Of The Ages (which has now grown to a 9-minutes beauty), Thunder And Lightning and the rockin' Keep On Rollin'. While I found that some tracks had not been bettered (It's Only Money and Miracles), the extended version of Hold Your Head up is only partially successful, and comes with too many solos, but it doesn't disserve the cause either. And what a joy it is to hear the old Zombies track Time Of The Season, now reserved for the encore, while it used to be the bravado piece before.

All the more I could think of is that five more tracks could've made it on this record, and you'd have everything you need as far as their Ballard-era is concerned (those tracks being Candles On The River, Lothlorian, Sleep and Keeper Of The Flame and maybe Losing Hold). In either case, this album salutes the end of Ballard's tenure with Argent and it might just be Ballard's most definitive performance as far as vocals and guitar playing are concerned. This live album is the only thing I own still nowadays (Argent was an early fave of mine) and most likely I'll do a compilation CD-r from the studio albums for the few scattered tracks that are not better represented on this live album.

Report this review (#26647)
Posted Thursday, February 5, 2004 | Review Permalink
Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars More! More!

"Encore" is a live album recorded at the peak of the band's creative and commercial being. Originally a budget priced double LP, it is now available as a single CD.

The songs, which are taken from the band's albums up to "Nexus", are all enhanced by the live performance, many being considerably longer. "Hold your head up" gains a wonderful synthesiser solo, which incorporates the Welsh anthem, "We'll keep a welcome in the hills". "I am the dance of ages" is even more powerful than the studio version on the "All together now" album, and the Zombies "Time of the season" makes for a great encore.

Inevitably, the focus is on the band's upbeat songs, but Russ Ballard's wonderful ballad "I don't believe in miracles"(written for Colin Blunstone who had been in the Zombies with Rod Argent)is also present.

The audience, many of who would have attended as a result of the enormous hit single "God gave rock and roll to you" play their part in creating a fine atmosphere throughout the performance, and there is little sign of subsequent overdubbing.

This could well be Argent's best album.

Report this review (#26648)
Posted Monday, February 23, 2004 | Review Permalink
The Owl
4 stars A live setting is where this band sounded its best!

"The Coming of Kohoutek" played live is positively chilling, it blows away the studio version by light-years! "It's Only Money" rocks the house in grand fashion, it was amazing how the band could be very cerebral one instance and be so much fun the next without batting an eyelid. "God Gave Rock & Roll To You" " Thunder and Lightning" and "Keep On Roillin" here are fine examples of the band's fun side.

"Time OF The Season" gets even more teeth and claws live as does the hypnotic "Music of the Spheres" and the even more chilling "I Am The Dance of Ages" (the 'Tron section in the middle will give you nightmares for days!).

If you like Rock 'n Roll mixed with your prog, this is a good way to experience it!

Report this review (#26649)
Posted Thursday, May 6, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars This record showed Russ Ballard dominating the band. At this point, the band had a healthy middle on the road policy bettwen the tho main songwriters. This set is impresive; it is a good show. "Coming of the Kohoutek" shows simply the best of the best and also "I am the dance of Ages". The only complain i have about this album is the sound. Only if they could remix it ...................
Report this review (#26650)
Posted Sunday, December 19, 2004 | Review Permalink
2 stars Argent's place on this site, and within the greater prog community, has come under some scrutiny. But I think they certainly belong, as do Queen, Styx, Manfred Mann's Earth Band, Crack The Sky and 10cc. With 'In Deep', 'Nexus' and 'Circus', you have Argent at its proggy best. This live album was recorded during the 'Nexus' era, and despite some great songs, it cannot be recommended to anyone but a devoted Argent listener. (ie. Don't start here!)

I hear a conservative approach in many of these performances. Even within stand-out tracks like "Music From The Spheres" and "I Am The Dance Of Ages", there seems to be a lack of momentum. This isn't helped by the rickety, thin recording job. Not one of the tracks improves on the studio version (though Rod Argent does add greatly to "The Coming Of Kohoutek" with a delicious variety of keyboard-generated layers). "It's Only Money" and "Thunder And Lightning" do possess a good degree of impact. But, with the lack of overall punch and the patchy recording job, it fails to achieve that rare status as a mandatory live album. Also worth noting is the incredibly dull second half: "I Don't Believe In Miracles", "Keep On Rollin'", "Hold Your Head Up" and "Time Of The Season". Studio or live, these songs aren't the best of Argent's output (I don't care if the last two songs were big hits!), so 'Encore' isn't necessary listening. But if you like the band enough, as I do, it's fairly easy to justify giving it a place in your collection.

Report this review (#45672)
Posted Monday, September 5, 2005 | Review Permalink
3 stars This is the last album with Ballard on the guitar. A nice farewell work actually.

This live set is a good balance between old and newer songs (at the time of recording). Three songs (but twenty-six minutes) from their latest album are the main body of this live album.

One of the highlight is "The Coming Of Kohoutek" which is much more extended than its studio counterpart. It is a real showcase for Rod Argent, even if one can reproach him to play his Emerson here. But even if he did so, he is forgiven. It is a great opener for a concert indeed.

The global tendency of this live recording is that the live renditions sound generally better. They all have a harder/heavier edge (even the funky "Thunder And Lightning" is more bearable).

The third song from "Nexus" is the more complex "Music From The Spheres" which is made of two distinctive parts: a first one which combines some fine melody and a jazzy section and the second one which is more in the prog vein (not too far from "Yes" actually).

From their album "In Deep", there are both parts of "It's Only Money". These are probably the weakest parts of this live album. But the originals were no big deal to tell the truth. Part II though is much better than the studio version. The instrumental part features another great organ solo. I really like these. would you believe?

Their smash hit "God Gave Rock And Roll To You" works miles better in this live set. It is more dynamic and vibrant, even if I have never been too enthusiast about this repetitive song. At least during the live version, there seems to more passion, more strengths.

Three songs as well are coming from their third album "All Together Now". An extended version of the very good "I Am The Dance Of The Ages": a heavy track with a repetitive beat. In those days, it was rather usual to get some long solo and extended versions of studio songs: "Made In Japan" and "Uriah Heep Live" are the references in that respect (but there are others).

The revival "Keep On Rolling" is just an appetizer for their best ever song as far as I am concerned: the fantastic "Hold Your Head Up". A brilliant interpretation, on the longer side again. But this aspect is not at all exaggerated and it is again a good occasion for Rod to have the main role. It is another highlight.

There are also two non "Argent" tracks available: the mellow "I Don't Believe In Miracles" (featured previously on Colin Blunstone's second album "Ennismore") and the excellent "Time Of The Season" from "The Zombies". This track is another highlight: a great and psychedelic number which is a very good way to close this album. I would say that it is just shy of the four star rating (seven out of ten).

Report this review (#182722)
Posted Wednesday, September 17, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
3 stars This is one of those live albums where basically all the songs outshine their original studio versions. Encore is basically Argent's greatest hits, performed live with a bit more power and urgency - and with far more instrumental work out - than the original versions. Another example of such an album is Barclay James Harvest's Live.

There is a good balance here between Ballard and Argent compositions. For Prog fans the Argent compositions are probably the most interesting, being generally more progressive than Ballard's more straightforward rock 'n' roll numbers. But I feel that it is the counterpoint between the two elements that makes this album work so well.

As we all know Rod Argent used to be in The Zombies, and here we get a nice version of The Zombies' classic Time Of The Season. Good stuff!

The sound quality is generally quite good and the performance is properly recorded. Nothing annoying on that account.

Like Barclay James Harvest, Argent is not really an essential band for the Prog fan, but if you want anything by them in your collection, Encore is a very good choice. And this might well be all the Argent you'll ever need. Still, this album is hardly essential.

Report this review (#209116)
Posted Saturday, March 28, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Brown Dwarfs, Zombies and Holey Guitars

Once Upon a Time in a far and distant land, there were no double live albums available on which simple fisher folk could fritter the pittance they earned from their wearying, malodorous and dispiriting labours. So it came to pass that the sovereign decreed that forever hence, any minstrel capable of selling out the local tavern on a wet Tuesday night when there's footie on the telly, could peddle to his followers, a souvenir of this merriment via the mystical sorcery of the Mobile Recording Unit. The rawk demographic were particularly ripe for exploitation in this regard, seeing as how most Mud and Rubettes fans wouldn't be shelling out just to hear different solos from the ones that appeared on the 45 rpm versions of Lonely this Christmas or Sugar Baby Love

Two years prior to the (frankly baffling) success of Frampton Comes Alive, Argent embarked upon a UK tour in support of their Nexus album. As the latter is maybe the prog friendliest of their entire discography, there is much to embrace and cherish here from a rather unjustly neglected association. The gestation of Argent is a very tidy fit for the lineage of so much 1st Gen Prog in the early 70's: From pale R'n'B standards via gaudy psychedelic chamber Pop to caped armadillos firing flamethrowers through dry ice in less than a decade. All kidding aside, Argent never strayed too far from their roots and this is maybe why they seem considerably more grounded than some of their codpiece donning contemporaries. When inhabiting the boogie piano grunt of something like Keep on Rolling you sense in their palpable revelry that unlike an ELP or a Yes, Argent ain't slumming it to appease a fan base starved of less lofty aesthetics. This was a band who had served their apprenticeships with Adam Faith, The Mike Cotton Sound, the Roulettes, Unit 4 + 2, and the Zombies. Circa '74, Argent appeared to be riding the slipstream created by two hit singles (Hold Your Head Up and God Gave Rock and Roll to You) However, album sales were always modest e.g. their highest charting album was All Together Now at #13 in the UK (#23 in the US) As much as we might wish it otherwise, charting singles have never been testimony to the didactic power of progressive music i.e. most of the punters who bought the singles couldn't be persuaded into taking a punt on an Argent album.

When you consider the relative career paths of both the Zombies and Argent, a telling disparity starts to emerge. Although both bands split due to lack of sustainable success, the Zombies' Oracle and Odessey (sic) continues to gather posthumous critical acclaim which prompted a reunion tour and album in 2015, while Argent have almost disappeared entirely from the popular consciousness. Most critters of a certain vintage can sing along to their two hits but very few can name the band who composed and performed them. Rod and Co are fast becoming the potential subject of a tricky tie breaker in a pub quiz and that's a shame as their music will continue to stand the test of time long after the inebriated contestants have left the tavern. Like Greenslade, Barclay James Harvest, Procul Harum and Camel, Argent seem destined to forever belong among Prog's Brown Dwarfs (not big enough to become stars)

By the time Encore landed on the shelves in 1974 singer, songwriter and guitarist Russ Ballard had already departed which left Argent in something of a quandary. It seems entirely plausible that this release would have bought the band some valuable time to plan their next move and recruit a replacement. They ended up hiring TWO new members but that's another story and maybe indicative of Ballard's unheralded talents. The reasons for Russ leaving are obscure but whether it was a case of him believing not enough of his songs made the albums or he wanted them to move in a more pop direction, there was no way this ensemble were ever going to sanction subsequent material in the vein of Since You Been Gone (Rainbow) or So You Win Again (Hot Chocolate) Russ has gone on to write over 40 hit songs for a variety of artists. The only one I would unreservedly endorse however is I Don't Believe in Miracles for Colin Blunstone which is included here in a tasteful piano setting which builds slowly to a dramatic climax featuring layered harmony vocals and Mellotron strings.

The Coming of Kohoutek is probably my favourite Argent number ever and would be an unflaggingly brilliant opening salvo in anyone's live set. It's an instrumental in three seamless sections based entirely on Lizst's Totentanz (Dance of Death, which is in turn sourced from the Gregorian plainchant melody Dies Irae) That description sounds 'dusty academia nuts' but rest easy padre, it's a riot of rhythm, timbre and unfettered gusto which will have those stifling vestments swishing vigorously in the aisles for years to come. The original unadorned theme is stated on Mellotron at the outset before Rod subsequently manipulates this melodic fragment into all manner of unlikely outcomes with stylistic treatments from shuffle rock, astringent organ dissonance, classical piano and Moog soloing as if performed by an ADD dervish snorting coffee straight from the jar. This seething energy is all the while buttressed by an ingeniously pliant Henrit/Rodford rhythm section that still makes room for Ballard's tasteful guitar interjections in a busy and ever changing arrangement. I wouldn't be surprised if this track could increase any mammal's sperm count all told. BTW The inspiration for the title must have been the comet identified by Lubos Kohoutek which flew very close to the earth in 1973.

God Gave Rock and Roll to You is one of those songs that provokes some pretty extreme reactions irrespective of the listener's religious orientation. From a musical perspective, there is very little not to like about a naggingly addictive tune that carries the faintest sway of a gospel spiritual wedded to a mock bombastic intro which is transparently tongue in cheek and great fun all round. Like their other smasheroonie Hold Your Head Up this also has the type of chorus that I'm surprised more football fans haven't assimilated into a terrace anthem similar to their appropriation of Give Peace a Chance. The lyrics aren't even remotely preachy either:

You don't have money or a fancy car And you're tired of wishin' on a falling star You gotta put your faith in a loud guitar

You can take a stand, or you can compromise You can work real hard or just fantasize But you don't start livin' 'till you realize

Don't step on snails, don't climb in trees, Love Cliff Richard but please don't tease

The foregoing is hardly the stuff of right wing conservative fire and brimstone evangelism now is it? (notwithstanding the bizarre reference to Sir 'Arry which Kiss, being Americans and knowing squat about irony, expunged entirely from their hideous cover version)

To my ears, Ballard's guitar drifts a wee bit out of tune on this number and although discernible it doesn't really spoil an otherwise boisterous version of a very finely crafted song. The cover art would suggest that Russ was using his distinctive 'Holey Emmenthaler Frankenstein' guitar at this time which had a Stratocaster body through which several holes had been drilled and was joined to a Telecaster neck. I'm not a guitar tech by any stretch but wouldn't such an ungodly combination make the instrument susceptible to intonation issues? There are further traces on Encore that this may have been the case but like I said before, it's practically unnoticeable and doesn't impinge on the music. It's also easy to forget that on stage digital tuners weren't a luxury available to anyone in 1974. Russ Ballard is a very underappreciated guitarist who clearly thinks very carefully about note choice, tone and timbre in his understated but unerringly appropriate parts. Listen to how he slyly quotes from the riff to Money (That's What I Want) during It's Only Money. That level of subtlety and wit is all too rare in a realm of head banging idolatry.

So, were Argent Christians then? Music from the Spheres has some Spinal Tap panto operatic gravitas re:

All around the world the people trembled 'God, save us from the Devil' - was their prayer But I can't be afraid.

Ballard also now has a son called Christian which is hardly compelling evidence (although a son called Beelzebub would have been a worry for the registrar) Russ also doesn't seem to have aged in the slightest since this recording was made. If you look at him now aged 71 he appears almost untarnished by the ravages of time. What sort of diabolic Faustian pact has he brokered with Mephistopheles to account for this everlasting youth?, Another glance at the cover art reveals Rod Argent wearing a crucifix big enough to invite soft tissue damage but in short: who cares?. The music doesn't suffer either way. For the sake of clarity, your reviewer is a lapsed atheist (READ: pussy agnostic)

Those of you like myself who are older than some forests and mountain ranges will recall that the original vinyl LP version of this album was sullied by the very loud electrical hum from the bands backline amps which intruded on some of the quieter passages e.g. Rod's exquisite piano solo in Kohoutek. Thankfully those clever boffins from BGO Records have used their noise reduction algae ridding thingy on the remastered CD version and the pesky hissy dragon has been banished from the kingdom forever. There is a raw energy and infectious excitement captured here that for me, makes Encore a much more enjoyable listening experience than either Welcome Back My Friends or Yessongs.

Rod Argent could more than hold his own in the company of Emerson, Wakeman, Moraz et al and the compelling evidence is in abundance on this recording where he is as equally supportive as an accompanist as he is virtuosic a soloist on piano, organ, Moog or 'Tron.

Most of the band's best work is included here and what niggles I have are very few and far between. The only blemishes that cause me to shave off a star are as follows:

Hold Your Head Up is played too fast to the point of slapstick. Having gigged in pub bands in my 20's I know that the sinking of a few ales wedded to the adrenaline rush of live performance can give rise to unscheduled hikes in tempo. Here the tune just sounds as rushed and lacking in groove as that of Hoedown from Welcome Back My Friends which also represents another hollow victory for accuracy over feel. We can forgive ingratiating quotations from We'll Keep a Welcome in front of an appreciative Welsh audience from Swansea certainly but at over 10 minutes the lads are guilty of milking their cash cow into the abattoir. Trivia fans: Please note that the intended lyric to the chorus is 'Hold Your head up woman' but this is often obscured by Rod's high organ glissando conjoined with a falsetto scream. A hitherto unknown feminist anthem?

I am the Dance of Ages gets bo-toxed from a modest 4 minutes on the studio original to just not very shy of 10 stamina sapping ones and loses much of its impact as a result. It still retains its knowing strutting pomp but like many successful short stories, doesn't work when stretched into a novel

Although they never had the grandiose breadth of ELP, the sophisticated compositional stretch of Yes or the theatrical allure of Genesis, Argent never put out a single turkey during their 8 album career and avoided entirely disappearing up their own backsides during some orchestral manoeuvres in the dark (Works) or recounting a mystical pilgrimage to your own navel (Topographic Oceans)

Conflicts arising from striking a balance between lyrical hooks and instrumental substance were the battle ground of many Prog bands and the Rod/Russ dichotomy at the heart of Argent was perhaps mirrored by the same pivotal relationship that existed between Keith/Greg in ELP. There was nothing particularly original about Argent, a group whom cynics might say abandoned the Zombies sublime baroque pop of the first 3 albums and jumped aboard Prog's shiny new speeding bandwagon. That seems in retrospect, gratuitously harsh and as someone who adores both the Zombies and Argent, I can heartily recommend the first three albums to lovers of the former and the remainder, to lovers of all music that values the memorable above memorabilia.

Report this review (#1741937)
Posted Sunday, July 9, 2017 | Review Permalink
3 stars After reading an excellent review from ExittheLemming, I decided to dust off this celebrated live recording from Argent and give it a fresh spin after being away from it for some 30 years. The two biggest gripes that people had with the proceeding Argent studio albums was their louder than loud production and schizoid musical styles, with Rod Argent penning the proggier songs and the rock and rollers penned by Russ Ballard. The latter aspect of the group's albums never bothered me, and even an album recorded at Abbey Road Studios using former Beatles' recording engineers made it hard for Argent, and co producer Chris White, to completely sabotage it's sound production.

But this live concert recording eliminates the producer's flights of fancy and helps to place the focus solely on the songs and the band's performance. Starting off with the prog infused instrumental "The Coming Of Kohoutek", in which Argent discovered the merits of the Moog synthesizer and jumped squarely on the Emerson/Wakeman train and stole the handle. Not a favorite of mine as it's sounds as derivative as anything concocted by Emerson, including his synth tones. If there was one thing that set seventies synth wizards apart, it was a personally unique synth sound, but that's a minor quibble. "Kohoutek" is the best song you will here on this album until Russ Ballard sings his lovely ballad that he had written especially for former Zombies' front man Colin Blunstone titled "I Don't Believe In Miracles." Ballard's emotive and reserved vocal on this stripped down version of the song, along with Argent providing touching mellotron strings, is absolutely beautiful and far surpasses the myriad versions recorded and re-recorded by Blunstone either solo or with the revamped Zombies. So much for slamming the group for eclectic song styles.

But what of the songs in the middle? Well, Russ Ballard's "It's Only Money" parts 1 and 2 lacks anything like a musical or vocal hook, and his semi celebrated "God Give Rock and Roll Too You" tries too hard to sound like a drunken beer hall sing-a-long. Let's face it, when a group like Kiss can take someone's best song (at the time) and make it sound better, something is desperately wrong. "Thunder And Lightning" somehow keeps me awake while "Music of the Spheres" does just the opposite. And that was real the problem with Argent. Not the loud stereo panning studio album productions or their eclectic song styles. It was simply poor songwriting or poor song arrangements and singing that resulted in a majority of their material just coming up short. And unfortunately, that is also brought into sharp focus on Encore. And what was the reason for the band's lapse in taste? Well, it's not beyond reason to assume that Argent and White were quite confused and baffled by the poor reception to their fantastically produced and recorded Zombies' swansong album Odessey (sic) and Oracle, and that the duo maintained a scattershot approach to both songwriting and song arranging, resulting in the up and down song quality of Argent's output.

But all is not lost. What also works works well on Encore is "I Am The Dance Of Ages" which shakes off it's Spinal Tap vibe found on the studio album All Together Now and really rocks out. What doesn't rock is a sped up version of "Hold You Head Up" with Argent injecting boring improvised (I hope) melodies from his new synthesizer which is no match for his original organ solos. A ragged version of "Time Of the Season" is the album's actual encore and I'm quite glad that they didn't do another. Can you imagine "Tell Her No'" done in 5/4 time with a synth solo? I didn't think so. 3 stars out of 5, which seems quite apropos for a band that was always stuck between extremes.

Report this review (#1785369)
Posted Thursday, September 21, 2017 | Review Permalink

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