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BEGINNINGS

Happy The Man

Eclectic Prog


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Greger
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars HAPY THE MAN's "Crafty Hands" from 1978 are one of my favorite albums ever. The recordings on "Beginnings" (1990) are from HAPPY THE MAN's first two years - 1974 and 1975. Five out of the seven songs were recorded with two mikes onto 2-track tape, while the other two were recorded onto 4-track tape. They may not be as good as on "Crafty Hands", but their originality and strong compositions are already shown at this early stage of their career. And although the songs were simple recorded the sound quality is magnificent. The blend of Canterbury, Jazz, Progressive and Symphonic Rock are delicate. They had already found an original style, but there are also traces of CAMEL, CARAVAN, GENESIS, MIRTHRANDIR, PINK FLOYD and VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR in their sound. The music is really intricate and in many ways it reminds a lot of 70's Italian Progressive Rock. This album is a must have for HAPPY THE MAN fans, and I can add another album to my favorites.

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Send comments to Greger (BETA) | Report this review (#3399)
Posted Tuesday, March 02, 2004 | Review Permalink
4 stars This was my first HTM album and I must admit that I needed to listen to it several times before I could really like it. There's a jazzy approach all through the record that I adore. The material offered in "Beginnings" covers HTM's first two years. The songs are very creative with constant changes. It reminds me of some bands from the Canterbury scene (including Camel) but with a darker flavour sometimes. "Beginning" is a fantastic record, very adventurous, that I recommend to any prog fan but specially to the ones who enjoy bands like Camel, Caravan, Hatfield And the North, Soft Machine and VDGG. A very original band and though this is not as good as "Crafty Hands" it's an excellent introduction to HTM.

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Send comments to DACE (BETA) | Report this review (#44849)
Posted Tuesday, August 30, 2005 | Review Permalink
NJprogfan
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars Sorry, but being a fan of this band going back to 1978, I find the songs on this album to be almost in the "cringing" style. What?, you may ask. Well, what starts out as a somewhat decent instrumental track, "Leave that kitten..." sounds like a lesser track from one of their proper studio albums, somewhat new agey and a bit boring. The next four tracks have vocals. Now, when it comes to songs that give prog that "cheesey" sound, these would fit the bill. Musically, they're the best songs on the album. They all pretty much start out pedestrian with vocals and lyrics that ruin what ends up being some awesome prog as each song reaches the end on a high note. I would say that they rival, to a degree, any of their classics off of the Arista albums musically, but those vocals and those horrible lyrics! UGH! And to make matters worse, the vocals are so poorly recorded it's a pity that any lyrics had to be used. The last two songs are similiar to the first track, better recorded by a mile, but not as adventurous as the vocal tracks. It hard for me to give this album a "good" rating because of the poor vocalization and sound of the middle tracks. But if the instrumental tracks were of high quality, then yes, it would have been at least three stars. But alas, my favorite American prog band's first output only garners a two star rating. Better to get the first two actual studio albums to get an understanding on how REALLY good these guys are.

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Send comments to NJprogfan (BETA) | Report this review (#81120)
Posted Tuesday, June 13, 2006 | Review Permalink
Man With Hat
COLLABORATOR
Jazz-Rock/Fusion Team
3 stars They say it's good to look to the beginnings...and in this case there is nothing wrong with that. While this album is not a masterpiece, and thus can not compare to HTM first two albums, this will provide you with some excellent unrelease material. One thing that I notice is that the heavier use of percussion instruments (such as, woodblocks, sleigh bells, etc), which I think is a nice touch, and a path I wish they would have continued on. Highlights included the fabulous and album worthy Leave That Kitten Alone, Armone. This is the first of many delicious melodys found on this album. And it really takes a turn for the better towards the end. One of the my favorite HTM songs. Don't Look To The Running Sun is another lost gem, IMO. Great lyrics, drumming, guitar, sax...well pretty much everything. This is another one that I feel could have made an album. The album dips a little in the middle, but each song still has something to speak positively for. It ends strong with Broken Waves and Portrait of a Waterfall, which really shows off the softer side of HTM. All the musicians sound like they have been doing this for more years then they have, and stated before, create top notch melodies.

All in all, Beginnings is a great addition to any HTM collection. While people unfamilar with their work should try either HTM or Crafty Hands, this album should not disappoint once you fully digest the essense of Happy The Man. 3.5 stars.

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Send comments to Man With Hat (BETA) | Report this review (#100176)
Posted Thursday, November 23, 2006 | Review Permalink
4 stars This collection turned out to be an intriguing and surprisingly good acquisition for my collection. I'm happy (.man)!

The first track, Wyatt's Leave That Kitten Alone, Armone is a rough diamond which was recorded in July, 1975...a typical HTM meandering piece, it would have fit comfortably on their first album.

Passion's Passing (Wyatt) from April, 1974, is a little too long for it's own good, and drags a bit, but has some sublime instrumental passages midway and also towards the end.

Don't Look to The Running Sun from April, 1974, is the first of two tracks written by Cliff Fortney, who departed in 1974. His compositional style is closer to the progressive rock tradition than the 3 W's (Watkins, Whitaker and Wyatt) as this track shows.

Gretchen's Garden from February 1974, is an HTM classic, and perhaps Frank Wyatt's finest composition of the 70's.

Partly The State from February, 1974, is the second Fortney-penned track and, while still distinctively HTM, is the closest they would ever come to sounding like Gentle giant. An aggressive, yet refined sound...excellent.

Broken Waves from July, 1975, is an energetic, if somewhat melodically underdeveloped instrumental written by Watkins. Some excellent keys towards the end of the track rescue it from mediocrity.

Finally, Portrait of a Waterfall from July, 1975, written by Stanley Whitaker closes thing out. A very intriguing track, it is led throughout by Wyatt's pleading saxophone. A unique arrangement in HTM's history...I cannot think of another track (except perhaps Eye Of The Storm) which follows the sax from start to finish.

In summation, this collection is a very worthwhile addition to any HTM fan's collection and, while I admit I'm a fan, I honestly think this is 60 minutes of generally excellent prog-rock/fusion/HTM....so I will round my 3.7 up to a 4.

Thank you Cuneiform Records!

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Send comments to Rutgers Joe (BETA) | Report this review (#165252)
Posted Friday, March 28, 2008 | Review Permalink
ZowieZiggy
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars A year after the release of a compilation ("Retrospective"), the fans could grab this "Beginnings". An album with songs from their very debut and never released so far (some fifteen years later).

I am usually septic about such releases. Why were these songs not featured on some previous studio works if they were so good? That's the question.

Five songs are recorded "live" on a two track tape. The band was playing in their own house without any audience. The restoration did take place in 89-90 by Kit Watkins (one of the keyboard players).

The jazzy atmosphere of the opening track is elegant but complex. Already a T of this band in these early days. The cohesion of the band is good during this exercise but unfortunately they won't be able to repeat this throughout the album. The music is very quiet during several songs (limit dull during "Passion's Passing") even if some pastoral fluting is not too bad and little passion perspires from this album, but to be honest, I am not a die-hard fan of HTM.

The jazzy mood is already well present in their repertoire, like in the second part of "Don't Look To The Running Sun". This section is just a boring and useless jam IMO. But overall, this song is not too bad.

My favorite one of this album is also the longest one. Clocking at over eleven minutes, "Gretchen's Garden" is very much "Trespass" oriented. The band had repeated this mood during their official releases and this one is particularly well achieved. Very good vocal harmony, fine keyboards, sweet flute, tranquil mood: you get it all there. The highlight.

On the other end of the specter, "Partly The State" is a very poor song. Vocals a la "Gentle Giant", this jazz number is particularly hard to bear. At least for my ears. And the nice flute break is not enough to raise the level of this other long song.

The jazzy instrumentals "Broken Waves" and "Portrait Of A Waterfall" (both recorded in 1975) close the album on a low note. Not really structured nor melodic, they don't add anything to the credit of the band.

A curiosity. Five out of ten reduced to two stars.

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Send comments to ZowieZiggy (BETA) | Report this review (#168108)
Posted Saturday, April 19, 2008 | Review Permalink
Evolver
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Crossover & JazzRock/Fusion Teams
3 stars This is a collection of tracks recorded by Happy The Man on their own, mostly in their rehearsal facilities, dating back to before their record contract in the seventies. The sound is mostly light prog, somewhat jazzy, with occasional spurts of energy (much like their studio albums).

While I would not rate this as good as their studio albums, there are some worthwhile pieces to be found. Leave That Kitten Alone, Armone, one of their best titled pieces, after a slow beggining, becomes quite listenable. Passion's Passing has a spacey feel, reminiscent of the verse sections of Pink Floyd's Us & Them. Sadly, Partly The State, the best song on the album, has a fairly poor sound quality. Thedistortion on the vocals (unintended, I would assume), make the song difficult to listen to.

I'd say this is a must for HTM fans, just an okay addition for others.

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Send comments to Evolver (BETA) | Report this review (#262433)
Posted Monday, January 25, 2010 | Review Permalink
Warthur
PROG REVIEWER
2 stars This collection of early Happy the Man recordings from their earliest years will doubtless be a must-buy for avid fans of the band who can't get enough Kit Watkins material, but personally I can't recommend it particularly highly. Even setting aside the issues with production quality which are part and parcel of decades-old home recordings such as these (though I must say Cuneiform seem to have done an excellent job of producing listenable mixes from them), the fact is that at this very early stage the band simply hadn't honed their songwriting very much and were still groping towards their distinctive style.

On some songs, they're almost there. Leave That Kitten Alone, Armone, nails the tranquil and mellow atmosphere of some of the best work from the debut or Crafty Hands. Other songs clearly aren't polished products yet, occasionally to a comical extent; Don't Look to the Running Sun comes across as a lazy attempt at Genesis imitation, complete with theatrical-sounding vocals from Cliff Fortney who, bless him, just can't quite pull them off without sounding goofy. The rest of the songs exist between these two extremes. Collectors and fans will be keen on this release, but I can't see it appealing to the rest of us.

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Send comments to Warthur (BETA) | Report this review (#544342)
Posted Thursday, October 06, 2011 | Review Permalink
apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Neo Prog Team
3 stars The history of this legendary US group started in 1972, when guitarist Stanley Whitaker and bassist Rick Kennell met in Germany and shared the same admiration for British Progressive Rock.Whitaker was back in USA by the next year and Kennell, who remained in German grounds for a while, introduced him two of his former bandmates, drummer Mike Beck and singer/flautist Cliff Fortney.The original keyboardists were David Bach and Frank Wyatt, the first was soon to be replaced by Kit Watkins.So Happy The Man were born and in 1974 Kennell was back to USA as well with the band starting full rehearsals.Material from this early 1974-1975 period was released in 1990 under the title ''Beginnings'' by Cuneiform.

The love of HAPPY THE MAN for early British Prog is apparent in every track and actually Whitaker and Kennell were both great fans of KING CRIMSON, GENESIS and VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR.Noy surprisingy at all these are the main influences dominating the band's early sound with original singer Cliff Fortney sounding a lot like PETER HAMMILL and, to lesser extent, like PETER GABRIEL.The tracks are quite long with plenty of space for nice psychedelic instrumentals, elaborate symphonic arrangements along with a light jazzy breeze.Happy The Man's early sound lacks any kind of full-blown musicianship and the band was focusing on creating dreamy and atmospheric soundscapes, both in vocal and instrumental parts, with nice use of organ, sax and electric piano in the vein of VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR along with floating synth parts, delicate flute passages and melodic guitar solos in the vein of GENESIS.But a ton of a talent could not been that easily hidden, so there are also plenty of moments, where the sound becomes trully rich with some cool complex themes, highlighted by a VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR/KING CRIMSON-ian atmosphere with bombastic sax and organ interplays next to demanding keyboard flights and more adventurous guitar hooks.The result was a band with numerous interesting ideas but far from creating their unique personality.

It can get more Classic Prog-styled than this.Of course it is not HAPPY THE MAN's greatest release or, even more, very far from original, but is it a beautiful archival release with a full hour of previously unreleased material of the band's early days and fans of Classic Prog in the vein of the aforementioned legends should track this down.Warmly recommended.

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Send comments to apps79 (BETA) | Report this review (#755305)
Posted Saturday, May 19, 2012 | Review Permalink

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