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The Gift

Symphonic Prog

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Eclectic / Prog Metal / Heavy Prog Team
3 stars "The Gift", founded in 2003 in the UK, was originally intended to be a "one-off" project with their first album. Founders Mike Morton and Leroy James started this Symphonic Prog band with the idea of creating a band to make a concept album. Soon, other members were brought in and in 2006, the concept album was released. Over 8 years, Mike had written some new songs and in 2014, a 2nd album was finally released with a follow up in 2016. Their 4th full length album is called "Antenna" and was released in June of 2019.

"Antenna" is comprised of 10 tracks with a total run time of over an hour. The band line-up consists of both founders Mike Morton on lead vocals and Leroy James on guitars and backing vocals. The remainder of the current core band consists of Dave Lloyd on guitars and backing vocals, Gabriele Baldocci on keys, Stefan Dickers on bass and Neil Hayman on drums and percussion. The album is available on both CD and digitally.

"We Are Connected" starts with a rock riff similar to Foreigner's "Hot Blooded". Keys and vocals soon come in giving the mostly straightforward song a sound of its own. Vocals and instruments are all strong, not necessarily heavy, but a moderate rock sound. After a bridge that is a bit softer, there is a guitar break before returning to the last chorus. "Changeling" makes a move towards a more prog sound with vocals supported by soft keys and guitar, hand claps and a more complex feel and lyrics. The track nears the 10 minute mark this time, and has a softer Genesis type feel (Phil Collins era around the "Abacab" era). Before 3 minutes, the track strengthens then moves into a much heavier sound with a pounding riff and a great synth solo. After this, things get atmospheric for a minute before returning to the prior heaviness, with more riffage and synth soloing and progressive runs. It then turns to a soft piano solo backed by synths and vocals return. A new sound, vocal melody and catchy rhythm then comes in taking us into a different feel altogether. Great track, much better than the first track, and hopefully we are going to continue with better tracks like this one.

"Back to Eden", however, opts for a more commercial sound, but the melody is still good and enticing with strummed guitars, a bright, upbeat rhythm and overall sound. Not really progressive, but nice anyway, and cow bell after the softer, piano-led bridge section, everything to brighten your mood. "Long Time Dead" starts with guitar and harmonica playing the same riff. The rhythm starts and the music settles into a "dusty western" style with a blues-oriented sound (ala Bon Jovi, but a bit better). There is a nice guitar solo in the middle complete with the rattle sound produced like you expected, there is a short foray into jazz with the piano and the vocals return. A bit corny, but not too bad, just predictable, with the main western feeling running through all 7 minutes.

"Snowfall" starts as a piano-led ballad with pensive vocals that become more emotional in the chorus. This has some occasional synth effects added in, but remains slow and soft with no rhythm section. "Far Stranger" also begins with solo piano, but with more tension. Vocals bring in guitar, bass and eventually hesitant drums. The melody is a bit more complex, but still mostly safe. As it approaches the chorus, things become more intensified. The instrumental break becomes a little more progressive with some nice guitar/synth passages. Another level is reached and the vocals start with more passion now and a more complex sound. It all culminates in returning to a slower rhythm and more vocals ending the track. "Hand in Hand" is a nice, solo acoustic guitar interlude lasting almost 3 minutes.

"Wild Roses" starts with a tropical percussive sound and "orchestra hits" and then guitars start in creating a heavier feel. For a symphonic band, there has been very little symphonic feel, and this is the first track where you might notice more of a lean in that direction, but its rather minimal. The melody has a bit of complexity to it, but remains pretty safe, even with the slightly darker guitar riffs. However, the lyrics don't reflect a darker theme as it has a more romantic theme that plays against an attempt to have an Americana feel. The entire track comes across as a mostly conventional rock sound than anything however. It's a bit weak and uninteresting, not really generating the excitement that it attempts to create. "When You Are Old" goes for a slow and atmospheric sound with pensive vocals with echoing effects whispering in the background. The song never really develops into anything, but the vocals seem to meander a bit and no real feeling seems to come out of this track.

The album ends with the appropriately named "Closer" which is another track that nears the 10 minute mark. A moderate rhythm is established as vocals and chiming guitars come in. The tapping rhythm builds a bit of tension, but when everything else comes in, it's not really the payoff you expect. A bit after the 2 minute mark, the music makes a sudden left turn and a more progressive sound starts with heavy guitars and synths providing alternating backing and solos. After this, at 4 minutes, things calm to a strummed guitar and more vocals, there is a pause, and then drums join in. After the verse, a nice laid-back guitar solo comes in, backed by synths, followed by a lovely piano solo while everything remains at the constant tempo.

This album has a few great high points as in the tracks "Changeling" and "Far Stranger", but it has just as many weak moments as in "Wild Roses" and "When You Are Old". The other long track "Closer" is simply just OK as are many of the other tracks like "Back to Eden" and "Long Time Dead" and pretty much all of the other tracks that are enjoyable, but pretty average and predictable. In the end, there is a lot of weight placed on the final track, whether it can save the album, or just keep it average. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite deliver on it's expectations, and pushes the overall score down to 3 stars. The two excellent songs on this album just can't pull the weight of the average or lower than average tracks. By the way, this album is not really what I would consider symphonic, but seems to be more of a prog related (or Crossover prog at best) affair.

Report this review (#2236922)
Posted Tuesday, July 9, 2019 | Review Permalink
4 stars THE GIFT first made an impact on my musical consciousness when I heard the majestic CD "Awake And Dreaming" thirteen years ago. That fabulous debut immediately made me their devoted fan. Ever since I always can rely upon Mike Morton and cohorts, because they deliver the top notch records again and again. Their latest disc 'Antenna' (2019) is no exception. Based on a scheme of clever variations, the emotion laden melodious music sounds like a medley of contrasting influences superbly glued together. Is this new release any different from the previous works? Oh, yes! Hence, those who thought The Gift could demonstrate only a familiar approach, you should better change your judgment - the sooner the better. Here, the British team have managed to provide the largely unexpectable material in cross-over style. And it would be fair to say, the new record has its own potpourri-like nature, although retaining an evident stamp of The Gift that I know and love. This time around, the band decided to veer their route a bit away from pure progressive rock with a goal to employ some other components, serving to form the diverse sonical palette. Arranged in 10 compositions, CD 'Antenna' is one of those albums that works perfectly from the get go, ensuring lots of pleasure. This offer draws in, leaving in high anticipation of what will come next and making us want more and more. The opener 'We Are Connected' ensures an enveloping pop-rock pastiche. This is one of those rare showcases that resembles Talk Talk, INXS and Tears For Fears left, right and between yet maintaining The Gift's own integrity. The meticulous tweaks at soundscape lead to the pitch-perfect articulation. The follow-up 'Changeling' comes along to give another dimension for the album, when we delve into almost 10 minutes of the musical adventure built on a few contrasting ideas. Make no doubt, these guys still remember how to successfully handle a complicated prog-rock piece brimming with noteworthy hooks. The elaboration and virtuosity on display in this epic are arresting. The variable guitar melodies are working with the versatile bass and drums, gradually building tension, whilst confined keyboard moods thrown in, revealing a wonderful hybrid of accessibility. The charismatic voice of Mike Morton hits the mark every time to enrich the whole mix crafted by the skillful juxtaposition of instruments. Then, the things devolve to a more straightforward song 'Back To Eden' which is fascinating either way. Moving on. The fourth number 'Long Time Dead' introduce extra colours. In fact, most of it resembles to Tom Petty with the almost bluesy guitar moves. Not necessarily because of similar accents but more due to the meticulous way in which it combines together. What has left an explicit furrow in my soul is the tender ballad 'Snowfall' dedicated to former wife of Mike Morton. We hear the sensual singing gently escorted by piano of Gabriele Baldocci. There are also very subtle strings and pads in the background. The following testament to the variety of musical strains became 'Far Stranger' leaning towards a slightly theatrical execution. It holds its suitable place integrating to the overall sonic tapestry. The instrumental cut 'Hand In Hand' puts the ever-changing set in a favorable perspective to benefit from elegant interplay of two acoustic guitars afforded by David Lloyd and Stefan Dickers. This is something of a musical interlude that features pleasantly nice punctuations. Frustratingly, a brief track fades too quickly. The exploration of enigmatic alchemy continues with the strong 'Wild Roses' that may be described as a salute to Thin Lizzy. The guitarist Leroy James wrote it, being a longtime fan of late Phil Lynott. Well done. Next song confirms that the band continue to experiment. Functioning on a mystic level, 'When You Are Old' slows the pace down to provide a strange contrast with the rest of material. I cannot explain why but I was really embraced by its spacey, psychedelic resonation. The general feeling is like it's coming from other plane of existence, thanks to the group's willingness to experiment with different ideas. That might leave some people scratching their heads, but trust me, it works. And finally, disc ends out with a plot titled 'Closer' (the self-explanatory of course). In terms of instrumentation, it's one of the most catchy tracks on the entire set. The added value is astounding singing of Mike Morton who bears the lyrical message of this chapter. Everything is done for a worthy reason, because these musicians know when and how to represent something. Now it's a right time, where I have to stop and claim that CD 'Antenna' sounds exciting throughout, from the very first notes of the opening song until the farewell chords of closing track. Ever and anon changing material exhibits the uniform high level of care and craftsmanship. The production of this album is clear, deep and bright; all performers do one hell of a job with lots of transitions. It is also worth giving a quick mention with regard to the nice accompanying booklet. So what are you waiting for? BUY IT!...
Report this review (#2237850)
Posted Friday, July 12, 2019 | Review Permalink
3 stars 'A tastefully arranged change of musical direction'

The Gift is an English six piece formation that was founded in 2003, Antenna is its fourth album since 2006. I read about The Gift on the excellent band website interesting facts. 'The singer wanted to be Marc Bolan, Bryan Ferry, Freddy Mercury and then he felt in love with Genesis and prog, he is also an actor. The drummer turned from Buddy Rich (his father was a jazz drummer) to Carl Palmer, the bass player is a former guitarist, the keyboard player is a classical concert pianist, but he grew up with a father who loved King Crimson, and the band hosts two guitar players.' And singer Mike Morton tells about the new album 'It is rockier, more contemporary sounding, we wanted to do something more direct and punchy.' Listening to this new album I quickly conclude that this new The Gift sound is a goodbey to epic symphonic rock and a welcome to more modern sounding song-oriented eclectic rock. The first track We Are Connected turned out to be a pretty disappointing experience with its typical Nineties Neo-Prog climate, and I was afraid for a more disappointing music. But after listening the entire album I analyse that the first, very Nineties Neo-Prog sounding track doesn't represent the music from The Gift. Because from the second to the final tenth song The Gift delivers very varied and tastefully arranged songs, with lots of surprising musical ideas.

From dreamy to bombastic eruptions with splendid rock guitar and excellent work on keyboards (piano, soaring strings, flashy synthesizer and swirling organ) in the varied Changeling.

First a bluesy harmonica, soft wah wah guitar, warm acoustic rhythm guitar and vocals, and then an accellaration with electric piano, rock guitar and a jazzy piano solo with swinging bass in Long Time Dead.

A dreamy Grand piano intro, then tender and melancholical vocals in the wonderful mellow Snowfall.

Warm acoustic guitars in the only instrumental Hand In Hand.

Awesome rock guitar and Phil Lynott-like vocals, along a delicate synthesizer solo, in the exciting Thin Lizzy tribute Wild Roses (by the way, I wachted Thin Lizzy in 1978, awesome!)..

And a mellow, a bit dark atmosphere with very melancholical vocals in When You Are Old.

Although I am more into symphonic rock this new The Gift album pleasantly surprised me, what a tastefully arranged song- oriented eclectic rock music, embellished with outstanding vocals and strong work on keyboards and guitar. If you are up to The Gift its musical change of direction, this is an album to discover.

My rating: 3,5 star.

This review was recently published on the Dutch progrock website Background Magazine, in a slightly different version.

Report this review (#2238531)
Posted Wednesday, July 17, 2019 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
3 stars The Gift were originally formed in 2003 when Mike Morton (writer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist) joined forces with Leroy James (guitarist, writer and producer), and they released their debut album, 'Awake and Dreaming' three years later. This was followed by a long period of inactivity for the band, until 'Land Of Shadows' in 2014 and then 'Why The Sea is Salt' in 2016. They are now back with their fourth album, 'Antenna' with a line-up comprising Mike Morton (vocals), David Lloyd (electric and acoustic guitars, backing vocals), Leroy James (electric guitar, 12-string acoustic guitar, harmonica, backing vocals), Stefan Dickers (bass and acoustic guitar), Gabriele Baldocci (keyboards) and Neil Hayman (drums and percussion). According to Prog Archives these guys play symphonic progressive rock ' but I can only think that they were like that on their earlier albums as that isn't what they are doing now. In fact, there are quite a few numbers such as 'Back To Eden' which are more like soft rock than anything remotely progressive.

If I was to tag them with any sort of genre then it would potentially neo-prog, but there are plenty of times when they are playing pleasant melodic rock, or art rock. 'Wild Roses' is one of the better songs on the album, with some life within it, yet this is early Eighties rock with some keyboards within it. For the most part there is little here for the average proghead to be excited about, and while the production is strong, and the guitars in particular are nicely front and centre, the overall feel is the sort of music I was hearing being played in pubs in the Nineties as opposed to larger venues. They do mix through many different styles of rock for which they must be commended, but overall there are few sparks within the album, and the result is something which I can't see me ever returning to again, sorry.

Report this review (#2279979)
Posted Saturday, November 9, 2019 | Review Permalink

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