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The Psychedelic Ensemble


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5 stars Mother's Rhymes is the much-awaited sixth full-length studio album from the quasi-anonymous composer, The Psychedelic Ensemble (TPE). Like TPE's other albums, it a concept album whose theme, this time, recalls the often creepy nursery rhymes that plague one's thoughts since childhood, and how all can be rectified if we simply "rewrite the rhymes".

Fans of his previous album, "The Sunstone", will immediately appreciate this new release as it shares a great deal of compositional elements and vocal stylings. At the time of writing this review, the album was released only for streaming and downloading without liner notes, so the full list of credits is somewhat unknown. However, there is a great deal of violin presence throughout this album, and that can easily be attributed to a past collaborator, Davis Brooks. There are also female vocals, both as lead on "Little Bo Peep", and backing on many other tracks. To this reviewer's ear, it is once again the vocalist who goes by the nom de plume, Ann Caren. There are other parts, particularly at the end of track 8, "Rewrite the Rhymes", that don't sound like Ann, so there could be (as has been rumored) another female guest vocalist.

Like TPE's past couple of releases, this album is jam packed with layers of keys, guitar, violin, percussion, and synth. It must be listened to at fairly high volume to give room to the immense dynamic range, and to appreciate the full drama of TPE's compositions. Keys, as always, are blazingly fast -- so much so that Keith Emerson, were he alive, would stand up and applaud. And TPE's guitar work, both acoustic and electric, really stands out on this album. Attentive listeners will pick out, particularly on track 2, the one-string tremolo on guitar -- no doubt derived from his classical mandolin compositions.

The album is also chock full of various moods. "Mother's Rhymes" starts with a somewhat folksy, pastoral mood reminiscent of his first couple of albums, before it quickly moves into the mind-filling drama that we have come to know and love. Track 2, "Farewell", is somewhat somber and brings to mind Gentle Giant's "Think of Me With Kindness". Track 5, "Blind Mice", was previously released as a single. It is all instrumental and heavily classically influenced. Track 6, "Simple Simon", begins with a brooding delivery. Track 8, "Rewrite the Rhymes", is fast-paced, up-beat, and happy. It ends with the lyrics "When the bow breaks, the cradle won't fall, and safe will be baby, cradle and all." -- an obvious rewrite of the original nursery rhyme. All tracks run seamlessly together, with a continuous, uninterrupted flow.

TPE has done it again. He created another virtuosic masterpiece that will not age with time. One can't help but wonder whether some tracks, notably "Farewell" and "Humpty Dumpty" reflect on TPE's personal experiences, or whether it's just another example of his epic story telling like we've heard on "The Tale of the Golden King", and "The Sunstone". Only time, or maybe he himself, will tell. Five stars.

Report this review (#2240149)
Posted Friday, July 26, 2019 | Review Permalink
4 stars Who is behind this wonderful album? Is a shame We can no longer talk, as We did with others groups in the past of the wonderful xxx in the drums who is much better than yyy. The classical and lyrical notes of aaa in the keyboards much, much better than bbb, here everything is a mystery. This whole album is a masterful piece that someone wrote and played in it. It has hints of Yes, Kansas and classical music (nice violin) in It but in the whole is a magnificent The Psychedelic Ensemble album. Mother's Rhymes is for You. Grab It while You can!
Report this review (#2240614)
Posted Monday, July 29, 2019 | Review Permalink
5 stars If Little Bo Peep wed Little Boy Blue would she be Little Bo Peep Blew?

The mysterious TPE weaves a rich tapestry of classical chamber, symphonic prog, and jazz into a varied, cohesive Mother Goose concept album. The cryptic melancholy of "Farewell" left Humpty Dumpty all broken up, so Simple Simon says. The blind mice saw nothing, said nothing, remaining mute, throughout a melodious gem of a piano laden instrumental.

Mother's Rhymes is my first and only contact with The Psychedelic Ensemble. If TPE's previous albums radiate Mother's Rhymes' majesty, than color me, overnight fan girl.

I'm extremely impressed with TPE's composition abilities. Every song memorable, unique, catchy, yet proggy. The sequencing and flow are superb. Mother's Rhymes showcases chamber music, several subgenre's of jazz, and prog. And he's got the chops, vision, and ability to make it shine. TPE's vocals remind me of Ian Anderson's. He incorporates female vocals for Little Bo Peep. Extraordinary use of violin and strings. Resplendent keys vary from classical to bebop, from Keith Emerson-ish, to folky. The acoustic and electric guitar work is focused, whimsical, and necessary. Mother's Rhymes feels more optimistic than most modern prog. Candidate for my album of the year. Bravo maestro, whoever you are. You virtuoso!

Report this review (#2241066)
Posted Wednesday, July 31, 2019 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The Psychedelic Ensemble is back! At times, his voice sounds a little worn and weak, but the sonic renderings of his compositions continue to be of the highest quality--so much so, in fact, that one might even recommend to other prog artists a sincere listen so that they might better observe the highest standards of sound production. I must say that the one big distinction of this new release from its recent category is TPE's restraint from layering his soundscapes as thickly as before; there is a much more liberal use of space and understatement to make his statements. The blistering multi-instrumental soli are present, but in more reserved usages; TPE gives his audience much more time and space within which to hear his story, to feel the general salve of his erudite musical expressions.

1. "Mother's Rhymes" (8:36) an unusually spacious and sedate song construct. I like it! (19/20)

2. "Farewell" (5:27) opens with an unusual plaintive musical and vocal section--more like Neo Crossover balladeer. I like the simplicity but I have to admit it was difficult for me to wait so long for some substantive excitement: 90 seconds till second gear, 2:20 till symphonic bliss.Wonderful orchestration, but, unfortunately, it falls into patterns of old familiar sounds and riffs during the instrumental exposition. (8.5/10)

3. "Little Boy Blue" (5:36) opens with seering electric lead guitar before the full instrumental palette joins in. In full swing, the song is heavy, thick, dramatic, definitely proggy. The presence of the wicked Hammond organ is powerful! As are the bass and impassioned vocal. Wow! This is different! At 3:25 things slow down and a kind of bluey PINK FLOYD guitar solo takes center stage before everything falls away save synths to support TPE's raspy voice (so far forward!) The song finishes with a nice synth strings and real strings motif before bleeding with the organ into the next song. (9/10)

4. "Little Bo Peep" (7:17) TPE's tribute to JEAN-LUC PONTY?! It opens like something from Jean-Luc's mid-to-late-70s production with an absolutely stellar bass line. Ann Caren's multiple-track vocals are a fresh and effective ploy. The bass, swirling keys, and rhythm guitar riff remain constant in their embedment with JLP while the vocals and lead guitar soli develop in more TPE stylings. A fresh and clever stylistic approach. Even the drums sound more human than ever! Ann's vocal in that last minute with its orchestral accompaniment is so crystalline! Beautiful! (13.35/15)

5. "Blind Mice" (4:11) opens as if a continuation from the last song with a spry trio of classical guitar, violin, and piano. Wonderful! One of those displays of virtuosity that is both performance and compositional. Wow! We are so lucky to have this man serving this fare to us in 2019! (10/10)

6. "Simple Simon" (5:33) opening with a heavy fullness as if coming from a late 1960s blues-rock band--the swirl of the dirty Hammond organ especially. Though the music quickly transitions into a more modern sound palette, the lead guitar sound and grungy Hammond remain throughout. The vocal and successive instrumental soli remain consistent and true to the opening compositional choice of sober portentousness. (9.25/10)

7. "Humpty Dumpty" (6:41) A TPE gift in the form of a folk rock song. Comparisons elude me though the sounds, styles, and riffs are so familiar to me! TPE's multi-instrumental machine-gun bursts confuse and distract one from divining the essence beneath. Fuzz guitar, bouncing and swirling Hammond, Claire Torey-like background voices, and deeply driving bass and rhythm lines. The song's only flaw is a sad return to the drumming style and sounds of TPE albums of old. (13.5/15)

8. "Rewrite the Rhymes" (7:54) some old sounds (chunky bass, Hammond) help drive this emotional and almost frenetic song. The song construct is masterful, the instrumental performances flawless, the sound palette at times awkward, the sound engineering inconsistent. (12.5/15)

Total Time 51:15

Five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. Once again TPE comes through to show us how it's done- -to educate today's artists as to the standards of sophistication and force that the original prog artists of the 1970s aspired to.

Report this review (#2267830)
Posted Thursday, October 10, 2019 | Review Permalink
3 stars This project perfectly fits into the popular progressive rock tradition. It has song-writing and instrumental properties of seventies Genesis, notable portions of Jethro Tull (acoustics, use of organ, vocals, mixing) and quite a lot of Canterbury noodling ('Shaving is Boring' by Heatfield comes to mind). The musicality and virtuosity is all over the place and the compositions are full of ideas and variations on them. The sound pallets of the instruments are all clearly based on well-knows musicians like Hackett, Gilmour, Ian Anderson, Peter Gabriel and notably Phil Collins (his work as a drummer). Furthermore I would like to add that this album would have fitted nicely in the symphonic progressive genre, whereas clear cut neo-prog elements are hard to find.

As with most one-man projects, The Psychedelic Ensemble has some rather unbalanced traits, which is the main reason this album did not be become what clearly must be possible. The main problem is the mixing here with its 'everything all the time' mentality, reminding me of the most chaotic moments of Jethro Tull. Every instrument is front every-time. This especially true for the Phil Collins influenced drumming - which rather sounds like solo percussion than part of a rhythm section. During the second halve of the album, which is full of up-tempo Canterbury riffs this makes the music bordering unlistenable. Had this project been properly mixed and recorded in a way that a max of two musical elements would take center stage at a time, this same recording could have been significantly better. As it is, 'Mother's Rhymes' buries its notable musicianship and composition prowess in sludgy, chaotic musical landscapes that are indifferent as to what the listener is supposed to listen to. This is especially true for the important moments with vocals. Key moments of songwriting - in which vocals and lyrics should communicate where the listener is (emotionally and story-wise) - are just thrown under the bus of ever raging instrumental passages and poor mixing. A less chaotic instrumental piece with just guitar, piano and violin like 'Blind Mice' shows how much this group could even own up to Banco's most beautiful passages by just keeping things in check.

Please re-mix this album (and the ones preceding it!) and let some-one less 'into' this music take a fresh look at how it impacts on listeners. How to make key moments stand out. How a song itself sometimes needs to do its work. Make some hard choices, kill your darlings. This gathering of talent deserves much better.

Report this review (#2302680)
Posted Tuesday, December 31, 2019 | Review Permalink

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