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Mike Kershaw - What Lies Beneath CD (album) cover


Mike Kershaw


Crossover Prog

3.69 | 17 ratings

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Jan Scanulfsson
4 stars Released in May 2016, "What Lies Beneath" sees Mike Kershaw and a group of friends creating a transcontinental collaborative album. The majority of songs are written by a core trio of Kershaw/Blue-Sky/Cole, and all the lyrics are credited to Mr K.

I'd describe the cover art as marvellous "digital realism" painting with symbols and imagery relating to the subject matter of the songs. Time to press play and discover what lies within.

"Gunning for the Gods" gets things underway with a big, bold theme, crisp drumming hinting at a march rhythm and a groove not unlike that of Bowie's "Heroes". This is one of the longer songs with a number of moods and transitions. A widescreen neo-prog epic which reminded me of Big Country in places. The lyrics appear to be questioning holy warriors, justifying actions behind a banner of faith or their chosen cause, seemingly beyond reproach. Do the means ever justify the ends? Many of the album's songs are concerned with identity, our place in the world and the decisions we've taken en- route. Kershaw sings in a raspy, folk-rock inflected style for the uptempo sections, changing to a softer,more hushed tone when required. "What happened to the boy that became this kind of man" he asks.

A smooth segue into "In Floods the Light" and a change of mood, exchanging the strength and certainty for a lighter touch and a softer, higher register lead vocal. A light swing courtesy of side-stick drumming and smooth, melodic, bass guitar add to the delicate, intimate, nature of the music. This all gives the impression of a more personal involvement a freshness and a sense of wonderment : "A separate world that's all your own, every blade of grass, each stepping stone, all in your mind's eye". A song for a sleeping loved one perhaps?

Another anthem is encountered with "Dice" as the low-key intro gives way to a singalong refrain worthy of Simple Minds, which also reminded me of "White Feather". Rousing stuff.

"The City Revealed" takes us from smooth jazz, with an electric piano and flute ( pos. Mellotron ) combination to something "bigger" and more purposeful as Kershaw asks : "Is there anything left of me?". Change, transition and dashed expectations are becoming common themes for this set. Deft arranging and mixing with something akin to a dulcimer contrasting with more traditional rock band forces. I was reminded of Fugazi-era Marillion in more than a couple of places.

Track five ushers in quite a stylistic change with a bouncy baroque-pop melody and modulated slide guitar. A glance at the credits reveals a certain Leo Koperdraat is responsible for the music, and with the band also featuring the drums of Frank Urbaniak, and the bass of Leopold Blue-Sky, it's no wonder that "Two Eyes" sounds like something from "Slow Burn 1" or "Garden of Ghosts". Mike even sounds like a folkier, more nasal version of Leo as he dwells on "I cannot find the traces of why I came to be". The search for identity and making sense-of-self continues.

"Wounds" brings another stylistic departure thanks to the musical-input and lead vocal performance from Tom Slatter. Starting with lush synth voicings and a growling bassline, I was reminded of Duran Duran's "Say a Prayer". Slatter's vocals are ideal for alt-folk storytelling, sounding like a cleaner toned version of Kershaw himself. "He's looking for an exit, He's searching for a cause, He needs something to take his mind away, To rally round a flag, Join a losing fight..."

The core writing team return for "Another Disguise" with great ensemble playing as attractive rotary organ and a mobile, funky, bassline begin the build towards something resembling Momentary Lapse of Reason era Floyd with added elements of late 80s/early 90s Genesis. Special mention here for the lead guitar of Gareth Cole with silky compound bends and a host of other Gilmourisms.

The closing track is another worthy of " neo-prog epic" status with chorused guitar figures, Rothery-esque motifs and subtle yet effective gear-changes. A wonderful musical change around the 3:15 mark and epic status is assured as things grow noticeably heavier before the final fade. Kershaw is again looking for someone or something to help him make sense of both the external world and his own past : "Can you shield me from the dark, Can you fight what lies within, Will you always be right here for me, When the air turns cold, when the lights grow dim?" A solution is hinted at as : "New is built upon the old, The past is swept away"

A quote attributed to Archimedes takes the form : "Give me a place to stand and I will move the world"

With so many of us trying to make sense of the world, or even of our own private worlds, we're all looking for our place to stand, and this seems to be one of the primary themes running through the eight songs of "What Lies Beneath".

Mike Kershaw and friends have made an album for modern times. Intelligent arrangements, excellent production standards and thought provoking "real" subject matter capable of resonating with us all. A solid 75 %, four stars in progarchives currency - definitely recommended.

Jan Scanulfsson | 4/5 |


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