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Gordon Giltrap - Visionary CD (album) cover

VISIONARY

Gordon Giltrap

 

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3.61 | 29 ratings

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4 stars I got interested in Gordon Giltrap's work after reading an interview with Seven Reizh (a French band I found using the terrific PA Top Prog Albums search feature) guitarist Claude Mignon here on PA. And thanks to Giltrap, I have Bert Jansch on my future music acquisitions list. I decided to start with Giltrap's classic prog trilogy: Visionary, Perilous Journey, and Afraid of the Dark.

As others have mentioned, the songs are inspired by paintings, drawings and poems of English painter, poet and mystic William Blake (1757-1827). The tracks are short (11 tracks in 31 minutes), but each has a memorable theme and they don't overstay their welcome. The first five tracks are all based on Blake's illustration The Day of Judgment and the poem The Last Judgment. Most compositions feature the technique of gradually adding more instruments, which probably brought comparisons to Mike Oldfield (in addition to the fact that both Gordon and Mike are primarily guitarists known for their multi-instrumental compositions). Interestingly, Giltrap considers himself more influenced by Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Pete Townshend, Vangelis and Isao Tomita.

Giltrap himself plays six and twelve string guitars, both acoustic and electric. Rod Edwards, one of the album's producers, plays keyboards and helped with the arrangements. John G. Perry, who recorded one album with both of Caravan and Curved Air, handles the bass. The core lineup is completed by prolific session drummer Simon Phillips, then only seventeen years old. These four musicians comprise the core band that recorded the next two albums in Giltrap's prog trilogy, as well. The orchestral accompaniment is provided by several brass and string players.

The album's genre is somewhat difficult to classify. Giltrap started out as a folk guitarist, and he is backed by a standard rock band, but almost all songs feature orchestration. Yet this is not in the vein of other rock compositions of the 70s that feature orchestra, such Deep Purple's Concerto for Group and Orchestra, Electric Light Orchestra, Uriah Heep's Salisbury, Yes' Time and a Word or Rainbow's Stargazer. The songs started out as acoustic guitar compositions and were subsequently arranged for rock band and orchestra. Some pieces have a Renaissance feel.

The album starts with what sounds like a click track (or metronomic drum beat)... that plays unaccompanied for fifteen seconds! As I had read some reviews here, you can imagine my anticipation, thinking of all the instruments to be added on this blank slate. As soon as the intricate guitar fades in, I knew I was listening to something special. Instruments are soon layered on: synths, strings, bass, swirling Minimoog and drums.

Awakening segues into Robes and Crowns. A vibraphone (or maybe glockenspiel) plays the main melody, later taken over by lead electric guitar.

From the Four Winds is mostly played on unaccompanied acoustic guitar, with short sections of strings. Its mood reminds me of the acoustic introduction to Stairway to Heaven.

Lucifer's Cage became one of Giltrap's most well-known compositions and was often featured in his live concerts. Although it's the album's longest track, it's still barely four minutes long. Nevertheless, it's the album's centerpiece and the track that probably best showcases Giltrap's guitar technique. There is a song with the same name on his second album, Portrait, which I don't yet own.

Revelation starts off with an accompanied flute, which gives it an ethereal feel, before Gordon takes over. Rod Edwards adds some effective piano chords. The strings join in the second half. Brass and wordless vocals by Shirlie Roden join during the last minute, giving it an epic finish.

The Price of Experience is one of the more orchestral pieces, with the lead melody played on brass, strings, and Minimoog.

Featuring only acoustic guitar and a flute synth, the Dance of Albion sounds like something off a Blackmore's Night album. Interesting fact: Gordon Giltrap is one of Ritchie Blackmore's favorite acoustic guitarists and Gordon actually helped him out with his acoustic guitar playing. The track also reminds me of Steve Howe's Mood for a Day.

The Tyger, named after Blake's most famous poem, is a dynamic composition, with a driving acoustic riff, alternating with gentler acoustic passages. The track features accompaniment by brass chords and excellent drumming.

The Echoing Green is a dreamy acoustic guitar piece, with a lullaby feel. I feel that the strings in the second half are a tad saccharine and that this would have worked better as an solo guitar number.

London is a melancholy acoustic guitar piece, which is briefly accompanied by trumpet and synth effects. It almost sounds like the poem's lyrics were set to music.

The final track, Night, is one of my favorites and a fantastic album closer. It starts with unaccompanied acoustic guitar, then a second guitar, flute, string, brass and Minimoog join in. This composition also seems to follow the words of the eponymous Blake poem.

I bought the remastered version of the album, which includes five bonus tracks. Overall, the bonus tracks are pleasant to listen to, but they also show how much the orchestration adds to the material.

The first three are devoted to a Guitar Concerto in three Movements that Giltrap composed before deciding on the William Blake concept. Many parts ended being used on Visionary, so it was never released. In particular, the second movement features most of From the Four Winds. A recurring theme seems to have been altered and used for Night.

On Wings of Hope starts with guitar strumming that reminds me of Yes' And You and I. It morphs into an upbeat a symphonic piece with lots of brass, similar to The Price of Experience. I'm not sure why it was left off the original album pressing, since it fits very well and the album was relatively short anyway.

The last track is called Visionary and is a fifteen minute demo track featuring many themes from the final track list: Dance of Albion, The Tyger, The Echoing Green, London, Awakening, Robes and Crowns, and Lucifer's Cage. It has a more medieval sound than the rest of the album. There are no strings or synths, just acoustic guitar with some flute, organ, and drums. It's interesting to listen and see how the themes were developed.

The record company chose the album cover. Giltrap would have preferred a Blake illustration as the cover, which would have been more appropriate to the album's concept.

I recommend Visionary to fans of acoustic guitar and of melodic instrumental music, such as Genesis ex-guitarist Anthony Phillip's The Geese and The Ghost.

Replayer | 4/5 |

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