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Senses - Fields Unsown CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.91 | 3 ratings

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Rock Progressivo Italiano Team
4 stars I first bought the debut Senses album back around 1996 on it's initial release, and `Fields Unsown' has held a special place in my heart for a long time now. I obtained this right near the beginning of my progressive rock collecting, and it stood out right away due to it's mix of acoustic guitar/piano driven accessible rock, country, singer/songwriter introspection and symphonic progressive. At the time, there were very few women fronting progressive rock bands, let alone acting as the main composers and creative force. Leading lady Joan Morbée sings and plays all the keyboards/piano and acoustic guitars on this album, the nearest and laziest comparison I could make for her voice would be Melissa Etheridge, with quite a raspy tone to it. Her gutsy personality drives the music, while the other founding member, Don Digiacopo, contributes some very sold bass playing. The band was fleshed out with session musicians, of particular note here is the work of lead electric guitarist Bruce Uchitel, who plays fiery and heavy lead guitar all over the album and really makes his mark.

Most of the pieces are essentially symphonic prog arrangements mainly driven by Joan's dazzling piano playing that moves seamlessly between reflective, thought-provoking and bombastic passages, with Bruce's heavy and extended electric guitar runs. Her synths are used very sparingly, and only to gently colour the backgrounds of the music.

`Under the Weight of the Rain' opens the album in a confident manner. Snappy synth orchestration and commanding piano passages come across like a race to a finish line, Joan's throaty delivery demanding your attention right away. The title track is primarily a heartfelt ballad, much of it just Joan singing over the top of her acoustic guitar, but the chorus is more up-tempo and forceful with some snarling electric guitar soloing. There's some lovely subtle bass soloing from Don over sedate strumming at the very end of the song, listen out for it! It would have been great if the band really stretched their progressive wings in this section and just played on, allowing the piece to drift to the heavens.

The three part `In Light of the Moon/Reflection/High Tide' is the crown jewel of the album. An epic that achieves a perfect balance of light and dark, a wide variety of feelings and conflicting emotions. Positive piano/synth/bass instrumental sections suddenly turn mysterious and ominous, gradually building in urgency and grandiosity. There's some nice chunky bass from Don here, before `Reflection' is Joan's moment to shine, a dazzling and effortless piano solo that will warm your heart. Bruce's harder grinding guitar takes over for the final section alongside some dark synth passages, and the lyrics in the end vocal section perfectly convey that light and shade. I love the sentiment in Joan's words - `I'm so tired, trying to fight the waves, but tomorrow's another day.'

The second and fourth tracks are more in the singer/songwriter mold, almost adopting a `protest song' feel. Although both the tracks sounds quite upbeat, you can tell they're very personal words that Joan is singing. Her tough voice really works well here, sounding like a call to arms, both confident and unsure in equal measures. I really like her confused optimism in `Take A Stand' with the line `I try to understand why it is that people treat me this way, I've never had anything bad to say...'. I can certainly relate to this sentiment, and that line has kept in my mind all these years. Bruce really tears through the whole track with some wailing lead electric guitar soloing, just relentless! `Free' is a quick and sprightly country rocker with some bluesy slide-guitar style playing, while Joan sounds so cutting and yet joyous in her performance, letting go and taking control! Two great little breathers in amongst the grander pieces on the album.

The album wraps on a fiery climax with heavy punchy rocker `Burn The Candle Down', with a tense opening build, a chest-beating catchy chorus and a scorching lyric abut dragging a relationship to it's bitter final end.

Over the fifteen-plus years that I've had this album, apart from the already great playing and distinctive vocals, the lyrics have always meant a lot to me. Recurring words of optimism, bringing people together, searching for light, finding direction, not conforming, being proud of your beliefs...these are themes we can all relate to, and I feel that those who enjoy Christian themes in their music will find much of this music inspiring and spiritually enriching, even if it doesn't specifically aim to be a religious album. I also am unsure if this is what Joan aimed for all along. But I still find once in a while that a line from this album while pop into my head, and I'll briefly think about what it means to me and how it relates to my life at this point.

Fans of bands like Mostly Autumn might really enjoy this one, as it's frequently acoustic based with big electrical guitar solos and synths over the top like that band. But the ideal listener would be the anyone who appreciates fine songwriting, a charismatic vocalist, grounded lyrics and musicians playing with restraint yet still wanting to offer a bit more than being totally straightforward and commercial. Joan and her musical partners should be very proud of the results here, and I still hold out hope get some sort of follow-up to it at some point in the future.

Four stars.

Aussie-Byrd-Brother | 4/5 |


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