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Steve Unruh - Challenging Gravity CD (album) cover


Steve Unruh

Prog Folk

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4 stars Challenging gravity is the 8th solo album of multi-instrumentalist Steve Unruh. His solo albums are mainly in the acoustic folk-prog style and are all written, played and performed by himself.

There are two pitfalls for a such a solo artist 1 The records start to sound overproduced and lifeless because of spending too much time alone in the studio 2 The records sound samey because of the lack of outside influences

I can gladly say that Steve Unruh managed to avoid these pitfalls by a mile! The record sounds very energetic and fresh, like its been recorded live by a full band. At the same time the sound quality is amazing. Everything is recorded crystal clear with an amazing dynamic range.

The record is a development from his previous recording 'The great Divide". As much as I liked that one (his very best imho), I am still glad he didn't try to make the same record twice. On Challenging gravity Steve more then even presents himself as a progressive singer-songwriter. The songs are more compact (without getting less complex!) and the lyrics are more personal.

Other reviewers already already went into depth into the individual songs. All I can say is that Challenging gravity doesn't have one weak moment. The record simply ranks up with the best the man has recorded so far.

4,5 stars


Report this review (#272329)
Posted Tuesday, March 16, 2010 | Review Permalink
Marty McFly
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars My ongoing Prog research lead me to this lair of beautiful sounds called "Challenging Gravity". To be honest, I was expecting decent modern Prog Folk album, but how was I wrong by assuming this, so very wrong.

If Eclectic means various, then this album surely is influenced by manThere are two oriental tracks, Twilight in India and The Path to Alhambra which depicts this theme quite well and brings fresh air to this 50 minutes composition.

Challenging is battle between all instruments featured here, battle for dominance, which one will be the prominent one, as if they were living beings and tried to please us, listeners. Then in the middle the song breaks and comes soft plunking and gentle violin (that's advantage of strings, they can sounds like that when they want - I mean when player wants).

Thanks Steve for this album, you have really made my day with this. Without bias, without blindly supporting him, I can easily say that it is one of the best albums of this year. Drums are basses are electric, but I didn't notice until I read it (in "Line-up / Musicians).

Now comes part with shorter songs, so far we had 7/11 minutes long ones and no songs with average length little bit over 4 minutes. First one (and also the longest one) is The Ocean is (you guess) calm song that couldn't be done better, quite well depicts this atmosphere with instruments given. Water body is probably the best musically depicted with acoustic guitar, which I'm starting to take as s fact. Later also flute joins.

Bluebird is on the contrary melancholic song and Fighting Gravity, title track, shows life story of some kind of underdog man rejected by society. I admit, I'm not that good on understanding lyrics at first few listenings, so it may be about Newton (logical choice, he is the one I usually connect with "Theory of Gravity"), but who knows.

It's like what Jeff Beck does with his guitar or Rick Wakeman with keyboards (even not that skilled, that I have to admit), Steve doesn't play exactly in virtuoso way, but he has a gift to create very suggestive moods from these instruments. One man band and sounds like completely normal Prog Folk group, that's important too.

Three years fans waited for new Steve Unruh album, but their waiting was greatly rewarded. Of course, he has his own band too (Resistor, which I hope will soon get recognized here as Prog group)

Disolve is probably the most psychedelic one of these songs (these elements glimpses in final stage of this song), otherwise it's quite Heavy song. Final track Reflecting Pond which closes this wonderful album, using this kind of optimistic sounding chords that second (or two seconds) later turns out to be sad ones, exactly - melancholic song again that uses layering and then suddenly dissolves before the end only come again with reprise of previously used structures of the same song.

4(+), this combination of various elements in such interesting way is simply irresistible.

Report this review (#283312)
Posted Monday, May 24, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Progressive Folk heaven!

Steve Unruh has managed to master the playing of a big array of instruments, and this album is a proof of what he can do almost acoustically and completely solo with a few instruments (specifically: acoustic guitars, violin, vocals, drums, electric bass and flute) but in quite a different manner of what you may expect. Here you won't find crazy soloing or wild displays of skill (with counted exceptions), instead you are being treated with a tasteful display of sophistication and compositional skill in a very intimate and sober album.

Unruh's main instruments are the guitar and the violin, and these are the principal instrumental elements of the music presented here + his exceptional voice and lyrical abilities provide the music with a unique aura.

Now track by track:

Twilight In India, as the title announces, opens the album dominated by indian-styled melodies. This track presents a very simple instrumentation, something that doesn't make it anything of a leser composition, consisting on an acoustic guitar and Steve's vocals on the spotlight joined by some percussions on the background. An amazing ballad! Brilliant on its simplicity. 4.25

Challenging shows a more aggressive and somewhat complex side of Unruh's music, here we get a sample of every single instrument used in the album (except for the flute). At about the middle, the mood turns mellower with an amazingly beautiful violin taking the lead, to later return to the initial aggressiveness and conclude magnificently. 4.75

The Ocean developes on the mellow nature of the previous' track middle section, this time with the inclussion of great flute work (sort of Jethro Tull-ish but not quite). 4

The melancholic Bluebird is a violin driven instrumental backed by the guitar and the rhythm section. 4.25

Fighting Gravity is another nice ballad led by the guitar in the same vein of the previous pieces (I don't know why, but the vocals here keep reminding me of Neal Morse's). 4

The Path of Alhambra explores a classical and flamenco spanish guitar approach (which, through the Classical Guitar EP, was the style that initially got me into Unruh's music), again instrumental, with beautiful flamenco styled violin interventions. This piece features one of the very few pure skill demostrations present on this album. Sublime! 4.75

Dissolve approaches the aggressiveness of Challenging but in a proggier/experimental fashion (due to the lack of a better term). The highlight in here is the violin/guitar interplay. 4.5

Reflecting Pond closes the album with another take on the classical guitar style, this time with vocals. The final product is an emotional and hypnotic piece led by highly skilled guitar playing and beautiful vocals. 4.75

Total: 4.41

Don't get fooled by the rating, Fighting Gravity is a masterpiece of folk music (progressive folk maybe) but the rock element isn't really dominant and sometimes is even absent. From a progressive rock perspective this one is just an excellent addition to any prog music collection. Believe me, it is much more than that.

The genius behind this creation lies in its simplicity. The format is simple, but the music manages to be complex in structure, challenging and, above all, very tasteful. If you enjoy of good skilled folk music with classical/flamenco and prog rock touches this is guaranteed to become your new obsession, it is impossible to get tired of it!.

If you need some references this is, without being really precise, somewhere in the middle between Bob Dylan and acoustic Jethro Tull with some classical Spanish edges.

One of the best albums to be released in the last few decades! (and of course in my top 2010 albums list) 100% recomended for progressive folk nuts like myself!

Recommendation: best when listened as a whole, not just as individual tracks.

Report this review (#286898)
Posted Thursday, June 17, 2010 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars One talented man, one extraordinary album!

There are some people whose name is still unknown, whose music doesn't cross everybody's minds, but whose talent is invaluable. One of them is this Steve Unruh. A North American musician who has been creating exquisite music for a long time, his first solo album came out in 1997 with the title of Believe?, and now in this 2010 he has released his 8th studio album entitled "Challenging Gravity", an almost acoustic album that shows the sensibility and quality of this musician.

This album features eight songs and a total time of 50 minutes. It kicks off with "Twilight in India", which is a very nice melody where the acoustic guitar begins with a kind of Indian sound, a minute later the vocals appear and start a communication between guitar and voice, the mood is very calm until minute 3:20 when it turns more aggressive with the introduction of drums and a faster sound. The final minute is just as the song began, with that acoustic Indian guitar.

Now I am excited, because "Challenging Gravity" did something marvelous to me since the very first time I listened to it, and so far I could say it is my favorite song of the year. The music is totally different to the first song; here you will listen to several instruments that manage to excel no matter how high or low they sound, I mean, despite sounding all at the same time, you will notice every one of them and you will receive them with your open arms. The rhythm is faster but more exciting. The song's introduction finishes after a minute where there is a stop and Unruh's vocals appear. Then the song becomes friendlier with a completely gentle sound. But the greatness of this song is its richness of sounds and quality in each of its changes. It lasts 11 minutes that will end in a lightning; with a beautiful interlude where violins appear, but the song ends with that aggressive and exciting sound.

"The Ocean" is a shorter song that calms down the excitation caused by the previous song. It is a tranquil composition with a simple structure in the beginning, later new elements are added and the sound changes a little bit, it becomes actually more interesting. The part where the flute appears is excellent, it may sound quite simple actually but it is great.

"Bluebird" is a beautiful short ballad, besides that delicate guitar sound, there is an extraordinary violin that takes you to another place, a moment of reflection. The next song is also a short one, its title is "Fighting Gravity" and the sound is still gentle, this time the vocals return and if you have nice memory, this is a nice song to sing, though not really my favorite of this album.

"The Path to Alhambra" is much more interesting than the previous one. The beginning shows a delicate acoustic guitar, which seconds later is accompanied by a disarming violin sound; the sense of melancholy is present here. As you guess, this piece has a special flavor, because it will immediately take you to Spain, and then you will have a short trip to Alhambra. Unruh's guitar and violin performance here is outstanding.

"Dissolve" starts again with a melancholic mood that later will change when drums enter. The bass sound is splendid and the song as a whole is very strong. Seconds before reaching minute four, the song turns a bit aggressive creating a tense atmosphere that will be complemented with a nervous violin sound. In the end it is an interesting track.

The album finishes with "Reflecting Pond" a song whose first minutes seems to be excepting the end, I mean the mood suggest melancholy, as if it was the end of the road. Later it changes and creates a sensation of satisfaction. The tune is up seconds later where that predominant gentle sound returns. The song finishes as it began, goodbye.

An extraordinary album that can be enjoyed by any progressive rock lover, I really recommend to take a listen to Steve Unruh's music, he is a great composer and performer, believe me. Final grade, four stars.

Enjoy it!

Report this review (#287917)
Posted Tuesday, June 22, 2010 | Review Permalink

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