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Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
2 stars Leaving gracefully

The title for this, the final release by Grace to date, is taken from a lyric on the "Poppy" album. This live album is intended as a coda to the band's studio releases, although the sleeve notes claim that the band "is not defunct". The gig took place in Stoke, UK well after the release of "Poppy" in 1996 and was the last official live performance by the band.

The set list draws in tracks from the band's four studio albums including several from their rare 1979 self titled debut, an album which appeared some 13 years before their second release.

The sleeve note tell us that this album captures the band's "real power", and that may well be the case. What it does not do though is reflect the fine arrangements and careful production which went into the studio albums. The performances certainly find the band enjoying themselves in front of an enthusiastic audience, but the refinement which characterised the original albums is largely missing. The sensitive observations on the "Oklahoma" bombings for example do not transfer well to a live audio album, despite the obvious passion in Mac Austin's vocals.

The picture I paint here is probably bleaker than is justified. These are after all competent performances of a wide array of songs from throughout the band's history. The bottom line is perhaps that this album is largely superfluous for those who have the studio albums. Those who have remained faithful to the band, and who were fortunately enough to witness a live performance may well consider this to be a valid memento though.

Report this review (#178843)
Posted Tuesday, August 5, 2008 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars "I have no vision for nuclear fission, I have no hope for the isotope"

Grace is a band that has impressed me lately and I have found myself seeking out their hard-to-find albums one after another. I still lack their 70's debut album however, which seems to be long since out of print (was it ever released on CD?). This fact makes the present live album of particular interest as it includes several songs from the band's early days. In addition to songs taken from the band's three 90's albums we have here a further five tracks that apparently originates from the 70's; though, only two of which appeared on the now rare debut.

Before the release of the debut in 1979, this much overlooked British band toured and released a single in 1977. Their first live album was released in 1981, but the band broke up shortly after that and didn't reform until the late 80's. They then released three new studio albums during the first half of the 90's. The present 2CD, career-spanning live album is thus Grace' second live release and it features over two hours of music divided over 20 tracks.

You could perhaps place Grace in the same category as Haze and Red Jasper. All of these three great and overlooked bands mix elements of Folk and Prog, but in somewhat different ways. While Haze leans more towards Psychedelic Rock and Blues Rock and Red Jasper mixes Neo-Prog and pure British Folk Rock, Grace leans more towards Crossover Prog with a much stronger emphasis on hooks. (Haze and Grace were also formed around the same time in the 70's and both are (were?) apparently also on the same label: Cyclops Records). Red Jasper is by far my favourite of these three and they are absolutely brilliant, but Haze and Grace are certainly worthy of investigation too.

The show is split into two parts that divides neatly onto the two discs of this set. The first set opens with three old songs that I had never heard before. Lunar and Buccaneer were apparently originally featured on the debut album. The 1992 come-back album, The Poet, The Piper And The Fool, is represented with four strong tracks including the 11 minute, two-part composition Holy Man and the sing-along-friendly Rain Dance. Five songs are taken from the 1994 follow-up Pulling Strings And Shiny Things, and six songs are from the most recent Poppy album from 1996. The remaining five tracks are apparently old "classics" in the band's repertoire and the appreciative audience seem to recognize them. It is very interesting for a new fan like me to hear these older tracks, but the newer tracks are generally stronger.

The sound produced by this solid seven-man (!) line-up consists of guitars, bass, drums, various keyboards, Jethro Tull-like flutes, saxophone, whistles and the distinctive theatrical lead vocals of Mac Austin. Both the band and the audience seem to have lots of fun here (they make lots of humorous comments between songs, some of which are lost on me I'm afraid) and this is surely a very nice representation of the unfairly disregarded career of Grace. It makes you wonder why they are not better known among Prog fans.

This live album is unquestionably enjoyable and highly recommended in addition to the band's 90's studio albums, the best of which are The Poet, The Piper And The Fool and Pulling Strings And Shiny Things (the highlights on this live album are mostly taken from these two studio albums).

Report this review (#292255)
Posted Wednesday, July 28, 2010 | Review Permalink

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