After the release of 2002's amazing Lex Rex, I was under the impression that this band had made their definitive statement, and any subsequent recordings would only cement their legacy as one of the upper tier of this generation of prog bands, alongside The Flower Kings, Spock's Beard, Echolyn, and a host of others. Well, I've now been spinning their latest CD, Shadowlands for a few weeks, and I think I am beginning to eat my words. This latest offering from the band from Tennessee is a different animal altogether from Lex Rex-sure, it has that signature Glass Hammer sound, and it's deeply rooted in 70's styled classic prog. But the band sounds energized here, and the songs are a bit more upbeat, more melodic, yet in no way have they sacrificed all that makes a great prog record. Let's dig in a bit, shall we?
Some soulful acoustic guitar strums kick off the opening cut "So Close, So Far", and with the introduction of some symphonic synths and Hammond organ, there's no doubt that this almost 10 minute track will be an enjoyable ride. Fred Schendel is at it once again, supplying waves of vintage keyboard sounds and ripping guitar lines. Check out the eerie middle section, with effects laden guitar passages surrounded by waves of Mellotron, while the gorgeous vocals of Flo Paris soar through the heavens-this is impressive stuff here folks. "Run Lisette" will help you scratch that itch for some Going for the One era Yes, or perhaps a little Song for America styled American prog from Kansas. Steve Babb's bass work brings to mind the muscular style of Chris Squire, while Schendel's keyboards are up in the mix front and center, alongside his Steve Howe influenced guitar solos. The inclusion of The Adonia String Trio on violin, viola, and cello really bring a new element to the Glass Hammer sound on this piece, and I for one would love to hear this band with a full-time violin player. The backing vocals of Flo Paris, Susie Bogdanowicz, Sarah Snyder, and Bethany Warren also add a nice touch to the songs here, and may help the band draw some new fans as their sound is more accessible thanks to the presence of the lovely ladies.
More symphonic grandeur follows on "Farewell to Shadowlands", with effective male & female vocals, ripping pedal steel guitar lines, and bombastic keyboards. Hints of ELP and Yes abound on this one, and keyboard lovers will revel at the sounds Schendel creates here. The band goes for a cover of the Dan Fogelberg classic "Longer", but don't be shocked, it's actually very well done. What was originally a short folk/pop tune is now turned into a melodic, 10-minute symphonic prog opus, with Schendel's triumphant keyboard arsenal leading the way alongside the bubbling bass work and Taurus pedals of Babb. The closer on this CD is the 20-minute epic "Behind the Great Beyond", a song about wondering if there is more to life than just....well, life! Adding in all the Glass Hammer elements, this one is as majestic as it gets, with some catchy vocal harmonies and complex arrangements that will have fans of Yes howling with delight.
Vocally, this band is really starting to come into their own, especially with the addition of the female singers, and Walter Moore's rise to becoming a real force in the band. His vocals are perhaps the strongest out of the three men in the band, and after seeing GH live at NEARFest last year, he obviously has a bit of stage presence and can play a mean guitar (although curiously he contributes no guitar work here.) I've been an admirer of this band for many years, yet their first few releases were good but didn't really knock my socks off. However, they seem to have really hit a stride, as their last few CD's are about as good as it gets in modern symphonic prog music. Chalk up another winner...a BIG winner for Glass Hammer with Shadowlands.
1) So Close, So Far (9:50)
2) Run Lisette (10:30
3) Farewell to Shadowlands (7:30)
4) Longer (9:55)
5) Behind the Great Beyond (20:26)