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Happy the Man: The Muse Awakens

Happy the Man fans have been clamoring for this new CD since the band regrouped a few years back at the North East Art Rock Festival (NEARfest), and the wait is now over. Long-time members Stanley Whitaker (guitars & vocals), Frank Wyatt (sax, keyboards, & woodwinds) and Rick Kennell (bass) are joined here on The Muse Awakens by former Rainbow keyboard player David Rosenthal and drummer Joe Bergamini, and the results are simply astounding, as if the band never went away in the first place.

Things kick off in typical Happy the Man fashion with "Contemporary Insanity", a blistering yet quirky piece that will instantly remind you of the style of the bands debut and sophomore release Crafty Hands (both from the 1970's), as well as vintage Gentle Giant, with its complex and weaving sax, keyboards, and guitar interplay. The title track, as well as "Stepping Through Time", have more atmospheric and jazzier moments (reminding me a little of early Spyro Gyra) thanks to the classy keyboard work of Rosenthal and Wyatt's melodic reed stylings.

More intricate fusion with a Canterbury twist is evident on "Lunch at the Psychedelicatessen", a symphonic piece that sees Wyatt and Rosenthal once again complementing each other perfectly, until Whitaker joins the party with some wild finger picking that signals the whole band to move into complex prog-rock mode. The majestic "Slipstream" is a gorgeous piece that really shows what Rosenthal brings to the table, as he teams with Wyatt to create sumptuous soundscapes on piano and synths that help propel this song one of the most emotional instrumental prog tunes you will hear all year.

"Barking Spiders" is another beast altogether, as Stanley Whitaker unleashes some raunchy guitar riffs that are backed by some insane rhythm work from Kennell and Bergamini. Whitaker and Rosenthal get into some crazy exchanges here on this one! Wyatt's sax is featured on the smooth and jazzy "Adrift", while "Shadowlites" is a moody and atmospheric piece that also is the only track on the CD with vocals, courtesy of Whitaker. Stan's emotional and fluid guitar work tugs at your heart on the tender "Maui Sunset", a tune that also contains a tasty & melodic synth solo from Rosenthal. This song however is the calm before the storm, as they break out the big guns for the grand finale, the symphonic "Il Quinto Mare." At over 7-minutes in length, it is the longest piece on the album, and shifts through many changes of mood and tempo as only Happy the Man can muster. The band manages to squeeze classical, jazz, hard rock, and prog all into one tune here, and it really works, showcasing what a roster of talent lies in this ensemble.

The progressive rock world has just been put on notice...Happy the Man is back folks, and they are here to stay. The world is also a better place because of it!

Track List
1) Contemporary Insanity (3:24)
2) The Muse Awakes (5:36)
3) Stepping Through Time (6:31)
4) Maui Sunset (5:10)
5) Lunch At The Psychedelicatessen (4:59)
6) Slipstream (4:43)
7) Barking Spiders (4:11)
8) Adrift (4:04)
9) Shadowlites (3:52)
10) Kindred Spirits (5:26)
11) Il Quinto Mare (7:22)

Added: February 17th 2005
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Score:
Related Link: Happy the Man Official Site
Hits: 6754
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Happy the Man: The Muse Awakens
Posted by Duncan Glenday, SoT Staff Writer on 2005-02-17 18:38:20
My Score:

Muse:
1 Capitalized : any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology presiding over song and poetry and the arts and sciences
2 : A source of inspiration; especially : a guiding genius
3 : Poet

- - Merriam Webster

The Muse on this CD is indeed poetic, a source of inspiration, a guiding genius. And after a 20+ year slumber, the muse has indeed awoken and delivered a CD that is as fresh and as vibrant as Happy The Man's self-titled debut in 1977.

The band was formed on a US Army base in Germany in mid-1972 and released just official albums during their 7-year existence. Then, inspired by one of the reunions that is becoming common in progressive music, they went back into the studio and produced The Muse Awakens - a wonderful intersection of classical classical arrangements, jazz chords and Cantebury-styled progressive music's symphonic melodies. Happy The Man's music is complex and intricate yet it never loses sight of its strong melodic themes.

Over its 56 minutes the 11 songs flow from upbeat and pleasant to dreamy and reflective to quirky and fun. With the a fluency born of stellar musicianship, each track flows through shifts in time signatures and keys and tempos and moods - always moving, always complex, yet never overwhelming. It's hard to pick a standout track, but mini-epic "Il Quinto Mare" may be the best piece by a close margin, followed by the humorous and quirky "Barking Spiders" and "Lunch At The Psychedelicatessen". Besides the standard rock ensemble there are significant contributions from tenor and alto saxes, clarinet and flute. Every track is tight and composed and there isn't a hint of jamming. It is purely instrumental except for one song with relaxed mid-quality vocals

Despite all the sophisticated complexity on The Muse Awakens, the melodies and the moods reign supreme - which is why this album will find equal appeal among afficionados of sophisticated structures, and those simply looking for an old fashioned damned good listen.


Happy the Man: The Muse Awakens
Posted by Steve Ambrosius, SoT Staff Writer on 2004-12-01 10:14:48
My Score:

When you receive a CD by Happy The Man, you are tempted to fill the review with historical references and muses on the state and past conditions of Progressive Rock. But I will contain myself to the The Muse Awakens and leave the history for you to Google.

The Muse Awakens is jazz tinged progressive rock. From the rocking opening of "Contemporary Insanity" through the haunting closer "Il Quinto Mare" you can't but help but be taken back to 70s bands like Gentle Giant, Weather Report, and of course Happy The Man. The CD is mostly instrumental, mixing jazz, rock, psych, and improvanization.

One could understand if this CD got more play on a Jazz station than a rock station, but that is mainly the bias we have towards the instruments. Frank Wyatt plays amazing sax and flute. This lends a smooth jazz feel, but the compositions are so well done that you can only have this kind of tightness and mood in a progressive CD.

And thus we get to the key to any Happy The Man album; Song Composition. You can not help but be entranced by each song on The Muse Awakens. With each listen you find new gems underneath layers you hadn't heard before. I would prefer a little more variations in tempo, but that is nit picking.

The Muse Awakens is a solid effort by a legendary band. Happy The Man shows once again, that song writing is the key to all music. Being great mucisians help, but without the composition quality, these efforts wouldn't work. Although it would be impossible to recreate the Magic of the 70s CDs, this one is highly recommended to all current fans and those looking for a blast from the past.



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