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Simon, Alan: Excalibur IV – The Dark Age Of The Dragon
My first encounter with France's Alan Simon came from a recent two disc retrospective, where one full album was dedicated to the symphonic output this man has produced, while the other focused on his rock and rock opera works. With both discs pulling from a catalogue built up over 25 years, that this Francophile remains largely unknown is somewhat of a mystery, even if the exercise of bringing his best material together did somewhat feel like a mix of showing off the main man's diversity and the impressive contact book he's built up over the years; all manner of guests coming and going. What possibly proved Songwriter's ultimate undoing however was the feel that it was only half the story - that with Simon best known for his Excalibur concept albums, that one of the key aspects of the man's outlook was missing – his ability to build flowing, conceptual pieces.
Excalibur IV – The Dark Age Of The Dragon was born when the offer for Simon to tour under the Excalibur banner was suggested, the concept's creator only interested in agreeing if he could craft new music to add to what was already seen as a completed three part story arc. All agreed and with his usual cast of star names in tow, part IV was brought to life. Now, even with the lyrics included in the booklet, I'm not sure that there's an actual story going on here, but this album certainly flows and connects in a much stronger fashion than the isolated 'best of' tracks did, and as such starts from a much more natural position. What with his background, there's no surprise that things feel loosely folk in approach, pipes, whistles and orchestra all incorporated as a thoroughly believable scene is set. Members of Supertramp appear across the album and there are also performances from Martin Barre (from Jethro Tull), although the guitarist never quite breaks free from the surrounds he's served; while having him on board doesn't exactly hurt. Vocally a couple of the 'lesser' names are actually amongst the most exciting, Siobhan Owen bringing an ethereal quality to the dreamy "The Last Lament Of A Fairy", while the theatric tones of Roberto Tiranti (ex-Labyrinth) bring a John Payne era-Asia feel to the more brooding and forceful "Don't Be Afraid" and its busy keyboard backbone. Both are album highlights.
That said, any track featuring Saga's Michael Sadler is going to be worth investigating and the string infused ballad "Alone" doesn't disappoint. Uriah Heep man Bernie Shaw adds his unmistakable tones to "Dreamers", his grittier stance suitably regal for a strutting, proud piece of pomp. Add in great performances from Moya Brennan (Clannad) and Sonja Kristina (Curved Air) and the class and variety continues throughout.
I must admit that I had basically written off Alan Simon on the strength of what proves an underwhelming best of album but maybe it was the circumstances rather than the music that was the real hindrance? Without hearing those earlier albums in their entirety I'm not sure, but Excalibur IV offers a much more complete and rewarding window into what this Frenchman can create and as such is a most welcome surprise.
1. THE WINGS OF THE DRAGON
4. I'M NOT THE ONLY ONE
5. CALLING FOR YOU
6. DON'T BE AFRAID
7. SILVER MOON
9. THE LAST LAMENT OF A FAIRY
10. THE NEW TIMES
11. FORGET YOUR SORROW
12. THE FIFTH SEASON
13. THE PASSION
14. I WILL BE FOR EVER
15. BEHIND THE MIST
16. YOU DON'T KNOW
17. YOU ARE THE SUNSHINE
18. THERE IS SOMEONE
19. DUN AENGUS II
Added: February 24th 2018
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Alan Simon online
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