It's been nearly a decade since we've heard from California's Puppet Show. Their debut album Traumatized burst on the prog-rock scene in 1997 to positive acclaim, and after some high profile performances at Baja Prog and ProgFest shortly thereafter, the band pretty much faded from view. That is, until now. After many years trying to get the band back on track and finish their follow-up (regular jobs, relocations, & line-up changes can throw a wrench in plans sometimes), The Tale of Woe is now completed, and the band find themselves on ProgRock Records, a fitting home for their brand of hard-hitting symphonic neo-prog.
They may be a few years older, but Puppet Show can still dish out the goods. Kicking off with the excellent "Seasons", the band throw plenty of catchy vocal melodies courtesy of Sean Frazier and loads of guitar & keyboard at the listener. Chris Ogburn is not afraid to let it rip on the guitar, as at times his playing has a hint of hard rock & metal to it, while Mike Grimes reminds us all of how great the 70's were with no shortage of vintage keyboard sounds. "The Seven Gentle Spirits" is a 14+ minute epic filled with insightful lyrics and complex musical interplay. New drummer Chris Mack and bassist Craig Polson stabilize the arrangement with intricate rhythms while Ogburn churns out beefy riffs and searing solos, even getting into a daring unison passage with Grimes and his synth. On "Harold Cain" the band go for a Genesis meets Gentle Giant touch, an upbeat and hilariously crafted number lyrically, complete with quirky arrangements and melodic vocals. You'll again be reminded of Genesis as well as Arena on the near 17-minute "The Past Has Just Begun", a song that is dripping with tasty guitar & keyboard work, as well as Polson's velvety smooth bass lines. The pastoral middle section sees Frazier's emotional vocals meet up with lush acoustic guitars from Ogburn and gentle piano from Grimes, but don't get too lulled into a tranquil state, as the band blasts back in with plenty of prog bombast before it's all said and done. "God's Angry Man" is an instrumental, and easily the CD's heaviest piece, littered with crunchy guitar riffs, acrobatic drums, and noisy synth passages. The closing "On Second Thought" is a very symphonic number, and a real showcase for Grimes and his layers of Mellotron, Moog, and Hammond sounds. With plenty of room for all the players to showcase their talents, this song is a real winner all around, and should be highlight of their live set.
Despite their time away, Puppet Show have lost nothing over the years, and quite possibly have become a more formidable prog rock band in the process. The Tale of Woe is a solid and exciting return-let's hope it's not another nine years before we see them again.
2. The Seven Gentle Spirits
3. Harold Cain
4. The Past Has Just Begun
5. God's Angry Man
6. On Second Thought