Balloon Astronomy: Balloon Astronomy
When was the last time you heard a new progressive rock band release a debut CD that made you want to spin it over and over? Well I have just the tonic you desire. Balloon Astronomy takes all of their influences and combines them in a potent brew of classic prog rock on the self-titled debut. In fact, if there are any young bands out their looking for a role model for sound this band needs a good look.
Jim Ledger (lead and backing vocals, bass, acoustic and electric guitars) and Glenn Little (keyboards, flutes, charango, ukulele, guitars) met in junior high and soon found out they shared a love for acts like Genesis, which is the first band that came to mind while listening to the opening track "Crows in the Field." Then there was Jethro Tull, Strawbs, Anthony Phillips, Mike Oldfield, Supertramp, Renaissance, Cat Stevens, and Elton John that peaked their interest as well. So how is it that you can hear all of these artists in their music? It is not very difficult actually, much easier than you would think, well for Balloon Astronomy anyway.
Along with Ledger and Little they get a little help from their friends including Nick D'Virgilio (drums and percussion), Jason Smith (drums and percussion), Mike Keneally (acoustic guitar) and Max Werner (clarinet).
What I found so appealing besides the fantastic music was Ledger's vocals. They are clear, expressive, and right on point. I can actually understand every word. Many times I hear great music but really struggle to understand what the vocalist is trying to say.
"The Odyssey" is a good example of the multifaceted sounds that this duo produces. And believe me it is very prog, they go through several transitions in one track. By no coincidence this is the longest track clocking in at 6:37. The atmospheres range from epic apexes, like a volcano erupting, to the beauty of a pristine stream babbling that calls to you offering a passage of serenity. All of this is accomplished within six and half minutes. It echoes the band's name in many ways. If you can envision going up in a hot air balloon on a clear night to observe the constellations, think how expansive and wondrous that would be. That is what their music is all about. It does not get any more expressive than that when it comes to recording prog rock with an impact.
Another track that sets the tone is "Eagle," it soars as high as its namesake, particularly with the keyboards. I would earmark this one to be looked upon as a fan favorite and remembered as a classic for as long as the band is around and many years thereafter. If you take a look at all the instruments that come into play on this recording (see credits above) it's no wonder it sounds as good as it does. "Sigmoid Fletcher" is another slice of pie from the world of early Genesis. It is a rollicking good tune that brings a smile to your face and your heart. The way they end this album is very interesting with some instrumental classically influenced keyboard and guitar licks. It sounds like something from one of Rick Wakeman's solo albums - The Six Wives of Henry the VIII comes to mind in the front end of the track. Leave it to a prog band to end an album this way after hearing 11 tracks full of tremendous vocals. To leave you pondering with some instrumental virtuosity that would give any prog head his money's worth on the way out the door is appropriate.
This band is unsigned right now, but not for long. I am willing to bet this album makes many top ten lists this year. Music is a form of art at the highest level and this is a masterpiece of the progressive rock genre.
1. Crows in the Field
2. Even Odds
3. Roots Run Deep
4. The Odyssey
5. Gentle Day
6. Sourness of Days
7. By the Strange Water's Edge
9. Sigmoid Fletcher
10. One Summer
11. For Jackie
12. Summer Afternoon
Added: April 17th 2012
Reviewer: Keith Hannaleck
Related Link: Band Website
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|Balloon Astronomy: Balloon Astronomy
Posted by Mark Johnson, SoT Staff Writer on 2012-04-17 06:30:28
"Balloon Astronomy is a San Diego based prog band and the collaboration of two long – time friends who share a love of similar music. Jim and Glenn met in junior high school and discovered the music of the classic prog bands of the 70s on the radio", (http://balloonastronomy.com/, 2012).
Balloon Astronomy features the talented efforts of Jim Ledger, on vocals, bass and guitars; and Glenn Little, on keyboards and flute. Artists contributing to the album include: Nick D'Virgilio, on drums and percussion; Jason Smith, on drums and percussion; Mike Keneally, on acoustic guitar; and Max Werner, on clarinet.
"Crows in the Fields" is a short 1:26 opener, with crickets, soft piano, and the sound of crows in the distance. A nice mood setter and welcome to their debut.
"Even Odds" opens with an almost "Turn it on Again" keyboard, bass, and lead guitar romp that turns into a roar with Ledger's vocals. A great groove and rhythm as the protagonist rushes to hide from his pursuers. "Yesterday I felt you near, but now I know you're far away". Hard to place Ledger's vocals. Original. Close to John Galgano from IZZ at times.
"Roots Run Deep" is the least prog sounding track on the album. More of a good rocker. There is a flavor of Cirrus Bay, without the female vocals, or maybe early IZZ. The acoustic guitar is extraordinary at times. Solid drums and fine piano. "The sun was shining, the river winding, when you and I went drifting down the bayou". The best is still yet to come.
"The Odyssey" opens full of crickets, then keys and mystical guitar and modulated vocals. Solid pounding drums, strong bass, and great Rush – like lead guitar. The keys are good, but we are still building momentum for the big tracks to come. "Heaven help us we're alive. We're a thousand miles above the sky. Give us wisdom to survive, and a guiding hand to lead us to the light". At 6:37, the longest track and some of Ledger's best vocals.
The real fun begins, like most of my favorites, with the piano on "Gentle Day". Wonderful soft and yet expansive grand piano sound. But it is over as fast as it begins at 1:23 minutes.
"Sourness of Days" opens some of the best music and lyrics on the album following that wonderful piano piece. The bass is extraordinary.
"By the Strange Water's Edge" and "Eagle" are the tracks you bought this CD to hear. They should have been a suite. These are the ticket to the show you were waiting for. Enough power and magic on two songs to more than compensate for the entrance fee. These two, if enough people would hear them, would break this band big…at least it would have in the Neo Prog era.
From these two tracks, you know the artists were listening. They learned from the music they grew up with and demonstrated it here with a lasting tribute to their legends. For me, they have built a wonderful foundation for a very long career.
Mystical sound effects or some distinctive opening introduces all of the best epics, and so it is with this track. The slow tranquil keys unlock clock chiming keys and more excellent, original sound effects. Then they follow with…of course piano…the one solid instrument that many of the great epics of the past have been built upon. Then some clarinet, following in the tradition of Supertramp and some of the greats. More of those glorious keys and bell – like sound effects as the symphony builds with accompanying synth keys. The magic is thrilling. Then a thundercloud burst. More solid piano, supported by soft synth keys. A regal tone, then clarinet. At 5:27, you only wish there was more.
"Eagle" opens with mystic rhythms, solid bass and percussion, accompanied by a building rhythm that almost eclipses the last track. It is full of the best vocals and lyrics on the album. "One time I thought a dream was true. In a shower of sparks and a swirl of brilliant leaves, and at night the stars all came out to dance. But then a cold wind blew and it was gone". Wonderful cathedral like keys and flutes taking you right back to "Nursery Cryme", "Foxtrot" and all the classics. Bring on some "Ripples/Entangled", symphonic keys. Then a little "Me and Sarah Jane" rhythm. Later, "the first snowflake on a gentle day"…yeh… "…And Then There Were Three"…". "Now wings stretched wide"…as the "Supper's Ready" like keys, bass, lead guitar, flute and symphonic chorus echo from out of the past into the present… "to the warming sun, the eagle flies away". If only there was more…
"Sigmoid Fletcher" is a wonderful, traditional English sounding blast from "Nursery Cryme" era lore, excellently played. Stories like they used to be. More of that IZZ influence in the sound and rhythm, similar to their "Lornadoone". Flutes which bring back memories of early Tull.
"Her mother told her once about people when they die, and how they get to play in the stars", opens the epic Summer Suite, with the opener, "One Summer". Fantastic acoustic guitar supported well with drums, bass, and keys. The piano sounds are perfect. A feeling and sound remembered from some of the tracks on "Three Sides Live", that didn't make the original cut, but should have.
"For Jackie" is a 2:16 minute piano interlude which will just lock this album away as a favorite.
"Summer Afternoon Suite" completes the album with an instrumental full of piano, keyboard, bass, and guitar. They take you out with some excellent Banks – era sounds.
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