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XII Alfonso: Charles Darwin

The latest release from French symphonic proggers XII Alfonso is about as epic as you can get. A concept album about the life of Charles Darwin covering 3 CDs of music, featuring vocal pieces and instrumentals, and with over 20 guests, this is something that most bands wouldn't even dare to tackle, but XII Alfonso were up to the challenge and succeeded on every level. Take a quick look at the list of guest stars below and you'll see current and former members of Kayak, Supertramp, It Bites, Camel, Alan Parsons Project, Steve Hackett, Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd, Fish, Tony Banks, Phil Collins, and many others, so when you add them to the formidable XII Alfonso line-up of Philippe Claerhout (guitars, bass), Francois Claerhout (keyboards), Thierry Moreno ( Drums ), and Stéphane Ducassé (flutes), plus throw in the Charles Darwin storyline, you've got the makings of some musical magic.

Let's be honest, with about 3 hours of music here, there's a lot to sink your teeth into. I'm not going to attempt to get into this concept album from a track by track perspective, as it's something you really need to take in as a whole and over NUMEROUS listens. Each CD takes you chronologically through Darwin's life from beginning to end, and highlights the major events in his life. It took the band 2 years to put this thing together, and you can instantly hear all the work and love that was poured into the album. Don't expect much bombast, as the majority of the pieces, both vocal and instrumental, favor the softer side of prog, with lush passages of symphonic keys, gorgeous acoustic guitars, and jazzy reed work. In fact, there's just as much folk and jazz-fusion here as there is prog, so this will really appeal to a wide variety of listeners. Look for plenty of wonderful sax & flute passages, giving quite a few tracks here a nice jazzy flavor, and the guitar work throughout is simply lovely. When the flute and acoustic guitar are paired together, you can't help but be totally swept away with the beauty of the melodies.

The vocal pieces are quite good as well, with notable performers Maggie Reilly, Amy Keys, and Elliott Murphy really standing out. Some might find the vocals of Vietnamese singer Huong Thanh a little odd and out of place, but she's just as important of the telling of the overall story as everyone else is.

So, now that I've given you some insight to the music here, let me also let you in on another reason that this album is so unique. The packaging here is out of control magnificent. Housed in a lovely 3CD digibook with a super thick booklet containing full color photographs of everyone involved, information on instuments used on each track (and including photos and drawings of all the instruments), lyrics, and full details of events in Darwin's life. Just glorious stuff, and makes for hours of reading entertainment while you are listening to the grand concept CD set.

In short, if you are a fan of lush progressive rock concept albums, and get your groove on to fantastic CD packaging of the highest order, you'll need this one in your collection. Yes, there's a lot to take in here, but for the adventurous it will totally be worth it.

Musical Guests :
Maggie Reilly - vocals
Elliott Murphy - vocals
Gérard Lenorman - vocals
Huong Thanh - vocals
Pierre Emberger aka Freegh - vocals
Amy Keys - vocals
Ronnie Caryl - guitars, vocals
Alistair Gordon - vocals
Jayney Klimek - vocals
John A. Helliwell - saxes, clarinet
Raphaël Ravenscroft - saxes
Terry Oldfield - flute
John Hackett - flute
Tim Renwick - guitars
Francis Dunnery - guitars
Robin Boult - guitars
Ian Bairnson - guitars
David Paton - bass
Michael Manring - bass
Mickey Simmonds - keyboard
Ton Scherpenzeel - keyboard

Tracks Listing
1 - Collection One
2 - Earliest Recollections
3 - Stolen Fruit
4 - Physics and Hunting
5 - Silent Battle
6 - Collection Two and Three
7 - The Bump of Reverence
8 - Leaving England (part 1)
9 - Leaving England (part 2)
10 - The Letter from Henslow
11 - HMS Beagle
12 - Collection Four
13 - Captain Fitz-Roy
14 - Straits of Magellan
15 - Tierra del Fuego
16 - Darwin's Finches
17 - Homeward Bound
Total time 60:14

1 - Collection Five
2 - So Many Years
3 - Strange Fossil
4 - Emma and Charles
5 - The Coral of Life
6 - Collection Six
7 - Down House
8 - The Island of Devil's Riding School
9 - Annie (part 1)
10 - Annie (part 2)
11 - Collection Seven
12 - Beloved Cirripedia
13 - An Ordinary Day
14 - Salting the Seeds
15 - Lenny
16 - It's Time to Write
17 - Collection Eight
18 - Missing Links
Total time : 60:05

1 - Collection Nine
2 - Bound Together
3 - Descent with Modification
4 - On the Origin of Species
5 - Controverse in Oxford
6 - Collection Ten
7 - Slave Makers
8 - Last Human Common Ancestor
9 - Sombre Thoughts
10 - Collection Eleven
11 - Mysterious Illness
12 - The Copley Medal
13 - Vision of the Indian Mound
14 - The Descent of Man
15 - Collection Twelve
16 - Struggle for Existence
17 - Darwin's Burial
Total time : 60:15

Added: June 7th 2012
Reviewer: Pete Pardo
Related Link: Band Website
Hits: 3478
Language: english

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