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Crommie, Daniel; with Glyn Havard & Friends: Aquarius in Retrograde

Over the past several decades, multi-instrumentalist Daniel Crommie has built an impressive following with this DIY blend of (as he called it) "psychedelic medieval folk jazz." On his newest release, Aquarius in Retrograde (what a wonderfully poetic title), he once again utilizes the talents of several guest musicians to bring his visions to life. Although it can be a bit monotonous at times and it really doesn't offer anything commendable in terms of songwriting, the album is still interesting in many places.

The follow-up to 2010's Between the Darkness and the Dawn, Aquarius in Retrograde once again features Jade Warrior vocalist, Glyn Havard, as well as many other artists, including Havard's son, James. According to Crommie, the album is thematically linked to "the disintegration of the socio-political advances gained in the turbulent 1960's/1970's" Regardless of whether or not you want to penetrate the record's deeper agenda, it's still an enjoyable blend of genres and sounds, as many effects, moods, and styles combine to take the listener on a seamless journey. Think of it as a combination of Mike Oldfield's earliest work and Urihani's Music for the Planet.

"Can You Feel the Change?" is a funky and fun opener. Saxophone solos and staccato guitar riffs complement simple percussion and a bass line that moves like a runner in a marathon. "Kick Off" is a vibrant piece highlighted by its woodwinds and arpeggios, as well as vocals that are eerily similar to Gordon Haskell's (seriously, this sounds like a new age lost track from King Crimson's Lizard). Along the same lines, "Disbelief" feels like a lost track from a classic Moody Blues album, and "An August Elegy" is a very touching instrumental that would fit on any recent Phideaux record.

Other highlights include the extremely odd nature of "Another Midnight in America," the dynamic force of "Primitive Future," the adventurous construction of "Is it the Stars?" and the eccentric madness of album closer, "The Butcher Shop." Just about every track on Aquarius in Retrograde bursts with color and inventiveness, and if nothing else, Crommie and crew should be regarded as mad musical scientists who draw upon a vast amount of influences to create wild auditory puzzles.

Unfortunately, there's more truth to that statement than listeners would like. Although the record recalls techniques and timbres of the aforementioned greats (as well as Jethro Tull and Nektar), one substantial thing is lacking: worthwhile songwriting. The melodies feel entirely superficial and forgettable, as if they were added at the last minute to add another layer to the mix. It makes the entire affair feel a bit amateurish and shallow.

Aquarius in Retrograde is a perfect example of how quality songwriting is the most important part of music (instrumentals excluded, of course). Crommie and his guests are great players with a fair amount of diverse instruments and ideas; however, they fail to engage the listener at a deeper level because they don't profess anything complex or catchy enough to warrant sustainability. In the end, the album is enjoyable enough as it plays, but it doesn't leave any impression once it's done.

Track Listing
1. Can You Feel the Change?
2. Kick Off
3. Disbelief
4. An August Elegy
5. Burn the Town Red
6. All Souls Day
7. Another Midnight in America
8. Primitive Future
9. Default
10. Green
11. Is it the Stars?
12. Butcher Shop
13. It Takes a Hurricane (Bonus)
14. Up is Down is Up (Space Jazz)

Added: September 7th 2012
Reviewer: Jordan Blum
Related Link: Artist Facebook Page
Hits: 3525
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Crommie, Daniel; with Glyn Havard & Friends: Aquarius in Retrograde
Posted by Jon Neudorf, SoT Staff Writer on 2012-09-07 10:07:01
My Score:

Daniel Crommie over the last three decades has built up an impressive volume of work over twenty-five solo albums and many more as a band member with Group Du Jour, Echo System, Saturnalia Trio and Continuum. On his latest album Crommie (vocals, electric dulcimer, keyboards) is joined by many others including Glyn Havard (vocals, bass), Eldon Hardenbrook (bass, piano), David Duhig (lead, e-bow and twelve string guitars) and Colin Henson (electric and classical guitars).

This is an interesting album, especially for those who enjoy psychedelic music. Perhaps this is what caught my attention from the get go. There is a real '60s hippie flair going on combined with elements of ambient, jazz and electronic music. The electronic soundscapes meld nicely with instruments like flute, viola and sax and the melodies are strong throughout.

The first few tracks give you an overall feel for the album. "Can You Feel the Change?" with its subtle techno flavourings and funky grooves is a strong opening track. The use of congas hints of world music.

The second track "Kick Off" is more mellow with dreamy electronics and plaintive acoustic guitar. Crommie's dulcimer and Mellotron adds a dramatic flair taking the song into space-like territory.

The mellowness continues with "Disbelief". Subtle waves of synths and Mellotron combine with Leslie Gray's rich viola effectively delving into the world of psychedelia. In "An August Elegy" the mood is more somber and the atmospherics softer whereas "Burn the Town Red" has a little more bite featuring the guitar playing of Jon Davis Miller.

One of my favourite songs is the trippy "All Souls Day" where David Duhig's e-bow guitar is a real highlight.

Aquarius In Retrograde is a fine album. If you are drawn to the mellower side of psychedelic/electronic music with smatterings of space and jazz and like your tunes with a decided retro bent, this album should be well worth your time.

» Reader Comments:

Crommie, Daniel; with Glyn Havard & Friends: Aquarius in Retrograde
Posted by Carol Ashley on 2012-07-20 14:00:49
My Score:

Nah, I disagree. It is much better than that, as my son played this for me when he got it at his radio station. I like the fact that they tried many different things. It sounds like records used to sound like, instead of ten tracks that are exactly the same (U2 anyone?). I am not thrilled by some of the pieces, but it sounds like the work of a group of people who are trying to inject some life back into what passes for a lot of music these days. I especially like the funky ones.
I hope they do more. Besides, they don't call themselves something hokey like "Goatwhore" (yuk) or name their songs as obnoxiously as say, Cannibal Corpse does. Other than that, I love the Sea of Tranquility!

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