Unitopia: Covered Mirror Volume 1 Smooth as Silk
So "welcome back my friends to the catalog that never ends!"
It did feel like welcoming old friends back from a long journey, hearing Truey's voice over Skype as he detailed something extraordinary he was working on. Then to hear the first "Signs of Life" followed by "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft", I knew immediately they had another winner on their hands.
This is the album that two friends, who met sharing their musical influences and favorites, just had to make. And they do each song and medley proud.
So…without further ado…
"Signs of Life" Prelude/"Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft". When Truey first told me about the song, I could not place it. Then when I did some searching and found of all people the Carpenters had done it. (The band dedicates the cover to Karen Carpenter). Well, I knew Unitopia would take the track to new heights. But Truey corrected me and let me know their inspiration was the Klaatu version. He also told me about all the mystery behind the Beatles/Klaatu comparisons and backstory. Well, maybe I had heard of Klaatu, but not about this Beatles' mystery.
Anyway, enough about the past. This song was made for Unitopia! They really make it their own. Compare their version to Klaatu's and you can see the improvements in modern technology and the warmth with which Truey handles the vocals. Listen for the "Close Encounters" references in "Signs of Life"…genius! "Close Encounters came out a year after "Calling Occupants…", was written, so that was a tool unavailable in their toolkit. The orchestration on "Signs…is simply amazing, like a movie soundtrack.
Yes, music made by friends is definitely extraordinary. Unitopia takes this song and makes it…well yes otherworldly. Matt's guitar licks, the supporting vocals from Timms and the orchestration take this song to new levels. Better than the original in so many ways.
"Easter" – Most people who know me, know that I left Marillion with Fish. I just have never connected with the music since Fish left the band with his gritty wit. Though you cannot fault me for not trying. I have several of their post Fish CDs.
However, Truey's vocals give this "Season's End" track a whole new light. His golden vocals breathe new life into this well – written song. He gives it the emotion its writer does not bring to my ears. It is a wonderful song, full of lyrics which express the power of this extraordinary time of year. The musicianship from the band helps support Truey's vocals well. But instrumentation was never the trouble with this deeply emotional song. Truey's vocals finally bring the warmth and depth the song demands. Thanks for helping me to find my way back to the song Truey. ;^)
When Truey told me he was gonna cover one of fellow Australian musicians, Icehouse's songs; my immediate reaction was "Cross the Border" or of course "No Promises". But that was the band I knew, from thousands of miles away and MTV. No, instead, Truey and the band went with something much closer to home and an Australian favorite: "Man of Colours". And they do a fantastic job on the song, after the wonderful "art shop" introduction. Their transitions are always so perfect! Those radio and TV clips the band adds, are always a nice touch.
"Genesis Medley", ok now you're back to some of my favorite music. I have often asked Truey to give "Supper's Ready" a go. Don't know if that will ever happen. Especially with full orchestra, I think it could someday be made into and album of its own, with some additions. After all, it is already an album side.
Truey gives it a good but fast introduction. If you listen to the end of the "The Garden" epic track on the album you will hear what I think is their interpretation of "Supper's" ending. Now all we need is to hear Truey do "Willow's Farm" and let Hopgood have his way with a drum solo on "Apocalypse in 9/8" with some oversized drums. Then I'll be happy. ;^)
But the opening with "Silent Sun" is brilliant. They pick up where the Italian band, The Watch left off last year by re-introducing "From Genesis to Revelation" to the young, who may not know all of the wonders of this album, (which was once almost lost, having been stored in the religious section at music stores). I hope the latest rejuvenations of this wonderful album will lead to a tribute album, from several bands someday.
Matt plays some of his best "Hackett", as Truey rolls into "Dancing Out with the Moonlit Knight". Yes, maybe sometime Unitopia will do a Genesis favorites album. Once they get the many projects in the "stream" complete. Only time will tell.
The transition from "Dancing…" to "Carpet Crawlers" is perfect. Timm's keys will bring back Banks memories. Truey let me hear this solo track and it was good then, but they have improved upon that first version. This version is closer to PG than I think even Phil Collins reached. But again the warmth in Truey's voice gives the whole track a new perspective.
Well…how do you top a Genesis Medley for a Genesis fan? Gently glide into one of Led Zeppelin's best songs off "Houses…". "Rain Song" was good the first time Truey let me hear it, but this time he took it even higher. The transition between two of my favorite three bands is simply amazing in itself. Back to "The Garden" highlights. Tim Irrgang's percussion work is simply virtuoso throughout the album, but especially here and the transitions between songs.
However, Truey reaches out to make this classic, one of his own. He really brings everything to bear as you can almost feel the rain fall in that garden they created earlier. Timms keys and Matt's guitar are excellent. Yes, this band can rock…even if they love their jazz influences.
Then it is on to another all-time favorite, "Even in the Quietest Moments", by Rodger Hodgson and Supertramp, from the album of the same name. At one time they were talking about bringing "Fool's Overture" back to life with a full orchestra. That effort may have to wait for now, because they have so many projects on the table, but this is an excellent sample of the power that song may bring someday. This is one of my favorite Supertramp albums and this song lends itself so well to the entire Unitopia imagery. "The Garden" reminders continue on the transition between "Rain Song" and "Even In…", and they flow like soft moving water on a summer stream. (By the way…what a brilliant pairing, "Rain Song", softly flowing into "Even in…"). Not enough credit is ever given to artist's track listings or the mood of an album. Nice job gentlemen! ;^)
Then flute…yah…but not yet. This band is Australian after all. So first the Didjeridoo, then flute, then Timms magical piano. Perfect…and yes…brilliant. Truey does an excellent job conveying the warmth and immediacy of the feeling this song brings. Bold, and full of the color lacking in the original.
"Can We Still Be Friends", ah Todd Rundgren. One of pop radio's classics from the 70s. It is a great song and the band provides an interesting interpretation. Sean and Truey's vocal harmonies broadcast the obvious reason this track was added to the list. These two friends truly make great music together. Burgess' flute work is exceptional. I still hope they'll do "Just One Victory" someday.
"Speaking the Truth" Interlude is wonderful with Matt playing the Erhu and flutes dancing all over the place. Excellent!
"Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime" is a track written by James Warren and the pop band The Korgis. The single reached #5 on the UK Singles Chart, #18 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart, and #18 in Australia. The track's lyrics lend themselves well to Unitopia imagery, and the guitar by Williams is excellent. The orchestration adds volumes to the original sound. Timms keys are grand.
Then it's time for the grand show! Show of shows! The "Yes Medley". No doubt something Truey and Sean have wanted to do since they first got together. The "old school" of the progressive music scene is broken in to those who think Genesis is the best. Another that thinks it's Pink Floyd, ELP, or King Crimson…and yet another thinks it was Yes. Truey and Sean are from the Yes school for sure. This medley is heads and tails better than the Genesis Medley.
It opens with all of the fanfare of the glorious middle section of "And You and I" and proceeds to two of my favorites, "Awaken" and "Close to the Edge". And what would a Yes Medley be without those three mentions after all? Timms interesting variation on the keys adds a new variation on the theme. Personally I think Truey's voice is too deep to match Jon Anderson's. I think he has a better match with Peter Gabriel. But Truey definitely enjoys Jon's music more. And he sings it well.
"Onward", with Williams drifting guitar is haunting and at the same time full of wonder. Then it's back to "Close…". Timms piano is simply fantastic. Williams and Timms set a great duet transition as the band brings things up to date with "Owner of a Lonely Heart". They play the whole song, showing their tight connection to the heartfelt lyrics of this wonderful ageless song. The drifting, slow, smooth as silk version of this track is a perfect tribute to the original, fast paced MTV video image. They add some "Survival" and "Soon" lyrics and sounds to complete the medley, with Matt's brilliant acoustic guitar playing thru the center. Hopgood's drum showcase shines well throughout this set, but it reaches its zenith on "South Side of the Sky".
"To One in Paradise" is an Alan Parsons classic. More great movie clips transition the move from Yes to Parsons. Then Truey, "If I could see the sky above and my mind could be set free. As wild horses reached the shore. I'd stand alone and oversee". Yah, I listened to the Alan Parsons version several times again as a reminder and Truey does it better. The music supporting would make Alan weep. A fantastic song that needed to be brought forward into the modern age and like "Calling Occupants", it is better than the original.
Like Marillion, I have my Flower King favorites. But I had never heard "The Way the Waters are Moving" before Truey let me hear his lead vocal version before mastering. It is a wonderful song full of fantastic lyrics set perfectly for that Unitopia warmth and human kindness feeling. You can tell this song means a great deal to Truey. One of his best lead vocals on this compilation. Get the expanded edition of this album to make sure you receive this bonus track.
So…Come…Enter this Garden of sound and sit back and enjoy the discoveries you will find. If you know all the songs already…take in the new spin these brilliant musicians have added to the menu.
The "Fifth Unitopian", Ed Unitsky does another stellar job of visualizing the magnificence of the tracks on this album. The artwork in this package is up to his usual out-of-this-world standards. It's like the Bond music, "Nobody Does it Better"! Sing is Carly. ;^)
Maybe it is time for some ELP for the Covered Mirror II? We'll see. Until then… "Rest assured you'll get your money's worth", and you'll be "so glad you could attend".
1. "Signs of Life" Prelude
2. "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft"
4. "Man of Colours"
5. "Genesis Medley"
6. "Rain Song"
7. "Even in the Quietest Moments"
8. "Can We Still Be Friends"
9. "Speaking the Truth" Interlude
10. "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime"
11. "Yes Medley"
12. "To One in Paradise"
13. The Way the Waters Are Moving"
Added: January 25th 2013
Reviewer: Mark Johnson
Related Link: Unitopiamusic.com
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|Unitopia: Covered Mirror Volume 1 Smooth as Silk
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2013-01-25 14:48:26
I know, I know, that's all we need. Another "covers collection". You'll excuse me if my recent brush with the God-awful attempt on this "genre" by the otherwise legendary Nektar has left me somewhat jaded. However I can count on the fingers of no hands just how many of these efforts are genuinely worthy, never mind essential.
That was until the wonderfully cumbersomely titled Covered Mirror Vol 1 Smooth As Silk - A Selection Of Songs That Inspire Unitopia landed in my oh so grateful CD player. It rejoiced, I rejoiced, my family rejoiced, in fact so good is this album that we organised a street party and we all rejoiced together! I kid you not!! Well, OK, the rain in Scotland scuppered the street party, but this album is definitely good enough to warrant a gathering on a scale seldom seen.
So have Unitopa "twisted", or did they "stick"? Do we have a collection of songs that you'll instantly recognise and sing along with? Or a selection of tracks so reworked that you'll be scurrying for the writing credits to see exactly what it is? Well that's the real beauty here, as CMV1SASASOSTIU is both those things and neither of them. At the same time. Instead of worrying whether the versions are carefully respectful reworkings, or ground breaking reinterpretations, Unitopia set about making songs from The Carpenters, Yes, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Marillion, The Korgis, Alan Parsons, The Flower Kings, Todd Rungren, Supertramp and fellow Aussies Icehouse into tracks that would belong on any of Unitopia's three studio albums, while still somehow retaining what made the original songs so special in the first place. It is something seldom heard in a cover version - only Johnny Cash's version of Nine Inch Nails "Hurt" comes to mind as being so effective in this way. Lofty company indeed, but deserved. The other aspect that raises this album far above other cover albums that are spewed all too regularly comes in the shape of how the songs are sewn together through stunningly arranged passages, spoken word sections and string infused composition that genuinely gives the feel that Unitopia wrote this music - when other than those linking sections, they obviously didn't. It also means that you want to listen to the whole album over and over, rather than dip in and out to hear the Uni take on an old personal fave. Which is very clever indeed.
"Signs Of Life", written by Unitopia keyboard whizz Sean Timms, introduces proceedings with a voice over giving a sci-fi feel and a beautiful John Williams Close Encounters pastiche, expertly and fittingly leading into "Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft". The old Carpenters number may not be an obvious first choice, but the sheer scope and beauty of this version raises the spirits through intricate arrangements, where the bass winds and spirals in between marvellous strings (provided throughout the disc by The Amicus Strings), spacious keyboards and simply stunning layers of vocals. I'm sold already, singing along, but slightly stunned in amazement at just how coherent and crafted everything sounds - especially for a cover version! "Easter" follows, which being a track from a band, Marillion and album, Seasons End, that I love had me trembling in fear. I needn't have worried, with vocalist Mark Trueack bringing the song to life in plaintive acappella fashion. Unexpected and captivating don't even begin to cover it. From there, as with the rest of the album, the version presented here doesn't feel the need to reinvent the song it is honouring, but still offers up instrumentation and arrangement that makes a fresh impression. A prime example coming in the solo, where Matt Williams on guitars and Timms on keys trade and interchange what was originally a guitar only section, all the while strings lifting the mood and atmosphere.
I'm new to Icehouse, so can't contrast their "Man Of Colours" against their original. However on the strength of the treatment the song receives here through glorious sax breaks, intricate rhythms and hard hitting melody, I'll need to rectify that situation immediately. Then comes the first of two prog-God medleys and the place I thought this album would come unstuck, as bands handle Genesis at their peril. However the clarity and drama with which "The Silent Sun", "Supper's Ready", "Dancing The Moonlight Night", "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway" and "Carpet Crawlers" are segued together has to be heard to be believed. However then easing from there into Zeppelin's "Rain Song" without as much as a millisecond's pause shows the confidence and skill on display here to the full. Again strings and hand percussion vary the focus, captivating as you listen to a song you've known and admired for years, but in a new, fresh, vibrant way. This version being - as many tracks on this album are - more relaxed and introspective than their original counterparts ever contemplated. Then Supertamp's "Even In The Quietest Moments" is reinvented in a Peter Gabriel meets Aboriginal music vibe, didgeridoo droning behind layered voices, strings and thundering beat. Before the Todd Rundgren track "Can We Still Be Friends" adds drama and again, wonderfully arranged multi-vocals and "Speaking The Truth (Interlude)" a short Matt Williams (bass) composed Erhu (Chinese violin) piece gives way to a simply stunning take of The Korgis "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometimes".
Then comes medley two and if the take on Genesis classics proved not to be the folly it could have, the Yes collection is a triumph and a high point on an album with no low points. "Awaken/Close To The Edge", "Soon", "And You And I", "Onward" and "South Side Of The Sky" sounds lush, controlled and beautiful, but it is the closing medley track "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" that proves not just this section's most captivating moment, but the most stunning, hair on the back of your neck raising moment on the album. Slowed to a crawl, stripped of its bombast and re-imagined as a hugely atmospheric song that tears at the heart of its lonely owner, this is nothing short of masterly, especially as the focus of the song blossoms into a piece of music with true scope and vision. I've no hesitation in saying that even though I've heard the original countless times, heard Jon Anderson sing it acoustically and also accompanied by Rick Wakeman on keys, this is the best version of this track I've clapped my ears round. Stunning!
"To One In Paradise", an Alan Parsons classic plays the album proper out in fine style, although a bonus version of "The Way The Waters Are Moving" by The Flower Kings makes it well worth while picking up the full version of the album.
Undoubtedly the best covers collection album I've heard and while that usually comes across as faint praise, in this case it also makes Covered Mirror Vol 1 Smooth As Silk... one of the best albums I've heard this year. If you've never heard Unitopia, start here, you'll instantly want to hear more - and you won't be disappointed.
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