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Wakeman; Rick: Softsword (reissue)

If you were to place the word "killer" at one end of a chart and "dross" at the other, then it would be fair to suggest that the solo output from one (and many) time Yes keyboard tinkler Rick Wakeman would be liberally spread from one extreme to the other. His best work (you know their names, I don't need to tell you) being utterly essential in the world of keyboard led Prog, while the less essential fare in the vast (and I do mean vast) catalogue, on occasion, sliding perilously close to the other end of the scale.

Fittingly then, this Esoteric/Cherry Red reissue of Softsword (also known with the suffix King John And The Magna Carta), falls slap band in the middle, being a solid album of interesting, if in places flawed ideas, which tell the tale of King John's life and the story of the Magna Carta. Key to the success of this album is vocalist Chrissie Hammond, whose vocals raise some, at times, pretty standard keyboard compositions into songs of story and interest. On the down side, the dated (the album first saw the light of day in 1991) programmed percussion and some cheesy synth samples, do detract from the gravitas of an album which does a decent job conceptually.

Initially the whole project came about after Wakeman had written music for the finale of the 1991 Dickens festival in Rochester on Medway, the dextrous keysman going on to adapt those ideas into these songs. In ways that process does shine through, as the continuous thread that Wakeman's best work often carries, is lacking here, but not to the complete detriment of the whole; each individual track having a strong enough character to overcome the shortcomings. "Battle Sonata" may be beyond twee and its execution suggests the type of demo-music keyboard stores set up in the 90s to demonstrate their latest models, yet I defy anyone to tell me this instrumental isn't catchy as hell! However the more maturely constructed "Hymn Of Hope", where the guitar playing of David Paton adds a bite lacking in the keyboard only moments is quite wonderful.

That all said, as Wakeman has proved time and again, he brings a strong storytelling aspect to much of this album, "Magna Carta" regal in its theme, "After Prayers" setting the mediaeval tone well, before the likes of "The Siege", "Isabella" and "Don't Fly Away" build further on this aspect through a mixture of poised instrumentation and classy vocals.

Softsword will never go down as one of Rick Wakeman's killer releases (or even a cult classic), however it is also a very safe distance from the dross. Add a very smart repackaging from Esoteric and those willing to dig a little deeper into the Wakeman canon will unearth an album of worth, just maybe not one they'll revisit over and over.

Track Listing
1. Magna Carta
2. After Prayers
3. Battle Sonata
4. The Siege
5. Rochester Collage
6. The Story Of Love (King John)
7. March Of Time
8. Don't Fly Away
9. Isabella
10. Softsword
11. Hymn Of Hope

Added: July 31st 2014
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Softsword at Cherry Red
Hits: 1670
Language: english

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