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Strangefish: Fortune Telling

After cleaning up and winning numerous awards from the U.K's Classic Rock Society in 2003, British progressive band Strangefish followed that by releasing their critically acclaimed debut CD, Full Scale later that same year. Now almost 2 years in the making, the band has upped the ante considerably with their second full length called Fortune Telling. For this CD the band chose to go the concept route and write music around an overall theme rather than worrying about dealing with each song individually. The thoughts and story line behind Fortune Telling basically deals with how the media has seemingly forever had a fascination with both wealth and fame, but that only scratches the surface as the band also takes the opportunity to inject the story line with other subjects as well, such as how man deals with his ongoing search for happiness in today's world of materialism. If it all sounds a bit pretentious and perhaps just another excuse for some soap box preaching and musical wanking, well I'm happy to say that this is definitely not the case.

The bands sound is symbolic of the newer elements of progressive rock yet it retains more than a passing nod to some of the finest classic bands of the genre. At times Strangefish sound like a combination of Spock's Beard and Genesis, which is definitely the best of both worlds of progressive rock. Your ears will perk up at the fantastic keyboard passages by Paul O'Neil as his solo's bristle with Tony Banks like enthusiasm and skill. Likewise guitarist, Bob's (no last name?) fretwork at times can also have visions of Hackett era Genesis dancing around your eardrums, and yet he's able to fire off many of his own distinctly sounding melodic and restrained chops in his own style. The rhythm section of drummer Dave Whitaker and Julian Gregory hold down the bottom end with apparent ease and it should be noted that while Gregory's primary instrument is the bass, he contributes some fantastic violin work to Fortune Telling and does an absolutely brilliant job on the CD's closing cut "Lighthouse Jig". This all instrumental track is one of my personal favorites. Last but not certainly least is vocalist Steve Taylor; there's obviously a good reason why he's won 3 consecutive awards from the Classic Rock Society for Best Male Vocalist. His vocals are primarily in the mid range and he doesn't stray that far stylistically, but his voice is the perfect match for the music and I heard echoes of Morse and Fish in his overall delivery.

The overall sound and production on Fortune Telling is another area where the band excels, it's clean and crisp but never comes off sounding too slick. In fact there is an overall feeling of warmth in the sound as a whole and the CD has a bit of an analogue feel to it that I really connected to, but don't ask me why. The overall packaging and layout should also be commended as it appears the band spent a lot of time ensuring that their musical vision was matched visually as well; not to mention the fortune teller fish that was included was an absolute riot, all I can say is that it's tied in to the cover image. Strangefish should definitely be mentioned in the same breath with the best of the neo-progressive bands of today and fans of prog will eagerly want to add this one to their collections. The band has a true winner with Fortune Telling, tight musicianship; top notch songs and great overall graphics and design that make for one of the best complete packages of the year so far. Let's hope we see them over on this side of the pond very soon.

Track Listing
1) Happy as I am
2) It could be me
3) Random
4) 360
5) Keep the exits clear
6) Have you seen the light?
7) Lightswitch
8 ) Ignorance of bliss
9) Reflection / This is me (part I)
10) This is me (part II)
11) Lighthouse Jig

Added: July 8th 2006
Reviewer: Ryan Sparks
Related Link: Official Website
Hits: 5759
Language: english

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Strangefish: Fortune Telling
Posted by Duncan Glenday, SoT Staff Writer on 2006-07-08 00:36:52
My Score:

Talk about hooks - this record has melody lines that will live with you for along time after it's finished playing.

Fortune Telling is pure neo at its strongest: Genesis-based music played (mostly) by the standard rock ensemble, very strong guitar work, a big emphasis on keyboards and tons of 'Trons and Hammonds, a strong progressive orientation in the song structures with all the attendant shifts in tempo, key and time signatures, all fronted by very expressive mid-range vocals a-la Gabriel. That description sounds like a generic description of progressive music but, as with most neo, this record is somewhat dependent on vocals and there's a song orientation that lend it more of a pop/rock orientation than the more avant garde forms of prog. Strangefish's last CD led us to comment that "Yes, Virginia, there is good neo progressive rock. Early Marillion was an excellent example and now, so is Strangefish.". The performances, the songwriting and the overall maturity of the band have improved considerably since their debut album, yielding a very solid body of work that stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of neo progressive rock's big names.

This is a concept album, and although the liner notes do a good job of trying to explain it, the storyline still isn't very clear - which is a pity, because it seems to have a lot of potential. So you're better off thinking of it as a theme rather than a story. The basis of story is that a man is basically happy with his life, expressed in the opening song "Happy as I am". He goes gambling, wins lottery - per the song "Random". He's cautiously happy about his new fortune - as expressed in the album's standout track "Keep The Exits Clear". After living with his wealth and with the rampant consumerism it attracts, he does some soul searching and wants to get back to his previous status - per the songs ". Reflection This Is Me - Part I" and "...Part II - which reprise themes from "Happy As I Am". Given the sketchy descriptions in the liner notes, though, your interpretation of the story may be different.

The song structures are rich with mood shifts and in places Steve Taylor's singing will have you wondering if this was IQ performing under a different name. Taylor recently won the Classic Rock Society's best male vocalist award - again. He's very good, his delivery is pitch perfect and his emotional expression is powerful - but it's hard to see him as the best in the business.

Closing track "Lighthouse Jig" is an idea that has been used by many artists in the past. It's a sort of rocked-up version of an Irish jig that has nothing to do with the rest of the album, but aims to end it on a high note - just as Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells ends with the "Sailor's Hornpipe". It's an excellent piece of music but given the depth of the message and the heavily complex often brooding tone of the music that describes it, this piece is out of place and should perhaps have been saved for a different album. Programming your CD player to skip track 11 causes the CD to end on an appropriately reflective, plaintive, piano line that.

Despite the small criticisms we've raised, Fortune Telling is a fine piece of music and ought to be heard by every self respecting fan of modern music. The construction of the piece, the powerful vocal expression, and the overall musicianship elevate Fortune Telling to the top ranks of its genre, and point the way for Brit-Neo's future.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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