Common wisdom would suggest that the spirit of 70's prog, with a few exceptions, came and went in that grand era. While some of the bands of today do their best to capture that magic and feel that classic groups like Yes, Genesis, ELP, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Renaissance, Nektar, and Jethro Tull made famous, it's a task that is not easily realized, even by those bands who still exist today many decades later. Common wisdom would also suggest that perhaps an 18 year old prog musician from New York, many years removed from those glory days we always seem to speak about, would have a hard time successfully creating music that also dove into those classic sounds that enveloped an era. Well, leave it to Nell James, an 18 year old multi-instrumentalist from Long Island, New York, to put together this little progressive rock gem Tempus, which is chock full of gorgeous vocals, sumptuous Mellotron sounds, majestic piano, gymnastic electric guitar, lush acoustic guitar, flutes, synths, and a myriad of drums and percussion. This is wonderful stuff here, as Nell mixes rich, folky textures with a pop sensibility, to go along with heaping amounts of 70's influences that will greatly appeal to lovers of the genre.
Considering that this album was created in her bedroom studio, it sounds great, and has a certain warm feeling that you don't often hear. "End of Yesterday" features plenty of ominous Mellotron strings and symphonic synth tones to go along with husky bass lines and engaging acoustic guitars. Her vocals are what lull you in though, as she has an angelic, almost Annie Haslam-type delivery, which gives much of the music here a Renaissance type feel. A self proclaimed fan of The Flaming Lips and Yes, you'll hear that influence in the bouncy pop/prog of "Images", as her quirky yet lovely vocals mix with various percussion and weaving bass & guitar patterns. On the mini-epic "Hunger to Know", waves of cascading synths and Mellotron crash into the mix, along with some yearning elecric guitar, invoking images of classic Moody Blues or King Crimson, before the song morphs into a melodic, upbeat, and symphonic affair. Check out her spirited Steve Howe-meets-Gary Green electric guitar solo, and Hammond organ lead, both of which have that vintage sound and add to the fun of this lengthy piece. "Cast Away" is a lovely little pop ditty, with Nell's restrained yet melodic vocals leading the way over sparser arrangements, while on the instrumental "Day By Day" we again see the marriage of folk and prog styles. Here, nimble guitar and bass lines interweave with classic sounding keyboard tones, bringing to mind Yes, Gentle Giant, as well as the Dixie Dregs.
The other long piece on the album is the title track, a dramatic number that will remind you of early Renaissance, yet mixed with great multi-tracked vocal sections ala Gentle Giant. Here, Nell shows her adept talent on the nylon string guitar, plus throws in plenty of Mellotron sounds as well. Speaking of Mellotron, it hovers in the background like an oncoming predatory cat on "White Lies", a lovely piece featuring haunting flute, acoustic guitars, and gorgeous vocals. The closer "Fossil" throws plenty of Yes style guitar leads into a pop/folk framework, ending the album on a very positive and uplifting note.
Nell James shows enormous talent here on Tempus, a release that needs to be heard by the prog-rock community. Rarely do you come across an album that is so brimming with sincerity, so honest, and so heartwarming, as she has put together here. If you love lush, folky prog rock, with plenty of nods towards the greats of the 70's, and don't mind a little pop thrown in for good measure, this will be a pleasant surprise for many. I'm thinking that Nell James has a wonderful career ahead of her, and can't wait to hear what she puts together next.
1. End of Yesterday
3. Hunger to Know
4. Cast Away
5. Day By Day
7. White Lies