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24930End Of The M's And Start Of The N's...........

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  • stevesly@aol.com
    Nov 1, 2007
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      565.SHAWN MULLINS – THE ESSENTIAL SHAWN MULLINS – 2002
       
      Mullins is best known for his huge hit single “Lullaby” from the late 90’s.  That was pretty much the only thing I knew of him until I saw him open for the Indigo Girls a few years ago.  I was impressed enough with his show to go out and pick up this compilation album.  I don’t own any of his studio albums, so I don’t know how representative this is, but it seems to be a decent compilation.  Mullins is a singer / songwriter who seem to specialize in acoustic oriented songs in the tradition of many who have come before him.  His lyrics don’t blow me away, but are decent enough.  Overall the album is a pleasant listen and Mullins is an enjoyable writer.  The album contains two versions of his bit hit Lullaby, the original single along with an acoustic version.  There is also a cool duet of Border Song with Elton John.
       
      566.NATHAN MAHL – THE CLEVER USE OF SHADOWS – 1998
       
      Nathan Mahl is the name of a band and not a person.  The moniker serves as the main creative project of keyboard Canadian keyboard master Guy Leblanc.  The band came to the attention of the progressive rock world after their well received performance at the North East Art Rock festival in 1999.  The band opened up the Sunday portion of the event and really blew people away.  I was lucky enough to be in the audience that weekend.  This album is really all over the map.  The band does classic progressive rock, but also includes elements of jazz / fusion, Pink Floyd like spaciness, and a Zappa influence in places.  The majority of the album is instrumental, but there are two vocal tracks with Leblanc handling the vox.  He is not a great singer, but serviceable enough for the material here.  Along with Guy the band consists of Jose Bergeron on guitars, Alain Bergeron on drums, and Claude Prince on bass.  All are top notch musicians and there is a considerable amount of instrumental fireworks to be found all through the album.  Overall this is a very nice album from the band and the one that propelled them to greater notoriety in the progressive rock world.
       
      567.NEKTAR – JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EYE – 1971
       
      Nektar is a band that I literally discovered because of one of their album covers.  I was browsing through a used record store years ago and came across their compilation disc, Through The Ears.  I had never heard of the band, but the album cover looked interesting and so did the song titles.  I tried it on a whim and was very pleased with what I heard.  Over the years I have picked up a few of their albums on CD and still really enjoy what these guys do.  Journey To The Center Of The Eye was the band’s debut disc in 1971.  For a first effort it is very good.  The band had a bit more of a spacey vibe on this one, but this is classic progressive rock all the way.   Several Nektar favorites are included here with The Dream Nebula Parts 1 and 2, and It’s All In The Mind standing out as highlights.  The album is not recorded all that well as even for early 70’s production standards this is under par.  Other than that this is a great starting point for the band and although I think they would do better albums down the road this is very much worth owning.
       
      568.NEKTAR – DOWN TO EARTH – 1974
       
      Down To Earth was the follow-up release to Nektar’s most successful and popular previous album Remember The Future.  Earth was a bit of a 360 degree turn for the band.  The album is a loose concept album based around a circus, complete with banter from a German accented ringmaster in between some of the tracks (provided by Hawkwind’s Robert Calvert).  The songs are mostly short in nature (the longest clocking in at just over 6 minutes) and overall it is more commercial sounding.  Still, this is a very good Nektar album and contains some classic tunes.  Two of the band’s best hard rockers are found here with Fidgety Queen (long a set closer in the band’s live show) and Show Me The Way.  Both songs are more straight ahead rock than prog, but they both work nicely.  Nelly The Elephant is a cool instrumental that also serves as the finale to the album in a reprise.  The rest of the disc is all good too.  I am not sure that this is the disc I would start with if I were a beginner just getting into Nektar, but it is a must own for fans.  The band certainly took some chances on this one and it pays off nicely.
       
      569.NEKTAR – RECYCLED – 1975
       
      Recycled is one of those albums that never seems to get rated as highly as some of the other works, but I have always enjoyed it.  On the negative side this album seems to sound more dated than some of the bands other earlier works.  There is defiantly a slight disco / funk influence to be found here and there.  This is not as horrible as it sounds, but is very 70’s sounding in its nature.  The album seems to be somewhat conceptual in nature, although I am not quite sure what it is all about.  The album rocks fairly hard in spots, but has a pop element to it too There is plenty of tasty instrumental work on the album.  The original lineup of the band is all still here at this point augmented by keyboardist Larry Fast.  This is another solid Nektar release.
       
      570.NEKTAR – MAGIC IS A CHILD – 1977
       
      I am not sure what all happened between 1975 and 1977, but a major split in the band occurred that would find founding member and main songwriter Roye Albrighton leaving the fold.  In his place the band recruited a new guitarist / vocalist in Dave Nelson.  One would think that an album without Albrighton would be a potential for disaster, but Nelson fills in admirably here with some really good guitar work and vocals that are similar to Roye.  The material is a bit more commercial oriented, but there is still a lot to like here.  Away From Asgard, Eerrie Lackawanna, Magic Is A Child, and Train From Nowhere are all very good tracks.  There is some straight ahead hard rock here in the form of Spread Your Wings, and other tracks, but I think there is enough prog present for fans of the band’s older material to enjoy.  Some Nektar fans have never given this one a chance due to the absence of Albrighton, but this really is a decent release and worth owning if you are a Nektar fan.
       
      571.NEKTAR – MAN IN THE MOON – 1980
       
      To many Nektar fans this was the band’s great long lost album.  It was only originally released in Germany and many US fans of the band did not even know it existed.  The album was reissued in 2002 and finally made available for wider distribution.  Major lineup changes were in store for this one.  Roye Albrighton was back in the fold and Dave Nelson was gone.  The only other original member was keys man Taff Freeman.  Added to the lineup were bass player extraordinaire Carmine Rojas (David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Joe Bonamassa, many others) and drummer David Prater.  The album has once again become rather difficult to find and is currently selling on Amazon for more than $30.  So is it any good?  Personally I think this was Nektar’s weakest album up to this point.  The band seemed to be going for more of an arena rock style not dissimilar to other popular bands at the time like Styx or Journey.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, and Nektar pull it all off fairly well, but overall I just don’t think this album stacks up to their earlier work.  Although Carmine Rojas is not listed as writer of any of the material it sure sounds like he had some influence here.  The best song on the disc is the title track which is as good as anything the band has done.  The rest of the album contains quite a few ballads and straight ahead rockers that have more to do with AOR than progressive rock.  This is not a bad album and worth owning for the completeist, but I don’t think it is worth the price people are getting for it these days.
       
      572.NEKTAR – THE PRODIGAL SON – 2001
       
      It took 21 years but 2001 saw the first Nektar release of new material since Man In The Moon in 1980.  The band reformed as a 3 piece with only Roye Albrighton and Taff Freeman remaining from the original lineup.  In many way this almost sounds like an Albrighton solo album.  The material here is quite different from the band’s earlier stuff with a blues rock vibe permeating throughout.   Roye’s lyrics, vocals and guitar seem to be the main focus with Freeman almost a background character through much of this.  It also appears to be a very personal album from Roye.  He had gone through a very serious health problem where he had a transplant prior to the writing for this album.  The lyrics reflect this traumatic event in his life and there also appears to be a strong element of spirituality echoing through this disc.  I remember when I first purchased this album it was not at all what I was expecting, and I was not sure if I liked it or not.  Over the years it has grown on me and I consider it a good Nektar disc.   Fans of the band’s classic material may have mixed reactions to this one, but taken by itself this album works for what it was intended.
       
      573.NEKTAR – EVOLUTION – 2004
       
      Original drummer Ron Howden rejoined the band for this one, their second reunion effort with Roye Albrighton and Taff Freeman.  This appears to be much more of a band effort than the previous album Prodigal Son.  This is a very nice album for the most part and should please the band’s fans.  The classic Nektar sound is here, but it is updated to a slightly more modern format.  This album is a lot closer to the traditional Nektar sound than Prodigal Son was.  The subject matter deals with the environment, world themes, and Roye’s continuing recovery from a liver transplant.  The music is all strong with some very nice guitar work for Roye, and prominent keyboards from Taff.  The album is another nice comeback effort that should have Nektar heads lapping it up. 
       
      574.NEXUS – DETRAS DEL UMBRAL – 1999
       
      I had the chance to see Nexus live at the North East Art Rock festival a few years, ago and they really blew me away.  Nexus hails from Argentina and feature the bombastic keyboards of band leader Lalo Huber and the powerful vocals of Mariela Gonzalez.  Huber often gets compared to Keith Emerson in style and indeed there is a lot of Emerson like keyboard work to be found here.  Although comparisons to ELP are natural the band features a lot more lead guitar and is a bit heavier.  The incredible vocals of Gonzalez also separate the band out into different territory.  Although I think these guys were more powerful in a live setting, this is still a good album and worth exploring.

      Steve Sly

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