Over the past decade, Steven Wilson's relationship with prog rock has grown increasingly intimate. He previewed a killer new band on the live album Get All You Deserve -- woodwind/multi-instrumentalist Theo Travis, keyboardist Adam Holzman, session bass and stick player Nick Beggs, drummer Marco Minnemann, and guitarist Guthrie Govan -- put a ...
Over the past decade, Steven Wilson's relationship with prog rock has grown increasingly intimate. He previewed a killer new band on the live album Get All You Deserve -- woodwind/multi-instrumentalist Theo Travis, keyboardist Adam Holzman, session bass and stick player Nick Beggs, drummer Marco Minnemann, and guitarist Guthrie Govan -- put a diverse, sophisticated face on Wilson's 21st century brand of the genre. The Raven That Refused to Sing and Other Stories is their first studio outing. Wilson was also able to coax Alan Parsons out of semi-retirement to co-produce and engineer the effort, and he fully committed: the album's crystalline, detailed sound and spacious ambience reflect some of his best work behind the boards. The result is a collection of six new songs -- three over ten minutes in length -- that reflect the very best of what classic prog rock aspired to: skillfully written music with expertly arranged compositions of color, nuance, texture, dynamics, narrative and artfulness played by a group of stellar musicians. The songs are based on short stories Wilson wrote or co-wrote with Hajo Mueller, which center around the supernatural -- though this is not actually a concept record. While the album begins with a warning sign --- the first four minutes of opener "Luminol" are a knotty, driving, near-fusion instrumental workout that gives way to a complex, beautifully wrought mini-suite that draws on sources such as Pink Floyd, early Genesis, and King Crimson. While "Drive Home" builds gradually with a near-majestic sweep of harmonic and lyric invention, it features wonderfully inventive guitar work by Govan. "The Holy Drinker" is a sprawling ride fueled by by Holzman's glorious keybaord work. There's a smoking guest guitar spot by Parsons, and a dazzling soprano saxophone from Travis. It commences with a diverse anglularity but never once loses its musical center. "The Watchmaker"'s intro of lilting, layered, acoustic guitars takes on heft as the ensemble enters with furious bass and drum work, and a gorgeous flute solo by Travis. The increasing drama includes death metal riffing, syncopated vocal choruses, and a flood of strings that never overdo it. The title track is the set closer, a lush, straightforward number about an old man speaking to his long-dead sister. His loneliness and grief are heartbreaking in Wilson's vocal expression, before strings, Mellotron, winds, and rolling drums build to a final, dramatic conclusion. The Raven That Refused to Sing and Other Stories is the best of Wilson's three solo projects; let's hope this particular group stays together awhile; with this bunch, the sky is the limit in terms of potential. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi