Gabriel – New Life (Album Review)

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It’s never too late for a debut solo album. Although Gabriel Agudo has been active as a vocalist in the progressive rock world for some time with Bad Dreams, The Steve Rothery Band and In Continuum, he has been keen to forge his own identity with a solo career. The appropriately titled “New Life” is his first coming out party as the artist known simply as Gabriel. Handy that it’s such a prog name to begin with, and there are more than a few nods to the man whose identity held the genesis for that name. Indeed, Bad Dreams was initially a tribute band which covered the Gabriel and Collins years with skill before releasing their superb debut album of original material “Apocalypse of the Mercy”. But all of that is behind him now. Gabriel is ready to unleash his own vision via this new collection of songs and he already has gigs lined up to realize them on the stage as well. He calls the songs on this album his “spiritual map” and each track takes on another aspect of his soul passing through various levels. 

Key to understanding Gabriel’s approach for the album is his collaboration with multi-instrumentalist and co-producer René Bosc who also co-wrote all of the music. Playing everything from classical and electric guitars to bass, keys and drums, Bosc even conducts the Paris Session Orchestra on some of the selections. While there are numerous other special guest musicians as well, Bosc is the primary collaborator and co-architect of Gabriel’s finished vision. His presence is firmly established in the enigmatic opener “Free as a Bird” which is some sort of proclamation of freedom in death after suffering (inspired by Gabriel‘s mother battle with Alzheimer disease for 5 long years until her passing). This orchestrated arrangement would feel right at home on an album from that other Gabriel, which is a compliment. Swirling violins, classical guitar and orchestration lift up Gabriel’s voice to the sky as we listen to his new direction take off. 

The next three songs bring Gabriel back down to earth and remind us that progressive rock is dear to his heart. Propelled by guest Jan-Vincent Velazco (Pendragon) on drums, “Karmatic” hits hard but still has a little bit of everything in it. Dave Kerzner guests for a quick synth run, and Heiner Scob lends a little bit of class to this rocker with a passage on the Steinway Concert Piano. For “Angel’s Call”, Gabriel decided to enlist the talented Fernando Perdomo who handles most all of the instruments on this one track, thus it has a slightly different feel than the rest of the album. The use of Mellotron  and some of the chord progressions have more than a hint of King Crimson to them, suggesting almost a new version of “Epitaph”, and ultimately ending in a Sioux-inspired chant. Finally, the title track “New Life” is a little all over the map, at times feeling as though it’s about to careen out of control. The second-half of the song takes a completely different approach with a mellow soundscape featuring the spacious guitar of Steve Rothery and expressive vocals from Gabriel, plus lushing keyboards courtesy of Pendragon‘s Clive Nolan. Given the two drastic sides of this song, the latter is the winner, right down to the final acoustic guitar outro. 

‘New Life” Album Artwork

“Shining Spark” is the final track of the album proper and this relatively straight-forward ballad is one of the most successful of the collection, proving that Gabriel doesn’t require lots of layered musical distraction to deliver a potent song. The melodies are strong and the vocal delivery sincere. Additional keyboards from Christophe Lebled are an added asset to a winning arrangement. “Free as a Bird (Extended)” rounds things out as a bonus track of sorts, adding another ten minutes of material to the length of the “Free As a Bird” album opener. Some of these extended sections are inspiring with more Rothery guitar, added vocal sections, and a generous serving of virtuosic violin from Hélène Collerette. However, it isn’t obvious to the listener how to approach this piece: is it a bookend to be paired with the opening shorter version, as a conclusion to the theme of the album? Or is it just a bonus track of outtakes? Although it has its merits, following a “less is more” approach might have made for a more definitive way to close the album. 

Taken as a whole, Gabriel has offered a set of moving songs delivered with passionate vocals and supportive musicianship. The arrangements are ambitious, but such vision demands the perspective to layer it all together succinctly. In that regard, the album probably would have benefitted from having an outside producer who was not a musician on the album, and who could have fine-tuned the editing with an objective ear. At times there’s just so much going on that the competing instruments seem to step on each other’s toes and the swirling panning becomes distracting. Some tracks also run Gabriel’s voice through a reverb patch that seems disembodied from the rest of the instrument mix, which is a shame given the material and vocal delivery. An outside producer could perhaps have worked with Gabriel to get the most out of his voice on every level, which after all is the greatest asset he is bringing to the project. Still, the underlying songs are inspired and there is a bounty of wonderful performances on the album which makes this an enjoyable debut outing. Gabriel carries a warmth and sincerity about him which will surely bode well as his solo career continues to take flight. 

Released by: Independent Release
Released Date: February 24th, 2020
Genre: Progressive Rock

Musicians:

  • Gabriel Agudo / Lead vocals, acoustic guitars, Sioux chants
  • René Bosc / Spanish guitars, bass, keyboards, acoustic guitars, drums, orchestral arrangements, Native American percussion
  • Hélène Collerette / Violin
  • Jan-Vincent Velazco / Drums
  • Dave Kerzner / Keyboard solo and keyboards on “Karmatic”
  • Heiner Scob / Steinway Concert Piano on “Karmatic” and “Awakening”
  • Fernando Perdomo / Acoustic & electric guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, co-arrangements & production on “Angel’s Call”
  • Clive Nolan / Keyboards on “New Life”
  • Steve Rothery / Electric guitars on “New Life” and “Free As A Bird (Single/Extended)”
  • Christophe Lebled / Keyboards & additional arrangements on “Shining Spark”
  • Sarah Brannens / Angel’s voice on “Free As A Bird (Single/Extended)”

“New Life” Track-listing:

  1. Free As A Bird (Conscience of Freedom)
  2. Karmatic (Conscience of Karma)
  3. Angel’s Call (Conscience of Earth)
  4. New Life (Conscience of Enlightenment)
  5. Awakening
  6. Shining Spark (Conscience of Love)
  7. Free As A Bird – Extended (Conscience of Universe)
    1. Premonition
    2. Free As A Bird
    3. Reborn

8.0 Great

As lead vocalist for several progressive rock projects over the past many years, Gabriel has been looking forward to establishing his own identity as a solo artist. “New Life” offers a diverse range of material to his audience, spotlighting his voice front and center but also relying on a cast of guest musicians and co-writers to realize his vision. It’s a fitting beginning for this veteran singer’s solo career and one which will hopefully develop in the years to come

  • Songwriting 8
  • Musicianship 8.5
  • Originality 8
  • Production 7.5
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