SONIC BRIEFS: DEBUT ALBUMS By Six By Six, Rooktown & Birth

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In these brief reviews we look at three bands making their debuts this summer. Great to see more and more good new music coming our way!

Six By Six – S/T (Inside Out Music)

This is a new trio combination of veterans from the rock world: Robert Berry (3, 3.2) on vocals, bass and keyboards, Ian Crichton (Saga) on guitars, and Nigel Glockler (Saxon) manning the drum kit. The international representation is impressive and not entirely coincidental: Berry and Glockler had played together back in the 80s with Steve Howe on a possible continuation of GTR, while Crichton and Glockler had some overlap in different incarnations of Asia.

Brought together as a power trio with a decidedly hard-AOR rocking approach, these guys may have been huge were this still the 80s. Filled with melodic hooks, punchy arrangements and in-your-face performances, Six By Six impresses with a heavier, modern take on arena rock of old. Berry has the songwriting and vocal chops to impress, plus his keyboard and bass skills are more than a match for the material. Truly, he sounds like a man half his age here, with the other two members right behind him.

“Six By Six” Album Artwork

“Yearning to Fly” launches out of the starting gate with aplomb, Crichton’s delivery front and center with guitar swagger on the solo, but it’s the crushing “China” where the listener really sits up and takes notice. The album goes from strength to strength with “Reason To Feel Calm Again” where Crichton is featured during the atmospheric two-minute opening before Glockler brings in the rhythm, complete with tabla hits. It’s an impressive three-run opener.

There’s plenty of more engaging rockers ahead, from the hooky “Casino” to the expansive “Battle of a Lifetime”. Undoubtedly this is a compelling collection of rock and roll with prog leanings. Unfortunately, most of the album is marred by inexplicable choices in its mixing and production. The recording levels sound like they’re perpetually in the red, right on the edge of clipping. The result is an inescapable degree of brash sonic overwhelm where the joy of the songs is lost and any degree of subtlety isn’t even a consideration. It basically feels like each of the three members vied to be loudest in the mix and just kept inching up their faders in a no-winners competition, with the loser ultimately being the listener. Even on the brief “Live Forever”, Berry’s lone voice with an acoustic guitar is producing distortion. Honestly, I thought my review copy must be flawed but the other copies I’ve heard fare no better. It’s a head scratcher as the mix essentially sabotages an otherwise promising album.

Production notwithstanding, Six by Six demonstrates these three musicians have plenty of fire left in them and are ready to rock out.

“Six By Six” Track-Listing:

1. Yearning To Fly
2. China
3. Reason To Feel Calm Again
4. The Upside Of Down
5. Casino
6. Live Forever
7. The Last Words On Earth
8. Skyfall
9. Battle Of A Lifetime
10. Save The Night

Songwriting: 8
Musicianship: 9
Originality: 8
Production: 5

Rooktown – The Clamour and the Crash (Independent)

Rooktown is the band moniker for Jeff Foote whose debut album revolves around a concept rich with promise: each song is based on people’s stories of the supernatural and unexplained, as told to the Ironwood Rhino podcast. You can tune into the Rhino podcast to enjoy these real-life stories, and then dial in Rooktown for the soundtrack.

strong>Foote is one of these remarkable one-man-bands who plays just about everything on the album, from the rhythm section to the vocals and everything in between. It’s a noteworthy achievement but fortunately this approach doesn’t sacrifice the quality of each instrument. Starting out on drums at an early age, Foote’s percussion isn’t the weak link here, whether displaying his chops on the kit or programming electronic beats. But it’s clearly the songs and their stories that are in the spotlight and Foote brings in a wide range of musical styles to tell their tale – from funk to prog to jazz to world to a whole lotta rock.

“Spooklight” is an edgy single, starting off with a “Cult of Personality”-vibe except in a 10/8 time signature, later rubbing elbows with Riverside’s “Panic Room” and the vocal delivery of Kevin Gilbert’s “Shadow Self”. “Pareidolia” isn’t a cover of the Haken song of the same name but does incorporate a keyboard patch used by that band’s keyboardist Diego Tejeida and is a very cool song of varied textures about the human ability to see shapes out of randomness.

“The Clamour and the Crash” Album Artwork

The album shines most on the softer material where Foote leaves enough spaciousness for the right notes and instrumentation to find their ideal spot. “The Voice” is a clear favorite, mixing Stevie Ray’s “Riviera Paradise” with “The Way It Had to Be” from the Neal Morse Band as tasty bluesy guitar and open piano riffing intermingle. Not surprisingly, the voice of Foote sounds best in this setting, too. And then there’s “Minnesota Sky”, a piece written in the musical style of Big Big Train which includes the only guest musician on the album, Ethan Larrew on violin. A majestic theme, along with more sensitive lead guitar playing, belies the fact that this story is about UFO sightings. Two songs buck the concept of telling a specific story: the tremendously fun “Ironwood Rhino Theme” (instrumental) and the closing 10-minute “Mystery” which is a mini-epic integrating and reflecting on all of the stories together.

Mixed and mastered by Eric Gillette from the Neal Morse Band, Foote also received some vocal melodic coaching from Casey McPherson of Flying Colors which helped to bring these songs into better focus. Though not easy to categorize thanks to the wide array of styles, the underlying storytelling theme makes for a solid concept album which certainly has something for everyone.

The Clamour and the Crash” Track-Listing:

  1. Shadowman
  2. Get It Right (Tonight)
  3. Spooklight
  4. The Voice
  5. A Premonition
  6. Ironwood Rhino
  7. The Clamour and the Crash
  8. Minnesota Sky
  9. As the Crow Flies
  10. Pareidolia
  11. Mystery

Songwriting: 8
Musicianship: 7.5
Originality: 8.5
Production: 8

Birth – Born (Bad Omen Records)

Born out of the ashes of the impressive Astra, this San Diego band offers a colorful and heady blend of early psych prog for modern times. Conor Riley on vocals, various keys and acoustic guitar; Brian Ellis on guitar, electric piano, percussion and Trevor Mast on bass, along with Paul Marrone on drums – this is Birth. While some signposts of the familiar Crimson, Floyd and Yes are scattered throughout, their soul seems born of something even deeper and more earthy, while their impact may send the listener’s mind to the stars.

The album offers a blend of vocal and instrumental pieces but perhaps due to the strength of the opening title track, this feels more like an instrumental band at its essence even when Riley is adding dystopian lyrics overtop. Of the vocal pieces, the nostalgic “For Yesterday” and “Another Time” contain some of Riley’s best melodic ideas and effortlessly transport the listener to half-a-century prior, drenched in organ and shimmering guitar lines.

“Born” Album Artwork

The instrumental compositions carry an intoxicating groove, particularly the jam “Cosmic Tears” where Mast’s insistent bass is inescapable until he launches off to match Ellis’ guitar frenzy. The title track is a satisfying opener which quickly establishes their pattern of building repetition into an ecstatic state.

Ultimately, Birth’s press release sums up their ambition perfectly: “to deliver a third-eye-cleansing blast of vibrant progressive rock, replete with grandiose cinematic scope and psychedelic intensity.” Mission achieved, more please.

“Born” Track listing:

 1. Born
 2. Descending Us
 3. For Yesterday
 4. Cosmic Tears
 5. Another Time
 6. Long Way Down

Songwriting: 8
Musicianship: 8
Originality: 7.5
Production: 9


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