What did strike me the most with the new releases of Alquinís first two albums Marks and The Mountain Queen are the liner notes. They were written by a good friend and somebody who spent a lot of time working for Background Magazine when it still was a paper magazine. Wouter Bessels wrote in the booklet a very detailed biography. Together with the many old band pictures, cover sleeves and a very good discography, we get a very good inside look at Alquin past and present.
I will not go into details about the history of this band from the Netherlands because for me the music is all that matters. Anybody who wants to know more about their history should read the already mentioned history in the booklet.
One thing is most certainly true when you hear the bandís debut album Marks (1972). The music on it was very much inspired by the bands that guitarist Ferdinand Bakker saw at the Holland Pop Festival in Rotterdam at the end of 1971-bands such as Canned Heath, Itís A Beautiful Day, Santana and Jefferson Airplane. The Santana influence can be most certainly heard on the track Soft Royce. Itís A Beautiful Day can be heard on almost the entire album. Most of all, the folk sound through out the whole album reminded me of this band. The use of a violin in the music, played by Mr Bakker, made the connection even bigger. The songs that feature a lot of saxophone and that move more into a funky and rock and roll direction have a certain link with Canned Heat. The more progressive rock sound on the bandís second album The Mountain Queen, released one year later, is not heard that often on this album. Therefore I always had been reserved about this release. Even the bonus material could not change my verdict on this album. I still do find it a mediocre album. An extra live version of Mr. Barnumís Juniorís Magnificent And Fabulous City does sound very good. The song was released on the second album but should have been on the first album because it was written in that period. Also, the other short bonus track Hard Royce does not add much extra to this release. The song used to be a b-side of the single You Always Can Change. This was a nice ballad nothing more, nothing less. Hard Royce can be described as a short uptempo rock tune with some interesting ARP synthesizer sounds on it.
The Mountain Queen (1973) was recorded in England with the help of producer Derek Lawrence. His help certainly made it possible to get a better sound than on their debut release. The album is my favourite Alquin release without any doubt. It starts with my all time favourite Alquin composition. The Hammond organ on The Dance, played by Dick Franssen, has always had a big impact on me. Also, the fabulous distorted guitar sound produced by Ferdinand Bakker is just awesome, sometimes reminding me of another great Dutch master: Jan Akkerman. If you listen to the second track Soft-Eyed Woman you can again hear that Ferdinand and the rest of the band must have been very much inspired by Jan Akkerman and Focus.† Another highlight on the album is most of all the title track. It is divided into four parts and all have different moods. This makes the song very interesting and never really gets boring. The folk influences from the first album return on the last two tracks. Most of all the violin is responsible for this sound. This album is for me one of the best progressive albums ever made by a band from the Netherlands and I am very pleased that it has been released once again.
After this release, the band went through some personal changes and moved music wise† towards a funk and r & b orientated style. Occasionally, a great prog tune was written but also some more radio-friendly tracks were done to gain more international success. In late 1976 the band disbanded but is still very much alive nowadays. After several comeback tours they released one new live CD/DVD One More Night (2003) and two studio albums Blue Planet (2005) and Sailors & Sinners (2009). But unfortunately, those releases never reached the high level of the compositions that are on The Mountain Queen. The music on the bandís latest release I wouldnít even consider progressive rock music. Too bad, because I do know that they can do better.
*** (Marks) & **** (The Mountain Queen) Henri Strik (edited by Robert James Pashman)
Tracks: Oriental Journey / The Least You Can Do Is Send Me Some Flowers / Soft Royce / Mr. Barnumís Juniorís Magnificent And Fabulous City (live Ė previously unreleased on CD) / I Wish I could / You Always Can Change / Markís Occasional Showers / Catherinís Wig / Hard Royce (bonus track)
Album: The Mountain Queen
Tracks: The Dance / Soft-Eyed Woman / Convicts Of The Air / Mountain Queen / Don And Dewey / Mr. Barnumís Juniorís Magnificent And Fabulous City (part one)
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