Ode To Echo is the fourteenth studio album by American progressive rock band Glass Hammer. After releasing so many albums in the past, one could expect maybe one day the excitement of writing and recording a new album more or less to be gone, but it seems this is not the case at all here, because once again, the founding members and the core of the band Fred Schendel (keyboards, guitars and backing vocals) and Steve Babb (bass guitar, keyboards and backing vocals) managed to come up with a very inspired sounding progressive rock album!
I guess in a way I know why they were able to come up with an album with such an inspiring sound. They probably said to themselves: 'we can't make the mistake of creating an album that sounds exactly the same as our three predecessors, If (2010, see review), Cor Cordium (2011, see review) and Perilous (2012, see review)'. Albums that all had Jon Davison as the main man on lead and backing vocals, and also featured on Ode To Echo. He's a singer who, in many ways, sounds like former Yes frontman Jon Anderson. Therefore it wasn't strange that the music, made by Yes in the past, could be heard on these albums. Furthermore it wasn't very strange either, that Yes asked John to become their lead singer after Anderson and Benoit David had left the band. So last year, Fred and Steve turned a corner when Carl Groves (Salem Hill) rejoined to fill in for Jon, while he was touring with what they would call 'the other band'. They knew it wasn't a good thing to have Carl front them only on stage. They also stated how much they would love to have him, as well as Susie Bogdanowicz, join them in the studio. So she came back into their minds, after having had her sing lead and backing vocals for the last time on their rather disappointing album Three Cheers for the Broken-Hearted (2009). Having them both back in the line-up probably made them think about inviting other guests who had worked for the band in the past. In that light, they welcomed back session member (and former full-time vocalist) Walter Moore, sharing lead vocals on their new album, whilst the band's original singer Michelle Young provided backing vocals. As if that wasn't enough, even more guests were invited to give the album a different sound and musical approach to get a fresh-sounding result on this new studio album. This is probably why they took on board Randy Jackson (lead guitar and backing vocals on Crowbone), Rob Reed (Magenta: piano and first mini-moog solo on Misantrog), and David Ragsdale (Kansas: violin on Crowbone), to bring even more variety onto the album. Besides the musicians mentioned, it was obvious that one of the musical stars of their past three albums had to be present as well, namely Kamran Alan Shikoh (electric, acoustic, and classical guitars, electric sitar). In him they not only found a fantastic musician who inserted a lot of fusion and jazz rock influences, but also a wonderful side-kick who could write compositions with them. Finally, I have to mention that this time around you can find the wonderful sounding Aaron Raulston on drums.
Before I go deeper into the music you'll find on Ode To Echo, I'll explain a bit about the concept and the lyrics. First of all, the album marks Glass Hammer's first-ever collaboration with an outside lyricist on the track Crowbone, penned by British historical fiction novelist Robert Low, who has been a long-time fan of the band. Lyrically, the album deals with mythology, using it to call attention to some very dark ideas. Narcissus is the word and he also adorns the cover. Their thoughts on narcissism are a theme throughout the entire album, but Ozymandias, I Am I, and the oddly-titled Misantrog, are the three tracks that deal with narcissism specifically.
You can enjoy eight strong tracks on the album, on which several musical influences come to the surface. We'll just shine a spotlight on all of them. The opening piece, Garden Of Hedon, sounds like a song inspired by the music made by Yes at first, however when the song continues, you'll hear a different musical influence take the lead more and more. It is an influence which I probably never heard before on one of their former releases, namely that of the well known and long gone, but still very underrated British band Gentle Giant . On the second track Misantrog, the band shows their admiration for this band too. Just like some other bands already did in the past - such as Spock's Beard and lately Haken - they started this'compositionwith a capella vocals, something Gentle Giant used a lot on their albums. On the third track Crowbone, you'll hear something that could have been recorded by Kansas. You probably won't be that surprised, when you know that Kansas' violin player David Ragsdale, shines on this piece and yes, the music made by Emerson, Lake & Palmer also left it's trace on this track. I Am I partly returns to the Yes sound. Furthermore I heard things that were in a way related to music made by King Crimson and The Beatles. On The Grey Hills their admiration for Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Yes comes to the fore front once again. The next track, Porpoise Song, is a song originally written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It was performed for the first time by the American pop/ rock quartet The Monkees on their album Head, which was the soundtrack for the movie of the same name, made in 1968. Glass Hammer's well executed version sounds like a mix of The Beatles, Yes and The Beachboys. On Panegyric, the musicians mainly show that Yes is still one of their biggest influences. You can hear them too, on the final track Ozymandias, together with the influences of the aforementioned Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Gentle Giant. All of the compositions are of a very high level and bring out the best in every musician. Therefore the high level of musicianship can be noticed throughout the entire album, but most of all on my three favourite tracks; The Grey Hills, Panegyric and Ozymandias.
Mentioning all those influences doesn't mean that Glass Hammer are mere copy cats, borrowing the best parts from their musical inspirators. I only came up with these names to give you an idea of what you can find on the eight tracks on Ode To Echo music-wise. Glass Hammer have always had their own musical identity and will maintain it on future releases. They always combine their own musical thoughts with those of who influenced them, and this is also the case on their latest effort. Whenever I play a new album from this band for the first time in front of family and friends, they can always hear I brought the brand new Glass Hammer album with me. I guess that very much indicates that there's only one band like Glass Hammer, a band that always goes for the best songs possible and aim only to please themselves and their fans, and not to copy their musical heroes. If I state that Ode To Echo is one of the first musical highlights of 2014, you'll just have to except this, because it's simply the truth!
****+ Henri Strik (edited by Esther Ladiges)
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