As soon as I heard the news of Stanley Whitaker becoming a member of the new American band Six Elements, they got my attention. Being the guitarist and the lead vocalist of the classic prog rock group Happy The Man in the seventies, Whitaker recorded some excellent music. Also his contributions to Oblivion Sun were quite amazing. So, when they offered me to review their debut album Primary Elements, I didn't hesitate a single moment.
However, after listening to the first track on Primary Elements I realized that Six Elements cannot be compared to the above-mentioned bands. On this album the music isn't instrumental. Moreover, Whitaker didn't play the guitar at all, in fact, he's the lead singer. Jeff McGahren took over the guitar parts and he also played the organ on two tracks. The bulk of the keyboard parts are performed by Michael (Misha) Shengaout, who was also responsible for the used samples. Shengaout is the driving force behind this Atlanta-based symphonic prog group that he established in 2008 as an unusual solution to his midlife crisis (!) He decided that he wanted to write music and asked Whitaker and McGahren to join him and to become the core members of Six Elements. They asked some guest musicians to contribute on their debut like Marc Noraard (drums), Betty Seni (vocals), Inna Satunovsky (piano) and bassist and percussionist Dave De Marco (ex- Crack The Sky), who's currently performing with Whitaker in Oblivion Sun.
While listening to the album and due to Whitaker's voice, two names crossed my mind almost immediately: Genesis (with Peter Gabriel) and Cat Stevens. Whitaker's voice has almost the same timbre on these ten compositions. Sometimes singers like Fish or David Cousins (Strawbs) came to my mind. However, the music on Primary Elements strongly tends towards a style you can hear on the albums Genesis and Cat Stevens made in the early seventies. Some of the tracks might even be described as lost Genesis tunes that weren't recorded for From Genesis To Revelations (1969), Trespass (1970) or Nursery Cryme (1971). Besides Whitaker's voice, the sound of the organ, the acoustic guitars and the flute samples are mainly due to this comparison.
The more straight-forward tunes I associated most of the time with the music of Cat Stevens, who had great hits in the sixties and early seventies with songs like I Love My Dog, Matthew And Son, I'm Gonna Get Me A Gun, Lady d'Arbanville and Morning Has Broken. It's highly unlikely that Six Elements will ever have a hit single, not even with the special radio edit If, which has been included as a bonus track. The band members consider this track to be the centrepiece of the album: a journey through the elements and seasons of life with its ups and downs, starting in spring and ending in late winter.
Maybe the music of Six Elements is less adventurous than the music Whitaker made with Happy The Man and Oblivion Sun, but that doesn't mean that Primary Elements won't appeal to fans of progressive rock. Especially people who enjoy the music made by early Genesis should try to get hold of a copy of this album. Those who find that Cat Stevens' music was sometimes related to progressive rock will probably enjoy Primary Elements as well.
*** + Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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