An introduction to a musician like Steven Wilson won't be necessary I think. His band Porcupine Tree has been temporarily put on hold and his participation in Blackfield is restricted to guest vocalist and producer. Writing and recording a new solo album had priority number one. On his first solo album Insurgentes (2008), Wilson carefully mixed all the styles he had previously played, but that didn't have the impact it should have had. On his second album Grace For Drowning (2011, see review), the atmosphere was more experimental and featured fusion and jazz-rock elements. In general people appreciated this album better, so the next step for Wilson was a blend of impressive prog rock and experimental parts, including fusion elements.
The advantage of recording a solo album is that you can ask anybody to play on it, although it seems that Wilson gathered a sort of Steven Wilson Band around him. After the live DVD Get All You Deserve (2012), the complete line-up except one remained to play on The Raven That Refused To Sing. This means that apart from Wilson you'll hear Marco Minnemann, whose excellent drumming always provides a record with special energy, and bass and stick player Nick Beggs, whose fame with Kajagoogoo disturbed me at first, but eventually he turned out to be an outstanding musician. Beside these two musicians we hear keyboard player Adam Holzman and saxophonist-flutist Theo Travis. And last but not least Guthrie Govan, the former well-known lead guitarist with Asia and The Aristocrats. He replaced Niko Tsonev.
The album opens with Lunimol, a song that also appeared on the aforementioned DVD. From the very first notes the basis is set. Together with the majestic drumming, Nick Beggs's strong bass sound is clearly present having a touch of the early Rush. It's complemented by the flute play of Travis and the jazzy keyboard sounds of Holzman. This really is a sublime opener. Only after a number of minutes Wilson's vocals appear. His typical way of singing is very pleasant to listen to and there's a perfect balance between the Pink Floyd influenced passages and the jazzy elements. There's lots of room for the individual musicians which isn't always the case on a solo album, but Wilson brings out the best in his fellow-musicians. A very strong guitar solo finishes Luminol. The sensitive piece Drive Home is a little jewel where Steven sings with a soft and emotional voice. This song comes close to the previous recordings he made with Blackfield, although this one is stronger and features again a brilliant guitar solo, proving that Wilson made the right choice by adding Govan to the line-up.
The Holy Drinker is a song that tends in the direction of the fusion and experimental side of Wilson's music. The first instrumental part is nice and freaky without getting a grip on the composition. However, as the song continues the strong combination of bass and guitar stands out again. The middle section provides all the room for Holzman to explore the edges of prog rock, but in spite of that the entire song still sounds coherent since every piece fits perfectly. The shortest track on the album is The Pin Drop, which lasts about five minutes. It holds a strong retro touch, multi-layered vocals and an intense saxophone solo. Somehow this composition lends itself well as a showcase for the master's vocals. Another highlight is The Watchmaker, an intense gently flowing piece containing soft guitars, flute and background vocals thus creating a unique atmosphere. Halfway the retro feel mainly caused by the flute play, returns which contrasts with a very modern guitar solo being very recognizable as from Guthrie Govan. Towards the end the intense vocals and piano nicely move along ending in an instrumental part, wherein the bass has that Geddy Lee (Rush) sound again. It provides the song with a kind of power during the last few minutes, and again it all fits perfectly together. The title track finishes the album showcasing Steven Wilson's strong vocals on top of relaxed piano playing, while distorted vocals can gently be heard in the background. As typical for more of Wilson's compositions, the power increases somewhere halfway, but the emotional atmosphere remains.
I was really looking forward to this new album of Steven Wilson and I'm very impressed by The Raven That Refused To Sing. The album blends great progressive rock with jazzy and fusion elements and as a bonus you'll get a warm retro touch. I think this album will appeal to most people who like prog rock. In my opinion it's very hard to dislike these songs played by such talented musicians and directed by the master himself. As far as I'm concerned the highest rating of five stars isn't enough to judge this album!
***** Pedro Bekkers (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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