In my review of Wintercoast (2009), Touchstoneís latest album, I concluded that I was very curious to check out their previous releases. Iím not sure if they noticed this remark, but to my surprise they re-released their first effort Mad Hatters, this time as an enhanced CD which means that they added three bonus live tracks. Those tracks will be released in 2010 on their forthcoming album Live In The USA, recorded during their performance at the Rites Of Spring Festival in May 2009.
Two songs from that performance are mentioned in the booklet of this EP. The first one, Original Sin, is a splendid live version of a track taken from Wintercoast. The second piece Dignity didnít ring a bell for me, but was taken from their first official album Discordant Dreams (2008). The third live track is a fast prog version of the Tears For Fears hit MadWorld. Itís not mentioned in the booklet, probably because of copyright reasons. This cover - the bandís trademark - has some extra guitar parts done by John Mitchell. He played with Frost* at the same festival and is a good friend of the band members. He also mixed the live recordings and the bands latest two albums.
On Mad Hatters youíll hear a band in great shape. You can enjoy wonderful solos on synthesizer and electric guitar, for instance in the live version of Dignity. The vocals sound very strong just like the live pieces. When the original version of Mad Hatters was released in 2006, the band had only a thousand copies made. Later on the EP was only available as a digital download. The history of the band tells that female singer Kim Seviour wasnít a band member in 2006, but she was in April 2007. Thatís why we hear keyboardist Rob Cottingham doing all the lead vocals on these four tracks. Iím not sure if Kim was a guest singer at the time, but itís a fact that you can enjoy her strong backing vocals on all these songs. Maybe they later on added her voice during the mix of this remastered version.
The album opens very strong with Misguided Fool. Robís keyboards dominate the intro before the guitars of Adam Hodgson join in a rather heavy way. We hear the same heavy guitar parts on One Shot, but it never turns into prog metal. After this fine up-tempo piece the band continue with Hear Me which has a dreamy intro performed on guitar and keyboards directly followed by a fine drumbeat played by Al Melville. This track remains mellow throughout. The Mad Hatterís Song is the last piece of the original EP. This is again a strong piece with an ending that reminds me of Drama, the only album that Yes made with Trevor Horn (Buggles) and Geoffrey Downes (Buggles, Asia). Iím not sure if I really hear influences from Machine Messiah or Tempus Fugit both tracks from Drama, b ut they suit the song perfectly.
I had a great time listening to the first efforts in the career of Touchstone, a wonderful new band from England. I think we will be surprised when we finally can listen to the whole live album, because the three live tracks on this release certainly gave an appetite.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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