In the mid-nineties the London Philharmonic Orchestra recorded tribute albums to rock bands like Yes (Symphonic Music Of Yes), Pink Floyd (Us & Them: Symphonic Pink Floyd) and Led Zeppelin (Kashmir: Symphonic Led Zeppelin). I found it quite normal that this famous orchestra recorded those albums, because in my opinion prog rock is strongly related to classical music. Many bands and musicians in the genre were inspired by the great composers. I must think about this again when I listened to this cover album recorded by the Australian band Unitopia.
Covered Mirror Vol.1, Smooth As Silk contains cover versions of songs composed by artists that inspired the musicians of Unitopia. In the stunning booklet, designed by Ed Unitsky, they tell us why they recorded these songs. So I won't tell you anything about their influences, but only about the tracks recorded for this album. However, it isn't possible to mention all tracks in detail. The opening Signs Of Life - Prelude is an instrumental piece written by the band. It's a kind of introduction to the next track. It's obvious who inspired them to write it, namely the well-known American soundtrack composer John Williams, not to be confused with the Australian classical guitarist, who once was a member of Sky. This short introduction is followed by Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft. Unfortunately they don't stay close to the original version by the Canadian band Klaatu, but it's close to the rendition of The Carpenters who made this song known. This one sounds very sterile and more commercial. However, the guitar solo by Matt Williams brings it close to the original version that prog heads prefer.
Williams also plays an amazing solo on the next track Easter, one of the finest tunes Marillion ever recorded. His solo is almost as brilliant as on the original version. Next is Man Of Colours, originally recorded by their compatriots of Icehouse. I regard this track to be the weakest on the album. It's an average pop tune that has nothing to do with prog at all, but Icehouse never was a real prog rock band. Unlike this piece the next songs are part of a medley once recorded by Genesis, one of the most famous prog rock bands ever on this planet. The medley The Silent Sun, Supper's Ready, Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and The Carpet Crawlers is just superb and without doubt one of the album's highlights. Unitopia certainly made it something special!
Next track is Rain Song, a beautiful ballad originally recorded by the British heavy rock band Led Zeppelin. The African rhythm during the intro is outstanding and so is the remainder of this fine rendition. Even In The Quietest Moments contains true Australian influences by adding a didgeridoo. The rest of the song comes pretty close to the original version of Supertramp. Can We Still Be Friends, by the American multi-instrumentalist Todd Rundgren, is another song that comes close to the original starting again with a fine orchestral intro. The second self-written piece Speaking The Truth - Interlude is indeed a beautiful interlude mainly performed on the flute. It segues into Everybody´s Got To Learn Sometime, a song that was originally recorded by the British pop band The Korgis. Unitopia's version is slower and mellower compared to the original one. Once more Matt Williams adds a fine guitar solo to this piece.
The Yes medley consisting of You And I, Awaken, Close To The Edge, Soon, Onward, South Side Of The Sky and Owner Of A Lonely Heart is the second highlight of this disc. The opening is just brilliant and all parts of these well-known Yes songs segue fluently into one another. Just after you've recognized which song they play the next one already starts. The most surprising part is Owner Of A Lonely Heart. It's hard to recognize the original version, but especially the lyrics make clear that you deal with this Yes song. It's a very original rendition with hardly any rhythm thus becoming a fine ballad. The last cover is To One In Paradise, a song from the classic debut album of The Alan Parsons Project. This is again a very mellow cover with beautiful vocal performances. The album ends with the bonus track The Way The Waters Moving that was recorded for The Flower Kings tribute album A Flower Full Of Stars (2011). However, for this cover album they used a revisited version by adding some orchestral parts. By doing so it perfectly fits to the rest of this homage to their favourite bands.
After listening to the album I realized that it must have been a lot of hard labour to record these chiefly different versions of well-known songs within the prog community. Especially Mark Trueack and Sean Timms must have spent many hours to make it all worth listening to. The latter arranged the songs and provided them with fantastic orchestral musical parts performed on the keyboards or by a string section. He always ensured that Mark's excellent vocals could shine throughout the songs. Of course, not all fans of Unitopia will enjoy all songs on this tribute album. That's always the case when you record an album with covers. However, I think they managed to please many people with their approach of the music that means so much to them. In my opinion they did a very good job and therefore I'm looking forward to volume two. But first I like to hear an album containing brand new material by this talented Australian band!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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