Longshanks is a Dutch studio band with a long history. If you want to read more about the history then André Kramer, main composer and multi-instrumentalist, will tell the story in five parts on their website. This is Longshanks’ first recording. Their process of writing and recording is explained in the booklet as well, but here’s a brief overview. André comes up with a musical concept and the lyrics of the song, records the instrumental parts and hands it over to lead vocalist Alex van der Graaf. He subsequently reads the lyrics and creates a concept for translating them into a vocal performance. Then he records the vocals often assisted by his wife and second singer Bregje Kaasjager. He sends the definite vocal tracks back to André, who does the final mix and takes care of all kinds of other stuff like the artwork and the info for the website.
Let’s return to the music. Longshanks are certainly influenced by the old classical symphonic rock bands like Genesis and Yes. On the other hand Tolkien was an inspiration for the stories. First track The Way Of Life is a good example of the musical skills of Longshanks. We hear some heavy guitar riffs accompanied by melodic voices, plucking guitars and organ sounds during four minutes. In the middle-section you can enjoy an electric Nick Barrett-like guitar solo with typical Uriah Heep- vocals. The theme of this first song is the main theme of the entire CD: making journeys and returning home. The next song In Dreams begins with a ticking clock and synth waves. You can hear slow and sluggish spoken words with a flute interlude somewhere in the middle of the song. The surprising acoustic Spanish guitar and the classical symphony orchestra lift this song to a much higher level. In the second and third chorus, you can hear the soprano voice of Alex’s sister Anita van der Graaf. The lyrics of the first verse were inspired by a quote from The Fellowship Of The Ring by Tolkien.
The Wandering Merchant is a funny tune with soundscapes of somebody whistling and a horse carriage. It tells the story of a traveller who tries to get away from a pushy salesman who wants him to admire the city he’s come to visit. This is a lovely dance tune with a fine guitar solo in the vein of Red Jasper. In The Desert tells the story of a merchant leaving the crowded city and wandering on horseback through a desert. He finds out that nature isn’t quite as peaceful as he had hoped. The musical ideas with compelling vocals and long guitar pieces fit perfectly with the lyrics. The Bath Song is a short and happy song with a melody inspired by The Dubliners and lyrics sung by Tolkien's Pippin. This song was recorded live at The Prancing Pony in Bree, Belgium. All My Days is just a simple ballad for piano and voice which is certainly not one of my favourites. The heavy guitar riffs and vocal duets in I Love The Road reminded me of Asgard, the medieval proggers from Italy. A flamenco guitar is the main instrument in The Travelling Song, part 3. In I Have A Dream the legendary spoken words of Marten Luther King are put in front of Beethoven's fifth symphony. It’s a pity that this time the vocals don’t fit with this legendary speech, but the music is ok having enough tension and tempo. The final song has a very original musical idea: a street organ version of The Wandering Merchant.
It took a long time before Longshanks released their first album. In general, the songs are rather strong with enough variation and musical ideas, but they’re not superb. However, this band has a lot of potential and I guess they will soon release a second and even better album than this one.
***+ Cor Smeets (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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