In 2008 the American progressive rock band Moth Vellum recorded an impressive debut album which was mainly influenced by the music made by Yes. Unfortunately the band broke up in 2010 when two band members decided to quit, so a follow-up album was never recorded. However, early 2013 Tales From Sheepfather's Grove appeared, a solo album by guitarist Johannes Luley (see interview), one of the founding members of Moth Vellum.
In a way Luley made a real solo album, because he played all the instruments himself, except for the harp which was played by Stephanie Bennett. This means that this multi-instrumentalist played all the guitars, banjo, bass guitars, keyboards and a number of percussion instruments. Moreover, he did all the lead vocals and some of the backing vocals. The remaining vocals were done by his wife Robin Hathaway, Kristina Sattler and Sianna Lyons. The album's title refers to a magical place from his childhood. It pays homage to his upbringing and past and represents a window into his own history.
While listening to Tales From Sheepfather's Grove I noticed that throughout the mood is rather laid-back and mellow. One of the reasons why the album sounds this way is the absence of a real drummer that could give the songs a strong groove or a strong beat. Strangely enough I didn't miss a drummer at all and I never got sleepy either since Luley managed to keep me focussed throughout the album. This is mainly due to the high-levelled compositions on this album, although they're not always original containing many influences from other bands and soloists. That doesn't matter at all as long as the songs have something to say music wise. Well, they all do; it's a pleasant album to listen to for all prog heads!
On the opening piece Stab The Sea I got the idea of listening to a track from Olias Of Sunhillow (1976), the debut album by Jon Anderson mainly caused by the multiple vocal parts, the harp, tribal drums and the other percussion instruments that recall the spirit of that album. The second track Guardians Of Time has a medieval sound which gave me the impression of a piece performed by Steve Howe, the guitarist of Yes. Next is Moments that made me think of Turn Of The Century from the Yes album Going For The One (1977) due to the keyboard parts in combination with the acoustic guitar and Luley's voice. Give And Take and We Are One could both have been written by Jon & Vangelis. The keyboards combined with Mr. Luley's voice tend towards this type of music. The Fleeting World is another guitar piece in the vein of Steve Howe, but if you listen carefully you may discover some influences from Pat Metheny as well. On the more complex piece Suite: Atheos Spiritualis the name of Vangelis crossed my mind more than once caused by the same kind of keyboard textures. Voya is the final track which could be described as a track recorded by Jon & Vangelis on which Steve Howe plays some guitar parts.
It's evident that Tales From Sheepfather's Grove has an overall Yes feel due to all the musical influences I heard. However, not only the music and the album title made me think of this band, but also the album cover reminded me of the seventies when Yes recorded albums packed in covers designed by the famous Roger Dean. He wasn't available to design this cover, so the beautiful artwork was created by one Harout Demirchyan.
Johannes Luley deserves a big compliment for what he accomplished on Tales From Sheepfather's Grove. He created an outstanding album that above all will be loved by fans of all the above-mentioned artists. It's highly recommended and so far one of my musical highlights of 2013!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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