Kurt Michaels is Chicago-based singer/songwriter/guitarist. Kurt has played with or shared a stage and/or contracted musicians for legendary rock icons, including Spencer Davis, Joey Molland (Badfinger), Denny Laine (Moody Blues & Paul McCartney/Wings),The Babys, Carl Palmer (Emerson Lake & Palmer),The Drifters,and others.
His first two CD releases Inner Worlds Part One (2003) and Outer Worlds (2007) were Avant Garde instrumental soundscape collections. His third release Soaring Back To Earth (2011) was his first attempt to come up with singer/songwriter rock band music, as he called it himself. Stones From The Garden is the long awaited follow up to Soaring Back To Earth. A harder hitting collection of newly penned originals with 8-tracks clocking in at just under an hour.
It seemed a long time in between Kurt's latest two albums. But you have to know that the writing began on a trip to Tucson on February of 2016. The initial recording work began on August of 2018 at BobDog Studios in Oak Park IL and moved to Kingsize Sound Labs in Chicago. Mastering at Kingsize began in 2021 and was completed in February 2023. So I guess his time was well spend. All songs were written and produced by Kurt Michaels himself. On the album a lot of musicians contribute next to Kurt Michaels on guitar and vocals. We have Len Szymanski on drums (1 thru 6), Scott Williams on bass (1, 2, 3 & 6), Dennis Johnson on bass (4), John Abbey on bass (5), Billy Sherwood of Asia and Yes fame on bass (7), drums (7) & vocals (4&5). Furthermore Jim Gully on keyboards (2, 3, 5 & 8), Chris Usseryon keyboards (4), Jeff Abbott on keyboards (4), the late Michael Sherwood on keyboards (1, 6 & 7), Cory Hance on vocals (3 & 7), Annie Carlson on vocals (3 & 4). Amanda Lehmann of Steve Hackett fame on vocals (4 & 5) and Kathie Mills on vocals (1, 2, 6 & 7). Together they created an album which sounds like an average singer/songwriter rock album. That is for the five first tracks on the album for sure!
Looking for progressive rock influences is something I could hardly find on this release. They start a bit after you have gone through the first five tracks. Therefore maybe the song Happiness moved a little bit into that direction music wise because of the vocal chorus parts at the end of the song. Also follow up Will I Ever Pass This Way Again? has some elements which can be labelled as progressive rock influences. Such as the strong bass parts done by Billy Sherwood, or the vocal chorus and the string synthesizer parts. Even the guitar makes you think about progressive rock. But most certainly they are present on the longest piece of music on the album. The closing track on the album is The Road Beyond and is 17 minutes long. It starts a bit like Awaken from Yes. The entire instrumental composition has lots of ambient keyboard sounds mixed with mellow guitar parts. While listening to the music it makes you think you are under water or in the fantasy world of Avatar (the movie). The song ends with some narrative words and an audience clapping their hands. I guess it was recorded in front of a live audience.
Giving a sore to an album which moves hardly into the direction of progressive rock is not easy if you write for a website that mainly reviews progressive rock related releases. But I try any way. Music wise all of the compositions are okay if you like it not too complex. If you like average singer/songwriter rock music this album might satisfy you musical taste. But if you take everything to a higher level with lots of synthesizers and long guitar solos you don't have to buy or listen to Stones From The Garden. Because you can't find them on this release.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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