When read the news that Clive Nolan would release an album with the Italian singer Laura Piazzai I really got excited. Even more when I was asked to review From The Outside In for Background Magazine. Most people know of Clive Nolan through his activities in diverse projects and bands such as Pendragon, Arena, Shadowland, Caamora and Strangers On A Train, making him an important keyboard player and composer in the progressive rock scene for many years. On the other hand Piazzai is totally unknown in this scene and is more active in radio friendly and commercial sounding acts such as UKD Project. She is most of all influenced by singers such as Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, Beyoncè, Celine Dion, Mariah Carey. The main questions is of course; What do you get when you bring those two different musical worlds together on one album? As far as this current release is concerned, this could be an interesting experience, especially since composer and arranger Clive Nolan has already provided some surprises in his projects.
First, for those who don't know what this album is about an introduction is in place. The album was announced as; “From The Outside In, featuring Clive Nolan's songs performed by the Italian singer Laura Piazzai”. If you expect completely new song material, you may be a little disappointed, because the album is primarily a collection of older material, which was rewritten or rearranged by Clive and interpreted by Laura in her own way. The production was supplemented by some specially composed songs for this album.
Do we have here the beauty and the beast? Maybe not so strange if you look at the title of the opening piece. Titled Beauty And The Beast. I guess a little bit of self-irony is in place! And what did they think about the album themselves?
Clive: “This was a wonderfully easy set of recording sessions, and the results are great. We have definitely breathed new life into some old songs I never expected to re-visit. And there are new songs too!”
Laura:” For me, this album paints a picture of what a great connection and collaboration can create. Every song on this album has developed its own new identity and feels like it has been written just for me”.
But know let me tell you what the album has to offer. It was made with the help of several guest musicians. Amongst them bassist John Jowitt (Ark, IQ, Frost *, Arena, Jadis), singer Andy Sears (Twelfth Night), Scott Higham (Pendragon) and the guitar players Mark Westwood (Shadowland) and Karl Groom (Threshold, Shadowland, Strangers On A Train).
Right from the start you think about the collaboration which Clive had with Tracy Hitchings many years ago on several albums Most of all her solo album and the albums they made with Strangers On A Train. Because the way Laura is singing Clive's compositions brings you back to the early nineties when those albums were released. Even some compositions from those albums are sung again by Piazzai. But are they of the same high progressive rock level as when they were released for the very first time? Well not really. Because they were recorded with a different twist.
They turn now into more song-oriented pieces, with a good deal of pathos and occasional having a rock attitude. The melodies are catchy and pleasing, the clever arrangements can be found in a mix of styles between melodic rock, AOR, neo prog, pop, mainstream rock, musical or classical music.
You have to love this kind of musical mix to appreciate the music on this release. There are certainly nice new versions of the older compositions. The cover of Tracy Hitchings From Ignorance To Ecstasy and Shadowland's (I Can't) Walk on Water do sound rather strong. But I'll have to admit I do prefer the original versions.
It's easy to say that From the Outside In is a very mainstream album and not every proghead or Nolan fan might enjoy it. Because the music which Clive makes with Pendragon or Arena is difficult to find on this release. Those who enjoy Clive's three musicals She, Alchemy and King's Ransom might have more pleasure listening to this combination of two people which have a different musical style.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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