Being a child of the 80’s I was brought up a diet of electro pop and synth and good old classic rock. As I grew older I saw the light and metal and prog took over my life in a big style but, in my formative music days (we will forget that Smurf’s album purchase), bands like Genesis, The Eagles, Bruce Springsteen et al were my daily diet of music. The looming presence of Pink Floyd was always there in the background but, as yet, hadn’t had a huge influence on my aural journey. What drew me to the pleasures of classic rock was the concept of the whole song being conceived as complete piece of music where, in my opinion, the chorus, verse and music all contributed to the story telling nature of the artists. Song writing was key and king to the success of these bands and, in the modern world of music, this seems to have been forgotten, even in some of the genres we love. Yes, I love hard rock, metal and progressive music but, what I love above all else, is fantastic song writing, that’s why you will find records by Simon and Garfunkel, Paul Simon and The Beatles in my collection, I love songs that tell a story and use the whole composition to achieve that.
When I first heard about Italian artist Marco De Angelis’ new record The River (Both Sides of the Story) I was very intrigued because it seemed to hold dear those core values that I expressed previously above all else. Marco states that “In this era of liquid music, of songs that shuffled and bundled randomly in mp3 players, The River brings us back to the glorious, but almost forgotten, tradition of the concept piece and, is not a collection of songs but, a homogenous and coherent body of work in which lyrics, music and arrangements fuse together harmoniously. Here, The River represents life with the 2 banks representing the dualism in which we all exist, good and evil, life and death, male and female etc. It is how we identify ourselves, stopping on one or the other of the banks and sometimes yearning for and missing the other”. Well, after reading that, I was intrigued, who wouldn’t be?
Marco started his musical journey when he was 10 and has gained a wide experience in the musical instruments field and now plays guitar, bass and keyboards, his main roots being in 60’s and 70’s UK progressive rock and classic rock as well as enjoying a wide range of other musical styles. He has created soundtracks for 3rd parties as well as his own original works and has been an arranger and producer for many indie albums released worldwide. Marco ran his own professional recording studio as well as his own music label. In 2011 he returned to his first love, being a musician.
The River – Both Sides of the Story features Marco playing all the instruments apart from the drums which were handled by his good friend Cristiano Micalizzi. The backing vocals are sung by Vocintransito, an all-female gospel ensemble with whom he had worked previously. Lead vocals are handled by Marcello Catalano, whom Marco considers to be one of his best friends.
The River starts with the very short intro piece, radio, which is just 20 seconds of background radio before the delightfully coruscating guitar intro to Tell Me Why, a beautiful slice of 80’s rock that has brilliantly harmonized vocals blending in with the bass and guitar. This where you get the first listen to Marcello Catalano’s vocals and they are wonderful, perfectly suited to the song. The great harmony of the chorus with the sharp edged guitar kicks in again and I’m hooked already, this is the music I grew up on, a lovely verse and delightful chorus all held together by some great musicianship. A low key piano intro highlights the softer edge of Black Stare, heartfelt , soft and breathy vocals reminiscent of Savage Garden emphasise the 80’s feel again combined with a nice, gentle guitar riff. This is almost pop rock but with a much more mature feel to it, Catalano’s vocals are key to the softer style of the song before it all blossoms into a fantastic chorus, the vocal soaring high and backed with some powerful guitar playing before the slower groove rides out to the finish of the song. A classic 80’s Eagles riff begins One Love, there is an almost bluesy edge to the guitar before we have a fantastic chorus so reminiscent of 80’s anthem St Elmos Fire. The Eagles influence is enhanced by the brilliant little guitar run that follows the chorus, I am being transported to the era that shaped my life and the music that aided and abetted that process. More of the catchy chorus follows, another great vocal workout before an abrupt ending that flows straight into Snowbound, a nice acoustic intro and another enduring vocal backed by a decorous string sound, there is an American classic rock edge to this song, almost John Mellencamp or Bruce Stringsteen. The feeling is a bit more brooding and melancholic emphasized by another great chorus and a stylish guitar in the background as well as some brilliantly harmonized backing vocals. This meaningful track comes to a finale with a nicely laid back and mellow solo. Did I mention The Eagles before? The classy riff of the intro and harmonized backing vocals are the precursor to another great vocal performance which just screams Don Henley at you as we are treated to Never Look Back, some swirling Hammond Organ and nicely pared back guitar blending with the backing vocals before a sweet guitar solo that Glen Frey would be proud of, a pure piece of 80’s Americana. A nice fade out with the guitar and backing vocals front and centre finishes another alluring song.
A nice, gently strummed guitar overlaying the sound of a gently bubbling river is the low key introduction to This Time, those breathy vocals initially heard on Black Stare are in evidence again, lending an ethereal edge to the sound. The pace lifts as the vocals take on a stronger edge, backed by an insistent guitar sound. This is a nice song but not as strong as the other tracks on the album. I must admit I do like the dreamy sound of the strumming guitar though, contrasting with the almost reggae style edge to the rest of the track. Strong backing vocals again add to the quality of the song, it just doesn’t stand out like the other tracks we have heard so far and seems to meander to the finish, the classic, fuzzy radio that ends the fade out is a nice touch though. A nice piano intro and cultured vocals complemented by a great steel guitar are quintessential parts to the intro of my favourite track on the album, the Pink Floyd influenced Regrets. Acoustic guitar that could have been lifted direct from Wish You Were Here backed with a nice brass sound build up to a fantastic solo early in the song, Marco’s assertion that his major influence is Dave Gilmour is definitely in evidence here, the solo soars and really moves you, reminiscent of Gilmour’s recent solo disc, On an Island. We are brought gently back to earth by that great brass sound before another really mature vocal performance, this track is pure Floyd and almost appears an homage to the prog and art rock legends. As gentle piano takes over, the vocal is interspersed with short licks of guitar, the song ebbing and flowing as the tempo lifts before being drawn back down again, coinciding with another portion of that laid back piano and guitar. You think the song has come to an end before we get treated to one more amazing solo, the guitar almost talking to you, mournful, moving and heartfelt. Here the backing vocals are a perfect counter point, the piercing, soaring guitar fading out this highlight of the album. A short, piercing guitar note and then a low down and grungy guitar riff give a dark edge to that start of Take It Away, a nice low key vocal, slightly reminiscent of Genesis and matched with yet more of the great backing vocals carry on the harder edge to this song. It has a real strong Genesis vibe to it, the powerful chorus and more stringent guitar note all adding to the drama. A really bluesy, distorted solo adds a hint of menace to the track along with a jam style session in the middle that adds a great blues feel to it. Another helping of the edgy, blues style guitar fades out this cool song. What Do You Feel Now has a very meandering intro, gentle keyboards and effects giving a real easy feeling to the start of the song before another great piece of guitar work, low down, grungy and almost industrial, a pulsating riff starting low and increasing to a powerful conclusion, that laid back vibe carrying on in an almost instrumental vein, some really classy slide guitar helping to give a dark, brooding feel to this track. Another coruscating, compelling guitar break before the vocals finally kick in, just as dark and dangerous as the rest of the song, it all comes to an abrupt end before we, literally, fly into Fly High, as light and fulfilling as the previous track was dark and brooding, the chorus soaring up to the heavens before a light and lilting verse backed by gentle piano, guitar and keys. I can’t help but sing along with the smile inducing chorus and it’s anthemic qualities, although the backing vocalists probably do a better job. It has a real 80’s vibe to it throughout and feels like it traipses merrily along, a real feel good song. Another absolute belter of a solo and more of the sumptuous chorus round out what should be, essentially, the final track of the album, however, we lucky folk are treated to a bonus track, Our Trail of Tears, it starts nicely with more of that 80’s vibe, a nice, gentle riff and great vocals leading to another fine chorus. A nice little bass run fleshes it out before the verse kicks in again and we are treated to another repeat of the chorus followed by a nicely laid back, elongated solo, again, nothing truly outstanding but a classy tune in its own right. The song seems to round out at about the 6 minute mark before 2 minutes of silence and then, what seems to be, an acceptance speech.
Conclusions then, in the main The River is an excellent album with its roots in 80’s classic rock but a definite prog edge showing through, no more so than when Marco plays those epic Gilmour tinged guitar solos. I love the songwriting, the great vocals (both lead and backing) and the total construction of the album and it is only let down by a couple of weaker tracks. If, like myself, you are a child of the 80’s and loved the great classic and prog rock bands of that era or, if you just want to hear some fantastic songwriting and music, then you could, and should, listen to The River – Both Sides of the Story.