I wonder if there is a community where all the citizens are prog rock musicians, you know, maybe called The Progressive Heights, Progville or something else equally as absurd. Every Friday they will meet in the local hostelry, The Starship Trooper Arms, and hatch complicated plots for lengthy collaborations, an elaborate plan to ensure they all stay in gainful employment at their keyboard, guitar or chapman stick. You may wonder where I am going with this but surely you must have noticed the plethora of music releases where celebrated progressive rock luminaries make guest appearances on other prog legends’ albums? To me, it brings to mind a pool of like minded troubadours, all guns for hire, who help out each other to produce some rather impressive albums for our listening delectation. The latest musical delight to follow this tried and tested plan of action is Lee Abraham’s latest solo release, Distant Days and it landed in my review pile recently.
Now, being a fan of Lee’s previous solo album, Black and White, I have to admit I was rather excited when I heard there would be another album from this celebrated musician. Lee Abraham is, perhaps, better known as the bassist for British progressive heavyweights Galahad but, that would be like damning him with faint praise, in the same way you could say that Pele used to take corners for Brazil or Charles Dickens wrote a column for his local rag. Lee Abraham is much more than Galahad’s bassist and, on his previous solo releases has shown himself to be a talented multi-instrumentalist and not a bad vocalist either.
Lee started playing guitar and bass in 1989 at the age of 15. His breakthrough release was 2002’s Pictures in the Hall, self-released, to much acclaim. In 2004 he released View from the Bridge and, in 2005, joined Galahad as their bassist, playing on 2007’s Empires Never Last. In 2009 he left Galahad to resume his solo career and released the successful Black and White which featured many of the UK’s progressive stars. 2014 sees the release of the follow up to Black and White, Distant Days.
Lee was also joined by Gerald Mulligan (Credo) on drums, and other members of his core live band Chris Harrison on guitars, Alistair Begg on bass/Chapman Stick and Rob Arnold on keyboards. Jon Barry and Simon Nixon added their guitar talents and Lee was delighted to welcome Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf) on acoustic guitar and Dave Phillips on backing vocals.
Growing as a song-writer and producer, Lee has again called on the prog world to guest on his album to help bring the songs to life. Lee continues: “I am a firm believer in making sure the songs have the best chance to sound great, so that means bringing in the right people to add their talents. All the guests were carefully hand-picked and in some cases, the songs were written with the guest in mind.”
“Distant Days” contains seven new songs – two of them stunning epic tracks, featuring guest performances from Karl Groom (Threshold/Shadowland), Dec Burke (Darwin’s Radio/Frost*/Brave New Sky/Solo), Marc Atkinson (Riversea/Nine Stones Close/Mandalaband/Solo), John Young (The John Young Band/Lifesigns) and Steve Thorne (Solo).
“Distant Days” spans 60 minutes of new progressive music, covers lyrical topics such as childhood, the oppression of Government authority and the cause of the recent global recession.
Album opener Closing the Door kicks in with a fast paced, urgent riff and swirling keyboards before the quality vocals of Dec Burke add another level of class to the mix. The crunching guitar, solid drumming and smooth bass note are superb and lay the foundation for an impressive start to proceedings. The powerful chorus wears its heart on its sleeve, strong and impassioned. There is a nice, subdued section which is a prelude to a slow-burning and passionate guitar solo by Karl Groom, in fact, the guitar work is seriously brilliant throughout the album, this one lingering in your subconscious. Dec Burke provides a suitable finish to the song with earnest vocals that are backed by that delicious guitar.
The next track, Distant Days, showcases the fact that Lee Abraham has a rather nice singing voice to add to his other talents. It is a homage to days gone by, looking back wistfully to the sepia hued times of our past. The measured drums and ethereal keyboards add a contemplative feel to the song, Lee’s thoughtful lyrics and plaintive vocal taking hold of your emotions and carrying you on a ride through the past, days when everything seemed rosier. The guitar solo performed by Lee himself is full of meaning, mournful and heartfelt and, despite its melancholy subject matter, the whole song is a thing of beauty, seemingly alive with emotion.
The tempo and mood are lifted somewhat by The Flame, an upbeat, tinkling guitar note reminiscent of 80’s U2 providing a delicate introduction before a pulsating guitar and keyboard duo takes up the baton and runs away with it. Vocals on this track are provided by the excellent John Young and his voice is a perfect match for the more pop prog vibe of the song. The suitably catchy, and nicely harmonized, chorus is captivating and the first solo by Lee Abraham burns bright adding to the feeling of well being. The guitar playing is, once again, sublime and further solos provided by Jon Barry are the very large icing on a rather tasty cake.
The only instrumental on the album, Misguided is a much darker affair, the introduction has an industrial edge to it, a low hum in the background, before an almost grungy guitar note hits you in the solar plexus. The dynamic rhythm section adds a hint of menace and the occasional doleful keyboard notes add suspense. I like progressive instrumentals and this has just enough hint of metal in it to give it a meaningful persona without going over the top.
Now, when it comes to music, we all have our favourites and, one of the joys of life is discussing with like-minded people, the pros and cons of certain songs. However, I’m sorry but I will brook no argument on this, Corridors of Power is not only my favourite song on the album but, one of the best songs I’ve heard this year, discussion over. Joking apart, I really like this track, the introduction is immense, guitar, keyboard and drums towering over everything, suspenseful and monumental, a huge wall of sound, setting the scene for who knows what will follow. The rising guitar riff adds a patina of sharpness for a short while. The complete contrast of the doleful piano note and the gentle, soulful voice of Marc Atkinson are quite compelling and work incredibly well. The laid back strumming of the guitar and the studied drumming just adds to the aura of excellence. I don’t mind admitting I think Marc Atkinson has one of the best voices in progressive music and his potent and impressive voice is used to perfection on this song adding a honeyed coating to the whole structure. The intense and imposing section that follows is classic progressive rock and is dominated by some dynamic guitar playing, solo duties shared by Lee Abraham and Simon Nixon, the final solo is composed of raw passion and absolute brilliance and burns hotter than the centre of the sun. If you have a soul, this song will be on repeat, trust me.
John Young’s captivating and alluring vocals come into play once again on Walk Away, the introduction is all 80’s AOR with an eddying keyboard note that plays over a tidy guitar riff all aided and abetted by the quality drumming. When John’s voice starts to sing there is a real hint of Neil Diamond crossed with The Boss, Bruce Springsteen and the harmonizing gives an almost modern country rock edge to it. It is an uplifting rhythm and the keyboard and guitar have me reminiscing about Dire Straits ‘Walk of Life’. To coin a phrase, it is a great ‘toe-tapper’ and I find myself singing the ultra-catchy chorus and humming the tune hours later. The tempo increases to give a real urgent edge before another superlative guitar solo from Jon Barry steps in and takes the plaudits. The song becomes more earnest with a tinkling piano note introducing a more poignant and sublime rendition of the chorus, at this point, it is Lee Abraham’s turn to seduce us with a memorable solo, stepping aside to let Jon Barry run the track out with some more incredible guitar playing.
This sublime coalition of amazing musicians, orchestrated and conducted by the very impressive Lee Abraham now present the last part of this brilliant album, Tomorrow Will be Yesterday and, once again, it is another epic slice of progressive music. The lengthy introduction is a lesson in how to do quality music. First off, the gentle piano and rarefied keyboard wander wistfully into shot then a staccato riff and urgent piano note lift the pace and get your attention. Things come to a halt before we move to the next stage where a repetitive guitar overlays some really smooth drumming and a ghostly string-like keyboard, at this point Steve Thorne’s impassioned vocals make their first appearance sandwiching a real slow burner of a solo from Chris Harrison, the fantastic harmonizing on the authoritative vocal section that follows is almost dreamlike. The way the song combines compelling and heartfelt singing with some of the most searing hot guitar playing on the album is genius. We move into a more traditional prog arena next, well judged combinations of keyboards and guitar, hard and heavy in places and some robust drumming, this is followed by an atmospheric section of riffing guitar and ‘hammond organ’ like keyboards before Steve Thorne takes the stage again to deliver his expert vocals, a song superb in its construction and performance runs out to the finale with masterly keyboards and consummate guitar playing.
So, in summing up, two things, it’s about time people stopped identifying Lee Abraham by the tag ’bass player for Galahad’ as he is way more than that, an exceptional songwriter and masterly musician with the knack of producing music that stays in your mind for a long time and, secondly, Distant Days is an outstanding piece of work that utilises some of the best musicians in the genre, it never drops below damn good and, in places, is just superlative.