“New England - The Anthony Phillips Saga Continues!” - Anthony Phillips’ new album reviewed by Jonathan Dann.
Before I start to discuss this album I must apologise on two counts. Firstly for any bias that may creep into this review, and secondly to those of you who might have expected a review written by Alan. As Alan’s review would consist, in his own phrase… “two words - f**king marvellous”, I guess it is my turn to wax lyrical about Mr Phillips’ latest offering.
It has been some time in the making (a touch of the Gabriels creeping in here) but the result is more than worthwhile. It is nice to see a common feature of Ant’s records being restore this time round - namely another marvellous Peter cross cover. This one depicts the Battle of Bunker Hill hence the golfing references and as usual, the picture is full of the wit and detail that is Peter’s style. With the demise of vinyl , we are sadly left with a greatly reduced version of the picture which is a bit of a shame, Readers will be interested to hear of a reference to our very own Bill Brink (hi Bill!) on the label on the golf bag while we are at it.
And now to the album. This is (Unless I am mistaken) the first Private Parts & Pieces album to be recorded on 16 tracks and this is reflected by the greater combination of sounds on this album. The album kicks off with Aubade, which is strongly reminiscent of Ant’s recent TV work, in particular his music for the Survival series. A nice atmospheric synth piece, caped off with a little keyboard percussion. This moves straight into Infra Dig, an up tempo twelve string and (one eared ) charango piece. A strong uplifting piece.
The first of the album’s two songs, Sanctuary is next and this came as a pleasant surprise. It has been a long time since we heard any new songs from Ant and this is a real gem. Ant’s vocals seem more natural than in the past, perhaps a little less strained than in the dim and distant past of Wise After The Event. Another beautiful evocative piece follows. This is La Dolorosa, and this has a strong Italian feel, with some mandolin to the fore.
A suite of acoustic guitar pieces under the general heading of the New England Suite are undoubtedly classic Ant - quite possibly some of his best six string pieces are here, and they make a welcome return. The territory of Ivory Moon is also revisited with Last Goodbyes, a wonderful reflective piece. This reminds me in some ways of Rick Wakeman’s Gone But Not Forgotten in the way that it evokes a sense of a loved one moving on, either through death or some other sort of crisis.
This album also has some unusual twists to it. I a say that because Ant has elected to be more experimental with sounds and atmospheres on the album helped no doubt by some of the new technology he has acquired in recent years. Martin Robertson makes some sterling contributions on soprano saxophone which sounds quite haunting at times.
Opinion is perhaps a little divided on what is the highlight of the album as a whole, but Sunrise & Seamonsters must come close. This track is a marvellous combination of melody and rhythm, with a band feel to it. With Joji Hirota and Paul Clarvis in full swing, this track really takes off. Some more evocative guitar and synth pieces follow, again building on the atmosphere created by the music that has gone before it.
One thing to mention if you have the CD of this album is the interesting feature if you call up track 10. Due to some strange gremlins, you get the last fading seconds of Sunrise & Sea monsters (a glitch! A glitch! . No doubt we shall find out the reason for this (look out for our interview with Ant about the album in issue three of The Pavilion).
Pieces Of Eight (which incidentally trivia fans might like to know, was mooted as a possible title for the album as a whole) is another highlight. The first part; Pressgang, conjures up a wonderful feel of old pubs, scurvy knaves, wenches and tales of the high seas and no doubt an rather inebriated Sir Ralph Bernascone in the corner, with some jaunty guitar and thumping percussion. This is soon traded in for the serenity and calm of Sargasso and the beauty of Sea Shanty, with some nice cello added in.
The links from past years in the same mould as Back To The Pavilion are also in evidence through the developing themes of In The Maze et al… so it would seem from the start that s this album is perhaps a … Private Parts & Pieces for the Nineties!
Finally, Uneard Cry and Now They’ve All Gone round the album off in fine style. The former is a hypnotic lullabye with some almost - dare I say it? Angelic qualities to it . Now They’ve All Gone has an inherent sense of nostalgia to it. Clever manipulation of sound gives it a 1930’s feel to the sound of this lyrical piano piece, which draws the album to a close.
Overall this is one of the best albums that Ant has released, both within the Private Parts & Pieces series and outside it as well. I have no qualms on recommending this album to all and sundry, and if you think that our praises of Ant’s work are sometimes a little OTT, then a listen to this album should prove that we’re not quite as crazy as we seem! (You speak for yourself Jon - I’m quite proud to be crazy! - AH).
P.S. Ant - “nothing special” indeed!