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As soon as this landed on my mat I thought I knew what was inside. The Roger Dean cover and typography just screamed ‘here’s another retro-prog wannabe churning out the well-travelled riffs from yesteryear’. Ho hum.
Well it isn’t. Despite the odd nod to the usual suspects, this actually stacks up as a pretty good slice of contemporary progressive rock, and with a little more work in the lyrics department, could be the launch pad to something quite special.
Ben Craven is an Australian multi-instrumentalist who cut his musical teeth bumming around Oz with a number of bands, none of which were playing the music that interested him. So he kicked the band format into the long grass and started doing it all himself and Great & Terrible Potions is his second solo effort.
Quite often with this sort of thing, the artist lapses into self-indulgence when a band’s ‘hand on the shoulder’ is missing, but to Craven’s credit, despite the album’s rather awkward title, navel gazing has generally been kept at arms length.
There are 12 tracks in total here (though three of them are single edits of longer tracks) and it’s hard to find the weak point. The high points though are many, particularly on the two longest tracks ‘No Specific Harm’ and ‘Great & Terrible Potions’ where the song construction is excellent, the instrumentation outstanding and the songs have room to breathe and develop.
On all tracks, however, the playing is first rate with delicate piano, soaring synths and great fretwork, both electric and acoustic, all topped off with Ben’s vocals, which despite not being likely to raise the hairs on the back of your neck, are certainly apposite to the many moods of the music.
My only quibble is that the lyrics are, at times, a bit twee and certainly need beefing up for the next outing, but it’s a small quibble and, taken in the round, this is rather fine progressive rock, yes, that doffs its cap to the classics, yet eschews mere imitation to look to the future with an open mind.
Review by Alan Jones