Review: Abel Ganz – The Life Of The Honey Bee And Other Moments of Clarity
Abel Records (August 2020)
Reviewer: Peter Scallan
Abel Ganz is most definitely a blast from the past for me. I played a festival in 1985 on the same bill as me. At the time there was a bit of a progressive rock revival, and if I am honest, I didn’t really pay much attention to it. Fast forward some 35 years and here I am reviewing their latest album. While I am not a huge prog rock fan, I am not averse to it, especially a bit of Yes and Rush. However, prog for me always was much wider than those pigeon-holed into that category include the likes of Supertramp, early ELO and even 10cc. Let’s see where these guys sit on this wide spectrum of prog rock.
The opening song is the title track ‘The Life Of The Honey Bee and Other Moments of Clarity‘. Weighing in at almost 13 minutes, it has elements of the likes of Yes, Genesis and Rush. However, what you get is a song that twists and turns through the full spectrum of what I consider to be progressive music and even includes a Celtic folk influence with fiddles. It also has some harmonica and saxophone on it. Yet this song weaves it story and every twist and turn is seamless and by the time I get to the end of it I am quiet stunned by its sheer beauty. ‘One Small Soul‘ follows and is next up and opens with some beautiful acoustic guitar and opens up into a most beautiful hybrid of folk and Americana. Featuring the soothing vocals of Emily Smith, it also has great piano interlude in the middle. This could easily sit on the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss album and is simply sublime. We get a short instrumental interlude in the shape of ‘Arran Shores‘. This is beautiful acoustic guitar piece from guitar maestro David King and doesn’t disappoint. And therein closes Side 1. Yes – that’s right Side 1 as I am listening to this work as it was intended as an album and on vinyl.
Opening up Side 2 is ‘Summerlong‘. Opening with gentle grand piano, vocals and a beautiful string arrangement, this section leads into a full band section which has elements of Yes and early ELO with the strings. It then moves back into just piano and vocals and closes in the most sublime manner. The opening of ‘Sepia and White‘ is very traditional prog rock with elements of Yes, Genesis and even Colosseum jazz rock vibe going on for almost the first minute and a half. We then have a piano and vocal interlude before the band start to join and build up into a crescendo of guitars and keyboards which has elements of Rush and Yes and then drops back into the piano and vocals and repeats the above section again before being treated to a mini-moog solo. The pace is then picked up with off-beat full band section with a guitar solo and then breaking down into an instrumental section and then just as you think the song is building to its end, we are into the second part of this song. It slowly builds again with themes recurring from the first part of the song and even includes what sounds like vibraphone from the ever talented Alan Hearton. The song slowly builds in layers with Hammond organ and heavier guitars to a climatic end. The last track opens with programmed drums and low whistles and is instantly reminiscent of Blue Nile. Entitled ‘The Light Shines Out‘, drummer and producer Denis Smith steps up to the mic and sounds like a cross between Peter Gabriel and Paul Buchanan from the afore-mentioned Blue Nile. A simple stripped back song with Celtic overtures with the low whistles, it bursts into a little electro funk and fades.
It’s been a long time since I been so excited about a vinyl release. The music is quite sublime with numerous progressive and contemporary touch points. These range from Blue Nile to Yes and pass through some Celtic folk and Americana for good measure. Yet it always sounds original, tied together by the Celtic brogue vocals of Mick McFarlane for the most part. Abel Ganz‘s ‘The Life of the Honey Bee & Other Moments of Clarity‘ is a proper vinyl release in every sense of the word. The attention to detail and packaging is utterly superb, from the cardboard inner sleeve with the vinyl inside a separate poly-lined inner sleeve, to the gatefold lyric sheet. And then that little extra mile with seeds for you to sow in your garden to encourage bees into it. I used the word beautiful quite a lot in the above and that is exactly what this is – beautiful. I know that prog is considered a bit niche, but the success of Steven Wilson proves that there is still a market for such artists. This album is every bit as good as anything Steven Wilson has produced and I hope the band get the recognition they so clearly deserve and this sells like hotcakes – it’s only taken me 35 years to catch on and hopefully more will also! I doubt I will hear a better album this year!