Out Of The Blue

Rick Wakeman & The New English Rock Ensemble

Music Fusion Records, 2001


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


A few years ago, I had the chance to review a series of DVDs featuring then-former Yes keyboard artiste Rick Wakeman. One thing I learned from those discs is that Wakeman's music is as much visual as it is audio-oriented. That doesn't mean that Wakeman or his band use gimmicks to get people's attention on stage; rather, the simple action of his playing the keyboards and interaction with bandmates is as integral to the music as the songs themselves.

So listening to Out Of The Blue, a disc recorded live in Buenos Aires in 2001, I couldn't help but think that something was missing in these otherwise exceptional performances. That something is the ability to see Wakeman and the English Rock Ensemble actually perform this music. (There is a DVD of a different show, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Live In Buenos Aires, from this same tour.)

What is interesting about this collection of songs is how Wakeman is able to make subtle changes to arrangements and make some songs as much as 30 years old sound fresh. Take the medley from "Journey To The Centre Of The Earth," and listen closely to how different the opening arrangement sounds, but how it doesn't seem incorrect in regards to the piece's history. Likewise, both "Jane Seymour" and "Catherine Parr" (from Wakeman's first solo disc The Six Wives Of Henry VIII) don't seem like they've aged a bit, and are just as enjoyable today. This is skill in both songwriting and execution, two areas Wakeman definitely had nailed down.

Even sub-par source material like "No Earthly Connection / The Prisoner," a medley from the disappointing No Earthly Connection, is reworked to almost challenge the listener to give these tunes another shot. This gamble does work.

While American fans of Wakeman's might not be as familiar with selections such as "Buried Alive" or "The Visit / Return Of The Phantom," that doesn't work against these tracks, giving the listener even more of a reason to start digging for other releases in Wakeman's vast discography. Even the dip into Yes territory is done with reverence -- if you weren't paying attention, you wouldn't necessarily know that Steve Howe wasn't playing guitar on "Wurm."

The challenge that Wakeman faces in terms of his solo career is getting attention from the industry in an age where true music is shoved aside for pre-packaged pabulum that even a wristwatch could crank out. Out Of The Blue is a reminder that there are indeed still artists out there performing real music, modern tastes be damned. In fact, if people who listen to pop music gave this disc a fair shake, chances are Wakeman (as well as countless other artists) would be back in the mainstream in a heartbeat.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2004 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Music Fusion Records, and is used for informational purposes only.