In 2011, something unexpected happened. The most perfect homage to American westcoast pop sounds appeared in the shape of a debut album by a band named State Cows. Bits of Toto, Airplay, Maxus and pretty much everything with that vibe from 1978-81 was reborn in an almost flawless contemporary recording. It was almost impossible to tell whether the recordings had been sitting in a vault since 1980. Even more unbelieveable, these wondrous American sounds were recreated in a much less sunny Sweden. For westcost lovers, tracks like ‘New York Town’ and the wryly humorous ‘Stella By The Barlight’ became fast and firm favourites. Two years on, the aptly named ‘The Second One’ brought more of the same, but was perhaps a little weaker in places. Not that State Cows had lost their knack for retro sounds – the songs were very strong; it was more that element of surprise was gone.
Comprising the talents of Evan Effres and Jon Swan, both of whom wield acoustic guitars and show a love of a simple vocal harmony, it’s impossible to hear Night Market and not be transported back into the world of the sadly missed Eric Lowen & Dan Navarro. Their second EP, 2019’s ‘White Seasons’ very much marks the duo as an act that deserve more attention, since its three songs are finely crafted, soft and often have a mood that gently lifts the spirits.
The 70s were an incredibly fertile time for music. The decade began with the earlier purveyors of hard rock and metal – Deep Purple, Black Sabbath et al – and ended in a similar fashion with bands like Iron Maiden and Saxon spearheading what had been dubbed the New Wave of Heavy Metal. Somewhere between the two metal-oriented goalposts, funk begat disco and progressive rock roamed the landscape like a giant self-indulgent behemoth; punk inspired a generation to create DIY sounds and the likes of ELO, David Essex, 10cc and Pilot were at the forefront of pop perfection. David Bowie and Marc Bolan bought androgyny into the mainstream and Roxy Music looked and sounded like they’d been dropped to earth by aliens. Looking back – maybe with some rose-tinted glasses – the 1970s seemed to be a time when new musical ground was being broken month after month.
Back in the 90s, Neal Morse was one of the most talented people to emerge on the prog rock scene. With elements of Gentle Giant and Yes mixed with the Morse Brothers’ distinctive own style, Spock’s Beard gave prog a real kick up the arse with their first three albums. Their third album ‘The Kindness of Strangers’, especially, marked the band as one of the new breed of greats since it blended some great proggy ideas with the pop charms of Jellyfish and Crowded House to create a record that mixed excess with a truckload of melody. It was a disc they would never better. In the early 2000s, Neal found religion and left the band for a solo career. His albums from then on featured some reasonable music but divided fans due to some very heavy handed and preachy lyrical concerns.
Having gained mass popularity from their 1967 debut single ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, Procol Harum’s career started with such force, it seemed they’d have nowhere to go but down. In the late 60s and early 70s, of course, bands weren’t always expected to follow their success – or even achieve success – instantly and that kind of open minded thinking really worked to Procol’s advantage. Across a series of varied but enjoyable albums released between 1967-1970, Gary Brooker, Robin Trower and company were given plenty of room to experiment. With the quirky pop of ‘She Wandered Through The Garden Fence’ (1967), they showed they could hold their own in the psychedelic world; with huge suites (‘In Held ‘Twas In I’, 1969) and an assortment of themed tracks on ‘Home’ (1970) they more than entertained the hardened prog fans; occasional Vaudevillian tendencies showed they also had a sense of fun and with various classically infused tracks they showed themselves as a cut above most musicians of the era. Prog, rock, pomp and even straight blues – for Procol Harum, nothing seemed off limits and yet their early works all still had a genuine coherency that some of their peers lacked.