ProgBlog

DISCovery

The original aim of the blog was to promote discussion about all and any facet of progressive rock but from time to time, bands and musicians contact ProgBlog with new prog-related material that they want to expose to a wider audience; ProgBlog's album of 2017 An Invitation by Amber Foil was one such approach.

The range of styles ProgBlog has been exposed to through this route has helped to expand and challenge my listening habits but time constraints have meant that not all submissions have received the attention that they deserve.

 

The DISCovery section has been introduced to better serve the requirements of musicians who contact ProgBlog with the aim of increasing the audience for their music; without music there can be no discussion of music.

Currently being debated on the Progarchives site whether to categorise Tom Kelly’s music as ‘symphonic’ or ‘crossover’, I’d personally plump for symphonic. Burnt Peas, A Quail's House and Spinning through Eternity are well constructed instrumental albums, well played and hinting of, at different times, Mike Oldfield, The Enid, Steve Hackett, Happy the Man and Gentle Giant, though Kelly’s signature style, grounded in classical music, always shines through.

 

Burnt Peas and A Quail’s House are largely concept pieces. Beginning with The Tolling of St John's Bells (which incorporates the same bell sounds and tune as a church of the same name in Chico, California where Kelly went to college), Burnt Peas continues with the suite that gave the album its name. This excellent piece of music is a vehicle for his absurdist sense of humour, as the idea behind it was a man who lived in a dreary apartment, scraping out a meagre existence. One day he opens his last can of peas, put them on the stove and then while absent-mindedly dawdling about his apartment daydreaming, finds that he's burnt the peas beyond eating. This multi-part epic has enough dramatic twists to satisfy the hardest of symphonic prog fans.

 

A Quail's House is a CD in a similar vein, the narrative involving a traveller who journeys through the countryside and must make decisions about which roads to take (the Forks). In Imagination or Knowledge, Kelly makes a reference to his favourite Einstein quotation: ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution’ and the traveller has to choose between the path leading to knowledge and the path of imagination. The weight of the concept is matched by some grand themes and motifs until a moment of levity, the final track Fork Boogie.

 

Spinning through Eternity is more of a collection of compositions and though the playing is always excellent, I think the lack of a cohesive concept is a weakness. This album begins with Kelly’s final completed piece, Remains of Childhood Lost, but it’s the all-too-brief Ma & Pa Kettle Go to Hell, with its Hackett-like menacing edge which best shows his writing skills. This track features a drum track and would have been a great band work-out. Next track Cows Appear out of Nowhere neatly dovetails Ma & Pa Kettle but, with a combined length of slightly over 4 minutes, it would have been good if the tune could have been developed as intended but his untimely death meant that the extended piece remained unfinished, even though he was working on his music until two days before he died. Catherine tells a true, sad story played with appropriate pathos which touches on process music before the Book Wife suite, a thoughtful composition of contrasting sections, including more of his dramatic nightmare guitar between lulls of cinematic keyboard washes. Album closer and title track is possibly the most adventurous piece Kelly recorded where a more conventional solo shows off his talent on the guitar to maximum effect.

 

The posthumous release of the three albums is a fitting tribute to a skilful composer and multi-instrumentalist. Highly recommended for fans of symphonic prog.

 

Portrait credit: David Harrer

Tom Kelly