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The Bouncy Renaissance Rock of Gentle Giant

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Back in the 1970s, progressive music swept through the music industry like a tidal wave, leaking Canterbury influences which overwhelmed several "commercial" bands (like Yes and Genesis). Meanwhile, many groups avoided commercial success by remaining true to the prog-rock ethos.

With their fusion of musical styles ranging from rock to medieval to jazz, their multi-layered vocal harmonies, and their predilection for unpredictable time signature changes, Gentle Giant was definitely a band that eluded corporate marketability. Even so (or more precisely because of this adherence to craft), the band enjoyed a strong following among people looking for music that offered sincere differences from Top 40 airplay.

Gone for too long, Gentle Giant are back, and finally the band's old releases have been dragged out of the vaults and remastered for CD reissue. The majority of the band's catalogue are slated for reissue throughout 2010.

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GENTLE GIANT: In a Glass House (CD on Alucard Records)

This 2010 CD reissue of the 1973 album features 38 minutes of captivating progressive rock music.

Gentle Giant is: Derek Shulman (on vocals, saxophones and recorder), Gary Green (on guitars, mandolin, percussion, and recorder), Kerry Minnear (on keyboards, tune percussion, recorder, and vocals), Ray Shulman (on bass, violin, acoustic guitar, percussion and backing vocals), and John Weathers (on drums and percussion).

A delightful meshing of instruments delivers solid and engaging rock songs tinged with cerebral styles.

The keyboards are lively and supercharged with melodic power. These riffs slither throughout the music, glistening with spry emotion and goading the overall mesh into a swelling structure of evocative beauty.

The guitar has a crisp timber as it snarls out tantalizing riffs that surge amidst the rest of the gestalt. A remarkable restraint is present, illustrated by the searing guitar tendency to tactfully step back and allow other instruments to carry the melodies.

The bass rumbles with puissance, establishing a sturdy system of support for the rest of the music. There are instances where the bass functions as a guttural substitute for the guitar.

The percussion is agile and complex. This band is not afraid of switching from strong drums to clever auxiliary rhythms. A profusion of xylophonic passages generates a fanciful air to the already whimsical tuneage.

The vocals are bewitching, whether they be direct leads or tinny punctuations or undulant harmonies. Delivery styles are multifold, switching from understated crooning to strident wails to sly asides, yet always communicating the proper mood to enhance the lyrical content.

Classical woodwinds, brass and strings lend a renaissance flair that somehow manages to sound modern despite their medieval mien.

These compositions boast the ability to transform unpredictable intricacy into appealing structures. Several of the tunes possess rollicking catchy melodies that are quite infectious. The message expressed by this album is liberation, not the labor of achieving that state, but the freedom inherent in emancipation.

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GENTLE GIANT: The Power and the Glory (CD on Alucard Records)

This 2010 CD reissue of the 1974 album offers 37 minutes of nimble music.

Gentle Giant is: Derek Shulman (on vocals, and saxophones), Gary Green (on guitars), Kerry Minnear (on keyboards, cello, and vocals), Ray Shulman (on bass, violin, and vocals), and John Weathers (on drums, percussion, and vocals).

Vocal harmonies conspire with agile keyboards, understated guitar, and sparkling percussion, crafting tunes of pleasant complexity.

Crisp keyboards provide fanciful leads that are nimble-fingered and highly expressive, conveying riffs of bouncy substance. There are delightful passages in which tunes wander off into delicate keyboard riffs. Often the keys adopt a xylophonic flair that serves to lend the tuneage a carefree demeanor.

Powerful guitars snarl with dramatic resonance, supporting the melodies with engaging undercurrents instead of functioning as a primary instrument.

Studious percussion contributes rhythms that are quite versatile, switching from steady tempos to quirky beats, always maintaining an innovative edge.

The basslines flow like transparent fluid in the mix, often so blended in that they are indiscernible though integral, furnishing a sturdy basis for the melodies.

The violin is often well hidden, but in a few instances it's allowed to commandeer the flow with frenzied glory.

The nucleus of this music is the vocals. The lead voice, sweetly masculine, conveys lyrical content with whimsical determination, while lush vocal harmonies generate lavish passages of celestial beauty.

These compositions flourish with a glorious fusion of madrigal and rock, resulting in progressive music possessed of a cross-genre appeal. The melodies are expressive and alluring, regularly quite catchy with their crystalline luster. The songs analyze the urge to achieve renown, concentrating on human aspirations rather than any accomplished fame.

GENTLE GIANT: Free Hand (CD on Alucard Records)

This 2010 CD reissue of the 1975 album offers 37 minutes of lively music.

Gentle Giant is: Derek Shulman (on vocals, and saxophones), Gary Green (on guitars), Kerry Minnear (on keyboards, cello, and vocals), Ray Shulman (on bass, violin, and vocals), and John Weathers (on drums, percussion, and vocals).

More lively tuneage accompanied by complex vocal arrangements.

The first song employs sharp keyboards in tandem with crisp guitar to provide a foundation for sprightly vocals. There are delightful instrumental breaks throughout the tune, exploring fanciful variations of the song's central theme.

While instrumental embellishment of a pastoral nature exists in the second track, it is primarily an a cappella piece. The vocals engage in tonal gymnastics, then slide into a peaceful ballad before reverting to counterpointing vocal punctuation. To be honest, the instrumental embellishment serves up a robust renaissance verve that repeatedly surfaces throughout the tune.

The next piece (the title track) embodies Gentle Giant's pleasant puissance in the use of nimble-fingered keyboards (often sounding like a harpsichord) as the lead instrument, providing whimsical riffs in conjunction with the tactfully urgent percussion and stridently positioned guitar chords. As usual, the vocals enhance everything with their gently masculine expressions.

The fourth track exemplifies the use of sharp keyboard notes to emphasize the melody, often delivered in tandem with bursts of the other instruments, fleshing out the keys into a lush punctuation. And then things cascade into a structure of dazzling complexity as the instruments fit together with elaborate resonance.

Next, the music adopts an extremely dreamy demeanor, as if the band has taken position at the end of a long corridor. Delicate piano creates breezy passages underlined by ethereal violin. The vocals are remarkably fragile here, yet carry a congenial authority. A searing guitar solo serves as a tasty climax.

The sixth piece is the album's only song with no vocals. It is also rich in Celtic airs. Woodwinds establish a capricious mien, while bass and drums provide a softly gutsy bottom.

The last track allows spry violin to contribute on an equal bearing with the other energetic instruments, introducing a festive mood to this testimony to the traveling life.

The lyrics on this album are concerned with celebrating the need for freedom, whether it be in a creative sense or in social contexts. Their demonstrably non-commercial structure is a wonderful testament to this philosophy, and in many ways foreshadows the popularity of Celtic music among the public.

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GENTLE GIANT: Interview (CD on Alucard Records)

This 2010 CD reissue of the 1976 album offers 37 minutes of intellectual but bouncy music.

Gentle Giant is: Derek Shulman (on vocals and saxophones), Gary Green (on guitars), Kerry Minnear (on keyboards), Ray Shulman (on bass and violin), and John Weathers (on drums).

Slippery keyboards, crisp guitar, driving percussion and intricate vocals are harnessed into imaginative rock tuneage with a touch of renaissance sensibilities.

Sprightly keyboards dominate these songs, describing lilting melodies that are prone to take unexpected diversions of bewitching eminence. Riffs cavort with congenial resolve, conveying brisk animation with their slippery style. There are passages that shine with a touch of mandolin delicacy.

The guitar achieves a stronger role on this album, creeping from crafted obscurity to glisten with puissant sovereignty. The striking riffs blaze with searing fervor.

The drums are suitably spry without undue sway, providing a propulsion whose quirky cadence fits well with the music's general unpredictability.

This time the violin is more apparent, although the sawing riffs still lurk within the mix.

As usual, the vocals empower each song with their ambrosial articulations. Soft lead vocals can slide into enchanting harmonies of luxurious scope while invariably retaining an amiably commanding presence.

These compositions display an energetic presence that is never exhausting, enticing the listener into the melodies with sly charisma. Here, the topic is communication and its inherent variable interpretations.

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GENTLE GIANT: Playing the Fool (CD on Alucard Records)

This 2010 CD reissue of the 1977 album offers 78 minutes of entrancing music recorded live on the band's European tour, September through October 1976.

Gentle Giant is: Derek Shulman (on vocals, saxophone, recorder, bass, and percussion), Gary Green (on guitars, recorders, vocals, and percussion), Kerry Minnear (on keyboards, cello, vibes, recorder, vocals, and percussion), Ray Shulman (on bass, violin, acoustic guitar, recorder, trumpet, percussion, and vocals), and John Weathers (on drums, vibes, tambour, percussion, and vocals).

Gentle Giant proves their adeptness at duplicating the complexity of their studio sound on a live stage.

As usual, the keynote here is the band's signature vocal harmonies, perfectly delivered in a manner that almost makes it sound easy. Human throats undergo intricate gymnastics to achieve a compelling resonance that spirals and cavorts and spins off into the stratosphere.

The guitar snarls and chatters away, bending strings to generate savory riffs at high velocity. Their timbre continues to vary throughout the album, one moment crisp and acoustic, the next minute guttural and searing.

The keyboards twinkle with delightful agility, doling out chords that sweep with expressive abandon to encompass the audience and draw them in close.

The drums pound with fervor, producing engaging rhythms that throb with enough power to make the head spin.

The bass has a popping grumble that brings its rhythms bursting from the midst of the music to rumble with a geological fury.

Windwoods inject a renaissance air to certain tracks, evoking colorful jesters prancing about. The violin frequently emphasizes this antique flair--when it's not wailing with in-your-face squealing. The vibes deliver a fanciful edge that is extremely festive.

These songs are stunning fusions of rock, pop, medieval, jazz, blues, and progrock, all compressed together into Gentle Giant's uniquely rollicking style. This music is rich with an enthusiasm that mixes inspiration from modern and antediluvian styles, resulting in momentous tuneage that will appeal to fans of both genres.

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It should be noted that these albums are also available online as digital downloads which include bonus pieces (primarily live tracks). The CD versions do not contain this bonus material. Interested parties are advised to check out the bandŐs website and follow the links to discover the details regarding these online bonuses.

The live tracks are slick and energetic, excellently capturing the band's eclectic sound with fevered performances.

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