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Red Jasper - A Midsummer Night's Dream  CD (album) cover


Red Jasper


Prog Folk

3.56 | 28 ratings

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Prog-Folk Team
4 stars This is a near classic British prog folk album with a touch of neo thrown in. It features pleasantly strummed acoustic guitars, wistful whistles, warm baritone vocals from Davey Dodds, syncopated jigs, and some searing lead guitars.

The album is judiciously bracketed by two "Sonnets", both of which illustrate the quieter side of folk prog. "Virtual Reality" is the only tune in which the neo aspect really predominates, but what a winner. This is an instantly infectious tune that rivals a lot of what IQ and Marillion were on about. But instead of filling a disk with more of the same, Red Jasper then opts for a mixture of haunting folk influenced prog and prog bolstered folk, and believe me there is a difference.

Berkana is a mysterious and melancholy ballad where the aforementioned whistles provide a spine tingling break before morphing into a simple heartfelt jig that could be taking place in a glade somewhere. This is like the long forgotten band, Forest, but with 1990s production values and not a trace of faux cleverness that marred the works of that band and, even more so, the Incredible String Band. The main event for most readers will probably be "Dreamscape Parts I and II", clocking at over 13 minutes. A synth heavy introduction is followed by the main vocal section backed by a mandolin and joined by a rhythm section and more string synths. The band appreciates and exploits mood and time swings in a sensitive and cohesive way, and this piece gives them more time to do so both instrumentally and vocally.

The instrumental Jean's tune is more of a gentle folk affair until the last couple of minutes where one of the album's monumental guitar leads kicked in, still backed by a potent push from the rhythm section which even incorporates some type of woodwind as a backdrop. This is such a group effort! Invitation to a Dance is very Steeleye Spannish from the Parcel of Rogues/Now we are Six school. Not one of my favourites in terms of how it fits in with the overall flow, but it's by no means weak, and it does provide a number of heavier movements later on, before ending with another fast paced lead guitar solo fadeout.

Treasure Hunt is another highlight. with Dodds' voice in fine form. It has been compared to Peter Hammill but I think only in terms of its deepness (depth?). It is actually a lot less angry while not being cloying in the least. The piece slows to a near stop, with almost no instrumental accompaniment. But suddenly THE instrumental passage of the disk is heralded by an odd sort of clarion call to arms, and the band cooks with lead and rhythm guitars cranking out a gorgeous melody that put Rothery and Hackett on notice. It's the sort of thing hinted at in STRAWBS' Down by the Sea but diluted by orchestrations. Here there is no such sentimentality, yet it really does touch me at an emotional level, and the fade out and return is a simple effective touch.

What STRAWBS, STEELEYE SPAN, JETHRO TULL and HORSLIPS spearheaded a quarter century earlier is lovingly adapted for the 1990s by Red Jasper. A strong 4.5 stars

kenethlevine | 4/5 |


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