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Happy The Man - Crafty Hands CD (album) cover

CRAFTY HANDS

Happy The Man

 

Eclectic Prog

3.88 | 187 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

siLLy puPPy
5 stars HAPPY THE MAN had a series of serendipity by impressing an exec at Arista Records and then impressing Peter Gabriel after auditioning for his solo band, who helped them secure a music contract. The band was also fortunate to support their debut album as an opening act for various popular bands such as Foreigner, Renaissance and Hot Tuna, but the live touring thing was too much for drummer Mike Beck and he was replaced by Ron Riddle who was in an early lineup of The Cars and would appear on their second album CRAFTY HANDS. While still quite progressive and in some ways even more challenging than the debut, there are signs that the record company was stifling the creative process and lobbying for more commercial music at points molding the band to take on a Styx type of sound such as on the one and only vocal track 'Wind Up Doll Day Wind.' Well the rhythmic drive has a Styx feel to it in the keyboards. Vocally Whitaker sounds more akin to Colin Goldring of Gnidrolog at times. Even though the band wanted to make this sophomore release all instrumental, the bigwig at Arista demanded that they include at least one vocal track in hopes of increasing marketability and creating a wider mass appeal. The track is the one and only vocal track on here and while they complied to the boss' desires, they still managed to jazz it up enshrouded with sophistication and an 11/8 time signature!

CRAFTY HANDS takes all the elements of symphonic prog and jazz-fusion (and the occasional Gryphon-esque folk sounds such as the flute and oboe on 'Open Book') that appeared on the eponymous debut album and tamed them down a bit. The fact that there are less vocal tracks is a plus for me and for the one that does appear, Stanley Whitaker sounds much more accomplished here. The one aspect that is missing from CRAFTY HANDS that the debut flaunted is the sense of recklessness and bold progressive workouts that would appear suddenly in the midst of the dreamy polyphonic synthesized dreamscapes that the band effortlessly conjured up. This album seems a lot more polished and even-keeled, however don't think for a second that the progressiveness has diminished in any way. These guys still deliver some of the most delicious musical calisthenics that were to be heard in the late 70s. It's just that they are melded together in a more seamless manner and there are no fast tempo Keith Emerson keyboard moments to be found. This one is much more relaxing, much like the most sedated music of Camel and could possibly qualify as elevator prog if such a thing were to exist!

This album is is very impressive. All the compositions are exquisitely done. The musicianship is impeccable and the atmosphere and mood of the entire works show the band named itself well as the music is cheerful and upbeat even when tamed down to dreamland. Perhaps a few listens may be required for these complex rhythms and polyphonic assaults to sink in, but once they do, they find a firm foundation in your soul. Unbeknownst to the band, this was a make or break album and when the album failed to result in even the slightest commercial interest Arista records dropped the band like a hot potato on a restaurant floor and the band was forced to seek out a new label, but in the late 70s, none came to the rescue. HAPPY THE MAN sallied forth determined to continue and recorded material for a third album, but the pressures of a prog fish swimming upstream in the currents of a punk and disco torrent proved to be too much and the band ultimately called it a day. CRAFTY HANDS, and the debut, for that matter gained many fans as time went on for the clever use of polyphony, brilliant integrative musical styles and highly complex musical runs that still managed to remain somewhat catchy and have even been cited as the influence of many bands like Dream Theater and beyond. Personally i love this album as much as the first although i miss the spontaneity and reckless abandon of the debut. CRAFTY HANDS is a more calculated beast that has lost its youthful innocence but gained in sheer sophistication and remains a steadfast cornerstone of American symphonic prog. 4.5 but rounded up. These guys deserve it

siLLy puPPy | 5/5 |

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