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Paul Brett - Paul Brett Sage CD (album) cover

PAUL BRETT SAGE

Paul Brett

 

Prog Folk

3.98 | 9 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

kenethlevine
Special Collaborator
Prog-Folk Team
4 stars The term virtuoso is bandied about all too freely, especially in progressive rock circles, but it well and truly applies to guitarist PAUL BRETT. Unfortunately for him in the commercial sense, his prodigious talents were most in evidence on all manner of acoustic guitar. My first encounter with his name and his work was during the holiday season as the 1970s drew to a close, when the never mainstream Carleton University radio featured his then current RCA release "Eclipse" album as a suitable holiday gift for people of all ages. OK, that sounds dubious, but the title track drew me in, as did the album and its predecessor "Interlife" which I immediately sought out. It was only later when I discovered that he had in fact played on STRAWBS "Dragonfly and had other tenuous ties to that band via ELMER GANTRY's VELVET OPERA and FIRE. I mistakenly wrote off his earlier releases after sampling the rather tepid "Clocks" from 1974, and never gave his 3 albums fronting "Paul Brett Sage" (sometimes written in the possessive) their due. Better late than never, for the first of these, in particular, through its eclectic influences, brilliant musicianship and arrangements, and an eyes wide open communal spirit and ebullience that cannot be feigned, merits re-appraisal as a prog rock classic.

The 1960s were barely in the rear view mirror, and, while Sage obviously owes much to the guitar oriented and psych bands of that period, this is a forward looking release in that the band is exploring new ways to be around the basic rock band configuration. This elasticity is typified by swapping out a standard drum kit in favor of Brett's percussive 12 string attack and Bob Voice's well placed and played alternatives. Another variation is in the flutes and sax of Nicky Higginbottom, which aerate and expand while actually fortifying the Sage sound. Keyboards are represented by brilliant uncredited organ in several tracks to lend a mournful ambiance devoid of sulking. I haven't mentioned Brett's rough and ready vocals but it seems clear that the material was worked to complement his delivery and vice versa, and the result is a resounding success. Finally, his fret work is dazzling in almost every track, while rarely overpowering the arrangements, a testament to both. His skills on the electric notwithstanding, it's his acoustic work that has earned him a reputation as one of the world's foremost guitarists, and which ultimately places Sage in league of its own, although in its more frenetic moments they seem close in spirit to the even more obscure "Matthew Mark Luke and John" from METHUSELAH, released in 1969.

My personal favorites are the more brooding numbers "The Sun Died" and "The Tower". While their messages are hardly oblique, they are practically arcane relative to Brett's more recent solo albums as well as the 2014 resurrection of SAGE. These two tracks in particular seem to have formed the blueprint for a few of the better pieces on UK folk rockers DECAMERON's "Third Light" that appeared in 1975, as well as a few early 1970s Strawbs tunes like "Keep the Devil Outside", but overall I would say that the technical and serendipitous confluence of Sage would have been too hard for most artists to emulate. If there is a flaw, it might be in the awkwardness of a few of the choruses that tend to repeat the song titles, such as in the otherwise captivating "The Warlock", or in "Mediterranean Lazy Heat wave". The CD re-issues include two worthwhile bonus tracks whose origins are clearly from other sessions since they both include actual drums.

You would be sage to pick this one up whether you normally enjoy prog folk or not. That pretty much covers everyone here.

kenethlevine | 4/5 |

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