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Woolly Wolstenholme's Maestoso - Caterwauling CD (album) cover


Woolly Wolstenholme's Maestoso

Eclectic Prog

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5 stars Caterwauling is the third studio album by Maestoso, the band led by former Barclay James Harvest (BJH) keyboardist Woolly Wolstenholme.

As in the previous two, "Caterwauling" contains an eclectic mix of musical styles which is difficult to describe - but I'm going to try for "English pastoral symphonic folk prog-rock"! You will probably think from the term alone that it is not music that is going to appeal to everybody, or perhaps even that there is no-one who will actually enjoy all of the 14 tracks on the CD and you might well be right. Equally, there is always much wonderful music making from Woolly that delights many people and this latest offering from his band is no exception to those rules. As always with Woolly's music, a number of listens are required before you can develop full enjoyment from the album.

"Caterwauling", then, is an album containing some wonderful music and..some other moments. The overall effect, for me, is mesmerising and I absolutely adore the album. Fans of Maestoso and Woolly will almost certainly buy the album anyway but, for others, here's my views on it.

The album contains a number of themes that Woolly has visited before: the victimisation of the common soldier; the angst of the break-up from his wife; English humour. Musically, there is also revisited territory but with a move towards folk music that began with Maestoso's last album "Grim" but which is reminiscent of some of Woolly's earliest work with BJH in the late 60s/very early 70s. As a result, the overall feel of the music on "Caterwauling" is actually quite different to that of "One Drop in a Dry World" or "Grim" where there were more and lengthier passages of symphonic mellotron work.

The album's one and only "major" opus, which in actual fact should be seen as the combination of "Soldier of fortune" (a joint composition between Woolly and drummer Kim Turner) and "Road to nowhere", focuses on the victimisation of the common soldier, a recurring theme in Woolly's work. The musical journey through these tracks is not always pleasant but that is exactly what is intended! "Soldier of fortune" boasts the most complex song structure on the album, consisting of six discrete sections. The song's introduction is like a musical representation of warfare: loud, cacophonous and unpleasant; leading into more expansive, more traditionally Woolly territory of a melody carried on a mass of keyboards and lead guitar which acts as the first music proper of the album and introduces the first sung movement - the optimistic soldier - "God will save me God will help" - followed by an instrumental musical bridge representing the awakening of reality in our soldier. In the second sung movement he is fully aware.."Now I lie in Flanders fields/Basra, Helmand - who can tell"..."God won't save me from this/Hell" - and Woolly's wonderful musical twist is that the last word in the lyric there is not sung (although once you are familiar with this piece you will always voice it in your mind) but is instead played out by the band - and as you would expect the sound is not pretty at all! In the sung movements the music sounds to me like traditional English folk song - I'm sure June Tabor could do a cracking rendition of this if she fancied - perhaps highlighting musically that this was the fate of all young men from the country in those (and these?) times. The companion song, "Road to nowhere", is more conventionally composed as a rock song and allows the listener to regain some composure from the musical onslaught of "Soldier of fortune" whilst at the same time delivering a strong lyrical bite. Strong stuff - not always easy to listen to but an extremely compelling piece of music nevertheless!

Later in the album there is one more song on the same theme: "Shoes" muses about why we can't stop this cycle of violence to a beautiful melodic accompaniment that includes a contribution from guest Geoffrey Richardson on viola.

As an antidote to the despair of "Soldier of fortune"/"Road to nowhere" comes "Matilda Yarrow", a song composed by the band's guitarist Steve Broomhead. This has the sweetest and most beautiful melody, sung to a pastoral accompaniment from the band, quite folky but absolutely gorgeous - reminiscent of some of BJH's late 60s folky sound - definitely one of the album's highlights!

After this momentous start the album settles down to a series of gorgeous songs: "The Collector" is a pacier song viewed from the perspective of the grim reaper - but despite the macabre angle is another of the highlights and my personal favourite. "Closure" is one of Woolly's bitter-sweet love songs that, as the title implies, draws to an end a series of songs (from the "One Drop" album) about the break-up of the relationship with his wife. Wonderful melodic writing continues on most of the other tracks too: on "Always", another joint composition between Woolly and Kim Turner, the accompaniment lends the music the feel of classic Procol Harum; "I Don't Like You" and "Blossom Hill" (another pastoral symphonic song) in particular are two other gorgeous songs.

For me, these are the highlights of the album - and I find enough to enjoy in the remaining 5 tracks to make the overall experience of this album rather

Report this review (#152617)
Posted Sunday, November 25, 2007 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Interesting release on this solo project by highly experienced Woolly Wolstenholme, for most best known for being a founding member of Barclay James Harvest.

Most of the tunes here are calm, mellow and almost ballad type compositions, where carefully crafted and performed symphonic keyboard layers add a mood and atmosphere that transforms what basically are ordinary tunes into intriguing and fascinating experiences.

Variation are added by a few mid-paced rockers, two highly complex tunes where the music and lyrics interact in such a way that the lyrics have to be taken in to comprehend the musical context; and a couple of more offbeat tunes performed with sardonic humour.

A strong release, where the main weakness are the vocals - Wolstenholme isn't a young man anymore; and his voice is a bit too weak in parts of these songs.

Report this review (#165195)
Posted Thursday, March 27, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars It is always with pleasure that I review a Whoolly (or Maestoso) album. Not that the band released several masterpieces but as he was (IMHHO) the proggiest element in BJH, I have considered his work with interest.

So, what do we have here?

Well, the worse and the best actually. The listener shouldn't be distracted by the awful (but very short ? less than a minute) opener and title track, because what is coming next is probably one of the most complex and at times the most beautiful song released by the man.

''Soldier Of Fortune'' almost opens as a Crimson track: heavy, weird, chaotic. It then turns into a pure symphonic jewel full of mellotron (yes, I love this instrument). The long instrumental passages are absolutely outstanding. They can compete with ''Firth Of Fifth'' probably (no, I'm not kidding). But the problem are the vocal parts: fully folkish and somewhat na´ve. They are in total opposition with these fantastic keys and guitar parts which are pure melody and passion.

After this very special song, a more common and straight-forward pop-oriented track ('' The Road To Nowhere'') contrasts severely with the complexity of ''Soldier?''. Not bad, but nothing from the other world (like the heavy-rock ''The Collector'').

If by any chance, you are found of the ''Trespass'' era, there is no doubt that you will succumb to the charm of ''Matilda Yarrow''. Again, the instrumental passages are way better than the sung ones. The overall tranquil mood conveys a nice pastoral feeling to this symphonic/folk affair. And what to say about the simple and naked beauty of the ultra romantic (in the mood) of the light and sweet ''Closure''. Whole a lot of shivers down my spine...

Whoolly excels of course in the writing of these sorts of ballads, even if again the vocals during ''Always'' aren't particularly great. But boy! These musical parts are so melodic! Most of the album is made of pastoral and folkish moments but some (like I have already mentioned) are better than others (like the well named bluesy-folky ''I Don't Like You'').

I also have to say that the attempts to rock aren't always successful (but I had the same feeling about these under the BJH umbrella). ''Tonight?'' highlights this fact. But the man is of course the master of symphony (mixing classic with prog) and another brilliant example is the superb ''Shoes''. What a melody my prog friends!

In all, there are excellent songs here, but they are compensated with weaker ones and above all (sorry for this Whoolly), some vocal parts that are not on par at all. I consider this album as a good one and therefore rate it with three stars. It is good to see that Whoolly is again regularly back with new works since 2004.

Report this review (#218942)
Posted Saturday, May 30, 2009 | Review Permalink
Symphonic Team
4 stars Talk about a late bloomer!

Woolly Wolstenholme joined the music industry already back in the 60's. But it isn't until this new millennium that he has written his best material! But not only his best material, it is also the case that he has written more material during this millennium than during the previous one, despite the fact that this one has just started. Woolly was, of course, a member of Barclay James Harvest from the late 60's to the late 70's for which he wrote about one song per album. He then left the band and released one solo album called Maestoso in 1980. After that he started to work on a second one, but it didn't work out for some reason (I don't know the details) and he then left the music industry altogether.

However, as I have already mentioned, in this new millennium he returned and has so far released as many as three further studio albums under the name of Maestoso in 2003, 2005 and 2007 respectively! The first one of these I heard was the 2005 release Grim, and I was really impressed with it, so I had to check out Caterwauling as well. Both these albums are really good (I have not heard the 2003 one yet).

On the sticker that was on the Caterwauling CD case there is a quote from All Music Guide saying "Wolstenholme's recorded work with Maestoso is not just the best of any Barclay James Harvest side projects, but is equal to any work by Barclay James Harvest in their prime". I completely agree! Indeed, I find this more interesting than any album by Barclay James Harvest!

Musically, Caterwauling is very similar to Grim. Maestoso is listed under Eclectic Prog which I think is very appropriate. However, there are influences here from Symphonic Prog, Prog Folk, Crossover Prog and Proto-Prog as well as straight Folk and even a bit of Country thrown in for good measure. If you want references to other bands I can mention Strawbs, which is the closest point of reference I can think of. But also Procol Harum, King Crimson and, of course, Barclay James Harvest, but not too much, maybe even a bit of John Lennon might give you an idea. As on Grim, there is a perfect mix between the harmonic and the dissonant, the humours and the serious, the conventional and the weird, the sombre and the gritty. And it all holds together well.

Overall the album is very melodic and quite mellow with many ballads, but there are some rather surprising harder rocking passages and some very good lead guitar work on many tracks. The album starts with a short spoken introduction with the word Caterwauling being repeated over and over in different voices. I must say that I don't quite see the point of this introduction. The 11+ minute Soldier Of Fortune is the first real song of the album. The brutal and dissonant guitar sound on the opening section of this song is strongly influenced Robert Fripp as it sounds very much like King Crimson. It then changes radically to a much more harmonic and symphonic guitar solo, more reminiscent of John Lees of Woolly's former band. After this the song changes again, radically, to a very mellow, folky vocal part backed by washes of Mellotron. The earlier parts of the song are then repeated towards the end of the song. This song tells a story of a man who went to war and this story is continued on the third track, The Road To Nowhere.

All instruments are very well played and the backing band here has nothing to envy from Barclay James Harvest. The keyboards, mainly Mellotron and piano, are omnipresent, but as on Barclay James Harvest's albums, the keyboard playing of Woolly was never flashy or virtuosic. He was never a Rick Wakeman or a Keith Emerson, or even a Tony Banks. The keyboards here rather just provide a symphonic backdrop for the lead guitars and vocals. Woolly's vocals are fragile and tender but not weak. I think he has matured as a vocalist over the years and I find his voice pleasant.

This album is a very nice addition to any Prog collection, but I do recommend you to start with Grim, which is the better of the two in my opinion. Both these albums are very recommended!

Report this review (#220262)
Posted Monday, June 8, 2009 | Review Permalink

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