03 September 2010

CD REVIEW: Jose Carballido - Requiem (2010, Musea Records)

One of my favourite things in the world about having this blog is the e-mail I get because of it.

No, seriously.

It’s always great to get an artist or label writing me a message to thank me for covering them (or one of their artists). It’s obviously a wonderful little stroke to my ego to get that. But as nice as those messages are (and believe me, after a very long day at my real job, those e-mails are sometimes all that keep me from becoming a living embodiment of Marillion’s ‘Torch Song’), the ones that really tickle me are the ones from artists I’ve never heard of saying things like this:

‘I’ve just discovered your blog, and I’d love if you took a listen to my music and decided to review it for your blog. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll give you a link to download it from/I’ll send you a copy of the CD…’

That’s obviously a very mocked up rendition, but you get the idea.

Those messages are what really do it for me, because there are hundreds of artists out there making some amazing music that I’d otherwise maybe not get to hear. And when something comes along that really hits all the right buttons, it becomes very easy to want to share that with you, Constant Reader sitting at home.

Today I want to talk about just such an artist…Jose Carballido.

Jose contacted me to let me know about his new album, a 2-CD set titled Requiem, coming out (or possibly already out, if I understand the label site correctly) on Musea records. The album is a concept piece about Death and the pain Death leaves behind as he takes one of a pair of lovers. As the storyline explains, in the first act we’re introduced to the characters, Death makes his choice, and we see the first results of that choice. In the second act we watch as the man, still alive, torments himself over the cruelties of Fate. He questions his fate, and in a twist the two lovers meet again. Not all is how it seems, however…

Now that I’ve set the stage, let’s meet the players.

Leading this ensemble is Jose Carballido himself. He plays both electric and Spanish guitars, and his playing is lyrical and fluid. His vocals are enjoyable as well…he sings in a strong, ever so slightly raspy tenor that meets the needs of the music very well indeed. In a genre where vocals seem so often to be an afterthought, his are most certainly not. He’s joined by Daniel Añón on guitar, and while I am not 100% sure how their duties are split, both work well with each other. There’s never a sense that things are murky or muddy in the guitar department. Evaristo Frieiro and Diego Lestón are an excellent rhythm section. Frieiro’s bass playing is emotive, with a punchy, slightly treble tone that cuts nicely through the open mix, while Lestón’s drumming is powerful. He’s got some great double kick chops, and he never overplays, even when he’s off-time. Román Suárez handles keyboards, and whether it’s solos (soli?) or orchestral type backing, his playing impresses. The final instrumental component is added by Alejandro Salgueiro, who contributes flute to the band. Obviously this means I have to comapre this recording to Camel or Jethro Tull (it’s in the rules!), but I won’t. His playing isn’t always present, but when it is it’s a lovely addition.

From a musical standpoint, I have a hard time coming up with a comparison/description better than what I’m about to say; when I listen, I am struck by a sound that is very much like a combination of Italian symphonic prog and Therion circa Theli or Lepaca Kliffoth. What I mean is this; we have a lushness here. Songs are very symphonic and orchestral, reminiscent of Banco or Le Orme with digital synths and keys rather than analogue equivalents. The use of massed choral vocals reminds me of Therion in their transitional phases, as they left the death metal behind in lieu of symphonic metal.

Oh wait…I didn’t mention the choir, did I?

My mistake.

On Requiem, the music is filled out by 11 different voice parts, often singing in massed choral sections that bring to mind the comparison above. In concert, according to the info I have, this material is able to be played in one of two ways: there’s a theatre version where full band plus 20 singers take on the Requiem, and a stripped back version for band plus backing tapes for the additional singers. This really sounds like material that would do amazingly well in a theatre environment, and I could imagine some serious staging and theatrics involved as well.

I can hear you saying at this point, ‘This is all well and good. But what about the music?’

Well, I can say I’m glad you’re patient, because we’re at that point right now.

Things open, appropriately enough, with ‘Obertura,’ a heavy keyboard based instrumental with a distinctly 70’s vibe and feel. The flute/keyboard interplay is wonderful, and the use of organ and other analogue tones really give this tune a vibe different from a lot of the heavier side of symphonic prog/metal these days. It flows smoothly into ‘Todes Lodo (coro),’ one of two pieces specifically designed to showcase the expansive use of choral vocals in the group. It’s all too brief at just over 2 minutes, but it offers a great taste of the scope of the music Carballido has put together for this release. A third feel and style is heard in ‘Noche de la Muerte,’ a heavier piece that features some crunchy guitar playing, piano, and imploring solo male vocals. One gets a definite feel of pleading urgency here, and the balancing between solo vocal and choral vocals is wonderful. I really enjoy the solo guitar work throughout, as it fits the mood perfectly, filled with a need to get as much out as possible, much like the delivery of the vocals.

‘Te Extrañaré’ is a great little high energy piece with some excellent drumming powering the piece forward. Carballido’s vocals are strong, and the lead guitar behind the vocal parts is particularly enjoyable. The mix of heavier musical backing and interspersed choral vocals really is a nice touch, and while it’s something used throughout the album, it’s never overused, and the balance of darker heaviness and lighter vocal is something that a lot of bands, I think, could learn from. ‘Nana’ follows with a funky groove driving things along, lyrical solo guitar flying above the band and leading into Carballido’s passionate vocals. If I seem to be focusing on vocals so much, well, you need to understand this: once upon a time, I think vocals were taken as seriously as musical chops. Somewhere along the line, the balance of power shifted almost entirely toward chops being more important than anything else. When I hear a band…especially a new band…where the vocals are strong and prominent and delivered with strength and power, I have to comment on it.

Right. Moving on now.

‘Camino an Entierro’ is another vintage sounding piece, filled with flute, heavy Italian-esque prog and wonderful male vocals. If Banco was formed today, they might sound like this. It’s passionate, powerful, filled with organ and piano and flute, a driving, but not overpowered beat, and the kind of vocals that made Francisco DiGiacomo a household name amongst proggers of a certain vintage. I’m not going to use the word ‘highlight,’ but if I were, it might be used here. ‘Luto,’ on the other hand, shows a lighter touch all the way around. Almost a power ballad in some ways, the use of piano and clean guitar through the opening sections is beautiful and restrained. Emotive, with little bursts of heaviness here and there for tension, the song is proof positive that Carballido is capable of crafting lighter fare as well as the heavier, more dramatic material that makes up a lot of Requiem.

CD 2 opens with ‘¿Por qué Yo?’ Piano and an insistent beat are the lead in for this track, with bits of flute floating above. This piece is a great mix of the elements we’ve seen above…lush choral vocals, impassioned male leads, musical backing that comfortably straddles the line between pure symph and heavier, almost metallic riffing. The balance shifts totally in one direction for ‘Un Único Ser (coro),’ the strongest bit of symphonic prog we’ve got on Requiem. If you’re like me, and love masses of vocals in your music, this is the piece to gravitate to. Yes, it’s got some heaviness. But between the ornate organ tones and the beautiful vocal arrangements, there’s enough here to satisfy even the most jaded listener of prog. I’d stake the reputation of this blog on it. It happens to be the sole ‘long track’ on Requiem, clocking in at 10:29, and it uses every bit of that time to the fullest. Multiple moods, different instrumentation minute to minute, the track is a cornucopia of delights.

‘Sólo un Sueño’ sounds and feels like an album closer, especially with the powerful and energetic opening instrumental section. Carballido’s vocals, over a piano backing at first, then full band, are clear and powerful, and I love the instrumental section that leads out of his opening verses, filled with spashing cymbals and beautiful flute playing. I get a decided ‘Traccia’ vibe from this track, no matter how much I try not to think that way…especially as two further tracks follow. The first, ‘Depende de Ti,’ is built around an island feel and groove unlike anything else on the album. I’d almost think that this were a bonus track of some type were the following track not titled ‘Epilogo (instrumental).’ This piece is dark, almost a bit eerie, with acoustic guitar the sole instrumental tone through the opening moments. Electric guitar lines, a pair of them, duel above the acoustic lines, and the use of hard panning for these dueling lines is very nice indeed. I still think ‘Sólo un Sueño’ closes things nicely, but perhaps I’d think differently were there not the strange jaunt to the islands for ‘Depende de Ti.’

I am usually not a huge fan of the download promo thing, but after discovering Jose Carballido’s Requiem, I think I really need to re-evaluate that particular point of view. I’d not have heard this had I decided it wasn’t worth my time…and not only would that be a shame for me, it would be for Carballido, and for you too. If you like your prog with doses of heaviness, dashes of symph and a healthy helping of great vocals, then this is the album you’ve been waiting for. Requiem is a brilliant modern symph album that may well be looked at as a classic in the future.

Track Listing CD 1:
Obertura (instrumental)
Todes Lodo (coro)
Noche de la Muerte
Último Adiós
Te Extrañaré
Camino an Entierro
Foto de Familia

CD 2:
¿Por qué Yo?
Un Único Ser (coro)
Ya no Tengo Dios
Sólo un Sueño
Depende de Ti
Epilogo (instrumental)

Jose Carballido: soloist singer, electric guitar and Spanish guitar.
Daniel Añón: electric guitar.
Evaristo Frieiro: electric bass.
Diego Lestón: drums.
Alejandro Salgueiro: flute.
Román Suárez: keyboards.
Sopranos: Mónica Pita, Ana Yáñez, Feli Carballido y Alba López.
Contraltos: Mónica Pita, Ana Yáñez, Feli Carballido, Laura Álvarez.
Tenors and Basses: Jose Carballido y Xosé A. Rodríguez Álvarez.

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Daniel said...

Great and extensive review, Bill. Thank you for your words about Requiem. I hope someday you will see us play it live with the band and the chorus.
By the way, I'm Daniel, the guitarist.


Bill K. said...

Thanks for stopping by, Daniel! I also hope that I have the chance to see the band play this live in the full production style...I imagine it's amazingly impressive!

Andres Pachon said...

Thank you bill for reviewing this recording...sounds very promising and i'm looking forward to this recording...