Puppet Show - The Tale Of Woe

Year of Release: 2007
Label: ProgRock Records
Catalog Number: PRR370
Format: CD
Total Time: 60:07:00

When the curtain first revealed this Puppet Show to me, with their Traumatized CD, I had a middling opinion of what appeared on stage. Thinking roughly that it was ok, but it didn't bowl me over.

For my return visit, I was set to have a similar opinion of the "sequel" - Tale Of Woe, based on the somewhat lethargic, somewhat plodding, thick and uninspiring opening act, "Seasons." But when act two, "The Seven Gentle Spirits," kicked in, my sense of things did a 180 and I sat up in my seat. What followed that was equally good. Although "?Spirits" is the pinnacle of this album, the closer "On Second Thought" comes a very close second? Basically, five of six tracks are worthy of your attention, the sixth doesn't get too much in the way.

Now, I must admit, I'd already heard "?Spirits" when prepping for RoSFest and CalProg, but it wasn't even until CalProg that I picked up the CD. And sure, I'd heard some of this material live; while it prompted me to buy the CD, it's only now, giving this whole CD a good hard listen (well, quite a few actually), that I'm inclined to say: this is pretty darn good album and outshines Traumatized considerably.

There are various prog rock styles on display here, from the "neo-prog" of "?Spirits," the partially pastoral "The Past Has Just Begun," to the angular tempest that is "God's Angry Man." By the way, I'm not saying that "Seasons" is a bad song, but compared to the rest of the material, this song is not the best of the bunch. Guitars (Chris Ogburn) and keys (Mike Grimes) are out front for the most part, while Sean Frazier digs deep within to sing in an overly restrained, overly measured manner. Sure there are tonal hints of Peter Gabriel and Peter Nicholls, and in a small way, this reminds me of IQ a bit? though darker, and drawing upon some prog metal motifs, too?

Ah, but then we get the rest of the album. One listen to the beginning of "?Spirits" -- the feathery percussion, feathery guitar -- classic Marillion comes to mind. So yeh, that might have something to do with me really liking this track, but? Well, it's also a very attractive and engaging track in its own right. Shadings between calm and turbulent characterize the piece - something that can be said of Marillion and looking even further back, Genesis. But like the best bands that are influenced by their "predecessors," it's merely a framework, a set of conventions that are being built over, remade, and expanded upon. Here Frazier's measured delivery is matched perfectly to the instrumentation, a track that evolves at a natural pace, beginning languidly and easing into full-spectrum progressive rock. There are so many nice touches here, ones you will have to hear for yourself; tinkling piano flourishes being one very nice addition. To use a term that is as apt as, perhaps, it is overused - it's progtastic.

While I'm trying to avoid the track by track rundown in my reviews, because of the very diversity on display here, it's almost needed. Thus, next up is "Harold Cain" a rockier prog piece, a toe-tapper, head-nodder that sort of channels Genesis, Kansas (lots of organ), early Rush, and many others. Actually, and it came quite suddenly at this very moment - it's got that upbeat and cheery feel that one gets with A.C.T, though Frazier's vocals aren't quite as "cherubic." But, it's pretty nifty, fun-feeling track, breezily delivered.

Kansas is also suggested in the intro to "The Past Has Just Begun" -- although I also kept thinking of the instrumental intro to John Mellencamp's "I Need A Lover That Won't Drive Me Crazy"? (and later, in Frazier's vocals, of Guy Manning.). This is a lovely piece that is at times quite pastoral. There is a terrific Hammond solo here just about halfway through, which leads to a crying guitar solo from Ogburn, with impassioned vocals from Frazier in between. Ogburn then gets fleet-fingered for another solo at the 10-plus minute mark?

I've not mentioned bass or percussion much - actually, bass not at all. Craig Polson's bass is very clearly an important part of the mix to every track, as are Chris Mack's drums and percussion. They are so elemental, so integral to these pieces - they are the heart that beats at the center, what gives these pieces their pulse. But, it's guitar and keys and vocals that are the appendages that draw the attention, that wiggle and jiggle? Ha! Drums / percussion and bass are the strings that animate the figures that are guitar, keys and vocals (just to keep the puppet show theme going).

"God's Angry Man" is an instrumental, that seems more RIO than the "conventional" prog rock that characterizes the other pieces -- angry keyboards; crashing drums/percussion; fiery, slashing guitars ? angular and sharp? it evokes another branch of the classic prog tree - King Crimson. Although Djam Karet, Kopecky, and many other dark, instrumental prog artists flit through my mind. Cool stuff, but then I like dark and turbulent?

"On Second Thought" is a melding of the darker, thicker feel of "Seasons," without the sluggishness; the "neo" touches of "?Spirits;" and the churning drive of "God's Angry Man." Oh, and I don't want to fail to mention the wicked-cool Hammond solo and wicked-cool guitar solo that leap out two-thirds of the way through. The latter portion of the piece reminded me a bit of IQ's "Seventh House."

The production - done by the band, mixed by the legendary Terry Brown - is stellar, which means all those subtleties I mentioned "?Spirits" can easily be heard. However, this is not perfect album, the first track being the main impediment. Nevertheless, the rest of the material -- which hits all the right prog spots -- is very good and I've no reservations about recommending this one.

Seasons (8:45) / The Seven Gentle Spirits (14:17) / Harold Cain (4:18) / The Past Has Just Begun (16:41) / God's Angry Men (4:13) / On Second Thought (11:52)

Chris Ogburn - guitars, backing vocals and noises
Mike Grimes ? keyboards and backing vocals
Sean Frazier - lead and backing vocals
Craig Polson - bass and backing vocals
Chris Mack - drums and percussion

Traumatized (1998)
The Tale Of Woe (2007)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: August 10th 2007
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website: www.puppetshow.com
Hits: 2953
Language: english


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