I had been aware of Tennessee based Glass Hammer from various festival lineup posters, magazines and such, but have never heard any of their music until their newest and seventeenth release Chronomonaut dropped into my folder. The band celebrated their 25th anniversary in 2017 with founding members and multi-instrumentalists Steve Babb and Fred Schendel still the core creative force from their 1992 beginnings. With Babb known mainly as the bass player and Schendel primarily keyboards, the two are assisted by several guest musicians on this album, and of course the other current official band members, Susie Bogdanowicz on lead vocals and Aaron Raulston on drums.
First impressions were, that I had been missing out if any of the previous Glass Hammer albums matched the quality of Chronomonaut. On that subject, this is a sequel to their fourth album, 2000’s Chronomotree, with the main character from that album, Tom, attempting to revive the good old days of his teenage prog years, and his band The Elf King. Tom ultimately becomes the ‘Chronomonaut’, travelling back in time to the seventies, with the storyline explained in the lyrics and a booklet that accompanies the album, a chapter of the story relating to each track. You can enjoy the music without having to refer to this, although the text enhances the experience greatly I found.
Glass Hammer are not afraid to show their influences, and fans of Yes will be pleased to hear the Chris Squire aping basslines of second track Roll for Initiative after the instrumental opener The Land of Lost Content. Elsewhere there is Hammond organ aplenty and shades of Steve Howe’s slide guitar work. It’s not all retro sounding though as there is a surprising amount of brass on most of the tracks, with notable saxophone work from self-styled ‘Tempus Fugitive’ Jamison Smeltz on the second suite of 10 minute The Past is The Past, which also features guest vocals from Discipline’s Matthew Parmenter.
Vocals on the other tracks are shared out, depending on whose perspective of the story we are hearing. The vocals of Susie Bogdanowicz are strong with her work on the soulful 1980 Something and the soaring Melancholy Holiday really standing out, giving the album a modern feel to offset the 1970s influence. If it all sounds rather earnest then the title of the instrumental track Tangerine Meme should dispel those thoughts, indeed Tom warns us to never be ‘proggy with the females’ when lamenting his girlfriend leaving him!
Album closer Fade Away is possibly my favourite track, with Christian/gospel singer Patton Locke (as ‘The Past’) sharing vocals with Bogdanowicz (as ‘The Future’) and less of the pomp of previous songs, mainly 4/4 drums and piano which eventually build to a wall of voices as the ‘Chronos Deliverer’ character sings the final parts.
The whole package had me drawn in, beginning with the interesting cover artwork, and I did get into the story, however if the music wasn’t up to scratch then it wouldn’t work, so I’m pleased to say they have created something really special. Some may find it a bit too slick but I always found a part or riff that would make me smile, or reach for the volume knob, for example It All Burns Sideways sounds like the Allman Brothers until a widdly synth part comes in. Overall this is highly recommended.
01. The Land Of Lost Content (1:55)
02. Roll For Initiative (7:44)
03. Twilight Of The Godz (8:15)
04. The Past is the Past (9:57)
05. 1980 Something (5:52)
06. A Hole In The Sky (4:49)
07. Clockwork (2:17)
08. Melancholy Holiday (4:27)
09. It Always Burns Sideways (5:49)
10. Blinding Light (6:02)
11. Tangerine Meme (3:06)
12. Fade Away (10:27)
Total Time 70:30
Steve Babb – Bass Guitar, Keyboards, Lead & Backing Vocals
Fred Schendel – Keyboards, Guitars, Backing Vocals
Susie Bogdanowicz – Lead Vocals
Aaron Raulston – Drums
Matthew Parmenter – Lead Vocal (track 4)
Patton Locke – Vocals
Brian Brewer – Guitar, Steel Guitar, Mandolin (tracks 3 & 5)
Phil Stiles – Guitar (track 9)
Chris Herin – Guitar (tracks 2 & 10)
Reese Boyd – Guitar (tracks 2,6,9 & 12)
Jamison Smeltz – Saxophone (track 3)
Tommy Ogle – Saxophone (tracks 2 & 10)
Brian Poteet – Trombone (tracks 2 & 10)
Stephen Bearden – Trumpet (tracks 2 & 10)
Randall Williams – Drums (track 3)
Record Label: Sound Resources
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 12th October 2018