Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Steve Hackett - 1975 [2005] "Voyage of the Acolyte"

Voyage of the Acolyte is the debut solo album from progressive rock guitarist Steve Hackett. It was released while he was still a member of Genesis. The album was recorded two weeks after the last show of the The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway tour and was released in 1975 on Chrysalis Records in the U.S. and Charisma Records for the rest of the world.
It featured heavy contributions from Genesis bandmates Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford. In an interview with Phoenix FM Hackett stated that some of the tracks, particularly "Shadow of the Hierophant," were rehearsed by Genesis during the writing and recording of Foxtrot in 1972.[2]
The album went silver in the UK. In a 1987 MTV interview Genesis keyboardist Tony Banks stated that the album didn't do much for Genesis, however it is considered by many Genesis fans to be a lost Genesis album.
The tracks are named after, or with reference to, the Minor and Major Trumps of the Tarot card deck.
The album was reissued in 2005 by Virgin Records, and in the U.S. in 2006 by Astralwerks, featuring bonus tracks.

Best known as the main guitarist for Genesis from 1971 to 1977, Steve Hackett has long been regarded as one of the leading progressive rock guitarists of his generation. This remastered pressing of his 1975 album features 10 tracks including the 2 bonus tracks 'Ace Of Wands' (live) & 'Shadow Of The Hierophant' (extended playout version). EMI. 2005. 

This is rightly considered one of the masterpieces of progressive rock. It has the whole spectrum of the genre-- great, unpredictable arrangements (Ace of Wands), esoteric lyrics (The Hermit, Star of Sirius, Shadow of the Hierophant), manic instrumental sections (The Tower Struck Down), astoundingly beautiful moments (Hands of the Priestess), and the drama of classical-like buildups (Shadow of the Hierophant.) In order to perform progrock, you had to have the skills to pull off a wide range of musical moods.

Three vocalists contribute a variety of styles-- Steve himself delivers a quiet folkish song, Phil Collins his high and airy style, and an operatic approach from soprano Sally Oldfield (sister of Mike Oldfield). Steve's brother John Hackett is superb on flute and ARP synthesizer, while John Acock provides moody keyboard backdrops. Steve himself gives a more restrained performance than you would expect from a lead guitarist let loose on his first solo album, but his allegiance if first and foremost to compositional development, as was the tradition in progrock.

I'm not much of an audiophile, but I noticed the improvement in this disc immediately. This was one of the first albums I bought on CD, and I was glad to purchase it again for the improved quality. If you want to begin to explore Steve Hackett's career, or just want to relive a peak of the genre, start right here in 1975 when progrock was still one of the most commercially uncompromised genres in the history of popular music.

Recorded in June/July of 1975 (soon after Peter Gabriel left Genesis), this debut solo album by Steve more or less pointed in the direction that Genesis would travel following the Lamb Lies down on Broadway (1974). The album was also somewhat successful and reached No. 26 in England and No. 191 in America, which was a source of encouragement for the guys in Genesis (they were recording A Trick of the Tail at the time). More importantly however, Voyage of the Acolyte gave Steve an opportunity to record music that had been dismissed by some of the guys in Genesis.

Joining Steve (electric and acoustic guitars; mellotron; harmonium, bells, autoharp, vocal, effects) were Genesis mates Mike Rutherford (bass guitar, Taurus bass pedals, fuzz 12-string); and Phil Collins (drums, percussion, vibes, vocals); along with Steve's brother John Hackett (flute, ARP synthesizer, bells); keyboardist John Acock (Elka Rhapsody, mellotron, harmonium, piano); Sally Oldfield (vocal); Robin Miller (oboe, cor anglais); and Nigel Warren-Green (cello). For those of you Brand X fans out there (like me) Percy Jones contributes an excellent bass part on A Tower Struck Down. The musicians on this album are all excellent and I loved hearing Phil's drumming, not to mention his vocal contributions. Steve of course, shines throughout and his playing is both delicate and adventurous.

The eight tracks on the album range in length from 1'34" to 11'45" - the pieces are all superb and it is clear that Steve was (and is) an excellent composer. This is a very well recorded and soft album loaded with dreamy mellotron and warm synthesizer tones all over the place. Steve contributes some absolutely gorgeous and haunting acoustic guitar pieces and the proggy group workouts on tracks like Star of Sirius are a great deal of fun to listen to. All of the tracks flow together nicely and seem to form a larger work of sorts. I have to admit that this is easily my favorite Genesis - related solo album.

This was a well recorded album to begin with and the sound quality is simply excellent.

Voyage of the Acolyte ultimately gave Steve the impetus he needed to break off from Genesis (after having his ideas squashed) and strike out on his own. A simply superb album that is very highly recommended along with the Genesis albums A Trick of the Tail (1976) and the moody Wind and Wuthering (1976). By the way, Wind and Wuthering would be Steve's last album with Genesis and presents some of his finest playing with the group.

I bought this on import LP in 1975 and have been listening to it a couple of times a year for 32 years. I know this recording. At least I thought I did. The remastering of this music is steller. I am hearing things in this original mix that I have never heard before. I even compared this to the initial CD release and there is no comparison. The acoustic instruments have much more depth and presence. The electric soundstage is well balanced. For the first time, the bass and bass pedals can be heard in full depth and brilliance. There could be some serious foundation shaking with the right subwoofer. I always believed this LP could have fit comfortably between Foxtrot and Selling England if Genesis had recorded it. The only thing that keeps this work from being a true Genesis project is the absence of Peter Gabriel's vocals and flute playing. This recording IS that good. It has always been my favorite Hackett release. You need to add this to your collection. 

Track listing

All songs written by Steve Hackett, except where indicated.

1.    "Ace of Wands" – 5:23
2.    "Hands of the Priestess, Part I" – 3:28
3.    "A Tower Struck Down" (Steve Hackett, John Hackett) – 4:53
4.    "Hands of the Priestess, Part II" – 1:31
5.    "The Hermit" – 4:49
6.    "Star of Sirius" – 7:08
7.    "The Lovers" – 1:50
8.    "Shadow of the Hierophant" (Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford) – 11:44

    2005 Remaster Bonus Tracks

9.    "Ace of Wands" (Live) – 6:32
10.   "Shadow of the Hierophant" (Extended Playout Version) – 17:01

Personnel

- Steve Hackett / electric & acoustic guitar, Mellotron, harmonium, bells, autoharp, vocal, effects
- John Hackett / flute, Arp synthetizer, bells
- Mike Rutherford / bass guitar, bass pedals, Fuzz 12-String
- Phil Collins / drums, vibes, percussion, vocals
- John Acock / Elka, Rhapsody, Mellotron, harmonium, piano
- Sally Oldfield / vocal
- Robin Miller / oboe, cor Anglais
- Nigel Warren-Green / solo cello
- Percy Jones / extra bass on "Tower"
- Johnny Gustafson / bass on "Star"
- Steve Tobin / parrot and cough

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