There’s been talk of a Trevor Rabin / Rick Wakeman collaboration ever since the two ex-Yes musicians became friends on the band’s eight-alumnus Union Tour in 1991. We haven’t checked the boards lately, but we suspect there’s still no team-up CD featuring the 1980s-90s guitar god and perennial keyboard sorcerer. Rabin detractors (particularly those partial to “classic Yes” guitarist Steve Howe) still whine about the direction the band took following the commercial success of his radio-ready hits (“Owner of a Lonely Heart,” “Changes”)—but even most naysayers agree he’s a prodigiously talented player / composer whose slick guitar style would probably mesh well on record with Wakeman’s fluid (and often mischievous) finger work.
The team up sounds promising on paper, and we’ll be among the first to snatch up any Rabin / Wakeman material if and when it happens.
Till then, there’s Druckfarben, whose slick, postmodern prog chops suggest—to this writer’s ears, anyway—how a Rabin / Wakeman alliance might sound. Bearing both virtuosic technical proficiency and the surplus of imagination / inspiration needed to map out flight plans and course corrections for their sonic sojourns, the five-piece emphasizes on acrobatic rock guitar and whirling keyboards (of myriad timbres and tones) over a bedrock of solid—if occasionally quirky—rhythm.
Legend has it that guitarist Ed Bernard and drummer Troy Feener spotted the label “Druckfarben” stenciled on barrels stowed in their rehearsal space years ago and took it for their band name because, hey, it sounded cool. The then-high school art students couldn’t have known that the word means “colored printing ink.” They might not have cared, either—but how appropriate that the two friends continue to explore an entire musical spectrum today, embracing all stylistic shades and employing a full palette of hues in their work.
While the name derives from Germany, the band Druckfarben hails from Canada (Ontario). All five members have impressive CVs: Feener (ex-Red Rider, Big Faith) was house drummer for the recurring Classic Albums Live show in Toronto before completing session / tour stints with fellow Canucks Tom Cochrane, Jeff Healey, and Rik Emmett (Triumph). Keyboardist William Hare mastered pieces by Rachmaninoff and Bach before joining Abraham’s Children. He’s also backed opera singer Angelica Decastro. Vocalist Phil Naro warmed his pipes in Talas (featuring bassist Billy Sheehan), collaborated with KISS drummer Peter Criss, and toured with the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen and Iron Maiden before signing on with Druckfarben.
Bernard composed music for the T.V. shows Glenn Martin, DDS and The Wumblers out of his self-operated studio. A go-to session man for anything with strings (guitar, dobro, ukulele), he’s spiced up albums and shows by country and rock artists alike. Bassist Peter Murray played with Ron Sexsmith and Sass Jordan, and is noted for his educational books with Hal Leonard publishing. He joined Druckfarben after seeing the first incarnation of the group perform Yes masterworks Close to The Edge and The Yes Album (with Classic Albums Live) at the Phoenix Theatre in 2007.
With its not-so-subtle nods to Yes and other adventurous prog bands of old (Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Genesis, Styx), the band’s eponymous 2011 CD drew the attention of discriminating audiophiles everywhere. We’ve already drawn comparisons with Rabin and Wakeman, but Druckfarben will also appeal to fans of modern-day greats like Dream Theater, Aristocrats, Volto, Levin-Torn-White, and LRM (Levin-Minnemann-Rudess).
With the band’s latest effort, the aptly-titled Second Sound, Murray can be heard channeling Tony Banks (Genesis), Kerry Minnear (Gentle Giant), and Keith Emerson (ELP) on keys, while Bernard dials up the likes of Steve Hackett, Steve Vai, and Steve Howe on guitar. These heroes should be flattered, of course—but Druckfarben rise above mere mimicry here, contributing eight solid, remarkably original tracks to the progressive oeuvre.
The guys’ individual (and collective) facility comes to the fore immediately on opening cut “An Answer Dreaming,” which Hare conjures into existence with swirling, perpetual motion keyboard arpeggios before Bernard lends a grinding guitar riff. The music is given a good two minutes to simmer before Naro enters the fray singing of “timeless history” and “strings of empty space.” His verses—often ending with sustained, upper-register notes—ponder the Big Questions and universal Yin-Yang opposites, like love and hate, but the chorus emphatically encourages listeners (and all of humanity) to embrace reality “as one.” Heady stuff to be sure, but not uncommon fare for this genre.
The Middle Eastern-flavored “In Disbelief” explodes to life with jazz fusion keyboard flourishes and crackling lead guitar that eventually yield to subtler organ and flute synth voicings. On this, this album’s shortest cut, Naro concerns himself with the quandaries of Murphy’s Law, Occam’s Razor, and life’s miscellany Catch-22s: “Anything can go wrong, you only play along…freedom’s just another word for ‘damn it all!’”
“Dandelion” ebbs and flows over Indian melodies and undulating space rock rhythms, courtesy Murray’s warbling bass. Bernard’s electric violin solo at the four-minute mark underscores Naro’s metaphor of exposed, vulnerable weed in a world of double blinds and paradigms. Dizzying, carnival-like synths spiral across the intro to “Liberated Dream,” then give way to Hammond B3-esque organ tones and titanic, arena-rock guitar. Murray somehow manages to negotiate the brisk, off-kilter tempos set by drummer Troy Feener as Naro’s vocal veers from English pastoral to American funk. Keeping up with the instrumental dialogue, Bernard chimes in with a guitar solo at three minutes, followed by a sharp Murray bass solo.
The pretty piano anointing “Long Walk Down” recalls Genesis classic “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway” and benefits from lush harmony vocals until the full band joins the chase (circa 1:43), but Naro restricts his narrative to an encouraging “keep on the rails now” message, saving the epic stuff for later. The seven-minute “Surrounds Me” combines pulsing synth-like bass, guitar volume swells, and dense organ pulses for a pastiche on tenacity and determination in the modern world:
“This body takes a beating sometimes,” sings Naro. “A broken soul begins to unwind.”
The peculiar meters and schizophrenic strains of “Another Day” echo some of the wacky-but-fascinating time signatures of Frank Zappa, Marillion, and Styx. Carousel keyboards pinball against burping bass, acoustic guitars (and mandolin, we think) for a revelatory tale of lives being misplaced (then reclaimed) in a topsy-turvy Western World.
The titular, nineteen-minute piece de resistance evolves in a primordial musical stew. We hear deep rumbles, like engines grinding in the distance (or dungeon doors opening and closing)—then the Druckfarben players break into a Celtic fury replete with fiddle and klaxon guitar wails. Naro enters close to the four-minute mark, musing on the “countless ages yet unborn…living in one clear meaning.” As with the previous tracks, “Second Sound” shifts, morphs, and takes several musical detours, keeping listeners guessing as Naro’s chronicle unfurls.
There’s a breezy Tolkienesque passage decorated by acoustic guitars, wherein he ponders the beauty of growing old and letting go. There’s segue midway through that features banjo (or maybe it’s Bernard’s mandolin again), then a “math rock” interlude, cascades of pleasant keyboards, and a funky guitar break. A gentle piano spotlight (“We must know all that there is to know”) cascades into the grand finale-outro, where tribal drums coalesce and mingle with Bernard’s strings and Hare’s flighty keys.
The busy beats and memorable melodies suggest the piece was exhausting to arrange and perform, but it all makes for an exhilarating listen.
Druckfarben’s Second Sound is available now on Amazon, iTunes, or via their website: http://www.druckfarben.ca/#!photos/c60z/1970373015/druckfarben-cd
Also available at CD Baby: http://www.cdbaby.com/Search/ZHJ1Y2tmYXJiZW4%3d/0