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McDonald and Giles (McDonald and Giles, 1970) 1 May 2006

Posted by Basilios in McDonald and Giles.
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I thought I’d start this Music Reviews section with one of my most favourite albums, McDonald and Giles by Ian McDonald and Michael Giles. It’s possible those names won’t ring a bell, so I’ll tell you some back story, such as I was able to reconstruct.

Once upon a time in the late Sixties, rock group King Crimson, of which Ian and Michael were part, invented progressive rock practically single-handed with their first album, In The Court Of The Crimson King, that I’m going to review some time soon. This album was very successful and brought fame to our heroes, that found themselves touring extensively. During this tour, something happened to the good Ian and Michael: they both found a girlfriend. They were seeing life as through pink-coloured glasses, just as it happens to anyone that falls in love, including yours truly; and they wanted to spend more time with their beloved ones. This brought them in contrast with other members of the group, especially grumpy uber-guitarist Robert Fripp. King Crimson collapsed shortly afterwards, with Ian and Michael dropping out of the group to strike out on their own, and another notable member, bassist and singer Greg Lake, leaving to form Emerson, Lake and Palmer.

King Crimson would later reform in a new incarnation, and soldier on until the present time, but that’s a story for another day. Meanwhile, Ian and Michael shut themselves in a studio with a few fellow musicians and recorded McDonald and Giles, extending ideas and half finished songs the pair had kicking around. The result was an extremely enjoyable record, but one that absolutely flopped on the market, with little support of any kind (the guys didn’t even tour for it!). I strongly suspect this was recorded for their own satisfaction, not to sell it!

Let’s now consider the music. This CD contains only five songs, including three extended pieces, with the longest one, Birdman, clocking in at just above 21 minutes.

Birdman tells the story (or rather, the fairy tale) of a man that dreamed of flying. He built himself a pair of wings and flew joyfully in the sky. At sunset he landed back on the ground, and looked back on his experience in introspective reflection – a little bit of enlightenment on the importance of following your dreams and making them become true. I suppose that’s how they were feeling while recording this album. The music contains many orchestral parts and jazzy jams thrown in, and has many delicate moments. If you only like your rock fast and gritty, that’s not for you! But it would be your loss, give it a shot.

The second longest piece (about seven minutes) is the opening Suite in C. This is more of a straight love song, but there are plenty of jams to entertain you – including a guest appearance on keyboards by none other than Steve Winwood. This song is more disjointed than Birdman, and more the product of a jam session than of careful planning. Nevertheless, it is an entertaining and spontaneous piece of music, and I find it a fun listen.

Bookended between the longer pieces there are shorter songs. The first one is Flight Of The Ibis, a pretty love song that, according to the liner notes, evolved out of an early version of Cadence and Cascade, a King Crimson song that would appear on their later LP Islands. Quite a nice song, with interesting acoustic guitar; I tried to play it a long time but I’m a crappy guitar player. Maybe in twenty years.

The second song is yet another love song, Is She Waiting?, cute, slow but quite unremarkable. Okay, Ian, you miss your girlfriend. Can we please move on?

The third song is another extended piece, Tomorrow’s People. This song is mostly the work of drummer Michael Giles, to the opposite of the other songs. It is a cheerful, energetic piece with lots of quality drumming, good singing, and, once again, many extended instrumental jams. As much as I like it, the song could have been half as long without losing much; a good portion of the lyrics is even sung twice. By cutting this song a bit, they could have crammed another song in. But maybe they were running out of ideas, and after all the song is a success.

And there we are. You’ll get a lot of great musicianship for your money, with plenty of progressive-style jazzy jams, good to great singing, lots of ideas, and crystal clear, expressive drumming. There is a couple of weaker songs, and the guys arguably stretched things a bit too much here and there, but overall this is an excellent album and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in prog rock, or even just good old fashioned musical talent. You can’t dance to it, though!

Final Grade: 27/30

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Comments»

1. George Gawlings - 25 January 2007

The album is jusr excellent but a great mystery: who are the girls ?

2. basilios - 23 April 2007

Oh, yes, good question – and I also wonder whether they stayed together for some time.

3. BalladMusician - 22 June 2007

NICE its an interesting beginning about your favorite musicians, I also started to think about who is my favoriet one. But I thought this review will cover som parts for ballad music the list of songs, musicians and the hottest list of them.


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