"Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin... This is a cautionary tale, and it concerns a man, a gifted man, living on an island made out of musical instruments...."
That could be the beginning of an album review for Tiger Moth Tales' album Cocoon, crafter by multi-instrumentalist Peter Jones. To be honest, it is the beginning of such a review now. As I write this review, I have heard the album quite a few times, but during the final listen before writing this, the hairs on my arms still stood upright during the closing track. That must mean something, so let's have a look at what Cocoon is, and what it has to offer...
As said, this is an album by the English multi-instrumentalist Peter Jones. A blind musician at that, one who has to rely fully on his ears, and what that means clearly shows on this album, on which he sings, and plays keyboards, talkbox, guitar, saxophone, whistles, sarod, zither, melodica, bells and percussion. The drums are programmed and Mark Wardle plays flugelhorn, but everything else is done by this one man, who als wrote all music and lyrics. I mentioned before that one man bands are quite common these days (in my review for Steam Theory), and here's another one that proves that this can actually work well when focus is on releasing an album.
So... Cocoon, I reckon the best way to describe this album is by calling it a trip into the world of Peter Jones, fan of Steve Hackett, Genesis, Big Big Train, Frost*, Haken and many more. A fan of the kind that writes and plays his own music almost in tribute to his favourites - his own Four Seasons if you will (short tracks named after the seasons interleave the songs on this album).
That shows in many ways on this very versatile album, that echoes both the sounds of the 70s and modern rock. The opening Overture is not so much an overture of the music on the album, as an overture of the instruments the man can play and who his inspirations are. There is a dark keyboard melody in there, followed by a saxophone solo and then wild keyboard work that (on slightly less modern instruments) might not have been out of place in the heyday of Yes and ELP.
The follow up The Isle of Witches, on which the intro to this review is based, starts with a narrative and is the followed by dark music - telling the tale of a war between witches and wizards over an island. A song that has organ pieces, vocal effects, and even a metallic mid section (somehow reminded me of something on the very first Ayreon album). A track that requires listening - not suited as background music nor as a lullaby - unless you want to provoke nightmares.
Tigers in the Butter is a 14 minute track that has every aspect of a 1970s epic in it - it consists of different musical movements, one rocky another based on a piano melody and yet another having an eastern feel to it. The lyrics are slightly absurd, but at the same time thought provoking (we live our live in fantasy), and sung in a style that has aspects of what Peter Gabriel and John Wetton did in their younger years. Another listener, that is followed by a great instrumental, The First Lament. Great for those who love guitar, and especially guitar in (at least to my ears) the style of Gary Moore's Parisienne Walkways or The Messiah Will Come Again. Peter has a knack for keyboards, but the guitar is a very close second, if not equal. The additional touch of the flute in the beginning makes it into a Tiger Moth Tale yet again.
And then... the fun really kicks in with The Merry Vicar, a happy track with folk and musical influences in the versus, but with a fitting, more rock oriented keyboard and piano mid section. The lyrics about a vicar using music and absurdism to spread the word of God are brought in an equally absurd way as the vicar would himself. To me, this clearly gets the message across that it's only too human to take everything so serious.
With the vicar gone, A visit to Chigwick is our next stop, and it's all about childhood memories. Chigwick doesn't exist - except in the singer's head, as he sings (even though the name resembles that of Chiswick in London ). In reality, the town is based on English children's TV shows Trumpton, Camberwick Green and Chigley - the name being a combination of the latter two [Added this explanation after Peter explained it]. The song starts out folky. It even reminds me briefly of Dirty Old Town, if it weren't a folk traditional song but a modern composition. The keyboard, guitar and bass work on this track are brilliant, and the build up from folk to full instrumental rock is absolutely wonderful (and yes, there is a melodica on this one..., and it fits too). It's almost a pity it only lasts for just under 9 minutes. Almost, not quite though, because there is that one closing track remaining that made the hair on my arms stand up, some 800 words ago, remember? That track is called Don't let go, Feels alright. If we talk about emotion and build up in a song, this one has it all. Starting with a musical box, it quickly moves to a piano piece on which Peter sings in a wonderful emotional voice, accompanied by strings where needed. Later on drums and more layered, choral vocals are added, but only after two superb instrumental sections, with saxophone, guitar and keyboard solos that make you wonder whether this is really a single man playing...
Looking at Peter Jones' bio on his web site, he is no stranger to the music business - having been appeared on a BBC program at age 8, and being a performing artist in the duo 2 to Go (playing clubs and corporate events). However, what he does on this album is in a completely different league, and it is a shame this album is drowning in the attention paid to the new works of old names. Tiger Moth Tales should be, has to become, a known name at some point, but for the time being this album has every aspect in place of a cult classic.
And just to raise the hairs on my arm again, I include a video here, of Peter's rendition of the Genesis classic More Fool Me. Tiger Moth Tales and Peter Jones, two names to keep in mind.