Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Byzantium - Byzantium (1972 uk, splendid melodic folk prog rock, 2013 reissue)



Formed as a school band at UCS, Hampstead, London the original lineup included Nico Ramsden, Robin Lamble & Stevie Corduner who were soon joined by Chas Jankel. Robin Sylvester and Jamie Rubinstein, who were both also studying at UCS were both contributors at this time, Jamie by way of songwriting and Robin in his role of recording engineer, arranger and later joint producer.

Co-produced and arranged by Stuart Taylor and long-time friend and band associate Robin Sylvester, 1972's "Byzantium" is one of those album that leaves me on the fence.  As a naturally sucker for pretty melodies and sweet harmonies, the collection was swimming with those ingredients.  Tracks like 'I Am a Stranger To My Life', 'Come Fair One' and 'Into the Country' were great examples of the band's knack for writing highly melodic material that showcased their sweet harmonies.  I'll also readily admit to adoring several of these songs. 

I wasn't expecting something as funky and rocking at 'What Is Happening?'.   Nah, it wasn't George Clinton and Funkadelic, but for four pale London-based Englishmen who are often slapped with a progressive label, the track had considerable energy.  At the same time, the song served to underscore their tight harmony vocals. While I can appreciate the pretty melody and the thoughtful lyrics, 'I Am a Stranger' also underscored why so many reviewers slam the album as being forgettable ...   While I liked the unexpected mid-song  jazzy interlude, this one certainly won't appeal to everyone. Ear candy for folks who loved vocals hamonies. 

Opening up with a wall of acoustic guitars and those sweet harmonies, 'Come Fair One' was a song that should have sent acoustic music fans into spasms of ecstacy.  The song got even better when the electric instrumentation kicked in. Lamble's lone contribution, the acoustic ballad 'Trade Wind' was certainly pretty.  To my ears the intricate harmonies, the arrangement (and the topic), bore more than a passing resemblance to Crosby, Stills and Nash.  Very pretty.  Easy to see why Al Stewart was interested in having Lamble join his band. 

Shortly after the recordings sessions a personnel shake-up saw original guitarist Nico Ramsden replaced by Rubenstein and Mick Barakan (aka Shane Fonayne).
Tracks
1. What Is Happening? - 5:20 
2. I Am A Stranger To My Life - 4:47
3. Come Fair One - 5:54
4. Baby I Can Hear You Calling Me - 5:20 
5. Trade Wind (Robin Lamble) - 2:56
6. Into The Country - 4:12
7. Lady Friend - 4:39
8. Why Or Maybe It's Because (Chas Jankel) - 10:14
All compositions by Jamie Rubenstein except where indicated

Byzantium 
*Robin Lamble - Vocals, Bass, Violin
*Chas Jankel - Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
*Nico Ramsden - Vocals, Guitar, Piano, Organ, Steel Guitar, Percussion
*Stephen Corduner - Drums, Percussion
With
*Jamie Rubinstein - Guitar
*Alan Skidmore - Tenor Saxophone
*Frank Riccotti - Timpani
*Derek Wadsworth - Brass
*Roy Young's Brass Section - Brass

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