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(2021 - Bad Elephant Music - UK)



A firm truth is that if a person has only heard one album by Simon McKechnie, they have not fully heard or benefited from this extraordinary composer, multi-instrumentalist (in a huge way), producer, engineer, work horse and perpetual creative generator. I said it a long time ago, that there is nothing this artist cannot do. He has proven me correct and continues to surprise me each time, with another singular masterpiece. 'Retro' adds to the gallery of Mr McKechnie's catalogue. In short, it is an amazing expedition of a hybrid progressive, psychedelic, classical and techno, all assemble in a complex maze of multiple decades of music fashions. A spread of 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's and present design are pristinely composed, arranged, and performed in an effortlessly manner, although nothing about McKechnie's albums are achievable without tremendous skill level, total virtuosity of each instrument, and a mind for the impossible.

Years back when I received the first three Simon McKechnie albums ['London Reborn' - Voyager Records - 2011)/ 'Clocks and Dark Clouds' -Voyager Records - 2013/and 'Newton's Alchemy' -Voyager Records - 2014], I immediately heard a man who not only could compose a very broad scope of musical styles per  album (a considerably different genre and approach with each release), but a musician who did it with supreme command and polished attainment. An artist who is rare among human beings on the planet. And with each future release, this man kept doing it again and again. From old London folk songs he performed beautifully to more progressive rock, to further experimental rock leanings, and what was incredible elite inventive angular rock on par with the best King Crimson that Fripp ever produced. He also headed a grand jazz fusion band Azul, who released one album ('Beautiful People' NOTE: Neil Angilley of Three Friends later played keys on a few tracks for Azul but those pieces were never released). Not only that, but Simon has written and produced quite a lot of music for the BBC television, contributed to some Latin -jazz ensembles, dance projects, plus been involved with both The Society Of Strange And Ancient Instruments and Golden Section. Now this Renaissance man has gone one more direction (many directions actually) with his brand new (2021) release 'Retro', first time on the Bad Elephant label.   

With help from fellow musicians Mike Flynn (guitar solos on ‘The Origin Of Species’), Adam Riley (drums on ‘The Origin Of Species’ and ‘Retro’, who played drums with Simon in that jazz fusion band Azul), and Richard Horton (operation of Babbage Difference Engine Number Two on ‘The Enchantress Of Number’), Simon McKechnie (vocals and all other instruments) makes 'Retro' happen in glorious color. All words and music by Simon McKechnie (except for the lyrics to ‘The Origin Of Species’, by Charles Darwin), he also produced and engineered the album at Melita Studio, London, UK.  The vocals are wonderful with numerous characteristics on their own, supporting the compass of genres presented. If you happen to see any sites compare McKechnie's music to Rush please ignore it with a quick turn of the head. I can attest to the Crimson influence (as I mentioned them in my own cross reference on a couple of his releases) and even a touch of Yes on 'Retro' as it paces through all the categories of music. Also, do not be mislead by the singular view of the provided You Tube video that has the fuzzy psychedelic visual and music focus, as it is only a small (but cool) fraction of elements on the album.

It is interesting the concept of species (track #1 is titled 'The Origin of Species' and is a 20:48 saga of non stop action) is how Simon footed this fantastic series of pieces, much like the greatest 70's multi part songs that made progressive rock what it was best known for. You can also see in the credits where the lyrics to this opening wonder are by Charles Darwin. 'The  Enchantress of Number' (track #3, at 12:17) features a percussive loop that is a field recording of Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine Number 2. The lyrics tell a story all about this. The entire composition, along with the other numbers, is eminent in the execution.

The overview of 'Retro' may initially seem like a collection of styles referring to music of several decades  with a crafty formula. Simon McKechnie integrates that concept with Darwin's origin of species among a couple of other nods to explorers and great thinkers of the past. So there is a two-fold meaning behind the title 'Retro'. The album finishes with 'The Return of the Beagle' which was of course Darwin's famous ship that he sailed so many regions on, discovering all the treasures of nature and humankind so early in time. Simon reworks the acoustic guitar part on track one, to augment more on this last track. It is all so beautifully done. 'Retro' is unquestionably a fine work of art. Physical CD comes in gatefold digipak, wth booklet. Fully up to McKechnie's lofty standards, this is a fifth and optimum solo from a prolific and captain of his own ship. MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

 ©Reviewed by Lee Henderson 4 - 11 - 2021

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