CD Reviews

Alta Via - 'Girt Dog' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     September 21, 2011    
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An impressive debut.

I think that it is necessary right from the outset to dispel any notion amongst those of you reading this that despite its title 'Girt Dog' is NOT an album of good ol' southern rock but is an album of really rather good, and essentially British-sounding progressive rock – but from a band based in northern Italy! I am sure that anyone venturing as far as the track listing and seeing 'The Circle Gallery' and 'Ghost Caged For Keepsake' amongst the titles would soon have their erroneous thoughts corrected, although 'Wounded' (parts 1 and 2) might still confuse (as does Windows Media Player that suggests this is "R&B"…)
The second release on Will Mackie and Rob Reed's White Knight Records - the first, from the C-Sides was reviewed last time - is a really rather interesting concoction and comes from a sextet where all except bassist Giuliano Vandelli provides a vocal contribution, and the mixture of male and female solo, duo lead and harmony vocals proves to be one of the album's real strengths; the terrific ensemble playing and solo instrumental passages is the other.

The first three tracks ('Picture Frame', 'The Circle Gallery' and 'Another Lie') all clock in at over eight minutes, and are meat and veg to prog rock aficionados and it is quite clear that the members of Alta Via have the music of Yes, Marillion and Genesis running through their veins. Nothing is a direct rip-off and yet the influences are plain for all to behold. The slightly shorter 'My Me and You' features an engaging interplay of male and female vocals and delicious crystal clear guitar tones from Mauro Monti that are slightly redolent of Steve Rothery. Another set of influences become apparent on 'In Another Way', an up-tempo and insistent number that stylistically will remind some listeners of classic It Bites.

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The unusually titled 'Ghost Caged For Keepsake' is a stupendous, gorgeous harmony-laden number with a catchy chorus and incorporating a wonderful guitar solo and a frenetic instrumental conclusion. 'I'll Be There' has a rather funky feel overall and is a particular triumph for the rhythm section and the keyboards of Andrea Stagni. The two parts of 'Wounded' bring the main album to a conclusion: 14 minutes of pure progressive joy that occasionally lies on the cusp of prog metal. I also kept thinking of the 70s prog ensemble Chorale as I listened to the more introspective moments and the male/female vocalisations although much of the instrumental work is harder-hitting. However viewed, they form a very uplifting and satisfying finale to the album proper. There is then a short and rather indulgent jazzy instrumental - 'Teleselezione' – hidden at the end, whose inclusion here is rather baffling.

Nevertheless, this is a really rather impressive debut of its type, all the more so considering from where the band hails. Not yet the finished article, Alta Via have the ability to further surprise us in the future and I am wondering whether they might find a place in the line up for next year's Fused Festival…I'd certainly be keen to see them there.

Paul Jerome Smith

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