Yoke Shire - Masque of shadows - 1999
When some weeks ago I asked Neal Morse, leader of Spock´s Beard, to name some new bands to follow because of their quality, he answered: Yoke Shire. Immediately I searched for this Cd, which comes endorsed by very good reviews in progressive e-zines and magazines.. will Yoke Shire pass the quality controls of ProgVisions? The answer is YES. I will not say as Metronome Magazine that the music of this trio is the most innovative since "The Dark Side of the Moon", but it is clear that this Cd is impressive, wonderful, indescribable and replete of originality. Its originality comes from the band members, a trio with an image a la Jethro Tull in "Stand Up". It is formed by Graig Herlihy (producer, composer, singer, flute, acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, bass guitar, harmonica, dulcimer, mandolin, theremín, marimba and melodihorn), Brad Dillon (drums, percussion, glockenspiel and choirs) and Brian Herlihy (guitars). Originality also for their attitude, warning us, like Queen did at their best, that all the sounds of the Cd have been taken out from musical instruments played by humans, with no sampling or sequencing. Also, all the keyboards are analogue. And finally, originality as for their music, a tasty soup that mixes ingredients as appetizing as Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull, Santana, Led Zeppelin, Queen and many others. Yoke Shire has created its own and spectacular sound mixing all those influences and they have released a masterpiece that can be considered an island of inspiration inside the ocean of mediocre albums usually released under the progressive label.
All this is included in a Cd of less than 45 minutes (no more is necessary), with 10 tracks of different length, that I will detail one by one. "The Three Welcomes" (0:59) is a short introduction of orchestral guitar a la Brian May. "Black Tower" (5:40) is a party, a jam session played by Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Gene Simmons (the voice reminds me of Kiss bassist, hoarse and personal), Geezer Butler and Mick Abrahams. In the middle of the jam a crazy Santana joins in with an amazing guitar solo while the percussion becomes a show of Latin richness. "Shape of a Dancer" (4:52) follows the same scheme, with many details of quality in the bass and the percussion, an inspired harmonica solo and many instrumental developments by keyboards and guitars. There is more music in these 5 minutes than in whole Cds by many bands. "Magic Circle" (3:44) is pure Jethro Tull as in "Songs from the Wood": mandolins, flutes, acoustic guitars, clapping hands and all the necessary to recreate the English countryside. "Maiden Voyage" (5:10) begins with an interesting guitar riff and a stony bass -all Craig plays is excellent- and is a very edgy track, combining harder parts with more melodic elements in a great balance. "The Brook, the Mirror and the Maiden" (9:21) is the longest track and is a jewel. It begins with a capella choir that reminds me from the middle section of “The Prophet´s Song” an excellent song of Queen´s "A Night at the Opera". After the choir, some exquisite keyboards appear and the track is developed in a very descriptive way, as if it was a soundtrack, with acoustic sounds and a flute directly influenced by Ian Anderson (included the guttural sounds). The track is marvelous and, without a doubt, the best in the whole Cd. "Return Voyage" (2:11) is very ambient in its beginning and ends with a hammond joined with a great guitar solo. "Ghost Notices" (2:13) is also very descriptive, mixing rhythm elements of the first Black Sabbath with the hardest Queen of 73-75. In "Masque of Shadows" (6:41) Tull sounds return in an amalgam of very versatile sounds that merge with Rush (Yoke Shire mixes influences that nobody would have never imagined). This track is the most commercial of the whole Cd, but it doesn't lower the quality at all, since the work of the guitar is simply devastating. The end is “Magic Dust" (1:29) an outro full of beauty because of its piano and its acoustic guitar.
Some think that bands like Mastermind, Vanden Plas, Radiohead or Dream Theater are the future of progressive rock. Personally I wish the future of the progressive would hinge on bands like Yoke Shire, full of quality, originality and virtuosity without excess. For the next Cd they will have the difficult task of excelling this one, although I believe Craig, Brad and Brian will be able to do it. That is why I have reserved the fifth star. To me, with Universal Tótem Orchestra, the biggest surprise in 1.999 and a sure bet for the future.
P.s. – Please, don't pay attention to the cover, close to the style of third line prog metal bands.