One of the most unexpected surprises of the concert season this past winter was seeing Steve Hackett, accompanied by a group of world class musicians, playing what amounted to a fanboy’s dream setlist of early Genesis classics from the band’s celebrated 1970s era as prog-rock pioneers on the Genesis Extended tour.
The spectacle of witnessing note-perfect versions of epics like “Dancing With The Moonlit Knight,” “The Fountain Of Salmacis” and “Supper’s Ready” – songs that in some cases haven’t been dusted off on a concert stage for decades – performed live, up close and personal in an intimate theater setting was the sort of “pinch me” event that you just didn’t think was still possible in 2014.
Revisiting the classics also seems to have re-lit a creative spark under Steve Hackett, as evidenced by his first solo album of all-new original material in four years. Wolflight is a stunning piece of work that recaptures much of the same dramatic sweep that drove his earliest solo recordings, on albums like Voyage Of The Acolyte and Spectral Mornings. This is easily Hackett’s best record since those first few albums after leaving Genesis (right as they were on the verge of hitting the commercial jackpot with a more streamlined pop sound in the ’80s).
Of the ten new songs here, nearly half clock in at well over the seven minute mark. But even on the comparatively shorter pieces, not a single note is wasted. The classical flavored guitar of the short, instrumental “Earthshine” for example, could fit nicely alongside something like “Horizons” on a mixtape of Steve Hackett’s acoustic work. But while many of these songs recall elements of Hackett’s previous work, both with Genesis and as a solo artist, this should not be mistaken as a mere rehash of past glories.
Wolflight is rather, an album that pushes Hackett’s unique artistry more forward than it does backward, and the scope of its reach is nothing short of epic. In keeping with the cinematic flair, the music draws inspiration from a number of historical and cultural reference points, taking the listener on a journey that unfolds layer by layer through a series of stories told from different time periods and exotic locations.
The title track flows seamlessly between lilting acoustic guitars and richer sounding, far-eastern flavored prog to follow a narrative metaphor equating a band of warriors to wolves fighting for their freedom. “Corycian Fire” favors the sort of middle-eastern sound that conjures images of an ancient, biblical Arabia, while building its Arabian flavored guitars into an exploding crescendo of rapturous choir voices you’d more likely expect from a screen adaptation of a Dan Brown novel (or at least a Game Of Thrones episode). “Black Thunder” draws from more contemporary American sources, referencing the struggle for civil rights and Martin Luther King Jr., while putting a heavy, prog-sounding spin on the blues (not to mention what may be the longest held note of crying sustain ever heard on a Steve Hackett record).
But through it all, Hackett’s instantly recognizable, signature tone – particularly on songs like “Wolflight” and the gorgeous two-song punch of “Dust and Dreams” and “Heart Song” that closes this album – is front and center. It is as unmistakable as it is unmatched. Hackett is joined on Wolflight by longtime collaborators Roger King on keyboards; Rob Townsend on saxophones; drummer Gary O’Toole; and the great bassist Nick Beggs. Amanda Lehmann adds harmony vocals, and other guest musicians include Malik Mansurov on tar and Sara Kovaks on didgeridoo. Yes bassist Chris Squire also guests on “Love Song To A Vampire.”
Wolflight is available in stores and through the usual digital outlets this Tuesday from Inside Out music.
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