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Steve Hackett: Steve Hackett: Wolflight (Extended Edition)

John Kelman By

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After spending the better part of three years recording, releasing and touring Genesis Revisted 2 (Inside Out, 2012), and not one but two resultant live documents—Genesis Revisited -Live at Hammersmith (Inside Out, 2013) and Genesis Revisited -Live at the Royal Albert Hall (Inside Out, 2014)—it's frankly remarkable that ex-Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett actually found the time to record a new solo album. But with the sweepingly ambitious Wolflight, it's even more so; an album that seamlessly marries a plethora of world music concerns with irrepressible progressive rock tendencies, classical influences and even a bit of bluesy grit, it's his most expansive album to date...and certainly one of his best as well, since he left Genesis in 1977 after commencing a solo career in fine style with Voyage of the Acolyte (Chrysalis, 1975).

One thing that his Genesis Revisited and subsequent Genesis Extended tours made clear (the latter adding a year of additional touring as a result of the unexpected massive success of the 2013 tour—undeniably Hackett's most successful tour ever) was that, while Hackett emerged in the early '70s with a distinctive sound and style, he's become a far, far better guitarist in the ensuing years. That would seem like a statement of the obvious, but one look at a number of legacy groups on the road today, and it becomes clear that not all musicians move forward; many find their zone and, if it's successful, stick with it.

Not Hackett. Aside from becoming a far more facile electric guitarist who, nevertheless, has not lost the signatures that have distinguished him from his peers, he's also evolved into an impressive classical guitarist, as the opening a cappella playing on "Love Song to a Vampire" renders crystal clear. And if he's never been considered a great singer, he's learned to work more successfully with the limitations of his voice, as his delivery on the same song suggests. He's still not a great singer...but compared to earlier attempts, he's a far better one.

Wolflight is that time just before dawn, the flip side of twilight; and so the album possesses a certain ambiance that's dark in places but equally suggests the coming of light and the optimism of a new day on tracks like "The Wheel's Turning," which episodically blends everything from Tchaikovsky-informed orchestrations and the sounds of a circus with a passage that adheres more closely to conventional song form before opening up into an instrumental section where longtime keyboardist/programmer Roger King provides a massive palette over which Hackett can layer his signature sustaining electric guitar.

Hackett recruits members of his touring band for various spots on the recording, but he also recruits a number of musicians from other countries to lend Wolflight's world music emphasis its verisimilitude, from Sara Kovács' didgeridoo and Malik Mansurov's oud-like tar at the start of the title track to the group of more rock-oriented Icelandic musicians that play on "Midnight Sun," one of two tracks included on the album's Extended Edition and sung by Eythor Ingi Gunnlauhsson, a fine young singer who represented Iceland in the 2013 Eurovision contest.

But as much as a bevy of guests add to Wolflight's progressive confluence of a multitude of cultural and stylistic touchstones—and, after all, is that not one of progressive rock's most defining features?—including Yes bassist Chris Squire, Hackett and Steven Wilson bassist/stick man Nick Beggs, singer Amanda Lehmann, violinist/violist Christine Townsend, drummer Gary O'Toole and reed man Rob Townsend, it's Hackett who ultimately defines the real breadth of this album, whether he's playing electric, acoustic or classical guitars, tiple, oud...even a bit of harmonica in the unexpectedly blues-centric middle of "The Wheel's Turning" and the album's most flat-out rocker, "Black Thunder," a piece that still manages to traverse considerable territory to include orchestral sweeps and moments of folkloric beauty, as Hacket's voice harmonizes beautifully with Lehmann.

With so many instrumental movements (and instruments) built into many of Wolflight's twelve songs—so often overflowing with ideas that they seem much longer than their five to nine-minute range—it's a remarkable feat that they always seem to make perfect musical sense...true long-form writing rather than merely a patched-together pastiche of ideas. The real challenge of Wolflight, as Hackett hits the road for a career-spanning Acolyte to Wolflight with Genesis Revisited: The Total Experience tour is: how will he actually manage to perform them live? If Genesis Revisited shows like his 2013 date at Gatineau's Casino du Lac Leamy are any indication, he'll manage just fine. With Wolflight one of the strongest additions to his discography in many years, it looks like Hackett's recent reemergence on a larger public radar as one of progressive rock's most vehement legacy torchbearers will remain intact and, hopefully, continue to build.

Track Listing: Out of the Body; Wolflight; Love Song to a Vampire; The Wheel's Turning; Corycian Fire; Earthshine; Loving Sea; Black Thunder; Dust and Dreams; Heart Song; Pneuma; Midnight Sun.

Personnel: Steve Hackett: guitars, banjo (8), oud (5, 9), tipple (7), harmonica (4, 8), percussion (1, 4, 7), vocals (2-5, 7, 8, 10); Roger King: keyboards, programming; Chris Squire: bass (3); Christine Townsend: violin (1-4, 8), viola (1-4, 8); Hugo Dagenhardt: drums (9, 10); Amanda Lehmann: vocals (2-4, 8); Gary O'Toole: drums (1, 5, 8); Nick Beggs: bass, Chapman Stick (8); Rob Townsend: sax (4, 8), duduk (5); Jo Hackett: vocals (4); Malik Mansurov: tar (2); Sara Kovács: didgeridoo (2); Eiôur (Eidar) Arnarsson: bass (12); Benedikt Brynleifsson: drums (12); Hugo Degenhardt: drums (9, 10); Ólaf Hólm Einarsson: drums (12); Eythor Ingi Gunnlauhsson: vocals (12); Thorvaldur B Thorvlaldsson: guitars (12); Kjartan Valdemarsson: Hammond organ and keyboards (12).

Title: Steve Hackett: Wolflight (Extended Edition) | Year Released: 2015 | Record Label: Inside Out Music

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