One of the great joys that ensue from being involved in either listening, discussing or reviewing progressive rock music albums is coming across those little known bands or artists whose songs and musical arrangements, completely blow you away. Such a case is the recent debut album entitled ‘Louder than Words’ by multi-instrumentalist ‘Suzi James’ and lyricist arranger ‘Jeremy Shotts’. These London based, music loving, first cousins, conceived the idea, and I quote. “Of creating something new, inspired by the love of ‘progressive’ music that they had shared and listened to over the years.” Bizarrely though both Suzi and Jeremy have had separate and successful careers outside of the professional music sphere, and apart from family and other social occasions have never seriously preformed together until this particular project was conceived.
Suzi played ‘semi-professionally’ in several bands over the years and in the late 70s had her own prog band called ‘Bazazz’ that had a good solid following in both the Southern counties and London. Jeremy has a real interest and passion for the works of poet, artist, visionary, and spiritual revolutionary ‘William Blake’ and so when Suzi suggested that they should work together on a musical collaboration the idea of a concept album who’s focal point centred around the works of ‘William Blake’ seemed a natural and exciting direction for them to follow. It is no surprise then that they chose the term ‘Fearful Symmetry’ as the name of their band / project being a phrase from William Blake's poem "The Tyger" (Tyger, tyger, burning bright / In the forests of the night, / What immortal hand or eye / Could frame thy fearful symmetry?).
From a literal perspective the objective of covering ‘William Blake’s’ views, works, and visions, as well as events in his life have been skilfully incorporated within the body of the music. Jeremy has done an amazing job in transcribing the poetic works of ‘Blake’ into a fully operational score. It is indeed an album drenched in charming Britishness despite the multitudes of different musical influences which have been absorbed and contained within its framework. Besides, obvious ephemeral audio references to the Canterbury Rock Scene, Van der Graaf Generator and other luminaires of the British Prog scene there are certainly other inspirations such as glimpses of the cool jazz connotations of Steely Dan.
However and besides, although maybe not intended, there are also many flurries buried within the mix of that reveal the melodic charm of the psychedelic era and the time when the beginnings of the ‘British Progressive Rock’ was emerging to the fore.
It is indeed a comprehensive project packed with many ideas and complex musical arrangements. Undoubtable such arrangements being the result of more intensive concentration at the mixing console as opposed to full on studio sessions, obviously made possible by Suzi’s assorted multi-instrumental skills . The sheer range of Suzi’s instrumental diversity is amazing ranging from the deeply resonant church organ intro of ‘Jerusalem’, and then, throughout, oodles of distorted guitar leads interspersed with melodic ‘Pink Floyd’ interpretations mixed with overlapping jazz inclined instrumental piano phrases.
Although the use of outside studio musicians have been parsimoniously employed for this project it has been done so, in a smart way, bringing in only those consummate professionals who could really add additional panache to the proceedings. ‘Ben Azar’s; guitar solo and ‘Ian Stuart Lynn’s’ vocals spring to mind. Keeping things in the family though, has been a real bonus, inasmuch that Jeremy’s daughter ‘Yael Shotts’ will definitely feature on future albums. Her purity of voice and vocal projection has added much to the project. I can quote “The standout revelation has been Yael Shotts - her voice becoming integral to the band and its music, her interpretations articulating resoundingly the emotive force of the songs.”
Summary: All in all the overall mix throughout the eight tracks result in a delightfully absorbing album full endearing music that certainly meets the expectations of ‘Fearful Symmetry’ to give listeners some fun and even a little joy. .
Jeremy Shotts - vocals (1), bass (8), backing vocals. (All lyrics, vocals on ‘Louder than Words’, bass on ‘City of Art’, backing vocals. Some vocal melodies and motifs. Key themes on ‘Orc and Luvah’. William Blake concept and inspirations)
Suzi James - guitars, bass, keyboards, backing vocals (All musical compositions and arrangements, bar Jeremy’s contributions above.) Helping Jeremy turn poems into lyrics. Prog rock tribute concept and inspirations. Instrumentation: guitars, bass, keyboards, backing vocals - except for several significant contributions detailed below.)
Sharon Petrover (Project RnL,) - drums.
Yael Shotts (Volition) - vocals on ‘Form and Substance’, ‘Rule of Reason’, ‘Orc and Luvah’, and ‘City Of Art’ & backing vocals on 'Louder than Words' (2, 5, 7, 8)
Ray Livnat (Project RnL, 2for6, Anakdota) - vocals on ‘Ceaseless Strife’
Ian Stuart Lynn - vocals, piano, soprano sax, strings vocals, piano, on ‘Innocence’.
Ben Azar (Steroid Puppets, Yossi Sassi Band) - second guitar solo on ‘Rule Of Reason’ Matthew Rutherford (actor, singer, musician) — double-bass on ‘Innocence’.
Amanda Truelove (London Symphony Orchestra) - cello on ‘Innocence’
The following are Suzi’s Brief Notes (With Thanks) The songs cover Blake’s views, works, and visions, as well as events in his life.
‘Innocence’ Blake and his wife Catherine tried to recreate their own Eden, sitting naked in their country garden. An unexpected visitor turned up one day, and Blake said ‘come in, it’s only Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden’. Hence the song ‘Innocence’, after Blake’s collection of poems ‘Songs Of Innocence’.
Ceaseless Strife is about having to compromise his art for commercial success. His etching and printing process was also very difficult.
The instrumental is named after one of Blake’s ‘Proverbs Of Hell’. From The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell. It uses an odd time signature (13/8) for Hell/brace, and even (12/8) number to represent Heaven/relax. Also, there is significance/superstition in this numbers (12/13) - my idea based on my own explorations of Blake.