Rick Wakeman & The English Rock Ensemble | The Red Planet – CD Review

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A progressive rock album from Rick Wakeman in 2020? Sign me up! The keyboard wizard has released The Red Planet with an updated version of The English Rock Ensemble behind him (drummer Ash Soan, bassist Lee Pomeroy, and guitarist Dave Colquhoun).  The “caped keysader” presents eight instrumentals covering the landscape of Mars. Here are wonderful Wakeman key sound signatures fans have not heard in precisely this manner in a long time.

“Ascraeus Mons” (the Ascraeus Mons is a ‘shield’ volcano located on Mars) opens the album with its plodding upfront organ push. A sweet flute keyboard sound and walking bass (reminiscent of the sound and lighter touches from Wakeman’s woefully overlooked No Earthly Connection) begins “Tharsis Tholus,” then we are into speedy Wakeman organ noodling, and wild synth flights with the band snapping behind him. The high-flying synth strings and single Moog line of “South Pole” set a melody very close to the signature piece of Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. And it’s on this song where we get the only bit of piano on The Red Planet. If I had only one criticism of this album it’s that there could have been more piano.

Wakeman allows the other players to step forward plenty. Colquhoun manages an especially sweet guitar part in the middle of “Arsia Mons,” and lots of unleashed wailing with drummer Soan just as incendiary behind Wakeman’s Jon Lord-like organ on “The North Plain.” Lee Pomeroy runs his wild bass playing all over “Pavonis Mons.” As adept as the players of The English Rock Ensemble are, rest assured The Red Planet is a strong Rick Wakeman solo piece, right up there with any of his 70s output. The 71-year-old maestro still plays with taste and speed. The accessible instrumentals that comprise The Red Planet capture the mystery of flying across the Martian landscape.

~ Ralph Greco, Jr.

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