Red Jasper - 'Action Replay' / 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' / 'The Winter's Tale' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     October 22, 2012    
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Re-issues of three Red Jasper albums.

Hot on the heels of the 1990 album ‘Sting In The Tail’ (reviewed here) and two previous, shorter releases ‘England’s Green And Pleasant Land’ from 1987 and ‘Pull That Thumb (Off The Top Of Your Head)’ from two years later, progressive folksters Red Jasper decided to try and capture their much lauded live sound on record, with the 1992 album ‘Action Replay’ being the result. It was a cracking good idea too, what with the raw power and energy of the band being illustrated perfectly by the chip and charge of ‘Go For It’, ‘Come And Buy’ and ‘England’s Green And Pleasant Land?’ from the Jasper’s early releases, while the likes of ‘Old Jack’ or ‘Second Coming’ serve the ‘Sting...’ album extremely well. However at this stage Red Jasper were evolving into a harder edged outfit and nine songs, which at that time, had never seen the light of day previously, were intentionally included to make that point. ‘Soldier’s Vision’ and ‘Land For Heroes’ take things in a heavier direction, although ironically the rawer, almost punky attack that had set Red Jasper aside from most neo-prog wannabe’s, was dissipated in the process. That said ‘Action Replay’ is an excellent introduction to the reasonably unique prog infested, politically angry and folk tinged music of this band. 

The two albums to follow ‘Action Replay’, 93s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and 94s ‘The Winter’s Tale’ (re-released here as a 2 disc set) oddly feature very few of the new tracks from their live predecessor, instead taking the band deeper into neo-prog territory. Fish era Marillion shows up as a very strong influence, although the ever present folk themes continue via the usage of mandolin, whistles and bodhran. However it is the overtly theatrical delivery of singer Davey Dodds that really catapults the Red Jasper sound towards those Fish led market square heroes. ‘AMSND’ suffers in the same way as the band’s early releases, with the overly organic production not only aging the sound of the music, but actually pre-dating it. In fact the strong 80s flavour gives a feel that must have made these albums sound almost immediately out of date at the very point of their release. However the benefit of hindsight allows the likes of ‘Jean’s Tune’, the sprawling ‘Dreamscape Parts I & II’ and the bump and grind of ‘Virtual Reality’ to come across as aggressive, yet intricate progressive works that bite while having enough in the way of clever hooks and catchy themes to hit the spot. Still, it is the gritty live bonus versions of the aforementioned ‘Virtual Reality’ and ‘Dreamscape’ that mark out Red Jasper as a band who operated at full force in a live setting.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine For Melodic Rock Music

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Ploughing a similar furrow with ‘The Winter’s Tale’, the outpouring of neo-prog themes, traditional folk ideals and political lyrics continues, although the similarity of the likes of ‘Introductia’ and ‘The Shamen’s Song’ to Marillion is a little too obvious for comfort - even if the guitar lines are often replaced with a tinkling strike of mandolin. That said, there’s also no denying that the believability of the songs and performances makes their less than original status easy to forgive and forget. However when ‘The Scent Of Something (What Every New Day Yearns For)’ stretches out to mini-epic length, things veer off into an early Arena like sound (yes I know that still means heavy helpings of Rothery and Co), with a tougher riff-based approach paying dividends. Add to that the floating folk themes of ‘Ship On The Sea’ and there’s evidence here that Red Jasper were beginning to venture into a vibe more of their own, something that the beautiful mix of prog and tradition of ‘Sonnet III’ confirms. A further live bonus of ‘Sonnet II’ brings this double set to a close on a restrained note, although in fairness it really is when Red Jasper hit the button marked full speed ahead that they make their most memorable marks.

A strange and unusual mix of traditional English music, 80s neo-prog and stinging aggression, Red Jasper were a band slightly out of their time, but nonetheless enjoyable for being so, something that forthcoming new recordings should hopefully reinforce. If neo-prog with pretentions of trying, although not always quite managing, to be something different, sounds interesting, then Red Jasper will definitely be for you.

Steven Reid

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