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Glass Hammer strikes all the right spots with "Ode to Echo"

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Ode to Echo by Glass Hammer

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If ever a band was born twenty years too late, Glass Hammer is it. Making its debut in 1992, ever since it has been a present-day affectionate and skilled tribute to 1970s progressive rock, a genre fervently loved by fans and equally fervently loathed by critics. With its new release "Ode to Echo," this division will grow even further.

Glass Hammer, primarily a studio group centered around founders Steve Babb and Fred Schendel, is a rarity in that while clearly showing its influences manages to work within a specific genre, defined by a handful of artists, without falling victim to slavishly imitating what has gone before. Certainly fans of progressive rock stalwarts Gentle Giant will note Glass Hammer's similar affection for abrupt changes and experimentation within individual songs. Like Gentle Giant, with Glass Hammer the listener cannot anticipate what will come next, instead forced to let the music come to him or her without preconceived notion of the next melodic and rhythmic adventure. That said, Glass Hammer is far more inclined to follow jazz/rock fusion notions than Gentle Giant's Elizabethan foundation. There are also traces of early Ambrosia's pre-pop mixture of art and progressive rock. These duly noted, above it all Glass Hammer sounds like... well, Glass Hammer.

Musically the album is calmer than its predecessor "Perilous," with greater emphasis on textures and space. As is invariably the case with a Glass Hammer release, the band displays tremendous instrumental proficiency and improvisation within song structures in lieu of soloing for soloing's sake. The songs, while as noted taking some time to learn, are to a one richly rewarding, providing a mixture of serenity and fire. Lyrically the band's faith is indicated more than overtly stated, with a recurring theme of man's pride and vanity leading to destruction.

Glass Hammer is an unapologetic anachronism, a celebration of what once ruled a good portion of the popular musical landscape before being drowned beneath disco and punk in the latter 1970s. But such things do not matter to the faithful. "Ode to Echo" is a superb album. Katy Perry fans most likely will not get it, but for those with ears eager to hear something other than formulaic commercial product manufacturing labeled music it is a most welcome excursion back to when creativity was heralded, not heckled.

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