This one just happens to be one of the best albums ever made.
My love for this album is well documented, but despite its brilliance, this album has managed to remain THE great lost masterpiece of Prog - highly regarded by those who know it, but therein lies the problem, nowhere near enough people know it. Round about 7 billion too few by my calculations.
Refugee (for the uninitiated) was the band formed by The Nice after Keith Emerson left to form ELP. They chose Patrick Moraz as their keyboards player and as a result of his sudden departure to do "Relayer" and join Yes, the band was short lived and only made this one studio album.
It is , quite simply, a blitz of ideas, phenomenal writing, musicianship and inventive recording. Although the album boasts 5 tracks, it includes two epics - both of which are strong enough to rival the best of the best. Up there with Karn Evil, Close, Supper and The Truth. The comparisons with ELP are inevitable. this keyboards led trio which had already BEEN Keith Emerson's first band, brought their past with them. They kicked the album off with a very nice, very ELP style instrumental - Hammond organ driven - called "Papillon" A great track - but nothing to go utterly bonkers about. It's followed with a song "Someday" - where the first appearance of Lee Jackson's raspy grating voice gives an indication of why the bend MIGHT never have scaled the heights they deserve... remind you of anyone? :). The song is very good, has a wonderful synthesiser solo in it... but not anything to go Utterly Mad About.
"The Canyon Suite" is the moment where the whole game changes. This is the shorter of the two epics on the album - and rather like Smetana's "Vltava" it follows the course of a river, telling its story on the way. And the river is the Colorado, the canyon referred to in the title is the Grand Canyon,,, and those rather large inspirations lead to a piece that really does justice to the subject matter. It starts with some of Patrick's lovely sound effects - the unique sounds and styles he later brought to "Relayer" and "The Story Of i" This is followed by a glorious fingers and sticks flying instrumental prelude of great dexterity,
A wonderful solo Piano section gives way to the entry of the vocals, the band joining in for a fantastic song where the band "swoop right up the Canyon Wall, then like an Eagle, down we fall!" - followed by an absolute fireworks display of wonderful playing from all three musicians.... and my goodness but the Rapids section is fantastic. Every time I hear it I find something new (I first heard it in 1973 in Scotland) It actually defies words at times... it really is THAT good. The synthesisers sound great, Moraz had a really great touch that owed as much to Corea as it did to Emerson.. his sound choices are individual and well made. Brian Davison's drumming has real swing yet is still ridiculously complex - he outshone all his previous work on this stunning album, and all his previous work was fairly astonishing. Along with Lee Jackson, Davison was one of the earliest Prog musicians.. the Nice's first album predates "The Court Of The Crimson King" and this album was the pinnacle of their huge contribution to Progressive Rock.
"Side Two" featured another natty keyboards led instrumental (great) which is then followed by "Credo" - a seemingly atheistic look at belief in the afterlife... and, like the Canyon suite another display of great writing, improvisation and stunning musicianship. There is real CHAOS in Refugees music, sometimes it really is on the edge of what you can cope with, but for me it absolutely stays within, just within grasp and you can stay with them on their rollicking and bone shaking ride every beat of the way providing you are really "with them".
Most of my readers will know of my love for "40 percent of what ELP did" - that 40 percent being some of the best music I ever heard. Refugee equaled it - indeed improved it for me, there are so many times when I wonder what could have been if they had continued to record. We will never know if they would have been the best or the worst. Maybe it's better to not know. This album is great. Beyond great. It's at the pinnacle of my favourite genre - and remains criminally unknown. If you haven't heard it, I am jealous. Because if you have any sense, you will get a copy . You should run, not walk.