JerryLucky.com (Canada) - Mar 08

My art teacher used to always tell the class “You can’t always wait for the spirit to move you before you get creative.” Now I guess in school, where you work against a deadline there may be a need for that kind of stimulus. In the real world where life can easily get in the way of being creative it’s perhaps another story. That would to some degree explain the gap between recordings for some musicians. Steve Cochrane appeared on the scene back in 1990 with his first CD, then another in 1995 and a third in 1998, then nothing. Until now. Almost 10 years in the making Cochrane has released With Or Without, a collection of mostly shorter acoustic based compositions.

Those familiar with Cochrane’s previous work will remember him not being afraid to tackle the epic length composition. His earlier work had compositions that stretched out to 15 or 25 minutes in length, but here on With Or Without he’s changed it up a bit. The disc features 11 tracks with the longest being “Swans” (6:45) and the shortest being the acoustic introduction “Sergeant Rideout Gets His Man” (1:35). The rest of the compositions hover in that 4-6-minute range. Musically this is best described as symphonic prog mixed with the acoustic influence of progressive folk. More than simply being a one-man show here, multi-instrumentalist Cochrane (vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards) enlists the help of other musicians to fully express his musical vision, namely; Ken Baird (keyboards), Kevin Richard (drums), Richard Rizzo (drums), Murray James-Bosch (backing vocals) and Aimee Matuszczak (backing vocals). While he admits to taking a leaner song-based approach this time around, each of the pieces incorporates a nice amount of variety, with some subtle shifting in time and tempo all the while never straying very far from the core melody. Song arrangements are cleverly thought out and constructed, in many cases starting with the ever present acoustic guitar, sometimes strummed, sometimes finger-picked, before other instruments join in creating dramatic or majestic swells of music. The keyboards provide the symphonic tone while electric guitar appears from time to time, mostly in the background providing atmosphere. The songs ebb and flow, building in intensity and then relaxing, the acoustic guitar providing lots of room for the music to breathe as well as forming the connective tissue between many of the other songs, lending the recording a more epic sounding pallet than actually exists. Some of the songs flow into one another giving the impression that they’re longer than they actually are.

With Or Without is the kind of disc that will easily appeal to fans of Gordon Giltrap, Steve Hackett and Guy Manning. There are subtle similarities to each of those artists throughout the disc. There’s also a strong Renaissance or Pavlov’s Dog feel to many of the songs. Lyrically and vocally Cochrane’s approach is a thought-provoking, expressive style. He writes about social concerns in a meaningful manner without being heavy handed. In many respects he sits quite comfortably in that “singer-songwriter” style of artist, perhaps closer to Manning than to someone such as Roy Harper. Fans of any of the artists mentioned or acoustic flavoured symphonic prog in general will find much to enjoy on With Or Without. I really like the music here and sincerely hope it doesn’t take another 10 years for Steve Cochrane’s next release.

Reviewed by Jerry Lucky