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from my personal collection
PRISM

Prism is one of the greatest Canadian bands ever. Their first three albums are a nearly holy triumvirate of Canadian rock and roll. These guys mixed pop, progressive rock and sappy ballads in equal measure. Heck as a young guitar player, I wanted to be Lindsay Mitchell (I wanted to be a lot of people growing up. Mainly guitar players. Lindsay was near the top though).

The guys kept themselves to the grindstone and released an album a year between 1977 and 1980 that helped define Canadian rock and also garnered a lot of fans world wide. The grueling schedule took a toll I'm sure, and after Young and Restless the band parted ways with Ron Tabak. After Ron's departure the band more or less ground to a halt. There were a lot of stories and rumours about the band and egos and all that rock and roll silliness. All I know is the music, and Prism put out some killer tunes during their short recording career.

Sure there was the comeback album in 1993 with a mixture of new and old members, but it didn't really work. Then one by one the old guys left leaving Al Harlow as the lone survivor. August of 2008 saw the release of Big Black Sky the first album from the new Prism ...

While there's little chance the band will ever hit is "big" again (in Canada at any rate) Prism have since stuck to the classic rock circuit and seem to have found a niche there.

Official Site

Prism (©1977 Capitol)

prismTracks: Spaceship Superstar / Open Soul Surgery / It's Over / Freewill / Take Me to the Kaptin / Vladivostok / Amelia / Julie / I Ain't Lookin' Anymore

The debut album from one of Canada's premier rock bands. Produced by Bruce Fairbairn, Prism featured the talents of Rodney Higgs, better known as Jim Vallance (who wrote seven of the nine songs), Ab Bryant - who would later be part of Chilliwack and Headpins, and Tom Lavin who headed up the Vancouver based Powder Blues Band. The lineup would change after this one and settle down with the core made up of Ron Tabak, Lindsay Mitchell and John Hall. Hall is probably one of the most underrated keyboard players ever. He essentially defined the Prism sound - this isn't to downplay Ron's distinctive vocals, or Mitchell's guitar playering (a real word I'm pretty sure).

From the opening track "Spaceship Superstar", Prism secured their place in history. The rest of the album is full of excellent tunes. "Vladivostok" is as good as I remember, and "Freewill" is totally Tom. "Take Me to the Kaptin" was one of the first songs I played along with on the guitar. This whole album is one big trip down memory lane - so it's not something I can listen to objectively. The sucky songs are still as sucky as ever, and time hasn't made them any less so. "Amelia, can't feel ya." I laughed then, and I'm still laughing.

I've read some comments about muddy re-mastering. When I crank this on my JBL's it sounds pretty good, granted it could sound better, but who knows what condition the source tapes were in prior to being "cleaned" up. Regardless, it's great to have this one on CD.

Reviewed February 8, 2003

See Forever Eyes (©1978 Capitol)

see forever eyesHello / Flyin' / Nickels and Dimes / Crime Wave / You're Like the Wind / N-N-N-N-o! / Take Me Away / You're My Reason / Just Like Me / See Forever Eyes

A year later, and another Prism release. Remember when artists released one, sometimes two new albums a year?

See Forever Eyes and the debut are to me, twinned albums. I bought them at the same time as a kid, and played them interchagably. "Flyin'" is the best song Styx never recorded. John Hall once again proves that he and Lindsay were really the backbone of the Prism sound. As I've said before, and I'll say it again - I'm not discounting the contributions of Ron Tabak, he was the voice , and a major ingredient.

The rest of the album runs the gamut between rock and the ballad. There are a lot of really great songs here, "Flyin'", "N-N-N-N-o!" (one of my favourites) and of course the title track. Although this is dated and cheesy at times, there are some timeless moments here that will live on for a long time.

Reviewed April 2003

Armageddon (©1979 EMI Canada)

armageddonTracks: Comin' Home / Jealousy / Virginia / You Walked Away Again / Take It Or Leave It / Armageddon / Night To Remember / Mirror Man

1979, oh man has it been that long since this one came out? I had a cassette copy which was eaten and mangled years ago, and have been waiting to get this one on CD. So here it is, and nostalgia being what it is, I was transported back in time, and felt like a kid in a musical candy store.

Considered by many to be Prism's signature album, it 's not my favourite. It's full of great songs - "Armageddon" is a tune so good it's practically timeless (I wonder how many aspiring guitar players wished they could play like Lindsay?). Not many 8 minute songs are radio friendly classics. The rest of the album has some great tunes, but Prism was always somewhat uneven for me and as a kid I'd pick up the needle to avoid some songs. I know "Night to Remember" was a big hit, and a slow dancing favourite, but man it was soooo sucky.

Sonically this isn't as good as it should be, I get the feeling the folks at Capitol just ran some old tape over to the duplicator and pressed a whack of CDs. Here and there you can hear some serious tape degradation - which is really noticeable on "Take It Or Leave It". Here's hoping this one gets some of the remastering treatment the rest of their catalog received.

Prism remains to this day the little engine that nearly made it to the top of the mountain. Who knows, one day the remaining members take their rightful place among Canada's rock royalty. I certainly hope so. 'Cause those who liked 'em, liked them a lot (I really have to stop listening to beer commercials).

Reviewed February 1, 2003

Young and Restless (©1980 Capitol)

young and restlessAmerican Music / Young And Restless / Satellite / Party Line / Acid Rain / Another World / The Visitor / Deception / Hideaway / Runnin' For Cover

By 1980 Prism had more or less ran out of gas, although it would take a couple more years for them to sputter themselves out. Young and Restless felt like a transition album, it didnít have much of the old Prism sound, and in terms of new direction, it wasnít clear where the band was hoping to go musically. Were they going to keep their arena rock sound, or jump onto the new wave bandwagon?

Despite a fast start out of the gate with "American Music" and the title track, many of the songs on the album feel uninspired and flat and donít generate any heat at all. In fact the performances although pretty good, are boring. Witness the energy level of "The Visitor". Whereís the energy and emotion? Itís like they were trying so hard to be note for note perfect they forgot to put any life into their playing. "Deception", which is a pretty good song, is about the closest thing to the old Prism sound on the album.

Donít get me wrong, Prism was one of the great Canadian rock acts of the late 70ís. Young and Restless is an okay album that gets the three stars due to the strength of the first two classic tracks. If anything the nostalgia factor helps a little here. When I first bought this I rarely played both sides of the thing. Over 20 years later Iím a little more forgiving.

I guess you could say Iíve grown Old and Complacent.

Reviewed April 2003

Over 60 Minutes With . . . (©1988 Capitol)

prismthe songs: Good To Be Back / Don't Let Him Know / Cover Girl / Young And Restless / Cover Girl / Young And Restless / American Music / Armageddon / Virginia / You Walked Away Again / Mirror Man / Night To Remember / Flying / Take Me Away / It's Over / Open Soul Surgery / Take Me To The Kaptin / Spaceship Superstar

Prism was one of the my favourite bands growing up. Songs like "Armageddon" and "Spaceship Superstar" were teenage anthems. Their music was a rock and roll cross between Styx, Boston and The Cars (my own opinion). The band featured Bruce Fairbairn, and Rodney Higgs - better known as Jim Vallance. Lindsay Mitchell is a killer guitar player, and one of the biggest musical influences on my playing.

My only complaint is that a number of the great songs I remember aren't on this CD. A small complaint since the CD clocks in a almost 72 minutes. One day their back catalog will be available - until such time this is a great collection of songs from one of the greatest Canadian bands ever.

The new track "Good To Be Back" with Darcy on lead vocals is really very good, I'm surprised it didn't generate more interest in the guys. Fickle is the heart of the music buying public - bunch of ignorant wankers. Except you of course, you're an intelligent and web savy music lover.

Reviewed July 9, 2000

Jericho (©1993 Spinner)

jerichoSpeed Of Light / Good To Be Back / Way Of The World / Stand Up For Love / Trouble / Jericho / Out Of My Head / (I'm Only) Half A Man / (Who Put Those) Things In Your Head / Lonely Town / Bad News (Travels Fast) / Faces On A Train

First off let me say I had read that this wasn't a great record before I bought a copy - but I'm an optimist and I figured people were just being mean. The lead off track "Speed of Light" redefines the term stinker (although to be charitable after a dozen listens it's starting to get under my skin). Whoever picked this as the lead track should give his head a shake.

But perseverance is a gift, as is patience. "Good to Be Back", the song that was added to the 60 Minutes collection from Capitol was such a great song (still great, what a wicked tune), I figured that Jericho would be full of similarly great tunes.

In a word: Nope.

This is an okay rock record of the generic variety. It has some spark here and there but for those who were hoping for a recharged Prism this is a disappointment. I'm not such a purist that I can't enjoy a lineup change. Darcy is a good singer, and I have no problem with him being in the band, in fact as I said before and I'll quote myself here "The new track "Good To Be Back" with Darcy on lead vocals is really very good, I'm surprised it didn't generate more interest in the guys. Fickle is the heart of the music buying public - bunch of ignorant wankers." So I was hoping for the best, and find myself in the wanker category. But I'm a wanker who shelled out money for this one, and all of their back catalog, so I'm a broke wanker.

There are some fun moments here, the title track is a surf tune, which in of itself is hilarious - in a good way. Lindsay can still tickle the frets. Sadly missing is John Hall. But Norton and Harlow were here, and it's unfortunate they weren't able to pull this one out of the can.

Time marches on, and to be honest trying to pull of a "new" Prism album after 20 years isn't a feat easily accomplished. There is a flash of Prism on "(I'm Only) Half a Man" - sure it's Young and Restless era Prism but it was enough to make me pay attention for almost four minutes.

Reviewed April 2003

Big Black Sky (©2008)

jericho1: Rock Overture 2: Big Black Sky 3: Ya Bother Me 4: One Woman's Hero 5: Last Time 6: Tangiers 7: Across The Border 8: Nervous Breakdown 9: The Rock 10: Say You Want Me 11: Try Me 12: Hundred Years 13: Rock Finale

This is very awkward - I've got the new Prism album, and I'm not sure what to say. I can hear my mom saying "If you can't say anything nice ..." Big Black Sky has possibly the best cover art the band has ever had.

So rather than get into the contents right off, I'll digress.

A couple of years ago out of the blue Al Harlow dropped me a line and hinted that a new album was in the works. A couple of weeks ago I got a note from a "fan" saying the new album was about to be released. So I went to the band's site and plunked down my cash. Hoping for the best but not really knowing what to expect - after all, this wasn't the Prism I grew up with. The only remaining member of the band was Al - who after years of perseverance was finally able to call the shots and step up and be the centre of attention. Which isn't a shot - back when Prism was a commercial force Al penned a lot of the great songs.

But is this really Prism?

No.

This is the Al Harlow Band. But would anyone buy this with Al's name up front? Probably not many - so I can understand why a man who spent 30 years putting his blood sweat and tears into a band would keep the name alive - after all, there's a certain amount of brand loyalty built up over the last few decades (gasp - time keeps on slippin'). Long time Prism fans have been through this before (Beat Street anyone?) - the difference being that Al has a legitimate claim to the band.

As for nice things to say about Big Black Sky, there are some bright spots. I like this one better than the lack luster Jericho - but the album just misses more than it hits - sadly (because I really wanted to like this one) it's not something I'll listen to more than a few times - and most of those were me trying to get "into" the album and find the groove that would put this over the hump. Many of the songs feel like throwaway bar songs - Al does a passable Mick Jagger on more than one occasion - most notably "Ya Bother Me", and he even manages to get hints of Freddy Mercury here and there. Then there are moments like "Nervous Breakdown" (a pretty interesting cover of "Summertime Blues") where someone should have stepped in and said, "Not a good idea Al."

Of course there are some pretty good moments as well, one of the biggest surprises was the Eastern infused "Tangiers" that got my attention. Even the title track, with it's oddly vocoderish vocal is pretty cool. Then there's "The Rock" which seems to be the thematic glue for the album, as the overture and finale are from this tune. The album's near 8 minute opus "Hundred Years" which opens with the "Midnight Cowboy" theme, sounds a bit like old ELO in places - it's an interesting piece that concludes with drummer Gary Grace spending a minute and a half pounding the crap out of his kit.

I feel for Al on this one - he's finally able to express himself his way, and it's thirty years too late.

Reviewed August 14, 2008

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