1970 England was an incredible time for inventive music. But while Yes was slumping with its sophomore effort A Time and a Word, and ELP was stretching 20 minutes of good music into 40 for their debut, the Vertigo label released one of its prime triumphs, the eponymous album by quintet Gracious, truly one of symphonic rock's most fertile masterpieces. The array of styles blended into this album are dizzying, from classically structured epics, to Beatle-esque vocal harmonies, to a quick trip into a barroom boogie and on to lavish, mellotron layered pastorales. Entirely written by vocalist Paul Davis and keyboards maestro Martin Kitcat, Gracious perfected a form of symphonic rock that would not reach its more popular peak until several years after. Side one of the original album was a highly complex suite in three titles, "Introduction," "Heaven," and "Hell." This is wonderfully orchestrated rock at its finest, paving the way for the Fantasy's, Springs and Kestrels to come, but being internally much more varied and complex; lining up melodic choruses with intensely labored, rhythmically challenging structures that are a wonder to follow. Side two opens with the gorgeous "Fugue in 'D' Minor," a piece for harpsichord, two guitars and bass that paves the way for the album's long finale "The Dream." This is the band's most challenging piece, a wonderful suite of psychedelic mood and dreamy symphonic air. Its juxtaposed moments where one will hear a Beatles snippet followed up a declamatory Gnidrolog-like vocalization and then a small interlude on piano before breaking into a great fuzz guitar solo are the stuff legends are made of. In modern days where symphonic rock has become a wasteland of morbid copies and prog-by-numbers, an album like this reminds one strongly of just how inventive this style used to be.
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