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Kevin Bartlett


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Ambient electronic instrumentals with elements of progressive rock; newest ep progressive rock with vocals

Status:

Most recent release, Songs For the Big Kablooey (2011)

See also:

Wikipedia's entry on Kevin Bartlett

Kevin Bartlett's MySpace page

ECHOES radio show page on Kevin Bartlett

Comparisons:

Enigma, Michael Oldfield, Gabriel-era Genesis, David Bowie

Covers/own material:

Own

General comments:

See album comments below.

Comments about live performance:

Kevin went on about 8:15. The church had gone dark; two very bright blue point sources of light were his only guide to the front of the altar/stage. One of the lights was on the top "horn" of his electric guitar (what's the name of that guitar part?) and the other on his wrist. The lights were like LEDs except much brighter—with their purity of color I wondered if they might be lasers. At any rate, they added just the right high-tech effect.
     Kevin was wearing a long jacket over an eighteenth-century-style white shirt with some kind of froufrou over the chest; in that respect he looked like a colonial from Philadelphia. As ever, his mane was generally tied back, with a few wild strands here and there.
     At the front of the altar he had a setup with two keyboards and a G3 Powerbook, which he spent a fair part of the time at. He started with a deep church bell tolling, once about every twenty seconds. In between tolls he laid down what I remember as a sort of scratchy, Blairwitchy sound, not static exactly, but not tonal either. Then at intervals he faded in and out the voices of a boys' choir singing a "Miserere."
     The lighting for the show accentuated the effect—the first light to go on shone against the back alter and the windows behind: a set of small haloes of light, somewhat off focus, almost like apparitions, arranged to fill a big circular area. The whole pattern rotated about fifteen degrees back and forth occasionally at very odd, jerky intervals, lending to the eerieness.
     From there on out I'm not going to be able to remember much in the way of specifics—his whole set was one continuous piece, though it transitioned across various soundscapes. There were lots of layers, and lots of undoing of layers, and lots of really cool guitar work. I was really entranced; this guy is really brilliant! And there was no better place for it than a church like that. ( 11/99, psfblair@ix.netcom.com)

Recommended first album:

Any

Recordings:


Near Life Experience

Release info:

2003—Aural Gratification—AGCD 0047

Availability:

See Aural Gratification site

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Kevin Bartlett—"composed, performed, produced, and engineered"

Guest artists:

Sophia Ashton—additional vocals on 1 track
Kerry Arden Noel—additional vocals on 1 track

Produced by:

Kevin Bartlett

Comments:

I have had the good fortune to have heard Kevin Bartlett's new and unusual album Near Life Experience.
     The album is amazing on several counts. First and foremost, the music. Kevin's album is divided into ten songs but plays cohesively. The first thing I thought of upon first listening was the orchestral music of the Romantic period, albeit with a broader swath of timbres and tonal palettes then were available to composers of that era. On this album you hear evocations of woodwinds, didgeridoos, orchestral strings and rock bands. Add to the mix some astonishing ambiance, and you have a recording with quite possibly the most fascinating musical colors ever.
     Beyond the tonal palette are the musical structures Kevin has crafted. You'll hear a smattering of atonal sounds, one or two stretches of straightforward tonic or root/fifth ostinato, some very cool rock progressions, and some extremely complex heavily composed music, all of it quite breathtaking.
     Throughout the album, there are stretches of voices. Whispering, echoing, announcing, incanting voices swathed in echo and reverb. It's a motif that ties the album into a cohesive whole. There is also some fine singing now and then by a female singer who sounds classically trained. Most of the album, however, is instrumental, and it is startling to realize that Kevin is playing all (or at least most!) of them. As my wife listened with me, she noted that it must be incredible having that many things going on in your head. I've always been impressed by Mike Oldfield's solo works, but here we come to the tonal palette again—Oldfield's textures are as colored pencils to Bartlett's oils.
     The first track of the album, "Gayatri", begins with soft, atmospheric tonalities. A haunting, soaring Celtic-sounding melody is introduced, which soon breaks from its orchestral timbre as it is played by a wailing guitar. Deep rich bass tones abound on this album, and it is in this part of the track where yet another facet of this album is revealed—the recording sounds amazing!
     Either sampling technologies these days have gotten much better, or my ears are worse. The synth parts sounded to me very close to an orchestra. I recognized oboes and bassoons, flutes and violins clearly. The stereo soundstage is full and lush, and the album is draped in a diffusion of reverb that ebbs and flows along with the passion of the music. With Pro Logic II the surround mix was extremely satisfying. In short, the album sounds like a million dollars!
     I can't pick a favorite song yet, but if I had to, perhaps it's track six, "The Best Laid Mice". This track is gorgeous. You can hear subtle influences of Oldfield and Gabriel-era Genesis in parts of it, but the music is purely Kevin. It is, as are all of the tracks on this album, a tone poem, quite programmatic. You hear birds, sense action going on—it's amazing. (Non-musicologists can check out 'tone poem' at Google for results like http://www.incompetech.com/music/poem.html and http://w3.rz-berlin.mpg.de/cmp/g_symphonic_poem.html).
     Maybe my favorite is track four, "Sockdolager", with its progressive-rock Led Zepplin meets Brian Eno feel. The subwoofer was going nuts; there are some great fundamentals on this track. Then again on track eight, "Lighting is Everything", there's a bass drum that moves my sofa!
     But as gorgeous and powerful as the sound of this album is, gorgeous and powerful can also refer to the music itself. The album ebbs and flows like a living organism, at times passionate and sweeping, at times still and quiet. Unexpected textures pop up at every turn, and in those quieter parts you can hear the voices.
     Track 3, "Miserere Mei" is also worth noting for its spirituality. It starts out almost as church music, then ebbs and flows into a triumphant operatic statement. There are some powerful drums going on as well, making for a heady mix, and then Kevin unleashes a rocking bass guitar. So maybe this is my favorite track.
     Clocking in at 76:46, there is a generous amount of music on this disc. None of it is filler. The engineering is stunning (note to self: must try listening with headphones!), the compositions are mature, the playing is exemplary. One would think there was a team of engineers and a studio full of musicians involved in the making of this album, but it is primarily the work of one Kevin Bartlett. And it is an amazing, stunning achievement. I have often wondered what a composer from the Romantic era would do with today's technology, and I think this album goes a long ways toward answering that question. Don't get me wrong, the sensibilities are modern, but this is quite possibly the most unusual recording I've ever heard. Give your soul a treat, give your ears a treat, turn off your mind, relax and float downstream. It is not dying, but it is a near life experience. (rlovejoy@comcast.net)

glow in the dark

Release info:

2008—Aural Gratification—AGCD0050

Availability:

See Aural Gratification site

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Kevin Bartlett

Guest artists:

Kirsti Gholson—vocals (1, 9)

Produced by:

Kevin Bartlett

Comments:

Yesterday I had the good fortune to get an advance preview of Kevin Bartlett's new album, Glow in the Dark, on a very good sound system (his, in his studio).
     I can't give much in the way of review, since there was a lot to take in and I heard it only once without the benefit of a track listing. But I can tell this one is going to be a good friend. Very KB, lots of texture; generally the tracks start out with atmosphere and then go someplace more melodic. One piece in there relies a lot on what I think of as the "ecto sound"—the slightly distorted spacy guitar sound that's in songs like "Temporary and Eternal," and one of the first things that pulled me into ecto-land. (psfblair@ix.netcom.com)

Hey sorry to shout but I am very excited!
     My copy of Glow in the Dark just arrived in the mail this afternoon. I have been enjoying it ever since it arrived. This is a stunningly beautiful collection of music. Kevin's music is incredibly heartfelt and emotional. As with Near Life Experience, the compositions and arrangements are intricate and evolve in a flowing cinematic manner. I really feel many of you here are going to adore Kevin's latest masterpiece! (wpm@value.net)


Songs For the Big Kablooey EP

Release info:

2010—Aural Gratification

Availability:

See Aural Gratification site

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Kevin Barlett

Guest artists:

Machan Taylor—backing vocals (1, 3)
Susan Barnett—backing vocals (1, 4)
Mary Kate Burnell—backing vocals (1)
Kelly Bird—backing vocals (3)

Produced by:

Kevin Bartlett

Comments:

"Anthem angst and rock."

So different, and yet so...Kevin! (burka@jeffrey.net)

It's a Cool Thing! For those who like Bowie, Pink Floyd. Kevin clearly knows what he's doing, and I like it! (psfblair@ix.netcom.com)

It's a cool cool thing! Definitely a Velvet Goldmine vibe. A nice modern nod to the glam days of the 70s. (wpm@value.net)


Songs For the Big Kablooey

Release info:

2011

Availability:

See Aural Gratification site

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Kevin Barlett

Guest artists:

Machan Taylor—backing vocals
Susan Barnett—backing vocals
Mary Kate Burnell—backing vocals
Kelly Bird—backing vocals

Produced by:

Kevin Barlett

Comments:

Kevin Bartlett is an experienced and gifted musician and that all feeds into this album. It's very well accomplished and has myriad influences though it's very obviously original work. "Hold you" is a very cool glam rock song with some fabulous guitar parts. "Car with no wheels" is dreamy and expansive, very Pink Floyd somehow. "Dear in the headlights" is an epic with a convincing lead vocal and some strong melodic turns. It's a marvelous album, with just the right balance of dark and light, hard edges and soft corners. (stjarnell@yahoo.com)


Thanks to Anna Maria Stjärnell for work on this entry.

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DISCLAIMER: Comments and reviews in the Ectophiles' Guide are excerpted from the ecto mailing list or volunteered by members of the list. They are the opinions of music enthusiasts, not professional music critics.

Entry last updated 2013-01-12 23:27:29.
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