Field of Crows

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Anyone who thought Fellini Days was a notch under Fish's previous two studio releases (Sunsets on Empire and Raingods With Zippos) should feel relieved after listening to Field of Crows, a very fine entry in the gentle giant's discography. Fish is making the best out of his lowering voice on this album, which could be seen as a sign of maturity. This album rocks out, but it mostly relies on mellower tracks and simpler songwriting -- something reminiscent of Ian Anderson's own dealings with an aging voice and more introspective interests. Fish's focus is not on extended suites and shifting moods anymore, but elegant, intelligent songs, and in that regard he deserves an A for Field of Crows. His backing band has undergone yet another reshuffle. Guitarists Bruce Watson and Frank Usher are back. Bassist Steve Vantsis, drummer Mark Brzezicki, and keyboardist Tony Turrell round up the main lineup. Fish co-wrote most of the songs with Watson, a partnership that ranks among his best of late. The album is evenly split between rockers and mellower songs with folk-blues roots. From the first category, the very Marillion-esque (don't you just love those piano arpeggios?) "The Lost Plot," the premium ballad "Shot the Craw" (possibly his most moving since "A Gentleman's Excuse Me"), and the bluesy "Exit Wound" stand out. Among the beat-driven numbers, kudos go to another bluesy number, "Zoo Class," the catchy "Moving Targets," and "Innocent Party," in which the singer shows that he can still push a powerful mood-switching song. As usual, arrangements are finely crafted and varied from song to song, resulting in a very satisfying set high on memorable songs and surprisingly low on disposable content.

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