Premiata Forneria Marconi (inevitably shortened to PFM) ruled the Italian prog roost throughout the ‘70s. Their sound was emblematic of the distinctive qualities that set Italian prog apart from that of other countries -- highly melodic, passionate, and full of sweetly symphonic ebb and flow. While they were certainly highly skilled musicians, PFM focused more on creating true rock symphonies that moved with both the grandeur and the sophistication of orchestral music than playing dizzying licks. They released their first two albums to great acclaim in Italy, helping to spark the country's prog revolution in the early ‘70s, but when Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer heard them, they were invited to sign with ELP's own label, Manticore, which released most of PFM's finest work. This two-disc collection spotlights PFM's Manticore years, though the 1973-1977 subtitle is a bit of a misnomer, as the earliest track here is from 1974. River of Life lets us follow the band's development starting with the richly rendered, soaring symphonic rock of the Photos of Ghosts and The World Became the World albums, where Flavio Premoli's Mellotron, organ, and synth flow gorgeously into Mauro Pagani's violin and flute lines and the rest of the band's Yes-like riffs. "Alto Loma Nine Till Five" from the live album Cook hints at the jazz fusion flavor that would become a greater part of the band's sound in years to come. The tracks from 1976's Chocolate Kings mark a turning point, with the instrumentalists ceding their vocal responsibilities to dynamic new singer Bernardo Lanzetti and concentrating in turn on more intense, complex musical arrangements. This collection also offers up some first-rate rarities, including a previously unreleased track from the Cook concert and three cuts from a 1976 live recording that had never seen the light of day before. Anyone desiring a well-rounded introduction to the most influential prog band ever to emerge from Italy is unreservedly directed to River of Life.
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