The largely unacknowledged open secret lying at the heart of Rick Springfield's career is how, at his core, he's a serious artist. His gift for power pop and his spell as a television actor obscured this essential fact, but on the many albums he's made since his popular peak during the early '80s, he regularly returns to sober subjects, which means most of his fans may not be surprised that he spends the bulk of his 2018 album The Snake King exploring depression, faith, political confusion, and other weighty ideas. Even so, he hits these subjects hard throughout The Snake King, his lyrical explicitness finding a match in a shift his music: He's moved from arena rock toward heavy blues and folk-rock anthems straight from Bob Dylan in 1965. Given that he's a fine guitarist and craftsman, this isn't quite as startling in sound as it is on paper.
Rick Wakeman's return to YES in June of 2002 coincided with the completion of the recording of "Out There", his first progressive rock album with his own band for 26 years. In true Wakeman tradition, "Out There" is a musical concept continued from where he left off in 1976 with his quest for the origins of all music with "No Earthly Connection" which sold in excess of five million copies worldwide…
Rick Wakeman spent much of the '80s and '90s recording instrumental albums that veered toward either classical or ambient, so 2003's Out There comes as a bit of a shock: it's an honest to goodness revival of the full-throttle prog rock Wakeman pursued on his solo albums in the '70s. A large part of this is due to his decision to form a full-fledged supporting rock band. Called the New English Rock Ensemble, they're a quintet led by Wakeman and featuring Damian Wilson on vocals, Ant Glynne on guitar, Lee Pomeroy on bass, and Tony Fernandez on drums and percussion. They're a powerful and skilled outfit, able to follow Wakeman's shifting tempos and moods with dexterity without ever losing sight of their forceful rhythmic core, which keeps this rock, not new age. Wilson is a similarly versatile vocalist, as convincing on the surging "Out There" as he is on the contemplative "To Be with You."
This live performance presented by the King Biscuit Flower Hour is an above average production of Wakeman's best-loved tunes. King Biscuit appropriately keeps the concert full-length, without any splicing, so that the songs are enjoyed exactly as they were during the staging. Wakeman electrifies San Francisco's Winterland Theater with stunning versions of "Lancelot and the Black Night" and "Merlin the Magician," two of this album's finest cuts. Particular attention is given to "The Forest," a track rarely played live from Wakeman, but placed fittingly in the middle of the eight selections here. Recorded in 1975 at the height of progressive rock's glory days, Wakeman's attentiveness and passion can be felt from the opening keyboard surge. His accompanying musicians play a large part as well, with some expert guitar work from Jeffrey Crampton and spectacular vocal execution via Ashley Holt.