Madmen and Dreamers
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Madmen and Dreamers

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I had put off reviewing this 2-cd release for one reason only - this looked like a project that required more than a just a evaluative listening, and I knew I was going to have to devote more time to it than to other releases. That isn't to suggest that other releases have been short-changed, but when you are dealing with a concept project of this scope, extra attention is necessary. This production is the debut by Madmen and Dreamers, more theater group than band, released by MadElf productions. The musicians involved are Mark A Durstewitz on keyboards, Vince Genella on guitars, Mario Renes on bass, and Bob Dunleavy on drums and percussion. In addition, the characters of the production are Dennis Johnson as the Father, Christine Hull as the Mother, Ben Rauch as the Son and Erika K. A. Crocco as the Daughter.

The music is built around the titular concept The Children Of Children, but it isn't entirely about teenage pregnancy and parenthood, if you extend the child image out to the idea that we are all the children of God. But as the album cover artwork suggests it is also how what happens in our lives affects our children, which affects their children, which affects their children, and so on. So this works on multiple levels. But let's focus on that that inner level, so to speak, which is young adults having children before they've even had a chance to live their lives. The characters of the story here are just such a couple who have let the events of their lives control them rather than they controlling the events of their lives, and they resent themselves and each other for the "might have beens." As it seems most marriages do these days, this one splits and takes toll both on the parents and the children. Anyone who has been through divorce and the pain it causes, from whichever perspective (mother, father, or child), will find a little of themselves here. Those who haven't been through a divorce, myself included, will still be able to understand, but from a far different perspective

So, that's the concept in a nutshell, spanning two disks, told in both instrumental and vocal tracks. When the first CD cued up and began playing, on my first listen, my first thought was that music was very much Pink Floyd influenced, and here and there throughout that holds. There are tracks that break away from that, such as bluesy "The Big Belly Blues," which is both humourous and spot on (though again I do not speak from experience). Another is "Another Joyful Day," which is a galloping track that matches the hurriedness of the characters lives - routines, traffic, jobs, kids, etc. There is a wistful break in this one that only serves to underscore the frenetic pace of the rest of the track. "Tell Me" on disc two is a rockier, barroom blues number, with a bit of a swagger to it with it's searing guitar leads, driving piano, and sinewy percussion. The deeper into the album we go the Floyd sound is less and less, though it is no less rock.

Though unrelated thematically and different stylistically, this has the same dramatic feel of some of Andrew Lloyd Webber's famous works, Jesus Christ Superstar is the one that comes to mind. But as Webber has a particular and easily identifiable style (with Tim Rice), you might think of anyone of his works, excepting Phantom. Which means that both Johnson and Hull have very theatrical voices, by which I mean a heightened enunciation, a clearer delineation of notes. In musical theater, so much must be conveyed by the libretto that having a mumbling or slurring vocalist would defeat the purpose. This is, in no way, a criticism. In fact, it's rather refreshing to not have to necessarily look at the lyric book to understand what is going on, which is as good musical theater should be. There is also a youthfulness to the voices that lends authenticity, but at the same time, makes this feel also like a university production, at least where Johnson's voice is concerned. That isn't to suggest unprofessional by any means, just that Johnson has a very youthful voice - and as I send, perfect for the material. In fact, he sounds a little bit like John Denver at times (on "The Life You've Given Me" is where I thought it). By the end, you detect a change in the father's voice, as it becomes richer and more mature.

Hull's voice on the other hand takes on various characteristics, which also help to underscore the nature of the character. It starts out much higher in tone than throughout the rest of the album, and for me, too high. Unfortunately, this made me think of an SNL skit with the married teachers singing at the assembly, though, but for a few moments here and there, not during the rest of the album. At least at the end, Crocco sounds a bit like, well, my first thought was Annie Haslem, but I'm going to say more like a higher, sweeter Sylvia Erichsen of White Willow.

There are many points throughout where the characters here are talking to God - nearly all of the performers include God in their thanks to others, so these aren't references in the abstract. As I was following along, I expected the conclusion to be preachy, but it isn't at all. Different people will draw their own conclusions as to what the message is, as there are many. Take responsibility for your actions, which includes looking further down the road than the here and now. Another might be that if you bemoan what you have not got and ignore that which you have, you not have that either.

The presentation of this package is worth mentioning as well, as there are some terrific pieces of artwork by Simon Berson that illustrate each lyric page. Some of it is impressionistic, some of abstract, some of it photos of wireframe sculptures, and a couple that evoke thoughts of Roger Dean, though the drawings aren't as detailed as all that.

This is an interesting release, as listening to it is like seeing a performance or watching a movie (more so the former). You become involved with and come to care about what happens to the characters, and part of that is because there is something that resonates within you.

Aside from the rock arrangements there isn't much that would put this in the progressive rock category. Yes, there are the Floydian influences, whether intentional or not, but is that enough? This isn't your expected prog rock concept, if we use Yes, say, as the barometer. Of course, having said that, someone with a broader sense of what makes rock, and music more generally, progressive will surely disagree. And maybe that alone does make it progressive rock - taking a storyline that isn't typical of the prog rock genre and marrying it to a style that, where this merely instrumental, would fit right in with some of the less esoteric prog rockers out there. - Stephanie Sollow at Progressiveworld.net


Reviewing a double concept album is somehow peculiar, indeed. It's because of the length of the opera and the lyrical contents, often bearing the same importance of the musical one.
This is the case of Madmen and Dreamers' debut album. This five piece band from New Jersey (Mark Durstewitz: keyboards and composition, Mario Renes: bass, Vince Genella: guitars, Bob Dunleavy: drums, Christine Hull: vocals, with the collaboration of three more singers) have released an original Rock Opera, as is stated on the cover, dealing with teenage parenthood, divorce and the consequent parent/children alienation. The characters in the storyline are the Mother, the Father, the Son and the Daughter.
I had a dilemma: a general review or a detailed one? Well, the former would be a short statement: forget progressive rock musical and lyrical stereotypes, there are no knights and castles, only everyday life, and no trace of self-indulgent virtuosism, only serious musicianship. I know this is not enough, this work deserves a description in depth, so here we go.
Act One starts with a symphonic Overture, featuring a Floydian electric guitar solo, as well as classical guitar and piano, then we're projected into the title track The Children Of Children (pt.1), a male/female vocal duet enriched by a sharp guitar and a dramatic melody. Conception is an instrumental intermezzo, the piano here echoes "The Great Gig in the Sky" or "Us And Them", but Floydian influences are only one side of M&D's sound, and there will be time to discover it. The Big Belly Blues is completely different: a bluesy guitar, a jazzy piano, sax and hyronical lyrics, the guitar sound recalls something from Spock's Beard, sometimes. Piano and bells for the instrumental Birth, featuring some creative drum fills as well. After the reprise of the title track, and a husband/wife/children 'discussion' (What About Me?), it's the time for Love at a Distance, the female vocals are very emotional here, the piano/bass/cello complete the moody atmosphere. Madmen and Dreamers starts like another slow-tempo song, though some heavy guitar chords and drums add energy to this ballad; in the mid section tempo increases, then the singer resumes the vocal theme, sounding a bit like some tracks from Pallas' "The Sentinel", but less bombastic; one of the highlights. Another Joyful Day is a jingling funny little tune. I Will Not Fight features some soprano female vocals from Christine, contrasting with a rocky electric guitar, but we begin to guess this is the strength of the formula; a strong rhythm section is the icing on the cake. A bass line à-la "Careful With That Axe Eugene" introduces Retreat, the guitar solo here is quite Gilmouresque ("Division Bell" period), this long (11 min) multiform song turns into an acoustic ballad and then again into something else, with a mysterious melody, only to end wih a vocal duet. The arrangement here is of a top-class group; one of my favourites. Running Wild is splitted into four sections, starting with a musical box tune and a Gentle Giant-like multivocal lullaby; next section is straightforward rock with Hammond, though the singer (Dennis) is not so appropriated for this style, he shows a good vocal range. After a vocal duet, the lullaby comes back. Listen to Me is a mid-tempo piano led song, The Shell echoes the same melody. High pitched female vocals give character to Your Fault, Christine here recalls Sandrose's vocalist or even a sort of female Peter Hammill (!), the feeling is enhanced by the melanchonic melody. I Don't Know You Anymore is a rather anonymous uptempo song, while Why Did You Stay is a vocal/piano/orchestral reflective piece, with a pleasant 'musical theater' flavour; All I Need is Life closes Act One in a rather narrative way, but with a rock arrangement this time, featuring a nice distorted guitar solo.
Act Two starts with a reprise of some themes (namely Listen To Me, The Shell, Your Fault), then a short piano/synth atmospheric piece (One Moment Please) leads us into another piano driven song, Such as it is, with bass in good evidence (the sound of the piano is the 'trait d'union' in the whole opera). An Eagle and a Dove features very poetical lyrics, giving a sense of serenity; the romantic feeling is enhanced by a classical guitar solo à-la Steve Howe, while the electric guitar solo at the end makes you willing for more. Tell Me is plain rock-blues with a sax, even the vocals are in perfect style, though a bit monochord, while The Life You've Given Me is another typical mid-tempo piano-driven moment. And As For Me is an intimistic vocal/keys tune, much more original is Where Are You Now, a Peter Hammill-like vocal/piano melody with a moody feel to it, preparing the listener for the "grand" finale (and the happy ending) Daddy Can We Talk?: sung by Erika (the daughter), the vocals and piano bring a strong Renaissance (the band!) feeling, although at this point we can recognize Mark's original piano lines; this is one of the most "classic prog" songs of the album, with a Brian May-ish electric guitar adding a Queen touch to it. The fast solo is perhaps more in the vein of Dream Theater's John Petrucci. The end section, with the return of Dennis' vocals is highly emotional, a worth conclusion of this musical journey.
The only thing I need to add is that all the resemblances I noticed are merely a way to make description easier, the originality of this work is the same, for example, of Coda's "What a Symphony", that is a way to be progressive without necessarily recurring to 70's patterns or clichés. The length of the opera means that a higher level of attention is required to fully appreciate it, and a certain number of listenings are needed not to lose themselves in these 2 hours and more of music, although the several theme reprises help in this sense.
I recommend this album not only to prog-freaks, it can surely be appreciated by all clever-rock listeners! - Aquatarkis


The band originates from America and if you have read the above info then the clues are all there, Beethoven, Pink Floyd, rock opera. What happens next? Well, I think the word wow or phew is quite appropriate, we have something special here. The album opens with piano, drums, symphonic keys, acoustic and electric guitars, and we're talking screaming guitars. This is breathtaking for an opener, a great instrumental. Track 2, "Children Of Children pt .1" is where the vocals are introduced alongside progressive guitars, keys and a feeling of deja vu as this track takes on an Ayreon feel. Ok, not so grand but one definitely can't ignore the similarities. The main difference is in the vocal styles which are more traditional rock opera orientated as opposed to progressive rock influenced.

Setting that aside, this is 90% prog. If you have any doubts then check out the longest track on CD1, "Retreat", this clears up which category this album belongs in and that is progressive. At times this piece is quite dark and mood creating with a bite to it, a big bite, and a touch of choral magic, great vocals, this is a major piece of composing. Again progressive music shines strong on "Running Wild pts. 1- 4". This opens with a short link then we are into pt. 2 which is a tremendous track with wailing guitars and good vocals eventually drifting into pt.3 which is an emotionally charged, mellow number that has a punch to it.

"Birth". This has good use of keys and there is always that thought that the guitar will break through, but no, it holds back till this track links into the Ayreonesque "The Children Of Children pt. 2" where the guitar bursts forth fuelling the power as the male and female vocals interchange. The Ayreon sound can also be found on "I Will Not Fight" while track 7, "What About Me", is an atmospheric piece full of spoken voices and chorals. This whole first disc is quite thought provoking, emotional music with vocals which are all well suited to the overall concept. If I need to single out a normal rock opera track then that's easy, "Another Joyful Day" while "Big Belly Blues" is, guess what, a blues track with a touch of sax. The piano is well used on this CD and adds magic and emotion, no more so than on the superb, powerful and dramatic "Love At A Distance" and "Madmen And Dreamers" while "I Will Not Fight" is equally dramatic but also angry.

Disc 2.
The excellence has continued and in this all to often real life drama we are at the stage where thoughts, doubts, bitterness, soul searching and eventual rebirth (new love) comes into play but most importantly in the climax we find the daughter finally coming to terms with her father in the heart wrenching "Daddy. Can We Talk?". The music is deeper, melancholic and emotional. Basically, what we are taking about is that the progressive influences have been dropped (some of the time) in favour of a more classical rock approach and the piano and keys become the major instruments, being more suitable as a backdrop for the superb and dramatic vocals as the tortured and searching mind tries to work out what the hell has gone wrong. The piano is heavy and mood creating although on "The Eagle And A Dove" the piano, acoustic guitar, orchestral tones and emotional electric guitar create a very uplifting piece of music. "All I Need Is Life", which opens with piano, has a killer of a guitar solo as the power gets turned on. Then finally as the album reaches the closing stages for the optimistic and climactic conclusion, you can't help but get involved as the final words filter through the speakers "an answered pray, lord: You gave me wings, now I can fly. I can fly".
When asked to join the band, Vince Genella the guitarist said, "yes but only on the condition that the story has a happy ending". Well, as you can see Vince is in the band and, thank God, Mark A. Durstewitz & Christine Hull created the right climax to the story which in reality was the only way to close.

The vocals well suit the concept which is of course a rock opera. The father, Dennis Johnson has a voice that would go down well singing folk music. He has that English folky twang to his voice while Christine Hull as Mother has a voice that instantly tells you she has a theatrical background. Ben Rauch as Son and Erika K.A. Crocco as Daughter also turn in a fine performance. The booklet accompanying these CDs is first rate and informative to the full while the artwork is tremendous and in its own abstract way portrays the concept well.

Finally, after listening to this supreme work of art I can only wonder where Mark A. Durstewitz has been hiding as he certainly has an abundance of talent. This concept would go down well in theatre, I would certainly pay for the privilege to hear and see it live. For all lovers of progressive rock operas, unmissable. 100% a major album of 2000. - European Progressive Rock Reviews


Madmen & Dreamers were formed around the project 'Children Of Children' by Mark Durstewitz who might be considered as the original creative force behind the project. If you look around and see how you environment and close friends and family members weather painful divorces, followed by alienation from their children, it's no wonder that some artists put it all down in words and music. Mark (Keyboards) started writing a defiant and provoking fictive story, with no resemblance to any person or persons living or dead. It's an enormous narrative and tale that translate and render the deepest feelings from people that separate from each other and the loss that is created with those that leave behind.



The whole story is spread over two discs and the tragically story became a rock opera that is mainly sustained by the female vocals of Christine Hull. She's no stranger to divorce, so she was able to get connected with the material and added a diverse and different sense to the whole writing. Christine gives the songs a theatrical and tormented approach which gives an extra to the already written and re-written lyrics.



As a team they recorded the whole story, including a lot of musical escapades and instrumental intermezzo's so we suggest taking your time and exploring the whole project. The best way is to have the booklet aside you and follow all tracks to get into the story. It gives an extra depth to the music and lyrical wise, it will point out situations that we all know from every day life.



The actors are Dennis Johnson (Father), Christine Hull (Mother), Ben Rauch (Son) and Erika K.A. Crocco (Daughter) and they give shape and form to the story. Musical wise, there are brilliant artists that create a sensitive and subdued feeling with their instruments. Vince Genella (Guitars), Mario Renes (Bass) and Bob Dunleavy (Drums) gave birth to the songs that are mainly written by Mark, the leader of the gang.



The music takes you to a melting pot of progressive, rock, from an extremely emotional parts to the more passionate parts. It's a trip to the soul and the lyrics back up the feelings that well up. For example: ''Daddy, where are you going? Mommy, who's this man? What does all this means to us? Tell us, if you can.''



Writing a review on an effort like this is almost as difficult as creating this piece of art. You really have to take your time and give it a try to get into the story lines. Some might say that this is progressive metal, but it isn't. Some might say it's an adjacent Pink Floyd album, but it isn't as well. This is an original and demanding album, it's perhaps as difficult as accessible, and it might be art, yet not. See for yourself if your inner self and interior is ready for a trip to the soul....My rating: 80/100 - Patrick de Sloover at Metal To Infinity Webzine


Discography

"The Children of Children"

Photos

Bio

Madmen and Dreamers is an unusual act, described as more of a theatre group than a band by one reviewer. We are a progressive rock, maybe more accurately an art rock, band who formed around the recording of "The Children of Children", our original rock opera. The debut album of an unknown band, this project has astonished even us with its steady progress around the globe. "The Children of Children" is the story of one man's refusal to divorce his children. The concept album is available at www.madmen-and-dreamers.com, www.madelf.com, CD baby (www.cdbaby.com) and all distribution outlets of The Orchard (www.theorchard.com). Video from a live performance can be viewed at www.madmen-and-dreamers.com/mp3s/retreat5b-1.wmv and youtube.com/watch?v=mZ75m_5yQ44. Google the band name: Madmen and Dreamers for reviews and downloads. We are currently writing and recording our second rock opera, "Remembrance", projected to be released in January 2009.