Reviewed by Robert Taylor, All Music Guide:
After a five-year hiatus, Echolyn returned with its unique blend of progressive rock. The group’s previous effort, As the World, established Echolyn as one of the premier American progressive rock bands on the basis of intelligent lyrics and unrivaled musicianship. While the same holds true here, their approach is more introspective and straightforward. They still explore complex rhythmic patterns and Gentle Giant-type harmonies, but most of the selections follow traditional song structures. “Texas Dust” is a memorable opener, but the remainder of the recording turns out to be rather mundane. Die-hard fans will surely find enough here to be satisfied, but casual fans should stick with As the World. ~ Robert Taylor, All Music Guide
Reviewed by Tarkus Magazine:
Echolyn is together again!!! After a 4 year pause, this is very good news. But have Echolyn retained their intelligent musical concept or has the spirit of commercialism swallowed them totally?
Compositions and arrangements show a maturity which can be described in one word: quality. Here is no trace of stagnation. The musical style contains even more than before elements from all decades of wuality music. That the 70s Gentle Giant (especially the complex vocal parts) is a big source of inspiration, is just as prominent as on their previous album, As The World.
But Echolyn’s music is still unique and sophisticated. Here you will find both art-rock, blues, funk, hard-rock and jazz-rock with inspiration from most of the big names and eras, elements which gives the music both great width and variation. In addition, the musicians have a very different way of approaching the art of composing, which contributes to the many enjoyable surprises in the arrangements.
The compositions are written in a way that ensures that no special instrument dominates, keyboards like Wurlitzer, Rhodes, Clavinet and Hammond work intelligently together with guitars, bass and drums. In addition, they use accordeon, dulcimer, recorder, sax, harmonica and various ethnic rhythm instruments. In other words, this is hard, complex and distinctive, but at the same time soft, simple wnd well-known. When progressive rock is both written and performed by first class musicians with perfect sound, the result can not be other than a magnificent album. Heartily recommended!”
Reviewed by eer-music.com:
Cowboy Poems Free (CD, 59:14); Velveteen Records, VR2006-2, 2000
10 words or less: 6th and perhaps best album from this American ProgRock
“Elaboration: I have always been impressed by Echolyn’s technical proficiency
with their instruments. Underneath the layers of vocals on each of their
albums there are musical passages of a Fusionesque skill level. When
listening to any Echolyn album, one is immediately reminded of Yes and Gentle
Giant in the vocal counterpoint and the overall preponderance of vocals in
general. It is only for this reason that I would not recommend Echolyn to
someone who prefers instrumental music. Echolyn’s most widely distributed
album was 1995′s As the World on Sony records. Cowboy Poems Free show them as
a much more mature band with a more textured and varied sound, interwoven by
4 instrumental segues referred to as Poems 1, 2, 3 and 4; these serve to give
the album a thematic quality. Overall, Cowboy Poems Free is a strong effort
and I highly recommend it to all fans of Yes and Gentle Giant. ~ L Perez”
Reviewed by http://members.intelos.net/~rael/cowboy.htm:
Echolyn is Brett Kull (guitar, lead and backing vocals), Chris Buzby (keyboards, backing vocals, saxes, autoharp, cajon, accordion and recorders), Ray Weston (bass, lead and backing vocals), Paul Ramsey (drums and percussion) and Jordan Perlson (drums and percussion).
Back when I was first getting into the modern prog scene back in college, one of the first bands I discovered was echolyn. I chanced onto a copy of As The World poking through the racks at a cheapo CD store in Morgantown. I only vaguely knew the name from hearing it online and didn’t really know what to expect. I took it home, threw it in the CD player and was absolutely blown away by what I heard. Following that experience, I tracked down the rest of their catalog, in various formats, and echolyn swiftly became one of my favorite bands.
Obviously, when it appeared that they had split up for good back in the mid 90s I was very disappointed. Conversely, when I found out that the band was getting back together last year, I was extremely excited. The result is a slightly modified lineup and cowboy poems free which, while overall a pretty strong album, can’t really match the band’s earlier efforts.
Following their mid 90s hiatus, echolyn reformed as a five piece with vocalist Ray Weston doubling on bass and the addition of a second percussionist in Jordan Perlson. The resulting sound is more robust than on previous efforts but lacking the complexity, variety, and interplay present on As The World and Suffocating the Bloom . . .. Present, as always, are the tight three-part harmonies that are an echolyn trademark.
The songs themselves seem to have a focus on tighter songwriting and lyrics rather than feats of instrumental gymnastics. In some ways that is disappointing, coming from the standpoint of someone who really likes that kind of stuff and the way echolyn did it on previous releases. Taken on its own merits, this album works fairly well. The result is a collection of pretty good, somewhat varied, slightly proggy rock and roll tunes that show a good deal of skill in songwriting and arranging.
Highlights include “Human Lottery”, which has very tight harmonies on the chorus, with different lyrical lines looping around each other. “American Vacation Tune” is a great upbeat rocker which, more than anything else, would have made a great single, particularly if released early in the summer. A classic ode the the American road trip. Another strong track is “67 Degrees”, which tells the story of a disastrous sailing expedition, with several good changes of pace and dynamics which serve to produce a hefty emotional wallop.
In addition to the ten main songs, there are four “Poems”, creatively numbered 1 through 4, spaced throughout the album. They are mostly instrumental ambient waves of sound more than well developed individual tracks. They help maintain the mood while providing some space between tracks. Nothing really essential, but it doesn’t take anything away from the album, either.
As mentioned earlier, there has been a change in lineup from echolyn’s last release, which I think effected the album greatly. Ray Weston is a good vocalist, and I enjoy his work both with echolyn and Dark Aether Project, but as a bassist, he doesn’t bring the same stuff to the table as the departed Tom Hyatt. The very complex bass lines, shifting styles in mid stride, which are present in places like “How Long I Have Waited” from As The World, are absent here. The other change in lineup, percussionist Jordan Perlson, is also somewhat of a disappointment, not because of any lack of skill, but because he seems underutilized to me.
So, overall, as a return for echolyn, cowboy poems free, is not exactly what I would call a return to form from where they left off. It is a shift away, to a certain extent, from their more hyper kinetic overtly progressive roots to a more direct song based approach. Having said that, however, it is an album that works well on its own merits. Still recommended, even if it doesn’t hit the heights of old.”
Reviewed by: Stephanie Sollow, July 2000 (progressiveworld.net)
As I’ve said elsewhere, I didn’t start collecting prog until late 1991-early 1992. One of those first CDs that I picked up was Echolyn’s self-titled debut. While I liked that disk, I didn’t become totally enamoured of it, though a few tracks stuck with me, like “Until It Rains.” I did like it enough to buy their rest of their catalog as it came out, but didn’t quite get into it. I felt, though, that they were hope for a resurgence in American prog, I was disappointed when they split.
So, here we are a few years later with a new Echolyn disk. The fourth track on Cowboy Poems Free struck me right away. “Grey Flannel Suits” is more popish than the music on previous Echolyn disks and this made me think of Squeeze. Now, as I like Squeeze, that isn’t a bad thing. I do like the song, it’s energetic and snappy…and also, in some ways, toward the end, a bit Beatles-esque.
“High As Pride” also stands out; this is a slow tempo number, with a very nice guitar solo part way through. A solo that made think of classic 70′s rock…Eagles and the like (again, meant positively).
“American Vacation Tune” sounds more like the Echolyn I remember from the self-titled debut. And though stylistically it is “classic Echolyn”…it seems like a much more mature and skilled Echolyn. The vocals were the weakest part of Echolyn for me, but Weston’s voice has improved greatly, though on this track it’s Brett Kull on vocals, and methinks he sounds a bit like Neal Morse.
Hmm…yes, there is also that “something” that says to me Ameriprog… I can’t really give it a name, but it is a certain energy or feel that differentiates American progressive music from European progressive music. Perhaps it’s the difference between rock forms and classical forms. In general of course, as you can’t say that about every American progressive band or every European progressive band. And, it may just be that that “something” is what I’m drawn to.
“67 Degrees” is another song that draws you in. Musically quite muscular with dark, heavy tones (not metal, mind you). Percussion and bass are up front, though there are a couple of swirly vocals and atmospheric guitar breaks. Keys both intro and outro this track in gentle, though forboding tones. This is another that harks back to their earlier material, adding a more updated sound.
“Too Late For Everything” is another track that stood out for me, though here Echolyn sound like an amalgam of America and Spock’s Beard – America like harmonies and tones, Beard-like arrangements. I keep thinking of America’s “Only In Your Heart.” (If it means anything, I often thought that Spock’s Beard sounded like Echolyn).
I’ve only scratched the surface, as there’s the whole unified theme of the album, which touches upon various bits of Americana. There are the four “Poems” – I love the odd groove to “Poem #4″ that segues into “Too Late…” (which echoes “67 Degrees”) That odd groove comes from the hammered dulcimer, handclaps, drum loops, and bass.”
Reviewed by New Horizons:
“This is the fifth studio album from American band Echolyn. Anyone who has their stunning 1995 album ‘As The World’ will need no introduction to the band – and will probably already have this new opus, their first for four years. Echolyn comprise Christopher Buzby – keyboards, backing vox; Brett Kull – guitars, lead and backing vox; Ray Weston – bass, lead and backing vox; Paul Ramsey – drums; plus new member Jordan Perlson on additional drums and percussion.
Echolyn’s music is difficult to categorise; they are not your typical prog rock type band, but do appeal to audiences of prog and complex music in general. Their sound is a hybrid of jazz/fusion from the Bruford/Holdsworth mould with the emphasis on very busy percussion mixed with little touches of Genesis, and maybe Kansas. There is also an avant garde and alternative tinge to their sound which all goes to make them pretty unique. I know some people have found the band’s music quite difficult to get into, but as ever, repeated listenings bear great rewards.
The overall sound on ‘Cowboy Poems Free’ is, perhaps, a little more straightforward than on ‘As The World’; there are perhaps a few less twists and turns, but the tricky time signatures and complex counterpoint of melody are as impressive as ever. The theme of the album is that all the songs are based on true stories, most of which are from the band’s relatives. These stories or ‘poems’ are free to all those who care to ask; hence the title. (Thanks to Chris Buzby for the explanation!)
And so to the new music. ‘Texas Dust’ is a fine opener; a frantic percussive intro soon calms down with a nice synth sound and Brett Kull’s heart warming vocal oozes melody and emotion. Of the four short ‘Poem’ pieces, three are atmospheric instrumentals while the fourth also includes a vocal that leads into the final song. ‘Human Lottery’ features Ray Weston’s distinctive vocals with complex harmonies augmented by Chris Buzby’s busy keyboards and some fantastic drumming form Jordan Perlson. ‘Gray Flannel Suits’ is another upbeat number with an irresistable vocal melody that once you get your “ear in” you can’t forget.
The pace slows down for ‘High As Pride’ which is a moving piece sung by Brett with some lovely guitar and keys too. ‘American Vacation Tune’ returns to a frantic pace with some great bass from Ray, an infectious chorus and features excellent guitar work from Brett. ’1729 Broadway’ is another slower poignant song about a man separated from his children, it features some nice sax from Chris, a gorgeous lead vocal from Ray and some scorching guitar from Brett.
My favourite track must be ’67 Degrees’; a story of a sailor serving in the second world war – I think this about Ray’s father? The superb vocal harmonies are mixed with some great instrumental interludes. ‘Brittany’ begins with an indian banjo (!) played by Brett, but then settles into another highly melodic outing with Ray and Brett sharing the lead vocals. Finally, ‘Too Late For Everything’ begins acoustically with chiming guitars and percussion; another emotional wartime story I think with a touching vocal from Brett, very beautiful, very memorable.
Echolyn are a welcome breath of fresh air in a rock world where there is very little originality left; their sound is a unique and challenging change from the norms we have come to expect. The emphasis is on songs rather than long drawn out solos, but the stunning underlying musicianship serves to compliment rather than be the “be all and end all” of the music. If you would like to discover a new band with a new sound then you could do no better than listen to ‘Cowboy Poems Free’. Available from GFT in the UK.
Also highly recommended is ‘As The World’ which is currrently only available from Amazon.com in the USA.”
Reviewed by Polshack, http://orion.venco.com.pl/~caladan/cd/echolyn_ang.html
Rating (from 1 to 10):
“I managed to put my hands on some Echolyn albums only a half year ago, even though I knew that they were one of the most respected American progressive rock bands of the 90-ties. I quickly fell in love, especially with their latest effort “As The World”. I can now say that it was a good time for becoming a fan, as after a 5-year break, during which the band’s members recorded a number of very good albums with bands like Finneus Gauge and Always Almost, they reunited again to record another album under the Echolyn name. Cuortesy of the band, I can review it for you soon after the release date.
Cowboy Poems Free is Echolyn at their best form. It doesn’t mean that they were 100% faithful to their old style. In comparision to Suffocating The Bloom or As The World, which were brimming over with rhythmic acrobatics, the new album is a more balanced mixture of intricate counterpoints and calmer, atmospheric songs. The sound also changed, most notably in the keyboard department. Warm washes of hammonds and wulitzer dominate now. Together with the additional percussionist he makes the music deeper and more cohesive. After initial listens I was immediately hooked with Human Lottery i Brittany: the first one shines with a killer instrumental break right after the chorus and a frenzied keyboard part, the latter intoxicates with an addictive chord progression. Songs that you love right away are very helpful to get through the rest of the album.
And then you discover that … all of it are simply great songs! Is it the energetic Texas Dust, American Vacation Tune or Swingin’ the Ax, or melancholic 1729 Broadway i 67 Degrees, they all shine with beautiful melodies, rock dynamics and top-notch execution, which gets maximum potential out of these tunes. And I don’t mean only instrumental execution here – one of Echolyn’s biggest assets are the vocals. By using the singing talents of three of the band’s members they construct rich vocal harmonies which perfectly punctuate the emotions coming out of the music. In fact it is impossible to pick just one flaw to this album. This is an absolutely mature work of experienced musicians, who know exactly what they wanted to achieve and they did it. The listener can do nothing else but sit back and thoroughly enjoy it – this is at least what I’m going to do now.”
Reviewed by x_bruce (see more about me) from Oak Park, ILLINOIS United States (Amazon.com) May 11, 2002
Cowboy Poems Free has a basic theme of aspects of American life. The song lyrics are indeed poetic and sung with a darker tone than on previous Echolyn albums. Texas Dust and American Vacation Tune remind of their earlier, more overt progressive music while much of Cowboy Poems Free are more subdued in terms of progressive rock conventions.
This is not to say Echolyn isn’t progressive anymore. They are, but instead of the song displaying typical musical gestures of progressive rock the songs on this CD are frequently based more on traditional song structures. There are flourishes of progressive music throughout, odd meters, complex arrangements, etc. but they shade the album’s songs.
Is this album for progressive rock fans?
Sure. In it’s own way it is as challenging as any pyrotechnic prog album. It is more song based and more muscular. It rocks a little harder and is more delicate than previous Echolyn CDs.
The lyrics deal with American life and are written in a way that should make it enjoyable for listeners beyond Americans. The lineup has changed but without a loss of quality. These guys can play!
What I appreciate most about Echolyn is how little they resemble 70′s progressive bands while having an identity of their own that is unique and modern.
This is Echolyn grown up, having dealt with major label neglect, inability to play as a band for four years and eventually coming back with one of the best scenes of American life.
This may take a few listens to start getting the vibe of Cowboy Poems Free but most likely you will and you will appreciate the quality of this set of songs even if you aren’t a huge progressive rock fan.
Reviewed by Jaume Pujol (The Cubezine)
Echolyn had very bad luck when signed Sony to release As the world, because they didn’t enjoy promotion and the relationship cost-profit didn’t derive in a positive evaluation. The result is known: the band separated before publishing the album of demos and outtakes When the sweet turns sour in 1996. However, good musicians continue ahead, and Echolyn returned to the fore in year 2000 with the launching of Cowboy poems free and the recovery of the rights that Sony had on the out of print Suffocating the bloom, a work that has been finally reissued by the band.
The new work by the Americans follows the sound patterns of the formation: an excellent vocal work, melodic and complex compositions, multiple rhythm changes, preponderant role of the keyboards, and the classic progressive influences of prog groups like Genesis, Gentle Giant or Yes. The sound has evolved from As the world into a bigger closeness to The Beatles’ pop music and the American rock. The result is a more direct and easy work for the listener, in which one can highlight the melodic and rhythm aspect (Latin influences?), and a bigger simplicity in the musical complexity of the band. In certain passages of the album we can even notice a certain resemblance with Spock’s Beard and some pieces of Transatlantic.
Summaryzing, this CD is a good work of progressive rock by a group that has given a turn towards North American music in detriment of the European one. Cowboy poems free is a very varied work, with special brilliant moments (“Texas dust”, “Human lottery”, “Swingin’ the ax”, “1729 Broadway”, “Britanny”), and although it doesn’t end up reaching the level of their previous albums Suffocating the bloom or As the world, is a good album.