Wednesday 11 October 2023

Compassionizer - A Tribute to George Harrison (2023)

Country: Russia
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 9 Oct 2023
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Prog Archives

I've reviewed a few Compassionizer albums, partly because Ivan Rozmainsky continues to send me copies and partly because I'm thoroughly enjoying their brand of chamber prog, a genre that was completely new to me when I first heard An Ambassador in Bonds. Here's another one, but it's the most unusual of them thus far, because, as the title suggests, it's not of original material, at least not entirely. All five of these songs were written by George Harrison, two of them for the Beatles and three for solo records. They range from 1965 to as late as 1987 and they all featured vocals but Compassionizer reimagine them here instrumentally.

They're an interesting set too, most of which are new to me. The only track I can play in my head is Here Comes the Sun, from the 1969 Beatles album Abbey Road, though of course it's very different here. The opener is an earlier Beatles song, If I Needed Someone, which I'm sure I've heard but I'm unable to recall. That's from their Rubber Soul album and is an important track because it's one of the songs that introduced the sitar to pop/rock music. That's right here in this version too, albeit I presume in synthesised form. The three solo tracks I've probably never heard.

I'm not a particular fan of tribute albums, because most of the tracks on them, indeed most cover versions period, are so close to their originals that there seems to be little point to them. I tend to look for reimagination in cover versions, where songs can be given an entirely new life by bands or artists working in completely different styles, such as the wonderful Rubáiyát double album that was released for Elektra's fortieth anniversary, where many contributors were so successful that I prefer their versions to the originals.

Of course, the versions of these songs are all wildly different from the originals, because as varied as the Beatles got, they aren't known for their chamber prog. Now, had I listened completely blind instead of doing some basic research first, I'd still have recognised Here Comes the Sun, but that's quickly diverted into entirely new musical territory and it's all the better for that.

I did check out the other songs before listening to these versions, but one listen was not enough to connect the original with the reinvention in my mind, so they played as effectively new music, as if I was listening to a new Compassionizer release rather than a tribute. They even flow into each other, so that individual songs play more like movements in a suite. I have a feeling that, for those of you who know these songs backwards, that might still hold true, because, even though this is a tribute album, this material was treated as a starting point rather than a be all end all and so the music starts out as George Harrison songs but gradually becomes Compassionizer tracks.

What surprised me the most from checking out the originals is that, even though George Harrison is known as a guitarist, these songs are often known just as much for their vocals, indeed lyrics, as for their guitarwork. As Compassionizer play them entirely instrumentally, that means that what most people know from these songs simply aren't here, but they're still able to create fascinating music from that bedrock. In particular, The Light That Has Lighted the World, from the 1973 album Living in the Material World, is well loved for its lyrics. Instead, Compassionizer focus more on its use of slide guitar and improvise that into something new.

The track before that is Isn't It a Pity, originally on Harrison's 1970 album, All Things Must Pass. It has a hypnotic drive to it, so that we almost don't pay attention to Harrison singing, and that's the element that Compassionizer run with here, even though the song runs a few minutes shorter. The track after it is Just for Today, from Cloud Nine, and it used to be a quiet and simple song, driven by piano but with some excellent slide guitar. That's the album that gave us Got My Mind Set on You, but this is a better piece to reinvent and Compassionizer build on its piano nicely.

I see that they're calling this a short album, but it's a really short album, even shorter than their previous release, As Smoke is Driven Away, which they labelled an EP. However, before you start to wonder about value for money, I should point out that it's available on Bandcamp for a price that's whatever you want it to be, all the way down to free, so it's excellent value for money, even at only twenty-three minutes. Free means that you have no excuse not to check it out, but I recommend a deeper dive into what Rozmainsky and his colleagues have been doing under the Compassionizer name, because they're probably unlike anything you've ever heard before and that's a good thing. Even if you grew up on George Harrison.

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