Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on Prognaut.com February 27th, 2012
Six Elements isn’t the type of band that reflects the current music industry. An Industry that reveres youth and sex appeal above pure musical talent; explaining the parade of indistinguishable cookie cutter artists who dominate the music charts and supermarket tabloids. All glitter and flash–easy on the eyes–yet bypassing the brain altogether and never making a connection with the inner soul.
Six Elements makes that connection, reflecting the type of musical maturity that only comes with life’s experience and surviving what-ever obstacles and road blocks come their way – emerging battered and bruised, but wiser for the experience. Embracing both the concealed scars and unspoken accolades of life’s great tragedies and momentary victories.
The sophisticated lyrics of songwriter Michael (Misha) Shengaout are inspired by the philosophy of Plato, the psychology of Karen Horney and Victor Frankl, the sociology of Erich Fromm, the poetry of Rudyard Kipling, the ancient oriental concept of the Five Elements, and drawing upon his own personal hardships (immigration and raising a son with autism), to pen the nine tunes on the band’s first album “Primary Elements”.
The Atlanta-based symphonic prog group was established in 2008 by Misha Shengaout as an unusual solution to his “mid-life crisis”. Rather than act on the crisis with misguided machismo–purchasing a motor cycle or muscle car, or engaging in an adulterous May/September romance with the hot young chick at the office–Shengaout decided he wanted to write music.
His philosophy was simply: “If our bodies are what we eat, then our souls are what we read and listen to. Our society, so obsessed with the diet for the body, utterly overlooks the diet for the mind”. Music is the harmony of the human soul expressed in sound.
Shengaout (keyboards, samples) then enlisted the aid of Stanley Whitaker (vocals), Dave De Marco (Crack The Sky), who performed with Whitaker in Oblivion Sun (bass, percussion), Jeff McGahren (guitars), Marc Noraard (drums), Betty Seni (vocals), Inna Satunovsky (piano) to record their first album “Primary Elements”.
Prog/rock fans may well remember the name Stanley Whitaker as the guitarist and lead vocalist of the classic 70s’ progressive rock group Happy The Man. But after listening to “Primary Elements” you would never know it. His voice has undergone a radial change. And depending upon which song he’s performing, Whitaker’s vocal timbre sounds more like Peter Gabriel, Cat Stevens, Fish, or David Cousin than the vocalist of such Happy The Man tunes as “On Time As A Helix Of Precious Laughs”, “Wind Up Doll Day Wind”, “The Falcon”, “Who’s In Charge Here?”, “Shadow Shaping”, and “Such A Warm Breeze”.
And like Shengaout, Whitaker too has endured life’s ups-and-downs (fighting off cancer).
As you might imagine, the introspective compositions of Six Elements bear little resemblance to the hyper-kinetic tunes of Happy The Man. The music is a less adventurous combination of melodic prog, electric folk and blues, sidestepping the complexities and shifting time signatures associated with the progressive rock genre. The guitar work of Jeff McGahren smacks of vintage Dave Gilmore, adding the soothing element of Pink Floyd to the mix.
The stand-out tracks on the album include the Rudyard Kipling poem “If” set to music. Two versions appear on the album, but to my ears the 4:45 radio mix single isn’t much different from the 4:41 album version.
Another stand-out track is the nostalgic “Childhood Books” which sounds like a lost Genesis tune recorded sometime between “From Genesis To Revelations” and “Trespass”.
“Nightmare” is also reminiscent of the early Genesis album “Trespass” in both vocal presentation and composition. Whitaker has all the vocal inflections of a young soulful Peter Gabriel.
Both “Words Of Love” and “Summer” are folksy love songs which might easily be mistaken for early Strawbs material or outtakes from David Cousins’ “Blue Angel” recording session. Whitaker shares vocal duty on the track “Summer” with Betty Seni, bringing to mind the early Strawbs recordings featuring both David Cousins and Sandy Denny.
For fans of “Tea For The Tillerman” and “Teaser And The Firecat” era Cat Stevens, the beautiful symphonic ballad “Winter” should bring back fond memories.
“Primary Elements” should appeal to fans of early Genesis (Gabriel, Banks, Rutherford, and Phillips era), David Cousins and The Strawbs, and Cat Stevens. Or for that matter–anyone with an appreciation for intelligent thought-provoking music that feeds your soul.