The Snow Goose

Camel

Decca Records, 1975

http://www.camelproductions.com

REVIEW BY: Loznik

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/25/1999

Camel was formed in 1972, with the pivotal pair Andy Latimer (guitar, flute, vocals) and Peter Bardens (keyboards) forming the core of creativity. Doug Ferguson (later replaced by the excellent Richard Sinclair) provided solid bass and the accomplished Andy Ward, drums/percussion. The band's third album, The Snow Goose, came to my notice shortly after its release and has since haunted me for some 20 years or more. I will go on record as saying I love this album, just to get that out of the way.

The Snow Goose is a concept album -- concept albums either plagued or graced that mid-seventies period, according to your point of view, but any prejudices you may have learned against these "self-indulgent" projects should not be applied in this case. Based loosely upon a story of the same name by Paul Gallico (later made into a film, I believe), the album is symphonic in nature, at times accompanied by orchestral arrangements. Such a lofty idea can as easily lend itself to overblown pomposity as to grandeur, but the effect is balanced and consistent. Rock themes are interwoven and married perfectly to the classical sound.

Originally released on vinyl (of course), the album should be considered as one piece of music, although comprised of sixteen "tracks." Long years of listening on an LP have caused me to feel the music as two halves of a whole, but a recent CD purchase is thankfully banishing this artificial conception.

The piece is wholly instrumental (all vocals are a non-verbal accompaniment). A quiet ("Has it started yet?") introduction, "The Great Marsh" produces a sense of anticipation which I feel could have been made to last a dozen or so seconds longer. A repeating heavenly choir sound with guitar flourishes and a simple keyboard motif sets the scene for a crescendo that launches the listener into "Rhayader", a lovely flute-driven piece whose theme permeates the album in several guises. The piano counterpoints here exquisitely. Electric guitar and electric piano then combine to re-examine the flautist's work, with a reprise of the flute following.

We are moved, with only the tiniest of jolts, into the next passage, "Rhayader Goes To Town". Bardens' keys are clear and concise, providing the backbone to simple but effective guitar work by Latimer. Andy Ward's drumming is exact and very pleasing. The theme changes early on in this movement, leaving me to believe that the naming of the "tracks" is a times a little irrelevant to what is actually being played at the time. Bardens' keyboard effects at this point of the proceedings seem a little dated now, but are in no way offensive. R & B seems to have been mixed in here to provide the excuse for a pleasant, if limited, guitar lead. I hear echoes of Gary Moore - shame really, as I am not a fan of his. Anyway, this track is one of the two longest on the album, a shade over 5 minutes, but as I say, track structure seem somewhat arbitrary.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Sanctuary" is a song featuring electric guitar with Spanish acoustic guitar overlay, a sort of moment of calm between slightly busier pieces. We then find ourselves falling gracefully into "Fritha," with its plaintive, dual-textured synthesiser melody and acoustic guitar. You find yourself whistling this for weeks on end.

"The Snow Goose" then marches into view, electric guitar and Hammond organ providing the introduction which moves into a laid back piece of back beat rock, a tune repeated and reprised throughout the album. I get a little impatient during this song, waiting for the more challenging pieces.

The all too short "Friendship" follows, a gorgeously classical moment featuring (I believe) oboe and bassoon (correct me if I am wrong). A simple repeating theme and a real highlight, it segues into the slightly urgent piece "Migration," featuring the rare vocals (not lyrics) that provide the lead theme. I resist most strenuously any suggestion of "cheese" at this point. We fade into "Rhayader Alone," a quiet re-working of the earlier "Rhayader" track. My consciousness insists on remembering this as the end of Side One, when one can normally take a breather before flipping over to side Two. No rest for the wicked, though because, hold onto your hats...

... it's "Flight Of The Snow Goose". A long electric guitar intro consisting of a repeated motif is suddenly pierced by a crashing fuzz guitar and truly excellent cymbal work by the under-rated Ward. Bardens takes up the charge with a synth sporting the then-trendy decay and squelch setting, then back to Latimer to wind it all back down. This track is very powerful, and raises the hairs on your arms even on repeated listenings. Things settle down just in time for the introspective "Preparation," with its soothing acoustic guitar and flute, subsequently accompanied by further woodwind input. An ooh-aooh vocal theme lends a ghostly feel to the proceedings. Additionally, a synth sound wends its way into the mix which is somewhat reminiscent of Raindance by Gryphon, an album I reviewed recently here on the Vault.

"Dunkirk" is the longest track by reference to the listing. As the name suggests, there is a slightly martial air to this song, even before the brass section cuts in. The song is something between a march (suggested by the snare drum) and a fugue. It isn't my favourite on the album, despite the dramatic touches, urgent drumming and mixture and turnover of leads -- guitar, synth, organ and brass.

We are then treated to "Epitaph," which picks out the theme from "Preparation" earlier. Nice cymbal effects from Ward, I'm always a sucker for that sort of thing. The tolling of a bell suggests a sad ending to I don't know what! Probably the demise of a snow goose in the book. This feeling is reinforced by the next song, a truly lovely piano piece by the name of "Fritha Alone," which directly reprises the synthesiser from "Fritha".

Having wiped a tear from our eye following "Fritha Alone," the rousing and wonderful "La Princesse Perdue" lifts us and takes us aloft with its update of "The Flight Of The Snow Goose". Keyboard flourishes show off Bardens' sure touch and somehow Ward again makes us very aware of his talent. "The Snow Goose" is also reprised and we are carried away by a the resolution of earlier melodies. This is an excellent overture and re-working of previous ideas on the album.

Finally, we bid a ghostly, ethereal farewell to the Snow Goose in the form of "The Great Marsh" -- before immediately starting it off again, pressing play on the CD player.

Reviewing this album impartially is difficult for me -- I am involved with it in many ways and have a fondness for it that is substantially, but not totally accounted for by what I deem to be brilliant composition and wonderful performances. There may be allegations of cheesiness whose veracity may have some basis in fact. My subjective view? See the grade below.

As if all this weren't enough, let me tell you this -- the studio version of The Snow Goose is brilliant, but it is not as good as that featured on the 1978 live release, A Live Record. Good luck finding that one.

Rating: A-

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