Well, I should start off by saying that I have never made any secret that I am a fan of everything this band has done. So, even this long-time fan and supporter of the band has to admit that the press release for "The Water Road" stating that it is by far their best work is in no way an exaggeration. It has been nearly 5 years since the release of the group's excellent third album "Shibboleth" and I can say without reservation that they had been hard at work on what can only be described as a progressive symphonic rock masterpiece! This is certainly the best Thieves' Kitchen album but my praise goes much further than that. It is the finest album made by any symphonic progressive band in the last 30 years! Period. Beautifully and majestically melodic. Powerfully Rhythmic. Masterful arrangements both instrumentally and vocally. Harmonically advanced and conceptually cohesive. The core of the band remains Phil Mercy (guitars,vocals), Andy Bonham (fretted & fretless basses) and Mark Robotham (drums & cymbals). Returning from the last album is the wonderful singer Amy Darby whose voice sounds like the perfect marriage of Annie Haslam & Sonja Kristina - with a hint at Joni Mitchell! Original keyboardist Wolfgang Kindl has been replace by Thomas Johnson. Johnson's style is much more symphonic and classical - the closest reference being Renaissance's John Tout mixed with some of Tony Banks' harmonic sensibilities and some of the late Peter Bardens' raw talent. Where Wolfgang's playing was more about atmosphere & texture, Thomas has a wider ranging palate giving his arrangements the ability to go from delicate solo piano to multi-layered orchestrations and everywhere in between. The only other symphonic prog band of recent years to reach this level was Sweden's Anglagard. Interestingly Anglagard's Mattias Olsson and Anna Holmgren both appear as guests. While Mattias' musical contribution is limited to 'loops' on the song "Chameleon" (and to help with the engineering), Anna plays the beautiful flute parts on nearly every track! And the recording itself is breathtaking - with a depth and dynamic texture usually found only in recordings from the 1970s made in big, famous studios. The two things that are notoriously difficult to record properly - vocals and drums - both sound crystal clear and natural. Mark Robotham has switched to an entirely acoustic kit making the recording even more dynamic! I could go on and on about how great Phil Mercy's guitar lines are, or about the depth and poetry of the lyrics, about the beautiful guest parts of Paul Beecham (oboe) or cellist Stina Petterson. Or about the gorgeous vocal overdubs by Amy Darby and how she has an incredible range from warm alto to crystalline mezzo-soprano. Or about Thomas Johnson's beautiful keyboard arrangements including the real mellotrons!
I could drop names like Genesis, Camel, Yes, King Crimson and Anglagard to give you some idea of the overall sound. But none of this - none of it - will really prepare you for how great this album is. It is one of a handful of symphonic rock albums of the last 30 years that no fan of that genre can do without. Period!