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Gentle Giant – Gentle Giant (Reissue) Award winner

Gentle Giant
Gentle Giant (Reissue)
by Mike McMahan at 21 April 2020, 6:11 PM

GENTLE GIANT was part of the seventies era Progressive Rock movement that included such iconic bands as GENESIS, YES, KING CRIMSON, and EMERSON, LAKE AND PALMER. They released ten studio albums, plus one live recording, between 1970 and 1980; disbanding after some members of the group wanted to gain more popular success in other musical situations. The first four of these studio albums have recently been re-released, and they serve to honor a group of musicians following their dreams at all cost.

Their music is very complex, even by the standards of their peers. They blend elements of folk, jazz, soul, and classical into a rock format. Furthermore, they took that classical influence to levels others had not by incorporating Medieval and Baroque elements, as well as the Romantic already being utilized by the likes of YES, amongst others. The original band lineup worked together through the first two releases, the eponymous first release of 1970 and “Acquiring the Taste” in ’71.

Opening “Gentle Giant” is the aptly titled “Giant, with its sweeping Hammond Organ and Minimoog blended intro. Derek Shulman’s lead vocal on this track is not unlike David Clayton-Thomas of BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS in its delivery. This soulful approach lends itself very well to the proceedings. The complexity of the music is apparent from the opening note until the end of the six plus minute opus.

“Alucard, the third song on this record, also begins with a keyboard driven intro, but fleshes out nicely with some sweet guitar work from Gary Green; very linear and, at times, very reminiscent of Steve Howe. The vocal is shared on this track by Derek, his brother Phil Shulman, and the versatile Kerry Minnear, whose keyboard work throughout the album is stellar. The song, also running just a touch over six minutes, never bores; with the musicianship involved keeping things fresh and interesting. There are areas of the first release that do tend to feel a bit stale. The song “Isn’t it Quiet and Cold?”, for example, has a chamber music feel over Phil Shulman’s vocal that left me a bit quiet and cold.

The centerpiece of this record for me is the beautiful, nine minute “Nothing at All, featuring fantastic harmony vocals, great acoustic piano, and some of the finest guitar work I have heard from the genre. This song has an epic feel to it, working on multiple levels, and for several different reasons. A few minutes in, we are treated to an almost straight-forward heavy rock interlude into more of Derek Shulman’s soulful vocal work. Around the mid-section of this song, there is a sense of musical chaos that takes over and owes as much to Miles Davis and his classic fusion masterpiece “Bitches Brew” (released only two years prior) as it does to any classical or popular rock music.

Gentle Giant is a great starting point for anyone unfamiliar with the band. The musicianship alone is worth the price of admission, and as a stand-alone effort, should be considered essential listening for any fan of the Progressive genre.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 9
Production: 9

4 Star Rating

1. Giant
2. Funny Ways
3. Alucard
4. Isn’t It Quiet and Cold?
5. Nothing At All
6. Why Not?
7. The Queen
Gary Green – Guitars
Kerry Minnear – Hammond organ, Minimoog, Mellotron, Piano, Tympani, Xylophone, Vibraphone, Cellos, Bass, Backing and Lead Vocals
Derek Shulman – Lead and Backing Vocals, Bass
Phil Shulman – Trumpet, Alto and Tenor Saxophones, Treble and Tenor Recorder, Backing and Lead Vocals
Ray Shulman – Bass, Electric and Acoustic Guitars, Violins, Triangle, Backing Vocals
Martin Smith – Drums, Percussion

Additional Musicians:
Paul Cosh – Tenor Horn
Claire Deniz – Cello
Record Label: Alucard Music


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Edited 22 March 2023

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