The history of Salem Hill dates back to 1991 when singer/songwriter/guitarist Carl Groves, bassist Pat Henry and drummer Kevin Thomas began assembling the material for their self-titled debut album released in 1992. The band soon added additional guitarist/vocalist Michael Dearing and followed-up their debut with "Different World" (1992) before going on an extended four year hiatus.
After a shift in personnel and another series of stops and starts the band eventually expanded upon their impressive discography with the albums "Catatonia" (1997), "The Robbery Of Murder" (1998), "Not Everybody's Gold" (2000), "Be" (2003), "Mimi's Magic Moment" (2005), "Pennies In The Karma Jar" (2010), "Puppet Show" a live album (2003), and "Mystery Loves Company" a live concert DVD.
The 2014 release marks the band's triumphant return with the strangely titled new studio album "The Unseen Cord/Thicker Than Water".
Not quite sure what to make of the confusing title. The front cover reads "The Unseen Cord", yet the spine of the CD reads "Thicker Than Water". The enclosed booklet in the jewel case appears to contain an alternative front cover with the title "Thicker Than Water" and artwork matching the back of the CD. So I guess it's up to you what you want to call it. Regardless of the confusing title - the music on the disc is positively outstanding.
The members remain unchanged since the last four studio albums: Michael Dearing (electric guitars, bass, fretless bass, keyboards, vocals), Carl Groves (electric and acoustic guitars, piano, keyboards, mandolin, vocals), Patrick Henry (bass), Kevin Thomas (drums, vibraphone, mallets, wave drum, backing vocals).
Salem Hill is an outstanding and unheralded American progressive rock band in the vein of Spock's Beard, Echolyn, Discipline, and Glass Hammer, as well as a handful of early US progressive rock bands like Ethos, Starcastle, Ancient Vision, Ambrosia, Fireballet, and Kansas.
The opening track "Float", has a distinct Supertramp and Queen (especially the vocals) influence that gives the band a slick 70s' progressive pop feel. The song is longish, yet easily something that would have graced the FM airwaves during that era.
Continuing along that line of 70s' cross-over progressive pop, the track "Hurt" has an upbeat Kevin Cronin/R.E.O. Speedwagon vibe running through it, with a melody that stays with you long after the track has ended.
And the delightful tune "Sing On" gives us a bit of America and Crosby Stills & Nash style vocals as well as infusing the contrasting harmonies and dissonance of Gentle Giant.
Then there are powerful anthems and haunting ballads like "Butterfly" and "So Much More" once again bringing to mind Freddy Mercury and Queen, as well as elements of Alan Parsons Project and Godley & Creme's 10CC.
The album closes with "Noon", a tour de force poetic prog/rock epic infused with ethereal power and passion, incorporating virtuoso echoes of fretboard and keyboard gymnastics from bands like Supertramp, Glass Hammer, Genesis, UK, Kansas, Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd, Happy The Man, and Yezda Urfa with the outstanding vocal styling that separates Salem Hill from a majority of aspiring progressive rock groups. Salem Hill is the complete package.
As songwriters Salem Hill check all the right boxes with superlative compositional skills and catchy hook laden melodies; enhanced with beautiful instrumental arrangements, thought-provoking lyrics, and ear pleasing audiophile production value that delivers the warmth of an analog recording.
I can't stress enough the outstanding lead and backing vocals from Groves, Dearing, and Thomas - a genuine delight to these tired old 'reviewers' ears which have been battered into submission over the years by lackluster vocals, sabotaging otherwise excellent albums.
This is a truly great album - and "The Unseen Cord/Thicker Than Water" makes my list as one of the Best Albums of 2014. There is not a weak moment on the album. Highly Recommended.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on March 15th, 2014