UK-based prog/rock band TOUCHSTONE recently won the Classic Rock Society's "Best New Band" award. I must say that I personally believe that honor was well deserved. I've been listening almost non-stop to this double live CD since I discovered it several weeks ago (at the time this is being written), and it's proven to be one of my favorite musical discoveries of recent years.
Touchstone is a five piece band made up of Kim Seviour (lead vocals), Rob Cottingham (lead vocals, keyboards), Adam Hodgson (guitar), Moo (bass, backing vocals) and Al Melville (drums). "Live in the USA" was recorded during two rare US gigs at the Rosfest and CalProg music festivals. The band's live energy comes across loud and clear on these 2 discs, and the sound quality is crisp and crystalline throughout.
Touchstone has the type of epic, extended song structures and well-honed musical chops that will please progressive-rock fans, but they also have enough catchy hooks & crunchy guitar that they could easily appeal to the average rock/AOR fan as well (they count both Yes and Van Halen as influences, after all!) To my ears they have a wonderfully distinctive vocal sound - featuring Seviour's sweet, high female voice paired with Cottingham's low, husky male voice. It makes for a very full, rich blend when the two sing together, and gives the band two distinctly different lead voices when we hear them individually. There's also tons of tasty keyboard sounds and fantastic LEAD synth playing (something that's virtually non-existent in mainstream rock these days) as well a guitarist who can switch effortlessly between heavy rock riffs, clear, jangly chords, and majestic, spine-tingling solos. As for the individual tracks, songs from both of the band's studio albums thus far ("Discordant Dreams" & "Wintercoast") are included, along with material from their debut EP and one cover version. To me, all of the material is very strong, but if I was hard-pressed to pick favorites I would go with "Wintercoast" (a dynamic blend of epic prog and hard-rock that nicely sums up what this band is all about), "Line in the Sand" (featuring a memorable chorus, a beautiful, mournful melody, and a sensitive lead vocal from Kim Seviour), "Voices" (a perfect blending of the band's prog chops and tuneful AOR sensibilities) and "Solace" (a mellower, atmospheric piece made-up mainly of gorgeous orchestral keyboards and Seviour's lone, emotional voice delivering some haunting lyrics). Upon first listen the track that impressed me the least was the sole cover tune, Tears For Fears "Mad World" (featuring a guest solo by Arena guitarist John Mitchell) After further listening, though, I must say that Touchstone's version has definitely grown on me and makes for an energetic set-closer.
All in all, "Live In the USA" makes for a great introduction to one of the most promising new bands on British neo-prog & rock scene. If you haven't sampled their music yet, this double disc offers a great overview of their work thus far...And I, for one, am definitely looking forward to hearing where Touchstone's music goes from here. (Note: Since this recording was made drummer Al Melville has been replaced by Henry Rogers, who will already be known to many prog fans as the current drummer of Final Conflict)
Reviewed by Jeff Matheus on April 26th, 2011