Crippled Black Phoenix – (Mankind) The Crafty Ape (2012)

Magnificent.

That’s the word that keeps coming back to me as I think about (Mankind) The Crafty Ape, the fifth album by prog-rock / post-rock collective Crippled Black Phoenix.

It’s a huge album; a bloody great big concept album in three parts.  I couldn’t tell you what the concept is, though, because I’m too busy listening to the superb music that sprawls over its nearly ninety minute running time.

And, if you’re going to make a prog album, you may as well go the whole hog.  The first forty-five minutes is awash with songs that could’ve been lifted from 1970s albums from the likes of Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Led Zeppelin.  The second track, ‘The Heart of Every Country‘ is led by a huge clean lead guitar and a husky male voice, and feels like it could be one of Dave Gilmour’s songs from a mid-period Floyd album. It makes a clear opening statement of where this album is coming from.  But not necessarily about where it is going to.

From there things get blusier, the guitars a bit dirtier, and a good layer of organ and classic synths come in, while the rhythm section holds things tight.  Jethro Tull would’ve loved to sound as groovy as Crippled Black Phoenix do on ‘Get Down And Live With It,’ while ‘A Letter Concerning Dogheads’ unleashes a huge slab of stoned rock, an organ running counterpoint to the dirty guitars and languid vocals.

The vocals, in particular, are a delight.  Joe Volk, on his last album with the collective, sings in a drawling baritone, a profoundly un-operatic voice, not at all what one may expect of an album so drenched in 70s rock.  And often a husky and fey female voice joins in, Miriam Wolf’s also adding a higher but no-less-grounded tone, wrapping her vocal lines around Volk’s for something at times beguiling, at times frightening.

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