It is strange to be reviewing UPF and Unitopia one after the other as they are very much related, not only musically but also in personnel, except this time around it is a band as opposed to a 40+ musicians. This band has always been the brainchild of Mark Trueack (vocals) and Sean Timms (keyboards, backing vocals, various stringed instruments), but they have brought in new members including Mark’s UPF songwriting buddy Steve Unruh (backing vocals, violin, flute, rhythm guitars, mandolin) along with John Greenwood (backing vocals, lead electric guitar, nylon-strung guitar, 6 and 12-string acoustic guitars, mandolin, programmed orchestration). If that were not enough, we also have a massively impressive rhythm section in drummer Chester Thompson (ex-Genesis, Frank Zappa, Weather Report) and bassist Alphonso Johnson (Santana, David Gilmour, Weather Report). Even before putting it on the player one knows this is going to be something impressive, and it is.
Musically it is closely related to UPF, not only through having the same singer but also a very similar approach, but here it is less layered (although there is still plenty of complexity) which allows for more space and for the music to breathe more easily as it is not being constrained by so many threads. However, although there are far less musicians, the main players are multi-instrumentalists which means they can bring in multiple sounds so we can go from acoustic guitar to piano, violin, or something much heavier. The idea of bringing in a ready formed experienced rhythm section was inspired, given these guys have been at the top of their game since the Seventies. Johnson’s touch on different basses is wonderful, his fretless slides often combining with Trueack’s vocals, while Thompson allows himself to sit back at times and blast through at others.
Due to when these albums were released, and their place in the alphabet, I have been listening to Unitopia straight after United Progressive Fraternity and consequently have been comparing them to each other. While there is more depth within the latter, it is the former I have enjoyed most as this is a release which hist all the high notes and the more it is played the more there is to be discovered and enjoyed.