"Jessica" is a self-financed, self-released progressive rock project which began as a catharsis of sorts for it's composer, Jeff Green.
In 1996, Green & his family suffered a deep personal tragedy when his daughter, Jessica, was stillborn in a hospital maternity ward. Over the next 11 years Green crafted a cycle of songs dedicated to his daughter's memory, expressing the rollercoaster of emotions that he experienced before, during and after the tragedy. With a little help from his friends; namely keyboardist Mike Stobbie (ex-Pallas), drummer Pete Rielly (Keith Emerson Band) and guitarist Phil Hilborne, Green's labor of love has now been completed.
First impressions are always important, and what grabbed me immediately when listening to this CD for the first time is how incredibly impressive the guitar work is - and it only became more impressive with subsequent listens. Since Green and Hilborne both contributed guitar it's not clear exactly who played what, but throughout the CD there are many beautiful melodies, colorful textures and gut-wrenching solos being squeezed from one pair of hands or the other.
The majority of music on the CD is instrumental, and much of it has a lush, rich feel that would fall most comfortably into the category of Symphonic prog-rock, but with a nod or two in the directions of jazz fusion and mainstream rock. Among the instrumentals some of the highlights for me were "For the Future", "Vision", "Woman With Child" and, in particular, "Willing the Clouds Away". Each of these pieces is melodic, well-crafted, and benefits greatly from some inspired guitar and keyboard work.
A few other notable tracks help to add some variety to the album, which is always important in my book. "Pride" is a folky, acoustic piece with pleasant vocals. Essence" is a pretty keyboard-based piece which wouldn't sound too out of place on a Windham Hill new age album...But on the rockier side, the vocal pieces "Tomorrow Never Came" & "On This Night" rate as the album's heaviest tracks, both built around muscular riffs and lyrics that tell Green's story in a very direct, unflinching way. I always have to laugh when people who don't know or understand progressive rock caricature the genre by saying that all the lyrics are based around sci-fi books and "Dungeons & Dragons". This CD is a good example of down-to-earth prog which expresses some very raw, human emotions - and, for me, music like this expresses such emotions with far more power than a 3 minute pop single ever could.
And by the way- don't be put off the "self-released" aspect. I suppose all music fans have run into some amateur-sounding "basement recordings" by now, but thankfully the production and sound quality here are of a very professional level.
Because of the special nature of the "Jessica" project, all profits from CD sales and digital downloads are being donated to the Southend Maternity Hospital to help maintain their Bereavement Room. So, by purchasing a copy you can support not only some quality progressive music, but a good cause as well. The album is available directly from Green's official website.
All in all, "Jessica" is an impressive, heartfelt work which should have special appeal to fans of melodic prog guitar, and can perhaps offer some musical comfort for those who have suffered from similar tragedies. The liner notes mention that Green has a new CD ("Elder Creek") coming in 2011 - so I don't think we've heard the last of those beautiful guitars...
Reviewed by Jeff Matheus on April 30th, 2011