Space Toucan’s Technicolor Prog Rock Flight | by Len Butters
There is something to be said for a prog rock album that takes the listener on an unforgettable musical journey. Some classic examples include 2112 by Rush, Tales of Topographic Oceans by Yes, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis, Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd, Thick as a Brick by Jethro Tull. Add to this list Space Toucan (A Neotropical Dream) by David Cosgrove.
The near 60 minute extravaganza kicks off with the bright catchy anthem “Corridors” with triumphant Keith Emerson-esque keyboard work that quickly establishes Cosgrove as a master of his own domain. Augmenting the keys with beautiful melodious bass work is Chris Huit, who also sings lead vocals on the track. Huit’s singing brings to mind flavors of Gentle Giant and Level 42. Uncommon in today’s music (but definitely harking back to better times) is an instrumental solo section. There are two keyboard solos, the second with a Moog or ARP analog lead that brings one back to Rick Wakeman at the height of his powers.
Lyrically speaking, the haunting lines “Etched in time your expression altered the past/Leaving your thoughts behind” is a brain teaser to say the least. These are sung by Mitch Banks, whose bright and beautiful voice contrasts wonderfully with Huit’s darker delivery.
After “Corridors” we are treated to a one minute and nine second emotional microburst of keyboards and piano in “Bienvenue a Los Angeles,” with flowery piano leads reminiscent of romantic era composers. Again, Cosgrove showing off his more than ample compositional and technical chops.
The same lineup from the kickoff track stars in track 3 “No Options,” this time with Mitch Banks on lead vocals and Chris Huit on backup. The keyboard work on this song reminds me of Geddy Lee’s keyboard work on Grace Under Pressure. The bass playing is outstanding.
The fourth track brings us to our first crescendo point of Space Toucan, in the form of the title track. Like a good baseball coach, Cosgrove placed one of his best songs in clean up position. The hypnotic hook and majestic piano give us an absolutely fantastic bit of instrumental prog rock. Were this released in the 1970’s it would easily be standard radio fare today.
Our journey continues with a radical shift in mood and instrumentation. The 5th cut “Staggering Ted” tells the tale of a bum besotted by too much alcohol and spending his days with Jerry Springer while the listener is treated to acoustic guitar work that evokes flavors of Jethro Tull’s Aqualung. Humor never going out of style, the chorus rounds out with the line “hey you kids get off my lawn!” Hilarious lyrics and great singing by Mike Cohen.
Another radical shift brings the listener to tracks 6 and 7, “Metro Morning” and “Junglescape.” “Metro Morning” paints a glorious tone poem of a metropolitan morning, people racing about, buying their coffee and newspapers, riding the train and ultimately getting down to business. “Junglescape” gently returns us to our Neotropical setting, complete with cawing birds and a Latin jazz bass line straight out of Tito Puente’s playbook.
At the halfway point we are again treated to a vocal gem “I Kissed the Ground Today.”
A big part of why this album works so well is the constant change in atmosphere and instrumentation so the listener never gets bored. Track 8 is sung by yet another vocalist Mark Palazzo (he wrote the lyrics too), whose graceful and gentle touch augments the simple piano/guitar instrumentation. This song is another throwback, mixed with the guitars on the left channel and the piano on the right, with splashes of mandolin and synthesized strings rounding everything out.
Track 9 “Conozca a Los Leafjumpers” is an instrumental cinematic romp with gorgeous flute overtones that Ian Anderson would be proud of.
Track 10 “Burning Leaves” continues keeping things fresh and acts as another brief interlude with nice acoustic guitar and bongo work.
Track 11 “Reachback” is an almost 7 minute space-rock-techno escape where Space Toucan is floating in between galaxies. It is hypnotic and glorious with a nice touch of techno thrown in for flavor.
Track 12 “Eddie the Hat” seems to be the other bookend to “Burning Leaves;” just a tasty bit to keep your ears fresh and your mind focused.
Our Neotropical Dream continues to soar with “On the Big Island Part 1” with killer melodies and glorious synthesizer programming.
“Ego Boy” tells the tale of excess:
I am a scumbag
I’ll do anything
For the toys I need
Threnody is straight out of the Steve Hackett playbook, with a haunting medieval melody.
Completing our musical journey, Cosgrove ramps things back up again and hits a grand slam with “Soaring Part 2.” Symphonic piano and bass playing by Cosgrove with soaring melodies, “Soaring Part 2” sets Space Toucan free to roam the universe.
An instant classic, I give the album 5 out of 5 stars. My favorite release in 2012 by far.