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Starcastle: Starcastle (1976)

Starcastle is a band you’re either going to like, or you’re going to hate. Those who hate the band call them nothing more than Yes clones. Those who enjoy the band still call them Yes clones, but they’re flattered enough to still enjoy their music. This self-entitled album is the first of four albums this Champaign, Illinois band would release. The band was fronted by former REO Speedwagon vocalist Terry Luttrell who sounds just like Jon Anderson, and keyboardist Herb Schildt who obviously borrows from Rick Wakeman. Add that with drummer Stephen Tassler, two guitarists (Stephen Hagler, Matthew Stewart), and bassist Gary Strater and you got Starcastle.

This is their debut album and you can tell that this was a band trying to sound like Yes, but haven’t quite got it down (they’ll have it perfected on their next album, Fountains of Light). They recorded for Epic Records, which, as many of you know, is a very major label, but despite that, this is pretty much uncommercial symphonic prog rock. You can tell, from the opening cut, “Lady of the Lake”, that while the vocal harmonies are very Yes-like, there is something in the music you can tell isn’t quite Yes. Plus the song goes through a bunch of solos (mostly Herb Schildt’s Moog). This song seemed to be both a fan and a stage favorite.

The next song, “Elliptical Seasons” is perhaps one of my favorite, starts off acoustic (almost like “And You And I”) before the Moog kicks in, and the music starts. Great vocal harmonies, as usual. “Sunfield” sounds scarily like Yes’ 1978 album Tormato (usually not considered that band’s high point by most fans), even though this album came out two years before that album! It actually isn’t bad, and I can’t be helped be reminded of “Circus of Heaven” (which I thought was a crappy song, but at least “Sunfield” is much better).

“To the Fire Wind” is perhaps the best song on the second half on the album. What’s interesting is some of the vocals harmonies sounds more like Crosby, Stills & Nash than they do Yes (but then I’m sure Yes was influenced by CSN as far as vocal harmonies go).

There’s a couple other short pieces that were basically instrumental, experimental electronic fillers (which the band never repeated again on following albums). In short, if you like Yes and don’t mind clone bands, you’re sure to enjoy this album. If you don’t, of course, stay away.
– Terry Luttrell: vocals
– Gary Strater: bass
– Stephen Hagler: guitar
– Matthew Stewart: guitar
– Herb Schildt: organ, Mini Moog synthesizer, other keyboards
– Stephen Tassler: drums (Roto Toms), percussion

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