Writer, reviewer and music enthusiast Kev Rowland is a familiar name for many people interested in music in general and perhaps progressive rock in particular. From 1990 and onward he has written an astounding amount of reviews covering multiple genres, but where he made most impact was in progressive rock circles, as one of few voices with a passion for a type of music believed by the masses to be just about as relevant as the dodo when he started out. He became quite the respected voice as the man behind UK fanzine Feedback Fanzine, until he decided to leave the fanzine and the UK behind to relocate to New Zealand back in 2006. “The Progressive Underground Vol. I” is the first of three books where he compiles the progressive rock reviews he wrote for Feedback Fanzine between 1990 and 2006.
While the title of the book indicates that this is a production filled up with writings about obscure music solely, that isn’t quite the point. Many of the artists are obscure of course, but also household names in music have their place in this book. The title of the book is, at least for me, more an indication of the stature of progressive rock at the time these reviews were written rather than a general description of all the artists covered.
As far as the content is concerned, a few essays from the author and musician friends aside, this is all about reviews of course. This book features artists with names in the A to H range in the alphabet, all covered and reviewed in Kev Rowland’s particular reviewing style: Easygoing, personal and openly subjective. Sometimes, especially on albums he is really passionate about, going into great detail. At other times short, concise and to the point.
The greater majority of potential readers will be largely unaware of 90% or thereabouts of the albums covered in this book, and as such this is a publication that can be used as a resource document covering artists a passionate fan might want to track down. While many of the albums reviewed are on the obscure side, an increasing amount of them can be found on Spotify, Youtube or Bandcamp these days, which makes the hunt for potential listening pleasure easy and cost effective for the presumed fans that purchase this book. I suspect quite a few musicians will want to acquire this book as well, especially those covered of course, for more or less obvious reasons.
For the hardcore fan with more of a nerd-oriented perspective, as well as the collectors out there, what this book doesn’t provide are track listings, detailed label information and complete line-ups. Nor are complete discographies by bands covered by default, although some some such cases can be found – presumably by chance. One needs to understand that this is a book about the music, and not all the details surrounding it, and limited to what was submitted to the author by artists and labels at that.
“The Progressive Underground Vol. I” is a solid tome covering artists A to H that released progressive rock in all it’s incarnations in the time period 1990 to 2006. Not all such releases released in the time period by far, but those sent to the writer for review by artists and labels. Some are fairly well known, many are obscure, while some are unknown to most but a very select few. All albums are covered with a passionate interest by a knowledgeable writer. It is something of a niche production of course, but for those who are in that niche this is a book that will give them a lot of pleasure and inform them about a copious amount of music that might warrant a check at some point.
That being said, in the name of transparency it needs to be said that author Kev Rowland is one of my friends – in a modern and digital understanding of the word. And while this doesn’t influence my stance as a long time reviewer myself, that is a fact that needs to be stated so that the reader doesn’t regard my words about his words with outright suspicion.
My rating: 80/100