Spock's Beard -- _Kindness Of Strangers_ (Radiant, 1998)

The knock aginst progressive rock and its purveyors (such as Yes and ELP) has always been the willingness to sacrifice tuneful structure for artsy intricacy. What good are great musicians if they're not playing great songs?

Spock's Beard is being touted as the future of progrssive rock in part due to their ability to triumph over this trend. They are clearly excellent musicians, but the reasons to listen to SB are in the compositions even more than the (often dazzling) performances. "Cakewalk On Easy Street" is a tasty combination, a heavy rock guitar base with a Yes-like middle section and a Genesis-like closing. Opening track "The Good Don't Last" is strong and accessible, but also diverse and multi-faceted; its shifting textures are complementary movements in the service of the song, not the sort of gratuitous intricacy that sinks so many Prog bands. Most impressive of all is the winning, radio-ready single "June," with its folky atmosphere. You can almost feel the crowd swaying gently with you as the band's hooky vocal harmonies float by.

This basis in catchy classic rock gives Spock's Beard a broad appeal, perhaps unsurpassed by any current progressive rock group. They are a tremendous band, and progressive rock and classic rock fans looking for strong tunes supporting strong performances certainly deserve this "Kindness Of Strangers."

(For more information, or to learn about their even more accessible, even stronger previous album, "Beware Of Darkness," visit the Spock's Beard website at (http://www.altura.com/jordanz/spocks_beard) or email the band at (spoksbrd@aol.com).)

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