Starcastle is one of those bands I had no idea existed during the 1970s but discovered their music later in life. In the mid 90s, I read about their style being similar to progressive rock giants Yes, a band that I’ve loved for a very long time and decided to buy their self-titled debut album, which had just recently been released on CD for the first time.
The moment the keyboard intro to track one, Lady of the Lake, began, I knew I’d discovered a keeper. The similarities to Yes are immediately obvious: Herb Schlitt’s keyboard stylings are heavily influenced by Rick Wakeman, Gary Strater’s bass playing is clearly from the school of Chris Squire, and Terry Luttrell sings more like Jon Anderson than any of Anderson’s replacements in Yes.
The band featured two guitarists instead of one, but by the time I’d finished the seven-track album, I felt like I’d discovered a lost Yes album. That, however, is not a complaint, but an acknowledgment of what Starcastle had achieved: an American progressive rock album equal to anything that Kansas had created, and an album that could hold its own with the epics produced by the European giants.
Many critics of Starcastle rightfully point to how similar the album is to a Yes album, but they fail to mention how good the songwriting is. Lady of the Lake can hold its own with almost anything Yes or Genesis has ever produced. The vocal harmonies throughout are superb and better than most progressive rock bands. The musicianship is top notch. The song arrangements are varied but effortless with layers of texture that allow multiple listens to catch all of what is happening.
I think my favorite part of this album is the sensation of light that it creates. Not light in terms of the heaviness of the music or arrangements, but literally feeling at times like I’m listening to light. It’s a quality that Jon Anderson has often tried to create with his solo albums, yet never as successfully as Starcastle does on their debut album.
The band released three more albums before falling apart. Fountains of Light is more original and I recommend that as a starting point for hard-core prog fans. Citadel is also good, but doesn’t match the first two. Around 2000, Chronos I was released, which was an archive album of demos that predate the debut and is easily as good as Citadel. Several members reunited to released Song of Times in 2007, which provides a nice bookend to the band’s career.