4 out of 5 Stars!
A few years ago, just after I joined Facebook on a quest to unearth obscure Progressive Rock bands, both old and new, I stumbled upon information regarding The Emerald Dawn, a band originally out of Scotland. After reading up on the group and hearing several sound samples, I eventually snatched up the band’s debut album entitled Searching for the Lost Key—how appropriate a name, considering my own personal “quest for obscure bands.”
Anyway, after several hearings, I felt the debut album quite promising. To me, the quartet had an intriguing style, its music heavily symphonic and often graceful and dreamy, seeming almost a cross between bands such as Pink Floyd, Eloy, Millenium, Abel Ganz, The Moody Blues, and Airbag, with almost a laid-back and experimental ’70s Krautrock ambience. Not only that, but the occasional flute and sax insertions added a touch of Jazz, and the mixture of both male and female vocals set the band even further apart from the majority of its contemporaries. Therefore, I decided I had better keep an eye on The Emerald Dawn, and shortly afterward, I chanced upon and befriended Ally Carter, the band’s guitarist and sax player and keyboardist and vocalist (and he’s probably its kitchen-sink specialist as well), whom I reasoned would post regular updates as to the group’s future plans.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for news to arrive regarding the band’s latest endeavor, a second album christened Visions. And to my pleasure, I was offered an opportunity to review the album for my blog, and, in turn, my Facebook page. (Thanks to Ally for that.)
So what has this assemblage of multi-instrumentalists created this second time around? Well, like its predecessor, Visions also contains four lengthy tracks of lush Symphonic Prog with arrangements that feature both airy and bombastic keyboards, hypnotic rhythms and soundscapes, and emotive guitar solos, along with touches of sax, flute, and violin added to the mix for diversity. Also like the debut album, the performances seem somehow free-floating in respect to dynamics, as if the songs were recorded live in the studio, with the musicians jamming around a central theme and eagerly feeding off each other’s energy and vibe, going with the constant ebb and flow of a less-structured environment, adding no massive overdubs to the bare-bones basics, which contributes to that more experimental Krautrock ambience I mentioned earlier.
And of even greater importance (at least to me), it’s also abundantly clear when hearing both albums back to back, with Visions sounding like a direct sequel to Searching for the Lost Key, that the band has indeed fashioned its own distinctive style. Certainly, the Prog-Rock acts I named above (or certainly others) may have been potentially influential in The Emerald Dawn’s base sound/style, yet if so, then the group managed to extract only the best elements of those aforementioned acts without relying on any lingering mimicry. Along with Ally Carter, keyboardist, flutist, and vocalist Tree Stewart, bassist and violinist/cellist Jayjay Quick, and percussionist Tom Jackson have amassed their individual skills to construct a sound for themselves with an instantly identifiable stamp, not an easy accomplishment in this over-saturated musical marketplace.
Therefore, for fans of Prog-Rock who are seeking music of a tender elegance yet also of an overall less-challenging nature (material with no jarring leaps from one unrelated musical passage to the next, no unnerving chord patterns, no stampeding rhythms to rattle the nerves, no key-shifting flip-flops, and no overly twiddly solos that never stop twiddling before they’ve explored every imaginable octave), then Visions (as well as the band’s debut album) could be the perfect addition to your own musical collection. Indeed, as I once again hear the gentle, spacey middle section of “Stranger in a Strange Land,” knowing an absorbing and melodic guitar showcase is about to commence in the best tradition of, for instance, the solo work by Steve Hackett or Steve Rothery, I allow my mind to simply float on the mellow sonic environment of keyboard washes beneath jazzy flute improvisations while my residual stress from the outside world washes away…sigh…