Geoff Downes and Chris Braide’s rock credentials speak for themselves. Although, in case you are unfamiliar with their impressive CVs…a summary: Geoff Downes was a keystone with Asia, Yes and also co-founded The Buggles. Chris Braide was a member of The Producers and has written hits for the likes of Sia (me neither), Lana Del Ray, Marc Almond and Britney Spears.
Now onto their fifth collaboration as Downes Braide Association, they have released Halcyon Hymns which, according to their summary, “reflects a bucolic halcyon summer.” Lovely words which I translate as observing the pleasant aspects of the countryside and country life during a calm, peaceful and golden summer….more longwinded perhaps, but ‘bucolic’ always sounds like a stomach upset rather than something romantic! (Incidentally, Halcyon is also the Greek name for a species of kingfisher, hence that bird being featured in Roger’s artwork.)
This is not the first time Bluesdoodles have reviewed Downes Braides Association (DBA back in 2015 – the 2nd album – Suburban Ghost came to our attention)
Once again they’ve teamed up with artist extraordinaire, Roger Dean, for the artwork and it is as striking as usual. As a bonus, disc two, contains a video of him creating the artwork and this gives a fascinating insight into his surreal, relatable world…there are also a couple of lyric videos on the second disc. There are also guest appearances from Marc Almond and David Longdon of Big Big Train fame.
The music is the most important, so let’s set off on a proggy journey through a summer of varied emotions and landscapes. Starting with Love Among The Ruins, the complexity is mind-blowing: Spoken narration (that occurs throughout and, happily, makes up words as I do…”chirpathon” is just great), soaring vocals and some stunning guitar work make up this progtastic love song.
King Of The Sunset has fascinating chord work, sterling vocals from Chris backed by David Longdon and, my favourite part, the combination of mandolin and guitar as the song concludes is lovely. Next, we enter a world of the multi-layered Your Heart Will Find The Way. The bass is the star for me here although, after the pain led bridge, there is a measured and clever guitar solo that ends before it has truly begun…ah well!
Nigh on eight minutes of Holding The Heavens opens with Genesis threads in the acoustic structures and moves into a true, widespread prog epic that ends with more narration…” once the waiting room of youth had been shuttered”. Beachcombers are narrated too…”shrapneled hearts bristle” and has a Peter Gabriel ‘nicety’ to it and there is an echo Genesis before he left and some great instrumentation throughout as the backing vocals bring a bit of Yes to the table…it does work though.
Warm Summer Sun has Marc Almond joining with Chris on the vocals; don’t carry any Soft Cell preconceptions…he can sing! The music is very orchestral keys led and lacks (IMHO) a solo. Today, however, has another brilliant solo from Dave Bainbridge toward the end (after some more great narration with phrases like “tyranny of the clock” evoking all sorts of thoughts) in a song that resonates with a certain Van Morrison song.
Hymn To Darkness is vocals, mandolin, piano for much of the track as this is a great vehicle showcasing Chris’ tremendous vocal range and depth. She’ll Be Riding Horses is almost poppy in construction and as catchy as prog will ever be.
Late Summer is, like the real thing, all too brief…less than two and a half minutes of vocal, keys, fretless bass and an aching heart. Running time is made up by the eleven-minute epic of Remembrance: more meaningful narration…” in more censorious summer…we looked for magic mushrooms” and best of all, “strawberry mivi, orange maid…the swimsuit fitties, turning on their wobbly chaise longue”. OK, no major solos but those of us of a certain age will revel in sharing some fabulous memories as this sounds like many a family holiday in Scarbrough for me. A vocal exercise of half a minute wraps it up on Epilogue.
Inevitably there will be Yes and Asia comparisons…some are justified, but this is still a DBA production of thought, quality and excellent musicianship.
Bluesdoodle rating: 4 Doodle Paws – if you like your prog and you like it many-layered, professional and involved, then you will love this.
1. Love Among The Ruins
2. King Of The Sunset
3. Your Heart Will Find The Way
4. Holding The Heavens
6. Warm Summer Sun
8. Hymn To Darkness
9. She’ll Be Riding Horses
10. Late Summer
Geoff Downes – Keyboards
Chris Braide – Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Ash Soen – Drums
Andy Hodge – Bass
Dave Bainbridge – Guitars
David Longdon – Vocals
Marc Almond – Vocals
Barney Ashton Bullock – Narration
(iTunes ran on to one of the best modern blues tunes of the 2000s…yes, seriously. Dr Ika’s Go My Train Go begins with some great acoustic slide work before bursting out into electric wizardry…genius.)