Review – Ciccada – Harvest – by John Wenlock-Smith

Greece is not massively known for its contribution to the world of progressive music. Apart from Vangelis, Aphrodite’s Child and, more recently, Verbal Delirium, most people think of either Zorba the Greek, bouzouki music, Demis Roussos or Nana Mouskouri as Greece’s contribution to modern music. Well, be that is it may, this group are from Greece and this, their third album, has been picked up for distribution with Bad Elephant Music here in the UK and I have to say, I think that BEM have picked a winner here as this is a fabulous album. If one can imagine a cross between Gryphon and Gentle Giant, all with a touch of Fairport Convention or Steeleye Span style folk thrown in, you would not be far off the mark.

This is an album steeped in the Folk tradition but one that also embraces electric instrumentation and progressive flourishes in order to create something that is different and new. All the better it is for those decisions too, the album begins with a very folky song entitled Eniania (which is predominantly used as a girl’s name in Albania) opening with a delicate acoustic guitar motif and some haunting flute flourishes that lead us gently into the vocals that repeat “Eniania” before the rest of the band join in all with a fluid saxophone line being played. This is all exceedingly pleasant and effective, certainly the use of unorthodox instruments makes for a distinctive and impressive sound to the music. This is a lovely song which picks up it’s pace at the 3:20 mark with a more urgent and more muscular pace to the proceedings. The interplay between the sax and the other instruments, including the flute, is very impressive and the guitar plays some wonderful lines in accompaniment. The track then returns to the original melody that opened the song for its closing section, the flute taking up the melody used for the vocals to bring the piece to a climax. This may be gentle, but it is certainly highly effective.

Next is Open Wings which is another gentle, guitar led, piece with more, bass and drums along with excellent folky vocals that sound fabulous, all very breathy but when combined with the guitar and keyboards, they sound most agreeable indeed. The third, and longer track, is The Old Man And The Butterfly, which is another jaunty excursion for this group. The piece opens with acoustic guitar, flute, keyboards and bass before an electric guitar line is introduced which builds in momentum and energy, coming to a peak before returning to more of the mellifluous flute and keyboard. There is a lot happening within this track, a very Pink Floyd type guitar and some excellent musical counterpoints between keyboards guitar that are spectacular sounding. I especially like how the song switches between softer and harder passages and how the guitar player uses different tones in his playing to excellent effect.

No Man’s Land opens strongly with Hammond Organ with a solo guitar line floated over it, all very Floydian sounding indeed. There follows a ‘marching beat’ type sound over which flutes are overlaid with more great bass underpinning the whole sound. The song then steps back to a softer passage with vocals and woodwind, the interaction between the voices is mesmerising and sounds great, as does the guitar that underpins proceedings so fluidly.

The shorter Who’s To Decide opens with a properly funky bass line with flutes playing over the top along with a funky wah-wah guitar part. Along with the breathy, impish vocals, this takes the song far beyond folk and into a far more progressive sound. It’s great to hear the sax and flutes playing away happily whilst the keyboards and synths add their own unique textures. The final section of this piece is brisk and captivating enough for you to realise that this group can all surely play very well and that their compositions are strong and musically interesting. There is much that will appeal to progressive rock fans here and it marks this group as one to watch out for in the coming years. I think this is a fabulous track that really shows the essence of the band off to great effect.

This leads us to the last song on the album, Queen of Wishes, which is also the longest track on the album, coming in at over twelve minutes. This gives the track room to stretch out a little and it is all the better for it too. Proceedings open with oboes and sax to create a very woody sound passage before acoustic guitar and vocals join in. This all sounds very ethereal and spacious in sound, added to by superb keyboards, before some crunchy guitar chords are played over the rest of the music. It is all very atmospheric and appealing with synths and chunky guitar being added whilst an organ plays underneath it all. Once again I have not got a clue what the song is about but it is one to enjoy the sound of and to admire the interplay that is within its structures, really capturing the listeners attention throughout. Its softer and heavier parts are well balanced and realised, there is a lot going on here and it all sounds effective and interesting. We return to the woodwind elements before some more rocky guitar parts and some quick-fire drumming briefly take centre stage. Then a somewhat manic organ solo is played and that fabulous woodwind riff is repeated, a riff that, if I am honest is very appealing indeed. This leads to the final moments of the song where ensemble voices sing beautifully and effectively.

This closes the album is exceptionally fine style and you are left with thinking what the hell have I just listened to? One is left with a sense of satisfaction that a group you have never heard of have made such a remarkable, intriguing album and one that you know you will want to listen to again and again. This album is spectacular and will really grow on you if you make the space for its fabulous songs.

Released 23rd April, 2021

Order from Bad Elephant Music here:

Harvest | Ciccada (bandcamp.com)

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