Music has an uncanny ability to change your perception, let me explain what I mean by that. It’s a well known fact that I struggle with VDGG frontman Peter Hammill’s vocals, his voice has always seemed to grate on me, whether with the venerable progressive rock legends or singing with Isulders Bane, etc. I just haven’t been able to appreciate a voice that is, to some, one of the best out there. So, when I got sent a promo for the long awaited third solo album from Italian composer and producer Saro Cosentino, ‘The Road To Now’, with a tag line that said, “Featuring Peter Hammill.”, It didn’t immediately draw me in.
I will, however, always listen to any new music that is sent to me as how can you judge anything if you have not experienced it? To my surprise, I was completely seduced by the album and Peter Hammill’s contributions so let me tell you more about the album and why I found it to be one of the surprises of this musical year.
First, some background…
The third solo album by Italian composer and producer Saro Cosentino, ‘The Road To Now’ features singers Peter Hammill (on four songs), Tim Bowness (of No-Man) and Karen Eden, plus instrumental contributions from the likes of Gavin Harrison, David Rhodes, John Giblin and Trey Gunn. Available on heavyweight colour vinyl, CD and digital formats, it is the long-awaited follow-up to 1997’s acclaimed ‘Ones And Zeros’.
‘The Road To Now’ was recorded in the UK and US as well as at Cosentino’s own studio in Prague, with final mixing taking place at Real World in Bath. The opening ‘You’re The Story’ is followed by ‘The Joke’, the first of four songs featuring the unmistakable tones of legendary prog singer Peter Hammill. ‘November’ (on which Bowness provides a backing vocal) is a tale of long lost love, the outstanding ‘Time To Go’ contemplates the very end of the road (hopefully a long time from now), while the closing ‘When Your Parents Danced’ considers the first central figures in one’s life in their younger days, ‘before life’s stories made them what they’ve become’.
Having contributed to ‘Ones and Zeros’, as well as records by the likes of William Orbit and Chris Rea, the versatile Australian singer Karen Eden returns to perform on two contrasting tracks; the portentous sounding ‘Pray’ and (by way of contrast to everything else on the record), the pop song ‘Us (Scars on Skin)’. The album also contains the instrumental ‘Howl’, which switches from strident to atmospheric midway through and showcases the skills of the musicians involved.
Saro Cosentino creates music imbued with a timeless grace and elegance, whether it’s jazz infused progressive rock, mature, well crafted pop/rock or elegantly constructed instrumentals. You can tell from the way the music opens out in front of you that it is not just ‘written’ but also ‘composed’, like a soundtrack for an arty, perceptive film. There’s a precise nature to the composition of the tracks where every note and every word is placed carefully to create an attractive and creative whole.
Wistful, dreamy opener You’re The Story has a wonderfully nostalgic feel to it, given a contemplative purity by Tim Bowness’ restrained and sophisticated vocals. It’s a stunning, if low key, opening to the album but I’ve long been a fan of Tim’s voice anyway. The big surprise is the dark magnificence of The Joke where Peter Hammill’s voice is the main component of the track and is what makes it stand out so much. This is a moody, malevolent song and a thing of sombre magnificence, consider me hooked. This album also marks the first time I have ever heard Karen Eden’s voice and, on Pray, it has a theatrical drama and dynamism that bleeds through into the whole track. The coruscating saxophone of Nicola Alesini and cello of Dorota Barova are pure genius and add a whole extra dimension to what is a rather impressive piece of music.
This unanticipated wonder of an album showcases Saro’s brilliance as both composer and musician and continues with the melancholy grandeur of November where Hammill’s heartfelt, sorrowful vocal leaves an aura of remorse and regret that is only emphasised by the strident trumpet of Radim Knapp, a truly emotive song that hits you hard. At first US (Scars on Skin) seemed a bit out of place, an uptempo pop song among a collection of much more serious pieces but, taken in isolation, it is a fine showcase for the exquisite vocals of Karen Eden. A delightfully impish four minutes plus of uplifting music that just cleanses your template. The gravitas returns with the sparse, melancholy tones of Time To Go, Peter Hammill imbuing the track with sincere honesty and languid grace.
The one instrumental on the album, Howl, gives the talented musicians involved in the creation of this record a platform on which to demonstrate their accomplished talents. A dramatic piece of music that ebbs and flows and allows you to lose yourself momentarily in its notable wonders. The album closes with the measured and restrained spectacle of When Your Parents Danced, a sublime and criminally short song where myself and Peter Hammill finally click for good.
Saro Cosentino is nothing short of a musical genius, he has collected a hugely talented group of musicians together and created the biggest musical surprise of the year for me. A composer of not inconsiderable talent and a gifted songwriter, his choice of guest vocalists makes this an album that really should be on your wish list.
Released 7th October, 2022.
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