Review – John Holden – Capture Light – by Progradar

Life never stands still, the world rotates on its axis at around 1000mph (it’s less as you get North but you get my drift!) and day becomes night. The years pass quicker, or so it seems, and the sheer volume of music that is released gets bigger and bigger all the time.

Because of this it is impossible for me to hear every new release that would perhaps pique my musical curiosity and it pains me to think that I will have missed some gems as the clock keeps ticking. However, I can console myself with the wonderful releases that I do get to hear and enjoy.

I’ve been talking to John Holden about his great musical collaboration ‘Capture Light’ for well over a year now and I was honoured to be one of the first to receive the completed article a couple of months ago. I have listened to it multiple times and now feel ready to write my review…

Over two years in the making, an immersive and evolving album opens with the Joe Payne sung track Tears From The Sun. A symphonic and operatic tour-de-force featuring Oliver Wakeman’s keyboards, it has a feel of where The Enid could be now if they hadn’t imploded. After a quelled opening the bombast begins with multi-layered instrumentation before Joe’s distinctive vocal gives the track life and shape. As opening tracks go, this really does take some beating with John’s great music being complimented by his and Elizabeth Buckley’s fine lyrical accomplishment. A complex musical mosaic that keeps your rapt attention all the way through, Joe is on fine form and gives the song a flamboyant drama.

Crimson Sky takes a more symphonic rock oriented route with Julie Gater’s vocal giving it a Celtic rock infused tone. Hard edged and heavier, there’s a feel of early Karnataka to my ears. The powerful music is complimented perfectly by Julie’s dulcet tones, especially on the catchy chorus. Listen out for the superb guitar solo from Billy Sherwood (yes, THE Billy Sherwood) which adds a real sheen of class to what is already a pretty impressive song. I’m already beginning to love the diversity that John has brought to this album and we’re only two tracks in!

John proves he can tell a great story with the excellent title track, full of drama and intrigue, you’ll have to buy the CD to get the whole story but the musical journey is an engrossing and compelling one that will hold your attention throughout and I had to read the credits twice to realise it was Joe Payne who was performing the fantastic vocals again, this guy is pure talent. Oliver Wakeman’s elegant piano playing once again graces the song and adds real pathos to what is already a dramatic and emotional piece of music and let’s not forget Oliver Day’s stylish guitar, lute and mandolin. Let’s be fair, music has forever been about telling stories and John Holden is already proving to be very adept at it. Capture Light will be one of the most enjoyable and absorbing history lessons you’ll ever have…

A choral mantra that could fit a Andrew Lloyd-Webber and Tim Rice musical, Ancient of Days is an uplifting track that just seems to bring a ray of sunshine along with it with it’s tribal feeling music and the great vocals of Jean Pageau, ably backed by Lee-Anne Beecher and Marc Atkinson. I could quite imagine this song being part of something like Lion King or Joseph with its great theatrical feel. A real shout out must go to Emily Dolan Davies whose skill on the drum kit is utterly evident here.

A song all about Jesse Owens and THAT race in Berlin, One Race is possibly the most progressive track on the album while not being that progressive (if that makes sense?). Joe Payne delivers another consummate vocal performance and the harmonised parts with Max Read give a real Celtic overtone, in fact the whole track reminds me of Clannad or Enya in places. It’s another well crafted song with a great storyline that works brilliantly along with the rest of the tracks on the album and the guitar playing just gives added impetus to the sensation of running along with the narrative.

Now onto the one track that I didn’t click with straightaway, Dreamcatching seemed a bit trite and twee to me on first listen, not quite gelling with the other songs on the album. Trying to explain the legend behind dreamcatchers using spoken word, song and music, this piece of music will either captivate or alienate in my opinion. Repeated listens have led me to appreciate it a lot more, while not actually loving it like I do the majority of the other songs. What does work very well though is the lovely flute and sax work from the ubiquitous Peter Jones who does a good job of adding whimsy and warmth as well as backing vocals along with Julie Gater.

London Grammar, that’s what I thought when I heard the first ultra-cool strains from No Man’s Land with it’s jazzy backdrop to Julie Gater’s silky smooth vocals. A song for lazy days in hazy summers, its chilled and easygoing vibe seems to seep into your very being. The feel good atmosphere seems to infuse every instrument, Gary O’Toole’s polished drum playing and Oliver Wakeman’s relaxed piano and keyboards are the height of sophistication.

A dreamy and contemplative song, Seaglass Hearts is full of longing and the vocals give pause with their elegant reminiscing. A nice interplay between the voices of Peter Jones and Julie Gater give a modern folk feel to the track, one full of wonder and playfulness along with Peter’s soulful sax playing. A sentimental ending to the album, enforced by the sparse piano that fades us out to a close.

A captivating journey through the mystical and historical, ‘Capture Light’ is an accessible, melodic tour-de-force that reveals more of its hidden depths with each listen. John Holden has collected an impressive group of musicians and given us a release that could well be a highlight of the year already.

Released 23rd March 2018

Pre-order ‘Capture Light’ on digital from bandcamp here

Pre-orders for the CD will be available from John Holden’s website soon at this link

Review – Mystery – Delusion Rain – by Rob Fisher

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After releasing the excellent ‘One Among the Many’ (2010) and the superlative ‘The World is a Game’ (2012), expectations are rightly high for ‘Delusion Rain’, the fifth studio album from Canadian band Mystery. In the intervening years, ex-Yes front man Benoît David, lead vocalist since 1999, made the difficult decision to step down and take a break from music after touring with the band in 2013 (captured on the wonderful live recording ‘Tales from the Netherlands’). His replacement for this new release, Jean Pageau, first joined the band on tour in 2014 before heading to the studio to work on the new album.

Pageau is an absolutely inspired replacement and instantly brings a voice which is more authoritative, pronounced and assured whilst capable of the same sweeping range and delicate nuanced subtleties. Indeed, it is precisely the sensitive responsiveness of his voice which makes him a perfect fit for the unmistakable Mystery ‘sound’, bringing extra depth and expressiveness whilst also pushing the boundaries further to create the most expansive vocal orchestrations and layered harmonies which swiftly become a trademark feature of this new release.

Pageau’s distinctive infusion seems to bring a new lease of life to band leader Michel St-Père who, supported on guitars by Sylvain Moineau, finds much greater freedom to mirror his vocalist’s assertiveness in providing a strong bedrock of power chords mixed with acoustic cadences whilst at the same time innovating through soaring and melancholic riffs which are as magical and as forceful as they are fleeting.

Yet ‘Delusion Rain’ also brings much more clarity and depth to the musicianship than is apparent in previous releases, due primarily to St-Père’s excellent production. Benoit Dupuis on keyboards is allowed to provide a rich and enhancing atmosphere within which both vocals and guitars are nested, the sound sumptuous, enveloping without ever becoming suffocating. François Fournier on bass is superb and for the very first time we can really hear a dynamism and a bite which supplies an extra and most welcome dimension to the recording. Jean-Sébastien Goyette on drums is a strong and driving heartbeat which pulses throughout each track, keeping things fresh with changing tempos and some lovely teasing cymbal work whilst always ensuring a disciplined and at times dramatic mastery that keeps the band true to the themes and the lyrics.

Band

The album also sees contributions from Antoine Michaud (Monochrome Seasons), touring guitarist with the band, and Sylvain Descoteaux (Huis) on piano. Add into the mix Pageau’s ephemeral flute playing on A Song for You (Track 6) and some occasional keyboards as well and you get the sense that ‘Delusion Rain’ marks quite a significant point in the history and development of the band where they finally have the pieces in place to be able to push on and really do full justice to the adventurous musical project that is Mystery.

As such this album excels in two respects. On the one the hand, it consolidates, tightens and defines the signature sound of the band, and does so with style and panache. The first three tracks, Delusion Rain, If You See Her and The Last Glass of Wine are beautifully refined statements of musical intent and it is easy to see these quickly becoming audience favourites on any set-list. The music is rich, lush, sweeping in scope and embracing in the way it engages the listener. There are anthemic choruses and soulful refrains combined with lyrical intensity.

On the other hand, the final three tracks show us the true promise of what Mystery can become. The band have always been at their very best when the focus is on extended song-writing, telling stories through their music and producing the kind of epic ballads which are a wonderful showcase for both their exceptional talents as well as their innovative creativity.

‘One Among the Living’ gave us the fabulous Through Different Eyes, weighing in at a spectacular 20+ minutes and pushing the boundaries of scintillating and adventurous musical creativity. ‘The World is a Game’ gave us Another Day, 19 minutes of complex and hugely enjoyable instrumental invention and inspiration.

‘Delusion Rain’ suddenly comes alive with The Willow Tree (Track 4), 20 minutes of utterly spectacular writing which transports you through changing musical landscapes and shifting emotional horizons to reach creative heights that are wonderful and exhausting. Wall Street King extends this incredible vision, increasing the intensity, adding layers of forcefulness but at around the 4.30 mark releasing it all in staggering waves of glorious guitar work. A Song For You brings the album to a pulsating close, the instrumental work fabulously delivering a rousing and climactic finale which leaves you wanting more and yearning with anticipation for what the next release will hopefully bring.

This album has certainly been well worth the wait. In particular, what Mystery have achieved here is something highly significant: they have simultaneously consolidated and confirmed their excellence in musical skill, virtuosity and lyrical brilliance whilst at the same time pushing much further than in any other previous release the scope and ambition of the band’s musical vision and reach.

‘Delusion Rain’ gives us a tantalising taste of genuinely cutting edge progressive music from a band who are willing to create, innovate and really push the boundaries of what they want to do and where they want to take us as a result. In the process, they may have created a rod for their own backs by setting the bar even higher for the next instalment on this wonderful journey.

Released 1st November 2015

Buy Delusion Rain direct from the band’s website