Review – The Emerald Dawn – To Touch The Sky – by John Wenlock-Smith

To Touch the Sky’ is the fourth and latest CD from The Emerald Dawn following on the heels of their earlier albums, ‘Nocturne’ (2019), ‘Visions’ (2017) and Searching for the Lost Key (2014). I have not heard these previous albums, which is something I really should rectify!

The Emerald Dawn are a four-piece group who play symphonic progressive music, their sound is full and lush, with enough space in the music to allow each member enough room to shine.

‘To Touch the Sky’ has just three tracks, all lengthy and complex. Their own words state that this album is, “A celebration of the voyage towards one’s goal, including the hardships and dangers faced en-route. Beginning with the night, the music depicts the process of walking up and coming to life, a moment of awareness or the experience of being awestruck, then provides the motivation for each traveller to pursue their quest. In the closing 22-minute epic, The Ascent, the metaphor of climbing a mountain can be interpreted as a psychological, spiritual, or physical attainment, just as the listener chooses”. All of which sounds very lofty and idealistic but, is it any good you may ask?

Well, the answer is not immediately clear and will require a degree of listener involvement, your time and possibly some headphones to get the best from this music. Oh, and possibly a glass of your favourite tipple might not go amiss either!

Our journey begins with The Awakening which opens with some strident piano notes and a prominent bass from David Greenaway matching the piano along with swathes of keyboards from Tree Stewart. There are then vocals from Tree, who also echoes the refrain herself. We then move into a very spacious section where keyboards have lots of room and space to evoke their magic before a meaty guitar riff from Ally Carter joins in and the drums of Tom Jackson complete the mix. This section has some rather vibrant and lively guitar and synth lines, sumptuous all around. This all sounds really fabulous and all the time the bass is making its own patterns in the sound while Ally solos away wildly. The song returns to the opening piano motif while Ally lays a guitar line over the top of it all, bringing the piece to an emphatic conclusion. This is a really strong, symphonic and epic piece of music.

The second Track is And I Stood Transfixed and it opens with a solid drumbeat before a gently strummed acoustic guitar segues into the mix. Ally Carter lays down some very Pink Floyd-like guitar lines before switching to sax to play a flurry of notes that are all very evocative and otherworldly sounding. The drums pick up the pace of the song before keyboards enter, laying out a dreamy soundscape with some great bass underpinning it all. Ethereal vocals are added to the mix along with delicate piano notes. This section relates to the Eureka moment in the process of making the journey as thoughts coalesce into tangible activity so that the journey can be started.

The journey from the mind to the heart may only be 18 inches but it is a process we all go through when we are on the cusp of change. This section leads into some ominous guitar chords and tones as the piece takes a heavier stance with more random sounding saxophone notes being played. Calm is then restored as we are rewarded by a synthesizer solo from Tree Stewart whilst the rhythm section continue their own journey. This is all very spacious sounding and everyone is really working together to move this song along. A lovely bass line is played throughout by David Greenaway before Ally’s guitar once again takes flight, playing another Floydian type break, while Greenaway plays on before this epic song is ended with delicate keyboards and then total silence.

The last, and longest track, is The Ascent in which we start to ascend the mountain that lies before us. Whether this is a literal or figurative mountain is up to the listener to determine for themselves. The song opens with keyboard generated soundscapes in which one can imagine the mountain with the sun shining and clouds at the top. A piano and flute are then heard and flute and it all sounds very open before we get a searing guitar solo from Ally, very Andy Latimer sounding in both style and tone, before the keyboards return once again and Tree’s vocal begins.

The lyrics in the booklet will guide us as the ascent of the mountain begins, they tell us of the dangers you may face on the way. This song really gets to grips with the concept and the music makes it own journey through peaks and troughs of expectations and disappointments on the way. Another guitar break from Ally represents an eagle soaring effortlessly on the thermals as we continue to climb, the wind and the clouds move in and we get engulfed in a blizzard as we take a steady, onwards step.

We are lost in a whiteout, snow everywhere, and we cannot find the right direction to go forward, the music continuing hesitantly as we continue searching for the right path, the one that will take us higher. We sense the need to keep going, to risk death, and we proceed, once again, to the last ascent.

Ally’s guitar takes us onwards and upwards as the winds die down. The clouds part and we can see it; the summit! We’ve made it, we have achieved our goal. There is a palpable sense of relief in this section although we still have the downward journey to take us back to where we started from. Although we are invigorated again with a sense of completion as we have overcome the mountain and succeeded in the challenge it posed to us. We then enter a quieter passage as we make our descent. This song makes sense with the lyrics at hand and is a remarkable audio journey that The Emerald Dawn offer you to take with them.

This album will require your concentration but the rewards are many and exceedingly plentiful. There is much fine music here with some great passages and really fine ensemble performances from. ‘To Touch the Sky’ is a real pleasure to listen to and you can really absorb this music for yourself, I highly recommend that you support their efforts.

Released 20th March, 2021

Order from bandcamp here:

To Touch the Sky | The Emerald Dawn (bandcamp.com)

Review – The Emerald Dawn – Visions – by James R. Turner

This is the 2nd album from the St Ives based prog quartet and I admit I was a little lax in getting round to reviewing this, as the album has been out since August, and as is often the way with those of us who have day jobs and hectic lives, time often gets the better of us.

This album is a beautifully contructed 4 parter, clocking at 45 minutes, which to a child of the 80’s & 90’s like what I am, is perfect length, one side of a C90 tape, ideal for the bus. Job done.

Their sound is very much widescreen expansive prog, and this album is a real grower, there are some amazing musical pieces that hit you the first time round, but it’s when you listen more, there is so much more going musically that it grabs you and continues to grab you as you play it.

Starting with the 20 minute opus Musique Noire, this is an fantastically wonderful slow burner of a track, that to these hears has echoes of Pink Floyd’s Shine on You Crazy Diamond track, maybe it’s Ally Carters wonderful sax that runs through the piece like Bridlington runs through rock, or the keyboard and piano work of Tree Stewart that is both symphonic and intimate, whilst her vocals throughout are sublime.

The band as whole, with Jayjay Quick providing not just bass, but also cello and violin, Tom Jackson on drums and Ally and Tree also providing guitars and violins, means their musical palette is a wide one to draw from, and adds to the complexity and musical layers the run through this album.

As Musique Noire builds to it’s fantastic climax there are some sublime languid solos, and the piece is a fantastically bold way to open an album, and is a statement of intent from the band.

A Vision Left Unseen, is a more gothic noir kind of track, the vocal counterpoint between Ally and Tree on here, and the slightly darker edge is fantastic, again running at 7 minutes it’s the shortest song on here, and still packs more musical and emotional clout that some bands fit into an album.

Waves, is a fantastic piece of guitar driven music, with some absolutely sublime soloing, whilst Tree puts her stunning vocal range to great use, over some heavily symphonic synth sounds that have echoes of classic Moody Blues or Strawbs epics, again not so much influenced by, but more evoking a mood that those bands operate in.

The closing 9 minuter Stranger in a Strange Land, is all shimmering synths, and slow build as it starts until an absolute belter of guitar solo kicks in, before it pares right back down to some stunning flute and violin interplay, the way the band blend the sounds together to create songs like this are a joy to listen to, and closes a mighty fine album with style and grace.

In this genre it’s hard not to reference bands, and The Emerald Dawn are very much their own beast, and the sound this album pulls together makes a shoe in for any record collector who likes their prog widescreen, their sound epic, and their musicianship taut and on point throughout.

The performances on here are exemplorary and the production is sublime as well, it’s so often you hear bands who are self financing, and they have the songs and musical chops but lack a sympathetic producer who knows how to get the best sound out of the album, luckily being produced by Ally and Tree who also wrote the songs, they have a specific vision of how they want their music to sound, and how to present it, which is carried throughout from artwork, to lyrics, to sound and production and they should rightly be proud of this record.

Released 21st August 2017

Buy ‘Visions’ from bandcamp