John Wenlock-Smith’s ‘Best of 2023’

This is a list of the albums that have made a big impression on me this year. They are not in any order although several marked☆ are my favourites and I will nominate one as my album of the year.

Here is the list:

1.OrionThe End Of Suffering – This came out of nowhere and it is a testament to one man’s vision and willingness to create music that he wanted to.

The End of Suffering | Orion (

2. Tribe 3 – Self Titled- This recent release most definitely impresses with its progressive, inspired take on fusion.

CD ‘Tribe3’ | Tribe3

3. John Greenwood  – Dark Blue ☆☆ This arrived, again largely unnoticed, but what a brilliant release, thoughtful, emotional and an utterly captivating listen.

DARK BLUE | John Greenwood (

4. Material Eyes  – Inside Out excellent prog from the North East of England.

Inside Out | Materialeyes (

5. The Michael Dunn ProjectBridge Across The Years ☆ Canadian musicians superb debut release, 40 years in the making.

The Michael Dunn Project

6. The Drinking Club – Really??? ☆ Very Marillion like in places, another great release.

…really?!? | The Drinking Club (

7. Pryzme – Four Inches – Superb French band release excellent album with a fondness for Rush stylings.

Four Inches | Pryzme (

8. Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate – The Light Of Ancient Mistakes ☆ Amazing next adventure for impressive North London duo.

The Light Of Ancient Mistakes | Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate (

9. Downes Braide AssociationCelestial Songs ☆ Excellent new album of epics from the DBA Team.

Downes Braide Association: Celestial Songs, CD Edition – Cherry Red Records

10. Nova Cascade – The Navigator – A musical tribute to Eric Bouilette after his passing, beautifully done.

The Navigator | NOVA CASCADE (

11. Southern Empire – Another World ☆ A strong return for Australian favourites.

Another World CD – GEP

12. Ruby Dawn Beyond Tomorrow ☆☆ A deeply emotional album from Wokingham’s finest.

Beyond Tomorrow | Ruby Dawn (

13. Tiger Moth TalesThe Turning Of The World ☆Deeply Personal album from Peter Jones, largely acoustic but very satisfying.

Tiger Moth Tales (

14. Nick FletcherQuadrivium ☆☆☆ My album of the year. Fusion for today, an album forging forward and beyond while embracing the past.Unbelievably fine music that is beautifully realised.

ONLINE STORE | Nick Fletcher Guitar (

15. Pattern Seeking AnimalsSpooky Action At A Distance – Fourth excursion from some-time Spock’s Beard men along with John Boegehold and a further step forward.

Spooky Action at a Distance (

16. CyanPictures From The Other Side – Second album from Rob Reed’s excellent young project, with Peter Jones and Luke Machin firing on all cylinders.

17. The Emerald Dawn  – In Time ☆ – Beautiful album themed around time and memories and how we perceive them.

In Time | The Emerald Dawn (

18. Dave Foster BandGlimmer ☆ The year’s ‘grower’ album that just gets better with every listen.

Glimmer | The Dave Foster Band (

19. DamanekMaking Shore – A splendidly exciting album from the early part of the year, epic, melodious and really strong.

Damanek – Making Shore – GEP

20. Swan ChorusAchilles and The Difference Engine – My favourite vocal led album of the year, especially the wonderfully poignant track Being There about Peter Sellers, a beautiful song.

Achilles and the Difference Engine | Swan Chorus (

It’s been a tremendously fine year for music. A post-covid boom has inspired some stalwart activities with some excellent and impressive releases, here’s to an even better 2024!

John Wenlock-Smith.

Review – The Emerald Dawn – In Time – by John Wenlock-Smith

This highly impressive album will land in September and is already hotly anticipated and I’m sure will be well received as, over the past few years, this Cornish symphonic prog outfit have been wowing crowds from Penzance to North of the border. Quite rightly so too as they have a unique sound, excellent musicianship and offer music of class and quality. Everything is self-produced and they even do their own artwork, although they have a formidable and talented artist in Tree Stewart who has the ability to create artworks that really draw you into the musical adventure. 

This album is their fifth and, once again, you are taken on a magical musical journey. This journey is about the passage of time and how it goes past so quickly that we should make the most of the time allotted to each of us. The album has just three tracks of eight, fourteen and twenty three minutes in duration. Within these tracks lie much skill and invention, take the track Out Of Time, which combines a haunting graceful piano motif with wah wah guitar lines and elements of world (Arabian music) and jazz rock into a unique melting pot but a pot that cooks up a hearty meal. I could go on and on about how exciting and captivating the middle section is with its complex rhythmic sections showing the depth of talent, imagination and skill the group have and exhibit on this track but I think you are best hearing this for yourself when the album is released in September. You will enjoy the recurring melody that carries the song along so very gracefully. It is simply exceptional. Around all this are floating layers of sumptuous keyboards, a jarring Sax and the fluid guitar runs of Ally Carter. Add the breathy vocals of Tree Stewart, the subtle and solidly inventive bass work of David Greenaway and the sturdy and effective drums of Tom Jackson and you can see that this ensemble really know how to create an atmosphere for sure.  

I really love this track and the sentiments that it addresses, making memories that matter and that can sustain you. As one who is personally afflicted with dementia, this music is important and crucial and much needed, although I suspect most of the western world will fail to appreciate and catch the beauty contained in this album but, for those that do, you will find a veritable pot of gold here. Truly impressive and staggeringly wonderful a real joy to behold, I suggest you reserve your copy now and await your time to hear this masterpiece. 

Timeless is a slow burner of a song that tells of a day too quickly over and a day that never ends, our state of mind exudes the pulse on which our time depends! Which are pretty sobering and honest words really. This is a shorter track, well if you call fourteen minutes short! The final track The March Of Time is about how time waits for no man, it merely marches on, nothing lasts forever except the memories you have saved. Running for just over eight minutes, this is a fabulous conclusion to the journey you have undertaken and this album truly is a journey into enlightenment. I feel it calls us all to be responsible stewards of our own time, to seize the day and also to make the most of our time whilst we can. These are welcome sentiments in a busy modern world where we are always hurrying against the clock and yet never winning, somehow this album is a message to us all. The song works to a strident marching track and has an epic guitar solo at the where Alan channels his inner Gilmour whilst Tree sings behind his playing reciting the line, “As time goes marching on.” 

This is all delivered in style and alongside some really great music which, when you take the album as a whole experience, offers a very profound and moving musical journey. Tome, it’s totally different to their previous albums but with enough in common to let you know who they are. This is a really, really good album with great songs and performances. It is all beautifully produced with glorious artwork and I’m sure the vinyl version will look exquisite but, for us shiny disc lovers, this will do just fine.  

Released 23rd September, 2023.

Pre-orders provisionally open on 4th August, 2023 here:

Merch | The Emerald Dawn (

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 (

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