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Cirrus Bay - The Art of Vanishing CD (album) cover


Cirrus Bay



3.77 | 41 ratings

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4 stars A promising release from Bill Gillham and his Cirrus Bay support posse. I like Bill's attempts at a more classic Prog Folk sound--including asking for more folk-like vocal performances from his crystal-voiced singers.

1. "A Blossom of Hills" (10:28) for its first four minutes this song is constructed as a Prog Folk song from about 1970-1 with the sound palette of early ANT PHILLIPS guitar albums and a MADDY PRIOR or JUDY DYBLE-like voice in the lead. Then the music bursts forward into more jazz-folk-rock canter until settling back into the Celtic folk sound and pacing of the opening at 6:50. I have to admit, I really like this folkier side to Bill's work--but it works well in contrast to the BYRDS-like music in the fast section. Great performance by Tai Shan. Nice work, Cirrus Bay! Maybe my favorite song you've ever done. (18/20)

2. "Undiscovered Isle" (2:52) a nice folk guitar solo somewhere between Will Ackerman and Ant Phillips. (8.5/10)

3. "A Garment of Clouds" (5:02) sounds like song built to support a Sandy Denny, Jacqui MacShee, Judy Dyble, Maddy Prior, or Barbara Gaskin vocal performance. Nice prog folk. The dreamy sax-drenched left turn at the three minute mark does nothing, thus the U-turn to get back to Maddy's lovely voice--I mean Tia's. Nice, fitting pastoral lyrics. Overall, a very nice song. (8.75/10)

4. "The North Country" (5:16) that last two songs had helped me almost forget that this was Cirrus Bay, but here we are back to the plodding straight-time simplicity that is typical of most CB songs. This one is in fact so rudimentary in its construction and so "ancient" in its sound that it sounds like it could come from a practice session for some band director's middle school band. Even the shift into second gear at the 2:18 mark doesn't save this 1960s warmup song. How the Byrds sounded at age 14. Odd to have so many instrumentals on a CB album. (7.75/10)

5. "Sooke Harbour" (3:06) a nice little folk pseudo-achronistic instrumental. (4.5/5)

6. "Eden" (3:42) a kind of 1960s Jackie DeShannon song. Nice but it'd never make it onto the charts. Nice Annie-Haslam-like vocalise by Tia in several sections. (7.75/10)

7. "Unexpected Wonder" (6:55) some new sounds (for CB) yet turn out to be 1960s old. Same plodding pacing, same simple though catchy melodies, same simple constructs and soli, just slightly different sound palette for this long instrumental. I'll give Bill a little credit: there is some tension and discord in the third and fourth minutes with his use of minor chords, but it changes little the end result. I don't like the Wurlitzer organ used. (11/15)

8. "Lost and Profound" (3:02) piano and clarinet. A little jazzier than usual until Bill's piano begins sounding like a piano teacher's support play for a student at the 0:48 mark. An étude! (For a fairly unexceptional student.) (3.75/5)

9. "The Dictator" (4:07) another very straightforward song, almost Beatles-ish, though far more simple. Nice vocal performance in the B "chorus" section. (8/10)

10. "The Vanishing Place" (10:08) opens with some tension-filled discordant piano arpeggi before switching to bouncy chords in support of clarinet. At the 0:48 second mark, drums burst in with the full band and voice to give us a full soundscape of simple prog. A few pseudo-switches in timing help us to believe that this is a more complex song than it is. It's not. The timing is straightforward, sometimes doubling or halving, but always one directional. (16.75/20)

Total Time 54:38

I feel that the musical productions of Bill Gillham had been getting stronger over the arc of his career--especially since the 2009 Cirrus Bay release, A Step Into Elsewhere, which had shown so much promise and potential. But we may be on the descending curve of that arc now as the productions here are lacking in so many ways none of which are more important than enthusiasm. These songs feel tired--as if they are rehashings of old, already used-up themes and hooks. And the sad and disappointing part is that I love the sound of Cirrus Bay! I always have! It's just that it has rarely stepped beyond the realm of ABC prog into something more creative and exciting. Yes, there is a place and praise for imitation, but one would hope that an artist--that a person--can grow, can evolve and try new things. I'm not sure Bill would see it this way. His music is very pretty, and very uplifting, it just tends to drag and begins to sound like background music when I believe it shouldn't.

B-/3.5 stars; a nice addition to the compendium of Prog World but nothing to write home about.

BrufordFreak | 4/5 |


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