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Colin Masson - The Southern Cross CD (album) cover

THE SOUTHERN CROSS

Colin Masson

 

Crossover Prog

3.56 | 31 ratings

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VanVanVan
Prog Reviewer
4 stars Another excellent album from the talented Mr. Masson! From what I understand most of this album was actually written about 20 years ago, but Masson has re-recorded everything for this release. I was a huge fan of Masson's previous album "The Mad Monk and the Mountain," and I am glad to say that this is a more than worthy follow-up, though there are distinct stylistic differences between that album and this one.

"Never Come Back" begins the album, and it's a very interesting song, with a folky, sea- shanty feel to it. With a great picked guitar part accompanied by some low string sounds, the song has quite an ominous atmosphere about it, an effect which is enhanced by the low vocals behind the main line. Masson does an excellent job of fitting the vocals to the music, making the whole arrangement sound very full even though there's not actually a huge number of instruments being played.

"Sails of Silver" also has a bit of a nautical feel to it, as you may have guessed from the title, though this one has a more prog-folk feel to it than the rather straightforward (but still excellent) opener. Beginning with a slower vocal section, the song transitions into an instrumental part that features some excellent classical-style guitar. It concludes by launching into a more uptempo motif for the last minute that features some great electric guitar to complement the acoustic used for most of the rest of the track.

"South Australia" could have fit in very well on Masson's previous album "The Mad Monk and the Mountain." The track begins with a great instrumental section that mixes folky melodies with classic prog-rock instrumentation before dropping into a relatively heavy (for Masson) section led by Masson's great vocals. The final section of the track is instrumental as well, featuring more of that great acoustic guitar soloing and some really great orchestration as well. This track really highlights what I would consider to be one of Masson's strengths, using folky melodies and more modern "sounds" (there's some almost electronic sounding keyboards towards the end) in a way that is extremely complementary and gives his music a very unique sound.

"The Wreckers" sees the return of the fantastic female vocals that were so prominent on "The Mad Monk and the Mountain." The track makes excellent use of heavy and light parts juxtaposed against one another to create a very dramatic feel for the song, a feeling which is enhanced by the dynamic, almost cinematic instrumental section in the middle. The track closes with more of those great, soaring female vocals courtesy of Cathy Alexander.

"Compass Rose" is a more sedate track. Fully instrumental, it makes great use of orchestral sounds mixed with electric guitar to create a kind of "folk-classical-rock" sound and it works to great effect, especially as it is the end of the first half of the album. A very nice track to close off the first section.

"intermission With Moon Cycles" is a rather tongue in cheek spoken word interlude alerting the listener that "Side 2" of the album is beginning. A humorous little break that really helps the two halves of the album feel distinct, especially for youngsters like me who didn't grow up listening to vinyl.

"The Heart Of The Machine" begins this second section, and it is a bit more of a rocker than the mostly folky, orchestrated songs on the first half. With a fantastic guitar solo and a spaced-out chorus, it's a wonderfully varied song that sounds totally different than anything from "The Mad Monk and the Mountain," but it's pulled off with the same spot-on execution and it's a great way to begin the second half of the album.

"Ocean Of Storms" brings a whole other kind of new sound. Masson says that this track is largely inspired by Berlin-school electronic music, and it's fascinating to hear a modern take on that kind of music, especially from someone with a more prog-folk background. It's totally different than anything I've heard from Masson in the past, but it's absolutely brilliantly pulled off, and it's one of my favorite tracks on the album. Dreamy soundscapes are blended with Cathy Alexander's vocals and the end result is breathtaking. It's a great, spaced-out, trippy track that nonetheless manages to fit in perfectly with the rest of the album. Amazing.

The title track concludes the album, and it's another great one. Switching off between slower, more atmospheric sections and heavier, more solo-based sections, "The Southern Cross" is the perfect track to close off the album. Mostly instrumental, it manages to maintain the folky, nautical vibe that has permeated the rest of the album while also sounding completely fresh and modern. It never has to stoop to the kind of mindless shredding that so often dooms prog instrumental sections, and stays compelling for a fully instrumental 10 minutes before vocals enter. The finale to the track is stellar as well, making use of a triumphant guitar line that gives you goosebumps. There's a bit more guitar as the track fades out, and overall it's quite a satisfying end to this excellent album.

Overall, I would say that "The Southern Cross" lacks a bit of the cohesion that "Mad Monk..." had, but more than makes up for it with a greater variety of styles, with "Ocean of Storms" being especially great. The sea-shanty opener and the hard rocking "Heart of the Machine" also help to give this album a distinct flavor from its predecessor. Additionally, Masson's vocals are used much more prominently on this album, which I was glad to see, as only one track on his previous album ("Two Lighthousekeepers," namely) made use of them and that was one of my favorite tracks on that album.

An excellent offering from a great, under-the-radar musician. Highly, highly recommended, along with his previous work.

4/5

VanVanVan | 4/5 |

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