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Martin Orford - The Old Road CD (album) cover

THE OLD ROAD

Martin Orford

 

Neo-Prog

3.85 | 116 ratings

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Harry Hood
5 stars One of the greatest progressive rock albums of all time

As Martin Orford stated in his final interview before his all-too-early retirement, "there's lots of things I'm good at". He wasn't kidding. On his solo swan song The Old Road, Martin Orford proves not only to be an accomplished keyboardist, but a talented multi- instrumentalist, lyricist, and songwriter as well.

Orford has gone all out in producing his final masterpiece, sparing no expense in assembling an incredible supergroup of musicians, including the infamous Spock's Beard rhythm section of NDV and David Meros, Arena axeman John Mitchell, Jadis mastermind Gary Chandler, and prog legend and longtime collaborator John Wetton. IQ mates Andy Edwards and Mike Holmes also make an appearance, giving their final farewells to their fallen comrade.

The album opens brilliantly with the mini-epic Grand Designs. And what a grand opening it is, featuring all of the melodic bombast one would expect from a progressive masterpiece such as this. The track carries an optimistic and triumphant tone, with Orford-san singing about hope for the future.

Orford continues the positive vibes with the next track, the instrumental "Power And Speed". The melodies bring to mind such upbeat tracks as the classic "The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway", "Pinball Wizard" by The Who, and music from the Kirby games (mere coincidence, as Morford-sama would never play a video game in his life). The Martymaestro also demonstrates his talents on guitar throughout the song, playing leads that show-off the sort of technical prowess that would make Michelangelo Batio blush, but with beautiful melodic sensibility as well. Truly an uplifting and inspirational piece of music.

That powerful track is followed by the delicate ballad "Ray Of Hope". The lyrics paint a harrowing picture of a group of survivors journeying through post-apocolyptica Despite their everyday struggles through the desloate wasteland, the travelers do their best to maintain an optimistic outlook. Melodically the track sounds like it could have been an IQ outtake. Beautifully pastoral 12-string guitars, soothing synthesizers, and gorgeously delicate vocals from Morford-kun himself, the track also features an incredible lead guitar passage courtesy of Mr. John Mitchell.

The tone of the album changes with the next track, "Take It To The Sun". The first track on the album to feature the legendary John Wetton, the song utilizes the hooks and melodic drive of AOR, but with the much darker bite. The song is a cautionary tale, detailing the journey of a group of American astronauts who journey through space after Earth is deprived of all it's resources. With the US falling behind in the space-race, Russia and China have taken Mars, South America and the EU share Venus, leaving the US with the next closest planet, Mercury. Upon arriving, however, they find the planet to be completely desolate and uninhabitable, a sharp contrast to what they'd been promised when they left on their journey. With no home left to go to, the astronauts are left with a tough decision, and rather than starving to death they decide to use their resources and journey to the Sun. The crew reflects on their various regrets as their ship bursts into flames. Truly a tragic story and one of the most emotionally impactful songs of the progressive genre.

After a brief classical piano Prelude the album continues with the title track, "The Old Road", a scathing attack on modern society, Morford speaks on his longing to return to a time before computers and other life sucking technologies. Martin longs to return to a simpler time in England, with green pastures, open skies, and butter churners. Musicially the song brings to mind the band Kansas, with an acoustic guitar that brings to mind "Carry On Wayward Son", and some incredible violin solos from the masterful Colm Murphy. An instrumental passage towards the end brings to mind IQ's glory days, and John Mitchell once again plays an amazing lead. There is also a Gentle-Giant-esque multi-vocal section.

Morfy continues his critique on society with the next track, "Out In The Darkness". This song was co-written with album collaborator Steve Thorne. The lyrics provide one sick burn after another, detailing every wrong religion has ever committed on society. Musically it's another track that wouldn't have sounded out-of-place on an IQ release, and makes you wonder how much he really contributed to those albums. They're definitely missing something without him.

Stepping away from the darkness, and back into the positivity that began the album, "The Time And The Season" is the album's second mini-epic. Wetton returns for bass and vocal duties, and demonstrates why he's one of the best in the business, giving a spectacular performance that brings to mind some of his best work from his glory days, particularly Asia hits "Sole Survivor" and "The Heat Goes On". The track is incredibly dense, there's always something exciting going on, and many different parts all provide unique counterpoint to one another. There's even a few references to IQ's Subterranea album buried in there! This track represents everything that is great about prog.

The album ends, rather appropriately, with the postlude "Endgame". The track brings together various lyrical and melodic themes present throughout the album, and wraps up the album wonderfully. A very fitting and personal swan song representing all the best aspects of Orford's career, it's the sort of thing that brings a tear to the eye of any listener with a heart. Mike Holmes sends off his old friend with a fitting harmony guitar passage accompanied by a harrowing and emotional Orford vocal solo.

This album is truly one of the most underrated gems of the progressive rock genre from one of progressive rocks most overlooked geniuses. Martin Orford sums up his decades long career and looks brightly toward the future, whatever that may be for him. Hopefully he'll return someday, but we'll always have this album, and the dozens of others he's worked on, as a reminder to why he's one of the greats. We miss you Martin. Shine on you crazy diamond.

Harry Hood | 5/5 |

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