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Geoffrey Downes - Downes / Braide Association (DBA): Skyscraper Souls CD (album) cover


Geoffrey Downes

Crossover Prog

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3 stars (Excuse my long, slightly out-of-focus intro!) There has been some bashing of keyboardist Geoff Downes among my prog friends. It usually goes like this: - "What good he's ever done?" - "His participation on the albums Drama and Asia. But that's just about it." That bashing raises its head for example when we're watching an Asia concert: - "He ain't no Rick Wakeman." - "He's really at the edge of his capacities on that solo." At this point I start wondering such attitude. No, he's not Rick Wakeman, why should he be? Downes has done a large part of his musical career in the super group Asia (the classic line-up consisting of Downes, Steve Howe, John Wetton and Carl Palmer). My personal relationship to Asia is rather reserved: the eponymous debut (1982) was among my earliest favourite albums as a kid, and for nostalgic reasons it's still enjoyable to listen to, but I haven't been interested to follow their AOR output much beyond that. The aforementioned Yes album Drama (1980) has been even dearer to me since my teenage years. I was too young to be shocked by the half of the classic Yes line- up being replaced by musicians from The Buggles (you know, 'Video Killed the Radio Star'). But, despite it's me who's always standing against the bashing of Downes among my friends, I really can't count him among my prog heroes. Those two albums are hardly enough to place Downes on my TopTen of keyboardists, and his solo career is totally unfamiliar to me.

It took just a short while for this music to make me feel good in a nostalgic way. It somehow seems to resonate with the early days of my prog voyage in the early eighties. No, it's not as catchy as Asia, nor as exciting or cold-sounding as Drama, but the listener somehow senses where the main composer's musical roots are. I knew nothing about Christopher Braide in advance, but he's a perfect musical partner for Downes. His voice slightly resembles both Trevor Horn and Chris Squire. Also he plays keyboards. Is the music very keyboard centred, then? Well, not so literally, because it's a band effort (featuring guitars of Dave Colquhoun and the rhythm section of Andy Hodge and Ash Shoan, plus several guests). It's full of pop sensibility, and with strong choruses it has some catchiness too. The clean sound with [mock-]orchestral aspirations is mostly in the Neo Prog territory, and to a listener who's grown up with the prog and pop music of the 70's and 80's, it's very easy to connect to. Especially the calmest tracks are rooted in the romantic, classically inspired piano style of Downes, and the edgier "rock attitude" is pretty much absent throughout the 53-minute album.

Most of the guests participate on vocals, but for example David Longdon (Big Big Train) and Tim Bowness (No-man, solo) sadly don't get the lead role. That's why there are no notable sonic differences between the nine tracks. There's one long piece (18- min. 'Skyscraper Souls') which in the end doesn't differ very much from shorter songs, but the music always functions very well, despite the length of the composition. The album contains also some narrative parts spoken by Barney Ashton Bullock, but not so much that it would become an irritating, self-poignant feature. The overall atmosphere is just a little bit melancholic. Nice, accessible, safe prog flavoured pop music with a 70's / 80's retro feel.

I believe it has a lot to do with your personal listening history whether you like this album. If you don't care for pop sensibility and prefer anti-retro modern prog over Neo or Crossover Prog, maybe this music won't win you over. It's like with that Roger Dean cover: surely not among his best, but it adds to the warm breath of nostalgia.

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Posted Friday, January 26, 2018 | Review Permalink

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