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The Emerald Dawn - To Touch the Sky CD (album) cover

TO TOUCH THE SKY

The Emerald Dawn

Neo-Prog


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tszirmay
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars There was a time a few decades ago, when record companies FORCED groups to alter their style and substance in order to fit the commercial requirements instituted by 'the market'. Then you have those fans and critics who insist that they know better what musicians should be playing, moaning, and groaning if they venture into new territories, changing their sound or, even sadder if they maintain their style and stick to their guns. I guess bitching and complaining is the New Religion. But damned if you, and damned if you do not. The Emerald Dawn has been the target of certain enlightened critics who did not care much for the 'amateurish or muffled production', the 'boring formulaic simplicity' and the 'lack of diversity' of their style. To the band's staunch credit, they have stuck to their guns and keep making music they way THEY see fit, which is clearly their prerogative. There is a big difference between haunting and sounding muffled, as Alan Carter's shadowy psychedelic guitar style remains a pillar as well as the menacing keyboard stylistics of Tree Stewart. Their style has not changed at all, with talented jazz drummer Thomas Jackson holding down the fort since day one, the biggest change being on bass guitar where first JJ Quick and now David Greenway introduce some fantastic fretless and fretted bass lines to the musical score.

Showing even more rebellious tendencies, the band continue in creating lengthy pieces that establish mood as well a cinematographic impression that transports the listener far away into the realm of dreams and adventure. This is one band that requires the volume to be as high as possible, in order to eliminate this silly muffled sound notion once and for all. This should not be perceived as background music while ironing your shirt! On this, their 4th album, "To Touch the Sky", they offer 3 epic tracks of wistful prog, best exemplified by the slithering beauty of the opening track "The Awakening", an 11 minute+ soporific glide worthy of the best , combining a delicate piano motif that transcends splendor and permits a drifting into a whole series of musical forays, led by that nasty bass furrow, muscled drums , ornamental keys and Ally's by now remorseless 'muffled' (read: distorted) guitar illuminations. Tree adds a powerful scat vocal to elevate the impression of revival that forms the purpose of this highly melodic piece.

The temperamental "And I Stood Transfixed" offers a slight acoustic deviation to the proceedings, with great electric guitar riffs in the background that are heightened by some glorious sax flurries, rekindling images of Nik Turner of Hawkwind fame (now there is a band that has compiled an encyclopedia's worth of criticism from the 'knowledgeable' media for being 'simple' and yet they have been around for more than half a century!). Tree alters the mood with a lovely flute intervention that sets pastoral images into the arrangement, as the jazzy drum fills propel it all like windswept leaves in the autumn night. Midway through, the explosive Wagnerian mood is pierced by some maniac playing and drumming, creating a ghostly, ominous, and nasty cauldron of sound. This atmosphere then switches back to a languid section fueled by a majestic whistling synth lead and then a sizzling lead guitar eruption full of effect and shadow. The finale is sweepingly bombastic as the heart keeps beating. Delightful piece.

How about a 22-minute finale, to push the tolerance limits of the disbelievers and the ultimate pleasure of us diehard fans? "The Ascent" has a nearly classical feel, what with the ornate piano and flute duo, that precedes a wicked e-guitar blast which is then followed by a more languid keyboard dominated section that sets up the vocals. When the slick drums pop in, the tension rises, as the musical kettle starts boiling, evolving into quite the soaring cosmic ride, worthy of past greats. The arrangement keeps elevating itself to increasingly higher altitudes of expression, like an upward spiraling vortex of sound, heading straight for the stars. The piano and bass dance merrily embraced as the haunting synths converge on some distant point in the night sky. The use of the Roli Seaboard, a slick MIDI keyboard is also of note. The organ finale that revisits the main theme is nothing more than a coup de grace (the last word is not pronounced 'grah' but 'grass' , as coup de grah means a strike of fat, LOL). As far as progression is concerned, I loved their debut and every album thereafter, but this is their crowning achievement. Resolute, rebellious, adventurous, creative, and yes, FOCUSED on creating their own very original style, recognizable within a nano second. The group stick to their mantra, come hell and high water, unconcerned. That needs to be celebrated with gusto and respect.

Quick question: this is "simple' music? Okay then? I guess listening with one ear is the way to lose your balance. For me (and many others) this is touching the sky.

5 Heavenly caresses

Report this review (#2531280)
Posted Saturday, April 3, 2021 | Review Permalink
Second Life Syndrome
PROG REVIEWER
5 stars Originally published on theprogmind.com

I'm always impressed when a band can balance old and new, fresh and classic, ambience and rhythm. The Emerald Dawn are very good at this. Their fourth album "To Touch the Sky" released on March 20th, and I think it might be my favorite from them.

Let me just put it this way: The Emerald Dawn do their own thing. They do exactly what they want, and they don't give a [&*!#] what you think about that. The band hails from the UK, and they often come across as eccentric virtuosos, New Age proggers, or artistic originals. Or that is at least how I perceive them. From their hand-painted artwork to their sound design choices, they craft their albums exactly so, even if they buck trends or fight the current of what is considered normal. And that is exactly why I like them. The band consists of Tree Stewart on keyboards, piano, flute, acoustic guitar, and vocals; Ally Carter on electric and acoustic guitars, tenor and soprano saxophones, keyboards, and vocals; David Greenaway on fretless and fretted bass guitars; and Tom Jackson on drums.

On their last couple albums, the band proved to me that they can truly play on a towering level. Their music is typically poetic, mostly instrumental with sparse vocals, imaginative, and atmospheric. I remember being almost overwhelmed with their musicianship on 2017's "Visions", yet affected on a darkly sensory level on 2019's "Nocturne". Between those albums, the band showed that they could compose driving, illustrious progressive rock or they could simply offer a transcendent, haunting experience. They can do it all, throwing in excellent sax, flute, and spine-tingling synth to boot.

For "To Touch the Sky", the band have changed yet again. This time, the music feels fleeting, existential, and floating. I still hear some influence from Mike Oldfield and Hackett, though I'm surprised at how little of the biggest classic "prog" bands I hear. The Emerald Dawn comes from a different ancestry, more akin to Moody Blues and Renaissance than Genesis or Yes. This album displays this with confidence and prowess.

There are a couple things to note here. First, I think Tree's vocals have improved greatly. She sounds evocative and otherworldly, just the way I think she wants to sound. Second, the sound design is distinctly atmospheric and even withdrawn or hazy. The drums sound like they are coming from somewhere off in the distance, and the same goes for the fantastic bass, extraordinary guitarwork, and delightful keys and flute. This sound design makes the entire album feel like music filtering through a misty, sunlit forest, or possibly more like sounds from another realm entirely. It is an interesting choice, one that some may not like, but I think it sounds different and unique.

The album only has three songs, each of them over 10 minutes. Altogether, the runtime is about 48 minutes. Each of the songs has an ethereal quality to it that I love. "The Awakening" opens and is the "short" song at 11 minutes. It has a good amount of sax and overall feelings of light, jazz, and pastoral color; and, as is the case for much of the album, it hovers right at the borders of our imagination. It sets the stage well. Next comes "And I Stood Transfixed", a fifteen-minute track that ranges from foggy musings to spacious vocal harmonies to blistering edges that almost feel sinister. This song reminds me somewhat of the Swedish band Cross (RIP, Hansi).

The final track comes in at 22 minutes in length and is called "The Ascent". This track has more guitar, specifically with an Oldfield bent to it. The song feels truly like climbing and entering thinner air. It feels "epic", but in a subtle way, if that makes any sense. The last few minutes contain most of the vocals, and I absolutely love the melodies and Tree's performance here.

The Emerald Dawn keeps getting better. Their musicianship was never in question for me, but their continued ability to produce interesting, poetic, and ethereal music is obvious on this record. "To Touch the Sky" is perfectly titled, and I find myself listening to it continuously.

Report this review (#2533311)
Posted Friday, April 9, 2021 | Review Permalink
4 stars Ménage à trois tapestry or "three moods for a day"

1. The Awakening (11:15) dramatically emerges from a jazzy mist. Piano riffs and runs. Tom Jackson's percussive bric-a-brac and David Greenway's ascending, burbling bass anchor Ally Carter's cloaked pink camel guitar stylings. Katrina winds up and soars over the composition's landscape. Mesmerizing and contemplative, The Awakening wets the listener's appetite. 8/10

2. And I Stood Transfixed (15:07) That's right, I stood in awe of Katrina Tree Steward's acoustic guitar tones trampled under animals that wish you were here. A Pink sax echoes. Orchestral textured drum fills anchor the drippy trippiness. After a brief flute dirge, the composition rushes into a Crimson gush, last seen through Steven Wilson's eyes, plucked out by blackbirds. The storm retreats before a stunning dusk and a tawny camel colored sunset. 9/10

3. The Ascent (22:17) Passing the cloister as the greenery of the scenery seems to touch the sky. A piano gavottes across a bridge with an emotive guitar lead. If dead can dance, they would to Tree's epicene sing-hums. Synthesizers and guitars knit, whirl, and weave around whiskey candied drums and a gin milled bass. Occasional chaos bubbling, rolling, diving into the honeyed molasses. An emerald dawn composes itself into an epic climax. Another day dawns, and diamond dew shone like spangles upon an emerald lawn. 8/10

A minor masterpiece, worthy addition to any prog rock collection.

Report this review (#2538701)
Posted Thursday, April 29, 2021 | Review Permalink
siLLy puPPy
COLLABORATOR
PSIKE, JR/F/Canterbury & Eclectic Teams
3 stars Cornwall proggers THE EMERALD DAWN returns in 2021 with its fourth album TO TOUCH THE SKY which features an album cover that makes you walk between a pair of green giant chicken legs to get to the promised land! The album continues the band's fascination with symphonic space rock with lengthy compositions. In fact this album only features three tracks in its near 49-minute run. The shortest of which is over 11 minutes and the longest over 22!

This quartet of Tree Stewart (vocals, keyboards, Roli Seaboard, 12-string acoustic guitar, flute), Ally Carter (electric guitar, guitar synthesizer, tenor saxophone, keyboard), David Greenaway (fretless & fretted basses) and Tom Jackson (drums) started out more in the realms of neo-prog but since its inception has incorporated other stylistic approaches that gives the band a fairly unique sound. Graced with folky acoustic guitars, space rock atmospheric backdrops and occasional jazzy interludes with sensual sax squawking, THE EMERALD DAWN definitely stands out amongst the crowded prog universe.

While mostly an instrumental album, the intermittently placed vocals Tree Stewart are dreamy and sensual more in the vein of The Cocteau Twins than classic prog bands although significantly lower on the register. With sprawling epic length tracks, TO TOUCH THE SKY comes across as part symphonic prog in the vein of Genesis and classic Renaissance but also incorporates the psychedelic nonchalance of space rock bands like Pink Floyd especially around the "Wish You Were Here" era. Another prominent feature sort of brings post-rock to mind with lengthy cyclical melodic loops painted with atmospheric pastiches, punctuated by folky flute runs and creme de la creme keyboard contributions.

Overall this could be called dream prog as it evokes the new agier albums of artists like Mike Oldfield without taming down the progressive rock heft. While rarely picking up steam to rock, there are moments when the drifting snail's paced rhythms get a bit excited as in the middle of "And I Stood Transfixed" which finds a feisty drumming performance behind the slow tempos and an energetic squawking of the saxophone. If i had to describe TO TOUCH THE SKY in any way that makes sense i would call this "unbroken stream of consciousness prog" because these tracks despite their length are really just long processions of cyclical rhythms and melodic touches all hazed over by heavy atmospheric cloud covers.

Despite all that's great about TO TOUCH THE SKY, i find that what really bugs me the most about this album is the lo-fi production. While perfect for black metal demos and other music that's designed to be agitating and grating, this album seems designed to be lush and care-free with beautiful churning synth swells that evoke a sense of epic connection to the universe. Another thing i find particularly weak on this one are the vocals which struggle to hit the notes. With music this ethereal and angelic it brings the musical procession down a bit for my ears with the rather amateurish vocal sections. In fact it would have been better for this album to be entirely instrumental or having found some more creative way to incorporate vocals into the mix. In the end this is a pleasant enough album but i much prefer the previous "Nocturne."

Report this review (#2575189)
Posted Tuesday, June 29, 2021 | Review Permalink
BrufordFreak
COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The atmospheric prog folk band from St. Ives is back with it's fourth major release--an album that shows some major steps forward in both its compositional complexity and its sound production.

1. "The Awakening" (11:15) not as syrupy as past compositions, there is complexity and development here that the band has never been willing (or felt the need) to do before. There are moments I feel classical music parallels and jazzy stylistic adventures. Awesome! (17.25/20)

2. "And I Stood Transfixed" (15:07) I love the PINK FLOYD "Welcome to the Machine" feel of the opening of this one as well as the hand percussion used in place of the drums. At 2:12 it shifts in both tempo and instruments as drum kit joins in with bass, fast strummed guitar, and Dick Parry-like tenor saxophone. Then, at 3:40, everything stops while spacey synths oscillate and soft rhythm track establishes itself for Tree to sing over with her heavily-reverbed TRACY THORN-like voice. Beautiful section. Tree's flute takes over in the gorgeous seventh and eight minutes before a kind of earthquake of sound leads into an aggressive, monster-movie-like section. Ally's tenor sax goes wild over the drums. A brief section with Tree's most angelic vocalise is followed by a long passage over which Alan's guitar shreds perhaps as quickly, effectively, and emotionally as ever. My favorite Emerald Dawn song ever! (27.5/30)

3. "The Ascent" (22:17) opens with organ-synth sounds (strings and flutes) and Mellotron voices before giving way to light classical piano play of a kind of Russian theme (think John Tout/RENAISSANCE) with background synth strings and delicate cymbal improvisation. The whole song sounds as if it were recorded inside a huge cathedral space. In the third minute, Ally Carter's distinctive electric guitar begins another searing solo but then, uncharacteristically, cuts it short at 3:00 in order to make room for a new two chord section over which Tree sings in a kind of SALLY OLDFIELD/TRACEY THORN voice. At 5:37 there is another shift--this one taking the listener down an entirely new and refreshing path--with low strings and plucked strings arpeggi flowing over the more dynamic bass and drum play. Despite the open, orchestra-like sound recording of the drums, they are rather impressive here. At 8:30, there is another shift into a more ethereal fog of synth washes with some subtle bass and drum incidentals until a very slow pace is established--over which Ally begins soloing as if from one of the side chapels of a large cathedral. At the end of the eleventh minute, the music shifts back to a variation of the 5:37 movement. Here Ally's synthesized guitar solos sounding very much like a saxophone. The keyboard soundscapes here sound a lot like the ALAN PARSONS PROJECT in the I Robot era. At 13:55 things break down into a more simplified, spacious variation of the 3:00 motif with Tree singing again. Piano solos and synth solos exchange take turns over the paunchy bass lines and interesting drum play. There is a very COLLAGE Moonshine-like quality and feel to the sound here. The music palette stays pretty much the same for a while though there are several subtle shifts in pace and motif. At the end of the nineteenth minute, some nice orchestral-sounds (low "brass") help bring a gravity to the music indicative of the song's coming to an end--trying to make it's last impression. Tree sings the final verse and then Ally lets loose with an emotion-packed guitar solo while organ chords, bass, and vacuous drums carry the tune below up to it's protracted "orchestral" finish. Very nicely done! Another song that I can honestly say raises the band in my esteem. Finally, I can feel the way Emerald Dawn's music is informed by classical music as they have claimed. (39.5/45)

Total Time 48:39

A band that has had a very pleasing, attractive sound from its inception, but whose quality in sound production and complexity of musical arrangements has always seemed lacking. With this album, the band seems to have taken a turn toward more serious sound engineering and more seriously thought out compositions. In the past, I've complained about the simplicity of Emerald Dawn compositions as well as about the out-dated computer- generated sounds used to make their rich space music. On To Touch the Sky, the band have finally stepped up in both compositional complexity and the use of machines that can produce higher quality sounds (or they may have just found a better producer and better engineers). The changes are a definite step forward.

B/four stars; a solid contribution to Prog World and an Emerald Dawn album that I can finally recommend to prog lovers everywhere.

Report this review (#2605849)
Posted Wednesday, October 20, 2021 | Review Permalink

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