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John Holden - Kintsugi CD (album) cover


John Holden


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Honorary Collaborator
5 stars John Holden is a British composer, arranger, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who has an uncanny relationship with the progressive rock community, in that he can clearly enlist some top shelf fellow artists of the highest calibre to collaborate with him on his musical quests. His three previous albums, Circles in Time, Rise and Fall and the debut Capture Light, have made quite the impact as they have been universally acclaimed for consistently raising the bar with superlative efforts, undoubtedly crowned by this 4th album Kintsugi. Some of my favourite players are here, from the incredible Dave Bainbridge and Michel St-Pere on guitars, the illustrious Frank van Essen on viola and violin, my current drummer of choice Henry Rogers, talented keyboardist Vikram Shankar as well as a slew of first-rate vocalists, such as Sally Minnear, Iain Hornal, Joe Payne, Peter Jones, and Jean Pageau. There are a few key storylines that seem almost directed at me, namely history, culture, and fate.

So, the stage is set for another exhilarating progressive musical adventure that seeks only to inspire one to overt escapism, and "to fire the imagination". No prisoners are taken on the tragic and exceptionally epic "Achilles" as the first notes instill all the bombast and pageantry associated since time immemorial with Homer's Illiad, the most famous of all Greek mythology warriors, whose heel was the only vulnerable part of his body. Within mere seconds, the listener is transported to some fabled space, where acoustic guitar, rippling piano, vocals chants combine to set up the sorrowful vocals from Joe Payne as the glorious hero's story unfolds. Rogers enters the fray, elevating the symphonics with delicacy and subtlety. Holden rips off a few blistering thunderbolts as if Zeus himself was behind him, the second volley heavier, grittier as it dances along with the slippery synths. Just like his storied life, all tragic ebb and conquering flow, the victorious mood wanders from mountain to valley, towards a destiny with the Gods.

In contrast, the soothing pastoral ballad, "Ringing the Changes", has piano and Sally Minnear's lovely vocals to admire, a very typical English folk song that is both endearing and effortless. The bells ring indeed. A perfect intermezzo before the title track kicks in, Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with fillings highlighted instead of being "camouflaged", respectfully restoring what was once broken, a clear metaphor for spiritual healing or renewal. One of the busiest musicians in prog handles the vocals with his usual impressive timbre, Peter Jones certainly understands emotion and his voice conveys it to perfection. Majestic, soaring effortlessly and ultimately a classic, the terrific electric guitar solo is sheer mastery, as Van Essen adds his orchestral ornamentation to the arrangement.

The chugging "Flying Train" refers to the landmark elevated suspension railway with hanging cars built in 1901 in the German town of Wuppertal, considered even today as a technological marvel. This is an instrumental affair that unites a variety of moody textures, dense orchestral atmospherics, train effects (bass and drums) as well as soft flute and ornate piano. A soundtrack for a monorail! Truly wunderbar stuff!

Culture : "Xenos" has to do with xenophobia (and not another chapter of Greek Mythology !), as our global world struggles to come to terms with identity, acceptance and societal needs to adapt in a more binary sense. This is a subject matter that hits home with me as I went to an international school in Switzerland whose motto was "Be proud of your heritage but respect those of others. Iain Hornal (ELO, 10cc) handles the microphone here, in a breezy, spacious musical context, perhaps aiming to a more conciliatory tone. Peter Jones' lustrous voice reappears for one more suave performance on "Against the Tide", a more conventional prog-pop song that is accessible, laden with solid playing , a rolling bass line in particular and a fiery sax solo courtesy of the lead vocalist. The mood is reminiscent of Ace's smoky hit single "How Long" (Paul Carrack was the singer), snapping fingers not withstanding

Fate: "Peggy's Cove" has a profound meaning for me, as I missed Swissair flight 111 that crashed off this Unesco Heritage sight on September 2, 1998. I had cancelled my seat the day before? Suddenly, my life was in overtime mode (or bonus tracks if you want) and altered everything?. It is a beautiful, windswept, picture postcard type of place, with a memorial to those who perished there, did not see my name there when I visited years later but one of a schoolmate of 30 years previous. There is no such thing as random or coincidence. The track here is a fitting personal remembrance, a Celtic-tinged ditty sung by Minnear with the necessary grace and serenity. Gulp!

History again: The longest track, "Building Heaven" is the grand finale and a most appropriate one indeed. Acoustic guitar, piano and strings prepare the banquet table for the feast to begin. The construction of this piece defines why prog can have such a foundational effect on the listener, it is clever, crafty, intricate, persuasive, and more often than not, drop dead beautiful. The city of Coventry was razed by a Luftwaffe bombing raid that even gave birth to a verb in the French language (Coventriser), a tragedy made worse only because it came out much later that the British government knew of the impending raid of 300 hundred bombers via its decoding of Ultra, the Nazi Enigma cypher but did not know the exact target for that night. The track is a solemn rendition of faith and fate, as both male and female vocalists espouse the virtues of defiant courage, resolute determination, and the will to rebuilding lives from the ashes. The mournful tone is pungent and obstinate , just like the resistance to the arial enemy. The sizzling guitar work from master musician Dave Bainbridge is simply outstanding, as I have been a huge fan of his since the Iona days, all the way up to his stunning solo work as well as with Lifesigns.

Sandwiched by two epic historical pieces, this work really consecrates John Holden as a force to be reckoned with, a passionate and consummate artist whose vision should continue to shine with more works of this stature. With a little help from (my) friends.

5 golden repair kits

Report this review (#2846151)
Posted Saturday, October 15, 2022 | Review Permalink
4 stars JOHN HOLDEN is this English multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer who creates typed pastoral progressive sounds; he manages to bring in beautiful people for a condensed rock, folk, jazz, hard, flamenco and classical, he who has composed and kept an emotional link with the progressive since the start. 2018 is his personal musical birth with a good neo where the voices are often female. A universe quite varied in terms of musical genre, an album here on the art of repairing oneself and becoming stronger, a little resilience in fact useful in this completely inhuman world. Symphonic prog rock in my opinion eclectic but let's see.

Album with two long tracks including "Achilles" and the fabulous voice of Joe PAYNE telling the story of the hero, to shiver; a slow rise where the voice bewitches while waiting for the thunderous solo break, guitar and synths bordering on heavy, which shows that metal has really taken over; grandiloquent air coming from the Heavens, the mother's complaint can do nothing to the destiny of her son, a remarkable progressive musical tragedy to listen to in view of the musical research. "Ringing the Changes" for the country folk rhyme, piano, acoustic guitar, violin, bells to protect oneself from urban life; childish air, a little used and overrated, good for listening at Christmas. "Kintsugi" with Peter JONES on vocals, on a phrasing of the archangel to talk about the current life, sublime; air a tad Japanese before the progressive rise; Frank's violin break in the ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA all in symphony, the emotion is at the rendezvous on this monolithic tune sublimated by a solo by Michel from MYSTERY which reminds us that prog or art-rock has the most beautiful solos in genre. "Flying Train" intro on the German SNCF and the announcement of an ominous train going to WUPPERTAL; latent atmosphere, dark pads letting imagine the advancing vehicle, a bit of flute, in short prog rock at the bottom. Japanese keyboards in the background to extend the previous title then the whole orchestra, perched on a wagon, gives a moving vibration; aerial instrumental piece where the final piano seems to show the way, very beautiful, high and symphonic.

"Xenos" on the reception, not easy in these uncertain times, air la ALAN PARSONS or ELECTRIC LIGHT ORCHESTRA, that's good Iain is present. Plaintive then high voice giving a groovy, soulful air well supported by Vikram's crystalline organ; consensus title deja vu. "Against the Tide" with its brass parts on BRAND X see TOTO; romantic air which denotes on a prog album, evolution or turn, the sax between melancholy and emotional sweetness for a jazzy soft funk because it has to be called that, it's up to you to decide. "Peggy's Cove" sublime intro that catches up with the listener with an Irish / Scottish air to make the hairs of the progs stand up (yes the hair must be more and more rare for them!); arrival in Nova Scotia and Sally gives a bounding Celtic folk sound to take as an interlude before "Building Heaven" and the second long cult track, good easy since it is about the elevation of the COVENTRY cathedral. Flute by Jean from Les MYSTERY to give voice to Sally, classical orchestration with violins, jangling, brass and guitar arpeggio from Genesis; the break with the siren, the planes show the hell undergone, the heavy violins amplify the climate; stunning progressive piece with a dazzling rising guitar solo before returning to an Andalusian arpeggio where bossa nova notes seem to translate drops of water; the finale with the choirs, the bells send me back to Mike OLDFIELD for the characteristic atmosphere and the end, the silence still seems to be part of the title.

John HOLDEN asks me questions with his albums; mat titles, pastoral, folk, groovy, good but presenting nothing fundamentally new and ready to come and rank among other achievements; and then some titles sublimate the album to the point of imagining it as the album of the month. Such is the result of listening to this convoluted, varied and disconcerting symphonic progressive. We feel the search, the desire to share an unforgettable moment; a non-retro progressive because showing the evolution of this kind of music that never stops evolving. For those who loved the creativity of GENESIS in its time, run and listen, buy it and keep it hidden for you, it's a nugget that would have exploded much more without the two jazzy folk tracks in the middle. 4.5 points for info.

Report this review (#2847266)
Posted Sunday, October 23, 2022 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Another impeccably-realized collection of uniquely-perspective sonic adventures from one of England's most uniquely reverential voices.

1. "Achilles" (10:48) a gorgeous song in which That Joe Payne puts on exhibit the most restrained and mature vocal performance that I've heard from him to date--a performance that is so perfect for this music and subject as to be so emotionally powerful! At the end of the seventh minute, the music shifts in direction into something much heavier, much more in-your-face, for a brief minute until rejoining the atmospheric, almost New Age keyboard-based motif of the opening two sections. Incredible multi-layered and multi-faceted vocal performance by Joe Payne. (18.667/20)

2. "Ringing the Changes" (3:43) light-hearted music over which Sally Minnear sings. There is almost a Christmas carol feel to this, though the song subject seems much more quotidian--like a Victorian poem of everyday life. Captures a time and style not our own impeccably. (9/10)

3. "Kintsugi" (7:04) one forgets how similar Dave Longdon's voice was to that of Peter Jones until one hears a song like this: so similar to a Big Big Train song, a fair BBT train song at that. (12.75/15)

4. "Flying Train" (5:33) a nice instrumental that opens with a voice sample from a man speaking in German. Apparently it's a song commemorating the prediction of flying trains. (8.667/10)

5. "Xenos (5:43) another very pretty little BBT-like song. (8.75/10)

6. "Against the Tide" (5:27) a little jazz-pop song that sounds like Al Jarreau, Ambrosia's David Pack, or Phil Collins should be singing. (8.667/10)

7. "Peggy's Cove" (4:21) after a mood-setting Celtic opening, a more African-rhythm establishes a musical feel more akin to something by Peter Gabriel, Sally Minnear's lilting little voice soon establishes the fact that we're singing about a legendary person who may (or may not) have survived a shipwreck that happened long ago in Nova Scotia. Cute and catchy little sea ditty! (8.75/10)

8. "Building Heaven" (11:34) opens with a very classical theatric orchestral feel before Sally Minnear's (purposefully?) youthful voice starts singing in a "Who Will Buy?" kind of style (and setting). Flutes and 12-string guitars help fill the gentle, pastoral feel as Sally introduces a story of war and tribulation that is intended as a tribute to illustrate the professed mission of Jesus of Nazareth. The song goes instrumental for about five minutes, from the four-minute mark and its air raid sirens and distant bomb explosions to the gentle guitar and keyboard arpeggio-supported point at which Dave Bainbridge's soaring electric guitar announces the arrival of a chorus and choral weave of Peter Jones, Joe Payne, and Sally Minnear singing praises of Christ's mission to "Build Heaven." Interesting but ultimately packing far less of a punch than I think might have been intended. Methinks this could have been built into something much more grand, more expanded and multi-faceted. (17.25/20)

Total Time 54:13

I have, from the beginning of John's presence in Prog World, often felt a very strong background in religious music to John's style of composition and sound construction--as if he is writing from a background or perspective of someone who has come from or lives in a monastic or religious life. On this, his fourth studio album, I fear John has fallen into the Big Big Train/Galahad pattern of historical worship.

B/four stars; a very nice excursion through some very pleasant songs realised with the utmost care and perfection-- songs that sometimes fall a bit short of "prog expectations". Still, a very nice addition to any prog lover's music collection--one that will probably deliver little gems and subtleties for many listens.

Report this review (#2868962)
Posted Sunday, December 18, 2022 | Review Permalink

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