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Colin Masson

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Colin Masson The Southern Cross album cover
3.58 | 39 ratings | 10 reviews | 26% 5 stars

Excellent addition to any
prog rock music collection

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Studio Album, released in 2011

Songs / Tracks Listing

1. Never Come Back (3:52)
2. Sails of Silver (7:16)
3. South Australia (8:20)
4. The Wreckers (6:34)
5. Compass Rose (3:55)
6. Intermission with Moon Cycles (0:49)
7. The Heart of the Machine (4:55)
8. Ocean of Storms (12:41)
9. The Southern Cross (14:24)

Total Time 62:46

Line-up / Musicians

- Colin Masson / guitars, keyboards, vocals, recorders, drum programming & percussion, found sounds
- Cathy Alexander / vocals, keyboards, recorders
- Ryan Masson / extraneous noises

Releases information

Released by Morrigan Music 2011

Thanks to lazland for the addition
and to projeKct for the last updates
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COLIN MASSON The Southern Cross ratings distribution

(39 ratings)
Essential: a masterpiece of progressive rock music(26%)
Excellent addition to any prog rock music collection(36%)
Good, but non-essential (33%)
Collectors/fans only (5%)
Poor. Only for completionists (0%)

COLIN MASSON The Southern Cross reviews

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Collaborators/Experts Reviews

Review by lazland
4 stars This 2011 release by talented multi-instrumentalist Colin Masson arrived on my doorstep last week, and adds greatly to one of the best years for new progressive rock music I can remember.

This is a concept album, and the CD inlay describes in great detail the evolution of the album. The story can be summarised as the tale of two ships, both called The Southern Cross, both doomed, but separated by a thousand years in time. The first "side" deals with an 18th Century ship that came to grief in Southern Australia, whilst the second deals with a futuristic ship of the same name falling foul of a black hole.

As with all concept albums, the trick is to tell a coherent, believable, story which both manages to hold the attention and, of course, allows the music to put across that story. On all levels, The Southern Cross more than succeeds.

The album opens with what can only be described as a fun sea shanty, which lyrically and musically sets the scene very well for a group of simple sailors facing their fear of a long voyage into the unknown, knowing intuitively that their ship is not the best and might well be doomed. Perhaps surprisingly, the track is not as doom laden as it sounds, and I rather like the way its upbeat tone reflects the perhaps fatalistic sense that many such people had in that great age of discovery.

Sails Of Silver moves the story forward, with a very nice vocal set against a gentle acoustic guitar and dreamy keys. This is a lovely pastoral track showcasing to very good effect Masson's clear mastery of, especially, the acoustic guitar, and you can just imagine being on deck on calm waters voyaging towards your far away destination, before the track closes with a great electric burst announcing arrival, a phase which is very reminiscent of much of Mike Oldfield's more symphonic works.

South Australia is the destination, and the track continues where its predecessor left off. It is grandiose, describing particularly well the sailors' sense of anticipation bound for the continent. It features the heaviest musical passage thus far in the album, and is expansive, but also interspersed with some more lovely pastoral, acoustic, moments, thus describing the varying mood changes of its subjects rather perfectly. Again, Masson proves himself to be a master of the acoustic guitar especially.

On The Wreckers, Masson's wife, Cathy Alexander, takes the lead vocals, and quite wonderful she is too. Very operatic, she leads a symphonic piece setting the scene marvellously, whilst Masson bangs & crashes with orchestration and percussion to more than adequately describe to us the cliffs, waves, and rocks upon which the ship will flounder. Huge in scope, and marvellously executed, this track is a pure joy to listen too, with Masson and Cathy complementing each other very well.

Compass Rose closes the first part of the story. This is a sad, melancholic track featuring a quite lovely guitar solo. A paean to the fallen, this is yet another example of how one can build a picture musically without the need for any words whatsoever.

The Intermission follows. Fairly amusing for the first couple of listens, as Masson explains to his younger audience that this is the point at which you would flip the vinyl for side two in the "good old days", you will, after this, find yourself skipping straight to the second part of the story.

This begins with The Heart Of The Machine, and it brings about a huge change in mood, tempo, and sound, almost as if you are going from pastoral, symphonic 1970's prog to the brasher feel of the 1980's & 90's. Of course, it is all quite deliberate; after all, Masson is telling a story of events a millennium apart. A booming bass, especially, rings in the change - out with the old, and in with the new. Having said that, I find this the weakest track on the album, because the lyrics are, in my opinion, rather cliched, and I feel the track would have worked far better had it been left as a purely instrumental track, and this, to me, is witnessed by the fine heavy rock phase at the denouement.

We then move to the two longest tracks on the album, beginning with Ocean Of Storms, clocking in at over twelve minutes long. It is epic, and also extremely good. The vocal effects add to the mood, and effortless keys and orchestration, with some quite lovely recorders, create a dreamlike state, and the key to this is that it keeps the listener's attention throughout, not an easy thing to manage on such a track. Interestingly, the liner notes state that this track was virtually rewritten as new (much of the other material harks back many years, awaiting modern recording technology to realise), and all I can say is that this makes me really look forward to the next release, and I hope that it is not too long in coming. There are passages which are, to these ears, very Floydian, especially with the sound effects, and, throughout, a quiet sense of doom pervades proceedings. It is, though, never anything less than magnificently performed.

The album closes with the title track, the longest on the album at fourteen and a half minutes. Here, you should close your eyes, and simply let the music take you on board the ship as it plunges towards its doom. Wild guitars, a booming bass, and drums set the scene, with keys all the while bringing us the tragic theme, much as a good opera would. The short vocal section adequately conveys the angst and despair of the situation, but I do rather feel that Alexander might have been a better choice to sing here, given her clear sense of the tragic and a voice that would bring a better sense of the drama. However, the music itself then reasserts itself fantastically as entry comes, with the aftermath reflective and brilliant.

The inlay notes are very good, and give an insight into the development of this project. However, as with the best concepts, it leaves the listener to imagine his or her own "reality" in the story, and I hope that I have conveyed my own personal interpretation adequately.

My only real quibble with the album is what I regard as the underuse of Cathy Alexander vocally. She shows herself to have a magnificent voice on The Wreckers, with an operatic sensibility that more than matches the drama of the story. More of her in future, please.

The artwork, as one might expect from a professional artist, is sumptuous, and this is a well produced, very well executed, and very enjoyable album. It will appeal very strongly to fans of Mike Oldfield (Masson is clearly very strongly influenced) and also those, like me, who really enjoy the Meddle period instrumentals of Floyd as much as the later stuff.

Given that Oldfield & Floyd have sold enough albums to fill the planet's living rooms, there is, I believe, plenty of scope for this to be a commercial success. It certainly deserves your attention, and I have no hesitation in awarding four stars for a work that becomes more enjoyable with each listen, and one I will play regularly in time to come. I will also record my appreciation for Colin making the CD available for me to review.

Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
5 stars Navigating across vast symphonic oceans on a masterful expedition aboard The Southern Cross.

Colin Masson's "The Southern Cross" has a distinct atmosphere of nautical mystery with tales of sailing across vast oceans and exploring. The music really has the power to hook the listener and transport them to far away places. In this sense there is a true sense of mystique about the project and it is an original approach that works on many levels. The album cover boasts some fine art work of Tall ships floating across Saturn's rings, reminding me of the Kansas cover "Point of Know Return" where the boat sails off the edge of the world. The story is easy to follow and a very compelling journey takes place told in Colin's lyrics.

From the beginning the album provides a unique style with sea shanty flavours and whimsical seafaring atmospherics. 'Never Come Back' sets the scene as the devilish captain and the crew set sail aboard The Southern Cross. The portentous lyrics explain the fate of the crew and all that is left is for us to experience how the vessel meets her doom.

The instrumental 'Sails of Silver' retains the atmosphere of sailing, featuring some lovely acoustics and melodies that float along with synth strings and quirky keyboard notes. The lyrics focus on describing the vessel and how the intrepid crew feels; "we never ask the questions though the reasons are not clear, the maidens miss the sailor's kiss but they'll be back next year". The flute tones and the way it is orchestrated feels very much like being on a Clipper ship setting sail for a treacherous journey. The minimalist acoustic at the end is delightful along with the exquisite strings, and I am already hooked into the atmosphere.

'South Australia' really peaked my interest, being based on my homeland, and it begins with a Mike Oldfield style guitar tone, played with skill and emotion. Once again the melody is like a classic old sea shanty but with a modern touch. The brass embellishments lend a decidedly majestic yet foreboding feel. There is a menacing aura of darkness as we sense an ominous occurrence will fall our seafaring crew as they encounter the hazards of oceanic exploring. The lyrics are based on the Halyard sea shanty of legend, almost verbatim though not as long; "In South Australia I was born, to me Heave away, to me Haul away! South Australia round Cape Horn, And we're bound for South Australia, Haul away you rolling king, to me Heave away! To me Haul away! All the way you'll hear me sing, And we're bound for South Australia." The shanty has been recorded by numerous artists over the years, such as folksters The Clancy Brothers, and Rolf Harris, but you have never heard it like this. In fact I would never have considered this shanty a suitable lyric to be heard on a prog album, but here it is, and with the dark textures of the doomed journey, it is ironically fitting. I like the way the album takes such risks and it really seems to work in context on the story being told. For me the real drawcard is the instrumentation which is incredible, such as that section of layered guitar fingerpicking and crescendos of orchestra that rise and fall like waves splashing up on the deck. One can imagine in the mind's eye the boat being battered by ferocious waves and stormy weather.

'The Wreckers' has a Twilight Zone type intro except in reverse. The guitar melody is strong and then a real surprise as pristine operatic vocals chime in from Cathy Alexander, a voice also heard on Masson's "The Mad Monk and the Mountain". Perhaps it is a Siren calling out to cause the destruction of the vessel. It is the strong presence of impending doom that pervades the song, and it builds at appropriate times as the storm grows worse and the fate of the oceanfarers is sealed. The lyrics are poetically beautiful and my favourite on the album; "the stricken vessel lurches like a hound that has been brought to bay, the storm a fearsome hunter that has bloodied out the light of day, a trap is sprung the teeth are bared, the granite tears the keel away, the long boats down and broken and her rocky coast will have its prey." The songs are constantly employing maritime language and phrases one may read in a maritime poem such as; "on the cliffs they stand and wait, for the waters to abate, they bless the storm and set to sharpening their knives, they leave the rest to wind and fate". The tale tells of how The Southern Cross encounters pirates, the treasure full galleon of the Spaniards, who battle it out with "greed or slavery or pain, off course and lost all hands are drowned, the Spaniards lose, the Wreckers gain, and God have mercy on their souls". These ideas reminded me of course of Coleridge's infamous 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner', already legendary thanks to Iron Maiden, but I did not hear any phraseology from that poem on this album. It certainly is a nice touch to hear some female vocals as they bring a romantic flavor to the banquet; "oh lord eternal set me free, this is not where I want to be, I pray for life against our savage enemies on land and the cold, uncaring sea". After a few listens this track wrapped its tentacles around me until I was completely held captive by the powerful atmospheres. It is one of the strongest tracks of the album, and asserts the most spellbinding part of the tale of the 18th century vessel, and this is where the story ends for this particular ship.

'Compass Rose' is a guitar solo played over sustained orchestral key pads. The symphonic ambience is pleasant and constantly traverses in new directions, like a Clipper vessel as it were battling the storm. The 'Intermission with Moon Cycles' is humorous with narration about how vinyl albums used to have two sides and it had a profound impact on the music; "whole edifices of the imagination were constructed around the fact that an album must have two sides", and he makes it emphatically clear that now "this is side two". I applaud the addition of this as it makes you remember the importance of correctly structuring the vinyl album's content. One only has to remember Genesis' "Foxtrot", Pink Floyd's "Meddle", or Caravan's "In The Land of Grey and Pink" to realise the essential placing of vinyl tracks where space is limited, and tracks thjat were designed to fill a whole album side. And I was brought to remembering also how artists used to brand sides of albums by creative names and each track then fit the concept, such as The Doors' "Morrison Hotel" with side one titled 'Hard Rock Café' and side two titled 'Morrison Hotel'.

The second side is a different tale of another vessel called 'The Southern Cross', but this vessel is a space craft that actually meets its fate at the explosive power of a black hole. the liner notes tell us this though it may not come across on hearing the album. So we enter side two of this digital vinyl album thingy with a wonderful excursion into funkadelic basslines and retro guitar sounds that swell with pride over a robust beat. 'The Heart of the Machine' actually sounds more like a song that one might hear on the radio, than previous tracks. In fact the whole of this side is definitely a departure from the 70s feel because now we have been beamed out of the 18th century on a space excursion in the future. The melody is strong and it has some innovative time sig shifts. The rock feel with distorted guitar is a welcome change after all the ambience previously. The lead solo is excellent with hammer-ons, string bends and speed picking. The chorus is infectious with some idiosyncratic lyrics; "I believe in everything they tell me, everything they tell me must be true, I believe that paradise is waiting in the shadows, I could put the finger on you." The middle lead solo is the best so far on the album, a very loud raw whammy bar dominated sound that has a crunching riff as a background. It fades out eventually but I would like to have heard this go on for a longer time. This track is a great blast of rock to kick off the second side, and it really grew on me.

After this bright spark of exuberance, the atmosphere goes dark as cloudy synth effects draw like curtain blinds over sunny skies. We are now in space and the storm is coming in, an 'Ocean of Storms', and at first it feels like clouds closing in slowly, patiently awaiting their hour of glory when the heavens will burst. The keyboards are played with finesse, exuding a depth of emotion that has the power to draw one in. There is a depth of tension in the air, augmented by the echo of Cathy's angelic vocal intonations and a harmonious recorder. The anticipation of the chaos of the black hole ready to break out is prevailing. The Pink Floyd sound, especially from "Animals" or "Meddle", is enhanced by a wonderful percussive guitar lick and bass drone. I love the sensuous melancholy wailing vocals sounding as though the storm has found a voice and is crying out for the explorers. Eventually a time sig change locks in with keyboard sweeps that wash over spacey synth textures and electronic effects. It is close to the work of Jean Michel Jarre's synth soaked electronic works. There are estranged voices heard on the soundtrack adding to the atmosphere. One can immerse themselves into the music and it seems to breathe and expire with the tension of dark beauty and the release of bright guitar tones. The music constantly builds higher up the scale till it releases into the grandeur of a spacey soundscape, enhanced by swathes of string pads. The lady of the ocean cries out "there's nobody there, is anybody there? Answer me". We feel that the explorers have been lost in the black hole and are doomed. This may be a metaphor for isolation, as may be the whole album; an allegory for loss of identity, searching for answers and the experience of alienation among the storms of life.

'The Southern Cross' has a kind of Robert Fripp like picking style on twin guitars that drives the track along. The guitars dominate and become increasingly more aggressive as the track moves along, similar to Andy Latimer at times. The duel lead guitar playing is well executed and delivers some excellent themes and melodies. It builds to a rockier feel mid way through with loud staccato keyboard blasts and a strong guitar hook that dictates proceedings until it breaks into a gentler approach with Spanish guitar style fingerpicking. The style changes several times, even launching into metal guitar riffing and then finally Colin's vocals return to end the tale. He has an aggressive style as the lyrics clearly confirm how the journey culminated as the ship is lost on the other side of the black hole; "we hold the course we do not choose, we sail the Southern Cross, can you hear us calling, no one is left to save us now, save us for we are calling". Some of the lead guitar here is the best I have heard from Colin. I love the heavier playing with some fierce riffing and elongated string bends harmonised by two lead guitars trading off, echoing the melodies. Some of the keyboards remind me of Wakeman's style, at least with the majestic melodies. This track is a masterpiece, clearly the best on the album, and what a way to end the expedition. The journey has come full circle, both ships are doomed on polar opposites of the time scale, one taken by the storm of the ocean and one taken by the storm of the universe. The album ends where it began with 'Never Come Back', the prophecy foretold in the opening lyrics; "if she goes to sea than she'll never come back, she's a wreck from the crack in her keel to the holes in her deck." Both vessels are doomed and their fate is in the hands of the gods.

So we come to the end of the one hour journey completely satisfied and this is far superior to "Mad Monk and the Mountain" as it simply delivers from beginning to end, never feeling like filler, and not ending with all instrumental works, but with every section adding to the whole experience. The dynamic content continues the line of thought that has been a constant companion on all of Masson's albums, especially on his previous release that focused on lighthouses and insanity that isolation can bring, and storms that rock our world till we cannot find our way back. It is an album to be listened to in one listen with the headphones on so you can be uninterrupted and indulge in the pure escapism on offer. By the end of the journey, we have been treated to an emotional exploration of ambience and innovative progressive soundscapes. We have discovered new territories along with our adventurers on both Southern Cross vessels, navigating along treacherous oceans and weathering intense storms.

Each track offers something completely different, from straight AOR to instrumental symphonic prog. Side two is definitely a different diversion on the journey as it is almost entirely instrumental. The story is really left to our imagination in these sections and we can surmise that the explorers were able to circumnavigate around various obstacles, as the music rises and descends, till they finally meet their fate. The instrumental sections are a spectacle of musical virtuosity with some inspired Oldfieldian guitar playing and gorgeous monochrome synthesizer nuances of beauty. This is an album that I took an instant liking to, and on repeated listens it did not fail to cast a spell with it's buoyant melodies and nautical themes. An album with a concept like this is in danger of becoming clichéd with all the maritime language and thematic content, however I did not feel that this was the case with "The Southern Cross". There is no pretension because the music and vocals encompass a genuine method of mixing concept with dazzling musicianship. Once you become immersed in the music, the experience has the power to take over and you are held captive by the enchanting parallel tales of the explorers navigating on their way across the immense oceanscapes of time and space.

Review by Andy Webb
3 stars Sailing seas of melody

Colin Masson, most well known as the guitarist in the English prog folk band The Morrigan, has been making waves in the progressive community with his now three solo efforts. His third album, The Southern Cross, carries a similar style as his previous albums, with a more atmospheric and melodic feel. Taking as much influence from Celtic folk rock as he does from his obvious main influence Mike Oldfield, Masson produces a very relaxing and enjoyable ride across the seas of this hour long record. The album itself has interesting story, to boot. Originally written and recorded in the mid-80s on a low-fi 4-track, the music sat in his back catalogue until he acquired proper means to record it professionally, which today is far easier to procure. So, in 2011 he set out re-recording the near-30 year old compositions again, sprucing them up and filling them in with modern spice. The album doesn't end as just some old songs, however, as, true to progressive style, it has an accompanying concept. The album is the story of two ships, the original Southern Cross that sets sail somewhere in the 18th century, and a starship that has an encounter with a black hole about a thousand years later. The two ships, as Masson himself puts it, meet a "sticky end," which is explored throughout the album.

The album is very much rooted in melody and atmosphere, two components Masson is no stranger to, as they were also the main ingredients in his 2009 album The Mad Monk and the Mountain. This album, however, takes on a more nautical overtone, coinciding with the theme of the album. The wave-like rhythmic patterns create a sense of a ship rocking across the seas, ranging from calm waters to stormy breakers. This atmosphere, mixed with a very Oldfield-esque folky melodic structure, makes for a very calm and relaxed album throughout.

The second "side" of the album (noted by the "record flip" track) notes a significant shift in style on the album. Now that the ocean vessel "The Southern Cross" has been exchanged for the intergalactic space cruiser, a more fast-paced and streamlined sound is taken on. Throughout this side a very clean feel as taken on, as if the space cruiser is making its way through the airwaves of this album's sound. The futuristic atmosphere in the three songs on this side enhances this experience, making the listener feel like he too is exploring the inner depths of space along with the space ship's crew. In a near psychedelic feel, Masson's various instrumental textures give the album an appearance, one of abstract wonder and mystery, which truly paves the way for this album's prowess as a smooth, calming exploration of Masson's musical vision.

In the end the album is a truly wonderful ride. The music, as old and "dated" as it is, retains a modern and accessible touch. Masson's self-production is well-done and professional despite the fact that the studio was Masson's bedroom. The concept, although it isn't the most developed story ever to exist, is creative and adds a nice dynamic to the album. The instrumentation is intimate and folky, preying on Masson's roots as a folk musician and his obvious Mike Oldfield influence. Overall, Masson has produced a very good record, with plenty of memorable melodies and a very beautiful atmosphere. Again he has shown he is no stranger to well-made music, and I will certainly look forward to more material from Mr. Masson. 3+ stars.

Review by memowakeman
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR Honorary Collaborator
4 stars A new Colin Masson album with some old material!

Thanks to the explanation Colin gives in the CD booklet, we can know that some of the material released in this new album was actually composed in the 80s, so here we have a combination of old and new stuff, complementing each other and creating a great conceptual album. Entitled "The Southern Cross", in this album we will listen to hints of The Morrigan (the band in which Masson plays), symphonic prog, guitars ala Oldfield, and some folk and traditional passages.

The album is formed by nine compositions, making a total time of one hour. It starts with "Never Come Back", one of the shortest tracks, whose sound has a strong folkish element, with nice percussion and acoustic guitars. The lyrical concept starts here since the very first second, so we have to pay attention to it if we want to understand the whole concept.

"Sails of Silver" starts with a soft and delicate sound, relaxing and charming for two minutes, until it suddenly changes and becomes very Oldfield-like, with that great electric guitar. Later a flute appears, while acoustic guitar and keyboards as background complement the scenario. Then the song shares different passages, the soft and charming sound reappears for some minutes, but as you guess, it will change to that joyful guitar oriented style. Cool track!

"South Australia" is one of my favorite compositions. It is a track that has the capacity of creating several images and producing a diversity of sensations. The first part is purely instrumental, but after three minutes vocals appear and put a mediaeval and war-like sound. There is an inherent folk flavor on this song. Later, keyboards appear and add their grain of sound, helping with a background and putting new textures and nuances. Wonderful and challenging song!

"The Wreckers" is the first track featuring Cathy Alexander on vocals. The music shares in moments a tense and intriguing atmosphere, complemented by her voice. There is an instrumental passage which is wonderful, full of hope and great expectations, but it fades out after five minutes, when vocals appear once again. "Compass Rose" is another short track, an instrumental one with cool guitar notes, and nice atmospheric keyboards. Both create a structure and decide when to increase and lower the sound.

Now with "Intermission With Moon Cycles" we have the shortest piece, which actually works as an intermission between the first and second half, here we listen to a voice explaining this. And side two starts with a strong bass sound in "The Heart of the Machine". This song has a rockier style, the folk element practically disappeared here. The sound is good but catchier, and honestly this is not my favorite track at all.

"Ocean of Storms" is the first of the two epics of the album. This song is really beautiful, it is like being on a journey in a boat, a ship, you can feel crossing the seas while listening to it. I love how with the seconds new elements are being added and can be appreciated. The music along with Cathy's vocals are surrounding and involving you little by little until you are inside the story. The atmosphere is awesome, and the quantity of images you can create is countless. You just have to let the music take you, and then you will decide what to see, what to listen, what to do. This is a truly progressive rock song, one of the highlights of this album without a doubt!

And finally "The Southern Cross", which is a wonderful mixture of all we've listened so far. Here the symphonic sound, the folk elements and that personal Colin Masson style can be perfectly heard here. In this 14-minute track we will also delight with different changes in time and humor; in the first minutes we will have an instrumental, well-structured track full of colors and images. Later vocals appear and give a different route. The guitar riffs are heavier than the previous tracks, the bass lines repetitive but addictive, and the keyboards great as usual. With this track, the journey sadly finishes, but left us with a great taste of mouth.

Colin Masson is a wonderfully talented musician, and I am happy to have his music. I really hope more people listen to him, he deserves it. My final grade will be four stars.

Enjoy it!

Review by VanVanVan
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.


Review by TheGazzardian
4 stars In 2009, Colin Masson released The Mad Monk and the Mountain, an album that, once it's existence was known, gained many well-deserved fans. Enough so that Colin, who had considered "Mad Monk" to be somewhat of a farewell and had decided to record no more, has made a complete about-face and followed up with The Southern Cross.

Perhaps because he has found an audience and knows he can continue to make music now - or perhaps because this album is composed of songs that Colin wrote many years ago during his heyday in The Morrigan - it lacks the intensity of Mad Monk. Instead, we get a more relaxed feeling, although that really is a relative statement. Tracks like South Australia carry with them a fair amount of intensity, from the deep, layered chanting vocals in the background, to the ponderous and purposeful instrumentation (with a slight nautical feel to it) that makes me think (intentionally, I am sure), of men rowing a large ship. But there are tracks - such as the opening to side A, Never Come Back, that don't quite have the sophistication of some of the better tracks on the album.

The album is a concept album about two ships named The Southern Cross, both of which come to unfortunate ends. As such, the album is split into a side A (about the first ship) and side B (about the second ship). As a nice twist, the ships are separated by a few hundred years and the second is actually a starship. This gives the two sides a distinct identity, with side A having more of a sea-shanty feel at times, whereas side B comes across as more modern and techy.

Instrumentally this album is much as you could expect after hearing Mad Monk. The guitar lines are clean and melodic, yet full of rich texture supported by the keyboards and occasional recorder that really help build up the sense of a scene. There is no doubt that Colin can play his guitar, and there are a couple of points where he "lets loose" for a moment or two, but it's always in the context of what works for the song and never just wankery. He is just as likely to let his guitar wail sorrowfully or groan ponderously, depending on the mood of the song. There is some truly beautiful work on this album, such as the last track on Side A, Compass Rose, which comes across as both sorrowful and beautiful. It always brings to my mind the aftermath of a ship being destroyed - starting with the ship slowly sinking under the surface of the ocean, but ending with the stillness and peacefulness of the wide open sea. It's like a calamity from the point of view of the ocean - a moment of turbulence followed by things being as they ever were.

The reality is that this album is mostly synthetic, with the recorder, voice, and the guitar being the only "real" instruments, and keyboards and programming providing the textural elements. The guitar does tend to lead more as a result, but the reality is that this album in no way suffers. Colin has a great ear for being both tasteful and effective in his sound chases and compositions with the synthetic instruments, and they always fit naturally into the music.

Storywise, I find the first side to be more coherent, possibly just because it's broken into smaller pieces (the second side is 3 tracks compared to the 5 of side 1). There is also the nice change of pace in The Wreckers, when once again Colins wife, Cathy Alexander, lends her voice to the project.

The second side is a bit more paranoid, at least from the listeners perspective rather than the characters, with lines like "I believe in everything they tell me (we are the chosen few), everything they tell me must be true (watching over you)", which reeks of the characters being manipulated. It also contains the highest energy tracks on the album. Again, this is a demonstration of the skill building atmosphere Colin has, the energy here making me think of swarms of humans running around this ship, making sure everything is working well as it hurtles through space towards its eventual target, versus the relatively slow-paced feel of the first half that matched the feeling of the ocean.

In terms of overall quality, I would say this album ranks just below Mad Monk, but given how amazing that album was, coming this close again is no small feat. And really, this album is more cohesive than Mad Monk, it simply does not reach the heights of the best moments off of that album.

Definitely a worthy listen.

Review by SouthSideoftheSky
2 stars A mixed bag of generally tasty leftovers

The Southern Cross is The Morrigan main man Colin Masson's third release under his own name, but it is not strictly speaking a third solo album as most of the compositions actually predate not only his first two solo albums, but also several of the albums by The Morrigan. The original compositions on The Southern Cross are around 20 years old, but the recordings are (partly?) new. The nature of the music differs from what could be found on Isle Of Eight and The Mad Monk And The Mountain as well as from the music of The Morrigan, but there are also some similarities. This album is something of a mix between Folk Rock and Progressive Electronic, with the first half being folky and the latter more electronic. The influence of Mike Oldfield is still strong, particularly on Masson's tasteful guitar playing.

South Australia and Wreckers already appeared on Morrigan albums, but these versions are older and different. But hardly better! The majority of the album is very pleasant and enjoyable even if a step behind his previous two albums. Right in the middle of the album there is a silly spoken passage in which Masson introduces the second side of the album (as it was originally intended for vinyl release). For me this functions as something of a "mood killer". But it doesn't spoil too much.

Masson is a great musician and this album is indeed a nice addition to any collection that already holds Isle Of Eight and The Mad Monk And The Mountain as well as the albums by The Morrigan. For newcomers, however, I would strongly recommend to get these other albums (especially the very good albums by The Morrigan) before venturing this deep into Masson's discography. Please don't let my low rating for this release discourage you from checking out the music by Masson in general.

Recommended for fans!

Review by J-Man
3 stars Best known as a member of progressive folk act The Morrigan, Colin Masson has also established himself as an excellent solo artist in recent years. The Southern Cross is his third and most recent solo effort, following up 2009's spectacular The Mad Monk and the Mountain. Though this is his most recently released musical expedition, the majority of The Southern Cross actually consists of re-workings of material composed by Masson over twenty years ago. A loose conceptual story about two ships separated by a thousand years in time ties these nine progressive rock tunes together, and the end result is an album that is both epic in its scope and enjoyable from a listener's perspective. This ambitious concept album is another highly successful observation from Colin Masson, and while I do think it falls short of The Mad Monk and the Mountain, it should prove to be another worthwhile experience for fans and newcomers alike.

Those familiar with previous Masson outings should expect a similar musical approach on The Southern Cross. If you're unacquainted with his music, many of the songs rely on a symphonic progressive rock foundation with lots of extraneous influences from genres like folk, new age, and electronica - this sound is distinctly Colin's own, and this matched by his developed songwriting skills show that he has no intentions of imitating any other progressive rock acts. I have a tough time imagining any fan of epic and theatrical progressive rock not having an excellent time with songs like "The Wreckers" or "Ocean of Storms", and all of the album is extremely consistent in terms of quality. At over an hour in length, The Southern Cross is surprisingly free of any weak tracks, and though I don't get the same emotional highs that I got from The Mad Monk and the Mountain, this is still an excellent album from start to finish.

Aside from some help from Cathy Alexander and Ryan Masson, The Southern Cross is very much a solo effort from Colin Masson. Everything from the songwriting and instrumental performances to the artwork and the production is done by Colin, and his adept abilities in all aspects of the music recording process are admirable. His guitar talents especially jump out at me, and there are enough tasty solos throughout The Southern Cross to satisfy any enthusiast of the instrument. While the drum programming and somewhat thin production may be a turn-off for some listeners, neither of them have a major impact on my listening experience. One thing is remarkably clear after hearing The Southern Cross - Colin Masson is a capable musician with an original approach to progressive rock music that few others can claim nowadays.

Following up an album as outstanding as The Mad Monk and the Mountain is a difficult task, but The Southern Cross proves that Colin Masson has enough endurance to consistently pump out impressive works of art. Those who enjoy modern symphonic progressive rock on the more eclectic and epic side should find plenty to love on The Southern Cross, and while I don't get enough emotional highs for me to consider it a truly great album, this is a concise and enjoyable observation from one of the UK's most impressive recent exports. Fans of Colin Masson's music will definitely want to hear this one, and 3.5 stars are well-deserved. Though it's a slight step down from The Mad Monk and the Mountain, there's no doubt that The Southern Cross is a mature and highly worthwhile listen.

Review by Conor Fynes
3 stars 'The Southern Cross' - Colin Masson (6/10)

Although UK composer Colin Masson may have had an existing following of dedicated fans after an intermittent tenure with progressive folk rockers The Morrigan, it was not until his solo career where people started to really take notice. 'Isle Of Eight' demonstrated the man's intelligent grasp of composition and epic take on Celtic prog rock, but it was not until the second album, 'The Mad Monk And The Mountain', in which his talents were fully realized. It is not common for artists to finally hit their break after being in the music business for so long, but Colin Masson has become something of an underground favourite within Prog Archives and elsewhere on the web. Given this precedent, there were high expectations for a follow-up, both from myself and anyone else who had recognized the same brilliance that I did in 'Mad Monk'. Although I am sure that the man is far from ever exhausting his creative flame, Colin avoided writing new material for the highly anticipated record, instead taking a number of old songs from his repertoire, rerecording them, and binding them together with a loose concept. 'The Southern Cross' has strength where it counts, but alas, I think I can speak for a lot of listeners when I say that I was expecting more from it.

With a fascinating concept, a strong precedent, and one of the most enchanting album covers I have seen in a while, the table was set for me to give 'The Southern Cross' plenty of love. When I found out that this album would be compiled with rerecorded versions of older songs, I still had high hopes; after all, much of this material would be fresh to my ears, even after having explored The Morrigan's career thoroughly. Although I may have feared that 'The Southern Cross' was going to feel like a hodge-podge compilation, the conceptual binding practically assured that the album would feel cohesive and together, despite the source material being derived from a range of many years. In simplest terms, my high expectations have led to a rather sour disappointment, although Colin Masson's work here is far from weak. An apt way to voice my feelings for it would be to imagine an older brother and younger brother. The older brother shows plenty of promise, and does great things. Although the younger brother is quite well off in his own way, he pales in comparison to his older sibling, and is therefore judged more harshly. I'm afraid this is the case with 'The Southern Cross'.

The style follows Colin Masson's penchant for the 'Celtic' sound, although traditional instruments are not used. Masson is actually able to channel the Celtic spirit through his use of a heavily reverb-laden electric guitar, an instrument he uses profusely both here and on earlier albums. As will not come as a surprise to anyone who has heard the man perform before, Masson's guitar work is fantastic, and it's definitely where the hearth of his talent lays. Setting 'The Southern Cross' apart from its predecessors is the use of a conceptual storyline. This is not a full-blown narrative, but instead uses a loose concept to tie songs together that would otherwise feel completely out of place next to each other. The plot is simple, but poetic; two vessels both named 'The Southern Cross', separated by the space of one thousand years. Each album 'side' depicts the story either of the past or future ship, and how it meets its ultimate fate. The seafaring theme is given due respect in regards to the music, as Masson inducts sea shanties into the stirring pot. There is also 'space' electronic compositionship, acoustic plucking, and a manner of things in between. Although the concept gives a greater sense of being a single work, the wide variety can often make 'The Southern Cross' like exactly what it is; a compilation of unused material. It is executed with all of the tact and skill of a Colin Masson opus, but lacks the singular direction and chilling beauty that had me love 'The Mad Monk And The Mountain'.

Latest members reviews

3 stars Strictly not a new Colin Masson album, this is. Tapes of the ideas that became this album has been kicking around since the 1980s and while The Morrigan was alive and very much kicking ass around on albums and on stage. I just mentioned this to explain the very strong folksy sound this album ... (read more)

Report this review (#554181) | Posted by toroddfuglesteg | Friday, October 21, 2011 | Review Permanlink

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