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MONARCH TRAIL

Neo-Prog • Canada


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Monarch Trail biography
Mostly known for his works as a solo artist, Canadian keyboardist and composer Ken Baird would expand his activities after no less than five solo albums and come up with the trio of Monarch Trail, a project formed out of the need of Baird to produce music in a more teamwork status.Bassist Dino Verginella and drummer Chris Lamont, who completed the line-up, were both featured in Baird's previous albums. As guitars were also part of Monarch Trail's compositions, they were helped during the sessions of their debut by John Mamone, Kelly Kereliuk and Steve Cochrane.The first work of the band ''Skye'' was partly inspired by the drawings of Annette Roche, so naturally some of them became part of the album's artwork, a record eventually released in April 2014 and based on the principles of the Neo Prog/Symphonic Rock genres.

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SkyeSkye
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3.80 | 48 ratings
Skye
2014

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MONARCH TRAIL Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Skye by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.80 | 48 ratings

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Skye
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer

4 stars 'Skye' - Monarch Trail (79/100)

In my not-so-recent travels to Ontario, I never got a chance to check out any of the province's parks or natural trails. I imagine they're quite beautiful however, as the Monarch Trail in the Dundas Valley was beautiful enough to be the namesake for the latest project from Ken Baird. A wittier writer than I might even make a quip associating Monarch Trail with progressive rock kings Rush, IE: A Farewell to Kings. In any case, this multi-instrumentalist impressed me in the past with a solid string of solo albums; his Martin Road stood out in particular for its blend of prog with singer-songwriter sensibilities. It only feels natural that Baird's work is given a full-band treatment here. As with any fresh project I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but Skye has started Monarch Trail's journey off on a very promising note.

Whereas Ken Baird's solo material was generally hinged on conventional songwriting and later given a progressive kick in the arrangement itself, Monarch Trail is progressive rock in its full-blooded, uncompromised form. If a twenty minute epic wasn't enough of an indicator, Monarch Trail's style feels firmly rooted and influenced by symphonic prog repertoire, most notably the pastoral vibes of Genesis. A better comparison might actually be Spock's Beard however; Ken Baird's plain 'everyman' voice might seem like its a stark contrast to the elaborate, full-fledged instrumentation but it meshes surprisingly well together. Not least, Monarch Trail betray a strong influence from their fellow Ontarians in Rush. I mean, tell me with a straight face the opening of "Luminescence" doesn't remind you of Rush's best days, circa Permanent Waves!

Not surprisingly given Ken Baird's longtime weapon-of-choice, but the keyboards take centrestage throughout the album. In fact, there isn't even a full-time guitarist listed on the band roster, although John Mamone (playing three of the four tracks with Hackett-like moderation) may as well be considered as such. The moog-tinged keyboard solos certainly sound a bit dated for the most part, but the arrangements are generally well-rounded. Baird's background as a sognwriting has served the music nicely as well; a good songwriter knows that too much of a good thing can turn it sour. Thusly, the compositions are kept on a tight rein, not so much that it stifles the fludiity of the performance, but just enough to keep it interesting and effectively paced. "Silent World" and "East of Fifty" aren't as engaging as the two longer tracks (though the latter does bring a promising fusion vibe to the music) but on the whole, Skye is remarkably consistent and well-intentioned.

While I'm ultimately in no place to say what bands did or didn't influence Monarch Trail, their sound pays little homage to the contemporary or 'modern' scene in progressive rock. They have entered the prog rock door via the long-contested backdoor of tradition. While there's a special place in my heart for the vintage 'symph prog' sound, I've very rarely found myself interested in the revivalists. Bands like The Flower Kings and Transatlantic made up my mind long ago that the past was best left in the past, that it was far better to look towards the future rather than dwell upon the so-called classic sound of prog. This view might have predisposed me against this band, but Monarch Trail have something most others of their sort do not: a sense of feeling and sincere warmth. Skye doesn't put a fresh spin on progressive rock, nor does it really mean to. It's a 'prog for proggers' album to be certain, but the composition doesn't fall into the self- referential pit of cliches that often seem to come with bands of their sound. Especially given that it's a sound that so rarely captures my ear these days, I've got to get behind Monarch Trail for this one. No boundaries have been shattered with this one, but I'm yet to hear a symphonic prog album from this year with such warmth and charm to it.

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 Skye by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.80 | 48 ratings

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Skye
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by AtomicCrimsonRush
Special Collaborator Symphonic Team

4 stars 'Skye' is a 2014 album by newcomers to the Neo Prog scene Monarch Trail. The band are lead by visionary, vocalist, keyboardist extraordinaire Ken Baird, who has been carving his name into progressive folklore with his fine solo albums over the years. Baird, this time around, has roped in two accomplished musicians in the form of bassist Dino Verginella and drummer Chris Lamont. Along with these musos are guest guitarists John Mamone, Steve Cochrane, and Kelly Kereliuk. The result of all these varied talents is a solid album with some impressive musicianship encompassing four tracks clocking almost 50 minutes.

The packaging of the album is graced with a beautifully realised cover, depicting a smiling girl in a darkened forest. In Annette Roche's artwork there are mystical overtones of a Celtic setting, and in the inner lining the art is an image of the girl with a hazy blue wash, and she is closing her eyes as if dreaming, giving a haunting quality so well reflected in the music. The album is primarily dominated by Baird's keyboard finesse, indeed there are extended passages of synthesizer solos and ambient washes with swathes of synths.

The album opens with 'Luminescence' with an extended instrumental segment, before Baird's vocals chime in. The vocal style at first comes across as thin and whispy, very relaxed as reflective lyrics are sung. On 'Silent World' the vocals are layered and more successful in terms of the power of the music in contrast. The stark musical embellishment on this album are the incredible drums of Lamont. Often the drums are played just behind the beat or even ahead of the beat providing an urgency to the tracks. The drumming is sporadic with a lot of fills and cymbal splashes; very progressive and dynamic.

The band are capable of virtuosic performances such as on the instrumental 'East of Fifty' and on the last track. The album closes with a colossal epic 'Sky Above the Sun' spreading out to over 20 minutes. This track is worth the price of admission alone, served up with lashings of harmonic guitars and glazed over with Baird's fluttering fingers on the keyboard. The song moves from a quiet solitude to a deep centred resonance building to a powerful crescendo.

Overall 'Skye' is a solid release injected with passion and power. The Neo elements are strong, similar to IQ or components of The Flower Kings, so with that recommendation, and for those enamoured with the work of Ken Baird, it is well worth seeking out this fine album by Monarch Trail.

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 Skye by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.80 | 48 ratings

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Skye
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

4 stars I've been a big fan of Ken Baird for quite a few years now, his down to earth lyrics and beautiful compositions simply take me to another place. Well Ken is back but he's decided to make this more of a band effort and so he's called this project MONARCH TRAIL named after a nature trail in his home town of Dundas. Gotta love the art work done by Annette Roche, and this art work was also an inspiration to Ken and the band. Now this may be more of a band effort but Ken still wrote all the lyrics and created all the music, so fans of Ken Baird solo won't be disappointed. For me the biggest difference between this and solo Baird was how prominant the synths are, and also this might be more dynamic overall compared to his previous works.

So we get four long tracks clocking in at a tidy 46 minutes. Nice. "Luminescence" gets us started as the synths roll in as the guitar and drums help out. It picks up quickly with synths leading the way. The tempo will continue to shift. This is feel good music right here. Vocals for the first time after 2 1/2 minutes and it's so good to hear Ken's voice again. I like that synth/guitar section after 5 minutes. Things then calm down as we get a spacey and drifting sound right to the end of the song. "Silent World" sounds great to start as do the vocals and background synths before a minute. Piano leads briefly then the vocals and full sound take over again. It turns jazzy 3 minutes in but not for long. Love the sound 6 minutes in as the guitar solos and the bass throbs. Spacey winds end it.

"East Of Fifty" is the only instrumental and the shortest track at just over 6 minutes. A bright and upbeat start to this one with synths out front. THE FLOWER KINGS actually come to mind for me on this one. It settles after 5 1/2 minutes as a spacey atmosphere ends it. "Sky Above The Sun" is the over 20 minute closer. Piano comes and goes early on before the synths start to dominate. A change after 2 1/2 minutes as a beat kicks in followed by vocals. The synths like the vocals will come and go. A calm 7 1/2 minutes in with reserved vocals as we get this pleasant musical backdrop to it all. The mood continues to change then we get this epic sound before 14 minutes with a powerful atmosphere. Vocals return as the song meanders along.

Well I still think "Martin Road" is the best album Ken has created but man this is really good. I do wish the lyrics were included only because it's one of Baird's strong points. A solid 4 stars.

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 Skye by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.80 | 48 ratings

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Skye
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by tszirmay
Special Collaborator Crossover Team

5 stars Somewhere in the province of Ontario, Canada in the sleepy town of Dundas, hidden between Hamilton and Toronto, there is a talented individual who has been issuing albums to much critical acclaim under his own name (Ken Baird) and after a lengthy silence, has now launched a group project called Monarch Trail, a stunning album that deserves both attention and support. A re-branding of sorts that augurs very well for the future as Ken has always been a sublime composer, keyboard player and vocalist but now is solidly buttressed by long-time colleagues Chris Lamont on drums, bassist Dino Verginella and a trio of guitarists (John Mamone, Kelly Kereliuk and the more famous Steve Cochrane). An album is bookended by two long epics that sandwich fill two short pieces, all defying comparisons (perhaps hints of UK proggers Elegant Simplicity) , somewhere sitting comfortably between crossover, neo and symphonic , all fueled by Ken's unique stamp on things , fully armed with an arsenal of splendid keyboards and superb solo guitar playing ! The rhythm section is solid and utterly propulsive.

"Luminescence" rips right from the get-go, shuffling rhythm and sizzling synth soloing that accompany the fluttering vocal, hinting at classic IQ but with a twist, Mamone carving some slithering guitar lines, full of expansive bravado. Ken shoots off plenty of slippery synths from his battery of keys, showing off tremendous digital genius. The moody mid-section really finds a convincing ear, stretching the instrumental palette even wider, with gorgeous choir mellotron adding elevation and bombast.

Next up, "Silent World" is the killer 8 minute+ track, a shorter nugget that has intensity in the spiraling synthesized loops and solid drum patterns, with a patented hushed Baird vocal that displays somber reflection and a simply stellar piano line that underlines a massive chorus, hinting at a way proggier Level 42. Tinges of jazzy backbeats and a plethora of synth soloing will keep you on edge. Baird kicks up the vocal a few notches as the emotional music becomes grandiloquent and drenched in symphonic sheen. Bass bops crazily amid the restrained Mamone guitar sketches, and just blooms into a linear electric solo that soars and soars a la Hackett. A tour de force composition of world class prog.

Things get tighter with "East of Fifty", a romping six minute scorcher that swerves, careens and propels itself along with madcap resolve. Several layers of instrumental prowess are unpeeled before the tune really kicks into gear, led by Kelly Kereliuk's harder edged axe. This track is again synth top-heavy, with a slew of different tones added to the mix.

The unique Baird style is dazzlingly evoked on the epic 20 minute + finale "Sky Above the Sun", a deeply symphonic masterpiece of sultry sounds and atmospheric ornamentations that provide a glowing 'feel good' sense, a trait that is quite particular to his artist's past legacy as well as this current group undertaking. Baird excels on piano, synths, organ, dishing out honky-tonk stylistics together with deft technical eloquence that can wink at both jazz and neo. His synthesizer solos rekindle brief glimpses of Peter Bardens, Manfred Mann, Pat Moraz and Martin Orford. His vocals give the arrangement a joyful personal touch which is honest and unpretentious, Cochrane's acoustic foray on both classical and 12 string is simply spectacular. Just a pure spectacle of unbridled delight, this is why we love prog with such devotion, instruments glowing brightly, melodic arrangements that pulsate with vibrant impulses and a structure where time means nothing, sheer unadulterated proggy bliss.

Clever, humble, creative and wholly entertaining, Monarch Trail is a surprising journey that will not disappoint those fans who crave both the familiar and the ingenious, conveniently all wrapped up in a nice tight package, allied with excellent instrumental prowess to boot. Something for every prog fan. I have a serious soft spot for artists who genuinely forge ahead, in relative obscurity whilst concocting albums of sheer delight and Baird has never disappointed since launching his debut solo album August, back in 1996. Flutter by and get on the Baird trail, this is an artist definitely worthy of our genre.

5 butterfly roads

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 Skye by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.80 | 48 ratings

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Skye
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by OneOpinion

2 stars Why a two star rating? I really feel it should be required to explain low ratings. As I listen to this album I hear some very good songs played quite nicely. I really enjoy the keyboards. Super job there. The song topics are interesting. The drums and bass keeps the songs going nicely. So what's the problem? The vocals. I find them flat and awkward. They quite literally ruin it for me. Some people, like me, are not meant to be lead singers. I would really like to hear these songs sung by a different vocalist. It would be a winner.

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 Skye by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.80 | 48 ratings

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Skye
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by loserboy
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Monarch Trail - Skye (2014)

Monarch Trail is the latest album from one of Canada's most hidden talents Ken Baird. This time Baird teams up with musical pals Dino Verginella ( bass) and Chris Lamont (drums) . Guitars were handled by John Mamone, Kelly Kereliuk and The amazing classical fret work of Steve Cochrane.

Right from the opening moment of the first track "Luminescence" we recognize the keybaord and progressive drum work of Lamont and Baird who take us back perhaps to the ending of "Further Out"....a great place to start......the end...... This may be the very best song Ken Baird has ever done with its huge wall of symphonia and pure energy pouring out. At 7:00 mins into "Luminescence" the song takes a wee twist and a huge breath orchestrated with the polysynth sounds that only Baird can do. Next up is another wonderfully symphonic track penned "Silent World" which offers some excellent soaring picturesque musical moments. I love the guitar work on this song which actually reminds me of pieces of British prog band IQ and Manfred Mann and his Electric Band.

The third track is "East of Fifty" which is a six minute catchy prog-fusion tune which nicely contrasts the symphonic prog of the first two tracks and helps usher in the final and hugely ambitious epic track "Sky Above The Sun". This song is huge!....both in composition and length! A true work of art with deep conviction and stunning musicianship. Musically this song is quite varied and impossible to categorize with its wide range of tones and colors and multi-moods. There are lush and delicate parts, then darker more aggressive bits all culminating into a spiritual and inspirational conclusion that will make you wonder about the "sky above the sun".

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