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Monarch Trail - Skye CD (album) cover

SKYE

Monarch Trail

 

Neo-Prog

3.92 | 151 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
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

tszirmay | 5/5 |

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