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Geoffrey Downes - DBA IV: Halcyon Hymns CD (album) cover

DBA IV: HALCYON HYMNS

Geoffrey Downes

 

Crossover Prog

3.50 | 20 ratings

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bartymj
3 stars 'Six Degrees of Separation' is the concept that on average, all people are six or fewer social connections away from each other. This album is a perfect demonstration of that fact, providing a direct link between the co-writers of one of the greatest prog tracks of all time, Jon Anderson & Steve Howe's Close to the Edge ("My eyes convinced, eclipsed with the younger moon attained with love, it changed as almost strained amidst clear manna from above"), with the writer of one of the worst songs of all time, Nicki Minaj's Anaconda ("This dude named Michael used to ride motorcycles, **** bigger than a tower I aint talking 'bout Eiffel's"). Eurgh.

Here then, is the fourth album of a collaboration between Geoff Downes (Asia, The Buggles, and as part of the Yes lineup on 1980's Drama and from 2006 onwards), and Chris Braide; pianist and award winning producer, most often collaborating with Sia and David Guetta, but writing and producing for many artists including the aforementioned Minaj. So that's just three degrees of separation (Howe-Downes-Braide-Minaj), in six you can link Steve Howe with Miss Scandinavia 2001, via popular video game franchise Angry Birds and Formula One driver Kimi Raikkonen. I digress.

Fortunately, the Downes-Braide Association is a chance for Mr Braide to show he has as much to offer the prog world as he does the more commercialised world. I'll state here that this is the first of their collaboration albums I've listened to so can't compare it to earlier ones.

Love Among the Ruins - opens with narration from poet Barney Ashton Bullock before an acoustic start and the first example of Braide's vocals. There's actually something very "Yes" about his style, so not difficult to see what drew Downes to him. The track is given something extra by the soaring electric guitar of Dave Bainbridge, best known for work with Celtic prog band Iona but also now part of the Strawbs lineup. This track, as the title suggests, is a love ballad, not too proggy, but made to feel so by that guitar. (4/5*)

King of the Sunset - David Longdon of Big Big Train joins in on vocals and things get a bit more proggy and darker, but again Bainbridge's swirling guitar is the highlight of the track. It fades out with two minutes to go and gives way to an instrumental interplay between mandolin and guitar which just gives it that little bit more 'prog' (4/5*)

Your Heart Will Find a Way - Perhaps the track designed to be released as a single (it was) to encourage people in, an upbeat anthem with a catchy chorus. Base your opinion of whether or not you'd like this track on your opinion of Owner of a Lonely Heart. An earworm. (3/5*)

Holding the Heavens - Wait a minute, is this Genesis? A 12-string into that's about as classic-prog as it gets, before breaking into another upbeat but calmer track, mainly with Braide's vocals but Longdon returning for the harmonies. It's the sort of song that can put a smile on your face, while not a prog classic, it's simply 'nice'. (3.5/5*) Beachcombers ? Bullock returns with some more poetry dotted amongst a very Anderson/Howe-esque vocal harmony and delicate piano from Downes (3.5/5*)

Warm Summer Sun - My personal favourite, a harmonic duet between Braide and Marc Almond over a melodic piano and string ensemble. I actually got goosebumps the first time round. (4/5*)

Today - Unfortunately I think we actually go from best to worst. This is a track that reminds you of the most lovey- dovey of Beatles numbers, even briefly ripping off the na-na-na-na's of Hey Jude. Suffering through four and a half minutes brings you to another bit of poetry, followed by a great Bainbridge guitar solo, so it's a massive shame I'm bored of the track by its best point. (2/5*)

Hymn to Darkness - Braide's vocals at their best, over haunting mandolin. Almost feels like they could have done a lot more with this, but perhaps that's what makes it half decent (3/5*)

She'll Be Riding Horses - Earworm number two that could have been released by any of the thousands of feel-good power pop bands of the late 90s. Not prog but a guilty pleasure. (2.5/5*)

Late Summer - Downes apparently loves his church music, and this is probably the closest to it. Choral choir and piano melody, and lyrics tinged with loss and sadness. Not much more to it but it does grab you (3/5*)

Remembrance/Epilogue - Many of the best bits of the album combine here; a lot of spoken word from Ashton Bullock, the return of the mandolin melody, and more of Braide's very good vocals, all built on a three chord piano melody which is excellent in its total simplicity. That all works together very well. However, it doesn't develop anywhere, and you get the sense it could have been cut to five or six minutes. Instead we get nearly twelve, and by the end you've got bored of what was a very well put together composition. (3.5/5*)

All in all, very much a mixed bag, but at least its more Yes than Nicki Minaj. I'd definitely recommend giving it a listen, as there's enough variation about it to suggest that there's something for most people. Interestingly though, I'd say the two best personnel on the album are actually not those in the name of the band, but actually guitarist Bainbridge and the poet Bullock. But this is possibly doing a disservice to the 'behind the scenes' composing and producing of Downes and Braide. Definitely worth giving it a go.

bartymj | 3/5 |

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