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Martin Orford - The Old Road CD (album) cover


Martin Orford



3.83 | 127 ratings

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4 stars At the close of the stylish booklet accompanying the CD, Martin Orford openly admits that "The Old Road" is not a progressive rock album, being instead 'unashamedly retro'. In a world where blatant rip-offs are often touted as wildly innovative, such an admission is refreshingly honest, to say the least. Indeed, even without being in any way ground-breaking or experimental, "The Old Road" has a lot to offer - outstanding musicianship and songwriting in a lavish packaging, complete with lyrics and other detailed information, as well as stunningly beautiful photography. 'Old-fashioned' is the word that comes most readily to mind when listening to "The Old Road", though the excellent production values are definitely modern. For his farewell to music, Martin Orford has taken the best of both worlds - which makes his decision even more poignant.

The main criticism that can be levelled at "The Old Road" is that it often sounds closer to AOR or pomp-rock than to 'authentic' progressive rock. In particular, the two songs interpreted by John Wetton (a long-time collaborator of Orford's) bear a distinct resemblance to Asia's best output. However, while I have never been too keen on the more radio-friendly varieties of rock, I believe a clear distinction should be made between blatantly commercial productions with very little intrinsic musical value, and those that manage to achieve that fine balance between accessibility and artistic quality. "The Old Road" is indeed a very accessible effort, the ideal listen for those moments of relax - music that flows smoothly and does not sound too taxing to the ears and the brain, though definitely more interesting that the average, quickly disposable radio hit.

The album opens with the stately keyboard and guitar strains of "Grand Designs", a song dedicated to people who love to invent new objects without getting any recognition for their efforts. Not surprisingly, the song is very much keyboard-driven, with Orford doubling up on electric guitar as well, and delivering a very tasty solo in the second half of the song. Though the second longest track on the album at almost 10 minutes, it manages to sound epic without descending into self-indulgence. The keyboard parts in the elegant instrumental "Power and Speed", celebrating the glory days of the steam engine, are often reminiscent of the typical Canterbury sound, while John Mitchell provides some fine lead guitar work. As already mentioned, "Take It to the Sun", masterfully interpreted by John Wetton, would not be out of place on a vintage Asia album. One cannot help but wonder at the effortless power and warmth of Wetton's voice, which seems to have matured and improved over the years.

Introduced by a short piano "Prelude", the title-track is an unabashed celebration of the bygone days of 'old England', with a strong Celtic vibe reinforced by flute and lively fiddle interludes. Orford's appropriately wistful vocals and the lavish, richly melodic instrumentation make this track the album's undisputed highlight. "Out of the Darkness", written and interpreted by singer-songwriter Steve Thorne, with its virulent attack on organised religion feels somewhat out of character; while "The Time and the Season", the album's longest track at over 10 minutes, is a majestic creation with a lush tapestry of keyboards and another commanding vocal performance by John Wetton. Finally, "Endgame" closes the album in suitably melancholy fashion, mourning 'the day the music died'.

Although the simple song structures and occasional radio-friendly vibe may put off the more demanding prog listeners, this album oozes class, as well as warmth and passion - the swan song of a very talented musician who will surely be a loss to the progressive rock world.

Raff | 4/5 |


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