Brought to you (mostly) by the letter B! Purchasing links are embedded in the artist/title listing; a sample follows each review.
Dave Bainbridge, To The Far Away: put simply, a thrilling, ravishingly beautiful album. Separated from his fiancée on the eve of their wedding by the COVID pandemic, guitarist/keyboardist Bainbridge focused on the essentials — love and the longing it stirs, the beauty of the world and the changing seasons, the desire for hope and a future. Poet Lynn Caldwell’s words (movingly sung by Sally Minnear and Iain Hornal) capture these themes with rich simplicity, cradled in a lush orchestral blend of rock, prog and Celtic folk. Often evoking the palette of his breakthrough band Iona, Bainbridge and a stellar group of collaborators grab your attention and your heartstrings again and again, whether on the dramatic instrumental “Rain and Sun”, the epic paean to the creative spirit “Ghost Light”, the classically-tinged rhapsody “Infinitude (Region of the Stars)” or the yearning sprint of “Speed Your Journey”. Already one of my favorites of 2022, and recommended without hesitation. (And check out our extensive interview with Dave here.)
Beledo, Seriously Deep: yet another world-class guitarist (oh, and he also plays great piano) making music at the highest level, available to us courtesy of Leonardo Pavkovic’s MoonJune Records! For his sixth album, Urugrayan-born Beledo teams with King Crimson’s Tony Levin on bass and Kenny Grohowski (Brand X, John Zorn) on drums. The extended title track, a classic of European jazz written by bassist Eberhard Weber, unreels wave after wave of yummy Metheny-esque lyricism; “Mama D” (with Botswanan vocalist Kearoma Rantao) bears down for a satisfying taste of Allan Holdsworth-style shredding. Roving between these poles, Beledo, Levin and Grohowski are consistently superb — listening hard to each other, finding exactly the right balance of space and interaction, fire and flow in the five compositions and two improvisations included here. Delightfully melodic and powerfully rhythmic, this is mature, refined jazz-rock that fizzes as it fuses, growing in appeal and stature with every listen.
Black Country, New Road, Ants From Up There: the hot young British band of 2021, BCMR bolted sax and violin onto the standard indie lineup, thickening their slamming post-punk’s impact (while lacing it with a whiff of demented jazz). Ants From Up Here is a head-snapping shift: while single “Chaos Space Marine” is another exhilarating stomp, the band mostly turns down and tunes up, building organic slowburns like “Bread Song”, “Haldern” and the mesmerizing closer “Basketball Shoes” from improvisation, interwoven melodies, folk and minimalist seasonings, and a pin-sharp sense of dynamics. Matching the musical changes, vocalist Isaac Wood leavens his trademark aggression with a wounded melancholy immediately evident in both subject matter and delivery. (Wood left the band just before the album’s release; they plan to continue with all new music and bassist Tyler Hyde singing.) Put it all together, and I hear snatches of everything from 1970s King Crimson to the early-2000s glory days of Arcade Fire and Sufjan Stevens — but ultimately, it sounds like nothing else. This is a riveting set of teetering sonic constructions that can go from a whisper to a scream in a heartbeat, locking together or collapsing into startling moments of raw emotion and rough beauty. Be adventurous and take a chance on this one!
Tim Bowness and Giancarlo Erra, Memories of Machines: back in 2011, the album was called Warm Winter, Bowness & Erra went by the “Memories of Machines” nom de plume, and the music was an irresistible mix of unflinchingly intimate art-rock and lowering ambient backdrops. In the wake of No-Man’s seeming dissolution, it became a firm favorite of mine. Ten years on, original arrangements and track lengths are restored, subtly tweaking and deepening the listening experience; Erra’s textural work is inched forward, gnarlier and a touch edgier in a way that recalls his fine solo album Departure Tapes; and as always, Bowness breaks your heart with his ringing couplets and his stoic voice, whether mourning what’s behind or longing for something better ahead. The two bonus tracks recorded in 2020 fit right in. Late night listening for only the lonely? Possibly — but hey, we’ve all been there, haven’t we?
Mark Kelly, Marillion, Misadventures and Marathons – The Life and Times of Mad Jack: keyboardist Kelly lets loose in a few-holds-barred memoir (coming to us from Big Big Train’s Kingmaker Publishing). Lots of inside scoops about Marillion’s internal dynamics, especially during the tempestuous Fish era, along with an ongoing tale of rapacious music industry shenanigans will make your head spin. All of which vindicates the band taking control of their own destiny via their crowdfunding innovations; Kelly strikes a justifiably proud note on Marillion’s current renaissance, balanced with a disarming candor about both his personal triumphs and his private struggles. It’s a fast paced, engrossing read that fans won’t want to miss and newbies might find the perfect intro to this much-loved, much-maligned band.
— Rick Krueger