Rick’s Quick Takes for February

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.)

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Dave Bainbridge: The Progarchy Interview

Chances are that if you’ve seen Dave Bainbridge’s name on this website, it’s due to his role as the current guitarist in Lifesigns (both live and on their fine Altitude album). If you’re deeper into modern progressive rock, you may have heard his guitar on Downes Braide Association’s Halcyon Hymns. Or maybe even his keyboards on the last two Strawbs albums, The Ferryman’s Curse and Settlement. (That’s right – Bainbridge is a world-class player on both instruments!)

But Dave Bainbridge’s track record goes a lot deeper than his recent credits; from the 1990s through 2015, he was a major creative force in Iona. Fusing rock with progressive, jazz and folk elements and steeping it all in the spirituality of early Celtic Christianity, this British band captured an international audience while collaborating with prog luminaries like Nick Beggs (the band’s first bassist) and Robert Fripp (who provided ambient sounds for two of their finest albums).

After Iona wound down, Bainbridge continued making music; his solo albums feature both a sweeping range of styles and an impressive array of collaborators. His new album, To the Far Away (exclusively available in multiple formats from Gonzo Multimedia) is a genuine tour de force, based on deeply personal subject matter; it simultaneously evokes the sound of Iona and hones the power of Bainbridge’s solo work into a dramatic swirl of thrilling acoustic and electric guitar work, pounding rhythms and lush orchestral soundscapes. I haven’t heard anything quite like this in a long time; it’s gripping, heart-on-sleeve romantic stuff. But don’t worry — on epics like “Ghost Light,” (extensively featured starting at 1:50 in the promo video below) the guitars and synths still go all the way to 11!

Which meant I was delighted when Dave Bainbridge agreed to talk about To The Far Away, his recent revamp of the Iona catalog, his other band projects and much more with me; he was genial and generous with his time, willing to dive deep into every question, and obviously grateful for what he’s been able to accomplish in his career. You can hear our conversation just below; selected excerpts, as well as a link to a complete transcript, follow the jump.

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A Neo-Prog Gem – Lifesigns’ “Altitude”

Lifesimeta-eyJzcmNCdWNrZXQiOiJiemdsZmlsZXMifQ==Lifesigns, Altitude, 2021
Tracks:
 Altitude (15:17), Gregarious (4:34), Ivory Tower (7:45), Shoreline (7:40), Fortitude (10:08), Arkhangelsk (0:57), Last One Home (6:16), Altitude Reprise (1:43)

As the year quickly comes to a close, it’s about time I start to wrap up with some reviews of some of the many wonderful albums released this year. Longtime readers of Progarchy might remember our past coverage Lifesigns, as we talked about them a fair bit in our early days. I’m happy to say that their latest album Altitude is not to be missed.

There’s a strong Marillion influence on the record, which you won’t hear me complaining about. The bass is loud and distinct, and Dave Bainbridge’s crisp guitar solos grab your attention. The keyboards and organs create a Floydian atmosphere, and the whole package, together with John Young’s vocals, create a neoprog masterpiece. When the violin kicks in on the opening track, you realize this is a special record. 

With the first song clocking in at 15 minutes in length, you know right from the get-go that this is going to be a prog album in every sense of the word. The song goes through varying movements, all of which I enjoy. I hear a strong hint of Steve Hackett peppered in one of the guitar solos, which made me smile. There’s a later part of the song where acoustic guitar – possibly a twelve string – starts playing behind some synths, creating a bit of a Genesis sound. But then it blends in electric violin, a dash of saxophone, more synth sounds, and it really draws many different aspects of prog and neoprog together. 

While the opening track is more contemplative, the second song, “Gregarious,” picks up the pace with a bit of a Supertramp style. There is some good cultural critique in the lyrics:

The TV will tell you who’s the master.
Am I allowed to disagree?

“Ivory Tower,” impresses yet again with a familiar yet fresh sound. It’s strongly Marillionesque in melody and overall sound, but it isn’t a copycat at all. It’s just good music in that vein. There are strong elements of contemporary prog here too, with “Fortitude” reminding me of Steven Wilson’s solo work (his progressive stuff, not the pop albums). 

The band goes full Floyd on “Last One Home.” Bainbridge’s long guitar solo is blisteringly brilliant, and it is backed perfectly with a Hammond organ, drums, and bass. This kind of guitar work should feature on every progressive rock album. The song closes out with some pleasant vocal harmonies that grow in a beautiful crescendo. 

Altitude has impressed me more and more upon repeated listens. There are a lot of little things to pick up on throughout, such as the backing female vocals that pop up periodically. The album contains many nods to prog history, which will be sure to please many prog fans, but there’s so much more here to enjoy. The songs are well-written. The lead and backing vocals create a smooth and pleasant atmosphere, and Bainbridge’s guitar-work is worth the price of admission just by itself. Do yourself a favor and check Altitude out before the year ends. 


https://lifesignsmusic.co.uk/home
List with links to international retailers selling Altitude: https://lifesignsmusic.co.uk/international-retailers

Lifesigns – Altitude Trailer – YouTube