A brilliant balance of vocal and instrumental tracks, To The Far Away will thrill and delight fans of both Celtic and ‘traditional’ prog-rock, and anyone open to more adventurous realms of music in general.
Open Sky Records
13 tracks / 71:72
It’s a pet peeve of mine. I don’t like it when a reviewer automatically calls an artist’s newest release ‘the best thing they’ve ever done.’ Well, I have a problem here - because I think Dave Bainbridge’s new project, To The Far Away, just might be, well - the best thing he’s ever done – and with his years of output that’s saying a lot. Of course everything’s subjective, but I think it’s safe to say that To The Far Away is easily Dave Bainbridge’s most accessible work, containing not just the expected virtuoso performances from all involved, but compositions that will please followers of Dave’s work with Iona, his solo projects, and his contributions to albums by the likes of Strawbs and Lifesigns. A brilliant balance of vocal and instrumental tracks, To The Far Away will thrill and delight fans of both Celtic and ‘traditional’ prog-rock, and anyone open to more adventurous realms of music in general.
To sum it up – this is Dave Bainbridge in his most visceral, majestic, and communicative mode as a writer and musician. There wouldn’t be room enough here to touch on each of the special moments on every song on this project - my personal notes filled every inch of two sheets of paper – but I’ll mention at least a few in this review. Your own ears need to hear it all. “Girl and the Magical Sky,” for instance, is an eight minute tour-de-force with not only Dave on fire, but astounding drumming from van Essen, fierce, driving bass work from Jon Poole, and beautifully textured harmonies from Minnear. A multi-textured piece, at its zenith it has all of the fire of a Procol Harum epic (a huge compliment from this Procol Harum fan-boy). “Clear Skies” travels from pastoral passages to full-out musical adventure, ending in a furious prog-rock section that will delight fans of The Neal Morse Band as synth, drums, bass and guitar propel to an exhilarating finish.
Long-time fans will recognize the names of several of the artists on this project. Martin Nolan and Troy Donocky contribute whistles (with Donockley also playing Uilleann Pipes and Cumbrian voices), Frank van Essen plays drums, solo violin, ensemble violins and violas, and is at various times thunderously powerful and breathtakingly elegant. Sally Minnear lends her stunning vocal talents, creating pristine harmonies, ethereal solo moments, and inspired duets with Ian Hornal, who comes on initially as a combination of Jon Elefante and Jon Anderson, with his own earthy quality nicely added to the mix. Less familiar but equally qualified players are Jon Poole, playing with passion and emotional drive on fretted and fretless bass guitars, Jonas Pap on cello, and on the title track and “Sea Gazer,” Nigel Cameron on whistles and Julie Cameron-Hall on violin. Of course, Dave’s keyboards are masterful - sometimes lush, other times absolutely dazzling. His acoustic and electric guitars, Bouzouki, mandolin, and backing vocals all serve the music wonderfully, but his guitar work – always impressive – has a new energy on this project. There’s a fire in his playing that’s sometimes stunning in its articulateness and attack.
Bainbridge definitely has a film score inside of him. There’s a sweeping, almost cinematic beauty that runs through this music, particularly in parts of “Rain and Sun,” “Clear Skies,” and “As Night Falls.” Sounds of the ocean and other natural elements are interlaced through To The Far Away from start to finish – the sea turns out to be a strong elemental core to the album, emphasizing space, distance and time – all themes that have come into play in Bainbridge’s own life as the recent pandemic put him and the woman he loves on opposite sides of the ocean. The lyrics throughout give hints to this love story, especially in the unabashedly romantic song, “To Gain the Ocean”:
“Three thousand miles across the ocean / There my love lies, awaiting me / I reach out to touch her fading image / Longing to hold her next to me” Full of longing, sung in solo and duet by Ian Hornel (sounding to me like Sting at his best) and the impeccable Sally Minnear, it’s a succinct but perfectly stated ballad.
“Ghost Light” is an all-out prog epic, starting out with a softly wailing guitar (think Roy Buchanan), soon joined by the crystalline vocals of Minnear. After an intro, Hornel joins in for a vocal duet and the full band sound enters as the song goes through multiple prog-style changes. There are majestic moments throughout – and van Essen outdoes himself with some very dynamic and articulate drumming. A powerful fourteen minutes of music and lyrics such as these: “With all that inspires and all our desires / the Ghost Lights are shining / creation is waiting /all of us yearn the Maker’s return / The One we’re expecting / our lights reflecting with hope yet unseen / we stand in-between heaven and earth awaiting this birth / We cry out in anguish / for darkness to vanish the twist in this story / returning in glory / shine through the night / Great Bringer of Light…”
On “As Night Falls,” the title track, and other instrumentals, Bainbridge and company paint vivid pictures with sound, transporting the listener to distant shores. The closing track, an instrumental piece called “Something Astonishing,” is truly grand and stately – a fitting finale sounding very much like an ending, with an ephemeral postlude echoing the ocean once again.
The writing and performing are excellent throughout. The pacing and track-order are just right. Bainbridge’s production is full, beautifully spaced, vivid and clean.
As if this wasn’t enough, there’s a bonus disk available, with alternate takes, improvisation, jams, demos… in other words, more phenomenal music – over an hour’s worth! The second half of the demo for “Clear Skies,” by the way, will have you thinking you stumbled on a long-lost Focus track! Guitar-geeks…. Dave gets even looser on this disc. To see the various packages and bonus teats available, go to www.musicglue.com/iona
If you’re a fan of Iona, Dave Bainbridge’s solo work, Celtic prog, classic prog-rock – whatever! You need this.
You can see Bert Saraco’s concert photography at: www.facebook.com/express.image