Right at the end of 2014 the British multi-instrumentalist and composer Dave Bainbridge succeeds in publishing the album Celestial Fire which contains the fines prog rock I've heard this year! Bainbridge saved the best for last! I think most of our readers know that he's one of the founding members of Iona. In 2004 he recorded his first solo album Veil Of Gossamer, an amazing album that contains a perfect blend of prog rock and Celtic music, just like the music of Iona. Of course I was curious to find out what kind of music his second solo album would bring.
On the short and mellow opening track Heavenfield Dave Bainbridge shows his love for Celtic music. At first you might think that you're listening to an Iona song due to Dave's atmospheric keyboard parts, the Uilleann pipes played by Troy Donockley (ex-Iona, Nightwish) and the wonderful voice of Sally Minnear, daughter of Kerry Minnear, who was the keyboard player with Gentle Giant. This short track is immediately followed by the fifteen-minute long title track, the first musical highlight on this CD. This piece clearly contains a fine mixture of mellow and up-tempo parts: Iona meets Yes. The fantastic rhythm section, consisting of drummer Collin Leijenaar (Neal Morse, Affector) and bassist Randy George (Neal Morse, Ajalon), sounds after the fashion of Chris Squire and Alan White from Yes.
The instrumentalists are doing an excellent job by playing some amazing solos on the guitars, keyboards and pipes, although Damian Wilson (Threshold, Headspace) and Yvonne Lyon, the two lead singers, steal the show and lift this track to an even higher level. Their singing is pretty amazing. There's no time to catch your breath since the next song grabs you already by the throat. See What I See is a strong up-tempo piece that again has some musical hints of Yes. Either on this song Damian Wilson excels throughout. While George and Leijenaar treat the listener to some outstanding rhythm patterns, Bainbridge plays his brilliant guitar and keyboards parts.
After this song it's time to relax with The First Autumn, a perfect piece to slow down. On this beautiful ballad the music of Iona and Clannad emerges. The great cello and viola parts, performed by Corinne Frost and Frank van Essen (Iona), create some fine mellow music on which the fine voice of Yvonne Lyon shines. Then it's time to move into gear again. For Such A Time As This shows Dave's love for fusion and jazz-rock in the vein of Allan Holdsworth, Mahavishnu Orchestra and David Sancious & Tone. Indeed, he does this brilliantly! Innocence Found is the second relaxing song, which again reminded me of Iona and Clannad, but also a band like Karnataka came to mind. It contains the perfectly singing of Julia Malyasova and Sally Minnear next to the electric guitar solos performed by Dave, Frank van Essen on the viola and former Iona member David Fitzgerald on the tin whistle, flutes and saxophone. Again this is music in the vein of Yes.
On Love Remains Dave Bainbridge plays his electric guitar similar to Steve Howe (Yes), but also traces of jazz-rock and fusion can be noticed. Just listen to Dave's amazing synthesizer solo. Even Celtic music has been included thanks to the great vocals of Joanne Hogg (Iona) and Sally Minnear. While listening to this superb track UK crossed my mind as well caused by the strong piano and organ parts. I also have to mention the magnificent vocal performance of Damian Wilson who once again shows that he's not only a great singer in the aforementioned prog metal bands, but can also sing other musical genres. The end of Love Remains consists of a great climax with an amazing guitar solo by Mr. Bainbridge. Wow, this is just how I love it!
At the start of In The Moment, the final epic piece of Celestial Fire, Dave takes me back on my feet again. It starts again rather mellow strongly related to the music of Iona. Mr. Wilson demonstrates once more his strong vocal capacities together with the great voice of Sally Minnear. After these mellow parts the influences of Yes emerge again in the more up-tempo parts. Once more the music deeply touches me and again I'm panting for breath. Now Dave Bainbridge shows that he's an amazing organist as well. The final chords of the song bring you back to the music of Iona which segues into the shortest track Heavenfield Reprise. It takes just less than a minute, but it's a beautiful mellow instrumental track with Celtic influences, which can be heard on the final track as well.
The leading roles on The Edge Of Glory are Dave's electric guitar and the pipes and whistles played by Martin Nolan (Iona) and David Fitzgerald. With a lot of drama and passion the album comes to a beautiful end. After listening to this album I realized that it's hard to get better music than what I heard the previous seventy minutes. All ten compositions are very high-levelled with a perfect balance between mellow and up-tempo tracks. The music on his debut album was already excellent, but what Bainbridge and his guest musicians achieve on Celestial Fire is something that words can hardly describe. The album only contains superb compositions and in my humble opinion Bainbridge recorded a true masterpiece with elements from prog rock, Celtic music, jazz-rock and fusion. I can only give the highest possible rating of five stars to the best prog rock album of 2014 as far as I'm concerned!
***** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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