Seven years and two solo albums now separate Alan Reed from his well-documented and acrimonious split from Pallas after he spent 24 years as their frontman. Reed is now carving out a very decent reputation as a solo artist. His debut solo album, First In A Field Of One (see review), was released in 2014 to widespread acclaim and now, Honey On The Razor's Edge goes a long way to further establishing his credentials.
As the title suggests, there's a double edge to Reed's latest collection of songs, many of them informed by his “day job” as a senior news producer at the BBC, working at the coalface on some of today's most contentious and controversial stories.
An upbeat MiniMoog flurry from former fellow Pallas bandmate Mike Stobbie and some muscular drumming from Scott Higham (ex-Pendragon) set the tone for prog pop opener My Sunlit Room documenting his personal journey in making the album. Reed's voice has a distinct timbre which, underpinned with female vocal harmonies, delivers depth and real soul to the song as it rocks along at a rate of knots.
Getting down and darker, Razor, whose intro, says Reed on his website, channels Led Zeppelin and Peter Gabriel, is full of unexpected delights within its edgy Eastern vibe. It features Lazuli's Claude Leonetti playing his unique, self-made instrument, the Léode, gliding away in the background while Steve Hackett delivers a most unexpected full-throated harmonica solo.
Cross My Palm is a solid rocker, Stobbie's wonderful keyboards shimmering over the rich instrumentation and angry lyrics. Reed is really in his stride here, the lyrics exploring the corrupt underbelly of the media and its main perpetrators, among whom is the disgraced PR agent Max Clifford.
The acoustic-led Leaving is a much sweeter proposition, Reed's 12 string guitar a constant feature as Stobbie injects more keyboard dynamics. That 12 string guitar is back at the start of The Other Side Of Morning, the album's longest track, which takes off on a pure prog path with ghostly chorus effects, a change of tempo and choppy keyboards leading into a stunning Mike Oldfield arpeggio sequence, courtesy of guitarist Jeff Green.
The Covenanter sees Reed railing at some of the main protagonists in the current misinformation game, along them hate preacher, Anjem Choudury, politicians Boris Johnson and Donald Trump and above all, Paul Dacre, editor of the UK's most reviled tabloid, the Daily Mail. Reed does not pull any punches in the lyrics which he allows to be fully heard above the lively instrumental mix.
Reed's acquisition of an e-Bow comes into its own on the guitar effects on Used To Be Someone, another bitter-sweet song about loss, the female vocal harmonies adding a lovely dimension to the telling of the tale.
But the lady vocal chorus comprising Christina Booth (Magenta), Monique van de Kolk (Harvest) and Laetitia Chaudemanche comes into its own on the closing Celtic beauty, Northern Lights, which sees Glaswegian Reed remembering his origins. It's a lovely rousing way to end the album.
Reed's star continues to ascend as he further extends the range and power of his musical chops vocally and instrumentally, bringing passion and a tincture of venom to his compositions and arrangements. At nearly 42 minutes, it's shorter than many current offerings, but its brilliance and brevity only leaves you wanting to dip into this honey jar again and again.
**** Alison Reijman
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