John Holden is a composer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist whose presence on the Prog scene has continued to grow over the past three years since the release of Capture Light, which was swiftly followed by Rise And Fall. Lockdown has enabled him to deliver his third album Circles In Time ahead of schedule.
This album is a very personal one for him and his wife Libby, who is the co-lyric writer, the songs drawing on their own lives and experiences, the result being a diverse collection of six compositions of differing styles. In keeping with the other albums, he has assembled an all-star cast to help deliver the songs.
It starts with Avalanche, a no holds barred rocker, guitar riffs courtesy of Eric Potapenko and a driving beat from Nick D'Virgilio, while Mystery's chanteur Jean Pageau lets rip with a visceral lyrical narrative about the negative effects of social media.
Changing the groove to a much sweeter channel, High Line features the voice and saxophone of Peter Jones, as he takes us on a couple's delightful journey through New York City, enjoying the sights and sounds. The song is jazzy and cosmopolitan, Frank van Essen's sumptuous violin coming in at the end to complement Jones' saxophone.
Transported back to Victorian times, The Secret Of Chapel Field is a gentle folkish ballad inspired by the inscriptions on gravestones in a local church yard, and the fate of 15-year-old Mary Malpas. Sally Minnear and Marc Atkinson provide the voices in this story in which poor Mary was murdered by an elderly married man. Mournful piano, violin and viola set the musical tone for this sad little tale.
Now, here's a real surprise, flamenco, Prog-style on Dreams Of Cadiz! After a piano introduction, Oliver Day gives a masterclass in flamenco-style guitar playing. From then on, with added castanets, the piano holds the melody line so that Day can add some suitably Andalusian guitar flourishes to transport you aurally to this wonderful, historic port in south west Spain.
Circles is a very personal song for John's wife Libby, who lives with ovarian cancer. Her powerful lyrics describes her life and all its uncertainties, beautifully interpreted by Sally Minnear with expression and tenderness, with Robin Armstrong, who also mastered the album, on bass.
Bringing the album to a conclusion, KV62 at 19 minutes long, explores the couple's love of Egyptology by recounting the story of Howard Carter, who, with Lord Carnarvon, discovered the tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amun in the Valley of the Kings. The stentorian tones of Jeremy Irons as Narrator raise the curtain, Joe Payne and Peter Jones taking the vocal roles of Carter and Carnarvon through the years. There are many musical twists and turns including a 1920s ragtime band section, acknowledging the decade in which the tomb of the young king was found and some Middle Eastern vibes.
Other notable players on the album are drummer Henry Rogers and Vikram Shankar who plays piano and keyboards on all the tracks.
Holden has really upped his game for this album in terms of style and substance. For this alone, this album comes highly recommended.
**** Alison Reijman
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