Canada's Saga is the band who never can say goodbye. After their 40th anniversary tour in 2017, which was supposed to bring down the curtain on their career, fans urged them to keep playing live. Symmetry is their new album recorded during lockdown following their last tour early in 2020.
This, however, is a very different-sounding Saga, many chapters away from their rich, muscular, melodic brand of prog. Add a fiddle, courtesy of Shane Cook, and two cellos (Stephany Seki and Beth Silver), plus regular band members, Ian Crichton picking up his mandolin and banjo, and Jim Gilmour his accordion, and you have a re-imagined, reconstructed countrified, blue-grassed journey through a swathe of their impressive, extensive back catalogue.
Symmetry starts with The Pitchman from 1983's Heads Or Tails, its infectious melody really suited to this country style to such a degree, the tempo changes to a danceable rhythm towards the end. Hoedown anyone?
Michael Sadler's rich baritone voice remains as strong and passionate as ever throughout the album, while Jim Crichton returns on bass, and drummer Mike Thorne keeps perfect time throughout including on kitchen percussion!
There are two medleys of three songs included on the album, one entitled The Perfect Time To Feel Better consisting of the ever lovely, lilting Time To Go, which morphs into The Perfectionist from the debut album then We Hope You Are Feeling Better from 1995's Generation 13.
Say Goodbye To Hollywood from Steel Umbrellas really stands out, the guitars sounding almost Hawaiian in style.
Other highlights include a robust Wind Him Up from Worlds Apart on which Sadler's son Seren Sadler makes a guest appearance, the fiddle and a distinctive shuffle rhythm giving it a completely different feel. It is followed by the incredibly beautiful ballad No Regrets - Chapter 5 on which Gilmour makes his indelible mark as per the original on both vocals and clarinet.
It seems apt that in the current circumstances, the classic Tired World - Chapter 5 from the debut album brings the album to a close. Starting with a gorgeous, timeless piano introduction, the strings bring a fresh, abstract feel to the song, while Ian Crichton's banjo takes it into a fascinating new dimension.
The two Preludes and La Foret Harmonieuse are all new material, providing excellent little interludes between the bigger songs.
Entertaining, engaging, and downright enjoyable, perhaps Symmetry could have benefitted from a couple more tracks to take the running time up to around the hour mark. As their Images At Twilight song Take It Or Leave It says, “Yet knowing how to satisfy, he leaves you wanting more”. We sure do!
**** Alison Reijman
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