I don’t simply listen to music, it is much more than that to me. Music has, at times, been life affirming and made a big difference to me. Yes, even my first musical purchase (The Smurfs Album if you must know) made a real impact on my life (I was only 9 at the time, give me a break) and, as I have grown up, there have been various albums that have been the soundtrack of my journey. You see, there is not much I do that is not driven by, or accompanied by, music of some sort or other. Whether I’m driving along to the sounds of Dream Theater or IQ or if I’m working out at the gym, my energetic work out helped by the driving thrust of the Iron Maiden album I’m listening to, it is music that is central to my world. In many ways, like movies, I can feel a whole gamut of emotions depending on what artist or album that I am listening to at the time. Music, in a real sense, has form and function and, in certain ways, is almost an organic, living thing, ever evolving to become part of my being and my soul. If you ask my friends they will tell you I can become very passionate and animated when talking about music that I love and, in my opinion, a world without music would not be a world worth living in.
When I talk about music that affects me in this way, I am not talking about your everyday, throw away, pop-corn music that dominates the popular charts today. Artists like Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga and One Direction (it hurts me in every part of my being even typing their name) may have their place in popular music but, most definitely, not in my world. No, it is music that has form and function, music that comes from the heart and soul that is given free entry into my musical core. I find one band that I turn to when I want music that lulls me into a better place, that lifts my whole being is Karnataka, their brand of folk influenced progressive rock found its way into my life after the release of their last studio album, The Gathering Light, in 2010 and I was immediately transfixed by what I heard and they continue to grace my audio world with their much welcomed presence to this day. The band are due to release a new studio album later this year but, as a very impressive stop gap, I have had the pleasure of listening and watching their live CD&DVD set New Light – Live in Concert and it is this gem that I will be reviewing today.
Karnataka were formed in 1997 and have, up to now, released four studio albums and 2 live albums. Over the years, the band have undergone many line up changes and now consists of four core members, Hayley Griffiths (lead vocals), Enrico Pinna (guitars), Cagri Tozluoglu (keyboards) and original founding member Ian Jones (bass). Joining them on this live release are Colin Mold (guitars, violin) and Matt McDonough (drums and percussion).
The majority of the tracks on New Light come from the bands last two studio releases, Delicate Flame of Desire and The Gathering Light, albums where Karnataka had honed their sound into the delightful, folk influenced progressive rock, ethereal and haunting and it is this incredible sound that is reproduced on this fine live release. The music, on its own, is fantastic enough but, add in the amazing piece of sound and vision that is the New Light Blue Ray and, you have and audio visual experience that will leave you transfixed. With the opening instrumental track on disc one, Karnataka, where their quality as musicians becomes readily apparent, the band lay down a marker for a stunning live album. Through crowd pleasers Serpent and the Sea and Delicate Flame of Desire the incredible depth and talent of Hayley Griffiths becomes apparent, classically trained, her wonderful soprano voice gained her lead roles on both The Riverdance and Lord of the Dance world tours. It is a thing of beauty, wondrous in texture and rich in sound. The band that surround her are no lightweights either, the rhythm section supplies ample backing and the guitar work of Enrico Pinna is inspired in places, especially on the striking and prodigious solos that erupt from his magical 6 strings, add in some superb keyboards and the talents of Colin Mold on guitar and violin, and you know you are in for a treat. The whole set is full of vistuoso performances. With Colin Mold’s delicate violin playing and its shorter running time, Heaven Can Wait is more of a melodic rock track, heartfelt vocals and supreme guitar playing all adding to the mix.
Tide to Fall is a classic rock track of great virtue, powerful, yet haunting vocals, brilliant bass and drums and a classy guitar note completing the, rather impressive picture. A beautifully simple partnership of gentle piano and endearing vocals is the centrepiece of the ethereally graceful and charming Forsaken. A moment in time frozen so you can drink in the exquisiteness of this track, the lengthy guitar solo that follows grips your heart and soul and refuses to let go, it is so powerful and compelling, almost taking on a life of its own. Close your eyes and you could almost be there at the concert venue, I am already running out of superlatives, the song is simply constructed yet leaves such a complexity of emotions, it is exquisite and there is a real sense of emptiness and loss when it comes to a close. After the tides of emotion that the previous track engenders, the bare and uncomplicated delight of After the Rain is a welcome contrast. Another melodic rock song at its heart, the compelling vocal and strong rhythm section add in a layer of the traditional to the mix, the catchy chorus a highlight. Enrico is given plenty of space to showcase his breathtaking ability on one more towering guitar solo and Karnataka deliver another dazzling live performance.
Disc two begins with the slight form of The Calling and Lagan Love, the former a haunting and short folk instrumental and the latter an irresistible showcase for the huge vocal talent of Hayley Griffiths, the ethereal quality of her voice on this song is entirely hypnotic and you find yourself almost holding your breath, unwilling to break the spell that she weaves, it is only the appreciation of the audience present that finally breaks you out of the trance. Our Love returns a folk feel to proceedings, soft and gentle, you feel you are being lulled along by the beauty of the song, floating down an imaginary river, safe and secure in its embrace.
The introduction to State of Grace has a sense of mystery to it, the way the guitar beckons and leads you on a journey into the unknown, with a hint of darkness to it, is very intriguing. We delve deeper into the song, the rhythm section adding a note of urgency and the guitar and keyboard adding a jauntiness to the sound, contrasting with occasional flashes of distortion. It is a very well constructed instrumental with different layers all combining to create a seriousness that is occasionally lifted by that playful guitar note, smooth and cultivated. The Journey is a nice rock track, quality vocals contrast with a heavier guitar feel than before, classy drums and a cool bass adding the required substance. When the tempo rises and Hayley’s voice takes on a more insistent note the whole song is lifted and becomes something more than before, a nicely judged and technically superb solo adding to the finely honed feel, this feeling pressed home by the delightful piano work.
The final three tracks on the album work extremely well together and provide a brilliant ending to the concert. Your World is as close to a good old fashioned rocker that you will get from the band, really catchy lyrics and an almost funky beat to the music give an upbeat vibe to the song, only added to by the hook of the drum beat. We a treated to another dose of the sublime musical talent of Enrico and Colin and, trust me, that’s no hardship, the whole song has a effortlessly cool vibe to it, almost back to the 80’s in its carefree approach. We come to Heart of Stone and, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, the band have saved the best two songs for last. The introduction of Hayley’s vocal and a suitably pared back acoustic guitar brings a blanket of calm to the performance, I can almost imagine the audience getting ready to get the lighters out. The effortlessly cool, calm and collected rhythm section of drums and bass guitar continue to provide the canvas upon which the other musicians can paint their dreamscapes of musical delight. I feel an emotional connection the musicians and what they have produced for the audience on the evening. The keyboard and guitar get their chance to shine in the central section of the track, Cagri’s sound taking on a classic progressive edge and Enrico Pinna pulling yet another rabbit out of the hat and Colin Mold an impressive wingman. As the song begins the second movement, everything becomes more urgent, a feeling of anticipation as we build up to a glorious chorus, like the sun breaking clear of a clouded sky, the power of emotion evident in every note. It is an entrancing performance and makes the hairs rise on my neck, I can only imagine what it must have been like to be at this wonderful performance, the crowd cheering and clapping in unison. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and, with The Gathering Light we come to the end of the show and this review. I have to admit that this track is a major favourite of mine and I must have heard it a thousand times, however, on this CD& Blue Ray, this is the first time I’ve heard it live. It is with a little trepidation that I wait to hear this track but, I have no reason to be anxious. The live treatment of this track is one of the best live songs I’ve heard, period! With all musicians on their ‘A’ game, it is a journey through an amazing technicolour and Dolby 5.1 surround sound world of near perfection. I advise you to listen to the whole concert on the best sound system you can find or through a seriously good pair of headphones because, music as good as this really deserves it. You will b very lucky if you go to a live concert and experience something as good as this, just watching the blue-ray gave me goose bumps. The guitar wizardry of Enrico Pinna and keyboard excellence of Cagri Tozluoglu are really given a stage to shine and both performers take up the baton with relish. Ably assisted by the super smooth bass of Ian Jones, the impressive drumming of Matt McDonough and the multi-talented Colin Mold, there is a sense of a bond between the musicians. With one of the best voices in any genre of music, Hayley Griffiths adds that final layer of a supreme vocal talent to give Karnataka an embarrassing wealth of riches and, live or recorded in the studio, they happily distribute that wealth to an eager audience. It is a superb end to a very enjoyable and remarkable concert, a life affirming experience for this reviewer and I am left wishing I had been at the venue to see it performed.
This CD & Blue-Ray package is, without doubt, one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to listen to and watch. Karnataka take their incredible talent and virtuosity that I have already had the pleasure of enjoying on their studio releases and move it effortlessly into a live arena. For newcomers to the band the breadth of material on offer makes this an ideal introduction the delights that they offer and, to seasoned stalwarts and long time fans it is another, must have, purchase to join an ever burgeoning collection of incredible music. I am now left waiting for the new studio release with ever more bated breath.