Our lives are a road long traveled, metaphorically and literally, with many ups and downs. We have to climb the arduous slopes of the bad times on our allegorical journey with the hope that there will be the reward of an easier descent down to happier times on the other side.
For me, like many others, it is the joy and reflection of superlative music that can ease this journey and turn the barely passable rocky road into a smooth section of tarmac to make your journey as stress free as possible.
To be honest, music doesn’t just aid my life, at times, music IS my life and I thank whichever deity you wish for the chance I get to listen to, and write about, fantastic, soul stirring and bewitching music on a daily basis.
So, which new album has rattled my cage and affected me in such a way as to have me waxing lyrical about its brilliance? Well, read on my good friends and I will tell you all about it!
“In the closing months of 2012, musicians Tony Patterson and Brendan Eyre discussed the idea or working on a project together that would reflect their native North-East roots.
The album would feature a character returning to the North-East after so many years away from the place he loved.
Memories of loss, heartache and the abiding beauty of the North East landscape would once again draw him back to the places and people he left behind. The wasteland it had become, the unfinished business and the ghosts he needed to lay to rest that had haunted him for so long.
A place he knew he must return to one day. A place called Northlands…”
So says the literature on the CD booklet, let’s look into it in a tad more detail. Tony Patterson is the front man for the Genesis tribute band Re-Genesis and is also known for his exemplary skills in writing and recording TV and film music whilst Brendan Eyre is, perhaps, best known for his collaboration with Marc Atkinson on the amazing and hugely respected Riversea project but has also played with Nine Stones Close and produced an excellent solo album ‘Ghost Ships’.
Tony and Brendan put out a call to the great and the good and to friends and collaborators so the list of contributors to their amazing project is quite a lengthy one. It is well known that I am a lover of great album art and packaging and, on ‘Northlands’, this reaches new heights of quality. Aided and abetted by well known local photographer Howie White the guys have really excelled themselves with the design and concept of this release.
On a more musical note, Tony and Brendan handled the majority of the keyboards, programming, guitars and other acoustic instruments between them and the deep and thoughtful vocals are provided by Tony but, the list of people who were more than happy to help out with additional duties was long and includes Steve Hackett (guitar), Nick Magnus (keyboards and programming), Tim Esau (bass), Carrie Melbourne (vocals and stick) and renowned local musician Fred Arlington (Northumbrian pipes, flugelhorn, sax, Irish whistle, accordion and, apparently, jokes!).
For the full credits, buy the CD and, whilst your enjoying the superb packaging, you can see who else was involved in the creation of this wonderful musical epithet.
The opening track on the album is the twenty-four minute Northbound suite, broken down into seven smaller sections. The initial piano section on Three Rivers is spine tingling and, possibly, the most emotive piece of music you will ever hear. Brendan’s simple but hugely stirring melody just grabs your soul and lifts it in a tumultuous fashion, this grand overture has the capability to stun you with its vast cinematic scope yet touch even the smallest part of your being and leave you awestruck. Orchestral in scope and delivery, Time and Tide carries you forward with an emotional refrain that is dense and lush in its complexity. A stirring string section heralds the entrance of Tony’s superb vocals on Homeward Bound, a part of the song that just leaves me transfixed. The plethora of guest artists contribute throughout this twenty four minute musical delight a veneer of hidden depths that just add layers of velvety smooth brilliance. Take the Safe Way is more upbeat and quite jazzy in its delivery with the vocals like a whispering note on your aural receptors, a warm breath on your neck that makes the hairs rise before this section culminates in a fairground organ section followed by luscious and ornate flute and mandolin that leaves you spent. The spacious and breathy harmonies that Tony evokes on Recall are delicate and ethereal, like gossamer spinning in a gentle breeze, fragile and exquisite. The mandolin, bass and twelve string guitar lend The Crossing an air of sophistication, a gravitas of nobility and style before we come full circle to the poignancy of Three Rivers Reprise, the return of Brendan’s piano note brings a lump to my throat with its delicate and fragile beauty and, when it is joined by the simple drums, the flute of John Hackett and the sparingly used accordion, tears of joy begin to form in the corner of my eyes. The amazing gentility of the strings, keytar and mellotron that bring this suite towards its climax is a thing of wonder, the guitar takes on a whole new level of dignity and humility and, when the piano note leads out, it takes your heart and soul with it willingly.
The orchestral side of Tony Patterson is epitomised by the next piece of captivating music and the two minutes of The Northlands Rhapsody is an ideal way to bring you back to earth after the high drama of Northbound. A short but eloquent piece that evokes huge pictures in your mind as it dances along your cerebral cortex and provides a perfect transition into the shorter nature of the rest of the tracks on the album. A superbly atmospheric track, the next song A Picture in Time uses the angelic qualities of Carrie Melbourne’s diaphanous vocal skill to paint a mosaic in your mind that transfixes you momentarily. I taste tones of Acoustic Alchemy in the gentile yet complex soundscapes that have a darker edge to them. The track moves into a hugely cinematic style where the orchestral intensity leads to an expansive sound that conjures up images of enormous canvases populated by sound.
A light piano refrain leads into And the River Flows, a sparse yet opulent piece that has an intangible quality that mesmerises your very being. How something so delicate and gossamer like can have so much substance is a mystery but I am left with a feeling of loss as the final notes play out. An ode to their home town, A Rainy Day on Dean Street’s jazzy overtone is laced with a smooth blues core. Evoking thoughts of smoky rooms and even smokier vocals, the superb flugelhorn is as captivating as it is cool. The tinkling piano note is as smooth as they come and the music takes on the role of storyteller with its whiskey heavy anecdotes, a superb song that could have come straight from the heart of New Orleans but is anchored firmly in the soul of the North-East that they call home.
Legacy is a tribute to the railway industry that flourished in the North-East in a time gone by. With an urgency that brings to mind the motion and energy of the great steam engines of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, there is also an added intimacy at play provided by some superb flute playing. As you listen to this instrumental piece you get the sense of travel without motion, like your spirit has been invited to a place your body cannot go until it comes to a serene close and you are brought back to the real world. Dreamlike, ghostly and sublime I Dare to Dream has a trancelike quality that seeps into your subconscious, like an otherworldly experience. Tony’s vocal delivery is precise and measured, almost metronomic as it measures out the passage of time. The seriously hypnagogic flugelhorn is like a life line tethered to your psyche as you traverse this surreal world with, seemingly, no control over your actions.
So Long the Day is another intense, passionate song that bleeds longing and desire in the vocal delivery. Steve Hackett adds his signature, burning style to the deep profundity of this track. Slow and studious, it travels a path that speaks of longing and past glories. This isn’t just music, this has a soul and life all of its own. The warmth, sentiment and fervor are almost tangible as the acknowledged guitar virtuoso lends an impassioned edge to his guitar playing and gives a ringing endorsement of this album’s credentials. If you fail to be moved by music stirs the soul as much as this then you really need to check your pulse to see if you are actually alive. We end with A Sense of Place and it is left to the beauteous bewitching charm of Brendan Eyre’s exquisite piano playing, accompanied by the muted calling of the gulls, to add the final touches to what has been a captivating and entrancing musical journey.
A totally bewitching musical experience that transports you to another place, Northlands has touched my soul in such a way that I will never be the same again. I am left with a feeling of solemnity and grace, as if I am in a place where all is well with the world and I can come to no harm. Yes, that is only a fantasy but, while it lasts, it is one of intense joy and peace. One of the best albums I have ever had the luck to listen to, it will continue to be part of me for a very long time to come.