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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Downes Braide Association

Halcyon Hymns

Review by Gary Hill

You really can't go wrong with Downes Braide Association. This new album is a great example of that fact. I think this new set might make my "best of 2021" list when it comes time to compile that. What we have here is a great collection of evocative progressive rock that lands in the AOR end of the pool. There is not a weak song here, and the whole thing just works so well as one cohesive unit.

The "Downes" of DBA is, of course, Geoffrey Downes of Buggles, Asia and Yes fame. Chris Braide is the other half of the duo. They are joined on this album by a number of guests including Marc Almond and Dave Bainbridge. In addition to the CD this set includes a DVD. That DVD has three lyric videos of songs from the set, but that's not the real selling point for me. The gentleman who did the cover for this album is Roger Dean, and he's my favorite visual artist. For me that makes the other thing on the DVD a treasure. It's a video that shows him painting the art for the cover and chatting as he does so. That's worth the price of admission all by itself for me. And yet the album is, as I said, possibly one of the best coming out this year. That's a win-win as far as I'm concerned.

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Track by Track Review
Love Among The Ruins
There is a spoken opening to the album that feels like a story reading. That gives way to a lush and rather mellow progressive rock arrangement. Sung vocals come in from there. There are some hints of psychedelia in the number. It has some seriously soaring moments, too. This is AOR prog at its best. I dig the guitar solo on the tune a lot.
King Of The Sunset
As strong as the opener was, this ups the ante. In fact, it's purely sublime. The cut seems to have some hints of Alan Parsons project to me. I love some of the melodies on this so much. The vocal arrangement has some real power to it. This song has so many changes built into it. A string-styled section brings so much emotion. There is also a killer extended instrumental section late in the number.
Your Heart Will Find The Way
There are some particularly potent vocal hooks on this number. The track has a driving, soaring sort of AOR arrangement. Again the number is quite dynamic.
Holding The Heavens
I love this rocking tune, too. This is more of a straight-ahead number. It has some really soaring moments and movements.
There is more spoken stuff early in this piece. The cut works out from there with a texture that sits on the mellower, more magical side of the equation. This is AOR prog of the finest material. There is a lush multilayered vocals arrangement built into this that takes over at the end. The song also includes a more rocking section late in its run.
Warm Summer Sun
There is a majestic sort of vibe as this starts. There is a real beauty to this cut. The number has some parts that make me think of The Buggles. This grows and evolves, though, and has some really soaring folk prog styled sections. There is an unaccompanied sea of vocals section at the end.
Piano and vocals bring this number into being. The track eventually makes its way out to a more full arrangement. This drops back from a spoken section accompanied just by keyboards. The cut fires out into a guitar based movement after that. That section brings some real Beatles-like sounds.
Hymn To Darkness
This shorter number is fairly mellow. It's one of the more constant pieces of the set. It's more or less a ballad.
She'll Be Riding Horses
This isn't quite a driving rocker, but it seems like it in contrast to the previous piece. This is an accessible tune that works well. It's not the proggiest thing on the disc, but it is very effective.
Late Summer
Another mellow piece, I love some of the keyboard textures on this track. This song has is a pretty ballad.
The epic of the set, this is nearly 12-minutes long. It starts with a lush and rather magical arrangement over which spoken vocals are heard. The cut works outward from there as the sung vocals take over. As you might expect of a song that takes up that much of the album, this has a lot of variants and changes. This is a particularly artsy and effective piece of music. The spoken vocal returns at various points, weaving its poetic tales. The closing segment is an extended spoken movement over keyboards.
This is a brief piece that is almost exclusively vocal. It makes a suitable conclusion.
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