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Monarch Trail - Sand CD (album) cover

SAND

Monarch Trail

 

Neo-Prog

4.11 | 116 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Crossover Team
5 stars Canadian stalwart prog artist Ken Baird returns with a second Monarch Trail album, on the heels of 'Skye', a much vaunted debut that signaled a new route for the up-to-then solo multi-instrumentalist. It must be stated once again that there are musicians out there who have a level of musical education and a personal style that aims at artistic purity (aka lack of commercialism), charming the unsuspecting listener to be wooed and charmed by the proceedings. Throughout Ken Baird's solo career from 1996 to 2009, the confirmation of a special and unique sound encompassed 5 great albums that still enjoy great appeal to me as a prog collector. Also quite interestingly, Ken does the opposite of the accepted norm by starting with a solo career and then morphing into a band format. Cool, no? 'Skye' was pretty much a well-received and critically praised inauguration that garnered quite a reputation back in 2014. Three years have passed in silence and, out of the blue, Ken has returned with a new release 'Sand' that rekindles the progressive blaze and keeps the exact same crew in place: Dino Verginella on bass, Chris Lamont on drums as well as three guitarists in Kelly Kereliuk, Steve Cochrane and John Mamone. Ken sings and handles a slew of keyboards that are unafraid to solo in massive doses. For those of you new to Ken Baird, he will astound you with his musical prowess.

Swirling and twirling synths infuse 'Station Theme' with some very unflappable retro space music, sounding like a jingle for a sci-fi program on the History Channel. The rippling piano showcases a Wakemanesque dexterity that defies logic, booming bass and propulsive drums adding to the loopy instrumental orbit. Ken has one of the most humble and expressive voices, a gentle wail that has huge emotional appeal, though certainly NOT a leather-lunged, air-raid siren howler. 'First Thoughts' is a brief lullaby, washed in cascades of stringed synths and a devilish acoustic guitar foray that simply enchants. Brilliantly simple and perfect.

Full orbital liftoff occurs with 'Back to the Start', a 7 minute rambler that uncoils its symphonic drive with near ritualistic splendor, colossal keyboards led by a gripping bass guitar assault. Ken unveils his craft on the various ivories at his disposal, shifting from delicate to bombastic, from unassuming to complex, with undeniable affluence. Guitarist John Mamone spits off a few slick licks to keep the urge going, another cinematographic piece that would fit nicely in some silver screen epic.

'Missing' weaves a harrowing path through vocal ebbs and instrumental flows, all of Ken's keyboards smoldering furiously, the synths in particular on fire through a multitude of solos that defy logic. There is a slight IQ feel in the melodies and the vocal delivery (though nowhere near the same timbre of voice than Peter Nicholls), perhaps that incisive determination that illustrates a band that has a style and likes to stick to it.

Throwing me for a loop after my preceding comment, 'Charlie's Kitchen' is a bar-room jazz piano ditty that adds slicing guitar (Ken) and a shifting rhythm section that eschews cool and crazy. It slowly morphs into a rather upbeat symphonic promenade, full of pomp and circumstance, garnished with flowery synthesizer plumes on one hand and metrical beat intricacies on the other. Dino peels off quite a four string ride on his bass guitar, showing that the rest of the crew are no slouches either. Tubular bells put this one to rest. Fascinating!

The short and otherwise spectral 'Another Silent World' serves as a clever synth-heavy intro for the lavish title track epic 'Sand', a 24 minute masterstroke that perfectly defines the artist's muse. Beginning with nearly Anthony Phillips-like fragility, all charming voice and flute-patch keyboard accompaniment, there is a bucolic /pastoral ambiance that evolves into a more symphonic coloratura, laden with menacing fright, delicate fear and unsuspecting solitude, verging on theater at times. The mood is an ever-colliding conundrum between the promise of the future and the relative comfort of the past, certainly an apt definition of modern day progressive music as it has clearly become. Arid dunes and lush oasis music. The playing grows in spirit with a sizzling guitar solo from Kelly Kereliuk, constantly challenged by the shrilling synths and the persuasive piano motifs underneath it all. I daresay this may quite well be Ken's finest moment, a thrilling voyage of sound and style that cannot fail to impress even the most casual listener. There are little hints of the classics (snippets of 'Delirium', mosaic Gregorian mellotron tiles and pulsating bridges) that only seek to elevate the pleasure, boldly go beyond the norm as if taken on a magic carpet ride into and towards the stars.

Monarch Trail is back, and fitting for a Canadian band, 'Sand' was unveiled to the public on July 1st, Canada Day. May the 150 years of celebration begin with such musical fireworks! There are many many artists that are worthy of support , but Ken Baird is one that deserves much consideration, true to himself and true to the fans that have stood along, beside him all these years.

5 papillon paths

tszirmay | 5/5 |

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