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Colin Masson - The Southern Cross CD (album) cover


Colin Masson


Crossover Prog

3.58 | 33 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
4 stars This 2011 release by talented multi-instrumentalist Colin Masson arrived on my doorstep last week, and adds greatly to one of the best years for new progressive rock music I can remember.

This is a concept album, and the CD inlay describes in great detail the evolution of the album. The story can be summarised as the tale of two ships, both called The Southern Cross, both doomed, but separated by a thousand years in time. The first "side" deals with an 18th Century ship that came to grief in Southern Australia, whilst the second deals with a futuristic ship of the same name falling foul of a black hole.

As with all concept albums, the trick is to tell a coherent, believable, story which both manages to hold the attention and, of course, allows the music to put across that story. On all levels, The Southern Cross more than succeeds.

The album opens with what can only be described as a fun sea shanty, which lyrically and musically sets the scene very well for a group of simple sailors facing their fear of a long voyage into the unknown, knowing intuitively that their ship is not the best and might well be doomed. Perhaps surprisingly, the track is not as doom laden as it sounds, and I rather like the way its upbeat tone reflects the perhaps fatalistic sense that many such people had in that great age of discovery.

Sails Of Silver moves the story forward, with a very nice vocal set against a gentle acoustic guitar and dreamy keys. This is a lovely pastoral track showcasing to very good effect Masson's clear mastery of, especially, the acoustic guitar, and you can just imagine being on deck on calm waters voyaging towards your far away destination, before the track closes with a great electric burst announcing arrival, a phase which is very reminiscent of much of Mike Oldfield's more symphonic works.

South Australia is the destination, and the track continues where its predecessor left off. It is grandiose, describing particularly well the sailors' sense of anticipation bound for the continent. It features the heaviest musical passage thus far in the album, and is expansive, but also interspersed with some more lovely pastoral, acoustic, moments, thus describing the varying mood changes of its subjects rather perfectly. Again, Masson proves himself to be a master of the acoustic guitar especially.

On The Wreckers, Masson's wife, Cathy Alexander, takes the lead vocals, and quite wonderful she is too. Very operatic, she leads a symphonic piece setting the scene marvellously, whilst Masson bangs & crashes with orchestration and percussion to more than adequately describe to us the cliffs, waves, and rocks upon which the ship will flounder. Huge in scope, and marvellously executed, this track is a pure joy to listen too, with Masson and Cathy complementing each other very well.

Compass Rose closes the first part of the story. This is a sad, melancholic track featuring a quite lovely guitar solo. A paean to the fallen, this is yet another example of how one can build a picture musically without the need for any words whatsoever.

The Intermission follows. Fairly amusing for the first couple of listens, as Masson explains to his younger audience that this is the point at which you would flip the vinyl for side two in the "good old days", you will, after this, find yourself skipping straight to the second part of the story.

This begins with The Heart Of The Machine, and it brings about a huge change in mood, tempo, and sound, almost as if you are going from pastoral, symphonic 1970's prog to the brasher feel of the 1980's & 90's. Of course, it is all quite deliberate; after all, Masson is telling a story of events a millennium apart. A booming bass, especially, rings in the change - out with the old, and in with the new. Having said that, I find this the weakest track on the album, because the lyrics are, in my opinion, rather cliched, and I feel the track would have worked far better had it been left as a purely instrumental track, and this, to me, is witnessed by the fine heavy rock phase at the denouement.

We then move to the two longest tracks on the album, beginning with Ocean Of Storms, clocking in at over twelve minutes long. It is epic, and also extremely good. The vocal effects add to the mood, and effortless keys and orchestration, with some quite lovely recorders, create a dreamlike state, and the key to this is that it keeps the listener's attention throughout, not an easy thing to manage on such a track. Interestingly, the liner notes state that this track was virtually rewritten as new (much of the other material harks back many years, awaiting modern recording technology to realise), and all I can say is that this makes me really look forward to the next release, and I hope that it is not too long in coming. There are passages which are, to these ears, very Floydian, especially with the sound effects, and, throughout, a quiet sense of doom pervades proceedings. It is, though, never anything less than magnificently performed.

The album closes with the title track, the longest on the album at fourteen and a half minutes. Here, you should close your eyes, and simply let the music take you on board the ship as it plunges towards its doom. Wild guitars, a booming bass, and drums set the scene, with keys all the while bringing us the tragic theme, much as a good opera would. The short vocal section adequately conveys the angst and despair of the situation, but I do rather feel that Alexander might have been a better choice to sing here, given her clear sense of the tragic and a voice that would bring a better sense of the drama. However, the music itself then reasserts itself fantastically as entry comes, with the aftermath reflective and brilliant.

The inlay notes are very good, and give an insight into the development of this project. However, as with the best concepts, it leaves the listener to imagine his or her own "reality" in the story, and I hope that I have conveyed my own personal interpretation adequately.

My only real quibble with the album is what I regard as the underuse of Cathy Alexander vocally. She shows herself to have a magnificent voice on The Wreckers, with an operatic sensibility that more than matches the drama of the story. More of her in future, please.

The artwork, as one might expect from a professional artist, is sumptuous, and this is a well produced, very well executed, and very enjoyable album. It will appeal very strongly to fans of Mike Oldfield (Masson is clearly very strongly influenced) and also those, like me, who really enjoy the Meddle period instrumentals of Floyd as much as the later stuff.

Given that Oldfield & Floyd have sold enough albums to fill the planet's living rooms, there is, I believe, plenty of scope for this to be a commercial success. It certainly deserves your attention, and I have no hesitation in awarding four stars for a work that becomes more enjoyable with each listen, and one I will play regularly in time to come. I will also record my appreciation for Colin making the CD available for me to review.

lazland | 4/5 |


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