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MONARCH TRAIL

Neo-Prog • Canada


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Monarch Trail biography
Mostly known for his works as a solo artist, Canadian keyboardist and composer Ken Baird would expand his activities after no less than five solo albums and come up with the trio of Monarch Trail, a project formed out of the need of Baird to produce music in a more teamwork status.Bassist Dino Verginella and drummer Chris Lamont, who completed the line-up, were both featured in Baird's previous albums. As guitars were also part of Monarch Trail's compositions, they were helped during the sessions of their debut by John Mamone, Kelly Kereliuk and Steve Cochrane.The first work of the band ''Skye'' was partly inspired by the drawings of Annette Roche, so naturally some of them became part of the album's artwork, a record eventually released in April 2014 and based on the principles of the Neo Prog/Symphonic Rock genres.

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SkyeSkye
Import
CD Baby 2014
Audio CD$13.00
$14.89 (used)
SandSand
Perpetual Tree Music
Audio CD$14.96
$17.12 (used)
Skye by Monarch TrailSkye by Monarch Trail
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Audio CD$40.64
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MONARCH TRAIL discography


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MONARCH TRAIL top albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

3.99 | 122 ratings
Skye
2014
4.19 | 82 ratings
Sand
2017

MONARCH TRAIL Live Albums (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

MONARCH TRAIL Videos (DVD, Blu-ray, VHS etc)

MONARCH TRAIL Boxset & Compilations (CD, LP, MC, SACD, DVD-A, Digital Media Download)

MONARCH TRAIL Official Singles, EPs, Fan Club & Promo (CD, EP/LP, MC, Digital Media Download)

MONARCH TRAIL Reviews


Showing last 10 reviews only
 Sand by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2017
4.19 | 82 ratings

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Sand
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by Second Endeavour

5 stars Monarch Trail continue their forward momentum as they've just released a sophomore album 'Sand' which is quite tremendous in its effect. Combining the best elements of their debut release and using potion of inventive extract, MT seek to take us back to the Glory Days of the 1970's. Once again, the core personalities (Ken Baird - keyboards & lead vocals, Dino Verginella - bass, Chris Lamont - drums) enlisted the support from the guest guitarists (John Mamone, Kelly Kereliuk, Steve Cochrane) who append some hues and textures to the signature style. Here and there, the floating synth lines embrace the mode of Tony Banks with deliberate nods to Rick Wakeman. Whereas the flamboyant keyboards are accompanied by splendid guitar passages, skillful rhythmic changes and engaging soundscapes evoke a delectable retro feel, the general approach is sweetened by attractive singing from Ken Baird. To a certain extent, the vocal performance makes me think of Alan Parsons Project and Barclay James Harvest. As a whole, the second Monarch Trail offer is a superb mix of exciting instrumental pieces ('Station Theme', Charlie's Kitchen', 'Another Silent World') and gorgeous vocal tracks ('First Thoughts', 'Back To The Start', 'Missing', 'Sand'). The musical content is very rich with melodism that holds your attention all the way through. Entering gently into a magical venture, the anterior cut sets the stage for following material. Yes, it may be a cliche to say so, but the final composition, 24+ min. epic, sums up all the ingredients, showcasing how versatile this Canadian group can be within a symphonic prog rock multi-movement. Indeed, a great choice to complete the consistent album. The bottom line: buying a CD 'Sand' guarantees you're in for something special. RECOMMENDED!
 Sand by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2017
4.19 | 82 ratings

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Sand
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by CeeJayGee

4 stars I gave this album a couple of listens when I first became aware of it, liked it and thought I might return to it at some stage in the future. Within a few days the album was topping the PA 2017 album chart. Its sudden appearance at the top of the chart appears to have been due to its receiving no fewer than four reviews by PA Collaborators. I studied these reviews and am glad that I did as one of them drew my attention to the album creator, Ken Baird, an his solo work which I have now checked out and enjoyed (particularly Martin Road).

As for Monarch Trail, I was aware of and enjoyed their debut release Skye. Sand is certainly a stronger album and given the attention that it has received from ProgArchives I have listened to it many more times. It is a lovely album from beginning to end and deserves a rating of between four and four and a half stars.

 Sand by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2017
4.19 | 82 ratings

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Sand
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator Rock Progressivo Italiano Team

5 stars Three years ago, Canadian trio Monarch Trail delivered a strong and well-received debut `Skye', a rich and quietly dynamic keyboard-dominated symphonic work that called to mind the early works of Glass Hammer and Pendragon, the vocal-focused melodicism of Izz and even the romantic longings of Camel. It was a top-notch first effort, but to say that the band has stepped up in a big way here would be an understatement! 2017's sci-fi concept tale `Sand', which sees the trio backed up by contributions from three different guitarists, offers a larger canvass of symphonic grandness and stronger instrumental themes, as well as delivering a more polished production, smoother vocals and more naturally flowing harmonies that instantly improve on those from the debut, and it quickly reveals itself to be one of the finest Symph-prog works of the year.

The album launches reliably with `Station Theme', an overture-like introductory instrumental full of Ken Baird's whirring synth themes and rousing piano by way of Rick Wakeman-like pomp as well as some eerier little fleeting gothic touches, as Dino Verginella's chunky bass grumbles through the background alongside Chris Lamont's bustling drumwork. `First Thoughts' is the first gentle vocal piece, Ken's placid voice sweetly sighing alongside soft symphonic keyboard caresses and sparse acoustic guitar, and it reminds of both the last few Comedy of Errors discs or the unashamedly romantic classic period Pendragon albums. `Back To The Start' instantly calls to mind I.Q's mysterious and melodic approach with the snaking bass over crystalline synth washes, and the touch of heavier guitars will excite fans of Arena and the earlier male-fronted version of Flamborough head. Loaded with crisp electric guitar themes and slow-burn soloing piercing through rambunctious drumming (listen to Dino's tantrum-like burst at about the 3:20 mark!), the second half in particular lifts to the highest of instrumental symphonic-prog heavens and is sheer prog bliss wrapped up in a mere seven minutes!

A nice change in direction, the lyrically reflective `Missing' might deliver a sparkling piano and cascading Mellotron introduction, but at heart it's a strong and tasteful pop tune, not unlike some of those simpler moments that show up on most Glass Hammer albums, and it holds a catchy joyful chorus that would make E.L.O green with envy - but don't worry, prog-snobs, you get to overdose on the frantic keyboard delirium solo in the middle!

But then Monarch Trail drop `Charlie's Kitchen' on us, a sumptuous instrumental feast of keyboard-slathered symphonic rapture in the tradition of bands like Trion, Willowglass and classic-era Genesis. Offering the most infectious of twinkling jazzy piano, assisted by some majestic Mellotron flutes, sweetly murmuring bass, peppy drumming and Steve Hackett-esque ringing guitars, it's a frequently whimsical slice of romantic prog that symphonic fans will adore. The group then spoil us that little bit more with `Another Silent World', a tasty final standalone spacey instrumental interlude.

And then, as every symphonic-prog album should have, we reach the `side-long' epic, the near twenty-five minute closing title- track `Sand'. While it similarly holds all the same wistful vocal passages with lengthy instrumental bursts fuelled by colourful whirring keyboards and welcome acoustic guitar breaks, it also refreshingly incorporates plenty of heavier drama and darker segments from moodier cinematic synths that shimmer with danger. The climax has guitars and keyboards reaching in unison to the heavens to end on as grandiose a note as possible, but extra special is the instrumental passage that runs from about the 4:45 mark for a full ten minutes, a truly exceptional all-out prog moment.

If bands like Comedy of Errors, Druckfarben and Barock Project have all moved up over the last few years in status with their most recent efforts in a symphonic prog style, then Monarch Trail have done exactly the same thing here with `Sand'. The first album was a great success, but here the arrangements, playing and production are all far superior than that initial effort, meaning we can only wait and see the amazing places the band head to from here! Also, here listeners will be witness to one of the most outstanding currently active keyboard players in action in Ken Baird, hopefully one to eventually be thought of in the same league as Clive Nolan, Fred Schendel, Andy Tillison, Neal Morse and Robert Reed of the modern prog era.

Chances are we're looking at potentially the greatest pure symphonic prog album of 2017 right here with Monarch Trail's `Sand', but we've definitely been handed one of the standout progressive rock releases of the year overall.

Four and a half stars.

 Sand by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2017
4.19 | 82 ratings

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Sand
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by Mellotron Storm
Prog Reviewer

4 stars This is album number two for MONARCH TRAIL the project of keyboardist/ vocalist Ken Baird who's out of Dundas, Ontario. I became aware of Ken through his solo albums which were recommended by James Unger or loserboy on this site. Ken is one of many bands and solo artists that I have discovered through James' web-site back in the day. MONARCH TRAIL seems to appeal to the Prog fan more than his solo stuff maybe because this is more challenging instrumentally and the synths really dominate the sound overall. I do prefer Ken's solo music, especially "Martin Road" which I highly recommend to every one who's into timeless, meaningful music with an emphasis on vocals and exceptional lyrics. My two cents.

Like the last album we have a trio here of keys, bass and drums with three guests helping out on guitars. The very same lineup as was on the debut. I swear the girl on the cover art of the first album "Skye" is the same one depicted in the art work on "Sand". The piano is exceptional on "Sand" but Ken offers a variety of keyboards here, and of course his vocals really resonate with me. I was really surprised to see an over 24 minute track as well. Some of these tracks blend into each other as we have this cosmic theme. It's all so well done.

"Station Theme" opens with bass, piano and drums which are joined quickly by synths. A calm 1 1/2 minutes in with piano melodies and atmosphere. I like this. Synths are back then bass and drums. it kicks back in after 2 1/2 minutes with synths leading the way. "First Thoughts" might be my favourite track on here. Atmosphere and finally Ken's vocals before we get some tasteful guitar around 2 minutes as the vocals step aside. I love how the atmosphere starts to build after 2 1/2 minutes until it dominates to the end. So good! It blends into the next song.

"Back To The Start" features bass and atmosphere as the synths roll in. It kicks in with guitar, drums and more. This is really good as the vocals join in as it settles back. I also enjoy the guitar on this one. Kicking butt 3 1/2 minutes in without vocals followed by a calm with synths and bass then the drums return along with guitar. Nice. Great sound as well before 6 1/2 minutes.

"Missing" has what sounds like mellotron-flute as piano then bass helps out. The atmosphere starts to rise then the vocals and a beat take over. Love the vocal harmonies after 2 minutes then the synths start to dominate as the tempo picks up. The vocals are back after 4 minutes as the synths step aside then they trade off again. "Charlie's Kitchen" opens with bass, drums and piano before the atmosphere arrives around 2 minutes. Synths to the fore a minute later. There's that mellotron-flute sound again after 5 1/2 minutes. Guitar later from Ken. Nice.

"Another Silent World" is a short piece with synths and atmosphere throughout. "Sand" is the ambitious title track to close the album. Vocals, bass and keyboards to start as that mellotron-flute sound joins in. It turns majestic before 1 1/2 minutes as the vocals continue. A calm follows after 2 minutes. The mood becomes serious a minute later with concerned vocals. Nice bass lines 4 1/2 minutes in then it picks up with synths over top as the vocals stop. Guitar before 6 minutes as the synths bow out for now. They are back then we get a calm with atmosphere before 8 1/2 minutes.The synths and guitar will trade off. A calm with piano before 13 1/2 minutes. Some nasty synths before 17 minutes as the vocals step aside but not for long as the synths and vocals continue to trade off. The guitar starts to solo before 22 minutes then the synths return as they both solo over top.

Another solid 4 star album from MONARCH TRAIL. Please check this band out along with Ken Baird's solo albums. You will find quality and meaningful music if you do.

 Sand by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2017
4.19 | 82 ratings

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Sand
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by loserboy
Prog Reviewer

4 stars "Sand " is the sophomore album released by Canadian progressive keyboardist Ken Baird and his band. Billed under the name Monarch Trail, "Sand" is a strong follow up album to 2014's superb "Skye" debut release.

"Sand" pretty much picks up where "Skye" ended , offering another clever suite of seven symphonic progressive tracks with a few new twists. Musically Baird takes Monarch Trail here into the Cosmos delivering an album with a strong alignment to the stars and the vastness of space.

Track 5, "Charlie's Kitchen" (the biggest departure musically on the album) shows Bairds' continued journey of creative song with this angular lounge -jazz infused song that busts wide open with the back half in full symphonic mode. "Sand" feels fresh and creative while once again showcasing the talents of his band complimented by his signature arsenal of keyboards and ivory samples. Watermark songs include "Missing" (Track 4) and title Track (Track 7)

A wonderful symphonic rock album that carries its own originality.....not to be missed

 Sand by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2017
4.19 | 82 ratings

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Sand
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by 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

 Skye by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.99 | 122 ratings

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Skye
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by memowakeman
Special Collaborator Honorary Collaborator

4 stars Some years ago thanks to this great site (Progarchives) I was contacted by Canadian musician Ken Baird, a talented composer and keyboard player who kindly introduced me to his solo music; and last year he and his two friends who also were featured on Baird's solo albums, decided to start a new project entitled Monarch Trail, in which Ken plays keyboards and sings, while Dino Verginella plays the bass and Chris Lamont the drums. This new band fits perfectly in the likes of those who love symphonic and neo-progressive rock; and it is complemented by three guest guitarists: John Mamone, Steve Cochrane and Kelly Kereliuk.

The album features four songs and a total time of 46 minutes. It starts with a magnificent song entitled "Luminiscence", whose eleven minutes offer a mixture of sounds, nuances and textures that create images and stories. It is evident that keyboards take the leadership and it is understandable because Ken Baird is a gifted man, who might not be famous, but man, what he does is magic and we, the prog rock fans, must thank guys like him who always make a big effort to offer wonderful music. In moments I can listen to a mellotron, which of course adds an even most beautiful sound; there are several changes and passages, but all of them are truly enjoyable. A feast of symphonic rock that I hope will be appreciated by more and more listeners in the near future. Great opener track!

"Silent World" starts softly with piano but after some seconds an explosion of energy appears with bombastic keyboards. After 40 seconds vocals enter, a calm atmosphere is created and the drums participate with excellent figures. The song has so many changes in time and mood, it is a great carousel of sounds that produce interesting contrasts, because sometimes we can listen to soft and delicate moments, and seconds later powerful and enchanting tunes. I had the luck of playing this song on my radio show, which the same Ken could listen by the way, and I must say I received positive comments from my audience. So I hope people listen to this because I am sure they will be satisfied.

The shortest track comes next and is entitled "East of Fifty", which is a 6-minute instrumental song full of joy, power and symphonic passages. Keyboards are omnipresent, drums always playing accurate rhythms and figures, while bass produces the perfect lines that complement an excellent work. Finally, the fourth and longest song of the album comes, with the title of "Sky Above The Sun", Monarch Trail gives us a summary of their music in a long, challenging and addictive track. It starts with a calm rhythm, and well here the first element I appreciated was the guitar, which in this track is on charge of John Mamone. After 3 minutes vocals enter, introducing us to a new passage, but it would be really difficult to describe every single passage because as you can imagine, this long track provides so many atmospheres and nuances, changes and passages that let us feel excited, entertained and charmed by the band's sound. Endless colors and images are brought here, so it is our responsibility as listeners to decorate the own stories we create in our minds. At half the song there is a passage of calm and relaxation I love, because it is like taking a rest and a deep breath in order to start something new; here is where Cochrane's guitar appears accompaniying Baird's vocals in a beautiful moment; and when it finishes, a somber and tense sound appears and new episodes begin. And so on. Whayt a tremendous song to finish this wonderful album.

I really hope more people get involved with Ken Baird's music and of course this Monarch Trail album, because it is a solid release that I am sure any fan of symphonic prog would love. I will rate it with four solid stars, nearly perfect.

Enjoy it!

 Skye by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.99 | 122 ratings

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Skye
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by daisy1

5 stars I first heard of this album on the ClassicRock Prog sampler.Luminescence was the track,and I just had to get the rest.The band remind me partly of Flower Kings in their more symphonic outings,and also Greenslade ,Triumvirat and ELP.So you've guessed pretty well keyboard led by Canadian maestro Ken Baird.There are vocals on 3 of the 4 tracks and also guitars,drums support well.Track one,Luminescence is really 2 halves- keyboard driven first half then a beautiful slow symphonic second half where the keys just build up and build up to a triumphant climax.track 2 is lighter and more vocal and leads into a brilliant instrumental track3 which bounces along with all synths blazing,then goes more symphonic in a Greenslade type of way,before exploding again- brilliant! The epic 4th track is one of the best longer tracks you will hear.The back synth drop reminds me a bit of ELP Trilogy track- but 20 minutes zooms along with no holds barred.

I think this album could be my favourite of the year with IQ Road of Bones. It is SO good.All keyboard driven fans should lap this up- especially if you like Glass Hammer,Flower Kings,Greenslade,Tiumvirat,ELP.Ken's playing is some of the best prog keys I have ever heard.I will now have to buy his solo stuff.My only criticism is the album was over too quickly- so we need a bonus disc and some live playing. So excellent 10/10.

 Skye by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.99 | 122 ratings

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Skye
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by Aussie-Byrd-Brother
Special Collaborator Rock Progressivo Italiano Team

4 stars On their first album `Skye', Monarch Trail, a trio based around Dino Verginella's bass, Ken Baird's keyboards/vocals and Chris Lamont's drumming, offer exquisite and dynamic symphonic/Nep prog work that calls to mind modern symphonic giants Glass Hammer, Neo bands such as I.Q and Jadis, and the romantic tones of Camel. Four extended pieces ranging between 6 and 20 minutes with lengthy instrumental passages and strong vocal melodies makes their debut album, inspired by the work of artist Annette Roche, a must for fans of this kind of progressive music, and it already sets a high standard for the band right from the start.

Things get off to a slightly rocky start in the first few minutes of opener `Luminescence', but stick with it! It's nice to hear the piece burst into up-tempo life right from the start, with announcing drumming, whirring synths, Ken's vocals and the confident chiming electric guitars instantly reminding of Neo-proggers Jadis. But sadly the first use of the chorus is awkwardly implemented, as it instantly drops the piece down in tempo and it isn't a smooth transition. However, by the half way point, cascading electric guitar runs, ethereal wisps of mighty Mellotron and dazzling keyboard wigouts (reminding me of both the energetic Pendragon debut `The Jewel' and Eloy's deep space soundtracks!) weave together and culminate in an almighty grand choral climax - and all is right in the prog world!

`Silent World' is more of a vocal dominated piece that also jumps back and forth with frequent alternating tempos, Dino's bass gliding like a liquid, glistening piano and scorching electric guitar solos from guest John Mamone race for the heavens. The vocal melodies are strong overall, there's some slight and sprightly jazz drumming near the finale, and I especially enjoy the warm lyric "Take me to the winds where I can feel the air all around embrace me", which creates a nice dreamy atmosphere.

The fully Instrumental `East of Fifty' is truly exquisite, energetic twisting 'n turning electric guitar runs, thick bass murmuring constantly throughout, punchy drumming and non-stop variety of infectious synth soloing. There's a definite foot-tapping quality as this upbeat piece reaches it's end, and it's up there with `N.A.S' from the recent album by RPI band Logos as one of the tastiest instrumental pieces of 2014.

Finally, what symphonic styled prog album would be complete without a 20 minute epic?! `Sky Above the Sun' (man, now there's a title that screams Neal Morse, bet he wished he'd thought of that one!) is an ambitious lengthy closer that moves between grandiose breathtaking majestic passages, softly flowing gentle themes, displaying so much variety and carefully executed transitions between sections. Imperial Mellotron, nimble piano and humming Moogs spiral together, electric guitars take a dramatic harder turn, with the addition of beautiful 12 string classical acoustic to raise the drama. The deeply romantic final few minutes takes on a theatrical Clive Nolan-like theatrical, near-orchestral sweeping quality, and the line "When I was younger, I dreamed of this, distant places I would find..." perfectly sums up the entire album.

OK, so there's little spots here and there where `Skye' is a little rough around the edges. Some of the vocals are more serviceable than inspiring, and there's obvious moments of the kind of `do-it-yourself'/bedroom recording and mixing that shows up on numerous modern prog albums. But there's no ignoring the sheer talent of the band, the instrumental skill on display and the winning melodies. There's also a constant joyful sound woven throughout the music here that should have most listeners grinning wildly!

Put it this way...It took Glass Hammer, making music in a kind of similar style to what's on display here, some years to finally hit gold several albums into their career, but Monarch Trail have hit the ground running and instantly produced a superb and addictive symphonic prog release right as they begin. They've now already set the bar very high for themselves, and once those little kinks mentioned above are worked on, the promise of even better music in the future is assured for this talented group of musicians.

But it's four stars for now, and `Skye' makes Monarch Trail an instant contender as one of the finest modern symphonic prog bands currently doing the rounds. Well done, fellas!

 Skye by MONARCH TRAIL album cover Studio Album, 2014
3.99 | 122 ratings

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Skye
Monarch Trail Neo-Prog

Review by Conor Fynes
Prog Reviewer

4 stars 'Skye' - Monarch Trail (79/100)

In my not-so-recent travels to Ontario, I never got a chance to check out any of the province's parks or natural trails. I imagine they're quite beautiful however, as the Monarch Trail in the Dundas Valley was beautiful enough to be the namesake for the latest project from Ken Baird. A wittier writer than I might even make a quip associating Monarch Trail with progressive rock kings Rush, IE: A Farewell to Kings. In any case, this multi-instrumentalist impressed me in the past with a solid string of solo albums; his Martin Road stood out in particular for its blend of prog with singer-songwriter sensibilities. It only feels natural that Baird's work is given a full-band treatment here. As with any fresh project I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but Skye has started Monarch Trail's journey off on a very promising note.

Whereas Ken Baird's solo material was generally hinged on conventional songwriting and later given a progressive kick in the arrangement itself, Monarch Trail is progressive rock in its full-blooded, uncompromised form. If a twenty minute epic wasn't enough of an indicator, Monarch Trail's style feels firmly rooted and influenced by symphonic prog repertoire, most notably the pastoral vibes of Genesis. A better comparison might actually be Spock's Beard however; Ken Baird's plain 'everyman' voice might seem like its a stark contrast to the elaborate, full-fledged instrumentation but it meshes surprisingly well together. Not least, Monarch Trail betray a strong influence from their fellow Ontarians in Rush. I mean, tell me with a straight face the opening of "Luminescence" doesn't remind you of Rush's best days, circa Permanent Waves!

Not surprisingly given Ken Baird's longtime weapon-of-choice, but the keyboards take centrestage throughout the album. In fact, there isn't even a full-time guitarist listed on the band roster, although John Mamone (playing three of the four tracks with Hackett-like moderation) may as well be considered as such. The moog-tinged keyboard solos certainly sound a bit dated for the most part, but the arrangements are generally well-rounded. Baird's background as a sognwriting has served the music nicely as well; a good songwriter knows that too much of a good thing can turn it sour. Thusly, the compositions are kept on a tight rein, not so much that it stifles the fludiity of the performance, but just enough to keep it interesting and effectively paced. "Silent World" and "East of Fifty" aren't as engaging as the two longer tracks (though the latter does bring a promising fusion vibe to the music) but on the whole, Skye is remarkably consistent and well-intentioned.

While I'm ultimately in no place to say what bands did or didn't influence Monarch Trail, their sound pays little homage to the contemporary or 'modern' scene in progressive rock. They have entered the prog rock door via the long-contested backdoor of tradition. While there's a special place in my heart for the vintage 'symph prog' sound, I've very rarely found myself interested in the revivalists. Bands like The Flower Kings and Transatlantic made up my mind long ago that the past was best left in the past, that it was far better to look towards the future rather than dwell upon the so-called classic sound of prog. This view might have predisposed me against this band, but Monarch Trail have something most others of their sort do not: a sense of feeling and sincere warmth. Skye doesn't put a fresh spin on progressive rock, nor does it really mean to. It's a 'prog for proggers' album to be certain, but the composition doesn't fall into the self- referential pit of cliches that often seem to come with bands of their sound. Especially given that it's a sound that so rarely captures my ear these days, I've got to get behind Monarch Trail for this one. No boundaries have been shattered with this one, but I'm yet to hear a symphonic prog album from this year with such warmth and charm to it.

Thanks to apps79 for the artist addition.

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