My first preview of Monarch Trail’s new Sand album was like hearing the early work of English prog rockers IQ for the first time, wonderful and a great journey back to the music that drew me into progressive rock in the first place. It was Genesis’ Peter Gabriel-era music which first caught my ears and made me a prog rock fan. After drifting away in the ‘80s it was IQ who took me back to that sound. However, it has been the discovery of Italy’s The Watch that has sustained my interest since. Now I will add Monarch Trail to the concise list of bands that are able to capture that sound. In fact, the track Missing, could easily have fit well on From Genesis to Revelation with its flute opening and similar lyrical content.
Monarch Trail is a Canadian band comprising composer, keyboardist and lead vocalist Ken Baird, with Chris Lamont on drums, Dino Verginella on bass and three different guitarists who collaborate with the band on selected tracks on the album. Sand is the follow up to Monarch Trail’s debut album, Skye (2014).
Sand is a wonderful ride in the countryside of classic progressive rock. Perfect headphone listening by the fireside on a fall or winter’s day, this will no doubt be one of my favourite albums of 2017, despite only discovering it in early 2018.
Station Theme opens with that central keyboard and bass sound, setting the tone, just like Genesis and IQ before them. This first track is the perfect mix between a Tony Banks’ anthemic keyboard performance and a Martin Orford dream synthesizer sequence where the icy piano keys drive thoughts back to The Lamb and other great works of prog’s epic past.
First Thoughts gives you your first listen to Ken Baird’s vocals and takes you back to Paul Menel, and the vocals from the great Nomzamo album. The acoustic guitar solo is a wonderful reminder of dreams of the past, whilst the surrounding hurricane keyboards, which swirl and take over, are magnificent. Excellent lyrics too…
“Long may the land recall
How you once became like the earth
Please find us again.”
Back to the Start takes you back to that wonderful keyboard driven sound of IQ, and Tony Banks’ influenced Genesis, during the Phil Collins years. The grinding guitars sound so much like Tales From The Lush Attic or The Wake, that, for an instant, you may think that you are listening to them and this song could easily fit well on either album. I mean this as a compliment and not that they have in any way plagiarized IQ. Monarch Trail has mastered the art of keyboard–driven progressive rock, and have created something so superior, that it could have been considered part of those great ’80s works.
Missing again took me to Genesis’ debut album. The soft crawling piano and flute sounds were so wonderful to hear again and John Mamone’s guitar work can be compared to early Steve Hackett. Finally Ken Baird’s vocals, not as powerful as Gabriel’s, once more sound like Paul Menel singing an early Genesis song. This is in no way a bad thing as Menel is one of my favourite vocalists in this genre.
Charlie’s Kitchen is a wonderful piano romp, completely their own, with no real reference point other than maybe smooth jazz. The addition of synths helps bring it back to progressive rock, with its multiple time signature changes, and on to something that could have fit very well on Wind and Wuthering or Trick of the Tail. The brief Another Silent World is a synthesizer masterpiece which although reminiscent of Tony Banks is more appropriately Keith Emerson.
The title track at well over 20-minute mark is the final masterpiece in this powerful album. Kelly Kereliuk’s guitar solo and Steve Cochrane’s, almost Greg Lake–like, acoustic guitar work are inspirational. With choir-like vocals and the melodies, the lyrics are powerful and magical as Baird’s vocal decorates the Banksian keyboard melodies:
“The smallest of things we know
Reaching out and distance is
No barrier and meaningless right now
And so large a system calls
Just to talk from whence it came
Just to know another’s name
Vastness and voids it can’t reach
Till lifelines were sent.”
Put on your headphones and allow yourself to drift back in time to when music not only motivated your hearing, but transcended and helped you dream and think more clearly of a wonderful future. This music will allow you to dream that the past may be a prologue to the future again.
As the drawings by Annette Roche initially helped inspire the albums lyrics, it was only natural for these images to make up Sand‘s album artwork.
01. Station Theme (3:52)
02. First Thoughts (3:22)
03. Back To The Start (7:11)
04. Missing (6:29)
05. Charlie’s Kitchen (7:43)
06. Another Silent World (2:10)
07. Sand (24:31)
Total Time – 55:18
Ken Baird – Keyboards, Vocals, Guitar ( track 5)
Dino Verginella – Bass
Chris Lamont – Drums
John Mamone – Guitar (tracks 3,4 & 7)
Kelly Kereliuk – Lead Guitar (track 7)
Steve Cochrane – Acoustic Guitar (track 7)
Record Label: Perpetual Tree Music
Country of Origin: Canada
Date of Release: 30th June 2017
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