Published on 5th February 2021
Downes Braide Association – Halcyon Hymns
With going on tour having become an impossibility in the current situation, many artists have instead been working hard in their homes and studios on new albums. No more poignantly can this be seen than in the case of Downes Braide Association (DBA). Having just played two nights with a full band in mid-February last year, what began as a studio project started to look like a viable touring outfit. However, just a few weeks later, global lockdown forced us all out of the venues.
Back in LA, and casting around for a new project, Chris Braide decided to listen over some musical sketches sent to him by Geoff Downes, and the creative muse then blessed him. As the songs tumbled out, it took a little over a month for the next Downes Braide Association album, to be entitled Halcyon Hymns, to take shape. Now, at the start of 2021, Braide and Downes treat us to a nostalgic, pathos-tinged release which, nonetheless, strikes a positive note with the listener to hope for better days ahead.
Love Among the Ruins is the album’s first track and lead single. As with their previous effort, Skyscraper Souls, DBA’s fourth release kicks things off with some narration from Barney Ashton Bullock before opening up into a rich twelve-string musical descent reminiscent of Pachelbel’s Canon. The lush musical textures are rich and warm and, whilst the album isn’t specifically about summer, one cannot help but feel plunged into sun-drenched fields. This is a superb song and a well-chosen opener as it sets the mood for the whole album.
David Longdon contributes his fine voice to King of the Sunset, a haunting track composed in compound time. The vocal harmonies work very effectively and build to a powerful chorus whilst some of the more surprising chord changes add a note of menace. At the end, there is a mandolin coda with bursts of electric guitar which reminds me a little of the start of The Who’s Pinball Wizard.
Your Heart Will Find the Way follows, the album’s second single. Braide thinks of it as the most ‘DBA sounding’ track. It’s a really upbeat, anthemic song which flits between major and minor keys across the verse, bridge and chorus. Your Heart… is catchy, with hints of Rabin-era Yes to it, and is undoubtedly one of the album’s highlights.
Holding the Heavens starts in truly proggy fashion with a twelve-string riff that might have found itself in the Steve Hackett songbook. The album then breaks into the verse with a return to the summery tone of the opening track and a hopeful lyric about being there for one another. Braide remarked about the alliterative titles of the last two albums, and I wonder if this might have been the album’s original title. It’s certainly a track that feels like it’s a lynchpin to the whole of the record.
Ashton Bullock returns to narrate the start of the next track, the short Beachcombers. The piece builds gradually up from a delicate piece of piano work from Downes and then layers on guitars, drums and vocal harmonies, similar to those of Anderson and Squire in Yes. There’s a lot going on in this short musical round, and it works extremely well.
Warm Summer Sun is, in my view, the album’s finest cut. Another chord descension forms the basis of the track with really strong melodies present throughout. Marc Almond adds his considerable, and distinctive, vocal talents to the track and the interplay between his parts and Braide’s is magnificent. The harmonies really evoke those feelings of nostalgia and pathos which are so richly displayed on this album and this track gives me goosebumps.
Today may well be the album’s third single, given that it features alongside Love Among the Ruins and Your Heart Will Find the Way on the accompanying DVD. The piano/vocal mix recalls Lennon’s Imagine, and the body of the song has a very definite Beatles feel to it, whilst the lyric remembers some of our best days. The guitar solo is great, but I wonder if the extended end to the song outstays its welcome a little.
The short Hymn to Darkness recalls a piece of Ashton Bullock’s earlier narration, and finds Downes explore his love of church music. The piano’s passing chords and a mandolin accompaniment provide the backdrop for Braide’s voice, whilst the song’s lead-out has a Taize feel to it. She’ll Be Riding Horses is another of my personal favourite moments from the new album. There are pop/rock sensibilities to this and it has the finest of the album’s choruses. Like Your Heart Will Find the Way, this is a catchy little earworm which will stick in your head, showcasing Downes and Braide’s talent for great melodies.
Late Summer weds piano and choral textures to serve up another short, church music-influenced piece. Lyrically, the theme recalls Today, but this time there is the suggestion of loss, tinging the piece with sadness. This, I assume, is to set up the album’s finale, the twelve minute Remembrance, which opens with a piano theme we find recurring throughout the whole piece, backed with mandolin. Ashton Bullock is brought to the fore for this track and his narration counterpoints Braide’s singing. The passage of time weighs heavily here as Braide cautions us that ‘three score years and ten will never be enough’. Ashton Bullock reminds us of summers gone by, while Braide sings about our love of them. The song, like the whole album, is texturally rich, though some may question its twelve-minute runtime.
Downes and Braide have come up trumps yet again with this album. As with Skyscraper Souls, it undoubtedly benefits from being a full-band affair. Andy Hodge and Ash Soan return and are joined by Dave Bainbridge whilst guests once again include Marc Almond and David Longdon. Melody, harmony and texture are the key ingredients which go into making this such a fine album and one which continues to do justice to the heritage of these two celebrated and gifted writers and performers. It is a delight, so early in the year, to be listening to what will undoubtedly be one of 2021’s musical highlights. This latest album may long for the return of those halcyon days, but it does so with a note of positivity about enjoying life and the sun upon its face – exactly what is needed right now.
[You can read Magnus’ interview with Geoff Downes and Chris Braide HERE.]
01. Love Among the Ruins (6:23)
02. King of the Sunset (ft. David Longdon) (6:37)
03. Your Heart Will Find the Way (5:19)
04. Holding the Heavens (ft. David Longdon) (7:53)
05. Beachcombers (3:30)
06. Warm Summer Sun (ft. Marc Almond) (4:33)
07. Today (6:58)
08. Hymn to Darkness (2:58)
09. She’ll Be Riding Horses (4:35)
10. Late Summer (2:24) 11. Remembrance (11:43)
Total Time – 62:53
Geoff Downes – Keyboards
Chris Braide – Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
Ash Soen – Drums
Andy Hodge – Bass
Dave Bainbridge – Guitars
David Longdon – Vocals
Marc Almond – Vocals
Barney Ashton Bullock – Narration
Record Label: Cherry Red
Formats: CD/DVD (DBACDVD005) / 2LP (DBALP005) / Digital
Date of Release: 5th February 2021 (CD); 26th March 2021 (LP)