Nine Stones Close have recently re-released, on vinyl and download, a 10th anniversary edition of their resplendent 2010 second album, Traces. The band is named after the remains of a mysterious ancient stone circle situated in the Peak District of Northern England, near where band mainman Adrian Jones grew up. Nine Stones Close commenced as his solo project in 2008, with the rudimentary debut album St.Lo. A subsequent chance encounter with Riversea keyboardist Brendan Eyre at a Marillion convention in Holland (where Jones now lives) led to Jones developing Nine Stones Close into a band, with Eyre’s Riversea bandmate Marc Atkinson adding his impassioned but characteristically smooth vocals to the excellent Traces and 2012’s One Eye on the Sunrise albums. Eyre and Atkinson left the band after that album, which meant Nine Stones Close unfortunately lost some momentum, but the logistics of co-ordinating a band with members spread across England and Holland just proved untenable. It is regrettable that circumstances brought this manifestation of the band to a premature end, but they left us with two outstanding albums to explore.
Nevertheless, Jones reformed the band with Christian Bruin (of Sky Architect) and Adrian ‘Aio’ O’Shaughnessy on vocals, and they released Leaves in 2016. That album had a harder edge and a rather different style (some earlier fans finding it a little difficult to move with the band), but it demonstrated Adrian Jones’ continued commitment to excellence and progression in his music. Jones once memorably said in an interview with Progradar: “Progression has collateral damage, Prog doesn’t”.
Jones has assured TPA that Nine Stones Close are still an ongoing project, but ‘real life’ in the shape of work, personal issues and the COVID pandemic, has sadly delayed any follow up to Leaves so far. Nevertheless, there is still this fine re-release to interest new listeners and older fans alike. Adrian has been keeping himself busy though, working on two other new projects, including one with Brendan Eyre which will be out later in 2021, and a new Jet Black Sea album with Aio.
It may seem apt that Nine Stones Close is named after a mysterious stone circle because, frankly, it is a real mystery why this band did not break though to more prominence on the basis of these high quality albums, which certainly deserved much wider acclaim. They are remarkably assured, Traces setting the bar very high indeed with impeccable production, skilful playing and outstanding writing. Adrian Jones has shared that Traces was written in a period in which his father was dying of cancer, and these emotions are conveyed with great sensitivity and integrity throughout the album. The title track is based upon the last time Jones saw his father before he died. Resonant subtly chiming, echoing guitars and intertwining keys carry the emotion-laden and glorious voice of Marc Atkinson, and then the whole piece rises powerfully with Jones’ guitar soaring alongside Atkinson’s emotive vocals – it’s a piece dripping with real feeling that engages the listener with its waves of layered rock and evocative lyrics. The remix and remastering job done by Paul Van Zeeland particularly enhances the clarity and power of this piece, which shines with a truth straight from Jones’ heart. Jones wrote most of the lyrics and they clearly voice his grief and his sense of connection to family.
Adrian previously shared in a 2010 interview with Progmeister that he was greatly influenced by ’70s guitarists, particularly Floyd’s David Gilmour and Andy Latimer of Camel. Nowhere is this more evident than on the extended piece Threads, in which Jones’ guitar swoops, sweeps and soars like a flight of swallows, almost giving his instrument a human voice, filled with deep feeling. Eyre’s keyboards blend intuitively with the guitar and Atkinson pours his inimitable vocals over the whole piece. Similarly, Falling to Pieces flows along elegiacally with Atkinson this time providing words filled with sadness and regret.
There is a danger that the album may overwhelm the listener with waves of moody, atmospheric music steeped in a sense of melancholia and grief, but the excellent closing multi-part epic Thicker than Water changes the tempo and feel. Thicker than Water eventually and dramatically injects an altogether more powerful element to the album, acting as a tribute to the intense bonds of family. The opening section echoes much of the feel of the previous songs (and there is a great sense of continuity and cohesiveness to the whole album), but it soon changes into a looser, more laid-back, almost jazzy section with a slightly bluesy guitar and vocals. Halfway through, the atmosphere and focus changes again as the song transforms into a rolling wall of sound with banks of organ and cutting, thrusting guitars, echoing Jones’ guitar hero, Jimmy Page. The guitars rise and rise with Atkinson intoning repeatedly “What happened to us?” Jones’ guitars then really go stratospheric and the afterburners are on for the whole band as Atkinson shows his vocal rock chops. This is a titanic rock number which then fades away wistfully with sinuous synths and layered Atkinson vocals. Thicker than Water truly is a great way to close the album and underlines the class of Adrian Jones’ song writing and the whole performance of this talented outfit.
The original Ed Unitsky album artwork was striking in itself, but Jones felt this updated version warranted a whole new presentation. Antonio Seijas, who usually does artwork for Marillion and Gazpacho, has beautifully illustrated the vinyl cover with stunning new artwork.
The beauty of a re-release is that it allows those who missed the opportunity to hear great music first time around to get a second chance to acquaint themselves with rather a hidden gem. For those familiar with the original, they get the chance to see it in a new light. Traces touches the soul with the subtlety of its more contemplative sections, filled with a depth of emotion and balanced with the excitement, impact and crisp dexterity of its class rock passages.
As someone who loved this album ten years ago, it was a real pleasure to go back and hear it afresh. This sparkling new re-release reminded me what a great album it felt like back then, and it sounds and looks even better this time around… don’t miss it a second time!
01. Reality Check (4:52)
02. Threads (10:27)
03. Falling To Pieces (6:16)
04. Traces (7:21)
05. Thicker Than Water (14:50)
Total Time – 43:46
Adrian Jones – Guitars, Bass (track 5), Additional Keyboards (track 5), Programming
Marc Atkinson – Vocals
Brendan Eyre – Keyboards
Neil Quarrel – Bass
Eric Jones – Drums
Record Label: FREIA Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 4th December 2020
*Re-release Remastered & Remixed by Paul Van Zeeland
– St. Lo (2008)
– Traces (2010)
– Falling to Pieces (EP) (2011)
– One Eye on the Horizon (2012)
– Leaves (2016)
– Traces (10th Anniversary Edition) (2020)