Together Again is the second album from Moon Halo, the musical project of vocalist Marc Atkinson and keyboardist Iain Jennings. Marc’s warm and emotive vocals have graced many fine solo releases, along with guest appearance on albums by Lee Abraham, Drifting Sun, Mandalaband and John Holden, amongst others. He has also been a key member of Riversea, Nine Stones Close and Gabriel. Iain is a long-standing member of Mostly Autumn, as well as a number of solo and group projects, including Breathing Space.
Their first album, Chroma, was released at the start of 2020. Its fresh, diverse take on contemporary progressive rock was well-received at the time. The band were not afraid to produce a song-orientated release with a variety of styles rather than just sticking to a more traditional prog rock template, giving it an enjoyable crossover/mainstream appeal.
Unfortunately, the arrival of the COVID pandemic and the extended periods of lockdown and restrictions affected the musician’s ability to promote the album further and even play it live. Marc regularly played tracks from it on his live stream acoustic gigs from home in 2020, but Iain’s keyboard textures were understandably missing.
Thankfully, the Moon Halo project remained alive and from April 2020 onwards Together Again was written, recorded and mixed remotely in a number of studios in the North of England. The result is another fine album of accessible and melodic prog-influenced music with emotional and heartfelt lyrics and some lovely and varied instrumentation. Once again Iain and Marc are joined by their long-time friends and colleagues David Clements (Riversea) on bass, Alex Cromarty (ex-Mostly Autumn and Riversea) on drums, Martin Ledger (The Heather Findlay Band) on guitar and Anne-Marie Helder (Panic Room and Luna Rossa) on backing vocals.
Not surprisingly, for an album created over the last couple of years, the pandemic and the feelings surrounding it inform Marc’s lyrics. The themes of love, family, loneliness and isolation, past memories and future hopes and fears are all viewed through the lens of COVID – although not as directly as Mostly Autumn’s recent Graveyard Star release. In just under 70-minutes and thirteen tracks of absorbing and flowing music, these themes are revisited. Iain wrote the majority of the music whilst Marc handled the lyrical content.
Opening track Light in the World begins atmospherically, before twinkling keyboards lead us into Marc’s yearning vocals over a shuffling beat, looking at the power of love in a time of fear.
The TV news is all doom and gloom.
The fear that you feel is all too real.
But still you open up your eyes, and bring light to the world…”
Guitar and bass gradually build up the music’s depth and uplifting vocal harmonies and a spritely passage of keyboards before a gentle finish.
Together Again has a darker swagger, with Chic-style funky guitar chords and almost a ’70s disco beat, and then a Chris Rea-like guitar solo from Martin as the lyrics touch upon what life will be like “When we can all be together again”.
Embrace This Life starts at a more languid and contemplative pace, with Marc extoling “With every day, embrace this life…” in the true spirit of ‘carpe diem’. Another slow burner that subtly builds up with layers of keyboards and guitar, without over-playing its hand prior to a quiet conclusion.
The cantering If This is All There Is has greater urgency and Alex’s drumming drives this upbeat contemplation of our place in the vast Universe, with Iain supplying some synthesised sparkle later on. This is followed by We’ve Still Got Time, where the steady tempo and ensemble playing gives room to Marc’s musings on mortality and the fight to never give up on life – “We’ve still got time…” The intensity increases with guitar, bass and then keyboards raising the temperature in true ‘proggy’ style.
Don’t be fooled by the title of the next track, Wasteland, and the rather uneasy vocal harmonies at the start. The song steadily builds and ends up as one of the most uplifting and vibrant on the album, with music and some lyrics from David Clements. Optimistic words of physical and spiritual renewal complement the dynamic music, full of shiny, prog-pop, twiddling keyboards and a soaring guitar solo.
A place to grow and feed the race for a better life…
The wasteland where the Angels plant their seeds.”
That feeling to all of us getting back together is well-imagined in Marc’s own composition, Reconnected. A more measured and reflective song thinking, wistfully, about all the stories we’ll have to tell each other when we get through the extended lockdowns. Once again, Iain’s keyboards and Martin’s guitar never seek the limelight, but support the song’s progress in a complementary and unselfish way.
About Me and You increases the tempo once again, with a return to the dance rhythm of earlier. The band are not afraid to go for mainstream, pop-orientated sounds to maintain a freshness and variety where necessary. Stories to Tell repeats the idea of us all having stories to tell after our own experiences. The music is more rock-like in stature, but still with that slow, unfolding pace of Marc’s soft vocals, but some exuberant keyboards bring us some welcome ‘progginess’.
Back to Normality gives consideration to what the future holds for us and how we can drive that vision. It’s a bright and compact song, with Marc using his higher range of vocals for a change, Iain providing melodic lines over David and Alex’s solid rhythm section.
It Was You has an upbeat African-style percussive beat and lightness of touch – yet this is at odds with the sad and poignant lyrics concerning the murder of a ‘humble man’ on his way home in the snow. The idea of the ‘robbery of murder’ explored in Mostly Autumn’s Dressed in Voices album does resonate, but with the finger of guilt pointing to a jealous female assailant. Anne-Marie’s vocals plead, “It wasn’t me I swear. I wasn’t even there. I’ve never really cared. It wasn’t me I swear” in response to the accusing words, “Do you feel sorrow for the thing you’ve done? Do you feel better now he’s really gone? I think we’ve solved the clue… It was you…” A sad guitar solo from Martin at the end adds to the melancholy of this tale.
An apocalyptic nightmare from Marc is behind the darker, more disturbing The Sandman is Waiting. The band bring a heavier rock sound to the music and edgy slabs of keyboard chords, guitar riffs and wailing soloing drive the song well. “The End of Time had finally come… It’s Judgement Day for everyone…”, and there is no respite once our protagonist awakes with his soulmate beside him, as “… then she wakes up and her eyes are red. And there’s a demon lying in the bed…”. Well, I suppose that’s what happens when you have too much cheese before bed!
The album closes with Life Goes On. An opening acoustic guitar motif adds a touch of swampy Americana to proceedings with Marc’s strutting vocals over some Zeppelin-style guitar and vocal harmonies. This resolute recognition that life does indeed go on from generation to generation, no matter what it has in store for us, is a refreshing and unexpected conclusion to an album with many twists and turns of style, whilst retaining a common theme and recognisable character throughout.
Together Again is a very enjoyable sophomore release from Moon Halo, both recognisable in style due to Marc’s warm, distinctive vocals, yet not afraid to musically cross genre boundaries, whilst maintaining a signature character. It’s a worthy successor to the debut and as a collection of melodic, contemporary, song-led prog rock, it is definitely worth checking out.
01. Light in the World (6:12)
02. Together Again (5:30)
03. Embrace This Life (5:55)
04. If This is All There Is (4:22)
05. We’ve Still Got Time (5:50)
06. Wasteland (5:09)
07. Reconnected (5:10)
08. About Me and You (3:31)
09. Stories to Tell (6:01)
10. Back to Normality (4:29)
11. It Was You (5:54)
12. The Sandman is Waiting (6:32)
13. Life Goes On (5:16)
Total Time – 69:51
Marc Atkinson – Lead & Backing Vocals
Iain Jennings – Keyboards, Programming
David Clements – Bass Guitar, Guitars & Keyboards (track 6)
Alex Cromarty – Drums
Martin Ledger – Guitars
Anne-Marie Helder – Additional Vocals
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 14th March 2022