Christina Booth, lead vocalist with Magenta, has collaborated with her colleagues from the Tiger Moth stable to create her third solo album, Bar Stool Prophet. Unusually, these days, this is not a ‘lockdown’ album, with many of the tracks starting life as far back as 2018. Following on from her previous album, The Light, which was a collection of mainly introspective songs dealing with significant events affecting her personal and family life at the time, this latest album is more upbeat in nature. The songs address significant events again but from the perspective of second chances, the gift of the opportunity for change, and how it’s never too late to alter the course of your life.
The magic of Magenta’s brand of melodic prog is the combination of Robert Reed’s inspirational musical direction and Christina’s evocative voice. For her solo albums, Christina is now commanding more of the musical settings for these co-written songs and it’s refreshing to hear her experience and vision coming to the fore. This is a buoyant collection of songs executed with the musical flourishes one would expect, but it is primarily a vehicle for Christina’s pop sensibilities. Having said that, all but two of the ten tracks pass the five-minute mark, providing opportunities to be progressive and create her own brand of musical style. She keeps listeners on their toes with regular tempo changes, both within songs and across the track list, and instrumental breaks are used effectively to enhance the emotions and the dynamics inspired by the song-writing, including strings, acoustic and electric guitars, sax, synths and harmonica.
To my ears, the first half of the album has a slightly more prog feel to it, though it is also chock full of hooks and sing-along choruses. Track one, Age of the Revolution, is the flag bearer for this stylistic mix, kick-starting the album with a jaunty guitar riff and quickly combining a strong rhythm section with strings and a chorus of backing vocals. A subdued bridge section calms things down before a reprise of verse and chorus is backed by some jazzy guitar work. It’s simple but effective and provides Christina a perfect opportunity to show off her range.
Mission Bell is the closest we get to Magenta-influenced prog. It’s a call to arms for a marauding army and so the focus is very much on the vocals, and it proves to be one of the strongest performances on the album. I Wish follows the structure of the first track, a cool pop hook sandwich, this time with a thoughtful vocal passage accompanied by a dreamy electronic soundscape and saxophone soloing as filling. In less experienced hands these musical bridges could feel a bit clunky, but the transitions are super smooth and the tempo changes add colour and vitality.
The title track is a story told from personal experience. It’s a fine, emotionally charged, vocal performance, accompanied mainly by piano. The focus here is on the story-telling and the instrumentation, when it comes in, is mellow and melodic and fades away as the last vocal line is delivered. It’s executed perfectly, and is a fitting way to honour the memories of the friends who inspired it. Closing this half of the album, Riptide is also inspired by events close to home. It has some proggier elements, including a more expansive guitar solo, a spoken word section delivered by Tony Dallas from ChimpanA, and a finale accompanied by strings and choir.
The second half of the album begins with a pair of mid-tempo pop songs. The musical accompaniments are dialled down in comparison to the first half, allowing Christina the freedom to sing in more natural tones and show off a different style of vocal delivery that she slots into quite beautifully. The tempo is then bought down another notch in Breakthrough, possibly the best example on the album of Christina’s ability to hold and delight an audience with her voice alone.
Sail on Sister Genevieve kicks in next, an opportunity to let loose on a rollicking backbeat of bongo drums. Christina matches the energy of the music with a powerful and expansive vocal performance, displaying the full range of her voice over the course of five frantic minutes. The closing track is Rise Again, which pretty much does what it says on the tin. The lyric is a hopeful, optimistic call to look at some of the themes tackled in earlier songs from another perspective and to be inspired. The climax is an expressive and dynamic harmonica solo performed by Steve Hackett, an unexpected and intriguing way to close out the album.
As would be hoped for in the context of this solo release, Christina has been front and centre, and has delivered some exceptional performances. Also, with the backing of her collaborators, the overall effect is recognisably influenced by her work with Magenta, so whilst appealing to a much broader audience, and hopefully encouraging them to explore other parts of the catalogue, it will also satisfy existing fans.
01. Age of the Revolution (5:06)
02. Mission Bell (5:22)
03. I Wish (6:30)
04. Bar Stool Prophet (4:03)
05. Riptide (5:46)
06. The Price We Pay (4:17)
07. The Giant Awakes (5:06)
08. Breakthrough (6:18)
09. Sail on Sister Genevieve (5:22)
10. Rise Again (7:25)
Total Time – 56:15
Christina Booth – Vocals
Chris Fry – Lead Electric Guitars, Backing Vocals
Dan Nelson – Bass
Jonathan ‘Jiffy’ Griffiths – Drums
Peter Jones – Keyboards
Hywell Maggs – Guitar
Ryan Aston – Drums
Steve Hackett – Harmonica
Steve Balsamo – Backing Vocals
Kirstie Roberts – Backing Vocals
Record Label: Tigermoth Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 6th October 2023