Tag Archives: Iain Jennings

2013 Albums of the Year – Part Two

Continuing the end-of-year albums-of-the-year contdown with the the first six from the top ten. Like the first part from 21 to 11, I have listed them in alphabetical order rather than attempting to rank them, but if I had, they’d be #10 up to #5.

Also Eden[REDACTED]

[Redacted] Also Eden have significantly raised their game with this, their second album since Rich Harding took over as lead vocalist. Despite occasional echoes of Tangerine Dream, Porcupine Tree and even Trespass-era Genesis in the album’s quieter moments, this is a harder-edged and more rock-orientated record than their previous work. The result is powerful yet richly layered record, with Simon Rogers’ inventive guitar playing at the centre of the sound, and Rich Harding’s lyrics moving from the political to the personal.

HakenThe Mountain

Haken The Mountain Haken are another band to step up to the next level with their third album. Previous albums had displayed some obvious influences, most notably Dream Theater and Zappa. But here, aside from a couple of nods to Gentle Giant, most noticeably on the completely bonkers “Cockroach King”, they develop a sound that’s all their own. There are metal riffs, church-like vocal harmonies, deep and complex arrangements and recurring motifs, resulting in a record that both progressive in every sense of the word, and very contemporary sounding at the same time.

Iain JenningsMy Dark Surprise

My Dark Surprise It was indeed a surprise when Mostly Autumn’s keyboard player released a solo album with very little fanfare early in the year. It’s a concept album with lyrics by vocalist Mark Chatterton, and guest appearances from Mostly Autumn’s Liam Davison amongst others. With its mix of hard rock and atmospheric ballads with touches of electronica it has many familiar ingredients, but it’s all put together in a different way and avoids sounding anything like a repeat of Iain’s earlier work. The way it seamlessly blends a lot of different styles demonstrates his skills as a composer and arranger. A dark surprise indeed, but a very pleasant one.

IhsahnDas Seelenbrechen

Ihsahn Das Seelenbrechen Ihsahn’s last couple of albums have been ideal for anyone missing Opeth from the time before Mikael Akerfeldt abandoned the cookie monster. But this album sees Ihsahn leave Black Metal behind, setting course for far stranger waters. There are still moments of ambitious prog-metal especially on the first half of the record, but this album also takes in avant garde noise, with storms of clattering percussion and passages of spooky atmospherics. It’s by no means an easy listen, but it does show how the more experimental end of metal can be far more progressive than many an act labelled as “prog”.

Magenta The Twenty-Seven Club

Magenta -  The 27 Club When it comes to old-school neo-prog, Magenta are still one of the best bands in the business. They’ve never denied their strong Yes influence. There are some very Steve Howe like phrases from guitarist Chris Fry, and Christina Booth often sings in similar register to Jon Anderson. although her performances have a lot more emotional depth. Their sixth album takes a position midway between the dark intensity of “Metamorphosis” and the commercial Magenta-lite of “Chameleon”. As a distillation of a lot of what’s good about Magenta’s music it makes a very good starting point for new listeners.

Touchstone – Oceans of Time

Touchstone_OceansOfTime SMALL Touchstone’s fourth album sees something of a change of direction, with vocalist Kim Seviour and guitarist Adam Hodgson taking on a bigger share of the writing. The result is an album with a greater emphasis on songwriting rather than prog-metal instrumental workouts, and a rawer stripped-down sound with a lot more light and shade that gives Kim’s vocals space to breathe without being swamped by the instrumentation. With their most mature album to date they deserve to win themselves a much larger audience with this release.

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Iain Jennings – My Dark Surprise

“My Dark Surprise” is the new solo album from Iain Jennings, keyboard player of Mostly Autumn.

Iain released his first solo album “Breathing Space” back in 2005. What started out as a side-project took on a life of its own to become a band in its own right during Iain’s two-year sabbatical with Mostly Autumn, and saw two further well-regarded albums before the band disbanded in 2010. Since then Iain has returned to taking a bigger writing role with Mostly Autumn, making significant contributions to their last album.

“My Dark Surprise” is a concept album with SF storyline exploring themes of identity and reality, featuring Mark Chatterton on lead vocals. Iain composed the music and Mark writing all the lyrics.

The rest of the cast list includes a few familiar names; Gavin Griffiths (Mostly Autumn, Panic Room, Fish) on drums, Stu Fletcher (Halo Blind, The Heather Findlay Band) on bass, and Mostly Autumn’s Liam Davison on guitar. It also features Andy Newlove and Colin Elsworth on guitars, and James Russell on sax.

The whole thing has a song-orientated contemporary feel, with touches of electronica, hard rock, and even some jazz-flavoured dance-pop. All these were found in Iain Jennings’ earlier work, but Mark Chatterton’s vocals give the whole thing a quite different feel and mood. There’s a touch of Peter Gabriel’s delivery in one or two places.

There’s a greater emphasis on songwriting rather than virtuoso keyboard playing. Iain has always had an understated less-is-more style, his playing more part of the foundations of the song, and providing atmospherics, textures and colour rather than flashy soloing. Saying that, of the delicate piano lines on this record are quintessential Iain Jennings, such as on the ballad “That’s Why I Fly”, one of several standouts of the album.

The supporting cast all make strong contributions. Gavin Griffiths and Stu Fletcher make for a very powerful and tight rhythm section, while the guitarists add plenty of crunch, with some great soloing from Liam Davison. James Russell’s sax, though sparingly used, adds another dimension.

The way the album combines some very different styles to make a coherent whole shows Iain’s skills as an arranger; “Change The Shape” is a good example; it switches seamlessly between electronica and full-band hard rock within the same song without showing the joins. “Hiding From My Fears” is stripped right back to a simple piano and vocal ballad, which leads straight into the electro dance-pop of the title track. “Stand Inside The Shadow” starts by mixing electro rhythms and rock guitars and turns into jazz-rock workout driven by a powerful bass riff. The epic “A Choice To Make A Change” and “Nowhere In My Head” with it’s keyboard soloing head more into prog territory.

It all adds up to a very strong album, containing the strengths of Iain Jennings’ earlier work without repeating his past, and Mark Chatterton is a real find as vocalist. Any fans of Iain’s work with Mostly Autumn or Breathing Space ought to buy this without hesitation. But it’s also strongly recommended for anyone with a taste for forward-looking song-orientated contemporary progressive music.

The album is only available direct from Iain Jennings via paypal at breathingspacecd@aol.com (£10 + £3 P&P).

Update: It can also be ordered from Iain’s Bandcamp page for the album.

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Liam Davison – A Treasure of Well-Set Jewels

Liam Davison is best known as guitarist for Mostly Autumn. When he left the band at the end of 2006 he stated that he was to work on a solo album. In the end it would be three years after he rejoined the band before the album was to see the light of day.

Liam is something of an enigmatic figure on stage with Mostly Autumn. He prefers to shun the spotlight and lurk at the back of the stage; but his playing is not that of a typical rhythm guitarist, playing melodic fills and lead runs rather than merely strumming chords. His name has only appeared a couple of times in MA’s songwriting credits to date, both for folk-flavoured numbers. But he’s also been playing a live improvisation on tour with echoes of Robert Fripp. Which made it difficult to predict the direction his solo album might take.

The music varies from the indie-flavoured opening hard rocker “Ride the Seventh Wave”, the electronica loops on “Into the Setting Sun”, and the acoustic ballad “One in the Lifetime”. But throughout there’s a strong emphasis on atmospheric progressive rock with a very strong Pink Floyd flavour. Standouts for me are “Eternally Yours”, ending with that epic slide solo featured in the album’s promo video, and “Heading Home”, with it’s wonderful interplay between Liam’s soaring lead guitar, Iain Jennings’ swirling Hammond organ and Paul Teasdale’s propulsive bass riff. It’s a big, rich, cinematic sound, superbly engineered and mixed by John Spence.

Liam shares vocals with Heather Findlay and Anne-Marie Helder, and the three distinctively different voices complement each other well. While Liam sings much of the lead vocals, several songs are duets between Liam and either Anne-Marie or Heather with some great use of harmony. One exception is “Once in a Lifetime”, sung solely by Heather, who also contributed the lyrics. Heather and Anne-Marie give excellent performances, but neither of them steal the show, this is still very much Liam’s album, showcasing his songwriting, and above all his superb lead guitar. If you like it when the solos can last for two or three minutes, and are still good enough not to outstay their welcome, you will love this album.

While much has been made of Heather’s and Anne-Marie’s contributions, on an album like this the instrumental supporting cast are just as important. In particular, Liam’s Mostly Autumn colleague Iain Jennings excels himself on keys. It’s the sort of all-enveloping cinematic sound we heard on early Mostly Autumn albums, and as such provides the perfect instrumental foil for Liam’s own playing.

This is a superb album, and while it’s only February, it’s a potential candidate for album of the year. Like many independent releases, it’s got a general retail release in March, but is available online now

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