Monarch Trail | Skye

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CANADA - Ontario

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Rock: Progressive Rock Rock: Progressive Rock Moods: Mood: Dreamy
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Skye

by Monarch Trail

Music from a "dark green world in places never seen", this debut album features four lengthy compositions featuring keyboards, bass, drums, guitars and vocals and should appeal to anyone looking for something imaginative.
Genre: Rock: Progressive Rock
Release Date: 

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Tracks

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1. Luminescence
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11:14 album only
2. Silent World
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8:20 album only
3. East of Fifty
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6:10 album only
4. Sky Above the Sun
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20:15 album only
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ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
When keyboard player/vocalist Ken Baird had written some music which seemed to require more collaborative arrangements than usual, he asked drummer Chris Lamont and Bassist Dino Verginella if they’d be willing to be a part of “Monarch Trail”. Lamont had played on Baird’s previous three albums and Verginella on the previous two, so it was a natural thing that it could be called a group.

The first stage was to set up several rehearsals for the trio to work on arranging the new pieces. Important changes were made to the charts; an extra set of bars here, a new melody line there, a different tempo over there and so on. Even more importantly, these rehearsals also turned out to be a ton of fun with no lack of shenanigans!

They made the decision to start recording the music right away and add other musicians when needed. As it turned out, there was to be a fair bit of guitar on the record, so guitarist friends were brought in providing “the right part for the right track”. True to the spirit of the project, John Mamone, Kelly Kereliuk and Steve Cochrane all had major creative input on their solos and sections.

The recording was done by Ken Baird, but in the final months of the record, Cochrane also lent his studio and his recording and mastering abilities. Drawings by Annette Roche had initially helped inspire the lyrics, so these drawings ultimately became part of the album artwork.

And so here we have it, the first album from Monarch Trail: “Skye”!

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Marcel Hartenberg from The Dutch Progressive Rock Pages says:

It happens quite often that renowned instrumentalists take steps from the spotlight their bands might be in, just to tread on paths not crossed before and create a musical landscape of their own. Perhaps it happens more often than not, even. Yet, to see a solo artist venture the other way around, is something that is not seen as frequent. Having already released five solo albums, Ken Baird has nevertheless decided to do so. As he states himself, the music has more of a collaborative charachter than anything he had written before. It doesn't then seem as strange that he decided to record this album as a band. For that matter he surrounded himself with musicians who already played with him on earlier releases. Dino Verginella on bass and Chris Lamont on drums form the core of Monarch Trail together with Ken who plays the keyboards and takes care of the vocal duties. Guitar duties are shared by John Mamone, Kelly Kereliuk and Steve Cochrane.

Luminescence with all its great keyboard textures and joyfully dancing and prancing guitar is a meeting of Genesis, somewehere on the verge on And Then There Were Three or Duke and Jadis. The rich keyboard textures remind us of Tony Banks weaving intricate textures, yet Ken seems to have mastered textures further and invites us all off to listen to the luminaries these musicians form together. Grand without getting too grand, the opening track is soothing for the ear and sets the mood for many an enjoyable hour of listening to Ken's compositions. Somewhere midway the opening track, you could wonder if you're not on the travels by some duke or another. Yet, the music is very, ehm, entangling. The guitars come to the fore in the intro part of the song and very much so remind of Gary Chandler's guitar led Jadis. There's also, albeit slightly, resemblance in the way both Ken and Gary sing.

Silent World comes a-roaring after the initial easy going and bit jazzy intro to the song.Keys all over the place as if we were summoned to get into the air to fight those Bandits up in the air. Yet, just as we are about to board our aircrafts the tempo of the song slows right down and, all of a sudden, the song becomes rather bombastic. Still, the variety in the song works. The fact that the siren like wail is played by the keys might even add to its appeal. This is a song where textures and jazzy parts all battle for the fore. Just put on headphones and listen to the great interplay between keyboards, drums, bass and guitar in this song. Camel meet Landmarq, Jadis or Genesis anyone?

The Landmarq, Jadis and Camel references return in East Of Fifty yet, let us be clear, this is not a band to go painting by numbers, neither are they copyists of Genesis. These are merely references and should just be regarded as such. It is the spirit of that particular era Genesis that Ken skilifully masters and for which he has found a fold, as creative as can be. Exactly that is what East Of Fifty goes to show. It is a very inspiring and positive vibe radiating piece of music that always gets the mood up. At least, here it does. Kelly Kereliuk shows his impressive skills next to Ken on this one.

And yes, there is an epic. This time, well, whether or not it is meant to be a play on words on a certain Marillion tracks, the epic is called Sky Above The Sun. A traditionally set out track, or so it seems, that will have you figure out its bends and curves for there is more to it than meets the ears first time around.

Skye is not an album that will send you to worlds unknown, undiscovered as theirs is a style of progressive rock that we used to know, yet which might have left fields unknown, pastures greener than we knew and keyboards and guitars that might give you, oh joy, great feelings of the essence of prog, if there is such a thing and if it can be determined. Prog need not always be pointing the way to a different and unforeseeable future. Just like Umberto Eco's 'The Name Of The Rose' had an inner beauty of itself but spoke of a period in time long gone by and things we must already have come to know of, this is a release that takes its cue from those great masters of keys from the days of yore and then goes to show that this is still very much 2014 music. Ken and his band have recorded an album that may just as well endear those who still miss Genesis of old and those young ones that crave for rich atmospheres and textures in their music. Even if you're not into either of those, this is one album to just love.

Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Marcel Hartenberg

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Henri Strik from Background Magazine (The Netherlands) says:

Ken Baird is a Canadian keyboardist and composer who recorded five solo albums since 1996. Lately he wrote some music which was more suitable to be performed by a band. Therefore he decided to start Monarch Trail, an outfit in which he could cooperate with other musicians like bassist Dino Verginella and drummer Chris Lamont, who both assisted Baird on his solo albums. However, he also wrote strong guitar parts for his compositions and so far he didn't include a guitarist to the band yet. Why not use a number of guitar players to add some strong guitar parts to the recordings, he must have thought. And so he asked John Mamone, Kelly Kereliuk and Steve Cochrane to help the band during the recording sessions of the debut album Skye.

Since I got a copy of Skye to review, I had serious problems to take it out of my CD player. More CDs were waiting to be listened and to be reviewed, but somehow I refused to change Skye for another disc and I kept listening to this fine album again and again. This is the kind of music that grabs me by the throat right from the start. I enjoy the four compositions on this record a lot. I couldn't notice any weak tracks or even weak fragments since the four compositions can be regarded as real progressive rock gems. Perhaps people who have read this review so far are curious to know what this music sounds like. Well, the best thing to find out is to listen to it yourself of course, but that's not always possible. In general the music can be filed under neo-progressive rock and symphonic prog.

While listening to the first long track Luminescence, the album Wind And Wuthering (1976) by Genesis came to mind thanks to Baird's fantastic keyboard playing which reminded me of Tony Banks. Also the amazing electric guitar parts performed by John Mamone, has some elements of Steve Hackett's way of playing. These influences can be heard throughout the album. Luminescence also contains hints from bands like Pendragon, IQ and Jadis. However, during the remainder of the album Glass Hammer continuously crossed my mind, especially such brilliant albums like Lex Rex (2002), Shadowlands (2004) and The Inconsolable Secret (2005). I heard the same kind of strong compositions, brilliant keyboard parts, great guitar solos and strong vocal passages on Skye. People who read my reviews on a regular base know that I like Glass Hammer a lot. That may be one of the reasons why I loved this album instantly.

I would like to spend a few words on the fine artwork done by Annette Roche; she was above all an inspiration to write such amazing music for this awesome album. You might think that Skye is a keyboard orientated album since Ken Baird wrote all of the compositions, but this isn't the case at all. All tracks contain excellent guitar solos and fine guitar parts. So hats off to all musicians involved. In my mind's eye Skye is a masterpiece containing only great compositions performed by outstanding musicians. For that reason only the highest rating of five stars will do! For me Skye belongs to the finest albums of 2014! If you're a fan of great prog rock you can't afford to skip this one!

***** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)



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