Downes Braide Association – Halcyon Hymns (Album Review)

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Nostalgic reveries can offer a life-line after a year such as we’ve endured. If you’re needing a little pick-me-up to inspire better times, be they from the past or yet to arrive in the future, these “Halcyon Hymns” offer just the ticket. Featuring a soundtrack as lush and colorful as the Roger Dean cover art, this fourth collection from the Downes Braide Association finds the duo at the top of their game. While Geoff Downes’ songwriting credentials are well-established by his mega hits with Asia, along with having co-founded The Buggles and a long tenure with Yes, it is his choice of collaborator in Chris Braide which gives DBA an exciting, fresh approach even while using familiar ingredients. Braide has also worked with Trevor Horn in supergroup The Producers but channels much of his creativity through writing for other superstars such as Sia, Lana Del Ray, Marc Almond and even Britney Spears. Fortunately, DBA offers him an avenue to explore the wide landscapes of progressive rock while maintaining melodic pop sensibilities. Downes’ and Braide’s formidable talents and experience are further augmented by an ace band of Ash Soan on drums, Andy Hodge on bass and Dave Bainbridge on an array of electric and acoustic stringed instruments.

Opener “Love Among the Ruins” is not only a highlight of the album but likely will be one of the top songs of the year. Braide’s voice effortlessly floats above the accessible prog landscape below. Welcomed by the spoken words of Barney Ashton Bullock, who we’ll hear more from throughout the recording, this uplifting love song quickly takes flight with extra buoyancy offered by Bainbridge’s soaring lead electric guitar. Quite a start. “King of the Sunset” is a darker follow-up, its descending chord progressions upping the emotional impact in 3/4 time as Bainbridge’s otherworldly guitar effects swirl overhead. Big Big Train’s David Longdon offers the harmony vocal, having been invited back after his cameo on DBA’s last album. The final two minutes serve up an entrancing blend of mandolins and guitar thunder to complete the sunset vista.

The moodiness then lifts for a string of upbeat material, strong on melodic choruses and layered arrangements. “Your Heart Will Find A Way” radiates an almost anthemic fervor, punctuated by lively drum hits from Soan. “Holding the Heavens” is another album highlight, an 8-minute triumph which opens with Genesis-y arpeggiated acoustic guitar before giving way to yet one more Braide marvel, delivered with his angelic voice. A trio of sun-dappled songs follows: “Beachcombers” luxuriating in layers upon layers of Braide vocal overdubs, “Today” featuring a lengthy Bainbridge closing solo, while “Warm Summer Sun” finds Marc Almond dueting with Braide. Hearing these pieces in the midst of winter’s embrace might seem a little out of place but they do evoke a much-needed warmth in the listener’s spirit.

“Halcyon Hymns” Album Artwork

“Hymn To Darkness” is a haunting piece highlighting Braide’s vocals, accompanied by mandolin and subtle piano. If any track feels like it could have been fleshed out further it’s this one, so evocative are the melodic ideas. To counter that brevity, “Remembrance” essentially closes the album with an extended exploration built around three hanging chords that never seem to end. The mandolin is back but it is Barney Ashton Bullock’s poetic narration which stands out to the listener, his rich language woven throughout the piece and bringing it to a tearful close.

Of the innumerable off-shoot bands and albums that have included Yes personnel over the years, “Halcyon Hymns” ranks among the best. Yes“Fly From Here” would likely be the closest comparison from that band, given Downes’ involvement and the approach of melodically accessible songwriting. However, Braide’s contributions shouldn’t be underestimated from a songwriting, performance and arrangement standpoint. He is a brilliant artist, made even better when paired with Downes. With excellent supporting musicians on hand, all the pieces are in place for success. Be sure to check out this bounty of riches.

Released by: Cherry Red Records
Released on: February 5th, 2021
Genre: Progressive Rock

Musicians: 

  • Geoff Downes / Keyboards
  • Chris Braide / Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards
  • Ash Soen / Drums
  • Andy Hodge / Bass
  • Dave Bainbridge / Guitars
  • David Longdon / Vocals
  • Marc Almond / Vocals
  • Barney Ashton Bullock / Narration

“Halcyon Hymns” Track-listing:

  1. Love Among the Ruins
  2. King of The Sunset
  3. Your Heart Will Find the Way
  4. Holding the Heavens
  5. Beachcombers
  6. Warm Summer Sun
  7. Today
  8. Hymn to Darkness
  9. She’ll Be Riding Horses
  10. 10.Late Summer
  11. Remembrance
  12. Epilogue

9.0 Excellent

Easily their best album yet, this fourth outing from Geoff Downes and Chris Braide is a brilliant showcase of catchy songwriting and lush arrangements. The strong foundational material of Downes realizes its full potential in the hands and voice of Braide, an artist who deserves much more recognition. Their partnership is formidable, especially when teamed up with an ace band of musicians including Dave Bainbridge on guitars. The brilliant cover art of Roger Dean is as warm and inviting and the material herein. Highly recommended.

  • Songwriting 9
  • Musicianship 9.5
  • Originality 7.5
  • Production 10
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