CD Reviews

Solstice - 'Spirit' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     March 07, 2011    
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The first new studio album from the band for many years.

This is the first new studio album from the band for many years, and follows the reissue of their earliest studio releases plus live Cropredy set (see reviews in Fireworks #31). It also marks the most stable line up of the entire thirty years since the band's original inception: Andy Glass (remaining founder member and chief song writer: guitars and vocals), Emma Brown (vocals), Steve McDaniel (keyboards), Jenny Newman (violin) and Robin Phillips (bass) all featuring on the Cropredy recording from 1998: at which time ex-Jethro Tull drummer Clive Bunker was still with the band. Occupying the drum stool now is Pete Hemsley.

Solstice can hardly be regarded as prolific as this is only their fourth studio album, and since actively returning to action around 2007, have taken their time to get 'Spirit' just right! Besides treating potential purchasers to seven new tracks of somewhat languid progressive rock spiced with elements of folk and ethnic influences, the band has also delivered a tasty bonus DVD of a low-key concert recorded in Milton Keynes in July 2009. Not only does this include live renditions of five of the seven new tracks on 'Spirit', there are also performances of tracks that go back to the band's earliest days, and include 'Cheyenne', 'Sacred Run', 'Brave New World', 'Ducks On The Pond' and 'Chicken Train': this latter song including an amusing interactive section with the audience. Seeing new song, the über-political 'Freedom' performed live also brings this into clearer focus than is the case from just hearing it on 'Spirit'. It is quite different from anything else on the album, and includes a pre-recorded segment from anti-war lobbyist Adam Kokesh, apparently a veteran of American military interventions in the Middle East. It is so redolent of protest songs of the late 60s…

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'Spirit' plays for just over the hour and the track lengths vary between just under seven minutes (the previously mentioned 'Freedom' and 'Here & Now') to nearly twelve minutes (the album's closing number, and title track). It particularly showcases the skilful playing of guitarist Andy Glass (stylistically he fits somewhere between Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani and Jeff Beck) the fiddle of Jenny Newman (the Celtic stylings on 'Oberon's Folly' are to die for if you love this sort of thing!), and the vocals of Emma Brown which subtly complement the various stylings present here.

'Spirit' needed the minimum of six plays that I try to give all review albums in order to tease out its strengths and qualities, and I am convinced that I will continue to find more in the future. It is full of sublime mood music, ambient textures and sophisticated slightly jazzy instrumental passages that combine to set Solstice aside from other British progressive bands featuring female lead vocals. However, I do think that the production comes across as rather dry, the five tracks performed live on the accompanying DVD gave most of them an added warmth and vibrancy that is somehow absent from the studio renditions. Perhaps after all this time, the band was trying to be just a wee bit too perfect, and I would ask them to try and replicate more of the spirit of their live performance in the studio next time around.

Paul Jerome Smith

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