It is rare that a jaded reviewer can say … This album is damn near perfect.
Dave Bainbridge is best known as a co-founder of Iona. In his first solo CD he hasn't strayed far from his band's Celtic rock sounds, and in fact he is joined by previous and current members of Iona, along with a variety of guest artists. There is more guitar work than on most Iona albums, both electric and acoustic solo, and more piano as well. Yet there's also a good variety of modern and traditional instruments which Bainbridge layers to build tremendously rich textures.
There is an overall flavor of Iona-styled Celtic rock – but there are also classical sections, there's a long soft jazz piano piece, and there are some full-on rock wall-of-sound segments. Everything about this album is executed with care and thoroughness. There are none of the usual thirty-second guitar solos. Instead, you can immerse yourself in soft, wailing solos for several minutes at a time. The piano isn't merely a backdrop to a few passages in a few songs. There are entire songs, and many extended passages, that revolve exclusively around the piano.
This solo effort was recorded over a number of years. But After Joanne Hogg (Iona's singer) told the band she was pregnant, Bainbridge knew Iona would be in for a long break – so that was when he gave his solo project his full attention. Classically trained at the Leeds College of Music, Bainbridge plays 15 instruments on this album and surrounds himself with some 11 guest artists, including 5 singers. Listen especially for the vocals of Joanne Hogg (Iona), Rachel Jones (Karnataka), and Mae McKenna, and there are some very moving parts where the three voices are heard together. Many of the lyrics are sung in Gaelic, some are Spanish, and Chris Hale, raised in India and Nepal by American missionaries, sings in fluent Urdu. These foreign language lyrics lend the vocals an instrumental quality, and there isn't a song-oriented moment on the album.
The elements of classical and progressive music are abundant. A few melodic ideas are repeated and developed continuously across the album in various forms, and along with recurring vocal textures, the whole of Veil Of Gossamer works together as a single cohesive opus. There many levels to this music, and you'll need to spin it many times to absorb all the layers
It's hard to pick out a standout track, but "Star-Filled Skies" deserves special mention. It is a 15-minute epic in four parts, and tells the touching story of St. Cuthbert, the Bishop of Lindisfarne, patron of Durham. The album as a whole explores the 'thin veil between this life and the next and the interconnections between the earthly and heavenly realms'. The themes all have religious overtones, some current and many historic, consequently the music has a mystically uplifting ambience.
Veil Of Gossamer is a wonderful listen, and there isn't a musical or technical fault to be found anywhere. Music is an art and by definition it cannot be perfect. But this comes close – it is damn near perfect!