The inevitable temptation when you hear instrumental progressive rock music of this tempo and keyboard-led texture is to cite Snowgoose-era Camel. Not that Andrew Marshall, the inspiration behind this Willowglass project would mind - indeed, his stated intention is that Willowglass should "...capture the sound, feel and spirit of the great progressive acts of the 1970s". You'll also find shades of Greenslade, Yes and Genesis on Book of Hours.
The resulting amalgam of these influences makes for a very pleasant listening experience: not quite as good as the seminal Snowgoose but very good indeed nevertheless. Occasionally, the sound is very Camel-like, such as on "Argamasilla"'s passage of lead guitar and keyboards playing in tandem - just like Latimer/Bardens of old - or on the wistful opening to "Willowglass", with its beautiful opening flute. Elsewhere, a selection of acoustic guitars adds textures that clearly draw their inspiration from other bands.
I must mention the artwork in the 16-page CD booklet - what a pleasure to have such a well designed and attractive booklet accompanying what is a self-produced enterprise, when many artists with the backing of record companies produce either nothing at all or completely unreadable material. The artwork in the booklet, created by Lee Gaskins, is very evocative. It takes me to medieval England with its drawn image of a knight on the front cover painted in colors and a style associated with stained-glass windows of that era. Some of the music is also reminiscent of that English period - particularly on "The Maythorne Cross". Interesting then, that when you open up the booklet you find what looks like Sancho Panza on its back cover, trotting along behind what must be Don Quixote, and then you spot the outline of a windmill in the stained glass window.....but these are definitely not the arid plains of Spain! Then you notice that part (iii) of the six-part closing number is entitled "Don Quixote Rides Again", and our intrepid heroes turn up again besides a waterfall in one of the booklet's drawings.
Clearly, what Marshall has done is not only revoke the musical spirit of those classic 70s bands but also their total creative spirit - he has gone far towards recreating the feeling of what owning a record used to be like, where the art and the "feel" of the thing were a significant part of the experience - well done him!
Book of Hours comes in at under 50 minutes which, for me at least, makes it the right duration for an instrumental album: long enough to allow the music to develop but short enough to retain your interest throughout. The production is excellent, the sound full and expansive. Well worth exploring if you're a fan of the bands mentioned and enjoy instrumental music.
Willowglass have yet to perform live, although Marshall is hoping to recruit a band to showcase these compositions, and those of his 2005 album Willowglass. On Book of Hours Marshall plays all of the instruments with the exception of drums/percussion (Dave Brightman). So here's your chance to shine if you enjoy the music and are a musician yourself!
1) Argamasilla (11:04)
2) Willowglass (04:02)
3) The Maythorne Cross (10:39)
4) Book of Hours (07:13)
5) The Labyrinth (16:51)
(ii) The Journey
(iii) Don Quixote Rides Again
(iv) Nature's Cathedral
(v) Knight of the White Moon
(vi) The Spiral