Bainbridge, Dave – To the Far Away (2021)
Dave Bainbridge is a household name for most of the followers of prog rock and related styles. As a guitarist for Iona, and more recently, Lifesigns, he has shown that he knows how to combine a very fluid and exciting style with virtuosity. Just listen to the wonderful solo in the song Last One Home on the excellent album Altitude by the aforementioned lifesigns.
Now I already knew more work in which he plays along, but the solo mentioned above made such an impression on me that I became curious about his new album To The Far Away. In general I'm a bit skeptical when guitarists start making a solo album because often this gets bogged down in a kind of "look what I can do" product. Not always of course and his earlier solo work does not really suffer from this shortcoming. Partly due to the fact that Dave is also very skilled on keyboards and that there is quite a lot of singing, this is not a typical guitar album. The other instrumentalists also determine the high playing level and Frank van Essen makes very nice contributions on violin.
Another challenge for me in exploring this newcomer are the sometimes very religious lyrics that express Dave's convictions. For me this is a problem if it is continuously sung about in a pushy way. Example; Neil Morse on much of his solo work. (Not on his fantastic latest work, Innocence & Danger, by the way) To each his own, but for me this can be a reason to ignore very beautiful music. Fortunately, it is not so bad on To The Far Away and the lyrics are mainly focused on human feelings such as missing someone and desire and longing.
What immediately stands out in opener Sea Gazer is the obvious Celtic influence and a comparison with Clannad is easily made, but with much more prominent guitar work. Sally Minnear and Iain Hornal are active vocalists and their voices fit the music perfectly. Sally has a high, clear voice and Iain does sound a bit like the sadly deceased David Longdon of Big Big Train. This last band sometimes crosses my mind when hearing some parts. Typically British we could say. By using many traditional instruments in most tracks such as Uilleann Pipes and other flutes, the atmosphere is very consistent throughout the album. Ghost Light is the most symphonic piece with a length of more than 14 minutes and it stands out a bit for me, but the entire first half of the record is of high quality. Lots of floating keys with nice guitar solos and where his earlier work was sometimes a bit busier, there is more space and it all sounds more balanced. There certainly are some nice bombastic parts to be heard from time to time and Dave lets his guitar sing wonderfully and dueling fine with smooth keyboard tunes like in the song Clear Skies. Is the second half so much worse, I hear you ask. Well, not much, but as we approach the end of this rather long album, the compositions start to flatten a bit and I get the idea that I've heard it now. This does not alter the fact that I find To The Far Away a very pleasant album to listen to and that I will certainly play it regularly.
The CD also comes with a bonus CD with some alternative versions and other extras, but personally I find that less interesting. As already mentioned, the total length of the album is substantial and therefore long enough for a good listen.