Dave Brons – Return to Arda (2022)


Dave Brons was an unknown musician to me and I was triggered by a short promo item on Facebook that showed that Dave is a great guitarist and that his music is quite similar to what we know from Dave Bainbridge. Celtic Prog is an appropriate name and covers the offered music nicely.

What immediately stands out is that Bainbridge plays keys and that we can also expect the necessary well-known names, including Frank van Essen (violin) and Sally Minnear (vocals). She sings on a number of pieces and does so with verve because her voice fits very well with this music. It is therefore not surprising that the music on Return to Arda is very similar to the album To the far Away (2021) by the aforementioned Bainbridge.

Given that Brons is a very gifted guitarist, you can expect some impressive solos and they are certainly on this album. I am glad that there are also several songs that are not entirely instrumental because I still find it difficult to listen to an entire album without vocals.

If you use the term Celtic prog then you can't ignore names like Clannad and, even more so, Iona and you hear a lot about them too. But somehow Brons manages to captivate me more than all these illustrious names. All usual instruments are present and there is not really a surprise in that, but it all sounds so nice and fresh and open.

I really had to search for the why because this album actually made me happy right away. In the end I think it's mainly in Brons' guitar playing. Where Bainbridge as a guitarist often shows a more jazz rock-like approach, this is more rock oriented with Brons and the melody in his solos is more leading.

In terms of theme and lyrics, we have to do it, again, with Tolkien's Middle Earth. A rather flattened fact, but Brons' approach is bit different. For example, we have three elements that are central, water, soil and the Sky, and each is described in a combination of numbers, so a kind of suites.

They often consist of a few shorter songs, but because of the common theme they form a larger whole and that works very well. Yet the lyrics are often a bit on the etherial side and that can be a disturbing factor for some. Personally, I just have to be in the mood for it and then I can handle it just fine.

And that is actually the reason why I like to put on this album, a nice atmosphere with beautiful guitar work. The instrumentals Beren and Luthien and Gathering in the Sky are really beautiful and Brons shows how good a musician he is, what a beautiful combination of technique and feeling.

As a result of this album I have also listened to the previous two by Brons, Based on a true Story (2015) and Not All those Who wander are Lost (2020), but I find the addition of vocals essential and therefore clearly prefer Return to Arda. I do have to say that I expected more from the nine-minute title track at the end than a spoken explanation from Brons about the places where he likes to go, and feels completely happy and serene, accompanied by some nature sounds and a layer of keyboards.

Still, I was happy to give Return to Arda a spot in my 2022 year list. I hope that Dave adds even more vocals on a next album because there is always room enough for his wonderful guitar work.