Pendragon : North Star (2023)
After a long period of drought and some internal problems, Nick Barrett, the big man behind Pendragon, is back with an EP called North Star. As a big fan of Nick's great compelling and emotional guitar work in particular, I have been a great admirer of Pendragon's music since the very beginning. I still consider The Jewel to be one of the building blocks of neoprog as we know it today. Actually, I think every album that has been released so far is beautiful, with Not of this World and The Masquerade Overture and later Pure as highlights. The jubilant guitar solos that come from Barrett's Fender move me again and again.
That is a sensitive point for me because since Nick has chosen the Gibson as a his preferred guitar, that sound has changed and that makes sense because a Gibson sounds much fuller and warmer than a Fender. Perhaps a plus for some, but a minus for me because the sparkling and splashing sound is just so good when it is on top of the music. Anyway that's Nick's choice so we have to deal with it. I am probably the only one who considers this a pitty. (I will come back to this in my review of the concert on May 13)
North Star actually contains two songs, the title track consists of three parts and Fall away is the second and completely acoustic (as far as the guitar is concerned) song. The first thing that stands out is that there is a pleasant and calm atmosphere on the entire EP with wonderfully lush keyboard carpets. A Boy and his Dog brings recognizable guitar picking and is a real Pendragon song with excellent vocals but with a very restrained guitar solo. Certainly well played but not quite my thing, I miss the spark. Seamlessly we then arrive at As dead as a Dodo and this starts with a kind of western-like guitar riff and you have to love that. (sorry, not for me) Soon recognizable vocal lines and heavy keyboards are added. A small violin piece brings a little surprise but can't save this acoustic song for me anymore. The transition to Phoenician Skies is also done through plucking on the acoustic guitar and a mid-tempo keyboard loop leads us to the long awaited guitar solo. It is really very beautiful but also remains very controlled and within the known frameworks. Still, for me, this is the highlight of North Star. ( I know, very predictable but hey…that’s me)
The again acoustic start of Fall away is very well played and the atmosphere is leading here. Lyrically you can also speak of atmospheric drawings with a certain nostalgia and Nick mainly uses the warmth in his voice to optimize the combination with the music and that works absolutely well. In terms of vocals, he has not been influenced by a lot of the echoing and screaming fellow vocalists in our beloved genre.
Well, what should I write as my conclusion?
I am not a big fan of the acoustic version of the six string (or even seven or eight these days) and that is very much present on North Star. For example, I can't really appreciate the acoustic version of Love over Fear while I think the regular album is fantastic (except for one song). I know many people think differently about this, but this is just my opinion. You can’t argue about taste they say in Holland.
Still, I remain a big fan of Pendragon's music and I have an incredible amount of sympathy for Nick Barrett and realize how difficult it is for him and his entourage to survive in the harsh music industry. And even an album that is perhaps a little less for me is still better than many of the abundant releases that are offered to us. So everyone buy this album! Go for an evening of Pendragon easy listening.