[ SHORT REVIEWS | DETAILED REVIEWS
TRACK LIST: 1. The Fifth 8:58 2. The Madness of Crowds 8.52 3. Reeds 5.17 4. Exiled 5.16 5. Now Voyager 9.13 6. The Procession 3.14 7. Orkahaugr 11.18 8. End of Faith 8.16 LINEUP: Troy Donockley – woodwinds; guitars, bouzouki; keyboards; vocals Rosie Biss – cello Brad Lang – basses Joanne Hogg – vocals Nick Holland – vocals Heather Findlay – vocals Barbara Dickson – vocals Frank Van Essen – drums; violins, viola With: Lucy Muir – harp Vita Dowd – flute Daniel Gregg – oboe Peter Carter – clarinet Martin Vanderhoff – bassoon
Prolusion. Troy DONOCKLEY is known as a former member of British outfit Iona (which he joined in 1990, and left in June 2009), as well as a renowned composer and multi-instrumentalist, one of the leading virtuosos of the Uillean pipes. He is currently a member of The Bad Shepherds. “The Madness of Crowds” is his third solo album, featuring an impressive cast of guest musicians, including Iona singer Joanne Hogg and former Mostly Autumn vocalist Heather Findlay.
Analysis. Most progressive rock fans will be familiar with Troy Donockley’s name from the fourteen years he spent as a member of British band Iona, as well from his appearances on albums by the likes of Magenta, Mostly Autumn and Nightwish. A gifted multi-instrumentalist coming from a musical family, Donockley is known for his skill on the most Celtic of instruments, the Uilleann pipes, but also as a first-rate composer, whose main sources of inspiration are often to be found outside the boundaries of ‘mainstream’ progressive rock, so to speak. Besides the obvious influence of traditional Celtic music, there is a strong classical imprint to Donockley’s compositions, and the end result possesses a broad sweep that can bring to mind some of the most reputed composers of movie soundtracks. “The Madness of Crowds” comes in one of the most impressive CD packages I have come across for a long time – a dark green-hued, foldout sleeve rich in lavish detail and gorgeous photography that would put to shame many much more expensive productions. The album is clearly intended as a complete work of art to be appreciated by connoisseurs, rather than an easily forgettable, flavour-of-the-month release. It is, indeed, quite likely to appeal to people who like their music to be timeless, or at the very least memorable enough to leave a trace - though it has nothing daunting or ‘difficult’ about it. With the help of an impressive number of guest musicians (many of whom have already collaborated with him in the past few years), Donockley has put together an album that offers enough variety to attract a wide range of listeners (not necessarily only the prog crowd), full of beautiful melodies, dreamy atmospheres and subtly shifting moods. The scene is set right from the very beginning, when the lovely voice of Joanne Hogg makes its entrance, singing a sort of prayer over a sparse instrumental background. The title-track contrasts moments of entrancing, pastoral beauty with almost tribal, pounding drumbeats and a dissonant guitar solo introducing an unexpected note of tension before its airy, melodic ending. There is a strongly cinematic feel to most of the compositions featured here, in the fashion of such acts as Mike Oldfield or Clannad, which blend Celtic influences with ambient and classical music. Reeds, Exiled and The Procession, all instrumental, are beautifully lyrical pieces with stunning interaction between the numerous instruments involved; Exiled, in particular, manages to capture the mood evoked by the title quite perfectly. They also function as interludes between the longer compositions featured on the album. Now, Voyager, together with the title-track and the epic-length Orkahaugr (about which more later), can be legitimately tagged as one of the album’s masterpieces. Scottish actress and singer Barbara Dickson is in charge of the vocal parts, her splendid contralto in the a cappella opening simply jaw-dropping; while the string-laden, highly evocative instrumental parts bring to mind the work of Irish ensemble Anuna, shifting from gentleness to an almost menacing mood, enhanced by the mournful sound of Donockley’s Uilleann pipes. The above-mentioned Orkahaugr, clocking in at 11 minutes, is another rich feast for lovers of this quintessentially Celtic instrument, and melds the tradition of the British isles with the Middle Eastern echoes evoked by the distinctive sound of the bouzouki and the lively percussion patterns. On the other hand, closing track End of Faith is, in my opinion, more inspired in its instrumental first half - a riveting crescendo with drums mimicking thunder and other sound effects – than in the impeccable, yet somewhat by-numbers duet between Heather Findlay and Nick Holland that follows. “The Madness of Crowds” is not your average progressive rock album. As a matter of fact, it does not have a lot in common with either the retro-prog crowd, with their banks of keyboards and endless epics, or the modern flag-bearers of the genre, with their melting pot of styles and occasionally abrasive approach. It is, however, an album of great beauty, flawlessly composed and executed, and forward-thinking in its own peculiar way.
Conclusion. An album of great beauty, atmospheric and deeply evocative, “The Madness of Crowds” is sure to appeal to all lovers of good music, regardless of labels. There are enough progressive touches to please dyed-in-the-wool prog fans, and the distinct ethnic flavour of some of the tracks will attract the attention of world music buffs. It is, however, not an album for those who seek constant thrills from their music of choice – understated being the key word here.
[ SHORT REVIEWS | DETAILED REVIEWS - LIST | BANDLISTS ]