It is the prerogative of youth to believe in coincidence. As one grows older and perhaps even wiser through experience, pain, elation, suffering and joy, the very notion of coincidence evaporates like a drop of water in an arid, sun-drenched desert.
Case in point: In the blue corner, there is a wonderful prog band called the Emerald Dawn, a quartet featuring a female singer/keyboardist, a slick lead guitarist as well as a tight rhythm section. They are from Wales. Now, in the red corner, we have another group called Ruby Dawn, also a quartet featuring a lady singer/keyboardist, a marvellous lead guitarist as well as a mature bass and drum combo. They hail from Wokingham (closer to London).
Coincidence? Happenstance? Luck? I heard of Ruby Dawn through Tree Stewart, the Emerald voice. Hmmmm. As they say in all ports, that’s fishy. Tree and Carola Baer both have great haunting and echoed voices that are eerily similar. That being said, the music is a little different as the Emeralds like to wander into extended retro symphonics with lots of reverberating instrumental passages, while the Rubies keep the arrangements a bit tighter and more modern sounding. I have waited patiently for this debut to arrive, and I am now ready to proceed with the analysis.
The opening salvo “Save the Day” is a prefect primer, tendrils of icicled vapour surrounding the melancholic sound, sprinkled with piano droplets and that echoing voice, brimming with seduction, building up into quite a maelstrom of sound, as the e-guitar kicks in the door with some swerving interventions. The adamant wrath is compelling enough to make one smile. That misty mood is pushed along further with the similarly addictive “Star on You”, a deliberate guitar phrasing-led piece that just explodes with unmitigated power and reflection, Carola raising the temperature considerably, hitting intrepid heights and then swooping down low, just above the treetops in mercurial fashion. The David Salsbury axe solo seeks only to express the agony through his trembling pickups and bent strings with unbridled flair.
The forsaken atmosphere is maintained on the magnificent “Breakdown” as Carola sorrowfully sobs, sighs, and emotes into the microphone. Frankly, by the time this track is hallway through, I kind of know this album is going to be one hell of a comfortable keeper. Bassist Ian Turner keeps the flow tidy and drummer Adam Perry times the beats just right, offering the spotlight and the stage to Carola to soar high above the arrangement with her pleading sorrow. The careening guitar rant sizzles appropriately.
Perhaps the highlight of the release, “Mirror of Your Life” sets a serene musical vibe and a mournful narrative, where Carola gets to shine and seduce brightly, as she whispers (a hint of Beth Gibbons of Portishead) and then screams her anguish most convincingly (a hint of Janis Joplin). Her vocal prowess is jaw-dropping. The rhythmics are thunderous, the guitar brash and outraged, the overall symphonic energy palpable and genuine. A colossal track that should be on every playlist and every radio, tv, computer on the planet. “No more wars” she yelps. Indeed.
After such a crushingly gorgeous piece, “Dances on Mars” serves to veer into a cozier zone, a running piece with an almost country/folk feel, though Carola still bellows breathlessly and brilliantly, especially as the arrangement picks up steam and starts chugging forcefully. The oblique guitar outburst shows a ton of creative juice, unwilling to go down the predictable route. This should go down a storm in a live setting (in fact, all their tunes are very concert friendly) and have the fans pumping fists.
The Floydian feel meets the modern stylistics of Massive Attack (that tic-tac drum pattern) on the groove -laden “Stonewall”, a slippery blues venture that is instantly gripping, an instant delight as Carola rails furiously, and Salsbury shiveringly manipulates his frets with gusto. Pulsating, thrilling and highly expressive, it all sounds familiar yet different, a rare commodity in this either/or binary universe we dwell in.
The first single is “Man Where’s Your Heart”, a pleading aural essay bathing in a simple rut, a deliberate buildup into the expected frenzy of conviction, a guitar throttle boosting the speed, the rhythmic pace shoving the tone along. A dive back into that desperate Janis feel, before ratcheting the angst back up into euphoric levels.
“Save Me” is another corker, a begging hushed vocal that borders on internal rage, restrained to the point of emotional slavery. Then she explodes into a tectonic swerve for the chorus as the guitars kick up some furious storm clouds, Turner and Perry propelling this sucker into overdrive.
Another feature track is the warm balm of “Heavens Angels”, a peaceful expression of composure that gradually builds into a celestial anthem that has immediate impact on the nodes, as it all soars organically on all fronts. The lilting qualities serve as some kind of aural panacea to all the preceding torment, as if deliverance has finally shown its face, shining down through the parting clouds. Magnificent.
The last thing one would expect at this stage in the set-list is a 10 minute plus epic, stamping this debut with outright progressive credentials. A very impressive Middle Eastern prologue sets the tone, evoking images that only a creative mind would want to capture. The guitar-led caravan sets out into the torrid dunes, the pace deliberate in the sweltering heat. “Into the Sun” is a journey towards that proverbial oasis of satisfaction that hides in one’s mind, sadly not everyone having the ability to find it, as some do not understand sonic soothing of the soul. Well, I do. This track alone can and will convince all those who take the plunge in discovering this artist.
“Other Side” opts for a more ‘radical’ approach, a plain tune once again that hits the spot with ringing The Edge-like guitar shavings as well as a neat but insistent solo. The yearning for eventual change and resolution overtly expressed in the lyrics and Carola’ passionate delivery.
And we reach the finale, the elegant “Dust and Fire” puts this recording to bed, wasting little time to connect all the preceding dots into one splendid impression. Passion, atmosphere, and melody (PAM) are the hallmarks of this song as well as the entire album. A fitting tribute to all their hard work putting this recording out, for us to enjoy.
The deeper one plunges into the set-list the more apparent becomes the strategy, producer/bassist Ian Turner surely having a hand in this master plan. This debut is intoxicating and surely a future success awaits this quartet. Carola is a revelation, a new female singer who has a true star quality to her craft.
5 bejewelled futures