Many prog musicians have had day jobs as well as careers, and some are still toiling whilst including their musical talents as a passionate hobby or a side project. Doctor Greenwood still practices as a burn surgeon at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia, as well as getting to record with Unitopia, arguably Down-Under’s ‘eminence grise’ (French for grey matter) when it comes to contemporary prog. On the recently released and promptly reviewed ‘Seven Chambers’, Greenwood’s fretboard contributions added a massive impulse to the crafty tracks relating to the human heart and its seven ventricles! As befits many solo ventures, historically a personal opportunity to display a wider variety of stylistic variations, Dr. John (“are we in the right place?”) offers a palette of differing vignettes, as well as his multi-instrumentalist skills and some heartfelt lyrical content in the form of Dark Blue, which was gracefully adorned with a foreword from some artist called Steve Hackett, none the less. On board guests include Sean Timms on keys, master drummer Craig Blundell as well as locals skin beaters Ben Todd and Mike Giuffreda, bass guitar from Nick Sinclair and gypsy violin from Julian Ferraretto, each on one track. Family members complete the cast, thus giving this album a peculiar homey sheen.
Diving straight into the Covid mismanagement ‘controversy’, Dark Blue kicks off with an elongated 12 minute + treatise on the rather unfit global health industry, a subject matter that surely comes easy for the good doctor. Orchestrated in a typical progressive quarantine, switching between symphonic sweeps and sweet vaudevillian humour, nursing powerful lyrics with hygienic mellotron sheets and infused with a melancholic acoustic guitar recovery, this is quite the anaesthetic! Especially noticeable in the IV fluid outro.
Change of pace into a stage production of theatrical operations, a trio of interconnected tracks with a swirling violin first on the intricately woven “Too Late!” with whimsical vocals and intense child-like narration, loaded to the gills with dense atmosphere and mellifluous audacity, sliced open with a honed guitar scalpel. This blends into the orchestral “Too Late! Reprise”, a surgical flute adding to the cinematographic score and setting up the colossal epic, 16 minutes of proggy bliss on “the Ocean”, led by John’s daughter Emma, whose crystalline voice navigates the waves with brave resolve. Gigantic sonic thunderclaps smash into the surging white caps, courageously surviving until a weary piano indicates calmer waters ahead, John handling the microphone with relieved conviction. Interweaving flutes, church bells tolling on the mainland, guiding the ship home in the thick fog, as a delicate acoustic guitar welcomes back the protagonists, voices in tow. The sailor and the siren. The extensive and shimmering electric axe solo soars above the mellotron choirs with heavenly grace and carves a sumptuous melody to expunge over. A poignant vocal finale seals the deal.
Things get personal on the next trio of tracks, starting with the solemn “Requiem”, a thoughtfully orchestrated lament, a platform for both versions of the fretboard to glide along the synthesized structure with veneration. The guitars are exceptional, to say the very least. On the other side of the scale, the irritated “Heartless” is a harrowing plea for pain caused, ruthlessly hard in both intent, vocal delivery, and instrumental prowess. It’s a pungent and urgent track that hits the spot. “Inside” is really a tale of two styles, a section that has a stage production, ‘listen to me story’ feel, accessible and straightforward, as the focus is on the words, very the Beatles-ish. The instrumental transitions are punchy and intense.
“Packing my Suitcase” also has the Beatles-like whimsy (think Bungalow Bill, Rocky Raccoon) and serves to entertain, without too much thought and complexity. The gypsy violin does its duty accordingly. “The Kiss” is an interlude for acoustic guitar and a Nick Magnus orchestration. Very pastoral, very English, very pristine.
Then comes the surprise! The Genesis classic “Afterglow” is the proud owner of one of those melodies that cannot simply be corrupted by alternate sounding covers (a bit like Nights in White Satin, Starless, or Whiter Shade of Pale), as there is no room for improvement of any possible kind. As such, it has a tremendously poignant tribute feel to which many other artists have been respectful, and John is no exception. A track that promotes the reverential notion of timeless classic and justice is done. The guitar solo is appropriately grandiose, soothing the soul like the finest panacea. The album should have stopped here, as it’s a tough act to follow.
Nevertheless, “A Proper Song” puts up quite a courageous fight, a dreamy swirl with sincere lyrics, (“if I want to hear a choir, I’ll go to church” LOL), churning organ and a glittering axe solo but its so honestly fun that one cannot quibble. The disc ends with a John Greenwood kiss, dark bluesy lips on the suitcase sticker, going far away, to the Land Down Under.
4.5 Indigo Travels