[Release date 03.10.16] www.cairorocks.com
Following his departure from Touchstone, keyboardist and founder member Rob Cottingham has chosen not to resurrect his Captain Blue solo persona, but to throw himself into a new project with a new band – Cairo.
Much remains the same, in that Cottingham was looking for evolution with ‘heavier passages with more ambient electronic soundscapes’ – rather than wholesale change. So key elements of the Touchstone sound remain – the material is all written by Cottingham, Rachel Hill provides female vocals, and John Mitchell continues to steer production. James Hards, Paul Stocker and Graham Brown complete the line up on guitars, bass and drums respectively.
While Touchstone had latterly become somewhat stagnant, Cairo sound fresh and energised. That said I’m not convinced that spoken word prologues aren’t a little passé these days and with Say we effectively get two intros – the ambient flute laden, Eastern influenced ‘Cairo’, followed by the narrated ‘Shadow’s Return’ which, while effective, will almost certainly influence the placing of repeat needle drops.
But skip the ‘starter’, and the main course finds Cottingham and Co. on familiar ground. While never too far removed from the Touchstone format, Say has a much punchier delivery and Rachel Hill provides a very balanced vocal counterpoint – making a hugely valuable contribution, without ever becoming the focal point.
The pairing of ‘The Shadow’s Return’ and ‘Wiped Out’ serve a potent signal of intent – balancing power and poise, with the epic centrepiece ‘Nothing To Prove’ – while for the most part melodic, and with Cottingham and Hill very effectively sharing vocals – having one beast of a riff which is certain to make the number a live favourite.
‘Katrina’ and ‘Searching’ provide a melodic balance, and when Hill steps forward on ‘Random Acts Of Kindness’ – another powerful grower, and ‘Back From Wilderness’ – she proves to be a real ‘find’.
But let’s not forget the rest of the band – there’s a real cohesion about Say that successfully marries elements of the Touchstone sound and the more ambient aspects of Cottingham’s solo work. In that sense Say is very much a case of ‘mission achieved’ and is quite possibly Cottingham’s finest work yet. ****1/2
Review by Pete Whalley
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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