Album review: LUNA ROSSA – Atropa


Firefly Music [Release date 19.11.18]

Three albums in, and the latest chapter in Panic Room acoustic side project of Jonathan Edwards (keyboards) and Anne-Marie Helder (vocals, acoustic guitar, and flute) finds them at a crossroads.

The main stay of both bands in terms of writing, the term ‘and then there were three’ takes on a fresh significance with Atropa being released in the wake of the surprise announcement that bassist Yatim Halimi and guitarist Dave Foster (both (coincidentally?) members of The Steve Rothery Band)) were leaving Panic Room.

That leaves Edwards and Helder, along with drummer Gavin Griffiths – who features on selected Atropa tracks – as the only remaining, and original, Panic Room members.  So with a number of players passing through the band’s ranks in its 12 year history, the question must be whether the trio will do a ‘Genesis’, recruiting others only for cameo live and recording roles.

But for now, at least, Atropa is ‘business as normal’.  The natural successor to Secrets & Lies (2014), it finds Sarah Dean (Celtic harp/vocals), Andy ‘Wal’ Coughlan (bass/double bass), and Tim Hamill (recording/mixing and electric guitar/dobro) all reprising their Secrets & Lies roles, with Coughlan and Hamill now seemingly a project ‘fixture’ having also played on the band’s 2013 debut.

So it’s no surprise, therefore, to discover that the template established on the first two Luna Rossa outings of relaxed, pastoral musings and meanderings continues here, with 10 new Edwards/Helder compositions, and two covers – Abba’s ‘Winner Takes It All’ (which will likely divide opinion) and Dave Stewart/Barbara Gaskin’s ‘Make Me Promises’.

An album to listen to with the frost lying crisp, and deep, and even, the opener ‘Midnight’ – a softly haunting, almost choral number – glistens and shimmers like the morning dew on a spider’s web – Helder’s spectral vocals floating, over sparse acoustic guitar, piano and harp.

The quite beautiful ‘Deadly Nightshade’ (the title track by its other name) follows – more finely picked acoustic lines, Edwards warm piano chords, and some gently swelling percussion – a number that would translate easily to the full Panic Room sound.

‘Red Moon’ has a more playful, percussive, less ethereal, folk feel, while ‘Winner Takes It All’ is a something of a gamble.  A 1980 hit around the world, it’s impossible to disassociate – even stripped back to its finely sculptured bones – from Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid’s definitive original.

‘Invisible’ gets things back on track with a gentle ‘late night’ groove and some captivating bluesy lead guitar lines courtesy of Hamill.  It’s another set highlight, and ‘Life At Last’ keeps the tempo moving along, this time with Hamill’s dobro providing the counterpoint to Helder’s sublime vocals.

It’s easy, thus far into the album, to overlook Edwards’ contribution.  Never a man to take a footstep into the spotlight if it can be avoided, there’s no hiding his craftsmanship in the sublime ‘Entwined’ – a piano / flute duet in the style of the impromptu ‘Leaving For The Last Time’ from the band’s debut.

The pairing of ‘Special One’ and ‘Family Tree’ have a distinct singer songwriter flavour, while a sensitive cover of ‘Make Me Promises’ comfortably updates and surpasses the original.

The delicate ballad ‘This Is Not …’ has subtle Celtic undertones, and the set closer ‘Halo Falling’ – a hauntingly lament – rounds proceedings off in some style – Helder’s vocals floating gossamer-like over Edward’s mournfully sympathetic piano lines.  It’s an appropriate finale to another exquisitely crafted Luna Rossa set.

 The lingering question is ‘where next’ for our dynamic duo?  ****

Review by Pete Whalley

Luna Rossa play Swansea The Grand Theatre, 23 November

Album review (Secrets & Lies)

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