Album review: MOON HALO – Chroma

MOON HALO - Chroma

[Release date 13.01.20] available at moonhalomusic.co.uk and bandcamp.com

The tide may have ebbed for the final time on Riversea – a band who produced two quite outstanding albums that somehow failed to get the exposure they deserved – but Moon Halo sees vocalist Marc Atkinson set sail with keyboard maestro Iain Jennings (Mostly Autumn, Breathing Space) for his latest project.

It’s a liaison that has its roots at least a decade ago when Atkinson supplied backing vocals on Lantern For A Smile, a number on Breathing Space’s fabulous Under The Radar (2009), an album which sadly did pretty much just that.

Moon Halo sees both players bringing former playmates to the party – David Clements (Riversea) on bass and Alex Cromarty (Mostly Autumn, Riversea, and Jenning’s 2017 solo album The House) on drums, with Martin Ledger (Heather Findlay Band and Cloud Atlas (another far too short lived band)) contributing guitars.

And that spider’s web of Mostly Autumn related musicians also lends Anne-Marie Helder (Panic Room, Mostly Autumn, and Jenning’s The House) – who alternates on backing vocal duties with Janine Atkinson (Riversea), and Olivia Sparnenn-Josh (Mostly Autumn, Breathing Space, and Riversea) who provides additional vocals on the sumptuous set closer Don’t Let in End Like This.

All told it’s a mouth-watering cast.

The good news is that Atkinson’s sublime vocal tones – which were a key facet of the Riversea sound – and cultured vocal melodies spill over seamlessly to Moon Halo, and, perhaps not unexpectedly, there’s a few exquisite numbers — the extinction rebellion inspired ‘Somebody Save Us’, the bluesy ‘Seventh Heaven’, and ‘Rise Up’ – that would have fitted seamlessly onto a third Riversea release.

But, there’s a some welcome, and surprising, tributaries navigated throughout the generous 60 minutes of Chroma – the marvellous soul / funk (Papa Was A Rolling Stone) groove of ‘Seize The Day’ with its almost ‘new wave’ keys, the relatively ‘straight ahead’, uncomplicated, ‘going Japanese’ rocker ‘Parachute’, on which Atkinson unleashes his inner Eighties big haired rock ‘God’, and the almost Jean Michel Jarre/Kraftwerk, influenced opener ‘The Web’

And there’s something about much of Jenning’s keyboard work that has subtle New Romantic leanings.  It’s an interesting twist.

Of course, it’s not wholly plain sailing.  A few numbers are relatively ‘routine’ – ‘Awoken’ is a bit ‘twee’ in the best Mike & The Mechanics tradition (despite some excellent backing vocals from Helder).  ‘Let Me Out’, ditto.  And ‘The Veil’ flounders a little languidly despite Ledger’s best attempts to throw some gasoline onto glowing embers.

But those moments are more than outweighed by the likes of the outstanding ‘Across The Great Divide’ – a number underpinned by some beautifully delicate piano lines, and ‘What’s Your Name’ -a driving rock/pop/soul number that evokes memories of Paul Carrack/Andrew Roachford at their finest, with some wonderful ‘scratch’ keys and fluid guitar work.

And that’s before you get to the broody, slowly climaxing set closer with Sparnenn-Josh doing her best Clare Torry impersonation which, along with Jennings sympathetic keys, and Ledger’s deft fretwork ends the set on an appropriate high.

But, actually, it’s the diversity of Chroma that is one of the album’s strengths/attractions.  It makes a refreshing change -especially for a group of musicians from this particular gene pool – to throw so many curved balls out there.  And that’s to be applauded.

And while it’s way too early to be talking about 2020′s ‘album of the year’, Chroma sets a pretty high bar.  ****1/2

Review by Pete Whalley




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