Sometimes, I receive albums that I’m not quite sure how to approach. What I mean is that sometimes an album is daunting in theme, music, or collaborators, and so the album usually needs a bit of time to gel and grow in my brain. The new solo album from John Holden is one such album. “Capture Light” releases on the 23rd of March, and it is truly a wondrous experience.
John Holden hails from the UK and has put together an immense list of players on this album. The list includes Billy Sherwood on guitar and bass, Oliver Day on guitar, Oliver Wakeman on keys, Emily Dolan Davies on drums, Pete Jones on sax and flute, and Gary O’Toole on drums. Vocalists include Joe Payne, Pete Jones, Max Read, Marc Atkinson, Jean Pageau, Julie Gater, and Lee-Anne Beecher. That’s quite a line up, and the results are fanatastic. John himself handles guitars, bass, keyboards, and programming.
The musical style is a bit difficult to nail down. While the album definitely falls within the realm of progressive rock, it is also quite cinematic or even theatrical at times. Much of it is led more by keys and an eclectic array of instruments than by guitar, and portions of the album are dominated more by atmosphere and texture than guitar licks and straightforward melodies. With the multiple singers and also with the various stories that are being told (more on that later), the album can come across as a spiritual rock opera with some world music elements, only far more delicate and subtle than that term suggests.
An important part of this album is the lyrical content of each track. Each and every song has its own story to tell, and the music follows the lyrics perfectly. The stories are mostly historical in nature, from the greedy conquistadors to Venetian artists (capturing light) to James Cleveland Owens showing up Hitler at the 1936 Olympics. Other tracks have more abstract themes, such as a return to nature or the origins behind the Native American dreamcatcher. It really is a fascinating set of themes, and they all seem to connect to this search for truth, wisdom, and earnest humanity. In some ways, this album feels very much like a Steve Hackett album due to all the themes and world music vibes.
So, because of the purity of the music and the depth of the lyrical themes, this album feels like an exquisite, classy, life-giving tapestry of beauty and light. It doesn’t try to impress you with technical playing or cool grooves: The album presents to us unadulterated, heart-achingly beautiful melodies and atmospheres. It is both very simple and also quite complex and layered.
The vocal melodies on this album are unbelievable at points. Some of them are quite theatrical, while others feel distinctly like soft rock melodies from the 70s. I’m not sure why I feel that way. Joe is one of the best vocalists in any genre today, and so his performance is stunning. Marc Atkinson is one of my personal favorite singers, and his smooth tone adds a richness on so many tracks. All of the singers sound fantastic, though.
It is tempting to go through each track individually since there are separate themes. For the sake of brevity, let me discuss a few of my favorites. “Tears from the Sun” starts the album with a nostalgic, nautical song of spiritual ambition and courage that turns into greed and sadness. I love the gentle synth interlaced with Joe’s perfect vocals. “Capture Light” feels ambitious and wondrous in tone as it relays the tale of competing Venetian painters in the Renaissance. “Ancient of Days” is devoted to the pursuit of wisdom in this uncertain world, and so it mostly uses group vocals and groove to express this.
My favorites come in the second half of the album. “One Race” always gets me on an emotional level as the story of Owens winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics (and, thus, standing up to Hitler) plays out in grand fashion. The song is actually quite restrained but so effective. “Dreamcatching” is one of the most fascinating tracks I’ve heard in some time. It feels very Native American, as you can imagine, but the addition of soulful sax is a contrast that works so well, but you don’t hear very often. I think my absolute favorite is “No Man’s Land”. It celebrates nature in contrast to the busy city, and so it feels jazzy but also organic and a bit psychedelic, too. Julie’s vocals remind me of Karen Carpenter (a very good thing), and the whole track just feels put together perfectly.
John Holden has begun his career at a high point with “Capture Light”. The album is immense on a spiritual and effective level, and the music takes you on this delicate and emotional journey of light and shade with purpose and subtlety. I’m seriously impressed: This album is worth every bit of your time and money.
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