Sometimes an album can be a little too wholesome for someone, like myself, who has a dark side. John Holden is the king of nourishing, sweet Prog rock, and I admire him for that. His new album Kintsugi is yet another example of his skill and melodic ear, even if it can be a little too pastoral for my tastes at times. The album released on September 30th.
John comes to us from the UK. His skill with guitar, bass, keys, and bass is quite apparent on this record, as on all his releases. This time, he brings various guests, including Dave Bainbridge on guitar, Iain Hornal on vocals, Peter Jones on vocals and sax, Sally Minnear on vocals, Jean Pageau on flute, Henry Rogers on drums, Vikram Shankar on keys, That Joe Payne on vocals, and Frank Van Essen on violin, viola, and drums. That list of musicians is pretty incredible, if you know their scene and circles.
The music here is Prog rock with a capital “P”. Some would call it retro progressive rock, I suppose. John creates exquisite melodies, building layers of sound upon each other, and throwing in the odd ambient, jazzy, or cultural motif to add even more character. His music sounds endearing, tender, and nutritious. It does shed light upon your soul in how meaningful and beautiful everything sounds.
Look, when I listen to John Holden, I’m here for a few things. First, I’m here for John’s excellent instrumentation. He plays with grace and deft skill, especially on guitar, and that is worth every second. Second, I’m here for John’s wonderful storytelling. His lyrics are often based on historical figures or events, or on metaphors using culture abstractions and ideas. For example, this album is named after the ancient Japanese art of repairing cracks in pottery with gold, and John uses this as a metaphor for repairing oneself and their relationships to a place where they are more valuable and more beautiful than before. This idea of surviving hardship to become a more stunning creation resonates well with me.
I’m also here for the vocalists. I’m a big fan of That Joe Payne and his perfect voice. I also really like Peter Jones and some of the other singers John has utilized in the past. John’s albums always feel like a group effort, a testimony of voices to healing and splendor all around us. I love that.
Kintsugi offers things I like and things I don’t. I like the songs “Achilles”, “Flying Train”, most of the title track, and “Building Heaven”. John’s signature cinema is on display in these, especially the opener “Achilles”. Joe Payne emotes with rich detail on this song, and I can’t get enough. “Flying Train” is a luxurious instrumental track with fantastic ideas. The title track features some great vocals from Peter Jones, and I love the guitar solos and the emotional atmosphere. The closer, “Building Heaven”, is an eleven-minute gem with a wondrous aura. I’m especially keen on the ambient textures in the middle as I think they heighten the experience.
I can’t say that I much like songs like “Ringing the Changes” or “Peggy’s Cove”. I have nothing against Sally’s voice, but the songs are very sugary sweet, maybe a little much for me. I can enjoy them for what they are, but I would be lying if I didn’t mention that I’m cringing much of the time. The same goes for “Xenos” and “Against the Tide”, though to a lesser extent. Those two songs have comfortable grooves, the former leaning into folk music and the latter leaning into a jazzy sort of funk. The melodies are tightly written and very healthful.
John’s music will never lose fascination for me. I like how his mind brings stories out of the past and gives them new meaning and heart. I love his skill as a musician and wordsmith, even if some of the tracks aren’t targeted at someone with my tastes. I’ll admit that I’m not connecting with this album quite as much as his past works, and that’s perfectly okay. Still, if you like pastoral and classy Prog rock, you will like this.
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