CD Review – Nine Skies – Sweetheart Grips

Nine Skies is a French progressive rock band taking influences from many styles of music: rock, pop, progressive, classical, jazz…whatever the music needs. Sweetheart Grips is the band’s second release and features some personnel changes from the first album. Alienor Favier has joined on vocals whilst singers Alexandre Boussacre and Freddy Scott have moved on. There is also a sizeable number of guests, including Pendragon’s Clive Nolan, drummer Craig Blundell who works with Steve Hackett, Steven Wilson and others, and Mr So and So’s Dave Foster on guitar, amongst others.

The album’s title refers to the practice dating back to the Second World War, when soldiers were known to take precious family photos (and Pinup Girl photos) and put them under clear grips on their 1911 pistols, called ’Sweetheart Grips’. Many of the grips were made from pieces of broken plastic windows from bombers. The album itself sets out to highlight the feelings and reflections of a young soldier suffering from PTSD, recognising the paradox between the extreme violence of the war and the deep-rooted humanity that is in each of us.

The music shifts between seemingly gentle, almost pastoral, and something more dramatic and emphatic. The opening track, an instrumental entitled Vestige, perhaps captures the paradox from the outset with its combination of calm music juxtaposed with the sounds of war and a woman sobbing. There’s plenty of literary inclusions too. Burn My Brain is Byronic, and Alone (Sweetheart Grips Intro) includes a recitation of the poem by Edgar Allan Poe with the same title. There is a good balance between the music and lyrics throughout. Indeed, the closing piece, Tyrant or Nothing, comes as something of a surprise in many ways. You might expect a declamatory vocal blow out but what’s actually more apposite is a reasonable length instrumental that proves you can be just as moving, intelligent and impactful with instruments as you can with voices.

The album is presented as a double CD clocking in at about sixty-seven and a half minutes. It’s difficult to see the reasoning behind that. The music herein would easily fit on a standard CD with room to spare. The album is also available as a download.

Overall then, this is an intelligent, tasteful, skilful, well-played and produced album of vaguely neo-progressive rock that explores territory that not many bands would visit. It approaches a sometimes bleak and harrowing subject matter without becoming maudlin or overly sentimental and infuses it with music that does the solemnity of the subject matter justice. A fine album that bodes well for the future of a comparatively new band.

CD 1 (36:27)

1. Vestige (Instrumental) (1:18)

2. Burn My Brain (7:00)

3. Catharsis (Part II) (6:00)

4. The Thought Trader (7:11)

5. Alone (Sweetheart Grips Intro) (4:45)

6. Sweetheart Grips (10:13)

CD 2 (30:57)

7. Somewhere Inside Mankind (7:15)

8. Fields Of Perdition (3:33)

9. Tyrant Or Nothing (Instrumental) (6:17)

10. Soldiers Of Shame (6:56)

11. Flowers Of Pain (Instrumental) (2:11)

12. Isolation (Instrumental) (4:44)

Total Time 67:24

Alienor Favier / vocals

Alexandre Lamia / guitar, keyboards, mixing

David Darnaud / guitar

Eric Bouillette / guitar

Anne-Claire Rallo / keyboards

Laurent Benhamou / saxophones

Bernard Hery / bass

Fad Galia / drums

With Guests:

Clive Nolan / keyboards

Craig Blundell / drums

Johnny Marter / guitar

Riccardo Romano / vocals

Dave Foster / guitar

Pat Ganger Sanders / keyboards

Record Label: Independent

Release Date: 1st November 2019

Available as a double CD or digital download

The proceeds from the sales of this album go towards the charity Ian’s Chain, to raise awareness of suicide prevention and help those who have lost a loved one to suicide.

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