CD REVIEW – Nine Skies – Return Home (Special Edition)

Nine Skies are a French progressive rock band (from Nice) inspired by many influences: rock, pop, progressive, classical, jazz… and this, their first album “Return Home”, was originally released in 2017 via Anesthetize Productions, revisited in 2018 with alternative versions added.

The album relates, through the eyes of the protagonist, lives of different characters in a contemporary big city. Sometimes metaphorical, sometimes realistic, their different existences mirror the absurdities of the current world and the way we learn to live with our sufferings.

There is an impressive diversity of influences manifest in the band’s music with no real reference points, although I will do my best from time to time. Sufficient to say they are a talented band deserving of limelight, and I have no doubt would be an excellent gig band.

The quiet opening of ‘Return Home’ moves to piano and guitar, a lovely crisp production and plaintive opening that may echo Mystery slightly. This changes to a very tight and creative riff section before a nicely jazzy section, the prominent bass-work rather reminiscent of early Camel, whilst keyboards and guitar interchange lovely melodic lines. The section returns to the styling of the initial section, sweeping guitar and vocals to a satisfying close. A very concise and impressive opener.

‘Season of Greed’ continues the use of double vocals, slightly more acoustic in nature, and again the clever songwriting trick of a break, the second section this time rather Genesis-like in content. Bass continues to be a stand-out presence as indeed the closing guitar solo. Followed by the even shorter atmospheric and acoustic ‘Catharsis’, use of minor key shifts hinting at mystery (small m this time) the band prove that they are able to punch their weight in small packages.

‘The Blind Widower’ (parts 1 & 2)’ splits into two, the first track nearly nine minutes long and displaying lovely piano to start, the opening jazzy tone developing from an almost arrhythmic section that allows sax, flute and bass to riff, before settling on a neat hook. That bass being almost Percy Jones-like (Brand X for the uninitiated) and the overall vibe just how Andy Tillison would like it. Long tracks can give space and time to create mood, and so it is here, the repeated piano motif 5 minutes in settling into the second verse as they first settle into a groove, great acoustic guitar and flute featured, before moving back into the more measured closing section of harmony vocals and climbing chord sequence. And that was only part one. Part 2 reprises after ‘Dust in Town’, an instrumental piece that gives time to reflect on part 1’s tale, some lovely interchanges of musical form and ideas, almost improvisational at times over fluid, jazzy, diverse foundations.

‘Roses Never Hatch’ is an epic, some particularly lovely guitar and keyboard passages and interplay creating a soundscape for the plaintive tale. Never ones to overstay their welcome, the sudden halt into a haunting epilogue is a little early Marillion-esque, climbing once more to a suitably epic fade to close. ‘The Slight Snake’ is more angular in its unsettling chorus and shrieking sax over a nicely constructed jazz-tinged groove, which contrasts nicely with the gentle opening of ‘Dust in Town’. If there’s one thing to expect, it is the unexpected, and this band provide that in their song construction, unusual chord combinations setting up more complex melody lines. This track almost seems elegiac, building almost block by block in atmospheric elegance. ‘Time for them to Go’ takes the band initially back into finger-picked acoustic guitar territory, time taken to scene set before reflective vocals, subtle harmonies and clever layering lead to a delicate piano close to the song. ‘A Way Back’ is written as part two of ‘Return Home’, earlier themes echoed. A spoken refrain of “I’m finding my way back home” lingers before a key changes takes us into sections of chorus and soaring guitar solo, brief but effectively repeated, taking us through to a downbeat close, an impressive close to a very fine piece of work.

Or rather, taking us to the additional tracks, delicate, clever, alternative instrumental versions of ‘Return Home’, ‘Season of Greed’, ‘the Slight Snake’ and ‘A Way Back’ just as worthy of release on the main album.

This is a band that can groove, but also can create a soundscape when the mood takes then. And they do moods well. And often. More maudlin than major-key, this album has a range of style, shape, form and colour that deserves a listen, filled as it is with well-articulated and intelligently-thought out musical scenarios.

Band Members:

Eric Bouillette: Guitars, piano, keyboards, violin, vocals, arrangements

Alexandre Lamia: Guitars, piano, arrangements, recording, mix, mastering

Anne Claire Rallo: Keyboards, lyrics

Aliénor Favier: Vocals

Achraf Elasraoui: Vocals, guitars

David Darnaud: Guitars

Bernard Hery: Bass

Fab Galia: Drums

Laurent Benhamou: Saxophones

and

Penny Mac Morris: Flute on “The Blind Widower Part I & II” (“Return Home”)

Alexandre Boussacre: Vocals

Freddy Scott: Vocals

TRACK LISTING
01. Return Home (6:30)
02. A Season Of Greed (4:16)
03. Catharsis (2:54)
04. The Blind Widower (Part One) (8:56)
05. Roses Never Hatch (6:35)
06. The Slight Snake (3:20)
07. Dust In Town (6:50)
08. The Blind Widower (Part Two) (5:31)
09. Time For Them To Go (5:02)
10. A Way Back (Return Home Part Two) (5:10)

Alternative versions:

Return Home (3.14)
Season Of Greed (3.33)
The Slight Snake (3.33)
A Way Back (Return Home Part Two) (3.40)

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