‘The Blue Hour’ Review: Dutch Progressive Rock Pages
21st October 2012
“Make it easy on yourself”; that’s what Scott Walker of the Walker Brothers sang. Scott Walker has been a big influence on Rhys Marsh of Rhys Marsh And The Autumn Ghost, but perhaps he hasn’t listened well enough though, because if there is one thing that Marsh does not do musically is make it easy on himself. After the release of his debut album The Fragile State Of Inbetween he set himself the target of releasing his second album within a year. And so, after eleven months, Dulcima was released in 2009. But that wasn’t enough because for his third album Marsh sets himself some strict rules about the use of instruments. He was of the opinion that after two albums where everything was allowed, the third one needed a different approach. Well, at least for this one he took his time.
On his third album Rhys Marsh works with an all Norwegian band of musicians, most of whom play a woodwind instrument. So the album is dominated by the sound woodwind and also brass. Oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone and tuba are used in painting the colours of this album. And that all was part of the restrictions set by Marsh. It gives the album a quite unique, very warm, atmosphere. That was not a total surprise as the single he released in 2011, Turning Time (a title that seems very fitting now), already was a good example of what was to come.
The musicians contributing on The Blue Hour are (ex) members from bands like Jaga Jazzist (Martin Horntveth on drums); White Willow (Trude Eidtang on vocals and Lars Fredrik Froislie, who is of course also from Wobbler, on chamberlin); Hayden Powell Band (Hayden Powell on trumpet and Jo Fougner Skansaar on bass) and Magnet (Iver Sandøy on drums) – with Rhys Marsh contributing guitar, mellotron, Hammond, zither, vibraphone and above all his extraordinary voice.
Despite the heavy use of brass his voice really takes centre stage. Sometimes on his own, sometimes together with Trude Eidtang as can be found on beautiful album opener And I Wait. Their voices blend together very well and which can also be heard on one of my personal favourites, the lengthy Broken Light. A very stately song which also shows the arrangement skills of Marsh. A track where the brass really shines whilst the high and somewhat jazzy guitar lines reminded me of Robert Fripp. What a beautiful track.
Another highlight is album closer One More Moment as it contains the same strengths as Broken Light. You might expect that the album would have a dark and gloomy atmosphere, because of all the woodwinds, but that’s certainly not the case. Read The Cards and Wooden Heart are both quite up-tempo, even catchy, tracks. It all results in a very strong collection of songs, with not a weak track in sight. The album sounds warm, organic, live and varied despite the restrictions set.
I must say that I am very impressed with this album. The quality of the songs, the delicate arrangements, the great but restrained musicianship and Rhys Marsh beautiful voice – all contribute to this. Something I touched on with Rhys in my recent interview with him. I am sure that this album will appeal to a lot of people also outside the prog community. Those who like Scott Walker, David Sylvian, Peter Gabriel and Talk Talk. However, readers who listen to bands like Nosound, No Man, and Big Big Train, (especially the brass arrangements on their last two albums), will certainly find that Rhys Marsh And The Autumn Ghost’s album, The Blue Hour, will be a more than worthy addition to their collection.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10