“Silence broken by the clearest note”…. As the music begins, I find myself drawn in once again by a true creative masterpiece which, like most good things, is only getting better with time. It has taken me dozens of careful listenings to get to the point where I can hope to adequately review Dave Bainbridge’s new release, “Celestial Fire”, so rich and complex is the album and the experience.
A co-founder and member of the critically acclaimed band IONA since the late 1980’s, Dave released his remarkable first solo project, “Veil of Gossamer”, ten years ago. It quickly found its way into my cd player, and can still frequently be found there to this day. To say that I carried high hopes and expectations for his new album would be quite the understatement, and I must confess to feeling an occasional twinge of worry that, as is so frequently the case in the music world, the follow-up effort would either be not quite as strong, or would be just more or less a rehash of the first. If ever I have worried needlessly, this was it.
“Celestial Fire” is an absolutely magnificent and purely unique work of art in the most wonderful way. It is a testament not only to Dave Bainbridge’s unparalleled talent, but to his artistic ethic as well. While the music industry at large continues to pump out half-baked projects in matters of weeks to months, Dave clearly put many years into thoughtfully writing and crafting this release until it was “cooked to a perfect, golden brown” if you will.
Each of the ten tracks on “Celestial Fire” are quite wonderful on their own, but I submit that to truly appreciate the full experience, they must be taken as a whole and enjoyed together. You wouldn’t just look at one corner of a Rembrandt. This is music that demands and deserves one’s full attention, and I would highly recommend carving out the time to listen to it all the way through - preferably in a quiet room without distraction, and possibly with a glass of high-quality wine in hand.
The journey begins with “Heavenfield”, a rousing and ethereal instrumental which, for me, brings to mind images of the unfathomable vastness of creation. It builds, releases, and then explodes into the glorious title track, “Celestial Fire”, an epic 15 minute work which sings of the grandeur of creation, the liberating hope of what is yet to be, and the ever encompassing presence of the great I AM. “See What I See” is a progressive rock triumph that will have you up dancing with delight (put down your glass of wine first), and awakens the senses to the glory which lies in a realm that believes, and the path which leads to its light. “The First Autumn” is a hauntingly beautiful song which acknowledges the march toward winter we face in this mortal coil, but then whispers of the hope of the dawning of spring that is to come.
The fifth track, “For Such a Time as This”, showcases Dave’s many instrumental talents including some absolutely brilliant piano, keys and guitars. It transitions seamlessly between many stylistic variations, weaving a tale of purpose and the meaningfulness of being alive. “Innocence Found” is a wonderful twist on the Christmas story, told from a tradition widely held in the oriental church, and is just absolutely gorgeous both musically and lyrically.
In the next two tracks, Dave then again reveals his one-of-a-kind knack for creating sensational, multi-faceted, epic “albums-within-an-album”. The Apostle Paul’s timeless words on the qualities of real love are the subject of “Love Remains”, which clocks in at just over 13 minutes and is a joy to listen to from start to finish. Then comes the 14-plus minute “In the Moment”, which is as versatile a piece of work as you will ever hear. It is still a mystery to me how Dave can take so many styles and blend them so perfectly together, and in just the right ways and at just the right times. It is quite remarkable, and it just works so well. One warning about this track: You are going to be sorely tempted to rewind and re-listen to the organ solo about 50 times before going on. Fight the urge, and finish the album because it is so worth it. And then you can go back and revel in the solo as much as you like.
As the journey nears its end, “Heavenfield” is reprised with new instrumentation, and in my mind’s eye I can see flames beginning to break through rifts in the fabric of space. The veil of gossamer is pulled back briefly, splendor shining through. The final track, “On the Edge of Glory”, closes out the album perfectly, with the featured Celtic instrumentation and vocals building into a grand finale and then echoing out into the vastness – into the celestial fire.
Everything about this project is just spot-on. The depth and significance of the lyrics cannot be overstated. The musical composition is truly a work of genius and will be appreciated by fans with widely varying musical tastes. Dave Bainbridge carries the project with his absolutely expert skill on multiple instruments, and also draws upon the talents of several other world-class instrumentalists and vocalists (including Damian Wilson, who has the most insane vocal range and control I think I have ever heard). And as a fun note, Dave’s wife, Debbie and their daughter, Evie provide some great backing and choir vocals. (Debbie is actually quite an accomplished musician and writer herself, and Evie is a great young singer and actress. Music just seems to flow through their family). The artwork is incredible and adds the perfect final touch; I would highly recommend actually buying the cd rather than just buying the download.
In summary, Dave Bainbridge’s “Celestial Fire” represents years of meticulous and passionate work, and is without question the best album that I have heard in the past decade. Actually it just may be the best I have heard, period. Every time I listen to it I discover new layers, new messages, new gems. It has been an uplifting and inspiring force in my life, and its message of hope has been a source of healing for me. I feel that it is, to date, the crowning achievement of Dave’s storied career, and a project which he should be very, very proud of indeed. Five stars? No doubt about it.
So pour a glass of wine. Pull up a comfortable chair. Dim the lights. Then put “Celestial Fire” on your stereo and prepare to experience a wonderful journey. I’ll be doing the same, because I can’t wait to see where it will take me next.
Reviewed by Keith Baker on March 15th, 2015