Land of the vast horizon ~ Gavin O'Loghlen & Cotters Bequest.
A mixture of Irish music, folk music and progressive rock, this new CD defines a new genre of progressive celtic music.


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- Review by GEOFF FEAKES

In my relatively short time with the DPRP I've reviewed albums from numerous countries including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, UK and the USA. Proof if need be that prog has a global appeal for sure. I have yet however to review a release from down under, which may or may not be an indication of Australia's contribution to the global prog network. That's until now that is when out of the blue two albums arrive together. Although musically quite unalike they do have a binding connection by way of musician, actor, stage director and all-round talented individual Gavin O'Loghlen.
Starting out in music playing the bagpipes at the tender age of 11, he received a degree in Drama at University and moved into music composition and performance for the theatre. This harnessed his multiple keyboard skills and progressive influences that included Genesis, King Crimson, The Moody Blues, Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel. His current band Cotters Bequest is described as a progressive Celtic ensemble and Land Of The Vast Horizon is their third release to date. His solo album The Poet And The Priest on the other hand was written exactly twenty years ago and recorded two years later although never publicly released until now. That would account for the slightly retro sound, which despite the symphonic prog tag is a combination of 80's synth pop and early neo-prog with a hint of Fish style vocals from the same era.
I hope my comments so far haven't put you off because The Poet And The Priest is an excellent release by anyone's standards. In fact I've developed quite a soft spot for O'Loghlen's impassioned work possibly because it sounds quite unique from anything else around at the moment. I would suggest that the melodramatic vocal delivery is more as a result of his theatrical background rather than a direct influence by the former Marillion frontman. In that respect there are also similarities with French proggers Ange and early Genesis with Peter Gabriel upfront. Like Fish his lyrics have a nostalgic feel with references to childhood and the pains of growing up. And there are lots of words; the album is virtually wall to wall vocals. An autobiographical concept, it traces the lives of two boys with O'Loghlen appearing as 'the poet' of the title.
The CD inlay lists an extensive array of instruments all played by O'Loghlen essentially providing background colouring with keyboards generally and synths especially providing the focal point. The introductory Autumn '86 - The Descent is a good case in point. Opening with strident Hammond chords it continues at a stately pace with a gorgeous melody picked out by razor-sharp synth notes, piano, bass and acoustic guitar. Some wonderful choral effects with backing vocalist Margaret Smith standout against a string keys backdrop. The following Railway Nomads is also worthy of special mention. It opens with the same crashing organ chords but this is an altogether more up-tempo affair that feels like two songs in one. A Latin rhythm and passionate vocals grace the first part before a blaze of Wakeman style Minimoog announces one of the most infectious tunes I've heard in a while against a simple waltz like synth rhythm. O'Loghlen's theatrical vocal delivery is at its most expressive here.
Following the highs of the two opening tracks, the bittersweet Lovers is probably my favourite song on the album. The vocals are far more restrained this time round and reminiscent of The Moody Blues and Steve Hackett in his mellower moments. In addition to lyrical electric guitar it features beautiful backing vocals by Margaret Smith and Anne Dormer. From here on the mood of the album intensifies ranging from the slow burning Jesters which builds in power in Mostly Autumn fashion, to the drama of the The Open Road with its driving urgency. The Treadmill Part I and Part Ii are the albums darkest tracks sharing the same edgy melody whilst on The Open Road Revisited O'Loghlen sounds uncannily like a completely different singer. The shorter pieces The Pit, The Poet And The Priest all make good use of rich synth orchestrations.
As 'the poet' reflects upon life's disappointments the aptly titled The Key provides the albums turning point. Starting in melancholic mood with church organ, the song gains in confidence with synth providing a rousing military march. The upbeat tone continues with the stirring Mellotron of the almost psychedelic Like Daedalus Ascending and the optimistic The New Dawn which includes the albums lengthiest instrumental section featuring soaring synth and string effects. The sparkling Walking Shadows and the even better Bird Of Life contain two of the brightest and catchiest melodies you'll likely to hear all year leaving the anthemic Spring '87 - The Dance to provide a triumphant and uplifting conclusion.
On the Cotters Bequest release, as with his solo album, Gavin O'Loghlen is responsible for all compositions, arrangements, production and engineering. Again he is credited with a ridiculously long list of instruments including guitars, bass, keyboards, drums, pipes and whistles but this time he is joined by six gifted musicians with a distinct change in musical style. Land Of The Vast Horizon is described as "A Celtic history of South Australia" with the band combining traditional and contemporary instrumentation to provide a rootsy folk sound with a progressive edge. It tells of the early Australian settlers interwoven with the arrival of O'Loghlen's family from Ireland in 1854 and their settlement in the new continent.
Opening appropriately with waves breaking on a shore Port Adelaide sets the scene with a memorable bodhran and pipes led reel that morphs into a strident song with superb instrumental interplay and dramatic vocals. A bombastic, proggy section with heavy percussion, uilleann pipes and soaring female vocals relaxes for a heavenly ending with angelic voices. An excellent start to an album where it has to be said the quality level never falters. Songs like The Peramangk, Kapunda, The Burra and Sevenhill all feature memorable melodies with stunning choral harmonies from O'Loghlen, Anne Dormer (who also featured on The Poet And The Priest) and female lead Angelee Theodoros. In contrast Baker's Flat is a variation on the opening reel whilst the instrumentals Stephenston and Pichi Richi are graced with infectious tunes and staggering highland pipes and whistles playing from O'Loghlen and the uilleann pipes of Jack Brennan.
Following the rich instrumental interplay of Port Augusta, with accordion by Harry Theodoros and lead guitar from Jim Petkoff, the story reaches a sad moment with the delicate keys led Gulnare. This is beautifully conveyed by a poignant vocal duet supported by the lyrical violin of Stephanie Graebar. A bright synth break adds a contemporary edge to Knockatuna Quorn whilst the symphonic keys of Nantabra Hut are joined by indigenes percussion and the authentic sound of the dijeridu by Robert Shaw. The tranquil Udenyaka concludes the story with chiming acoustic guitar, a hypnotic piano motif and sumptuous Clannad style vocalising by Angelee Theodoros and O'Loghlen.
These releases display two very distinct sides to Gavin O'Loghlen. Even allowing for the seventeen year gap that separates the recordings the range and diversity is impressive. Whilst The Poet And The Priest is undoubtedly a product of its time the marriage of OMD and Ultravox with early Marillion, Twelfth Night and Pendragon works on every level. Musically it abounds with strong hooks whilst the soul searching lyrics have a personal touch that brought to mind the style of Roger Waters. O'Loghlen has also done an excellent remastering job giving it a bright and attention grabbing sound.
Land Of The Vast Horizon sits comfortably between the prog-folk of Iona, Troy Donockley, Gryphon and Mike Oldfield's Ommadawn, and the rootsier style of Capercaillie, Planxty and Fairport Convention. The evocative story telling in an historical context is also reminiscent of Camel's Harbour Of Tears album and Manning's most recent Anser's Tree. If I had to stick my neck out and decide which of these releases I prefer it would be a tough call but in the final analysis it would be Land Of The Vast Horizon by a whisker. Either way these are two excellent albums deserving of anyone's attention. As Gavin O'Loghlen put it himself in his letter to the DPRP, a "celebration of progressive music from down under".
The Poet And The Priest : 8 out of 10
Land Of The Vast Horizon: 8+ out of 10

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Review by Erik Neuteboom

This musical project from Down Under is led by actor, author, composer, director and multi-instrumentalist David O'Loghlen. He has a degree in drama and many years experience in music, music theatre and drama productions. At the age of 11 he started to play bagpipes and soon joined Highland competitions and even extended his musical skills by learning to play guitar, keyboards and flute. He returned to his musical roots with the creation of Cotter's Bequest, a progressive Celtic ensemble that uses Highland, Uilleann, Northumbrian and Scottish small bagpipes amid layers of keyboards, guitars and vocals. The band, that contains six members playing no less than 23 instruments, has released three albums and is working on their fourth.
On this third album entitled Land Of The Vast Horizon we can enjoy 13 very pleasant and melodic progressive folk compositions that are loaded with the sound of a wide range of bagpipes, the high pitched tin-whistles, excellent female vocals (a bit similar to Sally Oldfield) and a tasteful variety: dreamy with sensitive piano and violin and mellow Hammond organ waves in The Peramangk - Time there was..., a delicate blend of bagpipes and accordion with in the end a subtle electric guitar solo in Port Augusta 1869 - The Teamsters, beautiful interplay between the sound of harpsichord, soaring keyboards, bagpipes, violin and wonderful female vocals in Gulnare 1872 - Death Of The Last Born, several languages (German, Latin and English) and omnipresent tin-whistles in Sevenhill 1873 - Johann Pallhüber SJ and the sound of the native Australian instruments the didgeridoo in Nantabra Hut 1895 - The Scottish Shepherds and Udenyaka (Death Rock), blended with bagpipes, accordion, acoustic rhythm guitar and tin-whistles, simply wonderful! If you are up to the very distinctive sound of the bagpipe in a beautiful blend of folk and progressive rock (with hints from Mostly Autumn, Mike Oldfield and Peter Gabriel), this is a CD to discover. Also recommended: Gavin O'Loghlen with his solo album entitled The Poet And The Priest (see website) featuring very warm and melodic symphonic prog with lots of vintage keyboards! My rating: 3.5 stars.

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