Anthony Phillips and Andrew Skeet – Seventh Heaven (2012) – an album review

Seventh Heaven cover

Last year, I reviewed Field Day, the acoustic double album by Anthony Phillips, released in 2005. It’s been a long time since we had some new Anthony Phillips, and this year sees us with not one but two releases; Seventh Heaven and City of Dreams. This review will be for the former. When (if) I get my hands on a copy of the latter, I’ll review that as well.
I’m going to dispense with my usual meandering and get straight to the review, if you don’t mind.

THE REVIEW
CD One
1. Credo In Cantus is a lovely piece which features an operatic vocal performance in Latin by singer Lucy Crowe. It sounds wonderful, and blessedly short, as I’m a barbarian who doesn’t much like opera.

2. A Richer Earth is a lush, orchestrated instrumental motif that sounds like something from the pastoral settings of the Shire in Lord of the Rings. Gorgeous melody. Suspect this is Andrew Skeet’s handiwork, as the melody doesn’t sound very much like an Ant progression. Nevertheless (and whether I’m right or wrong), it’s lovely.

3. Under The Infinite Sky is a mini epic, with mood and scope, a truly gorgeous effort that almost ends too early. It demonstrates handily the wonderful balance of orchestral instruments and Anthony Phillips’ traditional 12-string guitar part.

4. Grand Central is a lovely piece of string ensemble and piano that sounds like it would make a great movie theme.

5. Kissing Gate is soft, delicate, and pretty, a classical guitar piece with orchestral accompaniment (strings, horns)

6. Pasquinade is a pretty piece of strings and chimes, a curious waltzing tone, feeling like a cotillion for a delicate, fantastical creature.

7. Rain on Sag Harbour opens moodily, an acoustic 12-string guitar riding on waves of chopping strings, building to a pleasant denouement.

8. Ice Maiden is a pretty, slightly sad piano melody, short and quite lively.

9. River of Life is a truly Antian piece, opening on a guitar melody before being joined by the strings, which swoop and sail high overhead while Ant burbles underneath. An elegant and stirring piece. One of my favourites so far.

10. Desert Passage opens with guitar and the faint scratching of strings in wait. The acoustic guitar slowly builds a mood, and then begins to build a dark melodic figure for the song to grow on. Eventually the guitar settles down into a groove as it is joined by drums and percussion and a sonorous saxaphone part sounding vaguely like a Moorish wind instrument. Strings come in for the fade, as the song seems to not so much end as pass on.

11. Seven Ancient Wonders is an orchestral, dimly lit piece of music with a wordless, wailing vocal performance by singer Belinda Sykes.

12. Desert Passage (Reprise) does what it says on the tin. Very cool vibe, by the way.

13. Circle of Light is an evocative classical guitar duet, like two old friends spending time indoors on a rainy day when there’s work to do but no way to do it. Tension, but a delicious sort of tension. A very Antian composition, with modal changes and themes. Very nice piece.

14. Forgotten Angels opens with xylophone, winds and strings, and then introduces a choral passage. Very pretty. Very cinematic.

15. Courtesan is an elegantly arranged orchestral piece with classical guitar interwoven. It has the feel of a dance, though I’m not up on my ballroom dancing, so I can’t tell you which step it is.

16. Ghosts of New York has a slightly tired jazz ensemble feel, all winds, piano, bass, like a late, late night with Duke Ellington, featuring Benny Goodman on clarinet. It SOUNDS like New York City after hours.

17. Shipwreck of St Paul is a deep orchestral piece, strings pushing against brass and tympani, and then they make way for a piano melody, which is picked up by the strings and brass, before the piano steps aside and lets the orchestra push for a while. The piano figure returns, and the vibraphone takes us into…

18. Cortege which is a more solemn piece, low strings and brass rolling around like a storm slowly receding to make way for the dawn, with the orchestra swelling and then fading.

CD Two
1. Credo In Cantus (instrumental) is the same piece from the opening of the first disc, sans vocals, and of course, I enjoy it more. I am, as previously mentioned, an utter barbarian. Hopeless. But the piece is gorgeous. It has a pastoral passage that feels like an Ant passage, but not too much so.

2. Sojourn, on the other hand, opens with Ant on 12-string, and then is soon joined by some rather cheerfully optimistic strings, and though Ant kind of disappears in the mix a bit, it’s still his melody that governs, so it feels like Ant is winning, even though sonically it’s a very strange blend.

3. Speak of Remarkable Things is a piano figure with strings that moves at a stately procession and then passes by. I like it, but ti’s too short to say much more than that.

4. Nocturne is, of course, a piece by Ant from his previous album, a classical guitar piece with tasteful strings added. I don’t believe the strings add anything essential here, but they don’t take away from the piece either, and they don’t drown out Ant, so it’s a good match. A lovely piece.

5. Long Road Home opens on piano with winds and strings lightly swelling. The piano eventually gets swallowed by a great while whale of an orchestral theme, and then it turns into a Disney ballad theme, minus the teen vocals, but it’s a pretty piece, nonetheless. It reminds me of an Arif Mardin arrangement of a Phil Collins song. ‘Why Can’t It Wait Til Morning’, comes to mind.
6. The Golden Leaves of Fall sounds more like Ant in piano mode, with the lightest of strings and winds playing in the background. Haunting, lovely.

7. Credo is a piano and guitar piece with strings, a joyous if somewhat reticent piece, definitely contains some of that Anthony Phillips flavour to it.

8. Under The Infinite Sky returns to us in guitar ensemble form, hewing much closer to a traditional Ant-style arrangement. Still a lovely piece, and now much more recognizably an Anthony Phillips piece.

9. The Stuff of Dreams is a gentle, orchestral number that opens with flute and oboe, before strings and tympani change it to a different, moodier piece. Strings come in to sweeten the feel, but these are then joined by brass, and the mood turns altogether more sinister. The mood fades, as does the dream, I suppose.

10. OLD SARUM SUITE is an epic suite made up of a handful of themes, which are quite symphonic and moody in nature. Being an Ant album, it had to have at least one suite, but it will be difficult for me to tell you where the sections change, as I haven’t heard it enough times to tell. If I’ve got this right, it goes like this:

Sarabande: Song of The Shires I: opens with violin and possibly viola or cello, and is soon joined by flute and then clarinet. The middle section also features double bass Very pretty.

The Feast of the Ice Saints: is the next section, which features flute and oboe.

Storm Chaser: The Path To War features recorder, oboe, and possibly cor anglaise (sp?), along with some percussion (bodhran?) and then heavy orchestration.

The Fleet Assembles: Raising The Standard is very flutey, but moves mainly on percussion and orchestration, a reel in thin disguise.

Sarabande: Song of the Shires II: is a slow, sweeping, grand theme of strings and brass, and ending on violin and cello.

A very broad, epic-feeling number, probably at the heart of Ant’s collaboration with Andrew. Gorgeous piece.

11. For Eloise features guitars and builds a mood from their moody interplay, a somewhat Celtic melody, but with (what soudsn to my ears like) Spanish modality.

12. Winter Song is an achingly pretty piece with a female voice introducing clarinet and then violin. It has a slightly gypsy feel to it in the latter stages, but then the haunting vocal returns to play alongside the violin, and it makes you feel as if your heart might just have to stop working for a little while.

13. Ghosts of New York return to us on piano. Still very effecting, even in stripped down form. This is what I grew up thinking of New York City as. It sounds like it belongs in one for those great black and white or early colour movies with the New York City skyline as the permanent backdrop.

14. Daniel’s Theme is a sombre etude on classical guitar with mellow string accompaniment. It’s gorgeous and understated. It does swell to a crescendo near the end, but as with all such things, fades sweetly.

15. Study In Scarlet opens on what I’m pretty sure is oboe, which is joined by strings in a very Victorian English vein. Short and sweet.

16. The Lives of Others is a pretty piano etude, which gains some heft when a cello solos over the back of it. Then an orchestral theme wanders in briefly, halting, reticent, and then piano returns and slowly fades.

17. Forever Always is an almost bluesy piano ballad, single notes ringing out slowly one after another as the melody builds itself. Then it is joined by low brass and high strings faintly heard crying mournfully in the background. The title sounds optimistic, but this piece sounds like love lost, plain and simple. The lover who refuses to let go, even though it’s long past over. It’s the sound of a heart breaking.

SUMMARY
I’ll be the first to admit, I haven’t listened to this album enough to give it a more in-depth review than I have here, with my cursory commentary and first (or second) impressions. Not what I consider the sort of review this album deserves. But the fact is, this is an album set that deserves repeated listening, just to get the nuances and the instruments and arrangements committed to memory. Sweeping, haunting melodies, beautiful orchestrations, and probably some of the best production values ever to grace an Anthony Phillips record. Just an amazing album, and not at all the sort of album you listen to once and put away… unless you just don’t get it.

I suppose that’s possible.

I don’t see why, but hey, it can happen.

If you’re one of those who has never loved an Anthony Phillips record before, you’ll probably love this album even less, unless you happen to be a fan of orchestral movie soundtracks, in which case you’ll at least enjoy Andrew Skeet’s work. But if you’re like me, and love Ant’s work, especially when he feels free to really follow his muse, then you’ll probably have played this album several times more than I have. And if not, why not?

It’s a great time to be a Genesis fan, folks. With albums from all of the major players in the last couple of years, including Tony Banks (whose review I’ll be writing shortly), there’s more on offer than when the band was still a recording entity in the 90s. And this, perhaps the least expected, is one of the highlights.

© 2013 Lee Edward McIlmoyle

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