Listening to the original Time Trilogy and The Owl releases was certainly impressive, but by comparison with this framing, those releases were in sharp monochrome as opposed to the lush technicolour experience they are finally afforded here
Now then, this one needs some contextualising before I get into the actual nitty-gritty of the music contained therein, so do bear with me and all will become clear! Some may know that The Gardening Club is the umbrella name for the project helmed by British ex-pat but longtime Canadian resident Martin Springett, abetted more than ably by several regular collaborators, including the almost unofficial ‘other half’ of the Club, multi-instrumentalist, composer and arranger Norm MacPherson. There has been much admirable music emanating from what they refer to as ‘the potting shed’ in recent years, much of it covered in these virtual pages.
Some time ago, I reviewed a double-header release from the Club, one half being a six-song cycle expanded from an initial three, entitled The Time Trilogy with the other being a longform stand-alone ‘epic’ of sorts called The Owl. The Time Trilogy was released on CD, as a sort of lengthy EP, while The Owl was restricted to a digital-only release at the time. When assessing the material, I commented that, to my mind, the ideal way to have this stuff presented in a way which would do it full justice, and prevent it from falling down the crack marked ‘EPs and digital pieces’ (it exists, honestly. Not in the pavement, maybe, but certainly in the fabric of record-buying reality), would be as two halves of a single album release. Now, exactly that has come to pass, though not simply just putting them back-to-back, as they have been joined by a brand-new connecting piece and capped off by a short concluding song and a bonus track for good measure. And my word, it certainly does make a difference.
Anyone wishing to see my in-depth analysis of the original pieces can do so by heading to the review here on Velvet Thunder. Avoiding unnecessary repetition, I will summarise the material in a somewhat briefer form. The Time Trilogy, here split back up into six separately indexed songs without the overall Trilogy banner (which was rather unwieldy once three became six anyway) opens proceedings in a consistently enjoyable manner. This is particularly true of the first three songs which formed that original trilogy, with the story-telling maritime theme of Forever Leaving Home and Woman In The Waves particularly impressive and effectively done – the former carries a hint of the Grateful Dead’s Lady With A Fan about it to these ears, and conjures a similar mysterious aura of magic and lurking mystery.
Things really change after the last of those six tracks, the instrumental A Dance To The Music Of Time. A notable thing about those pieces was the lack of any involvement from Norm MacPherson (much of the praise must go to Kevin Laliberte on this occasion), and if there was a fault it could be said that the stronger material was slightly front-loaded, and the final two pieces failed to really deliver a climax as a stand-alone release. This has now been perfectly and skilfully rectified with MacPherson contributing a brand new piece Bridge Of Spirits, which gives its title to this new collection. Subtitled ‘Fantasy For Orchestra And Electric Guitar’, it is exactly that, with beautiful and sympathetic guitar lines threading through a shimmering orchestral piece which is quite unlike the music which has preceded it, and yet carries it on in exactly the right way – big ‘climaxes’ were not needed, and would not have worked, at this point.
This piece leads straight into the lengthy, six-part The Owl suite, a collaboration between Springett and MacPherson which is to these ears as essential as anything the Gardening Club has ever put its name to. Equally fascinating lyrically and musically, it is a mature and thoughtful long-form piece displaying great songwriting craft. Appended to it, and closing the main proceedings here, is the succinct yet lyrically apt The Gift, which again references the Bridge Of Spirits concept, and ties up things in a way which was just lacking before. There is a bonus track also, entitled Strange Kingdom, which is a smooth, jazz-inflected piece which amply illustrates the influence of Steely Dan on its composition. It’s nice, and certainly hits the spot in a ‘cool, laid-back’ Steely groove, but should be viewed outside of the main thrust here.
Accompanied by the usual impressive visuals from the artist-as-well-as-musician Springett, this is a classic illustration of how to present material in its strongest possible light. Listening to the original Time Trilogy and The Owl releases was certainly impressive, but by comparison with this framing, those releases were in sharp monochrome as opposed to the lush technicolour experience they are finally afforded here. If you want to explore the work emanating from that Canadian ‘Potting Shed’, then this is where you should start. To my mind, the best and most well-rounded Gardening Club release to date. Do check it out.