By: Russel Elliot
IOEarth is a rapidly emerging progressive British rock band. Central figures Dave Cureton and Adam Gough have been good friends since they met in school at age twelve. Being two of a very small class of just four music students in their year, they worked together a great deal in composing, arranging and performing pieces for their GCSE coursework. They didn’t know that their work would lead to the debut self-titled 2xCD album by IOEarth (IOEarth (UK) 0 094922 187666, 2008). The album has an incredible running time of over an hour and a half. Check out the band’s Website and their MySpace for further information and audio streams.
They wrote their first pieces including, “Time …”, “Split Personality” and the horribly bad angst-ridden ballad “Why Do People Have To Die?” But through the good and the bad songs, their writing partnership strengthened and by the time they were 15, they were composing and performing their own music at small local venues with a band made up of their friends and relatives. During rehersals for these gigs in a dimly lit, damp and freezing cold lock-up on an industrial estate in Birmingham, they created some of their best early works such as “As The Mountains Open” and “The Creation.”
Many band members came and went through the years, each bringing their own styles and influence to Dave and Adam’s work, but the one constant has been Dave’s brother and the greatest living drummer from Kingshurt, Birmingham, Richard Cureton. Very often, he has served as a reality check for the founders as they created melodies and riffs that became ridiculously complex within tunes that had started life a simple guitar ballads, but more often than not he ends up playing along on their strange Zappa-esque tangents with just as much vigour as they do.
The band are clearly centered in progressive rock. Sung parts feature both male and female vocalists, and the album is primarily performed by Steve Balsamo. Female singers Claire Malin and Louise Barbbins add both backing harmonies and sing leads as noted within the review. Christian Nokes (bass), Steve Trigg (trumpet), Jason Reyolds (sax) join Richard Cureton (drums and persussion) round out the lineup. Founders Dave Cureton and Adam Gough that play everything else.
Adam and Dave both enjoy music of all kinds. You’ll find examples of contemporary rock, commercial pop, classical, jazz and everything in between in their CD collections and they have always enjoyed juxtaposing these supposedly completely different styles in their own compositions. Crossing genres creates the basis for their pieces. Examples can be heard on IOEarth in “Smoky Wood,” “Mountains Start To Fall,” “Light & Shade” and many others.
The IOEarth album production began in 2004. The idea came when the main melody of one of their tunes became a theme within a small collection of songs they wrote within a short time of each other. The artists explored the idea of creating an entire album based upon this theme and soon had the first set of songs written. They took these ideas to the recording studio where they met Miguel Seco, a very talented musical engineer and producer from Portugal. Within a few weeks, the five tracks had been recorded and they started work on the next set of songs.
The entire concept of IOEarth unfolded before them. The project became divided into three movements. Water, Earth and Air, with each movement having its own theme, while retaining the overall feel of the project. The first movement is the story of people living a care-free existence but longing to see more of the unknown world. The second movement is the story of entrapment; of people held in situations they would do anything to be free from. The third movement is the story of liberation; of the joy gained from freeing yourself of your burdens and of the sacrifices you must make to achieve this.
The first movement (Water) opens with a stunning introduction where new age-style piano and keyboard wash give way to a Louise Barbbins’ stunning vocal passage. “Storyteller” is a glorious progressive instrumental with keyboard and guitar dueling through the tempo changes as the melody is established. The first of the movement’s standouts is “EEEE” with a male soprano part sung by Dave Curton–what a range! Reminscent of some of the best Cirque du Soleil themes, the upbeat instrumental tempo is offset by wordless vocalise. After an experimental interlude and the other a jazzy instrumental coupled with stunning female vocal parts entitled “Smoky Wood,” complete with trumpet solo complete, Steve Balsamo delivers the extended track “Come With Me.” Its memorable melody returns in further movements. The movement culminates with a lush cinematic instrumental, that marks its conclusion.
The second movement (Earth) clearly picks up where its predecessor left off, continuing to build in orchestral splendor. Following the instrumental intro, a choir joins the mix. In a vocal part most reminscent of Mostly Autumn’s Heather Findlay, Claire Malin delivers the evocative “Mountains Start To Fall,” except in the climax where Claire’s sonic power is completely overwhelming. The jazzy number “Loops” and lush “Symphony #1” follow. While they are both instrumentally outstanding. The former is while stark, just wonderfully arranged. A heavier sound emerges in “Light & Shade” with electric guitar dominating the mix of the arrangement with a glorious solo.
After a reprise of the album’s intro, the movement’s standout “Home” appears. This stunning progressive masterpiece sung by Claire Malin is perfectly produced, voice soaring atop the rich multi-dimensional and extremely dynamic arrangement. “The Creation” provides a bridge between the second and the third movements, recounting via powerful and really well-played progressive guitar solos the themes that have been played before it. We especially enjoyed the texture and delivery tribal chants in the breaks. These tracks will be a remarkable to see and hear performed in a live venue.
The third movement (Air) brings the themes from the first two movements into play again. It opens with the stunning “Sun Is Going Down,” a crisp and rhythmic piece sung powerfully again by Dave Cureton, entirely reminscent of “EEEE” yet combining the tribal sounds of “The Creation.” A interlude featuring Steve Balsamo’s Mongolian throat singing provides the bridge to “Harmonix.” This part was Steve’s first commercial recording. With the electric guitar solo recounting “Light & Shade” and vocals styled from “EEEE” the range of Dave’s voice provides a wonderful contrast that works perfectly. The spendorous and very percussive final three minutes of the song is a tremendous tribute to Richard Cureton. Claire’s rocking conclusion is wonderful.
Steve Balsamo returns in the heartfelt “Take Me,” a gentle, yet richly arranged, memorable and contrasting ballad about a death experience is powerfully delivered. It is certain to appeal to male and female vocalist enthusiasts equally. Multi-layered choruses, Balsamo’s voice soaring above the harmonies, add an extra special dimension to the standout piece.
We especially enjoyed the overall album’s standout track “Come With Me (Reprise)” sung by Claire Malin. Perhaps prepared originally as an edit, the acoustic guitar-based arrangement has the appeal of Steve Balsamo’s wonderful original from the first movement, but the excitement of Claire’s evocative solo voice serves to complete the track. An orchestral outro that draws the themes of the album together into a cohesive whole as the perfect bookend concludes the album.
IOEarth have delivered a remarkable first project, clearly charting a course in progressive rock territory. Their forthcoming live performances will expand their following dramatically.
By: Russel Elliot