With a title like “Lava and Honey”, an intriguing mix is promised. There is a suggestion of quirkiness. On offer is a band quoting Yes and Genesis as influences, and amongst its members a female singer Ellie Blythe who is a trained classical and opera singer with a desire to change direction. This singer is an ace card in the pack of gentle progressive songs with which we are dealt. We are invited to compare Ms Blyth to Sandy Denny of the late 60s folk rock band Fairport Convention. This is some challenge as the late Ms Denny had the silkiest and most expressive voice imaginable, bringing life to such songs as “Milk and Honey”. I think we might be getting the angle of this band here. This is more Cambridge Folk Festival than Wacken.
Sure enough we head into a folksy dream world with a steady rock beat and a 70s style synth. But I’ll tell you what, I was soon hooked into the misty world which the singer and her fellow musicians present. “Sons of the Sleeping Giant” is a very nice song and it’s very reassuring. Floaty hippiness resounds. The instrumental work is both unashamedly retro and full of movement. We’re transported into a gentle emotion-packed ending. The singer lives up to her billing. Her voice is unusual and versatile. On we go to “You’re Wrong”. It’s like floating along a river. Pleasant harmonies, carefully crafted instrumental work blending drums, guitar, synthesiser and Ms Blyth’s beautiful, calming voice make “You’re Wrong” very special. A steady melody is mixed with delicate touches. I’d say the modern equivalent of Ms’Blyth’s voice would be Anneke van Giersbergen, the former vocalist of The Gathering. In a change of tack, “Mistimed” then has a strong similarity to Kate Bush in terms of vocals and musical style. “Burn My Eyes” is then so far out that it left me behind. Ms Blythe adopts a high-pitch tone which isn’t so easy on the ear this time. The track darkens momentarily before returning to the strange tones. It’s too eccentric for its own good. A sinister piano section follows a Doobie Brothers guitar line before this mysterious track comes to an end.
Never deviating too far from rock, the songs are individual. “Sky’s End” takes us into funky spaceville with its guitar style and old-fashioned synth work and the almost jazz-inspired vocal line. It then gallops on busily. “Sometimes I feel like my life is a mess” goes a line on “Songbird”. Ms Blyth sounds as if she is singing a folk song for a few friends. Again this is a nice song, conjuring up visions of long colourful dresses round a camp fire. The production is good and although on the face it’s all very simple, but in reality there are many ingredients. An undoubted strength is the harmony of mood between the musicianship and the vocals. “Pleasant and calming” would be an apt description. Steady melodies and carefree vocals abound. This album would appeal to anyone with an inclination for compelling, soft rhythms, smooth vocals and well-constructed songs. As I listened to “Night Stalker” as “wow, this is nice”. Instrumentally, it has a Steely Dan type ambiance, but it’s essentially a pop song and could have been sung by Karen Carpenter. “Aching”, which closes the album, is more reflective and vaguely mystical. Again a soft pop song, it has that dreamy and gentle side which characterise much of this album. The song builds up to make something out of the calm and pacifying instrumentals which are such a feature of this album.
I can’t say that I would normally listen to this sort of melodic rock but I do recognise that “Honey and Lava” has good technical qualities and succeeds in creating a calming atmosphere which is likely to appeal to old prog rock fans, folk music lovers and people who just like nice songs.
7 / 10 Andrew Doherty