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Rock violinist David Cross, famed for his ephemeral stint as part of the widely considered classic lineup of King Crimson, formed a more autonomous and eponymous musical entity in the mid-80s, releasing a debut album, 'Memos from Purgatory', at the tail-end of said decade. Over the years, a string of 'David Cross' albums intermittently followed, along with a couple of Electric Chamber Music works; albums with Radius and Robert Fripp; plus a number of other collaborations. Now he's back with a new studio album, 'Sign of the Crow', under the moniker 'David Cross Band', and it's a corker!

With this release touted in press blurb as "progressive rock", it would be fallacious to digest 'Sign of the Crow' with any genre expectations. I've said this many times previously but it's worth reiterating here - to have a "genre" of "progressive" is, quite simply, a paradox. However, there's a school of prog and seemingly shared, objective mindset, where so many acts succumb to a series of tried-and-tested idioms, motifs and general paradigms, that so-called prog has, all too often, become regressive, stagnant and predictable. In other words, all the qualities that have to be considered antithetical of what a musically progressive band should be. But there's a listening audience that will have you believe "prog" is a genre. And that might be true for all the stylistically stagnant mimicry of certain bands. Then there are acts like David Cross Band who have a right to claim genuine progression in their output, simply by doing what they do; not by trying to be progressive. And this bunch of uber talented musicians, with 'Sign of the Crow', have succeeded in crafting a work with so much sonic profundity; in terms of emotional depth, collectively consummate musicianship, and some adept songwriting.

Onetime King Crimson lyricist and Cross' former comrade, Richard Palmer-James, has penned the lyrics for this album, of which Cross himself comments: "There are strong binary images within the album: darkness/light, right/wrong, heaven/hell, fire/water and recurring themes: shadow, sunset, travelling, strangers, kindness." I have to say, this is all wonderfully reflected in the music (or, reciprocally, the music's style and mood shifts are captured perfectly in lyrical themes). Thus, we have passages characterised by both optimism and melancholy; ambiguity and clarity; euphony and cacophony; mellow and heavy... all channelled through, at times, breathtaking, effortless, and naturally flowing virtuosity. And, with the music sounding structured in places, but jam-like in others, there are a lot of natural charms to proceedings. For example, songs sometimes build up into heavy crescendos with thunderous drumming with a balanced and controlled euphonic, yet also cacophonic, explosions of instrumental widdle. Or the expansive and euphonic, instrumental soundscape of 'Water on the Flame', where instruments shine in the most subtly conceived of ways, creating an immersively emotive whole.

The musicianship bar has been set very high here, though without ever succumbing to mindless technical playing. This is more akin to something like the Mahavishnu Orchestra's naturally progressive proclivities (although without their more jazz/rock fusion, avant-garde streak). There's more structure here, albeit a very free-flowing, multi-layered one, with what sounds like controlled busrts of improv-led madness. Paul Clark and Mick Paul's fretboard work, on guitar and bass respectively, is simply mindblowing at times. Craig Blundell's drumming, be it providing a subtle rhythmic backbone or eruptions of frenzied stick work, is astonishing. Vocalist Jinian Wilde's calming, smooth-toned singing blends perfectly throughout. And Cross gives his violin a fine workout with a whole gamut of nicely blended sounds, including, at times, some fairly haunting sonics, like on 'Raintwist'.

There's much to recommend here... even down to the cover art, which is fantastic in itself, and surreally atmospheric. With enough to satisfy and excite both genre loving progsters and fans of genuinely progressive music, 'Sign of the Crow' is an unmitigated masterwork that's been conceived and performed by some masterful musicians, and with a wonderfully warm, analogue sounding production.
Noisy Records
Review by Mark Holmes
5th August 2016
1) Starfall
2) Sign of the Crow
3) Crowd Surfing
4) The Pool
5) Raintwist
6) Spiderboy
7) Mumbo Jumbo
8) Water on the Flame
9) Rain Rain
"With enough to satisfy and excite both genre loving progsters and fans of genuinely progressive music, 'Sign of the Crow' is an unmitigated masterwork..."