With its thin card sleeve, this may appear to be a humble budget update to the Dave Bainbridge canon, but don’t underestimate the enjoyment it contains.

Label: Open Sky
Time: 20 tracks /136 mins (including bonus features)

I had fears that this set would fall squarely between the two stools of live power and studio refinement, not displaying either feature at its best.  It might come across as a pale shadow of Bainbridge’s bands Iona and Celestial Fire.

After seeing the trailer, it also looked a bit too close up, lacking the safe audience distance that lets the viewer feel comfortably invisible.
But actually, it works well on its own terms. The duo seems fully aware of the risks and has structured the set accordingly. Minnear’s warm and clear vocals are spread out across the lengthy collection, with many very fluid instrumental pieces in between. So although it is largely the Dave Bainbridge show – he is the one with the huge repertoire, after all – you don’t get to feel too awkward for her.

Nine of the main sixteen tracks are Iona songs. The slow, atmospheric nature of tracks like “Kells Opening Theme” and “Songs of Ascent” (both very welcome pieces) suit this format, where there is no great dependence on a rhythm section, and “Treasure” gets its drive from the pair’s assertive playing of guitar and bouzouki. Likewise, “Today” has a melody that powers the song in this duo setting.

Where a fuller sound is needed, programmed backing tracks add keys, or occasionally drums and bass. It is here where Minnear’s percussion seems a little awkwardly superfluous.

But this is not just rehashing old tracks to keep the money coming in. Some of the re-workings are quite different, without being weaker. Bainbridge seems to play a lot more piano than in a band format, which allows more spontaneity and freshens up the pieces.

The whole lengthy studio performance is highly absorbing, the only small exception being “The Storm,” a deliberately (hence the name) fierce piece of solo piano.

There are new tracks too.  Strangely, while neither musician is Irish, each of the new works has a Celtic base. In the case of the first –“My Lagan Love” – it was a song in the Lord of the Dance show that Minnear performed in for some while. Others are either traditional or instrumental jigs, where Bainbridge uses looping with his bouzouki.

This is only available as a DVD and the extras comprise four tracks (three Iona tracks plus “Veil of Gossamer”) with lower resolution visuals, played live in front of an audience in Sheffield.

There is also a conversation between the two as background to the disc. It sometimes feels slightly uncomfortable, as the two are not used to ‘staged’ conversations, and you may be distracted by Bainbridge’s soup mug!

So while it doesn’t have the power of the full band or the precision of a full studio release, there is plenty to enjoy – and at two hours of quality music, this is great value for anyone interested in his canon. So much so, that I suspect demand will grow for a CD release, as the music is that good.

Derek Walker