"Incredible musicianship, without sounding fussy. Powerful but still somehow peaceful and very moving."
Patrick Dillett (Mariah Carey, David Byrne, Vaughn Brothers, They Might Be Giants)
There are so many good things about this release that it gets me excited just thinking about where to start. The opening track “The Great Unknown” is an emotional powerhouse that gives many hints about what to expect, as the brooding string effects and rhythmic loops join Eastern sounds to build excitement.
This is one of those largely-one-man-band projects that can sometimes have great strengths in the one man’s specialist area, balanced by real weaknesses elsewhere. Here, the strengths are many and shared around. Jason Williams is the prime mover, playing guitar, bass, keyboards and backing vocals. He has a passion for never being restricted in either style, loving the freedom to express himself in whatever form feels appropriate.
Elic Gurganus (what a great name!) has a distinctive and pleasing voice that adds plenty on tracks with straightforward melodies, like the opener and Celtic-favoured “Secrets in the Valley”. However, it feels like he tends to wander to the edges of pitch at times (“Astoria” and “Ocean Road”), enough to get you worried that he might fall off the edge.
There is a pleasing variety on this collection, with gently shifting changes of mood. Sometimes the changes are more immediate. “Secrets in the Valley” starts as an acoustic ballad, embroidered with fiddle, harmonies, top end percussion and a quiet keyboard wash. The guitar solo builds it up a step before a quick couple of bars that sound like they have been nicked form Sabbath’s “War Pigs” kick the piece into some energetic rocky fiddle.
Elsewhere the variety is between tracks. The piano-based “Drifting” does as the title implies, using a warm, ambience reminiscent of Jeff Johnson. “Into The Eastern Wind” has violin interweaving with guitar and keyboards as closely as two people doing a tango; and “Stand” is as heavy as this collection gets, especially at the end, where a low, growling guitar riff gives Williams something to pour an organ solo over.
Among the treats are Dave Bainbridge’s contributions to the several tracks. The synth solo on “The Great Unknown” is a huge highlight, with its pure, trebly sound and delicate pitch-bends. His piano solo on “Astoria” is about the jazziest I’ve heard him, and he adds swathes of Mellotron and organ more recognizable as him to the guitar work of “The Narrow Path,” which sounds like Anthony Phillips handing over one of his acoustic pieces to Phil Keaggy to finish. Bainbridge is fully his unmistakable self on the guitar solo for “Secrets in the Valley” – as is bandmate Frank van Essen, when he adds lead violin to “Lost for You,” with all the plaintive richness that he brings to Iona.
This overall tone of this classy collection reminds me of David Gilmour’s first solo album, but Celtically-adjusted. It has nearly all the things that prog should have in the twenty-first century, and that includes strong tunes, plenty of textures, instrumental adventures, a great sound, a unique identity, and the ability to strike the heart. It is a fantastic independent release, and I hope Williams would be proud if I said that this is probably the best Iona album without their name on. I love it.
Derek Walker - The Phantom Tollbooth
Best Reviewed Album of the September Issue of iO Pages Magazine.
Astoria is the third album by the American band Soulful Terrain. They release their music through downloads on their website. The Days Of Truth & Hope was their last download from 2003. The first album Pictures In-Between from 1998 is no longer available. Soulful Terrain started as a project of guitarplayer, bassist, keyboarder and composer Jason Williams. The other bandmembers are the great drummer Van Hunsberger and the excellent singer Elic Gurganus. Without doubt, their music can be called surprising. It hosts a lot of elements: it is progressive, alternative, Celtic and jazzy. Besides this, it is played and sung wonderfully. All these elements come together in the very strong opening track The Great Unknown. Here, Dave Bainbridge of Iona plays an excellent solo on a MiniMoog. The melodies are catchy and well constructed. Gurganus has a beautiful, clear and relaxing voice. The alternative progrock of bands like Riverside, Airbag and The Third Ending can be heard in the title track (with nice Mellotronstrings), Shadows On The Sun and Stand. The Narrow Path is purely symphonic. Here, Bainbridge plays organ and Williams shows his skills on electric guitar. That the band is capable of a lot, is proved in Drifting and Lost For You that are quiet piano pieces. In Lost For You Iona-drummer Frank van Essen plays violin and Mike Jones pennywhistle which gives this track a Celtic atmosphere. Into The Eastern Wind is quite folky, slightly Jethro Tull-like. In Ocean Road the band comes to rest in a calm, acoustic, ballad. Secrets In The Valley is again rather symphonic. In this composition, Bainbridge comes with a fine electric guitarsolo. It ends with a masterful piece of folkrock where Van Essen can pick up the violin once again. This band managed to move me a lot with this music. Wonderful stuff!
© 2009 - Paul Rijkens, Dutch progressive rockmagazine iO Pages.
Now that Christian progressive rock has established itself as a bonafide genre, thanks to musical institutions such as Neal Morse, Kerry Livgren, Glass Hammer, and Iona, all sorts of talented artists are emerging from the woodwork. Soulful Terrain, the brainchild of guitarist extraordinaire Jason Williams, has released their latest, Astoria, an eclectic fusion of rock, jazz, and Celtic music. Williams plays guitar, bass and keyboards, and the album also includes Van Hunsberger on drums and Elic Gurganus on vocals, as well as a guest appearances from Dave Bainbridge and Frank Van Essen of Iona .
With a name like Soulful Terrain, it’s hard to get past the Eric Johnson comparisons with Jason Williams. Johnson’s influence is evident, both in the guitar playing and in the vocal delivery by Gurganus. That’s not a bad thing though, as I consider Johnson’s Ah Via Musicom one of the top 10 albums ever. This album doesn’t quite reach that height, but it’s a solid and very listenable effort nonetheless. Astoria is a diverse album, highlighted by fantastic musicianship and well written songs, and a worthy addition to anyone’s record collection. The lyrics are inspiring without being overwhelming, and Jason Williams has done a remarkable job putting it all together.
The Great Unknown opens it up with heavy guitars and an instrumental section that features a flute-sounding keyboard solo by Dave Bainbridge. It’s a dynamic song that sums up a believer’s walk toward God, the ultimate Great Unknown. It sets a strong tone for the record which has a lot of ebbs and flows and tempo changes. Astoria is next. I’m not sure if it’s named after the rainy, decaying Oregon coastal town, but it share’s the town’s moody, overcast emotions. The song features a solid groove, some latin inspired sections, and an absolutely blistering fusion piano solo from Dave Bainbridge. The next song, an instrumental, The Narrow Path takes the listener on a meandering musical journey led by a nylon string guitar, which Williams swaps for his electric further in as the song shifts into a stronger groove that allows Hunsberger to stretch out a bit on the drums. Drifting, an introspective piano driven instrumental interlude, leads to Into the Eastern Wind, which heavily features Frank Van Essen’s violin, with a Celtic feel that bridges the instrumental’s two distinct sections. Van Hunsberger’s drums are especially tasteful, adding to the build up toward the powerful finish. Stand is the most rocking song on the disc, featuring an odd tempo and a classic Hammond B-3 solo from Dave Bainbridge. “Save me where I stand so I can watch the world fade away..” sings Gurganus with his smooth voice. Ocean Road is a pretty but melancholy ballad that I really relate to on a personal level, thus its one of my favorite songs on the disc. Lost for You comes next, a stirring and gorgeous instrumental featuring piano, Van Essen’s violin, and even a bit of pennywhistle. The Celtic-inspired Secrets In the Valley is the big finale, with Frank Van Essen and Dave Bainbridge showcasing their talents. This is a reworked version of a song originally released on CPR Volume 2. Bainbridge offers a vintage blistering electric guitar solo, moving to a rocking jig in the middle section where Williams stretches out his guitar chops, before settling down to a solo violin that leads us out into the breath of God at the end.
Astoria is a beautiful and satisfying record that holds enough of my interest that it will be sure to get many spins on my CD player. That’s the best recommendation I can give.
Dave Taylor - Virtuosity, www.spiritualprog.com
Wow! Seriously, this is really great stuff! What I specifically like about it (besides the great guitar playing) is that it is actual SONGS with melodies and great arrangements. Now this is MUSIC! (and you can quote me on that)
- Neil Zaza - Virtuoso Guitar Player
"The Days Of Truth and Hope is a wonderfully inspired, diverse range of compositions. This albums superb musicianship and evocative arrangements guarantee something for every listener."
- Dan Zank - NYC Producer/Studio Musician
Amazing playing and superb audio quality.
- Keith Mohr I.H. Artist Relations
Reviews from CPR Vol 2. Soulful Terrain's awesome, Celtic-infused "Secrets in the Valley" is a heartwarming praise tune with emotion and passion, and featuring gifted guitar work from Jason Williams.
- IN News Dispatch & The Midwest Beat Review