Nine Skies – 5.20

2021 (Anesthetize Productions)

1: Colourblind (6:03)
2: Wilderness (6:04)
3: Beauty Of Decay (2:15)
4: Golden Drops (4:39)
5: Above The Tide (4:17)
6: Dear Mind (3:26)
7: The Old Man In The Snow (5:38)
8: Godless Land (3:32)
9: Porcelain Hill (4:01)
10: Achristas (4:52)
11: Smiling Stars (6:19)

On a certain day bands have the need to do something different than usual. Sometimes they seek refuge in an acoustic album on which a number of songs are played in a light-hearted version, often in a live setting. The French band Nine Skies has opted for a more daring approach as the album “5.20” released in 2021, consists entirely of acoustic new studio work.

That idea shows courage and that is commendable to say the least. In fact, only the music itself can throw a spanner in the works. Surely you don’t believe that yourself? Knowing Nine Skies, you can expect music where taste and skill are of paramount importance. I am happy to take you for a tour along the tracks.

With Colourblind the album starts beautifully. This song, which has many nuances with its great pastel shades, sets the pleasant tone of the album in an undeniable way. It’s always nice to be put on the right foot from the beginning of an album. Subtle playing on the acoustic guitar and nice parts of saxophone suit us, but it is mainly the new singer Achraf El Asraoui who stands out. His voice fits wonderfully into the music. As if you hear a cello with vocal cords, El Asraoui sound is low and emotional. All this evokes on a warm layer of keys, strings, bass guitar and drums.

In the first minutes of the subsequent Wilderness, the atmosphere is quite cheerful. El Asraoui is joined by singer Aliénor Favier. Their voices fit well together and that is a great benefits to this song. The composition, divided into three pieces, delves into a subdued intermediate piece and then, as a kind of reward, a beautiful solo by Steve Hackett on his electric guitar follows.

Beauty Of Decay, on the other hand, is a beautiful instrumental piece of acoustic guitar music. Alexandre Lamia’s playing here has similarities with the style of Anthony Phillips or Eddie Mulder if you will. Partly due to the Moroccan origin of El Asraoui, the intoxicating Golden Drops goes towards world music, a beautiful song to which Eric Bouillette has added some sinister violinsounds. Above The Tide sounds pretty folky and so all the ingredients that are mixed on this album are called, he said.

Wrong, the music occasionally has an elusive jazz feel and because a small string section is also used sometimes you can  hear classical music at these moments. Wherever they are, the musical interpretations are beautiful. Take, for example, the piano in the instrumental song Dear Mind and the typical Nine Skies song Achristas or take the flute part that guest player John Hackett has added to The Old Man In The Snow. Pure indulgence. Porcelain Hill, sung by Damian Wilson, should be mentioned in that context. With his intense voice he knows how to give a melancholic touch to the song which is his trademark. The closing track, however, is the biggest beauty of the album. Smiling Stars, the title covers it all. Every time I hear “5.20” I get a smile on my face and there are stars sparkling in my eyes.

Laurent Benhamou: saxophone
Eric Bouillette: guitar, mandolin, violin, keyboards
David Darnaud: guitar
Achraf El Asraoui: vocals, guitar
Aliénor Favier: vocals
Fabien Galia: drums, percussion
Bernard Hery: bass, fretless bass
Alexandre Lamia: guitaar, keyboards
Anne-Claire Rallo: keyboards
John Hackett: flute (7)
Steve Hackett: guitar (2)
Lilian Jaumotte: cello
Cath Lubatti: violin
Damian Wilson: vocals (9)

© Dick van der Heijde 2022