Image © 1997
(02 April 2000) The debut album from Minneapolis-based Big Sky is entitled
Standing on This Earth (Skysong Productions (USA) SPCD1001, 1997). The
band also have a 10-track digital audio music CD entitled Diamonds and
Other Gems available at
mp3.com website. The latest
CD features eight tracks from their debut album as well as two previously
unreleased tracks entitled "Fire in the Water" and "Thousand Diamonds."
From their website, "Big Sky plays adventuresome, beautiful rock music with
melodies and lyrics that want to live in your head. Shining vocals, otherworldly
ethno-sounds, and rocking grooves combine for a truly unique style." They've
got it just right: the band's tracks are progressive and well arranged, fronted
by stunning lead vocalist Johnna Morrow. She also contributes acoustic guitar,
flute and bells to the band's lush arrangements. Steve Sklar produced their
debut album and plays lead guitar and provides backing vocals, including Khoomei
(Tuvan Throat-Singing; check it out on "Siberia"). Joe Miller plays drums, Mark
Roemer plays fretless bass and Michael Pelz-Sherman plays keyboards.
While Johnna has the style, power and range to sing lead parts entirely solo,
multi-layered vocals are used extensively throughout the album to add texture to
their sound. The album opens with the rousing track, "Into The Sun," where
vocal work is backed by lush instrumentals mixed to great effect—listen to it
through headphones for the full treatment. Guitar riffs and piano compliment
each other nicely. "River in the Pines" is a lovely folk rock tune with
a piano and string melody supporting Johnna's crystalline solo vocal lead.
"Standing on this Earth" is an epic tune, dominated by soaring lead vocals
offset by sensitive backing vocals in the choruses. Here the power and range
of the band's lead vocalist is effectively supported by lush supporting
instrumental arrangements. "Miss Innocence" is a 70s style folk rock tune
with keyboard parts brought into the 90s. With variation as a developing
theme, the band swings with the track "Vivid Dream."
Epic and orchestrally symphonic in its instrumental arrangement, "The
Wind" is a vocally strong track perhaps most illustrative of the power and
dynamic that Big Sky offers their listeners. The flute part within the track
adds a lovely texture and is most notable. The track "Mind" takes another
turn with its sax-based instrumental and jazzy vocal lead. The guitar
and sax riffs during the instrumental bridge are tremendous and
illustrative of Big Sky's flare for big arrangements. The track
"Big Sky" is a lovely and sensitively sung solo ballad. Clearly
featuring Johnna's crystalline lead vocal, the song is backed
primarily by piano although the arrangement is rich with guitar
and keyboards as well. "Long Way Home" continues in a similar vein,
growing to epic progressive proportions with thick instrumental
arrangements joining a stunning and soaring lead vocal.
The feelings of motion evoked in "River in the Pines" return in the
rocking tune "The Innocent One." Laced with rich keyboards, especially
in the chorus, soaring solo vocals are supported by vocal harmonies.
The album closes with the vocally intense calling of "In The Valley,"
perhaps the most illustrative of Johnna's vocal range, power and
Diamonds and Other Gems opens with Big Sky's two previously
unreleased tracks. With obvious recording differences, "Fire in the
Water" is typically Big Sky, moving like "River in the Pines" and
"The Innocent One," with lush progressive instrumental arrangements
and lots of vocaly harmonies. Lots of percussion along with thick
rocking guitar arrangements and a balance of solo and harmony vocals
characterise "Thousand Diamonds." The remaining eight tracks on the
album are for all intents the same as those on the
band's debut album.
We especially enjoyed Big Sky's Standing On This Earth which
is a stunning album in every respect. Excellent songwriting, lush
instrumental arrangements and stunning crystalline vocals work perfectly
in a progressive rock setting. Their digital audio music CD is available
at a bargain price and with two bonus tracks is likely a must for
completists. The production quality of the bonus tracks does not stack
up to their debut album. Certainly worth a long distance—perhaps even
cross-country—journey, their debut album is a must listen!