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Big Sky Standing On This Earth CD Cover
Image © 1997 Skysong Productions 
 

(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 their 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 crystalline quality.

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!

 
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