Image © Homeland Records 2006
Kirsta Johnston (lead vocals)
Image © Homeland Records 2006
(12 March 2006) We first became aware of Kara when they supported Magenta at the Classic Rock society early in 2005. The performance then was full of promise, with some excellent guitar from Colin Mold and an eye-catching contribution from singer and multi-instrumentalist Kirsta Johnston.
Though the band is based in the South East of England, Kirsta is a Scot, which gives the band a Celtic feel that will certainly appeal to fans of Iona, Clannad, Karnataka and Mostly Autumn. Atmospheric keyboards, recorder and flute compliment Kirsta's clear, folky vocals and Steve Barfoots sturdy percussion. However, the most impressive aspect of the bands’ sound is the superb, fluid guitar playing of Colin Mold, which certainly reminded us of the virtuosity of Dave Bainbridge of Iona and Paul Davies of Karnataka on this, the bands self-titled debut effort (The Kara Album, Homeland Records (UK) HR01, 2005).
Keyboards and acoustic guitar introduce the album opener, "Sanctuary." Kirsta performs her lead vocal slightly off the main beat, which can be an acquired taste, but here enhances an uplifting, melodic song with a beautiful closing guitar break from Colin. The riff-led "Things Happen" is up next, with a pleasant lead vocal from Colin bolstered by Kirsta's harmony, a pleasing song with an excellent, progressive end section. The perennial folk standard "She Moves Through The Fair" is, thankfully, rendered almost unrecognisable thanks to the rhythmic, dance-like tone, lovely keyboard voicings, and a main melody line taken initially by acoustic guitar, then recorder. As an instrumental it is a delight, and an album highpoint.
Piano introduces the lovely ballad "Time," with female and male voices combining beautifully, before a charming recorder melody closes the song. "Eye of the Great God" is mainly instrumental, led by gloriously melodic lead guitar in a style that fans of Iona and particularly Camel will find familiar. The piece pauses momentarily for a vocal section, before returning to the main melody to its close. Fabulously written by Colin Mould, this piece in particular will appeal to fans of melodic, guitar led progressive rock.
"Homeland" is a simple, hymn-like ballad written by Kirsta, and featuring her own recorder playing, while "The Gathering" is another dramatic, guitar-led instrumental, with a strong main melody and some excellent percussion from Steve. A gong introduces "Kingdoms 1," which has a strong feel of the East about it, with its exotic percussion and its powerful guitar, and leads into "Kingdoms 2" which combines many of the bands strongest points, some fluid, melodic lead guitar combined with some excellent acoustic lines, and a lovely lead vocal from Kirsta. The lively acoustic guitar-led end section, leading into another recorder solo is particularly impressive. These elements all combine to form a suitably powerful and melodic end to an invigorating 40 minutes.
The album has some minor faults--these are mainly sonic and performance imperfections brought about by the budgetary constraints and short recording time. Some may feel that the band could "rock out" a little more, something they threaten to do regularly. This may come with the help of future live performances, However, the band are such a promising find, and the album so well structured and
composed, that it is possible to
forgive them almost anything. An excellent and hugely encouraging debut.--Stephen Lambe in Cheltenham, England and Russ Elliot in New York