There is a clue to part of Don Airey's inspiration behind his new solo album A Light In The Sky which is tucked away right at the very end of the cover notes. He writes, ‘it is said that God himself is a musical note, the sound of which pervades the entire universe’.
My generation’s resident genius, Pete Townshend drove himself to near madness exploring this theme before giving us the memorable, ‘there once was a note pure and easy’. It’s a line of thought that is as deep as the universe itself.
The other clue is more immediately obvious. The artwork for A Light In The Sky is full of images reflecting Don's lifetime interest in astronomy, and the universe, that endless unknown mind bender of a subject. Adding all of this together signifies that Don Airey, legendary keyboard maestro, has delivered an album that journeys out into the cosmic.
He explains, "I have a telescope and I know my way around the sky. I must own nearly sixty books about the creation of the universe, the birth of stars, and planetary systems. So in some ways I'm musing about what we're doing here on Earth,"
Taking time off from his day job with Deep Purple, Don is joined on the album by Thunder trio, singer Danny Bowes, bass player Chris Childs, and drummer 'Harry' James. Also helping out were bass player Laurence Cottle (Alan Parsons, Eric Clapton), long-term friend and guitarist Rob Harris (Jamiroquai), violinist Lidia Baich, and drummer Darrin Mooney (Primal Scream). Carl Sentance (The Geezer Butler Band, Krokus) also adds his excellent vocal skills.
Apparently Don also insisted that each guest was actually in the studio with him for the recording. He says in the promotional handout, "just about everything is a first or second take. All of the Hammond playing and most of the synth and guitar solos were recorded live. I knew I didn't want to make one of those Fileshare albums in which everyone sends their parts by email".
Let's face it, when someone of the caliber of Don Airey calls you really should respond straight away. After all, his skills can be heard not only on Deep Purple, who he joined full time in 2003 replacing Jon Lord, but also with Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Black Sabbath, UFO, Rainbow, Judas Priest, Jethro Tull, Brian May, Gary Moore, and a whole load more.
This is, surprisingly, his first solo album since 1988. That year saw the release of K2: Tales Of Triumph And Tragedy, a superb concept album that sadly has taken over twenty years to follow. Having listened to A Light In The Sky, I can only assume that this is the result of the lack of time caused by working on so many projects and, of course, touring with Deep Purple. Certainly on the strength of this it clearly has nothing to do with any lack of creativity.
The result is a seventeen track album that showcases both his extraordinary, and diverse keyboard skills whilst allowing room for his guests. The album kicks off, appropriately for one based on the universe, with “Big Bang”.
We then go headlong into space rock territory with “Ripples In The Fabric Of Time”. This is a near six minute track that skirts around Hawkwind before travelling off into deepest space like Arthur C. Clarke’s monolith. “Shooting Star”, with Carl Sentance on vocals, takes us deep into Purple territory. It is pure hook laden classic hard rock.
“Space Troll Patrol” and “Andromeda M31” are even further out into the cosmos. Meanwhile, “Endless Night”, again with Carl on vocals, returns to Purple. Don explains his methodology when he says, 'what I had in mind was making something that sounded like a cross between Rainbow, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Jean-Michel Jarre'.
“Rocket To The Moon” features Thunder (and Magnum) drummer, the irrepressible 'Harry' James on, wait for it, vocals. It is a cover of the early 1950s song by Moon Mullican who inspired the likes of Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. Explaining this rather odd decision, Don says, "the look on Harry's face as he gradually realized what I wanted him to do was a picture, but he did a really good job".
It acts as the perfect introduction to the ballad “Love You Too Much” sung this time by the real Thunder singer, Danny Bowes. “Sombrero M104”, leads to the gorgeous classical atmosphere created by the piano and violin of “Into Orbit”.
It was in 2003 when Deep Purple appeared at a concert in Modena, Italy with the late Luciano Pavarotti that Don first noticed violinist Lidia Baich. She is a classically trained concert virtuoso. Don informs us, 'some of her parts were played on an eighteenth century Guarnerius violin worth two million Euros, and the results were stunning'.
It might sound from all of this that the album is somewhat disjointed. However, this is far from true. It actually meshes together effectively which is, in part, due to the addition of some short, yet effective, intro pieces. Most importantly though, it manages to hold your attention throughout.
“A Light In The Sky (Part 2)” again provides the perfect platform for Carl Sentance’s vocals. It also has some superb guitar work by Rob Harris.
The album travels towards it’s end with four highly impressive instrumental pieces. An excellent “Pale Blue Dot” locks you in, whilst “Metallcity” briefly trips in and out. “Big Crunch” hints at some of the themes from earlier, whilst “Lost In The End Of Time” brings it all to an uplifting end.
A Light In The Sky is an extraordinarily absorbing album. It has taken Don Airey a long time to finally find the space, pun intended, to follow on from K2. This time though, instead of climbing a mountain we venture deep into the beyond with equal effectiveness.
It is a grand concept and only someone with this sort of musical pedigree could really carry it off. Yet, carry it off he does, with a little help from his friends.
Catch up with the ever busy Don Airey and get the latest tour information by visiting his official website.