The Celtic AOR legend that is Dare rides again! Darren Wharton’s majestic band return with studio album number 7, Sacred Ground, their first set of new material in 7 long years.
There’s always a lot riding on a Dare release, as they aren’t the fastest band around when it comes to delivering new albums. And speaking frankly, the two albums preceding this – Arc Of The Dawn and Beneath The Shining Water – while offering a taste of what we all love about this band, still managed to come up a little short when thinking back to the band’s unsurpassable classic debut Out Of The Silence.
That album remains an iconic release and one of the best AOR albums of all time.
So what does Dare 2016 mean for fans? Well, the return of the masterful Vinny Burns on guitar is certainly a stroke of brilliance. And he makes his presence immediately known, with Sacred Ground awash with precision soloing and a stronger guitar footprint than the last few albums.
While the tempo remains circumspect, Vinny’s guitar takes the songs to the next level, delivering the rock edge that fans have wanted. Yes, tempo is far more ‘up’ than recent work and like past Dare albums, it does take several listens to get to know the tunes. The similar pacing makes it a little harder to separate the songs initially, but as always with Dare, it is all about mood.
And no one does mood better than Darren Wharton and Vinny Burns.
And I have to say, I have a huge appreciation for Darren’s vocals. He IS British AOR for me.
In essence, this is a wonderful album that takes a step back from the Celtic influences of recent times and a huge step back towards straight ahead moody AOR, with songs that could quite comfortably fit on Calm Before The Storm and even a few that wouldn’t be out of place on Out Of The Silence.
There are no fillers here – 11 great tracks of keyboard and guitar framed music – but there are a few tracks I’d especially like to single out.
The opening number Home is everything I love about Dare. Strength is a nice mid-tempo AOR track with some sublime playing from Vinny Burns and another killer vocal from Darren.
Days Of Summer is the most rocking thing I have heard from Dare since the band returned in 1998.
The almost ‘happy’ On My Own features a good pace and another shining guitar solo.
All Our Brass Was Gold is a really nice mid-tempo ballad with orchestration lurking in the background.
Like The First Time is another schooling on how to do mood and melody together and the closer Along The Heather is classic Celtic Dare, but in a more uptempo wrapper.
What’s not to like? This is a great comeback for the band and a most refreshing welcome home for Vinny Burns, who adds immeasurable class and power to these songs.
And major props to Darren Wharton for the flawless production and crystal clear mix on Sacred Ground. There are many many layers to this album and such a great production is what makes it fun to discover each one.