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Versa — A Voyage / A Destination
(Bandcamp no#, 2022, DL)

by Jon Davis, Published 2023-05-13

A Voyage / A Destination Cover art

The Canadian band Versa was conceived from the start as a “rock band with strings” rather than a rock band that has added strings. In this way they are similar to fellow British Columbians Opus Arise, though musically they come from different places. Where Opus Arise comes out of a background in metal, Versa is more related to classic progressive rock. A Voyage / A Destination is their third album (the self-titled debut from 2007 was labeled a “mini-album,” but whatever), and it presents a mature and sophisticated sound that brings together intricate arrangements, skillful musicianship, and a sense of drama that results in a superb whole. The album consists of four tracks, two of which are concise songs, while the other two are lengthy multi-part suites. They start out with “Pool of the Naiads,” a fifteen minute journey through various moods and themes. A gentle introductory section features piano, flute, and vocals, leading into acoustic guitar, bass, and subdued drums, then a big Hammond organ makes an entrance to lead a stellar instrumental section with electric guitar, and when the vocals come back in, they’re backed by cello and violin in a very tasty arrangement. The next section breaks out with some Gentle Giant style vocal polyphony involving several extra singers. Other sections follow, including some very nice trumpet work and a whole lot of beautiful harmonies and countermelodies. The core band consists of Matthew Dolmage (flute, guitar, vocals, some bass and piano), Jesse Bell (drums), Hollas Longton (violin, vocals), Benjamin Rancourt (guitars), Anthony Theocharis (bass), and Janelle Wrona (piano); there are a large number of guests on backing vocals, brass, and cello; and there are also “special guests” like Nick D’Virgilio (drums, tuned percussion), Lars Fredrik Frøislie (the previously mentioned Hammond organ), Eric Gillette of Neil Morse’s band (vocals), Marjana Semkina of Iamthemorning (vocals), and Jim Grey of Arcane and Caligula’s Horse (vocals). Dolmage is the primary composer, getting help from various of the others on some tracks. The two instrumental tracks, “Sea of Vapours” and “Lantern Season,” are excellent tunes on the less intense side, though not lacking in energy. To finish off, we get “Voyage,” an epic just shy of 27 minutes which starts out with D’Virgilio’s marimbas backing the vocal duet of Semkina and Grey. Many other sections follow, ranging from serene to frantic, with both band and guests contributing to the impact. It’s a very impressive piece, and caps off an album that is without weak points. If I’d heard it in 2022, it surely would have made my list of the best releases of the year.

Filed under: New releases, 2022 releases

Related artist(s): Nick D'Virgilio (NDV), Versa, Lars Fredrik Frøislie

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