For much of their career British rock band Dare has featured two keyboard players. That tends to be unusual, but not without precedent, with critically revered bands like Spooky Tooth having established that kind of setup back in the late sixties. That one of their original keyboard players went onto become a popular television presenter in the form of Professor Brian Cox, tends to mean the band’s name infrequently gets mentioned on some quiz show or other. That the keyboard player who actually founded the band had joined Thin Lizzy at 17 and would record three albums with them of more relevance.
Said individual, Darren Wharton, still fronts the band, singing as well as tickling assorted ivories, one Marc Roberts being the other keyboard player now, with Nigel Clutterbuck (bass) and Kev Whitehead (drums) the current rhythm section, while original guitarist Vinny Burns returned to play with them a few years back – He too has form, with acts as diverse as Asia, Ultravox, FM, and most particularly Ten, and there I confess is where the confusion lies for me, since I’ve heard the odd track by both Dare and Ten, and tend to confuse them in my mind, though listening to Road To Eden, they actually sound pretty different.
Getting my facts right here hopefully, Dare gained swift critical success with their arrival on the music scene of the late eighties, touring as support to some major acts but ultimately deciding to not feed the more predictable flames of fan furore, notably by developing a Celtic feel to their music, while retaining a hard rock/AOR approach too if this album’s any judge.
Road To Eden is their tenth album, produced by Wharton and released on his own label, Legend Records, through Warner’s distributor ADA. I am presuming that he’s also the main, if not sole, songwriter across the ten tracks featured for there are certainly similar themes among several of the tracks.
From the start, there’s the feeling these songs were written during the covid lockdown, a time of solitude and too much time to think, but coming out of it having deliberated on the things that matter: friends, relatives and those who’ve influenced you, some of who may not be with you now but still have a hold on the things that make you who and what you are; hopefully for the better.
Guitars worm their way skywards then resound ever louder until a hefty “whoa-whoah” calls out and we’re off and running on open number ‘Born In the Storm’. At first, both lyrically and musically it calls to mind primetime Whitesnake but with an added Celtic thread, then as it continues you realise the lyrics are less machismo more spiritual in intent, but that’d puts aside by an invigorating solo from Burns that demands your attention.
Upbeat in sound, melancholy in theme, more resounding in its Celtic rock assurgency as it bops along is ‘Cradle To The Grave’. Bright and bold, 80s rocking in its initial jousting is ‘Fire Never Fades’ albeit with some folk ballad-esque moments suiting Wharton’s dry reeded voice. Now for some, these songs might be a little too like Mike & The Mechanics’ ‘The Living Years’ in their narrative, but that’s necessarily a bad thing.
Pitched somewhere between the previous two numbers, but with a big singalong anthemic feel is title track, ‘Road To Eden’. A song of positivity and about reaching your personal goal. The mainstream ballad ‘Lovers And Friends’ that follows shows that goal doesn’t need to be soul searching or overtly profound.
Piano-led initially, ‘Only the Good Die Young’ draws the listener in, rocking up while looking back nostalgically, not dissimilarly to Bryan Adams’ ‘Summer Of 69’, Don Henley’s ‘Boys of Summer’ yet strangely more so echoing Waysted’s ‘Heroes Die Young’.
Something of a departure, ‘Grace’, while being another piano led ballad initially, building in part though not overtly, its main focus being the convincing narrative portrayed of a brief encounter, romance if you will, on a train.
As change of pace again, Burns’ guitar evokes the sound of haunting bagpipes on the melancholy rocker, ‘I Always Will’. Then, broken chord give way to rockier tones on ‘The Devil Rides Tonight’ – The song implies escape from an abusive relationship, a guitar solo fittingly screaming out as chords drive harder underneath, notes soaring as it returns to the main songs to song and riffing away until end.
On closing number ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ keyboards temper the mood and the guitar plays quieter in the background over this churchly AOR number – If its attempt is to be aspiring rock as kindled by the influence of visionaries like William Blake, its coming from a good place. Wharton sings of youth and how life can chip away at your dreams, while Burns rips out his finest, and longest solo, tangled and twisted ever roaring in defiance as vocal refrains repeat in ascension, the rhythm section beating down hard underneath to reinforce the message as a final guitar solo takes the record to its conclusion.
Road To Eden is likely to be best appreciated, played in full, as summer turns to autumn, where there’s still warmth and happy memories felt as the seasons slowly change colour.