XII Alfonso — The Lost Frontier
(Musea FGBG 4183.AR, 1996, CD)
by Henry Schneider, 1996-12-31:
XII Alfonso is a French band whose debut release The Lost Frontier is a concept album about Hadrian’s Wall. Similar to Musea’s other Celtic inspired band Kadwaladyr, XII Alfonso weaves a cinematic tapestry of ambient sounds and contemporary, Celtic, and medieval themes. Mostly instrumental, the music is relaxing and perfectly played at times reminding me of Anthony Phillips. Unfortunately XII Alfonso chose to include three vocal tracks by Caroline Lafue that detract from the music. Her voice does not have the depth necessary to deliver the lyrics and she occasionally slurs words. That minor gripe aside, The Lost Frontier is the perfect companion to snuggle up with in a blanket and a good book. Or you can close your eyes, let your mind drift with the music, and conjure your own “documentary” images of Hadrian’s Wall.
by Peter Thelen, 1997-02-01:
It's unclear from the booklet notes what actually constitutes the band proper, but it seems to be centered around two brothers François and Philippe Claerhout, on keyboard programming and guitars respectively, and keyboardist Stephane Merlin. Two bassists play on different songs, as well as two different drummers, while Caroline LaFue seems to be the de-facto lead vocalist, although she only appears on a few tracks. Laure Oltra contributes lyrics on those tracks which have them, although better than half of the album is instrumental. The music could be characterized as dreamy Celtic symphonic, perhaps a bit like Iona meets Minimum Vital, with heavy atmospherics, and a slight Oldfield-ian feel throughout many of the pieces. LaFue is a powerful singer, and certainly brightens up the music whenever she is utilized. The guest list is pretty impressive too: Mickey Simmonds (ex-Fish / Camel) contributes to several tracks, and guitarist Dan Ar Bras contributes to at least one. In all this is a fairly ambitious and successful debut, one that I'm certain most will enjoy.
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