Don Airey released A Light in the Sky on this day in 2008.
Airey has created a truly staggering body of work in terms of size and quality over the course of his career, but prior to this album had only released a single solo album, K2: Tales of Triumph & Tragedy. As that one drew upon his interest in the mountain, this one drew upon his interest in the sky above.
A Light in the Sky marked the birth of Don Airey’s more consistent solo career. He has released a new solo album every couple of years since, and apparently is working on yet another!
The list of full contributors to the album is rather long and can be found here. One notable name is Austrian violinist Lidia Baich, who has continued her friendship with Airey and plays onstage with Deep Purple when they perform near her. Another notable name is Laurence Cottle, who has routinely worked with Airey and throughout the business, even collaborating on a Whitesnake album. Carl Sentance is also on the album in what I believe is his first major collaboration with Airey; the two still work together routinely to this day.
According to Airey himself, the entire record was only done in nineteen days! Every song managed to come together in only one or two takes, which is incredible given the richness of the music.
The work itself is incredibly varied in terms of style and tone. The stated goal was to make something that sounded like Rainbow, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Jean-Michel Jarre. Some songs are reminiscent of Blade Runner’s soundtrack (a comparison Airey’s website makes, with which I am inclined to agree). Some are far more progressive in tone, featuring Airey’s incredible deftness in uncommon time signatures. Yet others are straight-up funk or have poppier elements. One piece, “Metallicity”, was even inspired by a jam based on a Mahavishu Orchestra piece, “Birds of Fire”! In short, there’s something for everyone.
As I mentioned above, Airey has an interest in astronomy, and the album shows that he has more than passing knowledge of some more obscure extraterrestrial elements! Besides track titles referencing common-knowledge concepts such as the Big Bang, the hypothetical Big Crunch, and the idea of shooting stars, there are pieces dedicated to more obscure but most definitely real objects in the sky.
Some, particularly fans of Star Trek, might be familiar with the Andromeda galaxy, probably the most famous galaxy that isn’t the Milky Way. It’s our nearest neighbor, discounting smaller, satellite galaxies. According to the video Cosmic Collisions that can be found at the American Museum of Natural History, it will someday combine with our own galaxy to create a supermassive galaxy. It’s even visible to the naked eye, if you know where to look and have dark enough skies.
“Cartwheel ESO 350-40” is a more obscure galaxy, much further away from us than our neighbor Andromeda. It’s unique shape is apparently the result of a galactic collision which sent shockwaves of stardust radiating outward. The result was a distinctive ring around the object.
Finally, “Sombrero M104” references the massive Sombrero Galaxy, which is known as the brightest galaxy within ten megaparsecs of the Milky Way. It is famous for its dark dust lane surrounding its luminous center. While it’s not visible to the naked eye, it can be seen through amateur telescopes.
As a last music-related tidbit, the opening riff of “Love You Too Much” seems to have been on Airey’s mind for a long time. It is first recorded showing up in 2001 in his solo spots on the European tour he undertook with Deep Purple, a tour which would bring him into the fold of that storied band. It isn’t the only time that Airey let slip riffs which would come to the fore in the future, but that’s a story for another day.
The overall consensus is that this is a very strong album. If you’re not familiar with it yet, it’s here on YouTube and is well worth a listen. I personally compared it to Don Airey’s other solo albums here.