Ian McDonald "Drivers Eyes" (1999)

Ian McDonald, who passed away in February of 2022 at the age of 75, was a progressive rock multi-instrumentalist who was best known as a founding member of King Crimson (playing on, and departing after, their grand 1969 debut album In The Court Of The Crimson King) and of Foreigner (playing on the popular hard rock band’s first three albums before being ousted in 1980, when the band’s lineup was reduced from six men to 4). However, McDonald did record two notable non-band albums a few decades apart. In 1970, he recorded an album with fellow King Crimson refugee Michael Giles (the self-titled McDonald & Giles) which mixed some elements of In The Court Of The Crimson King with more elements of the Beatles’ Abbey Road. And in 1999, McDonald issued his only full-length solo album, Drivers Eyes, which is not commercially available as of this writing.

Drivers Eyes was a pleasing progressive rock effort with a digital-age smoothness that differentiated it from the ‘70’s variety of that genre. McDonald played many instruments on this album, including synthesizers, wind instruments, guitars, and piano. McDonald was primarily supported on this album by bassist Kenny Aaronson, drummer Steve Holley, and string composer Dan Coleman. Several other well-known musicians also took part in the album, especially for lead vocal duties.

The opening instrumental “Overture” features McDonald on flute, synthesizer, and acoustic guitar. It is reminiscent of ‘70’s prog, but it has a smoothness that makes it resemble the work of Kansas more than King Crimson. Two other instrumentals, “Sax Fifth Avenue” (on which McDonald played alto saxophone) and “Hawaii”, have a mellower jazz-fusion nature. McDonald sang the lead vocals on “In Your Hands”, “Saturday Night In Tokyo”, and the lovely “If I Was” (which features Peter Frampton on guitar), but his voice was soft and unimpressive, indicating that he was better off leaving that duty to his guest vocalists. John Waite’s lead vocal on “You Are A Part Of Me”, the ballad that immediately follows “In Your Hands”, seemingly aimed for the same type of effect with more success. Lou Gramm sang the lead vocal on another standout track, “Straight Back To You”, giving a Foreigner-like hard-rock edge to a prog-rock tune on which Steve Hackett played guitar. “Demimonde” reunited McDonald with drummer Michael Giles, and all of its instruments were played by the two of them; it’s a mostly instrumental jazz fusion piece. Two of the album’s best songs are particularly reminiscent of King Crimson: “Forever And Ever” recalls that band’s more serene side, with a lead vocal turn by the late John Wetton, who was a mid-‘70’s Crimson member; and the final track, “Let There Be Light”, recalls the eerie side of Crimson. On this track, McDonald used both clarinet and clavinet to impart a feeling of tension in the air. The song's fitting lead vocal was sung by Gary Brooker of Procol Harum – who also died in February 2022, ten days after McDonald’s passing. Heard in 2022, this track now serves as a stirring requiem for both performers.

Ian McDonald - Drivers Eyes

Ian McDonald “Drivers Eyes” (Renaissance RMED00180) 1999

Track Listing:

1. Overture
2. In Your Hands
3. You Are A Part Of Me
4. Sax Fifth Avenue
5. Forever And Ever
6. Saturday Night In Tokyo
7. Hawaii
8. Straight Back To You
9. If I Was
10. Demimonde
11. Let There Be Light