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Home > Reviews > What We're Watching and Listening To > September 2009

 
             
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Dream Theater — Black Clouds and Silver Linings
Artist:
Dream Theater
Album:
Black Clouds and Silver Linings
Genre:
Progressive metal
Bottom
Line:

25 years into it, Dream Theater release one of their finest albums.

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars 3.63

Just when you think Dream Theater may have reached a pinnacle in their 25 year career, they return with a gem like this.  In fact, not only is this release good enough to satiate loyal fans of the band, it could even serve as a great starting point for new converts. That’s high praise when one considers the same cannot be said of many legendary bands releasing new material that often pales in comparison to earlier career-defining releases. 

For those that thought the band lost their way on Systematic Chaos (a sentiment not necessarily shared by your reviewer), here we have seventy-plus minutes of evidence that nothing could be further from the truth.  In fact, this release finds Dream Theater at their progressive best and the most vibrant and energetic they have sounded since 2003’s Train of Thought.

If one word is required to sum up this disc, it would have to be “Epic.”  The disc’s six songs represent over seventy minutes of music, with each track averaging over ten minutes in length (and the longest at almost twenty minutes running time)!  The opening track, “A Nightmare to Remember,” is a microcosm of everything we love about this band, from the obligatory back-and-forth soloing between John Petrucci and Jordan Rudess, to the storytelling and tempo changes. 

“A Rite of Passage” and “Whither” are the albums two most accessible tracks, and while the former manages to cram in some great soloing , the latter almost borders on cheesy, sounding like the band Seether playing an ‘80s power ballad! 

“The Shattered Fortress” represents the final installment of Mike Portnoy’s  Alcoholics Anonymous saga that has been running through the past several albums and draws heavily from earlier pieces musically. 

A personal favorite of this reviewer is “The Best of Times,” a track written in tribute to Mike Portnoy’s late father.  It’s no secret that our boys are big fans of Rush, but this track doesn’t even try to be subtle about it! Aside from a guitar figure straight out of “Spirit of Radio,” the track contains some of John Petrucci’s most emotive playing ever. And the outro solo (chock full of precise bends and sweep arpeggios) is simply awe-inspiring.

There is an old saying about saving the best for last, and that is certainly a true statement in regards to the CD’s ambitious twenty-minute closer, “The Count of Tuscany.”   Easily eclipsing the band’s earlier epics such as “A Change of Seasons” and “Octavarium,” the track tells the type of macabre story that lyricist John Petrucci has grown quite fond of! In fact, when we talk about saving the best for last, we may very well be talking about one of the best Dream Theater songs ever – yes, it’s that good.  Once again, the Rush influence is out in full force, with “Xanadu” inspired volume pedal swells and certain keyboard parts that sound similar to “Subdivisions.”

Production quality wasn’t up to our usual expectations of Dream Theater releases. Compared with some of their other releases, the bass seemed a bit off — either too quiet or just not enough low frequency presence in the mix, and with John Myung’s killer playing, you know that’s a shame.

Rounding out the special edition package are two more CD’s containing six cover songs and instrumental mixes of the new material, respectively.  The  disc of cover tunes is highly entertaining, and many of the tracks sound exceptionally good (such as Rainbow’s classic “Stargazer” and Queen’s “Lily of the Valley”). However, some songs belong on the cutting room floor.  I am thinking in particular of Zebra’s “Take Your Fingers From My Hair.”  It’s a great song, but James Labrie’s typically-pleasing tenor sounds way out of place tackling Randy Jackson’s patented falsetto. The instrumental mixes are a good listen, and it’s interesting to note just how well the new material holds up in pure instrumental form. Plus, it makes the ultimate Dream Theater Karaoke CD!

Black Clouds & Silver Linings is the best album Dream Theater have made in a long time, and as previously mentioned it’s accessible enough to serve as a good starting point for anyone who wants to hear what all the fuss is about.  So whether you’re a long time fan or a lover of Progressive Metal and rock music in general, I highly suggest you check this one out.

— JQ

 
Lucas Fagundes Lucas Fagundes
Artist:
Lucas Fagundes
Album:
Lucas Fagundes
Genre:
Instrumental guitar rock, shred
Bottom
Line:

Outstanding musicianship from waaay south of the border!

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars 3.75

Just when you thought Brazil’s finest exports were coffee and sugar (and of course Brazilian rosewood for guitar fingerboards), along comes the guitar magic of Lucas Fagundes. Look out, world — this is yet another hot export that serious guitarists and instrumental rock music fans should take notice of.

On his debut self-titled release, Lucas hits the shred trifecta, demonstrating superb musicianship, great tone, and solid songwriting. His songwriting follows in the catchy vibe of players like Joe Satriani and Andy Timmons, while his lead work draws upon other influences including Steve Vai and Ritchie Kotzen.

Backed by Giovanni Sena on bass and André Cabelo on drums, the power trio deliver more than the sum of their parts as Lucas lays down layers of rhythm tracks behind soaring lead melodies.

And boy do those melodies sing! “Naquela Noite” dished up a very cool blending of tones and style. It starts out with heavy rectifier crunch but then hits a chorus that makes me imagine Carlos Santana playing in an instrumental metal outfit — fans of liquid, flutey tones will love the lead tone that Lucas uses frequently on this album. “Neo Pop” was another favorite, imparting a Nashville edge courtesy of some acoustic-doubled rhythm tracks and featuring a killer Jeff Berlin-like bass solo from Giovanni not heard since the days of “Pump It.”

Lucas continues to demonstrate his tone expertise on “Viagem,” dishing out vintage boutique flavors and really channeling an Andy Timmons Band vibe. “Phase” is pure Satch goodness, though Lucas stays away from over-the-top effects like Joe’s Whammy or Vai’s harmonizer wizardry. 

With some instrumental releases, your brain gets a little overloaded after a while, but Lucas really keeps things interesting, diverse, and always melodic. There isn’t a bad track to be found in this collection, and if you’re a fan of the guitar players I’ve mentioned, consider this an essential addition to your collection. I’m shocked the release wasn’t put out by Shrapnel or Favored Nations, but if you have trouble locating a physical CD, we noticed that you can find it in the Apple iTunes Music Store. Great job!

— SK
 
Roland Nipp — Little Victories
Artist:
Roland Nipp
Album:
Little Victories
Genre:
Instrumental rock
Bottom
Line:

Instrumental rock with a Southern rock "everyday" vibe.

Musicianship: 3.0
Songwriting: 2.5
Production & Engineering: 2.5
Vibe: 3
Overall Rating: 3 Stars 2.75

The CD titled Little Victories composed and performed by guitarist Roland Nipp is impressive in itself considering it truly is a solo CD. Roland Nipp composed, recorded and produced this CD all on his own and in his spare time. Born and raised in B.C., Canada, Roland was given a hand me down guitar which forever changed his life and launched him into a love, passion and commitment for music. As time evolved, so did his musicianship. Roland began performing in clubs and later teaching guitar at an early age of 18. He also taught himself how to play bass, piano, harmonica and air drums.

The 10-track CD contains instrumental guitar based songs that are inspired by Roland’s everyday life feelings and experiences capturing love, hope, struggle and freedom. Roland tags his CD as electric guitar music for song lovers. One listen through this CD and you are sure to notice plenty of flowing melodies and rhythmic variations that keep you in a suspended atmosphere floating through time.

Track 1, “Just Like Going Home,” sets the stage and harmonic rhythm for the rest of the CD. Reminiscent of a Leonard Skynard vibe, it’s sure to bring back memories of old school rock, melodies and singing passages. In listening through the entire CD, you can here Roland’s influences including David Gilmour, Jeff Beck, and Brian May to name a few.

Proceeding on to Track 2, “Just Ride,” starts out with acoustic guitar overlaid with a melodic line on electric guitar. The selection is very mellow and free flowing going through a verse/chorus section before getting heavier in the second verse with the addition of crunch rhythms and drums. The song structure is very prominent and easy to follow as is with most of Roland’s compositions.

Roland strives to play for the song and entice his listener with flowing melodies and “something familiar.” You won’t hear a CD full of tricks, licks, and screaming passages – the CD is very moderate in tempo and is really more of an instrumental Southern rock record. But for those of you who like to sing along with guitar melodies, Roland provides an excellent compilation of music to relax to and enjoy.

— DD

 
 
   

 

New and Expanded Ratings

Our ratings for CD and DVD reviews just got more detailed! Rather than just provide you with one overall rating, we've added ratings for the four categories that matter to us when evaluating new music:

  • Musicianship — How well the parts are performed (with consideration given for the genre of music), how well the vocals are sung, etc.
  • Songwriting — How well we think the songs are written. Interesting changes? Boring yet familiar song structure?
  • Production & Engineering — How good does the CD/DVD sound? How are the production values?
  • Vibe — A great engineered album with strong musicianship may lack a cool vibe, while a poorly sung home studio recording might have a vibe that makes you want to keep listening.

Each section has equal value, and the overall rating is the average score.

 

             
             
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