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    What We're Listening To, Watching, & Reading

   
             
   
Dream Theater — The Astonishing
Genre:

Progressive Rock, Prog Metal, Orchestral

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 4.0
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars4.0

Dream Theater — The AstonishingThe Astonishing is just that, and it left us awestruck before we had finished the nearly 90 minutes worth of two-disc, concept album, progressive rock music that is easily the band’s crowning achievement. A work of extraordinary detail, superb songwriting, and exemplary musicianship, The Astonishing is more than just a “return to form” for fans of the band’s early material.

It’s easy to say what this record is not—it is not prog metal (like the band's most recent records), and classic “metal heads” will find the record complex, but uninteresting. This is ambitious, melodic, progressive rock more akin to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, albeit with Dream Theater’s extraordinary performance. And in that regard, it has its heavy moments to be sure. We love that Petrucci, Rudess, Myung, Mangini, and LaBrie channel the sound of classic releases like Images & Words, Awake, and Falling Into Infinity and the vibe of conceptual pieces like Scenes From a Memory and Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence far more than any of their other recent work.

However, this is not simply a “classic” Dream Theater record. It’s a cinematic masterpiece. There is a very strong emphasis on melodic songwriting, with Petrucci playing more acoustic guitar rhythm work than we’ve ever heard before, and there’s at least as much orchestra on display here as we experienced during the band’s 20th anniversary concert and live release, Score. For this record, the band enlisted the help of distinguished arranger David Campbell (over 450 gold and platinum albums to his credit, seriously), who arranged the music to be performed by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra.

Jordan’s piano work is extraordinary as usual, and the layers of real orchestra and choir, coupled with the acoustic guitar moments, give this record fantastic depth and space.

In between the conceptual pieces that build and support the remarkable story… um… I mean astonishing, of course… there are fantastic songs, including our favorite, “A Life Left Behind,” which begins by channeling Drama-era Yes before moving into classic Dream Theater territory.

The production work and mix is fantastic here, and John Myung’s bass cuts through beautifully. Vocalist James LaBrie delivers great performances, channeling different vocal personalities as the songs and characters dictate.

To talk in further detail would be moot with this record. It’s full of extraordinary performances, and it’s a serious body of work best enjoyed as a long-play classic. Turn off your shuffle mode, settle into your comfy listening spot, and spend the evening experiencing this record. And then repeat again the next day. And again. With thirty-three tracks, it will take many repeat listens to internalize The Astonishing. And kids—stop making fun of band geeks. You’re going to need them if you have any hopes of playing even a fraction of this record.

— SK

 
Coldplay — A Head Full of Dreams
Genre:

Pop, Rock

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 3.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.38

Coldplay — A Head Full of Dreams If you thought 2014’s Ghost Stories was a bit sleepy, you’ll be delighted to know that A Head Full of Dreams takes a 180 degree turn from that release. A Head Full of Dreams is much more up-tempo and up-beat in general. We love the pop direction that the band has taken here, incorporating big synths, electronic drum beats, and funky rhythm guitar work.

The band is the same, though there were numerous guest collaborators and producers involved. We love tracks like the dreamy title track, with its Nile Rogers-like guitar rhythms over a classic U2, Joshua Tree vibe, and “Adventures Of A Lifetime,” with it’s groove that makes you want to stay up all night to get… you know. Tracks like “Army of One” deliver the classic, somber vocal delivery that Chris Martin is noted for, and it’s cool to note that Brian Eno makes a cameo appearance of sorts as a member of the expansive choir that is put to great use on the record.

A Head Full of Dreams is refreshing in that it shows how a long established band can successfully expand its style and sound without alienating the existing fan base. We think this record will help them pick up a few new fans, too. Nice work!

— SK

 
The Mute Gods — Do Nothing ‘Till You Hear From Me
Genre:

Prog Rock

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 3.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.38

The Mute Gods — Do Nothing ‘Till You Hear From MeWhile 4 ½ gives you an EP-length dose of Steven Wilson while we await his next full-length record, The Mute Gods gives you some of Wilson’s bandmates going off on a tangent. This release is the brainchild of bassist and chapman stick player extraordinaire, Nick Beggs, and it also features Wilson bandmate/drummer Marco Minnemann and Roger King, keyboardist from Steve Hackett’s band (in which Beggs was the bassist). This band’s first album explores many different prog rock territories and lyrical themes while developing a unique sound and atmosphere.

The project began as a medium through which Beggs could let his own musical voice shine through (literally—he sings), and while the album can definitely be compared to those by some of his contemporaries, it has its own distinctive vibe and sound. The album maintains an overall dark tone throughout, and each song progressively builds and evolves, carefully layering new voices as the tracks unfold.

As always, Marco Minnemann’s drumming is inventive and outstanding. Beggs’ vocals have a distinct flavor that works extremely well with the group’s style, and his lyrics are also thought provoking and creative with a message for his listeners. The ‘70s pop vibe is alive and well on this album.

Highlights from the album include “Nightschool for Idiots,” “Your Dark Ideas,” and “In the Crosshairs.” While the album maintains a somewhat somber tone throughout, many of the songs are quite catchy, and there is no shortage of interesting instrumental work. Fans of ‘70s pop and prog rock will enjoy the musicality of this release.

— JH

 
Jordan Rudess — The Unforgotten Path
Genre:

Acoustic classical piano

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

Jordan Rudess — The Unforgotten PathJordan Rudess makes it into our review lineup twice this season because just before recording the new Dream Theater record, he recorded a new album of strictly acoustic, classical piano. His previous solo piano title, Notes on a Dream, featured mesmerizing classical piano reinterpretations of classic Dream Theater songs. On The Unforgotten Path, Jordan revisits songs that inspired him as a musician, and he delivers a spellbinding interpretation of those songs.

Whether you are a fan of his virtuosic performance talent or are simply a fan of classical piano, this is a worthy addition to your music collection that you are sure to love. Jordan’s selections span many decades and genres, ranging from “Imagine” to “Scarborough Fair” to “Karma Police,” but of course these are not simple cover tunes. These are classical piano pieces, and they sound divine. Rudess commands the piano with a mastery that few ever achieve, and his personal Steinway grand, on which the album was recorded, sounds fantastic. We really can’t say more about this record. It’s simply beautiful.

— SK

 

Pagan’s Mind — Full Circle: Live at Center Stage DVD Review

Genre:

Prog Metal

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.6

Pagan’s Mind — Full Circle: Live at Center Stage DVD ReviewIn a day and age where cellphone quality concert videos are the norm, it’s always refreshing to sit down and watch a professional filmed concert that really strives to encapsulate and immerse the viewers. Pagan’s Mind’s latest release—an over two-hour concert DVD of their September 2014 show at ProgPower USA—does just that. It’s an incredible live concert experience that delivers in all aspects.

In 2003 Pagan’s Mind first performed at the ProgPower USA festival in Atlanta, GA to critical acclaim; this film is a return to that same festival 11 years later.

All members of the band deliver excellent performances, and the audio mix only compliments their playing. We can’t get over how great this release sounds. Each package sold contains two CD’s and even without the visual element, Full Circle: Live at Center Stage delivers on all fronts.

Fans of Pagan’s Mind will appreciate the attention to detail in both the visual and audio departments as it conveys an great representation of the band’s overwhelming power and finesse onstage. For fans of progressive and power metal, Pagan’s Mind is a band that must be on your radar, and this DVD is a perfect entry point. This is without a doubt the next best thing to being at the show, and you don’t even have to leave your house.

—JH

 

 
Casualties of Cool Casualties of Cool
Genre:

Folk, Acoustic Rock

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.5

Casualties of Cool — Casualties of CoolDevin Townsend’s latest release, Casualties of Cool, accompanied by fellow Canadian singer/songwriter Che Aimee Dorval and drummer Morgan Agren, takes a 180 degree turn from last year’s astounding Devin Townsend Project release, Z2, which was a progressive rock masterpiece.

Here we find traditional folk music containing a melting pot of classic Western sounds, ambient textures, and lots of reverb. Casualties of Cool is one of those Devin Townsend records that remind you the guy can write anything and make it enjoyable.

Che Aimee Dorval’s beautiful voice compliments a lot of the ambient textures and melodic passages found on this album—she’s a perfect fit. Dorval also is responsible for writing a lot of the material on Casualties of Cool.

Each song has a lavish amount of layers featuring various stringed instruments and sounds, but it’s a highly acoustic and organic sounding affair overall.

Like most Devin Townsend albums, there is a concept behind this work, which I will leave up to you to decipher. But as such, this is definitely an album that should be listened to from start to finish to get a full understanding of the story.

If you have a chance to pick up the deluxe version of this album, you will not be sorry. It features sixteen additional songs!

—SJK

 
Jane Getter Premonition — On
Genre:

Fusion, Prog Rock

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.63

Jane Getter Premonition — OnNew York based, fusion/blues/prog guitar guru Jane Getter has released yet another amazing piece of music, On, which features some heavy artillery.  The lineup features many remarkable players: Adam Holzman, Bryan Beller, and Chad Wackerman, as well as Alex Skolnick, Corey Glover and Theo Travis. If you like any of these players this is a must listen album for you.

On delivers a mixed pallet of material, from extreme prog rock moments to jazz fusion riffage and all the way to beautiful melodic vocal passages—this is no ordinary concoction. One thing that really stood out about this album is how solid and tasteful all of the solos are. Whether it is Getter or one of her distinguished guests playing, your ears may deceive you. And even within dense song structures, Getter knows how to leave room for all the players to stretch out and take a few bars, which makes this something special to listen to.  When you get a stacked band like this you are guaranteed a great listen.

The recording and production are both well done. There are lots of textures and sounds throughout the album that will easily give your speakers a run for their money. We really loved the great drum tones, which is to be expected when Chad Wackerman is part of the team. But for all of the guitar nerds out there, Getter’s boutique tone (courtesy of Fuchs) is not one to let slip by.

Look for an interview with Getter next month at MusicPlayers.com.

—SJK

 
 


 

Rush — R40 Live Blu-Ray/DVD

Genre:

Progressive Rock

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 4.0
Vibe: 3.0
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.5

Rush — R40 Live Blu-Ray/DVDThe Rush R40 tour was a clever spectacle to behold. Over the course of the two hour plus show, the stage set devolves from the most recent stage setups to their ‘80s stage setups until eventually ending the concert in what appears to be a high school gymnasium with an amp on a chair. Not only did the set change, but so did the gear on stage. For example, Alex Lifeson’s rig changed from Hughes & Kettner amps with steam punk cabinet decor to a wall of Marshalls to a combo amp (although the whole time, you’re hearing a mix of H&K, Mesa/Boogie, and Mojo Tone/Lerxst).

The set list was a refreshing break from recent tours, with an assortment of songs that haven’t been played in years (and “Losing It,” which has never been played on tour). There were only a handful of “classic” hits, and we appreciate that the set lists evolve so that our ever expanding library of Rush concerts doesn’t feel too redundant.

The high definition camera work was outstanding, the set list pretty good, and the musical performance spectacular. So it pains me deeply to say that I support the belief that Rush may not do any grand tours again in the future, because for the first time ever, I was extremely let down by Geddy Lee’s vocal work. It was painful to listen to—in an upsetting way, really. Lee was slurring his words in many of the songs in such a way that for me to adequately describe it, I’d be treading into highly insensitive territory, and I don’t want to disrespect one of my favorite artists of all time. I don’t know that I can watch this concert again, though, and instead will refer back to the other great Rush concert DVDs and Blu-rays in my collection. It’s hard to let go, but our heroes have aged. Let them retire from the big stage with dignity… and maybe give us some new studio work now and again.

—SK

 
Steven Wilson — 4 1/2
Genre:

Metal, Hard Rock

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 4.0
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars4.0

Steven Wilson — 4 1/2If 2015’s Hand Cannot Erase just wasn’t enough to scratch your Steven Wilson itch, the unstoppable prog rock king has chosen to defend his title with yet another astounding release. 4 1/2, the aptly named midpoint between Wilson’s fourth and fifth full-length albums, not only matches the quality of 2015’s Hand Cannot Erase, but in many ways raises the bar.

The record features members of Wilson’s current band including Guthrie Govan, Adam Holzman, Nick Beggs, and Marco Minnemann (among others). Four tracks on the album were written during the sessions for Hand Cannot Erase, another is a B-Side from The Raven that Refused to Sing, and the final track, “Don’t Hate Me” is a classic Porcupine Tree song redone with current bandmates and guest vocalist, Ninet Tayeb.

If there’s one element that this release has that makes it so interesting and unique, it’s the fluidity. We love how the particularly uplifting “Happiness III” slowly fades out to make way for the pensive and foreboding, “Sunday Rain Sets In,” which transitions into the slow-building “Vermillioncore,” and then finally erupts into an infectious guitar jam. Despite the overall variety of the tracks, Wilson is able to switch moods and atmospheres so naturally that a drastic change never jars the listener nor disrupts the flow of the record. This is a release that truly envelops the listener and will result in a lost sense of time (be warned).

Whereas many of the tracks from Hand Cannot Erase followed a more contemporary writing style, 4 1/2 has a distinctly retro feel to it. The instrumentation, arrangements, and production style at times give the record the feel of a period piece (as in, the ‘70s). As always, the performances and production on the record are impeccable, but what else would you expect? Our rating system may only go up to four stars, but this record exceeded our expectations enough that we can suggest that 4 1/2 deserves just that. It really makes our lives easier when artists rate their albums for us.

— JH

 
Howard Massey — The Great British Recording Studios
Howard Massey — The Great British Recording Studios
Subject:
Audio Engineering
Bottom
Line:

A wonderful resource that shares all you ever wanted to know about the studios, people, and gear where so many legendary records were made.

Overall Rating: 3 Stars

If you think the only thing more boring than reading about recording technology is reading about the history of recording technology, then this book is not for you. But whether you’re a student of audio engineering, an accomplished engineer, or just a music fanatic who needs to know everything about how your favorite records were made, The Great British Recording Studios
will take the interested reader on a fantastic journey through time as it revisits the British studios of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

Music journalist Howard Massey already published an outstanding book detailing the recording of classic Beatles music: Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles, co-authored by Geoff Emerick. So it seems fitting that he has expanded upon the concept and created this fantastic documentary that covers the British recording scene as a whole.

The book visits all of the legendary studios from the best known to the obscure, and shares details ranging from architecture and room design to the equipment installed to the staff who recorded and produced records in those facilities.

There are tons of anecdotal stories from artists and engineers, and tons of photos showing what life was like in those hallowed halls back in the day.

Whether your tastes run from the Rolling Stones to Pink Floyd to the Sex Pistols, if you enjoy a historical perspective on the recording industry, covering the people, places and things, you’ll have a hard time putting this book down.

— SK

 

Simple Minds — Once Upon a Time (Deluxe Reissue)

Genre:

New Wave, Pop

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.63

Simple Minds — Once Upon a Time (Deluxe Reissue)We were thrilled to discover this deluxe re-issue, as it’s one of the best records from one of Scottland’s greatest musical exports of all time. This is the album that catapulted the band to major stardom at the height of New Wave, with hits including “Alive and Kicking,” “Sanctify Yourself,” and “All The Things She Said.” Thoughtfully, it also includes “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” which originally appeared on the soundtrack to the classic film, The Breakfast Club, and was recorded at the same point in time as Once Upon a Time.

The band at this time included vocalist Jim Kerr, guitarist Charlie Burchill, drummer Mel Gaynor, keyboardist Mike MacNeil, bassist Derek Forbes, and vocalist Robin Clark.

There are plenty of gems to enjoy here—extended dance mixes and instrumental mixes to name a few, but the first disc in the set, the actual album, has been beautifully re-mastered. If you want to check out some exceptional keyboard driven pop rock with great, textural and melodic guitar, solid drums and percussion work, and melodies in every direction, add this one to your collection.

—SK

 
Mark Vail — The Synthesizer
Mark Vail — The Synthesizer
Subject:
Musical Instruments
Bottom
Line:

Fantastic read for anyone excited about electronic keyboards and synths.

Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars

Noted keyboard technology writer, Mark Vail, has written a fantastic book that belongs in every keyboard player’s collection. The book contains a fantastic accounting of the history of synthesizers, with a look at just about everything you can imagine, from obscure devices you don’t know about to the classics you played as a kid, or coveted owning as an adult. It also includes the drum machines and production workstations that came along the way, too. Beyond the classic keyboard slabs and rack modules, Vail also explores the world of soft synths and virtual instruments, modular gear, effects, and more.

After the amazing history lesson, which is a great education in which synths did what, Vail focuses on choosing the right synths for your projects, and he also takes a look at a variety of alternative controllers for playing your electronic sounds.

The next section of the book delves into writing with, and programming, synthesizers, and then closes with recording the instruments.

Anyone who loves synthesizers will enjoy reading this book, as it’s all about using the products as opposed to being a technical exercise in learning to program the devices. It’s guaranteed to inspire new thoughts and ideas that you can apply directly to your playing—not to mention your wallet! So many toys to track down on eBay!

Our only disappointment: we wish the book were printed in full color, as the hundreds of photos have us desperate to see more than what black and white reveals. There are always new synths being created, though, so when this book gets refreshed in another year or two, we’ll keep our fingers crossed for the addition of color. Meanwhile, it’s still a must-read.

—SK

 

 
Dream Eternal Bliss — Dream Eternal Bliss
Genre:

Modern Rock

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.63

Dream Eternal BlissDream Eternal Bliss is a new modern rock band featuring former members of the melodic, progressive rock band Days Before Tomorrow, who decided to go off in a more accessible, contemporary/pop direction. Their new band has easily succeeded in that regard.

A touch of ‘80s new wave goodness melds with modern alternative rock, though you can tell these guys have prog in their blood thanks to a few songs relying on our favorite non-4|4 time signatures. While there’s abundant and excellent keyboard work on tap from Scott Kahn, DEB deviates from the synth-pop world by featuring Derek Davodowich’s outstanding guitar work that runs the range from Nile Rogers disco funk to Petrucci/Lukather riffage, with some sweet acoustic guitar in between. There is something for everyone here, weather you’re a fan of Duran Duran or Dream Theater.

Singer Carrie Edwards has a dreamy voice that at times reminds us of Stevie Nicks, at times Sheryl Crow, and then throw in some Kim Wilde or Susanna Hoffs for good measure. She’s a refreshing break from the females currently dominating the pop world, with her breathiness, rough edge, and sultry delivery. The vocal melodies are going to leave you singing all day long, and we love how Davodowich lays down equally lyrical guitar solos. With every element neatly crafted and well produced, each instrument compliments the other well.

One of my favorite songs, “This Time,” is a straight-ahead, driving, arena-anthem, sing-a-long which really brings out the timeless aspects of the band’s vibe, while songs like the closing “Leave Me Be” show off the clever songwriting that you get when prog rockers decide to go pop. Some other recommended listens are “Home,” which seamlessly blends a modern alternative rock vibe with classic Nicks solo fare, and the infectious pop track, “Don’t Stop.”

The band is rounded out by a great rhythm section, too. Pete Blomstrom is another notable prog guy (Generator, Hemispheres) and not surprisingly, he delivers complex grooves that work great set against the very musical pop and alt rock style of drummer Byron Barbieri.  Overall, this is an exciting first EP from a band we can’t wait to hear more from… and not just because a few of these guys write for MusicPlayers.com!

—SJK

 
 
 

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