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    What We're Listening To & Watching

   
             
   

What an amazing holiday delight is in store for your ears! We were inundated with a ton of fantastic new releases this fall, and seriously, you may as well have called last month Progtoberfest, given how many great progressive rock recording artists released new work. We also heard quite a bit of catchy material on other fronts, from classic AOR to pop to modern metal to world beat, goth, and more. This is one holiday season where there is a ton of fantastic new music to share with your friends. Here are our seasonal favorites so far:

Fire GardenKansasKee MarcelloMarillionThe MissionThe Neal Morse BandMy WorldOperation: MindcrimeTed PoleyPaul SimonTotoDevin Townsend ProjectJohn WesleyWithem

 

   
   

The Neal Morse Band The Similitude of a Dream

Genre:

Progressive Rock

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

The Neal Morse Band — The Similitude of a DreamIn the battle for best prog rock album of 2016, the two-disc Similitude set is easily one of the top contenders. Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Bill Hubauer, and Eric Gillette are all extraordinary musicians, and when they come together, the results are, dare we say, orgasmic.

Given how little time these guys actually spend in the studio making a record, the fact that they delivered two hours’ worth of classic prog rock spanning a two-album set is astounding in its own right. This is the kind of record that would take other bands at least a year to make.

The Similitude of a Dream delivers a tasteful, rocking blend of ‘70s prog rock splendor and good old fashioned, ‘70s hard rock. It’s a concept album with some unifying themes, leaning more towards Tommy than, say, The Wall. It’s full of attitude, and if you’ve enjoyed Neal Morse’s previous output, both solo as well as in the super-group, Transatlantic, you’ll love this collection of songs.

There’s a healthy dose of Zeppelin and Kansas vibe, and an obvious spattering of the Beatles, but it all comes with a fresh attitude thanks to guitarist/vocalist Eric Gillette, who delivers John Petrucci-worthy prog metal shred—albeit with the gain dialed back to classic hard rock proportions. It’s a fantastic combination of styles. Throw in layers of acoustic guitars, piano, organ, synths, multi-part vocal harmonies, and lead vocals shared between Neal, Eric, and Mike, and you’ve got a lot to absorb. And yes, there’s even a pretty cool homage to Fish-era Marillion tucked away inside, but we’ll leave you to discover just where it is exactly.

We were hooked from the start, with “Overture” encompassing everything that this album is made of (though technically it’s the second track). If your taste in prog leans towards the classic rock variety (as opposed to the airy, dreamier stuff or prog metal), and you want to hear musicianship of the highest order that you aspire to, grab this release now!

—SK


 

Marillion F.E.A.R.

Genre:

Progressive Rock

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars3.75

Marillion — F.E.A.R. Who says that one step forward and two steps back must always be a bad thing? In the case of Marillion’s eighteenth studio album, Fuck Everyone and Run is a step forward, with great songs, thought-provoking lyrics, great musicianship, high production values, and a fresh vibe. Those backwards steps? F.E.A.R. serves up a trip down memory lane, as the overall vibe of this record seems to hit me as coming right out of the Holidays in Eden and Brave era, only without the wash of reverb that defined much music from the late ‘80s.

From Steve Rothery’s opening acoustic guitar motif to his familiar Rotosphere-drenched melody lines, you are immediately drawn into a classic, neo-prog rock album, and Steve Hogarth’s vocal delivery is as strong as ever. Having just witnessed the band live on their 2016 USA tour, I can confirm that this band has lost nothing over the decades, and sounds as strong as ever.

Keyboardist Mark Kelly covers the bases with both the familiarity of his synth textures and emotive piano as well as the modern sheen of newer synth tones. Drummer Ian Mosley and bassist Pete Trewavas provide a solid rhythm section on which the songs rest, with a sense of urgency and attitude present in some of the bass lines that serve to underscore the serious lyrical tone of the record.

While the overall pace of the record is mid-tempo and often melancholic, F.E.A.R. is not a sleepy sounding record, and it has some fantastic, epic moments and powerful music statements. But like other classics in the Marillion catalog, it is meant to be enjoyed as a whole listening experience.

—SK


 
Kee Marcello — Scaling Up
Genre:

Hard Rock, AOR

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.0
Production & Engineering: 3.0
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 3.5 Stars3.63

Kee Marcello — Scaling UpKee Marcello isn’t a name that comes up every day in guitar conversations, but when he does, guitarists in the know perk up and reminisce about the blistering guitar work on some of Europe’s best material from the late ‘80s. After leaving Europe in the early 90s, Marcello went on to have a very successful solo career as an artist as well as a producer. His latest record, Scaling Up, features Kee Marcello on guitar and lead vocals, Ken Sandin (Joe Lynn Turner Band) on bass and backing vocals, and Darby Todd (Gary Moore/ Robert Plant) on drums.

Right out of the starting gate, Marcello asserts his chops on the opening track, “Black Hole Star.” There is an air of experience and a familiar vibe unique to the Scandinavian rockers (Europe, Yngwie Malmsteen, TNT, etc.) that permeates across the entire recording.

The record effortlessly tosses around tried-and-true rock themes with strong, stated melodies as well as a few extended, neoclassical interludes. We weren’t surprised to discover that this effort was a trio. The record presents a raw, somewhat unpolished, in-your-face delivery that rocks. Marcello’s guitar work and guitar sounds are nicely dialed in, and there are no overly produced, overly polished, sounds on this record. His voice works well with the compositions, albeit rougher around the edges compared to vocalists like his former bandmate, Joey Tempest. What the record lacks in polish, it makes up for in delivery and heart. The vocal harmonies on “Don’t Know How To Love No More” were perhaps the best on the record, and were perfectly delivered with emotion and depth.

It’s interesting to note that a few of these tracks started out years ago as Europe demos, which were re-worked for Scaling Up. Some of the songs could have easily been popular in the ‘80s. There were a few cliché melodic themes and vocal lines, but nothing inexcusable given the enjoyable listening experience and shred-worthy guitar that this record delivers.

— BS


 

 
John Wesley — A Way You’ll Never Be
Genre:

Progressive rock, Hard Rock

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

John Wesley — A Way You’ll Never Be What do you get when you cross Led Zeppelin, early Rush, and Porcupine Tree? You get John Wesley, the awesome prog rock guitar player and vocalist, naturally! On his eighth studio release, A Way You’ll Never Be, Wesley really hits his stride with classic guitar riffs, delicate textures, and ambient guitar effects blended with vintage hard rock tones. The songs tell stories and weave extended, melodic instrumental sections throughout.

Fans of ‘70s hard rock will enjoy this collection, as will fans of guitar-driven rock. Slow grooves with big guitars are on display throughout. Wesley is a tonemeister, too. His vintage Marshall, PRS, and boutique pedal collection are put to great service, with soaring lead melodies and warbly clean textures. 

Wesley’s vocal delivery is a unique blend of Dave Gilmour meets Johnny Rzeznik meets Lenny Wolf, a vibe and timbre that is perfect for the underlying material. To select specific track highlights wouldn’t be applicable. This is a prog rock record that is meant to be enjoyed as a whole… and enjoy it we do! Wesley’s songwriting approach has a very unique sonic signature. While you can hear a bunch of classic influences, Wesley doesn’t really sound like those artists, and that’s a true mark of great songwriting and musicianship.

— SK


 
Paul Simon — Stranger to Stranger
Genre:

World

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

Paul Simon — Stranger to Stranger The last thing we expected to find crossing our desk was a new studio release from the great American songwriter, Paul Simon. Wow—this is an unexpected, and somewhat unorthodox, record!

No, you shouldn’t expect to hear any classic, sixties folk rock a la Simon & Garfunkel, but you will hear some spectacular electric guitar work on tracks like the Mark Knopfler-tinged “The Riverbank,” and the album’s catalyst, “Insomniac’s Lullaby,” features Simon’s fantastic, fingerstyle acoustic playing.

Mostly, you’ll find world music with crazy ethnic percussion and a chill vibe through most of the record, more like the solo Paul Simon of the ‘80s, but without the pop influence. Stranger to Stranger features use of multiple microtonal instruments, which feature 43 tones in the span of an octave (vs. the 12 tones we most commonly associate with the European musical scale). As such, this is quite intricate material that you won’t be able to easily re-create, unless your instrument collection includes instruments like cloud chamber bowls, sonic canons, marimba eroica, kithara, chromelodeon, or… a zoomoozophone.

Paul Simon sounds as musically strong today as he did thirty years ago when you could call him Al. This is great music to give your dinner party an air of ambience or cool sheen, and it makes a welcome diversion from the usual rock and pop that we are constantly bombarded with. We appreciated the album artwork, too, in which Simon shares stories of each track’s origin.

— SK


 
My World — Domination
Genre:

Rock, Indie, Prog, Fusion

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 4.0
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars3.88

My World — DominationWhat kind of music do you write when you can play everything from pop to punk to metal to hip hop to jazz, and you spend a large chunk of your time writing music for television? Well, if you’ve got a band called My World, you simply fuse all of those distinct genres together and try to pass it off as something rock/pop/jazz-ish. And pass it off they do, with aplomb. My World music is of such a high caliber that we’re forced to use fancy words like aplomb, bombast, integrity, and idiosyncratic in order to try to describe it. It wouldn’t be a stretch to qualify it as Frank Zappa meets Kevin Gilbert, with a guest appearance here and there from Jimi Hendrix. But wait! There’s more! You also have to throw in just a touch of Mr. Bungle and Primus for good measure, but with more of a friendly personality.

My World is undoubtedly one of the most talented indie-rock-ish duos you’ve never heard of, and their sophomore release, Domination, is indeed all about domination and sexual perversion. OK, no it isn’t, but in keeping with the Zappa reference, there is a certain humorous element at play throughout the superbly executed, sixteen-track record. (Don’t panic – many tracks are under two minutes in length and serve more as musical cues than outright songs.)

John Montalbano (bass, vocals, and contributing gear reviewer at MusicPlayers.com) and Chris Munger (guitar, vocals) have a huge musical resume that spans Public Enemy, Chuck D, DMC, not to mention their compositions for major television networks and film. And while various drummers behind them are certainly up to par, the bass playing and guitar work are truly the stuff of inspiration, with vocals, harmonies, and intriguing spoken word dialog sure to please your ears.

Domination encapsulates an interesting variety of styles, but the overall vibe lends itself to catchy, funky rock coming at you from outer space. To single out any one track really wouldn’t do this record justice—it’s not written with a singles mentality. Domination is an album to be experienced as a whole. Really, Domination is a CD you’ll want to crank up at public gatherings, on the beach, and in airports or restaurants, if for no other reason than people will turn their heads in surprise and ask themselves, What the f*ck is that crazy music? Great job!

— SK


 
Withem — The Unforgiving Road
Genre:

Progressive Metal

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 4.0
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars3.89

Withem — The Unforgiving RoadNorway’s Withem rock hard, with tight, melodic prog metal in the vein of Symphony X, Pagan’s Mind, and Dream Theater. Songs like “Riven” are worth the price of admission, delivering a very modern blending of styles, and the band’s musicians all play at the top of their game: guitarist Øyvind Voldmo Larsen, keyboardist Ketil Ronold, vocalist Ole Aleksander Wagenius, bassist Miguel Pereira, and drummer Frank Nordeng Røe each deliver performances sure to inspire our serious musician audience.
The Unforgiving Road is addicting. The more you listen, the more you… um… listen! We enjoyed this record the first time around, but each subsequent listen drew us further into the great production details, layers of orchestration, and great vocal harmonies. Vocalist Wagenius covers a wide range throughout, and we can’t help but compare his voice just a touch to Journey’s Steve Perry and Zebra’s Randy Jackson, especially when Ronold throws some big ‘80s pads behind him in an occasionally Eighties-ish, retro chorus. Exceptional shredding on tap (pun intended) from Larsen makes this a metal-crowd pleasing record to be sure.

The band does a great job of taking really heavy parts and keeping them accessible to the average metal or prog rock fan, too, like on “Arrhythmia,” which first assaults you with its aggressive bass and drums, only to then find yourself reveling in the subtle synth work supporting it. Great stuff!

—SK


 


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Kansas The Prelude Implicit
Genre:

Progressive Rock

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars3.89

Kansas — The Prelude ImplicitOMG, OMG, OMG!!! Talk about the surprise hit of the decade! When we first heard that Kansas were about to release a new studio album, our reaction was one of… no reaction, really. Memories of Kerry Livgren’s Proto-Kaw band passed through our heads, as well as a general feeling of indifference. I pictured begrudgingly making my way through a review that reads something like: “Old rock dudes try to be relevant again, release a mellow collection of songs that have the spirit, but lack the punch, of the classics.”

But when The Prelude Implicit arrived in our download bin, we were subsequently completely blown away from the opening motif in “With This Heart,” and captivated throughout the entire record. Kansas is back, and sounding as great as ever. Wow!!!

Although a few members of the band lineup have changed—including the introduction of Ronnie Platt as the band’s new lead singer, this is a true, classic Kansas album, and it sounds like the band circa 1980. Prepare to be blown away—we couldn’t believe just how great they sound on this record. Everything you know and love about the classic rock, melodic-prog vibe of Kansas is in full effect here, from the vocal harmonies to the violin to the ripping lead guitar work. We wouldn’t fault you for thinking this was a lost Kansas album that was previously unreleased and just recently re-discovered in the band’s vault. It’s that classic sounding, and it is that good. There’s nothing more to say about this one: if you ever loved Kansas, you will love The Prelude Implicit.

—SK


 

The Mission Another Fall From Grace

Genre:

Goth, Alt Rock

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

The Mission — Another Fall From GraceWhether you know him as The Mission, The Mission UK, or Sisters of Mercy, the latest studio release from Wayne Hussey’s group is a classic goth rock record that will appeal to all fans of the genre.

Right from the opening title track of this hour-long collection, we were teleported back in time to the early ‘80s, with Hussey’s baritone voice droning over clean guitar arpeggios and a wash of synth textures. When the tempo jumps up a few clicks on "Met-Amor-Phosis," we couldn’t sit still, our bodies involuntarily submitting to the pulsating rhythm of the song. Thirty years ago, this would have been a hit single and video on MTV, and for those of you still pining for the good old days, this record will help you re-live the glory.

Falling somewhere in between The Cure and New Order, The Mission share similar qualities that make them continue to endure decades later: strong melodies, hooks, and emotive singing that will have your black eye liner and mascara running down your face, drenched in tears. And yes, we’re talking about you, sir! Love this!

—SK


 
Operation: Mindcrime Resurrection
Genre:

Prog metal

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 3.5
Production & Engineering: 4.0
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars3.75

Operation: Mindcrime — ResurrectionAfter Geoff Tate’s final record bearing the name Queensrÿche (while former band mates were also releasing records under the same band name, no less), we were so disappointed in that release that we felt Tate was over and done with. Today, with legal issues resolved and fully behind him, Tate created a new band bearing the name of his former group’s penultimate record, and Resurrection is actually part two of a three-album trilogy. We’re so impressed by this record that we’re going to order the first release, too!

Fans of classic Queensrÿche should love Operation: Mindcrime, the band. Resurrection features the classic sound of Tate’s past without being a simple re-hashing of what has come before. His vocals shine on this record, but it’s about the songs here. This is great melodic metal, period.

There are numerous musicians featured on Resurrection—too many notable players to list here. But the end result speaks for itself: Resurrection is musical and rocking. Songs like “The Fight” hit you with the emotional impact of classics like “Silent Lucidity,” while tracks like “Taking on the World” rock with great lead guitar work and a nice touch of “Eyes of the Stranger” melody.

It’s not every day that a rocker who fell from grace can recapture the hearts and minds of disenfranchised fans. If you were a fan of the classic band, you owe it to yourself—and to Tate—to check out Operation: Mindcrime. We’re an album late to the table, but here’s to a hearty “Welcome Back!”

— SK


 
Ted Poley — Beyond the Fade
Genre:

AOR, Hard Rock

Musicianship: 3.5
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars3.75

Ted Poley — Beyond the FadeTed Poley rode the hair band wave with chart-topping albums in the late ‘80s from his band, Danger Danger. Over the years, Ted Poley has had continued success with Danger Danger as well as a pursuing a robust and very busy solo career. One thing that has stayed constant throughout the decades is his penchant for writing an unstoppable melody, and Beyond The Fade, his third solo record, is loaded with them on every track.

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Poley’s voice is almost indistinguishable from what it sounded like thirty years ago. This is not the artist whose best years are behind him, and Beyond The Fade delivers testimony to his still very potent vocal delivery and songwriting direction.

Alessandro Del Vecchio delivers blistering, yet heartfelt guitar work that complements Poley’s voice nicely, which stands out on the track, “Higher.” If we didn’t know better, we would be led to believe they had been working together for decades. The rhythm section pounds down a rock-solid foundation for these compositions to breathe upon and never lose their footing.

The gorgeous theme on “The Perfect Crime,” a beautiful duet featuring Norwegian vocalist Issa, has an intoxicating hook, and is as well produced and delivered as nearly anything else we have enjoyed in the AOR genre. The track is a true testament to the adage; an unstoppable song can’t miss. Poley’s masterful use of melody and singing around the theme is something we’ve heard from him throughout his career. “You Won’t See Me Cryin’” presents yet another example of Poley’s almost unique delivery of a theme, this time with a fifty-foot high wall of impenetrable harmonies which are never lost in the mix. The rest of the tracks are classic AOR, and the vibe of the record is unapologetically AOR, but we must underscore that this is really, really good AOR.

— BS


 
Fire Garden — Far and Near
Genre:

Prog metal, Prog rock

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

Fire Garden — Far and NearThe second Fire Garden record from progressive rock multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Zee Baig is a triumphant successor to his previous effort. While we enjoyed his band’s first record, Far and Near features improvements all around, from the songwriting to the music production to the performances. And the cast of characters is pretty impressive, too!

Jimmy Keegan from Spock’s Beard played all of the drums, while Zee is also joined by Frank Lucas on keyboards, and Marc Malitz and Barry Kleiber sharing bass duties. Dream Theater virtuoso Jordan Rudess lent his killer chops to a keyboard solo on the track, “Life of a Drifter.”

Style-wise, Fire Garden remains true to itself, which is to sit firmly in the Porcupine Tree portion of the prog rock spectrum: modern prog with a bit of a Pink Floyd vibe, a hint of the Moody Blues, a dark undertone, and a sometimes-heavy attitude. Zee’s guitar work is great, spanning ethereal arpeggios to hard rock crunch, with the occasional melodic, soaring guitar solo thrown in (like on the awesome album closer, “Diary of the Blood Moon.”) Zee’s Steven Wilson-esque vocal delivery suits the vibe of the record perfectly, and the synth textures add just the right amount of moodiness in a soundtrack sort of way.

Special kudos for the outstanding album packaging, which features a graphics- and photo-rich booklet as well as a bonus disk… pop this one into your home theater to enjoy a surround sound mix of the album!

— SK

 
What We're Watching
Toto — Live at Montreux 1991
Genre:

Rock, Pop

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 4.0
Production & Engineering: 3.0
Vibe: 4.0
Overall Rating: 4 Stars3.75

Toto — Live at Montreux 1991Fans who worship at the altar of Luke will be in heaven with this concert DVD, shot at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1991. It was the last tour to include Jeff Porcaro before he passed away, and the band lineup also includes the late David Paich, and Mike Porcaro.

With the defining Toto lineup, killer performances all around, and classic hair styling and wardrobe, the group performs hits like “Africa” and “Rosanna” as well as a few new tracks and a couple of classic covers. Steve Lukather shreds his ass off here! The only disappointment—and a large one at that—is that they only performed an eight-song set. This concert event is awesome, but just breaking the one hour mark, it left a whole bunch of us in the office desperately wanting to watch even more classic Toto footage. It includes an audio CD of the concert, too, so you can take the music with you.

— SK


 

Devin Townsend Project — Transcendence

Genre:

Hard Rock, Prog Metal

Musicianship: 4.0
Songwriting: 3.0
Production & Engineering: 3.5
Vibe: 3.5
Overall Rating: 4 Stars3.75

Devin Townsend Project — TranscendenceOnly two years since the release of DTP’s astounding Z2, and released in the same year that he released the side-project album, Casualties of Cool, Townsend is back with a new full-length album from his main group, the Devon Townsend Project. On tap is more of his classic material—a catchy blend of hard rock, metal, prog metal, and symphonic rock.

The band features great performances from all players, and the vibe is heavy and melodic throughout. The band breaks no new ground, though. Sonically and stylistically, it’s pretty much just more of what we expect from this stellar musician, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.

Transcendence is full of epic crescendos, big choirs, and heavy guitars and drums, and we especially love the proggier side of the record with songs like “Secret Sciences.” At least four tracks on the record clock in between seven and ten minutes, so there is a massive musical journey to be experienced. They say if something isn’t broken, don’t fix it. In this case, Townsend clearly transcended the need for change.

—SK


 
 
   
             
             
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