BEAUTIFUL SHADE OF GREY
Sony Music International Japan
I’ve lost count how many Dream Theater and DM related albums have come out over the last year but something else I had lost track of was time. I did a double take when I noticed it’s been nine years since James’ last solo outing, Impermanent Resonance, an album I really enjoyed as it was a stand-alone work, a collection of songs that were more accessible to the average Rock fan than Dream Theater’s Progressive music. More of the same then? Ermm, not quite…there have been a few changes, all for the better.
Nine years is a long time in music and all musicians have to make a living so whether by choice or forced, the only musician to have retained his spot in James’ solo band is Marco Sfogli on guitar. The newcomers are Paul Logue on acoustic guitar and bass, Christian Pulkkinen on keyboards, both from Eden’s Curse and James’ son, Chance LaBrie on drums. Interestingly, this mix of family, established other band members together and old friend create a very harmonious unit and add an element of openness and airiness that Impermanent Resonance didn’t have. Add in that the songs are a lot lighter, gentle in places, organic even and you won’t find much of the Dream Theater sound here but that is exactly what a solo album should be. I think what James has done on this record is his biggest step forward since he joined DM and I hope he continues in his solo career along these lines. It’s a beautiful album, easy on the ear, acoustically driven with - dare I say it - commercial moments in parts. All the songs James co-written with Paul Logan apart from two, one of those being a great cover of Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On and it’s a great closing track.
The bonus track for the Japanese release is an electric version of the opening track. It has often been said that the sign of a good song is that it works acoustically as well as electrically and here is a classic case-in-point – both work and it’s a teaser because it will have you wondering what the other songs would sound like given this treatment. The production is handled by James and Paul and has a slightly retro-vinyl feel to it which makes it feel warmer and the mastering is done in BSCD2 which makes it feel even cozier. The disc, a 20-page English booklet with some intriguing ‘two-paths’ artwork and a 12-page Japanese booklet are all packaged together in a jewel case.
This album will surprise many people, especially those expecting Impermanent Resonance Vol II but this is far better than that. This is an honest album, an album where James says ‘This is me’ and as I wrote earlier, I hope this is just the start of things to come.
Devil In Drag
Give And Take
Hit Me Like A Brick
What I Missed
Am I Right
Devil In Drag (Electric Version)*
*Japanese Release Bonus Track
Sony Music International Japan
After the deluge of pioneer Rock keyboard players in the 1970’s spearheaded by Rick Wakeman and Keith Emerson, keyboards in the 1980s were relegated to the second division of instruments, often added to a recording as an afterthought or featured as a computer sequence. In the 90s, Prog Rock - albeit with a slightly harder edge - started to gain a following again with Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree and their peers releasing Class A albums. Keyboards were suddenly in vogue again and quickly rising to the top of the list of great players was Derek Sherinian.
Derek’s new album, Vortex, showcases exactly why he rose to the top of that list and is still there. Eight tracks, each one featuring at least one virtuoso guest musician and each given plenty of room to play whilst Derek provides the canvas to paint on. As if that were not enough, the ever-reliable Simon Phillips takes the drum stool and co-produces with Derek, a partnership that started back in 2011 on his Oceana solo album. You have the best of the best here (Steve Lukather, Nuno Bettencourt, Michael Schenker to name but three) playing for fun and the smiles really shine through.
This is Derek’s best solo work to date. It’s a bit more adventurous than the last one and also more relaxed. It feels like there was no pressure to record and that he has allowed more of his personality to be accessed. His playing feels more natural, more from the heart rather than trying to concentrate on being precise. There’s no stand-out track. Each has its own characteristics and highlights but I shall leave you to discover those on your own. What I really love about this album is that nobody over-plays and it’s not over-produced. Each musician plays what is right for the composition (they are all instrumentals) and the sounds compliment the feel of the music. The inside photo of Derek on the studio shows a lovely selection of vintage keyboards which no doubt contributes to that sound and feel and Simon’s playing is as sublime as ever whom I regard as quite simply, the best drummer in the world today. Simon did the mix as well and he’s achieved warmth, depth, separation and clarity on every instrument; the bass lines in particular are delightfully clear.
The Japanese edition comes in a jewel case with the twelve-page English booklet and an eight-page Japanese one (as mentioned above, all instrumental so obviously no lyric translations) and is mastered in BSCD2 so those fat bottom end synths and tom-tom runs give your speakers a good jolt.
Key Line Blues