FLYING COLORS Mascot Label Group/Music Theories
THIS so-called supergroup wouldn’t have seen the light of day if not for Mike Portnoy’s industriousness. Erstwhile of Dream Theater where he was the prog band’s rock-solid foundation, he spent a bit over a decade helming the band with guitarist John Petrucci until Portnoy called it a day.
Once outside the ambit of Dream Theater, Portnoy dived into several eclectic projects like a snake was snapping at his heels — his side project Adrenaline Mob came out recently with the aggressive metal debut, Omerta, but this combo revels on experimental prog subtleties that metallic monstrosity can’t cover.
Ganging up with Portnoy is Steve Morse (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs, Kansas) — he a king of kings of the super reflex fingers on metal guitar, keyboardist Neal Morse (Spock’s Beard, Transatlantic), bassist Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs, Joe Satriani, Steve Morse Band) and vocalist Casey McPherson (Alpha Rev, Endochine).
With all that technical supremacy saturating the group, you’d think that Portnoy, with his dexterously lyrical pounding and Morse, with his facility on the musically-power metal riffs, would dominate the band.
Far from it: The opener Blue Ocean, has a dreamy 1970s-like progressive melodic hook, sauntered and strutted by vocalist McPherson, who sounds like a mild version of Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder but sings with varied colours.
Morse wouldn’t be Morse without his overpowering licks and grinding solos. Fans would expect it.
Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda and Kayla hangs by the hinges on Morse’s roiling riffs but really, the album gives you the feeling that the guys here are keen to pave a new direction for this kind of music
It takes some doing though — the texturing and nuances ride on diversity, as diverse as the band members’ background.
Flying Colors is ambitious, distinctly oozing with a musical aura that you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere. The concluding 12-minute number Infinite Fire either sums up the breathless ambition or it’s just some guys trying to evoke 1970s prog sentimentalism.
Third Man/XL Recordings
I STILL have misgivings with Jack White as a guitar god, his decision to hang out with Jimmy Page and The Edge in that revealing documentary on guitar zeal It Might Get Loud still not cementing White’s stature as big as the Led Zeppelin and U2 historicity.
Still, as the purveyor of new, quirky sounds and progressing beyond the alternative realm, White has a massive influence: his stints with the White Stripes (it’s only him and a drummer) Dead Weather, Raconteurs — it is all Jack, all the time.
Now with his bona fide solo album out, Blunderbuss is White as White and not some nom de plume, sitting in a cave, woodshedding, thinking and articulating an original alternative musical agenda.
Trouble is, any effort towards originality in rock music is actually retro: Freedom At 21 sounds like it was lifted from a 1970s jam session, and while White can pretend all he likes, plenty in Blunderbuss sounds as if he pinched a riff here, a lick there from just about every project that he had been involved in the last decade.
Sure, some non-Jack White inclinations are heard in Love Interruption, gentle electric piano, gentler strumming of the acoustic guitar but still with the same quirky attitude.
Then it is back to the White stance: 16 Saltines is guitar phrasing run amok while Hip (Eponymous) Poor Boy is a hint of ’60s sentimentalism.
Blunderbuss will make White fans squeal with delight but it dares to swerve into uncharted territory to suck in the unaware fan.
BORN AND RAISED
JOHN Mayer is an amphibious musical beast, living in two worlds: One the soft gentle singer-songwriter-guitarist mould of James Taylor and the other, the blues rocking guitar wunderkind. (Let’s not get into Mayer’s macho verbiage, trail of famous girlfriends...)
To submerge yourself in Mayer’s gentle side, all you need to do is anchor yourself in any of his studio albums, Born And Raised included, and enjoy the amiability of Daughters.
If you want Mayer to raise the roof or at least touch it, get hold of all his live concerts, his electrifying rock guitar shredding, covering Sweet Child O’ Mine or backing Jay-Z, or playing any given blues number, will get fans to anoint him a true guitar god.
Born And Raised is rather confessional and ties him up in chastity, as encapsulated in Born And Raised while he pensively sings “I’m a good man with a good heart... learning to let it go... my shadow days are over) in Shadow Days.
The closest he is to getting dirty musically is Something Like Olivia, a sweetly raucous riff on an R&B jaunt.
The obligatory Mayer ballad, the gusher Age Of Worry implores everyone to make friends with what you are and that soul-stoker Love Is A Verb, is a swooning number that is both suggestive and romantic.