Leah — Otherworld (Best EP of 2013)


My favorite EP of 2013 came from Canada’s Leah, who has transported us again to the Otherworld.

A lot of artists don’t feel constrained by the old “singles and album” format. Because this new era of technology enables and encourages it, we see more and more EPs happening.

There were a lot of great EPs released in 2013, as artists shared their gifts in small bursts of creativity. For example, I really enjoyed the EP releases from Sean KellyHalestorm, Chasing Dragons, Anthrax, and Adrenaline Mob.

Leah released Otherworld on All Hallow’s Eve. I know that Brad and Carl are big fans; so too are Socrates and Count Floyd, who had an interesting discussion about the new EP on Halloween, and here’s a brief excerpt from their dialogue:

Socrates: Thank you for playing your music so loud, Floyd. I am glad that it attracted me inside to your studio, so that I could learn about this amazing Canadian songstress. This EP is one that I will recommend to Plato, and to all my other young friends who enjoy beautiful poetry and inspired artistic craft. I really do love how this EP tells a musical story by moving through five stages, in five tracks. Remarkable!

Count Floyd: What story is that, Socrates? Is it scaaaary?

Socrates: The story of Otherworld, as I understand it, is this:

[1] Being challenged by the difficulties of life (“Shores of Your Lies”);

[2] trying to fight back (“Northern Edge”);

[3] then, after the battle is done, surrendering spiritually to a Higher Power (“Surrounded”), thereby turning the physical defeat into a spiritual victory (hence, the title has a lovely twofold meaning);

[4] then, from this higher vantage point, singing from beyond the grave — to those still alive — about the “Otherworld” — the hope of the resurrection of the dead (“Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep”); and, finally,

[5] a “saving tale” of the sort that Plato tells — a myth that just might shock your soul into taking your life seriously (“Dreamland”).

Nick’s Best of 2013 (Part 3)

Following on from Part 1 and Part 2, here is the third and final part of my ‘Best of 2013’ list: positions 5 to 1 in my Top Ten.

(By the way, if you are wondering at the absence of Big Big Train’s magnificent English Electric: Full Power, remember that I am excluding rereleases of older material; without that restriction, it would most certainly be up near the top of my list!)


5. Maschine – Rubidium

The debut release from the formerly-dubbed Concrete Lake, featuring two alumni of The Tangent: guitarist Luke Machin and bassist Dan Mash. Be prepared for a rollercoaster ride through a dizzying array of different musical styles as this album jumps effortlessly from prog metal shredding to jazz to salsa (yes, really!) and back again. It’s bonkers, but I love it to bits.


4. Riverside – Shrine Of New Generation Slaves

A minor change in direction for Poland’s premier prog rockers finds them flirting with more straightforward hard rock, blues and even jazz influences in places, to great effect. The resulting album is more cohesive conceptually than any of their previous work and touches on similar issues to those explored by The Tangent’s latest opus. Disc 2 of the special edition features over 22 minutes of instrumental music quite different in tone from the main album but highly enjoyable nonetheless.


3. Sanguine Hum – Weight Of The World

An accomplished follow-up to 2010’s Diving Bell from Joff Winks, Matt Baber & Co. Sanguine Hum’s sound calls to mind Turin Brakes, Pierre Moerlen’s Gong, the layered electronica of North Atlantic Oscillation and even Porcupine Tree in their more reflective moments. It’s captivating, however you describe it, and the songs on this album are beautifully constructed. Apparently, the band have two album’s worth of new material already written, which bodes well for the future.


2. The Tangent – Le Sacre Du Travail

The best release yet from the ‘Steely Dan of prog’, offering a more coherent vision than their earlier high points Not As Good As The Book and A Place In The Queue. With music loosely inspired by Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring and a thought-provoking, opinion-polarising message regarding the mundanity of the daily grind and our role as wage slaves, this is a progressive tour de force as far as I’m concerned.


1. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing

Quite simply, Steven Wilson’s finest work to date. Opting for a live recording approach over meticulous overdubs has paid off handsomely and the music frequently builds to a thrilling intensity as this masterful band of players feed off each others’ energy. It is difficult to pick out highlights from something so consistently brilliant, but Guthrie Govan’s guitar solo in Drive Home really does take the breath away, leaving us wondering how in the name of prog Wilson is going to better this.

Nick’s Best of 2013 (Part 2)

Following hot on the heels of Part 1, here is the second part of my ‘Best of 2013’ list: positions 10 to 6 in my Top Ten.


10. Ulver – Messe I.X-VI.X

This liturgically-themed piece, recorded with the Tromsø Chamber Orchestra, was my introduction to Ulver. It had a powerful effect on me when first I heard it and I shall certainly be exploring their back-catalogue in future. Messe is solemn, haunting and mysterious – best heard on headphones late at night with the lights turned off.


9. Freedom to Glide – Rain

A richly atmospheric, superbly recorded album, evoking the grandeur of Pink Floyd in places and with liquid guitar solos that Dave Gilmour would be proud to call his own. Rain‘s story is set during World War I and is based on the experiences of band member Pete Riley’s grandfather. It’s a powerful and moving piece of work that assumes particular relevance with the imminent centenary of that awful conflict.


8. Henry Fool – Men Singing

A welcome return by Tim Bowness & colleagues, a mere twelve years after their debut release. The title is a neat little joke, given that this is an entirely instrumental album, Tim electing to merely play guitar rather than treat us to his wonderful and distinctive voice. What you get for your money here are four tracks of proggy, jazzy, semi-improvisational brilliance.


7. Bruce Soord with Jonas Renkse – Wisdom Of Crowds

This collaboration between The Pineapple Thief’s frontman and Katatonia’s vocalist is a revelation. The album consists of nine simple, elegant songs written by Soord with Renkse in mind, and the clean, minimalist production gives that spellbinding voice the space to work its magic. A modern masterpiece.


6. Haken – The Mountain

Haken are arguably progressive metal’s leading proponents in the UK. Each album has improved upon its predecessor and The Mountain is their best yet. These guys have the musical chops of Dream Theater but are considerably more adventurous. They also don’t take themselves too seriously, as this brilliant video for The Cockroach King shows.


See Part 3 for my five favourite albums of 2013…

Days Are Gone (Best of 2013 — Part 13)

With this post, I now conclude my Top Thirteen Albums of 2013. Maybe, because earlier on I had invoked Black Sabbath, you were expecting me to nominate their album “13” for my #13 slot. (Melinda Selmys, after all, noted of their video for “God Is Dead?” that it is “the most Christian music video of the year.”) Well, if that is what you were expecting, then I have successfully faked you out. Because here is my twist ending…

In my final #13 slot, I give you, not heavy metal, but the pop perfection of:


I choose Haim’s pop masterpiece “Days Gone By” (which iTunes currently has on sale for a limited time) because I never want to become complacent as a citizen of the republic of Progarchy. Sure, we listen to prog because we are able to get, from prog, so much more than we usually get from the mainstream musical venues.

But sometimes the big record companies actually do get things right. (I mean, The Beatles weren’t so bad, were they?) So, it behooves Progarchy to recognize excellence wherever it may arise. (For me, that is the true spirit of prog. Devotion and dedication to excellence, in all forms. Which will, of course, take you in time towards all our favorite prog bands.)

Therefore, since this is the last day of the year, why not crank up “Days Are Gone” and send out the year on a happy note? There is nothing quite like genuine pop perfection, and anyone with a smile and a sweet tooth has got to love Haim.

2013 has been a great year for music! A big thank you to all my fellow Progarchists for sharing their musical experiences here, thereby expanding my own.

I’ll see you back here on New Year’s Day, when I will reveal the name of my fave EP from 2013 — since EPs do not count towards my Top Ten lists, which (in good prog fashion) I always dedicate to the recognition of the best contributions towards the keeping alive of The Art of the Album.

Time and Space (Best of 2013 — Part 12)

Continuing with the final three albums of my Top Thirteen of 2013, I now reveal that the #12 slot is reserved for:

Lobate Scarp

Their excellent “Time and Space” disc was actually released on December 12, 2012 (12-12-12) and although it is therefore technically ineligible for a Best of 2013 list, just as I found a loophole to get Chasing Dragons into the #11 slot for 2013, I have found a place at #12 for Lobate Scarp in my Top Thirteen of 2013.

In addition to my riffing on the band’s harmonious use of the number 12 by placing them at #12, my logic of inclusion is that I actually did not get this album until 2013, when somehow the band found a way to make the CD magically appear at home in a bundle of my snail mail. Captivated by the beautiful packaging and lyric booklet, I soon learned that what Carl concluded earlier on this year is absolutely true: this album is a first-rate achievement that deserves wider recognition.

The first track is the title track, “Time and Space.” While other bands will save their longest and most epic prog track for last (two examples from 2013’s best would be Dream Theater’s “Illumination Theory” and Sound of Contact’s “Mobius Slip”), Lobate Scarp instead kicks things off by putting their most epic track first! Wow. It’s a great way to establish their prog bona fides right from the get-go. Nicely done!

Next up is “Jacob’s Ladder,” the only track that is shorter than five minutes long. But it’s really catchy and gives us a chance to catch our breath after the epic opening.

The third track is the excellent “Beginning of Us,” which has an enchanting melody that hooks you in slowly. Then the excitement builds and soon you find yourself either singing or humming along. By the time we hit the second verse, things have gotten so funky, and the tasty synth is so perfect, we hardly expect the stratospheric guitar launch of the instrumental section that soon ensues. But off we go! Again, wow. This is a magnificent song that takes us on quite an interstellar journey in just under seven minutes.

The fourth track, “The Contradiction,” is also a supremely interesting musical journey that showcases the astonishing abilities of these fabulous musicians. These folks have supreme jazz sensibilities that really distinguish them as musicians and that mark their compositions with a peculiar brand of proggy individuality.

My favorite track on the album turns out to be the fifth track, “Save My Soul,” which starts out with an awesome heavy riff before pulling back and then slowly building up to yet more excitement. The track then goes on to have so many interesting changes and contrasts, including an epic horn freakout, that you want to stand up and cheer at the end of the thing. Amazing!

Track six, “Moment,” slows things down, but only for the first few minutes. Pretty soon Lobate Scarp finds their way into yet another one of their trademark grooves, and we get to go on another exhilarating ride with them. Zoom!

The concluding seventh track, “The Mirror,” is an ambitious musical extravaganza that even includes a gigantic choir singing in Latin. Whoa! Man, you have got to give this band kudos. They do not shy away from any sort of daring musical enterprise. Instead, propelled by their wonderful grooves, they boldly go… where no prog has gone before.

Do yourself a huge favor and buy a copy of this album. It is lovingly crafted by people who are obviously musicians’ musicians. Only rarely do ambitious projects like this succeed. But Lobate Scarp has made the jump to hyperspace and you are invited to come along for the ride to the higher musical dimensions of this upper-echelon labor of love.

Chasing Dragons (Best of 2013 — Part 11)

I discovered this band purely by chance. Instigated mainly by my nephew (but also by others), I was attempting a Web search on “Imagine Dragons,” that overrated and overhyped band. But, as I tried to recall the name of that band I was searching for, I accidentally typed in the wrong name. Instead, I typed in “Chasing Dragons,” which is — let’s face it — a much cooler name for a band. But as I realized my mistake, I was nevertheless pleasantly surprised. For I had just discovered a much better band that was playing much more interesting music. I had discovered Chasing Dragons, the under-estimated and under-appreciated hard rock band from Leeds.

Two string-meisters, Mitch and Ant, handle the mayhem on guitar and bass. At the other two ends of this quadrilateral, on vocals and drums, we find the incredible Tank and the mighty Kate. All four of these outstanding musicians demonstrate an exceptional degree of talent.

I am very impressed with the way that Chasing Dragons stands out from the crowd. In addition to being riveted by their uncommon energy and passion, I am also very impressed by the careful artistry and consummate craftsmanship that they put into every aspect of their songwriting.

This band is so tight and generates such dramatic musical excitement that I could not believe my luck when I stumbled across them in their current relative obscurity. Who knew that hidden away in Leeds is such great musical talent, about to take the world by storm! I am hoping that they develop their fan base further and thus gain the wider recognition that they deserve. (It will be fun to follow their career as their future records take shape.)

Therefore, by the powers vested in me as a citizen of the republic of Progarchy, I am creating a special 11th spot on my traditional end-of-year, “Top Ten” list… for Chasing Dragons, my #11 for this year. I am taking this extraordinary action because it is in 2013 that I discovered this band, an epochal event which I want to commemorate somehow.

Luckily, I have a loophole: Chasing Dragons released a first-class single in 2013. By combining it with the material from their 2012 EP, “Take Flight for a Firefight,” I argue that Chasing Dragons has, as of this year, released enough music that, in composite, forms what I consider to be a solid LP of very impressive material.

The following is the playlist — the “virtual LP” — that I have fashioned for myself. I have been listening to it repeatedly. I argue that this playlist showcases a “Virtual LP” that constitutes, from beginning to end, a first-rate achievement. In my own mind, I christen this “Virtual LP” with the name “Seeds of Tomorrow,” because that Chasing Dragons song is arguably what should be considered their signature track:

Chasing Dragons — “Seeds of Tomorrow” (Virtual LP created from EP & Single):
1. Into the Pit
2. Under the Earth
3. Spawn of the Succubus
4. Mirror’s Edge
5. Black Velvet
6. Seeds of Tomorrow
7. City of Steel
8. Hindsight’s a Bitch
9. Let Sleeping Lions Lay

“Unplugged” Bonus Tracks:
10. It’s Bravery, Honestly
11. Spawn of the Succubus (Live Acoustic)
12. Into the Pit (Live Acoustic)

The first nine tracks as above form a solid 40 minutes of excellent female-fronted metal music. The last three tracks are 12 minutes of acoustic bonus tracks that prove the band’s remarkable musical versatility, thus pointing towards a promising future. By the way, “Black Velvet” is a cover of the tune by 1990 Grammy winner Alannah Myles, and it is even better than the original. So, I say that, any way you look at it, Chasing Dragons have shown themselves capable of producing not just the cumulative output of an LP’s worth of material, but of astoundingly upper-echelon material.

I myself think of the LP-sized slice of nine tracks above as forming a showcase of “Past” (“Into the Pit,” “Under the Earth,” and “Spawn of the Succubus”), “Present” (“Mirror’s Edge,” “Black Velvet,” and “Seeds of Tomorrow”), and “Future” (“City of Steel,” “Hindsight’s a Bitch,” and “Let Sleeping Lions Lay”). What I mean is that the band shows their “Past” first by singing songs with themes that are genre-bound in lyrical inspiration; then they showcase in the “Present” the fact of their undeniable ability as a band to write truly superb original songs and the fact that they are so talented themselves that even their covers can transcend the original inspirations and showcase the band’s unique personality; and finally they give some exciting indications of the directions in which their “Future” work might head. In short, this is a very dynamic band moving quickly, rapidly developing before our very ears, hurtling from one excellent achievement to another. The Virtual LP captures that truth in a musical snapshot.

If I had to pick favorite tracks by Chasing Dragons they would probably be “Mirror’s Edge,” “Seeds of Tomorrow,” and “City of Steel,” because of Tank’s great lyrics in them. But really, all the band’s tracks are excellent. Sample them all, and please notice how there are nice bursts of creative genius from all four corners of this band. As just one example, take this great line from the chorus to their 2013 single, their ode to hindsight:

If regrets were made of bullets
then we’d all be dead inside

Keep your ear on this band. If you like female-fronted metal, then be sure to try out all the tracks. As I have said, I find they all work exceedingly well together as a solid unit in the playlist order that I have invented and listed above.

Make sure you always buy music from and support the promising artists in our midst like Chasing Dragons. Indeed, this young band arguably has within them the “Seeds of Tomorrow.” Therefore, let me end my review here with a quote from their own song of that name. This song could be considered their musical signature. Arguably, its lyrics, paired with the powerful music, sum up how we should best construe the meaning of the band’s formidable name, Chasing Dragons:

Chase the demons away
Show them where the trouble’s at
Take up arms and fight
Show them that you won’t hold back

Chase your demons away
Show them you’re not here to play games
Take your life in your hands
Tomorrow’s ours
So let’s take it back

Top Ten… or Top Thirteen?

For my personal Best of 2013 list, I have just posted (over the last few days) an alphabetical listing of my Top Ten:

Big Big Train: English Electric Part Two

Deep Purple: NOW What?!

Dream Theater: Dream Theater

Haken: The Mountain

Holy Grail: Ride the Void

Kingbathmat: Overcoming the Monster

Sound of Contact: Dimensionaut

Spock’s Beard: Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep

Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused to Sing and other stories

The Winery Dogs: The Winery Dogs

But, as promised, I am now going to add three more to the list, as three bonus additions, and thus make this a Top Thirteen list.

Why? Well, because this is the year 2013, and also because Black Sabbath released 13 this year (which also happened to be one of Mike Portnoy‘s favorites).

So, stay tuned for #11 on my Top Thirteen of 2013…

Nick’s Best of 2013 (Part 1)

In this, the first part of my round-up of 2013’s best releases, I highlight eleven superb albums that all made it onto my shortlist and managed to remain there – no mean feat given the incredible quality of the new music that appeared this year. Each of these has made a huge impression on me and yet, amazingly, none of them feature in my Top Ten. (We’d best not dwell on the excellent releases from Days Between Stations, Lifesigns, Spock’s Beard and others that eventually got pushed off the bottom of this shortlist, but what can you do when progressive music is enjoying a fecundity not seen since the early 70s?)

I won’t even attempt to rank this selection, but will instead list the albums by artist, alphabetically. Think of them all as being in a notional 11th place in my Best of 2013 list!

A word on criteria: I have considered only studio albums and I have ignored remasters, remixes and rereleases (whole or partial) of pre-2013 material. (In one case, this has had a significant impact on my choices.)

Ready? Off we go…

amplifierAmplifier – Echo Street

The masters of the heavy groove take a step back from the sprawling madness of 2011’s splendid The Octopus. The result is more reflective and refined but no less compelling. Echo Street is subtle rather than subdued, rich in atmosphere (‘matmosphere’?) and dreamy soundscapes but still with enough big riffs to get the blood pumping. The highlight is probably Where The River Goes, an epic that starts in delicate fashion with 12-string acoustic guitar before building to a thunderous conclusion.

ee2Big Big Train – English Electric, Part 2

Part 1 was my Album of 2012, but don’t be fooled by the follow-up’s apparent lowly position this year, as the difference in quality really isn’t that huge. Like its predecessor, Part 2 is a paean to the landscapes, history and fading industrial heritage of England. There are excellent songs to be found here – Worked Out, The Permanent Way and Keeper Of Abbeys are probably the highlights for me – but the album doesn’t flow as smoothly as Part 1 (a minor defect that combined album English Electric: Full Power has since rectified though a reordering of tracks and the introduction of new material).

????????Glide – Assemblage One & Two

Who knew that Echo & The Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant was such a fan of 70s electronica pioneers like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream? Or that he could pay homage in such a respectful and skillful manner? Assemblage is wonderfully evocative of that classic era of electronic music without being derivative. Strongly recommended if you are a fan of TD or other artists of that ilk. Its hypnotic rhythms will transport you to other realms…

guapoGuapo – History Of The Visitation

‘Guapo’ means ‘handsome’ in Spanish, but I’m not sure that’s an entirely appropriate term for the music that Dave Smith, Kavus Torabi, James Sedwards & Emmett Elvin have produced here. Visitation, Guapo’s first recorded output for five years, is a satisfyingly dense and complex slab of instrumental art rock, full of dark tones and edgy riffs. Intense 26-minute opener The Pilman Radiant dominates, providing all the shifting moods and time signatures that a prog fan craves, while Complex #7 provides a richly atmospheric interlude in which to catch the breath before the mayhem resumes with up-tempo closing number Tremors From The Future. Highly recommended.

lunarossaLuna Rossa – Sleeping Pills & Lullabies

The glorious voice of Anne-Marie Helder continues to delight, this time in partnership with fellow Panic Room member Jonathan Edwards. Panic Room’s Skin was one of last year’s surprise hits for me, a powerful demonstration of the growing sophistication and maturity of their sound. Much of that improvement carries over to the efforts of this acoustic double-act (unsurprisingly, given they are the principal songwriters for the band). Sleeping Pills is a delicate and beautiful album, beguiling in its simplicity.

midlakeMidlake – Antiphon

Imagine what it must feel like to be stalled in the midst of a lengthy and difficult recording process for your fourth album, when suddenly you lose your vocalist and principal songwriter! Midlake certainly demonstrated the ‘courage of others’ in scrapping two years of work and starting again from scratch. Given these circumstances, new album Antiphon, written and recorded in only six months, is a triumph. Stand-out tracks from these champions of American prog folk are probably The Old And The Young and Ages, although the whole piece is immensely enjoyable, albeit without quite the same degree of melancholic elegance as its predecessor.

sandSand – Sand

A magnificent solo effort from North Atlantic Oscillation’s Sam Healy. Sam has suggested that Sand serves as a ‘musical palette cleanser’ before work begins on new NAO material, and he has spoken of this album’s different feel – but in truth, Sand could easily be mistaken for a new NAO album. The characteristic NAO ingredients are all here – drum machines, samples, layered electronics and dreamy vocal harmonies – but Sand manages to eclipse 2012’s Fog Electric, feeling somewhat gentler and more refined. Stand-out tracks for me are Clay, Destroyer and Astray.

shinebackShineback – Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed

A bold statement from Tinyfish frontman Simon Godfrey, ably assisted by lyricist Rob Ramsay. With its strong pop, dance music and electronica influences it certainly won’t be to every proghead’s taste, but adventurousness such as this is surely necessary to evolve and reinvigorate the genre. Highlights are probably Passengers, the languid Faultlines – the “A paper doll in Scissorland” lyric is particularly memorable – and the ten-minute title track. The vocals are at times a little too thin and tend to get overwhelmed by the more forceful passages of music, else this might have made my Top Ten.

solsticeSolstice – Prophecy

I’ve always had a soft spot for Solstice. I saw them live many times during the mid 80s and the feel-good hippy vibe of their performances never failed to put a smile on the face. It was gratifying to see them return in 2010 with Spirit and even more gratifying to see them take further strides forward this year with Prophecy. The focal point, as ever, is the superb guitar playing of Andy Glass, but everyone plays their part and Jenny Newman’s violin playing contributes greatly to the overall feel of the album. Forget the new age lyrics if that kind of thing bothers you and just revel in the gloriously uplifting sounds that this band can produce. A most welcome bonus is a trio of Steven Wilson remixes of tracks from the band’s 1984 debut Silent Dance that greatly improve on the originals.

Sound-of-Contact-Dimensionaut-Cover-300x300Sound Of Contact – Dimensionaut

The debut release from the new project of Simon Collins and Dave Kerzner is another of 2013’s unexpected pleasures. The underlying concept doesn’t really fire the imagination, to be honest, but the music most certainly does! Ironically, the album’s prog epic – the 19-minute Möbius Slip – is probably the weakest track, but that’s mainly because the rest of it is so melodic and catchy as hell. It is difficult to pick out highlights, but the five-track sequence from Pale Blue Dot through to Beyond Illumination is near-perfect. Simon Collins is excellent on vocals, with just the slightest hint of father Phil prompting a shiver of recognition here and there.

Spooky-Action-CD-Cover-FinishedOverThe Fierce & The Dead – Spooky Action

Matt Stevens & Co move from strength to strength with this, their second album. As before, it’s an unfailingly energetic and heady mix of King Crimson, math rock, punk and other influences – difficult to categorise adequately, but that is surely part of the attraction. This is the sound of a band charting new ground and growing in confidence as they do so. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.

Mike Portnoy’s Top Ten

From MikePortnoy.com:

MP’s Top 10 Albums of 2013
(in no particular order):

1. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing
2. Haken – The Mountain
3. Queens Of The Stone Age – …Like Clockwork
4. Biffy Clyro – Opposites
5. Black Sabbath – 13
6. The Ocean – Pelagial
7. Megadeth – Super Collider
8. Fates Warning – Darkness In A Different Light
9. Spock’s Beard – Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep
10. Stryper – No More Hell To Pay

Mike is right about the Stryper album being awesome metal!

And, in case you missed it, Stryper also released a nicely done retrospective album of re-recordings in  2013.

The Winery Dogs (Best of 2013 — Part 10)

Coming in the #10 slot (in alphabetical order) on my Best of 2013 list is this supergroup’s eponymous bolt of lightning:

The Winery Dogs

Wow. This album blew me away.

One of my all-time favorite prog drummers, Mike Portnoy, teamed up with Richie Kotzen and Billy Sheehan this year, and they demonstrate to us all the unbeatable power of the power trio when it is done right.

The thrill of listening to these catchy songs, and to the virtuoso musical chops on display in them, evoked a lot of happy musical memories of musical “first encounters” for me.

First, there is the rush of listening to Rush. Like I say, there is nothing quite as exciting as the hard rock power of the power trio when it is done right. The Winery Dogs evoke for me the musical joy I experienced when first listening to Rush in high school. Of course, the greatness of Rush is still there to be savored with every listen. But there is nothing quite like the first ten times that you listen to a truly great album. With this release from The Winery Dogs, we get to experience that kind of magic again, as for the first time.

Second, there is the sonic adrenaline that I love to tap into by listening to Chris Cornell and Audioslave. Therefore I am dedicating my Winery Dogs nomination here for the Best of 2013 to Carl, my fellow Soundgarden aficionado in the republic of Progarchy, in case he has not heard it yet. It’s remarkably satisfying, for those of us who can’t get enough of such upper-echelon vocal stylings, how well Richie Kotzen can recreate the thrill of listening to Chris Cornell.

Third, there is the undefinable excitement that skilled musicianship can bring to enhance and elevate any genre’s tropes. Suddenly, as you round what seems to be a familiar musical corner, you are blindsided and pleasantly surprised by an unexpected display of virtuosity that showers you with musical grace. When Billy Sheehan works his otherworldly magic here on bass guitar, or when Richie Kotzen transports us into ordinarily inaccessible dimensions of guitarcraft, or when Mike Portnoy muscles his way out of the speakers and right into the room next to you, I am reminded of those magical younger days when my friends and I first began listening to all those great, lesser-known albums by “musicians’ musicians.” Those discs opened up musical pathways that most of our schoolmates were missing out on. For some reason, when listening to The Winery Dogs, memories of listening to The Steve Morse Band come to mind for me. But each of you will find that your own personal memories of your first listens to “the greats” will be evoked by this album’s dazzling display of virtuosity.

Best of all, this album is a perfect cure for the dragon sickness of any nascent prog tendency to become a tribal, self-enclosed musical world. It makes the joy of music available to anyone with the ears to listen.

This disc is a perfect illustration of how musical men with prog chops can quite simply put their musical skills in the noble service of simply rocking out. Anyone with a heart can relate to this cause. I invite you to happily endorse it with the simplest of gestures, like a fist pump or an air guitar solo.

Rock on, gentlemen.