Neal Morse, Pete Trewavas, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt

Parallel Universes: Transatlantic’s Dueling Epics

This is probably the only time I’ll have a legitimate reason to use this cool new WordPress feature.

Transatlantic have reached the ripe old age of 21, and with that they’ve released a brand new album. Wait, that isn’t right. They’ve released two brand new albums. Well, no, they haven’t really done that either. What they have done is released two versions of one album: one at ~65 minutes and the other at ~91 minutes. The Absolute Universe: The Breath of Life is the short one, and The Absolute Universe: Forevermore is the long one. For the sake of clarity (both mine and yours), I’m going to refer to the albums as the extended version and the abridged version.

Now why on earth, you may ask, would a band want to release two different versions of an album? Excellent question. I was a bit miffed when Big Big Train did it with Folklore (the vinyl and Hi-Res audio version was longer with some tracks from the Wassail EP and a slightly altered track listing), and I’m a bit miffed that Transatlantic has done it. Apparently the band couldn’t come to an agreement on whether they should release a longer version of what they had written or a condensed version, so they decided to release both.

The abridged version is $9.99 on iTunes, while the extended edition is $16.99, so it’ll cost you just under $30 to buy the downloads. You may need to take out a loan to buy physical copies. And don’t think you can get away with buying just the extended version thinking you’ll just get the abridged version plus some extra tracks. Nope they’ve gone and changed things in the tracks that overlap, so in many ways they’re very different. There’s also a third version on Blu-Ray only that combines the two into a ~96 minute version. Good grief. I haven’t heard that version, nor do I intend to.

If you’re going to buy only one of them, I suggest you buy the extended version. It has a much better flow to it with smoother transitions than the abridged version. Even though it’s longer, it isn’t packed with filler. To my ear it sounds more like a Transatlantic album. There are more songs with Roine Stolt on lead vocals. Yes of course he sings on the abridged version, but he sings less in the second half of that album. That makes the abridged version seem to morph into a Neal Morse album as it comes to a close. “Lonesome Rebel” towards the end of extended version remedies that by restoring some balance. In addition to Roine’s stellar vocals, the mix of wonderful electric and acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies really makes this track stand out.

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Bryan’s Best of 2020

Looking back at 2020, it’s hard to believe that we lost Neil Peart at the beginning of the year. That loss hit me pretty hard, since Rush’s music has been central to my life from an early age. I talk more about that in my tribute to Peart: https://progarchy.com/2020/01/12/neil-peart-a-misfits-hero/. I start off my year-end review list with a reminder of the loss of Neil because it seems like a fitting way to remember 2020. Peart’s loss represents what so many people have lost this year, whether it be family members and friends due to the virus or jobs lost due to draconian forced business closures that haven’t actually accomplished anything in slowing the viral spread. Not to mention the emotional distress that physical separation is causing many people.

Another thing we lost this year was live music from our favorite bands. Big Big Train had their first North American tour planned for late spring this year. Canceled. Devin Townsend was in the middle of a glorious North American tour with Haken when everything blew up. Canceled. Obviously this list could be expanded to every band that tours. Losing live music makes it even more difficult for bands in a niche genre to spread their music to more people.

But enough lamenting. We still got a lot of great music this year. The following list is in no particular order apart from my number one album at the end. I include both new albums and live records.

Haken – Virus
I was a little surprised that I was the only person over at the Dutch Progressive Rock Page to include this one in my top ten list for their annual list. Maybe people were really sensitive about the name of the album, but it was clear that the album was written and completed before the novel coronavirus was a known entity. The music is fantastic. It’s probably their heaviest album to date, but it still has some of their calmer moments. It’s Haken through-and-through, and it makes a wonderful companion to 2018’s Vector. We also get to hear some more about our old nemesis, the cockroach king. It’s pretty cool how they worked in some of those themes. Fantastic album that should’ve received more attention than it did. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2020/07/23/haken-goes-viral-virus-album-review-haken_official/

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Have a Very Merry Prog Christmas

I’d like to strike the next person who says “Christmas this year will look a bit different.” Well it doesn’t have to sound different. If you find yourself alone this Christmas Eve/Christmas (like me), there’s plenty of Christmas-related prog to keep you entertained.

Devin Townsend’s Christmas livestream
A couple hours ago Devin Townsend released a Christmas-themed live stream. If you’ve ever wanted to see the mad genius imitate a crooner, you’re in luck. Mostly he plays his own music spanning his career, and his whole demeanor is incredibly calming. It’s an acoustic set and a one-man show, so if you’re not as big a fan of the extreme side of his career, then this is the show for you. Ok it’s Devin so there are a few screams, which are almost comical considering he’s playing an acoustic guitar. The acoustic version of Strapping Young Lad’s “Love” is pure gold in that regard. The man has a golden voice no matter how he’s using it.

Dream Theater’s “The Holiday Spirit Carries On”
The mighty Dream Theater released a Christmas medley track a couple weeks ago to raise money for their live crew. It’s $2.99, and all the proceeds go to their crew. If you’ve ever wanted to hear James LaBrie sing “Fa-la-la-la-la la la-la la, then you had better buy the track soon because it’s only available during the month of December: https://dreamtheaterofficial.bandcamp.com. Here’s a brief sample:

Neal Morse’s “Last Minute Christmas Album”
Neal Morse decided to write a Christmas album over the last couple weeks, and it is available for download over at his label, Radiant Records. It’s his singer-songwriter side of things rather than his prog side, but it’s still Neal Morse. https://www.nealmorse.com/2020/12/19/download-now-neal-morse-last-minute-christmas-album/

Big Big Train’s “Merry Christmas” and “Snowfalls”
Big Big Train released the single “Merry Christmas” along with the even-better B-side “Snowfalls” back in 2017. They’ve become two of my favorite tracks of the season, and I would love to hear a whole album of original Christmas music from them, along with their take on some classic Christmas carols.

Jethro Tull’s Christmas Album
“The Jethro Tull Christmas Album” has been a favorite of mine for several years now. I listen to it every Christmas season.

LEAH’s “Ancient Winter”
It’s been a while since we’ve heaped praises upon the head of Canadian Leah McHenry. Last year she released “Ancient Winter,” a wonderful album celebrating the winter season. This album leans more into her Celtic influences than her metal influences, which fits the season. Definitely worth a listen or two.

There’s other Christmas prog out there, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. May you have a blessed holiday in spite of everything going on in the world. Christmas is a time when we remember that God humbled Himself to be born as one of us so that He could live like us before sacrificing His very life so that we might live forever if we follow Him. His burden is light when compared to the weight of our sin, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that we’d all be better off bearing that burden than the weight of the world. There’s always hope in the world, no matter what’s going on. This music is just a little glimpse of the goodness available to us even in the darkest moments.

Merry Christmas.

The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!

As always seems to be the case, there’s tons of great music coming out between now and Black Friday, November 27. Below, the merest sampling of upcoming releases in prog and other genres below, with purchase links to Progarchy’s favorite online store Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

Out now:

Simon Collins, Becoming Human: after 3 solo albums and Sound of Contact’s acclaimed Dimensionaut, Phil Collins’ oldest son returns on vocals. keys and drums; his new effort encompasses rock, pop, prog, electronica and industrial genres. Plus an existential inquiry into the meaning of life! Available on CD from Frontiers Records.

John Petrucci, Terminal Velocity: the Dream Theater guitarist reunites with Mike Portnoy on drums for his second solo set of instrumentals. Plus Dave LaRue of the Dixie Dregs and Flying Colors on bass. Expect lotsa notes! Available on CD or 2 LP from Sound Mind Records/The Orchard.

The Pineapple Thief, Versions of the Truth: Hot on the heels of their first US tour, Bruce Soord and Gavin Harrison helm TPT’s latest collection of brooding, stylized alt/art rock, honing in on the post-truth society’s impact on people and relationships. Available on CD, BluRay (with bonus track plus alternate, hi-res and surround mixes), LP or boxset (2 CDs/DVD/BluRay) – plus there’s a t-shirt!

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Alone Together: Sjöblom spearheads a thoroughly groovy collection on vocals, guitar and organ, with Petter and Rasmus Diamant jumping in on drums and bass. Heartfelt portraits of daily life and love that yield extended, organic instrumental jams and exude optimism in the midst of ongoing isolation. Available on CD and LP (black or deep blood red vinyl).

[Upcoming releases follow the jump …]

Continue reading “The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!”
Neal Morse

By Grace Alone: A Conversation With Neal Morse

Scary man with scythe is the winter snow.

Neal Morse, Sola Gratia, September 11, 2020, Inside Out Music

Tracks: 1. Preface (01:28), 2. Overture (05:59), 3. In The Name Of The Lord (04:27), 4. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones) (02:43), 5. March Of The Pharisees (01:40), 6. Building A Wall (05:01), 7. Sola Intermezzo (02:10), 8. Overflow (06:27), 9. Warmer Than The Sunshine (03:22), 10. Never Change (07:52), 11. Seemingly Sincere (09:34), 12. The Light On The Road To Damascus (03:26), 13. The Glory Of The Lord (06:17), 14. Now I Can See/The Great Commission (05:17)

Last Saturday, August 29, 2020, I had the great opportunity to talk to the magnificent Neal Morse about his new solo album, Sola Gratia. Morse is perhaps the most ubiquitous artist of “third wave” progressive rock. You’d be hard pressed to find contemporary progressive rock artists that aren’t influenced by him in some way. His latest solo effort proves why. The lyrical and musical songwriting is in peak form.

As a sequel to 2007’s Sola Scriptura, this album finds Morse exploring the story of the Apostle Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of Christians to the faith’s most ardent missionary. It is a profound story of God’s grace. Morse explores the drama of this story as Paul (then called Saul) wrestles with the newly founded Christian church and the sincerity of its followers. While Paul is on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians, Jesus appears to him. Paul then converts and repents. The album ends with Paul converting and glorifying God, leaving us on a cliffhanger of sorts for a possible part 2 in the future.

The album pulls a few lyrical and musical highlights from Sola Scriptura, but, as Morse says in the interview below, they are merely sprinklings. It is enough to be familiar without sounding like a retread. The music gives room for the listener to breathe and think about the lyrics, which makes this an enjoyable album to return to. At just over an hour long it isn’t a chore to return to as a double album might be. The music has its expected complexity with the usual suspects playing on the album – primarily Mike Portnoy and Randy George – but the lyrics are the highlight here. There are a lot of calm moments that allow you to reflect. I found that quite appealing about the album, and it has quickly become one of my favorite Neal Morse solo albums.

But enough of that. The interview covers the background of the album, how it was written, and its connections to Sola Scriptura. We talked a bit about Paul, and Transatlantic and Flying Colors came up a few times as well.

Neal Morse at keyboards

Neal: Hello.

Bryan: Hi, this is Bryan from Progarchy.

Neal: Hey how you doing man?

Bryan: Good how are you?

Neal: Good! Good good.

Bryan: Thanks so much for your time this morning. I really appreciate it. I know you’re a busy man.

Neal: Well, you know, got a couple things going on. That’s alright. I’m sure you do too.

Bryan: Well I don’t have an album coming out every month. [laughs]

Neal: [Laughs] Yeah.

Bryan: So tell me about the background for your upcoming album, Sola Gratia. I’ve had a chance to listen to it several times, and it’s fantastic.

Neal: Oh thanks man. Thanks, I’m glad you like it. Well I mean I started getting these ideas while I was on vacation – sort of half vacation half work actually. We did some gigs down in Australia, and then we took a trip to New Zealand and I was just getting a flood of ideas.

Continue reading “By Grace Alone: A Conversation With Neal Morse”

Coming from Inside Out Music …

Hardly breaking stride, Inside Out Music ramps up their summer schedule with a fistful of new releases (some of which had to be rescheduled due to manufacturing delays).  Unless otherwise noted, links go to CD versions of these upcoming albums available at Burning Shed; LP and download editions will also be available.

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July

August

September

 

— Rick Krueger

Morse, Portnoy, George launch video for cover of “It Don’t Come Easy”

From Inside Out Music:

Mike Portnoy, Neal Morse, Randy George
Photo Credit: Robert Smith

Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy & Randy George recently announced their return to the Cover To Cover series of albums with ‘Cov3r To Cov3r’, the brand new third installment. Featuring their renditions of classic tracks by the likes of King Crimson, Jethro Tull, Gerry Rafferty, David Bowie & more (including their cover of ‘No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed’ featuring vocals from Yes singer Jon Davison), the album will be released on July 24th as CD, Gatefold 2LP + CD & as Digital Album.

Today they are pleased to reveal a video for their cover of ‘It Don’t Come Easy’, originally by Ringo Starr, and you can watch it now here:

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Memorial Day Weekend Prog and Prog Metal Round-Up

There is a lot of great prog and prog metal currently in the pipeline – either that has already been released or that will be in the coming months. Plenty of new singles and whole albums out.

Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant

Australian prog metal band Caligula’s Horse released their brand new record, Rise Radiant, today. For some reason their music never really connected with me before, but this album has. It is insanely good. It has the technicality mixed with the quirkiness that this generation of prog metal has become known for. Outstanding vocals as well. I’ve got some homework to do on their back catalog. If all goes well, they’ll be coming to North America next January-February for the very first time. https://caligulashorse.com

Haken – Virus

I’ve been able to listen to an advance copy of Haken’s new album for a few weeks now, and it is quite good. It has been a slow burn for me, but that could have something to do with absorbing it in the background while I work from home. It has the heaviness and the technicality we are used to, and melodies abound. There’s a gentleness in Ross Jennings’ voice that strikes me as something new, but I could be wrong. There are also musical nods to their last album as well as “The Cockroach King.” The title is bound to upset some people, but it’s not like Haken could have possibly known what was going to befall the world when they wrote and finalized the album. The release date has been pushed back a few weeks to June 19. I expect this is due to production issues with supply chains in the western world having been shut down for over two months. The band released another single today. https://hakenmusic.com

Nick D’Virgilio – Invisible

Big Big Train drummer Nick D’Virgilio has a new solo album coming out. Based on the single, it has a bit of a Big Big Train vibe in the song structure and general progression, but there’s also a Broadway theatricalness to it. The latter, according to D’Virgilio, comes from his time working with Cirque de Soleil. The album title comes from being an invisible member in the orchestra pit. Nick obviously plays the drums on this album, but he also sings. Anyone who knows his work from Spock’s Beard knows what a great voice he has. Jonas Reingold plays bass, Randy McStine plays guitars, and Jordan Rudess plays piano and sythns. Brass and string sections are courtesy of the Abbey Road Studios orchestra. Yeah this is some next level stuff. I’m looking forward to hearing the whole thing. Out June 26. https://www.nickdvirgilio.com

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Progarchy Interviews Casey McPherson @alpharev

Alpha Rev, Case.e Sessions Volume 1, 2019.

Tracks: Changeling (6:35), My Evolution (6:47), I’m A Refugee (4:02), White Matter Recess (4:24), Everyone’s Charade (5:19). You are the Peacemakers (4:33), Song of Aleppo (10:08), Silence (4:58), Write Your Name (4:22), Help Me (4:21), Silence For Humans (14:26)

Casey McPherson’s latest Alpha Rev album, Cas.e Sessions Volume 1, sees the extremely talented singer and multi-instrumentalist tackling music-making in a unique way. Modeled loosely off Neal Morse’s groundbreaking Inner Circle concept, the Cas.e Sessions membership program finds Casey making one song per month, creating a mini documentary about its creation, and presenting it to the members. After receiving positive feedback and seeing that the songs meshed together fairly well, he decided to release season 1 (2016) of the Cas.e Sessions music as a new Alpha Rev album.

Some might call this album pop, but I see it as prog in the vein of a band like Muse. There are a lot of similarities between this and Muse, such as the melodies and vocal lines, but this is a unique album that clearly comes from the heart. One might call this group of songs eclectic, but they work really well together, even though they were all written separately as a single project per month.

Continue reading “Progarchy Interviews Casey McPherson @alpharev”

In Concert: Progtoberfest 4, Part 1

Due to the delights and demands of daily life, my second annual visit to Chicago’s Progtoberfest couldn’t be as extensive as last year’s three day blowout. Originally, I was only going to take in Sunday, in order to experience Soft Machine’s 50th anniversary tour of the USA. But an unexpected schedule opening let me check out the Saturday night action at Reggie’s Rock Club on the Windy (and Sleety) City’s south side.

One of the reasons I added Saturday night to my itinerary was the return of North Carolina’s ABACAB – The Music of Genesis. This ambitious tribute band charmed Progtoberfest 3 with a complete run-through of 1977’s live Genesis album, Seconds Out. This year, the brief was even more demanding: celebrating Genesis’ 50th anniversary by counting back down the years a la Rush’s R40 tour.

IMG_5793Given their time constraints, ABACAB opted to start with the 1981 Genesis track that gave them their name, then go back, back, back … Jaws dropped throughout the audience as they scaled the challenging heights of And Then There Were Three’s “Burning Rope,” Wind and Wuthering’s “Eleventh Earl of Mar” and the title track from A Trick of the Tail, never originally performed onstage. These choices all had special meanings for me: not only did I play “ABACAB” with my Alma College band The Run-Outs (shout out to Gadz, Jenny, Beef and the late great Joel Kimball), but “Burning Rope” and “Earl of Mar” were highlights of Genesis’ set when I saw them in 1978 at my first rock concert (also my first date)!

And the upward climb continued — Nick D’Virgilio (among his numerous credits, drummer on the final Genesis album Calling All Stations) hopped onstage, taking command to sing “In the Cage” from The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway with flair and power:

IMG_5804From that point on, ABACAB had the audience completely in their grasp, cruising through highlights of the Peter Gabriel years in high style, then finishing with “In the Beginning” from the 1968 schoolboy album From Genesis to Revelation. Singer Pete Lents, bassist/guitarist Cliff Stankiewicz, new guitarist James Nelson, keys man Patrick Raymaker and drummer Matthew Hedrick played with brio and precision throughout, and got an enthusiastic standing ovation for their sterling effort.

Another cool thing about Progtoberfest: how organizer Kevin Pollack draws on the incredibly talented musicians based in Chicago, including many who’ve played crucial roles in the development of jazz, rock and prog. Dinosaur Exhibit was a shining example of that talent on display — a seasoned “where are they now” octet featuring members of area bands The Flock, Aura and The Mauds; the prime draw was violinist Jerry Goodman, best known for his founding stint with John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra.

IMG_5830Given Goodman’s pedigree and track record, I’m not sure the Rock Club crowd (including members of Soft Machine leaning back against the soundboard) were ready for the horn-powered blue-eyed soul that kicked off Dinosaur Exhibit’s set. It was driving, vivid stuff , as vocalist Ben Cothran testified with the best and Goodman fiddled up a storm — but you could almost see the “is this really prog?” thought balloons forming over the audience’s heads. The rest of the set (pioneering Goodman fusion originals like “Brick Chicken”, an admirably psychedelic take on “I Am the Walrus” and a viciously swinging “Theme from ‘Perry Mason'” finale) were more in that expected wheelhouse, though, and DE ultimately got the extended applause they deserved.

Which left Neal Morse as the evening’s closer, climbing onstage for a solo set on vocals, acoustic guitar, keyboard, percussion and looping software. As always, Morse was engaging and impressive, using his sonic arsenal to present songs from his new Life and Times, along with impressive takes on solo material (the multi-layered overture/finale sequence from ?), tunes by Transatlantic (“Stranger in Your Soul,” an impromptu “We All Need Some Light”) and Spock’s Beard (“Thoughts Pt. I & II,” done entirely with vocal loops).

Morse’s improvisatory opener “Songs of Freedom,” incorporating riffs from both Black Sabbath and Yes, established a loose, fun tone for the set — best encapsulated when he brought “Selfie in the Square” to a shuddering halt, then spent 10 minutes pulling tunes by Coldplay, Donovan and The Beatles out of his head, all because he couldn’t help singing the word “yellow” with an British accent! This wasn’t the high-energy, goal-directed path of concept albums like Testimony and The Similitude of a Dream; it was a relaxed, meandering vibe, in keeping with the smaller crowd, the quieter sound palette and the lateness of the hour. It was delightful to catch Morse off his guard and having more sheer fun than usual, with every bit of his heartfelt lyricism and musical brilliance still there for us to enjoy. (After I left to catch the train, Nick D’Virgilio hopped back onstage to harmonize with Neal on Spock’s Beard standards “The Doorway” and “Wind at My Back.”)

The other great part of my Progtoberfest sojourn was catching up with fellow fans I connected with last year from West Michigan, Kentucky, St. Louis, Wisconsin and beyond.  More about that next time, as well as covering the lineup for Day 3 — sixteen bands on two stages in twelve hours.  Stay tuned …

— Rick Krueger