A waterfall of excellent new music is pouring in and so we offer four quick overviews of highly recommended albums. The first three are from independent artists who shouldn’t fly under your radar, while the fourth is from an old esteemed veteran of the rock/prog world. Enjoy these Sonic Briefs:
Deaton Lemay Project – The Fifth Element (Independent)
The second album from Texas-based band Deaton Lemay Project, “The Fifth Element” is an unexpected joy to come upon. While Keith Emerson influences reign heavily throughout, courtesy of keyboardist Roby Deaton, there are a wealth of other styles present and more than a little edge at times. Singer Hadi Kiani has a stirring voice which usually would be found in the context of prog metal but the majority of the material here is more symphonic in nature. Deaton and drummer Craig Lemay carry the project’s namesake and therefore the spotlight shines most brightly on them but they are not afraid to let the guest artists make their own mark.
“A Different Place In Time” is one of the most complete pieces on the album, delivering piano runs, acoustic guitar arpeggiating, gorgeous lead and harmony vocals, and themes on the organ straight out of the 70s. Guitarist Josh Mark Raj offers nice colors and soloing while Charles Berthoud keeps things busy on the bottom end and Lemay lays in choice fills on his drum kit. Yeah, there’s a bit of Rush here, too. Instrumental “Exordium” is an album highlight, Deaton’s heavy-handed organ drenching the song in keyboard fury while Ehsan Imani delivers the guitar fireworks this time around and John Haddad ably covers the bass.
Special mention needs to be made of Roby’s two solo pieces, the piano-based “Dragonfly” and the gorgeous “Air” which features heartbreakingly-composed violin lines, played by Liza Evans, bringing to mind Steven Wilson’s aching “Year of the Plague”. Although these two pieces seem a little out of place from the driving rock of the rest of the album, they add to the overall diversity and impact of “The Fifth Element”.
The album carries an inspired theme – the “fifth element” being Music itself. Beautifully illustrated in the cover art, the title track takes up all of Side Two, split into the five elements with an Overture for starters. By the time we reach the final piece of “Music”, the lyrics detail the wrongs that are done in the quest for the other four elements, while Music is the element that brings people together. Hard to argue with those sentiments, especially when well-conveyed by music such as this! Overall, the recording would benefit from a cleaner production, especially to enjoy Lemay’s drumming details a little more, but in general this is an engaging album which traverses a wide range of textures and deserves attention.
“The Fifth Element” Track-Listing:
- The Great Awakening
- A Different Place in Time
- The Nightmare
- Fifth Element Suite:
Beagley/Anania – On The Bridge (Independent)
Billy Squier might have had The Big Beat in the early 80s but John Beagley has David Anania on drums in 2022 and bigger beats would be hard to find. Hailing from the Blue Man Group, Anania fulfills the hidden air drummer inside all of us. If the drum fill from “In The Air Tonight” is your cuppa, there’s that to the hundredth degree and more throughout “On The Bridge”. It’s an apt match for Beagley, whose songwriting, vocals, keys and sound design take more than a little reference from 80s-era Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel. Together they offer an album that feels retro and modern at the same time, often very satisfying at that.
Early single “PTSD” is one of the album’s best, a heady mix of pop vocal hooks and rhythmic groove. The Gabriel influence is huge, equally in the percussion and the voice. Beagley doesn’t deliver instrumental soloing, rather it’s his keyboard-driven sounds that weave an intense musical soundscape for Anania’s drum kit to essentially be the lead instrument. It’s an effective approach which gets employed throughout the album.
Diving into darker subject matter on this album, Beagley takes an instrumental approach on several of the tracks with Anania’s monster percussion often turning up the intensity dial. Even in that context you’ll occasionally pick up the Genesis influences: a keyboard patch here, a “Cinema Show” synth run there. The pinnacle of the instrumentals is clearly “The Battle” which, as Beagley puts it, is a drum duet with Anania…and Anania. Blast this one from your favorite sound system or better yet, car stereo, but don’t send the resulting speeding tickets to the drummer in question.
Of the better vocal pieces, “What In The World” delivers a bouncy Howard Jones pop vibe whereas “Let It In To Let Out” is a much more introspective exploration of the emotional intensity of an empath. Although his vocals often incorporate a bit too much electronic processing (hello, Billy Sherwood), Beagley possesses a good range and tone for this kind of material. In Anania he’s discovered a perfect collaborator, making “On The Bridge” one of his most satisfying projects. Do check it out and support independent artists such as this.
“On The Bridge” Track-Listing:
- On the Bridge / Overthinking
- Red Mist
- In The Room
- Make It Stop
- Let it In to Let Out
- What In The World
- The Battle
Alan Hewitt & One Nation – 2021 (Independent)
Alan Hewitt’s band One Nation serves up a slick fusion of rock, pop, prog and jazz. The Moody Blues factors heavily into their makeup, with Hewitt and drummer Billy Ashbaugh being active members of the most recent incarnation of the Moodies as well as John Lodge’s solo band, in addition to guitarist Duffy King who also tours with Lodge. Moodies fans will easily be swooned by the 80s pop sheen of songs like “Hard Rain” and “High Above” but don’t be fooled – there’s a startling amount of musical muscle in this band, which also includes ace bassist David C. Johnson. Opener “One Step Closer” is the most successful at melding the pop choruses with engaging instrumental sections, Hewitt’s keyboard attack suggesting a Keith Emerson fervor while Ashbaugh’s well-panned drum kit surrounds the listener on this magnificent piece.
Several instrumentals pepper the the track listing and this is where the band really lets loose, often approaching jazz fusion territory. “Volt” injects the necessary amount of electricity, Johnson’s rhythmic pulse on the bass laying down a perfect groove for an utterly joyous fusion romp. “Enigma” starts off as a symphonic piano piece, later opening up with King’s lead electric guitar as it embodies the instrumental’s title. But it’s the progified 7-minute “Return to Orion” where the band shines as a whole, starting off with delicious lead bass lines from Johnson. Weaving strong themes throughout this journey, this is a musical tour de force, propelled by Ashbaugh’s drumming and featuring King’s guitar soloing non-stop right up to his tasty final chord swells to close the album. Of course, Hewitt is our constant conductor on an array of keyboards and piano through all of these pieces, ensuring that no stone is left unturned in each twist and turn of the material.
The band even delivers a theme song of sorts with “We’re One Nation”, though the hooky gimmick of so many words ending with “—tion” can’t help but conjure images of Adam Sandler’s Cajun Man doing a little parody in song. Nevertheless, the positivity of the song wins in the end and King comes through with a memorable guitar solo as a bonus. Hewitt’s talents also include production skills, making “2021” a great listen sonically-speaking. Being the main songwriter and bandleader, Hewitt has much to be proud of in this project. It’s rewarding to see top-tier supporting musicians (of the Moodies, Lodge and others) have the opportunity to fully flesh out their own identity while making stirring music that’s so enjoyable and engaging.
“2021” track listing:
- One Step Closer
- Hard Rain
- We’re One Nation
- High Above
- The Enigma
- Madhatter’s Illusion
- Return to Orion
Alan Parsons – One Note Symphony: Live in Tel Aviv (Frontiers Music SRL)
The raven might quoth “Nevermore” but Alan Parsons certainly doesn’t when it comes to live albums. Once a studio-only Project, Parsons has made up for lost time with a host of live tours and accompanying live albums in the past decades. Although his Project collaborator and occasional lead vocalist Eric Woolfson was never part of the live scene, the Project utilized a wide number of lead singers and studio musicians so having an alternate touring version of the band was never really an issue as long as Parsons himself was overseeing the proceedings.
The opportunity to play with a live symphony is an obvious natural for this kind of repertoire as this collection makes apparent with lead-off piece “One Note Symphony”. While the song’s vocal melody may only consist of one note, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra has plenty of material to add to this dramatic show opener. Likewise, Side Two opens with “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” which many will know from the movie Fantasia. It also appeared on Parson’s latest studio album “The Secret” and is a perfect choice for this orchestral evening.
Throughout this double album the symphony is used to brilliant effect, arranged and conducted by keyboardist Tom Brooks. Second song “Damned If Do” immediately demonstrates the orchestral advantage with its brass and string sections adding immeasurably to the performance. This special sauce continues on nearly every song, whether in chart-topping hits like “Time” and “Breakdown” or on less-played songs like “Silence and I” which would be hard to pull off without a full orchestra.
The hits are all here – from “Games People Play” to “Eye In The Sky” to “Don’t Answer Me”. “I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You” has a great funky bass solo break while the 11-minute “Prime Time” features multiple roaring guitar solos and an extended piano spotlight. It’s a sumptuous collection which includes a few additional songs from “The Secret” alongside Parsons’ better-known classics. For fans of this material, there’s really no better way to do it than in this kind of presentation.
All of that said, mention must be made to the fact that most of this material has already been offered about a half-decade earlier on Parsons’ excellent symphonic “Live In Columbia” double album which has an even better track listing – such as including the essential “I Robot” – and boasts a slightly better mix and performances, including in the vocal department (hey, the band was younger then). In addition, last year’s “The Never-ending Show: Live In the Netherlands” offers a very similar set-list to the Tel Aviv concert, albeit without an orchestra but still opening with “One Note Symphony”. This is all to say, there’s no lack of recent Alan Parsons live recordings offered and so fans would be old and wise to select the song selection which best appeals to their tastes.
“One Note Symphony: Live in Tel Aviv” track-listing:
- One Note Symphony
- Damned If I Do
- Don’t Answer Me
- Breakdown/The Raven
- Silence And I
- I Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You
- Don’t Let It Show
- The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
- Standing On Higher Ground
- As Lights Fall
- I Can’t Get There From Here
- Prime Time
- Sirius/Eye In The Sky
- Old And Wise
- (The System Of) Dr. Tarr And Professor Fether
- Games People Play