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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Ted Leonard

Way Home

Review by Sonya Kukcinovich Hill

I have been aware of the west coast prog band called Enchant, but in the myriad of things heard and unheard I have simply not been familiar with their personnel nor their material. I'm certain that will change now that I have become familiar with lead vocalist Ted Leonard and his recently released solo Christian project entitled "Way Home." I initially heard a couple of the cuts on his MySpace page and was absolutely blown away by this stellar voice. I must certainly say that this is a musical gem as-well-as another leap forward in the development of Christian music in particular and prog music in general.

The first outstanding thing that I noticed even before hearing the CD is that Leonard is clearly a man of true faith. A deep sense of humble strength seems to emanate forward from his prayerful approach to the creation and production of this venture. He has asked for prayer from fellow Christians, specifically as a low priority in terms of items of importance, to get this CD into mass production and circulation. This is not cookie-cutter, Nashville produced Christian artist material. It doesn't belong on the easy listening station. It does not compromise musical integrity for the sake of a dumbed down prosperity theology. Nor is it the opposite extreme in comparing it to, for example, the long epic style theme albums of Neal Morse, not that there is anything wrong with that approach. Rather, this CD is a collection of quite introspective thoughts about his faith, little journeys into the struggles of day to day people who have to make tough decisions in a world that has largely lost the meaning of personal faith.

How does one sacrifice personal pride to do the right thing? How can we love one another a bit more? How can we deal with wrongs done to us and the wrongs we do to others? For Ted Leonard, it seems that there is no separation of faith and reason. They are two sides of the same coin, and it takes a great deal of personal integrity to put this into perspective and live a Christ-centered life in a very, very sick world. When you combine this personal statement with beautifully constructed melody lines, dense but not overly stated harmonic changes and clean syncopated breaks, plus an incredibly soulful voice with nearly perfect expression and pitch, this in an incredibly impressive project. Leonard plays all of the instrumentation himself with the exception of the outstanding drumming being primarily handled by Spock's Beard drummer Nick D'Virgilio. Sean Flanegan adds his percussive talents on four cuts and keyboardist Kirt Shearer contributes on three pieces. It's a must own for Prog junkies and Christians alike. Buy this CD!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
Way Home
This piece is a very positive, uplifting composition. D'Virgilio's accented fills really lead things forward. Leonard's voice is spot on perfect, with clean, proggy guitar rounding out the vocal melody line. My first comment in hearing this was, "Oh, Yeah!" You just feel good listening to this one. It’s a very bright and catchy piece. This one would work well on either Christian or prog radio.
Submerged
Talk about an immediate stylistic change! This chart has a laid back groovy, almost R&B feel to it on the opening melody line. The chorus explores the upper register of Leonard's voice and is powerfully executed. This is psychedelic and trippy, exploring the wonder of divine grace. The guitar solo is simply tasteful and wonderful. Great colors and dynamics dominate this piece.
Once A Week
Wow! My first impression of this song is the retro opening and unique bass fills that remind me of Chris Squire's Fish Out Of Water. A very difficult piece to sing because of the large interval skips, it maintains a tremendous expressive quality and then nails down a very, very soulful refrain. I really love the octave background vocal work. It fattens the sound. With absolutely pitch perfect, this is a very cool song.
Thank You
The opening chordal progression and melody line is very reminiscent of DC Talk's tribute to The X Files, "The Truth is Out There." The quarter note rim shots really make that apparent. This is a very mysterious and hauntingly beautiful melody. It’s another five star piece on this incredible album.
Hold the Wind
This is the first song on the album in three, which gives it a rock waltz feel. The groove is very palpable. Long lyrical lines dovetail perfectly into another memorable chorus with a great hook. The bridge backs off dynamically, making the final melody entrance and hook even more powerful, again driven by D'Virgilio's powerful drumming which integrates everything. Skillful guitar solos color the background throughout. One can feel the message being told through the song.
Just For Me
This song is perfect for adult contemporary radio. One could argue that it's sappy, but it is certainly a beautiful love ballad. It is actually a perfect example of a ballad with complicated moving background parts. This is a textbook clinic in ballad songwriting.
Who Do You Say He Is?
This song is so very cool. The funky rhythms and dynamic syncopations immediately grab your attention. Possibly my favorite song on the CD, it reminds me of "Crash" by Blues Traveler. Again, wonderful guitar work just sells Leonard's beautiful voice.
Not Me
The piece opens without a break from the prior one. This is more straightforward rhythmically, but I really like the modal changes from major to minor, and then a powerful neo-prog rhythm guitar break into the bridge, then back to the original refrain. What a dynamic number this is! My guess is most everyone will love this one!
Broken Tools
This song opens with a more legato and laid back sound, but complete with Leonard's expressive vocals, then wow! ... yet another extremely cool hook. In fact, I'm not sure I've heard this many great hooks in sequential songs on a CD in a very long time.
See No Evil
This song has a really nice two versus three feel to it, which is one of my favorite grooves. I keep coming back to mention those wonderfully intricate guitar fills that just sit so tastefully between vocal lines. I like the overlapping legato background vocal in place of an instrument with the lead vocal doing the fill. This is a nice concept. Audiophiles, listen carefully to this one. You'll dig it!
Take This Cup
This song has a bit of the opening feel of "Who Do You Say He Is?,” but perhaps delivered in a more introspective rather than telling fashion. It has a nice mid-tempo feel to it, and the vocal always has direction, a characteristic of only the best vocalists. In fact, Leonard sounds almost like Michael W. Smith meets Paul Rogers, so you can take it that I mean he's really, really, really good!
Resolve
I like the chordal progression in this. It's very jazz fusion oriented, like a John Scofield number, but not synthetic sounding in the guitar lead. The bass is reminiscent of John Patitucci, and Leonard's vocals here sound a lot like the Flecktones' Roy "Futureman" Wooten. With cool vocal harmony stacking, this is funky and innovative.
The Name of God
Hmmmm ... Guitar heavy at the opening, the lead is reminiscent of Jeff Beck, then leads into those trippy psychedelic vocals again. Its a bit sorrowful in it's message about how God's name is abused, and the hypocrisy of everyday people. The dynamic range of this number is absolutely wide open and impressive. I would love to hear this live.
Ghost Pains
The opening is in 6/8 time, then features a pizzicato style guitar behind the vocal entrance. Yet another "blow me away" hook is delivered, then backs off to a mezzo piano fill before the second melody entrance. I enjoyed the Andy Summers style attenuation on the upper frequencies of the guitar sound. But the guitar soloing is exquisitely Leonard once again. This man is a one man band and a one man witness for the truth!
 
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