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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Mike Vissagio

Starship Universe

Review by Gary Hill

For those who like their music with Christian themes, you should definitely check this out. All too often it seems that “Christian” music is all about the “ministry” and they forget the music. Well, this album definitely does not suffer from that problem. In fact, unless you read the liner notes (or perhaps get it from a few of the titles), you’d probably never peg this as Christian music. The music itself is very much in keeping with the original wave of progressive rock. You’ll probably pick out the Keith Emerson leanings right away, but you might also hear Yes, King Crimson and others on this album, along with some pure classical and other sounds. This is a strong disc with a definite retro approach. For more information, check out Visaggio's website.

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
In The Nazarene Church
So, do you like The Nice, Triumvirat and Emerson, Lake and Palmer? If so, you should really enjoy this. It starts off in a bouncing, vaguely psychedelic sort of arrangement that really calls to mind those artists. This motif serves as the backdrop for the verse chorus here. After a time he launches out into an instrumental segment that has “Keith Emerson” written all over it. The song continues in much the same way you would expect, and it would be pretty easy to imagine this as a lost ELP track.
Prelude No. 2 for Piano
This is a beautiful and powerful piano solo. Very classical in nature, this instrumental is less than a minute in length.
My Elders' Son
When this comes in it feels a lot like very early King Crimson – something from the first album. It drops way down to a stripped down balladic approach for the first verse. The music builds up gradually from this basis to carry on. There is a great instrumental break in this song that calls to mind Yes a bit. This grows gradually as it works its way through.
Blues Variation
Coming in like something from Booker T. and the MG’s, as the music is powered up from just the rhythm section the ELP leanings are all over this one – think “Peter Gunn” or something along those lines. The Hammond B-3 rocks the midsection here. Visaggio turns it more toward Booker T. and company as he creates a lot more bluesy motif. When it moves out to more purely keyboard territory the ELP elements return, but in a more classical format. It still manages to make its way back to the bluesy rock and roll. This is a pretty serious rocker! It drops to ambience to end.
2001: Also Rocked Zarathustra
OK, anyone remember the theme song to 2001: A Space Odyssey? Mind you, it was a classical piece before it was picked up for use in that film, but that’s where everyone remembers it from these days. In any event, Visaggio has taken the track and turned it into a rock tour-de-force that again calls to mind Keith Emerson and the boys. This is a pretty incredible piece of music and one of my favorites on the disc. At almost ten minutes in length, it’s also the longest track here.
Starship Universe
This comes in feeling gentle and rather psychedelic. I’m reminded of some of the more psychedelic sounds from the Beatles. About half way in, this instrumental is less than three minutes long; it shifts out to a more song based motif. As the organ kicks in more fully this really begins to feel like a church hymn.
The Synchronized Life
A full symphonic motif leads this off. As the track begins to take on some more traditional keyboard themes, the Emerson-leanings show up again. This runs through the frantic introduction and reaches a classical based conclusion. Then the track is reborn into a bounding ELP meets Yes sort of arrangement. This runs through in a very triumphant motif. It drops to a more “song” based approach from there and the vocals come in over this backdrop. One complaint I need to bring to the surface here. Throughout the disc the vocals have been a bit rough around the edges – the thing is, a lot of the early prog had similar elements to it, so I haven’t really mentioned it. This song really grates at times in the vocal department, though. So, it couldn’t pass without bringing it up. It’s only a line or two where it really crosses the line, but when it does, it sticks out like a sore thumb. Still, as strong as the music is, and as small a portion of the track that the singing represents, it’s really a pretty minor issue.
On The Ship of Emotion
Wind chime type sounds lead things off here. As this rises gradually up, I’m reminded of Vanilla Fudge. The excursion turns towards more Emerson Lake and Palmer like territory, but still echoes of The Fudge remain. At about a minute and fifteen the introduction crescendos and ends. Then a mellower motif, sort of a jazzy prog ballad sound, rises up and begins to make its way through some reiterations and revisitations. When this moves into the main verse it’s got some of that old King Crimson texture, but mixed with other elements, too. We get a killer instrumental movement later in the track. At over eight and a half minutes this is one of the longest pieces on show. We get a little snippet of a Christmas classic at the end.
Music's Coming To Us
With a definite straight ahead rock and roll mode, this is one part ELP, one part Vanilla Fudge and also calls to mind a number of classic ‘70’s rockers. The keys intensify that Keith Emerson comparison again. We also get some Wakeman-like soaring keyboard sounds in the course of this one. This is a strong cut and makes for a good conclusion.
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