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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Sifu Stephen Doe

Playing With Time

Review by Gary Hill

Fans of guitar oriented instrumental rock with visions of fusion and prog should really enjoy this independent release. Doe has a guitar skill and sound that puts him alongside the greats in the field. Moreover, he produced the disc, played all the instruments and wrote all the music. This is a total one man show. It's quality stuff and Doe for the most part avoids one of the pitfalls of instrumental music, too much music that all sounds the same. His depth and ability to vary the sounds works well in this regard. I'm not saying that this disc is totally immune, but he's no more subject to the problem than the greats like Joe Satriani and Steve Vai are. For more information (including how to get your hands on this disc) check out Doe's myspace site.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Awakening
Gentle tones lead this off, but as the guitar enters the cut resembles something by Steve Vai for a short times. This moves into a mellow, but quite tasty groove with elements of progressive rock and fusion. Doe's guitar weaves lines of melody over the top. After a time the cut powers out into more hard edged jamming in a very tasty manner. Then it shifts towards the more melodic but still retains its crunch as Doe continues to “wow” us with his fretboard prowess. He turns neo-classical at times, but pulls emotions and power out of the notes all the way through. A later segment has a swirling sort of prog rock pattern and is quite a nice touch. This is a killer track and a great way to start the disc.
Breathe
Doe wastes no time jumping into it here. A rocking chording serves to lead in. Then he drops it down to a more melodic fusion type of sound to create the next movement of the disc. His playing here is less flashy, but very tasty. This has a great groove. While the power and majesty of the first track was great, I may actually prefer this more melodic approach. It powers out into more frantic tempos later and Doe shreds once more. This crescendos to segue directly into the next piece.
Questions
Starting with the closing chord from the last number, this short cut is a piano solo. It's pretty and serves as a great way to break things up just when they were beginning to get a little monolithic.
Con-Fusion
What sounds like the same chord that served to join the last two pieces leads this one off. Rather than continue with his guitar dominated tones, Doe turns this track more mysterious with an arrangement that relies a bit more heavily on the keyboards – at least at first. This shifts out into a killer jam later with the bass seriously driving it. Then a total change of pace comes with a fast paced new segment that has a great classic rock sound. There are more shifts and turns in the arrangement as he carries forward. There is a killer fast paced keyboard solo dominated segment that leads to a start and stop segment. Then staccato sounds that feels just a tiny bit – at least in terms of the song structure – like Rush take over. Next up he launches into some free form fusion. A swirling neo-classical guitar flurry is next. This gives way to an odd connecting movement and then a very dramatic prog like progression with a bouncing pattern takes over. It turns metallic with a tasty riff from there. I hear a lot of Dream Theater in this section of the track. Then it moves out into a more fusion-oriented soaring movement. We get more DT-inspired territory from there. Then a screaming guitar solo enters and is accompanied by a cool keyboard oriented back drop. A pounding bass enters, making the listener believe we are about to run down a different avenue. Instead the cut fades away to end. At nine minutes in length this is the longest piece on the CD. It's also my favorite. This one is a scorcher.
Hidden Time
This one is based on a cool, slightly staggered beat – and is a great jam. It shifts out later to a rather metallic jam that has Eastern leanings at times. Doe occasionally crosses the line towards noodly at points here, but he pulls it back together nicely through some killer classical guitar work. This then shifts out into another segment to change it up again. He works it towards a tasty classic rock sound from there.
My Reflection
This one feels a bit too harsh in the production on the opening. Mind you, I think Doe was going for some louder than loud distorted sound. For my money it didn't work. That said, this segment is quite short and gives way to a mellower section. This in turn leads to another killer guitar based riff oriented jam. It turns rather quirky with an angular, oddly timed segment later. This cut has another riff that reminds me of early Rush (in the construction, not the delivery). It's also the riff that feels like it will never end (and I mean that in a good way). This moves through a number of changes and textures, from melodic keyboard oriented territory to pounding metallic sounds and even a classical/flamenco guitar section. It's quite a dynamic and powerful piece of music that really shows how versatile Doe is. The dramatic, powerful prog riff that takes this at around the half way mark is particularly tasty. In fact this section is among my favorite music of the disc. The guitar solo that follows is also very tasty without wandering over the top in the least. Overall, I'd say that this track is the most diverse and dynamic of the whole CD. At almost eight and a half minutes it's also the second longest piece on offer.
Strat – o – spheric
This has a slow, bluesy texture with some killer guitar work. You might hear moments on this one that make you think of David Gilmour's guitar work, but still others could call to mind Stevie Ray Vaughn or even more traditional blues-men. While not the most tricky or diverse piece on the album, this is extremely meaty and a great way to end the disc.
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