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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Niacin

Time Crunch

Review by Gary Hill

Niacin (Billy Sheehan, John Novello and Dennis Chambers) have certainly outdone themselves this time. While their last release was a very entertaining retro take on a jazzy sort of prog sound, this one really breaks new ground for the band. Sure, they still focus a good portion of the disc on that Hammond B3 driven sound, but many of the examples of their instrumental fare here (and the whole album is instrumental) cross over into more traditional progressive rock territory. These guys really show that they know how to pull it off, and as a three-piece with no guitar, no less. Put this one in and prepare to be blown away. It may be way too early in the year for these kinds of predictions, but this album will probably in many people's lists of best albums of 2002.

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Track by Track Review
Elbow Grease
With a bass burst the song comes in a screaming. This one is a fast paced, jazzy retro rocker that really smokes. It features some quite cool changes and makes for a great opener to the album.
Time Crunch
The title track, this one begins in the same retro jazz-laden style that dominated the majority of the group's last release. It switches gear with one of the coolest punctuated bass lines this reviewer has heard in a long time. This one changes sounds and directions many times and Novello's keyboard jamming has never sounded better. He really rocks this one out, and it even comes across as a bit Emerson, Lake and Palmer influenced at times.
Stone Face
Coming in with a fast, almost honky-tonk edge, this slightly off kilter track has a great fast paced jazz texture. It again gets a bit ELPish. Eventually it drops to a wonderful atmospheric keyboard segment, and it is Sheehan's turn to shine. This section feels quite a bit like something you might expect to hear from Tony Levin. After running through this segment an all-new fast paced prog jam ensues and Novello once again serves up the cooking.
Red
A cover of the King Crimson classic, these guys pull it off extremely well, sans guitar even - incredible! This has always arguably been one of Crimson's strongest and the guys deliver an incredibly and extremely faithful rendition.
Invisible King
Starting in a fairly mellow jazzy prog style, Sheehan pulls off some awesome bass lines without becoming conspicuous. The only complaint on this one is that the keyboard sound gets a little trite at times. It is the letdown point from the previous tracks, but still find its times to shine, particularly during the killer ELPish jam. This s the point where Chambers gets his first real chance to show off on the album. The next break is a jazzy jam that features some killer piano work. If this cut were on almost any other album, it would feel like a strong point, but coming after the last four pieces it just a little weak in places.
Daddy Long Leg
Funk seems to be the name of the game on this retro jazz-laden foot-stomper and they mean business! It definitely smokes. The second segment moves away from the jazzy elements and more into classically dominated prog, but it still screams. This one eventually returns back to the jazzy. All of the members put in incredible performances on this one - WOW!
Hog Funk
The track feels more like blues than funk, but why split hairs? It's an inspired and well delivered rocker that includes a killer jam based on a great walking bass line. This is another winner on an album of winners. If one had to pick a member who steals the show on this composition it would be tough, but the win would most likely go to Sheehan.
Glow
They decided to slow it down here and give us a pretty jazz ballad that features some really awesome piano work. At times the piece picks up a bit, but not very far. This is a nice chance to catch your breath.
Damaged Goods
Seemingly not wanting the breather to slow down the album, the group rushes in with this retro jazzy number. It is more typical of their last release and a good jam, although not really a standout.
Outside Inside Out
With an accessible melody line the group are off and running in a cut that is probably as close as they come to mainstream. This one again is not a contender for best track on the album, but it is very entertaining.
Blue Wind
The other cover on the album, this time the band turns their sights on the music of Jan Hammer. This tune has a slightly harder edge, due mostly to Sheehan's bass sound. It is a potent fast rocker that definitely kicks. It covers a wide range of musical territory and Novello just screams on this one. What a great way to end the album.
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