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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Rocket Scientists

Revolution Road

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Revolution Road – a double CD – was released in September in Japan on the Avalon label and worldwide in November 2006 through Think Tank Media and ProgRock Records. It is the fourth studio album by American prog rock monsters Rocket Scientists. Following an 8-year hiatus the band has turned out their best album yet. With founding members Mark McCrite (guitar, vocals), Erik Norlander (keyboards) and Don Schiff (NS/Stick) on board along with guest musicians David McBee on vocals and Gregg Bissonette on drums, the band soars to new heights and an album that proves to be well worth the 8-year wait.

Almost entirely written by the songwriting team of McCrite and Norlander, and produced by Norlander, the double CD offers 18 selections this time out, all brand new with the exception of a cover of Moody Blues’ “Gypsy” and “U.F.O. S.H.A.D.O.” a 70’s TV sci-fi theme song. Schiff also jumped on the songwriting band wagon this time around with two instrumental songs “Outside the Painted Walls: and “Hold That Thought” added to the mix. The CD has a variety of song styles to keep it interesting, from ballads to hard rocking screamers to beautiful instrumentals – something for everyone.

Everyone shines on this CD. As always, Norlander’s synth work is outstanding throughout. McCrite’s guitar work on every track is equally impressive. The uniqueness of Schiff’s Stick playing is always just one more element that sets the group apart from other bands of this genre. Bissonette’s drumming rounds out the rhythm section complimenting Schiff’s driving bass lines. Bissonette, the second drummer hired to record on this album, replaced Shaun Guerin who passed away in 2003 shortly after recording had begun. Guerin’s one contribution – recorded at a live gig in the Los Angeles area – was salvaged and appears on “Better View”, along with additional drumming by drumming icon Simon Phillips. Hard-rock singer McBee, who is out front with powerful vocals on six of the 18 tracks, definitely brings a new feel to the band this time around. His versatility as a vocalist shines on each of his contributions but it is the more powerful rock and roll elements of his voice that sets those six tracks apart from the others accenting Norlander’s already powerful instrumental arrangements – a nice contrast to McCrite’s usual smooth and warmer song stylings. Together the two vocalists give Rocket Scientists a new dimension and a more commercial quality. And with Norlander as producer it's all mixed to perfection. There is not one moment of weakness anywhere, which says a lot with over 110 minutes worth of material to choose from. It is captivating that the altogether 18 songs contain diversity and strong melodies. This album is a must-have for anyone, not just prog-rock fans.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Look Up
Norlander jumps in from the start with a short instrumental on synth – a prelude to all good things to come.
Sky Is Falling
Out the gate on this first power rock and roll anthem, McBee’s vocals are awesome, clear and strong. McCrite and McBee split vocal duties on the chorus with the guitarist taking all the parts for nearly the whole duration of that section. McCrite is also there with a nice heavy guitar riff. There is a nice mixture of textures with Norlander delivering on keys. Even at over 5 minutes it is very commercial.
Dream In Red
This one starts with a dramatic piano intro, which contrasts to the body of the song. It begins with deep mysterious vocals by McCrite (who handles the first verse and the "b-verse) and builds it up. McBee's more rocking approach comes in as he enters for the second verse and continues on from that point. There is some nice acoustic guitar work by McCrite. A signature of RS recording there are so many textures working in and out of this song - from acoustic guitar to very electronic parts.
Better View
The first ballad on this CD, this song stands out with McCrite’s softer vocals – his first offering on this CD - supported by his acoustic guitar. Norlander interrupts the guitar solo on synth without disrupting the simple sound of this song. But there is nothing really simple about this cut at all with many layers subtly creating a very nice blend of textures. There are two drummers on this one. In 2003 Shaun Guerin was originally meant to be the fourth RS member, but unfortunately he passed away in 2003. A year prior to his death he performed this song with RS live. Fortunately for RS the gig was recorded and the band was able to edit this recording into this studio album. For the parts of the song where the earlier recording were not able to be integrated Simon Philips stepped up to the plate to pinch-hit and complete the picture. The band included Shaun’s contribution as an homage to him.
Outside the Painted Walls
Written by Schiff, this song starts out strong with synths out front along side his stick, which is featured as the lead instrument. It softens up with gentle guitars briefly before slamming into another portion of heavy rock and roll synths and stick.
Revolution Road
Another rocker, this finds McBee out front on vocals and lots of electric guitar and strong keyboards by Norlander. There is a nice solo by Norlander with Hammond and synths sharing the spotlight. A dual guitar solo segment is a great addition, too. McCrite leads it off with a melodic take on the fretboard, then Schiff comes in to throw down a heavier and more aggressive solo adding contrast.
Forever Nights
McCrite offers up vocals on another ballad supporting himself on guitar joined by his band mates for a really tight arrangement. Norlander adds to the ambiance with some non-obtrusive work on keys.
Ptolemy
In the tradition of RS, (naming a song after a famous scientist) this instrumental is based on the ancient Egyptian scientist, Ptolemy. RS started the tradition in 1993 on Earthbound. This one starts out with Grand Piano out-front on the intro followed by some cool sequenced arpeggios on synths before being joined by the rest of the band with tones of Tangerine Dream built-in.
Gypsy
Another tradition of RS is to do a cover. This time out they excellently tackle the Moody Blues classic with McCrite on vocals with lots of layers of textures provided by Norlander on keys with strong guitar work by McCrite.
Savor Every Moment
This is another soft ballad with McCrite in charge of the vocals. Lots of acoustic guitar and piano set the ambiance for this one supported by an orchestra of synth layers provided by Norlander.
Disc 2
Castles Fall
This one is really cool with Don Schiff on the NS Stick out front setting the ambiance and foundation for Norlander’s work on keys, which is always awesome. McCrite meets the challenge on guitar and vocals.
UFO S.H.A.D.O. Theme
Yet another cover, this instrumental has Norlander out front on keys. He throws a curve ball with a distorted solo later that actually sounds like guitar. This was the theme from the 70’s sci-fi series. 
Enjoy The Weather
This moody and atmospheric ballad has tones of Pink Floyd running through it. McCrite is very David Gilmour-ish on this one. Even the guitar licks have a PF essence to them. Another nice added dimension is the use of a live accordion provided by Norlander’s brother-in-law, Greg Phelps, during the haunting waltz bridge section.
Pay Your Dues
Another strong rocker that soars with David’s powerful vocals, this one has some interesting instrumental elements to it with Norlander on top of things.
Eden Burns
Starting softly, this power tune builds to a real screamer with David out front before it suddenly takes an interesting turn with some very cool somewhat liturgical organ licks by Norlander. Then just as suddenly this song slams back into a heavy rock mode with McCrite out front on guitar and Norlander doing a Jekyll and Hyde. There are several extreme textures in this one.
Hold That Thought
This instrumental is also written by Schiff and features him this time on the Chapman Stick. It is a kind of jazz offering by Mr. Schiff with the rest of the band right there with him.
House of Cards
A very atmospheric rock tune with Norlander in charge, there are many textures on this giving McBee lots of room to soar on vocals. Schiff's NS Stick solo this time around comes on strong and then kind of melts into Norlander’s keyboard solo without missing a beat.
After The Revolution
In spite of the length of this closing instrumental track, it has so many different facets that it is hardly tedious. The various modes make good use of the 13+ minutes showcasing everyone’s abilities as musicians. Once again they throw a curve ball by splitting up the soloing duties. McCrite enters first, bringing with him a melodic Fripp-like element. Later Schiff brings his stick into the fray as the soloing instrumentation.
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