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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Billy Sheehan

Cosmic Troubadour

Review by Gary Hill

The bass guitar is an instrument whose players are often overlooked, relegated to playing the rhythm hidden behind guitar heroes, singers and keyboard wizards. A few bassists have managed to put together chops and performances that allow them to rise above this status. Billy Sheehan is certainly one such musician. Over the years he has made a name for himself in such bands as Talas, David Lee Roth's band, Mr. Big (which Sheehan formed) and Niacin. In addition he has contributed to works by Steve Vai, Terry Bozzio, Tony McAlpine, Greg Howe, Cozy Powell, Derek Sherinian and Glenn Hughes. All the while he has put forth a bass style that both supports the rhythm, but also manages to shine like a lead instrument.

His latest solo release is Cosmic Troubadour, and it is a collection full of the kind of hard edged prog rock oriented music that I have come to expect from Sheehan. It's not without it's problems, though. The central issue with the CD is the placement of the songs. It seems that this disc could be a stronger one if more attention had been paid to separating similar cuts from one another by inserting the more varied material in between. Also, the disc ends with several instrumentals in a row. Again, it would seem that as a whole listening experience it might have been better to intersperse them a bit more amongst the vocal tracks.

All that taken into account, though, there is some exceptionally strong material here, and not a one of these songs by itself is weak. Played in sequence, though, the disc drags a bit. Sheehan demonstrates a unique style of songwriting that is based on music that is generally hard edged, but quite progressive rock in tone. The songs tend to be anything but ordinary, but yet they are catchy. These characteristics showcase the skillful songwriting of which Sheehan is so adept. In addition to composition, Sheehan also does all the vocals, bass and most of the guitar work on the disc. Ray Luzier contributes drumming and Simone Sello handles the "extra" guitars, programming and electronics.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Toss It On The Flame
A lightning fast riff starts this, and the whole band maintain this pace through out most of the cut. This feels ever so slightly funky and just a little like Deep Purple on steroids at times. It drops to a slower mid section with an ultra heavy bass line. This is an awesome opening number.

Back in the Day
This is a little slower and builds on an incredibly dramatic riff. It is rather anthemic at times. This one includes a killer instrumental break with some awesome bass work.

The Suspense is Killing Me
The first instrumental of the disc, this one also comes in fast, feeling just a little like a prog take on the James Bond theme. This gets just a little fusionish at times and is a killer cut.

From The Back Seat
I have to say this would have been a good spot for a slower cut. This one is every bit as good as the songs that came before it. Unfortunately it's also just a bit too much like them. It causes the disc to drag just a bit due to the similarity. It does manage to feel a bit like modern King Crimson, though.

Don't Look Down
Now here is the change of pace. This one comes in as a laid back jazzy number. It stays in that vein long enough for a break then powers up to a full out jam. This instrumental features some very tasty bass playing. This cut is very dynamic and energetic, pulling the disc fully back on track.

Something She Said
This is overall another fast paced hard-edged prog cut a lot like much of the other material here. That said, the chorus is a very cool Beatles influenced romp, and the instrumental break includes some of the fastest clean bass playing I have ever heard. In fact, the bass on this one really impresses me. I have to point out with that comment that I am a bass player, so I listen more closely to bass guitar than many others do, therefore, this is truly high praise. This is definitely a short piece leaving you wanting more.

Dreams of Discontent
This instrumental has a killer groove and more inspired bass work. It is another that breaks the mod of the earlier tunes, coming across as fresh and new. This, although energetic, is even a bit relaxing. It is expansive and awe inspiring at times. I really like this one a lot.

Dig a Hole
This is another example of Sheehan's brand of hard-edged accessible prog. It another, though, that feels a bit too much like a lot of the other stuff on show here.

Taj
This fast paced instrumental is pretty coo, although not all that different than much of the other music. Still the keyboard overlayers are a nice touch
The Lift
This frantic cut feels a bit different from a lot of the other stuff. It's another, though, that feels a bit like modern King Crimson. It's a pretty killer number. The chorus is one of the most effective on the disc.
A Tower in the Sky
This instrumental starts slower and the bass groove that takes it feels both funky and a just a little Rush-like. The guitar that comes over top continues with the funk theme. This is a very competent jam. In many ways one could almost hear Rush doing this one - granted a little differently.

Indisputable Truth #1
This frantic stomper is a killer, just when were ready for more fast paced music. Another instrumental, this feels a bit like a cross between Rush and modern King Crimson. Sheehan's bass smokes through much of this.

Hope
This instrumental comes in very balladic and beautiful. It has a lush prog ballad arrangement and is one of the mellowest pieces on the disc. It is very potent and pretty and shows the versatility of the artist. It even gets a little jazzy at times. This is a beautiful composition.
A Million Years Ago - Bonus Track
This fast paced instrumental is one of the best on the album. It's a prog jam fest and a great way to end the disc
 
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