|Progressive Rock CD Reviews|
Wall Street Voodoo
Review by Josh Turner
As usual, this artist is hard-at-work and boy is he busy. It's ironic when you consider how many artists are so preoccupied with the promotion of a single album and then take years to develop it. Not only does Roine Stolt regularly pump out studio production from his main band (The Flower Kings) on an almost yearly basis, he lends his talents in countless other places. He finds time to make guest appearances in the solo efforts of Neal Morse and Tomas Bodin. He also makes major contributions to bands like Kaipa and The Tangent. There's still a whole lot more he participates in, keeping his prolific nature safely intact. With all that he does, it's inexplicable how he still has time for this solo album. Not only does he succeed in making one, it's quite the quality endeavor. In addition, it's not one, but actually two "jam"-packed discs.
It would be impressive if it was just more of the same. However, this time he tries his hand at something new. Rather than take aim primarily at progressive rock, he locks into something else from the past. By my definition, this is still progressive, but it captures sixties and seventies rock as well as a heaping helping of the blues. Mixed in with his trademark riffs and patented moves, I hear Deep Purple, Cream, Frank Zappa, and Jimi Hendrix to name just a few. In addition to the instrumental aspects of the music, he attempts something out of the ordinary with the lyrics too. The concept is incredibly clever as he shares political perspectives along with his analysis of capitalism, money, and greed. The colorful artwork encapsulates the essence of the theme as well. He even works in many mesmerizing, but mysterious sound clips. He's left no stone unturned as he has chosen a cool title, developed great art for the cover, and provided excellent content within.
Roine does the bulk of the heavy lifting, but brings in a few of his friends to aid in the excavation. Marcus Lilliequist assists with all the drums and Hasse Bruniusson incorporates a number of percussive elements. They each do a fabulous job and while they operate in a capacity that's strictly for support, they contribute more than a journeyman's effort. When scouring the remains of this prosperous site, they both find a wealth of riches in the relics they dig up. It's also great to see Neal Morse and Roine pooling their resources again. Neal handles the lead in one song and then later trades verses in another. He also contributes an ounce of the Hammond Organ to help hollow out the quarry. It's a pleasure hearing these two distinctly different voices on the same album. When they do, it has the same magic as "My New World" from Transatlantic. By themselves, each has charisma and character. When they're singing together, the quirks in each of their voices melt into one steady signal. There are also a handful of additional guests that go by the odd nicknames of Slim Pothead (Wurlizer Piano, Mini Moog & Hammond Organ), Victor Woof (Fender Bass), and Gonzo Geffen (Congas & Percussion & Loop treatments). I'm not sure if these folks are too famous to be mentioned due to contractual agreements or if they are merely band mates in disguise. In more than a couple places, I'm sure I heard Jonas Reingold's brisk bass or Tomas Bodin's classy keys. In either case, it's not apparent who to hold accountable for these donations and deeds, but it's awfully suspicious if you ask me. Nonetheless, the relocation from progressive rock to the proprietor's past residence goes off without a hitch. Not to mention, it benefits greatly from all these mysterious musicians' housewarming gifts.
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
|Track by Track Review
The opener is an outstanding self-starter. The coals are soaked to the skin in this formula of highly flammable lighter fluid. The first notes sound like Frogg Café's "All this Time". Although, the body of this beast is a bit more like "Don't Let The D'Evil In" from Garden of Dreams. There is also an element of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" in there as well. He has great lyrics such as "watching half the world taking all they can while the other half is left with empty hands." Many times, he sacrifices easy rhymes for more difficult and deeper meaning. For someone who lists English as their second language, his skill with verbiage and vocabulary is quite extraordinary. I wasn't sure if he put his best foot forward or if this was going to be the trend of the album. Fortunately, his cup runneth over and the latter holds all the water. There are a few swear words on the album and here the "s" word makes its maiden manifestation. There is also a twist to the retelling of this tale. Instead of being stripped to his skivvies, the king not only has all his clothes, but he's draped in a wardrobe of style and chic.
|Head Above Water|
This is where Neal Morse first infiltrates the music. Here he handles the lead vocals and he does so in a very commanding way. It begins like The Beatles and ends with a crazy finish in the vein of Platypus, Dixie Dregs, or a live jam from The Tangent. I wonder if Derek Sherinian, Tomas Bodin, Andy Tillison, or any one of the Dixie Dreg keyboardists (e.g. Frank Josephs, T Lavitz, Mark Parrish, or maybe even Jordan Rudess) contributed to this part. Might one of these suspects be the real "Slim" Shady?
This pony has many tricks. It features a beguiling beat, powerful lyrics, and an unexpected break in the middle. At the halfway point, it almost seems like we've gone onto a different song, but he eventually works his way back to where he began. This personable piece is exuberant and enlightening. It's as profound as putting guns in the hands of killers.
|Everyone Wants to Rule the World|
Both Roine and Neal trade off between a host of verses and harmonies. This one impresses me more and more on every listen. I'd say it takes a few times to fully appreciate it. Lyrically, it's like Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," but instrumentally, it's more like "Sowing the Seeds of Love." Conversely, it's closer to "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" when it comes to the vocals. These passages could have been easily integrated into Transatlantic's "Suite Charlotte Pike." It reminds me most of that famous Dr. Pepper commercial decades back. The subtle details by way of the keyboards are downright delicious. They're like the cherry in the coke. If you don't want a beverage with bite, choose this one instead. After one swallow, odds are you'll take another swig of the snifter. With that said, this soft drink is sure to go down smoothly.
|Spirit of the Rebel|
This would have been a suitable submission to the soundtrack for the movie American Pop. Roine performs a séance that eerily embodies the flamboyance of Jimi Hendrix. It's so seventies psychedelic, it's psychotic. This is a double dish of Phish Food and Wavy Gravy. To top it off, it's dripping in Vanilla Fudge.
This track takes the top spot on the first disc. It's really upbeat and driven. Not sure why, but it reminds me of B-52's "Love Shack" and The Rascal's "Good Lovin." It has a good use of claps and bells without getting too goofy and I really like the bass lines bestowed upon it. This song is utterly engaging when you add in all these attributes. The only problem is that it's much too short.
|Dog With a Million Bones|
The crooning in this one is calm, cool, and collected. It's a real son-of-a-gun. The customer is confident, takes its time, and knows exactly what he's buying. Bob Marley does the blues while Stevie Ray Vaughn has gone the Jamaican way. The piano sails the pristine waters of a sparkling clear blue bay. After trawling around the harbor, the guitar slices down the belly of a freshwater snapper. Once dusted for prints, Flying Food Circus has left a mark and earlier Flower King influences can also be detected. There might be a little "Corruption" in its dubious business dealings. The evil imp returns once again to steal veggies from the garden and nobody's home. As aggressive as he tries, the attempts of this vermin are thwarted. This song is fertilized with Flower Power and pesticide.
When he isn't hitting us with one of the three highlights (the two others to follow), he's keeping us extremely entertained with a classic. Also on this side is this unique take on a timeless Joni Mitchell masterpiece. He's written all the words on this album aside from this exceptional exception. While I cannot give him credit for the lyrics or the songwriting on this piece, he has done a fine job reenacting this tantalizing ditty. He's also added many of his own refined touches. Aspects of it remind me of Roy Orbison's "You Got It." There is also a bit of Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Taking Care of Business" and Huey Lewis' "If This Is It!" It even has the southern twang, catcalls, and cattle bells of Shania Twain's "Man! I Feel Like A Woman!" Between the penetrating plasma gun sound effects that pop in and out, Marcus wields some wicked drumsticks. As Marcus skis the slopes and muddles through the moguls, Roine ascends the scales with the passion and fury of a searing Steve Morse.
This is the most straightforward blues to be encountered yet. The spirit of Stevie Ray Vaughn returns yet again. You can imagine the smoke coming from the roof of this shanty shack. The ribs were slow-cooked for so long that the meat literally peels from the bone. Like M&M's, this too will melt in your mouth, but it's much too hot to hold in your hands. This song is so sultry, it sizzles. It's a steamy and unhurried rendition of Ray Charles' "Hit the Road Jack." It's a self-assured stranger strolling through the blues-stained badlands.
This begins the second showcase showdown and it's filled with loads of prizes. If I had to choose one, I'd say the fortunes to be found on this side are slightly better. Either way, the price is right, but this disc has the edge as the highest-scoring contestant. This first song on the second side is like Led Zeppelin with splotches of futuristic flair. As a warning, the "f" word is dropped out of nowhere and lands like a load from an industrial crop-duster. When this cut commences, it will coax you along, but after that blast, you will be fully awake, on your toes, and out on your feet.
On this album, he lays it all down, but in the following series, he shows us a pair of aces. This contains the first of the prominent high cards. The stately gardener reveals a royal flush and it's one of Roine's strongest suits ever. The groove is very catchy. While the albums goal was the reincarnate the past, I hear The BoDeans and Matchbox 20 in this incredibly swishy song. There's a lot of detail edited in as Roine shreds like Santana. Plus, his singing here is seriously striking. The song's finale fits with The Flower Kings modus operandi, which might be explain why it's my favorite selection off this album. Anybody who doubts Roine's abilities needs to check out this number. While Jonas is not in the credits, you can't tell me that's not him playing those bubbly bass lines. It could come straight out of a Karmakanic creation.
|It's All About Money|
This is where the album's crooked character (Wall Street Voodoo) is mentioned. The instrumental aspects and lyrics are driven by angst, but this song is more about the meaning than the melody. Roine speaks to us in this piece. The instruments urge him up to a soapbox and rally round his words. His guitars climb, claw, and charge ahead. Then, without warning, he hops from note to note. It's like the Steve Miller Band mixed with blues and a smidgeon of rap. I've never heard anything like it. Roine just invents his own form of music. Rather than come up with a mindless beat, he incorporates a plate of syrupy pancakes and a side of panache. For this reason, it's the most progressive piece on the album and not progressive at all at the very same time. Also, there's an interesting use of string arrangements worked in at the end. The orchestrations are off-kilter, yet work as well as the ones from Yes' Magnification
|Everybody Wants to Sell You Something|
This reminds me a lot of the second side from Unfold the Future (obviously, minus the epics). This has the seventies funk I've always admired from artists such as George Clinton. It is more or less monkey business as Roine has mastered his interplanetary funkmanship. If you fake the Funk, your nose will grow àla Pinocchio. However, I'm not lying when I say this is certainly the second high card he'll be showing. While it tops "Unforgiven", it's a very close second to "Remember." This is for the current times as he mentions modern items such as Ipods. The words aren't too difficult to pick up either as its melody is undoubtedly memorable. It's quite a lot of fun if you sing along. Again, that's got to be Jonas bounding along. How does Jonas, um, I mean Slim get all those bass lines to sound so good? As the result of the Big Bang Theory, there ain't nothing, but a party in this black hole. This should satisfy hardcore funkateers and appeal to fans of such bands as Funkadelic and Parliament.
|Hotrod (The Atomic Wrestler)|
This is a day at the races. It's similar to Dixie Dregs "Cruise Control," but it's as fast as a dragster. This Formula One muscle-bound monster finishes with so much heat on its tail; it requires a chute to finally slow it down. What's interesting about this one is that it contains an un-credited female singer.
It's as if we've stepped into a spaghetti western. Before getting a chance to run away with the loot, Roine snaps his lasso and ropes us in with some truly sublime licks. This tender track carries a vibe that's comparable to Transatlantic's "We All Need Some Light." The gunslinger has come to town and he's cajoled into a duel that occurs promptly at High Noon. He escapes unscathed and rejoices by playing a disarming tune on his steel guitar.
|People that Have the Power to Shape the World|
This is an odd incarnation. It will appeal to simple folk as well as you and me. It's country, progressive rock, and the blues all coiled up into one. The toxic effects of the snakebite are eminent. When it lays into you, it's likely to be lethal. This poisonous piece contains a copious amount of venom and vehemence. Adding to the danger, the carnivorous cottonmouth is too slippery to clutch. All at once, it's ambitious, experimental, simple, and senseless, yet it's still sane. I believe it best represents what Roine is trying to accomplish on the album. The vocals are like those in 2Pac's "California Love." Stevie Wonder's "I Wish" is also ingrained in the chorus and for some reason; it reminds me of both The Door's "People are Strange" and Jamiroquai's "Virtual Insanity." He fuses all these influences together, making it a great way to end the album. When I first heard Roine was taking this alternate route, I was apprehensive. A change in pace had me worried he was heading in the wrong direction. Everything he's done so far has been great. If it ain't broke, why fix it, the wise men always say. Then again, this album is not at all what I expected. It does have a mainstream aura about it, but it's definitely done up with the flowery tendencies his most devoted fans desire. Avoiding this album would create an emergency on your planet's progressive time-space continuum. Hot off the heels of Tomas' I A M and in anticipation of the next Karmakanic album, another member of The Flower Kings brings us another superb solo. Roine Stolt simply has the Midas touch. He squeezes water from good "old" rock and turns the blues to gold.
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