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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Flying Colors

Flying Colors

Review by Larry Toering

Flying Colors, for once in a long time prove that rock music can still be everything it's supposed to be in a landscape that constantly attempts to limit it. Like an all out gang of vigilantes, this well gathered group of the best around in the business proceed to defy every single thing lacking in music today, whether youthful or adult oriented. The idea for this band started in 2008 with executive producer Bill Evans gathering the best of the best to combine prog, pop, jazz-fusion, folk and metal with extraordinary results. In doing so, he came up with producer Peter Collins and a cast of what I think are some of the finest to be assembled in Steve Morse, Dave LaRue, Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy and new comer pop sensation on vocals, Casey McPherson. My interest starts with Steve Morse and Dave LaRue, but what a benefit in all the others on display to appreciate. With such a line-up there is fan attachment potential by the millions in every direction, and that alone is why it should be fairly well received. This debut release is as good as it gets for any current or past music lover. It's hard to describe without giving everything away, but worth the effort because I find it that moving.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Blue Ocean
After some brief studio chat, a massively infectious bass line begins and doesn't let up throughout this opener which is the second longest track at over seven minutes. Most of what is to come can be sensed by this epic piece, as Steve Morse uses an effective piercing  harmonic touch, and Neal Morse spars back with subdued echoing chords. There is an almost biblical approach to some lyrics on the disc, and this is one that mirrors it more than any other track. The vocals make their undeniable presence known with the utmost virtuosity and sheer excellence. The whole number just glides above the sea surface like some kind of bird in flight. It's kind of like you're in some kind of elaborate video game. It's about time a singer had this kind of impact the first time you hear them.
Shoulda Coulda Woulda
This features a pounding riff after a pile-driving drum intro by Portnoy. There is just the right grungy touch on this riff to access modern avenues, but it maintains an old school vibe somehow. That combination makes this one of the most contemporary rockers on the disc. All kinds of great vocal techniques are applied providing a demonstration of McPherson’s versatility. There is no missing the point of the song in the process. That can sometimes be a concern with variations of prog songwriting, especially where pop is so noticeably applied. This will instantly grab the listener by the throat and hurl them across the room. The guitar work is incendiary and truly inspired. This is an easy choice for an edited single to get into the minds of the public.
Kayla
Everything starts to make better sense as it goes, putting the listener to test at every turn. This is where things get so serious it begins to own you throughout the rest of the disc. What a lovely track this is, with an extraordinary vocal performance by McPherson, and a remarkably inspired showing from Steve Morse. This is also one of the tracks where the entire band pull out all stops to be heard evenly, as you get the sense that life is really good in their world while playing this perfect slice of genius. There’s so much melody that it's unreal - just a jubilant performance by all.
The Storm
If the recording peaks anywhere, this would have to be it. Like the previous track this is so fantastic that it's hard to believe your ears. The drama of McPherson comes on the strongest in this polarizing contemporary pop rock tune with a big chorus. I know it depends on if you're attached to the Deep Purple, Spock's Beard, Dream Theater or other counterparts as to which is more suitable to the ear from this band, but tracks like this attempt to squash all sight of them. This is where you feel a new band is born, and the result is so fresh and so artistically crafted that it doesn’t really matter what outfits gave birth to it. I suppose there are some influences here, perhaps coming more from the Neal Morse and McPherson direction, but whatever it is, they came up with as good as it gets results. The songwriting here is so strong that it’s astonishing. This, the last two numbers and “Love Is What I'm Waiting For” are the most obvious choices for singles to my ears.
Forever in A Daze
After peaking, what could be better than this groovy little gem? Once again, LaRue comes to life and holds together another entire song. The funk element here cannot be denied, but it even goes into jazzy parts, as well. This is one piece of pure prog delicacy for the masses! This isn't the greatest track but would be considerably missed if it were left off, as I find it to edge the others out for revisits. There are killer keyboard textures galore. This disc is mixed perfectly, yet Neal Morse’s parts are so humble and subdued that you have to search for them a lot of the time. Still, there is simply no getting enough of his presence in this band. One of the great things about it is, they're all such good musicians that they deserve to be heard together, so thank heaven they can be. This rocks and grooves with total sass and finesse!
Love Is What I'm Waiting For

This is where everything begins to remind the listener of other artists, and here it seems to be Queen that gets the biggest nod. It's very easy to find yourself making comparisons when you hear something so unique but so familiar as well. This track instantly has that vibe to it, but just as you stop making that connection, a blinding guitar solo complete with treble boost, not unlike many from Brian May, has you thinking “Queen” again. There are a lot of easy to point out influences on the disc, and some hard to spot, as well, but this has to be one of the more obvious tracks in that sense. At this point the vocals become all the more interesting, in fact down right brave with falsetto brutality. In some ways there hasn't been a voice like it I can think of since Freddie Mercury. How McPherson can be so modern and such a throwback at the same time is remarkable, to say the least.

Everything Changes

Slowing things down for the big ballad has to come some time, and come on very strong it does. This and the following track are probably some of the least accessible material on the album, but still some of the finest work. They both have a growing quality about them, with some of the most elongated guitar parts on offer featured on this track. Once you get used to the vocals, the guitar has a chance to shine, and shine it does. This is easily the most serious track concerning drama, as the listener is absolutely drawn by the command of the entire composition. It’s led by Morse with some of the most sublime guitar playing he's ever recorded. This is one of the masterstrokes displayed by all involved.

Better Than Walking Away
Equally brutal and compelling as the previous track, this one keeps the slow pace but with less guitar involved. The arrangement is mostly dominated by McPherson as he comes on strong once again with a stellar performance. If the guitar wasn't so good, one could strip everything but the vocals and still get the same level of quality. This is one of the most intriguing vocal performances of them all here, once you get used to it. One of the things that really make it interesting is the change in tone McPherson takes before the guitar solo. It's simply amazing when he does this and while there are similar tonal changes in just about every track, here the track seems to really beg for it. So, it stands out and actually manages to make the song. This kind of drama has only been matched by greats such as Yes, Kansas, Queen, and all the most notorious prog bands of the 70s, yet this modern classic ballad still has nothing but originality written all over it. There is an almost crooner/easy listening vibe to it that stands apart from the rest of the disc.
All Falls Down

The Portnoy fans get everything they're looking for in him with this one. Once again they pull off a completely different track in every way. I have to say if anything on here doesn't belong with the rest, it would have to be this number, along with the previous one and the next one. These three stand out as remarkably unique from the rest because of their straight forward approach to their separate genres. This is thrash all the way, simply a bone crushing metal/prog track. Many would just dismiss this as a widdle-fest or just a menacing exercise, but the vocals applied make it once again more interesting than such a dismissive display would define. This is where you can tell they all had an equal share in the songwriting. It sounds like McPherson is singing for them all that way, a real “band of brothers” feeling is the result. This is pulverizing!

Fool In My Heart
This is probably the most accessible track, yet also the most adult contemporary, so it is rather limited that way. There is a lovely, almost innocent quality to the vocals, and in all contrast a dirty blues guitar solo that instantly reminds Deep Purple fans why Steve Morse is so good for that band. He sounds more like Ritchie Blackmore here than I can ever recall in the studio. Otherwise there isn't near as much to say about this track concerning influence and delivery from the guitar hero on display, but it's another of a few good growers on offer. As the vocals go through several key changes it's obviously not one voice here, as Portnoy can be clearly heard more than anywhere else.
Infinite Fire
The grand finale could not be more interesting, as this 12 minute number blazes by as if it were only a few minutes long. However they do that on this sublime tune (the first one they wrote together) is like magic. Here the influences make more obvious appearances, the strongest one by far being Yes, from the harmony vocals places throughout, to the blistering guitar playing that is so reminiscent to Steve Howe. I also make out everyone here from Steely Dan to Chicago. But how else anyone could come up with such a majestic tune would be far beyond my feelers. I take it this might be where they really paid attention to that kind of detail, and let it show in some places with no shame, and held back in other places. This is one of a few tracks where you almost think more than one voice gets a lead spot, but the notes with my copy neither confirm nor deny that assumption. Although McPherson’s vocal ability is so versatile that it might be all him, but it appears everyone's voice does get heard. Neal Morse lays down some of his best playing on the disc here, as well. All in all it's a fantastic way to round out what is already an easy contender for the album of 2012, as it has the potential to be all that and beyond. This is a very compelling track to top off the entire disc, one by which to most accurately measure their magical chemistry. We can only hope that rock music continues to be made with such efforts to thrive, as this gives all hope it can be accomplished.
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