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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Randy George

Action Reaction

Review by Grant Hill

Virtuoso bassist Randy George began writing instrumental music around 1989 and wanted to ultimately showcase his writing and performance talents in a solo release. The long term recording and touring partner for Neal Morse as well as leader of the acclaimed Christian progressive rock band, Ajalon, George has over time expanded his songwriting repertoire. In 2012 he has released Action Reaction, a retrospective of two decades of writing and playing. While he has updated some of the earlier written songs to fit twenty-first Century listening sensibilities, the entire album sounds fresh, positive, melodic and uplifting. To me, in an era dominated by darker sounds and themes, it is both refreshing and comforting to appreciate new prog rock that sounds so finished and comprehensive. I’ve admired George’s articulate, complex playing for years, and I think this CD reflects his writing and playing very well. Indeed, it’s pretty outstanding! So, if you want something a bit different to round out your collection, I suggest giving the CD a spin or twelve! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have! Action Reaction features guest performances by Neal Morse (Transatlantic, Spock’s Beard), David Ragsdale (Kansas), Phil Keaggy, and Michael Manring. Other guests are Dave Beegle (Fourth Estate), Gene Crout (America Gomorrah), David Wallimann (Glass Hammer), Taylor Mesple (Wind Machine), Paul Kilkenny (Mindwarp Chamber), and Dan Lile (Ajalon).

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2012  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Death by Chocolate
Opening with a funk inspired groove, the melody (doubled in octaves) to me is reminiscent of some of Stanley Clarke’s pop fusion offerings. There’s a nice connection of synthesizer solo and guitar efforts. Clean outstanding musicianship is featured throughout, and solid voicing changes are effective in “call and answer” phrases. This is a good opener!
Action Reaction
The title cut has an underlying, complex tapping figure overlaid with legato synth and guitar phrases, really giving harmonic support to George’s sixteenth note pattern. There are some interesting piano fills, and this is really nice! I really admire such clean musicianship and excellent playing throughout. The synth lines definitely have an 80s feel. This could, perhaps, use a bit more rhythmic diversity from the percussion, but the ensemble sounds full and rich. The short guitar soloing near the end of the piece stands out, too.
Riff Raff
There’s a cool opening bass line. Some might say it sounds a little dated, but not me. I really think this style could find a secure place in today’s listening audience. The entire song has a vintage Larry Carlton vibe to it. I like the triplet phrase transitional endings. The full synth chords are effective.  I can give this one a few more spins and won’t tire of it. George has a good ear and creative energy for effective voicing changes. This is excellent!
Bassic Instinct
The song starts with an urban, almost R&B feel to it. The bass melody is effective and melodic. It has some great tapping that reminds me of Tony Levin! There is a nice synth transition and haunting legato guitar lines. Halfway through absolutely outstanding bass soloing abounds and contrasts the complex guitar lines. This is outstanding, sophisticated bass work, melodic and front-and-center! Superb jazz phrasing is omnipresent. It is a very cool song!
Journey’s End
An up-tempo sixteenth note pattern dominates the beginning. The melody features Spyro Gyra or Boney James reminiscent sax doubling with the guitar. There’s a nice jazz feel on the piano solo, beautifully played and very fresh. The song just makes you feel good. I love this piece, fast lyrical lines on guitar and bass are very, very clean indeed!
Gentle Rain
The song has a mysterious, almost bossa nova vibe to it. The guitar is the dominant melodic voice and conjures up Al Di Meola images, stylistically speaking. This is a very musical piece, short and sweet.
The Dark Season
I admit that this song doesn’t grab my attention as quickly, but by the time I’m one-third in, it starts to feel more comfortable. I like the processed alembic bass sound in contrast to the clean guitar chord rhythms. The double time section draws me in halfway through with some very complex bass and percussion work underneath the dominant percussive guitar rhythms. There is more tension buildup in the second half of the piece, and the song is really growing on me. The synth chords are ethereal and ambient, presenting good contrast to the bass and guitar voices. There is some great bass solo phrasing as the number winds down into the final minute. Well done!
All Y’all
This song features triplets over a basic common time beat, so it feels like a fast 12/8. The writing to me is not completely unlike Jean Luc Ponty, and the electric violin amplifies the influence. Only after listening did I realize it was David Ragsdale of Kansas, which makes total sense. The triplet patterns do drive the tension and dynamics of the song. This is a good pop fusion offering.
Split Indecision
A traditional rock backbeat opens. Guitar and keys sound like harmonic minor and quite Mediterranean, fusing with the hard rock bass groove, the latter simple but effective. The groove shifts to three into the center of the song. Transitional chords are well constructed. The guitar solo is fabulous! This is creative, musical playing, and just plain cool! There are superb unison lines and excellent synth and organ solos. I love it, and it has a particularly cool ending!
66,000 mph
With an upbeat introduction there is a good pace throughout. Very skillful bass figures are played against some well-spaced guitar mini features. There is good tension in the keys and kick drum. Well-placed snare and tom accents are noticeable. George’s playing virtuosity is evident here as on every track. This is excellent work!
Who Threw My Kitty in the Pool?
With a mysterious jazz groove at the beginning, the song feels to me like a Marcus Miller offering in a Miles Davis piece. By the time the song is one-third in, I start to hear more Levinesque tendencies. Solid interplay exists percussion to bass. Once again, the guitar figures back up the driving quality of the piece. Halfway through, the guitar solo feels like Adrian Belew wrote and played it, which is pretty nice, indeed. The keys are very fusionesque. This may be the most sophisticated song on the CD. It’s fabulous!

 

 
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