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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Saga

Sagacity

Review by Gary Hill

The first disc of this two CD set is a brand new album from Saga. The second disc is a live recording featuring their hits recorded in 2013. The package together really showcases how the new album is modern sounding and stretches the Saga sound while still remaining true to their catalog. I would recommend this one highly to both casual and hardcore Saga fans and prog fans in general. It’s great stuff.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
CD 1: Sagacity
Let It Slide
Spacey elements start this and it gradually gets more rocking sounds added to the mix. Then it powers out to an extremely crunchy jam that almost feels like Saga does Dream Theater. When it drops back for the vocals it’s more of an AOR trademark Saga approach. This arrangement is diverse, dynamic and quite powerful. It alternates between the more stripped back verses and powered up sections for the verses. I love the multiple layers of vocals. At times I’m reminded of Big Generator era Yes. Still, this is unmistakably Saga. There are some pretty awesome instrumental excursions later in the piece.
Vital Signs
Although this one is also trademark Saga, in some ways it makes me think of the mellower, proggier side of Queensryche at times. There are some definite psychedelic elements in the piece, too. There are also some Asian sounding bits. This is overall a mellower cut, but it’s no less dynamic or powerful. It also rocks out at times, despite being a bit of a drop down from the previous one.
It Doesn't Matter (Who You Are)
There is a bit of an 80s vibe to this piece. Yet it’s also got definite Saga prog stylings. Still, this is a bit odd at the same time. I love the guitar solo and the unusual multilayered vocal arrangement.
Go with the Flow
From the fast paced introduction to the acoustic guitar based verse, this reminds me a lot of something Yes might do. It’s a purely progressive rock piece. It’s also one of the highlights of the set. Given the strength of the tunes that preceded it, that says a lot. The instrumental breaks later are trademark Saga.
Press 9
This is an unusual piece. It has a mellow arrangement. The multiple layers of vocals are rather chorale based. It’s a bit funny, and a lot strange. It’s also quite cool.
Wake Up
This powerhouse hard rocker is sure to wake people up. It’s arguably the hardest edged thing on the disc. It’s also trademark Saga. It’s a great piece of music that rocks out quite well.
Don’t Forget To Breathe
Another hard rocker, this is again very recognizable as Saga. There might not be any big surprises, but when it’s this good, who cares?
The Further You Go
Perhaps not as hard rocking as the last couple pieces, this is no less trademark Saga. I love the keyboard elements on the piece and there are some really playful moments.
On My Way
Melodic prog with some great vocal hooks, I like this one a lot. The instrumental section, bouncing between keyboard and guitar segments, later in the piece is among the best musical passages of the disc. This is one of the standout tunes.
No Two Sides
A harder rocking tune, this is good, but not really a standout.
Luck
I like the contrast between harder rocking and mellower on this piece. It’s a little unusual, but also quite strong. The vocal arrangement adds a lot on this.
I'll Be
They might have saved the best for last. There is a really epic element to this. It starts on acoustic guitar, but works out to one of the most dramatic and diverse arrangements here. It’s really a powerhouse.
CD 2: Saga Hits
Careful Where You Sleep
This smoking hot prog jam is pure Saga goodness. It’s great. The instrumental segment seems particularly on fire.
Mouse in a Maze
Although the instrumental arrangement here has some great moments, it’s really the inspired vocal performance that makes this as great as it is. And, it is great.
You re Not Alone
A crunching guitar opens this song. Then it works out to fast paced progressive rock from there.
The Cross
Although in some ways this is a mellower and less incendiary tune, it’s packed with emotional power. It’s one of my favorites here, really. The vocals really sell this one.
Scratching the Surface
A bit more mainstream AOR prog, this one doesn’t work as well for me as some of the rest does. It’s okay, but not a standout.
Humble Stance
This tasty progressive rocker, on the other hand, is special. It’s got some great music and great vocals. That makes for a great song.
On the Loose
Their biggest hit, this stomper still holds up very well. It’s always been a winner and remains so. It’s catchy and pop like, but still has enough prog to keep it in that genre.
Wind Him Up
I’ve always liked this one a lot. Its AOR based sound works exceptionally well. I think this was another hit for them, but not at the same level as “On the Loose.”
Don t Be Late
This is an awesome prog rocker. It’s got catchy vocal hooks and some hard rocking energy.
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