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Striving Artists

Jesus Christ Superstar: A Striving Artists Cast Recording

Review by Gary Hill
Here we have a brand new cast recording of the classic rock musical Jesus Christ Superstar. I have to say that I'm not a fan of musicals, really. There are a couple that I've always enjoyed, though. This is one and the other is "Hair." I owned both soundtracks as a kid. Well, I haven't really heard this is many years. so I was able to come at this fresh. I have to say that it's a lot of fun. Also, I've put this under prog rock. I don't know if the original was this proggy, but this one sure fits. I'd recommend this to anyone who has ever enjoyed the show. If you, like me, haven't heard it in a long time, you'll find this a refreshing way to revisit it.
 
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2017  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
Disc 1

                
Overture

This rises up with some dramatic, rather proggy sounds. It has a lot of psychedelic rock built into it along with some middle Eastern music. It's definitely quite proggy in a lot of ways. When it bursts out to the horn based arrangement, it's a real powerhouse. The crazed shifts and changes work into Rock In Opposition territory. When it works out to the hard rocking, fast paced jam, this is so strong. There are some symphonic prog elements that come across the top from there. The main title theme is heard at one point, then it drops way down for a symphonic section with some non-lyrical operatic vocals to end.

Heaven on Their Minds

I have always loved the cool rocking riff that opens this cut. It has an almost space rock vibe to it. The vocals come in over the top and this works forward in a really proggy way. They work it through several different movements. This is very much a prog meets old school rock and roll kind of thing. The vocal performance on this gets really powerful. I like the section with the strings quite a bit, but the whole song is just amazing.

What's the Buzz / Strange Thing Mystifying

This two parter starts with the vocal dominated jam "What's the Buzz." It's very much a 1960s styled tune. It rocks, but isn't at the same level as the opening couple tunes. While all the voices on it are good, the female lead vocal part really steals the show. The second half of this is more rock song based. It's a classy tune that's less dated than the first half was. The harder rocking movement of this gets into more of a proggy direction.

Then We Are Decided

Piano begins this. The cut works forward in a very prog rock like way. Parts of this rock pretty well, while others are mellower. The vocals are among the most theatrical of the set: This is musical theater after all.

Everything's Alright

The melody that opens this is full on prog. The female vocal performance is gentle and quite pretty in the opening movement. That section leans toward folk music. As the male vocals enter this rocks out a lot more. As this continues those two pieces alternate and then merge. There is a drum solo at the end.

This Jesus Must Die
A dark bit of piano opens this. Vocal dialog with some of that piano works forward. This is weird and very much in line with Rock In Opposition music. It gets into more mainstream rocking sounds as it continues, but there is still a strange twist to it. It gets more accessible yet as it makes its way forward. It also has some of the most "musical theater" based sounds here.
Hosanna
Bombastic and powerful, this is an energized rocker. It's not one of my favorites, but it works reasonably well.
Simon Zealotes / Poor Jerusalem
A processional introduction gives way to a powerhouse fast paced prog rock styled arrangement. This is smoking hot.
Pilate's Dream
Acoustic guitar leads off this short tune. It has a lot of folk prog in the mix in a lot of ways.
The Temple
This is more of a hard rocker. It's a classy tune that has a great vocal arrangement. The screaming hot vocal that separates the first section from the second is exceptional. That second movement is a mellow and quite proggy one. It works out from there with a harder rocking section that's again quite prog rock like.
I Don't Know How to Love Him
I seem to remember this being a hit song on the radio in the 60s or 70s. This is definitely more of a mainstream tune. This is balladic and rather proggy. If it were a radio hit, it's not hard to see why. It's quite an evocative and potent piece of music.
Damned for All Time / Blood Money
The instrumental section that opens this is noisy, but also very much prog. It drops to symphonic elements from there. Then the song works out to more of a 60s based rave-up. Still, the shifts and turns bring some definite proggy tendencies to it. This goes through a number of changes. It's a cool tune.
Disc 2
         

The Last Supper

Acoustic guitar leads off the second disc of the set. It works out with a folk sort of arrangement as organ and voices join. This evolves from there with a number of different sections taking it.

Gethsemane (I Only Want to Say)
Starting with a mellower section, this works out to a hard rocking arrangement. I really like the vocal performance on this. It feels very powerful and real. The more symphonic rock arrangement that takes it to a climax is classy. It gets reinvented with a mellow balladic section from there.
The Arrest
There are some recurring bits from earlier built into this cut. The tune is a powerful dynamic number that has a lot of progressive rock built into it.
Peter's Denial
With both piano based movements and more rocking ones, this is a solid musical theater type piece. It's not really one of my favorites, but it's only about a minute and a half long.
Pilate and Christ
I love the theatrical meets prog vibe to this cut. It's a bit over the top, but it works really well, too.  There is a reprise of "Hosanna" at the end of this.
King Herod's Song

This has some rag-time built into it. It's a fun cut, but perhaps more musical theater than it is rock.

Could We Start Again Please

The theme that serves as the backdrop for the first vocals is a piano based one.

Judas' Death

Prog rock meets musical theater here. I'm not really a big fan of this tune, but it works well. It is one of the harder rocking things here. It gets a bit of "I Don't Know How To Love Him" in the mix. The rocking prog jam at the end of this is a powerhouse, though. Female chorale vocals emerge at the end of this.

Trial Before Pilate (Including the 39 Lashes)

Musical theater, hard rock and more merge on this cut. It's a powerful number with a number of different sections. A familiar theme returns for the backdrop for the lashes. Angry hard rock is the idea at the end.

Superstar

The powerhouse of the set, I think everyone in the world has heard this. It's a powerful number that works quite well in this performance.

Crucifixion

This is a crazed descent into madness and chaos.

John 19:41

A symphonic instrumental, this is a powerful piece of music.

 
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