This week saw the release of another excellent CD by my favorite "New Prog" band, the mighty SPOCK'S BEARD. And sad chances are that you've never heard of them...unless you're one of the many who visit FLYING COLORS and ask what music we're playing in-store.
Back in the '70s, when radio formats were not nearly as tight or boring as they are now, listeners could tune into their favorite station and hear Pop, Hard Rock, R&B, Soul, Bubblegum and other flavors of music on back-to-back-to-back on the same station. It was called "broadcasting" for a reason. Today, every commercial radio station goes for just a slightly different shade of vanilla when it comes to programming music. Down with narrowcasting. Ugh!
Back then, though, along with the music styles already mentioned, there was a very popular style of music called Progressive Rock. "Prog-Rock" style-hopped from hard rock to classical to pop to jazz, usually in the same songs, which often lasted the entirety of a vinyl album side. The first generation of prog-rockers featured bands like YES, Pink Floyd, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Genesis, King Crimson, and later Kansas and early Styx. These bands all got airplay on commercial radio, but more often than not, the cuts played were 3 or 4 minute edits of much longer tracks or a section of a progressive "suite".
All right, that's enough of a primer. What I really want to do is tell you how great the new SPOCK's BEARD CD is. First, let me tell you something abnout the band. Each of the players in the band is a virtuoso at his instrument of choice. Each player has a varied career, working with lots of performers you've heard of, even if you may have never heard of Spock's Beard.
Case in point:
* Drummer/vocalist Nick D'Virgilio (NDV) has performed and/or recorded with Genesis, Tears For Fears, The Manhattan Transfer and Sheryl Crow.
* Lead guitarist (and chief shredder) Al Morse has recorded or performed with Chad & Jeremy, Spencer Davis and Chuck Norris(!).
* Bassist Dave Meros has played and/or recorded with Bobby Kimball (Toto), Simon Phillips, Steve Lukather, Mark Lindsey (Paul Revere and the Raiders), Eric Burdon and The Animals, Iron Butterfly, Sugarloaf, Brian Auger, and Robbie Krieger (The Doors).
* Ryo Okumoto has performed and/or recorded with Phil Collins, Eric Clapton, Natalie Cole, Barry White, Aretha Franklin, Kitaro, Peabo Bryson, Aaron Neville, Robbie Robertson, David Foster, 5th Dimension, Marilyn McCoo, Roberta Flack, Patti Austin, Sheena Easton, Debbie Gibson, Lamont Dozier, Pointer Sisters, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Eric Carmen, Al Green, James Ingram, and Dionne Warwick.
This is the band's 9th studio CD, the first six with multi-instrumentalist/vocalist/songwriter Neal Morse at the helm. The last three feature drummer NDV stepping up to do lead vocals (reminiscent of my favorite prog band GENESIS, with the transition from Peter Gabriel to Phil Collins)---and it is clearly Spock's Beard's most confident and complete effort yet with the new line-up.
True to the progressive form, there's a variety of styles presented on the new SB effort. There's the hard-driving BRAND X influence on the instrumental "Skeletons at the Feast", the bluesy and gnarly style of "Is This Love", the plaintive ballad "Hereafter" featuring Okumoto's brilliant classical keyboard playing and NDV's near-angelic voice....and then there's the neo-progressive sounds of the 8-minute opus Meros/Boegehold penned "On a Perfect Day" (evocative of the band's best work with Neal Morse), and the 17-minute suite of songs wrapped into "As Far As the Mind Can See" (also written by Dave Meros and John Boegehold), featuring "They Know We Know" which could be a long-lost Tears For Fears tune.
"All That's Left" could be mistaken at first for a Porcupine Tree ballad before it breaks into more familar (and welcome) SB territory."The Slow Crash Landing Man" nods to "Duke" era Genesis with its big bass and keyboard-heavy sound, albeit with more layered harmonies than Genesis ever managed.
NDV's chops as a songwriter have grown immensely over these last three SB efforts, with this latest being not only his greatest achievment, but also the band's. "With Your Kiss", a 12 minute sojourn through sweet vocals and Al Morse's stellar lead guitar work, and the CD's final track "Rearranged" with its gum-sticky pop hook, ethereal swirls and melancholy feelings of finding one's sanity in the crazy music business---are two jaw-dropping "love it at first listen" tunes that feel simultaneously fresh and modern while eliciting some truly classic prog moments along the way.
These guys should be MAJOR music stars!!
You can find out more about SPOCK'S BEARD HERE! , with sound samples and an active community of prog-loving music fans. Or you can ask me more next time you're in the store...as if this wasn't long enough already.