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Limited digipak edition. 2012 release from this Prog supergroup featuring Mike Portnoy, Dave LaRue, Neal Morse, Casey McPherson and Steve Morse. In 2008, executive producer Bill Evans brought the idea to the world renowned musicians and producer Peter Collins. Intrigued by the idea and the prospect of working together, the four musicians signed on to form a band and record a first album. Flying Colors convened for just nine days in early 2011, and composed and recorded this album during a short and intense session. 'This album has bits and pieces of what you'd expect from each of us,' says Portnoy. 'The sum of all its parts led to brand new, unchartered territory for everyone involved.'
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The songs are pretty good for the most part, although there are no real stand-outs and there are a couple of clunkers (Shoulda Coulda Woulda is a bit bland in my opinion). Most of the songs have catchy hooks and choruses while still retaining some originality. Apparently the entire album was written and recorded in 9 days, with an agreement among the band members not to use anything they'd previously written independently; I can't help but think if they'd been able to spend more time they could've come up with a true masterpiece.
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Thankfully, that is NOT the case with this new album. Instead, this record is some of the most inspired playing and most creative music that I've heard from any of the artists involved in quite some time. It is not watered down in the slightest, as supergroups tend to be. Nor can it be caricatured one way or the other; as "prog rock" or anything else. It defies labels. It is, simply put, five guys with unique attitudes toward music coming together to produce something genuinely fresh, new, and exciting. Sometimes it's prog, or metal, or 70's/80's rock, but listening to it you always get the sense that these five guys are playing this music and making it their own-- rather than coming down to from their expertise to play as studio-guys. Everyone shines here, and everyone's going all out. That maybe is why it's called "Flying Colors".
Though I initially had my reservations that this album would simply become another Neal Morse solo project, that has not been the case. Neal's contributions are apparent, but the primary singer/songwriter here seems to be Casey McPhereson, who I sincerely hope will make this project the main outlet for his creativity henceforth. Although, at this point, I'm not sure who is responsible for which songs, the songwriting here is top-notch. Though many songs deal with the same religious themes fans of Neal Morse will be familiar with, at no place is this album as overtly "biblical" as Neal's solo-work. The thematic range is much broader- there are love-songs, songs about hardship, songs about faith, and so on, and while I sense that these topics are dealt with in sort of a "christian" way, they are still portrayed universally enough for non-Christians to appreciate them. Casey's voice, heard most often on the album, is a nice parallel to the other voices in the group and compliments the music nicely.
Mike Portnoy and Steve Morse are at the top of their game here-- though the latter can do no wrong, the former displays once again why progressive music is his home. Over the years, Mike Portnoy's best drumming has not been in Adrenaline Mob, A7X, or the heavier, post-Six Degrees DT albums he has played on. Rather, it has been in Transatlantic and Neal Morse. This album is no exception. Mike is at the top of this game here, and locks in with bassists David LaRue's grooving style perfectly. I think this is his best drumming in a long, long time. It is further proof that, where Portnoy is a just a minor-player in the metal world, he is a prophet in the dominion of prog rock. As for Steve Morse? His playing is astounding. Every note on the album sounds so "right", like he could not have played a better note, or done with more or less. He truly is a master of the craft.
What makes Flying Colors so special is that it is not just Transatlantic + Dixie Dregs + Alpha Rev. It's something much different, and something new. "Kayla" makes us tear up, while "The Storm" liberates us, and the chorus to "Infinite Fire" will call to us when for weeks, even when we're not listening to it. It's an emotional and exciting album, and I sincerely hope that this project will be more than a one-off thing.
I am reminded of the video of Leonard Bernstein conducting "hands off" toward the end of this wonderful talk by Itay Talgam (absolutely worth the 15 minute investment in your time [...]), Bernstein is so confident in his individual players that his implicit direction is no longer necessary and he leaves them to soar on their own. Because of the mastery of each individual, and their choices to be tasteful rather than flailing, Flying Colors very much soars
Thank you to everyone involved for sharing your passion with us.
BTW, I purchased both the CD and the vinyl here at amazon and have ALWAYS been pleased with their service.
'supergroups' often leave me cold, as is the case with 'adrenaline mob'... it just sounds like more of the same, good, not great. definitely not inspired... it sounded like some killer players having fun and goofing off for a few weeks... but this surprising group of folks have created a real winner...
all the players obviously have the chops to shred for days, but they don't. the songs are wonderful, and the players show off occasionally in very tasteful ways. i love mike's drumming, i am impressed with steve morse and dave larue, (though i've never been a fan of their bands' music, i appreciate their ability) and neal morse is one of my faves, especially for his vocal arrangements.
but the addition of a radio-friendly 'pop' singer-songwriter is the masterstroke of genius here... casey is wonderful and SUCH a surprising addition here. he makes me think at times of john legend, bruce springsteen and daniel johns without sounding like a copy of anyone. i have never previously heard of him, but i'm a fan.
if this album doesn't explode onto the charts it'll be a crime.
I hurridly rip open the packaging, grab the CD from the digipak, place into the player and sit back. Seventy minutes later my initial surprising journey is over and I am smiling. This is good. Really good. Wonderful vibrant, melodic rock with a progressive twist from my favourite musicians - Mike Portnoy, master drummer, music organiser with his long-time keyboardist buddy, Neal Morse, composer extraordinaire, singer and instrumentalist who are joined by the legendary Steve Morse, guitarist from Deep Purple with his long-time bassist buddy, Dave LaRue. And then top notch vocalist, Casey McPherson with his contemporary nuances and appealing falsetto who leads the way on this vocal rock album.
It's five days later and all I have listened to is "Flying Colors". This album is catchy with very strong melodic hooks on every song. The emphasis is on tight song structure and strong vocals with harmonising in every chorus - but hey I hear you asking what happened to the virtuoso musicians? No worries - they're all playing, contributing and adding their craft with many structured instrumental interludes in which to shine.
I admit that I am confused when I read some Amazon reviews. Perhaps because this is not cutting-edge rock or outright progressive rock, many seem very critical. Did some expect a new Dream Theater or a more contemporay style like Coldplay? I am unsure and when reading their criticism and I begin to doubt my enthusiasm for this. But then I listen again and get caught up in the melody, drift into another place and that's what music is about.
What is encouraging is how carefully crafted this album is - this is not some supergroup sitting down and playing a few covers and jamming their way through. Everything from the graphics to the impeccable production by Peter Collins (Rush, Alice Cooper,Bon Jovi), thoughtful song order and actual compositions show that this is no fly-by-night project. Quite amazing that all up in less than a month together as musicians, this album was produced.
The sounds and textures are colourful and varied in the genre of slow and medium rock, with two hard rock tracks bordering on metal that allow Mike to double pedal a tornado.The album ends with a mighty 11 minute progressive rock epic, "Infinite Fire". This ending showcases the depth of experience and musicality this group has and includes greater use of Neal's wonderful keyboard organ sounds in unison with some of Steve's most blistering guitar work. The use of odd-time signatures, slower emotional sections building to the strongest vocal chorus on the album finally breaks into the multi-layered vocals of "Seasons and times". This gives me goosebumps each time I listen.
For Steve Morse and Dave LaRue fans - there seems to be a real difference of opinion about this album. I accept that many Steve fans may not like the album. I am the opposite. I think that there is more Steve soloing on this album than what he played on two Kansas albums or on the last Deep Purple album, 'Rapture of the deep'. Every song has a beautifully crafted Morse solo that to my ears had more variety and thoughtfulness than what I have heard from Steve in decades. I have never heard Morse sound so like Brian May as what he does on "Love is what I'm waiting for". Of course Dave and Steve know each other's playing like musical twins so their harmonic convergence and dissonance and timing is impeccable. Great examples where Dave struts his funky bass is on "Forever in a daze" and the thunderous riff on "All falls down".
"Everything changes" is an excellent example of the group joining and melting styles. The song starts like a track off Steve Morse's "High Tension Wires (Re-release)", the vocals section are all McPherson's influence and then the bridge where Neal Morse sings is clearly his compositional style and Mike brings some monster drum fills and it ends with more of Steve's influence again. The way I have described this may sound like a patch work which is then a reflection of my ordinary writing skills as this is beautiful track. I write that this is beautiful yet this is one of the lesser tracks on the album. The opening "Blue Ocean" and "Kayla" are standouts plus the aggressive "Shoulda coulda woulda" with its concluding drum fest and "Infinite fire" best encapsulate this group.
So lovers of vintage, well crafted melodic rock - including Queen, Beatles and Yes fans, fans of Steve Morse, Mike Portnoy's "Yellow Matter custard" , Transatlantic, Kansas, Styx, Kerry Livgren, Neal Morse's solo work, fans of Casey McPherson, give this a try - you may really be pleasantly surprised!
I would wager that the first time someone listens to this album, they'll only really like about half of it. It's just so diverse that it's tough to pin down. But eventually, the rest of the songs grow on you. "Kayla" is a spectacular piece of power-pop. "Love Is What I'm Waiting For" borrows quite unashamedly from "Killer Queen", but puts its own spin on it. "Better Than Walking Away" and "Fool In My Heart" both come off as a little bit cheesy and sentimental at first, but once you get past that, it's hard not to get caught up in their spell. Last but not least, "Infinite Fire" brings the album to a close in style. It's a 12-minute opus that brings to mind some of the extended jamming of Kansas or Yes, but with a hypercharged, fully-harmonized chorus straight out of the late '80s. (In the best possible way, of course.)
The instrumental performances are always top-notch and reward repeated listens. Vocally, Casey McPherson is an acquired taste and veers a little too close to a Matt Bellamy impersonation at times, but he gets the job done. Mike Portnoy gets a chance to belt out some vocals on "Fool In My Heart", and he does an admirable job. (The track as a whole, intentionally or otherwise, recalls The Beatles' "With A Little Help From My Friends", more in concept than in sound; it features call-and-response singing between the drummer and a chorus of lead singers asking him if he'll be okay!) If I have one complaint about the sound of the album, it's that the vocals are a little bit overprocessed for my taste. But it's fairly appropriate for this kind of album.
For me, the clear highlight of the album is "Blue Ocean", which gives off an incredible first impression; almost TOO good, since the very next song is virtually nothing like it. Until the final track, I was itching to hear something else along those lines, so much that I missed some of the other great stuff going on. Leave all expectations at the door and just let each song speak to you on its own merits, because there's a lot to love here.