by Michael Popke
The recent merger of ProgRock Records into the “progressive” genre at The Record Label — a company formed in 2004, rebranded in 2010 and overseen by PRR honcho Shawn Gordon — makes this a good time to check out some of The Record Label’s non-progressive releases. They range from a rock veteran’s foray into soothing folk music to a Swedish siren’s Nine Inch Nails-influenced industrial pop-rock , and they are worth the time and effort of open-minded progheads.
Of particular interest to regular readers of this blog will be Angelfire, a 2010 collaboration between guitarist Steve Morse (whose resume includes Kansas, Deep Purple, The Dixie Dregs and Neal Morse) and Sarah McLachlan-like vocalist Sarah Spencer. Morse met the singer when she was 16 and co-wrote Angelfire with her, making this his first effort at composing lyrics. The result is a subtle and pretty eponymously titled record with hints of Blackmore’s Night, but minus the renaissance extravagance. Spencer’s delicate and … OK, I’ll just say it … angelic voice mesmerizes throughout, but most enjoyable is the peaceful “Omni Morse Aequat.” The Latin lyrics help listeners drift away and escape the chaos of modern life. As Morse writes in the liner notes: “This album was recorded with no other plan than to create music that I would like to hear Sarah sing over.” Mission accomplished.
Citing Frank Zappa as the group’s spiritual leader, members of Australia’s The Colourphonicsblur rock, pop, jazz, funk, soul and blues on their fast-paced, self-titled 2010 debut CD. In fact, characterizing this album as anything but adventurously eclectic is pretty much futile. Dual saxophones, multiple vocalists (including a woman) and a classic sound make this fun for everyone who loves music. Sonic references to Zappa abound, as do elements of old-school Chicago and even the Little River Band. Heck, The Colourphonics was mastered by David Briggs, LRB’s former guitarist.
Edward Heppenstall, a strong-lunged, California-based singer-songwriter-guitarist, teamed up with longtime ProgRock artist, multi-instrumentalist Henning Pauly (Chain, Frameshift), for Parts That Hate Me. With material dating back to 2001, this 2005 release is rooted in an Eighties sound — thanks to Pauly’s production and Heppenstall’s voice, which echoes Corey Hart and, dare I say, Cutting Crew. Some of these songs, as dark as you’d expect based on the album title and cover, also sound like Kip Winger’s solo work. The Record Label’s website even goes so far as to compare the ballad “Don’t Take Me Down” to something Night Ranger would write. I’m not sure I agree with that, but for retro-minded listeners, there’s lots to like about Parts That Hate Me. (Heppenstall also sang on Pauly’s 13 Days album.)
The curiously named Lizette & blurs high-energy industrial pop-rock intertwined with moody rock ballads. With Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor a major influence, the Swedish vocalist looks like former Nightwish siren Tarja Turunen and sounds like Alanis Morissette on her first album, 2006’s This Is. The “&” in the artist’s name must refer to her four backing musicians, guys that wisely remain in the background, letting Lizette’s seductive presence carry this twisted album of — as The Record Label’s website calls it — “angry, beautiful and horrifying music.”