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Flying Colors - 'Flying Colors' Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     June 04, 2012    
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Album by the new supergroup.

The buzz about supergroup Flying Colors started a year ago when it was announced that guitarist Steve Morse (Deep Purple/Dixie Dregs), drummer Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater/Transatlantic), keyboard player Neal Morse (Spock's Beard/Transatlantic) and bassist Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs/Satriani/Vai) were working on a project together. With Transatlantic again going on hiatus I'm sure many assumed that Flying Colors would plough a similar furrow, with long songs, stellar musicianship and arrangements, and Neal Morse handling most of the vocals. However, somewhere along the way things have changed slightly, with the foursome bringing in Alpha Rev singer Casey McPherson and heading in a more contemporary, pop-oriented direction, not to mention bringing in celebrated Rush/Queensryche producer Peter Collins. Sure, the ambitious arrangements are still there, as are the trademark instrumental flurries, but whilst the music is sometimes exactly what you would expect from the people involved, there's a very accessible side to it that should see them appeal to a much wider audience.

Starting with the least surprising songs, the longest two bookend the album, with 'Blue Ocean' easing you in with its bouncy groove, slick, live-sounding instrumentation and superb vocal arrangements, and the minute Casey's lead vocal kicks in even the most fanatical Neal Morse follower won't mind the fact that their man isn't singing everything. The twelve minute 'Infinite Fire' follows the same Transatlantic-meets-Dregs course, with well-crafted melodies, wonderful instrumental parts and a typical Neal Morse emotional breakdown - the insistent groove, layered vocals and majestic guitar solos being the icing on the cake. Between these you get nine shorter songs, each with plenty to recommend it, from the simple, contemporary pop of 'Fool In My Heart' (is that Mr. Portnoy on vocals?), the great dual vocal of 'Everything Changes', or the catchy 'Love Is What I'm Waiting For' - very Supertramp/10cc with an early Queen mid-section.

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It's also surprising how light some of the songs are, although there's no mistaking the Neal Morse/Spock's Beard-isms of 'Kayla' or the wonderful 'Better Than Walking Away'. Other highlights include 'Forever In A Daze'; another melodic upbeat song with a brilliant drum and bass groove, and the quite wonderful 'The Storm', which has simple contemporary verses and possibly the most majestic chorus of the whole album, and on which all you Kansas fans can listen for Steve Morse recreating a snippet of 'Musicatto'. Strangely, for me at least, the more aggressive songs 'Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda' and 'All Falls Down' don't have the same impact as the others, but that's not because they're poor, I just feel the hooks aren't as strong as the rest of the album.

Peter Collins has managed to capture the performances without the gloss sometimes associated with his past work, which is in keeping with the style, but all the instruments and voices are perfectly clear and the album has a very organic and warm sound. The performances of Morse, Morse, LaRue and Portnoy are jaw-droppingly good and the songs are well-written without much of the jam-like feel I was expecting/fearing, but on an album of many great things it's perhaps Casey McPherson who shines the brightest, proving adept at any style and bringing an honesty and strength to the vocals. He's a real find for the guys and a major reason why this album is so good. Flying Colors is a well chosen name that has so many connotations, all of them are apt.

Phil Ashcroft

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