Reviews roundup – Saga vs. Neal Morse vs. The Blue Gators

SAGA The Security Of Illusion SAGA
The Security Of Illusion / The Beginner’s Guide To Throwing Shapes
earMusic

earMusic are in the process of reissuing all the studio albums released by Canadian melodic prog rockers Saga from 1989 – 2007. That’s 12 albums in 12 months, all with bonus tracks recorded earlier this year.  They’re coming out with booklets including fan material, photos, press pictures as well as the founding band members of Saga having their say on each album.

This was album number nine from Saga, which came out in 1993, and one which saw  keyboardist Jim Gilmour and drummer Steve Negus returning to the band after a few years away.

To be fair, the nineties weren’t that kind to Saga and this isn’t one of my favourites.  Even though it was a tad heavier than some previous releases, some of the songs didn’t really make the mark.  However, it is a Saga album, which means there are some gems in there.  The big ballad, ‘Alone Again Tonight’ is one of my favourites, and ‘Once Is Never Enough’ is actually one of their best songs, period, as is the title track.

One for fans only, casual listeners would be better served elsewhere.

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SAGA The Beginner's Guide To Throwing ShapesAlmost a lost Saga album, this one seemed to vanish in the wilds of 1989.  Which is a tad unfair, as it has a lot to recommend it.  By this point Saga were basically down to a trio of Michael Sadler (vocals, keyboards) and the Crichton brothers – Jim (bass, synth) and Ian (guitars, synth).  And it was a move away from the more commercial sound they’d been pursuing through the eighties.

Which worked for me, even though there is a lot of drum programming on it.  Well, it was the eighties.  On the plus side, the guitar of Ian Crichton was a bit more prominent.  When they steered clear of their pop inclinations, as they do on ‘Scarecrow’, which is about as hard as Saga ever rocked, and the splendidly progtastic closer, ‘Giant’, then it makes for a very enjoyable listen.  Granted, there are a few patchy songs, but it’s a better album than they were given credit for.

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NEAL MORSE Morsefest 2014NEAL MORSE
Morsefest 2014
Metal Blade

Great gosh-a-mighty!  Now, this is a release and a half!

Neal Morse is a busy man.  As well as his own band, he finds time to perform with Transatlantic and Flying Colors, and 2014 saw him organising a Morsefest weekend in Nashville, where he performed two special shows.

Along with long-time collaborators Mike Portnoy and Randy George as well as Neal Morse Band members Bill Hubauer and Eric Gillette, he performed live versions of his classic albums “Testimony” and “One”, sequentially and in their entirety.  Chuck in a four-piece horn section, a female background vocal sextet, and guest musicians on violin, cello and percussion, and you’ve got the kitchen sink plus.

Across an elaborate package you’ve got over five hours of classic prog performances of the above albums, as well as encores of the Spock’s Beard tune ‘The Light’ featuring Alan Morse, and the Transatlantic epic (and by epic, I mean half an hour) ‘Stranger In Your Soul’.  There’s also a behind-the-scenes documentary with footage of Neal’s exclusive acoustic concert, rehearsal footage and much more.

It’s spread across a 4CD-2DVD set and it sounds fantastic.  Not just musically, but aurally, helped by the presence of a front of house mix by Rich Mouser, who mixed the original studio albums. “One” is my second favourite Neal Morse album, so I was really blown away by that live performance, with the opening ‘The Creation’ set to stay with me for a long, long time.

This is an essential purchase for prog fans, who should really take the day off work when it arrives.  Fantastic.

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THE BLUE GATORS Amazing BlueTHE BLUE GATORS
Amazing Blue
independent

After a surfeit of prog rock, we’re winding down for the day with Montrose blues (ish) band, The Blues Gators.  And that’s Montrose, Colorado, not Montrose, Angus.

Seems like this lot are a regular live act playing around the Rocky Mountains area, and there is certainly a good time swing to a lot of their material.  They’ve got some good songs going on here, with the likes of ‘Miss That Plane’, ‘In Front of Me’ and ‘Lovely Lady’ well deserving of some repeated plays.

The arrangements are particularly good, and the presence of a sax player and a percussionist gives depth to the sound.  It’s not an essential purchase, but it made for a very enjoyable listening experience.

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