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(56:58, ‘Ceiling Unlimited’)
TRACK LIST: 1. As the Clouds Drifted By 5:37 2. Dream Surrender 4:53 3. Deja Vu 6:38 4. Cross My Heart 6:30 5. Sideshow 8:23 6. Milagro 8:36 7. Near to Me 4:13 8. On Your Own 6:26 9. Ceiling Unlimited 5:42 LINEUP: Brian Newsholme – pianos, Hammond, Mellotron Nancy Scorcia – guitars; vocals Amy King – vocals Chris Brower – bass Norm Dodge – guitars Jason Brower – keyboards; percussion With: Carl Shillito – saxophone Aled Jones – lap steel Alisa Amor – flute
Prolusion. The US outfit CEILING UNLIMITED was formed back in 2004, but for the first few years of its existence it stayed pretty well below the surface as far as attention goes. Entering the final stage of a talent competition hosted by music television channel VH1 gave the band somewhat more of a public presence, but the main prize of opening for Yes in 2008 wasn't quite within its grasp at that point. Next up for the band was to assemble an album, and in 2010 this next step was finalized in the shape of its self-titled debut production. As is more and more customary these days, the band decided to release the album themselves, as a limited edition CD and with more of an emphasis on the digital marketplace.
Analysis. Ceiling Unlimited makes a point of the fact that no one so far has managed to place their musical exploits into one of the numerous genre boxes people try to squeeze a band into. And I'll have to concur that in such a context, their musical exploits are rather undefinable. They aren't really plying their trade amidst the experimental parts of the art rock realm, and those looking for boundary-breaking music will most likely find this disc to be severely lacking as well. The undefinable aspects of this venture are ones with more of a foundation within the realms of what I tend to describe as art pop or mainstream-oriented music with art rock credentials, if you like. The stylistic foundations of this act can be found in the folk and jazz-rock-oriented parts of the art rock domain, where blues-based staccato guitar motifs featuring both acoustic and electric guitar paired off in a manner not too unlike Jethro Tull make up one distinct sound and Latin-flavoured guitar and organ blend with a jazz-oriented expression is the other. Most commonly, the former is utilized in the verse parts and the latter in chorus passages and inserted themes, including instrumental and soloing parts. Adding a bit of further flavor and variation are dampened, sophisticated symphonic backdrops, resulting in relatively slick-sounding and distinctly harmonic passages with an emphasis on melody. Distinct contrasts, disharmonies and other effects of a more adventurous nature are generally avoided, the band opting to focus on songs closer to the ear candy variety of material. The major and most important ingredient are the lead vocals of Amy King in that respect: an accomplished vocalist with a close-to-perfect delivery throughout, and overall good range with a tendency to stay within a delivery that can be described as dark and husky. Guitarist Nancy Scorcia also has vocal duties, harmonizing and contrasting with her lighter, clean and clear voice, resulting in generally intriguing dynamics of an overall high quality. The compositions themselves are something of an uneven lot, and at times I felt that some of the songs were written as vehicles for the lead vocals to a greater extent than as songs created to utilize the vocal talents of King and Scorcia. At best the songs are compelling, catchy and also exhibit some nifty sophisticated details, at worst aimless and meandering. The first is best exemplified by opening track As the Clouds Drifted By and album highlight Milagro, the latter showcased to perfection (or is that imperfection?) with Near to Me. Mix and production are high-quality, but perhaps a tad too slick and glossy for the average prog rock fan. Again, pop art is a good description to bring forth relevant associations for this particular aspect of their album.
Conclusion. Amy King is among the best less known lead vocalists I've encountered in the progressive rock universe, a singer that many could and probably should hold in envy. And those fond of strong female lead vocals used in art rock creations with a distinct mainstream orientation and expression should find the first album by Ceiling Unlimited to be one well worth taking note of. Slick, melodic and harmonic throughout, but with subtle details of the kind those fond of sophisticated rock will appreciate.
OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: March 9, 2011
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