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(46:00 / 'Bridge')
TRACK LIST: 1. Circles 6:15 2. Automatic Fantasy 7:29 3. Insane 4:14 4. Siucra 6:17 5. Never Say Never 5:29 6. Grass & Stone 6:51 7. Rock Paper Scissors 9:22 LINEUP: Joey Vera - bass, el. & ac. guitars; keyboards; vocals Greg Studgio - drums
Prolusion. Widely known American bassist, engineer and producer Joey Vera's service record is too voluminous to list all the bands and projects (let alone the albums) that he's taken part in, so I'll only name the most notable ones - Armored Saints and Fates Warning, both of which he is still a member. Although appearing under the moniker of A CHINESE FIREDRILL, "Circles" is nothing other than the artist's solo effort, comprising exclusively his own compositions, besides which Joey sings and performs everything here, save drums, which are played by Greg Studgio. However, Vera has one more solo album to his credit: titled as "A Thousand Faces", it was released in 1994 under his own name.
Analysis. After reading the press kit where, apart from listing his numerous influences, Joey offers his personal vision of the musical style of "Circles", I became inspired with the thought I'd hear progressive Hard Rock or Metal with some art-rock influences. However, only the first two of the seven songs present justify my expectations. The title track has musically a certain common ground with that sort of progressive Doom Metal with some more than occasional atmospherically-symphonic textures which has been a calling card of Fates Warning's style since their "Disconnected" album, although when lending an ear to Joey's guitar riffs, I find these to be closer in their construction to those by Zakk Wilde (think Ozzy Osbourne rather than The Black Label Society). Circles is additionally notable for its episode with the bass guitar playing lead in the arrangement. I welcome Joey's efforts in focusing on composition, but nevertheless I slightly regret the other tunes are free of those movements where the instrument he manages best of all would be brought to the fore, as these would definitely have imparted more coloration to the music and strengthened its identity as well. The point is also that while Vera's command of most of the other instruments he plays here (keyboards and acoustic guitar, to be precise) is strong enough to manage without, well, corresponding specialists, his solos on electric guitar aren't very convincing, being almost exclusively fluidly-slow in character. Standing out for some really brilliant acoustic guitar traceries, Automatic Fantasy still suits the aforesaid definition well, although the Fates Warning influence plays a minor role here, having surrendered its position to the Led Zeppelin one, besides which there are some traces of Pink Floyd's legacy to be found on this track. Anyway, the substantial part of Automatic Fantasy's musical storyline has very much in common with the song Friends from "Led Zeppelin-III", the resemblance revealing itself on many levels, but particularly in the main theme provided by the acoustic guitar, and also in the string arrangements, whilst Joey's (restrained, with no rise-and-fall acrobatics) vocals bring to mind only those of Kevin Moore - everywhere on the album. Running a few steps forward, I'd like to note that it's only the first two songs I like in their entirety. The real highlights of this album, Circles and Automatic Fantasy both reveal good thematic development, as well as a fine balance between their vocal-based and purely instrumental arrangements. Among the subsequent tracks, only Never Say Never can perhaps pretend to be considered a genuinely progressive creation, alternating movements involving big guns in the vein of the title track with more atmospheric Chroma Key- and Radiohead-like landscapes. Grass & Stone has its driving moments, but is for the most part both rather groovy and repetitive Space Rock / Metal more often evoking late Porcupine Tree than their earlier work and, hence, Pink Floyd as well. Okay, from a viewpoint of contemporary mainstream Prog, Grass & Stone would be a decent tune, as also are the ballads, Insane and Siucra, where the comparisons with the same Chroma Key and modern-day Porcupine Tree are also inevitable, in both cases. The only real disappointment is the concluding and, moreover, the longest track here, Rock Paper Scissors, which lasts for nine-and-a-half minutes. With the exception of its very brief mid-section (with only piano, guitar and drums in the arrangement), this is both vocal-heavy and a quite straightforward tune and is in the final analysis just a set of variations on the same theme which, in its turn, is Joel's interpretation of the famous In the Army Now from Status Quo's '80s repertoire. That being said, this is not a case where one might assert that the poverty of ideas on the last opus is well compensated for by the richness of those on the first two.
Conclusion. If you like the idea running all through the review and are generally into mainstream Prog, you might be satisfied with "Circles". Shall I lay down the axiom that those looking for a more challenging music should look elsewhere? Done! :-)
VM: March 26, 2007
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