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(73 min, Progrock)
TRACK LIST: 1. In a World 16:23 2. This Dream 1:07 3. Common Ground 4:38 4. Merkaba 3:15 5. All Along 5:10 6. The Space in Between 4:58 7. I am the Energy 4:10 8. Point of View 4:59 9. Power to Mend 10:03 10. Find 4:10 11. The Balance 8:42 12. This Dream-II / In a World Reprise 5:32 PERSONNEL: Rick Duncan - drums; keyboards; guitar Todd Plant - lead vocals; acoustic guitar Sam Conable - bass, bass pedals; vocals Timothy Keese - guitars; b/vocals Howard Helm - keyboards; b/vocals With: John Zanner - keyboards David Ragsdale - violin Alan Morse - guitar Jerry Outlaw - guitar Ralph Santolla - guitar Shawn Bowen - guitar, sitar, mandolin Carrie Martin - choir vocals
Prolusion. Originally a brainchild of drummer / multi-instrumentalist / sound engineer Rick Duncan and vocalist Todd Plant, who have collaborated since the late '80s, CRYPTIC VISION from the American state of Florida arrive with their second studio album "In a World". Their debut offering "Moments of Clarity" was released three years ago, though they also list a live CD "Live at ROSFest-2005" in their discography. Todd Plant had a huge scenic experience behind him before Cryptic Vision, having worked and toured with former members of Chicago, the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan, to name a few other outfits. However, it's Rick Duncan who penned all the music and most of the lyrics for "In a World".
Analysis. Two of the seven guest musicians, who have participated on this recording, should be familiar to anybody with interest in progressive music. These are the former Kansas violinist David Ragsdale, and Spock's Beard's very own Alan Morse, David especially having solidly contributed to the album's sonic palette. By the irony of fate, Kansas and Spock's Beard turn out to be the only, say, outside factors whose echoes are at times distinct on this recording - at least to my ears. Overall however, the material has a surprisingly fresh sound, the title track being especially startling in this respect. This is a polymorphous, definitely multi-layered composition, and it would be really difficult to count the number of different thematic movements that it's made up of, as well as the transformations it undergoes during its 16-and-a-half minutes. Here, Cryptic Vision follow the best traditions of academic Symphonic Progressive, at times alternating full-blooded organ- and guitar-driven arrangements with Classical-like interludes (most often featuring either piano and 'strings' or violin and acoustic guitar in the picture), though in one of the middle sections the music doesn't suit any established scheme, revealing something greatly unusual. First the piano, drums, congas and 'brass' set up quasi improvisations with a strong Latin feeling, but after Todd Plant brings his amazingly virtuosi acoustic guitar solo to the fore, the storyline has changed, soon obtaining a more concrete and, at the same time, really unique shape whose substance I see as nothing else than Flamenco Progressive. Very innovative. The band's performance just breathes mastery - from the powerful vocals of Todd (who is a chameleon singer though) through the guitar pyrotechnics of Timothy Keese and the resourceful keyboards of Howard Helm to bassist Sam Conable and drummer Rick Duncan who pilot all the complex stop-to-play maneuvers. There also are some Prog-Metal-like movements not long before the finale, which in turn is a symphonic anthem with a massive choir singing. On the other hand, the short second piece This Dream, which features only acoustic guitar and vocals, can also be viewed as the finale of the epic, as there are no distinct pauses between the album's 12 tracks, besides which both the compositions find a kind of joint conclusion at the very end of the CD, on the track titled simply and correspondingly, This Dream-II / In a World Reprise. Back to the song that has given the CD its title: this is one of the very best 'sidelong' suites I've heard this year and is certainly my favorite number here, although the four pieces named next are also outstanding, even if they don't bring anything strikingly new. The only instrumental, Merkaba, is the richest in violin passages, though above all in sudden transitions, which is to say compared to its length, 3:15. It is amazing to hear how many themes the band have managed to squeeze into such a short timescale as this. Despite the presence of vocals, Point of View (the last one with David Ragsdale's active participation) is absolutely on a par with Merkaba, both compositions fully suiting my vision of the modern evolution of classic Symphonic Progressive. But what I am talking about? Approaching the best examples of Prog-Metal, Common Ground and I am the Energy are worthy of the same epithets, and if the latter has a slight Kansas and Rainbow (Stargazer) vibe, the former is beyond any comparison at all. The Space in Between, Find, The Balance and Power to Mend all must be viewed within the same category, regardless of the fact that the latter two are almost twice as long as the others. All are song-based, but thankfully, most of the instrumental maneuvers (those developing alongside the vocals included of course) steer somewhere between classic Sympho Prog and late-seventies heavy Pomp Rock. In other words, the relative straightforwardness of the vocal sections is mostly well compensated for by the players' resourcefulness. As for the instrumental ones, well, everything is just fine as it is. The ballad All Along is the only track whose inclusion in the CD I find completely unnecessary. After all, the times of potential hit singles are over many years ago.
Conclusion. While not as much cohesive and consistent as I would like it would, "In a World" is a strong album and should appeal to most contemporary Prog heads. Those who like Kansas, Spock's Beard or Transatlantic will most likely be pleased with it in its entirety. Recommended.
VM: September 4, 2006
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