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(55 min, 'Visaggio')
TRACK LIST: 1. In The Nazarene Church 6:40 2. Prelude No 2 for Piano 0:29 3. My Elder's Son 6:20 4. Blues Variations 8:03 5. 2001 Also Rocked Zarathustra 9:53 6. Starship Universe 4:46 7. The Synchronized Life 6:10 8. On The Ship of Emotion 8:31 9. Music's Coming To Us 6:46 SOLO PILOT: Mike Visaggio - instruments; programming With Mike Murray - drums (1 & 7)
Prolusion. Mike VISAGGIO with a love of classic progressive rock, particularly the music of ELP and Yes. After stints in various cover bands, he left music to support his family as a truck driver, driving 18-wheelers. "Starship Universe" is his first solo album.
Analysis. We often hear of "guitar hero" albums by guitar solo artists. "Starship Universe" is a "keyboard hero" album. Mike Visaggio plays all instruments on the album, but mostly the focus is the keyboard, particular classic sounding synthesizers. The opener, In the Nazarene Church, begins with a very lively and bouncy intro played by B3 (or at least B3 sound alike). The vocals have a late 60s, early 70s vibe to them. The star here though, is the synthesizer work, which is classic 70s prog in its sound, style and proficiency. The weak link on this track and others would be the vocals and lyrics. Visaggio is most effective when he lets the keys speak for themselves. Prelude No 2 for Piano is a very brief interlude between the first and third tracks played in a classical style. My Elder's Son slows the pace down. It is more centered on the vocals, which, as I mentioned before, are not as compelling as the keyboard work, though on this one the keyboards are not particularly riveting, either, sounding like late 70s jazz fusion, similar some of the synth sounds on Harlequin by Weather Report ("Heavy Weather") without the interesting interplay of the various other instruments. This track is one of the low points on the album and could have been done in half the time allotted, as it just plods along. Blues Variations is a Keith Emerson piece. The drum machine gets to be a bit much at times, but the keyboard work is very tasty; lots of classic ELP styled synthesizer work and B3 sound. 2001 Also Rocked Zarathustra harkens to the days when the airwaves were filled with Deodato's rendition of the 2001 Theme, though Visaggio's version is decidedly rockier. Starship Universe, another instrumental track, is all "organ." The style is that of a classical church organ meditation. The Synchronized Life opens with a full synth orchestra, sounding quite a bit like Wendy/Walter Carlos' "Switched on Bach". There is a small snippet in the theme that brings Hark the Herald to mind. This one is also vocal track. The vocals throughout the album have a late 60s quality to them, not as far forward in the mix as I'd have liked and all have effects on them that are reminiscent of Procol Harum, circa "Whiter Shade of Pale". This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I do wish he'd not have used it on all songs. Visaggio's voice isn't bad and could be used as a more dynamic instrument. The problem I have with the songs on "Starship Universe" are the lyrics. It's not that they are objectionable, but rather they simply aren't compelling. On The Ship of Emotion is one of the least derivative tracks. Oops, there goes that effect on the vocals again. Early Moody Blues also comes to mind with those vocals in a can. Music's Coming to Us is more of a straight-ahead rocker, conjuring images of Bruce Sprinsteen singing Glory Days; at least the organ has that kind of carnival sound, though the vocals lack the punch of a real rocker. There are other tracks that would have made a better finale.
Conclusion. Mike Visaggio is a talented keyboardist and at his best when he lets the keys do the singing. I think he would benefit from finding a group of musicians who share his love, who could also share in the writing duties and perhaps vocal duties. "Starship Universe" is best when Visaggio is cranking it out in the style of Keith Emerson. When he does, it's top notch. The vocals just never seem to quite match the organ and synth sounds that he loves so much.
KW: October 11, 2006
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