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(67 min, 'Sonic Music')
TRACK LIST: 1. I'm Falling Down 4:29 2. Closer Than We've Ever Been Before 3:57 3. Please Do Not Lock the Door to Your Heart 6:50 4. The Prisoner 6:28 5. Johnny the Waffle Man 4:46 6. Birds 4:38 7. The Pelican from Pluto 5:00 8. I Know You Love Me 4:16 9. Sonic Symphony 5:20 10. Ancient Hieroglyphics 6:48 11. Nothing That You Said 3:45 12. The Unknown Lover 5:14 13. Chasing My Tail Again 2:32 14. I See Paradise 3:38 SOLO PILOT: Larry Benigno - all instruments & vocals
Prolusion. SONIC MUSIC is a vehicle for the solo work of American multi-instrumentalist and composer Larry Benigno who lives in Stratford (also Fates Warning's hometown by the way), Connecticut. "The Prisoner" is the project's debut album. Previously Larry was a member of Radio Piece III, a progressive trio from the same state with one CD to their credit, "Tesseract & Monuments".
Analysis. The sonic palette of "The Prisoner" is amazingly saturated, and generally the album gives all the impression of featuring the performance of a well-rehearsed quintet, the sound as such being pleasantly warm and volumetric. All this characterizes Larry not only as a gifted and truly versatile musician, but also as an experienced engineer and producer, which is no wonder though, inasmuch as he has been practiced in this field since the mid-eighties. The instrumental equipment used includes an array of analog and digital keyboards, electric guitar, bass and drums, all their parts being performed skillfully, though it's Larry's keyboard work that I am especially enthusiastic about (and which suggests to me he was originally a keyboard player). His singing would've also been worth praising had it less strikingly resembled the style Phil Collins was notable for at the time he'd just taken the microphone from Peter Gabriel. The shades of Genesis's first two post-Gabriel albums I find in the music as such as well - at times along with those of Brand X (certainly not because this is another band that Phil Collins had drummed and sung in during the second half of the '70s). Some episodes remind me also of Chicago, Gentle Giant and Yes. However I haven't lost my ear enough not to recognize that most instrumental canvases were well thought-out, with the purpose of avoiding at least direct comparisons, many seeming to be peculiar to nobody but to Sonic Music, which is another bonus to the album's piggy bank of virtues. The best examples of Symphonic Prog bordering on Jazz-Fusion would be The Pelican from Pluto, Johnny the Waffle Man and the instrumental Birds. The opening track I'm Falling Down is just irresistible for its abundance in intricate meters and avalanche-like, kaleidoscopically changing arrangements. The other highlights include the title track, Please Do Not Lock the Door to Your Heart, Closer Than We've Ever Been Before, The Unknown Lover and (another instrumental) Sonic Symphony, all of which find their maker re-discovering the best that classic '70s Art-Rock is famed for - now and forever. Already the said nine tracks make this CD worth buying, although the number of remarkable compositions isn't limited only to them. Just take the largely instrumental Ancient Hieroglyphics, which combines lush keyboards passages in a symphonic harmony with jazzier and, at the same time, somewhat angular constructions, bringing to mind "Joe's Garage" by Frank Zappa. Nothing That You Said has a sense of Latin Fusion and is more than merely acceptable, excepting one of its primary vocal lines, which is too sugary for my taste. However, there also are songs whose inclusion in the album was definitely unnecessary. Chasing My Tail Again and I See Paradise aren't too impressive, the former due to its quite repetitive Reggae-like nature, and the latter because of its strong resemblance to the mid-eighties commercial pomp Rock, the style that Barclay James Harvest, ELO and Styx (amongst many others) had played at the time. The biggest disappointment, however, is I Know You Love Me, an extremely primitive pop Rock / Metal 'hit', being just beneath criticism.
Conclusion. It doesn't seem unlikely at all that if "The Prisoner" had been released some time at the boundary of the '70s and '80s it would have resounded through the world, as did Genesis's "Duke", Supertramp's "Breakfast in America" or "Paradise Theatre" by Styx for instance. But I believe then it would've been notably shorter than it is in reality, perhaps without those trivial songs that prevent me now from rating it higher than a merely good album. Anyway, it's a nice effort overall. Recommended with said reservations.
VZ: July 24, 2006
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