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Zen Rock & Roll - 2011 - "Undone"

(39:16, Progrock Records)


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TRACK LIST:

1.  All in the Dark 4:16
2.  At the First Glance 6:03
3.  Undone 3:30
4.  Antiquated Love Song 4:19
5.  Strange 4:15
6.  Concerto for the Original Sinners 14:41
7.  Lament 2:14

SOLO PILOT:

Jonathan Saunders  vocals; all instruments

Prolusion. The US one-man band ZEN ROCK AND ROLL is the creative vehicle of composer and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Saunders. He made his debut in 2002 with "End of the Age, issued on the then-fledgling label Progrock Records, a label affiliation maintained by the artist ever since. Two years later "The Birthright Circle" followed, and in 2011, following a seven-year lean spell, his third full-length production "Undone" is available.

Analysis. What many tend to describe as retro-oriented progressive rock has been an ongoing trend for at least a couple of decades now, and among the more popular artists to be inspired by and emulated is Genesis. Not because they were that much better than their contemporaries, seen in retrospect, but because they were generally better known. Especially due to their popularity as a mainstream-oriented act in the 1980's their entire discography is by and large among the most well-known of the classic progressive rock bands. As I hear it, Jonathan Saunders is another composer and musician who has been directly or indirectly swayed by that band. Although in this case perhaps more by their late 70's material than by their earliest endeavors. Dampened guitar motifs and smooth organ textures in tight interplay, weaving a melodic and pleasant foundation for Saunder's lead vocals to lean upon, are central characteristics for most of the material this time around. And with vocals sharing a delivery and timbre not too unlike Peter Gabriel, Genesis comparisons will naturally follow. Add in occasional fluctuating keyboard soloing and mournful Mellotron inserts and you've basically covered the sound explored. Compositionally and instrumentally not as quirky as the heroes of yesteryear, with a touch of AOR added to the proceedings and a select few details that to my ears reminds ever so slightly of Mike And The Mechanics. Those fond of piano ballads will get their fill too in the shape of Antiquated Love Song and final piece Lament, each of them coming with subtle backing by digital strings and keyboards respectively. And then there's the epic-length Concerto for the Original Sinners, the odd one out in terms of approach, sound, length and structure. The opening 8 and final 3 minutes of this piece are dominated by keyboards and tangents, with a few guitar details in the end sequences, crafted in a manner that makes me want to listen to a rearranged version of this creation as performed by a classical symphonic orchestra. With some additional choir arrangements brought to the table, this could be a truly engaging piece of modern classical music. Keyboards can be used to substitute for plenty of instrumental details, but the subtle tension and dampened energy of the classical symphonic orchestra is one that cannot easily be reproduced. The three-or-so-minute-long sequence featuring guitars, drums and organs in a manner again reminding one ever so slightly of Genesis works fairly well encapsulated by these orchestral-inspired movements, adding a burst of energy to a piece that in this arrangement otherwise might have grown ever so slightly stale.

Conclusion. "Undone" represents a well-made album reflecting inspirations from the 70's school of symphonic progressive rock set within an accessible framework, emphasizing melody and harmony over challenging instrumental and compositional features, with an epic-length creation sporting a closer tie to classical symphonic music as a side dish. Well-made and well-performed, but without managing to impress me on a higher level. Those fond of late 70's Genesis will most likely be a key audience, and I suspect many of those will regard this disc as a nice addition to their collection.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: November 7, 2011
The Rating Room


Related Links:

Progrock Records
Zen Rock & Roll


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