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3RDegree - Narrow-Caster CD (album) cover

NARROW-CASTER

3RDegree

 

Crossover Prog

3.68 | 72 ratings

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Raff
Special Collaborator
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars '3RDegree ' Defiling perfectly good songs with prog since 1990'

The definition of 'narrow-caster' (as opposed to a broadcaster) - 'one who transmits a TV programme ['] or otherwise disseminate information, to a comparatively small audience defined by special interest or geographical location' ' seems to be a perfect fit for anyone engaged in the production of progressive rock. In spite of the genre's relative popularity these days, both the musicians and those who (like myself and many others) support it through our writings are perfectly aware that prog is not likely to become the next mainstream sensation, and its appeal will remain limited to a niche audience.

Released in the first half of 2008, "Narrow-Caster" mostly comprises material that had been conceived prior to 3RDegree's demise in 1997 (due to lack of response from their intended audience), but completely rearranged for the occasion , taking advantage of modern technology to allow guitarist and founding member Patrick Kliesch (who currently lives in Los Angeles) to participate in the writing and recording process.

The reactions of the 'prog community' to the album have been somewhat mixed, as illustrated by the reviews published since its release. Although 3RDegree have always proclaimed their love of progressive rock (as stated by the quote I used as a heading, which is proudly emblazoned on the band's official T-shirt), the influences they list on their promotional material point to a very eclectic bunch of artists ' with the likes of Rush, Level 42, Genesis and Stevie Wonder mentioned in the same breath. In fact, labelling 3RDegree as a 'conventional' prog band would do them a serious disservice: they should rather be counted among the rightful heirs of legendary genre-bending outfits such as 10cc, Supertramp, Roxy Music and Queen. These bands and others, pioneers of the much-debated genre called Art Rock, are seen by some as little more than marginally related to prog, by others as no less progressive than icons such as Yes or Genesis.

For today's standards, "Narrow-Caster" is a short album, with no track longer than 5-odd minutes. Chock-full of hooks and melodies that would be the envy of many bigger-name bands, it is one of those independent releases that manage to sound like a million dollars. While the label-happy brigade might frown and turn up their noses, at the beginning of the 21st century, with progressive rock in all its manifestations enjoying an almost unexpected Renaissance, an increasing number of outfits have rediscovered the importance of a well-crafted song as opposed to sprawling, patchy and often terminally boring epics. 3RDegree are part of a solid, though not too large, contingent of bands who do not believe that 'pop' is always a bad word, and who deliver consistently intelligent, classy music without the need to release a whopping 80 minutes of it.

While all the members of 3RDegree are gifted musicians, creating rich sonic textures without anyone seeking to outdo the other, the band's real ace in the hole is George Dobbs' absolutely stunning voice (which, I am happy to say, sounds every bit as good live as it does on CD). Though I have seen it compared to the likes of Michael Jackson, in my view the closest comparison are Glenn Hughes (of Trapeze, Deep Purple and, more recently, Black Country Communion fame), and of course Stevie Wonder. George's versatile, soul-infused tenor can shift from soothing to aggressive in the space of a single song, stamping his unique imprint on the band's music without overwhelming it. 3RDegree's love of classic prog acts such as Yes and Gentle Giant (as well as The Beatles and the label-defying King's X) shines through the superb vocal harmonies that grace most of the songs.

The album kicks off in high gear with 'Apophenia', an intriguing mid-tempo with echoes of Rush in the guitar parts that immediately introduces the listener to 3RDegree's heady blend of aggressive, catchy and atmospheric elements. Dobbs delivers the thought-provoking lyrics, belying the apparently carefree tone of the music (something perfected by the likes of Steely Dan and Supertramp, to name but two) in impassioned yet perfectly controlled fashion. The Steely Dan comparisons rear their head in the splendid 'It Works', my favourite number on the album, with excellent guitar and keyboard work bolstered by Pashman's nimble bass lines, and one of Dobbs' finest moments together with the energetic 'Free for All' - where a deceptively blissful chorus is offset by the spiky, riff-heavy electricity of the verse.

While the title-track and the smooth, jazz- and soul-tinged 'Scenery' showcase 3RDegree's more accessible side, with plenty of catchy vocal harmonies and laid-back melodies, the short but punchy 'The Proverbial Banana Peel' sees the band experiment with both electronics and metal-like power chords The nicely-paced 'Cautionary Tale' delivers a biting indictment of religious fanaticism through almost seductive vocals and an atmospheric guitar solo, and 'Live With This Forever' marries a great hook, supported by Dobbs' stellar performance both on vocals and keyboards, with some harder-edged guitar work. 'Young Once' and 'The Last Gasp', on the other hand, are probably the two songs where the constantly lurking progressive component of 3RDegree's sound emerges most clearly: the former, a wistful number in the Steely Dan vein, unexpectedly features a lovely, ambient-like bridge; while the latter closes the album in style with a brilliant combination of dreamy vocals, Rush-like guitar riffs and a majestic, orchestra-backed, bass- and keyboards-led coda that brings Yes to mind.

If you are looking for music that successfully combines accessibility, great musicianship and stunning vocals, look no further than "Narrow-Caster", definitely one of the best releases of the first decade of the 21st century. In a perfect world, these guys would be stars, since it takes a whole lot of skill and dedication to write music of this kind, at the same time approachable and sophisticated. Modern Art Rock does not get much better than this.

Originally published on my blog, Fire of Unknown Origin, on March 25, 2011.

Raff | 4/5 |

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