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Flying Colors - Second Nature CD (album) cover


Flying Colors

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4 stars The first album by Flying Colors got mixed reviews. Some people loved it (I was one of those) whilst others were disappointed that a band that included Mike Portnoy and Neal Morse had made an album that wasn't very "prog." Well, the second album from this band can't be criticised in that way because this is most definitely a prog album. Opening with a 12 minute song, and ending with a 12 minute, three part suite, these are the obvious progressive songs, but most of the shorter songs also mix pop/rock with progressive elements.

So, starting at the beginning, Open Up Your Eyes is like a mini-Transatlantic epic, with the first four minutes consisting of an instrumental overture before the vocal come in. There are plenty of swirling keyboards and lead guitar, and Portnoy's characteristic drumming is there too (something that was largely absent from the first album.) The next two tracks are more in a heavy metal style, something not usually to my taste, but certainly Mask Machine has a catchy hook and is an obvious choice for a single. After Bombs Away comes a more straightforward ballad, then the rocker A Place In Your World with some nice guitar riffs and keyboard lines, plus a singalong chorus. Lost Without You is another Power Ballad and the shortest song on the album at under 5 minutes. Then we get to the point at which the album really hits the heights. I defy anyone to listen to the last 3 tracks, one after the other, and not be amazed at the genius of this band. Kicking off with One Love Forever, which has an infectious acoustic guitar riff and a celtic feel, we then move on to what is probably my favourite song on the album. Peaceful Harbour has a beautiful spiritual feel to it, and the beginning and end put me in mind of Mostly Autumn. Finally we have a real gem. Cosmic Symphony is a three part suite with sections approximately three, three and six minutes long. It starts with thunder and rain effects and a simple repeated piano line before vocals, drums and guitar come in. Finally these are joined by a melodic bass line. The second section is more jazz keyboard based and then we move on to the final part which reminded me of REM. The song ends with the same piano line and thunder effects which began it.

A superb album, even better than their first and certainly proggier.

Report this review (#1283388)
Posted Wednesday, September 24, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars Flying Colors - Second Nature

Just sublime melodies and song writing here on what was, for me, a highly awaited second album by this almighty line-up. A huge leap in sophistication has occurred on Second Nature with its beautifully sculpted atmospheres, particularly on the mini-epic opener "Open Up Your Eyes" and the emotion evoking three-part piece that closes the album 76 minutes later.

"Open Up Your Eyes" sets the stage perfectly almost like a Transatlantic number with its climactic, majestic movements and motifs. It's almost impossible not to sing along and get out the old air guitar to the middle chorus and subsequent, screaming Steve Morse guitar solo. A charging build up then leads us towards the looming, massive crescendo 10 minutes in that will leave you with goosebumps.

Neal Morse clearly was hitting his creative expectations with his contributions to the song writing throughout the album. Regarding the vocals I feel that Second Nature uses Casey's tone and range much better than on the first, self-titled album. Mr Portnoy, well he's always exemplary!

The closing segment of the final three parter, "Pound for a Pound" is awesome with its beautiful melody and powerhouse final guitar solo. Other parts to enjoy include the excellent ballad "The Fury Of My Love" and the awe-inspiring Peaceful Harbour.

9 out of 10 from me rounded up as it's my first review on this amazing website!

Keep on proggin!

Report this review (#1285918)
Posted Monday, September 29, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars Only a couple reviews? Wha--? Trading star ratings for experience one could fill up the night sky with this motley lot. For the love of all creatures great and small in the beloved world -- just take into account the collective number of albums put out, or featuring, Steve Morse, MIke Portnoy, and Neil Morse! [pauses to actually take account. ...counting ... still counting... well, I don't have that many fingers and toes, so you'll have to count for yourselves. But seriously, wiki that s__t!]

This time they went it alone folks, sans producer (although Peter Collins from the debut is a stellar producer. Check out his credits: one humble release being Queensryche's, Mindcrime). Much like going to Hawaii without your sunscreen, it's usually considered "ill-advised" to go uncovered in the studio with your band. Everything but your banana hammock will get burned! Consider this group, however: do you really think a producer is worth his slice of the pie? Is he or she going to have more experience than what these guys already know about band management in the studio or organization during the songwriting process? Is their name going to carry any more weight than the names of the members associated with this act? "No thanks Mr. Producer, we'll handle this one." There's something about that situation that puts a smile on my face in a similar fashion that it's fun to listen to David Lee Roth expound on trite swill with much mental excrement.

At first mention of a Flying Colors release there was a perplexed "humph?" moment for this reviewer. Although it makes sense now, I never thought about pairing 2/3 of the Steve Morse Band with Neil Morse and Mike Portnoy, the powerhouse duo who've worked together on many a fine release. And who is this new singer I've never heard of? After absorbing their debut I was pleasantly surprised at the result and mixture of signature sounds, especially hearing the mashup of Portnoy and Dave LaRue. Portnoy's work with Billy Sheehan, exceptionally illustrated with the Winery Dogs, resulted in wonderful rhythmic conversations excitingly different from his stint in DT with Myung. With Winery Dogs, Sheehan and Portnoy pulled the best out of each other (BTW, who else was surprised that Ritchie Kotzen could pull such a compelling Chris Cornell out of his vocal orifice?) I find this collaboration with LaRue just as great, knowing that Dave can really dig in and "pop" a good bass when it's his time to spotlight. Although this fan of Van Romaine with the Steve Morse Band is somewhat saddened, the fire and energy Portnoy exudes just drives this band. Leaving Dream Theater on the horizon may have been the best thing he did to broaden his musical career. The drums throughout are propelling. It makes one want to grab the nearest "big block" engine and head-butt it repeatedly and then overturn a table in a public restaurant and set it on fire!

Also noteworthy is the interplay between Morse and Morse (no relation, just pure co-inky-dink), two giants who understand that creating music is a conversation. No toes are stepped on, no overshadowing. Space is given for each contributor. Duplicated lead runs on the keys and guitar blend effortlessly and the tone of instruments compliment each other extremely well. The only thing missing for this reviewer is some excellent chicken pickin from Morse a la "Gina Lola Breakdown" or funky "Ice Cakes" from the Dixie Dregs days (Ah! the glory days, which seems like a never-ending wish since the string of Morse's recent solo work is pretty straight ahead rock influenced ... sans Angelfire, the album with his neighbors daughter. Let's all just pretend that never happened). At least there's a little hint of the celtic influence which brought back thoughts of "Highland Wedding" or "Looking Back" from High Tension Wires -- [chuckle] the only time we've seen photos of Steve on an album with short hair! :)

Casey's voice has a unique timbre, but it's compelling. His emotive inflections bring songs like "Peaceful Harbor" to the next level. It didn't hit me for awhile, but when I just recently heard a song from Five for Fighting there was the "ah ha!" moment. There are some parallels with John Ondrasik. The longer phrasings suit his tone and add buoyant moments of contemplation and pleasantry. Neil, of course has his featured vocals sprinkled in, but showcased more predominately in "A Place In Your World", a song I find myself unwittingly thinking about sharing a malt shake with my sweetie down at the local Burgerville.

And this leads us to the only possible shortcoming with the album, which is the continued, goody two-shoes lyrics -- no doubt influence carried over from Neil Morse's solo work. If I'm wrong then Casey must attend the same church :). Fluffy even, perhaps the next album cover should contain images of unicorns and pink slippers. Who knows, perhaps this reviewer has spent too much time listening to pretentious dynamic word slinger-songwriters like Sting, Rufus Wainwright, Tom Waits, or Tori Amos in his past, but there is too much overuse of the word "love" in a cutesy, done-to-death way, which causes some prog listeners ears to... well, the equivalent of a cat wharfing up a hairball. Regurgitated pop generalities are great for crossover audiences, but for those of us who want great storytelling or compelling topics of discussion (see Headspace, Big Big Train) Second Nature will fall a little flat in that regard.

Overall, Flying Color's sophmore effort manages to continue the feel good prog pop brigade and it is a great, entertaining listen; if nothing more than a way to cross pollinate fans of all the iconic individual members. It's good music business strategy, too. Dig this band and you're work is cut out for you. You'll have to amass a library of albums as you explore the enormous bodies of work these individual, talented, and inspiring artists have spent a lifetime achieving. Dwelling on that fact alone, nothing but heaping piles of deep respect must be given.

Wishful concert band pairing: Sound of Contact.

Report this review (#1291928)
Posted Wednesday, October 15, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars Second Nature was a surprise to me and took a couple of listens to fully enjoy the album and respect its potential. Flying Colors is an arrangement of musicians I highly regard, and throwing in a pop-rock flare with the typical proggy-rock is a refreshing move. With less nasally vocals common in current Neo and Symphonic prog styles held back, which often turn me away from many respectable bands such as Marrillion, Pallas, IQ, and even Neal Morse's solo works, Flying Colors is a fresh sound. With that positive, Flying Colors is a band I've come to really enjoy. Second Nature, the second album to Flying Colors career, is a step in a good direction where a unique sound is solidifying and old cliches from Portnoy's prog-metal and Morse's Neo/Symphonic prog are sifting away. A third album could be expected to be even better.

Compared to their debut album Second Nature is a better listen. There's still a drag halfway through the album where the songs sound generic or bland. But stand alone songs such as Mask Machine, Lost Without You, One Lost Forever, and Cosmic Symphony will make the purchase and the inclusion in your prog-rock collection well worth the investment. I think there are enough prog features to find enjoyment in every song, but these four in particular stood out to me on first listen and I deemed the album worthy of further listening. The other songs, like Bombs Away, Peaceful Harbor, and such are still good listens but not as engaging as I would've hoped. Therefore, with such drawn enjoyment from the album I'd give it a 4/5, deeming this a worthy and excellent addition into not just a prog collection, but any. One nice feature about Flying Colors if is you're in a proggy mood but surrounded by less musically inclined company, Flying Colors has songs that help bridge that gap so everyone is at least in consensus and someone isn't leaning behind the couch saying, "The crap is this we're listening to?"

In conclusion the album is top-notch and fun. It explores a new style and is emotionally moving in portions too. If you were to purchase only one song from the album, Mask Machine I thought was phenomenal, and even if the rest of the album was garbage I would have to say that song made the purchase worth the dime. 4/5, excellent addition to any rock collection.

Report this review (#1297675)
Posted Sunday, October 26, 2014 | Review Permalink
3 stars Here's a question to consider....Does great musicianship automatically guarantee an album of progressive music?? Now, I think everyone will agree that the answer to that question is an unqualified..NO, because progressive music traditionally required superb composition, an attempt to incorporate non-conventional instruments and production techniques, blah, blah, know....all of the above. Here are four undisputed instrumental giants and...ahhh....a new guy with a very pleasant voice. they've got the playing part covered but have they satisfied us on the other level? know...the blah, blah stuff? Well....yes and no. What I'm hearing on this and the first album from FC is pretty much, straight ahead melodic rock albeit played by exeptional dudes. That said, the opening track is a fine composition that really does cover a lot of sonic territory and can very sensibly be described as a piece of progressive music. The remaining tracks however are most definitely not. So...what to do? This.....accept yet another entry into the Progarchives that arguably should not be here. Second Nature is a great album and I will listen to it quite a few times but....and here's the test....will I look forward to loading the album 20 years from now, the way I do Close to the Edge or Nursery Crime? unqualified....NO.....3 stars for the first track and the hints of prog littered about the rest of the album.
Report this review (#1387712)
Posted Thursday, March 26, 2015 | Review Permalink
3 stars First, a confession: when I picked up this CD at my local library (a blind choice of an unfamiliar band, discovered entirely by chance) I had no clue to the stellar pedigree behind it. Neil Morse and Mike Portnoy, the stateside half of TRANSATLANTIC, recording alongside the guitarist and bass player from THE (DIXIE) DREGS? With marquee value like that, it was easy to overlook the red flag raised by the addition of a lead singer (Casey McPherson) recently signed to the Hollywood/Disney record label...a potential kiss of death, for discriminating Prog fans.

The supergroup was assembled by executive producer Bill Evans (no relation to the late, great Jazz pianist, sadly), and 'assembled' is definitely the right word. This is a quintet manufactured to strict industry standards, less a band than a boardroom committee of seasoned professionals, tasked with single goal: to make and market virtuoso pop music.

And if that agenda recalls the similar mission of groups like ASIA and GTR, imagine the disillusion of your harder-to-please Proghead friends after hearing the band's 2012 debut. The name-brand talent attracted some notice in these pages, but judging from a recent shortfall of reviews those high hopes have cooled for this sophomore effort. Which is a shame, because it's clearly the better album, with a far stronger rapport between each player.

Not surprisingly, there's a lot of Neil Morse's fingerprints on the music, but thankfully none of his backwards theology. The album's first and longest track, the mini-epic "Open Up Your Eyes", might have been an outtake from an early SPOCK'S BEARD session, and is almost matched by the inaptly titled bookend of "Cosmic Symphony", really three shorter songs awkwardly spliced into an attractive 12-minute suite. These two longer pieces give the musicians plenty of room to strut their stuff, more so than the clutch of pop songs and power ballads between them, all of them textbook models of AOR anonymity.

Maybe the project should have come with its own PMRC warning label: "Caution - Musicians Performing Below Expectations". And yet by its own narrow standards the album actually works very well, unlike the similar (and often sorry) mainstream digressions of other Proggers tempted by the fruit of commercial redemption. The longer songs show a tentative sense of renewed ambition, up to a carefully circumscribed point. And the lack of any self-conscious boilerplate Prog Rock keeps the music more honest, if less interesting, than anything by TRANSATLANTIC: a fraternal twin with the same genes but no outward resemblance.

The original plan, to "make new-fashioned music the old fashioned way" (quoting the Flying Colors website) might seem like a recipe for anachronistic kitsch. But it beats the contrary formula embraced by so many Neo-Prog acts, of regurgitating old-fashioned music the new-fashioned way. If the project continues we might, with any luck, hear the more creative instincts of Morse, Morse and Co. rise higher to the surface. Watch this space...

Report this review (#1587252)
Posted Thursday, July 14, 2016 | Review Permalink

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