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Presto Ballet - The Lost Art Of Time Travel CD (album) cover


Presto Ballet


Crossover Prog

3.59 | 87 ratings

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Prog Reviewer
3 stars Blend the take-no-prisoners attitude of British bands Deep Purple and Uriah Heep with the full-on vocal approach taken by American groups Styx and Kansas and you'll pretty much have a bead on what "The Lost Art of Time Travel" sounds like. Other than the Purple gang (one of my all-time favorites), I can't honestly say that I've been anything more than a casual, from-a-distance admirer of those classic bands but Presto Ballet has wisely drawn from what I consider to be their more attractive traits and created an album that is nostalgic in a refreshing sort of way. For those proggers who are partial to the 70s and ever quick to proclaim that "they just don't make 'em like that anymore," this will put you in a happy place.

"The Mind Machine" starts off with a bold, dynamic intro and from the very first notes sung by Scott Albright you can tell that this guy has some seriously strong vocal chops and excellent tone. He's a Dennis De Young type minus the too-dramatic pathos and the operatic overkill factor. And that's a plus. I've read where the group's guitarist and mastermind Kurdt Vanderhoot wanted to capture the essence of the 70s with this ensemble and that not-so-secret homage is in full evidence here. After traveling down the obligatory and slightly average verse/chorus/verse/chorus path with this number they break things down to a lone piano part briefly and then enter into a quieter, more theatrical (re: fog machine) section before bursting into a double-time movement that, while unquestionably boisterous and energetic, I find distracting. What I was waiting for was some kind of thrilling solo from the guitar or keyboards to come blasting into the track and kick my tail to the far side of the room but it never comes. Either this combo lacks a true virtuoso or they choose not to feature him, but that fly in the ointment is one of the album's biggest drawbacks. Lyrically it's a Big Brother lament with pedestrian lines like "we only ask that you trust us/we take care of everything/just shut down your mind/thoughts are wastes of time." Meh.

But don't give up just yet. The cream of the proceedings appears next in the form of the intriguing "Thieves" when it opens with mysterious, droning keyboards from Ryan McPherson and a simple but memorable guitar riff that provides the song with a central theme. I love the fat guitar tones Kurdt uses (especially the metallic grit he lays down underneath the chorus) and the densely stacked harmonies rock. Mainly it's just a better-composed tune than the first one and that's the key to everything. The hard-hitting bridge with Scott's voice soaring like a skyrocket and the intricate changes the band glides seamlessly through are the highlights of the song. The words are rather vitriolic as they lash out bitterly at the dogs of war. "It's not who you are/it's who you let live/and the blood on your hands" he cries. They adopt a more optimistic outlook on "You're Alive," a tune that was most likely inspired by the likes of Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" or Yes' "Your Move." At first it doesn't seem like there's much substance to embrace but be patient, it really grows on you with a few listens. The adroit vocal arrangement and the tactful synthesized strings allow the track to slowly build and build on top of hopeful lyrics like "this is the time to be a dreamer without sleeping/this is a time for you to breathe." and the repeating mantra of "now you know that you're alive..." The exciting climax comes when Vanderhoot dives in with a huge wall of guitars toward the end.

The 14-minute epic "One Tragedy at a Time" is a mixed bag but it succeeds more often than not. It features another time-honored, dynamic set up where a myriad of prog influences from Rush to Yes are showcased with respect (carefully avoiding blatant plagiarism) before settling down into a somewhat mediocre verse/chorus pattern with unremarkable anti-war words like "remember what they said/all these wars will be over/still people are ending up dead." (Not exactly Dylan if you know what I mean.) But the tune's saving grace shows up when they segue into an intricate instrumental movement and then ascend to a secondary stage where cavernous keyboards and poignant singing from Albright brighten the soundscape. All prog efforts worth their salt include at least one "WOW" moment and that happens on this CD when Kurdt unleashes another barrage of gigantic, resonating guitar chords to flow under the melody that you don't want to miss. "I'm Not Blind" follows and it has some fine 12-string acoustic guitars ringing merrily during the onset but then it turns into a vanilla- flavored, straight-ahead rocker with less-than-stellar words along the lines of "too tight the rope I slide out on is my superstitious mind/looking up balance restored is me or the divine." Uh-huh. Again the track begs in vain for a killer guitar or synth ride to give it life but it's nowhere to be heard.

"Easy Tomorrow" has the makings of a promising rock boogie with its fiery beginning but, unfortunately, it soon becomes yet another predictable hard pop tune containing some vague references to personal violence and such. At least it features a decent guitar break (at long last) from Vanderhoot but for some reason it's buried in the mix and, therefore, it lacks any real punch. If there's a puny runt in the litter, though, it's "Haze." I admire what I think they were trying to do with this cut but it's just a little too schmaltzy and contrived for my tastes. Don't get me wrong, I'm as much of a sucker for lush, romantic torch ballads as anyone else but this doesn't exactly tug at my heartstrings. It gets better in the middle when the group gets into more of a symphonic prog groove and I would've welcomed more of Ryan's expert piano playing but they slide back into the flowery love song and fade out warbling something about a "state of mind of haste." Double meh.

This isn't a great CD but it's a good one and the potential for this band to develop into something special is abundant. I like where they seem to be headed. The rhythm section of Bill Raymond on drums and Israel Rehaume on bass could be tighter and they need to hone a sharper edge to their barnstorming attack but I've heard much, much worse in my time. And I hate to beat a dead horse but Presto Ballet needs some spitfire solos to spice things up from time to time, even if it means bringing in some guest musicians to do the honors. The group's got a lot going for them, though. The production is top-notch, the presentation is cohesive and well-arranged and Kurdt's amazing, eye-catching artwork is spectacular. Their next album could be the killer that catapults them into the upper echelon of prog if they concentrate on improving their writing skills. Meanwhile, this one ain't too shabby. 3.2 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |


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