(Music Theories Recordings)
[Rating: 3.5 stars]
The term “supergroup” is often used for a situation that ends up being a disappointment, either because the result is less than stellar or because the project turns out to be a one-off recording with the band members going their separate ways afterwards. The eponymous Flying Colors definitely isn’t the former, and it will be a good thing for music lovers is if isn’t the latter.
Flying Colors features Alpha Rev frontman Casey McPherson, who has taken the Texas-based thinking man’s indie pop group to great heights, if only limited commercial success. But McPherson, with guitar legend Steve Morse (Dixie Dregs, Kansas), keyboardist/vocalist Neal Morse (Transatlantic, various Christian projects), bassist Dave LaRue (Dixie Dregs, Joe Satriani) and superdrummer/vocalist Dave Portnoy (Dream Theater, Avenged Sevenfold), have created a commercially accessible project that demonstrates that monster prog-rockers know how to do more than blaze away behind the necessity of a lead vocalist, and that a labelmate of Miley Cyrus can have some serious adult writing and singing chops. McPherson is a singer in the truest sense, not a screamer, and his voice is instantly recognizable as his alone on ballads as well as uptempo numbers.
On “Kayla,” the first song the band finished when they got together, a sweet acoustic guitar intro from Steve Morse ushers in a great performance by McPherson and excellent Simon and Garfunkel “Scarborough Fair”-like harmonies from the band, and is one of the best love songs of the year by anyone. While the songs are group efforts, one gets the feeling that McPherson, who lost both his father and younger brother to suicide, is the chief lyricist because of his emotional delivery of lines like Rage is a game for the lonely/Love is the mercy we need and Fear is a thief to the family/Brave is the one on his knees from the track “Better Than Walking Away,” and great similes with lines like Watch you walk into the room so smooth/And it cuts me like a diamond from “Forever in a Daze.” And the lyrics are backed up with a sense of prosody that is of a completely different level altogether than most of what is happening right now, with everything wrapped up in a nice package by producer Peter Collins (Indigo Girls, Bon Jovi).
If there’s anything resembling a clinker on this record it’s the opening track, “Blue Ocean,” which almost sounds as if it were just a writing session that actually became a decent track. The band gets plenty of room to stretch out and play and sing their butts off, like on the Van Halen-meets-Queen-meets-Judas Priest smoker “All Fall Down,” and on “Infinite Fire,” a 12-minute epic ala Yes’ “Close to the Edge.”
Top billing in this band, understandably, is given to Steve Morse, who’s won so many guitar playing awards he isn’t even eligible for most of them anymore. But the biggest surprise is how well McPherson fits in with a bunch of older instrumental monsters and how they complement him. Great melodies, great vocals and great solos from some of the best in the business.
These are busy guys who all have other commitments, like Steve Morse’s Deep Purple residency of nearly two decades. So whether or not this band ends up being a one-off project or a real commitment will probably depend on sales. In a different time Flying Colors would have been a number one album, but it’s doubtful that a high chart position will happen here. But maybe we’ll find that times haven’t changed that much after all.