Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review - A Proggy Christmas

Great stuff herein! I'll be torturing my family with this one for years!

When I first learned that Neal Morse was joining up with a bunch of pals under the guise of The Prog World Orchestra and creating a Christmas album, I heard jingle of bells… or maybe that was the sound of money leaving my bank account. In either case it wasn’t long before A Proggy Christmas was delightfully massaging my ears.

As one might expect from Morse and co, the album is a mixture of reverence and fun, a kind of Mannheim Steamroller meets Trans-Siberian Orchestra with a bit more tasteful restraint. Or maybe not. Just listen to album highlight “Frankincense” and you’ll hear the maniacs mash the Edgar Winters classic with “God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman”, “Deck The Halls” and others. Or watch the video online if you care to see Frankenstein’s monster and Santa duke it out in an 8-bit arena. Another personal favorite is “Carol of the Bells,” a metal magnet if ever there was. In this case they start it big and majestic with a massive string section which builds up to… a solo clavinet gettin’ funky! The song gets more wigged out as it progresses along its 7:40 length, weaving the familiar “Bells” theme around dissonant accompaniments, bass gurgles and hairy guitar tones. Of all the songs on the album this the one most likely to make unsuspecting holiday guests put you on the naughty list. But wait, there’s more! “Home For The Holidays” is done up in a playful, almost cheesy, country-lounge style and I’d bet a fiver that they are using a cheap Casio for the piano. Then there’s “Shred Ride – Sleigh Ride.” Guitar antics? Gratuitous drum fills? Glitzy showboating? The famous final piano chord from “A Day In The Life”? It’s all in there! There’s also “The Little Drummer Boy” with Mike Portnoy at the kit. It’s exactly what you would expect, if you are expecting complete prog-rawk awesomeness!

But it’s not all hot dogging and flash. “Joy To The World,” while allowing plenty of space for tasteful guitar solos, is majestic, powerful and orchestral enough to not offend anyone’s auntie. “O Holy Night”, “Silent Night / We All Need Some Light” and “The Christmas Song” are given traditional, acoustic treatments, providing relaxed counterpoint to the rocker songs around them. The yin and yang make for a very pleasant listen.

Most of the songs on A Proggy Christmas are instrumentals with Morse singing a verse now and then for variety. Joining Mr. Morse are such prog-rock giants as Mike Portnoy, Steve Hackett, Roine Stolt, Steve Morse, Randy George and Pete Trewavas plus talented members of Neal’s touring band whose names you might not recognize now but will in a few years. The combination of this group of friendly giants makes for one of the most original and enjoyable Christmas albums I’ve heard since A Kustard Kristmas.

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