FLYING COLORS – Flying Colors (2012 Mascot Music)
How many bands is Mike Portnoy in anyway? I have no idea, but I’ve bought many of them over the years. Flying Colors is another, a supergroup featuring Steve Morse, the unrelated Neal Morse of Spock’s Beard, Dave LaRue from Steve Morse Band, and Casey McPherson of Alpha Rev. McPherson is the only one I’m not familiar with from elsewhere, and he handles lead vocals as well as keyboards and guitar. Peter Collins (Rush) produces, a man who knows plenty about progressive rock that gets played on the radio.
Together they created an accessible album of jaw-dropping chops but also something melodically engrossing. While these guys are all primarily renowned as musician’s musicians, together it seems they know how to write a song or two. The 7-minute opener “Blue Ocean” is a great example. It’s very hard to describe because it’s not any one thing. It has a hypnotically cool lead vocal, but backed by a neat shuffle and Morse’s trademark hybrid style.
“Shoulda Coulda Woulda” is a heavy one, again with a hypnotic vocal. It’s unforgettable and one of the most powerful tunes. Steve Morse lays yet another awesome guitar solo on top of it. It’s not how many notes he plays or how fast he plays them. It’s what he wrenches out of them. Then like a 180, “Kayla” opens with some gorgeous classical guitar, as if we switched to a Blackmore’s Night album! But this is temporary; “Kayla” is a sparse mid-tempo rock song, with an anthemic chorus. “Kayla” is one of the most instantly catchy moments on Flying Colors. The vocal harmonies in the middle section are killer.
This is followed by my favourite tune, the radio-ready “The Storm”. The chorus here is the best one on the album, powerful and layered. The verses are soft and melodic; commercial rock goodness. Portnoy perfectly compliments the song without overplaying. Only a classic Steve Morse solo could further elevate “The Storm” to the heavens, and that’s exactly what happens.
LaRue funks it up a bit on “Forever in a Daze” which thumps along nicely. “Love is What I’m Waiting For” has a Beatles vibe, which is interesting enough. It’s probably worthy of radio play in a perfect world. “Everything Changes” is another 7 minute long-bomber, and I don’t want to call it a ballad, so I’ll call it “quiet”. It’s an epic. It has acoustic guitars and strings and all kinds of cool stuff, including plenty of electric Morse. Once again, I hear Beatles.
The introspective “Better Than Walking Away” is another really good song, soft and pretty but lyrically intense. Then like a cold slap in the face comes “All Falls Down”. This the most “metal” moment on the album, a blazing blitzkrieg of guitars and drums. It’s over in 3 minutes and 20 seconds, but it’ll leave you knocked out. I really love the vocals on this song too.
Approaching the end, “Fool in My Heart” is a slow dance. Its melodies are warm and classic sounding. This serves to cleanse the palette before the final 12 minute feast of “Infinite Fire”. It’s one of my favourites, and it’s over more quickly than it seems it should be. It doesn’t wear out its welcome; it has a bit of everything in it including melody and spellbinding playing.
How the hell have Portnoy and Morse managed to put out multiple great albums in 2013 is beyond me. Why are guys like these not the biggest rock stars on the planet? Thankfully, a live album and second studio record are on their way.