REVIEW: Flying Colors – Flying Colors (2012)

 

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.

FLYING COLORS_0004Together 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.

4/5 stars

FURTHER READING:

31 comments

  1. As you know, I agree with everything you wrote here. I really love this album and I’m really glad I could help spreading the word.
    Hopefully people will look outside of the box when it comes to this band and donesn’t think they can’t like this because they’re not Dream Theater fans or not into Morse era Purple and whatnot. This doesn’t sound like neither Purple, DT or Spock’s Beard. Flying Colors have their own sound. Please buy this, you who haven’t.

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    1. Yeah what Jon said!

      I was actually surprised how little this sounded like the bands these people are most famous for! Yet maintaining that progressive rock instrumental quality. Not the style, just the quality of it.

      I have been listening to a lot of Steve Morse lately and I just can’t get enough.

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      1. I couldnt agree more with recommending the Hibakusha record linked above to a review. One of the best unknown Prog records of all time. It almost sounds like if The Foo Fighters and Rush made a record at times.

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        1. I LOVE LOVE LOVE that Hibakusha CD. So recommended.

          Also, Uncle Meat, I don’t know if you saw my huge thanks for sending that Quiverleg CD to me via Mike, but even if you did THANKS AGAIN! It is much appreciated! I intend to review it, along with all the rest of the Toronto scores. Cheers!

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        2. Oh no problem at all .. That Quiverleg album is a masterpiece. I think i said before .. same band as Hibakusha .. But with a guy named Tyler Shaw singing and writing every instrument on paper. Very Zappa esque in every way possible

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  2. Great review. I really like the album too. The career of Steve Morse is nothing short of sensational. He has been my favorite musician since before he joined Deep Purple. I had already seen him perform live 3 times with either The Steve Morse Band or a re-formed Dixie Dregs.. before i saw him slay the room with Deep Purple twice. Watching the late Jon Lord and Morse trade licks back and forth will always be a concert highlight for me. Lord once said that playing with Morse made him a better musician. High praise from one of the best rock musicians of all time. Note: My icon on this blog is the cover of his first solo album after The Dixie Dregs disbanded.

    Also being a Dream Theater fan i was excited about this project and at first felt a little underwhelmed. Further listens have proven this album’s merit to me. The live clips i have seen are just ridiculously good. My good friend Jacob Moon sent me a link to a live recording of The Dixie Dregs classic Odyssey (covered by Dream Theater on the second disc of Black Clouds and Silver Linings… the last Portnoy DT record). Seems Portnoy and Morse are the hardest working guys in Rock right now … and like LeBrain said .. multiple albums in this year… and good ones. LeBrain seems to be the third hardest working guy in Rock. I think Satan is fourth.

    Uncle Meat out ……

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    1. Thanks Uncle Meat. That means a lot coming from you, who I consider one of the Jedi Masters who instructed me.

      I too have had the pleasure of seeing Jon Lord and Steve Morse trade off together, Toronto 96 with Tom Morewood. Were you there?

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        1. Dude, that’s it — I’m writing a record store tale called Uncle Meat. It’s gonna be about our first two encounters. Battle of the Bands and Purpendicular tour, before we officially met. Email me all the details you can remember about the battle of the bands. I think I still have my Deep Purple ticket.

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  3. Was initially disappointed with this album based on expectations of a prog supergroup (a la Transatlantic) but after a couple of listens I fell in love with it, as I’m just as much a fan of melodic rock with great vocals & musicianship. Of course, being a Spock’s Beard fan since 1997, a Portnoy/Dream Theater fan since the early 90s and a Steve Morse fan since the early 80s, there was no way I could’ve been disappointed unless I hated the vocalist, but he grew on me quickly. In fact, I just got the “Live In Europe” DVD and couldn’t be happier with it. I may have to check out McPherson’s previous projects. He reminds me a little bit of Ray Wilson, the guy who sang lead for Genesis on the one album after Phil Collins left, and has also released some incredible albums on his own & with Stiltskin. I hope we hear more from Flying Colors…if someone can just clone Mr. Portnoy.

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    1. Rich I never picked up on the Ray Wilson vibe until you mention it. Yeah I hear that too. Ray Wilson also played with Deep Purple I believe, I think I have a live album with him doing a guest appearance.

      Live In Europe is on my Christmas list. CD and DVD :)

      I think these guys might with an apt replacement for my supergroup hunger, now that Black Country Communion have broken up…

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  4. Well for one, Portnoy is no longer in Dream Theater YAY!

    I found Neal Morse late on when I picked up his “Testimony 2” album…someone did point out to me that Morse is quite prolific when it comes to releases. I soon picked up the Transatlantic album, and then this. I’m just not sure if I want to buy the live album that’s coming out…

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      1. Getting into Neal Morse is a slippery slope. Take it from someone who owns over 30 CDs of his music, first via Spock’s Beard, then his solo releases, Transatlantic & Flying Colors. At some point he became a little too prolific and it was hard to tell his solo albums apart, but for the most part he’s been consistently amazing. I’d be happy to make some recommendations if you’re not sure which of his releases to check out next, but only if you want me to. I don’t like offering unsolicited advice. I will say that Snow is my least favorite Spock’s Beard album, so if that’s the only one you’ve heard and you like it, you should be in for some pleasant surprises.

        On a related note, did you hear that there’s a 4th Transatlantic album & tour on the way in 2014?

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