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(61:38; Melodic Revolution Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Stargazer 3:40 2. The Celestial Show 3:03 3. Written in the Stars 2:33 4. Telescope 4:28 5. It's in Our Blood 3:49 6. Dark Matter 4:36 7. Phoenix Rising 4:21 8. Earth 2 3:36 9. In the Darkness 3:46 10. Phoenix Descending 3:01 11. Under the Red Dwarf Sun 5:30 12. On a New World 4:10 13. 20 Years Later 1:39 14. The Dream Lives On 3:24 15. Through the Eyes of a Child 4:57 16. Nova 5:05 LINEUP: Steve Bonino - vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, programming Bohn - guitars, vocals Bingo Brown - drums, percussion, vocals with: Pamela George - arrangements
Prolusion. US composer and musician Steve BONINO is perhaps more noted as an actor than as a musician, but he has been an active musician for quite a few years by now, as well as nurturing a solo career since 2012. Stargazer is his fourth solo album, and was released through US label Melodic Revolution Records in 2018.
Analysis. As I was sent both albums at the same time, I knew from the onset that "Stargazer" is the first chapter in a theme album concept explored on two albums so far, with a third in the making if I remember the details correctly. That the story-line is a science fiction based one isn't all that important for me, but those with a specific taste for productions of that particular nature may want to take notice of this little factoid. The music at hand is, generally speaking, rather more important than the lyrical backbone of an album though, and Bonino has something of a novel take on the science fiction concept album as far as this aspect of the production is concerned. He has opted top go for an accessible style of music, with at least half a foot placed inside mainstream rock, and in addition it would appear that he has set his sights a few decades back in time for this futuristic laced venture. The heart and soul of this album rests inside 70's rock music as far as I'm concerned, and arguably inside an art rock context at that. Most of the songs are fairly straight forward affairs in general nature, accessible and often vocals heavy and vocals dominated, and by and large shying away from the more up front and dominant virtuous showmanship instrumental details. A fairly liberal use of vocal harmonies, various keyboard and synthesizer overlays and careful use of effects expands the landscapes somewhat, and more often than not we'll be treated to some kind of interlude at the halfway stage that gives the song in question progressive rock credentials, combined with the aforementioned details. A few jazz-oriented details are thrown into the mix here and there as well, adding emphasis to the progressive spirit of the compositions where these are featured. When not exploring the sounds of the 70's Bonino will gladly incorporate a few trademark sounds of the 60's, and given some of the songs at hand here I'd be surprised if he doesn't know and love the fab four form Merseyside. On a couple of occasions some gently psychedelic rock textures are applied as well, and one what is a one off appearance on this album he also tosses in a song that sounds like a marriage between The Doors and Deep Purple as well, with the energy of the latter but arguably more of the mood and atmosphere of the former. The retro mood of this production is, for me at least, emphasized by the mix and production. The sound has something of a lo-fi vibe to it, and I wouldn't be surprised if this is a deliberate choice made to give the album experience as a whole something of a retro vibe. That some of the songs, whilst exploring science fiction oriented themes, has that naive 60's quality mood to them as well, further strengthens my perceptions here. Combining a naive, positive mood and the sense of amazement with a science fiction story-line gives us some of the mood many of us slightly older science fiction fans were thrilled to explore in our youth when reading magazines and short story collections. There aren't too many flaws on this album either. There is one case where the vocals doesn't quite manage to hit it, becoming ever so slightly off kilter to my ears, and a couple of cases where the vocal harmonies becomes a tad too sharp, combined with using a tonal range that I don't fancy all that much on a personal bias. But other than that, this is a very fine album, and made with something of a meticulous eye on overall sound and atmosphere if my impression is correct.
Conclusion. "Stargazer" strikes me as a fine example of an album made in what I'd describe as art rock rather than progressive rock as such, featuring mainly retro-oriented material of an accessible nature given a light progressive rock coating and flavoring. Those who tend to treasure bands described as being art rock from back in the 1970's strikes me as being something of a key audience for this album, and then in particular if a science fiction theme album of this kind is regarded as being of general interest. A CD well worth a look by those who can recognize themselves in such a description.
Progmessor: August 31st 2019
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