From the opening keyboard bars of the first track, Hiding Out, to the rousing finale of Waiting For Me, Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep delivers a listening experience to delight connoisseurs of progressive rock everywhere. What we have here is an audio feast on every level.
Ted Leonard's vocals are faultless - he has certainly established himself in indomitable fashion as the new voice of Spock's Beard. Over the past few years, the band has undergone a few changes of personnel but has not lost the essence of its identity. Ted took over the role of lead vocalist following the departure Nick d'Virgilio in 2011 and debuted at the 2011 High Voltage Festival in London. He did a fine job. The reaction of the audience agreed. Jimmy Keegan (drums) is another recent addition to the band and, as with Ted, he is now an integral member of the Spock's Beard. Dave Meros, (formerly of Eric Burden and the Animals and Iron Butterfly) provides bass and keyboards, Alan Morse delivers sublime lead guitar riffs and, last but by no means least, the inimitable Ryo Okumoto displays his unmistakable keyboard talents to the max. The album also features a plethora of talented musicians in the guise of multi-instrumentalist and composer Craig Eastman, editor and composer Stan Ausmus, Neal Morse (no introduction necessary) and the burgeoning talent of composer, photographer, graphic designer, engineer and album co-producer alongside Rich Mouser and Alan Morse, John Boegehold. I would be remiss in my duty if I failed to mention the beautiful artwork, both inside and out, of Thomas Ewerhard. His evocative illustrations have captured the spirit of the musical delights within. With a line-up such as this, Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep is destined to become a much celebrated body of work for decades to come.
The album introduces itself in fine style with Hiding Out, opening with a gentle keyboard melody which quickly develops into a rockier intro. This track, written by Ted Leonard, is an inspired choice as an album opener - it has everything you'd expect from Spock's Beard, combining face melting keys from Ryo, thoughtful lyrics and kick-ass guitars and drums.
Track 2, I Know Your Secret (Meros, Boegehold) has a slightly faster tempo, both musically and lyrically. A great track for air-drummers everywhere (my steering wheel takes a pounding whenever I play this in the car!). Strong vocals and an anthemic underlying melody combine in typical SB style, leading us into Track 3, A Treasure Abandoned (Boegehold, Alan Morse). This, for me, is one of the high-lights of the album, as much for the beautifully evocative lyrics (...he was lost in the land of the angels, and the red temples in the trees) as the music. The conclusion of the track reminds me a little of Starship Trooper, which Yes recorded for their The Yes Album in 1971, in its big epic production. Wonderful stuff, indeed. Goosebumps abound!
Track 4, Submerged (Leonard), takes the pace down a notch, showcasing Ted's impeccable vocals and accomplished songwriting skills. I was very lucky to have attended Spock's Beard's recent European tour and I have to say that this song was a stand-out part of the show, the audience quickly picking up the chorus line and singing along. Maybe a consideration for a single release...?
The fifth track, Afterthoughts, is another upbeat track, delivering some humorous, tongue-in-cheek lyrics about paranoid schizophrenia, and features an intricate a cappella segment. I love the lyric “By the way, on third thought, you shouldn't open up that box I sent ya...”. The songwords could almost have been inspired by One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest!
The quality of music continues to gather apace with the penultimate track of the main CD, Something Very Strange (Boegehold). Yet again, we have another remarkable piece with its own identity and yet complimenting the previous songs. Heavy with keyboard solo segments and featuring lyrics delivered via an eerie vocoder (courtesy John Boegehold), this track is text-book SB. Once again, Leonard's vocal range hits the mark, and the instrumental break three-quarters of the way through is stunning indeed.
The final track, co-written by Alan and Neal Morse, will knock your socks off. Waiting For Me has managed to pull in every SB trade mark and has added a few new ones into the mix. This is SB heaven. Weighing in at twelve-an-a-half minutes, it's is the longest track on the album. Personally I could listen to it for hours and not tire of it. The lyrics are contemplative and uplifting (how could they be anything else under the Neal Morse influence?) and the musical composition is soul-stirring. Every hair on my body stands to attention when I hear this. This track is an utter revelation. Play it loud.
The bonus disc comes out swinging with The Man You're Afraid You Are (Alan Morse, Stan Ausmus). This multi-layered track takes us from a punchy and heavy drum beat to funk, from jazz-inspired prog to a soft acoustic finale. The lyrics tell of a man's struggle to find his identity among the many facets of his personality - the changing styles of music perfectly reflect his dilemma.
Next up is Down A Burning Road (John Boegehold , Alan Morse). A sombre and powerful track, it treats the listener to a feast of blistering guitar solos courtesy Alan Morse, perfectly complimented by pensive lyrics yet again flawlessly delivered by Mr Leonard. It may be a little solemn in comparison to other tracks however I feel it's an impressive and welcome addition to the album.
The third and penultimate offering, Wish I Were Here (Alan Morse), opens with Ryo's keyboard followed by a burst of guitar and drums. The harmonised lyrics have a feel akin to latter-day Beatles (by the way, who is Dave? Answers on a postcard please). This track motors along at a decent pace, a definite pleaser for air-drummers and toe-tappers alike!
Finally, the album comes to an end with a reprise of Something Very Strange, however this version has been produced in a discernibly more melodic fashion than the original, with acoustic guitar aplenty, extra vocoder and slightly softer edges all round. The slight but effective change in production has done nothing to diminish the quality of this superb track being as it is, a fitting finale to a very, very good album.
To conclude, all I can say is buy it. Your progressive rock collection wouldn't be complete without it.
***** Sue Doyle
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