Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Derivative Works, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

The Record Vault: Dream Theater – A Change Of Seasons (EP)

Mike Portnoy was not happy when the song “A Change of Seasons” was pulled from being recorded in the studio for the “Images And Words” album.

So Portnoy kept asking Derek Oliver to provide funding so the band could record it. Portnoy tried to include it with the “Awake” album and again, Oliver said “no”.

And that’s when the fans stepped in. Dream Theater fans started to connect online via the Ytsejam Mailing List and suddenly, a petition was created to convince the label to give the go ahead for the band to record the song.

Yep, Dream Theater was one of those bands to have a direct to fan connection via their fan club and message boards in the early days of the Internet. Mike Portnoy was key here, as a fan of Marillion, who was also another band which kept engaging with their fans via their fan clubs and much later, Marillion were one of the earlier bands to get fans to fund an album before it became a thing.

At 23 minutes, it was their longest song at that point in time, but the way it is written and constructed, the seven parts of the song, can be listened to individually as separate tracks, if you wanted to splice the track. Lyrics are written by Mike Portnoy.

But.

If the band wanted to record this track in the studio, Derek Oliver said the track must be produced by Dave Prater. As described in the book “Lifting Shadows” by Rich Wilson, Oliver believed that Prater really understood what Dream Theater was about and when Prater zeroed in to the bands weakness, the band couldn’t hack it, hence the animosity. Prater was the producer for the “I&W” album and he was having serious run ins with Mike Portnoy over triggered drum sounds and with Kevin Moore over his reluctance to do anything that the Producer asked.

While the band disagreed with the Prater suggestion, they relented. as the only way to get funding was to do it the label way. Since Prater was told to not use triggers on the drums, it meant Portnoy wouldn’t be an adversary anymore and his main adversary during “I&W”, Kevin Moore was not in the band anymore. But Prater and James LaBrie didn’t connect this time around and they started to argue. But, in the end, LaBrie’s vocal performance on the track is excellent, so all the pushing and yelling, ended up in a fantastic vocal take.

The EP was released on September 19, 1995, through East West Records.

Apart from the title track, it has a collection of live cover songs performed at a fan club concert on January 31, 1995 at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London, England. It’s also their first recording with Derek Sherinian on keyboards.

I know what most people are thinking,

23 minutes of a million notes a minute over complex time signatures. If you are thinking that, you are mistaken. The sections are all songs within a song and one thing that producer Dave Prater has going for him was his questioning of why they want to overplay certain parts.

Like when he said to John Petrucci (as mentioned in the book “Lifting Shadows”), “why are you trying to impress Steve Vai” with those fast technical licks as your first improvised take of the lead was way better than the stuff you worked out days later.

I. The Crimson Sunrise (instrumental)

The song begins and ends with an acoustic guitar. A seven string acoustic guitar with the low B and while I am critical of the 7-strings on fast picked stuff, I really like em on groove orientated stuff, and this is what this song is. A Groove Heavy Rock beast with progressive elements.

As soon as I heard the first notes of the intro acoustic riff I was hooked.

Did they try and recreate “Pull Me Under” with this whole intro piece?

Maybe.

Because there is melody, power and aggression here in the acoustics and when the distortion kicks in, you definitely feel it in your bones.

The first 3 minutes is essential listening. All instrumental but never boring.

II. Innocence

It begins at the 3.50 mark.

And how good is that arena rock chorus, that begins with “Innocence caressing me / I never felt so young before / There was much life in me / Still I longed to search for more” and when it repeats the second time, it’s worded a bit different. “Ignorance surrounding me / I’ve never been so filled with fear / All my life’s been drained from me / The end is drawing near.

III. Carpe Diem

It begins at the 6.54 mark with the start of the acoustic guitar arpeggios, almost classical. Portnoy is now referencing the last moments he had with his mother before she left to catch a plane which crashed.

The last few lyrical lines, “preparing for her flight / I held with all my might / fearing my deepest fright / she walked into the night / she turned for one last look / she looked me in the eye / I said “I love you, / goodbye”.

IV. The Darkest of Winters (instrumental)

I’m pretty sure this section kicks in at the 9.47 mark. It’s got metal and a jazz fusion like lead from Petrucci. There are a lot of elements from “I&W” here especially from the songs “Metropolis” and “Take The Time”. The riff at 11.50 would have been a foundation for a song for any other band. But from Dream Theater, it’s just a riff in a 23 minute song.

At 12.54, Petrucci starts the melodic lead that leads into “Another World”.

V. Another World

It kicks in at 13.03. It’s the big power ballad part of the song with LaBrie delivering one of his best vocals and Petrucci on the lead at 15.39 is perfect with his phrasing, delivering big bends and vibrato lines with short bursts of alternate picking.

VI. The Inevitable Summer (instrumental)

It starts at the 16.58 mark. Myung plays this bass groove which allows Petrucci to bring out the Lydian and Mixolydian scales. This section reminds me of the solo section in “Under A Glass Moon” from “I&W”. Even Sherinian gets a solo moment.

VII. The Crimson Sunset

The final section. It starts at the 20.12 section with a melodic lead that should have been harmonised, Maiden style.

“I’m much wiser now a lifetime of memories run through my head”.

Then there is a complete tempo and feel change for the final verse and the intro acoustic guitar riff appears to bookend a masterpiece.

And while everyone purchased this EP for the original song, the live recordings also deserve a mention.

“Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” (Elton John cover)

I didn’t know about this songs until I heard them here. Written by Bernie Taupin and Elton John. At 10:46, the song was originally recorded by Elton John as the opener on the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album from 1973, which I then purchased after hearing this version.

And it’s even longer on the Elton John version at 11.09, which came as a surprise to me, as Elton John’s 80’s hits are all within the 4 minute range of commercial radio. I can definitely hear how this song influenced Jim Steinman and “Bat Out Of Hell”.

Who said that cover songs take away from the original?

“Perfect Strangers” (Deep Purple cover)

Written by Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore and Roger Glover. It’s the title track from their 80’s comeback album in 1984. This version is very faithful to the original version, and guess what, I went out and purchased this Deep Purple album based on this cover.

“The Rover” / “Achilles Last Stand” / “The Song Remains the Same” (Led Zeppelin cover)

The songs used here for the medley are written by Robert Plan and Jimmy Page. Dream Theater took the best bits of these songs and made a 7.30 minute track that is worthy.

“The Rover” is a song from the “Physical Graffiti” album, with a good bluesy groove which is played to lead into “Achilles Last Stand” which is from the “Presence” album. Here we get most of the singing section of the song, the interludes and that progressive like riff which is played during the solo. Finally, the song is rounded out with some sections from “The Song Remains The Same” from the “Houses Of The Holy” album.

LaBrie proves that you can still pay homage to Robert Plant without sounding like him (remember Lenny Wolf) and Petrucci must have made a deal with Aliester Crowley as he is basically Jimmy Page.

“The Big Medley”

The last song. A mash up of songs from a diverse list of artists that clocks in at around 10 minutes.

It starts off with “In the Flesh?” a Pink Floyd cover.

At the 2.30 minute mark, the awesome riffage of “Carry On Wayward Son” from Kansas kicks in.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” from Queen kicks in 4.35 that whole hard rock section after the operatic vocals. Petrucci then goes into the lead break.

“Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” from Journey kicks in at 6.00. It shouldn’t work here, but it does. Its 12/8 bar room boogie riff works perfectly after “Bohemian Rhapsody”. LaBrie croons as good as Steve Perry and what else can be said about Petrucci who can move between Jimmy Page, Richie Blackmore, Dave Gilmour, Brian May, Kerry Livgren and Neal Schon so effortlessly. And then he covers Steve Morse and Steve Hackett easily.

“Cruise Control” from Dixie Dregs kicks in at 8.11. This music was new to me back then.

“Turn It On Again” (Genesis cover)”

This part kicks in at 9.14. The riff is immediately memorable, yet familiar as I feel that it influenced some sections on “Innocence Faded” from the “Awake” album.

By the end of the medley, I was out and about seeking albums from Genesis, Dixie Dregs, Journey. I already had the Queen and Kansas albums that had those songs.

If you haven’t heard this EP (which by the way is an hour long), press play on it.

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I Am Giant – City Limits

I am listening to the 2010 EP called City Limits – Neon Sunrise from I Am Giant. Man, what an enjoyable listen.

The song City Limits has this bass intro that reminds me of the song “Comedown” from Bush and the drum beat makes me think of “When The Levee Breaks” from Led Zeppelin. If you want an introduction into the band, then this is the song to start with.

“Are we living?
Or merely killing time?

BOOM. Then the distorted guitars crash, mimicking the bass riff. It is the hit that wasn’t.

The vocal melodies are very strong in this song. I am three years late to the party. Isn’t that the modern paradigm. I can’t believe that this song has been out for over 3 years and it has gone relatively un-noticed.

Their VEVO account shows the song has 88,279 views and it is also their most streamed song on Spotify with 48,022 streams. Compared to other artists, the record labels would say that the song is a dud. It is a great song, with a great message and it will rise to the top.

“And the city limits,
Keep on getting bigger,
Just when you thought you had made it out

And you’re sick of waiting,
Lying on the pavement,
Tryna’ get out of this old town”

It’s that whole “Born To Run” and “Don’t Stop Believin'” message. It’s a breath of fresh air, combining art rock, with prog rock, with alternative and many other genres.

As good as the vocals are, and the overall flow of the song, it’s the whole Chorus package that pushes it over the top.

The EP has four songs and all of them are solid. “Neon Sunrise”, “Let Go” and “Living The Crash” show that “City Limits” wasn’t a fluke. Vocalist Ed Martin is the reason why the band has a lot of positives.

Isn’t it funny that in 2013, we hear the music without knowing who the people are behind it. The bands origins go back to 1997 and they begin with a New Zealand band called Blindspott.

After 10 years and a lot of home-grown success, Blindspott called it a day, and that is how I Am Giant was formed. There is the controversy of the Blindspott band name (who owns it), new version of Blindspott Facebook page takedowns (from current I Am Giant drummer, Shelton Woolright who was also the original Blindspott drummer) and legal letters from Shelton to the current incarnation of Blindspott, which forced the band to change their name to Blacklist.

So I Googled “I Am Giant” and I see that they released an album in 2011 called “The Horrifying Truth.” They are about to drop their new album “Science and Survival” soon, I want to hear it, so I go to Spotify.

I hear the lead single from the new album “Razor Wire Reality” first. The music is pedestrian and the vocals do their best to lift the song to a higher plane. Compared to their piece de resistance, “City Limits” it’s no match.

Then there is an “EP” released in 2012 with a “Wow” acoustic version of “Duality” from Slipknot. It’s a ballsy move.

“Purple Hearts” overall reminds me of Cog, however the whole intro and verse riff has the feel of “Cherub Rock” from Smashing Pumpkins. It’s another winner. To me Cog are Australian legends. Cog didn’t have the worldwide commercial success however they are held in very high regard.

The next song that makes a connection is “And We’ll Defy”.

“I close my eyes forever”

It’s such a simple lyric, however when it is repeated over and over again with an agonised melody and a changing background of music, it is very effective.

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Music, My Stories, Review in 40 Words

Review in 40 Words – Daybreak Embrace – Tomorrow Awaits (2010)

Great EP. I just heard it today. The new album “Mercury” will be released in October 2013. I think I am overdosing on DIY modern rock artists. Think Sevendust, Staind, Digital Summer, Breaking Benjamin and Three Days Grace.

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Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Influenced, Music, My Stories

Hands In The Sky Big Shot – Great Music Will Live On Forever

I have been on a Sons Of Anarchy binge lately. Just recently I finished Season 2 and the final episode had an unbelievable piece of music that complemented and enhanced the desperation of the final scenes. You need to see it, to understand what I mean.

Of course I wanted to know more about this piece of music. So I Google “Sons of Anarchy Season 2 Music”. I come across a WIKIA page that shows me each episode and the songs that played on each episode. I click on the final episode of Season 2 and I see that the last song listed is from a band called “Straylight Run” and that the song is called “Hands In The Sky”.

So I go onto YouTube, type in the band name, and there it is. I came across 16 videos with a combined play count of 1,498,818. Spotify streams have the count as 110,507.

I want to go deeper, because that is what we do, when we come across something that connects with us.

The song was released on an EP, called “Prepare To Be Wrong” from 2005. God damn. I am hearing this song in 2013. That is 8 years after its release.

The audience (both legal and illegal) who watched “Sons Of Anarchy” on December 1, 2009 heard the song for the first time. If you dig deeper you will see that the actual song hit YouTube from December 4, 2009, which is right after the “Sons Of Anarchy” episode.

By February 2010, the band went on indefinite hiatus due to money complications. This is strange, especially when “Hands In The Sky (Big Shot)” was doing the rounds courtesy of the TV show.

Of course, with Victory Records being the label that released the EP, it would be safe to assume that Victory Records would have kept their reputation intact by pocketing handsomely and not giving a cent to Straylight Run.

Straylight Run started off on Victory Records due to a contract that John Nolan and Shaun Cooper had with the label courtesy of their other band “Taking Back Sunday.” That contract was fulfilled with the EP release in 2005. Then Universal Republic picked them up for their 2007 release “The Needles The Space” only to be dropped when vocalist, guitarist and pianist Michelle DaRosa left. They went all independent for their next two EP releases and then called it a day after that.

Great music will always be found. “Hands In The Sky (Big Shot)” will live on forever. It is now a part of pop culture. It really captured the desperation of the scenes and now I can’t stop playing the song, along with Neil Young’s “Hey, Hey, My, My” which was used to close Season 3.

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