(All Album Reviews by Duncan Glenday)
Style : Progressive Rock
Rating : 3.5 / 5
Summary : Hard rock meets symphonic prog. Imagine a ‘70s Deep Purple lineup with (synthesized) trumpet. Richly textured music, and a drum machine.
In a private communication, Charles Brown described his music as reminiscent of Deep Purple, Rush and Judas Priest, along with some acoustic / classic / textural pieces in the vein of Pat Metheney or classical players like Christopher Parkening.
Charles Brown is a Colorado-based musician who plays hard-hitting guitar-based rock, with a distinctly progressive edge. His music comprises instrumental pieces using electric and acoustic guitars and Brown’s signature instrument, the guitar synthesizer. That’s a lot of words – so what does it mean?
First. This music is a key example of the difference between rock and metal. This is hard rock. It has some metal overtones, some good guitar solos and some deep crunchy power-chord riffs. But notwithstanding Brown’s references to Deep Purple, Dio and Judas Priest, this is not metal, folks. This is Rock! And Charles Brown’s rock sounds are deeply rooted in the ‘70s. It isn’t the sounds of the ‘70s, but the references are unmistakeable.
Second. The word “texture” should appear many times in any review of Charles Brown’s music. He builds big sounds, which are richly layered and tastefully complex. He is a guitar virtuoso but thankfully not in the mould of a Satriani or a Johnson or even a Malmstein. So despite the references to hard rock, this is a mature, symphonic, melodic sound.
Third. Imagine a guitar played through a Roland guitar synthesizer. And attached to that GR-33 you have a marionette Wynton Marsalis lookalike puppet. Charles Brown’s guitar pick is the remote control for the puppet strings, and on command, Marsalis is pumping away at his trumpet producing rich, brass sounds a la Roland. Can you see it? You’ll certainly hear it. The signature sound of this album is synth brass, often presented with big-band pomp and bluster.
Finally. Fake drums! Competently programmed, but they sometimes really get in the way. The only drum machine worth using is the old carbon-based model, and last time we looked there was a glut of them out there, under-utilized and waiting to be put to good use.
Is this making sense yet? With all those synthesized sounds Earth Voyage is an unusual album, and tough to describe.
Besides the rock, there are some acoustic tracks, where Brown really shines (He is also a classical guitarist). The album is punctuated with ambient sound effects. Rain falling, wind machine on 2 tracks, all the clichés – but they are not too prominent and contribute nicely.
Three other musicians make light contributions to Earth Voyage. One-man bands often leave you feeling that something is missing. The interplay between separate musicians, with their different personalities and emotions and idiosyncrasies, is one of the keys to making really rich music in the traditional way. But you might find yourself tapping your foot to the pleasant riffs, the effective hooks, the complex textures and the polished execution.
In an age of 80-minute albums Earth Voyage is a refreshingly short 40-minute listen, but you won’t mind hitting replay twice as often.
PS – a carbon-based drum machine is a … human!