Style: Singer/songwriter folk rock with with progressive and pop elements
Rating: 3½ / 5
Summary: Well produced and well played, easy listening. A professional singer would add to the listening pleasure..
Bruce Main's second CD opens with a one-minute circus / carnival sound, and Track 2 "Celebrity Circus" features a strong, guitar-led instrumental that picks up that classic circus theme in caricature and gives it a dark, progressive ambience. This alternates with a continuation of the big-top theme, with a ringmaster announcing the acts and calling for the clowns in a modern-day parody of Streisand's "Where are the Clowns". There are obviously shades of Yes's Tormato in the overall theme, and the strongest component of the song is the instrumental interpretation of classic circus themes.
With its strong instrumentation and its lyrics dripping with satire, "Celebrity Circus" sets the tone for the rest of the CD. It is song-oriented with long, pleasing instrumental interludes. The structures flow nicely from section to section - some songs are straightforward verse / chorus / verse structure, while mini-epics "Father", and "Lies", make the clearest nod in the direction of progressive music and between them account for almost ½ of the CD's playing time. The lyrics all carry a clear purpose and most most make biting observations of social or political issues, although they aren't the most poetic you've ever heard. With lines like I am your father / Come back to me / You can rest here / Under the shade of my trees...; it seems as if prose sometimes gave way to rhyme and rhythm. Add that to Main's scratchy mono-tonal and slightly pitchy vocal delivery and it's clear that the strong points here are the instrumentals. Bruce plays all instruments with the exception of bass (Brian Phraner) and flute (Bruce Jones).
As we mentioned in our review of his debut album Tracks, Bruce Main was a founding member of prog band Medusa in the 1970's and became guitarist and songwriter for The Eddies, and then for a regionally known prog-metal band called Mania. His professional career includes chief engineer with an ownership position in commercial recording studios, and he’s worked on sound systems for an interesting variety of projects. His prowess as a guitarist and his obvious comfort around the studio are more apparent on Layers than they were on Tracks, and his production work is admirable. Main's lead guitar work is pleasing. It is usually reserved for solo spots and instrumentals, and for mid-song accompaniment he often turns to a nicely played acoustic guitar usually held back in the mix. The acoustic and electric guitars blend nicely, and Jones's flute on "Gwendolyn" is particularly pleasing.
Bruce Main's Layers will appeal to fans of laid-back easy-listening prog, or the singer-songwriter genre. For his next record we would urge him to recruit a singer - but don't let that put you off. There are some nice ideas here, and Layers is an interesting listen. And as Bruce said in a private communication - ..."hey, have you ever heard Chocolate Kings by PFM? Or how about Bob Dylan?"