(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
I donít know if itís a coincidence but ever since Neal Morse released Testimony a few years back, Iíve noticed quite a few Christian musicians coming out of the woodwork. Itís not like in years past where an artist who had a religious message almost seemed obligated to present the music in a watered-down popish format. Some of these newer artists have been very bold and adventurous with the music while keeping their message intact. Mike Visaggio from Richmond, Virginia is one such artist. His latest CD shows that it is very possible to produce a nice contemporary prog Christian album without sacrificing musical integrity.
Mike is an excellent keyboardist with a wonderful palette of mostly vintage sounds that he uses. This stuff sounds like it could have easily come from the mid-seventies. Maybe the fact that he has been playing since then makes it more authentic sounding. He has been in several bands in the New York City area before relocating to Virginia and has also recorded a few albums with Billy Falconís band Burning Rose. Starship Universe is his first solo CD and hopefully there will be many more to come.
You can tell by his choice of keyboard patches that Mike has a real admiration for Keith Emerson. He also does a really nice cover of Emersonís ďBlues VariationsĒ on here. Like I said before, there are some really nice vintage keyboard sounds that he uses. Several times while listening to this disc I had to do a double take to make sure it was really more recent music and not actually something recorded in 1978.
Mike does all the vocals on the disc as well. Singing doesnít seem to be his forte but he plods along admirably. His vocals can be a bit flat at times, well maybe Iím being too kind. Theyíre pancake flat! Even so, itís his vocals and lyrics that make the project so special. I donít think Iíd have enjoyed this CD and paid attention to the details nearly as much if I hadnít been thrown a little by the singing at first.
Perhaps the main drawback here would be the electronic drums and rhythm programming. Although they are done very well, itís obvious that it would have been preferable to have a real drummer playing a huge kit to really do these compositions justice. There is an actual drummer (Mike Murray) who appears on three tracks and these are the fullest sounding on the album.
There are a few standout tracks on the CD. My favorite right now is probably ďThe Synchronized LifeĒ which is one of the ones I mentioned that has real drums. Another one I like is the version of Straussís "Also Sprach Zarathustra" which Visaggio has playfully renamed ďAlso Rocked ZarathustraĒ. The final song ďMusicís Coming To UsĒ seems to take on a more straightforward rock approach and would probably sound excellent with a full band.
All in all, I think this is a really nice CD and Iím glad Mike took the time to send it to me. Itís great efforts like this one that are giving Christian prog a more respectable name these days. Bravo!
(All Album Reviews by Windhawk)
Mike Visaggio is a keyboard player based in Virginia, USA; and Starship Universe is his debut solo album. But although this is his solo debut, Visaggio has an extensive background as a band musician, being involved in numerous bands from the late 60's until the mid eighties, and then returning to the scene after the millennium after a 20 year long hiatus from making and performing music. And it is easy to hear that he still is a skilled musician, despite his long hiatus from the scene.
Musically the classic prog bands from the 70's; Yes, Genesis and ELP are named as some of his influences. And the musical output on this album has a distinct 70's sound to it, in style as well as in production and mix. Of his named influences, ELP may arguably have had the greatest impact on the music on Starship Universe but other influences will most probably be noticed by listeners more familiar with 70's prog than myself. The music here is all keyboard based, which generally is a weakness. Even the best of melodies will sound better performed by "real" instruments than they do from keyboards alone, and Mike's music do suffer a bit from it. The mixing and production isn't high tech either, which may be off-putting for some.
In many aspects this release reminds me of the German one-man band Soniq Theater, both play symphonic prog heavily influenced by the 70's in general and ELP in particular. The main difference between the two is that Visaggio not too often emulates other instruments, while Sonic Theater emulates other instruments in most songs. And of course the vocals; Soniq Theater is a mostly instrumental project, whereas Visaggio does have vocals on quite a few songs.
And that last element will affect some potential buyers decision about getting this release or not. In my ears the pitch and timbre of Visaggio's voice too often sounds wrong, and I could have sworn (although my better half with a long choir background disagrees) that the vocals are off-key with the melody a few times too many. Visaggio has an ok voice, but somehow the vocals just donít sound right to me.
Apart from that, there are some cool songs here, with the cover of ELP's "Blues Variation" being the most interesting. And if you are a fan of retro-sounding symphonic prog, this could be worth checking out. Sound samples can be found at Mike's homepage as well as on CDBaby, so that you can hear for yourself whether or not this music is to your liking.
My rating: 60/100