Style : Keyboard oriented symphonic progressive rock
Rating : 3.75 / 5
Summary : An excellent first outing that would benefit from improved production and vocals.
Zen Rock And Roll is the solo project of Jonathan Saunders of Memphis, Tennessee. Saunders studied music at universities in the United States and in Germany, and his prior bands covered Yes, Genesis and Ė particularly Ė Led Zeppelin tunes. He has composed music for orchestral instruments, choirs, electronic instruments, and rock bands. The all-rounder then turned his hand to progressive rock, and End Of The Age is his debut prog release.
The closer you listen to this album the more youíll appreciate it Ė but isnít music you could easily play in the background. And that is a function of the production and mixing. Every note on all three tracks is bright and crystal clear, but the sound borders on brashness and lacks the subtlety that would have made it a better listen.
The three songs on this 45-minute CD, track at 18, 11 and 16 minutes respectively. Track 1 "Copernican Principle" has the best lyrics, and starts out with a world music sound that soon graduates into standard symphonic prog. "From Melting Made" has touching lyrics, and the title track, has occasional fusion elements in the long instrumental passages, and is probably the best of the three. But all three are stylistically very similar and equally complex, so further song-by-song analysis would achieve little. Listen to this CD as a single piece.
The sound is heavily keyboard oriented with an emphasis on mellotron, minimoog and Hammond tones. The guitar work is competent and sensibly kept back in the mix, and synthesized flute and percussion round out the rich, symphonic textures. Saundersís classical background is apparent and the composition and structure are solid and cohesive, and there are enough complexities to keep you listening.
Saundersís singing is competent. Thereís nothing inherently wrong with his voice Ė he is on key and on pitch Ė but it often sounds strained and you canít help thinking that a more professional vocal delivery would significantly enhance the music. The lyrics are quite good, and will enhance the listening experience if you follow them closely.
This music is complex and well played, and it is enthusiastic and Ö raw. And thatís a good sign for a debut album. It means that all the fundamentals are in place, and with improved production and a professional singer, Saundersís next release could elevate Zen to the forefront of modern progressive music.