James LaBrie – Beautiful Shade Of Grey
Inside Out Music
Release Date: 20/05/22
Running Time: 48:17
Review by Simon Black
Although I’m hugely appreciative of Dream Theater and the wave of Progressive Metal they have spawned all the way back to the early 1990’s, I have to confess that I haven’t taken the time to listen to any of lungsman James LaBrie’s solo records. It’s always interesting when a distinctive band and a major contributor to their overall sound does step sideways, because you get a window on the kind of material they might chose to listen to away from their day job. In LaBrie’s case there is nothing particularly different going on here with his vocal style choices. The music is firmly in the Melodic Hard Rock, with enough Progressive flourish to keep it interesting, but which allows the voice to lead.
When they do such outings, two things usually happen. Either it’s the same as the band they are best known for (but without the politics of that line up) or it’s the singer plus an acoustic guitar for the majority of the songs (something that often happens with solo efforts because the material comes out of hotel room isolation and tour boredom). I understand that the former was more prevalent on his first three solo outings, but “Beautiful Shades of Grey” doesn’t go to the other extreme, instead employing a lot of semi-acoustic work but with a full band in support, with the electric and overdriven guitars used sparingly. That allows LaBrie to mostly do what he does best, which is belt out loud and proud, but with enough moments of subtlety and softness to make for an interesting mix.
The song structures are far more straight ahead Rock, but that’s fine as they don’t distract from what’s going on and whereas you may not get to unpick the musical complexity like skinning an onion on layer at a time that you do from his main band, it still works because the focus is on mood, tone and catchy and enjoyable song-writing. It’s a bit like 70’s Yes when they were focussed on getting something short enough to get played on the radio. In fact that 70’s root couldn’t be more clear than the only cover here, which is a stomping rendition of Led Zeppellin’s ‘Ramble On’. The other high points are the lead song ‘Devil In Drag’ (and check out the electric version included on some versions of the record), the dark and moody ‘What I Missed’ and the mellifluous instrumentals and catchy melodies of ‘SuperNova Girl’.
Tonally this makes for a mellow, but emotively charged album which I am appreciating more and more with each listen. Worth a check out, as Dream Theater fans are going to see another side of James, and detractors may be pleasantly surprised.
‘Am I Right’ Official Video
01. Devil In Drag
02. SuperNova Girl
03. Give And Take
04. Sunset Ruin
05. Hit Me Like A Brick
07. Conscience Calling
08. What I Missed
09. Am I Right
10. Ramble On
11. Devil In Drag (Electric Version)
James LaBrie – Lead & Backing Vocals
Paul Logue – Acoustic Guitars & Bass
Chance LaBrie – Drums & Percussion
Christian “Chrism” Pulkkinen – Keyboards
Marco Sfogli – Lead Acoustic & Electric Guitars
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