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Flying Colors – Third Degree Award winner

Flying Colors
Third Degree
by Santiago Puyol at 25 November 2019, 2:11 PM

Supergroups are quite a tricky thing. Sometimes they end up being little more than cashgrabs. Other times they are just outlets for artists to put lesser material from their main projects, but when they work and have a clear vision, they could be a splendid thing. FLYING COLORS certainly serves as an example of the best a supergroup can provide. Mixing Pop sensibilities with virtuoso playing, they deliver a strong set of Rock tracks on the group’s third album, "Third Degree," delicately balancing Progressive Rock and classic Pop Rock.

The nine tracks that this five-piece and producer Bill Evans have put together seem to fit into four different categories. There’s the PORCUPINE TREE-tinged rockers (tracks one and four), the Progressive, “Classic Rock” tunes (tracks two and three), the Pop songs (tracks six, seven and eight) and the Progressive epics (tracks five and nine).

Opener "The Loss Inside" is possibly the heaviest track on the album, featuring abrasive yet catchy riffing, reminiscent of "In Absentia"-era PORCUPINE TREE. It is quite a groove-oriented track. Casey McPherson’s guitar work feels a little closer to MARILLION’s Steve Rothery, especially on his funkier side. It is an amazing opener, with a powerful, memorable chorus and some epic soloing by Steve Morse.

"Guardian" takes a jazzy, psychedelic route, retaining some poppy explorations that would not feel out of place on "Lightbulb Sun" by PORCUPINE TREE. A beautiful and pastoral breakdown appears mid-point through, tied together by the outstanding rhythm section. Dave LaRue shines on his tasteful bass runs, while every member gets a brief solo moment to stand out, giving the song a jam-like quality.

Some nasty, bluesy riffing introduces "More," a QUEEN-esque track with impressive orchestrations, adding a symphonic touch. Some subtle electronic flourishes give it a modern edge, while funky syncopation and time signature changes places it closer to classic Prog. It builds in an epic way towards the end.

"Cadence" shows the band’s clear love of THE BEATLES with its verses featuring jangly guitar melodies and lovely string arrangements echoing "Abbey Road." Steve Morse lays down some fine melodic soloing throughout the song. Subtle vocal harmonies provide depth to a repeated refrain that comes right before moving into the powerful chorus, anchored in a subtle shift from 4/4 to 6/8 time signature.

With its funky rhythm section, featuring some great use of syncopation by Mike Portnoy and a nasty groove from LaRue, "Geronimo" is the Arena Rock song of the album. It certainly brings the best of TOTO or BOSTON. Subtle psychedelic guitar textures provide a distinct flair to the track, while it gets into a cool, jumpy bridge before the final chorus.

"You Are Not Alone" is the album’s ballad, a lovely song with nice piano playing and acoustic guitar. At moments, it surely feels like a 1980s Soft Rock lost gem. Portnoy’s big drum sound fills the room, intensifying the dramatic vibe of the track. Strings add another layer, really coming through on the final guitar solo.

Second to last track "Love Letter" is a fun, surprising BEACH BOYS-esque rocker, filled with intricate vocal harmonization, clapping and jumping piano. It stands out on the record as being unique, even if it still fits nicely on the tracklist. A joyful little ditty right before the end that puts the listener on a great mood.

The album features two Progressive epics, adequately placed on the middle and the end of the track list. The dramatic "Last Train Home" is a great midpoint break track, quite reminiscent of SPOCK'S BEARD’s 1990s prog stuff and YES’ folk-driven endeavors. There is a lot to unpack, honestly, with lovely little details like the Celtic-tinged melodies that run from 7:30 to 8:05.

"Crawl" is even more melodramatic and quite a slow burner. It is possibly the most symphonic song on the album, with exquisite string arrangements adding to its theatrical feel. As with the other 10-minute song on the album, there is a lot going on. Some highlights to mention include the QUEEN-esque middle section of the track with lovely piano, vulnerable singing and melodic guitar playing, as well as the orchestral section near the end that builds to a massive, explosive finale.

"Third Degree" features a gorgeous production. The mixing is excellent, with everything in its right place. There is a rich tone, and it has depth and dynamism, with breathing room for instruments to shine and songs to truly build.

The musicianship strides a perfect balance between technicality and emotionality while Neal Morse’s powerful and expressive vocals anchors the whole experience. The accumulated years of experience and the top-notch quality of everyone involved with this project really shows on the songwriting.

Songwriting: 9
Musicianship: 10
Memorability: 9
Production: 10

4 Star Rating

1. The Loss Inside
2. More
3. Cadence
4. Guardian
5. Last Train Home
6. Geronimo
7. You Are Not Alone
8. Love Letter
9. Crawl
Casey McPherson – Lead Vocals & Guitars
Neal Morse – Vocals, Keyboards & Acoustic Guitars
Mike Portnoy – Drums, Handclaps & Vocals
Steve Morse – Lead Guitars
Dave LaRue – Bass
Record Label: Mascot Label Group


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