John Elefante and Mastedon: Revolution of Mind
I'm a committed Kansas fan and have been since I bought Point of Know Return in 1978. When Steve Walsh quit in 1981, I wasn't happy, but it seemed inevitable.
Then, The Barrage of 1982: Vinyl Confessions, a new singer, a producer, a new logo…
I liked Vinyl Confessions; It was positive, punchy and introspective without brooding. The new guy John Elefante not only fit the suit, he was prodigious: he played keys, wrote the better material, and damned if he had the range of Walsh and then some.
What havoc did MTV wrought in one short year! Drastic Measures sort of snuck out in 1983. Among some fine power pop from Elefante, there were tanks from both writers, and it's failure commercially and with fans sealed the bands fate. Kansas would never again be significant in the new music arena.
This past spring out of pure curiosity I finally bought the Vinyl Confessions Tour DVD - and was promptly blown away by Elefante. Before my eyes, this 24-year-old kid not only filled the titanic void of the lead singer/songwriter of the biggest drawing rock show of the era, he made you actually forget about him. That's a big statement from a Walsh fan.
After checking some more live performances on YouTube from Kansas 1983, Mastedon, and recent performances, I came to the conclusion that this guy didn't know how to sing a wrong note. This past spring, I looked for some of Elefante's recent work. 2009's Revolution of Mind (known in Europe as Mastedon 3) was my first pick.
Classifications such as "Religious," "Country," "Adult Contemporary," "Jazz," "Pop," or "Metal" have never shaped my choices. Mastedon was so-called "Christian Rock;" hey, whatever. As long as it's not in your face agenda-preachy, doesn't advocate violence or brutality or sacrifice the art for the purpose of recruitment, I'm a supporter. The USA was founded upon God, and today it's almost to the point where some would like to re-write that history, so I find this "American" music even more refreshing.
We in the West have legislated our way out of our American values and basics - to the point of being embarrassed by our culture and the intentions of our forefathers. So inexorable does this creeping secularism seem that we watch out of touch lawmakers tear down the pillars of our beliefs stone by stone while helplessly waiting for the next election to right the ship.
Wake up: This ship will not be righted by Man.
These themes are weaved throughout Revolution of Mind in a non-obtrusive yet palpable manner, a message more universal than fringe. It's a spiritual work, but listeners will find a great deal more than the limited scope of a classification. Consider, from "The Western World," a scathing admonition of our creeping loss of values:
"We arrived on the Western World/Where the dreams come alive and the sun keeps shining/What will we do if the walls fall down/'Cause there's no foundation beneath the ground?"
Revolution of Mind is simply one of the best collections of new songs in recent memory - period.
Why? It's full of integrity. Recorded near Nashville with the Music City session duo of drummer Dan Needham and bassist Anthony Sallee, the grooves are granite solid.
From the previous two Mastedon albums, guitar veteran Dave Amato is retained; he spent time with Ted Nugent in the 80's and it shows. He may never have hit the stage in a loin cloth, but his leads are meaty, aggressive and melodic.
Kerry Livgren lends his guitar prowess on several tracks. His singular style has settled a bit since the frantic white-hot licks he tore off with Kansas, but he is still a vigorous presence.
Did I mention John Elefante? His vocals and melodies are out-of-this-world good, and his tenor is essentially unchanged over the years, though a noticeable depth is now present. Remarkably, he's lost none of his extraordinary range or texture.
The material is that good. The title track is reminiscent of so-called mid-70's "Prog Rock," yet Mastedon avoids the gluttony of that era; instead "Revolution of Mind" shakes your foundation with primeval low-end. Elefante's familiar tones are warmer and more urgent than ever, thanks to improved sonic technology.
"Something mysterious/Was trying to get a hold on me/But I won't let it take me down/I'll make it to the finish line."
This is big…it is a striking intro that shoots out of your speakers (if you have the verve to crank it on a real stereo). Needham's toms are virtually tribal.
"I'm not gonna run/Not gonna hide/From this revolution of mind."
Support vocals approach the sublime when providing the bed for the brilliant melodies. A commanding chorus and a stunningly sparkling bridge round out this sizzler, and it's only primo piatto...
A textured a capella harmony and - ready or not - "Slay Your Demons" rampages with a guitar and orchestral riff that make a major statement in a minor key. The verse is both sonically and lyrically potent, and Elefante shines in the precision of his delivery, and the loftiness of his reach:
"Tear the walls down/Shine your honor/Slay your demons/Walk on water."
Above all, it's inspiration to do better, be better.
The exquisite "Nowhere Without Your Love" is a show stopping rock ballad, with dichotomy in its message; it's equally adept as a love song or a proclamation. The chorus evokes 70's Boston, with Elefante's layered harmonies hitting sweet-spot intervals that recall those of the late Brad Delp.
"But the nature of a man like me/Is to turn away and give into my desire/I stumble to my feet again/Knowing you're still there/You never left my side."
A stellar example of power pop.
Revolution of Mind takes a detour with the epic "Some Day Down By The Lake (See You Real Soon)," a monumental piece of 70's Prog Rock that packs a tackle box full of hooks. It's the kind of piece that Kansas didn't tackle when Elefante was a member, and it almost seems he's making up for missing out.
Lyrically provoking, musically daring, sonically enormous, it eclipses many of the blockbusters from the very period it echoes.
The band effortlessly glides through 12/8 and 6/8 meter with groove and finesse. Featuring a bludgeoning guitar riff by Livgren that harkens back to Kansas' 1980 Audio Visions, electric violin, string arrangements, piano samples and sailing leads by the former Kansas principal on guitar, "Down By The Lake" offers the effectual wink to "Song For America."
"You long to be that young man you were yesterday/But you're at peace with who you are and here you'll stay/It's something that this world can't take away/The winding road sometimes confuses/The fact that we can win by losing..."
An intuitive concept "win by losing" is; there's no denying or spinning John Elefante's convictions. In Christian terms, winning is reaching heaven. What this world defines as winning (wealth, youth, power) is really losing in the long run.
Part II, "See You Real Soon" settles into a serene ambiance, with Elefante's strings laying a base for Livgrens lyrical guitar.
"Some believe the blind can be made to see/With the power of a bended knee /There will be answers."
The most overtly Christian lyrics on the album ensue, with concepts drawn directly from scripture; "See You Real Soon" also presents the most gripping hooks on the album. With stacked progressions of superior melodies that out-do one another, the sequence builds to a resounding pinnacle, capturing the soul of an epic.
There's scratch your head moments; on first listen, I was in semi-awe of the flawlessness of Elefante's vocals - especially on "See You Real Soon" to the point that I think - no, I believe - his voice in his 50's is actually superior to that of his 20's. The younger Elefante (especially the one in Kansas) spent a great deal of time in the upper register. The older singer doesn't live in the stratosphere, but sounds fuller; more immediate and nuanced. When he does open up the effect is heightened.
However even exemplary men are still men: Revolution of Mind stumbles for the first time - if only as a result of sequencing. Compositions such as "Down By The Lake" are closers by nature; demanding attention, drawing energy – thus rendering subsequent tracks less powerful (I say this knowing that I'll just create a playlist soon and plant "Down By The Lake" at the end - done!).
"Water Into Wine (Fassa Rokka)" is placed into an unenviable spot. It's a tear-it-up rocker, with a pumping fast rhythm that attempts to put what was just displayed out of mind, and it succeeds in it's own right. A paunchy guitar riff sets it up, with Amato tossing out lethal shrapnel-like leads from what sounds like the bark of an angry Paul Reed Smith.
"He was feeling the pain/Put on Dark Side Of The Moon/He lay flat on his back/He had a gun in his hand/He said maybe I'll be home soon."
Elefante expresses the dark side (parodied by the reference to the famous Pink Floyd album) as a dangerous place.
"Questions," with its catchy verse, down-home arrangement and colorful harmony guitar fills is a nice change-up. The lyrical queries are virtuous, among them:
"Are we just another face in the crowd/Are we a whisper or do we say it loud/Do we see there is hope when it all seems lost /Do we believe in a bridge that can bring us a Cross."
A pair of hard-hitting rock tunes appear back to back, swooping in like storm clouds over a picnic. The 80's British synth pop of "You Can't Take Anything" quickly morphs into a different animal entirely, with hard rock guitars asserting themselves and bass hitting the guttural depths of low D.
The lyrical landscape is stark - Ingmar Bergman black and white. It's chess with a dark-cloaked opponent on a cliff.
"And we find an invisible enemy/To tell is there's no need to look beyond what's here and now/It's too far out of reach/But we brought nothing into this world/We'll bring nothing out."
The second, "Lying," explores the underbelly of humanity down to its lowest common denominator. Chopping, chugging guitars, alternate dual lead harmonies with raunchy rhythm. Elefante's outstanding chordal vocals alternate between lush and stark, expressing the plight of a compulsion spinning out of control.
"I don't think there's anyway out of here/Only the truth can make it disappear...I'm lying again/Why am I'm lying/I'm lying again"
Deceit or the need to perpetuate it is a vile addiction, and Elefante parallels it with the seedy, dank existence of the hooked, and the rationalizations they ponder.
"Maybe I'm wrong but I just can't tell/Maybe I think way too much of myself/There's a time and a place for everything/But the time is just not now."
The stinging commentary of "The Western World" is sage-like in its prescience. A less brooding arrangement - and frankly a less interesting one than its predecessors - the message is laid out in mid-tempo rock, but reading between the lines extols real-life headlines as if from contemporary news.
"If there's a problem/We'll find a solution/We're numb to the point/Where abnormal is sane."
Alas, aside from the George Harrison influenced guitar solo, the music is the albums least memorable.
Elefante saves his knockout blow for the closing spot, and it's a heavy hitter. "That's What You Do," a stirring and beautifully crafted work that combines elements of album oriented/hard rock and pop, amasses hooks that flow like Shakespeare sonnets. The verse and chorus are at odds, each pulling in different directions; the latter almost divine in it's melody while the former toys with metal-like angst. Check out the string arrangement and brilliant vocal phrasing that tie it all up, and the Beatles-inspired background vocals.
The guitar melody that is repeated at the fade-out is uplifting and superb; the simplest of melodies are often the most unforgettable. The chordal changes are exceptional and infectiously memorable.
"That's what you do when you love someone/That's what you do..."
A fitting coda to a profoundly well-produced rock record, and if one can be found at present, this is a good template to follow. There are no doubts that John Elefante is firing on all cylinders - writing great material, playing, producing and most importantly singing better than ever.
I'm amazed by the consistency and quality of this album - that almost never happens anymore. These songs have reached me and I can't help but go back to the well for repeated listens.
Those who know John Elefante through Kansas, Petra, Mastedon, or his previous solo work will be delighted with Revolution of Mind, but the word is out to anyone who appreciates impeccably performed well-crafted music – those will eat this up.
If we must slap on labels, then let's do justice to the task: "Contemporary Christian Rock" just got it's Physical Graffitti, and with that John Elefante and his band have created their masterwork.
1. Revolution Of Mind
2. Slay Your Demons
3. Nowhere Without Your Love
4. One Day Down By The Lake (See You Real Soon)
5. Water Into Wine (Fassa Rokka)
6. Questions (It's About Time)
7. You Can't Take Anything
9. The Western World
10. That's What You Do
Added: September 29th 2012
Reviewer: Steve Fleck
Related Link: Artist Website
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|John Elefante and Mastedon: Revolution of Mind
Posted by Phil Williams on 2012-09-29 12:14:47
Surely this is the same album released on Frontiers records back in 2009 under the Monica of Mastedon and entitled simply '3' !
Belter of an album though from beginning to end.
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