A marriage made in heaven...or hell perhaps? That's the question I'm asking myself as legendary actor William Shatner attempts his first foray into progressive rock. I never thought in a million years that I would actually be sitting down writing those words, but alas, thanks to his musical partnership with ex-Yes/current Circa multi-instrumentalist/singer/producer Billy Sherwood, Ponder the Mystery is upon us. With a large list of guest stars from the prog-rock world, and Sherwood providing the bulk of the instrumentation as well as backing vocals, the Star Trek icon provides his spoken word narration to this poetic, ethereal sounding concept album.
If you can just close your eyes and picture Shatner slowly hamming it up over soaring keyboards, liquid guitar lines, and lush atmosphere, that's basically what you get here. Sherwood's stamp is all over the album, so depending on how much you like Circa or the many projects he's been a part of in recent years will no doubt be the deciding factor on your enjoyment mileage here. Much of the music is pretty melodic and lush, though not really adventurous or complex, with the various solo spots sticking out and in some instances being quite noteworthy. Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones turns in some scorching solos on the soaring "Where It's Gone...I Don't Know", and Steve Vai lends his unpredictable talents to the quirky title track. One of my favorite solo spots here is from fusion great Al DiMeola, as his latin jazz guitar work snakes throughout the somber "So Am I" over Shatner's musings about the love for man's best friend. Rick Wakeman adds some proggy goodness to "Change" and both Edgar Winter & Nik Turner deliver jazzy sax to "Twilight" and "Rhythm of the Night". And, how great is it that the late George Duke, who just passed away recently, makes an appearance here on "Where Does Time Go?", contributing a fleet fingered, airy keyboard excursions. Another great talent who left us way too soon. Tangerine Dream's Edgar Froese even pops up on "Do You See?" with a surprisingly (or perhaps shocking is the better word?) metallic guitar solo that really livens thing up.
That last comment is really telling, as throughout Ponder the Mystery, I kept waiting for something, anything to give these pieces a little kick in the ass. Much of what is on display here is nice, pleasant, airy progressive rock with some jazzy flair, but where's the bombast? It all seems a little safe, and Shatner's monotone delivery doesn't really help matters much. He no doubt had a blast doing this, and most of the lyrics he's put together here certainly are appealing, but I just don't know who might be the intended audience for this, as the CD is hard to sit through for more than a few times without it becoming a parody of itself.. As a curious little 20 minute EP this might have worked out better, but as a full blown concept album, it's just too much William Shatner. As far as Sherwood's part in all this goes, it's a great sounding CD, with lots of polish and sheen, and just enough tasty instrumentation and lush backing vocals to keep it somewhat interesting. Essential prog rock it certainly is not, but as an odd, curiosity piece, it might be worth a listen for some.
1. Red Shift
2. Where It s Gone...I Don t Know - Mick Jones
3. Manhunt feat. Simon House
4. Ponder The Mystery feat. Steve Vai
5. So Am I feat. Al Di Meola
6. Change feat. Rick Wakeman
7. Sunset feat. Joel Vandroogenbroeck
8. Twilight feat. Edgar Winter
9. Rhythm Of The Night feat. Nik Turner
10. Imagine Things feat. Vince Gill
11. Do You See? feat. Edgar Froese
12. Deep Down feat. Robby Krieger
13. I m Alright, I Think feat. Dave Koz
14. Where Does Time Go? feat. George Duke
15. Alive feat. Zoot Horn Rollo