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LaBrie, James: Beautiful Shade Of Grey

James LaBrie needs no introduction to frequenters of SoT, the singer being the unmistakable voice of Dream Theater and an inspiration to countless frontmen in the progressive rock arena and beyond. Through two albums under the name MullMuzzler and now four solo releases, LaBrie has also forged an interesting and eclectic career away from his main band, and as any solo excursions should, it also finds him exploring alternative situations. Beautiful Shade Of Grey is no different, the main songwriting team of LaBrie and Paul Logue first meeting when the former guested on a song by the latter’s band Eden’s Curse way back in 2011. The pair kept in touch over the ensuing decade but it was only when they bumped into one another unexpectedly a couple of years ago that they seriously began planning a new project. Logue also plays acoustic bass and guitars on the album, with the musical line-up completed by his Eden’s Curse bandmate Christian Pulkkinen on keyboards, Marco Sfogli on lead guitar and James’ son Chance LaBrie on drums.

The theme behind the album would appear to be the acknowledgement that most of our lives are spent in the grey space between being ecstatically happy and in deep devastating despair. LaBrie exploring the human condition without intentionally casting too much of his own opinions on what he sees. It makes for an interesting and intriguing ride and musically the album is equally nuanced. Rather than either the super technical fare Dream Theater are famed for, or the more bombastic melodic hard rock of Eden’s Curse, the pair looked to the acoustic, but forceful setting of Led Zeppelin III as a starting point for this album and it serves them very well.

Admittedly, in execution, while that Zep nod is apparent in places - and most obviously in an excellent, faithful (but not overly) cover of “Ramble On” - the influence never becomes overbearing and at no point is this a retro-rock exercise. Instead what we have here is an honest, crafted and poised collection of plugged-in acoustic based rock that sounds modern but traditional. These are still full band compositions, and in places this album seriously rocks, striking a clever balance that also plays strongly into the heartfelt delivery LaBrie is so well known for.

The string infused “Sunset Ruin” illustrates the more stripped back side of the album quite beautifully, but the groove and understated drive behind “Hit Me Like A Brick”, where LaBrie’s vocals are as majestic as we know they can be, is an explosive joy to listen to and when the melody builds under the chorus the effect is only heightened further. It’s “Devil In Drag” that opens the album, another focused groove being constructed through the clever guitar and bass work, and here the keys add a welcome undercurrent that really holds everything together, allowing this stripped back setting to still feel full and uncompromising.

Adding a full on electric version of the same song at the album’s end as a bonus is a brave move, because there was always a danger that if it blew away the original, it could have offered up a case of ‘here’s what you could have won’. Interestingly, the comparisons result in a rewarding draw, even if the two versions do offer decidedly different options. However, from the piano infused “Am I Right” to the mid-paced and slightly Styx flavoured “Supernova Girl”, there simply isn’t a drop off in the quality, LaBrie, as illustrated by the acapella “Conscience Calling”, in fine voice and clearly revelling in this same but different setting for his talents.

It would have been easy for James LaBrie to just revel in the glory of his main band, or indeed simply hammer out a progressive metal side project that he knows their fans will lap up. However, taking chances often pays dividends and while this album is hardly the most radical of departures, I’m not sure anyone expected this to be his next solo move. I for one am delighted that it is.

Track Listing
1. Devil In Drag
2. SuperNova Girl
3. Give And Take
4. Sunset Ruin
5. Hit Me Like A Brick
6. Wildflower
7. Conscience Calling
8. What I Missed
9. Am I Right
10. Ramble On
11. Devil In Drag (electric version)

Added: May 21st 2022
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: James LaBrie @ facebook
Hits: 966
Language: english

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