It looks as though Roine Stolt can't miss any opportunity to record anywhere inside Sweden, even if it's for two tracks, as here on Flower Kings keyboardist Tomas Bodin's newest venture for Inside Out Music, Sonic Boulevard. Then again, Roine wouldn't be here if Tomas didn't want him to be, but the guitar duties mainly fall to Jocke JJ Marsh. A supporting cast of seven appear in addition to Tomas and his Pinup Guru rhythm section of [TFK/Karmakanic] bassist Jonas Reingold & drummer Zoltan Czorsz. Another TFK alumnus, percussionist Hans Bruniusson, is also here. So, yes, expect a reasonably Flowery recording, but one with quite a few twists, and an altogether different motive.
The lyricless vocal by Anders Jansson and the grandiose pipe organ on "The Prayer" mesh with Roine's deft shadings to reflect the track's simplicity, beckoning toward a spiritual metacosm in the vaguest way. JJ Marsh steps to the fore on "The Hero From The Cloud City"—ambiguously-titled, it sounds better than "Lando"—with an electrifying lead evocative of Jeff Beck on qualuudes, or David Gilmour on happies. Rather than suffocate the mix with layers galore, the track is rather spacious, and breathes, adding breadth to every part. The 'Tron strings/flute interlude is ephemeral, the closing soft synth shadings delicate. "Back To The African Garden" begins with a suave monophonic analog lead that Tomas immediately replicates on piano over a cushion of 'Tron strings. This is no symph-prog track, rather, this is the underscore to some world~music "hymn," if you will, exempt from any retro-prog default. It needs no lyrics, no vocals (save the background voices), however. The tribal feel is reinforced by many colorful aural qualities that result from instances where lo-pitched steel drums, chiffy woodwinds, and other tones intersect.
"Picture" is quiet little elegant piano & synths piece, solely by Tomas. N'nogo Bjürhall's afro-scat drives the fusiony "Walkabout," but no more so than Marsh's super lead line, with crafty note-bending, subtle trills and spontaneous bends. That isn't exactly Jaco on bass, stylewise, but this cut could be described as Herbie Hancock's Headhunters meets Weather Report. "The Horses From Zaad" prolongs the tribal feel, dropping in analog blips, a spaghetti western-type melody that Ennio Morriconé would approve of, and—toward the end—some Clavinet & 'Tron choir. "A Beautiful Mind" may be inspired by the title character's lifelong plight from the movie of the same name. Only six minutes long, the track sounds like a mini-suite with so many directional shifts, truly a tone poem.
"The Happy Frog" may be something of an inside joke, but the joke is lost on the listener. Ulf Wallander's soprano sax imposes a very "lounge" feel, but this piece doesn't have any of the special qualities that the others do—very polished, but generic, save Roine's atypically angular guitar-freakout, and the Rhodes solo. A pair of longer companion tracks, "Morning Will Come," and "The Night Will Fall"—each a pastiche of all that has occurred beforehand, in the nine-minute range—conceptually reprise the motif initiated by "The Prayer." Jocke Marsh lets loose like a punk Jeff Beck on the former, and a different soprano saxophonist, Jonas Knutsson, plays on the latter—both are fine movements that take the listener on one last drive down Sonic Boulevard.