|Musical Style: Progressive Rock||Produced By: Doug Bowers|
|Record Label: Three In One||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2011||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 16||Rating: 80%|
|Running Time: 59:56|
Autobiograph, the fall of 2011 sophomore release from AD Astra lead vocalist Doug Bower’s solo side project KDB3, is a modest evolution from his 2008 debut Verite. Whereas Verite leaned towards a symphonic based progressive rock sound, Autobiograph takes the more varied and song orientated approach - with each track flowing seamlessly from one to another - while maintaining the trademark KDB3 progressiveness. If I want to get technical about things, Autobiograph is actually the KDB3 debut in that its material was written in the late nineties and later released as a demo (to wide critical acclaim) only to be re-recorded between 2008 and 2011 and released in its current format.
Musically, there is quite a bit going on with Autobiograph. Yes, the album can be progressive - very progressive at times - but otherwise finds Bowers branching out musically and embracing styles as far reaching as classic rock, symphonic rock and acoustic rock while also mixing in some heavier guitar driven moments. The artist likes to portray KDB3 as “keyboard based progressive rock”. And while that description is not far from the mark, Autobiograph features more than ample guitar to interest those whose musical leanings trend towards the heavier side of things. The reason I mention this is that this reviewers finds pure keyboard driven progressive music, in which the guitar (whether rhythm or lead) plays little if any role, to be pointless and pure boring drivel. And such is NOT the case here.
As a result of the wide variety of musical styles at hand, an equal number of influences deserve mention.
The first to come to mind, of course, is Neal Morse, and not just musically but also lyrically in that Autobiograph is a concept album chronicling Bower’s life and personal testimony with introspective lyrics that, as described in the artists press material, are “sometimes humorous and often unpredictable (that) describe the hopes, dreams and reality of a life lived with and without God”. The overall impression left is Morse’s Testimony and Testimony 2 albums as a result of the manner in which Autobiograph traces Bower’s spiritual journey in music and words.
Autobiograph, otherwise, highlights enough progressive elements to entice fans of early Kansas and Genesis and heavier sounds of Shadow Gallery- and just about all things in between. You will also find your share of upbeat classic rock/hard rock flavorings, with complementary notable melodies to match, that those into Queen, Styx and AD will be certain to embrace. Interestingly, when the artist “mellows out” (by no means a bad thing) he offers up some piano and keyboard based moments that hint of Elton John, Billy Joel and even Keith Green. It is the latter which is most noteworthy in that Autobiograph captures an “inspiration” or “youthful energy” that hints of the Jesus Movement/early CCM era. The reason I mention this is that I can see fans of Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill and previously mentioned Green finding the project of potential interest.
Songwriting is FANTASTIC when at its best. “King’s Highway” highlights an upbeat symphonic rock based sound while some acoustic lacings can be found on “Street Preacher” (great guitar work throughout on this one) and “Death… You lose!” (a big, grooving base line makes its presence felt). For those interesting in a more progressive based direction, “Crisis Of Faith” brings some slower to heavier time signatures and “Dark Side” a haunting milieu that joins the best elements of classic Kansas and Pink Floyd (and represents the pinnacle of the artist’s songwriting abilities in the process). “He Knows”, two distinct songs woven together to form a complementary seven minute whole, upholds the progressive leanings. The quality is maintained on the majestic piano and keyboard based ballad “Second Coming”.
The few songs I might rate in the very good category might be a slight notch below the albums better material but are by no means considered “leftovers” or “second best”. “I Won’t Play The Game” also features a happening bass line and “Grace Of God” a mid-paced proclivity and pop flavored chorus. “Promise Of A New Day” is another classically influenced ballad with viola and electric violin to match.
As with Verite, Bowers handles the majority of the instrumentation on Autobiograph, including lead vocals, keyboards, lead, rhythm and acoustic guitars, bass, percussion and programming. The artist continues to bring a pure and refined mid-ranged vocal presence perfectly suited for the style of music at hand. The direct comparison I offered to Warren Ham and Michael Gleason I offered in my Verite review still holds true. Outside of vocals, keyboards represent his main area of expertise (check out his work on the albums two ballads).
Several notable guest musicians were also brought on boards, with guitarists Billy Holes, providing the blistering leads on “Death... You Lose!” and “Dark Side”, and David Walliman (former Glass Hammer), contributing the tasteful soloing to “He Knows”, standing out.
Production values are quite laudable in adding to the albums strengths.
Track By Track
Prior to starting the track by track it must be noted that Autobiograph consists of 16 songs, with ten full length and the remainder shorter “interlude” pieces that serve to tie the storyline together. Due to time and space constraints, I decided to skip the interlude pieces with the exception being the notable instrumental “A Gift Of Peace”.
Everything about “King’s Highway” screams of the positive, upbeat and uplifting. With its encouraging tempo (reinforced by just the right amount of organ) and mirthfully done chorus (upheld by edgy guitars), the song comes across in the form of a rock anthem in featuring a profound melody that would lend itself to potential radio play.
“Crisis Of Faith” plays up six minutes of progressive creativity. The song opens its first half gently (almost ominously) as keyboards and piano slowly compel things ahead. Impetus, however, picks up all at once as the guitar kicks in and takes the song its remaining way with an emotionally charged chorus and tastefully done instrumental excursion reinforced. I am almost reminded of Neal Morse in the process.
“I Won’t Play The Game” opens its first seconds to polished keyboards that give way to an electric violin (sort of like Kansas). A jazzy feel is reflected as the song plunges ahead, reflected in the huge bass line and saxophone that upholds its verses. Things smooth out for a flowing chorus on the more even side of things. AD sort of comes to mind here.
“Dark Side” is by far the albums finest track. A progressive rock anthem if there ever was one, the song starts to a palatial mixture of keyboards and guitars only to decelerate to the piano that slowly sustains its first verse. Time and tempo changes occur until things culminate for what amounts a majestically done chorus that proves flawless in every way- emotionally charged, victorious and prevailing all at once. This one is certain to challenge for song of the year.
Ballad “Second Coming” proves nearly as good. What we have here is a haunting piece carried its distance by chilling keyboards and distant piano, with a notable melody highlighted and moving milieu that has sublime - do I dare say apocalyptic? - written all over it. Some of the instrumental moments even touch upon Pink Floyd.
“Grace Of God” proves a mid-paced rocker with a positive disposition. After opening to a drum solo, the song cruises its distance with pronounced guitars and consummate keyboards lending a fitting touch. Chorus brings a pop flavored (almost sing along) feel. Am I out of line to suggest a slight hint of The Beatles here?
An acoustic laced classic rock direction is taken on “Street Preacher”. The song gives rise to a light and airy feel, with a spicy lead guitar (that almost lends a jazz-fusion touch) and ever present acoustic guitar aligning with hints of organ in the backdrop. You can also sense an underlining element of anger throughout (see the preceding interlude piece “Street Preacher Rant” to understand my point).
“Promise Of A New Day”, the albums second ballad, reflects some classical touches, as found in its periodic use of viola and electric violin. The song moves the majority its length in piano driven fashion, only breaking from the trend at the halfway point as impetus briefly picks up for an acoustic laced passage.
“Death… You Lose!” also highlights some acoustic elements but in the more focused heavier rock direction. Another huge bass line makes its presence felt, reinforcing a groove driven environs in which an up-tempo disposition and perfectly infectious chorus prevail. A cool keyboard solo gives way to some shred guitar work to top off nothing less than a great song.
“A Gift Of Peace” is the lone interlude piece I am going to mention, with the main reason being its refreshing piano and orchestration instrumental based approach.
“He Knows” is the albums progressive magnum opus. Coming in at a satisfying seven minutes, the song breaks down into two distinct parts: The first, covering the opening four minutes, reflects the calmer and gentler touch with ample acoustic lacings for its verses and rhythm guitar and organ driving a chorus on the more forthright side of things. The second starts to a Floydian instrumental passage in which a bluesy lead guitar plays a leading role. The bluesy feel continues until the end with more emotionally done guitar adding to a setting ranging from the downcast to the overcoming.
Review by Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Opening Act” (:33), “King’s Highway” (4:22), “We’re Malcolm Talbert” (:22), “Crisis Of Faith” (5:50), “The Guru” (1:40), “I Won’t Play The Game” (4:36), “Who Am I?” (1:31), “Dark Side” (6:27), “Second Coming” (5:44), “Grace Of God” (4:21), “Street Preacher Rant” (:27), “Street Preacher” (5:59), “Promise Of A New Day” (5:08), “A Gift Of Peace” (1:49), “He Knows” (7:16)
Doug Bowers – Lead Vocals, Keyboards, Guitars, Bass, Percussion and Programming
Chuck Tidwell – Guitars
Bill Homes – Guitars
John Zirpola- Guitars
David Walliman - Guitars
Al Alvarado – Saxophone