Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Mastedon - 3
Musical Style: Melodic Rock Produced By: John Elefante
Record Label: Frontiers Country Of Origin: USA
Year Released: 2009 Artist Website: John Elefante
Tracks: 11 Rating: 80%
Running Time: 59:32

Mastedon - 3

While vocalist John Elefante is best known for his work in Kansas, having been part of the group during its Vinyl Confessions (1982) and Drastic Measures (1983) era, he has also had quite the productive solo career.  It all started with the demo material he put together following his mid-eighties departure from Kansas, which formed the basis of the first Mastedon album, It’s A Jungle Out There, from 1989.  Featuring five vocalists, three drummers, four bassist and three guitarist, It’s A Jungle Out There was an “all-star project” in the truest sense of the word (kind of like Liberty ‘N Justice).  Lofcaudio, the 1990 Mastedon sophomore effort, followed suit in including the contributions of four vocalists, five guitarist, two bassists and three drummers.  As the nineties progressed, the artist put out a series of albums under the John Elefante moniker - Windows Of Heaven (1995), Corridors (1997) and Defying Gravity (1999) – that could best be described as true solo releases as opposed to all-star projects.

After over a decade of silence, John Elefante returns with the third Mastedon album, appropriately entitled 3.  Musically, the album showcases the same type of catchy AOR and melodic rock of its predecessors.  If you like It’s A Jungle Out There and Lofcaudio then 3 will be certain to appeal to you.  That said, 3 is not quite as heavy as the early Mastedon material – It’s A Jungle Out There could really flex its muscles in places – but nowhere near as mellow as the three solo albums.  I guess you could say that it falls somewhere in between.

Again, 3 does not deliver any all out hard rockers but does rock hard in places, such as on “Water Into Wine”, “Lying” and “That’s What You Do”.  Otherwise, the album brings a smooth sounding commercial rock presence on the mega melodic “Revolution Of Mind”, entrancing “Slay Your Demons” and pop influenced “You Can’t Take Anything”.  You will also find an acoustic laced piece (“Questions”) along with a top of the line ballad (“Nowhere Without Your Love”).  The artist even hearkens back to the Kansas days of the past with a “Dust In The Wind” cover and awesome progressive rock of “One Day Down By The Lake”.

As a vocalist, John Elefante remains in fine form; he has not lost anything in terms of ability over the years.  It’s is good to not only hear the guy again but to be performing at such a high level.  And unlike past Mastedon albums, Elefante handles all lead vocals as opposed to going the “vocalist by committee route” (not that there is anything wrong with that).

And also dissimilar to previous Mastedon releases, Elefante did not bring in a ton of guest musicians to round things out.  Yes, Dave Amato (who participated on It’s A Jungle Out There and Lofcaudio) and Kerry Livgren (his work stands out on “One Day Down By The Lake”) make guest appearances on lead guitar, but otherwise the majority of the instrumentation is provided by John (rhythm guitars & keyboards) and his brother Dino (additional guitars and backing vocals).

Production values, as one would expect, are up to the same high standards one would find on any Elefante release.

Where is FM radio when you need it?  That is the question I cannot help but ask when I listen to opening track “Revolution Of Mind”, a scintillating work standing out with its huge commercial melody and vocal harmonies in abundance.  If given the right opportunity – or recorded in another era – this had the potential to dominate the airwaves.

The more up-tempo heading is taken on “Slay Your Demons”.  Positive and uplifting, the song borders on the mesmerizing with its captivating chorus and John Elefante’s bountiful vocal abilities (he really cuts loose and stretches on this one).  Several runs of bluesy lead guitar add the final touch.  This one is aptly entitled:

Inside these prison walls I’m planning my escape
There’s freedom on the outside, just beyond the gates
And when I get out there, I’ll look up at the Son
And I will beg for mercy, for all that I have done

And I keep telling myself
Tear the walls down, shine your armor
Slay your demons, walk on water

Laid back but powerful would be the best way to describe “Nowhere Without Your Love”.  The song opens to a stretch of ethereally played guitar before moving on to its acoustic based verse sections.  Picking up in pace, “Nowhere Without Your Love” transitions to an extensive chorus in which keyboards play a perfect highlighting role.

The ten minute “One Day Down By The Lake” pays tribute to Kansas style progressive rock (put this on Song For America and it would sound right at home).  Musically, while the song brings too many changes in time and tempo to go into adequate detail, you will find slower passages carried by piano and keyboards and others upheld by occasional outbursts of edgy rhythm guitar.  Kerry Livgren shines on lead guitar throughout several lengthy instrumental interludes.  A statement of faith is made here:

Those who seek with eyes wide open
And have a heart to heel the broken
There will be answers
There will be answers

Those who heard and have the calling
To save another life from falling
There will be answers
There will be answers

Those of us who’ve turned our back on
The gift of One who gave His own Son
There will be answers
We will see the answers alive

“Water Into Wine” represents a return to an upbeat heading.  With a hard rocking rhythm guitar making its presence felt, the song delivers a literal ton of groove as it rollicks its distance in inspired fashion.  A gritty chorus is accented by a complementary touch of organ.

An acoustic guitar laces “Questions”.  This one proves a heartfelt piece with its warm and enriched flavorings and periodic runs of bluesy lead guitar.  Once more, Elefante stands out in exhibiting the full range to his voice.  “Questions” asks exactly that:

Would you help your brother in need,
or would you turn your back on him?
Do you tolerate someone who is much different from you?
Is there middle ground whether black or blue?
These are the questions we ask ourselves

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?
These are the questions we ask ourselves

Keyboards play a leading role on “You Can’t Take Anything”.  While I was initially tempted to dismiss the song, enough rhythm guitar – interweaving with the keyboards in question – and catchy hooks are delivered to put it over the top.  What we wind up with is an interesting eighties pop-rock influence.

Gritty hard rocker “”Lying” maintains the up-tempo propensities.  Heavier and weightier than the one preceding it, “Lying” also brings its share of noteworthy hooks – you will be caught up in the chorus in no time – and ample amount of polished vocal melodies.  “Lying” deals with the struggle against sin:

I could play a game make believe I’m humble
I could give in to this demon by my side
Or I should stop believing my own lies and lay it down
And let forgiveness rap its arms around me
I don’t think there’s anyway out of here
Only the truth can make it disappear

I’m lyin, I’m lyin just to follow my sin
I’m lyin, I’m lyin just to cover my sin
I’m lyin, I’m lyin again, why am I lyin
I’m lyin, I’m lyin, I’m lyin again

I cannot help but think that 3 features one song too many.  And such is the case with “Western World”, the albums lone track to leave me a bit cold.  I find it to come across a bit predictable due to its lack of forthright melody and lackluster feel.  Something is missing here- and that is the inspiration the albums better material brings to the table.

“That’s What You Do” brings more keyboards (not unlike “You Can’t Take Anything”).  Similarly, the keyboards are done tastefully in that they mesh well with the guitars found throughout the song.  A bottom heavy groove along with a near perfect emotionally charged chorus is delivered in the process.  “That’s What You Do” talks about true love:

You always found the time to get to the heart of the matter
You have it to me when you knew I was hurting
You three me out a line and told me never to give it up
You took me under your wing and gave me more that I deserve
That’s what you do when you love someone
That’s what you do

The Kansas cover “Dust In The Wind” is one of the albums highlights.  Elefante actually takes a different approach here: Instead of an acoustic interpretation he heads in a piano based direction.  And it works.  The songs melody, of course, stands out, as does Kerry Livgren’s blues driven guitar play.  This also deserves to be heard on FM radio.

3 is a good melodic rock album.  Again, in terms of heaviness it falls between the two previous Mastedon releases and the artists nineties solo material.  Irregardless, if you enjoy radio friendly melodies backed by top of the line vocals and quality production then by all means give this a change- you will not be disappointed.

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Track Listing: “Revolution Of Mind” (4:03), “Slay Your Demons” (4:16), “Nowhere Without Your Love” (6:17), “One Day Down By The Lake” (10:41), “Water Into Wine” (4:42), “Questions” (5:15), “You Can’t Take Anything” (4:32), “Lying” (5:31), ‘Western World” (5:09), “That’s What You Do” (4:53), “Dust In The Wind” (4:08)

John Elefante – Lead Vocals, Guitars & Keyboards
Dino Elefante - Guitars
Dave Amato – Lead Guitar
Kerry Livgren – Lead Guitar
J.R. McNeely - Guitars
Anthony Sallee – Bass
Tim Smith - Bass
Dan Needham – Drums & Percussion


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