|Musical Style: Progressive Rock||Produced By:|
|Record Label: Independent||Country Of Origin: USA|
|Year Released: 2006||Artist Website:|
|Tracks: 9||Rating: 60%|
|Running Time: 79:22|
Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina is home to Vertical Alignment and the progressive rock of its 2006 full length debut Signposts. The album finds this talented outfit delivering a technical and symphonic based sound inviting a comparison to Yes, Genesis, Kansas, Glass Hammer, Neal Morse, Proto-Kaw, Spocks Beard and a host of others within the same genre. The influence of the previously mentioned artists is best reflected on the catchy melodies of “Dress Rehearsal” and “Ballad Of The Titanic” in addition to the creativity of “Children Of The Son” and “The Towers”. The progressive rock ballad “Kingdom Of Summer” is another quality track worth noting. Where Signposts begins to lose my attention, however, is on its lengthier material in that the sixteen minute “Freedom’s Call” is way drawn out, while the twelve minute “Rented Houses” – despite its lyrical brilliance – is a piece I never have been able to warm up to. All in all, my overall feeling is that much of the albums material is on the long winded side of things and, as a result, tends to drag in places. Yes, I know this is music of a progressive nature and lengthy songs are inherit to the genre, but when you find yourself in the middle of an eighty minute progressive rock album (such as we have here) there are times your attentions span begins to drift. In other words, as the old saying goes, sometimes less is more; with that in mind, it is this reviewer’s opinion that Signposts would have become the easier to digest project if reduced to a more efficient 50 or 55 minutes.
The core of Vertical Alignment consists of vocalist and keyboardist Jim Braunreuther, guitarist and bassist Monty Pierce, drummer Mike Adams, bassist Terri Jorgensen and vocalist, guitarist and keyboardist Pete Jorgensen. The wide variety of instruments these able musicians play is impressive. Fortunately, the guitar work of Pierce and Jorgensen keeps the bands sound within the guitar driven progressive rock category, while the vocal delivery of Braunreuther and Jorgensen reflects a clean and smooth sounding touch. Guest lead vocal performances, at the same time, are made by the likes of Eric Parker (Glass Hammer), Mike and Shaun FitzPatrick (FitzPatrick), Jessica Cole and Carl Groves (Salem Hill). Other guests appearing on the album include Randy George and Wil Henderson (Ajalon), Steve Babb, Fred Schendel, Erik Parker and David Wallimann (Glass Hammer),Eddie Jerlin (Everlasting Arms) and Kevin Jarvis (Farpoint). It is without question that a great deal of talent appears on the project.
Production values are competent but unremarkable. No, nothing wrong with that, but when you are playing music of a progressive capacity, over the top production becomes a necessity. If in doubt then compare the sound here to that on any album by Neal Morse or Proto-Kaw. A bit more refinement – and the bigger sound that goes along with it – would have helped out here immensely.
It is in the area of lyrics that Vertical Alignment shines. Signposts is actually a sort of a concept album with how God uses major world events to point to a high way. Topics covered, for example, include The Second World War, the 2001 terrorist attacks, the Titanic (and how it relates to the pride and fall of man), the state of the world in recent history and the promise of a brighter future. Lyrics get an A+.
The album opens with its acoustic based title track, the shortest composition here in coming in at just over three minutes.
What follows are two of the finer tracks on Signposts in “Dress Rehearsal” and “Ballad Of The Titanic”.
The best way to describe “Dress Rehearsal” would be seventies influenced progressive rock giving rise to quite the copious melody. Beginning its first minute to a symphonic flavored instrumental section, the song tapers off to an edgy rhythm guitar for its first verse before transitioning to a moving chorus in which an interlacing acoustic plays a prominent role. Jim Braunreuther and Pete Jorgensen trade off on lead vocals here. The Second World War is the subject matter to “Dress Rehearsal”:
Messerschmitts in British skies
Rockets fall through London skies
Across the waters Hitler glares
Churchill dares him with his eyes
In Leningrad a brutal winter, Tiger tracks across the snow
Batteries lie black and splintered
At Normandy they met the foe (His truth is marching on)
Tiger, Tiger burning bright, funeral pyre of German might
France is free and Berlin fell and freedom rings out like a bell
“Ballad Of The Titanic” is a bit shorter in comparison to “Dress Rehearsal”, coming in at 6:31 at opposed to 8:03, but proves no less notable. The song opens to a smooth touch of acoustic guitar, the graceful setting upheld for its first verse as the way is paved for a brief but pointed chorus that comes across in the form of a warning:
Take heed when you stand lest you fall
As “Ballad Of The Titanic” moves ahead, it gains momentum until, building to a crescendo of emotion, a perfect touch of rhythm guitar steps forward and highlights the inauspicious scene. I enjoy the seventies feel that the songs keyboard driven instrumental section puts in place. Erik Parker puts in a very fine vocal performance on a composition that is aptly named:
Unsinkable ship on a storybook night
Star field covered the sky
Wireless reports of the ice field ahead
And the Captain asleep in his pride
Death was afloat in a calm North Atlantic
A dream voyage was going awry
The epic “Freedom’s Call” is somewhat long winded in coming in at over sixteen minutes. The song gets off to a strong start with a keyboard driven instrumental section, not evening out until a trace of rhythm guitar leads the way through its first verse as a panoramic view of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt is presented:
It was longer than 400 years that we were bound in chain
We built the Pharaoh’s marketplace and paved it with our pain
The God rose up in righteous wrath and Moses led us out
And Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and he began to doubt
Tapering off to a near crawl for its second verse, “Freedom’s Call” focuses on Christ’s sacrifice:
We walked with Jesus ‘till the night
The mob took Him away
It must have felt like pain from hell
To hang up there that day
But came the morn when He arose
And conquered death and sin
In my heart I heard a Song of life anew within
The pace picks up as an organ highlights its up-tempo third verse, the rollicking environment maintained for the immaculate two minute instrumental section that follows. At this point, “Freedom’s Call” passes its eight minute mark and, despite the quality of the lyrics, begins to lose my interest.
Perhaps it is a lack of direction or the all around length of the track, but things seem to meander without focus over the songs final half. More specifically, there is simply too much here and, more often than not, at this point I end up skipping ahead to the next track. This one would have been a bit easier to swallow if reduced by a minimum of six or seven minutes. It is worth noting the quality lead vocal performance of the brothers FitzPatrick.
After working out way through a long and drawn out epic, we are rewarded with another one in the eleven minute “Children Of The Son”. Time to grab a cup of coffee and get comfortable. Very, very comfortable. Are you even still with me here?
Seriously, “Children Of The Son” is a Yes influenced number that brings the same high quality as “Dress Rehearsal” and “Ballad Of The Titanic”. The song opens in an orchestral manner to narration only to settle down to a lengthy instrumental section shored up by an even blend of keyboards and guitar. Smoothly moving ahead as it navigates its first verse, a highlighting touch of organ imbues the mix as the song attains its beautiful, flowing chorus:
Children in the Son
Learning how to smile and laugh and run
Children in the Son
Standing in a battle that is won!
“Children Of The Son”, from start to finish, reflects a nice symphonic touch in addition to including plenty of spicy lead work from Randy George and Monty Pierce.
“The Towers”, ironically coming in at exactly 9:11, features the crystal clear vocal sensibilities of Jessica Cole. Introduced to a quickly moving instrumental section, the song sustains the up-tempo impetus as it evenly progresses to a chorus in which a majesty filled environment is put into place. As its title implies, “The Towers” deals with events surrounding the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001:
Rising in the morning sun the dominate the sky
Hope born in the Sixties by their might they testify
The Towers walked where no one dared
Inviolate they stood
The mighty talked high in the air
While others wished they could
Stood the Towers, twins of high degree
Shining powers of might and majesty
After persevering through over 35 minutes of music divided between just three tracks, the last thing we need is another lengthy progressive rock epic. Yet, that is exactly what we get with the 12:09 “Rented Houses”. Perhaps I am getting a bit burnt out at this point, but this is a piece I simply cannot get into. The song, for example, trends towards the non-descript side of things, lacking that notable melody or extra something special the albums better material brings to the table. That being said, I can see how others – particularly those into epic length tracks – might enjoy this one. One bright spot worth mentioning, nevertheless, is the quality vocal performance of Carl Groves (Salem Hill). I also like how the song takes a quirky look at current world leaders:
Tony Blair plays Winston Churchill
King of clubs the royal campaign
The Georges Bush sits undetected
Hidden by a desert storm
Carefully, the card selected is given proper West Wing form
Chill wind blows from North Korea
Kim Jong-II breeds nasty aces
“Kingdom Of Summer” is a quieter number that comes across in the form of a keyboard and piano driven ballad. Plenty of progressive pomp and splendor puts this one over the top along with a chorus of the grandiose variety. If I were to invite a comparison it would be to Kerry Livgren’s “Ground Zero” (from his excellent solo release Seeds Of Change). As a matter of fact, of all the albums material this one reflects the most Kansas-like feel. The songs lyrics, based upon the novel Taliesin by Stephen Lawhead, focus on the promise of a brighter future:
I have seen a land shining with goodness
Where each man protects his brother’s dignity
As readily as his own
Where war and want have ceased
And all races live under the same law
Of love and honor
Album closer “Rented Houses Epilogue/Signposts (reprise)” probably should have been left off. After roughly 75 minutes of music, my overall feeling is that enough is enough and it is time for the band to wrap things up. And I could not think of a better way to do so than with the resplendent ballad “Kingdom Of Summer”. I find a five minute reprisal simply not welcome at this point. Goodbye.
An overall grade of 60% might seem a bit harsh when you factor in both the quality of the bands musicianship and the albums more noteworthy compositions. That being said, in coming in at close to eighty minutes, the album can border on the trite and cumbersome. If Signposts had been cut by twenty or twenty five minutes – and was subsequently left to stand on the strength of its better material – it would challenge for a rating in the 80% to 85% range. My best advice to Vertical Alignment would be to keep things under 60 minutes next time around.
Review by: Andrew Rockwell
Track Listing: “Signposts” (3:07), “Dress Rehearsal” (8:03), “Ballad Of The Titanic” (6:30), “Freedom’s Cal” (16:13), “Children Of The Son” (10:51), “The Towers” (9:11), “Rented Houses” (12:09), “Kingdom Of Summer” (7:54), “Rented Houses Epilogue/Signposts (reprise)” (5:24)
Jim Braunreuther – Lead Vocals & Keyboards
Pete Jorgensen – Lead Vocals, Guitars & Keyboards
Monty Pierce – Guitars & Bass
Terri Jorgensen – Bass
Mike Adams – Drums
Eric Parker – Lead Vocals
Mike & Shaun FitzPatrick – Lead Vocals
Wil Henderson – Lead Vocals
Jessica Cole – Lead Vocals
Carl Groves – Lead Vocals
David Walliman – Guitars
Randy George – Bass
Steve Babb - Bass
Edwin Jerlin - Keyboards
Fred Schendel - Keyboards
Kevin Jarvis - Mandolin