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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Mullmuzzler

Mullmuzzler 2

Review by Gary Hill

James LaBrie's "solo" project Mullmuzzler has just released its newest, appropriately, if not imaginatively entitled "Mullmuzzler 2". LaBrie's core band on the project is Mike Keneally (Frank Zappa, Beer For Dolphins, Steve Vai), Mike Mangini (Extreme, Steve Vai), Matt Guillory (Dali's Dilemma, Explorers Club), Bryan Beller (Beer For Dolphins), but Trent Gardner (Magellan, Explorer's Club) and Mike Borkosky (Alannah Myles) also lend their talents to the project. The disc takes off from where the previous album left off, moving in similar directions, but also showing progress. It comes across as more emotional album, but, as is obviously the case with LaBrie's voice being such an integral part of Dream Theater's sound, it still feels a lot like DT at times. That certainly is not a bad, thing, though. This release is a very strong follow up, showing new strides by the group. Here's looking forward to Mullmuzzler 3.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2002 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Afterlife
A keyboard flourish starts this cut. The song proper begins with just LaBrie singing over keys. As drums and the other instruments join in, a killer prog jam ensues. This one gets pretty funky at times and quite hard-edged at others. It eventually returns to the original modes and makes its way around its various recurring and developing themes.
Venice Burning
A great contrast to the fury of end of the last piece, this one begins calm and gentle. Granted it is the calm before the storm, as the piece becomes a frantic furious prog jam. LaBrie's voice on the more sparse arrangement of the vocal segments here really calls to mind a DTish texture. As it breaks into the instrumental segment, it is in the form of a killer jam that has wonderful progressive rock texture and a lot of flavor. Another break takes on an almost humorous approach. This piece really smokes.
Confronting the Devil
Coming in hard-edged, fast and meaty, this one drops down to a metallic sort of verse with a lusher bridge. It is very evocative and feels a bit neo-classical in its overtones. It covers a lot of musical territory, but still is quite metallic, more prog metal than prog rock. That, however, does not mean that this is not a strong piece, because it definitely is.
Falling
This is a very dramatic and well-arranged, fairly complex prog ballad.
Stranger
Starting in quite dramatic neo-classical modes, even as the song begins to take on a harder edge, more rock oriented textures, those earlier elements remain in the intro for a time. Then a new riff explodes out and the song drops to a sparser arrangement for the verse. This is another where the song really feels like LaBrie's other band Dream Theater. The cut works its way through a lot of good prog changes. It feels just a little predictable, though. On the plus side, the instrumental break includes some very tasty soloing and the dramatically sedate outro is quite cool.
A Simple Man
This is at its simplest definition a prog ballad, but there are definitely a few twists and turns here. The vocal performance is considerably strong and some segments of the piece get very crunchy. Also, the instrumental break in particular is quite hot. So, although based on a fairly simple ballad structure, the song does get an awful lot of mileage out of that form.
Save Me
This hard-edged jam really rocks out and LaBrie takes on new vocal territory. This has some cool twists and turns and is a very dynamic piece. This instrumental break is a killer.
Believe
This is a delicate and sensitive ballad.
Listening
Starting in a cool fusion oriented style, the cut switches gear to a fairly sparse, slightly jazzy vein that becomes a bit DTish at times. Some of the guitar work on this one is exceptionally tasty. It is an understated, but strong cut that also includes some awesome percussion work.
Tell Me
This one comes in with a chunky riff, then some odd sounding keyboards take the piece for a while. This one feels like a slightly off-kilter DT tune. It gets quite crunchy at times.
 
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