|Balance II Balance II||Balance II Records|
Quality shouldn't be hard to promote or to sell, but sometimes you stumble upon a challenge. To be upfront, I am promoting these guys and trying to help bring their original spin on progressive AOR to the masses. To be sure my words accurately describe the musical feast on offer here, please check out the soundbytes in the band's CD Showcase and look out for some other industry reviews, which I will feature when published.|
I believe in these guys and I believe in this album, hence my desire to help work with them. AOR is often accused of being stale and not original, yet when it does not adhere to a set formula; it can be hard to promote. People love pigeon holes, but you will find it hard to pigeon hole this!
Balance II is an original spin on radio friendly AOR, with a progressive twist, mixed with a big dose of 70's pomp.
Balance II has a little bit of everything, but most of all it contains some amazing individual performances and some extraordinary song arrangements. The band is the brain child of Brian Moritz (Guitar, Keys, Backing Vocals) with long time collaborator Vince Claps in the vocalist hot seat.
Rounding out a band of seasoned veterans is Dave LaRue (Bass)(Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse Band); Rod Morgenstein (Drums)(Winger, Dixie Dregs, Steve Morse Band) and Joel Kaplan (Keyboards).
As you can see, the rhythm section here is second to none and really adds a dynamic influence to the overall sound.
So what is the sound? First of all, the production is brilliant. It features a clear, crisp sound, while showcasing the band's classic rock influences. What is most impressive is the mix, which allows all involved a chance to shine, which at times is quite a challenge, given that so many things are happening musically.
As described earlier, the band mixes classic era American AOR with progressive and pomp twists. Musical comparisons can be drawn to Toto, Chicago, Trillion and more recently, Mecca.
The band also quotes influences from Yes to Queen to The Eagles.
Guitarist Moritz describes the album as "a cross between the Eagles and Trevor Rabin-era Yes, with less gloss and a lot more notes."
If that doesn't describe the sound on Balance II, then nothing will. Perhaps a look at the songs featured is in order.
The album opens in simple fashion with How Many, featuring a piano solo, which quickly turns jazzy, with a layer of funky bass running over the top before a harder edge guitar riff finishes the intro off. That is what Balance II is all about - diversity and taking musical chances.
The vocal is fairly soft and becomes several layers thick during the chorus. If the chorus sounds a little like Mecca, you would be correct. Mecca's Thom Griffin supplies backing vocals throughout the album. Did I mention there's a brass section thrown in for good measure?
You Asked is possibly the most easy listening and commercial track on the album. The largely acoustic driven track has a Midwestern heart with a Westcoast feel.
Reptilian Crawl has a very Toto-ish intro which gives way to a heavy pomp orientated guitar riff. Vocals are filtered with effects and the song is given a further Toto comparison with the keyboard placement. An extended musical interlude mid-song again shows that these guys aren't afraid to experiment. The song closes with a Queen-like serve of pomp vocals. It's quite a ride!
When Love Comes is yet another change of pace, this time opening with a traditional Indian feel, complete with chant! That gives way to a smooth ballad-esque Westcoast pomp number which is one highlight of the album. Perfect for fans of Toto, Chicago and Jay Graydon.
The Way We Do continues the pomp and the Toto comparisons. Not mega-hit Toto though…real early Toto, as in their first 3 records. A rich, earthy sound is driven by the guitar in the background and the piano and vocal up front.
Towards the end of the song things pick up a notch or three with a guitar duel between Moritz and Tommy Denander, who appears in this cameo role. When I Fall Down is an updated version of a demo sung by Thom Griffin that appeared on the first MelodicRock CD. Another great retro style pomp rock tune, this features Thom in a prominent vocal role alongside lead vocalist Vince Claps.
Carry Me Home is another complex number featuring an uptempo guitar driven verse, but a mellower chorus, which features some rich layered vocals. This will appeal to fans of Trillion and 70's AOR.
A nice little drum fill kicks off Burn, which again sounds like something straight out of 1975. This is a strong little tune with a diverse arrangement. Both tender and aggressive in nature, the song defies nature.
Miracles is one of the album's more straight forward and commercial melodic rock numbers, which a feel good hook and emotional lyrics.
Let Us Pray almost sounds like classic Bob Seger, especially with the honky-tonk piano and the funky bass. It's a smooth, but rocking little classic rock number that has a definite swagger to it.
There is a lot here to like and I'm hoping fans that are looking for something different will check this out. I think this album has the potential to please a lot of people – especially given that there are very few albums like this released. Most suited to Westcoast and AOR fans that love a good twist in their music.
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