“It started with a simple idea: virtuoso musicians and a pop singer joining to make new-fashioned music the old fashioned way.” This was the proclaimed genesis for what would soon develop into one of the most exciting musical collaborations in recent rock history. Flying Colors, a supergroup of sorts formed out of some of the most distinguished and respected titans in the modern rock discipline, released their self-titled debut album earlier this year. A remarkable fusion of classic rock, blues, progressive rock, funk, metal, and just about anything else you can find in the kitchen cupboard, Flying Colors is a staunch reminder of how rock music took the world by storm and hasn’t fully given it back ever since.
Before getting more into the music itself, however, we should take a look at the players. On guitar we have Steve Morse, who is well-known as a founder of the Dixie Dregs, a member of Kansas for several years, and the current guitarist for Deep Purple. On bass guitar is Dave LaRue, who has been working with Steve Morse for many years already due to his involvement with the Dixie Dregs since 1988 and with the Steve Morse Band since 1989. He has also contributed to albums from the likes of T Lavitz, Joe Satriani, Jordan Rudess, John Petrucci, and Planet X. The keyboardist (and backing vocalist) for Flying Colors is Neal Morse (not of any relation to Steve), who has made a name for himself as the main songwriter for progressive rock band Spock’s Beard for many years, a member of Transatlantic (a prog rock supergroup), and as a solo artist with ten studio albums to his name, with another one coming later this year. The instrumental section of the band is rounded out with none other than Mike Portnoy on drums, who co-founded the renowned progressive metal band Dream Theater back in 1985 and continued to play with them for the next 25 years. In addition, he has pursued countless side projects over the years, including Liquid Tension Experiment, Transatlantic (with Neal Morse), tribute projects for the Beatles, Rush, Led Zeppelin, and the Who, and Adrenaline Mob, to name but a few. He also recorded drum tracks for most of Neal Morse’s solo albums, and he served as an interim drummer for heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold in 2010. Last on this list is vocalist Casey McPherson, a singer/songwriter and lead vocalist for alternative rock band Alpha Rev. He is the definite dark horse of the group, but his contributions to the album more than make up for his short list of credits. I, for one, am looking forward to what he has in store for us in the future.
Such an exalted cast of characters should be enough reason by itself to check out Flying Colors, but for those of you who still aren’t convinced, let me explain what makes it worth a listen. And boy, it is worth a listen. The album opens playfully with “Blue Ocean,” luring listeners in with a groove that sounds a bit like a modern revamp of a classic symphonic prog vibe. Something that becomes immediately apparent is the seemingly effortless control each musician has over their instrument. Although the material on this album is not the most complicated I’ve heard by any means, it is evident that the creative capacity of everyone featured on the record is enormous. You can tell just by listening to it that the entire band is extremely excited about the music they’re making. Personally, I would have paid a good deal of money just to be a fly on the wall during this recording session (which all took place over the course of nine days, by the way).
As the album continues with songs such as “Shoulda Coulda Woulda” and “Kayla,” the versatility of the track selection continues to grow. Each member brings something unique to the table, and the sum of all these parts creates a final product that exceeds all expectations. For longtime lovers of rock ‘n’ roll, Flying Colors is an engaging journey through the genre’s history. As the band explores their roots, we are presented with their own, contemporary take on the music created by the classic groups that originally inspired them. As a matter of fact, several times during the course of my listening to the album, I found myself thinking, “If the Beatles were still making music today, this is probably what they would sound like.” A bold opinion, I know, but I believe that if they had survived long enough to observe the movement they started develop for the next several decades, it is very possible that their sound could have evolved into this. Of course, the sound of Flying Colors is not limited to Beatles-era proto-prog; there is also clear hard rock influence from the likes of Deep Purple and Stone Temple Pilots, funk-rock influence reminiscent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and a distinct progressive rock edge somewhere between Genesis and Rush.
The album gets softer overall as it progresses, however it never seems to lose the drive that is present right from the beginning. With each new song, I was expecting for them to eventually burn out in the back of my mind. I thought that it was surely impossible for every song on the album to be good. I was wrong; there’s not a single mediocre track! Songs like “Everything Changes” and “Fool In My Heart” introduce a mellower vibe perfect for easy listening, while “Forever In a Daze” and “All Falls Down” whip out the funky metal energy. In all of their songs, something that really makes the music come together is the extraordinary use of vocal harmonies. They do an incredible job of filling out the sound field and adding that extra layer of musical refinement. All this culminates with the twelve minute long “Infinite Fire,” an extended but well-structured epic that closes out the album with a bang. Flying Colors is a must-hear for all music lovers, whether you’re a heavy rocker or not. If don’t traditionally listen to rock music, this is an excellent album to start with. Enjoy!