This wildly inconsistent personal prog story is a poor man’s Neil Morse Testimony.
Label: Independent (http://www.dougbowersmusic.com/e-commerce-solutions-catalog.0.html)
Time: 16 tracks / 60 Minutes
When a prog musician releases an album all about how God has turned their life around, it is hard not to look for comparisons with Neal Morse’s Testimony. But Doug Bowers (who is KBD3) is not Neal Morse, either in his band history or in musicianship.
These songs were not originally intended to fit together, but after Bowers had collected a few, the connection with his life story meant that it was the logical way to assemble them. The liner notes comment that the demo for this project “circulated through the Christian Progressive Rock circles for several years,” but without going any further until this self-release.
Strictly speaking, this is more prog-influenced than prog itself. With few solos, this is a tight rock format with sound samples often used as segues.
In our review of his last release, I commented, “It strikes me as quite similar to other keyboard-centric works by solo musicians, in that the synths are exemplary, the sound extremely well produced, but the singing is a little pallid, the lyrics are quite unadorned, and the tunes tend not to linger. This is why people form bands.” Frustratingly, little has changed for this release, which is again very strong instrumentally.
Unfortunately, some of the earlier tracks set the sort of tone that means you expect this to be worse than it really is. With a cheesy keyboard tone and lyrics that fail to endear, “Kings Highway” can make the listener start to cringe; an old sample from one of his earlier bands makes the disc feel amateur; and a totally predictable tune drags down “I Won’t Play the Game.”
After this, things improve greatly, thanks to several songs that fling away that feeling of apprehension, letting the listener relax into enjoying the music.
“Dark Side” has dramatic keyboards and Billy Holmes’s crunchy guitar working together to forge an anthemic, multi-layered piece, complete with subdued breaks for light and shade, where synths add splashy sounds. For the feel, think Europe’s “Final Countdown.” If the whole disc were like this track, this would be a four-tock review.
Similarly, “Second Coming” flows naturally with some deft keyboard layers and Bowers’ own guitar licks are just right; while the closer has some of the disc’s best guitar work from guest David Walliman.
However, as good as many of the ideas are – and Bowers is creative in his mix and use of sound samples – for every hook or striking synth run there seems to be a clumsy lyric or lines that don’t scan naturally (on the otherwise memorable and well-intentioned “Street Preacher,” for example, the lyrics come across as prose forced into a tune).
Often the tracks have the strengths and weaknesses intertwined, so “Death…You Lose!” has some tasty clavinet, strong lead guitar and some beautiful extra touches that come out well on headphones, but is let down by an awkward start to the verses.
Getting someone independent to work on the weaker tunes and improve the lyrics would surely turn his work from mundane to exciting. A gutsier guest vocalist in places would add to the album's rock credentials. But as the worst parts are the cheesy elements in the earlier tracks, Christian proggers may want to try this and start playing it a few tracks in. It sounds far better that way.