Rocket Scientists – Revolution Road CD Review 2006

By Lorraine Kay

“Revolution Road” – a double CD – was released in September in Japan on the Avalon label and worldwide in November 2006 through Think Tank Media and ProgRock Records. It is the fourth studio album by American prog rock monsters Rocket Scientists. Following an 8 year hiatus the band has turned out their best album yet.  With founding members Mark McCrite (guitar, vocals), Erik Norlander (keyboards) and Don Schiff (NS/Stick) on board with newbies David McBee on vocals and Gregg Bissonette on drums, the band soars to new heights and an album that proves to be well worth the 8-year wait.

Almost entirely written by the songwriting team of McCrite and Norlander, and produced by Erik, the double CD offers 18 selections this time out, all brand new with the exception of a cover of Moody Blues’ Gypsy and U.F.O. Shadow a 70’s TV sci-fi theme song. Schiff also jumped on the songwriting band wagon this time around with two instrumental songs “OUTSIDE THE Painted Walls: and “Hold That Thought” added to the mix. The CD has a variety of song styles to keep it interesting, from ballads to hard rocking screamers to beautiful instrumentals – something for everyone.

Everyone shines on this CD. As always, Erik’s synth work is outstanding throughout. Mark’s guitar work on every track is equally impressive. The uniqueness of Don’s Stick playing is always just one more element that sets the group apart from other bands of this genre. Bissonette’s drumming rounds out the rhythm section complimenting Don’s driving bass lines. Bissonette, the second drummer hired to record on this album, replaced Shaun Guerin who passed away in 2003 shortly after recording had begun. Guerin’s one contribution – recorded at a live gig in the Los Angeles area – was salvaged and appears on Better View, along with additional drumming by drumming icon Simon Phillips. Hard-rock singer McBee, who is out front with powerful vocals on six of the 18 tracks, definitely brings a new feel to the band this time around. His versatility as a vocalist shines on each of his contributions but it is the more powerful rock and roll elements of his voice that sets those six tracks apart from the others accenting Erik’s already powerful instrumental arrangements – a nice contrast to Mark’s usual smooth and warmer song stylings. Together the two vocalists give Rocket Scientists a new dimension and a more commercial quality. And with Erik as producer it’s all mixed to perfection. There is not one moment of weakness anywhere, which says a lot with over 110 minutes worth of material to choose from. It is captivating that the altogether 18 songs contain diversity and strong melodies. This album is a must-have for anyone, not just prog-rock fans.

TRACK by TRACK REVIEW

DISC ONE

1. Look Up  [0:45] Erik jumps in from the start with a short instrumental on synth – a prelude to all good things to come.

2. Sky is Falling  [5:26] Out the gate on this first power rock and roll anthem, McBee’s vocals are awesome, clear and strong, but soft and with feeling on the softer mood parts of the song with Mark’s support on back-up vocals. Mark is also there with a nice heavy guitar riff. Nice mixture of textures with Erik delivering on keys. Even at over 5 minutes it is very commercial.

3. Dream in Red  [6:29] This one starts with a dramatic piano intro, which contrasts to the body of the song. It begins with deep mysterious vocals by David and builds to shows the versatility of David’s voice. There is some nice acoustic guitar work by Mark. A signature of RS recording there are so many textures working in and out of this song – from acoustic guitar to very electronic parts.

4. Better View  [5:59] The first ballad on this CD, this song stands out with Mark’s softer vocals – his first offering on this CD – supported by his acoustic guitar. Erik interrupts the guitar solo on synth without disrupting the simple sound of this song. But there is nothing really simple about this song at all with many layers subtley creating a very nice blend of textures. There are two drummers on this song. In 2003 Shaun Guerin was was originally meant to be the fourth RS member, but unfortunately he passed away in 2003. A year prior to his death he performed this song with RS live. Fortunately for RS the gig was recorded and the band was able to edit this recording into this studio album. For the parts of the song where the earlier recording were not able to be integrated Simon Philips stepped up to the plate to pinch-hit and complete the recording. ‘ The band included Shaun’s contribution as hommage to him.

5. Outside the Painted Walls  [5:03] Insturmental Written by Don this song starts out strong with synths out front along side Don’s stick featured as the lead instrument. It softens up with soft guitars briefly before slamming into another portion of heavy rock and roll synths and stick.

6. Revolution Road  [7:41] – Another rocker, with David out front on vocals and lots of electric guitar and strong keyboards by Erik. Nice solo by Erik with Hammond and synths sharing the spotlight.  Mark also gets into a heavy guitar mode on this title track.

7. Forever Nights  [5:40] Mark offers up vocals on another ballad supporting himself on guitar joined by his band mates for a really tight arrangement. Erik adds to the ambiance with some non-obtrusive work on keys.

8. Ptolemy  [5:49] In the tradition of RS, (naming a song after a famous scientist) this instrumental is based on the ancient Egyptian scientist, Ptolemy. RS started the tradition in 1993 on Earthbound. This one starts out with Grand Piano out-front on the intro followed by some cool sequenced arpeggios on synths before being joined by the rest of the band with tones of Tangerine Dream built-in.

9. Gypsy  [4:02] Another tradition of RS is to do a cover. This time out they excellently tackle the Moody Blues classic with Mark on vocals with lots of layers of textures provided by Erik on keys with strong guitar work by Mark.

10. Savor Every Moment  [4:33] This is another soft ballad with Mark in charge of the vocals. Lots of acoustic guitar and piano set the ambiance for this one supported by an orchestra of synth layers provided by Erik.

DISC TWO

1. Castles Fall  [5:27] This one is really cool with Don Schiff on the NS Stick out front setting the ambiance and foundation for Erik’s work on keys which is always awesome. Mark meets the challenge on guitar and vocals.

2. UFO S.H.A.D.O. Theme [3:34] Yet another cover instrumental with Erik out front on keys. Mark jumps on board with a smokin’ solo. This cover is the theme from the 70’s sci-fi series.

3. Enjoy the Weather  [8:50] This moody and atmospheric ballad has tones of Pink Floyd running through it. Mark is very David Gilmour-ish on this one. Even the guitar licks have a PF essence to them. Another nice added dimension is the use of a live accordion provided by  Erik’s brother-in-law, Greg Phelps, during the haunting waltz bridge section.

4. Pay Your Dues  [5:12] Another strong rocker that soars with David’s powerful rock vocals, This one has some interesting instrumental elements to it with Erik on top of things.

5. Eden Burns  [4:08] Starting softly this power tune builds to a real screamer with David out front before it suddenly takes an interesting turn with some very cool somewhat liturgical organ licks by Erik. Then just as suddenly this song slams back into a heavy rock mode with Mark out front on guitar and Erik doing a Jeckle and Hyde. There are several extreme textures in this one.  

6. Hold That Thought  [3:25] This instrumental is also written by Don and features him this time on the Chapman Stick. It is a kind of jazz offering by Mr. Schiff with the rest of the band right there with him.

7. House of Cards  [5:43] A very atmospheric rock tune with Erik in charge, there are many textures on this giving David lots of room to soar on vocals. Mark’s solo this time around comes on strong and then kind of melts into Erik’s keyboard solo without missing a beat.

8. After the Revolution  [13:02] In spite of the length of this closing instrumental track, it has so many different facets that it is hardly tedious. The various textures make good use of the 13+ minutes showcasing everyone’s abilities as musicians, especially Mark’s guitar solos.

Disc One running time . . . 51:46
Disc Two running time . . . 49:35
Total running time . . . one hour, 41 minutes, 21 seconds [101:21]

Mark McCrite – guitars, vocals. Erik Norlander – keyboards.
Don Schiff – NS/Stick. Gregg Bissonette – drums on all tracks except “Better View”. Simon Phillips – drums on “Better View” (beginning and end). Shaun Guerin – drums on “Better View” (middle). David McBee – vocals on Disc One: 2, 3, 6 & Disc Two: 4, 5, 7.
Greg Phelps – accordion on “Enjoy the Weather”