(All Album Reviews by ffroyd)
Ok, some people are going to think I am a bit biased in reviewing this one because Sean is a friend of mine but I have to say honestly that I wouldn’t be reviewing this if I didn’t like it. Speechless is his latest band and the most advanced of those that he’s been involved with. As their name implies, Speechless are an instrumental group with four very talented members. Mr. Tonar is the guitarist and his name will be very familiar to many folks reading this because he’s one of the founders and moderators of Progressive Ears. Robbie Hamil is the keyboardist and uses a nice variety of different sounds on the album. I particularly like his use of synth textures; lots of vintage sounds appear throughout. The bassist, Paul Rusek, has a diverse style to his playing at times giving off a very punchy feel to the rhythm section. Rounding out the group is drummer Derik Rinehart whose energetic playing and explosive fills really adds something special to the proceedings.
Borrowing the title from a classic Steely Dan tune (there was also a Bob Dylan album in the 90s with the same name) Time Out Of Mind consists of 9 mid-length track ranging from just over 4 minutes to one that is almost 9 minutes long. The music takes a modern progressive approach that reminds me at times of the Canadian band Spaced Out, especially when the funky bass lines kick in. There are also a few moments that bring to mind the more melodic elements of Djam Karet. Of course there are some spots where the old 70s prog influence comes shining through from groups like Rush, Yes and Kansas but they’re not going for any direct imitations of these. I haven’t picked any real favorites from the bunch but a couple that stand out are “The Big Majestic” which is just as the name would lead you to believe, and “Vader’s Boogie” the dynamic track that closes the disc. I won’t tell John Williams that they lifted a small section from his original score at the end. It is a really interesting touch.
Overall, I was much more impressed with this disc than I thought I would be. The Speechless crew have a lot to be proud of with this, I know how hard Sean and the guys worked to get this one out and I hope this is just the first of many. Time Out Of Mind is excellently constructed and for an instrumental outing they continuously keep the flow interesting. About the only thing I could hope for would be that they stretched some of it out a little bit with some improvisational parts but I suppose they can tackle that with their live performances.
If you’re a PE member that’s been following the hype that Sean and some others have been generating about this release, I can assure you that it’s not just a bunch of talk. This is a genuinely outstanding CD and I feel honored to be one of the first to hear it. Oh yea, I can’t forget the brilliant artwork of Will Renfro (Inkenstein) that graces the cover of this CD. Fantastic job!
(All Album Reviews by shadow)
Judging from the scuttlebutt I’ve been reading on other prog blogs, the debut release from Atlanta based power proggers Speechless is a much ballyhooed event. Therefore it was with a degree of anticipatory curiosity that I loaded up Time out of Mind.
Speechless spare no time in establishing their sonic identity. The first two cuts on this all-instrumental deal reveal the fact that, as have fellow Atlanta heavies Paine’s Promise, these guys have cut their teeth on more than a few Rush covers, and no, that doesn’t detract from the authenticity of their vision. It’s merely a nod and a wink to those of us who likewise got our prog kickstart via late 70s FM radio. Discerning listeners will also detect a smidgeon of Kansas and even a trace of The Who among the licks. Most of all, it’s that essential heavy rock turnkey, the all-important Big Riff that speechless have harnessed. They occur on all but one cut (the lukewarm “Thank You”, where they throw it in neutral and allow things to coast awhile), taking forms from straight up to jagged. They even indulge in some jazzy hip-hop on the minor-keyed “Something Green”.
Instrumentally, Speechless leave the rhythm section to manage the monster chops department. Skinman Derik Rinehart and bassist Paul Rusek (dig that slap/ hammer-on pattern on “Hangover” – WOW!) like to dangle in the pocket, and then unexpectedly explode right under you. Guitarist Sean Tonar for the most part reins in his badass chops (he flashes ‘em a little on “Vader’s Boogie” just to let ya know he’s got ‘em), yet it would have been cool to hear him take off more often. Still, you can’t argue that the guy doesn’t know how to drive a song. Keyboard wiz Rob Hamil conjures some wicked analog textures from his rig, he too relying on mostly nuance to get his point across.
As far as their stylized brand of composition is concerned, Speechless play it pretty close to the vest, with classy, stock in trade mainstream rock posturing accreted into sonata-like extensions of that form by way of the above-mentioned heavy riffs. They dabble in liquid chromaticism on “Hangover”, and imbue “The Big Majestic” with a pedal point upon which a row of non-harmonic triads are overlaid (recalling the coda of Pete Townsend’s “Rough Boys”), creating some welcome tension.
Time out of Mind is a superb primer, an inoffensive means to allow the nascent progger to toe-test progdom’s heavier shoals, as well as offer the weekend warrior prog fan his escape into art rock sensibilities. A little slack jawed, perhaps, but not quite speechless.
7 (out of 10) stars
Vlad the Inhaler
(All Album Reviews by Chain)
Sometimes life gets in the way of listening to a lot of music. In the last 12 months or so My "to play" pile has got bigger and bigger so it is time to get into some of the goodies. I picked up the Speechless Time Out Of Mind CD when it first became available, so time to give it a spin.
There is a little pomp without being pompous. Some groove without getting stuck in one. Some fusion blended in and musicianship that is top class. A lot of instrumental CDs I have listened to often fall into the trap of over the top guitar solos or too much sameness from track to track. Not here. The mix is well done with all instruments "up there", the bass and drums have not been hidden and the guitar and keyboards have been given "equal ranking" with neither taking over.
There is no need to give it repeated listenings to "get it". No need to listen closely to "get it". The music has a complexity to it but it is not there so a bunch of musicians can show off their chops. And these musicians are first rate on their respective instruments. It is the blending of the parts that is the key.
The first 3 tracks hit you right up and you get that feeling that your grooving right along to the music and dare I say, foot tapping. The fouth track is the "ballad track" that gives the listener a chance to sit back and take in what has been going on from the beginning. A good move.
The next 2 tracks start to wind up and then we get back into the flow. There is a lot going on in this CD, some first class song writing and musicianship. About the only criticism I would have would be that I would like the guitar up a tiny bit in the mix and the keyboards down a touch. That is only a minor point and just more of a personal preference than anything else.
It is difficult to compare this CD to other bands, as there are 2 or 3 second sections that can remind you of something. More in the harder fusion vein, RTF meets Djam Karet maybe with some Ozrics thrown in with some dense darkness of KC in places. It is more their own sound though. This band of fine musicians has not fired their last shot. The strong musicianship has plenty left in the tank.
(All Album Reviews by AdmKirk)
Speechless hails from Atlanta, Georgia and features one of PE's "Powers That Be", Sean Tonar on guitar. The group also features Paul Rusek on bass, Robbie Hamil on keyboards and Derik Rinehart on drums.
Time Out of Mind kicks off with "In the Clouds", which, like the second cut, "Spidercrawl" features some hot bass work by Rusek.
Upon first listen to the disc I thought the composition and performance were fine but thought the drums should been more up front, particularly on these two opening tracks, but with further listening I decided I was being foolish and the mix is right on the money.
One of the things I notice about Speechless is that they play with some agression. They demand that you take notice of the music. You'll find no twee tinkling on a piano here. While this could come off as being heavy handed with some bands, Speechless come up with the right tunes that suit the agressiveness of the music. They are a little heavier and play a little harder than, say, Advent.
Not to say anything negative about Advent, since they have a style that suits them perfectly. Speechless has more of a 70's hard rock vibe firmly grounded in a progressive setting. A touch of Zep here, Crimson there...well you get the picture. The songs themselves don't really sound like they are from that era, just a certain 70's vibe or sensibility is evident. Perhaps it's Sean's guitar tones that does it, but whatever it is, it works.
Everybody gets a chance to shine on Time Out of Mind but special mention must be made of Rusek's bass work. From the funk of "Spidercrawl" to the perfect melodic work on "Thank You", Rusek gets the job done.
Sean isn't exactly slacking off either. He whips out a fat Cream-era Clapton tone on "In the Clouds", Zappa-esque chords on "Thank You", lovely acoustic on "The Big Majestic" and burning Eastern melodic lines on "Hangover". Sean plays with precision and a passion you won't find in more clinical players. Of course, knowing Sean is an admirer of Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page it's not hard to see where the emotional aspects of his playing are derived from.
Picking a favorite track from Time Out of Mind is not an easy job, but three songs really stuck out to me from the nine songs that make up the album: the opener, "In the Clouds", the driving "The Big Majestic" and the eight minute + "Vader's Boogie".
Like some of the newer prog bands I've checked out recently (Pure Reason Revolution, Izz, Bad Dog U, Advent) Speechless fall into the "woulda, shoulda, coulda" department, meaning that if this was 35 years ago they could have been a hugely successful band. Oh how the times have changed.
It's amazing that with the quality of the five groups that they don't get more attention than from hard core prog circles. Perhaps Bad Dog U and Speechless have the toughest time since there is no lead singer, but still, all of these bands need more exposure and more attention. After all with many of the legends of prog getting on up in years the future of prog rests on the shoulders of these bands. Much like blues, prog needs young, fresh blood to keep this music alive and as long as there are groups like Speechless who know how to deploy their musical talents, prog should be in good hands.
Do Sean a favor and go buy this album. Most any decent CD store should be able to get a copy for you. They are worthy of your hard earned cash.
If you like a little oomph and some killer bass in your prog then, not only do Sean and the rest of Speechless a favor, but do yourself one too and spend a little Time Out of Mind.