Album Review: Beautiful Shade of Grey-James LaBrie

Album Review: Beautiful Shade of Grey-James LaBrie

James LaBrie may be most known for his vocal duties for prog metal band Dream Theater, but he has an impressive body of solo work under his belt as well. This is LaBrie’s fourth solo album and it’s a bit conflicting. This certainly ain’t Dream Theater, nor is it the previous solo albums. With Beautiful Shade of Grey LaBrie has presented a melodic rock album. This isn’t a bad thing. It may not be what fans are expecting. But it has a charm all its own.

No rough and ready guitar work or suddenly growly vocals. Instead the album leaves the listener with a sense of nostalgia as the lyric work becomes the focus here. With a sense of brooding and melancholy, the lyrics and delivery ponder the vagaries of life and love.

Players are Marco Sfogli on guitar, Paul Logue on bass/acoustic guitar, Christian Pulkkinen (Eden’s Curse) on keys and LaBrie’s son Chance pulling drum duties. All of these players work together to produce a solid foundation sound for LaBrie’s vocals. Sfogli is a particular standout with his intricate yet upbeat finger work.

Arguably, LaBrie’s vocal prowess is most suited for the heavy metal life, but here he brings a mood album that perhaps metal fans can feel good about having in their library. More acoustic feeling than metal, the songs would lend themselves well to live performance.

The album begins and ends with Devil in Drag—the heaviest song on the album. The second version is deemed the Electric Version and both deliver a solid funk/pop groove. The Electric version is the better of the two.

SuperNova Girl is a trippy homage to 60s odes to mismatched love. It almost begs for a psychedelic video treatment. LaBrie manages to sound sincere instead of saccharine, making it one of the standouts of the album.

Give and Take leads in with a prog rock feel and ends up an anthem.

Sunset Rain brings out the violin sounds and may be the weakest song on the album. And yet, lyric-wise it does a lot of the heavy lifting for the melancholy feel: Normal prayers I will not pray / No one’s listing anyway. This would be the song where everyone holds up their lighter (or cell phone) and and sways to the music.

Hit Me Like a Brick is another standout track. It has a funky/poppy feel that will make your head bob a little in spite of itself.

Wildflower is another ode to the girl song: Not one to break or fall / she smiles through it all. More 60s vibe all round.

Conscience Calling is an a capella lead in for What I Missed. It wouldn’t have been a bad thing had it been a bit longer as the vocals were right on target. The lead in transition between the songs was also spot on. These together make for another top moment of the album.

Am I Right would lend itself well to a straight acoustic treatment. It builds from acoustic to a full band, full vocaled crescendo. Clearly an album ender, it makes the last two cuts feel like “bonus” tracks.

LaBrie decides to tackle Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On for the penultimate offering, sticking pretty much to the original in arrangement and vocal. He takes Robert Planting to a more bombastic level adding a dash more angst. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

The verdict? Well, if you’re expecting hard and heavy metal, this isn’t it. It leans more heavily on the lyrics and melodies, but no one is going to take away James LaBrie’s metal card because of it. The listener is treated to a different side of LaBrie’s solo work. You may not find a headbanger in here but there’s plenty of head bobbing. Maybe we could all use a little bit of that sometimes.

A good solid B+ of an album. Would recommend.

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