North Star - Extremes

Year of Release: 2005
Label: Musea Records
Catalog Number: FGBG 4597.AR
Format: CD
Total Time: 61:35:00

North Star is a band that truly gets no respect. Extremes is the band's fifth release, yet they have a very low profile in what is already a pretty low profile business. Most reviews seem to mention something nice about the music, diss the singer, Joe Newnam, and then christen the band's sound as "average Genesis wannabe, neo-prog." Ok. Is that perhaps a bit harsh?

Now me for example, I generally enjoy highly derivative Genesis wannabes; I hear that the band has a genuine keyboard star in Kevin Leonard and on top of that, the band is from Pennsylvania, which should get them at least some attention, as that state seems to be prog central for American progressive rock. So my opinion is this, this is a very good band with pretty good songwriting that is more retro progressive than neo prog. Kevin Leonard is indeed a bona fide keyboard god and vocalist Joe Newnam is truly one of the worst Gabriel sound-alikes I've heard. He's just plain bad, bad Gabriel affectations with a bit of a problem with pitch on any sustained note. But it's worth it to sit through the small amount of Newnam's singing to hear this disc. None of these tunes are flat out bad and, indeed, more than half of this material is quite good, far above average.

The first track, "Midnight Soldier" starts off with an ELP like synth fanfare set to a martial beat which turns into a very laid back and melodic tune that reminds me of Khan's "Driving To Amsterdam" with intertwining organ and guitar that is quite reminiscent of the work of Dave Stewart and Steve Hillage. There are a lot of subtle changes of meter and tempo and the first thing you notice is that there is little in the way of production on this band's recordings and that the musicians in North Star are of the very highest caliber.

Track two, "Star Child" features twin acoustic 12-string guitars and some very nasty vocals. After the brief vocal part, the tune rides out with a beautiful little melody that blends synth and flute tones very nicely.

The next two songs, "Sometimes In The Suburbs" and "Battles Waged Before" are both spectacular, the first with Steve Howe-like skittering guitar work similar to "Future Times/Rejoice" and an overall Yes sound and the second with a strong initial similarity to Genesis' "The Cinema Show" and a brilliant center instrumental section that starts out as very Tony Banks and ends with a Keith Emerson Hammond organ freak out.

The disc continues with "The Form" which to me sounds like a mediocre song from Genesis's And Then There Were Three. Despite it being a lackluster moment for me, it still features some very good organ work. The next cut, "Dr. Pill's Backlash Ballroom" is actually two minutes of tape effects and atmospheric synthesizer doodling.

"Unleashed" really is. It begins with a bang and goes right into a lengthy instrumental section that is much like the keyboard section of "The Cinema Show" and has a number of other familiar Genesis references. This is a very impressive show of keyboard work, as is a lot of this album. "Live With Liberty" is actually a reprise of "Star Child," expanded with a nice lengthy keyboard solo.

Extremes ends on a high point with a couple of very strong songs, "Stained Glass Doors" which is a short workout in the style of "Los Endos" and boasts a lot of fast paced, exhilarating interplay between the keys, guitar and drums. The closer, "Living On The Fringe" is another fast, driving song that is a blend of Genesis and ELP with one passage of synthesizer and fuzz bass that sounds just like UK. It features ripping organ work from Kevin Leonard and the most over the top guitar yet from the band's excellent guitarist Dave Johnson.

As important as vocals are in good progressive rock, I can see why some avoid North Star, but I think those people are really missing out on some great, great keyboard led retro style prog that offers some of the best, most straightforward traditional, English style prog rock I've heard in months. Joe Newnam's vocals will prevent this disc from getting the rating that it really deserves but I still hold this album in high regard nonetheless. Highly recommended, and a must have for keyboard aficionados.

Midnight Soldier (8:35) / Star Child (4:00) / Sometimes In The Suburbs (7:00) / Battles Waged Before (10:10) / The Form (6:55) / Dr. Pill's Backlash Ballroom (2:13) / Unleashed (6:12) / Live With Liberty (4:14) / Stained Glass Doors (3:39) / Living On The Fringe (8:37)

Dave Johnson - guitar, bass
Glenn Leonard - drums
Kevin Leonard - keyboards, bass
Joe Newnam - vocals

Triskelion (1984)
Feel The Cold (1985)
Power (1992)
Tempest (2000)
Extremes (2005)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: May 8th 2006
Reviewer: Tom Karr
Hits: 2387
Language: english


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