Brown, Charles - Thru The Flames

Year of Release: 2003
Label: Fossil Records
Catalog Number: 80284003082
Format: CD
Total Time: 43:13:00

Charles Brown's albums are multi-layered, multi-styled, multi-textured bodies of work that stand up to the test of multiple replays. Thru The Flames comprises 12 complex, purely instrumental 2- to 4-minute pieces. They are well composed with themes and structures that recur and develop through the course of the 43 minutes, and it sounds for all the world as if it was played by a small orchestra. But Brown is essentially a one-man guitar virtuoso who achieves his sound by marrying his instruments with electronics and applies a rich imagination and a and a strong sense of music and melody.

The electronics in question here is the guitar synth, a product originally developed by Roland in the late 1970s. It consists of a small gadget that fits onto the guitar and picks up the string vibrations, like an auxiliary pickup, and passes them through a floor-based synthesizer unit. There, the music notes can be translated into whatever sound the artist chooses - and Brown has selected a variety of brass and woodwind instruments, among others.

Now - any wannabe guitarist who can spring $895 for a GR-33 can put a smart piece of electronics onto a Strat and press the right sequence of buttons and say "Look, ma, I'm a trumpeter now!". But in order to make those instruments sound convincing, a whole new playing style must be employed for each synthesized instrument. You can't expect your power chords to sound convincing as a synthesized trumpet, and a lead guitar solo would be somewhat out of place played through a tuba patch. It requires impressive musicianship to pass those guitar notes off as the synthesized instruments. In the case of the trumpet - the guitarist must put himself in the mind of a trumpeter and pick the same notes a trumpet can play, in a sequence that a trumpeter could play them. And that is where Charles Brown's musicianship shines through. You won't be fooled into thinking that Herb Alpert appears on this CD, but you will be impressed by the textures and the depth achieved by this one-man outfit.

But for all the electronics, the signature sound remains the guitar itself, masterfully played, with various voices overdubbed to sound like an orchestra of acoustic, distorted and clean instruments. There are interesting juxtapositions of distorted hard-rock guitar pieces, elegant steel and nylon string acoustic guitars, riff-based rhythms, and blindingly fast, clean-played lead guitar pieces that permeate almost every song.

The styles of the songs range from classical to acoustic new age, to country, to hard rock and metal. Charles admits to influences of progressive bands such as Genesis, Marillion, Yes, and Dream Theater. On the harder rock pieces, he acknowledges players such as Ritchie Blackmore, Yngwie Malmstein, Eric Johnson, and Robin Trower. He is also a Classical guitar player, and that element is also an important part of his style. The album's biggest strength lies in the song structures and the compositions. Charles's classical training is very apparent, and the quality of the music on Thru The Flames will yield big rewards from a quick visit to CDBaby.

In a different review of Charles Brown's work, I wrote that "This is a mature sound - this is prog for grown-ups." And I was about to regurgitate that line when my 16-year-old son, a rather good amateur guitarist who thinks that anything other than heavy metal is for wussies, came wandering into my office and asked if he could borrow the cool CD I was playing.

And that is high praise indeed!

Rising Of The New Moon (4:31) / Eye Of The Storm (4:42) / A Journey In Time (4:38) / The Journey Begins (3:34) / The Gate Of The Mists (4:00) / Vertical Ascension (3:28) / Winds Of Eolus (3:28) / Altar Of Sacrifice (2:39) / Absolute Zero (3:37) / Radiation Zone (2:51) / Thru The Flames (3:44) / The Sunlight Never Dies (2:01)

Charles Brown - guitars
Matt Bassano -keyboards

Mystics (1999)
Earth Voyage (2001)
Mystic Vision (2002)
Thru The Flames (2003)

Genre: Other

Origin US

Added: March 22nd 2004
Reviewer: Duncan N Glenday
Artist website:
Hits: 1041
Language: english


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