Simon Apple - River To The Sea

Year of Release: 2004
Label: n/a
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 00:00:00

This is an extraordinary album that will be played over and over again on my stereo as well as in my mind.

The music borders on Christian Rock, even has some of the twang found in country, but mostly contains the sensibilities found in pop. It is very similar to Spock's Beard and comes close to the spirituality found in Snow. Nick D'Virgilio's ballad "Shining Star" is often heard in the compositions. The album isn't progressive rock completely, but it should certainly be intriguing to fans of the genre. Don't let the spirituality turn you off either. The music is non-secular and does not push an agenda. Anybody who has an agnostic bone in their body will easily relate to the lyrics.

The band is comprised of three gifted musicians: Dan Merrill, Jeff Miller, and Buzz Taylor. Each contributes substantially to the songwriting. Dan sings lead and plays some guitar while Jeff and Buzz follow with vocals of their own. Jeff also plays the piano, keyboard and guitar. Buzz is their drummer. This is a team effort with several free agents. A slew of guest musicians were contracted to contribute a sax, a cello, and even a trumpet. Vocalists were brought in to provide backing vocals in places. Guests are even asked into the studio to play some of the guitar and bass. To determine who did what would require a complex spreadsheet to sort out. The bottom line is that Dan, Jeff, and Buzz put an incredibly amount of effort into the music. When that wasn't enough, their friends helped out. The collaboration of talent results in an awe-inspiring album.

Early on the music has the sound of Spock's Beard and Izz. Bands like Toto and Asia later get infused into the mixture. Acoustic guitars, singing, and chord progressions typically found in Ray Wilson's music eventually arise. The tracks transition smoothly and work together as a whole. A number of adventurous passages are interspersed throughout the album. Think Kevin Gilbert's Shaming Of The True and you'll understand why music with a commercial bend would come recommended to progressive rock fans.

In my opinion, Simon Apple's River To The Sea is one of the biggest surprises of the year. Quite honestly, I've never heard of this group before now. With almost no expectations, I was literally blown right out of my seat. The band has certainly created an unexpected work of art and their music deserves to be a household name. In the meantime, we can enjoy this secret treasure for ourselves. Any open-minded progressive rock fan should give it a chance. [Note to self: Is open-minded and progressive rock fan redundant?]

Here are the seeds Simon Apple spreads in his ventures from the River To The Sea:

"Leap Of Faith" - A great start to the album that's a mix between Neal Morse's Testimony and Izz's I Move.

"Weight Of The World" - The bass is very much like Mike Rutherford's from Genesis. It turns out Tony Levin is actually making a guest appearance on this song. This is also an early indicator that Dan Merrill has a voice and style similar to the great Kevin Gilbert. The song is commercially accessible and cleverly written. The background harmony is a terrific touch. The extended cut has some great progressive passages. The song finishes with Rocky sprinting up the steps to the Philadelphia Art Museum.

"The Colours In Between" - It is easy to see a link between this song and Toy Matinee's "Queen Of Misery." Actually, they are so similar it is scary. If you liked that song, you will certainly like this one. This is one of the best songs on the album. They're all good, so it's a hard call, but it's definitely up there. This is also the first of several guest spots where John Feldmann is a backing vocalist (he is later heard on "Significance," "Take My Life," and "Lot Of Hope").

"Hold Me [Like A Lover]" - This is a simple ballad similar to Extreme's "More Than Words," possibly with a taint of Clay Aiken's "Invisible." Tony Levin contributes assistance once more.

"A Way Outside" - An incredibly short jazz piece is used as a quick break before jumping back into the fire.

"A Way Inside" - The great songs keep coming. It is a wonder how these guys continue to come up with such phenomenal melodies. As well as they play their instruments and sing, their greatest talent is in their songwriting ability. This one in particular is a mix of Toy Matinee with a hint of Tears For Fears. This is filled with such energy and glee. This sweet piece of candy is sure to give the listener a sugar rush.

"Significance" - This one picks up where the last one left off, giving us a firm kick in the pants. It's a real adrenaline boost that has the look and feel of one of Toto's greatest hits. Buck Dharma guests on lead guitar and gives us one whopping solo. The bustling activity makes way for a quiet night. The peace is disturbed only by the hum of chirping cicadas.

"Taken Root" - Dan croons like a lounge lizard in a song that screams Peter Cetera's Chicago. The sequence that takes us to the end moves in the manner of a samba dance.

"The Weight Is On?" - Another short interlude is used as a dividing point and breather. Each pluck of the guitar ripples like tranquil waters that splash ever so gently upon the shore. The imagery can be seen on the back cover of the album where Dan, Jeff, and Buzz are seen picking at rocks on beach.

"Take My Life" - The earlier theme from "The Colours In Between" is reprised. The bridge sections are very progressive. They are like landscapes in a pleasant dream. A trailing piano drifts away and then disappears into thin air.

"For Every Loss" - The lyrics are like heartfelt poetry. The song sounds like Jackson Browne's "Somebody's Baby" found in the cult classic Fast Times At Ridgemont High. It also has some of the folk-pop characteristic found in James Taylor's music.

"Katherine" - The lyrics remind me of Karmakanic's "Alex In Paradise" while the music borders on Country Western. This ditty is about the wonder and amazement learned from a three year old. Children always find a way to make adults crack a smile and take life's problems a lot less seriously. Their innocence allows us all to see the world in new ways. In the ends, words are spoken from a little girl who appears to be Katherine. This sort of sound clip is rarely a bad move in music and this is no exception.

"A Lot Of Hope" - This is the most upbeat and jumpy song the album. It's a cross between Billy Joel's River Of Dreams, Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Takin' Care Of Business," Lyle Lovett, and hillbilly rock.

"A Reason Why?" - The song is a short reprise of the opening track before taking us to the glimmering end.

"River To The Sea" - Dan Merrill's voice captures the spirit of Kevin Gilbert throughout the album, yet he seems to come closest in this song. Kevin would be proud of this brilliant composition. Everything they've done up to this point is impressive. In the title track, everything comes together so well it'll make your spine tingle. Jeff's piano playing is charismatic while another guest, Hugh McDowell, enchants us with his cello. After an album of so many great songs, the best is literally saved for last.

Bonus Tracks

"Wait?" - A rest stop is taken after the core compositions before heading over to an encore.

"Weight Of The World" [single edit] - This is the earlier song by the same name, but in a much leaner cut. The progressive portions are sliced away, leaving it half the size of the original. While the album will be well-received by many, the version of this song is ready for the radio.

Leap Of Faith / Weight Of The World / The Colours In Between / Hold Me (Like A Lover) / A Way Outside / A Way Inside / Significance / Taken Root / The Weight Is On... / Take My Life / For Every Loss / Katherine / A Lot Of Hope / A Reason Why... / River To The Sea / Wait... / Weight Of The World (single edit)

Dan Merrill - vocals, guitar
Jeff Miller - piano, keyboard, guitar, vocals
Buzz Taylor - drums, vocals


Buck Dharma - guitars
Tony Levin - bass
John Helliwell - sax
Steve Rodby - bass
Hugh McDowell - cello
Dave Stahl - trumpet

From The Toybox (1997)
Apples to Apples, Dust to Dust (archival material) (2000)
River To The Sea (2004)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: October 24th 2004
Reviewer: Joshua "Prawg Dawg" Turner
Artist website:
Hits: 835
Language: english


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