Mullmuzzler - Keep It To Yourself

Year of Release: 1999
Label: Magna Carta
Catalog Number: MA 9039-2
Format: CD
Total Time: 51:46:00

Mullmuzzler finds James LaBrie in fine voice on his "solo" debut, Keep It To Yourself. The track that immediately struck me was "Shores Of Avalon" - Avalon being that mystical isle of healing of Arthurian Legend (those who know me and my love of things Arthur will not be surprised that this track leapt out at me; those who don't, do now). Here, too, though, are references to MacBeth ... well, Lady MacBeth actually. All metaphor of course, LaBrie isn't singing a historical. But it's a metaphor that works. Co-written with members of Shadow Gallery - Brendt Allman and Carl Cadden-James - it manages to avoid any sense of the saccharine that I find creeps into Shadow Gallery's own work.

The production here by Terry Brown (Rush) is stellar ... each instrument shines, is crisp and clear without being stark or dry, and that includes LaBrie. And, Mullmuzzler is more than just LaBrie, though this is his baby. Dali Dilemma's Matt Guillory handles keyboards and piano; Mike Magnini (Extreme, Steve Vai) provides the drums; Mike Keneally (Beer For Dolphins) on guitars, and Brian Beller (Beer For Dolphins?) on bass. Aiding here, too, is Trent Gardner on keyboards, trombone, and programming on "Beelzebubba" and "As A Man Thinks" ... and Gardner's musical and lyrical touch is quite apparent on "Beezlebubba," and yet it doesn't really sound like a James LaBrie fronting Magellan. Because Magellan are one of the few, if not the only, heavy progressive bands that includes trombone in their sound, hearing it and Gardner can't help make it sound a bit like Magellan. Included here too are trumpets and alto sax courtesy of Michael Stewart.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable listen ... the shortcomings I heard in Dream Theater's last studio (which I hate to keep taking digs at, but here it seems just) aren't here at all ... even when LaBrie is in mellower voice, it shows the strength he has.

Although "Avalon" is one that leapt out at me, there are many others that stand out ... okay, I have to mention it because it is so very obvious and to not mention it would be an oversight. "Beezlebubba" is a dig not only at Clinton (here referred to as "Slick Willie," as he so often is ... I must digress here a moment ... ['ve been mullmuzzled -ed.]) ... but a dig at ourselves. He isn't called Slick Willie for nothing ... he seduced us all in some way ... but, you know, I'll leave my political opinion out of this review...

However, this track shouldn't be the focus of the album ... there are other more lyrically worthy tracks here. By which I mean, there are songs about far deeper issues than Clinton and Clintonian foibles. In fact, the subject of "His Voice," which opens the disk, is about finding out too late that someone really needed your help. While I'm not suggesting this was the case with LaBrie, too often we're so self-involved that another person's needs are glossed over, until it's too late. One of two things happen, and we've seen this earlier this year with Littleton and just recently in Atlanta ... In LaBrie's own words: "It's about a friend of mine that committed suicide 15 years ago [...] I wish I had known then how to approach people the way I do now because then maybe I could have easily picked up on the [warning] signs..."*

You know, I could talk quite a bit about this disk ... it's that good. Its seems so eerily quiet now that the disk has ended ... time for a replay, I think.

"Guardian Angel" is the optimistic counterpart to Magellan's "Walk Fast, Look Worried" (Test Of Wills) ... though this was co-penned with Shadow Gallery's Gary Wehrkamp and Cadden-James. Where "Walk Fast" was edgy and cynical, "Guardian" is light ... open and airy ... dare I say, angelic? The comparison is that this is (or can be) directed at a child. Or, in the case here, a spouse, too, though that really seems left to the next track called "Sacrifice." "Sacrifice" is LaBrie's "Faithfully" (Journey's Frontiers) in essence, and while it doesn't sonically resemble that song, it shares a similar spirit.

"As A Man Thinks" will not only make you think of Magellan (co-penned with Gardner as it is), but also Queen ... that dynamic between rock and classical, harking back to A Night At The Opera, and I also couldn't help but think a bit of Rush's Roll The Bones - specifically the techno-rap section. Not very effective there, works here, given the overall arrangement. Okay, there are hints of modern Yes here, too ... the Rabin era. Oh, and then there's this percussive instrumental section ... xylophones and drums is the sound, but I suspect, digital xylo and either digital or real drums ... that made me think of Tangerine Dream, believe it or not. This closes out the album so gently, and yet you realize (as I did above) that the disk is over...

About the moniker, LaBrie says that in thinking about the album, he needed a term to describe it and its contents. "So I put two words together, 'mull' which means to ponder thought, [and] 'muzzle', which means to gag. So 'mullmuzzler' means to gag or silence an individual's thought before it can be expressed in any manner."*

I didn't talk too much about the rest of the band, really. I don't want to short change them at all, because they are all excellent musicians. There is a vitality here that was missing from ... well, I said that already, didn't I. I hope that LaBrie comes away from this with a renewed energy for Dream Theater ... but if not, long let Mullmuzzler exist.

So, I heartily recommend and it's in the running for my best of 1999.

[*All quotes taken from Mullmuzzler bio, © Magna Carta; photo credit: © 1999 Magna Carta, courtesy Ann Leighton Publicity]

His Voice (3:43) / Statued (3:23) / The Shores Of Avalon (7:51) / Beelzebubba (5:20) / Guardian Angel (7:27) / Sacrifice (5:14) / Lace (4:14) / Slow Burn (6:20) / As A Man Thinks (8:11)

James LaBrie - lead and background vocals
Mike Keneally - guitars
Mike Magnini - drums
Matt Guillory - keyboards and piano
Bryan Beller - bass
Trent Gardner - keyboards, trombone, and programming (and spoken words) (#3, #9)
Greg Critchley - drums (#9)
Mark Shannon - bass and fretless bass (#9)
Dave Townsend - guitar 'sweeps' (#2)
Michael Stewart - trumpet, alto sax - (#3)
Wayne Gardner - horn transcription (#3)

Mullmuzzler (1999)
James LaBrie's Mullmuzzler 2 (2001)
Elements Of Persuasion (2005)
Prime Cuts (2008)
Static Impulse (2010)
Impermanent Resonance (2013)

Genre: Progressive-Power Metal

Origin US

Added: August 10th 1999
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 968
Language: english


[ Back to Reviews Index | Post Comment ]