CD Review: Neal Schon - The Calling

CD Review: Neal Schon - The Calling
Frontiers Records
All Access Review: B+
Neal Schon - The Calling 2012
There actually was a Journey before Steve Perry arrived. What people forget is, originally, the band showed little interest in making the kind of bite-sized, pop-rock ambrosia found on albums like Escape and Frontiers. Writing aching, overwrought romantic ballads such as “Open Arms” and never-say-die guitar anthems like “Don’t Stop Believin’” that all tended to breathe their last after only a few minutes of life wasn’t what Neal Schon had in mind.
Coming from Santana, he imagined a collective of virtuoso musicians indulging in sprawling rock instrumentals that paid no attention to the clock. And while that went over exceedingly well in live settings, Journey’s early records – Journey, Look into the Future and Next – all floundered commercially. Journey’s record label gnashed its teeth, of course, and decided a change in direction was needed. The rest is history.
In his heart of hearts, though, Schon has always relished the opportunity to stretch out musically, and he goes further than he’s ever been before on The Calling, his jazz-tinged, progressive-rock seventh solo album. Collaborating with former Journey drummer Steve Smith, Schon mingles moods and textures like a chemist, layering guitar and bass parts – comprised of some of the heaviest riffing and wildest soloing he’s ever unleashed, as evidenced by the powerful grooves of the metallic title track – over Smith’s complex, highly technical rhythms. There are periods of combustible fury and contemplation in the string-laden “Back Smash,” a sweeping epic that features silvery waves of synthesizer and crashing guitar chords, and “Carnival Jazz” sends a barrage of ground-to-air guitar missiles into the sky over Smith’s frenetic stick work, before devolving into a jazzy rain of acoustic piano.
More exotic, but no less menacing or dramatic, the mushrooming “Fifty-Six” finds the supersonic Schon flying at unsafe speeds up and down the fret, while in the 1:15 “Irish Field,” Schon goes it alone, weaving together strands of expressive six-string fingering into a fragile, but absolutely beautiful, sound sculpture. A nod to Hendrix, “Blue Rainbow Sky” is Schon’s “Castles Made of Sand” or “Little Wing,” albeit a more expansive version of both. And then there’s “Six-String Waltz,” swinging gently to and fro to hypnotic, if somewhat predictable, effect, while the bluesy “True Emotion” is surrounded by a dark, starry atmosphere that makes one want to lie on the hood of a Trans-Am and stare into the night.
Proving, once and for all, that Schon isn’t ready to lay down his axe, The Calling combines Schon’s overdubbing wizardry with his need for organic musicianship, and Smith, along with keyboardist friends like Jan Hammer and Igor Len, provide a constantly evolving and shifting backdrop that perfectly contrasts and dances with his scorching leads. Heed The Calling and it might just make you think differently of Schon.

-            Peter Lindblad

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