No Brass: The Crowning Of The Sun Label: No Brass. P.O. Box 430, Brecksville, OH 44141. © Mike Kovacs, No Brass, 1999. Email: email@example.com Web-site: www.nobrassmusic.com An aptly named project, since there's nary a horn in sight on this album. No keyboards for that matter, just drummer Mike Kovacs and some guitar and bass playing cronies, pumping out a reasonable approximation of early Rush. Which may make this a great find for you, or a big thudding clunk from 15,000 feet, depending on how warm you feel about Rush circa Fly By Night and Caress of Steel. DIY projects are inherently fraught with danger. There's the problem of whose hand is at the controls in the production process? Will someone know when to say 'enough'. Will anyone provide a sense of direction to the song writing or will the album aim shotguns at many stylistic targets and hit none of them? This is clearly Mike Kovacs' show on both fronts. He knows what he wants and goes after it with a vengeance. Personally I'm not sold on his vision of Rush meets post-Dio Sabbath somewhere over the dark horizon of a Frank Marino trip. Still, even if I don't dig it, I must say that it's all executed with enthusiasm and conviction. Mike & Co. aren't just going through the motions. Opening with the title track, No Brass serves notice that it's here to rock, hard and heavy, a la Rush. I kept expecting Geddy Lee to step in on lead vocals at any moment, and while Kovacs doesn't have the range of a young Lee (i.e. no crank the vice tight on the groin vox) he does approximate some of Lee's intonation and phrasing. Even the quote on the back of the inner sleeve reminded me of something that Neil Peart might have asked: "If a musician plays only for himself, and nobody is there to hear him, is he really a musician?". Things start to unwind though with the second track. Built around a very dull and repetitive riff "The Castle Dweller" plods along at medium tempo off into oblivion. It also has clunky lyrics that make Ken Hensley's dramatic offerings with Uriah Heep seem high poetry by comparison. When all seems lost, Dave Zuppert steps up to deliver a very-well thought out solo. Here lies the real strength of the album: the lead guitar work (though I had to play the record a few times to really be aware of it). Zuppert, Dirk Garman (the other lead guitarist) and rhythm guitarist Steve Ronyak manage to keep the show from nose-diving by a great display of tough-as-nails riffing, and harmonically pleasing lead breaks. By the end of track three ("Around The Corner") I was beginning to look at the times of the songs to see how long the album would last. I also began to wish fervently that Kovacs had used some keyboards on the record to create a different tonal palette. I also began to find Kovacs' limited vocal range to be a distraction from my enjoyment of the songs. This is probably the weakest track on the CD. Track four redeems the project and makes the album worth the price of entry. The band stretch out over some passages that rock, but almost have a jazz feel, and there are several excellent lead guitar parts. Here Kovacs' delivers some powerful drumming, and turns his limited vocal range into an asset, producing some interesting vocal harmonies via overdubs. Clearly the middle of the album is where the strength of the album is to be found. "A Star To A Star" moves the band into spacier territory asking questions of what lies out there in the great beyond. It also features two super-tasty leads by Dirk Garman, one at its midpoint that suggests Wishbone Ash more than Rush, and one as it moves to its conclusion that reminded me of Randy Rhodes, though not as metallic. Track six is like track three - filler, IMO. In fact I'll go so far as to say that the album would be substantially stronger if these two cuts had been dropped. Once again the show is saved by strong riffing and tight soloing. Unfortunately this time it's not enough to offset an awfully vocal by Kovacs - I was reminded of a bleating sheep about to be sheared as he delivered his worst performance on the album. Blahhhh! Track seven continues the filler mode, though the groove - sort of a highly stylized grandchild of classic Yardbirds riffs, channeled through Ronnie Montrose - allows for some nifty funkifying bass and more impressive percussion chops from Kovacs. By this time though my interest was sinking fast, brought up for air only at the very end by the multi-tracked lead work of Zuppert. Dexterous, melodic and precise, it reminded me a bit of some of the things that Manny Charlston did with Nazareth in the early and mid seventies. "Death Of A Clone" might have fared better with me had it occurred earlier in the proceedings. The over-reliance on its grinding riff never grabbed me, mainly because it just isn't heavy enough for the subject matter. It needed to reach down to the heaviness of Iommi-weight to smack the listener in the gob, but never quite got there. Still, more darting lead work (Garman again) keeps the train moving in the right direction before it can derail. Which brings us to the last track, "True Passion". Now you're cooking with gas, Mike! Imagine vintage up-tempo Trower fused to some neo-Zeppelin aggressiveness and some very modern almost technical-metal style riffing. Finally the band delivers a track that suggests they may have a future somewhere in the progressive-metal movement. Wisely, Kovacs keeps his mouth shut for most of the tune, instead focusing on propelling his cohorts on with very fine rock-jazz drumming. Here we see just how good a rhythm section he has available to him (Dave Kovacs [his brother?] and Erol Somer split the duties throughout the album). Just when the tune is starting to overstay its welcome, the band abruptly moves to a brief - and almost out of place -- coda with another well designed guitar solo to usher the listener out the door.and The Crowning Of The Sun is over. Who might like it? Fans of early post-Rutsey Rush might really enjoy this. If muscular hard-rock is your bag then this might be worth investigating. If you're a student of rock guitar, and want to learn the science of how to play electric rock leads (as opposed to being a speed-merchant wankmeister) you should seek this out. Who might dislike it? Proggers who want keyboards and horns and strings in the mix or at least something other than just muscular riffs and more lead guitar than should be legal on one recording. Anyone who really values lead vocals, 'cos Mike Kovacs has an interesting non-lead-singer voice (sort of like Steve Howe in that respect). This isn't a prog album, or even really a prog-metal album so maybe none of that artsy stuff matters. Caveat Emptor! The best tracks: "A Star To A Star", "True Passion". The track that best represents No Brass' style: "A Star To A Star", "The Crowning Of The Sun". Star rating: 2 out of 5. I'd keep it if I was a really keen on learning the axe licks, but it's going to be an instant trade-pile item for me. Personnel: Mike Kovacs - drums & vocals. Steve Ronyak - Rhythm guitars (1, 3, 6, 7 & 8). Dave Zuppert - Rhythm guitars (2, 4, 5 & 9). - Lead guitar solos (2, 4, 6, 7 & 9). Dirk Garman - Lead guitar solos (1, 3, 5 & 8). Erol Somer - Bass (1, 3, 4 & 9). Dave Kovacs - Bass (2, 5, 6,7 & 8). Produced by Mike Kovacs. Engineered by Rocco Cassano, Dave Zuppert, Erol Somer, Bill Sanders and Kevin Borrowman. The Tunes: 1. The Crowning Of The Sun [4:24] 2. The Castle Dweller [5:31] 3. Around The Corner [6:08] 4. A World Within [6:07] 5. A Star To A Star [7:20] 6. The Love Song [4:13] 7. Roll On [5:34] 8. The Death Of A Drone [6:48] 9. True Passion [7:48] Steven Davies-Morris (SDM) -- A 21st Century Schizoid Man firstname.lastname@example.org http://systemstheory.net
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