Magna Carta Records has a very simple slogan: “quality. musicianship.” Their recently released Rush Tribute, New World Man, features an all star cast of performers including “Chris Pennie (Dillinger Escape Plan, Coheed and Cambria), Juan Alderete (Mars Volta), Shane Gibson (Korn), Dave Martone, John Petrucci (Dream Theater), Billy Sheehan, Alex Skolnick (Testament), Andreas Kisser (Sepultura), Sebastian Bach (Skid Row), Eric Martin, Vinnie Moore, Kip Winger, Mike Mangini, and Mike Portnoy” (taken from http://www.magnacarta.net/RushTribute/index.html ). The album is laden with virtuosic musicianship and extended instrumental sections.
Rush’s rock anthems still continue to grace the airwaves and are distinguishable by their combination of commerciality and progressive elements. Needless to say, to cover these songs is no easy task. To do so requires great instrumental proficiency, an ability to push the envelope, and sensitivity to commercial norms. New World Man accomplishes this task. Compilation-style discs featuring a number of different performers can be hard to critique at times, however, due to the number of changing elements.
New World Man effectively captures the spirit of its original material. Some of today’s most influential progressive artists worked on the album, adding a variety of textures and musical approaches. Many of the guitar solos, for example, reflect the respective styles of each player. It is not all about guitar solos for New World Man, however. Songs such as “Force Ten” do a fantastic job of featuring each musician throughout a textural journey. This track in particular stands out for a few reasons. First and foremost, “Force Ten” is an effective reinterpretation rather than a carbon copy. It has been made edgier through enhanced dynamics, where dropped-tuned guitars and shredder-arpeggio sequences make the song heavier in order to contrast the more quiet parts. A couple of moments on the album fall short, however. There are times when the overall mix does not favour the album’s performers. “Tom Sawyer,” for example, would benefit from some more ambience or depth on some of the instruments (or vocals), and the guitars would benefit from a slight midrange boost and perhaps more power-tube involvement. The bass in this track sounds fantastic, but overpowers the kick drum which, as a result, is left sounding empty and attack-heavy. The classic tune “Limelight” makes up for the short comings of the former track, however, with a superb mix and the interjection of newly composed riffs mixed with old material.
New World Man is certainly an enjoyable and worthwhile listen, featuring some of today’s hottest rock and prog instrumentalists. Rock and prog are not the only genres featured on the album, however, as the Alex Skolnick Trio add a mature fusion rendition of “Tom Sawyer.” Yes, there are two versions of “Tom Sawyer” on New World Man, and Alex Skolnick’s version is incredible. Skolnick reharmonizes some of the original material, playing in a chord-melody style with the occasional foray into funk territory. The arrangement is complex while still accessible, in the Rush tradition. Overall, New World Man is a great listen.
Hot Tracks: Tom Sawyer (Alex Skolnick Trio), Limelight, Force Ten
Matt Shelvock-May 13, 2010