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James LaBrie – Beautiful Shade of Grey (2022)

This is the 4th solo album from the current Dream Theater vocalist and, I must say, by far his best. I was not too keen on his previous works, but he has nailed the heavy acoustic rock thing on this album!

Apart from one slight misstep (see main review), just about all the songs are, in modern parlance, bangers! As is – mostly usual – I will break it down track by track.

Just to clarify, though, I am not a huge fan of James’s screaming vocal sound, but when he does ballads / softer songs, this is where I get on the bus! So here we go!

Devil in Drag – Kicks off with an atmospheric intro on assorted keyboards that is really cool. Then we get a kind of Uriah Heep vibe going on with more great synths and strident acoustic guitar strumming. Vocals are great with a super melody and a belting chorus. Great album opener. And the acoustic guitar solo is marvellous. Hope it’s not just me that gets reminded of Trampled Underfoot!!!!

SuperNova Girl – Nice little acoustic ballad. Doesn’t really do much but it’s a nice easy listen with the added bonus of a lovely guitar solo (electric).

Give and Take – This is brilliant. By far the best vocal performance. An absolutely terrific song. Cracking middle section, again with killer acoustic guitar soloing. Love it!

Sunset Ruin – Cellos and strings are out for this one. Thoughtful song. Nice lyrics and a great vocal performance.

Hit Me Like a Brick – This has a kind of swampy feel and a superb chorus. The title makes you think it will be a heavy metal song or something. But no, thankfully, we get another fantastically performed tune. And another great electric guitar solo. Clean and fluid. Must mention the awesome keyboard work ,too. Absolutely perfect for the song – with a great little Moog-ish solo at the end.

Wildflower – This is a good pop song with some nice guitar and keys. Not a standout track, but very good and fits the running order of the album very well.

Conscience Calling – This is a multi-layered vocal piece only. Lasting a mere 48 seconds, it is rather spiffing! And it leads beautifully into the next rack

What I Missed – This is another banger! Starting straight after the previous song via the medium of piano, it builds up into something truly special! Absolutely superb song. It’s also kind of groovy. Fantastic playing from everyone. Loving the guitar solo.

Am I Right – Longest track at nearly 6 minutes. Great vocal melody and slow build up. Very much singer-songwriter in style at the start but it builds up nicely with kick drum propelling it along. This is really a vocal showcase more than anything else and it does it really well.

Ramble On – Yes, this really is a cover of the Led Zeppelin classic. It’s very good, of course, but seems out of place on the album. And, coincidentally, the only song on the album where the vocal style approaches Dream Theater histrionics. Not too bad but a pointless inclusion on the album that detracts negatively from what came before.

Devil in Drag (Electric Version) – This is more like it. Full on electric band version of the first song. Despite that, the vocals are reigned in nicely and the whole thing is great: never turns into a heavy metal shred fest or anything. It’s in keeping with the vibe of the rest of the album. Absolutely terrific song.

Conclusion

So, apart from Ramble On being a tad misplaced, I think this is a great album. It’s melodic, beautifully played and produced and shows James in the best possible light. No silly screaming, just great vocals along with some super cool songs. Highlights for me are Devil in Drag (both versions), Give and Take and Hit Me Like a Brick.

Beautiful Shade of Grey is a very solid album and has already been played to death in my house!

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