Pet Shark – Le Debut

Pet Shark – Le Debut

Let’s talk about the Music Business. There, I said it, ‘business’, businesses are there to make money, profit, dosh, whatever you want to call it. They are not a charity, they are, at the highest level, soulless corporations that exist solely to be the best at leeching money out of you.

To my eyes, the music industry at the heady heights is not about the artists, it’s about how much money the artists can make for you. These endless talent shows on TV are a case in point, how many artists go on to have a successful career? They are milked by the management and left by the wayside to wither and die.

I like to co-exist in the world of independent labels and artists, a world where it is all about the love of the music and not the love of the almighty dollar. Here the artists write about life, love and experiences, yes they’d like to make some money but, just so they can record the next album, not so they can buy a flashy supercar or waste it on Crystal champagne.

There is an honesty and integrity to this small part of the so called ‘music business’ that most of the bigger players wouldn’t know if it came up and bit them on the ass! The downside of all this is that the majority of the artists just don’t get the recognition they deserve. Whilst coke addled mega stars sell out ten thousand seater auditoriums, the smaller acts can sometimes be considered lucky if they attract an audience of above a couple of hundred true and hardy music lovers.

I don’t know the answer to the problem but, as a music writer who does it for love and not money I am always doing my bit, like my fellow authors, to sing the praises of these superlative musicians far and wide. When, occasionally, something I have missed or has slipped under my radar arrives at Progradar towers then I consider it my duty to bring it to the attention of the general public.

This week I got home from work one evening to find a package shipped from the good old US of A had been delivered through my letterbox. What was in it you may ask? It was the first CD release from American instrumental rock band Pet Shark. Now, I must admit that, when Nem asked me if I wanted to review said album, I had never heard of the band before. Would these minnows turn out to be big fish in small pond? (see what I did there). Before we listen and find out, a little history is required.

Hailing from Orange County, Pet Shark are a progressive rock instrumental trio consisting of Keith Moreland (guitars), Russ Reshaw (bass) and Ted Morton (drums). The bass on the album was recorded by the well renowned Matt Bisonette (Elton John’s band) but he could not join the band for the live shows so Russ took over. Also appearing on the album were Roger Charles (bass), Lindsay Jagich (cello), Chris Jagich (keys) and Jason Lee (vocals).

Citing influences varying from Led Zeppelin through Rush, Genesis and Steve Vai, there is enough there to offer an intriguing mix of styles. Enough waffling, it is time to have a listen and give my considered opinion, hell we’re off to a great start with the excellent album cover anyway!

‘Le Debut’ consist of 14 tracks so there is a lot to get your teeth into and the first track Stimulus Package starts the album off in a very nice way. Hints of early Rush abound as the intricate drum work and solid bass back up some sublime guitar playing. Urgent and fast paced there is a strong hint of prog about this track, the tricky guitar riffs are complimented by some fierce guitar licks to leave a satisfying taste in the mouth. Leopard Dance keeps that heavy 70’s prog influence in place but is much more deliberate and considered proposition. The riff builds in momentum and is delivered purposefully. This track really impressed me, for three guys, they make a pretty impressive sound that is complex and layered with just as much substance in the background rhythm as in that delivered by the superlative guitar. The solo burns brightly holding your attention as it feeds your musical needs and the song fades out as impressively as it entered into your domain. Well, what a superb start to the album! Radio Flyer is a very short interlude that is exactly what it says, like someone turning the dial on a 50’s radio trying to find relevant stations. The band carry on with the overt progressive influences with Seven Fifty Seven , a superb riff and monster drums leading in the track, ably assisted by the solid bass. The guitar line is slightly distorted and works very well adding in a superb heavy blues feel to the track. The whole song reeks of strong tobacco and even stronger whiskey, this is serious rock music for serious people, wimps and lightweights need not apply. To be honest, I find myself nodding my head appreciatively to the music, like you see seasoned fans do at a concert, it is decidedly mature and intelligent stuff. The ending is a work of art, the mad drumming preceding a superb keys and guitar led run out.

In a move away from the progressive edge and more in line with blues/rock, the intro to The Chase is a superb rendition of a searing blues lick which runs into a funky southern blues riff that has my feet dancing of their own accord. This track puts a huge grin on my face, it is hard and heavy but played with a reckless abandon that can’t help but make you smile, blues that is good for the soul and has nothing to do with ‘waking up this morning’.Add in a solo that just screams passion at you and there is nothing you can find about this song that you don’t instantly love.  An electronic intro leaves you wondering where Master Cylinder will lead but, don’t worry, we are now in hard rock territory with down and dirty riff that screams sweat and leather at you. Mean, moody and monstrous this track has a maleficence about it that runs throughout, not quite evil but with a more than a touch of darkness to it. I don’t know what it says about me but I love it. The crunching riffs, driving bass and dour drumming all add to that feeling, like a Stephen King novel in musical form.

The next three tracks stand out as a tribute to those guitar playing legends Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. Lighter but still hard rock edged Busa has a seriously funky feel to it and the screaming guitar licks almost have an organic feel of their own. If you ever doubted the supreme skill of these musicians (which, incidentally, I didn’t) those doubts will have finally blown away by now. This song may be a nod to his heroes but Keith Moreland has enough sublime ability of his own to stand tall in such exalted company, upbeat and incredibly catchy, it is another fine track on this album of superlatives. A huge grin breaks on my face as the seriously cool and funky riff starts on Shark Boogie, this is a song that could have come straight from the seminal ‘Surfing With the Alien’, there is a joyous and hopeful feeling about this track and, when the solo starts, it just goes right off the scale. The guitar really has taken on a life of its own and grabbed its buddies, the bass and stylish drums, to go on a musical journey that leads who knows where. I am captivated by the music as it dances around my aural receptors, just superb!  The final track of the trio, Steve, is dedicated to the great Steve Vai and, as the band put it,

 “This is a tribute song to Steve Vai, who is one of Keith’s favorite guitar players. After Keith came up with the melody and outline for the song, Ted wrote a drum part that he thought would be a tribute to some of the great drummers that have played with Steve. After the guitars and drums were tracked, Matt Bissonette added an amazing bass track to the mix. We hope you enjoy it!”

And, to be fair, I loved it. Slower and melodic, it is like musical catharsis and is quite dreamlike in places. The track gently wafts you along as if you are on a soft pillow of music, drifting along with the rhythm. It draws the emotion out of your inner core to be exposed along with your soul, like a journey of discovery for your musical core. Can You hear Me is anothershort interlude and consists of an overheard phone call in Scottish accents.

The longest track on the album From the Deep begins with an insistent bass line that is backed by some smoothly delivered drumming before the guitar begins with an expansive, room filling sound. Slow and calculated it is quite apprehensive and sits deep in your psyche. The keyboards add to the sombre mood and the generally serious feel to the song. Staccato and driven in places, the ominous and distorted guitar licks and riffs add to the feeling of suspense before a haunting, operatic voice breaks in overlaying an acoustic guitar in a sorrowful counter to the sinister feel of before. It is like a hope filled break in the gloom and is incredibly heartfelt and uplifting. This part of the song feels like a transition from the overwhelming darkness of the abyss to the transcendental feeling you get as you slowly move into the light and the brightness of a new found belief.

Letter From Home is the most emotional track on the album, the story behind this song is very moving.  Ted goes on to say,

“Letter from Home was written as a war theme because, as the story goes Keith had just got back from a funeral of a young Marine who had been killed and was very saddened by it. The young Marine was engaged to be married, and his fiancé had written him a letter about wedding plans etc. Well, soon after she sent the letter, he was killed and someone ended reading the letter at his funeral. As you can imagine, there wasn’t a dry eye in the church. We were finished recording for the day on that particular song and I asked Keith to just record a solo at the end of the piece. He was very reluctant, I persisted, and he pulled out his guitar and recorded the solo in one take. On that day his daughter, who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis, was also ill and Keith felt that the solo was a complete release for him”.

The gentle acoustic guitar introduction begins the song in a solemn fashion and the guitar takes up the refrain with a touching lead. There is a reverence felt throughout the song and you feel the need to talk in hushed tones as long as it continues. The cello actually sent shivers up my spine as it takes up the narrative in a beauteous manner, ethereal and yet mournful in equal measure. The tempo is increased by a hard, crunching guitar riff that speaks of war and destruction, the vocal effects moving and reflective. You feel that the whole song is building up to something as the cello provides a short pause before Keith Moreland lets rip with the most intense and fervent guitar solo that you will ever hear, an outpouring of emotion that must have surely left him spent afterwards, it left me slack jawed in amazement and I was emotionally consumed after the song had come to a close.

Via Sonrisa has Rush written all over it in bold marker pen, not surprising as it draws inspiration from some of the band’s classic albums. The introduction is powerful and the guitar paying is intricate and passionate. Throughout the track Ted Morton is superhuman behind the drum kit and the technical skill is evident throughout from the notable bass playing of Matt Bisonette. Clever time signatures abound and it is a progressive aficionado’s dream and a plethora of delights for anyone who just loves the music. I get the impression that the band will love playing this live as it gives them the chance to just let loose and blow off steam. The guitar playing is, once again, remarkable and you are left shaking your head in appreciation. The album comes to a close with Song for J n J, a gentle ending to the album with a classy piano sound and acoustic guitar playing in counterpoint to each other. It is quite cathartic after the profound intensity of the rest of the album and brings things to a close quite perfectly as the sound of waves breaking on the shore washes over you.

I have reviewed quite a few instrumental progressive albums in my short tenure at Lady Obscure Music Magazine and, generally, they are technically brilliant jazz/prog fusion releases that really blow you away with their wizardry. In Pet Shark and their album ‘Le Debut’ we have something a little bit different, there is a huge dose of emotion and feel put in the mix and you end up with music that is more for the soul than the mind. I have to admit that I connected in a very strong fashion with this release due to the outstanding songwriting as well as the amazing musicianship on show. Best instrumental album I’ve heard since I started writing? A lofty ambition indeed but, you know what? It bloody well is! My recommendation would be to go and buy it now whilst you can, go on then, run along quick now!!!

About the author

A good salesman from the North of England with too much time on my hands, I have listened to and obsessed about all genres of rock music since I could walk straight! However, my first love is prog rock and all it's different sub genres and, thanks to The Lady herself, joining the select band of brothers and sisters as an LO author gives me an outlet for my obsession. Mad, wacky but kind and loving with it, my glass is forever half full and my reviews should mirror this! My other obsessions are any form of sport and computer games, oh and I do like the odd drink too!