Flying Colors Second naitchpick-of-the-monthMaking amazing music seems to be second nature for the members of Flying Colors. This high-flying follow-up to the first studio album proves that their debut wasn't a one-shot deal...

Flying Colors
Second Nature
Label: Music Theories / Mascot Label Group
9 tracks / 66:24 minutes

Bookended by two epic tracks (the album ender, "Cosmic Symphony," has three sub-titled movements), the second studio project by Flying Colors is bursting its seems with creativity. The symbolism of the butterfly on the cover art can't be ignored – especially with a title like Second Nature. Has the power pop/prog band emerged from a musical cocoon to become something new? Something not quite prog but certainly way more than the Toto-esque pop of their self-titled debut album? By the time you're even half-way into the eleven minute-plus "Open My Eyes," the answer is obvious. Flying Colors is making exactly the music they want to make, regardless of boundaries. It's not the massive, almost intimidating progressive assault of its closest cousins, Transatlantic and The Neal Morse Band, but they certainly dabble...

Listening to the second track it's obvious that the band has decided to have some fun. The distorted, grunge-metal vocal, the heavy attack, the riff so reminiscent of "Hotel California," even the lyric, with its "welcome to the Mask Machine," line that could have come from Alice Cooper or Black Sabbath – this is great classic heavy rock 'n roll fun by anybody's standard. Furious drum breaks, hooks galore, and a dark but awfully sweet guitar solo! Who couldn't have fun with this? A wise choice for a single!

"Bombs Away" is a neat, tight little five minutes of head banging, emotional rock – the whole band is working on all cylinders – rich piano chords shine through a solid metal riff, the vocals are passionate, the bass (as it does on all of the songs) winds through the wall of sound giving an extra kick to the main melody and supporting the chords, playing as important a part in these songs as McCartney's bass did for The Beatles. The two Morses contribute stunning synth and funky guitar lines. A solid mid-album contribution.

The kind of power ballad that you'd expect from Flying Colors comes next, with Casey McPherson's soaring vocal stating the beautiful melody line in a way that will make you recall Freddie Mercury. There's a real live band sound to this track, a strong emotional gut-puller that sounds more like a young band on its way up in the seventies than a group of, well ...more seasoned performers. Great emotional energy on this.

Without going into detail on every song, let's just say that the collaborative effort of Neal Morse (keyboards, vocals), Steve Morse (guitar), Mike Portnoy (drums, vocals), Dave LaRue (bass), and Casey McPherson (vocals) produces the kind of big-sounding, majestic pop music that we were headed toward before disco came along and derailed the trajectory of some classic bands. The musicianship is stellar but not overpowering, the emotional attack is strong but not maudlin. Sure, Flying Colors might be an entry-level musical drug that could lead to prog ...but we won't talk about that.

Without a lyric sheet I'd be guessing, but there's a mix of love song material, inspirational moments, just plain fun, and certainly some spiritual content (especially on the magnificent "Peaceful Harbor," with a gospel choir and goose-bump inducing guitar lines on the fade). Casey's vocals are outstanding throughout, and Neal's vocal presence is just right – a good alternative sound, but certainly a supporting player this time.

Progsters will feast on "Cosmic Symphony," at the end of the album – LaRue's bass in particular features beautifully in the opening moments. Neal and Casey's multi-layered vocal harmonies are stunning, Morse's guitar and Portnoy's drumming are all that you'd expect from these master musicians. In the end we're left with a perfectly executed example of progressive pop almost morphing into pure prog.

I ended my review of the first album by wondering what they'd come up with if they'd given it some time ...with musicians like this, progress is Second Nature.

- Bert Saraco