Charity album with several big prog players has fine instrumental moments, but lacks oomph.

Label: Radiant Records / Bandcamp
Time: 9 tracks / 51 minutes

Con Brio promises a lot, whether from the portentous opening, with its shades of Asia and ELP, to its impressive list of contributors: guitarist Steve Morse (Deep Purple and Dixie Dregs), Steve Rothery and Mark Kelly (Marillion), Marco Minnemann (UK, Steven Wilson) and drummer Todd Sucherman (Styx).

The name of this project gives a clue as to what it is all about, flying the legacy of an earlier generation of prog musicians – the opening track’s title “The Emerson Empire” must be a tribute to keys giant Keith Emerson (and the ‘LP’ on some of their graphics looks like it could come from off an “ELP” album cover).

It is not a band, though; it is essentially German muso Frank Us and assorted friends, which means that not all the players are on every track (there is not that much Steve Morse) and the composition is all from one brain, which is where I found some of its limitations. Like a typical solo album, it has plenty of good ideas, but leaves the feeling that more collaboration at the writing stage might have added some potency and drama.  

A lot of the music is instrumental, playing to the strengths of such a list of players. The fine, slow-building title track ends the set and feels like a good bookmark to balance “The Emerson Empire” and share some if its organ moments.

Where the music has words, it is a lottery as to whether the tunes grab you or not (and Us is not really a vocalist). “Handle with Care” is a decent little ballad, but “The Stumbling Heart” is more a collection of bits, where the tune doesn’t really take off, although it does have a good gentle hook at the end of it. Tracks like highlight “Fight the Demons” shift up a gear or two once the vocals have ended.

If your kind of prog involves dramatic epics, compelling riffs and complex rhythms, you will find this set disappointing, but if you prefer shorter songs and more of an It Bites or Marillion sound, you could well enjoy it. There is plenty of tasty bass work and a lot of smart keys moments.  

When they sing near the end, “There is a vision / we have a mission for a better world” – a musical idea that has a root, but is not developed – it gives a clue to the genesis of this album as a charity album to benefit World Vision. That alone is a good reason for the project.

Derek Walker