Album review: NEAL SCHON – Vortex

This is an exclusive edit from an interview with Neal Schon using non-broadcast material.  An extended version will be broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio in a special edition of ‘Assume The Position’ presented by David Randall on Sunday 5 July at 22:00 GMT. (9:26) Now available via Mixcloud (Listen again below)

Assume The Position – Neal Schon Special (5 July 2015) by Get Ready To Rock! Radio on Mixcloud

Neal Schon - Vortex

Music Theories Recordings/ Mascot Label Group [Release date 22.06.15]

Personal escapades revealed on “celebrity websites” often get in the way of business.  A compromising photo of Neal Schon published before the release of  ‘The Calling’ in 2012 tended to cast a shadow and even some music media inevitably (if misguidedly) focused on the negative.  Last year’s  ‘So U’ was a bit of a stinker and in spite of some really great moments it sounded as if it had been cobbled together between Journey after-show parties.

‘Vortex’ is a different beast.  Stretched to two discs, Schon is nothing if not productive.  The opening, majestic, ‘Miles Beyond’ sets the tone with an eastern/Kashmir vibe and heaviness.  Schon’s modus operandi frequently builds the song to a frenetic crescendo as evidenced here.  It’s all about tension, and release.  And multi-layered guitars.

Maybe Schon’s wedding in December 2013 has given him a new lease of life (the album is dedicated to ‘Lady M’ and inspires at least two tracks) and a chance to be both introspective and progressive.  In many ways the consistency harks back to another great double album although ‘Electric World’ majored on world influences which are still present here but to a much lesser degree.  The main vibe, as you would probably expect, is fusion whether it be jazz or rock and always marked by Schon’s delayed, blues-tinged vibrato.

‘El Matador’ has been pulled as an early “lead track” and it could be an outtake from ‘Santana III’ the classic album Schon cut with the band in 1971 whilst ‘In A Cloud’ is a lovely mid-tempo ensemble piece topped by Schon’s coruscating play out.

On Disc 2 ‘Twilight Spellbound’ is another standout whilst ‘Triumph Of Love’ has a classical theme percolating what is essentially a power ballad, and an impressive one at that.  ‘Talk To Me’ is another great example of a more lyrical approach and – as elsewhere on the album – serves as a great leveller for aspiring guitar heroes as it reaches its typically frenetic resolution.

If there is one criticism of Schon’s work, the jam-tracks by their nature lack structure (indeed, this was a criticism of ‘The Calling’).   ‘Irish Cream’ and  ‘Airliner NS910′ are examples .  On Disc 2′s ‘Schon & Hammer Now’  there is a much needed mid-song breakdown providing welcome respite from the multi-tracked guitar onslaught.  But overall, there is a lack of keyboard solo or interplay.  When it happens – as on ‘NS Vortex’  or ‘Talk To Me’ – it is refreshing.

The album features solid support from Steve Smith (drums)  Igor Len – who gets his own solo piano piece  with ‘Eternal Love’ – and the return of Jan Hammer with whom Schon cut two albums in 1981-2.

‘Vortex’ is very much a Neal Schon guitar-de-force album, there are no musical references to his Journeymen as with ‘So U’ and no vocals.  Schon’s brief tribute to his mum ‘Mom’ and the attractive ‘White Light’ deploys the only solo acoustic (apart from a brief flourish on ‘Talk To Me’), which is frankly a shame as it would have introduced a further tonal palette otherwise lacking.

We should relish the double helping but maybe some judicious editing would have made one humongous album.  For example, ‘Tortured Souls’ on Disc 2 runs out at 10 minutes but rambles a little.  Schon really needs a co-producer like CJ Vanston who seems to work wonders for Steve Lukather.

For the moment, though, maybe we should be thankful that this album is both unbridled and honest.  A great player unconstrained and limited only by his own creativity.  ****

Review by David Randall

David Randall presents ‘Assume The Position’ on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Sunday at 22:00 GMT.

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David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 GMT, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 19 June 2022.

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