Leonardo: The Absolute Man; Original Cast Recording (Magna Carta)2001 This album is, I think, my first formal introduction to the often-derided Magna Carta label, a label specializing in neo-prog and progressive metal. I'm sure they must have some wretched releases, but this is definitely not one of them. Leonardo is a concept album by Trent Gardner with a large all-star cast, including Mastermind's Lisa Bouchelle, Kansas's Steve Walsh, Under the Sun's Chris Shryack, Robert Berry, and Dream Theater's James LaBrie as Leo himself. The musicians are not quite as numerous, the band consists of only five musicians - Trent Gardner on keyboards and trombone, brother Wayne Gardner on guitar, Jeremy Colson on drums, Patrick Reyes on guitar, and Steve Reyes on bass. Joe Franco and Luis Maldonado also assist on drums/percussion and guitar/bass, respectively. Unsurprisingly, the playing is precise and flawless. And the singers are, of course, always right on, but I doubt that surprises anyone. The big surprise on this album, as far as I'm concerned, is that the compositions are actually quite good. The first track, essentially an overture, has a wonderful, majestic feel that is perfect for the larger-than-life setting of Renaissance-era Italy (it even reminded me of the magical melodicism of the great Italian prog bands). Of course, the music throughout is in a similar traditional neo/prog-metal styles, with no attempts at 15th century music, but that suites me fine (though I'm a big early-music fan, I think switching back and forth between modern and ancient styles would be too cumbersome for this particular work). The music seems to be, appropriately, consistently more majestic than most neo/prog-metal. Also, the writing has more in common with the Andrew Lloyd Weber school of rock musicals as far as structure and interplay between the different vocalists (however, Gardner cleverly manages to avoid Weber's normal pitfalls by - get this - actually writing good music). The album really feels like a single work, so I'd rather not single out individual tracks since the album is consistent throughout. Anyway, Leonardo is probably a must for neo/prog-metal concept album enthusiasts, fans of Gardner or the title character, and even those unfortunate people who like Andrew Lloyd Weber - maybe this will convince you there's better stuff out there (ok, the pre-Madonna versions of Evita are great, I'll give you that). For others, Leonardo is still an album to check out. ~Jon Murphree~
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