This year I am making a determined effort to finally get on top of my outstanding reviews, and a large part of that is cutting back on the material I accept. So, when I was offered the new Ryo Okomuto album, I did have to think twice about it, as while I was not a fan of his last solo album, I have always been a devout Spock’s Beard nut and have loved his work with them. In the end I decided to give it a try as it had been 20 years since ‘Coming Through’, and it was only after I had played it that I read the press release to read more about the gem I had uncovered. It all started when Ryo saw a band called I am the Manic Whale and was impressed by their lead singer/bassist Michael Whiteman, so he contacted him to see if he would be interested in being a collaborator/songwriter for his next solo album and they were soon swapping song ideas. But who would play on the final release?
Ryo pulled in his Spock’s Beard bandmates to bookend the album, with Nick and Ted sharing vocals, and needless to say they are the two longest with “Mirror Mirror” opening at just under 10 minutes and the closing opening cut at more than 22. The combination of having the boys together, plus Ryo having been in the group for more than quarter of a century has obviously worn off on him as those songs sound like they could have come straight from a Beard release. Ryo is a very high-profile individual so has been able to also bring in many of his mates for the other songs, with multiple singers and performers, but this never really comes across as a project as the songs composed by Ryo with Michael all pull together as a cohesive whole. This is not a Beard album, but a Ryo album, yet while his keyboards underpin everything, he also understands his role and let the guitars shine while for the most part this is a singer’s album, with Michael Sadler of course standing out due to his unique style.
Of course, Ryo allows himself solos, but only within the context of the song so we don’t get the bombast we have all come to know from his live performances. One of the highlights is the heavily commercial “The Watchmaker (Time On His Side)” which sounds more Styx than anything else and is a cheeky number with hooks, stunning vocals and great performances from all involved and is very much a complete number which is so mainstream that it could be released as a single! Contrast that to the closer, which commences with gentle piano, before it quickly builds into an epic. Even the introduction lets the listener know something special is coming, and it delivers. This album is not out until the end of the month but is one to look out for when it is available as this is a progger’s delight.