Neal Schon

Beyond the Thunder

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With the release of former Journey guitarist Neal Schon's simmering instrumental debut, Beyond the Thunder, Higher Octave must be hoping that former rock god lightning will strike twice. Ex-Starship stringman Craig Chaquico's two acoustic projects have been phenomena, and there's no reason the thoughtful, inventive Schon can't achieve a similar splash. After years of bouncy, straightforward, and usually loud pop/rocking, Schon seems committed to calmly reflecting on the many places he's been over the years, and so keeps his melodies generally simple and the production highly atmospheric, with special accents on the dazzling electric and acoustic soloing that became his trademark in the Journey days. Unlike Chaquico, he never goes out of his way to blow listeners' minds rhythmically, but the jazzy Spanish flavors of the rolling "Espanique" prove a fascinating counterpoint to the potent but less inventive fare. Helping Schon with the complementary textures is a fellow Journey man, keyboardist Jonathan Cain, who surrounds Schon's tight riffs with some magnificently haunting acoustics. It's always a treat to hear the sensitive side of a rocker, and Schon's promising debut points to a rich new phase and some friendly competition for his already flying labelmate.

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