Review: Derek Sherinian – The Phoenix

Review: Derek Sherinian – The Phoenix

Inside Out Music (September 18th 2020)

Reviewer: David Pearce

Derek Sherinian is a keyboardist whose name may not be familiar to the general music public, but those in the business rate him incredibly highly. Alice Cooper, with whom Sherinian has made a number of albums called him ‘The Caligula of keyboards’! He also toured with Kiss, Billy Idol and has his own band Sons of Apollo. His last solo album was ‘Oceana‘ in 2011, so the title ‘The Phoenix‘ suggested to him by a friend on Facebook is entirely appropriate.

The album includes regular contributors Simon Phillips, the drummer who has co-written the album with Sherinian, Tony Franklin, who has appeared on all of Sherinian’s previous albums along with fellow bassists Jimmy Johnson and Billy Sheehan. Guitarists Joe Bonamassa and Zakk Wylde are also regulars on Sherinian’s music. On this album Steve Vai, Armen Ra, Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, Ernest Tibbs and Kiko Loureiro complete the line-up.

The album starts with title track ‘The Phoenix‘. An unmistakeable prog rock sound starts with the distorted guitar solo before the drums and keyboards pile in. It is an electrifying start to the album that reminds me of Yes in their pomp. The technical virtuosity of the musicians involved in the project is immediately obvious.

Empyrean Sky‘ starts with a more straightforward rock introduction before moving into Sherinian’s Rick Wakeman style keyboard playing. I have always been a fan of Wakeman’s and this definitely stands alongside anything he has done. It then develops into something of a free form jazz style composition before settling back down into more straightforward rock again. It is a dizzying and magnificent piece of music. ‘Clouds of Ganymede‘ is a melodic delight that develops the interplay between guitar and keyboard beautifully. There is a Vangelis style sensibility to it that really works well.

Dragonfly‘ is a fantastic jazz piece with the unmistakeable influence of Vince Guaraldi, the genius behind the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack. This track would definitely be at home on that album. It is a delight and probably my favourite on the album. ‘Temple of Helios‘ returns to Prog with a slow building tune that plays with the listener’s expectations. You wonder which way the song will develop after an introduction that could move into any area. What you end up with is a track that sounds like an extended version of a theme tune for an 80s police series! What can I say? It’s great fun.

Them Changes‘ is a much more straightforward rocker with the only vocal performance on the album. It comes from the superb Joe Bonamassa who makes the song take flight with his bluesy style and fantastically powerful singing voice. ‘Octopus Pedigree‘ is the penultimate song on the album, and we are back in Wakeman territory with Sherinian’s virtuoso playing taking the track into the realms of classic rock.

Pesadelo‘, the final track, means nightmare in Portuguese and is appropriately unsettling with a tune that sounds like a fevered dreamscape with each instrument playing its part in creating a truly unsettling effect. It is a fitting end to an album that moves easily between styles, but which creates a superb overall sound. It cements the already high reputation of Derek Sherinian and confirms him as one of the foremost keyboardists of this or any other era.