Jeff Green – Jessica (2009)

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Not long ago, Neal Morse issued a very personal album that explained his abrupt change from a frontman in a neo-prog band on an upward incline to a solo artist in the even more obscure arena of Christian prog rock. To make the story short, the miraculous recovery of his young daughter pushed Morse toward becoming a born-again Christian and he’s since devoted his life to the pursuit of his faith and spreading it.

Another prog rocker, Jeff Green, had a similar story but it didn’t have such a happy ending. And Green, as far as I can tell, didn’t turn to religion as a result of his tragedy. But like Morse, he channeled his heart-tugging story into inspiring prog-ish rock music. Understanding the music is helped by understanding the story behind it:

Jeff Green hails from Sacramento, California, but has spent most of his adult life on the British Isles — first England, and now Ireland. Green picked up a guitar as a youth and grew up admiring many of the same rock acts you and I have: Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Yes, Rush, The Beatles and so on. At one point in his career, he even fronted an English Eagles tribute band. He also honed his craft at guitar while sometimes singing lead vocals.

Somewhere along the way, he fell in love with a fellow Sacramento expatriate and married her. In 1995, his wife, Jude, became pregnant, and Green went through the excitement of the expectation of becoming a father. Tests revealed that the unborn child was a girl, whom they picked out a name for: Jessica. The joy of several months of anticipation came to a horrific conclusion on May 31, 1996, when the baby was born dead, having strangled to death from the umbilical cord. Devastated, Green first went into a tailspin for several months. And then a song came from Jessica to him in a dream. From there, Jeff built a whole suite of songs, pulling together all his influences from the realms of rock, prog rock and funk, and waited until he got it down right with the right musicians to record this music. It took eleven years to get to that point.

The line-up for Jessica might not be the most recognizable, but they’re people Green knows and trusts. Mike Stobbie (keyboards), Pete Riley (drums) and Phil Hilborne (guitar) probably won’t get you fired up much unless you’re really on top of the current British prog-rock scene, but they mesh well with Green, combining for what feels more like a band than a solo artist enlisting some help.

Green signals from the start that the involved participation of the others is crucial for the sound and vision of his work. In “For The Future,” the leader and Hilborne combine for some paired leads, and Stobbie solos on both organ and vintage synth. The tune, one of instrumentals (in fact, most of the record is instrumental), cuts a composite similar to its creator: part American (Boston, Styx) and part British (Yes, Pink Floyd). After an extended opening, the song settles into a nice little rock groove and the melodic solos begin as the song moves from one vamp into another.

That pretty much sets the stage for the rest of the album, with some variations on the strategy (such as vocals on “On This Night,” “Tomorrow Never Came” and “Live Forever”). You might call this music “prog-rock” and certainly it’s been called that in other reviews, but let’s be clear: there’s none of the death-defying tempo shifts, overlong suites or Satriani-esque instrumental bulldozing that typifies some of the harder core examples of the genre. Green’s music isn’t destined for wide radio play but he’s not feeding listeners raw broccoli, either. These are very melodic, straightforward, songs.

And everyone likes melody. Green and his British cohorts are well attuned to it and deliver it with competent musicianship that isn’t heavy-handed. There’s no real filler but the better songs are the aforementioned opener “For The Future,” the ethereal “Willing The Clouds Away,” the spacious, mildly exotic “Jessie’s Theme” (Youtube below), and “Tomorrow Never Came,” a first-hand account of heartbreak expressed over a funky groove.

Jessica was released back in 2009, but with this being self-released and self-financed project, word of the album has trickled out slowly. Green has dedicated proceeds from the sale of the records to build a bereavement room in the hospital where Jessica was delivered, to give couples who go through the tragedy of still births have a place to sort through their feelings apart from the celebration of parents whose babies had normal deliveries.

Yes, it’s a very personal record. But you don’t have to immerse yourself in Jeff Green’s personal story to appreciate the music. Ultimately, it’s uplifting music, cathartic for Green and some good listening for the rest of us.

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