The presumed street date for Neal Schon’s forthcoming reunion album alongside former Journey bandmate Steve Smith is still some time away, with The Calling set for release on Oct. 23, 2012 from Frontiers Records. Extended track samples, however, have already appeared on iTunes — giving us an early taste of what’s to come, beyond the already-examined title song.
Head straight to “Tumbleweeds,” as a backing group that also includes keyboardist Igor Len settles into this musky, propulsive groove, allowing Schon to explore further out along the edges of his craft in a way that his main band’s brand of mainstream rock almost never does anymore: You hear the echoing alienation of David Gilmour and the tough fusion of Jeff Beck. “Primal Surge” combines the typical Schon solo’s familiar anthematic feel with this boisterous, layered rhythmic counterpoint. Then there’s the stunning placidity of “Song of the Wind II,” which recalls the quieter, smooth-jazz intrigues of his 2001 solo release Voice, in particular “A Song for You.”
That’s not to say that The Calling doesn’t still have much to offer for fans of Neal Schon, Guitar Legend.
“Tumbleweeds,” as interesting as it can be, is also strafed at times by the now-expected armada-of-guitars sound that has defined his late period. (Jan Hammer, with whom Schon recorded in the early 1980s, adds Moogs to this track and to “Fifty Six.”) “Irish Field” reanimates the searching tone of Schon’s work on Abraxas Pool, the underrated 1990s project featuring a series of Carlos Santana band alums, only with an overlay of emerald hues. “Fifty Six” travels even deeper into the dark sense of musical mystery that surrounded Schon’s time with Santana, but at a blinding pace more associated with 1970s jazz rock.
Elsewhere, Schon and Smith recapture much of the sound and feel of the platinum era of Journey, mixing in arena-rattling tracks like “Carnival Jazz” and “Back Smash” with the soaring pop-balladry of “Six String Waltz” and “True Emotion.” “Blue Rainbow Sky” emerges from a Jimi Hendrix-style riff into something that sounds like a newly unearthed track from the Escape sessions. All that’s missing, really, on each of those cuts is sweet, long-gone tenor of Steve Perry — or, better yet, the powerful co-mingling of his voice with original lead singer Gregg Rolie.
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