Something Else! sneek peek: Neal Schon – The Calling (2012)

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.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Drummer Steve Smith tells us he found "an immediate chemistry" when he reunited with longtime Journey band mate Neal Schon.]

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.

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Journey. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

NEAL SCHON WITH STEVE SMITH, “THE CALLING” (2012): This new instrumental is interesting because Steve Smith showed up just as Journey took a turn in the late 1970s from its more fusion-informed early period toward a platinum-selling arena-rock formula. Still, you always got the sense, as he subsequently moved deeper into the jazz roots of his youth, that Smith might have been a better fit for the early Journey records — when co-founding guitarist Neal Schon, keyboardist Gregg Rolie and bassist Ross Valory indulged themselves in a looser, free-form rock amalgam. “The Calling” makes good on that notion, as Smith joins Schon for the first time since their mid-1990s reunion as members of Journey.

JOURNEY – ECLIPSE (2011): In many ways, the initial cuts on Eclipse recall the wide-open heavy fusion of the the band’s original Gregg Rolie-era records, a period when guitarist Neal Schon pulled and stretched his muse. At the same time, singer Arnel Pineda possesses a second-act Steve Perry-sounding penchant for soaring expectancy. For age-old fans, that often makes this album the best of both worlds, a musically dense recording in the style of the band’s underrated 1977?s Next, and a loud one, but at the same time one that doesn’t completely abandon the visceral mainstream pop sensibilities that defined the band’s subsequent hitmaking period in the 1980s.

ONE TRACK MIND: JOURNEY, “FEELING THAT WAY/ ANYTIME” (1978; 2011 reissue): A new Greatest Hits Vol. 2 was, in some ways, more interesting than Journey’s initial best-of compilation — if only because its songs haven’t necessarily become ear-wormingly familiar. Perhaps the most potent examples are these twin 1978 gems from Infinity, Journey’s first project with Steve Perry. His appearance would immediately transform an interesting, if often unfocused jam band — co-led by Santana alums Gregg Rolie and Neal Schon — into a hit-making juggernaut. This album easily became the band’s biggest seller to date, as Journey moved toward a tighter focus on songcraft.

SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: GREGG ROLIE, FOUNDING MEMBER OF SANTANA AND JOURNEY: Gregg Rolie, a 1998 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, has learned a lot about himself since taking fame’s exit ramp to start a family almost 30 years ago. He’s put into perspective the work done as a founding member of Santana, a stint that saw Rolie co-produce the group’s first four albums beginning in 1969. The bluesy B-3 stylist then added to an overstuffed resume that already included an appearance at Woodstock, leaving with Neal Schon to launch Journey. There, he helped craft a series of 1970s recordings that set the stage for that band’s arena-rock supernova moment in the 1980s.

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Upcoming dates for the 2012 tour featuring Neal Schon and Journey, appearing with Loverboy and Pat Benatar:

AUGUST
6 Sturgis, SD Buffalo Chip Campground
8 Indianapolis, IN Indiana State Fair
10 Wantagh, NY Nikon Theater At Jones Beach
14 Watertown, NY Watertown Fairgrounds
15 Canandaigua, NY Constellations Brands PAC
17 Louisville, KY Kentucky State Fair
18 Des Moines, IA Iowa State Fair
22 Albuquerque, NM Sandia Outdoor Theater
24 Houston, TX Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
25 Dallas, TX Gexa Energy Pavilion
27 Pelham, AL Oak Mountain Amphitheater
28 Lafayette, LA Cajun Dome
31 Kansas City, KS LiveStrong Sporting Park

SEPTEMBER
1 St. Paul, MN Minnesota State Fair
15 Mt. Pleasant, MI Soaring Eagle Casino
19 Peoria, IL Peoria Civic Center
21 Cincinnati, OH Riverbend Music Center
22 Cleveland, OH Blossom Music Center
25 Hamilton, ON Copps Coliseum
26 Ottawa, ON Scotiabank Place
28 Bangor, ME Waterfront Park
29 Providence, RI Dunkin Donuts Center

OCTOBER
2 Norfolk, VA Constant Convocation Center
3 Greensboro, NC Greensboro Coliseum
5 Mobile, AL Bayfest
6 Atlanta, GA Aaron’s Amphitheater At Lakewood
9 Little Rock, AR Verizon Arena
10 Tulsa, OK BOK Center
12 Tampa, FL 1-800-ASK-GARY Amphitheater
13 West Palm Beach, FL Cruzan Amphitheatre
30 New York, NY Barclays Bank Arena

NOVEMBER
2 Uncasville, CT Mohegan Sun Arena
3 Manchester, NH Verizon Center
5 Montreal, QC Bell Centre
7 Columbus, OH Schottenstein/Nationwide
8 Evansville, IN Ford Center
10 Grand Rapids, MI Van Andel Arena
11 Fort Wayne, IN Allen County War Memorial
13 Moline, IL iWireless Center
14 Sioux City, IA Tyson Center
16 Milwaukee, WI Bradley Center
17 Green Bay, WI Resch Center
19 Winnipeg, MB MTS Centre
24 Grand Praire, AB Crystal Center
27 Edmonton, AB Rexall Place
28 Saskatoon, SK Credit Union Centre
30 Calgary, AB Scotiabank Saddledome

DECEMBER
1 Kelowna, BC Prospera Place
3 Vancouver, BC Rogers Arena
4 Victoria, BC Save-On Food Centre
7 Las Vegas, NV Planet Hollywood

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.