Randy George – Beyond Words

Randy George – Beyond Words

Randy George is probably best known as the go-to bassist for Neal Morse, but if that is all you know about the man, you are selling yourself short. As the bassist/multi-instrumentalist for Ajalon, he helped to elevate Christian progressive rock to new heights. As a solo artist, he has released three solo albums which showcase his amazing technique and songwriting chops. As a producer, he has compiled several volumes of must-hear Christian progressive rock by other artists. What every facet of his work as a musician shares in common is a level of talent and taste that is jaw-dropping for its facility and an ability to fit comfortably into numerous styles. Beyond Words is just the latest example of what this incredible musician has to offer.

Like his previous solo project, 2012’s Action Reaction, Beyond Words is a largely instrumental affair that showcases a number of styles as well as George’s convincing chops on guitar and keyboards, as well as bass. George pays tribute to some of his musical heroes from the seventies and eighties, yet manages to sound like no one so much as himself throughout, which makes sense when this is his show, beginning to end. Even his guest musicians fit so seamlessly that no one other than vocalist Simon Godfrey stands out as an identifiable contributor.

Opening with Cappuccino With Max, Randy George puts it all on the line right out of the gate. Guitar leads the way with numerous textures – clean, airy, aggressive – often all at once. Even his bass tones are distinctive, as the audio mix by Jerry Guidroz emphasises. Instrumental albums can be a tricky proposition, too often sounding like an artist’s self-indulgence committed to the recording medium. George understands the issue and avoids the pitfalls by putting melody at the heart of everything he does. This is not to say that you’ll walk away humming every tune, rather that everything holds together in a way that is logical. Take, for example, Toto tribute Three Sides to Every Story. George absolutely nails the band’s vibe, particularly the guitar heroics of Steve Lukather, but it is not a slavish reproduction. The funky bass groove lays a bed for the simple piano parts to lie upon, leaving Ajalon drummer Dan Lile to sneak in and stealthily add a subtle layer of complexity. There is an unbridled joy and enthusiasm to this tune which makes one wonder how Toto keysman David Paich would have embellished it, but leaving that much to the listener’s imagination is part of the fun.

If you are looking for prog, Technical Difficulties will scratch that itch. Powerful riffs, odd time signatures and multiple moods could have been part of the Neal Morse Band’s latest project. In fact, Morse himself contributes keys to this tune. Beautiful but not show-offish Hammond and synth parts complement the ferocious riffing. Contrast that with Pool Toad Redemption, a frantic minute and nineteen seconds of balls-to-the-wall technical ecstasy where every instrument seems to be duelling with every other one for sheer fun. NMB bandmate Eric Gillette joins George for some fun fretboard fireworks, but again Lile steals the show by making the whole thing seem easy.

Several of the songs on this album play to George’s more experimental side, in sound more so than compositionally. Soul Geometry is a showcase for the fretless bass, which slinks and slides from one highlight to the next. The synth rhythm and Lile’s understated drums move the song along, but it’s the bass that connects all the dots as the song changes textures and sounds. This tune could have easily doubled its four minutes without a loss in quality, but better to leave your audience wanting more, right? That seems to be the philosophy behind Foam Rubber Monsters, featuring bassoon solos by Paul Hanson. The guitar and bass rhythm are so steady that Hanson’s soloing at times appears to be out of control, but in a wonderfully jazzy manner. Make no mistake, this is still Randy George’s show. However, instead of bludgeoning you over the head with his chops, he takes the opportunity every once in a while to depart from the bass riff to explore a bit, making the change-up even more rewarding. It is The Good World in which George indulges his smooth jazz jones. He avoids the more schmaltzy elements of this very nineties sound, smartly adding instruments like acoustic guitar and grand piano to provide the flourishes. Jimmy McElroy’s sax comes and goes quickly, each time leaving a favourable impression and avoiding the worst smooth jazz clichés. The electric guitar is the lead instrument here, underlining George’s skills at genre hopping.

The lone vocal track comes courtesy of Simon Godfrey (Tinyfish, Valdez) who lends his voice and words to Make Me Real, which rocks hard and takes no prisoners. The metal guitar affectations and the Hammond organ give the song heft. Godfrey sings with conviction, roughing up his voice a bit, making this song a nice fit for contemporary rock radio. By contrast, instrumental Beyond Words attempts to capture a Genesis Trick of the Tail vibe, but never quite hits the mark. The tune is a good one, but Randy George’s musical voice is so strong and distinctive on this album, as was that of Genesis back in the day, that the two are like magnets opposing each other the closer they get. The keyboards here run the gamut of the musical palette, adding richness and depth, but I am never reminded of Tony Banks. The repeated guitar motif that holds the song together frees the solo instruments to explore, and they do not disappoint. Closing song My Technicolor World is intended as an homage to TV theme writers. However, where TV themes are typically designed to grab you in seconds and remain with you for eternity, World is more of a slow burn. It uses its length to develop its ideas, more like a well written dramatic episode. In a blurb accompanying the album, George writes that some people write songs, others – like himself – build songs. I think that’s a perfect way to describe what goes on here.

Fans of instrumental music will find plenty to dig into on Beyond Words. Because the production is so crisp and clean, every nuance is heard and every layer exposed. The more you listen, the more the music reveals itself. It’s obvious that all the participants are having fun, and as a listener you will too.

01. Cappuccino With Max (4:10)
02. Technical Difficulties (4:51)
03. Beyond Words (4:13)
04. Make Me Real (5:02)
05. Pool Toad Redemption (1:19)
06. Soul Geometry (3:48)
07. Foam Rubber Monsters (3:55)
08. Three Sides to Every Story (4:16)
09. The Good World (5:28)
10. My Technicolor World (4:37)

Total Time – 41:39

Randy George – Guitar, Bass, Keyboards
Dan Lile – Drums (all tracks except 6 & 10)
Jason Gianni – Drums (track 10)
Simon Godfrey – Lyrics & Vocals (track 4)
Paul Hanson – Bassoon solos (track 7)
Eric Gillette – Guitar solos (tracks 4 & 5)
Neal Morse – Additional Keyboards (track 2)
Jimmy McElroy – Alto Sax (track 9)
Pamela George – Shakers, Wind Chimes (track 6)

Record Label: Threshing Floor
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 1st September 2023

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