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Shadow Merchant - 'The Tunnel' http://ns2.rocktopiarecords.com/media/reviews/photos/thumbnail/200x200s/60/1a/63/shadow-merchant-the-tunnel-26-1421702995.jpg Hot

Added by Central Electronic Brain     January 19, 2015    
 
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An enjoyable listen and a fine effort.

The origins of Shadow Merchant lie in radiologists Sean Reiter (guitar) and Paul McGinnis (drums) discovering they had musical backgrounds and taste in common and deciding to form a band; that was way back in 2007. It took a couple of years before the current line-up, completed by Howard Whitman (bass/vocals) and Donald A. Henney, Jr. (keyboards), came together to start working up Reiter's original material into the self-released debut album we have today.

Progressive Rock it may be, but with Reiter having previously supported Kansas (one of his favourite bands) and the rhythm section inspired by the likes of Neil Peart, Mike Portnoy and Chris Squire, there are plenty of passages here where the emphasis is as much on Rock as it is on Prog. Listen, for example, to Reiter's solo in 'Selfless Devotion', or the drama and aggressive bass and drums of 'Judgement Day'. And that's a good thing, so many self-released Prog albums slip through your fingers and meander gently towards nothingness. But 'The Tunnel' has a crisp and often Hard Rocking edge that, at times, generates genuine excitement and drives both the music and the listener on.

The band sound equally at home performing longer, more complex tracks – 'Into The Tunnel' and the excellent 'The Kindness Of A Stranger' clock in at over thirteen and eleven minutes respectively – as they do the shorter punchier material like instrumentals 'Alpha', 'Mid Life Crisis' and the aforementioned 'Judgement...'. Throughout, the blend of Prog composition and Classic Rock power works a treat. In that context, one of the joys of this album is the desire that all four musicians have to express themselves, and the clarity given to the different instruments in the mix allows you to hear it.

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I do have a minor doubt about the vocals. Not that there's anything wrong with them, but neither do you get the sense that the voice is being seen as an instrument in its own right. I wonder if the band is missing a chance to squeeze just a little more out of the material, particularly given the thoughtful and weighty nature of the lyrics.

That said, I have no such qualms about the vocal delivery on album closer 'Along The Way'. In something of a departure from what has gone before, it's a very American-sounding Prog-infused light Rock track, which also benefits from some fine guitar work and some exquisite piano touches. It's an upbeat, boppy number that gives the album a happy ending and provides further evidence, if needed, of the band's musical and song-writing dexterity.

I hadn't heard of Shadow Merchant before, but 'The Tunnel' is an enjoyable listen and a fine effort.

Michael Anthony

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