FLYING COLORS – Third Degree (2019)

FLYING COLORS - Third Degree (2019) full

FLYING COLORS, the super-group featuring Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Dave LaRue, Neal Morse, and Casey McPherson will launch “Third Degree” on October 4.
All band members have been fairly busy with their other bands and tour obligations. And now almost 5 years since their last effort comes the group’s momentous 3rd album, aptly titled “Third Degree”, showcasing that these awesome musicians are willing to explore new frontiers.

Having been around for approx 10 years, Portnoy and Neal Morse project ‘Workaholics Anonymous’ melded into a full on band featuring Dixie Dregs members Steve Morse (guitars) & Dave LaRue (bass), and Casey McPherson (vocals /rhythm guitar), baptized Flying Colors.
The band was formed initially with a focus on bringing some of the world’s best musicians to create a more commercial sounding pop-rock album. They succeeded with tracks like “Kayla”, “The Storm” and “Everything Changes” from their self-titled debut.
Meanwhile, with no producer to man the soundboard, the band introduced more of their prog backgrounds on Second Nature with epic tracks like “Open Up Your Eyes” and “Cosmic Symphony”.

So which direction would the band go with this latest venture? The result is a combination of the prior albums with a group of songs that might rank this album as their best.
FC has always been as much about writing catchy, accessible songs with strong melodies, as it has been writing incredible prog music. This is shown from the very beginning with the first two songs, “The Loss Inside” and “More”

The rocking “The Loss Inside” kicks the album off with driving the guitar before the melodies start to creep in, and is certainly one of the more attention-grabbing openers I’ve heard recently. “More” is a bit longer but is likewise driven by heavy guitars and Mike’s thunderous drum work. They stretch out a bit in the middle with an addictive keyboard-laden instrumental movement before a quiet, vocal dominant section is heard. It, of course, comes full circle, and the driving rock is brought back before the end, with time for one of Neal’s signature key solos, and the vocal harmonizing that the band is so known for.

Song 3 and 4 are dramatically different than the two aggressive rockers that precede them. “Cascade” is pure Steve Morse, with a guitar opening played in his unique harmonic style. This track follows in the vein of a song like “Kayla” but with a more elaborate proggy approach.
“Guardian” is one of the unexpected tracks in the collection, highlighted by Dave Larue’s outstanding bass playing, which is brilliant and up front through most of the album. The middle breakdown is so counter to the main sections of the song, it is a wonder how they made the different sections work, but they do, in glorious manner. There is also a signature Steve Morse shred moment that is breathtaking.
There is not another band that can produce a song like this. With all that said, we haven’t hit the best parts of the album yet.

For proggy mastery look no further than “Last Train Home”, the centerpiece epic that covers all bases – the grand opening, the soaring chorus, the drum breakdown from Portnoy layered with Steve and Dave soloing, the Neal Morse keyboard solo section…exhausted yet? We didn’t get to the acoustic breakdown and the epic ending. Well, you get the idea.
To keep things unpredictable, the band venture slightly into jazzy melodic territory with the Toto-esque “Geronimo”. It is a wonderful change of pace track with an unexpected rock chorus.
This leads into the album’s lone ballad, the beautiful “You Are Not Alone” which McPherson wrote about Hurricane Harvey that hit his town of Austin a few years ago.

The final two songs are incredible as well. Firstly we have “Love Letter,” the shortest song on the album and is a full-on Beatles love fest. Anyone who’s followed the careers of Neal or Mike (and especially their many bands together) know about their love for The Beatles. I can’t comment on the rest of the band, but it comes as no surprise to hear the two of them take extensive lead vocals on it. It is a very catchy and poppy song, and good fun.

The CD ends with the 11-minute “Crawl” and is a fitting conclusion to a very satisfying album. Unsurprisingly it contains all the things that made the earlier songs so addictive, strong melodies and vocals, technical prowess, and the ability to make you sing along one moment, and then basking in instrumental excellence the next.

Flying Colors’ “Third Degree” is the result of great songwriting, brilliant musicianship, amazing harmonies, and undeniable melodies. While most of the members are used to leading their own thing, here they each take a step back and let the music lead. Still, within each song you can hear each member’s imprint at appropriate times, making it all sound like Flying Colors.
The only shame is that this is a side project and not a band that can record and tour more. Let’s hope they don’t take another 5 years for the album number four.
HIGHLY Recommended


01 – The Loss Inside
02 – More
03 – Cadence
04 – Guardian
05 – Last Train Home
06 – Geronimo
07 – You Are Not Alone
08 – Love Letter
09 – Crawl

Neal Morse – Keyboards, Vocals-
Mike Portnoy – Drums, Percussion (Sons Of Apollo, The Winery Dogs)
Steve Morse – Guitar, Vocals (Deep Purple, Dixie Dregs)
Casey McPherson – Vocals, Guitar (Alpha Rev)
Dave LaRue – Bass (Dixie Dregs)



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